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   Chapter 31 No.31

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 14979

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


That evening young Fitzgerald was closeted two or three hours with Mr. King. Though the disclosure was made with the utmost delicacy and caution, the young man was startled and shocked; for he inherited pride from both his parents, and he had been educated in the prejudices of his grandfather. At first he flushed with indignation, and refused to believe he was so disgraced.

"I don't see that you are disgraced, my young friend," replied Mr. King. "The world might indeed so misjudge, because it is accustomed to look only on externals; but there is no need that the world should know anything about it. And as for your own estimate of yourself, you were Mr. Fitzgerald the gentleman before you knew this singular story, and you are Mr. Fitzgerald the gentleman still."

"I am not so much of a philosopher," rejoined the young man. "I shall not find it easy to endure the double stain of illegitimacy and alliance with the colored race."

Mr. King regarded him with a friendly smile, as he answered: "Perhaps this experience, which you find so disagreeable, may educate you to more wisdom than the schools have done. It may teach you the great lesson of looking beneath the surface into the reality of things, my son. Legally you are illegitimate; but morally you are not so. Your mother believed herself married to your father, and through all the vicissitudes of her life she has proved herself a modest, pure, and noble woman. During twenty years of intimate acquaintance, I have never known her to indulge an unworthy thought, or do a dishonorable action, except that of substituting you for Mr. Fitzgerald's legal heir. And if I have at all succeeded in impressing upon your mind the frantic agony of her soul, desolate and shockingly abused as she was, I think you will agree with me in considering that an excusable offence; especially as she would have repaired the wrong a few hours later, if it had been in her power. With regard to an alliance with the colored race, I think it would be a more legitimate source of pride to have descended from that truly great man, Toussaint L'Ouverture, who was a full-blooded African, than from that unprincipled filibuster called William the Conqueror, or from any of his band of robbers, who transmitted titles of nobility to their posterity. That is the way I have learned to read history, my young friend, in the plain sunlight of truth, unchanged by looking at it through the deceptive colored glasses of conventional prejudice. Only yesterday you would have felt honored to claim my highly accomplished and noble-minded wife as a near relative. She is as highly accomplished and noble-minded a lady to-day as she was yesterday. The only difference is, that to-day you are aware her grandmother had a dark complexion. No human being can be really stained by anything apart from his own character; but if there were any blot resting upon you, it would come from your father. We should remember, however, that He who made man can alone justly estimate man's temptations. For myself, I believe that Mr. Fitzgerald's sins were largely attributable to the system of slavery under which he had the misfortune to be educated. He loved pleasure, he was rich, and he had irresponsible power over many of his fellow-beings, whom law and public opinion alike deprived of protection. Without judging him harshly, let his career be a warning to you to resist the first enticements to evil; and, as one means of doing so, let me advise you never to place yourself in that state of society which had such a malign influence upon him."

"Give me time to think," rejoined the young man. "This has come upon me so suddenly that I feel stunned."

"That I can easily imagine," replied his friend. "But I wish you to understand distinctly, that it depends entirely upon Mrs. Fitzgerald and yourself to decide what is to be done in relation to this perplexing affair. We are ready to do anything you wish, or to take any position you prescribe for us. You may prefer to pass in society merely as my young friend, but you are my step-son, you know; and should you at any time of your life need my services, you may rely upon me as an affectionate father."

That word brought cherished hopes to Gerald's mind, and he sighed as he answered, "I thank you."

"Whatever outward inconveniences may arise from this state of things," resumed Mr. King, "we prefer to have them fall upon ourselves. It is of course desirable that you and my daughter should not meet at present. Your vacation has nearly expired, and perhaps you will deem it prudent to return a little sooner than you intended. We shall remain here till late in the autumn; and then, if circumstances render it necessary, we will remove Eulalia to Cuba, or elsewhere, for the winter. Try to bear this disappointment bravely, my son. As soon as you feel sufficiently calm, I would advise you to seek an interview with your mother. Her heart yearns for you, and the longer your meeting is deferred, the more embarrassing it will be."

