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his late anxieties had been groundless. “ And Miss Carice,'' he went on," is she quite well, too ?”
Bruno smiled. “Yes, massa, I 'spec so, tho' she do look mighty pale and peaked, dese yere last weeks. But dey mostly look so at sich times, I s'pose. She'll be better when de weddin's ober, and all de fuss and turry."
This second mention of “the wedding " penetrated to Bergan's understanding, and awakened a faint emotion of surprise.
“The wedding !-whose wedding ?” he asked.
Bruno opened his eyes wide in astonishment. “Why, don' you know, sah?
I thought you'd come on purpose. Miss Carice's weddin', to be sure."
It was Bergan's turn to look more than astonished, confounded. “Miss Carice's wedding ! " he repeated, as doubting the trustworthiness of his own ears.
“Yes, sah, to Doctor Remy, sah. Dey had__"
Bruno stopped short in alarm. Bergan's face had grown deadly pale, his blank stare was that of a man who neither saw nor heard. For a few merciful moments, he was simply stunned with the suddenness and severity of the shock. Too soon his benumbed senses began to revive, he put his hand to his head, where a dull, heavy pain was beginning to make itself felt; mechanically he sat down on the grass, and his breath came hard like that of a man stricken with apoplexy.
With a delicacy not uncommon in his race, Bruno turned his eyes away. A trusted servant of the household, he had seen Bergan and Carice together enough to be able to divine something of the state of the
could have been brought to bear upon her, to make her so belie herself! He looked up.
“ Bruno, how long has this been going on?" The
negro did not quite understand, but made shift to guess what was meant.
“De engagement, sah ? since October, I b'lieve.”
Oh, a good while, 'bout eber since you went away. But after Massa was took sick, he come oftener, ob course -ebery day, sometimes two, tree times a day. Massa got so—'pendent on him, like, he couldn't bear to have him out ob de house, one time."
Bergan fell into thought again. He began dimly to understand something of the sort of pressure to which Carice had been subjected, and the motives that had governed her,—not that he held her exonerated, by any means-only she was a little less culpable than she had seemed at first. But if she had sinned, poor child! how miserably she would be punished! What a sterile soil, what a chill, unfriendly climate awaited this delicate flower, in Doctor Remy's hands! It was as if a lily should think to root itself in a rock, or a rose expect to bud and blossom on an iceberg. Besides—why had he not thought of it before ?-to-morrow, perhaps, in two or three days at farthest, Doctor Trubie would be here, with authority, if it seemed good to him, to take this man, her husland, into custody as a murderer!
Bergan's was the fine strong temperament, which rises to the greatness of a crisis. With the necessity of action, the chaos of his mind began to clear itself. “ Bruno," he asked, suddenly, “does—Miss Carice love this man?”
Bruno looked surprised, as well he might, at the ques. tion ; but there was something in Bergan's tone that made him answer at once, and frankly, “I don' know,—de servants do say she done it to please her father."
Bergan laid his hand impressively on the old negro's shoulder. “Bruno, I must see her at once. Her happiness—more than her happiness, the honour and peace of the whole family—is at stake. Find some way to let her know, quietly, that I am here, and that I must see her for one moment. Hurry ! there's no time to waste."
Bruno was so thoroughly mastered by Bergan's earnestness, that he started swiftly towards the cottage, without a word. As he ascended the piazza steps, however, he began to be appalled at the difficulty of the task that he had undertaken. Looking into the window, he saw Carice standing at the farther end of the long parlour, with her bridesmaids clustered around her. He could neither get at her, nor she escape, without challenging a good deal of wondering observation. While he stood hesitating, Godfrey Bergan came out into the hall, and caught sight of his troubled face.
“Well, Bruno, what do you want?”
Slowly, one by one, Bergan's thoughts came out of chaos, and ranged themselves into something like order. This, then, was the reason why Doctor Remy had so persistently discouraged his earlier return to Berganton, and allayed his anxiety with plausible statements respecting Carice and her father,—that he might supplant him in her affections.
