Catherine A. Warfield.

Miriam Monfort A Novel online

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smell this ether, that the ship's doctor put up expressly for your use,
and recommended highly as a new restorative much in fashion in Paris."

Had the ship's doctor no name, then, that they never mentioned it, and
that he spoke in a demon's voice? His doses I had proved, and was
resolved to take no more of them, and I pushed away the phial, whose
cold glass nose was thrust obtrusively against my own - pushed it away
with all my strength, fast ebbing away as this was, even as I made the
effort.

The cruel potion had possession of me, and entered into every fibre of
my brain through the avenues prepared for it by the treacherous anodyne;
so that, enervated and intoxicated, I yielded passively, after a brief
struggle, to the power of the then newly-invented sedative, called
chloroform.

When the carriage stopped, or whither it transported me, or who lifted
my insensible form to the chamber prepared for me, I know not - never
knew. There was a faint reviving, I remember; a process of disrobing
gone through by the aid of foreign assistance (whose, I recognized
not), then I slumbered profoundly and securely through the entire night,
to recover no clearness of perception until a late hour on the following
morning.




CHAPTER VI.


I awoke, as I had done of old, after one of my lethargic seizures, from
a deep, unrefreshing slumber, with a lingering sense about me of
drowsiness and even fatigue.

I found myself lying on a broad, canopied bedstead, the massive posts of
which were of wrought rosewood, bare of draperies, as became the season,
save at the head-board, behind which a heavy curtain was dropped of
rose-colored damask satin.

Of the same rich material were composed the tester and the
lightly-quilted coverlet, thrown across the foot of the bed, over a fine
white Marseilles counterpane.

The chimney immediately opposite to me, as I lay, was of black marble,
and, instead of graceful Greek _caryatides_, bandaged mummies, or
Egyptian figures, supported the heavy shelf that surmounted the polished
grate. In the centre of this massive mantel-slab was placed a huge
bronze clock, and candelabra of the same material graced its corners.

In either recess of this chimney rosewood doors were situated, one of
which stood invitingly ajar, disclosing the bath-room, into which it
opened, with its accessories of white marble.

The other, firmly closed, seemed to be the outlet of the chamber - its
only one - with the exception of the four large Venetian windows, two on
either side of me as I lay, the sashes of which, warm as the season was,
were drawn closely down.

The furniture of this spacious chamber to which, as if by the touch of a
magician's wand, I found myself transported, was throughout solid and of
elegant forms, consisting as it did of _armoire_, toilet-table,
bookcase, _étagère_, writing and flower stands, tables and chairs, of
the richest rosewood.

At the foot of my bed was placed a console, supporting a huge Bible and
Prayer-book, bound alike in purple velvet, emblazoned with central suns
of gold - an arch-hypocrisy that was not lost on its object.
Freshly-gathered flowers were heaped in the vases of the floral stands,
filling the close, cool room with an overpowering fragrance. The carpet
of crimson and white seemed to the eye what it afterward proved to the
foot - thick, soft, and elastic; and harmonized well with the rich,
antique, and consistent furniture.

The sort of microscopic scrutiny that children manifest seemed mine - in
my unreasoning, half-convalescent state; and for a time I observed all
that I have described with a listless pleasure, difficult to analyze, a
sort of dreamy acceptance of my condition, the very memory of which
exasperated me, later, almost to self-contempt.

A crimson cord hung at one side of my bed, continued from a bell-wire at
some distance, the tassel of which I touched lightly, and, at the very
first signal, Mrs. Clayton appeared through the hitherto only unopened
door, to know and do my bidding.

The clock on the mantel-shelf struck nine as she stood beside me, and
made respectful inquiries concerning my wants and condition;
understanding which, she disappeared, to return a few minutes later,
followed by an ancient negress, bearing a silver waiter.

I recognized in this sable assistant (or thought I recognized at a
glance) my companion in shipwreck; but, upon making known my
convictions, was met with a prompt denial by the sable dame herself,
who, shaking her head, gave me to understand, in a few broken words,
that she "no understood English - only Spanish tongue!"

Her dress - handsome and Frenchified - her creole coiffure, and the long
gray locks that escaped from her crimson kerchief bound over her ears,
as well as her more refined deportment, did indeed seem to discredit my
first idea, which came at last (notwithstanding these discrepancies) to
be fixed, and proved one link in the long chain of duplicity I untangled
later.

