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   Chapter 12 No.12

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 10511

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Mr. Fitzgerald had ordered his horse to be saddled at an earlier hour than Tom had ever known him to ride, except on a hunting excursion, and in his own mind he concluded that his master would be asleep at the hour he had indicated. Before he stretched himself on the floor for the night, he expressed this opinion to the cook by saying, "Yer know, Dinah, white folks is allers mighty wide awake de night afore dey gits up."

To his surprise, however, Mr. Fitzgerald made his appearance at the stable just as he was beginning to comb the horse. "You lazy black rascal," he exclaimed, "didn't I order you to have the horse ready by this time?"

"Yes, Massa," replied Tom, sheering out of the way of the upraised whip; "but it peers like Massa's watch be leetle bit faster dan de sun dis ere mornin'."

The horse was speedily ready, and Tom looked after his master as he leaped into the saddle and dashed off in the direction of the lonely cottage. There was a grin on his face as he muttered, "Reckon Missis don't know whar yer gwine." He walked toward the house, whistling, "Nelly was a lady."

"Dat ar war gwine roun' an' roun' de hus las' night, jes like a sperit. 'Twar dat ar Spanish lady," said Dinah.

"She sings splendiferous," rejoined Tom, "an' Massa liked it more dan de berry bes bottle ob wine." He ended by humming, "Now all dem happy days am ober."

"Better not let Massa hear yer sing dat ar," said Dinah. "He make yer sing nudder song."

"She's mighty gran' lady, an' a bery perlite missis, an' Ise sorry fur her," replied Tom.

Mr. Fitzgerald had no sense of refreshment in his morning ride. He urged his horse along impatiently, with brow contracted and lips firmly compressed. He was rehearsing in his mind the severe reprimand he intended to bestow upon Rosa. He expected to be met with tears and reproaches, to which he would show himself hard till she made contrite apologies for her most unexpected and provoking proceedings. It was his purpose to pardon her at last, for he was far enough from wishing to lose her; and she had always been so gentle and submissive, that he entertained no doubt the scene would end with a loving willingness to accept his explanations, and believe in his renewed professions. "She loves me to distraction, and she is entirely in my power," thought he. "It will be strange indeed if I cannot mould her as I will."

Arrived at the cottage, he found Tulee washing on a bench outside the kitchen. "Good morning, Tulee," said he. "Is your mistress up yet?"

"Missy Rosy ha'n't been asleep," she answered in a very cold tone, without looking up from her work.

He entered the house, and softly opened the door of Rosa's sleeping apartment. She was walking slowly, with arms crossed, looking downward, as if plunged in thought. Her extreme pallor disarmed him, and there was no hardness in his tone when he said, "Rosabella!"

She started, for she had supposed the intruder was Tulee. With head proudly erect, nostrils dilated, and eyes that flashed fire, she exclaimed, "How dare you come here?"

This reception was so entirely unexpected, that it disconcerted him; and instead of the severe reproof he had contemplated, he said, in an expostulating tone: "Rosa, I always thought you the soul of honor. When we parted, you promised not to go to the plantation unless I was with you. Is this the way you keep your word?"

"You talk of honor and promises!" she exclaimed.

The sneer conveyed in the tones stung him to the quick. But he made an effort to conceal his chagrin, and said, with apparent calmness: "You must admit it was an unaccountable freak to start for the plantation in the evening, and go wandering round the grounds in that mysterious way. What could have induced you to take such a step?"

"I accidentally overheard Tom telling Tulee that you were to bring home a bride from the North yesterday. I could not believe it of you, and I was too proud to question him. But after reflecting upon it, I chose to go and see for myself. And when I had seen for myself, I wished to remind you of that past which you seemed to have forgotten."

"Curse on Tom!" he exclaimed. "He shall smart for this mischief."

"Don't be so unmanly as to punish a poor servant for mentioning a piece of news that interested the whole plantation, and which must of course be a matter of notoriety," she replied very quietly. "Both he and Tulee were delicate enough to conceal it from me."

Fitzgerald felt embarrassed by her perfect self-possession. After a slight pause, during which she kept her face averted from him, he said: "I confess that appearances are against me, and that you have reason to feel offended. But if you knew just how I was situated, you would, perhaps, judge me less harshly. I have met with heavy losses lately, and I was in danger of becoming bankrupt unless I could keep up my credit by a wealthy marriage. The father of this young lady is rich, and she fell in love with me. I have married her; but I tell you truly, dear Rosa, that I love you more than I ever loved any other woman."

