THIS was the history of Emilia’s concealed visits to Malbone.
One week after her marriage, in a crisis of agony, Emilia took up her pen, dipped it in fire, and wrote thus to him: —
“ Philip Malbone, why did nobody ever tell me what marriage is where there is no love ? This man who calls himself my husband is no worse, I suppose, than other men. It is only for being what is called by that name that I abhor him. Good God! what am I to do? It was not for money that I married him ; that you know very well: I cared no more for his money than for himself. I thought it was the only way to save Hope. She has been very good to me, and perhaps I should love her, if I could love anybody. Now I have done what will only make more misery, for I cannot bear it. Philip, I am alone in this wide world, except for you. Tell me what to do. I will haunt you till you die, unless you tell me. Answer this, or I will write again.”
Terrified by this letter, absolutely powerless to guide the life with which he had so desperately entangled himself, Philip let one day pass without answering, and that evening he found Emilia at his door, she having glided unnoticed up the main stairway. She was so excited, it was equally dangerous to send her away or to admit her, and he drew her in, darkening the windows and locking the door. On the whole, it was not so bad as he expected ; at least there was less violence and more despair. She covered her face with her hands, and writhed in anguish, when she said that she had utterly degraded herself by this loveless marriage. She scarcely mentioned her husband. She made no complaint of him, and even spoke of him as generous. It seemed as if this made it worse, and as if she would be happier if she could expend herself in hating him. She spoke of him rather as a mere witness to some shame for which she herself was responsible ; bearing him no malice, but tortured by the thought that he should exist.
Then she turned on Malbone. “ Philip, why did you ever interfere with my life ? I should have been very happy with Antoine if you had let me marry him, for I never should have known what it was to love you. Oh ! I wish he were here now, even he ; any one who loved me truly, and whom I could love only a little. I would go away with such a person anywhere, and never trouble you and Hope any more. What shall I do ? Philip, you might tell me what to do. Once you told me always to come to you.”
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by FIELDS, OSGOOD, & Co., in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
“What can you do?” he asked gloomily, in return.
“ I cannot imagine,” she said, with a desolate look, more pitiable than passion, on her young face. “ I wish to save Hope, and to save my—to save Mr. Lambert. Philip, you do not love me. I do not call it love. There is no passion in your veins; it is only a sort of sympathetic selfishness. Hope is infinitely better than you are, and I. believe she is more capable of loving. I began by hating her, but if she loves you as I think she does, she has treated me more generously than ever one woman treated another. For she could not look at me and not know that I loved you. I did love you. O Philip, tell me what to do ! ”
Such beauty in anguish, the thrill of the possession of such love, the possibility of soothing by tenderness the wild mood which he could not meet bycounsel,— it would have taken a stronger or less sympathetic nature than Malbone’s to endure all this. It swept him away ; this revival of passion was irresistible. When her pent-up feeling was once uttered, she turned to his love as a fancied salvation. It was a terrible remedy. She had never looked more beautiful, and yet she seemed to have grown old at once ; her very caresses appeared to burn. She lingered and lingered, and still he kept her there ; and when it was no longer possible for her to go without disturbing the house, he led her to a secret spiral stairway, which went from attic to cellar of that stately old mansion, and which opened by one or more doors on each landing, as his keen eye had found out. Descending this, he went forth with her into the dark and silent night. The mist hung around the house ; the wet leaves fluttered and fell upon their cheeks ; the water lapped desolately against the pier. Philip found a carriage and sent her back to Mrs. Meredith’s, where she was staying during the brief absence of John Lambert.
These concealed meetings, once begun, became an absorbing excitement. She came several times, staying half an hour, an hour, two hours. They were together long enough for suffering, never long enough for soothing. It was a poor substitute for happiness. Each time she came, Malbone wished that she might never go or never return. His warier nature was feverish with solicitude and with self-reproach ; he liked the excitement of slight risks, but this was far too intense, the vibrations too extreme. She, on the other hand, rode triumphant over waves of passion which cowed him. He dared not exclude her ; he dared not continue to admit her; he dared not free himself; he could not be happy. The privacy of the concealed stairway saved them from outward dangers, but not from inward fears. Their interviews were first blissful, then anxious, then sad, then stormy. It was at the end of such a storm that Emilia had passed into one of those deathly calms which belonged to her physical temperament; and it was under these circumstances that Hope had followed Philip to the door.
AUNT JANE TO THE RESCUE.
The thing that saves us from insanity during great grief is that there is usually something to do, and the mind composes itself to the mechanical task of adjusting the details. Hope dared not look forward an inch into the future ; that way madness lay. Fortunately, it was plain what must come first, — to keep the whole thing within their own roof, and therefore to make some explanation to Mrs. Meredith, whose servants had doubtless been kept up all night awaiting Emilia. Profoundly perplexed what to say or not to say to her, Hope longed with her whole soul for an adviser. Harry and Kate were both away, and besides, she shrank from darkening their young lives as hers had been darkened. She resolved to seek counsel in the one person who most thoroughly distrusted Emilia, —Aunt Jane.
