Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

A WOMAN'S RIGHT.

X.

TIIE CRISIS

just at what time he had written this, AGAIN the Summer holds the hills in or this! Here was one in which he splendor. Her cloud-fleets sail down told her that, although surrounded by the infinite ocean as peacefully as they the brilliant and the beautiful, he was did one year ago; her forests sway and solitary and miserable because she was murmur in as deep content; her apples not there. Here was another, in which redden in the hill-side orchard; her he wrote her that every pulse in his becorn waves its tassels; her tobacco ing trembled with joy because he was holds up its cups of aniber in the sun, coming to be happy in her presence. just the same. Again Eirene sits by the She read them over, and tried to make window; but she does not watch the them seem true once more. Eer mind clouds, or count the tobacco-stalks, or was as troubled as her heart, for its esbuild palaces in dreams. Her eyes are sence was truth. If these words were fixed upon the road where it emerges true—and she felt them to be true when from the woods. Where is the horse he uttered them-how could they mean with the arching neck, and the gal- nothing now? If he loved her enough lant rider, of one year ago ? Sustain- to seek her as he did, how could he foring the drooping spirits of Miss Pres- sake her to-day? This child, with her cott, probably. Yet Eirene's gaze does affections rooted in constancy, could not wander till the white road fades realize nothing of the moods of a man in the evening shadow. With the com- moved by every fluctuating circuming morning she renews her watch, stance. She had not grown to that saying, “Paul, you will come to-day." knowledge of the heart where she could So hard is it for youth and truth to let say, "He had many natures. I think he go of its faith. How many times her loved me well with one.” Soon the slenheart has fluttered like a bird's, at the der fingers began to untie the ribbon sight of Fleetfoot and his handsome which bound the precious packet, then rider, coming eagerly along that road tremble and fail and at last falteringly to her! How many times, with linger- tie them up again, and, without reading ing, loving looks, that rider has turned word, put them back. Ardent, pasreluctantly away! How could she be- sionate, and tender, how would they lieve that he would never come again ? seem to her now, in the desolation in How could she make it seem that she which she sat! Herein he had said, should never hear more the thud of over and over again, that he never could Fleetfoot's feet upon the little bridge ? be happy when she was not near.

Yet The scene in the garden, the last week this very moment, while she sat thinkof neglect, seems a dream-here in the ing of him, missing, needing him, as in spot where she has been so happy- all her life she had never missed or where he once enveloped and glorified needed any one before, was he not enher with his love! Thus each morning tirely occupied and absorbed by anothshe said again, “ This day will bring a er? Already she felt through her being letter, or he will come.” But the days the keenest suffering which can come to worc on; no letter came, and no Paul. a perfectly truthful nature-distrust of At last she unlocked the little box that the one loved best. Believe me, there held every letter he had ever written is no pang like this. More than happiher. How well she knew cach one, and ness was taken from her, more than love

" That's poor

[ocr errors]

up

-faith in the man who hail represented going past them. To be stopped, to sit to her all that was highest and bright there belpless, an object for them to est in manhood.

gaze upon and to laugh at, seemed more She could not utter one word in the than could be borne. “Get up, Mugpresence of her family that might cast gins !" Muggins only stuck her feet the faintest reproach upon Paul. They firmer and deeper in the dust, and stirknew her trouble was in some way con- red not. nected with him; for he did not come, “I am paid for coming to Busyville, and they could not forget the last sum- if it were only to see such a horse ! mer, por that the time bad arrived when Where, where did it come from? I he had promised to claim Eirene as his know it lived before Noah !” And as wife. But they saw the white and she uttered these words, in a penetratwatchful face, and respected its surruw ing tone wbich she knew reached the too much to ask questions. Each one occupants of the buggy, Isabella Pressaid, silently, “ Can this be our Eirene?” cott laughed again, more mockingly and, by constant, nameless little acts of than before. love, sought to prove the depth and " Don't," said Grace, tenderness of their sympathy.

