« AnteriorContinua »
truth. Hastily, therefore, and inconsiderately, the Major determined to confirm this ignorance. "No," said he; "I've had no news. Severn and I are not on such terms as to correspond." The next time Luttrel came to the farm, he found the master sitting up in a great, cushioned, chintz-covered armchair which Gertrude had sent him the day before out of her own dressing
"Are you engaged yet?" asked Richard.
There was a strain as if of defiance in his tone. The Major was irritated. "Yes," said he, "we are engaged now."
The young man's face betrayed no emotion.
"Are you reconciled to it?" asked Luttrel.
"Yes, practically I am."
"What do you mean by practically? Explain yourself."
"A man in my state can't explain himself. I mean that, however I feel about it, I shall accept Gertrude's marriage."
"You're a wise man, my boy," said the Major, kindly.
"I'm growing wise. I feel like Solomon on his throne in this chair. But I confess, sir, I don't see how she could have you."
"Well, there's no accounting for tastes," said the Major, good-humoredly.
"Ah, if it's been a matter of taste with her," said Richard, "I have nothing to say."
They came to no more express understanding than this with regard to the future. Richard continued to grow stronger daily, and to defer the renewal of his intercourse with Gertrude. A month before, he would have resented as a bitter insult the intimation that he would ever be so resigned to lose her as he now found himself. He would not see her for two reasons: first, because he felt that it would be- or that at least in reason it ought to be painful experience to look upon his old mistress with a coldly critical eye;
and secondly, because, justify to himself as he would his new-born indifference, he could not entirely cast away the suspicion that it was a last remnant of disease, and that, when he stood on his legs again in the presence of those exuberant landscapes with which he had long since established a sort of sensuous communion, he would feel, as with a great tumultuous rush, the return of his impetuous manhood and of his old capacity. When he had smoked a pipe in the outer sunshine, when he had settled himself once more to the long elastic bound of his mare, then he would see Gertrude. The reason of the change which had come upon him was that she had disappointed him, she whose magnanimity it had once seemed that his fancy was impotent to measure. She had accepted Major Luttrel, a man whom he despised; she had so mutilated her magnificent heart as to match it with his. The validity of his dislike to the Major, Richard did not trouble himself to examine. He accepted it as an unerring instinct; and, indeed, he might have asked himself, had he not sufficient proof? Moreover he labored under the sense of a gratuitous wrong. He had suffered an immense torment of remorse to drive him into brutishness, and thence to the very gate of death, for an offence which he had deemed mortal, and which was after all but a phantasm of his impassioned conscience. What a fool he had been! a fool for his nervous fears, and a fool for his penitence. Marriage with Major Luttrel, - such was the end of Gertrude's fancied anguish. Such, too, we hardly need add, was the end of that idea of reparation which had been so formidable to Luttrel. Richard had been generous; he would now be just.
Far from impeding his recovery, these reflections hastened it. One morning in the beginning of August, Gertrude received notice of Richard's presence. It was a still, sultry day, and Miss Whittaker, her habitual pallor deepened by the oppressive heat, was sitting alone in a white morning-dress, languidly fan
ning aside at once the droning flies and her equally importunate thoughts. She found Richard standing in the middle of the drawing-room, booted and spurred. "Well, Richard," she exclaimed, with some feeling, "you 're at last willing to see me !"
As his eyes fell upon her, he started and stood almost paralyzed, heeding neither her words nor her extended hand. It was not Gertrude he saw, but her ghost.
"In Heaven's name what has happened to you?" he cried.
Gertrude tried to smile in feigned surprise at his surprise; but her muscles relaxed. Richard's words and looks reflected more vividly than any mirror the dejection of her person; and this, the misery of her soul. She felt herself growing faint. She staggered back to a sofa and sank down.
Then Richard felt as if the room were revolving about him, and as if his throat were choked with imprecations, as if his old erratic passion had again taken possession of him, like a mingled legion of devils and angels. It was through pity that his love returned. He went forward and dropped on his knees at Gertrude's feet. "Speak to me!" he cried, seizing her hands. "Are you unhappy? Is your heart broken? O Gertrude! what have you come to ?"
