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There are women at whom, after the first meeting, you forget to glance a second time, they seem to be such indifferent creations, such imperfect sketches of an idea to be fulfilled farther on in a clearer type, but who, met once more and yet again, suddenly take you captive in bonds. You find the sallow cheek to be but polished ivory, the heavy eye loaded with fire, the irregular features chords of a harmony whose whole is perfect; you find that this is the type itself; while in every gesture, every word, every look, the soul is shed abroad, and the fascination is what neither Campaspe, nor Jocasta, nor even Aspasia herself held in fee. For you, she has blossomed into the one beauty of the world; you hear her, and the Sirens sing in vain; she touches you, and makes you the slave beneath her feet.
Such a one was Eloise Changarnier.
There was iron of the old Huguenot blood in her veins; late American admixture had shot a racy sparkle through it; convent-care from her tenth to her sixteenth year had softened and toned the whole into a warm, generous life; and underneath all there slumbered that one atom of integral individuality that was nothing at all but a spark: as yet, its fire had never flashed; if it ever should do so, one might be safe in prophesying a strange wayward blaze.
In one of her earliest summers her widowed mother had died and bequeathed her sole legacy, a penniless orphan, to the care of the survivor in an imperishable friendship, Disbrowe Erne. A childless, thriftless, melancholy man, Mr. Erne had adopted her into his inmost heart, but out of respect to his friend had suffered her to retain her father's name, and had thoughtlessly delayed rendering the adoption legal. One day it was found too late to remedy this delay; for
Mr. Erne died, just a year after Eloise's return from the distant Northern convent whither at ten years old she had been despatched, when, wild and witching as a wood-brier, there had been found nothing ebe to do with her. There her adopted father had visited her twice a year in all her exile, as she deemed it, sometimes taking up his residence for several months in the neighborhood of the nunnery; and a long vacation of many weeks she had every winter spent at home with him on the rich and beautiful plantation poetically known as The Rim, because, seen from several of the adjacent places, it occupied the whole southern horizon. The last vacation, however, she had passed with her adopted father travelling in Franco, whither some affairs called him; but, of all the splendid monuments and records of civilization that she saw, almost the only thing that had impressed itself distinctly upon her memory, through the chicanery of chances, was that once in a cathedral - choir she had seen the handsome, blonde-hued, Vandyck face of a gentleman with dreaming eyes looking at her from a gallery-niche with the most singular earnestness. So at sixteen she found that the nuns had exhausted their slender lore, and had nothing more to teach her; and after her brief travels, she returned home for a finality, and there had dallied a twelvemonth, lapped in the Elysium of freedom and youth. Every want anticipated, every whim gratified, servants prostrate before her, father adoring her,— the year sped on wings of silent joy, and left her a shade more imperious than it met her. Launched into society, wealthy and winning, Eloise counted, too, her lovers; but she spurned them so gayly that her hard heart became a proverb through all the region round, wherever the rejected travelled. It is true that Mr. Erne had often expressed his film of dissatisfaction with the conventual results, and had planned an attack on matters of more solid learning; but, tricksy as a sprite, Eloise had escaped his designs, broken through his regulations, implored, just out of shackles, a year's gambol in liberty, and had made herself too charming to be resisted in her plea; and if, feeling his health fail, he had at first insisted, — in the fear that there might be left but brief opportunity for him to make her pleasure, he yielded. Nevertheless, with the best outlay in the world, plantation-life is not all a gala, and there were, it must be confessed, certain ennuisome moments in which Eloise made inroads on her father's library, chiefly in wild out-of-the-way veins, all which, however, romantic, unsystematic, and undigested, did nothing towards rendering her one whit more independent of the world in time of future trial.
One afternoon, just reentering the house from some gay farewell of friends, she found her father sitting in the hall, and she stood tiptoing in the door-way while smiling at him, with a fragrant vino half twisted in her dark drooping hair, the heat making her cheek yet paler, and the great blue-green eyes shining at him from under the black straight brows, like aquamarine jewels. Mr. Erne leaned forward in the chair, with hands clasped upon his knees, and eyes upbent.
