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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 17788

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Mrs. Green's ball was the party of the season. Five hundred invitations were sent out, all of them to people unexceptionable for wealth, or fashion, or some sort of high distinction, political, literary, or artistic. Smith had received carte blanche to prepare the most luxurious and elegant supper possible. Mrs. Green was resplendent with diamonds; and the house was so brilliantly illuminated, that the windows of carriages traversing that part of Beacon Street glittered as if touched by the noonday sun. A crowd collected on the Common, listening to the band of music, and watching the windows of the princely mansion, to obtain glimpses through its lace curtains of graceful figures revolving in the dance, like a vision of fairy-land seen through a veil of mist.

In that brilliant assemblage, Mrs. King was the centre of attraction. She was still a Rose Royal, as Gerald Fitzgerald had called her twenty-three years before. A very close observer would have noticed that time had slightly touched her head; but the general effect of the wavy hair was as dark and glossy as ever. She had grown somewhat stouter, but that only rendered her tall figure more majestic. It still seemed as if the fluid Art, whose harmonies were always flowing through her soul, had fashioned her form and was swaying all its motions; and to this natural gracefulness was now added that peculiar stylishness of manner, which can be acquired only by familiar intercourse with elegant society. There was nothing foreign in her accent, but the modulations of her voice were so musical, that English, as she spoke it, seemed all vowels and liquid consonants. She had been heralded as La Seńorita, and her dress was appropriately Spanish. It was of cherry-colored satin, profusely trimmed with black lace. A mantilla of very rich transparent black lace was thrown over her head, and fastened on one side with a cluster of red fuchsias, the golden stamens of which were tipped with small diamonds. The lace trimming on the corsage was looped up with a diamond star, and her massive gold bracelets were clasped with, diamonds.

Mr. Green received her with great empressement; evidently considering her the "bright particular star" of the evening. She accepted her distinguished position with the quietude of one accustomed to homage. With a slight bow she gave Mr. Green the desired promise to open the ball with him, and then turned to answer another gentleman, who wished to obtain her for the second dance. She would have observed her host a little more curiously, had she been aware that he once proposed to place her darling Floracita at the head of that stylish mansion.

Mrs. King's peculiar style of beauty and rich foreign dress attracted universal attention; but still greater admiration was excited by her dancing, which was the very soul of music taking form in motion; and as the tremulous diamond drops of the fuchsias kept time with her graceful movements, they sparkled among the waving folds of her black lace mantilla, like fire-flies in a dark night. She was, of course, the prevailing topic of conversation; and when Mr. Green was not dancing, he was called upon to repeat, again and again, the account of her wonderful début in the opera at Rome. In the midst of one of these recitals, Mrs. Fitzgerald and her son entered; and a group soon gathered round that lady, to listen to the same story from her lips. It was familiar to her son; but he listened to it with quickened interest, while he gazed at the beautiful opera-singer winding about so gracefully in the evolutions of the dance.

Mr. King was in the same set with his lady, and had just touched her hand, as the partners crossed over, when he noticed a sudden flush on her countenance, succeeded by deadly pallor. Following the direction her eye had taken, he saw a slender, elegant young man, who, with some variation in the fashion of dress, seemed the veritable Gerald Fitzgerald to whom he had been introduced in the flowery parlor so many years ago. His first feeling was pain, that this vision of her first lover had power to excite such lively emotion in his wife; but his second thought was, "He recalls her first-born son."

Young Fitzgerald eagerly sought out Mr. Green, and said: "Please introduce me the instant this dance is ended, that I may ask her for the next. There will be so many trying to engage her, you know."

He was introduced accordingly. The lady politely acceded to his request, and the quick flush on her face was attributed by all, except Mr. King, to the heat produced by dancing.

When her young partner took her hand to lead her to the next dance, she stole a glance toward her husband, and he saw that her soul was troubled. The handsome couple were "the observed of all observers"; and the youth was so entirely absorbed with his mature partner, that not a little jealousy was excited in the minds of young ladies. When he led her to a seat, she declined the numerous invitations that crowded upon her, saying she should dance no more that evening. Young Fitzgerald at once professed a disinclination to dance, and begged that, when she was sufficiently rested, she would allow him to lead her to the piano, that he might hear her sing something from Norma, by which she had so delighted his mother, in Rome.

"Your son seems to be entirely devoted to the queen of the evening," said Mr. Green to his cousin.

"How can you wonder at it?" replied Mrs. Fitzgerald. "She is such a superb creature!"

"What was her character in Rome?" inquired a lady who had joined the group.

"Her stay there was very short," answered Mrs. Fitzgerald. "Her manners were said to be unexceptionable. The gentlemen were quite vexed because she made herself so inaccessible."

