« AnteriorContinuar »
morsel, child! And now I am starved up to a savage pitch! What have you got for supper?"
"Turtle soup and old crusted port, among other things, father," replied Zuleime, waving her own anxiety for the sake of satisfying him.
"TURTLE SOUP and OLD CRUSTED PORT!" exclaimed the old man, in an extacy of delight. "Why, where on earth did they come from ?"
The turtle came from a ship at Norfolk, and was sent hither by Major Cabell, who added a dozen of port of his own importation," said Zuleime, dying with anxiety to hear from Frank.
"Ah-h! that was kind! He's a fellow! He'll make a magnificent husband and son-in-law, Zuleime! I hope you know how turtle soup should be made ?”
"Father, I know it should be eaten quite hot, and it is on the table by this time. Come in."
The old man needed no pressing, but went into the diningroom and sat down at the table, with a face radiant with delight. Zuleime waited on him, although there was a servant in attendance; and when he had freely partaken of turtle soup, devilled crabs, a roasted fowl, &c., and washed them down with port wine, she brought him a cup of fragrant Mocha coffee and his case of cigars. And he sipped the coffee with an air of infinite leisure, and then lit a cigar and puffed slowly away, as if eternity was before him.
Father, what news from Winchester ?" again asked Zuleime, though her hopes had fallen very low. "What news, dear father ?"
"What's that to you, my pet? Will you let me digest my supper in peace 9"
Zuleime sat down, but looked so anxious that her very looks worried the old gentleman, and he said, Don't you know, girl, that indigestion is very dangerous to a man of my time of life? It may bring on apoplexy! Don't worry
Zuleime veiled her anxious gaze; but even then the paleness of her cheeks annoyed her father, and he testily inquired, Now, what is it to you? I can understand Carolyn's anxiety, I cannot comprehend yours at all! There, now, go and send my wife to me."
Zuleime arose to obey; but before she went, she threw her
arms around his neck and asked, "Dearest father, only tell me! Were our friends well? Have they gone? Did they send any message?"
"Only answer you three questions at a time! That is reasonable! However, I can answer all in one I have not seen our friends; their detachment left Winchester twelve hours before I reached there. And now I'll tell you what I did not like to tell Carolyn, poor girl! namely, that the detachment marched two days earlier than was intended, upon account of despatches received from Fort —, praying for speedy succour in a reinforcement. The savages have been massacreing and scalping there at a most tremendous rate! It is really a very dangerous service, Indian warfare! God grant that our young friends may return to us safe! Why don't you go along and tell Georgia to come to me?"
Zuleime kissed her father, settled the cushion under his feet, and went on her errand. That despatched, she sought her own chamber, and lay down to collect her thoughts. No letter or message from her husband, and her promise of secrecy in regard to her marriage binding on her as ever; and next week she must give an answer to her father for Major Cabell. She was confident that one of two things had happened: either her letter had never reached Frank, or else his answer had been lost; and by the transaction only one week's respite had she gained for her father, for next week her refusal must be decided and final; and then what might not the consequence be to him? These thoughts excited her mind and kept her awake; and, despite her determination to sleep, and her efforts to do so, she heard every passing hour strike. It was soon after one o'clock that she had fallen into a fitful slumber, when she was awakened by the sound of a gay, high voice, intermingling merry words and joyous laughter; indeed. there seemed to be not only one, but many voices, talking and laughing in the most jocund manner. And strange, passing strange! it seemed to come from her sister's room, which adjoined hers. She listened a while-the words became fewer, but the laughter grew wilder; and then it struck upon her frightened senses that Carolyn was a maniac, talking, laughing to herself! Springing from her bed, and without even waiting to slip on a gown, she ran into the passage and knocked at her sister's door, and attempted to push it open. It was locked on the inside; and all her efforts to force an
entrance were vain, and all her intreaties for admission were answered by peals of unconscious laughter. At last she ran to her father's door and rapped loudly, exclaiming, "Father, father! get up, get up! Something, I am sure, has happened to Carolyn-something dreadful! Get up, get up
The old man was hard to awaken, even by the efforts of Georgia, who was aroused at once, and came and opened the door for Zuleime; and all this time the sound of loud talk, high laughter, and wild snatches of song, as from several excited people rather than from one, issued from Carolyn's chamber. At length, by the united exertions of his wife and daughter, the fatigued and drowsy old gentleman was aroused and placed upon his feet, and made to
understand a horror in their words, If not the words.
He threw on his shawl-gown and hastened to Carolyn's door, which was instantly forced open.
And what a sight met their eyes!
