Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE MYSTERY OF A LIFE REVEALED.

By Mrs. J. R. Haskins.
V.

(Concluded.)

CHAPTER IX.—(CONTINUED.)

"november was near its close, when I received a summons from my partner to hasten my return home, as my business, he said, was suffering on account of my prolonged absence. Now more than ever anxious to make fame and increase my fortune for the benefit of my idol, I felt constrained to obey; so, with many regrets and promises of an early return we parted. Letters, long and frequent, beguiled the period of absence, until the month of March, when I again stole time for a visit of a few weeks. It grieved me then to find that Edith had allowed her father's threats, constantly reiterated in his letters, to take almost a superstitious hold upon her mind. Her health being at this time delicate, I flattered myself that the state of her nerves might account in a great measure for the change.

"Imagining that she had incurred her father's curse, she nursed the belief that, sooner or later, it would work an endless amount of woe for both the innocent and guilty; but that upon her would fall the heaviest weight, following her even beyond the grave. I found it impossible to combat these gloomy anticipations (too true, as I have since to my sorrow learned), though fortunately my love and presence were sufficiently monopolizing to lull them to rest for the time. When again obliged to leave her, it was with many forebodings; and I counted the days, long and dreary, until the summer should arrive and leave me at liberty to be again with her. June brought the longed-for anticipations, and I found in the following two months that Edith's health required all my care, and her anxious, nervous state of mind, my most forbearing and patient love. I look back now, and thank God, that neither even for an instant faltered. To meet her fears my courage rose; to sustain her weakness my strength increased.

"Toward the middle of August, Mr. Livingston

was called unexpectedly and imperatively by his

father's illness away from home. He left with

great reluctance, as the situation of his wife made

Vol. XV.—24

him unwilling to be away from home at that time. Edith's health was also so frail as to confine her most of the time to her room, and as it communicated with her sister's, my visits to and from were either unknown, or but little noticed by the servants, all of whom had been long in the family, and were particularly devoted to its members. In addition to these facilities for unobserved intercourse, Mr. Livingston's room was on the lower floor, the front of a wing, with windows and doors opening on a gallery, so I could go and come without the knowledge of any one in the house.

"Toward the close of the month, Mrs. Livingston gave birth to a son, and within twenty-four hours Edith lay in my arms in strong convulsions, and the first cry of a new-born infant, my child! thrilled my heart. The services of an old valued" family physician and a faithful nurse had been engaged, and made the confidante of this anticipated event. But unfortunately the moment of urgent need had alone been provided for, trusting to circumstances for our guidance of future events. Scarcely had Edith's babe been launched into life, when Mrs. Livingston's, weakly from the first, fell into convulsions and died. The care of alf present was, however, concentrated upon my wife, whose situation the doctor pronounced "alarming." Nor did I need his assurance, for I saw too plainly the death-seal upon her brow, and heard the rustle of his dark, swooping wings, as they beat time to the slow pulsations of her heart. She had recovered her consciousness, and was fully aware of her danger, which was increased a hundredfold by her remorseful memories, and the conviction that her father's curse would stand between her and heaven. Added to which, her anxiety for me and the future of her child divided her sufferings and her fears. To conceal from her father the truth, to obtain from me this promise, and a successful elusion of the deception practiced, she believed, in her then bewildered state, would alone avert all the awful consequences of his anger.

"Mrs. Livingston insisted upon knowing all that was passing, and though prostrated by her own sorrow and suffering, was yet roused into thought and action by her sister's physical danger and agony of mind. Thinking only of assuaging her pain, and rendering her death-hour tranquil and resigned, she proposed, under the influence of these feelings, to take our infant in place of her own, and thus forever avert the curse which her father, in his knowledge of our marriage would hurl upon the dead mother and living child. No one outside of those two rooms had known of the simultaneous birth and death of those little ones. In the dead of night, the doctor and I took the dead babe and buried it in a retired part of the garden.

Lulled by her sister's assurances, and by my solemn promise never to divulge our marriage or the maternity of the infant, and comforted and sustained by the prayers I, in my own bitter anguish strove to read for her (for there was no minister within miles), Edith became calm and resigned to her own sad fate. Just as the first ray of light ushered in the dawn of a, glorious day, and while the lovelight in her eyes shone through the cold mists of death, she breathed calmly .in my arms her last earthly sigh, leaving to me, as an undying memory of love and remorse, the little unconscious babe."

"Oh, papa," exclaimed Edith with great agitation, "don't tell me that that child was Clarence Livingston, and he my brother!"

