« PreviousContinue »
HOLDEN WITH THE CORDS.
PLAINLY, Mrs. Bergan had something on her mind,
that bright spring morning. Though she poured her husband's second cup of coffee with a deliberation that seemed to promise much for its flavour, he was fain to send it back, after tasting it, with the explanatory remark :
“You have forgotten to smile into it, my dear; it is not sweet enough."
“Eh !” exclaimed Mrs. Bergan, absently, extending her hand toward the cream pitcher.
“I doubt if cream will mend the matter much," observed Mr. Bergan, gravely. “A lump of sugar might do, if the smile be absolutely non est.”
Mrs. Bergan's mind having by this time returned to the business in hand, both sugar and smile were immediately forthcoming, in sufficient measure to threaten the coffee with excess of sweets. Nevertheless, she continued to have fits of abstraction, at short intervals, until the breakfast things had been removed, and Carice had quitted the room. Then, she turned to her husband with a serious face.
“I really think, Godfrey," she began," that we owe your nephew some attention."
“Of what kind, pray ?" inquired Mr. Bergan, in considerable surprise.
“Well, it seems to me that we ought-once, at least, to invite him formally to dinner."
“ Pray, what has he been doing, to place us under such an obligation ?” asked Mr. Bergan, somewhat drily.
Mrs. Bergan coloured slightly. “I am afraid that we made a mistake at the outset," said she. the attention was due to him then as much as now.”
“I thought we agreed that the less Carice saw of him the better,” replied Mr. Bergan.
“Yes, I know. But that was because we believed him to be of intemperate habits."
Men of Godfrey Bergan's thoughtful and deliberate character, when they adopt a mistaken opinion, are wont to wedge it in so firmly among things undeniably true and just, that to dislodge it is like tearing up an oak which has rooted itself in a rock cleft. “I wish I were certain that he is not,” he answered, with a slow, grave shake of the head.
Mrs. Bergan gave him a surprised look. “I don't see why you should doubt him,” said she.
“Everybody agrees that a more correct young man does not exist. He is always to be found in his office during office hours, attends church regularly on Sundays, as well as at most of
the occasional services, goes into but little society, and that of the very best ; what more would you have ?'
“Nothing," replied her husband, “except the certainty that it will last. A drunkard's reform is so rarely a permanent thing, that one is justified in distrusting it. Though he may keep as sober as a Carthusian monk for a few months, or even for a year or two, his unhappy appetite is only a caged lion: in the first unguarded moment, it is certain to break out, and to sweep everything before it-resolution, hope, energy, and promise. Unfortunately for my nephew, perhaps, but very fortunately for ourselves, I fancy, I happen to retain a distinct recollection of my first meeting with him.”
“But," urged Mrs. Bergan, “I thought Carice told you what your
brother Harry said about that matter.” “With all due respect for my brother Harry," returned her husband, coolly, “I don't consider his testimony, in this matter, to be worth much. Intemperance is, in his estimation, so very venial a sin—not to say, so very Berganly a virtue—that he would be sure to extenuate it, if he could."
“ He would never say what was not true,” affirmed Mrs. Bergan, decidedly.
“No, but he would look at the affair from his own point of view, and speak accordingly.”
“But your nephew left him on account of that very affair," persisted Mrs. Bergan, and has refused to have anything to do with him since, even with Bergan Hall held out to him as a bait.”
“In which," rejoined Mr. Bergan, composedly, "he shows that he has more of the hereditary temper than is good for him, or any one connected with him. It is the same trait that has made Harry so bitter against us, all these years. And one feud in the family was enoughand too much.”
Mrs. Bergan began to look annoyed. While she admitted the general truth of her husband's observations, she had an intuitive conviction of their present misapplication. Her womanly instincts were all in Bergan's favour. But that, she knew, was no ground of effective argument.
Her husband looked at her clouded face, for a moment, and then went to her side.
- Confess now, Clarissa," said he, pleasantly, laying his hand on her shoulder, " that our nephew's claims upon our attention would never have presented themselves so strongly to your mind, were it not for his late brilliant hit in the court room, and the sudden admiration and popularity which it has won him."
« Of course,
may never think of each other in the way that we are contemplating. And, after all, I think we might trust our daughter ; she has never shown herself silly or wilful; she is not likely to despise our judgment, or disregard our wishes."
“All the more reason why we should do our whole duty by her," rejoined Mr. Bergan, “in the way of prevention as well as cure. In such matters, parental commands generally come too late to forestall mischief; the most that they do is to prevent it from going any farther." “True,” replied Mrs. Bergan, quietly.
