Maid Marian, and Other Stories by Seawell, Molly Elliot
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_No. 77_] =APPLETONS'= [_50 cts._
TOWN AND COUNTRY LIBRARY
PUBLISHED SEMI-MONTHLY July 15, 1891 $10.00 PER ANNUM
_And Other Stories_
BY MOLLY ELLIOT SEAWELL
AUTHOR OF THROCKMORTON, LITTLE JARVIS, Etc.
ENTERED AT THE POST-OFFICE AT NEW YORK AS SECOND-CLASS MAIL MATTER
D. APPLETON & CO., NEW YORK
* * * * * *
MISS SEAWELL'S BOOKS.
A novel presenting a strong study of contrasting characters, by an author intimately acquainted with her scene and background--the Virginia of the years immediately following the war. Paper, 50 cents; specially bound in cloth, $1.00.
"The incidents are of great interest, well-imagined, and admirably carried out. But the notable feature of the book is the rare charm of its literary expression. The language is full of grace and wit and delicate sensibility. To read is to be beguiled."--_New York Sun._
"The pages of 'Throckmorton' are alive with picturesque sketches. Its humor is never forced, and its pathos is never overdone. It is a novel to linger over."--_The Critic._
"A charming story. The author has used good English, and the reader yields to the fascination of her style."--_The Book Buyer._
"There are many quaintly humorous touches, chief among them the terrible frankness of the delightful old Mrs. Sherrard. The pathos is simple and sincere. Temple Freke is as real and as fascinating a personage as has sauntered into literature for many a day. Daring flashes of unconventional common-sense wait to surprise the reader on dozens of pages."--_Boston Transcript._
"Strong in motive, and equally strong in conception and construction. The author's style is charmingly easy, and the story is altogether delightful."--_Boston Times._
"'Throckmorton' seems to be the product of a writer so rich in resources of character, motives, and localities, that a restraining hand is ever apparent."--_St. Paul Pioneer-Press._
"Altogether, one of the ablest of the Town and Country Library."--_Montreal Gazette._
The story of the heroic midshipman of the frigate Constellation. The second of the _Youth's Companion_ prize stories. Illustrated by J. O. Davidson and George Wharton Edwards. 8vo. Cloth, with specially designed cover, $1.00.
"Miss Seawell owns a very capable and a very delicate pen."--_New York Sun._
"The little book is one of the very best the season has brought us."--_Detroit Free Press._
"A pathetic, charming tale. 'Little Jams' will thrill many a boy's heart...."--_Brooklyn Standard-Union._
"The story of the heroism and death of Little Jarvis will thrill the heart of every reader."--_Boston Home Journal._
_For sale by all booksellers, or will be sent by mail on receipt of price by the publishers_,
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* * * * * *
MAID MARIAN AND OTHER STORIES
MOLLY ELLIOT SEAWELL
Author of Throckmorton, Little Jarvis, etc.
New York D. Appleton and Company 1891
COPYRIGHT, 1891, bY D. APPLETON aND COMPANY.
MAID MARIAN 5
LITTLE MISSY 43
THE SEA FORTUNES OF DICKY CAREW 57
THE KOURÁSOFFS 80
A VIRGINIA COLONEL 109
THE VALBELLA BROTHERS 129
TUBAL THE FIDDLER 183
Yes, it was surely the embodiment of feminine beauty--the dark, narrow-lidded eyes, wide apart--did you ever notice the terrible intelligence in the eyes of a portrait?--the slim patrician nose, the hair so quaintly coifed with pearl, the uplifted hand: no wonder that Macfarren gazed at it with something like reverence. You will be apt to imagine that Macfarren was an enthusiast, possibly with darkly curling hair and of a Byronic-Dantesque cast of countenance. Quite the contrary. He was a keen-witted, hard-headed New York lawyer fast galloping out of his forties--a well-made, well-dressed man, with a clear-cut, sensible face. His hair had been trifled with by the hand of Time, and what remained is not worth describing.
Nor was the place sanctified by the lady Marian's portrait a Norman abbey, nor yet a battlemented castle. It was a room sliced off from the place where the housemaids kept their brooms and dust-pans on the third floor of a New York hotel. Macfarren had kept those rooms for twenty years. Meanwhile, bachelors' flats had sprung up all over town, but he was conservative and kept his modest suite of two rooms until the advent of the Lady Marian made another room a necessity. For the portrait was so large--a full-length--and so conspicuous that it would have monopolized the whole of the cosey sitting-room. Besides, Macfarren had a--superstition, perhaps--something about the portrait which made him shrink from exposing it to the vulgar gaze of the waiters and bell-boys who saw the inside of his room, and the jokes--how he would have chafed under them!--of the good fellows who came in occasionally for a quiet smoke and chat.
It seemed as if Destiny had had a share in giving to him the Lady Marian. Some years before, loitering in England, he had wandered into King's Lyndon, an old show-place in one of the midland counties and had seen this picture. It made a strange impression on him; and he was singularly unsusceptible to anything but ideas: they always impressed him tremendously. He was surprised and almost ashamed of the hold this face took upon him. He carried it in his mind through fifteen years, and once or twice when he had been arguing a case before a learned judge the sedate, black figure on the bench had become Lady Marian, resplendent in white and pearls, and he had experienced a queer sensation as if he were pleading his cause to her instead of to the honorable court. And the other day on a flying trip to London he had suddenly come across her in an auction-room where a sale of antiques and curios was going on, and, with a recklessness entirely foreign to his natural conservatism, he had bought her at a high figure--bought his divinity of fifteen years for hard cash. He had also hired a room for her, and, coming home to dinner on this particular evening, when, for the first time she hung in beauty on his walls, he entered the place made glorious by her presence, and, carefully closing the door after him, stood in homage before her. He had been smoking, but an instinctive reverence made him remove his cigar from his lips. He looked long and steadily. This picture had helped him to understand himself. Would he have otherwise known that under this cool exterior, this nature so distinctly intellectual, existed a sentiment so deep, so strong, so romantic? It came home to him that he was very like those old pagans who first took statues as their symbols and then came to worship the symbols. Then he looked into the eyes, and presently the eyes looked at him, loftily, yet not unkindly. And then--ah! sweet, strange, delicious moment--the lips parted into a dazzling smile!
Macfarren, moving mechanically like a sleep-walker, picked up a small lighted lamp from a table near, although the gas in a gaudy chandelier flared brightly above him, and examined the picture. He put the lamp down carefully. He was a member of the Nineteenth Century Club, and had heard some queer talk about psychology and theosophy which had impressed him as being rather more baseless and extravagant than Jack and the Bean-stalk. What, then, was this? He walked rapidly into the outer sitting-room, locked the door, and returned. And there, sitting gracefully upright in a chair, was the Lady Marian.
Something common to worshipers in all ages happened to Macfarren. He fell on his knees. Lady Marian seemed in no wise disconcerted, and, leaning forward, held out her hand. Macfarren kissed passionately the warm pink palm.
"Friend," said she, in a soft and composed voice, "how came I hither?"
The question confused Macfarren hopelessly. He dared not tell her that he had bought her--that she came in a box which was opened in the custom-house, and that he had paid a thirty-per-cent _ad valorem_ duty on her. He was inexpert as a liar, although quick at diplomacy. He could only murmur, after an awkward pause, "I do not know."
"The last thing I remember," said Marian, looking around the unfamiliar room with calmly inquisitive eyes, "was a ball at Kenilworth, whither I went with Lady Stukely. My Lord of Leicester told me that our sovereign lady Queen Bess had signified that she would not excuse me from my turn of duty as bed-chamber-woman; and then he drank to my success at court in red wine, and I drank too. And I was moderate--I only drank two small flagons of red wine, a tankard of sack, and one poor half-gallon of good mulled ale."
Lady Marian uttered this quite composedly, but to say that Macfarren was completely staggered is hardly putting it strong enough, particularly as she finished up by adding with an air of charming modesty, "I was too bashful to take more!"
Macfarren gasped as he looked at her, but if she had told him that she had drank a brewery dry, it could not have dissolved the instant magic charm that her grace and beauty had laid softly upon him. In fact his only comment when the Lady Marian looked at him inquiringly, as if to ask his opinion, was--
"That's little enough, Lady Marian, if one is thirsty."
This astounding fib did not seem to strike Lady Marian as a fib at all, and she only asked eagerly:
"Think you the wine was drugged?"
Having entered on his career as a liar, there was now no retreat for Macfarren. Moreover, he was really at a loss for opinions, and his only resource was to lie, promptly, thoroughly, and consistently.
"I think not," he replied, humbly. "A lady of rank would scarcely be so treated in the house of her friends, and besides," he added, with the mendacity of a man in love. "You drank so little--not more than a gallon altogether."
Marian's countenance assumed a look of genuine relief.
"They would hardly dare to play so scurvy a trick on the daughter of Lord Howard de Winstanley. And, although I have heard dark tales of what was done to Amy Robsart--thou dost know Amy, the daughter of Sir John Robsart of Cumnor Hall?"
"I have heard of her," replied Macfarren, and, his self-possession returning, he added, boldly, "through Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford."
"Of what shire, pr'ythee?" asked Marian.
Macfarren had not practiced law at the New York bar for twenty years without being able to extricate himself from a tight place. He really could not recall for the moment what county in Scotland held Abbotsford, but he replied, at a venture:
"In Perthshire. Have you never heard of Melrose Abbey, near Jedburgh?"
Marian shook her head and glanced at Macfarren with something like scorn in her clear eyes.
"I belike me not of the Scotch. It is a false and treacherous race, they say. They come to England and tell us they have noble castles and stately manor-houses in Scotland, and, forsooth, they are nothing more than hovels and swineherds' cottages. The Abbotsford of which Sir Walter told thee is like enough a huntsman's lodge."
"Indeed it is not," said Macfarren, earnestly. "It is a magnificent baronial hall. I have been there myself, and," he added, feeling obliged to say something in defense of Sir Walter Scott's character, "Sir Walter is a--er--a most respectable person."
"'Tis likely," replied Lady Marian, half scornfully, "and this Abbotsford, no doubt, is well furnished with household stuff he ravaged from English homes over the border. I think I have heard of him--and that he is but little better than a border ruffian."
Macfarren, seeing it was impossible to rehabilitate Sir Walter's character, wisely refrained from further efforts in that direction.
"Thou art an Englishman, I see," she said, after a moment, "although thy speech is not like that about King's Lyndon. Mayhap thou art from London. Thy sober dress makes me think thou art from the Middle Temple."
This was extremely fortunate for Macfarren, who feared at every moment she would discover he was not of noble blood, and that therefore he should be scorned of her.
"I am a barrister," he answered eagerly.
Marian smiled sweetly: "Some ladies of rank condemn lawyers for mere clerks and scriveners, but my father, the Lord Howard de Winstanley, tells me that at court, Queen Bess doth treat them like lords and gentlemen--and, although they rank not with the nobility, yet are they equal with the gentry and the churchmen. Hast thou been to London ever?"
"I was there only three weeks ago," said Macfarren promptly.
Marian's eyes sparkled. "How doth the queen? Didst thou go to court? Are the ruffs and fardingales as huge as ever? How of my Lord Essex, in Ireland?"
"The queen was very well," said Macfarren.
"Where didst thou see her?" demanded Marian, before Macfarren, who was about to give her an account of the Earl of Essex's adventures in Ireland, could add a word.
"In--in Westminster Abbey," said Macfarren lamely. This was a wretched subterfuge, but it satisfied Marian, who exclaimed:
"And who attended her? Was it at nooning or evening service? And has she aged, as much I fear she hath?"
"She looked just as she has for a long, long time, ever since I first saw her," said he, desperately. Clearly, she would ask embarrassing questions. "But," he added, artfully, "I was not presented to her, nor did she even honor me with a glance."
Marian smiled: "Poor queen! her eyesight doth somewhat fail. But, friend, what is thy name? and is there no entertainment to be had here?"
Macfarren had never before been ashamed of his name, but he wished he could have said he was a Cecil, a Fairfax, a Beauclerk, or any other proud Elizabethan name. He could only say, with a kind of proud humility:
"My name is Macfarren, and I and all that is mine are at your service."
"Well said!" cried Marian. "But tell me, whose roof doth now shelter me? Whose house is this?"
"It is an ho--an inn," answered Macfarren.
"And a good hostelry, I do think," said Marian, glancing around, "though not like the inns of Suffolk. But, since thou wast in London lately, we can not be far from there."
"Only seven days," replied Macfarren, with nervous audacity.
"But seven days! Then can my father come for me, if thou wilt send a messenger by post!"
"Indeed I will," responded Macfarren, with a sinking heart and a guilty conscience as he uttered this last colossal falsehood.
"And now," said Marian, as if entirely satisfied with the proposed arrangement, "let us see what victual mine host can provide. Beshrew me if I have tasted aught since we dined, at an hour before noon."
Macfarren looked furtively at his watch. It was half-past six--just his dinner-hour. It would be easy enough to take Marian down to dinner, if he could get one of the score of pleasant married women in the hotel with whom he was on friendly terms to go with her; and, although it is always awkward to suggest a chaperon to a girl, yet it must be done.
"We will go to the dining-room immediately. But I must secure a chaperon for you. That would be necessary, you know, to prevent talk," said Macfarren.
"A chaperon?" asked Marian, wonderingly. "Is it a head-covering, lest the wind should rumple my coif? Or is it one of the new coaches brought from France, in which I hear the nobility take the air?"
"It is neither," answered Macfarren, feeling anxious that no objection should be made to the arrangement. "It is a married lady to attend you--" He halted, but Marian took it up at once.
"A lady-in-waiting, meanest thou? If she is of suitable rank I shall be well pleased. At King's Lyndon I had two damsels, daughters of knights, to wait on my pleasure. Whom wilt have to attend me?"
Macfarren went through with a rapid mental calculation. A brilliant idea suddenly came to him. Mrs. Dietrick Van Tromp, one of the most distinguished women of New York society, had come to the hotel for a few days while her Fifth Avenue mansion was in the hands of the decorators. He knew her, and knew her weakness for the English aristocracy. She dearly loved a lord, and, next to that, any member of a peer's family. So, after an instant's thought, he responded:
"I'll get Mrs. Dietrick Van Tromp."
Marian seemed anything but struck by the name.
"And who is Dame Van Tromp?" she demanded, haughtily.
Macfarren was a brave man, but at that he quaked. Mrs. Dietrick Van Tromp's husband was a silent partner in one of the greatest silk-importing firms in New York, and, although Mrs. Van Tromp considered the fact that her husband's name did not appear in the firm-name relieved him from the stigma of work, yet it would be hard to make that nice distinction clear to Marian. So, after an uneasy pause, Macfarren could only blurt out:
"She is the wife of a silk-merchant."
Lady Marian surveyed him with a wide-eyed amazement, not unmixed with contempt.
"A mercer's wife to attend the daughter of Lord Howard de Winstanley? Nay, hadst thou not better call the kitchen scullion to keep her company? Friend, I like thee well, but I fear thou art a stranger to good company."
Macfarren, thoroughly abashed, remained silent, while a burning blush came to his face. The unmerited scorn of this lovely girl was hard to bear.
"Dost thou not know some one of rank to keep me company?" she asked, presently, with some petulance.
Macfarren ran hastily over in his mind a half-dozen names of the wives of titled and untitled Englishmen then in New York whom he had met in society. No, none of them would do; and, besides, he could not take the liberty.
"Dear lady," he said, after an embarrassed pause, "I myself am a commoner. I have no title except that of a gentleman and an honest man. I can not stoop to ask favors of those with whom my acquaintance is but slight. I offer you the protection of people like myself. You will not want for respect among them."
At this Marian jumped up with the greatest animation. "Now, by my faith, I see thou art truly a gentleman, no matter what thy birth may be; for birth is but an accident. But honor, wisdom, and valor are no accidents. Nor is that noble science, the art of being a gentleman, an accident, and, although I will not go with the mercer's wife, yet will I go alone with thee--for I see thou art both learned and polite; and look you, friend, for all that I value my place, I esteem honor, wisdom, and valor more than anything else in the world." And then, laughing, she added, "Hunger doth pinch me, and thou must take me quickly to the banqueting-hall to appease this gnawing."
Macfarren smiled too. A nature so noble as hers could easily cast aside the fetters of conventional rank. She evidently believed in the great republic of merit, although she could not formulate her belief. She rose and moved gracefully forward to the door which Macfarren held open respectfully for her. As she passed by him into the clearer light of the little drawing-room and the brilliant corridor beyond, he received a kind of electric shock at her extreme loveliness. She wore a trailing gown of brocaded satin, and her long hanging sleeves were lined with crimson velvet and trimmed with swan's-down. A mighty ruff encircled her neck, and her hair was curiously arranged with pearls. Her slender hands were crossed before her. As she stepped out in the hall she noticed the carpet, which had escaped her observation before. She started back.
"What! dost thou lay fine cloths upon the floor instead of rushes? I would like to have a gown of this rich stuff when I go to court. Canst thou not buy me enough for a train, or even a petticoat?"
"Certainly, with pleasure," said Macfarren.
"But will it not cost a prince's ransom?" cried Marian, anxiously, stooping down and picking up a small rug that lay before the door. "Think how my lady Stukely would fume if she saw me with a petticoat of this queenly stuff."
She held the rug up before her in admiration, but, as if suddenly ashamed of her childishness, dropped it and walked rapidly down the corridor, Macfarren keeping at her side. Macfarren knew but little of the dress of women, and, having seen many startling costumes in New York society of late years, flattered himself that his companion's guise was not much out of the ordinary run. But his illusion vanished when Mrs. Dietrick Van Tromp swept out, gorgeous in dinner-dress, from a door opening on the corridor. He saw at once that she was stricken with surprise, and, as she bowed to him, her eyes asked, expressively:
"Who is she?"
Nor was Marian one whit less impressed with the descendant of the Knickerbockers. She gave one comprehensive glance of admiration, and whispered hurriedly to Macfarren:
"What noble dame is that?"
Macfarren felt a certain malicious pleasure as he answered, _sotto voce_:
"That is Mrs. Dietrick Van Tromp, the lady who I suggested should attend you to the table."
Marian's countenance changed to one of angry and amazed disgust.
"If mercers' wives dress thus, how can they be told from queens and princesses?" she inquired, haughtily.
"They can't," responded Macfarren, "except that queens and princesses are usually much less toploftical."
"But," demanded Marian, "are there not sumptuary laws that forbid the daughters of tradesmen and merchants from wearing stuffs reserved for the nobility and gentry?"
"There has been a very strong effort to pass sumptuary laws in Ohio and Georgia and Maine and Kansas, but they have generally proved inoperative," answered Macfarren. Seeing, however, his companion's puzzled look, he hastened forward and said, "Ah! there is the elevator."
Mrs. Van Tromp had preceded them, and stood by the door. As Marian and Macfarren approached, the former gave her a look of unmistakable disdain, which, to Macfarren's horror, was supplemented by a command given in a clear and self-possessed voice:
"Give place, madam."
Mrs. Van Tromp made no reply, but glanced, stupefied for a moment, at Macfarren, who turned pale and then red. A flush rose to her face, and, without replying, she turned half around from Marian and rang the bell again.
The elevator then appeared at the top of the opening, and slowly descended.
Marian's look of scorn and disdain gradually changed to one of genuine alarm. She clutched Macfarren nervously by the arm. Her breath came in short, quick gasps, and as the elevator boy threw the sliding door open she almost shrieked. Mrs. Van Tromp, without noticing either Macfarren or his companion, calm as if nothing out of the common run had occurred, stepped in and began coolly arranging a stray lock of her hair before the mirrors with which the elevator was lined. The boy waited, the rope in his hand, looking impatiently at Macfarren. A lucky idea flew into Macfarren's mind.
"If you don't get in, she'll think you are afraid," he whispered.
The effect was magical. Marian raised her lovely, proud head and stepped gingerly in, the boy shut the door with a loud whack, and, with a vicious pull at the rope, they began to descend. Macfarren saw, however, by the tightly compressed lips and the hands fiercely clinched to prevent their trembling, that Marian was suffering all the tortures of a proud soul in a paroxysm of fear. Surreptitiously he saw her make the sign of the cross on her breast. He dared not address Mrs. Van Tromp, who, though blandness itself in her air and countenance, yet, indicated dangerous possibilities; so to all three the ride was uncomfortable and the atmosphere surcharged with electricity.
The elevator stopped at the door of the dining-room. This opened on a broad, square corridor, red-carpeted, the lofty ceiling and walls elaborately frescoed. The dining-room itself was a noble apartment, seating five hundred persons, blazing from end to end with crystal chandeliers which were reflected in great mirrors placed at intervals. It was full of that subtile flavor of luxury peculiar to the best American hotels. The broad doorway, with its folding leaves wide open, was guarded by a magnificent person who looked like a major-general in plain clothes, but who was really the head waiter; and from within this huge doorway poured a flood of warm light, of soft chatter, of delicious and enticing odors.
But here a terrible development seemed likely to occur. Mrs. Van Tromp, with a slight and supercilious inclination of her head, was about to step out, as the elevator-boy flung the door open with a bang.
But Marian was too adroit for her. With an indescribably quick and graceful motion she too made for the door. The elevator-boy, with a delighted grin, gave way for the two ladies. He hoped to witness one of those feminine wrangles which sometimes vary the monotony of hotel life. The two ladies stood up boldly facing each other. Marian spoke first.
"Madam, what may your name be?"
Mrs. Van Tromp paused for a moment. Should she reply to her or not? But a glance at the beauty and undeniable elegance of the new-comer, and a knowledge of Macfarren's position in the world, seemed to determine that the enemy before her was worthy of her steel. So she replied, in her stateliest manner:
"I am not aware of any obligation that I am under to tell you my name; but, if it affords you any peculiar pleasure, I will say that I am Mrs. Dietrick Van Tromp. Now, will you be good enough to let me pass?"
"Nay, are you not a silk-merchant's wife, madam?" asked Marian, holding her ground stoutly.
An angry blush rose to Mrs. Van Tromp's cheek. This was clearly unendurable.
"I am. Nor have I ever had occasion to blush for any of my husband's commercial transactions; and I insist" (in the tone of "I command") "that you let me pass."
"Let you pass before the daughter of Lord Howard de Winstanley? Madam, if even for the sake of blessed peace I let you pass, would I not do my lineage wrong, my order wrong? Is not the law of precedence well fixed? Good lack! when peddlers' wives take the way of peers' daughters, then will there be fine coil."
Mrs. Van Tromp started back as if she had been shot. She turned to Macfarren with a look which said, "Explain." Macfarren saw the road to peace open.
"May I present to you the Lady Marian de Winstanley, of King's Lyndon, in Suffolk?" Feeling obliged to say something more, he added, "The Lady Marian is unused to our methods, and--a--does not fully--"
But Mrs. Van Tromp relieved him of the embarrassment of proceeding further. She held out her hand to Marian with a brilliant smile. "How am I to apologize?" she said. "I didn't comprehend. How rude you must have thought me! Of course Lady Marian could not be expected to understand our methods."
"Ah!" said Marian, with beautiful condescension, "although our ways differ, I make no doubt that humble folk have as many sterling virtues as the nobility and gentry."
"Yes," said Mrs. Van Tromp, thinking her new acquaintance's remark included herself, Mrs. Van Tromp, among the gentry anyhow. "Of course we are very new, and society, outside of a small set in New York and a few families at Newport, is crude. Fortunately, here we have an old Knickerbocker circle--"
"Knicker--what?" asked Lady Marian, somewhat saucily.
"Bocker," answered Mrs. Van Tromp, affably. "Knickerbocker: The old Dutch families. We try to keep to ourselves as much as possible--and we have the AssociationofcolonialdamesthedaughtersoftheAmericanrevolution--" Mrs. Van Tromp rattled this and several other names off volubly, although she had heretofore maintained a carefully acquired English slowness of speech, and wound up with--
"But unluckily, we have no hereditary nobility."
"Yet," responded Marian, "you do ape us wonderfully well. I have not seen many mercers' wives who looked the noble dame like you."
Mrs. Van Tromp did not know whether to be pleased or not with this remark; but it is hard to fall out with peers' daughters, and, besides, from Lady Marian's occasional use of "thee" and "thou" she rashly assumed that she was one of the dozen or so members of the society of Friends in the English Peerage, and she knew plain speaking was a characteristic of the Friends. So she only laughed brightly and said:
"You'll certainly take the _pas_ now."
Lady Marian, nothing loath, stepped out of the elevator.
Mrs. Van Tromp turned to whisper to Macfarren, "So charming! So unique! I declare, I knew her to be a person of high rank the very moment I saw her. And wasn't it kind of her to excuse my rudeness? Pray add your apologies to mine."
Macfarren, with a sardonic grin, agreed.
They were now standing in the corridor. A dozen or more men were passing back and forth, giving their hats and coats to the young man who presided over the shelf-like arrangement of such articles, stopping to chat with one another, and all gazing with unfeigned admiration at Macfarren's companion. He nodded to them carelessly, while Mrs. Van Tromp carefully avoided seeing them, especially those who came suspiciously near her. She meant to monopolize this precious scion of the nobility herself. Already before her delighted vision came the dream of a visit to King's Lyndon, and the charms of her next season in London. Four times had she crossed the ocean in vain, and never had she been able to get presented at court; but this lucky accident might do the whole business for her.
"My friend," said Marian, turning to Macfarren, "I would not thou shouldst think me fearful,--my grandsire drew a mighty bow at Bosworth Field, and none of my race have a drop of craven blood,--but I feared me yon contrivance was something supernatural. Tell me, was there anything of the black art in it? I made me the sign of the cross, that doth keep devils at bay; but the thing I saw was marvelous."
"It is perfectly right," said Macfarren, glad to relieve her. "It was all done with a rope and pulley. But let us go in to dinner."
"Thou shalt walk by my side," said Marian to Mrs. Van Tromp. "Thou seest I am not always the proud creature thou took'st me for."
The association with the great had its disadvantages, thought Mrs. Van Tromp as she accepted this gracious condescension, but its advantages were too obvious to be overlooked. So, with much satisfaction, she supported Marian on the left, while Macfarren walked by her on the right. Marian took an opportunity to whisper to Macfarren, "I tolerate her only for your sake," in a tone which made him thrill with delight.
At the doorway the head-waiter saluted them with a profound bow. Marian stopped short, and, carefully disposing of her train, made in return a courtesy so deep and so graceful that every eye was turned on her. As they passed on, she said, "I know neither the name nor the rank of the person I courtesied to, but I am sure he hath an air of breeding."
When they entered the room everybody's attention was fixed upon them. Marian bore the scrutiny with perfect composure. Like all truly beautiful women, she seemed superbly unconscious of it, and, as she swept with majestic grace toward the upper part of the room, Macfarren glowed with pride at presenting so much dignity and loveliness to an admiring world. When they reached Mrs. Van Tromp's table, that lady gave unmistakable signs of a willingness to leave her own table for the privilege of dining with Lady Marian and Macfarren; but Macfarren, albeit the most courteous of men, had a fund of polite resolution that had more than once brought Mrs. Van Tromp and other grand dames to bay. He meant to have a _tête-à-tête_ with Marian: so, with consummate tact, he managed to leave Mrs. Van Tromp in the lurch and to take his seat with Marian at a table at the very top of the room. He had a design in this which quickly bore fruit. Marian remarked with pleasure that the top of the room was given her without dissent. There was no one at the table except themselves.
When they were seated, and the waiter had handed them each a _menu_ card, Macfarren observed that Marian was deeply puzzled by hers.
"What may this mean?" she asked. "It is not English, nor French, nor Latin, although it doth somewhat resemble all three. Or is it," she asked, archly, "a madrigal writ in my honor?"
"No," said Macfarren, smiling; "although, if one could write at all, one might be inspired by such a theme."
It was an old, old compliment, but it was evidently new to Marian, who smiled, and said, "Thou hast a dainty wit."
Macfarren concluded not to trouble her about the _menu_, as she probably knew nothing about it: so he beckoned to the waiter, and said, "Turtle-soup for both." The waiter vanished.
Marian had not ceased to gaze about her with an air of surprised admiration.
"Never saw I so fine an hostelry before," said she. "Art thou not deceiving me, and is not this the house of some feudal prince?"
"Indeed it is not," replied Macfarren, earnestly. "It is nothing but an inn, I assure you."
"And all these gayly-costumed people--are they not persons of consideration?"
"Some of them are," answered Macfarren, "but most of them are merchants and traders."
Just then the waiter brought a tiny silver-plated tureen of soup and set it down before them. At that moment Macfarren caught sight of Mrs. Van Tromp at the next table but one, who smiled coquettishly at him and held up a glass of red wine in expressive pantomime. But, while he was watching her, he saw a sudden change come over her face--a look of paralyzed astonishment: she sat, her hand holding the wineglass suspended in the air, a silhouette, motionless against the background, and rigid with amazement. Macfarren turned to his companion, and saw at once. Marian had raised the tureen to her dainty mouth, and was drinking the turtle-soup without the formality of a soup-plate or a tablespoon.
Macfarren was of a nature too loyal to see anything to excite mirth in this unexpected breach of custom in the woman he had loved for fifteen years: he only felt a blind and furious anger against those who might make her a subject of ridicule. Marian, however, had no suspicion of what was passing in his mind, but, after draining the tureen, set it down with a sigh of satisfaction, saying, "By my faith, that was a royal dish of broth."
Mrs. Van Tromp's horrified amazement was bad enough, but when Macfarren turned and saw James, his waiter for ten years, heretofore a model of gravity and discreetness, with his mouth stretched from ear to ear convulsed with silent laughter, he could scarcely refrain from braining him with the water-decanter before him. In an instant James saw the dangerous look in Macfarren's eye, and, as if by magic, his countenance assumed its look of wonted stolidity, but not until Macfarren had hissed at him, in an aside, "Confound your infernal insolence, if you smile again I'll break every bone in your rascally body." James was an arrant coward, and not a tremor appeared upon the placid surface of his countenance during the rest of the dinner--not even when he handed Macfarren a card from Mrs. Van Tromp, on which was scrawled, "_Quite unconventional, but so high-bred._"
Then came the ordering of the dinner. Macfarren, without consulting his _vis-à-vis_, did it all. He did not bother with the _entrées_, but required plain roast beef, potatoes, and plum-pudding.
Meanwhile Marian continued to gaze around with delight. Macfarren felt at every moment the subtile charm of her exquisite womanhood. Understanding as he did the reason of her peculiar ignorance of every-day matters, nothing she did shocked him. Marian talked gayly and unreservedly, and promised him a wild boar's head for his Christmas dinner if he came to King's Lyndon. "And, though they may want to place thee with the clerks and the chaplain," she said, smiling, "I will have thee above the salt with me, for I see thou hast the heart and soul as well as the manners of a gentleman."
In a few minutes the simple dinner ordered by Macfarren came. Marian's eyes glistened as they rested on the roast beef. "That came from a goodly baron of roast beef; but where is the ale wherewith to wash it down?" she asked.
Macfarren, with a terrible recollection of Marian's performances in the ale-drinking line, hastily took up the wine-list, marked off two bottles of Bass's ale, and handed it to the obsequious James, who disappeared and in a few moments returned with it. He fetched glasses with a flourish, and, drawing the cork, the creamy flood poured into the tumbler at Marian's plate. This, however, did not seem to please Marian. Looking around, she saw near by a pitcher. "Bring me yon tankard," she said to James. James, warned by the light in Macfarren's eye, brought the pitcher. Marian, quietly pouring all of the ale in her glass, and all left in the bottle, into the pitcher, James in a twinkling opened the other bottle and poured it in also, when, lifting the pitcher as she had done the tureen of soup to her rosy lips, she drank the quart of ale in a single breath.
Macfarren's agony of pity was painful to him. The idea that she would be laughed at inspired him with frenzy. Yet, having perfect self-control, he gave no outward indication of the tumult within him, and managed to say in quite his ordinary voice to Marian, "Won't you let me give you some of this roast beef?"
"In faith I will," responded Marian, with alacrity, and, reaching over, she picked up a large slice of rare beef in her fingers and began munching it with much enjoyment. Macfarren was past being flustered then.
"Won't you have some potatoes?" he asked, politely.
"Some--what didst thou say?"
"Potatoes. Just try some."
"What strange stuff is that? Will it not give me a palsy, or the falling sickness? Methinks I have heard they were poisonous."
"They are excellent and very wholesome," said Macfarren, helping her, and gently thrusting a fork into her hand. "Sir Walter Raleigh brought them from--from--" he felt a strange hesitation at saying the word "America."
"Then will I try them," said Marian, dropping the fork and taking a spoon. "Dost thou know Sir Walter?" asked she, while busily engaged in munching the beef and ladling up the potatoes.
"I know all about him," said Macfarren.
"And my Lord Cecil of Burleigh?"
"Oh, yes. A very great man. Sir Walter I take to be one of the noblest characters of the reign of Queen Bess."
"Then," said Lady Marian, bridling, and laying down her spoon, "thou must have strange notions of loyalty. Sir Walter is a dangerous man; and if the queen should let him out from the Tower, where he now languishes in just punishment for his crimes, the realm will rue it. He hath dealings with the devil, hath Sir Walter."
A sudden idea came to Macfarren. "Have you ever heard," he asked, eagerly, "of a maker of plays at the Globe Theatre, in Blackfriars--one William Shakespeare?"
"I have heard of him," carelessly replied Marian--"an indifferent good player. Our lady the queen hath taken some small notice of him. For my part, I wonder she should trouble about a beggarly strolling play-actor like this Jack Shakespeare. Now, Ben Jonson hath writ good plays, and he is of better birth and breeding than Tom Shakespeare--or Jack, or what you will."
The depth of Macfarren's infatuation may be judged when he let this speech pass unchallenged.
Although Marian ate heartily, yet the dinner was comparatively short, and Macfarren had no idea of ordering any dessert but the pudding. Before he knew it, however, the table had been cleared, and James had placed before them not only plum-pudding, but a strawberry ice and a dish of nuts and raisins. Lady Marian attacked the nuts first, cracking them between her small strong white teeth like a squirrel, and then said to Macfarren, "Lend me thy dagger for the pudding." Macfarren gazed at her stupidly. "Hast not thou a dagger?" she asked, impatiently. "These pointless blades I see here can cut nothing. Feel in thy belt."
Mechanically Macfarren put his hand in his pocket, and, drawing out his penknife, opened the largest blade, and handed it to her. This seemed to pacify Marian, who with the assistance of her fingers, speedily disposed of the pudding.
Then came the strawberry ice. With a silent but dreadful apprehension Macfarren watched her, and when something between a shriek and a groan pierced the air, he was the only person in the dining-room who was not surprised. Marian had gulped down half the plateful at once. Clapping her hands to her face, she rocked back and forth in her chair, evidently suffering agony. Several ladies half rose from their chairs; the head-waiter rushed forward; but Mrs. Van Tromp was already on the spot, holding Marian's hands.
"Dear Lady Marian, tell us what it is," she asked, in soothing tones.
"I know not," said Marian, faintly. "I think it must have been that evil stuff called potatoes. As soon as I had swallowed it I felt a giddiness, my head whirled, and I have heard it hath subtle and dangerous qualities."
"It couldn't have been the potatoes, do you think?" said Mrs. Van Tromp. "Perhaps it was the ale."
"Thou art a fool," responded Marian, tartly. "Dost thou think a Howard de Winstanley so lily-livered that one poor beaker of ale--and weak at that--could do this mischief?"
