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[Transcriber's note: Part III contains two chapters labeled Chapter VI.]

MIRIAM MONFORT:

_A NOVEL_.

BY THE AUTHOR OF

"THE HOUSEHOLD OF BOUVERIE."

"Fancy, _with_ fact, is just one fact the more."

"Let this old woe step on the stage again,
Act itself o'er anew for men to judge;
Not by the very sense and sight indeed,
Which take at best imperfect cognizance.
Since, how heart moves brain, and how both move hand,
What mortal ever in entirety saw?
Yet helping us to all we seem to hear,
For, how else know we save by worth of word?"

BROWNING, "_The Ring and the Book_"

NEW YORK:
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY,
549 & 551 BROADWAY.
1873.

DEDICATION

_This book is dedicated to the memory of one most dear, who saw it grow
to completion with pleasure and approbation, during the last happy
summer of a life since darkened by misfortune. Peace be his!_

_MONFORT HALL._

"Not one friend have we here, not one true heart;
We've nothing but ourselves."

"There's a dark spirit walking in our house,
And swiftly will the destiny close on us.
It drove me hither from my calm asylum;
It lures me forward--in a seraph's shape
I see it near, I see it nearer floating--
It draws, it pulls me with a godlike power,
And, lo, the abyss! and thither am I moving;
I have no power within me--but to move."

"He is the only one we have to fear, he and his father."

COLERIDGE'S _Translation of Schiller's "Wallenstein"_

MIRIAM MONFORT


* * * * *




PART I.

_MONFORT HALL_.

CHAPTER I.


My father, Reginald Monfort, was an English gentleman of good family,
who, on his marriage with a Jewish lady of wealth and refinement,
emigrated to America, rather than subject her and himself to the
commentaries of his own fastidious relatives, and the incivilities of a
clique to which by allegiance of birth and breeding he unfortunately
belonged.

Her own family had not been less averse to this union than the
aristocratic house of Monfort, and, had she not been the mistress of her
own acts and fortune, would, no doubt, have absolutely prevented it. As
it was, a wild wail went up from the synagogue at the loss of one of its
brightest ornaments, and the name of "Miriam Harz" was consigned to
silence forever.

Orphaned and independent, this obloquy and oblivion made little
difference to its object, especially when the broad Atlantic was placed,
as it soon was, between her and her people, and new ties and duties
arose in a strange land to bind and interest her feelings.

During her six years of married life, I have every reason to believe
that she was, as it is termed, "perfectly happy," although a mysterious
disease of the nervous centres, that baffled medical skill either to
cure or to name, early laid its grasp upon her, and brought her by slow
degrees to the grave, when her only child had just completed her fifth
year.

My father, the younger son of a nobleman who traced his lineage from
Simon de Montfort, had been married in his own estate and among his
peers before he met my mother. Poor himself (his commission in the army
constituting his sole livelihood), he had espoused the young and
beautiful widow of a brother officer, who, in dying, had committed his
wife and her orphan child to his care and good offices, on a
battle-field in Spain, and with her hand he had received but little of
this world's lucre. The very pension, to which she would have been
entitled living singly, was cut off by her second marriage, and with
habits of luxury and indolence, such as too often appertain to the
high-born, and cling fatally to the physically delicate, the burden of
her expenses was more than her husband could well sustain.

Her parents and his own were dead, and there were no relatives on either
side who could be called upon for aid, without a sacrifice of pride,
which my father would have died rather than have made. He was nearly
reduced to desperation by the circumstances of the case, when,
fortunately perhaps for both, she suddenly sickened, drooped, and died,
in his absence, during her brief sojourn at a watering-place, and all
considerations were lost sight of at the time, in view of this
unexpected and stunning blow--for Reginald Monfort was devoted, in his
chivalric way, to his beautiful and fragile wife, as it was, indeed, his
nature to be to every thing that was his own. Her very dependence had
endeared her to him, nor had she known probably to what straits her
exactions had driven him, nor what were his exigencies. Perhaps (let me
strive to do her this justice, at least), had he been more open on these
subjects, matters might have gone better. Yet he found consolation in
the reflection that she had been happy in her ignorance of his affairs,
and had experienced no strict privation during their short union,
inevitably as this must later have been her portion, and certainly as,
in her case, misery must have accompanied it.