" And I confess that I might have been more puzzled what to do, if,”—Mrs. Bergan made a slight pause, to give her words the greater effect (like a wise woman, she had kept her strongest argument until the last),—“if I were not tolerably certain that he is already engaged-or, at least, likely to become so-to Astra Lyte."
“ That alters the case, indeed," said Mr. Bergan, thoughtfully. “But what reason have you for thinking
A slight flush showed on Mrs. Bergan's cheek; nevertheless, she met her husband's eyes frankly. “I acknowledge that those things had their effect in making me ashamed of myself,” she answered. “But, all the time, I have had an uneasy feeling that we were not doing our duty by your sister's son. Surely, we ought to have been the
very last persons to have listened to, and acted upon, a rumour unfavourable to him; or, if it were certain that he had made a false step, we should have been ready with our influence and countenance, to help him to retrieve himself.”
“You forget, my dear,” said Mr. Bergan, gently, “that it was for Carice's sake. We were thinking only of her.”
“Don't you see," returned Mrs. Bergan, seriously, that if ever Carice is to become over-interested in Bergan, now is the time-now that he is presented to her imagination in the attractive light of a long neglected and misunderstood, but patient, persevering, and, finally, all-conquering hero?”
Mr. Bergan looked as if he did see-several things. “Is that the reason why you propose to throw them together?” he asked, drily.
Certainly,” replied Mrs. Bergan, with perfect composure. “ The first thing is to destroy the halo with which he is now surrounded, by bringing him into the disenchanting daylight of commonplace, everyday association. Next, we must rob him of the crown of martyrdom, so far as we are concerned, by frankly confessing that we were a little too severe upon him at first, and by doing full justice to his talents in a matter-of-fact way. Finally, we must make the most of the relationship.”
“You may be right,” said Mr. Bergan, after some moments of deep thought. “Though, at fight sight, it looks very much like jumping into the river, to avoid the rain.”
“My dear," replied Mrs. Bergan, earnestly, “ we cannot keep them apart, if we would, as matters are now turning. Twice already, we have met him at dinner parties, where he is the lion of the hour, and everybody makes much of him but ourselves; and we shall continue to do so until the round is finished. It must be confessed that he wears his honours modestly; at times, I cannot help feeling proud of him myself."
“I never doubted his ability, nor overlooked his pleasing manners," said Mr. Bergan. “ But what are they but gems on a poisoned cup, if the virus of intemperance be in his blood, or his principles be unsound?”
“The latter can hardly be the case,” remarked Mrs. Bergan, “if the report be true that he refuses to have anything to do with a cause that he does not believe to be just. That seems to argue uncommon strength of principles. At all events, if he gets to visit here frequently and familiarly, we shall have an opportunity of seeing for ourselves what his character really is. He may prove to be everything that is safe and admirable; or he and Carice
“Miss Ferrars was here last evening, and she told me-in confidence, you know that she had no doubt of it whatever. Her window overlooks Astra's studio, and she says that she often sees him there, helping Astra about her work, or watching her with the most absorbing interest, or talking to her with a very tell-tale earnestness.”
“ It would hardly be received as evidence in a court of justice," said Mr. Bergan, smiling, “though it sounds suggestive. But Miss Ferrars is given to gossip—' in confidence,' as you say."
His wife laughed. “Of course she is; else I should never have heard of this pleasant probability. For both pleasant and probable it certainly is. Astra is turning out a wonderfully fine, talented girl; and she and Mrs. Lyte have been Bergan's fast friends and defenders all along. How can he show his gratitude more gracefully than by marrying her?”
“Does Carice know of this ? asked Mr. Bergan, after a moment.
“Yes; Miss Ferrars told me in her presence, and greatly shocked her by doing so.
She thinks it wrong to connect names so carelessly."
“She is right,” said Mr. Bergan, emphatically.
“At the same time," continued Mrs. Bergan," she remarked that it would be a very nice thing, if it were only true. And afterward she said that she would like to renew her acquaintance with Astra ;-you remember that the two were very good child-friends, though circumstances have kept them apart of late,-as they have their mothers! I really feel guilty when I think how fond I used to be of Catherine Lyte, and how I have allowed her to slip out of my life. But then we were both invalids for many years, with scarce strength enough for home cares, and not a jot for friendship or society. Still
, I have all my old regard for her carefully baried in my seclusion that had slowly been transformed, for her as for most invalids, from a grievous necessity into a calm pleasantness.