There stood Miss Clifton, arrayed in her gorgeous bridal costume, looking gloriously beautiful, though certainly as no bride ever looked before. The raging fever had given the brightness and richness of the carnation rose to her complexion, and imparted a supernatural light to her eyes, that burned and flashed, and seemed to strike fire as they sprang from one to the other of the intruders with a mad, joyous, defiant glance.
The alarm of her father was unlimited, unspeakable. He darted from the room and almost precipitated himself down the stairs, in his haste to mount and despatch a servant for the family physician. And while he was gone, Georgia and Zuleime, by coaxing and humouring the phantasy of the poor girl, succeeded in undressing her and putting her to bed; she still raving about her marriage, and sometimes breaking out into a wild laugh, and once telling Georgia that she, being a married woman, had no right or business to be officiating as bridesmaid.
It was near morning when the doctor came. After examining the state of the patient, he pronounced her disease to be brain-fever, brought on by over-excitement of the nervous system. He wrote prescriptions and remained with her until they were administered; and then he departed with a promise to return early in the forenoon.
Mrs. Clifton of Hardbargain was summoned, and lost no time in hastening to the sick-room of her daughter-in-law, as she chose to call Carolyn.
For many days the struggle between life and death went on; and no one, not even the medical attendant, was able to form an opinion as to which power would eventually conquer.
Mrs. Clifton had taken her station by the bedside of the patient as permanent nurse, and she constantly refused to yield her post to any other person; and it was to her vigilant attention, quick perceptions, and intelligent treatment, that all the family ascribed the recovery of the girl. For the crisis came and passed, and Carolyn Clifton lived.
But no sooner was the patient pronounced out of danger, and the excitement of anxiety over, than the nurse herself fell ill; and Mrs. Clifton, exhausted, prostrated, entered her carriage and was driven to Hardbargain.
ARCHER CLIFTON'S SKETCHES.
As soon as Mrs. Clifton reached home, leaning on the arm of her maid, she walked up stairs and entered her son's deserted room; and when her attendant had relieved her of scarf and bonnet, she lay down upon his lounge, and sent Henny for Kate Kavanagh. In less than half an hour Kate entered. And the lady turned to her and said, Catherine. my dear, I must take you into my confidence-yes, and into. other people's, too, whether they approve it or not. Draw Archer's writing-desk up here to the side of the lounge. I want you to write a letter to him." Catherine's brow crimsoned, and she trembled very much as she obeyed. My dear Catherine, I am sure you will be discreet, and never speak of what I am about to intrust to you. I can rely on you?" said the lady interrogatively, raising those feverbrightened dark eyes to the girl's face. Catherine nodded quickly in her usual way, when the words would not come. "You see, my dear child, this most unhappy quarrel between Carolyn and Archer is causing a great deal of unnecessary suffering to both; and Carolyn, as the frailer of the two, is
nearly dying under it. Her brain-fever was caused by it; and it was as much as Dr. Barnes and myself could do to bring her safely through it with life and reason. This estrangement between them must not continue, or she will die. She is not so strong as she looks to be; indeed, she is very delicate, like her mother. Archer is far on his western march now, and cannot return, of course; but he must write to her, and comfort her. I wish you to write and tell him so. Now, then, child, you know the object. Open the desk, and lay out the paper, while I try to think what I want said, and how I want you to say it." Catherine's hands quivered as she turned down the leaf of the desk, and mechanically laid the paper out on the top. Just date it, dear child, and then I will tell you how to begin." Catherine dipped her pen in ink, and was just about to put it to paper, when something there caught and held her eyes, and she gazed with dilating pupils, and trembled more than ever.
The paper before her was covered with a water-coloured sketch of Marguerite of France at the siege of Damietta, and the ideal face of the royal heroine was the real one of the humble Catherine herself; and in the corner of the paper were the initials A. C. He had taken her homely features as his notion of those of the heroic queen of St. Louis; and as she gazed, her heart shuddered with a strange, wild emotion of blended wonder, joy, and remorse. The nature of the maiden was becoming vaguely intelligible to herself.
And Mrs. Clifton did not see her trance, but lay upon the sofa very weary, with her hands pressed upon her temples, trying to settle in what manner she should address her son upon this delicate subject. And Catherine forgot everything in the sketch before her, and the tumultuous, blissful, painful emotions it excited. An abyss was suddenly thrown open in the depths of her heart, whose existence was unsuspected till now. Now, was she sorry that the marriage between Archer Clifton and his cousin was broken off, by mutual consent? She tried very earnestly to feel sorry, for she believed it her duty to be so. She forced herself to remember Carolyn's illness, and Archer's own suffering, in consequence of the estrangement between them. But, oh! there lay that picture before her eyes, with her own plain face idealised, glorified up to a high, pure, divine beauty, such as it had