[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search

  --  THE BITTER ARROW.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XXI.

Hopkins, Pauline E.
Contending Forces



What is it to die?
To leave all disappointment, care and sorrow,
To leave all falsehood, treachery and unkindness,
All ignominy, suffering and despair,
And be at rest forever! O dull heart,
Be of good cheer! When thou shalt cease to beat,
Then shalt thou cease to suffer and complain!

--Longfellow .

Meantime Sappho had descended from the car at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets on that eventful Easter night; she entered the Garden, and impelled by an uncontrollable impulse, walked again through the paths where a few hours before she had known so much happiness. She knew no fear; the darkness concealed her. Again she sat upon the seat where she had passed the brightest moments of her life. A neighboring clock struck one. It was then the first hour of a new day--the dawn for her of fresh misery. A cold, sharp wind struck her with chilling force; she shivered, but still sat there buried in hopeless despair.

Fearful indeed is the plan of existence which

rules our mortality. Innocent or guilty, our deeds done in the flesh pursue us with relentless vigor unto the end of life. Sometimes the rough winds of adversity are tempered to the shorn lamb who is not responsible for acts which are forced upon him; God in infinite wisdom and justice remits the severity of our sufferings; but the tracings still remain upon the sands of life--we bind up the wounds--they heal, but the scars remain.

Sappho possessed a brilliant mind and resolute character. If she had been a religious devotee she would have been as devout and as fervid as a disciple of old. If a sinner, the queen of them all. She had strength of will enough for a dozen women, which, if ever started on the wrong road, would be difficult to redirect into the paths of right. She had suffered much in meekness, but now dumb rage awoke her passions. For a time the spirit of revenge held full sway in the outraged heart. Revenge was all she craved; she shivered at the dark thoughts which came to her. "Revenge" whispered the swaying branches of the trees above her head--"revenge" seemed whispered in the chilling winds about her--revenge upon her seducer and upon the man who had dashed the cup of happiness from her lips and most wantonly insulted her in her

weakness. Then came the blessed relief of tears--like a flood--they relieved the overcharged brain and saved her reason. She fancied, as she sat there trying to account for the evil that pursued her, that Conscience spoke in condemnation of her neglect of her child. She had felt nothing for the poor waif but repugnance. Her delicate nervous organization was naturally tinged with superstition, and she felt that God had sat in judgment on her willingness to forget her child. "Dost thou question the providences of God? Know that my ways are not the ways of men. A tender soul will be demanded at thy hands in the vast eternity. Who art thou, to question the ways of Infinity? Jesus Christ came into the world under the law. Who art thou, to question the wisdom of the Most High? Lo, there is the field--the life of a child--work for a bounteous harvest." At length she rose from that seat resolved that come what would she would claim the child and do her duty as his mother in love and training. She would devote her life to him. They would nevermore be separated.

She met no one in her lonely walk through the now-deserted city streets. She was so benumbed by the shock she had received that she would hardly have noticed any insult that

might have been directed to her. At length she reached the door of Madam Frances's house. All was dark. No light, no welcome. So was her life made dark and desolate by the curse of slavery. She rang the bell twice with a strong hand; presently she saw the faint gleam from a lamp through the sidelights, and then her aunt's familiar voice asked: "Who is there?"

"It is I, Sappho; open the door, Aunt Sally."

She heard the click of the key as it turned in the lock, and in another moment she stood within the entry facing her aunt's curious, frightened face. In another moment she dropped her weary frame in a chair in the reception room. Sappho told her aunt the whole story. The elder woman was nonplussed and startled; she had not counted that any one would be able to identify her niece with poor, unfortunate Mabelle Beaubean. They sat there for a long time going over the situation, and consulting about what was best to be done. Sappho told her aunt that she was determined to take the boy with her in future. Madam Frances said nothing, for she saw that her niece was determined.

"I must leave Boston; that is clear," said Sappho.

"Certainly, that will be best for a while," replied her aunt. "But you must remember

that it is always darkest just before the dawn."

"I shall return to New Orleans and lose myself in that city. I shall get work there, and my case will not be noticed, because it is not uncommon. In time I shall forget."

"As soon as you are settled there I will join you with the boy. I will continue to tell fortunes, and we shall live very happily, no doubt. I shall not be here long; my sands are almost run, but I should like to see you safe and happy before I go. But remember what I say to you now, Sappho child: in doing your duty, happiness will come to you, the greater and more abiding for the trouble which has preceded it."

"Perhaps so," replied Sappho; "but, Aunt Sally, I shall take the boy with me tomorrow when I leave for the South. I will never part with him again on earth."

"Well, my dear child, I see no necessity for you to become a martyr in order to do your duty. However, do as you think best. Now go and try to get a little rest."

