Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
The Masterful Style of Proposal
By Augusta Jane Evans (18351909)
[Born near Columbus, Ga., 1835. Died in Mobile, Ala., 1909. Beulah. A Novel. 1859.]
THE DAY was dull, misty, and gusty. All the morning there had been a driving southeasterly rain; but toward noon there was a lull. The afternoon was heavy and threatening, while armies of dense clouds drifted before the wind. Dr. Asbury had not yet returned from his round of evening visits; Mrs. Asbury had gone to the Asylum to see a sick child, and Georgia was dining with her husbands mother. Beulah came home from school more than usually fatigued; one of the assistant teachers was indisposed, and she had done double work to relieve her. She sat before her desk, writing industriously on an article she had promised to complete before the end of the week. Her head ached; the lines grew dim, and she laid aside her manuscript and leaned her face on her palms. The beautiful lashes lay against her brow, for the eyes were raised to the portrait above her desk, and she gazed up at the faultless features with an expression of sad hopelessness. Years had not filled the void in her heart with other treasures. At this hour it ached with its own desolation, and extending her arms imploringly toward the picture, she exclaimed sorrowfully:
She opened the desk, and taking out a key, left her room, and slowly ascended to the third story. Charon crept up the steps after her. She unlocked the apartment which Mrs. Asbury had given into her charge some time before, and raising one of the windows, looped back the heavy blue curtains which gave a sombre hue to all within. From this elevated position she could see the stormy, sullen waters of the bay breaking against the wharves, and hear their hoarse muttering as they rocked themselves to rest after the scourging of the tempest. Gray clouds hung low, and scudded northward; everything looked dull and gloomy. She turned from the window and glanced around the room. It was at all times a painful pleasure to come here, and now, particularly, the interior impressed her sadly. Here were the paintings and statues she had long been so familiar with, and here, too, the melodeon which at rare intervals she opened. The house was very quiet; not a sound came up from below; she raised the lid of the instrument, and played a plaintive prelude. Echoes, seven or eight years old, suddenly fell on her ears; she had not heard one note of this air since she left Dr. Hartwells roof. It was a favorite song of his; a German hymn he had taught her, and now after seven years she sang it. It was a melancholy air, and as her trembling voice rolled through the house, she seemed to live the old days over again. But the words died away on her lips; she had overestimated her strength; she could not sing it. The marble images around her, like ghosts of the past, looked mutely down at her grief. She could not weep; her eyes were dry, and there was an intolerable weight on her heart. Just before her stood the Niobe, rigid and woful; she put her hands over her eyes, and drooped her face on the melodeon. Gloom and despair crouched at her side, their gaunt hands tugging at the anchor of hope. The wind rose and howled round the corners of the house; how fierce it might be on trackless seas, driving lonely barks down to ruin, and strewing the main with ghastly upturned faces. She shuddered and groaned. It was a dark hour of trial, and she struggled desperately with the phantoms that clustered about her. Then there came other sounds: Charons shrill, frantic bark and whine of delight. For years she had not heard that peculiar bark, and started up in wonder. On the threshold stood a tall form, with a straw hat drawn down over the features, but Charons paws were on the shoulders, and his whine of delight ceased not. He fell down at his masters feet and caressed them. Beulah looked an instant, and sprang into the doorway, holding out her arms, with a wild, joyful cry:
Leaning against the door, with his arms crossed over his broad chest, Dr. Hartwell stood, silently regarding her. She came close to him, and her extended arms trembled: still he did not move, did not speak.
She looked up at him so eagerly; but he said nothing. She stood an instant irresolute, then threw her arms around his neck, and laid her head on his bosom, clinging closely to him. He did not return the embrace, but looked down at the beaming face, and sighed; then he put his hand softly on her head, and smoothed the rippling hair. A brilliant smile broke over her features, as she felt the remembered touch of his fingers on her forehead, and she repeated in the low tones of deep gladness:
She felt his strong frame quiver; he folded his arms about her, clasped her to his heart with a force that almost suffocated her, and bending his head, kissed her passionately. Suddenly his arms relaxed their clasp; holding her off, he looked at her keenly, and said:
Ah, what pale spectres that face calls up from the grim, gray ruins of memory! Doubtless you know my miserable history. I married her thinking I had won her love. She soon undeceived me. We separated. I once asked you to be my wife, and you told me you would rather die. Child, years have not dealt lightly with me since then. I am no longer a young man. Look here. He threw off his hat, and passing his fingers through his curling hair, she saw, here and there, streaks of silver. He watched her as she noted it. She saw, too, how haggard he looked, now that the light fell full on his pale face. The splendid, dark eyes were unaltered, and as they looked down into hers, tears gathered on her lashes, her lips trembled, and throwing her arms again round his neck, she laid her face on his shoulder.
Yes, I thank God, I am changed. My infidelity was a source of many sorrows; but the clouds have passed from my mind; I have found the truth in Holy Writ. Now she raised her head, and looked at him very earnestly.
Yes, evening and morning. Prayed that you might be shielded from all dangers, and brought safely home. And there was one other thing which I prayed for not less fervently than for your return: that God would melt your hard, bitter heart, and give you a knowledge of the truth of the Christian religion. Oh, sir, I thought sometimes that possibly you might die in a far-off land, and then I should see you no more, in time or eternity! and oh, the thought nearly drove me wild! My guardian, my all, let me not have prayed in vain. She clasped his hand in hers, and looked up pleadingly into the loved face; and, for the first time in her life, she saw tears glistening in the burning eyes. He said nothing, however; took her face in his hands, and scanned it earnestly, as if reading all that had passed during his long absence. Presently he asked:
At last, then, after years of sorrow, and pain, and bitterness, I shall be happy in my own home; shall have a wife, a companion, who loves me for myself alone. Ah, Beulah, my idol, I will make you happy!