MY story begins as a great many stories have begun within the last three years, and indeed as a great many have ended; for, when the hero is despatched, does not the romance come to a stop?
In early May, two years ago, a young couple I wot of strolled homeward from an evening walk, a long ramble among the peaceful hills which inclosed their rustic home. Into these peaceful hills the young man had brought, not the rumor, (which was an old inhabitant,) but some of the reality of war, -- a little whiff of gunpowder, the clanking of a sword; for, although Mr. John Ford had his campaign still before him, he wore a certain comely air of camp-life which stamped him a very Hector to the steady-going villagers, and a very pretty fellow to Miss Elizabeth Crowe, his companion in this sentimental stroll. And was he not attired in the great brightness of blue and gold which befits a freshly made lieutenant? This was a strange sight for these happy Northern glades; for, although the first Revolution had boomed awhile in their midst, the honest yeomen who defended them were clad in sober homespun, and it is well known that His Majesty's troops wore red.
These young people, I say, had been roaming. It was plain that they had wandered into spots where the brambles were thick and the dews heavy, -- nay, into swamps and puddles where the April rains were still undried. Ford's boots and trousers had imbibed a deep foretaste of the Virginia mud; his companion's skirts were fearfully bedraggled. What great enthusiasm had made our friends so unmindful of their steps? What blinding ardor had kindled these strange phenomena: a young lieutenant scornful of his first uniform, a well-bred young lady reckless of her stockings?
Good reader, this narrative is averse to retrospect.
Elizabeth (as I shall not scruple to call her outright) was leaning upon her companion's arm, half moving in concert with him, and half allowing herself to be led, with that instinctive acknowledgment of dependence natural to a young girl who has just received the assurance of lifelong protection. Ford was lounging, along with that calm, swinging stride which bespeaks, when you can read it aright, the answering consciousness of a sudden rush of manhood. A spectator might have thought him at this moment profoundly conceited. The young girl's blue veil was dangling from his pocket; he had shouldered her sun-umbrella after the fashion of a musket on a march: he might carry these trifles. Was there not a vague longing expressed in the strong expansion of his stalwart shoulders, in the fond accommodation of his pace to hers, -- her pace so submissive and slow, that, when he tried to match it, they almost came to a delightful standstill, -- a silent desire for the whole fair burden?
They made their way up a long swelling mound, whose top commanded the sunset. The dim landscape which had been brightening all day to the green of spring was now darkening to the gray of evening. The lesser hills, the farms, the brooks, the fields, orchards, and woods, made a dusky gulf before the great splendor of the west. As Ford looked at the clouds, it seemed to him that their imagery was all of war, their great uneven masses were marshaled into the semblance of a battle. There were columns charging and columns flying and standards floating, -- tatters of the reflected purple; and great captains on colossal horses, and a rolling canopy of cannon-smoke and fire and blood. The background of the clouds, indeed, was like a land on fire, or a battle-ground illumined by another sunset, a country of blackened villages and crimsoned pastures. The tumult of the clouds increased; it was hard to believe them inanimate. You might have fancied them an army of gigantic souls playing at football with the sun. They seemed to sway in confused splendor; the opposing, squadrons bore each other down; and then suddenly they scattered, bowling with equal velocity towards north and south, and gradually fading into the pale evening sky. The purple pennons sailed away and sank out of sight, caught, doubtless, upon the brambles of the intervening plain. Day contracted itself into a fiery ball and vanished.
Ford and Elizabeth had quietly watched this great mystery of the heavens.
"That is an allegory," said the young man, as the sun went under, looking into his companion's face, where a pink flush seemed still to linger: "it means the end of the war. The forces on both sides are withdrawn. The blood that has been shed gathers itself into a vast globule and drops into the ocean."
"I 'm afraid it means a shabby compromise," said Elizabeth." Light disappears, too, and the land is in darkness."
"Only for a season," answered the other."We mourn our dead. Then light comes again, stronger and brighter than ever. Perhaps you'll be crying for me, Lizzie, at that distant day."
"Oh, Jack, did n't you promise not to talk about that?" says Lizzie, threatening to anticipate the performance in question.
Jack took this rebuke in silence, gazing soberly at the empty sky. Soon the young girl's eyes stole up to his face. If he had been looking at anything in particular, I think she would have followed the direction of his glance; but as it seemed to be a very vacant one, she let her eyes rest.
"Jack," said she, after a pause," I wonder how you 'll look when you get back."
Ford's soberness gave way to a laugh.
"Uglier than ever. I shall be all incrusted with mud and gore. And then I shall be magnificently sun-burnt, and I shall have a beard."