At the time, however, I gave it little thought, but partook with what
appetite I might of the choice and delicate repast provided for me, in
this truly princely hotel, whose fame I discovered had not been
over-trumpeted. On my previous visits to New York, the Astor House had
been unfinished, and had made in its completion a new era certainly in
the "tavern-life" of that inhospitable city of publicans. When the
delicious coffee and snowy bread, the eggs of milky freshness, the
golden butter, the savory rice-birds, the appetizing fish, had each and
all been merely tasted and dismissed, and the exquisite China, in which
the breakfast was served, duly marveled at as an unprecedented
extravagance on the part even of John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Clayton came to
me with kindly offers of assistance in the performance of my toilet,
still a matter of difficulty in my feeble hands.

My long hair, yet tangled and clogged with sea-water, was to be at last
unbound and thoroughly combed, cleansed, and oiled, so that the black
and glossy braids, that had been my chief personal pride, might again be
wound about my head in the old classic fashion.

Then came the bath, with its reviving, rehabilitating process, and
lastly I assumed with the docility of a baby or a pauper the clean and
fragrant linen and simple wrapper that had been mysteriously provided
for me by the Lady Anastasia again, I could not doubt.

"All this must end to-day," I said, "when really clothed and in my right
mind." I requested writing-materials and more light to work by, and
composed myself to write to Dr. Pemberton (once again, I knew, in
Philadelphia), and request his assistance and protection in getting home
safely, and, if need be, in tracing Captain Wentworth.

"I suppose Captain Van Dorne has been too busy to call," I observed,
carelessly, as I prepared to commence my letter, "and Mrs. Raymond too
happy, probably, in getting safe to shore and her lover, to think of
me."

"They have both inquired for you," said Mrs. Clayton, as she arranged
pen, ink, and paper, before me, with her usual precision, while a grim,
sardonic smile lingered about her features; "several have called, but
none have been admitted."

"Who have called, Mrs. Clayton? Give me the cards immediately. I must,
must know," I rejoined, eagerly, pausing with extended hand to receive
them.

"Oh, there were no cards, and such as want to see you can come again.
There, now! write away, and never trouble your mind about strange
people. Have you sufficient light?"

And, as she spoke, she touched a cord which set at right angles with
the lower one the upper inside shutter of another window as she had
adjusted the first.

I wrote, two hasty notes, one on further consideration to Captain
Wentworth himself, who might, after all, be at that very time in that
same hotel - "_Quien sabe_?" as Favraud used to say with his significant
shrug, which no Frenchman ever excelled or Spaniard equalled (albeit
they shrug severally).

My spirits rose with every word I wrote, and, when I got up from my
chair after sealing and directing my letters, a new and subtle energy
seemed to have infused itself through my frame. "There, I have finished,
Mrs. Clayton," I said, putting aside the implements I had been using.
"Now go, if you please, and bring to me the proprietor of this hotel. I
will give him my letters myself, since I have other business to transact
with him," and I laid my watch and chain on the table before me, ready
for his hand, not having lost sight of my early resolution. "But,
stay - before you go, be good enough to open the lower shutters and throw
up the windows. Cool as the weather is in this climate, I stifle for
air, and this close atmosphere, laden with fragrance, grows oppressive.
Who sent these flowers, by-the-by, Mrs. Clayton? or do they belong to
the magnificence of this idealized hotel?" She made no reply to any
thing I had been saying.

By this time, however, she had lowered the upper sashes of the windows
about a foot, and the fresh air of morning was pouring in, curling the
paper on the centre table and dispersing the noisome fragrance of the
flowers, in which I detected the morbid supremacy of the tuberose and
jasmine.

"I want to see the streets, the people," I said, approaching one of the
windows; "this artistic light is not at all the thing I need. I have no
picture to paint, not even my own face;" and, finding her unmoved, I
undertook to do the requisite work myself.

The sashes were shut away below by inside shutters, which resisted all
my efforts to stir them. After a moment's inspection, I perceived that
they were secured by iron screws of great strength and size; not, in
short, meant to be moved or opened at all. Again I essayed to shake them
convulsively one after the other - as you may sometimes see a tiger, made
desperate by confinement, grapple with the inexorable bars of his cage,
though certain of failure and defeat.

