University of Virginia Library


Page 176


“Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice, verses of feigning love;
And stolen the impression of her fantasy,
With bracelets of thy hair—rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unhardened youth.”

It will be remembered that Isabella, at her aunt's
summons, had gone to her house. She met Mrs.
Archer at her street door. Her face spoke of
startling intelligence before she uttered it. “My
dear Belle,” she said, “I have the strangest news
for you. I went to your father's while you were
out; and just as my foot was on your door-step, a
man drove up in a wagon with a girl as pale as
death—such a face! The moment he stopped she
sprang from the wagon. At once I knew her, and
exclaimed, `Bessie Lee!' ”

“Bessie Lee! Gracious Heaven!”

“Yes; she asked eagerly if you were at home.
I perceived the inconvenience—the impossibility
of your taking care of her in the present state of
your family. I felt anxious to do any thing and
every thing for the sister of young Lee; I therefore
told her you were not at home, but she could


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see you at my house; and I persuaded her to come
home with me.”

“Dear Bessie! can it be possible that she is

“Yes, I have left her in that room. Her attendant
told me that she arrived this morning at
Kingsbridge, with a decent man and woman, who
had passports from La Fayette, and a letter from
him to the commander of that post, commending
the unfortunate person to his humanity, and entreating
him to convey her, under a proper escort,
to Mr. Linwood's.”

“Poor Bessie! Heaven has miraculously guided
her into the best hands. How does she appear?”

“With scarcely enough of mortality to shield her
troubled spirit; fluttering and gentle as a stricken
dove—pale, unnaturally, deadly pale—a startling
brightness in her deep blue eye—her cheeks
sunken; but still her features preserve the exquisite
symmetry we used to think so beautiful,
when a pensive, quiet little girl, she stole round
after you like a shadow. And her voice, oh Belle,
you cannot hear it without tears. She is mild and
submissive; but restless, and excessively impatient
to see you and Jasper Meredith. Twice she has
come to the door to go out in search of him. I have
ordered the blinds closed, and the candles lighted,
to make it appear darker without than it really is.
I could only quiet her by the assurance that I would
send for him immediately.”


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“Have you done so?”

“No; I have waited to consult you.”

The house Mrs. Archer occupied was of the
common construction of the best houses of that
day, being double, the two front apartments separated
by a wide hall, a drawing-room in the rear,
and a narrow cross-passage opening into a carriage-way
to the yard. A few moments before
Isabella arrived, a person had knocked at the door
and asked to see Mrs. Archer; and being told that
she was particularly engaged, he asked to be shown
to a room where he might await her convenience,
as he had business of importance with her. He
was accordingly shown into an apartment opposite
to that occupied at the moment by Mrs. Archer
and Bessie.

There he found the blind children, Ned and
Lizzy, so absorbed in a game of chess, that although
he went near them, and overlooked them,
they seemed just conscious of his presence, but not
in the least disturbed by it. They went on playing
and managing their game with almost as much
facility as if they had their eyesight, till after a
closely-fought battle Lizzy declared a checkmate.
Ned (only not superior to all the chess-players we
have ever seen) was nettled by his unexpected defeat,
and gave vent to his vexation by saying, “Anyhow,
Miss Lizzy, you would not have beaten if I
had not thought it was my knight, instead of yours,
on number four.”

“Oh, Ned!”


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“You would not; you know I always get puzzled
about the knights—I always said it was the
only fault in the chessmen—I always said I wished
Captain Lee had made them more different.”

“That fault is easily rectified,” said the looker-on.

“Captain Lee!” exclaimed Ned, whose memory
was true to a voice once heard, and who never, in
any circumstances, could have forgotten the sound
of Eliot's voice.

“Hush, my dear little fellow, for Heaven's sake,
hush!” cried Eliot, aware of the imprudence he had
committed; but it was too late.