"Here is one of my mother's diamond rings; take it, Aunt Sally, and sell it for me. I have no money."

The old woman took the ring, and Sappho went into the small side-room where Alphonse slept. She undressed and lay down beside the boy, but not to sleep. She gazed on the innocent

face with mingled feelings of sorrow and regret as she thought of the lonely, loveless life of the child. She had been so wicked to put him from her. It was her duty to guide and care for him. She would do her duty without shrinking. Her head ached and her eyes burned and were hot and dry; they refused to close. So the moments flew by as she tormented herself with fancies of Will's horror of her when he should learn her story on the morrow, and remembrances of John Langley's coarse insults, which even now made her cheeks burn with shame. She wept bitter tears over her cherished love dream. But under it all there was a feeling of relief now that she had made up her mind to a future which the child should share. Her shipwrecked life seemed about to find peace. There was a new light in her eyes as she gazed on the sleeping child. Impulsively she folded him in her arms, and Alphonse awoke. The awakening of childhood is beautiful. She gazed with new-found ecstacy at the rosy face, the dimpled limbs, and thought that he was hers. Her feeling of degradation had made her ashamed of the joys of motherhood, of pride of possession in her child. But all that feeling was swept away. Alphonse looked at her first in wonder and then in alarm. Again she kissed him passionately--the frail
little child, whose delicate frame seemed cut from alabaster. She had only this tender creature to cling to in all the world; the only plank between her and desperation.

"I am your mother, Alphonse," she said in answer to his looks of inquiry.

"My mamma is gone away to heaven," replied the child solemnly, as he watched her earnestly with great dark eyes of wonder.

"No, dear, I am your mamma, come back to keep you with me always. Won't you love your poor unhappy mamma?"

The child put up one slender hand and smoothed her cheek.

"You're the pretty lady I saw at the fair. I didn't know you were my mamma."

"Mamma couldn't claim you then, darling, but now she's going to take you away, and you will always live with her. Won't you like that?"

The boy nodded his sleepy little head, put up his dewy red mouth and pressed a sweet, wet kiss on her face, then he nestled confidingly in her arms and fell fast asleep again. She held him closely folded against her throbbing heart, and something holy passed from the sweet contact of the soft, warm body into the cold chilliness of her broken heart. The mother-love chased out all the anguish that she had felt over his birth. She wondered how she

had lived without him--how she could have remained separated from him. In this new and holy love that had taken possession of her soul was the compensation for all she had suffered. She could not see it then, but in the long intervals of time it would be revealed to her understanding. Now she felt that her losses could not be paid, but in the years which followed she learned to value the strong, chastening influence of her present sorrow, and the force of character it developed, fitting her perfectly for the place she was to occupy in carrying comfort and hope to the women of her race.

The next evening Sappho left Boston. As the train rolled out from the station on its southward journey her heart sank; tears were in her eyes; she felt that now, indeed, all links were severed between her and Will. She had borne up bravely, and now she told herself that she must not give way. She clasped the tender fingers of the boy closer still. He was her anchor. The lady passengers on the train regarded her curiously, she was too beautiful for pity; the men with equal curiosity, but compassion for her youth and beauty mingled with it. When she reached Washington fatigue began to tell upon her--fatigue and hopeless misery. She longed for the journey's end. Mentally and physically she was overtaxed, and but for the child she would have broken down.


She did not mind anything now. As she moved farther south the brutality of the conductor who ordered her out of the comfortable day-coach into the dirt and discomfort of the "Jim crow" car, with the remark that "white niggers couldn't impose on him; he reckoned he knew 'em," failed to arouse her.

The Sisters of the Holy Family always have representatives at the various railroad stations in New Orleans. These Sisters not only solicit alms, but look out for friendless or unfortunate colored women. As Sappho stepped from the train, holding the child by one hand and her baggage check in the other, a Sister, impelled by something in the white, worn face, stepped up to her and spoke a kindly word of interest. Sappho looked at her and tried to answer, as she placed the check and her purse in the Sister's hand. The nun put out her arms just in time to receive Sappho's form as she was sinking insensible upon the platform, her strength at last succumbing to the terrible strain upon mind and body. The nun obtained a carriage and took the two travelers to the convent--the child to the orphanage, the mother to the hospital. So once again Sappho found a refuge in the convent in her time of dire necessity. No one recognized her, for a complete change had been made in the Sisterhood.


A long spell of low fever ensued, but to Sappho in her weakness the rest and comfort that came to her harassed mind was like sun and shade in a grassy glade of perfect peace. The nuns were greatly interested in her, and concluded that she was as good as pretty.

"She is like the angels in the picture of the Crucifixion, so sweet and sad. She has more tears in her heart than in her eyes."