"Even so, my child; and well may you thank God for the strength that enabled you to obey so implicitly my commands, before it was too late. Now, too, you can understand what I also must have suffered in that terrible conflict; and though I do not expect, or indeed wish you to be blind to the weakness and error on my part in the case, still, I know that your loving heart will acquit me of all willful or premeditated wrong, in the unparalleled effects this long-buried secret produced.

"At this point perhaps it will be well for me to cease"—

"Oh, no, papa," broke in Edith, greatly excited, "continue the strange tale. I feel so bewildered. There is so much that is yet incomprehensible to me that it is like trying to arrange all the incidents of a strange, wild dream into something tangible and coherent. Tell me of Mrs. Livingston's future course in regard to her husband; for

I infer, from what I know of their family that he must have remained ignorant of the truth. Still, I don't understand why she should have concealed the circumstances from him, as his consent to your marriage and his affection for Edith | would have been sufficient justification of bis wife's course."

"Yes, so I at the time thought, and urged be. to tell him all, believing his exclusion from the knowledge of the facts to be an unnecessary pre caution, and not contained in our solemn promk to the dead. But my arguments were vain; or she was possessed with the idea that he would never forgive her. Being most anxious for a son, having already heard by letter of his birth and safety, he would think, she insisted, that his sudden death, predicated upon subsequent events, was the result of a proper want of care, or some other inexplicable cause, for which he would e«r hold her accountable. Suspicion, she said, was the dark spot in his character, and she knew he would never forgive her, never feel satisfied, new; love her again as he had done, and rather than Ium that she would endure the remorse that her deception must entail. Should, however, another boy be born to them, she could then in time disclose the truth. But as this was never the case, and as Livingston became more and more wrapped up in the boy as years went by, the time for amage and disclosure never came to either of us.

"Mrs. Livingston became immediately aftu her sister's death alarmingly ill under the excite- ment of these events, and her husband returned only to find her in the very arms of death. Had she died I certainly should have told him all; but as she recovered, I felt that the secret belonged more exclusively to her and the dead; and *«& though all the consequences of its suppression should fall upon me alone, yet my lips might remain forever sealed. Little did I anticipate the fearful responsibility I assumed. Little did I dream of the intolerable weight a single secie: might become. I lingered restlessly about tte place, keeping my night watch by that solitary grave, until all danger to the life of Mrs. Livingston had passed. Then, without any regret iv leaving the infant that only secured to me the cause of all my woe, I returned home; but atfortunately so changed by the iron-handed bio* I had received as to excite the conjectures «4 queries of all my friends.

"Truly my old self was gone, buried in the grave of my lost love, and could only return when we should rise together at the last day. Business, though without an object then, yet became necessary to save me from the distraction of my own thoughts and memories. Hence, I plunged into active life. A spirit of unrest was upon me, and only work could dispel its promptings. But in time, through all this sorrow, a sense of duty and a craving for the affections of life had not quite died out; though the winter of the heart had set in, and the summer lights had all gone out.

"The boughs were stripped of their leaves, and the birds no longer sang their morning song in its branches. Five long years had been thus spent, when I first met your mother. I had made up my mind to marry, because my heart still craved something less selfish and material than my lonely business life afforded. But I feared to insult any woman with the offer of a heart so battered and scarred as mine. It was not long, however, before I discovered that your mother's love was strong enough to demand but little return from me. She possessed a disposition and character that, in many respects, suited my needs; so, without deceiving her, yet without telling her all the truth, she was content to accept me, and exacted nothing I was not able to bestow.

"Good and considerate she certainly was, and her care for my happiness and home-comfort won my gratitude, though it could never fill the cold void that reigned over and above all else. At length you, my child, came as a sunbeam into a frozen heart, and with those little supplicating hands gathered up the broken fragments and wove them into shape and life again. During the first year of my marriage, Mr. Livingston had written me of his desire and intention of removing from his old home. His wife, he said, had never recovered from the painful associations connected with her sister's death, and he trusted alone to change of scene to restore her lost spirits. As he preferred an agricultural life, he deputed me to look out for a well-cultivated farm in my own neighborhood. This proposition excited contending feelings; for though anxious now to see and know my boy, yet a dread of self-betrayal made me fear for the result.

"Had this plan gone into effect a year earlier, it is possible that I never should have married; for

I believe that the strong love that filled my heart for Clarence, awakened at first by his striking likeness to his mother, but growing by degrees, through the power of his own lovable, attractive qualifications, might have proved sufficient for my happiness. It was to this likeness that Mr. Livingston attributed my warm affection and subsequent interest in the boy. Hence, he could never understand or forgive the inexplicable course my dread secret forced me to silently pursue at that fatal time. Fool that I was! I believed that by throwing you together, nature would assert her claims and only such a love would spring up between you as angels might look upon."

