Page images
[ocr errors]




of his dressing-gown over his knees, and smoothing the and wove her hands desperately together, like one silk with his palm, he took up a volume from the table, who entreats for mercy, and feels that it is all in and adjusted the gold glasses to his eyes with more vain. than usual deliberation. Agnes looked at him steadily, “Lina, answer me—are you there?” baffled, but not deceived, till his thoughts seemed com- “I am here,” she replied, in a low, unnatural tone. pletely buried in the volume. As she gazed, the evil of “Open the door, Lina—I want to speak to you." her half-smothered passion broke out in her glance; Ralph, I cannot !” and, as the General languidly raised his eyes from the “Cannot! What ails you, Lina? Do open the door. book, they met hers.

Let me speak to you for a moment." “Is there anything you wait for ?” he inquired, meet- She staggered feebly to the door, then with a quick ing that fierce gaze with his cold eyes. “Ah, I had motion, the hurried resolve of which was strangely forgotten, my people may drive the carriage round, at variance with her previous hesitation, flung it open, please say as much."

and stood before the young man, Agnes left the room, biting her lips till they glowed “Why, Lina, have you forgotten your promise ?" he again, and with her hand clenched in impatient fury. began eagerly; then, checking himself, as lie raised bis As she closed the door, General Harrington laid down eyes to her face, and marked the wildness of her glance, his book with an impatient gesture.

and ghastly pallor of her cheek. " Lina, what is the matter? Are you ill? Tell me, Lina, what ails you ?"

He took her hands in his, with a manner in which the CHAPTER XV.

impetuosity of a youthful lover, and the kind, protecting air of a brother, were strangely mingled.

“ Answer me, Lina, my own Lina." Lina could not rest. She went to her room, but it But Lina had no words; when her eyes met his, the seemed so changed, so unlike her old home, that a ter- tears which during her lonely vigil had refused to flow, ror, that was almost insanity, fell upon her. The rich burst forth, and she buried her head in her hands, blue curtains, to her excited mind, looked sombre sobbing like a frightened child. Ralph folded his against their underwaves of frost-like lace, and her bed, arms about her, and drew her back into the chamber, with its snowy canopy, now overclouded with damask, gathering her closely to his heart, as if to reassure her had a deadly whiteness about it, that made her shrink by his protecting presence. He did not question her within herself, as if some leprosy had fallen upon her, again for several moments, but forcing her head gently which forbade her ever again to approach a thing so down on his shoulder, he strove to soothe her with pure.

whispered words, until she gathered strength to check Lina crept into this room sad and disheartened; looking her tears, and drew herself from him, striving all wearily around, she cowered down on the carpet in the the time to appear more composed. farthest corner, and sat watching the door, as if she “Now tell me, Lina, what does this mean?" expected some enemy to come in and drive her forth. She shook her head sadly, murmuring: At the least sound in the hall slie would start and ""Nothing, Ralph, nothing." shrink back with a moan upon her white lips, but she “Do not trifle with me, Lina. Something must have shed no tears, and her look was rather one of affright occurred to cause this agitation. Can you not trust than of the intense grief which had overpowered her me ?" while in the presence of General Harrington.

“There is nothing the matter! I was ill, and—and At that moment there was a hurried tread upon the cried without knowing why." staircase. Every pulse in Lina's heart throbbed wildly, “ You cannot deceive me with an excuse like that. then stood still, and she sat leaning eagerly forward Has any one hurt your feelings ! do tell me what has with a half-expectant, half-frightened air, as the steps happened.” pansed before her door. A low, quick knock caused But Lina only shook her head, and choked back the her to start from the floor. She looked wildly round, despair which rose to ber lips. He would have taken as if seeking some means of escape, then sunk against her in his arms again, but the movement and the touch the wall, while her whole frame trembled with agita- of his hand roused her to the fearful consciousness that tion, like a tender blossom shaken by the wind. The she had no longer a right to seek consolation in his knock was repeated, and she covered her face with her companionship. She broke away, terrified and oppresshands, uttering a low, shuddering moan. A third time ed, with a feeling of guilt at her momentary forthat impatient summons shook her form as with a con- getfulness. vulsion, and when a voice, whose lightest tone had “Leave me, Ralph, I wish I need to be alone." ever possessed power to move her inmost soul, reached “You wish-you need to be alone! This is very her ear in an eager whisper, she rose again and stood strange, Lina! Will you give me no explanation ? apright, transfixed by that voice, which had never Have I offended you—tell me what I can have done? before met her ear without filling her whole being with You know that I would rather die ten thousand deaths sweet emotion.

