Crowded Out! and Other Sketches - novelonlinefull.com
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"True," replied the minister gravely. "Yet to one like myself that seems a long time. You sent for me, cousin." His gaze wandered round the room and then fastened once more upon Miss De Grammont.
"Yes," she said faintly. "I could not tell you all in my letter. I wanted--I want still--somebody's help."
"And it is very natural you should apply for mine, cousin, I will do anything I can. I have"--the minister grew sensibly more severe, more grave--"I have this day, on the train, seen a paper--a new kind of paper to me, I confess,--a _Society Journal_ it calls itself, in which a name is mentioned. Is your--trouble--connected with that?"
Miss De Grammont blushed deeply. "Yes. That is my name. I would not have troubled you--but I must ask your advice, for you are the only one of the family, of my mother's family--" Her voice broke.
"Yes, cousin, you are right."
The minister rose and stood up before her, a stern though not unsympathetic figure in his stiff black coat and iron gray hair. "I know what you are going to ask me to do. You will ask me to see these people, these editors, reviewers, whatever they are, to talk to them, to impress upon them what you are and who you are, and who your mother was, and what is the end of the base man who imagines lies and the end of all the workers of iniquity. You will ask me to tell them that it is all false, all abominable intrigue and treachery and I shall demand in your name and in my own as your only near relative and a minister of the Gospel, an apology. It is but jealousy, cousin. Forgive me, but you are too beautiful and too young to live alone in such a house, in such a manner.
You must marry. Or else you must give up such a life. It maketh enemies within your gates and behold! there shall be no man to say a good thing of thee!"
The minister had lifted up his voice as if he had been in the pulpit and for one instant laid his hand on his cousin's hair. Then he went back to his seat.
Miss De Grammont was profoundly moved. Great tears coursed down her cheeks and until they had stopped she could not trust herself to speak.
"The paper!" she said dismally. "You have seen a paper, you say, with--my--my name in it! There is nothing new in that. I have been in the papers for months past. I am never out of them. And this one says--"
The minister drew it out of his pocket.
"That with you, in this house lives, in the character of a butler, an exiled Italian Prince who committed grave personal and political offences many years ago and was sent to prison. That you are married to him. My dear cousin, it is monstrous!"
Miss De Grammont took out her handkerchief already wet through with her tears and pressed it to her eyes.
"It is not monstrous," she said, "but it is most extraordinary. He _is_ an Italian Prince, and I _am_ married to him."
To use a hackneyed phrase, the room swam around Mr. Fielding for an instant When he recovered he could only sit and gaze at the beautiful woman before him. The details of village life, in Vermont had not educated him up to exigencies of this sort. A fearful chasm seemed to have opened under his feet, and he began to comprehend dimly that there were other lives than his own and that of his estimable but commonplace wife being daily lived out in this world.
"Yes," said Miss De Grammont, a little more bravely now that the worst shock was over. "That is quite true. And the extraordinary part of it is that they can only have guessed at it; evolved it, as it were from the depths of their inner consciousness, they can't possible have discovered it. It isn't known anywhere, save perhaps to one or two in Italy."
"In Italy," murmured the Rev. Mr. Fielding. "You met him in Italy? And why keep it secret? My dear cousin, you have made a great mistake. And all this sad and singular story is true?"
"Very nearly true. All but the offences. They never happened."
"Your husband is not a political character then?"
"Oh! not in the least. He knows nothing of politics. My Jose! he couldn't hurt anything, moreover!"
"Jose is a Spanish name, surely," said Mr. Fielding.
"His mother was a Castilian, fair and proud as only a Castilian can be. She named him Jose--But he has other names, three, all Italian--Antonio--"
"I see," said the minister dryly. "I am sorry that I cannot give you all the sympathy in this matter that you may desire, but you have entered on a course of action which is perplexing at least, to say no more. I feel, my dear cousin, that as a--married woman--your confidences are--ill placed and I must ask you to withdraw them. You must settle this matter with your--ahem--husband." Mr. Fielding took up his hat and in another moment would have been gone forever, but that turning at the door he saw such intense supplication in his cousin's eyes that his orthodox heart melted.
