THE OLD COUNTESS; OR, THE TWO PROPOSALS.
MRS. ANN S. STEPHENS.
AUTHOR OF "LORD HOPE'S CHOICE," "THE REIGNING BELLE," "MARRIED IN HASTE," "MABEL'S MISTAKE," "DOUBLY FALSE," "WIVES AND WIDOWS," "MARY DERWENT," "THE REJECTED WIFE," "THE SOLDIER'S ORPHANS," "THE OLD HOMESTEAD," "FASHION AND FAMINE," "THE HEIRESS," "RUBY GRAY'S STRATEGY," "THE CURSE OF GOLD," "SILENT STRUGGLES," "THE WIFE'S SECRET," "PALACES AND PRISONS," "THE GOLD BRICK," "A NOBLE WOMAN."
A SEQUEL TO "LORD HOPE'S CHOICE."
PHILADELPHIA: T. B. PETERSON & BROTHERS; 306 CHESTNUT STREET.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by T. B. PETERSON & BROTHERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C.
I.—LOVE LIGHTS IN TWO HEARTS. 23
II.—CLARA APPEALS TO HER STEPMOTHER. 30
III.—LOVERS' QUARREL. 40
IV.—THE ITALIAN TEACHER. 48
V.—THE MOTHER AND DAUGHTER IN OPPOSITION. 57
VI.—SOME OLD ACQUAINTANCES GET INTO A CONJUGAL DIFFICULTY. 68
VII.—THE OPERATIC SUPPER. 77
VIII.—BEHIND THE SCENES. 86
IX.—THE FIRST PERFORMANCE. 91
X.—THE TWO FOSTER-CHILDREN MEET. 96
XI.—LADY CLARA QUARRELS WITH HER STEPMOTHER. 101
XII.—THE OLD PRISONER. 107
XIII.—THE OLD COUNTESS. 116
XIV.—THE OLD COUNTESS AND HER SERVANT. 122
XV.—THE EARL'S RETURN. 133
XVI.—THE WIFE AND THE DAUGHTER. 143
XVII.—HUSBAND AND WIFE. 152
XVIII.—THE STORMY NIGHT AND SUNSHINY MORNING. 159
XIX.—AFTER THE FAILURE. 167
XX.—LORD HILTON TAKES SUPPER WITH OLYMPIA. 176
XXI.—ON THE WAY TO HOUGHTON CASTLE. 184
XXII.—THE OLD COUNTESS. 191
XXIII.—EXPLANATIONS AND CONCESSIONS. 197
XXIV.—DOWN BY THE BROOK AMONG THE FERNS. 203
XXV.—HOW LADY CLARA GOT HER OWN WAY. 208
XXVI.—THE QUARREL AND THE LETTER. 214
XXVII.—MAGGIE CASEY MEETS HER OLD LOVER. 220
XXVIII.—JUST FIFTY POUNDS. 224
XXIX.—OLYMPIA'S DEFEAT. 232
XXX.—THE FAMILY MEETING AT HOUGHTON. 240
XXXI.—DOWN AMONG THE FERNS AGAIN. 247
XXXII.—OUT AMONG THE TREES. 253
XXXIII.—THE BALL AT HOUGHTON. 263
XXXIV.—THE OLD WOMAN WANDERS BACK AGAIN. 269
XXXV.—LADY HOPE IN THE CASTLE. 274
XXXVI.—DEATH IN THE TOWER-CHAMBER. 280
XXXVII.—THE NEMESIS. 289
THE OLD COUNTESS; OR, THE TWO PROPOSALS.
LOVE-LIGHTS IN TWO HEARTS.
During fourteen years Hepworth Closs had been a wanderer over the earth.
When he was carried out from the court-room after Mrs. Yates' confession of a crime which he had shrinkingly believed committed by another, he had fainted from the suddenness with which a terrible load had been lifted from his soul.
In that old woman's guilt he had no share. It swept the blackness from the marriage he had protested against as hideously wicked. The wrong he had done was divested of the awful responsibilities which had seemed more than he could bear. The revelation had made him, comparatively, an innocent and free man. But a shock had been given to his whole being which unfitted him for the common uses of society.
After all that had passed through his mind he could not bear to think of joining his sister or husband. The keen feelings of a nature, not in its full development wicked or dishonorable, had been startled into life, when he saw into what a gulf he had almost plunged. He saw the sin and the wrong he had done in its true light, and not only repented of it, but abhorred it from the very depths of his soul. He longed to make atonement, and would have given ten years from his life for a chance by which he could have sacrificed himself to any one that poor murdered lady had loved.
These feelings rose up like a barrier between him and his sister. Her influence over his youth had been so powerful that his own better nature never might have asserted itself but for the tragedy which followed his first plunge into deception and wrong-doing. He loved this beautiful young woman yet, as few brothers of any age or class ever did; but the shock of that tragedy was on him, and his impulse was to flee from her and the man for whose sake all this trouble had come.
Hepworth Closs was not the first youth whose life has opened with evil thoughts and evil deeds, from which his manhood shrank appalled.
The unformed intellect and quick passions of youth have wrecked many a noble soul, by the sin of an hour or a day, beyond the redemption of a toiling and regretful after-life. The man who does redeem himself must have a powerful nature, which will force its strength to be recognized, and make its regeneration felt. But to the sins of youth much should be forgiven, which, in the mature man, justice might utterly condemn.
Hepworth Closs arose from that fainting fit humbled and grateful. That moment his resolve was taken. He would not share the benefits which might come to him through his sister's marriage, nor in anything partake of a reward for the evil he had, in mercy, been saved from. The world was before him. He would work his way into prosperity, if possible; if not, bear his fate like a man who had deserved suffering, and could endure it.
One act of restitution was in his power. The property of the unfortunate person, whom he knew as Lady Hope, had fallen into his possession, for the house had been purchased in his name, and, in like manner, her deposits had been made. He had never intended to claim this money as his own, and invested it now, holding himself as the trustee. This done, he threw himself upon the world, quite alone.
During fifteen years he had asserted the honorable manhood that had sprung out of his erring youth. That fearful tragedy had sickened him with deception, and with all ambition which did not spring out of his own honest exertions. He went forth, with all his energies on the alert, and his intellect free from the suspicions that had for a time enthralled it. He had craved riches, and hoped to obtain them through Rachael's marriage. This had been a temptation. He had ambition still, but it took a far more noble direction. With wealth he would gather knowledge; with both, mental force and moral power.
He went. Men saw him in the gold mines of California, in Australia, and among the traders of India and Japan. Then he came back to New York, and was honorably known upon the exchange. Then came a yearning wish to see his sister, the only relative he had on earth; and we find him at the gate of Oakhurst Park, just as Lady Clara dashed through it, as bright a vision of joyous, happy girlhood as ever crossed the path of any man.
That moment I think that Hepworth Closs fell in love with the girl. If so, it was absolutely his first love. The boyish and most unprincipled passion he had felt for that murdered lady had no similitude with the feelings that possessed him now. It was a wicked, insane desire, springing out of his perverted youth—a feeling that he would have shuddered to have recognized as love, in these, his better days.
Yes, it is certain Closs loved the girl at first sight, but was unconscious of it, as the nest is when a dove settles down to its brooding.
As for the girl, she had seen but few men in her life calculated to disturb the repose of a creature so gifted and rich in imagination. At first Hepworth had seemed rather an old person to her, notwithstanding the gloss of his black hair, and the smooth whiteness of his forehead. With a trust in this, which gradually betrayed her, she accepted him frankly as a relative, and in less than three weeks, grew restless as a bird. She wondered what had made the world all at once so gloriously beautiful, and why it was so difficult for her to keep the tears out of her eyes when the soft purple evening came down, and divided the day which had been spent with him, from the night, when she could only hope to see him in shadowy dreams.
Rachael Closs saw all this, and it filled her with bitter rejoicing. How would her powerful old enemy receive the intelligence that a brother of hers had won the heart of the future Lady Carset? that he would be lord of the proud old castle, which must go with the title, and mingle the blood she had so often denounced as base with that which had turned against her, with such hot scorn, ever since she entered England as Lord Hope's wife?
The very thought of that haughty old peeress so humiliated was wonderfully pleasant to the wounded pride of Rachael Closs. But far beyond this was the yearning, almost passionate fondness she felt for her brother and the beautiful girl who had been to her at once a Nemesis and an infatuation.
This was what Lady Hope had hinted at when Hepworth first came. The great wish of her heart had grown to be the union of these two persons, next to one supreme object of love, the dearest beings to her on earth. It seemed to her that those long, weary intervals, which grew more and more frequent, when Lord Hope left her alone in the desolate splendor of that great house, would be more endurable if she were certain that these two persons would always be near her. She was not ambitious for her brother. That feeling had died out years ago; but her love sprang to him, like a freshly-kindled flame.
With Lady Hope, as with Rachael Closs, there was no moderation in her feelings, which were tenacious as they were powerful and exacting. But Rachael, with all her impetuosity, had strong contradictory qualities. She was sagacious, and could rein in her passion of love or hate as an Arab controls his desert steed. That which her soul most desired she could wait for.
One night, when the moonbeams lay like silver on the stone terrace, and the shadow of the peacock fell from the balustrade like a second bird, Lady Hope complained of fatigue, and retreated into her own room, leaving Hepworth and Clara sitting upon a flight of steps which led down to a flower-garden, somewhat neglected of late years, which lay beneath the stone terrace and brightened the grounds nearest to the lady's apartments. Not far from these steps was a noble old cedar of Lebanon, rooted deep, where the drawbridge had been hundreds of years before. Beneath it was a rustic seat, and in its branches innumerable birds were sleeping.
There never was, perhaps, a finer contrast of silver light and black shadow in any landscape than surrounded these two persons, as they sat together side by side, both thinking of the same thing, and both reluctant to break the delicious silence.
At last Hepworth spoke—it was but a single word, which made his companion start and hold her breath.