The conversation was interrupted by La Campaneo's voice, singing, "Ah, bello a me ritorno." The orchestra hushed at once, and the dancing was suspended, while the company gathered round the piano, curious to hear the remarkable singer. Mrs. Fitzgerald had long ceased to allude to what was once her favorite topic,-the wonderful resemblance between La Seńorita's voice and a mysterious voice she had once heard on her husband's plantation. But she grew somewhat pale as she listened; for the tones recalled that adventure in her bridal home at Magnolia Lawn, and the fair moonlight vision was followed by dismal spectres of succeeding years. Ah, if all the secret histories and sad memories assembled in a ball-room should be at once revealed, what a judgment night it would be!

Mrs. King had politely complied with the request to sing, because she was aware that her host and the company would be disappointed if she refused; but it was known only to her own soul how much the effort cost her. She bowed rather languidly to the profuse compliments which followed-her performance, and used her fan as if she felt oppressed.

"Fall back!" said one of the gentlemen, in a low voice. "There is too great a crowd round her."

The hint was immediately obeyed, and a servant was requested to bring iced lemonade. She soon breathed more freely, and tried to rally her spirits to talk with Mr. Green and others concerning European reminiscences. Mrs. Fitzgerald drew near, and signified to her cousin a wish to be introduced; for it would have mortified her vanity, when she afterward retailed the gossip of the ball-room, if she had been obliged to acknowledge that she was not presented to la belle lionne.

"If you are not too much fatigued," said she, "I hope you will allow my son to sing a duet with you. He would esteem it such an honor! I assure you he has a fine voice, and he is thought to sing with great expression, especially 'M'odi! Ah, m'odi!'"

The young gentleman modestly disclaimed the compliment to his musical powers, but eagerly urged his mother's request. As he bent near the cantatrice, waiting for her reply, her watchful husband again noticed a quick flush suffusing her face, succeeded by deadly pallor. Gently moving young Fitzgerald aside, he said in a low tone, "Are you not well, my dear?"

She raised her eyes to his with a look of distress, and replied: "No,

I am not well. Please order the carriage."

He took her arm within his, and as they made their way through the crowd she bowed gracefully to the right and left, in answer to the lamentations occasioned by her departure. Young Fitzgerald followed to the hall door to offer, in the name of Mrs. Green, a beautiful bouquet, enclosed within an arum lily of silver filigree. She bowed her thanks, and, drawing from it a delicate tea-rose, presented it to him. He wore it as a trophy the remainder of the evening; and none of the young ladies who teased him for it succeeded in obtaining it.

When Mr. and Mrs. King were in the carriage, he took her hand tenderly, and said, "My dear, that young man recalled to mind your inf

ant son, who died with poor Tulee."

With a heavy sigh she answered, "Yes, I am thinking of that poor little baby."

He held her hand clasped in his; but deeming it most kind not to intrude into the sanctum of that sad and tender memory, he remained silent. She spoke no other word as they rode toward their hotel. She was seeing a vision of those two babes, lying side by side, on that dreadful night when her tortured soul was for a while filled with bitter hatred for the man she had loved so truly.

Mrs. Fitzgerald and her son were the earliest among the callers the next day. Mrs. King happened to rest her hand lightly on the back of a chair, while she exchanged salutations with them, and her husband noticed that the lace of her hanging sleeve trembled violently.

"You took everybody by storm last evening, Mrs. King, just as you did when you first appeared as Norma," said the loquacious Mrs. Fitzgerald. "As for you, Mr. King, I don't know but you would have received a hundred challenges, if gentlemen had known you were going to carry off the prize. So sly of you, too! For I always heard you were entirely indifferent to ladies."

"Ah, well, the world don't always know what it's talking about," rejoined Mr. King, smiling. Further remarks were interrupted by the entrance of a young girl, whom he took by the hand, and introduced as "My daughter Eulalia."

Nature is very capricious in the varieties she produces by mixing flowers with each other. Sometimes the different tints of each are blended in a new color, compounded of both; sometimes the color of one is delicately shaded into the other; sometimes one color is marked in distinct stripes or rings upon the other; and sometimes the separate hues are mottled and clouded. Nature had indulged in one of her freaks in the production of Eulalia, a maiden of fifteen summers, the only surviving child of Mr. and Mrs. King. She inherited her mother's tall, flexile form, and her long dark eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair; but she had her father's large blue eyes, and his rose-and-white complexion. The combination was peculiar, and very handsome; especially the serene eyes, which, looked out from their dark surroundings like clear blue water deeply shaded by shrubbery around its edges. Her manners were a little shy, for her parents had wisely forborne an early introduction to society. But she entered pleasantly enough into some small talk with Fitzgerald about the skating parties of the winter, and a new polka that he thought she would like to practise.

Callers began to arrive rapidly. There was a line of carriages at the door, and still it lengthened. Mrs. King received them all with graceful courtesy, and endeavored to say something pleasing to each; but in the midst of it all, she never lost sight of Gerald and Eulalia. After a short time she beckoned to her daughter with a slight motion of her fan, and spoke a few words to her aside. The young girl left the room, and did not return to it. Fitzgerald, after interchanging some brief remarks with Mr. King about the classes at Cambridge, approached the cantatrice, and said in lowered tones: "I tried to call early with the hope of hearing you sing. But I was detained by business for grandfather; and even if you were graciously inclined to gratify my presumptuous wish, you will not be released from company this morning. May I say, Au revoir?"

