- CHAPTER XIX. MARRIED IN HASTE.
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MARRIED IN HASTE.
ACCIDENTAL circumstances brought Victor once more near his grandfather, and it was but natural that he should seek to see the old gentleman. Mark and the old docteur were delighted to see him, one fine spring morning, enter the well-known study.| | 181
Victor was looking finely. He lead gained strength and manliness under his late experiences, and had made a very good soldier. He had come to stay "one week," he said, "then his furlough would be over." Victor enjoyed the quiet, lounging life, the comfortable fare and case of his grandfather's house greatly. He said it was worth being deprived of ordinary comforts to enjoy them afterwards. "He had not been comfortable or seen a pretty woman for years." He asked after Panola. "She was well," Mark said, "but her mother was failing fast. The stillness was spreading. It had seemed to stop for a long time, and then quite recently it had come on again." Victor said he would ride over in a day or so and see the Flanoys.
"Cherokee Joe was still there," Mark said, in reply to Victor's question. "His family also were living in a wigwams, built out in the bit of copse wood on the Flanoy estate. His wife made baskets and sewed and washed for Mrs. Flanoy, whose white servants had all left her. Panola does almost everything with her own hands," said Mark; "except for the little aid she gets from Joe's with, and some little from Joe himself, she does every thing. But Mrs. Flanoy does not feel the change; Panola keeps her perfectly comfortable."
Mark went on to tell Victor that Panola not only took care of her mother, but that she also found time to see after himself and his grandfather, and to | | 182 help her aunt Bolling. "Panola has her sewing-machine," Mark said, "and she made all sorts of clothing and little comfortable articles for all three households. She has entirely overcome her Indian dislike of manual labor. Her little hands are getting hardened from unaccustomed work."
"Have you heard from Natika lately?" asked Mark, his thoughts making contrast of the position of the two women.
"Yes," replied Victor, gloomily, "she broke off with the marchese. I knew she would."
"Where is she?" asked Mark.
"In Paris, very comfortable and happy," said Victor, bitterly. "Natika does not care for country or kinship, you know; that is, unless she should be attracted by the mere excitement of the thing to feel a transient impulse of patriotism. Natika might like to play Joan d'Arc for the interest of the character for a while. She would as lief run the blockade for the fun of the risk or the danger as not. I shouldn't be surprised to hear that she had tried it!" and Victor laughed. "I tell you what, Mark, I have learned one lesson in this miserable war, and that is the value of a true, single-hearted woman--such as Panola, for instance--who can sacrifice all her own desires and even comforts for the sake of those she loves. I have lost all fancy for useless queens of society."
Mark smiled. "You don't know yourself, Vic- | | 183 tor. Wait until you get back into the old grooves of life, and you will see their that habit is deep as life and strong as death. You will gradually go back to your old likings."
"No, I am sure not," replied Victor, energetically.
Victor went over to see the Flanoys that very evening. He went again the next day, and the nest, and so he got to passing the greater portion of his days there. Panola struck hint as being more beautiful than ever. Chicora had not changed at all. She welcomed him as kindly as formerly. Victor had known the rough life of a soldier. He appreciated the delightful atmosphere of home which surrounded these charming women, and which was lacking at his grandfather's. His attentions to Panola became more and more lover-like. Chicora was pleased to see this. Panola's future often was a heavy care to the afflicted mother. There was no one to look after Panola but the chief Satana, or Madame Bolling, in case of the mother's death. She believed Panola would not be happy living in the Nation, and towards Madame Bolling she cherished an instinctive hatred. She looked upon Victor's wooing, therefore, most favorably, and was resolved to use her influence to its utmost maternal limits in his favor.
But Panola grew shyer and colder as Victor grew warmer in his manner. When her mother would | | 184 speak of him she was silent. She had been brought up in the habit of implicit obedience, and she knew it would be a hard trial for her to resist her afflicted but imperious mother's will, especially as site had no good reason for rejecting Victor. She liked him personally better than any one she knew, except--perhaps, Mark. Mark was out of the question. Not only was it impossible for hint to think of love or marriage, but, even if it were possible, he had shown, no feeling to justify Panola in thinking about him except as a dear brother.