"Eloise l Eloise!" he cried in a piercing voice, then grew white, and fell back in the cushions.
The girl flew to him, took the head upon her shoulder, caressed the deathly face, warmed the mouth with her own.
"Child!" he murmured, "I thought it was your mother!"
And by midnight, alone, and in the dark, he died, and went to find that mother.
As for Eloise, she was like some one made dumb by a thunderbolt. Her garden had become a desert. Ice had fallen in her summer. Death was too large a fact for her to comprehend. She had seen the Medusa's head in its terror, but
not in its loveliness, and been stricken to stone. At length in the heart of that stone the inner fountains broke, — broke in rains of tempestuous tears, such gusts and gushes of grief as threatened to wash away life itself; and when Eloise issued from this stormy deep, the warmth and the wealth of being obscured, the effervescence and bubble of the child destroyed, feeling like a flower sodden with showers, if she had been capable of finding herself at all, she would have found herself a woman.
Among Mr. Erne's disorderly papers, full of incipient schemes, sketches, and schedules of gold-mining, steam-companies, and railways to the nebula in Orion, was discovered after his death a scrap witnessed by two signatures. The owner of one of these signatures was already dead, and there were no means to prove.its genuineness. The other was that of a young man who had just enough of that remote taint in his descent which incapacitates one, in certain regions,/rom bearing witness. It was supposed that Mr. Erne had some day hurriedly executed this paper in the absence of his lawyer, as being, possibly, better than no paper at all, and he had certainly intended to have the whole matter arranged legitimately; but these are among the things which, with a superstitious loitering, some men linger long before doing, lest they prove to be, themselves, a deathwarrant.
By this paper, in so many words, Disbrowe Erne left to Eloise Changarnier all the property of which he died possessed. An old friend of her father's in the neighborhood assured her that the only relatives were both distant, distinguished, and wealthy, unlikely to present any claims, and that she would be justified in fulfilling her father's desire. And so, without other forms, Eloise administered the affairs of The Rim, — waiting until the autumn to consult the usual lawyer, who was at present in England.
There had reigned over the domestic department of The Rim, for many y,eara, a person who was the widow of a maternal cousin of Mr. Erne's, and who, when left destitute by the death of this young cousin, had found shelter, support, and generous courtesy beneath the roof of her late husband's kinsman. It was on the accession of this person, who was not a saint, that Eloise had become so ungovernable as to require the constraint of a nunnery. Mrs. Aries was a dark and quiet little lady, with some of the elements of beauty which her name suggested, and with a perfectly Andalusian foot and ankle. These being her sole wealth, it was, perhaps, from economy of her charms that she hid the ankle in such flowing sables, that she bound the black locks straightly under a little widow's-cap, seldom parted the fine lips above the treasured pearls beneath, disdained to distort the classic features, and graved no wrinkles on the smooth, rich skin with any lavish smiling. She went about the house, a self-contained, silent, unpleasant little vial of wrath, and there was ever between her and Eloise a tacit feud, waiting, perhaps, only for occasion to fling down the gage in order to become open war. Mrs. Aries expected, therefore, that, to soon as Eloise should take the reins in hand herself, she would be lightly, but decisively shaken off,— for the old friend had mentioned ^to Mrs. Aries that Mr. Erne's will left Eloise heir, as she had always supposed it would. She was, accordingly, silently amazed, when Eloise, softened by suffering, hoped she would always find it convenient to make a home with herself, and informed her that acei> tain section of the farm had been measured off and allotted to her, with its laborers, as the source of a yearly income. This delicacy, that endeavored to prevent her feeling the perpetual recurrence of benefits conferred, touched the speechless Mrs. Aries almost to the point of positive friendliness.
