« PreviousContinue »
a fitting time for a fuller explanation?" and the doctor held out his hand.
“Until the end of time," replied Bergan, grasping it warmly. “It would be strange if kindness were not its own sufficient explanation.
Doctor Remy shrugged his shoulders with a frank cynicism. “Perhaps so," said he. " Yet I make bold to confess that my own practice is to look kindness a little more closely in the face than its opposite. The latter generally wear its reasons openly on its forehead; but for the complicated motives at the bottom of the former, one needs to look long and deep.”
“Do they pay for the trouble?” asked Bergan, smiling.
Not unless you love knowledge for its own sake. As society is constituted, you cannot well act upon it. To apparent kindness, one has to return apparent gratitude."
“I trust I succeed in making mine ' apparent,'” said Bergan, falling into the doctor's humour.
“Perfectly. It could not be told from the genuine article." “The same thing might be said of your
kindness." * Doubtless. But here comes Cato, to show you to your room.
I think breakfast will be ready as soon as
Yet herein, he remembered, was his strongest motive for perseverance in the path upon which he had entered. He could not leave a tarnished reputation behind him in the place founded by his ancestors; the very dust of which, blowing about the streets, doubtless held many particles closely akin to his own earthly substance, and dimly capable of pride or shame on his account.
At whatever cost of present pain or ulterior loss, he must stay in Berganton long lenough to set himself right in the public eyes.
And loss, it was plain, there might be. Berganton was no longer the busy and prosperous town of his mother's reminiscences. All these years it had been going backwards. Looking up and down its long, tame, principal street, with its scant and sluggish flow of human life, he could discover little field for
scope for ambition. Were it not for the cords of obligation woven around him by yesterday's events, he would scarcely have stayed for a second look. But those cords held him firmly to his purpose.
"Do you know of any respectable family where I should be likely to obtain board, or, at least, lodgings ?” was his next inquiry.
“I do not. I think they might take you in at the Gregg House, down at the lower end of the street."
The words were spoken carelessly enough, yet Bergan could scarcely fail to detect in them a covert insinuation, or to imagine one. His cheek crimsoned, and his eye flashed. Ere he could speak, however, a gentleman, whom he had observed sitting near him, with a newspaper before his face, dropped the printed screen, and came forward.
“Mr. Arling can breakfast here, at any rate,” said he, in the tone of a man accustomed to overcome all obstacles; "it will give me pleasure to have him for my vis-à-vis at the early breakfast that I have bespoken this morning, in order to gain time for a visit to a far-away patient. And you can at least give him the room of which you speak until it is called for; by that time, we will hope, he may be provided with one even more to his mind."
“Certainly, doctor," returned the landlord, looking a little crestfallen. “If I had known the gentleman was a friend of yours
“Hardly that yet," interposed the doctor, smiling, “though I trust he may be, in good time. I know your uncle very well,” he continued, addressing Bergan, as the landlord moved away; "indeed, I may say, your two uncles, if that be any ground of acquaintance. But I have the advantage of you, in that I heard your name just now; mine is Remy-Felix Remy-very much at your service. Not that this announcement places us on an equal footing; for, while your name puts me at once in possession of your antecedents, to a certain extent, mine tells you nothing about me except that I am of French descent. Are you willing to take the rest on trust, until
A very few moments sufficed for Bergan to remove the traces of his early morning walk, and rejoin his new acquaintance in the breakfast-room. The two gentlemen at once seated themselves on opposite sides of the table. An opportunity was thus afforded them to observe each other at their leisure, of which Bergan was first to avail himself. His interest had been awakened by the doctor's peculiar style of conversation.
He saw before him a man of medium height and compactly built figure. His locks had been touched by thought or care to a premature greyness, for he had scarcely yet entered upon
His features were regular, and would have been handsome had they been less keenly and coldly intellectual—the physical mould was forgotten in the mental one that made itself so much more manifest. Their expression was one of active intelligence and calm force, embittered, at the mouth, by a touch of scorn. Yet the face did not absolutely repel ; for many minds, it would possess an inscrutable fascination. It provoked study; it challenged the imagination and the understanding.