Gertrude drew her hands from his grasp and rose to her feet. "Get up, Richard," she said. "Don't talk so wildly. I'm not well. I'm very glad to see you. You look well."
"I've got my strength again, - and meanwhile you've been failing. You're unhappy, you 're wretched ! Don't say you 're not, Gertrude: it's as plain as day. You 're breaking your heart."
"The same old Richard!" said Gertrude, trying to smile again.
"Would that you were the same old Gertrude! Don't try to smile; you can't!"
"I shall!" said Gertrude, desperately. "I'm going to be married, you know."
"Yes, I know. I don't congratulate you."
"I have not counted upon that honor, Richard. I shall have to do without it."
"You'll have to do without a great many things!" cried Richard, horrified by what seemed to him her blind selfimmolation.
"I have all I ask," said Gertrude. "You have n't all I ask then! have n't all your friends ask."
"My friends are very kind, but I marry to suit myself."
"You've not suited yourself!" retorted the young man. "You've suited God knows what! -your pride, your despair, your resentment." he looked at her, the secret history of her weakness seemed to become plain to him, and he felt a mighty rage against the man who had taken a base advantage of it. "Gertrude!" he cried, "I entreat you to go back. It's not for my sake, I'll give you up, I'll go a thousand miles away, and never look at you again. It's for your own. In the name of your happiness, break with that man! Don't fling yourself away. Buy him off, if you consider yourself bound. Give him your money. That's all he wants."
As Gertrude listened, the blood came back to her face, and two flames into her eyes. She looked at Richard from head to foot. "You are not weak," she said, "you are in your senses, you are well and strong; you shall tell me what you mean. You insult the best friend I have. Explain yourself! you insinuate foul things, speak them out!" Her eyes glanced toward the door, and Richard's followed them. Major Luttrel stood on the threshold.
"Come in, sir!" cried Richard. "Gertrude swears she'll believe no harm of you. Come and tell her that she's wrong! How can you keep on harassing a woman whom you 've brought to this state? Think of what she was three months ago, and look at her now!"
Luttrel received this broadside without flinching. He had overheard Rich
ard's voice from the entry, and he had steeled his heart for the encounter. He assumed the air of having been so amazed by the young man's first words as only to have heard his last; and he glanced at Gertrude mechanically as if to comply with them. "What's the matter?" he asked, going over to her, and taking her hand; "are you ill?" Gertrude let him have her hand, but she forbore to meet his eyes.
"Ill! of course she 's ill!" cried Richard, passionately. "She's dying, -she's consuming herself! I know I seem to be playing an odious part here, Gertrude, but, upon my soul, I can't help it. I look like a betrayer, an informer, a sneak, but I don't feel like one! say so."
Still, I'll leave you, if you
"Shall he go, Gertrude?" asked Luttrel, without looking at Richard.
"No. Let him stay and explain himself. He has accused you, let him prove his case."
"I know what he is going to say," said Luttrel. "It will place me in a bad light. Do you still wish to hear it?"
Gertrude drew her hand hastily out of Luttrel's. “Speak, Richard!" she cried, with a passionate gesture.
"I will speak," said Richard. "I've done you a dreadful wrong, Gertrude. How great a wrong, I never knew until I saw you to-day so miserably altered. When I heard that you were to be married, I fancied that it was no wrong, and that my remorse had been wasted. But I understand it now; and he understands it, too. You once told me that you had ceased to love Captain Severn. It was n't true. You never ceased to love him. You love him at this moment. If he were to get another wound in the next battle, how would you feel? How would you bear it?" And Richard paused for an instant with the force of his interrogation. "For God's sake," cried Gertrude, "respect the dead!"
"The dead! Is he dead?"
"You beast!" cried Luttrel.
Richard turned upon him savagely. "Shut your infernal mouth!" he roared. "You told me he was alive and well!” Gertrude made a movement of speechless distress.