She did not answer him; that one word frightened her. She had half a mind to start up and hide herself in the shadows, for he was looking in her face, and the moonlight fell like a glory over his features, which she now saw were grave even to sadness.
"Clara, do you know that I must go away soon?"
"Oh, no! no!"
The girl had not expected this. The infinite tenderness in his voice had led her completely astray, and she broke forth in an eager protest.
"I must, dear child."
"Dear child!" repeated the girl, half crying. "Yes, yes, you treat me like a child—as if I could help being young—as if I could not feel and think and be miserable like other people. It's hard, it's cruel, it's—it's—"
Here Clara burst into a flood of tears, and leaping to her feet, would have run into the room where Lady Hope was sitting, but Closs caught her in his arms.
"What are you crying for, Clara? Why do you wish to run away? It is wrong to say this, but I must go, because of loving you as no man ever loved a woman before."
"A woman?" said Clara, and gleams of mischief peeped out from behind her tears. "You called me a child just now."
"Woman or child, Clara, you are the dearest thing to me on earth."
Clara struggled in his arms, and tried to push him from her.
"I—I don't believe you. There!"
"Don't believe me?"
Hepworth released the girl, and allowed her to stand alone. On any subject touching his honor he was peculiarly sensitive.
"Because—because men who love people don't run away from them. It—it isn't reasonable."
All the mischief in her eyes was drowned in fresh tears. She thought that he was offended, and the estrangement of a moment seems eternal to first love.
"Honorable men do not permit themselves to speak of love at all where they have reason to think it unwelcome," was his grave reply.
"Unwelcome? Oh, Mr. Closs!"
Clara held out both her hands and came nearer to Hepworth, like a child that wants to be forgiven. He drew her close to his side, but spoke a little sadly.
"You see how much I must love you, Clara, to forget all that a guest in your father's house should remember."
"I—I don't know; I can't understand what it is that you have done wrong. I'm sure I'm ready to forgive you."
She might have said more, but he took the breath from her lips, and held her so close to his heart that she could feel its tumultuous beatings.
"But I can never forgive myself, darling."
"Oh, yes you will!"
The creature pursed up her lips and offered them for his kiss—thus, as she thought, tempting him into self-forgiveness.
"Is it that you really—really love me?" questioned Hepworth, searching the honest eyes she lifted to his with a glance half-passionate, half-sorrowful, which brought a glow of blushes to her face.
"Can you ask that now?" she questioned, drooping her head. "Will a good girl take kisses from the man she does not love?"
"God bless you for saying it, darling! Oh, if it could be—if it could be!"
"If what could be, Mr. Closs?"
"That you might be my wife, live with me forever, love me forever."
"Your wife?" answered Clara, pondering over the sweet word in loving tenderness. "Your wife? Are you asking me if I will be that?"
"I dare not ask you, Clara. What would your father say? What would he have a right to say?"
"I'm sure I don't know," answered Clara, ruefully, for she could not honestly say that her father would consent.
"You see, Clara, I have nothing to do but say farewell, and go."
CLARA APPEALS TO HER STEPMOTHER.
Lady Hope had retreated into her own room, for the absence of her husband was beginning to prey upon her; and she was all the more sad and lonely because she knew in her heart that the two persons whom she saw together in the moonlight were thinking, perhaps talking, of the love which she must never know in its fullness again—which she had never known as good and contented wives experience it.
Indeed, love is the one passion that can neither be wrested from fate or bribed into life. It must spring up from the heart, like a wild flower from seed God plants in virgin forest soil, to bring contentment with its blossoming. The sunshine which falls upon it must be pure and bright from heaven. Plant it in an atmosphere of sin, and that which might have been a holy passion becomes a torment, bitter in proportion to its strength.
Ah! how keenly Rachael Closs felt all this as she sat there alone in her bower room, looking wistfully out upon those two lovers, both so dear to her that her very soul yearned with sympathy for the innocent love she had never known, and never could know upon earth! Yet, dear as these two persons were to her, she would have seen that fair girl and the manly form beside her shrouded in their coffins, if that could have brought back one short twelve-months of the passionate insanity which had won Lord Hope to cast aside all restraint and fiercely wrench apart the most sacred ties in order to make her his wife. She asked for impossibilities. Love born in tumult and founded in selfishness must have its reactions, and between those two the shadow of a wronged woman was forever falling; and, struggle as they would, it grew colder and darker every year. But upon these two persons time operated differently. The wild impetuosity of his character had hardened into reserve. His ambition was to stand high among men of his own class—to be known as a statesman of power in the realm.
But, in all this Rachael knew that she was a drawback and a heavy weight upon his aspirations. Was it that she was less bright or beautiful? No, no. Her mirror contradicted the one doubt, and the power which she felt in her own genius rebuked the other.
Once give her a foothold among the men and women who had so persistently considered her as an intruder, and the old vigor and pride of her life would come back with it: the idolatry which had induced that infatuated man to overlook these stumbling blocks to his pride and impediments to his ambition would surely revive.
"Let him see me at court; let him compare me with the women whose cutting disdain wounds me to death, because it disturbs him; let him place me where this intellect can have free scope, and never on this earth was there a woman who would work out a husband's greatness so thoroughly."
In the first years of her marriage, Rachael would say these things to herself, in the bitterness of her humiliation and disappointment. Others, less beautiful and lacking her talent, had been again and again introduced from lower ranks into the nobility of England, accepted by its queen, and honored by society. Why was she alone so persistently excluded? The answer was always ready, full of bitterness. The enmity of old Lady Carset had done it all. It was her influence that had closed the queen's drawing-room against Lord Hope's second wife. It was her charge regarding the Carset diamonds that had made Rachael shrink from wearing the family jewels, which justly belonged to her as Lord Hope's property. It was this which made her so reluctant to pass the boundaries of Oakhurst. It was this that embittered her whole life, and rendered it one long humiliation.
These reflections served to concentrate the hopes and affections of this woman so entirely around one object, that her love for Hope, which had been an overwhelming passion, grew into that idolatry no man, whose life was in the world, could answer to, for isolation was necessary to a feeling of such cruel intensity.
As the hope of sharing his life and his honors gave way, doubts, suspicions, and anxieties grew out of her inordinate love, and the greatest sorrow to her on earth was the absence of her husband. It was not alone that she missed his company, which was, in fact, all the world to her; but, as he went more and more into the world, a terrible dread seized upon her. What if he found, among all the highly born women who received him so graciously, some one who, in the brightness of a happy life, might make him regret the sacrifice he had made for her, the terrible scenes he had gone through in order to obtain her? What if he might yet come to wish her dead, as she sometimes almost wished herself!
In this way the love, which had flowed like a lava stream through that woman's life, engendered its own curse, and her mind was continually haunted by apprehensions which had no foundation, in fact, for, to this day, Lord Hope loved her with deeper passion than he had ever given to that better woman; but with him the distractions of statesmanship, and the allurements of social life, were a resource from intense thought, while she had so little beside himself.
She had striven to bind him to her by kindness to his child, until the bright girl became, as it were, a part of himself, with whom it would be death to part.
Is it strange, then, that this dream of uniting Clara to her only brother should have been very sweet to the unhappy woman?
Lord Hope had been absent a whole month now, and even with the excitement of her brother's presence, Rachael had found those four weeks terribly long.
What would she do if that fair girl were separated from her entirely? Then solitude would be terrible indeed!
But another anxiety came upon her by degrees. In what way would her husband receive Hepworth Closs? How would he accept the position the two persons out yonder were drifting into? Would he consent to a union which even her partiality admitted as unsuitable, or would he, in his cold, calm way, plant his foot upon their hearts and crush her fond desire out of existence?
As Lady Hope pondered over these thoughts in silence and semi-darkness, Clara came through the window, in great excitement.
"Oh! mamma Rachael! He is going away from us. He told me so just now; but you will not let him. You will never let him!"
Lady Hope started out of her reverie.
"Going away? Where? Who? I cannot understand, Clara!"
"Hepworth—Mr. Closs, I mean. Oh, mamma! he threatens to leave us here all alone by ourselves—the most cruel thing that ever was heard of. I thought how angry you would be, and came at once. You can do anything with him—he loves you so dearly. Let him threaten if he likes, but you will not let him go. You will tell him how foolish, how cruel it is to leave us, while papa is away. Oh! mamma Rachael, you can do anything! Do this! Do this!"
"But why, darling—why do you care so much?"
"Why! why!" Clara threw back her head till the curls waved away from her shoulders, then a burning crimson came over her, the shamed face drooped again, and she answered: "I don't know—I don't know."
Rachael bent her face till it almost touched that hot cheek, and whispered:
"Is it that you love him, my own Clara?"
Again Clara lifted her face. A strange light came upon it. Her lips were parted, her blue eyes opened wide.
"Love him—love him? Oh! mamma Rachael, is this love?"
Rachael smiled, and kissed that earnest face, holding it between both hands.
"I think it is, darling. Nay, I am sure that you love him, and that he loves you."
"Loves me? Then why does he go away? I should think so but for that."
"Because of that, I am afraid, Clara."
"Loves me, and goes away because he loves me!" said the girl, bewildered. "I don't understand it."
"There may be many reasons, Clara."
"I can't think of one. Indeed I can't. Papa never was cruel."
"He may not think it quite honorable to let—make you love him, when your father knows nothing about it."
"But papa would not mind."
"Hepworth does not know that; nor do I. Your father is a very proud man, Clara, and has a right to look high, for his only child."
"What then? Mr. Closs is handsomer, brighter, more—more everything that is grand and royal, than any nobleman I have ever seen. What can papa say against that?"
"But he is a man of no family position—simply Hepworth Closs, nothing more. We can scarcely call him an Englishman."
"What then, mamma? He is a gentleman. Who, in all this neighborhood, can compare with him?"
