AFFAIRS went smoothly and noiselessly on for some three months. Mr. St. George had received the congratulations of the neighborhood, who, perceiving that Éloise still remained at The Rim, presumed all was satisfactory ; and Éloise refused herself to all, the better by reason of her term of mourning. The slaves on the estate no longer infected others with the result of bad government ; their association with the BlueBluffs people, a notoriously bad set, as well they might be, was broken up ; they felt, though the reins hung freely and the burden was light, that there was a strong hand behind them that knew how to pull them up or put them in the dust, and they learned so much respect and even love for that hand as never to presume on the fact that it would not perhaps choose to exert its full power ; work was well done; there was no further trespassing on other precincts; the world was in perfect order, so far as St. George’s administration of it extended. He was, moreover, a man of distinction ; serving, young as he was, four terms in Congress from a distant district, he was already spoken of again as the candidate of the immediate vicinity ; his advice was sought in a hundred matters about which he knew nothing at all,— and always given, in spite of the last - mentioned circumstance ; he had a careless, easy way of taking the life out of a man’s mouth, so to speak, and disposing of it for that man’s advantage as he himself pleased, so that the man felt under an infinite obligation ; he had, too, an air with him of such superiority over the ills of life, such undoubted kingliness, that every one succumbed and rested gladly on so firm a precedent. Mr. St. George in this brief time had accepted much hospitality, had won a thousand friends, and by Christmas had made himself, through his genial strength to-day and his sardonic sarcasm to-morrow, as thoroughly the autocrat of all the region as ever Mr. Erne had been. For all that men want is a master ; give them somebody that will lead, and glad enough are they to follow. But Mr. Erne’s supremacy had merely been a matter of birth and of kindly feeling; Mr. St. George’s was, first, because he choose to have it, and secondly, because nobody was able to refuse it. Marlboro’s masterliness was quite another thing, affected no clusters of men, and was felt only by those whom he owned, body and soul.
In the mean time, the family seldom saw Mr. St. George, and when they did, he was so stately that they would have been quite willing to shut their eyes. They forgot, however, that, when you insist on being yourself an iceberg, you really cool the air about you. Once, indeed, or twice, there had been brief, but notable exceptions in his conduct.
A period of heavy rains had just elapsed, and Éloise, weary of confinement, had gone on the first clear day strolling round the place, as secure as in a drawing-room, since there was not one of her father’s people but adored her.
“You are going out, Miss Changarnier ? ” Mr. St. George had remarked at the door ; and, on being answered, he had added in a soliloquy, as if not deigning a second address for a second rebuff, — “It will be quite impossible to go far, for the freshet has swollen the brooks into rivers.”
Éloise, however, took no notice of the information, and went on her way, strolled farther than she had intended, and forded a brook because Mr. St. George had said she could not. Then she sat down under a branching tree that dropped its leaves about her and into the brook, and began to read the “ Romannt of the Rose ” : at least, I fancy that was the book she had. While she remained, the brook swirling ever louder between the pauses, the sunset ran red in the sky and warned her to hasten home. But she disregarded the warning till purple shadows fell softly on the page, and stars and moon stole out to peer above her shoulder and see what it was that so entranced the maiden. Rising hurriedly, she moved away; and only when she had crossed two or three of the stepping-stones did she perceive, on looking down, that, while she had been reading, the water had risen above the next ones with a depth that the failing light forbade her to see. Standing there, and bending dizzily forward to guess the strength of the dark stream now so loudly and rapidly rushing by, there came a noise like a bursting waterspout ; suddenly her waist was seized, and she was swept back to the shore. The next instant, with a seething sound, a great uprooted oak tore along the very spot on which she had stood.
“ Seeking danger for the pleasure of escape ? ” said a cool voice in her ear, as her feet were planted on dry land. “ A little excitement spices our still life so well! ”
“ Mr. St. George ! how dare you ? ” cried Éloise, freeing herself.
“ What would you have had me do ? Should I have stood here, letting I dare not wait upon I would, like the cat i’ the adage, while the oak caught and rushed you off to sea ? Too big a broomstick for such a little witch 1 ”
“ You should not have been here at all, Sir ! ”
“ There shall be thanks in all the churches, next Sunday, that I was.” ,
“ At least, Sir, I can spare further aid.”
“Play Undine and the Knight on the island ? It would n’t be at all safe,—it would n’t be proper, you know,” said Mr. St. George, raising his eyebrows. “ The dam that shuts up the irrigating waters broke an hour ago,” added he, in the tone of another person. “ I sent servants to find you, in every direction, and happened this way myself.”
Éloise was a little sobered.
“ I am much obliged to you, Sir,” she said.
“ So it seems,” he replied, dryly. “I shall be forced to offend you again,” he continued, “ as further delay will render the stream entirely impassable.”
