James Fenimore Cooper.

Miles Wallingford Sequel to Afloat and Ashore online

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Lucy did not appear. The table was smoking and hissing; and Romeo
Clawbonny, who acted as the everyday house-servant, or footman, had
several times intimated that it might be well to commence operations, as a
cold breakfast was very cold comfort.

"Miles, my dear boy," observed Mr. Hardinge, after opening the door to
look for the absentee half a dozen times, "we will wait no longer. My
daughter, no doubt, intends to breakfast with Grace, to keep the poor dear
girl company; for it _is_ dull work to breakfast by oneself. You and I
miss Lucy sadly, at this very moment, though we have each other's company
to console us."

We had just taken our seats, when the door slowly opened, and Lucy entered
the room.

"Good morning, dearest father," said the sweet girl, passing an arm round
Mr. Hardinge's neck, with more than her usual tenderness of manner, and
imprinting a long kiss on his bald head. "Good morning, Miles," stretching
towards me a hand, but averting her face, as afraid it might reveal too
much, when exposed fully to my anxious and inquiring gaze. "Grace passed a
pretty quiet night, and is, I think, a little less disturbed this morning
than she was yesterday."

Neither of us answered or questioned the dear nurse. What a breakfast was
that, compared to so many hundreds in which I had shared at that very
table, and in that same room! Three of the accustomed faces were there, it
is true; all the appliances were familiar, some dating as far back as the
time of the first Miles; Romeo, now a grey-headed and wrinkled negro, was
in his usual place; but Chloe, who was accustomed to pass often between
her young mistress and a certain closet, at that meal, which never seemed
to have all we wanted arranged on the table at first, was absent, as was
that precious "young mistress" herself. "Gracious Providence!" I mentally
ejaculated, "is it thy will it should _ever_ be thus? Am I _never_ again
to see those dove-like eyes turned on me in sisterly affection from the
head of my table, as I have so often seen them, on hundreds and hundreds
of occasions?" Lucy's spirits had sometimes caused her to laugh merrily;
and her musical voice once used to mingle with Rupert's and my own more
manly and deeper notes, in something like audible mirth; not that Lucy was
ever boisterous or loud; but, in early girlhood, she had been gay and
animated, to a degree that often blended with the noisier clamour of us
boys. With Grace, this had never happened. She seldom spoke, except in
moments when the rest were still; and her laugh was rarely audible, though
so often heartfelt and joyous. It may seem strange to those who have never
suffered the pang of feeling that such a customary circle was broken up
forever; but, that morning, the first in which I keenly felt that my
sister was lost to me, I actually missed her graceful, eloquent, silence!

"Miles," said Lucy, as she rose from the table, tears trembling on her
eyelids as she spoke, "half an hour hence come to the family room. Grace
wishes to see you _there_ this morning, and I have not been able to deny
her request. She is weak, but thinks the visit will do her good. Do not
fail to be punctual, as waiting might distress her. Good morning, dearest
papa; when I want _you_, I will send for you."

Lucy left us with these ominous notices, and I felt the necessity of going
on the lawn for air. I walked my half-hour out, and returned to the house
in time to be punctual to the appointment. Chloe met me at the door, and
led the way in silence towards the family room. Her hand was no sooner
laid on the latch than Lucy appeared, beckoning me to enter. I found Grace
reclining on that small settee, or _causeuse_, on which we had held our
first interview, looking pallid and uneasy, but still looking lovely and
as ethereal as ever. She held out a hand affectionately, and then I saw
her glance towards Lucy, as if asking to be left with me alone. As for
myself, I could not speak. Taking my old place, I drew my sister's head on
my bosom, and sat holding it in silence for many painful minutes. In that
position I could conceal the tears which forced themselves from my eyes,
it exceeding all my powers to repress these evidences of human grief. As I
took my place, the figure of Lucy disappeared, and the door closed.

I never knew how long a time Grace and I continued in that tender
attitude. I was not in a state of mind to note such a fact, and have since
striven hard to forget most that occurred in that solemn interview. After
a lapse of so many years, however, I find memory painfully accurate on all
the leading circumstances, though it was impossible to recall a point of
which I took no heed at the moment. Such things only as made an impression
is it in my power to relate.

