Imágenes de páginas

Georgia saw at a glance that her train of gunpowder had caught, and the magazine had blown up; and her dark, beautiful, demoniac, witching face lighted up with a lurid joy for one unguarded instant, and then all was self-recollection, self-control, and sweet, smooth, serene, alluring glamour.

Bowing deeply to Mrs. Clifton, he said, "Madam, an unexpected event sends me from Clifton this evening. Pray make my adieux to my uncle and cousin. And permit me to commend my friend here to your hospitable care until such time as he pleases to become my guest at Hardbargain, if, indeed, he will not ride thither with me to-night," he added, turning to Frank.

Fairfax was too surprised to speak.

Mrs. Clifton, who was not surprised at all, yet affected much interest, said archly, “Oh, but we shall see you back very early to-morrow morning!"


I regret to add, madam, that it is not likely," he said, with another bow; then turning to Frank, he asked, “Will you ride with me to-night, Fairfax ?"

Frank glanced at the lady on his arm, and then looking rebukingly at Clifton, begged to be excused.

“Well, then, you are my guest, Fairfax, and my mother has often pressed you to give her a few weeks of your company. Join me at Hardbargain as soon as possible-the sooner the better. To-morrow, even.'


"To-morrow!" archly smiled the wily lady. "To-morrow, I fancy, his attendance and your own will be required here. Do you forget? Well, that is the worst instance of absence of mind I ever saw or heard of! A young bridegroom to forget, for an instant, his wedding-day! Too bad, even for you, the notoriously absent-minded Archer Clifton !"

Not wishing to enter into explanations, Captain Clifton merely replied with another bow-a most convenient, safe and polite manner of answer, since, without lack of courtesy, it committed nothing.

Then, taking leave of both lady and gentleman, and repeating his invitation to Frank, he turned and went to take his horse from the servant that held it, threw himself up into the saddle, and, with a parting wave of his hat, rode away at full speed.

"Clifton looks darkly-what can be the matter?" asked Frank.

"Oh, nothing! Probably Mrs. Clifton of Hardbargain has been troubled with some refractory servant, and has sent for her son to come up and reduce him to order; or possibly there may be some dispute or difficulty in settling the demands of the hired harvest-hands. They are often even dishonest in their extortions."

"Deferring to your better judgment, madam, still I fear not! I think such trifles would scarcely have raised so dark a thunder-cloud upon Clifton's brow," said Frank.

"Oh, well! At worst, it is but some lover's quarrel with his most exacting queen, Carolyn!" playfully replied the lady.

Frank was not satisfied he was pained. This most dangerous dark beauty fascinated and frightened him by turns. He had never seen the fiend in her face since that first night, and her witching power had almost erased the remembrance of it from his mind. Indeed, if he had ever recollected it, it was with wonder and remorse that he should have ever read such fearful meaning in a lady's frown, and he ascribed it to the phantasmagoria of his own fatigued nerves and over excited brain. But now he felt vaguely anxious, suspicious, foreboding-he scarce knew wherefore. He had no reason to reply to the lady again; for at the instant she finished speaking the carriages drove into the yard, bringing the company from Hardbargain, and they walked forward to welcome them home.



SOME hours after the arrival of the company, old Mr. Clifton sat alone in his study, examining piles of accounts, merchants', mechanics', and hired labourers' bills, that had come in as usual upon the first of July, many weeks before, yet had not, up to this night, been settled. For many years past the financial affairs of the master of Clifton had been falling behindhand. The cause of this was that no plantation and plantation house can thoroughly succeed without the personal superintendence of an efficient mistress to assist the master's effort. Often, indeed, it happens that, while the

master himself is engaged in state politics, or off at the Legislature, or at Congress, or on the circuit as a judge of the court, or in the metropolis of the state, or of the nation, -holding some high office under the Government, the mistress, at home upon the plantation, is the main-spring of all its business superintending, not only the house and housemaids, with their multifarious cares and avocations, such as a city housewife cannot conceive of, but managing the plantation also keeping the overseer to his duty, adjudging equitably all difficulties that may arise between him and the slaves under his charge, looking over all the numerous accounts, paying debts, and, when necessary, retrenching expenses. Now, the Clifton plantation had been singularly unfortunate in a series of inefficient mistresses, even before it fell in regular succession to the present Mr. Clifton; and after that, affairs were worse than ever. His first wife, the haughty Miss Gower, the mother of Carolyn, was far too great a lady to look after a housekeeper and overseer, and her successors had been all young girls, very worthless, except as poets and playthings, and who had, besides, to be indulged every year with their winters in Richmond, or in Washington -a twofold evil, as it took the master from his plantation and men, and the mistress from her house and maids, and laid them, besides, under the heavy expense of city hotel living, dressing, dinner-giving, theatres, balls, concerts, &c. Once in a while, as a bridal treat, or at the successive "coming out" of daughters, a winter in the metropolis may be well enough; but when continued year after year, through a lifetime, to the total neglect of the plantation, the revenues of no ordinary estate will hold out. So it followed that, as the master and mistress ceased to look after the overseer and the housekeeper, the overseer and housekeeper ceased to look after the men and maids, and the men and maids grew careless and indolent in the performance of their duties. Thus, as the expenses rose, the income fell. And thus, at the present time, old Mr. Clifton was almost irredeemably in debt, and all the Clifton property, except the land, mortgaged to its full value. The mortgage might foreclose at any instant; and at this present moment, the poor old master of great Clifton had not the ready money to pay his harvest-hands. The extent of his liabilities was, however, so little known in the neighbourhood, that his credit was still good, and almost

