Page images
PDF
EPUB

lated avenue, Bergan could not help asking if the trees which had formerly arched and shaded it had been felled on account of decay.

“No," replied the Major, a little gruffly, as if he suspected a latent rebuke in the question ; "but they spoiled twenty or thirty acres of the best corn-land on the plantation, and were very valuable for timber, besides. And, about that time, I was bent on lifting a certain old mortgage off from the place, and getting generally forehanded with the world, at any sacrifice, short of selling land. However," he continued, his face clearing again, "if you will stay here, Harry, you shall replant the avenue, just as soon as you like, if that is your pleasure. The trees will not grow large enough to do much damage, in my time; besides, I can afford the land now—and almost anything else that you may happen to fancy. I have not saved and slaved all these years for nothing ;-you may be certain of that. And, as I've said before, I don't believe in half-way work. If you stay here, it will be as my adopted son ; and I mean to show myself an indulgent father."

A kindlier smile than was often seen on the Major's rugged features, lit up his face as he concluded. Then, suddenly turning to Bergan, and holding out his hand, he asked, in the husky tone of emotion, and with a look of entreaty,

“ Shall we shake hands upon it?”

Bergan was taken by surprise. In grateful recognition of his uncle's manifest kindness of intention, as well as of his unwonted softness of manner, he impul. sively clasped the outstretched hand. At once he became aware that, in so doing, he had appeared to yield an unqualified assent to his uncle's wishes. Hurriedly casting about for inoffensive phraseology wherein to disavow any such intent, it was singularly hard to find. To increase the difficulty, Major Bergan was pouring forth his gratification that the matter was finally settled, in terms of unusual warmth and animation. It was evident, not only that the plan lay nearer to his heart than had hitherto appeared, but that he himself had taken stronger hold of his uncle's affections than he had imagined.

In fact, Bergan had come to the Major just at the auspicious moment when, having measurably accomplished the object which had absorbed all his thoughts and energies for many years, he was looking around him for something to fill its place in his life, and beginning vaguely to discern that his heart was empty, and his future aimless. The old family home was not the only thing that he had left to go drearily to ruin, while pursuing his own selfish ends in his own unscrupulous way.

Beholding, at this moment, a frank, brave, handsome youth by his side, full of talent and of promise, and singularly attractive in manner,-in whose veins, too, ran some of the same blood that filled his own, and whose features were moulded after the best ancestral type,-his dormant affections quickly awakened to fasten themselves pertinaciously around the timely object. His thoughts began industriously to shape out for himself a new future, which

should embrace, as a setting, its appropriate jewel, a brilliant and prosperous career for this young hope of his house. The unsuspected strength of these feelings now made itself clearly visible, both in the hearty grasp which he gave his nephew's hand, and in a sudden affectionateness of eyes, mouth, voice, gesture, and every indescribable manifestation, that Bergan had never seen in him before. Naturally enough, the young man shrank from the utterance of words certain to drive back on itself this outgush of the inestimable tenderness of a stern nature, to bring back the old sharpness and severity to eyes that now lay so soft and deep under their shaggy brows.

Moreover, he felt that his own resolution was wavering. Bergan Hall had grown strangely dear to him during his solitary occupation of its silent, but suggestive precincts. He might have been proof against every temptation that it could have offered in its grandeur and its prosperity ; but in its loneliness and decay there was a pathetic appeal to much that was best and noblest in bis nature. To this influence, a stronger one, even, was now added. Seeing the strength of his uncle's new-born affection, and its softening effect upon his face and mannes, Bergan began to question within himself whether a still better and nobler work than the restoration of the ancestral home, might not here call for his hand-even the restoration of a human life. Those woeful habits of intoxication and profanity, far worse than the dry-rot that gnawed at the timbers of the old Hall; that roughness and sordidness which had gathered over the once promising character, far sadder to behold than the mould and the dust that dimmed the ancestral grandeur ;-were there not moral instruments available for the cure of the one, as there were artisan's tools able to remove all traces of the other.

