The Bird of Paradise
Chapter II. Lillie Delaine and Lollie Delaine. The Declaration of Matrimonial War
Chapter II. Lillie Delaine and Lollie Delaine. The Declaration of Matrimonial War.
The mental premonitions of Eugene were summarily realised. Directly the will had been read the demeanour of his wife towards him underwent an appalling change. Marvel Imogen Narramore Whitworth as a wife had been difficult to please,—capricious, wanton, captious and irritating before the death of her father; when his will was read and she was proclaimed an independent and affluent woman, she threw off the guise of her petulant and querulous behaviour and became a veritable downright shrew. She quarrelled with her mother: she quarrelled with her brother; she bounced her old auntie; she declared open war with her husband, and posed before the eyes of the world as a millionairess. Money, greed and license weakened still further the family tie. It would indeed seem that she had never truly loved her husband with that affection which is so great a medium of conciliation, smoothing down so many of the asperities of married life, and even changing faults into virtues. Be it so. What men have not merited, that they can easily bear. Marvel had perverted and materialised notions of that mysterious psychical etherealism which we call love.
Accosting her poorer acquaintances before in the street with a "charity bob." the bird of Paradise now cut them dead, stone-dead. At Edenhall she became the centre of such grandeur as women of small minds value, and it was her ambition to reign supreme of all the idle votaries of pleasure she could gather around her. On the evening of the day when the will had been read Eugene sauntered up to Edenhall, and found her surrounded by a large retinue of visitors; some of them envying her, some of them congratulating her, all flattering her and fawning upon her, as is the way of the world. As it was, her head was turned: now her friends and admirers screwed it into the upward averted position that characterises the nouvelle riches. She became hopelessly intoxicated with the thought that she was an heiress, a wealthy woman! Not by any successful exertions of her own was she elevated and elated; but by the simple process of passively inheriting a large sum of money—a present from the man who had been so lucky as to find the hidden treasure of coal conveniently placed by nature. The bird of Paradise became a perfect upstart—a parvenue. Her birth was ignoble; she had no ancestral laurels to parade, but in the States of America Mammon rules and tyrannises over nobility of birth, science, praiseworthy works, and genius.
Sitting for an hour or so amongst her friends, where he was manifestly considered altogether de trop1 and treated, on his wife's instigation, as some plague-infected interloper, the doctor suffered in silence, while the court-page 264eous and fulsome attentions of his wife were engrossed by the large environment of friends. Feeling he was regarded as a nuisance amongst the grandeurs of Edenhall, he left in company with the medical man who had paved the way for him to the death-bed of the gangrene-stricken Gould. Instead of returning to Edenhall that night, he spent a few hours with Dr. Seymour, and slept at the neighbouring Laughing Water Hotel. On preparing to return next morning to town he thought it as well to have an interview with his wife, and ascertain when she intended to return to her home in the city. Reluctantly he opened the front gate and rang the bell before Marvel and the children were dressed. Waiting for half-an-hour he strolled about the garden until he saw her open and stand at the front door, when, approaching her, he said—"Well, Marvel, do you remember your promise? There's nothing to do here now: are you coming back with me to-day, or shall I take the children? then you can wait till you are better prepared."
"You!" she sneered, with the most contemptuous of all sneers, and with a gleaming new set of teeth on full view; after which canine snarl, turning her back upon him she commenced to walk down the passage, banging the door behind her in his face and swearing blue fire. Hesitating in the hall she came back to the door, opened it enough to let her see through, and commenced a tirade of abuse and opprobrium, levelled at the head of her husband.
"Go to the devil!" said the bird of Paradise: "I wish to God," said the bird of Heaven, "I had never seen your face. I should have done as my cousin has often told me, and waited till now when I could have married a lord. Clear out of my house, and go to Hell!" concluded the Bird of the Sun, as a grand finale to the colloquy.
Wavering as to what he should do, while the door stood partially open he saw little Pearly and Valentine in the disarray of their night-dresses running out of their bedroom down the hall, one with a doll and the other with a drum, and Pearly shouting—"Vallie and me is comin,' 'puppa—Pearly not f'ightened gee-gees. Pearly b'ing Vallie: Puppa! Puppa! Vallie can fight all the scabby chinnen;" but before they could get any nearer to their father Pearly's exclamation was stifled with a sounding smack on the face by the nasty Marvel; the door slammed again, and the doctor went brokenhearted away.