Thus far Mrs. Bergan was successful. But she missed seeing either Astra or Bergan; both happened to be out on their respective ways. As regarded the former, it did not much matter; but she was sorry not to see Bergan, and utter the few graceful words of apology for the past as well as of promise for the future, wherewith she had intended to preface her invitation to dinner, and inaugurate her new policy. As it was, she could only leave a pencilled note of invitation on his desk, and reserve her explanation for a personal interview. Then she went back to the studio, where she admired everything cordially, and with wonderful impartiality. Carice, meanwhile, was hanging over the winged cherub, with a deep, silent delight that went to Mrs. Lyte's heart.
“ You will take such pleasure in meeting her again!" she said to Astra, when she came in, a few moments after the visitors had gone. “ She is just the friend that
heart, like the talent in the parable; intact, if not in a way to increase. One of these days I mean to dig it up, and go with Carice to pay her a visit, and take a look at the wonders of Astra's studio.”
“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr. Bergan. “Well! I suppose the conclusion of the whole matter is, that we are to give Bergan a dinner, and the freedom of the house."
“Precisely,” replied Mrs. Bergan, nodding her head. “And now I want to consult you about the invitation list."
Mr. Bergan rose hastily. “I am quite content to leave that to you, my dear.”
His wife caught his arm. “You are not going to shirk the responsibility in that way,” she said, decidedly. "I really want your advice. Am Ito ask Doctor Remy?”
“I cannot see what you have against him, unless it be that he was not born in the county, and you don't know his whole pedigree."
Mrs. Bergan did not answer. She knew her dislike to be a case of spontaneous generation, and not at all qualified to give a lucid account of itself.
" Besides," continued her husband," he is Bergan's particular friend.”
“Is he?” asked Mrs. Bergan, innocently. “I did not know that he was anybody's friend.”
Clarissa !” exclaimed Mr. Bergan, rebukingly. “I never heard Doctor Remy speak ill of anybody, in all my acquaintance with him."
“ Did you ever hear him speak well of anybody ?" responded Mrs. Bergan," well enough, that is, to give you new interest, faith, delight in the person of whom he spoke ? On the contrary, does he not somehow manage to chill what have?”
“I cannot say that he talks of his friends with the warm effusion of a woman,” answered Mr. Bergan, sarcastically.
“But only with the cold malice of a man,” retorted Mrs. Bergan. "There ! a truce! He shall come, if only to prove what I have said. Next, I want to invite Mrs. Lyte and Astra."
“And Mr. Islay, and Judge and Mrs. Morris, and
“You have seven already," interrupted Mr. Bergan, “making ten with ourselves, which I hold to be the magic number for a dinner party. If you want to invite anybody else, better wait till another time.”
Mrs. Bergan was wise enough to be the bearer of her own invitation to Mrs. Lyte, else it would scarcely have been accepted. The latter had lost the taste for society with the habit of it; nothing short of the personal solicitation of her old friend, now asking it as a favour to herself, and now urging it for Astra's sake, would have induced her to give up, even for a few hours, the
“I am not so
returned Astra, wilfully. “I sometimes catch a glimpse of her at church, and she looks a great deal too soft, and dainty, and delicate for a friend. If I were a Roman Catholic, I might set her up in a corner, and worship her as a madonna or a saint; but, being a Protestant, I really don't see that I haye any
need of her, or she, indeed, of me!” Mrs. Lyte shook her head in mild reproof. “You do say such strange things, Astra," said she, "things so liable to be misunderstood."
“ You do not misunderstand them, mamma,” returned Astra, fondly.
"No, but Mr. Arling might."
Astra turned in surprise, and met Bergan's quiet smile. He had come in just behind her, and had heard almost the whole.
“I think not,” said Astra, coolly. “Mr. Arling is pretty well used to my ways by this time. We were speaking," she continued, “ of that ineffable combination of snow and sunshine, lily and rose, saint and angel, known among mortals by the name of Carice Bergan. Can you even imagine being on familiar terms with her ? Or would you if you could ? Does she not seem fitter for a pedestal or a shrine-some place a little above or remote from life's ordinary round ? "
“She does, indeed,” replied Bergan, earnestly. “There is a half-unearthly purity about her, that keeps even one's thoughts at a reverent distance. Snow and sunshine ! yes, she has something of both, a kind of soft, white chill, interfused with a rich brightness, half-golden, halfroseate; but it is impossible to put the idea into words!”
And Bergan turned, musingly, towards his office door.
Astra looked after him for a moment, and then glanced smilingly at her mother.
“Fortunately, there are such things as household divinities," said she.
“Eh?” said Mrs. Lyte, wonderingly. But Astra did not explain.