To young minds there is always a strong fascination in the prospect of exerting a good influence upon others. Older heads-seeing how little is often effected by the best and most persistent endeavours, and sadly cognizant of the fact that influences are received as well as exerted (a long deterioration in one's self being sometimes the price of a little, brief improvement in another)—are not so ready to take upon themselves the responsibility of acting upon any human soul, nor so sanguine of success. But Bergan had none of this late wisdom,—if wisdom it be. Through his quiet character there ran the noble vein of a noble enthusaism. He believed that it was his part and duty to make the world better for having lived therein. Still susceptible to influences himself, he had no conception of the iron bands, the indestructible tendencies of evil habits indulged for years. He stood ready, at any time, and anywhere, to throw himself into the long conflict between Right and Wrong, and doubted not that the issue of the fray would turn upon his single sword.

Half-buried in thought, half-listening to his uncle's talk, he rode mechanically onward. On one side of his path, flowed the smooth, shining waters of the creek; on the other ran the Bergan estate, with its odd aspect of mingled thrift and neglect. He had often wondered at They now reached the village. As they rode through its principal street, which was wide and handsomely shaded, the Major pointed to one and another of the houses along its sides, and quietly named men and women that had occupied them in years agone ; either forgetting, or unaware, that most of them were now tenanting that one earthly house of whose narrow accommodations every mortal must needs have some experience,-namely, the grave.

Bergan, meanwhile, felt himself quite at home among names so often heard from his mother's lips; and momentarily expected that his uncle would stop at some one of these friendly dwellings, for the renewal of his own acquaintance, and the introduction of his nephew. But to his extreme surprise, the Major rode straight through the village, and dismounted before a tavern, at its extreme end.

VII.

A Bitter Draught.

the singular blending, in his uncle's character, of the stardy English energy inherited from that indefatigable Briton, Sir Harry, with the indiffereuce and impromptitude induced by the climate. It was especially curious to note how these diverse qualities displayed themselves in different directions. With human beings, his labourers and dependents, and even with his animals, he was prompt, energetic, and exacting, accepting no excuses, and showing no indulgence; with inanimate things, he was often careless, negligent, and unobservant. On this portion of the estate, which seemed but little cultivated, fences were down or dilapidated, gates swung unwillingly on their hinges, and outbuildings seemed ready to fall with their own weight.

Soon, too, these things were made more noticeable by contrast, as a long line of neatly-kept grounds and well ordered fences came into view. Shortly after, a pleasant cottage, amply provided with broad, cool, vine-draped piazzas, appeared on the right ; standing a little apart from the road, in the midst of a group of live-oak trees scarcely less grand and venerable than those which flung their heavy shadow over Bergan Hall. At sight of it, the Major's face grew dark again ; especially as Bergan, pleased with its neat and cheerful aspect, turned to give it a second look.

"Yes," he burst forth bitterly, with a fearful oath, " that is where my brother, the hardware merchant, lives ! I tell you what, Harry, the very first thing that you are to do, as soon as you get a chance (if I don't live to do it myself), is to buy out his heirs, and raze that impertinent shanty to the ground. Just recollect that, will you? if I should happen to forget to put it in my will."

Bergan forbore to reply. He was learning that it was his wisest course—at least, so he thought-to take no notice of his uncle's bitter wrath and prejudice, since he could not sympathize with them. If his growing wish to possess Bergan Hall lay at the bottom of this silence, he was as yet unconscious of it.

His uncle,-accepting his forbearance as a sign of acquiescence to his wishes,-now, for the first time,' really exerted himself for his entertainment. He talked with vivacity, humour, intelligence, and much of the tone and manner of his earlier days. . His better self revived, for a time ; and Bergan recognized something of the refined, cultured, accomplished gentleman, of his mother's descriptions, whose lightsome flow of spirits, gay sparkle of wit, and frank, cordial address, had made him the life and soul of the circle wherein he moved. It was mournful to see him under this pleasant transformation, and think of him in his usual aspect. Bergan could not but wonder how he had ever fallen to that lower level. He had not seen the easy descent from gaiety to dissipation of his younger days; nor could he understand how naturally, with years, drinking in frivolous companionship had been exchanged for drioking alone, lavishness for parsimony, the

gay, aimless life of a man of the world, for the steady, energetic pursuit of one selfish, isolated, exclusive object.

