S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Hephzibah Guinness; Thee and you; and A draft on the bank of Spain online

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Copyright, 1880, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT & Co.

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ON the fifteenth day of October, in the year 1 807,
a young man about the age of twenty walked slowly
down Front Street in the quiet city of Philadelphia.
The place was strange to him, and with the careless
curiosity of youth he glanced about and enjoyed alike
the freshness of the evening hour and the novelty of
the scene.

To the lad for he was hardly more the air was
delicious, because only the day before he had first set
foot on shore after a wearisome ocean-voyage. All
the afternoon a torrent of rain had fallen, but as he
paused and looked westward at the corner of Cedar
Street, the lessening rain, of which he had taken
little heed, ceased of a sudden, and below the dun
masses of swiftly-changing clouds the western sky
became all aglow with yellow light, which set a rain
bow over the broad Delaware and touched with gold
the large drops of the ceasing shower.

The young man stood a moment gazing at the
changeful sky, and then with a pleasant sense of



sober contrast let his eyes wander over the broken
roof-lines and broad gables of Front Street, noting
how sombre the wetted brick houses became, and
how black the shingled roofs with their patches of
tufted green moss and smoother lichen. Then as he
looked he saw, a few paces down the street, two
superb buttonwoods from which the leaves were flit
ting fast, and his quick eye caught the mottled love
liness of their white and gray and green boles.
Drawn by the unusual tints of these stately trunks,
he turned southward, and walking towards them,
stopped abruptly before the quaint house above which
they spread their broad and gnarled branches.

The dwelling, of red and black-glazed bricks, set
corner to corner, was what we still call a double house,
having two windows on either side of a door, over
which projected a peaked pent-house nearly hidden
by scarlet masses of Virginia creeper, which also
clung about the windows and the roof, and almost
hid the chimneys. The house stood back from the
street, and in front of it were two square grass-plots
set round with low box borders. A paling fence,
freshly whitewashed, bounded the little garden, and
all about the house and its surroundings was an air
of tranquil, easy comfort and well-bred dignity.

Along the whole line of Front Street which was
then the fashionable place of residence the house-
fronts were broken by white doorways with Doric
pillars of wood, such as you may see to-day in cer
tain city streets as you turn aside from the busy Strand
in London. There were also many low Dutch stoops
or porches, some roofed over and some uncovered,


but few mansions as large and important as the house
we have described.

As the rain ceased old men with their long pipes
came out on the porches, and women s heads peeped
from open windows to exchange bits of gossip, while
up and down the pavements, as if this evening chat
were an every-day thing, men of all classes wandered
to take the air so soon as the fierce afternoon storm
had spent its force.

As the young stranger moved along among sparse
groups of gentlemen and others, he was struck with
the variety of costume. The middle-aged and old ad
hered to the knee-breeches and buckles, the younger
wore pantaloons of tight-fitting stocking-net, with
shoes and silk stockings, or sometimes high boots
with polished tops adorned with silk tassels. It was
a pretty, picturesque street-scene, with its variety of
puce-colored or dark velvet coats and ample cravats
under scroll-brimmed beaver hats.

The sailor of 1807 dressed like the sailor of to-day,
and the lad s figure would have seemed no more
strange now than it did then. But a certain pride of
carriage, broad shoulders set off by a loose jacket,
and clothes tight on narrow hips, drew appreciative
looks as he passed ; and the eye which wandered
upward must have dwelt pleased, I fancy, on the
brown, handsome face, with its strong lines of fore
head and a mouth of great sweetness above a some
what over-large chin.

As the young man drew near to the buttonwoods
a notable-looking person came with slow and thought-
laden steps from the south. This gentleman was a


man of six feet two or three inches, and of so large
and manly a build that his great height was not ob
servable. His face was largely modelled like his
figure, and apart from his dress he looked better
fitted to have ridden at the head of a regiment than
to have dwelt amidst the quietness of early Phil
adelphia. The younger man saw, with the eye of
one wont to take note of men s thews and sinews,
the gigantic grace of the figure before him, and his
curious glances slipped from the low, scroll-brimmed
gray beaver hat to the straight-cut coat with its cloth
buttons, and at last rested with approval on the plain
shoes, devoid of buckle, and the ample gray calves
above them.

