MR. DEANE walked into church on Easter Sunday, followed by a trophy. This trophy had once been a chattel, but was now, as Mr. Deane assured him, a man. Scarcely a shade darker than Mr. Deane himself as to complexion, in figure quite as prepossessing, in bearing not less erect, he passed up the north aisle of St. Peter’s to the square pew of the most influential of the wardens, who was also the first man of the Church Musical Committee.
The old church was beautiful with its floral decorations on this festival. The altar shone with sacramental silver, and rare was the music that quickened the hearts of the great congregation to harmonious tunefulness. The boys in their choral, Miss Ives in her solos, above all, the organist, in voluntary, prelude, and accompaniment, how glorious.! If a soul in the church escaped thankfulness in presence of those flowers, in hearing of that music, I know not by what force it could have been conducted that bright morning to the feet of Love. It was “ a day of days.”
To the trophy of Deane this scene must have been strangely new. No doubt, he had before now sat in a church, a decorated church, a church where music had much to do with the service. But never under such circumstances had he stood, sat, knelt, taking part in the worship, a man among men. Of this Mr. Deane was thinking; and his brain, not very imaginative, was taxed to conceive the conception of freedom a man must obtain under precisely these circumstances.
But the man in question was thinking thoughts as widely diverse from these attributed to him as one could easily imagine. Of himself, and his position, scarcely at all. And when he thought, he smiled; but the gravity, the abstraction into which he repeatedly lapsed, seemed to say for him that freedom was to him more than he knew what to do with. No volubility of joy, no laughter, no manifested exultation in deliverance from bondage : ’t was a rare case; must one believe his eyes ?
Probably the constraint of habit was upon the fugitive, the contraband. Homesickness in spite of him, it might be. Oh, surely freedom was not bare to him as a winter-rifled tree ? Not a bud of promise swelling along the dreary waste of tortuous branches? Possibly some ties had been ruptured in making his escape, which must be knit again before he could enter into the joy he had so fairly won. For you and me it would hardly be perfect happiness to feast at great men’s tables, while the faces we love best, the dear, the sacred faces, grow gaunt from starvation.
Mr. Deane took to himself some glory in consequence of his late achievements. He was a practical man, and his theories were now being put to a test that gave him some proud satisfaction. The attitude he assumed not many hours ago in reference to the organist has added to his consciousness of weight, and to-day he has taken as little pleasure as became him in the choir’s performance. Now and then a strain besieged him, but none could carry that stout heart, or overthrow that nature, the wonder of pachydermata. Generally through the choral service he retained his seat; a significant glance now and then, that involved the man beside him, was the only evidence he gave that the music much impressed him ; but this evidence, to one who should understand, was all-sufficient.
Meanwhile the object of these glances sat apparently lost in vacuity, or patiently waiting the end of the services, — when all at once, during the hymn, he sprang to his feet; at the same moment two or three beside him felt as if they had experienced an electric shock. What was it ? A voice joined the soprano singer in one single strain, brief as the best joy, but also as decisive. Ninety-nine hundredths of the congregation never heard it, and the majority of those that did could hardly have felt assured of the hearing; there were, in fact, but three persons among them all who were absolutely certain of their ears. One was this .contraband; another an artist who stood at the foot of one of the aisles, leaning against a great stone pillar; the third was, of course, Sybella Ives.
She, the soprano, sang from that moment in a seeming rapture. The artist listened in a sort of maze,—interpreting aright what he had heard, disappointed at its brevity, but waiting on in a kind of wonder through canticle, hymn, and gloria, in a deep abasement that had struck the singer dumb, could she above there have known what was going on here below.
When the singing was over he went away as he had purposed, but it was only to the steps of the church. There he sat until he heard a stir within announcing that the services were ended, when he walked away. But the first person who had heard and understood that voice heard nothing after. He was continually waiting for it, but he had no further sign. Once his attention was for a moment turned towards the preacher, who was dwelling on St. Paul’s allusion to himself as an ambassador in bonds ; he looked at that instant towards Mr. Deane, who, it happened, was at the same moment gazing uneasily at him. After that his eyes did not wander any more, and from his impassive face it was impossible to discover what his thoughts might be.
To go back now a day. or two.
A PLEASANT sound of young voices, that became subdued as the children passed from street to church-yard, rose from the shadowy elm-walk and floated up through the branches towards the window of the organist, who seemed to have been waiting some such summons, for she now threw aside the manuscript music she had been studying, arrayed herself in her shawl, threw a scarf around her head, and looked at the clock. Straight she gazed at it, a moment full, before she seemed instructed in the fact represented on the dial-plate, thinking still, most likely, of the score she had been revising. Some thought at least as profound, as unfathomable, and as immeasurable as was thereon represented, possessed her, as she now, with a glance around the room, retired from it.
With herself in the apartment it was another sort of place from what it looked when she had left it.
There were three pictures on the wall, — three, and no more. One was a copy of the lovely portraiture of Milton’s musical inspired youth; the wonderful eyes, the “breezy hair,” the impassioned purity of the countenance, looked down on the place where the musician might be found three-fourths of her waking hours, at her piano. In other parts of the room, opposite each other, were pictures of the Virgin ever-blessed! conquering, crowned.
In the first she stood with foot upon the Serpent, that lay coiled on the apex of the globe. She had crushed the Destroyer; the world was free of its monster. Beneath her shone the crescent moon, whose horns were sharp as swords. Rays of blessing, streaming from her hands, revealed the Mother of grace and of all benefaction.
Opposite, her apotheosis. A chariot of clouds was bearing her to her throne in heaven ; the loving head was shining with a light that paled the stars above her; far down were the crags of earth, the fearful precipices that lead the weary and adventurous toiler to at last but narrow prospects. Far away now the conquered Devil, and the conquered world, — the foot was withdrawn from destructions,— the writhing of the Enemy was felt now no more.
The organist had bought these pictures for her wall when she had paid her first month’s board in this her present abiding-place.
Towards the centre of the room stood her piano, an instrument of finest tone, whose incasing you would not be likely to admire or observe.
White matting covered the floor. Heaps of music were upon the table and the piano. There were few books to indicate the taste or studies of the owner beside these sheets and volumes of music, and they were everywhere. All that ever was written for organ or piano seemed to have found its way in at the door of that chamber.
On a pedestal in the window stood an orange-tree, whose blossoms filled the room with their bright, soft sweetness; a Parian vase held a bouquet of flowers, gathered, none could question whether for the woman whose room they decorated.
One window of this room looked out on a busy street, another into the churchyard, a third upon the sea : not so remote the sea but oue could hear the breaking of its waves, and watch its changing glory.
Thus she had for “influences” the loneliness of the grave,—for the church-yard was filled with monuments of a past generation,—the solitude of the ocean, and the busy street. Was she so involved in duties, or in cares, as to be unmindful of all these diverse tongues that told their various story in that lofty and lonely apartment of the old stone house ?
Into the church, equally old and gray, covered with ivy, shadowed even to the roof by the vast branching and venerable trees, she now went, — and was not too early. The boys were growing restless, though it needed but the sound of her coming to reduce them all to silence: when they saw her enter the churchdoor, they all went down quietly to their places, opened their books, and no one could mistake their aspect for constraint. Here was the bright, beautiful enthusiasm and blissful confidence of youth.
A few words, and all were in working order. The organist touched the keys. Then a solemn softness, beautiful to see, overspread the young faces. It had never been otherwise since she began to teach them. If she controlled, it was not by exhibition of authority.
At that word, with one consent, the voices struck the first notes of the carol,—
Hence with tears and sighing;
Frost and cold have fled from spring,
Life hath conquered dying;
Flowers are smiling, fields are gay,
Sunny is the weather;
With our rising Lord to-day
All things rise together.”
From strain to strain they bore it along till the old church was glad. How must the birds in the nests of the great elm-branches have rejoiced! And the ivy-vines, did they not cling more closely to the gray stone walls, as if they, too, had something at stake in the music ? for they were the children of the church who sang those strains. Among the wonderworking little company within there was no loitering, no laughing, no twitching of coat-sleeves on the sly, no malicious interruptions : all were alert, earnest, conscientious. They sang with a zeal that brought smiles to the face of the organist.
Two or three songs, carols, anthems, and the lesson was over. Now for the reward. It came promptly, and was worth more than the gifts of others.
“ You have all done excellently well. I knew you would. If I had found myself mistaken, it would have been a great disappointment. ’T is a great thing to be able to sing such verses as if you were eye-witnesses of what you repeat. That is precisely what you do. Now you may go. Go quietly.”
She looked at them all as she spoke ; it was a broad, comprehensive glance, but they all felt individualized by it. Then they came, the six lads, with their bright, handsome faces, pride of a mother’s heart every one, and took her hand, and carried away, each one, her kiss upon his forehead. Not one of them but had been blest beyond expression in .the few halfhours they had been gathered under the instruction of the organist. So they went off, carrying her precious praise with them.
