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   Chapter 11 No.11

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 17675

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In less than three weeks after that tender parting, an elegant barouche stopped in front of Magnolia Lawn, and Mr. Fitzgerald assisted a very pretty blonde young lady to alight from it. As she entered the parlor, wavering gleams of sunset lighted up the pearl-colored paper, softened by lace-shadows from the windows. The lady glanced round the apartment with a happy smile, and, turning to the window, said: "What a beautiful lawn! What superb trees!"

"Does it equal your expectations, dear?" he asked. "You had formed such romantic ideas of the place, I feared you might be disappointed."

"I suppose that was the reason you tried to persuade me to spend our honeymoon in Savannah," rejoined she. "But we should be so bored with visitors. Here, it seems like the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve had it all to themselves, before the serpent went there to make mischief. I had heard father and mother tell so much about Magnolia Lawn that I was eager to see it."

"They visited it in spring, when it really does look like Paradise," replied he. "It has its beauties now; but this is not the favorable season for seeing it; and after we have been here a few days, I think we had better return to Savannah, and come again when the lawn is carpeted with flowers."

"I see your mind is bent upon not staying here," answered she; "and I suppose it would be rather tiresome to have no other company than your stupid little Lily Bell."

She spoke with a pouting affectation of reproach, and he exclaimed, "Lily, darling!" as he passed his arm round her slender waist, and, putting aside a shower of pale yellowish ringlets, gazed fondly into the blue eyes that were upturned to his.

They were interrupted by the entrance of Venus, who came to ask their orders. "Tell them to serve supper at seven, and then come and show your mistress to her dressing-room," he said. As she retired, he added: "Now she'll have something to tell of. She'll be proud enough of being the first to get a full sight of the new Missis; and it is a sight worth talking about."

With a gratified smile, she glanced at the pier-glass which reflected her graceful little figure, and, taking his arm, she walked slowly round the room, praising the tasteful arrangements. "Everything has such a bridal look!" she said.

"Of course," replied he; "when I have such a fair Lily Bell for a bride, I wish to have her bower pearly and lily-like. But here is Venus come to show you to your dressing-room. I hope you will like the arrangements up stairs also."

She kissed her hand to him as she left the room, and he returned the salute. When she had gone, he paced slowly up and down for a few moments. As he passed the piano, he touched the keys in a rambling way. The tones he brought out were a few notes of an air he and Rosabella had sung in that same room a few months before. He turned abruptly from the instrument, and looked out from the window in the direction of the lonely cottage, Nothing was visible but trees and a line of the ocean beyond. But the chambers of his soul were filled with visions of Rosa. He thought of the delightful day they had spent together, looking upon these same scenes; of their songs and caresses in the bower; of her letter, so full of love and glad surprise at the bridal arrangements she supposed he had made for her, "I really hope Lily won't insist upon staying here long," thought he; "for it is rather an embarrassing position for me."

He seated himself at the piano and swept his hand up and down the keys, as if trying to drown his thoughts in a tempest of sound. But, do what he would, the thoughts spoke loudest; and after a while he leaned his head forward on the piano, lost in revery.

A soft little hand touched his head, and a feminine voice inquired,

"What are you thinking of, Gerald?"

"Of you, my pearl," he replied, rising hastily, and stooping to imprint a kiss on the forehead of his bride.

"And pray what were you thinking about me?" she asked.

"That you are the greatest beauty in the world, and that I love you better than man ever loved woman," rejoined he. And so the game of courtship went on, till it was interrupted by a summons to supper.

When they returned some time later, the curtains were drawn and candles lighted. "You have not yet tried the piano," said he, as he placed the music-stool.

She seated herself, and, after running up and down the keys, and saying she liked the tone of the instrument, she began to play and sing "Robin Adair." She had a sweet, thin voice, and her style of playing indicated rather one who had learned music, than one whose soul lived in its element. Fitzgerald thought of the last singing he had heard at that piano; and without asking for another song, he began to sing to her accompaniment, "Drink to me only with thine eyes." He had scarcely finished the line, "Leave a kiss within the cup, and I'll not ask for wine," when clear, liquid tones rose on the air, apparently from the veranda; and the words they carried on their wings were these:-

"Down in the meadow, 'mong the clover,

I walked with Nelly by my side.

Now all those happy days are over,

Farewell, my dark Virginia bride.

Nelly was a lady;

Last night she died.

Toll the bell for lovely Nell,

My dark Virginia bride."

The bride listened intensely, her fingers resting lightly on the keys, and when the sounds-died away she started up, exclaiming, "What a voice! I never heard anything like it."

She moved eagerly toward the veranda, but was suddenly arrested by her husband. "No, no, darling," said he. "You mustn't expose yourself to the night air."

"Then do go out yourself and bring her in," urged she. "I must hear more of that voice. Who is she?"

"One of the darkies, I suppose," rejoined he. "You know they all have musical gifts."

