But what was the mysterious bond between La Cordifiamma and the American, which had prevented Scoutbush from following the example of his illustrious progenitor, and taking a viscountess from off the stage?
Certainly, any one who had seen her with him on the morning after Scoutbush’s visit to the Mellots, would have said that, if the cause was love, the love was all on one side.
She was standing by the fireplace in a splendid pose, her arm resting on the chimney-piece, the book from which she had been reciting in one hand, the other playing in her black curls, as her eyes glanced back ever and anon at her own profile in the mirror. Stangrave was half sitting in a low chair by her side, half kneeling on the footstool before her, looking up beseechingly, as she looked down tyrannically.
“Stupid, this reciting? Of course it is! I want realities, not shams; life, not the stage; nature, not art.”
“Throw away the book, then, and words, and art, and live!”
She knew well what he meant; but she answered as if she had misunderstood him.
“Thanks, I live already, and in good company enough. My ghost-husbands are as noble as they are obedient; do all which I demand of them, and vanish on my errands when I tell them. Can you guess who my last is? Since I tired of Egmont, I have taken Sir Galahad, the spotless knight. Did you ever read the Mort d’Arthur?”
“A hundred times.”
“Of course!” and she spoke in a tone of contempt so strong that it must have been affected. “What have you not read! And what have you copied. No wonder that these English have been what they have been for centuries, while their heroes have been the Galahads, and their Homer the Mort d’Arthur.”
“Enjoy your Utopia!” said he bitterly. “Do you fancy they acted up to their ideals? They dreamed of the Quest of the Sangreal: but which of them ever went upon it?”
“And does it count for nothing that they felt it the finest thing in the world to have gone on it, had it been possible? Be sure if their ideal was so self-sacrificing, so lofty, their practice was ruled by something higher than the almighty dollar.”
“And so are some other men’s, Marie,” answered he reproachfully.
“Yes, forsooth; — when the almighty dollar is there already, and a man has ten times as much to spend every day as he can possibly invest in French cookery, and wines, and fine clothes, then he begins to lay out his surplus nobly on self-education, and the patronage of art, and the theatre — for merely aesthetic purposes, of course; and when the lust of the flesh has been satisfied, thinks himself an archangel, because he goes on to satisfy the lust of the eye and the pride of life. Christ was of old the model, and Sir Galahad was the hero. Now the one is exchanged for Goethe, and the other for Wilhelm Meister.”
“Cruel! You know that my Goethe fever is long past. How would you have known of its existence if I had not confessed it to you as a sin of old years? Have I not said to you, again and again, show me the thing which you would have me do for your sake, and see if I will not do it!”
“For my sake? A noble reason! Show yourself the thing which you will do for its own sake; because it ought to be done. Show it yourself, I say; I cannot show you. If your own eyes cannot see the Sangreal, and the angels who are bearing it before you, it is because they are dull and gross; and am I Milton’s archangel, to purge them with euphrasy and rue? If you have a noble heart, you will find for yourself the noblest Quest. If not, who can prove to you that it is noble?” And tapping impatiently with her foot, she went on to herself —
“‘A gentle sound, an awful light!
Three angels bear the holy Grail;
With folded feet, in stoles of white,
On sleeping wings they sail.
Ah, blessed vision! blood of God!
The spirit beats her mortal bars,
As down dark tides, the glory slides,
And star-like mingles with the stars.’
“Why, there was not a knight of the round table, was there, who did not give up all to go upon that Quest, though only one was found worthy to fulfil it? But now-a-days, the knights sit drinking hock and champagne, or drive sulky-wagons, and never fancy that there is a Quest at all.”
“Why talk in these parables?”
“So the Jews asked of their prophets. They are no parables to my ghost-husband, Sir Galahad. Now go, if you please; I must be busy, and write letters.”
He rose with a look, half of disappointment, half amused, and yet his face bore a firmness which seemed to say, “You will be mine yet.” As he rose, he cast his eye upon the writing-table, and upon a letter which lay there: and as he did so, his cheek grew pale, and his brows knitted.