"Oh, you dreadful!" and Lizzie gave a little shout." Really, Jack, if you have a beard, you 'll not look like a gentleman."
"Shall I look like a lady, pray?" says Jack.
"Are you serious?" asked Lizzie.
"To be sure. I mean to alter my face as you do your misfitting garments, -- take in on one side and let out on the other. Is n't that the process? I shall crop my head and cultivate my chin."
"You 've a very nice chin, my dear, and I think it's a shame to hide it."
"Yes, I know my chin' s handsome; but wait till you see my beard."
"Oh, the vanity!" cried Lizzie," the vanity of men in their faces! Talk of women!" and the silly creature looked up at her lover with most inconsistent satisfaction.
"Oh, the pride of women in their husbands!" said Jack, who of course knew what she was about.
"You 're not my husband, Sir. There 's many a slip" -- But the young girl stopped short.
"'Twixt the cup and the lip," said Jack." Go on. I can match your proverb with another. 'There 's many a true word,' and so forth. No, my darling: I 'm not your husband. Perhaps I never shall be. But if anything happens to me, you 'll take comfort, won't you? "
"Never!" said Lizzie, tremulously.
"Oh, but you must; otherwise, Lizzie, I should think our engagement inexcusable. Stuff! who am I that you should cry for me?"
"You are the best and wisest of men. I don't care; you are."
"Thank you for your great love, my dear. That 's a delightful illusion. But I hope Time will kill it, in his own good way, before it hurts any one. I know so many men who are worth infinitely more than I -- men wise, generous, and brave -- that I shall not feel as if I were leaving you in an empty world."
"Oh, my dear friend!" said Lizzie, after a pause," I wish you could advise me all my life."
"Take care, take care," laughed Jack; "you don't know what you are bargaining for. But will you let me say a word now? If by chance I 'm taken out of the world, I want you to beware of that tawdry sentiment which enjoins you to be 'constant to my memory.' My memory be hanged! Remember me at my best, -- that is, fullest of the desire of humility. Don't inflict me on people. There are some widows and bereaved sweethearts who remind me of the peddler in that horrible murder-story, who carried a corpse in his pack. Really, it 's their stock in trade. The only justification of a man's personality is his rights. What rights has a dead man? -- Let 's go down."
They turned southward and went jolting down the hill.
"Do you mind this talk, Lizzie?" asked Ford.
"No," said Lizzie, swallowing a sob, unnoticed by her companion in the sublime egotism of protection ; "I like it."
"Very well," said the young man," I want my memory to help you. When I am down in Virginia, I expect to get a vast deal of good from thinking of you, -- to do my work better, and to keep straighter altogether. Like all lovers, I 'm horribly selfish. I expect to see a vast deal of shabbiness and baseness and turmoil, and in the midst of it all I 'm sure the inspiration of patriotism will sometimes fail. Then I 'll think of you. I love you a thousand times better than my country, Liz. -- Wicked? So much the worse. It's the truth. But if I find your memory makes a milksop of me, I shall thrust you out of the way, without ceremony, -- I shall clap you into my box or between the leaves of my Bible, and only look at you on Sunday."
"I shall be very glad, Sir, if that makes you open your Bible frequently," says Elizabeth, rather demurely.
"I shall put one of your photographs against every page," cried Ford; "and then I think I shall not lack a text for my meditations. Don't you know how Catholics keep little pictures of their adored Lady in their prayer-books?"
"Yes, indeed," said Lizzie; " I should think it would be a very soul-stirring picture, when you are marching to the front the night before a battle, -- a poor, stupid girl, knitting stupid socks, in a stupid Yankee village."
Oh, the craft of artless tongues! Jack strode along in silence a few moments, splashing straight through a puddle; then, ere he was quite clear of it, he stretched out his arm and gave his companion a long embrace.
" And pray what am I to do," resumed Lizzie, wondering, rather proudly perhaps, at Jack's averted face," while you are marching and countermarching in Virginia?"
"Your duty, of course," said Jack, in a steady voice, which belied a certain little conjecture of Lizzie's." I think you will find the sun will rise in the east, my dear, just as it did before you were engaged."
"I 'm sure I did n't suppose it would n't," says Lizzie.
"By duty I don't mean anything disagreeable, Liz," pursued the young man." I hope you'll take your pleasure, too. I wish you might go to Boston, or even to Leatherborough, for a month or two."
"What for, pray?"
"What for? Why, for the fun of it: to 'go out,' as they say."
"Jack, do you think me capable of going to parties while you are in danger?"
"Why not? Why should I have all the fun?"
"Fun? I 'm sure you 're welcome to it all. As for me, I mean to make a new beginning."
"Oh, of everything. In the first place, I shall begin to improve my mind. But don't you think it's horrid for women to be reasonable?"