"No one! no one!" answered Rachael, with enthusiasm. "There is but one man on all the earth so far above the rest; but persons who look upon birth and wealth as everything, may not see him with our eyes, my Clara. Then there is another objection. Hepworth is over thirty."
"Mamma Rachael, you know well enough that I never did like boys," said Clara, with childish petulance.
"And compared with the great landed noblemen of England, he is poor."
"Not so, mamma Rachael. He has made lots and lots of money out in those countries where they dig gold from the earth. He described it all to me, about washing dirt in pans, and crushing rocks in great machines, and picking up pure gold in nuggets—why, he found an awful big one himself. I daresay he has got more real money than papa. I do, indeed."
Lady Hope sighed. Perhaps she thought so too; for Oakhurst was closely entailed, and ready money was sometimes scarce in that sumptuous dwelling.
"And then how much shall I have? Let me ask that of papa."
"But you will inherit something with the Carset title in spite of your grandmother."
"Yes, I know. An enormous old castle with just land enough to keep it in repair. That isn't much to boast of, or make a man like Mr. Closs feel modest when he thinks of me."
"But the title. Is it nothing to be a peeress in your own right?"
"I would rather he were an earl, and I a peeress in his right."
"You are a strange girl, Clara."
"But you love me if I am, mamma Rachael."
"Love you, child! You will never know how much!"
"And if it so happened that he did really like me, you wouldn't go against it?"
"But what would my will be opposed to that of your father?"
"Only this—you can do anything with papa. Don't I remember when I was a little girl?"
Rachael sighed heavily.
"That was a long time ago, Clara, and childish wants are easily satisfied."
Clara threw both arms around her stepmother's neck and kissed her.
"Never mind if he is a little stubborn now and then; you can manage him, yet, mamma. Only, don't let Mr. Closs do that horrid thing. I never could ride alone with the ponies after the last three weeks. You don't know how instructive he is! Why, we have travelled all over the world together, and now he wants to throw me overboard; but you won't let him do that, mamma Rachael. What need is there of any thought about what may come? We are all going on beautifully, now, and, I dare say, papa is enjoying himself shooting grouse. When he comes back and sees how much Mr. Closs is like you, everything will be right. Only, mamma Rachael, tell me one thing. Are you sure that—that he isn't thinking me a child, and likes me only for that? This very night he called me 'my child,' and said he was going. That made me wretchedly angry, so I came in here. Now tell me—"
"Hush! hush! I hear his step on the terrace."
The girl darted off like a swallow. For the whole universe she could not have met Hepworth there in the presence of a third person.
As she left the room, Closs entered it.
"Rachael," he said, standing before his sister, in the square of moonlight cast like a block of silver through the window, "I have been weak enough to love this girl whom we both knew as an infant, when I was old enough to be a worse man than I shall ever be again; and, still more reprehensible, I have told her of it within the last half-hour; a pleasant piece of business, which Lord Hope will be likely to relish. Don't you think so?"
"I do not know—I cannot tell. Hope loves his daughter, and has never yet denied anything to her. He may not like it at first; but—oh! Hepworth, I know almost as little of my husband's feelings or ideas as you can."
"But you will not think that I have done wrong?"
"What, in loving Clara? What man on earth could help it?"
"Well, I do love her, and I think she loves me."
"I know she does."
"Thank you, sister; but she is such a child."
"She is woman enough to be firm and faithful."
"You approve it all, then?"
Hepworth sat down by his sister and threw his arm around her.
"My poor Rachael! how I wish this, or anything else, could make you really happy!"
She did not answer; but he felt her form trembling under his arm.
"But I only see in it new troubles for you and dishonor for myself. There is really but one way for me to act—I must leave this place."
"And Clara? After what you have said, that would, indeed, be dishonorable."
"She is so young; the pain would all go with me. In a few months I shall probably have scarcely a place in her memory."
"You wrong the dearest and finest girl in the whole world when you say that, Hepworth! To desert her now would be profound cruelty."
"Then in what way am I to act?"
"Write to Lord Hope; tell him the truth—that you have won the respect of men by your actions, and have, with your own energies, acquired wealth enough to make you a fair match in that respect for his daughter. Make no allusion to the past; he is proud, and terribly sensitive on that point, and might suspect you of making claims to equality because of it."
Hepworth smiled as he stood before her in the moonlight, and she saw it. Wide travel and experience among men had led him to think that, after all, the highest level of humanity did not always range with hereditary titles; but he only said, very calmly:
"Lord Hope cannot accuse me justly of aspiring where he is concerned."
Rachael felt the hot crimson leap to her face. Did Hepworth dare to equal himself with Lord Hope, the one great idol of her own perverted life? She answered, angrily, forgetting that the sinner was her only brother:
"Lord Hope need have no fear that any man living will so aspire."
"Poor foolish girl!" said Hepworth, feeling the flash of her black eyes, and touched with pity, rather than anger, by her quick resentment. "Do not let us quarrel about Hope. If he makes you happy, I have nothing to say against him."
Rachael shrank back in her seat, uttering these two words in a voice so full of pathetic sorrow, that it brought the pain of coming tears into Hepworth's eyes. He was glad to turn the subject.
"Then you are not willing that I should go away?"
"It would almost kill me to lose you again, Hepworth."
The young man felt that she spoke the truth; the very tones of her voice thrilled him with a tender conviction.
"I will write to Hope," he said; "it must end in that or absence. It shall not be my fault, Rachael, if I ever go far away from you again."
Lady Hope took her brother's hand between hers.
"That is kind, and I really think the only wise thing to be done," she said. "Hope knows that you were born a gentleman."
"And having married into the family himself, can hardly say that it is not good enough for his daughter. This is answer enough for all objections of that kind. In fact, Rachael, I begin to think we can make out a tolerable claim. Now that we have decided on the letter, I will write it at once, here, if you will let me order more lights."
Hepworth rang the bell as he spoke, and directly wax candles were burning on the ebony desk at which Lady Hope was accustomed to write.
Having made up his mind, Closs was not the man to hesitate in doing the thing he had resolved on. He spread a sheet of paper before him, and began his letter at once. Rachael watched him earnestly as his pen flew over the paper.
For the first time she realized, with a pang of apprehension, the step she was so blindly encouraging. What if Lord Hope took offense at the letter, or should condemn her for the intimacy which had led to it? She was afraid of her husband, and each movement of Hepworth's pen struck her with dread. Had she, indeed, laid herself open to the wrath of a man, who was so terrible in his anger, that it made even her brave heart cower?
"There, it is finished," said Hepworth, addressing his letter, and flinging down the pen. "Now let us throw aside care, and be happy as we can till the answer comes."
Lady Hope sighed heavily, and, reaching forth her hand, bade him good-night.
They were sitting together, under the great cedar tree, declared lovers; perhaps not the less happy because some little doubt rested over their future, so far as the young lady was concerned.
As for Hepworth Closs, he had made up his mind to expect difficulties, and knew how to conquer them, if human ingenuity could do it. He loved the bright young creature, and had resolved within himself that no unreasonable opposition on the part of his former friend should prevent him marrying her, while there was a possibility of conciliating his bride, or working upon the love which he had always evinced for his child.
Hepworth had learned, from conversation with both the ladies, that the Lord Hope of the present day was a very different person from the rash, headstrong, audacious young man whom he had almost threatened with disgrace fourteen years back.
Then he was ready to cast wealth, rank, conscience, everything, aside for the gratification of any wild passion that beset him. Now he held the rank to which he was born sacred above all things; was careful, if not covetous, of wealth, because it added power to rank; and was known the whole country round as one of the proudest noblemen and most punctilious magistrates in the three kingdoms.
This man's daughter he—Hepworth Closs—desired to make his wife. Nay, in spite of fate, meant to make his wife, unless she, in her own self, cast his love from her. Having settled upon this, he cast off all care, and gave himself up to the supreme happiness of loving and being beloved.
So, as the two sat under the cedar tree, that bland autumn day, Clara thought, in her wilful little heart, that the man looked too confident and happy. She had no idea of settling down into a commonplace engagement, sanctioned or unsanctioned. What business had he to look so supremely contented? Did he not know that girls sometimes changed their minds?
In short, Lady Clara was in a wilful mood, and could be provoking enough when the fit came on her. Just now she was embroidering diligently. The golden stamens of a superb cactus glowed out stitch by stitch, as her needle flew in and out of its great purplish and crimson leaves.
"Why don't you look up, Clara? I haven't seen your eyes these ten minutes."
"Indeed! Well, I'm too busy. Pray hand me a thread of that yellow silk."
"Not if I can help it, ladybird. It's very tiresome sitting here, only to watch your sharp little needle as it drops color into that great flower. One never gets a sight of your full face."
"Then you don't like the profile?" said Clara, demurely, and her needle flashed almost into Hepworth's eyes as he bent over her. "That is just what I expected. It isn't three days since you first pretended to care for me."
"That was the word," answered Clara, holding her work at arms' length, and examining it, with her head on one side, like a bird eyeing the cherry he longs to peck at. "Lovely, isn't it?"
"I have been where you could gather armsful of them from the wayside," answered Hepworth. "That is well enough, of course, for silk and worsted; but you never can get that mixture of crimson, purple and glittering steel, that makes the flower so regal in the tropics; then the soft tassel of pale gold, streaming out from the heart, and thrown into relief by this exquisite combination of colors. Ah, some day I will show you what a cactus really is, Clara."
"Perhaps," said the provoking girl, searching her work-basket for the silk she wanted. "Who knows?"
A flash of color flew across Hepworth's forehead. The handsome fellow never had given himself much to the study of women, and even that pretty creature had the power to annoy him, mature man as he was. She saw that he was vexed, and rather liked it; for if the truth must be told, a more natural coquette never lived than Lady Clara.
"Are you beginning to doubt, Clara?"
