Part 19 (1/2)

Mr. Napoleon Bowles announced visitors, and this put an end to the conversation. The reader must know that this was not a voluntary yielding on the part of Mattie to the wishes of her mother. She only adopted this course as part of a plan by which she hoped to gain time, during which t.i.te might return, and thus afford her the means of averting a dilemma into which her mother was forcing her.

CHAPTER x.x.x.

A TERRIBLE CALAMITY OVERTAKES THE FAMILY.

It was not to be expected that so pus.h.i.+ng a woman as Mrs. Chapman would be turned from the object she had set her heart on by the interposition of ordinary obstacles. She had taken good care to have the engagement pretty well trumpeted over Bowling Green; and in less than three months from the time what is described in the foregoing chapter occurred, the lady had a day fixed for the wedding ceremony, which, she declared should be on such a scale of magnificence as would astonish all New York, to say nothing of West Bowling Green. And now she was distracting her wits, and the wits of her friends, over what she called the preliminaries extraordinary. Weddings, the lady said, must be illuminated according to the position of the family. And to that end an additional amount of elegant furniture was got for the house, a new carriage was ordered, and Mr. Napoleon Bowles was to appear in a new livery, with top boots. Nor was the family finery to be neglected, for at least a dozen dressmakers had been employed for a month plying their needles. In short, this great coming event in the history of the Chapman family had afforded Bowling Green enough to talk about for a month.

The lady's meek looking little husband pleaded in vain for economy; suggested in vain his almost empty pocket. ”A quiet family wedding, my dear, with a few honest-hearted friends invited, will be so much better, you know;” he would say, submissively. ”You know what nice quiet weddings we used to have at Dogtown, and how cheap they were.”

”Don't mention Dogtown, my dear; pray don't, my darling,” the lady would reply, a curl of contempt on her lips. ”We live in New York, now. I wish we had never known Dogtown--only common people marry in that way in New York. Never bring Dogtown into the house again, my darling.”

”Have it all your own way, my dear,” Chapman would conclude, knowing there was nothing for him to do but surrender submissively.

St. Paul's Church was to be decorated with flowers, for the young people were to be married there, surrounded by gay and admiring friends, who were to make the picture bright and sunny with their smiles and congratulations. And there was to be a grand reception and a sumptuous supper at the house; and the happiness of bride and bridegroom was to be drunk in sparkling wine; and music and dancing was to animate the soul and add charms to their joy-dream.

Mrs. Chapman, I may add here, had a great weakness for distinctions. She had cards printed in gold, in blue, and in red. Such as received cards printed in gold were to consider themselves particularly honored. In short, she divided her guests into three cla.s.ses--select friends, friends, and acquaintances, and sent them cards accordingly. This manner of distinguis.h.i.+ng between guests got the lady into a deal of trouble, and gave rise to much ill-feeling between those who held cards printed in gold and those holding ordinary red ones. Beau Pinks had been honored with a card printed in gold, which he said was a proof of the high esteem he was held in by the lady. In truth, the Beau took great pride in showing this card to the best Bowling Green society, and, with a suggestive nod of the head, saying he had got his best clothes ready, and was waiting to put in an appearance. Mrs. Chapman had always regarded Pinks as a valuable capture, and if he came to the wedding, why, that would in part be gaining the advantage she desired, and in a measure pay off the old score she had against a few of these nice old Bowling Green people.

It must be said to Pinks' credit that he never declined an invitation to a wedding, and rarely missed a chance to mourn at a friend's funeral.

And while Mrs. Chapman seemed to think of nothing else, and talk of nothing else but this great coming event, Chapman had been noticed to wear a more serious look than usual, and indeed to be in a more thoughtful mood. Indeed it was evident there was something on his mind causing him deep anxiety, even distress. It was noticed, too, that he had for several days gone to business earlier than usual and returned later. And when Mrs. Chapman requested an explanation, he would reply by saying: ”Matters at the counting-house require examining into, my dear.”

In truth, the financial affairs of the great Kidd Discovery Company had begun to exhibit those infirmities which are a sure sign of speedy wreck.