The letter was addressed to “Thomas Thurnall, Esq., Aberalva.”
“Is this, then, your Sir Galahad?” asked he, after a pause, during which he had choked down his rising jealousy, while she looked first at herself in the glass, and then at him, and then at herself again, with a determined and triumphant air.
“And what if it be?”
“So he, then, has achieved the Quest of the Sangreal?”
Stangrave spoke bitterly, and with an emphasis upon the “he;” and —
“What if he have? Do you know him?” answered she, while her face lighted up with eager interest, which she did not care to conceal, perhaps chose, in her woman’s love of tormenting, to parade.
“I knew a man of that name once,” he replied, in a carefully careless tone, which did not deceive her; “an adventurer — a doctor, if I recollect — who had been in Texas and Mexico, and I know not where besides. Agreeable enough he was; but as for your Quest of the Sangreal, whatever it may be, he seemed to have as little notion of anything beyond his own interest as any Greek I ever met.”
“Unjust! Your words only show how little you can see! That man, of all men I ever met, saw the Quest at once, and followed it, at the risk of his own life, as far at least as he was concerned with it:— ay, even when he pretended to see nothing. Oh, there is more generosity in that man’s affected selfishness, than in all the noisy good-nature which I have met with in the world. Thurnall! oh, you know his nobleness as little as he knows it himself.”
“Then he, I am to suppose, is your phantom-husband, for as long, at least, as your present dream lasts?” asked he, with white, compressed lips.
“He might have been, I believe,” she answered carelessly, “if he had even taken the trouble to ask me.”
“Marie, this is too much! Do you not know to whom you speak? To one who deserves, if not common courtesy, at least common mercy.”
“Because he adores me, and so forth? So has many a man done; or told me that he has done so. Do you know that I might be a viscountess to-morrow, so Sabina informs me, if I but chose?”
“A viscountess? Pray accept your effete English aristocrat, and, as far as I am concerned, accept my best wishes for your happiness.”
“My effete English aristocrat, did I show him that pedigree of mine which I have ere now threatened to show you, would perhaps be less horrified at it than you are.”
“Marie, I cannot bear this! Tell me only what you mean. What care I for pedigree? I want you — worship you — and that is enough, Marie!”
“You admire me because I am beautiful. What thanks do I owe you for finding out so patent a fact? What do you do more to me than I do to myself?” and she glanced back once more at the mirror.
“Marie, you know that your words are false; I do more —”
“You admire me,” interrupted she, “because I am clever. What thanks to you for that, again? What do you do more to me than you do to yourself?”
“And this, after all —”
“After what? After you found me, or rather I found you — you, the critic, the arbiter of the greenroom, the highly-organised do-nothings — teaching others how to do nothing most gracefully; the would-be Goethe who must, for the sake of his own self-development, try experiments on every weak woman whom he met. And I, the new phenomenon, whom you must appreciate to show your own taste, patronise to show your own liberality, develop to show your own insight into character. You found yourself mistaken! You had attempted to play with the tigress — and behold she was talons; to angle for the silly fish — and behold the fish was the better angler, and caught you.”
“Marie, have mercy! Is your heart iron?”
“No; but fire, as my name shows:” and she stood looking down on him with a glare of dreadful beauty.
“Yes, fire, that I may scorch you, kindle you, madden you, to do my work, and wear the heart of fire which I wear day and night!”
Stangrave looked at her startled. Was she mad? Her face did not say so; her brow was white, her features calm, her eye fierce and contemptuous, but clear, steady, full of meaning.
“So you know Mr. Thurnall?” said she, after a while.
“Yes; why do you ask?”
“Because he is the only friend I have on earth.”
“The only friend, Marie?”
“The only one,” answered she calmly, “who, seeing the right, has gone and done it forthwith. When did you see him last?”
“I have not been acquainted with Mr. Thurnall for some years,” said Stangrave, haughtily.
“In plain words, you have quarrelled with him?”
Stangrave bit his lip.
“He and I had a difference. He insulted my nation, and we parted.”
