Women's Short Fictions: A Nineteenth-Century Online Anthology--return to Index

The Amber Gods

by Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835-1921)

Text from Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 15 (1860): 7+; 176+.


Flower O' the Peach.

We've some splendid old point-lace in our family, yellow and fragrant, loose-meshed. It isn't every one has point at all; and of those who have, it isn't every one can afford to wear it. I can. Why? O, because it's in character. Besides, I admire point any way,--it's so becoming. And then, you see, this amber! Now what is in finer unison, this old point-lace, all tags and tangle and fibrous and bewildering, and this amber, to which Heaven knows how many centuries, maybe, with all their changes, brought perpetual particles of increase? I like yellow things, you see.

To begin at the beginning. My name, you're aware, is Giorgione Willoughby. Queer name for a girl! Yes; but before papa sowed his wild-oats, he was one afternoon in Fiesole, looking over Florence nestled below, when some whim took him to go into a church there, a quiet place, full of twilight and one great picture, nobody within but a girl and her little slave,--the one watching her mistress, the other saying dreadfully devout prayers on an amber rosary, and of course she didn't see him, or didn't appear to. After he got there, he wondered what on earth he came for, it was so dark and poky, and he began to feel uncomfortably,--when all of a sudden a great ray of sunset dashed through the window, and drowned the place in the splendor of the illumined painting. Papa adores rich colors; and he might have been satiated here, except that such things make you want more. It was a Venus;--no, though, it couldn't have been a Venus in a church, could it? Well, then, a Magdalen, I guess, or a Madonna, or something. I fancy the man painted for himself, and christened for others. So, when I was born, some years afterward, papa, gratefully remembering this dazzling little vignette of his youth, was absurd enough to christen me Giorgione. That's how I came by my identity; but the folks all call me Yone, --a baby name.

I'm a blond, you know,--none of your silver-washed things. I wouldn't give a fico for a girl with flaxen hair; she might as well be a wax doll, and have her eyes moved by a wire; besides, they've no souls. I imagine they were remnants at our creation, and somehow scrambled together, and managed to get up a little life among themselves; but it's good for nothing, and everybody sees through the pretence. They're glass chips, and brittle shavings, slender pinkish scrids,--no name for them; but just you say blonde, soft and slow and rolling,--it brings up a brilliant, golden vitality, all manner of white and torrid magnificences, and you see me! I've watched little bugs--gold rose-chafers--lie steeping in the sun, till every atom of them must have been searched with the warm radiance, and have felt that, when they reached that point, I was just like them, golden all through,--not dyed, but created. Sunbeams like to follow me, I think. Now, when I stand in one before this glass, infiltrated with the rich tinge, don't I look like the spirit of it just stepped out for inspection? I seem to myself like the complete incarnation of light, full, bounteous, overflowing, and I wonder at and adore anything so beautiful; and the reflection grows finer and deeper while I gaze, till I dare not do so any longer. So, without more words, I'm a golden blonde. You see me now: not too tall,--five feet four; not slight, or I couldn't have such perfect roundings, such flexible moulding. Here's nothing of the spiny Diana and Pallas, but Clytie or Isis speaks in such delicious curves. It don't look like flesh and blood, does it? Can you possibly imagine it will ever change? Oh!

Now see the face,--not small, either; lips with no particular outline, but melting, and seeming as if they would stain yours, should you touch them. No matter about the rest, except the eyes. Do you meet such eyes often? You wouldn't open your so, if you did. Note their color now, before the ray goes. Yellow hazel? Not a bit of it! Some folks say topaz, but they're fools. Nor sherry. There's a dark sardine base, but over it real seas of light, clear light; there isn't any positive color; and once when I was angry, I caught a glimpse of them in a mirror, and they were quite white, perfectly colorless, only luminous. I looked like a fiend, and, you may be sure, recovered my temper directly,--easiest thing in the world, when you've motive enough. You see the pupil is small, and that gives more expansion and force to the irides; but sometimes in an evening, when I'm too gay, and a true damask settles in the cheek, the pupil grows larger and crowds out the light, and under these thick brown lashes, these yellow-hazel eyes of yours, they are dusky and purple and deep with flashes, like pansies lit by fire-flies, and then common folks call them black. Be sure, I've never got such eyes for nothing, any more than this hair. That is Lucrezia Borgian, spun gold, and ought to take the world in its toils. I always wear these thick riotous curls round my temples and face; but the great braids behind--O, I'll uncoil them, before my toilet is over.

Probably you felt all this before, but didn't know the secret of it. Now, the traits being brought out, you perceive nothing wanting; the thing is perfect, and you've a reason for it. Of course, with such an organization, I'm not nervous. Nervous! I should as soon fancy a dish of cream nervous. I am too rich for anything of the kind, permeated utterly with a rare golden calm. Girls always suggest little similitudes to me: there's that brunette beauty,--don't you taste mulled wine when you see her? and thinking of yourself, did you ever feel green tea? and find me in a crust of wild honey, the expressed essence of woods and flowers, with its sweet satiety?--no, that's too cloying. I'm a deal more like Mendelssohn's music,--what I know of it, for I can't distinguish tunes,--you wouldn't suspect it,--but full harmonies delight me as they do a wild beast; and so I'm like a certain adagio in B flat, that papa likes.