Overpowered by a sudden dismay that took entire possession of me, I sank
into one of the deep _fauteuils_ that extended its arms very opportunely
to receive me, and sat mutely for a moment, while anguish unutterable,
and conjecture too wild to be hazarded in speech, were surging through
my brain.

"I am too weak, I suppose, to open these shutters," I said at last,
feebly. "Be good enough to do it for me, Mrs. Clayton, or cause it to be
done immediately."

Was it not strange that up to this very moment no suspicion had clouded
my horizon since I woke in that sumptuous room?

"I cannot transcend my orders by doing any thing of the kind," she said
quietly, yet resolutely, as she pursued her avocation, that of dusting
with a bunch of colored plumes the delicate ornaments of the _étagère_
carefully one by one.

"Your authority! Who has dared to delegate to you what has no existence
as far as I am concerned?" I asked indignantly. "I will go instantly."

"You cannot leave this chamber until you receive outside permission,"
she interrupted, firmly planting herself at once between me and the door
through which I had seen her enter. "You must not think to pass through
my chamber, Miss Miriam. It is locked without, and there is no other
outlet."

"Woman!" I said, grasping her feebly yet fiercely, by the arm. "Look at
me! Raise those feline eyes to mine, if you dare, and answer me
truthfully: What means this mockery? Why have you been forced on me at
all? Where is Captain Van Dorne? What becomes of his promises? What
house is this in which I find myself a prisoner? Speak!"

"You can do nothing to make me angry," she rejoined, calmly. "I know
your condition, and pity and respect it, but I shall certainly fulfill
my part of this undertaking. Captain Van Dorne recognized you as Miss
Monfort by the description in the newspaper, as did my mistress, and for
your own welfare we determined to secure you and keep you safe until the
return of Mr. Bainrothe and your sisters from Europe. They will be here
shortly, and all you have to do is to be patient and behave as well as
you can until the time comes for your trial;" and she cast on me a
menacing look from her green and quivering pupils, indescribably feline.

My trial! Great Heaven! did they mean to turn the tables, then, and
destroy me by anticipating my evidence? I staggered to a chair and again
sat down silent confounded. "Where am I, then?" I feebly asked at
length.

"In the establishment of Dr. Englehart," she made answer, "a private
madhouse."

"God of heaven! has it come to this?" I covered my eyes with my hands
and sobbed aloud, while tears of pride and passion rained hotly over my
cheeks. This outburst was of short duration. "I will give them no
advantage," I considered. "My violence might be perverted. There are
creatures too cold and crafty to conceive of such a thing as natural
emotion, and passion with them means insanity. Thank God, the very power
to feel bears with it the power of self-government, and is proof of
reason. I will be calm, and if my life endures put them thus to
shame." - "You say that I am in the asylum of Dr. Englehart?" I asked
after a pause, during which she had not ceased to dust the furniture and
arrange the bed in its pristine order, speckless, with lace-trimmings,
pillow-cases smooth as glass, and sheets of lawn, and counterpane of
snow. "If so, call my physician hither; I, his patient, have surely a
right to his prompt services." - "It is just possible," I thought, "that
interest or compassion may, one or both, still enlist him in my cause - I
can but try."

A slight embarrassment was evidenced in her countenance as I made this
request. It vanished speedily.

"He is absent just at this time," she answered, quickly. "When he
returns I will make known your wish to him, if, indeed, he does not call
of his own accord."

"Be done with this shallow farce," I exclaimed, harshly. "It shames
humanity. Acknowledge yourself at once the faithful agent of a tyrant
and felon, or a pair of them, and I shall respect you more. Confess that
it was the voice of Basil Bainrothe I heard at my cabin-door, and that
Captain Van Dorne was imposed upon by that specious scoundrel, even to
the point of being conscientiously compelled to falsehood.

"I deny nothing - I acknowledge nothing," she said, deliberately. "You
and your friends can settle this between yourselves when they arrive.
Until then, you need not seek to tamper with me - it will be useless; and
I hope you are too much of a lady to be insulting to a person who has
no choice but to do her duty."

She could not more effectually have silenced me, nor more utterly have
crushed my hopes. Yet again I approached her with entreaties.