Bergan there. Remembering Miss Ferrars' statement, and giving it more credit than she was really aware of, she wondered, sometimes, that she could detect no sign of a secret or tacit understanding between him and Astra. Their manner to each other was most frank and kind, but it seemed totally devoid of any lover-like quality. She finally settled it in her mind that no engagement existed as yet; but she also decided that, inasmuch as they were admirably fitted for each other, it was sure to come in good time. Nothing better, she thought, in her innocent heart, could well be devised for either.
Astra, meanwhile, was watching Bergan and Carice with as warm an interest and a far more penetrating glance, and often she smiled to herself over the discoveries that she made. To her they appeared to be drifting as surely, if unconsciously, down the smooth, gliding current of love as could be desired. She was glad to have it so. She believed them to be true counterparts, needing each to be completed by the other. Bergan had strength, nobleness, enthusiasm ; Carice had sweetness, purity, repose; how beautiful and fit the union, how symmetrical the result !
There was genuine artistic joy in the thought.
And then, all at once, she forgot to watch them. Suddenly or gradually, she knew not which, a magical change had been wrought in her surroundings; old things had vanished, all things had become new. A new sky, a new earth-stars and cloud - shapes of bewitching vagueness and softness-scenery of wondrous colouring and surpassing loveliness-lights that were tenderer than any shadows, and shadows that were only subdued lights; of what were these things the signs? Had she also been drifting, and whither?
Late wisdom is apt to taste of the flower of folly whence it is distilled. So, at least, thought Mrs. Bergan, when, months afterward, she looked back upon her dinner-party, and seemed to see in it the beginning of trouble. But it is probable that nothing which she could have done, or left undone, would have availed to alter the natural, irresistible course of events. At the most, she may have hastened its current a little. Her dinnerparty only furnished a convenient point of meeting for lives inevitably tending toward each other, for influences long converging, and certain to meet at last, in clash or harmony. Without it, there must needs have been a swift birth of friendship between Carice and Astra at their next meeting, which meeting could not have been much longer deferred. Without it, Doctor Remy would assiduously have spun his web for self-advantage, fastening his threads indifferently to whatever or whomsoever seemed to promise the best support, and quickly unfastening them whenever a prop failed him. Without it, the hearts of Bergan and Carice would sooner or later have inclined toward each other, by reason of an instinct truer and surer than maternal foresight or forestalling.
The dinner was, per se, a success. The table was elegant with glass, silver, and flowers; the viands were the creation of one of those round, greasy Africanesses, who are born to the gridiron not less indubitably than a poet to the lyre, and white-haired old Sancho waited with a blending of obsequiousness and pomposity wonderful to behold. There were neither culinary failures to harrow the soul of the hostess, nor glass fractures or saucespillings to disconcert her guests.
As has been already hinted, the more immediate and visible result of the dinner-parry at Oakstead, was a swift budding and blossoming of friendship between Carice and Astra. Despite the playful disclaimer of the latter, when the probability of such a consummation had been mentioned by her mother, no sooner did the two girls meet face to face, the grey eyes and the blue ones looking straight into each other's depths, than there was an instant, unlooked-for revival of their childish affection and onfidence, quickly informed by a deeper sympathy and fuller comprehension. It was much like sistersunavoidably separated for years, but in whom the instinct of kinship cannot be lost—that they sat talking together, in a twilight corner of the parlour, until the gentlemen came from the dining-room.
As a natural consequence of this friendship, Carice came often to Astra's studio. Not infrequently she met
1.-UNFOLDINGS. SPRING was abroad in the land. No one could tell just when she had stolen into the woods and gardens, and began her pleasant labours, but there was no question about the fact of her presence and industry. Everywhere there were the tender green of newborn foliage, and the varied odours of opening buds and blassoms. The new leaves of the ilex trees had quietly pushed off the old ones. The hedges were thick-sown with the white stars of the Cherokee rose. The passion-vine trailed its purple garments along the fences. Houstonias spread a soft blue haze over the grass. Wild plum and cherry trees fung drifts of fragrant snow along the road side. The air was faint with perfume from the ivory censers of the magnolia, swinging dreamily overhead. Wherever a vine could cling and climb, there was a seemingly miraculous outburst of foliage and flowers; every dry stick and stem became a leafy thyrsus, every crumbling stump a green and garlanded altar.