And before she could utter a syllable of deprecation, she had swung a brief moment in the air, and was upon the other side, up which Mr. St. George, in his high seven-league boots, clambered so soon as he had set her down. Instead of venturing any new display of indignation, as St. George expected, Éloise walked on with him quietly a moment, and then, looking up, said, —
“ You are very kind, and I am very ungracious.”
Mr. St. George did not deny her assertion, only he glanced down at her from his height a second with an inexplicable expression, and immediately after the house became visible bowed low and left her.
“ There’s been such a tantrum, Miss,” said the quadroon Hazel, combing out Éloise’s hair that night, “and Massa St. George’s horse waited two mortal hours to take him to Blue Bluffs. You ought to have heard him swear ! He galloped off at last like mad.”
And as Éloise gave no response, unless the cloud on her face spoke for her in the glass, the familiar girl added, —
“ Not at you, Miss, not swearing at you,—oh, no, indeed!—but at all of us, to think we’d let you go alone.”
“ Mr. St. George is too solicitous. That will do, Hazel. Have you spoken to your master about buying Vane ? ”
“ Laws, Miss, I never feels as if he was any master of mine, leastwise excep’ one can’t help minding him. ’S different from ole Massa, — we minded ole Massa for lub,— but I dunno if it’s the music, when Massa St. George speaks, that makes you do what he says, when you just don’t mean to, —as if you could n’t help it, and did n’t want to help it ? ” suggested Hazel.
“Mr. St. George,” said Éloise, “is very good to his people ; they ought to wish to obey him,”
“ Yes, Miss. On’y be a’n’t no business here.'’
“ Don’t let me hear you speak so again, Hazel,” said Éloise, facing the suddenly cringing girl. “ Now you can go.”
But Hazel lingered still, over one and another odd trifle, and at length glancing up from where she stooped, with a scarlet on her young tawny cheek, she added, in a low voice, —
“ You ’ll speak to Massa St. George now for me, won’t you, Miss ? ”
“ What ? About Vane ? You would do better yourself. Yes.”
Two or three days passed away after this little promise to Hazel, before Éloise, at first forgetting it, and then dreading it, could gather courage to proceed in the negotiations for the handmaiden’s suit. She was vaguely aware that she was the last person in the world whose past conduct harmonized with the asking of favors, and she silently offered slight propitiatory sacrifices. Yet she did this so haughtily, in order still not to compromise her own dignity, that they would quite as well have answered the purpose of belligerent signals.
It was one afternoon that Éloise sat at the drawing-room window, having recently finished her day’s work, and letting herself linger now in a place which she very rarely so much as passed through. She sat erect, just then, — her head thrown far back, and the eyelids cast down along the pale face. Mr. St. George came into the room noiselessly, and laid down his riding-whip and gloves. Then he paused, struck by her appearance, and admired her motionless attitude for several minutes.
“ One sits for Mnemosyne,” he said then.
Éloise lifted her eyes, and a ghost of color flitted along her cheek. Here was a fortunate moment; the deity of it unbent and smiled. Her heart beat in her throat between the words of her thought; yet she recalled, for support, all the romances she had read, and their eloquent portraitures of love, and, remembering that just as Rebecca loved Ivanhoe, as Paolo loved Francesca, so Hazel and Vane loved each other, “I must! I must ! ” she kept saying chokingly to herself. Mr. St. George had taken up a book. How should she dare disturb him ? At last a hesitating voice came sliding towards him, —
“ Mr. St. George ”—
“ I beg your pardon,—did you speak ? ” he asked, closing his book.
“ Mr. St. George, I want to ask you a favor,” replied Éloise.
She rose, and unconsciously with such an air that he saw her effort, then came and sat on a lower seat directly before him.
“ When papa, when my dear father was living,” said she, “ I had a maid, who was always mine, who grew up with me, being only a little younger, and I became attached to her ”-
And before Hloise knew it she was lightly playing with Mr. St. George’s riding-whip, — that being one of her warm traits just out of Nature, the appropriation of everything about her.
“ And you have her no longer? That shall be attended to.”
“ Oh, yes, Sir, she waits on me still; that is n’t it. She is only seventeen, she has been an atom wayward,—just, you know, as I might have been ”—
Mr. St. George smiled so perceptibly that Éloise added, throwing back her head again, —
“ Just as I am, Sir ! But she has behaved very nicely for severalWhy, this is Mrs. Arles’s whip ! the one her husband gave her. I knew it by the ivory vine-stem twining the ebony ; and there are her initials in the lovely gold chasing. I used to want it to play witii, when 1 was a little girl,—and she would n’t let me have it, of course. Pretty initials ! ”
“ Yes,” said Mr. St. George, coldly.
Eloise put it down. And then she stared at him forgetfully, and, unthinkingly, with great disappointed eyes. Thereat Mr. St. George laughed.
