Mrs. Edward Leigh
HOW MY HEART WAS PETRIFIED. -LAWSUIT. -REVENGE.
Although my early life tended to encourage my flirting propensities it did not make me the real heartless coquette, I afterwards became. The flirtations of school life were harmless, for there was no real love between myself and the parties concerned. When I left school I was just seventeen. Young, gay, rich, happy and thoughtless, without a wish ungratified. I had been accustomed to admiration all my life, and now I really deserved it. I was rather stylish in my personal appearance, so every one said. Every advantage, that money could give, had been given me, and I do not flatter myself, when I say I improved my talents. I rode well, danced well, played and sang well, conversed well, and in truth everything I attempted I did well.
Among the first satellites that moved around my sphere, were two young gentlemen, both handsome, but very unlike in personal appearance and disposition. One was dark as a Spaniard, with eyes and hair as dark as night when the moon and stars have hid their beams under a canopy of cloud. He was very handsome and talented, yet I could not love the man, for I feared him. Still it amused me to lead him on, intending to tell him every time we met, that his love was vain; but I continued putting it off.
The other--God knows I loved him, if woman is capable of loving. He was fair, very fair, with dark eyes and light hair. His mouth was beautiful, but deceit lurked in each exquisite curve of his lips. An Adonis was not more perfect in form: and he knew it. He was young in years, yet old in sin. I now sometimes think that he, like Bulwer's Zanoni, had found the true secret of perpetual youth, and that he had lived for centuries, so well was he versed in the ways of the world, and in each phase of human nature. He often boasted of the many conquests he had made, and said that no woman he chose to captivate could escape loving him. I did not like this speech; but I loved him. He had certainly many rare traits of character. His generosity was proverbial; he was a warm friend and had the most perfect control over his very high temper. It was not long before we became engaged. He said that he loved me at first sight; and God knows that his love was more than returned. He called to see me each day, and every night escorted me to some place of amusement. He was very jealous, but I liked that. He was my sun during the day, and my moon at night. There was a cloud over all my happiness when he failed to come. He was young, ardent, fiery and passionate, and I,-I was a fool! The passionate devotion of my heart was lavished upon a worthless object. I knew nothing of his former conduct or character, as he had come to Macon but recently. Knowing how particular my father was about such things, I employed a friend to visit the town he was from, and enquire into his past history. Now, friends, bear with pity my sad trial, and paint to your own imaginations how you would feel in such a case.
Within two weeks of marriage, with a man that you loved with your whole heart and soul, a perfect man, as you thought, imagine how you would feel to hear that he had (Oh God! how can I relate truth as I heard it! but I must or you will never hear with charity my flirtations,) that he had been compelled to leave the town in which he lived, on account of his base seduction of a most beautiful, but poor girl, under solemn promise of marriage. He lived as a husband with her for a few months, and then deserted her, leaving her to die alone, in ignominy, and the most abject poverty. On her death-bed she divulged her secret to her brother, who traced the seducer to the city and wounded him in a duel, and was fatally shot himself. A seducer and a double murderer, the man I thought free from guile as an angel in heaven! It was enough to drive one mad, and I am sure I was crazed for years.
He came to see me that night! How my hand trembles! I can scarcely write to describe our meeting. I was sitting alone, for I had refused to receive visitors that night, when he entered the room.
'Ah! darling,' said he, kissing me. 'Alone I see. I am very glad too, for I wanted to see you with no one near.' How handsome he looked, with his flushed cheeks, red from his ride in the wintry wind. 'What's the matter with my bird to-night? her voice is as sweet as ever, but it is too sad for me.' 'Ella do let me urge you to appoint our wedding day a week sooner, for you are so pretty and sweet, you will tempt me to'-he did not finish the sentence, but I understood his meaning but too well. It was the first time he had ever acted in such a singular manner, and I saw he was excited highly by spirituous liquors.
'Indeed sir,' I answered, 'If I have heard the truth I am not the first woman who proved too sweet and pretty for you, and in whose presence you could not control your passions.'