"You would have it, my dear," said Luttrel, with a little bow.
Richard had turned pale, and began to tremble. "Excuse me, Gertrude," he said, hoarsely, "I've been deceived. Poor, unhappy woman! Gertrude," he continued, going nearer to her, and speaking in a whisper, "I killed him.”
Gertrude fell back from him, as he approached her, with a look of unutterable horror. “I and he,” said Richard, pointing at Luttrel.
Gertrude's eyes followed the direction of his gesture, and transferred their scorching disgust to her suitor. This was too much for Luttrel's courage. "You idiot!" she shouted at Richard, "speak out!"
"He loved you, though you believed he did n't," said Richard. "I saw it the first time I looked at him. To every one but you it was as plain as day. Luttrel saw it too. But he was too modest, and he never fancied you cared for him. The night before he went back to the army, he came to bid you good by. If he had seen you, it would have been better for every one. You remember that evening, of course. We met him, Luttrel and I. He was all on fire, he meant to speak. I knew it, you knew it, Luttrel: it was in his fingers' ends. I intercepted him. I turned him off, I lied to him and told him you were away. I was a coward, and I did neither more nor less than that. I knew you were waiting for him. It was stronger than my will, I believe I should do it again. Fate was against him, and he went off. I came back to tell you, but my damnable jealousy strangled me. I went home and drank myself into a fever. I've done you a wrong that I can never repair. I'd go hang myself if I thought it would help you." Rich
Gertrude covered her face with her ard spoke slowly, softly, and explicitly,
as if irresistible Justice in person had
her hand upon his neck, and were forcing him down upon his knees. In the presence of Gertrude's dismay nothing seemed possible but perfect self-conviction. In Luttrel's attitude, as he stood with his head erect, his arms folded, and his cold gray eye fixed upon the distance, it struck him that there was something atrociously insolent; not insolent to him, for that he cared little enough, but insolent to Gertrude and to the dreadful solemnity of the hour. Richard sent the Major a look of the most aggressive contempt. "As for Major Luttrel," he said, "he was but a passive spectator. No, Gertrude, by Heaven!" he burst out; "he was worse than I! I loved you, and he did n't!” "Our friend is correct in his facts, Gertrude," said Luttrel, quietly. "He is incorrect in his opinions. I was a passive spectator of his deception. He appeared to enjoy a certain authority with regard to your wishes, source of which I respected both of you sufficiently never to question, and I accepted the act which he has described as an exercise of it. You will remember that you had sent us away on the ground that you were in no humor for company. To deny you, therefore, to another visitor, seemed to me rather officious, but still pardonable. You will consider that I was wholly ignorant of your relations to that visitor; that whatever you may have done for others, Gertrude, to me you never vouchsafed a word of information on the subject, and that Mr. Clare's words are a revelation to me. But I am bound to believe nothing that he says. I am bound to believe that I have injured you only when I hear it from your own lips."
Richard made a movement as if to break out upon the Major; but Gertrude, who had been standing motionless with her eyes upon the ground, quickly raised them, and gave him a look of imperious prohibition. She had listened, and she had chosen. She turned to Luttrel. "Major Luttrel," she said, "you have been an accessory in what has been for me a serious grief.
It is my duty to tell you so. I mean, of course, a profoundly unwilling accessory. I pity you more than I can tell you. I think your position more pitiable than mine. It is true that I never made a confidant of you. I never made one of Richard. I had a secret, and he surprised it. You were less fortunate." It might have seemed to a thoroughly dispassionate observer that in these last four words there was an infinitesimal touch of tragic irony. Gertrude paused a moment while Luttrel eyed her intently, and Richard, from a somewhat tardy instinct of delicacy, walked over to the bow-window. "This is the most painful moment of my life," she resumed. "I hardly know where my duty lies. The only thing that is plain to me is, that I must ask you to release me from my engagement. ask it most humbly, Major Luttrel," Gertrude continued, with warmth in her words, and a chilling coldness in her voice, - a coldness which it sickened her to feel there, but which she was unable to dispel. "I can't expect that you should give me up easily; I know that it's a great deal to ask, and "— she forced the chosen words out of her mouth-"I should thank you more than I can say if you would put some condition upon my release. You have done honorably by me, and I repay you with ingratitude. But I can't marry you." Her voice began to melt. have been false from the beginning. I have no heart to give you. I should make you a despicable wife."