"Doubt? Oh! not at all. I don't honestly believe that there ever was a more perfect flower than that. See how the colors melt into each other; then the point of that long, prickly leaf coming out behind. I tell you, Mr. Closs, it's perfect."
She was looking down at her work, and he could not detect all the mischief that sparkled under her drooping lashes.
"Clara, what does this mean?"
The girl looked up at him so innocently.
"Mean? Why, it means a cactus-flower."
Hepworth Closs had never been a patient man, and the feelings which that wild girl had awakened in his heart were all too earnest for such trifling. He rose to leave her. Then she gave him a side glance, half comic, half repentant.
"Are you going?"
"Dear me, I am so sorry, because I wanted to tell you something."
The girl spoke and acted like a penitent child. Hepworth sat down again, but his face was clouded.
"You can do anything with mamma Rachael, and I want you to ask a great favor for me."
"Why not ask yourself? My sister denies you nothing."
"But this is something peculiar, and she may think papa would not like it. There is to be a new opera brought out in London, and such a lovely girl is to make her first appearance in it, handsome as the morning, and with a voice like ten thousand nightingales. Now, I do so want to hear her on the first night."
"Well, that is easy."
"Yes, yes—if mamma Rachael would only think so. But papa is awful particular, and she may be afraid to take me. But with you for an escort, there can't really be any harm; so I want your help."
"But how did you know about this? I have not seen it in the journals."
"No, it hasn't got abroad yet. I will tell you all about it. When I was a very, very little girl, my poor mother died in America, where she was travelling among the Indians, I believe, with my father. Well, you see how hard it was on papa to be left with a poor little girl among the savages. I do not know just how it was; but when he married mamma Rachael, ever so long after, of course she got an American nurse in New York, who has been with me ever since. I call her my maid now, and won't have any other, French or not—for she's good as gold, and loves me dearly. You will believe that when I tell you our head gamekeeper wanted to marry her—she loved him, too, but wouldn't leave me. Margaret left a sister behind in New York that she was very fond of, and has been pining to see for years. Just before you came she received a letter from London, saying that her sister was there, travelling with some lady connected with the stage, and asking Margaret to come and visit her. Of course, Margaret went, and has been all this time on a long visit to her relative, who came to Europe with the great prima donna, Olympia. It is her adopted daughter that is coming out."
"Olympia. Yes, I saw her in America last year—a wonderfully beautiful creature, in a certain way; but her style of acting is not exactly what I should choose for you, Lady Clara, though her voice is wonderful."
"Oh, it isn't her I care about, but the young lady. Margaret says she is lovely as an angel, with a heavenly voice, but that she is frightened to death at coming on the stage, and begs and pleads with her mother not to insist on it; but Olympia is determined. My heart quite aches for this poor girl. She is about my age, Margaret says, and so beautiful—not a bit like me. I dare say it's true, for I would give the world to be an actress, and have the whole world go mad over my singing. By-the-way, Mr. Closs, do you know that I can sing? Mamma Rachael often says, if I were not a lady, I might go on the stage and beat half the prima donnas; besides, she says, I am a natural actress, and that seems to displease her."
"I think you are a natural actress," said Closs, with a tinge of sarcasm, for this whole subject displeased him, he scarcely could have told why.
"Now you mean to be unkind," said Clara, rising, with a warm flush in her cheeks; "I will not ask another favor of you."
Clara gathered up her embroidery, and prepared to leave the sheltered seat in which this conversation had been held. She certainly was not acting now, for Closs saw that her eyes were full of tears.
"Clara," he said, holding out both hands; "Clara, forgive me."
She hesitated a minute, then set down her basket, and crept close to his side, wiping the tears with one hand, while he clasped the other. Then she snatched her hand away, and held it behind her.
"No—I won't forgive you."
"Not if I persuade Lady Hope to take you up to London for this appearance?"
"Ah, then, perhaps."
"And go with you myself?"
"That will be splendid."
"That Olympia is a magnificent creature. I took supper with her once in New York."
"You, Mr. Closs! You took supper with her?"
"She sang for us that night, divinely."
"And you admire her so much?"
"Mr. Closs, I do not think I care to go. There is no need of your asking Lady Hope—I decline the whole thing."
"Still, I think we will go, Clara, if it is only to show you how much a woman can be worshipped, and yet despised. Yes, yes, we will go and hear Olympia sing."
But Clara was not to be so easily appeased. She gathered up her worsted and embroidery, huddled them together in her work-basket and went away, refusing to let Closs carry her basket, or even walk by her side.
While he stood watching the haughty little thing, a voice from the other side of the cedar tree arrested him. He turned, and saw a face that had once been familiar, but which he could not at the moment recognize.
The woman came forward with a startled look. She was evidently past thirty, and had an air of independence, which he had never seen in an English domestic.
She came closer, their eyes met, and he knew that it was Maggie Casey, the chambermaid who had led him up to that death-chamber, the last time he visited it. She had recognized him from the first.
"Mr. Hepworth," she said, in a low voice: "Mr. Hepworth!"
Closs had almost been prepared for this, and did not allow himself to be taken by surprise.
"You have got half the name right at any rate," he said, quietly; "Hepworth Closs, and you have it complete. You never could have heard it in full, when you lived in New York, I fancy."
"Closs, Closs? No, I never heard that name given to you; but it once belonged to Lady Hope, I remember."
"And of course, naturally belongs to her brother, my good girl," said Closs, with a quiet smile.
"Her brother? Whose brother? Not the Lady that was—"
The girl broke off, and her voice died in a low whisper.
"No, no!" broke in the man, with sudden impatience; "that was a terrible thing, which you and I will be all the happier in forgetting. The poor woman who did it is suffering a hard penalty, if she is not in fact dead."
"Yes, sir, yes; but how came her grandchild here? How came you there?"
"Hush!" said Hepworth, in a voice of command, that startled the woman; "who gave you authority to ask such questions? What can you know about the old woman's grandchild?"
"I know that the young lady who left you ten minutes ago was the little girl they called her grandchild. I saw the coroner holding the poor little thing up to look on the dead lady. I think that lady was her mother."
"And have told her so, perhaps?"
"No; I never did, and I never will. She called the old woman, Yates, grandmother; but I know better than that, for I know where her grandchild is this very minute."
"You know her grandchild?"
"Yes, I do, and a prettier creature never lived."
"You know her, and will tell me?"
"Indeed, I will do nothing of the sort," answered Margaret, for she had thrown off the jaunty abbreviation of her name. "There is something about all this that puzzles me. People that I never expected to see again keep crossing my path like ghosts, and somehow most of them have something to do with that time. Why can't the whole thing rest? I'm sure that poor old woman, Yates, has had her punishment, and I don't want to talk about what I don't understand."
"You are wise," said Closs, whose face had lost all its cheerfulness; "there is no good in even thinking of a dead past, and, as you say, that poor old woman has her punishment. I am glad you have said nothing of these things to my sister, or Lady Clara."
"Why should I?" said Margaret, with shrewd good sense: "what good would it do? In fact, what do I know? I only hope no such trouble will ever come to this house."
"Heaven forbid!" said Closs, fervently, and the two parted.
THE ITALIAN TEACHER.
Lady Clara was right. Olympia had brought her daughter to London after a professional tour on the continent, not as her daughter. Olympia would not force herself to admit that the tall Juno-like girl, who outshone her in beauty, and rebuked her flippant grace by a dignity at once calm and regal, could, by any possibility, be her own offspring, at least as yet. She had arranged it with Brown that no public acknowledgment of Caroline's relationship should be made, and that she should pass as an adopted child or protege, at least until her success on the operatic stage was confirmed.
Brown had stipulated, on his part, that the girl should receive her musical training in strict privacy, so far as that was possible, and, in no case, should be moved from his personal supervision, a condition that Olympia accepted with delight, for, after a month or two, she began to feel the presence of her cast-off husband something of a restraint, and regarded the quick growth and blooming loveliness of the young girl as almost a wrong to her own ripe beauty. Still she would not loosen her hold as a parent on the girl's life, but still hoped to reap a golden harvest from her talent, and sun her own charms, as they waned, in the splendor of her child's beauty.
With these feelings, Olympia opened her campaign in Europe, and swept a brilliant career from France to Italy, and from thence to Austria and St. Petersburg, leaving Caroline with her guardian and maid, in a village near Florence, where she could perfect herself in Italian and music at the same time.
There Caroline's life really began. They were staying at a pretty villa, terraced up from the banks of a bright little stream, that emptied itself into the Arno, so isolated and lonely, that it was perfect heaven to Brown, who was set down at once as the young lady's father, and to Eliza, who delighted in the chance of rest this arrangement promised.
While in Florence, Brown had taken his charge to one of the best teachers in Europe, who consented to break through his usual rules and give her lessons in the pretty home she had decided on. He would also charge himself with selecting a teacher of the language, who should make her pronunciation of the sweet Tuscan perfect as her voice, which was, in fact, something wonderful.
Some persons were in the musician's room when these arrangements were made, and one of them, a young man, drew slowly toward the piano, like a bird charmed against its will, and listened with rapt attention while Caroline took her first lesson. The girl looked up once or twice, as her voice rang out with unusual power, and unconsciously answered back the warm smile that enkindled his whole face. A musician himself—she knew by the very expression of his dark eyes.
Brown saw it too, and was delighted with the effect of her genius; which he, in his partial affection, deemed transcendent.
"He is a professor, I dare say, or perhaps a great singer," thought the kind old man; "but she charmed him at once."
Brown was confirmed in this idea when the eminent teacher he had consulted fell into a discussion with the man in Italian, which Caroline did not hear, and Brown himself could not understand, but which evidently turned upon Caroline's performance. They were both delighted with it; that was evident from the very ardor with which they spoke. Brown was pleased with all this, but Caroline, perhaps, remembered it with greater interest than he had felt, for the young man's face haunted her long after she was settled in the pretty villa, and had made herself at home among the vines and flowers that turned those terraces into a jungle of fruit and blossoms.
