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- The Maid of Maiden Lane - 20/44 -
rude impatience, the familiar intercourse which his aunt's partiality permitted Hyde. He was, indeed, often so rude that a less sweet- tempered, a less just youth than George Hyde would have pointedly resented many offences that he passed by with that "noble not caring" which is often the truest courage.
Still the situation was one of great tension, and it required not only the wise forbearance of Hyde and Cornelia, but the domineering selfishness of Arenta and the suave clever diplomacies of Madame Jacobus to preserve at times the merely decent conventionalities of polite life. To keep the peace until the wedding was over--that was all that Rem promised himself; THEN! He often gave voice to this last word, though he had no distinct idea as to what measures he included in those four letters.
He told himself, however, that it would be well for George Hyde to be in England, and that if he were there, the General might be trusted to look after the marriage of his son. For he knew that an English noble would be of necessity bound by his caste and his connections, and that Hyde would have to face obligations he would not be able to shirk. "Then, then, his opportunity to win Cornelia would come!" And it was at this point the hopeful "maybe" entered into Rem's desires and anticipations.
But wrath covered carries fate. Every one was in some measure conscious of this danger and glad when the wedding day approached. Even Arenta had grown a little weary of the prolonged excitement she had provoked, for everything had gone so well with her that she had taken the public very much into her confidence. There had been frequent little notices in the Gazette and Journal of the approaching day--of the wedding presents, the wedding favours, the wedding guests, and the wedding garments. And, as if to add the last touch of glory to the event, just a week before Arenta's nuptials a French armed frigate came to New York bearing despatches for the Count de Moustier; and the Marquis de Tounnerre was selected to bear back to France the Minister's Message. So the marriage was put forward a few days for this end, and Arenta in the most unexpected way obtained the bridal journey which she desired; and also with it the advantage of entering France in a semi-public and stately manner.
"I am the luckiest girl in the world," she said to Cornelia and her brother when this point had been decided. They were tying up "dream- cake" for the wedding guests in madame's queer, uncanny drawing-room as she spoke, and the words were yet on her lips when madame entered with a sandal wood box in her hands.
"Rem," she said, "go with Cornelia into the dining-room a few minutes. I have something to say to Arenta that concerns no one else."
As soon as they were alone madame opened the box and upon a white velvet cushion lay the string of oriental pearls which Arenta on certain occasions had been permitted to wear. Arenta's eyes flashed with delight. She had longed for them to complete her wedding costume, but having a very strong hope that her aunt would offer her this favour, she had resolved to wait for her generosity until the last hour. Now she was going; to receive the reward of her prudent patience, and she said to herself, "How good it is to be discreet!" With an intense desire and interest she looked at the beautiful beads, but madame's face was troubled and sombre, and she said almost reluctantly--
"Arenta, I am going to make you an offer. This necklace will be yours when I die, at any rate; but I think there is in your heart a wish to have it now. Is this so?"
"Aunt, I should like--oh, indeed I long to wear the beads at my marriage. I shall only be half-dressed without them."
"You shall wear the necklace. And as you are going to what is left of the French Court, I will give it to you now, if the gift will be to your mind."
"There is nothing that could be more to my mind, dear aunt. I would rather have the necklace, than twice its money's worth. Thank you, aunt. You always know what is in a young girl's heart."
"First, listen to what I say. No woman of our family has escaped calamity of some kind, if they owned these beads. My mother lost her husband the year she received them. My Aunt Hildegarde lost her fortune as soon as they were hers. As for myself, on the very day they became mine your Uncle Jacobus sailed away, and he has never come back. Are you not afraid of such fatality?"
"No, I am not. Things just happen that way. What power can a few beads have over human life or happiness? To say so, to think so, is foolishness."
"I know not. Yet I have heard that both pearls and opals have the power to attract to themselves the ill fortune of their wearers. If they happen to be maiden pearls or gems that would be good; but would you wish to inherit the evil fortune of all the women who have possessed before you?"
"Poor pearls! It is they who are the unfortunates."
"Yes, but a time comes when they have taken all of misfortune they can take; then the pearls grow black and die, really die. Yes, indeed! I have seen dead pearls. And if the necklace were of opals, when that time came for them the gems would lose their fire and colour, grow ashy grey, fall apart and become dust, nothing but dust."
"Do you believe such tales, aunt? I do not. And your pearls are yet as white as moonlight. I do not fear them. Give them to me, aunt. I snap my fingers at such fables."