"Hard, say you?"
"Horrid, -- yes, and hard too. But I mean to become so. Oh, girls are such fools, Jack! I mean to learn to like boiled mutton and history and plain sewing, and all that. Yet, when a girl's engaged, she's not expected to do anythingy in particular."
Jack laughed, and said nothing; and Lizzie went on.
"I wonder what your mother will say to the news. I think I know."
"She 'll say you've been very unwise. No, she won't: she never speaks so to you. She 'll say I 've been very dishonest or indelicate, or something of that kind. No, she won't either: she does n't say such things, though I 'm sure she thinks them. I don t know what she ll say."
"No, I think not, Lizzie, if you indulge in such conjectures. My mother never speaks without thinking. Let us hope that she may think favorably of our plan. Even if she does n't" --
Jack did not finish his sentence, nor did Lizzie urge him. She had a great respect for his hesitations. But in a moment he began again.
"I was going to say this, Lizzie: I think for the present our engagement had better be kept quiet."
Lizzie's heart sank with a sudden disappointment. Imagine the feelings of the damsel in the fairy-tale, whom the disguised enchantress had just empowered to utter diamonds and pearls, should the old beldame have straightway added that for the present mademoiselle had better hold her tongue. Yet the disappointment was brief. I think this enviable young lady would have tripped home talking very hard to herself, and have been not ill pleased to find her little mouth turning into a tightly clasped jewel-casket. Nay, would she not on this occasion have been thankful for a large mouth, -- a mouth huge and unnatural, -- stretching from ear to ear? Who wish to cast their pearls before swine? The young lady of the pearls was, after all, but a barnyard miss. Lizzie was too proud of Jack to be vain. It's well enough to wear our own hearts upon our sleeves; but for those of others, when intrusted to our keeping, I think we had better find a more secluded lodging.
"You see, I think secrecy would leave us much freer," said Jack, -- "leave you much freer."
"Oh, Jack, how can you? " cried Lizzie." Yes, of course; I shall be falling in love with some one else. Freer! Thank you, Sir!"
"Nay, Lizzie, what I 'm saying is really kinder than it sounds. Perhaps you will thank me one of these days."
"Doubtless! I've already taken a great fancy to George Mackenzie."
"Will you let me enlarge on my suggestion?"
"Oh, certainly! You seem to have your mind quite made up."
"I confess I like to take account of possibilities. Don't you know mathematics are my hobby? Did you ever study algebra? I always have an eye on the unknown quantity."
"No, I never studied algebra. I agree with you, that we had better not speak of our engagement."
"That 's right, my dear. You 're always right. But mind, I dont want to bind you to secrecy. Hang it, do as you please! Do what comes easiest to you, and you 'll do the best thing. What made me speak is my dread of the horrible publicity which clings to all this lousiness. Nowadays, when a girl 's engaged, it 's no longer, 'Ask mamma,' simply; but, 'Ask Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Jones, and any large circle of acquaintance, -- Mrs. Grundy, in short.' I say nowadays, but I suppose it 's always been so."
"Very well, we'll keep it all nice and quiet," said Lizzie, who would have been ready to celebrate her nuptials according to the rites of the Esquimaux, had Jack seen fit to suggest it.
"I know it does n't look well for a lover to be so cautious," pursued Jack; " but you understand me, Lizzie, don't you? "
"I don't entirely understand you, but I quite trust you."
"God bless you! My prudence, you see, is my best strength. Now, if ever, I need my strength. When a man's a-wooing, Lizzie, he is all feeling, or he ought to be; when he 's accepted, then he begins to think."
"And to repent, I suppose you mean."
"Nay, to devise neans to keep his sweetheart from repenting. Let me be frank. Is it the greatest fools only that are the best lovers? There's no telling what may happen, Lizzie. I want you to marry me with your eyes open. I don't want you to feel tied down or taken in. You're very young, you know. You 're responsible to yourself of a year hence. You 're at an age when no girl can count safely from year's end to year's end."
"And you, Sir!" cries Lizzie; "one would think you were a grandfather."
"Well, I 'm on the way to it. I 'm a pretty old boy. I mean what I say. I may not be entirely frank, but I think I'm sincere. It seems to me as if I 'd been fibbing all my life before I told you that your affection was necessary to my happiness. I mean it out and out. I never loved any one before, and I never will again. If you had refused me half an hour ago, I should have died a bachelor. I have no fear for myself. But I have for you. You said a few minutes ago that you wanted me to be your adviser. Now you know the function of an adviser is to perfect his victim in the art of walking with his eyes shut. I sha'n't be so cruel."-
Lizzie saw fit to view these remarks in a humorous light."How disinterested!" Quoth she: "how very self-sacrificing! Bachelor indeed! For my part, I think I shall become a Mormon!" -- I verily believe the poor misinformed creature fancied that in Utah it is the ladies who are guilty of polygamy.
