Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XIX. -- THE BITTER ARROW.|
O, BREAKING heart that will not break,
O, pale, pale face so sweet and meek,
The next morning found the household early astir. It is a rule in hotels that a "late watch," as it is called, exempts the employee from an early appearance for duty the next morning. On these mornings Will breakfasted with his mother and sister. Since Sappho had boarded with them this humble meal had become a feast to him.
He arose very early on this eventful Monday morning and hurried down the stairs, bursting to impart his good news to the sympathetic ears of his loved ones. He entered the kitchen just as Dora was laying the cloth for breakfast.
"What in the world brings you down so early?" she asked in a surprised tone as he entered the room.
"Oh, I couldn't stay in bed this morning of all others," he said, as he kissed her lightly on the cheek; "I am too happy."
"What under the sun is the cause of so much joy, that it brings so lazy a boy out of bed an hour before his time?"
"How did you feel when you were first engaged to John? weren't you light-headed and silly?"
"Oh, I dare say I was silly enough," replied Dora with a sigh. At the mention of John a cloud seemed to settle down upon the brightness of her usually sunny face. "But what has that to do with your early rising? I don't see the analogy between the two."
"Congratulate me, Dora, Sappho has promised to marry me."
"Oh, Will! Why did I not think of that? I declare I suspected something of the sort yesterday, but other things put it out of my mind. I am so glad!" cried Dora. "Where--when--how did it occur?"
"Yesterday on the Public Garden. I met her coming from church," he replied proudly. "Do you see the analogy now between your engagement and my early rising?" he added, laughing.
"I should say so! How selfish of you to keep it to yourself all this time; you might have told us. Mother! mother! come quickly, I have something to tell you!" she called, moving toward the next room.
"Yes, Dora, dear," replied the voice of Ma Smith, "just a minute!"
"Oh, hurry, hurry, mummie; it won't keep."
"Yes, yes, you excitable child; what is it?" Nothing wrong with your brother"--she stopped as she caught sight of his smiling face. He went up to her and took her in his strong young arms--he was an affectionate son.
"Nothing wrong, mummie dear, but your boy is very happy. Will you have Sappho for a second daughter?"
"Gladly, my son," replied his mother; and then she sank upon a chair, overcome as she comprehended the full meaning of his words.
"Why do you cry, mother dear, if the idea is not unpleasant to you?" asked Will, some-what alarmed by her tears.
"Oh, Will, my boy, you will not let this new love cause you to forget the love of your old mother?"
"Never!" cried Will, as he pressed his lips to the sweet old face. "I would not be worthy of happiness could I be so ungrateful."
"Don't mind mother, Will; she cries on principle, because it is the proper thing for weddings and funerals. Isn't that so, mummie mine?" laughed Dora, as she wiped a suspicious moisture from her own eyes.
"But what keeps Sappho so late? she's generally
"I'm going up stairs after the laggard, and have it out with her for keeping such news to herself. I know she's bashful."
Dora sprang up the stairs with a bound, and paused outside the door to rap. Receiving no answer she rapped again, and then tried the handle of the door. It yielded to her touch, and then she noticed that the key was on the outside. She threw the door open with a vague sense of something unusual in such a proceeding. The room was empty. She paused a moment in bewilderment as she glanced about her, and then saw the bed undisturbed in its snowy smoothness. Thoroughly alarmed now, she ran to the head of the stairs and called her brother.
Wondering what could be the trouble, Will hurried from the kitchen, closely followed by his mother. Upstairs they found Dora standing in the middle of the room with a frightened face.
"I found the key on the outside, the door unlocked. She is not here; and see, the bed has not been slept in; the closet door is open; some of her clothing is gone, and all her jewelry."
Will stood beside her, gazing about the cozy nest with troubled eyes.
"When did you see her last?" he asked finally.
"At dinner yesterday; she complained of a headache, and went to her room to lie down."
"She was here at half-past eleven, when I came in, for I saw a light in her window as I came down the street."
"Well, children, there is nothing to worry about," said Mrs. Smith; "she has probably gone out and will return shortly. There can't be any great mystery about her absence."
Just then the door-bell rang.
"There she is now," said Will, as he bounded down the stairs in answer to the summons. The two women stood expectant, waiting for the sound of her voice. They heard nothing but the closing of the door and Will's steps returning. Presently he stood before them with a letter in his hand.
"It is for me," he said, in answer to their looks of inquiry. "I think it is from Sappho."
