Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 2

  • The next day was splendid, as Felix had prophesied; if the winter had suddenl_eaped into spring, the spring had for the moment as quickly leaped int_ummer. This was an observation made by a young girl who came out of a larg_quare house in the country, and strolled about in the spacious garden whic_eparated it from a muddy road. The flowering shrubs and the neatly-dispose_lants were basking in the abundant light and warmth; the transparent shade o_he great elms—they were magnificent trees—seemed to thicken by the hour; an_he intensely habitual stillness offered a submissive medium to the sound of _istant church-bell. The young girl listened to the church-bell; but she wa_ot dressed for church. She was bare-headed; she wore a white muslin waist, with an embroidered border, and the skirt of her dress was of colored muslin.
  • She was a young lady of some two or three and twenty years of age, and thoug_ young person of her sex walking bare-headed in a garden, of a Sunday mornin_n spring-time, can, in the nature of things, never be a displeasing object, you would not have pronounced this innocent Sabbath-breaker especially pretty.
  • She was tall and pale, thin and a little awkward; her hair was fair an_erfectly straight; her eyes were dark, and they had the singularity o_eeming at once dull and restless—differing herein, as you see, fatally fro_he ideal "fine eyes," which we always imagine to be both brilliant an_ranquil. The doors and windows of the large square house were all wide open, to admit the purifying sunshine, which lay in generous patches upon the floo_f a wide, high, covered piazza adjusted to two sides of the mansion—a piazz_n which several straw-bottomed rocking-chairs and half a dozen of those smal_ylindrical stools in green and blue porcelain, which suggest an affiliatio_etween the residents and the Eastern trade, were symmetrically disposed. I_as an ancient house—ancient in the sense of being eighty years old; it wa_uilt of wood, painted a clean, clear, faded gray, and adorned along th_ront, at intervals, with flat wooden pilasters, painted white. Thes_ilasters appeared to support a kind of classic pediment, which was decorate_n the middle by a large triple window in a boldly carved frame, and in eac_f its smaller angles by a glazed circular aperture. A large white door, furnished with a highly-polished brass knocker, presented itself to the rural- looking road, with which it was connected by a spacious pathway, paved wit_orn and cracked, but very clean, bricks. Behind it there were meadows an_rchards, a barn and a pond; and facing it, a short distance along the road, on the opposite side, stood a smaller house, painted white, with externa_hutters painted green, a little garden on one hand and an orchard on th_ther. All this was shining in the morning air, through which the simpl_etails of the picture addressed themselves to the eye as distinctly as th_tems of a "sum" in addition.
  • A second young lady presently came out of the house, across the piazza, descended into the garden and approached the young girl of whom I have spoken.
  • This second young lady was also thin and pale; but she was older than th_ther; she was shorter; she had dark, smooth hair. Her eyes, unlike th_ther's, were quick and bright; but they were not at all restless. She wore _traw bonnet with white ribbons, and a long, red, India scarf, which, on th_ront of her dress, reached to her feet. In her hand she carried a little key.
  • "Gertrude," she said, "are you very sure you had better not go to church?"
  • Gertrude looked at her a moment, plucked a small sprig from a lilac-bush, smelled it and threw it away. "I am not very sure of anything!" she answered.
  • The other young lady looked straight past her, at the distant pond, which la_hining between the long banks of fir-trees. Then she said in a very sof_oice, "This is the key of the dining-room closet. I think you had better hav_t, if any one should want anything."
  • "Who is there to want anything?" Gertrude demanded. "I shall be all alone i_he house."
  • "Some one may come," said her companion.
  • "Do you mean Mr. Brand?"
  • "Yes, Gertrude. He may like a piece of cake."
  • "I don't like men that are always eating cake!" Gertrude declared, giving _ull at the lilac-bush.
  • Her companion glanced at her, and then looked down on the ground. "I thin_ather expected you would come to church," she said. "What shall I say t_im?"
  • "Say I have a bad headache."
  • "Would that be true?" asked the elder lady, looking straight at the pon_gain.
  • "No, Charlotte," said the younger one simply.
  • Charlotte transferred her quiet eyes to her companion's face. "I am afraid yo_re feeling restless."
  • "I am feeling as I always feel," Gertrude replied, in the same tone.
  • Charlotte turned away; but she stood there a moment. Presently she looked dow_t the front of her dress. "Does n't it seem to you, somehow, as if my scar_ere too long?" she asked.
  • Gertrude walked half round her, looking at the scarf. "I don't think you wea_t right," she said.
  • "How should I wear it, dear?"
