Imágenes de páginas

soft, warm mist spread veil-like over it. At another time, Zuleime, true worshipper of nature, might have drawn deep draughts of pleasure from the beauty of the scene; but now the gorgeous magnificence of the forests, in their many-coloured foliage the misty-mountain steeps softening the glory-the fine transparent neutral tint of the heavens, leading the eye and mind up through infinite heights of ether the glowing clouds reposing along the horizon-all were lost upon her.

An hour's ride by the carriage-road brought the party to Hardbargain.

Mrs. Clifton received them with her usual quiet cordiality. There was something very composing in that calm, kind, self-possessed woman's manner; there was something very sedative also in the air of her home. In her company and in her house the restless became quiet, the anxious easy, the desponding cheerful-even the despairing mourners over some great heart-wreck grew languidly aware of how much good was left them in the comforts of daily domestic life, and the amenities of social intercourse.

She was strikingly like her son. One was inclined to wonder how they, so nearly identical in features and complexion, should differ so widely in many points of character and sentiment, and had to remember that all in which he did not resemble her was inherited from the Cliftons. Kate felt the likeness keenly; and when the lady turned those quiet, brilliant eyes upon her, her heart thrilled to the glance with strange pain and pleasure; and when once or twice for the lady was never very demonstrative in her affection-she had quietly drawn the maiden to her bosom, it was such a heart-feeding comfort that Kate felt there would be no possibility of forgetting Archer Clifton while thrown into daily intercourse with his mother. Once, when Mrs. Clifton had looked tenderly into her eyes, and drawn and pressed her closely against her breast, the girl, lost for an instant, had thrown her arms around the lady, and buried her face in her bosom; and for some time after that, terrified at her own impulse, she had been as shy of the mother as she could have been of the son. Kate had kept away from Hardbargain for many weeks; but to-day, when the party from White Cliffs had arrived, Mrs. Clifton sent

for her, with the message that her friend Zuleime had come. That was no sufficient lure to the resolute girl, however, who had once for all determined that nothing but the absolute necessities of others should draw her again into the dangerous association of the Cliftons. She returned thanks to the lady, declining the visit. Mrs. Clifton was disappointed in missing the society of her young favourite for that day; yet the time passed very pleasantly notwithstanding. There is scarcely any such thing as a stiff dinner-party in the country; and such a thing was impossible at Hardbargain. The ladies had all brought their "parlour-work"-fine netting, knotting, knitting, or sewing; and they worked and conversed in a quiet, pleasant way, while the gentlemen mingled in their conversation, or 'talked with each other upon the two reigning subjects of country discussion-agriculture and politics-or sauntered out upon the lawn to enjoy the fine autumnal weather until dinner; after which, the ladies in the cozy parlour lounged a little more lazily, and grew a great deal more kindly in their interchange of thought and sentiment, and the gentlemen enjoyed a promenade on the piazza, and the stolen luxury of their cigars.

After an early tea, the party took leave. They returned in the same manner in which they had come- -Zuleime on horseback, escorted by Major Cabell; the others in carriages. Even the soothing influence of Mrs. Clifton's home and society had almost failed to quiet the miserable girl. Her manner, all day long, had been erratic in the extreme-now depressed into gloom, sunken nearly to the depth of stupidity-now full of "starts and flows" as the crime-burdened Macbeth. As she rode home, in perfect silence, the evil eye of her companion watched her stealthily. Her cheek was pale and hollow, and her eye sunken and heavy; yet sometimes her eyes would lighten as with sudden terror, like those of a startled hare, and her cheek would flush and fade. The road was broad yet shadowy, from the meeting of the branches of the huge trees overhead; and so soon as the sun went down, it became too dusky to permit him to see the flickering and sinking of the fire in her eye and cheek, but he watched her closely, nevertheless. Suddenly he saw her sway to and fro in the saddle, like the reed blown by the wind; then, ere he

could spring to her aid, the reins dropped from her hands, and she fell from the horse, her foot catching in the stirrup. The well-trained palfrey stopped, and stood without so much as lifting a hoof. With a deep curse, Major Cabell threw himself from his steed, and raised her, disengaging her foot from the stirrup. He sat down on a bank, with her on his knees, and took off her hat, and began to feel her head, neck, and arms for injuries. It seemed impossible to tell whether or how she was hurt. The carriages were some yards behind, and concealed by a turn of the road. He dipped his hand in a run, at the foot of the bank, and sprinkled her face; and before the carriages arrived, she had opened her eyes, and sat up. She said that she was not hurt-that it was only a fainting-spell, such as she had had at the piano; but her voice was very weak, and her frame trembling, and her general manner frightened. She placed her hand against Major Cabell's chest, partly to assist herself in rising, partly to push him away, and stood alone upon her feet, until her father's carriage drew up; then she said she was tired, and wished to get in.

