Copyright
Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Love for an hour is love forever online

. (page 18 of 20)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 18 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


folio on a table before him. He was a little astonished
at Francesca's appearance, and said, with an air of
apology :

" My dear young lady, a letter would have answered
my letter."

" No, it would not, doctor. At least, I want to tell
you something, and ask you something. I am going to
Mexico to look for Lancelot unless you know of any
good reason why Lancelot and I ought never to meet
again. If you do, in such a case as this I not only
ask, I deserve, your confidence."

" Going to Mexico to look for Lancelot! My dear,
let me kiss you for the thought! My dear, if I was
not an old man I would kiss the feet that dare so sweet
and true a pilgrimage! My dear, you should have
lived a century ago. I will tell you the truth the
whole truth, for you do indeed deserve it. And may
God send you and Lancelot together, for he is a good
lad a lad any good girl may safely love."



2/4 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

" Why has he never written to me ? Why has he hid
himself away ? If there were reasons forbidding our
marriage, he might at least have told me them. He
might have come and bid me 'farewell.' He might
have sent me occasionally some token of his remem-
brance."

" When Lancelot left his home and his love, he be-
lieved that there were insurmountable obstacles to his
marriage with you, not only at that time, but forever.
He believed " and then the doctor drew his chair
close to Francesca's and dropped his voice to its lowest
key " my dear, he believed that his mother was either
an insane woman or a murderess. I had the same
awful doubt. I had loved Martha Leigh as you love
her son, and I understood what the young man suffered.
My dear, he was the most hopeless and broken-hearted
of men ; and though he looked at me with such eyes as
almost tempted me to say a word of comfort to him, I
did not dare at that time, to do so. Now, I am con-
vinced of two circumstances which materially affect his
position."

"What are they, doctor? Surely you will tell them
to me."

" The first is that Martha Leigh was actually insane
and quite irresponsible for her action ; the second, that
her insanity was an individual trait ; she had no taint
from her forefathers, and she transmitted none to her
children. In fact, her insanity was the result of long-
continued anxiety ever tending to the same end. The
strain was too great upon certain faculties ; indeed, my
dear, when we try to see beyond the grave while still



IN SEARCH OF LOVE. 275

on this side of it, we must either miserably deceive or
fatally injure ourselves."

" She was insane, then, when Lancelot left ? "

" She had undoubtedly lost her mental balance. But
when Lancelot left, there was still so much method in
her madness, she was so insistent on her own sanity,
that it was impossible even for me to say, 'This
woman is insane ; ' and yet equally impossible to say,
'This woman is practically a murderess, for she has of
purpose and wicked intent withheld the medicines
which would have saved her husband's life.' Do you
understand what a cruel strait Lancelot was in then ? "

"Yes! Yes! But was such absolute silence neces-
sary ? "

"I am sure it was the only wise and kind thing.
What could he have told you? How could he have
told you ? Can a son accuse his mother ? Would you
have continued to love him if he had done so ? And
let me tell you that his utter silence is the expression of
the noblest self-denial and self-effacement. If his life
was ruined, he did not wish to ruin yours also. He
hoped you would forget him, and love and be happy
with some more fortunate lover. A small, selfish man
would have demanded remembrance, if he had broken
your heart to obtain for himself such consolation to his
pride and self-love. Poor Lancelot! He was made
of earth's best blood and noblest aspirations. Some
men would have called his honor to his dead father and
his refusal to touch a penny of what he believed ought
still to have been his father's a very quixotic proceed-
ing ; I think he acted under the noblest impulse that



276 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

governs us love grounded upon justice and honor.
Now now he may wisely and lawfully be more
worldlike. Now he may take what death has left him
without a single reproach from his sensitive conscience."

" May I tell my father these things? He has been a
little set against Lancelot."

" I do not blame him for being set against Lancelot.
Any father judging in the dark would be. Yes, you
may tell the squire. He has no small places in his
make-up. When he sees the right, he will say the
right."

These were the main points of a conversation which
lasted far into the night. Every fact and detail in it
spoke to Francesca for her absent lover. She remem-
bered Lancelot's great love for his father, she under-
stood the living agony of the affectionate son in the
presence of doubts so terrible of love so tender. The
tragedy was too great for realization at once, but it
drove away sleep and compelled her through the long
midnight hours to suffer all its pangs ; not only with
her lost lover, but with the lonely, unhappy mother, who
had slowly died with her heart's unutterable longings
and despairs unsatisfied and unlightened.

