The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/Number 3/The Romance of a Glove
THE ROMANCE OF A GLOVE.
"Halt!" cried my travelling companion. "Property overboard!"
The driver pulled up his horses; and, before I could prevent him, Westwood leaped down from the vehicle, and ran back for the article that had been dropped.
It was a glove,—my glove, which I had inadvertently thrown out, in taking my handkerchief from my pocket.
"Go on, driver!" and he tossed it into my hand as he resumed his seat in the open stage.
"Take your reward," I said, offering him a cigar; "but beware of rendering me another such service!"
"If it had been your hat or your handkerchief, be sure I should have let it lie where it fell. But a glove,—that is different. I once found a romance in a glove. Since then, gloves are sacred." And Westwood gravely bit off the end of his cigar.
"A romance? Tell me about that. I am tired of this endless stretch of sea-like country, these regular ground-swells; and it's a good two-hours' ride yet to yonder headland, which juts out into the prairie, between us and the setting sun. Meanwhile, your romance."
"Did I say romance? I fear you would hardly think it worthy of the name," said my companion. "Every life has its romantic episodes, or, at least, incidents which appear such to him who experiences them. But these tender little histories are usually insipid enough when told. I have a maiden aunt, who once came so near having an offer from a pale stripling, with dark hair, seven years her junior, that to this day she often alludes to the circumstance, with the remark, that she wishes she knew some competent novel-writer in whom she could confide, feeling sure that the story of that period of her life would make the groundwork of a magnificent work of fiction. Possibly I inherit my aunt's tendency to magnify into extraordinary proportions trifles which I look at through the double convex lens of a personal interest. So don't expect too much of my romance, and you shall hear it.
"I said I found it in a glove. It was by no means a remarkable glove,—middle-sized, straw-colored, and a neat fit for this hand, in which I now hold your very excellent cigar. Of course, there was a young lady in the case;—let me see,—I don't believe I can tell you the story," said Westwood, "after all!"
I gently urged him to proceed.
"Pshaw!" said he, after kindling his cigar with a few vigorous whiffs, "what's the use of being foolish? My aunt was never diffident about telling her story, and why should I hesitate to tell mine? The young lady's name,—we'll call her simply Margaret. She was a blonde, with hazel eyes and dark hair. Perhaps you never heard of a blonde with hazel eyes and dark hair? She was the only one I ever saw; and there was the finest contrast imaginable between her fair, fresh complexion, and her superb tresses and delicately-traced eyebrows. She was certainly lovely, if not handsome; and—such eyes! It was an event in one's life, Sir, just to look through those luminous windows into her soul. That could not happen every day, be sure! Sometimes for weeks she kept them turned from me, the ivory shutters half-closed, or the mystic curtains of reserve drawn within; then, again, when I was tortured with unsatisfied yearnings, and almost ready to despair, she would suddenly turn them upon me, the shutters thrown wide, the curtains away, and a flood of radiance streaming forth, that filled me so full of light and gladness, that I had no shadowy nook left in me for a doubt to hide in. She must have been conscious of this power of expression. She used it so sparingly, and, it seemed to me, artfully! But I always forgave her when she did did use it, and cherished resentment only when she did not.
"Margaret was shy and proud; I could never completely win her confidence; but I knew, I knew well at last, that her heart was mine. And a deep, tender, woman's heart it was, too, despite her reserve. Without many words, we understood each other, and so----Pshaw!" said Westwood, "my cigar is out!"
"On with the story!"
"Well, we had our lovers' quarrels, of course. Singular, what foolish children love makes of us!--rendering us sensitive, jealous, exacting, in the superlative degree. I am sure, we were both amiable and forbearing towards all the world besides; but, for the powerful reason that we loved, we were bound to misinterpret words, looks, and actions, and wound each other on every convenient occasion. I was pained by her attentions to others, or perhaps by an apparent preference of a book or a bouquet to me. Retaliation on my part and quiet persistence on hers continued to estrange us, until I generally ended by conceding everything, and pleading for one word of kindness, to end my misery.
"I was wrong,--too quick to resent, too ready to concede. No doubt, it was to her a secret gratification to exercise her power over me; and at last I was convinced that she wounded me purposely, in order to provoke a temporary estrangement, and enjoy a repetition of her triumph.
"It was at a party; the thing she did was to waltz with a man whom she knew I detested, whom _I_ knew _she_ could not respect, and whose half-embrace, as he whirled her in the dance, almost put murder into my thoughts.
"'Margaret,' I said, 'one last word! If you care for me, beware!'
"That was a foolish speech, perhaps. It was certainly ineffectual. She persisted, looking so calm and composed, that a great weight fell upon my heart. I walked away; I wandered about the saloons; I tried to gossip and be gay; but the wound was too deep.
"I accompanied her home, late in the evening. We scarcely spoke by the way. At the door, she looked me sadly in the face,--she gave me her hand; I thought it trembled.