than canse you a moment's pain." “Lina—Lina—are you there?”

“Do not speak thus, Ralph ; do not torture me It was Ralph who spoke. Lina gasped for breath | by such fenrs. You have never wounded me by





word or look-you have always been kind and of her childhood, hoping that from him she could gather generous."

some explanation of the secret that seemed crushing the “Thank you! thank you! Then tell me what pains life from her frame. you! Darling, darling, you cannot know how I suffer to see you thus. I must have an explanation. Lina, you have no right to refuse it."

CHAPTER XVI. “I can give none ! Ralph, leave me, I must be alone. Another time I may be able to converse, but

- she broke off abruptly, wringing her white The carriage which conveyed General Harrington, hands in impotent despair, while the great tears fell went at a rapid speed, till it entered the city. The over them, like the last heavy drops of a spent shower. General seemed unconscious of his unusual progress, “Leave me, Ralph, leave me!" she exclaimed, with a and was lost in what seemed a disagreeable reverie, till gesture of insane agony.

he awoke amid a crash of omnibuses, and a whirl of “I cannot understand this ! Can this be Lina—my carriages in Broadway. Here he checked the driver, and own dear little Lina, always so confiding and trustful ? leaving the carriage, bade him proceed to the club, and Since my earliest recollection have you not known my await his return there. He paused upon the side-walk, every thought and wish—been as fainiliar with my till the man was out of sight, then turning into a cross heart as you were with your own? This is the first street, he walked rapidly forward into a neighborhood time that the slightest shadow has fallen upon your that he had seldom, if ever, visited before. mind against me, yet there you stand, separated from The dwelling he sought, proved to be a me by some fearful sorrow, to which I can obtain no brick house, without any peculiar feature to distinguish clue."

it from some twenty others, which completed a block, "Do not speak so, Ralph! I repeat that nothing that stood close upon the street, and had a dusty, worn troubles me much ! Will you not believe me?" appearance, without a picturesque feature to attract

“ I never doubted your word before, Lina; but now- attention. forgive me—I feel that you are concealing something General Harrington advanced up the steps, after a litterrible from me. When I left you, this morning, you tle disgustful hesitation, and rang the bell. The door promised to walk with me, and I hurried here the mo- was promptly opened, and an ordinary maid-servant ment I was free, longing to take a ramble over the hills stood in the entrance. The General inquired for some — will you not go ?”

person in a low voice, and the girl made room for him “Not to day. I cannot-I am ill."

to pass, with a nod of the head. “Do not seek to excuse yourself! Say at once that The hall was dark and gloomy, lighted only by naryou do not choose to go."

row sashes each side of the door, and the whole build"You inisunderstand me Ralph, indeed you do.". ing so far, presented nothing calculated to remove the

'Forgive me, Lina; I am so maddened by the sight distaste with which the fastidious old man had entered of your tears, that I scarcely know what I am saying. it. Only confide in me-can you not trust me, your lover, The servant opened a door with some caution, closed your betrothed ?"

it behind her, and after a little delay, returned, motion“God help me!” broke from Lina's white lips, but the ing, with her hand that General Harrington should enter exclamation was unheeded by the young man in his the room she had just left. agitation.