But why? It must be taken as evidence that he had estimated the Doctor's character more correctly than he knew, that it never once occurred to him as possible that love for Carice had been the Doctor's motive; yet, considered solely as holding the reversion of the Oakstead estate, her hand was scarcely worth the Labour and treachery it had cost.
There was so little to reward investigation in this direction, that Bergan's thoughts came back to his own blighted hopes, and here he was pierced with the sharpest pain that he had yet felt. The treachery of the Doctor was as nothing to the faithlessness of Carice. Two months—yea, two days ago, he would have staked all his hopes for time and eternity on her truth. Fair and delicate as was the cast of her beauty, and sweet and gentle as was her manner, there had always been a certain quiet steadfastness about her, which was one of her most potent charms. All hearts felt intuitively that they might safely trust in her. What subtle or powerful influence
The request was an odd one at that moment; still, Mr. Bergan might have been moved to grant it, as the whim of an old and faithful servant, if the negro's disturbed face and faltering tone had not excited his suspicions that something unusual was on foot. “What is the matter?” he asked. “What do you want to speak to her for ?”
Bruno was wholly unprepared for this question. Vainly he racked his brains for a plausible answer, but nothing better rewarded his efforts than—"I jes' wanted to speak to her, dat's all ;”—a reply so little congruous with his frightened face and voice, that Mr. Bergan's suspicions were confirmed. He stepped out on the piazza, and closed the door behind him.
“Now, Bruno,” said he, sternly, “I want to know what this means.
Come, no shuffling ; tell the truth." Bruno's self-possession gave way entirely. “I-I-I -it's only Mr. Arling."
Mr. Bergan started. "My nephew, Bergan Arling, do you mean?”
Mr. Bergan's voice shook with anger. Bruno tried to explain, not very coherently.
“ He didn't mean no harm, massa, I'se sartain. He said her happiness and all you'se happiness was at de stake."
“Did he!”muttered Mr. Bergan, scornfully. “Hark you, Bruno, not a word of this to anybody—to anybody, mind you! Now, go back to your dance,—I'll see Mr. Arling."
Bergan's impatience had brought him from under the larches to a point commanding a view of the path to the cottage. He was both surprised and disappointed to see his uncle instead of Carice ! nevertheless, he came frankly forward to meet him, holding out his hand.
Mr. Bergan took no notice of the friendly offer. “ How dare you show yourself here?” he began, in a voice quivering with rage. “How dare you insult my daughter with your presence at this time? Have you not done harm enough already?”
“Uncle," replied Bergan, gently, “I know not what you mean. I have never harmed Carice that I know of, and now I came here to save her, if it be not too late. Oh! uncle ”—and here his calmness began to fail him, and his voice grew eager—“ do not, do not let this marriage proceed,—at least, not until you have heard my story, and have satisfied yourself of the real character of this Doctor Remy!”
“What have you to say against his character ?" demanded Mr. Bergan, icily.
Bergan felt the full disadvantage of his position. It was a heavy charge that he had to make against a man of Doctor Remy's standing, without documents or witnesses -nothing to substantiate it but his single assertion. Besides, to say truth, there was nothing to allege against
Doctor Remy but Doctor Trubie's suspicions. He besitated, and his hesitation was not lost upon his uncle ; neither was the want of assurance with which he finally spoke.
* Uncle, there is great reason to believe—or, at least to suspect—that Doctor Remy is a-murderer ; the murderer of my brother Alec.”
Godfrey Bergan stood in silent scorn. The accusation struck him as too extravagant, too baseless, to be seriously discussed. His nephew must be drunk or mad to make it. And, now that he looked at him more narrowly, his face was haggard and his dress disordered enough to befit either condition.
Bergan saw the impression that he had made, and a cold, sick despair crept over him. “I beg of you, uncle," he exclaimed, vehemently, “as you value your own future peace of mind, put a stop to this unhappy business, ere it be too late."
