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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 20761

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


IF young Fitzgerald had not been strongly inclined to spend the summer in Northampton, he would have been urged to it by his worldly-minded mother and grandfather, who were disposed to make any effort to place him in the vicinity of Eulalia King. They took possession of lodgings on Round Hill in June; and though very few weeks intervened before the college vacation, the time seemed so long to Gerald, that he impatiently counted the days. Twice he took the journey for a short visit before he was established as an inmate of his grandfather's household. Alfred Blumenthal had a vacation at the same time, and the young people of the three families were together almost continually. Songs and glees enlivened their evenings, and nearly every day there were boating excursions, or rides on horseback, in which Mr. and Mrs. King and Mr. and Mrs. Blumenthal invariably joined. No familiarity could stale the ever fresh charm of the scenery. The beautiful river, softly flowing in sunlight through richly cultivated meadows, always seemed to Mr. Blumenthal like the visible music of Mendelssohn. Mr. King, who had been in Germany, was strongly reminded of the Rhine and the Black Forest, while looking on that wide level expanse of verdure, with its broad band of sparkling silver, framed in with thick dark woods along the river-range of mountains. The younger persons of the party more especially enjoyed watching Mill River rushing to meet the Connecticut, like an impatient boy let loose for the holidays, shouting, and laughing, and leaping, on his way homeward. Mrs. Delano particularly liked to see, from the summit of Mount Holyoke, the handsome villages, lying so still in the distance, giving no sign of all the passions, energies, and sorrows that were seething, struggling, and aching there; and the great stretch of meadows, diversified with long, unfenced rows of stately Indian corn, rich with luxuriant foliage of glossy green, alternating with broad bands of yellow grain, swayed by the breeze like rippling waves of the sea. These regular lines of variegated culture, seen from such a height, seemed like handsome striped calico, which earth had put on for her working-days, mindful that the richly wooded hills were looking down upon her picturesque attire. There was something peculiarly congenial to the thoughtful soul of the cultured lady in the quiet pastoral beauty of the extensive scene; and still more in the sense of serene elevation above the whole, seeing it all dwindle into small proportions, as the wisdom of age calmly surveys the remote panorama of life.

These riding parties attracted great attention as they passed through the streets; for all had heard the rumor of their wealth, and all were struck by the unusual amount of personal beauty, and the distinguished style of dress. At that time, the Empress Eugenie had issued her imperial decree that all the world should shine in "barbaric gold,"-a fashion by no means distasteful to the splendor-loving sisters. Long sprays of Scotch laburnum mingled their golden bells with the dark tresses of Eulalia and Rosen Blumen; a cluster of golden wheat mixed its shining threads with Flora's black curls; and a long, soft feather, like "the raven down of darkness," dusted with gold, drooped over the edge of Mrs. King's riding-cap, fastened to its band by a golden star. Even Mrs. Fitzgerald so far changed her livery of the moon as to wear golden buds mixed with cerulean flowers. Mrs. Delano looked cool as evening among them in her small gray bonnet, with a few violets half hidden in silver leaves. Old Mr. Bell not unfrequently joined in these excursions. His white hair, and long silky white beard, formed a picturesque variety in the group; while all recognized at a glance the thoroughbred aristocrat in his haughty bearing, his stern mouth, his cold, turquoise eyes, and the clenching expression of his hand. Mrs. King seemed to have produced upon him the effect Gerald had predicted. No youthful gallant could have been more assiduous at her bridle-rein, and he seemed to envy his grandson every smile he obtained from her beautiful lips.

Both he and Mrs. Fitzgerald viewed with obvious satisfaction the growing intimacy between that young gentleman and Eulalia. "Capital match for Gerald, eh?" said Mr. Bell to his daughter. "They say King's good for three millions at least,-some say four."

"And Eulalia is such a lovely, gentle girl!" rejoined Mrs. Fitzgerald. "I'm very fond of her, and she seems fond of me; though of course that's on account of my handsome son."

"Yes, she's a lovely girl," replied the old gentleman; "and Gerald will be a lucky dog if he wins her. But her beauty isn't to be compared to her mother's. If I were Emperor of France, and she were a widow, I know who would have a chance to become Empress."

