The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 100/Doctor Johns
It would have been strange, if Adèle had not some day formed her ideal of a lover. What young girl, indeed, does not? Who cannot recall the sweet illusions of those tripping youthful years, when, for the first time, Sir William Wallace strode so gallantly with waving plume and glittering falchion down the pages of Miss Porter,—when sweet Helen Mar wasted herself in love for the hero,—when the sun-browned Ivanhoe dashed so grandly into that famous tilting-ground near to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and brought the wicked Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert to a reckoning,—when we wished the disinherited knight better things than the cold love of the passionless Rowena, and sighed over the fate of poor Fergus MacIvor? With all these characters, and many other such, Adèle had made acquaintance, in company with her dear Rose; and by the light of them, they had fashioned such ideals in their little heads as do not often appear in the flesh. Not that the two friends always agreed in their dreamy fancies; but for either, a hero must have been handsome and brave and true and kind and sagacious and learned. If only a few hundred of men should be patterned after the design of a young girl of sixteen or eighteen, what an absurd figure we old sinners should cut in the comparison! Yet it is pleasant to reflect that thousands of fresh young hearts do go on, year after year, conceiving of wonderful excellences as pertaining to the baser sex; and the knowledge of the fact should, it would seem, give a little more of animation to our struggles against the deviltries and brutalities of the world.
But the ideal of our friend Adèle had not been constant. Three years back, the open, frank, brave front which Phil Elderkin wore had almost reached it; and when Rose had said,—as she was wont to say, in her sisterly pride,—"He's a noble fellow," there had been a little tingling of the heart in Adèle, which seemed to echo the words. Afterward had come that little glimpse of the world which her journey and intercourse with Maverick had afforded; and the country awkwardness of the Elderkins had somehow worked an eclipse of his virtues. Reuben, indeed, had comeliness, and had caught at that time some of the graces of the city; but Reuben was a tease, and failed in a certain quality of respect for her, (at least, she fancied it,) in default of which she met all his favors with a sisterly tenderness, in which there was none of the reserve that tempts passion to declare itself.
Later, when Reuben so opened the way to her belief, and associated himself so intimately with the culmination of her religious faith, he seemed to her for a time the very impersonation of her girlish fancy,—so tender, so true, so trustful. Her religious enthusiasm blended with and warmed her sentiment; and never had she known such hours of calm enjoyment, or such hopeful forecast of her worldly future, as in those golden days when the hearts of both were glowing (or seemed to be) with a common love. It was not that this sentiment in her took any open form of expression; her instinctive delicacy so kept it under control that she was but half conscious of its existence. But it was none the less true that the sad young pilgrim, who had been a brother, and who had unlocked for her the Beautiful Gate, wore a new aspect. Her heart was full of those glittering estimates of life, which come at rare intervals, in which duties and affections all seem in delightful accord, working each their task, and glowing through all the reach of years, until the glow is absorbed in the greater light which shines upon Christian graves. But Reuben's desertion from the faith broke this phantasm. Her faith, standing higher, never shook; but the sentiment which grew under its cover found nothing positive whereby to cling, and perished with the shock. Besides which, her father's injunction came to the support of her religious convictions, and made her disposition to shake off that empty fancy tenfold strong. Had Reuben, in those days of his exaltation, made declaration of his attachment, it would have met with a response that could have admitted of no withdrawal, and her heart would have been leashed to his, whatever outlawry might threaten him. She thanked Heaven that it had not been thus. Her ideal was still unstained and unbroken; but it no longer found its type in the backsliding Reuben. It is doubtful, indeed, if her sentiment at this period, by mere force of rebound, and encouraged by her native charities and old proclivities, did not rally about young Elderkin, who had equipped himself with many accomplishments of the world, and who, if he made no pretensions to the faith she had embraced, manifested an habitual respect that challenged her gratitude.
