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Mark Gildersleeve Part 18

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Edna, after sending the note, remained at home that evening. She had engaged to go to the opera; but plead indisposition, and grievously disappointed an admirer. She waited in expectation of a swift acknowledgment of her pet.i.tion. The mask had fallen. If Mark could have seen her now, all his bitterness would have vanished. Old thoughts and recollections had resumed their sway, and her countenance beamed with the latent tenderness of a frank, generous nature. It was not the tristful expression of a love-lorn maiden, for her girlish pa.s.sion for Mark was indeed gone; but there remained a sincere affection for her old friend and playmate. He came not, neither made he any sign; and Edna retired to her room that night disappointed, and perhaps a little nettled. This feeling very soon pa.s.sed over; it lasted a day or so, and then with an appeased conscience, and serene conviction that she had made ample amends for her frigid reception of her old lover, she continued to mingle in the whirl of fashionable diversions.

Her wealth and beauty had installed her at once as the reigning belle of the season. Suitors she had without number. Noticeable among them, besides the Italian count, were: the still faithful Spooner, the former dog-fancier, now the Rev. F. Standish Spooner, in charge of a congregation at Roxbury, that he sadly neglected to wait upon Miss Heath, without, however, much hope of success, as his ineligibility as a partner in the dance put him at a woful disadvantage; the dashing stockbroker, Jobson, whom the belle rather disdained, in spite of his horses and yacht, as unrefined and inclined to low tastes; Herbert Hopper, a little fop, with immeasurably more money than brains; a pretty fellow, though, that scores of girls would gladly have taken up with; and last though not least, Percy Brocatelle, a famous leader of the German. Percy's means of livelihood were involved in mystery, and his antecedents humble. He had been a clerk at Stewart's, where his gentlemanly address and good looks had won him many friends and acquaintances from among the fashionable patronesses of that establishment. Under the auspices of the sagacious s.e.xton Brown, he had forsaken the glove-counter, and made his debut as a society-man, gradually rising to eminence in that arduous profession. Envious swells, to be sure, maligned him; sons of successful pork-merchants and stable-keepers blackballed him and refused him admission to their clubs; but Brocatelle rose triumphant over all these obstacles, and was found everywhere--that was anywhere--for who could so deftly tread the mazes of the German as he? Whose head was so round, or hair parted with such precision as his? And who else combined with all this, clothes so faultless, and a mustache so imposing? His taste, furthermore, in ladies' dress--in their laces, gloves, ribbons, and coiffures, was unimpeachable and invaluable. These qualities were not to be gainsaid; and Edna, for one, declared publicly, that she preferred dancing with him to any one else, and dreaded his criticism on her attire more than even that of the great Schmauder. Yet in spite of all these advantages, Percy could make no headway against the Count--the irresistible Count, surrounded with all the fascinating and terrible glories of the Borgia family, whose star was in the ascendant until a prince--a real PRINCE, came along. For it happened in those days that the son of a reigning monarch was making a tour of the States. His mother, who was, naturally enough, a queen, although a queen, bore as irreproachable a character as any matron in her dominions; and as such praiseworthy conduct on the part of a sovereign deserved encouragement, several estimable old citizens of the great metropolis deemed it their duty to manifest their approval of her good behavior, by giving a public ball to her son, out of respect for his august mother. This, to be sure, was but a left-handed compliment to the son, and when a committee of the reverend seignors waited on the prince to tender the proposed honor, he did not evince any lively sense of antic.i.p.ated pleasure; and after the deputation had bowed themselves off (each one under the delightful delusion that he would be asked in return to drop in at the palace, in a friendly way, on his next visit to Europe) he turned to his mentor and discontentedly said, "Dammit, Grey, must I go to that ball, and be bored by those confounded sn.o.bs?"

"No help for it that I can see," replied my lord.

"Well, there will be lots of pretty girls there, I dare say. These Yankee girls are doosid pretty. If they'd only give me a chance to have my fling, and not insist on my leading out a lot of stupid old dowagers, I wouldn't mind it a bit," remarked H. R. H.