"Give them to you, I will not, Arenta; but you may take them from the box with your own hands."
"I am delighted to take them. I have always longed for them."
"Perhaps then they longed for you, for what is another's yearns for its owner."
Then madame left the room and Arenta lifted the box and carried it nearer to the light. And a little shiver crept through her heart and she closed the lid quickly and said irritably--
"It is my aunt's words. She is always speaking dark and doubtful things. However, the pearls are mine at last!" and she carried them with her downstairs, throwing back her head as if they were round her white throat and--as was her way--spreading herself as she went.
All fine weddings are much alike. It was only in such accidentals as costume that Arenta's differed from the fine weddings of to-day. There was the same crush of gayly attired women, of men in full dress, or military dress, or distinguished by diplomatic insignia:--the same low flutter of silk, and stir of whispered words, and suppressed excitement-- the same eager crowd along the streets and around the church to watch the advent of the bride and bridegroom. All of the guests had seen them very often before, yet they too looked at the dazzling girl in white as if they expected an entirely different person. The murmur of pleasure, the indefinable stir of human emotion, the solemn mystical words at the altar that were making two one, the triumphant peal of music when they ceased, and the quick crescendo of rising congratulation--all these things were present then, as now. And then, as now, all these things failed to conceal from sensitive minds that odour of human sacrifice, not to be disguised with the scent of bridal flowers--that immolation of youth and beauty and charming girlhood upon the altar of an unknown and an untried love.
New York was not then too busy making money to take an interest in such a wedding, and Arenta's drive through its pleasant streets was a kind of public invitation. For Jacob Van Ariens was one of a guild of wealthy merchants, and they were at their shop doors to express their sympathy by lifted hats and smiling faces; while the women looked from every window, and the little children followed, their treble voices heralding and acclaiming the beautiful bride. Then came the breakfast and the health-drinking and the speech-making and the rather sadder drive to the wharf at which lay La Belle France. And even Arenta was by this time weary of the excitement, so that it was almost with a sense of relief she stepped across the little carpeted gangway to her deck. Then the anchor was lifted, the cable loosened, and with every sail set La Belle France went dancing down the river on the tide-top to the open sea.
Van Ariens and his son Rem turned silently away. A great and evident depression had suddenly taken the place of their assumed satisfaction. "I am going to the Swamp office," said Rem after a few moments' silence, "there is something to be done there."
"That is well," answered Peter. "To my Cousin Deborah I will give some charges about the silver, and then I will follow you."
Both men were glad to be alone. They had outworn emotion and knew instinctively that some common duty was the best restorer. The same feeling affected, in one way or another, all the watchers of this destiny. Women whose household work was belated, whose children were strayed, who had used up their nervous strength in waiting and feeling, were now cross and inclined to belittle the affair and to be angry at Arenta and themselves for their lost day. And men, young and old, all went back to their ledgers and counters and manufacturing with a sense of lassitude and dejection.
Peter had nearly reached his own house when he met Doctor Moran. The doctor was more irritable than depressed. He looked at his friend and said sharply, "You have a fever, Van Ariens. Go to bed and sleep."
"To work I will go. That is the best thing to do. My house has no comfort in it. Like a milliner's or a mercer's store it has been for many weeks. Well, then, my Cousin Deborah is at work there, and in a little while--a little while--" He suddenly stopped and looked at the doctor with brimming eyes. In that moment he understood that no putting to rights could ever make his home the same. His little saucy, selfish, but dearly loved Arenta would come there no more; and he found not one word that could express the tide of sorrow rising in his heart. Doctor John understood. He remained quiet, silent, clasping Van Ariens' hand until the desolate father with a great effort blurted out--
"She is gone!--and smiling, also, she went."
"It is the curse of Adam," answered Doctor Moran bitterly--"to bring up daughters, to love them, to toil and save and deny ourselves for them, and then to see some strange man, of whom we have no certain knowledge, carry them off captive to his destiny and his desires. 'Tis a thankless portion to be a father--a bitter pleasure."
"Well, then, to be a mother is worse."
"Who can tell that? Women take for compensations things that do not deceive a father. And, also, they have one grand promise to help them bear loss and disappointment--the assurance of the Holy Scripture that they shall have salvation through child-bearing. And I, who have seen so much of family love and life, can tell you that this promise is all many
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