There, now! you're perfectly shocked to hear me go on so about myself; but you oughtn't to be. It isn't lawful for any one else, because praise is intrusion; but if the rose please to open her heart to the moth, what then? You know, too, I didn't make myself; it's no virtue to be so fair. Louise couldn't speak so of herself: first place, because it wouldn't be true; next place, she couldn't if it were; and lastly, she made her beauty by growing a soul in her eyes, I suppose,--what you call good. I'm not good, of course; I wouldn't give a fig to be good. So it's not vanity. It's on a far grander scale; a splendid selfishness,--authorized, too; and papa and mamma brought me up to worship beauty,--and there's the fifth commandment, you know.

Dear me! you think I'm never coming to the point. Well, here's this rosary;--hand me the perfume-case first, please. Don't you love heavy fragrances, faint with sweetness, ravishing juices of odor, heliotropes, violets, water-lilies,--powerful attars and extracts that snatch your soul off your lips? Couldn't you live on rich scents, if they tried to starve you? I could, or die on them: I don't know which would be best. There! there's the amber rosary! You needn't speak; look at it!

Bah! is that all you've got to say? Why, observe the thing; turn it over; hold it up to the window; count the beads,--long, oval, like some seaweed bulbs, each an amulet. See the tint; it's very old; like clots of sunshine,--aren't they? Now bring it near; see the carving, here corrugated, there faceted, now sculptured into hideous, tiny, heathen gods. You didn't notice that before! How difficult it must have been, when amber is so friable! Here's one with a chessboard on his back, and all his kings and queens and pawns slung round him. Here's another with a torch, a flaming torch, its fire pouring out inverted. They are grotesque enough;--but this, this is matchless: such a miniature woman, one hand grasping the round rock behind, while she looks down into some gulf, perhaps, beneath, and will let herself fall. O, you should see her with a magnifying-glass! You want to think of calm, satisfying death, a mere exhalation, a voluntary slipping into another element? There it is for you. They are all gods and goddesses. They are all here but one; I've lost one, the knot of all, the love of the thing. Well! wasn't it queer for a Catholic girl to have at prayer? Don't you wonder where she got it? Ah! but don't you wonder where I got it? I'll tell you.

Papa came in, one day, and with great mystery commenced unrolling and unrolling, and throwing tissue papers on the floor, and scraps of colored wool; and Lu and I ran to him,--Lu stooping on her knees to look up, I bending over his hands to look down.  It was so mysterious!  I began to suspect it was diamonds for me, but knew I never could wear them, and was dreadfully afraid that I was going to be tempted, when slowly, bead by bead, came out this amber necklace.  Lu fairly screamed;  as for me, I just drew breath after breath, without a word.  Of course they were for me;--I reached my hands for them.

"Oh, wait!" said papa. "Yone or Lu?"

"Now how absurd, papa!"  I exclaimed. "Such things for Lu!"

"Why not?" asked Lu,--rather faintly, for she knew I always carried my point.

"The idea of you in amber, Lu!  It's too foreign; no sympathy between you!"

"Stop, stop!" said papa.  "You sha'nt crowd little Lu out of them.  What do you want them for, Lu?"

"To wear," quavered Lu,--"Like the balls the Roman ladies carried for coolness."

"Well, then, you ought to have them.  What do you want them for, Yone?"

"Oh, if Lu's going to have them, I don't want them."

"But give a reason, child."

"Why, to wear, too,--to look at, --to have and to hold, for better, for worse,--to say my prayers on," for a bright idea struck me,--"to say my prayers on, like the Florence rosary." I knew that would finish the thing.

"Like the Florence rosary?" said papa, in a sleepy voice. "Why this is the Florence rosary."

Of course when we knew that, we were both more crazy to obtain it.

"Oh, sir," just fluttered Lu, "where did you get it?"

"I got it; the question is, Who's to have it?"

"I must and will, potential and imperative," I exclaimed, quite on fire.  "The nonsense of the thing!  Girls with lucid eyes, like shadowy shallows in quick brooks, can wear crystallizations.  As for me, I can wear only concretions and growth; emeralds and all their cousins would be shockingly inharmonious on me; but you know, Lu, how I use Indian spices, and scarlet and white berries, and flowers, and little hearts and notions of beautiful copal that Rose carved for you,--and I can wear sandal-wood and ebony and pearls, and now this amber.  But you, Lu, you can wear every kind of precious stone, and you may have Aunt Willoughby's rubies that she promised me; they are all in tone with you; but I must have this."