Mrs. Van Tromp was considerably nettled by this speech, but the name Howard de Winstanley had not lost its magic.
"Let us get out of here," said Macfarren, hurriedly; and, Marian rising, he offered her his arm, and, with Mrs. Van Tromp on the other side, they went out of the dining-room as they had entered it, and, as before, were the cynosure of all eyes.
When they reached the corridor, Macfarren realized that he must have a little while to think before taking another step. What to do with his fair _protégée_ was troubling him excessively; and so, to gain at least a few minutes' time, he proposed that they should enter a little alcove at the end of the main hall, where a tiny fire crackled cheerfully. So he led the way, and Marian sank on the luxurious sofa, while Mrs. Van Tromp drew up a chair, and, spreading wide her gorgeous fan of peacocks' feathers, settled herself to hear all about King's Lyndon.
"Now do tell us about your lovely place in Suffolk. I am very fond of those old English places. The last time we were in England we spent a delightful week at Fairlight, Sir Herbert Cheevor's place in Suffolk. It was charming--no Americans except ourselves."
This last was the most charming part of it to Mrs. Van Tromp.
"I know Fairlight well," replied Marian; "although it has been some years since I was there. But the Cheevors--what Cheevors? It is the manor house of the Shadwells."
"Yes, a good many years ago; but--"
Macfarren here, seeing trouble ahead, cut in dexterously by a sly jog of Mrs. Van Tromp's elbow, by which she dropped her fan, and, with a thousand apologies for his awkwardness, he picked it up. The ruse succeeded, temporarily.
"I'm sure you'll like it here," continued Mrs. Van Tromp, "so many English are here this winter. There's quite a little colony on Staten Island. Of course you'll be invited to the F. C. D. C's and the Patriarchs and Matriarchs?"
Marian, without answering, turned two wondering eyes on Macfarren. Him at least she could understand.
"They are balls and banquets," he explained.
Marian turned to Mrs. Van Tromp. "I can not go except my father, the Lord Howard de Winstanley, go with me, or else my lady Stukely," she said.
"Oh, there won't be any trouble about that. I will see that your father and Lady Stukely get cards," responded Mrs. Van Tromp, eagerly.
Here was a go, indeed--taking Lord Howard de Winstanley and Lady Marian de Winstanley and Lady Stukely all to the Matriarchs under her wing! What a happy woman then was Mrs. Van Tromp!
But if the mention of these magic names filled the descendant of the Knickerbockers with rapture, what were her blissful feelings when Lady Marian said gravely:
"I am bed-chamber woman to the queen, and she hath got so vexatious in her old age, that I know not if she will excuse either my poor self or Lady Stukely from court, even for a day."
Mrs. Van Tromp, although a matron of the strictest propriety could at that instant have embraced Macfarren for having introduced her to Lady Marian. Macfarren, in spite of the strange and _risqué_ position in which he found himself and the woman he most honored in the world, could scarcely keep his countenance. Mrs. Van Tromp's expressive face, sparkling with pleasure, was in striking contrast to Lady Marian's statuesque calm.
"Now, pray, tell us something about the queen," kept on Mrs. Van Tromp. "We all take such an interest in everything relating to her--such a model woman in every respect."
"Is she?" dryly remarked Marian. "I know she hath a heavy hand. See you this ear of mine? Well, one day, as I was in her closet, handing her her petticoat, I happened to glance sidewise out of the window at my Lord Essex in the court-yard, and the queen fetched me such a box on the ear, it stings me yet, and called me a lazy vixen, with eyes for none but cavaliers, and if I did not behave myself better she would pack me off home. And being vexed and sore, I did complain to my Lord Bishop of London, who told me he could do nothing to help me, for the queen had sworn at him like any trooper as he stood in his bishop's robes, and had kicked and cuffed him most cruelly."
Mrs. Van Tromp's countenance was a study during all this. She finally murmured faintly:
"I'd no idea the queen was that sort of a person."
"And," continued Lady Marian, animated by the recital of her wrongs at the queen's hands, "she doth wear apparel too young for her years, and paints her face, albeit she be near seventy. And dances--"
"Dances!" said Mrs. Van Tromp, almost breathless with surprise.
"Yes," promptly answered Lady Marian, getting up with alacrity, "not a stately measure like this--"
And here, she walked with matchless grace, a few steps of a courtly dance.
"But a hoydenish thing like this--"
Throwing her train over her arm, Lady Marian executed a _pas de seul_ that would have done credit to any ballet girl in the world. Her heels flew up and her toes flew out, her skirts whirled wildly about, and she was a perfect picture of grace and _abandon_.
To a man of Macfarren's nature, who had a tender respect for all women, this exhibition, however graceful, could not but be painful. But when the woman in the case was the one dearest to him in the whole world, the pain became agony. But far was it from Mrs. Van Tromp to be shocked at any performance of Lady Marian de Winstanley, bed-chamber woman to the queen.
"Is that the queen's favorite dance?" she cried. "Then, dear Lady Marian, may I ask you to teach me a few steps of it."
And the first thing Macfarren saw, Mrs. Van Tromp's train was over her arm and she was capering about as furiously as Lady Marian.
Now, although Macfarren was suffering the tortures of the damned, in addition to which he momentarily expected the angry interference of the proprietor, and to have the misery of seeing Lady Marian thrust disgracefully out of the hotel, the spectacle of Mrs. Van Tromp as an elderly Bacchante was too much for him. He lay back in his chair and laughed until he thought he should have died. A cow trying to walk a tight rope would have been graceful compared to Mrs. Van Tromp's elephantine attempts--but when with a final hop, skip and a jump, she asked him what he thought of it, he lied desperately.
"Beautiful--beautiful!" he cried, "you'll make a sensation, sure--and Van Tromp will get a divorce," he added mentally.
Mrs. Van Tromp and Lady Marian, each exhausted by the exercise, sat down panting--and Macfarren drew a long breath of relief when the show was over.
Mrs. Van Tromp, after fanning herself for a moment turned to Lady Marian and asked:
"Were you ill coming over in the steamer?"
"What?" inquired Marian.
Mrs. Van Tromp repeated her question, adding, "I always feel every revolution of the screw myself."
"What means she?" asked Marian of Macfarren. "Steamer--screw--what are they? I never saw them in Suffolk, or Norfolk either."
Macfarren felt perfectly helpless. How could he explain it to her? For the first time he floundered.
"Steam, you know," he said, blunderingly,--"the steam that comes out of a teakettle--"
"Yes," interrupted Mrs. Van Tromp, who had not exactly taken in what Marian had said. "Doesn't it seem strange that it should propel a ship three hundred miles a day across the ocean? Dear me!"
"The steam from a teakettle propel a ship three hundred miles a day! Madam, either thou art grossly deceived, or else thou--"
"But perhaps you came over in a yacht," cried Mrs. Van Tromp, thinking the lady Marian unused to the records of the Cunarders and White Star ships, in which passengers are so profoundly interested. "Of course on a yacht it is quite different, you know. There isn't any object in covering so many miles a day. But I must say I like fast traveling. The slowest time we ever made in crossing was two hundred miles a day, and we were out nearly fourteen days."
"But the steam from the teakettle--and two hundred miles a day? Did I hear aright?" asked Marian.
"You certainly did," said Mrs. Van Tromp, with a heightened color.
"Then, madam," said Lady Marian, rising majestically, "I can only say that such crazy tales reflect neither grace nor credit on you, and if you be not taken for one who loves marvels more than truth it will much surprise me."
Mrs. Van Tromp rose too. She hated to give up taking Lady Marian and her father and Lady Stukely to the Matriarchs, but there were some things she could not stand.
"I am sure," she said, speaking in a tone of lofty dignity, but fluttering her fan with some agitation, "that you do not mean to imply that I say what is false; but your language is at least open to that inference."
"Madam," replied Marian, with equal haughtiness, "my language and your inference are one. And that thou thinkest me a poor credulous fool adds not one whit to the good will I owe thee. This comes," she continued, with severe displeasure, "of mercers' wives playing lady."
Macfarren's position during this colloquy was awkward in the extreme. He had been blest in always seeing women in their gracious and lovable aspect, and now with these two ladies, each a queen in her own realm, facing each other, crimson and defiant, himself responsible for their meeting, the situation was anything but agreeable to his fastidious nature. But it need scarcely be said that his sympathies were all with Marian. Unconsciously she had been the aggressor; but how unjust to judge her by that stricter code of manners that governed Mrs. Van Tromp! How proud the young girl looked, serene in her consciousness of rank and position! How like an angry fish-wife looked Mrs. Van Tromp! And what was he to say or do? Obviously, nothing.
Mrs. Van Tromp made the next move. She was furiously vexed, but, being at the core a very shrewd woman, she did not intend to close every chink of reconciliation. The Lady Marian was certainly a very queer person, and this might be only one of her numerous peculiarities; but she was the daughter of Lord Howard de Winstanley and chaperoned by Lady Stukely. So, making a low bow, she said:
"I am sorry that this should have occurred. I feel myself blameless, though; and when Lady Marian de Winstanley makes the apology she owes me, and which she also owes herself, I shall be glad to forget that it has ever happened."
But, before she could sail gracefully off, the Lady Marian had started up, and, seizing Macfarren by the arm nervously, cried out, in a voice full of distress:
"Let us return to your lodgings. I am better there than elsewhere in this strange inn, and there I will remain alone with thee the seven days thou sayest it will take for my father to reach me."
Poor Mrs. Van Tromp!
In moments of great excitement all kinds and classes of people are apt to fall into the same homely idiomatic language. Therefore Mrs. Van Tromp said, or rather shouted, at this terrible instant, "The brazen hussy!" and with one fierce scowl that took in both Macfarren and the Lady Marian, and with a wild rustle of draperies, she flew down the corridor, the swish-swish of her trained dress sounding like the flapping wings of a frightened domestic fowl.
"You've done it now," was Macfarren's involuntary exclamation; but he was too loyal to his new-found love to let any other word escape him. There was nothing for him but to take her back to his apartments, call up the proprietor, and settle upon some temporary plan for the protection of this solitary and beautiful young creature. "Come," said he, leading the way.
"Perhaps," said Marian, as they walked rapidly down the long, narrow, red-carpeted hall, "I was hasty with the mercer's wife; but the low-bred creature did vex me with her lies. But I think she hath not all her wits about her. Didst thou not observe the strange ways of speech she had?" tapping her forehead significantly.
"Perhaps," said Macfarren; "but here is the door." He opened it, and ushered her into his little drawing-room as if she had been a queen. Marian turned and locked the door behind them. "To keep the mad woman out," she explained.
Macfarren led her to a sofa. "Now," said he, "let us determine upon your immediate future. Rest assured, all that reverence and the tenderest respect can do for you shall be done."
"I believe thee," answered Marian, turning her large clear gaze upon him. "I know not who nor what thou art, but this: thou art a gentleman; and that is enough."
Macfarren bowed to the ground.
"But it seems plain to me," she continued. "London, thou sayest, is but seven days from here by land."
"By land and water," corrected Macfarren.
"Well, it matters not," she said, impatiently, "so it be seven days. My father is there, and will quickly send a trusty person after me. Now, tell me, friend, who are the persons of chief consideration in this town?"
Macfarren stopped to think a moment. He answered, not according to his own conviction, but merely by the general estimate: "The--the--Vanderbilts and the Astors, I presume."
"Who are they?" demanded Marian.
"Rich merchants," responded Macfarren.
"That will do then," said Marian, decisively. "This, then, is my plan. I will go to the house of the first thou didst name. No doubt they will be pleased to entertain a daughter of the house of Winstanley. I will crave their hospitality until my father doth send or come; and in leaving I will present them with this string of pearls, which will do doubt delight their honest hearts, unused to the gold and glitter of the great. Thou shalt take me; so get thy sword and mantle and come."
She was evidently determined; but at that moment a tremendous knocking came at the door. "Open! open!" he heard half a dozen voices shout, and "Murder!" He recognized the voices. There was the loud basso of the proprietor and the weak treble of the room-clerk, and there was Marsden, his particular chum, and Smithers, the greatest gossip of the hotel smoking-room, all bellowing in chorus, and the door must yield soon. A cold horror seized him. Marian, the woman he would have died to save--and then, strongly, strangely, the coward's longing to escape from it all possessed him like a devil; had he a pistol all would soon be over. In one moment was concentrated the agony of a lifetime. He thought he was going mad. He put his hands to his reeling head, and felt himself sinking by inches into black forgetfulness.
* * * * *
"I say, old fellow, you had a close call!" was what he next heard, in Marsden's voice. "Your clothes were smoking; the picture's burned to a crisp; and next time you fall asleep with a lighted cigar in your mouth just have the fire-brigade handy. This'll cost you in the neighborhood of five hundred dollars' damage to furniture and books alone."
"Thank God!" was all Macfarren answered.
Do you know the feeling of living in a house pervaded by an unseen presence--a person who has lived there once, and whose spirit seems to dwell there forever afterward? That was what Mrs. Jack Hereford felt when she and her husband took refuge from New York and Newport and Tuxedo at Malvern, the old Virginia plantation, with its tumbledown house, full of rickety furniture, and staring daubs of family portraits in every room in it. The house and everything in it, and six hundred acres of land grown up with pine saplings, had been bought for a song from the heirs of the estate, who had never seen it, and never wanted to see it.
Colonel Baskerville had been the last owner of the place, and he had been dead ten years; also Mrs. Baskerville. And there had been three children--two sons, one of whom was shot dead at Gettysburg, and the other had died of wounds and exposure. The daughter, Amy Baskerville, too, was no more. All this Mrs. Hereford gathered from the one or two persons she had met, and the old doctor who was her nearest and only neighbor.
It was this Amy Baskerville whose shadowy, girlish presence was all over Malvern. She was only twenty when she died, as the plain headstone in the old family burying-ground said. The brick walls of the graveyard were crumbling, and the iron gate had given way. Cattle and sheep browsed on the green mounds. Many of the tombs of the dead-and-gone Baskervilles were marble slabs supported on pillars, of which the solid brick and mortar had disappeared, leaving them like gigantic tables. The later graves were sunken, especially those of Colonel Baskerville and his wife, over which a simple monument was raised, inscribed to the memory of Colonel Marmaduke Baskerville and Nancy, his wife. Those over the two sons were highly ornate, and bore long epitaphs: "Marmaduke, who was killed while gallantly leading his regiment, after the fall of both his colonel and lieutenant-colonel," followed by a long list of Marmaduke's virtues; and "George, who died of wounds contracted in the service of his country, at the early age of eighteen." The story was plain. The poor old colonel and his wife had put up the showy tombstones with Pity weeping over an urn, and their executors had put up the plain stones over the father and mother and little Amy.
Hanging in the grim library, with its few old-fashioned books upon the crazy shelves, were portraits of the colonel, a veritable Virginia colonel, with a tremendous shirt ruffle rushing out of his generous bosom, and his rosy face wearing a look of majestic solemnity common in portraits, but which Colonel Baskerville never wore for five consecutive minutes in his life. Then there were portraits of George and Marmaduke, both handsome lads, both as alike as two peas, and, besides, a portrait of little Amy. She was about sixteen when it was painted. It was so sweet, so sad! There was not a trace of weakness in the half-womanish, half-childish mouth and chin. In the delicate, well-poised head one could see more will power, more intellect, than in the portly colonel and both of the handsome, frank-faced boys put together. This was not Amy's only picture. There was an old daguerreotype on the drawing-room table which revealed her in a white dress, and half a dozen faded photographs of her in her riding-habit, in fancy dress, in numerous other costumes and attitudes, sometimes with one, sometimes with another, of her brothers; and a whole bookful of sketches, scribbled all over, "The Book of Amy. Life and Adventures of Amy Baskerville. By G. B., Esq.," in which G. B., who had considerable skill, pictured Amy in numberless grotesque and humiliating circumstances, and once or twice as she must truly have been, graceful and picturesque.
Then there were piles of old-fashioned, desperately sentimental songs on the broken-down old piano in the drawing-room, which had once been sung by Amy's fresh young voice. One day Mrs. Hereford came across a frayed little white satin slipper that had been Amy's, and had evidently done good service. It was the saddest little reminder in the world. It was like the ghost of youth and joy. And there was a broken fan, laid away in tissue paper, and inscribed, "To be mended." Mrs. Hereford locked these little girlish relics up carefully in the drawer of the dressing-table in what had been Amy's room. On the dressing-table was an old-fashioned swinging glass, in which Amy had once been wont to look roguishly, admiring her own fresh beauty. The glass remained, but Amy was dust and ashes.
One afternoon Mrs. Hereford, sitting on the porch, around which the vines had grown in neglected luxuriance, saw an old negro woman coming up the pathway toward the house. She was very infirm, and leaned upon the shoulder of a little darky about ten years old, who dutifully supported her. She stopped at the foot of the steps, and, with an old-fashioned courtesy, said, "Good-evenin', my mistis."
"Good-evening, aunty," replied Mrs. Hereford, having learned that much of Southern etiquette. "Won't you walk in and rest yourself?"
She crept painfully up the steps, and sat down in the rush-bottomed chair offered her. The little darky squatted on the steps, and fixed a pair of bright black beads on "de lady f'um de Norf," which he never removed.
"You will 'scuse me, lady, fur troublin' you so much as ter come here. But I hed to come--I _hed_ to come. It seem like I couldn't die 'twell I hed done seed de ole place," she said, presently.
"You are quite welcome," replied Mrs. Hereford.
"You see," she said, glancing deprecatingly at Mrs. Hereford, while she smoothed down the clean but faded handkerchief on her breast, "I was de head 'oman in dis here house. I was ole mistis' maid, an' den I nuss dem two boys, an' Miss Amy, and arter dey was all gone I went, too. But I done hed de ager so bad, an' I feel so po'ly I don't never 'spect ter be able ter git here no mo'. So I come, jest ter tell ole marse an' all un 'em how things is lookin'. Kase I 'spects ter fin' 'em all when I gits to glory, an' ole marse he sho to say, 'Keziah, how's things gwine at Malvern?' Lord! when I got ter tell him de Yankees done bought de place an' livin' here!"
"But, gra'mammy," said the little darky, who had been to school and had imbibed some theology, "dey doan' keer nuttin' 'bout Norverners an' Souverners in heaben--"
"You shet yo' mouf, boy! You didn' never know ole marse. Doan' make no diff'unce whar he is, I lay he gwine cuss like a trooper when I done tole him de Yankees is livin' at Malvern--an' he sho' to arsk."
The youngster, more cowed by Aunt Keziah's energy than her arguments, maintained a discreet silence after this. Mrs. Hereford, who was a gentle and merciful woman, said to her:
"Wouldn't you like to go inside? It's very little changed since we came."
"Thankee, lady," she said, rising and hobbling to the hall door. Her uncertain step was heard going toward the library; then a long pause, and a quicker return. "I c'yarn do it!--I c'yarn," she panted, sitting down in her chair. "I thot I'd go ev'ywhar, all 'bout de house, an' set down in ev'y room; but seems ter me I hear dem voices callin'--ole marse bawlin' out 'Keziah!' an' little missy (she lisp when she talk) she say 'Kethiah'--an' I couldn't stay no longer. I was sorry I come."
"Was it very long ago that it all happened?"
"'Twarn't so long dat I kin forgit it. Fust time I ever feel like trouble was comin' was one mornin' when little marse--dat was Marmaduke, an' all de black folks call him young marse, 'cause he was tall like he pa, an' was more'n twenty-one; but I had done rock him when he was a baby, an' I never could call him nuttin' but little marse--he rid away fur to whip de Yankees. He help ter raise a comp'ny, an' he was 'lected cap'n, an' dat mornin,' right arter breakfast, he was gwine away. All de black folks 'bout de house was out here on dis here porch fur to tell him good-by, an' marse an' missis an' little missy, an' Marse George an' me, an' all on 'em was smilin' an mighty gay 'cept me an' Marse George. He was lookin' sorter black an' sulky 'cause he want ter go ter de war too; but he warn't but sixteen years old, an' ole marse an' missis wouldn't let him. When little marse come out, he look so fine in his bran'-new uniform, an' Jake--dat was he body servant--was settin' on one o' ole marse's best horses, holdin' little marse's horse by de bridle, an' jes' a grinnin', he was so happy. Young marse had he sword in he hand, an' little missy--she warn't but fifteen--tooken it from him an' snatch he cap off, an' strut up an' down ter make ole marse laugh; an' den she buckle de sword on agin, an' little marse he went up an' shook hands wid ole marse, an' he say: 'Good-by, father. You'll see me back 'fore de leaves fall. 'Twon't take long to whip dem chicken-hearted Yankees.' An' missis she hol' him in her arms, an' she kiss him, but she keep on smilin' an never shed a tear.
"I cry so hard I had ter run upsty'ars, an' I went in little marse's room, an' set down in de cheer, an' cried 'twell I couldn't cry no mo'. I got up den, an' was gittin' out he nice white shirts an' he high beaver hat fur to put 'em away 'ginst he come home, when little missy she walk in. Her cheeks was white like chalk, an' her big black eyes had a kinder skeert look in 'em, an' she steal up ter me, an' say, 'Oh, mammy, do you think he'll ever come back?' an' fust thing _I_ know she was cryin' wusser'n me, an' I jes' took her in my lap like I useter when she was a little gal, an' set down, an' say, 'H'ish! h'ish! in course he gwine ter come back.' All dat day little missy she hang on ter me. Old marse he stay down in de fiel' making 'tense he was lookin' arter de han's, an' missis she shet herself up in de store-room ter fix up de house-keepin' book, an' I didn't see neither one 'twell dinner-time. Den dey talk mighty cheerful, an' little missy she plague George 'bout gwine ter de army, but I didn't hear none on 'em say a word 'bout little marse. But _I_ know dey didn't furgit him.
"Arter dat things was mighty cur'us. Missis she couldn't get no mo' clo'es, an' she put away all her fine silks an' satins, an' all little missy's too, an' her diamond comb, an' her lace shawl, an' wear nuttin' but homespun. Little marse, he wroten heaps 'o letters, an' he didn' furgit he po' ole black mammy. He wroten me hisse'f, an' I got dem letters in my chis' now. I c'yarn read 'em, but I loves 'em. An' all de time, I kep' a-honin' fur him, an' skeert 'bout him. Mistis, she was a brave 'oman--she never let on she was skeert. Night an' mornin', when she read pr'yars in de dinin'-room, wid ole marse an' little missy an' de house-servants settin' roun', she pray fur little marse, 'twell sometimes ole marse he wipe he eyes, an' I hed to fling my ap'on over my hade an' cry; but her voice never shake none. But _I_ never did 'spect ter see him no mo', an' one night--"
Here she hesitated. The dead and gone tragedy rose up bodily before her eyes, and she paused a moment, gasping in contemplation of it.
"One night I was settin' by de charmber fire, an' I hear a cart come up ter de front do'; an' I wonder what kin' o' folks 'twas comin' dat time o' night in a cart. So I run out an' open de do' as soon as I heerd de knock--an' 'twas our Jake. 'Whar's little marse?' I ask him, ketchin' hol' on him. Jake look at me, an' he was kinder ashy, an' he couldn't speak. An' I hear ole marse an' missis comin'; an' sumpin' was in de cart all covered up, an' two men was takin' it out. When Jake seed missis, he start ter trimble; an' ole marse he shout, 'Whar's yo' marster?--whar's my son?' An' Jake he pint ter de cart."
At this point she stopped. She took out a tattered handkerchief and began to finger it nervously. The afternoon shadows had lengthened since she had begun.
"Dey brung de coffin in de parlor, an' sot it down on cheers. He look jes' like he did de mornin' he rid away, but bofe legs was broke. Nobody teched him but me an' Jake. He hed two letters in he pocket, an' one was a letter I had done got little missy ter write fur me, tellin' him to take keer o' hisself. Ole marse, he do mighty queer. Arter ev'ything was fixed, he come an' set down by de coffin, an' he never cry nor nuttin'--he jes' put he han' ev'y now an' den on little marse's head, an' say, 'My son, my son Marmaduke!' Missis she set by him, an' talk ter him, an' pray wid him, an' read de Bible to him, an' seem like she didn't think 'bout nuttin' but comfortin' old marse. Little missy she creep upsty'ars into little marse's room an' flung herself on de floor, an' lay like she was dead, 'twell I took her up in my arms, and settin' down in de rockin'-cheer, she see me cryin', an' she cry too.
"Ole marse he do jes' de same arter de funeral. He set an' look at little marse's picter, an' he wouldn't let nobody move he whip off'n de rack, nor a ole p'yar o' spurs o' little marse's.
"Georgie hed been 'way at school. But one day a letter come. Marse George hed done run away ter jine de army. When dat letter come I seed missis put on a look I ain't furgot ter dis day. Georgie was her favorite. An' 'fo' de winter was out--'twas in de fall when Georgie run away--he died in de horspital. He hed been writin' 'twarn't nuttin' matter wid him, an' he'd be outen de horspital 'fo' missis could git ter him; but she was gwine ter start de naix day. Ole marse fotch him home. He warn't eighteen, an' he hed a little muffstach comin', and he didn't look any older den little missy when dey laid him by little marse. He was de handsomest o' all de chillen.
"Dat kilt missis. Ole marse he done fur her jes' like she hed done for him, an' little missy stay by her night an' day; but one night, when de doctor say she was gittin' better, she call me, an' she say: 'Keziah, I'm dyin', an' I know it. Don't leave yo' marster an' Amy. Stay by 'em faithful like you has been ter me an' de boys.' An' de very naix week she died. Missis was a Chrischun, if ever I seed one. She would 'a lived if she could; but what kilt Georgie kilt her too. Seemed ter me arter dat like poor Keziah have ter see ole marse an' little missy go too; but I kep' up as well as I knowed how. Little missy was mighty pretty den. She was mos' twenty, an' she kep' gittin' mo' an' mo' like Georgie. De war was over den, an' some de han's went off, an' dere warn't nobody but me in de house, an' de cook an' Jake did de res' o' de work. Ole marse he walk 'bout like he didn't keer fur nuttin'. One day two men drive up in a shiny new buggy, an' I hear 'em talkin' mighty sassy to ole marse on de porch, an' pres'ny ole marse stan' up, an' he say out loud: 'Gent'men, take all. Take my plantation, my house an' furniture, my horses an' cattle an' stock an' ev'ything. I'm a bankrup', but I'm a honest man.' An' dey try ter smoove him down, an' arter a while dey went off.
"'Bout dat time I heerd dey was some Yankee orficers campin' out in de woods, an' one arternoon one on 'em rid up ter de do' an' got down. Ole marse an' little missy was settin' out;--'twas summer-time. De minute I seed him I seed he was like little marse, and little missy seed it too, 'cause she tole me so. He was a gent'mun, ef ever I see one--an' black folks kin tell gent'muns quicker'n white folks kin--an' when he walk up de steps he bow low to bofe on 'em, an' hol' he cap in he han' all de time he was talkin'. He tole ole marse he was a ingineer, an' hed come fur to make some maps or sumpin', and he had done foun' a good place fur a camp on de place, an' de Government tell him he kin camp anywhar, but he wouldn't like ter put up he tents an' things 'cept he had ole marse's consent. Ole marse say, 'De Government done took my two sons, all my servants, my horses, cattle, sheep, an' ev'ything I hed, so I s'pose it can take my plantation too.' De orficer turned red as a beet, an' so did little missy, an' she got up an' put her hand on ole marse's shoulder and said, 'Father!' jes' like missis. Den marser sorter cooled down, an' said he didn't keer a cuss 'bout de camp, an' de orficer thank him like he had give him de plantation, and den he made a bow, an' one ter little missy, an' git on he horse an' ride away.
"Arter dat he was here ev'y day. 'Twas allers to see ole marse 'bout sumpin--'bout de crick, an' de way de lan' slope, an' sich; but I watch him, an' I see he warn't half listenin' ter ole marse, an' he kep' he eyes on little missy. An' she useter look at him sometimes, an' smile, an' turn away. An' den he met me on de road one Sunday when I was gwine ter meetin', an' he stop he horse an' say: 'Good-mornin', aunty. How's yo' mistis?' An' when I tole him she was right peart, he laugh, an drop a gol' dollar in my han'. I went home an' tole little missy, and she turn red, an' say, 'It was very saucy of him, mammy, an' I've got a great mind ter make you send that money back.' But she didn't.
"He kep' comin', an' missy kep' gittin' kinder ter him, an' he was so perlite an' he voice were so nice an' he were se'ch a gent'mun I couldn't help thinkin' she gwi' fall in love wid him. An' one night he come, an' arter he hed done tole ole marse good-night, she come ter de door, an' he axed her to come out on de porch, an' pres'ny, arter he hed been talkin' ter her in a kinder whisper, he stan' up straight an' open he arms, an' she slip in an' laid her head on he shoulder.
"Jes' den ole marse come out. He look so white it skeered me. Little missy raise her head, but de orficer wouldn't let go her han'. Ole marse he shake like he hed de ager, an' he say: 'Take yo' choice. Go wid dat man, an' take yo' father's curse, an' never darken these doors, or sen' him away where he b'longs, an' never speak ter him again.' De orficer say: 'Colonel Baskerville, I love your daughter, an' she loves me. You can't separate us.' But ole marse he p'int he finger, an' he holler, 'Take yo' choice.' An' little missy she stan' fur a minnit or two like stone, an' den she take her han' away an' say, 'Father can't do without me. It would kill him. You must go.' De orficer he look like he would hol' on ter her, but she turn an' walk in de house, an' he got on he horse, lookin' black an mizerbul, an' gallop off as hard as he could.
"I seed a look naix day in little missy's face like missis when dey got dat letter 'bout Georgie. She was gwine ter die--I knowed it. Warn't nuttin' matter wid her--she went like missis. Ole marse he done ev'ything fur her; she never say a cross word ter him, but I b'lieve he wish she hed. Ev'y night I ondress her an' put her ter bed like when she was a little gal, an' ev'y night she got lighter an' lighter. 'Oh, mammy,' she would say, 'I'm so tired!' an' she didn't do nuttin' either. Ole marse he walk de floor all night. I heerd him, an' so did little missy. 'Poor father!' she would say. Den one day, arter de doctor hed been here an' gone, ole marse he go in de library an' he write a letter, an' he tear it up; an' he write 'nother one, an' he tear dat one up; an' at las' he write one an' he tooken it upst'yars an' he lay it on little missy's bed an' went out. 'Twas ter de orficer. Little missy she read it, an' she say, 'It's too late.' An' sho 'nough, 'twas."
She stopped again and paused. The shadows were very long by this. It was nearly night.
"He got here befo' dey put her in de groun'. He stan' by de grave, an' when de yearth fell in on de coffin he say to hisself, 'Amy! Amy!'
"I stayed by ole marse. I knowed 'twarn't fur long. It come one day when he was settin' in he cheer on de porch. He didn't move fur so long I was skeered. I went up to him, an' he was dead. Arter dat I went away. De orficer he give me some money, an' he tole me he'd sen' me some mo' ev'y year--an' dat's what I lives on. I c'yarn come here no mo'. I c'yarn go to de graveyard. Evy'whar I sees my chillen like when dey was little. I hear little missy sayin', 'Kethiah! Kethiah!' I 'spects ter see 'em soon, an' I wants ter tell 'em 'bout de ole place. I thankee kindly fur takin' keer o' things."
She limped down the steps and soon was far down the narrow path, and her bent and crippled form melted away into the twilight.
THE SEA FORTUNES OF DICKY CAREW.
The sun shone so bright at Portsmouth Harbor that afternoon that everything was gold and green and white except the black hulls of the ships and the great gray forts, out of which the guns sometimes bellowed warnings to Boney across the water. And right out in the golden light lay his Majesty's ship-of-the-line Xantippe, riding statelily at anchor, like a queen of the seas upon her throne, so noble and commanding was she. But all the beauty and glory of sunlit harbor and white-walled town and sky and ships was as black as midnight to Dicky Carew when the dreadful summons came:
"Please, sir, the captain wants to see you in his cabin."
When Dicky stood inside the cabin facing the captain, stern, handsome, and as neat as wax, a sorrier-looking object than Dicky Carew would have been hard to find. His cap, which he held in his hand and twirled dolefully, had a big hole torn in the top, his jacket was white with dust, and right across his nose was a large black smut. Captain Sarsfield examined him carefully from the top of his tousled yellow head down to his unblacked shoes, Dicky blushing furiously all the while.
"A pretty spectacle you are, Mr. Carew, for an officer and a gentleman!" For although Dicky was only fifteen and barely five feet high, he was a middy and a gentleman.
Dicky said nothing, but continued to twirl his cap, while his eyes roamed uneasily around the captain's orderly cabin. And there, sitting on a sofa, with a dolly in her lap, was a little dark-eyed girl dressed in mourning, who was watching Dicky with great interest.
"What have you been doing, sir, to get yourself in such a mess as you are?"
"Catching cockroaches down in the hold, sir, with Barham," answered Dicky, in a quavering voice.
"A nice employment for two young gentlemen. When I was a midshipman, I employed my leisure in studying my profession."
"Yes, sir. That's what all the officers tell us. Barham and I are the only fellows I ever heard of that did anything but study their profession."
Captain Sarsfield looked very hard indeed at Dicky. Was it possible that this dirty and ingenuous youth was poking fun at a post-captain? But could deceit reside in those innocent eyes and that timid, boyish voice? The captain was in doubt.
"At all events," he continued, with an appalling look at the smut on Dicky's sunburned nose, "your appearance, sir, is disgraceful. I believe you are the dirtiest midshipman in his Majesty's service, and you will be docked of leave to go ashore for the next eight days."
The captain was about to deliver Dicky a lecture, when an orderly tapped at the cabin door and saluted.
"The new cutter has come, sir, and is about to be taken aboard."
The captain got up and went out without remembering to send Dicky back into the steerage, where he belonged.
As Dicky continued to stand, cap in hand, he would certainly have boohooed right out if he had not been an officer and a gentleman. Dicky, when he remembered that, gulped down two large sobs that rose in his throat, and winked his eyes to keep the tears back. Was there ever another such unlucky fellow as he, Dicky Carew, he asked himself, dismally. There was Barham, that was just as busy with the cockroaches as he was, and yet Barham's jacket wasn't dirty nor his nose smutted, and if the captain had sent for him he would have turned up as trig as the captain himself. And how many times a week Dicky was mast-headed for untidiness, and how often had he ridden to London and back on the spanker boom for that same fault, only Dicky himself could tell.
While he was pursuing these melancholy reflections the little girl on the sofa had fixed her dark eyes on him.
"What's the matter with you?" she asked.
"I'm dirty," answered Dicky, desperately. "I tub and scrub as much as any of 'em, but the captain can't see what I am underneath, and he thinks because I'm dirty outside I'm dirty all over."
"The captain is my papa," said Miss Bright Eyes.
"I wish he was _my_ papa," remarked Dicky, sadly, "if he'd be any easier on me."
Girls, as a rule, possessed no charm for Dicky; but this was such a very little one--not more than ten years old--that he regarded her as an infant, and rather a pretty one.
"I'm staying in Portsmouth," she continued, nursing her dolly very carefully, "with my governess and my nurse. My mamma is dead. She died only a month ago--before papa's ship got here--and I come on board nearly every day to see my papa. Sometimes, if it rains, I stay all night. I have a funny little bed made up in papa's sleeping cabin, and in the morning I get up and make his tea for him."
That story about her mamma went to Dicky's heart.
