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THE WOMAN WHO DARED.
THE WOMAN WHO DARED.
"Honest liberty is the greatest foe to dishonest license."
BOSTON: ROBERTS BROTHERS. 1870.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by EPES SARGENT, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
UNIVERSITY PRESS: WELCH, BIGELOW, & CO., CAMBRIDGE.
To —— ——.
Spring saw my little venture just begun; And then your hospitable message came, Inviting me to taste the strawberries At Strawberry Hill. I went. How long I stayed, Urged by dear friends and the restoring breeze, Let me not say; long enough to complete My rhythmic structure; day by day it grew, And all sweet influences helped its growth. The lawn sloped green and ample till the trees Met on its margin; and the Hudson's tide Rolled beautiful beyond, where purple gleams Fell on the Palisades or touched the hills Of the opposing shore; for all without Was but an emblem of the symmetry I found within, where love held perfect sway, With taste and beauty and domestic peace For its allies.
We do not praise the rose, Since all who see it know it is the rose; And so, dear lady, praise of thee would seem, To all who know thee, quite superfluous. But if from any of these thoughts be shed Aught of the fragrance and the hue of truth, To thee I dedicate the transient flower In which the eternal beauty reappears; Knowing, should poison mingle with the sweet, Thou, like the eclectic bee, with instinct sure, Wilt take the good alone, and leave the bad.
I. OVERTURE 1
II. THE FATHER'S STORY 7
III. THE MOTHER'S STORY 39
Linda's Lullaby 41
IV. PARADISE FOUND 93
The Mother's Hymn 100
V. LINDA 115
Help me, dear Chords 143
Be of good Cheer 147
VI. BY THE SEASIDE 177
Linda's Song 189
Under the Pines 203
VII. FROM LINDA'S DIARY 211
VIII. FROM MEREDITH'S DIARY 235
IX. BESIDE THE LAKE 249
THE WOMAN WHO DARED.
Blest Power that canst transfigure common things, And, like the sun, make the clod burst in bloom,— Unseal the fount so mute this many a day, And help me sing of Linda! Why of her, Since she would shrink with manifest recoil, Knew she that deeds of hers were made a theme For measured verse? Why leave the garden flowers To fix the eye on one poor violet That on the solitary grove sheds fragrance? Themes are enough, that court a wide regard, And prompt a strenuous flight; and yet from all, My thoughts come back to Linda. Let me spare, As best I may, her modest privacy, While under Fancy's not inapt disguise I give substantial truth, and deal with no Unreal beings or fantastic facts: Bear witness to it, Linda!
Now while May Keeps me a restive prisoner in the house, For the first time the Spring's unkindness ever Held me aloof from her companionship, However roughly from the east her breath Came as if all the icebergs of Grand Bank Were giving up their forms in that one gust,— Now while on orchard-trees the struggling blossoms Break from the varnished cerements, and in clouds Of pink and white float round the boughs that hold Their verdure yet in check,—and while the lawn Lures from yon hemlock hedge the robin, plump And copper-breasted, and the west wind brings Mildness and balm,—let me attempt the task That also is a pastime.
What though Spring Brings not of Youth the wonder and the zest; The hopes, the day-dreams, and the exultations? The animal life whose overflow and waste Would far out-measure now our little hoard? The health that made mere physical existence An ample joy; that on the ocean beach Shared with the leaping waves their breezy glee; That in deep woods, or in forsaken clearings, Where the charred logs were hid by verdure new, And the shy wood-thrush lighted; or on hills Whence counties lay outspread beneath our gaze; Or by some rock-girt lake where sandy margins Sloped to the mirrored tints of waving trees,— Could feel no burden in the grasshopper, And no unrest in the long summer day? Would I esteem Youth's fervors fair return For temperate airs that fan sublimer heights Than Youth could scale; heights whence the patient vision May see this life's harsh inequalities, Its rudimental good and full-blown evil, Its crimes and earthquakes and insanities, And all the wrongs and sorrows that perplex us, Assume, beneath the eternal calm, the order Which can come only from a Love Divine? A love that sees the good beyond the evil, The serial life beyond the eclipsing death,— That tracks the spirit through eternities, Backward and forward, and in every germ Beholds its past, its present, and its future, At every stage beholds it gravitate Where it belongs, and thence new-born emerge Into new life and opportunity, An outcast never from the assiduous Mercy, Providing for His teeming universe, Divinely perfect not because complete, But because incomplete, advancing ever Beneath the care Supreme?—heights whence the soul, Uplifted from all speculative fog, All darkening doctrine, all confusing fear, Can see the drifted plants, can scent the odors, That surely come from that celestial shore To which we tend; however out of reckoning, Swept wrong by Error's currents, Passion's storms, The poor tossed bark may be?
Descend, my thoughts! Your theme lies lowly as the ground-bird's nest; Why seek, with wings so feeble and unused, To soar above the clouds and front the stars? Descend from your high venture, and to scenes Of the heart's common history come down!
THE FATHER'S STORY.
The little mansion had its fill of sunshine; The western windows overlooked the Hudson Where the great city's traffic vexed the tide; The front received the Orient's early flush. Here dwelt three beings, who the neighbors said Were husband, wife, and daughter; and indeed There was no sign that they were otherwise. Their name was Percival; they lived secluded, Saw no society, except some poor Old pensioner who came for food or help; Though, when fair days invited, they would take The omnibus and go to see the paintings At the Academy; or hear the music At opera or concert; then, in summer, A visit to the seaside or the hills Would oft entice them.
Percival had reached His threescore years and five, but stood erect As if no touch of age had chilled him yet. Simple in habit, studious how to live In best conformity with laws divine,— Impulsive, yet by trial taught to question All impulses, affections, appetites, At Reason's bar,—two objects paramount Seemed steadily before him; one, to find The eternal truth, showing the constant right In politics, in social life, in morals,— The other, to apply all love and wisdom To education of his child—of Linda.
Yet, if with eye anointed, you could look On that benign and tranquil countenance, You might detect the lines which Passion leaves Long after its volcano is extinct And flowers conceal its lava. Percival Was older than his consort, twenty years; Yet were they fitly mated; though, with her, Time had dealt very gently, leaving face And rounded form still youthful, and unmarred By one uncomely outline; hardly mingling A thread of silver in her chestnut hair That affluent needed no deceiving braid. Framed for maternity the matron seemed: Thrice had she been a mother; but the children, The first six winters of her union brought, A boy and girl, were lost to her at once By a wall's falling on them, as they went, Heedless of danger, hand in hand, to school. To either parent terrible the blow! But, three years afterward, when Linda came, With her dark azure eyes and golden hair, It was as if a healing angel touched The parents' wound, and turned their desolation Into a present paradise, revealing Two dear ones, beckoning from the spirit-land, And one, detaining them, with infant grasp, Feeble, yet how resistless! here below.
And so there was great comfort in that household: And those unwhispered longings both had felt At times, that they might pass to other scenes Where Love would find its own, were felt no more: For Linda grew in beauty every day; Beauty not only of the outward mould, Sparkling in those dear eyes, and on the wind Tossing those locks of gold, but beauty born, In revelations flitting o'er the face, From the soul's inner symmetry; from love Too deep and pure to utter, had she words; From the divine desire to know; to prove All objects brought within her dawning ken; From frolic mirth, not heedless but most apt; From sense of conscience, shown in little things So early; and from infant courtesy Charming and debonair.
The parents said, While the glad tears shone brimming in their eyes, "Oh! lacking love and best experience Are those who tell us that the purity And innocence of childhood are delusion; Or that, so far as they exist, they show The absence of all mind; no impulses Save those of selfish passion moving it! And that, by nature desperately wicked, The child learns good through evil; having no Innate ideas, no inborn will, no bias. Here, in this infant, is our confutation! O self-sufficing physiologist, Who, grubbing in the earth, hast missed the stars, We ask no other answer to thy creed Than this, the answer heaven and earth supply."
Now sixteen summers had our Linda seen, And grown to be a fair-haired, winsome maid, In shape and aspect promising to be A softened repetition of her mother; And yet some traits from the paternal side Gave to the head an intellectual grace And to the liquid eyes a power reserved, Brooding awhile in tender gloom, and then Flashing emotion, as some lofty thought, Some sight of pity, or some generous deed, Kindled a ready sympathy whose tears Fell on no barren purpose; for with Linda To feel, to be uplifted, was to act; Her sorest trials being when she found How far the wish to do outran the power. Often would Percival observe his child, And study to divine if in the future Of that organization, when mature, There should prevail the elements that lead Woman to find the crowning charm of life In the affections of a happy marriage, Or if with satisfactions of the mind And the aesthetic faculty, the aims Of art and letters, the pursuits of trade, Linda might find the fresh activities He craved for her, and which forecasting care Might possibly provide.
His means were small, Merged in a life-annuity which gave All that he held as indispensable To sanative conditions in a home: Good air, good influences, proper food. By making his old wardrobe do long service He saved the wherewith to get faithful help From the best teachers in instructing Linda; And she was still the object uppermost. Dawned the day fair, for Linda it was fair, And they all three could ramble in the Park. If on Broadway the ripe fruit tempted him, Linda was fond of fruit; those grapes will do For Linda. Was the music rich and rare? Linda must hear it. Were the paintings grand? Linda must see them. So the important thought Was always Linda; and the mother shared In all this fond parental providence; For in her tender pride in the dear girl There was no room for any selfish thought, For any jealous balancing of dues.
"My child," said Percival, one summer day, As he brought in a bunch of snow-white roses, Ringed with carnations, many-leafed and fragrant, "Take it, an offering for your birthday; this Is June the twelfth, a happy day for me." "How fresh, how beautiful!" said Linda rising And kissing him on either cheek. "Dear father, You spoil me for all other care, I fear, Since none can be like yours."
"Why speak of that?" He with a start exclaimed; "my care must be Prolonged till I can see you safely fixed In an assured and happy womanhood. Why should it not be so? Though sixty-five, How well am I, and strong! No, Linda, no; Dream not of other tendance yet awhile; My father lived to eighty, and his father To eighty-five; and I am stronger now Than they were, at my age."
