I’ve decided that we need to wrap up this monstrosity this week, recover over the weekend, and get a fresh start on something more pleasant on Monday. Hence, this “bonus” chapter today, with the concluding chapter noonish tomorrow. Repeat with conviction: “It’s only a historic artifact … It’s only a historic artifact …”
By Hugh J. Cannon
Dick and Mrs. Brooke had carried a couch to the porch and laid Nell’s unconscious form upon it. The sea breeze and the solicitous attentions of her friends revived the girl, and she was by no means certain as sensibility returned that Dick had not been kissing her. He was kneeling by the couch and holding her hand. His face was radiant.
“What is it, Dick?”
“I don’t know, my sweet girl,” he said raising her up and resting her head on his breast. “Mrs. Brooke has just told me what she told you, and there seems to be a chance, but perhaps nothing more, that the woman buried by your father’s side is not your mother.”
“O, call Mrs. Brooke instantly!”
The woman was watching at the door only waiting for an invitation to come in.
“Was Nelly Alder a white woman?” Dick, could feel the girl tremble violently as she put the question.
“Just as white as Mr. Terry.”
“Now tell us as briefly as you can, all you know about Mr. Terry or first of all of his wife, the mother of this girl,” commanded Dick. The woman was more than willing.
“I first saw Nelly Alder when she was a child of eight or nine years. She came to Nukualofa with her father who was a wealthy English trader. Her mother died when she was a few months old.”
“Who was her mother?”
“She was a Spanish lady, and a beauty, too, judging by her pictures which I often admired, for I was afterwards in service in the Alder home in New Zealand. Mr. Alder owned property in all these islands, but particularly in Tonga. Nelly often accompanied him on his visits and sometimes remained here months at a time. When Mr. Terry came to Nukualofa from Fiji he was not long in falling in love with her. I saw them married. Mr. Hunt performed the ceremony. About a year later their little girl was born and when she was two days old the mother died. Five minutes’ walk will bring you to the spot where she lies.”
The narrator began discursively to go into details, but Dick ordered her to inform them of the doings of Mr. Terry.
“He was broken-hearted, and no wonder, for when Nelly Alder died he lost a treasure. His health was broken, too. I was engaged to take care of the child. My own baby was very young and I nursed them both.”
“What did Mr. Terry call his little one?” queried Dick.
The young woman with a cry of joy broke from Dick’s supporting arm.
“Oh, let me get down on my knees and thank God!” she cried.
“One moment more,” Hawley said authoritatively. He was loath to relinquish his support of the girl and still feared there might be a mistake.
“First I have a question,” Nell interposed. “General Howcroft in Fiji and a white planter in Apia detected a resemblance between me and Elinor or Nelly Alder. Why should I look like her?”
“That’s easy to explain.” Mrs. Brooke was eager to tell the story. “Nelly and Elinor were half sisters and looked very much alike. Not long after Nelly’s mother died, Mr. Alder married a woman in Fiji and Elinor was born to them. He never told Nelly of this marriage until she was grown up – just before he died, in fact, and she never met her step-mother or half-sister.”
“Do you know any reason for this secrecy?”
“I certainly do. Elinor’s mother was part Fijian, showed it distinctly though she was beautiful, and Mr. Alder was ashamed to have his older daughter know the kind of a woman who had taken her mother’s place. Besides, the second wife was awfully jealous and acted like a crazy person if any one suggested that there was another daughter. She called her own girl Nelly when the father was not around.
“Once she came to Auckland, while I was working in Mr. Alder’s home, and while Nelly was in England at school. They had a real nasty fuss over this very thing. The woman stormed like fury because her own daughter was kept in the background, and she went so far as to say to her husband’s face that Elinor was the only legitimate child. After Mr. Alder had ordered her back to Fiji and had gone out to get her steamship ticket, she swore to me that she was the only wife her husband ever had and that her daughter was the real Nelly Alder. Said that to me, mind you! And I had known Nelly Alder for years!
This visit made my master so angry that he never saw his wife again, but he was generous with his money and sent her a handsome allowance regularly. Elinor was sent to the States to be educated. I’m sure he was a little afraid his new wife would harm her step-daughter if they ever met. Anyway he kept them apart, and that made it all the easier for the woman to make it appear there was but one child.”
“But why did she call her daughter Nelly?”
