It was my grandaunt, Euphemia D'Esterre's gown; and when my mother said that I must wear it to the fancy-dress party, superstitious terror thrilled through me. It lay in an old chest, under a heterogeneous collection of D'Esterre relics, and was a peculiarly soft, sheeny lilac silk, made in a quaint fashion, with a slender, pointed bodice, puffed shoulders, and a full, straight skirt. Frills of fine yellow old lace finished off the low neck and short sleeves, and a faint, exquisite perfume lingered in its delicate, shimmering folds. A portrait of my grandaunt—painted in that very lilac gown by some long-forgotten New Orleans artist—hung over our sitting-room mantel, and many a time I stood before it, brooding over the mystery enshrouding the final fate of the original.
It was a beautiful picture of a beautiful young woman, with radiant blue-gray eyes, golden hair rolled high on her proudly poised head, and lips ready to curve in happy laughter. A cluster of cream-white roses drooped against her bosom, and a string of pearls encircled her full, white throat, A curious sympathy seemed to exist between me and this fair kinswoman, who had lived, loved, and passed from the earth long before my birth. She had been a belle and beauty in the days when the D'Esterres were rich, with plantations on Red River and a winter home in New Orleans. She was the flower of the family, her father's favorite, and he had promised her in marriage to one of the wealthiest planters in Louisiana, when he discovered that she had fallen deeply in love with a young man he had employed as overseer—a handsome, cultivated, but poor young German. There were scenes and violent words, but Euphemia firmly refused to give up her lover until he was proven guilty of the theft of a large sum of money from her father. It was a terrible blow to her, but more terrible still was an account of his death a few weeks after he sailed away to the West Indies. He had died of yellow fever.
She fell into a state of the deepest melancholy; and, being a devout Catholic, entreated to be allowed to enter a convent and spend the remainder of her life in pious works; but her family refused. They permitted her to convert the dressing-room attached to her bedroom into an oratory, and, wisely or unwisely, left her alone for a season to indulge her grief, to pray for the soul of her departed lover, and to find healing for her own wounded heart. Then they sought to draw her back into the world again; the wealthy suitor reappeared, and, wearied by arguments and entreaties, she promised to marry him.
The wedding was to take place on the plantation, and many guests were bidden, and a great feast prepared.
On her wedding-eve Euphemia came down clothed in the lilac gown, cream-white roses on her breast, and the string of pearls around her fair throat. Her family were puzzled and indignant, for that gown somehow seemed linked with the memory of her sweetheart, who had died in disgrace. It was a strange whim to wear it the night before her marriage. But the evening passed merrily enough, and at eleven o'clock the bedroom candles were lighted, and she went up the stairs to her room with a smile on her lips, the lilac gown felling around her in soft, shimmering folds.
It was the last time family, lover or friends ever looked upon Euphemia D'Esterre. The next morning her room was empty. The pearls lay on the dressing-table with the withered roses, and the lilac gown hung over the back of a chair; but bride, bridal-gown and veil were gone. They looked into the oratory, thinking that she had gone in there to breathe her last virginal prayer before the simple altar, where she had knelt so many times; but the light shining dimly through the narrow, veiled window, revealed the sacred place silent, untenanted. They sought her everywhere; they spent money lavishly, but to no purpose. She had vanished forever.
Time and the fortunes of war had wrought many changes in the D'Esterre family. My mother, a pale, melancholy young widow, and I—another Euphemia D'Esterre—and Uncle Peter were the last of the family. And we had drifted away from Louisiana to an old mansion on the Chattahoochee, in Middle Georgia. Across the river lay the idle, sleepy old town of Magnoliaville, with its shady streets, ivy-covered churches, and inn, rarely visited by a traveler and stranger.
We had some old silver, my grandaunt's picture, the pearls, and the lilac gown. These were all the real treasures we had gathered from the wreck of family fortunes; and Uncle Peter was the last living link between us and the past. He was a very old man, his black face shriveled into a network of wrinkles, his shoulders bent, his head white, almost, as snow. He possessed great pride and dignity. His long life had been spent in the services of the D'Esterres, and he refused to leave them when freedom was proclaimed.
"Tu late fo' dat now. I praise de Lawd I gwine die a free man, but I b'long dis fambly tu long tu leave 'em now. Let all go dat feels lack dey wanter, ole Peter gwine stay tel 'e dies; yes, tel 'e dies."
And he did stay, and was the favorite playfellow and panion of my childhood.