"It is too late now," said Mr. Bergan, impatiently, “Carice is already married.”
“Must she, therefore, be left in the hands of a murderer? Save her, at least, from further contamination. If you will do nothing else, call her, and let her decide the matter for herself.”
Impossible," answered Mr. Bergan, decidedly. “ Carice has already borne and suffered too much ; her nerves are in an exceedingly sensitive state; this story would kill her, I verily believe. If you really have her happiness at heart, go away quietly, and leave her to the care of the husband she has chosen."
“ Chosen ?” repeated Bergan, bitterly ; “has she chosen him, or has she only been forced to wed him?”
Godfrey Bergan's eyes lit. “You forget to whom you are speaking," said he, coldly. “Enough of this, my patience is exhausted. I have listened to your drivel longer than it deserves. The quicker you take your leave the better."
Bergan drew himself up haughtily, and his eyes flashed back an answering flame. "My patience is also exhausted," said he. "I have begged and pleaded long enough. I tell you now, uncle, that I will not go until I have seen Carice, if I seek her out among the wedding guests."
Godfrey Bergan set his teeth hard. “Will not? he repeated, angrily. " Will not! I will have you to understand, young man, that there is neither will, nor will not, on these premises, but mine. On my soul, if you do not go, and quickly, I will call my servants, and have you put off from the place as a drunkard and a vagabond.”
At this threat, the hereditary temper, scotched in Bergan's heart, but not yet killed, reared its evil head aloft, and sent its deadly poison burning through all his veins.
“ Call them,” he retorted, in a voice deep and low as a distant thunder peal, and lifting his clenched hand on high,-"call them, if it so pleases you! Their blood be on your head, not mine."
Godfrey Bergan was no coward, yet he might well stand aghast at the unexpected fury of the tempest that he had evoked. Moreover, to put his threat in execution, he now saw, was to court that publicity which he specially desired to avoid. He stood irresolute, questioning within bimself how best to deal with the emergency.
He was saved the trouble of a decision. While he still hesitated, Bergan's hand fell by his side, his eyes softened, and a spasm of anguish passed over his face. “God forgive me!” he murmured, shudderingly-"I, too, was a murderer-in heart!”
He bowed his head on his hands. Woeful was the inner conflict. Within his soul, the “black Bergan temper was gasping out its last venomous breath, with the clutch of a firm hand on its throat. Agonizing were its death-throes. They ceased at last. It would never trouble him more.
Godfrey Bergan, standing by, saw something of the struggle, yet did not understand it in the least. drunkard's aimless wrath!” he said to himself, — “quenched in its own fury.”
So carelessly does the world construe the deeper soulconflicts that come under its observation !
Bergan lifted his head, and his face was ashy pale. “I go, uncle," said he, hoarsely," since that is your wish. In all that I have said, though said never so unwisely, I assure you that I have had only Carice's happiness at heart; and I pray God that you may not have cause to rue it, to your dying day, that you did not listen to me!"
He turned and plunged into the darkness, not knowing whither he went.
some weeks, had given place to a certain tremulous agitation. A round red spot burned on either cheek, where of late the bloom had been both rare and faint; and her eyes were bright and wistful almost to wildness. With a sudden impulse of tenderness, he put his arms round her, and pressed her to his heart.
' Father,” she whispered, with her lips close to his ear, “ am I dreaming or mad? I have heard a voice in the air-Bergan's voice. I was standing by the window, and I heard it distinctly-no words, only tones-pleading, pleading, until I thought they would break my heart. Then all at once they changed to anger-fierce, bitter anger! And they ended in despair! Father, what could it mean?'
“My child," said Godfrey Bergan, after a pause-and there was a perceptible tremor in his voice-"you are very weak and nervous, and these wedding gaieties have been too much for you. Go to rest, and sleep away your fatigues and your fancies together; joy cometh in the morning. The wife of Felix Remy will hear no voices in the air. Good-night."