  • "I don't know; differently from that. You should draw it differently over you_houlders, round your elbows; you should look differently behind."
  • "How should I look?" Charlotte inquired.
  • "I don't think I can tell you," said Gertrude, plucking out the scarf a littl_ehind. "I could do it myself, but I don't think I can explain it."
  • Charlotte, by a movement of her elbows, corrected the laxity that had com_rom her companion's touch. "Well, some day you must do it for me. It does n'_atter now. Indeed, I don't think it matters," she added, "how one look_ehind."
  • "I should say it mattered more," said Gertrude. "Then you don't know who ma_e observing you. You are not on your guard. You can't try to look pretty."
  • Charlotte received this declaration with extreme gravity. "I don't think on_hould ever try to look pretty," she rejoined, earnestly.
  • Her companion was silent. Then she said, "Well, perhaps it 's not of muc_se."
  • Charlotte looked at her a little, and then kissed her. "I hope you will b_etter when we come back."
  • "My dear sister, I am very well!" said Gertrude.
  • Charlotte went down the large brick walk to the garden gate; her companio_trolled slowly toward the house. At the gate Charlotte met a young man, wh_as coming in—a tall, fair young man, wearing a high hat and a pair of threa_loves. He was handsome, but rather too stout. He had a pleasant smile. "Oh, Mr. Brand!" exclaimed the young lady.
  • "I came to see whether your sister was not going to church," said the youn_an.
  • "She says she is not going; but I am very glad you have come. I think if yo_ere to talk to her a little"… . And Charlotte lowered her voice. "It seems a_f she were restless."
  • Mr. Brand smiled down on the young lady from his great height. "I shall b_ery glad to talk to her. For that I should be willing to absent myself fro_lmost any occasion of worship, however attractive."
  • "Well, I suppose you know," said Charlotte, softly, as if positive acceptanc_f this proposition might be dangerous. "But I am afraid I shall be late."
  • "I hope you will have a pleasant sermon," said the young man.
  • "Oh, Mr. Gilman is always pleasant," Charlotte answered. And she went on he_ay.
  • Mr. Brand went into the garden, where Gertrude, hearing the gate close behin_im, turned and looked at him. For a moment she watched him coming; then sh_urned away. But almost immediately she corrected this movement, and stoo_till, facing him. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead as h_pproached. Then he put on his hat again and held out his hand. His hat bein_emoved, you would have perceived that his forehead was very large and smooth, and his hair abundant but rather colorless. His nose was too large, and hi_outh and eyes were too small; but for all this he was, as I have said, _oung man of striking appearance. The expression of his little clean-colore_lue eyes was irresistibly gentle and serious; he looked, as the phrase is, a_ood as gold. The young girl, standing in the garden path, glanced, as he cam_p, at his thread gloves.
  • "I hoped you were going to church," he said. "I wanted to walk with you."
  • "I am very much obliged to you," Gertrude answered. "I am not going t_hurch."
  • She had shaken hands with him; he held her hand a moment. "Have you an_pecial reason for not going?"
  • "Yes, Mr. Brand," said the young girl.
  • "May I ask what it is?"
  • She looked at him smiling; and in her smile, as I have intimated, there was _ertain dullness. But mingled with this dullness was something sweet an_uggestive. "Because the sky is so blue!" she said.
  • He looked at the sky, which was magnificent, and then said, smiling too, "_ave heard of young ladies staying at home for bad weather, but never fo_ood. Your sister, whom I met at the gate, tells me you are depressed," h_dded.
  • "Depressed? I am never depressed."
  • "Oh, surely, sometimes," replied Mr. Brand, as if he thought this _egrettable account of one's self.
  • "I am never depressed," Gertrude repeated. "But I am sometimes wicked. When _m wicked I am in high spirits. I was wicked just now to my sister."
  • "What did you do to her?"
  • "I said things that puzzled her—on purpose."
  • "Why did you do that, Miss Gertrude?" asked the young man.
  • She began to smile again. "Because the sky is so blue!"
  • "You say things that puzzle me," Mr. Brand declared.
  • "I always know when I do it," proceeded Gertrude. "But people puzzle me more, I think. And they don't seem to know!"
  • "This is very interesting," Mr. Brand observed, smiling.
  • "You told me to tell you about my—my struggles," the young girl went on.
  • "Let us talk about them. I have so many things to say."
  • Gertrude turned away a moment; and then, turning back, "You had better go t_hurch," she said.
  • "You know," the young man urged, "that I have always one thing to say."
  • Gertrude looked at him a moment. "Please don't say it now!"
  • "We are all alone," he continued, taking off his hat; "all alone in thi_eautiful Sunday stillness."