“ Don’t Russian women present the knout to their bridegrooms ? ” asked Eloise then, mischievously.
But before he could have replied, she resumed, —
“ Well, Sir, Hazel is very pretty ”-
“It is Hazel, then ? Would you like her to be made more distinctly yours, Miss Éloise ? ”
“ Oh, dear, no, Sir, thank you. That is n’t it at all. Hazel is in love.”
“ She is in love with Vane, a boy of Mr. Marlboro’s: you may have seen him ; he is here a good deal, — by stealth : and they want to be married. But Mr, Marlboro’ is their terror, he may put an end to everything, and they are afraid, and — and — could you buy Vane, Mr. St. George ? ”
“ I could, Miss Changarnier.”
“ And you will, then ? ” cried Éloise, springing up.
“ If Mr. Marlboro’ will sell him.”
“ Won’t he ? ”
“ It is a pride of the Marlboro’s that there never was a hand sold off the place.”
“ Oh, I had forgotten. They would tell too shocking stories.”
“ Not here. Not unless they were sold off the Cuban plantation, where the vicious ones are transported.”
“But perhaps he would give him to you.”
“Miss Éloise, he would give him to you.”
“ Me ? I have never seen him.”
“ That is of no consequence. He has seen you.”
“ I wonder where. Do you really suppose that Mr. Marlboro' would give Vane to me ? ”
“ Miss Éloise, I will see what I can do about it first.”
“ How kind you are ! Thank you ! ”
And Éloise was about to go.
“ One moment, if you please,” said the other.
And Mr. St. George remained in meditation. When he spoke, it was not in too assured a tone.
“ I am quite aware,” said he, “ that you consider me in the light of an enemy. Perhaps it is a magnanimity that would be pleasant to you, should you in turn grant that enemy a favor.”
“ I should like to be able to serve you, Sir.”
“ Well, then, — I spoke very unwisely a few moments since,—promise me now, that, if Hazel and Vane do not marry till Doomsday, you will not ask Marlboro’ for the gift. It places you, an unprotected girl, too much under the weather with such a man as Marlboro’. You promise me ? ”
And he rose opposite her, smiling and gazing.
“ A whole promise is rash,” said Éloise, laughing. “ Half a one I give you.”
“ It is for yourself,” said Mr. St. George, grimly; and he turned abruptly away, because be knew he lied, and was afraid lest she would know it too.
It was two or three weeks after this, that Mr. St. George, returning one chilly night from some journey, found Mrs. Arles asleep in her chair, a fire upon the hearth, and Éloise sitting on the floor before it with her box and brushes, essaying to catch the shifting play of color opposite her, and paint there one of the great cloven tongues of fire that went soaring up the chimney.
“ In pursuit of an ignis-fatuus ? ” asked he, stooping over her an instant, and suddenly snatching himself erect, as she looked up with a certain sweetness in her smile, and pushed back the drooping tress, that, streaming along the temple and lying in one large curve upon the cheek, sometimes fell too low for order, though never for grace.
“ And all in vain,” she said, laughingly. “ I’ve worked an hour, I can get the violet edges, I can get the changing bend, — but there’s no lustre, no flicker, — I can’t find out the secret of painting flame.”
“ It is a secret you found out long ago ! ” muttered Mr. St. George, unintelligibly, and strode out, banging the door behind him.
And Éloise, astonished and dismayed, abruptly put up her pencils, and went to bed.
So that, when Mr. St. George returned a half-hour afterward for a cheerful firesideseason over nuts and wine, there was nobody there but Mrs. Arles, who picked herself up out of her nap, and went placidly on with her tatting and contrivances.
Two stragglers on the ice-fields of the polar seas would have met each other with less frozen chill than St. George and Éloise did on the succeeding morning. And in that chill a long period elapsed, during which Mr. St. George attended to his affairs, and Éloise silently cast up her accounts.
One morning in the spring, after the last of the soft and balmy winter, Mr. St. George said to Mrs. Arles, at breakfast, —
“ A dozen rooms, or more, can be ready by Wednesday ? There will be guests at noon, for several weeks. That is the list. I rely on Miss Changarnier’s assistance.” And he handed her a paper, and went out.
“ It will be useless for you to keep your room now,” said Mrs. Arles to Éloise, on Wednesday morning. “ It is n’t like Mr. St. George’s bachelor parties with Marlboro’ and Montgomery and Mavoisie, when I like to see yon keep to yourself as you do. These are all old friends.”
“ I shall still have my work to do,” said Éloise ; and she went into the cabinet and sharpened her pens with a vim.
