University of Virginia Library


Page 157


We must skip, without notice, the events of several
weeks, in which but little apparent progress was made
on any hand. The parties met frequently, now at
church, now at evening assemblages of friends, and still,
as before, very frequently at the dwelling of our heroine.
Randall Hammond continued his policy, though
with a misgiving, which gradually increased with the
increase of his passion; and an eye less anxious, and a
mind less excitable than that of Geraldine's, would have
readily detected, at particular moments, the proofs of
this strengthening interest. But what with her own
feelings engaged in the issue, and the continued and
perverse hostility of Mrs. Foster to the claims of our
hero, she was kept in the same dogged mood towards
him in which we have beheld her while taking the
strange vow recorded in the preceding chapter. He
saw and felt the influence, but was without any means
to meet and to contend with it; unless by the exercise
of the same patience which he had hitherto displayed,
and the unwearied exhibition of those talents and resources
which had rendered him still agreeable in her
eyes in the teeth of all her prejudices. His mother, it
may be mentioned in this place, had expressed her
doubts of the propriety of his seeking in marriage the
hand of Geraldine Foster. Of the young lady, herself,
the venerable dame knew nothing, except from hearsay;
and rumor rather exaggerated defects than acknowledged
virtues. The objections of Mrs. Hammond lay to the
step-mother, whom she knew as a pert housekeeper employed
in a neighboring family, when she was promoted


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by Foster, then sinking with a feeble constitution, and
equally feeble mind, into imbecility. She regarded
her influence over the step-daughter as vicious and dangerous,
and, whatever might be the individual endowments
of the girl, she insisted upon their abuse and perversion
in the hands of such a guardian. We have seen
that she is right in some measure; but she overrated
the influence of the one, and underrated the powers of
resistance of the other. The girl, in reality, in many
respects, controlled the woman. The latter, conscious
of low birth and inferior education, though naturally
clever, was submissive to the daughter in most social
respects; and it was only where the latter was necessarily
diffident, as in the case of her affections, that she
exercised any influence over her sufficiently powerful
to baffle the impulses of her own judgment. In affairs
of the heart, or, rather, where young persons are called
upon to decide between two or more favorites, the adroit
suggestions of third parties have always more or less
weight. The mind distrusts itself but too frequently
when the affections are busy with its decisions; and it is
because of this fact, that we find so many of that pernicious
class called match-makers in the world. They
interpose when the will of the interested person is at
fault. They profess friendship, and it is at such a time
that the poor heart longs for such a succor. They insinuate
doubts, or suggest motives, and determine the
scales, for or against a party, by such arguments or innuendoes
as are most likely to influence the feeble nature
which relies upon them. Mrs. Foster's hold upon Geraldine,
in this matter, lay in the morbidly active pride
of the damsel. This she contrived to goad and irritate
by daily suggestions, in which the most innocent movements
of Hammond were perverted. The fear of Mrs.
Hammond, with regard to her influence upon Miss Foster,
went still farther. She dreaded lest she should
govern her in all respects; lest she should have tutored
all her moods and feelings by the low moral standards
by which the step-mother herself was influenced; and


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have made her equally selfish and presumptuous with
herself; coarse in her aims, narrow in her opinions;
jealous of the worth which she never sought to emulate;
and ambitious of society, not for its real advantages of
mutual training and attrition, but for its silly displays
and petty ostentations.

We need not repeat that, in these apprehensions, Mrs.
Hammond labored under error; but she did not the less
entertain them. A long and serious conversation with
her son, the day after his return from the races at Hillabee,
was devoted to this subject. In this conversation,
she freely declared her objections to the match with such
a person, related all that she had heard of Geraldine,
and told her son all that she knew of the step-mother,
concluding with an earnest entreaty that he would look
in some other quarter for the exercise of his affections.
She was even good enough to mention the names of two
or three young ladies of their acquaintance, whose
charms were considerable, and against whom there lay
no such objections as she entertained for Miss Foster.

But the son, though grateful for this counsel, as frankly
told his mother that it fell upon unheeding senses; that
he was really and deeply attached to Geraldine; that
he was not blind to her faults, and knew her to be
equally proud and eccentric; but her pride, he said,
arose from a high spirit, sensible only of right purposes,
and her eccentricities were the growth of a superior
intellect, under an irregular education, and were due in
some degree to a consciousness of independence, falsely
founded, perhaps, of the circle in which she moved.
Like other lovers, Hammond expressed the opinion that
her eccentricities would certainly be cured by marriage,
particularly under the admirable domestic system which
he was prepared to establish. For the step-mother, he
had nothing to say. He had certainly no defence to
offer. She was pretty much the woman that his mother
had described her. Besides, she was evidently hostile
to himself. But her influence over her step-daughter
was nothing. If exercised in any way, it was only in