"Live long!" cried Linda, "For whom have I to love me, to befriend, You and my mother gone?"
"Your mother, child? She should outlive me by some twenty years At least. God grant, her sweet companionship May be your strength and light when I'm not here, My matchless little girl, my precious Linda!"
"Ah! how Love magnifies the thing it loves!" Smiling she said: "when I look in the glass, I see a comely Miss; nay, perhaps pretty; That epithet is her superlative, So far as person is concerned, I fear. Grant her a cheerful temper; that she gets From both her parents. She is dutiful,— No wonder, for she never is opposed! Strangely coincident her way is yours; Industrious, but that's her mother's training. Then if you come to gifts of mind—ah me! What can she show? We'll not pronounce her dull; But she's not apt or quick; and all she gets Is by hard work, by oft-repeated trials, Trials with intermissions of despair. The languages she takes to not unkindly; But mathematics is her scourge, her kill-joy, Pressing her like a nightmare. Logic, too, Distresses and confuses her poor brain; Oh! ask her not for reasons. As for music— Music she loves. Would that Love might inspire The genius it reveres so ardently! Has she no gift for painting? Eye for form And coloring I truly think she has; And one thing she can do, and do it well; She can group flowers and ferns and autumn leaves, Paint their true tints, and render back to nature A not unfaithful copy.
"This the extent Of her achievements! She has labored hard To mould a bust or statue; but the clay Lacked the Pygmalion touch beneath her hands. She'll never be a female Angelo. She must come down content to mother Earth, And study out the alphabet which Summer Weaves on the sod in fields or bordering woods. Such is your paragon, my simple father! But now, this ordinary little girl, So seeming frank, (whisper it low!) is yet So deep, so crafty, and so full of wiles, That she has quite persuaded both her parents— In most things sensible, clear-seeing people— That she is just a prodigy indeed! Not one of goodness merely, but of wit, Capacity, and general cleverness!"
"There, that will do, spoilt darling! What a tongue!" Percival said, admiring while he chided. "O the swift time! Thou'rt seventeen to-day; And yet, except thy parents and thy teachers, Friends and companions thou hast hardly known. 'Tis fit that I should tell thee why our life Has been thus socially estranged and quiet. Sit down, and let me push the arm-chair up Where I can note the changes in thy face; For 'tis a traitor, that sweet face of thine, And has a sign for every fleeting thought.
"But here's our little mother! Come, my dear, And take a seat by Linda; thou didst help me To graft upon the bitter past a fruit All sweetness, and thy very presence now Can take the sting from a too sad remembrance."
The mother placed her hand upon his brow And said: "The water-lily springs from mud; So springs the future from the past." Then he: "My father's death made me, at twenty-one, Heir to a fortune which in those slow days Was thought sufficient: I had quitted Yale With some slight reputation as a scholar, And, in the first flush of ingenuous youth When brave imagination's rosy hue Tinges all unknown objects, I was launched Into society in this great place;— Sisterless, motherless, and having seen But little, in my student life, of women.
"All matrons who had marriageable girls Looked on me as their proper prey, and spread Their nets to catch me; and, poor, verdant youth, Soon I was caught,—caught in a snare indeed, Though by no mother's clever management. Young, beautiful, accomplished, she, my Fate, Met me with smiles, and doomed me while she smiled Nimble as light, fluent as molten lead To take the offered mould,—apt to affect Each preference of taste or sentiment That best might flatter,—affable and kind, Or seeming so,—and generous to a fault,— But that was when she had a part to play,— Affectionate—ah! there too she was feigning— As I look calmly back, to me she seems The simple incarnation of a mind Possessed of all the secrets of the heart, And quick to substitute a counterfeit For the heart's genuine coin, and make it pass; But void of feeling as the knife that wounds! And so the game was in her hands, and she Played it with confident, remorseless skill Even to the bitter end.
"Yet do not think The inner prescience never stirred or spoke: Veiled though it be from consciousness so strangely, And its fine voice unheard amid the din Of outward things, the quest of earthly passion, There is an under-sense, a faculty All independent of our mortal organs, And circumscribed by neither space nor time. Else whence proceed they, those clairvoyant glimpses, That vision piercing to the distant future, Those quick monitions of impending ruin, If not from depths of soul which consciousness, Limited as it is in mortal scope, May not explore? Yet there serenely latent, Or with a conscious being all their own, Superior and apart from what we know In this close keep we call our waking state, Lie growing with our growth the lofty powers We reck not of; which some may live a life And never heed, nor know they have a soul; Which many a plodding anthropologist, Philosopher, logician, scientist, Ignore as moonshine; but which are, no less, Actual, proven, and, in their dignity And grasp and space-defying attributes, Worthy to qualify a deathless spirit To have the range of an infinity Through an unending period—at once A promise and a proof of life immortal.
"One night, one mild, sweet night in early June, We two had paced the drawing-room together Till ten o'clock, and then I took my leave And walked along the street, a square or more, When suddenly I looked up at a star, And then, a thought I could not fail to heed, From the soul's awful region unexplored, Rushed, crying, 'Back! Go back!' And back I went, As hastily as if it were a thing Of life or death. I did not stop to pull The door-bell, but sprang up alert and still To the piazza of the open window, Drew back a blind inaudibly, looked in, And through the waving muslin curtain, saw— Well, she was seated in a young man's lap, Her head upon his shoulder.
"Quick of ear As the chased hare, she heard me; started up, Ran to the curtain, eagerly drew me in, And said, while joy beamed tender in her eyes, 'My brother Ambrose, just arrived from Europe!' So swift she was, she did not give me time Even for one jealous pang. I took his hand, And saying, 'Anna's brother must be mine,' I bade them both good-night, and went my way: So was I fooled,—my better angel baffled!
"And yet once more the vivid warning came, Flashed like quick truth from her own eyes. We stood Together in a ball-room, when a lady, To me unknown, came up, regarded me With strange compassion in her curious glance, And then, with something less divine than pity, Looked down on my betrothed, and moved away. I turned to Anna, but upon her face, There was a look to startle like a ghost; Defiance, deadly fear, and murderous hate Were all so wildly blended! But 'twas gone— Gone like a flash before I well could mark it; And in its place there came a luminous smile, So childlike sweet, such type of heavenly candor, It would have served for a Madonna's mouth, To make the pilgrim's adoration easy. 'Who was that lady, Anna?' I inquired. 'A Mrs. Lothian,' was her reply: 'A lovely person, although somewhat haughty.' We returned home soon after, and no more Was said of it.
"The rapid weeks flew by, And Anna plied her powers to charm, but still Not all the subtle glamour of her presence Could bind in sleep my pleading monitor. And so at last I said: 'We both are young: Let us, as earnest of a mutual wish To share a perfect love, or none at all, Absolve each other here, without condition, From this engagement; and, if three years hence We both are of one heart, then shall we find The means to make it known; of that be sure! Are you in your own loyalty so fixed As to accept the challenge? Would you prize The love of any man, who could not bear A test so simple?'
"The first word I spoke Made all my meaning plain to her; she shook, But more perhaps with anger than with grief; She turned her face away, and covered it With both her hands, and so remained until I had done speaking; then she rose at once, Her face averted still, (she durst not show it!) And grasped my hand, and, in a husky tone Sheathing her wrath, exclaimed: 'To-morrow, come At twelve—at twelve!' and rushed out of the room.
"Prompt at the hour I went; and in the parlor Sat down expectant; and she entered soon, Clad all in white; upon her face the marks Of passionate tears, and a beseeching sorrow In every look! A desk of ivory, Borne in her hands, she placed upon the table; I rose to meet her, but she motioned me To keep my seat; then, with an arm thrown over A high-backed chair, as if to keep from falling, (The attitude was charming, and she knew it), She said: 'Take back the little desk you gave me; In it are all your letters,—all your gifts. Take them, and give me mine.'
"The last few words Came as if struggling through a crowd of sobs. What could I do but lead her to the sofa, Sit by her side, take her white hand, and say: 'This is no final separation, Anna; It is a trial merely of our loves?'
"'A light affair perhaps to you,' she said, 'But death to me. As whim or pleasure points, You can go here, go there, and lead the life You most affect; while I, the home-kept slave Of others' humors, must brave poverty, Neglect and cruel treatment.'—'Did you say Poverty, Anna?'—'Do not breathe a word Of what I tell you: father is a bankrupt, Or soon will be; and we shall be compelled To quit our freestone house, and breathe the air Of squalid want. From that I'd not recoil, Could I have loving looks and words; for what Is poverty if there's but love to gild it? Ah! poverty'—'Nay, Anna, poverty You shall not know, only accept from me The means to fix you in becoming plenty.' 'Never!' she cried; 'ah! cruel to propose it!' And then more tears; till, touched and foiled, I said, Looking her in the face while she gazed up In mine with eager tenderness,—'Accept A happy home, if I can help to make it. We will be married, Anna, when you please.'
"And so she had her way, and we were married; And the next day all Wall Street was aroused By news that brave Papa had won renown Not simply as a bankrupt, but a swindler, Escaping, by the skin of his teeth, the Tombs. 'No matter! Papa has a son-in-law, A greenhorn, as they say, who occupies A stately house on the Fifth Avenue, And, in his hall, Papa will hang his hat.' And, in all this, Rumor but hit the truth.
"Six months rolled by. Repeatedly I asked, 'Where's Brother Ambrose?' He, it seems, was held In such request by government, that rarely Could he be spared for home enjoyment; but At length I did encounter Brother Ambrose, And once again I found him—
"Well, the scales Dropped from my eyes. I asked no other proof Than a quick look I saw the two exchange,— Forgetful of a mirror at their side,— To see I was betrayed. He was no brother. I sought more proof; but they, imagining I knew more than I did, were swift to act. Before I could find steps for a divorce She stole a march upon me, and herself Took the initiative, and played the victim, Nipping me as a culprit in the law.