"'Good-night!' she said, in a low voice.
"'Good-bye!' I answered, coldly, and hurried from the house.
"It was some consolation to hear her close the door after I had reached the corner of the street, and to know that she had been listening to my footsteps. But I was very angry. I made stern resolutions; I vowed to myself, that I would wring her heart, and never swerve from my purpose until I had wrung out of it abundant drops of sorrow and contrition. How I succeeded you shall hear.
"I had previously engaged her to attend a series of concerts with me; an arrangement which I did not now regret, and for good reasons. Once a week, with famous punctuality, I called for her, escorted her to the concert-room, and carefully reconducted her home,--letting no opportunity pass to show her a true gentleman's deference and respect,--conversing with her freely about music, books, anything, in short, except what we both knew to be deepest in each other's thoughts. Upon other occasions, I avoided her, and even refrained from going to places where she was expected,--especially where she knew that I knew she was expected.
"Well," continued Westwood, "my designs upon her heart, which I was going to wring so unmercifully, did not meet with very brilliant success. To confess the humiliating truth, I soon found that I was torturing myself a good deal more than I was torturing her. As a last and desperate resort, what do you think I did?"
"You probably asked her to ask your forgiveness."
"Not I! I have a will of adamant, as people find, who tear away the amiable flowers and light soil that cover it; and she had reached the impenetra ble, firm rock. I neither made any advances towards a reconciliation nor invited any. But I'll tell you what I did do, as a final trial of her heart. I had, for some time, been meditating a European tour, and my interest in her had alone kept me at home. Some friends of mine were to sail early in the spring, and I now resolved to accompany them. I don't know how much pride and spite there was in the resolution,--probably a good deal. I confess I wished to make her suffer,--to show her that she had calculated too much upon my weakness,--that I could be strong and happy without her. Yet, with all this bitter and vindictive feeling, I listened to a very sweet and tender whisper in my heart, which said, 'Now, if her love speaks out,--now, if she says to me one true, kind, womanly word,--she shall go with me, and nothing shall ever take her from me again!' The thought of what _might_ be, if she would but say that word, and of what _must_ be, irrevocably, if her pride held out, shook me mightily. But my resolution was taken: I would trust the rest to fate.
"On the day of the last concert, I imparted the secret of my intended journey to a person who, I felt tolerably sure, would rush at once to Margaret with the news. Then, in the evening, I went for her; I was conscious that my manner towards her was a little more tender, or rather, a little less coldly courteous, that night, than it had usually been of late; for my feelings were softened, and I had never seen her so lovely. I had never before known what a treasure I was about to lose. The subject of my voyage was not mentioned, and if she had heard of it, she accepted the fact without the least visible concern. Her quietness under the circumstances chilled me,--disheartened me quite. I am not one of those who can give much superfluous love, or cling with unreasonable, blind passion to an object that yields no affection in return. A quick and effectual method of curing a fancy in persons of my temperament is to teach them that it is not reciprocated. Then it expires like a flame cut off from the air, or a plant removed from the soil. The death-struggle, the uprooting, is the painful thing; but when the heart is thoroughly convinced that its love is misplaced, it gives up, with one last sigh as big as fate, sheds a few tears, says a prayer or two, thanks God for the experience, and becomes a wiser, calmer,--yes, and a happier heart than before."
"True," I said; "but our hearts are not thus easily convinced."
"Ay, there's the rub. It is for want of a true perception. There cannot be a true love without a true perception. Love is for the soul to know, from its own intuition,--not for the understanding to believe, from the testimony of those very unreliable witnesses, called eyes and ears. This seems to have been my case,--my soul was aware of _her_ love, and all the evidence of my external senses could not altogether destroy that interior faith. But that evening I said,--'I believe you now, my senses! I doubt you now, my soul!--she never loved me!' So I was really very cold towards her--for about twenty minutes.
"I walked home with her;--we were both silent; but at the door she asked me to go in. Here my calmness deserted me, and I could hardly hold my heart, while I replied,--
"'If you particularly wish it.'
"'If I did not, I should not ask you,' she said; and I went in.
"I was ashamed and vexed at myself for trembling so,--for I was in a tremor from head to foot. There was company in the parlors,--some of Margaret's friends. I took my seat upon a sofa, and soon she came and sat by my side.
"'I suppose,' said one, 'Mr. Westwood has been telling Margaret all about it.'
"'About what?' Margaret inquired,--and here the truth flashed upon me,--the news of my proposed voyage had not yet reached her! She looked at me with a troubled, questioning expression, and said,--
"'I felt that something was going to happen. Tell me what it is.'
"I answered,--'Your friend can best explain what she means.'
"Then out came the secret. A shock of surprise sent the color from Margaret's face; and raising her eyes, she asked, quite calmly, but in a low and unnatural tone,--
"'Is this so?'
"I said, 'I suppose I cannot deny it.'
"'You are really going?'
"'I am really going.'
