THE GRADUATE of Edinburgh found his patient rapidly improving in health, and entirely free from fever. His sister, with a cheek that was, if possible, paler than on her arrival, watched around his couch with tender care; and the ladies of the cottage had not, in the midst of their sorrows and varied emotions, forgotten to discharge the duties of hospitality. Frances felt herself impelled towards their disconsolate guest, with an interest for which she could not account, and with a force that she could not control. She had unconsciously connected the fates of Dunwoodie and Isabella in her imagination, and she felt, with the romantic ardor of a generous mind, that she was serving her former lover most by exhibiting kindness to her he loved best. Isabella received her attentions with gratitude, but neither of them indulged in any allusions to the latent source of their uneasiness. The observation of Miss Peyton seldom penetrated beyond things that were visible, and to her the situation of Henry Wharton seemed to furnish an awful excuse for the fading cheeks and tearful eyes of her niece. If Sarah manifested less of care than her sister, still the unpracticed aunt was not at a loss to comprehend the reason. Love is a holy feeling with the virtuous of the female sex, and it hallows all that come within its influence. Although Miss Peyton mourned with sincerity over the danger which threatened her nephew, she well knew that an active campaign was not favorable to love, and the moments that were thus accidentally granted were not to be thrown away.
Several days now passed without any interruption of the usual avocations of the inhabitants of the cottage, or the party at the Four Corners. The former were supporting their fortitude with the certainty of Henrys innocence, and a strong reliance on Dunwoodies exertions in his behalf, and the latter waiting with impatience the intelligence, that was hourly expected, of a conflict, and their orders to depart. Captain Lawton, however, waited for both these events in vain. Letters from the major announced that the enemy, finding that the party which was to coöperate with them had been defeated, and was withdrawn, had retired also behind the works of Fort Washington, where they continued inactive, threatening constantly to strike a blow in revenge for their disgrace. The trooper was enjoined to vigilance, and the letter concluded with a compliment to his honor, zeal, and undoubted bravery.
Extremely flattering, Major Dunwoodie, muttered the dragoon, as he threw down this epistle, and stalked across the floor to quiet his impatience. A proper guard have you selected for this service: let me seeI have to watch over the interests of a crazy, irresolute old man, who does not know whether he belongs to us or to the enemy; four women, three of whom are well enough in themselves, but who are not immensely flattered by my society; and the fourth, who, good as she is, is on the wrong side of forty; some two or three blacks; a talkative housekeeper, that does nothing but chatter about gold and despisables, and signs and omens; and poor George Singleton. Well, a comrade in suffering has a claim on a man,so I ll make the best of it.
As he concluded this soliloquy, the trooper took a seat and began to whistle, to convince himself how little he cared about the matter, when, by throwing his booted leg carelessly round, he upset the canteen that held his whole stock of brandy. The accident was soon repaired, but in replacing the wooden vessel, he observed a billet lying on the bench, on which the liquor had been placed. It was soon opened, and he read, The moon will not rise till after midnighta fit time for deeds of darkness. There was no mistaking the hand; it was clearly the same that had given him the timely warning against assassination, and the trooper continued, for a long time, musing on the nature of these two notices, and the motives that could induce the pedler to favor an implacable enemy in the manner that he had latterly done. That he was a spy of the enemy, Lawton knew; for the fact of his conveying intelligence to the English commander-in-chief, of a party of Americans that were exposed to the enemy was proved most clearly against him on the trial for his life. The consequences of his treason had been avoided, it is true, by a lucky order from Washington, which withdrew the regiment a short time before the British appeared to cut it off, but still the crime was the same. Perhaps, thought the partisan, he wishes to make a friend of me against the event of another capture; but, at all events, he spared my life on one occasion, and saved it on another. I will endeavor to be as generous as himself, and pray that my duty may never interfere with my feelings.
Whether the danger, intimated in the present note, threatened the cottage or his own party, the captain was uncertain; but he inclined to the latter opinion, and determined to beware how he rode abroad in the dark. To a man in a peaceable country, and in times of quiet and order, the indifference with which the partisan regarded the impending danger would be inconceivable. His reflections on the subject were more directed towards devising means to entrap his enemies, than to escape their machinations. But the arrival of the surgeon, who had been to pay his daily visit to the Locusts, interrupted his meditations. Sitgreaves brought an invitation from the mistress of the mansion to Captain Lawton, desiring that the cottage might be honored with his presence at an early hour on that evening.