She laughed a long, loud, bitter laugh, which rang through Stangrave’s ears.
“Insulted your nation? And on what grounds, pray?”
“About that accursed slavery question!”
La Cordifiamma looked at him with firm-closed lips a while.
“So then! I was not aware of this! Even so long ago you saw the Sangreal, and did not know it when you saw it. No wonder that since then you have been staring at it for months, in your very hands, played with it, admired it, made verses about it, to show off your own taste: and yet were blind to it the whole time! Farewell, then!”
“Marie, what do you mean?” and Stangrave caught both her hands.
“Hush, if you please. I know you are eloquent enough, when you choose, though you have been somewhat dumb and monosyllabic to-night in the presence of the actress whom you undertook to educate. But I know that you can be eloquent, so spare me any brilliant appeals, which can only go to prove that already settled fact. Between you and me lie two great gulfs. The one I have told you of; and from it I shrink. The other I have not told you of; from it you would shrink.”
“The first is your Quest of the Sangreal.”
She smiled assent, bitterly enough.
“And the second?”
She did not answer. She was looking at herself in the mirror; and Stangrave, in spite of his almost doting affection, flushed with anger, almost contempt, at her vanity.
And yet, was it vanity which was expressed in that face? No; but dread, horror, almost disgust, as she gazed with side-long, startled eyes, struggling, and yet struggling in vain, to turn her face from some horrible sight, as if her own image had been the Gorgon’s head.
“What is it? Marie, speak!”
But she answered nothing. For that last question she had no heart to answer; no heart to tell him that in her veins were some drops, at least, of the blood of slaves. Instinctively she had looked round at the mirror — for might he not, if he had eyes, discover that secret for himself? Were there not in her features traces of that taint? And as she looked — was it the mere play of her excited fancy — or did her eyelid slope more and more, her nostril shorten and curl, her lips enlarge, her mouth itself protrude?
It was more than the play of fancy; for Stangrave saw it as well as she. Her actress’s imagination, fixed on the African type with an intensity proportioned to her dread of seeing it in herself, had moulded her features, for the moment, into the very shape which it dreaded. And Stangrave saw it, and shuddered as he saw.
Another half minute, and that face also had melted out of the mirror, at least for Marie’s eyes; and in its place an ancient negress, white-haired, withered as the wrinkled ape, but with eyes closed — in death. Marie knew that face well; a face which haunted many a dream of hers; once seen, but never forgotten since; for to that old dame’s coffin had her mother, the gay quadroon woman, flaunting in finery which was the price of shame, led Marie when she was but a three years’ child; and Marie had seen her bend over the corpse, and call it her dear old granny, and weep bitter tears.
Suddenly she shook off the spell, and looked round and clown, terrified, self-conscious. Her eye caught Stangrave’s; she saw, or thought she saw, by the expression of his face, that he knew all, and burst away with a shriek.
He sprang up and caught her in his arms. “Marie! Beloved Marie!” She looked up at him struggling; the dark expression had vanished, and Stangrave’s love-blinded eyes could see nothing in that face but the refined and yet rich beauty of the Italian.
“Marie, this is mere madness; you excite yourself till you know not what you say, or what you are —”
“I know what I am,” murmured she: but he hurried on unheeding.
“You love me, you know you love me; and you madden yourself by refusing to confess it!” He felt her heart throb as he spoke, and knew that he spoke truth. “What gulfs are these you dream of? No; I will not ask. There is no gulf between me and one whom I adore, who has thrown a spell over me which I cannot resist, which I glory in not resisting; for you have been my guide, my morning star, which has awakened me to new life. If I have a noble purpose upon earth, if I have roused myself from that conceited dream of self-culture which now looks to me so cold, and barren, and tawdry, into the hope of becoming useful, beneficent — to whom do I owe it but to you, Marie? No; there is no gulf, Marie! You are my wife, and you alone!” And he held her so firmly, and gazed down upon her with such strong manhood, that her woman’s heart quailed; and he might, perhaps, have conquered then and there, had not Sabina, summoned by her shriek, entered hastily.
“Good heavens! what is the matter?”
