Harper, Frances E.W.
|CHAPTER XXXII. -- WOOING AND WEDDING.|
Harry's vacation had been very pleasant. Miss Delany, with her fine conversational powers and ready wit, had added much to his enjoyment. Robert had given his mother the pleasantest room in the house, and in the evening the family would gather around her, tell her the news of the day, read to her from the Bible, join with her in thanksgiving for mercies received and in prayer for protection through the night. Harry was very grateful to Dr. Latimer for the kindly interest he had shown in accompanying Miss Delany and himself to places of interest and amusement. He was grateful, too, that in the city of P--doors were open to them which were barred against them in the South.
The bright, beautiful days of summer were gliding into autumn, with its glorious wealth of foliage, and the time was approaching for the departure of Harry and Miss Delany to their respective schools, when Dr. Latimer received several letters from North Carolina, urging him to come South, as physicians were greatly needed there. Although his practice was lucrative in the city of P--, he resolved he would go where his services were most needed.
A few evenings before he started he called at the house, and made an engagement to drive Iola to the park.
At the time appointed he drove up to the door in his fine equipage. Iola stepped gracefully in and sat quietly by his side to enjoy the loveliness of the scenery and the gorgeous grandeur of the setting sun.
"I expect to go South," said Dr. Latimer, as he drove slowly along.
"Ah, indeed," said Iola, assuming an air of interest, while a shadow flitted over her face. "Where do you expect to pitch your tent?"
"In the city of C--, North Carolina," he answered.
"Oh, I wish," she exclaimed, "that you were going to Georgia, where you could take care of that high-spirited brother of mine."
"I suppose if he were to hear you he would laugh, and say that he could take care of himself. But I know a better plan than that."
"What is it?" asked Iola, innocently.
"That you will commit yourself, instead of your brother, to my care."
"Oh, dear," replied Iola, drawing a long breath. "What would mamma say?"
"That she would willingly resign you, I hope."
"And what would grandma and Uncle Robert say?" again asked Iola.
"That they would cheerfully acquiesce. Now, what would I say if they all consent?"
"I don't know," modestly responded Iola.
"Well," replied Dr. Latimer, "I would say:--
"Could deeds my love discover,
Could valor gain thy charms,
To prove myself thy lover
I'd face a world in arms."
"And prove a good soldier," added Iola, smiling, "when there is no battle to fight."
"Iola, I am in earnest," said Dr. Latimer, passionately. "In the work to which I am devoted every burden will be lighter, every path smoother, if brightened and blessed with your companionship."
A sober expression swept over Iola's face, and, dropping her eyes, she said: "I must have time to think."
Quietly they rode along the river bank until Dr. Latimer broke the silence by saying:--
"Miss Iola, I think that you brood too much over the condition of our people."
"Perhaps I do," she replied, "but they never burn a man in the South that they do not kindle a fire around my soul."
"I am afraid," replied Dr. Latimer, "that you will grow morbid and nervous. Most of our people take life easily--why shouldn't you?"
"Because," she answered, "I can see breakers ahead which they do not."
"Oh, give yourself no uneasiness. They will catch the fret and fever of the nineteenth century soon enough. I have heard several of our ministers say that it is chiefly men of disreputable characters who are made the subjects of violence and lynch-law."
"Suppose it is so," responded Iola, feelingly. "If these men believe in eternal punishment they ought to feel a greater concern for the wretched sinner who is hurried out of time with all his sins upon his head, than for the godly man who passes through violence to endless rest."
"That is true; and I am not counseling you to be selfish; but, Miss Iola, had you not better look out for yourself?"
"Thank you, Doctor, I am feeling quite well."
"I know it, but your devotion to study and work is too intense," he replied.
"I am preparing to teach, and must spend my leisure time in study. Mr. Cloten is an excellent employer, and treats his employes as if they had hearts as well as hands. But to be an expert accountant is not the best use to which I can put my life."
"As a teacher you will need strong health and calm nerves. You had better let me prescribe for you. You need," he added, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, "change of air, change of scene, and change of name."
"Well, Doctor," said Iola, laughing, "that is the newest nostrum out. Had you not better apply for a patent?"
"Oh," replied Dr. Latimer, with affected gravity, "you know you must have unlimited faith in your physician."
"So you wish me to try the faith cure?" asked Iola, laughing.
"Yes, faith in me," responded Dr. Latimer, seriously.
"Oh, here we are at home!" exclaimed Iola. "This has been a glorious evening, Doctor. I am indebted to you for a great pleasure. I am extremely grateful."
"You are perfectly welcome," replied Dr. Latimer.
"The pleasure has been mutual, I assure you."
"Will you not come in?" asked Iola.
Tying his horse, he accompanied Iola into the parlor. Seating himself near her, he poured into her ears words eloquent with love and tenderness.
