Mrs. Edward Leigh
EDWARD IN RICHMOND AUNT TABITHA'S FLIRTATION
Edward is now in Richmond, and has been there for a week past. I have been so low spirited, that I could not write a word of my confessions. I am really afraid he is in love with Miss Dean. In his first letter he mentions that she was in Richmond, as Dr. Dean, her father, is now a member of the Confederate Congress; nothing more.
What a pang shot through my very soul! I sent for Aunt Tabitha. Dear Aunt, what a comforter she is.
Ella,' said she, with her old odd smile, and the toss of the wig, Ella you are a goose. The truth is, you have been such a grand flirt in your day, you are afraid to trust Edward. Mark my words: he is only going to finish teaching Miss Dean the lesson we commenced.'
I know Aunt,' said I, sobbing bitterly, that Edward is all that is good and noble, still, while he is teaching Miss Dean one lesson, may he not re-learn the one he had almost forgotten?'
Well dear', she replied, looking rather sober, I see no other plan. I must go to Richmond to keep him straight.'
Why Aunt, how ridiculous! The idea of your going to Richmond!' Not more ridiculous than your crying yourself to death, because your husband writes ten words about an old flame he chanced to meet. But oh, there comes Tom, with a letter from Edward. Let us see what he says this time.'
Oh horrors! no wonder I had a presentiment of evil. He says Miss Dean was looking her very best; and enquired very earnestly after his wife and children. He says he told her his wife's health was failing fast, and that she was beginning to look quite old. Just like him! I wonder if he really means it.
Ella now' so he wrote, don't be angry, for I want to tell you a secret. Miss Bella has a most beautiful little private parlor, into which she allowed me, as a most particular friend, to be admitted. It was just a dreaming distance from the music of the dancing rooms. Heated by some unseen means, the temperature was as soft and delicious as Indian Summer, while from the richly laden vases the breath of the rare exotics perfumed the air. Miss Bella threw herself languidly into one of the sofa chairs, and motioned to me to sit on the cushion at her feet; and now comes the worst. The atmosphere, the breath of the flowers, her magnificent beauty and splendid dress; and then Ella, one of her large, white and splendidly formed hands, was resting gently upon my head, while her fingers worked restlessly among my curls. Now own, my wife, was it not enough to inflame the fancy of a much sterner man than myself? I could not help it Ella. I covered her hands with kisses; pressed her yielding form to mine, and begged her to fly with me. Ah Edward', she sighed, would that I could do so honorably! Wait patiently, until your old wife dies, and then I will be yours.' The word wife re-called me to myself, and I thought what a wretch I have been, to even for a moment prove untrue to such a wife as mine. I told Miss Bella, that we must return to the drawing room; but promised to meet her day after tomorrow by the church, which stands on the site of the old Richmond Theatre, destroyed by fire in 1811. In my next I will tell you about our meeting.'
Ella,' said Aunt Tabitha, after the children were asleep, and we had settled
ourselves down for a nice quiet talk. I had placed my desk by my side,
intending to improve each moment and write the occurrences of the afternoon,
while Aunt nodded.
Well, Aunt Tabitha,' said I, Edward was noble enough to make a full, free, and voluntary confession of something I would never have heard, unless he had been willing to tell me. And I am sure you would not have me deficient in generosity, would you?'
No dear, you are right, forgive him now, write the letter to-night, or it may reach him too late, as a letter I wrote once did.'
I saw Aunt's eyes were filled with tears, and her voice slightly trembled.
Dear Aunt, please tell me about it', pleaded I, in my most persuasive tones.
Well dear, write your letter, while I make myself more comfortable, and then I will tell you my flirtation.'
Aunt Tabitha a flirt'! Who ever thought of such a thing? I must hurry and write my letter.