It needed but a glance to show Bergan that the tavern was of the lower sort. It was dingy and dilapidated without, and from its open windows were wafted sounds of hoarse voices, shouts of laughter, the jingling of glasses, and a strong odour of tobacco, betokening a corresponding amount of moral dinginess and dilapidation within. Bergan turned to his uncle with a disgust that he hardly attempted to conceal,—the natural disgust of a healthy body and mind for things coarse, foul, noisy, and vulgar,-and inquired,

“Do you intend to stop here long ?”

“Quite long enough for you to get off and stretch yourself,” replied the Major, carelessly. “This is an old halting-place of mine, and looks as natural as possible, though it is a year or more since I have set eyes on it. No doubt I shall find some old acquaintances here. Come! don't sit there gaping at the outside, like a man trying to guess at the purport of a letter from the looks of the envelope, when the inside would tell him what he wants to know, in a jiffey ; get off your borse, and come in.”

Bergan obeyed, but with a manifest reluctance that brought a cloud to the Major's brow. Muttering something between his teeth, which had the tone and bitterness of a curse, but was unintelligible, the latter led the way to the bar-room.

Several varities of the genus loafer, both of the gen. teel and vulgar species, were leaning over the counter, or seated in tilted-up chairs, puffing out tobacco smoke, and discussing matters of local interest. The appearance of the Major was greeted with enthusiasm,-all the more, that his first words, after a "How d'y" of very general application, were an order to the landlord to make a stift bowl of punch, on a scale commensurate with the numbers of the party

“This is my nephew, gentlemen," he went on, addressing the delighted audience,-“ Harry Bergan Arling, as he now calls himself, or Harry Bergan, of Bergan Hall, as he is to be, in good time,-a real chip of the old family block, as you can see at a glance. I expect that you will all do me the honour of drinking his health in a bowl of the best punch that Gregg can concoct. Hurry up, Gregg! you know how I like it, -not too strongly flavoured with our two days' drizzle ;-was there ever a nastier spell of weather?”

“Never knew the sky so leaky in all my life,” responded a languid loafer of the genteeler sort, too lazy to furnish his sentences with nominatives. “Begun to think, with Father Miller, 'twas getting worn out."

“ It will last our time, I reckon,” returned the Major. “And after us the deluge,' of course. I would not mind taking a swim in it myself, if it were of punch such as Gregg, there, is mixing. It looks like the real thing! Now, gentlemen, step forward and take your glasses. Here's to the health of my nephew,--Harry Bergan,--and may he'unite in his single person all the virtues of all the Harrys of the line, from Sir Harry down ;---yes, and all the vices, too, they are good Bergan stock, every one of them!”

A toast so perfectly in harmony with the corrupt atmosphere of the bar-room could but be received and drunk with acclamation. Bergan, perforce, lifted his glass to his lips, but the fiery draught, prepared with a single eye to the requirements of his uncle's sophisticated palate, was so little suited to his own purer taste, that he set it down with its contents very little diminished. Observing this, Major Bergan's face grew dark.

“That will never do, Harry," he growled, aside. “Don't disgrace me here, whatever you may do at home! I insist upon your emptying your glass like a man, and doing your part towards making things pleasant. Now then, gentlemen," he continued, aloud,“ be pleased to make ready for toast the second. We will drink success to my nephew's future proprietorship of Bergan Hall ;may it come late, and last long!”