Now princeling was to a certain extent justified in his comments, for while the ma.s.s of the people had an honest curiosity to see a prince, and rushed to look at him as they would to a unicorn or any other rare sight, there was a select circle who worshipped him as the representative of power and pageantry, and hoped by surrounding him to shine resplendently in the reflected light of royalty. H. R. H. was not an astute lad, but he was probably sharp enough to perceive that all the toadying he was subjected to was due to his rank and trappings and not to him as an individual. That refined sn.o.bbery called loyalty has its redeeming side. One can understand the devotion of a good and wise royalist to an imbecile or wretched monarch, because the sentiment may be disinterested, and would still exist were the monarch an exiled mendicant, but the courtiership of republicans is purely selfish and debasing. Most of us, like Thackeray, would jump out of our skins for joy at walking arm-in-arm between two dukes, but it is painful to reflect that we should hardly toss a shilling to either of them the next day if stripped of their t.i.tles and reduced to beggary. So Mr. Mumbie, who was abject in the presence of the prince, and ready to prostrate his poor old brown wig in the dust before his royal highness would, in all likelihood, have but grudgingly lent him a dollar had he come in the guise of an impecunious plebeian. But H. R. H. was a good-natured boy and had a part to perform. So he duly attended the ball, was very complaisant, honored several ladies, old enough to be his grandmammas, with his august hand in the dance, and was then allowed to run at large among the younger beauties present. Miss Heath was among those who enjoyed the inestimable privilege of being selected as his partner.



Moreover, he graciously flirted with her in the intervals of a galop. He told her that she was a "stunning girl." His Royal Highness had actually said that! Edna thrilled with pleasure. True he had paid the same compliment to the oysters of the country and its c.o.c.ktails--true he was plain and an awkward dancer, but then he was a prince--a prince of the blood-royal, whatever that might be, and she, Edna Heath, in his princely estimation, was a stunning girl! Was there anything left to live for? Her happiness was complete, but alas and alack! the prince, as princes often do, fluttered away like a fickle b.u.t.terfly, and she was left forlorn to mourn his disappearance.

Then by degrees the Count--the wily, persistent Count--temporarily eclipsed, arose again and reappeared in the zenith of her favor. At times, when she had leisure to think amid the excitement of her existence, she gave a pa.s.sing thought to Mark, but she felt absolved from any duty towards him. She had done all that could be required of her, and had gone farther to retain his regard than she would to any other person than so old a friend. It is true she had had a girlish fancy for him, but it was at a time when she was barely more than a child and inexperienced. He could not possibly presume upon that now, especially after the long period in which he had neglected her, and when her letters had remained uncared for. Consequently she felt entirely justified in dismissing him thenceforth from her mind. It is not so certain but that the Count might have shared the same fate, had it not been for an occurrence that turned the scales in his favor.

Mrs. Mumbie, in her anxiety to secure the n.o.bleman for a son-in-law, had watched with much dissatisfaction his marked preference for Edna. This, and the heiress' continued indifference to her son Bob's attentions, were more than her kind, motherly soul could bear. After a long delay and patient waiting, one day Bob ventured to propose. Edna listened with an air of mingled surprise and merriment that rather disconcerted him, and declined the proffered honor. The rejected postulant, chopfallen and sullen, repaired to his mother and related his unsuccess. Mrs. Mumbie could contain herself no longer. The blood of the Skinners was aroused, and her wrath knew no bounds. Rushing in unceremoniously upon the heiress, she overwhelmed her with vehement reproaches. Edna was at first bewildered, and recoiled from the storm of anger so unaccountably directed at her by the usually amiable matron, who raged away incoherently, until at length unburthening herself, the animus of all her fury was very disagreeably revealed. "So, Miss, you have seen fit to insult us--to insult your guardian--to insult the family to whom you owe so much, by refusing my son, who was good enough to honor you by an offer. You hussy! how dare you slight my son--how dare you treat us in this way? This is your grat.i.tude, is it? After all the kindness we have shown you--after all our attention and devotion to you. You precious, artful piece! to think of your eating day after day at our table, sitting at our board with us, looking as if b.u.t.ter wouldn't melt in your mouth, and all the while plotting against the happiness of our children.