They had scarcely gone, and the organist was yet searching for a sheet of music, when a step was in the aisle, noiseless, rapid, and a young girl came into the singers’ seat.
“Am I too early?” she asked, — for her welcome was not immediate, and her courtesy was not just now of the quality that overlooked a seeming lack of it in others. Miss Ives was slightly out of tune.
“ Not at all,” was the answer. Still it was spoken in a very preoccupied way that might have been provoking, — that would depend on the mood of the person addressed ; and that mood, as we know, was not sun - clear or marble - smooth. The organist had now found the music she was looking tor, and proceeded to play it from the first page to the last, without vouchsafing an instant’s recognition of the singer’s presence.
When she had finished, she sat a moment silent; then she turned straight toward Miss Ives, and smiled, and it was a smile that could atone for any amount of seeming incivility.
But not even David, by mere sweep of harp-string, soothed sell-beleaguered Saul.
Teacher and pupil did not seem to understand each other as it was best such women should. For, let the swaying, surging hosts throughout the valley deliver themselves as they can from the confusion of tongues, the wanderers among the mountains ought to understand the signals they see flaring from crag and gorge and pinnacle.
Too many shadowy folds were in the mystery that hung about each of these women to satisfy the other: reticence too cold, independence too extreme, seltpossession too entire. Why was neither summoned, in a frank, impulsive way, to take up the burden of the other? Was nothing ever to penetrate the seven-walled solitude in which the organist chose to intrench herself? Was nobody ever to bid roses bloom on the colorless face of the singer, and bring smiles, the veritable smiles of youth, and of happiness, into those large, steady, joyless eyes ?
But now, while the organist played, and Sybella sat down, supposing she was not wanted yet, she found herself not withdrawn into the indifference she supposed. Presently far more was given than she either looked for or desired.
The music that was being played was indeed wonderful. This was not for the delight of children : no happy sprite with dancing feet could maintain this measure. It was music for the most advanced, enlightened intelligence,—for the soul that music had quickened to far depths,—for the heart that had suffered, triumphed, and gained the kingdom of calm,—for a wisdom riper even than Sybella’s.
An audience of a hundred souls would infallibly have gabbled their way through the silence that would naturally gather round those tones. Put Sybella in the midst of such an audience, and you would understand her better than I hope now to make her understood ; for the torture of the moment would have been of the quality that has demonstration.
As it was, she now sat silently, as silently as the organist sat in her place ; but when all was over, she turned to look at the magician. Sybella had passed through fearful agitation in the beginning and throughout the greater part of the performance, but now she quietly said,—
“ That is the one sole composition of its author.”
“ Why do you say so ? ” asked the organist, whom people in general called Miss Edgar.
“ Because, of course, everything is in it, — I mean the best ot everything that could be in one soul. If the composer wrote more, it was fragmentary and repetitious. If you played it, Miss Edgar, to put me in a better voice for singing than I had when I came in, I think you have succeeded. I can almost imagine how Jenny Lind felt, when her voice came back to her.'
“ We shall soon see that. I don’t know that the music has ever been played on an organ before. But you see it is a rare production,—little known, — a book of the Law not read out of the sacred place. Let us try that prayer again. You will sing it differently to-day,— I see it in your face.”
“ Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us ! ”
Something had happened to the voice that sang. Never had the organist heard such tones from it before; there was volume, depth, purity, such as had been unheard by those who thought they knew the quality and compass of Sybclla’s voice.
The organist could not forbear turning and looking at her as she sang. Great, evidently, was her emotion. This nature that had been in bonds manifestly had eschewed the bondage. Was the organist glad thereat ? Whose praise would be on everybody’s lips on Sunday, if Sybella sang like tins ? Are women and men generally pleased to hear the praises of a rival ? You have had full hearing, generous, more than patient; do you feel a thrill of the old rapture, a kindling of the old enthusiasm, when you hear the praises of the young new-comer, who has reached you with a stride, and will pass you at a bound ? Since this may be in human nature, say “ Yes” to the catechist. For the organist returned to her duties with a brightened face, she touched the keys with new power. Then, again,—
“ Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father! ”
Had this girl the vision — “ Not far from any one of us ” ?
“ I thought so,” said the organist. “ You come forth at last. This is what I expected, when I overheard you instructing the children in the Sundayschool. Now all that is justified, but you have been a long while about it, — or I have. It seems the right chord was n’t struck. I made these adaptations on purpose for the voice I expected of you.”
“ Is not the arrangement a new one, Mrs. Edgar ? ” asked a voice from one of the aisles. “ It is perfect.”
“ It is a new adaptation, Mr. Muir, and I think Miss Ives will hardly improve on her first rendering. It is getting late also. It is time to look at the hymn,”
Mr. Muir, who was the rector of the church, now passed along the aisle until he was beyond the voices of the ladies in the choir, and then he stood, during the rehearsal of the Faster hymn, —
One repetition of these verses, and the rehearsal was at an end. Never was such before in that place. Never before in reality had organist of St. Peter’s attempted so much. When the choir came together for an hour’s practice, this would be understood. Miss Ives already understood it.
“ Now indulge me,” she said, “ if I have been so fortunate as to satisfy — satisfy you.”
In consequence of this request the organist kept her place till night had actually descended. Out of all oratorios, and from many an opera, she brought the immortal graces, and all conceivable renderings of passions, fears, and aspirations of men. At last, and as it seemed quite suddenly, she broke off, closed the organ-doors and locked them, then rose from her place.
A dark figure at the same moment passed up the aisle from the church to the vestry-room in the rear, and organist and singer left the church.
“ I BELIEVE,” said Sybella, as they went, venturing now, while aglow with the music, on what heretofore had been forbidden ground to her,—“I believe, if von would sing, I should be struck dumb, just as now, when you play, I feel as if I could do anything in song. why do you never show me how a thing should be done by singing it ? I’ve had teachers with voices hoarse as crows’, who did it; and I profited, for I understood better what they meant. It seems to me to be the natural impulse, and I don’t know how you control it; for of course you do control it.”
That was a venture, felt in all its venturesomeness, answered not with encouragement.
“ It is all nonsense,” said Miss Edgar.
“ I expected you to say so; but’t is a scant covering for the truth. For have I never heard you sing ? When I was a little girl, my brothers and I were sent to some springs in the mountains. While we were there, one day a party of people came on horseback. They were very gay, and one of them sang. It has come back to me so often, that day! So still, bright, and cool! Did you ever hear singing in the Highland solitudes? When I sing my best, I always seem to hear that voice again. Do you think I never shall ? ”
“ Do you think it possible that such an effect as you describe should be repeated ? Evidently the outcome of some highwrought, rapt state of your own, rather than the result of any singer’s skill. It may happen you will never hear a voice like that again. But you may make far better melody yourself. If you like my organ-music, don’t ask me for better. A little instrumental performance is all I have to give.”
“ But,” said Sybella, holding to the point with a persistence that showed she would not be lightly baffled, “ her face haunted me, too. And I have seen it since then, — engraved, I am sure. Sometimes, when I look at you suddenly, I seem to take hold upon my childhood again.”
They had passed from the yard, and walked, neither of them knew exactly whither; but now said the organist abruptly, —
“ Why have you never shown me where you live?”
A light that had warmth in it flashed over the pale face of Sybella.
“ I will show you now,” she said.
And so they walked on together, with a distinct aim, — Sybella the guide. She seemed tranquilly happy at this moment, and fain would she lay her heart in the hand of the organist; for a great trust had composed the heart that long since withdrew its riches from the world, and hid them for the coming of one who should take usury. How long he was in coming! how strangely long! rare worldliness! almost it seemed that now she would wait no longer, for the gold must be given away.
“Why do you sing, Sybella?” asked Miss Edgar, as they went.
“ Why did I stop singing ? ” asked the young lady in turn; this stiff, shy,proud creature, what flame might one soon see flaring out of those blue eyes !
“ I knew there had been a break,— that there must have been.”
“ For two years I did nothing but wait in silence.”
“ What,— for the voice to come back ? overwork ? paying a penalty? ”
“ No, — not the penalty of overwork, at least. I lost everything in a moment. That was penalty, perhaps, for having risked everything. I have only recently been getting back a little: no, getting back nothing,—but some new life, out of a new world, I think. A different world from what I ever thought to inhabit. New to me as the earth was to Noah after the Flood. He could n’t turn a spade but he laid open graves, nor pull a flower but it broke his heart. I should never have been in the church-choir but for you. Of that I am satisfied. When you came and asked me, you saw, perhaps, that I was excited more than so slight a matter warranted. It was, indeed, a simple enough request. Not surprising that you should discover, one way or another, I could sing. And there was need enough of a singer with such an organist. But you never could guess what I went through after I had promised, till the Sunday came. You remember how astonished you were when I came into the choir. I was afraid you were going to excuse me from my part. But you at least understood something of it; you did not even ask if I were not ill. It seems a long time since then.”