Ned's feelings were as susceptible as his hearing.
He impetuously sprang forward, and opening the
door into the entry, where Mrs. Archer had just
uttered the last sentence we reported of her conversation
with Isabella, he cried out, “Oh, mamma,
Captain Lee is here!”

Eliot involuntarily doffed his fox-skin cap, and
advanced to them. Both ladies most cordially
gave him their hands at the same moment, while
their brows clouded with the thoughts of the sad
tidings they had to communicate. Conscious of
the precarious position he occupied, he naturally
interpreted the concern so evident on their faces
as the expression of a benevolent interest in his
safety. “Do not be alarmed, ladies,” he said; “I
have nothing to fear if my little friends here be
quiet; and that I am certain they will be, when
they know my life depends on my remaining


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“Oh, what have I done?” exclaimed Ned,
bursting into tears; but he was soon soothed by
Eliot's assurances that no harm as yet was done.

Mrs. Archer withdrew the children, while Miss
Linwood communicated to Eliot, as briefly as possible,
the arrival and condition of his sister; and
he, rather relieved than distressed by the information,
told her that his deepest interest in coming to
the city was the hope of obtaining some tidings of
the poor wanderer. They then consulted how and
when they had best present themselves before her;
and it was decided that Miss Linwood should first
go into the apartment, and prepare her to see Eliot.

Eliot retreated, and stood still and breathless to
catch the first sound of Bessie's voice; but he
heard nothing but the exclamation, “She is not
here!” Eliot sprang forward. The door of the
apartment which led into the side passage and the
outer door were both open, and Eliot, forgetful of
every thing but his sister, was rushing into the
street, when Bessie entered the street door with
Jasper Meredith! Impelled by her ruling purpose
to see Meredith, she had, on her first discovery of
the side passage, escaped into the street, where the
first person she encountered was he whose image
had so long been present to her, that seeing him
with her bodily organ seemed to make no new
impression, nor even to increase the vividness of
the image stamped on her memory. She had
thrown on her cloak, but had nothing on her head;


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and her hair fell in its natural fair curls over her
face and neck. Singular as it was for the delicate,
timid Bessie to appear in this guise in the public
street, or to appear there at all, and much as he
was startled by her faded, stricken form, the truth
did not at once occur to Meredith. The wildness
of her eye was subdued in the dim twilight;
she spoke in her accustomed quiet manner; and
after answering to his first inquiry that she was
perfectly well now, she begged him to go into Mrs.
Archer's with her, as she had something there to
restore to him. He endeavoured to put her off
with a commonplace evasion—“he was engaged
now, would come some other time,” &c., but she
was not to be eluded; and seeing some acquaintances
approaching, whose observation he did not
care to encounter, he ascended Mrs. Archer's steps,
and found himself in the presence of those whom
he would have wished most to avoid; but there
was no retreat.

Bessie now acted with an irresistible energy.
“This way,” said she, leading Meredith into the
room she had quitted—“come all of you in here,”
glancing her eye from Meredith to Isabella and
Eliot, but without manifesting the slightest surprise
or emotion of any sort at seeing them, but
simply saying, with a smile of satisfaction, as she
shut the door and threw off her cloak, “I expected
this—I knew it would be so. In visions by day,
and dreams by night, I always saw you together.”


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It was a minute before Eliot could command his
voice for utterance. He folded his arms around
Bessie, and murmured, “My sister!—my dear

She drew back, and placing her hands on his
shoulders and smiling, said, “Tears, Eliot, tears!
Oh, shame, when this is the proudest, happiest
moment of your sister's life!”

“Is she mad?” asked Meredith of Isabella.

Bessie's ear caught his last word. “Mad!” she
repeated—“I think all the world is mad; but I
alone am not! I have heard that whom the gods
would destroy they first make mad; men and
angels have been employed to save me from destruction.”