"I don't think you're right," said Louise, rather soberly.  "You strip yourself of great advantages.  But about the rubies, I don't want anything so flaming, so you may keep them; and I don't care at all about this.  I think, sir, on the whole, they belong to Yone for her name."

"So they do," said papa.  "But not to be bought off!  That's my little Lu!"

And somehow Lu, who had been holding the rosary, was sitting on papa's knee, as he half knelt on the floor, and the rosary was in my hand.  And then he produced a little kid box, and there lay, inside, a star with a thread of gold for the forehead, circlets for wrist and throat, two drops, and a ring.  O such beauties!  You never seen them.

"The other one shall have these.  Aren't you sorry, Yone?" he said.

"Oh no indeed! I'd much rather have mine, though these are splendid.  What are they?"

"Aqua-marina," sighed Lu, in an agony of admiration.

"Dear, dear! how did you know?"

Lu blushed, I saw,--but I was too much absorbed with the jewels to remark it.

"Oh, they are just like that ring on your hand!  You don't want two rings alike," I said.  "Where did you get that ring, Lu?"

But Lu had no sense for anything beyond the casket.

If you know aqua-marina, you know something that's before every other stone in the world.  Why, it is as clear as light, white, limpid, dawn light; sparkles slightly and seldom; looks like pure drops of water, sea-water, scooped up and falling down again; just a thought of its parent beryl-green hovers round the edges; and it grows more lucent and sweet to the centre, and there you lose yourself in some dream of vast seas, a glory of unimagined oceans; and you say that it was crystallized to any slow flute-like tune, each speck of it floating into file with a musical grace, and carrying its sound with it.  There!  it's very fanciful, but I'm always feeling the tune in aqua-marina, and trying to find it,--but  I shouldn't know it was a tune, if I did, I suppose.  How magnificent it would be, if every atom of creation sprang up and said its one word of abracadabra, the secret of its existence, and fell silent again.  O dear! you'd die, you know; but what a pow-wow!  Then, too, in aqua-marina proper, the setting is kept out of sight, and you have the unalloyed stone with its sea-rims and its clearness and steady sweetness.  It wasn't the thing for Louise to wear; it belongs rather to highly nervous, excitable persons; and Lu is as calm as I, only so different!  There is something more pure and simple about it than about anything else; others may flash and twinkle, but this just glows with an unvarying power, is planetary and strong.  It wears the moods of the sea, too: once in a while a warm amethystine mist suffuses it like a blush; sometimes a white morning fog breathes over it:  you long to get into the heart of it.  That's the charm of gems, after all!  You feel that they are fashioned through dissimilar processes from yourself,--that there's a mystery about them, mastering which would be like mastering a new life, like having the freedom of other stars.  I give them more personality than I would a great white spirit.  I like amber that way, because I know how it was made, drinking the primeval weather, resinously beading each grain of its rare wood, and dripping with a plash to filter through and around the fallen cones below.  In some former state I must have been a fly embalmed in amber.

"O Lu!"  I said, "this amber's just the thing for me, such a great noon creature!  And as for you, you shall wear mamma's Mechlin and that aqua-marina; and you'll look like a mer-queen just issuing from the wine-dark deeps and glittering with shining water-spheres."

I never let Lu wear the point at all; she'd be ridiculous in it,--so flimsy and open and unreserved; that's for me; Mechlin, with its whiter, closer, chaster web, suits her to a T.

I must tell you, first, how this rosary came about.  You know we've a million of ancestors, and one of them, my great-grandfather, was a sea-captain, and actually did bring home cargoes of slaves!  But once he fetched to his wife a little islander, an Asian imp, six years old, and wilder than the wind.  She spoke no word of English, and was full of short shouts and screeches, like a thing of the woods.  My great-grandmother couldn't do a bit with her; she turned the house topsy-turvy, cut the noses out of the old portraits, and chewed the jewels out of the settings, killed the little home animals, spoiled the dinners, pranced in the garden with Madam Willoughby's farthingale, and royal stiff brocades rustling yards behind,--this atom of a shrimp,--or balanced herself with her heels in the air over the curb of the well, scraped up the dead leaves under one corner of the house and fired them,--a favorite occupation,--and if you left her stirring a mess in the kitchen, you met her, perhaps, perched int he china-closet and mumbling all manner of demoniacal prayers twisting and writhing and screaming over a string of amber gods that she had brought with her and always wore.  When winter came and the first snow, she was furious, perfectly mad.  One might as well have had a ball of fire in the house, or chain-lightning; every nice old custom had been invaded, the ancient quiet broken into a Bedlam of outlandish sounds, and as Captain Willoughby was returning, his wife packed the sprite off with him,--to cut, rip, and tear in New Holland, if she liked, but not in New England,--and rejoiced herself that she would find that little brown skin cuddled up in her best down beds and among her lavendered sheets no more.  She had learned but two words all that time,--Willoughby, and the name of the town.