As for Reuben, after his enthusiasm of the summer had vanished, he felt a prodigious mortification in reflecting that Adèle had been so closely the witness of his short-lived hallucination. It humiliated him bitterly to think that all his religious zeal had proved in her regard but the empty crackling of a fire of thorns. No matter what may be a youth's sentiment for girlhood, he never likes it to be witness of anything disparaging to his sturdy resolution and manly purpose. But Adèle had seen him shake like a reed under the deepest emotions that could give tone to character; and in his mortification at the thought, he transferred to her a share of the resentment he felt against himself. It was a relief to treat her with a dignified coolness, and to meet all her tender inquiries, which she did not forbear, with an icy assurance of manner that was more than half affected,—yet not unkind, but assiduously and intensely and provokingly civil.
Seeing this, the Doctor and Miss Eliza had given over any fear of a possibly dangerous interest on the part of Reuben; and yet keen observers might well have scented a danger in this very studied indifference, if they reflected that its motive lay exclusively in a mortified pride. We are not careful to conceal our mortifications from those whose regard we rate humbly.
At any rate, it happened, that, with the coming of the autumn months, Reuben, still floating drearily on a sea of religious speculation, and veering more and more into open mockery of the beliefs of all about him, grew weary of his affectations with respect to Adèle. He fretted under the kindly manner with which she met his august civilities. They did not wound her sensibilities, as he hoped they might have done. Either this disappointment or the need of relief provoked a change of tactics. With a sudden zeal that was half earnest and half a freak of vanity, he devoted himself to Adèle. The father's sympathy with him was just now dead; that of the aunt had never been kindled to such a degree as to meet his craving; with the Elderkins he was reluctant to unfold his opinions so far as to demand sympathy. As for Adèle, if he could light up again the sentiment which he once saw beaming in her face, he could at least find in it a charming beguilement of his unrest. She had a passion for flowers: every day he gathered for her some floral gift; every day she thanked him with a kindness that meant only kindness. She had a passion for poetry: every day he read to her such as he knew she must admire; every day she thanked him with a warmth upon which he could build no hopes.
Both the Doctor and Miss Eliza were disturbed by this new zeal of his. At the instance of the spinster, the Doctor undertook to lay before Reuben the information conveyed in the letter of Maverick, and that gentleman's disapproval of any association between the young people looking to marriage. It was not an easy or an agreeable task for the Doctor; and he went about it in a very halting manner.
"Your Aunt Eliza has observed, Reuben, that you have lately become more pointed in your attentions to Adaly."
"I dare say, father; worries her, doesn't it?"
"We do not know how far these attentions may be serious, Reuben."
"Nor I, father."
The Doctor was shocked at this new evidence of his son's indifference to any fixed rule of conduct.
"How long is it, father," continued Reuben, "since Aunt Eliza has commenced her plottings against Adèle?"
"Not plottings against her, I trust, Reuben."
"Yes, she has, father. She's badgering her in her quiet way incessantly,—as far back as when she caught sight of her in that dance at the Elderkins'. For my part, I think it was a charming thing to see."
"We have graver reasons for our anxiety in regard to your relations with her, my son; and not the least of them is Mr. Maverick's entire disapproval of any such attachment."
And thereupon the Doctor had proceeded to lay before Reuben (who now showed a most lively interest) a full revelation of the facts announced in Maverick's letter.
The son had a strong smack of the father's family pride, and the strange news was bewildering to him; but in his present stage of distrust, he felt a strong disposition to protest against all the respectable conventionalities that hedged him in. A generous instinct in him, too, as he thought of the poor girl under the ban of the townsfolk, craved some chivalric expression; and whatever sentiment he may really have entertained for her in past days took new force in view of the sudden barriers that rose between him and the tender, graceful, confiding, charming Adèle, whose image had so long and (as he now thought) so constantly dwelt in the dreamy mirage of his future. Under the spur of these feelings, he presently gave over his excited walk up and down the study, and, coming close to the Doctor, whispered, with a grave earnestness that made the old gentleman recognize a man in his boy,—
"Father, I have doubted my own feelings about Adèle: now I do not. I love her; I love her madly. I shall protect her; if she will marry me," (and he touched the Doctor on the shoulder with a quick, nervous tap of his hand,) "I shall marry her,—God bless her!"
And Reuben, by the very speech, as well as by the thoughts that had gone before, had worked himself into a passion of devotion.
"Be careful, my son," said the old gentleman; "remember how your enthusiasm has betrayed you in a still more serious matter."
Reuben smiled bitterly.