Her child, in the absence of all near relatives, became his charge, and
the little three-year-old girl, her mother's image, grew into his
closest affections by reason of this likeness and her very helplessness.
Two years after the death of his wife, he espoused my mother, a bright
and beautiful woman of his own age, with whom he met casually at a
banker's dinner in London, and who, fascinated by his Christian graces,
reached her fair Judaic hand over all lines of Purim prejudice, and
placed it confidingly in his own for life, thereby, as I have said,
relinquishing home and kindred forever.

A hundred thousand pounds was a great fortune in those days and in our
then modest republic, and this was the sum my parents brought with them
from England--a heritage sufficiently large to have enriched a numerous
family in America, but which was chiefly centred on one alone, as will
be shown.

My father, a proud, shy, fastidious man, had always been galled by the
consciousness of my mother's Israelitish descent, which she never
attempted to conceal or deny, although, to please his sensitive
requisitions, she dispensed with most of its open observances. That she
clung to it with unfailing tenacity to the last I cannot doubt, however,
from memorials written in her own hand--a very characteristic one--and
from the testimony of Mrs. Austin, her faithful friend and
attendant--the nurse, let me mention here, of my father's little
step-daughter during her mother's lifetime, and her brief orphanage, as
well as of his succeeding children.

Stanch in his love of church and country, we, his daughters, were all
three christened, and "brought up," as it is termed, in the Episcopal
Church, and early taught devotion to its rites and ceremonies. Yet, had
we chosen for ourselves, perhaps our different temperaments might, even
in this thing, have asserted themselves, and we might have embraced
sects as diverse as our tastes were several. I shall come to this third
sister presently, of whom I make but passing mention here. She was our
flower, our pearl, our little ewe-lamb--the loveliest and the last--and
I must not trust myself to linger with her memory now, or I shall lose
the thread of my story, and tangle it with digression.

With my Oriental blood there came strange, passionate affection for all
things sharing it, unknown to colder organizations--an affection in
whose very vitality were the seeds of suffering, in whose very strength
was weakness, perhaps in whose very enjoyment, sorrow. I have said my
mother died of an insidious and inscrutable malady, which baffled friend
and physician, when I was five years old. She had been so long ill, so
often alienated from her household for days together, that her death was
a less terrible evil, less suddenly so, at least, than if each morning
had found her at her board, each evening at the family hearth, and
every hour, as would have been the case in health, occupied with her
children.

My father's grief was stern, quiet, solitary; ours, unreasonable and
noisy, but soon over as to manifestation. Yet I must have suffered more
than I knew of, I think, for then occurred the first of those strange
lethargies or seizures that afterward returned at very unequal intervals
during my childhood and early youth, and which roused my father's fears
about my life and intellect itself, and gave me into the hands of a
physician for many years thereof, vigorous, and healthy, and intelligent
otherwise as I felt, and seemed, and _was_.

It was soon after the first settling down of tribulation in our
household to that flat and almost unendurable calm or level that
succeeds affliction, when a void is felt rather than expressed, and when
all outward observances return to their olden habit, as a car backs
slowly from a switch to its accustomed grooves, that a new face appeared
among us, destined to influence, in no slight degree, the happiness of
all who composed the family of Reginald Monfort.

It was summer. The house in which we lived was partly finished in the
rear by wide and extensive galleries above and below, shaded by movable
_jalousies;_ and, on the upper one of these, that on which our
apartments opened, my father had caused a hammock to be swung, for the
comfort and pleasure of his children. With one foot listlessly dragging
on the floor of the portico so as to propel the hammock, and lying
partly on my face while I soothed my wide-eyed doll to sleep, I lay
swaying in childish fashion when I heard Evelyn's soft step beside me,
accompanied by another, firmer, slower, but as gentle if not as light. I
looked up: a sweet face was bending over me, framed in a simple cottage
bonnet of white straw, and braids of shining brown hair.

The eyes, large, lustrous, tender, of deepest blue, with their black
dilated pupils, I shall never forget as they first met my own, nor the
slow, sad smile that seemed to entreat my affectionate acquaintance. The
effect was immediate and electric. I sat up in the hammock, I stretched
out my hands to receive the proffered greeting, and then remained
silently, child-fashion, surveying the new-comer.

"Kiss me," she said, "little Miriam.



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