|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||Love's Madness|
(From English, American, and other Periodicals.)
" Sweetheart, good-by!"
"Alas! how light a cause may move
Dissension between hearts that love!"
"You may go, Norah," said Grace Winans, looking up from the child on her breast at the sleepy-eyed nurse. "If I need you again I can ring the bell," and smiling Norah bowed and withdrew.
It was almost twelve o'clock, and Grace had exchanged her ball-dress for a white neglige, and sat in the nursery, holding her babe in her arms, and smiling thoughtfully down at the tiny, winsome face. Mother and child made a wondrously fair picture in the soft shade of the wax-lights that burned with subdued brightness in the dainty, airy, white-hung room. The girlish mother leaned a little forward as she sat in the low rocking-chair, her bright curls falling over the loosely-flowing white dress like a golden glory. Her pure, innocent eye looked down at the babe that nestled in her arms, and a low murmur of tenderness escaped her lips.
"My Birdie! my baby!"
"Still sitting up, Grace?"
It was the voice of her husband entering to pay his nightly visit to the little bright-eyed babe -- sole heir of his proud name and wealth.
"I am not tired,"' she answered, in her fresh young voice, "and our little darling is so sweet I cannot bear to lay him down. Only look at him,
" Paul Winans bent down and clasped mother and child in one fond embrace.
"My two babes!" he whispered.
A sunny smile broke over the young wife's face. The pet name pleased her, for she was still scarcely more than a child in her quick appreciation of affection, and, like a child, she could scarcely have understood an affection that did not express itself in tender epithets and warm caresses. She nestled her bright head against his arm, sighing softly in the
fullness of her content.
Tender and trustful as a little child, always ready to sacrifice her own wishes to those of others, only asking to love and be loved, our pretty Grace made a charming wife and mother. Prosperity had not spoiled her warm heart nor her clear judgment, and the greatest aim of her loving life was to please her noble husband in all things -- her highest ambition to be to him always, as she was then, the guiding
star of his life.
"Some flowers of Eden we still inherit
But the trail of the serpent is over them all,"
Over this exquisite picture of domestic peace and love broke the storm-cloud and the tempest. It was but a moment after Paul Winans kissed his happy wife before the stillness of the midnight hour was broken by a sound that rose from the street below, and was directly beneath the window.
First, a mournful guitar prelude; than a man's voice singing in the very accents of despair, and he finished the song of which Grace had sung the first stanza for him four years before.
"Sweet heart, good-by! One last embrace
O cruel fate! two souls to sever!
Yet In this heart's most sacred place
Thou, thou alone, shall dwell forever! "And still shall recollection trace
In fancy's mirror, ever near,
Each smile, each tear, that form, that face
Though lost to sight, to mem'ry dear!"
Husband and wife listen in unbroken silence to
the strain. The senator's arm tightened about his wife and child, and she sat mute and still, every line of her face as moveless as if carved trom marble.
But as the lingering notes died away, her hand
sought and touched the tiny blue-and-silver tassel that depended from the bell-cord, and sent its low tinkle through the house.
Norah, who always answered the nursery-bell came in after the lapse of a moment. To her Mrs. Winans said, in a voice that sounded stern and cold
for her silver-sweet tones :
"Norah, go to the front door and tell that madman that he had better move on -- that the family do not wish to be disturbed by such nonsense at this [hour] of the night."
The woman withdrew obediently.
Paul Winans turned, and walked restlessly up and
down the room.
"So he dares come and serenade my wife directly under my window!"
His dark eyes blazed, his cheeks flamed, and his hand involuntarily clenched itself.
Grace looked up at him, still immovably calm and silent; but a slight nervous movement of her arm showed that she heard and understood. She looked up questioningly as Norah appeared in the door-
"He was gone, ma'am, before I got down to the
"Very well; you may go, then."
And, as before, Norah went out, with her small courtesy, and left the pair alone.
Her voice had the same sweet cadence as usual, and her smile was as gentle as ever when she looked up at the princely form before her. His voice, his look, showed his insulted pride and outraged heart. Her only trace of emotion showed in marble pallor and darkening eyes.