And now the day was come when Mattie was to be married to Mr. Gusher. It was three years to-day since t.i.te bid her good-bye and sailed on his voyage, and it was to be her wedding-day. How strange the changed scene seemed to her.

It was one of those soft and balmy mornings in May, when nature seems to enchant us, and hold sweet communion with us through all her beauties.

There was not a ripple on the water; white sails dotted the calm surface of the bay, which seemed like a silvery lake quietly sleeping in the embrace of pretty green hills, softened by the golden gleams of the rising sun. The trees were in blossom; birds were filling the air with delicious melody, but not a leaf stirred.

The Chapman family were up before the sun that morning, and the whole house was astir ere Bowling Green had fairly waked up, or the din of Broadway had broken the stillness. Chapman had spent a restless night, and seemed sad and downcast, as if some trouble he would fain conceal was weighing on his mind. He breakfasted alone that morning, and went to business an hour earlier than usual, promising to return at one o'clock.

He returned, however, at twelve, and in such a state of distress as to alarm the whole house. Indeed he entered the house more like a madman than a philosopher, and so alarmed Bowles by the wildness of his manner and appearance, that he proceeded in a state of great excitement to inform his mistress. When, then, that lady entered the parlor she found her husband stretched on the sofa, with his right hand pressing his forehead, and apparently in a state of great distress. To her repeated enquiries as to what produced this great distress, he would only answer by shaking his head and giving vent to the most pitiful groans.

The lady could not fail to see that some great misfortune had overtaken her husband--something that might blast the dream of her golden future.

”I hope, my dear, it is nothing that will interfere with the wedding to-day?” she enquired, her face already beginning to give out signs of alarm.

Chapman made no reply, but got quickly up from the sofa and paced the room hurriedly, his hair tossed in to disorder, and in a state of frenzy.

After pacing up and down the room in this manner for two or three minutes, which seemed like hours to Mrs. Chapman, who had kept her eyes fixed on his every movement, he approached the lady, and with a wild stare, muttered rather than spoke: ”A funeral, funeral, my dear--not a wedding to-day.” Chapman pressed his hands to his head again, and wept like a child. ”Boundless iniquity,” he resumed, ”fraud--deception--crime-- disgrace--folly--extravagance--disappointment--poverty. What a sham the world is! All, all is gone! No need for a clergyman here to-day. The sheriff will be here in an hour.”

”My dear, my dear, do explain yourself, so that I may understand our position;” Mrs. Chapman interposed, her whole system yielding to the force of excitement. ”If the trouble is only of a transient nature, we may still give the wedding--”

”Wedding! my dear,” interrupted Chapman, wiping the tears from his eyes.

”There can be no wedding in this house to-day, for Gusher has turned out an impostor, and is in prison--.” Before he had time to say any more, the lady threw up her arms with an exclamation, shrieked and swooned.

Chapman attempted to catch her in his arms as she was falling, but she carried him to the floor under her great weight, and indeed caused him to feel alarmed for his own safety. Fortunately, Bowles entered the parlor just as his mistress fell, and seeing the danger his master was in, ran to his relief, and after extracting him from his perilous position, a.s.sisted in getting his mistress safely on the sofa, where restoratives, such as are common where ladies are given to such ills, were applied.

Chapman was indeed a man to be pitied. He had now more than his head and hands full of trouble. The care it was now necessary to bestow on his wife (for she was above all else in his mind) in a great measure relieved him of the excitement caused by his great financial misfortunes. When, then, Mattie entered the parlor and found him comparatively calm, she fancied her mother had swooned from over-exertion on her behalf. Taking a seat beside her mother, she kissed and kissed her cheek, and proceeded to bestow upon her those attentions her case demanded, and in so kind and gentle a manner as to show how deep and true was the love she bore her.

Chapman soon relieved Mattie's mind, by telling her all that had happened. As he concluded she grasped his hand firmly and imprinted a kiss on his cheek. ”Heaven be thanked, father,” she said, ”it is a kind Providence that directs all our destinies. I am free now. You are free--free in your intentions--free in your conscience. I am happy now--happy because I shall not have to interpose my oath against yours.