He unclasped his arms, and her bridesmaids, again clustering round her, led her upstairs in triumph.
But no sooner had they freed her from her bridal garniture—the veil's soft mistiness-the robe's heavy, satiny folds, the fragrant orange-blossoms, already be. ginning to fade !—than she put them gently aside.
“Bid me good-night now,” she said, with quiet decision. “I am very tired, and I want to be alone for awhile. Rosa will do the rest."
There was something in her tone which forbade remonstrance; quickly the door shut out the fresh, young faces, and snowy, fluttering robes.
Was she, as she desired to be, alone?
The image evoked by that “voice in the air” had followed her across the threshold, and still faced her with sad, upbraiding eyes. Instinctively she threw herself upon her knees to exorcise it by the spell of prayer. She rose from her knees but little comforted.
For the delirious disquietude that had taken possession of her had its physical, not less than its mental, side. The long overstraining of the delicate nerves, the long overburdening of the heart that knew its own bitterness, were fast reaching the point beyond which must needs come fever, or insanity, or death. Nature-often the wisest of physicians, when left to herself—had sought to work restoration by means of the apathy aforementioned, wrapping her mind and heart as with quilted armour; but the events of this night had pierced quite through the soft sheathing, and set every nerve quivering with pain. Unable to remain long in one position, she soon began to pace restlessly up and down the room. She was dimly aware that Rosa had come in, and was waiting her commands; but she never once looked to see with what a disturbed and doubtful face the young negress was regarding her.
Getting weary at last of her monotonous march to
GODFREY BERGAN stood motionless for some minutes. His nephew's persistency had irritated his nerves, if it had not convinced his understanding. Nor was he altogether unimpressed by the solemnity of the young man's parting words. Though he had not condescended to state the fact to Bergan, it was still true that he had exacted what he considered to be very complete and satisfactory evidence, touching the correctness of Doctor Remy's antecedents, before giving him his daughter. Yet it was only after he had recapitulated this evidence to himself, point by point, and had also taken into account the Doctor's late brilliant achievements, present high standing, and promising prospects for the future, that he could rid himself of a certain chill weight of responsibility, which seemed somehow to have been flung upon his shoulders by Bergan's last sentence.
On entering the cottage, he met Carice in the hall, encircled by her bridesmaids. He was half pleased, half startled, to see that the singular listlessness, amounting to a degree of apathy, which had characterized her for
“And so I would," rejoined Rosa, approvingly. “Just let me slip this dark wrapper on you, and wind this scarf round your head, and well over your face,-so; -why, your own father wouldn't know you, if he were to meet you! Now, we'll be off.”
Carice hesitated. “No, Rosa, that will never do ; our absence would be quickly discovered. You must stay and keep the door.”
“But, Miss Carice, you can't go alone!”
“I can, and must. It is the only way to prevent discovery Remember, no one is to be let in, upon any consideration, until I return."
“Let me alone for that,” responded Rosa, emphatically. And having seen Carice safely down the steps from the upper piazza, and watched her light form till it was lost among the trees, Rosa returned to mount guard over the door of the deserted chamber.
and fro, she went to the window, and leaned out to bathe her fevered temples in the cool night air. Suddenly she cried out
“Rosa, see! Is not that a light in the old Hall ? ”
“Yes, Miss Carice, it's just that,” answered Rosa, impressively. “It's in Mr. Arling's room. He's here. "
“Here!” Carice started, and turned round with eager, expectant eyes.
“No, no," Rosa hastened to say, “not here—at least, not now."
“Not now!” repeated Carice, wonderingly. “When was he here, then?"
Rosa hesitated for an instant, and then flung herself at her mistress's feet. “I will tell you," she cried, vehemently; master may kill me, if he likes, but I will tell you! Mr. Arling was here not much more than half an hour ago!”
Carice smiled,-a strange wan smile, with no spirit of mirthfulness in it, but something of gentle triumph, as well as relief. “It was no fancy, then,” she murmured, softly.