"I do not understand this!" his voice slow and intense. "I thought I had found a pearl so pure and isolated that no other man's eyes had ever looked on it to covet its beauty for himself. That was my highest glory. Fame, fortune, pleasure were nothing to me in comparison with my pride in my wife, and that pride was the greater because a passionately jealous nature like mine is only satisfied in holding the first place in the beloved heart. And this I thought I held in yours. To-night I learn for the first time that long before I ever met you another man looked on you to love you perhaps you loved
His voice died away in a throb of passionate pain. He leaned against the rosewood, lace-draped crib, and looked down at her with their child in her arms hoping she would deny it. She did not. Dead silence fell between them, but her soft eyes never wavered in their frank, upward look at him, They met his calmly, expectantly, their starry inscrutable depth telling no secrets.
"What is it, Paul?"
"Say something -- you are so cold -- anything to allay the fire that burns in my veins. I think I am mad to-night."
"My dearest, what can I say more than I have already told you? Mr. Conway proposed to me under a most mortifying mistake. I am not answerable for a man's infatuation with a fair face. I do not know what has induced him to make such a demonstration here to-night. Possibly he is under the influence of wine, and hardly knows the folly he is perpetrating; possibly we may never see or hear of him after this. Let us dismiss him from our thoughts."
Spoken so sweetly, so calmly, so indifferently. Her seeming calmness subdued and quelled momentarily his stormy feelings, as a strong, well-balanced mind always curbs a fitful, unquiet one.
"Then you do not care for him, Grace?"
She was threading her slim fingers meditatively through the dark curls that clustered on the brow of her child. She glanced up, her snow-white cheek flushing a fitful scarlet, her voice and look full of proud reproach.
"Paul, you are speaking to the mother of your
That quiet dignity recalled him to a sense of what was due to his wife. His brow cleared, his voice
softened, as he answered:
"I beg your pardon, Gracie, dearest. I ought to have known your pure heart better than to insult it by a doubt. Your heart I know, is mine now, or you would never have been my wife. I know your pure honor and truth too well to think otherwise. But oh, my love, my sweet wife, if I knew -- if I knew that your warm, true heart had ever throbbed with one sigh of love for another, I should, even though it had happened before I ever saw you, never again know one happy moment. You may think it is jealous madness -- it may be -- but it is inherent in my nature, and I cannot help it. I repeat that I could
never, never be happy again.
No answer. Grace Winans' white arms wreathed themselves around her baby, pressing it closer, as if to still the sharp pang that struck home to her very heart. A faint shiver thrilled her, and rising, she laid the little sleeper in its downy nest, smiling
a little sadly as she looked, but smiling still for this tiny rosebud was the sweetest and most wonderful thing that had ever come into her lonely life. Deeply as she had loved the first object of her young affections, purely and truly as she loved her gifted husband, the strongest, the deepest, most intense passion of her life was her maternal love. Some one has written half jestingly that "the depths of a woman's love can never be sounded till a baby is dropped into her heart," but it is true of the majority of women. It was especially true of Grace Winans. That little, rosy, lace-robed slumberer, small as it was enshrining a human soul, was the idol of the young mother's life. Perhaps she was excusable. It was the only thing that had ever loved her purely and unselfishly. She could scarcely recollect her parents, she could not recal any one who had ever lavished on her such love as this child gave her, so devoted, so unreasoning, so absorbing; and deeply, unselfishly as she loved her husband, she loved his child better though no word nor sign ever betrayed the fact to his jealous eyes. She reached up to him now, and drew him to her side, holding his arm about her waist with both dimpled white hands.
"My darling," she whispered, "don't be so unreasonable. You have no cause to be jealous, none at all. My whole heart is yours -- yours and the baby's. You must have faith in me, Paul -- have faith in me, and trust me as you do your own heart."
Drawing his moody face down to hers, she kissed him with child-like simplicity. At the persuasive touch of those tender lips his brow cleared, his listless clasp tightened around her, and both arms held her strained closely to his breast, his lips raining kisses on her brow, her cheeks, her lips, even her fair golden hair.
"Now you are like yourself," the musical voice whispered gladly. " You will not be jealous and unhappy again. I am yours alone, dear one -- heart, and soul, and body -- your own loving, happy little
The sunshine on her face was tenderly refected on his. She was so sweet and winsome, so womanly, yet withal, so child-like, and oh, so beautiful! His strange, unusual mood was not proof against the witchery of her loveliness, her flowing hair, the subtle perfume breathing from her garments, the
tenderness of her words and looks.