“I think there were two reasons. Mr. Alder never talked much about his family, but I heard that once he did speak of his daughter Nelly in the presence of several people in Fiji. Of course to carry out her claim that there was but one child, she had to pretend that her daughter was Nelly. The other reason was, she always hoped, and maybe intended, that there should be but one daughter, and as the name Nelly was much more widely known than Elinor, she wanted that name.
“Of course I didn’t get this story all at once but learned it bit by bit. I can understand my master’s feelings. He was white and very proud. You know I’m a Tongan and half white, and we see that there’s a lot of difference between Fijians and white people or even Polynesians.”
“Then after his first wife’s death, are we to understand that Mr. Terry married her half sister Elinor?” Dick asked.
“Yes, that’s exactly what happened. She came over from Fiji and finding Mr. Terry very ill, she took care of him until he could be around again. His fever had been dreadfully high and I think he was not quite himself when she took him to Vauvau where they were married. I’ve hunted up the record of it there, because some of the natives said they were never married at all. Though I didn’t like her the least bit, mostly because she took the baby from me and used the name of my dead friend Nelly, I must say she made John Terry a good wife. She loved him, I can’t tell you how much, and in a very short time she made a regular idol of the little girl, and always claimed her as her own. She would become terribly angry if anyone said she was not Lilly Nell’s own mother.
“John Terry was the best man I ever knew, but he was sick a good deal, and Elinor was determined to have her own way. In many things it was a pretty good way, too. She was a lot better woman than her mother, but was just as jealous. I guess it was because of this that Mr. Terry never mentioned his first marriage nor the fact that the child’s real mother was dead. I am sure the reason they sold out in Tonga and went to Samoa was that they might get into a place where their neighbors didn’t know the real truth. I can bring in a good many natives who will tell you this same story.”
“That will do,” Dick ordered. “Miss Nell has heard enough for one day.”
And indeed she had. The girl’s strength was completely gone, and she was nearer collapse than at any previous time in her life. She threw her arms around Dick’s neck and sobbed hysterically. he had Mrs. Brooke put her to bed.
Touched by the rays of the rising sun the small Tongan cemetery on the following morning became a paradise. Mrs. Terry’s resting place was on an eminence overlooking the sea, and one could hardly find a more reposeful spot in the world for the long and quiet sleep of death.
Nell knelt by the newly found grave, her heart filled with that sublime joy which can find expression only in tears. The bronze inscription on the simple stone, though worn by the weather, was still discernible. It gave the information that Nelly alder, wife of John Z. Terry, was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and that she died to give life to a baby girl.
“Mother, dear, can you feel my presence as I feel yours, and know that I love you, oh, so tenderly and that with contrite heart I fervently thank God and you that you are my mother?”
After Mrs. Brooke’s story was full verified by the girl, with Hawley’s assistance, she determined to take the first boat for the States. She realized now the intense longing, so heroically suppressed, again to see and associate with the only parents she had known. Except for this re-awakened filial love which completely dominated her being, Dick’s pleadings that she accept his proposal of marriage and return as his fiancee, or even as his wife, might not have been fruitless.
The young lady had to admit the arguments he advanced were most specious. Nate and Jessie, having received her approval, were formally engaged ere this, and it would relieve them all of embarrassment if her own engagement could be immediately announced. His great desire was that they be married at once: he demanded nothing more at present than her admission that she liked him very much; in time, he was confident, his conduct toward her would win a deeper love. Upon seeing how distasteful to her feelings an immediate marriage was, he abandoned that idea, but continued to plead for an engagement.
“This will be snarled up worse than ever,” he argued, “if you go home as you now are. Suppose you drop in on them with the cloud of your birth removed just before they are married. What will Everett and Jessie do? She will feel that she must be as brave as you were and relinquish all claim on him for your sake, and as a matter of principle. Can’t you see it?”
“Yes, Dick, I can see it; but I’ve been away from home so long and suffered so much – more than you can ever know, more even than I have realized. Now when I become engaged I want it to be in my own home and with the approval of my parents.”
Dick, therefore, gave up for the present. He was obliged to leave for the States two weeks before she could get a steamer. From San Francisco he must go to Washington to make certain reports, after which he was to receive a lengthy furlough and would meet her upon arrival home or very shortly thereafter.
A long telegram was sent to Judge Redfield from San Francisco, conveying word that Nell would be with them in a very few days. She had good news, but inasmuch as her visit might be of short duration, it would be advisable to keep her return absolutely secret until she had seen them.