The plantation was one of those high and healthy spots that are ever visited by land- and sea-breezes, and there Eloise determined to stay that spring and summer; for this ground that her father had so often trod, this air that had given and
received his last breath, were dear to her, and just now parting with them, for ever so short a time, would be but a renewal of her loss. As she became able to turn her energy to the business requiring attention, she discovered at last her sad ignorance. Dancing, drawing, music, and languages were of small avail in managing the interior concerns and the vexatious fmance of a great estate. The neighbors complained that her spoiled and neglected servants infected theirs, and that her laxity of discipline was more ruinous in its effects than the rigor of Blue Bluffs. But she just held out to them her helpless little hands in so piteous and charming a way that they could not cherish an instant's enmity. If she tried to remedy the evil complained of, she fell into some fresh error; take what advice she would, it invariably twisted itself round and worked the other way. The plantation, always slackly managed, saw itself now on the high road to destruction. Let her do the very best in her power, she found it impossible to plan her season's campaign, to carry it out, to audit her accounts, to study agricultural directions, to preserve the peace, to keep her fences in order, to attend to the sick, to rule her household and her spirit, to dispose of her harvest, and to bring either end of the thread out of the tangled skein of her affairs.
Perhaps there could have been really no better thing for Eloise than the diversion from her sorrow which all this perplexity necessarily in some degree occasioned.
As for Mrs. Arles, so soon as Eloise had begun to move about again, she had taken herself off on a long-promised visit to the West, and was but just returning with the October weather.
Eloise, worn and thin, and looking nearly forty, as she had remarked to herself that morning in the brief moment she could snatch for her toilet, welcomed the cool and quiet little Mrs. Aries, who might be forty, but looked any age between twenty and thirty, with affectionate warmth, and made all the world bestir themselves for her comfort. It is only justice to the owner of the little Andalusian foot to say that in her specific domain things immediately changed for the better. But that was merely withindoors, and because she tightened the reins and used the whip in a manner which Eloise could not have done, if the whole equipage tumbled to pieces about her ears.
Mrs. Arles had been at home a week or so;-the evening was chilly with rain, and a little fire flickered on the hearth. Mrs. Aries sat on one side of the hearth, with her tatting in hand; Eloise bent above the papers scattered over a small table.
"See what it is to go away!" said Eloise, cheerily. "It 's like Jight in a painting, as the Sisters used to say, — brings out all the shadows."
"Nobody knew how indispensable I was," said the other lady, with the fragment of expression in the phantom of a smile.
"How pleasant it is to bo missed! I did miss you so, — it seemed as if one of the four sides of the walls were gone. Now we stand — what is that word of Aristotle's? — four - square again. Now our universe is on wheels. Just tell me how you tamed Flazel so. She has conducted like a little wild gorilla all summer, — and here, in the twinkling of an eye, she goes about soberly, like a baptized Christian. How?"
"By a process of induction."
"You don't mean"
"Oh, no. Nothing of the kind. I did n't touch her. I sent her into my room, and told her to take down that little riding-switch hanging over the mantel"
"What, — the ebony and gold?"
"Yes. And to whip all the flies out of the air with it. It makes a monstrous whizzing. There 's no such thing as actual experience for these imps of the vivid nerves. And when she came down I looked at her, and asked her how she liked the singing. Her conduct now leads me to believe that she has no desire to hear the tune again."
The hearer winced a trifle before lightly replying, —
"Well, / might have sent her forever, and all the result would have been the switch singing about my-own shoulders, probably."
"That is because she knows you would never use it. As for me, — Hazel has a good memory."
Eloise gave a half-imperceptible shiver and frown, but, clearing her brow, said, —
"If Hazel had my accounts here, they would tame her. I will put all my malcontents through a course of mathematies. You do so well everywhere else, Mrs. Arles, that I 've half the mind to ask you to advise me here. Little Arlesian, come over into Macedonia!"
"What is the matter?"
"Oh, it's only an inversion of the old problem, If the ton of coal cost ten dollars, what will the cord of wood come to? Now, if one bale"
"But coal does n't cost ten dollars," replied Mrs. Aries, with admirable simplicity.
"Now, if one bale of Sea-Island"
"Oh, my dear, I know nothing at all about it. Pray, don't ask me."