"I don't think another man in the world has such a precious wife!" he said.
And though she knew that every man's private opinion regarding his own wife was the same, she took heart at his words of praise, and laughed archly. They two were that novel sight "under the sun," a pair of married lovers. Why need he have gone back to the forbidden subject? Ah! why have we always "done that which we ought not to have done?" Because he wanted to make himself miserable, I suppose. There is no other reason I can assign for his persistence; and, as for that, there is no reason whatever in a jealous man. He is simply "jealous for he is jealous," and where Shakespeare could not find a reason for a thing, how can I?
"Gracie, may I ask you one question?" "You may -- certainly."
"And will you answer it truthfully ?"
"If I answer it at all," she gravely made answer, "it must needs be truthfully, for I could not reply to you otherwise. But why ask a question at all ? I do not care to question you of your past; why should you question me of mine ? Let past and future alone, Paul. The present only is ours -- let us enjoy it."
And heedless of the warning shadow that fell across her pathetic face he persevered:
"Only tell me this my precious wife. This Bruce Conway, who went away to Europe to leorn that he loved you, and come back to tell you so. Gracie, in that post time when you knew him -- before you ever
knew me -- did you -- tell me truly, mind -- did you
ever love him?"
The question she had dreaded, and shrunk from all
the time! She knew it would come, and now that it had what could she say?
How easy it would have been to confess the truth to a less passionate and jealous mind. It was no sin not even a fault in her, and she was not afraid to tell him save with the moral cowardice that makes one dread the necessary utterance of words that must inflict pain. What harm was there in that dreamy passion that had cast its glamour over a few months of her girlhood? It was unkind in him to probe her heart so deeply. She dared not own the truth to him if its telling were to make him unhappy. And along with this feeling there was another -- the natural shrinking of a proud woman from laying bare the hidden secrets of her soul, pure though they be, to mortal sight. A woman does not want to tell her husband the man who loves her and believes her irresistible to all, that another man has been proof against her charms, that the first pure waters of love's perennial fountain had gushed at the touch of another, who let the tide flow on unheeding and uncaring, and a man has no business to ask it. But where does the line of man's "little brief authority" cross its boundaries? We have never found out yet. It is left, perhaps, for some of the fair and curious ones of our sex who are "strong-minded" in their "day and generation" to solve that interesting
So Gracie, debarred by confession by so many and grave considerations, in desperation parried the
"Paul, do you know that I am sleepy and tired while you are keeping me up with such idle nonsense? If we must begin at this late day to worry over our past loves and dreams, suppose you begin first by telling me how many separate ladies you have loved before you ever met me! Come, begin
with the first on the list."
"It begins and ends with -- yourself," he said
gravely and firmly.
"Like the story of Mrs. Osgood's Evelyn," she rejoined, smiling, and beginning to hum lightly:
"It began with -- 'My Evelyn fairest!'
It ended with -- 'Evelyn best!'
And epithets fondest and dearest,
Were lavished between on the rest."
Then breaking off, she says more seriously and
"Then try to think that is the same with me. Don't worry over such idle speculations. I am tired
and half sick, dear."
"Gracie, you drive me to desperation. I asked you a simple question -- why do you try to evade
"Because it is unfair to me. I haven't asked you any such ridiculous questions. I won't submit to be catechised so, positively, I won't! Don't be angry, dear. I am sure the slightest reflection on your part will convince you that I am right. I have partly forgotten the past; have ignored it anyhow, not caring to look back any further in my life than the two years in which I have known and loved you. All the happiness I ever really knew has been showered on me by your lavish hand. Be content in knowing that and spare me, Paul."
" I thank you, Grace, for your sweet tribute to me, but I asked you a question and I am -- waiting for
"I thought I had answered you plainly enough, Paul. Why will you persist in making us both
"Gracie, will you answer or not?"
"Oh, darling! you have worried me into a nervous chill. I am cold as ice," and to prove the truth of
her words she pressed two icy little hands upon his cheek, and for the first time in his life he pushed his fsiry away from him.