"Don't reproach me with that, father. It seems to me that I am acting now more on the side of the Christian charities than either you or Aunt Eliza."
And with this he strode out, leaving the Doctor in an agony of apprehension.
A moment after, Miss Eliza, who was ever on the alert, and without whose knowledge a swallow could not dart into the chimneys of the parsonage, came rustling into the study.
"Well, Benjamin, what does Reuben say?"
"Given over to his idols, Eliza,—given over to his idols. We can only pray God to have him in His holy keeping."
It would be impossible to fathom all the emotions of Reuben during that interview with his father. It would be wrong to say that the view of future marriage had not often held up its brilliant illusions before him; it would be wrong to say that they had never been associated with the charming vivacity of Adèle, as well as, at other times, with the sweet graces of Rose Elderkin. But these illusions had been of a character so transitory, so fleeting, that he had come to love their brilliant changes, and to look forward with some dread to the possible permanence of them, or such fixedness as should take away the charming drift of his vagaries. If, in some wanton and quite impossible moment, the modest Rose had conquered her delicacy so far as to put her hand in his, and say, "Will you be my husband?" he would not have been so much outraged by her boldness as disturbed by the reflection that a pleasant little dream of love was broken up, and that his thought must come to that practical solution of a yes or no which would make an end of his delightful doubts and yearnings. The positive and the known are, after all, so much less, under imaginative measure, than the uncertain and the dreamy!
And if he could have taken the spinster's old tales of Adèle's regard for him and devotion to him at their highest truth, (which he never did, because of the girl's provoking familiarity and indifference,) he would have felt a great charm in his life cut off. Yet now he wanders in search of her with his heart upon his lip and a great fire in his brain. Not a little pride in affronting opinion may have kindled the glow of his sudden resolve. There was an audacity in it that tempted and regaled him. Why should he, whose beliefs were so uncertain, who had grown into doubts of that faith on which all the conventional proprieties about him reposed,—why should he not discard them, and obey a single, strong, generous instinct? When a man's religious sensibilities suffer recoil as Reuben's had done, there grows up a new pride in the natural emotions of generosity; the humane instincts show exceptional force; the skeptics become the teachers of an exaggerated philanthropy.
Did he love her beyond all others? Yesterday he could not have told; to-day, under the fervor of his audacity and of his pride, his love blazes in a fiery flame. It seethes around the memory of her lithe, graceful figure in a whirl of passion. Those ripe red lips shall taste the burning heat of his love and tenderness. He will guard, cherish, protect, and the iron aunt may protest, or the world talk as it will. "Adèle!" "Adèle!" His heart is full of the utterance, and his step wild with tumultuous feeling, as he rushes away to find her,—to win her,—to bind together their destinies forever!
It was a mellow evening of later October. Mists hung in all the hollows of the hills. Within the orchard, where Adèle was strolling, a few golden apples still shone among the bronzed leaves. She saw Reuben coming swiftly through the garden; but his eager step faltered as he came near her. Even the serene look of girlhood has a power in it to make impassioned confidence waver, and enthusiasms suffer recoil. He meets her at last with an assumption of his every-day manner, which she cannot but see presently is underlaid with a tempest of struggling feeling to which he is a stranger. He has taken her hand and placed it in his arm,—a little coquettish device to which he was wont; but he keeps the little hand in his with a nervous clasp that is new, and that makes her tremble all the more when his speech grows impassioned, and the easy compliments of his past days of frolicsome humor take a depth of tone which make her heart thrill strangely. Meantime, they had come to the garden-end of the walk.
"It's late, Reuben, and I must go indoors," said she, with a quiet that she did not feel.
"We'll take one more turn, Adèle; you must." And her hand trembled in the eager clasp he fastened upon it.
Not once did it come into her mind that Reuben was to make a declaration of passion for her. She had feared only some burst of feeling in the direction of the spinster, or of the Doctor, which should compromise him even more seriously. When, therefore, he burst forth, as he did presently, with a passionate avowal of his love, she was overwhelmed with confusion.
"This is so sudden, so strange, Reuben! indeed it is!"
