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he seemed surprised and pleased at the change, was still as cold and reserved as ever. Sometimes, if he spoke to me in a tone a shade kinder than usual, I would think that perhaps pride prevented him from betraying any regard for me — he would not be
thought to have endeavored to win his wealthy patron's daughter. As my love increased by daily intercourse with him, this idea grew upon me. I dared not contemplate the frightful possibility of his utter indifference, and at last convinced myself, that if he but knew that my happiness was at stake, he would forego his own pride and perhaps learn to requite my ardent affection.
It may seem surprising I should have thus forgotten all my ancient prejudices, my contempt of Northern shop-keepers, and have even been willing to overstep my maiden reserve and humble myself before this proud, cold man. But it must be remembered how deeply, how devotedly I loved. Every fibre of my being was twined around his image, and the wild tornado of passion swept down every barrier that stood between me and the attainment of his love. I was utterly reckless of every thing but this. My heart murmured his name all day long. My dreams were of him, and in his presence my soul lay sick and faint, with longing for one caress. I do not know why he never suspected my secret, but I do not think he did, for his own manner never changed; it was still the same amiable dignity as at first.
One evening in late summer we went out for a stroll through the plantation; I was studying botany, and the object of our walk was to gather flowers to illustrate the lesson of the day. We wandered on till we reached a distant wood, where the blossoms we were in search of were said to grow, but we looked for them in vain. Mr. Beverleigh, unwilling to return from an unsuccessful quest, led me farther and farther away from home, until we approached the swampy edge of Green River.
• You had better wait here, Melissa, said he, “it is too wet for you to venture farther, and I am sure I shall find the flowers there.'
He left me, and I retraced my steps a short distance, and spreading my shawl beneath the branches of a tree that stood on the brow of a gentle slope, at the bottom of which lay the marsh, sat down patiently to wait. How well I remember that scene! The moon, which was beginning to assert her supremacy over the dying day, and sending down a shower of pale arrows into the valley; the river, which wound between the dark trees on its banks, gleaming like molten silver, and the weird lights and shadows that played across the green slope before me.
My heart was full almost to bursting of its long pent-up passion, and when I saw my tutor, after a brief absence, coming slowly up the hill, I felt that the time had come when its tumultuous beatings could no longer be stilled. When he reached the tree, to my surprise he threw himself down beside me, saying, apologetically: I have had a hard tramp, and must rest a moment before we start for home.
Then I could no longer restrain myself. I suddenly flung my
arms around his neck and concealed my face in his bosom, pouring out wild, mad words of endearment and love. The barrier once broken down, all my self-control was gone. What I said I do not know, but such eloquent passion as no woman ever uttered before, all the while straining him to my heart, and at last endeavoring to kiss his brow and lips — very pale and white they were during those few excited moments but before I could accomplish my object and set the seal alike to my shame and my love, with a frantic struggle he freed himself from my embrace and rose to his feet.
Miss Melissa,' said he, in hard, cold accents, you strangely forget yourself. I do not think I have given you any reason for this singular conduct.'
Even at this I was not convinced of the utter hopelessness of my cause. I threw myself weeping at his feet, and clasping his knees, begged like a poor wretch for at least some few words of kindness and love to repay my great devotion. But my abject misery, instead of moving his compassion, only seemed to rouse his contempt. He suddenly seized me and lifted me to my feet, then loosened my clinging arms, and said, in accents of bitter scorn :
* Have you no pride, as well as no maidenly reserve? Do you not see that I do not love you ? '
I looked wildly at him for a moment, and read in those cold blue eyes and the curl of that haughty lip my hopeless doom; then, with a low moan, I turned and ran swiftly away. On, on I sped, not knowing where, so I escaped from the stony look of that marble face. I rushed over the rough fields, until I sank exhausted on the ground, and then a blessed period of utter oblivion followed.