This lady was in a particularly happy mood that day. Emilia, who did all kinds of fine needle-work exquisitely, had just embroidered for Aunt Jane some pillow-cases. The original suggestion came from Hope, but it never cost Emilia anything to keep a secret, and she had presented the gift very sweetly, as if it were a thought of her own. Aunt Jane, who with all her penetration as to facts was often veryguileless as to motives, was thoroughly touched by the humility and the embroidery.
“All last night,” she said, “ I kept waking up and thinking about Christian charity and my pillow-cases.”
It was, therefore, a very favorable day for Hope’s consultation, though it was nearly noon before her aunt was visible, perhaps because it took so long to make up her bed with the new adornments.
Hope said frankly to Aunt Jane that there were some circumstances about which she should rather not be questioned, but that Emilia had come there the previous night from the ball, had been seized with one of her peculiar attacks, and had stayed all night. Aunt Jane kept her eyes steadily fixed on Hope’s sad face, and, when the tale was ended, drew her down and kissed her lips.
“ Now tell me, dear,” she said; “ what comes first ? ”
“The first thing is,” said Hope, “to have Emilia’s absence explained to Mrs. Meredith in some such way that she will think no more of it, and not talk about it.”
“ Certainly,” said Aunt Jane. “There is but one way to do that. I will call on her myself.”
“ You, auntie ? ” said Hope.
“Yes, I,” said her aunt. “I have owed her a call for five years. It is the only thing that will excite her so much as to put all else out of her head.”
“ O auntie ! ” said Hope, greatly relieved, “ if you only would ! But ought you really to go out? It is almost raining.”
“ I shall go,” said Aunt Jane, decisively, “if it rains little boys!”
“ But will not Mrs. Meredith wonder— ?” began Hope.
“That is one advantage,” interrupted her aunt, “ of being an absurd old woman. Nobody ever wonders at anything I do, or else it is because they never stop wondering.”
She sent Ruth erelong to order the horses. Hope collected her various wrappers, and Ruth, returning, got her mistress into preparation.
“If I might say one thing more,” Hope whispered.
“ Certainly,” said her aunt. “ Ruth, go to my chamber, and get me a pin.”
“ What kind of a pin, ma’am ? ” asked that meek handmaiden, from the doorway.
“ What a question ! ” said her indignant mistress. “ Any kind. The common pin of North America. Now, Hope?” as the door closed.
“ I think it better, auntie,” said Hope, “ that Philip should not stay here longer, at present. You can truly say that the house is full, and — ”
“ I have just had a note from him,” said Aunt Jane, severely. “ He has gone to lodge at the hotel. What next ? ”
“Aunt Jane,” said Hope, looking her full in the face, “ I have not the slightest idea what to do next.”
(“The next thing for me,” thought her aunt, “ is to have a little plain speech with that misguided child up stairs.”)
“ I can see no way out,” pursued Hope.
“ Darling! ” said Aunt Jane, with a voice full of womanly sweetness, “ there is always a way out, or else the world would have stopped long ago. Perhaps it would have been better if it had stopped, but you see it has not. All we can do is, to live on and try our best.”
She bade Hope leave Emilia to her, and furthermore, stipulated that Hope should go to her pupils as usual, that afternoon, as it was their last lesson. The young girl shrank from the effort, but the elder lady was inflexible. She had her own purpose in it. Hope once out of the way, Aunt Jane could deal with Emilia.
No human being, when met face to face with Aunt Jane, had ever failed to yield up to her the whole truth she sought. Emilia was on that day no exception. She was prostrate, languid, humble, denied nothing, was ready to concede every point but one. Never, while she lived, would she dwell beneath John Lambert’s roof again. She had left it impulsively, she admitted, scarce knowing what she did. But she would never return there to live. She would go once more and see that all was in order for Mr. Lambert, both in the house and on board the yacht, where they were to have taken up their abode for a time. There were new servants in the house, a new captain on the yacht; she would trust Mr. Lambert’s comfort to none of them ; she would do her full duty. Duty ! the more utterly she felt herself to be gliding away from him forever, the more pains she was ready to lavish in doing these nothings well. About every insignificant article he owned she seemed to feel the most scrupulous and wife-like responsibility; while she yet knew that all he had was to him nothing, compared with the possession of herself; and it was the thought of this last ownership that drove her to despair.
Sweet and plaintive as the child’s face was, it had a glimmer of wildness and a hunted look, that baffled Aunt Jane a little and compelled her to temporize. She consented that Emilia should go to her own house, on condition that she would not see Philip, — which was readily and even eagerly promised, — and that Hope should spend that night with Emilia, which proposal was ardently accepted. It occurred to Aunt Jane that nothing better could happen than for John Lambert, on returning, to find his wife at home ; and to secure this result, if possible, she telegraphed to him to come at once.