high; and the estate of White Cliffs was still considered as one of the most prosperous in the county, and the owners still held as very enviable people. While old Mr. Clifton sat pondering most dismally over his impracticable accounts, the study door was suddenly thrown open, and Miss Clifton entered in great excitement, and threw herself into a chair before her father, exclaiming, "Father, I have been insulted!"

The old man, never indifferent to his children's cry, ever ready, in the midst of his own real cares, to hear and sympathise even with their fantastic griefs, looked up from his papers in perplexity, inquiring, "What is it? What did you say, my child?"

"I have been insulted, outraged, sir!"

The old man gazed at her in surprise, repeating, outraged!"


(6 Insulted!

Yes, sir! contemned, despised, scorned, insulted, outraged, rejected !"

The old man placed his hands upon the arms of the chair, and gazed in astonishment, exclaiming, "Insulted! outraged! Whom? You, my daughter! Miss Clifton! Impossible!" "Yes, sir! me, your daughter, Carolyn Clifton !" "Who has presumed-who has dared-"

"Captain Clifton, sir, has dared!" replied the indignant beauty, rising in her excitement.

The old gentleman stared at her in blank wonder for a minute, and then, taking her hand, "Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down," he kept repeating, "and tell me all about it."

Carolyn drank a glass of ice-water that stood near her on the table, and then, in a cooler manner, told her father exactly what had passed, and how it had finally ended.

The old gentleman scratched his snow-white head in vexation and perplexity, but the winter bloom of his broad, rosy face was neither heightened nor lowered at the hearing of the tale. He did not by any means display the indignation the offended beauty had expected.

"Well,, sir!" at last she said rather haughtily, "what do you say to this ?"

He put his arm fondly around her waist, and drew her to him, saying, caressingly,, "You're a fool, Carolyn-a vain,, jealous little fool, that's all! Nay, now, no airs


with your old father. According to your own showing, it has been Archer that has been contemned, despised, scorned, insulted, outraged, rejected, and the rest of it, and upon no just grounds either, as I can easily prove to you. I am very much mortified, deeply humbled, indeed, to hear that my daughter, a high-born young maiden, should have forgotten her feminine pride and delicacy, and reproached her lover with an intimacy with a mountain-girl-a race of women, with very few exceptions, so low and wretched that a young lady should ignore their very existence. O' my conscience, Carolyn! why do you not cover your face, and die with humiliation? I do not wonder a man of such high honour and delicate sensibility as Archer Clifton should have been shocked and disgusted. Nay, my child, no airs with me! No tossing of the head and curling of the lip with me! I am your father. You must listen to me. You have done Archer the most outrageous injustice; and your jealousy is as ridiculous as it is! indelicate. In the first place, this girl, though brought up on the mountain, comes of respectable, if humble parentage, and possesses, by all accounts, a higher-toned moral and intellectual nature than most young ladies are endowed with. She is as far removed from vice as my own Carolyn. In the second place, she is the protégée of Mrs. Clifton, as well as of Captain Clifton, and enjoys that excellent lady's esteem and friendship, spending half of every day in her company, except when visitors are at the house. In the third and last place, she is not a beautiful woman, but an ugly child, being scarcely fourteen years of age, and having the ugliest face I ever saw in my life at least, I think so, though Mrs. Clifton says it is a noble face. It has large features, and is full of strength and expression, like a boy's. There, now, that's all. Now what do you think of yourself?"

During this short explanation, Carolyn's beautiful countenance had changed expression as rapidly and as variously as, during the lay of the minstrel, the harp changes and varies its notes. At its close, she dropped down by the side of the old man, and, throwing her arms and her head upon his knees, in utter weakness and dejection, sobbed, "Father, how shall I ever be forgiven ?"

He raised her to his knee, and, putting his arm around her waist, drew her head upon his bosom, and said, "It

« AnteriorContinuar »