With the approach of the homecoming hour the girl’s mental disturbance increased. With every mile traversed by the flying train, eagerness to see her parents became more acute. But what about Nate and Jessie? She had not heard of her former lover’s return from Egypt, but there had been ample time for him to do so, and perhaps they were already married. The thought that she might arrive in time for the wedding almost made her heart cease beating. If this were found to be the situation, should she accept Dick? Possibly Nate’s case with Jessie had not progressed satisfactorily and he would claim his first sweetheart. In such an event what would become of the man who, in her loneliness had become very dear to her? And what would become of Jessie?
Her destination was reached at night and a joyous welcome extended and received without attracting undue attention. In the old home, a hundred-fold dearer now because it had seemed forever lost, she told of her discovery.
“That, then, accounts for the anxiety Jack manifested to see me when he felt his illness would be fatal. The last letter from him, and the one which persuaded us to leave for the Islands, he dictated to this woman Elinor. In it he conveyed the idea, purposely no doubt so as not to arouse her jealousy, that there were important business matters to adjust. Undoubtedly he wanted to tell me this story, and not foreseeing his sudden death, preferred to do it in person rather than to trust it to paper.”
“What about Nate?” this question had been on Nell’s lips from the moment she stepped off the train. Likewise the answer had been on theirs, but question and answer were delayed as one hesitates over a plunge into cold water. Now the girl waited breathlessly for the reply which seemed an unreasonably long time in coming.
“His engagement to Jessie is announced, though the date for the wedding has not been set. Can you forgive us, dear child, for our part in bringing this about?”
“Of course, there is nothing to forgive, and I expected to find them formally engaged, if not married. Now my course is clear. Dick, but for whom this miraculous discovery probably never would have been made, is already in the
Untied United States. You know how anxious he is to marry me. Fortunately, I wrote Jessie from Tonga, telling her how perilously near I was to an engagement with Dick. perhaps she showed the letter to you. I suggested that she might do so.”
“Yes, we read it.”
“And were disappointed in me for my lack of character?” At the moment, Nell felt she would rather choose life-long expatriation than disappoint these dear ones whose chief care in life had been to develop within her an impregnable conscience.
“No, we were not,” the judge assured her. ‘Mother and I discussed it at great length and were not sure our own views on this subject were sound. That is not an important question now. The important point is that people should be convinced they are right in a matter of such moment. The fact that you did not decide impulsively indicates the very character which it has been our hope and prayer we might develop. But how about dick now?”
“I love him dearly, but cannot consent, at least not at present, to a marriage. Why, the big, good-natured boy seems just like a brother. He’ll be here before long, and with the knowledge that I am free to marry, my feelings may change. In the meantime, Jessie and Nate love each other and their plans must be carried out, though Jessie of course will be generous enough to offer to give him up for me. Now we must bring dick forward. You can emphasize the statement which I made in my letter that more than once I have almost accepted him. when he arrives we can show him as ‘Exhibit A.’ Isn’t that what you lawyers call it?”
The girl was trying to introduce lightness into an oppressive subject. that her parents were deeply troubled at this phase of the situation, and particularly because of the part they had played in bringing it about, was very evident.
Almost the entire night was spent in discussing the subject. The daughter’s plan was the only feasible one which presented itself, and while ostensibly reconciled to it, the keen eyes of those who knew her so well detected sufficient disappointment to temper their otherwise perfect joy.
Upon learning of her friend’s happy return, Jessie did what Nell had foreseen and predicted – insisted that Nate be released from all obligations to her. This offer, made with apparent whole-heartedness, was rejected, for it was evident her affections had gone out to Nate, sincerely and deeply if not enthusiastically.
Dick wrote from Washington almost daily, and there was no lack of color in his letters. Smilingly, Nell showed these to her parents and Jessie and with such outward pleasure that the friend was well pleased with the situation though Nell was not so certain about the judge, whose innate ability and years of training, she knew, enabled him to look more deeply into people’s hearts than was comfortable under present circumstances.
About this time another letter came to Nell. It had been mailed from Cairo to Apia, reaching that place after her departure, and had followed her home. She could not suppress tumultuous excitement when the judge handed it to her and she saw the well known hand-writing. It was opened with trembling hands and in the privacy of her own room was perused with palpitating heart.
“Dear Nell,” so the missive ran, “Because I am making no effort to persuade you to return to American or to wring permission to come to you in your new home, I cannot consider these lines a violation of my promise not to write.