I think nothing more probable, said the surgeon; there is a chaplain at the cottage from the royal army, who has come out to exchange the British wounded, and who has an order from Colonel Singleton for their delivery. But a more mad project than to remove them now was never adopted.
A very respectable and orderly gentleman, and not unreasonably given to intemperance, judging from the outward symptoms, returned the surgeon; and a man who really says grace in a very regular and appropriate manner.
Certainly, he waits for his cartel; but hasten, John, we have but little time to waste. I will just step up and bleed two or three of the Englishmen who are to move in the morning, in order to anticipate inflammation, and be with you immediately.
The gala suit of Captain Lawton was easily adjusted to his huge frame, and his companion being ready, they once more took their route towards the cottage. Roanoke had been as much benefited by a few days rest as his master; and Lawton ardently wished, as he curbed his gallant steed, on passing the well-remembered rocks, that his treacherous enemy stood before him, mounted and armed as himself. But no enemy, nor any disturbance whatever, interfered with their progress, and they reached the Locusts just as the sun was throwing his setting rays on the valley, and tingeing the tops of the leafless trees with gold. It never required more than a single look to acquaint the trooper with the particulars of every scene that was not uncommonly veiled, and the first survey that he took on entering the house told him more than the observations of a day had put into the possession of Doctor Sitgreaves. Miss Peyton accosted him with a smiling welcome, that exceeded the bounds of ordinary courtesy and which evidently flowed more from feelings that were connected with the heart, than from manner. Frances glided about, tearful and agitated, while Mr. Wharton stood ready to receive them, decked in a suit of velvet that would have been conspicuous in the gayest drawing-room. Colonel Wellmere was in the uniform of an officer of the household troops of his prince, and Isabella Singleton sat in the parlor, clad in the habiliments of joy, but with a countenance that belied her appearance; while her brother by her side looked, with a cheek of flitting color, and an eye of intense interest, like anything but an invalid. As it was the third day that he had left his room, Dr. Sitgreaves, who began to stare about him in stupid wonder, forgot to reprove his patient for imprudence. Into this scene Captain Lawton moved with all the composure and gravity of a man whose nerves were not easily discomposed by novelties. His compliments were received as graciously as they were offered, and after exchanging a few words with the different individuals present, he approached the surgeon, who had withdrawn, in a kind of confused astonishment, to rally his senses.
Is it not a crying shame, that a sunshine -hero, and an enemy, should thus be suffered to steal away one of the fairest plants that grow in our soil, muttered Lawton; a flower fit to be placed in the bosom of any man!
Further conversation was interrupted by Miss Peyton, who, advancing, acquainted them that they had been invited to grace the nuptials of her eldest niece and Colonel Wellmere. The gentlemen bowed; and the good aunt, with an inherent love of propriety, went on to add, that the acquaintance was of an old date, and the attachment by no means a sudden thing. To this Lawton merely bowed still more ceremoniously; but the surgeon, who loved to hold converse with the virgin, replied,
That the human mind was differently constituted in different individuals. In some, impressions are vivid and transitory; in others, more deep and lasting: indeed, there are some philosophers who pretend to trace a connection between the physical and mental powers of the animal; but, for my part, madam, I believe that the one is much influenced by habit and association, and the other subject altogether to the peculiar laws of matter.
Miss Peyton, in her turn, bowed her silent assent to this remark, and retired with dignity, to usher the intended bride into the presence of the company. The hour had arrived when American custom has decreed that the vows of wedlock must be exchanged; and Sarah, blushing with a variety of emotions, followed her aunt to the drawing-room. Wellmere sprang to receive the hand that, with an averted face, she extended towards him, and, for the first time, the English colonel appeared fully conscious of the important part that he was to act in the approaching ceremony. Hitherto his air had been abstracted, and his manner uneasy; but everything, excepting the certainty of his bliss, seemed to vanish at the blaze of loveliness that now burst on his sight. All arose from their seats, and the reverend gentleman had already opened the sacred volume, when the absence of Frances was noticed: Miss Peyton withdrew in search of her youngest niece, whom she found in her own apartment, and in tears.
Come, my love, the ceremony waits but for us, said the aunt, affectionately entwining her arm in that of her niece; endeavor to compose yourself, that proper honor may be done to the choice of your sister.