But though Mrs. King lived in such an atmosphere of love, and was the object of so much admiration, with ample means for indulging her benevolence and her tastes, she was evidently far from being happy. Flora observed it, and often queried with her husband what could be the reason. One day she spoke to Mr. King of the entire absence of gayety in her sister, and he said he feared young Mr. Fitzgerald painfully reminded her of her lost son.

Flora reflected upon this answer without being satisfied with it. "It doesn't seem natural," said she to her husband. "She parted from that baby when he was but a few weeks old, and he has been dead nearly twenty years. She has Eulalia to love, and a noble husband, who worships the very ground she treads on. It don't seem natural. I wonder whether she has a cancer or some other secret disease."

She redoubled her tenderness, and exerted all her powers of mimicry to amuse her sister. The young folks screamed with laughter to see her perform the shuffling dances of the negroes, or to hear her accompany their singing with imitations of the growling contra-fagotto, or the squeaking fife. In vain she filled the room with mocking-birds, or showed off the accomplishments of the parrot, or dressed herself in a cap with a great shaking bow, like Madame Guirlande's, or scolded in vociferous Italian, like Signor Pimentero. The utmost these efforts could elicit from her sister was a faint, vanishing smile.

Mr. King noticed all this, and was pained to observe that his wife's sadness increased daily. He would not himself have chosen young Fitzgerald as a suitor for his daughter, fearing he might resemble his father in character as he did in person; but he was willing to promote their acquaintance, because the young man seemed to be a favorite with his lady, and he thought that as a son-in-law he might supply the loss of her first-born. But, in their rides and other excursions, he was surprised to observe that Mrs. King assiduously tried to withdraw Mr. Fitzgerald from her daughter, and attach him to herself. Her attentions generally proved too flattering to be resisted; but if the young man, yielding to attractions more suited to his age, soon returned to Eulalia, there was an unmistakable expression of pain on her mother's face. Mr. King was puzzled and pained by this conduct. Entire confidence had hitherto existed between them. Why had she become so reserved? Was the fire of first-love still smouldering in her soul, and did a delicate consideration for him lead her to conceal it? He could not believe it, she had so often repeated that to love the unworthy was a thing impossible for her. Sometimes another thought crossed his mind and gave him exquisite torture, though he repelled it instantly: "Could it possibly be that his modest and dignified wife was in love with this stripling, who was of an age suitable for her daughter?" Whatever this mysterious cloud might be that cast its cold shadow across the sunshine of his home, he felt that he could not endure its presence. He resolved to seek an explanation with his wife, and to propose an immediate return to Europe, if either of his conjectures should prove true. Returning from a solitary walk, during which these ideas had been revolving in his mind, he found her in their chamber kneeling by the bedside, sobbing violently. With the utmost tenderness he inquired what had grieved her.

She answered with a wild exclamation, "O Alfred, this must be stopped!"

"What must be stopped, my dear?" said he.

"Gerald Fitzgerald must not court our daughter," she replied.

"I thought it would please you, dearest," rejoined he. "The young man has always seemed to be a favorite of yours. I should not have selected him for our Eulalia, for fear the qualities of his father might develop themselves in him; but you must remember that he has not been educated among slaves. I think we can trust to that to make a great difference in his character."

She groaned aloud, and sobbed out: "It must be stopped. It will kill me."

He sat down by her side, took her hand, and said very gravely: "Rosa, you have often told me I was your best friend. Why then do you not confide to me what it is that troubles you?"

"O, I cannot! I cannot!" she exclaimed. "I am a guilty wretch." And there came a fresh outburst of sobs, which she stifled by keeping her face hidden in the bedclothes.

"Rosa," said he, still more gravely, "you must tell me the meaning of this strange conduct. If an unworthy passion has taken possession of you, it is your duty to try to conquer it for your own sake, for my sake, for our daughter's sake. If you will confide in me, I will not judge you harshly. I will return to Europe with you, and help you to cure yourself. Tell me frankly, Rosa, do you love this young man?"

She looked up suddenly, and, seeing the extreme sadness of his face, she exclaimed: "O Alfred, if you have thought that, I must tell you all. I do love Gerald; but it is because he is my own son."

"Your son!" he exclaimed, springing up, with the feeling that a great load was lifted from his heart. He raised her to his bosom, and kissed her tearful face again and again. The relief was so sudden, that for an instant he forgot the strangeness of her declaration. But coming to his senses immediately, he inquired, "How can it be that your son passes for Mrs. Fitzgerald's son? And if it be so, why did you not tell me of it?"