"Well," said Eloise, alter a moment's wondering pause, in which she Lad taken time to reflect that Mrs. Arles's corner of the estate was carried on faultlessly, "it is too bad to vex you with my matters, when you have as much as you can do in the house, yourself,"—and relapsed mto what she called her Pythagorean errors.
"Did you know," said Mrs. Arles, after a half-hour's silence, "that Marlboro* has returned?"
"Marlboro'?" repeated Eloise, hesitatingly.
"Marlboro' of Blue Blufls."
"Oh. yes. And five's eleven. No," Raid Eloise, absently and with half a sigh. "I 've never seen him, you know, — he's been in Kami-dial K:i and the Moon so long. How did you know?"
"Hazel told me. Hazel wants to marry his Vane."
"Not his weathercock. Vane, his butler."
"That is why she behaved so. Dancing quicksilver. Then, perhaps, he 'll buy her. What a relief it would be I"
"Marlboro' is a master I" said Mrs. Arles, emphatically.
There was a good deal in the ensuing pause. For Eloise, in her single year, had not half learned the neighborhood's gossip.
"A cruel man. Then it's not to be thought of. We shall have to buy Vane. Though how it's to be done"
"I did n't say he was a cruel man. He would n't think of interfering with an ordinance of his overseers. I esteem bis thoroughness. He has ideas. But I might have said that he is a remarkable man."
"There 'll be some pulling of caps soon. Hazel said to-day, in her gibberish. I could n't think what she meant."
"Blue Bluffs is a place to be mistress of. He 's a woman - hater, though, Mr. Marlboro', — believes in no woman capable of resisting him when he flings the handkerchief, should he choose, but believes in none worth choosing."
"We shall have to invite him here, Mrs. Aries," said Eloise, mischievously, "and show him that there are two of us."
"That would never do!"
"Oh, I did n't mean so. Of course, I didn't mean so. How could I see any
one else sitting in" And there were
tears in her eyes and on her trembling tones.
"My dear," said Mrs. Aries, "I am afraid, apropos of nothing at all, that you have isolated yourself from all society for too long a time already."
Just here Hazel entered and replenished the hearth, stopping half-way, with her armful of brash, to coquet an instant in the mirror, and adjust the scarlet loveknot in her curls.
"There 's a carriage coming up the avenue, Miss," said she, demurely. "One of the boys"
"What one?" asked Mrs. Aries.
"Vane," answered Hazel, — carmine staining her pretty olive cheek. "He ran before it."
"Who can it be, at this hour?" said Eloise, half rising, with the pen in her hand, and looking at Mrs. Aries, who did not stir.
As she spoke, there was a bustle in the hall, a slamming door, a voice of command, the door opened, and a stranger stood among them, surveying the long antique room with its diamonded windows flickering in every pane, and the quaint hearth, whose leaping, crackling, fragrant blaze lighted the sombre little person sitting beside it, and sparkled on the half-bending form of that strange dark-haired girl, with her aquamarine eyes bent full on his. He was wrapped, from head to foot, in a great sweeping brigand's cloak, and a black, wide-brimmed hat, that had for an instant slouched its shadow down his face, hung now in his gloved hand. Dropping cloak and hat upon a chair with an invisible motion, he advanced, an air of surprise lifting the heavy eyebrows so that they strongly accented the contrast in hue between the lower half of his face, tanned with wind and sun, and the wide, low brow, smooth as marble itself, and above which . swept one great wave of dark-brown hair. Altogether, it was an odd, fiery impression that he made,—whether from that golden-brown tint of skin that always seems full of slumbering light, or from the teeth that flashed so beneath the triste moustache whenever the haughty lips parted and unbent their curve, or whether it were a habit the eyes seented to have of accompanying all his thoughts with a play of flame.
"Really," said he, — and it may have been a subtile inner musical trait of his tone that took everybody's will captive,—
"I was not aware" making a long
step into the room, with a certain lordly bearing, yet almost at a loss to whom he should address himself. "I am Earl St. George Erne. May I inquire"
"My name is Eloise Changarnier,"