"It was a plot so dexterously framed, All the precautions and contrivances Were with such craft foreplanned; the perjuries Were all so well adjusted; my pure life Was made to seem so black; the witnesses Were so well drilled, so perfect in their parts,— In short, it was a work of art so thorough, I did not marvel at the Court's decision, Which was, for her,—divorce and alimony; For me,—no freedom, since no privilege Of marrying again. Such the decree!"
"I'm glad you spurned it as you did!" cried Linda, While her cheeks flushed, and hot, indignant tears, Responded to her anger. Then she kissed Her father on each cheek, and tenderly Embraced her mother too; and they, the while, With a slight moisture in their smiling eyes, Exchanged a nod. Then Percival to Linda: "Why, what an utter rebel you would be, You little champion of the higher law! Sit down, and hear me out."
"If such their justice," Cried Linda, irrepressible and panting, "Who would not spurn it, and hurl back defiance To all the Justice Shallows on the Bench— To them and their decrees!"
"My little girl," The father said, "the heart's impulsive choice May guide us safely when the act must be Born of the instant, but let Reason rule When Reason may. For some twelve years, I lived A wandering life in Europe; not so crushed By my most harsh experience but I Could find, in study and in change of scene, How much of relish life has for the mind As well as the affections; still I felt Mine was a nature in which these must play No secondary part; and so the void Enlarged as age drew nearer; and at forty A weariness of life came over me, And I was sick at heart; for many a joy Had lost the charm that made it joy. I took A house in London, all for solitude, And there got what you may not find in Egypt, Or on Mont Blanc.
"One day as I was crossing An obscure street, I saw a crowd of workmen Gathered around a man upon the ground: A rafter from a half-built house had fallen, And he was badly injured. Seeing none To act with promptness in the case, I hailed A cab, and had him driven to my house. Finding he was a fellow-countryman, I gave him one of my spare rooms, and sent For the best surgeon near. His report was, The wound itself was nothing serious, But there was over-action of the brain, Quite independent, which might lead to danger, Unless reduced in season; and the patient Should have the best of watching and attendance, And not be left to brood on any trouble, But be kept cheerful. Then with some directions For diet, sedatives, and laxatives, The doctor bowed, received his fee, and left. My guest lay sad and silent for a while, Then turned to me and said: 'My name is Kenrick; I'm from Chicago—was a broker there. A month ago my wife eloped from me; And her companion, as you may surmise, Was one I had befriended—raised from nothing. I'm here upon their track."
"'Why so?' I asked. 'What do you want of them?'—'What do I want?' He stretched his eyes at me inquiringly. 'How strange,' said I, 'the inconsistency! Here's a true man would try to overtake An untrue mate! If she's not sterling gold And loyal as the loadstone,—not alone In every act, but every thought and throb,— Why should you care who puts her to the proof, Takes her away, and leaves you free again? Show me 'tis an illusion I adore, And I will thank you, though it be in anguish. To no false gods I bow, if I can help it!'
"'Could I,' said Kenrick, 'have him only once Where I could take him by the throat, and measure My strength with his!'—'Tut, tut! the kind physician Who warns you of some lurking taint, to which The cautery should be applied at once, Is not, in act, if not intent, your friend More certainly than he you rave against. And you've been jealous, I suppose, at times, Of the poor runaway?'—'Ay, that I have! Bitterly jealous.'
"'Jealousy and love Were never yet true mates; for jealousy Is born of selfish passion, lust, or pride, While love is so divine and pure a thing, It only takes what cannot be withheld. It flies constraint. All that it gives is given, Even as the lily renders up its perfume, Because it cannot help it. Would it crave Return less worthy? Would it be content With a grudged gift? Then it is something else, Not love—not love! Ah me! how men and women Cozen themselves with words, and let their passions Fool them and blind, until they madly hug Illusions which some stunning shock like yours Puts to the proof, revealing emptiness. Have you a loving heart, and would you feed it On what the swine have left,—mock it with lies?' 'Speak this to me again, when I am stronger,' Said Kenrick, smiling faintly. Then I left him, And taking up 'The Times' looked thro' the list Of 'Wants'; and one amid the many hundred Instantly caught my eye. It merely said: 'Wanted, by a young woman, strong and healthy, A place as nurse for any invalid. Address 681, Times Office.' So I wrote and told 681 to call Upon me at a certain hour.
"And now, My dear, this little girl with eager eyes Has, for a summer morning, heard enough. The weather is the crown of all that June Has of most fair,—the year's transcendent day; When the young foliage and the perfect air Intoxicate the birds, and put our hearts In harmony with their extravagance Of joy and love. Come, come! To slight this day Would be a sin. We'll ramble in the Park, And take our dinner there, and see the flowers, The children, and the swans, and all the places Which Linda used to love in babyhood, When, in her little carriage, like a queen She'd sit, receiving homage from all eyes."
The father had his way; and in the Park They spent the happy time, and felt the charm Which harmony complete with Nature brings When loving spirits, unpreoccupied, Gain by surrender, and grow rich by giving. O sunshine and blue sky and genial airs! To human happiness, like daily bread, Your blessings come, till the unthinking heart Recks not the debt we owe your silent powers. If ye can give so much, what may not He Of whose omnipotence ye are but shadows Have in reserve in his eternities!
THE MOTHER'S STORY.
That evening, when the feast of strawberries Had been partaken, and the happy three Sat down together, Linda asked: "And now, May I not hear the rest?"—"To-morrow, Linda, You shall hear all," said Percival; "but now, That brain of yours must tranquillize itself Before you try to sleep; and so, to-night, Let us have 'Annie Laurie,' 'Bonnie Doon,' And songs that most affront the dainty ear Of modern fashion." Linda played and sang A full half-hour; then, turning on her chair, Said, "Now shall mother sing that cradle ditty You made for me, an infant. Mother, mine, Imagine you are rocking me to sleep, As in those far-off days."
Replied the mother: "O the dear days! yet not more dear than these! For frugal Linda brings along with her All of her past; the infant's purity, The child's confiding love, and now, at last, The maiden's free and quick intelligence! Be ever thus, my Linda; for the pure In heart shall carry an immortal youth Into the great to-come. That little song— Well I remember the delightful time When 'twas extemporized; when, with my pen, I noted down the words, while, by your crib, Your father sat, and you, with little fists Drawn tight, would spring and start, as infants will, Crowing the while, and chuckling at the words Not comprehended yet, save in the smiles That with them went! 'Twas at the mellow close Of an autumnal day, and we were staying In a secluded village, where a brook Babbled beneath our window, and the hum Of insects soothed us, while a louder note From the hoarse frog's bassoon would, now and then, Break on the cricket's sleepy monotone And startle laughter." Here the matron paused; Then sweeping, with a firm, elastic touch, The ivory keys, sang
Murmur low, little rivulet flowing! For to sleep our dear Linda is going; All good little lambs be reposing, For Linda one eyelid is closing.
O frogs! what a noise you are making! O crickets! now don't keep her waking! Stop barking, you little dog Rover, Till Linda can get half-seas over.
Little birds, let our word of love reach you,— Go to bed, go to sleep, I beseech you; On her little white coverlet lying, To sleep our dear Linda is trying.
Hush! sing just as softly as may be; Sing lullaby, lullaby, baby! Now to sleep this dear Linda is going,— Murmur low, little rivulet flowing!
The next day, when the heat kept all at home, And they were gathered in the library, Where fitfully a lazy southern breeze Would stir the languid curtains, Percival Said, turning to the mother: "Mary, now Your story best will supplement my own; Tell it." She answered: "Let it be so, then; My life is but the affluent to yours, In which it found its amplitude and rest.
"My parents dwelt in Liverpool; my father, A prosperous merchant, gave to business His time and active thoughts, and let his wife Rule all beside with rigor absolute. My maiden name was Mary Merivale. There were eight daughters of us, and of these I was the fourth. We lived in liberal style, And did not lack the best society The city could afford. My heedful mother, With eight undowered girls to be disposed of, Fearfully healthy all, and clamorous For clothes and rations, entered on a plan To which she steadily adhered: it was, To send the younger fry to boarding-schools, And keep one virgin only, at a time, And she the oldest, on her hands to marry. So they came forward in their order: Julia, And Isabel, and Caroline; until I was dragged forth from maps and lexicons, Slate-pencils and arithmetics, and put Candidate Number Four, upon the list.
"My elder sisters had been all 'well-married'; That is, to parties able to provide Establishments that Fashion would not scorn; What more could be desired by loving parents? As for resistance to her will, when once She set her heart upon a match, my mother Would no more bear it than a general Would bear demur from a subordinate When ordered into action. If a daughter, When her chance offered, and was checked as good, Presumed, from any scruple of dislike, To block the way for her successor, then Woe to that daughter, and no peace for her Did she not, with an utter selfishness, Stand in her younger sister's light? imperil The poor child's welfare? doom her possibly To an old maid's forlorn and cheerless lot?
"And so, with an imperious will, my mother Would sweep away all hindrances, all doubts. She was, besides, the slave of system; having Adopted once the plan of bringing forward No daughter till the previous one was mated, It was a sacred custom; 'twas her own! It had worked well; must not be broken through. So my poor sisters went; and some of them With doubting hearts.
"In me, my zealous mother Found metal not so malleable quite. One of my teachers at the boarding-school, A little woman who got scanty pay For teaching us in French and German, fed Her lonely heart with dreams of what, some day, Shall lift her sex to nobler life. She took A journal called 'The Good Time Coming,' filled With pleadings for reform of many kinds,— In education, physical and mental, Marriage, the rights of women, modes of living. Weekly I had the reading of it all; Some of it crude enough, some apt and just, Forcibly put, and charged with vital facts. At last these had for me a fascination That quite eclipsed the novels of the day.
"I learnt, that, bound up in the moral law, Are laws of health and physical control, Unheeded in the family and school; How fashion, stupid pride, and love of show, The greed of gain, or the pursuit of pleasure, Empty and frivolous, make men and women False to their natures, cruel to each other And to the unborn offspring they devote To misery through ill-assorted unions, Or habits reckless of maternal dues; How marriage, sacredest of mortal steps, Is entered on from motives all unworthy; Social ambition, mercenary aims, The dread of poverty, of singleness,— The object of uniting families,— And momentary passion fatuous. So I resolved, God helping, to be true To my own self, and that way true to all.
