BY MARY JOHNSTON
AUTHOR OF "TO HAVE AND TO HOLD" AND "PRISONERS OF HOPE"
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY F.C. YOHN
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1902
COPYRIGHT, 1901, 1902, BY MARY JOHNSTON COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published February, 1902
Books by Mary Johnston.
AUDREY. With Illustrations in color. Crown 8vo, $1.50
PRISONERS OF HOPE. With Frontispiece. Crown 8vo, $1.50.
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD. With 8 Illustrations by HOWARD PYLE, E.B. THOMPSON, A.W. BETTS, and EMLEN McCONNELL. Crown 8vo, $1.50.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN & CO. BOSTON AND NEW YORK.
TO ELOISE, ANNE, AND ELIZABETH
CHAPTER TITLE PAGE
I. THE CABIN IN THE VALLEY 1
II. THE COURT OF THE ORPHAN 16
III. DARDEN'S AUDREY 38
IV. THE ROAD TO WILLIAMSBURGH 52
V. THE STOREKEEPER 63
VI. MASTER AND MAN 73
VII. THE RETURN OF MONSIEUR JEAN HUGON 92
VIII. UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE 106
IX. MACLEAN TO THE RESCUE 117
X. HAWARD AND EVELYN 131
XI. AUDREY OF THE GARDEN 145
XII. THE PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN 163
XIII. A SABBATH DAY'S JOURNEY 179
XIV. THE BEND IN THE ROAD 194
XV. HUGON SPEAKS HIS MIND 206
XVI. AUDREY AND EVELYN 222
XVII. WITHIN THE PLAYHOUSE 237
XVIII. A QUESTION OF COLORS 249
XIX. THE GOVERNOR'S BALL 262
XX. THE UNINVITED GUEST 273
XXI. AUDREY AWAKES 287
XXII. BY THE RIVERSIDE 300
XXIII. A DUEL 312
XXIV. AUDREY COMES TO WESTOVER 322
XXV. TWO WOMEN 337
XXVI. SANCTUARY 349
XXVII. THE MISSION OF TRUELOVE 363
XXVIII. THE PLAYER 375
XXIX. AMOR VINCIT 391
XXX. THE LAST ACT 402
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
GAZED WITH WIDE-OPEN EYES AT THE INTRUDER (page 106) Frontispiece
"HAD YOU LOVED ME—I HAD BEEN HAPPY" 58
AUDREY LEFT HER WARNING TO BE SPOKEN BY MACLEAN 206
"I DO NOT THINK I HAVE THE HONOR OF KNOWING"— 270
HER DARK EYES MADE APPEAL 342
"JEAN! JEAN HUGON!" 414
THE CABIN IN THE VALLEY
The valley lay like a ribbon thrown into the midst of the encompassing hills. The grass which grew there was soft and fine and abundant; the trees which sprang from its dark, rich mould were tall and great of girth. A bright stream flashed through it, and the sunshine fell warm upon the grass and changed the tassels of the maize into golden plumes. Above the valley, east and north and south, rose the hills, clad in living green, mantled with the purpling grape, wreathed morn and eve with trailing mist. To the westward were the mountains, and they dwelt apart in a blue haze. Only in the morning, if the mist were not there, the sunrise struck upon their long summits, and in the evening they stood out, high and black and fearful, against the splendid sky. The child who played beside the cabin door often watched them as the valley filled with shadows, and thought of them as a great wall between her and some land of the fairies which must needs lie beyond that barrier, beneath the splendor and the evening star. The Indians called them the Endless Mountains, and the child never doubted that they ran across the world and touched the floor of heaven.
In the hands of the woman who was spinning the thread broke and the song died in the white throat of the girl who stood in the doorway. For a moment the two gazed with widening eyes into the green September world without the cabin; then the woman sprang to her feet, tore from the wall a horn, and, running to the door, wound it lustily. The echoes from the hills had not died when a man and a boy, the one bearing a musket, the other an axe, burst from the shadow of the forest, and at a run crossed the greensward and the field of maize between them and the women. The child let fall her pine cones and pebbles, and fled to her mother, to cling to her skirts, and look with brown, frightened eyes for the wonder that should follow the winding of the horn. Only twice could she remember that clear summons for her father: once when it was winter and snow was on the ground, and a great wolf, gaunt and bold, had fallen upon their sheep; and once when a drunken trader from Germanna, with a Pamunkey who had tasted of the trader's rum, had not waited for an invitation before entering the cabin. It was not winter now, and there was no sign of the red-faced trader or of the dreadful, capering Indian. There was only a sound in the air, a strange noise coming to them from the pass between the hills over which rose the sun.
The man with the musket sent his voice before him as he approached the group upon the doorstep: "Alce, woman! What's amiss? I see naught wrong!"
His wife stepped forward to meet him. "There's naught to see, William. It's to hear. There was a noise. Molly and I heard it, and then we lost it. There it is again!"
Fronting the cabin, beyond the maize field and the rich green grass and the placid stream, rose two hills, steep and thickly wooded, and between them ran a narrow, winding, and rocky pass. Down this gorge, to the listening pioneer, now came a confused and trampling sound.
"It is iron striking against the rocks!" he announced. "The hoofs of horses"—
"Iron!" cried his wife. "The horses in Virginia go unshod! And what should a troop of horse do here, beyond the frontier, where even the rangers never come?"
The man shook his head, a frown of perplexity upon his bronzed and bearded face. "It is the sound of the hoofs of horses," he said, "and they are coming through the pass. Hark!"
A trumpet blew, and there came a noise of laughter. The child pressed close to her brother's side. "Oh, Robin, maybe 't is the fairies!"
Out from the gloom of the pass into the sunshine of the valley, splashing through the stream, trampling the long grass, laughing, and calling one rider to the other, burst a company of fifty horsemen. The trumpet blew again, and the entire party, drawing rein, stared at the unexpected maize field, the cabin, and the people about the door.
Between the intruders and the lonely folk, whose nearest neighbors were twenty miles away, was only a strip of sunny grass, dotted over with the stumps of trees that had been felled lest they afford cover for attacking savages. A man, riding at the head of the invading party, beckoned, somewhat imperiously, to the pioneer; and the latter, still with his musket in the hollow of his arm, strode across the greensward, and finding himself in the midst, not of rude traders and rangers, but of easy, smiling, periwigged gentlemen, handsomely dressed and accoutred, dropped the butt of his gun upon the ground, and took off his squirrel-skin cap.
"You are deep in the wilderness, good fellow," said the man who had beckoned, and who was possessed of a stately figure, a martial countenance, and an air of great authority. "How far is it to the mountains?"
The pioneer stared at the long blue range, cloudlike in the distance. "I don't know," he answered. "I hunt to the eastward. Twenty miles, maybe. You're never going to climb them?"
"We are come out expressly to do so," answered the other heartily, "having a mind to drink the King's health with our heads in the clouds! We need another axeman to clear away the fallen trees and break the nets of grapevine. Wilt go along amongst our rangers yonder, and earn a pistole and undying fame?"
The woodsman looked from the knot of gentlemen to the troop of hardy rangers, who, with a dozen ebony servants and four Meherrin Indians, made up the company. Under charge of the slaves were a number of packhorses. Thrown across one was a noble deer; a second bore a brace of wild turkeys and a two-year-old bear, fat and tender; a third had a legion of pots and pans for the cooking of the woodland cheer; while the burden of several others promised heart's content of good liquor. From the entire troop breathed a most enticing air of gay daring and good-fellowship. The gentlemen were young and of cheerful countenances; the rangers in the rear sat their horses and whistled to the woodpeckers in the sugar-trees; the negroes grinned broadly; even the Indians appeared a shade less saturnine than usual. The golden sunshine poured upon them all, and the blue mountains that no Englishman had ever passed seemed for the moment as soft and yielding as the cloud that slept along their summits. And no man knew what might be just beyond the mountains: Frenchmen, certainly, and the great lakes and the South Sea: but, besides these, might there not be gold, glittering stones, new birds and beasts and plants, strange secrets of the hills? It was only westward-ho! for a week or two, with good company and good drink—
The woodsman shifted from one foot to the other, but his wife, who had now crossed the grass to his side, had no doubts.
"You'll not go, William!" she cried. "Remember the smoke that you saw yesterday from the hilltop! If the Northern Indians are on the warpath against the Southern, and are passing between us and the mountains, there may be straying bands. I'll not let you go!"
In her eagerness she clasped his arm with her hands. She was a comely, buxom dame, and the circle on horseback, being for the most part young and gallant, and not having seen a woman for some days, looked kindly upon her.
"And so you saw a smoke, goodwife, and are afraid of roving Indians?" said the gentleman who had spoken before. "That being the case, your husband has our permission to stay behind. On my life, 't is a shame to ride away and leave you in danger of such marauders!"
"Will your Excellency permit me to volunteer for guard duty?" demanded a young man who had pressed his horse to the leader's side. "It's odds, though, that when you return this way you'll find me turned Papist. I'll swear your Excellency never saw in Flanders carved or painted saint so worthy of your prayers as yonder breathing one!"
The girl Molly had followed her parents, and now stood upon a little grassy knoll, surveying with wide brown eyes the gay troop before her. A light wind was blowing, and it wrapped her dress of tender, faded blue around her young limbs, and lifted her loosened hair, gilded by the sunshine into the likeness of an aureole. Her face was serious and wondering, but fair as a woodland flower. She had placed her hand upon the head of the child who was with her, clinging to her dress. The green knoll formed a pedestal; behind was the sky, as blue as that of Italy; the two figures might have been some painted altar-piece.