"You must not trifle with me, Grace." "You still insist on it, Paul ?" "I still insist on it."
"At the risk of your own unhappiness?"
She looked at him sadly as she leaned across the crib near him, but not touching him.
"Paul," she ventured, suddenly, "even supposing that I had loved another before I ever met you, what difference can that make to you? I love you truly
"So much difference my wife, that I think I could never again be happy if I knew you had ever loved another than myself; but I cannot bear this suspense. I ask you nothing about other men. I only ask you, did you ever love Bruce Conway?"
She could not utter a falsehood; she could not escape his keen, persistent questioning; she must be frank with him and hope for the best. That was the only way the poor little heart reasoned then; so with down-dropped eyes, and a sound in her ears that recalled the whisper of the ocean in her ears one parting night, she drew a little farther away from him, and answered in a hushed, low voice, much like a chidden child's:
A silence fell between them so hushed that she could hear her own heart beat. He had put up his hand to his face, and she could not see his features nor guess what effect her words had on him.
"Paul," she ventured, almost frightened at the sound of her own voice in the stillness, "don't think of it any more. I was nothing but a simple, dreaming child, and it is just as natural for a young girl
to fancy herself in love with the first handsome young man who flatters her as it is for our baby
there in his crib to cut his teeth and have the measles when he grows older. It seems absurd to make yourself miserable over so trifling a thing. I didn't like him so very much, indeed I didn't. I soon learned how unworthy he was of any woman's love. He is a fickle, wavering, unprincipled man, who never knows his own mind, unworthy a second thought of yours, my noble husband."
Unflattering verdict! but a true one. She understood the man who had trifled with her young heart almost better than he did himself. In that time when he had wavered so fatally between his pride and his happiness, she had fathomed his very soul with her suddenly awakened perceptions and she understood him well. She could look back now and thank Heaven for what had seemed then a calamity scarcely to be borne. What it had cost her only Heaven knew, for in her way she was a proud woman, and never "wore her heart on her sleeve;" but nobody stops to question how hard a struggle has been so that victory crowns it at last. To the world it matters little who of its toiling, striving atoms have been patient pilgrims to
"That desert shrind
Which sorrow rears in the black realm -- Despair!"
so that they return with palms of victory in their hands, and the cross of honor upon their breasts. And Gracie, too, had fought a battle in her life and conquered; if it left ineffaceable scars they were hidden in her heart, and left no token upon her fair,
He made no reply to her wistful defence.
She went up to him and touched his hand with hers still intent upon making peace with this proud, impatient spirit. He only pushed her very gently but firmly awoy from him, and in a moment after turned
suddenly and left the room. She heard him go down to his study, close his door, and fall heavily into the
Then her repressed impatience and anger broke
out, as she paced back and forth like a spirit in her
flowing hair and long white robe.
"The idiot! the madman! to come back here after
all this time, and throw the shadow of unhappy love
over all my future life. Did he think I had no pride that I would bear coldness,' carelessness, neglect and be glad to meet him after four years had passed, and say yes to the question that in all honor he should have asked before he went? I think I could spurn him with my foot if he knelt before me again as he did to-night!"
How she scorned him. How superb she was in her just anger and resentment. Her changeful eyes darkened and flushed with pride, her lip curled, her cheek glowed, her light step seemed to spurn the
"Mamma, mamma!" The soft, frightened voice of her child, waking suddenly from his rosy sleep, recalled her to herself. In an instant she was by his side bending over him, kissing his brow, his lips, his hands, his hair in a passion of grieving tenderness.
" My darling, my comfort, my pretty boy, I am so glad that you are a boy! You will never know the pains, the penalties, the trials and crosses of a
woman's life. If you were a little girl, and I knew that if you lived you must bear all that I have borne and must still endure, I could bear to see you dead rather than live to say, as I have done 'Mother, why didn't you let me die when I was a
The little clock on the marble mantel chimed out the hour of three in soft, musical notes. She lifted the child in her arms and, passing into her sleeping apartment, laid him down on her own bed, for she never slept without her treasure in her arms. Then, kneeling by his side, she whispered a brief, agonized petition to Heaven before laying her tired form down in the snowy nest of linen and lace.