'Who told you that Ella?' he exclaimed, starting from his seat! 'By all that is sacred if I find out, he shall not live an hour!'
'You shall never know,' said I. 'Two murders are quite enough to doom your blackened soul, Dudley Earle!'
How pale he looked, but not with penitence, it was anger only toward the person who had divulged his secret. He remained an hour trying to persuade me to revoke my decision, and then left me a heart-broken sad woman, without an object in life. And then and there I bent my knee, before the throne of God. (I know now it was blasphemy) but I was crazy then! and vowed to revenge myself upon the whole sex, for the misery one, I then supposed the type of the species, had wrought in my soul; and faithfully I kept that vow.
The Devil aids his own, and he surely helped me. Even unsought, men would lay their love at my feet, and their foibles, rendered harmless by my own self control, became my play things. Often, very often have I acted in such a way, that I knew would inflame an even unimpressable man, and then would send his love back ungratified, to corrode his very heart. Was that just or right? No indeed, it was not. It was dangerous to me, and outrageous to others. But dear reader in pity for my anguish, and for the long years of intense mental suffering, forgive me. Never! believe me, would I divulge this passage of my life to any one, did I not think that perhaps it may be a warning to the young, of both sexes.
Let the young gentlemen always think and know, that no matter how secret an evil act may be committed, it will always come to light, and at the very time you may wish it to be kept concealed. To the girls: No matter my dears, how handsome or fascinating a gentleman may appear, never allow your affections to become fixed on any human being, until you know that being worthy. Often times the veriest serpent wears a shining coat, most beautiful to look upon, but the poison of whose fangs will corrupt a young heart and mar its peace a whole life time.
The first person who placed himself in my way, after Dudley Earle left the city, for he left the day after our rupture, was my Spanish friend Fernando Sanchez. I felt no compunctions of conscience, for he too boasted of his conquest. I should have looked there, before I leaped, instead of rushing head-long into deep waters, for Sanchez was a man of unbounded energy, and would risk any or every thing to accomplish a much cherished purpose. I never promised to marry him, but he swore that I did, when I told him that I could not love him; and he immediately went to work to sue me for breach of promise. How frightened I was! Although I knew he had no letter, or any evidence that could prove that I had promised, for indeed I had not. I only talked love, not marriage. The lawyers all happened to be friends of mine, and he found it impossible to get any one to prosecute the suit. He brought one lawyer from another city, and sent him to see me. The man was either in love with me or very much frightened, for he declared to Mr. Sanchez on returning, he would have nothing to do with the matter, for a kingdom. (I have had a 'likation' for lawyers every since.) By this time the young gentlemen of Macon got wind of the affair, and let Mr. S. know, that his absence would be more agreeable than his company; and if he did not leave the city immediately, they would feel compelled to escort him out riding on a rail, in rather an unpleasant garment of tar and feathers. He left the city, but followed me to the places of summer resort, for some months and then gave up the pursuit as hopeless.
I then commenced a flirtation with a dear little Poet. Oh! the sonnets I received to my hair, eyes, nose and mouth. Paper was cheap in those days, and it was well that it was so; for it would ruin a man now. He was so soft, he very soon became sickening, and I had to confess, that I did not love him, to save my life, for I saw my health was failing from the repeated nauseants of his presence.
My next amusement of that kind I have until now, and ever will regret, for the man loved me fondly, truly and purely. He was one of Nature's noble men, and although poor, commanded my respect, so that I did not go so far with him, as I did with the wealthy fops, that fluttered around me. In looking over some old letters years afterwards, I found a note from Jesse Maynard, written to me while I was a school girl. It suggested to me the following lines, for I really loved him before my taste was perverted:
How oft fond woman puts her faith
In words too lightly spoken,
And fondly clings, in after years,
To worthless vows long broken.
I've seen the eye of age in tears,
Gazing on withered flowers,
The heart of age, o'ercharged with woe,
Thinking of long past hours.
E'en now I hold a simple note;
Ten years back is the date,
That note as if with magic power
Wide opens memory's gate.