His face was ashen; his hands trembled. He turned the square package over once--again--then mechanically, as in a dream, he tore the envelope open. The anxious women watched him as he ran his eyes rapidly over the written page, and then with a groan sank into a chair.
"What is it, Will? what has happened?"
"O my God!" was his reply to the agonized entreaties of the two women. He threw his arms upon the desk beside him and dropped his head upon them. The letter fell upon the floor.
Mrs. Smith was a great sufferer from nervous weakness. Seeing her son's unhappiness, she began to tremble and sob hysterically. Dora was badly frightened; but knowing that she must be calm for all their sakes, said:
"Mother, calm yourself. Do you not see that Will needs help?" She closed the open door to keep out curious intruders who might possibly be about, and then she picked up the letter.
"Read it!" groaned Will; "I can never tell you."
Dora read it aloud:
When you receive this I shall be far away. What I am writing to you I ought to have told your family long ago. It must forever stand between us and marriage.
You remember the story told the night of the public meeting of the League by Luke Sawyer--the night I fainted? I am the unfortunate Mabelle Beaubean!
I did not die. The good Sisters gave out that story
John Langley came to my room tonight, after everyone was at church. He has found out my story, and has offered me the greatest insult that a man can give a woman. He has made me realize how much such a marriage with me would injure you. Disgrace shall never touch you or yours through me.
Forgive me for deceiving you--for loving you; it is all the wrong that I have done you.
O love--my love--how can I give you up? You will never know the bitterness of the step I am taking!Sappho.
Mrs. Smith shuddered as she listened to the words being read. Could it be possible that this strange, unexpected confession had come from the beautiful girl they knew so well?
Dora was weeping bitterly when she finished; so was her mother. They sat there stunned into silence. Every pulse beat at fever-heat in Will's body. His nerves were strained almost beyond endurance; they were a thousand needle-points of pain. How could he bear this terrible news that had come to him! Luke Sawyer's story was written before his eyes in letters of fire. He saw with acute clairvoyant sight the beautiful child--the brutal captor--the horrid surroundings of the vile den to which he had consigned her--her struggles within
There was something awe-inspiring in his great affliction to the women who loved him. Dismal silence had seized upon them all. Then a sob--dreadful to hear--broke from Will. He staggered across the room and fell on his knees by his mother's side and buried his face in the folds of her dress. It was a way he had in early childhood when anything distressed him. Then his mother comforted him as in childhood days--his head upon her tender breast--her dear wrinkled hands, as if in blessing, resting upon his grief-stricken brow.
At length Dora broke the silence.
"Oh, that poor, miserable girl! think of her sufferings--of the weight of the secret she carried with her. What a crucifixion for a proud spirit like hers! This terrible curse of slavery! shall we never lose the sting of degradation? Think of John, too! How did he find it out? what a heartless scamp he must be! I confess the whole thing is an enigma to me."
"To think she should believe us capable of feeling anything for her but sympathy! You must find her, Will, and bring her back home," said Ma Smith.
"Yes, mother; but any girl would act as she has. Think of her humiliation to be obliged to own such a story to her lover! I do not wonder that she turned a coward and fled. But Will will find her, never fear."
Will had regained something of self-control. But what a change had come to that debonair countenance! Dora's heart ached as she looked at him. He arose from his knees by his mother's side and stood a moment as if bewildered.
"I am going to hire the best detective in the city to find her. But first I will settle with John Langley," he said at last.
"Give him this!" cried Dora, snatching her engagement ring from her finger. "Tell him I hope never to see his face again."
"Poor little sister. Must you suffer, too?"
"Don't pity me, Will!" she exclaimed with flashing eyes. "I am well rid of such a man."
Will kissed them both solemnly and went out.
The two women, left alone, went softly about the pretty room folding away the scattered articles of wearing apparel, which they watered
Such incidents as we have pictured above are not uncommon in any community where slavery has cast its baleful shadow. Emancipation has done much, but time and moral training among the white men of the South are the only cures for concubinage.
We may right a wrong, but we cannot restore our victim to his primeval state of happiness. Something is lost that can never be regained. The wages of sin is death. Innocent or guilty, the laws of nature are immutable. So with shoulders bent and misshapen with heavy burdens, the Negro plods along bearing his cross--carrying the sins of others .
Time was no more. I stood there gazing at the approaching forms of matchless beauty advancing toward the judgment seat of God. And I asked a question: "Who are these arrayed in white?" And one of the elders answered: "These are they who come out of great tribulation!"