The sprightly company, which had taken for its motto "Sic juvat transcendere montes," looked and worshiped. There was a moment of silent devotion, broken by one of the gentlemen demanding if 't were not time for dinner; another remarked that they might go much farther and fare much worse, in respect of a cool, sweet spot in which to rest during the heat of the afternoon; and a third boldly proposed that they go no farther at all that day. Their leader settled the question by announcing that, Mr. Mason's suggestion finding favor in his sight, they would forthwith dismount, dine, drink red wine and white, and wear out the heat of the day in this sylvan paradise until four of the clock, when the trumpet should sound for the mount; also, that if the goodwife and her daughter would do them the honor to partake of their rustic fare, their healths should be drunk in nothing less than Burgundy.
As he spoke he swung himself from the saddle, pulled out his ruffles, and raised his hat. "Ladies, permit me,"—a wave of his hand toward his escort, who were now also on foot. "Colonel Robertson, Captain Clonder, Captain Brooke, Mr. Haward, Mr. Beverley, Dr. Robinson, Mr. Fontaine, Mr. Todd, Mr. Mason,—all of the Tramontane Order. For myself, I am Alexander Spotswood, at your service."
The pioneer, standing behind his wife, plucked her by the sleeve. "Ecod, Alce, 't is the Governor himself! Mind your manners!"
Alce, who had been a red-cheeked dairymaid in a great house in England, needed no admonition. Her curtsy was profound; and when the Governor took her by the hand and kissed her still blooming cheek, she curtsied again. Molly, who had no memories of fine gentlemen and the complaisance which was their due, blushed fire-red at the touch of his Excellency's lips, forgot to curtsy, and knew not where to look. When, in her confusion, she turned her head aside, her eyes met those of the young man who had threatened to turn Papist. He bowed, with his hand upon his heart, and she blushed more deeply than before.
By now every man had dismounted, and the valley was ringing with the merriment of the jovial crew. The negroes led the horses down the stream, lightened them of saddle and bridle, and left them tethered to saplings beneath which the grass grew long and green. The rangers gathered fallen wood, and kindled two mighty fires, while the gentlemen of the party threw themselves down beside the stream, upon a little grassy rise shadowed by a huge sugar-tree. A mound of turf, flanked by two spreading roots, was the Governor's chair of state, and Alce and Molly he must needs seat beside him. Not one of his gay company but seemed an adept in the high-flown compliment of the age; out of very idleness and the mirth born of that summer hour they followed his Excellency's lead, and plied the two simple women with all the wordy ammunition that a tolerable acquaintance with the mythology of the ancients and the polite literature of the present could furnish. The mother and daughter did not understand the fine speeches, but liked them passing well. In their lonely lives, a little thing made conversation for many and many a day. As for these golden hours,—the jingle and clank and mellow laughter, the ruffles and gold buttons and fine cloth, these gentlemen, young and handsome, friendly-eyed, silver-tongued, the taste of wine, the taste of flattery, the sunshine that surely was never yet so bright,—ten years from now they would still be talking of these things, still wishing that such a day could come again.
The negroes were now busy around the fires, and soon the cheerful odor of broiling meat rose and blended with the fragrance of the forest. The pioneer, hospitably minded, beckoned to the four Meherrins, and hastening with them to the patch of waving corn, returned with a goodly lading of plump, green ears. A second foraging party, under guidance of the boy, brought into the larder of the gentry half a dozen noble melons, golden within and without. The woman whispered to the child, and the latter ran to the cabin, filled her upgathered skirts with the loaves of her mother's baking, and came back to the group upon the knoll beneath the sugar-tree. The Governor himself took the bread from the little maid, then drew her toward him.
"Thanks, my pretty one," he said, with a smile that for the moment quite dispelled the expression of haughtiness which marred an otherwise comely countenance. "Come, give me a kiss, sweeting, and tell me thy name."
The child looked at him gravely. "My name is Audrey," she answered, "and if you eat all of our bread we'll have none for supper."
The Governor laughed, and kissed the small dark face. "I'll give thee a gold moidore, instead, my maid. Odso! thou'rt as dark and wild, almost, as was my little Queen of the Saponies that died last year. Hast never been away from the mountains, child?"
Audrey shook her head, and thought the question but a foolish one. The mountains were everywhere. Had she not been to the top of the hills, and seen for herself that they went from one edge of the world to the other? She was glad to slip from the Governor's encircling arm, and from the gay ring beneath the sugar-tree; to take refuge with herself down by the water side, and watch the fairy tale from afar off.
The rangers, with the pioneer and his son for their guests, dined beside the kitchen fire, which they had kindled at a respectful distance from the group upon the knoll. Active, bronzed and daring men, wild riders, bold fighters, lovers of the freedom of the woods, they sprawled upon the dark earth beneath the walnut-trees, laughed and joked, and told old tales of hunting or of Indian warfare. The four Meherrins ate apart and in stately silence, but the grinning negroes must needs endure their hunger until their masters should be served. One black detachment spread before the gentlemen of the expedition a damask cloth; another placed upon the snowy field platters of smoking venison and turkey, flanked by rockahominy and sea-biscuit, corn roasted Indian fashion, golden melons, and a quantity of wild grapes gathered from the vines that rioted over the hillside; while a third set down, with due solemnity, a formidable array of bottles. There being no chaplain in the party, the grace was short. The two captains carved, but every man was his own Ganymede. The wines were good and abundant: there was champagne for the King's health; claret in which to pledge themselves, gay stormers of the mountains; Burgundy for the oreads who were so gracious as to sit beside them, smile upon them, taste of their mortal fare.
Sooth to say, the oreads were somewhat dazed by the company they were keeping, and found the wine a more potent brew than the liquid crystal of their mountain streams. Red roses bloomed in Molly's cheeks; her eyes grew starry, and no longer sought the ground; when one of the gentlemen wove a chaplet of oak leaves, and with it crowned her loosened hair, she laughed, and the sound was so silvery and delightful that the company laughed with her. When the viands were gone, the negroes drew the cloth, but left the wine. When the wine was well-nigh spent, they brought to their masters long pipes and japanned boxes filled with sweet-scented. The fragrant smoke, arising, wrapped the knoll in a bluish haze. A wind had arisen, tempering the blazing sunshine, and making low music up and down the hillsides. The maples blossomed into silver, the restless poplar leaves danced more and more madly, the hemlocks and great white pines waved their broad, dark banners. Above the hilltops the sky was very blue, and the distant heights seemed dream mountains and easy of climbing. A soft and pleasing indolence, born of the afternoon, the sunlight, and the red wine, came to dwell in the valley. One of the company beneath the spreading sugar-tree laid his pipe upon the grass, clasped his hands behind his head, and, with his eyes on the azure heaven showing between branch and leaf, sang the song of Amiens of such another tree in such another forest. The voice was manly, strong, and sweet; the rangers quit their talk of war and hunting to listen, and the negroes, down by the fire which they had built for themselves, laughed for very pleasure.
When the wine was all drunken and the smoke of the tobacco quite blown away, a gentleman who seemed of a somewhat saturnine disposition, and less susceptible than his brother adventurers to the charms of the wood nymphs, rose, and declared that he would go a-fishing in the dark crystal of the stream below. His servant brought him hook and line, while the grasshoppers in the tall grass served for bait. A rock jutting over the flood formed a convenient seat, and a tulip-tree lent a grateful shade. The fish were abundant and obliging; the fisherman was happy. Three shining trophies had been landed, and he was in the act of baiting the hook that should capture the fourth, when his eyes chanced to meet the eyes of the child Audrey, who had left her covert of purple-berried alder, and now stood beside him. Tithonus, green and hale, skipped from between his fingers, and he let fall his line to put out a good-natured hand and draw the child down to a seat upon the rock. "Wouldst like to try thy skill, moppet?" he demanded.
The child shook her head. "Are you a prince?" she asked, "and is the grand gentleman with, the long hair and the purple coat the King?"
The fisherman laughed. "No, little one, I'm only a poor ensign. The gentleman yonder, being the representative in Virginia of my Lord of Orkney and his Majesty King George the First, may somewhat smack of royalty. Indeed, there are good Virginians who think that were the King himself amongst us he could not more thoroughly play my Lord Absolute. But he's only the Governor of Virginia, after all, bright eyes."
"Does he live in a palace, like the King? My father once saw the King's house in a place they call London."
The gentleman laughed again. "Ay, he lives in a palace, a red brick palace, sixty feet long and forty feet deep, with a bauble on top that's all afire on birth-nights. There are green gardens, too, with winding paths, and sometimes pretty ladies walk in them. Wouldst like to see all these fine things?"
The child nodded. "Ay, that I would! Who is the gentleman that sang, and that now sits by Molly? See! with his hand touching her hair. Is he a Governor, too?"
The other glanced in the direction of the sugar-tree, raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and returned to his fishing. "That is Mr. Marmaduke Haward," he said, "who, having just come into a great estate, goes abroad next month to be taught the newest, most genteel mode of squandering it. Dost not like his looks, child? Half the ladies of Williamsburgh are enamored of his beaux yeux."
Audrey made no answer, for just then the trumpet blew for the mount, and the fisherman must needs draw in and pocket his hook and line. Clear, high, and sweet, the triumphant notes pierced the air, and were answered from the hills by a thousand fairy horns. The martial-minded Governor would play the soldier in the wilderness; his little troop of gentlemen and rangers and ebony servants had come out well drilled for their tilt against the mountains. The echoes were still ringing, when, with laughter, some expenditure of wit, and much cheerful swearing, the camp was struck. The packhorses were again laden, the rangers swung themselves into their saddles, and the gentlemen beneath the sugar-tree rose from the grass, and tendered their farewells to the oreads.