Nothing could be more lovely than the home Brown had chosen, and certainly no place could have been found more completely isolated. The coming of her teachers even became a matter of deep interest to Caroline.
One morning, when her language-master was expected, she went out early and stood upon the lower terrace, looking down the little stream which led to the Arno, as I have told you, impatient for his coming; impatient to know what sort of a person he would prove, and if his society might not break the monotonous stillness of that beautiful place. It was early yet. She had no reason to believe that her new teacher would be there for hours. She felt it very tiresome, walking up and down those terraces and watching the ripe olives drop one by one into the long grass from the branches overhead. The restlessness of youth was upon her, and she longed for some means of leaping over the next three hours, when the new teacher would come, perhaps with a disappointment.
He might be some poor old soul, whose very presence would prove an annoyance. No matter; a disappointment or an annoyance was better than utter stagnation. She wished the new man would come, she wished there was something for her to work at till he did come.
A flight of stone steps fell down to the water from the lower terrace. Fastened to an iron staple sunk deep into the granite, was a little boat swinging by a cable. Caroline's heart gave a leap at the sight.
She ran down the steps, untied the cable, and in a moment was sweeping down the little stream, pulling her oars like an Indian girl.
It was a lovely flow of water, clear as crystal. The sky was mirrored in it softly blue; the sun struck it with arrows of silver, the flowering shrubs trailed down from its banks, and rippled the waters like the lost plumage of a peacock; fruit-laden vines broke away from the olive branches, and dipped their purple clusters in the stream, where they shone out richly—amethysts gleaming through crystal. Everything was beautiful around her. Full of youth and health she gloried in the exercise of rowing; gloried in the sunshine and quivering shadows through which her pretty boat ploughed its way, breaking up pictured trees and clouds, and turning them to foam.
The current was with her, the wind swept softly down stream, bringing a scent of wall-flowers and jessamines with it. The boat shot downward like the shuttle through a web. The water deepened, the stream grew wider; she could hear the broad, free rush of the Arno, a little way off. Still she went on.
It would be glorious, finding herself in the broad river sweeping toward Florence, in her arrow-like boat. Of course she could turn at any time, but not yet.
Something stopped the boat. A wild vine, hidden in the water, had seized upon it, and swept it half around, then a current tossed it forward into a sweeping whirl of waters. She was close by a vortex near the mouth of the river, a ravenous little whirlpool that threatened to swallow her up. The oars dropped from her hands; she seized the sides of her boat and sat still, rigid as stone, white as death. Then a great arrow, or what seemed to be one, shot through the water close by her, ploughing it white with foam. Then a man leaped into her boat, pitching a pair of oars in before him, and holding the cable of another boat in his hand.
He neither spoke nor looked at her, but twisting the cable around one ankle, and setting the other foot upon it further up, seized his oars, and for a minute or two battled like a tiger with the waters.
The boat rocked, wheeled slowly away from the awful danger, then plunged forward with a shock that brought a sharp cry from Caroline's white lips.
"Do not be afraid. The danger is over."
She turned her pallid face, and over it came a flash of recognition. It was the man who had listened to her first lesson in Florence. He recognized her, pale as she was, and slackened his oars—they were out of danger now.
"Am I so fortunate? My pupil! This is a great happiness."
Caroline leaned forward and held out her trembling hands. Words of gratitude were on her lips, but they only trembled there, without utterance. He leaned over the little hands, as they came quivering toward him, but could not touch them, his own being sufficiently occupied with the oars.
"There is nothing to fear now sweet lady," he said, in Italian, which never sounded so sweet to her before. "The danger is wholly past—but it was danger!"
Caroline shuddered; she almost felt those curling waters sweep over her. The sensation was terrible.
"And you saved me?—you, whose face I have seen before so often, so often. It seems like that of a friend."
"Once—only once. I wish it had been a thousand times, if that could lessen your fright."
"Tell me how it was," said Caroline, beginning to recover herself. "I cannot realize it."
"Nor I, sweet lady, it was all so sudden. I saw a boat whirling toward that treacherous vortex, the flash of a blue mantle, the whiteness of an upturned face. What I did, you know. I cannot tell how it was done; did not dream who the person was. Now, I long to fall upon my knees and thank God."
Caroline clasped the hands which had fallen to her lap, bent her head, and unspoken words of thanksgiving trembled in her heart. The man looked upon her eagerly. That gentle glow of devotion gave her face the sweetness of a madonna.
He thought this, and almost dropped the oars, the longing to fall down upon his knees by her side was so intense.
She saw this, understood it, and smiled for the first time.
"I was asking God to forgive me for being grateful to you before I thought of Him."
"And I was asking Him to make me grateful enough for having saved you. Surely that should bring his blessing on us both."
Caroline bent her head, and a sweet smile crept over her lips. Then she bethought herself of the things of this world, and grew troubled.
"But I am taking you from your course. Forgive me!"
"From my course? Not so. It was for this purpose I come. Perhaps you are not informed that I am to make your Italian more perfect than it is, which is scarcely needed."
She said no more, but her face lighted up, and he saw her hands softly clasp themselves, as if she were thanking God over again. Then his own head bent forward, and he made a great effort with the oars, but it was only to hide the smile that broke over it.
So up the little river these two people went more and more slowly, for the stillness and the beauty were pleasant beyond anything, and both dreaded the moment when this delicious happiness would end. But they reached the steps at last, and there was Mr. Brown and Eliza, on the lower terrace, in great trouble.
They had missed her and the boat. Dreading they scarcely knew what danger, both were anxious to follow her, but they had no means. Thus an hour of keen anxiety had passed, while they stood watching the river.
"There is your father, looking anxious," said the young man. "I hope he has not suffered much."
Caroline did not answer him, but sprang to the steps and ran up them, holding out her hands.
"My child! my dear, dear child!" cried Brown, throwing both arms around her.
He often used endearing terms like this when much affected, and she thought nothing of it, but kissed his face, and kissed Eliza also, who scolded her terribly, as was her habit when disturbed by a sudden fit of tenderness—a state of feeling she was sure to resent.
"Father Brown, this is my new teacher. The professor sent him. He has just saved my life. I have tried to thank him, but could not. You have more power."
Brown and Eliza both came close to the young man; but he shook his head, and tried to evade them. After her tender thankfulness, their gratitude, generous and pure as it was, seemed coarse to him.
"We must begin the lesson," he said, laughing, and drawing a book from his pocket. "This little accident, which was nothing, has made us lose time."
He said this in Italian, which, of course, silenced them; and at this moment the man could say nothing which his companion would not confirm.
Caroline smiled, and went up the steps from terrace to terrace, while he kept by her side. Her color had come back more vividly than ever. The sunshine struck her hair, and turned all its brown to gold. She was dressed like a peasant of the better class, with some scarlet in her blue bodice, and more bordering the bottom of her skirt. Her neck was uncovered, for the blue mantle had fallen off and now lay in the bottom of the boat. It was a becoming dress, but not for her—she was too queenly.
They went into that old stone dwelling, forming one group; but the moment the parlor was reached, Eliza went off to her work, she said—but if any one had followed her, it would have been to a chamber under the roof, where she was upon her knees full twenty minutes, thanking God for Caroline's escape from death.
Then Brown went away, and seated himself in an arbor on one of the terraces, where he was seen once or twice to take out his handkerchief and wipe his eyes, as if the dust troubled him.
The man up yonder, brave as he was, had rather evaded his gratitude; but he knew that God would listen.
Then Caroline took one of the volumes her new teacher had brought, and retreated to a latticed window, which had a cushioned seat in it large enough for two, though I really do not believe she thought of that. At any rate, he did not accuse her of it, even in his thoughts, but went quietly to the window and took a seat by her side, at which she blushed a little, but did not move.
Caroline was very well grounded in her Italian; so, instead of grammars, these young people fell to reading the native poets, and began with Tasso—a course of studies well calculated to produce more results than one; but Brown did not understand Italian, though he was a splendid musician, and repeated it like a parrot. Besides, what did Eliza know about Tasso, Petrarch, Dante, or any of those wild fellows that disseminate love-poison by the line?
When her teacher was ready to go, Brown asked his name. I have no idea that Caroline had thought of it. The young man seemed quite taken aback for a minute, but answered, after that, something that would have sounded like an English name rendered in Italian, had a thorough Italian scholar been present, which there was not.
Well, for three months those young people sat twice a week in the seat in the lattice-window, and read the poets together. Need I say more about that?
At the end of three months Olympia had an engagement in London, and sent for Brown to join her there with his charge.
THE MOTHER AND DAUGHTER IN OPPOSITION.
Of course there is no such thing as arousing all London into a fit of enthusiasm, because millions of people are not moved at the same moment by anything less than a revolution. But the West End, just then, wanted an excitement, and found it in the coming of Olympia. Her style was new, her action a little too free, perhaps, for the high-bred dames of the aristocracy; but they all went, and were amused, shocked, fascinated, and went again, but only to keep the young people, they said, from utter demoralization—the creature really was irresistible.
At any rate, Olympia was the fashion, and drew famously, till a rival novelty proclaimed itself. Then she was horror-stricken by seeing a few empty seats in the house. To Olympia, an empty seat was desolation.
That night Olympia went to her daughter's room the moment she reached her hotel after a late performance. The cloak which she had worn from the theatre still hung about her shoulders. Her cheeks blazed with rouge, her eyes were restless and anxious.
Caroline started up from her sweet sleep, disturbed and almost terrified.
"What is it, mamma?" she said, holding back the hair from her lovely face with both hands. "Is any one ill—Mr. Brown?"
Olympia sat down on her daughter's bed, and drew the cloak around her; not that she was cold, but to show that her resolution was taken.
"No one is ill, Caroline; as for Brown, I know nothing about him. But I come to prepare you; for this week we shall bring you out. In what opera have you practiced most?"
"Bring me out? Oh, mamma!"