Tenderly as she may have felt toward him in days gone, and gratefully as she always felt, this sudden attempt to carry by storm the very citadel of her affections was not alone a surprise, but seemed like sacrilege. The mystery and doubt that overhung the relations between her own father and mother—and which she felt keenly—had made her regard with awe any possible marriage of her own, investing the thought of it with a terrible sanctity, and as something to be approached only with a reverent fear. If in this connection she had ever thought of Reuben, it was in those days when he seemed so earnest in the faith, and when their feelings were blent by some superhuman agency. But at his divergence into the paths of skepticism, it seemed to her simple and intense faith that thenceforth their pilgrimages must be wholly distinct: his—and she trembled at the thought of it—through some terrible maze of error, where she could not follow: and hers—by God's grace—straight to the city whose gates are of pearl.
When, therefore, she had replied to the passionate address of Reuben, "You must not talk thus," it was with a tear in her eye.
"It grieves you, then, Adèle?"
"Yes, it grieves me, Reuben. Our paths are different now"; and she bethought herself of her father's injunction, which seemed to make her duty still plainer, and forbade her to encourage that parley with her heart which—with her hand still fast in Reuben's, and his eyes beaming with a fierce heat upon her—she was beginning to entertain.
"Adèle, tell me, can I go on?"
"Indeed, indeed, you must not, Reuben!"—and withdrawing her hand suddenly, she passed it over brow and eyes, as if to rally her thoughts to measure the situation.
"You are weeping, Adèle?" said Reuben.
"No, not weeping," said she, dashing the merest film of mist from her eyes, "but so troubled!—so troubled!" And she looked yearningly, but vainly, in his face for that illumination which had belonged to his enthusiasm of the summer.
They walked for a moment in silence,—he, with a scowl upon his face. Seeing this, Adèle said plaintively,—
"It seems to me, Reuben, as if this might be only a solemn mockery of yours."
"You doubt me, then?" returned he like a flash.
"Do you not doubt yourself, Reuben? Have you never doubted yourself?" This with a glance that pierced him through.
"Good Heavens! are you turned preacher?" said he, bitterly. "Will you measure a heart by its dogmatic beliefs?"
"For shame, Reuben!"
And for a time both were silent. At last Adèle spoke again,—
"There is a sense of coming trouble that oppresses me strangely,—that tells me I must not listen to you, Reuben."
"I know it, Adèle; and it is for this I would cherish you, and protect you against all possible shame or indignities"———
"Shame! Indignities! What does this mean? What do you know, Reuben?"
Reuben blushed scarlet. His speech had outrun his discretion; but seizing her hand, and pressing it more tenderly than ever, he said,—
"Only this, Adèle: I see that a coolness has grown up toward you in the parsonage; the old prejudice against French blood may revive again; besides which, there is, you know, Adèle, that little family cloud"———
"Is this the old, kind Reuben, my brother, who reminds me of a trouble so shadowy I cannot fairly measure it?" And Adèle covered her face with her hands.
"Forgive me, Adèle, for God's sake!"
"There is a cloud, Reuben; thank you for the word," said Adèle, recovering herself; "and there is, I fear, an even darker cloud upon your faith. Until both are passed, I can never listen to such talk as you would urge upon me,—never! never!"
And there was a spirit in her words now that awed Reuben.
"Would you impute my unbelief to me as a crime, Adèle? Is this your Christian charity? Do you think that I enjoy this fierce wrestling with doubts? or, having them, would you bid me play false and conceal them? What if I am a final castaway, as your good books tell us some must be, would you make me a castaway before my time, and balk all my hopes in life? Is this your charity?"
"I would not,—you know I would not, Reuben."
"Listen to me, Adèle. If there be any hope of making my way out of this weary wrangle, it seems to me that it would be in the constant presence of your simple, exultant faith. Will you be my teacher, Adèle?"
"Teacher,—yes, with all my heart, Reuben."
"Then be mine," said he, seizing her hand again, "from this very hour!"
An instant she seemed to waver; then came over her the memory of her father's injunction,—the mystery, too, that overshadowed her own life.
"I cannot,—I cannot, Reuben!"
"Is this final?" said he, calmly.
She sighed it rather than spoke aloud; the next instant she had slipped away through the shrubbery, with a swift, cruel rustle of her silken dress, toward the parsonage.
