Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XVIII. -- WHAT EASTER SUNDAY BROUGHT.|
Easter Sunday. The full-blossomed trees
Filled all the air with fragrance and with joy.
The days passed very quietly at No. 500 D Street. The excitement occasioned by the fair, and the extraordinary agitation which had attended the meeting of the American Colored League, had somewhat abated. Softer thoughts and feelings had taken possession of the public mind, for it was very near to the celebration of Easter. The two girls, Dora and Sappho, felt restrained in their intercourse because, although by tacit consent nothing was said of John's treacherous conduct toward Dora, each knew that the other had discovered it. Dora felt aggrieved and ill-treated; and who could blame her? Doctor Lewis was drawn into the trouble through his attachment to Dora. He pitied her injured feelings; he knew that if she were free and he offered her his love, it would be accepted, and he was not too proud to have done this if it had been an honorable act. He knew that it would not be an honorable act to
One night they were all invited to attend a reception given at the house of a friend. He was with Dora and John. Dora addressed a remark to John, and receiving no answer, turned to look in his face for the reason. His gaze was fixed upon Sappho, who was surrounded by every eligible man in the house. And such a look! love--hatred--tenderness--the gamut of passion was disclosed by the look bent upon the unconscious girl before
"What does the beggar mean?" he asked himself more than once that night. "He does not seem inclined to give Dora up, and yet he is completely 'gone' over the other one." But, like a prudent man, he said nothing; he kept his own counsel and watched.
Since the meeting at which Sappho had fainted, the girl had grown more silent and depressed. People said: "Yes, she is beautiful, but so cold and silent."
She and Will had scarcely spoken since the night of the fair, but each felt and knew that
Easter Sunday fell early in April that year. The city had donned its gayest attire to welcome the return of the celebration of Christ's triumphal resurrection. The morning service was ended. The exultant organ peals, the glorious strains of hymns of victory poured forth by highly trained voices in hundreds of augmented church choirs all over the city, still seemed to vibrate upon the listening air even after the churches had given up their crowds of worshippers. Sappho had been to the mission church of St. Augustine, on P. Street, at the West End. Here the good Fathers of the Mission of St. John had reared a church, and elected to bend their efforts particularly to the salvation and upraising of the poorest of God's children. This church, with its beautiful silver chimes, given by a wealthy Boston woman in commemoration of the life and services of the lamented Bishop Brooks, is destined to stand for ages as a memorial of the deeds of philanthropy which have always been a distinguishing feature of the true spirit of Massachusetts.
The sound of the bells lingered with her like
"Cold Nature, by his amorous kiss
Stung sweetly, stirred his limbs and felt
A thrill of immemorial bliss."
Someone sat upon a garden seat awaiting her coming. Far down the mall he espied the solitary figure. 'Twas she herself! As he gazed
"The breeze runs riot with thy charms,
O faint, delicious, springtime violet!"
As a man Will Smith was not ashamed of the passion which consumed him. An honorable love has its own subtle charm. Now was his opportunity! The almost deserted paths were secure from intrusion. She was not indifferent to him; today should end suspense. He would have her answer.
Sappho caught sight of him directly she entered the path. She hesitated--turned--then stood still, as if conscious of his resolution. He saw her hesitation, and read her thoughts by virtue of that harmony which is love's perfection. He arose and stood before her, hat in hand. His apparent coolness and self-possession did what he intended it should: restored her calmness; and when she placed
"Do not hurry away," he said, as she turned as if to resume her walk. "Let us sit a moment and enjoy this charming view of beautiful Boston."
She stood a moment gazing at the fair prospect spread out before them.
"How peaceful, beautiful and calm the landscape seems. If earth be so fair, what must be the beauty of heaven?" she said, after a slight pause.
"Indeed, yes," replied Will, as he glanced at the fair face beside him with something like awe. For a moment he felt that he stood in the presence of a saint; earthly passion seemed out of place.