“It is idle to stay here to listen to these ravings,”
said Meredith, in a low voice, to Miss Linwood;
and he was about to make his escape, when Isabella
interposed: “Stay for a moment, I entreat
you,” she said; “she has been very eager to see
you, and it is sometimes of use to gratify these

In the meantime Eliot, his heart burning within
him at his sister's being gazed at as a spectacle by
that man of all the world from whose eye he
would have sheltered her, was persuading her, as
he would a wayward child, to leave the apartment.
She resisted his importunities with a sort of gentle
pity for his blindness, and a perfect assurance that
she was guided by light from Heaven. “Dear
Eliot,” she said, “you know not what you ask of


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me. For this hour my life has been prolonged,
my strength miraculously sustained. You have all
been assembled here—you, Eliot, because a
brother should sustain his sister, share her honour,
and partake her happiness; Jasper Meredith to receive
back those charms and spells by which my
too willing spirit was bound; and you, Isabella
Linwood, to see how, in my better mind, I yield
him to you.”

She took from her bosom a small ivory box, and
opening it, she said, advancing to Meredith, and
showing him a withered rose-bud, “Do you remember
this? You plucked it from a little bush
that almost dipped its leaves in that cold spring on
the hill-side—do you remember? It was a hot
summer's afternoon, and you had been reading
poetry to me; you said there was a delicate praise
in the sweet breath of flowers that suited me, and
some silly thing you said, Jasper, that you should
not, of wishing yourself a flower that you might
breathe the incense that you were not at liberty to
speak; and then you taught me the Persian language
of flowers. I kept this little bud: it faded,
but was still sweet. Alas!—alas! I cherished it
for its Persian meaning.” Her reminiscence
seemed too vivid, her voice faltered, and her eye
fell from its fixed gaze on Meredith; but suddenly
her countenance brightened, and she turned to Isabella,
who stood by the mantelpiece resting her
throbbing head on her hand, and added, “Take it,
Isabella, it is a true symbol to you.”


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Eliot for the first time turned his eye from his
sister, and even at that moment of anguish a thrill
of joy shot through every vein when he saw Isabella
take the bud, pull apart its shrivelled leaves,
and throw them from her. Meredith stood leaning
against the wall, his arms folded, and his lips
curled into a smile that was intended to express
scornful unconcern. He might have expressed it,
he might possibly have felt it towards Bessie Lee;
but when he saw Isabella throw away the bud,
when he met the indignant glance of her eye
flashing through the tears that suffused it, a livid
paleness spread around his mouth, and that feature,
the most expressive and truest organ of the soul,
betrayed his inward conflict. He snatched his
hat to leave the room; Bessie laid her hand on his
arm: “Oh, do not go; I shall be cast back into
my former wretchedness if you go now.”

“Stay, sir,” said Eliot; “my sister shall not be

“With all my heart; I have not the slightest
objection to playing out my dumb show between
vapouring and craziness.”

“Villain!” exclaimed Eliot—the young men exchanged
glances of fire. Bessie placed herself
between them, and stretching out her arms, laid a
hand on the breast of each, as if to keep them apart.
—“Now this is unkind—unkind in both of you.
I have come such a long and wearisome journey
to make peace for all of us; and if you will but let


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me finish my task, I shall lay me down and sleep
—for ever, I think.”

Eliot pressed her burning hand to his lips. “My
poor, dear sister,” he said, “I will not speak another
word, if I die in the effort to keep silence.”

“Thanks, dear Eliot,” she replied; and putting
both her arms around his neck, she added, in a
whisper, “do not be angry if he again call me
crazy; there be many that have called me so—
they mistake inspiration for madness, you know.”
Never was Eliot's self-command so tested; and
retiring to the farthest part of the room, he stood
with knit brows and compressed lips, looking and
feeling like a man stretched on the rack, while
Bessie pursued her fancied mission. “Do you
remember this chain?” she asked, as she opened
a bit of paper, and let fall a gold chain over Meredith's
arm. He started as if he were stung. “It
cannot harm you,” she said, faintly smiling, as she
noticed his recoiling. “This was the charm.”
She smoothed the paper envelope. “As often as I
looked at it, the feeling with which I first read it
shot through my heart—strange, for there does not
seem much in it.” She murmured the words
pencilled by Meredith on the envelope,

“`Can she who weaves electric chains to bind the heart,
Refuse the golden links that boast no mystic art?'

