« PreviousContinue »
Agnes Barker spoke in a harsh, angry tone. Her I breaks out too vividly in your girlish bosom. It must eyes blazed with passion. Her features had lost all be suppressed, or quenched altogether. The woman their usual flowing grace. She was not the same being who does not know how to wait and watch, should die whom we saw creeping softly into the family circle at of her first love, and let schoolgirls plant daisies on Gener al Harrington's with that velvety tread and side her grave.” long glance of the eye.
Agnes watched the impetuous movement of her The woman who stood before her, and whom she features, as the woman spoke, and her own face addressed as mother, regarded this outbreak with signs worked in harmony till no one could have doubted of kindred impatience, and gathering a vast blanket shawl the relationship existing between them. Her eyes lost of crimson and green around her imposing figure, she something of their fire, and took that deep, smouldering stood with her arms wreathed together in the gorgeous light which springs from a concentration of will. Her folds, steadily regarding the impetuous young creature, aris unconsciously folded themselves on her bosom, till the fury of her first onset had exhausted itself.
and she answered, with the air of a princessThey had met upon the hill-side, upon the very spot “Mother, I will learn to wait. Only give me some where Mabel Harrington rested after her rescue from
assurance that Ralph Harrington shall not marry that the Hudson, and the charred trunk of the cedar stood girl.” like a pillar of carved ebony, just behind the woman, "He never shall marry her-is that enough ?” with the sunset playing around it, and spotting the “But he loves her, and General Harrington has conrocks behind with flecks and dashes of golden light. sented, or almost consented.”
This, with naked trees, and a broken hill towering “ Ha! but the mother ?". upward, formed a back-ground to the two persons who
“There again you have been mistaken. His mother had met by appointment, and who always came has not only consented, but seems rejoiced at the together with a clash which made each interview a attachment." mental and moral storm.
" But you told me that she had fainted at the very The woman remained silent for a moment after this idea." rude assault, and fixed her dark, oriental eyes with a sort “ And so she did, but in less than twenty-four hours of fascination on the flushed face lifted in audacious after we met, she sanctioned the engagement with a joy rebellion to hers.
that surpassed their own." “Agnes,” she said at last, “ I am weary of this re- "What! in your presence ?” bellion, of this rude questioning. In intrigue, as in “Not exactly," answered Agnes, confessing her war, there can be but one commander, and there must meanness without a blush. “I took advantage of the be implicit obedience."
flower-screen which you know of, and, behind the “I am obedient-I have been so from the beginning,” plants, with the help of a floating curtain, managed answered the girl, yielding to the frown of those eyes, to hear every word, and to see enough—more than “ until you asked me to stand by and witness the tri. enough." umphs of a rival—to see the man I love better than
The woman seemed surprised. Her brow contracted, my own soul, better than ten thousand souls, if I had and she looked hard at Agnes, as one appears to search them, parading his passion for another in my very pres- through an object without seeing it, when the mind
Till you asked this, mother, I was obedient, but resolves a new idea. I can endure it no longer. They are torturing me to " This is strange,” she said; “I had more faith in death!”
Mabel Harrington's pride. She glories in her son, yon “Not to deathi," said the woman with a strange say-yet is willing to marry him to a penniless foundsmile. “Women who love as you can, and as I did, ling.” have no power to die. Tortured you may be to the “And is Lina a foundling?” inquired Agnes, eaverge of the grave, but never into it. Listen, girl, and gerly. learn how charitable and just the world is. When
The woman did not heed her. wrong stings the soul into strength, and every access of “I would not believe it," she mutterered—"and vitality brings an additional pang upon the soul, then, General Harrington-what can it all mean? I thought while you would gladly call on death as a comforter, one might safely calculate on his family pride." and court oblivion as a second heaven, men denounce “ If you have calculated much on that, it is all over us for the very strength of endurance that cannot suc- with me, I can tell you," said the girl, sullenly unfoldcumb to trouble. The suffering that does not kill, ing her arms.