"Yo's de las', Miss Phemy, honey, de las' o' dem all, and yo's nuff lack Miss Euphemy tu 'a' been 'er twin. Lawd, but dis is er mighty strange worl'—mighty strange," he would often say, shaking his white head. He seemed to feel a certain responsibility and care toward me as the last of the family.
He lived in the little cabin at the foot of the garden, provided for out of our slender ine and exempted from all labor; but he insisted on regarding himself as our servant, weeded the garden, or sat in the wide, bare hall, ready to meet chance visitors and usher them into the barer parlor with old-time ceremony.
To me a halo of romance surrounded his venerable head. Such stories as he could tell me of the past! They were highly colored and delightfully exaggerated. My mother, absorbed in melancholy retrospection, left me much to my own devices, and many an evening I spent in Uncle Peter's cabin, listening to his rambling talk, and questioning him about my ill-fated grandaunt. Nearly all that I had ever learned of her history had been gleaned from his conversations. He would sit at the corner of the hearth, bent forward in his chair, his wrinkled old hands folded on the knob of his walking stick, the firelight playing in uncertain, flickering gleams over his black face and kinky white locks. He was a fair type of the old-fashioned plantation negro, simple, superstitious, but shrewd and faithful to his trusts. Of Euphemia D'Esterre he always spoke with reverential pride, but keeping a certain guard over himself as though he possessed some knowledge he did not want to betray.
"She wus mighty proud, oh yes, honey, dey all helt dey heads high; but she neber was hard on de black fo'ks. She al'ays had er smile, or kind word for um, tel bimeby she got in dat trubble, en had no smiles for ennybody. Ole marse had jes done gimme tu be Marse Albert's boy, en I was little; but I seed en hear more'n ennybody things I does. I seed 'er in' down de stairs dat night in dat laylock gown, en smilin' so strange lack a chill crope down my back. De tables was done spread fo' de weddin', de cakes backed, de silber shinin', en de fo'ks all done e. Hit would 'a' been de bigges' weddin' eber on Red River ef Miss Euphemy hadn't tuk en vanished as she did. Lawd, Lawd, what did bee o' 'er?"
He always came round to that hopeless question, shaking his head with a deep sigh. Then, after a reflective pause, he would cast a glance over his shoulder into the shadowy corners of the room, and, lower his voice to a solemn whisper, say:
"Miss Phemy, honey, I feels lack she gwinter e back—lack she gwinter 'pear tu ole Peter 'fo' 'e dies."
I had listened to the utterance of that superstitious belief countless times, but repetition could not rob it of its impressiveness. I ceased to shiver and feel as though my blood was curdling, but I would cast an awed, half-fearful glance out into the night, almost expecting to see her e floating downward through its solemn gloom, clothed in white raiment, radiant as the stars.
No wonder a thrill of apprehension chilled my young blood, when the lilac gown was suggested as a suitable costume for the first fancy-dress party I had ever known to be given in Magnoliaville.
"It is quaint, and lovely, and with the pearls will be quite charming; and then I have heard that there are visitors—yes, actually three or four visitors in Magnoliaville," said my mother, with a sparkle of animation.
"But I don't want to wear that dress; indeed, I would rather stay at home than put it on!" I faltered, ashamed, yet determined to speak out my fears.
"Why, Phemie!" she exclaimed, in gentle scorn, "what nonsense! You are nineteen years old, and have too few opportunities of going into the world to give up one for a childish whim. I was married at your age," sighing softly; then her eyes strayed from me to the picture. "How strangely you resemble her! It would really be a fine idea to copy the picture as closely as possible."
"Oh, mother!" I shuddered: but she chided me gently, and I had to yield to her wishes. She superintended my toilet that night, and I trembled when I looked at myself in the mirror; for it was not Phemie D'Esterre, the obscure country girl, but Euphemia D'Esterre, the Louisiana belle and beauty, reflected before my startled eyes. The string of pearls around my throat and a cluster of white roses pleted the illusion.
Friends were ing over the river for me, and my mother hastened down stairs to be ready to meet them, leaving me to follow more leisurely. A light burned in the lower hall, and Uncle Peter sat in his favorite chair dozing. Did the rustle of my gown disturb him as I stepped softly from stair to stair? He moved uneasily, raised his head, and glancing upward, saw me. For a moment he stared vacantly, his dim old eyes clouded with sleep; but as I drew nearer a dull, ashy hue overspread his face—a convulsive trembling seized him.