  • Gertrude looked around her, at the breaking buds, the shining distance, th_lue sky to which she had referred as a pretext for her irregularities. "That
  • 's the reason," she said, "why I don't want you to speak. Do me a favor; go t_hurch."
  • "May I speak when I come back?" asked Mr. Brand.
  • "If you are still disposed," she answered.
  • "I don't know whether you are wicked," he said, "but you are certainl_uzzling."
  • She had turned away; she raised her hands to her ears. He looked at her _oment, and then he slowly walked to church.
  • She wandered for a while about the garden, vaguely and without purpose. Th_hurch-bell had stopped ringing; the stillness was complete. This young lad_elished highly, on occasions, the sense of being alone—the absence of th_hole family and the emptiness of the house. To-day, apparently, the servant_ad also gone to church; there was never a figure at the open windows; behin_he house there was no stout negress in a red turban, lowering the bucket int_he great shingle-hooded well. And the front door of the big, unguarded hom_tood open, with the trustfulness of the golden age; or what is more to th_urpose, with that of New England's silvery prime. Gertrude slowly passe_hrough it, and went from one of the empty rooms to the other—large, clear- colored rooms, with white wainscots, ornamented with thin-legged mahogan_urniture, and, on the walls, with old-fashioned engravings, chiefly o_criptural subjects, hung very high. This agreeable sense of solitude, o_aving the house to herself, of which I have spoken, always excited Gertrude'_magination; she could not have told you why, and neither can her humbl_istorian. It always seemed to her that she must do something particular—tha_he must honor the occasion; and while she roamed about, wondering what sh_ould do, the occasion usually came to an end. To-day she wondered more tha_ver. At last she took down a book; there was no library in the house, bu_here were books in all the rooms. None of them were forbidden books, an_ertrude had not stopped at home for the sake of a chance to climb to th_naccessible shelves. She possessed herself of a very obvious volume—one o_he series of the Arabian Nights—and she brought it out into the portico an_at down with it in her lap. There, for a quarter of an hour, she read th_istory of the loves of the Prince Camaralzaman and the Princess Badoura. A_ast, looking up, she beheld, as it seemed to her, the Prince Camaralzama_tanding before her. A beautiful young man was making her a very low bow—_agnificent bow, such as she had never seen before. He appeared to hav_ropped from the clouds; he was wonderfully handsome; he smiled—smiled as i_e were smiling on purpose. Extreme surprise, for a moment, kept Gertrud_itting still; then she rose, without even keeping her finger in her book. Th_oung man, with his hat in his hand, still looked at her, smiling and smiling.
  • It was very strange.
  • "Will you kindly tell me," said the mysterious visitor, at last, "whether _ave the honor of speaking to Miss Went-worth?"
  • "My name is Gertrude Wentworth," murmured the young woman.
  • "Then—then—I have the honor—the pleasure—of being your cousin."
  • The young man had so much the character of an apparition that thi_nnouncement seemed to complete his unreality. "What cousin? Who are you?"
  • said Gertrude.
  • He stepped back a few paces and looked up at the house; then glanced round hi_t the garden and the distant view. After this he burst out laughing. "I se_t must seem to you very strange," he said. There was, after all, somethin_ubstantial in his laughter. Gertrude looked at him from head to foot. Yes, h_as remarkably handsome; but his smile was almost a grimace. "It is ver_till," he went on, coming nearer again. And as she only looked at him, fo_eply, he added, "Are you all alone?"
  • "Every one has gone to church," said Gertrude.
  • "I was afraid of that!" the young man exclaimed. "But I hope you are no_fraid of me."
  • "You ought to tell me who you are," Gertrude answered.
  • "I am afraid of you!" said the young man. "I had a different plan. I expecte_he servant would take in my card, and that you would put your heads together, before admitting me, and make out my identity."
  • Gertrude had been wondering with a quick intensity which brought its result; and the result seemed an answer—a wondrous, delightful answer—to her vagu_ish that something would befall her. "I know—I know," she said. "You com_rom Europe."
  • "We came two days ago. You have heard of us, then—you believe in us?"
  • "We have known, vaguely," said Gertrude, "that we had relations in France."
  • "And have you ever wanted to see us?" asked the young man.
  • Gertrude was silent a moment. "I have wanted to see you."
  • "I am glad, then, it is you I have found. We wanted to see you, so we came."
  • "On purpose?" asked Gertrude.
  • The young man looked round him, smiling still. "Well, yes; on purpose. Doe_hat sound as if we should bore you?" he added. "I don't think we shall—_eally don't think we shall. We are rather fond of wandering, too; and we wer_lad of a pretext."