Meantime Hope gave her inevitable music-lesson, so absorbed in her own thoughts that it was all as mechanical as the métronome. As she came out upon the Avenue for the walk home, she saw a group of people from a gardener’s house, who had collected beside a muddy crossing, where a team of carthorses had refused to stir. Presently they sprang forward with a great jerk, and a little Irish child was thrown beneath the wheel. Hope sprang forward to grasp the child and the wheel struck her also ; but she escaped with a dress torn and smeared, while the cart passed over the little girl’s arm breaking it in two places. She screamed and then grew faint, as Ilope lifted her. The mother received the little burden with a wall of anguish; the other Irishwomen pressed around her with the dense and suffocating sympathy of their nation. Hope bade one and another run for a physician, but nobody stirred. There was no surgical aid within a mile or more. Hope looked round in despair. then glanced at her own disordered garments.
“As sure as you live ! ” shouted a well-known voice from a carriage which had stopped behind them. “ If that is n’t Hope what’s-her-name, wish I may never ! Here’s a lark ! Let me come there ! ”
And the speaker pushed through the crowd.'
“Miss Ingleside,” said Hope, decisively, “ this child’s arm is broken. There is nobody to go for a physician. But for the condition I am in, I would ask you to take me there at once in your carriage ; but as it is — ”
“ As it is, I must ask you, hey ? ” said Blanche, finishing the sentence. “Of course. No mistake. Sans dire. Jones, junior, this lady will join us. Don’t look so scared, man. Are you anxious about your cushions or your reputation ?”
The youth simpered and disclaimed.
“Jump in, then,Miss Maxwell. Never mind the expense. It’s only the family carriage ; — surname and arms of Jones. Lucky there are no parents to the fore. Put my shawl over you, so.”
“ O Blanche ! ” said Hope, “what injustice — ”
“ I’ve done myself?” said the volatile damsel. “Not a doubt of it. That’s my style, you know. But I have some sense; I know who’s who. Now, Jones, junior, make your man handle the ribbons. I ’ve always had a grudge against that ordinance about fast driving, and now’s our chance.”
And the sacred “ ordinance,” with all other proprieties, was left in ruins that day. They tore along the Avenue with unexplained and most inexplicable speed, Hope being concealed by riding backward, and by a large shawl, and Blanche and her admirer receiving the full indignation of every chaste and venerable eye. Those who had tolerated all this girl’s previous improprieties were obliged to admit that the line must be drawn somewhere. She at once lost several good invitations and a matrimonial offer, since Jones, junior, was swept away by his parents to be wedded without delay to a consumptive heiress who had long pined for his whiskers. And Count Posen, in his Souvenirs, was severer on Blanche’s one good deed than on the worst of her follies.
A few years after, as Blanche, then the fearless wife of a regular-army officer, was helping Hope in the hospitals at Norfolk, she would stop to shout with delight over the reminiscence of that stately Jones equipage in mad career, amid the barking of clogs and the groaning of dowagers. “ After all, Hope,” she would say, “ the fastest thing I ever did was under your orders.”
The members of the household were all at the window about noon, next day, watching the rise of a storm. A murky wing of cloud, shaped like a hawk’s, hung over the low western hills, across the bay. Then the hawk became an eagle, and the eagle a gigantic phantom, that hovered over half the visible sky. Beneath it, a little scud of vapor, moved by some cross-current of air, raced rapidly against the wind, just above the horizon, like smoke from a battle-field.
As the cloud ascended, the water grew rapidly blacker, and in half an hour broke into jets of white foam, all over its surface, with an angry look. Meantime a white film of fog spread down the bay from the northward. The wind hauled from southwest to northwest, so suddenly and strongly that all the anchored boats seemed to have swung round instantaneously, without visible process. The instant the wind shifted, the rain broke forth, filling the air in a moment with its volume, and cutting so sharply that it seemed like hail, though no hailstones reached the ground. At the same time there rose upon the water a dense white film, which seemed to grow together from a hundred different directions, and was made partly of rain, and partly of the blown edges of the spray. There was but a glimpse of this ; for in a few moments it was impossible to see two rods; but when the first gust was over, the water showed itself again, the jets of spray all beaten down, and regular waves of dull lead-color breaking higher on the shore. All the depth of blackness had left the sky, and there remained only an obscure and ominous gray, through which the lightning flashed white, not red. Boats came driving in from the mouth of the bay with a rag of sail up ; the men got them moored with difficulty, and when they sculled ashore in the skiffs, a dozen comrades stood ready to grasp and haul them in. Others launched skiffs in sheltered places, and pulled out bare-headed to bail out their fishing-boats and keep them from swamping at their moorings.
The shore was thronged with men in oilskin clothes and by women with shawls over their heads. Aunt Jane, who always felt responsible for whatever went on in the elements, sat indoors with one lid closed, wincing at every flash, and watching the universe with the air of a coachman guiding six wild horses.
Just after the storm had passed its height, two veritable wild horses were reined up at the door, and Philip burst in, his usual self-composure gone.
“ Emilia is out sailing!” he exclaimed. “ Alone with Lambert’s boatman, in this gale. They say she was bound for Narragansett.”
“Impossible!” cried Hope, turning pale. “ I left her not three hours ago.” Then she remembered that Emilia had spoken of going on board the yacht, to superintend some arrangements, but had said no more about it, when she opposed it.