"Forgive me cousin," he said coming back. "There may be still a way out of it. Will you tell me all?" Miss De Grammont then related her different heart episodes abroad, entanglements, half-engagements, desperate flirtations and all the rest of it to this sober, black-coated gentleman. Such a revelation poured forth in truly feminine style nearly drove him away the second time, but true to his word, he remained nevertheless, sitting bolt upright in a padded chair only meant for lounging. Finally, she told him of her snares to catch lovers and how one day she was caught herself by the dark-browed, eloquent Prince Corunna.
She fell in love herself for the first time in her life, and he with her, so he declared. But he was miserably poor and with the pride of a Castilian would not woo her because of her money. She hated it, yet she could not live without it.
The minister smiled pityingly.
However she made him marry her, and then proposed as a test, in which he joyfully acquiesced, that he should make himself of use to her, be in fact, her major-domo, steward, butler, amanuensis, anything and everything.
"It is most unprecedented," sighed the minister. "That a man with Castilian blood in his veins--"
Miss De Grammont interrupted him. "He was happier so, dear cousin. But I--I grew most unhappy. And since I have been here, I have been very unhappy still. We are both in a false position and now--thanks to that unlucky hammock--our secret has become common property."
"The hammock!" said Mr. Fielding. "What has that got to do with it? It is a pretty idea."
"So I think," said Miss De Grammont, delighted beyond measure. Then she told him about the paragraphs, large and small, the confidential friends, the small beginnings that had lead insensibly up to the culminating point--that of scandal.
"I am being dropped gradually," she said.
"Of course you are," said the minister. "Of course you are. Soon you will be--forgive me--a dead letter. There is only one thing to be done and that I can do at once. A letter must be written to this paper, stating calmly in as few words as possible that this paragraph is true, that you _are_ married to Prince--ah--Corunna, that he _is_ a political offender and for that reason the marriage _was_ kept secret, but that now of course as informers must already have given the secret away, you are obliged to endorse it yourself."
"But Jose is not a political offender! Never did anything wrong in his life!"
"Of course not," said the minister. "Some of us others, even clergymen, are not so fortunate. Now that must be included, else there is no good reason for having kept your marriage secret. Other explanations will not be taken. Besides this will ent.i.tle you to sympathy at once. Will you write the letter and I can leave it at the office for you? There is time for me to do that before my train starts."
Miss De Grammont wrote her letter as dictated by her cousin. He put it in his pocket and rose to go.
"Will you not stay and see my husband?" she said timidly.
"Thank you, no." returned Mr. Fielding. "I haven't met many foreigners.
I don't think, perhaps, we should get on. Down in Phippsville--well, my circle is so different from yours, Isabel. It is the fashion I hear to live abroad now, and desert America--at least to depreciate it, and not to care about its opinion--but that hasn't spread yet to our little village. It seems as if it might have been better for instance, had you stayed in Europe. You see, having married an Italian, all this trouble would have been avoided--I mean--it could have gone on over there--but now--well, riches are a snare, my dear cousin, as you have by this time found. Good-bye, dear cousin, and G.o.d be with you."
When a letter addressed to the editor of the Society Journal appeared the next day signed Isabel Corunna (nee De Grammont) with its paralysing statement in a few concise words, New York was startled to its foundation. Public opinion which for a week had been at the culminating point of distrust, malevolence and resentment, turned the corner in a moment and for the moment believed implicitly in the faith of the lady it had abandoned. The greatest sympathy was shown Madame La Princesse Corunna, or Princess Corunna, or Miss De Grammont that was, or whatever her friends chose to call her. The butler disappeared for ever and the Prince came in. It was a transformation scene equal to Beauty and the Beast. Dark-browed and eloquent as ever, the Prince was a social success whenever he chose to be, but as time went on, he and his wife became more and more absorbed in each other and the world saw little of either of them. For a time he posed as a political offender which gave his wife no end of amus.e.m.e.nt. They were so far reinstated into public favor that the hammock--source of mingled joy and woe--was again considered as a thing of beauty and a thing to be imitated. There are a dozen such hammocks now in New York City.
But there are still a few ill-natured people, dowagers, matrons, an old love or two, and a handful of shrivelled spinsters who declare that the Prince is no Prince at all, but a Pastrycook.