The doctor's conversation was marked by 'a curious frankness, and an equally curious reserve. He made no scruple whatever of opening to the light of day shadowy recesses of motive and aim that most men would studiously close, nor of putting himself at odds with the world on various points of social or moral ethics, nor of boldly questioning and criticising much that mankind consents to hold in reverence. Yet, at the end of an hour's conversation, though he had talked readily and fluently on many subjects, and said something true, or profound, or brilliant, or suggestive, about each, his interested, amused, startled, and bewildered hearer could find almost no residuum of his real opinions about any of them. It was impossible to decide where he had been in jest, and where in earnest; though his most serious argument had run a vein of mockery, from under his profoundest thought had peeped forth a hidden sarcasm. His creed, social, moral, and political, continually slipped through the seeker's fingers in subtle, witty, or scornful negations and controversions.
Not that Bergan was conscious of this at the moment, nor, indeed, until after many days of familiar intercourse. He recognized in the doctor an intellectual cultivation of no ordinary depth and scope ; he was interested and wellnigh dazzled by his originality of thought, the boldness of his attacks, and the freedom of his speculations ; but the dubious aspect of his own affairs continually rose before him to harass his mind and distract his attention; he was himself incapable of close observation or continuous thought. After a time, his glance sank upon his plate, or wandered aimlessly out of the window : though he forgot no requirement of courtesy, he was often in a state of semi-abstraction.
Then, in his turn, Doctor Remy fixed his eyes upon his companion. It was evident that he subjected him to a far more careful and penetrating scrutiny than he had sustained himself. He noted his looks, he weighed his words, he analyzed his turns of thought, in a way to indicate that exceeding “love of knowledge for its own sake," of which he had spoken, or some deeper motive than even his hardy frankness would care to divulge. Whether or no he liked what he saw, no mortal could have told. The doctor's face was a sort of mechanical mask, absolutely under his control ; it expressed anything or nothing, according to his will.
One thing only would have been plain to the observer, that he was puzzled by something which he found, or did not find. After one of his deeply penetrating glances, he suddenly called for a bottle of wine, and, first filling his own glass, passed it across the table.
"I am fortifying myself for a harder day's work than usual," said he, as if by way of apology, if apology were needed. “Will you try it? I think I can assure you that it is tolerably good."
“ Thank you; I never take wine at breakfast.”
"Anything else that you would prefer?" began the doctor, courteously.
"Nothing whatever, thank you," replied Bergan, with a most conclusive wave of the hand.
"Then you do not hold the theory that a little good wine, or other spirits, after a meal, clears the brain, and aids the digestion ?
“Do I look as if I stood in need of either good office ?" asked Bergan, smiling.
The doctor gave him a quick, critical glance.
“No, I cannot see that you do,” he answered. “I should say that, in your case, Nature might safely be left
to perform her own functions ; I do not think I ever saw human mechanism in a sounder condition, or animated by a richer vitality. Still, there can be no great harm in drinking in moderation. Of course, if one cannot do that, it is best to avoid it altogether."
Bergan looked up quickly, almost angrily, but there was nothing in the doctor's face or manner to indicate that his general remark was weighted with any ulterior meaning. He was holding his wine up to the light with the air of a connoisseur, and having sufficiently enjoyed its colour and bouquet, he tossed it off with apparent relish. Yet Bergan could scarcely have failed to notice, had he been less preoccupied, that he then quietly pushed both glass and bottle aside, and seemed to forget their existence.
“Can I do anything for you before I set off on my daily treadmill ?” he asked, when the meal was ended.
“Nothing, thank you, unless you can tell me where I shall be most likely to find lodgings and an office."