Before many minutes they drew near home. There stood Mrs. Ford at the garden-gate, looking up and down the road, with a letter in her hand.
"Something for you, John," said his mother, as they approached."It looks as if it came from camp. -- Why, Elizabeth, look at your skirts!"
"I know it," says Lizzie, giving the articles in question a shake."What is it, Jack? "
"Marching orders!" cried the young man."The regiment leaves day after to-morrow. I must leave by the early train in the morning. Hurray!" And he diverted a sudden gleeful kiss into a filial salute.
They went in. The two women were silent, after the manner of women who suffer. But Jack did little else than laugh and talk and circumnavigate the parlor, sitting first here and then there, -- close beside Lizzie and on the opposite side of the room. After a while Miss Crowe joined in his laughter, but I think her mirth might have been resolved into articulate heart-beats. After tea she went to bed, to give Jack opportunity for his last filial épanchements.
How generous a man's intervention makes women! But Lizzie promised to see her lover off in the morning.
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Ford."You'll not be up. John will want to breakfast quietly."
"I shall see you off, Jack," repeated the young lady, from the threshold.
Elizabeth went up stairs buoyant with her young love. It had dawned upon her like a new life, -- a life positively worth the living. Hereby she would subsist and cost nobody anything. In it she was boundlessly rich. She would make it the hidden spring of a hundred praiseworthy deeds. She would begin the career of duty: she would enjoy boundless equanimity: she would raise her whole being to the level of her sublime passion. She would practice charity, humility, piety, -- in fine, all the virtues: together with certain morceaux of Beethoven and Chopin. She would walk the earth like one glorified. She would do homage to the best of men by inviolate secrecy. Here, by I know not what gentle transition, as she lay in the quiet darkness, Elizabeth covered her pillow with a flood of tears.
Meanwhile Ford, down-stairs, began in this fashion. He was lounging at his manly length on the sofa, in his slippers.
"May I light a pipe, mother? "
"Y es, my love. But please be careful of your ashes. There 's a newspaper."
"Pipes don't make ashes. -- Mother, what do you think?" he continued, between the puffs of his smoking; "I 've got a piece of news."
"Ah? "said Mrs. Ford, fumbling for her scissors; "I hope it 's good news."
"I hope you 'll think it so. I 've been engaging myself" -- puff, -- puff -- "to Lizzie Crowe."A cloud of puffs between his mother's face and his own.
When they cleared away, Jack felt his mother's eyes. Her work was in her lap." To be married, you know," he added.
In Mrs. Ford's view, like the king in that of the British Constitution, her only son could do no wrong. Prejudice is a stout bulwark against surprise. Moreover, Mrs. Ford's motherly instinct had not been entirely at fault. Still, it had by no means kept pace with fact. She had been silent, partly from doubt, partly out of respect for her son. As long as John did not doubt of himself, he was right. Should he come to do so, she was sure he would speak. And now, when he told her the matter was settled, she persuaded herself that he was asking her advice.
"I've been expecting it," she said, at last.
"You have? why did n't you speak? "
"Well, John, I can't say I've been hoping it."
"I am not sure of Lizzie's heart," said Mrs. Ford, who, it may be well to add, was very sure of her own.
Jack began to laugh." What's the matter with her heart?"
"I think Lizzie's shallow," said Mrs. Ford; and there was that in her tone which betokened some satisfaction with this adjective.
"Hang it! she is shallow," said Jack." But when a thing's shallow, you can see to the bottom. Lizzie does n't pretend to be deep. I want a wife, mother, that I can understand. That 's the only wife I can love. Lizzie 's the only girl I ever understood, and the first I ever loved. I love her very much, -- more than I can explain to you."
"Yes, I confess it's inexplicable. It seems to me," she added, with a bad smile," like infatuation."
Jack did not like the smile; he liked it even less than the remark. He smoked steadily for a few moments, and then he said, --
"Well, mother, love is notoriously obstinate, you know. We shall not be able to take the same view of this subject: suppose we drop it."
"Remember that this is your last evening at home, my son," said Mrs. Ford.
"I do remember. Therefore I wish to avoid disagreement."
There was a pause. The young man smoked, and his mother sewed, in silence.
"I think my position, as Lizzie's guardian," resumed Mrs. Ford," entitles me to an interest in the matter."
"Certainly, I acknowledged your interest by telling you of our engagenent."
"Will you allow me to say," said Mrs. Ford, after a while," that I think this a little selfish?"
