An Outcast/Chapter XVIII
It is night. King street seems in a melancholy mood, the blue arch of heaven is bespangled with twinkling stars, the moon has mounted her high throne, and her beams, like messengers of love, dance joyously over the calm waters of the bay, so serenely skirted with dark woodland. The dull tramp of the guardman's horse now breaks the stillness; then the measured tread of the heavily-armed patrol, with which the city swarms at night, echoes and re-echoes along the narrow streets. A theatre reeking with the fumes of whiskey and tobacco; a sombre-looking guard-house, bristling with armed men, who usher forth to guard the fears of tyranny, or drag in some wretched slave; a dilapidated "Court House," at the corner, at which lazy-looking men lounge; a castellated "Work House," so grand without, and so full of bleeding hearts within; a "Poor House" on crutches, and in which infirm age and poverty die of treatment that makes the heart sicken—these are all the public buildings we can boast. Like ominous mounds, they seem sleeping in the calm and serene night. Ah! we had almost forgotten the sympathetic old hospital, with its verandas; the crabbed looking "City Hall," with its port holes; and the "Citadel," in which, when our youths have learned to fight duels, we learn them how to fight their way out of the Union. Duelling is our high art; getting out of the Union is our low. And, too, we have, and make no small boast that we have, two or three buildings called "Halls." In these our own supper-eating men riot, our soldiers drill (soldiering is our presiding genius), and our mob-politicians waste their spleen against the North. Unlike Boston, towering all bright and vigorous in the atmosphere of freedom, we have no galleries of statuary; no conservatories of paintings; no massive edifices of marble, dedicated to art and science; no princely school-houses, radiating their light of learning over a peace and justice-loving community; no majestic exchange, of granite and polished marble, so emblematic of a thrifty commerce;—we have no regal "State House" on the lofty hill, no glittering colleges everywhere striking the eye. The god of slavery—the god we worship, has no use for such temples; public libraries are his prison; his civilization is like a dull dead march; he is the enemy of his own heart, vitiating and making drear whatever he touches. He wages war on art, science, civilization! he trembles at the sight of temples reared for the enlightening of the masses. Tyranny is his law, a cotton-bag his judgment-seat. But we pride ourselves that we are a respectable people—what more would you have us?
The night is chilly without, in the fireplace of the antiquary's back parlor there burns a scanty wood fire. Tom has eaten his supper and retired to a little closet-like room overhead, where, in bed, he muses over what fell from Maria's lips, in their interview. Did she really cherish a passion for him? had her solicitude in years past something more than friendship in it? what did she mean? He was not one of those whose place in a woman's heart could never be supplied. How would an alliance with Maria affect his mother's dignity? All these things Tom evolves over and over in his mind. In point of position, a mechanic's daughter was not far removed from the slave; a mechanic's daughter was viewed only as a good object of seduction for some nice young gentleman. Antiquarians might get a few bows of planter's sons, the legal gentry, and cotton brokers (these make up our aristocracy), but practically no one would think of admitting them into decent society. They, of right, belong to that vulgar herd that live by labor at which the slave can be employed. To be anything in the eyes of good society, you must only live upon the earnings of slaves.
"Why," says Tom, "should I consult the dignity of a mother who discards me? The love of this lone daughter of the antiquary, this girl who strives to know my wants, and to promote my welfare, rises superior to all. I will away with such thoughts! I will be a man!" Maria, with eager eye and thoughtful countenance, sits at the little antique centre-table, reading Longfellow's Evangeline, by the pale light of a candle. A lurid glare is shed over the cavern-like place. The reflection plays curiously upon the corrugated features of the old man, who, his favorite cat at his side, reclines on a stubby little sofa, drawn well up to the fire. The poet would not select Maria as his ideal of female loveliness; and yet there is a touching modesty in her demeanor, a sweet smile ever playing over her countenance, an artlessness in her conversation that more than makes up for the want of those charms novel writers are pleased to call transcendent. "Father!" she says, pausing, "some one knocks at the outer door." The old man starts and listens, then hastens to open it. There stands before him the figure of a strange female, veiled. "I am glad to find you, old man. Be not suspicious of my coming at this hour, for my mission is a strange one." The old man's crooked eyes flash, his deep curling lip quivers, his hand vibrates the candle he holds before him. "If on a mission to do nobody harm," he responds, "then you are welcome." "You will pardon me; I have seen you before. You have wished me well," she whispers in a musical voice. Gracefully she raises her veil over her Spanish hood, and advances cautiously, as the old man closes the door behind her. Then she uncovers her head, nervously. The white, jewelled fingers of her right hand, so delicate and tapering, wander over and smooth her silky black hair, that falls in waves over her Ion-like brow. How exquisite those features just revealed; how full of soul those flashing black eyes; her dress, how chaste! "They call me Anna Bonard," she speaks, timorously, "you may know me?—"
"Oh, I know you well," interrupts the old man, "your beauty has made you known. What more would you have?"