When Grace gently, and I might add faintly, raised herself from my bosom,
she turned on me eyes that were filled with a kind anxiety on my account
rather than on her own.

"Brother," she said, earnestly, "the will of God must be submitted to - I
am very, _very_ ill - broken in pieces - I grow weaker every hour. It is not
right to conceal such a truth from ourselves, or from each other."

I made no reply, although she evidently paused to give me an opportunity
to speak. I could not have uttered a syllable to have saved my life. The
pause was impressive, rather than long.

"I have sent for you, dearest Miles," my sister continued, "not that I
think it probable I shall be called away soon or suddenly - God will spare
me for a little while, I humbly trust, in order to temper the blow to
those I love; but he is about to call me to him, and we must all be
prepared for it; you, and dear, dear Lucy, and my beloved guardian, as
well as myself. I have not sent for you even to tell you this; for Lucy
gives me reason to believe you expect the separation; but I wish to speak
to you on a subject that is very near my heart, while I have strength and
fortitude to speak on it at all. Promise me, dearest, to be calm, and to
listen patiently."

"Your slightest wish will be a law to me, beloved, most precious sister; I
shall listen as if we were in our days of childish confidence and
happiness - though I fear those days are never to return!"

"Feel not thus, Miles, my noble-hearted, manly brother. Heaven will not
desert you, unless you desert your God; it does not desert me, but angels
beckon me to its bliss! Were it not for you and Lucy, and my dear, dear
guardian, the hour of my departure would be a moment of pure felicity. But
we will not talk of this now. You must prepare yourself, Miles, to hear me
patiently, and to be indulgent to my last wishes, even should they seem
unreasonable to your mind at first."

"I have told you, Grace, that a request of your's will be a law to me;
have no hesitation, therefore, in letting me know any, or all
your wishes."

"Let us, then, speak of worldly things; for the last time, I trust, my
brother. Sincerely do I hope that this will be the last occasion on which
I shall ever be called to allude to them. This duty discharged, all that
will remain to me on earth will be the love I bear my friends. This Heaven
itself will excuse, as I shall strive not to let it lessen that I bear
my God."

Grace paused, and I sat wondering what was to follow, though touched to
the heart by her beautiful resignation to a fate that to most so young
would seem hard to be borne.

"Miles, my brother," she continued, looking at me anxiously, "we have not
spoken much of your success in your last voyage, though I have understood
that you have materially increased your means."

"It has quite equalled my expectations; and, rich in my ship and ready
money, I am content, to say nothing of Clawbonny. Do what you will with
your own, therefore, my sister; not a wish of mine shall ever grudge a
dollar; I would rather not be enriched by your loss. Make your bequests
freely, and I shall look on each and all of them as so many memorials of
your affectionate heart and many virtues."

Grace's cheeks flushed, and I could see that she was extremely gratified,
though still tremblingly anxious.

"You doubtless remember that by our father's will, Miles, my property
becomes your's, if I die without children before I reach the age of
twenty-one; while your's would have been mine under the same
circumstances. As I am barely twenty, it is out of my power to make a
legal will."

"It is in your power to make one that shall be equally binding, Grace. I
will go this instant for pen, ink, and paper; and, as you dictate, will I
write a will that shall be even more binding than one that might come
within the rules of the law."

"Nay, brother, that is unnecessary; all I wish I have already said in a
letter addressed to yourself; and which, should you now approve of it,
will be found among my papers as a memorandum. But there should be no
misapprehension between you and me, dearest Miles. I do not wish you even
fully to consent to my wishes, now; take time to consider, and let your
judgment have as much influence on your decision as your own
excellent heart."

"I am as ready to decide at this moment as I shall be a year hence. It is
enough for me that you wish the thing done, to have it done, sister."

"Bless you - bless you - brother" - said Grace, affectionately pressing my
hand to her heart - "not so much that you consent to do as I wish, as for
the spirit and manner in which you comply. Still, as I ask no trifle, it
is proper that I release you from all pledges here given, and allow you
time for reflection. Then, it is also proper you should know the full
extent of what you promise."

"It is enough for me that it will be in my power to perform what you
desire; further than that I make no stipulation."

