« 上一页继续 »
She slept—but not tho gentlo sleep
That closes childhood's eye; And not the slumber that in youth
Subdues the pulses high. All day the surf had swept the shore
With hoarse, unbroken chime, And now its midnight murmurlngs
With her young heart's kept time.
In dreams she lived the sorrows o'er
That paled her cheek's warm glow; In dmams she met neglect and scorn,
Reproach and want and woe:
A wrestler with despair!
I faint with grief and care."
Tears fell like rain—a soft repose
Stole o'er the sleeper's eye,
And white wings hovered nigh.
Of firm endurance given
By perfect trust in Heaven. «
Of him who on an ocean world
Outrode the surges high,
The rainbow span the sky.
Of Hagar's lonely cries;
And Abraham's sacrifice.
Full swelled the symphony divine,
Exultant and afar.
Crowned with a new-born star.
Athwart her pillow stole,
Serene and glad of soul.
Oh I nightly doth a vision like
Some burdened spirit see;
God-guided still are we.
Its victories sublime,
In Judah's sacred clime.
"Wno is she?"
"Ay, that is precisely the question which everybody asks, and nobody can answer."
"She is a splendid-looking creature, be she who she may."
"And her manners arc as lovely as her person. Come and dine with me to-morrow; I sit directly opposite her at table, so you can have a fair opportunity of gazing at this new star in our dingy firmament."
"Agreed: I am about changing my lodgings, and if I like the company at your house, I may take a room there."
The speakers were two gay and fashionable men; one a student of law, the other a confidential clerk in a large commercial house. They belonged to that class of youths, so numerous in New York, who, while in reality labouring most industriously for a livelihood, yet take infinite pains to seem idle and useless members of society:—fellows who at their outset in life try hard to repress a certain respectability of character, which after a while
comet up in spite of them, and makes them very good sort of men in the end. The lady who attracted so much of their attention at that moment, had recently arrived in the city; and, as she wore the weeds of widowhood, her solitary position seemed sufficiently explained. But there was an attractiveness in her appearand and manners which excited a more than usual interest in the stranger's history. She had that peculiar fascination which gentlemen regard as the most exquisite refinement of frank simplicity, but which ladies, better versed in the intricaoies of female nature, always reoognise as the perfection of art. None but an impulsive, warm-hearted woman, can retain her freshness of feeling and ready responsive sympathy after five-and-twenty; and such a woman never obtains sufficient command over her own sensitiveness to exhibit the perfect adaptability and uniform amiableness of deportment which are characteristics of the skilful fascinator.
Harry Maurice, the young lawyerling, failed not to fulfil his appointment with his friend; and at four o'clock on the following day, he found himself the vis-a-vis of the bewitching Mrs. Howard, gazing on her loveliness through the somewhat hazy atmosphere of a steaming dinner-table. If he was struck with her appearance when he saw her only stepping from a carriage, he was now completely bewildered by the whole battery of charms which were directed against him. A well-rounded and graceful figure, whose symmetry was set off by a close-fitting dress of black bombazine; superb arms gleaming through sleeves of the thinnest crape; a neck of dazzling whiteness, only half concealed beneath the folds of a fichu a la grand'mire; features not regularly beautiful, somewhat sharp in outline, but full of expression, and enlivened by the brightest of eyes and pearliest of teeth, were the most obvious of her attractions.
The ordinary civilities of the table, proffered with profound respect by Maurice, and accepted with quiet dignity by the lady, opened the way to conversation. Before the dessert came on, the first barriers to acquaintance had been removed, and, somewhat to his own surprise, Harry Maurice found himself perpetrating bad puns and uttering gay bon-mots in the full hearing, and evidently to the genuine amusement, of the lovely widow. When dinner was over, the trio found themselves in the midst of an animated discussion respecting the relative capacity for sentiment in men and women. The subject was too interesting to be speedily dropped, and the party adjourned to a convenient corner of the drawing-room. As usual, the peculiar character of the topic upon which they had fallen, led to the unguarded expression
of individual opinions, and of course to the development of much implied experience. Nothing could have been better calculated to display Mrs. Howard as one of the most sensitive, as well as sensible of her sex. She had evidently been one of the victims to the false notions of society. A premature marriage, an uncongenial partner, and all the thousand-andone ills attendant upon baffled sentiment, had probably entered largely into the lady's bygone knowledge of life. Not that she deigned to confide any of her personal experience to her new friends, but they possessed active imaginations, and it was easy to make large inferences from small premises.