When the soft summer dawn began to break faintly over the earth, Paul Winans rose up from his tiresome vigils and stole up stairs with a noiseless footstep that did not waken her from her exhausted sleep. Her child nestled close to her heart, and her lips, even in her fitful slumber, were pressed upon his brow just as she had fallen asleep. The long curls of her golden hair flowed over both and wrapped them in a mantle of sunshine. Her face wore a look of remembered pain and grief that went to his heart, so kissing both so softly that they did not stir, he laid a note upon the pillow and went down the stairs and out into the street.
"Am I mad that should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit? I will pluck It from my bosom though my heart be at the root!"
A misty, overcast morning dawned gloomily after the night of Mrs. Conway's ball. In spite of it the lady rose early. She had not slept at all, and, nervous and depressed, she roamed over the disordered house, from which the servants were busily removing the debris of the evening's entertainment. Every moment she expected to see her nephew enter, and, as the day wore on and he failed to present himself, her impatience brooked control no longer and she sent a messenger into Norfolk to the National Hotel, his usual stopping place in the city,
to inquire after him.
The boy's swift horse carried him into the city and back in two hours. He came into the lady's presence bowing and grinning, the very picture of a sleek, good-natured, well-fell darkey.
"Did you see him, John?"
"Yass'm, I see him," grinned John, his hands in his pockets complacently jingling the nickels his young master had just bestowed on him.
"You gave him my message? What did he say?" "Yass'm; he say how" -- here John stopped jingling his nickels long enough to make a low dip of his woolly head, as befitting the proper deliverance of the message he had -- "he will do himself de hon'r ob takin tea wid ou dis even'."
"Was that all he said?"
"All he says to you, ma'am -- he ast me how come I stay long wid ole mis' all dis time and not go off, like de rest of de little nigs? I tell him -- "
Here John stopped to chuckle softly at the
"Well, you told him what?"
"As how ole mis' couldn't get 'long 'thout me no how," and here John turned and made a hasty exit in obedience to a "Go along, you impudent little monkey!" from the said "ole mis'.
He was at the gate that evening, ready to take his master's horse when he cantered up in the gloom of
the overcast sunset.
"Glad to see you, Marse Bruce. Hopes you've come ot stay. De old place nuvver seemed like home without you," said the young darkey, who as a boy had blacked Bruce Conway's boots, run his errands, served as an escape-valve for all his ill humors, and withal adored him, now welcoming him home with the hearty affection that was so deeply rooted in his simple nature.
Freedom had not spoiled John in the least - possibly because so far as kind treatment and almost unlimited indulgence went he had been free all his
But the young man merely threw him the reins and with a careless "Take good care of him, John," walked off in the direction of the house.
"Humph!" commented the merry little darkey, as he led the horse off to the stable. "Sulky! I dersay he's come to give the madam fits for lettin' of his sweetheart git married afore he come back. Serves him right, though. Why didn't he marry her fust, and take her 'long wid him to that furrin parts? Poor, pretty little dear! she did look just like an angel las' night, and they do say Marse Bruce took on some when he seen her."
For the servants had all been woefully disappointed when Burce hurried off to Europe without the grand wedding that the cook had prophesied would take place between himself and Miss Gray; and the story of the last night's contretemps having been duly rumored from parlor to kitchen, was the all-absorbing subject of comment between cook, chambermaid and boy-of-all-work, their sympathy and indignation being in such a fluctuating state just now that they could scarcely decide who was the most deserving of their sympathy -- the young man who, as they phrased it, had gone off and apparently jilted his sweetheart, or the young lady whom he had returned to find had really jilted him.
And the young man who was furnishing food for so much feminine gossip and conjecture that day,
quite heedless of it all, walked on up the steps and into the stately presence of his expectant aunt.
She came forward very cordially, concealing any possible annoyance she felt under an appearance of
affection. She began to see that reproaches and anger were not the way to bring this accillating, reckless young fellow to his senses.
"I trust you are feeling well after your fatigue of last evening," he pleasantly observed, as they shook
"No, I cannot say that I am. I have had no sleep, and felt worried and anxious about you, my dear boy."
"I am sorry to have caused you any such annoyance," he answered, repentantly, throwing himself wearily among the cushions of a luxurious sofa -- "very sorry indeed, Aunt Conway. I am not worth being a source of anxiety to anyone."