Frances had given vent to her feelings, and, with an effort, she collected sufficient resolution to venture to join the party below. But to relieve the embarrassment of this delay, the clergyman had put sundry questions to the bridegroom; one of which was by no means answered to his satisfaction. Wellmere was compelled to acknowledge that he was unprovided with a ring; and to perform the marriage ceremony without one, the divine pronounced to be canonically impossible. His appeal to Mr. Wharton, for the propriety of this decision, was answered affirmatively, as it would have been negatively, had the question been put in a manner to lead to such a result. The owner of the Locusts had lost the little energy he possessed, by the blow recently received through his son, and his assent to the objection of the clergyman was as easily obtained as had been his consent to the premature proposals of Wellmere. In this stage of the dilemma, Miss Peyton and Frances appeared. The surgeon of dragoons approached the former, and as he handed her to a chair, observed,
It appears, madam, that untoward circumstances have prevented Colonel Wellmere from providing all of the decorations that custom, antiquity, and the canons of the church have prescribed, as indispensable to enter into the honorable state of wedlock.
Miss Peyton glanced her quiet eye at the uneasy bridegroom, and perceiving him to be adorned with what she thought sufficient splendor, allowing for the time and the suddenness of the occasion, she turned her look on the speaker, as if to demand an explanation.
There is, he observed, an opinion prevalent, that the heart lies on the left side of the body, and that the connection between the members of that side and what may be called the seat of life is more intimate than that which exists with their opposites. But this is an error which grows out of an ignorance of the organic arrangement of the human frame. In obedience to this opinion, the fourth finger of the left hand is thought to contain a virtue that belongs to no other branch of that digitated member; and it is ordinarily encircled, during the solemnization of wedlock, with a cincture or ring, as if to chain that affection to the marriage state, which is best secured by the graces of the female character. While speaking, the operator laid his hand expressively on his heart, and he bowed nearly to the floor when he had concluded.
The instant that the surgeon spoke explicitly, the awkwardness of the situation was understood. She glanced her eyes at her nieces, and in the younger she read a secret exultation that somewhat displeased her; but the countenance of Sarah was suffused with a shame that the considerate aunt well understood. Not for the world would she violate any of the observances of female etiquette. It suggested itself to all the females, at the same moment, that the wedding-ring of the late mother and sister was reposing peacefully amid the rest of her jewelry in a secret receptacle, that had been provided at an early day, to secure the valuables against the predatory inroads of the marauders who roamed through the county. Into this hidden vault, the plate, and whatever was most prized, made a nightly retreat, and there the ring in question had long lain, forgotten until at this moment. But it was the business of the bridegroom, from time immemorial, to furnish this indispensable to wedlock, and on no account would Miss Peyton do anything that transcended the usual reserve of the sex on this solemn occasion; certainly not until sufficient expiation for the offense had been made, by a due portion of trouble and disquiet. This material fact, therefore, was not disclosed by either; the aunt consulting female propriety; the bride yielding to shame; and Frances rejoicing that an embarrassment, proceeding from almost any cause, should delay her sisters vow. It was reserved for Doctor Sitgreaves to interrupt the awkward silence.
If, madam, a plain ring, that once belonged to a sister of my own He paused and hemmedIf, madam, a ring of that description might be admitted to this honor, I have one that could be easily produced from my quarters at the Corners, and I doubt not it would fit the finger for which it is desired. There is a strong resemblance betweenhembetween my late sister and Miss Wharton in stature and anatomical figure: and, in all eligible subjects, the proportions are apt to be observed throughout the whole animal economy.
A glance of Miss Peytons eye recalled Colonel Wellmere to a sense of his duty, and springing from his chair, he assured the surgeon that in no way could he confer a greater obligation on himself than by sending for that very ring. The operator bowed a little haughtily, and withdrew to fulfill his promise, by dispatching a messenger on the errand. The aunt suffered him to retire; but unwillingness to admit a stranger into the privacy of their domestic arrangements induced her to follow and tender the services of Cæsar, instead of those of Sitgreaves man, who had volunteered for this duty. Katy Haynes was accordingly directed to summon the black to the vacant parlor, and thither Miss Peyton and the surgeon repaired, to give their several instructions.
The consent to this sudden union of Sarah and Wellmere, and especially at a time when the life of a member of the family was in such imminent jeopardy, was given from a conviction that the unsettled state of the country would probably prevent another opportunity to the lovers of meeting, and a secret dread on the part of Mr. Wharton, that the death of his son might, by hastening his own, leave his remaining children without a protector. But notwithstanding Miss Peyton had complied with her brothers wish to profit by the accidental visit of a divine, she had not thought it necessary to blazon the intended nuptials of her niece to the neighborhood, had even time been allowed: she thought, therefore, that she was now communicating a profound secret to the negro, and her housekeeper.