"And my mother got to Portsmouth this morning to see me, and she hasn't much money, and can only stay a week, and I can't go ashore to see her because I didn't keep my face clean and mussed my jacket."
"Why didn't you behave yourself, then?" promptly and severely asked his young friend. "Papa always behaved himself when he was a little boy like you."
This last very much incensed Dicky.
"Now look here, young lady," he said, "I'm an officer and a gentleman! Didn't you hear your father call me so just now? And if people in this ship call the officers 'little boys,' they'll get put in irons as likely as not. As for the officers behaving themselves when they were midshipmen, everybody knows they were angels--sea-angels--and the steerage was a little heaven. Oh, they didn't catch cockroaches--not they! And all the time they weren't on duty they were studying or saying their prayers. And as for skylarking, why, they never heard of such a thing! I'll tell you what--eh, what's your name?"
"Polly," answered Bright Eyes.
"Well, Polly, it ain't true that 'whom the gods love die young'; for if it were, there wouldn't be an officer of this ship alive to-day. Barham and I ain't going to die young, though. The gods don't love us, nor the captain neither."
"You oughtn't to talk so about dying," answered Polly, gravely. "You never had your mamma to die. Sometimes, when I've stayed on board all night, I've waked up and seen papa sitting by me, looking so strange and sad, and I know he is thinking about mamma, although he says, 'Go to sleep, my dear, nothing is the matter!' and I can see the tears on his cheek; and my papa is a brave sailor too. He says he knows I ought to go to school, but he can't bear to part with me." This very proudly.
"I dare say," said Dicky, mournfully, "it will break my mother's heart when she has come all this long way to see me, and can't see me. And she will be sure to think I have done something scandalous. I know she will!"
This worked so upon Polly's feelings that she said:
"Come here, and I'll get some pictures and show you."
"I can't," answered Dicky. "I've got to stand here until the captain comes back."
"Then I'll come to you," said Polly.
When the captain got back he found Polly sitting on the floor, with her lap full of pictures, and Dicky on the floor too, explaining them to her. The captain was quite in the cabin before Dicky heard a step. Then he jumped up, stood perfectly rigid, and blushed scarlet. It was bad enough to be caught at boyish tricks on the quarter-deck, which had sometimes happened, but to be found playing on the floor with a little girl was a reflection on his manhood. However, the captain did not seem very angry. He only said, "You may go, sir, and don't let me have to speak to you again about your personal appearance!" and Dicky fancied he saw something like a smile on Captain Sarsfield's face. Dicky said, "Yes, sir," and bowed to the captain, and then to the little girl.
"Good-by, Miss Polly," said he. It had been "Polly" and "Dicky" before the captain came in.
"Ain't you going to give me a kiss?" asked Polly in a surprised voice.
Dicky could get no redder than he was, but his hair almost stood on end, while he darted out and down the ladder, never stopping until he got to his own nook in the steerage.
"Girls are deuced bothersome--damme if they ain't," he remarked to Barham--these young gentlemen, in privacy, swearing quite mannishly, and discussing the feminine sex with a great assumption of knowingness.
Up in the cabin, the captain had said, "Polly!" in a reproving voice, and Polly had climbed up on his knee and kissed him, by way of answer.
"Do you know, papa, Dicky's mother is poor. She is the widow of an officer who was killed by that wicked Boney at the battle of the Nile"--for in those days Boney was supposed to command on sea as well as on land--"and Dicky was only ten years old, and his mother has come to Portsmouth to see him, and she can only stay a week, so Dicky won't be able to see her."
"Ah," said the captain, stroking his little daughter's hair.
"And she is staying in a little gray house, the next but one to the gate leading into the great dock yard. Papa, I would like to go to see Dicky's mother the next time we go ashore, and tell her that Dicky hasn't done anything very bad--because he says she'll think he has been very, very naughty--and tell her it's only because he is so dirty."
"You may go this afternoon," said the captain; "and perhaps I may let Dicky off before the week is out."
The next day, as Dicky was rather disconsolately poring over a book on seamanship, another summons came to the cabin. Dicky was in perfect order, for a wonder, and looked considerably less frowsy and blowzy than he had the day before. When he entered the captain's room the captain was at the table, writing, and Polly, on her knees on the cushioned seat, was peering out of the port-hole; but she turned around when Dick entered.
"Mr. Carew," said the captain, sternly, "I hope I impressed upon you yesterday the necessity for absolute personal neatness in your attire. The punishment I gave you, however, I have concluded to partially remit. After to-day, you may go ashore when you can get leave."
"Thank you, sir," replied Dicky, blushing with pleasure; "and--and--Captain Sarsfield, I'm not--as dirty as I look."
"I am glad to hear it, sir," responded Captain Sarsfield, gravely. "Good afternoon."
Still Dicky lingered. He wanted to say a word to Polly, but he couldn't do it with the captain's grave eyes fixed on him. So he only hung about for a moment, then said, "Good-by, Miss Polly," and vanished.
Dicky's mother was delighted to see him next day, and Dicky gave her such a bear hug, as he sometimes did Barham, that his mother shrieked, while she laughed and covered his face with kisses.
"And Dicky, such a dear little girl, all dressed in black, came here yesterday with her nurse! She was little Polly Sarsfield, the captain's daughter, and she told me why you couldn't come ashore, and that the captain, hearing I was here, had concluded to remit your punishment. I knew my dear boy wasn't punished for insubordination, or swearing, or gambling. If I thought that possible, it would break your mother's heart."
Dicky felt rather uncomfortable at his mother's supreme confidence in him, and was glad she didn't know everything that went on among the young gentlemen in the steerage.
"And Polly is a jolly little thing," remarked Dicky. "Nothing but a baby, though."
"Polly will be a young lady by the time you are a man," answered his mother, who did not take Dicky's assumption of manliness seriously.
"Oh, pshaw!" remarked Dicky, with a blush.
In those days, when England was at war with France and half of Europe, promotion was sometimes rapid; and when Dicky had not got very far in his twenties he had been gazetted three times, and actually commanded a little eighteen-gun brig that carried as much manliness and courage as anything afloat. Dicky walked the deck of his little vessel, the Hornet, as proudly as Captain Sarsfield walked his splendid quarter-deck on his new line-of-battle ship--the Indomptable, finer even than the old Xantippe. And Dicky had developed into a model of sailor-and-officer-like neatness, and kept his ship as clean as a lady's boudoir. And one bright day the Hornet came sailing into Portsmouth Harbor, her sails and rigging roughly patched where the shot had torn through, with holes covered with bright new planking in her black sides, with four of her guns shattered at their muzzles, but bravely towing a French sloop of war almost twice as big as the little Hornet. The Frenchman, too, could barely keep afloat, but he had ten good guns that Dicky had brought home in place of the four he had lost. And Dicky, seeing the great, big, splendid Indomptable anchored in the harbor, stood boldly in and dropped his anchor just astern of her. Dicky knew well enough who commanded the Indomptable.
Oh, what shouting and hurrahing there was when the people in the ships and those on shore made out the little Hornet! And what dipping of flags and waving of caps and cheering when the little vessel had come to anchor! And then, when Dicky, in a very small and shabby gig, with only four men at the oars, and some of them with their heads or their legs bound up, was rowed to the admiral's ship, there was more cheering and shouting, which made Dicky's heart swell.
That very afternoon, by the time Dicky had got back on board the Hornet, a gig very unlike the Hornet's gig put off from the big Indomptable, and presently Captain Sarsfield clambered up the side, and Dicky, looking very red and pleased, holding his cap in his hand very much as he had done when Captain Sarsfield sent for him to scold him about his untidiness and general naughtiness, received the captain at the gangway.
"Let me congratulate you," said Captain Sarsfield, shaking his hand warmly. "What a trouncing you gave the Frenchman to be sure! How you managed to keep afloat I can't see."
"We are badly knocked to pieces," answered Dicky, "and on that account I hope you will excuse the appearance of things. The ship isn't as clean as I'd like her to be."
The Hornet was, though, as clean as hands could make her, her brass-work shining and her deck snow-white, although some of her spars were in splinters and things generally broken up. As for Dicky, he looked as if he had been parboiled and sand-papered and then hung out to dry, so clean was he; and he had the air of having just stepped out of a bandbox. Captain Sarsfield grinned at Dicky.
"You are certainly cleaner than you used to be," said he.
The captain had to hear all about the fight off Cherbourg, where Dicky sailed in under the very guns of the forts and made the Frenchman come out to fight. It seemed very unequal at first, as the Frenchman had the most men and the most metal. But Dicky plainly had the most seamanship, and, in a running fight that lasted four hours, he cut the French ship up so that at last, when she struck, nothing but a tow line and her nearness to Portsmouth saved her from going to the bottom. Both the Frenchman and Dicky were too far gone to carry the prisoners back to Portsmouth. These had been transferred to another vessel, but Dicky had the Frenchman's captain and her ensign and ten guns, which was good for Dicky.
Dicky was dying to ask Captain Sarsfield about Polly; but, although he had been gazetted three times, he was so afraid of the captain that he could not get it out to save his life until just as Captain Sarsfield was leaving.
"And--how--how is Miss Polly?" asked Dicky, looking sheepish and blushing furiously.
"Very well," answered the captain, "and at present paying me a little visit. When you come to dinner to-morrow you will see her. She is quite a young lady--sixteen her last birthday."
Young ladies grew up earlier then, and sixteen was considered quite old. So Dicky went, and found Polly a grown-up young lady, with full muslin skirts down to her heels, a short-waisted bodice belted just under her arms, and a large poke-bonnet. Dicky was very shy, but Polly was not, and rallied him unmercifully, even cruelly alluding to the smut on his nose, which she had remembered all those years.
Things were very pleasant about that time to Dicky; but then the war closed soon after, much to Dicky's disgust, who had wild dreams of commanding a fifty-gun sloop of war at least before Boney was finally done for; and Dicky saw, disconsolately enough, that he was well off to have got the little Hornet, and that he would not get anything better for a long while.
Meanwhile, Dicky had been making hay while the sun shone, and a day had come when he went on board the Indomptable to ask Captain Sarsfield a very important question indeed--which was whether Polly and himself could get married. Dicky was terribly frightened, but managed to appear tolerably self-possessed as he sat in Captain Sarsfield's cabin, although he could not help twiddling his cap desperately under the table. The captain was as grave and stern as ever, and gave Dicky no manner of help while he was blundering and floundering about, trying to tell the captain how much he loved Polly, although it was perfectly plain that Captain Sarsfield, or anybody with half an eye, for that matter, must have known directly what ailed Dicky.
Then Dicky told the captain that he had a snug sum of prize money put by, which should be Polly's, and the captain had said that Polly was not quite dowerless, and the whole thing was arranged, Captain Sarsfield shaking Dicky's hand formally, and wishing the young couple might be as happy as he and Polly's mother had been, long years ago. And for a wonder, Captain Sarsfield appeared to think that perhaps Polly and Dicky might have something to say to each other, and considerately stalked up and down the quarter-deck for a full hour, while the young ones had a rapturous interview in the cabin. When Dicky got back to the Hornet, he sent for Barham, who was his first-lieutenant, and they hugged each other and danced round in the cabin very much as they had done when they found amusement in catching cockroaches in the old Xantippe.
Polly and Dicky were to be married in the spring. Dicky was cruising about the English Channel, getting into Portsmouth for a few days every month, where the Indomptable was lying awaiting her turn to be overhauled and repaired, for she too had got a shot or two from Boney before he got away to Elba.
One bright day in spring, as bright as the one on which Dicky first met Polly, the Hornet was coming into Portsmouth. There was a spanking breeze from the sea that tossed the white caps high, and the little Hornet was skimming along under all the sail she could carry. Now, although French ships had begun to appear again in English ports by that time, they were rather unusual; so Dicky, who was on the bridge of the Hornet, was rather surprised to see a big French frigate, the Alceste, sailing slowly out of the inner harbor. She was a fine ship, but she was sailing like a hay-stack, one mile ahead and three miles to leeward. The passage into the harbor of Portsmouth is narrow--not more than four or five hundred yards across--and from the lubberly way the Alceste was tacking about, she would probably take all the room there was, and considerably more if she could get it, to come out, and leave none at all for the little Hornet; but Dicky wasn't afraid of that. When it came to navigating a ship in a tight place, young Captain Carew was a match for any man who sailed the seas. In those days England claimed the sovereignty of the narrow seas, and exacted that a man-of-war, of any other nation whatsoever, on meeting a British war-ship in those waters, should salute the British ensign by lowering her topsails. Naturally, this was peculiarly hateful to French captains, who not infrequently omitted it, when the French ship was very big and the British ship very little. Then a long official correspondence would follow, but no French captain was ever punished for this defiance of the might of England. Dicky Carew, however, was not the man to consider the difference between a big ship and a little one where the respect due the flag he carried was at stake. His ensign was set, which was a hint to the French ship that her topsails must come down.
But the Alceste seemed in no hurry to show her manners. The fresh breeze that filled her ill-set sails kept most of her people busy, the sailors bustling about the decks with more chattering and noise than Captain Carew would have allowed on his ship in a month. But not a man went near her topsail halliards.
From the way the Alceste was lurching about, it began to look very doubtful if the little Hornet could pass in the narrow passage to the harbor, where it was plain they would meet; but Dicky Carew had no notion of shortening sail and hanging around outside until the Frenchman had got out. So in contrast to the great lumbering Alceste, the little Hornet came dashing on, with a free wind, making about two knots to the Alceste's one, and her course as straight as the crow flies. The French captain, who was also on his bridge, saw that the Hornet had no mind to stand out of his way, but he laughed as he looked at his own big hull and towering masts, and saw the little Hornet, whose mainmast was no higher than the Alceste's lower spars. And not the slightest sign was made that his topsails were to be lowered.
Now Dicky could stand the Alceste's bad seamanship, but it didn't suit him to take the Alceste's snub, and then sit down and write to the Admiralty and complain about it. He had been used to teaching Frenchmen to behave themselves, and he meant to do so now.
"Barham," said he to his first lieutenant, "the rascals don't mean to salute."
"Report 'em to the Admiralty as soon as we come to anchor," responded Barham.
"Wouldn't it be better to smash his cabin windows, and splinter one of his starboard boats beforehand--eh?"
"Decidedly better," said Barham, whose blood was up too. "With such a lot of landsmen and marines as they've got aloft, it will go hard if the Hornet can't scrape some of the paint off his sides."
By this time the French captain saw what was coming. The Hornet was standing up beautifully to the breeze, and apparently making straight for the Alceste. In two minutes more she was right on his starboard quarter, and the French sailors began to yell. Barham had taken the wheel, and kept his eye on Captain Carew, when, as Dicky waved his hand, Barham threw down the helm, and the little Hornet scraped so close to the Alceste that the quartermaster, taking up a boat-hook, jammed it through the Alceste's cabin windows, bawling:
"Take that for yer manners, ye ornsightly lubbers!"
And then there was a crash--a boat on the Alceste's starboard quarter was gone, and as the big frigate lurched across the yard of blue water between them, the little Hornet's stanch mizzen mast struck the Alceste's lower spars, that were only half secured, and tore through the rigging as if it were a cobweb. In another minute the Hornet with her helm righted had danced off, her men cheering and jeering, while the French captain fairly danced with rage, and shook his fist at Captain Carew, who raised his cap, and bowed and smiled politely.
Of course it was very wrong, and Captain Carew knew it, particularly when he saw the Alceste deliberately put about to return to Portsmouth. Dicky began to have dreadful visions of being obliged to go on the Alceste in full uniform, and make an apology to the French captain, than which he would much rather have had an arm cut off.
But all this was forgotten when Dicky caught sight of the Indomptable, for Polly was still in Portsmouth, and not many days passed without the captain's daughter coming on board the big frigate with her father for an hour or two. Polly loved the Indomptable, as she had done the old Xantippe, and was quite as much at home on her, although she no longer had a little bed in her father's cabin. Captain Sarsfield looked very serious when Dicky told him about it, and things generally began to look grave when the French ambassador came down to Portsmouth and looked at the Alceste, and then took the French captain back to London with him. Dicky was not a whit behindhand in making his report to the Admiralty about the French ship's omission--but that was all he was entitled to do. The jabbing the boat-hook through the Alceste's cabin windows, and the smashing her boat, while the Hornet's first lieutenant was at the wheel and her captain on the bridge, was altogether another thing. And in a very little time indeed came the order for a court-martial, and young Captain Carew was ordered to turn his ship over to his first lieutenant, and consider himself under arrest. What a stir it made! And the people all said, "If they break him for crippling a ship twice his size, without getting a scratch, they will have hard work finding another captain who can do it; and if every man resented an affront to the British ensign like that, why, it never would be safe to affront it."
The captains, sitting stern and solemn around the table in the admiral's cabin, heard the whole story. In vain they tried to bring out that accident had something to do with it; but Dicky, cool and calm, declared openly that he had done it on purpose, and would do it again, to any man that did not salute the ensign flying on his Majesty's ship Hornet--if he could.
The courts-martial in those times did not keep a man long in suspense. There was indeed a fearful dispatch in taking an officer's commission away from him. One whole May day was Dicky on the rack, and he knew his fate before he left the admiral's ship. He left it a free man--free with the dreadful freedom of a man whose country disowns him. Track would be kept of him, so the Admiralty could set its seal of condemnation on him too, but otherwise he could go where he pleased.
The first use he made of this new and terrible liberty, was to go on board the Indomptable, where he was shown into the captain's cabin. Dicky was as white as a sheet, but he held his head up manfully.
"Captain Sarsfield" he said "I am a ruined man. I have been dismissed the service of my country. I came to say that although I am not conscious of having done anything to disgrace my name, I can no longer ask your daughter to accept it."
Captain Sarsfield too was pale. He loved Dicky, but he could not bring himself to give Polly to a cashiered officer, and he said so. But just then Polly herself appeared, and marching up to Dicky, with blazing eyes, she put her hand on his arm.
"But I want to marry him, _and I will_!" she said. "He is the best sailor in the British navy, and if they cashier him because he can do what hardly anybody else can do, very well. Papa, I shall marry him."
Captain Sarsfield rubbed his eyes to see if he were awake or dreaming. Was this his quiet, gentle Polly? As for Dicky, his heart swelled, but he removed her hand gently from his arm.
"No, Polly," he said; "your father is right. I could not bring you down to be the wife of a man counted unfit to serve his king and his country."
"But I am not afraid of being poor," said Polly, with tears in her eyes.
"It is not that, my dear," answered Dicky, in a husky voice. "It is because I am broken--don't you see? I shall have to take off the uniform that I had hoped to wear as long as I lived. I shall have to either live in my own country as a discredited man, or carry my discredit with me to another country; no, Polly."
"But I say I will!" answered Polly, fiercely.
"Good-by," said Dicky, taking her hand. "You are too generous; it would be cruel to take advantage of you, dear Polly--"
The captain had been standing there all the time. Both Dicky and Polly had forgotten him until he spoke.
"Now, Polly," said he, firmly, "this must stop. Carew is right."
"Well, then," said Polly, standing up very straight and bold, "he may refuse to marry me now; but I mean to let him know once a year that I am ready and waiting for him, until--until he finds somebody else."
"There's no danger of that," said Dicky, kissing her hand; "but you and I can never be married now, Polly."
Dicky did not go back to the Hornet, but went ashore and to an inn, where, calling for a private room, he sat and tried to look the thing in the face like a man; but he couldn't. His profession gone, his mother's heart broken, separated from Polly, no longer Captain Carew, commanding his Majesty's ship Hornet, but plain Dicky Carew commanding nothing at all.
Oh, poor Dicky! How much easier would it have been to be killed in those sea-fights with Boney's ships! What was he to do? All night long Dicky sat up and walked the floor, and when day broke he was so haggard and miserable that he was ashamed to show himself. All day he sat in his little room; he would wait until nightfall before he took the coach for London. Disgraced men ought to hide themselves from the light of day. Toward evening, just as he was preparing to go out, a furious knocking came at his door. Dicky opened it, and there stood a functionary all in scarlet and gold--a king's messenger, so Dicky knew. The messenger, making a low bow, handed a packet to Dicky. "I was directed to deliver this into Mr. Carew's own hands," he said.
Dicky winced. It was the first time that he had been called "Mr. Carew."
Dicky broke the big red seal, and found two documents inclosed. One was a letter from the Admiralty, and this is what it said:
RICHARD CAREW, ESQ.: Sir.--I am directed by the Lords of the Admiralty to inform you that the sentence of the late court-martial, finding you guilty of willfully running into the French frigate Alceste, coming out of Portsmouth Harbor, on the 25th of March, has been submitted to his Majesty in council, and the decision of the court--viz., that you be deprived of your commission as commander--has been approved by his Majesty, without regarding the provocation you were under, or the great skill, daring, and capable seamanship you displayed on the occasion. But his Majesty herewith incloses you a commission under the royal seal as post-captain, and directs you to take command of his majesty's ship Hornet, now lying in Portsmouth Harbor; and may all impudent Frenchmen be served like the Alceste, as long as British hearts of oak endure!
And then followed signatures and seals. But Dicky could read no more; and although he was as brave a fellow as ever stepped, he fell down on his knees and cried like a woman or a baby.
Within a month Dicky and Polly were married. The day was beautiful and bright, and the little Hornet was dressed with bunting from rail to main-truck, and the wedding bells clashed so merrily that they were heard half across the water to Cherbourg.
NOTE.--In Thackeray's Roundabout Papers he says: "In George II's time there was a turbulent young lieutenant, Tom Smith by name, who was broke on complaint of the French ambassador for obliging a French ship of war to lower her topsails to his ship at Spithead. But by the king's orders, Tom was next day made a captain." Tom's picture is at Greenwich. He was called "Handsome Smith," but his portrait is by no means so handsome as his conduct.
My acquaintance with the brothers Kourásoff commenced as far back as when I was sub-professor at the Polytechnic Institute in St. Petersburg and Loris, the elder, was in the Guards, while Vladimir, the younger, was still at the School of Gunnery. These two brothers were commonly mistaken for twins, although Loris was no less than four years older than Vladimir; but, though Nature had made them outwardly alike, she had not failed to mark an extraordinary difference in their characters. Fortune, too, having endowed them equally in the first instance, had unequivocally declared one to be her favored child.
Vladimir Kourásoff was by turns morose and flippant. He had managed to encumber himself with debts even sooner than young Russian nobles usually do, and was, moreover, suspected of inclining to revolutionary principles. The Government took good care to be informed of everything Vladimir Kourásoff said and did.
Loris, on the contrary, enjoyed a high degree of imperial favor. He had been sent, at his own request, to take command in one of the disturbed districts near the Turkestan frontier--a position which he filled to the satisfaction of the Government and of the local authorities too, a thing difficult to do. About this time he invented a new fuse, which was approved by the Ministry of War, and for which he declined to accept any compensation, which induced the emperor to decorate him. He belonged to the true party of order and progress, which seeks to improve the Russ as he is without vainly attempting to turn him into a German or a Frenchman. His estates near Wilna were said to prove by their flourishing condition that emancipation could be turned to the mutual benefit of proprietor and serf. Of his private character my great affection for him makes me speak with diffidence. I can only say that he had a multitude of friends who shared my opinion of him. His talents and accomplishments were adorned with a singular modesty, which, if it did not disarm jealousy, at least silenced it.
The Russ is essentially democratic; therefore it is not remarkable that Count Loris Kourásoff, one of the darlings of St. Petersburg society, should have for his friend a sub-professor who lived in modest lodgings in an unfashionable quarter beyond the Izaak bridge. Once a year we usually took a journey together; and one summer he accompanied me to Germany on a mission of a sentimental nature, which, if not settled to my satisfaction, was at least settled, and I set myself to forgetting Maria von Spreckeldsen as quickly as I could. This proved to be easier than I had imagined; and, though I wept tears of rage, and Maria tears of disappointment, when her father refused to let us marry on my salary as sub-professor, the anguish of both subsided by degrees, leaving only a feeling of placid regret. Maria, who could not talk philosophy so well as I, acted it much better, and in less than a year married Herr Sachs, one of the richest brewers in Bavaria; and when I last saw her I thought I would not exchange the image which dwelt in my heart of my adored Maria in her youthful slenderness for the excellent but stout Madame Sachs, while I am sure she would not have given her brewer for all the professors in Russia and Germany together. But we still correspond (with the full approbation of Herr Sachs), and in our letters call each other Gottlieb and Maria. O youth! O folly! O Maria!
Count Loris frequently complained that my affair with Maria had destroyed his fondest illusions, and that my inconstancy, as he was pleased to call my devotion to my ideal Maria, had made him a skeptic in love. He seemed to take a cruel pleasure in listening to my most harrowing reminiscences, and when we dined together always toasted Maria with a variety of unfeeling remarks.
I had never visited the Wilna estates of Count Kourásoff, but in the summer of 18--, being engaged in making studies of Russian village life, I presented myself at Ivánofka. Count Loris was at home when I arrived, and was overjoyed to see me. The house was very much like French chateaux of the best class, and maintained in a state of order and repair not always found in Russia. Everything showed a generous but wise expenditure. The village gave evidences of thrift and industry. The communal land, as well as that belonging to Count Kourásoff, was under an excellent system of husbandry. Instead of the complicated agricultural machinery for which the Russian proprietors have a mania, while their plows are made after the model of those used in the time of Iwan the Terrible, I found at Ivánofka that they had judiciously improved on their common tools and implements. The barley was of a superior order, and the cattle were fat and well-shaped. All the credit for this state of things was awarded to Count Kourásoff. It was he who had given Iwan Tiska a horse when his own died of lockjaw; it was he who had paid Mother Karlitch for her flax when it was all burned up; it was he who had given them seed in the year of the bad harvest. In short, the inhabitants of Ivánofka regarded Count Kourásoff as the general benefactor of the human race.
The only dissatisfied man in the village appeared to be the parish priest. The contempt in which the "White" or married clergy are generally held is well known, and in this instance the dislike of the parishioners was warmly reciprocated; but, in spite of the head-shakings and evident disgust of my village friends, I had formed a sort of intimacy with the old fellow, and sometimes amused myself by listening to his hearty denunciations of the souls committed to his charge. Once he said, shrugging his shoulders: "Count Loris is a man of sense, but he treats them like rational human beings, when, to show you how little they deserve it, about once a year the howling sickness breaks out among them. It begins with some woman whose husband has given her an extra beating--not a blow too much, I dare say" (the priest was accused of using this method of persuasion on his own wife occasionally)--"and in two days the whole village is howling."
"Well," I asked, "what happens then?"
"I will tell you. The first time it broke out, some disguised men--of course _I_ knew nothing of it, you understand," said he, opening his eyes and shutting them again with a cunning look--"took seven of these howling devils in the middle of the night, and, cutting a hole in the ice of the lake, dipped them in two or three times. One of them--old Mother Petroff--died the next day, but that was no great loss--the village has been twice as peaceable ever since."
"The remedy was severe, but does not appear to have been effectual," said I.
"Oh, yes, yes! Now, when they begin to be troublesome--that is, more troublesome than women usually are--some fine morning they see a big square hole cut in the ice, and they leave off as suddenly as they began. Women are plagues at best," he continued after a pause of deep reflection.
"Well, little father," said I, still laughing, "if one wishes a picture of the dark side of Russian humanity, I know of no one so well fitted to give it as you."
"I am indeed well acquainted with it in my own parishioners. St. Nicholas help me to abuse them!" said he, piously crossing himself.
But there was for me something more interesting than the village priest or the commune: Count Kourásoff was seriously contemplating marriage. He scarcely allowed me time to make my modest toilet and eat my simple dinner on the day of my arrival before I was carried off to see his _fiancée_. He told me she was Mademoiselle Olga Orviéff, that she lived at Antokollo,--one of the two fine suburbs of Wilna,--and that she enjoyed a virtual independence, having as her only companion an old aunt quite deaf, nearly blind, and totally incapable.
"I suppose," said I on the way to Antokollo, "that Mademoiselle Orviéff is one of those gentle creatures with whom life flows--"
"As placidly as a canal," said my friend.
"I am gratified to hear it," I replied. "In marriage one needs repose."
"Exactly," said Count Loris.
"I imagine, therefore," said I after a pause, "she is not one of those superficially gifted women who appear to have minds. Perhaps my description of my beloved Maria may have inclined your fancy to the same type; and, while she embodies my ideas of female excellence, I am sure she never read a book through in her life."
"Mademoiselle Olga reads, I fear; but I can easily break her of that after we are married," said Count Kourásoff gravely.
"Is she handsome?" I inquired.
"She is not ugly," was his guarded answer.
"The shallowness of women makes them easily read," said I; "although I speak with diffidence. My knowledge of them is limited: yours, doubtless, is extensive."
"Far from it," said he with energy; "the more I see of them the less I know of them."
"Then what a frightful risk!" I cried. "My friend, I would not be in your place for the wealth of the empire."
"But Mademoiselle Olga has such soft eyes and such dark eyelashes!" said he. "That comforts me when the recollection of the vagaries of her sex casts me down. After all, if we marry at all, we must marry a woman--the philosophers give us no escape from _that_."
"Too true, my friend; but the philosophers bid us avoid marriage altogether."
"They did not on that account refrain themselves. However, I escaped until my time came; which is all that any of us can expect. Destiny can overtake all of us--even you, my gay and youthful professor. But I do assure you that Mademoiselle Olga has most beautiful eyes."
When at last I was presented to Mademoiselle Orviéff, I found that she possessed the essence of beauty--which is the power to please. Her appearance was exquisitely feminine, but there was a fire in her eyes and a curve in her red mouth that showed a spirit beyond her outward softness and delicacy. At first I thought her the simplest creature I had ever met with; but I afterward found her to be the most complex. This knowledge was not arrived at in a day, a week, or a month, but in a long period of familiar intercourse. She was a beautiful revelation to me; for the first time I comprehended the charm of a fine intelligence in a woman. She possessed without knowing it, a cultivated understanding, but she always appeared to me, in her serious moments, like a child playing at being wise. She did me the honor to exert all her powers of pleasing upon me, while Count Kourásoff looked on amused at her adroit cajolery of me and her determined effort to win my good opinion. She very soon established a remorseless tyranny over me under cover of the gentlest and most insinuating manner. I was her "dearest professor," her "best of friends," and meantime she held me in the hollow of her little hand. Her devotion to Count Kourásoff was of the nature of a religion. To me, and to all the world but him, she used all the flattering wiles and pretty artifices that render women charming, but she seemed to feel by a fine instinct that she needed but one art with him--to be her own true and natural self.
But the destiny to be loved too much and by too many seemed to be Olga's fate. Among those whom her evident preference for Count Kourásoff had not discouraged was General Klapka, commandant of the garrison at Wilna, and at the same time one of the richest men in Russia. He was a man at all times unscrupulous and dangerous to thwart, and a singular complication placed the power of inflicting a terrible revenge in his hands. Vladimir Kourásoff was stationed with his regiment at Wilna under a sort of surveillance, and General Klapka could add still further to his painful and perilous position. He had more than once intimated to Count Loris that he held Vladimir's life in his hands; and this could be readily believed, for nothing seemed to impress Vladimir with a sense of his danger. He openly and bitterly complained of his banishment from St. Petersburg, and his conduct showed equal levity and recklessness.
I was astonished at the tact and boldness with which Mademoiselle Olga managed so troublesome and dangerous a lover as General Klapka. But Count Loris did not seem disposed to aid her. Whatever anxiety he might feel for Vladimir, he did not on that account do much toward conciliating General Klapka on the occasions--and they were not infrequent--when they met at Antokollo. I made no doubt that each respected the personal courage of the other, but nothing but my friend's coolness under all circumstances and unshaken self-possession foiled General Klapka's evident efforts to disoblige him.
One day Count Loris proposed that we should drive over to Antokollo. It was a lovely afternoon in August, and we went in an open calèche, which we left at the entrance of the grounds. As we walked slowly under the rich and dappled shadows of the beech-trees, we saw a group before us--General Klapka and two aides in brilliant uniform, and Mademoiselle Olga sitting in a rustic chair lazily fanning herself and holding a gay pink parasol over her pretty bare head. No better foil for her youth and loveliness could be imagined than General Klapka. He was awkward and stout, with purplish moustaches and a suspiciously black and luxuriant head of hair. Mademoiselle Olga always described him as looking like a wild beast; and he certainly had a sort of savage glare in his fierce eyes. He did not appear overjoyed to see us as we made our greetings, but Olga, who had appeared somewhat bored before noticing our approach, became all animation.
The two aides, after politely saluting Count Kourásoff and superciliously surveying my plain coat, entered into a deeply interesting conversation with each other. Thereupon Mademoiselle Olga honored me with her particular notice, and, proposing a walk around the grounds, coolly took my arm, leaving Count Loris and General Klapka to pair off together. The latter, though not deficient in breeding, did not respond very cordially to Count Kourásoff's well-bred efforts at a good understanding, and perhaps felt the contrast between his companion's graceful figure and his own ungainly appearance. But whether they got on well or ill appeared to matter very little to Olga: she left them to amuse themselves, and chattered on to me in her pretty and entertaining manner.
The grounds were small but beautifully laid out. We presently came to a bridge over a little stream, and stopped to watch the water tumbling over the rocks at the bottom. Olga, leaning carelessly over the rail, dropped sticks and pebbles into the water, and ended by dropping her fan--a pretty thing of lace and ivory--after them. Of course we each offered to save it, but, with a coquettish imperiousness, she ordered General Klapka to the rescue. The General, highly gratified, tucked his military chapeau under his arm, made his slippery way down the bank, and, stepping cautiously upon the stones, reached out for the fan. In vain; it was just a little beyond him.
"A little farther, General Klapka--only one step more," cried Olga encouragingly.
"But mademoiselle, the rocks are wet, and--"
"Ah, Mademoiselle Olga, do not tempt General Klapka too far.--Beware of another step, General Klapka!" cried Count Loris, maliciously.
Of course General Klapka took the other step, but it was of no use; a mischievous eddy carried the fan still farther down.
"If you will accept of my services--" began Count Loris, turning to Olga.
General Klapka raising himself to scowl at his impertinent rival, just what all of us had foreseen happened; there was a plunge, a loud splash, and he was floundering in the water. It was very shallow, and he was on his feet in a moment, but Count Loris, with officious politeness, rushed to his rescue, literally dragging him out, completely drowning the general's angry assurances that he did not need any assistance by protestations of regret and earnest inquiries whether he had received any hurts. Meanwhile, Olga, standing on the bank, anxiously fished for the general's hat, which she triumphantly landed on the point of her pink parasol.
As soon as he was well out of the water, General Klapka sent one of his young officers, who looked as crestfallen as himself, to order their horses; but, in the little time that elapsed before his departure, Mademoiselle Orviéff seemed determined, by her endless regrets and apologies, not to let him forget his mishap, while, by a singular process of feminine logic, she taxed Count Kourásoff with being the sole cause of the accident. He, after all, had saved the fan, and bore her reproaches with great coolness. When at last General Klapka, sulky and discomfited, rode off Mademoiselle Olga and the count laughed at him as if they would never tire, and seemed to think his misfortune a source of boundless amusement; but I began to see that there were some tragic elements in this comedy they were playing.