My letter is finished and sealed. Aunt Tabitha looks decidedly comfortable, but oh so quaint! You must have her portrait before I can go on with my story. Tall, spare, and commanding, but rather bent. She is sitting in Edward's large chair, with her famous flannel wrapper thrown around her. Edward's slippers are on her feet, and just fit them. She has lain her wig one side, while in its place, on her head, is a large wool cap. Her mouth is minus teeth, and her nose and chin nearly approximate. She has in her hand, her gold mounted spectacles, and her large bright eye is the only remaining trace of her once great beauty. The room must smoke, for Aunt Tabitha has wiped her eyes more than once. She draws from her bosom a pocket book, and takes from it an old discolored letter. She hands it to me. On the outside, are the words, Returned unopened. Capt. Lewis Forsyth died from the effects of a wound received in last battle, the day before this letter reached him. He, however, expected it, and gave me your address. In a few days I will send the particulars of his death, and also his last messages to you.
Lewis Forsyth and I, became engaged while we were both children, with the consent of the parents of each. Long engagements were not unusual then; for when the mind of a girl was once made up, she almost always kept it. So we agreed to wait eight years. Six years of the eight flew swiftly by, for we were together almost all the time. Lewis improved in looks and actions, and from an awkward, rather rough looking boy, he became a noble, elegant man. He had traveled much for the firm, and his manners were polished by his constant intercourse with the world. How proud I was of my handsome lover!
Ella have you ever noticed in my room, over the mantel piece, that portrait of a young girl?'
Yes Aunt, often, it is a fancy sketch is it not? It is beautiful.'
No Ella, that was painted for Aunt Tabitha in the year of which she is now speaking. Can you see any resemblance between the fair young girl, and the faded old maid? And yet they said it was a perfect likeness.'
The picture Aunt Tabitha mentioned, was exquisitely beautiful. Tall, but perfectly moulded, while the face was enchanting. Fair as a lily, with the rose tint on cheeks, lips and chin; with a smile that sent countless dimples, playing hide and seek, in the plump surface. Sunny curls of short golden hair danced in the sunlight, while the eyes were bright, black, and laughing: Aunt Tabitha was beautiful. She sighed, but continued her story.
About this time a new family came to reside in our village from a neighboring state. The family of a wealthy man, named John Hughes. The family consisted of the father, mother, and four children. Two grown sons, as handsome, manly youths as you could wish to see; and two beautiful daughters of sixteen and eighteen years of age. Mollie Hughes, the youngest, was a dear little wild thing, very pretty, and full of mischief. Sarah how can I describe her? Tall, stately, and handsome; queen-like in her regal loveliness, and statuesque beauty. You think Bella Dean handsome, Ella, you should have seen Sarah Hughes. They were alike, very much alike; and twice while Bella was in your house, the question trembled on my lips, was Sarah Hughes your mother? But my voice failed; I could not utter her name, for its memory is fraught with a life long misery.
The Hughes family proved themselves kind, sociable neighbors, and soon gained the friendship of all around them. As my father was one of the oldest, and first citizens of the place, the families became very intimate. Young people in country villages, were formerly much more friendly, without formality, than they are now; and the Hughes girls were accustomed to send their brothers for me each day, to join them in their walks.
Lewis Forsyth would sometimes accompany us, and I noticed that he would always manage to walk with Sarah.
I thought his heart was mine, and I cared not, for outward show of affection. Time passed on; and still nothing occurred to awaken my suspicions. Although a friend kindly told me, Lewis visited Miss Hughes quite as often as he did me.
One beautiful night in summer, Mrs. Hughes gave a large party, to which Lewis accompanied me. How kind he was during our walk. He called me his darling, and every pet name; praised my looks, and begged me not to pay particular attention to any one but him, or he should be jealous. How we enjoyed the dancing, and the moonlight walks around the beautiful grounds! I had been strolling for some time with William Hughes, the eldest son, when he begged me to sit, for a few moments, on one of the rustic benches under an arbor. How shocked I was, when he made me an earnest loving offer of marriage. I arose from my seat, and looked him full in the face, and answered:
William Hughes, you are well aware that I am bound by the most sacred promise, to marry Lewis Forsyth, and yet, you make such a proposal to me! For shame!'
Tabbie forgive me,' he said, I heard such a report, when we first located in this place. But many things made me believe the report false. Many things!' cried I, pray tell me one.'