“An office, did you say? Do I behold in you a brother of the order of the Asclepiadæ ?"
'No, I have not that honour. I am enrolled in the ranks of the Law."
“ How many pegs shall I take myself down in your estimation, if I proclaim myself a deserter therefrom?"
Bergan could not help looking the astonishment that he did not express.
" It is true," said the doctor, answering the look. “I studied law, and practised it for about two years. But it did not suit me."
“Would it be impertinent to ask why?"
Not at all. It gave too much scope, or too little, to my natural antagonism of mind; too little for mental satisfaction, too much for material advantage. For instance, I was always possessed with an insane desire to clear the guilty man, whether he were my client or no."
“Yet you deny to yourself the credit of generous impulses!"
“Stay a little. I was often assailed with an equally insane desire to convict the innocent one, when he was not my client. Do not look so horrified, for the same motive was at the bottom of both. It was because I saw so clearly that, with an exchange of circumstances-inherited traits, education, temptation, and so forth-there would also be an exchange of persons."
“In that case, it would seem that neither should be convicted."
“Exactly. But it was Society that needed to be convicted and punished. There was a real satisfaction in reversing its unrighteous judgments."
Bergan felt that he was sinking in a kind of mental quicksand. “But,” he objected, catching hold of the first twig of support that offered itself, “ you count the man's will for nothing."
“With most men, it does count for nothing. Where one man performs either a good or a bad action deliberately, looking behind and before him, nine hundred and ninety-nine do it because of the pressure of outward circumstance."
“You think, then," said Bergan, after a moment's consideration, " that when a man wilfully embarks on the current which tends towards the Niagara cataract, it is his misfortune, and not his fault, if he finally finds himself at a point where the pressure of outward circumstance must needs carry him over the fall."
“In that case,” said the doctor, “the responsibility shifts back to the power that made the current and the fall, and put them in his way.”
Bergan saw the wide labyrinth of controversy opening before him, and tacitly declined to set foot in it. He was in no mood for polemics. He merely asked-.
“And in what way, if the question is admissible, do you find medicine more to your taste than the law ?"
“In medicine there is always a distinct and legitimate foe to combat-disease. When one engages in a hand-tohand fight with a fever, there are no side issues. Nor does it matter in the least whether battle is to be done over the body of an incarnate demon or an angel unfledged-in both cases the treatment is identical, the physician's duty the same."
“I think I understand you," said Bergan, after a pause, during which he had been trying to reconcile these curious and half-conflicting statements with some underlying principles, and finding it, at last, in his own heart, rather than in the doctor's words; "a physician's professional and abstract duty are never at variance, while a lawyer must often be puzzled to decide if he is justified in using his legal skill to save a criminal from merited punishment."
“It is a question that puzzles few of them," remarked the doctor, dryly. “But in regard to this office, in posse. of
yours : I rent my own from a very respectable widow lady, whose house is much too large for the narrow income to which she found herself restricted at her husband's death. I think she has another room that she would be glad to let to an eligible tenant. Shall we go and see? It is quite in my way; I must visit my office before I set out on my rounds."
The house won Bergan's liking, at a glance. It stood on a corner; it was large and airy ; double piazzas surrounded it on three sides; over it a hale old live-oak and half-a-dozen grey, decrepit china-trees flung their pleasant shade. In the rear, was a tempting thicket of a garden, which Art had first planted, and then handed over to Nature, to be taken care of at her leisure,—the result being an altogether admirable and Eden-like wilderness of boughs and vines, and, in their season, flowers and fruits, such as can be seen nowhere but at the South. The interior of the dwelling wore a most attractive look of neatness, comfort, and refinement, notwithstanding its extreme plainness of finish and furniture. Crossing its threshold, he felt that a true home had received him into its beneficent shadow. Nothing
could be better for him, he thought, than to find an abiding place therein.