About this time the Grand Duke Constantine was expected at Wilna, and great preparations were made to receive him; but the revolutionary placards which had appeared there, as in every other town in the empire, became more numerous and audacious than ever. The police, as the case has always been, showed their boasted efficiency by arresting numbers of innocent persons, whom they were subsequently obliged to release; but after every arrest the placards became more violent and taunting. Several officers of the garrison, even, were arrested, but, to my surprise, Vladimir Kourásoff was not among them. He had suddenly grown prudent; but I can not say that this change in his conduct inspired either his brother or myself with any great confidence. Of one thing we were both assured, that Vladimir's rash and frivolous character would prevent his being placed in any post of responsibility by the revolutionary or any other party. Count Loris was deeply attached to him, and Vladimir knew very well that his brother's means and influence would be freely used to save him from the consequences of his own wrong-doing.
On the morning of the Grand Duke's expected arrival the city was alive with threatening cards posted on the walls of the university, the arsenal, and other public buildings. Count Loris and myself paid a visit that morning to Mademoiselle Orviéff, and then joined a throng of eager and expectant spectators at the palace gates. Vladimir too, was there, one of a brilliant group of officers who were to receive the Grand Duke at the entrance to the palace. The crowd was excited, but good-natured, and contained the usual mixture seen in Russia on such occasions--priests, moujiks, ladies, beggars, and police--all loudly talking about indifferent things, and below their breath discussing the boldness of the placards.
"One was torn down in St. Stanislas Street at eight o'clock, and before nine there were dozens like it posted all over the town--on the Cathedral doors, over the Nikolas bridge, everywhere," said an officer with whom I was conversing. As he spoke, I turned and saw Vladimir Kourásoff listening to him with a conscious smile on his countenance.
At that moment a droschky appeared at the extremity of the long street which the police kept clear for the imperial cortége. The horse dashed furiously along, evidently running away, while the driver held on desperately to the reins. On the narrow seat were two moujiks holding on to each other, apparently drunk and unconscious of their danger. They kissed each other and rubbed their beards together, as their habit is in their convivial moods; but I suspected that they were not drunk, and perhaps not even moujiks. One of them appeared to be urging the already maddened horse still more. "Fly, my dushinka!" ("little darling") he cried, trying to clutch the reins from the frightened driver. "Fly like wind and lightning to meet our good father Constantine!"
His companion waved a box in his hand. "Fireworks! torpedoes!" he bawled with a yell of drunken laughter, "for the good Duke Constantine!"
The horse, suddenly swerving from his straight course, dashed against one of the iron pillars holding a cluster of lamps at the palace-gate. There was a loud cry as the crash of the droschky and the explosion of the box of fireworks occurred at the same moment, and, while every eye except mine was apparently fixed on the spot, I saw Vladimir Kourásoff lift up his hand and affix a placard to the wall and vanish in the crowd. It was done in an instant of time.
As I saw it I walked off involuntarily in another direction, and when I turned and looked back the throng that had lately been so noisy and excited was staring in stupid amazement at the bit of paper securely fastened to the wall.
My first impulse was to seek Count Loris: I felt that Vladimir's fate was sealed--that in that vast multitude some one besides myself must have seen him. I walked mechanically to the Nikolas bridge, and, looking up, saw my friend approaching, and two men, not in uniform, walking slowly and nonchalantly toward him, immediately in front of me. We all four met in the middle of the bridge.
One of the strangers laid his hand lightly on the count's arm. "In the name of the emperor," said he, "your sword."
Count Loris, with a cool smile, unbuckled his sword and handed it to him. "I am now, and always, the faithful subject of the emperor's most sacred Majesty," said he.
The man, who had hitherto remained silent, examining him carefully, said: "He does not wear the uniform of Count Vladimir Kourásoff's corps."
"That is easily accounted for," replied his companion: "he has a brother who is in the Guards, and a change of uniform is a shallow trick often resorted to."
"Come, my friends," said Count Loris, smiling pleasantly, "do not keep a gentleman and a faithful officer standing here in this piercing wind."
"Come on, then," said one of his captors. "You have plenty of courage: it is well, for you will need it all."
"Farewell, my friend!" said Count Loris, turning to me, and, still smiling, walked off with the police officers.
I went to Antokollo, to the house where we had spent so many happy hours, feeling a kind of horror at being the bearer of such tidings. The arrest of Count Kourásoff, in itself a dangerous thing, became still more so when I reflected that he would be absolutely in the power of General Klapka, who, as military governor, had charge of all the state prisoners. As for Vladimir, I made no doubt that he would improve this chance to save his precious self. It would be some hours, and possibly some days, before it would be found out that they had not captured the real culprit.
Mademoiselle Olga came in, looking gayer and more brilliant than usual. When I told her of her lover's misfortune, this tender young creature exhibited the utmost courage. But when I expressed my indignation at Vladimir's conduct, she turned on me like a young lioness: he was Count Kourásoff's brother, and how dare I so speak of him before her? I hastily apologized and added one more to my list of the incomprehensibilities in woman's nature. I offered, at any cost, to carry the assurances of her faithfulness to Count Loris.
"He knows it better than you could tell him," she said, looking scornfully at me. But with her woman's wit she devised a plan by which I could communicate with my friend.
The next morning I presented myself at General Klapka's levée, and, having obtained a few minutes alone with him, I gave him to understand that I knew the state prisoner Kourásoff was Loris and not Vladimir, and, explaining that I had an account which I wished to settle with the former, I obtained permission to present it. General Klapka was ready enough to believe me one of those summer friends who change as seasons change, and the fact that a state prisoner could not alienate any of his property did not make it the less annoying to have claims presented to him.
General Klapka took me to a window, and, pointing significantly to the fortress where the prisoners were confined, said: "I have a question to ask of you. Now, if you attempt to deceive me, in less than twenty-four hours you will have an apartment there."
I bowed silently.
"You are probably aware," he continued, "that I am deeply interested in Mademoiselle Orviéff. Have you seen her since Kourásoff's arrest?"
"Yes," I replied; "I saw her immediately afterward."
"Did she express any fear for him or show any excitement?"
"Not in the least," said I.
"Did she endeavor to send any message to Kourásoff by you? Examine your recollection carefully, or--"
"No," said I. "I told her I should try to see him: I candidly acknowledge that I asked her if she had a message to send, and she declined positively."
He stood gazing thoughtfully on the ground for a little while. "You may go," he said at length. "Count Kourásoff has not at present any money at his disposal"--he smiled as he spoke--"but you may get his promise to pay your principal with interest--with good interest. And remember, my friend, if you suspect that the prisoner is not Count Vladimir Kourásoff, you will be careful not to speak of it: you will find it best to observe my--requests."
The next day, and many days after, I presented myself at the outer fort where Count Kourásoff was imprisoned, and, after having been duly searched and found to carry nothing with me but a huge account-book showing Count Kourásoff to be thousands of roubles in debt to me, I was admitted to his narrow apartment, where we would sit at a little table and figure and dispute by the hour. During these apparently stormy interviews, when a great deal of information was conveyed to him about Olga as well as public affairs, the sentry who walked up and down before his open door cast many angry looks at me, and always ushered me out with more haste than civility; for Count Loris had managed to engage the affections of the soldiers who guarded him as well as everybody else's. My parting assurance to him always was that the mines of Siberia would claim him yet; to which he would respond by saying that no misfortunes of his would benefit me or make him pay my dishonest account.
He had another visitor besides myself. Day after day a priest, whom I knew to be my friend at Ivánofka, but who was apparently fifty years older than in the August before, appeared at General Klapka's _levée_. He seemed so old as to be nearly imbecile; but with singular persistence he came, always telling some endless tale of the wrongs he had suffered at the hands of the Kourásoffs, and always demanding to see the supposed Vladimir. At last, one day, in a mingled fit of impatience and unusual good nature, General Klapka ordered him to be admitted to Count Kourásoff, where he talked and mumbled so incoherently that the count appeared unable to understand him and to be quite worn out with him. However, he continued to come at intervals, and his stupidity became a jest for the soldiers of the guard; but Count Loris understood from his wandering talk the exact state of affairs at Ivánofka during his absence.
Meanwhile the city was in a state of excitement difficult to describe. The arrest of Count Vladimir Kourásoff, as was supposed, followed by that of several other officers and members of families of distinction, created a profound impression; but the Government seemed in no haste to bring the prisoners to trial, and they were treated with extraordinary leniency. There was great surprise manifested at the disappearance of Count Loris Kourásoff; but General Klapka did not hesitate to say that Count Loris knew enough of his brother's schemes to make his absence convenient, if not necessary.
All this time General Klapka was more and more devoted to Mademoiselle Orviéff. She treated him with an indifference that was not devoid of coquetry, but he seemed under a spell. I once asked her if she felt no stings of remorse when she remembered General Klapka's real and disinterested affection, however ungenerous he might be. She gave me a look that was meant to wither me. "If I would sacrifice myself and all that I have or could hope for Loris Kourásoff, do you suppose I would hesitate to sacrifice General Klapka too?" she said.
"I do not know," I answered dubiously. "Maria von Spreckeldsen sacrificed me to Herr Sachs: I know _that_ much."
"Maria von Spreckeldsen!" she said contemptuously; and clasping her hands behind her back, like a child saying a puzzling lesson, she came and stood before me. "Do you mean to say--do you really mean to say--that the sentiment between you and Maria von Spreckeldsen could be called _love_?"
Now, I thought this was very unkind of Mademoiselle Olga, and showed duplicity as well, for she had always professed the deepest sympathy for me in regard to my Maria, and a profound belief in the depth of my feelings.
"Come," said she, blushing, but straightening up her slim young figure, "do you know that when one loves as--as--"
"As you love Count Kourásoff," I said.
She took his picture from about her neck and kissed it for answer. "Very well, then; but men are so dense! You think that I love like that tedious Maria; General Klapka thinks he can persuade me to love him; while Count Loris thinks--I know not what. My heart is a mystery to every one of you, and to myself as well. Look what General Klapka brought me yesterday," she continued, producing from a cabinet a picture of him, elaborately set in a small gold frame. She was clever with her pencil and brush, and she had, with childish revenge, touched it up so that the general, who was anything but handsome, looked even uglier than Nature had made him.
I could not help laughing at the ludicrous effect, and, while she held it off at arm's length, she made a contemptuous face at it, besides several unflattering remarks; but she suddenly threw it down and burst into sobs and tears; "I sometimes wonder that I can laugh, for my heart always aches--always. I feel that Loris Kourásoff stands on the brink of an awful fate. That wretch is capable of anything; he would have him taken out and shot any morning that he discovered we still love each other."
I tried to comfort her, but could not. I too felt a dreadful uncertainty.
"You may tell Count Loris this for me," she said, drying her tears, "that I long to see him, and if I can not see him by lawful means I will see him by unlawful means. I will conspire."
I repeated this imprudent speech to my friend, who sent her in return a stern command to put all thoughts of conspiring for her and for himself out of her head. I found she had arranged in her mind a very plausible plan, by which she was to penetrate to the interior of the fort, and, taking his place, suffer him to escape; but this fine scheme was brought to naught by the count's peremptory orders.
The weeks dragged slowly along. I had begun to feel even a sort of security for my friend, when all at once a volcano burst beneath our feet. One evening, on returning to the modest apartment in which I had lived in Wilna since Count Kourásoff's imprisonment, I found awaiting me a gentleman who politely informed me that my presence was required at General Klapka's headquarters. I had little to fear for myself, but I felt an alarm for those who were so dear to me; and I had lived long enough in Russia to know that the military governor of a province can ruin whom he will. I followed my companion with a composed countenance, but a sinking heart. Upon reaching the barracks I was ushered into a small room to await General Klapka's pleasure, my polite captor remaining with me. To enliven my spirits, he dwelt upon the horrors of exile.
"But, my friend," I replied, "exile does not now mean what it did in the time of the Czar Peter. There are whole villages of prosperous inhabitants in Siberia, priests, school-masters, clerks, Government employés, all exiles, only the emperor prefers them to live in a certain part of his dominions."
"Ah," said he, sighing and shaking his head, "they are those who acknowledged their guilt and threw themselves on the mercy of the emperor. For those who persisted in calling themselves innocent, the mines--the railways--"
"But if I wished to call myself guilty, of what should I accuse myself? Of trying to get a settlement of my affairs with Count Kourásoff?" This view seemed to strike him so forcibly that he left me to my own sad fancies.
The hours dragged on until nearly midnight, when I was awakened from a heavy but troubled sleep before the stove by a messenger from General Klapka commanding my presence. I followed my guide to a small anteroom, where I saw the general at a table in an inner room, reading a closely-written paper. He motioned me to enter, and, rising, carefully closed the door after me. He was simply frightful in his anger. He thrust the paper at me, and I began to read it; it was a minute account of Vladimir Kourásoff's escape, of the true meaning of the visits of the village priest and myself to Count Loris, of Olga Orviéff's faithful devotion to him--even a copy of a few lines she had once rashly conveyed to him.
While I was reading, he had taken his sword from the scabbard, and was passing the naked blade through his fingers with a sort of murderous delight. "I have you--the tool--and in a few minutes I shall have the principal," was the only remark he made to me.
I seemed to have waited hours, when there was a sudden and peremptory knock at the door. General Klapka rose and opened it immediately. Two members of the police and a figure completely enveloped in a large fur cloak stood outside. "Excellency, it was the prisoner who knocked so loudly," began each of the police in a breath; but General Klapka, motioning the prisoner to enter, abruptly closed the door.
The room was well lighted, and the person who entered, walking boldly forward, dropped the cloak, and Olga Orviéff stood revealed. She was in a brilliant ball-dress of pale and shining green, and pearls gleamed softly on her milk-white neck and arms. She made a profound and graceful courtesy to General Klapka, adroitly spreading out her rich train as she did so. "I had not looked for the pleasure of seeing General Klapka when only a few moments ago I was unexpectedly called from the ball," she said with a certain grand air that she knew very well how to assume; then, catching sight of me, she suddenly dropped her stately manner. "You here, my friend?" she cried in a tone of laughing familiarity. "Have you been conspiring too?"
"Mademoiselle Orviéff, allow _me_ to claim your attention first," said General Klapka. I looked at her to see if his infuriated presence had made any impression on her. If it had, it was only to arouse further her fearless spirit. He was still nervously feeling the edge of his sword. "You spoke just now of conspiring: conspiring may bring that white neck of yours into jeopardy," said he, looking as if he would like to try the blade on it.
She drew herself up and arched her proud neck. "Do _you_ threaten _me_?" she said with cool scorn.
For answer he handed her with a low bow the paper I had read: "Read that, and see if I need to threaten."
She raised it with an air at once careless and coquettish, and, after reading a few lines, burst out laughing. "We are found out," she said, turning to me, "and General Klapka is vexed, I see, because I sometimes sent a tender message to my lover." When she said that, he made a spring at her which caused me to jump from my chair; but, instead of recoiling, she advanced two steps toward him, as he stood before her panting and furious. "Yes," she said in a clear, high voice, "to Count Loris Kourásoff."
"Mademoiselle, I implore you--" I began.
"What would you have me do?" she said, turning contemptuously to me. "If I am in his power, will anything avail me now? and if I am not in his power, let me say what I please."
"Yes, say what you please," said General Klapka in an intense voice: "it will only bring his destruction a little nearer. If Count--if that--"
"Do not dare to speak Count Kourásoff's name before me!" she cried.
If a man like General Klapka could be cowed by anything, he might be said to have quailed under her voice and presence; she spoke distinctly, and raised her little hand as she advanced nearer him. She stopped abruptly and fanned herself. "Really," she said, "I am losing my temper. You, General Klapka, appear to have lost yours before I came."
"Do you know, Mademoiselle Orviéff, what it is to be secretly communicating with a state prisoner?" said General Klapka, recovering his coolness a little.
"And do you know what it is, General Klapka, to have the discipline of the garrison so lax that a state prisoner can be communicated with, even visited, by his friends and," laughing and nodding her head at me, "his accomplices."
General Klapka could only grind his teeth and mutter, "Communicating with a state prisoner."
"If I could have obtained Count Kourásoff's consent," she continued, casting down her eyes modestly, "I could have entered the fortress, and with the aid of my friend the village priest have actually married the man I love. I wish I had!" she added, suddenly raising her eyes and opening them wide and bright.
If her object was to exasperate him still further, she was succeeding admirably, while he had not been able to intimidate her in the least degree. "Count Loris Kourásoff's life may pay for that wish," he said.
"You forget," she replied: "Count Kourásoff is only under arrest until his identity is established."
"Let him be brought to trial," said he, "and for a thousand rubles I can prove him to be Vladimir Kourásoff. You know what the moujiks say: 'Money can buy vengeance.'"
She turned slightly pale, and he seemed to gloat over this her first sign of discomfiture, when at that moment there was a loud commotion in the outer apartment and a vehement knock at the door. "Open! open!" cried a dozen eager voices.
When General Klapka opened the door, Vladimir Kourásoff walked in. He was haggard and unshorn--a piteous contrast to the handsome and dashing officer he had once been. "I surrender myself," said he to General Klapka. "I am Count Vladimir Kourásoff. I was in Geneva, safe, when I heard of my brother's arrest. I could not but come back." There was a deep pause. Vladimir continued in a collected manner: "I expected to find my brother exiled at the very least, but when I heard that he was still imprisoned here I communicated with some of his friends in St. Petersburg, who brought the matter before the emperor, and they have his personal guaranty that if I surrender myself my brother shall be immediately released."
I confess I never expected anything so noble or magnanimous from Vladimir. I sat in speechless astonishment; General Klapka stared stupidly at him like a man in a dream; while Olga began to weep, clinging to Vladimir.
The next morning it was all over Wilna that Vladimir had surrendered himself, and that a telegram had been received from St. Petersburg ordering Count Loris to be set at liberty, but to remain in the city on a sort of honorable parole until the trial of the prisoners came off.
A crowd of his friends and well-wishers, and the multitude of idlers whom such occasions always collect, assembled at the prison-gates in the early afternoon to see him brought forth. My friend the village priest and myself stood next the gate.
"There are the two who so cruelly tormented Count Kourásoff during his captivity," began to be whispered around. Taunts and epithets were freely bestowed upon us, which soon changed to open-mouthed wonder; for when the great gates clanged wide open, and Count Loris with uncovered head walked forward, we were the first he saluted and embraced.
Vladimir escaped with a sentence of only seven years' exile, which, through his own good conduct and his brother's influence, was considerably shortened.
Sometimes when I behold the happiness of the Count and Countess Kourásoff, I say to myself with a sigh. "This ideal life might have been mine with my adored Maria!"
A VIRGINIA COLONEL.
The colonel was a regular old-time Virginia colonel, and still stuck manfully to his blue coat and brass buttons and his buff nankeen waistcoat, in which quaint costume his clean, handsome, ruddy old face never looked handsomer. "Buff and blue is the costume for gentlemen to wear," the colonel would roar; and whatever he said, Yellow Bob echoed like a Greek chorus. "Yes, siree; dat sut'ny is so. _I_ got a blue coat ole marse done gimme." The colonel's clinging to old days and old ways was pathetic. Although he swore forty times a day that the war had ruined him, it had not. There was enough left for the colonel and madam and the colony of their old servants, which, as the case frequently is to this day in Virginia, had settled around them. The colonel still had Yellow Bob to swear at, and Mrs. Randolph had Patsy to carry the keys and make mango pickle and peach cordial. But the age had swept them high and dry. They talked about things chiefly that happened in the 'fifties, and when they got into the 'sixties the colonel was apt to damn the Yankees so profusely that Mrs. Randolph was fain to ask him if he remembered the trip they took to the Springs in 'forty-nine, when his pocket was picked of nine hundred and eighty dollars; at which the colonel and Yellow Bob would exchange winks. Yellow Bob knew that a race between Colonel Doswell's strawberry roan and Major Beverly's Sir Archy had more to do with the loss of that nine hundred and eighty dollars than Mrs. Randolph--good, simple soul--suspected. As for the colonel, the war did not make so much difference to him as he fancied. He now spent the best part of his life sitting on the broad front porch at Drum Point, with a julep handy and Yellow Bob within swearing distance, and for gentlemen of seventy-five, of the colonel's temperament, there is not much else to do. Horse-racing he regarded as out of the question, because he no longer had nine hundred and eighty dollars to throw away on it whenever he fancied. The colonel believed that the present age was utterly tame and devoid of incident, and loudly lamented that happy, bygone time, when duels, runaway matches, racing, betting, and other gentlemanly amusements were more in favor than at present.
"Damme, sir," cried the Colonel, fretfully, "nothing happens now; the young folks don't even run away and get married. A fellow calls another fellow a liar, and--dog my cats!--the other fellow goes and sues him in the courts, instead of shooting him down in his tracks. Did you ever hear of Jack Thornton? Now that man had some adventures, sir, in this very county, sir, that ought to be written in a book."
Yellow Bob here took up the conversation. "Books is fur white folks--dat's what I say. Dese here fool niggers gwine 'long de road ter school wid dey spellin'-books is mighty disqualifyin' ter me. Unc' Isaac Minkins he k'yarn git up and preach 'dout a gret big hymn-book in he hand fur to read de Bible outen."
"Hold your tongue, you rascal!" bawled the colonel, highly pleased nevertheless. "The infernal free-school system, sir, and the unjustifiable application of steam to machinery, has been the ruin of this country. As I was telling you, though, about Jack Thornton; his land joined mine, and we were at William and Mary together. Well, Jack was as handsome a fellow as ever stepped, and the only man in the county that could beat me after the hounds. He had a very pretty property too, sir, and as likely a lot of negroes as there was in the county, and there was eleven hundred acres in the tract at Northend. By Jove! what jolly bachelor dinners he used to give there! Eh, Bob? I got mighty near being kicked by the madam for a little turn about we had at one of those dinners. That dinner, sir, lasted three days, and I rode my horse up the front stairs into Jack's bedroom. Ah, they were days!"
"An' missis--she was Miss Sally Ambler den--she meet me in de road when I was k'yarin' ole marse home in de chaise, an' he k'yarn say a word. And I say: 'Sarvint, missis. Marse, he mighty sick; I feerd he ain't gwi' live twell de doctor git ter him.' And Miss Sally she bust out cryin' and jump off'n her horse, and come ter de chaise an' look in marse's face. An' he 'gin ter holler an' say: 'I ain't sick, my dear; I'm drunk as a lord--hic. An' ef you knew how jolly I feel, you'd go an' git drunk yerself.' Missis she turn away, an'--"
"Zounds, sir! do you propose to tell the secrets of my life, you yellow scoundrel? But it's true. I had a hard time bringing the madam round, and by the Lord I don't believe I'd have done it at all but for Jack Thornton. He swore he had made me tight, when, ha! ha! ha! I could drink him under the table any day in the week. The madam believed Jack, thank God! though. Well, as I was telling you, there were some monstrous exciting things in Jack's life. First, after he had settled down to live like a gentleman at Northend, old Smithers got his note for ten thousand dollars to pay some debts of honor Jack had made; and then the doggoned interest began piling up, and the black measles broke out among his negroes, and he lost nearly half of them, and we had a drought two years in succession, and the first thing I knew Jack was a bankrupt. Old Scaife Beverly, Jack's uncle, was as rich as a Jew, and had thousands of dollars in his secretary; but the old skinflint said something or other about Jack's squandering his patrimony, and Jack swore he'd see the old rascal at Davy Jones's before he'd take a cent from him; so there he was, strapped and stranded. Well, about that time there was an election for sheriff, and Jack came to me and consulted me about his running for sheriff, and I told him he couldn't do better; and the fact was, if he didn't get hold of some ready money he'd have to sell his negroes, and that was what he mortally hated, of course. So the next court day" (the colonel pronounced it cote day) "he announced himself as a candidate. I made a speech myself on the court-house green, calling upon the gentlemen of the county to support him. I was always counted a good speaker, sir, when I was in the House of Delegates."
"An' ole missus she was allers a mighty good han' at writin' o' de speeches," chimed in Yellow Bob.
"You bandy-legged rascal," shouted the Colonel, angrily, turning very red, "I've a great mind to kick you off this plantation, as I've had every day for forty odd years."
Here Bob created a diversion. "Dat sut'ny was a good speech you made fur Marse Jack. Missis she was in Richmon' when dat speech was spoke. De folks dey holler an' whoop, an' Marse Jack Thornton he came up an' shooken old Marse's han' and says, 'Ef I'm 'lected, I'll owe it to you, Kun'l.'"
"So he did--so he did," said the Colonel, somewhat mollified. "But still 'twas very surprising to see Jack Thornton performing the sheriff's duties--and he had no deputy either. I was mightily afraid he'd hurt his chances with Virginia Berkeley; and so it did, because Virginia turned around and married Miles Corbin about the time Jack was elected. However, I couldn't blame her very much. She was only seventeen, and Jack was too proud to go to Colonel Berkeley's house after he had lost pretty near everything; and Virginia afterward confessed to the madam that she married Miles Corbin as much to spite Jack as to please her father. Corbin was worth every cent of two hundred thousand dollars, and was a mighty prim, proper fellow; never touched a card, didn't get drunk occasionally like a good fellow; but for all his straight-laced ways he had a devil of a temper. He used to whip his negroes and then hand round the plate in church. Damme, sir, if I didn't button up my breeches' pocket and look him square in the eye whenever he handed his infernal plate to me; and communion Sundays, when I went up to the rail with madam, I made him stand out of my way, sir, with as little ceremony as if he'd been a poodle dog. As for Virginia Berkeley, she was a girl of tremendous spirit, and she led Miles Corbin a dance, I'm happy to say. She was pretty as a picture, too; wasn't she, Bob?"
"Pretty!" echoed Yellow Bob--"she was the prettiest 'oman ever I seed, scusin' 'twas missis when she was fust married. Miss Ferginny, she had black eyes dat f'yarly bu'n a hole in you when she look at you. She had the leetlest foot an' han', an' when she laugh, de dimples come out all over her face."
"That's so; and her mouth--God bless me! Well, everybody knew that she and Miles Corbin wouldn't pull in harness together, and of course they quarreled like the devil. Virginia was a thorough-bred, and she held her head up high; but sometimes, the madam says, Virginia would come over here and cry as if her heart would break. And the madam soon found out that Jack Thornton was the reason of it. I don't think Virginia ever tried to get along with Corbin, although God knows no woman could have done it; but they hadn't been married a month before they had it hot and heavy."
"Ole Unc' Snake-root Jim say she throwed a kittle of bilin' water at him fust time he cuss her. Maybe dat's what dey calls hot and heavy," remarked Bob.
"Anyhow ugly stories began to get out about the way things were going at Corbin Hall. Jack Thornton never went there, and kept out of Virginia Corbin's way as much as he could; besides, he spent all his time nearly riding over the country on sheriff's duty. He told madam if he hadn't been elected sheriff, and had to keep on the move, he'd have blown his brains out sitting down and doing nothing at Northend, and thinking about Virginia Corbin and her misery. Queer fellow in some ways, Jack was. Seemed to like work after he got used to it. Anyway it began to be talked about that Miles Corbin--the sanctimonious devil--had struck Virginia Berkeley more than once. Some people did not believe it, because when they first began to disagree, Virginia had been heard to say that if Miles ever laid his hand on her she'd kill him--and she would have done it, too. The Berkeleys are that kind, though I must say that when Virginia had her own way she was as amiable as anybody I ever saw, and if Miles Corbin had treated her right she would have made him a good wife. But she was one that couldn't stand whip and spur. It happened, though, that Jack Thornton one night, coming home from court, found one of Corbin's servants lying at the lane gate of Corbin Hall with a broken leg. So although he had sworn he'd never darken Miles Corbin's doors, yet he had to take the fellow up in his gig and drive up to Corbin Hall. It was about eleven o'clock at night, and the negroes had all gone to bed, but there was a light in the house and a commotion going on. The dogs started too, but Jack soon stopped them--I never saw a dog in my life that wouldn't fawn on handsome Jack--when, as he told me afterward, the hall door flew open, and Virginia Corbin rushed out and almost into Jack Thornton's arms. Miles Corbin was right after her with his fist doubled up. Jack says he was so dumbfounded his head reeled, but he heard Miles order her to come back into the house. Then Virginia straightened herself up and said, "I'll come back, because I'm not afraid of you; but I want to tell you now that if ever you raise your hand against me I'll kill you as surely as I live. You've never driven me to much--I've submitted and waited and hated--but a very little more will drive me to murder." Then from somewhere in her dress she pulled out a pistol. "Do you see this? Well, I got it for just such an emergency as may happen. Jack Thornton, do you hear me?" At this Jack jumped at Corbin, and catching him by the collar, walloped him until Corbin yelled. But he didn't stop for that; he laid it on as long as he could stand it, and then kicked Corbin all over the porch. The darky with the broken leg began to holler, and that brought all the other negroes trooping out; and at least forty of them saw the trouncing. And then Virginia showed them the pistol, and told them what she meant to do if he ever struck her again. Well, it was hushed up as far as possible. Virginia was the proudest woman I ever saw; and she asked Jack to keep it quiet. And so, while everybody knew that she and Miles Corbin had had a big flare-up, nobody exactly knew the circumstances. Virginia didn't even tell the madam.
"So things went on for a year or two, until one night I was waked by hearing that lazy yellow fellow yonder tapping at my window. He had been to Corbin Hall courting a black girl over there, when Corbin died--for he died from a pistol wound."
"I had jes' done tell Ma'y Jane--um! she _were_ a gal--good-night," said Yellow Bob, taking up the thread of the story, "an' I was comin' through de front yard, when I see de lights bu'nin' in de parlor, an' heerd Marse Miles Corbin a-yellin' at Miss Ferginny. I was skeered ter go 'way an' skeered ter stay; but pres'n'y I hear her scream, an' I run in, an' d'yar was Marse Miles layin' on de sofa wid de blood po'in' from he hade. Miss Ferginny she stan' up lookin' mighty cur'us, wid a smokin' pistol in her han'. Marse Miles he groan, but seem like Miss Ferginny didn't hear 'im. I run an' fotch him a piller, an' gin him some water, an' den I tuck out ter de quarters ter raise de black folks an' de overseer. Dey all come runnin'. De overseer he was de po'est kin' of po' white trash. He jes' come right out in cote an' tole ev'ything he see dat night; an' de black folks dey all stan' up for Miss Ferginny, an' 'low dey didn't see nuttin' 'tall."
"That's so," said the colonel; "for Virginia Berkeley had to stand up in the prisoner's dock, and every negro on the land swore they hadn't seen a pistol, hadn't heard a quarrel, didn't know anything about it, and that Virginia was the best mistress in the world. When I got there that night Miles Corbin was dead, the low-lived dog! Virginia met me and the madam. 'I didn't kill him,' she said, as quiet as you please, 'although I meant to do it. He struck me, and I went and got the pistol. He got it from me, and went to the table to withdraw the load, when he got nervous--he always was a coward--and it went off.' Madam looked at her. 'Has he ever really beaten you?' she asked. For answer Virginia laughed a dreadful kind of a laugh, and, pulling up her sleeve, showed her the marks of Corbin's fingers. 'Look here!' she said, showing her a great bruise on her shoulder-blade. Madam just burst out crying, and put her arms around Virginia. 'Thank God,' she said, 'you didn't kill him!' You can just imagine the commotion it raised; but everything would have been settled at the inquest if it hadn't been for that dog of an overseer. He and Miles Corbin had been associates. A gentleman associating with his overseer! And Mrs. Corbin had ordered him out of her drawing-room not long before; so he owed her a grudge, and he paid it. Such a talk and hubbub was raised that at the next county court the grand jury returned a true bill against Virginia Berkeley Corbin for the murder of her husband. By George!" said the colonel, pausing to wipe his forehead. "As for Jack Thornton, he nearly went crazy. At first he said he'd resign the shrievalty, or kill himself, before he'd serve the summons on her. She was staying here where madam had brought her the night Miles Corbin died. But the Board of Magistrates--we didn't have a tuppence-ha'penny county court then, but gentlemen served as magistrates--the board sent for him, and reasoned about the trouble and expense he'd put the county to if he resigned that way without notice; and Mrs. Corbin sent him word that the greatest service he could do her was to remain in office until after the trial was over. So at last he consented, but I thought he'd die the day he served the writ on her."
The colonel paused again, confronted by the dead and gone tragedy.
"Good Gord A'mighty!" said Yellow Bob, slowly and solemnly. "I 'member dat day, an' I gwi' 'member it twell judgment day. 'Twas 'bout time de fish bite in June. Missis didn't 'ten' ter de chickens er de cows er nuttin' den. She was all time projeckin' wid Miss Ferginny. Seem like she didn't keer whe'r de tuckey aigs hatch, er de cows give milk, er de 'taters come up in de g'yarden, she was so tooken up wid Miss Ferginny. When Marse Jack Thornton rid up in de yard dat day I never see a man look like him. He was de color of a ash-cake 'fo' de ashes is washed off. Miss Ferginny she was settin' on de po'ch wid ole marse an' missis when he come up de steps. When he come to'ds her he stop an' look like he gwi' drop. An' ole marse, he go up ter him, an' missis, an' den Miss Ferginny she walk to'ds him an' hol' out her han'."
Another long pause came.
"I dunno what she say, but ole marse help him fin' a paper, an' he show it ter 'em, an' dey all git in de big kerridge an' go up ter de cote-house. An' I set on de boot wid Unc' Torm Driver, an' Patsy she rid on de place fur de trunk behin'. Missis and Miss Ferginny was inside, an' ole marse he rid horseback wid Marse Jack Thornton."
"They bailed her to appear at the next term of the circuit court," said the colonel, whose turn it was now to tell the story; "and half the county was there to ask the honor of going on her bond. But she only took me and her counsel, Mr. Severn. You see everybody knew she was innocent, and that it was only the malice of that villain of an overseer to get even with her. And the county gentry hated Miles Corbin like the devil, and all of 'em sympathized with his wife. The Board of Magistrates rose when she entered; and when she left the court-room, and when she went down to get in my carriage, with me on one side of her and madam on the other, the magistrates had got out by a shorter way, and were bowing on each side of the carriage door. The presiding magistrate, in the name of the others, expressed their regrets that they were unable to go on her bail-piece, and when she drove out of the village, sitting up straight in my carriage, and looking like a queen, every man she met took off his hat to her, because, you see, Virginia Berkeley was a lady, and Miles Corbin was the damnedest villain--" Here the colonel went off into a roaring hurricane of profanity, which somehow didn't sound profane, but rather as a kind of cordial emphasis to what he said.
"She stayed here until the trial came off. Of course she didn't see anybody, but the whole county called on her. Dang me, but I believe they were sorry she hadn't killed Miles Corbin after all; he deserved it, the dog! The day of the trial the madam and I took her up to the cote-house--"
"An' I rid on de boot wid Unc' Torm Driver, an' Patsy she sat on de place fur de trunk behin', an' ole marse rid on horseback with Marse Jack Thornton," echoed Bob the parrot.
"When we got to the cote-house you never saw such a crowd in your life. We got Virginia in the cote-room as quietly as we could, and the madam and I sat by her. And when she was asked--'Virginia Corbin, what say you, guilty or not guilty?' she stood up as brave as a lion, and says, just as cool as you please, holding up her little hand, 'Not guilty.' The people yelled for half an hour, and the Court didn't say a word, and you may be sure the sheriff didn't.