"She could not hide her agitation. Her white face betrayed her. Then I was glad, wickedly glad, in my heart,--and vain enough to be gratified that others should behold and know I held a power over her. Well,--but I suffered for that folly.
"'I feel hurt,' she said, after a little while, 'because you have not told me this. You have no sister,' (this was spoken very quietly,) 'and it would have been a privilege for me to take a sister's place, and do for you those little things which sisters do for brothers who are going on long journeys.'
"I was choked;--it was a minute before I could speak. Then I said that I saw no reason why she should tax her time or thoughts to do anything for me.
"'Oh, you know,' she said, 'you have been kind to me,--so much kinder than I have deserved!'
"It was unendurable,--the pathos of the words! I was blinded, stifled,--I almost groaned aloud. If we had been alone, there our trial would have ended. I should have snatched her to my soul. But the eyes of others were upon us, and I steeled myself.
"'Besides,' I said, 'I know of nothing that you can do for me.'
"'There must be many little things;--to begin with, there is your glove, which you are tearing to pieces.'
"True, I was tearing my glove,--she was calm enough to observe it! That made me angry.
"'Give it to me; I will mend it for you. Haven't you other gloves that need mending?'
"I, who had triumphed, was humbled.
"My heart was breaking,--and she talked of mending gloves! I did not omit to thank her. I coldly arose to go.
"Well, I felt now that it was all over. The next day I secured my passage in the steamer in which my friends were to sail. I took pains that Margaret should hear of that, too. Then came the preparations for travel,--arranging affairs, writing letters, providing myself with a compact and comfortable outfit. Europe was in prospect,--Paris, Switzerland, Italy, lands to which my dreams had long since gone before me, and to which I now turned my eyes with reawakening aspirations. A new glory arose upon my life, in the light of which Margaret became a fading star. It was so much easier than I had thought, to give her up, to part from her! I found that I could forget her, in the excitement of a fresh and novel experience; while she--could she forget me? When lovers part, happy is he who goes! alas for the one that is left behind!
"One day, when I was busy with the books which I was to take with me, a small package was handed in. I need not tell you that I experienced a thrill, when I saw Margaret's handwriting upon the wrapper. I tore it open,--and what think you I found? My glove! Nothing else. I smiled bitterly, to see how neatly she had mended it; then I sighed; then I said, 'It is finished!' and tossed the glove disdainfully into my trunk.
"On the day before that fixed for the sailing of the steamer, I made farewell calls upon many of my friends,--among others, upon Margaret. But, through the perversity of pride and will, I did not go alone,--I took with me Joseph, a mutual acquaintance, who was to be my _compagnon de voyage_. I felt some misgivings, to see how Margaret had changed; she was so softened, and so pale!
"The interview was a painful one, and I cut it short. As we were going out, she gently detained me, and said,--
"'Did you receive--your glove?'
"'Oh, yes,' I said, and thanked her for mending it.
"'And is this all--all you have to say?' she asked.
"'I have nothing more to say--except good-bye.'
"She held my hand. 'Nothing else?'
"'No,--it is useless to talk of the past, Margaret; and the future--may you be happy!--Good-bye!'
"I thought she would speak; I could not believe she would let me go; but she did! I bore up well, until night. Then came a revulsion. I walked three times past the house, wofully tempted, my love and my will at cruel warfare; but I did not go in. At midnight I saw the light in her room extinguished; I knew she had retired, but whether to sleep, or weep, or pray--how could I tell? I went home. I did not close my eyes that night. I was glad to see the morning come, after _such_ a night!
"The steamer was to sail at ten. The bustle of embarkation; strange scenes and strange faces; parting from friends; the ringing of the bell; last adieus,--some, who were to go with us, hurrying aboard, others, who were to stay behind, as hastily going ashore; the withdrawal of the plank,--sad sight to many eyes! casting off the lines, the steamer swinging heavily around, the rushing, irregular motion of the great, slow paddles; the waving of handkerchiefs from the decks, and the responsive signals from the crowd lining the wharf; off at last,--the faces of friends, the crowd, the piers, and, lastly, the city itself, fading from sight; the dash of spray, the freshening breeze, the novel sight of our little world detaching itself and floating away; the feeling that America was past, and Europe was next;--all this filled my mind with animation and excitement, which shut out thoughts of Margaret. Could I have looked with clairvoyant vision, and beheld her then, locked in her chamber, should I have been so happy? Oh, what fools vanity and pride make of us! Even then, with my heart high-strung with hope and courage, had I known the truth, I should have abandoned my friends, the voyage, and Europe, and returned in the pilot's boat, to find something more precious than all the continents and countries of the globe, in the love of that heart which I was carelessly flinging away."
Here Westwood took breath. The sun was now almost set. The prairie was still and cool; the heavy dews were beginning to fall; the shadows of the green and flowered undulations filled the hollows, like a rising tide; the headland, seen at first so far and small, was growing gradually large and near; and the horses moved at a quicker pace. Westwood lighted his cigar, drew a few whiffs, and proceeded.