As they rode slowly back to Atherton, Francesca told
her father with conscientious distinctness all that Doctor
Thorpe had confided to her. The squire listened
silently, bending slightly forward, with set lips and eyes
cast resolutely down. But when all had been spoken,
and she asked, " Do you blame Lancelot now, fa-
ther?" he answered, "No! I do not blame Lance-
lot. I say he acted like a man of honor should have
done. I am sure his mother was out of her mind."



IN SEARCH OF LOVE. 277

"And I remember that you thought her very queer
on the day of her husband's funeral."

" On the day of Stephen Leigh's burying she behaved
to me as no woman in her senses would have done.
And I did wonder at it ; because for simple worldly
wit and plain common sense the Le-ighs, father and
son, mother and daughter, have been known far and
wide for many a generation. I have heard said since I
was a boy ' that a bird out of Leigh's nest was always
a wise bird ; able to make its way, and to hold its
day.' "

" Doctor Thorpe said she had become insane with
fretting about Mr. Leigh's speculations endangering her
home ; and by encouraging the idea that she could see
and talk with the dead."

"Poor woman! Maybe now she was born when
those bad planets and the moon were opposing one an-
other. Thou heard what Dick said about Saturn and
Mars and Mercury, and I am very sure Mrs. Leigh was
insane enough to have been born in the thick of their
opposition. It is a queer world, Francesca, and what
we do not know about it would make a big book, my
dear."

" I thought I ought to tell you all that Doctor Thorpe
said to me."

" To be sure. Thou would have been a poor daugh-
ter to have put such secrets out of my hearing. My
dear girl, I trust thee like my own soul. The honor of
thy name and of thy father's house is in thy hands. In
England or Mexico, this side the world or the other,
thou wilt remember that. The past has a lien on thee,
and the future has a right in thee. No man and no



2/8 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

woman can live for themselves alone, unless they be
selfish as the brutes that perish."

Then she lifted her face and kissed him, and he saw
her pure, strong soul shining through her eyes, and he
felt the assurance it gave him to be beyond all spoken
words or oaths or written bonds. As soon as Francesca
and the squire returned to Atherton, Dick and Loida
went back to Alderson Bars, to complete their own
arrangements. From Alderson they would go to Liver-
pool, and the squire and Clara promised to bring Fran-
cesca there to meet them. Between now and then
there was only to be an interval of twelve days, but
Clara said even that was ten too many. The small
deliberations, the doubts evoked purposely to be talked
away, the fears useless to combat while they were so
far off, the small consultations about the care of cloth-
ing, the formal little notes of farewell to every acquaint-
ance, the wonderful forethought about such trifles as
pins, needles, and hair-dressing all these petty incident-
als of travel amused and a trifle annoyed a woman so
ready and impulsive as Clara.

"A ticket taken and ten hours' notice, and I am
ready to go round the world by the great Wall of
China," she said ; " and you are taking lots of things,
Francesca, that you will throw away before you get
back."

However, all events come and go whether we have
patience or not, and the moment arrived for Francesca's
last words of farewell. She said them with tears, with
an undisguised emotion, with a desperate feeling that
even at this final moment she must abandon her inten-
tion, and stay by the father whose blank, speechless



IN SEARCH OF' LOVE. 279

grief and anxiety were so pitifully evident through all
his attempts at smiles and nods and waving kerchiefs.

The squire and Clara did not wait for the lifting of
the anchor. The squire thought it was not lucky to
watch those going away out of sight.

" If you do, they never come back again," he said,
with a childlike pathos.

" Rashleigh, I do hope you are not superstitious an
observer of freits and signs." And Clara shook her
head gravely.

" No, no, Clara! I am not superstitious; not a bit
of it. But, then, it is just as well to have the signs on
the right side. Eh, my dear? "

She laughed, and turned the conversation on Loida.

" How complacently cheerful and satisfied she looked
upon Dick's arm! Did you notice her, Rashleigh?
Her whole air seemed to say : ' Look at Dick Alder-
son at my Dick Alderson! Consider Dick's wisdom
and Dick's bravery and Dick's knowledge of everything.
Did ever any husband love his wife as much as Dick
loves me ? Were ever any couple happy before ? Does
not every sensible person wish to be as Dick and I
are?' Women who marry late in life are such fools
about their husbands."