"The overseer, Higgins, had tried to get a lawyer to help the prosecuting attorney, but he couldn't do it, and the prosecuting attorney, I tell you, had to be very careful what he said. The first witness they put on the stand was Higgins. He told a mighty straight story. He told of the quarrels between Miles Corbin and his wife, and the threats he had heard her make of killing Corbin if he continued to strike her. Then he told about my Yellow Bob waking him up in the middle of the night, and of his going up to the house and seeing Miles lying on the sofa dying, and Miles saying, 'My wife did this.' At this there was such a thundering row in the court-house that the Court was obliged to demand order. But Mrs. Corbin remarked, out loud: 'That is true. He lied about me with his last breath.' Then the overseer identified the pistol as the one he had seen in Mrs. Corbin's hands, and saw on the drawing-room table on the night of Miles Corbin's death. And altogether it made a bad showing.
"Yellow Bob was the next witness called for the prosecution. It was rich testimony--ha! ha! ha!"
Yellow Bob chuckled gleefully over the recollection. "Ev'ything dat ar persecutin' retorney ask me, I say 'Naw.' 'Did you seen Mr. Miles Corbin on de sofa?' 'Naw, sah.' 'You waked Higgins up at the overseer's house about midnight?' 'Naw, sir.' 'But Mr. Higgins says you did?' 'Mr. Higgins, he ain't nuttin' but po' white trash. I doan' keer what he say. I doan' know nuttin' 'tall 'bout Marse Miles Corbin dyin'. May be he had de ager, an' he nose bleed, an' he bleed hisself ter de'f.' 'No, he didn't have any ager. He was killed with the pistol.' 'Well, den,' I say, 'may be Mr. Higgins kilt him.' De jedge larf at dat. 'But,' said the persecutin' retorney, 'all the black folks seen you. They'll swear to it.' 'Well, bring 'em up heah, an' ef dey swar I d'yar dat night, I kin swar jes' as hard I warn't. Dem wuffless black niggers ain't a-gwine ter disencourage me. Dem Corbin niggers allers was mighty wuffless and lyin'. Dey done took a heap o' corn outen our corn-house.' 'Come, now,' says the persecutin' retorney, 'of course you were there the night Mr. Corbin died. You gave the alarm.' 'I didn't give 'em no sech a thing, I ain't got no 'larm ter give. I wish I hedn't tole 'em nuttin' 'tall 'bout it,' I say, an' den de persecutin' retorney he say, 'Now you admit you were there.' 'Naw, I 'ain't remit it;' I say; 'I doan know nuttin' but dat Mr. Higgins over yander is de meanest white man gwine, an' Miss Ferginny, she an' missis is mighty thick; an' ef she warn't de right kin' o' 'oman my missis wouldn't hev nuttin' 'tall fur ter do wid her; an' dem black niggers kin swar all dey wants dey seed me. I ain't cipherin' 'bout dem.' Den de persecutin' retorney he say, 'I can't manage the witness,' and I jes' walk right outen de box dey put me in, an' when I pass Miss Ferginny, I say, 'Sarvint, mistis.'"
The old colonel laughed uproariously during the recital.
"And all the Corbin negroes--they had about forty of them up as witnesses--gave about the same kind of testimony that my Bob did. None of them knew anything, or had seen anything, or could be induced to tell anything but lies; and such lies! Every one of 'em, going out of the witness box, would pull his wool and duck his head to Virginia; she certainly had made those black people love her, and more than one of her fights with Corbin had been about his shameful treatment of his negroes. Severn--he's a first-class lawyer--he didn't cross-examine any of them. He said, 'May it please the Court, I have but one witness, and that is the prisoner herself. I desire to put her on the stand that she may tell her own story.' So he gave her his arm and led Mrs. Corbin to the witness box, where she sat down in a chair. You could have heard a pin drop. At first she looked around her with a sort of dazed look; it was so pitiful, I saw the foreman of the jury look away while he wiped the tears from his eyes. Everybody waited until she came to herself like. Then she began, in a low voice, to tell it all. She looked as pale as a sheet until she got to where he struck her for the first time. Then the blood poured to her face. 'I don't know how I felt,' said she; 'I wanted to kill him--that was all. I rushed away from him, and then I turned on him. He began to back when he saw me advance. I told him that I would get a pistol, and if he struck me again I would shoot him. Afterward I thought I had been to blame. I determined I would try and get along better with him. I endured that man Higgins in my house--I endured, O God! what did I not endure! and it was the same. He would seize me by the throat and choke me. That was dreadful, but it wasn't a blow. At last he struck me that other time when Mr. Thornton came and beat him.' At that there was going to be the devil of a row--the people hurrahing for Thornton; but Jack checked the disturbance right away. 'Then,' she said, after everything was quiet, 'I felt that it would soon be over, one way or another; either he would kill me or I would kill him. On the night he died he said that the man Higgins should dine at Corbin Hall the next day, and I should appear at the table. I replied that I would not. He lifted his hand against me, and I asked him if he remembered what Mr. Thornton had done to him for that. Then he said--but I can't repeat what he said; it was about Mr. Thornton. I went to the bookcase and got out my pistol. "You may _say_ what you like," I said, "but don't touch me." After more words he came toward me and struck me hard on my shoulder--here. At first the pain stunned me. I held the pistol in my hand. He got it from me; I could not resist with one arm. He said he would guarantee his life for that one night, and standing by the table started to unload it. All at once I heard it go off, and he staggered to the sofa. I don't remember anything else until Colonel Randolph came.'
"When she stopped it was as still as the grave. Severn had just said something about the other side asking any questions they pleased, when the foreman of the jury talked a minute or two to the judge, and then, nodding to the jurymen, rose up and said, 'The unanimous opinion of this jury is that the prisoner is not guilty.' Such a shout! Mrs. Corbin stood up for a minute, and then, without a word, fell over in a dead faint in Jack Thornton's arms. The crowd made way for him as he carried her, as if she had been a baby, out into the court-house yard. The madam and I were there about as soon as he."
"An' me an' Patsy," added Yellow Bob.
"We put her in the carriage--"
"An' Unc' Torm Driver he lash he horses twell dey gallop ev'y foot o' de way home."
"Hold your infernal tongue! I'm telling this story. When we got her home, of course the reaction set in. She had been as brave as a lion all the time before, but now she couldn't hold up her head. She just lay on the bed up-stairs, with her great black eyes staring out of her white face, and by George, sir, I thought she was certain to kick the bucket. The only thing that roused her was when old Scaife Beverly, Jack's uncle, died without a will, and Jack got every cent the old curmudgeon left. Jack had hung around here ever since Mrs. Corbin came, but she wouldn't see him, and so months and months went on. At last one evening when she was well enough to sit up--it was more than a year after the trial--she was sitting in the chamber there by the dining-room, looking devilish pretty in a white wrapper, when--"
"I seen Marse Jack comin', and I run round de house an' tole him fur Gord A'mighty's sake ter run in missis's chamber, kase I was feerd Miss Ferginny Corbin had done had a fit er sumpin. Co'se she didn't have no fit; I jes' say it ter git him in d'yar, an' he jump through de winder openin' on de po'ch, and when he see her he say, kinder solemn, 'Ferginny!' I never will forgit de way he say 'Ferginny.' 'Twas jes' same as if he'd tole her, 'I loves you better'n anything in de whole wide worl'.' An' Miss Ferginny she fall back in her cheer, an' she begin ter cry, and say, 'Don't! don't! I'm too wicked to live!' when Marse Jack he just tooken her in he arms an' kiss her. I got so intrusted wid dem conjurements I jes' stan' like I done tooken root and look in de winder twell arf' while Marse Jack seen me, an' he pick up ole marse's boot-jack layin' on de flo' an' shy it at me. I dodge, an' it broke missis's lookin'-glass an' her big red berangium in de flower-pot. He gin me a dollar naix day, an' missis she quile wid him 'bout breakin' her lookin'-glass." Then the colonel took his turn.
"They wanted to go away from the county, but I told them they'd better stay where they were known. It could be lived down sooner here than anywhere else. Upon my soul they were the most devoted married couple I ever saw. But the Thorntons were short-lived people, and Jack died at forty. That killed Virginia. She never held up her head afterward. I don't think she lived six months. The madam said it was better she should die than live. They had no children. And a lot of damned, thrifty, industrious Yankees bought Northend, and they've got a confounded steam-plow that frightens all my horses, and they raise hay all over the place, and they've built an infernal ice-house on top of the ground instead of under it, and they work the whole place with twenty hands instead of sixty, as Jack Thornton did, and make more money than all the rest of the county put together, and I want a julep--d'ye hear, you yellow rascal?"
THE VALBELLA BROTHERS.
It isn't necessary for me to tell how I drifted into the burnt-cork profession, but I tell you, after my preliminary experience of life without burnt cork, I was glad enough when I could march up to the manager's office and get my fifteen dollars a week for amusing my masters, the public. And I was always in such a hurry to get my money--we were paid Saturday night, after the performance--that I didn't wait to wash the burnt cork off before dropping in for the three five-dollar notes which I was certain to get; for old Sam Stacker, God bless him! was full of cranks, and always had a particular way of paying us.
Now I can't say I was a brilliant performer. I never reached the dignity of interlocutor, to say nothing of the envied height of Bones or the end man. I just stood a good way back, and pretended to play on the 'cello--I couldn't play a note, and was nothing but a dummy, but I could sing pretty well. I remember how when I came to the front I used to bring the house down with "The Nightingale." I was great on sentimental songs. Sam Stacker used to say I was a good all-round man. I was quick at figures--Sam wasn't--and I helped him out in his accounts. Then I could talk to the theatre managers and write them letters. I had had some education and bringing up in my pre-Sam Stacker days, and so somehow I stayed on with the company, and saw it expand from a small variety show into a first-class minstrel performance, and old Sam always said it never would have come to that if it hadn't been for me. Of course my salary was raised after a while, and I got to putting some of it away for a rainy day.
Well, as I said, except as a singer, I wasn't good for much at first, but after a while I got to singing first-rate. I took a few lessons now and then, and I learned to sing falsetto. I was boyish looking, although I was twenty-five years old, and I used to come out dressed in a low-necked pink silk gown, with my hair all curled up, and a bunch of puffs on the top of my head and a fan in my hand, and sing Il Bacio and the Magnetic Waltz, as well as plenty of women concert singers, so the people said. Those curls, though, on the top of my head, used to bother me dreadfully. It took Sam and me a good quarter of an hour to get them in place, and Sam invariably swore like a pirate during the operation. All the time I was singing I was thinking about my back hair.
For a long time a notion had been in my head to bring out something original in the show. All minstrel shows are alike, and I couldn't for the life of me hit on anything that Sam Stacker didn't say, "Oh, I seen that down in Tennessee in '58," or "That there thing was introduced in New Orleens along about '61," or something discouraging of the kind. At last I did hit upon something. It's old enough now, but it was new then.
The first thing I wanted to find was a fellow about my size and general appearance. He wasn't easy to find. Some of them were as tall as I, but too broad; some were just my shape, but too tall. At last I found him. He was pretty nearly my double by the time we had made up alike. He was exactly five feet seven--my height to a dot--and we were the same shape and size, and the calves of our legs looked as if we were twin brothers. This was a great point, because it was very important that our legs should resemble each other--and the resemblance was startling. Sometimes I could hardly tell which pair belonged to him and which to me, but it was all one, as they were both remarkably fine-looking pairs of legs, particularly in white silk tights and red silk stockings.
He was a pleasant fellow, too. His first name was Ted, and mine was Ned; our last names are unimportant--no matter about mine certainly--and we were advertised in the bills as
THE GREAT VALBELLA BROTHERS!!!
UNEQUALED GYMNASTS! EXQUISITE CLOG DANCERS!
and a great deal else, which isn't worth putting down here. We certainly made a sensation the first night we appeared in our great specialty. It was in a big opera house, and every seat was filled; and immediately after the first part, "by the whole company," in which Ted and I had stood in the background, I sawing away on the big 'cello with a stop on it, and Ted making believe to blow the clarionet, both of us joining in the singing as occasion required, our turn came to appear.
We had rehearsed pretty well, and when the big curtain rolled up, and Ted and I bounded out on the stage dressed in a kind of jockey costume--white silk tights with red silk stockings, blue satin shirts with jockey caps of blue and red, and jockeys' whips in our hands--we both felt pretty cool. Then we began our clog dance. It was the finest kind of clog dancing, I will say, although I did part of it myself, and then we introduced a new feature, singing while the clogs rattled on the floor, and every muscle moving alike. Of course it took--the singing as much as the dancing--and the people hurrahed and clapped and shouted, and wouldn't leave off until we had gone over it three times, and the end man had come on the stage and asked permission for the other performers to go home and go to bed, as the audience seemed fully satisfied with the Valbella Brothers. Then they laughed, and we got back to our dressing-room, when old Sam Stacker stood ready to hug us both.
But it was at the last scene that our really great performance came off. I had a pretty hard time making Sam Stacker agree to the expense for this act, but as we were playing a two weeks' engagement, I finally bullied him into it. It required cutting away some of the flies temporarily, and putting in a twenty-foot-square skylight over the stage. This skylight opened in two sections, and after our second appearance, more clog dancing and more scientific ground-tumbling, a big red balloon descended slowly from the roof. At the bottom of this was a double trapeze, and as soon as the balloon came within reach the Valbella Brothers sprang up--we had to get rid of some weights pretty cleverly to make the balloon rise, because we couldn't manage the sand-bags commonly used--grabbed at the trapeze, and performed the double-trapeze act while the great illuminated balloon rose slowly in the air up--up, up, through the roof. Of course on the outside two or three fellows stood on the roof, and we threw them a rope with which they held on to the balloon while we jumped off; and then the gas was let out, and the balloon folded up and laid away for the next day, because after the first night we had to give two performances--one in the afternoon and one in the evening--to satisfy the people, and then the "standing-room only" sign was out before the doors were opened.
Nothing like the applause on that first night was ever known before. The people yelled and stamped and shouted, and the ladies waved their handkerchiefs. After a considerable time had passed, Sam Stacker came to the foot-lights and made a speech. Sam never lost a chance of making a speech. He said the balloon couldn't rise more than six miles in the air, and neither one of the Valbella brothers could swim a stroke, and if we were killed he intended to support our wives and children during the rest of his natural life. We didn't either of us have a wife and children, but Sam didn't stick at a little thing like that. "Anything to advertise," was Sam's motto. "I'd let them durned newspapers say I choked my mother, beat the ladies in the company every time I got drunk, gambled on a coffin, and stole the cents off a dead man's eyes, just to get the 'ad.'" As Sam was the kindest, gentlest, softest-hearted old ruffian that ever lived, there was, unfortunately, no chance of any of this sort of thing being printed about him, and this grieved him sincerely. Meanwhile Ted and I were drinking ginger-pop behind the scenes, and hearing every word Sam was saying. Then Sam made his bow, and retired to find our mangled remains, according to his alleged anticipations; and finding us whole and sound, punishing the ginger beer, he led us before the curtain, and we received what the newspapers the next day called "a magnificent ovation." And old Sam Stacker almost cried with pleasure when he counted up the box receipts and took us up to his hotel and gave us champagne as if it was Apollinaris water.
I haven't said anything all this time about Jenny Hobbs, but she was a person of great importance to me just then. She was a dancer--we had quite a respectable ballet troupe with us that year. She wasn't the _première danseuse_, but she stood in the front row, and figured in the bills as Mlle. Celestine Buzac de la Montigny. Sam Stacker himself invented that name. He said it sounded fine. It certainly did. She had come to him one morning just before we started on the road and had asked for work. She was a modest little thing, like a plenty of other ballet girls I know; and I found out afterward she supported her bedridden sister and took care of her little brother out of her small wages. Sam was in a hurry, and told her I was his representative--a great way he had when he didn't want to be troubled with people; so I put Miss Jenny Hobbs through her paces, and saw she was a pretty good little dancer. We had as the _première danseuse_ Mlle. Dagmar--I don't know what her name in private life was. She was a fine dancer, but a stupid creature, without any invention, and couldn't do anything she hadn't been taught; and in a company like ours, we wanted somebody who was equal to emergencies, which Dag--we called her that for short--wasn't. Jenny Hobbs was just that. She turned out a trump. Of course we couldn't bring her forward over Dag's nose, nor have her name very prominently billed; but she didn't seem to mind that, so long as she got an increase of wages, and something for her little brother to do along with the company; and she was worth all she got, and more too. She never put herself forward, but when Dagmar was ill, which at first was about twice a week regularly, she took her place, and did almost as well--so well in fact that it acted on Dag as the advertisements say Hop Bitters acts--it cured her right off of several chronic complaints of long standing, and from being ill half her time (though nobody would have suspected it from her robust appearance) she got able to dance six nights and two afternoons in the week the whole season, and never gave Jenny Hobbs another chance to take her place. Then Jenny used to suggest little alterations and improvements in the performance that Dagmar listened to readily enough, as it always brought her bouquets and applause, and Jenny actually made her think that Dagmar originated them herself.
Well, the night of our first ascent--it wasn't more than thirty-five feet--after the fellows who managed the balloon had got it anchored to the roof, and we had climbed down and had got back in the theatre and made our appearance before the foot-lights, and the curtain had been rung up and down half a dozen times, and at last the audience had dispersed, somebody inquired for Jenny--for, of course, nobody in the company ever thought of calling her by that ridiculous name Sam had given her. Just then her brother, little Jack Hobbs, tore upon the stage, yelling for somebody to go to Jenny. Of course there was a rush for her dressing-room, headed by Sam Stacker and Dag, with Ted and me following close behind. There lay Jenny on the floor in her tights and spangles, her head resting uncomfortably on a chair, and apparently in a dead faint. Nobody knew how long she had been there, as Jack, who always came to take his sister home after the performance, couldn't explain anything for sobbing and crying, except that after the balloon went up, and Sam Stacker came before the curtain and told that astounding lie about the balloon being six miles in the air, and made his magnificent offer to take care of our wives and children that didn't exist, Jenny had tumbled over, screaming, "Oh, Ted," or "Oh, Ned," Jack couldn't remember which. He hadn't been able to bring her to since. Sam slapped her hands, Dag loosened her dress, and I produced a brandy flask, which Ted was about to take out of my hand and put to her lips, but I preferred doing that myself, and quietly pushed him away while I supported her head and got a few drops of brandy between her teeth. In a few minutes of this vigorous treatment she recovered, did like all people coming out of a fainting fit--sat up, wondered where she was, had it all come back to her in a moment, and seizing Jack, began to cry hysterically. Jack yelled too, so we had a devil of a commotion for a while; but Sam, who had sublime common sense, put an end to it by calling a carriage, packing Dag and Jack and Jenny in it, and sending them off to Jenny's lodgings. Then we went to Sam's hotel and got the champagne before mentioned.
But somehow, although Sam and the other fellows--we got together a lot of them--toasted us as the Valbella Brothers, and commended forever our fraternal alliance, we didn't feel like brothers. We had been the best of friends, but that little blubbering rascal Jack Hobbs had planted something in our hearts that grew like Jonah's gourd. Which was it, Ted or Ned, that Jenny Hobbs had fainted about when we went through the roof hanging on to each other by our teeth, our legs, and everything except our hands, and doing the double-trapeze act like daisies? There was the trouble. Was it Ted or was it Ned? I had had a soft place for Jenny in my heart for a considerable time, but I had determined to wait until I found out whether I had any chance or not, and then Ted--Valbella I'll him for want of something better--had come along, and seemed to like her too. But I had not paid much attention to it until that night. Ted was good-looking--I almost groaned when I saw how good-looking he was--and a sober, honest, industrious fellow to boot.
Somehow Sam and the other fellows seemed to realize that we weren't quite so brotherly as we had been, and consequently they enlarged upon our fraternal feelings, and represented us as being much more deeply attached to each other than we ever could have been; but at last it was all over, and we started to walk home--we had lodgings together. As we came out into the quiet moonlit streets I noticed Ted seemed to expect me to speak.
"Now see here," said I, turning to him; "you know what that little rascal said to-night?"
"Yes, I know," said Ted doggedly; "and I know what Jenny Hobbs said too."
"It's more than anybody else does," said I, feeling as if I wanted to choke him. "We'd better not discuss that now," said I, presently; "we've both had some champagne, and I want to think things over, and so do you, perhaps; so we'll let it rest until to-morrow."
"Just as you like," said Ted sulkily.
We went home and went to bed, both rather worn out with excitement. Next morning, just as we were dressed and going to get some breakfast, Sam Stacker came in, boiling. I don't know who could have told him, or whether he guessed at it from the way we looked the night before, but he evidently knew that something was up between us. So he sat right down and gave us a talking to. "Now, boys," says he, very earnestly, "you see how it is. You've made a tremendous hit with that there balloon feature. Last night when I came out and told that there whopper about the balloon bein' six miles in the air, and broached that benevolent scheme about your families, you ought to have heard the women scream; it done my heart good to hear 'em; two of 'em had to be carried out in convulsions, and it would be worth five thousand dollars' advertising if one of 'em was to die. Of course if you fellows quarrel, we'll have to drop the Valbella Brothers altogether, and that'll make a difference in your salaries. Besides, if you both get to making love to Jenny Hobbs, it will upset the whole business, and I'll just have to pay her the penalty in her contract, and get somebody else in her place. That'll be hard on her, poor girl, as she'll lose the best chance she's had yet of getting introduced to the public. I really had hoped you two fellows would have kept out of difficulties with each other," continued Sam, groaning. "I swear there's but one thing worse than quarreling in a theatrical company, and that is love-making. Blamed if I don't post a fine for any man in the company that's caught looking at a woman. Love, anyhow, is the durndest, foolishest business on top of the earth--no money in it and lots of trouble--and here you are two fellows actually risking a cut of twenty dollars a week for the sake of a petticoat! It's wicked, I say, and blasphemous, and it'll ruin the show business. And here you've gone and brought the whole infernal bother on my head, and I've been a good friend to you both; and--and it's a shame--and--"
Sam stopped, almost crying. Neither one of us fully believed his threat about parting with Jenny, but it would clearly lead to trouble and loss of money on all sides if the Valbella Brothers came to grief. So it was tacitly understood that for the remainder of the season neither one of us should say a word to Jenny, and should go on as usual; and afterward each would try his luck with the pretty little dancer. Sam Stacker had intimated privately to me that if we left off our trapeze performance he and the rest of the company would construe it that I was afraid to risk it with Ted, considering the feeling between us, and I think he also managed to convey the same idea to Ted, and it had its effect on each. Sam swore that he intended to advise Jenny to marry the trombone, who had three wives in various stages of divorce, seven small children, and who alternated between the show business and that of a professional revivalist.
After that we went along as usual, and except that we were more than commonly polite to each other, nobody would have suspected anything was the matter. While we had been friends we often had little tiffs; but after we became enemies--for that was what we inevitably became--we were politer than French dancing masters to each other. We didn't do the balloon-trapeze act everywhere. If we only made one-night stands, or if the stage was too small, or if the lessee of the house objected to it, we didn't have it, but still we had five or six weeks of it before Christmas, and Jenny never would witness it, but went and hid her face when it came off--so that only made it plainer that she liked one of us, but which one nobody could guess. It often occurred to me when we were rising slowly on that trapeze in front of the foot-lights, doing all kinds of monkey tricks while the people yelled and shouted, and the balloon was going up into the flies, that Ted could do me a mischief that nobody would know anything about after I was mashed and bruised out of shape by the fall, and I dare say he thought the same of me. Nothing happened, however, until one night--it was the very night before Christmas. Now, excepting the bad blood between the Valbella Brothers, I don't believe there was a man or a woman in that company who wasn't at peace and in good-will with the others that blessed Christmas Eve. Sam Stacker was such a kind, honest, soft-hearted but hard-headed old customer that he made quarreling unpopular and almost impossible. He had given us all something that day, and Jenny Hobbs's present was the best of any. I wanted to give Jenny something too, but I hardly thought it fair to my understanding with Ted. But just before the performance began, Jenny came to me, smiling and blushing very much, and said:
"I've--I've got a Christmas gift for you."
"Have you?" cried I, delighted.
"You've been so k--k--kind to me," she stammered, "getting Mr. Stacker to give me an engagement, and taking Jack along too, and--and--all--that. I want you to wear this in memory of a friend." And she held out to me a little ring with a coral set in it, and inside, sure enough, was, "In memory of a friend." Of course I was delighted, and I must say I tried to kiss her, but she slapped my face, and I went back where Dag and a lot of fellows were and showed my Christmas gift, and they all laughed and wanted to know when it was coming off. I dare say now it wasn't very generous to show it and boast of it but the temptation was irresistible, and, besides, it was no breach of our engagement. I had made no advances to Jenny, and perhaps, as I thought a little dispiritedly, the mere friendliness of my behavior may have been the reason she gave me the ring. But you may be sure I kept that impression to myself, and was willing to let the rest of the people think the whole thing was settled.
Ted had seen it all, and I knew he was a determined fellow, with a devilish temper when he was roused, and he had enough to rouse him that night. When we came on the stage together for our clog dancing he was apparently as cool and smiling as ever, but I saw danger in his eye. Mine didn't quail, I don't think; and as we stood side by side, our arms and shoulders touching, while the clogs clattered and we sang our best songs full of good hits, I knew that the final struggle was coming that night, and I knew, too, that it would be on the trapeze. Naturally I took fire too, and cared no more for breaking up the Valbella Brothers and interfering with Sam Stacker's plans, nor, indeed, for anything except that Ted should not get the better of me. The jealous devil possessed us both. The performance went off first-rate. The Dagmar was ill again for a wonder--this time a real _bona fide_ illness--and Jenny had to take her place. She came out all in clouds of tulle, and danced a _ballet divertissement_ called "La Marguerite," in which she pulled a daisy to pieces to see if she was loved. She danced it beautifully, and fairly brought the house down, and when she got through she had half a dozen bouquets of flowers, and a great big trapeze made of flowers was tilted over the heads of the orchestra to her. I had had nothing to do with it, but she thought I had, and turned to me as I stood in the wings and courtesied so prettily that it fairly maddened Ted, who saw it all, and thought, too, I had sent it to her, and thereby broken our agreement. I didn't choose to explain then and there how it was, and the next minute it was our turn to go on the stage.
We got through our part pretty well. Ted was cool, and so was I. The people applauded tremendously, and when the red balloon came slowly sailing down they almost went wild. As usual, when it came just above our heads, we jumped up, caught the trapeze, got rid of the weights by sleight-of-hand, and went up through the roof, vaulting and tumbling over each other.
In a minute or two we were through the big hole in the top. It was then the time for one of us to throw the rope to the fellows who stood about on the roof to catch it, and to haul the balloon back. But instead of throwing the rope--it was Ted's turn to throw it that night--he seized it, and gathered it up out of reach of the fellows on the roof grabbing for it, and--the balloon went flying up into the black sky!
It was a murky night, but the moon shone fitfully at intervals. As we shot up from the roof I heard a wild cry, and then another, louder and wilder, from the people in the street, who saw us darting upward to a hideous death. For my own part, I don't remember anything for a while, but I clung instinctively to the trapeze and braced myself against the horizontal bars. I could feel that we were rushing through currents of air, but the balloon was steady, and as soon as I recovered my senses at all I looked steadily upward. We were going through clouds, and I could feel that Ted was crawling toward me on the trapeze.
At last he got quite close to me. His white, desperate face was fearful in the ghastly uncertain glare. The moon shone out, and I saw that the small rope connecting with the safety-valve was fastened around his wrist. He held it up to me.
"You understand what this means?" he said. "If I go over, the valve comes open."
I understood well enough.
"Now," he said, "we can settle about Jenny Hobbs."
It was cold, and my teeth were chattering, but I managed to say: "It's all settled, it strikes me. We are both dead men."
"Not I," said he. "I have been studying up balloons on the sly. I know all about this one. I can manage her. Now tell me, will you give up Jenny Hobbs? If you don't--" He pointed to the clouds scurrying beneath us.
"You are a sneak and a coward," I said. "We've both got to die this Christmas Eve, but you'll meet your Maker a murderer and a suicide."
The balloon, it seemed to me, was stationary then. He crept closer and closer to me. I could see the whites of his eyes. I thought my time had come. I could not remember any words of prayer, but my soul uttered its inarticulate cry for mercy, which God can hear.
Suddenly the balloon gave a furious lurch, and before my very eyes I saw him jerked violently backward. I have no clear recollection of what happened next. I suppose, with an acrobat's instinct, he clutched the bar. But I felt the balloon descending with a horrible rush that no human being could describe. Then it slacked up, and I saw Ted clinging with both hands to the trapeze, but his legs were dangling frightfully in the air. The rope was still tied to his wrist, and the spring of the valve had closed.
It is easy enough for any active young fellow to climb on a bar if he has a good purchase with his hands; but the best acrobat in the world, suspended he knows not how far from the earth, in mortal danger and mortal terror, can't do it. I saw that Ted couldn't. I saw his terrified and distorted face turned up to mine. I won't describe what I felt in that moment. But in the half darkness I felt the rope that the balloon had been held by slap against my face. I reached up and caught it. Then I crawled along the bar to Ted. I wanted to save him; but I also knew, if he let go, the valve would come open, and we would both be dashed into limitless space. He saw me coming toward him. I suppose he thought I meant to push him off, for he uttered the first loud sound I had heard in that awful stillness--a piercing scream of anguish. I saw him clutch the bar with a wild determination that gave me courage to proceed. I made the rope into a big loop, and threw it around his body. It caught the first time, and I drew it up under his arms. Then he seemed to realize that I was trying to save him. I took the ends of the rope, and, holding on firmly to the bar, wrapped the ends securely around it, and tied them, hard and tight. Then I reached over and grasped the valve rope, and began to pull it gently.
I suppose the gas in the balloon had been considerably exhausted before, for as soon as I touched the valve we began to go down frightfully fast. I closed it up for a few moments, and noticed we were descending slowly. I opened the valve again the least in the world, and we began to go down pretty fast--not so alarmingly fast; but it had flashed through me that perhaps if we went too slowly in the beginning the gas would be exhausted before we reached the bottom and we would be dashed to pieces, and I didn't understand enough about balloons to know that the same quantity of gas would carry us the same distance fast or slow. Presently I saw a line of light which I took to be the river, then the masts of shipping in the harbor, then the church steeples, the houses, the street lamps. Oh, God! I heard the cries of human voices--so close, so close! and when we were only a few feet from the ground I got dizzy and fell--far, far into space--and went to sleep before I reached the bottom.
* * * * *
The next morning was Christmas morning. Ah, what a day! May be people think that professional acrobats haven't any religious instincts; but I know I went to church that day, and found Jenny there, and afterward we took a walk out into the country. It was a very happy walk, and it was God's day, and she had screamed "Oh, Ned!" after all, the night that Jack made the row. This gave me much solid satisfaction.
Before I got out of my bed that morning (I had had a regular fainting spell, and had tumbled off the trapeze about ten feet from the ground, but had been caught) I opened my eyes and saw Ted standing over me. He looked like a ghost.
"Ned," said he, "I can't talk about it. I can hardly think or feel yet; but you understand," he gasped out.
I thought I did understand, so I held out my hand. His hand felt like a lump of ice. Sam Stacker was a sight to see. He had the hang of the whole thing. Its value as an advertisement made him perfectly dizzy with delight, but he was wild with misery at the same time, because he hadn't the cheek--and Sam was a cheeky fellow too--to propose that the Valbella Brothers should continue their performances; and between admiration and chagrin he was almost crazy. All that day he was like a wild man, and finally, considering the Valbella Brothers would discontinue their performances immediately, as our reconciliation didn't go the length of acting together again, we concluded to appear before the curtain at the close of the Christmas performance that night, just to please Sam.
As soon as Sam found it out he got out the biggest posters to be had for love or money, saying we would appear on the stage that night, although we were both too disabled by the severe shock we had received to take any further part in the performances. We went, and when the curtain rose at the end of the last act, and we were bowing, one on each side of Sam, you never heard such a perfectly terrible commotion in your life; and the next instant a party of gentlemen rustled out of a box, headed by the mayor of the town, and, advancing to the stage, made a long address. I didn't take in what it was about, but at last it dawned upon my feeble intelligence that the mayor was commending my bravery for rescuing my comrade by tying him to the trapeze, and presenting me with a magnificent gold watch and chain. Of course I couldn't say a word, but Sam Stacker returned thanks for me. He said it was the greatest occasion of his life, and I believe it was. He spoke three quarters of an hour, in a voice like a steam calliope, and waving his arms up and down like a Dutch windmill. It makes my head swim now to think about that speech. After it was all over I took Sam aside.
"Sam," says I, "don't you know if I hadn't tied Ted to the trapeze he'd have fallen and dragged the valve open, and we'd both have been killed?"
"D'ye think I'm a durned fool?" said Sam quite fiercely. "Certainly I know it, but I ain't a-going to tell them blooming idiots and lunk-heads yonder that don't know beans from thunder."
These were the gentlemen whom Sam had just been apostrophizing as the noblest examples of human virtue and intelligence he had ever yet come across during a long experience with the greatest show on earth.
Well, there isn't much more to tell. The Valbella Brothers partnership was dissolved, but I stayed on with Sam, and am at present part proprietor of the show.
I forgot to say that Jenny and I were married just before the performance that Christmas night.
One morning in April, 1889, all that part of the population around Prince's Gate that was up and stirring at seven o'clock, gaped with surprise and said to each other, "The McGuckin houses are let." The footmen loitering in the gorgeous vestibules, the housemaids lazily straightening their caps as they threw wide the silken curtains, the milkmen clattering upon their rounds, all regarded with interest the great granite pile that had stood tenantless since the day the builders and decorators left it ten years before. For the McGuckin houses were so vast and splendid that living in them would have been dear had the rent been thrown in. Luckily, there were but two of them. The lack of tenants had driven the original McGuckin to suicide--but--it never rains but it pours. The tenants that had been ten years in coming both arrived the same week. One house was taken by Sir John Blood, of Blood Hall, Suffolk, nephew and heir of the Marquis of Longacre, and the other by an American family named March.
Although Sir John's wealth and position may be inferred from the meager particulars already given of him, yet must the Marches be described first. And Theodora March must not only take precedence of the nephew and heir of the Marquis of Longacre, but of her own family as well--for to Theodora had this precedence always been allowed, although the very youngest scion of the house of March. She was slender and supple, and had a beautiful head of rich gold hair that made an aureole around her pure and sparkling face. By one of those freaks, so common in American civilization, Theodora, whose ancestors had for unnumbered generations sold hardware and cutlery and groceries, and were born and bred to trade and barter, looked as if she had all of the blood of all of the Howards in her veins. March _père_, like Napoleon, might have been called the first of his family, but Theodora had grown up with all the tendencies toward a privileged class floating around in American society. She stamped her letters with a crest she could almost persuade herself her ancestors had borne at the battle of Agincourt, and adopted the Earls de la Marche of the middle ages as her progenitors. Like many others who may be called fugitives from the lower middle class, she hated it with indescribable intensity, and shook her small white fist at it and stoned it whenever she got a chance.
Besides Theodora there was Anne, a pretty but incomplete model of Nature's gorgeous after-thought, the younger sister. Theodora was a leonine blonde, while Anne was a nondescript. Mrs. March, an amiable, obstinate old person, was the third and last and least interesting of the family.