As the drab giant turned to enter the gate of the
house the young man followed him with his gaze,
and a gleam of pleasure crossed his face as another
of the persons in our little drama came into view.
For as he looked the upper half of the house-door,
on which was a heavy brass knocker, opened, and
a woman of about thirty-five years, leaning on the
upper edge of the lower .half of the door, became
suddenly aware of the tall Quaker coming up* the
walk. Resting her arms on the ledge, she looked
out over the little space, and called aloud, quite
briskly, " Marguerite ! Marguerite !" Instantly from
between the house and the garden-wall to the south
of it came, as at the call of the prompter, yet another
of our actors ; and it was for her the young sailor
stood still, like a dog on point.

The girl he saw was possibly sixteen years old,
and was dressed in the plainest of Friends attire, but


as young people of that sect were rarely clad in those
days, in a simple but costly gray silk gown, with the
traditional folds of fine muslin about the throat, a
plain silk kerchief pinned back on the shoulders, and
a transparent cap closely drawn about the face. Un
der this cap was wicked splendor of hair, which might
have been red, and had vicious ways of curling out
here and there from the bondage of the cap, as if to
see what the profane world was like. Within the
sober boundaries of her Quaker head-gear was a face
which prophetic nature meant should be of a stately
beauty in years to come, but which just now was
simply gracious with changing color and the tender
loveliness which looks out on the world from the
threshold of maturity.

At this moment a woman of middle age, in the
most severe and accurate of Quaker dress, crossed
the street, and catching the little garden-gate as it
swung to behind the man, went in just after him.
The resolute shelter of the Friends bonnet hid the
woman s face from all save those towards whom she
turned it, or the young sailor might have seen it
lower and grow hard ; for as she went along the path
of red gravel the young girl danced merrily up to
the door at the call of the lady who stood within it.
In her bosom the child had set a bunch of late moss
roses, and over her cap and across her breast and
around her waist had twined a string of the dark-red
berries from which spring the scant calices of the
sweetbrier and wild rose.

The woman in the doorway was fashionably clad
in a short-waisted dark velvet dress, with tight-fitting


sleeves ending at the upper forearm in a fall of rich
lace. She wore her abundant black hair coiled on the
back of her head, with little half curls on the fore
head. The face below them was dark, sombre, and
handsome, with an expression of sadness which rarely
failed to impress painfully those who saw her for the
first time. She smiled gravely and quietly as she
saw the growing look of annoyance on the face of
the Quakeress and the half-awed, half-amused ex
pression on that of her young niece as she too caught
a glance of reprobation.

" Good-evening, Mr. Guinness," she said. Most
women of her class, who had been Friends, would
have called the new-comer by his first name, but this
woman, who had been bred a Quaker, but had early
left their ranks for those of the Episcopal Church,
set her face somewhat against Quaker manners, and
in quitting their Society had totally left behind her
all their ways and usages.

A sense of joy lit up the large features of the
Friend as he answered, " Thou art well, I trust ? and
were I thee I would have my picture made as thou
art now, in the frame of the doorway, with the door
at the end of the entry open behind thee to make a
square of gold out of the western sky. It was art
fully devised, Elizabeth. As a Friend I am shocked
at thee."

At this playful speech during which he had taken
her hand in greeting Miss Howard s face took a
half-amused, half-annoyed expression, which Arthur
Guinness quickly comprehended as he heard a short,
cough behind him, and dropping Elizabeth s hand



turned to see his sister Hephzibah, who was regard
ing with set, stern visage the scared child beside them.

Caught in the brilliant autumn jewelries she had
gathered from the garden-wall, the girl, who knew
well the hard face now turned upon her, at first
caught up her treasures and was moved to fly, but
on a sudden checked herself, and pausing drew up
her pretty figure with a certain pride, and faced the
enemy with a look half determined, half amused.

The stately aunt in the doorway fluttered her fan
to and fro, and said, smiling, " Good-evening, Heph
zibah. What is it ails you ?"