While this conversation was going on in the parlor, the two mothers of the young man were talking confidentially up stairs. The intense curiosity which Mrs. Fitzgerald had formerly felt was at once renewed when Mrs. King said, "Do you remember having heard any one singing about the house and garden at Magnolia Lawn, the first evening you spent there?"

"Indeed I do," she replied; "and when I first heard you in Rome, I repeatedly said your voice was precisely like that singer's."

"You might well be reminded of it," responded Mrs. King, "for I was the person you heard at Magnolia Lawn, and these are the eyes that peeped at you through the lattice of the veranda."

"But why were you there? And why did you keep yourself invisible?" inquired Mrs. Fitzgerald.

Rosa hesitated a moment, embarrassed how to choose words to convey the unwelcome facts. "My dear lady," said she, "we have both had very sad experiences. On my side, they have been healed by time; and I trust it is the same with you. Will it pain you too much to hear something disparaging to the memory of your deceased husband?"

Mrs. Fitzgerald colored very deeply, and remained silent.

"Nothing but an imperious necessity would induce me to say what I am about to say," continued Mrs. King; "not only because I am very reluctant to wound your feelings, but because the recital is humiliating and painful to myself. When I peeped at you in your bridal attire, I believed myself to be Mr. Fitzgerald's wife. Our marriage had been kept strictly private, he always assuring me that it was only for a time. But you need not look so alarmed. I was not his wife. I learned the next morning that I had been deceived by a sham ceremony. And even if it had been genuine, the marriage would not have been valid by the laws of Louisiana, where it was performed; though I did not know that fact at the time. No marriage with a slave is valid in that State. My mother was a quadroon slave, and by the law that 'a child follows the condition of the mother,' I also became a slave."

"You a slave!" exclaimed Mrs. Fitzgerald, with unfeigned astonishment. "That is incredible. That goes beyond any of the stories Abolitionists make up to keep the country in agitation."

"Judging by my own experience," rejoined Mrs. King, "I should say that the most fertile imagination could invent nothing more strange and romantic than many of the incidents which grow out of slavery."

She the

n went on to repeat her story in detail; not accusing Mr. Fitzgerald more than was absolutely necessary to explain the agonized and frantic state of mind in which she had changed the children. Mrs. Fitzgerald listened with increasing agitation as she went on; and when it came to that avowal, she burst out with the passionate exclamation: "Then Gerald is not my son! And I love him so!"

Mrs. King took her hand and pressed it gently as she said: "You can love him still, dear lady, and he will love you. Doubtless you will always seem to him like his own mother. If he takes an aversion to me, it will give me acute pain; but I shall try to bear it meekly, as a part of the punishment my fault deserves."

"If you don't intend to take him from me, what was the use of telling me this dreadful story?" impatiently asked Mrs. Fitzgerald.

"I felt compelled to do it on Eulalia's account," responded Mrs. King.

"Ah, yes!" sighed the lady. "How disappointed he will be, poor fellow!" After a brief pause, she added, vehemently: "But whatever you may say, he is my son. I never will give him up. He has slept in my arms. I have sung him to sleep. I taught him all his little hymns and songs. He loves me; and I will never consent to take a second place in his affections."

"You shall not be asked to do so, dear lady," meekly replied Mrs. King. "I will, as in duty bound, take any place you choose to assign me."

Somewhat disarmed by this humility, Mrs. Fitzgerald said, in a softened tone: "I pity you, Mrs. King. You have had a great deal of trouble, and this is a very trying situation you are in. But it would break my heart to give up Gerald. And then you must see, of course, what an embarrassing position it would place me in before the world."

"I see no reason why the world should know anything about it," rejoined Mrs. King. "For Gerald's sake, as well as our own, it is very desirable that the secret should be kept between ourselves."

"You may safely trust my pride for that," she replied.

"Do you think your father ought to be included in our confidence," inquired Mrs. King.

"No indeed," she replied, hastily. "He never can bear to hear my poor husband mentioned. Besides, he has had the gout a good deal lately, and is more irritable than usual."

As she rose to go, Mrs. King said: "Then, with the exception of

Eulalia, everything remains outwardly as it was. Can you forgive me?