"I do not think General Harrington brings forth no compassion. Struggle is nothing- cares much who his son marries, so long as he is not endurance is nothing-it is only those who weakly lie called upon for help. You tell me that Mr. James is down and perish, that can claim charity of the world, the millionaire. Ralph will be independent of his and then it comes too late. With you and I, Agnes, father so long as he keeps on the right side of the love is destiny. What I have been and am, you will richer Harrington." be. Our hearts are strong to endure, sensitive to feel, “Then this thing is settled," muttered the woman, and quick to resent. Time, alone, divides us two. with her eyes cast downward, and her brows gathered Where you are passionate, I am strong. Wbere you in a frown." would act, I can wait. The fire of my own nature Yes, with all yorr management, it is settled.”
“You are mistaken, girl. Now, I will teach you how / of which she was ashamed had trembled away from her much faith can be placed on a mother's promise. Ralph lips in a deep sigh; and Agnes only saw a look of tenHarrington shall not marry Lina French."
der trouble, where suspicion and anger had been a Agnes looked suddenly up. The woman's face was moment before. composed and confident; her eyes sparkled, and her lip “Mother," she said, with a sudden gush of sympathy, curved proudly, as if conscious of having resolved some - what is there in this family that interests you so difficulty to her own satisfaction.
much ?" “What do you mean, mother? How can you pre- The woman answered her with a keen glance and a rent it?"
single word : "I will prevent it, girl.”
“Everything!” “But, how ?”
“And will you tell me nothing ?” 6. General Harrington shall withdraw his consent.” “ No, girl, I will not startle your nerves and confuse
Agnes laughed rather scornfully. “Shall withdraw your intellect with a history that, as yet, you could not his consent? Why, mother, who will make him ?” understand. Do not importune me again; I will not
“As a reward for your obedience, you shall make subunit to it.” him."
“Then I will do nothing more!” said Agnes, “I, mother? but he is not easily won upon; the Gene- petulantly. ral has strange ideas of his own, which one does not "I do not intend that you shall. The whole thing is, know how to meet. There is nothing, it seems to me, I find, beyond your management. I might have known so unimpressible as a worldly old man—especially if that your first step would be to fall in love with he has had all heart polished out of him by what is a boy." called society. It takes a great deal to disturb the “Well, and if I did, has that prevented me carrying apathy of men who have settled down from active evil out all your directions ?" into selfish respectability ; and that, I take it, is Gene- " It has blindfolded and paralyzed you—that is all!” ral Harrington's present condition.”
" It maddened me to know that he loved another, and " Then, the influence that you rather boasted of has yet I acted with coolness throughout." failed of late, I take it," said the woman, with a gleam “What was this penniless boy to either of us, that of the eye at once unpleasant and triumphant.
you should have thwarted, or, at least, delayed all my Agnes colored with mortified vanity, but she answer- plans for him, James Harrington ” ed, with a forced laugh :
" He is all the world to me!" cried Agnes, interrupt"A young girl of eighteen does not care to waste ing her mother: “Worth ten thousand General Harmuch energy on a conceited old man, at any one's com- ringtons and James Harringtons. I tell you, once for mand. Still, if you desire it, I will strive to be more all, I would not marry that solemn-faced bachelor, with agreeable."
all his millions, if he were at my feet this instant." No," answered the woman, sharply, "I will control “And this is why you would not obey the directions this matter hereafter myself. That affair of the journal I gave, regarding your conduct toward him ?” was badly managed, Agnes."
"Obey! why everything was done to the letter. I “I did the best in my power,” replied the girl, with followed him to the conservatory, and kept him half an a tinge of insolence in her manner. But, how was it hour that morning talking over Miss Lina's studies. possible to force a knowledge of the contents on the One by one I gathered the flowers so often mentioned in old man, after I had denied reading the book ? He that journal, and tied them in a bouquet, which I inust have opened at some unimportant passage, or a offered him; blushing, I am sure, as much as you could deeper interest would have been excited.”
wish, for my face burned like flame." “Are you certain that he did not read the book ?” “Well, did he take the flowers?" demanded the woman.