A little to the organist’s surprise, it was into a broad and handsome street that Sybella now led the way, and before the door of a very handsome house she stopped.
“ Will you not come in and discover where I live, and how ? It will be too late in a moment for you to go back alone. I shall find somebody to attend you.”
“ In the ten months I have played the organ of St. Peter’s Church I have not entered another person’s dwelling than my own. I set aside a purpose that must still be rigidly held, for you. Possibly you may incur some danger in receiving me.”
“ Come in,” said Sybella; and she led the way into the house. For one instant she had looked her surprise at Miss Edgar’s last words, but not for half an instant did she look the hesitation such words might have occasioned.
The house into which they passed did not, in truth, look like one to suffer in. Walls lined with pictures, ceilings hung with costly chandeliers, floors covered with softest, finest carpets of most brilliant patterns, this seemed like a place for enjoyment, designed by happy hearts. It was: all this wealth, and elaboration of its evidences, — this covering of what might have looked like display by the careful veil of taste. But the house was the home of orphaned children, —of this girl, and three brothers, who were united in their love for Sybella, but on few other points. And curious was the revelation their love had. For they were worldly men-, absorbed in various ways by the world, and Sybella lived alone here, as she said, though the house was the home of all; for one was now abroad, and one was in the army, and one was — who knew where ?
In the drawing-room it was about the piano that the evidences of real life and actual enjoyment were gathered. Flowers filled a dozen vases grouped on tables, ornamenting brackets, flower-stands, and pedestals of various kinds. The grand piano seemed the base of a glowing and fragrant pyramid; and there, it was easy to see, musical studies by day and by night went on.
Straight toward the piano both ladies went.
Now, for once,” said the organist.
Sybella stood a moment doubting, then she turned to a book-rack and began to look over some loose sheets of music. Presently desisting, she came back. One steady purpose had been in her mind all the while. She now sat down and produced from the piano what the organist had astonished her by executing in the church. But it seemed a variation.
The work of a moment ? an effort of memory ? a wonderful recall of what she had just now heard ? The organist did not imagine such a thing. There was, there could be, only one solution to anything so mysterious. She came nearer to Sybella; invisible arms of succor seemed flung about the girl, who played as she had never played before, — as weeping mortals smile, when they are safe in heaven.
When she had finished, many minutes passed before either spoke a word. At last Sybella said, —
“ He told me there was no written copy of this thing he could secure for me, but that I must have it; so he wrote it from memory, and I elaborated the idea I had from his description, making some mistakes, I find. I am speaking,” she added, with a resolution so determined that it had almost the sound of defiance, — “I am speaking of Adam von Gelhorn.”
“ When was this ? ”
“ In our last days.”
“ He is dead, then ? ”
“ How long ? ”
“ Three years.”
Whether the organist remained here after this, or if other words were added to these by the hostess or the guest, there is no report. But I can imagine that in such an hour, even between these two, little could be said. Yesterday I saw on a monument a little bird perched, quite content, and still, so far as song went, as the dead beneath him and around me. He was throbbing from far flight; silence and rest were all he could now endure. But by-and-by he shook his wings and was off again, and nobody that saw him could tell where in the sea of air the voyager found his last island of refreshment.
ON Miss Edgar’s return to her room, as she opened the door, a flood of fragrance rolled upon her. She put up her hand in hasty gesture, as if to rebuke or resist it, while a shade of displeasure crossed her face. On the piano lay a bouquet of flowers, richest in hue and fragrance that garden or hot-house knows. All the season’s splendor seemed concentrated within those narrow bounds.
The gas was already burning from a single jet, which she approached without observing the unusual fact, for the organist was accustomed in this room herself to control light and darkness.
One glance only was needed to convince her through what avenue this flowery gift had come.
Such gifts were offerings of more than common significance. Their renewal at this day seemed to disturb the organist as she turned the bouquet slowly in her hand and perceived how the old arrangement had been adhered to, from passionflower to camellia, whitest white lily, and most delicate of roses; moss and vinetendril, jessamine, heliotrope, violet, ivy : it was a work of Art consummating that of Nature, and complete.
With the bouquet in her hand, she went and sat down at the window. It was easy to see, by the changes of countenance, that she was fast assuming the reins of a resolution. Would the door of the organist of St. Peter’s never open but to guests ethereal as these ? The question was somehow asked, and she could not choose but hear it.
If he who sent the gift had pondered it, no less did she. And for result, at an early hour the next morning, the lady who had lived her life in sovereign independence and an almost absolute solitude, week after week these many months here in H—, was on her way to the studio of Adam von Gelhorn.
As to the lady, what image has the reader conjured up to fancy ? Any vision ? She was the shadow of a woman. Rachel, in her last days, not more ethereal. Two pale-faced, blue-eyed women could not be more dissimilar than the organist and her soprano. For the organist plainly was herself, with merely an abatement, that might have risen from anxiety, work, or study; whatever her disturbance, she made no exhibition of it ; it was always a tranquil face, and no storms or wrecks were discoverable in those deep blue eyes. What those few faint lines on her countenance might mean she does not choose you shall interpret; therefore attempt it not. But when you look at Sybella, it is sorrow you see ; and she says as plainly as if you heard her voice, —
“ I have come to the great state where I expect nothing and am content.”
Yet content! Is it content you read in her face, in her smile ? Is it satisfaction that can gaze out thus upon the world ?
It is sorrow rather,— and sorrow, with a questioning thereat, that seems prophetic of an answer that shall yet overthrow all the grim deductions, and restore the early Imaginings, pure hopes, desires, and loving aims.
You will choose to gaze rather after this shadowy vision of the fair, golden hair that lies tranquilly on the high and beautiful forehead ; the face, pale as pallor itself, which seems to have no color, except in eyes and lips: the eyes so large and blue ; the lips with their story of firm courage and true genius, so grand in calm. A figure, however, not likely to attract the many, but whom it held for once it held forever.
So the organist came to the room of Adam von Gelhorn.
She knew his working hours and habits, it seemed ; at least, she did not fail to find him, and at work.
As she stepped forward into the apartment, before whose door she had paused a moment, no trace of embarrassment or of irresolution was to be seen in face, eye, or movement.
But the artist, who arose from his work, was taken by surprise.
The armor of the world did not suffice to protect him at this moment. He was at the mercy of the woman who was here.
“ Mrs. Edgar ! ”
“ Here ! ”
“ To thank you for the flowers, and to warn you that setting them in deserts is neither safe nor providential.”
And now her eyes ran round the room, — a flash in which was sheathed a smile of satisfaction and of friendly pride. She had come here full of reproaches, but surely there was some enchantment against her.
“ You will order a picture, perhaps ? ” said the artist, restored to at least an appearance of ease.
But his eyes did not follow hers. They stopped with her: with some misgiving, some doubt, some perplexity, for he knew not perfectly the ground on which he stood.
“You have been twice to see me, and both times have missed me,” she said. “ I was sorry for that. I did not know until then that you were living here.”
“ But what does it mean, that nobody in H—has heard the voice yet? It has distracted me to think, perhaps, some harm has come to it.”
“ Let that fear rest. The voice has had its day. I left it behind me at Havre. Any repetition of what we used to imagine were triumphs in the wonderful Düsseldorf days would now seem absurd, to the painter of these pictures, as to me.”
“ They were triumphs ! Besides, have you forgotten ? Was it not in New York, in '58, that you imported the voice from Havre, left behind by mistake ? What more could be asked than to inspire a town with enthusiasm, so that the dullest should feel the contagion ? They were triumphs such as women have seldom achieved. If you disdain them, recollect that human nature is still the same, and all that I have done is under the inspiration of a voice that broke on me in Düsseldorf, and opened heaven. And people find some pleasure in my pictures.”
“ Well may they ! You, also. You have kept that power separate from sinners, unless I mistake. If it be my music, or the face yonder, that has helped you, or something else, unconfessed, perhaps unknown, you can, I perceive, at least love Art worthily, and be constant. As for St. Peter’s, and myself, I find the fine organ there quite enough, with the boys to train and Miss Sybella Ives to instruct. It is n’t much I can do for her, though ; she is already a great and wonderful artist.”
“ Is it possible you think so ! ”
Was it really wonder at the judgment she heard in that exclamation ? The voice sounded void of all except wonder, — yet wonder, perhaps, least of all was paramount in the pavilion of his secret thoughts.