"Allow you? Certainly, if you particularly desire it. Though I confess it is n't very pleasant for a man to sit and hear his future wife pitched into, -- by his own mother, too."
"John, I am surprised at your language."
"I beg your pardon," and John spoke more gently." You must n't be surprised at anything from an accepted lover -- I 'm sure you misconceive her. In fact, mother, I don't believe you know her."
Mrs. Ford nodded, with an infinite depth of meaning; and from the grimness with which she bit off the end of her thread it might have seemed that she fancied herself to be executing a human vengeance.
"Ah, I know her only too well!"
"And you don't like her?"
Mrs. Ford performed another decapitation of her thread.
"Well, I'm glad Lizzie has one friend in the world," said Jack.
"Her best friend," said Mrs. Lord," is the one who flatters her least. I see it all, John. Her pretty face has done the lousiness."
The young man flushed impatiently.
"Mother," said he," you are very much mistaken. I 'm not a boy nor a fool. You trust me in a great many things; why not trust me in this?"
"My dear son, you are throwing yourself away. You deserve for your companion in life a higher character than that girl."
I think Mrs. Ford, who had been an excellent mother, would have liked to give her son a wife fashioned on her own model.
"Oh, come, mother," said he," that's twaddle. I should be thankful, if I were half as good as Lizzie."
"It's the truth, John, and your conduct -- not only the step you 've taken, but your talk about it -- is a great disappointment to me. If I have cherished any wish of late, it is that my darling boy should get a wife worthy of him. The household governed by Elizabeth Crowe is not the home I should desire for any one I love."
"It's one to which you should always be welcome, ma'am," said Jack.
"It's not a place I should feel at home in," replied his mother.
"I'm sorry," said Jack. And he got up and began to walk about the room."Well, well, mother," he said at last, stopping in front of Mrs. Ford," we don't understand each other. One of these days we shall. For the present let us have done with discussion. I'm half sorry I told you."
"I 'm glad of such a proof of your confidence. But if you had n't, of course Elizabeth would have done so."
"No, Ma'am, I think not."
"Then she is even more reckless of her obligations than I thought her."
"I advised her to say nothing about it."
Mrs. Ford made no answer. She began slowly to fold up her work.
"I think we had better let the matter stand," continued her son." I 'm not afraid of time. But I wish to make a request of you: you won't mention this conversation to Lizzie, will you? nor allow her to suppose that you know of our engagement? I have a particular reason."
Mrs. Ford went on smoothing out her work. Then she suddenly looked up.
"No, my dear, I 'll keep your secret. Give me a kiss."
I HAVE no intention of following Lieutenant Ford to the seat of war. The exploits of his campaign are recorded in the public journals of the day, where the curious may still peruse them. My own taste has always been for unwritten history, and my present business is with the reverse of the picture.
After Jack went off, the two ladies resumed their old homely life. But the homeliest life had now ceased to be repulsive to Elizabeth. Her common duties were no longer wearisome: for the first time, she experienced the delicious companionship of thought. Her chief task was still to sit by the window knitting soldiers' socks; but even Mrs. Ford could not help owning that she worked with a much greater diligence, yawned, rubbed her eyes, gazed up and down the road less, and indeed produced a much more comely article. Ah, me! if half the lovesome fancies that flitted through Lizzie's spirit in those busy hours could have found their way into the texture of the dingy yarn, as it was slowly wrought into shape, the eventual wearer of the socks would have been as light-footed as Mercury. I am afraid I should make the reader sneer, were I to rehearse some of this little fool's diversions. She passed several hours daily in Jack's old chamber: it was in this sanctuary, indeed, at the sunny south window, overlooking the long road, the wood-crowned heights, the gleaming river, that she worked with most pleasure and profit. Here she was removed from the untiring glance of the elder lady, from her jarring questions and commonplaces; here she was alone with her love, -- that greatest commonplace in life. Lizzie felt in Jack's room a certain impress of his personality. The idle fancies of her mood were bodied forth in a dozen sacred relics. Some of these articles Elizabeth carefully cherished. It was rather late in the day for her to assert a literary taste, -- her reading having begun and ended (naturally enough) with the ancient fiction of the "Scottish Chiefs." So she could hardly help smiling, herself, sometimes, at her interest in Jack's old college tomes. She carried several of them to her own apartment, and placed them at the foot of her little bed, on a book-shelf adorned, besides, with a pot of spring violets, a portrait of General McClellan, and a likeness of Lieutenant Ford. She had a vague belief that a loving study of their well-thumbed verses would remedy, in some degree, her sad intellectual deficiencies. She was sorry she knew so little: as sorry, that is, as she might be, for we know that she was shallow. Jack's omniscience was one of his most awful attributes. And yet she comforted herself with the thought, that, as he had forgiven her ignorance, she herself might surely forget it. Happy Lizzie, I envy you this easy path to knowledge! The volume she most frequently consulted was an old German "Faust," over which she used to fumble with a battered lexicon. The secret of this preference was in certain marginal notes in pencil, signed "J." I hope they were really of Jack's making.