You may conjecture what heavenly peace came in when the Asian went out, but there is no one to tell what havoc was wrought on board ship; in fact, if there could have been such a thing as a witch, I should believe that imp sunk them, for a stray Levantine brig picked her--still agile as a monkey--from a wreck off the Cape de Verdes and carried her into Leghorn, where she took--will you mind, if I say?--leg-bail, and escaped from durance.  What happened on her wanderings I'm sure is of no consequence, till one night she turned up outside a Fiesolan villa, scorched with malaria fevers and shaken to pieces with tertian and quartan and all the rest of the agues.  So, after having shaken almost to death, she decided upon getting well; all the effervescence was gone; she chose to remain with her beads in that family, a mysterious tame servant, faithful, jealous, indefatigable.  But she never grew; at ninety she was of the height of a yard-stick,--and nothing could have been finer than to have a dwarf in those old palaces, you know.

In my great-grandmother's home, however, the tradition of the Asian sprite with her string of amber gods was handed down like a legend, and, no one knowing what had been, they framed many a wild picture of the Thing enchanting all her spirits from the beads about her, and calling and singing and whistling up the winds with them till storm rolled round the ship, and fierce fog and foam and drowning fell upon her capturers.  But they all believed, that, snatched from the wreck into islands of Eastern archipelagoes, the vindictive child and her quieted gods might yet be found.  Of course my father knew this, and when that night in the church he saw the girl saying such devout prayers on an amber rosary, with a demure black slave so tiny and so old behind her, it flashed back on him, and he would have spoken, if, just then, the ray had not revealed the great painting, so that he forgot all about it, and when at last he turned, they were gone.  But my father had come back to America, had sat down quietly in his elder brother's house, among the hills where I am to live, and was thought to be a sedate young man and a good match, till a freak took him that he must go back and find that girl in Italy.  How to do it, with no clew but an amber rosary?  But do it he did,--stationing himself against a pillar in that  identical church and watching the worshippers, and not having long to wait before in she came, with little Asian behind.  Papa isn't in the least romantic; he is one of those great fertilizing temperaments, golden hair and beard, and hazel eyes, if you will.  He's a splendid old fellow!  It's absurd to delight in one's father,--so bread-and-buttery,--but I can't help it.  He's far stronger than I; none of the little weak Italian traits that streak me, like water in thick, sirupy wine.  No,--he isn't in the least romantic, but he says he was fated to this step, and could no more have resisted than his heart could have refused to beat.  When he spoke to the devotee, little Asian made sundry belligerent demonstrations; but he confronted her with the two words she had learned here, Willoughby and the town's name.  The dwarf became livid, seemed always after haunted by a dreadful fear of him, pursued him with a rancorous hate, but could not hinder his marriage.--The Willoughbys are a cruel race.--Her only revenge was to take away the amber beads, which had long before been blessed by the Pope for her young mistress, refusing herself to accompany my mother, and declaring that neither should her charms ever cross the water,--that all their blessing would be changed to banning, and that bane would burn the bearer, should the salt-sea spray again dash round them.  But when, in process of Nature, the Asian died,--having become classic through her longevity, taking length of days for length of stature,--then the rosary belonged to mamma's sister, who by and by sent it, with a parcel of other things, to papa for me.  So I should have had it at all events, you see;--papa is such a tease!  The other things were mamma's wedding-veil, that point there, which one was her mother's, and some pearls.

I was born upon the sea, in a calm, far out of sight of land, under sweltering suns; so, you know, I'm a cosmopolite, and have a right to all my fantasies.  Not that they are fantasies, at all; on the contrary, they are parts of my nature, and I couldn't be what I am without them, or have one and not have all.  Some girls go picking and scraping odds and ends of ideas together, and by the time they are thirty get quite a bundle of whims and crotchets on their backs; but they are all at sixes and sevens, uneven and knotty like fagots, and won't lie compactly, don't belong to them, and anybody might surprise them out of them.  But for me, you see, mine are harmonious; in my veins; I was born with them.  Not that I was always what I am now.  Oh, bless your heart!  plums and nectarines and luscious things that ripen and develop all their rare juices, were green once, and so was I. Awkward, tumble-about, near-sighted, till I was twenty, a real rawhead-and bloody-bones to all society; then mamma, who was never well in our diving-bell atmosphere, was ordered to the West Indies, and papa said it was what I needed, and I went, too,--and oh, how sea-sick!  Were you ever?  You forget all about who you are, and have a  vague notion of being Universal Disease.  I have heard of a kind of myopy that is biliousness, and when I reached the islands my sight was as clear as my skin; all that tropical luxuriance snatched me to itself at once, recognized me for kith and kin; and mamma died, and I lived.  We had accidents between wind and water, enough to have made me considerate for others, Lu said; but I don't see that I'm any less careful not to have my bones spilt in the flood than ever I was.  Slang?  No,--poetry.  But if your nature had such a wild, free tendency as mine, and then were boxed up with proprieties and civilities from year's end to year's end, maybe you, too, would escape now and then in a bit of slang.