“Mother, he turned white at the first glance, and put “I am certain that it lies unlocked in a drawer of his them back with his hand; muttering that the scent of writing-desk, this moment, where I saw him place it, verbena and roses together, always made him frint.” while I turned to close the library door after me.”
“Ha!—he said that—he turned pale; it is better than “But, he may have read it.”
I expected ?” cried the woman, eagerly. “Well, what · Impossible, mother; for when I went to look, anelse ?" hour after, one half of the clasp had accidentally been “Nothing more. He went out from the conservatory shut into the book, a thing that could not happen twice at once, leaving me standing there, half-frightened to in the same way; and there it lies yet.”
death with the bouquet in my hand; but I turned it to The woman dropped into thought an instant, with account.” her eyes on the ground; a shade of sadness came to her “Well, how ?" face, and she murmured regretfully:
Why, as it produced so decided an effect in one "Indeed, how he must have changed: one so pas- quarter, I concluded to make another experiment, and sionate, so suspicious, so"
went into Mrs. Harrington's bondoir with the flowers in She started and looked up, keenly regarding Agnes my hand. She saw them—started and blushed to the Barker, as if angry that these broken thoughts were temples—hesitated an instant, and then held out her overheard--angry in vain, for the gentle reminiscences hand; it trembled like a leaf, and I could see her eyes
fill with moisture-not tears exactly, but a sort of 'ten- “ Indeed I have. The cook is away already—tho der dew. It was enough to make one pity her, when I chambermaid discontented and going to-morrow. As kept back the bouquet, saying, that it had just been for that uncouth boatman and factotum, I find him given to me."
hard to manage—he will neither take offence, nor listen “Well, what followed? You are sure it was the to anything I say.” flowers—that she recognized the arrangement at once ?" “Let him pass. It will not do for us to frighten off
“It could be nothing else; besides, she became cold too many at once. But the new cook—what is she ?" and haughty all at once. The blush left her face pale “Fresh from Germany, and speaks no English.” as snow, and she shrouded her eyes with one hand, as “That will do. Now listen. You must intercede if to shut me and my flowers out from her sight. I with General Harrington for your poor old mamidy, saw her hand shiver as I fastened the roses upon up yonder, as chambermaid, when this one is gone." my bosom; and when I went out into the grounds a Agnes opened her eyes wide, and a low laugh broke short time after, intending to join Mr. Harrington from her lips, that were at first parted with astonishagain, a curve in the path gave me a view of her win- ment. dow--and there she stood, looking out so wistfully. • Mother, what can you mean !" Determined to force her jealousy to the utmost, I hur- The woman answered as much by the crafty smile, ried up to Mr. James Harrington, and began to consult that crept over her face, as by words. him regarding my pupil's exercise and lessons, the only "The old house is cold and lonely, Agnes, and the subject I really believe that he could have been induced poor old slave will be much more comfortable in a serto speak about, for he seemed terribly depressed.” vice-place for the winter, you understand. She inust “And she stood watching you all the time ?"
have the place.” “No, not all the time; for, when in the eagerness of " In real earnest ?" my subject-remember I am deeply interested in Lina's " In real earnest." progress-I reached my hand toward Mr. Harrington's “Well, it shall be done—but you will keep your arm, not touching it, though it must have appeared so word, this time.” from the distance, she disappeared froin the window, “ Have I ever broken it to you ?” as if a ball had struck her; and I took a short cut “I don't know; in fact, until the whole of this affair through the shrubberies, quite satisfied with the infor- is made plain to me, all must be doubt and darkness. mation those two pretty roses had won for us. Now, I know that my mission is to leave distrust and misery mother, say if I have been altogether blind or inert?" wherever my voice reaches, or my step can force itself
“ Indeed, I was unjust to think it; this is an import- in that household—yet they have all been kind to me, ant point gained. There is no doubt that the feelings and most of all, the lady herself.” so vividly recorded in that journal exist yet; this “She kind to you! I know what such kindness is. knowledge opens everything to us."