I will' he answered so help me God, come.' He led me to the window of a summer house, in the distant end of the garden, and bade me look in. I did so, and saw Lewis on his knees before Sarah Hughes. How strong I was! I could bear all now: so I listened. He ceased speaking just as we reached the window. Sarah's only reply was, and Tabitha?'
And Tabbie,' repeated Lewis, poor Tabitha! I love her Sarah, and yet I cannot feel the passionate adoration for her, which I have for you. Your love has become necessary to my existence; but promise to be mine, and Tabitha will release me, I am sure.' I would have fallen, but William caught my fainting form, and would have called some assistance, but I begged him to wait a moment. By a mighty struggle I regained my self-possession, and placed my hand in William's, and promised to be his wife.
Then I listened for Sarah's answer: after a moment it came.
Lewis I love you, but nothing would tempt me to come between Tabitha and you. Lewis you said just now that you loved her, is it so?'
I love her, Sarah, as I would a darling sister, but I love you, and you only, as the wife of my soul.'
Taking William by the hand, I stood on the threshold of the door.
Give yourselves no uneasiness about me,' said I. Lewis, I release you from the engagement. I am now the promised bride of William Hughes.' Lewis started to his feet, as if about to take me from William; then he drew back, and stood by Sarah's side. William and I left them there, and went into the house, to seem the gayest of the gay. No one knew the bitterness of my soul. Lewis went home with me that night, and we parted friends. Grief had unlocked my eyes, and in vain I wooed sleep, the solace of every ill. Four o'clock found me still sitting by my window, trying to still the throbbing of my breaking heart.
As I gazed in the direction of Dr. Hughes's house, I saw a bright light, which grew larger and larger, until I saw the house was on fire. I aroused the servant, who always slept in our hall, and bade him alarm the house, and then come to me. He did so in a moment, and we started, the boy and I, to the burning house. We reached there in less than five minutes, and rang the bell, and pounded the door with our feet and hands, until a servant came and opened it. I left my boy to explain all, and rushed up to the girls' room, for I knew it well, as I had spent many nights with them. Oh! God, how could she sleep, who had caused me so much pain! I knocked again and again, until my voice awoke William and George, who demanded to know the cause of the disturbance. Fire' was all I could say, but they waited for no more. In a moment, the strong men had placed the door upon the floor, and each one took a sleeping sister in his arms. The smoke had stupefied them. I threw a wrapper around each form, and then remained behind, to save if possible a few pieces of clothing. I had forgotten myself, even though I now felt the heat of the fire. The clothes were tied up in a sheet; I went to a window, raised it, and threw the bundle into the arms of a servant, who was standing below. Just then a gust of wind blew the flames and smoke into the room. My eyes became blind; I saw nothing and would have fallen, but some strong arms caught me. I knew it was Lewis, and I prayed God to let us die, there and then, together.
He bore me from the burning house, and placed me in the very same summer house, where my hopes were wrecked. There in the early dawn, he pressed upon my brow, and lips, countless kisses; and swore before the throne of God that he loved me and only me. The door opened, and William and Sarah entered. Sarah clasped her arms around me and begged my forgiveness, for the base part she had acted. I had saved her life, and the only return she could make, was to tell me the truth. She had never loved Lewis, and only wanted to flirt with him. She was engaged she said to the only man she ever loved, and she expected to marry him next month. Would Lewis and I forgive her, and make friends?
I will forgive you Sarah,' I said, and then I begged William to take me home. He was too kind and generous ever to urge his claims, and we met but seldom after that. The next morning Lewis enlisted in the Seminole war. In a month, I received a most heart-broken letter from him, praying for forgiveness. I was months making up my mind how to answer it, and then it was too late too late too late! Would to God my letter had reached him, but one moment before his spirit took its flight to its eternal abode! God forgive us both. Now dear, you know why I was so anxious to have you answer Edward's letter immediately; and you have the true account of Aunt Tabitha's first and last Flirtation. I have sometimes thought it was a merciful interposition of Providence, to save the lives of that whole family. Even if I was the victim, I do not murmur at God's just decree. Good night dear.'
