Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  A Bride’s Inheritance

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Bride’s Inheritance

By Arlo Bates (1850–1918)

[Born in East Machias, Me., 1850. Died in Boston, Mass., 1918. A Wheel of Fire. 1885.]

IT had been Damaris’s wish to be married in a dark travelling-dress, but she had deferred to the desire of Elsie and of Sherlock, and consented to be what the former called “a real bride” in white. The gown which her cousin and old Hannah assisted her in donning was a perfectly plain robe of creamy Ottoman silk, heavy and soft, relieved with no trimming but some time-yellow lace which Elsie declared made her willing to break all the commandments at once through envy. She was pale as ever, seeming doubly so from the darkness of her thick hair, which, plainly arranged, showed well the shape of her head; but she had never been more beautiful.

“It is all a trick, Maris,” Elsie declared, “you look pale on purpose, because it is becoming. You look as distinguished as Mary Queen of Scots going to be executed.”

“Executed!” repeated Hannah Stearns under her breath, with the indignation of a superstitious woman who regards the speaking of baleful words upon a wedding-day as of ill omen.

“Oh, a wedding is a sort of execution,” ran on Elsie, laughing. “There’s an end of all your independence now, my lady, let me tell you that. Have you got on something borrowed?”

“Yes,” Damaris answered smilingly. “I have them all:

  • “‘Something old and something new,
  • Something borrowed and something blue.’
  • Is there anything else absurd you can think of?”

    “There’s something about which foot to put over the threshold, but I can’t remember which it is, so perhaps it’s better to leave it to luck. It is such a pity you wouldn’t have bridesmaids, at least me.”

    “You may come after me, if you like, and carry my train.”

    “No, I thank you. Oh, Maris, you are just perfect. It is such a shame that you are not going to be married in Trinity Church. You’d be such a credit to the family, and Kate West would be so enraged. She’s the last one of our class left single but myself, and I never let a chance slip of reminding her of it. She takes every wedding in our set as a personal insult.”

    “Is everything ready down-stairs?”

    “Everything. They are all sitting about in the parlor with the cheerfully solemn air of chief mourners. Mother has her handkerchief all ready to weep, and father is wondering how much he can lose by possible changes in the stock market before he gets back to State street.”

    Hannah Stearns regarded the excited girl with an air of serious disfavor, but she contented herself with setting her lips together in an expression of firm disapproval and laying her hands over her wrists in that attitude which is so much more expressive of virtuous indignation than even the most aggressive folding of the arms.

    “Go into the front chamber,” pursued Elsie, no more observing the effect of her words than if the housekeeper had been a piece of the furniture, “and I’ll send him up. It’s a great pity you can’t have a wedding without having a great, horrid man mixed up in it.”

    She walked laughing to the door, but turned back impulsively to clasp her cousin in her arms, the quick tears in her eyes.

    “Oh, Maris, Maris,” she whispered, kissing the bride fervently. “There,” she went on, springing away and wiping her eyes. “I hope I didn’t muss you, but I couldn’t help it. You look so white and so still and so blessed. Bah! What a goose I am!”

    Hannah Stearns looked after the girl as she ran hastily away with a softening of her rigid old features.

    “She isn’t so bad at heart,” she commented.

    Damaris smiled faintly and passed through alone into the other chamber.

    It was the room which Dr. Wilson had occupied during his stay at Ash Nook, and the antique mirror before which Damaris sat down to wait her bridegroom was the same in which Chauncy had admired the reflection of his handsome features, glowing with youth and vigor. It was the same mirror in which once Damaris, passing the half-open door of the chamber, had seen a picture of her lover’s beautiful, manly hand, and she had more than once smiled to herself before the old glass as if she could at will invoke from it the vanished image. Over the secrets of its depths brooded the quaintly carved bird, brave in the glory of time-tarnished gilding, a guardian genius uncommunicative and impassive. Generations of fair women and brave men had seen their fleeting shadows in the antique surface, but never shape more beautiful and sad had passed before it than the lovely white-robed creature who now gazed intently at the picture it gave back.