Lizzie was always a small walker. Until she knew Jack, this had been quite an unsuspected pleasure. She was afraid, too, of the cows, geese, and sheep, -- all the agricultural spectra of the feminine imagination. But now her terrors were over. Might she not play the soldier, too, in her own humble way? Often with a beating heart, I fear, but still with resolute, elastic steps, she revisited Jack's old haunts; she tried to love Nature as he had seemed to love it; she gazed at his old sunsets; she fathomed his old pools with blight plummet glances, as if seeking some lingering trace of his features in their brown depths, stamped there as on a fond human heart; she sought out his dear name, scratched on the rocks and trees, -- and when night came on, she studied, in her simple way, the great starlit canopy, under which, perhaps, her warrior lay sleeping; she wandered through the green glades, singing snatches of his old ballads in a clear voice, made tuneful with love, -- and as she sang, there mingled with the everlasting murmur of the trees the faint sound of a muffled bass, borne upon the south wind like a distant drumbeat, responsive to a bugle. So she led for some months a very pleasant idyllic life, face to face with vivid memory, which gave everything and asked nothing. These were doubtless to be (and she half knew it) the happiest days of her life. Has life any bliss so great as this pensive ecstasy? To know that the golden sands are dropping one by one makes servitude freedom, and poverty riches.
In spite of a certain sense of loss, Lizzie passed a very blissful summer. She enjoyed the deep repose which, it is to be hoped, sanctifies all honest betrothals. Possible calamity weighed lightly upon her. We know that when the columns of battle-smoke leave the field, they journey through the heavy air to a thousand quiet homes, and play about the crackling blaze of as many firesides. But Lizzie's vision was never clouded. Mrs. Ford might gaze into the thickening summer dusk and wipe her spectacles; but her companion hummed her old ballad-ends with an unbroken voice. She no more ceased to smile under evil tidings than the brooklet ceases to ripple beneath the projected shadow of the roadside willow. The self-given promises of that tearful night of parting were forgotten. Vigilance had no place in Lizzie's scheme of heavenly idleness. The idea of moralizing in Elysium!
It must not be supposed that Mrs. Ford was indifferent to Lizzie's mood. She studied it watchfully, and kept note of all its variations. And among the things she learned was, that her companion knew of her scrutiny, and was, on the whole, indifferent to it. Of the full extent of Mrs. Ford's observation, however, I think Lizzie was hardly aware. She was like a reveller in a brilliantly lighted room, with a curtainless window, conscious, and yet heedless, of passers-by. And Mrs. Ford may not inaptly be compared to the chilly spectator on the dark side of the pane. Very few words passed on the topic of their common thoughts. From the first, as we have seen, Lizzie guessed at her guardian' s probable view of her engagement: an abasement incurred by John. Lizzie lacked what is called a sense of duty; and, unlike the majority of such temperaments, which contrive to be buoyant on the glistening bubble of Dignity, she had likewise a modest estimate of her dues. Alack, my poor heroine had no pride! Mrs. Ford's silent censure awakened no resentment. It sounded in her ears like a dull, soporific hum. Lizzie was deeply enamored of what a French book terms her aises intellectuelles. Her mental comfort lay in the ignoring of problems. She possessed a certain native insight which revealed many of the horrent inequalities of her pathway; but she found it so cruel and disenchanting a faculty, that blindness was infinitely preferable. She preferred repose to order, and mercy to justice. She was speculative, without being critical. She was continually wondering, but she never inquired. This world was the riddle; the next alone would be the answer.