The children were kept indoors, probably in bed, all day. In the cool of the evening, he again visited the house and rang furiously at the doorbell, till he pulled the handle and wire out of the socket and the bell would ring no more, with the determination of taking away Pearly and Valentine and telling the insurgent paradisal bird she might stay away as far as he was concerned as long as she liked. No answer came to the bell, beyond the loud barking of neighbouring dogs. The white elephant2, Edenhall, was deserted! Remembering that the keen-eyed man had told him that the house had not been given to Marvel, and that it was to be sold at public auction, he concluded that she had left with the children and had page 265them under her thumb in her mother's old house, from which it would have taken bullocks and wain-ropes to draw them. In despair, he galloped the horse to Augusta, and releasing him at the Seven Stars Hotel, he reached the station in time to catch the train from the neighbouring town en route for the city and home.
It was a long and wearisome journey, and what with partial starvation for three days, want of sleep, mental torture and misgivings of trouble to come he became quite overpowered and exhausted by the time he reached home. As he opened the gate he noticed that the brass plate of his partner had been taken down from the wall, the ragged state of the plaister indicating that it had been violently wrenched away from its fixings. The first to greet him as he rang the bell was the groom, Frederick, whom he asked what had become of Dr. Jonas Peck's brass-plate.
The groom replied—"That there carf-' eaded Donald he comes and drags it orf; he prises it orf with a spade right enough, the same night you left. I took your message to Peck and arst him to come, right enough, and see about the surgery. They was stacks of patients in the waiting-room; they was all a-stampin' and a-swearin', right enough, for two hours, and a-singin' Glory. Glory Alleluleah, but Peck he never come, so they all cleared right enough all of a heap. Up comes Peck right enough after they was all scooted; he collars all them there books out of the safe in the surgery and slings his hook away with them and another bloke in his buggy. I was a-sittin' in the stable a-doin' nothink like, but if I had ha-seed him and he had ha-riled me I would ha-punched his blessed little 'ead right enough and I'm as how what you call a peaceable man. These 'ere girls they sings out to me—'Yer needn't take on: yer needn't take on, 'and I says, says I, 'wot are yer givin' us?' and I ups and throws off me coat. Then I walks up to the front gate, but Peck and t'other bloke gives me the slip right enough, and skedaddles. Like as not they'd ha-made it up a-tween them, but if I'd a-tumbled to the little fake afore I'd a-hupset their bloomin' happle-cart right enough, and that's 'how the larf'd a-come in. I'll mouch round and tackle that there old Donald about it to-night right enough fust, and if he gets a-chuckin' orf at me I'll get in a couple forard on him right enough. I know as how he ain't a patch on me with hees 'ands, and, if anybody arsts me, he needs it bad. I did him a real good turn wunst right enough at the pleeceorfice, but when-like a man makes a harss of hisself better kick him than let him kick you. If he gets a-puttin' up hees dookes at this chicken I'll teach him somethin' wot's afore hees time right enough, and that'll be up agenst hees duck-'ouse you bet. He reckons 'e knows a lot and he knows nothink, and if he gets my monkey up I'll find out how soft hee's up above and knock little devils out of 'im right enough, or call me a bloomin' Dutchman—that's all."
The two girls corroborated the story of Frederick and gave full details of every step the partner had taken in the house and of every word he had spoken. They had been staying at home every night since the doctor left, page 266in their mother's house, as they were sisters—one called Lillie, one called Lollie. It was plain enough to Eugene that his partner had taken the mean advantage of his absence and the clause in the deed of partnership bearing upon the question of diligence to dissolve it without giving him any further notice. In about half-an-hour after Eugene arrived home, a letter was brought in by Dr. Jonas Peck's groom, Donald, and delivered to Eugene in the presence of some stranger, as a witness to its bonâ fide delivery, in the event of an affidavit being required to that effect. The only reply accorded to the letter was a verbal message to Dr. Jonas Peck that he considered himself well rid of him and his poulticing proclivities, if not of his four thousand dollars, and that if he wanted a book-keeper again he would advertise for one.