Nor was there any difficulty in the way. The doctor's magical touch arranged the preliminaries. Then, Mrs. Lyte,-a pale, sweet, fragile-looking woman, with the gentle gravity of manner that comes of sorrow at once incurable and resigned-yielded at once to the magnetism of Bergan's address,--the involuntary softening of tone wherewith he recognized the claim of her black garments upon his sympathies, the manifest deference which he paid to her loneliness, her bereavement, her sorrow. Since it was needful to sacrifice something of the home seclusion and sacredness to the necessity of daily bread, she could not hope for a more desirable tenant. The negociations were quickly concluded. Not only was an office secured, but a lodging-room in its rear was also placed at his disposal ; and he was to take his meals at the hotel.
Returning thither, and finding that his baggage had duly arrived from the Hall, Bergan's active temperament would not let him rest until he had transported it to his new quarters, and gotten them in tolerable order. In this business he consumed the greater part of the day. The sun was low in the horizon, when, by way of a finishing touch, he nailed a tin plate, bearing in gilt letters the words—“BERGAN ARLING, ATTORNEY AT Law," to his office window.
With the act, came a thrill of strange enjoyment. It was like the first breath of a new and invigorating atmosphere. That little sign imparted an element of solidity to his plans and aims, hitherto lacking. It marked an epoch in his life. Now, first, he flung himself, with all his strength and energy, into the great struggle of mankind.
To this pleasantly excited mood, motion was still desirable, weariness unfelt. He decided to pay a visit to his second, and yet unknown, uncle,-Godfrey Bergan. He quitted the village with the last, red sunbeams.
THE FRUIT OF THE WAY.
THROUGH A Mist.
OAKSTEAD, the estate of Godfrey Bergan, was separated from the lands of the Hall by the small river-or “creek," in local parlance—which has before been mentioned. The pleasant dwelling of the owner stood not far from a picturesque bend of the stream, commanding a view of its tawny, slumberous current for a considerable distance up and down,-a view made up of gentlest curves and softest colouring only, yet with
enough of quiet beauty to arrest Bergan's feet, for some moments, on the oak-shadowed lawn.
The river's tide stole almost imperceptibly past, mirroring in its still bosom the sunset-painted sky, and the graver tinted objects of earth, with equal felicity,like a gentle spirit, in whose well-ordered life the things of either world find their appropriate place and exquisite harmony. Just at that point of the upper stream where an artist would have placed it for the best pictorial effect, was the bridge of the main road, with rough abutments half-buried in wild foliage, and railings overrun with vines; and at a remoter point down its shining course, the slenderer span of a narrow footbridge, with a single rustic railing, was also seen, idealized by distance into an aërial passway fit for fairy feet. In the earlier days of Godfrey's proprietorship, while the half-brothers were yet on friendly terms, this latter structure had furnished the means of easy and frequent communication between the two households. On the cessation of intercourse, however, Major Bergan had threatened its destruction, and had even begun an attack upon his own abutment; but his operations being suddenly suspended, and no convenient opportunity occurring for their resumption, he had finally left the work of demolition to be finished by the wear and tear of the elements, and the slow tooth of time. Though in a somewhat ruinous condition, and but insecurely poised on the damaged abutment, the bridge was still passable, with due caution; and, doubtless, it served for the nocturnal visits of such negroes of the two estates as were not set at odds by the bitterness of their masters' feud.
At a little distance below the footbridge, the river made another graceful bend, and soon disappeared in the shadow of the pine forest,-behind and above the dark, swaying fringe of which, the posthumous glory of the sun was fading from the western sky. Against this flitting splendour, the turret-like summits of the chimneys of Bergan Hall were distinctly visible. A little saddened by the sight, as forcing back on his mind thoughts and images which he had partially succeeded in flinging off, Bergan turned and walked quickly up the path to the house. Voices met him as he drew near. In one end of the broad piazza, so shut in by interlacing vines as to constitute a kind of leaf-tapestried parlour, two gentlemen were talking.