It would doubtless have relieved Mr. St. George of much annoyance and perplexity, if Éloise would have assumed her old place in welcoming the guests ; but that was not set down in her part, and Éloise rightly felt that it would be a preposterous thing for her to do. And though, when she heard their voices in the hall, she longed just to open the door and give one glance at Laura Murray sweeping by, or draw Lottie Humphreys in through the crack and indulge in one quick squeeze, she heroically bent herself upon the debit and credit beneath her eye, and tried to forget all about it, — succeeding only in remembering who had lived and who had died since the last time that hall had rung with their voices.
It was past noon when Éloise, having finished her task, and having remained for a long time with her arms upon the desk and her hands upon her eyes, suddenly glanced up and saw a gentleman entering the cabinet, where no gentleman but one was ever allowed to enter. He was in search of a book: and scanning the shelves, his eye fell on her.
He hesitated for a single atom of time, then stepped rapidly forward, and said,—
“ Miss Changarnier, I am quite sure.”
“ Allow me,” said quickly another voice at his shoulder, “ to present to Miss Changarnier Mr. Marlboro’.” For Mr. St. George had entered just in time.
Mr. Marlboro’ was a slight man, hardly to be called tall. He wore black, of course, the coat fastened on the breast and letting out just a glimpse of ruffled linen and glancing jewel below, while the lofty brow, set in its fair curling hair, and the peaked beard curling and waving about the throat, gave him the appearance of a Vandyek stepped from the frame. He had the further peculiarity of eyes, dark hazel eyes, that would have glowed like fever, if they were not perpetually wrapped in dream. There was a certain air of careful breeding about him, different from Earl St. George Erne’s high-bred bearing,inasmuch as he insisted upon his pedigree and St. George forgot his. Too fiery a Southerner to seek the advantages of Northern colleges, he had educated himself in England, and had contracted while at Oxford the habit of eating opium. Returning home at his majority, and remaining long enough to establish his own ideas, which were peculiarly despotic, upon his property, — through many subsequent travels, tasting in each an experience of all the folly and madness the great capitals of the world afford, through all his life, indeed, this habit was the only thing Marlboro’ had not mastered. One other thing, albeit, there was, of which Marlboro’ was the slave, and that was the Marlboro’ temper.
Éloise returned his salutation cordial]y, and with a certain naughty pleasure, since Mr. St. George was looking on, and since that person, constituting himself her grim guardian, had in a manner warned her of the other. Then she displayed her pretty little ink-stained hands, and ran away.
Mr. Marlboro’ looked after her, and then turned to survey St. George.
“ Who would not be the Abélard to such an Éloise ? ” he said.
There was no answer. St. George was filling a pipe, and whistling the while a melancholy old tune.
“ I ’ll tell you what, St. George ”-
Here he paused, and thrummed on the book in time to the tune.
“ You were about to impart some information ? ”
“ Has your little nun taken the black veil ? ”
“ It is no nun of my shriving.”
“ Are you King Ahasuerus himself, to have lived so long in the house with Miss Changarnier, may I ask, and to have thrown no handkerchief?”
“ There is some confusion in your rhetoric. But it is not I who am tyrant, — it is she who stands for that; — I am only Mordecai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate. As so many Jews do to-day,” muttered St. George,—“ ay, and on their thrones, too. I am afraid we are neither of us very well up in our Biblical history. She is the Grand Unapproachable.”
“ Tant mieux. My way is all the clearer.”
“ Your way to what ? ”
“To the altar !”
“ Yes, you should have married long ago, Marlboro',” said Mr. St. George, the pipe being lighted, the face looming out of azure wreaths, and the heels taking an altitude.
“I came home,” said Marlboro', “to marry Éloise Changarnier.”
“ That is exactly what I intend to do myself.”
“ You ! ”
Mr. Marlboro’s eyes glistened like a topaz in the sun ; but just then a new guest arriving demanded Mr. St. George’s attention.
Meantime Éloise had found a feminine conclave assembled in her room, all having prepared their own toilets, and ready to inspect the preparation of hers ; and as the work proceeded, Lottie Humphreys added herself to the group, in grand tenue, and pushed Hazel aside, that she might bind up Éloise’s already braided hair, and indulge herself in the interim with sundry fervent ejaculations.
“ Is n’t he splendid ? ” whispered Lottie, while Laura compared bracelets with Emma Houghton. “ Oh, there, isn’t he splendid? It ’s like the king coming down from his throne, when he speaks to you; it puts my heart in a flutter. How do you dare ask him to pass the butter? Now just tell me. Are you engaged to him ? Tell me truly, only shake your head, yes or no. No ? I don’t believe a word you say. Mean to be ? Then, I declare—Suppose now, only just suppose, suppose he ’d look at me ? ”
“ Oh, what a silly little goose you are, Lottie Humphreys! And you 've put geraniums in my hair, when I meant to wear those beautiful blue poisonbells ! ”
“ I never saw any one so dark as you are wear so much blue.”