  • "And you have just arrived?"
  • "In Boston, two days ago. At the inn I asked for Mr. Wentworth. He must b_our father. They found out for me where he lived; they seemed often to hav_eard of him. I determined to come, without ceremony. So, this lovely morning, they set my face in the right direction, and told me to walk straight befor_e, out of town. I came on foot because I wanted to see the country. I walke_nd walked, and here I am! It 's a good many miles."
  • "It is seven miles and a half," said Gertrude, softly. Now that this handsom_oung man was proving himself a reality she found herself vaguely trembling; she was deeply excited. She had never in her life spoken to a foreigner, an_he had often thought it would be delightful to do so. Here was one who ha_uddenly been engendered by the Sabbath stillness for her private use; an_uch a brilliant, polite, smiling one! She found time and means to compos_erself, however: to remind herself that she must exercise a sort of officia_ospitality. "We are very—very glad to see you," she said. "Won't you com_nto the house?" And she moved toward the open door.
  • "You are not afraid of me, then?" asked the young man again, with his ligh_augh.
  • She wondered a moment, and then, "We are not afraid—here," she said.
  • "Ah, comme vous devez avoir raison!" cried the young man, looking all roun_im, appreciatively. It was the first time that Gertrude had heard so man_ords of French spoken. They gave her something of a sensation. Her companio_ollowed her, watching, with a certain excitement of his own, this tall, interesting-looking girl, dressed in her clear, crisp muslin. He paused in th_all, where there was a broad white staircase with a white balustrade. "What _leasant house!" he said. "It 's lighter inside than it is out."
  • "It 's pleasanter here," said Gertrude, and she led the way into the parlor,—_igh, clean, rather empty-looking room. Here they stood looking at eac_ther,—the young man smiling more than ever; Gertrude, very serious, trying t_mile.
  • "I don't believe you know my name," he said. "I am called Felix Young. You_ather is my uncle. My mother was his half sister, and older than he."
  • "Yes," said Gertrude, "and she turned Roman Catholic and married in Europe."
  • "I see you know," said the young man. "She married and she died. Your father'_amily did n't like her husband. They called him a foreigner; but he was not.
  • My poor father was born in Sicily, but his parents were American."
  • "In Sicily?" Gertrude murmured.
  • "It is true," said Felix Young, "that they had spent their lives in Europe.
  • But they were very patriotic. And so are we."
  • "And you are Sicilian," said Gertrude.
  • "Sicilian, no! Let 's see. I was born at a little place—a dear little place—i_rance. My sister was born at Vienna."
  • "So you are French," said Gertrude.
  • "Heaven forbid!" cried the young man. Gertrude's eyes were fixed upon hi_lmost insistently. He began to laugh again. "I can easily be French, if tha_ill please you."
  • "You are a foreigner of some sort," said Gertrude.
  • "Of some sort—yes; I suppose so. But who can say of what sort? I don't thin_e have ever had occasion to settle the question. You know there are peopl_ike that. About their country, their religion, their profession, they can'_ell."
  • Gertrude stood there gazing; she had not asked him to sit down. She had neve_eard of people like that; she wanted to hear. "Where do you live?" she asked.
  • "They can't tell that, either!" said Felix. "I am afraid you will think the_re little better than vagabonds. I have lived anywhere—everywhere. I reall_hink I have lived in every city in Europe." Gertrude gave a little long sof_xhalation. It made the young man smile at her again; and his smile made he_lush a little. To take refuge from blushing she asked him if, after his lon_alk, he was not hungry or thirsty. Her hand was in her pocket; she wa_umbling with the little key that her sister had given her. "Ah, my dear youn_ady," he said, clasping his hands a little, "if you could give me, i_harity, a glass of wine!"
  • Gertrude gave a smile and a little nod, and went quickly out of the room.
  • Presently she came back with a very large decanter in one hand and a plate i_he other, on which was placed a big, round cake with a frosted top. Gertrude, in taking the cake from the closet, had had a moment of acute consciousnes_hat it composed the refection of which her sister had thought that Mr. Bran_ould like to partake. Her kinsman from across the seas was looking at th_ale, high-hung engravings. When she came in he turned and smiled at her, a_f they had been old friends meeting after a separation. "You wait upon m_ourself?" he asked. "I am served like the gods!" She had waited upon a grea_any people, but none of them had ever told her that. The observation added _ertain lightness to the step with which she went to a little table wher_here were some curious red glasses—glasses covered with little gold sprigs, which Charlotte used to dust every morning with her own hands. Gertrud_hought the glasses very handsome, and it was a pleasure to her to know tha_he wine was good; it was her father's famous madeira. Felix Young thought i_xcellent; he wondered why he had been told that there was no wine in America.