"I hope you will not refuse to mail my notes, even under these trying
circumstances,"! said, extending them to her.

"You can ask Dr. Englehart to do so when he comes," she answered,
gently; "for myself, I am utterly powerless to serve you beyond the
walls of this chamber."

"And how long is this close immurement to continue?" I asked again,
after another dreary pause. "Am I not permitted to breathe the external
air - to exercise? Is my health to be unconsidered?"

"I know nothing more than I have told you," she replied. "I am directed
to furnish you with every means of comfort - with books, flowers,
clothing, musical instrument, even, if you desire it; but, for the
present, you will not leave these walls, and you will see no society.
The doctor has decided that this is best."

"And whence did he derive his authority?"

"Oh, it was all arranged between him and Mr. Bainrothe, your guardeen"
(for thus she pronounced this word, ever hateful to me), "long ago;
before he went to France, I suppose. Captain Van Dorne had nothing to do
but hand you over."

"Captain Van Dorne! To think those honest eyes could so deceive me!" and
I shook my head wofully.

When I looked up again from reverie, Mrs. Clayton had settled herself to
work with a basket of stockings on her knees, which she appeared to be
assorting assiduously.

There she sat, spectacles on nose, thimble on twisted finger, ivory-egg
in hand, in active preparation for that work, woman's _par excellence_,
that alone rivals Penelope's. Surely that assortment of yellow,
ill-mated, half-worn, and holey hose, was a treasure to her, that no
gold could have replaced, in our dreary solitude (none the less dreary
for being so luxurious). I envied her almost the power she seemed to
have to merge her mind in things like these; and saw, for the first time
in my life, what advantages might lie in being commonplace.

It was now nearly the end of July. My birthday occurred in the middle of
September. I thought I knew that, as soon as possible after my majority,
Mr. Bainrothe's conditions would be laid before me.

I could not, dared not, believe that my captivity would be lengthened
beyond that time. I resolved that I would condone the past, and go forth
penniless, if this were exacted in exchange for liberty at the end of a
month and a half from this time.

Six weeks to wait! Were they not, in the fullness of their power, to
crush and baffle me? Six weary years! For, during all this time, I felt
that the unexplained mystery that weighed upon my life would gather in
force and inflexibility. Death would have seemed to have set its seal
upon it, in the estimation of Captain Wentworth, as of all others. He
would never know that the sea, which swallowed up the Kosciusko, had
spared the woman he loved, nor receive the explanation that she alone
could give him, of the mystery he deplored.

Before I emerged from my prison, he might be gone to the antipodes, for
aught I knew, and a barrier of eternal silence and absence be interposed
between us. So worked my fate! These reflections continued to haunt and
oppress me, by night and day, and life itself seemed a bitter burden in
that interval of rebellious agony, and in that terrible seclusion, where
luxury itself became an additional engine of torture.

Days passed, alternately of leaden apathy and bitter gloom, varied by
irrepressible paroxysms of despair. Whenever I found myself alone, even
for a few moments, I paced my room and wept aloud, or prayed
passionately. There were times when I felt that my Creator heard and
pitied me; others when I persuaded myself his ear was closed inexorably
against me.

I suffered fearfully - this could not last. The accusation brought
against me by my enemies seemed almost ready to be realized, when my
body magnanimously assumed the penalty the soul was perhaps about to
pay, and drifted off to fever.

Then, for the first time, came the man I had until then believed a myth,
and sat beside me in the shadow, and administered to me small, mystic
pellets, that he assured me, in low, husky whispers, and foreign accent,
would infallibly cure my malady - my physical one, at least; as for the
mind, its forces, he regretted to add, were beyond such influence!

For a moment, the wild suspicion intruded on my fevered brain that this
leech was no other than Basil Bainrothe himself, disguised for his own
dark purposes; but the tall, square, high-shouldered form that rose
before me to depart (taller, by half a head, than the man I suspected of
this fresh deception), and the angular movements and large extremities
of Dr. Englehart, dispelled this delusion forever. After all, might he
not be honest, even if a tool of Bainrothe's?

I took the sugared miniature pills - the novel medicine he had left for
me - faithfully, through ministry of Mrs. Clayton's, and was benefited
by them; and, when he came again, as before, in the twilight, I was able
to be installed in the great cushioned chair he had sent up for me, and
to bear the light of a shaded lamp in one corner of the large apartment.