Midnight sounded ere the young men remembered that something was due to the ordinary forms of society, and that they had been virtually "talking love," for seven hours, to a perfect stranger. The sudden reaction of feeling, the dread lest they had been exposing their peculiar habits of thought to the eye of ridicule, the frightful suspicion that they must have seemed most particularly "fresh" to the lady, struck both the gentlemen at the same moment. They attempted to apologise, but the womanly tact of Mrs. Howard spared them all the discomfort of such an awkward explanation. She reproached herself so sweetly for having suffered her impulsive nature to beguile her with such unwonted confidence, — she thanked them so gently for their momentary interest in her "melancholy recollections of blighted feelings,"—she so earnestly implored them to forget her indiscreet communings with persons "whose singular congeniality of soul had made her forget that they were strangers," that she succeeded in restoring them to a comfortable sense of their own powers of attraction. Instead of thinking they had acted like men " afflicted with an extraordinary quantity ofyoungneet," they came to the conclusion that Mrs. Howard was one of the most discriminating of her sex; and the tear which swam in her soft eyes as she gave them her hand at parting, added the one irresistible charm to their previous bewilderment.
The acquaintance so auspiciously begun was not allowed to languish. Harry Maurice took lodgings in the same house; and thus, without exposing the fair widow to invidious remark, he was enabled to enjoy her society with less restraint. Unlike most of his sudden fancies, he found his liking for this lady "to grow by what it fed on." She looked so very lovely in her simple white morning dress and pretty French cap, and her manners partook so agreeably of the simplicity and easy negligence of her breakfast attire, that she seemed more charming than ever. Indeed, almost every one in the house took a fancy to her. She won the hearts of the ladies briber unbounded fondness for their children, and her consummate tact in inventing new games for them; while her entire unconsciousness of her own attractions, and apparent indifference to admiration, silenced for a time all incipient jealousy. The gentlemen could not but be pleased with a pretty woman who was so sweet-tempered and so little exacting; while her peculiar talent for putting every one in good humour with themselves,—a talent, which in less skilful hands would have been merely an adroit power of flattery,—sufficiently accounted for her general influence.
There was only one person who seemed proof against Mrs. Howard's spells. This^was an old bank clerk, who for forty years had occupied the same post, and stood at the same desk, encountering no other changes than that of a new ledger for an old one, and hating every innovation in morals and manners with an intensity singularly at variance with his usual quietude, or rather stagnation of feeling. For nearly half his life he had occupied the same apartment, and nothing but a fire or an earthquake would have been sufficient to dislodge him. Many of the transient residents in the house knew him only by the soubriquet of " the Captain;" and the half-dictatorial, half-whimsical manner in which, with the usual privilege of a humourist, he ordered trifling matters about the house, was probably the origin of the title. When the ladies who presided at the head of the establishment first opened their house for the reception of boarders, he had taken up his quarters there, and they had all grown old together; so it was not to be wondered at if he had somewhat the manner of a master.
The Captain had looked with an evil eye upon Mrs. Howard from the morning after her arrival, when he had detected her French dressing-maid in the act of peeping into his boots, as they stood outside of the chamberdoor. This instance of curiosity, which he could only attribute to an unjustifiable anxiety to be acquainted with the name of the owner of the said boots, was such a flagrant impropriety, besides being such a gross violation of his privilege of privacy, that he could not forgive it. He made a formal complaint of the matter to Mrs. Howard, and earnestly advised her to dismiss so prying a servant. The lady pleaded her attachment to a faithful attendant, who had left her native France for pure love of her, and besought him to forgive a first and venial error. The Captain had no faith in its being a first fault, and as for its veniality, if she had put out au " I," and called it a venal affair, it would have better suited his ideas of her. He evidently suspecta^Jioth the mistress and the maid; and a pfMidice in bis mind was like a
thistle-seed,—it might wing its way on gossamer pinions, but once planted, it was sure to produce its crop of thorns.
In vain the lady attempted to conciliate him; in vain she tried to humour his whims, and pat and fondle his hobbies. He was proof against all her allurements, and whenever by some new or peculiar grace she won unequivocal expressions of admiration from the more susceptible persons around her, a peevish "Fudge!" would resound most emphatically from the Captain's lips.
"Pray, sir, will you be so good as to inform me what you meant by the offensive monosyllable you chose to utter this morning, when I addressed a remark to Mrs. Howard?" said Harry Maurice to him, upon a certain occasion, when the old gentleman had seemed more than usually caustic and observing.
The Captain looked slowly up from his newspaper: "I am old enough, young man, to be allowed to talk to myself, if I please."
"I suppose you meant to imply that I was 'green,' and stood a fair chance of being 'done brown,'" said Harry mischievously, well knowing his horror of all modern slang.
"I am no judge of colours," said he, drily, "but I can tell a fool from a knave when I see them contrasted. In old times it was the woman's privilege to play the fool, but the order of things is reversed now-a-days." So saying, he drew on his gloves, and walked out with his usual clock-like regularity.
