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My dear doctor, you must not take offence. You are my friend. My fellow-townsman. I perceive that—that the meeting with a young gentleman at your house, has made it necessary that you should be made acquainted with the previous history of your patient—it is necessary that you should know circumstances which the meddling world need not be made acquainted with."
“ I beg that no secret may be confided to me, sir."
“ You are my friend. You have always been sincere, and I value sincerity as the first of virtues. I hope you will listen to me.” And the accomplished courtier related such parts of his wife's early history, as he thought necessary to account for the scene connected with Spiffard, as far as he himself knew or could understand his behaviour.
Doctor Cadwallader entered into some further explanations in respect to the causes which were suspected or imagined, for the general's extraordinary conduct. He dwelt at some length upon the tendency of mystery to create suspicion. But as we know that the reader is sufficiently acquainted, by this time, with the Williams's, we shall not repeat more of the conversation. The general winced—but bowed, and praised his friend's candour. The doctor concluded by saying, “ My advice is that, not only of a physician, but of a friend-a friend to my fellow-creatures. There is a point to which the world may led blindfold. Men are not averse to being hoodwinked; but if they do open their eyes, they are very apt to believe their testimony. "Good morning, sir.”
This ended the interview between the general and his townsman, the doctor; who, having made his bow, was attended to the door with congues and smiles, mingled with sighs and a general humility of demeanor suited to the occasion. Left to himself, Williams burst forth into passionate exclamations and bitter curses.
The pent-up tempest had free vent; and he traversed his splendid apartment with such furious looks and gestures as might be attributed to a disappointed demon.
He bethought himself of the necessity for seeing his wife's nephew. The necessity for gaining his good will, and securing his silence. This operated like oil upon the surface of the agitated waters. He became outwardly calm. The storm of passion appeared to subside ; and again arranging his features, and even his thoughts, the accomplished courtier and despicable hypocrite sought at the box-office of the theatre a direction to the comedian, and presented himself at the door of Mrs. Epsom.
The ripened age, commanding person, and courteous manners of the soi-disant general, insured him a reception anywhere. The only servant of the house introduced him to the room in which our hero sat in meditating mood.
“ I speak to Mr. Spiffard ?" said Williams, bowing with an air and look something between the friendly greeting of an old acquaintance who wishes to renew intimacy, and the condescending, patronizing, gracious, encouraging, and affable expression of a superior to a favoured inferior.
The words, the bow, and the condescending smiles, were only answered by a formal and repulsive inclination of the comedian's body.
The general had a practised face, carefully educated, as we have seen, to mask the movements of his mind ; and although he felt the repulse, he did not show the shock his pride had received, or evince his surprise at the return to his courtesy from an actor—"and such an ugly little fellow too."
He proceeded. “I was prevented, last evening, by one circumstance or another
The words " last evening" called up the scene (which had been from the time recurring to Spiffard's imagination) in the most vivid freshness. It was present to him. His colourless cheeks became blue ; his long chin dropped ; and his pale lips quivered. For a moment the upper teeth were visible, owing to the convulsive motion of the muscles of the mouth ; but by an effort he closed his thin lips, and held them firmly compressed while the general continued.
“I was prevented asking an introduction to you, but I determined to seek you immediately, and assure you, that your aunt and myself will both be extremely happy to see you at our house." Zebediah bowed coldly, and there was an awkward pause. At length he said
" I suppose, sir, that you expect me to thank you for your invitation?"
Even the general's educated visage could not stand this. It became a blank. It denoted a chaotic state within, that is
anything but comfortable. The water drinker proceeded.
“ Until I know more of you and of Mrs. Williams-for Williams I understand is your name—until I learn something more, and something different from what I gathered last evening, I beg leave to decline your invitation, or more intimate acquaintance."
The general's face almost forgot its lessons. Even practice had not made perfect. It was suffused with red, far be
yond the medium colour of tranquil beauty ; but its master remembered that there was a point to be gained in a game of some moment; and he composed it to an air of surprise before he said “ Very extraordinary !"
“ Is it extraordinary that a man of common prudence or common sense, should decline the acquaintance of a person, whom he has only seen in a light by which he appeared to great disadvantage—to say the least? Or is it extraordinary that I should shrink from contact with one, although the sister of my mother-one, who, from some cause, which probably you can explain, was considered by her father dead, although living ?one, whose name was prohibited the lips of her pure sister? one, who, though not physically lost to life, was dead and outcast from the heart and hearth of her father?"
Williams, glorious actor as he was, could act no longer. Spiffard had not asked him to be seated. He leaned on the back of a chair; and as the young man's face flushed with indignation, and his eyes flashed the meaning his words expressed, the self-condemned deceiver became pale, cast his troubled glances on the floor, and sunk into the chair he had caught at for support.