“Harry!” said Aunt Jane, quickly, from her chair by the window, “see that fisherman. He has just come ashore and is telling something. Ask him.”
The fisherman had indeed seen Lambert’s boat, which was well known. Something seemed to be the matter with the sail, but before the storm struck her, it had been hauled down. They must have taken in water enough, as it was. He had himself been obliged to bail out three times, running in from the Reef.
“Was there any landing which they could reach ? ” Harry asked.
There was none,—but the light-ship lay right in their track, and if they had good luck, they might get aboard of her.
“The boatman?” said Philip, anxiously,—“Mr. Lambert’s boatman; is he a good sailor ? ”
“ Don't know,” was the reply. “Stranger here. Dutchman, Frenchman, Portegee, or some kind of a foreigner.”
“Seems to understand himself in a boat,” said another.
“ Mr. Malbone knows him,” said a third. “ The same that dove with the young woman under the steamboat paddles.”
“ Good grit,” said the first.
“ That’s so,” was the answer. “But grit don’t teach a man the channel.”
All agreed to this axiom; but as there was so strong a probability that the voyagers had reached the light-ship, there seemed less cause for fear.
The next question was, whether it was possible to follow them. All agreed that it would be foolish for any boat to attempt it, till the wind had blown itself out, which might be within half an hour. After that, some predicted a calm, some a fog, some a renewal of the storm ; there was the usual variety of opinions. At any rate, there might perhaps be an interval during which they could go out, if the gentlemen did not mind a wet jacket.
Within the half-hour came indeed an interval of calm, and a light shone behind the clouds from the west. It faded soon into a gray fog, with ugly puffs of wind from the southwest again. When the young men went out with the boatmen, the water had grown more quiet, save where angry little gusts ruffled it. But these gusts made it necessary to carry a double-reef, and they made but little progress against wind and tide.
A dark gray fog, broken by frequent wind-flaws, makes the ugliest of all days on the water. A still, pale fog is soothing ; it lulls nature to a kind of repose. But a windy fog with occasional sunbeams and sudden films of metallic blue breaking the leaden water, — this carries an impression of something weird and treacherous in the universe, and suggests caution.
As the boat floated on, every sight and sound appeared strange. The music from the fort came sudden and startling through the vaporous eddies. A tall white schooner rose instantaneously near them, like a light-house. They could see the steam of the factory floating low, seeking some outlet between cloud and water. As they drifted past a wharf, the great black piles of coal hung high and gloomy ; then a stray sunbeam brought out their peacock colors ; then came the fog again, driving hurriedly by, as if impatient to go somewhere and enraged at the obstacle. It seemed to have a vast inorganic life of its own, a volition and a whim. It drew itself across the horizon like a curtain; then advanced in trampling armies up the bay; then marched in masses northward; then suddenly grew thin, and showed great spaces of sunlight; then drifted across the low islands, like long tufts of wool ; then ioned itself away toward the horizon ; then closed in again, pitiless and gray.
Suddenly something vast towered amid the mist above them. It was the French war-ship returned to her anchorage once more, and seeming in that dim atmosphere to be something spectral and strange, that had taken form out of the elements. The muzzles of great guns rose tier above tier, along her side ; great boats hung one above another, on successive pairs of davits, at her stern. So high was her hull, that the topmost boat and the topmost gun appeared to be suspended in middle air; and yet this was but the beginning of her altitude. Above these ascended the heavy masts, seen dimly through the mist; between these were spread eight dark lines of sailors’ clothes, which, with the massive yards above, looked like part of some ponderus framework built to reach the sky. This prolongation of the whole dark mass toward the heavens had a portentous look to those who gazed from below ; and when the denser fog sometimes furled itself away from the topgallant masts, hitherto invisible, and showed them rising loftier yet, and the tricolor at the mizzen-mast-head looking down as if from the zenith, then they all seemed to appertain to something of more than human workmanship ; a hundred wild tales of phantom vessels came up to the imagination, and it was as if that one gigantic structure were expanding to fill all space from sky to sea.
They were swept past it; the fog closed in ; it was necessary to land near the Fort, and proceed on foot. They walked across the rough peninsula, while the mist began to disperse again, and they were buoyant with expectation. As they toiled onward, the fog suddenly met them at the turn of a lane where it had awaited them, like an enemy. As they passed into those gray and impalpable arms, the whole world changed again.
They walked toward the sound of the sea. As they approached it, the dull hue that lay upon it resembled that of the leaden sky. The two elements could hardly be distinguished, except as the white outlines of the successive breakers were lifted through the fog. The lines of surf appeared constantly to multiply upon the beach, and yet, on counting them, there were never any more. Sometimes, in the distance, masses of foam rose up like a wall where the horizon ought to be; and as the coming waves took form out of the unseen, it seemed as if no phantom were too vast or shapeless to come rolling in upon their dusky shoulders.
Presently a frail gleam of something like the ghost of dead sunshine made them look over their shoulders toward the west. Above the dim roofs of Castle Hill mansion-house, the sinking sun showed luridly through two rifts of cloud, and then the swift motion of the nearer vapor veiled both sun and cloud, and banished them into almost equal remoteness.