I don't see how you dare look at me! And the Count--this foreign adventurer whom Ada despises and whom you have encouraged with your advances--this Count has turned your silly head, and I'll no longer permit you to stay in this household."

Edna could listen no longer. With cheeks hot with indignation, and hands to her ears, she retreated into an adjoining room. Mrs. Mumbie, left alone, took to screaming, and throwing herself on the floor, drummed away with her heels in impotent ire. Edna meanwhile put on her hat and shawl, and swiftly leaving the house stood in the street. She drew her veil to hide her agitated countenance, and debated whither she should go. Within a few squares dwelt an intimate friend, a young lady, to whom she repaired and confided her trouble. This done, her pent-up grief could no longer be contained, and she gave way to a long cry. She was very sorrowful. The Mumbies had always been kind to her, and their home was the only one she had known since her father's death. This sudden severance, and Mrs. Mumbie's cruel attack, made her feel very lonely and miserable.

It was not until the morrow that the Mumbie's discovered where their ward had taken refuge. By that time Mrs. Mumbie had recovered her presence of mind, and felt that she had sadly marred her plans by her hasty and intemperate conduct. So Mr. Mumbie was immediately despatched with a verbal apology, and instructions to smooth matters and induce the heiress to return. Mr. Mumbie felt himself rather an incompetent amba.s.sador for such a mission, still he undertook it with zeal having a genuine affection for the daughter of his old friend, and sincerely and deeply regretting his wife's behavior towards her. With what seemed to him subtle policy, he put on sundry tokens Edna had given him, such as a seal ring, a scarf-pin, and a watch-chain which could not fail to open a spring of fond a.s.sociations that would greatly facilitate his task. He augured well from his reception, for Edna appeared much pleased to see him, and held up her face to be kissed. But when, after a short disquisition on the weather, and some hemming and hawing, he ventured to announce the object of his mission, and, in alluding to Mrs. Mumbie's "peculiar temper," said she "mustn't mind it"--that n.o.body minded her "peculiar temper" (which was rather a stretch of veracity), as "she didn't mean anything by it," and that the best thing Edna could do was to put on her "things" and go right back with him--the young lady shook her head in a way that caused Mr. Mumbie to lose faith in his powers of persuasion. He tried to appeal to her feelings. "Why, Edna, you can't imagine how we miss you. You know we are a family of strong local attachments. I myself have carried this knife--this"--

He felt in his pockets, rummaged them, searched them over--the knife was gone! Consternation was imminent--when he suddenly recollected that he had, for the first time in his life, left this cherished companion at home. This shock, however, disturbed his ratiocination, and he floundered on rather feebly in his plea.

"As I was saying, Edna, we miss you awfully. If you had only seen us at breakfast this morning, you couldn't stay away a minute. We couldn't any of us eat hardly anything. All I took was a cup of tea and a roll. As for Bob, and you know what a hearty feeder he is, poor Bob couldn't go more than a couple of buckwheat cakes and a chop, and Ada, she just about touched an egg, and kept pointing with her fork at your vacant chair, and saying there's where she used to sit. Last night Will Hull called, and says he, 'Where's Edna?' and Ada didn't know what to say.

Now this sort of thing won't do. You must forget and forgive."

"My dear guardian," replied Edna, firmly; "while I shall always retain the utmost respect and grat.i.tude for the kindness you have invariably shown me, and shall always be very much pleased to see you, I never wish to see Mrs. Mumbie again. I could not endure to be reminded of the cruel attack I was subjected to from her."

"Come--come, Edna, you must not talk in that strain. She didn't mean anything by it. I've been through it myself. It's only her peculiar way, you know."

Edna pressed her lips tightly together, and shook her head, in a manner that signified a fixed resolution, and disheartened her guardian.