I learned afterward that Mr. Beverleigh had hurried home as quickly as possible; but when he found, to his surprise, that I was not there, he had said that we were hunting for flowers and had separated, and he feared, as we were a long distance from the house, I might have lost my way. Immediately my alarmed parents roused the plantation, and I was found, after a brief period, by some negroes and brought home. When I was recovered from the swoon into which I had fallen, I was raving in delirium, and for days my life hung by a thread. My iron constitution, however, triumphed over the fierce
fever, which at length left me weak and exhausted. The first day I was able to converse in answer to a faint question. My mother related what I have just written, and added that Mr. Beverleigh had, with my father's approbation, accepted the post of tutor to the son of a gentleman owning a plantation some ten miles distant.
“We thought he had better go,' concluded my mother, 'as his year of tuition here was nearly up, and we knew you would not be able to study for a long time to come; we were glad too, to have him gone, so that we might devote ourselves wholly to you. But tell me how you came to fall asleep in the wet grass when you know how dangerous it is at this season ?'
* As Mr. Beverleigh said,' I replied sadly, 'I hoped to find
flowers in my path. I was searching for them, when suddenly every thing turned dark around me and I swooned away.'
It still seems a mystery to me how I ever regained even the small remains of my shattered health, that I at length recovered. After months of a miserable convalescence, without hope or without the wish to be well again, day by day I found myself to be slowly but surely gaining a stronger hold on that existence which had no charms for me, and from which I longed to escape. The total depression of my feelings was attributed by my relatives and friends, to my severe illness; and when I was at length able to resume my old habits, it seemed but natural that I should once more begin my solitary rambles on the hills, and wanderings in the Cave. But this was not until our brief winter was over, and the warm spring days had come again. But how different was this early summer from my last! Then I was dreaming bright dreams that I fondly hoped might be realized. Now my life was without an object and without a future. From this apathy I was roused by one more blow, the only thing which could move me, and sting me into madness again. A reliable rumor reached us that Mr. Beverleigh was engaged to Miss Minnie Haywood, the sister of his present pupil, a girl whom I knew to be a pretty, graceful fool — nothing more. I heard this with apparent indifference; but oh! how my crushed heart writhed !
Then vague thoughts of revenge presented themselves to my mind, and I wondered if by any means I could render his existence as wretched as he had made mine. Then I would try to form some plan by which I might humble this haughty man, and make him beg for mercy from me, as I had from him. This idea was my favorite one. If I could bring him to my feet by any means, how I would triumph : nor should he have more compassion at my hands, than I had received at his. Thoughts like these, but nothing more, I harbored, when an accursed accident gave me the power of a more terrible vengeance than any of which I dreamed.
One morning I prepared myself for a long day in the Cave. I walked on over the well-known path till I reached the first river. Instead of pausing there, however, I crossed in one of the flatbottomed boats moored there for the accommodation of pleasureparties, and went on to Echo River. There I sought out a little grotto, which the falling of some rocks had formed on its bank, and hanging my lamp from a projecting point, and wrapping my. self in a shawl, I began another day of tormenting thought and black despair.
At the period of which I write, there were very few visitors to the Cave; but still occasionally in summer I was liable to interruption. The grotto where I sat, was, therefore, a favorite spot with me; for in it I was quite secure from molestation, as it was, I believe, wholly unknown, even to the guides. On this memorable day I had been there but a short time, when I was roused by the distant murmur of voices, which the reverberations of the
rocks brought to me long before I could see the lights of the approaching party. I hastened to extinguish my own lamp, for I always carried with me the means of re-lighting it, and then sat listlessly, wishing no one would ever come there to interrupt my meditations. Suddenly I heard a voice which cut me to the very heart; its accents were only too well-known. A moment after, the intruders came in view: there were only some dozen persons, and among them, arm-in-arm, were Mr. Beverleigh and his affianced bride. There was a light in his eyes, as he looked at the fair, frail thing beside him, which I had never seen there before. The very tone of his voice was softer and sweeter than I had ever heard it ; and I sat peering from my little den, furious as a caged tiger, at their mutual endearments. They stood for a few moments a little apart from the rest of the group, and his devotion of manner rendered me frantic with jealous rage. They were the last to approach the boat, and he tenderly assisted her in, and was about to follow, when the guide objected, as he thought the little skiff would be over-crowded. Mr. Beverleigh stepped back, and stood alone
upon the shore. One of the young men offered to wait with him, but I could see he thought the suggestion an imputation on his courage, and it was haughtily declined. So the boat slowly glided off and disappeared, with its gay party and bright lights, under the low, arching rock. He waved his farewell, and then stood looking about him, with a vague expression of uneasiness. I knew they had three-quarters of a mile to go, and the guide could scarcely return under an hour. His own words to me the day he found me in the Cave, the horror he expressed of being left there in solitude, recurred vividly to my remembrance, and yet smarting under the unintentional insult of his devotion to that girl, a plan presented itself to me by which I might have him in my power, and humble him at my feet. As soon as his friends were beyond call, I lit my lamp, and advanced from my retreat. As I came upon him, he uttered a surprised exclamation ; but I greeted him very calmly, saying: 'How are you, Mr. Beverleigh ?'