"I can answer for my own feelings now, papa," said Edith, "and truly assert that they never exceeded the limits of a strong sisterly affection; only this, through the ignorance of a romantic, sentimental girl's imagination, was construed into something warmer. Now, I understand why it is that I could never root even that love out of my heart; and I bless God that at last I can believe it to be the work of his own hand. But mamma? After all her patient suffering and faithful love, did you allow her to die ignorant of the truth?"

"No. As my promise belonged to the dead, I believed that without any forfeiture of its conditions I could share it with one to whom it was due, and whose feet were even then standing within the portal. In those last days, I told her all; and thanked her for all those years of patient love and forbearance. She was satisfied; and with the clearing up of the mystery that had so long hung like a pall between us, together with the revelation this probing gave her of my share in its sorrows, she acquitted me of all blame, and thus, as you saw, died contented and happy."•

After a few moments Mr. Neville continued:

"Now that my heart and conscience are relieved of this long-carried burden, I too might die content, were it not for the longing that is tugging at my heart-strings to look once more upon the face of my boy; to see love and forgiveness beaming from eyes so like his mother's, and to hear that confirmation from his own lips. This yearning still holds me to life; but the cords are giving way so rapidly that I fear my atonement must be perfected through this last trial, as I owe to Mrs. Livingston the sacrifice of feeling that she demands.

"Leave me now, my love, for I feel weak and weary. I need not ask if I have won your full forgiveness, for the assurance of your present happiness, which also in part you owe to me, assures me that your past sorrows only make the present joy more complete and perfect."

After seeing her father comfortably settled upon his couch, the room darkened, and everything arranged for his comfort, Edith left him, glad of the opportunity to give free vent to the feelings that these disclosures had evoked, and sure of finding all the sympathy and support she needed in the heart of her husband.

Mr. Neville sank slowly but surely from that time, and though he never again alluded to the earnest longing of those last days, yet his daughter saw and felt how eagerly he still craved the presence of his son. Wondering in her own mind how to bring about the desired results without conflicting with his promises, she most unexpectedly found all difficulties removed by looking carelessly one day some weeks after, over an Eastern paper, in which she saw recorded the death of Mrs. Livingston. Knowing that the news would be more a relief to her father than a shock, she at once communicated it to him. After a few moments of anxious thought, he placed in her hands a letter, sealed and addressed to Clarence, which he said had been long in readiness for either this event or that of his own death, begging Edith to have it mailed at once to its destination.

CHAPTER X.—LOVE STRONGER THAN DEATH.

A Beautiful dark-eyed, dark-haired woman, with the form and step of a Juno, paced restlessly to and fro the length of two elegantly-adorned drawing-rooms. There was an anxious, nervous impatience evident in her step, in the constant clasping of the hands, in the evident eagerness which caused her to stop and listen to the sound of every step in the street as it neared her own door. Suddenly she exclaimed, "At last!" and as she reached the threshold of the vestibule, our old long-lost friend, Clarence Livingston, entered, and received in a sort of abstracted mood the kiss she earnestly, ardently, and yet with some degree of petulance, too, pressed upon his lips.

"I thought, Clarence, you would never come. I have been burning with impatience to see you ever since Mr. J— stopped in, to tell me your election was confirmed beyond doubt; and I do think you might have considered my feelings a

little earlier, and have let me hear from you're lips of the crowning honor of your life."

"There, speak your enthusiastic ambition, Man, I am not so sure yet whether this may or may not prove the crowning honor of my life. Deeds, not events, lead to honor. But when I entered the contest (at your suggestion, and in part to gr»tifj your ambition), yet in my heart the determination was strong to use my success, if it came, in the spirit and with the deeds of a true patriot. We have too many politicians whose sole aim is selfaggrandizement, and when the few beacon lights that are now our salvation, such as Clay and Webster—when these have burned out, I know not who will arise to save the country from drifting upon the rocks. To follow them in their wake, to emulate in the future their wisdom, is the only instigation of zeal or ambition I feel for the contest just ended."

He said this in a peculiarly sad tone, and with an expression in his eyes as if looking at something far, far beyond the visual sight. His wife had noticed this abstraction, and in so doing dropped his hand and rose quickly to her feet, it moved by some uncontrollable impulse.

