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- Self-Raised - 5/128 -
Ishmael leaned his head upon his hand and reflected deeply for a few moments. Then, raising his head, he said:
"My father, for her sake, our relationship must remain a secret from all the world, with the few exceptions of those intimate friends to whom you can explain the circumstances, and even to them it must be imparted in confidence. You will tell Lady Vincent, that her ladyship may know how false were the calumnies she permitted herself to repeat; and Judge Merlin and Mr. Middleton, whose kindness has entitled them to the confidence, for their own satisfaction."
"And no one else, Ishmael?"
"No one else in the world, my father. I myself will tell Uncle Reuben. And in public, my father, we must be discreet in our intercourse with each other. Forgive me if I speak in too dictatorial a manner; I speak for lips that are dumb in death. I speak as my dead mother's advocate," said Ishmael, with a strange blending of meekness and firmness in his tone and manner.
"And her advocate shall be heard and heeded, hard as his mandate seems. But, ah! I am an old and broken man, Ishmael. I had hoped, in time, to claim you as my son, and solace my age in your bright youth. I am grievously disappointed. Oh! would to Heaven I had taken charge of you in your infancy, and then you would not disclaim me now!" sighed Mr. Brudenell.
"I do not disclaim you, father. I only deprecate the publicity that might wound my mother's memory. And you are not old and broken, my father. How can you be--at forty-three? You are in the sunny summer noon of your life. But you are harassed and ill in mind and body; and you are very morbid and sensitive. You shun society, form no new ties with your fellow-creatures, and brood over that old sad tragedy long passed. Think no more of it, father; its wounds are long since healed in every heart but yours; my mother has been in heaven these many years; as long as I have been on earth; my birthday here was her birthday there! Therefore, brood no more over that sad time; it is forever past and gone. Think of your young love as much as you please; but think of her in heaven. It is not well to think forever of the Crucifixion and never of the Ascension; forever of the martyrdom that was but for a moment, and never of the glory that is from everlasting to everlasting. Nora was martyred; her martyrdom was as the grief of a moment; but she has ascended and her happiness is eternal in the heavens. Think of her so. And rouse yourself. Wake to the duties and pleasures of life. Look around upon and enjoy the beauty of the earth, the wisdom of man, the loveliness of woman, and the goodness of God. If you were a single man I should say 'marry again'; but as you are already a married man, though estranged from your wife, I say to you, seek a reconciliation with that lady. You are both in the prime of life."
"What! does Nora's son give me such advice?" inquired Brudenell, with a faint, incredulous smile.
"Yes, he does; as Nora herself in her wisdom and love would do, could she speak to you from heaven," said Ishmael solemnly Brudenell slowly and sorrowfully shook his head.
"The Countess of Hurstmonceux can nevermore be anything to me," he said.
"My father! have you then no kindly memory of the sweet young lady who placed her innocent affections upon you in your early manhood, and turning away from all her wealthy and titled suitors, gave herself and her fortune to you?"
Slowly and bitterly Herman Brudenell shook his head. Ishmael, still looking earnestly in his face continued:
"Who left her native country and her troops of friends, and crossed the sea alone, to follow you to a home that must have seemed like a wilderness, and servants that were like savages to her; who devoted her time and spent her money in embellishing your house and improving your land, and in civilizing and Christianizing your negroes; and who passed the flower of her youth in that obscure neighborhood, doing good and waiting patiently long, weary years for the return of the man she loved."
Still the bitter, bitter gesture of negation from Herman.
"Father," said Ishmael, fixing his beautiful eyes on Brudenell's face and speaking earnestly, "it seems to me that if any young lady had loved me with such devotion and constancy, I must have loved her fondly in return. I could not have helped doing so!"
"She wronged me, Ishmael!"
"And even if she had offended me--deeply and justly offended me--I must have forgiven her and taken her back to my bosom again."