I could see that Grace was profoundly struck with this proof of my
attachment; but her own sense of right was too just and active to suffer
the matter to rest there.

"I must explain further," she added. "Mr. Hardinge has been a most
faithful steward; and, by means of economy, during my long minority, the
little cost that has attended my manner of living, and some fortunate
investments that have been made of interest-money, I find myself a good
deal richer than I had supposed. In relinquishing my property, Miles, you
will relinquish rather more than two-and-twenty thousand dollars; or quite
twelve hundred a year. There ought to be no misapprehensions on this
subject, between us; least of all at such a moment."

"I wish it were more, my sister, since it gives you pleasure to bestow it.
If it will render you any happier to perfect any of your plans, take ten
thousand of my own, and add to the sum which is now your's. I would
increase, rather than lessen your means of doing good."

"Miles - Miles" - said Grace, dreadfully agitated - "talk not thus - it almost
shakes my purpose! But no; listen now to my wishes, for I feel this will
be the last time I shall ever dare to speak on the subject. In the first
place, I wish you to purchase some appropriate ornament, of the value of
five hundred dollars, and present it to Lucy as a memorial of her friend.
Give also one thousand dollars in money to Mr. Hardinge, to be
distributed in charity. A letter to him on the subject, and one to Lucy,
will also be found among my papers. There will still remain enough to make
suitable presents to the slaves, and leave the sum of twenty thousand
dollars entire and untouched."

"And what shall I do with these twenty thousand dollars, sister?" I asked,
Grace hesitating to proceed.

"That sum, dearest Miles, I wish to go to Rupert. You know that he is
totally without fortune, with the habits of a man of estate. The little I
can leave him will not make him rich, but it may be the means of making
him happy and respectable. I trust Lucy will add to it, when she comes of
age, and the future will be happier for them all than the past."

My sister spoke quick, and was compelled to pause for breath. As for
myself, the reader can better imagine than I can describe my sensations,
which were of a character almost to overwhelm me. The circumstance that I
felt precluded from making any serious objections, added to the intensity
of my suffering, left me in a state of grief, regret, indignation, wonder,
pity and tenderness, that it is wholly out of my power to delineate. Here,
then, was the tenderness of the woman enduring to the last; caring for the
heartless wretch who had destroyed the very springs of life in her
physical being, while it crushed the moral like a worm beneath the foot;
yet bequeathing, with her dying breath, as it might be, all the worldly
goods in her possession, to administer to his selfishness and vanity!

"I know you must think this strange, brother;" resumed Grace, who
doubtless saw how utterly unable I was to reply; "but, I shall not die at
peace with myself without it. Unless he possess some marked assurance of
my forgiveness, my death will render Rupert miserable; with such a marked
assurance, he will be confident of possessing my pardon and my prayers.
Then, both he and Emily are pennyless, I fear, and their lives may be
rendered blanks for the want of the little money it is in my power to
bestow. At the proper time, Lucy, I feel confident, will add her part; and
you, who remain behind me, can all look on my grave, and bless its
humble tenant!"

"Angel!" I murmured - "this is too much! Can you suppose Rupert will
accept this money?"

Ill as I thought of Rupert Hardinge, I could not bring my mind to believe
he was so base as to receive money coming from such a source, and with
such a motive. Grace, however, viewed the matter differently; not that she
attached anything discreditable to Rupert's compliance, for her own
womanly tenderness, long and deeply rooted attachment, made it appear to
her eyes more as an act of compliance with her own last behest, than as
the act of degrading meanness it would unquestionably appear to be, to all
the rest of the world.

"How can he refuse this to me, coming to him, as the request will, from my
grave?" rejoined the lovely enthusiast. "He will owe it to me; he will owe
it to our former affection - for he once loved me, Miles; nay, he loved me
even more than you ever did, or could, dearest - much as I know you
love me."

"By heavens, Grace," I exclaimed, unable to control myself any longer,
"that is a fearful mistake. Rupert Hardinge is incapable of loving
anything but himself; he has never been worthy of occupying the most idle
moment of a heart true and faithful as your's."