    It seemed to Damaris as if a hand of ice clutched her heart. Since the question of her right to marry had been the problem which had tortured her, the ceremony itself had come illogically but naturally to seem the awful crisis, and she was possessed by a vague feeling that if she could so far evade the vigilance of malevolent fate as to get past the actual rite, she might yet escape. She felt as if she could not bear the delay of an instant, so strongly was she oppressed with a horrible sense that her doom was approaching with swift feet, and that if she were not Lincoln’s wife before the horror could reach her she must fall a victim to its fury. The moments she waited seemed to her endless. She heard Hannah moving in the next room, unwilling to go down stairs until her mistress did, and it was with difficulty Damaris restrained herself from calling out to bid her inquire why the groom did not come.

    Then she smiled with a painful sense of her folly, and endeavored to be reasonable. She knew it had in reality been but a moment since Elsie left her, and she tried to give her whole attention to the details of her toilet. She looked into the mirror to see if the lace at her throat was graceful in its folds, and suddenly, without warning, a horrible fancy came to her that it would be a wild joy to clutch such a soft, white neck with fierce fingers and crush out all the life! She seemed impelled to reach out to catch and strangle that image in the glass; yet, too, she felt, in a strange double consciousness, as if some one behind her chair were preparing to seize her. Then with a thrill of agony she realized what she was thinking, and she cast around her a beseeching glance, vainly seeking help.

    Yet surely that girl in the mirror was another creature than herself. Damaris extended her hand toward the figure with a mocking gesture, and laughed a little, in an absent-minded, absorbed fashion, when the white-robed stranger did the same. She dropped her hands into her lap, and, watching with a glance of horrible cunning from beneath her drooping lids the white, smooth neck of that other girl, she began with furtive haste to pull off her gloves. She would assure herself whether the fair throat were as soft as it appeared; and with motions cat-like and swift she cast the gloves to the floor and rose to steal upon the stranger.

    Then it occurred to her that this must be some guest at her own wedding, and the hereditary instinct of hospitality asserted itself. She sank back into her chair, her hands falling passive in her lap. She felt confused and dizzy. Something seemed to be unutterably wrong, yet she knew not what it was. Why should this stranger be here, and why did she regard her so closely? She struggled with her wandering thoughts, striving painfully to understand how it chanced that she was not alone.

    Watching intently, she saw with a shock of surprise and pity that this hapless girl in the mirror was twisting her fingers in the well-remembered gesture which in her mother had shown the coming on of madness. Damaris was seized with a great compassion of grief for the fair young creature whom such an awful doom had overtaken. The fate of this stranger had been swifter, Damaris reflected, than the feet of her bridegroom. Her bridegroom! The word touched the very core of her half-dazed intelligence. Like the swift thrust of a white-hot sword, with rending, searing agony, the truth came home to her.

    She knew the image was herself.

    The unspeakable anguish of ages of pain was concentrated into that moment. It was like the horror of one who hangs a measureless instant upon the dizzy brink of an abyss down which he knows himself dashing. That fatal gesture which she knew so well smote the hapless bride with a terror too great for words. All power failed her; she could not breathe; an intolerable pressure crushed her bosom. Great drops of suffering beaded her forehead, and she gasped with as absolute a sense of suffocation as if an ocean had suddenly rolled over her head.

    She heard Wallace at the door, and with a mad impulse to flee she sprang to her feet just as Lincoln knocked. The sound seemed to come from some far distance, and was muffled and half-lost amid the confused murmur which filled her ears like the beat of rushing waters. Then once more for an instant her failing reason struggled to consciousness, as a drowning swimmer writhes a last time to the surface and gasps a breath only to give it up in futile bubbles that mark the spot where he sank. With a supreme effort her vanquished will for a moment reasserted itself. She knew her lover was at the door, and she knew also that the feet of doom had been swifter than those of the bridegroom. She even asked herself in agonized frenzy if she might not have been saved had Sherlock reached her a moment sooner. And as she thought, she sprang forward and threw open the door.

    “I am mad!” she shrieked, in a voice which pierced to every corner of the old mansion.

    The housekeeper came running from the inner chamber, while Wallace shrank whining at his mistress’s feet. Lincoln, white as death, caught Damaris in his arms, as if he would snatch her from the jaws of death itself if need be. She struggled in his embrace, a wild glare replacing the flickering light of intelligence in her eyes.

    Then Hannah Stearns took her from him, drew her into the chamber, and closed the door.