We always had a little boy to play with, Lu and I, or rather Lu,--because, though he never took any dislike to me, he was absurdly indifferent, while he followed Lu about with a painful devotion.  I didn't care, didn't know; and as I grew up and grew awkwarder, I was the plague of their little lives.  If Lu had been my sister instead of my orphan cousin, as mamma was perpetually holding up to me, I should have bothered them twenty times more; but when I got larger and began to be really distasteful to his fine artistic perception, mamma had the sense to keep me out of his way; and he was busy at his lessons, and didn't come so much.  But Lu just fitted him then, from the time he daubed little adoring blotches of her face on every barn-door and paling, till when his scrap-book was full of her in all fancies and conceits, and he was old enough to go away and study Art.  Then he came home occasionally, and always saw us; but I generally contrived, on such occasions, to do some frightful thing that shocked every nerve he had, and he avoided me instinctively, as he would an electric torpedo; but--do you believe?--I never had an idea of such a fact till, when sailing from the South, so changed, I remembered things, and felt intuitively how it must have been.  Shortly after I went away, he visited Europe.  I had been at home a year, and now we heard he had returned; so for two years he hadn't seen me.  He had written a great deal to Lu,--brotherly letters they were,--he is so peculiar,--determining not to give her the least intimation of what he felt, if he did feel anything, till he was able to say all.  And now he had earned for himself a certain fame, a promise of greater; his works sold; and if he pleased, he could marry.  I merely presume this might have been his thought; he never told me.  A certain fame!  But that's nothing to what he will have.  How can he paint gray, faint, half-alive things now?  He must abound in color,--be rich, exhaustless:  wild sea-sketches,--sunrise,--sunset,--mountain mists rolling in turbid crimson masses, breaking in a milky spray of vapor round lofty peaks, and letting out lonely glimpses of a melancholy moon,--South American splendors,--pomps of fruit and blossom,--all this affluence of his future life must flash from his pencils now.  Not that he will paint again directly.  Do you suppose it possible that I should be given him merely for a phase of wealth and light and color, and then taken,--taken, in some dreadful way, to teach him the necessary and inevitable result of such extravagant luxuriance?  It makes me shiver.

It was that very noon when papa brought in the amber, that he came for the first time since his return from Europe.  He hadn't met Lu before.  I ran, because I was in my morning wrapper.  Don't you see it there, that cream-colored, undyed silk, with the dear palms and ferns swimming all over it?  And half my hair was just flung into a little black net that Lu had made me; we both had run down as we were when we heard papa.  I scampered; but he saw only Lu, and grasped her hands.  Then, of course, I stopped on the baluster to look.  They didn't say anything, only seemed to be reading up for the two years in each other's eyes;  but Lu dropped her kid box, and as he stooped to pick it up, he held it, and then took out the ring, looked at her and smiled, and put it on his finger.  The one she had always worn was no more a mystery.  He has such little hands!  they don't seem made for anything but slender crayons and water-colors, as if oils would weigh them down with the pigment; but there is a nervy strength about them that could almost bend an ash.

Papa's breezy voice blew through the room next minute, welcoming him; and then he told Lu to put up her jewels, and order luncheon, at which, of course, the other wanted to see the jewels nearer; and I couldn't stand that, but slipped down and walked right in, lifting my amber, and saying "Oh, but this is what you must look at!"

He turned, somewhat slowly, with such a lovely indifference, and let his eyes idly drop on me.  He didn't look at the amber at all; he didn't look at me; I seemed to fill his gaze without any action from him, for he stood quiet and passive; my voice, too, seemed to wrap him in a dream,--only an instant though; then I had reached him.

"You've not forgotten Yone," said papa, "who went persimmon and came apricot?"

"I've not forgotten Yone," answered he, as if half asleep.  "But who is this?"

"Who is this?" echoed papa.  "Why, this is my great West Indian magnolia, my Cleopatra in light colors, my--"

"Hush, you silly man!"

"This is she," putting his hands on my shoulders,--"Miss Giorgione Willoughby."

By this time he had found his manners.

"Miss Giorgione Willoughby," he said, with a cool bow, "I never knew you."

"Very well, sir," I retorted.  "Now you and my father have settled the question, know my amber!" and lifting it again, it got caught in that curl.

I have good right to love my hair.  What was there to do, when it snarled in deeper every minute, but for him to help me?  and then, at the friction of our hands, the beads gave out slightly their pungent smell that breathes all through the Arabian Nights, you know; and the perfumed curls were brushing softly over his fingers, and I a little vexed and flushed as the blind blew back and let in the sunshine and a roistering wind; --why, it was all a pretty scene, to be felt then and remembered afterward.  Lu, I believe, saw at that instant how it would be, and moved away to do as papa had asked; but no thought of it came to me.