“ But it’s becoming to me, is n’t it ? ” said Eloise, turning with her smile, as radiant for Lottie as for Marlboro’.
“ St. George,” said Marlboro’, with a beaming face bent over his shoulder, as he took Eloise out to dinner, “my intention was the earlier; it will succeed ! ”
“ As being the eldest born and heir to the succession. Does the good general expose his campaign ? ”
“ There we are quits. It is precisely as a good general that I exposed it.”
“ But did the Levites unveil the sacred ark ? ” said Mr. St. George, severely.
“ We are talking freemasonry, Miss Changarnier,” said Marlboro’, and they moved on.
Whether she would or not, Éloise found herself in exactly the same position in the house as before her adopted father’s death, — partly because almost all the company, being old friends, recognized no difference, partly because Mr. St. George silently chose it should be so. She soon forgot herself entirely in the pleasure of it, and was unconsciously, even towards Mr. St. George, so sweet and genial, so blithe and bewitching, that his scanning glance would suddenly have to fall, since an expression, he felt, entered it that he dared not have her see. There was always a certain disarray about the costume of Éloise; one tress of her hair was always drooping too low, or one thrust back behind the beautiful temple and tiny ear, or a bracelet was half undone, or a mantle dropping off, — trifles that only gave one the desire to help her; she constantly wore, too, a scarf or shawl, or something of the kind, and the drapery lent her a kind of tender womanliness, which only such things do; then, too, she garnished her hair with flowers always half falling away, somewhat faded with the warmth, and emitting strong, rich fragrances in dying. When she laughed, and the brilliant little teeth sparkled a contrast with the dark smooth skin, when she thought, and her eyes glowed like tear-washed stars, Mr. St. George was wont to turn abruptly away from, the vision, unwilling to be so controlled. But of that Éloise never dreamed.
As for Marlboro’, on the other hand, he was the moth in the candle. Of Mr. Marlboro’s devotion Éloise was quite aware,—and whereas, playing with it the least bit in the world, she had at first enjoyed it, it grew to irk her sadly; she used to beg her friends, in all manner of pretty ways, to take him off her hands, and would resort from her own rooms to theirs, assisting at their awful rites, and endeavoring to get them up as charmingly as possible, that they might lure away her trouble. It was in vain that Marlboro’ tried to reopen the subject of their mute warfare with St. George. St. George would not condescend, neither would he sully Éloise’s name by bandying it about with another lover. If Marlboro’ begged him to toss up for chances, St. George answered that he never threw up a chance; when he went further and offered to stake success or loss, St. George told him he had cast his last die; when he would have spoken her name to him directly, St. George withered him with flamy eyes, and let his manner become too rigid for one to dare more with him. But the ladies had already caught the spirit of the thing, and made little situations of it among themselves. Then when St. George became impregnable to his attacks, Marlboro’ pulled his blonde moustache savagely, and grew sullen, and fortunately Éloise did not try to dispel the cloud. Nevertheless, Marlboro’ fancied that he perceived victory hovering nearer to St. George than himself, and a rivalry begun in good-humor was likely to take a different cast. In his pique, Marlboro’ bade his host farewell, and returned to Blue Bluffs ; but it was idle riding, for every day found him again at The Rim, like the old riddle,—
“ All saddled, all bridled, all fit for a fight,” and constant as the magnet to its poles.
It was still the steps of Éloise that Marlboro’ haunted. Yesterday, he brought songs to teach her, and among them the chant to which long ago they had once listened together in the old Norman cathedral ; to-morrow, he would show her a singular deposit on the beach, of rare silvery shells underflushed with rose, kept there over a tide for her eyes; today, he treated her to politics condensed into a siugle phrase whose essence told all his philosophy: — “ The great error in government,” he said, “ is also inversely the great want in marriage: in government, individuality should be supreme ; in marriage, lost. In government, this error is a triple-beaded monster : centralization, consolidation, union.”
Mr. St. George heard him, and paused a moment before them, one evening, as Marlboro’ thus harangued Eloise.
“ Consolidation ? Centralization ? ” said he. “ The very things we all oppose.”
“ Nullification is a good solvent.”
“ A ghost that is laid. There’s a redder phantom than that on the horizon, man! ”
“ What are you talking about, politics or marriage ? ”
“ God forbid that I should soil a lady’s ears with the first! ” said Mr. St. George, bowing to Eloise ; “ and as to the last, —I ’ll none of it! ”
And after Mr. Marlboro’ had gone that night, as Éloise was about to ascend to her own rooms, Mr. St. George came along again, and, lightly taking the candle, held up the tiny flame before her face.
“ What has that contrabandista been saying to you ? ” demanded Mr. St. George.
Éloise looked ignorantly up.