Alce roundly hoped that their Honors would pass that way again upon their return from the high mountains, and the deepening rose of Molly's cheeks and her wistful eyes added weight to her mother's importunity. The Governor swore that in no great time they would dine again in the valley, and his companions confirmed the oath. His Excellency, turning to mount his horse, found the pioneer at the animal's head.
"So, honest fellow," he exclaimed good-naturedly, "you will not with us to grave your name upon the mountain tops? Let me tell you that you are giving Fame the go-by. To march against the mountains and overcome them as though they were so many Frenchmen, and then to gaze into the promised land beyond—Odso, man, we are as great as were Cortez and Pizarro and their crew! We are heroes and paladins! We are the Knights of"—
His horse, impatient to be gone, struck with a ringing sound an iron-shod hoof against a bit of rock. "The Knights of the Horseshoe," said the gentleman nearest the Governor.
Spotswood uttered a delighted exclamation: "'Gad, Mr. Haward, you've hit it! Well-nigh the first horseshoes used in Virginia—the number we were forced to bring along—the sound of the iron against the rocks—the Knights of the Horseshoe! 'Gad, I'll send to London and have little horseshoes—little gold horseshoes—made, and every man of us shall wear one. The Knights of the Golden Horseshoe! It hath an odd, charming sound, eh, gentlemen?"
None of the gentlemen were prepared to deny that it was a quaint and pleasing title. Instead, out of very lightness of heart and fantastic humor, they must needs have the Burgundy again unpacked, that they might pledge at once all valorous discoverers, his Excellency the Governor of Virginia, and their new-named order. And when the wine was drunk, the rangers were drawn up, the muskets were loaded, and a volley was fired that brought the echoes crashing about their heads. The Governor mounted, the trumpet sounded once more, and the joyous company swept down the narrow valley toward the long, blue, distant ranges.
The pioneer, his wife and children, watched them go. One of the gentlemen turned in his saddle and waved his hand. Alce curtsied, but Molly, at whom he had looked, saw him not, because her eyes were full of tears. The company reached and entered a cleft between the hills; a moment, and men and horses were lost to sight; a little longer, and not even a sound could be heard.
It was as though they had taken the sunshine with them; for a cloud had come up from the west, and the sun was hidden. All at once the valley seemed a sombre and lonely place, and the hills with their whispering trees looked menacingly down upon the clearing, the cabin, and the five simple English folk. The glory of the day was gone. After a little more of idle staring, the frontiersman and his son returned to their work in the forest, while Alce and Molly went indoors to their spinning, and Audrey sat down upon the doorstep to listen to the hurry of voices in the trees, and to watch the ever-deepening shadow of the cloud above the valley.
THE COURT OF THE ORPHAN
An hour before dusk found the company that had dined in the valley making their way up the dry bed of a stream, through a gorge which cleft a line of precipitous hills. On either hand the bank rose steeply, giving no footing for man or beast. The road was a difficult one; for here a tall, fern-crowned rock left but a narrow passage between itself and the shaggy hillside, and there smooth and slippery ledges, mounting one above the other, spanned the way. In places, too, the drought had left pools of dark, still water, difficult to avoid, and not infrequently the entire party must come to a halt while the axemen cleared from the path a fallen birch or hemlock. Every man was afoot, none caring to risk a fall upon the rocks or into the black, cold water of the pools. The hoofs of the horses and the spurs of the men clanked against the stones; now and then one of the heavily laden packhorses stumbled and was sworn at, and once a warning rattle, issuing from a rank growth of fern on the hillside, caused a momentary commotion. There was no more laughter, or whistling, or calling from the van to the rear guard. The way was arduous, and every man must watch his footsteps; moreover, the last rays of the sun were gilding the hilltops above them, and the level that should form their camping-place must be reached before the falling of the night.
The sunlight had all but faded from the heights, when one of the company, stumbling over a round and mossy rock, measured his length upon the ground, amid his own oaths at his mishap, and the exclamations of the man immediately in his rear, whose progress he had thus unceremoniously blocked. The horse of the fallen man, startled by the dragging at the reins, reared and plunged, and in a moment the entire column was in disorder. When the frightened animals were at last quieted, and the line re-formed, the Governor called out to know who it was that had fallen, and whether any damage had been suffered.
"It was Mr. Haward, sir!" cried two or three; and presently the injured gentleman himself, limping painfully, and with one side of his fine green coat all stained by reason of contact with a bit of muddy ground, appeared before his Excellency.
"I have had a cursed mishap,—saving your presence, sir," he explained. "The right ankle is, I fear, badly sprained. The pain, is exquisite, and I know not how I am to climb mountains."
The Governor uttered an exclamation of concern: "Unfortunate! Dr. Robinson must look to the hurt at once."
"Your Excellency forgets my dispute with Dr. Robinson as to the dose of Jesuit bark for my servant," said the sufferer blandly. "Were I in extremis I should not apply to him for relief."
"I'll lay my life that you are not in extremis now," retorted the doctor. "If ever I saw a man with a sprained ankle keep his color so marvelously, or heard him speak in so composed a tone! The pain must be of a very unusual degree indeed!"
"It is," answered Mr. Haward calmly. "I cannot possibly go on in this condition, your Excellency, nor can I dream of allowing my unlucky accident to delay this worshipful company in their ascent of the mountains. I will therefore take my servant and ride slowly back to the cabin which we left this afternoon. Doubtless the worthy pioneer will give me shelter until my foot is healed, and I will rejoin your Excellency upon your return through the valley."
As he spoke, for the greater ease of the injured member, he leaned against a towering lock. He was a handsome youth, with a trick of keeping an unmoved countenance under even such a fire of laughter and exclamation as greeted his announcement.
"And for this you would lose the passing of the Appalachian Mountains!" cried Spotswood. "Why, man! from those heights we may almost see Lake Erie; may find out how near we are to the French, how easily the mountains may be traversed, what promise of success should his Majesty determine to plant settlements beyond them or to hold the mountain passes! There is service to be done and honor to be gained, and you would lag behind because of a wrenched ankle! Zoons, sir! at Blenheim I charged a whole regiment of Frenchmen, with a wound in my breast into which you might have thrust your hand!"
The younger man shrugged his shoulders. "Beggars may not be choosers," he said coolly. "The sunlight is fast fading, and if we would be out of this gorge before nightfall we must make no further tarrying. I have your Excellency's permission to depart?"
One of the gentlemen made a low-voiced but audible remark to his neighbor, and another hummed a line from a love song. The horses moved impatiently amongst the loose stones, and the rangers began to mutter that night would be upon them before they reached a safer footing.
"Mr. Haward! Mr. Haward!" said the Governor sternly. "It is in my mind that you meditate inflicting a greater harm than you have received. Let me tell you, sir, if you think to so repay a simple-minded hospitality"—
Mr. Haward's eyes narrowed. "I own Colonel Spotswood for Governor of Virginia," he said, speaking slowly, as was his wont when he was angry. "His office does not, I think, extend farther than that. As for these pleasant-minded gentlemen who are not protected by their rank I beg to inform them that in my fall my sword arm suffered no whit."
Turning, he beckoned to a negro who had worked his way from the servants in the rear, along the line of rangers, to the outskirts of the group of gentlemen gathered around the Governor and the injured man. "Juba," he ordered, "draw your horse and mine to one side. Your Excellency, may I again remind you that it draws toward nightfall, and that this road will be no pleasant one to travel in the dark?"
What he said was true; moreover, upon the setting out of the expedition it had been laughingly agreed that any gentleman who might find his spirits dashed by the dangers and difficulties of the way should be at liberty at any time to turn his back upon the mountains, and his face toward safety and the settlements. The Governor frowned, bit his lips, but finally burst into unwilling laughter.
"You are a very young gentleman, Mr. Marmaduke Haward!" he cried. "Were you a little younger, I know what ointment I should prescribe for your hurt. Go your ways with your broken ankle; but if, when I come again to the cabin in the valley, I find that your own injury has not contented you, look to it that I do not make you build a bridge across the bay itself! Gentlemen, Mr. Haward is bent upon intrusting his cure to other and softer hands than Dr. Robinson's, and the expedition must go forward without him. We sorrow to lose him from our number, but we know better than to reason with—ahem!—a twisted ankle. En avant, gentlemen! Mr. Haward, pray have a care of yourself. I would advise that the ankle be well bandaged, and that you stir not from the chimney corner"—
"I thank your Excellency for your advice," said Mr. Haward imperturbably, "and will consider of taking it. I wish your Excellency and these merry gentlemen a most complete victory over the mountains, from which conquest I will no longer detain you."
He bowed as he spoke, and began to move, slowly and haltingly, across the width of the rocky way to where his negro stood with the two horses.
"Mr. Haward!" called the Governor.
The recreant turned his head. "Your Excellency?"
"It was the right foot, was it not?" queried his sometime leader. "Ah, I thought so! Then it were best not to limp with the left."
Homeric laughter shook the air; but while Mr. Haward laughed not, neither did he frown or blush. "I will remember, sir," he said simply, and at once began to limp with the proper foot. When he reached the bank he turned, and, standing with his arm around his horse's neck, watched the company which he had so summarily deserted, as it put itself into motion and went slowly past him up its dusky road. The laughter and bantering farewells moved him not; he could at will draw a line around himself across which few things could step. Not far away the bed of the stream turned, and a hillside, dark with hemlock, closed the view. He watched the train pass him, reach this bend, and disappear. The axemen and the four Meherrins, the Governor and the gentlemen of the Horseshoe, the rangers, the negroes,—all were gone at last. With that passing, and with the ceasing of the laughter and the trampling, came the twilight. A whippoorwill began to call, and the wind sighed in the trees. Juba, the negro, moved closer to his master; then upon an impulse stooped, and lifting above his head a great rock, threw it with might into one of the shallow pools. The crashing sound broke the spell of the loneliness and quiet that had fallen upon the place. The white man drew his breath, shrugged his shoulders, and turned his horse's head down the way up which he had so lately come.