Rosa went on,“ I was walking down by the riverwith Tom, you know-when I thought it must be getting late, and you might want me, and so I took the short cut through the larches. And who should I see standing there but Mr. Arling, and your father coming to meet him! So I slipped back behind the trees, meaning to come round the other way; but I caught a few words, and then I listened ;-I couldn't help it, Miss Carice, if I'd died for it. For Mr. Arling began to beg and plead that your father wouldn't let your wedding go on, if he cared anything about your happiness. He said there was something dreadful against Doctor Remy,--oh! Miss Carice, I don't like to say it, but I think you ought to know,-he said he was a "-sinking her voice almost to a whisper-"a murderer."
Carice's eyes dilated with horror. "A murderer !” she gasped,—“oh! no, no, Rosa; you could not have heard him right!'
“Indeed, I did,” rejoined Rosa, firmly, “That's the very word he used,-more than once, too. At least, he said there was great reason to believe so; and he begged your father to wait until he could make sure about it. Oh! Miss Carice, I never did like Doctor Remy, but I always liked Mr. Arling, and I don't believe he'd say a word that wasn't true. Do pray wait, as he said, until you can find out the whole truth, before
anything more to say to the Doctor. Lock your door, and say you're sick-I'm sure you look as if you might beand I'll promise to keep him out, if he were ten Doctor Remys."
And Rosa set her teeth and clenched her hands, in a way that promised much for her valour in the cause of her young mistress.
“Rosa,” said Carice, suddenly, “I am going to the Hall. I must see Bergan, and hear what he has to say ; then I can decide what it is right to do."
Godfrey Bergan had been unaccountably shaken by that brief meeting and parting with his daughter, in the hall. Watching her slender form as it toiled up the staircase, with the languid step that betrays a heavy or a reluctant heart, he sighed to think with what a graceful alacrity she had used to flit upward, as if lifted on invisible wings, her happy smile seeming to make a little illuminated space about her, like the light which is seen irradiating angelic forms, in old pictures. A sudden burden of despondency fell upon his heart, whereof he understood neither the purport, nor whether it bore reference to her or himself, but only knew that it quite unfitted him for playing the part of a gay and gracious host to his guests. Seeing Miss Ferrars coming toward him, with her stereotyped smile, an impulse of flight seized him ; and hastily stepping through one of the long windows, he soon found himself once more under the sighing trees, which were swaying to and fro under the first breathings of a rising wind.
The night was no longer dark. Here and there, a star looked through the broken clouds, and lighted him to the river's bank, down which he walked slowly; torturing himself, as he went, with that weary after birth of doubts and questions, which often follows hard upon the accomplishment of a cherished purpose. Had he done well in wedding Carice to the Doctor ? Had he not done wrong in refusing to listen to Bergan, at least with courtesy and calmness? Was it barely possible that there could have been some small grain of truth at the bottom of the young man's turbid story. What was the meaning of that odd, wild look in Carice's eyes ? Had he been thrusting himself, as it were, into the awful place of Providence, only, by reason of his human short-sightedness, to work irremediable ruin?
At that moment, a dark, slender woman's figure hurried past him, toward the ruined foot-bridge, which was near at hand. “ One of my brother's servants, who has stolen over to dance with mine," he said to himself, turning idly to watch her progress.
To his utter amazement, at the further end, he seemed to see her cast herself deliberately into the water !
Godfrey Bergan was a practised swimmer, and, after the first motionless moment of astonishment, he threw off his coat, plunged into the stream, which, at this point, was neither rapid nor deep, and swam rapidly towards the spot where he had seen the body disappear. Here the water was scarcely up to his armpits; in a few moments, he had caught the floating garments, and borne the lifeless form to land. The heavy head fell back on his arm ; the scarf trailed away from the white features; he recognized Carice!
With a thick, muffled cry of horror, the father sank upon his knees, not so much of devotional intent, as crushed under the double weight of his physical burden, and mental anguish.