Now once more in the bloom of youth,
Light-hearted, gay, I stand,
With every blessing, aye, e'en more
Than fancy could command.
'Dear Ella!' simple words yet true-
He loved me then, I know;
'Can time from memory e'er erase
That image in its flow?
'Yours fondly,'-thus the missive ends-
Its few words but contain
A wish, a prayer, that I would stay
'Till he came home again.
I close my eyes; again he clasps
Me yielding to his breast,
And says he cares for naught on earth,
While with my whole love blest.
Again his soft impassioned words
O'ercharge my soul with bliss;
Again my lips to his are prest
In one long lingering kiss.
The note falls from my open hand-
I am awake again;
Awake to feel, awake to know
My life is one great pain.
After the deception of Dudley Earle, I candidly confessed my fault to Jesse, and told him all; and that I was incapable of loving any one. How noble hearted he was!
'Ella', said he, 'you have done wrong in this matter, but I forgive you. I cannot blame you after all you have suffered; but let this be a warning to you. Others may not have the resources to fall back upon, after treatment of this kind, which I possess, and may be rendered unhappy for life. You do not love me now, then of course I do not wish you to marry me. I will remain single until you marry; for perhaps you may change your mind, and consent to make me happy. Should you marry, and should trouble ever touch you with its heavy hand, always think that in me you have a friend who would do anything upon earth for your comfort. And now farewell: and may the good Lord protect, guide and bless you Ella.' He pressed a kiss upon my forehead and left me alone, feeling degraded and humbled. He had not long to wait, for I married soon after that, but not before I wrote to him a letter begging for forgiveness. I told him my heart was breaking, but
A prayer for thy happiness
Upward it sends,
Craving but one sweet boon,
Let us be friends.
I have never felt a moment's remorse for any of my flirtations except that one above mentioned; and I have never forgiven myself for it. But I must tell you about a few more flirtations before I get married.
Among the great number of suitors I had at that time, there was one man, who was distinguished for his very fine personal appearance as well as for his intense ignorance. Like most of ignorant persons he was very vain, and was fond of discussing for hours his handsome features, and his high mental endowments. Opening wide his mouth, he would insert his finger, to better expose to view, as fine a set of teeth, as you wish to see, and would exclaim,
"Just look at my grinders, Miss Ella, just as sound as a roach, not a decayed tooth in my head. You had better take me! I can crack all your hickory nuts without the trouble of sending them down stairs!"
That was certainly a recommendation. He would continue:
"Do you see my hair? Look! If you can find a gray hair there I will give you twenty dollars, cash down. They all say I dye my moustache, but t'aint so! I vow it aint! You can ask my mother and she knows! Now, here Miss Ella is a foot as is a foot. True it is not small, but you must remember that I am not a small man;" drawing himself up and looking very tall and handsome. I often looked at the man and wondered what motive God had, when he made such a handsome casket, and put so little in it.
He often told me that his father had given him every opportunity of acquiring a good education, but that he knew enough by the time he was twelve years old, to get through the world, so he would not go to school any more. Henry Peyton had many excellent traits of character, but his ignorance, and vanity, over-balanced them all. I saw, too, that he would always remain exactly as he was then. He was good enough for himself, and therefore for every one else. At this time I was spending a month or two with an old Aunt, who lived in Savannah. She was quite a curiosity. She was then about sixty years old, yet, as lively, and sprightly, as if she was about sixteen. Really kind hearted, and noble, but always accustomed to have her own way, until she governed, for sake of peace, the whole family of nieces and nephews.
I was the only refractory lamb in the flock, and yet, I was her favorite. She was devoted to Henry Peyton, for his Mother's sake, (who was really a very kind good old lady,) and she was determined that I should marry him.
One afternoon I was lying quietly upon the sofa, in the parlor, for I had danced all the night before and expected to dance all that night, when Aunt Lucy stood before me.
'Ella', said she, 'Henry Peyton wants to marry you'.