So she never felt any desire to have an"understanding"with Mrs. Ford. Did the old lady misconceive her? it was her own business. Mrs. Ford apparently felt no desire to set herself right. You see, Lizzie was ignorant of her friend's promise. There were moments when Mrs. Ford's tongue itched to speak. There were others, it is true, when she dreaded any explanation which would compel her to forfeit her displeasure. Lizzie's happy self-sufficiency was most irritating. She grudged the young girl the dignity of her secret; her own actual knowledge of it rather increased her jealousy, by showing her the importance of the scheme from which she was excluded. Lizzie, being in perfect good-humor with the world and with herself, abated no jot of her personal deference to Mrs. Ford. Of Jack, as a good friend and her guardian's son, she spoke very freely. But Mrs. Ford was mistrustful of this semi-confidence. She would not, she often said to herself, be wheedled against her principles. Her principles! Oh for some shining blade of purpose to hew down such stubborn stakes! Lizzie had no thought of flattering her companion. She never deceived any one but herself. She could not bring herself to value Mrs. Ford's goodwill. She knew that Jack often suffered from his mother's obstinacy. So her unbroken humility shielded no unavowed purpose. She was patient and kindly from nature, from habit. Yet I think, that, if Mrs. Ivory could have measured her benignity, she would have preferred, on the whole, the most open defiance."Of all things," she would sometimes mutter," to be patronized by that little piece!" It was very disagreeable, for instance, to have to listen to portions of her own son's letters.
These letters came week by week, flying out of the South like white-winged carrier-doves. Many and many a time, for very pride, Lizzie would have liked a larger audience. Portions of them certainly deserved publicity. They were far too good for her. Were they not better than that stupid war-correspondence in the "Times," which she so often tried in vain to read? They contained long details of movements, plans of campaigns, military opinions and conjectures, expressed with the emphasis habitual to young sub-lieutenants. I doubt whether General Halleck's despatches laid down the law more absolutely than Lieutenant Ford's. Lizzie answered in her own fashion. It must be owned that hers was a dull pen. She told her dearest, dearest Jack how much she loved and honored him, and how much she missed him, and how delightful his last letter was, (with those beautifully drawn diagrams,) and the village gossip, and how stout and strong his mother continued to be, -- and again, how she loved, etc., etc., and that she remained his loving L. Jack read these effusions as became one so beloved. I should not wonder if he thought them very brilliant.
The summer waned to its close, and through myriad silent stages began to darken into autumn. Who can tell the story of those red months? I have to chronicle another silent transition. But as I can find no words delicate and fine enough to describe the multifold changes of Nature, so, too, I must be content to give you the spiritual facts in gross.
John Ford became a veteran down by the Potomac. And, to tell the truth, Lizzie became a veteran at home. That is, her love and hope grew to be an old story. She gave way, as the strongest must, as the wisest will, to time. The passion which, in her simple, shallow way, she lead confided to the woods and waters reflected their outward variations; she thought of her lover less, and with less positive pleasure. The golden sands had run out. Perfect rest was over. Mrs. Ford's tacit protest began to be annoying. In a rather resentful spirit, Lizzie forbore to read any more letters aloud. These were as regular as ever. One of them contained a rough camp-photograph of Jack's newly bearded visage. Lizzie declared it was "too ugly for anything," and thrust it out of sight. She found herself skipping his military dissertations, which were still as long and written in as handsome a hand as ever. The "too good," which used to be uttered rather proudly, was now rather a wearisome truth. When Lizzie in certain critical moods tried to qualify Jack's temperament, she said to herself that he was too literal. Once he gave her a little scolding for not writing oftener. "Jack can make no allowances," murmured Lizzie. "He can understand no feelings but his own. I remember he used to say that moods were diseases. His mind is too healthy for such things; his heart is too stout for ache or pain. The night before he went off he told me that Reason, as he calls it, was the rule of life. I suppose he thinks it the rule of love, too. But his heart is younger than mine, -- younger and better. He has lived through awful scenes of danger and bloodshed and cruelty,, yet his heart is purer. "Lizzie had a horrible feeling of being blasée of this one affection. "Oh, God bless him!" she cried. She felt much better for the tears in which this soliloquy ended. I fear she had begun to doubt her ability to cry about Jack.
CHRISTMAS came. The Army of the Potomac had stacked its muskets and gone into winter-quarters. Miss Crone received an invitation to pass the second fortnight in February at the great manufacturing town of Leatherborough. Leatherborough is on the railroad, two hours south of Glenham, at the mouth of the great river Tan, where this noble stream expands into its broadest smile, or gapes in too huge a fashion to be disguised by a bridge.
"Mrs. Littlefield kindly invites you for the last of the month," said Mrs. Ford, reading a letter behind the tea-urn.
It suited Mrs. Ford's purpose -- a purpose which I have not space to elaborate -- that her young charge should now go forth into society and pick up acquaintances.
Two sparks of pleasure gleamed in Elizabeth's eyes. But, as she had taught herself to do of late with her protectress, she mused before answering.
"It is my desire that you should go," said Mrs. Ford, taking silence for dissent.
The sparks went out.
"I intend to go," said Lizzie, rather grimly. " I am much obliged to Mrs. Littlefield. "
Her companion looked up.