Öld Mr. Clifton sent a glance of impotent rage at Major Cabell, as he lifted his child in-placing her in the vacant fourth seat-the other three being occupied by his wife, eldest daughter, and himself.

Zuleime sat next to her sister, and opposite Georgia; and the last-mentioned lady studied her vis-à-vis with as much interest, and with far more curiosity and comprehension than Major Cabell had exercised.

The girl sat perfectly still, and quite lost to all around her; but Georgia saw that it was the fearful stillness of self-restrained frenzy.

They reached home at last. Georgia was handed out first; she waited for Zuleime, who followed. She wished to draw the girl's arm within her own; but Zuleime, turning on her a dilated, strained, fiery gaze, fled past her into the house, and then the lady saw, with a shudder, that it was indeed the fires of incipient madness that kindled the lambent flame in the girl's eyes!

When they were all assembled in the parlour, around the evening fire, with books, and music, and light needlework, "Where is Zuleime ?" asked her father.

"She has retired to her room, very much fatigued," replied his wife, and the subject dropped.

The next morning, when the family gathered around the breakfast-table, the youngest daughter was still missing.

"Where is Zuleime? Why doesn't Zuleime come? Carolyn, have you seen your sister this morning? How is she?" asked old Mr. Clifton.

Carolyn replied that she had not seen her since the preceding evening.

"Send some one, then, to her chamber, to see how she is, and whether she will join us at breakfast, or have anything sent up to her room. Or stay! Carolyn, don't send; go yourself, my love, to your sister-it will be only kind."

Carolyn left the table, and went up stairs, and after an absence of fifteen or twenty minutes returned, and announced, with a pale cheek, that Zuleime's chamber had not been occupied during the night; that she herself was nowhere to be found in the house; and that no one of the servants had seen her since the evening before.

A dreadful suspicion instantly seized upon all who remembered her wild and moody looks and manners of the preceding few days; and they simultaneously arose from the table, and, with looks of alarm, dispersed in various directions in quest of the missing girl.

The house, kitchen, out-buildings, negro-quarters, garden, vineyard, orchard, the plantation and the woods were successively and vainly searched.

Messengers were despatched to Hardbargain and to the neighbouring plantations, with inquiries that proved fruitless. Old Mr. Clifton ran up and down the house and grounds like one distracted.

At last, near night, traces were discovered of the lost one. Upon the edge of the stream, where the banks were soft and deep, small footprints were seen; and half-way down the bank her little slipper was found, with its toe deep in the mud, and the heel sticking up, as if lost there in the downward run of its owner; and from the branch of a sapling near a shred of her crimson dress fluttered, as if caught and torn off in the same swift descent.

Old Mr. Clifton walked down there, to see the spot; but he was carried back.

And before the next sun arose, Mrs. Georgia Clifton had her heart's first desire.

She was a widow.





A RETROSPECT of several hours is necessary here. will remember that, during the drive home from Hardbargain, Mrs. Georgia Clifton had watched Zuleime with much interest and curiosity, and with more perspicacity. When the unfortunate girl had sprung from the carriage, and fled up the steps into the house, Mrs. Clifton had followed her. stead of going up into her chamber, she had passed directly through the hall, and gone out at the back door; Georgia having kept near her. There was the kitchen-garden at the back of the house, and then the vineyard, and then the orchard; through all these she successively passed, with the same wild, hurried gait, and entered the forest beyond, and descended into the deep glen, through which the mountainstream roared. It was very difficult to follow the reckless steps of the fugitive down this rough declivity; and while cautiously descending, with the aid of projecting fragments of rock and smaller branches of trees and bushes, Georgia lost sight of the girl. When she reached the bottom of the gorge, through which the torrent raged and raved, Zuleime was nowhere to be seen.

The night was very dark; and though a few large, brilliant stars were to be seen directly overhead, yet, low from the horizon, heavy, black masses of clouds were slowly rolling up; and the wind moaned and died away at intervals, prophetic of the winter's storm. The single, large stars overhead were reflected in the stream, not clearly and calmly, but plunging and leaping with the wild water. The banks each side lay shrouded in gloom and mystery; rocks and trees indistinctly blended together in dark and sombre hues. The everlasting mountains stood around, vast, vague, and awful. The seven white peaks gleamed up in the back ground, like the ghostly genii of the scene. A shiver of superstitious fear shook the frame of Georgia; and she had

« AnteriorContinuar »