'Well, what of that'? said I, turning lazily over. 'He is not the only one who has that unaccountable desire.'
'He loves you', said she.
'That's nothing new', I answered, 'so does James Lawrence, John Wilson, Harry Glen, Willie Middleton, and oh! a dozen of them;' counting on my fingers.
'But', exclaimed my Aunt, getting excited, 'I want you to marry him'.
'The mischief you do'! cried I. 'And I don't want to marry him, and I won't. There, you have my decision, for once and all; now please let me alone.'
'You contrary piece', said my Aunt, 'I will see if I can't make you mind me in one thing, at least, in your life, and you shall marry Henry Peyton. You shall! you shall! you shall!' accompanying each 'shall' with a real hard slap upon my cheek. She was very small, and I arose and took her in my arms, gave her a good shaking, and energetically seated her on the sofa.
'And now madam', said I, in a rage, 'allow me to inform you, that because you have ruled everybody about you so long, you need not think I will be governed by you, in such a matter as this. If you are so anxious to have Henry Peyton in the family, why just marry him yourself. And further, just to spite you, I will marry Walter King, a man I know you hate. Are you satisfied with the result of your interference? You can now go and tell Henry how well you succeeded in carrying out your and his plan of marriage by compulsion'.
I had met Walter King often, at places of amusement; and in truth he had visited me once or twice, but I considered him too wild and thoughtless to ever think of him, as a marrying man; and too much devoted to his own interests, to encumber himself with a wife, unless she was very rich. I had noticed that he had become more attentive to me of late, and had even gone so far as to ask me to go to church with him, and also, to take a buggy drive. Both invitations I declined. Judge then my surprise when he made me a formal offer of marriage. I do not well remember what I said, but I know he decided to wait, for some two or three months for his answer, which I then had no idea would be favorable. I was not happy, how could I be? and I sought to hide my grief by rushing headlong into the frivolities and gaieties of fashionable life. How hollow such a life is!
To the mere looker on who little thinks under the beautiful exterior, of a gaudily dressed butterfly, that a heart beats as true and noble as ever contained in the breast, of a dry humdrum matter of fact, home-body, who cares for nothing but the creature comforts, and neglects the 'feast of reason, and the flow of soul'; such life must be hollow, indeed! For sometimes I felt that I had a heart, and amidst my greatest frivolities, I loathed the vow, to be revenged on the whole sex, because one had wronged me. Yet still, in the main, I adhered to my purpose; and when I appeared in the gaieties of society, and most amiable and fascinating to the stronger sex, I was always the most intent on inflicting retaliatory pangs upon their presumptuous hearts. We sometimes gaze, at sunset, upon the beauteous cloud, tinged with silver lining, or tinted in the gorgeousness of golden splendors, and imagine it a mere passive thing of beauty, or at most, as a beneficent meteor, whose mission it will be to drop over the midnight earth, refreshing and fertilizing showers; but we must remember, that, what seems only the embodiment of the quiescent, and the beautiful, oftentimes contains within, the deadly elements of the storm, and wings its way over the darkened earth, hurling upon man, the forked lightnings, and the all-destroying blasts of the tornado.
I flirted until it became like the constant use of stimulants, necessary to keep me alive. For when I had no flirtation on hand, I felt torpid, and listless, while one drink from the invigorating cup, would make me keenly alive to every pleasure.
Johnnie Reid was such a dear little doll of a fellow, and so loving too! I wish he had been about three feet taller, and had a little more intellect. He was so pretty and sweet, (he always smelt of Lubin,) I often wondered, as I pushed back the curls from his fair child-like forehead, and looked, into his pure, true blue eyes, how I could have the heart to flirt with him. Dear little Johnnie, but then I knew he would soon get over his disappointment. How he cried when I told him I was going to get married; he said he could never forgive me; then I wept too, and kissed him, and told him he must seek a wife as good and noble as himself, not a reckless woman of the world like me; and-he took my advice. He has now a dear, sweet, loving, little wife, who, to this day, thanks me every time we meet, for not accepting her Johnnie, when he offered himself to me. Nothing will satisfy her, when we all three meet in private, until I kiss Johnnie's forehead, as I did the day I rejected him, and tell him again to go and marry some little goose that will suit him. Then she will clap her little hands, and say she would give worlds to be such a good actress as I am. She knows I am obliged to love her Johnnie, which fact I don't deny; but I always stand to it that I love Johnnie's wife and children better still.