With this rather singular summons the woman dis"Have you a desire to hide anything from me—can appeared, and General Harrington entered the door she you love, when you refuse to trust me.'

had pointed out. It was a large room, lighted after the “ Ralph, leave me! If you have any mercy, go usual fashion in front, and with a deep long window in away, and let me be alone." In her frenzy she threw the lower end. This magnificent window occupied the up her arms with a gesture which seemed to him entire end of the room, save where the corners were alınost one of repulsion. He looked at her for a mo- rendered convex by two immense mirrors, which formed ment, his heart bursting with the first revelation of its a beautiful finish to the rich mouldings of the casewoe, then muttering

ment, and curved gracefully back to the wall, making “Lina, has it come to this?” he sprang from the that end of the apartment almost semicircnlar. Hang. room, and the sound of his flying footsteps on the stair ings of pale, straw-colored silk, brocaded with clusters recalled her to a consciousness of what had befallen of flowers, in which blue and lilac predominated, gave her.

a superb effect to the walls, and from the ceilings, a She strove to utter his name, but it died husky and half-dozen cupids, beautifully painted in fresco, seemed low in lier parched throat. She must fly—anywhere to showering roses upon the visitor, as he passed under. The be out in the air, for the atmosphere of that close carpet was composed of a vast medallion pattern upon a chamber seemed stifling her. She caught up a shawl white ground, scattered over with bouquets a little more which lay on a table, and rushed from the room and defined and gorgeous than those upon the walls, as if the froin the house. A sudden thought, which seemed | blossoms had grown smaller and more delicate as instinct rather than reason, had made her rush thus, they crept upward toward the exquisite ceiling. The Wadly away to search for old Bec, the honest protector front windows were entirely muffle log draperies of rich orange damask, lined with white, and with a hair, arranged in heavy bandeaux on each side her face, silvery sheen running through the pattern, while cur- was surmounted by a cashmere scarf of pale green, tains of the same warm material, fell on each side the which was carelessly knotted on one side of her head, bay window, giving it the appearance of a tent, open, and fell in a mass of fringe and embroidery on her left and yet, to a certain degree, secluded, for å fall of shoulder. The flowing waves of her robe swept the lace swept from the cornice, hanging like a veil of carpet as she moved, and the undulations of her magniwoven frost-work before the glass, rendering every ficent person, were like the movements of a leopard in thing beyond indistinct, but dreamily beautiful.

its native forest. There was neither fairness nor youth General Harrington was surprised by the air of in her person, and yet the large, oriental eyes, so vel. almost oriental magnificence which pervaded this sump-vety and black, had a power of beauty in them. tuous apartment.

that any man must have acknowledged; and there was This room was not only in powerful contrast with a creamy softness of complexion, and a peach-like bloom the exterior of the dwelling, but it possessed an air of of the cheek, dusky but glowing—that harmonized with oriental magnificence that would have surprised the the gorgeous richness of her dress and surroundings. General in any place. Divans, such as are seldom The woman stood before her visitor, her proud figure found out of an eastern palace, but slightly raised from stooping slightly forward, and her eyes downcast, waitthe floor, and surmounted with cushions heavily ing for him to speak. embroidered with gold, ran more than half around it. The General gazed on her a moment in silence, but a A few pictures, gorgeous and showy, but of little value, quiet smile of recognition stole to his lips; and, with an hung upon the walls ; and there was some display air, half-patronizing, half-pleased, he at last held out liis of statuary, equally deficient in ideal beauty.

hand. The light which fell upon General Harrington, was

" Zillah !" soft and dreamy, imbued with a soft tinge of greenish The woman's hand trembled as she touched his; her gold, like that which the sunshine leaves when it pene- eyelids were uplifted for an instant, and an exulting trates the foliage of a hemlock grove in spring. For the glance shot from those strange eyes, bright as scintillabay window opened into a broad balcony, open in tions from a diamond. summer, but sheeted in from the front by sashes, so “I was afraid you would not come," she said. arranged that the glass seemed to roll downwards, in gently. waves of crystal, to the floor. This unique conservatory “Why, Zillah ?" was crowded with the rarest plants in full blossom, “ Because men do not often like to meet those who that swept their perfume in through the open window, remind them of broken ties." penetrated the floating lace, and filled that end of the The General slightly waved his hand with a half apartment with the glow of their blooming clusters. dissenting gesture, and a gratified expression stole over