"Nothing ails me," replied the Quakeress: "the
ailment is here. It is the disease of the world s van
ities in this child;" and turning to the girl she went
on : "I had hoped that thou hadst learned to talk
less and to laugh less ; and, knowing well thy father s
wishes, thou wouldst do better to avoid such gew
gaws as these corals, which I suppose my friend
Elizabeth hath unwisely tempted thee with."

The girl made a stern effort to check her mirth at
her guardian s mistake, but Nature was too much
mistress of this blithe playmate of hers, who sud
denly broke into a riot of laughter, saying between
her bursts of mirth, " Oh, but thou wilt pardon me,

and thou knowest I never can help it Oh, thou

knowest ! and oh dear !" and so saying fled in despair
to hide her irreverent mirth.

The Quakeress s face grew darker as she turned to
Elizabeth., "Are these thy lessons?" she said.

" Good gracious !" said Miss Howard. " How ut
terly absurd ! How could you make so droll a mis-


take? Those were not corals of the sea, but the
jewels of our garden."

" It little matters," replied Hephzibah. " Thou art
of our people no longer, and Friends ways are not
thy ways, and thou couldst not help but hurt us, even
if thou wouldst not."

" And most surely I would not, as you ought to
know by this time. Friends ways are not my ways ;
and yet I have obeyed my good brother as to this
child most straitly, even when yes, even when I
have thought it wrong to make so uncheerful a life
for her, knowing well oh, my God ! how sad and
lonely it is to be through all the years to come."
She said these words as she stood, still holding the
open door and staring past the woman she addressed,
as if she saw the long vista of time and the dark
procession of those years of gloom.

Arthur looked wistfully into her eyes as he passed
her and went into the house ; and his sister, with a
look of annoyance, said sharply, " I have other
work to do ;" and turning left them.

No word of all this came to the ears of the young
sailor, but what he saw was as it were a pantomime.
The girl with her rebel laughter ; the stately Eliza
beth Howard, whose air and dress and bearing
brought some unbidden moisture to his eyes ; the
Quakeress; the stern, half-laughing giant in drab,
all helped to make up for him a little drama within
the white palings.

" Comnte c est drble!" he murmured. " Qu elle
est belle la Marguerite /" and so saying turned and
went lazily southward down Front Street, glancing


around as he went as if looking for some one whose
coming he expected. Musing over the chances
which had left him landless, homeless, and money
less, the young Frenchman strode along gayly, still
keeping a lookout for his friend. As he passed
Christian Street and the houses grew scarce, he saw
coming towards him the person whom he sought.
The new-comer was a man of middle age, dressed
somewhat carefully in rather worn black clothes
with patched black silk stockings, and low shoes
with silver buckles. The style of costume, espe
cially the rounded low beaver hat with the rim
scrolled upwards in triple rolls, marked the owner
for an emigrant abbe, a figure and character which
had become familiar enough in Philadelphia, where
the French Revolution had stranded numberless un
happy waifs of all classes.

The abbe was a pleasant-looking man of rather
delicate features and build, but somewhat ruddy for
so slight a person. A certain erectness of carriage
was possibly the inheritance by middle life of a youth
spent in camps, and around the mouth some traitor
lines bespoke love of ease and good living, and gave
reason to guess why he had found it pleasant to
abandon his regiment for the charming convent
which looked downward over Divonne upon the
distant Lake of Geneva, and across miles of walnut-
groves and tangled vineyards which clothe the slopes
of the purple Jura.

" Good-evening," said the younger man : "you are
the welcome."

The abbe laughed. " If you will speak English,"


he said, in accents which but slightly betrayed his
birth, as indeed they did rarely save in moments of
excitement " if you will speak English, say, You
are welcome. "

" Ah, but it is that I find it difficult," returned the
sailor ; " and how strange is all the land we have

" All lands seem strange to the young," said the
abbe, " but to me none are strange ; and all are much
the same, because no climate disagrees with all wines
or with cards, and at forty one is at least a little
philosoplie. It seems a tranquil town, and what they
call comfortable."

" At the least," answered the other, " we shall find
here a safe home, and, as I trust, something to keep
to us the morsel of bread, until better times arrive
to our dear France. I have given my letters, and I
have hope to get me a place in the bureau of this
Monsieur Guinness. It will seem strange at first."

" Not less than to me to teach these young misses
to talk the tongue of France," said the abbe.