Panola was a proud, shy, slowly-maturing, half Indian maiden. The chastity and continence of her blood through long lines of famous warriors had kept cool and as yet unwarmed by passion. She slid not love any one so far as she knew, but neither did she desire to love. She did not wish to marry at all. She was happiest ministering to her mother, and to old Docteur Canonge, and to Mark, and in playing on, her Straduarius. If she could have fled away into the vast depths of the forest, she would have done it to escape the importunities of Victor, and the imploring looks and entreaties of her mother on this disagreeable subject. Several times she thought she would appeal to Docteur Canonge or to Mark, to deliver her from what she felt to be a persecution. Once she got almost to the house, and to Mark's study, for this very purpose, when some strange impulse seemed to stay her feet, and | | 185 she turned away and fled swiftly homeward, with crimson cheeks, like a frightened doe to its covert. Mark was so entirely convinced of Victor's devotion to Natika that he suspected nothing. Matters had gone on thus for the whole period of Victor's furlough. He was to leave on the following day, when he burst into Mark's study one hour before twilight, exclaiming:
"Congratulate me, Mark! for I am a bridegroom! I shall marry Panola to-morrow morning, just before I leave for the army. She has yielded at last."
Mark's book fell from his hands: the blow astounded him; he could not speak; the blood ebbed from his lips; he felt as if he was suffocating.
Victor was so much excited, and so gay over his triumph, that he did not observe the effect of his announcement upon his cousin. Mark rallied himself, stooped over to pick tip his book, saying, in rather a smothered tone,
"You are certainly to be congratulated if this is true. When did it occur? How can you give up Natika?"
Victor's face fell.
"Natika has given me up," he said, sharply. "As for Panola, I have been intending to marry her, if I could, ever since I was here while you went to the Arkansas springs, and hard enough it has been to get her."
"I fear it was the difficulty that has been the | | 186 attraction," said Mark, sadly. "Do you really love Panola?"
"Yes; I think I do," said Victor, determinately setting his teeth together.
"Does Panola love you?" continued Mark, firmly.
"If she don't now, she will," replied Victor, almost angrily. Mark's questioning and doubts annoyed him. He was not so sure on any of the points as he would have liked to be. "She is not like most girls, Panola is not. She is naturally cold and unimpressionable; but she is very beautiful and good!"
"Oh, Victor!" said Mark, passionately, "don't force this poor girl to marry unless you are sure of yourself and of her. I fear you and her mother are acting cruelly to Panola. I know Mrs. Flanoy's imperious will. Panola is not cold; I have studied her nature, and I know it."
Victor was startled for the moment by the intense passion in Mark's voice. A suspicion flashed through his soul.
"You can't marry, Mark! I could not suspect you of the dog-in-the-manger desire to keep this girl single when you can offer her nothing but cold friendship!"
"God forbid!" said Mark, humbly. "I only desire Panola's happiness. I have never hoped for anything myself. But don't fetter her if she does not | | 187 really love you: think a little of her wretchedness if she finds herself bound to a man who does not love her--whom she does not love."
"I am no Caliban or Bluebeard, Mark," said Victor, trying to smile, "and it is no use talking now, I shall marry Panola to-morrow. I have spoken to the magistrate to meet me at ten o'clock; and immediately after the ceremony, which is only to be performed in order to satisfy Mrs. Flanoy, I go off to the army. I shall try for another furlough, when I will return to the bosom of my family," said he, with some return of his old levity of speech. He added more seriously, "Don't fear, Mark; I will not be unkind to my wife!"
Mark sat with his face buried in his hands. He made no reply. Victor, vexed at his obstinate silence, left the room singing "Dites lui," from Offenbach's Grande Duchesse. He went to carry his great piece of news to his grandfather, who entered into his hopes with full sympathy and great excitement, which consoled Victor for Mark's coldness.