"Something that will make me happy. Old man, I am unhappy. Tell me, if you have the power, who I am. Am I an orphan, as has been told me; or have I parents yet living, affluent, and high in society? Do they seek me and cannot find me? Oh! let the fates speak, old man, for this world has given me nothing but pain and shame. Am I—" she pauses, her eyes wander to the floor, her cheeks crimson, she seizes the old man by the hand, and her bosom heaves as if a fierce passion had just been kindled within it.
The old man preserves his equanimity, says he has a fortune to tell her. Fortunes are best told at midnight. The stars, too, let out their secrets more willingly when the night-king rules. He bids her follow him, and totters back to the little parlor. With a wise air, he bids her be seated on the sofa, saying he never mistakes maidens when they call at this hour.
Maria, who rose from the table at the entrance of the stranger, bows, shuts her book mechanically, and retires. Can there be another face so lovely? she questions within herself, as she pauses to contemplate the stranger ere she disappears. The antiquary draws a chair and seats himself beside Anna. "Thy life and destiny," he says, fretting his bony fingers over the crown of his wig. "Blessed is the will of providence that permits us to know the secrets of destiny. Give me your hand, fair lady." Like a philosopher in deep study, he wipes and adjusts his spectacles, then takes her right hand and commences reading its lines. "Your history is an uncommon one—"
"Yes," interrupts the girl, "mine has been a chequered life."
"You have seen sorrow enough, but will see more. You come of good parents; but, ah!—there is a mystery shrouding your birth." ("And that mystery," interposes the girl, "I want to have explained.") "There will come a woman to reclaim you—a woman in high life; but she will come too late—" (The girl pales and trembles.) "Yes," pursues the old man, looking more studiously at her hand, "she will come too late. You will have admirers, and even suitors; but they will only betray you, and in the end you will die of trouble. Ah! there is a line that had escaped me. You may avert this dark destiny—yes, you may escape the end that fate has ordained for you. In neglect you came up, the companion of a man you think true to you. But he is not true to you. Watch him, follow him—you will yet find him out. Ha! ha! ha! these men are not to be trusted, my dear. There is but one man who really loves you. He is an old man, a man of station. He is your only true friend. I here see it marked." He crosses her hand, and says there can be no mistaking it. "With that man, fair girl, you may escape the dark destiny. But, above all things, do not treat him coldly. And here I see by the sign that Anna Bonard is not your name. The name was given you by a wizard."
"You are right, old man," speaks Anna, raising thoughtfully her great black eyes, as the antiquary pauses and watches each change of her countenance; "that name was given me by Hag Zogbaum, when I was a child in her den, in New York, and when no one cared for me. What my right name was has now slipped my memory. I was indeed a wretched child, and know little of myself."
"Was it Munday?" inquires the old man. Scarce has he lisped the name before she catches it up and repeats it, incoherently, "Munday! Munday! Munday!" her eyes flash with anxiety. "Ah, I remember now. I was called Anna Munday by Mother Bridges. I lived with her before I got to the den of Hag Zogbaum. And Mother Bridges sold apples at a stand at the corner of a street, on West street. It seems like a dream to me now. I do not want to recall those dark days or my childhood. Have you not some revelation to make respecting my parents?" The old man says the signs will not aid him further. "On my arm," she pursues, baring her white, polished arm, "there is a mark. I know not who imprinted it there. See, old man." The old man sees high up on her right arm two hearts and a broken anchor, impressed with India ink blue and red. "Yes," repeats the antiquary, viewing it studiously, "but it gives out no history. If you could remember who put it there." Of that she has no recollection. The old man cannot relieve her anxiety, and arranging her hood she bids him good night, forces a piece of gold into his hand, and seeks her home, disappointed.
The antiquary's predictions were founded on what Mr. Soloman Snivel had told him, and that gentleman got what he knew of Anna's history from George Mullholland. To this, however, he added what suggestions his suspicions gave rise to. The similarity of likeness between Anna and Madame Montford was striking; Madame Montford's mysterious searches and inquiries for the woman Munday had something of deep import in them. Mag Munday's strange disappearance from Charleston, and her previous importuning for the old dress left in pawn with McArthur, were not to be overlooked. These things taken together, and Mr. Snivel saw a case there could be no mistaking. That case became stronger when his fashionable friend engaged his services to trace out what had become of the woman Mag Munday, and to further ascertain what the girl Anna Bonard knew of her own history.