Mrs. Lyte's great, irregular thicket of a garden was quick to feel the genial influence, and to twine and twist itself into a denser tangle than ever. Rose bushes laughed the virtue of economy to scorn, with their perfumed affluence of pink and crimson and yellow. Pomegranates burst into scarlet flames; mimosas tossed aloft feathery balls of many hues. Jessamines and honeysuckles, holding up vases of gold, to catch every sunbeam, ran hither and thither at their own sweet will. So did tiny green lizards, with scarlet throats, and swift chameleons, with curious intelligent eyes. The air was tuneful with the fight and song of bees and hummingbirds, cooing doves, and shining-winged spindles. Manifold, in truth, were the garden's delight : varied sound and colour and perfume, cheerful radiance and gentle gloom, unobtrusive companionship and soft seclusion, were all to be found within its pleasant compass.
And, as the days drew long and warm with the Spring's advance, Bergan now and then, growing weary of the confinement and monotony of his office, took his Blackstone, or Kent, or whatever might be the legal authority under examination, and gave himself the refreshment of an hour's reading, in one of the garden's shady, sequestered nooks. Doing this, one sultry afternoon in May, the drowsy influence of the atmosphere, and the soothing murmurousness of the insects' song, soon proved too potent for the logical connection of the learned legal thesis; there were unaccountable gaps
between fact and deduction; and, going back to pick up the broken thread, Bergan lost it altogether. Sleep had stolen upon him through the dusky foliage, and she held him fast until the latest sunbeam, through a convenient aperture in the verdant walls, laid its light finger on his eyelids.
Waking suddenly, but completely, hushed voices, proceeding from a neighbouring thicket, met his ear.
Had there been danger in those low, earnest accents, Bergan could scarcely have started up more quickly and cautiously, nor have fled from them faster. As he expected and desired, the low boughs closing and rustling bebind him, made what followed inaudible. He was loath to hear another word. He felt almost guilty for having heard so much. Those subdued, confidential tones, those quietly spoken Christian names, had, of themselves, been a startling revelation. For, notwithstanding her frank, easy, affable deportment toward those who came within her sphere, Astra Lyte knew well how to hedge herself round with a maidenly dignity that kept familiarity at a distance. She was not the kind of girl whose Christian name finds its way easily to unaccustomed lips. Despite his own residence, for a considerable time, under the same roof, and the frank and friendly intercourse which had grown out of it-despite, too, the
fact that Mrs. Lyte often called him her son, and Cathie was wont to spring to his arms as to those of a brotherit had never occurred to himself to call her anything less formal than “ Miss Lyte." Nor would it have done to Doctor Remy, he felt sure, without the sufficient warrant of a close and tender relation. This premise being established, the conclusion that such a relation existed was unavoidable.
Yet Bergan could not help wondering a little at the Doctor's ready success. Astra's genius, he thought, should have saved her from any hasty bestowal of her affections. He did not know that, in this regard, a woman of genius differs little from the most commonplace of her sisters. She gives her affections as trustfully, and flings herself away as freely, as the silliest of them all.
Though Bergan, driven by a nice sense of honour, had fled so precipitately from the voices and the neighbourhood of the lovers, there is no reason why the reader may not return thither, and see what is to be learned from their conversation.
“I cannot think it right,” said Astra, “ to leave mother in ignorance any longer.”
“Do you think, then," asked Doctor Remy, reproachfully," that I would ask you to do anything wrong?”
Astra hesitated for a moment. Perhaps it then and there occurred to her, for the first time, that the Doctor's standard of right was likely to differ from her own, in the same ratio as his religious faith.
Doctor Remy did not wait for the tardy answer. Putting his arm round Astra, he drew her head on to his shoulder. The movement might have been prompted by tenderness; none the less, it had the effect to take his face out of her line of vision.
“All my life long, Astra," said he, in a deep, moved tone-(it is often easier to put a desired note into the voice than a corresponding expression into the face) “all my life long I have had a strange desire to be trusted-trusted implicitly. Faith without sight-blind, unquestioning faith-is to me one of the most beautiful as well as desirable things on earth ; all the more so, perhaps, that it is not given to me to feel it. But it has always been my dream, my hope to inspire it. In my ideal picture of the woman whom I should love, it was always her consummate, irresistible charm. Must I now make up my mind to do without it?
Astra was touched. “If it did not seem to be wrong!” she exclaimed.
The Doctor shook his head. “ That is not trust," said he," at least, not the trust that I mean. Who can so order circumstances that they shall never seem to condemn him? But the faith of which I speak, having once assured itself of the integrity of its beloved, never again admits it to be an open question."
Astra was silent. The Doctor heaved a heavy sigh. "I see that I am not to realize my ideal," said he. "Well, it cannot be helped. I will give you the explanation that you need. Perhaps, being satisfied, in this