A sweet, gentle indifference, that for ever keeps you at " Then, I have done pretty well for a blind girl,” per- arms' length, or that proud patronage of manner, which sisted Agnes, with a touch of sarcasm in her voice; is more galling still. Oh, yes, I have felt it. Such "give me, at loast, that praise."
kindness is poison.” “With one exception, child, you have done well in “I did not find it so," said Agnes, with a touch of everything."
feeling, “till your lessons began to work. Then, act" And that exception—I know what you mean, buting like a traitor, I felt like one, and began to hate where Ralph Harrington is concerned, I will not be those I wronged. But, I suppose this is always so.” controlled."
The woman laughed. “ You turn philosopher early, “No one wishes to control you, foolish girl. Be young lady. Most girls of your age are content to feel obedient and adroit as you have been, and this blue- and act—you must stop to analyze and reflect. It is a eyed girl shall be swept from your path like thistle bad habit.” downs."
“I suppose so—certainly reflection gives me no plea“Ah, mother, do this, and I am twice your slave !" sure," answered the girl, a little sadly. cried Agnes, with an impulse of genuine feeling, fling- “Well, well, child, we have no time for sentiment, ing her arms around the elder woman.
now. The sun is almost down, and you have a long “And you love him so much !" said the woman, re- walk before you—another week, and if you manage to turning her caress with a touch of sympathy—“well, get your poor old mammy a place, we need not chill child, well-since the reading of that book I have ourselves to death in these damp woods. She will thought better of it. It may be, that your silly bring messages back and forth, you know!" caprice for this boy can be indulged without interfering Agnes shook her head, and laughed, “Oh, mother, with more important objects. This first love is-well, mother!" well, no matter what it is, I would rather not turn it The woman mocked her laugh with a sort of good-nato gall in the bosom of my own child. So, trust me, tured bitterness. “There now, that is easily managed, Agnes, and be faithful."
but there is something else for you to undertake; wait." “Mother, I will !”
The woman took from among the folds of her dress, “Now, listen, child. Have you settled about the a small writing-case of satin wood, formed like a scroll old servants ?"
Touching a spring, she opened it, took out implements for writing, and some note-paper, which emitted a faint “Who complained ? Who, in fact, cares ?" was the and very peculiar perfume, as she began to write. After terse answer, “only it was badly done. The next time tracing å few hasty lines, she folded the paper, placed you break & seal, be sure and have wax of exactly the it carefully in an envelope, and proceeded to seal it. same tint on hand. I thought of that, and came back. Taking from her pocket a singular little taper-box of It would ruin all, if General Harrington saw his letters gold, covered with antique chasing, she lighted one of tainpered with.” the tapers, and dropped a globule of golden green wax “You are a strange woman !” said Agnes, shaking upon her note, which she carefully impressed with a off the weight of shame that oppressed her, and pretiny seal taken from another compartment of the taper paring to go. box.
“And you, my own child. Now go home, and leave Agnes watched all this dainty preparation with a the note as I directed. In a day or two we shall meet look of half-sarcastic surprise. When the note was again. Almost any time, at nightfall you will find me placed in her hand, she examined the address and the here. Good night!" seal with parted lips, as if she would have smiled, but “Good night,” said Agnes, sullenly, “I will obey you for a feeling of profound astonishment.
this once, but rernember my reward." “To General Harrington. The seal a cupid writing Again the two parted, and each went on her separato on a tablet. Well, madam, what am I to do with this?” path of evil—the one lost in shadows, the other bathed
“Leave it upon General Harrington’s library-table in the light of a warm sunset. after breakfast, to-morrow morning—that is all."