"Well, if you can't clear the tangle," I said, "you can see the beads."

But while with delight he examined their curious fretting, he yet saw me.

I am used to admiration now, certainly; it is my food; without it I should die of inanition; but do you suppose I care any more for those who give it to me than a Chinese idol does for whoever swings incense before it?  Are you devoted to your butcher and milkman?  We desire only the unpossessed or unattainable, "something afar from the sphere of our sorrow."  But, though unconsciously, I may have been piqued by this manner of his.  It was new; not a word, not a glance; I believed it was carelessness, and resolved--merely for the sake of conquering, I fancied, too--to change all that.  By and by the beads dropped out of the curl, as if they had been possessed of mischief and had held there of themselves.  He caught them.

"Here, Circe," he said.

That was the time I was so angry; for, at the second, he meant all it comprehended.  He saw, I suppose, for added at once.--

"Or what was the name of the Witch of Atlas,

'The magic circle of whose voice and eyes

All savage natures did imparadise?'

I wonder what made me think him mocking me.  Frequently since then he has called me by that word.

"I don't know much about geography," I said.  "Besides, these didn't come from there.  Little Asian--the imp of my name, you remember--owned them"

"Ah?" with the utmost apathy; and turning to my father, "I saw the painting that enslaved you, sir," he said.

"Yes, yes," said papa, gleefully.  "And then why didn't you make me a copy?"

"Why?" Here he glanced round the room, as if he weren't thinking at all of the matter in hand. "The coloring is more than one can describe, though faded.  But I don't think you would like it so much now.  Moreover, sir, I cannot make copies."

I stepped towards them, quite forgetful of my pride.  "Can't," I exclaimed.  "Oh, how splendid!  Because then no other man comes between you and Nature; your ideal hangs before you, and special glimpses open and shut on you, glimpses which copyists never obtain."

"I don't think you are right," he said, coldly, his hands loosely crossed behind him, leaning on the corner of the mantel, and looking unconcernedly out of the window.

Wasn't it provoking?  I remembered myself,--and remembered, too, that I never had made a real exertion to procure anything, and it wasn't worth while to begin then; besides not being my forte,--things must come to me.  Just then Lu re-entered, and one of the servants brought a tray, and we had lunch.  Then our visitor rose to go.

"No, no," said papa.  "Stay the day with the girls.  It's May-day, and there are to be fireworks on the other bank to-night."

"Fireworks for May-day?"

"Yes, to be sure.  Wait and see."

"It would be so pleasant!" pleaded Lu.

"And a band, I forgot to mention. I have an engagement myself, so you'll excuse me; but the girls will do the honors, and I shall meet you at dinner."

So it was arranged.  Papa went out.  I curled up on a lounge,--for Lu wouldn't have liked to be left, if I had liked to leave her,--and soon, when he sat down by her quite across the room, I half shut my eyes and pretended to sleep.  He began to turn over her work-basket, taking up her thimble, snipping at the thread with her scissors:  I see now he wasn't thinking about it, and was trying to recover what he considered a proper state of feeling, but I fancied he was very gentle and tender, though I couldn't hear what they said, and I never took the trouble to listen in my life.  In about five minutes I was tired of this playing 'possum, and took my observations.

What is your idea of a Louise?  Mine is,--dark eyes, dark hair, decided features, pale, brown pale, with a mole on the left cheek--and that's Louise.  Nothing striking, but pure and clear, and growing always better.

For him,--he's not one of those cliff-like men against whom you are blown as a feather.  I don't fancy that kind; I can stand of myself, rule myself.  He isn't small, though; no, he's tall enough, but all his frame is delicate, held to earth by nothing but the cords of a strong will,--very little body, very much soul.  He, too, is pale, and has dark eyes, with violet darks in them.  You don't call him beautiful in the least, but you don't know him.  I call him beauty itself, and I know him thoroughly.  A stranger might have thought, when I spoke of those copals Rose carved, that Rose was some girl.  But though he was a feminine sensibility, like Correggio or Schubert, nobody could call him womanish.  "Les races se feminisent."  Don't you remember Matthew Roydon's Astrophill?

"A sweet, attractive kind of grace,

A full assurance given by looks,

Continual comfort in a face."

I always think of that flame in an alabaster vase, when I see him; "one sweet grace fed still with one sweet mind"; a countenance of another sphere:  that's Vaughan Rose.  It provokes me that I can't paint him myself, without other folk's words; but you see there's no natural image of him in me, and so I can't throw it strongly on any canvas.  As for his manners, you've seem them;--now tell me, was there ever anything so winning when he pleases, and always a most gracious courtesy in his air, even when saying an insufferably uncivil thing?  He has an art, a science, of putting the unpleasant out of his sight, ignoring or looking over it, which sometimes gives him an absent way; and that is because he so delights in beauty; he seems to have woven a mist over his face then, and to be shut in on his own inner loveliness; and many a woman thinks he is perfectly devoted, when, very like, he is swinging over some lonely Spanish sierra beneath the stars, or buried in noonday Brazilian forests, half-stifled with the fancied breath of every gorgeous blossom of the zone.  Till this time, it had been the perfection of form rather than tint that had enthralled him; he had come home with severe ideas, too severe; he needed me, you see.