“Oh, well do I remember,” she cast up her eyes
as one does who is retracing the past, “the night


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you gave me this; Eliot was in Boston; mother
was—I don't remember where, and we had been
all the evening sitting on the porch. The honey-suckles
and white roses were in bloom, and the
moon shone in through their leaves. It was then
you first spoke of your mother in England, and
you said much of the happy destiny of those who
were not shackled by pride and avarice; and when
you went away, you pressed my hand to your
heart, and put this little packet in it. Yet” (turning
to Isabella) “he never said he loved me. It was
only my over-credulous fancy. Take it, Isabella;
it belongs to you, who really weave the chain that
binds the heart.”

Meredith seized the chain as she stretched out
her hand, and crushed it under his foot. Bessie
looked from him to Isabella, and seemed for a
moment puzzled; then said, acquiescingly, “Ah,
it's all well; symbols do not make nor change
realities. This little brooch,” she continued, steadily
pursuing her purpose, and taking from the box
an old-fashioned brooch, in the shape of a forget-me-not,
“I think was powerless. What need had I
of a forget-me-not, when memory devoured every
faculty of my being? No, there was no charm in
the forget-me-not; but oh, this little pencil,” she
took from the box the end of a lead pencil, “with
which we copied and scribbled poetry together.
How many thoughts has this little instrument unlocked—what
feelings has it touched—what affections


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have hovered over its point, and gone thrilling
back through the heart! You must certainly take
this, Isabella, for there is yet a wonderful power
in this magical little pencil—it can make such revelations.”

“Dear Bessie, I have no revelations to make.”

“Is my task finished?” asked Meredith.

“Not yet—not quite yet—be patient—patience
is a great help; I have found it so. Do you remember
this?” She held up before Meredith a
tress of her own fair hair, tied with a raven lock
of his in a true-love knot. “Ah, Isabella, I know
very well it was not maidenly of me to tie this; I
knew it then, and I begged it of him with many
tears, did I not, Jasper? but I kept it—that was
wrong too. Now, Mr. Meredith, you will help me
to untie it?”

“Pardon me; I have no skill in such matters.”

“Ah, is it easier to tie than to untie a true-love
knot? Alas, alas! I have found it so. But you
must help me. My head is growing dizzy, and I
am so faint here!” She laid her hand on her heart.
“It must be parted—dear Isabella, you will help
me—you can untie a true-love's knot?”

“I can sever it,” said Isabella, with an emphasis
that went to the heart of more than one that heard
her. She took a pair of scissors from the table,
and cut the knot. The black lock fell on the floor;
the pretty tress of Bessie's hair curled around
her finger:—“I will keep this for ever, my sweet


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Bessie,” she said; “the memorial of innocence,
and purity, and much-abused trust.”

“Oh, I did not mean that—I did not mean that,
Isabella. Surely I have not accused him; I told
you he never said he loved me. I am not angry
with him—you must not be. You cannot be long,
if you love him; and surely you do love him.”

“Indeed, indeed I do not.”

“Isabella Linwood! you have loved him.” She
threw one arm around Isabella's neck, and looked
with a piercing gaze in her face. Isabella would
at this moment have given worlds to have answered
with truth—“No, never!” She would have given
her life to have repressed the treacherous blood,
that, rushing to her neck, cheeks, and temples,
answered unequivocally Bessie's ill-timed question.