The Marches had endured for years the nomadic existence preferred by many rich Americans. Like the Bedouins of the desert, they had moved their belongings from place to place at a moment's notice. But an acquaintance at Homburg with the Honorable Mrs. Wodehouse had inspired in Theodora a yearning for a London season--and Theodora, being the master spirit and motor for the March family, promptly transported them all to London, and the first week in April found them settled in one of the two finest mansions at Prince's Gate. Meanwhile a great event had happened in Anne's life. One William McBean, a lieutenant in a Highland regiment, with one thousand pounds to his fortune besides his pay, had met Anne on the Continent, and, after falling hopelessly in love and communicating the same malady to her, was just about exchanging into a regiment going to India because he had not the courage to ask the rich American girl to marry him. Theodora, who had a good heart, and was grieved to see Anne pale and _distrait_, and poor William McBean looking like a ghost, homely and red-headed at that, took matters into her own hands. She made a vigorous sortie on William McBean, wormed his secret out of him, laughed at his scruples, proposed for him, accepted for Anne, and had the satisfaction of seeing two worthy people perfectly happy, and all her own doing too. Mrs. Wodehouse laughed at the match; but Theodora extended her protecting arm over the lovers, and, slender and white as that arm was, it was a mighty ægis.
It can not be supposed that the Marches remained long in ignorance of the name and quality of their next neighbor at Prince's Gate. Within a fortnight Theodora had seen Sir John on his balcony smoking, had heard the click of his billiard balls through the open window, while Sir John had listened with pleasure to her clear trilling as she took her singing lesson. Anne did nothing now but sit on a bench in Kensington Palace Gardens and gaze in rapture on William McBean's honest, ugly face--a gaze which the red-headed lieutenant returned with compound interest. The sight of their innocent happiness amused and pleased Theodora excessively. It was love's young dream with a vengeance.
One morning Mrs. Wodehouse arrived at the Marches' house in a great flutter. She had got cards for them to a grand ball to be given at the house of a K. G., K. C. B., S. E. I., and what not, and the cards bore the talisman "To meet H. R. H.--" It was the finest of the very great balls of the season, and Mrs. Wodehouse was in high feather at the notion of introducing her young friends on such an occasion, for Mrs. March had thankfully rendered up to her the office of chaperon. The question of a presentation at court was wisely deferred until another season.
"And it's not improbable, dear," said Mrs. Wodehouse, surveying with admiration Theodora's fresh beauty and captivating air, "that you may go as Miladi with--"
"A great big lozenge on my carriage," laughed Theodora. "I used to think," she added more gravely, "that Englishmen were pachyderms, but upon my word they are the spooniest set--Anne, what are you blushing for?"
"I was thinking of--of--," answered Anne, turning a yet more fiery red.
"Of William McBean," said Theodora, with cruel mirth, "you know you were. You're always thinking of William McBean."
"My dear girl," remarked Mrs. Wodehouse plaintively to Anne, "with your opportunities and nice looks, and money--you might look higher than a lieutenant in a marching regiment. It's a sacrifice, dear--a sacrifice which I--"
"Mrs. Wodehouse," cried Anne, rising and looking at Mrs. Wodehouse quite savagely, "I insist that you shall not mention this matter again. I'm--I'm not called upon to justify myself to you--but I think when a girl marries a man and a gentleman--even if he is poor--she does herself honor, and although we've got money ourselves, I feel the greatest respect for a poor gentleman--and if he is so disinterested that he almost forces her to make the offer herself, it's no sacrifice--"
If a meek and much enduring sheep had turned on a hungry wolf, Mrs. Wodehouse could not have been more surprised than at Anne's spirit. But Theodora, who rarely permitted Anne to finish a sentence, here broke in:
"No, it _isn't_ a sacrifice--even if he _has_ a red head and lisps dreadfully. Fortunately, I don't want to marry William McBean myself. I want--I don't know what I want. Not money--I have plenty of that."
"I think," continued Anne quite boldly, "that American girls are seldom mercenary. We have our faults, but that's not one of--"
"Yes," said Theodora, with an air of great magnanimity, marching up and down the room, "we have our faults, but at least we are not mercenary, or designing, or mean, or anything of that sort. Nor are we headstrong like English girls are sometimes--or ungenerous toward each other, or given to gossip. We make ourselves agreeable abroad, but that does not prevent our making our homes little paradises for those we love--and we are not a bit conceited."
Anne attempted a mild suggestion that Theo hadn't left any faults at all with which American girls could be justly charged, but it was ruthlessly swept away in a hurricane of merry talk and laughter from Theodora about the ball, her gown, and all the cheerful, costly things that made up the life of Josiah C. March's lucky daughter. Mrs. Wodehouse left, arranging to come to their house on the evening of the ball, whence they would all go in the March's carriage and she would remain the rest of the night at Prince's Gate.
* * * * *
The night of the ball finally arrived. By one of those occult processes so difficult for the masculine intelligence to comprehend, Theodora and Anne and Mrs. March found out that Sir John Blood was going to the ball too. Many speculations as to whether he would ask to be introduced or not went through the head of this young daughter of the great republic, but she said never a word. Anne and her mother though prattled incessantly about Sir John and the ball, to all of which Theodora listened with the air of lofty indifference which an American girl assumes where men are concerned, and apparently cared no more about Sir John Blood than she did about the future King of Bulgaria. The March carriage containing Mrs. Wodehouse drove up to Prince's Gate about ten o'clock on a bright May evening. At the same instant Sir John Blood's brougham was whirled to his door. Mrs. March stood in the doorway to enjoy the sight of her nestlings getting into the carriage. Mrs. Wodehouse did not descend. Anne came first, tripping down the carpeted steps, looking uncommonly pretty in a blue gown.
"How charming you are, dear!" cried Mrs. Wodehouse.
"Just wait till you see Theo," answered Anne a little discontentedly. It is hard to be always and invariably outshone even when one has an angel named McBean to soothe one's self-love.
At that moment Sir John Blood appeared at his own door. He might well have got into his brougham and gone, but he delayed a moment or two--and in that moment Theodora sailed down the steps. A cloud of silver _crêpe_ enveloped her and floated far behind her. Her slender form was molded into a bodice so simple and yet so exquisite that it was a poem in satin. Around the white pillar of her matchless throat she wore a string of pearls, and pearls hung upon the front of her corsage and skirt until both seemed sowed with gems. Mrs. Wodehouse threw up her hands in silent ecstasy. The coachman turned and gaped with delight, and so did the footman who shut the carriage door after her.
Not only did Sir John Blood as well as his servants gaze in admiration, but a group of ragged urchins began to "hooray," as the carriage rolled off. Theodora leaned back in her corner of the carriage, enjoying her little triumph as only a young and beautiful woman can. Nor did the triumph end there. When they ascended the grand staircase and entered the ball-room, a kind of admiring murmur followed Theodora. The whole evening was a repetition of these trivial but delicious successes that are dear to every woman's heart.
The very first person on whom Theodora's eyes rested was Sir John Blood, and half an hour had scarcely passed before he came up and asked for an introduction. Theodora was surprised to see Mrs. Wodehouse receive Sir John with something like haughtiness. She barely consented to introduce him, and seized the first opportunity to whisper in Theodora's ear agonizingly--"He's a widower--don't for Heaven's sake--dear girl--"
Theodora thought Mrs. Wodehouse had gone suddenly crazy, but she retained her self-possession and gracefully returned Sir John's bow, which was a kind of salaam or kowtow.
"I have the honor," he said, "of living next to Miss March."
Theodora smiled her own dazzling smile at this. "Yes," she replied, "and I want you to credit me with great virtue in shutting tight all the double windows when I am taking my singing lessons so that I shall not make myself odious to my neighbors."
"Do you call that kind?" said Sir John. "Shall we take a turn and talk about it?"
Mrs. Wodehouse actually put out her hand to detain Theodora, but Theo was already beyond her grasp.
She stole a side glance at her companion as they moved off, that gave her a much better idea of him than she had before. He was very tall and certainly distinguished looking, but there was something, an intense blackness around the eye, and a bluish tinge about the full black beard that gave him a sinister look. As they passed through the throng of splendid women and thorough-bred looking men, a very old man, much braced and padded, who stood up stiffly as if he feared he could not get up again if he sat down, and whose breast was covered by a broad blue ribbon, touched Sir John on the arm and mumbled something in his ear. Sir John, smiling, said to Theodora:
"That is the Marquis of Longacre. He wants to be presented to you. He is nearly ninety, but his eye for beauty is as keen as it was fifty years ago."
Theodora colored brilliantly. A marquis asking to be presented to Josiah C. March's daughter was a big thing, as the defunct March would have expressed it--and although Sir John had not said a word about his relationship to the old gentleman, yet Theodora knew all about it, having studied the subject thoroughly in Debrett. So, after taking a turn about the ball-room, they returned. Sir John presented the marquis, and then courteously stepped aside that the old gentleman might have her all to himself.
This was the marquis's first observation: "Good Gad! are all the girls in America as pretty as you are?"
"Most of them are a great deal prettier," laughed Theodora, with the ready adaptability of her compatriots.
"It must be a doosid jolly place, then," chuckled the marquis.
"Why don't you come over and take a look at us?" archly remarked the sprightly Theo, purposely oblivious of the marquis's eighty-five years.
"Because I'm eighty-five. Eighty-five's a bore, my dear young lady. You don't believe me, eh? Women never believe a man unless he lies to 'em," remarked the marquis with a wheeze which was meant for a sigh. "I often tell my nephew John--the one you're walking with--he won't have to wait long to be Marquis of Longacre. It's a pity that none of his wives could live to enjoy it."
"His wives!" cried Theodora, surprised into an exclamation. The marquis seemed disposed to confidence.
"Yes, he's had three. All died like sheep. Something ailed 'em, I dare say. I'm advising him to get another, and 'pon my soul, Americans seem to be the fashion, he, he!"
A sudden shock not far from disgust thrilled Theodora. Three wives already--and he not a day over forty-five, apparently. As in a dream she heard the marquis's tremulous old voice saying something she only half understood. But in a moment or two she pulled herself together. After all it was an illiberal prejudice. Should a man's domestic misfortune be made a subject of reproach to him?
In a moment Sir John came to fetch her and carried her back to Mrs. Wodehouse. Then that lady began the same inexplicably aggressive tactics toward him again. But it was in vain. He was not to be frozen out or bullied, and if ever a man was winged at the first shot, it was Sir John Blood. He hovered near Theodora, asked permission to call, and showed in every way a passionate admiration for her.
But Sir John was not the only one who bit the dust, so to speak, in consequence of Theodora's charms. She levied on the Church as well as the state. An archbishop, although attended by a body guard of four hawk-eyed single daughters, suddenly found himself deep in a roaring flirtation with this new star of the West, and it can not be said that his Grace did not hold up his end of the line valiantly. The four single daughters stood like a Roman phalanx against all widows, whom they considered their natural enemies, but it never occurred to them to be on their guard against anything as young and apparently as artless as Theodora--they being unfamiliar with the type of the wily American maiden, who, under an exterior as harmless as a dove, conceals the wisdom of the serpent. In addition to the archbishop, a general officer, who had gone through eighteen London seasons without a scratch, was slain at Theodora's first fire, and as for the lieutenants, the slaughter was fearful. It was a Waterloo, and Theodora was a she-Wellington.
At last the ball was over. Theodora and her party were rolling homeward. A certain constraint existed among them, and Sir John Blood's name was not once mentioned. When they reached home all the ladies scurried into a cozy morning room, where a sleepy footman gave them tea. A little fire crackled on the hearth, and what will not a wood fire do toward unlocking the secret confidences of the female breast? Therefore, as Mrs. Wodehouse saw Theodora's tiny satin slippered feet seek hers in friendly juxtaposition on the fender, a sudden determination seized her to make a clean breast of it all.
"Theodora," she said, "do you know anything about Sir John Blood, who was so attentive to you to-night?"
"Nothing in the world except that he is very distinguished looking, very sensible, and lives in the next house," answered Theodora, debonairly.
"And will be Marquis of Longacre when that old stuffed penguin dies we saw to-night. I'd rather have a poor lieutenant with a Tel-el-Kebir medal--" began Anne, but as usual was promptly cut short. This time it was Mrs. Wodehouse who broke in, after putting down her cup in some agitation.
"Theodora, do you know Sir John's domestic history?"
"I know he has had three wives," answered Theo with much indifference, as if three wives were the usual allowance.
"But d-d-do you know _how they died?_" cried Mrs. Wodehouse, becoming every moment more agitated; "and the terrible closet in Blood Hall?" And beginning to wring her hands, she sobbed.
"Oh, Theo, Theo--I've introduced to you the original Bl--I can't call the dreadful name. But he's the original B-Bluebe--"
At this Anne turned deadly pale, and running over to her sister threw her arms about Theodora's neck.
"Oh, Theo, darling, don't--don't have anything to do with that dreadful man! Did you notice the color of his beard--it was perfectly _blue black! I_ understand, if Theo doesn't--"
Just then a scream resounded behind them. Mrs. March, in a costume very like the one in which Zerlina in the opera dances before the looking-glass, had entered unobserved, and had heard it all and being a highly nervous and excitable person, shrieked at the terrible insinuation which she at once comprehended. Theodora jumped up and gazed around imperiously.
"For Heaven's sake, don't behave so! I never saw Sir John in my life until to-night, and here you are going on as if I were to marry him to-morrow!"
"This is the way he always does," whimpered Mrs. Wodehouse. "The poor misguided girls fall in love with him and marry him--the last one at Constantinople--her name was Fatima--something or other."
"I dare say," said Theodora, with wide, bright eyes and a voice full of scorn, "he never married an American girl. He wouldn't find one of them so easy to get rid of if he is what you intimate he is."
"Theodora," sobbed Mrs. March, "I'll never, never give my consent. I don't care if he is Marquis of Longacre, or Duke of Longacre, or Prince of Longacre, he shall never have my precious child."
Theodora by this time was walking up and down the room with her pretty brows bent. Presently she came and stood in front of her mother.
"Mamma," said she, "it has just occurred to me that perhaps it is my duty--_my duty_--to marry this misguided man. Three women have already fallen victims to him--but not one was an American. I believe, from the very depths of my soul, that, if a really clever American girl should take hold of him, she could make him a model husband. Yes," cried Theodora, warming with her own eloquence, and beginning again to march up and down, "look at Sir Roger MacTurk. Wasn't he a perfect terror until he got a wife from New York?--and now I believe he would play the concertina if Lady MacTurk told him to. And Lord Cantantram--everybody knows how that soft-voiced little thing from the South dragoons him. Oh, I can tell you, when an Englishman marries an American he doesn't have any bed of roses. Of course they don't let on--that's their British pluck--and they do fib in the most manly and splendid way about it all--but I think an Englishman married to an American girl, and who lives and dies a Christian, ought to be painted with a nimbus around his head. Yes, I do. Anne, don't glower at me in that way. Now, an Englishman, for all he is so big and brave, can't resist an American girl when she looks at him this way." Here Theodora paused, quite breathless, threw up her head, and assumed an air that might well make a six-footer shake in his shoes.
These observations seemed to nettle Mrs. Wodehouse somewhat.
"I remember Colonel Cairngorm telling me--" began she.
"Colonel Cairngorm!" cried Theodora, throwing up her hands in a paroxysm of despair that would have made her fortune at the Comédie Française.
"You needn't laugh at him," responded Mrs. Wodehouse tartly; and then, with a slight blush, she added: "It is not impossible that--in fact--to be very confidential--he proposed last week; I've got it under consideration--he is certainly a very pleasant person."
"Yes," agreed Theodora candidly, "he is a nice man--but he does make the greatest gaby of himself when he is in the act of proposing I ever saw in my life, and I've heard half a dozen girls say the same thing." The look in Theodora's eye said as plainly as could be, "Aha! we are quits for what you have said of Sir John Blood"; and for Mrs. Wodehouse, the iron had entered her soul.
"And I think," continued Theodora, with an air of profound philosophy, "that the art of proposing is a gift with some men, and others, like Colonel Cairngorm, can't acquire it even after much practice. I recollect he made me perfectly ill on the occasion."
Mrs. Wodehouse had always thought American girls too nimble of wit, and was more than ever convinced of it then.
"Theo," began Anne, timidly, "for a woman who loves, there is a certain glorious kind of slavery, says Wil--"
Theodora dashed at her sister and good-naturedly boxed her ears and touzled her hair.
"Anne, if you wish to drive me wild, continue to talk about that long-legged lieutenant. William McBean will be my death, I know he will. Come, I'm going. Good-night, everybody. Go to bed, Anne, and dream about the McBean person." And she was off, the silver gauze of her train floating after her like a comet's tail.
* * * * *
All the next day gloom hung over the March household. Nobody mentioned Sir John Blood's name. Mrs. Wodehouse left early. It was well she did, for at precisely five o'clock, when Theodora with Mrs. March and Anne were sitting in the drawing-room, the footman threw open the door and announced:
"The Marquis of Longacre and Sir John Blood."
* * * * *
The object in bringing the tottering and doddering old marquis along soon appeared. He at once engaged in a senile and simultaneous flirtation with Mrs. March and Anne, while Sir John devoted himself to Theodora. Anne, too, was finally drawn into conversation with the pair, and so fascinating were Sir John's manners that she quite forgot his character and experiences, and, strangely _maladroit_, made some allusion to Henry the Eighth, whom she declared to be a murderous old tyrant.
"Why?" mildly asked Sir John, and taking up the subject of Henry's killing his wives, he elucidated it in so masterly a manner that to Anne's amazement she found herself admitting that Henry was a much maligned individual, and deserved all the credit which he claimed before Parliament in being willing to assume the fetters of matrimony a sixth time for the good of his beloved subjects, after five successive disappointments.
But why prolong the tale? Theodora was full of enthusiasm--Sir John was full of love--and proposed within a fortnight. Anne wept, tormented her lover with her apprehensions for Theodora, Mrs. March implored, but Theodora, bright and brave, would not be dissuaded.
"You'll see," she cried. "Fatima--don't talk to me about Fatima--a great fat creature with no spirit at all. I'll charm him if he'll let me. Don't you suppose I believe in love as much as every other woman does? But if he undertakes to cut my throat--"
Shrieks from Mrs. March completed the sentence. But it was of no use. Theodora's mind was made up and with that young woman, her word was law.
* * * * *
In July, Theodora March and Sir John Blood were married at St. George's, Hanover Square. The Archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony, the American minister gave the bride away, and the Prince of Wales signed the register. The settlements were splendid. Sir John voluntarily resigned all interest in Theodora's fortune in case he survived her. This affair about the settlements gave Theodora, a slight shock, as she turned it over in her mind. For the first time she realized what it was to marry a man with such a fatal facility for getting rid of his wives.
"Pshaw!" she said to herself, "no doubt the story books have exaggerated very much. There can't be a whole closet full. And he is such a delightful person, just like the charming man Heine met at the Spanish ambassador's, who turned out to be the devil. However, I'm an American"--and at this a mighty exultation filled her breast--"I am from that glorious land of pink and white tyranny. Sir John Blood can't frighten me with any children's stories of a closet full of defunct wives." And so she went on, to Anne's and her mother's distress and William McBean's intense amusement, who was willing to back Theodora against Blue Beard and give long odds any day.
Immediately after the marriage they went abroad, and after some months of travel they returned to England. Theodora had made but one request of her husband since her marriage. It was that her sister Anne might meet her in London and accompany her to Blood Hall. This Sir John granted with the uniform tenderness he had shown to her. It was a clear autumn evening when, after a rapturous meeting at the station, the sisters had traveled down to Suffolk, and for the first time found themselves alone in the drawing-room, while Sir John smoked his after-dinner cigar on the terrace.
"Theo," said Anne, placing her hands on her sister's shoulders. "Tell me, darling, are you happy?"
"Happy!" echoed Theodora brightly. "I am the happiest girl in the world, and Sir John is the best and kindest of men."
"No, I don't except anybody. To think you and mamma should have disliked him so much. Anne, he's so changed sometimes I doubt if he is the real Bl--you know what. But if he is, he'll find out what kindness and firmness together can do--and American pluck and the habit of command."
"Dear, happy, sweet Theo!"
"And that horrid Mrs. Wodehouse--Anne, he has told me all about his wives. They all died perfectly natural deaths. When his last wife died he wanted to throw himself in the grave."
"Theo, please don't talk that way--I wouldn't say such a thing about William for--"
"And he says if I die he means to marry another American girl."
"Oh, please, please, Theo," cried Anne in a distressed voice.
Just then Sir John sauntered in, smiling and bland, with a request for some music.
Although Theodora had told Anne the truth about some things, she had not told her the whole truth. She saw very plainly that Sir John kept back more than he told about her predecessors. But this story has been a total failure if its readers do not yet know that Theodora possessed a superb and matchless courage that might well make Sir John tremble. Nor had Sir John been married to this dauntless creature five months without seeing that the was made of sterner stuff than poor Fatima and the rest. Each had felt, in golden days by Como's lake and in starlit Venetian nights, that sometime or other there would come a tussle for ascendency, and by a sort of tacit arrangement it was postponed until their arrival at Blood Hall. When Theodora had asked for her sister Anne's company, Sir John had taken it as a confession of weakness. Theodora, on the contrary, when she had carried her point, felt flushed with victory. Naturally she kept a sharp lookout for the closet which Mrs. Wodehouse had dwelt upon; and in forty-eight hours after her arrival she had pitched upon it. It opened into a pleasant room which Sir John called his study, and where he usually spent his mornings. The door was of black Spanish oak, beautifully carved in early English designs. Theodora had mapped out a campaign in which that closet figured, and about two weeks after her arrival she opened hostilities.
* * * * *
One stormy December night, Theodora, leaving Anne cowering over the drawing-room fire, sauntered off into Sir John's study, carrying her favorite poodle in her arms.
"Come in," said he in response to her knock, and rising with ready courtesy. "You'll excuse my continuing my paper," he remarked, wheeling a comfortable chair to the sparkling wood fire for her.
"Indeed I will not!" cried Theodora playfully, still holding on to the poodle, and taking the paper out of his hands almost before he knew it.
Sir John frowned and then smiled. His American wife had certain ways that baffled him. She was always amiable, gay, and affectionate, but she took a tone toward him which startled while it amused him; and then her surprising glibness, her humor, her propensity to make small, though admirable jokes, her way of looking at life from the comic side, was astonishing, not to say appalling. Sir John wondered sometimes if American men were subject to much of this sort of thing.
"No," kept on Theodora, with a pretty grimace, and pinching the poodle, "you positively shan't read the paper. I want you to talk to me and Hector."
"What about?" asked Sir John, still half frowning. Theodora went up close to him and standing on tip-toe, with one arm yet around the poodle, leaned forward and putting two rosy fingers under her husband's chin said coquettishly:
"About that closet over yonder, where people say you keep your murdered wives. Don't we, Hector?"
"Yap! yap!" went the poodle.
The change that came over Sir John's face at these words was indescribable. He started to his feet, his face black with rage, his eyes flaming as he seized Theodora violently by the arm.
"How dare you?" he yelled, almost frothing at the mouth.
"How dare I?" asked Theodora, carefully putting the poodle in Sir John's vacant chair. "Now, keep quiet, Hector. Because I want to know and I'm going to find out."
"Very well," answered Sir John, recovering his self-possession. But his cold fury was worse than his hot anger. A woman less intrepid than Theodora would have sunk under the appalling glare of his eye. "Listen, then, and I will tell you. But first put down that infernal dog."
Theodora had seated herself with Hector in her lap, but she thought it wisest to let him go, as it was a case where force could be used to her disadvantage. "Just wait a minute," she said briskly. "It's his bed-time, anyway. I'll ring for James," and suiting the action to the words, she went forward and rung the bell like a church warden.
James appeared in a twinkling, and Theodora confided the poodle to his care with many injunctions. Then she returned to her seat.
"Now, madam, I will begin."
"Do," said Theodora pleasantly. "I'm dying to hear."
"You shall be gratified," answered Sir John darkly. "My first wife was thought to be a very amiable and attractive woman. We lived happily together until her indiscreet curiosity--mark well my words--about that closet, caused her to try the lock with a chisel. The chisel slipped and cut an artery. She was found weltering in her blood."
"How awkward!" exclaimed Theodora, spreading her handkerchief out in her lap, and examining it as if she had never seen it before. "Of course I mean how awkward for you."
"It was a great deal more awkward for her," gloomily remarked Sir John--and continued:
"My second, was a gifted creature, but she, too, got the devil in her."
"She must have caught it from--hem--!--hem!" replied Theodora, coughing gently.
Sir John glowered at her and kept on. "She, too, longed to see the inside of the closet. Her curiosity--do you hear me, madam?--kept her awake, and she spent her nights wandering about the house. One night she missed a step at the top of the stairs and broke her neck. There was no one but myself in the house except the servants."
"Good gracious!" cried Theodora. "How frightened you must have been!"
"Oh, yes--Fatima--my latest predecessor--"
"Well, there was an absurd rumor at the time of Fatima's death--she, too, died of curiosity--that I had been killed by her brothers. Of course the truth came out after a number of unpleasant things had been printed about me. My Uncle Longacre advised me to sue the papers for libel. And now, madam," he said with a malignant smile, "do you still wish to see the closet?"
"Of course I do!" cried Theodora jumping up with the greatest alacrity. "Now more than ever, since it is the remote cause that I am Lady Blood and will one day be Marchioness of Longacre. Come, hurry up with the key."
Sir John gazed at her with a sort of stupefied amazement.
"Rash girl!" he cried. "Do you know what you ask?"
"Perfectly," answered Theodora, coming up to him and holding out a little jeweled hand, "Give me the key."
"Great Heavens!" shouted Sir John, "this is intolerable. God forgive me for marrying an American! I will never marry another. I shall have to silence her as I did Fatima."
"Give me the key, _you old goose_!" screamed Theodora in his face, and shaking his arm violently.
At that instant their eyes met. Sir John's were blazing with anger, while in Theodora's there shone a fire that--no, it could not be--yes, yes, it was--that made something like fear come into Sir John's handsome devilish face. She tightened her grip on his arm, and occasionally jerked it up and down to emphasize her remarks, while she cried:
"I want that key. You may well say" (shaking his arm furiously) "that you'll never marry another American girl. You'll never have the chance" (shake, shake). "When I married you I was willing to love you, just as Anne does that Scotch angel of hers, but I am not going to put up with your hectoring ways like poor Fatima." (Shake.) "You thought I'd be afraid of you--ha! ha! I'm an American girl, you great booby. Don't look at me in that way" (shake, shake, shake), "but give me the key this instant, or I'll order the carriage and drive to the nearest magistrate and denounce you on your own confession!" (Shake, with variations.)
Sir John's countenance during this tirade was a study. At first a furious, helpless rage, then over-powering amazement, followed by a hideous fear, and at last an abject, helpless, hysterical breaking down. He fell on his knees at Theodora's feet, clutching her gown, and bursting out into wild lamentations, he screamed:
"Spare me! Spare me!"
"The key," panted Theodora, with a relentless smile on her beautiful sensitive mouth. The miserable man feeling in his trousers' pocket produced a key--with the identical blood stain on it left by poor Fatima.
"Now," said Theodora, letting him go and transferring the key to her pocket, "I don't want to see in the closet--no doubt it is a horrid place--but I shall keep hold of this and see that you don't get it again."
Her contemptuous tone aroused a faint spark of the spirit that made the worm turn. He called up all his coward's courage, and, rising to his feet, said sullenly:
"All is not yet over between us."
"Do go away," replied Theodora scornfully. "You bore me to death with your heroics. But I think you've found out now what it is to be married to an American girl. It's like a mustard plaster--wholesome, if not pleasant, and not to be ignored."
* * * * *
Some months after this a large party was assembled at Castle Longacre, for Sir John Blood was Marquis of Longacre, and she who was once Theodora March was now Theodora, Marchioness of Longacre. Mrs. Wodehouse was of the party, and so was Anne, now Mrs. William McBean, and sweeter, prettier, and gentler than ever. Not so gentle was she, however, that anybody dared to offer her any commiseration on account of her long-legged lieutenant, for at the first hint of the kind she showed fight so unmistakably, that even Theodora was fain to desist. Anne esteemed William as the first man in the world. With a refined and noble arrogance she conveyed to the world her pride and satisfaction in being the choice of such a man--and from being the meekest and most lamb-like of girls, developed into a person of considerable spirit, fully determined to sustain the honor of being William McBean's wife. She was not only openly and candidly and deeply in love with her lieutenant, whose strong sense and firm character were but dimly obscured by his red head and his hard features, but she loved the whole clan of McBean, was a rampant Jacobite, and went in for tartans, cairngorms, bag-pipes, Flora McDonald, Highland Mary, etc., with an ardor truly American. Meanwhile, as Anne became more determinedly Scotch, William McBean, who was a reading fellow, showed a strong leaning toward America and republicanism. Thus they were supplied with something to squabble about--lacking which, steady matrimony is apt to become a little tedious, it is said.
The first evening after dinner, before the men had come up from the dining-room, the ladies gathered around the drawing-room fire, and about the piano. "Dear Theodora," said Mrs. Wodehouse, going up to her and taking her hand, "How proud I am of you! When you went into dinner on the Prince's arm, you never looked lovelier. Nobody would ever have imagined that you had not been born a marchioness."
"Yes," said Theodora with a brilliant smile. "You see, here there are only a few marchionesses, but with us we are all marchionesses in our own esteem."
"Yes," replied Mrs. Wodehouse meditatively, "you American peeresses certainly are--er--a--remarkable lot--all of you seem to have been born in the purple, and every one I've seen yet is a red-hot Tory."
"_That_ I am," cried Theodora playfully, stamping her pretty foot. "I believe in my Order, as Ouida calls it, the more because it's all new and delightful."
"And a--your husband seems a charming man," continued Mrs. Wodehouse a little timidly.
"Yes," said Theodora heartily. "We've agreed to let by-gones be by-gones. He's thoroughly domesticated."
Just then occurred the little flutter that announces an irruption from the lower regions. A number of men came in at once, the marquis and William McBean among them. Six months of his American wife had aged the marquis ten years. His hair was whitened and his once bold eyes had a cowed and uneasy look.
The talk ran to hunting. The marquis said: "To-morrow the Marsh meadow is to be drawn, and I can promise you as good sport as is to be found in the country. There is an old red fox--"
"Dearest," cried Theodora, softly but reproachfully, from her sofa, "if you go out to-morrow how are you to finish painting the front of my satin gown which I am to wear at the hunt ball?"
Everybody had heard her. William McBean grinned delightedly, and whispered to Anne, "Now the British lion's tail will be twisted."
The marquis's face grew three quarters of a yard long. He shifted uneasily in his chair.
"My love, do you really want that gown?"
"Of course I do, darling."
"Then," said the miserable marquis, with a ghastly assumption of a joke, "I'll have to give up the Marsh meadow to-morrow. But the next day, Wednesday--"
"Oh--oh!" cried Theodora with coquettish playfulness, pinching his ear, "don't you know you've got to take mamma up to town to do some shopping? Forgetful man!"
"I really had forgotten," exclaimed the poor marquis, turning very red, "I'm glad you reminded me, my dear."
"And Friday's the day you promised to take Hector to have his picture taken. I couldn't think of trusting my precious poodle to a heartless footman."
"Quite true," said the marquis, turning pale, "but Saturday, my pet--"
"Saturday!" exclaimed Theodora, "I have no end of things for you to do, dearest. I want you to fetch Major Philibeg over from the barracks in your trap, and Sunday you must go to church, you know, dear love."
"Certainly, my own," meekly responded the once redoubtable man who had killed three wives. At this William McBean suddenly darted out of the room, and was found half an hour afterward haw-hawing in the smoking-room. The spectacle of the British lion with his tail between his legs seemed to afford William rapturous amusement.
The Marsh meadow was drawn the next day, but the marquis, transformed from a lion into a lamb, was not among the huntsmen. After performing all of Theodora's errands, he was allowed, as a treat, a game of tennis with the chaplain of the castle--for this young American marchioness not only had her private chaplain, but would have had her private archbishop if she could have had her way, so naturally did she take to her privileged class. She "my loved" and "my deared" the marquis at a great rate, but Hercules spinning flax was a picture of manliness alongside of him. Anne's kind heart disposed her to take his part somewhat, but William McBean, who chuckled incessantly at the state of affairs, encouraged Theodora to lay on like Macduff. The marquis was made to wear goloshes whenever he went out, his cigars were docked, and at midnight, just as the fun grew fast and furious in the smoking-room, Theodora's own footman would tap at the door, and the marquis, with a feeble pretense of "coming back after a while" would disappear. He never came back though. William McBean, who was the life and soul of the smoking-room, would make this hypocritical promise of the marquis's return an excuse for keeping up a rollicking good time until unearthly hours of the morning, when the last cigar would be smoked, the last story told, the last punch brewed.
Wherever Theodora moved she was accompanied by a suite, consisting of the marquis, the chaplain, the footman, and the poodle--and of these, the one most under her thumb was the once terrible Sir John Blood, whom his own mother would scarcely have recognized, so wonderfully had his American wife changed, or as Theodora expressed it, reformed him.
On the Sunday, a respectable contingent was mustered for service in the castle chapel. The marquis complained of a cold, but was nevertheless present at both morning and evening service, by the side of Theodora, who had her poodle on the other side.
Toward twilight Mrs. Wodehouse peeped into the little morning room used by Theodora. By the dusky light she saw her seated at the cottage piano. She was playing chords softly, while the poor marquis, sitting by her with his throat wrapped up in flannels was warbling in a hoarse voice but with much piety:
"A consecrated cross I'd bear."
Mrs. Wodehouse raised her hands in a paroxysm of silent surprise.
"A consecrated cross he'd bear!" she exclaimed presently, in a whisper. "Well he's got it--he's got an American wife!"
TUBAL THE FIDDLER.
"You ain' never hearn 'bout we-all's Tubal? I thought ev'ybody in de State uv Virginny had done heah 'bout Tubal de fiddler."
Outside the cabin door the sun of May shone bright, beautiful, intoxicating. The old negro held his ragged hat in his lap, and sat on the corner of the bench that caught the full glare of the sun, unvexed by the dappled shadows of the black-leaved poplars.
"Tubal he _wuz_ a fiddler, Gord A'mighty knows. Nobody never did know how he learn ter play de fiddle. Hit mus' er come ter him natchel, like de way de bees sing in clover time, 'kase one day ole marse gone ter git he fiddle outen de case, an' 'twarn't d'yar! You jes' oughter heah ole marse sw'ar! He allers could cuss an' sw'ar like a gentmun; an' ef he didn't f'yar smoke, an' sizzle dat day dis nigger is a liar. All day long ole marse he r'ar an' pitch. But when de han's come in at sundown, Yaller Josh, de hade man, he brung Tubal 'long to'des de house. Josh he hol' little Tubal by de collar, an' Tubal he walk 'long, playin' de fiddle, an' he never stop. Josh he haul Tubal up 'fo' ole marse, settin' on de po'ch, an' it tu'n out dat little coon Tubal had been settin' 'hine de straw-stacks all day long learnin' ter play on ole marse's fiddle! He had done tooken it! He had acshilly done tooken it! 'Fo' ole marse could git he bref ter bawl out, Tubal he say, "Marster, please, sir; jes' listen, sir;" an' he strike up 'Forked Deer,' an he play de same ez any morkin singin'. Old marse he jes' set d'yar an' st'yar at de boy. Den Tubal he teched up 'Snowbird on de Ashbank,' an' he 'gin ter shuffle he foots on de po'ch, while ole marse he beat de flo' wid he stick; but when Tubal come ter play 'Kiss me sweetly,' he back-step all de time he playin' it; an' fust thing we all see ole marse he jump up an' start ter footin' it, doin' de back-step, double-shuffle, cut de pigeon wing, an' ev'ything--he an' Tubal jes' dancin' a reg'lar breakdown twell de po'ch rattle."