The singular beauty of this scene—the quiet so pro- his countenance, answered by a sudden gleam in that found, bruken only by the bell-like dropping of a foun- strange woman's eyes; for she read in that very look an tain—and the twitter of birds, hung in gilded cages, intimation that her former power was not wholly extinamong the blossoms, had an overpowering charm even guished. to a man so blasé as the General. He paused in aston- “How comes it that you are here, Zillah ?" he asked, ishment, looking around with pleasant interest—and, glancing around the room. “This is a singular place to for an instant, forgetful of the person he was seeking. find you in.” But, to a man so accustomed to magnificence, this for- " You are astonished to see me here as if I were a getfulness was but inomentary, and with a quiet and slave yet. Was it strange that I, a free woman, longed almost derisive smile, he muttered :

to leave the places which reminded me of the past, to Upon my life, the creature is either witch or fairy, see and learn something of the world? But, there was if this is really her home !" when he was interrupted by another and more important reason—had I not a child a sound, as of some one moving upon a cushioned and a mother's heart longing to behold her offspring ?"

“Zillah, tell me truly, is this thing real ? is the girl The light was so dim at the upper end of the room, we call Lina French your child and mine?" that General Harrington had supposed himself alone,

“ Have I not said it," replied the woman, regarding till this rustle of silk drew his attention to a lady rising him stealthily from under her half-closed lashes. “Why from the divan, who came toward him with a sweeping should I attempt to deceive you? it would gain me motion, like some tropical bird disturbed in its nest. nothing." The General paused, and stood gazing upon her as

“That is true ; but how did it happen that you

abanshe advanced, irresolute and uncertain; for the whole doned her ?" place was so different to anything he had expected to The woman lifted her face, with a sudden flush of find, that for a moment he was bewildered.

the foreheadThe lady advanced into the light, calmly and proudly, " You sold me, made me another man's slave: me, and with a gleam in her eyes, as if she enjoyed his me!" She paused, with a struggle, as if some supastonishment. Her dress was of purple silk, wrought pressed passion choked her breath ; but directly het with clusters of gold-tinted flowers, that scintillated and self-possession returned; the flush died from her face, gleamed as she moved out of the shadows; her raven and she drooped into her former attitude, looking down


ward as before. “But that I always was—a slave, and The woman sat op, forcing herself to look into his the daughter of a slave. Your child, though unknown and questioning eyes. anacknowledged, better that it died than lived my


“I was surprised at your blindness, shocked at the over again, cursed with the proud Anglo-Saxon blood, duplicity of this man, James Harrington. So he debased by the African taint, that, if it exists but in excuses his hatred of me by this pretence, and you the slightest degree, poisons all the rest."

believe him. I will speak now-why should I be silent “Zillah, you speak bitterly. Was it my fault that you longer? Listen to me, General Harrington. It was were born a slave on the plantation of my wife; that because I knew his secret, that James Harrington hated your complexion was fair, and your beauty so remark- me. He loved the woman you have married, for whose able, that few men could have detected the black tranquillity I was sold to a new master.” shadows on your forehead. Surely, you had no cause “Very possible,” replied the General, with a complato complain of too much hardship as my servant ?" cent smile. “I should have been sorry to give my

For an instant, the haughty lip of the woman name to any woman whom a man of taste could know, writhed like a serpent in its venom, struggling to keep without loving. Of course, the young gentleman, like back the bitter words that burned upon them. Then many others, was dying of envy when that remarkable her face settled into comparative calm again, and she woman became my wife.” said, in a tone of gentle reproach, “But you sold Zillah's eyes flashed, and she turned pale in lip me!"