"O God! have mercy upon us! he ejaculated, brokenly,—"I have driven my child to suicide!”
THE WAY STOPPED.
BERGAN ARLING, on quitting his uncle, had flung himself into the surrounding darkness, without aim, without hope; conscious only of an intolerable burden of grief and despair. Coming to the river, he had mechanically strode down its bank. Mechanically, too, he had crossed the foot-bridge, when it came in his way; and was scarcely aware that its last rotten plank, on the Hall end, had given away under his feet, and that he had narrowly missed being precipitated into the water. In due time he found himself standing before the deserted mansion, looking up to its dark front with eyes just beginning to be capable of intelligent vision, and acknowledging to himself that, though his path had been but blindly chosen, it had brought him to a fitting goal.
“A ruined home, and a ruined life," he murmured, with a kind of bitter mournfulness, —"they will suit each other well!”
The door was locked, but there was a dilapidated flight of steps leading to the rotten upper piazza, and the window of his old room yielded readily to pressure. The lamp, too, was in its remembered place, and, having lighted it, he threw himself into a chair, to sum up the record of his past life, and strike the balance.
Hark! was not that a cry from the direction of the river? He leaned out of the window, and listened attentively; but the sound—if sound it were, and not the simple product of his own disordered fancy-was not repeated. Nothing was to be heard save the low sough of the rising wind, and the melancholy voices of the trees, as one solemn old oak-top leaned toward another, and talked mysteriously of some woeful event that it had witnessed-perhaps a century ago, perhaps later—or re
counted drearily the long list of human sorrows and sins and retributions stored up in its dreamy old memory. There might have been heard, too, in its further talk, if only the ear were fine enough that listened,-something of patience born of sorrow, and blessedness wrenched from the hand of suffering; of lofty hopes blossoming out of the ashes of despair, and fair, new temples, vocal with the anthem of glory to God and good will to man, built over and out of heaps of ruins. A few words, too, might have been added of love-human love-as the crowning grace and gladness of a man's life,—the delicate carving beautifying the arches, capitals, and pinnacles of the temple, the thick greenery softening its sharp outlines, and the odorous blossoms rooting themselves in its angles and hollows; but neither its strong foundations, its majestic walls, nor the upward spring of its spire, and never, in any sense, the object of its rightful worship.
Perhaps Bergan heard something of all this; at any rate, that
cry from the river, whether real or imagined, had broken the thread of his review of the past, and brought back his mind to the question of the future. What was to be done? Leave Berganton, of course. The place was not wide enough to hold Carice and him. self, with comfort to either. If her marriage had been brought about in the way that he suspected, the sight of him would scarce conduce to her peace; while the sight of her, in her new relation, could only cause him useless pain. Moreover, he had seen, from the first, that Berganton afforded little scope for talent ; none whatever for ambition. And, now that his life seemed likely to be limited to its public side, and to have no sweet, compensating domestic one, he felt the necessity of directing its course to some quarter where there was room for proper expansion.
Happily, the way was open. Only a short time ago, he had received a most favourable offer, which he still held under consideration,-an invitation to enter into partnership with an eminent lawyer of Savalla, beginning to succumb to the infirmities of old age, and likely, ere long, to surrender to him all the active business of the firm. Nothing could suit him better. Here was scope for all his talent, employment for all his energy. He would be near enough to Berganton, too, for any good name that he might win to reach thither, and clear away whatever prejudice against him still lingered there; yet not near enough to be necessarily brought into contact with its inhabitants.
So much for the future; what of the present?
First, he would see Mrs. Lyte and Astra, bid them farewell, and arrange for the removal of his effects. Then he would hasten to Savalla, to do the last kindness that it was in his power to do for Carice, even though it would seem to justify her father's late incredulity and contemptuous treatment,-namely, meet Doctor Trubie, and dissuade him from any further proceedings against Doctor Remy. There was still room for a doubt that the latter was the murder of Alec Arling-let it remain