"I ought to have told you when I consented to marry you," she replied. "But

your protecting love was so precious to me, that I had not the courage to tell you anything that would diminish your esteem for me. Forgive me, dearest. It is the only wrong I have ever done you. But I will tell you all now; and if it changes your love for me, I must try to bear it, as a just punishment for the wrong I have done. You know how Mr. Fitzgerald deserted me, and how I was stricken down when I discovered that I was his slave. My soul almost parted from my body during the long illness that followed. When I came to my senses, I humbled myself to entreat Mr. Fitzgerald to emancipate me, for the sake of our unborn child. He promised to do it, but he did not. I was a mere wreck when my babe was born, and I had the feeling that I should soon die. I loved the helpless little thing; and every time I looked at him, it gave me a pang to think that he was born a slave. I sent again and again for papers of manumission, but they never came. I don't know whether it was mere negligence on the part of Mr. Fitzgerald, or whether he meant to punish me for my coldness toward him after I discovered how he had deceived me. I was weak in body, and much humbled in spirit, after that long illness. I felt no resentment toward him. I forgave him, and pitied his young wife. The only thing that bound me to life was my child. I wanted to recover my strength, that I might carry him to some part of the world where slavery could not reach him. I was in that state, when Madame sent Mr. Duroy to tell me Mr. Fitzgerald was in debt, and had sold me to that odious Mr. Bruteman, whom he had always represented to me as the filthiest soul alive. I think that incredible cruelty and that horrible danger made me insane. My soul was in a terrible tempest of hatred and revenge. If Mr. Fitzgerald had appeared before me, I should have stabbed him. I never had such feelings before nor since. Unfortunately Chloe had come to the cottage that day, with Mrs. Fitzgerald's babe, and he was lying asleep by the side of mine. I had wild thoughts of killing both the babies, and then killing myself. I had actually risen in search of a weapon, but I heard my faithful Tulee coming to look upon me, to see that all was well, and I lay down again and pretended to be asleep. While I waited for her to cease watching over me, that frightful mood passed away. Thank God, I was saved from committing such horrible deeds. But I was still half frantic with misery and fear. A wild, dark storm was raging in my soul. I looked at the two babes, and thought how one was born to be indulged and honored, while the other was born a slave, liable to be sold by his unfeeling father or by his father's creditors. Mine was only a week the oldest, and was no larger than his brother. They were so exactly alike that I could distinguish them only by their dress. I exchanged the dresses, Alfred; and while I did it, I laughed to think that, if Mr. Fitzgerald should capture me and the little one, and make us over to Mr. Bruteman, he would sell the child of his Lily Bell. It was not like me to have such feelings. I hope I was insane. Do you think I was?"

He pressed her to his heart as he replied, "You surely had suffering enough to drive you wild, dearest; and I do suppose your reason was unsettled by intensity of anguish."

She looked at him anxiously, as she asked, "Then it does not make you love me less?"

"No, darling," he replied; "for I am sure it was not my own gentle

Rosa who had such feelings."

"O, how I thank you, dear one, for judging me so charitably," said she. "I hope it was temporary insanity; and always when I think it over, it seems to me it must have been. I fell asleep smiling over the revenge I had taken, and I slept long and heavily. When I woke, my first wish was to change the dresses back again; but Chloe had gone to the plantation with my babe, and Mr. Duroy hurried me on board the boat before sunrise. I told no one what I had done; but it filled me with remorse then, and has troubled me ever since. I resolved to atone for it, as far as I could, by taking the tenderest care of the little changeling, and trying to educate him as well as his own mother could have done. It was that which gave me strength to work so hard for musical distinction; and that motive stimulated me to appear as an opera-singer, though the publicity was distasteful to me. When I heard that the poor little creature was dead, I was tormented with self-reproach, and I was all the more unhappy because I could tell no one of my trouble. Then you came to console and strengthen me with your blessed love, and I grew cheerful again. If the changeling had been living at the time you asked me to marry you, I should have told you all; but the poor little creature was dead, and there seemed to be no necessity of confessing the wrong I had done. It was a selfish feeling. I couldn't bear the thought of diminishing the love that was so precious to my wounded heart. I have now told you all, dear husband."