After a moment's silence she seated herself, mechanically protesting that she had promised Dora to help her with her Sunday-school class at half-past one.
"Never mind," said Will, "it is real Sunday-school work for you to look after me a bit. I'm sure I need Bible lessons." At this they both laughed, and then Sappho asked:
"Where ought the lesson to be?"
She saw instantly by the change in his expression that she had given him his opening, and immediately lost the self-possession she had just gained.
"'And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for thy younger daughter,'" quoted Will softly, as he looked at the gentle face and downcast eyes beside him. Sappho said nothing, but gazed intently at the landscape with unseeing eyes, as she nervously clasped and unclasped her delicately gloved hands. Suddenly she felt one small hand drawn within a strong, warm clasp.
"There are shadows on your face; why are they there? You think all kinds of sad thoughts. Tell them to me, Sappho."
"Nay," she said at length, "why should I? they are not clear even to myself. You would not understand my vagaries. Why should you be bothered with them?"
"Because, Sappho, my beautiful one, my darling, I love you--surely you know it--I have loved you from the first moment that I saw you. Be my wife, my blessing."
She did not answer; her face had grown very white.
"Have I frightened you? Do not think me cruel, Sappho; you do not know how much I love you."
She was still silent, but another look satisfied him that she was not angry. The gloved hand stopped fluttering, and lay quietly within his clasp.
"You do not think me presumptuous? You are not angry? Tell me that you love me."
"Wait one moment," she said; and then he saw that she was trembling violently.
"Don't you care for me a little?" he asked anxiously, "or have I been living in a fool's paradise the past two months?"
"I do care for you," she whispered, in a voice so low that only a lover could have heard it.
"Ah!" he cried impetuously; "then I will never let you go!"
"Ah, Will, I wonder if it is right for me to love you, or to allow you to love me?"
"Most decidedly it is right. Why do you doubt?"
"You have known me such a short time," she protested.
"I know that you are the dearest girl in all the world to me," he replied, holding her hand still more tightly clasped. "You are mine now, and nothing shall part us. I shall always remember this day as the happiest of my life. You do not know how dearly I love you."
"I shall know if you persist in telling me so often," she said, smiling at his impetuosity.
"Heaven bless you, Sappho, my dearest. I shall never tire of ringing the changes on love."
"Why should you care so much for me?" she asked wistfully. "I have no family--no friends--no money"--
"I have family enough for both of us," he returned quickly. "My mother loves you, my sister adores you; what more is there to be desired?"
"But there are things which you ought to know--things connected with the past"--
"I do not care for the past," he broke in; "all I ask is that you love me above all other men, as I adore you above all other women."
She was carried away by the vehemence of his wooing. All obstacles seemed, indeed, but trifles before this all-absorbing, passionate, eager warmth of youth's first love. Poor soul! poor starved and storm-beaten heart! Something of life that was dead leaped again into existence and loosened the icy hand that had for years locked up the fountain of youthful joy. She felt drawn out of herself as she looked into the eyes of love and met the luminous light which transfigured the face of her lover.
"Ask me no more; thy fate and mine are sealed:
I strove against the stream and all in vain;
Let the great river take me in the main:
No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield;
Ask me no more."
Silently she turned to him and placed the other hand within his clasp, and burst into a tempest of weeping.
"Sappho!" he cried, in a transport of delight, as he tried to dry her tears; "my darling, my wife!"
O happy Easter Day!
They sat there a long time in heart communion, reviewing the history of their short acquaintance, and the wonderful thing that had happened to them. They planned that Sappho should stay with Will's mother while he went abroad, and then when his course was finished they would be married immediately upon his return. They would keep their sweet secret a little while. They could not share this hallowed day with others. It was consecrated and holy to them because of its dear association with the hidden stream of their united lives.