The inflection of sadness and weariness in his tone touched her heart, and swept away all lingering resentments. She looked at him as he lay among the bright embroidered cushions, looking so handsome, yet so worn and hopeless, and her womanly pity found vent in the simple words:
"My poor boy!"
"Don't pity me," he answered, impatiently. "I am not deserving of pity, and I don't want it. A man must sink very low indeed to become the object of a woman's pity!"
What a strange mood he was in. Accustomed to him as she was, she could not fathom him this evening. She folded her hands in her lap and looked at him wistfully. He grew restless under her gaze, shifting his position so that the light should not
strike on his features.
"You sent for me to give me a scolding, I suppose," he said, with a short, dry laugh. "I am here
to receive it."
"I did not," she answered. "I sent for you because this is your home, and I want you to stay with me if you will. It is very lonely here with no one of my kindred, Bruce, and I am getting to be quite an old woman now. Why cannot you give me the solace of your company and affection for my few remaining years?"
"My affection?" No words can do justice to the reckless cynicism of his look and tone.
"Aunt Conway, I have very little affection to give any one. My heart seems dead in my bosom. I came home, so full of noble resolve, so full of hope, that my downfall has almost banished reason from its throne. And as for my company, I fear I cannot even give you that. I owe it to myself, to you, more than all to the wife of Senator Winans, to take myself away from here where no sight of me can recall my injustice to her, and my crowning folly of
"You shall not talk so; shall not leave me again. Let Mrs. Winans alone. You have been in banishment three, nay, four years for her already. You shall not go again. Norfolk is surely large enough for you two to live without crossing the path of each other! As for what happened last night it is rather mortifying, but it will soon be forgotten. Stay with me, Bruce: there are plenty of beauties in Norfolk who will soon teach you to forget Mrs.
"Forget her -- is it likely? When the prevailing topic of Norfolk is the lovely Mrs. Winans, the brilliant Mrs. Winans, the accomplished Mrs Winans, with her accomplishments of fashion and folly! It
seems quite the fashion to talk about her now. No, Aunt Conway, you cannot dissuade me from my purpose. I shall go away from here until I can
learn to be a man. Here I renounce my ill-fated love for her, and pledge myself to forget her as an
honorable man should do!"
His aunt looked at hims, her regret and pain mingled with admiration. He looked so noble, so proud, so many as he spoke, that for a moment she felt a pang at the thought of the wrong she had done, for that she had done wrong she knew full well. She had known of her nephew's passionate love for Grace Gray, and knew that with her he would have found all the happiness that is vouchsafed to mortals.
But for a scruple of worldly pride and position she had separated them, punishing herself thereby; for in the long years of his banishment she had felt too truly that she had, in tearing apart those two loing
hearts, bitterly wounded his. The repressed longing
for her boy, the pain of knowing herself unloved and uncared for, had been a daily thorn in her heart,
"No after gladness
Could ever wholly heal."
For a moment, as she looked at him in his manly beauty and brave renunciation, a better impulse stirred her heat, and thinking of the fair young creature who had made such sunlight in this dreary, splendid home, a vague wish came into her soul that she had let them have their way, and not so rudely sundered what God had joined together.
Too late! When we take it upon ourselves to shape the life-destinies of others we must not expect to undo our work when we find it completed and unsatisfactory to us. When we see the hearts that our intermeddling has bruised and torn go from us hungry and empty we must not expect them to turn to us for the happiness we denied then.
Oh, fathers and mothers, manoeuvering sisters, aunts, and relatives, when the young birds are mating and building, why cannot you let them alone? Why cannot you understand that your own special experience and wisdom were given you by God for your guidance alone, and that everyone cannot walk the same chalked-out path, that every thinking, living mind must choose for itself whether or not it be wisely or well?