The girl fell back on her pillow, dismayed, and clasping both hands, held them out imploringly.
"Oh! I thought you had given it up."
"Foolish child! I never give anything up. Ask Brown."
It was true; that woman never gave up her own will to any one. The possibility of sacrifice or willing concession could not enter her mind.
"But I cannot, I cannot! Oh, mother! think how little I have seen of crowds. To sing before one would kill me!"
"Mother!" repeated Olympia, "how often must I tell you that I hate the word!—an American vulgarism!"
"Forgive me, mamma; it was only because I was so frightened at the idea of singing in public. But I know that you did not mean it."
The poor girl made a pitiful attempt at disbelief, and tried to win acquiescence with a timid smile.
"I not only mean it, but will have no more evasion or protest. When we left New York, you were dying to get on the stage."
"Oh, that was before I knew—before I dreamed—"
"Before you knew—before you dreamed what?"
"That it made one so—so—"
"Well, speak out!"
"So unhappy. Indeed, indeed, I cannot say what I mean; only, I would rather die than put rouge on my face, and—oh, forgive me! I did not mean to make you look so angry!"
But Olympia was angry. The prima donna of a company does not usually bear much opposition, even in trifles, and here Olympia had great interests at stake.
Through the young girl before her she intended to run a second career, and thus crowd the enjoyment of two lives into one.
"This all comes of Brown," she said. "He would have you kept quiet, and out of the world, pretending that society would distract attention from your practice; but it was all an artful plan to keep you to himself. I have not been so busy as not to understand that, let me tell him."
Caroline started up in bed, almost as much excited as the actress.
There was plenty of good honest character in the girl; and, if she appeared timid, it was from delicacy, not weakness.
"You wrong Mr. Brown. There is not a selfish feeling in his heart. What he does, is always done for my good."
"Yes; I suppose it is for your good when he drinks too much!"
There was a sneer on Olympia's lip, an evil spirit in her eye, which destroyed all its beauty; but even this did not make the girl shrink; she only put out both her hands, and turned her head away.
"Oh! how can you?" she cried. "I never saw him in my life when he was not in all respects a gentleman."
"But I have! I have!"
"Ah, madam, it is cruel to say this. Mr. Brown was my friend, my only friend, long before—before you came and took me away from my poor little home. If you could make me think ill of him, would it be kind?"
"But he has been treacherous; he has taught you hatred of the profession which you were so crazy for at one time."
"No, no; it was not Mr. Brown. I saw for myself."
"Yes, the dark side; never in its brightness or its glory. But you shall, you shall."
Caroline lay back upon her pillow and covered her face with one hand. The sight of that beautiful woman, so hard in her resolve, so completely ignoring all feelings but her own, was hateful to her.
"Please let me rest to-night," she pleaded.
"To-night, yes. It is enough that you understand me now; but, after this, I shall expect no opposition. If you are so stupidly ignorant of the power which lies in your own beauty and genius, I am not. So try and come to your senses before morning. Good-night."
The woman went out, with her head aloft, and her cloak trailing behind her, for, in her excitement, she had flung it away from one shoulder, that she might gesticulate with the arm that was free.
Caroline turned upon her pillow and cried bitterly till morning.
Olympia was right. The girl had been scrupulously kept from all society that her freshness might be preserved, and her education completed.
She had been to the theatres, here and there, when some new piece was presented, but it was rather as a study than an amusement; and after a knowledge of the public idol in private life had slowly swept away all the romance of their first meeting, the innate coarseness of this beautiful, selfish woman was not long in revealing itself to the pure-minded girl, who soon began to grieve that she could not love and still admire the mother she had at first almost worshipped. Olympia, who had found it easy enough to dictate to managers, and oppress subordinates, had far different material to act upon when she broke in upon the midnight sleep of the girl Daniel Yates had grounded in the nobility of true womanhood.
The next day, being Sunday, was Olympia's great day of rest and amusement. She slept till long after mid-day, ate an epicurean breakfast in a little dressing-room with rose-tinted draperies, ran lazily over the pages of some French novel, in the silken depths of a pretty Turkish divan, heaped up with cushions, till long after dark; then threw herself into the mysteries of a superb toilet, and came into her exquisite little drawing-room like a princess—say Marguerite of Navarre—ready to entertain the guests, invariably invited on that evening, in a fashion that made her quite as popular in this particular social strata as she was behind the footlights.
From these little suppers Caroline had been carefully excluded up to this time; but the morning after she had left the young girl in tears upon her pillow, Olympia broke into her day of luxurious repose by sending for her agent, with whom she had a rather stormy interview in the dressing-room, from which Brown came out pale as death, but with an uprightness of the person, and an expression in the eyes that no one had ever seen there before.
About an hour after he had departed, Olympia's French maid was seen hurrying up stairs to the chamber which Caroline occupied, and where she stood that moment, just as she had sprung from her chair, with a wild and startled look; for every knock she heard seemed to come from her mother, whose appearance she dreaded terribly that morning. But, instead of Olympia, the French maid came in, with a creamy-white dress of India gauze thrown over her arm, its whiteness broken up by the blue ripple of a broad sash, with a purple tinge in it; and in her hands the woman carried some half-open moss-roses, with a delicate perfume absolutely breaking from their hearts, as if they were the outgrowth of a generous soil—which they were not, however difficult it might be to decide from a first or second look; these French are so like nature in everything but themselves.
The French maid laid these things daintily on Caroline's bed, where the roses glowed out, as if cast upon the crust of a snow-bank. Then, looking upon the girl's magnificent hair, which was simply turned back from her forehead and done in braids behind, she said, with pretty, broken speech:
"I will do it in crimp and puffs, if mademoiselle pleases. With her face, it will be charming."
Caroline drew a deep breath, and cast a half-frightened, half-pleased glance at her maid, Eliza, who stood near by, looking grimly at preparations she could not understand. This was not half so dreadful as the presence she had expected, and the dress was so lovely that she could not keep her eyes from it.
"What is it all about?" questioned staunch America, with a look at France which was not altogether friendly.
"It is," answered the French maid, spreading out her little hands, "It is that madame will have mademoiselle down to her little supper. The evening will be very charming because of mademoiselle."
Caroline glanced at the blush-roses, and her eyes began to sparkle. Then she caught a glimpse of Eliza's face, and turned her glance resolutely away, looking penitent. Eliza knew something of madame's little suppers, but Caroline did not. If bursts of laughter and a soft tangle of voices sometimes came up to her room in the night, she had no means of knowing that the noise was not from the servants' hall, and Eliza would have died rather than enlighten her. Besides, she had nothing absolutely wrong to tell, for some of the first young noblemen in England came to Olympia's little entertainments; and when Eliza heard their names announced she had not a word to say, having lived long enough to attain a reverence for titles.
In fact, it is doubtful if she did not value her charge a little more highly from the fact that she lived in a house where noblemen came and went with such evident sociability.
At first Eliza had darted fiery glances at the robe of India gauze, thinking it a theatrical costume; but when she learned that it was only a dress which would introduce her darling into the best society, from which a selfish mother had rigidly excluded her, she allowed her features to relax, and absolutely smiled on the little French woman.
Then the smile, which had been struggling all the time about Caroline's mouth, broke over her whole face. She could neither keep her hands from the dress or the moss-roses, but touched them daintily, half doubtful, indeed, if they were intended for her.
"If mademoiselle will please," said the little French woman, drawing a low chair before the dressing-table, and taking an ivory brush, carved at the back like a Chinese puzzle, in her hand.
Caroline sat down, smiling in spite of herself. Eliza stood a little on one side, resolved to be upon her guard.
While she was looking, down came that abundant hair in a torrent, tress upon tress, wave after wave, with tinges of gold rippling through and through the brown. The little French woman held up both hands, brush and all, in astonishment, and burst out in a noisy cataract of French, which delighted Eliza all the more because she could not understand a word of it.
But Caroline did understand, and this outburst of genuine admiration pleased her so much that, in a moment, her face was glowing like a whole thicket of roses, and she hadn't the courage to lift her eyes, from fear that Eliza would see how foolish she was to care about what the little French woman said.
Eliza saw all this, but it only made that grim smile broader and deeper on her own face; and when the golden-brown hair was frizzed and rolled, and dropped in two rich curls on that white shoulder, she turned her face upon the French woman and said, "Very nice!" in a way that made the little woman put her head on one side, and nod it half a dozen times, while she answered:
"Yes, I tink so."
India gauze was dropped like a cloud over Caroline's head; the sash of purplish blue was girded around her waist, and bunched up in superb bows behind; then the cloudy stuff was gathered up in drapery from a silken under-skirt, tinted like the sash, and fastened back with clusters of the moss-roses.
This completed the toilet. No jewels were there, not even a string of pearls, though Olympia had ropes of them; and Caroline rather sighed for their completeness when she took a full-length view of herself in the mirror, as foolish girls will, who never learn the value of simplicity and freshness until both are lost.
Then the little French woman went away to Olympia, giving Caroline plenty of time for reflection. The first thing the girl did was to look shyly at Eliza, who pursed up her lips, and did her best to keep from smiling. Then she took courage, and said:
"I hear," answered the grim hand-maiden.
"Eliza, do you think he would know me in this dress? Or, if so, would he like it, as he did that dear Italian costume?"
"I don't know," answered Eliza. "Them Italians have queer notions about dress. Now, for my part, them short skirts and low-necked waists did well enough for common-sized girls; but you're too tall, and carry your head too high, for anything but a skirt that sweeps out and puffs up like that."
"Still, I shall always like the dear old costume, Eliza. Oh, what a happy, happy life madame broke up when she sent for us!"
"Yes, I suppose so. You seemed to enjoy it; and as for that young fellow, what with his boating on the river, his shooting birds—which I hate—on the hills, and his lessons—well, really, he might about as well have lived with us."
"Oh! Eliza, shall we ever be so happy again?" cried the girl, kindling up with bright memories.