" I have seen one this evening," returned the sailor,
" which I should find pleasing to teach."

" Ah, you find them pretty ?" said the abbe. " Bet
ter, cher baron, to forget the beau sexe : we are not of
Versailles to-day."

" You should remember, in turn," answered his
nephew, " that I am here only M. de Vismes ; we are
barons no longer."

"You have reason, Henri," said the elder man.
" It is like those little comedies we used to play at
the Trianon. And, ma foil here I saw but yesterday


M. le Comte de St. Pierre teaching to dance, as I saw

him once in that charming little play How one s

memory fails ! What was it, Henri ? But no mat
ter ; all life is to act. Ah, I think that has been said
before. How stupid to say what already has been
said ! But alas for our grandchildren ! it will be for
them impossible to say something new."

" What difference ?" laughed the younger man.
" There are things which to say and to hear shall be
pleasant always ;" and the lad kept silence, thinking
of the little nothings his mother had said to him, a
child, when, hand in hand, they wandered beside the
braided streamlets of Divonne.

Meanwhile the abbe chatted of camp and court,
until at last, as they strolled along, lonely men, past
the open windows and crowded steps, for the even
ing was warm, the younger exclaimed, " Here, some
place, I ought to find the house of Monsieur Guin
ness, which I was to see to-night. Is it already too
soon ?"

" Ah, not, I think ; but we may wait yet a little,
and return again."

"And this is it," said the younger, pausing.

The house was a plain brick dwelling, with the
usual wooden Doric pillars, painted white.

Marking the place, the two Frenchmen strolled
away up Front Street, to return somewhat later in
the evening. They fell into silence as they walked,
and the elder man amused himself with a vague kind
of wonder at the caractere serieux and tout a fait
Anglais of his nephew, little dreaming that the young
man was in like fashion marvelling that through


camp and court and cloister, and sad prisons and in
awful nearness of death on the scaffold, his uncle
should have kept his gay, careless, sceptical nature,
his capacity to find some trivial pleasure in all things.
He could not understand how a man who had been
so close to death in many shapes should yet have
brought away with him no shadow of its sombre
fellowship, and should have learned only to disbe
lieve and to doubt. He himself, beneath the natural
childlike joyousness of his race which made hard
ships light, concealed for use in darker hours a firm
will and a sober steadiness of moral balance, which
perhaps came to him from his English mother, and
dowered him with a manhood planned for upright,
honorable pursuit of noble purposes, a sweet, grave,
earnest nature, with the even sunny temper of a
sunny day.


INTO the parlor of the house they had just passed
came a few minutes later a tall, gaunt, angular
woman, whose stiff and bony outlines were made
mercilessly evident by a closely-fitting drab dress
with tight plain sleeves and the studiously simple
muslin worn only by rigid Friends. Her face was
colorless like her dress ; her hair, almost a perfect
white, was worn flat under her cap; her features
were large and not lacking in a certain nobleness of
outline, but strangely wanting in any expression save


that of severe and steady self-control. The room
was square, and plainly panelled in white-painted
pine; the furniture throughout of rigid, upright ma
hogany, with black hair-cloth seats to the chairs.
On a claw-toed table double silver candelabra with
wax candles would have but dimly lighted the room
had it not been for the ruddy glow of a hickory-
wood fire which flashed across large, brightly-pol
ished andirons and a brass fender cut into delicate
open-work. The walls were white; the floor was
without carpet, and sanded in curious figures.

Miss Hephzibah Guinness paused as she entered
the room and looked critically about her. Then she
snuffed the candles and rang a small silver bell
which stood on the table. Presently appeared a
little black maid, clad much like her mistress, but
in rather less accurate fashion. Mistress Hephzibah
pointed sternly to a corner of the room where an
active spider had spread his net.

The little maid examined it curiously : " Done
made it sence dis mornin ."

"And this also?" said the lady, indicating a place
on the floor where the carefully-made figures traced
by sifting the sand out of a colander were incom
plete. " Thou shouldst have been as careful as the
spider. Consider his work, how neat, Dorcas."

" Couldn t consider dat, missus, ef I had a-sp iled
him wid de brush."