"She is not of our faith," said another, "but we will do our best for her, as the Mother says: le bon Dieu knows best."

It was evening in New Orleans. The streets, the great arteries of a crowded metropolis, were lighted by the glare of myriad gas-lamps, thus dispelling the darkness like artificial suns. The roll of vehicles blended with the other sounds, the hum of millions rising in a confused roar above the housetops and mingling with the clouds of evening.

In a small, bare room Sappho lay, at the end of a long corridor. The rays from a lamp outside the room came faintly in, dispelling the semi-darkness. The light from the soft Southern moon gleamed faintly through the windows, making the room like the cloisters of heavenly mansions. To that quiet haven of rest the turmoil and bustle of life did not reach. There

the dying, the sick, the convalescent lay undisturbed by the hurrying march of humanity.

She had just sent Alphonse away. Every day he had been allowed to go to her since she had been getting better. It was a rare sight to see the two together--the lovely girl who held the child in such a passionate embrace, and the delight of the child in his "beautiful mamma."

No questions had been asked her concerning her life or history, but she felt it her duty to make a confidante of the Mother Superior. Tonight she had sent for her, and presently the Mother glided in, with her noiseless step and gentle, assuring manner. The holy woman sat there a long time in silence after listening to Sappho's story. Such confidences were not new to her. At length she placed a toil-worn brown hand upon the girl's head with a murmured "Benedicite."

"What shall I do, Mother?" asked the girl, as she reverently kissed the gentle hand.

"Ah, we must think and pray. You do not wish to become a Sister?"

"No; I must accept the desire of God in the child. I will take a mother's place and do my duty."

"It is hard for one so young and beautiful to resist the world and its temptations," replied the Mother regretfully; "but we will help you,

and the convent will be a home for you always."

Sappho thanked her tearfully.

"My child, I will think over all you have said; I will pray to be shown what it is best to do. Now, go to sleep; rest, and pray to the Holy Mother of Sorrow, and Christ will comfort you."

She glided noiselessly from the room. Sappho, already comforted by her benign influence, fell asleep.

A month later Sappho had very nearly recovered from the effects of her illness. She moved--a quiet and subdued figure--about the convent corridors, helping in every way. She had written to her aunt, and received an answer saying that she would soon be in the city. The old fortune-teller returned to her home only in time, however, to die at the convent. So Sappho found herself doubly alone in the world.

One day soon after the death of her aunt the Mother Superior sent for her to come to her in her private room--the parlor of the convent.

"My child," she said, "I have been thinking much about you, and I have tried to benefit you. Are you still determined to pass as the boy's mother?"

"Yes, Mother, I am."


"Well, then, you must be Madame Clark."

"No," replied Sappho hastily; "no more deception."

"I am glad to see that you are ready to bear all things in meekness for His sake. But you are not called upon to make too many sacrifices. God sees your heart and will reward you in his own good time. I have a place for you that I think will just suit you. Monsieur Louis of Opelausas is in want of a governess for his two granddaughters. He is a man of color, and has lost all of his family but these two children. He is an old man with a competency, and he will pay you well for your services. Alphonse can stay with us; you can pay a stipulated sum for his board and be able to see him every week. What do you think of it, my daughter?"

"I will do as you advise, Mother; you are only too kind. When shall I go?"

"Monsieur Louis will be here tomorrow to see you. If everything is satisfactory, you can go next week."

The morrow came, and with it Monsieur Louis. He was a tall, aristocratic-looking man of dignified bearing, though one soon perceived that age had bent his once firm shoulders. His hair, now entirely white, added to his venerable appearance. His face was gentle and

kindly, and immediately won Sappho's heart. He, in his turn, was much impressed by her youth and beauty. He thought of the days of his own youth, when such a face as hers would have robbed him of his sleep. He thought, too, of the wife and daughter who had been taken from him, leaving his life but a succession of lonely days. "Let the past die," he murmured impatiently to himself; "I feel this beautiful girl-widow will bring peace and joy to my poor motherless girls."

In another week Sappho had accepted the liberal terms Monsieur Louis offered her, had taken a tearful farewell of Alphonse and the Sisters, and was ensconced in her new home.