I do believe I was insane with misery; and you don't know how I have

been haunted with remorse."

"You must have suffered terribly," rejoined Mrs. Fitzgerald, evading a direct answer to the question. "But we had better not talk any more about it now. I am bewildered, and don't know what to think. Only one thing is fixed in my mind: Gerald is my son."

They parted politely, but with coldness on Mrs. Fitzgerald's side. There had arisen in her mind a double dislike toward Mrs. King, as the first love of her husband, and as the mother of the elegant young man who was to her an object of pride as well as fondness. But her chagrin was not without compensation. Mrs. King's superior wealth and beauty had been felt by her as somewhat overshadowing; and the mortifying circumstances she had now discovered in her history seemed, in her imagination, to bring her down below a level with herself. She and Gerald sat up late into the night, talking over this strange disclosure. She was rather jealous of the compassion he expressed for Mrs. King, and of his admiration for her manners and character; though they mutually declared, again and again, that they could realize no change whatever in their relation to each other.

The wise words of Mr. King had not been without their effect on Gerald. The tumult of emotions gradually subsided; and he began to realize that these external accidents made no essential change in himself. The next morning he requested an interview with Mrs. King, and was received alone. When he entered, she cast upon him a hesitating, beseeching look; but when he said, "My mother!" she flew into his arms, and wept upon his neck.

"Then you do not hate me?" she said, in a voice choked with emotion,

"You are not ashamed to call me mother?"

"It was only yesterday," he replied, "that I thought with pride and joy of the possibility that I might some day call you by that dear name. If I had heard these particulars without knowing you, they might have repelled me. But I have admired you from the first moment; I have lately been learning to love you; and I am familiar with the thought of being your son."

She raised her expressive eyes to his with such a look of love, that he could not refrain from giving her a filial kiss and pressing her warmly to his heart. "I was so afraid you would regard me with dislike," said she. "You can understand now why it made me so faint to think of singing 'M'odi! Ah, m'odi!' with you at Mrs. Green's party. How could I have borne your tones of anguish when you discovered that you were connected with the Borgias? And how could I have helped falling on your neck when you sang 'Madre mia'? But I must not forget that the mother who tended your childhood has the best claim to your affection," she added mournfully.

"I love her, and always shall love her. It cannot be otherwise," rejoined he. "It has been the pleasant habit of so many years. But ought I not to consider myself a lucky fellow to have two such mothers? I don't know how I am to distinguish you. I must call you Rose-mother and Lily-mother, I believe."

She smiled as he spoke, and she said, "Then it has not made you so very unhappy to know that you are my son?"

His countenance changed as he replied: "My only unhappiness is the loss of Eulalia. That disappointment I must bear as I can."

"You are both very young," rejoined she; "and perhaps you may see another-"

"I don't want to hear about that now," he exclaimed impetuously, moving hastily toward the window, against which he leaned for a moment. When he turned, he saw that his mother was weeping; and he stooped to kiss her forehead, with tender apologies for his abruptness.

"Thank God," she said, "for these brief moments of happiness with my son."

"Yes, they must be brief," he replied. "I must go away and stay away. But I shall always think of you with affection, and cherish the deepest sympathy for your wrongs and sufferings."

Again she folded him in her arms, and they kissed and blessed each other at parting. She gazed after him wistfully till he was out of sight. "Alas!" murmured she, "he cannot be a son to me, and I cannot be a mother to him." She recalled the lonely, sad hours when she embroidered his baby clothes, with none but Tulee to sympathize with her. She remembered how the little black silky head looked as she first fondled him on her arm; and the tears began to flow like rain. But she roused in a few moments, saying to herself: "This is all wrong and selfish. I ought to be glad that he loves his Lily-mother, that he can live with her, and that her heart will not be made desolate by my fault. O Father of mercies! this is hard to bear. Help me to bear it as I ought!" She bowed her head in silence for a while; then, rising up, she said: "Have I not my lovely Eulalia? Poor child! I must be very tender with her in this trial of her young heart."

She saw there was need to be very tender, when a farewell card was sent the next day, with a bouquet of delicate flowers from Gerald Fitzgerald.

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