“Wait but one minute, Mrs. Mellot,” said he; “the next, I shall introduce you to my bride.”
“Never! never! never!” cried she, and breaking from him, flew into Sabina’s arms. “Leave me, leave me to bear my curse alone!”
And she broke out into such wild weeping, and refused so wildly to hear another word from Stangrave, that he went away in despair, the prize snatched from his grasp in the very moment of seeming victory.
He went in search of Claude, who had agreed to meet him at the Exhibition in Trafalgar Square. Thither Stangrave rolled away in his cab, his heart full of many thoughts. Marie’s words about him, though harsh and exaggerated, were on the whole true. She had fascinated him utterly. To marry her was now the one object of his life: she had awakened in him, as he had confessed, noble desires to be useful: but the discovery that he was to be useful to the negro, that abolition was the Sangreal in the quest of which he was to go forth, was as disagreeable a discovery as he could well have made.
From public life in any shape, with all its vulgar noise, its petty chicanery, its pandering to the mob whom he despised, he had always shrunk, as so many Americans of his stamp have done. He had no wish to struggle, unrewarded and disappointed, in the ranks of the minority; while to gain place and power on the side of the majority was to lend himself to that fatal policy which, ever since the Missouri Compromise of 1820, has been gradually making the northern states more and more the tools of the southern ones. He had no wish to be threatened in Congress with having his Northerner’s “ears nailed to the counter, like his own base coin,” or to be informed that he, with the 17,000,000 of the north, were the “White Slaves” of a southern aristocracy of 350,000 slaveholders. He had enough comprehension of, enough admiration for the noble principles of the American Constitution to see that the democratic mobs of Irish and Germans, who were stupidly playing into the hands of the Southerners, were not exactly carrying them out; but he had no mind to face either Irish or Southerners. The former were too vulgar for his delicacy; the latter too aristocratic for his pride. Sprung, as he held (and rightly), from as fine old English blood as any Virginian (though it did happen to be Puritan, and not Cavalier), he had no lust to come into contact with men who considered him much further below them in rank than an English footman is below an English nobleman; who, indeed, would some of them look down on the English nobleman himself as a mushroom of yesterday. So he compounded with his conscience by ignoring the whole matter, and by looking on the state of public affairs on his side of the Atlantic with a cynicism which very soon (as is usual with rich men) passed into Epicureanism. Poetry and music, pictures and statues, amusement and travel, became his idols, and cultivation his substitute for the plain duty of patriotism, and wandering luxuriously over the world, he learnt to sentimentalise over cathedrals and monasteries, pictures and statues, saints and kaisers, with a lazy regret that such “forms of beauty and nobleness” were no longer possible in a world of scrip and railroads: but without any notion that it was his duty to reproduce in his own life, or that of his country, as much as he could of the said beauty and nobleness. And now he was sorely tried. It was interesting enough to “develop” the peculiar turn of Marie’s genius, by writing for her plays about liberty, just as he would have written plays about jealousy, or anything else for representing which she had “capabilities.” But to be called on to act in that Slavery question, the one in which he knew (as all sensible Americans do) that the life and death of his country depended, and which for that very reason he had carefully ignored till a more convenient season, finding in its very difficulty and danger an excuse for leaving it to solve itself:— to have this thrust on him, and by her, as the price of the thing which he must have, or die! If she had asked for his right hand, he would have given it sooner; and he entered the Royal Academy that day in much the same humour as that of a fine lady who should find herself suddenly dragged from the ball-room into the dust-hole, in her tenderest array of gauze and jewels, and there peremptorily compelled to sift the cinders, under the superintendence of the sweep and the pot-boy.
Glad to escape from questions which he had rather not answer too soon, he went in search of Claude, and found him before one of those pre-Raphaelite pictures, which Claude does not appreciate as he ought.
“Desinit in Culicem mulier formosa supernè,” said Stangrave, as he looked over Claude’s shoulder; “but I suppose he followed nature, and copied his model.”
