University of Virginia Library

Search this document 



Page 504


The story of my fortunes draws to an end, — not because
the years that have since elapsed furnish no important revelation
of life, no riper lessons for brain or heart, but
chiefly because the records of repose interest us less than
those of struggle. I have not enjoyed, nor did I anticipate
the enjoyment of, pure, uninterrupted happiness, but my
nature rests at last on a firm basis of love and faith, secure
from any serious aberrations of the soul or the senses. I
know how to endure trial without impatient protest, — to
encounter deceit without condemning my race, — to see,
evermore, the arm of Eternal Justice, reaching through
time and meting out, in advance, the fitting equivalent for
every deed. It is the vibration of the string which gives
forth the sound, and that of my life now hums but a soft,
domestic monotone, audible to a few ears.

Yet there are still some explanations to be made, before
closing this narrative of the seven years which renewed
my frame, changing gristle into bone, and adding the iron
of the man to the soft blood of the boy.

The unexpected restoration of my inheritance, so marvellously
expanded, necessarily changed my plans for the
future. After returning to New York, I lost no time in
visiting Isabel, and in consulting with my honored friend,
Mr. Clarendon. The latter, although assuring me that my
labors had become of real value to his paper, nevertheless
advised me to give up my situation, since I should be now


Page 505
in the receipt of a better income, and could devote a year
or two to rest and study. I knew my own deficiencies, and
was anxious to supply them for the sake of the new life
which was opening. A spark of ambition still burned
among the ashes of my early dreams. While recognizing
that I had mistaken enthusiasm for power, and sentiment
for genius, — that my poetic sympathy was not sufficient to
constitute the genuine poetic faculty, — I had nevertheless
acquired a facility of expression, a tolerable skill in description,
and a knowledge of the resources of author-craft,
which, in less ambitious ways, might serve me, and enable
me to serve my fellow-men. The appetite was upon me,
never to be cured. There is more hope for the man who
tastes wine than for him who has once tasted type and
printer's ink. Though but one in fifty feels the airy intoxication
of fame, while the others drink themselves into
stupidity, and then into fatuity, who is deterred by the example?

My inheritance did me good service in another way.
The reason for my withdrawal from the Wonder became
known, and my friend, the reporter of the Avenger, put it
into the “Personal” column of that paper, stating that I
had fallen heir to an immense fortune. The article was
headed “An Author in Luck,” and, of course, went the
rounds of the other papers. I was congratulated by everybody
whom I had ever met, and even Messrs. Renwick and
Blossom, overlooking the ignominy of my flight from Mrs.
De Peyster's boarding-house, left their cards at Mrs. Very's
door. I gave the black boy who scoured the knives two
shillings to carry my cards to them in return, and went up
to Stanton Street, to pass the evening with Bob Simmons.

With October Isabel came back to the city. She had already
written to her step-father and the two associate trustees,
and on the day when she completed her twenty-first
year the papers representing her property were placed in
her hands. Mr. Floyd, who had always treated her kindly,


Page 506
and who had found his house very lonely since her departure,
begged her to return, even going to the length of offering
to banish his son. Then Isabel quietly said, —

“I shall be married to Mr. Godfrey in two months, and
will not dispossess Mr. Tracy Floyd for so short a time.”

The old man sighed wearily. The announcement, of
course, was not unexpected. There was a little affection
somewhere among the stock-jobbing interests which filled
his heart; he had once imagined that his step-daughter
might become his daughter-in-law, and keep a warm home
for his old days. His intercourse with his son consisted
principally of impudent demands for money on one side,
and angry remonstrances on the other. What could he expect?
He gave his life to Wall Street, and that stony divinity
does not say, “Train up your children.” On the contrary,
one of her commandments is, “Thou shalt give thy
sons cigars and thy daughters silks, and let them run, that
the care of them may not take thy mind from stocks.”

As for Mr. Tracy Floyd, his fate was already decided,
though we did not know it at the time. For one so selfish
and shallow-hearted, his only plan of life — to be the idle,
elegant husband of an heiress — failed most singularly and
lamentably. Miss Levi employed the magnetism of her
powerful Oriental eyes to some purpose, for she trod his
plans under foot and married him before the summer was
over. I would give much to know the successive saps and
mines, the stealthy approaches, and the final onset by which
she gained possession of the empty citadel; it would be a
more intricate romance than my own. She was a Jewess,
with very little money in her own right, but wealthy connections.
The latter were desirous of rising in society,
and it was believed that they allowed a moderate annuity
to Mrs. Floyd, on condition that the match should be used
to further their plans in this respect, and that the possible
future children should be educated in their faith. I will
not vouch for the truth of this report, but the gossips of


Page 507
Gramercy Park that winter declared that the Floyd mansion
was frequented by numbers of persons with large
noses and narrow stripes of forehead.