and forehead. A bitter laugh broke away with the “I was compelled to it, Zillah. It was impossible to words, as she said, “But she loved him—adored him, keep you on the plantation. James Harrington became rather." your owner on the death of his mother, and you know The General was moved now, his self-love was all up how terribly he was prejudiced against you. It was in arms; he was evidently getting furious. the only command that he made ; everything else he left “Zillah, this is one of your jealous dreams. You to me; but here, here he was imperative. All that have no proof!" a kind and obliging master could do, I accomplished in

“ Master-let me call you so once more among spite of him. You had your own choice of masters, other benefits which came to me through your kindZillah ; that, at least, I secured to you !"

ness, I was taught to read. In a vellum covered book, “A choice of masters !” repeated the woman, turning which Miss Mabel always kept locked with a little pale with intense feeling. “What did I care about golden heart, I saw more than proof of what I say. & choice of masters, when you sold me? Had you She lost the key from her watch-chain, one night, and I given me to the grave, it would have been Heaven to found it. The book is probably destroyed now, but if the years that followed. You sold me without warning it existed, I should need no other proof of what I -coldly sent an order to the agent, and I was taken know to be true!" away. Your own child was born the slave of another “Indeed,” said the General, prolonging the word, man.'

thoughtfully, “Indeed !" “ But you kept me in ignorance, Zillah; besides, I was

“Are you going?” exclaimed the woman, as he arose about to marry again. A northern man, I was, of from the divan. course, desirous to live in the North. What could “Yes, Zillah, I have left soine important papers in I do?"

my library that may be disturbed. In a few days I will “ But the other slaves were set free. Master James see you again.” provided means for those who wished it, to emigrate to

.Zillah smiled a soft, exulting smile, but she did not Liberia; a few went, more remained of choice. No allow it to brighten her whole face till General Har. servant was kept on the estate who did not desire it. rington had left the room. I alone was sold."

“But you know how the young man detested you; he never could be persuaded that your presence in her

CHAPTER XVII. sick room, had not an evil influence on his mother. In

BOAT - HOUSE. short, Zillah, after her death he seemed to think of little else."

Down upon the shore, so built as to form & picturThe woman turned deadly pale, as the sick room of esque feature in the landscape, stood an old boat-house, her old mistress was mentioned. A shudder ran in which Ben Benson made his home when out of through her frame, and she sat down upon a neighbor- active service at the Mansion. Here the stout old seaing divan, evidently gasping for breath. General Har- man kept his fishing-tackle, his rifle, and a thousand rington watched this strange emotion with keen inte miscellaneous things that appertained to his various rest; he did not comprehend its source, but it brought avocations, for Ben was not only a naturalist and phiup vague suspicions that had in former years passed losopher at large, but a mechanic of no ordinary skill. like shadows across his brain, when the sickness and He not only devised his own fishing-flies, wove his death of his first wife was a recent event.

own shad-nets, and game-baskets, but performed the “Zillah,” he said, seating himself on the divan by her duties of a ship-carpenter whenever his boats got out side, you turn pale—you shiver-what does this of order, or a new one was wanted for the river. mean?”

On the day of Lina's great sorrow, Ben was standing


[ocr errors]

in front of the boat-house, superintending a kettle of has increased. I can think of nothing else. Do not put pitch that was boiling over a fire of dried logs and me off-I shall die if I am kept longer in this suspense.” bark. The boat which had been almost torn to pieces Ben began to hug the pretty dog more and more tenon the night when Mabel Harrington so narrowly es- derly to his bosom, as if it was that which needed comcaped a terrible death, was now turned upside down, forting, and not the poor girl before him. At last, turnand Ben was preparing to calk the bottom and repair ing himself uneasily about, like a man disturbed by a the injuries it had received.

sudden recurrence of painful memories. Lina saw him as she came down the avenue, and her “Now, don't go to gettin' oneasy idees into your little pace quickened. The thin shawl she had flung about head; there's nothin' wuss for the femenine constituher, was fluttering in the wind, but there was a fever tion. When you're well enough, let yerself alone, and in heart and brain, which rendered her insensible to be satisfied.” the blast which swept the curls back from her burn- “Oh, Ben, don't–don't! You are my friend-you ing forehead, and rustled through her light garments. bave always been kind to me; do not turn from me, The little Italian greyhound, which had been for months now, when I am tortured by these strange doubts. her special pet, had followed her, unperceived, striving There is no one else of whom I can ask an explanation, in vain to win some sign of attention from the distract- and you cannot refuse it! I am so very, very, uned girl.