" Clara, when you married me, you were "

" I know, Rashleigh I know. I was a fool, also,
about my husband. I thought you handsomer than you
are, and better than you are. I invented for you all
the good qualifies which nature had not given you.
Yes, I was decidedly foolish about you."

The jolting of the cab and its rattle over the cobble-
stones broke the confession into charming little bits.



280 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

In spite of his gloomy forebodings, the squire could not
help smiling. He felt bound, also, to defend Loida's
absorption in her husband.

" She suffered a deal for him, Clara," he said, " and
she lost ten years of her love-life. She has to make it
up some way, my dear. Think of that."

" I do reflect upon these things, Rashleigh ; and
Loida is really a very delightful woman, besides being,
in her present state of Dick-adoration, a most sensible
companion for Francesca. She will talk of Dick and
wonder about Dick a good deal ; and that is a great
deal better than an hourly canonization of the young
Saint Lancelot. How dismal is this dismal square, and
the old yellow church, and the rain trailing down the
dirty windows! How dreadful is black rain and bleak
winds inclosed between stone houses!"

" Let us be thankful we have got under cover. Now,
then, draw the blinds and come to the fire. It is very
cheerful."

Clara laughed.

" An open fire," she said, " is an Englishman's fetich ;
he thinks it ought to give comfort under all circum-
stances." But she put a chair before the blaze and
tried to fall into her husband's mood of concentration,
and she soon found herself discussing with animation
the probabilities of the little drama at which they had
both been assisters and spectators.

" It is possible they may come across Lancelot Leigh,
but not at all probable. We will consider first the pos-
sible. Suppose, Rashleigh, that Lancelot is found;
suppose Francesca and he are married, then what is to
be done with them ? After marriage comes housekeep-



IN SEARCH OF LOVE. 28 1

ing ; and young men who go away to seek a fortune
never find one."

" Lancelot has his father's estate. There is no reason
why he should not take possession of it. He can sell
the mill property for a pretty sum at this time ; and the
house "

"It would be a crime to sell the house. Besides, that
poor old woman could never rest in her grave if such a
thing wafc done. I think the feelings of the dead ought
to be consulted a little. You would resign the mill at
Atherton to Lancelot ? "

"Most gladly. I am running the mill for the sake of
the village, not for the profits."

" There is the Dower House. It is a pretty spot,
and upon Atherton ground, Rashleigh."

" My dear, when I die that is your house, and "

" Indeed, it is not my house, sir. Do you imagine I
could subside into a second-rate dowager ? If I am so
unhappy as to survive you, I have my own house in
Boston, United States of America. I shall go to it at
once."

"Then the Dower House can be refurnished and
beautified. Lancelot had a wish to buy more land, and
it is not right for the lady of the manor to live away
from the manor."

" Francesca has not yet come to her kingdom. 'I am
Lady of Atherton Manor at present. There cannot be
two at the same time ; so that is no reason for putting
Leigh House out of consideration. It is a pretty old
place, and it has associations that no money can buy.
Francesca has told me about its fine rooms full of sad
consciousness. She said she could shut her eyes and



282 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

fancy shadows walking quietly about them, every one in
dark garments and wearing their veils so great and
long."

" Hush, my dear! Thou makes me feel creepy and
eerie as can be."

" And the queer old garden, too, with its zigzag ways
and its somber clusters of shrubs, its twisted trees and
strange plants. Francesca fancied she heard voices be-
hind them and strange words and weird trembling "

" Wilt thou be quiet, Clara ? Now, then, let us talk
of the mill and something this-worldlike other world-
liness is none of our business yet.''

" Very well, Rashleigh. I suppose it is the fire
makes me remember such things the fire is full of
dreams. Or perhaps it is the pattering outside, or
those dismal church-bells, or that most wretched
woman's voice, singing love-songs in the storm, the
while she is starving for a crust of bread. Open the
window and give her a shilling. Poor soul! If you
want something this-worldlike, I am sure she will do."

The squire obeyed his wife's wish, and then sat down
with a sigh.

" Francesca is far out at sea now," he said, " but she
will return in six months, eh, Clara ? "

" In six months she will return, cured of the Leigh
fever or at least convalescent or she will come back
Leigh-forever! In the first case, we must carry her to
pastures new for new lovers."