Misfortune followed in the wake of misfortune: his wife had shown open mutiny and astern refusal to join him again; his children were forcibly detained from their proper home, and his partner had swindled him out of all he possessed. Downcast at the attitude of his wife, astounded at the action of his partner, ruined financially—what step should he take?
"Never mind, Fred," he said: "we did well enough before without a partner, and we'll do better without one like that. All I have ever known him to do was to make a holy show of himself on that lop-eared mule and to put poultices on every patient he saw. There's nothing in him but shuffling, trickery and treachery, and I daresay he will find it necessary to disgorge some of that money, if he hasn't made away with it; so we may as well set to work in the morning and do the best we can with what is left of the practice."
"My mother she knows a thing or two," began with some constraint the elder of the two girls, "and Mrs. Tandy told my mother that nobody don't care for that feller and if you was by yourself you could get all the patients' e ever' ad, and what's more,' e ain't no good for a doctor. My mother knows a man who 'ad rheumatiziss five year and that feller Peck 'ad a poultice on 'im hevery day."
"The man ain't no better neither," chimed in the younger sister, Lollie, with great alacrity: "when is the children comin' 'ome?"
"I don't know when, I'm sure," said the doctor; "I hope it will not be long; but you can stay all the same to attend the door. We must wait for a while for them at any rate, but I don't think they will be long away."
"Can we sleep 'ome at night?" inquired the elder sister, holding a half-gallon saucepan in her hand.
"Just as you like," said the doctor: "it won't make any difference to me, so long as you are here early in the morning."
"Mrs. Whitworth got a lot of money ain't she?" remarked the younger, who had evidently been reading the newspapers and knew all about Charlotte and Julian Horatio and Aurora Laura Leonora.
"My mother's words is come true," said the elder. "When you was out at nights she used to say to me 'Wot a hawful man, ain't he Lillie? When I get my fortune I'll go away and stop away for ever,' she sez."page 267
The two girls, Lillie Delaine and Lollie Delaine, had now been nearly six months in the doctor's employ, and were the daughters of a poor woman whose husband was paralysed and whose only means of support was an only son, a poor struggling fisherman, with a wife and six children to support besides. The wages of the girls, or rather whatever was left of them after the purchase of clothes, boots, frills, hats, parasols and gloves, were poured into the little treasury at home—the lap of their thrifty mother. The mother was the custodian of the revenue—the unerring guide, the mentor and the treasurer of the family at home and abroad. The younger damsel, whose duty it had been to attend to the door and mind the children, was about fourteen years of age, with the latest fashion in fringes, drooping light hair, a goodly face, and a string of songs long enough to fill a book. Lollie was still in short clothes3, but, young as she was, she was uncommonly smart in carrying out her double-barreled duties, and she had always a neat and tidy appearance. The elder girl, whose principal duties were performed in the kitchen, at the wash-tub and all-fours on the floors, was a strong, pleasant-faced, healthy-looking girl about sixteen, with a modicum of very fair hair, which also in the latest fashion she had crimped, frizzled, and braided, although she was often in the habit of letting it fall over her shoulders and bisecting it behind, like a chrysanthemum bush, with a piece of pink ribbon. Her general appearance was good, and her main object during the performance of her manifold duties was to emulate and outshine her sister in the art of imprinting on the convolutions of their brains the contents of the American golden treasury of songs comic and sentimental and the London comic song book, with a view to singing and performing them for the edification of Eugene at A7771/2 and other abodes. Grotesque parodies of songs were all jarringly entangled and huddled higgledy-piggledy together. "You naughty Jack Tar," who sang "Farewell my own true love" upon the quay to little "Daisy Bell" that couldn't afford a panama, but nevertheless looked quite neat in the sailor hat, and "pretty Polly Perkins" that couldn't or wouldn't give "the chick-a-leary bloke" her answer true, although they had been often "on a starry night for a ramble among the bush and bramble" and it was just after the hop, were condensed in quick succession into one unremitting, unrelenting theme. The discordant jangle of the different airs produced the impression that there was only one long song from breakfast time in the morning till they went home for the night and left the big dismal house for the rest of the twenty-four hours to Frederick and the doctor.