"As we make our beds we lie" has passed into a truth, but is it likely that any other will make it better for us than we try to do for ourselves? To be plain, no one has a right to dictate to us the way we are to walk in for life; or, if they have, why has God given to every one of us thinking, reasoning, yearning minds, capable of knowing what we want and what we need better than anyone can know for
"Bruce," she said, gently, I have wronged you, I know. It was wrong of me to tempt you with my geld to desert the girl you loved, and who loved you. I never felt until this hour how basely I had acted. If I could undo my work I would. But I trust you may yet find happiness, and that the memory of all this sufferings may pass from your soul as rain-drops from a rose, leaving it brighter and lovelier after the
"Nay," he said, smiling faintly and sadly, "since you have descended to simile, let me remind you that there are two sides thereto. How often have I seen in this lovely garden of yours the crushed rose leaves covering the ground, rain-beaten, pallid, and torn, as the storm had passed and left them. So it is most likely to be with me."
"I trust not. At any rate, Bruce, I ask your forgiveness. It is asking much, I know, when I reflect that but for me you would have wedded the girl you loved, and who, through my fault, is irrevocably lost to you. But you are all I have to love -- all I have to love! Don't deny me."
"I do not," he answered, slowly. " Don't blame yourself entirely, Aunt Conway. Blame my weak, wavering vacillating will, that made me hesitate between Grace Gray and the noble inheritance you offered me. We are about equal, I think. I sold myself -- you bought me!"
Oh, Grace, you are avenged! Deeply as you scorned him, your contempt was not deeper than that which in this hour he felt for himself.
"I thank you, Bruce, dear boy, that you do not accord me all the blame, though I feel I fully deserve it. Let us change the subject to one more pleasant."
"In one moment, but first I have a confession to make. You may hear it from others, so I would like you to hear it first from me. You know that I am truthful, though unstable, and you can believe just what I say -- not all the varnished reports you may
"Go on," she said anxiously, as he paused.
Well, then, I left you last night in a bad state of mind. I was mad, I think -- simply mad -- and in Norfolk I took more wine than was good for me. I swore to myself that I would not give up Grace. I hated her husband for having won her -- I hated the child that called her mother and him father -- I hated you for separating us, and I swore that as she had
loved me once she should love me again. Under the influence of this madness I took a guitar and sung under tho window of the grand Winans' mansion a love song -- yes, aunt," laughing a little as she recoiled in dismay, "I dared to sing a love-song -- I dared to serenade the married belle of society and queen of beauty with a long-song she had bid sung for me on the eve of our parting four years ago."
"Oh, Bruce! what have you done?"
"Gotten myself into a difficulty, perhaps. The question is, did they hear me, or were they all asleep? If they heard and knew me I have undoubtedly provoked the wrath of that haughty Senator who calls her his own. I propose to extricate myself from this dilemma by leaving the place as quietly as I returned; not through cowardice, Aunt Conway, I won't have you think that," his eye flashed proudly, "but because I have caused her trouble enough already. I'll not stay here to bring furthor trouble and comment upon her. I won't
have her pure name dragged through the scandal of
an affair of honor. The only thing is to go away -- that is the only reparation I can make, to go away and forget her, and be myself forgotten.
There was much that was noble in him yet; much
that was high-toned, chivalric, high-spirited, and tender, -- all of it, alas, marred by that vacillating will, that wavering doubting nature that was so long in making its mind up, and when made up soon changed it again.
The tea-bell suspended further converse on the subject. He gave her his arm in courtly fashion, and they decended to the dining-room, both too preoccupied to observe the curious kindly black faces that peeped at them from obscure stations, eager to see the handsome young master they remembered so well, and to see how he looked "since he'd come back and found his sweetheart married and gone," as if people wore their hearts in their faces. Ah, if they did what a gruesome looking crowd
would meet us withersoever we went.
Dainty and elegant as was the evening meal, I think Bruce Conway and his handsome old aunt scarcely did justice to it. His callous, worldly heart was stirred as it had not been for years. For Bruce, I think he might as well have eaten chips for all he enjoyed the spring chicken, the pickled oysters, the rosy ham, and warmly-browned biscuit, the golden honey and preserves, the luscious fruits, the fragrant tea and chocolate. Across the glimmer of flowers, and silver and dainty cut-glass, and edibles, a shadowy form sat in the vacant chair at the opposite side of the table, which had been the wonted place of the rosy reality. A girl's fair face looked across at him, her white hands trifled with the silver knife and fork, reached the preserves across to him, poured the cream into his tea, showed him a dozen kindly attentions, and once he said, absently, "No, I thank you, Grace," and looked up into the shiny black face of John, who was changing his plates for him, and who nearly exploded with repressed laughter, but said, with mock earnestness and a pretence of misapprehension:
"Ole mis' nuvver says Grace afore meale, Marse Bruce, cepen 'tis when de minster stays to tea,
"Leave the room, you young scamp," said Mr. Conway, irascibly, and John went nothing loth to indulge himself in a fit of laughter at the expense of his beloved young "Marse Bruce." But the little incident served to make Bruce more wide-awake,
and rousing himself to realities the pansy-eyed phantom fled away from Mrs. Conway's well appointed table.