"It was worse than that, Ishmael! It was no common offense. She deceived me! She was false to me!"
"I cannot believe it!" exclaimed Ishmael earnestly.
"Why, what ground have you for saying so? What can you know of it?"
"Because I do not easily think evil of women. My life has been short and my experience limited, I know; but as far as my observation instructs me, they are very much better than we are; they do not readily yield to evil; their tendencies are all good," said Ishmael fervently.
"Young man, you know a great deal of books, a great deal of law; but little of men, and less of women. A man of the world would smile to hear you say what you have just said, Ishmael."
"If I am mistaken, it is a matter to weep over, not to smile at!" said Ishmael gravely, and almost severely.
"It is true."
"But to return to your countess, my father. I am not mistaken in that lady's face, I know. I have not seen it since I was eight years old; but it is before me now! a sweet, sad, patient young face, full of holy love. Among the earliest memories of my life is that of the young Countess of Hurstmonceux, and the stories that were afloat concerning herself and you. It was said that every day at sunset she would go to the turnstile at the crossroads on the edge of the estate, where she could see all up and down two roads for many miles, and there stand watching to catch the first glimpse of you, if perhaps you might be returning home. She did this for years and years, until people began to say that she was crazed with hope deferred. It was at that very stile I first saw her. And when I looked at her lovely face and thought of her many charities--for there was no suffering from poverty in that neighborhood while she lived there--I felt that she was an angel!"
"Aye! a fallen angel, Ishmael!"
"No, father! no! my life and soul on her truth and love! Children are good judges of character, you know! And I was but eight years old on the occasion of which I speak! I was carrying a basket of tools for the 'professor,' whose assistant I was; and who would have carried them himself only that his back was bent beneath a load of kitchen utensils, for we had been plastering a cistern all day and in coming home took these things to mend in the evening. And as we passed down the road we saw this lovely lady leaning on the stile. And she called me to her and laid her hand on my head and looked in my face very tenderly, and turning to the professor, said: 'This child is too young for so heavy a burden.' And she took out her purse and would have given me an eagle, only that Aunt Hannah had taught me never to take money that I had not earned."
"Grim Hannah! It is a marvel she had not starved you with her scruples, Ishmael! But what else passed between you and the countess?"
"Not much! but if she was sorry for me, I was quite as sorry for her."
"There was a bond of sympathy between you which you felt without understanding at the time!"
"There was; though I mistook its precise character. Seeing that she wore black, I said: 'Have you also lost your mother, my lady, and are you in deep mourning for her?' And she answered, 'I am in deep mourning for my dead happiness, child!'"
"For her dead honor, she might have said!"
"Father! the absent are like the dead; they cannot defend themselves," said Ishmael.
"That is true; and I stand rebuked! And henceforth, whatever I may think, I will never speak evil of the Countess of Hurstmonceux."
"Go farther yet, dear sir! seek an explanation with her, and my word on it she will be able to confute the calumnies, or clear up the suspicious circumstances or whatever it may have been that has shaken your confidence in her, and kept you apart so long."
"Ishmael it is a subject that I have never broached to the countess, and one that I could not endure to discuss with her!"
"What, my father? Would you forever condemn her unheard? We do not treat our worst criminals so!"
"Spare me, my son! for I have spared her!"
"If by sparing her you mean that you have left her alone, you had better not spared her; you had better sought divorce; then one of two things would have happened--either she would have disproved the charges brought against her, or she would have been set free! either alternative much better than her present condition."
"I could not drag my domestic troubles into a public courtroom, Ishmael!"
"Not when justice required it, father?--But you are going down into the neighborhood of Brudenell Hall! You will hear of her from the people among whom she lived for so many years, and who cherish her memory as that of an angel of mercy, and--you will change your opinion of her."
Herman Brudenell smiled incredulously, and then said:
"Apropos of my visit to Brudenell Hall! I hope, Ishmael, that you will be able to join me there in the course of the summer?"
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