The face of the mistress showed no signs of
amusement at this ready retort. " Brush away
the web," she said, " and keep thy thoughts to thy

b 2*


The little maid bestirred herself briskly under the
grave eye of her mistress, and presently the knocker
was heard.

" Thy master is out," said Hephzibah, " but I will
see any one who may call."

In a moment or two the maid came back. "Two
gentlemen to see the master," said the girl.

" And thou hast left them to stand in the entry !
Bid them come in at once."

A moment later the Abbe de Vismes and his
nephew entered the room. The younger man cast a
glance of amused curiosity at the apartment and at
its sombre occupant, who advanced to meet them.
The abbe bowed profoundly, without showing a trace
of the amazement he felt at this novel interior and
the tall and serious figure before him. " Allow me,"
he said, "to present myself: I am the Abbe de
Vismes, and this is my nephew, Monsieur de Vismes.
We have an appointment with Monsieur Guinness.
Have I the great pleasure to see his wife ?"

" I am his sister," said Hephzibah, shortly. As he
named himself a shudder passed over her, and she
steadied herself by seizing the back of a chair as
she thought, " Alas ! is the bitter bread coming back
on the waters ?" Then she recovered her control
with an effort, and added, aloud, " My brother is not
married. Take seats, friends."

"Ah," exclaimed the baron to himself, " what a
droll country ! Elle le tutoie. It must be a fashion
of Quakre."

" I should well have known you for the sister,"
said the abbe : " the likeness is plain to see ;" and this


was true. He had seen the brother, and was struck
now with the resemblance of features and the unlike-
tless of expression.

" It hath been spoken of by many," she said, re
plying to his remark. " My brother will be in by
and by. You must be, I think, of the unhappy ones
who have been cast on our shores by the sad warfare
in France ?"

" We are indeed unfortunate emigres," returned
the abbe, " who have brought letters from friends of
your brother."

" From France ?" she exclaimed, hastily.

" No ; ah, no," he answered ; " from England."

" And," she said, with a sense of relief, " and
and you do not know any one here ?"

" We have that ill-fortune," he returned, " but hope
soon to make friends. As yet it is all most strange
to us, and as poverty is a dear tailor, I might ask
that we be excused to present ourselves in a dress so
unfit. My nephew came a sailor, and the dress he
has not yet found time to alter."

The woman s changeless face turned toward the j
lad and met his ready smile, and she had in her j
heart a new pang, because she bethought her, " Had \
I been a wife and mother, the son I might have had
would have been like this lad smiling at me to-day."
But the answer she made was like many answers,
the thought least near to her heart: " The young
man s apparel is well for his way of life, and hath
the value of fitness. But perhaps thou dost not
know that we of the Society of Friends observe a
certain plainness of dress ourselves, and are for this


reason but little apt to criticise the dress which is
plain because of wear or poverty ?"

" Without doubt, then," laughed the abbe, glanc
ing down at his shining breeches and well-darned
hose, " I should pass well the trial. They are all
grown to a pleasant likeness of tint by reason that
they have shared like trials of sun and rain,
and, mon Dieu ! they are as well worn as my con

Hephzibah turned upon him with a real sense of
shock, and as one wont in meeting to obey the im
pulse of speech when it grew strong, she said, " I
understand not thy language, indeed, almost none
of it, but yet enough to know thou hast spoken as
lightly of the great Maker as unwisely of the friend
we call conscience. Do I rightly suppose thee to be
a minister among thy people ?"

The lad ceased smiling as he saw her graver face,
and the abbe, profoundly puzzled at the sermon his
slight text had brought out, and yet seeing he had
made a false step, said, " Alas ! I have been so long
away from my flock that I am forgetting the simple
tongue of the shepherd."

The woman did not see the amused twinkle in the
eye of this gay shepherd of the joyous Trianon,
and missed too the sudden glance of amazement in
the face of the nephew. She was engaged, as always,
in an abrupt, suspicious study of her own motives in
speaking, and would have wished to be silent a while.
But there was need to speak, and therefore she said,
" I am an unfit vessel for the bearing of reproach to
another, but thy words startled me, and the thought


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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellHephzibah Guinness; Thee and you; and A draft on the bank of Spain → online text (page 1 of 12)