Quite well, Miss Melissa. I am glad to see you are sufficiently recovered from your recent illness, to be in your old haunts once more.'
• Yes; I was sitting near when your party came up, and saw that you were left alone. I came to offer to show you a path which will lead you to the other end of the river as soon as the boat will be there. It is somewhat disagreeable, but I thought you might prefer it to remaining here.'
He hesitated a moment. I could see he thought it a strange proposal, and yet it was more to his taste than to remain there alone with me: I read that in his look, and my own purpose became more fixed. However, he thanked me, and accepted my offer, and we started on our way in silence.
Every one who has visited the Mammoth Cave knows that there is a narrow, winding path, running parallel with Echo River, though at some distance from it, which is called Purgatory, where
the rocks so hem one in on every side, that in some parts of the way it is impossible either to stand upright, or walk straight forward. Through this route, used by visitors only when the River is so high that boats can not pass under the low rocks which overhang it, I now conducted Mr. Beverleigh.
We had not walked far, nor yet reached the most dangerous part of the way, when he dropped his lamp, which went out. I took it in my hand, as if to re-light it, but without doing so, and went on a short distance, till we came to an open space, from which the point whence we started could be easily reached by several different paths. When I arrived at this spot, I paused, and standing a few feet from Mr. Beverleigh, said abruptly:
Do you love Minnie Haywood ?'
“I love her, and intend to marry her," said he firmly; though I could see he looked at me distrustfully, and endeavored to approach a step or two nearer. Quick as thought I sprang around a large rock, and extinguished my own lamp:
• Melissa !' cried he in a startled voice, where are you? What are you going to do ?' “I am going to leave you,' said I; and I ran a few paces
farther off, and then paused. My heart beat wildly, and I thought my moment of triumph had come. I expected he would call upon me, entreating me to return. But to my surprise, I only heard his footsteps for a moment, growing fainter and fainter, as if he himself was increasing the distance between us, and then all was still. Was it possible that his indomitable pride would not yield, even now? This mute defiance rendered me savage, and I thought with fearful satisfaction I would leave him in the awful situation in which I had placed him. Yet I paused a few moments longer, straining my ear for another sound, until the dreadful silence, which had never before oppressed me, overwhelmed me with unutterable horror. Still I seemed rooted to the spot. I would not follow him, if he would not come to me; but I stood waiting, expecting each instant to hear some sound of returning steps. But there was nothing but the profound darkness, and the eternal stillness. On a sudden, the thought struck me, that the guide might come and find me there, and I turned, and flinging away one lamp, fled blindly over the rough stones, guided only
by my thorough knowledge of the place, until I was at a safe distance from the River. I then re-lit my lamp, and rapidly made my way out of the Cave. Once in the open air, I breathed more freely, but still hurried on, away from the gloomy cavern, which from that moment became to me a place of unimaginable dread.
I was soon at home. My mother looked up, surprised at my abrupt entrance, and said : “I thought you were going into the Cave!'
No!' I replied with an instinctive desire to conceal the fact of where I had been. 'I felt tired, and came home.'
I had only been absent some three hours, and from that day to this, no human creature ever knew that I was in the Cave at all that morning