Reuben lingered in the orchard until he saw the light flashing through the muslin hangings of her window. She had gone early to her chamber. She had kissed the crucifix that was her mother's with a fervor that sprang as much from devotion as from sentiment. She had sobbed out her prayer, and with sobs had buried her sweet face in the pillow.
Could Reuben have seen or conceived all this, he might have acted differently.
As it was, he entered the Doctor's study an hour later, with the utmost apparent coolness.
"Well, father," said he, "I have offered marriage to your motherless and pious French protégée, and she declines."
"My poor son!" said the Doctor.
But his sympathy was not so much with any possible feeling of disappointment as with the chilling heartlessness and unbelief that seemed to boast themselves in his speech.
"It will be rather dull in Ashfield now, I fancy," continued Reuben, "and I shall slip off to New York to-morrow and take a new taste of the world."
And the Doctor (as if to himself) said despairingly, "'Whom He will He hardeneth.'"
"But father," said Reuben, (without notice of the old gentleman's ejaculation,) "don't let Aunt Eliza know of this,—not a word, or she will be fearfully cruel to the poor child."
There was a grave household in the parsonage next morning. Reuben rebelled in heart, in face, and in action against the tediously long prayer of the parson, though the old gentleman's spirit was writhing painfully in his pleadings. The aunt was more pious and austere than ever. Adèle, timid and shrinking, yet with a beautiful and a trustful illumination in her eye, that for days, and weeks, and months, lingered in the memory of the parson's son.
Later in the day Reuben went to make his adieus to the Elderkins. The old Squire was seated in his door busied with the "Weekly Courant," which had just come in.
"Aha, Master Reuben," (this was his old-fashioned way,) "you're looking for that lazy fellow, Phil, I suppose. You'll find him up-stairs with his cigar and his Spanish, I'll venture."
Reuben made his way up to Phil's chamber after the unceremonious manner to which he has been used in that hospitable home, while a snatch of a little songlet from Rose came floating after him along the stairs. It was very sweet. But what were sweet songlets to him now? It being a mild autumn day, Phil sat at the open window, from which he had many a time seen the old Doctor jogging past in his chaise, and sometimes the tall Almira picking her maidenly way along the walk with her green parasol daintily held aloft with thumb and two fingers, while from the lesser fingers dangled a little embroidered bag which was the wonder of all the school-girls. Other times, too, from this eyrie of his, he had seen Adèle tripping past, with Reuben beside her, and had wondered what their chat might be, while he had feasted his eyes upon her fair figure.
Yet Phil was by no means an idler; he had developed a great business shrewdness, and two or three times in the week drove over to a neighboring river-town to look after the shipments to the West Indies in which he was now interested in company with the Squire. But this had not forbidden a little cursory reading of a sentimental kind. There may have been a stray volume of Pelham upon his table, and a six-volume set of Byron in green and gold upon his limited book-shelf, (both of which were strongly disapproved of by Mrs. Elderkin, but tolerated by the Squire,)—besides which, there were certain Spanish ballads to which he had taken a great fancy since his late visit to Cuba.
Reuben was always a welcome visitor, and was presently in full flow of talk, and puffing nervously at one of Phil's choice Havanas (which in that day were true to their titles).
"I'm off, Phil," said Reuben at last, breaking in upon his host's ecstasy over a ballad he had been reciting, with what he counted the true Castilian magniloquence.
"Off where?" said Phil.
"Off for the city. I'm weary of this do-nothing life,—weary of the town, weary of the good people."
"There's nothing you care for, then, in Ashfield?" said Phil. And at that moment a little burst of the singing of Rose came floating up the stair,—so sweet! so sweet!
"Care for? Yes," said Reuben, "but they are all so good! so devilish good!"—and he puffed at his cigar with a nervous violence. It was not often that such an approach to profanity sullied the lips of Reuben, and Phil noted it with surprise.
"I thought there would have been at least one magnet that would have kept you here," said Phil.
"What magnet, pray?" says Reuben,—somewhat calm again.
"There she goes," says Phil, looking out of the window. And at the moment Adèle tripped by, with the old Doctor walking gravely at her side.
"Humph!" said Reuben, with a composure that was feigned, "she's too much of a Puritan for me, Phil: or rather, I'm too little of a Puritan for her."