“That he didn’t,” said Claude, “for I know who his model was: but if he did he had no business to do so. I object on principle to these men’s notion of what copying nature means. I don’t deny him talent. I am ready to confess that there is more imagination and more honest work in that picture than in any one in the room. The hysterical, all but grinning joy upon the mother’s face is a miracle of truth; I have seen the expression more than once; doctors see it often, in the sudden revulsion from terror and agony to certainty and peace; I only marvel where he ever met it: but the general effect is unpleasing, marred by patches of sheer ugliness, like that child’s foot. There is the same mistake in all his pictures. Whatever they are, they are not beautiful; and no magnificence of surface-colouring will make up, in my eyes, for wilful ugliness of form. I say that nature is beautiful; and therefore nature cannot have been truly copied, or the general effect would have been beautiful also. I never found out the fallacy till the other day, when looking at a portrait by one of them. The woman for whom it was meant was standing by my side, young and lovely; the portrait hung there neither young nor lovely, but a wrinkled caricature twenty years older than the model.”
“I surely know the portrait you mean; Lady D——‘s.”
“Yes. He had simply, under pretence of following nature, caricatured her into a woman twenty years older than she is.”
“But did you ever see a modern portrait which more perfectly expressed character; which more completely fulfilled the requirements which you laid down a few evenings since?”
“Never; and that makes me all the more cross with the wilful mistake of it. He had painted every wrinkle.”
“Why not, if they were there?”
“Because he had painted a face not one-twentieth of the size of life. What right had he to cram into that small space all the marks which nature had spread over a far larger one?”
“Why not, again, if he diminished the marks in proportion?”
“Just what neither he nor any man could do, without making them so small as to be invisible, save under a microscope: and the result was, that he had caricatured every wrinkle, as his friend has in those horrible knuckles of Shem’s wife. Besides, I deny utterly your assertion that one is bound to paint what is there. On that very fallacy are they all making shipwreck.”
“Not paint what is there? And you are the man who talks of art being highest when it copies nature.”
“Exactly. And therefore you must paint, not what is there, but what you see there. They forget that human beings are men with two eyes, and not daguerreotype lenses with one eye, and so are contriving and striving to introduce into their pictures the very defect of the daguerreotype which the stereoscope is required to correct.”
“I comprehend. They forget that the double vision of our two eyes gives a softness, and indistinctness, and roundness, to every outline.”
“Exactly so; and therefore, while for distant landscapes, motionless, and already softened by atmosphere, the daguerreotype is invaluable (I shall do nothing else this summer but work at it), yet for taking portraits, in any true sense, it will be always useless, not only for the reason I just gave, but for another one which the pre-Raphaelites have forgotten.”
“Because all the features cannot be in focus at once?”
“Oh no, I am not speaking of that. Art, for aught I know, may overcome that; for it is a mere defect in the instrument. What I mean is this: it tries to represent as still what never yet was still for the thousandth part of a second: that is, the human face; and as seen by a spectator who is perfectly still, which no man ever yet was. My dear fellow, don’t you see that what some painters call idealising a portrait is, if it be wisely done, really painting for you the face which you see, and know, and love; her ever-shifting features, with expression varying more rapidly than the gleam of the diamond on her finger; features which you, in your turn, are looking at with ever-shifting eyes; while, perhaps, if it is a face which you love and have lingered over, a dozen other expressions equally belonging to it are hanging in your memory, and blending themselves with the actual picture on your retina:— till every little angle is somewhat rounded, every little wrinkle somewhat softened, every little shade somewhat blended with the surrounding light, so that the sum total of what you see, and are intended by Heaven to see, is something far softer, lovelier — younger, perhaps, thank Heaven — than it would look if your head was screwed down in a vice, to look with one eye at her head screwed down in a vice also:— though even that, thanks to the muscles of the eye, would not produce the required ugliness; and the only possible method of fulfilling the pre-Raphaelite ideal would be, to set a petrified Cyclops to paint his petrified brother.”
“You are spiteful.”
“Not at all. I am standing up for art, and for nature too. For instance: Sabina has wrinkles. She says, too, that she has grey hairs coming. The former I won’t see, and therefore don’t. The latter I can’t see, because I am not looking for them.”