"Iola," he said, "I am not an adept in courtly phrases. I am a plain man, who believes in love and truth. In asking you to share my lot, I am not inviting you to a life of ease and luxury, for year after year I may have to struggle to keep the wolf from the door, but your presence would make my home one of the brightest spots on earth, and one of the fairest types of heaven. Am I presumptuous in hoping that your love will become the crowning joy of my life?"
His words were more than a tender strain wooing her to love and happiness, they were a clarion call to a life of high and holy worth, a call which found a response in her heart. Her hand lay limp in his. She did not withdraw it, but, raising her lustrous eyes to his, she softly answered: "Frank, I love you."
After he had gone, Iola sat by the window, gazing at the splendid stars, her heart quietly throbbing with a delicious sense of joy and love. She had admired Dr. Gresham and, had there been no barrier in her way, she might have learned to love him; but Dr. Latimer had grown irresistibly upon her heart. There were depths in her nature that Dr. Gresham had never fathomed; aspirations in her soul with which he had never mingled. But as the waves leap up to the strand, so her soul went out to Dr. Latimer. Between their lives were no impeding barriers, no inclination impelling one way and duty compelling another. Kindred hopes and tastes had knit their hearts; grand and noble purposes were lighting up their lives; and they esteemed it a blessed privilege to stand on the threshold of a new era and labor for those who had passed from the old oligarchy of slavery into the new commonwealth of freedom.
On the next evening, Dr. Latimer rang the bell and was answered by Harry, who ushered him into the parlor, and then came back to the sitting-room, saying, "Iola, Dr. Latimer has called to see you."
"Has he?" answered Iola, a glad light coming into her eyes. "Come, Lucille, let us go into the parlor."
"Oh, no," interposed Harry, shrugging his shoulders and catching Lucille's hand. "He didn't ask for you. When we went to the concert we were told three's a crowd. And I say one good turn deserves another."
"Oh, Harry, you are so full of nonsense. Let Lucille go!" said Iola.
"Indeed I will not. I want to have a good time as well as you," said Harry.
"Oh, you're the most nonsensical man I know," interposed Miss Delany. Yet she stayed with Harry.
"You're looking very bright and happy," said Dr. Latimer to Iola, as she entered.
"My ride in the park was so refreshing! I enjoyed it so much! The day was so lovely, the air delicious, the birds sang so sweetly, and the sunset was so magnificent."
"I am glad of it. Why, Iola, your home is so happy your heart should be as light as a school-girl's."
"Doctor," she replied, "I must be prematurely old. I have scarcely known what it is to be light-hearted since my father's death."
"I know it, darling," he answered, seating himself beside her, and drawing her to him. "You have been tried in the fire, but are you not better for the crucial test?"
"Doctor," she replied, "as we rode along yesterday,
"Yes," responded Dr. Latimer, musingly,
"'Darkness shows us worlds of light
We never saw by day.'"
"Oh, Doctor, you cannot conceive what it must have been to be hurled from a home of love and light into the dark abyss of slavery; to be compelled to take your place among a people you have learned to look upon as inferiors and social outcasts; to be in the power of men whose presence would fill you with horror and loathing, and to know that there is no earthly power to protect you from the highest insults which brutal cowardice could shower upon you. I am so glad that no other woman of my race will suffer as I have done."
The flush deepened on her face, a mournful splendor beamed from her beautiful eyes, into which the tears had slowly gathered.
"Darling," he said, his voice vibrating with mingled feelings of tenderness and resentment, "you must forget the sad past. You are like a tender lamb snatched from the jaws of a hungry wolf, but who still needs protecting, loving care. But it must have been terrible," he added, in a painful tone.
"It was indeed! For awhile I was like one dazed. I tried to pray, but the heavens seemed brass over my
"Was it not a mistake to have kept you ignorant of your colored blood?"
"It was the great mistake of my father's life, but dear papa knew something of the cruel, crushing power of caste; and he tried to shield us from it."
"Yes, yes," replied Dr. Latimer, thoughtfully, "in trying to shield you from pain he plunged you into deeper suffering."
"I never blame him, because I know he did it for the best. Had he lived he would have taken us to France, where I should have had a life of careless ease and pleasure. But now my life has a much grander significance than it would have had under such conditions. Fearful as the awakening was, it was better than to have slept through life."
"Best for you and best for me," said Dr. Latimer. "There are souls that never awaken; but if they miss the deepest pain they also lose the highest joy."
Dr. Latimer went South, after his engagement, and through his medical skill and agreeable manners became very successful in his practice. In the following summer, he built a cosy home for the reception of his bride, and came North, where, with Harry and Miss Delany as attendants, he was married to Iola, amid a pleasant gathering of friends, by Rev. Carmicle.