  • She cut him an immense triangle out of the cake, and again she thought of Mr.
  • Brand. Felix sat there, with his glass in one hand and his huge morsel of cak_n the other—eating, drinking, smiling, talking. "I am very hungry," he said.
  • "I am not at all tired; I am never tired. But I am very hungry."
  • "You must stay to dinner," said Gertrude. "At two o'clock. They will all hav_ome back from church; you will see the others."
  • "Who are the others?" asked the young man. "Describe them all."
  • "You will see for yourself. It is you that must tell me; now, about you_ister."
  • "My sister is the Baroness Munster," said Felix.
  • On hearing that his sister was a Baroness, Gertrude got up and walked abou_lowly, in front of him. She was silent a moment. She was thinking of it. "Wh_id n't she come, too?" she asked.
  • "She did come; she is in Boston, at the hotel."
  • "We will go and see her," said Gertrude, looking at him.
  • "She begs you will not!" the young man replied. "She sends you her love; sh_ent me to announce her. She will come and pay her respects to your father."
  • Gertrude felt herself trembling again. A Baroness Munster, who sent _rilliant young man to "announce" her; who was coming, as the Queen of Sheb_ame to Solomon, to pay her "respects" to quiet Mr. Wentworth—such a personag_resented herself to Gertrude's vision with a most effective unexpectedness.
  • For a moment she hardly knew what to say. "When will she come?" she asked a_ast.
  • "As soon as you will allow her—to-morrow. She is very impatient," answere_elix, who wished to be agreeable.
  • "To-morrow, yes," said Gertrude. She wished to ask more about her; but sh_ardly knew what could be predicated of a Baroness Munster. "Is she—i_he—married?"
  • Felix had finished his cake and wine; he got up, fixing upon the young gir_is bright, expressive eyes. "She is married to a German prince—Prince Adolf, of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein. He is not the reigning prince; he is a younge_rother."
  • Gertrude gazed at her informant; her lips were slightly parted. "Is she a—_rincess?" she asked at last.
  • "Oh, no," said the young man; "her position is rather a singular one. It 's _organatic marriage."
  • "Morganatic?" These were new names and new words to poor Gertrude.
  • "That 's what they call a marriage, you know, contracted between a scion of _uling house and—and a common mortal. They made Eugenia a Baroness, poo_oman; but that was all they could do. Now they want to dissolve the marriage.
  • Prince Adolf, between ourselves, is a ninny; but his brother, who is a cleve_an, has plans for him. Eugenia, naturally enough, makes difficulties; not, however, that I think she cares much—she 's a very clever woman; I 'm sure you
  • 'll like her—but she wants to bother them. Just now everything is en l'air."
  • The cheerful, off-hand tone in which her visitor related this darkly romanti_ale seemed to Gertrude very strange; but it seemed also to convey a certai_lattery to herself, a recognition of her wisdom and dignity. She felt a doze_mpressions stirring within her, and presently the one that was uppermos_ound words. "They want to dissolve her marriage?" she asked.
  • "So it appears."
  • "And against her will?"
  • "Against her right."
  • "She must be very unhappy!" said Gertrude.
  • Her visitor looked at her, smiling; he raised his hand to the back of his hea_nd held it there a moment. "So she says," he answered. "That 's her story.
  • She told me to tell it you."
  • "Tell me more," said Gertrude.
  • "No, I will leave that to her; she does it better."
  • Gertrude gave her little excited sigh again. "Well, if she is unhappy," sh_aid, "I am glad she has come to us."
  • She had been so interested that she failed to notice the sound of a footste_n the portico; and yet it was a footstep that she always recognized. Sh_eard it in the hall, and then she looked out of the window. They were al_oming back from church—her father, her sister and brother, and their cousins, who always came to dinner on Sunday. Mr. Brand had come in first; he was i_dvance of the others, because, apparently, he was still disposed to say wha_he had not wished him to say an hour before. He came into the parlor, lookin_or Gertrude. He had two little books in his hand. On seeing Gertrude'_ompanion he slowly stopped, looking at him.
  • "Is this a cousin?" asked Felix.
  • Then Gertrude saw that she must introduce him; but her ears, and, by sympathy, her lips, were full of all that he had been telling her. "This is the Prince,"
  • she said, "the Prince of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein!"
  • Felix burst out laughing, and Mr. Brand stood staring, while the others, wh_ad passed into the house, appeared behind him in the open door-way.