It did not strike the woman, as she toiled upward to The woman arose, folded up her writing case, and her solitary dwelling, that she was training a viper gathering the voluminous folds of her shawl from the which would in the end turn and sting her own bosom. moss, where it had been allowed to trail, turned away. Her evil purposes required instruments, and without Agnes watched her as she disappeared through the hesitation, she had gathered them out of her own life. forest trees with a rapid step, fluttering out her shawl But, even now, she found them difficult to wield, and now and then, like the wings of some great tropical hard to control. What they might prove in the future bird.
remained for proof. "I wonder who she really is, and wh she would be at ?" muttered the girl. “Do all girls distrust their mothers so much? Is she my mother ? Now, this
CHAPTER XIV. note-shall I read it, and learn what inystery links her with the family up yonder? Why not? It is but
GENERAL HARRINGTON'S CONFESSION. following out her own lessons, so it be done adroitly."
Agnes placed her finger carefully upon the envelope, GENERAL HARRINGTON had spent a good many years and with a steady pressure, forced it from under the of his life abroad, and no American ever went through
that slow and too fashionable method of expatriation with “Ha! neatly done!” she exclaimed, taking out the more signal effect. While walking through the rooms peenclosed, and unfolding it with hands that shook, spite culiarly devoted to his use, you might have fancied your. of herself, “and a fool for my pains, truly. I might self intruding on the privacy of some old nobleman of have known she would baffle me- -written in cypher, Louis the Fourteenth's court. His bed chamber monopoeven to the name. Well, one thing is certain, my lized, after the most approved French style, his dressingwitch-mother and old General Harrington understand room, replete with every conceivable invention of the each other, that is soinething gained. If I had but toilet, from the patent boot-jack with its silver mounttime, now, to make out these characters, and--and”- ings, to the superbly carved dressing-case, glittering
She broke off almost with a shriek, for a hand was with gold and crystal, everything was perfect in its reached over her shoulder, and the note taken suddenly sumptuousness. In his own house, this old man was from her grasp, while she stood cowering beneath the given up to self-worship, without a shadow of concealdiscovery of her meanness. The woman whom she ment. In society the graceful hypocrisy of his deporthad supposed on the other side the hill, stood smiling ment was beautiful to contemplate, like any other exhiqnietly upon her. Not a word was spoken. The wo- bition of the highest art. If benevolence was the inan took out her taper box, dropped some fresh wax fashion, then General Harrington was the perfection of beneath the seal, and smiling all the time, handed the philanthropy. Nay, as it was his ambition to lead, the note back again.
exemplary gentleman sometimes made a little exertion Agnes turned her face, now swarthy with shame, to render benevolence the rage! His name often aside from that smiling look, and began to plunge her lead in committees for charity festivals, and he was parlittle foot down angrily into the moss, biting her lips ticularly interested in seeing that the funds were distritill the blood came. At last, she lifted her head with buted with the most distinguished elegance, and by a toss, and turning her black eyes boldly on the woman, ladies sure to dignify humanity by distributing the said, in a voice of half-tormenting defiance, “Very munificence of the fashionable world in flowing silks well, what if I did open it? My first lesson was, when and immaculate white gloves. After this fashion, the you and I read Mrs. Harrington's letter. If that was General was a distinguished philanthropist. Indeed, right, this is, also."
humanity presents few conditions of elegant selfishness
ir, which he was not proininent. A tyrant in his own natural to his tempters, lay in his own preoccupation household, he had, froin his youth up, been the veriest at the time. One of his youthful vices had grown slave to the world in which he moved. Its homage strong, and rooted itself amid the selfishness of his was essential to his happiness. He could not entirely heart; all other sins had so cooled down and hardened cheat his astute mind into a belief of his own perfec- in his nature, that with most men they might have tions, without the constant acclamations of society. As passed for virtues, the evil was so buried in elegant he grew old, this assurance became more and more conventionalisms; but one active vice he still possessed, essential to his self-complacency.
