After more than a fortnight
spent in the highlands of Scotland, Jerome
passed hastily through London on his way to
It was toward sunset, on a warm day in October, shortly after his arrival in France, that, after strolling some distance from the Hotel de Leon, in the old and picturesque town of Dunkirk, he entered a burial ground such places being always favorite walks with him and wandered around among the silent dead. All nature around was hushed in silence, and seemed to partake of the general melancholy that hung over the quiet resting place of the departed. Even the birds seemed imbued with the spirit of the place, for they were silent, either flying noiselessly over the graves, or jumping about in the tall grass. After tracing the various inscriptions that told the characters and conditions of the deceased, and viewing the mounds beneath which the dust of mortality slumbered, he arrived at a secluded spot near where an aged weeping willow bowed its thick foliage to the ground, as though anxious to hide from the scrutinizing gaze of curiosity the grave beneath it. Jerome seated himself on a marble tombstone, and commenced reading from a book which he had carried under his arm. It was now twilight, and he had read but a few minutes when he observed a lady, attired in deep black, and leading a boy, apparently some five or six years old, coming up one of the beautiful, winding paths. As the lady's veil was drawn closely over her face, he felt somewhat at liberty to eye her more closely. While thus engaged, the lady gave a slight scream, and seemed suddenly to have fallen into a fainting condition. Jerome sprang from his seat, and caught her in time to save her from falling to the ground.
At this moment an elderly gentleman, also dressed in black, was seen approaching with a hurried step, which seemed to indicate that he was in some way connected with the lady. The old man came up, and in rather a confused manner inquired what had happened, and Jerome explained matters as well as he was able to do so. After taking up the vinaigrette, which had fallen from her hand, and holding the bottle a short time to her face, the lady began to revive. During all this time, the veil had still partly covered the face of the fair one, so that Jerome had scarcely seen it. When she had so far recovered as to be able to look around her, she raised herself slightly, and again screamed and swooned. The old man now feeling satisfied that Jerome's dark complexion was the immediate cause of the catastrophe, said in a somewhat petulant tone,
"I will be glad, sir, if you will leave us alone."
The little boy at this juncture set up a loud cry, and amid the general confusion, Jerome left the ground and returned to his hotel.
While seated at the window of his room looking out upon the crowded street, with every now and then the strange scene in the graveyard vividly before him, Jerome suddenly thought of the book he had been reading, and, remembering that he had left it on the tombstone, where he dropped it when called to the lady's assistance, he determined to return for it at once.
After a walk of some twenty minutes, he found himself again in the burial ground and on the spot where he had been an hour before. The pensive moon was already up, and its soft light was sleeping on the little pond at the back of the grounds, while the stars seemed smiling at their own sparkling rays gleaming up from the beautiful sheet of water.
Jerome searched in vain for his book; it was nowhere to be found. Nothing, save the bouquet that the lady had dropped, and which lay half buried in the grass, from having been trodden upon, indicated that any one had been there that evening. The stillness of death reigned over the place; even the little birds, that had before been twittering and flying about, had retired for the night.
Taking up the bunch of flowers, Jerome returned to his hotel. "What can this mean?" he would ask himself; "and why should they take my book?" These questions he put to himself again and again during his walk. His sleep was broken more than once that night, and he welcomed the early dawn as it made its appearance.
The Happy Meeting
After passing a sleepless night, and hearing the clock strike six, Jerome took from his table a book, and thus endeavored to pass away the hours before breakfast time. While thus engaged, a servant entered and handed him a note. Hastily tearing it open, Jerome read as follows:
"SIR, I owe you an apology for the abrupt manner in which I addressed you last evening, and the inconvenience to which you were subjected by some of my household. If you will honor us with your presence today at four o'clock, I will be most happy to give you due satisfaction. My servant will be waiting with the carriage at half past three.
I am, sir, yours, &c., J. Devenant
Jerome Fletcher, Esq.
Who this gentleman was, and how he had found out his name and the hotel at which he was stopping, were alike mysteries to Jerome. And this note seemed to his puzzled brain like a challenge. "Satisfaction?" He had not asked for satisfaction. However, he resolved to accept the invitation, and, if need be, meet the worst. At any rate, this most mysterious and complicated affair would be explained.
The clock on a neighboring church had scarcely finished striking three when a servant announced to Jerome that a carriage had called for him. In a few minutes, he was seated in a sumptuous barouche, drawn by a pair of beautiful iron grays, and rolling over a splendid gravel road entirely shaded by trees, which appeared to have been the accumulated growth of many centuries. The carriage soon stopped at a low villa, which was completely embowered in trees.
Jerome alighted, and was shown into a superb room, with the walls finely decorated with splendid tapestry, and the ceilings exquisitely frescoed. The walls were hung with fine specimens from the hands of the great Italian masters, and one by a German artist, representing a beautiful monkish legend connected with the "Holy Catharine," an illustrious lady of Alexandria. High backed chairs stood around the room, rich curtains of crimson damask hung in folds on either side of the window, and a beautiful, rick, Turkey carpet covered the floor. In the centre of the room stood a table covered with books, in the midst of which was a vase of fresh flowers, loading the atmosphere with their odors. A faint light, together with the quiet of the hour, gave beauty beyond description to the whole scene. A half open door showed a fine marble floor to an adjoining room, with pictures, statues, and antiquated sofas, and flower pots filled with rare plants of every kind and description.