Meredith's eye was riveted to her face, and the
transition from the humiliation, the utter abasement
of the moment before, to the undeniable and
manifested certainty that he had been loved by the
all-exacting, the unattainable Isabella Linwood, was
more than he could bear, without expressing his
exultation. “I thank you, Bessie Lee,” he cried;
“this triumph is worth all I have endured from
your raving and silly drivelling. Your silent confession,
Miss Linwood, is satisfactory, full, and
plain enough; but it has come a thought too late.
Good-evening to you—a fair good-night to you,
sir. I advise you to take care that your sister sleep
more and dream less.”


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There is undoubtedly a pleasure, transient it
may be, but real it is, in the gratification of the
baser passions. Meredith was a self-idolater; and
at the very moment when his divinity was prostrate,
it had been revived by the sweetest, the most unexpected
incense. No wonder he was intoxicated.
How long his delirium lasted, and what were its
effects, are still to be seen. His parting taunt was
lost on those he left behind.

Bessie believed that her mission was fulfilled
and ended. The artificial strength which, while
she received it as the direct gift of Heaven, her
highly-wrought imagination had supplied, was exhausted.
As Meredith closed the door, she turned
to Eliot, and locking her arms around him, gazed
at him with an expression of natural tenderness,
that can only be imagined by those who have been
so fortunate as to see Fanny Kemble's exquisite
personation of Ophelia; and who remember (who
could forget it?) her action at the end of the flower-scene,
when reason and nature seeming to over-power
her wild fancies, she throws her arms around
Laertes's neck, and with one flash of her all-speaking
eyes, makes every chord of the heart vibrate.

The light soon faded from Bessie's face, and she
lay as helpless as an infant in her brother's arms.
Isabella hastened to Mrs. Archer; and Eliot, left
alone and quite unmanned, poured out his heart
over this victim of vanity and heartlessness.

Mrs. Archer was prompt and efficient in her


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kindness. Bessie was conveyed to bed, and Eliot
assured that every thing should be done for her
that human tenderness and vigilance could do.
After obtaining a promise from Mrs. Archer that
she would write a letter to his mother, and forward
it with some despatches which he knew were to
be sent to Boston on the following day; and after
having arranged matters for secret visits to his
sister, he left her, fervently thanking God for the
kind care that watched over her flickering lamp of

Shall we follow Eliot Lee to his hiding-place?
shall we betray his secret meditations? shall we
show the golden thread that ran through their dark
web? shall we confess, that amid the anxieties
(some understood by our readers, and some yet unexplained)
that lowered over him, a star seemed to
have risen above his horizon? Yes—we dare confess
it; for a little reflection rebuked his presumption,
and he exclaimed, “What is it to me if she
be free?”

Isabella passed the night in watching with Mrs.
Archer over her unconscious little friend; and as
she gazed on her meek brow, on the beautiful features
that were stamped with truth and tenderness,
her indignation rose against him who, for the poor
gratification of his miserable vanity, could meanly
steal away the treasure of her affections—that most
precious boon, given to feed the lamp of life, and
light the way to heaven.


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Mrs. Archer, at this crisis, felt much like one
who, having seen a rich domain relieved, by the
sudden interposition of Providence, from a pernicious
intruder, is impatient to see it in possession
of a lawful proprietor. It was womanly and natural,
that when she and Isabella were watching at
Bessie's bedside, she should descant on Eliot—
should recall his tenderness and gentleness to
Bessie, and the true heroism with which, for her
sake, he repressed the indignation that was ready
to burst on Meredith. Mrs. Archer thought Isabella
listened languidly, and assented coldly. She
told her so. “Dear aunt Mary,” she replied, “my
mind is absorbed in a delicious, devout sense
of escape. From my childhood I have been in
thraldom—groping in mist. Now I stand in a
clear light—I see objects in their true colours—I
am mistress of myself, and am, as far as relates
to myself, perfectly happy. Some other time we
will talk over what your friend said, and did, and
did not do, and admire it to your heart's content.
Now I am entirely selfish; I have but one idea—
but one sensation!” Mrs. Archer was satisfied.