"Great land! ef dar ain't Miss Euphemy now, done e at las'!" he muttered, hoarsely. "Honey, I'se been 'spectin' en lookin' fo' yo' menny a day. Dar, dar, don't e tu nigh," raising a shaking hand pleadingly. "I 'spect I know what yo' e fo'. Hit's 'bout dem letters dey tuk, en de way dey treated young marse 'bout dat money dey made lack 'e stole. I knowed dar'd be no res' fo' yo' tel yo' foun' hit all out. Hit wusn't me, honey. I neber done yo' no harum. Hit was ole Dan'l. Yo' 'member Dan'l, what waited on ole marse, en knowed all de in'-in en goin'-out o' de place? Hit wus Dan'l ole marse gin dem gold dollars tu, tu he'p git young marse in trubble, tu spy on yo', en tu steal de letters what yo' writ 'im. Oh, yes, yes. Peter wus mighty young den, des big ernuff tu wait on Marse Albert; but 'e know all long how dey wus treatin' yo'. 'E watch en listen, but 'e 'feered tu speak, en 'e wouldn't say nuffin arterwards fo' de fambly's sake; 'e des keep hit all tu 'isse'f."
So there had been fraud and dishonor on the part of my family, and Uncle Peter had kept the secret through all his long life. I was too confused and agitated by the mistake he had made in my identity to fully prehend all his words at the moment, but later they returned clearly to me.
"Uncle Peter," I cried, "don't you know me?"
"Yes, yes, honey, ain't I been tellin' yo' hit wus Dan'l he'ped ole marse break yo' po' heart, en fix dat money tel fo'ks b'lieve young marse stole hit. When dar wus no weddin', kase yo' done gone whar no man could fine yo', Dan'l 'e 'pented o' 'is sin; 'e fine no res' fo' 'is soul; 'e take de money what had been gin tu 'im, in tu ole marse, en lay hit down 'fo' 'im, en sez:
"'I can't keep hit, Marse, hit des burn my hands, des burn my soul. I'm gittin' ole, I gwine die 'fo' menny year, sah, en I can't go tu de jedgment long o' dat money; en den Miss Euphemy she des 'pear tu me, en she say: "Dan'l, Dan'l, what yo' been doin'? 'Pent, Dan'l, 'pent 'fo' de Lawd's wrath be turned ag'in' yo'!" I sees 'er in eber' shadder, hears 'er in eber' win' dat blows. She e in de night-time, en she e in de daytime. Oh, Marse, take hit back, fo' de lub o' Gawd, en let me be de hardes' wuked man on de place, so ez I git ease o' my trubble.'
"En Dan'l, 'e des brake down, en cry out loud, de tears a-rollin' frum 'is eyes, en ole marse groan, en sez:
"'She done gone, Dan'l—she done gone, en all de 'pentin' in de worl' ain't gwine bring 'er back, en dar ain't nuffin' 'ud ease my trubble. De Lawd's wrath be on me, Dan'l—de Lawd's wrath be on me. Go, ef wuk gwine do enny good, but don't e nigh me 'g'in. I ain't blamin' yo', Dan'l, but 'pear lack de sight o' yo' make me feel wus.'
"En Dan'l, 'e tuk en go out, en neber look on ole marse' face agin. Dan'l 'e 'pented o' 'is sin. 'E live by 'isse'f; 'e see ha'nts, en 'e hear sperits talkin', en 'e wuk all de days o' 'is life. En ole marse 'e mus 'a' seed ha'nts tu, fo' 'e fine no res' tel 'e die."
He sunk to his knees before me, his white head bowed to the floor.
"Trufe what I been tellin' yo', Miss Euphemy, all trufe. Now go 'way, honey, go 'way, en don't ax ole Peter to tell enny more tel 'e e to die."
I have no words in which to describe the effect of his confession on my excited mind, and how I pitied his fear. I tried to draw near to him, to convince him of my identity; but he rose, and retreated before me.
"Honey, I knows yo', I 'member how yo' e down de stairs dat odder night in dat laylock gown."
You can easily fancy that I was in no mood for the party. My friends were charmed with my costume.
"And I have a special reason for desiring you to look your loveliest to-night," said Mrs. Landsdell, as we made our way down to the ferry. "We have a stranger with us."
"A stranger!" I echoed, my thoughts still running on Uncle Peter and his strange hallucination.