"I am afraid the identity is only too certain," said the smooth, sarcastic voice of Doctor Remy. “But I doubt if the habit be a confirmed one,-certainly, the physical indications are lacking. At any rate, as I said before, he is evidently making an effort to overcome it.”
"I wish that no such effort were necessary,”—began a different voice; but with the instinct of delicacy, Bergan set his foot upon the lower step of the piazza in a way to be distinctly heard, and would have done the same had he supposed that the conversation concerned him, which he did not. The voice ceased abruptly, and a gentleman, whom he instantly recognized as his uncle, advanced
meet him. Though he had enough of the Bergan cast of feature to identify him at the first, casual glance, as belonging to the race, it was lost, almost as soon as seen, amid traits widely differing from the ancestoral pattern. He was a much more genuine outcome of American soil than the rest of Sir Harry's descendants,-in whom a childhood fed upon old-world family traditions, and a youth spent at Oxford or Cambridge, had availed to preserve the English mould from all but the more unavoidable modifications. The race had always been marked by a greater volume of muscle, a ruddier complexion, and a sturdier texture of character, than was exactly native to the soil. But, in Godfrey Bergan, these characteristics were lacking. Though tall and well-formed, he was spare in figure and thin in face. His complexion had the true American sallowness of tint. In matters of bulk, weight, and colouring,—all the purely animal characteristics,-he fell far below the standard of his halfbrother. By way of indemnity, his figure had more litheness and grace; and his features were more clearly cut, and endowed with a keener vivacity of expression, apparently, they were informed by a quicker and finer intellect, as well as a gentler spirit.
Altogether, it was thoughtful, a refined, a benevolent countenance, that confronted Bergan; yet not without certain firm lines about the mouth to indicate that its owner could be decided, if he chose, and perhaps severe. While it invited liking, it commanded respect.
It was with real pleasure that Bergan made his self introduction to a relative with so many apparent claims to affection and esteem. Yet, even while he mentioned his name and relationship, and held out his hand, as to a stranger, -albeit a friend,-he was beset by an uneasy consciousness, that he had met Mr. Bergan, or somebody very like him, before. But where? Sending a swift, retrospective glance through his life, he could find no clue to the perplexing feeling; and, having scant time for investigation, he quickly dismissed it as the offspring of some indefinite and elusive resemblance, perhaps to one of the ancestral portraits, perhaps to a half-forgotten acquaintance.
It was the more easily disposed of, that its place was soon filled by another shadowy vexation. His uncle's reception was both courteous and kind; yet he could not help feeling intuitively that it was lacking in some indefinable element of cordiality, even while he repudiated the intuition as a baseless figment of his own imagination. Certainly, there was no tangible coolness, not so much as a thin film of indifference, upon which to lay a plausible finger-tip; nothing that did not slip away from every attempt at analysis, and seem to resolve itself into a sickly humour of his own. At worst, he told himself, there was only some less definite expression of consanguineous sympathy, in the pressure of his uncle's hand, and in the modulations of his voice, than he had allowed himself to look for; and this was a mere matter of mood and temperament, the absence of which formed no good
ground for complaint, whatever warmth and grace might have been contributed by its presence. No doubt, it would come in good time.
Meanwhile Doctor Remy, sending forth his keen glance from the shadowy end of the piazza, had recog. nized the new comer; and he now presented himself, hat in hand.
“The first meeting of near relatives," said he, with his indescribable mixture of seriousness and sarcasm, a scene upon which a third person is bound to pronounce his blessing, and—turn his back! Nay, no disclaimers; he is equally bound not to listen to them. Good evening, Mr. Bergan,-allow me to remark that good influences may avail much in the matter that we were talking of. Good evening, Mr. Arling, -it gives me pleasure to leave you in such agreeable quarters; Oakstead has manifold attractions, as you are in the way
And the doctor bowed, and descended the steps.