“ Gilding hell ? Do not believe him ! Never believe anything any one says, when you know he is in love with you ! Slavery is a curse ! a curse that we inherit for the sins of those drunken Cavaliers, our forefathers ! Let us make the best of it! ”
“ Ah, Mr. St. George,” said she, gayly, “ this from you, for whom the disciples claim Calhoun’s mantle ? For what, then, do you contend ? ”
“ For the right of being a free man myself! for the right of enduring the dictation of no man in Maine or Louisiana ! for the right to do as I have the mind! ” exclaimed Mr. St. George, in a ponderous and suppressed under - voice that rang through her head half - way up - stairs.
Long before, Mr. St. George had very courteously begged Éloise to take a vacation during the stay of their friends, but she had so peremptorily and utterly refused to do so that it ended by his spending the long morning with her in the cabinet, either over certain neglected arrears, or while she wrote letters under his royal dictation, and Hazel sewed a laborious seam between them, as always. Here, at length, after sufficient tautalization by its means, Marlboro’ venturously intruded himself every day. Too familiar for interruption, he took another seat, and watched her swift hand’s graceful progress. If her pen delayed, she found another awaiting her, — her posture wearied, a footstool was rolled towards her feet,—her side cramped, behold, a cushion, — she looked for fresh paper, it fell before her : all somewhat slavish service, and which Hazel could have rendered as well. Used to slaves, would she have preferred a master ? Whether Miss Changarnier relished these abject kindnesses better than Mr. St. George’s imperious exactions was precisely the thing that puzzled the two gentlemen.
Meanwhile, during all this gay season, if Eloise had thought of once looking about her, which she never did, she would have seen, that, in whatever group she was, there, too, was Mr. St. George,— that, if they rode three abreast down the great park-avenues, though she laughed with Evan Murray, it was to Mr. St. George’s horse that her bridle was secured,—and that, when she sang, it was St. George who jested and smiled and lightly talked the while, — not that her music was not sweet, but that its spell was too strong for him to endure beneath his mask. Yet Eloise drew no deductions ; if at first she noticed that it was he who laid the shawl on her shoulders, if she remembered, that, when he fastened her dropping bracelet, biting his lip and looking down, he held the wrist an instant with a clasp that left its whitened pressure there, she remembered, too, that he never spoke to her, were it avoidable, that he failed in small politenesses of the footstool or the fan, and that, if once he had looked at her in an instant’s intentness of singular expression, and let a smile well up and flood his eyes and lips and face, in a heart-beat it had faded, and he was standing with folded arms and looking sternly away beyond her, while she caught herself still sitting there and bending forward and smiling up at him like a flower beneath the sun ; — to atone for her remissness, she was frowning and cool and curt to Earl St. George for days.
It was about this time, that, one night, when Hazel passed the tea, Éloise’s eye, wandering a moment, suddenly woke from a little apathy and observed that there was no widow’s cap on Mrs. Arles’s hair, that it had refined away through various shades of lace till at last even the delicate cobweb on the back of the head was gone and the glossy locks lay bare, that the sables had become simply black gauze over a steely shine of silk, that the little Andalusian foot lay relieved on a white embroidered cushion, that its owner was glancing up and smiling at a gentleman who bent above her, and that that gentleman was Mr. St. George. When this change had taken place, and whether it had been abrupt or gradual, her careless eye could not tell; and, forgetting her own part momentarily in order to take in the whole of the drama in which they were all acting, Éloise spilled her tea and made some work for Hazel. As the girl rectified her mishap, it flashed on Éloise that she had done nothing more about her suit; she noticed, too, how pale Hazel was, and how subdued and still in all her movements; she remembered that probably Vane had found it impossible to see her and to elude his ever-present master; and she thereupon availed herself of his first disengaged moment to stand at Mr. St. George’s side, and ask him if he had ever thought again of a request she had once made him.
“ I was thinking of it at this moment,” he replied, looking at her with something like sunshine suffusing the brown depth of his eyes; “ but the truth is, I am not on such terms with Marlboro’ that I may demand a favor.”
“ Then I shall.”
“ On your peril! ” he cried, with hasty rigor.
But Éloise escaped, trailing one end of her scarf behind, looking back at him, laughing, and shaking her threatening fan as he stepped after her. And then Mr. St. George resumed his haughty silence.
Éloise went down the hall after Hazel. She found her in the empty dining-room, having just set down the salver; the last light, that, stealing in, illumined all the paintings of clusters of fruit and bunches of flowers upon the white panelling, had yet a little ray to spare for the girl where she crouched with her sobs, her apron flung above her head ; and when Éloise laid her hand gently on her shoulder, she sprang as if one had struck her.
“ Oh, Miss ’Loise ! Miss ’Loise ! I’m in such trouble ! ” she gasped.