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opposition to himself, and he could readily understand
how she might operate successfully by artifices, particularly
in dealing with a person who was herself truthful
and unsuspicious, where she might never attain any influence
by open authority. He continued by repeating
the assurance to his mother that he felt too much interested
in the lady to forego his attentions, but that he
should watch her conduct narrowly, and not risk his peace
upon any object to whom such objections could apply
as those which she had urged. He concluded by expressing
his desire that his mother would visit Mrs.
Foster, and see the young lady for herself. There was
no good reason why she should not do so. It is true
she did not like Mrs. Foster, but if people visited only
those whom they liked, society would be almost empty
of individuals. Mrs. Foster had called upon her, and
had invited her to her house. True, she might remember
her as a pert housekeeper, but she was now a householder;
and if pert in this capacity, it was a fault which
could be charged upon a thousand others. At all events
Mrs. Foster was no worse than her neighbors, so far as
the world was permitted to see. And to recognize her
as everybody else did, would in no degree impair the
ancient position which Mrs. Hammond held in the public
esteem. If any other reason were wanting, it was
undoubtedly to be found in the probability of her son
establishing an alliance with this very family, when,
as a matter of course, all difference of relative position
must be overthrown forever.

The worthy old lady sighed as she acknowledged the
truth of these reasonings, and prepared to submit to
them. At an early day her carriage was ordered, and
Mrs. Foster was confounded when she heard that the
equipage of the stately old lady was in progress up the
avenue. This was a triumph to her vanity which would
have been eminently gratified, but that it seemed to
operate against her project of marrying her daughter to
Barry. One of her favorite topics of denunciation,
where Hammond was concerned, was his own and his


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mother's arrogance; and the neglect of the latter to
return her visits was an argument for the truth of her
assertions. But neither Geraldine nor herself was insensible
to the compliment paid by this visit. Mrs.
Hammond was at the very head of society in that neighborhood.
Her position was unquestionable. Hers was
one of the oldest families; and the dignity which she
maintained, along with the virtues of benevolence and
hospitality—to speak of no other of the Christian charities—all
of which were eminently conceded to her, rendered
her quite as much beloved as respected. It had
been rather injurious to Mrs. Foster's pretensions in
society, that Mrs. Hammond had not recognized them.
That she did so now, at this late day, was undoubtedly
something gained; but the perverse pride in her heart
prompted a feeling of resentment at the visit so long
deferred, and she suddenly exclaimed to Geraldine—

“We won't see her. She has taken her time about it,
and we will take ours. Let Clara go and tell her we
are not at home.”

“No, indeed, mother! that won't do. You will gain
nothing by it; for people will only say, you have done
it for spite. Mrs. Hammond is not a woman to be
slighted. However we may feel her neglect of us, she
is a lady of worth and character; and I can't think of
showing her any resentment. Besides, I feel none. I
remember her when she used to visit my own dear mother,
though I was but a child; and I have heard father
speak of her as his friend, when he needed friendship.
Indeed, I have heard that she lent him a large sum of
money to save his mills; and, in the settlement of the
affairs of the estate with Lawyer Griffin, I see the repayment
only took place the year before my father died.
No! she has had some reason, I suppose, for keeping
away, and that she comes now shows that these reasons
exist no longer. We must see her. I feel nothing but
respect for Mrs. Hammond.”

This was said in a way to silence opposition. But
the step-mother had the last word, framed in a fashion


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that she had been too much accustomed to employ of
late to forego very readily.

“It's just as you will, my dear. You have very
good reasons for what you say; but I rather think that
if your heart did not incline so much to seeing the son,
your reasons wouldn't be half so good for seeing the
mother. Take care now; I see what's coming. You
will be overawed by the consequential old woman, until
you submit to the consequential young man, and then
good-by to all your freedom. I know you, Geraldine
Foster; you'll be imposed upon by the high heads of
these people, until you forget all your resolutions.”

“And I tell you, mother, that you know nothing
about Geraldine Foster, if you think she is to be imposed
upon by anybody. I am—”

“Well, hush now, before the old witch hears you.
She's coming into the parlor now.”

Geraldine muttered something about the improper
use of the epithet old witch, and Mrs. Foster sniggered
at the rebuke. The affairs of the toilet proceeded in
silence, and the daughter was the first who was ready
to descend.

“She shall wait for me,” said the mother, proceeding
very leisurely. Geraldine left the room, and descended
to the parlor. She felt a little awe, certainly, as she
entered the room and encountered the tall, stately form
of the venerable woman, with her dark dress, and her
formal mob cap. But the benevolent manner, and the
sweet tones of the old lady's voice reassured her.