“ Decidedly. But I only engaged there as organist. I find sufficient pleasure instructing the young lady, without feeling ambitious to appear there as her rival.”
“ But you know she is not a professional singer ” : these words escaped the artist in spite of him. “ She is an heiress of one of the wealthiest old families of this old town.”
“ Nevertheless, she is growing so rarely in these days I would not for the world check that growth, as I see I might. Besides. I am selfish; it’s best for me to keep to my engagement, and not volunteer anything.”
“ And so we who have memories must rest content with them. I am glad you tell me, if it must be so. I have not haunted you, and I feel as if I almost deserved your thanks on that account. I’ve haunted the church, though, but "—
“ Miss Ives sings better than she did, — too well for such a girl in such a place.”
“ Why ? ”
“ Because, as I said before, neither Art nor fortune justifies her, and what she gets will spoil her.”
He ended in confusion; some thought unexpressed overthrew him just here, and he could not instantly gather himself up again.
“Do not fear,” was the calm answer. “ She is sacredly safe from that, — as safe as I am. For so young a person, she is rich in safeguards, though she seems to be alone; and she is brave enough to use them. If you come to t the church to-morrow, you will be converted from the error of some of your worst thoughts.”
“ I told you in secret once, Heaven knows under what insane infatuation, what I could tell you now with husband or child for audience, — there is, there has ever been, but one voice for me.”
For answer the organist lifted the lid of the artist’s piano, touched a few notes, and sang.
Was that the voice that once brought out the applause of the people, rushing and roaring like the waves of the sea ?
The same, etherealized, strengthened, — meeting the desire of the trained and cultured man, as once it had the impassioned aspiration of youth.
He stood there, as of old, completely subject to her will; and of old she had worked for good, as one of God’s accredited angels. Every evil passion in those days had stood rebuked before the charmed circle of her influences : a voice to long for as the hart longs for the water - brooks ; a spirit to trust for work, or for love, or for truth, — “ truest truth,” and stanchest loyalty, as one might trust those who are delivered forever from the power of temptation.
When she had ended the song, she had indeed ended. Not one note more. Closing the piano, she walked about the room, looking at his pictures one after another, pausing long before some, but the silence in which she made the circuit was unbroken.
At last she came to the last-painted picture, where a soldier lay dying, with glory on his face, victory in his eyes, Beside this she remained.
“ There’s many a realization of that dream,” she said.
The words seemed to sting the artist as though she had said instead, “ Here’s one who is in no danger of realizing it.”
“ I thought,” said he, “ I might one day prove for myself the emotions attributed to that soldier.”
She hesitated before answering. A vision rose before her, — a vision of fields covered with the slain, unburied dead. Here the paths of honor were cut short by the grave. She looked at Adam von Gelhorn. Here was no warrior except for courage, no knight but for chivalry. Yet how proudly his eyes met hers! What was this glance that seemed suddenly to fall upon her from some unbroken, awful height ? It was a great thing to say, with the knowledge that came with that glance,—
“Do you no longer think so? Patriotism has its tests. This war will be long enough to sift enthusiasms.”
Humbly he answered, —
“ I wait my time.”
Then, urged on by two motives, distinct, yet confluent, and so all-powerful, —
“ Strange army, Adam, if all the soldiers waited for it.”
He answered her as mildly as before, but with quite as deep assurance, —
“Not a man of them but has heard his name called. The time of a man is his own. The trumpet sounds, and though he; were dead, yet shall he live.”
“ And do you wait that sound ? Then verily you may remain here safely, and paint fine pictures of wounded men on awful battle-fields.”
The artist looked at the woman. Did she speak to test his patience, or his courage, or his loyalty ? Gravely he answered, true to himself, though baffled in his endeavor to read what she chose to conceal, —
“ Once I took everything you said as if you were inspired, for I believed you were. For years I have been accustomed to think of your approval, and wait for it, and long for it; for I always knew you would finally stand here in the midst of my work as the one thing that should prove to me it was good. If you could only know what sort of value I have set on the praise of critics while waiting for yours; you would deem me ungrateful. But I knew you would come. You are here, then, — and I perceive, though you do not say so, that I have not wasted time; often, while I was painting that hero yonder, I said to myself, ‘ Better die than hold on to life or self a moment after the voice calls! ’ Julia, it has called ! ”
This was spoken quietly enough, but with the deep feeling that seeks neither outlet nor consolation in sound. Having spoken, he went up to his easel, cut away the canvas with long, even knifestrokes, set aside the frame. He was ready. And now he waited further orders, — looking at the woman who had accomplished so much.
She did not, by gesture or word, interrupt him; but when he stood absolutely motionless and silent, as if more were to be said, and by her, she evidently faltered.
“ Give me the canvas,” she said.
“ Your trophy.”
He gave it her with a smile.
“ No; but if a trophy, worth more than could be told. There ’s nobler work for you to do than painting pictures. Atonement, — reconciliation, — sacrifice.”
“ Where ? when ? how ? ”
He put these questions with a distinctness that required answer.
“ Your heart will tell you.”
He had his answer.
“ And the portrait yonder, that will tell you. It is not hers, you will say. But it is not mine, nor a vision, except as you have glorified her. In spite of yourself, you are true. And in spite of herself, Sybella believes in you.”
“ Such a collection of incoherent fragments from the lips of an artist accustomed to treat of unities, — it is incomprehensible.”
So the painter began ; but he ended,—
“ When I come back from battle, I will think of what you say. I do believe in my own integrity as firmly as I trust my loyalty.”
There was a rare gentleness in the man’s voice that seemed to say that mists were rising to envelop the summits of the mountains, and he looked forth, not to the bald heights, but along the purple heather-reaches, where any human feet might walk, finding pleasant paths, fair flowers, cool shades, and blessed reflections of heaven.
THE rector of St. Peter’s sat in the vestry-room, which he used for his study, when there came an interruption to the even tenor of his orthodox thinking.
Whoever sought him did so with a determination that carried the various doors between him and the study, and at last came the knock, of which he sat in momentary dread. It expressed the outsider so imperatively, that the minister at once laid aside his pen, and opened the door. And, alas ! it was Saturday, p. M., — Easter at hand!
He should have been glad, of course, of the cordial hand-grasp with which his stanch supporter, Gerald Deane, saluted him ; but he had been interrupted in necessary work, and his face betrayed him. It told unqualified surprise, that, at such an hour, he had the honor of a visit from the warden.
The warden, however, was absorbed in his own business to an extent that prevented him from seeing what the minister’s mood might be. He began to speak the moment he had thrown himself into the arm-chair opposite Mr. Muir.
“ Do yon know,” said he, “ what sort of person we’ve got here in our organist ? ”
Indignant was the speaker’s voice, and indignant were his eyes ; he spoke quick, breathed hard, showed all the signs of violent emotion.
The minister’s bland face had a puzzled expression, as he answered,—
“ A first-rate musician, Deane, — and a lady. That’s about the extent of my information.”
“ A Rebel! and the wife of a Rebel! ” was Deane’s wrathful answer.
Hitherto, what had he not said or done in the way of supporting the organist ?
“ A Rebel ? ” exclaimed the minister, thrown suddenly off his guard.
He might have heard calumny uttered against one under his tender care by the way that single word burst from him.
“ The wife of a Rebel general, and a spy! ”
Deane’s voice made one think of the Inquisition, and of inevitable forfeitures, unfailing executions of unrelenting judgments.
“For a spy, she makes poor use of her advantages,” said the minister. “She’s never anywhere, that I can learn, except in the church and her own room.”
“I dare say anybody will believe that whom she chooses to have believe it. How do you or I know what she is ? or where ? or what she does ? We ’re not the kind of men for her to take into confidence. She is evidently shrewd enough to see that it would n’t be safe to tamper with us ! But we must get rid of her, or we shall have the organ demolished and the church about our ears. Let the mob once suspect that we employ a spy here to do our music for us, and see what our chance would be ! There’s no use asking for proof. There ’s a young man in my storehouse, a contraband, who recognized her somewhere in the street this morning, and he says she is the wife of the Rebel General Edgar ; and if it’s true, and there’s no question about that, I say she ought to be arrested.”
“ Pooh ! pooh ! ” — the minister was thrown off his guard, and failed to estimate aright the kind of patriotism he bluffed off with so little ceremony;— “ the negro ”—
“ Negro ! face as white as mine, Sir! Well, yes, negro, I suppose,—slave, any way, — do you want him summoned in here? Do you want to see him? He gives his testimony intelligently enough. Or shall we send for Mrs. Edgar? For it’s high time she were thrown on her own resources, instead of being maintained at our expense for the benefit of the enemy.”
Precisely as he finished speaking sounded a peal from the great organ, and Mr. Deane just half understood the look on the minister’s face as he turned from him to listen.