"We had a voyage of eleven days. But to me an immense amount of experience was crowded into that brief period. The fine exhilaration of the start,--the breeze gradually increasing to a gale; then horrible sea-sickness, home-sickness, love-sickness; after which, the weather which sailors love, games, gayety, and flirtation. There is no such social freedom to be enjoyed anywhere as on board an ocean steamer. The breaking-up of old associations, the opening of a fresh existence, the necessity of new relationships,--this fuses the crust of conventionality, quickens the springs of life, and renders character sympathetic and fluent. The past is easily put away; we become plastic to new influences; we are delighted at the discovery of unexpected affinities, and astonished to find in ourselves so much wit, eloquence, and fine susceptibility, which we did not before dream we possessed.
"This freedom is especially provocative of flirtation. We see each fair brow touched with a halo whose colors are the reflection of our own beautiful dreams. Loveliness is ten-fold more lovely, bathed in this atmosphere of romance; and manhood is invested with ideal graces. The love within us rushes, with swift, sweet heart-beats, to meet the love responsive in some other. Don't think I am now artfully preparing your mind to excuse what I am about to confess. Take these things into consideration, if you will; then think as you please of the weakness and wild impulse with which I fell in love with----
"We will call her Flora. The most superb, captivating creature that ever ensnared the hearts of the sons of Adam. A fine olive complexion; magnificent dark auburn hair; eyes full of fire and softness; lips that could pout or smile with incomparable fascination; a figure of surprising symmetry, just voluptuous enough. But, after all, her great power lay in her freedom from all affectation and conventionality,--in her spontaneity, her free, sparkling, and vivacious manners. She was the most daring and dazzling of women, without ever appearing immodest or repulsive. She walked with such proud, secure steps over the commonly accepted barriers of social intercourse, that even those who blamed her and pretended to be shocked were compelled to admire. She was the belle, the Juno, of the saloon, the supreme ornament of the upper deck. Just twenty,--not without wit and culture,--full of poetry and enthusiasm. Do you blame me?"
"Not a whit," I said; "but for Margaret"----
"Ah, Margaret!" said Westwood, with a sigh. "But, you see, I had given her up. And when one love is lost, there sink such awful chasms into the soul, that, though they cannot be filled, we must at least bridge them over with a new affection. The number of marriages built in this way, upon false foundations of hollowness and despair, is incomputable. We talk of jilted lovers and disappointed girls marrying 'out of spite.' No doubt, such petty feeling hurries forward many premature matches. But it is the heart, left shaken, unsupported, wretchedly sinking, which reaches out its feelers for sympathy, catches at the first penetrable point, and clings like a helpless vine to the sunny-sided wall of the nearest consolation. If you wish to marry a girl and can't, and are weak enough to desire her still, this is what you should do: get some capable man to jilt her. Then seize your chance. All the affections which have gone out to him, unmet, ready to droop, quivering with the painful, hungry instinct to grasp some object, may possibly lay hold of you. Let the world sneer; but God pity such natures, which lack the faith and fortitude to live and die true to their best love!
"Out of my own mouth do I condemn myself? Very well, I condemn myself; _peccavi_! I If I had ever loved Margaret, then I did not love Flora. The same heart cannot find its counterpart indifferently in two such opposites. What charmed me in one was her purity, softness, and depth of soul. What fascinated me in the other was her bloom, beauty, and passion. Which was the true sympathy?
"I did not stop to ask that question when it was most important that it should be seriously considered. I rushed into the crowd of competitors for Flora's smiles, and distanced them all. I was pleased and proud that she took no pains to conceal her preference for me. We played chess; we read poetry out of the same book; we ate at the same table; we sat and watched the sea together, for hours, in those clear, bright days; we promenaded the deck at sunset, her hand upon my arm, her lips forever turning up tenderly towards me, her eyes pouring their passion into me. Then those glorious nights, when the ocean was a vast, wild, fluctuating stream, flashing and sparkling about the ship, spanned with a quivering bridge of splendor on one side, and rolling off into awful darkness and mystery, on the other; when the moon seemed swinging among the shrouds like a ball of white fire; when the few ships went by like silent ghosts; and Flora and I, in a long trance of happiness, kept the deck, heedless of the throng of promenaders, forgetful of the past, reckless of the future, aware only of our own romance, and the richness of the present hour.
"Joseph, my travelling-companion, looked on, and wrote letters. He showed me one of these, addressed to a friend of Margaret's. In it he extolled Fl ora's beauty, piquancy, and supremacy; related how she made all the women jealous and all the men mad; and hinted at my triumph. I knew that that letter would meet Margaret's eyes, and was vain enough to be pleased.