It did not take long for the little story to find the air. Vane and Hazel, secure of Éloise’s efforts, had married. It was one of the immutable Blue-Bluffs laws that they had broken : there were no marriages allowed off the place there. Vane was expiating his offence no one knew where, and there were even rumors that he had already been sent away to the Cuban plantation of the Marlboro’s, whither all refractory slaves were wont to journey.
Éloise went slowly back to the drawing-room, then out upon the piazza, and with her went that bending grace that accompanied her least motion, and always reminded you of a flower swaying on its stem. Mr. Marlboro’ leaned there, listening to Miss Murray’s singing within. Eloise went and took her place beside him, while his face brightened. He had been eating opium again, and his eyes were full of dreams. From where they stood upon the piazza they could see the creek winding, a strip of silvery redness, along the coast, and far in the distance where it met the sea, a film upon the sky, rose the dim castellated height of Blue Bluffs, like an azure mist.
“ There is something there that I want,” said Éloise, archly, looking at the Bluffs.
“ There ? you shall not wish twice.”
Then Hazel approaching, as by signal, offered Mr. Marlboro’ a cup, which he declined without gesture or glance, while there gleamed in her eye a subtle look that told how easy it would have been to brew poison for this man who had such an ungodly power over her fate.
“ That is my little maid,” said Éloise. “ I have lent her to Mrs. Arles awhile, though. Is she not pretty, — Hazel ? ”
That is Hazel, then ? A very witchhazel ! ”
“ Yes.” -
“ And you want Vane ? ”
“ Yes, Mr. Marlboro’.”
“ I did not know she was your maid. But the offence of Vane, if overlooked, would he a breach of discipline entailing too hazardous effects. Authority should never relax. What creeps through the iron fingers once can creep again. The gentle dews distilling through the pores of the granite congeal in the first frost and rend the rock. I would have difficulty, Miss Éloise, in pardoning such an offence to you, yourself. Ah, yes, that would be impossible, by Heaven ! ”
Éloise laughed in her charming way, and said, —
“ But, Mr. Marlboro’, would it not be an admirable lesson to your people, if Vane were sold ? ”
“ A lesson to teach them all to go and do likewise, eh, Marlboro’ ?" said St. George, passing, with Miss Humphreys on his arm.
“ I have never sold, I never sell, a slave,” replied Marlboro’, in his placid tone ; but St. George was out of hearing. “ Yet, Miss Éloise, — if—if you will accept him ”-
“ Mr. Marlboro’! Indeed? Truly indeed ? How happy you make me ! ”
“ And you can make me as happy, — happier, by the infinity of heaven over earth ! ”
“ But ought I to accept such a gift ? ” asked Éloise, oblivious of his last speech. But can I ? — may I ? ”— as St. George’s warning stole into her memory.
“ Most certainly you can ! most certainly you shall! he is yours! ” And before Éloise could pour forth one of her multitudinous thanks, he had moved away.
Marlboro’s, however, was not that noble nature that spurns to beg at the moment when it grants. Directly, he had wheeled about, and with au eager air was again beside her.
“ And, Éloise,” he said, “ if in response I might have one smile, one hope”—
Thoughtlessly enough, Éloise turned her smiling face upon him, and gave him her hand.
“ And you give it to me at last, this hand, to crown my life ! ” he said,—for to his excited brain the trifling deed seemed the weighty event, and when he looked up Éloise still was smiling. Only for a second, though, for her processes of thought were not instantaneous, while to him it was one of Mahomet’s moments holding an eternity, and she smiled while she was thinking, thinking simply of her little handmaiden’s pleasure. She tried to release her hand. But Mr. Marlboro’ did not know that his grasp upon it was that of a vice, for under an artificial stimulus every action is as intense as the fired fancy itself. And as she found it impossible to free it without visible violence, other thoughts visited Éloise. Why should she not give it to him ? Who else cared for it ? What object had her lonely life ? Speak sweetly as they might, what one of her old gallants forgot her loss of wealth ? Here was a man to make happy, here was a heart to rest upon, here was a slave of his own passions to set free. Why should she continue to live with Mr. St. George for her haughty master, when here was this man at her feet ? Why, but that suddenly the conviction smote her that she loved the one and despised the other, that she adored the master and despised the slave ? And she snatched away her hand.
Just then Mr. St. George was coming down the piazza again, on his promenade, his head bent low as he spoke to the clinging little lady on his arm. Passing Éloise, as he raised his face, their eyes met. She was doing, he thought, the very thing that he had disadvised, and, as if to warn her afresh, he looked long, a derisive smile curling his proud lip. That was enough. “ He knows it!” exclaimed Éloise to herself. “He believes it! He thinks I love him! He never shall be sure of it! ” And turning once more, her face hung down and away, she laid her hand in Marlboro’s, without a word or a glance. He bent low over it in the shadow, pressing it with his fervent lips, murmuring, “ Mine! mine at last! my own ! ” And St. George saw the whole.