"Certainly," she replied, looking up at him with an expression in her beautiful eyes that produced a glow of gratified vanity. He bowed good morning, with the smiling conviction that he was a great favorite with the distinguished lady.

When the last caller had retired, Mrs. King, after exchanging some general observations with her husband concerning her impressions of Boston and its people, seated herself at the window, with a number of Harper's Weekly in her hand; but the paper soon dropped on her lap, and she seemed gazing into infinity. The people passing and repassing were invisible to her. She was away in that lonely island home, with two dark-haired babies lying near her, side by side.

Her husband looked at her over his newspaper, now and then; and observing her intense abstraction, he stepped softly across the room, and, laying his hand gently upon her head, said: "Rosa, dear, do memories trouble you so much that you regret having returned to America?"

Without change of posture, she answered: "It matters not where we are. We must always carry ourselves with us." Then, as if reproaching herself for so cold a response to his kind inquiry, she looked up at him, and, kissing his hand, said: "Dear Alfred! Good angel of my life! I do not deserve such a heart as yours."

He had never seen such a melancholy expression in her eyes since the day she first encouraged him to hope for her affection. He made no direct allusion to the subject of her thoughts, for the painful history of her early love was a theme they mutually avoided; but he sought, by the most assiduous tenderness, to chase away the gloomy phantoms that were taking possession of her soul. In answer to his urgent entreaty that she would express to him unreservedly any wish she might form, she said, as if thinking aloud: "Of course they buried poor Tulee among the negroes; but perhaps they buried the baby with Mr. and Mrs. Duroy, and inscribed something about him on the gravestone."

"It is hardly probable," he replied; "but if it would give you satisfaction to search, we will go to New Orleans."

"Thank you," rejoined she; "and I should like it very much if you could leave orders to engage lodgings for the summer somewhere distant from Boston, that we might go and take possession as soon as we return."

He promised compliance with her wishes; but the thought flitted through his mind, "Can it be possible the young man fascinates her, that she wants to fly from him?"

"I am going to Eulalia now," said she, with one of her sweet smiles. "It will be pleasanter for the dear child when we get out of this whirl of society, which so much disturbs our domestic companionship."

As she kissed her hand to him at the door, he thought to himself, "Whatever this inward struggle may be, she will remain true to her pure and noble character."

Mrs. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, quite unconscious that the flowery surface she had witnessed covered such agitated depths, hastened to keep her promise of describing the party to Mrs. Delano and her daughter.

"I assure you," said she, "La Seńorita looked quite as handsome in the ball-room as she did on the stage. She is stouter than she was then, but not so; 'fat and forty' as I am. Large proportions suit her stately figure. As for her dress, I wish you could have seen it. It was splendid, and wonderfully becoming to her rich complexion. It was completely Spanish, from the mantilla on her head to the black satin slippers with red bows and brilliants. She was all cherry-colored satin, black lace, and diamonds."

"How I should like to have seen her!" exclaimed Mrs. Blumenthal, whose fancy was at once taken by the bright color and strong contrast of the costume.

But Mrs. Delano remarked: "I should think her style of dress rather too prononcé and theatrical; too suggestive of Fanny Elsler and the Bolero."

"Doubtless it would be so for you or I," rejoined Mrs. Fitzgerald. "Mother used to say you had a poet lover, who called you the twilight cloud, violet dissolving into lilac. And when I was a young lady, some of my admirers compared me to the new moon, which must, of course, appear in azure and silver. But I assure you Mrs. King's conspicuous dress was extremely becoming to her style of face and figure. I wish I had counted how many gentlemen quoted, 'She walks in beauty like the night' It became really ridiculous at last. Gerald and I called upon her this morning, and we found her handsome in the parlor by daylight, which is a trying test to the forties, you know. We were introduced to their only daughter, Eulalia,-a very peculiar-looking young miss, with sky-blue eyes and black eyelashes, like some of the Circassian beauties I have read off. Gerald thinks her almost as handsome as her mother. What a fortune that girl will be! But I have promised ever so many people to tell them about the party; so I must bid you good by."

When the door closed after her, Flora remarked, "I never heard of anybody but my Mamita who was named Eulalia."

"Eulalia was a Spanish saint," responded Mrs. Delano; "and her name is so very musical that it would naturally please the ear of La Seńorita."

"My curiosity is considerably excited to see this stylish lady," said

Flora.

"We will wait a little, till the first rush of visitors has somewhat subsided, and then we will call," rejoined Mrs. Delano.

They called three days after, and were informed that Mr. and Mrs. King had gone to New Orleans.

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