Philip looked at his companion keenly. And Reuben, looking back at him as keenly, said, after a silence of a few moments,—
"I don't think you'll ever marry her either, Phil."
"Marry!" said Phil, with a deep, honest blush,—"who talks of that?"
"You, in your heart, Phil. Do you think I am blind? Do you think I have not seen that you have loved her, Phil, ever since you knew what it was to love a woman? Do you think, that, as a boy, you ever imposed upon me with your talk about that handsome Suke Boody, the tavern-keeper's daughter? Good Heavens! Phil, I think there were never two men in the world who talked their thoughts plainly to each other! Do you think I do not know that you have played the shy lover, because with your big heart you have yielded to what you counted a prior claim of mine,—because Adèle was one of us at the parsonage?"
"In such affairs," said Phil, with some constraint and not a little wounded pride, "I don't think men are apt to recognize prior claims."
Reuben replied only by a faint sardonic smile.
"You're a good fellow, Phil, but you won't marry her."
"Of course, then, you know why," said Phil, with something very like a sneer.
"Certainly," said Reuben. "Because you can't affront the world, because you are bound by its conventionalities and respectabilities, as I am not. I spurn them."
"Respectabilities!" said Phil, in amazement. "What does this mean? Just now she was a Puritan."
"It means, Phil," (and here Reuben reflected a moment or two, puffing with savage energy,) "it means what I can't wholly explain to you. You know her French blood; you know all the prejudices against the faith in which she was reared; you know she has an instinct and will of her own. In short, Phil, I don't think you'll ever marry her; but if you can, you may."
"May!" said Phil, whose pride was now touched to the quick. "And what authority have you, pray?"
"The authority of one who has loved her," said Reuben, with a fierce, quick tone, and dashing his half-burnt cigar from the window; "the authority of one who, if he had chosen to perjure himself and profess a faith which he could not entertain, and wear sanctimonious airs, might have won her heart."
"I don't believe it!" said Phil, with a great burst of voice. "There's no hypocrisy could win Adèle."
Reuben paced up and down the chamber, then came and took the hand of his old friend:—
"Phil, you're a noble-hearted fellow. I never thought any one could convict me of injustice to Adèle. You have done it. I hope you'll always defend her; and whatever may betide, I hope your mother and Rose will always befriend her. She may need it."
Again there was a little burst of song from below, and it lingered upon the ear of Reuben long after he had left the Elderkin homestead.
The next day he was gone,—to try his new taste of the world.
It was in no way possible for the simple-hearted Doctor to conceal from the astute spinster the particular circumstances which had hurried Reuben's departure, and the knowledge of them made her humiliation complete. During all the latter months of Reuben's stay she had not scrupled to drop occasional praises of him into the ear of Adèle, as in the old times. It was in agreement with her rigid notions of retribution, that this poor social outlaw should love vainly; and a baffling disappointment would have seemed to the spinster's narrow mind a highly proper and most logical result of the terrible ignominy which overhung the unconscious victim. Indeed, the innocent unconsciousness of anything derogatory to her name or character which belonged to Adèle, and her consequent cheery mirthfulness, were sources of infinite annoyance to Miss Eliza. She would have liked to see her in sackcloth for a while, and to enjoy her own moral elevation by such a contrast. Nor was this from sheer malice; in that sense she was not malicious; but she deluded herself with the idea that this was a high religious view of sin and its consequences,—a proper mortification to befall one on whom Heaven's punishment (of the fathers through the children) must needs descend. And like many another of her iron purpose, she would not have shrunk from being herself the instrument of such punishment, and would have gloated over its accomplishment,—as if by it the Devil's devices had received rebuke, and the elect found cause for comfort. Many good people—as the world goes—have this vulture appetite for preying upon the very bowels of sinners; and there is no judge so implacable as one who inflames his judicial zeal with the fiery heats of an exaggerated religious pretension.
Think, then, of the situation of poor Adèle under the attentions of such a woman, after she has ferreted out from the Doctor the truth with respect to Reuben! It makes us tremble while we write of it. There is often a kind of moral tyranny in households, which, without ever a loud word, much less a blow, can pierce a sensitive mind as with fiery needles. Of such a silent, fearful tyranny Adèle now felt the innumerable stings, and under it her natural exuberance of spirits gave way, her faith almost waned; it seemed to her that a kiss upon her silent crucifix were better than a prayer shared with her tormentor.