Really, Cæsar, I find I have never given you credit for half the observation that you deserve; but as you already know on what emergency your services are required, listen to the directions of this gentleman, and take care to observe them strictly.
Cæsar, your mistress has already acquainted you with the important event about to be solemnized within this habitation; but a cincture or ring is wanting to encircle the finger of the bride; a custom derived from the ancients, and which has been continued in the marriage forms of several branches of the Christian church, and which is even, by a species of typical wedlock, used in the installation of prelates, as you doubtless understand.
Praps Massa Doctor will say him over agin, interrupted the old negro, whose memory began to fail him, just as the other made so confident an allusion to his powers of comprehension; I tink I get him by heart dis time.
It is impossible to gather honey from a rock, Cæsar, and therefore I will abridge the little I have to say. Ride to the Four Corners, and present this note to Sergeant Hollister, or to Mrs. Elizabeth Flanagan, either of whom will furnish the necessary pledge of connubial affection; and return forthwith.
The letter which the surgeon put into the hands of his messenger, as he ceased, was conceived in the following terms:
If the fever has left Kinder, give him nourishment. Take three ounces more of blood from Watson. Have a search made that the woman Flanagan has left none of her jugs of alcohol in the hospital. Renew the dressings of Johnson, and dismiss Smith to duty. Send the ring, which is pendent from the chain of the watch, that I left with you to time the doses, by the bearer.
ARCHIBALD SITGREAVES, M.D., Surgeon of Dragoons.
Cæsar, said Katy, when she was alone with the black, put the ring, when you get it, in your left pocket, for that is nearest your heart; and by no means endeavor to try it on your finger, for it is unlucky.
T is not consequential whether it goes on or not, said the housekeeper; but it is an evil omen to place a marriage-ring on the finger of another after wedlock, and of course it may be dangerous before.
Go, then, Cæsar, and do not forget the left pocket; be careful to take off your hat as you pass the graveyard, and be expeditious; for nothing, I am certain, can be more trying to the patience, than thus to be waiting for the ceremony, when a body has fully made up her mind to marry.
With this injunction Cæsar quitted the house, and he was soon firmly fixed in the saddle. From his youth, the black, like all of his race, had been a hard rider; but, bending under the weight of sixty winters, his African blood had lost some of its native heat. The night was dark, and the wind whistled through the vale with the dreariness of November. When Cæsar reached the graveyard, he uncovered his grizzled head with superstitious awe, and threw around him many a fearful glance, in momentary expectation of seeing something superhuman. There was sufficient light to discern a being of earthly mould stealing from among the graves, apparently with a design to enter the highway. It is in vain that philosophy and reason contend with early impressions, and poor Cæsar was even without the support of either of these frail allies. He was, however, well mounted on a coach-horse of Mr. Whartons and, clinging to the back of the animal with instinctive skill, he abandoned the rein to the beast. Hillocks, woods, rocks, fences, and houses flew by him with the rapidity of lightning, and the black had just begun to think whither and on what business he was riding in this headlong manner, when he reached the place where the roads met, and the Hotel Flanagan stood before him in its dilapidated simplicity. The sight of a cheerful fire first told the negro that he had reached the habitation of man, and with it came all his dread of the bloody Virginians; his duty must, however, be done, and, dismounting, he fastened the foaming animal to a fence, and approached the window with cautious steps, to reconnoitre.
I tell ye, sargeant, dear, said Betty, removing the mug from her mouth, t is no rasonable to think it was more than the pidler himself; sure now, where was the smell of sulphur, and the wings, and the tail, and the cloven foot?besides, sargeant, it s no dacent to tell a lone famale that she had Beelzeboob for a bedfellow.
Cæsar heard enough to convince him that little danger from this pair was to be apprehended. His teeth already began to chatter, and the cold without and the comfort within stimulated him greatly to enter. He made his approaches with proper caution, and knocked with extreme humility. The appearance of Hollister with a drawn sword, roughly demanding who was without, contributed in no degree to the restoration of his faculties; but fear itself lent him power to explain his errand.
T was Doctor Sitgreaves; he never knows the countersign himself. Now, blackey, had it been Captain Lawton, he would not have sent you here, close to a sentinel, without the countersign; for you might get a pistol bullet through your head, and that would be cruel to you; for although you be black, I am none of them who thinks niggers have no souls.
Sure a nagur has as much sowl as a white, said Betty; come hither, ould man, and warm that shivering carcase of yeers by the blaze of this fire. I m sure a Guinea nagur loves hate as much as a soldier loves his drop.