"Why, Edna, even Blanche has noticed that you have left the house, and goes whining about, and as for the canaries they are dumb and dull as owls," added Mr. Mumbie, at a loss for arguments. But even this touching allusion to the sorrows of the pet Italian grayhound and the singing-birds failed to soften the obdurate ward, and he was obliged to retire baffled.

Then Ada Mumbie came and tried her powers, but with no better success, and Edna's determination remained unshaken.

She stayed at her friend's house, pending the arrival of Mrs. Applegate, who was spending the winter in a distant western city, and with whom she intended to reside in the future.

The moment was a propitious one for the Count. He was aware that some disagreement had arisen between the Mumbies and Miss Heath, but of the nature of it he was in total ignorance. His curiosity was excited. He could learn nothing from the young lady. She of course was silent on the subject, and he had too much tact to appear inquisitive, but Bob--the guileless Bob, in a gush of confidence, inspired by a bottle of Burgundy at the club, imparted the story of his unrequited love, his declaration, and its sequel, to the feeling bosom of a friend, who in turn confided the tale to a dozen other confidential friends. In this way it reached the ears of the Count, who was not slow to perceive the great advantage Miss Heath's present position gave him in prosecuting his suit. Here was a young, inexperienced person, severed from life-long friends, and left almost alone in the world. Naturally she was ready to attach herself to the first sympathetic heart that presented itself in a suitable and engaging way. Craftily the Count played his cards. When Edna went to Philadelphia to reside with her aunt, he followed her there, and had the field to himself. He began by captivating Mrs. Applegate. She bore a striking resemblance to his cousin the Principessa Baldonachi, he said, and had the port and mien of those n.o.ble Venetian dames, that t.i.tian loved to paint. He brought her flowers and escorted her to church. The good lady was flattered beyond measure at these unwonted attentions, and p.r.o.nounced him the most polite gentleman she had ever known. At a favorable moment he took occasion to confide to her, his adoration of her niece--that truly n.o.ble young person--for, while he confessed, with a certain reluctance, that he belonged to one of the most ill.u.s.trious houses of Europe, yet he deemed the only true n.o.bility to be the n.o.bility of the soul, such as Miss Heath possessed; and then, with a sigh, he regretted that the young lady was wealthy. He deeply deplored that. "If she were only a poor girl--if she were entirely dest.i.tute--how happy I should be. With what eager joy would I hasten to lay my heart, my t.i.tle, my patrimony, everything at her feet, and beg of her to accept them. But now, alas! I cannot. No--no--it cannot be--it must not be. The world--the censorious world, would call me mercenary. No--I must suffer in silence. Be still, my poor heart! But you shall be my friend, will you not?"

His visible agitation and moistening eyes touched Mrs. Applegate, who ventured a little consolatory advice. The Count's sentiments and conduct in this manner did him great honor, she said, but she did not think he was called upon to push his disinterestedness to such extremes. For her part, she had always been of the opinion that no considerations of money should be allowed to interfere, where true affection existed, and the happiness of the parties was at stake. The worthy dame already saw herself sweeping down the grand staircase of the Palazzo Baldonachi, on the arm of her n.o.ble nephew-in-law.

The Count thanked her a thousand times, for her kind words. She had lifted a load from his heart, he said, and raising her hand respectfully to his lips, the gallant Italian closed the interview.

Having secured the aunt as an ally, the Count redoubled his efforts to please the niece. He surrounded her with delicate attentions. He was pliant, polite, deferential, and at length Edna yielded. What else could she do? How could she, an inexperienced girl, who had never felt, until now, the need of a protector, resist the persistent courtship of a man, handsome, subtle, versed in the vulnerable points of feminine nature, who plied her with ardent protestations of love and constancy. Her aunt approved of it, too, and not long after the announcement was made public, that a marriage had taken place between Count Borgia and Miss Edna Heath, which, naturally enough, created no little excitement among the numerous friends and admirers of the bride in the neighboring city of New York. The match was very frankly discussed at the clubs, rather unfavorably than otherwise, and Jobson freely offered the odds of two to one, in sums to suit, that the Count would either poison or strangle his wife within a year; and odds of ten to one that the extinguishment would take place in less than six months, provided the husband could get a will in his favor by that time--found no takers.