The Doctor showed all his old, grave kindness; but he was sadly broken by his anxieties with respect to his son; nor was he ever demonstrative enough to supply the craving of Adèle's heart, under her present greed for sympathy. Even the villagers looked upon her more coldly since the sharpened speech of the spinster had dropped widely, but very quietly, its damaging innuendoes, and since her well-calculated surmises, that French blood was, after all, not to be wholly trusted. It was clear to the townspeople that all was at an end between Adèle and Reuben,—clear that she had fallen away from the old favor in which she once stood at the parsonage; and Miss Eliza, by her adroit hints, and without any palpable violation of truth, found means of associating these results with certain suspicious circumstances which had come to light respecting the poor girl's character,—circumstances for which she herself (Miss Eliza was kind enough to say) was not altogether accountable, perhaps, but yet sufficient to warrant a little reserve of confidence, and of course putting an end to any thought of intimate alliance with "the Johns family." She even whispered in her most insidious manner into the ear of old Mistress Tew,—who, being somewhat deaf, is the most inveterate village gossip,—that "it was hard for the poor thing, when Reuben left so suddenly."
Adèle writes in these times to her father, that he need put himself in no fear in regard to marriage. "I have had an éclaircissement" (she says) "with friend Reuben. His declaration of attachment (I think I may tell you this, dear papa) was so wholly unexpected that I could not count it real. He seemed actuated by some sudden controlling sympathy (as he often is) that I could not explain; and had it been otherwise, your injunction, dear papa, and the fact that he has become a bitter skeptic in regard to our most holy religion, would have made me pause. He dropped a hint, too, of the mystery attaching to my family, (not unkindly, for he is, after all, a dear, good-hearted fellow,) which kindled not a little indignation in me; and I told him—with some of the pride, I think, I must have inherited from you, papa—that, until that mystery was cleared, I would marry neither him nor another. Was I not right?
"I want so much to be with you again, dear papa,—to tell you all I hope and fear,—to feel your kiss again! Miss Johns, whom I have tried hard to love, but cannot, is changed wofully in her manner toward me. I feel it is only my home now by sufferance,—not such a home as you would choose for me, I am sure. The Doctor—good soul—is as kind as he knows how to be, but I want—oh, how I want!—to leap into your arms, dear papa, and find home there. Why can I not? I am sure—over and over sure—that I could bring some sunlight into a home of yours, if you would but let me. And when you come, as you say you mean to do soon, do not put me off with such stories as you once told me, of 'a lean Savoyard in red wig and spectacles, and of a fat Frenchman with bristly moustache' (you see I remember all); tell me I may come to be the mistress of your parlor and your salon, and I will keep all in such order, that, I am sure, you will not want me to leave you again; and you will love me so much that I shall never want to leave you.
"Indeed, indeed, it is very wearisome to me here. The village people seem all of them to have caught the coolness of Miss Johns, and look askance at me. Only the Elderkins show their old kindness, and it is unfailing. Do not, I pray, disturb yourself about any 'lost fortune' of which you wrote to the Doctor, but never—cruel papa!—a word to me. I am rich: I can't tell you how many dollars are in the Savings Bank for me,—and for you, if you wish them, I have so little occasion to spend anything. But I have committed the extravagance of placing a beautiful tablet over the grave of poor Madame Arles, and, much to the horror of the good Doctor, insisted upon having a little cross inscribed upon its front. You have never told me, dear papa, if you received the long account I gave you of her sudden death, and how she died without ever telling me anything of herself,—though I believe it was in her mind to do so, at the last."
No, of a truth, such a letter had never been received by Maverick, and he cursed the mails royally for it, since it might have prevented the need of any such disclosure as he had made to his friend Johns. When the present missive of Adèle came to him, he was entering the brilliant Café de L'Orient at Marseilles, in company with his friend Papiol. The news staggered him for a moment.
"Papiol!" said he, "mon ami, Julie is dead!"
"Parbleu! And among your Puritans, yonder? She must have made a piquant story of it all!"