Leaving the beach on their right, and passing the high rocks of the Pirate’s Cave, they presently descended to the water’s edge once more. The cliffs rose to a distorted height in the dimness ; sprays of withered grass nodded along the edge, like Ossian’s spectres. Light seemed to be vanishing from the universe, leaving them alone with the sea. And when a solitary loon uttered his wild cry, and rising, sped away into the distance, it was as if life were following light into an equal annihilation. That sense of vague terror, with which the ocean sometimes controls the fancy, began to lay its grasp on them. They remembered that Emilia, in speaking once of her intense shrinking from death, had said that the sea was the only thing from which she would not fear to meet it.
Fog exaggerates both for eye and ear ; it is always a sounding-board for the billows ; and in this case, as often happens, the roar did not appear to proceed from the billows themselves, but from some source in the unseen horizon, as if the spectators were shut within a beleaguered fortress, and this thundering noise came from an impetuous enemy outside. Ever and anon there was a distinct crash of heavier sound, as if some special barricade had at length been beaten in, and the garrison must look to their inner defences.
The tide was unusually high, and scarcely receded with the ebb, though the surf increased ; the waves came in with constant rush and wail, and with an ominous rattle of pebbles on the little beaches, beneath the powerful suction of the under-tow; and there were more and more of those muffled throbs along the shore which tell of coming danger as plainly as minuteguns. With these came mingled that yet more inexplicable humming which one hears by intervals at such times, like strains of music caught and tangled in the currents of stormy air, — strains which were perhaps the filmy thread on which tales of sirens and mermaids were first strung, and in which, at this time, they would fain recognize the voice of Emilia.
OUT OF THE DEPTHS.
As the night closed in, the wind rose steadily, still blowing from the southwest. In Brenton’s kitchen they found a group round a great fire of driftwood ; some of these were fishermen who had with difficulty made a landing on the beach, and who confirmed the accounts already given. The boat had been seen sailing for the Narragansett shore, and when the squall came, the boatman had lowered and reefed the sail, and stood for the light-ship. They must be on board of her, if anywhere.
“They are safe there?” asked Philip, eagerly.
“ Only place where they would be safe, then,” said the spokesman.
“Unless the light-ship parts,” said an old fellow.
“ Parts ! ” said the other. “ Forty fathom of two inch chain, and old Joe talks about parting.”
“Foolish, of course,” said Philip; “but it’s a dangerous shore.”
“ That’s so,” was the answer. “ Never saw so many lines of reef show outside, neither.”
“ There’s an old saying on this shore,” said Joe : —
Body and soul will Come to grief.
But when Brenton’s Reef comes to Price’s Neck,
Soul and body are both a wreck.”
“ What does it mean ? ” asked Harry.
“It only means,” said somebody, “ that when you see it white all the way out from the Neck to the Reef, you can’t take the inside passage.”
“ But what does the last half mean ? ” persisted Harry.
“ Don’t know as I know,” said the veteran, and relapsed into silence ; in which all joined him, while the wind howled and whistled outside, and the barred windows shook.
Weary and restless with vain waiting, they looked from the doorway at the weather. The door went back with a slam, and the gust swooped down on them with that special blast that always seems to linger just outside on such nights, ready for the first head that shows itself. They closed the door upon the flickering fire and the uncouth shadows within, and went forth into the night. At first the solid blackness seemed to lay a weight on their foreheads. There was absolutely nothing to be seen but the two lights of the light-ship, glaring from the dark sea like a wolf’s eyes from a cavern. They looked nearer and brighter than in ordinary nights, and appeared to the excited senses of the young men to dance strangely on the waves, and to be always opposite to them, as they moved along the shore with the wind almost at their backs.
“What did that old fellow mean?” said Malbone in Harry’s ear, as they came to a protected place and could hear each other, “ by talking of Brenton’s Reef coming to Price’s Neck.”
“ Some sailor’s doggerel,” said Harry, indifferently. “ Here is Price’s Neck before us, and yonder is Brenton’s Reef.”
“ Where ? ” said Philip, looking round bewildered.
The lights had gone, as if the wolf, weary of watching, had suddenly closed his eyes, and slumbered in his cave.
Harry trembled and shivered. In Heaven’s name, what could this disappearance mean ?
Suddenly a sheet of lightning came, so white and intense, it sent its light all the way out to the horizon and exhibited far-off vessels, that reeled and tossed and looked as if wandering without a guide. But this was not so startling as what it showed in the foreground.
There drifted heavily upon the waves, within full view from the shore, movingparallel to it, yet gradually approaching, an uncouth shape that seemed a vessel and yet not a vessel; two stunted masts projected above, and below there could be read, in dark letters that apparently swayed and trembled in the wan lightning, as the thing moved on,
Philip, leaning against a rock, gazed into the darkness where the apparition had been ; even Harry felt a thrill of half-superstitious wonder, and listened half mechanically to a rough sailor’s voice at his ear: —
“God! old Joe was right. There’s one wreck that is bound to make many. The light-ship has parted.”