We were married in December. Isabel wore the sapphires
I loved, but their sparkle could not dim the sweet,
tremulous lustre of her kindred eyes. It was a very quiet
and unostentatious wedding, followed by a reception in Mrs.
Deering's rooms. When evening came, my wife and I left
our friends, and went together, — not on a tour from hotel
to hotel, with a succession of flashy “Bridal Chambers” at
our disposal, — but to the dear little house in Irving Place
which was now to be our home. Yet we did not go alone.
Three radiant genii, with linked hands, walked before us,
— Peace to kindle the fire on our domestic hearth, and
Confidence and Love to light the lamps beside our nuptial

Some weeks afterwards, I received, one morning, the following
letter from San Francisco: —

My Dear John, — I know why you have not written
to me. In fact I knew, months ago, (through Deering,)
what was coming, and had conquered whatever soreness
was left in my heart. Fortunately my will is also strong
in a reflective sense, and I am, moreover, no child to lament
over an irretrievable loss. I dare say the future will
make it up to me, in some way, if I wait long enough. At
any rate, you won't object, my dear old fellow, to have me
say — not that I wish you happiness, for you have it, but —
that you deserve your double fortune. The other item I
picked up from a newspaper; you might have written me

“With this steamer there will come a trifle, which I hope
may be accepted in token of forgetfulness and forgiveness,
— though it is Fate, not myself, that should be forgiven.
There may also come a time — nay, I swear it shall come,
— when I may sit by your fireside and warm my bald


Page 508
head, and nurse my gouty leg, and drink my glass of Port.
Pray that it may be sooner for the sake of your (and hers,

“Affectionate cousin,

Alexander Penrose.

The “trifle” was a superb India shawl, and I am glad
that Isabel likes to wear it. We have not yet seen our
cousin, for we were absent from New York when he came
to the Atlantic side, two years afterwards; but we believe
in the day when he shall be an honored and beloved guest
under our roof. Till then, one side-rill of bliss is wanting
to the full stream of our lives.

Within a year after our marriage, Mr. Floyd met the
usual fate of men of his class. Paralysis and softening of
the brain took him away from the hard pavements and the
granite steps he had trodden so long. The mind, absent
from his vacant eyes, no doubt still flitted about on 'Change,
holding ghostly scrip and restlessly seeking phantom quotations.
It was not with us; but we took his body and
cared for it a little while, until the mechanical life ceased.
Then reverence forbade us to wonder what occupation the
soul could find in the world beyond stock.

When spring came, I took Isabel to the Cross-Keys, and
gave her the first bud from the little rose-tree on my mother's
grave. Kindly hands had kept away the weeds, and
the letters on the head-stone were no less carefully cleaned
from moss and rust than those which contained my boyish
promise of immortality, — the epitaph on Becky Jane Niles.
Our visit was a white day in the good Neighbor's life.
She tried to call me “Mr. Godfrey,” but the familiar
“Johnny” would come into her mouth, confusing her and
bringing the unwonted color into her good old face, until
she hit upon the satisfactory expedient of addressing me as
“Sir.” I don't believe any garment since her wedding-dress
gave her as much pleasure as the black silk we left
behind us.


Page 509

Thence we went to Reading, where Isabel speedily won
the hearts of Uncle and Aunt Woolley, and so homeward
by way of Upper Samaria. Our visit was a great surprise
to Dan Yule, who had not heard a word about me since I
burned “Leonora's Dream” under the willows. Mother
Yule was dead, but Dan and his “Lavina” kept the plain,
cheerful spirit of the old home intact, and it was a happy
day we passed under their roof. A messenger was sent to
Susan, who came over the hills with Ben and their lusty
baby to tea, and the lively gossip around the fire in the
great kitchen chimney-place scarcely came to an end. I
was glad to hear that Verbena Cuff was married. Then
first I dared tell the story of the lime-kiln.