"Not a word, Papiol! She has kept by her promise bravely."
"Tant mieux: it will give you good appetite, mon ami."
For a moment the better nature of Maverick had been roused, and he turned a look of loathing upon the complacent Frenchman seated by him (which fortunately the stolid Papiol did not comprehend). For a moment, his thought ran back to a sunny hillside near to the old town of Arles, where lines of stunted, tawny olives crept down the fields,—where fig-trees showed their purple nodules of fruit,—where a bright-faced young peasant-girl, with a gay kerchief turbaned about her head with a coquettish tie, lay basking in the sunshine. He heard once more the trip of her voice warbling a Provençal song, while the great ruin of the Roman arène came once more to his vision, with its tufting shrubs and battered arches rising grim and gaunt into the soft Southern sky; the church-bells of the town poured their sweet jangle on his ear again, the murmur of distant voices came floating down the wind, and again the pretty Provençal song fluttered on the balmy air; the coquettish turban was in his eye, the plump, soft hand of the pretty Provençal girl in his grasp, and her glossy locks touched his burning cheek. So much, at least, that was Arcadian; and then (in his glowing memory still) the loves, the jealousies, the delusions, the concealments, the faithlessness, the desertion, the parting! And now,—now the chief actress in this drama that had touched him so nearly lay buried in a New England grave, with his own Adèle her solitary mourner!
"It was your friend the Doctor who gave the good woman absolution, I suppose," said Papiol, tapping his snuff-box, and gathering a huge pinch between thumb and finger.
"Not even that comfort, I suspect," said Maverick.
"Bah! pauvre femme!"
And the philosopher titillated his nostril until he sneezed again and again.
"And the Doctor," continued Papiol,—"does he suspect nothing?"
"Nothing. He has counselled me to make what amends I may by marrying—you know whom."
"Pardieu! he is a good innocent, that old friend of yours!"
"Better than you or I, Papiol."
"Cela va sans dire, mon ami. And la petite,—the little bright-eyes,—what of her?"
"She is unsuspicious, but hints at a little cloud that overshadows her domestic history, and tells her lover that it shall be cleared up before she will marry him, or any other."
"Ta, ta! It's an inquisitive sex, Maverick! I could never quite understand how Julie should have learned that her little one was still alive, and been able to trace her as she did. I think the death was set forth in the Gazette,—eh, Maverick?"
"It certainly was," said Maverick,—"honestly, for the child's good."
"Ha!—honestly,—bon! I beg pardon, mom ami."
And Papiol took snuff again.
"Set forth in the Gazette, en règle, and came to Julie's knowledge, as I am sure; and she sailed for the East with her brother, who was a small trader in Smyrna, I believe,—poor woman! To tell truth, Papiol, had she been alive, loving Adèle as I do, I believe I should have been tempted to follow the parson's admonition, cost what it might."
"And then I should give petite an honest name to bear,—honest as I could, at least; and would have lavished wealth upon her, as I mean to do; and made the last half of my life better than the first."
"Excellent! most excellent! considering that the lady is dead, pauvre femme! And now, my dear fellow, you might go over to your country and play the good Puritan by marrying Mees Eliza,—hein?"
And he called out obstreperously,—
And he drummed with his fat fingers upon the edge of the marble slab.
"Mon Dieu!" said Maverick, with a sudden pallor on his face, "who is she?"
The eyes of Papiol fastened upon the figure which had arrested the attention of Maverick,—a lady of, may-be, forty years, fashionably, but gracefully attired, with olive-brown complexion, hair still glossy black, and attended by a strange gentleman with a brusque and foreign air.
"Who is she?" says Maverick, in a great tremor. "Do the dead come to haunt us?"
"You are facetious, my friend," said Papiol.
But in the next moment the lady opposite had raised her eyes, showing that strange double look which had been so characteristic of Madame Arles, and poor Papiol was himself fearfully distraught.
"It's true! It's true, mon ami!" he whispered his friend. "It's Julie!—elle même,—Julie!"
Maverick, too, had met that glance, and he trembled like a leaf. He gazed upon the stranger like one who sees a spectre. And she met his glance, boldly at the first; then the light faded from her eyes, her head drooped, and she fell in a swoon upon the shoulder of her companion.