"Not just in the same way; real folks never are. But I suppose people have a pretty equal share of the good and bad things of life, as they go along. Now I haven't an idea but that the young fellow thought all was up with him when he got the letter you left at the house."
"I should not wonder," said Caroline, and her bosom began to heave with an after-swell of the indignation which had stormed it, when she left Italy at an hour's notice. "It was a cruel thing. I never will forgive you or Mr. Brown. A few hours would have made no difference, and he was coming the next day."
"What then? If he was a teacher, Mr. Brown left his money, with two months' overpay."
"His money!" repeated Caroline, with infinite scorn.
"If not money, what did he come for?" questioned the hand-maiden, sharply.
"Eliza, you shall never think that—it degrades him and me. He never touched—he never thought of money. If Mr. Brown left it, as you say, I am sure he felt insulted."
"Then what did he come for?" inquired Eliza, with dry emphasis.
"Because—because he loved me, and could not live without seeing me, because I—I—"
"Loved him," said the maid.
But Caroline had broken down wholly with this first passionate confession. The poor girl sank to a couch, flushed all over with such shame as only a woman of fine sensibilities can feel for that of which she has no reason to be ashamed at all.
"Oh! Eliza, how can you be so cruel?" she exclaimed, dropping her hands, and revealing a face of crimson, wet with tears. "I never meant to keep it from you."
"Of course, you never meant it, and you didn't do it, which is more. You supposed I didn't know. Men may be blind as bats—they usually are; and our Brown is worse than the commonality. But trust an old maid for spying out a love secret. It's like exploring a strange land for her, you know. Lord! Miss Carry, you can't keep a secret from Eliza Casey; but then, why should you? Isn't she bound to be your staunch friend forever and ever?"
These words opened a new source of anxiety to the really unhappy girl, who forgot her love-shame, and plunged at once into a new subject.
"Oh! Eliza, if you could help me. Madame is determined. That is, she wishes me to go on the stage."
"Well, you have been told that from the first."
"I know—I know; but it seemed so far off then, like death, or any other evil that you know will come, but cannot tell when. But now she says it must be at once. Oh! Eliza, I never can do it. The very fear of it makes me shudder."
"But why? I remember, when we first came out here, you had no other wish but to be like her—your mother, I mean. Like her! I would rather see you dead!"
Eliza muttered the last words under her breath, and Caroline only heard the question.
"Yes, I know. Everything seemed so bright then—she brightest of all; but I was getting to shrink from it before we went up to that dear little villa, and since then it has seemed like death. Oh! tell her this, Eliza, and beg of her to let me be as I am."
"But shall I tell her all, and say that is the reason?"
"No, no, no! You may think it. Mr. Brown may think it. That is like myself having a secret; but do not tell her for the whole world."
"Tell her! Well, well, I aint likely to; but if she is set upon it, what can I say? Madame is not a woman to give up her plans, and you have got such a voice! Sometimes I think it would be splendid to see you taking the wind out of her sails."
"But it would kill me!"
"Poor thing! Well, never mind—I will stand by you, right or wrong; but this will be a tough battle. Tell me, though, did that young fellow have anything to do with setting you against the profession?"
"There it is, Eliza. He never knew that I thought of it, and used to speak of female performers with such careless contempt, as if they were ten thousand degrees beneath him."
"And he only a teacher!" said Eliza, lifting her head in the air.
"And he only a teacher; but so proud, so sensitive, so regal in all he said or did. Oh! Eliza, if he knew that Olympia, grand, beautiful, and worshipped as she is, were my mother, I fear he would never care for me again."
"Why, how on earth could you help that?"
"I could not, and it would be wicked to desire it. But, Eliza, I ought to have had the courage to tell him, and I put it off. Every day I said to myself, the very next time he comes, and at last you know how it was. I had no chance, and now I may never see him again. He will always think me Mr. Brown's daughter, and I shall feel like an impostor. I cannot help this; but to go on the stage, when he has said so much against it, that I will not do, unless forced there by my mother's authority."
"Well, as I said before, I will stand by you, right or wrong; and so will Mr. Brown, I know. I only wish he was your father."
"He could not be kinder if he was," said Caroline.
Just then the door opened, and Olympia's French maid looked through.
"Madame is in the drawing-room, and waits for mademoiselle."
"I will come! I will come!" exclaimed Caroline, breathlessly, and she hurried down stairs.
SOME OLD ACQUAINTANCES GET INTO A CONJUGAL DIFFICULTY.
Lord Hope had a house in Belgravia, that could always be made ready for the family at a day's notice. So Rachael, who could refuse nothing to her brother, sent up her steward to make preparations one day, and followed him the next with Lady Clara and Hepworth Closs; Margaret Casey and other servants in attendance, of course.
These persons reached London on the very Saturday when Olympia was stricken with dismay by finding an empty seat or two in her usually well packed houses. When this discovery first broke upon the prima donna, Hepworth Closs was sitting quietly in the pit, where he found himself, as if by accident. They had reached town only in time for a late dinner, when the ladies, being greatly fatigued, proclaimed their intention of retiring early, which was, in fact, casting him adrift for the evening. Being thus let loose upon the world, he very naturally brought up at the opera, and was seated so near the stage that his eyes more than once caught those of Olympia, who gave him one of those quick glances of recognition, which seemed aimed at the whole audience, but hit only one person.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but isn't she a stunner!" said a voice, as the first act closed. Hepworth might not have recognized these words as addressed to himself, but for the weight of a large hand which was laid on his arm. As it was, he turned promptly, and encountered a stout, heavy man, handsomely dressed, but for a massive gold chain which passed across his bosom into his vest pocket, and drooped in glittering lengths far down the rotundity of his capacious person, and a large diamond that blazed on his plaited shirt bosom. From the chain and the diamond, Hepworth's first thought was, that the person must be some Californian or Australian acquaintance, belonging to his old mining days, but the man soon set that idea aside.
"You don't happen to remember me, Mr. Hepworth, but I knew you at the first sight. Ask my lady here. Didn't I say, Mrs. Stacy, that gentleman with the coal-black mustacher, and them splendid eyes, is Mr. Hepworth, if ever I set my two eyes on Mr. Hepworth, which I did many a time, when he used to come to Forty-third street?"
Hepworth started. Forty-third street! Was he to be forever haunted by the place and people connected with that awful tragedy? Why was this? The guilt was not his, yet he could not feel himself near any person, however remotely connected with it, without thrills of dread.
The man had been talking on, but Hepworth heard nothing at first, he had been too painfully startled; when he did listen, these words fell on his ear:
"That was an awful affair, Mr. Hepworth; most people was astonished, but I never was; always had my suspicions of that old woman; believe she robbed the house of lots and lots of things, after the lady was dead; in fact, am sure of it. Mrs. Stacy here is of my opinion. There was a girl in the house—perhaps you remember her, sir—Maggie we used to call her; she and the old woman Yates was thick as thieves, and both laid their heads together. It wasn't for nothing, let me tell you; their nests were feathered, you may believe. There never was a sharper girl than Maggie Casey."
"She was just a forerd, imperdent cretur as set her cap at you like a fiery draggon," broke out the woman, who occupied a seat by the stout man, and was evidently his wife; "a cretur as I wouldn't wipe my shoes on, after a long walk—no, not if she'd give me fifty pair for doing of it."
"I am not saying anything to the contrary, my dear, am I? That girl was after me sharp enough, but I never encouraged her. Mr. Hepworth can satisfy you on that point, my own Harriet, for I remember, as if it was yesterday, he and I talking about it the very day afore that murder, and we both agreed that her conduct was scandalous."
Hepworth shuddered. How well he remembered that artful conversation. How hideous it appeared to him now.
"But I don't think Mr. Hepworth remembers us for positive, even now," said the woman; "just look in my face, young gent, and say if you do."
"Harriet, my dear, isn't that a little, just a little, promiscous?" said the husband, as a broad, red face, with a pointed nose, turning up in the centre, and two small leaden blue eyes looking across it, was bent forward, and challenged Hepworth's inspection. "Remember, things have changed since we knew this gentleman."
"In course they have changed, and I haven't no doubt that is just what is a puzzling him now; but when I ask Mr. Hepworth if he remembers the first punken-pie he ever eat in his born days, and who made it, he'll be sure to remember Harriet, and I ain't ashamed to say that I am her, if I do wear an Injur shawl, and if that diment in your bozzom is a flashing right in his eyes. Self-made men, and women too, mayn't be of much account in England, but in New York, the aristocracy are always a trying to make out that they were born next door to the alms-house, and started life with just twenty-five cents in their pockets, so you and I needn't be ashamed."
Hepworth was not cosmopolitan, and managed to get the truth out of this confusion of cockney, Irish, and Yankee dialect. In fact, at the first moment, he had recognized Matthew Stacy and Harriet Long in the persons who claimed his acquaintance, and they stung his memory like a nest of serpents.
"You'll be glad to know," said Stacy, "that Harriet has been, in all respects, up to the 'casion whenever I've made a rise in the world. There's smartness in that woman, I can tell you. When I was elected alderman of our ward, she just went into the saloon and dealt out licker to my constituents with her own hand. There is no telling the number of votes she got for me by that perseeding. You'd be astonished."
Here the curtain went up with a rush, and Stacy could only make himself heard by sharp whispers, which reached Hepworth in fragments, when the music sank lowest.
"Got into a first-rate thing. Mayor with us—street contracts—cut through, widened—got hold of a dead charter—revived it—stock went up like winking—kept the Irish vote of the ward in my fist—no counting the presents that woman got. I never took one, of course; such a woman!"
Here Olympia's voice swept through the house, with an outpouring of melody that brought the audience to its feet, but when the tumult subsided, Hepworth found that the man had been talking on and on, with an under-tow of political gossip, that reached him in words at last.