"The fete that signalized my coming out Was, so my mother said, the costliest yet. Whole greenhouses were emptied to adorn Our rooms with flowers; a band played in the hall; The supper-table flashed with plate and silver And Dresden ware and bright Bohemian glass; The wines and viands were profuse and rare; And everybody said, 'twas a grand ball.
"But what of her, for whom it was the flourish Of trumpets blown to celebrate her entrance Into society? Let others speak! These the remarks I had to overhear: 'She's rather pretty.'—'Pretty is the word.' 'But not so dashing as the elder sisters.' 'Cleverer though, perhaps,'—'She takes it coolly. Her heart's not in the ball; that's evident.' 'Where is it? Is she bookish?'—'So I've heard.' 'Unlike the rest, then.'—'That straw-colored silk Should have had flounces.'—'Is that hair her own?' 'I think so?'—'She's no dancer.'—'Apathetic As any duchess.'—'The young men seem shy; She doesn't put them at their ease, 'tis plain.' 'See, the old woman chides her; she deserves it; She'll not pick up admirers if she plays My Lady Cool so grandly. Watch mamma. The hook is nicely baited; where are all The gudgeons it should lure? I marvel not Mamma is in a fluster; tap, tap, tap, See her fan go! No strategy, no effort, No dandy-killing shot from languid eyes, On that girl's part! And all this fuss for her!'
"The gossips, in these random whisperings, Made some good shots, that failed not of the mark. The lights, the roses, the voluptuous music, The shining robes, the jewels, the bright faces Engrossed me not so much as one pale face, Youthful but pinched, which I had seen a moment, An hour before, reflected in the mirror At which I stood while nimble dressing-maids Helped to array me. A poor girl had brought The bodice of my silken robe, on which She had been working closely; and my mother Chided her for delay; but no reply Was made, save only what the pleading eyes Could not withhold. Then tendering a scrap Of paper, record of her paltry charge, She meekly stood. 'Pooh! bring it here next week,' My mother said. 'No!' turning round, I cried; 'Let her be paid at once; there must be money In the house somewhere; it may be a loss, An inconvenience, for her to come back Just for a trifling sum.'—'Impertinent!' My mother kindling, cried. 'Do you rule here?' 'I can return,' timidly said the girl. Then a gold thimble from my drawer I took, And offered it, remarking, 'Keep or sell it, To hold you good for all your wasted time.' 'My time,—what is it worth?' replied the girl, Motioning her refusal, but with smiles Of speechless gratitude, and then escaping Before I could prevent her.
"'Novel-reading Has brought you to this insipidity,' My mother said: 'such sentimental pap, You never got from me. Come, hurry down; Put off that sullen look. The carriages Begin to roll; the guests are on the stairs. Learn to command your smiles, my dear. Now go.'
"So down I went, but in no conquering mood. I did not scrutinize the festive dresses; Of the sad hearts I thought, the poor thin hands That put of life somewhat in every stitch For a grudged pittance. All disguises fell; Voices betrayed the speakers in their tones, Despite of flattering words; and smiles revealed The weariness or hatred they would hide. And so, preoccupied and grave, I looked On all the gayety; and reigning belles Took heart to find in me no coming rival.
"Lent now was near; the time of all diversion And visiting was over; and my mother Summed up her griefs in this one lamentation: 'The season gone, and not one offer yet! You, Mary, are the first one of my daughters Whose coming-out so flat a failure proved. Think of your sister Julia; her first winter Brought Hammersley to her feet. A splendid match! First cousin to a lord! How envious Were all the dowagers at my success! If I've not done all that a mother could, Tell me wherein I've failed. Yet one year more I shall allow you for your trial. Then, If you have made no step in the direction Of matrimony, why, you must go off To Ireland, to America, or France, And leave the field for your next younger For Susan.'—'She is welcome to it now,' I said, with something like disdain, I fear, In my cold smile.—'My plans are laid, you know,' Replied my mother; 'find your duty in A simple acquiescence; I know best.'
"'Tis said the woman always is to blame If a man ventures to commit himself In a proposal unacceptable. The rule has its exceptions; for I gave No word, no inkling of encouragement To Captain Dudley; yet I had an offer From Captain Dudley. Young, and elegant, Though of a stock somewhat attenuate; Rich, though a younger son; a gentleman, A scholar,—what good reason could I give For saying Nay to such an applicant? 'Explain!' my mother cried, with brow severe; 'Is not his character without a flaw?' 'So far as known to me.'—'Is he a fool?' 'Far from it; culture and good sense are his.' 'Could you not love him?'—'Very tenderly, Perhaps, with time to aid.'—'Has any one Preoccupied your heart?'—'My heart is free, And has been always free.'—'Indeed? Then why Refuse to be the wife of this young man?' 'Simply because he's not the man I'd choose To be the father of a child of mine.'
"If I had put a pistol at her head, My lady mother would not so have started. 'What! a mere girl—and you can entertain Such thoughts! so selfish, gross, unmaidenly!' 'If,' I replied, 'I'm old enough to dream Of marriage, as you bid me, then 'tis time For me to think of all the risk I run. Selfish, you call it; gross, unmaidenly; Is it unmaidenly to hesitate In the surrender of my maiden state? Your epithets belong to those who fail To think at all, or only think of this: What's the man's income? Will he let me have A house in the right quarter? Keep a carriage? And is he in society? Such women Plant nightshade, and affect to wonder why The growth is not of lilies and carnations!'
"'So! just let loose from school,' replied my mother, 'You'd teach me what is womanly! Pert minx! Tell me in simple English what you mean By your objections to this match, so largely Above your merits?'—'This is what I mean: For reasons that are instincts more than reasons, And therefore not to be explained to those Who in them do not share, as you do not, I would not wed this man,—not if I loved him.' 'Enough! You've had your turn; and now prepare To make a visit to your father's cousin In Nova Scotia; there, perhaps, you may Find a congenial mate among the clowns And roughs provincial. Go and pack your trunk. Fool your own opportunities away; You shall not thrust your sister out of hers.'
"I did not pack my trunk; another suitor, One twice as rich as Dudley, kindled hopes Anew in my poor mother's breast; and so Susan was kept at school another season, And I was put upon the course once more, My training perfect and my harness new!
"Who could object to Arthur Pennington? Son of a wealthy manufacturer, A type he was of English adolescence, Trained by harmonious culture to the fulness Of all that Nature had supplied; a person That did not lack one manly grace; a mind Which took the mould that social pressure gave, Without one protest native to itself. In the accepted, the conventional, He looked for Truth, nor ever had a doubt Whether she might not hide in some deep well Rather than flaunt her modest purity In dusty highways. With my disposition To challenge all that human dogmatism Imperious would impose upon my thought, What pretty yoke-fellows for life should we, Arthur and I, have been! Misled by hopes Which were inspired too fondly by my mother, He, too, proposed, and was of course rejected.
"Then the storm broke! The cup of my offences Was overflowed at last. Now must I go— Go, where she cared not; only disappear From her domain; she washed her hands of me! Hundreds of pounds had been invested in me,— My dresses, jewelry, and entertainments,— And here was the result! But no more money, From her, must I expect; my father's income Had not for years been equal to his outlays. Any day he might be compelled to change His style of living; all had been kept up For the advantage of myself and sisters; And here was all the gratitude I showed!
"This time my mother was in earnest; so Now must I lay my plans to go at once. Whither? to seek a transient home with one Of my own married sisters? Ah! the thought Of being dependent galled me like a spur. No! go to work,—a voice within me said: Think of the many thousands of your sex Who, young and giddy, not equipped like you, Are thrown upon the world to battle with it As best they may! Now try your closet virtue; See if your theory can stand the proof,— If trial will not warp your sense of right. When Poverty shall dog your every step, And at your scanty or unwholesome meal Sit down, or with you, in your thin attire, Go shivering home at night from ill-paid toil,— Then see if you can keep your feet from straying; Then choose as only Conscience bids you choose!
"The sewing-girl who worked upon my dress, The day of the great ball, was Lucy Merle; I found her saving up her petty means To go to London, to get better wages,— And said: 'Well, Lucy, let us go together.' She sold some jewels for me, and we went.
"In London! two unfriended girls in London! We hired a room, and got employment soon, Such as it was; but small the recompense! Though Lucy, quicker at her work than I, Could earn enough to live upon—almost. For her the change was slight.
"A year we toiled In company; and I'll not tell you all The hardships, trials, wrongs, we underwent. In my blue trunk you'll find a little pistol, Got for our joint protection in those days. May it be near you, should you ever need it! Finding, at length, I could no longer earn My share of our expenses by the needle, I sought a situation as a nurse. And in 'The Times' I advertised my 'Want.' An answer came, directing me to call Upon the writer at a certain hour. I went. I met a man of middle age Whose name was Percival. I thought his manner Was coldly kind.
"'You're very young,' he said, 'To fill the situation of a nurse. What reference have you?' Not a distant thought Of such a need had ever troubled me! 'I bring,' said I, 'no reference.'—'That's a pity. What pledge have I of character?'—'Not any.' And then, impatient at this let, I cried: 'Look in my face, and if you find not there Pledge of my truth, Heaven help me, for 'tis all— All I can give!'—'Ah! my poor child,' said he, 'Such warrant have I learnt to take with doubt; For I have known a face, too beautiful, With look of innocence and shining candor, Prove but the ambush of duplicity, Pitiless and impure. But let me not Distrust too far.' Then he turned up the gas, And, with a scrutiny intent and grave, Perused my face. 'What is your name?' he asked, After a silence.—'Mary Merivale.' 'Well, Mary, I engage you; come at once. In the next room asleep reclines our patient. As for your wages, we will say two guineas A week, if you're content.'—'O, perfectly!'
"So, groping in my darkness, I at length Hit on the door that issued into light. Long talks between the patient and his friend Were frequent, and they heeded not my presence. Little by little Percival soon told The story that you've heard, and more which you May never hear in earthly interviews. An eager listener, I would treasure up Each word, each look; and on my soul at last Dawned the pure ray by which I saw those traits, The spirit's own, that harmonized so well With all the outward showed of good and noble. Strange that he took no notice of the way My very life was drifting! But to him I seemed a child, and his paternal airs Froze me and checked.