A better understanding would have kept him silent longer; but, unable to control himself, he said, —
“ We ’re buying that at too high a price. Better go back to drunken Mallard,— a great sight better. McClellan would tell us so ; so would Jeff Davis.”
“ What can be done? ” asked the minister.
Never had that good man looked and felt so helpless as at this moment. His words, and still more his look, vexed and surprised the ever-ready Deane.
“ Exactly what would be done, if the woman played fifty times worse, and looked like a beggar. A medium performer with an ugly visage would not find us stumbling against duty. No respect should be shown to persons, when such a charge is brought up. The facts must be tested, and Miss Edgar— What ’s the reason she never owned she was a Mrs. ? ”
“ Why, Deane, did yon ever hear me address her or speak of her in any other way ? I knew she was a married woman.”
“Did you know she had a husband living, too ? ”
Mr. Muir spoke as if it were beneath him to suppose that use was to be made, to the damage of the woman, of such acknowledgment.
“ It don’t look well that people in general are ignorant of the fact. I tell you it’s suspicious. It strikes me I never heard anybody call her anything but Miss Edgar. Excuse me; of course you knew better.”
“ Yes, and some beside myself. She told me she was a married woman. But really, Deane, we could n’t expect, especially of a woman who has been living for months, as it seems to me, in absolute retirement, that she should go about making explanations in regard to her private affairs. I have inferred, I confess, that she had in some unfortunate manner terminated her union with her husband; and I have always hoped that her coming here might prove a providential, happy thing,—that somehow she might find her way out of trouble, and resume, what has evidently been broken off, a peaceful and happy life. She is familiar with happiness.”
“ Well, Sir ! ” Deane exploded on the preacher’s mildness, of which he had grown in the last few seconds terribly impatient, “ I don’t know how far Christian charity may go, — a great way farther, it seems, than it need to, if it will submit to the impertinence of a traitor’s coming among us and accepting our support, at the same time that she takes advantage of her sex and position to betray us. For that business stands just where it did before. There is n’t the slightest doubt that she will find abettors enough who are as false and daring and impudent as herself. Whether we shall suffer them is a question, it seems. Excuse my plain speaking, but I am surprised all round.”
“ No more than I am, Mr. Deane. It is, as you say, our duty immediately to examine into this business; but we cannot, look at it as you will, we cannot do so with too much caution. It is a disagreeable errand for a man to undertake. Let us at least defer judgment for the present. I will speak to Mrs. Edgar about it myself, and communicate the result immediately to you. Do you prefer to remain here till I return ? ”
He arose as he spoke, but Deane rose also. It had at last penetrated the brain of this most shrewd, but also very dull man, that the business might be conducted with courtesy, and that a little skill might manage it as effectually as a good deal of courage.
“ No, no,” he said; “he could trust the business to the minister. Liked to do so, of course. If there was any shame or remorse in the woman, Mr. Muir was the proper person to deal with it.”
And so Deane retired.
But when he was gone, the minister stood listening to his departing steps as long as they could be heard ; then he sat down in his study-chair, and seemed in no haste to go about the. business with which he stood commissioned.
Still the organ-music wandered through the church. Prayer of Moses, Miserere, De Profundis, the Voice of One crying in*the Wilderness, a Song in the Night, the darkness of desolation rifted only by the cry for deliverance, tragic human experience, exhausted human hope, and dying faith, —he seemed to interpret the sounds as they swept from the organloft and wandered darkly down the nave among the great stone pillars, till they stood, a dismal congregation, at the low door of the vestry-room, pleading with him for her who sent them thither, and astounding him by the hot calumniation that preceded them.
At last, for he was a man to do his duty, in spite of whatsoever shrinking, — and if this accusation were true, it would be indeed hard to forgive, impossible to overlook the offence,—the minister walked out from the vestry into the church.
The organist must have heard him coming, for she broke off suddenly, and dismissed the boy who worked the bellows, at the same moment herself rising to depart.
Just then the minister ascended the steps that led into the choir.
She had no purpose to remain a moment, and merely paused for civil speech, choosing, however, that he should see she was detained.
He did not accept the signs, and, with his usual grave deference to the will of others in things trivial, allow her to pass. He said, instead,—
“ Mrs. Edgar, I wish you might give me a moment, though I do not see how what I have undertaken can be said in that length of time. I choose that you should hear from one who wishes you nothing but good the strange story that troubles me.”
“ I remain, Mr. Muir,” was the answer ; and she sat down.
The subject was too disagreeable for him to dally with it. If the charge were a true one, no consideration was due ; if untrue, the sooner that was made apparent, the better.
“ It is said that the organist of St. Peter’s is not as loyal a citizen of the United States as might be hoped by those who admire and trust her most; and not only so, but that she is the wife of a Rebel leader, and in communication with Rebels. It sounds harsh, but I speak as a friend. I do not credit these things; but they ’re said, and I repeat them to relieve others of what they might deem a duty.”
Swiftly on his words came her answer.
“ You have not believed it, Sir ? ”
Looking at her, it was the easiest thing for the minister to feel and say, — and, oh, how he wished for Deane ! —
“ Not one word of it, Madam.”
“ That is sufficient,—sufficient, at least, for me. But do they, does any one, desire that I should take the oath of fealty to the Constitution and to the Government ? I am ready to do either, or both. I hardly reverence the Constitution more than I do the man who is at the head of our affairs. To me he is the hero of this age.”
The minister smiled, — a cordial smile, right trustful, cordial, glad.
“ It may be well,” said he. “ These are strange days to live in, and we all abhor suspicion of our loyalty. Besides, it may be necessary ; for suspicion of this character is an ungovernable passion now. For myself, I should never have asked these questions ; but it is merely right that you should know the whole truth. A person who reports of himself that he has escaped from Charleston avers that he has recognized in the organist of St. Peter’s the wife of General Edgar. I don’t know the man’s name. But his statement has reached me directly. I give you information I might have withheld, because I perfectly trust both the citizen and the lady who has rendered us such noble service here.”
“ And such trust, I may say, is my right. I shall not forfeit it,” said the organist, rising. “ I am ready, at any time, to take the oath, and to bear my own responsibilities, Mr. Muir. I have neither fellowship nor communication with Rebels, and I deem it a strange insult to be called a spy. ’T is a great pity one should stay here to vex himself with puerile gossip.”
She pointed to the stained windows emblazoned with sacred symbols, glorious now with sunlight, bowed, and was gone.
THERE came, on Easter night, to the door of the organist’s apartment, the “contraband” who at present was sojourning under the protection of Mr. Gerald Deane.
The hour was not early. Evening service was over, and Julius had waited a reasonable length of time, that his errand might be delivered when she should be at leisure. He might safely have gone at once ; for guests never came at night, and rarely by day,— the organist’s wish being perfectly understood among the very few with whom she came in contact, and she being consequently “ let alone ” with what some might have deemed “ a vengeance.” But it satisfied her, and no other dealing would.
Either this man — Julius Hopkins was his name — had not so recently come to H—as to be a stranger in any quarter of the town, or he had made use of his time here; for he seemed familiar with the streets and alleys as an old resident.
To find the organist was not difficult, when one had come within sight of the lofty spire of the church, for it was under its shadow she lived; but if he had been accustomed to carry messages to her door for years, he could not now have presented himself with fuller confidence as to what he should find.
When Mrs. Edgar opened the door, not a word was needed, as if these were strangers who stood face to face. In her countenance, indeed, was emotion,—unmeasured surprise ; in her manner, momentary indecision. But the surprise passed into a lofty kindliness of manner, and the indecision gave place to the most entire freedom from embarrassment. She cut short the words he began to speak with an authoritative, though most quiet,—
“ Julius, come in.”
It was not as one addresses the servant of a friend, but spoken with an authority which the man instantly acknowledged by obedience. He came into the room, closed the door, and waited till she should speak. She asked, —
“ Why are you here ? ”
He answered as if unaware that any great change had taken place in their relations.
“ My master sent me. At last I have found my mistress. It took me a great while.”
“ Is your master still in arms ? ”
The man bowed.
“ Against the Government ?”
“ He says, for the Government.”
“ Of Rebels ? ”
He bowed again.
“ Then, there is no answer, — can be none. Did he not foresee it ?”
The slave did not answer. What words that he came commissioned to speak could respond to the anguish her voice betrayed ? She spoke again ; she had recovered from the surprise of her distress, and, looking now at Julius, said, —
“ You are excused from replying ; but — you do not, in any event, propose to return home ? ”
“ Yes, Madam, yes, — immediately, immediately.”
It was the first time he had discovered this purpose, and he did so with a vehemence expressive of desire to vindicate himself where he should be understood. She answered slowly, but she did not seem amazed, as Deane would infallibly have been, as you and I had been,—such doubting worshippers, after all, of the great heroic.