The younger sister, who somebody had remarked by way of a compliment to her vocal abilities was stage-struck, had a marked predilection for standing erect on the middle of the kitchen floor with her head thrown well back in order that the acoustic properties of the kitchen in A7771/2 might be used to full advantage during her vocalisations, whereas the elder affected the contemplation not of the ceiling but of the floor. Lillie could keep time with the scrubbing-brush to the cadences of the song, no matter to what music that song might be set. Sometimes a duet was haply thrown page 268into the combination, when the dissonance of the two voices, owing probably to the different positions of the performing artistes, would jar so heinously upon the unaccustomed and untuned ear of the doctor that during the first few weeks his head ached for days. "I'm the chick-a-leary bloke, with my one, two, three,"—a song and a dance by the ambitious Lollie in practice for the footlights of the city concert-halls, about thirty-three times a day on the kitchen table—variegated the entertainment, which was a near approach to continuous motion, as long as the pencilled russet lark trilled his soaring solos to the sky.
Week after week had passed till now fully two months had elapsed since Eugene had left his wile and children on the colliery-fields. Although he wrote to her and sent money to her, thinking that she would want some for the journey home, the only acknowledgement that his letter had received came through the medium of the dead letter office, the large yellow envelope of the dead letter office being stamped with the word "disowned" as an explanation for the return of the letter by the postmaster-general.
The girls went home at night and returned in the early morning to their duties and daily rehearsals for the music-halls, while the doctor and Fred drove about the town visiting patients. Many who had been on the partnership list, and many who had formerly been under the care of Dr. Jonas Peck, transferred their names to the list belonging to Whitworth. Although he had been only six months amongst a beehive of medical industry, his prospects were daily brightening and he had numerous grave and capital operation cases on hand. The old patients at Sabinnia often came to the city to consult him, and a great many came from Galveston and Augusta. His reputation was rapidly spreading in the city and he was elected honorary surgeon of one of the city hospitals. He regularly attended the meetings of the medical societies in the city, and he read dissertations and theses on subjects of a medical nature, together with the results of original researches and experiences as an operative surgeon. The Senate of the University of Philadelphia, of which for years he had been an active member, held its branch congress once a week in the school of science at New Orleans attached to the university, where every Wednesday afternoon he was to be seen wearing the multi-coloured hoods of his various academical orders—laurels of his earlier and palmier days.
The rent of the city premises was exorbitant. Most of the medical practitioners there had simply been working for the landlord for years. Deserted as he was by his wife and financially ruined by his partner, the sharp tongue of scandal stung and poisoned his efforts for a recuperation of the business. The days drearily dawdled away. After his labours in the city he would return to what was no more than an empty and desolate house for him, shut out from the smiles and the pretty ways of the children. Frequently he would fashion resolves to visit Maconville and take away his children by force, overcoming the formidable resistance which he would be certain to encounter. Morning would come, sponge page 269away his resolutions and encourage him to trust to hope and patience. Night-long he would lay wakeful till the dawn, tossing this way and that way in the upstairs bedroom of the big lonely house—forsaken by sleep, unnerved and down-borne by care and anxiety, and haunted by the vision of his sweet little Pearly and Valentine, lying far away like fairies in their little cots dreaming their light and sunny dreams. After he had waited for a considerable time without receiving any reply from Marvel, he sat down in the silent house one night on the eve before his little boy's birthday, unable to bear the solitude and the unmitigating adamantine stubbornness of his wife any longer, and composed the following letter:—
"New Orleans, 24th December, 1850.
"It is now three months since you left here, calling God to witness the earnestness of your promise to return within a week if I agreed to your taking the children away. I need hardly remind you of your long absences from home, scattered over the number of years since you have been my wife. These absences have been, in an indirect way, highly injurious to me, as they have been the breath of scandalmongers wherever I have been in medical practice. Your language and your defiant demeanour towards me at Edenhall is something beyond my comprehension to account for in myself, and to my mind it bears only one interpretation, which is—that you wish to assert your independence of me now that you have suddenly become comparatively rich. You have always been welcome to whatever money I could afford, and if at times you have received less than you wanted you were fully aware that I was under the burden of forwarding money to meet calls in the Diamantino Tin-mine bubble, and have lately been under another strain in paying so much money to Dr. Peck. The money which I sent you for your journey here I regret has been returned by the postmaster, but as it bears the stamp of the dead letter office I conclude it was unclaimed. You have a good home here, and in time I hope you will find enough society to make city life attractive. Whatever money you have inherited you can do what you like with, and as I have no desire to dwell upon the propriety of your return to live in your proper home, I will conclude by saying that I am extremely anxious that you should come without any further delay, and that I miss the children more than I can describe.