Mr. Bergan turned to his nephew. "I hope you left my sister well,” said he. “ Quite well. I have a letter from her for
I am ashamed that it has not been delivered before, but—"
Bergan hesitated; a further explanation would take him upon delicate ground.
“Never mind the sequence of the but,'” said his uncle, smiling, albeit a little gravely ;-“I am aware that the road from Bergan Hall to Oakstead is not so smooth as could be wished. I"—there was a slight hesitation, as if a colder phrase had been sought, and not found, —"I am glad that you were able to surmount its difficulties so soon. A letter from Eleanor !” he went on, with a sudden change of subject,—" that will be a treat indeed! I take shame to myself that our correspondence has fallen into such desuetude. But what one ever did survive the lapse of forty-two years, without the reviving impulse of an occasional meeting? I hardly dare venture a question about my sister's family, lest I make some terrific blunder. I am not even sure about the present number of her children."
“ There are six of us left."
6. Left’ implies taken,'” said Mr. Bergan, with a sigh.
“We have lost two of our number.”
“So have we," replied Mr. Bergan. “But we have not six left-we have only one. However, she is a host in herself,—at least, we think so,"—he added, with a smile at his own enthusiasm. But, will you come in and see your aunt and cousin?”
He led the way to a small room, pleasantly furnished as a library; and Bergan followed him, though not without a vague sense of a lurking reluctance and lukewarmness in the invitation,—which he sternly smothered, nevertheless, as unworthy of himself and unjust to his uncle.
Stepping to an open French window, Mr. Bergan slightly raised his voice and called,
“Yes, father!" was the instant answer, in a voice of peculiar richness and melody ; and the next moment a young girl stood in the window, with a light shawl wrapped round her slender figure, and her hands filled with autumn flowers, just gathered. The light was too dim to show her features clearly; but a certain indefinable freshness and sweetness seemed to enter the room with her and diffuse itself through the atmosphere not less perceptibly than the scent of the flowers. At sight of a stranger, imperfectly seen in the twilight obscurity of the room, she stopped abruptly.
“It is your cousin, Bergan Arling, the son of my sister Eleanor," briefly explained her father.
There was a little start of surprise and of pleasure ; then Carice dropped her flowers on the nearest table, and gave Bergan two cordial hands. Not only was there a charming grace in the unstudied action, but also the pleasant heart-warmth, the frank recognition of kinship and its appropriate sympathies, which Bergan had so unaccountably missed from his uncle's manner, even while trying to persuade himself, either that it was there, or that its absence was no matter of surprise.
“ Have I really a cousin, then!” said she, brightly. “I never believed it till now. That story of cousins at the West always sounded like a pleasant fiction to me, -...I am glad to know that it is founded on fact."
“On six facts," said Bergan smiling. “I am the fortunate representative of five other claimants to your cousinly regard."
Carice laughingly shook her head. “I believe what I see,” said she,—" or rather what I should see, if it were not so dim here. By-and-bye,-after I have ordered lights,-I may be able to reason from the seen to the unseen.” And she glided from the room, which seemed to grow suddenly dark and chill behind her.
Very shortly she returned, preceded by a servant bearing lights, and accompanied by her mother. Looking towards Bergan with a smile, she gave a slight start; the coming words were arrested on her parted lips; the colour mounted to her brow; across her face went a sweet ripple of disappointment and pain. Quickly recovering herself, she presented him to her mother ; but the bright cordiality, the warm heart-glow of her earlier manner had faded, and came no more. It was as if a grey screen had suddenly been drawn before a cheery household fire.
Happily for Bergan, his aunt claimed his attention before he had time to feel the full dreariness of the change. She was a woman of rare tact and much kindliness of heart, despite a somewhat stately manner, and a considerable degree of aristocratic chill for people not exactly in her "set."
She gave Bergan a warm welcome - almost a motherly one; there was something about him that brought a softening remembrance of the two sons that slept in the family burial-ground, and quietly opened the way for him into her heart.