"Not such gifts as that, I imagine," she replied. "Do go out and bring her in."

She was about to draw the curtain aside to look out, when he nervously called her attention to another window. "See here!" he exclaimed. "My people are gathering to welcome their new missis. In answer to Tom's request, I told him I would introduce you to them to-night. But you are tired, and I am afraid you will take cold in the evening air; so we will postpone the ceremony until to-morrow."

"O, no," she replied, "I would prefer to go now. How their black faces will shine when they see the glass beads and gay handkerchiefs I have brought for them! Besides, I want to find out who that singer is. It's strange you don't take more interest in such a voice as that, when you are so full of music. Will you have the goodness to ring for my shawl?"

With a decision almost peremptory in its tone, he said, "No; I had rather you would not go out." Seeing that his manner excited some surprise, he patted her head and added: "Mind your husband now, that's a good child. Amuse yourself at the piano while I go out."

She pouted a little, but finished by saying coaxingly, "Come back soon, dear." She attempted to follow him far enough to look out on the veranda, but he gently put her back, and, kissing his hand to her, departed. She raised a corner of the curtain and peeped out to catch the last glimpse of his figure. The moon was rising, and she could see that he walked slowly, peering into spots of dense shadow or thickets of shrubbery, as if looking for some one. But all was motionless and still, save the sound of a banjo from the group of servants. "How I wish I could hear that voice again!" she thought to herself. "It's very singular Gerald should appear so indifferent to it. What can be the meaning of it?"

She pondered for a few minutes, and then she tried to play; but not finding it entertaining without an auditor, she soon rose, and, drawing aside one of the curtains, looked out upon the lovely night. The grand old trees cast broad shadows on the lawn, and the shrubbery of the garden gleamed in the soft moonlight. She felt solitary without any one to speak to, and, being accustomed to have her whims gratified, she was rather impatient under the prohibition laid upon her. She rung the bell and requested Venus to bring her shawl. The obsequious dressing-maid laid it lightly on her shoulders, and holding out a white nubia of zephyr worsted, she said, "P'r'aps missis would like to war dis ere." She stood watching while her mistress twined the gossamer fabric round her head with careless grace. She opened the door for her to pass out on the veranda, and as she looked after her she muttered to herself, "She's a pooty missis; but not such a gran' hansom lady as turrer." A laugh shone through her dark face as she added, "'T would be curus ef she should fine turrer missis out dar." As she passed through the parlor she glanced at the large mirror, which dimly re

flected her dusky charms, and said with a smile: "Massa knows what's hansome. He's good judge ob we far sex."

The remark was inaudible to the bride, who walked up and down the veranda, ever and anon glancing at the garden walks, to see if Gerald were in sight. She had a little plan of hiding among the vines when she saw him coming, and peeping out suddenly as he approached. She thought to herself she should look so pretty in the moonlight, that he would forget to chide her. And certainly she was a pleasant vision. Her fairy figure, enveloped in soft white folds of muslin, her delicate complexion shaded by curls so fair that they seemed a portion of the fleecy nubia, were so perfectly in unison with the mild radiance of the evening, that she seemed like an embodied portion of the moonlight. Gerald absented himself so long that her little plan of surprising him had time to cool. She paused more frequently in her promenade, and looked longer at the distant sparkle of the sea. Turning to resume her walk, after one of these brief moments of contemplation, she happened to glance at the lattice-work of the veranda, and through one of its openings saw a large, dark eye watching her. She started to run into the house, but upon second thought she called out, "Gerald, you rogue, why didn't you speak to let me know you were there?" She darted toward the lattice, but the eye disappeared. She tried to follow, but saw only a tall shadow gliding away behind the corner of the house. She pursued, but found only a tremulous reflection of vines in the moonlight. She kept on round the house, and into the garden, frequently calling out, "Gerald! Gerald!" "Hark! hark!" she murmured to herself, as some far-off tones of "Toll the bell" floated through the air. The ghostly moonlight, the strange, lonely place, and the sad, mysterious sounds made her a little afraid. In a more agitated tone, she called Gerald again. In obedience to her summons, she saw him coming toward her in the garden walk. Forgetful of her momentary fear, she sprang toward him, exclaiming: "Are you a wizard? How did you get there, when two minutes ago you were peeping at me through the veranda lattice?"

"I haven't been there," he replied; "but why are you out here, Lily, when I particularly requested you to stay in the house till I came?"

"O, you were so long coming, that I grew tired of being alone. The moonlight looked so inviting that I went out on the veranda to watch for you; and when I saw you looking at me through the lattice, I ran after you, and couldn't find you."

"I haven't been near the lattice," he replied. "If you saw somebody looking at you, I presume it was one of the servants peeping at the new missis."

"None of your tricks!" rejoined she, snapping her fingers at him playfully. "It was your eye that I saw. If it weren't for making you vain, I would ask you whether your handsome eyes could be mistaken for the eyes of one of your negroes. But I want you to go with me to that bower down there."