"Ever your affectionate husband,
It was never answered. A few days later a note came for the servant saying—"Dear Lillie.—I don't think I will be back for a good while; send up my jewellery-box, dancing shoes and music.—Yours truly, Marvel Whitworth." The servant not being addicted to the habit of keeping up a correspondence, although she could easily have sung a comic song apropos of the jewellery, the dancing shoes and music, omitted to reply to the letter and also to send the jewellery-box, the dancing shoes and music, probably page 270feeling satisfied that she and her sister were better off than if the bird of Paradise were there to bully and bounce them.
Some short time afterwards, Marvel came with her mother to A777½ while the doctor was out, and surreptitiously removed the jewellery-box, the dancing shoes and the music and nearly all the wedding presents from the house; she made an attempt to induce the servants to leave, in order to break the house up still further, and browbeated them because they did not reply that they would.
Hearing that his wife had gone to the Rocky Mountains with her mother and the children, he spent three days in a pilgrimage there inquiring for them at all the different hotels and hoping to intercept them; but when he discovered the holiday resort at which they had been staying and asked the maîtres d'hotel he was informed that they had left the day before. Another report that she had gone to Galveston with the children took him there, where he stayed for a couple of days but failed to find any trace of his wife, his children, or their whereabouts. Returning to the dark house in the city again, he wrote another letter as follows:—
"New Orleans, 6th February, 1851.
"I have lost over a week during the last fortnight in a wild-goose chase to see you and the children. I have waited six weeks for a reply to my last letter. I am very disappointed at your conduct, but I trust you will see the wrong you are doing and the folly of staying away any longer. I heard you were at the Rocky Mountains; I went there, but missed you. I heard you had gone to Galveston, I went there and could find no trace of you. I visited and tidied up poor little Percy's grave and I enclose you some simple mementoes—buttercups from his tomb. I believe the little darling is happy, and a thousand times more so than his father. May God bless him and keep him and Pearly and Valentine in happiness. I have a fine little Italian greyhound for Vallie, just like little "Tottie" we had at the hospital in Augusta. Prince seems quite disconsolate since the children went away.
"Ever your affectionate husband,
It was never answered: it was treated with the usual contempt, and Eugene now at last began to give up all hopes of his wife's return home. He could plainly see that she was making tools of the children in order to torture him, knowing that his whole heart and soul were set upon Pearly and Valentine. The last letter he wrote on the third anniversary of one of the glorious victories of Moss Rose and, as was the case with the others, he registered it and posted it with his own hand. The twenty-fourth of May seemed to be to Eugene a mark in time, as signal as the tenth of September to Oliver Cromwell. It was the wedding-day of Guinevere; it was the day he sailed for London; it was the day he first settled in Augusta; it was the night of the fancy-dress ball; it was the day when Moss Rose page 271won the Coronation Plate; it was Marvel's birthday; it was the night of the great concert, after which Marvel seemed to grow more devoted; it was the day he left the Sabine River; now it was the day when he issued his first manifesto in the coming matrimonial war.
"New Orleans. 24th May. 1851.
"My Dear Wife,—
I have waited I consider quite long enough for responses to my former letters entreating you to come home with the children. I have borne with uncomplaining patience the slights which you have put upon me ever since we were married, the contempt with which yon have treated the numerous letters which I have from time to time written you during your absences from home, and the loss of my little children's society, until nature itself is exhausted. When I reflect upon my past life, I can conscientiously accuse myself of nothing that could reasonably account for your contemptuous treatment of me, and I have not only suffered from the undeserved scandal which the fact of your absences has caused. I am reluctantly led to believe that you have not felt satisfied with the injury which you have done me in this way, but that you have for years been in the habit of backbiting me and maligning my good name among your friends when you were at home, and that you have uttered what you know to be deliberate untruths, for what vile purpose I cannot tell. You have told your relations that I chased you out of the house, and that the baby died from cold and exposure on the Easter eve. Some enemy has put these lies into your mouth. Ever since you obtained that money you have been towards me some other than my wife. I have spared nothing to comfort and please you, and my return has been insult and calumny. The absence of my children I can suffer in silence no more. They are dearer to me than all else in the wide world, and if you do not bring them home very soon, I shall be compelled by your own actions to place my case in the hands of a solicitor. They are old enough to leave you, and I am their proper guardian when you choose to pursue the course you are taking. Better by far if you would come quietly home with them than to have your conduct published in the newspapers, your moral dirty linen washed before the gaze of a gaping throng in the law-courts, and the fair prospects of the children darkened by your adopted attitude. It entirely rests with yourself to avoid all this, which will assuredly be the case. Your present conduct will only lead to trouble and sorrow in the end.