John Langley was returning from an errand down town, and attracted by the beauty of the morning, determined to cross the Garden on his way to the South End. Suddenly, beneath the trees he espied the lovers. He paused a moment. They were so much absorbed in each other that they had not seen him. He turned aside into a path which ran very near to them on one side, and paused beneath the shadow of some friendly trees where he was secure from observation and could watch their movements unseen.
The happy light on Will's expressive countenance did not escape him; he noted, too, the shy happiness and deep, tender love which shone in Sappho's eyes. His heart was on fire with hot, jealous rage, and he resolved that their marriage should never take place. He was not sure of Sappho's past, but he would try a bold man[oelig ]uvre and trust to luck. He would accuse her as though certain of the facts. If that did not work, he would try some other game. He who had laughed at love without money, found himself even contemplating the sacrifice of one for the other, if dishonest means should not succeed in winning her. He watched them for a time, and then, judging by their movements that they were about to leave the spot, turned reluctantly away, planning ways and means of bringing his schemes to a successful issue.
Sappho had been taking her meals with the family lately, but tonight she excused herself from dinner on the plea of a headache. Will had gone back to the hotel.
"Headache must be a great cosmetic," said Dora slyly. She had seen that Will and Sappho returned from morning church together and from certain signs had drawn her own conclusions about how matters stood between
She glanced at her mirror as she passed it. Where was the usually pale, sad face that it reflected? They called her cold and proud. What would the world say if it could see that brilliant, vivid, flashing beauty that the mirror gave back to her astonished gaze? Truly love was a wonderful cosmetic. She sank into the inviting willow rocker, and for a while gave herself up to the happiness which was so intense as to be almost painful. There was no thought of evil mingled with the joy that wrapped her round about. No forebodings assailed her; the intoxication of the moment was complete. She was lost in dreamland as she sat there thinking of her lover. Will had said to her: "I am not a man to hold love lightly; it is no jest with me. My love is the one woman in the whole world to me above all others. I shall love you living and dying, and be true to you in life and death." The words rang in her ears like sweetest music.
There were extra services at all the colored churches that night, because owing to the fact that most of the worshippers were employed as
She then arose from her seat and proceeded to change her street attire for a pale blue cashmere house dress with delicate ecru lace at the throat and wrists. She hummed strains of the Gloria heard that morning in church as she stood before the glass and took the pins from her hair. The shining coil of burnished gold fell almost to her feet. So she stood with the brushes poised in air as the door opened softly and John Langley came quickly into her room. Thus they stood for a brief second of time: she colorless with amazement and fear; he overwhelmed with the exquisiteness of the picture before him. The brushes falling from her hands broke the silence. Anger flamed in her eyes.
"I did not hear you knock, Mr. Langley; what can I do for you?"
His face was pale, his eyes wavering and bloodshot; his whole expression indicated a terrible determination. The almost insulting coldness of her tone exasperated him.
"I did not knock," he replied, as he stepped into the room. "You do not offer me a seat," he sneered, as he sat down on the couch.
"This is hardly the time or place for parlor civilities," she replied significantly. "Do you not know that the house is empty?"
"I do; and as I wish to speak with you privately, and as this is my only chance, I will not let it slip me," said John.
"Really! I cannot understand what private business you can have with me," returned Sappho haughtily; "but if it be so, pray state the nature of it as quickly as possible."
"I will," he replied. He paused a moment, as if collecting his forces. "You and Will seem to have come to an understanding, judging by what I saw on the Public Garden this morning," he said finally.
Sappho flushed warmly as she replied: "And in what way does that concern you?"
The girl looked so beautiful and spirited that he longed to crush her with the weight of his surmises.
"Will Smith is a very proud man as well as a very just man. His pride of family is his besetting sin. Do you think that it will be for his best interest to marry you?" He asked significantly.
"And why should it not be?" questioned the girl haughtily, although a hand of ice seemed closing about her heart.
" You can best answer that question," was the guarded reply.