Just then a little sail crept in sight from where they stood, winding down the creek at the foot of the lawn.
“ Oh, how delightful to be on the water to-night! ” cried Laura Murray.
“ You have but to command,” said Mr. St. George, with a certain gayety that seemed struck out like sparks against the flinty fact of the late occurrence,— and half the party trooped down the turf to the shore. The boats were afloat and laden before one knew it. Mr. Marlboro’ and Éloise were just one instant too late. Laura Murray shook a triumphant handkerchief at them, and St. George feathered his oar, pausing a moment as if he would return, and then gave a great sweep and his boat fairly leaped over the water.
Mr. Marlboro’ did not hesitate. There was the sail they had first seen, now on the point of being lowered beneath the alder-bushes by the young hunters who had sought shore for the night. Gold slipped from one hand to another, a word, a name, and a promise. Éloise was on board, expecting Mrs. Arles and Mrs. Houghton to follow. Marlboro’ sprang upon the end, and drew in the rope behind him, waving the other ladies a farewell ; the sails were stretched again, the rudder shipped, and wing and wing they went skimming down the channel, past the little fleet of wherries, ploughing the shallow current into foam and spray on their wild career.
“ Marlboro’ is mad! ” said St. George, with a whitening cheek.
Marlboro’, standing up, one arm about the mast, and catching the slant beam of the late-rising moon on his face, that shone awfully rapt and intent, saluted them with an ironical cheer, and dashed on. Éloise held the tiller for the moment, still pulsating with her late emotions, not above a trifling play of vanity, welcoming the exhilaration of a race, where she might half forget her trouble, and pleased with a vague anticipation of some intervention that might recall the word which even in these five dragging moments had already begun to corrode and eat into her heart like a rusting fetter. The oarsmen in the wherries bent their muscles to the strife, the boats danced over the tiny crests, the ladies sang their breeziest sea-songs to cheer them at the work. The sail-boat rounded a curve and was almost out of sight.
“ Oars never caught sails yet,” muttered St. George, and he put his boat to the shore. “ There, Murray, try your lazy mettle, and take my oar. As for me, I’m off,” — and he sprang upon the bank, sending the boat spinning off into the current again from his foot. In ten minutes a horseman went galloping by on the high-road skirting the shore, with a pace like that of the Spectre of the Storm.
“ Now, Mr. Marlboro’,” said Éloise, “ shall we not turn back, victorious ? ”
“ Turn ? ” said Marlboro’, shaking loose another fold of the linen. “ I never turn ! Look your last on the tiny tribe,— we shall see them no more ! ”
Éloise sprang to her feet. He caught her hand and replaced her ; his face was so white that it shone, there was a wild glitter in his eye, and the smile that brooded over her had something in it absolutely terrific.
“We have gone far enough,” said Éloise, resolutely. “ I wish to rejoin my friends.”
“ You are with me !” said Marlboro’, proudly.
She was afraid to say another word, for to oppose him now in his exultant rage might only work the mood to frenzy. The creek had widened almost to a river, —the sea was close at hand, with its great tumbling surf. She looked at the horizon and the hill for help, but none came ; destruction was before them, and on they flew.
Marlboro’ stood now, and steadied the tiller with his foot.
“ This is motion ! ” said he. “ We fly upon the wings of the wind 1 The viewless wind comes roaring out of the black region of the East, it fills the high heaven, it roars on to the uttermost undulation of the atmosphere, and we are a part of it! We are only a mote upon its breath, a dust-atom driven before it, Éloise, — and yet one great happiness is greater than it, drowns it in a vaster flood of viewless power, can whisper to it calm! ”
How should Éloise contradict him ? With such rude awakening, he might only snatch her in his arms and plunge down to death. Perhaps he half divined the fear.
“ Yes, Éloise,” he said. “ They are both here, life and death, at our beck ! I can take you to my heart, one instant the tides divide, then they close above us, and you are mine for ever and ever and only, — sealed mine beneath all this crystal sphere of the waters ! We hear the gentle lapping of the ripples on the shore, we hear the tones of evening-bells swim out and melt above us, we hear the oar shake off its shower of tinkling drops, — up the jewel-strewn deeps of heaven the planets hang out their golden lamps to light our slumbers ! Heart to heart and lip to lip, we are at rest, we are at peace, nothing comes between us, our souls have the eternities in which to mingle ! ”
He saw Éloise shudder, and turned from his dream, blazing full upon her. “Life, then, is best!” he cried. “But life together and alone, life where we count out its throbs in some far purple island of the main, prolonged who knows how far ?—love shall make for us perpetual youth, there shall no gloom enter our Eden, perfect solitude and perfect bliss ! Alone, we two in our pride and our joy can defy the powers of any other heaven, we shall become gods ourselves! Up helm and away ! Life is best! ”