"A paragraph, 'The Times' Had published, when the accident took place, Mentioned that Kenrick was a millionnaire, Though quite a young man still.
"A month went by And he was able to sit up awhile; And soon, with me beside him in the carriage, To take a drive;—when one day, Percival Said to me: 'Mary, you and I must try The span to-day; our patient shall keep house.' My heart beat wildly; Kenrick looked as if Approving the arrangement; so we went. 'I wished,' said Percival, 'to talk with you In private; do not answer if I put Questions that may embarrass or annoy; It is no idle curiosity, Prompting me now. We see that you were born To something better than this drudgery: If not reluctant, tell me who you are.' 'O, willingly!' I said.
"And so I told him All, from the first. He heard me patiently; And then remarked: 'But do you never long For that secure and easy life at home? You will go back to Liverpool, perchance, When you've had quite enough of servitude And toil precarious.'—'I go not back,' Said I, 'while health and liberty are left. The home that's grudged is not the home for me. Give me but love, and like the reed I yield; Deal with me harshly, you may break, not bend me.' 'Ah! there is something wrong in all these things,' Replied he, musing.
"'Yes,' I said; 'consider What I've been telling of my mother's way Of marrying her daughters; well, my mother Is but the product of that social system, Hollow and false, which leaves for dowerless girls Few honorable outlooks for support Excepting marriage. Poor, dependent, helpless, Untaught in any craft that could be made To yield emolument,—our average women,— What can they do but take the common path Which my poor mother would have made me try, And lead some honest man to think that they Are wedding him, and not his bank-account? Let woman, equally with man, be bred To learn with thoroughness some craft or trade By which she may support herself at least, You place her more at liberty to shun Unions, no priest, no church can sanctify!'
"Percival eyed me with a puzzled look, Then said: 'The time is on its way, I hope, When from her thraldom woman will come forth, And in her own hands take her own redress; When laws disabling her shall not be made Under the cowardly, untested plea That man is better qualified than woman To estimate her needs and do her justice. Justice to her shall be to man advancement; And woman's wit can best heal woman's wrongs. Accelerate that time, all women true To their own sex,—yet not so much to that As to themselves and all the human race! But pardon me; I wander from the point,— Following you. Now tell me, could you make America your home?'
"The sudden question Made my heart leap, and the hot crimson rush Up to my brow. Silent I bowed my head, And he continued thus: 'If it should be, That one, not wholly alien to your tastes,— A man not quite so young as you, perhaps, But not beyond his prime,—an honest man,— I will not say with ample means, for that Would jar upon your heart,—one who could make Your home a plentiful and happy one,— Should offer you his hand,—would it deter you To know that in America your lot Must henceforth be?'
"My breath came quick,—my eyes Turned swift away, lest he should mark their joy And count his prize too cheaply won. I sighed, But did not speak. 'May I go on?' he asked. A 'yes' distinct, though faint, flew from my lips. 'May I,' said he, 'tell Kenrick he may hope?' 'What!' cried I, looking up, with something fiercer Than mere chagrin in my unguarded frown."
Linda broke in upon the story here, And turning to her father with a smile Tender as dawning light, yet arch and gay, Cried, "Fie, my father! Could you be so dull? How could you treat my future mother so?" "Nay, do not blame me hastily," said he, With glad paternal eyes regarding her; "How could a modest man—and I was one— Suppose that youth and wealth, and gracious gifts Of person, such as Kenrick wore so well, Could fail to win? Truly I did not dream, Spite of the proverb, Love could be so blind."
Tossing her head with mock vindictive air, Like sweet sixteen, the mother then resumed: "Kenrick, it seems, being a bashful man,— And somewhat shy, perhaps, because I knew He was but recently in mad pursuit Of an unfaithful spouse, a runaway, Commissioned Percival to try the ground, Obscure and doubtful, of my woman's will. My absolute 'What!' was unequivocal. Then turning to the coachman, Percival, Said, 'Home, now, home! and quickly!'
"Home we rattled, And both were silent to our journey's end. An eager glance he gave me as he touched My hand to help me from the carriage. He Has told me since that I returned the look With one which, if not actually scorn, Was next of kin to scorn, and much resembling:— All the chimera of his guilty conscience.
"Kenrick next day renewed his suit by letter; He begged I would not give a hasty 'No,' But wait and grant him opportunities To prove that he was worthy and sincere, And to procure the requisite divorce. While I was answering his letter, he Drove out with Percival. My brief reply Told him there could be no decision other Than a complete and final negative.
"Then I sat down and ran my fingers over The keys of the piano; and my mood At length expressed itself in that wild burst Of a melodious anguish, which Edgardo Gives vent to in 'Lucia.' Words could add Nothing to magnify the utter heart-break Of that despair; and Donizetti's score Has made the cry audible through the ages. Less from the instrument than from my heart Was wrung the passionate music.
"At its close, A long-drawn breath made me look round, and there Whom should I see but Percival, as if Transfixed in mute surprise! 'I did not know There was a listener,—had supposed you gone,' Said I; and he replied: 'I thought you'd have Some word for Kenrick: so our drive was short.' 'Nothing but this.' I handed him my letter; He took it, bowed, and left me.
"The next day I learnt that Kenrick had engaged his passage In Wednesday's steamer for New York. My stay Must now be brief; my services no longer Could be of any use; and so I wrote Some formal lines, addressed to Percival, Asking for my dismissal, and conveying To both the gentlemen my thanks sincere For all their kindness and munificence. Two days I waited, but no answer came.
"The third day Kenrick sought an interview. We met, and freely talked of this and that. Said he, at last: 'Into what false, false ways We plunge because we do not care to think! We shudder at Chinese morality When it allows a parent to destroy Superfluous female children. Look at home! Have we no ancient social superstitions Born of the same old barbarous family? My life, Miss Merivale, has been so crowded That I've had little time to trace opinion Down to its root before accepting it. In giving opportunity for thought, Sickness has been a brisk iconoclast. Behold the world's ideal of a wife! 'Tis something like to this:
"'She marries young, Perhaps in meek submission to the will Parental, or in hope of a support; In a few years,—as heart and brain mature, And knowledge widens,—finds her lord and master Is a wrong-headed churl, a selfish tyrant, A miser, or a blockhead, or a brute; Her love for him, if love there ever was, Is turned to hatred or indifference: What shall she do? The world has one reply: You made your bed, and you must lie in it; True, you were heedless seventeen—no matter! True, a false sense of duty urged you on, And you were wrongly influenced—no matter! Be his wife still; stand by him to the last; Do not rebel against his cruelty; The more he plays the ruffian, the more merit In your endurance! Suffering is your lot; It is the badge and jewel of a woman. Shun not contamination from his touch; Keep having children by him, that his traits And his bad blood may be continuous. Think that you love him still; and feed your heart With all the lies you can, to keep it passive!
"'So say the bellwethers who lead the many Over stone walls into the thorns and ditches, Because their fathers took that way before them. Such is the popular morality! But is it moral? Nay; when man or woman Can look up, with the heart of prayer, and say, Forbid it, Heaven, forbid it, self-respect, Forbid it, merciful regard for others, That this one should be parent to my child,— That moment should the intimate relations Of marriage end, and a release be found!
"'How many blunder in mistaking Passion, Mixed with a little sentiment, for Love! Passion may lead to Love, as it may lead Away from Love, but Passion is not Love; It may exist with Hate; too often leads Its victim blindfold into hateful bonds, Under the wild delusion that Love leads. Love's bonds are adamant, and Love a slave; And yet Love's service must be perfect freedom. Candor it craves, for Love is innocent,— But no enforced fidelity, no ties Such as the harem shelters. Dupes are they Who think that Love can ever be compelled! Only what's lovely Love can truly love, And fickleness and falsehood are deformed. Reveal their features, Love may mourn indeed, But will not rave. Love, even when abandoned, Feels pity and not anger for the heart That could not prize Love's warm fidelity. But Passion, selfish, proud, and murderous, Seizes the pistol or the knife, and kills;— And cozened juries make a heroine Of her who, stung with jealousy or pride, Or, by some meaner motive, hurled a wreck, Assassinates her too inconstant wooer.
"'Now do I see how little, in my case, There was of actual love, how much of passion! Love's day for me, if it may ever come In this brief stage, is yet to dawn. You smile; Love must have hope, a ray of hope, at least, To catch the hue of life; and so, Miss Mary, I'll not profess to love you; all I say Is, that a little hope from you would make me! But, since we can't be lovers, let's be friends; Here, in this little wallet, is a check For an amount that will secure your future From serious want,—a sum I shall not miss. But which—'
"With many thanks I answered 'No!' 'What can I do?' he asked, 'to show my debt To you and Percival?' I shook my head, And something in the sadness of my smile Arrested his attention. But that moment A girl rushed in with cry of 'O, he's killed— Killed, the poor man!'—'Who?'—'Mr. Percival!' The name was like a blow upon my heart, And Kenrick saw it, and supported me.
"But in a moment I was strong. I heard A scuffling noise of people at the door, And then a form—'twas Percival's—was borne Into a room, and placed upon a bed. Pale and insensible he lay; a surgeon Came in; at last we got an explanation: In rescuing from a frightened horse the child Of a poor woman, Percival had been Thrown down, an arm been broken, and the pain Had made him faint. My nervous laugh of joy, When I was sure that this was the extreme Of injury, betrayed my reckless heart, And Kenrick had my secret. Percival Was soon himself; the broken limb was set, And I, engaged to stay another week To wait on the new patient—nothing loath.