These words escaped me under an impulse I found entirely impossible to
control. Scarcely were they uttered, ere I deeply regretted the
indiscretion. Grace looked at me imploringly, turned as pale as death, and
trembled all over, as if on the verge of dissolution. I took her in my
arms, I implored her pardon, I promised to command myself in future, and I
repeated the most solemn assurances of complying with her wishes to the
very letter. I am not certain I could have found it in my heart not to
have recalled my promise, but for the advantage my sister obtained over
me, by means of this act of weakness. There was something so exceedingly
revolting to me in the whole affair, that even Grace's holy weakness
failed to sanctify the act in my eyes; at least so far as Rupert was
concerned. I owe it to myself to add that not a selfish thought mingled
with my reluctance, which proceeded purely from the distaste I felt to
seeing Lucy's brother, and a man for whom I had once entertained a boyish
regard, making himself so thoroughly an object of contempt. As I
entertained serious doubts of even Rupert's sinking so low, I felt the
necessity of speaking to my sister on the subject of such a contingency.

"One might hesitate about accepting your money, after all, dearest
sister," I said; "and it is proper you give me directions what I am to do,
in the event of Rupert's declining the gift."

"I think that is little probable, Miles," answered Grace, who lived and
died under a species of hallucination on the subject of her early lover's
real character - "Rupert may not have been able to command his affections,
but he cannot cease to feel a sincere friendship for me; to remember our
ancient confidence and intimacy. He will receive the bequest, as you would
take one from dear Lucy," added my sister, a painful-looking smile
illuminating that angelic expression of countenance to which I have so
often alluded; "or, as that of a sister. _You_ would not refuse such a
thing to Lucy's dying request, and why should Rupert to mine?"

Poor Grace! Little did she see the immense difference there was in my
relation to Lucy and that which Rupert bore to her. I could not explain
this difference, however, but merely assented to her wishes, renewing, for
the fourth or fifth time, my pledges of performing with fidelity all she
asked at my hands. Grace then put into my hands an unsealed letter
addressed to Rupert, which she desired me to read when alone, and which I
was to have delivered with the legacy or donation of money.

"Let me rest once more on your bosom, Miles," said Grace, reclining her
head in my arms, quite exhausted under the reaction of the excitement she
had felt while urging her request. "I feel happier, at this moment, than I
have been for a long time; yet, my increasing weakness admonishes me it
cannot last long. Miles, darling, you must remember all our sainted mother
taught you in childhood, and you will not mourn over my loss. Could I
leave you united to one who understood and appreciated your worth, I
should die contented. But you will be left alone, poor Miles; for a time,
at least, you will mourn for me."

"Forever - long as life lasts, beloved Grace," I murmured, almost in her
ear.

Exhaustion kept my sister quiet for a quarter of an hour, though I felt
an occasional pressure of her hands, both of which held one of mine; and I
could hear words asking blessings and consolation for me, whispered, from
time to time, in heartfelt petitions to heaven. As she gained strength by
repose, my sister felt the desire to continue the discourse revive. I
begged her not to incur the risk of further fatigue but she answered,
smiling affectionately in my face -

"Rest! - There will be no permanent rest for me, until laid by the side of
my parents. Miles, do your thoughts ever recur to that picture of the
future that is so precious to the believer, and which leads us to hope, if
not absolutely to confide in it as a matter of faith, that we may
recognise each other in the next state of being, and that in a communion
still sweeter than any of this life, since it will be a communion free
from all sin, and governed by holiness?"

"We sailors give little heed to these matters, Grace; but I feel that, in
future, the idea you have just mentioned will be full of consolation
to me."

"Remember, my best-beloved brother, it is only the blessed that can enjoy
such a recognition - to the accursed it must add an additional weight to
the burthen of their woe."

"Felix trembled!" The thought that even this chance of again meeting my
sister, and of communing with her in the form in which I had ever seen and
loved her might be lost, came in aid of other good resolutions that the
state of the family had quickened in my heart. I thought, however, it
might be well not to let Grace lead the conversation to such subjects,
after all that had just passed, repose becoming necessary to her again. I
therefore proposed calling Lucy, in order that she might be carried to her
own room. I say carried; for, by a remark that fell from Chloe, I had
ascertained that this was the mode in which she had been brought to the
place of meeting. Grace acquiesced; but while we waited for Chloe to
answer the bell, she continued to converse.