“ Drifting ashore,” said Harry, his accustomed clearness of head coming back at a flash. “ Where will she strike ? ”
“ Price’s Neck,” said the sailor.
Harry turned to Philip and spoke to him, shouting in his ear the explanation. Malbone’s lips moved mechanically, but he said nothing. Passively, he let Harry take him by the arm, and lead him on.
Following the sailor, they rounded a projecting point, and found themselves a little sheltered from the wind. Not knowing the region, they stumbled about among the rocks, and scarcely knew when they neared the surf, except when a wave came swashing round their very feet. Pausing at the extremity of a cove, they stood beside their conductor, and their eyes, now somewhat accustomed, could make out vaguely the outlines of the waves.
The throat of the cove was so shoal and narrow, and the mass of the waves so great, that they reared their heads enormously, just outside, and spending their strength there, left a lower level within the cove. Yet sometimes a series of great billows would come straight on, heading directly for the entrance, and then the surface of the water within was seen to swell suddenly upward as if by a terrible inward magic of its own ; it rose and rose, as if it would ingulf everything ; then as rapidly sank, and again presented a mere quiet vestibule before the excluded waves.
They saw in glimpses, as the lightning flashed, the shingly beach, covered with a mass of creamy foam, all tremulous and fluctuating in the wind ; and this foam was constantly torn away by the gale in great shreds, that whirled by them as if the very fragments of the ocean were fleeing from it in terror, to take refuge in the less frightful element of air.
Still the wild waves reared their heads, like savage, crested animals, now white, now black, looking in from the entrance of the cove. And now there silently drifted upon them something higher, vaster, darker than themselves,— the doomed vessel. It was strange how slowly and steadily she swept in, — for her broken chain-cable dragged, as it afterwards proved, and kept her stern-on to the shore, — and they could sometimes hear amid the tumult a groan that seemed to come from the very heart of the earth, as she painfully drew her keel over hidden reefs. Over five of these (as was afterwards found) she had already drifted, and she rose and fell more than once on the high waves at the very mouth of the cove, like a wild bird hovering ere it pounces.
Then there came one of those great confluences of waves described already, which, lifting her bodily upward, higher and higher and higher, suddenly rushed with her into the cove, filling it like an opened dry-dock, crashing and roaring round the vessel and upon the rocks, then sweeping out again and leaving her lodged, still stately and steady, at the centre of the cove.
They could hear from the crew a mingled sound, that came as a shout of excitement from some and a shriek of despair from others. The vivid lightning revealed for a moment those on shipboard to those on shore ; and blinding as it was, it lasted long enough to show figures gesticulating and pointing. The old sailor, Mitchell, tried to build a fire among the rocks nearest the vessel, but it was impossible, because of the wind. This was a disappointment, for the light would have taken away half the danger, and more than half the terror. Though the cove was more quiet than the ocean, yet it was fearful enough, even there. The vessel might hold together till morning, but who could tell? It was almost certain that those on board would try to land, and there was nothing to do but to await the effort. The men from the farmhouse had meanwhile come down with ropes.
It was simply impossible to judge with any accuracy of the distance of the ship. One of these new-comers, who declared that she was lodged very near, went to a point of rocks, and shouted to those on board to heave him a rope. The tempest suppressed his voice as it had put out the fire. But perhaps the lightning had showed him to the dark figures on the stern ; for when the next flash came, they saw a rope flung, which fell short. The real distance was more than a hundred yards.
Then there was a long interval of darkness. The moment the next flash came they saw a figure let down by a rope from the stern of the vessel, while the hungry waves reared like wolves to seize it. Everybody crowded down to the nearest rocks, looking this way and that for a head to appear. They pressed eagerly in every direction where a bit of plank or a barrel-head floated ; they fancied faint cries here and there, and went aimlessly to and fro. A new effort, after half a dozen failures, sent a blaze mounting up fitfully among the rocks, startling all with the sudden change its blessed splendor made. Then a shrill shout from one of the watchers summoned all to a cleft in the cove, half shaded from the firelight, where there came rolling in amidst the surf, more dead than alive, the body of a man. It was the young foreigner, John Lambert’s boatman. He bore still around him the rope that was to save the rest.
How pale and eager their faces looked as they bent above him ! But the eagerness was all gone from his, and only the pallor left. While the fishermen got the tackle rigged, such as it was, to complete the communication with the vessel, the young men worked upon the boatman, and soon had him restored to consciousness. He was able to explain that the ship had been severely strained and that all on board believed she would go to pieces before morning. No one would risk being the first to take the water, and he had at last volunteered, as being the best swimmer, on condition that Emilia should be next sent, when the communication was established.
Two ropes were then hauled on board the vessel, a larger and a smaller. By the flickering fire-light and the rarer flashes of lightning (the rain now falling in torrents) they saw a hammock slung to the larger rope ; a woman’s form was swathed in it; and the smaller rope being made fast to this, they found by pulling that she could be drawn towards the shore. Those on board steadied the hammock as it was lowered from the ship, but the waves seemed maddened by this effort to escape their might, and they leaped up at her again and again. The rope drooped beneath her weight, and all that could be done from shore was to haul her in as fast as possible, to abbreviate the period of buffeting and suffocation. As she neared the rocks she could be kept more safe from the water; faster and faster she was drawn in ; sometimes there came some hitch and stoppage, but by steady patience it was overcome.