And soon Aunt Tabitha was sleeping as gently as an infant: no sin mars her peace of mind. Would to God that I too could slumber as quietly.
I must continue my confessions:
Allow me to introduce to the reader Mr. Reginald Pompus. Self satisfied, fat, fair,' and twenty-five. He was decidedly good looking, even handsome, to those who liked mush.' Did I not lead him a race? He had been quite attentive to me before my marriage, and had even gone so far, as to say he loved me, which was enough to satisfy the most particular, as to the truth of such a statement. But he also said, that he thought my parents would object to our marriage. I thought so too. When we met after I had been married a year, the man had the impudence to tell me, that he never intended to marry, until my husband died, and left me free. That he had made a sad mistake in not marrying me at first, at the time I loved him. I did love Reginald Pompus, once, when we first met, after not seeing him for ten years. We knew each other as children, and when I came back from school, and found him changed from an ugly boy to a passably good-looking man, I could not help liking him for very sympathy, for as a child, as I mentioned before, I myself was certainly not beautiful.
I had by that time become wearied of the monotony of married life, and thought, as variety is the spice of life,' I would spice mine with two or three more flirtations. As Reginald really thought I loved him, why not make him sure that I did so? No harm in that. To my young gentlemen friends, let me now say one word: No matter if you have been married fifty years, and your wife is as old and ugly as sin, make love to her; by all means make love to her, even if you die in the attempt; for if you do not, some one else will.
We were sitting one evening by an open window. Countless gems decked the clear blue vault above our heads. While the lowing kine, and the humming of insects, called to my mind Gray's exquisite Elegy. Even Reginald was impressed with the beauty of the scene, but tried in vain to think of some quotation suitable for the occasion. Ah! I remember now he did say I'd be a star.' When we exhausted the beauty of the night, as Reginald knew nothing about books, what could we talk of but love.
Dear Ella,' said he taking my hand. (I would sometimes let old friends take my hand, and besides Reginald was a family relation, and they are privileged you know.)
Dear Ella, are you happy now?'
Oh yes,' I answered, perfectly so.'
Oh' said he, I don't mean. I do mean, I mean, are you happy with your husband? Forgive me for saying it, but I do not think Walter King a suitable man for a lady of your sensibilities.'
(What are sensibilities?) I covered my face with my handkerchief and was laughing convulsively.
Do not weep darling,' he said, I did not mean to wound you. If you are so unhappy, quit Walter immediately. You can easily get a divorce, and I will marry you then.'
Indeed' said I, you are extremely kind; but suppose I cannot get the divorce!'
He then entered into a long detail of the technicalities of law, by which I could procure the divorce. And then gave me glowing accounts of his magnificent country home, which, I afterwards heard, contained two rooms and a closet. His plantation was really very fine, but he was too idle to improve it. He spoke of the affection of his mother for me, and how glad she would be to have me for a daughter.
She would have been glad Reginald,' was my reply, before my marriage, but as a divorced wife, certainly she would not. Your mother is too noble, and good, to wish a disgraced woman to be her son's wife.'
If you cannot get the divorce Ella,' said he, the world is large, I will leave all, all for you; will you not make some sacrifice for me?'
Certainly I will with pleasure,' I replied, for instance, I am enjoying myself vastly out here, but still I think your health requires, that we should go into the other room, where my husband is; so come along.'
But' said he catching my hand. Stop a moment Ella, I love you; and I don't mean, I do mean, I mean.'
The mischief you do,' cried I not waiting for him to finish his sentence; and I called to Walter who came in the room immediately. Walter' said I Mr. Pompus has been trying to tell me something, for over a half an hour; he has reached this far,' (You should have seen Reginald's face then, it was ghastly pale even in the moonlight,) I don't mean, I do mean, I mean; and I suspect he means he wants you to give him a drink.' With pleasure' said Walter, and taking the confused man by the arm, he led him to the dining room, and soon succeeded in smoothing his ruffled feathers.
Dear me! it is twelve o'clock, and I just stop writing for to-night, or I will spoil my eyes sure enough.
each and all a fair good night,