“ Do you not hear, Julius, everywhere, that you are a freeman ? Is it possible no one has told you so? Do you not know it for yourself? It is likely.”
“ It don’t signify. I tended him through one course, — he got a bad cut, Master did, — and I ’ll take care of him again. I a’n’t through till he is.”
“ Is he well ? ”
“ Thanks to me, and the Lord, he is well of the wound again, and gone to work.”
At the pause that now ensued, as if he had only been waiting for this, the slave approached nearer to his mistress; but he did not lift his eyes, — he desired but to serve. She was so proud, he thought, — always was ; if he could only get himself out of the way, and let this ugly, cruel business right itself without a witness ! Master knew how to plead better than any one could for him. He produced a tiny case of chamois-leather.
“Master sent you this,” he said; and it seemed as if he would have given it into her very hands; but they were folded ; so he laid it on the edge of the piano, and stepped back a pace. He knew there was no need for him to explain.
Well she understood. Her husband had done his utmost to secure a reconciliation. Love had its rights, its sacrifices ; with these she had to do, and not with his official conduct and public acts.
She knew well what that trifle of a chamois case contained. It was the miniature of their child, the little one of earth no more, but heaven - born : the winged child, with the flame above its head,— symbols with which, of old, they loved to represent Genius. This miniature was set in diamonds; it was the mother’s gift to the father of the child: this woman’s gift to the man whom loyal men to-day call traitor, rebel, alien, enemy.
And thus he appealed to her. Oh, tender was the voice! This love that called had in its utterances proof that it held by its immortality. The love that pleaded with her appealed to recollections the most sacred, the most dear, the perpetual,— knowing what was in her heart, knowing how it would respond.
But there, where Julius left the miniature, it lay; a letter beside it now, and a purse of gold, —pure gold, — not a Confederate note among it.
Poor Julia Edgar ! she need not open the case that shone with such starry splendor. Never could be hidden from her eyes the face of the child. How should she not see again, in all its beauty, the garden where her darling had played, little hands filled full of blooms, little face whose smiling was as that of angels, butterflies sporting around her as the wonderful one of old flitted about St. Rose,— alas! with as sure a prophecy as that black and golden one ? How clearly she saw again, through heavy clouds of tears that never broke, the garden’s glory, all its peace, its happiness, its pride, and love !
No argument, no word, could have pleaded for the father of the child like this. But it was love pleading against love, — Earth’s beseeching and need, against Heaven’s warning and sufficience.
At last she spoke again.
“ What is your reward, Julius, for all this danger you've incurred for him, and for me ? ”
“ He said it should be my liberty.”
How he spoke those words ! LIBERTY! it was the golden dream of the man’s life, yet he named it with a selfcontrol that commanded her admiration and reverence.
“I give it to you at this moment, here ! ” she said.
For an instant the slave seemed to hesitate ; but the hesitation was of utterance merely, not of will.
“My errand is n’t half done, Madam. I never broke my word yet. I ’ll go back.”
“ Tell him, then, that I gave you your freedom, and you would not accept it. And — go back ! ’t is a noble resolve, worthy of you. Take the purse. I do not need it. Say that I have no need of it. And you will, perhaps.”
No other message for him ? Not one word from herself to him ! For she knew where safety lay.
The slave looked at her, helpless, hopeless, with indecision. The woman was incomprehensible. He had set out on his errand, had persevered through difficulties, and had withstood temptations too many to be written here, with not a doubt as to the success that would attend him. He remembered the wife of General Edgar in her home; to that home of happy love and noble hospitality, and of all social dignities, he had no doubt he should restore her. But now, humbled by defeat, he said, —
“ I ’ve looked a great while for you, Madam. I would never ’a’ give up, though, if I ’d gone to Maine or Labrador, and round by the Rocky Mountains, hunting for you. I heard you singing in the church this morning, and I knew your voice, Though it did n’t sound natural right, — but I knew it was nobody else’s voice, — as if the North mostly had n’t agreed with it. And I heard it yesterday somewhere, — that ’s what ’sured me. I was going along the street, when I heard it; but it was not this house you were in.”
“ And it was you, then, Julius, who betrayed me to the person who supposes himself to be your protector, — and this because you thought surely I must be glad to return, when I had lost, my friends here through ill report ! Is that the way your war is carried on ? ”
“ My war, Madam ? ”
But Julius did not look at his mistress; he looked away, and shrugged his shoulders. The device of which he was convicted had seemed to him so good, so sure, nevertheless had failed.
She had scarcely finished speaking, when a note was brought to the door. It was from Adam von Gelhorn.
“ I am making my preparations to go at nine to-morrow,” said the note. “ Will you come to the church before ? I would like to remember having seen you there last, at the organ. There ’s a bit of news just reached me, said to be a secret. General Edgar’s command aims at preventing the junction of our forces before Y—. He is strong enough, numerically, to overthrow either division in separate conflict, and this is his Napoleonic strategy. But he will be outwitted. There’s no doubt of it. Do not despair of our cause, whatever you hear during the coming fortnight. I shall report myself immediately to McClellan, and he may make a drummer-boy of me, if he will. Henceforth I am at his service till the war ends.
“ VON G—. ”
Thrice she read this note ; when her eyes lifted at last, Julius was still standing where she had left him. She started, seeing him, as if his presence there at the moment took a new significance; her heart fainted within her.
Had he heard this secret of which Von Gelhorn spoke ? It was her husband’s life that was in jeopardy!
“ When are you going, Julius ? ” she asked.
“ To-morrow. Oh, Madam, give me some word for him ! ”
Red horror of death, how it rises before her sight ! She shuddered, cowered, sank before the blackness of darkness that followed fast on that terrific spectacle of carnage, before which a whirlwind seemed to have planted her. She heard the cries and yells, the groans and curses of bleeding, dying men; saw banners in the dust, horsemen and horses crushed under the great guns, mortality in fragments, heaps upon heaps of ruin on the field Aceldama.
Where was he ? Who would search among the slain for him ? Who from among the dying would rescue him ?
Who will stanch his bleeding wounds? Who will moisten his parched lips ? Whose voice sound in the ears that have heard the roar of guns amid the crash of battle ? What hand shall bathe and fan that brow ? What eyes shall watch till those eyelids unlock, and catch the whisper of those lips? Nay, who will save his life from the needless sacrifice ? tell him that his plans are known, warn him back, warn him of spies and of treachery? Has Julius betrayed him ?
She looked at the slave. But before she looked, her heart reproached her for having doubted him.
“ You will need this gold,” she said. “ Take it. Restore the miniature to your master. And go, — go at once. If success be in store for him, I share not the shame of it. If defeat, adversity, sickness, — your master knows his wife fears but one thing, has fled but from one thing. Her heart is with him, but she abhors the cause to which he has given himself. She will not share his crime,”
Difficult as these words were to speak, she spoke them without faltering, and they admitted no discussion.
The slave lingered yet longer, but there was no more that she would say. Assured at last of that, he said,—
“ I obey you,” and was gone.
He was gone,—gone ! and she had betrayed nothing,—had given no warning, — had uttered not a word by which the life that was of all lives most precious to her might have been saved !
BY eight o’clock next morning Mrs. Edgar was in the church. Von Gelhorn preceded her by five minutes; he was walking up the aisle when she entered, impatient for her appearing, eager to be gone, — wondering, boy-like, that she came not.
He has performed a prodigious amount of labor since they last met. His pictures were all removed to the Odeon, he said. His studio, haunt of dreams, beloved of fame so long, stripped and barren, looked like any other four-walled room, —and he, a freeman, stood equipped for service.
Yes, an hour would see him speeding to the capital. In less time than it had taken him to perfect his arrangements he should be at the head-quarters of the commander-in-chief,— to be made a drummer-boy of, as he said before, or serve wherever there should be room for him.
He stood there so bright, so ready, eager, daring, was capable of so much ! What had she done to usurp the functions of conscience, and assume the voice of duty ? She had done what she could not revoke, and yet could not contemplate without a sort of terror, — as if to atone, to make amends for disloyalty, which, coming even as from herself, a crime in which she had chief concernment, was not to be atoned for by repentance merely, nor by any sacrifices less than the costliest. She had sought her husband’s peer,—deemed that she had found him, — therefore would despatch him to the battle-field, by valor to meet the valiant. But now the light by which she had hurried forward to that deed was gone, and she stood as a prophetess may, who, deserted of the divinity, doubts the testimony of her hour of exaltation.