Mr. Vale. He's very poor, and father Two weeks had gone by-two weeks feels sorry for him. That's Eirene. She in which every day had been a long, used to live with us. I like her, and so loving watch for one who did not come. does Paul; but mother don't. I wouldn't

“She must be gone now," said Eirene. hurt her feelings for the world. She is “He too, perhaps, has gone with her. I so kind to every body. Please don't must go back; I have been idle too laugh, Miss Prescott! You wouldn't, long!” As she said these words, she if you knew her.” felt an infinite weariness, as if she could “But I may laugh at the horse, mayn't never take her work again.

I? Look at it!" Yet, amid all, a faint hope awoke into There was a picture. The rusty old life. If he was still there, waiting for buggy, and its occupants covered with her, he would explain all. Had he not dust, Lowell Vale jerking the reins, and begged her, whatever happened, to be calling upon Muggins to "get up;” lieve in him, to love him, and to wait Muggins standing stone still, save when for him? She would.

the warning whip came down upon her Never before had Muggins looked so back, when she gave a jump upward and forlorn ; never before had she moved a push backward, as if she were going quite so slowly. Apparently she bad to back herself all the way to Hill-top. taken on the dejection of her dearest Just then the Prescott span and bafriend; and every dragging step which rouche drove towards the door for the she took forwards seemed a protest evening drive. The extremes in the foragainst bringing Eireve back to the tune of the girl upon the veranda and scene of her troubles. The impulse the girl in the buggy could hardly be which impelled Muggins to do it can- contrasted more strongly than by the not be explained; but just as she reach- two opposing vehicles. The caparisoned ed Mr. Mallane's gate, she stood perfect bays, the liveried servants, the emblazly still. Lowell Vale jerked the reins oned carriage stood beside the poor old and implored her to “get up,” but she buggy and the vicious old horse, and would not stir. A ligbt laugh from the the contrast brought the paltry triumph veranda, in the mocking tones which to its owner so dear to little souls. she knew too well, gave Eirene a fainty Mugging monopolized the Mallanefeeling about her heart, as if it were gate and carriage-stand, and must be going to stop beating. Before they got out of the way. There was no help reached the house, she had seen Bella for it. Eirene must descend before and Grace sitting there, and it seemed them, with, that cruel laugh still ringall that she could do to live through ing through her brain. She did it with

[ocr errors]

a bowed head; but as she reached the Oh, wretchedness of love, and of youth! ground, the tones of the beloved voice why couldn't she die ! made her lift it involuntarily; the very The sound of wheels made her look tone brought support and courage. Sure- up; and even where she sat she found ly he woull silence the mocking voice. that she could see Mr. Mallane's gate,

Paul had come to the door just in For her own sake she knew that she time to catch one of Muggins' most ri- ought to retreat further into the room ; diculous antics. He might have laugh- but a miserable fascination held ler ed, had he not seen Eirene. His first gaze. She did not see the barouche and impulse was the old one --to catch her the bays, but a light phæton with a sinup and carry her far away from all her gle borse champing his bit, and striking hideous surroundings; his second was his feet before it. Presently Paul and to go and assist her. He had taken the Miss Prescott came out of the house to. first step towards doing it, when Bella gether, Paul with the young ladly's exclaimed:

wraps. How long it took him to adjust “See ! see! that atrocious beast is them in her carriage-seat! With what backing that old box into King Ferdi- infinite pains he folded and refolded the nand's face! Oh! oh! they are going great fleecy shawl over its slender bars, to run !"

that they might not come in contact “Don't be alarmed, Miss Prescott.” with that susceptible back! Not a man

These were the words that Eirene among her slaves but what felt at perheard in the assuring tone. They were fect liberty to encircle it, to give it the not for her! They were not for her, in full benefit of the muscular support of her loneliness and poverty—not for her, his manly arm, while he heard the his promised wife; they were for the young lady murmur in pleading tones, gay and mocking stranger.