"That boy is a perfect clown," complained the lady; "he's not fit to wait on the table at all. I shall have to secure a good dining-room servant."
Mrs. Conway had said this so often that there was small danger of its being put into execution. She was attached in a great degree to the servants around her, all of whom had belonged to her in the days of slavery, and who when "set free," during the war, had, unlike the majority of the freemen who sought new homes, promptly taken service at extravagant wages from their whilom mistress and owner. John had grown up to his seventeenth year in the service of his indulgent "ole mis," and he was fully persuaded of the interesting fact that she "couldn't do 'thout him, nohow."
After tea the two repaired to the brightly-lighted drawing-room. The dull damp day rendered the closed shutters rather agreeable than otherwise and shut out thus, from the sight of much that would have pained him, the young man made an effort to entertain his aunt, narrating many of his adventures abroad, and interesting an unthought of listener, who was lazily curled up outside the door listening to the spritely converse of the returned traveller.
"Wonder if all dot kin be true," pondered John, dubiously; "but course 'tis, if Marse Bruce says so, John Andrew Jackson Johnson, you ain't fitten to be a Conway nigger if you can't believe what your young gentleman tells," and thus apostrophizing himself John relapsed into silence. Nevertheless his mouth and eyes during the next hour were often extended to their utmost capacity, and I fear that if any other than Bruce Conway had presumed to relate such remarkable things John would have been tempted to doubt his veracity.
A sharp peal of the door-bell compelled him to forego his pleasant occupation to answer it. He came back with a card on a silver salver.
"Gentl'man to see Marse Bruce; showed him into libr'y, sir; he wished to see you 'lone, sir," announced John, with much dignity,
Mr. Conway took the card, and Mrs. Conway looked
over his shoulder.
" Captain Frank Fontenay, U. S. A." he read aloud, and Mrs. Conway said:
"A military gentleman -- who is be, Bruce? I don't know him."
"Nor I," said her nephew, grimly.
He was white a marble, but his dark eyes never wavered in their firm, cold glitter. Whatever else he was, Bruce Conway was not a coward. He gently released himself from his aunt's detaining
"I will go and see this gentleman," he said.
"Oh, Bruce!" -- she clung to him in a nervous, hysterical tremor -- "I feel as if something dreadful were going to happen. Don't see him at all."
He smiled at her womanly fears.
"My dear aunt, don't be hysterical. John, call Mrs. Conway's maid to attend her. Aunt Conway, there is nothing to alarm you -- nothing at all;" and, putting her back on her sofa, he went out to meet his unbidden guest.
The captain was a fine-looking man of perhaps forty years, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and much bewhiskered. He stood very courteously in the middle of the floor, hat in hand, as Bruce entered the library.
"Mr. Conway?" he interrogated, smoothly. "At your service, sir," said Bruce.
"Mr. Conway," said the gentleman, with a glittering smile that showed all his lovely white teeth, "I am the bearer to you of a message from Senator Winans. My friend, sir, considers himself insulted by you and demands such satisfaction as all gentlemen
accord each other."
He placed an open note in Mr. Conway's hand who silently perused it.
It was a challenge to fight a duel.
"Any friend of yours can call on me to-morrow at three to settle the preliminaries," suggested the blonde captain, placidly smiling up into Mr. Conway's impassive face and taking his acceptance for granted.
"Very well, sir; I will send a friend of mine to you quite punctually at three to-morrow. Is that satisfactory for the present?"
"Quite so, sir, very much so, sir," smoothly returned turned Captain Fontenay, bowing his quite imposing military presence out.
(To be continued.)