The cabin in the valley was not three miles away. Down this ravine to a level place of pines, through the pines to a strip of sassafras and a poisoned field, past these into a dark, rich wood of mighty trees linked together with the ripening grape, then three low hills, then the valley and the cabin and a pair of starry eyes. It was full moon. Once out from under the stifling walls of the ravine, and the silver would tremble through the leaves, and show the path beneath. The trees, too, that they had blazed,—with white wood pointing to white wood, the backward way should be easy.
The earth, rising sheer in darkness on either hand, shut in the bed of the stream. In the warm, scented dusk the locusts shrilled in the trees, and far up the gorge the whippoorwill called and called. The air was filled with the gold of fireflies, a maze of spangles, now darkening, now brightening, restless and bewildering. The small, round pools caught the light from the yet faintly colored sky, and gleamed among the rocks; a star shone out, and a hot wind, heavy with the smell of the forest, moved the hemlock boughs and rustled in the laurels.
The white man and the negro, each leading his horse, picked their way with caution among the pitfalls of the rocky and uneven road. With the passing of the Governor and his train a sudden cure had been wrought, for now Haward's step was as firm and light as it had been before his fall. The negro looked at him once or twice with a puzzled face, but made no comment and received no enlightenment. Indeed, so difficult was their way that they were left but scant leisure for speech. Moment by moment the darkness deepened, and once Haward's horse came to its knees, crashing down among the rocks and awakening every echo.
The way, if hard, was short. The hills fell farther apart, the banks became low and broad, and fair in front, between two slender pines, shone out the great round moon. Leaving the bed of the stream, the two men entered a pine wood, dim and fragrant and easy to thread. The moon rose higher, and the light fell in wide shafts between trees that stood well apart, with no vines to grapple one to another or undergrowth to press about their knees.
There needed no watchfulness: the ground was smooth, the light was fair; no motion save the pale flicker of the fireflies, no sound save the sigh of the night wind in the boughs that were so high overhead. Master and man, riding slowly and steadily onward through a wood that seemed interminably the same, came at last to think of other things than the road which they were traveling. Their hands lost grasp upon the reins, and their eyes, ceasing to glance now here, now there, gazed steadfastly down the gray and dreamlike vista before them, and saw no longer hole and branch, moonlight and the white scars that the axe had made for guidance. The vision of the slave was of supper at the quarters, of the scraping of the fiddle in the red firelight, of the dancing and the singing. The white man saw, at first, only a girl's face, shy and innocent,—the face of the woodland maid who had fired his fancy, who was drawing him through the wilderness back to the cabin in the valley. But after a while, in the gray stillness, he lost the face, and suddenly thought, instead, of the stone that was to cover his father's grave. The ship that was to bring the great, dark, carven slab should be in by now; the day after his return to Williamsburgh the stone must be put in place, covering in the green sod and that which lay below. Here, lieth in the hope of a joyful resurrection—
His mind left the grave in the churchyard at Williamsburgh, and visited the great plantation of which he was now sole master. There was the house, foursquare, high-roofed, many-windowed, built of dark red brick that glowed behind the veil of the walnuts and the oaks. There, too, were the quarters,—the home quarter, that at the creek, that on the ridge. Fifty white servants, three hundred slaves,—and he was the master. The honeysuckles in the garden that had been his father's pride, the shining expanse of the river, the ship—his ship, the Golden Rose—that was to take him home to England,—he forgot the night and the forest, and saw these things quite plainly. Then he fell to thinking of London and the sweets that he meant to taste, the heady wine of youth and life that he meant to drain to the lees. He was young; he could spare the years. One day he would come back to Virginia, to the dim old garden and quiet house. His factor would give account, and he would settle down in the red brick house, with the tobacco to the north and east, the corn to the west, and to the south the mighty river,—the river silvered by the moon, the river that lay just beyond him, gleaming through the trees—
Startled by the sudden tightening of the reins, or by the tearing of some frightened thing through the canes that beset the low, miry bank, the horse sprang aside; then stood trembling with pricked ears. The white man stared at the stream; turned in his saddle and stared at the tree trunks, the patches of moonlight, and the impenetrable shadow that closed each vista. "The blazed trees!" he exclaimed at last. "How long since we saw one?"
The slave shook his head. "Juba forgot to look. He was away by a river that he knew."
"We have passed from out the pines," said Haward. "These are oaks. But what is that water, and how far we are out of our reckoning the Lord only knows!"
As he spoke he pushed his horse through the tall reeds to the bank of the stream. Here in the open, away from the shadow of the trees, the full moon had changed the night-time into a wonderful, silver day. Narrow above and belows the stream widened before him into a fairy basin, rimmed with reeds, unruffled, crystal-clear, stiller than a dream. The trees that grew upon the farther side were faint gray clouds in the moonlight, and the gold of the fireflies was very pale. From over the water, out of the heart of the moonlit wood, came the song of a mockingbird, a tumultuous ecstasy, possessing the air and making elfin the night.
Haward backed his horse from the reeds to the oak beneath which waited the negro. "'Tis plain that we have lost our way, Juba," he said, with a laugh. "If you were an Indian, we should turn and straightway retrace our steps to the blazed trees. Being what you are, you are more valuable in the tobacco fields than in the forest. Perhaps this is the stream which flows by the cabin in the valley. We'll follow it down, and so arrive, at least, at a conclusion."
They dismounted, and, leading their horses, followed the stream for some distance, to arrive at the conclusion that it was not the one beside which they had dined that day. When they were certain of this, they turned and made their way back to the line of reeds which they had broken to mark their starting-point. By now the moon was high, and the mockingbird in the wood across the water was singing madly. Turning from the still, moonlit sheet, the silent reeds, the clear mimicker in the slumbrous wood, the two wayfarers plunged into the darkness beneath the spreading branches of the oak-trees. They could not have ridden far from the pines; in a very little while they might reach and recognize the path which they should tread.
An hour later, the great trees, oak and chestnut, beech and poplar, suddenly gave way to saplings, many, close-set, and overrun with grapevines. So dense was the growth, so unyielding the curtain of vines, that men and horses were brought to a halt as before a fortress wall. Again they turned, and, skirting that stubborn network, came upon a swamp, where leafless trees, white as leprosy, stood up like ghosts from the water that gleamed between the lily-pads. Leaving the swamp they climbed a hill, and at the summit found only the moon and the stars and a long plateau of sighing grass. Behind them were the great mountains; before them, lesser heights, wooded hills, narrow valleys, each like its fellow, each indistinct and shadowy, with no sign of human tenant.
Haward gazed at the climbing moon and at the wide and universal dimness of the world beneath; then turned to the negro, and pointed to a few low trees growing at the eastern end of the plateau.
"Fasten the horses there, Juba," he said. "We will wait upon this hilltop until morning. When the light comes, we may be able to see the clearing or the smoke from the cabin."
When the horses had been tethered, master and man lay down upon the grass. It was so still upon the hilltop, and the heavens pressed so closely, that the slave grew restless and strove to make talk. Failing in this, he began to croon a savage, mournful air, and presently, forgetting himself, to sing outright.
"Be quiet!" ordered his master. "There may be Indians abroad."
The song came to an end as abruptly as it lad begun, and the singer, having nothing better to do, went fast asleep. His companion, more wakeful, lay with his hands behind his head and his eyes upon the splendor of the firmament. Lying so, he could not see the valleys nor the looming mountains. There were only the dome of the sky, the grass, and himself. He stared at the moon, and made pictures of her shadowy places; then fell to thinking of the morrow, and of the possibility that after all he might never find again the cabin in the valley. While he laughed at this supposition, yet he played with it. He was in a mood to think the loss of the trail of the expedition no great matter. The woods were full of game, the waters of fish; he and Juba had only to keep their faces to the eastward, and a fortnight at most would bring them to the settlements. But the valleys folded among the hills were many; what if the one he sought should still elude him? What if the cabin, the sugar-tree, the crystal stream, had sunk from sight, like the city in one of Monsieur Gralland's fantastic tales? Perhaps they had done so,—the spot had all the air of a bit of fairyland,—and the woodland maid was gone to walk with the elves. Well, perchance for her it would be better so. And yet it would be pleasant if she should climb the hillside now and sit beside him, with her shy dark eyes and floating hair. Her hair was long and fine, and the wind would lift it; her face was fair, and another than the wind should kiss it. The night would not then be so slow in going.