But while looking at him and Lu, on that day, I didn't perceive half of this, only felt annoyed at their behavior, and let them feel that I was noticing them.  There's nothing worse than that; it's a very upas-breath; it puts on the brakes; and of course a chill and a restraint overcame them till Mr. Dudley was announced.

"Dear! dear!" I exclaimed, getting upon my feet.  "What ever shall we do, Lu?  I'm not dressed for him." And while I stood, Mr. Dudley came in.

Mr. Dudley didn't seem to mind whether I was dressed in cobweb or sheet-iron; for he directed his looks and conversation so much to Lu, that Rose came and sat on a stool before me and began to talk.

"Miss Willoughby--"

"Yone, please."

"But you are not Yone."

"Well, just as you choose.  You were going to say--?"

"Merely to ask how you like the Islands."

"Oh, well enough."

"No more?" he said.  "They wouldn't have broken your spell so, if that had been all.  Do you know, I actually believe in enchantments now?"

I was indignant, but amused in spite of myself.

"Well," he continued, "why don't you say it?  How impertinent am I?  You won't?  Why don't you laugh, then?"

"Dear me!" I replied.  "You are so much on the 'subtle-souled-psychologist' line, that there's no need of my speaking at all."

"I can carry on all the dialogue?  Then let me say how you liked the Islands."

"I shall do no such thing.  I like the West Indies because there is life there; because the air is a firmament of balm, and you grow in it like a flower in the sun; because the fierce heat and panting winds wake and kindle all latent color and fertilize every germ of delight that might sleep here forever.  That's why I like them; and you knew it just as well before as now."

"Yes; but I wanted to see if you knew it.  So you think there is life there in that dead Atlantis."

"Life of the elements, rain, hail, fire, and snow."

"Snow thrice bolted by the northern blast, I fancy, by which time it becomes rather misty.  Exaggerated snow."

"Everything there is an exaggeration.  Coming here from England is like stepping out of a fog into an almost exhausted receiver; but you've no idea what light is, till you've been in those inland hills.  You think a blue sky the perfection of bliss?  When you see a white sky, a dome of colorless crystal, with purple swells of mountain heaving round you, and a wilderness in golden greens royally languid below, while stretches of a scarlet blaze, enough to ruin a weak constitution, flaunt from the rank vines that lace every thicket,--and the whole world, and you with it, seems breaking to blossom,--why, then you know what light is and can do.  The very wind there by day is bright, now faint, now stinging, and makes a low wiry music through the loose sprays as if they were tense harpstrings.  Nothing startles; all is like a grand composition utterly wrought out.  What a blessing it is that the blacks have been imported there,--their swarthiness is in such consonance!"

"No; the native race was in better consonance.  You are so enthusiastic, it is pity you ever came away."

"Not at all.  I didn't know anything about it till I came back."

"But a mere animal or vegetable life is not much.  What was ever done in the tropics?"

"Almost all the world's history--wasn't it?"

"No, indeed; only the first, most trifling, and barbarian movements."

"At all events, you are full of blessedness in those climates, and that is the end and aim of all action; and if Nature will do it for you, there is no need of your interference.  It is much better to be than to do;--one is strife, the other is possession."

"You mean being as the complete attainment?  There is only one Being, then.  All the rest of us are--"

"O dear me!  that sounds like metaphysics!  Don't!"

"So you see, you are not full of blessedness there."

"You ought to have been born in Abelard's time,--you've such a disputatious spirit.  That's I don't know how many times you have contradicted me to-day."


"I wonder if you are so easy with all women."

"I don't know many."

"I shall watch to see if you contradict Lu this way."

"I don't need.  How absorbed she is!  Mr. Dudley is 'interesting'?"

"I don't know.  No.  But then, Lu is a good girl, and he's her minister,--a Delphic oracle.  She thinks the sun and moon set somewhere round Mr. Dudley.  Oh!  I mean to show him my amber!"

And I tossed it into Lu's lap, saying,--

"Show it to Mr. Dudley, Lu,--and ask him if it isn't divine!"

Of course, he was shocked, and wouldn't go into ecstasies at all; tripped on the adjective.

"There are gods enough in it to be divine," said Rose, taking it from Lu's hand and bringing it back to me.  "All those very Gnostic deities who assisted at Creation.  You are not afraid that the imprisoned things work their spells upon you?  The oracle declares it suits your cousin best," he added, in a lower tone.

"All the oaf knows!" I responded.  "I wish you'd admire it, Mr. Dudley.  Mr. Rose don't like amber,--handles it like nettles."

"No," said Rose, "I don't like amber."