"They wanted the Legislature, which wasn't to be had without money, you know; two or three men had been seen—nothing less than a hundred thousand would do it. I was president of the board, went up myself, saw the members, who sent me to their confidential men—jackals we call 'em, ha! ha!—got it done for sixty thousand—said nothing, but divided the rest—jackals got twenty, the other twenty—you understand. She got an Inger shawl out of that operation, the very one she has on."
"No, it isn't nothing of the sort. This one was the other," whispered Mrs. Stacy, holding up a corner of the magnificent shawl she wore.
Hepworth turned and gazed upon the shawl until his face grew white as death, in the gaslight. The very sight of that rich garment made him faint.
The mistake he had made had a silencing effect upon Stacy too. He had no wish that the history of that garment should be produced, and when his wife was about to speak, silenced her at once.
"My dear Harriet," he said, "how often have I told you that talking at a theater or the operer is awfully vulgar. I wonder you can persist in it, and Mr. Hepworth by. Just listen to that music! Haven't you no taste? If you haven't, just take a look around the boxes. That young feller there is the Prince of Wales."
Mrs. Stacy took a mother-of-pearl opera glass from her lap, and obediently turned it upon the royal box.
Before the performance was over, and while Hepworth was drawn back, in spite of himself, to the most painful scenes of his life, an usher came down the nearest passage, and put a little twisted note into his hand. It was from Olympia, inviting him to supper the next evening.
Hepworth crushed the pretty missive in his hand, while he turned to send a verbal refusal, but the usher had withdrawn, and he had no other way of sending a reply that night.
The opera was at its close now, and Hepworth left the house, irritated and restless. Could he find no place in which this miserable past would not haunt him? He had hardly made his way through the crowd when his arm was seized, and Stacy almost wheeled him around on the pavement.
"My dear sir, this way. Mrs. Stacy is already in the carriage. Of course we would not ride and let you go afoot. Have been a poor man myself once—needn't deny that to you. Know what it is to keep up a show without capital. But no old friend of mine shall go afoot while I have the wherewith to pay for a carriage, and an empty seat in it. Shall set in the back seat with Mrs. Stacy, upon my soul you shall, and that's an honor I don't offer to every man. Now just tell me where you are putting up."
Hepworth laughed, in spite of his annoyance. The patronizing fussiness of the ex-alderman struck a keen sense of the ridiculous, which was strong in his character.
"If you insist," he said. "But you are too generous."
"Not at all, not at all. When Alderman Stacy does a thing, he does it handsomely. This way, this way!"
Hepworth seated himself in the carriage where Mrs. Stacy squeezed herself in one corner, and gathered up her skirts to make room for him, and Stacy had his foot on the step, when a new poster, just placed at the door of the opera house, struck his attention, and he stepped back to examine it.
"'First appearance of a young American, a protege of Olympia.' Just read that poster, Mr. Hepworth, and tell me what you think of it," he said, lifting himself into the carriage. "Mrs. Stacy, my dear, just look that way, and tell me if you can guess who it is that will make a first appearance Monday night? You know that young lady, and so does Mr. Hepworth. Now, make a guess."
"How can you?" said Mrs. Stacy. "You know, Matthew, dear, I never was good at conundrums and such like."
Matthew puffed himself out with a deep, long breath, and clasping two huge hands encased in flame-colored gloves on his knee, leaned toward Hepworth.
"You try, now."
Hepworth shook his head, and Stacy burst out with his mystery.
"It's the identical child that was brought up at the inquest in Forty-third street—Daniel Yates' little daughter."
"No!" exclaimed Mrs. Stacy. "That little creature?"
"It ain't nobody else—you may bet high on that, Mrs. Stacy."
Hepworth kept perfectly still, but his heart fairly stopped beating.
"But how did you find out, Matthew, dear?"
"Oh! we aldermen find out everything. The girl was brought up in the country, near Sing-Sing, in a cedar-post cottage that the executor wanted to raise some money on. I went up to see it, and had a good look at the girl. Yes, my dear, she was, to say, very handsome, but proud. Daniel Yates had brought her up like a queen, and I give you my word she looked it; but there was no mistake about it. The executor had just gobbled up everything Yates left, and there was no one to look after him, so that the girl was just nowhere financially. I found out that the cottage could not be sold or mortgaged, nor let either, according to law, though the executor tried it on hard, and came again and again about it, especially after she left it. So I found out everything about the girl. That primer donner took a fancy to her, and adopted her right out of hand because of her voice, and to-morrow night you can both of you see her, for I mean to have a box up among the British arrestocracy that night, and I invite you both free gratis for nothing."
"Are you sure of this?" questioned Hepworth, who had not spoken till now.
"Just as sure as I am that Alderman Stacy sits before you. But if you don't believe it, ask the girl yourself. I mean to call on her, and Mrs. Stacy will do likewise. You can go along. That is, we will call, if she comes out first chop on Monday night."
"Mr. Stacy," said the superb matron in the back seat, drawing herself up with wonderful dignity, "I don't mean to put on airs nor nothing because I'm your lady and richer than some folks, or Mr. Hepworth wouldn't be an honored guest in this here carriage; but I must set my foot square aginst actresses and primmer donners—in short, theatre-clers in general."
"Just you hear that," said Stacy, looking at Hepworth. "Isn't she coming it down strong, and lifting of her head high?"
"It isn't that, Mr. Stacy, but because I am a wife and a—a woman—that I feel called upon to stand between them creturs and the sect. Pay them your money, Mr. Stacy—pay them any amount of money from the front—but nothing beyond that, Mr. Stacy!"
"Oh, humbug," said Mr. Stacy; "that is putting it too strong, Harriet—as if I couldn't pay money or not, just as I please."
"It isn't humbug, Mr. Stacy, but a question of benignant morality, which it is every woman's duty to take up and hurl back, till she totters on the brink, martyr-like, between heaven and earth! Don't you think so, Mr. Hepworth?"
"Did you ever hear anything up to that?" exclaimed Stacy, swelling with pompous satisfaction. "Harriet is the sort of woman that a man of substance can depend on, morrerly, financierly, and—and—. Not that I'm going to give in, you know; but it's satisfaction to know that your money has lifted such a person into her proper spear."
"That's very kind of you, and I feel it, Stacy, dear; but when you speak of lifting me up with your money, who was it that owned the first five hundred dollars you, or me, Mr. Stacy?"
"It's no use thundering out my baptismal name against me, Mr. Stacy, for that's a thing I won't bear at no price! Truth is truth, Mr. Hepworth, and rich as that man is, rolling over and over in gold, like a porpose in salt water, it was my five hundred dollars that did it! Let him say if I didn't own that much?"
"But didn't I marry you, and then didn't you own me? Would you set down good looks, financial ability, and moral character A number one, at five hundred dollars, and you—"
What was coming next Hepworth was destined never to learn, for Mrs. Stacy, overcome by a fit of conjugal remorse, leaned forward and placed one substantial hand in the flame-colored glove of her husband.
"Matthew, forgive me! I didn't mean it. That mention of the primmer donner and her protager upset me; but I am your wife yet, Stacy, dear—your true and lawful wife—just as ready to travel with you into every tropical climate of Europe as I ever was."
Stacy would not clasp his flame-colored fingers around that hand, but let it drop with ignominious looseness, while he drew a handkerchief from his pocket and buried his face in it.
"Harriet! Harriet! you have hurt my feelings, mortified my—my manhood before an old friend!"
It was in the night, the carriage was close, the lamps dim, and Hepworth only knew that there a heap of drapery launched itself into the front seat, that a voice came from the midst, saying:
"Oh, Matthew! Matthew!"
Then the white handkerchief dropped like a flag at half mast, and the reconciliation was complete.
THE OPERATIC SUPPER.
"Indeed, Mr. Closs, I insist!"
"But, my dear child, I have no particular desire to go."
"That is because you think that I care about it. Why should I? In fact, it is unbearable that you should have the idea."
Hepworth Closs had in all loyalty told Lady Clara of the invitation he had received from Olympia, and, instead of resenting it as he expected, she met his vague desire more than half-way—one of the wisest things any woman can do, for half the sins in the world are committed because they are forbidden; not that this young girl knew of the wisdom. With her, it was half pride, half bravado; she was indignant that Hepworth should think of going—more indignant that he should have refused the invitation at once, without telling her of it.
The result was, she insisted on his accepting it, though her heart was burning with jealousy all the time.
Closs, as I have said somewhere, had learned many things in his travels; but in Japan and the frontier countries of America girls like Clara had not often come under his observation, and he was far too deeply in love for a cool examination of her character or actions.
So her impulse of unbounded generosity deceived him utterly, and having some shrinking curiosity regarding Daniel Yates' daughter, he resolved to accept Olympia's invitation.
Of course, Clara found a dozen absurd reasons for quarreling with him that day, not one of which seemed to relate to Olympia; yet that beautiful woman was the root of them all, if Hepworth could have understood it.
But he only comprehended that every room in that sumptuous dwelling was dull as a wilderness on that particular Sabbath day. Rachael kept her room; Clara would not make herself agreeable; and he felt it a relief when night came and took him to the little bijou of a mansion where Olympia was waiting the advent of her guests.
Hepworth had seen this woman in New York, and knew something of the fantastic elegance with which she could surround herself; but the house he entered surpassed anything he had ever seen in that republican city.
Nothing sad or even grave in art or nature was ever permitted to visit the Queen of Song in her own home. Her servants were expected to be smiling and cheerful. There was not a sombre corner in her dwelling.
The very hall was a marvel of art; statuettes of snow-white marble, airy and graceful as stone could be chiselled, seemed ready to escort the guest into the unique drawing-room beyond.
Delicate bric-a-brac occupied gilded brackets on the walls, or crowded the statuettes upon the floor; a laughing faun held back the silken curtain that concealed the entrance to that inner room where the goddess herself presided; a soft mellow light fell upon these treasures, making their beauty still more exquisite.