"Mr. Langley, your intrusion into my private apartment is unpardonable; your innuendoes are still more so. If you have anything to say, please say it; if not, let us close this remarkable interview." She moved toward the door as if to open it. In an instant he seized her arm and stopped her.
"Do not be rash. It is better for you to listen to me and not arouse my enmity. I have seen Luke Sawyer, and I know your secret -- Mabelle Beaubean !
The attack was so sudden she did not think of defending herself. He had never in his life seen emotion so terrible depicted upon the human countenance as her face presented at that moment. She shrank from him with shivering dread, beating the air with both hands, as though in her agony she warded off the approach of some gruesome apparition.
"Not that name--not that name!" She gasped, as she turned her beautiful, ghastly face from side to side, as though seeking air. She seemed about to faint. Then she sank upon the floor and literally grovelled there, her face hidden by the long hair which enveloped her like a veil.
John was nonplussed at the perfect success of his plot; he was exultant. The terror of the girl was awful to behold. Surely he had her now. She must turn to him for help.
"Sappho," he said in feigned pity, "I feel for you. God knows I am sorry for this, and that I should have been the one to bring it upon you. But think of your story, and its effect upon Will if he should learn it after marriage!"
"I was a victim! an innocent child!" moaned the figure on the floor.
"I know," said John, "but girls of fourteen are frequently wives in our Southern climes, where women mature early. A man as supercilious as Will in his pride of Northern birth would take no excuse, and would never forgive."
"Ah! what can I do?" cried the unhappy woman, as she rose to her feet and began to pace the floor. "Have I not suffered enough?" Now was the time for which he had waited and planned.
"Sappho, do not think that I forget how abominable I must appear to you. I know what you will say--that I betray my friend, and worse than that, the girl who holds my promise; but my excuse is that my passion is stronger than honor, stronger than reason. There are men in the world who would not forsake you, and who would always befriend you. Give up Will, and trust yourself to me . I am making money in my profession. I can and will do well by you. Your story need never be known."
"Doubtless you mean it in kindness," replied the girl wearily, "and I thank you, but I can never marry anyone but Will."
"Marriage!" exclaimed John, "who spoke of marriage? Ambitious men do not marry women with stories like yours!"
At last the murder was out--his meaning clear!
For one moment Sappho was speechless with disgust.
"Infamous villain!" she said at length, "you abuse my forlorn condition. Leave me! Never till this moment have I realized the depths of my degradation!"
"I go at your command," said John. "I give you one week to think over what I have said. At the end of that time"--
"Go! go! will you go?" interrupted Sappho, pointing to the door with queenly dignity.
With a low bow John Langley passed out and closed the door behind him.
Sappho turned the key in the lock and sank upon the couch overcome with the horror of her situation. Nervous spasms shook her frame as she mentally measured the abyss of social ostracism and disgrace which confronted her. A thunderbolt from a clear sky had shattered her hopes and dashed the cup of happiness from her lips. Heartrending sobs of anguish
She got up at length, and going to the dressing-table, began mechanically to collect her jewelry. She caught sight of her face in the glass. What a change from the glowing beauty of one short hour ago! She looked at the pale, drawn countenance with scorn. "Men call me beautiful," she murmured bitterly; "what has beauty been to me but a curse?"
She heard the closing of doors and the voices of the returned church-goers. Could it be possible that she was the same happy girl whose smiling face had been given back from the mirror so radiantly a short hour ago? She heard the front door close again. It was Will's step upon the stair. He paused at her door a moment, and then passed on to the floor above. How often she had listened for that familiar tread. Her heart kept repeating: "Never again--never again."
Two hours later deep silence had fallen upon the house. A form attired in black, closely
Will in his room had fallen into his first sleep when he thought he heard the sound of noiseless footsteps in the hall. He listened a moment, and then concluded that he was mistaken. Who could be moving through the house at that hour? No, he was mistaken. His thoughts were all with Sappho. He lived over again the words and scenes of the morning. He heard the clocks strike twelve, one, two; then he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.