“Notwithstanding the delicacy of our positions, but remembering our former relations, it seems fitting for me to tell you that, after learning through Jessie of your full approval of our marriage, I have written her to announce the engageme4nt and to proceed with preparations for the wedding. Perhaps this word has already reached you, though cruel as it may seem, I hope to be the one to break this news.
“No secret was ever made of my fondness for Jessie. You understood and approved of my sentiments and can, I am sure, readily understand how that feeling of comradeship could gradually develop to its present stage. For her part she knows how sincerely I loved you and realizes without jealousy that I love you still.
“At last I am of your mind that we should never meet again. You have buried yourself, and I am as one standing at the graveside of a lost sweetheart. IN my heart you are, and always will be my sweetheart.
“To you it is not necessary to speak words of praise for Jessie. She is as good and sweet as ever. As a friend I can love her sincerely and hope to succeed in making myself love her as I have and do you.
“How I wish you were here to enjoy with me the sunrise as I see it from the summit of the largest pyramid. Then the scene spread out between here and Cairo, which perhaps for interest cannot be surpassed in the world, would not pall upon me. The city’s artistic spires and minarets are glistening in the morning sunlight. between this point and there, are fields of corn s luxuriant as any which flourished in the seven years of plenty when the provident Joseph laid plans to save Egypt from the impending famine. The historic Nile is almost at my feet, below is the sphinx, inscrutable as the fate which has so disturbed my life; and behind, offering singular contrast to the view before me is the forbidding Libyan desert, as barren as my future appeared when you left me.
“What fun is it to look at these things alone! I’d rather see our state capitol at home with you.
“In view of my formal engagement to another girl, perhaps I shouldn’t write this way. Certainly it is not in my heart to be unfair to Jessie, but for the last time I am communing with you by letter as I cannot help doing at times in spirit. Goodbye my lost but never to be forgotten sweetheart.”
Again as on a former occasion, when the news of her supposed Fijian blood had been received, Nell flung herself disconsolately on the bed. It was painfully clear now that she could never love another as she loved Nate. Dick was merely a very dear friend, or a brother, and it was useless to consider him in any other light. With the grief was mingled some bitterness at a fate so unkind.
Why should she be forced to endure a second time this martyrdom? Once emerged from the veritable hell where she had writhed in torment for so long, and now with the prospect of a measure of peace for her, why was she cast into the scorching flames anew? Far better to have remained in Samoa with the feeling that she had no right to marry, than this torment!
Her father and mother came to the door, but the girl felt she could not face them, and the flimsy excuse offered must have revealed the turmoil in her soul as plainly as her swollen eyes would have done.
During Nell’s expatriation she had learned to face facts and decide her course by reason and not by hysterical impulse. The troubled voices of her parents outside the door recalled her to a semblance of calmness.
The situation demanded clearer thinking. To wreck the happiness of her dearest friend would be more ignoble than marriage when she thought her blood was impure. When it was determined to relinquish Nate, sentiment, comparatively, was the only thing involved. But now something deeper and more vital must be considered, principle. Despite her own abysmal despair there was more need for courage under these circumstances than formerly.
That she was compelled forevermore to give up all hope of Nate was a fact which must be faced. she had fought out this battle many time sin the past, but how it was to be done now offered many new perplexities. to remain here and see another girl making preparations to marry the man she loved better than life itself, would, she feared, be unendurable. But even to hint at going away again would reveal to all concerned the true state of her feelings and thwart her purpose.
In the event that strength were given to crucify her own feelings and, by outwardly making the most of Dick’s efforts, throw Nate and Jessie of the scene, could such a course be pursued in fairness to Dick? Was it honorable to use him as a catspaw even to insure her friend’s happiness? She knew her parents after what they had already witnessed, would not be deceived by her best efforts at acting.
Nell could not think the thing through to its finality, but for the present must take one step at a time. The one thing that occurred to her was to go with the problem to her sympathetic parents, always a life-long habit until compelled by absence to solve perplexing questions alone.
Was it mockery that the judge’s favorite scriptural passage came to her mind: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” What if she did inherit all things? Of what value would they be without Nate?
But despite the bitterness, Nell was not irreverent, and the prophetic promise brought with it, if not peace, at least composure. A surprising discovery made on the Islands recurred to her mind, that resisting one’s natural desires, even though they can not be wholly suppressed, brings a distinct measure of happiness.