Jerome had scarcely run his eyes over the beauties of the room when the elderly gentleman whom he had met on the previous evening made his appearance, followed by the little boy, and introduced himself as Mr. Devenant. A moment more and a lady, a beautiful brunette, dressed in black, with long black curls hanging over her shoulders, entered the room. Her dark, bright eyes flashed as she caught the first sight of Jerome. The gentleman immediately arose on the entrance of the lady, and Mr. Devenant was in the act of introducing the stranger when he observed that Jerome had sunk back upon the sofa, in a faint voice exclaiming,
"It is she!"
After this, all was dark and dreary. How long he remained in this condition, it was for others to tell. The lady knelt by his side and wept; and when he came to, he found himself stretched upon the sofa with his boots off and his head resting upon a pillow. By his side sat the old man, with the smelling bottle in one hand and a glass of water in the other, while the little boy stood at the foot of the sofa. As soon as Jerome had so far recovered as to be able to speak, he said,
"Where am I, and what does all this mean?"
"Wait awhile," replied the old man, "and I will tell you all."
After the lapse of some ten minutes, Jerome arose from the sofa, adjusted his apparel, and said,
"I am now ready to hear anything you have to say."
"You were born in America?" said the old man.
"I was," he replied.
"And you knew a girl named Clotelle," continued the old man.
"Yes, and I loved her as I can love none other."
"The lady whom you met so mysteriously last evening was she," said Mr. Devenant.
Jerome was silent, but the fountain of mingled grief and joy stole out from beneath his eyelashes, and glistened like pearls upon his ebony cheeks.
At this juncture, the lady again entered the room. With an enthusiasm that can be better imagined than described, Jerome sprang from the sofa, and they rushed into each other's arms, to the great surprise of the old gentleman and little Antoine, and to the amusement of the servants who had crept up, one by one and were hid behind the doors or loitering in the hall. When they had given vent to their feelings and sufficiently recovered their presence of mind, they resumed their seats.
"How did you find out my name and address?" inquired Jerome.
"After you had left the grave yard," replied Clotelle, "our little boy said, 'Oh, mamma! if there ain't a book!' I opened the book, and saw your name written in it, and also found a card of the Hotel de Leon. Papa wished to leave the book, and said it was only a fancy of mine that I had ever seen you before; but I was perfectly convinced that you were my own dear Jerome."
As she uttered the last words, tears the sweet bright tears that love alone can bring forth bedewed her cheeks.
"Are you married?" now inquired Clotelle, with a palpitating heart and trembling voice.
"No, I am not, and never have been," was Jerome's reply.
"Then, thank God!" she exclaimed, in broken accents.
It was then that hope gleamed up amid the crushed and broken flowers of her heart, and a bright flash darted forth like a sunbeam.
"Are you single now?" asked Jerome.
"Yes, I am," was the answer.
"Then you will be mine after all?" said he with a smile.
Her dark, rich hair had partly come down, and hung still more loosely over her shoulders than when she first appeared; and her eyes, now full of animation and vivacity, and her sweet, harmonious, and well modulated voice, together with her modesty, self possession, and engaging manners, made Clotelle appear lovely beyond description. Although past the age when men ought to think of matrimony, yet the scene before Mr. Devenant brought vividly to his mind the time when he was young and had a loving bosom companion living, and tears were wiped from the old man's eyes. A new world seemed to unfold itself before the eyes of the happy lovers, and they were completely absorbed in contemplating the future. Furnished by nature with a disposition to study, and a memory so retentive that all who knew her were surprised at the ease with which she acquired her education and general information, Clotelle might now be termed a most accomplished lady. After her marriage with young Devenant, they proceeded to India, where the husband's regiment was stationed. Soomn after their arrival, however, a battle was fought with the natives, in which several officers fell, among whom was Captain Devenant. The father of the young captain being there at the time, took his daughter-in-law and brought her back to France, where they took up their abode at the old homestead. Old Mr. Devenant was possessed of a large fortune, all of which he intended for his daughter-in-law and her only child.
Although Clotelle had married young Devenant, she had not forgotten her first love, and her father-in-law now willingly gave his consent to her marriage with Jerome. Jerome felt that to possess the woman of his love, even at that late hour, was compensation enough for the years that he had been separated from her, and Clotelle wanted no better evidence of his love for her than the fact of his having remained so long unmarried. It was indeed a rare instance of devotion and constancy in a man, and the young widow gratefully appreciated it.
It was late in the evening when Jerome led his intended bride to the window, and the magnificent moonlight illuminated the countenance of the lovely Clotelle, while inward sunshine, emanating from a mind at ease, and her own virtuous thoughts, gave brightness to her eyes and made her appear a very angel. This was the first evening that Jerome had been in her company since the night when, to effect his escape from prison, she disguised herself in male attire. How different the scene now. Free instead of slaves, wealthy instead of poor, and on the eve of an event that seemed likely to result in a life of happiness to both.
Clotelle or The Colored Heroine, A tale of the Southern States