While they talked, — both apparently standing at an elevation of serene courage above the level of even warring men and heroic women, but one causing such misgiving in her heart as to fix her in that mood, and forbid an extrication, — Fate led a lady down the street, who, passing by the church and seeing the door ajar, went in. She should find in the choir some written music, used in yesterday’s services, which she had forgotten to bring away. Out of the pure, bright sunshine she stepped into the dark, cold shadows, and had come to the choir before she heard the voices speaking there. Shrined saints that hold your throne-like niches in the old stone walls! gilded cherubim that hover round the organ’s burnished pipes! what sight do you look down upon ? She walked up quietly, — it was her way, a noiseless, gliding way,—there stood the organist and Adam von Gelhorn! As if hell had made a revelation, she stood looking at those two. And both saw her, and neither of the three uttered one word, or essayed a motion, till she, quietly, it seemed, though it was with utmost violence, turned to go again.
Then — soft the voice sounded, but to her who spoke there was thunder in it— the organist called after her, “ Sybella! ”
She, however, did not turn to answer, neither did she falter in going. Departure was the one thing of which she was capable,—and what could have hindered her going ? What checks Vesuvius, when the flood says, “ Lo, I come ! ” ? Or shall the little bird that perches and sings on a post in the Dismal Swamp prevent the message that sweeps along the wire for a thousand miles ?
Von Gelhorn, disturbed by her coming and departure, in that so slight vibration of air caused by her advance and her retreat, swayed as a reed in the wind, stood for a moment seeking equipoise. Vain endeavor!
Not with inquiry, neither for direction, his eyes fell on Julia Edgar.
“ Go,” she said.
She said it aloud; no utterance could have been more distinct. He strode after Sybella.
She heard him come, but did not pause, or turn, or falter. He came faster, gained upon, and overtook her. It was just there by the church-door. And then he spoke. But not like a warrior. It was a hoarse whisper she heard, and her name in it. At that call she turned. When she saw his face, she stood.
Why avert her face, indeed, or why go on ?
“ I am going away,—in search of death, perhaps. I don’t know. But to battle. Will you not come back and listen one moment ? ”
She stood as if she could stand. Why did he plead but for one moment? Battle ! before that word she laid down her weapons. Under that glare of awful fire the walls of ice melted, as never iceberg under tropic sun.
Battle ! One out of the world who had been so long out of her world ! Out of her world? So is beauty dead and past all resurrection of a surety, when the dismal winds of March howl over land and sea!
“ Yesterday,” he said, “ I came to church. Not to hear you, but I heard you. You conquered me. I was giving a word for you to your friend and mine, when God led you in here. Do not try to thwart Him. We have tried it long enough. If you should go into my studio,— no, there’s no such place now, but if you went into the Odeon, you would see some faces there that would tell you who has haunted my dreams and my heart these years. Forgive me now that I’m going away. Let me hear you speak the very word, Sybella.”
How long must sinner call on God before he sees the smile, of Love making bright the heavens, glad the earth, possible all holiness, probable all blessing ? For He has built no walls, fastened no bars and bolts, blasted no present, cursed no future. If Love be large, rich, free, strong enough, it brings itself with one swift bound into the Heavenly Kingdom where the Powers of Darkness have almost prevailed.
When Mrs. Edgar saw these two coming up the aisle together, she understood, and, turning full towards them, sang a song such as was never heard before within those old gray walls.
MR. MUIR was but a man. Powerful indeed in his way, but it was behind his pulpit-desk, with a sermon in his hands, his congregation before him, — or in carrying out any charitable project, or in managing the business specially devolving on him. He was nobody when he emerged from his own distinct path,—at least, such was his opinion ; and being so, he would not be likely to attempt the enforcement of another view of his power on other men. He was afraid of himself now, — afraid that his own preferences had made him obtuse where loyalty would have given him a clearer vision.
Pity him, therefore, when Mr. Deane learned that the son of bondage in whose deliverance he took such proud delight, as surely became a good man who greatly valued freedom, aye, valued it as the pearl beyond all price,—when he learned that the slave had been seen going to the organist’s room, and returning from it, and had not since been seen in H—.
Mr. Muir reflected on these tidings with perplexity, constrained, in spite of him, to believe that the slave had actually come on a secret errand, which he had fulfilled, and that not without enlightenment he had returned to his master.
The indignation a man feels, a man of the Deane order especially, when he finds that he has been imposed upon, though the deception has been in this instance of his own furtherance and establishment,—this kind and degree of indignation brought Mr. Deane like a firebrand into the next vestry-meeting. An end must be made of this matter at once. It was no longer a question whether anything had best be done. Something must. be done ; the public demanded, and he, as a good citizen, demanded, that the church should free herself of suspicion.
Mr. Muir felt, from the moment his eyes fell on Deane, that he played a losing game. Vain to help a woman who had fallen under that man’s suspicion, useless to defend her ! What should he do, then ? Let her go ? let her fall ? Allow that she was a spy ? Permit her disgrace, dismissal, arrest possibly ? When War takes hold of women, the touch is not tender. Mr. Muir, it was obvious, was not a man of war. And he had to acknowledge to the Musical Committee, that, as to the result of his conversation with Mrs. Edgar, he had learned merely what was sufficient, indeed, to satisfy him of her loyalty, and that she would scorn to do a spy’s work ; but he had no proof to offer that might satisfy minds less “ prejudiced ” in her favor.
It was impossible not to perceive the dissatisfaction with which this testimony was received.
The Committee, however favorably disposed toward the organist, had their own suspicions to quiet, and a growing rumor among the people to quell. Positive proof must be adduced that the organist was not the wife of a Rebel general, or she must be removed from her place.
At a time when riot was rife, and streettumult so common that the citizens, loyal or disloyal, had no real security, it was venturesome, dangerous, foolhardy, to allow a suspicion to fix, even by implication, on the church. If the organist, already sufficiently noted and popular in the town to attract within the churchwalls scores of people who came merely for the music, — if she were suspected of collusion with Southern traitors, she must pay the price. It was the proper tax on loyalty. The church must be free of blame.
So Mr. Muir, a second time on such business, went to Mrs. Edgar.
Various intimations as to what brave men might do in precisely his situation distracted him as he went. The fascinations of her power were strongly upon him. If be was a hero, here, surely, was a heroine. And in distress! Had Christian chivalry no demand to make, no claim on him ?
All the way, as he went, he was counting the cost of his opposition to the vestry’s will. If he only stood alone! If neither wife nor child had rights to be considered in advance of other mortals, and which, for the necessities of others, must surely not be waived ! If Nature had not planted in him prudence, if he had only not that vexatious habit of surveying duties in their wholeness, and balancing consequences, he might, at the moment, enter into Don Quixote’s joy. But,and here he was at the head of the flight of stairs that led to her chamber, face to face with her.
Advance now, Christian minister! He comes slowly, weighed down by his burden of consequences, and, as at one glance, the organist perceives the “situation.” He has come with her dismissal from the church. She sees it in the dejected face, the troubled eyes, the weariness with which he throws himself into the nearest chair. The duty he has in hand he feels in all its irksomeness, and makes no concealment thereof, - indeed, some display perhaps.
From a little desultory talk about church-music, through which words ran at random, Mrs. Edgar broke at last, somewhat impatiently.
“ What is it, Mr. Muir ? Must your organist take the oath ? ”
The question caught him by surprise ; it was uppermost in his thoughts, this hateful theme ; but then how should she know it ? He lost the self-possession he had been trying to maintain, the dignity of his judicial character broke down completely ; he was now merely a kind-hearted man, a husband and father it is true, but for the moment those domestic ties were not like a fetter on him.
“ T require no such evidence of your loyalty, Mrs. Edgar,” he said, — “ no evidence whatever.’
“ But — does not the church ? ”
This question was asked with a little faltering, asked for his sake ; for evidently some knowledge he had, and had to communicate, that embarrassed him almost to the making of speech impossible.
“ The church ! No, — it is too late for that! ”
And now he had thrown down the hateful truth. There it lay at the feet of the woman who at this moment assumed to the preacher’s imagination a more than saint’s virtue, a more than angel’s beauty.
“ What then ? ” she said. “ What next, Mr. Muir ? Do they want my resignation ? ”
Mr. Muir said this with a humbled, deprecating gesture of the hand. At the same time bowed his head.
“ I commission you to carry it,” she said.
“ I will not,” he answered, almost ferociously.
“ Mr. Muir ! ”
“ I consider it an outrage.”
“ No, — a misunderstanding.”
That mild magnanimity of speech completed the overthrow of his prudence.
“A misunderstanding, then, that shall be rectified to your honor,” he exclaimed, “ in the very place where it has gained ground to your dishonor. If you resign, Mrs. Edgar, it must be to come at once to my house as a guest. If the people are infatuated, the minister need not be of necessity. My wife will welcome you there ; if the law of the gospel cannot protect you from suspicion, it can at least from harm.”