“I know you, my child, by your dear mother. She
was my intimate friend. She was a kind and loving
person. You have her eyes and mouth. Your forehead
and nose are your father's, and you are tall, like
your father also. Your mother was rather short, but
she was so well made that she did not seem so, unless
when standing close to others. If you have her heart,
my child, as you certainly have all her beauty—”

The old lady squeezed the hands of the girl, but
failed to see the humid witnesses which were gathering


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in her eyes. Those of the speaker were already wet.
The sympathies of the two were becoming active, and
Mrs. Hammond had already reproached our heroine
with having failed, since her return home, after a lapse
of several years, to seek out one of her mother's most
intimate friends; and Geraldine, who had been kept
from doing so only by the perverse influence of her step-mother,
was awkwardly seeking to account and apologize
for the neglect, when the door was flung wide, and
Mrs. Foster sailed into the room, blazing in her best
silks, and making as formidable a show of trinkets as
if she were the belle of the evening. At her appearance,
the whole manner of Mrs. Hammond seemed to
change. She drew up to her fullest height her tall,
erect person. Her eye assumed a severe simplicity of
gaze, which entirely changed its expression; and her
reception of the new-comer, Geraldine could not but
remark, was singularly unlike that which had met her
appearance. The truth is, the absence of simplicity,
the obtrusive ostentation of Mrs. Foster's manner, a
mixture at once of dignity and assumption which was
neither confidence nor ease, brought out all the native
superiority of her visitor. Besides, she remembered
her as the usurper, foisting herself by cunning upon
the weakness of a dying man, and succeeding to a position
in society for which her training and education
had not prepared her. The first meeting between the
two, already prepared to be belligerents, was productive
of impressions which strengthened their mutual dislikes
and distrusts. Mrs. Foster was boisterous and confident;
talked recklessly, as if her purpose had been to
show nothing but scorn of all the usual modes of thinking
and feeling, all the forms and manners, which her
guest had been wont to hold in reverence. The deportment
of Mrs. Hammond was the reverse of this; but
it was so full of a dignity jealous of assault, and resolute
against intrusion; so cold in its stateliness, so stern
in its simplicity, that our heroine, though vexed at the
bearing of her step-mother, was not less chilled and


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offended by that of her visitor. We need not detail the
progress of the interview. The call was a very short
one, and the parties separated mutually dissatisfied.
Mrs. Hammond, chafed with the impertinence of Mrs.
Foster, and disposed to see in Geraldine (who had been
very quiet) nothing but the susceptible creature whom
the step-mother had fashioned in all respects to resemble
herself; while the latter, though not exactly satisfied
with herself, was yet confirmed in all her grudges and
ancient hostilities, as she felt the cold supremacy of
that bearing which she had bullied, without being able
to forsake or overcome.

“There,” said she to Geraldine, when her visitor had
been bowed down the steps; “there you have her in full;
the queen of Sheba, with her head in the clouds and
her feet among the stars. She's as proud as Lucifer.
You'd have a fine chance with her as a mother-in-law.
She'd rule you with a rod of iron. Do you smile, it's a
look; do you laugh, it's a scold; would you dance, it's a
sermon; and so day by day, until you're broken down
with the sulks and sours: no milk could keep sweet
long under that face of vinegar.”

Geraldine was silent. She, too, had been disappointed
the visit. She could see that there was something
wrong in the carriage and language of her mother; but
unfortunately, her ear had become too much habituated
to the modes of speech and thinking of the latter to
feel, in full force, the improprieties of her conduct; and
she regarded the stern deportment of Mrs. Hammond as
totally unprovoked by anything that had taken place.
She was quite ignorant of that past history of the step-mother
which their visitor knew too well, and it was
really in some degree as the sincere friend of Geraldine's
own mother that the soul of the old lady revolted
at her substitute. But this the young lady was yet to
learn. She, as we have said, was silent; while Mrs.
Foster ran on in a strain cunningly calculated at once
to express her own hostility and to alarm the fears of
Geraldine. She painted the tyrannical mother of Hammond


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subduing all the spirit of his young wife, of any
wife whom he should bring home; restraining all her
innocent desires, chiding her sentiments, and keeping
her in such a bondage to her antiquated notions, as
would effectually quell all her sweetest impulses, and
embitter all her youth with the mere caprices of authority.
From the mother she passed, by a natural transition,
to the son. He was the true child of his
mother; cold, stern, unbending, despotic. She was
eloquent on this theme; she recalled and dwelt upon,
with perverse ingenuity, every incident that could serve
for its illustration, and it was only when she broke down
with utter exhaustion that she was content to stop.
Poor Geraldine said nothing. She was certainly impressed
by what she heard. The speech of Mrs. Foster
was not without ingenuity. Yet the girl thought of
Hammond with kindly feelings. It was only when her
temper was roused that she was disposed to side completely
with her cunning and dishonest counsellor.
Somehow, she could not concur with her now, even in
respect to the stately mother. Though chilled to the
heart by the progress of the interview, she yet remembered
the sweetness with which it had begun.

How different had been the deportment of the old
lady before her step-mother made her appearance!
How kindly had she spoken; with what affectionate remembrance
did she seem to dwell on the personal appearance
and the virtues of her mother; and, surely, she
had seen the gathering tears in her soft blue eyes at
the very moment when she felt that her own were filling.
Whence, then, the change? how could the appearance
of her step-mother have effected it? There was a mystery
in this, and the aroused heart of Geraldine brooded
over it; and daily, with an increasing pleasure, did she
remember the sweet words and the sad tears which the
mother of Hammond had shared with herself when the
two were alone together.