"Yes; Mr. Herman Vandala, from New Orleans. He arrived only yesterday, to look after some land an agent had bought for him. My dear, he is a splendid fellow, rich, and a pet of society, but not in the least spoiled. He came across the river with us."
We were at the ferry, and in the light of the boatman's lantern I could see the stranger leaning on the railing guarding the water's edge. He was slender, and not above medium height, and when he threw his cigar into the water, and turned toward us, a curious sensation, conviction—I know not which—came over me, that I had met him before; that his dark, handsome face, and clear, winning eyes were familiar to me, I stammered when introduced, and stumbled so awkwardly when he held out his hand to assist me into the boat, that my cloak dropped to the ground. It was his turn to lose posure. He grew very pale, and stared at me as though I embodied a ghost.
"I beg your pardon," he murmured; my wraps were restored, and I sank tremblingly to the seat.
The remarks addressed to me, while crossing the river, were answered only in monosyllables. A kind of breathless expectation had seized upon me. What would happen next, I wondered? As often as I encountered Mr. Vandala's eyes, I felt the blood rush afresh to my face. When we landed, to my relief, Mrs. Landsdell claimed the stranger as her escort, leaving me to the care of her husband. But the moment an opportunity presented itself, after we entered the ballroom, Mr. Vandala came to me.
"Miss D'Esterre, will you promenade with me?"
I accepted his offered arm, and we passed into the parlor.
"I am anxious to explain my strange behavior when you dropped your cloak at the river," he said, in a low tone, his manner full of repressed excitement. "You are the perfect image of an old miniature in my possession, even to every detail of your dress, and I felt startled at the sight of you."
I trembled, yet did not feel greatly surprised.
"If I could only see the miniature," I murmured, hesitatingly.
From an inner breast-pocket he instantly drew a small faded case, and opened it.
"It is painted on ivory, and belongs to a past generation; but you—I can hardly believe that you did not sit for it."
I bent eagerly over it, and saw an exquisitely painted portrait of my grandaunt, evidently copied from the picture in our possession. The blue-gray eyes smiled into mine, the sweet, curved lips seemed ready to unclose in speech.
"Where did you get this picture?" I exclaimed, eagerly.
"It was found among the private papers of an old man, who died in the West Indies, many years ago," Mr. Vandala quietly replied. "He was overseer on one of her father's plantations—accepted the situation until something better should present itself—for he was a stranger in a strange land. He dared to love her, but her family violently opposed their marriage, and succeeded in separating them. In bitterness of spirit, he left the country with the stigma of dishonor upon him."
"Unmerited, unmerited," I said, in a stifled tone.
"Even the girl he loved believed in his guilt, and in a year or two accepted the suitor her family approved of."
"Believing him dead," I said quietly.
"But on the eve of her wedding-day disappeared," Mr. Vandala continued, apparently not heeding my interruptions. "It was a mystery relatives and friends were unable to solve, for with the picture I found a pile of old newspapers, filled with accounts of her disappearance and the hopeless efforts made to find her. That portrait has been my panion since the days of primary schools and round jackets, going with me through college and over Europe. Can you wonder at my agitation when the original seemed to stand before me?"
He paused a moment, but I could find no words in which to answer him. That odd feeling of a former acquaintance with him seemed to be growing upon me.
"It would be interesting to solve the mystery of her disappearance, even now."
"She died that night," I said firmly.
"Pardon me, how do you know? Could she not have entered a convent, or fled to some large city?"
"She died that night," I repeated; "but where and how I cannot tell you."
"You seem familiar with her story," bending to look keenly into my face.
"She was my grandaunt, Euphemia D'Esterre," returning his glance.
"And he was my uncle, Herman Vandala."
Euphemia D'Esterre, Herman Vandala! What strange trick of fate had brought those two names together again, and under such changed circumstances? I, the last representative of the D'Esterres, dwelt in humble obscurity, apart from the world, while he had wealth, position—everything.
"I will sit down," I murmured, faintly.
My hand was quickly drawn to his arm again, and held closely as he led me to a seat, while in a kind of dream I heard him say: "Forgive me. I knew you must be a descendant of that family the moment I saw you—heard your name."