"You say she loved you, and yet you could deceive her so," she replied. "You could conceal from her that you already had a wife. When I watched her as she walked

on the veranda I was tempted to reveal myself, and disclose your baseness."

Fitzgerald's eyes flashed with sudden anger, as he vociferated, "Rosa, if you ever dare to set up any such claim-"

"If I dare!" she exclaimed, interrupting him in a tone of proud defiance, that thrilled through all his nerves.

Alarmed by the strength of character which he had never dreamed she possessed, he said: "In your present state of mind, there is no telling what you may dare to do. It becomes necessary for you to understand your true position. You are not my wife. The man who married us had no legal authority to perform the ceremony."

"O steeped in falsehood to the lips!" exclaimed she. "And you are the idol I have worshipped!"

He looked at her with astonishment not unmingled with admiration. "Rosa, I could not have believed you had such a temper," rejoined he. "But why will you persist in making yourself and me unhappy? As long as my wife is ignorant of my love for you, no harm is done. If you would only listen to reason, we might still be happy. I could manage to visit you often. You would find me as affectionate as ever; and I will provide amply for you."

"Provide for me?" she repeated slowly, looking him calmly and loftily in the face. "What have you ever seen in me, Mr. Fitzgerald, that has led you to suppose I would consent to sell myself?"

His susceptible temperament could not withstand the regal beauty of her proud attitude and indignant look. "O Rosa," said he, "there is no woman on earth to be compared with you. If you only knew how I idolize you at this moment, after all the cruel words you have uttered, you surely would relent. Why will you not be reasonable, dearest? Why not consent to live with me as your mother lived with your father?"

"Don't wrong the memory of my mother," responded she hastily. "She was too pure and noble to be dishonored by your cruel laws. She would never have entered into any such base and degrading arrangement as you propose. She couldn't have lived under the perpetual shame of deceiving another wife. She couldn't have loved my father, if he had deceived her as you have deceived me. She trusted him entirely, and in return he gave her his undivided affection."

"And I give you undivided affection," he replied. "By all the stars of heaven, I swear that you are now, as you always have been, my Rosa Regina, my Rosa munda."

"Do not exhaust your oaths," rejoined she, with a contemptuous curl of the lip. "Keep some of them for your Lily Bell, your precious pearl, your moonlight sylph."

Thinking the retort implied a shade of jealousy, he felt encouraged to persevere. "You may thank your own imprudence for having overheard words so offensive to you," responded he. "But Rosa, dearest, you cannot, with all your efforts, drive from you the pleasant memories of our love. You surely do not hate me?"

"No, Mr. Fitzgerald; you have fallen below hatred. I despise you."

His brow contracted, and his lips tightened. "I cannot endure this treatment," said he, in tones of suppressed rage. "You tempt me too far. You compel me to humble your pride. Since I cannot persuade you to listen to expostulations and entreaties, I must inform you that my power over you is complete. You are my slave. I bought you of your father's creditors before I went to Nassau. I can sell you any day I choose; and, by Jove, I will, if-"

The sudden change that came over her arrested him. She pressed one hand hard upon her heart, and gasped for breath. He sank at once on his knees, crying, "O, forgive me, Rosa! I was beside myself."

But she gave no sign of hearing him; and seeing her reel backward into a chair, with pale lips and closing eyes, he hastened to summon Tulee. Such remorse came over him that he longed to wait for her returning consciousness. But he remembered that his long absence must excite surprise in the mind of his bride, and might, perhaps, connect itself with the mysterious singer of the preceding evening. Goaded by contending feelings, he hurried through the footpaths whence he had so often kissed his hand to Rosa in fond farewell, and hastily mounted his horse without one backward glance.

Before he came in sight of the plantation, the perturbation of his mind had subsided, and he began to think himself a much-injured individual. "Plague on the caprices of women!" thought he. "All this comes of Lily's taking the silly, romantic whim of coming here to spend the honeymoon. And Rosa, foolish girl, what airs she assumes! I wanted to deal generously by her; but she rejected all my offers as haughtily as if she had been queen of Spain and all the Americas. There's a devilish deal more of the Spanish blood in her than I thought for. Pride becomes her wonderfully; but it won't hold out forever. She'll find that she can't live without me. I can wait."

Feeling the need of some safety-valve to let off his vexation, he selected poor Tom for that purpose. When the obsequious servant came to lead away the horse, his master gave him a sharp cut of the whip, saying, "I'll teach you to tell tales again, you black rascal!" But having a dainty aversion to the sight of pain, he summoned the overseer, and consigned him to his tender mercies.

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