"At last, one morning, at daybreak, I went on deck, and saw the shores of England. Only a few days before, we had left America behind us, brown and leafless, just emerging from the long gloom of winter; and now the slopes of another world arose green and inviting in the flush of spring. There was a bracing breeze; the dingy waters of the Mersey rolled up in wreaths of beauty; the fleets of ships, steamers, sloops, lighters, pilot-boats, bounding over the waves, meeting, tacking, plunging, swaying gracefully under the full-swelling canvas, presented a picture of wonderful animation; and the mingling hues of sunshine and mist hung over all. I paced the deck, solemnly joyful, swift thoughts pulsing through me of a dim far-off Margaret, of a near radiant Flora, of hope and happiness superior to fate. It was one of those times when the excited soul transfigures the world, and we marvel how we could ever succumb to a transient sorrow while the whole universe blooms, and an infinite future waits to open for us its doors of wonder and joy.
"In this state of mind I was joined by Flora. She laid her hand on my arm, and we walked up and down together. She was serious, almost sad, and she viewed the English hills with a pensiveness which became her better than mirth.
"'So,' she sighed, 'all our little romances come to an end!'
"'Not so,' I said; 'or if one romance ends, it is to give place to another, still truer and sweeter. Our lives may be all a succession of romances, if we will make them so. I think now I will never doubt the future; for I find, that, when I have given up my dearest hopes, my best-beloved friends, and accepted the gloomy belief that all life besides is barren,--then comes some new experience, filling my empty cup with a still more delicious wine.'
"'Don't vex me with your philosophy!' said Flora. 'I don't know anything about it. All I know is this present,--this sky, this earth, this sea, and the joy between, which I can't give up quite so easily as you can, with your beautiful theory, that something better awaits you.'
"'I have told you,' I replied,--for I had been quite frank with her,--'how I left America,--what a blank life was to me then; and did I not turn my back upon all that to meet face to face the greatest happiness which I have ever yet known? Ought not this to give me faith in the divinity that shapes our ends?'
"'And so,' she answered, 'when I have lost you, I shall have the satisfaction of thinking that you are enjoying some still more exquisite consolation for the slight pangs you may have felt at parting from me! Your philosophy will make it easy for you to say, "Good-bye! it was a pretty romance; I go to find prettier ones still"; and then forget me altogether!'
"'And you,' I said, 'will that be easy for you?'
"'Yes,' she cried, with spirit,--'anything is easy to a proud, impetuous woman, who finds that the brief romance of a ten-days' acquaintance has already become tiresome to the second party. I am glad I have enjoyed what I have; that is so much gain, of which you cannot rob me; and now I can say good-bye as coolly as you, or I can die of shame, or I can at once walk over this single rail into the water, and quench this little candle, and so an end!'
"She sprang upon a bench, and, I swear to you, I thought she was going down! I was so exalted by this passionate demonstration, that I should certainly have gone over with her, and felt perfectly content to die in her arms,--at least, until I began to realize what a very disagreeable bath we had chosen to drown in.
"I drew her away; I walked up and down with that superb creature panting and palpitating almost upon my heart; I poured into her ear I know not what extravagant vows; and before the slow-handed sailors had fastened their cable to the buoy in the channel, we had knotted a more subtile and difficult noose, not to be so easily undone!
"Now see what strange, variable fools we are! Months of tender intercourse had failed to bring about anything like a positive engagement between Margaret and myself; and here behold me irrevocably pledged to Flora, after a brief ten-days' acquaintance!
"Six mortal hours were exhausted in making the steamer fast,--in sending off her Majesty's mails, of which the cockney speaks with a tone of reverence altogether disgusting to us free-minded Yankees,--and in entertaining the custom-house inspectors, who paid a long and tedious visit to the saloon and our luggage. Then we were suffered to land, and enter the noisy, solid streets of Liverpool, amid the donkeys and beggars and quaint scenes which strike the American so oddly upon a first visit. All this delay, the weariness and impatience, the contrast between the morning and the hard, grim reality of mid-day, brought me down from my elevation. I felt alarmed to think of what had passed. I seemed to have been doing some wild, unadvised act in a fit of intoxication. Margaret came up before me, sad, silent, reproachful; and as I gazed upon Flora's bedimmed face, I wondered how I had been so charmed.
"We took the first train for London, where we arrived at midnight. Two weeks in that vast Babel,--then, ho! for Paris! Twelve hours by rail and steamer carried us out of John Bull's dominions into the brilliant metropolis of his French neighbor. Joseph accompanied us, and wrote letters home, filled with gossip which I knew, or hoped, would make Margaret writhe. I had not found it so easy to forget her as I had supposed it would be. Flora's power over me was sovereign; but when I was weary of the dazzle and whirl of the life she led me,--when I looked into the depths of my heart, and saw what the thin film of passion and pleasure concealed,--in those serious moments which would come, and my soul put stern questions to me,--then, Sir,--then--Margaret had her revenge.