The cords of conventionalism-even the conventionalism of a bar-room—are strong ; and Bergan was somewhat young for complete independence of character. Nevertheless, he was quite capable of turning his back on the whole company of tipplers, both genteel and valgar, indifferent alike to their wonder, censure, or scorn, had it not been for his uncle; whose wishes, in his double character of host and relative, seemed entitled to some degree of respect. Yet both instinct and principle revolted from the certain intoxication of the distasteful glass in his hand. By a quick and dexterous motion he sent half its contents flying out of the window near which he stood, and supplied their place with water from a convenient pitcher. Flattering himself that he done this unobserved, he tried to swallow his disgust at the place and

the companionship in which he found himself with the diluted draught.

“That's pretty fair stuff," said the Major, setting down his empty glass; "it has just about the right snap in it. Is there enough for another round, Gregg?"

“ Plenty, sir, and another one on the end of that. I knew you didn't like to see the bottom of the bowl in a hurry, Major."

“You are another Solon, Gregg. Your wisdom is only to be equalled by your disinterestedness. Come, gentlemen, fill your glasses again! Harry, is your glass filled ?"

As he spoke, the Major drew near, and fixed a keen eye on Bergan's glass, in a way which led the latter to suspect that his latc maneuvre had not been so successful as he had imagined. At any rate, it would not be easy to repeat it. Well, what matter? He had submitted to his uncle's tyranny long enough ; he might as well free himself first as last. He would try to do so in the way least likely to give offence.

“Uncle," he pleaded, with a graceful frankness and courtesy that could scarcely have failed to reach the Major's better self, if it had been less under the vitiating influence of strong drink, “uncle, I really must beg your kind indulgence. I am not accustomed to potations so many nor so strong; and whatever I may be able to do, in time, under your skilful guidance, I must now use a little discretion. Pray excuse me from taking any more at present."

“I'll be hanged if I do!” said the Major, bluntly. "If you don't know how to drink like a gentleman and a Bergan, it is high time you should learn. Fill up his glass, Gregg! he shall drink!”

Scarcely were the insulting words spoken ere Bergan felt, with a thrill of dismay, a hot tingling sensation in all his veins, as if the blood in them had suddenly been turned to fire. Too well he knew what it meant. The “ black Bergan temper," which had been the one great sorrow and struggle of his life, thus far, and which he had believed to be completely tamed, was stirring within him in a way to show that, if it were not instantly controlled, it would carry him, in its headlong fury, he knew not whither. Every other feeling, every other thought, were, for the moment, swallowed up in the instinct of self-preservation. He would submit to his uncle's imperious dictation, not that he either prized his love or feared his anger, but because that treacherous demon within must at once feel a firm foot upon its neck, and be shown that it could expect no indulgence, and no quarter.

At this moment, there was a slight bustle at the door, occasioned by an arrival; under cover of which he again turned to the friendly water pitcher, to make sure that, while fleeing from one fatal influence he was not running blindly into the leashes of another.

Dimidium plus toto, I see,” observed a well-remembered voice at his elbow, in a tone of good-natured

sar

casm. “But you make a slight mistake in your practical translation ; it is a 'half,' not a quarter (or I might say, an eighth) which is better than the whole.' And anyway, I doubt if old Hesiod meant his maxim to apply to

punch."

Glad of anything that promised to create a diversion, Bergan turned and gave the hand of Richard Causton a much more cordial grasp than he would have been likely to do under other circumstances. The old man, better accustomed to the cold shoulder from all reputable acquaintance, returned it with tears in his blear eyes, and for once, had no proverb at command wherein to do justice to his feelings. Before he could find one, Major Bergan came up, with a sly gleam of humour, or of mischief, on his face.

“What! you know Harry?" he exclaimed. “Oh, yes; I remember-you helped him on his way to Bergan Hall. So much the better. You will be glad to know that it was my nephew to whom you showed that courtesy, and to drink to your better acquaintance. All ready?”