always gleaming up from the white ashes of his burntThe General studied a good deal. His mind was out sins, with a spark of vivid fire. General Harringnaturally of more than ordinary power, and it was ton was a gambler. Understand me—it is not probable necessary that he should keep up with the discoveries that he had ever entered a gambling hall openly or and literature of the day, in order to shine as a savant, frankly since his youth, or ever sat down with swinand belles-lettres scholar. Thus some three or four dlers or professed blacklegs around the faro table. The hours of every day were spent in his library, and General was altogether too fastidious in his vices for fow professional men studied harder to secure posi- that. No; he rather plumed himself secretly upon the tion in life, than he did to accumulate knowledge which aristocratic fashion in which he indulged this most bad no object higher than self-gratulation.
lasting remembrance of a reckless youth. Still, with all his selfishness and want of true prin- The club life of England had always possessed great ciple, the General was, at least, by education, a gentle fascinations for this fine old republican gentleman, and man, and he would at any time have found it much he was among the first to introduce the system in New ensier to force himself into an act of absolute wicked-York. Here, his naturally fine energies had been ness, than to be thought guilty of ill-breeding in any vigorously put forth, and he became not only a promiof its forms. In short, with General Harrington, habit nent member of an aristocratic club, but a principal stood in the place of principle. He possessed few of director and supporter also. those high passions that lead men into rash or wicked At this lordly rendezvous, the General spent a great deeds, and never was guilty of wrong without know- portion of his tiine, and somehow, I do not pretend to ing it.
point out the direct process, for it was generally underUnconsciously to herself, Agnes Barker bad wounded stood that no high play was sanctioned in the estabthe old man in his weakest point, when she resented lishment, and the mysterious glances and half-murmurs his question if she had read Mabel's journal, with so which transferred five dollar notes into five thousand, much pride. This haughty denial was a reproach to at the harmless games permitted, are not capable of an the impulse that had seized him to read the book from embodiment—but, it chanced very often, that Genbeginning to end. His conscience had nothing to urge eral Harrington found a transfer of funds necessary in the matter, but the meanness of the thing he in- after one of these club nights, and once or twice, 8 tended, struck him forcibly, and after a moment's hesi- rather unpleasant interview with Mr. James Harrington tation, he closed the journal and laid it in a drawer of had been the result. his desk. Thus, by affectation and over-acting, the But these unsatisfactory consequences seldom arose. girl defeated her object, much to her own mortifi- The General was too cool and self-controlled to be cation. True, the passage on which General Harring- always the loser, and up to the time of our story, this ton had opened at random, was in itself harmless, a one active vice had rather preponderated in favor of his warm and somewhat glowing description of a passage own interests. ap the Guadalquivir in the spring months, had nothing But a rash adventure, and a sudden turn of fortune, in it to provoke farther research, and the General sel reversed all this in a single night; and General Harring. dom read much from mere curiosity. Certainly, the book ton—who possessed only the old mansion-house, and a might contain many secret thoughts and hidden feelings few thousand a year in his own right-all at once found of which Mabel's husband had never dreamed, but it himself involved to more than the value of his family was many years since the old gentleman had taken home, and two years income in addition. Close upon sufficient interest in the feelings of his wife to care this, came that fearful accident upon the river-and, about their origin or changes, and so, Mabel's precious worse still, the application of his son to marry a pennibook, in which so many secret thoughts were register- less little girl, whose very existence depended on his ed, and memories stored, lay neglected in her husband's charity. desk.
With all these perplexities on his mind, the General Fortunately, she was unconscious of her loss. Some- had very little time for idle curiosity, and thus his times, for months together, she shrank from opening wife's secret remained for the time inviolate. the escritoir in w ch the volume was kept. At this Like most extravagant men, the General, under the period, she was un er the reaction of a great excite- weight of an enormous gambling debt, became excesment, and turned with a nervous shudder from any- sively parsimonious in his household, and talked loudly thing calculated to remind her of all the pain which of retrenchment and home reforms. In this new mood, lay in the past.
Agnes Barker found little difficulty in having several of Another reason, perhaps, why General Harrington the old servants discharged, before Mabel left her sick was less curious about his wife's journal th:ın seemed / room. Indeed this girl, with her velvety tread and