"A month, crowded and glittering with novelty and incident, preceded our departure for Switzerland. I accompanied Flora's party; Joseph remained behind. We left Paris about the middle of June, and returned in September. I have no words to speak of that era in my life. I saw, enjoyed, suffered, learned so much! Flora was always glad, magnificent, irresistible. But, as I knew her longer, my moments of misgiving became more frequent and profound. If I had aspired to nothing higher than a life of sensuous delights, she would have been all I could wish. But----
"We were to spend the winter in Italy. Meanwhile, we had another month in Paris. Here I had found Joseph again, who troubled me a good deal with certain rumors he had received concerning Margaret. According to these, she had been in feeble health ever since we left, and her increasing delicacy was beginning to alarm her friends. 'But,' added another of Joseph's correspondents, 'don't let Westwood flatter himself that he is the cause, for she is cured of him; and there is talk of an engagement between her and a handsome young clergyman, who is both eloquent and fascinating.'
"This bit of gossip made me very bitter and angry. 'Forget me so soon?' I said; 'and receive the attentions of another man?' You see how consistent I was, to condemn her for the very fault I had myself been so eager to commit!
"Well, the round of rides, excursions, soirées, visits to the operas and theatres, walks on the Boulevards, and in the galleries of the Louvre, ended at last. The evening before we were to set out for the South of France, I was at my lodgings, unpacking and repacking the luggage which I had left in Joseph's care during my absence among the Alps; I was melancholy, dissatisfied with the dissipations which had exhausted my time and energies, and thinking of Margaret. I had not preserved a single memento of her; and now I wished I had one,--if only a withered leaf, or a line of her writing. In this mood, I chanced to cast my eye upon a stray glove, in the bottom of my trunk. I snatched at it eagerly, and, in the impulse of the moment,--before I reflected that I was wronging Flora,--pressed it to my lips. Yes, I found the place where it had been mended, the spot Margaret's fingers had touched, and gave it a kiss for every stitch. Then, incensed at myself, I flung it from me, and hurried from the room. I walked towards the Place de la Concorde, where the brilliant lamps burned like a constellation. I strolled through the Elysian Fields, and watched the lights of the carriages swarming like fire-flies up the long avenue; stopped by the concert gardens, and listened to the glorified girls singing under rosy and golden pavilions the last songs of the season; wandered about the fountains,--by the gardens of the Tuileries, where the trees stood so shadowy and still, and the statues gleamed so pale,--along the quays of the Seine, where the waves rolled so dark below,--trying to settle my thoughts, to master myself, to put Margaret from me.
"Weary at length, I returned to my chamber, seated myself composedly, and looked down at the glove which lay where I had thrown it, upon the polished floor. Mechanically I stooped and took up a bit of folded paper. It was written upon,--I unrolled it, and read. It was as if I had opened the record of doom! Had the apparition of Margaret herself risen suddenly before me, I could not have been more astounded. It was a note from her,--and such a note!--full of love, suffering, and humility,--poured out of a heart so deep and tender and true, that the shallowness of my own seemed utterly contemptible, in comparison with it. I cannot tell you what was written, but it was more than even my most cruel and exacting pride could have asked. It was what would once have made me wild with joy,--now it almost maddened me with despair. I, who had often talked fine philosophy to others, had not a grain of that article left to physic my own malady. But one course seemed plain before me, and that was, to go quietly and drown myself in the Seine, which I had seen flowing so swift and dark under the bridges, an hour ago, when I stood and mused upon the tragical corpses its solemn flood had swallowed.
"I am a little given to superstition, and the mystery of the note excited me. I have no doubt but there was some subtile connection between it and the near presence of Margaret's spirit, of which I had that night been conscious. But the note had reached me by no supernatural method, as I was at first half inclined to believe. It was, probably, the touch, the atmosphere, the ineffably fine influence which surrounded it, which had penetrated my unconscious perceptions, and brought her near. The paper, the glove, were full of Margaret,--full of something besides what we vaguely call mental associations,--full of emanations of the very love and suffering which she had breathed into the writing.
"How the note came there upon the floor was a riddle which I was too much bewildered to explain by any natural means. Joseph, who burst in upon me, in my extremity of pain and difficulty, solved it at once. It had fallen out of the glove, where it had lain folded, silent, unnoticed, during all this intervening period of folly and vexation of soul. Margaret had done her duty, in time; I had only myself to blame for the tangle in which I now found myself. I was thinking of Flora, upon the deck of the steamship, when, in a moment of chagrin, she had been so near throwing herself over; wondering to what fate her passion and impetuosity would hurry her now, if she knew; cursing myself for my weakness and perfidy; while Joseph kept asking me what I intended to do.
"'Do? do?' I said, furiously,--'I shall kill you, that is what I shall do, if you drive me mad with questions which neither angels nor fiends can answer!'
"'I know what you will do,' said Joseph; 'you will go home and marry Margaret.'