" And in the second, what then, Clara ? "

" There is a choice of Atherton Mill and the Dower
House, or of Garsby Mill and the old Leigh home. Is
there not a choice ? "



IN SEARCH OF LOVE. 283

" Not yet, not yet, Clara. Whatever is the use of
handicapping fate by forespeaking it ? I'm very tired.
Day and day is quite enough. Let six months alone.
That is what I say, eh, Clara ? "

" You are right, Rashleigh ; day and day, and the
comfortable night to round each day with a blessed
sleep."



CHAPTER XVI.

AND NOW LOVE SANG!

"White-handed Hope,
Thou hovering angel girt with golden wings ! "

" Who, as they sang, would take the prisoned sonl
And lap it in Elysium."

Such sober certainty of waking bliss! Milton.

For all we know
Of what the blessed do above
Is that they sing, and that they love. Waller.

FAR out at sea! The squire had remembered the
fact with a quick, sick terror of heart ; and at the
same moment Francesca was beginning to realize the
full importance of the step she had taken. She sat in
her solitary state-room like a child cast adrift from
home and love, and she was afraid of' the dark ship and
the moaning winds and the breaking of the waves
against her temporary shelter. The water was so close
to her only a plank between her and eternity!

At that hour she was too much depressed and too
much terrified to remember how much in love she was.
Her father and her dear home, and the orderly, calm
life to which she was accustomed was the supreme
craving of her heart. Some days of inert misery fol-
lowed, and then the worst was over ; a brilliant sunshine,
an atmosphere charged with oxygen and ozone soon



AND NOW LOVE SANG I 285

made life not only possible but also full of anticipated
delights.

And after the infinite monotony of nine days at sea,
how charming, how wonderful was the first glimpse of
that great city rising, as it were, out of it! It was also
the happy month between Thanksgiving and Christmas,
and New York was wearing all her holiday decorations,
and displaying all her beauty and all her wealth.

There had never been the least supposition that Lan-
celot had drifted so far north as New York, yet Fran-
cesca felt herself to be ever on the watch. The comers
and goers in the hotel, the gay company in the theaters,
the loitering crowd on the main thoroughfares, were
under her constant inspection. It was impossible to say
in what place Lancelot might be found ; therefore she
would seek him wherever her footsteps led her, and surely
love would bring them in some happy hour together.

But New York had nothing to tell her and nothing to
give her, and as far as Lancelot was concerned Wash-
ington and New Orleans were equally destitute of hope
and comfort. However, as Dick said : " No one had
the least expectation of either meeting with or hearing
of Lancelot in the United States. The young man had
gone to Mexico, he had been heard from in Mexico,
and it was his opinion he would be found in some small
interior village of that country."

And Francesca answered :

"To be sure. She did not expect anything until
Mexico was reached."

And Loida pitied her effort to smile, knowing that her
heart was heavy and anxious, and that home-sickness
and love-sickness were striving hard within it.



286 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

At length they were in Vera Cruz, that melancholy
city of unfinished and decaying grandeur. Dick was
now quite at home. Francesca thought she had never
seen him so important, so full of a pleasant authority,
so very much Senor Alderson. He assumed again a
semi-Mexican costume ; he spoke the language with a
fluency and a force that astonished the ladies. Indeed,
Loida timidly suggested " she believed Dick was really
swearing at the servants ; she hoped he was not, but it
sounded very like it."

Dick only smiled at a still more pointed inquiry on
this subject, though he was rather inclined to volunteer
information of all kinds to his companions. And as it
was not the bad season, he was enabled to show them
the city, with its domes of various colors, its grand
cathedral, its steeples shooting up into the air, its large,
gloomy houses, with their massively grated balconies.
The rich, picturesque dresses of the men of all grades
and of the lower orders of women added greatly to the
Eastern look of this far Western city. And after sunset
there was something dreamlike and mysterious in the
quiet streets. For then the presence of the noble and
wealthy women was revealed by the murmur of voices,
the rustling of fans, and the white-robed beauties
blanched by the rays of the moon sitting behind half-
opened Venetian blinds.