Three months passed away, and Harry Maurice was "full five fathoms deep" in love with the beautiful stranger. Yet he knew no more of her personal history than on%he day when they first met, and the old question of "Who is she?" was often in his mind, though the respect growing out of a genuine attachment checked it ere the words rose to his lips. He heard her speak of plantations at the South, and on more than one occasion he had been favoured with a commission to transact banking business for her. He had made several deposits in her name, and had drawn out several small sums for her use. He knew therefore that she had moneys at command, but of her family and connexions he was profoundly ignorant. He was too much in love, however, to hesitate long on this point. Young, ardent, and possessed of that pseudo-romance, which, like French gilding, so much resembles the real thing that many prefer it, as being cheaper and more durable, he was particularly pleased with the apparent disinterestedness of his affection. Too poor to marry unless he found a bride possessed of fortune, he was now precisely in the situation where alone he could feel himself on the same footing with a wealthy wife. He had an established position in society, his family were among the oldest and most respectable residents of the state, and the offer of his hand under suoh circumstances to a lone, unfriended stranger, took away all appearance of cupidity from the suitor, while it constituted a claim upon the lady's gratitude as well as affection. With all his assumed self-confidence, Maurice was in reality a very modest fellow, and he had many a secret misgiving as to her opinion of his merits; for he was one of those youths who use puppyism as a cloak for his diffidence. He wanted to assure himself of her preference before committing himself by a declaration, and to do this required a degree of skill in womancraft that far exceeded his powers.
In the mean time the prejudices of the Captain gained greater strength, and although there was no open war between him and the fair widow, there was perpetual skirmishing between them. Indeed it could not well be otherwise, considering the decided contrast between the two parties. The Captain was prejudiced, dogmatic, and fnll of old-fashioned notions. A steady adherent of ruffled shirts, well-starched collars, and shaven chins, he regarded with contempt the paltry subterfuges of modern fashion. At five-and-twenty he had formed his habits of thinking and acting, and at sixty he was only the same man grown older. A certain indolence of temper prevented him from investigating anything new, and he was therefore content to deny all that did not conform to his early notions. He hated fashionable slang, despised a new-modelled costume, scorned modern morality, and ranked the crime of v/fearing a mustache and imperial next to the seven deadly sins. His standard of female perfection was a certain "ladye-love" of his youth, who might have served as a second Harriet Byron to some new Sir Charles Grandison. After a courtship of ten years, (during which time he never ventured upon a greater familiarity than that of pressing the tips of her fingers to his lips on a New Year's day,) the lady died, and the memory of his early attachment, though something like a rose encased in ice, was still the one flower of his life.
Of course, the freedom of modern manners was shocking to him, and in Mrs. Howard he beheld the impersonation of vanity, coquetry, and falsehood. Besides, she interfered with his privileges. She made suggestions about certain arrangements at table; she pointed out improvements in several minor household comforts; she asked for the liver-wing of the ohicken, which had heretofore been his peculiar perquisite, as carver; she played the accordion, and kept an Eolian harp in the window of her room, which unfortunately adjoined his;
and, to crown all, she did not hesitate to ask him questions as coolly as if she was totally unconscious of his privileges of privacy. He certainly had a most decided grudge against the lady, and she, though apparently all gentleness and meekness, yet had so adroit a way of saying and doing disagreeable things to the old gentleman, that it was easy to infer a mutual dislike.
The Captain's benevolence had been excited by seeing Harry Maurice on the highroad to being victimized, and ho actually took some pains to make the young man see things in their true light.
"Pray, Mr. Maurice, do you spend all your mornings at your office 1" said he one day.
"Then you differ from most young lawyers," was the gruff reply.
"Perhaps I have better reasons than many others for my close application. While completing my studies, I am enabled to earn a
moderate salary by writing for Mr. , and
this is of some consequence to me."
The old man looked inquiringly, and Maurice answered the silent question.
"You know enough of our family, sir, to be aware that my father's income died with him. A few hundred dollars per annum are all that remains for the support of my mother and an invalid sister, who reside in Connecticut. Of course, if I would not encroach upon their small means, I must do something for my own maintenance."
The Captain's look grew pleasanter as he replied, "I do not mean to be guilty of any impertinent intrusion into your affairs, but it seems to me that you share the weakness of your fellows, by thus working like a slave and spending like a prince."
Maurice laughed. "Perhaps my princely expenditure would scarcely bear as close a scrutiny as my slavish toil. I really work, but it often happens that I only seem to spend."
"I understand you, but you are worthy of better things; you should have courage to throw off the trammels of fashion, and live economically, like a man of sense, until fortune favours you."
The young man was silent for a moment, then, as if to change the subject, asked, "What was your object in inquiring about my morning walks?"
"I merely wanted to know if you ever met Mrs. Howard in Broadway in the morning."
"Never, sir; but I am so seldom there, that it would be strange if I should encounter an acquaintance among its throngs."
"I am told she goes out every morning at nine o'clock, and does not re^n until three."
"I suppose she is fond of ^^Rng."