"You can have no conception of the effect of these words,--_Go home and marry Margaret_. I shook as I have seen men shake with the ague. All that might have been,--what might be still,--the happiness cast away, and perhaps yet within my reach,--the temptation of the Devil, who appealed to my cowardice, to fly from Flora, break my vows, risk my honor and her life, for Margaret,--all this rushed through me tumultuously. At length I said,--
"'No, Joseph; I shall do no such thing. I can never be worthy of Margaret; it will be only by fasting and prayer that I can make myself worthy of Flora.'
"'Will you start for Italy in the morning?' he asked, pitilessly.
"'For Italy in the morning?' I groaned. Meet Flora, travel with her, play the hypocrite, with smiles on my lips and hell in my heart,--or thunderstrike her at once with the truth;--what was I to do? To some men the question would, perhaps, have presented few difficulties. But for me, Sir, who am not quite devoid of conscience, whatever you may think,--let me tell you, I'd rather hang by sharp hooks over a roasting fire than be again suspended as I was betwixt two such alternatives, and feel the torture of both!
"Having driven Joseph away, I locked myself into my room, and suffered the torments of the damned in as quiet a manner as possible, until morning. Then Joseph returned, and looked at me with dismay.
"'For Heaven's sake!' he said, 'you ought not to let this thing kill you,--and it will, if you keep on.'
"'So much the better,' I said, 'if it kills nobody but me. But don't be alarmed. Keep perfectly cool, and attend to the commission I am going to trust to you. I can't see Flora this morning; I must gain a little time. Go to the station of the Lyons railway, where I have engaged to meet her party; say to her that I am detained, but that I will join her on the journey. Give her no time to question you, and be sure that she does not stay behind.'
"'I'll manage it,--trust me!' said Joseph. And off he started. At the end of two hours, which seemed twenty, he burst into my room, crying,--
"'Good news! she is gone! I told her you had lost your passport, and would have to get another from our minister.'
"'What!' I exclaimed, 'you lied to her?'
"'Oh! there was no other way!' said Joseph, ingenuously,--'she is so sharp! They're to wait for you at Marseilles. But I'll manage that, too. On their arrival at the Hotel d'Orient, they'll find a telegraphic dispatch from me. I wager a hat, they'll leave in the first steamer for Naples. Then you can follow at your leisure.'
"'Thank you, Joseph.'
"I felt relieved. Then came a reaction. The next day I was attacked by fever. I know not how long I struggled against it, but it mastered me. The last things I remember were the visits of friends, the strange talk of a French physician, whispers and consultations, which I knew were about me, yet took no interest in,--and at length Joseph rushing to my bedside, in a flutter of agitation, and gasping,--
"'What of Flora?' I demanded.
"'I telegraphed, but she wouldn't go; she has come back; she is here!'
"I was sinking back into the stupor from which I had been roused, when I heard a rustling which seemed afar off, yet was in my chamber; then a vision appeared to my sickened sight,--a face which I dimly thought I had seen before,--a flood of curls and a rain of kisses showering upon me,--sobs and devouring caresses,--Flora's voice calling me passionate names; and I lying so passive, faintly struggling to remember, until my soul sank whirling in darkness, and I knew no more.
"One morning, I cannot tell you how long after, I awoke and found myself in a strange-looking room, filled with strange objects, not the least strange of which was the thing that seemed myself. At first I looked with vague and motionless curiosity out of the Lethe from which my mind slowly emerged; painless, and at peace; listlessly questioning whether I was alive or dead,--whether the limp weight lying in bed there was my body,--the meaning of the silence and the closed curtains. Then, with a succession of painful flashes, as if the pole of an electrical battery had been applied to my brain, memory returned,--Margaret, Flora, Paris, delirium. I next remember hearing myself groan aloud,--then seeing Joseph at my side. I tried to speak, but could not. Upon my pillow was a glove, and he placed it against my cheek. An indescribable, excruciating thrill shot through me; still I could not speak. After that, came a relapse. Like Mrs. Browning's poet, I lay
Twixt gloom and gleam, With Death and Life at each extreme.'
"But one morning I was better. I could talk. Joseph bent over me, weeping for joy.
"'The danger is past!' he said. 'The doctors say you will get well!'
"'Have I been so ill, then?'
"'Ill?' echoed Joseph. 'Nobody thought you could live. We all gave you up, except her;--and she'----
"'She!' I said,--'is she here?'
"'From the moment of her arrival,' replied Joseph, 'she has never left you. Oh, if you don't thank God for her,'--he lowered his voice,--'and live all the rest of your life just to reward her, you are the most ungrateful wretch! You would certainly have died but for her. She has scarcely slept, till this morning, when they said you would recover.'
"Joseph paused. Every word he spoke went down like a weight of lead into my soul. I had, indeed, been conscious of a tender hand soothing my pillow, of a lovely form flitting through my dreams, of a breath and magnetic touch of love infusing warm, sweet life into me,--but it had always seemed Margaret, never Flora.
"'The glove?' I asked.