He turned upon his side, and looked along the grassy summit to the woods upon the opposite slope and to the distant mountains. Dull silver, immutable, perpetual, they reared themselves to meet the moonbeams. Between him and those stern and changeless fronts, pallid as with snows, stretched the gray woods. The moon shone very brightly, and there was no wind. So unearthly was the quiet of the night, so solemn the light, so high and still and calm the universe around him, that awe fell upon his soul. It was well to lie upon the hilltop and guess at the riddle of the world; now dimly to see the meaning, now to lose it quite, to wonder, to think of death. The easy consciousness that for him death was scores of years away, that he should not meet the spectre until the wine was all drunken, the garlands withered, and he, the guest, ready to depart, made these speculations not at all unpleasing. He looked at his hand, blanched by the moonlight, lying beside him upon the grass, and thought how like a dead hand it seemed, and what if he could not move it, nor his body, nor could ever rise from the grass, but must lie there upon the lonely hilltop in the untrodden wilderness, until that which had ridden and hunted and passed so buoyantly through life should become but a few dry bones, a handful of dust. He was of his time, and its laxness of principle and conduct; if he held within himself the potential scholar, statesman, and philosopher, there were also the skeptic, the egotist, and the libertine. He followed the fashion and disbelieved much, but he knew that if he died to-night his soul would not stay with his body upon the hilltop. He wondered, somewhat grimly, what it would do when so much that had clothed it round—pride of life, love of pleasure, desire, ambition—should be plucked away. Poor soul! Surely it would feel itself something shrunken, stripped of warmth, shiveringly bare to all the winds of heaven. The radiance of the moon usurped the sky, but behind that veil of light the invisible and multitudinous stars were shining. Beyond those stars were other stars, beyond those yet others; on and on went the stars, wise men said. Beyond them all, what then? And where was the place of the soul? What would it do? What heaven or hell would it find or make for itself? Guesswork all!
The silver pomp of the night began to be oppressive to him. There was beauty, but it was a beauty cold and distant, infinitely withdrawn from man and his concerns. Woods and mountains held aloof, communing with the stars. They were kindred and of one house; it was man who was alien, a stranger and alone. The hilltop cared not that he lay thereon; the grass would grow as greenly when he was in his grave; all his tragedies since time began he might reenact there below, and the mountains would not bend to look.
He flung his arm across his eyes to shut out the moonlight, and tried to sleep. Finding the attempt a vain one, and that the night pressed more and more heavily upon him, he sat up with the intention of shaking the negro awake, and so providing himself with other company than his own thoughts.
His eyes had been upon the mountains, but now, with the sudden movement, he faced the eastern horizon and a long cleft between the hills. Far down this opening something was on fire, burning fiercely and redly. Some one must have put torch to the forest; and yet it did not burn as trees burn. It was like a bonfire ... it was a bonfire in a clearing! There were not woods about it, but a field—and the glint of water—
The negro, awakened by foot and voice, sprang up, and stood bewildered beside his master. "It is the valley that we have been seeking, Juba," said the latter, speaking rapidly and low. "That burning pile is the cabin, and 't is like that there are Indians between us and it! Leave the horses; we shall go faster without them. Look to the priming of your gun, and make no noise. Now!"
Rapidly descending the hill, they threw themselves into the woods at its base. Here they could not see the fire, but now and then, as they ran, they caught the glow, far down the lines of trees. Though they went swiftly they went warily as well, keeping an eye and ear open and muskets ready. But there was no sound other than their own quick footfalls upon the floor of rotting leaves, or the eager brushing of their bodies through occasional undergrowth; no sight but the serried trees and the checkered light and shade upon the ground.
They came to the shallow stream that flashed through the valley, and crossing it found themselves on cleared ground, with only a long strip of corn between them and what had been a home for English folk. It was that no longer: for lack of fuel the flames were dying down; there was only a charred and smoking pile, out of which leaped here and there a red tongue.
Haward had expected to hear a noise of savage triumph, and to see dark figures moving about their handiwork. There was no noise, and the moonlight showed no living being. The night was changelessly still and bright; the tragedy had been played, and the mountains and the hills and the running water had not looked.
It took but a few minutes to break through the rustling corn and reach the smouldering logs. Once before them, there seemed naught to do but to stand and stare at the ruin, until a tongue of flame caught upon a piece of uncharred wood, and showed them the body of the pioneer lying at a little distance from the stone that had formed his doorstep. At a sign from Haward the negro went and turned it over, then, let it sink again into the seared grass. "Two arrows, Marse Duke," he said, coming back to the other's side. "An' they've taken his scalp."
Three times Haward made the round of the yet burning heap. Was it only ruined and fallen walls, or was it a funeral pyre as well? To know, he must wait for the day and until the fire had burned itself out. If the former were the case, if the dead man alone kept the valley, then now, through the forest and the moonlight, captives were being haled to some Indian village, and to a fate more terrible than that of the man who lay there upon the grass with an arrow through his heart.
If the girl were still alive, yet was she dead to him. He was no Quixote to tilt with windmills. Had a way to rescue her lain fair before him, he would have risked his life without a thought. But the woods were deep and pathless, and only an Indian could find and keep a trail by night. To challenge the wilderness; to strike blindly at the forest, now here, now there; to dare all, and know that it was hopeless daring,—a madman might do this for love. But it was only Haward's fancy that had been touched, and if he lacked not courage, neither did he lack a certain cool good sense which divided for him the possible from that which was impossible, and therefore not to be undertaken.
Turning from the ruin, he walked across the trampled sward to the sugar-tree in whose shade, in the golden afternoon, he had sung to his companions and to a simple girl. Idle and happy and far from harm had the valley seemed.
"Here shall he see No enemy But winter and rough weather."
Suddenly he found that he was trembling, and that a sensation of faintness and of dull and sick revolt against all things under the stars was upon him. Sitting down in the shadow of the tree, he rested his face in his hands and shut his eyes, preferring the darkness within to that outer night which hid not and cared not, which was so coldly at peace. He was young, and though stories of such dismal things as that before him were part of the stock in trade of every ancient, garrulous man or woman of his acquaintance, they had been for him but tales; not horrible truths to stare him in the face. He had seen his father die; but he had died, in his bed, and like one who went to sleep.
The negro had followed him, and now stood with his eyes upon the dying flames, muttering to himself some heathenish charm. When it was ended, he looked about him uneasily for a time; then bent and plucked his master by the sleeve. "We cyarn' do nothin' here, Marse Duke," he whispered. "An' the wolves may get the horses."
With a laugh and a groan, the young man rose to his feet. "That is true, Juba," he said. "It's all over here,—we were too late. And it's not a pleasant place to lie awake in, waiting for the morning. We'll go back to the hilltop."
Leaving the tree, they struck across the grass and entered the strip of corn. Something low and dark that had lain upon the ground started up before them, and ran down the narrow way between the stalks. Haward made after it and caught it.
"Child!" he cried. "Where are the others?"
The child had struggled for a moment, desperately if weakly, but at the sound of his voice she lay still in his grasp, with her eyes upon his face. In the moonlight each could see the other quite plainly. Raising her in his arms, Haward bore her to the brink of the stream, laved her face and chafed the small, cold hands.
"Now tell me, Audrey," he said at last. "Audrey is your name, isn't it? Cry, if you like, child, but try to tell me."
Audrey did not cry. She was very, very tired, and she wanted to go to sleep. "The Indians came," she told him in a whisper, with her head upon his breast. "We all waked up, and father fired at them through the hole in the door. Then they broke the door down, and he went outside, and they killed him. Mother put me under the bed, and told me to stay there, and to make no noise. Then the Indians came in at the door, and killed her and Molly and Robin. I don't remember anything after that,—maybe I went to sleep. When I was awake again the Indians were gone, but there was fire and smoke everywhere. I was afraid of the fire, and so I crept from under the bed, and kissed mother and Molly and Robin, and left them lying in the cabin, and came away."
She sighed with weariness, and the hand with which she put back her dark hair that had fallen over her face was almost too heavy to lift. "I sat beside father and watched the fire," she said. "And then I heard you and the black man coming over the stones in the stream. I thought that you were Indians, and I went and hid in the corn."
Her voice failed, and her eyelids drooped. In some anxiety Haward watched her breathing and felt for the pulse in the slight brown wrist; then, satisfied, he lifted the light burden, and, nodding to the negro to go before, recommenced his progress to the hill which he had left an hour agone.
It was not far away. He could see the bare summit above the treetops, and in a little while they were upon its slope. A minute more and they came to the clump of trees, and found the horses in safety, Haward paused to take from the roll strapped behind his saddle a riding cloak; then, leaving the negro with the horses, climbed to the grassy level. Here he spread the cloak upon the ground, and laid the sleeping child upon it, which done, he stood and looked at his new-found charge for a moment; then turning, began to pace up and down upon the hilltop.
It was necessary to decide upon a course of action. They had the horses, the two muskets, powder and shot. The earth was dry and warm, and the skies were cloudless. Was it best to push on to Germanna, or was it best to wait down there in the valley for the return of the Governor and his party? They would come that way, that was certain, and would look to find him there. If they found only the ruined cabin, they might think him dead or taken by the Indians, and an attempt to seek him, as dangerous, perhaps, as fruitless, might be made. He decided that he would wait. To-morrow he would take Juba and the horses and the child and go down into the valley; not back to the sugar-tree and that yet smouldering pyre, but to the woods on this side of the stream.
This plan thought out, he went; and took his seat beside the child. She was moaning in her sleep, and he bent over and soothed her. When she was quiet he still kept her hand in his, as he sat there waiting for the dawn. He gave the child small thought. Together he and Juba must care for her until they could rejoin the expedition: then the Governor, who was so fond of children, might take her in hand, and give her for nurse old Dominick, who was as gentle as a woman. Once at Germanna perhaps some scolding Hausfrau would take her, for the sake of the scrubbing and lifting to be gotten out of those small hands and that slender frame. If not, she must on to Williamsburgh and the keeping of the vestry there. The next Orphan Court would bind her to some master or mistress who might (or might not) be kind to her, and so there would be an end to the matter.
The day was breaking. Moon and stars were gone, and the east was dull pink, like faded roses. A ribbon of silver mist, marking the course of the stream below, drew itself like a serpent through the woods that were changing from gray to green. The dank smell of early morning rose from the dew-drenched earth, and in the countless trees of the forest the birds began to sing.