But though Dick went carefully over the ground
already examined by Captain Benton, nothing new was
discovered. Lancelot had stayed two days at the hotel
San Juan de Ulloa, and had then gone forward to
Bocca del Rio. Here his stay had been short, but it
was proven that there he had become intimate with a



AND NOW LOVE SANG! 287

Mexican lawyer, and that they had gone forward to-
gether to the gorges of Cerro Gordo and the great
bridge over the river Antigua, called the Puente
Nacional. At this point they separated, the lawyer
returning to Vera Cruz, and Lancelot going forward to
Lancero. Then Dick found out the lawyer, but he
could tell him nothing that was not already known.

So the party went forward to Lancero, where they
rested for some days ; for here the sight of the oak-tree
announced to the travelers that they had passed the
region of fever and pestilence. Loida was exceedingly
depressed and weary with the constant excitement and
change. She was suffering from climatic influences,
also, and life seemed impossible to her until she had re-
covered strength to take a fresh hold upon its strange
and many-colored threads. Francesca was singularly
well. A feeling of expectancy upheld her. At Lancero
Lancelot had remained a week. Here there were
plenty of traces of the young man. At the venta where
he had lodged the host and his wife remembered him
well. He had bought a horse there, and had become
familiar with the people in the jacales. Also, he had
been entertained by the officer in charge of Santa
Anna's country-house at Lancero, and Francesca went
with Dick to the little building, with its red-stained
walls and modest veranda surmounted by a belvedere
of glass. She sat in the chair Lancelot had used, and
Dick translated for her such of the conversation as the
man remembered.

Hope grew apace in such favorable conditions. At
last she began to feel that her pilgrimage of love was
not predestined to sorrow and fatigue and failure. Here



288 LOVE FOR AN HOUR.

also they procured a litera, or kind of palanquin, in
which Loida and Francesca passed over the Tierra
Caliente, or Burning Land, between this part of the road
and Jalapa, where they arrived one day about noon.
For the first time since they had left the United States
Loida and Francesca were enthusiastic, and forgot their
small personal interests in the beauty of the place and
its environs.

For Jalapa, with all its enchantments, was upon them
the steep streets, with the blue and red houses peep-
ing out of clumps of guava trees, of liquid-ambar and
palms ; the hedges of datura and jasmine and honey-
suckle ; the mountains overhanging the town ; the rocks
covered with convolvuli ; the thousand streams from
their sides ; the deep blue of the sky and the deep blue
of the hills blending into one. Surely, if there was a
heaven for love on this earth, it was here here at
fair Jalapa.

At the " Posada Francesca," Francesca was sensible
of that conviction of desire accomplished which so often
ends in disappointment. She was sure Lancelot had
lodged in this very house. Its name of " Francesca "
would make it dear and attractive. She stepped hap-
pily through the piazzas surrounding the spacious court,
and watched the bubbling fountain in its center to
thoughts of Lancelot. Doubtless he had stood there,
and thought of her.

But there were no positive traces of Lancelot at
Jalapa. And, after a short rest, the travelers took
advantage of an American coach running between
Jalapa and the City of Mexico. At every stopping-
place inquiries were made, and at Las Vegas and Perote



AND NOW LOVE SANG/ 289

there were some doubtful memories of the young man ;
but it seemed hopeless to look for anything definite
nearer than the capital.

Francesca had become depressed. She spent all her
time in studying the language of the country, but her
heart had deceived her at Jalapa, and she had now no
confidence in its monitions. When love's labor is con-
tinually lost, love is at last conscious of a sense of weari-
ness and of succumbing to fate.

In the City of Mexico they found an American hotel,
and gladly made their stay there. Dick was now at
the point where both his own affairs and Francesca's
would be likely to detain him for some weeks, and the
ladies endeavored to give to their rooms as distinctively
a home air as was possible. Then life assumed a some-
what regular aspect. Every morning Dick attended to
the mining business which had brought him to Mexico,
and which was delayed by the absence of a person im-
portant to its settlement. In the cool of the day he
wandered about the city, penetrating into all the favor-
ite haunts of the leperos, or Mexican lazzarone. For
Dick was certain that some of this class knew the fate
of Lancelot, if assassination had terminated it.

And as soon as his business permitted the temporary
absence, he resolved to go to the San Lepato mines.
He had indeed written there, and received an answer
which contained a hope he did not think it wise to give
Francesca ; because he was aware of the difficulties en-
compassing the recognition of an Englishman, who, if


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrLove for an hour is love forever → online text (page 18 of 20)