"The day of his departure, Kenrick drew me Aside, and, in a whisper, said, 'He loves you!' 'Loves me?' With palms held tightly on my breast To keep my heart down, I repeated, 'Loves me?' 'Twas hard to credit. 'Pardon me,' said Kenrick, 'If by communication of your secret, I changed the desolation of his life To sudden bloom and fragrance, for a moment.' 'A moment only?'—'Soon his scruples rose: It cannot be! he said; two mountains lie Between my fate and hers.—Two bubbles rather! Retorted I; let's take their altitude.— One is my age.—That mountain is already Tunnelled or levelled, since she sees it not.— The other is that infamous decree Against me at the period of my suit, Granting the guilty party a divorce, But me prohibiting to wed again.— Well, that decree (I answered bitterly) Would have with me the weight of a request That I'd hereafter quaff at common puddles And not at one pure fount; I'd heed the bar As I would heed the grass-webbed gossamer; I'd sooner balk a bench of drivellers Than outrage sacred nature.—If that bench Could have you up for bigamy, what then?— The dear old dames! they should not have the means To prove it on me: for the pact should be 'Twixt me and her who would accept my troth Freely before high heaven and all its angels: Witnesses which the sheriff could not summon, Could not, at least, produce.—But, Kenrick, you Do not consider all the risk and pain; The social stigma, and, should children come, The grief, the shame, the disrepute to them.— To which I answered: God's great gift of life, Coming through parentage select and pure, To me is such a sacred, sacred thing, So precious, so inestimably precious, That your objections seem of small account; Since only stunted hearts and slavish minds Could visit on your children disrepute, Who fitly could ignore such Brahmanism, Since they'd be born, most probably, with brains.
"'When the neglect of form, if 'tis neglected, Is all in honor, purged of selfishness, Where shall the heart and reason lay the blame? But understand me: Would I cheapen form? Nay, I should fear that those who would evade it, Without a reason potent as your own, Trifled with danger. But I cannot make A god of form, an idol crushing me. Unlike the church, I look on marriage as A civil contract, not a sacrament, Indissoluble, spite of every wrong; The high and holy purposes of marriage Are not fulfilled in instances where each Helps to demoralize or blight the other; Let it then stand, like other contracts, on A basis purely personal and legal.
"'Oh! how we hug the fictions we are born to! Challenging never, never testing them; Accepting them as irreversible; Part of God's order, not to be improved; Placing the form above the informing spirit, The outward show above the inward life; A hollow lie, well varnished, well played out, Above the pure, the everlasting truth; Fancying Nature is not Nature still, Because repressed, or cheated, or concealed; Juggling ourselves with frauds a very child, Yet unperverted, readily would pierce!
"'Consider my own case: a month ago, See me a maniac, rushing forth to find A wife who loved me not; my heart all swollen With rage against the man to whom I owed Exposure of her falsehood; ah, how blind! To chase a form from which the soul had fled! If I grew sane at length, you, Percival, And the mere presence of our little nurse Have brought me light and healing. I am cured, Thank Heaven, and can exult at my release.
"'Here I paused. Percival made no reply, But sat like one absorbed. I paced the floor Awhile, and then confronting him resumed:— Your scruples daunt you still; well, there's a way To free you from the meshes of the law: On my return, I'll go to Albany, Where war's financial sinews, as you know, Are those of legislation equally; I'll have a law put through to meet your case; To strip away these toils. I can; I will!— Percival almost stunned me with his No! Make me a gutter, adding more pollution To the fount of public justice? Never! No! I would not feed corruption with a bribe, To win release to-morrow. Such a cure Would be, my friend, far worse than the disease.— Then there's no way, said I; and so, farewell! The carriage waits to take me to the station.— I shall not say farewell until we part Beside the carriage-door, said he: you'll take Your leave of Mary?—Yes, I go to seek her.— And this, Miss Mary, is a full report Of all that passed between my friend and me.'
"Here Kenrick ended. He had been, methought, Thus copious, in the hope his argument Would make me look as scornfully as he On obstacles that Percival would raise. I thanked him for his courtesy, and then, Not without some emotion, we two parted. When the last sound of the retiring wheels Was drowned in other noises, Percival Came in, and found me waiting in the parlor. 'Now let me have a talk with you,' he said. So, in the little parlor we sat down. I see it now, all vividly before me! The carpet—ay, its very hues and figures: The chandelier, the sofa, the engraving Of Wellington that hung above the mantel; The little bookcase, holding Scott and Irving, And Gibbon's Rome, and Eloisa's Letters; And, in a vase, upon the marble stand, An opening rose-bud I had plucked that day— Type of my own unfolding, rosy hope!
"Said Percival: 'We'll not amuse each other With words indifferent; and we'll allow Small opportunity for hearts to speak: We know what they would utter, might we dare To give them audience. Let Reason rule. What I propose is this: that we now part— Part for two years; and when that term shall end, If we are still in heart disposed as now, Then can we orient ourselves anew, And shape our course as wary conscience bids. Till then, no meeting and no correspondence!
"'Now for conditions more particular: You have a sister—Mrs. Hammersley— Julia, I think you said,—an elder sister, Resident here, and in society, But fretted by her lord's extravagance And her own impecuniosity. You at her house shall be a visitor, But not without the means of aiding her; And who but I can now supply the means? Here's the dilemma: how can you be free If you're my debtor? Yet you must be free, And promise to be free; nor let my gift Sway you one jot in trammelling your heart. Two years you'll spend with Mrs. Hammersley; Accepting all Society can offer To welcome youth and beauty to its lap; Keeping your heart as open as you can To influences and impressions new; For, Mary, bear in mind how young you are! So much for you. On my part, I'll return To my own country, and endeavor there Once more to rectify the wretched wrong That circumscribes me. I shall fail perhaps— But we can be prepared for either issue.'
"Here he was silent, and I said: 'You're right, And I accept your terms without reserve.' We parted, and except a clasp of hands That lingered in each other, and a glance That flashed farewell from eyes enthroning truth, There was no outward token of our love.
"Two years (the longest of my life were they!) Emptied their sands at last, and then I wrote A letter to him, to the Barings' care, Containing one word only; this: 'Unchanged.' In the same old familiar room we met: Eager I gave my hand; but he drew back, Folded his arms, and said, with half a smile: ''Tis not for me; still am I under ban!' 'I'm glad of that!' cried I; ''twill help to show How slight, to love like mine, impediments Injustice can pile up!'
"He took my hand, And, for the first time, we exchanged a kiss. Then we sat down and freely talked. Said he: 'Baffled in all my efforts to procure Reversal of my sentence, I resolved To terminate one misery at least: Yearly the court compelled me, through my bondsmen, To render an account of all my income, Of which the larger portion must be paid For the support of my betrayer, and The child, called, by a legal fiction, mine. To this annoyance of an annual dealing With her attorney, I would put an end; And so I compromised by giving up Two thirds of all my property at once. This leaves me free from all entanglement With her or hers,—though with diminished means.
"'And now, since still you venture to confide Wholly in me, my Mary Merivale,— And since you would intrust your happiness To one who can but give you love for love,— To make our income certain, 'tis my plan Straightway my little remnant to convert Into a joint annuity, to last During our natural lives: this will secure A fair, though not munificent support. And since for me you put the gay world by, And since for you I make no sacrifice, Now shape our way of life as you may choose.'
"This I disclaimed; but we at last arranged That on the morrow, in the presence of My poor friend Lucy, and my sister Julia, We two should take each other by the hand As emblem of a pledge including all Of sacred and inviolable, all Of holy and sincere, that man and woman, Uniting for connubial purposes, And with no purpose foreign to right love, Can, with responsible intelligence, Give to each other in the face of God, And before human witnesses.
"And so The simple rite—if such it could be called— Took place. A formal kiss was interchanged, And then we all knelt down, and Percival Met our hearts' need with such a simple prayer As by its quickening and inspiring faith Made us forget it was another's voice, Not our own hearts, that spoke. My sister Julia Wept, not for me, but for herself, poor child! The chill, the gloom of an unhappy future Crept on her lot already, like a mist Foreshadowing the storm; she saw, not distant, All the despair of a regretful marriage Menacing her and driving forth her children. It did not long delay. Her spendthrift lord, After a squander of his own estate, And after swindling my confiding father Of a large sum, deserted wife and children, To play the chevalier of industry At Baden, or at Homburg, and put on More of the aspect of the beast each day. Three children have his blood to strive against. Poor Julia! What she has to live on now Was given by Linda's father. We found means, Also, to set up our poor sewing-girl, My old companion, Lucy, in a trade In which she thrives,—she and a worthy husband.
"What said my parents? Well, I wrote them soon, Relating all the facts without reserve, And asking, 'Would it be agreeable to them To have a visit from us?' They replied, 'It will not be agreeable, for our house Is one of good repute.'—Not three years after, A joint appeal came to us for their aid To the amount of seven hundred pounds. We sent the money, and it helped to smooth Their latter days; perhaps to mitigate The anger they had felt; and yet not they: Of the ungenerous words addressed to us My father never knew.
"We met my sisters, Through Julia's urging, I believe, and proudly I let them see what sort of man I'd chosen. We travelled for a time in England; then, In travel and in study, spent three years Upon the Continent; and sailed at last For the great land to which my thoughts had turned So often—for America. Arriving Here in New York, we took this little house, Scene of so many joys and one great woe; And yet a woe so full of heavenly life We should not call it by a mournful name.
"At length our Linda came to make all bright; And I can say, should the great summoner Call me this day to leave you, liberal Heaven More than my share of mortal bliss already Would have bestowed. Yes, little Linda came! To spoil us for all happiness but that In which she too could share—the dear beguiler! And with the sceptre of her love she ruled us, And with a happy spirit's charm she charmed us, Artfully conquering by shunning conquest, And by obeying making us obey. And so, one day, one happy day in June, We all sat down together, and her mother Told her the story which here terminates."
"You might have made it longer," murmured Linda, Who with moist eyes had listened, and to whom The time had seemed inexplicably brief. Then with an arm round either parent's neck, And with a kiss on either parent's cheek, She said: "My lot is as the good God gave it; And I'd not have it other than it is. Could a permit from any human lips Have made me any more a child of God? Have made me any more your child, my parents? Have made me any more my own true self? Happy, and oh! not diffident to feel My right to be and breathe the common air? Could any form of words approving it Have made us three more intimately near? Have made us three more exquisitely dear? Ah! if it could, our love is not the love I hold it now to be—immortal love!"