“Nor I either,” said Stangrave smiling. “I assure you the announcement is new to me.”
“Of course. Who can see wrinkles in the light of those eyes, that smile, that complexion?”
“Certainly,” said Stangrave, “if I asked for her portrait, as I shall do some day, and the artist sat down and painted the said ‘wastes of time,’ on pretence of their being there, I should consider it an impertinence on his part. What business has he to spy out what nature has taken such charming trouble to conceal?”
“Again,” said Claude, “such a face as Cordifiamma’s. When it is at rest, in deep thought, there are lines in it which utterly puzzle one — touches which are Eastern, Kabyle, almost Quadroon.”
Stangrave started. Claude went on unconscious:—
“But who sees them in the light of that beauty? They are defects, no doubt, but defects which no one would observe without deep study of the face. They express her character no more than a scar would; and therefore when I paint her, as I must and will, I shall utterly ignore them. If, on the other hand, I met the same lines in a face which I knew to have Quadroon blood in it, I should religiously copy them; because then they would be integral elements of the face. You understand?”
“Understand? — yes,” answered Stangrave, in a tone which made Claude look up.
That strange scene of half an hour before flashed across him. What if it were no fancy? What if Marie had African blood in her veins? And Stangrave shuddered, and felt for the moment that thousands of pounds would be a cheap price to pay for the discovery that his fancy was a false one.
“Yes — oh — I beg your pardon,” said he, recovering himself. “I was thinking of something else. But, as you say, what if she had Quadroon blood?”
“I? I never said so, or dreamt of it.”
“Oh! I mistook. Do you know, though, where she came from?”
“I? You forget, my dear fellow, that you yourself introduced her to us.”
“Of course; but I thought Mrs. Mellot might — women always makes confidences.”
“All we know is, what I suppose you knew long ago, that her most intimate friend, next to you, seems to be an old friend of ours, named Thurnall.”
“An old friend of yours?”
“Oh yes; we have known him these fifteen years. Met him first at Paris; and after that went round the world with him, and saw infinite adventures. Sabina and I spent three months with him once, among the savages in a South-sea Island, and a very pretty romance our stay and our escape would make. We were all three, I believe, to have been cooked and eaten, if Tom had not got us off by that wonderful address which, if you know him, you must know well enough.”
“Yes,” answered Stangrave, coldly, as in a dream; “I have known Mr. Thurnall in past years; but not in connection with La Signora Cordifiamma I was not aware till this moment — this morning, I mean — that they knew each other.”
“You astound me; why, she talks of him to us all day long, as of one to whom she has the deepest obligations; she was ready to rush into our arms when she first found that we knew him. He is a greater hero in her eyes, I sometimes fancy, than even you are. She does nothing (or fancies that she does nothing, for you know her pretty wilfulness) without writing for his advice.”
“I a hero in her eyes? I was really not aware of that fact,” said Stangrave, more coldly than ever; for bitter jealousy had taken possession of his heart. “Do you know, then, what this same obligation may be?”
“I never asked. I hate gossiping, and I make a rule to inquire into no secrets but such as are voluntarily confided to me; and I know that she has never told Sabina.”
“I suppose she is married to him. That is the simplest explanation of the mystery.”
“Impossible! What can you mean? If she ever marries living man, she will marry you.”
“Then she will never marry living man,” said Stangrave to himself. “Good-bye, my dear fellow; I have an engagement at the Traveller’s.” And away went Stangrave, leaving Claude sorely puzzled, but little dreaming of the powder-magazine into which he had put a match.
But he was puzzled still more that night, when by the latest post a note came —
“From Stangrave!” said Claude. “Why, in the name of all wonders!”— and he read:—
“Good-bye. I am just starting for the Continent, on sudden and urgent business. What my destination is I hardly can tell you yet. You will hear from me in the course of the summer.”
Claude’s countenance fell, and the note fell likewise. Sabina snatched it up, read it, and gave La Cordifiamma a look which made her spring from the sofa, and snatch it in turn.