"Ever your affectionate husband,
What manner of man could suffer more the cool contempt of his wife? What manner of man could plead more earnestly for the observation of the vows which she had sworn before high Heaven, or could show more of Nature's love for his own? He had no charm to unlock the imprisoned heart of his wife. Marvel was like one who heard not: her only attitude was the dark vengeance of an infernal hatred.page 272
Befrilled and bejewelled sat the serene châtelaine of Edenhall upon the golden throne which her father had found, scorning his just and natural prayers while his soul was racked with torture and utter despair, yet still yearning to see his wife come home and to see his little ones at play with the big St. Bernard again. The last epistle did move the spirit of Marvel, and she vouchsafed a reply. The reply was that she was quite happy and comfortable where she was; that she did not care about going back to a broken-down old house when she had taken a lease of the magnificent abode of Edenhall, and that as far as she knew at the time her intention was to stay where she was. So cold, so insensate, so ruthless! All in vain! He was like a man crying in the wilderness. Still the letter was not so defiant as it was evasive of the theme upon which he had expostulated with her—the insulation of the hearts of the children.
The house in New Orleans, in which Eugene and his wife had lived for two months, was situated in one of the finest positions in the city and in the very heart of the medical quarter. It was an old building, but in general it was a good and comfortable residence, and its rental was nine hundred dollars a year. Nevertheless, as of old, if it would make any difference to his wife, he thought he would sublet the dwelling parts of it and retain merely the surgery and the waiting-room. No sooner was the accommodation offered than dentists, masseurs, galvanists, electro-pathists and charlatans filled up the rooms where Pearly and Valentine had frolicked with Prince and slept in happiness together, while Eugene still retained the surgery and waiting-room for the convenience of his patients. The Bohemian4 rented a superior villa in one of the most fashionable suburbs, overlooking the scene of Bendemeer, and removed his furniture there. He wrote to Marvel explaining what a congenial abode it was, and how suitable in every way to her tastes; he pointed out its superiority in appearance to Edenhall.
He waited for four months for a reply to the letter, but instead of receiving any reply from Marvel stories came to his giddy and libidinous life which she was leading at Edenhall. Anonymous letter were posted to him disparaging his wife's character; but infatuated as he was by Marvel, he convinced himself that they had come from some enemy, and steadfastly refused to believe every one, throwing them all into the fire. Indignant at the tax put upon his endurance, his mind at last made up to suffer the loss of his children no more, he wrote again apprising her of his unalterable determination to initiate legal proceedings for the recovery of his children by the proceedures of the act of Habeas Corpus5, assuring her that it was still in the power to arrest any litigation by changing her mind at the eleventh hour and returning with them home.
Arrayed in the purple and fine linen of her newly-acquired wealth, there was no soft corner in the flinty and granite heart of Marvel for her husband. Not even the pathetic appeal to her memory of little Percy's grave, nor the quotations from legal authorities which he sent to her proving she was wrong in imagining she could retain the custody of the children, seemed page 273to trouble the rocky Marvel in the slightest degree. She maintained a dogged taciturnity and rejected every yearning appeal. Heedless of the precepts which he had enunciated to the post-master at Sabinnia after the collision on the post-office road, he inaugurated a series of actions which had the only too common result of leaving him penniless, while drifting on the moving quicksands and socially wrecked on the sunken rocks of the law.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
4 Uncertain. Possibly an ironic reference to the fact that Eugene is not living as a dissipated outcast from society
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]