Colonel Mark Gildersleeve read of the marriage in a newspaper, just before the final advance of our army on Richmond. Perhaps his rash bravery on that occasion, when he rallied a broken column against a battery as gallantly as Caulincourt at Borodino, may have been stimulated by the conduct of one who had robbed existence of its charms, and rendered all renown barren.

XXI.

Soon after their marriage, the Count and Countess Borgia sailed for Europe. The latter, before leaving, found use for some of her wealth in liquidating her husband's debts. Not a few of them were incurred at the gaming-table. The Count was in favor of repudiating these, but as the holders of his obligations made application to his wife, she insisted upon paying them. The fact that he proposed to cheat his gambling a.s.sociates shocked her far more than the knowledge that he had indulged so deeply in the vice. But she was destined to a series of shocks.

Having secured the coveted prize, the Count had no longer any object in playing the hypocrite. His true character revealed itself. He was faithless and tyrannous. He attempted no violence towards her, as Jobson had predicted, but his acrimonious temper and bursts of vicious anger, alternating with fits of feigned tenderness, of spurious fawning affection, and his utter dishonesty soon dissipated the little love she had for him; aversion succeeded, and ere the first year of their union had closed, separation took place.

She lives now in Paris, consoling herself in the care of an infant son for the lingering bitterness resulting from disillusion, and the conviction that she was the dupe of a designing knave; while he spends his time between Hombourg, Monaco, and other gambling resorts, squandering the handsome allowance he receives from his wife on condition of never appearing within fifty miles of where she is residing.

Mark Gildersleeve, at the close of the war, applied for and received a commission as captain in the regular service. The Government, when granting it, were pleased to convey their appreciation of the efficient and invaluable services he had rendered.

While in Washington, shortly after the receipt of his commission, he met at Willard's, Miss Hull, who had accompanied her grandfather, the Judge, to the capital. Mark had never been intimate with her, but ventured nevertheless to accost her and renew the acquaintance. She received him pleasantly, and he spent several very agreeable evenings in her society.

She was not a comely young woman, rather plain, in fact--small, pale, and wearing sh.e.l.l-gla.s.ses, but she possessed a fund of good sense and a cultivated mind that were very engaging. Mark discovered that, and found that his wounded heart was now healing, so fast, indeed, that it rather amazed him. "Strange," thought he, "I never noticed how much there was in Miss Hull. I always had an idea that she was a commonplace, in fact, rather insignificant girl. How blind boys are! Upon the whole, I think she's the cleverest and most charming young lady I ever saw; after all, how much more potent are the fascinations of the mind--the graces of intellect, than those of mere physical beauty."

The sequel can be foreseen. Mark's bankrupt heart was now solvent. He fell in love with Constance Hull, and proposed to her. She did not reject him absolutely, but made her acceptance conditional on not being required to leave her grandfather. Here was a quandary. Mark was contented with his profession. He could not bear the thought of resuming his old calling, which he would have to do, in case he returned to live in Belton. One thing was clear: he should have to throw up his commission and leave the army. The alternative was a hard one. Resign his claim to Miss Hull, he could and would not. In this dilemma, and while seeking some way out of it, an event occurred which settled the matter in an unexpected way. Death, the great intermeddler, stepped in and removed the old Judge, and after a proper period had elapsed, Constance Hull consigned her fortunes to the care of Mark Gildersleeve.

The latter is now stationed at one of the frontier forts, and he and his wife are as happy as mutual affection and esteem can make them.

Our ecclesiastical friend, the Reverend Spencer Abbott, has also taken unto himself a wife, and is married to Miss Angela Gogglemush, second daughter of the distinguished inventor of the Terpsich.o.r.ean Ointment.