"Your excuse for concealment is very precious to my own heart," he replied. "But I regret you did not tell me while we were in Europe; for then I would not have returned to the United States till I was quite sure all obstacles were removed. You know I never formed the project until I knew Mr. Fitzgerald was dead."

"The American gentleman who informed you of his death led me into a mistake, which has proved disastrous," rejoined she. "He said that Mrs. Fitzgerald lost her husband and son about the same time. I was not aware of the existence of a second son, and therefore I supposed that my first-born had died. I knew that you wanted to spend your old age in your native country, and that you were particularly desirous to have Eulalia marry in New England. The dread I had of meeting my child as the son of another, and seeming to him a stranger, was removed by his death; and though I shed tears in secret, a load was lifted from my heart. But the old story of avenging Furies following the criminal wheresoever he goes seems verified in my case. On the day of Mrs. Green's ball, I heard two gentlemen in the Revere House talking about Mr. Bell; and one of them said to the other that Mrs. Fitzgerald's second son and her daughter had died, and that her oldest son was sole heir to Mr. Bell's property. My first impulse was to tell you all; but because I had so long concealed my fault, it was all the more difficult to confess it then. You had so generously overlooked many disagreeable circumstances connected with my history, that I found it extremely painful to add this miserable entanglement to the list. Still, I foresaw that it must be done, and I resolved to do it; but I was cowardly, and wanted to put off the evil day. You may remember, perhaps, that at the last moment I objected to attending that ball; but you thought it would be rude to disappoint Mrs. Green, merely because I felt out of spirits. I went, not dreaming of seeing my son there. I had not looked upon him since the little black, silky head drooped on my arm while I exchanged the dresses. You may partly imagine what I suffered. And now he and Eulalia are getting in love with each other; and I know not what is to be done. When you came in, I was praying for strength to seek your counsel. What can we do, dear? It will be a great disappointment for you to return to Europe, now that you have refitted your father's house, and made all your arrangements to spend the remainder of our days here."

"I would do it willingly," he replied, "if I thought it would avail to separate Gerald and Eulalia. But a voyage to Europe is nothing now-a-days, to people of their property. I believe he loves the dear girl; and if he did not, my reputed millions would prevent his grandfather and his mother from allowing him to lose sight of her. If we were to build a castle on the top of Mount Himalaya, they would scale it, you may depend. I see no other remedy than to tell Gerald that Eulalia is his sister."

"O, I cannot tell him!" exclaimed she. "It would be so dreadful to have my son hate me! And he would hate me; for I can see that he is very proud."

In very kind and serious tones he replied: "You know, dear Rosa, that you expressed a wish the other day to go to the Catholic church in which your mother worshipped, because you thought confession and penance would be a comfort. You have wisely chosen me for your confessor, and if I recommend penance I trust you will think it best to follow my advice. I see how difficult it would be to tell all your own and your mother's story to so young a man as Gerald, and he your own son. I will tell him; and I need not assure you that you will have a loving advocate to plead your cause with him. But his mother must know why he relinquishes Eulalia, when he has had so much reason to think himself in favor both with her and her parents. Gerald might tell her the mere external facts; but she could appreciate and understand them much better if told, as they would be told, by a delicate and loving woman, who had suffered the wrongs that drove her to madness, and who repented bitterly of the fault she had committed. I think you ought to make a full confession to Mrs. Fitzgerald; and having done that, we ought to do whatever she chooses to prescribe."

"It will be a severe penance," she rejoined; "but I will do whatever you think is right. If I could have all the suffering, I would not murmur. But Gerald will suffer and Eulalia will suffer. And for some weeks I have made you unhappy. How sad you look, dear."

"I am a very happy man, Rosa, compared with what I was before you told me this strange story. But I am very serious, because I want to be sure of doing what is right in these difficult premises. As for Gerald and Eulalia, their acquaintance has been very short, and I don't think they have spoken of love to each other. Their extreme youth is also a favorable circumstance. Rochefoucault says, 'Absence extinguishes small passions, and increases great ones.' My own experience proved the truth of one part of the maxim; but perhaps Gerald is of a more volatile temperament, and will realize the other portion."

"And do you still love me as well as you ever did?" she asked.

He folded her more closely as he whispered, "I do, darling." And for some minutes she wept in silence on his generous breast.

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