"Not to-night, dearest," said he. "I will go with you to-morrow."

"Now is just the time," persisted she. "Bowers never look so pretty as by moonlight. I don't think you are very gallant to your bride to refuse her such a little favor."

Thus urged, he yielded, though reluctantly, to her whim. As she entered the bower, and turned to speak to him, the moonlight fell full upon her figure. "What a pretty little witch you are!" he exclaimed. "My Lily Bell, my precious pearl, my sylph! You look like a spirit just floated down from the moon."

"All moonshine!" replied she, with a smile.

He kissed the saucy lips, and the vines which had witnessed other caresses in that same bower, a few months earlier, whispered to each other, but told no tales. She leaned her head upon his bosom, and looking out upon the winding walks of the garden, so fair and peaceful in sheen and shadow, she said that her new home was more beautiful than she had dreamed. "Hark!" said she, raising her head suddenly, and listening. "I thought I heard a sigh."

"It was only the wind among the vines," he replied. "Wandering about in the moonlight has made you nervous."

"I believe I was a little afraid before you came," said she. "That eye looking at me through the lattice gave me a start; and while I was running after your shadow, I heard that voice again singing, 'Toll the bell.' I wonder how you can be so indifferent about such a remarkable voice, when you are such a lover of music."

"I presume, as I told you before, that it was one of the darkies," rejoined he. "I will inquire about it to-morrow."

"I should sooner believe it to be the voice of an angel from heaven, than a darky," responded the bride. "I wish I could hear it again before I sleep."

In immediate response to her wish, the full rich voice she had invoked began to sing an air from "Norma," beginning, "O, how his art deceived thee!"

Fitzgerald started so suddenly, he overturned a seat near them. "Hush!" she whispered, clinging to his arm. Thus they stood in silence, she listening with rapt attention, he embarrassed and angry almost beyond endurance. The enchanting sounds were obviously receding.

"Let us follow her, and settle the question who she is," said Lily, trying to pull him forward. But he held her back strongly.

"No more running about to-night," he answered almost sternly. Then, immediately checking himself, he added, in a gentler tone: "It is imprudent in you to be out so long in the evening air; and I am really very tired, dear Lily. To-morrow I will try to ascertain which of the servants has been following you round in this strange way."

"Do you suppose any servant could sing that?" she exclaimed.

"They are nearly all musical, and wonderfully imitative," answered he. "They can catch almost anything they hear." He spoke in a nonchalant tone, but she felt his arm tremble as she leaned upon it. He had never before made such an effort to repress rage.

In tones of tender anxiety, she said: "I am afraid you are very tired, dear. I am sorry I kept you out so long."

"I am rather weary," he replied, taking her hand, and holding it in his. He was so silent as they walked toward the house, that she feared he was seriously offended with her.

As they entered the parlor she said, "I didn't think you cared about my not going out, Gerald, except on account of my taking cold; and with my shawl and nubia I don't think there was the least danger of that. It was such a beautiful night, I wanted to go out to meet you, dear."

He kissed her mechanically, and replied, "I am not offended, darling."

"Then, if the blue devils possess you, we will try Saul's method of driving them away," said she. She seated herself at the piano, and asked him whether he would accompany her with voice or flute. He tried the flute, but played with such uncertainty, that she looked at him with surprise. Music was the worst remedy she could have tried to quiet the disturbance in his soul; for its voice evoked ghosts of the past.

"I am really tired, Lily," said he; and, affecting a drowsiness he did not feel, he proposed retiring for the night.

The chamber was beautiful with the moon shining through its rose-tinted drapery, and the murmur of the ocean was a soothing lullaby. But it was long before either of them slept; and when they slumbered, the same voice went singing through their dreams. He was in the flowery parlor at New Orleans, listening to "The Light of other Days"; and she was following a veiled shadow through a strange garden, hearing the intermingled tones of "Norma" and "Toll the bell."

It was late in the morning when she awoke. Gerald was gone, but a bouquet of fragrant flowers lay on the pillow beside her. Her dressing-gown was on a chair by the bedside, and Venus sat at the window sewing.

"Where is Mr. Fitzgerald?" she inquired.

"He said he war gwine to turrer plantation on business. He leff dem flower dar, an' tole me to say he 'd come back soon."

The fair hair was neatly arranged by the black hands that contrasted so strongly with it. The genteel little figure was enveloped in a morning-dress of delicate blue and white French cambric, and the little feet were ensconced in slippers of azure velvet embroidered with silver. The dainty breakfast, served on French porcelain, was slowly eaten, and still Gerald returned not. She removed to the chamber window, and, leaning her cheek on her hand, looked out upon the sun-sparkle of the ocean. Her morning thought was the same with which she had passed into slumber the previous night. How strange it was that Gerald would take no notice of that enchanting voice! The incident that seemed to her a charming novelty had, she knew not why, cast a shadow over the first evening in their bridal home.

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