A word or phrase which is as common and familiar as our hand may, in some one minute of time, take on a significance and present a face so keen and strange that it is as if we had never met it before. An Orphan Court! Again he said the words to himself, and then aloud. No doubt the law did its best for the fatherless and motherless, for such waifs and strays as that which lay beside him. When it bound out children, it was most emphatic that they should be fed and clothed and taught; not starved or beaten unduly, or let to grow up ignorant as negroes. Sometimes the law was obeyed, sometimes not.
The roses in the east bloomed again, and the pink of their petals melted into the clear blue of the upper skies. Because their beauty compelled him Haward looked at the heavens. The Court of the Orphan!... When my father and my mother forsake, me, the Lord taketh me up. Haward acknowledged with surprise that portions of the Psalter did somehow stick in the memory.
The face of the child was dark and thin, but the eyes were large and there was promise in the mouth. It was a pity—
He looked at her again, and suddenly resolved that he, Marmaduke Haward, would provide for her future. When they met once more, he should tell the Governor and his brother adventurers as much; and if they chose to laugh, why, let them do so! He would take the child to Williamsburgh with him, and get some woman to tend her until he could find kind and decent folk with whom to bestow her. There were the new minister of Fair View parish and his wife,—they might do. He would give them two thousand pounds of sweet-scented a year for the child's maintenance. Oh, she should be well cared for! He would—if he thought of it—send her gifts from London; and when she was grown, and asked in marriage, he would give her for dowry a hundred acres of land.
As the strengthening rays of the sun, shining alike upon the just and the unjust, warmed his body, so his own benevolence warmed his heart. He knew that he was doing a generous thing, and his soul felt in tune with the beamy light, the caroling of the birds, the freshness and fragrance of the morning. When at last the child awoke, and, the recollection of the night coming full upon her, clung to him, weeping and trembling, he put his arm around her and comforted her with all the pet names his memory could conjure up.
It was May Day in Virginia, in the year 1727. In England there were George the First, by the grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King and Defender of the Faith; my Lord of Orkney, Governor in chief of Virginia; and William Gooch, newly appointed Lieutenant Governor. In Virginia there were Colonel Robert Carter, President of the Council and Governor pro tem.; the Council itself; and Mistress Martha Jaquelin.
By virtue of her good looks and sprightliness, the position of her father in the community, and the fact that this 1st of May was one and the same with her sixteenth birthday, young Mistress Jaquelin was May Queen in Jamestown. And because her father was a worthy gentleman and a gay one, with French blood in his veins and Virginia hospitality in his heart, he had made a feast for divers of his acquaintances, and, moreover, had provided, in a grassy meadow down by the water side, a noble and seasonable entertainment for them, and for the handful of townsfolk, and for all chance comers.
Meadow and woodland and marsh, ploughed earth and blossoming orchards, lay warm in the sunshine. Even the ruined town, fallen from her estate, and become but as a handmaid to her younger sister, put a good face upon her melancholy fortunes. Honeysuckle and ivy embraced and hid crumbling walls, broken foundations, mounds of brick and rubbish, all the untouched memorials of the last burning of the place. Grass grew in the street, and the silent square was strewn with the gold of the buttercups. The houses that yet stood and were lived in might have been counted on the fingers of one hand, with the thumb for the church. But in their gardens the flowers bloomed gayly, and the sycamores and mulberries in the churchyard were haunts of song. The dead below had music, and violets in the blowing grass, and the undertone of the river. Perhaps they liked the peace of the town that was dead as they were dead; that, like them, had seen of the travail of life, and now, with shut eyes and folded hands, knew that it was vanity.
But the Jaquelin house was built to the eastward of the churchyard and the ruins of the town, and, facing the sparkling river, squarely turned its back upon the quiet desolation at the upper end of the island and upon the text from Ecclesiastes.
In the level meadow, around a Maypole gay with garlands and with fluttering ribbons, the grass had been closely mown, for there were to be foot-races and wrestling bouts for the amusement of the guests. Beneath a spreading tree a dozen fiddlers put their instruments in tune, while behind the open windows of a small, ruinous house, dwelt in by the sexton, a rustic choir was trying over "The Beggar's Daughter of Bednall Green." Young men and maidens of the meaner sort, drawn from the surrounding country, from small plantation, store and ordinary, mill and ferry, clad in their holiday best and prone to laughter, strayed here and there, or, walking up and down the river bank, where it commanded a view of both the landing and the road, watched for the coming of the gentlefolk. Children, too, were not lacking, but rolled amidst the buttercups or caught at the ribbons flying from the Maypole, while aged folk sat in the sun, and a procession of wide-lipped negroes, carrying benches and chairs, advanced to the shaven green and put the seats in order about the sylvan stage. It was but nine of the clock, and the shadow of the Maypole was long upon the grass. Along the slightly rising ground behind the meadow stretched an apple orchard in full bloom, and between that line of rose and snow and the lapping of the tide upon the yellow sands lay, for the length of a spring day, the kingdom of all content.
The shadow of the Maypole was not much shrunken when the guests of the house of Jaquelin began to arrive. First to come, and from farthest away, was Mr. Richard Ambler, of Yorktown, who had ridden from that place to Williamsburgh the afternoon before, and had that morning used the planter's pace to Jamestown,—his industry being due to the fact that he was courting the May Queen's elder sister. Following him came five Lees in a chariot, then a delegation of Burwells, then two Digges in a chaise. A Bland and a Bassett and a Randolph came on horseback, while a barge brought up river a bevy of blooming Carters, a white-sailed sloop from Warwick landed a dozen Carys, great and small, and two periaguas, filled with Harrisons, Aliens, and Cockes, shot over from the Surrey shore.
From a stand at one end of the grassy stage, trumpet and drum proclaimed that the company had gathered beneath the sycamores before the house, and was about to enter the meadow. Shrill-voiced mothers warned their children from the Maypole, the fiddlers ceased their twanging, and Pretty Bessee, her name cut in twain, died upon the air. The throng of humble folk—largely made up of contestants for the prizes of the day, and of their friends and kindred—scurried to its appointed place, and with the issuing from the house gates of the May Queen and her court the festivities commenced.
An hour later, in the midst of a bout at quarterstaff between the Jamestown blacksmith and the miller from Princess Creek, a coach and four, accompanied by a horseman, crossed the neck, rolled through the street, and, entering the meadow, drew up a hundred feet from the ring of spectators.
The eyes of the commonalty still hung upon every motion of the blacksmith and the miller, but by the people of quality the cudgelers were for the moment quite forgot. The head of the house of Jaquelin hurried over the grass to the coach door. "Ha, Colonel Byrd! When we heard that you were staying overnight at Green Spring, we hoped that, being so near, you would come to our merrymaking. Mistress Evelyn, I kiss your hands. Though we can't give you the diversions of Spring Garden, yet such as we have are at your feet. Mr. Marmaduke Haward, your servant, sir! Virginia has missed you these ten years and more. We were heartily glad to hear, t'other day, that the Golden Rose had brought you home."
As he spoke the worthy gentleman strove to open the coach door; but the horseman, to whom the latter part of his speech was addressed, and who had now dismounted, was beforehand with him. The door swung open, and a young lady, of a delicate and pensive beauty, placed one hand upon the deferential arm of Mr. Marmaduke Haward and descended from the painted coach to the flower-enameled sward. The women amongst the assembled guests fluttered and whispered; for this was youth, beauty, wealth, London, and the Court, all drawn in the person of Mistress Evelyn Byrd, bred since childhood in the politest society of England, newly returned with her father to his estate of Westover in Virginia, and, from her garlanded gypsy hat to the point of her silken shoe, suggestive of the rainbow world of mode.
Her father—alert, vivacious, handsome, with finely cut lips that were quick to smile, and dark eyes that smiled when the lips were still—followed her to the earth, shook out his ruffles, and extended his gold snuffbox to his good friend Mr. Jaquelin. The gentleman who had ridden beside the coach threw the reins of his horse to one of the negroes who had come running from the Jaquelin stables, and, together with their host, the three walked across the strip of grass to the row of expectant gentry. Down went the town-bred lady until the skirt of her blue-green gown lay in folds upon the buttercups; down went the ladies opposite in curtsies as profound, if less exquisitely graceful. Off came the hats of the gentlemen; the bows were of the lowest; snuffboxes were drawn out, handkerchiefs of fine holland flourished; the welcoming speeches were hearty and not unpolished.
It was a society less provincial than that of more than one shire that was nearer to London by a thousand leagues. It dwelt upon the banks of the Chesapeake and of great rivers; ships dropped their anchors before its very doors. Now and again the planter followed his tobacco aboard. The sands did not then run so swiftly through the hourglass; if the voyage to England was long, why, so was life! The planters went, sold their tobacco,—Sweet-scented, E. Dees, Oronoko, Cowpen, Non-burning,—talked with their agents, visited their English kindred; saw the town, the opera, and the play,—perhaps, afar off, the King; and returned to Virginia and their plantations with the last but one novelty in ideas, manner, and dress. Of their sons not a few were educated in English schools, while their wives and daughters, if for the most part they saw the enchanted ground only through the eyes of husband, father, or brother, yet followed its fashions, when learned, with religious zeal. In Williamsburgh, where all men went on occasion, there was polite enough living: there were the college, the Capitol, and the playhouse; the palace was a toy St. James; the Governors that came and went almost as proper gentlemen, fitted to rule over English people, as if they had been born in Hanover and could not speak their subjects' tongue.