"Yes, Clarence," she said, in low and tremulous voice, as if striving to suppress the expression of some strong feeling waging war within he: bosom; "yes, I see the truth. Even this excitement and honor have failed to rouse you from your dreams; failed to bury in oblivion the memory of that early trial, and the image of tru! one fair face. All my unswerving love, even the strong curb I have put upon my jealous hear., have all failed to draw you away from that on« memory, failed to make the living love of such : passionate heart as mine supply the place of i buried, broken tie, or erase the memory of » woman who never knew what fidelity means, never, never knew what it was to love you « I do."

"Hold, Mary!" here broke in Clarence,springing to his feet, whilst his lips turned ashy pale, and the blue veins on his temples swelled Kfct cords. "Hold! you have said enough. These scenes must come to an end, for I will bear nt more. It is desecration; it is a constant insult to the man you profess to love—a taunt on the host* of your husband, which gives the lie to all u*r protestations of love and confidence. I hare beet* it, as you know, heretofore in patient

striving, either by word or act, to convince you of the loyalty of my love for you, making due allowance for that strong, passionate, craving nature that would absorb all or none; always striving to bear in mind, as excuse for all, the truly noble and generous heart that beats beneath all these faults. But now that my efforts have all failed, there remains but one more remedy, one more chance to bring peace to both, and that is, absence. You can remain here when I go to Washington, and"—

"No, no, Clarence," here broke in his wife, throwing her arms around him, "take me with you; don't leave me; that were death. Oh, forgive me! I know I try you beyond endurance; but if you only knew what I suffer under the torture of this doubt of your love when it does arise, you would, indeed you would, pity me. Then it is that I am tempted to believe that no deeper feeling than gratitude prompted you to offer me your hand and heart—gratitude to Louis for all his devotion to you in your bitter trials, and gratitude to me for my sympathy, and the efforts my pity for you prompted me to offer when I met you first in Italy."

And here she twined her arms closer around him, and looked so pleadingly with her bright, flashing eyes, now subdued into a melting pathos by the tears that suffused them, that he could not fail to forgive and love her, and take her again to his great noble heart.

As the blessed calm of holy, elevating, conjugal love was filling the hearts of both in lieu of the bitter feelings just passed, a servant entering with a letter for Mr. Livingston broke the spell of a dream that never grows old, that never knows satiety, whose variety is endless, whose charm is perpetual beauty, and whose bliss combines the perfect repose of heaven with the sweet dependence and holy trust that transmutes our earthiness into glimmerings of celestial light.

The letter proved to be a summons from his sister Mary to the deathbed of his mother.

"I must goat once, my love," he said; "but it will be only for a few days. On my return we can settle all that remains to be discussed of the subject just interrupted. Until then, adieu, and don't forget your promise;" then, taking her in his arms, and kissing her fervently, he left the house.

It was the evening of the fourth day of Clar

ence's absence, and Mrs. Livingston sat in the dining-room by a cheerful fire with a lovely boy of six months old asleep upon her lap, and the table arranged with everything necessary for a cosy, enjoyable supper.

Her attention alternated between the child and the clock. As the half-hour after eight struck she began to wonder what could keep her husband so late, then reaching forward, pulled the bell, and as the nurse entered, said:

"Take the baby, Susan, and tell James to go to the office and ask if any word has been received there to-day from Mr. Livingston; I fear he is not coming to-night."

"Why, madame," replied Susan, "Mr. Livingston has been in the library more than an hour."

Mrs. Livingston looked surprised; but laying the baby in the girl's arms she repressed an expression of astonishment. No sooner had the servant left the room than her eyes filled with tears, and she murmured, "It has come again; but I must keep my promise." Then controlling all signs of emotion, she took her way to the library, knocked, but without waiting for reply, turned the knob, and went in. So absorbed was Clarence in his own thoughts that he had heard no sound. He sat by a table in the centre of the room, his head resting on one hand, his eyes still moist from recent tears, and gazing with the old questioning look upon the Sibylline pages of the Past vs. Future. His wife was touched by the sad, worn expression; she gently laid her hand upon his shoulder as she pressed a kiss upon his forehead. Clarence started at the touch, then drew her down upon his knee, and clasped her in his arms with a passionate earnestness never before evinced.

"Don't chide me, darling," he said. "Indeed, I had no intention of being so long without seeing you; but as I came in, James told me that there was a letter here for me, and I thought only to get it, and then go to you, but"—

"Never mind the letter, Clarence; but tell me of your mother," said his wife.

"It is all over, Mary. My poor mother has I trust at last found rest and peace. It was a sad deathbed; so much reproach for her course to the living; so much remorse for her course to the dead."

"Why, what do you mean, Clarence? Surely,

« AnteriorContinuar »