Here, said the washerwoman, tendering to Cæsar a taste of the article that most delighted herself, try a drop, smooty, t will warm the black sowl within your crazy body, and be giving you spirits as you are going homeward.
I tell you, Elizabeth, said the sergeant, that the souls of niggers are the same as our own; how often have I heard the good Mr. Whitfield say that there was no distinction of color in heaven. Therefore it is reasonable to believe that the soul of this here black is as white as my own, or even Major Dunwoodies.
For the matter of that, returned the veteran, there is one above even Washington, to judge of souls; but this I will say, that Major Dunwoodie is a gentleman who never says, Go, boysbut always says, Come, boys; and if a poor fellow is in want of a spur or a martingale, and the leather-whack is gone, there is never wanting the real silver to make up the loss, and that from his own pocket too.
Why, then, are you here idle when all that he holds most dear are in danger? cried a voice with startling abruptness; mount, mount, and follow your captain; arm and mount, and that instantly, or you will be too late!
This unexpected interruption produced an instantaneous confusion amongst the tipplers. Cæsar fled instinctively into the fire-place, where he maintained his position in defiance of a heat that would have roasted a white man. Sergeant Hollister turned promptly on his heel, and seizing big sabre, the steel was glittering by the firelight, in the twinkling of an eye; but perceiving the intruder to be the pedler, who stood near the open door that led to the lean-to in the rear, he began to fall back towards the position of the black, with a military intuition that taught him to concentrate his forces. Betty alone stood her ground, by the side of the temporary table. Replenishing the mug with a large addition of the article known to the soldiery by the name of choke-dog, she held it towards the pedler. The eyes of the washerwoman had for some time been swimming with love and liquor, and turning them good-naturedly on Birch, she cried,
Faith, but ye re wilcome, Mister Piddler, or Mister Birch, or Mister Beelzeboob, or what s yeer name. Ye re an honest divil any way, and I m hoping that you found the pitticoats convanient. Come forward, dear, and fale the fire; Sergeant Hollister wont be hurting you, for the fear of an ill turn you may be doing him hereafterwill ye, sargeant dear?
Depart, ungodly man! cried the veteran, edging still nearer to Cæsar, but lifting his legs alternately as they scorched with the heat, depart in peace! There is none here for thy service, and you seek the woman in vain. There is a tender mercy that will save her from thy talons. The sergeant ceased to utter aloud, but the motion of his lips continued, and a few scattering words of prayer were alone audible.
If it s me the man saaks, where s the matter, pray? Am I not a widowed body, and my own property? And you talk of tinderness, sargeant, but it s little I see of it, any way: who knows but Mr. Beelzeboob here is free to speak his mind? I m sure it is willing to hear I am.
Woman, said the pedler, be silent; and you, foolish man, mountarm and mount, and fly to the rescue of your officer, if you are worthy of the cause in which you serve, and would not disgrace the coat you wear. The pedler vanished from the sight of the bewildered trio, with a rapidity that left them uncertain whither he had fled.
Pooh! sargeant dear, exclaimed the washerwoman, talk rason for once, and mind what the knowing one tells ye; call out the boys, and ride a bit after Captain Jack; rimimber, darling, that he told ye, the day, to be in readiness to mount at a moments warning.
No more are we, in battle array, and by daylight; but it s foolhardy and irreverent to tempt Satan, and on such a night as this: listen how the wind whistles through the trees; and hark! there is the howling of evil spirits abroad.
Ah! then he must have led an evil life indeed, said Hollister; the blessed in spirit lie quiet until the general muster, but wickedness disturbs the soul in this life as well as in that which is to come.
And what is to come of Captain Jack? cried Betty, angrily; is it yeer orders that ye wont mind, nor a warning given? I ll jist git my cart, and ride down and tell him that ye re afeard of a dead man and Beelzeboob; and it is nt succor he may be expicting from ye. I wonder who ll be the orderly of the troop the morrow, then?his name wont be Hollister, any way.
Nay, Betty, nay, said the sergeant, laying his hand familiarly on her shoulder; if there must be riding to-night, let it be by him whose duty it is to call out the men and set an example. The Lord have mercy, and send us enemies of flesh and blood!
Another glass confirmed the veteran in a resolution that was only excited by a dread of his captains displeasure, and he proceeded to summon the dozen men who had been left under his command. The boy arriving with the ring, Cæsar placed it carefully in the pocket of his waistcoat next his heart, and, mounting, shut his eyes, seized his charger by the mane, and continued in a state of comparative insensibility, until the animal stopped at the door of the warm stable whence he had started.