So it was that the assembly which had risen to greet Mr. Jaquelin's latest guests, besides being sufficiently well born, was not at all ill bred, nor uninformed, nor untraveled. But it was not of the gay world as were the three whom it welcomed. It had spent only months, not years, in England; it had never kissed the King's hand; it did not know Bath nor the Wells; it was innocent of drums and routs and masquerades; had not even a speaking acquaintance with great lords and ladies; had never supped with Pope, or been grimly smiled upon by the Dean of St. Patrick's, or courted by the Earl of Peterborough. It had not, like the elder of the two men, studied in the Low Countries, visited the Court of France, and contracted friendships with men of illustrious names; nor, like the younger, had it written a play that ran for two weeks, fought a duel in the Field of Forty Footsteps, and lost and won at the Cocoa Tree, between the lighting and snuffing of the candles, three thousand pounds.
Therefore it stood slightly in awe of the wit and manners and fine feathers, curled newest fashion, of its sometime friends and neighbors, and its welcome, if warm at heart, was stiff as cloth of gold with ceremony. The May Queen tripped in her speech as she besought Mistress Evelyn to take the flower-wreathed great chair standing proudly forth from the humbler seats, and colored charmingly at the lady of fashion's smiling shake of the head and few graceful words of homage. The young men slyly noted the length of the Colonel's periwig and the quality of Mr. Hayward's Mechlin, while their elders, suddenly lacking material for discourse, made shift to take a deal of snuff. The Colonel took matters into his own capable hands.
"Mr. Jaquelin, I wish that my tobacco at Westover may look as finely a fortnight hence as does yours to-day! There promise to be more Frenchmen in my fields than Germans at St. James. Mr. Gary, if I come to Denbigh when the peaches are ripe, will you teach me to make persico? Mr. Allen, I hear that you breed cocks as courageous as those of Tanagra. I shall borrow from you for a fight that I mean to give. Ladies, for how much gold will you sell the recipe for that balm of Mecca you must use? There are dames at Court would come barefoot to Virginia for so dazzling a bloom. Why do you patch only upon the Whig side of the face? Are you all of one camp, and does not one of you grow a white rosebush against the 29th of May? May it please your Majesty the May Queen, I shall watch the sports from this seat upon your right hand. Egad, the miller quits himself as though he were the moss-grown fellow of Sherwood Forest!"
The ice had thawed; and by the time the victorious miller had been pushed forward to receive the smart cocked hat which was the Virginia rendition of the crown of wild olive, it had quite melted. Conversation became general, and food was found or made for laughter. When the twelve fiddlers who succeeded the blacksmith and the miller came trooping upon the green, they played, one by one, to perhaps as light-hearted a company as a May Day ever shone upon. All their tunes were gay and lively ones, and the younger men moved their feet to the music, while a Strephon at the lower end of the lists seized upon a blooming Chloe, and the two began to dance "as if," quoth the Colonel, "the musicians were so many tarantula doctors."
A flower-wreathed instrument of his calling went to the player of the sprightliest air; after which awardment, the fiddlers, each to the tune of his own choosing, marched off the green to make room for Pretty Bessee, her father the beggar, and her suitors the innkeeper, the merchant, the gentleman, and the knight.
The high, quick notes of the song suited the sunshiny weather, the sheen of the river, the azure skies. A light wind brought from the orchard a vagrant troop of pink and white petals to camp upon the silken sleeve of Mistress Evelyn Byrd. The gentleman sitting beside her gathered them up and gave them again to the breeze.
"It sounds sweetly enough," he said, "but terribly old-fashioned:—
'I weigh not true love by the weight of the purse, And beauty is beauty in every degree.'
That's not Court doctrine."
The lady to whom he spoke rested her cheek upon her hand, and looked past the singers to the blossoming slope and the sky above. "So much the worse for the Court," she said. "So much the better for"—
Haward glanced at her. "For Virginia?" he ended, with a smile. "Do you think that they do not weigh love with gold here in Virginia, Evelyn? It isn't really Arcady."
"So much the better for some place, somewhere," she answered quietly. "I did not say Virginia. Indeed, from what travelers like yourself have told me, I think the country lies not upon this earth. But the story is at an end, and we must applaud with the rest. It sounded sweetly, after all,—though it was only a lying song. What next?"
Her father, from his station beside the May Queen, caught the question, and broke the flow of his smiling compliments to answer it. "A race between young girls, my love,—the lucky fair who proves her descent from Atalanta to find, not a golden apple, but a golden guinea. Here come from the sexton's house the pretty light o' heels!"
The crowd, gentle and simple, arose, and pushed back all benches, stools, and chairs, so as to enlarge the circumference of the ring, and the six girls who were to run stepped out upon the green. The youngest son of the house of Jaquelin checked them off in a shrill treble:—
"The blacksmith's Meg—Mall and Jenny from the crossroads ordinary—the Widow Constance's Barbara—red-headed Bess—Parson Darden's Audrey!"
A tall, thin, grave gentleman, standing behind Haward, gave an impatient jerk of his body and said something beneath his breath. Haward looked over his shoulder. "Ha, Mr. Le Neve! I did not know you were there. I had the pleasure of hearing you read at Williamsburgh last Sunday afternoon,—though this is your parish, I believe? What was that last name that the youngster cried? I failed to catch it."
"Audrey, sir," answered the minister of James City parish; "Gideon Darden's Audrey. You can't but have heard of Darden? A minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, sir; and a scandal, a shame, and a stumbling-block to the Church! A foul-mouthed, brawling, learned sot! A stranger to good works, but a frequenter of tippling houses! A brazen, dissembling, atheistical Demas, who will neither let go of the lusts of the flesh nor of his parish,—a sweet-scented parish, sir, with the best glebe in three counties! And he's inducted, sir, inducted, which is more than most of the clergy of Virginia, who neither fight nor drink nor swear, can say for themselves!"
The minister had lost his gravity, and spoke with warmth and bitterness. As he paused for breath, Mistress Evelyn took her eyes from the group of those about to run and opened her fan. "A careless father, at least," she said. "If he hath learning, he should know better than to set his daughter there."
"She's not his own, ma'am. She's an orphan, bound to Darden and his wife, I suppose. There's some story or other about her, but, not being curious in Mr. Darden's affairs, I have never learned it. When I came to Virginia, five years ago, she was a slip of a girl of thirteen or so. Once, when I had occasion to visit Darden, she waylaid me in the road as I was riding away, and asked me how far it was to the mountains, and if there were Indians between them and us."
"Did she so?" asked Haward. "And which is—Audrey?"
"The dark one—brown as a gypsy—with the dogwood in her hair. And mark me, there'll be Darden's own luck and she'll win. She's fleeter than a greyhound. I've seen her running in and out and to and fro in the forest like a wild thing."
Bare of foot and slender ankle, bare of arm and shoulder, with heaving bosom, shut lips, and steady eyes, each of the six runners awaited the trumpet sound that should send her forth like an arrow to the goal, and to the shining guinea that lay thereby. The spectators ceased to talk and laugh, and bent forward, watching. Wagers had been laid, and each man kept his eyes upon his favorite, measuring her chances. The trumpet blew, and the race was on.
When it was over and won, the May Queen rose from her seat and crossed the grass to her fine lady guest. "There are left only the prizes for this and for the boys' race and for the best dancer. Will you not give them, Mistress Evelyn, and so make them of more value?"
More curtsying, more complimenting, and the gold was in Evelyn's white hand. The trumpet blew, the drum beat, the fiddlers swung into a quick, staccato air, and Darden's Audrey, leaving the post which she had touched some seconds in advance of the foremost of those with whom she had raced, came forward to receive the guinea.
The straight, short skirt of dull blue linen could not hide the lines of the young limbs; beneath the thin, white, sleeveless bodice showed the tint of the flesh, the rise and fall of the bosom. The bare feet trod the grass lightly and firmly; the brown eyes looked from under the dogwood chaplet in a gaze that was serious, innocent, and unashamed. To Audrey they were only people out of a fairy tale,—all those gay folk, dressed in silks and with curled hair. They lived in "great houses," and men and women were born to till their fields, to row their boats, to doff hats or curtsy as they passed. They were not real; if you pricked them they would not bleed. In the mountains that she remembered as a dream there were pale masses of bloom far up among the cliffs; very beautiful, but no more to be gained than the moon or than rainbow gold. She looked at the May party before which she had been called much as, when a child, she had looked at the gorgeous, distant bloom,—not without longing, perhaps, but indifferent, too, knowing that it was beyond her reach.
When the gold piece was held out to her, she took it, having earned it; when the little speech with which the lady gave the guinea was ended, she was ready with her curtsy and her "Thank you, ma'am." The red came into her cheeks because she was not used to so many eyes upon her, but she did not blush for her bare feet, nor for her dress that had slipped low over her shoulder, nor for the fact that she had run her swiftest five times around the Maypole, all for the love of a golden guinea, and for mere youth and pure-minded ignorance, and the springtime in the pulses.
The gold piece lay within her brown fingers a thought too lightly, for as she stepped back from the row of gentlefolk it slid from her hand to the ground. A gentleman, sitting beside the lady who had spoken to her, stooped, and picking up the money gave it again into her hand. Though she curtsied to him, she did not look at him, but turned away, glad to be quit of all the eyes, and in a moment had slipped into the crowd from which she had come. It was midday, and old Israel, the fisherman, who had brought her and the Widow Constance's Barbara up the river in his boat, would be going back with the tide. She was not loath to leave: the green meadow, the gaudy Maypole, and the music were good, but the silence on the river, the shadow of the brooding forest, the darting of the fish hawk, were better.
In the meadow the boys' race and the rustic dance were soon over. The dinner at the Jaquelin house to its guests lasted longer, but it too was hurried; for in the afternoon Mr. Harrison's mare Nelly was to run against Major Burwell's Fearnaught, and the stakes were heavy.