"He prefers aqua-marina," I continued.  "Lu, produce yours!" For she had not heard him.

"Yes," said Mr. Dudley, spacing his syllables and rubbing his finger over his lip while he gazed, "every one must prefer aqua-marina."

"Nonsense!  It's no better than glass.  I'd as soon wear a set of window-panes.  There's no expression in it.  It isn't alive, like real gems."

Mr. Dudley stared.  Rose laughed.

"What a vindication of amber!" he said.

He was standing now, leaning against the mantel, just as he was before lunch.  Lu looked at him and smiled.

"Yone is exultant, because we both wanted the beads," she said.  "I like amber as much as she."

"Nothing near so much, Lu!"

"Why didn't you have them, then?" asked Rose, quickly.

"Oh, they belonged to Yone; and uncle gave me these, which I like better.  Amber is warm, and smells of the earth; but this is cool and dewy, and--"

"Smells of heaven?" asked I, significantly.

Mr. Dudley began to fidget, for he saw no chance of finishing his exposition.

"As I was saying, Miss Louisa," he began, in a different key.

I took my beads and wound them round my wrist. "You haven't as much eye for color as a poppy-bee," I exclaimed, in a corresponding key, and looking up at Rose.

"Unjust.  I was thinking then how entirely they suited you."

"Thank you.  Vastly complimentary from one who 'don't like amber'!"

"Nevertheless, you think so."

"Yes and no.  Why don't you like it"

"You mustn't ask me for my reasons.  It is not merely disagreeable, but hateful."

"And you've been beside me like a Christian all this time, and I had it!"

"The perfume is acrid; I associate it with the lower jaw of St. Basil the Great, styled a present of immense value, you remember,--being hard, heavy, shining like gold, the teeth yet in it, and with a smell more delightful than amber,"--making a mock shudder at the word.

"Oh, it is prejudice, then."

"Not in the least.  It is antipathy.  Besides, the thing is unnatural; there is no existent cause for it.  A bit that turns up on certain sands,--here at home, for aught I know,  as often an anywhere."

"Which means Nazareth.  We must teach you, sire,  that there are some things at home as rare as those abroad."

"I am taught," he said, very low, and without looking up.

"Just tell me what is amber?"

"Fossil gum."

"Can you say those words and not like it?  Don't it bring to you a magnificent picture of the pristine world,--great seas and other skies,--a world of accentuated crises, that sloughed off age after age, and rose fresher from each plunge?  Don't you see, or long to see, that mysterious magic tree out of whose pores oozed this fine solidified sunshine?  What leaf did it have?  what blossom?  what great wind shivered its branches?  Was it a giant on a lonely coast, or thick low growth blistered in ravines and dells?  That's the witchery of amber,--that it has no cause,--that all the world grew to produce it, maybe,--dies and gave no other sign,--that its tree, which must have been beautiful, dropped all its fruits,--and how bursting with juice must they have been--"

"Unfortunately, coniferous."

"Be quiet.  Stripped itself of all its lush luxuriance, and left for a vestige only this little fester of its gashes."

"No, again," he once more interrupted. "I have seen remnants of the wood and bark in a museum."

"Or has it hidden and compressed all its secret here?" I continued, obliviously. "What if in some piece of amber an accidental seed were sealed; we found, and planted, and brought back the lost aeons?  What a glorious world that must have been where even the gum was so precious!"

"In a picture, yes.  Necessary for this.  But, my dear Miss Willoughby, you convince me that the Amber Witch founded your family," he said, having listened with an amused face.  "Loveliest amber that ever the sorrowing sea-birds have wept," he hummed. "There! isn't that kind of stuff enough to make a man detest it?"


"And you are quite as bad in another way."


"Just because, when we hold it in our hands, we hold also that furious epoch where rioted all monsters and poisons,--where death fecundated and life destroyed,--where superabundance demanded such existences, no souls, but fiercest animal fire;--just for that I hate it."

"Why, then, is it fitted for me?"

He laughed again, but replied: "The hues harmonize; the substances; you both are accidents; it suits your beauty."

So, then, it seemed I had beauty, after all.

"You mean that it harmonizes with me, because I am a symbol of its period.  If there had been women, then, they would have been like me,--a great creature without a souls, a--"

"Pray, don't finish the sentence.  I can imagine that there is something rich and voluptuous and sating about amber, its color, and its lustre, and its scent; but for other, not for me.  Yes, you have beauty, after all," turning suddenly, and withering me with his eye,--"beauty, after all, as you didn't say just now.  Why don't you put some of it into--.  Mr. Willoughby is in the garden.  I must go before he comes in, or he'll make me stay.  There are some to whom you can't say, No."

He stopped a minute, and now, without looking,--indeed, he looked everywhere but at me, while we talked,--made a bow as if just seating me from a waltz, and, with his eyes and his smile on Louise all the way down the room, went out.  Did you ever know such insolence?

(Story continued--click here)

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