Spiffard stood firmly before him—dignified by the consciousness of sincerity and rectitude. Williams at length said, “I perceive, sir, that you know—-" and he paused.
"Sir," said Spiffard, "you will pardon me, perhaps, if I quote a line from a play on so serious an occasion, but I have been used all my life to speak,' if not to hear, the plain and simple truth, and I will not deviate from it now. I have been at the house of my grandfather—the father of your wife. I was for days together a guest and a child in the family, after your wife had become an alien to it."
Williams started. He recovered himself, and stood upnot ereet—but he stood up. Your habitual man of courtesy, or your sycophant, never stands perfectly erect.
• You would not wish to injure—to destroy—your unfortunate aunt? Already broken down by disease, which is cruelly misrepresented! After what she has suffered, to be banished from the society in which she now moves, would murder her! You are not called upon to mention the-the cause of her leaving the house of her father. You will not ?"
" I will make no promise, sir, but will act to the best of my judgment, as circumstances may appear to require. I will not wantonly or unnecessarily injure you or your wife by speaking of you. My relationship to her is unknown.”
Here the habitual inclination to prefer falsehood to truth, prompted Williams to assent, and leave Spiffard in ignorance of his having divulged so much of the secret history; but he thought of the danger of leaving him in ignorance, and concluded that it would be best to mention that fact.
“ Unfortunately, perhaps, my love of candour and open dealing has caused me to communicate the circumstance of your relationship to Mrs. Williams, in explanation of the words your aunt made use of in public, occasioned by the surprise at hearing your name.” “Then, sir, I can promise nothing." There was a long and very
Both parties continued standing. Spiffard stiff and strait, as is very much the case with men of his scanted height-an uprightness for which there is an anatomical cause, separate and independent of
any moral impulse. He looked up in the face of the general, whose eyes were cast down as if examining the texture of the common coarse carpeting on which he stood. At length Williams broke the silence.
“ You will, however, Mr. Spiffard, not mention"
And he paused, as if at a loss for words to address a being so dissimilar to any he had been accustomed toma being of whose nature he had not a distinct notion- 2-a man of truth. Spiffard replied to the broken sentence.
“ I will not start the subject; I will even avoid it, or anything that might lead to it; but if directly questioned by any one to whom I think an answer is due, my answer shall betruth.'
Another pause; and the discomfited general moved towards the door. The unbending, and, in this case, inhospitable comedian, followed him in silence.
When in the street, and before covering his head, although the cold wind-no fatterer—waved and ruffled his silken locks discourteously, the retreating tactician once more bowed and said
“We shall be happy to see you at our house."
No answer was returned, and the door was shut, almost before the back of the bower was turned.
Neither the man of truth nor the man of deceit were the happier for this interview. The latter felt that the foundation on which he relied for his standing in the American world, was sliding from under him ; and the depth to which he was to sink, was not defined. He saw the net-work he had woven
and patched for years, whenever a hole happened to be made in it, now dissolving like a thing of mist, or the delusive banquet raised, to cheat the eyes of his dupe, by a necromancer. The light was pouring in, and he shrank from it appalled. He had not altogether lost confidence in his long tried powers; but no redeeming scheme presented itself. He would willingly have cursed the insolent actor, but, like Balaam, he was constrained to bless—for involuntary praise is blessing. “ This fellow is too honest to be tampered with.” After his interview with Cadwallader, equally a man of truth and honour, he had burst forth in exclamations and curses. He had reviled his country, her institutions, and her society. But as he walked from the player's modest dwelling, he experienced something of the calmness of despair. He strove to rally his thoughts, and to send them on service to the dark depths of his sink-like soul, to seek auxiliaries in the narrow precincts and obscure corners, where cunning always dwells. As he passed slowly on toward his proud dwelling, his outward man had reassumed its wonted appearance; he went on bowing and smiling in courteous recognition of every genteel acquaintance he met, until he reached his house-home he had none.
Spiffard had of late been in a constant state of excitement. It had been wrought to a most painful height by the events of the last evening. His tendency to monomania was daily increasing. He did not accuse himself of acting wrong in his interview with Williams ; but his nature was of the kindliest sort, and he felt a pang in consequence of having treated a fellow-creature harshly.
He turned from the street door, which he had with good will interposed between the general and himself. He regretted that he had pushed it so violently. He strode through the short and narrow entry to the room he had just left, which was still vacant, the females of the family avoiding it, as they had heard from the maid-servant that a strange gentleman was below. He put to the door softly, and approached the fire. He saw in the red hot coals the faces of Williams and his wife, and that of his own mother. He looked up, and ejaculated “God forgive me! poor creatures!” Who he meant by the last two words may be doubtful. He wiped the tears from his cheeks before he sought the company of his wife.
He felt the necessity of hiding his emotion, and of evading any questions respecting his visiter. “ Should he tell her that there were circumstances of moment to him which he could not confide ?"