Fortunately it happened that it was an hour when the inmates of No. 500 D Street were busy attending to their various vocations. No one need know more of Sappho's disappearance than the family felt to tell. They made one exception to this resolve. It was about ten o'clock when Doctor Lewis called. The mother and daughter were just sitting down to the meal so sadly interrupted. In answer to questions asked in friendly solicitude because of their troubled looks, the whole miserable story came out.
"It is fortunate that I happened in," he said, when he had heard all they could tell him.
"I will go right down to Langley's office. It is useless to allow more trouble to grow out of this unhappy affair. Those men must not meet alone."
Amazed, startled, dumbfounded at this romance in real life, he hurried away toward the business portion of the city. But under his anxiety to serve his friends, who could blame him if thoughts of the broken engagement and all that it meant to him would intrude upon him? His heart kept singing: "Free to be won--free to be won."
John had risen early and left the house before any one was astir. He could not sleep.
"And there rises ever a passionate cry
From underneath in the darkened land"--
There is something magical in the mystery of night and the shadows of early dawn. Then the mystery of creation and our own hidden nature seem to be revealed faintly to our dull sensibilities. The should beholds itself all unadorned as it must stand before Almighty God. He raised his eyes to heaven and there beheld the beauty of myriad stars and undiscovered worlds bespangling the firmament. Never before had he noticed their sublimity. By the tremulous half-light of the early dawn his deed of the night before appeared despicable--devilish. For a time his head dropped in shame before the accusations of his soul. There came dimly to his beclouded faculties a realization of the possibilities of a life which might have been his under opposite conditions
He had prospered. He had accomplished the acquisition of knowledge at the expense of the non-development of every moral faculty.
That night his better angel triumphed, and he resolved that he would apologize to Sappho, make up with Dora, and tell Will all his surmises about Mr. Withington. But when day-light
Ten o'clock found him sitting listlessly before his desk. It happened that he had no cases in court that morning. He pushed his work one side; he could not think; ever before his eyes was a vision in pale blue, with floating golden hair and appealing eyes. His hand shook as if with the palsy as he raised his pen to dip it in the ink-well. With an oath he dashed it from him. He did not indulge in liquor as a rule, but he made up his mind to have a glass of whiskey when he went to lunch. Presently he heard the door open. He looked up at the sound, and met the eyes of the friend he had betrayed--Will Smith stood before him! John sprang to his feet. His eyes dropped before the steady regard of the other. Thus they stood a moment. At last Will broke the painful silence.
"What have I ever done to you, John, that you should treat me as you have?"
"What do you mean?" stammered John.
"Do you ask me that?"
"I do," came faintly from John's lips.
"I will reply by asking you another question.
John's courage seemed to have deserted him. He stood before Smith like the culprit that he was.
"Of what do you accuse me?" he cried at length, in desperation.
"Does not your conscience answer? If not, read that," and Will handed him Sappho's letter.
John took it, and even as his hand grasped the sheet of paper he began to turn over in his mind a way out of this dilemma. As he finished reading it his mind was made up. He returned it to Will with a shrug of his shoulders and a smile more significant than words. The ashen face of his friend should have warned him.
"I did not intend to humiliate Dora, for men do many like things which never come to the ears of the woman they call wife. Accidentally I learned Miss Clark's story. I also learned by observation that there were other stories just as piquante. You will thank me when you know all. She is beautiful. What would you have? Am I different from other men who have made like proposals to a fille de joie? "
Scarcely had the words passed his lips when Will was upon him.
"You miserable, lying hound!" he shouted, beside himself with rage and grief. He grasped John by the throat. Again the door opened, and Doctor Lewis ran toward the struggling figures.
"Will! John! are you both mad? Do you want to create a public scandal?" He succeeded in separating them, and then threw himself between them. So they stood panting and glaring at each other like angry beasts.
"Take me out of this, then!" cried Will, "or I won't answer for myself! Here is your ring!" He took the ring Dora had given him, and threw it at Langley. "I will give you until tonight to get your luggage out of my house. If you are there tomorrow morning, I will shoot you like the cur you are."
Doctor Lewis drew him from the room. The door closed. Thus they who had been friends for years parted.
John stood there alone in his silent office, looking out on the dreary vista of brick walls and the network of wires, in awful solitude with his thoughts of the past and his blank future. The sun of prosperity had set on him forever--he felt it--knew it. His own hand had wrought this ruin to himself, said his heart and conscience.