With speechless joy and a new pride they gazed Into her fair and youthful countenance, Bright with ethereal bloom and tenderness. Then smoothing back her hair, the father said: "An anxious thought comes to us now and then,— Comes like a cloud: the thought that we as yet Have no provision from our income saved For Linda. My few little ventures, made In commerce, in a profitable hope, So adversely resulted that I saw My best advance would be in standing still. As you have heard, all that we now possess Is in a life-annuity which ends With two frail lives—your mother's and my own. So, should death overtake us both at once,— And this I've looked on as improbable,— Our little girl would be left destitute."
"Not destitute, my father!" Linda cried; "Far back as thought can go, you taught me this: To help myself; to seek, in my own mind, Companionship forever new and glad, Through studies, meditations, and resources Which nature, books, and crowded life supply. And then you urged me to excel in something; ('Better do one thing thoroughly,' you said, 'Than fifty only tolerably well,')— Something from which, with loving diligence, I might, should life's contingencies require, Wring a support;—and then, how carefully You taught me how to deal with slippery men! Taught me my rights, the laws, the very forms By which to guard against neglect or fraud In any business—till I'm half a lawyer. You taught me, too, how to protect myself, Should force assail me; how to hold a pistol, Carry it, fire it—Heaven save me from the need! And, when I was a very little girl, You used to take me round to see the houses As they were built; the clearing of the land; The digging of the cellar; the foundations; You told me that the sand to make the mortar Ought to be fresh, and not the sea-shore sand; Else would the salt keep up a certain moisture. And then we'd watch the framework, and the roofing; And you'd explain the office and the name Of every beam, and make me understand The qualities of wood, seasoning of timber, And how the masons, and the carpenters, The plasterers, the plumbers, and the slaters, Should do their work; and when they slighted it, And when the wood-work was too near the flue, The flue too narrow, or the draught defective: So that, as you yourself have often said, I'm better qualified than half the builders To plan and build a house, and guard myself From being cheated in the operation. Fear not for me, my parents; spend your income Without a thought of saving. And besides, Had you not trained me aptly as you have, Am I not better—I—than many sparrows? There is a heavenly Father over all!"
"Sweet arguer!" said Percival, "may He And his swift angels love and help our Linda! Your mother and myself have tried of late To study how and where we might reduce Certain expenses that have been,——"
But here The dinner-bell broke in; and lighter thoughts— Thoughts that but skim the surface of the mind, And stir not its profound—were interchanged As now more timely; for the Percivals Lacked not good appetites, and every meal Had its best stimulant in cheerfulness. "Where shall we go to pass our holidays?" The mother asked: "August will soon be here." "What says our Linda?" answered Percival: "The seaside or the mountains shall it be?" "Linda will go with the majority! You've spilt the salt, papa; please throw a little Over your shoulder; there! that saves a quarrel. To me you leave it, do you? to decide Where we shall go? Then hear the voice of wisdom: The mountain air is good, I love the mountains; And the sea air is good, I love the sea; But if you two prefer the mountain air,— Go to the mountains. On the contrary,—" "She's neutral!" cried the father; "what a dodger This little girl has grown! Come, now, I'll cast Into the scale my sword, and say we'll go To old Cape Ann. Does any slave object? None. 'Tis a special edict. Pass the peas. Our rendezvous shall be off Eastern Point. There shall our Linda try the oar again."
Dinner was ended, and the gas was lit, And The Day's last edition had been put Into his hand to read, when suddenly Turning to Mary, with a sigh he said: "Kenrick, I see, is dead—Kenrick, our friend. 'Died in Chicago on the seventh instant,— Leaves an estate valued at seven millions.'" "Indeed! our faithful Kenrick—is he dead? Leaves he a wife?"—"Probably not, my dear; Three months ago he was a single man; I had a letter from him, begging me, If I lacked funds at any time to draw On him, and not be modest in my draft." "But that was generous; what did you reply?" "I thanked him for his love, and promised him He should be first to hear of wants of mine. Now let us to the music-room adjourn, And hear what will not jar with our regrets." They went; and Mary mother played and sang; Played the 'Dead March in Saul' and sang 'Old Hundred,' 'Come, ye Disconsolate,' 'When thee I seek'— And finally these unfamiliar words:—
O, give me one breath from that land— The land to which all of us go! Even now, O my soul! art thou fanned By the breezes that over it blow.
By the breezes that over it blow! Though far from the knowledge of sense, The shore of that land thou dost know— There soon wilt thou go with me hence.
There soon wilt thou go with me hence— But where, O my soul! where to be? In that region, that region immense, The loved and the lost shall we see?
The loved and the lost shall we see! For Love all it loves shall make near; Type and outcome of Love shall it be— Our home in that infinite sphere!
A day's excursion to a favorite spot— Choice nook among the choicest of Long Island, (Paradise Found, he called it playfully)— Had oft been planned; and one day Percival Said: "Let us go to-day!"—"No, not to-day!" Cried Linda, with a shudder.—"And why not? It is the very day of all the year! There's an elastic coolness in the air, Thanks to the thunder-shower we had last night: A day for out-of-doors! Your reasons, Linda? Tears in your eyes! Nay, I'll not ask for reasons. We will not go."—"Yes, father, let us go. Whence came my No abrupt, I could not say; It was a sudden freak, and what it meant You know as well as I. Shall we get ready?" "Ay, such a perfect day is rare; it seems To bring heaven nearer to my understanding; Life, life itself is joy enough! to be,— To breathe this ether, see that arch of blue, Is happiness."—"But 'tis the soul that makes it; What would it be, my father, without love?" "Ay, without love, love human and divine, No atmosphere of real joy can be."
Not long the time mother and daughter needed To don their simple, neat habiliments. A postman handed Percival a letter As they descended from the door to take The carriage that would bear them to the station; For they must go by rail some twenty miles To reach this paradise of Percival's.
When they were in the cars, and these in motion, Percival drew the letter from his pocket, And, while he read, a strange expression stole Over his features. "Now what is it, father?" Then with a sigh which her quick ear detected As one that masked a pleasurable thought, He said: "Poor little Linda!"—"And why poor?" "Because she will not be so rich again In wishes unfulfilled. That grand piano You saw at Chickering's—what was the price?" "Twelve hundred dollars only."—"It is yours! That painting you admired so—that by Church— What did they ask for it?"—"Two thousand dollars." "'Tis cheap at that. We'll take it. Whose turn-out Was it that struck your fancy?"—"Miss Van Hagen's!" "Well, you shall have one like it, only better. Look! What a charming cottage! How it stands, Fronting the water, flanked by woods and gardens! For sale, I see. We'll buy it. No, that house Yonder upon the hill would suit us better; Our coachman's family shall have the cottage."
"What is it all, my father? You perplex me," Said Linda, with a smile of anxious wonder. "In brief, my little girl," said Percival, "You're grown to be an heiress. Let your mother Take in that letter. Read it to her, Linda." It was a letter from executors Of the late Arthur Kenrick, making known That in his several large bequests was one Of a full million, all to Percival. The mother's heart flew to the loved ones gone; She sighed, but not to have them back again; That were a wish too selfish and profane. And then, the first surprise at length allayed, Calmly, but not without a natural joy At being thus lifted to an affluent lot, The three discussed their future. Should they travel? Or should they choose some rural site, and build? Paradise Found would furnish a good site! Now they could help how many! Not aloof From scenes of destitution had they kept: What joy to aid the worthy poor! To save This one from beggary! To give the means To that forsaken widow, overworked, With her persistent cough, to make a trip, She and her children, city-pinched and pale, To some good inland farm, and there recruit! Many the plans for others they conceived! Many the joyful—
Ah! a shivering crash! A whirl of splintered wood and loosened iron! Then shrieks and groans of pain....
A broken rail Had done it all. Now for the killed and wounded! Ghastly the spectacle! And happy those Whom Death had taken swiftly! Linda's mother Was one of these—a smile upon her lips, But her breast marred—peacefully she had passed. Percival's wound was mortal, but he strove, Amid the jar of sense, to fix his mind On one absorbing thought—a thought for Linda: For she, though stunned, they told him, would survive, Motherless, though—soon to be fatherless! And something—ah! what was it?—must be done, Done, too, at once. "O gentlemen, come here! Paper and pen and ink! Quick, quick, I pray you! No matter! Come! A pencil—that will do. Help me to make a will—I do bequeathe— Where am I? What has happened? God be with me! Yes, I remember now—the will! the will! No matter for the writing! Witness ye That I bequeathe, convey, and hereby give To this my only child, named Linda—Linda— God! What's my name? Where was I? Percival To Linda Percival—Is this a dream? What would I do? My heart is drowned in blood. God help me. Linda—Linda!"
Then he died; And, chasing from his face that glare of anguish, Came a smile beatific as if angels Had soothed his fears and hushed him into calm.
Her father's cry was all unheard by Linda, Or by her mortal senses all unheard. Perhaps a finer faculty, removed From the external consciousness afar, Took it all in; for when she woke at last To outward life, and looking round beheld No sign of either parent, she sank back Into a trance, and lay insensible For many hours. Then rallying she once more Seemed conscious; and observing the kind looks Of an old woman and a man whose brow Of thought contrasted with his face of youth, She calmly said: "Don't fear to tell me all; I think I know it all; an accident With loss of life; my father and my mother Among—among the killed. Enough! Your silence Explains it now. So leave me for a while. Should I need help, I'll call. You're very good."
When they returned, Linda was sitting up Against the pillow of the bed; her hands Folded upon her breast; her open eyes Tearless and glazed, as if celestial scenes, Clear to the inner, nulled the outer vision. The man drew near, touched her upon the brow, And said, "My name is Henry Meredith." She started, and, as on an April sky A cloud is riven, and through the sudden cleft The sunshine darts, even so were Linda's eyes Flooded with conscious lustre, and she woke.