And now, having carefully disposed of so many of the
personages of my history, after the manner of an English
novelist of the last century, my readers may demand that I
should be equally considerate of the remainder. But the
Rands and the Brattons have passed out of the circle of
my knowledge. The same may be said of the Mortimers
and Miss Tatting. Mears has married a wealthy widow,
and given up art for artistic literature. (I betray no secret
when I state that he is the well-known “Anti-Ruskin,”
whose papers appear in “The Beaten Path.”) Brandagee,
has, perhaps, undergone the greatest transformation of all;
and yet, now that I know mankind better, I can see that
it is in reality no transformation, but a logical development
of his nature. Having scraped together a little capital, —
probably obtained by following Fiorentino's method, — he
ventured into Wall Street one day, was lucky, followed
his luck, rapidly became a shrewd and daring operator,
and is supposed to be in prosperous if not brilliant circumstances.
He lives at the Brevoort House, and spends his
money liberally — upon himself. He is never known to
lend to a needy Bohemian. “Gold,” he now says, “is the
only positive substance.” I frequently meet him, and as
the remembrance of my vagabond association with him has


Page 510
left no very deep sting, we exchange salutations and remarks,
— but there is no intimacy between us, and there
never will be.

“But what of Bob Simmons? And of Jane Berry?”
the curious reader may ask. Shall I again lift the veil
which I have dropped upon two unfortunate hearts? —
Rather let it hang, that each one may work out in his own
way the problem I have indicated. Whether the folly of
a day is to be the misery of a life, or, on the other hand,
a too easy rehabilitation of woman's priceless purity shall
be allowed to lessen the honor of the sex, are the questions
which my poor friends were called upon to solve. Whichever
side we may take, let us not deny human pity to the
struggle through which they must pass, before peace, in
either form, can rest upon their lives.

If there is any lesson in my story, I think it is not necessary
that I should distinctly enunciate it. In turning over
these pages, wherein a portion of my life is faithfully recorded,
I see, not only that I am no model hero, but that
my narrative is no model romance. The tragic element,
in externals, at least, is lacking, — but then mine has been
no exceptional life. It only runs, with different undulations,
between the limits in which many other lives are inclosed.
Why, then, should I write it? Because the honest
confession of a young man's fluctuating faith, his vanity
and impatience, his struggle with temptations of the intellect
and the senses, and the workings of that Providence
which humbles, sobers, and instructs him, can never be
without interest and profit to his fellow-men. If another
reason is wanted I will give it, and with it a final, fleeting
tableau of my present life.

Time, nearly a year ago. Scene, the little lawn in front
of our cottage on Staten Island. I am sitting on the veranda,
in an arm-chair of Indian-cane, with Jean Paul's
“Titan” — a very literary nebula, by the way, the fluid
essence of a hundred stars — in my hand. Isabel, fuller


Page 511
and rounder in her form, but with the same fresh, clear
beauty in her features, (how often I think of Penrose's exclamation,
— “She is my Eos — my Aurora!”) sits near
me, but her work rests on her lap, and her eyes follow the
gambols of Charles Swansford Godfrey, whose locks of
golden auburn shine out from the rift in a clump of box,
where he is seeking to hide from his little sister Barbara.
It is a charming picture, but I am too restless to enjoy it
as a husband and father ought.

I throw down “Titan” and pace up and down the veranda
with rapid strides. Isabel looks towards me, and a
shade (think not that another eye than mine would notice
it!) passes over her face. I stop before her chair.

“Bell,” I say, “what shall I do? I have tried hard to
give up my literary ambition, and enjoy this lazy, happy
life of ours, but the taint sticks in my blood. I am restless
because my mind is unemployed: these occasional sketches
and stories don't fill the void. I want a task which shall
require a volume. Can't you give me a subject?”

“I have been feeling the same thing all along, John,”
says she, “and only waited for you to speak of it. Don't
aim too high in your first essay: take that which is nearest
and most familiar. Why not tell the story of your own

“I will!” I exclaim, giving her a kiss as a reward for
this easy solution of the difficulty.

And I have done it.


Blank Page

Page Blank Page

Blank Page

Page Blank Page

Blank Page

Page Blank Page

Free Endpaper

Page Free Endpaper

Free Endpaper

Page Free Endpaper

Paste-Down Endpaper

Page Paste-Down Endpaper