She was so near the rocks that hands were already stretched to grasp her, when there came one of the great surging waves that sometimes filled the basin. It gave a terrible lurch to the stranded vessel, hitherto so erect; the larger rope snapped instantly ; the guiding rope was twitched from the hands that held it; and the canvas that held Emilia was caught and swept away like a shred of foam, and lost amid the whiteness of the seething froth below. Fifteen minutes after, the hammock came ashore empty, the lashings having parted.
The cold daybreak was just opening, though the wind still blew keenly, when they found the body of Emilia. It was swathed in a roll of sea-weed, lying in the edge of the surf, on a broad, flat rock near where the young boatman had come ashore. The face was not disfigured ; the clothing was only torn a little, and tangled closely round her ; but the life was gone.
It was Philip who first saw her ; and he stood beside her for a moment motionless, stunned into an aspect of tranquillity. This, then, was the end. All his ready sympathy, his wooing tenderness, his winning compliances, his self-indulgent softness, his perilous amiability, his reluctance to give pain or to see sorrow, — all had ended in this. For once, he must force even his accommodating and evasive nature to meet the plain, blank truth. Now, all his characteristics appeared changed by the encounter ; it was Harry who was ready, thoughtful, attentive, — while Philip, who usually had all these traits, was paralyzed among his dreams. Could he have fancied such a scene beforehand, he would have vowed that no hand but his should touch the breathless form of Emilia. As it was, he instinctively made way for the quick gathering of the others, as if almost any one else had a better right to be there.
The storm had blown itself out by sunrise ; the wind had shifted, beating down the waves : it seemed as if everything in nature were exhausted. The very tide had ebbed away. The lightship rested between the rocks, helpless, still at the mercy of the returning waves, and yet still upright and with that stately look of unconscious pleading which all shipwrecked vessels wear. It is wonderfully like the look I have seen in the face of some dead soldier, on whom war had done its worst. Every line of a ship is so built for motion, every part, while afloat, seems so full of life and so answering to the human life it bears, that this paralysis of shipwreck touches the imagination as if the motionless thing had once been animated by a soul.
And not far from the vessel, in a chamber of the seaside farm-house, lay the tenderer and fairer wreck of Emilia. Her storms and her passions were ended. The censure of the world, the anguish of friends, the clinging arms of love, were nothing now to her. Again the soft shelter of unconsciousness had clasped her in ; but this time the trance was longer and the faintness was unto death.
From the moment of her drifting ashore, it was the young boatman who had assumed the right to care for her and to direct everything. Philip seemed stunned; Harry was his usual clearheaded and efficient self; but to his honest eyes much revealed itself in a little while ; and when Hope arrived in the early morning, he said to her. “This boatman, who once saved your life, is Emilia’s Swiss lover, Antoine Marval.”
“ More than lover,” said the young Swiss, overhearing. “ She was my wife before God, when you took her from me. In my country, a betrothal is as sacred as a marriage. Then came that man, he filled her heart with illusions, and took her away in my absence. When my brother was here in the corvette, he found her for me. Then I came for her; I saved her sister; then I saw the name on the card and would not give my own. I became her servant. She saw me in the yacht, only once ; she knew me ; she was afraid. Then she said, ‘ Perhaps I still love you, — a little ; I do not know ; I am in despair ; take me from this home I hate.' We sailed that day in the small boat for Narragansett, I know not where. She hardly looked up nor spoke; but for me, I cared for nothing since she was with me. When the storm came, she was frightened and said, ‘ It is a retribution.' I said, ‘You shall never go back.' She never did. Here she is. You cannot take her from me.”
Once on board the light-ship, she had been assigned the captain’s stateroom, while Antoine watched at the door. She seemed to shrink from him whenever he went to speak to her, he owned, but she answered kindly and gently, begging to be left alone. When at last the vessel parted her moorings, he persuaded Emilia to come on deck and be lashed to the mast, where she sat without complaint.
Who can fathom the thoughts of that bewildered child, as she sat amid the spray and the howling of the blast, while the doomed vessel drifted on with her to shore ! Did all the error and sorrow of her life pass distinctly before her ? Or did the roar of the surf lull her into quiet, like the unconscious kindness of wild creatures that toss and whirl and bewilder their prey into unconsciousness ere they harm it? None can tell. Death answers no questions; it only makes them needless.
The morning brought to the scene John Lambert, just arrived by land from New York.