"I have not exacted of you, Miles," my sister continued, "any promise to
keep my bequest a secret from the world; your own sense of delicacy would
do that; but, I will make it a condition that you do not speak of it to
either Mr. Hardinge or Lucy. They may possibly raise weak objections,
particularly the last, who has, and ever has had, some exaggerated
opinions about receiving money. Even in heydays of poverty, and poor as
she was, you know, notwithstanding our true love for each other, and close
intimacy, I never could induce Lucy to receive a cent. Nay, so scrupulous
has she been that the little presents which friends constantly give and
receive, she would decline, because she had not the means of offering them
in return."

I remembered the gold the dear girl had forced on me, when I first went to
sea, and could have kneeled at her feet and called her "blessed."

"And this did not make you love and respect Lucy the less, my sister? But
do not answer; so much conversing must distress you."

"Not at all, Miles. I speak without suffering, nor does the little talking
I do enfeeble me in the least. When I appear exhausted, it is from the
feelings which accompany our discourse. I talk much, very much, with dear
Lucy, who hears me with more patience than yourself, brother!"

I knew that this remark applied to Grace's wish to dwell on the unknown
future, and did not receive it as a reproach in any other sense. As she
seemed calm, however, I was willing to indulge her wish to converse with
me, so long as she dwelt on subjects that did not agitate her. Speaking of
her hopes of heaven had a contrary effect, and I made no further
opposition.

"Lucy's hesitation to be under the obligations you mention did not lessen
her in your esteem?" I repeated.

"You know it could not, Miles. Lucy is a dear, good girl; and the more
intimately one knows her, the more certain is one to esteem her. I have
every reason to bless and pray for Lucy; still, I desire you not to make
either her or her father acquainted with my bequest."

"Rupert would hardly conceal such a thing from so near and dear friends."

"Let Rupert judge of the propriety of that for himself. Kiss me, brother;
do not ask to see me again to-day, for I have much to arrange with Lucy;
to-morrow I shall expect a long visit. God bless you, my own, dear, - my
_only_ brother, and ever have you in his holy keeping!"

I left the room as Chloe entered; and, in threading the long passage that
led to the apartment which was appropriated to my own particular purposes,
as an office, cabinet, or study, I met Lucy near the door of the latter. I
could see she had been weeping, and she followed me into the room.

"What do you think of her, Miles?" the dear girl asked, uttering the words
in a tone so low and plaintive as to say all that she anticipated herself.

"We shall lose her, Lucy; yes, 'tis God's pleasure to call her to
himself."

Had worlds depended on the effort, I could not have got out another
syllable. The feelings which had been so long pent up in Grace's presence
broke out, and I am not ashamed to say that I wept and sobbed like
an infant.

How kind, how woman-like, how affectionate did Lucy show herself at that
bitter moment. She said but little, though I think I overheard her
murmuring "poor Miles!" - "poor, _dear_ Miles!" - "what a blow it must be
to a brother!" - "God will temper this loss to him!" and other similar
expressions. She took one of my hands and pressed it warmly between both
her own; held it there for two or three minutes; hovered round me, as the
mother keeps near its slumbering infant when illness renders rest
necessary; and seemed more like a spirit sympathizing with my grief than a
mere observer of its violence. In reflecting on what then passed months
afterwards, it appeared to me that Lucy had entirely forgotten herself,
her own causes of sorrow, her own feelings as respected Grace, in the
single wish to solace me. But this was ever her character; this was her
very nature; to live out of herself, as it might be, and in the existences
of those whom she esteemed or loved. During this scene, Lucy lost most of
the restraints which womanhood and more matured habits had placed on her
deportment; and she behaved towards me with the innocent familiarity that
marked our intercourse down to the time I sailed in the Crisis. It is
true, I was too dreadfully agitated at first to take heed of all that
passed; but, I well remember, that, before leaving me in obedience to a
summons from Grace, she laid her head affectionately on mine, and kissed
the curls with which nature had so profusely covered the last. I thought,
at the time, notwithstanding, that the salute would have been on the
forehead, or cheek, three years before, or previously to her acquaintance
with Drewett.

I was a long time in regaining entire self-command; but, when I did, I



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperMiles Wallingford Sequel to Afloat and Ashore → online text (page 8 of 38)