Bergan turned round for his glass, which he had left standing on the window-sill, and, the sooner to be done with the distasteful business, swallowed at a gulp what, it seemed to him, the next moment, must have been liquid fire. A loud laugh from his uncle told him to whom he was indebted for the substitution of raw spirit for weak punch. The passion which he had so promptly smothered, doubly inflamed by the consciousness of being betrayed, and the instantaneous action of the potent draught, blazed up with sudden, ungovernable fury. Feeling that he was losing control of temper and reason together, he rushed toward the door. At a sign from the Major, two or three of the bystanders threw themselves in his way. They were instantly sent reeling right and left by two powerful blows. Dick Causton, catching hold of him with the friendly design of preventing him from doing more mischief and provoking more enmity, was shaken off with a violence that threw him into a disordered heap on the floor ; over which Bergan strode wrathfully towards his uncle, who had planted himself in the doorway. The spectators held their breath to witness the expected encounter between uncle and nephewBergan against Bergan, the blood of both up, the hereditary frenzy blazing in each pair of dark eyes.

But Bergan was not quite so mad as that. Seeing who it was that impeded his way, he turned and darted through a window close at hand, jumped over the piazza railing, sprang upon his horse, and was off before the bystanders had well recovered their breath, or Dick had picked himself up, with the caustic observation

Perit quod facis ingratoSave a thief from hanging, and he will cut your throat.'”

Poor Vic! never in all her life had she been urged to such mad and merciless speed as on that ill-starred day. Protesting, at first, by various plunges and rearings, she finally fell in with her master's wild humour, and sped through the village at a pace that sent the foot-passengers

to the fences in terror, and crowded the doors and windows with wondering gazers. Whether he were fleeing from destruction, or riding straight to it, was no affair of hers; in either case, she would do her best to meet his wishes. The village was quickly left behind ; house after house, and field after field, slid by in a swift panorama ; already they were turning the corner, toward the Hall, when Bergan's scattered senses were suddenly recalled by a stern “Hallo! what are you about!" mingled with a faint cry of alarm. To his horror, he saw himself to be on the point of riding down a young lady equestrian, who was on her way to the village, accompanied by her father. There was not an instant to lose, not a moment for reflection; the heads of the two horses were almost in contact. Putting his whole strength into one sudden, ill-considered jerk, Vic was thrown back on her haunches, and he and she rolled over in the mud together.

Fortunately, neither was much hurt, and both sprang to their feet considerably sobered by the shock. Bergan was deeply humiliated, also ; he would gladly have compounded with his mortification for almost any amount of physical pain. No bodily injury could have made him writhe with so sharp a pang, as the conviction that he had flawed his claim to the title of gentleman. To have nearly ridden over a lady, in a blind frenzy of rage and semiintoxication, was a disgrace that he could never forget. He would gladly have buried himself in the mud with which he was already tolerably well coated. Since he could not do that, he took off his hat to the horsemanhe dared neither address nor look at the lady-and said, in a tone that trembled with shame and regret,

“I beg your pardon, sir.”

“You would have done better to look where you were going,” replied the gentleman, with the unreasoning anger that often follows upon the reaction from fear and anxiety. “No thanks to you that my daughter is not maimed or killed !”.

“I think you mistake, father," quickly interposed the young lady, in a low, sweet voice, tremulous from the recent shock to her nerves; “ did you not see how promptly the gentleman sacrificed himself to save me, as soon as he saw the danger ? I hope you are not hurt, sir,” she added, courteously, turning to Bergan.

“Thank you ; not half so much as I deserve to be,” replied he, only the more remorseful on account of che delicate consideration that she showed for him, while her cheek was still blanched, and her lips trembling, at her own narrow escape from danger caused by his rashness. And, feeling wholly unworthy to say another word to anything so pure and sweet, so utterly incompatible with the vile place and scene which he had just quitted, he stood aside, with uncovered head, to let her pass.

Apparently, she would have lingered long enough to make sure that he was really uninjured; but her father who had been eyeing him keenly, hurried her away. “Do you not see," he inquired, sharply, as they rode on, “that the fellow is drunk?"

