THE MISTRESS OF MONDREER
“Mother! Oh, mother! it will break my heart!” wailed Odalite, sinking at the lady’s feet, and dropping her head into her hands, face downward to the carpet.
The lady gently raised her child, took her in her arms and tenderly caressed her, murmuring, softly:
“No, my own! hearts never break, or one heart, I know, must have broken long ago. Besides,” she added, in a firmer tone, “honor must be saved, though hearts be sacrificed.”
“‘Honor,’ mother dear? I do not understand. I do not see what honor has to do with it. Or if it has, I should think that honor would be better saved by my keeping faith with Le than by breaking with him! Oh, mother! mother! it will kill me!” moaned Odalite.
“My child, my dear girl, hear me! Listen to reason! Leonidas Force has no claim to be remembered by you. You have never been engaged to him. You were but a little girl of thirteen when he went to sea on his first voyage, three years ago, and you have not seen him since. What possible claim can he have upon you, since no betrothal exists between you?” gently questioned the lady, tenderly running her fair fingers through the dark tresses of the young head that leaned upon her bosom.4
“Oh, mother,” replied the girl, with a heavy sigh, “I know that there was no formal betrothal between Le and myself—but—but—we all knew, you and father and Le and I—all knew—and always knew that we two belonged to each other and would always belong to each other all our lives. Le and I never thought of any other fate.”
“Idle, childish fancies, my poor little girl! too trivial to cause you these tears. Wipe them away, and look clearly at the higher destiny, more worthy of your birth and beauty,” murmured the lady, pressing her ripe, red lips upon the pale brow of her darling.
“Oh, mother, I do not want a higher destiny! I do not want any destiny apart from Le. And these are not childish fancies, and not trivial to me! Oh, think, mother, Le and I were playmates as far back in my life as I can remember. We loved each other better than we loved any one else in the whole world. You and father used to laugh at us and pretend to be jealous; but we saw that you were pleased all the time; for you both intended us for each other, and we knew it, too, for father used to say when he saw how inseparable we two were: ‘So much the better; I hope their hearts will not be estranged when they grow up!’ And our hearts have never become estranged from each other!”
“Oh, yes, dearest, I know that there was some speculative talk when you were children of uniting you and Leonidas, so that the name of Force might not die out from Mondreer. But I never really approved of marrying cousins, Odalite, merely to keep the family name on the family estate.”
“But, mother, darling, Le and I never thought of the family name and estate; we only thought of one another. And, besides, we are such very, very distant cousins—only fourth or fifth, I think—that that objection could never be raised. Oh, mother! dear mother! do not compel me to break with Le! I cannot! I cannot! Oh, 5indeed, I cannot!” she cried, burying her face in the lady’s bosom.
Elfrida Force caressed her daughter in silence.
Presently Odalite lifted her head and pleaded:
“He is coming home so soon now, and so full of hope! He expects to be here by Christmas; and he expects—oh, yes, I know by his last letter that he expects to—to—to——” The girl’s eyes fell under the compassionate yet scrutinizing gaze of her mother, and her voice faltered into silence.
“To marry you early in the new year, I suppose you mean, dear.”
“He did not say so.”
“No, mother, dear, he did not say so, in so many words, but from the whole tone of his letter he evidently meant so. Father thought he did, and even tried to tease me about the New Year’s wedding—asking me how many hundreds I should need to buy my wedding clothes.”
“What was it he said in his letter that leads you to suppose he has any such expectations? I confess that I saw nothing of such an intention when I read the letter.”
“Only this, mother, but it was very significant. He wrote that now he had inherited Greenbushes and all his Aunt Laura’s money, he was rich enough to resign from the navy, and he need not go to sea any more, nor ever part with me again; but that he could stay home, repair and refurnish the house, improve the land, and farm it on all the new principles, and make the place a paradise for us to live in. He wrote, mother, dear, as of certain fixed facts.”
“He was very presumptuous, my dear little girl, for there is nothing certain in this world of changes,” gravely commented the lady.
“My poor darling,” said Elfrida Force, smoothing her daughter’s dark hair with a gentle hand, “my precious child! It grieves me to do so, but I must prepare you for what seems inevitable. You must forget all this youthful folly, and think of Leonidas Force only as a cousin. You do not really love him as a betrothed maiden should love her affianced husband. You only fancy that you do. In reality you know nothing of such a love as that. Le was brought up in the house with you. You have no brother. Le has no sister. You therefore love each other as brother and sister. By and by you both may discover—but not for each other—the higher, deeper, stronger love which unites the husband and the wife in a true marriage—such a love as I could wish might crown my darling’s life with lasting joy—such a love as you might find in a union with Angus Anglesea, if you would but give him the opportunity of winning your heart.”
“Madam!” exclaimed the girl, starting to her feet, and gathering her black brows over black eyes that blazed with indignation, “I hate Col. Anglesea! I hate him and I fear him! And I would rather die this day and never behold the face of Le again, than listen to Col. Anglesea!”
“Odalite! Odalite, my child! You are talking to your mother. Come to my heart again, and calm your excitement,” said the lady, holding out her arms.
And the young girl fell weeping upon the bosom of her mother.
The lady allowed some time to pass in which the girl’s paroxysm of tears exhausted itself, and then caressing her gently, she began, in a soothing tone:
“My precious child, do you doubt your mother’s love or truth?”
“Do you doubt that duty is to be held above all other considerations?”
“No! Oh, no!”
“Well, then, I have something to tell you, my darling, which will make you forget all selfish aims, and even also the wishes of your old playmate. Come with me to your own bedchamber, where we shall be most secure from interruption. I will tell you of a fatal episode in my own youth, when I was younger even than you are now. Oh, that I should have to tell such a tale to my daughter! But, Odalite, when you have heard it you will learn just what you have to do in order to save us all, and especially to save your noble, generous, honorable father from ruin and disgrace. And then, Odalite, when you have learned all, you shall do exactly as you please. Not one word of coercion, not another word of persuasion, will I utter. I will leave our fate in your hands, and you shall be absolutely free to act. Come with me now.”
She took her daughter’s arm, and they arose from the sofa.
For a moment they stood, quite accidentally, facing a tall mirror, between two windows on the opposite side of the room, and that mirror for the moment reflected two beautiful forms, of which it would be difficult to decide the one to bear off the palm for beauty.
The elder lady, Elfrida Force, was a tall, stately blonde, with a superbly rounded form, a rich complexion, and an affluence of golden brown hair, rippling all over her fine head, and gathered into a mass at the nape of her graceful neck. She wore an inexpensive, closely fitting dress of dark blue serge, whose very plainness set off the perfection of her figure and enhanced the brilliancy of her complexion, showing to the best advantage that splendid beauty, which at the age of thirty-five had reached its zenith. Just now, however, the vivid 8brightness of her bloom had faded to a pale rose tint, and her lovely blue eyes seemed heavy with unshed tears.
Her young daughter, Odalite, equally beautiful in her way, was yet of an entirely opposite type. She was of medium height, and her form, though well rounded, was slender almost to fragility. Her head was small, and covered with rippling, jet black hair. Her eyes and eyebrows were black as jet; her features were delicate and regular; and her complexion was of a clear, ivory-white. She wore a crimson, merino dress, plainly made, closely fitting, and relieved only by narrow, white ruffles at throat and wrists.
Only for a moment they paused, and then they walked out of the room, and the pretty picture disappeared.
Categories: English Literature