If I am minute in recording all the occurrences of that evening, it is because every incident was so vividly impressed upon my memory; it was, in reality, the beginning of life for me. I felt that I had simply existed before. I danced and talked, but mechanically. A spell seemed to be upon me, wrought by the lilac gown. At last I slipped away from the crowd to the white-columned piazza. A few people were walking up and down its ample length, and some lovers were sitting in a remote corner, talking softly. Dewy roses brushed my gown as I descended the steps and strolled idly to the shadow of a large mimosa tree. A chair had been placed under it, and I sank down upon it. How calm, how cool the night! A mocking bird trilled drowsily in the tree above me, the river flowed between its low banks with gentle murmur, the stars shone afar in the depths of the sky. In the midst of the silence I heard a clock strike. I counted eleven strokes; and then, without warning, the scene suddenly changed from the starlit lawn to a sleeping-room altogether unfamiliar to me. It was luxurious, but curiously old-fashioned, with delicate blue and white hangings and quaint furniture. On a low couch lay a white satin gown, with a wedding veil thrown over it. An empty jewel case stood carelessly open, and some costly gifts were scattered about. Candles, set in slender silver candlesticks, burned on the dressing-table.
Subdued sounds of life were borne faintly up from the lower part of the house, and through an open window flashed the lights from negro cabins. Then I heard footsteps on the stairs, soft laughter, and a winning voice said:
"Good-night, Euphemia, good-night, and sweet dreams visit thee. We shall pray to the saints for sunshine on the bride to-morrow."
The room door swung partly open.
"Thank you, Melanie," said a low, clear voice in reply, and then the speaker entered, a young, lovely woman, clothed in shimmering lilac silk, with creamy roses on her breast, and pearls encircling her white, uncovered throat.
She clasped her hands with a gesture of passionate, unutterable despair as the door closed, and in her uplifted eyes the anguish of death seemed to be mirrored.
"Oh, I cannot go through with this mockery, this loathed marriage! Why, why are they all so blind, so blind? Hearts cannot be bought and sold; love is eternal. Oh, Herman, Herman, why could you not be worthy of my love?"
She fell weeping and moaning to the floor, but quickly rose again.
"I will go to father, I will tell him that I cannot be married to-morrow; oh, I will open all my heart to him. Surely he loves me more than his pride."
She opened the door and glided noiselessly into the hall, I an unseen shadow at her side. She made her way unerringly through the darkness to the staircase, and down to the lower passage. The dining-room door stood ajar, and in the dimly lighted interior, tables, spread for the wedding feast, glittered. She turned from the sight with a shudder, even when she passed softly through the room to another door, standing also ajar. She paused before it with her hand pressed upon her heart, looking into the room beyond. A handsome, haughty old man sat by a table with a small box of papers open under his hand, while on the other side of the table, stood a tall negro, black as ebony. The old man took a handful of gold from his pocket, and pushed it across to the servant, saying:
"Here, Daniel, I make you a present of this for your faithfulness. Are the papers all here? Yes, I see. Herman Vandala has an unpleasant way of haunting my thoughts to-night; but I will not regret what has been done—I will not. It was the only sure way to separate them, cruel as it might seem to brand an innocent man with dishonor. Pshaw! it served his presumption right, and some day, when Euphemia is a happy wife, I will make restitution. To-morrow will see the triumph of my hopes and plans," he said, as though to himself, He leaned back in his chair, his fine, proud face softening; but the listener shivered, and trembled like a leaf, her beautiful face ghastly pale. She turned and groped her way across the room, and up-stairs again, and I—I, who felt the agony rending her, could only walk at her side in spirit, not in flesh.
"So they plotted—they deliberately wronged him, and sent him to his death. My God! and I believed him guilty!"
She was calm, but madness shone in her eyes.
"To-morrow," she laughed low and strangely—"to-morrow I'll be the bride of death. Oh, I'll cheat them of their triumph! Black Pond will hide the secret of my disappearance, for not even my father cares to go there, so many superstitions and dark traditions surround it."
She opened a door, and entered an oratory. Wax lights burned on a small altar; the incense of flowers filled the air. A white cross gleamed in the dim light, and the pictured faces of saints looked down from the walls. The influence of the place seemed to soften her.
"Mother of Christ, forgive them, and receive my poor broken spirit. Intercede for me," she prayed, falling to her knees on the cushion before the altar, with clasped hands and head bowed low. "I am friendless—friendless here on earth: death alone can save me. Pitying Christ, have mercy. Thou dost understand."