The Major, too, had listened and chosen, and in this trying conjuncture he set the seal to his character as an accomplished man. He saw that Gertrude's movement was final, and he determined to respect the inscrutable mystery of her heart. He read in the glance of her eye and the tone of her voice that the perfect dignity had fallen from his character, that his integrity had lost its bloom; but he also read her firm resolve never to admit this fact to her own mind, nor to declare it to the world, and he honored her forbearance. His hopes, his ambitions, his visions, lay be
fore him like a colossal heap of broken glass; but he would be as graceful as she was. She had divined him; but she had spared him. The Major was inspired.
"You have at least spoken to the point," he said. "You leave no room for doubt or for hope. With the little light I have, I can't say I understand your feelings, but I yield to them religiously. I believe so thoroughly that you suffer from the thought of what you ask of me, that I will not increase your suffering by assuring you of my own. I care for nothing but your happiness. You have lost it, and I give you mine to replace it. And although it's a simple thing to say," he added, "I must say simply that I thank you for your implicit faith in my integrity," — and he held out his hand. As she gave him hers, Gertrude felt utterly in the wrong; and she looked into his eyes with an expression so humble, so appealing, so grateful, that, after all, his exit may be called triumphant.
When he had gone, Richard turned from the window with an enormous sense of relief. He had heard Gertrude's speech, and he knew that perfect justice had not been done; but still there was enough to be thankful for. Yet now that his duty was accomplished, he was conscious of a sudden lassitude. Mechanically he looked at Gertrude, and almost mechanically he came towards her. She, on her side, looking at him as he walked slowly down the long room, his face indistinct against the deadened light of the white-draped windows behind him, marked the expression of his figure with another pang." "He has rescued me," she said to herself; "but his passion has perished in the tumult. Richard," she said aloud, uttering the first words of vague kindness that came into her mind, "I forgive you."
never looked before; but he saw nothing of it. He saw a sad, plain girl in a white dress, nervously handling her fan. He was thinking of himself. If he had been thinking of her, he would have read in her lingering, upward gaze, that he had won her; and if, so reading, he had opened his arms, Gertrude would have come to them. We trust the reader is not shocked. She neither hated him nor despised him, as she ought doubtless in consistency to have done. She felt that he was abundantly a man, and she loved him. Richard on his side felt humbly the same truth, and he began to respect himself. The past had closed abruptly behind him, and tardy Gertrude had been shut in. The future was dimly shaping itself without her image. So he did not open his arms.
"Good by," he said, holding out his hand. "I may not see you again for a long time."
Gertrude felt as if the world were deserting her. "Are you going away?" she asked, tremulously.
"I mean to sell out and pay my debts, and go to the war."
She gave him her hand, and he silently shook it. There was no contending with the war, and she gave him up.
With their separation our story properly ends, and to say more would be to begin a new story. It is perhaps our duty, however, expressly to add, that Major Luttrel, in obedience to a logic of his own, abstained from revenge; and that, if time has not avenged him, it has at least rewarded him. General Luttrel, who lost an arm before the war was over, recently married Miss Van Winkel of Philadelphia, and seventy thousand a year. Richard engaged in the defence of his country, on a captain's commission, obtained with some difficulty. He saw a great deal of fighting, but he has no scars to show. The return of peace found him in his native place, without a home, and without resources. One of his first acts was to call dutifully and respectfully upon Miss Whittaker, whose circle of acGertrude looked at him as she had quaintance had apparently become very
Richard stopped. The idea had lost its charm. "You 're very kind," he said, wearily. "You 're far too kind. How do you know you forgive me? Wait and see."
VOL. XX.-NO. 118.