The house was pleasant; it stood in its own grounds; an old-fashioned, typical Southern residence, with wide gardens and a carriage-drive winding around a smoothly cut lawn. The interior was well furnished, comfortable, and every want abundantly supplied. She combined the duties of housekeeping with those of teaching, and soon became the moving spirit of the home, warmly loved by her little charges, and enthusiastically admired by the servants. It was a happy, restful life; it suited her. Its retirement, its quiet interior, recalled her childhood's happy home. Monsieur Louis, although much older, reminded her of her

father, and attracted her by his gentleness. Traveling in a desert, as it were, she had come suddenly and unexpectedly upon an oasis of grass, cool shadows and running streams. Here, indeed, was peace. Had her lot been always cast in these pleasant, peaceful shades, how different her life might have been. But the iron of suffering had seared her heart. Her life now bade fair to be tranquil and monotonous enough. Why could she not be happy? she asked herself. She tried not to allow herself to think upon the past; but when night came she lay awake hungering for the sight of a face, the touch of a hand, the glance of an eye. Sometimes the craving grew almost too powerful to be resisted, and once she started to dress, resolved to return to Boston, find Will, and trust all to his love. But she remembered. "His scorn I could not bear. I should die at his feet." She told herself that life was done was nothing remained but patience. So she sat dumb and submissive beneath her martyrdom.

Monsieur Louis was puzzled by the beautiful girl-widow, but he asked no inconvenient questions. He was content to accept the goods which the goods had provided him in the person of his governess, deeming himself very fortunate to have a woman of her refinement to

take charge of the education of his granddaughters. He did not believe her to be a widow. He had strange thoughts when he looked at the pretty child Alphonse, who came so frequently to the house to visit his mother. The child was always made welcome for his own sake as well as for his mother's. He shook his head and sighed as he watched the two together. Such cases were only too common in the South. Like a wise man he accepted the inevitable, and tried to do the best with it that he could. "Let me bring as much good as possible out of evil," was his thought in self-communion. So he smiled on the two forlorn ones; encouraged the mother and respected her secret. One year glided slowly by; another followed. Sappho had grown accustomed to her new duties and resigned to her life.

Monsieur Louis's great hobby was his rose-garden. There he worked, assisted by the children. Alphonse spent a great part of his time with his mother, sharing the instruction of the two girls. No one would have recognized in the gay lad the quiet, melancholy child of three years before. Sappho would often sit on a garden seat watching the three children. For a time she would forget her troubles in the joy of gazing upon the animated, happy face of her child. Yes, there lay consolation for all

her sufferings. Alphonse was expanding like a flower beneath the influence of his mother's love and devotion. He was her consolation.

Late one afternoon she sat on the terrace, a book in her lap, her thoughts far away. Alphonse brought her a bunch of roses. The child looked at her earnestly a moment, and then said:

"Mamma, why are you always so sad when you sit on the terrace alone?"

"I am not sad, Alphonse," she replied, kissing him on his forehead.

"Oh, yes, you are. When I am a big man I shall find the tall, handsome gentleman who gave you flowers at the fair."

"Why, Alphonse!"

"Have I said anything wrong, mamma?" he asked anxiously.

"Not wrong, my child, but mamma prefers that you never speak of the past to anyone."

"I will do just as you say, Mamma Sappho!" he cried, impetuously throwing his arms about her neck in a bearlike hug.

Somewhat startled by the child's precociousness, she sat there after he left her, watching the red sun slowly dropping out of sight in the west. The peaceful stillness of approaching darkness rested on the landscape. She heard a step and turned to perceive Monsieur Louis,

who seated himself beside her on the rustic settee.

"We shall have a thunder shower before morning; see how heavy the clouds are hanging."

"I have been watching them," replied Sappho.

"Miss Clark, how long have you been with us?" he asked abruptly.

"A few months more than two years. Why, Monsieur Louis?"

"You have been happy?" he asked, ignoring her question.

"Happier than I can say."

"Do not let what I am about to say distress you; but I want you to make me your confidant and tell me all your sad story, not from idle curiosity, but because I have grown to love you and the boy."

"Oh, monsieur!" was all Sappho could say.

Then he spoke again. She had only a confused idea of his words, but his meaning was clearly written in her heart.

"My child," he said gravely, taking her hand, "I am an old man, experienced in the ways of the world. I have seen and understood more of your story than I have seemed to. My heart yearns for you and the child. I am old and selfish, perhaps, but I offer you a home for yourself and the boy, an honorable name, and

ample means to protect you when I am gone. In short, will you consent to marry an old man and make his few remaining years peaceful? Take time to reflect," he said, as she started to interrupt him; "and my child, while you reflect, think of me. You have grown about my heart-strings. I could not rest in my grave if I left you alone and friendless."

About Sappho's heart there was a strange feeling of suffocation, a feeling such as a martyr might have experienced at the stake.

"I cannot answer now," she said at length; "this is a strange idea to me."

"Take time," he replied; "but weigh my proposition well. There is plenty here; there is no one in the wide world to mar your peace, only an old man and two little girls. You shall be happy and honored."

"I will give you my answer in a week," she said, as she arose trembling from her seat.

"It is two weeks to Easter. Let me know your answer then." And turning, he left her as abruptly as he had come.


  --  THE BITTER ARROW.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XXI.