So all in a moment the man got the better of Mr. Muir. What a deliverance was there ! This was the man who had preached and prayed for the Government till more than once he had been invited to march out with the soldiers as their chaplain to battle, opening his doors to one whom the loyal church rejected,— opening them merely because she was a woman on whom suspicion he believed to be unjust had fallen.
Her face lighted, her eyes flashed, she smiled. These were precious words to hear from any good man’s lips. They broke on the air like balm on a wound.
“ Not for all the world would 1 allow it, ’ she answered. “ This is no time to complicate affairs. I thank you, and I confess you have surprised me. I did not expect this even of you. It is needless for me to say that I feel this disgrace as you would feel it; but I understand the position of the church, and cannot complain. If I were guilty, this treatment would be only too lenient. And it is almost guilt to have incurred suspicion.”
“ I will never be the bearer of your resignation, then, — never, Mrs. Edgar! I wash my hands of this business!”
She smiled again. The man in his wrath seemed to have seized on a child’s weapon. He interpreted her smile, and said, —
“My position will be well understood, if another is the bearer. And I wish it to be. I wish men to know that I have no hand in this business. The church is a persecutor. I. her son, am ashamed of her.”
“ It has given me my opportunity to make a defence. And I can make none, Mr. Muir. My great mistake was in remaining here, Ruin, however, is not so rare a thing in these days that I should be surprised by it, even if it overtake me.”
“ Ruin ! Aye. What curses thicken for their heads who have brought this upon us! Unborn millions will repeat them, and God Almighty sanction and enforce them.”
Mr. Muir paused. What arrested him ? Merely the countenance of the woman before him. If all those curses had gathered into legions of devils, crowding, swarming, furious, armed with lash and brand, about the form of one who represented love, joy, beauty, all preciousness to her, the terror and the anguish looking from her face could not have been intensified. But she said no word.
How should she speak ?
As if in spite of him, and of all he had been wont to hold most sacred and potential, in spite of church and congregation, Constitution and country, the minister had spoken simply for humanity under oppression ; had he not earned her confidence ? Did he not deserve to know at least what real ground there was for the suspicions roused against her ?
Nay, nay ! When did ever Love seek deliverance at the cost of the beloved ? What woman ever betrayed to secret friend the sin of him she loves ? Let all creation read the patent facts, behind them still remains the inviolate, sacred arcanum, and before it stands sentinel Silence, and around it are walls of fire.
Not from this woman’s lips should mortal ever learn she was a Rebel’s wife!
For Mr. Muir, in his present mood, it was only torture to prolong this interview. He felt himself unfit for counsel or argument,—unfit even for confidence, had it been vouchsafed. But he held, with a tenacity that could not but have its influence on his future acts and life, to the purpose that had broken from him so suddenly, and not less to his own surprise than to the organist’s. From this day she was at liberty to seek protection under his roof from threatened mobs and hot-headed church-wardens. Mr. Deane was one man, he himself was another; and if a day was ever coming to the world when Christian magnanimity must rise in its majesty and its strength, that day had surely dawned ; if the Christian ministry was ever to know a period when the greatness of its prerogatives was to be made manifest, that period had certainly begun.
FROM this interview Mrs. Edgar went to make her preparations for the flitting she had already determined upon. She resolved to lose no time, and consoled Mr. Muir by making known her resolution, and seeking his assistance, when he was in a condition adapted to the bestowal.
But scarcely were her rooms bared, her trunks packed, and the day and mode of her departure determined upon, when an order came to H-from a high official source, so authoritative as to allow no hesitation or demur.
“ Arrest the organist of St. Peter’s Church, Mrs. Julia Edgar.”
And, behold, she was a prisoner in the house where she had lodged!
Opposition was out of the question, protest hardly thought of. One glance was broad enough to cover this business from end to end, and of resistance there was no demonstration. Her work now was to restore the room, denuded and desolate, to its late aspect of refinement and cheer.
Well, but is it the same thing to urge others on to sacrifice, and yourself to bring an offering ? to gird another for warfare, and yourself endure hardness? to incite another to active service, and yourself serve by passive obedience? to place a sword in the right hand of the valiant, and bare your heart to the smiting of a sword in the same cause of glory ?
To have urged out of beautiful and studious retirement the painter of precious pictures, that he may lift the soldier’s burden and gird himself for fasting through long, toilsome marches over mountains, through wilderness, swamp, and desert, and for encountering Death at every pass in one of his manifold disguises,—that he may lie on a field of blood, perchance, at last, the fragment of himself, for what ? that he may say, finally, if speech be left him, he has fought under the flag, that at Memphis its buried glory may have resurrection, that at Sumter it may float again from the battlements, that at Richmond it may be unfurled above Rebellion’s grave,—is it the same thing to have accomplished this by way of atonement, and in your own body to atone, by your humiliation, by suspicion endured? She deemed it a small thing that she was called to suffer,—that, when honor was won, she must bear disgrace instead. What, indeed, was a year’s or a lifetime’s imprisonment, looked on in the light of privation or sacrifice ? Yet so to atone, since thus it was written, for the sin of one who was in arms against the nation’s government! Oh, if anywhere, of any loyal citizen, it might be looked upon, accepted, as atonement !
In one thing she was happy, and of right. Music never failed her. Art keeps her great rewards for such as serve her for her sacred self. Therefore let her arise day after day to the same prospect of sky, and sea, and busy street, and silent, shadowy church-yard. I bless the birds that built their nests in the elm and willow branches for her sake. The little creatures flitting here and there, in all their home - ways and domestic management, were dear as their song to her.
But in this life, though there might be growth, it was the growth that comes through pain endured with patience, through self-control maintained in the suspense and the anguish of death.
For what, then, did she long in his behalf whose fate was shrouded in thick darkness from her ? For victory ? or for defeat ? A prison ? mutilation ? disablement? burial on the battle-field ? or a disgraceful safety ? Constantly this question urged itself upon her, and the heroic love, that in its great disclosures could not fail, shrank shuddering back in silence.
Thanks to God, she need not choose. The Omniscient is alone the Almighty !
THREE months after this order of arrest came another of release, — as brief and as peremptory.
Deane’s patriotism, that really had endangered the church with a mob and the organ with demolishment, was the cause of the first despatch. Colonel Von Gelhorn, who had routed General Edgar and driven him and his forces at the point of the bayonet from an “ impregnable position,” was in the secret of the second.
Close following this order of release, so closely that one must believe he but waited for it before he again presented himself to his mistress, came Julius, the bearer of a message in whose persuasive power he himself had little hope. Defeated, wounded, dying, her husband called this second time to her.
The slave, this day a freeman by all writs and rights, ascended again to her apartment when the order of release had been received.
Surprise awaited him. Alas, what it says for us ! our heroes, who have surely the right of unlimited expectations, are as likely to be surprised by heroic demonstrations as the dullest soul that never strove for aught except its paltry starving self. But the hero surprised is not surprised into uncomprehending wonder, but rather into smiles, or tears, or heartrending, out of which comes thankfulness.
Yet a bitter word escaped him; he could deem even Liberty guilty of an injustice, when she was involved in the judgment that awaits the guilty. As if never before under the government of God it was known that the overthrow of evil involved sorrow, aye, and temporal ruin, aye, and sometimes death, to God’s very angels! But to that word she answered, —
“Hush! I have been among friends, — even though some believed I was their enemy in disguise. I have nothing to complain of. Duties must be done. But, Julius, you have come to tell me of your master. Tell me, then.’
“ Such news, Madam, as you will not like to hear, though 1 have travelled with it night and day. Colonel Von Gelhorn sent me. He said I would be in time. I did n’t wait to hear him say that twice.”
“He sent you? Where, then, is my husband ? ”
“ He is a prisoner, Madam.”
“A prisoner ! Whose ? ”
“ Colonel Von Gelhorn’s.”
Was it satisfaction that filled the silence following this question ?
“ But safe ? but well, Julius ? ”
“ No, Madam, not safe nor well.”
“Wounded? Julius, speak! Why must I ask these dreadful questions ? Tell what you came to tell.”
“ He is wounded, Madam. He has never been taken away from the church where I carried him first after he fell. He had three horses shot under him. Oh, Madam, if it had n’t been for him, his whole army would have been lost! He wants you now.”
“ Let us go, then. Guide me. The shortest way. You ’re a free man, Julius. Act like one, freely. Wounded, —Von Gelhorn’s prisoner. Then at last he’s mine again ! ”
Hers again ! In the church she found him. In her arms he died.
And he said, — nor let us think it was with coward weakness blenching before the presence of Death, shaming the day he died by a late repentance, —
“ I have been deceived. But I deceived others. Who will forgive that? It is so hard for me to forgive ! You have fought your fight like a hero, loyal to the core, but I ”—
Nevertheless, her kiss was on his dying lips. She forgave him. Must he, then, go out from her presence into everlasting darkness ?