Her mind, though well disciplined, was too confused to lay fair hold on a hope as chimerical as the one suggested by this train of thought, but out of the chaos a resolute determination emerged to be true to her conception of what was right.
Nell was conscious that Jessie was not a girl to be won by half-hearted wooing; nor was it Nate’s nature to make love indifferently, although she accepted as truth every word of his letter. Whatever other conclusion might be reached as to her own plans it was clear that their affair must go forward.
In the interview which ensued with her parents, Mrs. Redfield, as was her wont, left the complicated matter to the judge, but even his fertile mind could find no solution. Nate had talked long and confidentially with him, he explained, had laid open the innermost recesses of his heart wherein it was evident the fraternal affection he had always entertained for Jessie had turned gradually to a feeling which justified a proposal of marriage. It could not be said that Nate was very intensely enthusiastic in this new effort at love-making, but he was sincere and, the judge felt, had completely won her love.
“Perhaps I’m an old-fashioned fool,” he continued much depressed, ‘but experience and observation have taught me that enduring happiness must be bought with a price. Sometimes it’s marked up, sometimes down. But whatever the market, my sincere belief is that doing right is absolutely the only legal tender with which it can be purchased. I can not change that conviction any more than you can help loving Nate.”
“And I would not have you change it, Father.” Nell tenderly kissed and smoothed the troubled brow. “I must go back to Samoa, I’m in the way here.”
The mother intervened, as mothers always do in matters involving separation.
“But I can’t stay here, Mother, and be tortured. It’s a slow crucifixion.”
Mr. and Mrs. Redfield realized how true this was when they witnessed the first meeting between Nell and Nate who arrived unexpectedly a few days later. It was evident their self-restraint was taxed to the uttermost to keep from flying into each other’s arms.
The first moment they were alone, Nate seized the girl’s hands impulsively and would have embraced her but she gently repulsed him.
“Oh, Nell, what can I say or do? I can’t give you up. I’ve been in torment ever since you went away. Something in my soul told me you would come back to me, and yet I was persuaded that it could never be. Your parents and mine urged me on, and I thought if I married Jessie and went away it would even be better for you, for then you could return home. But now that I’ve seen you again it would be wicked to marry anyone else.”
It was long before the overwrought girl could coherently express herself.
“Nate, there’s only one thing to do, meet this crisis as we met the other that upset our lives. Marriage to you would have been dishonorable when I thought my blood was tainted, but think how much more dishonorable it would be to marry you now! You love Jessie of course?”
“I think more of her than of any other girl in the world except you. She’s attractive and sociable and has always been congenial. I will confess that there have even been times when I was almost enthusiastic about our marriage, but more often my feelings for her have not been stronger than they were when she was our jolly companion. Your father has known exactly how I felt and has thought, as perhaps I have, that this was enough foundation upon which to build domestic life. My parents were eager for the match, so was the judge, and in view of my regard for Jessie it seemed the sensible thing to do. But now –” He could not continue.
The girl laid her hand tenderly on his arm. “Poor Nate! What a lot of misfortunes have come upon you. First I go away when you need me and then come home suddenly when you don’t need me.”
“But I do need you, Nell, more than at any other time in my life.”
“No, it would be better if I had not come back, and unless you will solemnly promise to remember your duty to Jessie I shall go away again. Father is right when he says no path can lead to happiness which is strewn with the dead hopes of our friends. Nate, your father has always been rather stern with you, and perhaps you can’t understand how I feel, but after all the tenderness my father and mother have shown me, I would sooner be cut into little pieces than make them feel that I am lacking in character.”
Though he plead with her to permit an explanation to be made to Jessie, or rather, that she would accept the offer which Jessie had already made to withdraw from the field, Nell knew he would be disappointed in her sense of right if she did so. He yielded at last to her determined requests and promised to go on with the wedding arrangements.
Jessie and Nate were at the Redfield home when Dick announced himself in accordance with a previous letter. Nell was aware that her friends were furtively taking mental note of her words and actions and, woman-like, she gave the dashing officer a welcome with which he was visibly delighted.
“Think of my good luck,” he exclaimed enthusiastically almost before the formal greetings were over. “I’m assigned to special duty for six months which will keep me between Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis. Could anything be better – for me?”
“And for all of us,” Nell added smilingly, and with such apparent sincerity that even Nate looked at her questioningly.