as he often did, An hour later, Eirene sat in her old “Oh, my back! it tires me so to ride! chair, withdrawn from the window. She I feel as if I should faint.” had just seen her father and Muggins And as she had the art of looking as depart. As she watched them move if she were going to do so, and always slowly away, her impulse was to follow, began toppling from one side to the and implore her father to take her back. other, what could the most reserved of It seemed to her, that she could not be men do but support this feeble creature, left behind-as if her last friend was if but out of human pity ? Only it was leaving her; but with the consciousness remarkable how wonderfully she revived that there was nothing for her but to a moment after, of course to the great be left, she became quiet, and followed joy of her supporter. If he only could them with her eyes till they were out have seen her a few hours later, spring. of sight. Thus she sat, with her stilling about her room with the agility of white face, and her hands listlessly a cat, it would have afforded him a dropped upon her lap. Life seemed too study in feminine backs sufficiently dreadful to be borne. She had thought puzzling to have driven to despair any that they would all be gone—that her masculine brain. . This moment Paul heart would no longer be tortured with was making most tender provision for so many mocking sights. She had this omnipresent vertebra. How carehoped, fondly, timidly hoped, that, after fully he assisted her into her seat, tho all, Paul would have remained behind, young lady who was so delicate! How to explain, to comfort her, to tell her assiduously he arranged the mat for her why she had been left alone. But her feet! How slowly he drew on his driv. enemy was still here, and she looked as ing-gloves, took his seat by her side, if she were going to stay forever. This took the reins in his hand, before the enemy mocked and ridiculed her yet. gay horse darted away and bore them Paul's words of comfort were not for out of sight! her; no, they were for her tormentor. It was all too much for the eyes of

as

the worn-out watcher in Seth Good- could see it moving on. It seemed to love's chamber. She had seen it all. invite her, to beckon her to come to it. Some horrible spell drew her toward How easy to lie down in its cool bosom, the window and held her there. Not a and be borne from all this trouble forgesture, not an act, not a look of his ever. If this were life, she was sure she had escaped her.

could not bear it. How blessed to end “She has been cruel to me," said the it at once! What rest, what peace, aching heart; “yet see how he serves there seemed to be in those cool, tranher!" She uttered no cry, but she quil waters! How many thousands bedrew her hand across her forehead,

fore her had felt the same temptation, if to brush away the confusion in her and had yielded to it! What had come brain. "Oh! he said he loved mer to them then ? Ah, that was the quesloved me alone,” she murmured;" that tion. The girl had moved to the steep his life began and ended in me; that I bank. Every glance of the water made was soon to be his wife, and he my

hus- more irresistible the impulse within to band. He said, “No matter what you drop quietly down into that liquid bed, see, nor how hard things may seem, still and end all. Would it end it? Even believe in me, and love me!' I will, now the quick, strong conscience threw Paul; but to be left alone, without one its rein over desire and weakness, and word, one look, one act of kindness, forced her to remember what her Chrisand to see you give all to this cruel tian mother had so often told her-that stranger, is hard. What does it mean, life is not our own, but God's; that we Paul, if you love me-if I am to be your must accept its penalties, bear its pains, wife." Then, confused in thought, des- fulfil its promises, but that we have no olate in heart, she crept down from the right to cast it off, to flee from it, lest chamber, out of the gate, and mechani- we should fail through it to reach that cally, without knowing wherefore, turn- more exceeding and eternal life of glory ed her feet towards the Lover's Walk. of which it is the faintest dawn. Dim, She had not been there since the even- far, impossible, seemed the other life of ing that she walked in it with Paul, glory to this young and overburdened That evening, and its bliss, now sharply heart; but this life, how keen, how defined in her memory in contrast with deep its pang! She had read of brave the wretchedness of the present, seemed souls who conquered it; but she was to draw her back irresistibly to the old not brave nor strong. It had conquered haunt. She drew her sun-bonnet close her. Still the slender feet hung over over her face, that no one might see ber, the high bank; still the white forehead, and hurried on. The grass was soft with its restraining thought, held her under her feet; the trees bent down and back from the alluring water, when the whispered to her, as in the happy June murmur of human voices divided the hours, but she was unconscious of their air with the murmur of the waves. ministry. She did not pause till she What tone was it that made Eirene incame to the end of the Walk. Here stinctively draw forward to the curtain Paul had kissed her, and uttered his of vines, which screened her from the last words to her.