The light fell around her like a halo. It touched the gold of her hair to luminous brightness, shone on one fair cheek, round uncovered arm and graceful shoulder, and swept downward to the floor, where violet shadows lay in the rich soft folds of her gown. What inparable loveliness to be given to death, and such a hideous death! but no shrinking, no regret moved her. The knowledge of her father's treachery had decided her. She rose, reverently kissed the crucifix, and, returning to her room, began to make her preparations. She caressed the lilac gown, as she unlaced it to exchange it for the white satin and wedding veil. They should be her shroud, instead of her bridal garments.
"Who knows but some happier, more fortunate Euphemia D'Esterre, may wear this beloved gown? If so, I pray that it may bless her with all that has been denied me."
It rustled softly, fell away from her to the floor in a shimmering heap, and—
When my friends found me I lay in the rustic chair unconscious, with the dew-wet mimosa drooping over me; but when I regained the power of rational thought and speech, it was after a week of delirious illness. The Magnoliaville physician said that it had been, ing on for some time, and was the result of overwrought nerves, aggravated by my exposure on the lawn that night, and his explanation was readily accepted, while my story of the lilac gown and Euphemia D'Esterre's sad death was set aside as a dream, or the ravings of fever. Perhaps it was a dream, but I shall always have doubts, and I shall always believe that old gown imparted to me the secret of her death, and brought back prosperity to the D'Esterres.
I wondered what had bee of that box of papers—if it had been destroyed, or if Uncle Peter could have it in his possession. That did not seem probable, still I determined to make sure, and one evening, when my mother left me alone in the sitting-room, I stole away through the garden to Uncle Peter's cabin. My sudden appearance startled him, and without giving him time to recover, I sternly said:
"Uncle Peter, where is that box of papers?"
A cunning gleam shot into his eyes.
"What yo' talkin' 'bout, honey?"
"The papers Euphemia's father left."
"What yo' know 'bout dem, Miss Phemy? Did—did yo' see 'er too?" The thought sending an ashen hue to his face.
"Yes, I saw her," I said, solemnly.
"Honey, hit wus fo' Marse Albert's sake. I tuk en kep' 'em so ez 'e couldn't fine 'em when 'is pa died." He looked at me imploringly. "Let 'em be, honey—let 'em be."
"Give them to me, Uncle Peter," I said gently, but firmly.
Tremblingly he lifted a loose stone from the hearth, and brought up a small black box, the same that I had seen under the hands of old Gaston D'Esterre, in that midnight vision. I did not heed Uncle Peter's moans and ejaculations, but, getting down on my knees, turned the key in the rusty lock. For half a century and more this faithful servant had hidden the evidence of his old master's wrong-doing. But I ruthlessly poured out letters and papers, some of them with seals unbroken—letters written by Euphemia and her lover, and intercepted by the crafty Daniel—papers bearing false witness to Herman Vandala's guilt, and last of all, a brief, remorseful confession from Gaston D'Esterre. They were all yellow and musty, and rustled in my shaking fingers, as I turned them over in the light of the pine-knot fire blazing on the hearth.
"Where did you get these, Uncle Peter?" I asked at last.
"De Lawd forgive me, chile, I stole 'em, en tuk en hid 'em while ole marse lay a-dyin' en a-tellin' Marse Albert whar to fine 'em. I 'feered to burn 'em, but I kep' 'em, kase dey might fall inter de wrong han's."
There were footsteps on the garden walk, the doorway framed my mother's black-draped figure and pale, frightened face.
"Phemie, child, what are you doing?"
"Unearthing old secrets," I said.
Beyond her I saw Herman Vandala, and, sweeping the papers together in my hands, rose up. I held them out to him, trembling, burning with shame, yet determined to right that old wrong at any cost.
"Proofs of your uncle's innocence that I have just discovered—I—"
He took them, and, with scarcely a glance, threw them over my shoulder into the fire. They caught like tinder, and for a moment the small room was brilliantly illuminated, then only a charred, blackened heap of ashes remained to tell us of that old romance. I covered my face with my hands, but he drew them away.
"We will not intermeddle with the past. Restitution cannot be made in this world, unless—is it generous to say?—unless you will be my wife. Let this Herman Vandala have the happiness his kinsman was cheated out of. I love you. I have been loving you faithfully for years. Your mother knows and consents. Come to me, Phemie, dearest, e."
My mother smiled tearfully upon us; but Uncle Peter stared at the charred remnants of the secret he had kept so long, muttering:
"Bress de Lawd, dey's gone! Dey weighed heavy on my soul—heavy. I knowed sumfin 'ud happen when I seed Miss Euphemy t'other night steppin' soft on de stairs, en in dat laylock gown; yes, dat same laylock gown."