That was a night of agony for Mark, and his face bore the traces of it when he appeared at the breakfast table the next morning. He looked so pale and so ill that Docteur Canonge was seriously anxious; and Victor did not require any further explanation as to the impossibility of Mark's going with the party to witness the brief ceremony to take place at | | 188 Mrs. Flanoy's. Victor dressed himself carefully in his gray uniform. He knew he would have but little time for change after the marriage. He was compelled to hasten in order to get to his command as soon as possible, as his furlough had expired.
Panola scarcely knew how she became engaged to Victor, or how it was that all the arrangements were made for her marriage. She had been impelled imperceptibly, step by step, by the force of her mother's will and Victor's importunities. She did not comprehend it, but she felt utterly helpless. If they would only let her alone; but that they would not do.
It was with a listless and indifferent hand that she clasped around her the fine white gown her mother had ordered her to wear as a wedding-gown. It was a pretty gown of fine India muslin, and Panola recollected that Mark had admired it greatly when she had worn it in his presence. She paused in the midst of her toilette to lean her head upon her hands and to sigh deeply. She did not weep--Panola was part Indian. She could have been burnt by a slow fire and still kept an imperturbable countenance. But there was on her face an expression of stolid endurance and stoical apathy which, however natural to it, had never been there before to-day.
The moments passed swiftly. Panola heard the driving up of the carriages which brought Docteur | | 189 Canonge and the magistrate, and she heard the galloping of Victor's horse's feet as he clashed impatiently to the door. She looked out. Docteur Canonge and the magistrate had just got out of the carriages, which were being driven off to one side. Mark was not with them; Panola thanked God he had not come. She had dreaded his coming to witness this dreadful marriage. Something had prevented his coming. Panola was glad. A low knock at her door was answered by Panola's opening it. Madame Boiling entered, smiling tenderly as she held out a crown of lovely orange blossoms, fresh from her garden. She embraced her niece with effusion.
"Dear child," she said, "it is better I should not be present at the ceremony. It would be painful to me, and also to your mother. So I have brought my small offering here. Wear my crown, Panola, in this hour of your happiness. I had once fondly hoped for different issues; but it is all ended. I have also given to Joe's wife a handsome bride's cake, which you will eat for my sake."
Madame Rolling kissed Panola affectionately, arranged the crown upon her head, and then glided noiselessly out of the room, and out of the house.
Panola was summoned; she obeyed; and somehow, she hardly knew how, she was in the salon before the magistrate; and after a few words which she scarcely heard--certainly did not comprehend-- | | 190 she found herself in Victor's arms and he saluted her as "his wife." Then Docteur Canonge kissed her and blessed her, and cried over her, he was so pleased; and her mother smiled upon her with beautiful pleased eyes; and the handsome cake was cut and wine was drunk; then Victor embraced her again. He had drawn Panola to the door, talking to her with his arm about her waist; and there, with much tenderness, he had kissed her lips and her cheeks and then he was gone. Panola stood looking after him as he rode swiftly away. At the gate he paused and, turning, he waved his hand, and slowly lifting his hat, he sat bareheaded for an instant; then he disappeared from her view, riding rapidly away.
It was like a fearful dream! Panola felt so tired and so drowsy, somehow so stupefied. Instinctively she put up her hands, and took off the heavy wreath of orange flowers, with their overpowering scent. "I do dislike orange flowers," she thought, and that was really the only connected, conscious thought Panola had experienced that morning.
Victor, as he rode away, thought that he had never experienced a more painful chill than he had felt when he touched Panola's lips and cheeks, they were so icy cold. There were no bridal blushes there; but she was white as the cotton after which she was named. "She was like a woman made of marble," he thought; "I don't much like playing the part of a modern Pygmalion."| | 191
"What a strong smell of musk there is!" said Mrs. Flanoy to Panola. "It seems to be in your hair. It is very stupefying!"
"It must have come from the strong perfume of my orange-flower crown," said Panola. "They are so powerful, indoors, you know. I do not like them in masses."
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