walk? It drew nearer and nearer, till The light was growing dim, and, with it came to the spot where Paul had kissan instinctive dread of being seen here ed her. It was Paul, who stood here alone, she crept inside of the curtain now with Isabella Prescott. which a wild vine had hung from tree “ You will always be dearer to me, to tree, and sat down upon the moss Bella, for this visit,” he was saying. inside. A great willow held its canopy “Indeed, I never should have known you over her head and fanned her face with truly if you had not come here. How its pendants. On the other side, the could I have so misunderstood you, river ran with deep, swift flow. As the Bell ! I used to think that you were willow-bouglis swayed and opened, she born to trifle, and acted accordingly.

You seem to me as changed as if you them; he knew them to be false. The were another creature. It would have face before him receded, and another, saved a world of trouble if I could have the face that he loved, again seemed to known your heart before it was too late.” touch his. He started with a shock as A deep sigh was the only response. he thought that he stood in the very

Don't sigh co, Bella! Do you sup- spot where he had kissed it-where he pose I can ever forget what you suffer had said, “No matter what you see, no for me? It will be the regret of my matter how things may seem, believe in life. Oh, Bella, why didn't you show me.” That was scarcely three weeks your real heart to me more than a year ago; and what had he been saying ? ago? then we should not be divided to- If she could have heard the words night."

which he had just uttered, how could “Don't you know, Paul,” murmured she still believe in him? He felt like a a broken voice, “ that, when a woman man enthralled by some spell which he loves, her first instinct is to hide her hated, yet which he had no power to real feetings ? "

break. Had not this woman by his side “Yes; but how was I to dream of always compelled him to do and say such a thing in you ? Really, you play- things which made him hateful to himed the coquette so perfectly, I never self? Always! Yet how fair and gensuspected you of having real feeling." tle and drooping she looked now! She

“I was too proud to betray it. I loved him? Then, from whence came never should have betrayed it, if my this faint and far suspicion of her now? feelings had not conquered my pride." While he gazed, why did her face look

6. Why did they conquer it too late ? false even amid its suffering? Was he It is like all of my fate!” said Paul. unjust to her, even while she fascinated

“Why is it too late?” murmured the bim and held bim? In an instant the faltering voice.

place seemed haunted.

He thought “I am bound-irrevocably bound I” that he saw something white-white, bitterly answered Paul.

like a woman's face, in the darkness, To whom? I have seen nobody through the swaying vines. who has seemed to have any special “Come!” he said ; " that was a cuclaim upon you. Who has robbed me?" rious noise. It really makes me feel su

“One your inferior, and mine, in po- perstitious. Does it you, Bella ? But I sition. I have loved her, but the con- never heard of a ghost in our Lover's ditions of our lives are so conflicting, I Walk,” he added, laughing. “I did am now convinced that we ought never not intend to stray so far.” to be married. I would release myself They hurried back, but Paul saw a if I could. But I consider a promise a

white face close to his all the way. binding obligation. If I could have It was past midnight, yet still he sat known you as you are, Bella, it would in the drawing-room, listening to that never have been made."

sensuous, pleading melody of Bell's, “ What is that?"

which had grown to have such power They both started at a sound as of over him. It held him where he sat; something falling very near. There yet still a white, cold face seemed to was a rustle of leaves, then all was touch his. quiet.

" Where is she? What have you “Perhaps it was a snake !” said Bella. done with her? You have killed her,

Each looked, but saw nothing, save Paul Mallanel and may the Lord curse wavy boughs and vines. But a chill your soul !” cried Tilda Stade, as she ran through Paul; he shivered as one rushed into the room, with her hair flydoes in standing near a human being ing and her eyes filled with the wildest in the dark without knowing it. His excitement. In his best moments, Paul last words had scarcely passed his lips, hated the sight of Tilda, but she seembefore he hated himself for uttering ed nothing short of an avenging demon

« IndietroContinua »