"'Here it is,' said Joseph. 'In your delirium you demanded it; you would not be without it; you caressed it, and addressed to it the tenderest apostrophes.'
"'And Flora,--she heard?'
"'Flora?' repeated Joseph. 'Don't you know--haven't you any idea--what has happened? It has been terrible!'
"'Tell me at once!' I said. 'Keep nothing back!'
"'Immediately on her return from Marseilles,--you remember that?'
"'Yes, yes! go on!'
"'She established herself here. Nobody could come between her and you; and a brave, true girl she proved herself. Oh, but she was wild about you! She offered the doctors extravagant sums--she would have bribed Heaven itself, if she could--not to let you die. But there came a time,--one night, when you were raving about Margaret,--I tell you, it was terrible! She would have the truth, and so I told her,--everything, from the beginning. It makes me shudder now to think of it,--it struck her so like death!'
"'What did she say?--what did she do?'
"'She didn't say much,--"Oh, my God! my God!"--something like that. The next morning she showed me a letter which she had written to Margaret.'
"'To Margaret?' I started up, but fell back again, helpless, with a groan.
"'Yes,' said Joseph,--'and it was a letter worthy of the noblest woman. I wrote another, for I thought Margaret ought to know everything. It might save her life, and yours, too. In the mean time, I had got worse news from her still,--that her health continued to decline, and that her physician saw no hope for her except in a voyage to Italy. But that she resolutely refused to undertake, until she got those letters. You know the rest.'
"'The rest?' I said, as a horrible suspicion flashed upon me. 'You told me something terrible had happened.'
"'Yes,--to Flora. But you have heard the worst. She is gone; she is by this time in Rome.'
"'Flora gone? But you said she was here.'
"'_She?_ So _she_ is! But did you think I meant Flora? I supposed you knew. Not Flora,--but Margaret! Margaret!'
"I shrieked out, 'Margaret?' That's the last I remember,--at least, the last I can tell. She was there,--I was in her arms;--she had crossed the sea, not to save her own life, but mine. And Flora had gone, and my dreams were true; and the breath and magnetic touch of love, which infused warm, sweet life into me, and seemed not Flora's, but Margaret's, were no illusion, and----what more can I tell?
"From the moment of receiving those letters, Margaret's energies were roused, and she had begun to regain her health. There is no such potent medicine as hope and love. It had saved her, and it saved me. My recovery was sure and speedy. The happiness which had seemed too great, too dear to be ever possible, was now mine. She was with me again, all my own! Only the convalescent, who feels the glow of love quicken the pure pulses of returning health, knows what perfect bliss is.
"As soon as I was strong enough to travel, we set out for Italy, the faithful Joseph accompanying us. We enjoyed Florence, its palaces and galleries of art, the quaint old churches, about which the religious sentiment of ages seems to hang like an atmosphere, the morning and evening clamor of musical bells, the Arno, and the olive-crowned Tuscan hills,--all so delightful to the senses and the soul. After Florence, Naples, with its beautiful, dangerous, volcanic environs, where the ancients aptly located their heaven and hell, and where a luxurious, passionate people absorbs into its blood the spirit of the soil, and the fire and languor of the clime. From Naples to Rome, where we saw St Peter's, that bubble on the surface of the globe, which the next earthquake may burst, the Vatican, with its marvels of statuary, the ruined temples of the old gods and heroes, the Campagna, the Pope, and--Flora. We had but a glimpse of her. It was one night, at the Colosseum. We had been musing about that vast and solemn pile by the moonlight, which silvered it over with indescribable beauty, and at last, accompanied by our guides, bearing torches, we ascended through dark and broken passages to the upper benches of the amphitheatre. As we were passing along one side, we saw picturesquely moving through the shadows of the opposite walls, with the immense arena between, the red-flaring torches and half-illuminated figures of another party of visitors. I don't know whether it was instinct, or acuteness of vision, that suggested Flora; but, with a sudden leap of the heart, I felt that she was there. We descended, and passed out under the dark arches of the stupendous ruin. The other visitors walked a little in advance of us,--two of the number lingering behind their companions; and certain words of tenderness and passion we heard, which strangely brought to my mind those nights on the ocean-steamer.
"'What is the matter with you?' said Margaret, looking in my face.
"'Hush!' I whispered,--'there--that woman--is Flora!'
"She clung to me,--I drew her closer, as we paused; and the happy couple went on, over the ancient Forum, by the silent columns of the ruined temples, and disappeared from sight upon the summit of the Capitoline Hill.
"A few months later, we heard of the marriage of Flora to an English baronet; she is now _my Lady_, and I must do her the justice to say that I never knew a woman better fitted to bear that title. As for Margaret,--if you will return with me to my home on the Hudson, after we have finished our hunt after those Western lands, you shall see her, together with the loveliest pair of children that ever made two proud parents happy.
"And here," added Westwood, "we have arrived at the end of our day's journey; we have had the Romance of the Glove, and now—let's have some supper."