It was a neatly furnished cottage room In which she lay, and nodding eglantine, With its sweet-scented foliage and rath roses, Rustled and shimmered at the open window. "How long have I been lying here?" asked Linda. "Almost two days," said Meredith.—"Indeed! I read, sir, what you'd ask me, in your looks; And to the question on your mind I answer, If all is ready, let the funeral be This afternoon. Ay, in the village ground Let their remains be laid. The services May be as is convenient." "Of what faith Were they?"—"The faith of Christ."—"But that is vague. The faith of Christ? Mean you the faith in Christ? Faith in the power and need of his atonement?"
"All that I mean is, that they held the faith Which was the faith of Christ, as manifest In his own words, unwrenched by others' words. So to no sect did they attach themselves; But from all sects drew all the truth they could In charity; believing that when Christ Said of the pure in heart, 'They shall see God,' He meant it; spoke no fragment of a truth; Deferred no saying, qualifying that; Set no word-trap for unsuspecting souls; Spoke no oracular, ambiguous phrase, Intending merely the vicarious pure; Reserved no strange or mystical condition To breed fine points of doctrine, or confound The simple-minded and the slow of faith. Heart-purity and singleness and love, Fertile in loving acts, sole proof of these, Summed up for them, my father and my mother, All nobleness, all duty, all salvation, And all religion."
With a heavy sigh Meredith turned away. "I'll not discuss Things of such moment now," said he. "One rock, One only rock, amid the clashing waves Of human error, have I found,—the rock On which Christ built his Church. Heaven show you it!" "Heaven show me truth! let it be on the rock, Or in the sand. You'll say Amen to that?" "I say Amen to what the Church approves, For I myself am weak and fallible, Depraved by nature, reprobate and doomed, And ransomed only by the atoning blood Of a Redeemer more divine than human. But controversy is not timely now: The papers, jewels, money, and what clothes Could properly be taken, you will find In a small trunk of which this is the key. At three o'clock the carriage will be ready."
Linda put forth her hand; he gravely took it, And holding it in both of his the while, Said: "Should you lack a friend, remember me. I was a witness to your father's death. Your mother must have died without a pang. He, by a strenuous will, kept death at bay A minute, and his dying cry was Linda! Hardly can he have felt his sufferings, Such the intentness of his thought for you!" The fount of tears was happily struck at last, And Linda wept profusely. Meredith Quitted the room; but the old woman sat Beside the bed, her thin and shrunken fingers Hiding themselves in Linda's locks of gold, Or with a soothing motion parting them From a brow fine and white as alabaster. At length, like a retreating thunder-storm, The sobs grew faint and fainter, and then ceased.
After a pause, said Linda to the lady, "Is he your grandson?"—"Ay, my only one; A noble youth, heir to a splendid fortune; A scholar, too, and such a gentleman! Young; ay, not twenty-four! What a career, Would he but choose! Society is his, To cull from as he would. He throws by all, To be a poor tame priest, and take confessions Of petty scandals and delinquencies From a few Irish hussies and old women!" "We all," said Linda, "hear the voice of duty In different ways, and many not at all. Honor to him who heeds the sacred claim At any cost of life's amenities And tenderest ties! We see the sacrifice;— We cannot reckon up the nobleness It called for, and must call for to the end."
The news of the great railroad accident And of the sudden death of Percival, Coming so soon upon intelligence Of his rare fortune in the legacy From Kenrick, occupied the public mind For a full day at least, and then was whelmed In other marvels rushing thick upon it. The mother and the daughter, who still bore The name of Percival, came back from Paris At once, on getting the unlooked-for news. When Linda, after three weeks had elapsed, Re-entered, with a swelling heart, the house To her so full of sacred memories, She was accosted by an officer Who told her he had put his seal on all The papers, plate, and jewelry belonging To the late Albert Percival,—and asked If in her keeping were a watch and ring, Also some money, found upon his person: If so, would she please give them up, and he, Who had authority to take them, would Sign a receipt for all such property, And then the rightful heir could easily Dispose of it, as might seem best to her.
"The rightful heir?" gasped Linda, taking in Not readily the meaning of the words,— "Do you not know that I'm the rightful heir And only child of Albert Percival?" "Pardon me," said the officer, "the child, Recognized by the law, is not yourself, But Harriet Percival, the only heir,— For so the court adjudges,—and to her All property, both personal and real, Must be made over. She, no doubt, will deal Kindly in your peculiar case, and make A suitable provision—"
"Hold!" cried Linda, Her nostrils' action showing generous blood As clearly as some matchless courser shows it After a mighty race,—"Your business, But not your comments! And yet, pardon me— I'm hasty,—you meant well; but you would have me Render you up the watch and pocket-book Found on my father's person, and delivered To me his daughter. That I'll only do, When more authority than you have shown Compels me, and my lawyer bids me yield." "Here is my warrant," said the officer, "And my instructions are explicit." Then, The spirit of the gentleman disdaining The action he was sent for, he rejoined: "But the law's letter shall not make me do An incivility, perhaps a wrong. And so, relying on your truth, I leave you, Assured that you'll be ready to respond To all the law can ask. And now, good day!"
Left to her own decisions, Linda sought At once the best advice; and such had been Her training, that she was not ignorant Who among counsellors were trusted most In special ways. Kindly and patiently Her case was taken up and thoroughly Sifted and tried. No hope! No flaw! No case! So craftily had every step been taken, With such precaution and such legal care,— So diligently had the mesh been woven, Enclosing Percival and all of his,— That nothing could be done except put off The payment of the Kenrick legacy For some six months,—when it was all made over To the reputed child, already rich Through the law's disposition of the sums Which Percival had been compelled to pay.
After the legal test, with brave composure Linda surveyed her lot. Enough was left, From sale of jewels that had been her mother's, For a few months' support, with frugal care. Claim to these jewels and the money found Upon her mother's person had been laid Too eagerly by the contesting party, Who said that Percival, in dying last, Was heir to the effects; but since the claim Could only be upheld by proving marriage, The claimants sorrowfully gave it up.
One day as Linda stood with folded hands Before her easel, on which lay a painting Of flowers autumnal, grouped with rarest skill,— The blue-fringed gentian, the red cardinal, With fern and plumy golden-rod intwined,— A knock aroused her, and the opened door Disclosed a footman, clad in livery, Who, hat in hand, asked if a lady might Come up to see the pictures. "Certainly," Was the reply; and, panting up the stairs, A lady came whose blazonry of dress And air of self-assured, aggressive wealth Spoke one well pleased to awe servility.
As when by some forecasting sense the dove Knows that the hawk, though out of sight and still, Is hovering near, even so did Linda feel An enemy draw nigh; felt that this woman, Who, spite of marks a self-indulgent life Leaves on the face, showed vestiges of beauty, Was she who first had cast the bitterness Into that cup of youth which Linda's father Was made to taste so long.
And yet (how strangely, In this mixed web of life, the strands of good Cross and inweave the evil!) to that wrong Might he have tracked a joy surpassing hope,— The saving angel who, in Linda's mother, Had so enriched his being;—might have tracked (Mysterious thought!) Linda herself, his child, The crown of every rapture, every hope
The lady, known as Madame Percival, Seated herself and turned a piercing look On Linda, who blenched not, but stood erect, With calm and serious look regarding her. The lady was the first to lower her eyes; She then, with some embarrassment, remarked: "So! you're an artist! Will you let me see Some of your newest paintings?" Linda placed Three of her choicest pieces on the easel, And madame raised her eyeglass, looked a moment, Said, "Very pretty," and then, breaking through Further constraint, began: "You may not know me; My name is Percival; you, I suppose, Bear the same name by courtesy. 'Tis well: The law at last has taught you possibly Our relative positions. Of the past We will say nothing; no hard thought is left Against you in my heart; I trust I know The meaning of forgiveness; what is due To Christian charity. In me, although The church has but a frail, unworthy child, Yet would I help my enemy; remove her From doubtful paths, and see her fitly placed With her own kindred for protection due. Hear my proposal now, in your behalf: If you will go to England, where your aunts And relatives reside,—and first will sign A paper promising you'll not return, And that you never will resume your suit,— I will advance your passage-money, and Give you five thousand dollars. Will you do it?"
The indignant No, surging in Linda's heart, Paused as if language were too weak for it, When, in that pause, the opening of the door Disclosed a lady younger than the first, Yet not unlike in features, though no blonde, And of a figure small and delicate. "Now, Harriet!" cried the elder of the two, Annoyed, if not alarmed, "you promised me You would not quit the carriage."—"Well, what then? I changed my mind. Is that a thing uncommon? Whom have we here? The name upon the door Is Percival; and there upon the wall I see a likeness of my father. So! You, then, are Linda Percival! the child For whom he could abandon me, his first! Come, let me look at you!"—"Nay, Harriet, This should not be. Come with me to the carriage; Come! I command you."—"Pooh! And pray, who cares For your commands? I move not till I please. We are half-sisters, Linda, but I hate you."
"Excuse me," Linda answered quietly, "But I see no resemblance to my father In you. Your features, form, complexion, all Are quite unlike."—"Silence! We've had enough." "What did she say?" cried Harriet. "Do not heed A word of hers; leave her and come with me." "She said, I bear no likeness to my father: You heard her!"—"'Twas in malice, Harriet. Of course she would say that."—"But I must have That photograph of him upon the wall: 'Tis unlike any that I've ever seen." And with the word she took it from the nail And would have put it in her pocket, had not Linda, with sudden grasp, recovered it.
Darker her dark face grew, when Harriet Saw herself baffled; taking out her purse She drew from it a thousand-dollar bill, And said, "Will this procure it?"—"Harriet! You're mad to offer such a sum as that." "Old woman, if you anger me, you'll rue it! I ask you, Linda Percival, if you Will take two thousand dollars for that portrait?" And Linda answered: "I'll not take your money: The portrait you may have without a price; I'm not without a copy."—"Well, I take it; But mark you this: I shall not hate you less For this compliance; nay, shall hate you more; For I do hate you with a burning hatred, And all the more for that smooth Saxon face, With its clear red and white and Grecian outline; That likeness to my father (I can see it), Those golden ringlets and that rounded form. Pray, Madame Percival, where did I get This swarthy hue, since Linda is so fair, And you are far from being a quadroon? Good lady, solve the riddle, if you please."