"'Twuz a sight, I tell you, wid Tubal sawin' de bow, an' he an' ole marse, bofe on 'em, whackin' de groun'. Den ole marse he tooken de fiddle an' _he_ play, an Tubal _he_ dance, an' d'yar dey wuz!"
"Arter dat, ole marse buy Tubal a fiddle fer hisse'f, an' Tubal he never do no mo' wuk, 'scusin' 'twas wid de fiddle an de bow. He never wuk in de crap. He make 'tense he wait in de house; but Unc' Daniel, dat wuz de dinin'-room servant, he say Tubal warn' no more use ter him dan de fiddle wuz. In dem times, 'fo' de cullud folks wuz free an' enlightenment, 'twarn' counted no sin fer ter play on de fiddle. Now de niggers know de devil iz a fiddler, an', consequenchical, de chu'ch members doan' play on nuttin', 'cep' 'tis de 'corjion. But ez fer 'ligion, Tubal he didn' have none. Oncet when ev'y nigger on de Shelter plantation was seekin' 'cep' Tubal, ole marse he beller, "You kin all git jes' ez much 'ligion ez you kin tote, but ef I cotch dat fiddlin' Tubal seekin' an' cryin' an' prayin', I lay I'll wallop de Gorspel outen him 'fo' he know it, genteel an' quick." An' he would, too But Tubal warn't a seeker, er even a backslider. Den de white folks in de county got ter sen'in' fer him ter play at de parties, an' ole marse he gin him a ole jinny mule dat th'o' ev'ybody dat ever did try to ride her. Tubal he sot on dat jinny mule jes' a hol'in' on by he knees, wid he fiddle under he chin, an' he play 'Billy in de Lowgrounds' fer life. Jinny didn' know what ter make er dat; so she ciphered it out, an' say ter herse'f: 'Dis heah nigger mus' be Kun'l Boswell's Tubal. Tain't wuff while ter wrastle wid dat nigger.' An' she didn'. Ole marse he wuz a widower, an' he had done los' bofe he chillen, but he had two gran'sons--Marse Jack Boswell an' Marse Page Carter--dat live at de Shelter, an' wuz gwi' git all ole marse lan' an' niggers. I doan' know how 'twuz, but Tubal an' all de black folks got de notion dat he wuz gwi' b'long ter Marse Page when ole marse die an' de niggers wuz 'vided out. Tubal sut'ny did love Marse Page, an' track him same like a dog. Dey allers got in mischief toge'er; an' Marse Page take a whuppin' fer hisse'f, but he allers try an' baig Tubal off.
"Ole marse he wuz mighty cur'us 'bout some things. He want jes' three hunderd niggers--no mo' 'n' no less. Sometimes de black folks teck ter dyin', an' he git down ter two hunderd an' ninety odd. Ole marse he groan an' moan, an' say he c'yarn wuk de Shelter plantation wid less'n three hunderd niggers, an' ef dey keep on dyin' in dis infernal discontemptuous way, he gwi' be a bankrup'. Den, fust thing, de black babies would come like de blackberries on de bushes, an' may be he have three hunderd an' fifteen. Den ole marse would cuss twell you see de brimstone in de a'r, an' say dat de Shelter place c'yarn' s'pport mo' 'n three hunderd niggers nohow, an' ef dey keep on gittin' born, de owdacious niggers would ruin him.
"He wuz allers gwi' co'tin, but he never did. He say de plantation want a mistis an' somebody ter look arter de two boys; but he couldn' go co'tin' in summer, 'kase he had ter go to de Springs; an' in de fall, wid de sellin' uv de craps, an' de fallowin' fer wheat, an' de 'lection, he didn' have no time; an' in de winter he had de rheumertiz; an' he 'low dat co'tin' never did 'gree wid him in de spring uv de year. Miss Patty Corbin she wait fer him fo'teen year, an' den she sen' him word 'twuz den er never. Ole marse he sen her back word 'twuz never, 'kase he didn't like ter be hurried in he 'rangements. So he didn' never got married; an' when he die he jes' leave all he property ter be 'vided out 'tween Marse Jack an' Marse Page, 'cep he lef' Marse Page he silver watch. Ole marse tho't a sight er dat watch. He wouldn' never let no watchmaker tech it, fer he feerd he mought spile it; an' when it got wrong he jes' take a feather an' some lard an' grease it hisse'f, an' den 'twuz all right ag'in.
"Well, all de black folks like Marse Page de bes', an' all on 'em want ter 'long ter him. Marse Jack he mighty quarrelsome an' 'sputifyin' 'bout things, an' he say he want Tubal de fiddler. Tubal he fall down on he knees 'fo' Marse Page an' baig dat Marse Page take him; but Marse Page he had done ask fer Mam' Betsy--dat wuz de mammy uv bofe de boys--an' Marse Jack say he 'titled ter Tubal. Marse Page he offer ter buy Tubal right outen; but Marse Jack say no, Tubal wuz de bes' fiddler in de county, an' _he_ want him. So Tubal had ter go wid Marse Jack; but Tubal he say to we-all, mighty solemn like: 'Marse Jack think he gwi' git a fust-class fiddler. I sw'ar I ain' never gwi' draw dat bow ez long ez I is Marse Jack's nigger. I done sw'ar it, an' I done make a cross in de ashes 'fo' I sw'ar.'
"Naix thing we heah, Marse Jack he gwi' move ter de upper country, whar dey doan' have no oshters er crabs er nuttin' fer ter eat--an' sho' 'nuff 'twuz so.
"I never will furgit de day dey all lef'. Dey wuz wagons fur all de women an' de chillen an' de sick folks an' de ole folks, an' de men dey walk. Tubal wuz d'yar on de jinny mule, but he didn' have no fiddle. Marse Page come ter tell 'em good-by. De black folks cry an' pray an' sing, same like 'twuz a baptizin', 'twell Marse Page he tooken out he white hankercher an' he cry too. Tubal he hol' on ter Marse Page, an' ax Gord ter bless him, an' ax him if he 'member when dey useter go fishin' toge'er, an' Marse Page t'yar he Sunday jacket, so Mam' Betsy have ter give it ter Tubal--he allus like brass buttons--an' Marse Page tell him he ain' never gwi' furgit he faithful Tubal, an' lars' thing Tubal say ter we-all er-cryin' wuz, 'I ain' gwi' tech dat fiddle, I ain' gwi' tech dat bow, ez long ez I b'long ter Marse Jack Boswell.' An' he didn'.
"De years an' de years pass on. We done hear dat Marse Jack he try ter make Tubal play when he got him up de country, but Tubal he doan' play. Marse Jack den put him in de corn fiel', an' Tubal he han's jes' es sof' ez Marse Jack's hisse'f; he have ter hoe de row, but he doan' play de fiddle. Marse Jack he tell him ef he will play de fiddle he kin hire out ter play at de parties, an' make a heap uv money. Tubal he 'low steadfas' he ain' never gwi' play no mo'. But de niggers say dat in de night-time Tubal he git up an' go 'way in de woods, whar he had done hide de fiddle, an' he play twell mos' mornin'. De folks gwi' 'long thu' de woods moonlight nights hear de soun's floatin' by, an' dey git skeered an' run, an' say 'tis evils 'broad; but nobody never tole Marse Jack. He an' Marse Page didn' have nuttin' 'tall ter do wid each ur'r arter dey fell out 'bout Tubal. Bofe on 'em got married, an' Marse Page wife die soon, an' lef' him er little gal. She growed up mighty pretty, wid gray eyes, sorter like partridge eyes, an' she wuz slim an' slight. Marse Page he live on at de Shelter, but he warn't like ole marse. He wuz sof' spoken, an' he read books, an he never talk 'bout goin' co'tin' no mo', an' he wuz de best marster in de county. He wuz mighty fond o' Miss Letty, an' useter say, 'Dat little gray-eyed gal _she_ got er sperrit.'
"Well, arter a while de war broke out at de Norf, an' Marse Page he raise a cump'ny an' went ter de war. He sont Miss Letty off ter school, an' de niggers jes' stay on de plantation an' work under de overseer. But it didn't seem like nuttin' prosper no mo'. De craps warn' no 'count--de wheat allers had de rus' an' de corn warn' nuttin' but nubbins, an' de line fence cotch fire an' bu'n up mos' all de fencin' on de place, an' a storm come an' to' down mo'n half de house; an' when Marse Page an' Miss Letty come back arter de war, de niggers wuz free, an't' wasn' nuttin lef' but de lan'. But Marse Page wuz a gent'mun, an' he couldn' live no way 'cep' de quality way, an' co'se he had ter borry money fer ter do it; 'sides dat, he had done los' he right arm in de war. So fer a year er two things wuz putty much like dey wuz 'fo' de war; Miss Letty had her piany an' her hoss, an' marse he cigars an' he silk stockin's an' sech.
"One de fust things dat happen arter de war wuz one day when Marse Page wuz settin' on de po'ch in ole marse' cheer. He look up, an' d'yar, stan'in' on de gravel parf, wuz a ole man on a jinny mule, an' he had er fiddle under he arm, an' widout sayin' er word he 'gin ter tune up dat fiddle, an' he start ter play 'Kiss me sweetly.' Marse Page he sot right still, an' de tears rain down he face, an' den de nigger man he hop off'n de jinny mule, an' he come up de steps, an' he say, 'Marse Page, I is a free man now, an' I come fer ter be yo' nigger oncet mo'.'
"Marse Page he call out fer Miss Letty, an' she come flyin', an' fo' her par could say a word she say, 'Why, it's Uncle Tubal.' She ain't never seen Tubal, but she hearn 'bout him; and den he kiss her little han', an' Marse Page had he liquor case fotch out, an' he an' Tubal drink ter ole times, an' Tubal he f'yar make de fiddle talk. Arterward Tubal he go right back in he ole house he had lived in ole marse' time. Tubal didn't have no wife er chillen; he say he fiddle were all de wife he want; an' he go back ter de ole ways. No mo' hoein' an' wukkin' for Tubal; he jes' sot an' play de fiddle all day.
"Dis heah way went on fer a while, an' mout er gone on twell now, but all de po' white trash dat Marse Page had intrusted wid de mortgage on de Shelter 'speck him ter pay de money back, an' co'se Marse Page didn't have it; ef he had had it, he wouldn' er borried de money nohow. An', ef you will b'lieve dis nigger, dem low-down white folks make Marse Page pay all he debts fur ez he could, an' de place wuz sol', an' de black folks went off, an' Marse Page an' Miss Letty had ter go an' live in de overseer's house. It didn't have but fo' rooms. Tubal he went wid 'em, an' he wuk de bes' he kin, but Tubal warn' no wukker, natchel. Marse Page couldn' do nuttin', 'kase he didn't have but one arm, an' bimeby times got wuss an' wusser, an' hard an' harder, an' Miss Letty--she had a fine eddication--she had ter go 'way an' teach school, an' leave Tubal ter take keer uv Marse Page.
"Now Tubal he useter hoe in de g'yardin an' keep things goin', but de onlies' way he could git money wuz by fiddlin'. Marse Page he do widout all he could, but he wuz er gent'mun, an' he couldn' do widout much, an' Miss Letty she sent him all she make. An' den one night he wuz tooken sick an' had a stroke of paradise. He couldn' move, an' he couldn' hardly talk, but he call Tubal ter de baidside, an' he say, 'Remember, boy, not a word of this to your Miss Letty.' You see, Marse Page didn' have no right arm, an' he couldn' wrote wid he lef', an' Tubal had 'rections fum Miss Letty dat ev'y week he wuz ter git somebody ter write ter her an' tell her 'bout Marse Page, an' she keep on sen'in' him her money, but dat wouldn' been 'nough arter Marse Page got he stroke of paradise, ef it hadn' been fer Tubal's fiddlin'. Now, in dem times, dey wuz Yankees 'bout. Dey wuz two or three cump'nies dat camp out at de river landin', an' Tubal useter go over ter de camp an' play fer 'em, an' come back wid er greenback in he pocket. Marse Page by dat time didn' know nuttin' hardly. He jes' lay d'yar an' suffer an' groan. Out at de camp dey wuz a orficer--a cap'n--dat wuz mighty gin'rous ter Tubal, an' Tubal ax him ef he write a letter fer him ter Miss Letty. De cap'n 'gree, an' ev'y week Tubal go over an' git dat cap'n ter write. He warn' so ole, an' he were a gent'mun as wuz a gent'mun, ef he didn' have no niggers 'fo' de war, an' had ter have low-down white folks ter black he boots an' bresh he close. All de time Tubal wuz tellin' de cap'n what ter write, de cap'n wuz larfin' ter hisse'f, an' pres'ny he look kinder pitiful. Tubal's letters wuz mighty cur'us. Fust he tell de cap'n ter write dat all de quality in de county come ev'y day ter 'quire arter Marse Page. 'Twuz a lie, an' Tubal say so. 'Co'se dat's a lie, cap'n,' he say. 'Seem like de quality folks has clean forgot how Marse Page useter live at de Shelter 'fo' de war, wid thirty hosses in de stalls, an' cum'p'ny all de time, an' champagne like water outen de spring. But I c'yarn let Miss Letty know dat.' Den he tell him ter wrote Marse Page wuz so spry, an' he so intrusted in her letters, an' didn' want no mo' uv her money; an' ev'ybody know Marse Page 'ain' been able ter read hardly sence Miss Letty went away. De cap'n wroten it all, an' he gin Tubal a greenback mos' ev'y time he see him, an' sen' Marse Page some brandy like he been useter, an' tell Tubal ef he want nuttin' ter come ter him.
"One night de cap'n wuz settin' in he tent readin', an' Tubal sneak in, lookin' sorter queer. He say in a whisper: 'Cap'n, Marse Page is 'mos' gone. He callin' fer Miss Letty, an' you mus' wrote Miss Letty fer me, an' tell her, fer Gord A'mighty's sake, ter come home ez quick ez she kin.' De cap'n he wroten it right away, an' he tole her all 'bout de boats, an' how she wuz ter make corrections wid de k'yars, an' could git here by Sad'day. An' Tubal he never lef' Marse Page night er day.
"Well, dat naix Friday night, when de boat stop at de landin', off step Miss Letty: she had done make de corrections, an' got here 'fo' dey speck her. 'Twarn't nobody at de wharf ter meet her, but de cap'n wuz d'yar wid he orderly, an' when he see Miss Letty so pale an' pretty an' distrussful, he went up to her an' injuced hisse'f, an' ax ef he could be uv any resistance ter her. Miss Letty she toss her hade, an' look him all over wid dem gray eyes o' hern; she didn't like no sort o' Yankees, an' he had he uniform on; but he was so polite an' respectious, an' he hol' he cap in he han' all de time, dat pres'ny Miss Letty kinder softened. An' when he tole her he had done wroten de letters for Tubal, an' he hope she doan' fin' her father ez bad ez she 'spected ter fin' him, Miss Letty jes' broke down, an' cry fit ter break her heart. De cap'n tu'n away, an' didn' notice her twell she had got th'u' cryin', an' den he come back an' bow like a gent'mun, an' tole her he mus' take keer on her home, dat he horse 'ain' never had de honor uv kyar'in' a lady, but he know she ain' 'feerd, and kin ride on he army saddle. Den Miss Letty smile a little bit, an' de orderly--mighty po' white trash he were--brung up de hosses, an' de cap'n swung Miss Letty on he own hoss--a scrimptious bay hoss with black mane an' tail--an' de hoss fret a little bit; but Miss Letty she sot him, an' de cap'n he smile, an' say she kin ride like a soldier. Den he got on de orderly hoss, an' off dey went.
"'Twuz fo' miles ter de overseer's house, an' when de cap'n lef' her at de do', he tell her de camp warn' mo'n harf mile away, an' ef she want any help, he hope she would treat 'em like frien's 'stid uv enemies, an' Miss Letty she promise she would.
"Marse Page didn't live a week arter Miss Letty got d'yar. She found out dat de quality folks had sorter neglec' him, an' she was so proud and haughtical she wouldn' sen' fer none on 'em; an' Tubal say he doan' know what she would er done ef it hadn't been fur de cap'n. Co'se, arter Marse Page done dade, all de folks pay him deir respec's, an' heap on 'em come ter see ef dey couldn' do nuttin' fer him--arter he wuz laid out. But Miss Letty say no, she thank 'em; dey couldn' do nuttin' 'tall. De funeral wuz mons'ous big. Miss Letty she walk by herse'f 'hine de coffin, an' Tubal he walk right 'hine Miss Letty. De cap'n wuz d'yar too.
"Miss Letty, arter de buryin', she settle down quiet at de overseer's house wid a po' relation dat come f'um somewhar, an' fur two or three weeks she didn' do nuttin' but set an' look at de fire an' go ev'y evenin' an' stan' by Marse Page grave. Den she 'gin ter ax Tubal 'bout things, an' Tubal tole her how kin' de cap'n had been, an' sen' Marse Page brandy an' things, an' come ev'y day ter see ef he couldn' do sumpin' fer him--an' all dis heah 'fo' Marse Page wuz laid out--an' how he had done see 'bout de coffin, an' had tole Tubal what wuz fitten ter do. De cap'n didn' call ter see her, but ev'y day er two he sen' de orderly ter ax how she do, wid de cap'n's compliments, an' sometimes he sen' her er basket er grapes or er bokay. Miss Letty she wroten him er little note an' ax him ter come an' receive her thanks in pusson, an' he come. Tubal say it discomfuse him ter have Miss Letty seein' cump'ny in dat d'yar ole overseer's house, but she wuz fust quality, jes' de same ez ef she wuz at de Shelter in de ole time. Naix day Miss Patty Corbin, dat wait fo'teen year ter git ole marse, come in her gre't big kerridge to quile wid Miss Letty fer receivin' Yankee orficers.
"'De bes' people in de county doan' countenance it,' she say.
"'Very well,' answer Miss Letty, wid her cheeks afire, 'it seems they didn't countenance my poor father much after he left the Shelter, but this Yankee orficer _he_ countenance my father when he was ill an' poor an' want frien's--and, Miss Patty,' she say wid her eyes blazin', 'it's a subject I won't have mentioned to me again--please understand--an' I wish you good-morning.' Miss Patty she flounce out ter her gre't big kerridge in a huff, an' Miss Letty she walk back inter de overseer's house like it wuz a palace, an' she wuz a queen.
"Tubal he meet de cap'n on de road dat very day, an' tole him de whole contention. De cap'n grin when Tubal tole him de way Miss Letty sen' Miss Patty off, same like she wuz shoot out ov a gun.
"Naix Sunday, at chu'ch, Miss Letty see de cap'n comin' in jes' ez she wuz; an' she wait fer him, an' smile, an' ax him inter her pew, an' let him walk up de aisle 'longside o' her. Dey sut'ny wuz a han'some couple--she look so pretty in her black frock, an' he wuz jes' ez straight as a Injun.
"Arter chu'ch, 'stid o' folks stoppin' ter speak wid Miss Letty, dey jes' went by her wid a nod an' a scowl. Miss Letty she had a sperrit, ez Marse Page say; she smile an' keep on talkin' wid de cap'n, an' let him walk home wid her. Tubal he had done gone in de woods ter play de fiddle--'kase dat sinner acshilly play de fiddle Sunday same ez week days--he seen 'em walkin' 'long home, an' he see de cap'n when he tooken Miss Letty han' an' say, 'Can you bear that treatment fer me?' An' Miss Letty she say, 'Yes, and a great deal more.' Ef you will believe dis nigger, Miss Letty she marry dat cap'n! She did, fer a fac'! She married him, sartin an' sho! She marry him 'fo' de summer wuz out. Dey went away, an' dey want ter take Tubal wid 'em, but Tubal he say naw, he c'yarn leave Marse Page all by hisse'f in de graveyard, an' ef he could jes' live on at de overseer's house, an' had he fiddle an' sumpin' ter eat, he wus all right. Miss Letty fix fer him ter stay, an' de' wuz a little g'yarden patch fer him; but Tubal he warn' never no 'count ter wuk; he wuz too much uv a artis', de cap'n say. So arter dey wuz married an' gone, Tubal useter take he fiddle an' go an' set in de sun by Marse Page grave, an' play ter him, an' dat nigger had de s'prisin' owdaciousness ter play hymn tunes on de fiddle, like 'Roll, Jordan, roll,' an' 'Dem Golden Slippers.' Dem wuz fer hisse'f, he say, but de reels an' jigs wuz fer Marse Page, 'kase he allers like dat sort o' music. An' it seem ter me like Tubal play mo' like de birds ev'y day; when he play a reel, it wuz like de win' sweepin' ober de wheat fiel', er de water in de mill-race po'in' ober de dam. Dat was in de fall, but todes winter Tubal cotch de rheumatiz, an' he couldn't git outen de house, an' he finger-j'ints got kinder rusty, an' he couldn' play no mo'. It sut'ny wuz pitiful ter see him settin' wid de fiddle on he knee an' he c'yarn play it. He wuz mighty po'ly, an' he keep on sayin' he ain' gwi' live long. When de spring come he got outen de house when it was sunshiny, an' he useter creep wid he fiddle ter de graveyard, but he couldn' hardly walk. An' one day we had done miss him, but it wuz sunshiny, so we knowed he was somewhar 'bout dat graveyard; we-all went ter look fer him, an' d'yar, layin' on Marse Page grave, wuz Tubal wid he fiddle. He wuz done dade.
"He had ax us 'fo' dat ter bury him an' de fiddle close by Marse Page, 'kase Miss Letty had promise him he could be laid in de white folks' buryin' groun', an' he wuz laid right d'yar. He look mighty natchel in de coffin wid he fiddle an' he bow by him. So we-all buried Tubal, an' I 'ain' never see sech a fiddler sence."
Priscilla's beauty was of that shadowy and spiritual kind that it took a good while to find out that she was a beauty at all. Certainly Priscilla's sisters, the Misses Mildmay, had sublime faith in Priscilla's charms; but the poor girl herself had spent so much of her twenty-five years of life trying to conform to the standard of behavior inculcated in the Misses Mildmay's boarding and day school for young ladies and little girls that it had robbed her of that delicious and ingenuous vanity which is the glorious inheritance of pretty young things of her gender. The Misses Mildmay lived in an imposing four-story brick mansion in a street of the sternest respectability; there was not a suspicion of the shop in the stately front door, and the heavily draped windows bore no advertising sign. The tall man-servant who opened the door was loftily oblivious to the pupils who sneaked in by the garden way. The Misses Mildmay had made money in their school--and it was all for Priscilla. Had this youngest birdling in the dove-cote been like her elder sisters, nothing could have been better contrived than the scheme of happiness proposed to her. But unfortunately Priscilla was no more a Mildmay than she was a Montmorency or a Condé. It is true that she conformed outwardly to the Mildmay model, but Nature's original Priscilla was a merry, fiery young creature with peachy cheeks and a perpetual smile and a good appetite. All these things, however, were kept in abeyance--particularly her color and her appetite. Had that dignified footman been cut up into juicy chops for Priscilla's breakfast, and that mahogany door been made into rich soups for Priscilla's dinner, she would no doubt have lost some of that pretty pallor, that pathetic look out of her dark eyes. But the income of the Misses Mildmay did not admit of the footman and the mahogany door and the juicy chops and rich soups too, so they skimped on the dinners, skimped on the amusements, skimped on all those vanities that had never had any charms for them, but which Mother Nature, who is obstinate as well as perverse, had meant for the younger sister.
The Mildmay religion was necessarily of a well-bred and repressive type; but Priscilla was given to getting up early and walking long distances to a church in East Harrowby, where not one single person could be found who might be called "in society" except Priscilla herself. The clergyman, it is true, was a gentleman, but he was said to be so cold, so stern, so unsocial, that he strongly repelled his own class. There was, however, a reason for the Rev. Mr. Thorburn's indifference to general society. He had met with the most awful of domestic calamities. The wife whom he loved had lost her mind, and was then in a private asylum. The only shifting of his burden that the stern Mr. Thorburn showed was, he had given up the charge which he had held for ten years, and where his happy married life had been spent, and had taken a very small and pitifully poor church in East Harrowby. His congregation was made up entirely of working people, to Mr. Thorburn's intense satisfaction. He had the spirit of an apostle, but he was handicapped by his temperament and by the traditions of his class. He could not be persistent, or aggressive, or personally solicitous about the highly educated, moral, and well-bred persons who made up his first congregation. He desired earnestly and even fiercely to wake them up to a spiritual life, but all of them, pastor as well as people, were too well bred for that sort of intimate discussion to be forced between them. He found, after some years' experience, that they were willing to let him look after their morals, but they proposed to look after their spiritual affairs themselves--which is one of the commonest and queerest developments of modern religious thought.
In the course of time, Thorburn grew weary of trying to spiritualize a congregation of people who were so well off in this world that they regarded their probable transposition to heaven with great distaste. He sickened of being restricted in his spiritual efforts to emotional women and priggish boys and girls. Religion, he felt, was an affair for men--but of the few men communicants in the church, every one of them would have instantly withdrawn his subscription and quitted the church had the clergyman showed any undue solicitude about his soul. And if he had ventured to speak of their sins, in any except the most general way, the bishop would have come down upon him. So this zealous man, so cruelly misplaced, found his fashionable congregation and handsome salary utterly unendurable after that frightful and heart-breaking tragedy in his life. He was glad enough for the chance to preach to a congregation of decent brick makers, such as made up most of the population of East Harrowby, and who did not find this world so pleasant that they could not grasp the idea of a better one.
Dr. Sunbury, the rector of the handsome stone church in West Harrowby, was a good man, but he would have cut a poor figure as an apostle alongside of that independent citizen, Paul of Tarsus, or Peter the fisherman. The doctor had the kindest heart, though, and the most liberal mind in West Harrowby, and having early had a safe and easy path to heaven pointed out to him, he had walked along it for forty years, never doubting that he would get there in the end. It is true that the spectacle of Mr. Thorburn, going night and day among his poor parishioners, being doctor, nurse, adviser, everything to them, sometimes gave the excellent old doctor a qualm, but he had sense enough to see that, even if he wished to follow the same life as the Rev. Mr. Thorburn, he couldn't do it. There were no sick, poor, ignorant people in the well-bred, well-fed congregation that listened to Dr. Sunbury's mild and strictly general exhortations.
Priscilla Mildmay alone of all the doctor's flock went after the new parson at East Harrowby and his shabby, uncomfortable church. But Priscilla always had an odd way with her, so her elder sisters gently lamented. For example, instead of reading the religious flapdoodle with which they were quite satisfied, Priscilla would devour her Thomas à Kempis as if all of truth was to be found therein, and declared she could not read anything after that except the four Gospels. The Misses Mildmay had not failed to report Priscilla's iniquity to Dr. Sunbury, but they got cold comfort.
"Let the girl alone," he said. "Thorburn's a better preacher than I am, and, God knows, he is a better man" (the doctor possessed, without knowing it, one of the greatest Christian' virtues--humility) "and don't bother her. She is right. I'd go to hear Thorburn myself if I didn't have to preach." The two clergymen were upon the most friendly terms, although so widely apart in every respect but that of mutual good-will. The only house in West Harrowby that Thorburn visited was Dr. Sunbury's and the old doctor trudged over to East Harrowby sometimes, to smoke a pipe of peace in Thorburn's dingy lodgings. Dr. Sunbury hated walking, but he could not find it in his conscience to drive over to that woe-begone community in his snug brougham--all of which the recording angel put down in his favor.
Priscilla's face had not escaped Thorburn's notice. He had keen eyes, and he saw everything. He saw Priscilla with wonder. Women, as a rule, did not flock to his church. They said they found his sermons cold. Men, and some of them none of the best, chiefly made up his audiences. It was not hard anywhere to observe Priscilla's snow-drop face in her little black bonnet, with her eager, beseeching eyes. After a while Mr. Thorburn began to feel their mesmeric influence, as Dr. Sunbury had done ever since she was fifteen. He began to watch for her, to preach at her, to feel that she understood him--a very comfortable thing for a public speaker. Of course he knew who Miss Priscilla Mildmay was--"Very nice, but not the equal of the elder Misses Mildmay," he usually heard--and sometimes they had met at Dr. Sunbury's. As Mr. Thorburn was naturally a silent man, and Priscilla lacked courage in a drawing-room, they scarcely exchanged half a dozen words. It came about, though, as these things will, that in the course of his parish work he came upon Priscilla--Priscilla teaching a class of ragged boys their lessons, after having taught the most stylish young ladies in West Harrowby the most elegant branches of a polite education. Some way, all the restraint they had felt in Dr. Sunbury's drawing-room melted away in the little bare school room. There Priscilla reigned supreme, calmly confident under Mr. Thorburn's searching gaze. She had a peculiar knack of teaching. Her gentle, "Now, please, boys," had the same effect as Mr. Thorburn's stern, "See, you fellows, behave yourselves." Mr. Thorburn watched with admiration the tact with which she managed her somewhat unruly crowd.
Of course all this teaching did not go on with the unqualified approbation of the Misses Mildmay. Priscilla showed a phenomenal determination about it, and being upheld by Dr. Sunbury, who in some way always encouraged her vagaries, the Misses Mildmay, although they might look coldly on it, could not forbid it.
It did not take much to violently excite West Harrowby; and therefore when the Harrowby Union-Palladium published one morning, with a big display head that covered half the first page of the paper, the burning of the Northern Lunatic Asylum, a certain circumstance connected therewith gave West Harrowby something to talk about for a week. Five inmates of the women's ward were missing, and among them was Mrs. Eleanor Thorburn. Five bodies, charred beyond recognition, were found in the ruins. Some days after a notice appeared in the obituary column of the Union-Palladium: "Suddenly, on the 17th of February, Mrs. Eleanor Thorburn, wife of the Reverend Edmund Thorburn, of East Harrowby." That was all.
Nobody--not the most censorious--could accuse Mr. Thorburn of not paying scrupulous respect to his wife's memory. Yet it made but little outward difference in his life. For two or three Sundays he was absent from his pulpit, and when he reappeared he wore a band of crape upon his hat.
So things went on until nearly two years had slipped past. One spring afternoon Dr. Sunbury, with his particular chum and crony, Dr. Forman, the great light of the medical profession in and about Harrowby, was enjoying a quiet saunter through the familiar shady street. They had wrestled in argument so often, and practiced in company so much, that Dr. Sunbury had become a pretty good doctor of medicine, and Dr. Forman was no mean proficient in theology. Right in the midst of a friendly-fierce wrangle on the subject of ecclesiastical history, Dr. Forman suddenly remarked, "That's going to be a match."
Dr. Sunbury glanced up, and saw Mr. Thorburn, as he met Priscilla Mildmay, stop, smile, speak a few words, and, lifting his hat, go upon his way.
"Bless my soul!" almost shouted Dr. Sunbury, stopping short and gazing at Dr. Forman's immovable face.
"Why not?" said the doctor testily. "I see them together half a dozen times a week."
Dr. Sunbury was at heart an inveterate matchmaker, as all truly benevolent old persons are apt to be, and as soon as he allowed his imagination to feast upon the idea of a match between Thorburn and Priscilla, its manifest fitness impressed itself so upon him that he would fain have got out a license, gone to them, and commanded them to stand up and be married immediately. He did, however, firmly resolve to give Thorburn a hint; but giving Thorburn hints was always a matter of more or less difficulty with everybody. At last, however, the opportunity came, and Dr. Sunbury seized it courageously. He had been spending the evening with Mr. Thorburn at his lodgings, and the other clergyman happening to mention, as Dr. Sunbury was taking his leave, that he thought of getting lodgings elsewhere, Dr. Sunbury remarked quite naturally that he "had heard something regarding Mr. Thorburn and Miss Priscilla Mildmay which perhaps accounted for the proposed change." They were standing at Mr. Thorburn's door, and by the bright moonlight Dr. Sunbury saw the dark flush which overspread Mr. Thorburn's somewhat saturnine face.
"I--I assure you--" he began; and then, after a pause, "I am too old."
"Nonsense!" replied Dr. Sunbury. "Priscilla is nearly twenty-six" (ah! doctor, you know she was only twenty-five month before last), "and you are--let me see--thirty-seven."
"Thirty-nine," conscientiously said Mr. Thorburn.
"Well, thirty-nine. You are enough man of the world to see that age interposes no obstacle in the case. However, I shall say no more. Good-night."
"If I hadn't been going just then, I don't think I could have said it," confidentially remarked Dr. Sunbury to Dr. Forman.
The little seed that Dr. Sunbury had planted in Mr. Thorburn's mind grew, and waxed to be a great tree. But all the time he looked upon it as impossible. Priscilla was but a child, and he was a man grown old in sorrow, in suffering, and labor. No, it could never be. And having come to the conclusion that he was in no danger whatever, Mr. Thorburn fared just as such presumptuous Samsons always do. He met Priscilla under the most adverse circumstances, running home from a shower, and in a manner the most unexpected to himself, proposed to her just as they came in front of the West Harrowby savings-bank, which was also the post-office and the principal apothecary's shop. Priscilla's behavior was of a piece with his own. The idea had never been presented to her mind before, and it was a matter that required the utmost circumspection in deciding, and yet by the time she reached her own door she had accepted Mr. Thorburn, the rain meanwhile from his umbrella trickling in little rivers down her back. There was neither time nor opportunity for love-making in the midst of a pouring shower, upon the pavement in front of the Mildmay mansion, so Mr. Thorburn could only take her little cold hand and say, "God bless you, God bless you, my Priscilla!"
In due course of time the wedding--a very quiet one--came off, and Mr. and Mrs. Thorburn were settled in a modest rectory in East Harrowby. The Misses Mildmay had suggested--indeed, urged--that Mr. Thorburn should establish his rectory in the more fashionable precinct of West Harrowby, but Mr. Thorburn demurred, on the ground of its being a clergyman's duty to live in his parish.
They were as happy as the day was long. Priscilla, under the new influence of happiness and good roast beef and a daily pint of porter, grew rosy, and blossomed out into a regular beauty, and Mr. Thorburn's face lost that painful expression it had been wont to wear when he strode through the streets on his parish work. And time went by so fast--so fast; they had been married nearly three years, when they felt as if their honey-moon was just beginning.
It was getting toward dusk one misty November afternoon when Priscilla went tripping past Dr. Forman's house, which stood on the opposite side of the street. The moisture from the over-hanging branches of the elm trees was dripping upon her, and her boots were quite soaked through. Across the way the doctor was just stepping out of his buggy, and she stopped and debated whether she should not go over and ask him to drive her a quarter of a mile further down the road to the rectory. As she stood hesitating, a woman approached her out of the mist, and spoke.
"May I inquire," she said, "the way to the house of the Rev. Mr. Thorburn?"
She was perhaps forty, and had once been pretty. Even now a certain pathetic charm attached to her, and the voice and accent were of that cultivated kind which established her title to be called a lady, in spite of the extreme plainness of her attire.
Her hair, which was a beautiful auburn, curled over her forehead in little natural rings, and her eyes were strangely bright. She looked as if she had just recovered from illness, and was not physically strong, but there was a look of tremulous happiness in her face. When she said "the Rev. Mr. Thorburn," her voice was musically lowered, and her gray eyes became radiant. Priscilla took all this in at a glance. She was some woman whom Thorburn had befriended, and who had come to him to lay down her load of gratitude at his feet.
"Yes," said Priscilla, with ready politeness; "just down the road, the first house to the left. You will have to wait an hour or two, perhaps, though, for Mr. Thorburn. He is seldom in before half past-six. I am Mrs. Thorburn, you see," she said, smiling.