“ Impossible, father! He had such a fine, noble which had momentarily been overcome by the excitement countenance!”

of his late adventure, now made itself felt again. As he It will not be noble long," replied the father. rode along, his head began to swim ; a deadly nausea “ Neither will it be the first noble countenance that has seized him; bis limbs seemed paralyzed. Arrived within been spoiled by drunkenness," he added, with a sigh. the gates of his uncle's domain, he suffered himself to

Left alone, Bergan remounted Vic, though not without slide slowly from the saddle to the ground; and almost difficulty. The bewildering effect of his potent draught, immediately, consciousness forsook him.

LETTERS ON POLITENESS AND ETIQUETTE.-III.

VISITS
ISITS between intimate friends are paid in a morn-

ing, before the others. For these, there is no etiquette to prescribe. Nevertheless, there are delicate points, even in friendship. You understand and feel them yourselves. With your friends, never repeat gossip, it not only shows a want of heart and mind, but a great want of education. Other people's business is no concern of yours, unless you can render them a service. You have enough of your own, and more than enough to do well.

The best way to be beloved is to be kindhearted. Kindheartedness is always graceful, and what is more charming than grace? Besides, it is so difficult to have a right judgment in what is imperfectly known. To judge people well, you must look at things from their point of view, and not from your own. You must know as well as they do their position. You must understand their sentiments, their weaknesses, their passions. You must suffer and desire in the same way as they do. You must have their remembrances and their hopes, or you may often condemn when perhaps they are in the right, and excuse when there is something to blame. You cannot measure others by your own size, each one is different and everything is relative. Such a fault is very great for you, and very venial for your neighbours. It depends on the degree of intelligence and development they have reached. It depends upon their heart, and very often upon their circumstances. This digression does not take us away from our subject. It is a want of education to speak at random. Moderation in speech is one of the most positive marks of good breeding, and is unfortunately

If young girls are not reserved and pretend to know everything, before having had any experience, they will pay dearly for it some day, and will be forced to acknowledge that they have only acquired experience at their own expense.

Later in the morning come the ceremonious calls. It may happen that several callers come at the same time, and that they are unacquainted with each other. Here your rôle becomes delicate. While you are talking with these, the others are looking at each other. Make the conversation general, so that all may be interested.

After some words exchanged with each new comer, introduce them to the conversation as well as to the people

, in order that all may take part in it.

You must rise to receive those who come to visit you; for a young gentleman you do not quite rise, but for an elderly gentleman you leave your seat without moving from the place. You go to meet a lady, the distance to be regulated by the degree of intimacy that exists between you, according to her age, rank, and the consideration she enjoys. When your visitors go, you only accompany ladies, and then only to your drawing-room door, because it is very rude to leave your visitors for an instant. Take care when you are at the door, not to shut it too quickly, and to do it very quietly.

When you invite people to dinner, the first thing to think about is, whom to invite. Take care to invite those who will like being together. They ought to know each other well enough to be at their ease in each other's society.

The invitations for a dinner party are issued in the name of the gentleman and lady a fortnight or three weeks beforehand. They should be answered immediately, and, if accepted, the engagement should on note but very grave reasons be broken. This is a very strict rule with regard to dinner parties; as it will easily be seen that the non-arrival of an expected guest will cause confusion and disarrangement of plans. The dinner hour is from seven to eight.

To return to whom you should invite : take care that all the talkative people are not invited at the same time. One good talker should, if possible, be secured, that he will amuse those many people whose minds are idle. If you get a celebrity of any kind to dine with you,

do not seem to expect that he should show off to your other guests.

A Frenchwoman once asked Alexander Dumas fils to dinner, and he was placed next to an artillery officer. He was very quiet, much to the annoyance of his hostess, who at last threw him a look which meant " When are you going to begin?” He answered her by pointing to his next neighbour, and saying, “When this gentleman lets off a cannon, I will begin to talk in verse."

rare.

« PreviousContinue »