happy, Ben-dear, good Ben!" Lina flew down the bank, and Ben looked up as the There, there, Miss Lina !" Ben muttered, hoarsely, sound of her footsteps warned him who it was that ap- patting her hand with his hard palm; then, clasping it proached.

again in his huge fingers, and looking at it earnestly, as I knowed that it was you, Miss Lina,” he said, if it had been a delicately wrought sea-shell. " Don't while every feature in his rough face softened, as he say no more—now don't—when Ben Benson gives looked toward her. “Sakes alive! what brought ye advice, ’taint without a reason. Now, you just listen out here such a day as this this ere wind is enough to to me, and then run away, and don't get no more tadsnap yon right in two."

trams in that little head o' yours. Hain't the madam, “I don't mind the cold, Ben; I wanted to talk to Mrs. Harrington, always been like a mother to youyou."

hain't she treated you as if you had been her own flesh “Wal, if there's any one thing Ben Benson kin do and blood-do you want to make her unhappy now, for you, you've only jest to mention it, and consider it little gal, do you ?" cone a'ready.”

“You know I would rather die, Ben !" “I know it, Ben, and that is why I come. I wanted “I do believe you would, Miss Lina, I raly do! But to ask you something."

there ain't no question about dyin'-you've only to be “Why, you're shakin' worse nor & poplar leaf, and patient and good, as is nat’ral to you—take things as you're as white as if you hadn't a drop of blood in they come, and that's enough. I ain't a goin' to have your precious little body. What on arth’s the matter you ask me no questions, and I know you won't do it; with you, Lina ? See that ere dog; now, ain't he a if you do, you'll make more unhappiness for that very pretty specimen of an animal exotic to be ont of a hot woman that's be’n everything to you, than you could house in such a wind as this."

ever make up for in all your born days.” Ben gathered the shivering little creature to his

But, Ben.” bosom with one hand, snugly enveloping him in the “Hush !" said Ben, pressing her hands hard between capacious folds of his pilot jacket, while with the other his broad palms, and dropping them tenderly downward. he seized Lina's hands, and leaning back against the “ I can't listen to another word of this 'ere. It ain't boat, stood looking at her with a half-pitying, half- of no use," and with a gesture of stubborn sorrow, Ben affectionate glance, that was indescribably comic and walked deliberately into his domain, and closing the touching.

door, bolted it against Lina, leaving her shivering in “ I shrald like to know what Mister Ralph was the cold. a-thinkin' on, to let yon ne out alone sich a day as Lina looked ruefully at the closed door, and her heart this."

sunk as she heard the heavy bolt drawn within. The That name made Lina shudder, and a sudden spasm last faint hope died out then; and, without a word, contracted her features.

she turned and walked away into the woods, desolate “No one knew that I was coming out. Oh, Ben! I beyond comparison with any moment of her life. The want to ask something--do not refuse to tell me, or i wind grew sharp, and whistled through the light indoor shall die ! How came I here—where was I born—oh, garments with which she had recklessly come forth; who am I, Ben ?"

her lips turned purple with cold; her hands were so “Sakes alive! How she goes on! One question at numb, that they fell apart as she attempted to clasp a time, if you please, Miss Lina! What on arth's been them; the tears rushed warm from her eyes, and putting sich ideas into your little head? Now no cir- dropped away, frozen, like Hail: and yet poor Lina cumwenting-speak the truth, if you be a woman." rushed on, thinking the cold only another pang of

“Oh, Ben, I have always wondered and longed to anguish, which it was her duty to bear. know something about myself, and of late, this desire

(To be continued).

« PreviousContinue »