She read it through, with trembling hands, and blanching cheeks, and then dropped fainting upon the floor.
They laid her on the sofa, and while they were recovering her, Claude told Sabina the only clue which he had to the American’s conduct, namely, that afternoon’s conversation.
Sabina shook her head over it; for to her, also, the American’s explanation had suggested itself. Was Marie Thurnall’s wife? Or did she — it was possible, however painful — stand to him in some less honourable relation, which she would fain forget now, in a new passion for Stangrave? For that Marie loved Stangrave, Sabina knew well enough.
The doubt was so ugly that it must be solved; and when she had got the poor thing safe into her bedroom she alluded to it as gently as she could.
Marie sprang up in indignant innocence.
“He! Whatever he may be to others, I know not: but to me he has been purity and nobleness itself — a brother, a father! Yes; if I had no other reason for trusting him, I should love him for that alone; that however tempted he may have been, and Heaven knows he was tempted, he could respect the honour of his friend, though that friend lay sleeping in a soldier’s grave ten thousand miles away.”
And Marie threw herself upon Sabina’s neck, and under the pressure of her misery sobbed out to her the story of her life. What it was need not be told. A little common sense, and a little knowledge of human nature, will enable the reader to fill up for himself the story of a beautiful slave.
Sabina soothed her, and cheered her; and soothed and cheered her most of all by telling her in return the story of her own life; not so dark a one, but almost as sad and strange. And poor Marie took heart, when she found in her great need a sister in the communion of sorrows.
“And you have been through all this, so beautiful and bright as you are! You whom I should have fancied always living the life of the humming-bird: and yet not a scar or a wrinkle has it left behind!”
“They were there once, Marie! but God and Claude smoothed them away.”
“I have no Claude — and no God, I think, at times.”
“No God, Marie! Then how did you come hither?”
Marie was silent, reproved; and then passionately —
“Why does He not right my people?”
That question was one to which Sabina’s little scheme of the universe had no answer; why should it, while many a scheme which pretends to be far vaster and more infallible has none as yet?
So she was silent, and sat with Marie’s head upon her bosom, caressing the black curls, till she had soothed her into sobbing exhaustion.
“There; lie there and rest: you shall be my child, my poor Marie. I have a fresh child every week; but I shall find plenty of room in my heart for you, my poor hunted deer.”
“You will keep my secret?”
“Why keep it? No one need be ashamed of it here in free England.”
“But he — he — you do not know, Sabina! Those Northerners, with all their boasts of freedom, shrink from us just as much as our own masters.”
“Oh, Marie, do not be so unjust to him! He is too noble, and you must know it yourself.”
“Ay, if he stood alone; if he were even going to live in England; if he would let himself be himself; but public opinion,” sobbed the poor self-tormentor —“It has been his God, Sabina, to be a leader of taste and fashion — admired and complete — the Crichton of Newport and Brooklyn. And he could not bear scorn, the loss of society. Why should he bear it for me? If he had been one of the abolitionist party, it would have been different: but he has no sympathy with them, good, narrow, pious people, or they with him: he could not be satisfied in their society — or I either, for I crave after it all as much as he — wealth, luxury, art, brilliant company, admiration — oh, inconsistent wretch, that I am! And that makes me love him all the more, and yet makes me so harsh to him, wickedly cruel, as I was to-day; because when I am reproving his weakness, I am reproving my own, and because I am angry with myself, I grow angry with him too — envious of him, I do believe at moments, and all his success and luxury!”
And so poor Marie sobbed out her confused confession of that strange double nature which so many Quadroons seem to owe to their mixed blood; a strong side of deep feeling, ambition, energy, an intellect rather Greek in its rapidity than English in sturdiness; and withal a weak side, of instability, inconsistency, hasty passion, love of present enjoyment, sometimes, too, a tendency to untruth, which is the mark, not perhaps of the African specially, but of every enslaved race.
Consolation was all that Sabina could give. It was too late to act. Stangrave was gone, and week after week rolled by without a line from the wanderer.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10