Dr. Englehart approached me deferentially, and, without divesting
himself of the light-kid gloves which fitted his large hands so closely,
he clasped my wrist with his finger and thumb, and seemed to count my
pulses.

"Ver much bettair," was his first remark, made in that disagreeable,
harsh, and husky voice of his, while he bent so near me that the aroma
of the tobacco he had been smoking caused me to cough and turn aside.

Still, I could not see his face, for the immense bushy whiskers he wore,
nor his eyes, for the glasses that covered them, nor his teeth, even,
for the long, fierce mustache that swept his lips; and when, after a
brief visit, he rose and was gone again, there remained only in my mind
the image of a huge and hairy horror - a sort of bear of the Blue
Mountains, from the return of which or whom I fervently hoped to be
delivered.

"Send him word I am better, Mrs. Clayton," I entreated; "I cannot see
him again, he is so repulsive; and, if you have a woman's heart in your
breast, never leave me alone with him, or with Mr. Bainrothe, when he
calls, for one moment - they inspire me equally with terror,
indescribable," and I covered my face to hide its burning blushes.

"Look up, Miss Monfort, and listen to me," said Mrs. Clayton, at last,
regarding me keenly, with her warped forefinger uplifted in her usual
admonitory fashion, but with an expression on her face of interest and
sympathy such as I had never witnessed there before. "A new light has
broken just now upon my understanding; I can't tell how or whence it
came, but here it is," pressing her hand to her brow; "I believe you
have been misrepresented to me - but that is neither here nor there. I
shall watch you closely and faithfully until we part - all the more that
I do not believe you any more crazy than I am; I half suspected this
before, but I know it now." She paused, then continued: "I should have
to tell you my life's secret if I were to explain to you why Mr.
Bainrothe's interests are so dear to me, so vital even, and I will not
conceal from you that I knew your guardeen's good name depends on your
confinement here until you come of age. After that it will only be
necessary for you to sign a few papers, and all will be straight
again - no harm or insult is designed. To these I would never have lent
myself in any way - ill as you think of me. And as long as we continue
together I will guard your good name as I would do that of my own dear
daughter - that is, if I had one. You shall receive no visitor alone."

She spoke with a feeling and dignity of which I had scarcely believed
her capable, shrewd and sensible as I knew her to be, and far above the
woman she called her mistress, in a certain _retenu_ of manner and
delicacy of deportment, usually inseparable from good-breeding.

I could not then guess how acceptable, to her and the person she was
chiefly interested in, were these signs of my aversion for Basil
Bainrothe, and what sure means they were of access to the only tender
spot in the obdurate heart of Rachel Clayton.

Certain it is that, from these expressions, I derived the first
consolation that had come to me in my immurement, and from that hour the
solemn farce of keeper and lunatic ceased to be played between us two.

From such freedom of communication on my jailer's part, I began to hope
for additional information, which never came. It was in vain that I
conjured her to tell me where my prison was situated, whether at the
edge of the city, or far away in the country, or to suffer me to have a
glimpse from a window of my vicinity. To all such entreaties she was
pitiless, and I was left to that vague and vain conjecture which so
wears the intellect.

In the absence of all possibility of escape, it became a morbid and
haunting wish with me to know my exact locality. That it could be no
great distance from the city of New York, if not within its limits, I
felt assured, from the expedition with which my transit from the ship
had been effected.

During the first three weeks of my confinement the deep silence that
prevailed about me had led me to adopt the opinion that I was the
occupant of a _maison de santé_. I had once driven past one on Staten
Island, where a friend of my father's - about whose condition he came to
inquire personally - had been immured for years. I did not alight with
him when he left the carriage to make these inquiries, but I perfectly
remembered the old gray stone building, with its ancient elms, and the
impression of gloom and awe it had left on my mind. But this idea was
presently dispelled.

I was awakened one morning, in the fourth week of my sojourn in
captivity, by the sound of chimes long familiar to my ear, the duplicate
of which I had not supposed to be in existence. At first I feared it was
some mirage of the ear, so to speak, instead of eye, that reflected back
that fairy melody, which had rung its accompaniment to my whole



Online LibraryCatherine A. WarfieldMiriam Monfort A Novel → online text (page 25 of 37)