Not all of the company went from the banquet back to the meadow, where the humbler folk, having eaten their dinner of bread and meat and ale, were whiling away with sports of their own the hour before the race. Colonel Byrd had business at Williamsburgh, and must reach his lodgings there an hour before sunset. His four black horses brought to the door the great vermilion-and-cream coach; an ebony coachman in scarlet cracked his whip at a couple of negro urchins who had kept pace with the vehicle as it lumbered from the stables, and a light brown footman flung open the door and lowered the steps. The Colonel, much regretting that occasion should call him away, vowed that he had never spent a pleasanter May Day, kissed the May Queen's hand, and was prodigal of well-turned compliments, like the gay and gallant gentleman that he was. His daughter made her graceful adieux in her clear, low, and singularly sweet voice, and together they were swallowed up of the mammoth coach. Mr. Haward took snuff with Mr. Jaquelin; then, mounting his horse,—it was supposed that he too had business in Williamsburgh,—raised his hat and bade farewell to the company with one low and comprehensive bow.
The equipage made a wide turn; the ladies and gentlemen upon the Jaquelin porch fluttered fans and handkerchiefs; the Colonel, leaning from the coach window, waved his hand; and the horseman lifted his hat the second time. The very especial guests were gone; and though the remainder of the afternoon was as merry as heart could wish, yet a bouquet, a flavor, a tang of the Court and the great world, a breath of air that was not colonial, had gone with them. For a moment the women stood in a brown study, revolving in their minds Mistress Evelyn's gypsy hat and the exceeding thinness and fineness of her tucker; while to each of the younger men came, linked to the memory of a charming face, a vision of many-acred Westover.
But the trumpet blew, summoning them to the sport of the afternoon, and work stopped upon castles in Spain. When a horse-race was on, a meadow in Virginia sufficed.
THE ROAD TO WILLIAMSBURGH
April had gone out in rain, and though the sun now shone brightly from a cloudless sky, the streams were swollen and the road was heavy. The ponderous coach and the four black horses made slow progress. The creeping pace, the languid warmth of the afternoon, the scent of flowering trees, the ceaseless singing of redbird, catbird, robin, and thrush, made it drowsy in the forest. In the midst of an agreeable dissertation upon May Day sports of more ancient times the Colonel paused to smother a yawn; and when he had done with the clown, the piper, and the hobby-horse, he yawned again, this time outright.
"What with Ludwell's Burgundy, piquet, and the French peace, we sat late last night. My eyes are as heavy as the road. Have you noticed, my dear, how bland and dreamy is the air? On such an afternoon one is content to be in Virginia, and out of the world. It is a very land of the Lotophagi,—a lazy clime that Ulysses touched at, my love."
The equipage slowly climbed an easy ascent, and as slowly descended to the level again. The road was narrow, and now and then a wild cherry-tree struck the coach with a white arm, or a grapevine swung through the window a fragrant trailer. The woods on either hand were pale green and silver gray, save where they were starred with dogwood, or where rose the pink mist of the Judas-tree. At the foot of the hill the road skirted a mantled pond, choked with broad green leaves and the half-submerged trunks of fallen trees. Upon these logs, basking in the sunlight, lay small tortoises by the score. A snake glided across the road in front of the horses, and from a bit of muddy ground rose a cloud of yellow butterflies.
The Colonel yawned for the third time, looked at his watch, sighed, lifted his finely arched brows with a whimsical smile for his own somnolence; then, with an "I beg your pardon, my love," took out a lace handkerchief, spread it over his face and head, and, crossing his legs, sunk back into the capacious corner of the coach. In three minutes the placid rise and fall of his ruffles bore witness that he slept.
The horseman, who, riding beside the lowered glass, had at intervals conversed with the occupants of the coach, now glanced from the sleeping gentleman to the lady, in whose dark, almond-shaped eyes lurked no sign of drowsiness. The pond had been passed, and before them, between low banks crowned with ferns and overshadowed by beech-trees, lay a long stretch of shady road.
Haward drew rein, dismounted, and motioned to the coachman to check the horses. When the coach had come to a standstill, he opened the door with as little creaking as might be, and held out a petitionary hand. "Will you not walk with me a little way, Evelyn?" he asked, speaking in a low voice that he might not wake the sleeper. "It is much pleasanter out here, with the birds and the flowers."
His eyes and the smile upon his lips added, "and with me." From what he had been upon a hilltop, one moonlight night eleven years before, he had become a somewhat silent, handsome gentleman, composed in manner, experienced, not unkindly, looking abroad from his apportioned mountain crag and solitary fortress upon men, and the busy ways of men, with a tolerant gaze. That to certain of his London acquaintance he was simply the well-bred philosopher and man of letters; that in the minds of others he was associated with the peacock plumage of the world of fashion, with the flare of candles, the hot breath of gamesters, the ring of gold upon the tables; that one clique had tales to tell of a magnanimous spirit and a generous hand, while yet another grew red at mention of his name, and put to his credit much that was not creditable, was perhaps not strange. He, like his neighbors, had many selves, and each in its turn—the scholar, the man of pleasure, the indolent, kindly, reflective self, the self of pride and cool assurance and stubborn will—took its place behind the mask, and went through its allotted part. His self of all selves, the quiet, remote, crowned, and inscrutable I, sat apart, alike curious and indifferent, watched the others, and knew how little worth the while was the stir in the ant-hill.
But on a May Day, in the sunshine and the blossoming woods and the company of Mistress Evelyn Byrd, it seemed, for the moment, worth the while. At his invitation she had taken his hand and descended from the coach. The great, painted thing moved slowly forward, bearing the unconscious Colonel, and the two pedestrians walked behind it: he with his horse's reins over his arm and his hat in his hand; she lifting her silken skirts from contact with the ground, and looking, not at her companion, but at the greening boughs, and at the sunlight striking upon smooth, pale beech trunks and the leaf-strewn earth beneath. Out of the woods came a sudden medley of bird notes, clear, sweet, and inexpressibly joyous.
"That is a mockingbird," said Haward. "I once heard one of a moonlight night, beside a still water"—
He broke off, and they listened in silence. The bird flew away, and they came to a brook traversing the road, and flowing in wide meanders through the forest. There were stepping-stones, and Haward, crossing first, turned and held out his hand to the lady. When she was upon his side of the streamlet, and before he released the slender fingers, he bent and kissed them; then, as there was no answering smile or blush, but only a quiet withdrawal of the hand and a remark about the crystal clearness of the brook, looked at her, with interrogation in his smile.
"What is that crested bird upon yonder bough," she asked,—"the one that gave the piercing cry?"
"A kingfisher," he answered, "and cousin to the halcyon of the ancients. If, when next you go to sea, you take its feathers with you, you need have no fear of storms."
A tree, leafless, but purplish pink with bloom, leaned from the bank above them. He broke a branch and gave it to her. "It is the Judas-tree," he told her. "Iscariot hanged himself thereon."
Around the trunk of a beech a lizard ran like a green flame, and they heard the distant barking of a fox. Large white butterflies went past them, and a hummingbird whirred into the heart of a wild honeysuckle that had hasted to bloom. "How different from the English forests!" she said. "I could love these best. What are all those broad-leaved plants with the white, waxen flowers?"
"May-apples. Some call them mandrakes, but they do not rise shrieking, nor kill the wight that plucks them. Will you have me gather them for you?"
"I will not trouble you," she answered, and presently turned aside to pull them for herself.
He looked at the graceful, bending figure and lifted his brows; then, quickening his pace until he was up with the coach, he spoke to the negro upon the box. "Tyre, drive on to that big pine, and wait there for your mistress and me. Sidon,"—to the footman,—"get down and take my horse. If your master wakes, tell him that Mistress Evelyn tired of the coach, and that I am picking her a nosegay."
Tyre and Sidon, Haward's steed, the four black coach horses, the vermilion-and-cream coach, and the slumbering Colonel, all made a progress of an hundred yards to the pine-tree, where the cortege came to a halt. Mistress Evelyn looked up from the flower-gathering to find the road bare before her, and Haward, sitting upon a log, watching her with something between a smile and a frown.
"You think that I, also, weigh true love by the weight of the purse," he said. "I do not care overmuch for your gold, Evelyn."
She did not answer at once, but stood with her head slightly bent, fingering the waxen flowers with a delicate, lingering touch. Now that there was no longer the noise of the wheels and the horses' hoofs, the forest stillness, which is composed of sound, made itself felt. The call of birds, the whir of insects, the murmur of the wind in the treetops, low, grave, incessant, and eternal as the sound of the sea, joined themselves to the slow waves of fragrance, the stretch of road whereon nothing moved, the sunlight lying on the earth, and made a spacious quiet.
"I think that there is nothing for which you care overmuch," she said at last. "Not for gold or the lack of it, not for friends or for enemies, not even for yourself."
"I have known you for many years," he answered. "I have watched you grow from a child into a gracious and beautiful woman. Do you not think that I care for you, Evelyn?"
Near where he sat so many violets were blooming that they made a purple carpet for the ground. Going over to them, she knelt and began to pluck them. "If any danger threatened me," she began, in her clear, low voice, "I believe that you would step between me and it, though at the peril of your life. I believe that you take some pleasure in what you are pleased to style my beauty, some pride in a mind that you have largely formed. If I died early, it would grieve you for a little while. I call you my friend."
"I would be called your lover," he said.
She laid her fan upon the ground, heaped it with violets, and turned again to her reaping. "How might that be," she asked, "when you do not love me? I knew that you would marry me. What do the French call it,—mariage de convenance?"
Her voice was even, and her head was bent so that he could not see her face. In the pause that followed her words treetop whispered to treetop, but the sunshine lay very still and bright upon the road and upon the flowers by the wayside.