The stranger looked at her for a moment with a kind of wide-eyed horror, and, throwing her arms up in the air, fell prone on the ground as if she had received a pistol shot through the heart.
Priscilla had never been brought face to face with any startling emergencies during her quiet life. She stood for a moment frozen with terror, and then ran like a deer across to where Dr. Forman stood giving some directions to his man.
"Oh, doctor, come! run as fast as you can." She pointed to the prostrate figure lying in the muddy road. Dr. Forman gave one glance, and started at a smart pace, Priscilla keeping up with him, and telling him breathlessly what had occurred. The doctor bent down, turned the unfortunate woman over on her back, and said two words, "Dead faint."
"Can't I do something?" said Priscilla, hovering near.
"Yes. Go and tell Sam to come here at once, and then go home yourself. You'll have another touch of rheumatism if you go out in this weather. I shall speak to Thorburn about it."
The doctor was a man of authority; so Priscilla, after sending Sam over, and returning only to be sharply ordered about her business, went home. Mr. Thorburn was later than usual that night. A strike was threatened among the brick makers, and they had said they would treat with him and with no one else. He was troubled and harassed--and, contrary to the custom of some women in like circumstances, Priscilla did not choose grewsome stories, like strange women fainting in the street, to entertain him--so nothing was said of the somewhat tragic occurrence of the afternoon. Next morning he was off bright and early, Priscilla making no mention of her aching joints. Before night the doctor's promised touch of rheumatism had set in. Priscilla made light of it, but agreed to send for Dr. Forman, and insisted that Thorburn should attend to the business of averting the strike. Instead of coming himself, young Dr. Curtis, Dr. Forman's assistant, came. Dr. Forman had a very ill patient. Mrs. Thorburn inquired eagerly about the woman who had dropped in the street. Dr. Curtis had heard Dr. Forman say something about it, but supposed it was all right, as he had heard nothing further on the subject. Mrs. Thorburn would be all right too if she would stay in the house in bad weather, and take care of herself.
The incident made no very particular impression on Priscilla. But on the night after it had happened, Dr. Sunbury got a very pressing message from Dr. Forman. He went at once to the doctor's house, picking his way through the dark November night; and Dr. Forman opened the door himself, and led the way into his little back office, where he told his visitor of the patient he had found in the street, and who at that moment lay up-stairs in the doctor's spare bedroom, with the doctor's housekeeper in attendance on her.
"And--she--is--" Dr. Forman hesitated. A strange pallor was upon his homely, good-natured face, and his voice was tremulous. He took a moment or two to recover himself, and then burst out: "She is--the first wife of Mr. Thorburn."
Dr. Sunbury rose from his chair and fell back in it again. He raised his hand as if in denunciation. "May God--"
"Wait. He is as guiltless as you are." Dr. Forman paused a minute or two, and then took up the thread of his discourse where he had left off describing his sending Priscilla Thorburn home. "I brought her, with my man's help, into the house, and had her put in bed. It was plainly nothing but a faint; but she went from one fainting spell into another, and when I had finally brought her round, the fainting spell changed into convulsions. For hours I worked with her. At last I stopped them, and got her under the influence of an opiate. I was tired myself, and went to bed to get a few hours' sleep, leaving word for Curtis to be called. In the middle of the night I was waked by Jane standing by my bedside, looking frightened out of her wits. 'Do, pray, Dr. Forman, come to the strange lady.' When I got to the room she was lying in the bed, weak, but perfectly conscious. She intimated to me that she wished to say something to me privately. Of course I tried to induce her to put it off, but she was determined.
"I saw that she was no ordinary woman--she had been beautiful--and she was still comely. And she had that air of melancholy command that those who are in the crisis of tremendous misfortunes only have. So I sent Jane out of the room. Then she said, in the calmest possible way, 'Doctor, I am the first wife of Edmund Thorburn.' I was incredulous, and thought her crazy, the more so that the next thing she told was that she had been for the last six years in a lunatic asylum. But when she told me her story I saw that she was at that moment as sane as I was. And such a story!" Dr. Forman, a stolid man usually, took out his handkerchief and buried his face in it, and an occasional sob escaped from him. Dr. Sunbury put his hand to his eyes, as the doctor gasped out at intervals. "They were so happy! She had given up everything to marry him, and wanted him to give up his parish because it did not suit him, and to take some such charge as East Harrowby, and to share his poverty with him--she, delicately nurtured and finely bred. And then came the terrible illness, and a still more terrible blank; and then, after years which are as nothing in her mind, a return, an awakening, a resurrection to life and the most perfect felicity, so she thought--poor thing, poor thing!--and when she got here, to East Harrowby, she was so overcome with the happiness in store for them, that she felt her heart would burst if she saw him too suddenly--she wandered about, waiting until dusk to go to his house, and to throw herself in her husband's arms--"
Dr. Forman paused for a long time. Then presently recovering himself, he suddenly fell into his calm, professional tone.
"No family taint--violent fever, followed by more violent insanity, and likely to result in a cure." After a moment he continued: "She, of course, remembered nothing of her first attack. She called it insanity; nothing insane in her way of speaking of it, using just the same terms you or I would, without evasion, and supposes now that from certain faint recollections her cure had begun about the time of the asylum fire. She remembers something of the scene, and the next thing finding herself shivering and half clad in a railway train. She remembers nothing more until she became an inmate of the Central Lunatic Asylum. There were no means of identifying her for a long time. She had been supplied with clothes by charitable people on the train. No inquiries were made about her, which she could not understand until I told her of her supposed death. She was called Mrs. March, because it was in the month of March that she was brought to the asylum. Her recovery was gradual, but it is a common experience with such persons that their own names and individuality is the last for the restored mind to grasp. About six months ago she became perfectly herself. She felt an entirely sane and rational doubt of herself, until time had tested it; but about a month ago she gave such information of herself as led to a letter being written to Brightwood, where Thorburn had a church at the time of her illness. Thorburn was not there, but an answer was received saying he was at East Harrowby. They wrote again. That letter could never have been delivered, and, after waiting four weeks for an answer, Mrs. Thorburn persuaded the superintendent to allow her to come here with an attendant to find her friends. The attendant found some acquaintances, and began to gossip with them. Mrs. Thorburn tells me that she felt shame and horror at returning to her husband's house accompanied by a keeper; so she slipped off, and met Priscilla. You know the rest."
Dr. Sunbury sat looking like a man paralyzed. "Well?"
"You must send Thorburn here to-night."
Dr. Sunbury rose and walked restlessly about the little office.
"To-night," repeated Dr. Forman; "for I don't think she'll last beyond to-morrow."
"Why, what's the matter with her?" asked Dr. Sunbury, pausing in his troubled walk.
"Nothing but death," answered Dr. Forman. "Skill can do nothing for that woman. She ought to have rallied from the fainting spells; instead, she went off into convulsions. She ought to have rallied from the convulsions; instead, she is sinking as fast as any mortal I ever saw. Poor thing, so pretty, so gentle!"
It was arranged that Mr. Thorburn was to be sent for; and to Dr. Sunbury was left the dreadful task of telling him the truth.
An hour after that, Dr. Sunbury, thinking miserably of poor Priscilla and the unhappy creature up-stairs, heard the wheels of Dr. Forman's buggy grinding on the gravel outside, and Mr. Thorburn's quick, firm step as he entered the house. Dr. Sunbury met him with a sinking heart, and a cold tremor that shook him like an aspen.
"I came at once, as you see, my friend," began Thorburn cheerily. And then looking closer at Dr. Sunbury's white face, said, "Why, what is the matter?"
Dr. Sunbury, without a word, led him back into the little office, and carefully closed the door. "Thorburn," he said, "I believe you to be a man and a Christian. Call up, therefore, all your manhood, and all your dependence on God, to bear what I have to tell you."
Mr. Thorburn's dark skin grew a shade darker at these words, but he made no reply, only looking Dr. Sunbury full in the eye.
"Priscilla told you, perhaps--of a woman fainting--in the road--Tuesday afternoon," Dr. Sunbury got his words out in gasps.
"She is now in this house. Thorburn, she is--the wife you supposed dead."
Mr. Thorburn took in as quickly what had been told him as his dying wife had done. He rose from his chair; the strong man reeled and fell, with a deep groan, and his arms outstretched over the doctor's study table. Dr. Sunbury made no offer of consolation. He covered his face with his hands and wept.
After a pause, Thorburn said: "We must do what is right. My poor Priscilla!"
He suddenly checked himself. Ah, it was but a little while since he had known Priscilla--and the woman up-stairs was the wife of his youth. And he had loved her well. But which one of us would rejoice at having the dead to rise from their graves?
"Will you not see--" said Dr. Sunbury, after a short silence, pointing overhead, where the dying Mrs. Thorburn lay.
"Now? Not yet, not yet. Give me a moment, for God's sake."
"But she is dying; she has not long that she can wait for you."
Thorburn rose at once. "Tell me how it was, before I see her," he asked.
In a few words Dr. Sunbury told him.
Just then Dr. Forman appeared. "You had best go now," he said to Thorburn.
Dr. Sunbury took Mr. Thorburn's arm and led him up-stairs. Dr. Forman preceded them. As they reached the door, Thorburn caught Dr. Forman's wrist, his face quite ashy and his eyes wild, as if to ask for a moment's grace; but it was too late, the door was open, and Dr. Forman had beckoned to the nurse to leave the bedside. Thorburn closed the door after him, and walking to the bed, found himself alone with the woman that to him had risen from the dead.
"Forgive me! Forgive me!" was all that Thorburn could say.
"Forgive you?" asked the wife, in her old sweet voice. "Why should I not forgive you? Only, you must pity me. Think! six years of agony, to return and find--I thought until now that it was easier to die than live," she continued, feebly. "It would save so much misery if death should free you from me."
"And in one moment--in the twinkling of an eye, I was dashed from the most perfect happiness into the most terrible misery. I thought my home was waiting for me; I thought my husband's heart yearned for me--and without one word of warning--I beheld myself an outcast on the face of the earth--a being whose death would bless the man she loved!"
Her voice grew strong in its intensity as she spoke. Thorburn leaned on the bed, his arm around her, and great drops upon his pallid face. A groan burst from him. The dying can not weep, but there was a terrible and piercing pity for herself and for him in Mrs. Thorburn's uncertain voice and her misty eyes. Thorburn tried to tell her that he had not forgotten her--that he loved her when he thought her dead--but it was only half expressed, and Mrs. Thorburn checked him gently.
"We have only a little while to be together," she said. "I felt myself to be dying the instant I felt myself to be alive. I have been dying for three days--and I tried to die without seeing you--but I could not--I could not!"
Down-stairs Dr. Sunbury and Dr. Forman conversed in whispers, Dr. Forman holding his watch in his hand. On the stroke of the half-hour he went up-stairs. As he entered the room he saw Thorburn half leaning on the bed, while Mrs. Thorburn's head rested on his breast. The doctor took one keen look at his patient, and suddenly whipping out his lancet, called, loudly:
"Jane! Jane! come at once. I want to give Mrs. Thorburn a hypoderm of brandy."
Dr. Sunbury heard the call, and came too. He obeyed a look from the doctor, and taking Thorburn by the arm, almost dragged him from the room. Jane came with the brandy, with salts, with the doctor's electrical appliances; but it was too late. Mrs. Thorburn breathed an hour or two longer, and then, without a word, a look, or a sigh, stopped breathing.
"It is all over," said Dr. Forman, going out on the landing to speak to Dr. Sunbury.
Thorburn went away the night of his wife's death.
To Dr. Sunbury was intrusted the terrible task of telling Priscilla. He came forth from that interview ten years older, and tottering as he walked.
The affair was hushed up, and the world at large was no wiser about it. Thorburn and Priscilla left East Harrowby, ostensibly on account of Thorburn's breaking down. Before they left, a marriage ceremony, the most painful that could be imagined, was performed between them in Dr. Sunbury's study, with Dr. Forman for a witness.
But never afterward were Thorburn and Priscilla happy. They were good, they loved each other, they were thrown upon each other for comfort--but between them sat the ghost of the dead woman, who had come to claim her happiness, and found another woman in possession of it.
The sergeant's ruddy, handsome face was the only cheerful object within the prison yard as he walked up and down, crossing the sentry's beat. The yard was small--it was at the back of the gloomy brick building--and only one narrow window looked out upon it. The day was dark and dull. The soldier marching up and down, clutching his musket, looked sulky and cold, and he wondered why a man like Sergeant Heywood, who didn't have to do sentry duty, should be pacing back and forth for two hours at a stretch.
The sight of a prisoner's face at the barred window did not add to the cheerfulness of the surroundings. The face was curiously twisted and distorted by a shot that had torn through the jaw. It would have been repulsive but for the eyes--eyes pathetic, curious, patient, almost the color of the faded "butternut" clothes of the prisoner. As soon as the sergeant saw the poor face at the window he halted in his walk, and called out, cheerily, "Hello, Kaintuck!"
"Hello!" responded Kaintuck, with equal cheeriness, but in a thin, soft voice, such as might be expected to come out of his narrow chest.
"How are you to-day?" continued the sergeant.
"Purty well, considerin'," answered Kaintuck. "Las' night I didn't sleep very well. This here old jaw got to achin'; an', by golly, sergeant, she kin everlastin' ache when she starts in! Ef it hadn't ben for that terbacker you give me yesterday, I'll 'low I'd had a sorter onpleasant time. But it was a comfort, cert'n'y. Before I lit my pipe it seemed like I never was goin' ter see Polly an' the kid no more, that you blarsted Yankees was a-goin' ter whip us, spite o' General Lee, an' that this here jaw was a-goin' ter come all ter pieces. But I hadn't hardly lighted that pipe, sir, before I seen Polly an' the kid right before me, lookin' peart an' gay, an' Marse Bob had done licked you all like the devil, an' my jaw was all right, an' goin' ter stay so. That's what terbacker does for a man."
The sergeant accepted these indications of the prisoner's sympathies with great good-humor.
"I've got some more of that same brand," said he; "it affects me kinder the same way too. When I smoke, it seems to me General Grant is marchin' into Richmond, and the bands is playin' 'Yankee Doodle,' and I'm a colonel ridin' at the head of my regiment."
Kaintuck smiled at this. His smile was a mere contortion, but his deep strange eyes smiled luminously.
"I reckon it's a kinder universal comforter. Did it bring your wife and your kids right up before you?"
The sergeant was a great strapping fellow, six feet high; but at this pleasantry he blushed like a girl.
"I ain't got a wife, nor kids either; but--"
"You've got a girl, hain't you? Come, sergeant, let's hear 'bout it. It's mighty lonesome somehow in this Government hotel."
The sergeant laughed, and came closer to the window. Just then a streak of sunlight fell upon him, as he stood with one foot advanced and his stalwart arms crossed; but the prison window and Kaintuck remained in the gloom. The sergeant pulled his cap down over his eyes quite bashfully, and cleared his throat.
"Now, I'm talking confidential, Kaintuck--"
"An' you don't want me to tell the agreeable an' amusin' companions I have in here," continued Kaintuck, in the same soft, slow voice. "Fac' is, when a man's been in prison fur eighteen months, an' never had a soul but them doctors ter take no more notice of him ner a dog, excep' yourself, sergeant--"
Kaintuck stopped. The retrospect struck him unpleasantly.
"Well, I'm goin' to tell you what I ain't told even to my folks at home. I've got a girl--an' she's only twenty-one years old, an' a widder--an' the biggest rebel, b'gosh--"
The sergeant brought all this out in jerks, intermingled with suppressed laughter; and when he announced the last fact, Kaintuck joined in his hilarity.
"Blamed if women ain't the queerest lot," remarked Kaintuck, chuckling.
"You bet," assented the sergeant, still laughing. "You oughter heard that gal sass me. There she was, all by herself in a little house, with a kid about two years old, an' when I come politely to tell her I'd take care the men didn't milk her cow or take her chickens, and told her she needn't be afraid of anything, she stood in her door, with that baby in her arms, and fairly poured hot shot into me. 'I'm a soldier's widow,' she says, her eyes blazing. 'Do you think I know what it is to be afraid of _you_? Oh, if this child only was a man to shoulder his dead father's musket!' Now, you know, Kaintuck, that kind o' talk from a poor young thing all dressed in black breaks a man all up. So I just kep' my cap in my hand, and I says, 'Madam, I respect a soldier's widow, no matter which side the soldier fought on, and whether you'll agree or not, I'll make it my business to see that you'll have some kind of protection.' We was in winter quarters then, about a mile from her house. You know, men is hard to manage sometimes, and if I hadn't spoke to some of the officers, the poor thing's little all in the way of chickens and such would have gone. But I told my cap'n about it, and that her husband was killed in the rebel army, and he settled it so that not a man dared to be seen near that hen roost and cow pasture. But I don't know what she'd 'a done for wood if I hadn't looked out for her. I'd drop an armful, and knock at the door, and she'd open it. Then I'd say, 'Will you please to tell me where to put this?' 'Anywhere you like,' she'd say, and go on with her knittin' an' sewin'. It kinder nettled me at first, but she looked so young and pitiful, I couldn't get mad with her. Then somehow that young one got almighty fond of me. Every time I'd pass by that little house--and I got to goin' by purty often--he'd come toddlin' out--he was a handsome youngster--and he'd howl like tarnation if I didn't take him up in my arms. At first his mother--her name's Mary--would look black at me; but one day the little feller took my cap out of my hand, and tried to put it on his own head. 'No, sir,' says I. 'The lady yonder'll think you're poisoned if you put a blue cap on your head.' At that she laughed. I never seen her laugh before."
Kaintuck had pressed his face close to the bars of the window to hear the sergeant's story by this time, and the sergeant had advanced a step or two so that they could talk in a low voice.
"Go on," said Kaintuck. "How did you git the better of her at last?"
"I don't know," answered the sergeant, pulling his cap down a little farther yet, and showing his white teeth in a smile. "First time I told her she was pretty--by George!"
The sergeant stopped short, completely overcome by the recollection.
"Kaintuck, she don't more'n come up to my shoulder, an' she weighs about a hundred pounds, but I thought she was going to whip me then and there. I've been scared nearly to death two or three times during this unpleasantness, but I swear, Kaintuck, if that little widder wasn't the first rebel that started me on the dead run, without makin' some sort of a show of fightin'. However, I felt so mean about showing the white feather that I just determined I wasn't going to be stampeded that way again. So I braced up, an' put on my best uniform, an' went to see her again. She says, 'I'm a rebel, and I'm bound to be one always.' 'That's all right,' says I, 'bein' you're nothin' but a woman, and a mighty little one at that, and ma'am,' says I, 'this thing's goin' to be decided without the slightest reference to which side you are on.' She laughed, and then, without any sort o' warning, she turned her pretty face to the wall and begun to cry. After a while I talked to her sensible like. I says, 'Here you are alone and unprotected. How are you going to bring up that boy? What'll you do when I go away?' She turned white, and held the child in her arms. I said, 'I'll not only do for you, but I'll do for the boy besides. I've got a little money saved up, and he'll have his share of it. He shan't never know what it is not to have a father if you'll marry me, Mary.' So after a while, between crying and kissing the baby, and looking mournfully at the fire, she agreed to marry me if I'd wait till the spring, and in May I'm going to get leave--my cap'n knows all about it--and there'll be one rebel less, I believe, before long, though she does swear she'll never be anything but a rebel."
"Sergeant," said Kaintuck, "how did she take the partin'? Since you've been so free, you won't mind my askin' the question."
The sergeant hesitated, but there was something so strangely sympathetic in poor Kaintuck's humid eyes, and in the ghost of a smile that haunted his patient face, that the sergeant could not but tell. "She behaved like a little soldier till the last. I didn't half like her being so brave. But when she knew she was seein' me for the last time--well--er--I couldn't exactly tell another feller. Anyhow, she had been makin' out all along she was thinkin' about the boy, but I swear I believe she forgot all about the blessed kid. She never told me in so many words, but I kinder suspect she didn't care so much about the dead feller as she thought. It leaked out in little things, that he was kind to her, and she wasn't out of her teens, and I don't believe she was really grown up until she heard he was dead in prison, and she had to look out for herself. Howsomever," said the sergeant, pulling himself together, and laughing again--he was a good-natured fellow--"I've told you a durned sight of spooney stuff."
"An' I won't mention it to the rats, neither," answered Kaintuck.
"It's time for me to be goin'," remarked the sergeant, with a sudden accession of shamefacedness following his confidences.
"And I'm thinkin'," called out Kaintuck after him as he strode away, "that little rebel widder is goin' to git a mighty good feller for a husband!"
For four or five days the sergeant was too busy to go near the prison, but one evening at nightfall, as he was trudging along to his quarters, some one hailed him. It was the chaplain, a small, meek man, as brave as a lion. He and the sergeant had seen service together.
"Is that Sergeant Heywood?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," answered the sergeant, touching his cap.
"There's a poor fellow down at the jail"--everybody called Kaintuck a poor fellow--"who has been asking for you. He's going to die, I think."
The sergeant started. Who ever bestowed kindness and care on a prisoner that did not come to love him finally? "Why, sir?" asked the sergeant, after a pause. "What's the matter with him, sir?"
"Nothing--but death. He is rather an extraordinary fellow. His determination to live brought him through enough to kill ten men. A day or two ago he got a letter, and since then he seems equally determined to die. These cases are not so uncommon, after all. Did you never hear how easily a great strapping Russian soldier dies of homesickness or disappointment--any little thing that takes away the desire of living?"
"May be it's the Russian doctors, sir," replied the sergeant quite gravely. Fear of shot and shell he knew not, but he had been seen to turn pale at the sight of the surgeon's scalpel, and to have crawled out to parade with a shaking ague on him rather than encounter a visit from that same surgeon.
The chaplain smiled. "It's not the doctors this time, though Heaven knows I fear some of these army surgeons myself."
"I didn't think you was afraid of anything, sir, after that day at Cedar Mountain, when the officers kep' ordering you to the rear, and you wouldn't budge a peg."
A faint color crept into the chaplain's sallow face. This humble and unstudied tribute pleased him.
The sergeant was a strict disciplinarian, and knew better than to stand too long talking with his officer, so he touched his cap and moved on.
When he reached the prison, it was already dark. He walked through the long corridor until he reached Kaintuck's cell, in which a lamp--a rare luxury--was burning. To the sergeant's surprise, Kaintuck was up and dressed and sitting on the narrow bed. On his knees was a large new Bible which the chaplain had given him, but which he was not reading. His strange eyes were fixed on the door, and when the sergeant's big figure filled up the doorway, something like joy flashed into his maimed face. He got up and shuffled over to meet the sergeant.
"Why, sergeant," he cried, "I thought you had forgot me!"
"No, I ain't forgot you," answered the sergeant kindly; "but the chaplain told me you was goin' to give us the slip. You don't look like it, though."
The shadow of a smile showed itself in Kaintuck's eyes. He had a sort of primitive humor that delighted in surprises. "Well, I am," he remarked, after a moment; "I feel it. I felt it the minute I got--her letter." Something in his slow soft tone struck the sergeant and stopped the protest on his lips. Kaintuck's life had hung on a thread for the best part of two years, and since he continued to live with great obstinacy in spite of the doctors, he might now die in defiance of them. "I'll tell you," he said, coming up closer to the sergeant and speaking in a distressed and hurried voice; "I ain't told none of 'em--not even the preacher, and he is a good man if he _is_ a preacher. You see, Mary--that's her name--I just called her Polly for a nickname--she's heard down in Jo Daviess County, Kaintucky, that I warn't dead, and she wrote me a letter sayin' she was comin' to me as soon as she was able--for the news kinder upset her, and she always was one of the high-strung kind--and she's goin' to bring my boy--he's named William, and that's my name--but, sergeant--"
Kaintuck seized the sergeant's arm and gripped it hard. Meanwhile at the mention of Jo Daviess County the sergeant had turned a little pale, and he grew paler and paler as Kaintuck kept on.
"Sergeant, I read that letter. It was the dutifulest letter a woman ever wrote. But--but--don't you know a woman can marry a feller, an' be dutiful an' patient, an' all the time her heart's on fire an' eatin' itself away in grief 'cause she's married the wrong feller?" He paused a moment, and then broke out desperately: "And that's the way with Mary. She wasn't but seventeen when I married her. She was too young--she didn't know. An' here I am a mock an' a misery. I ain't fit to earn a livin' for her. She'll faint dead away when she sees this here." He struck his disfigured face savagely, and did not wince with the pain. "It's better for her, an' God knows it's better for me to die. After I got that letter I felt sorter low. The doctors kem in an' talked about my havin' flutterin's at the heart, an' givin' me brandy. Did you ever hear o' brandy curing a broken heart? Sergeant, I tell you I've got a blow worser'n that bullet that shot my jaw away. I didn't mean never to let her know I was alive unless I got cured an' made a man of again, and--and--" Kaintuck dropped weakly down on the side of the bed. The sergeant then noticed that he was of a deathly color, and scarcely able to sit up, much less to stand. But the sergeant too wore a strange look, and his strong hands clinched behind his back were trembling.
Kaintuck, fumbling in the breast of his butternut shirt, produced a little packet done up in white letter-paper, on which something was written, and took from it a tress of chestnut hair, soft and long.
"This writin' is hers," he said, with a curious accent of pride, "and her hair is as long as this all over her head--and wavy."
The sergeant could not read the words because they danced before his eyes, but he knew the handwriting, and on his own breast reposed a lock of hair that matched the one poor Kaintuck showed with such pride. Kaintuck, in the frenzy of his suppressed excitement, did not notice the sergeant's pallor and agitation. He was wrestling furiously and blindly with his fate.
"Now don't you see," he asked, "why I don't want her to come? I ain't got long to live. What's the use o' dragging her through it? An' I can tell you, sergeant, it would be a heap easier to die now than before I seen her an' the boy."
The sergeant turned quietly and walked out of the room. He went down the corridor toward the window that overlooked the court-yard, where everything was black but for occasional patches of moonlight. The grief and horror with which he was overcome had an added sting of conscience. He was an unlettered man, and was not used to arguing morals with himself. He felt oppressed with guilt at allowing Kaintuck to go to his grave without knowing how things really were. But some instinctive common sense restrained him. It would only add a last cruelty of fate to tell him that he had been forgotten and supplanted; and the sergeant, after looking at Kaintuck closely, had adopted the chaplain's opinion that Kaintuck was not long for this world. He did not know how long he had stood at the window, when he became calmer, and returned along the corridor. The lamp was turned up in Kaintuck's cell, and there were two or three men standing over the bed.
"Sinkin' spells. Doctors workin' with him," sententiously remarked the guard to the sergeant, pausing a moment in his regular tramp.
Every day after that the sergeant came to see Kaintuck, and every day Kaintuck's face grew more pinched, and his eyes larger and more pathetic. The doctors first wheedled, then grew angry and scolded Kaintuck. Sometimes he would take the food and medicine prescribed for him, and again he would not; but all the time he traveled steadily toward the grave. Occasionally he endured furious agonies of pain from his wounded jaw, which had suddenly grown violent again; and following that he would lie for hours completely free from pain, and apparently entirely at peace. But the poor sergeant was never at peace. A trouble, a shade, that took the form of an accusing spirit, walked with him all day, and lay down by his side at night. And if Mary should come! The sergeant's heart leaped up into his throat at the bare idea. Nevertheless he haunted the prison and Kaintuck's cell, even when he was not on duty. One afternoon, when Kaintuck had been feebler than usual, sitting by his bed, something like atonement seemed possible to the sergeant.
"Kaintuck," he said, "may be you're troubled in your mind about that boy?"
"I ought to be, but I ain't," answered Kaintuck, who shared the delusion of his class that all humanity should be troubled of many things, and should cherish grief and coddle sorrow. "I say, sergeant, that 'ere little sheep-faced preacher has made me feel different about things. He sets there where you is settin', an' talks to me kinder manly. I ain't never been converted"--here he blushed--"but--but the chaplain he says 'tain't how we _feel_ so much as how we do. He says God will take keer of the child, and his mother too, an' sergeant, I believe it."
The sergeant had a reverent, simple soul, and lifted his cap from his head as Kaintuck spoke God's name. "The chaplain's right," he said, putting his cap back; "and that there same little soft-spoken chaplain ain't any more afraid of bullets than General Grant or General Lee. And I've been thinkin' I'll find that boy of yours, and I'll do a good part by him."
Kaintuck's eyes glistened. "You'll have an orphan asylum soon," he said, remembering that other boy the sergeant had told him he meant to provide for; at which the tall soldier felt his heart sink as with guilt and deception. Presently Kaintuck said:
"I think I'll go to sleep now, sergeant. What you said about lookin' out for the boy has made me feel a heap quieter. Just have an eye to him and his mother once in a while; an', sergeant, I want him to grow up a honest man; do you hear that?--a honest man."
The sergeant went out of the room and down the jail corridor. No prisoner within its walls felt more sad and dispirited than he. Down the wooden stairs he went, and out the door. At the steps outside was a little one-roomed frame building. In it at a table always sat a young officer, who examined the permits of the people who went in, and to whom the corporal of the guard reported. As the sergeant passed the open door of this little room he suddenly caught sight of a woman's figure clothed in black, standing by the table. The officer, contrary to his custom, had risen from his chair, and stood respectfully. The sergeant could not have moved to save his life. He heard the young woman's voice, as low and patient as Kaintuck's:
"I thought, sir, that he was dead. I wouldn't have forgot him or neglected him for anything. I came right away from home, 'way down in Jo Daviess County, as soon as I could."
"You will find him very much changed, madam," answered the young officer, as deferentially as if the poor young country woman was the general's wife. "He has been well attended to, as he was a quiet and well-behaved prisoner, and the doctors have worked faithfully with him."
"I know, that, sir," she replied. "Your men was very good to me when I was alone, and I thought my husband was dead, and I had nobody but my child. The cap'n looked out for me, though I was nothing but a poor woman, and--some others--"
She stopped suddenly, and the color stole into her pallid cheeks, when, looking up, she saw the sergeant standing white and dazed-looking before her. She turned a brilliant red, and then, in an instant, the color dropped out of her face as the mercury drops down in the tube. The officer caught her and placed her in the chair from which he had risen.
"Mary," cried the sergeant, coming forward and taking her hand, "I didn't know it no more than you did. Don't look at me that way. Before God, I never would have deceived you. You know I ain't written you a line since I found this out less'n a week ago."
The young officer clapped his cap on his head and ran out, closing the door after him. He saw how it was in a moment.
"Mary," said the sergeant again, after a pause, "don't you believe me?"
"Yes, I believe you," she answered, recovering herself a little and standing up. She looked so slight and pale in her black dress that the big sergeant's heart smote him with pity. "But I don't think we can see each other any more. I ain't forgetful. The only thing for me and him to do is to get back to Jo Daviess County, and for me to tend and nurse him faithful. That's the only kind o' peace I look for now. It'll be hard on you, but men gets over these things better than women."
"Do they?" cried the sergeant roughly and fiercely. "Do they, I say? I'll get over mine by trying to get to the front all the time, and hopin' some rebel bullet'll end everything. For a man who loves another man's wife has got no place on earth. He's in hell already." Her wide and frightened eyes caused the sergeant a pang of shame at his language and his violence. He hesitated a minute, and then said hurriedly: "I ask your pardon. I ask your pardon for all. Good-by," and strode out of the little room.
But at the very door he came near running over the chaplain. The sergeant's strange looks made the chaplain seize him by the arm, and then the tall man saw that the little man too was agitated. His mouth was twitching, and he looked quite shaken and nervous.
"Do you know Kaintuck is dead?" he said. "It was rather sudden at the last. I have just come from his room. He was a good, simple-hearted fellow, full of love for his wife and child. He had very strange eyes. They retained their brightness to the last."
"For God's sake," cried the sergeant, "his wife's in there!"
The door opened and she came out. She had not heard anything, and she was about to pass them both, holding her head down patiently and deprecatingly. Something in the chaplain's face stopped her, though--and she recognized his clerical attire.
"If you please," she said, "I'm--I'm going to my husband."
The chaplain took her hand and led her inside the prison door, while the sergeant walked rapidly out of the jail yard.
The widow with her child went back to Jo Daviess County. They would have fared hardly, but for some money that came every month addressed to the child. The widow took it very thankfully, for they were poor and plain people, and when the sergeant had told her that he had promised poor Kaintuck to look out for the boy, she thought quite naturally and simply that "looking out" meant wherewith to feed and clothe the child.
The sergeant did not turn up the next spring, but the spring after he came to Jo Daviess County. He was a sergeant still, and wore his worsted chevrons with a pride as honest as a major-general wears his stars. The little widow was not so pale and disheartened as she had been. The sergeant told her that he had got good quarters for her, and the boy could go to the company school, and that a non-commissioned officer's wife had a good billet--to all of which the little woman agreed, and thought it a fine thing to be married to a great tall sergeant. And soon not only she and the sergeant quite forgot poor Kaintuck, but even the little boy grew up to think that the big kind sergeant was his only father.
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Miss Sanborn is one of the brightest of the many bright women who are writing to-day in this country. In this book she tells the story of her own experience, related with a freshness, vivacity, and good humor which will be sure to increase the reader's interest in the subject so well fitted to midsummer reading.
=Appletons' General Guide to the United States and Canada.= With numerous Maps and Illustrations. New edition, revised to date. 12mo. Flexible morocco, with tuck, $2.50.
Part I, separately, New England and Middle States and Canada, cloth, $1.25.
Part II, " Southern and Western States " 1.25.
=Appletons' Canadian Guide-Book.= A Complete Hand-Book of Information concerning Eastern Canada and Newfoundland, including full Descriptions of Routes, Points of Interest, Summer Resorts, Fishing Places, etc. With Maps, numerous Illustrations, and an Appendix giving Fish and Game Laws, and Lessees of Trout and Salmon Rivers. By CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS. 12mo. Flexible cloth, $1.25.
=Appletons' Hand-Book of American Summer Resorts.= With Maps, Illustrations, and Table of Railroad Fares, etc. New edition, revised to date. Large 12mo. Paper, 50 cents.
=Appletons' Dictionary of New York and its Vicinity.= An Alphabetically Arranged Index to all Places, Societies, Institutions, Amusements, etc. With Maps. Revised edition, 1891 (thirteenth year). 16mo. Paper, 30 cents; flexible cloth, 60 cents.
=New York Illustrated.= Containing One Hundred and Forty-three Illustrations of Street Scenes, Buildings, River Views, and other Picturesque Features of the Great Metropolis. With Maps. Large 8vo. Paper, 50 cents.
=Appletons' European Guide-Book.= A Complete Guide for English-speaking Travelers to the Continent of Europe, Egypt, Algeria, and the Holy Land. With a Vocabulary of Travel-Talk in English, German, French, and Italian; a Hotel List, and "Specialties of European Cities"; Maps and Plans of Principal Cities; Information about Steamers, Passports, Expenses, Baggage, Custom-Houses, Couriers, Railway-Traveling, Valets de Place, Languages, Funds, Best Seasons for Visiting Europe, Table of Coins, etc. Two vols., 12mo. Morocco, flexible, gilt edges, $5.00.
=Skeleton Tours= through England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Spain, with cost of each trip for a party of four, etc. By HENRY WINTHROP SARGENT. 18mo. Limp cloth, $1.00.
_For sale by all booksellers, or sent by mail on receipt of price by the publishers_,
D. APPLETON & CO., 1, 3, & 5 Bond Street, New York.
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Blank pages have been eliminated.
Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original.
The book cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.