The wedding was the most brilliant affair of the kind that ever took place in Belton, to quote the language of the "Sentinel," and was "got up in a style of Oriental magnificence--the bishop officiated--six bridesmaids--ushers--two thousand invitations--presents innumerable--sixty-two silver tea sets--ten gross b.u.t.ter-knives--one hundred and forty-three salt-cellars--sixty-two bronze card-receivers--diamonds, rubies, pearls, beryls," etc., etc.

Angela is an excellent spouse, and her husband is still in charge of St.

Jude's. Not long since, learning that Dr. Wattletop was seriously ill, he went to see him. He found the old physician on his death-bed, and remained with him until the last moment. The rector hinted at repentance and "making his peace with G.o.d," but the moribund was apparently as firm in his stoical opinions as ever. To the rector's kind entreaties he shook his head, and replied feebly, "Useless ... useless.... Nothing I say now can cancel one wrong I have committed or any evil done.... The future cannot be at the mercy of chance or opportunity.... Justice, impartial and inexorable, of the Creator. How weary ... weary ...

weary.... Death comes so slowly ..."

And the old philosopher felt his own pulse as the current of life was ebbing fast, until like one going to sleep he pa.s.sed away.

The Mumbies still reside in New York. Ada is not married yet, and Mrs.

Mumbie says she rejoices at it when she considers the dangers to which eligible girls are exposed by designing fortune-hunters, and, as a case in point, never fails to cite that of Edna Heath, that "poor unfortunate person," as Mrs. Mumbie calls her, when she expatiates to a friend on the fate of her husband's ward, and relates how her motherly affection was repaid by base ingrat.i.tude. "We did all we could," she never omits to add, "to warn her against the intrigues of that foreigner. We expostulated with her, we besought and implored her, but all in vain, and now see the result. I am told, (lowering her voice to a whisper, and with a slight shiver of horror as she bends to the ear of the confidant)--I am told that from the very day they were married he beat her, and on one occasion tried to poison her; she recovered from the effects of it, but her system is a wreck--a complete wreck, and she now drags out a miserable existence, and Mr. Mumbie has actually to pay her husband money to keep him away from her."

The master of the Archimedes Works is now mayor of Belton. The town having attained the dignity of incorporation some two years since, George was chosen its chief magistrate by his grateful and admiring fellow-citizens. He is in no way spoiled by the honor thrust upon him, but, if possible, is more independent than ever; in fact, it would probably, to put it mildly, now require the combined efforts of a drove of hogs on the _Mer de Glace_ to exemplify his extreme independence. He and his wife still occupy the small house on Mill Street; and the latter's chief delight is in the periodical visits she receives from her brother-in-law and adopted son, Captain Mark, and his wife, as he never fails to spend the furloughs accorded him in his old home and with his adopted mother.

Our little story is ended. What will probably strike the reader as the most improbable incident in it, will be very likely the one where truth has been the most faithfully followed. We allude to the cause of Mr.

Heath's death. The traveller who speeds over one of the railways radiating from the city of New York, may be attracted, when a short distance out from the suburbs, by a fine stone villa surrounded by beautiful grounds and conservatories. It was evidently designed and built by some one of taste and wealth. Some years ago, to the astonishment of all, the owner perished by the act of his own hand. What led him to it was unknown, except to a few. It was remorse created by the discovery that an apparently trivial act of dishonesty on his part, long years gone, had caused the ruin of an innocent boy suspected of the offence. Moral law vindicated itself and became its own executioner.

Before parting with the reader, it is meet that we should apologize for having in one instance decked our hero in borrowed plumage. That is, in attributing to him the feat of unspiking the siege-gun. The honor of that exploit belonged to John Stray, a private in the First Regiment N.

Y. V. E., and occurred before Fort Wagner. It was done precisely as narrated, and, as an act of nerve and cool courage under circ.u.mstances of extreme peril, has but few parallels in our late civil war.

THE END.

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Mark Gildersleeve Part 18 summary

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