The passion of John Lambert for his wife was of that kind which ennobles while it lasts, but which rarely outlasts marriage. A man of such uncongenial mould will love an enchanting woman with a mad absorbing passion, where self-sacrifice is so mingled with selfishness that the two emotions seem one ; he will hungrily yearn to possess her, to call her by his own name, to hold her in his arms, to kill any one else who claims her. But when she is once his wife, and his arms hold a body without a soul, — no soul at least for him, — then her image is almost inevitably profaned, and the passion which began too high for earth ends far too low for heaven. Let now death change that form to marble, and instantly it resumes its virgin holiness ; though the presence of life did not sanctify, its departure does. It is only the true lover to whom the breathing form is as sacred as the breathless.
That ideality of nature which love had developed in this man, and which had already drooped a little during his brief period of marriage, was born again by the side of death. While Philip wandered off silent and lonely with his grief, John Lambert knelt by the beautiful remains, talking inarticulately, his eyes streaming with unchecked tears. Again was Emilia, in her marble paleness, the calm centre of a tragedy she herself had caused. The wild, ungoverned child was the image of peace ; it was the stolid and prosperous man who was in the storm. It was not till Hope came that there was any change. Then his prostrate nature sought hers, as the needle leaps to the iron ; the first touch of her hand, the sight of her kiss upon Emilia’s forehead, made him strong, It was the thorough subjection of a worldly man to the higher organization of a noble woman, and thenceforth it never varied. In later years, after he had foolishly sought, as men will, to win her to a nearer tie, there was no moment when she had not full control over his time, his energies, and his wealth.
After it was all ended, Hope told him everything that had happened; but in that wild moment of his despair she told him nothing. Only she and Harry knew the story of the young Swiss ; and now that Emilia was gone, her early lover had no wish to speak of her to any one but these two, nor to linger long where she had been doubly lost to him, by marriage and by death. The world, with all its prying curiosity, usually misses the key to the very incidents about which it asks most questions ; and of the many who gossiped or mourned concerning Emilia, none knew the tragic complication which her death alone could have solved. The breaking of Hope’s engagement to Philip was attributed to every cause but the true one. And when the storm of the great Rebellion broke over the land, its vast calamity absorbed all minor griefs.
Thank God! it is not within the power of one man’s errors to blight the promise of a life like that of Hope. It is but a feeble destiny that is wrecked by passion, when it should be ennobled. Aunt Jane and Kate watched Hope closely during her years of probation, for although she fancied herself to be keeping her own counsel, yet her career lay in broad light for them. She was like yonder sailboat, which floats conspicuous by night amid the path of moonbeams, and which yet seems to its own voyagers to be remote and unseen upon a waste of waves.
Why should I linger over the details of her life, after the width of ocean lay between her and Malbone, and a manhood of self-denying usefulness had begun to show that even he could learn something by life’s retributions ? We know what she was, and it is of secondary importance where she went or what she did. Kindle the light of the light-house, and it has nothing to do, except to shine. There is for it no wrong direction. There is no need to ask, “ How ? Over which especial track of distant water must my light go forth, to find the wandering vessel to be guided in?” It simply shines. Somewhere there is a ship that needs it, or if not, the light does its duty. So did Hope.
We must leave her here. Yet I cannot bear to think of her as passing through earthly life without tasting its deepest bliss, without the last pure ecstasy of human love, without the kisses of her own children on her lips, their waxen fingers on her bosom.
And yet again, is this life so long? May it not be better to wait until its little day is done, and the summer night of old age has yielded to a new morning, before attaining that acme of joy? Are there enough successive grades of bliss for all eternity, if so much be consummated here ? Must all novels end with an earthly marriage, and nothing be left for heaven ?
Perhaps, for such as Hope, this life is given to show what happiness might be, and they await some other sphere for its fulfilment. The greater part of the human race live out their mortal years without attaining more than a far-off glimpse of the very highest joy. Were this life all, its very happiness were sadness. If, as I doubt not, there be another sphere, then that which is unfulfilled in this must yet find completion, nothing omitted, nothing denied. And though a thousand oracles should pronounce this thought an idle dream, neither Hope nor I would believe them.
It was a radiant morning of last February when I walked across the low hills to the scene of the wreck. Leaving the road before reaching the Fort, I struck across the wild moss-country, full of boulders and footpaths and stunted cedars and sullen ponds. I crossed the height of land, where the ruined lookout stands like the remains of a Druidical temple, and then went down toward the ocean. Banks and ridges of snow lay here and there among the fields, and the white linen of distant capes seemed but drifts running seaward. The ocean was gloriously alive,— the blackest blue, with white caps on every wave ; the shore was all snowy, and the gulls were flying back and forth in crowds ; you could not be sure whether they were the white waves coming ashore, or bits of snow going to sea. A single fragment of ship-timber, black with time and weeds, and crusty with barnacles, heaved to and fro in the edge of the surf, and two fishermen’s children, a boy and girl, tilted upon it as it moved, clung with the semblance of terror to each other, and played at shipwreck.
The rocks were dark with moisture, steaming in the sun. Great sheets of ice, white masks of departing winter, clung to every projecting cliff, or slid with crash and shiver into the surge. Icicles dropped their slow and reverberating tears upon the rock where Emilia once lay breathless ; and it seemed as if their cold, chaste drops were sent to cleanse from her memory each scarlet stain, and leave it virginal and pure.