"I intend you shall. You will please to write this morning. "
For the rest of the week the two stitched together over muslins and silks, and were very good friends. Lizzie could scarcely help wondering at Mrs. Ford's zeal on her behalf. Might she not have referred it to her guardian's principles? Her wardrobe, hitherto fashioned on the Glenham notion of elegance, was gradually raised to the Leatherborough standard of fitness. As she tookup her bedroom candle the night before she left home, she said, --
"I thank you very much, Mrs. Ford, for having worked so hard for me, -- for having taken so much interest in my outfit. If they ask me at Leatherborough who made my things, I shall certainly say it was you. "
Mrs. Littlefield treated her young friend with great kindness. She was a good-natured, childless matron. She found Lizzie very ignorant and very pretty. She was glad to have so great a beauty and so many lions to show.
One evening Lizzie went to her room with one of the maids, carrying half a dozen candles between them. Heaven forbid that I should cross that virgin threshold -- for the present! But we will wait. We will allow them two hours. At the end of that time, having gently knocked, we will enter the sanctuary. Glory of glories! The faithful attendant has done her work. Our lady is robed, crowned, ready for worshippers.
I trust I shall not be held to a minute description of our dear Lizzie's person and costume. Who is so great a recluse as never to have beheld young ladyhood in full dress? Many of us have sisters and daughters. Not a few of us, I hope, have female connections of another degree, yet no less dear. Others have looking-glasses. I give you my word for it that Elizabeth made as pretty a show as it is possible to see. She was of course well-dressed. Her skirt was of voluminous white, puffed and trimmed in wondrous sort. Her hair was profusely ornamented with curls and braids of its own rich substance. From her waist depended a ribbon, broad and blue. White with coral ornaments, as she wrote to Jack in the course of the week. Coral ornaments, forsooth! And pray, miss, what of the other jewels with which your person was decorated, -- the rubies, pearls, and sapphires? One by one Lizzie assumes her modest gimcracks: her bracelet, her gloves, her handkerchief, her fan, and then -- her smile. All, that strange crowning smile!
An hour later, in Mrs. Littlefield's pretty drawing-room, amid music, lights, and talk, Miss Crowe was sweeping a grand curtsy before a tall, sallow man, whose name she caught from her hostess's redundant murmur as Bruce. Five minutes later, when the honest matron gave a glance at her newly started enterprise from the other side of the room, she said to herself that really, for a plain country-girl, Miss Crowe did this kind of thing very well. Her next glimpse of the couple showed them whirling round the room to the crashing thrum of the piano. At eleven o'clock she beheld them linked by their finger-tips in the dazzling mazes of the reel. At half-past eleven she discerned them charging shoulder to shoulder in the serried columns of the Lancers. At midnight she tapped her young friend gently with her fan.
"Your sash is unpinned, my dear. -- I think you have danced often enough with Mr. Bruce. If he asks you again, you had better refuse. It 's not quite the thing. -- Yes, my dear, I know. -- Mr. Simpson, will you be so good as to take Miss Crowe down to supper?"
I 'm afraid young Simpson had rather a snappish partner.
After the proper interval, Mr. Bruce called to pay his respects to Mrs. Littlefield. He found Miss Crowe also in the drawing-room. Lizzie and he met like old friends. Mrs. Littlefield vas a willing listener; but it seemed to her that she had come in at the second act of the play. Bruce went off with Miss Crowe's promise to drive with him in the afternoon. In the afternoon he swept up to the door in a prancing, tinkling sleigh. After some minutes of hoarse jesting and silvery laughter in the keen wintry air, he swept away again with Lizzie curled up in the buffalo-robe beside him, like a kitten in a rug. It was dark when they returned. When Lizzie came in to the sitting-room fire, she was congratulated by her hostess upon having made a "conquest. "
"I think he 's a most gentlemanly man," says Lizzie.
"So he is, my dear," said Mrs. Littlefield; "Mr. Bruce is a perfect gentleman. He 's one of the finest young men I know. He 's not so young either. He 's a little too yellow for my taste; but he 's beautifully educated. I wish you could hear his French accent. He has been abroad I don't know how many years. The firm of Bruce and Robertson does an immense business. "
"And I 'm so glad," cries Lizzie," he 's coming to Glenham in March! He 's going to take his sister to the water-cure. "
"Really? -- poor thing! She has very good manners. "
"What do you think of his looks?" asked Lizzie, smoothing her feather.
"I was speaking of Jane Bruce. I think Mr. Bruce has fine eyes. "
"I must say I like tall men," says Miss Crowe.
"Then Robert Bruce is your man," laughs Mr. Littlefield. " He 's as tall as a bell-tower. And he 's got a bellclapper in his head, too. "
"I believe I will go and take off my things," remarks Miss Crowe, flinging up her curls.