Dr. Sam Smart was at this time a devoted admirer of mine, but he was so conceited I could not endure him. He prided himself upon his literary abilities, and was excessively proud of his command of choice language. I have among my relics of former days, two notes from him, which I will give to the world as specimens of that peculiar style:
I most sincerely regret that circumstances, over which I had no control, precluded the possibility of discharging the engagement I made to visit you at 10-1/2 o'clock this morning. I, however, hope that future demonstration elicited from the high appreciation I have for your many amiable qualities will, in a great measure, palliate my seeming remissness. With the hope of meeting you at the Ball tonight,
I remain profoundly yours,
I knew he wished to address me, and as I considered him too worthless to even flirt with, I gave him no opportunity of doing so. He was too conceited to be baffled easily, and soon I received the following note:
"Dear MISS ELLA:
Knowing you to be a lady of magnanimous soul, stupendous intellect, and unprecedented culture of your many endowments, I deem you worthy of the love of one of nature's noblemen, and therefore lay at your shrine, my heart, my soul, and my undivided and unbounded love and admiration. I do not plead for the success of my suit, for I know your response can be naught but favorable. Let me hear from you immediately, and make me the happiest man in existence.
Yours for eternity,
DR. S. SMART."
My answer was short, sweet, and to the point:
"Miss Ella respectfully declines the 'heart, soul and undivided love and admiration' of Dr. Smart, and does not wish to receive any answer to this communication.'
The Doctor has been frequently heard to declare, that although I have a magnanimous soul and stupendous intellect, I am decidedly devoid of a discriminating judgment, and that essential article, good taste. He, however, bows politely when we chance to meet, while his poor wife rues the day she became really his for 'eternity.'
Harry Walker, I liked almost well enough to love, but my perverseness ruined all, for revenge still rankled in my soul, and I used my weapon indiscriminately. He was then young in years and old in nobleness. Let me copy a note of his, one that he wrote eleven years ago. I am sure he will not care, for he has no need to be ashamed of it. He had promised to lend me something to read, and with the books came the following note; notice the difference between his note and the Doctor's:
According to my promise, and your request, I send the 'Old Homestead', and 'Rose Clark'. I have only read a few pages of 'Rose Clark', and was not much pleased with it, but send the book for the reason that 'Ella' expressed a desire to read it, because written by a standard author. I will not send 'Alone' with these, but will bring it myself, (so as to have an excuse to come and see you.) If it will be convenient to you, I will call on Thursday afternoon, with my friend Mr. Thomas George. I think that you will be pleased with him. Ella give me your eye, won't you? Good 'bye. God bless you is the prayer of, HARRY.'
He came on Thursday, with his friend, who was, indeed, a perfect gentleman. As Mr. George wished to make another call, he left Harry to entertain me until his return. Very unexpectedly Harry declared his love and begged for an immediate union.
'Ella', said he, 'you have often promised me your eye, which is just as good as saying that you would give me your own darling self. Now keep your promise, and say you will be mine forever.' Harry was with me the afternoon the business of Dudley Earle was told to me, and although he knew not the cause of my intense anguish, he remembered well the time; and after Dudley left the city Harry had always thought that my sufferings were caused on his account. I had only to refer to that day, and to tell Harry, that I liked him too well to marry him; for my future course in life would make a man, with his disposition, intensely miserable.
'You are right, Ella', said he, 'and while you have such feelings, I would not wish to make you my wife. But should you become satisfied with conquest, may I not hope to win that dear eye of yours?'
'No', I answered, and he sadly bade me good bye. I have met him often since then, but he never refers to the occurrences of that day, and always treats me as a highly valued friend.