A Historical Romance of Border Life
BY EMERSON BENNETT,
AUTHOR OF "PRAIRIE FLOWER," "LENI LEOTI," "FOREST ROSE," "MIKE FINK," "VIOLA," "CLARA MORELAND," "FORGED WILL," "TRAITOR," "FEMALE SPY," "ROSALIE DU PONT," "FAIR REBEL," ETC., ETC.
CINCINNATI: PUBLISHED BY U.P. JAMES, No. 177 RACE STREET.
Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1853, BY J.A. & U.P. JAMES, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the District of Ohio.
In putting to press a new and revised edition of the following story, the author would state, that his original design was to combine fact and fiction, in such a way, as, while making his story move forward to a proper denouement, to give the reader a correct picture of the dress, customs, and social and war-like habits of the early pioneers of the west; and also embody a series of historical events which took place on the frontiers during that revolutionary struggle by which we gained our glorious independence. For this purpose, Kentucky, in her infancy, was selected as the scene of action; and most of the existing records of her early settlements were read with care, each compared with the others, and only the best authenticated accounts presented to the reader. So much in fact did the author labor to make the present story historical, that there is scarcely a scene or character in its pages that had not its counterpart in reality.
He would only add, that, for important reasons, the original title has been changed to that which now heads its title-page. "What's in a name?" queried the great bard. Had he lived in our day, and been a novelist instead of a poet, he would either not have asked the question, or answered it very differently than he did.
That portion of territory known throughout Christendom as Kentucky, was, at an early period, the theatre of some of the wildest, most hardily contested, and bloody scenes ever placed on record. In fact its very name, derived from the Indian word Kan-tuck-kee, which was applied to it long before its discovery by the whites, is peculiarly significant in meaning—being no less than "the dark and bloody ground." History makes no mention of its being inhabited prior to its settlement by the present race; but rather serves to aid us to the inference, that from time immemorial it was used as a "neutral ground," whereon the different savage tribes were wont to meet in deadly strife; and hence the portentious name by which it was known among them. But notwithstanding its ominous title, Kentucky, when first beheld by the white hunter, presented all the attractions he would have envied in Paradise itself. The climate was congenial to his feelings—the country was devoid of savages—while its thick tangles of green cane—abounding with deer, elk, bears, buffaloes, panthers, wolves and wild cats, and its more open woods with pheasant, turkey and partridge—made it the full realization of his hopes—his longings. What more could he ask? And when he again stood among his friends, beyond the Alleghanies, is it to be wondered at that his excited feelings, aided by distance, should lead him to describe it as the El Dorado of the world? Such indeed he did describe it; and to such glowing descriptions, Kentucky was doubtless partially indebted for her settlement so much in advance of the surrounding territory.
As it is not our purpose, in the present instance, to enter into a history of the country, further than is necessary to the development of our story, the reader will pardon us for omitting that account of its early settlement which can readily be gleaned from numerous works already familiar to the reading public. It may not be amiss, however, to remark here, what almost every reader knows, that first and foremost in the dangerous struggles of pioneer life, was the celebrated Daniel Boone; whose name, in the west, and particularly in Kentucky, is a household word; and whose fame, as a fearless hunter, has extended not only throughout this continent, but over Europe. The birth place of this renowned individual has been accredited to several states, by as many writers; but one, more than the rest, is positive in asserting it to have been Bucks county, Pennsylvania; and the year of his birth 1732; which is sufficient for our purpose, whether strictly correct or not. At an early period of his life, all agree that he removed with his father to a very thinly settled section of North Carolina, where he spent his time in hunting—thereby supplying the family with meat and destroying the wild beasts, while his brothers assisted the father in tilling the farm—and where he afterwards, in a romantic manner, became acquainted with a settler's daughter, whom he married; and whence, in the spring of 1769, in company with five others, he set out on an expedition of danger across the mountains, to explore the western wilds; and after undergoing hardships innumerable, and losing all his companions in various ways, he at last succeeded in erecting the first log cabin, and being the first white settler within the borders of Kentucky. To follow up, even from this time, a detail of his trials, adventures, captures by the Indians, and hair-breadth escapes, to the close of his eventful career, would be sufficient to fill a volume; therefore we shall drop him for the time—merely remarking, by the way, that he will be found to figure occasionally in the following pages.
From the first appearance of Boone in the wilds of Kentucky, we shall pass over a space of some ten or twelve years, and open our story in the fall of 1781. During this period, the aspect of the country for a considerable distance around the present site of Lexington, had become materially changed; and the smoke from the cabin of the white settler arose in an hundred places, where, a dozen years before, prowled the wolf, the bear, and the panther, in perfect security. In sooth, the year in question had been very propitious to the immigrants; who, flocking in from eastern settlements in goodly numbers, were allowed to domiciliate themselves in their new homes, with but few exceptions, entirely unmolested by the savage foe. So much in fact was this the case, that instead of taking up their residence in a fort—or station, as they were more generally called—the new comers erected cabins for themselves, at such points as they considered most agreeable; gradually venturing further and further from the strongholds, until some of them became too distant to look hopefully for succor in cases of extreme necessity.
Among the stations most prominent at this period, as being most secure, and against which the attacks of the Indians were most frequent and unsuccessful, may be mentioned Harrod's, Boone's, Logan's, and Bryan's, so called in honor of their founders. The first two named, probably from being the two earliest founded, were particularly unfortunate in drawing down upon themselves the concentrated fury of the savages, who at various times surrounded them in great numbers and attempted to take them by storm. These attacks not unfrequently lasted several days, in which a brisk fire was maintained on both sides, whenever a foe could be seen; until wearied out with fruitless endeavors, or surprised by a reinforcement of the whites, the Indians would raise the siege, with a howl of rage, and depart. One of the longest and most remarkable of these on record, we believe, was that of Boonesborough, which was attacked in June, 1778, by five hundred Indians, led on by Duquesne, a Frenchman, and which, with only a small garrison, commanded by Boone himself, nobly held out for eight days, when the enemy withdrew in despair. But, as we before remarked, it not being our purpose to enter into a general history of the time, we will now proceed with our story.
It was near the close of a mild, beautiful day, in the autumn of 1781, that a young man, some twenty-two years of age, emerged from a wood into an open space or clearing, at a distance of perhaps fifteen miles eastward from Lexington. The general appearance of this individual betokened the hunter, but at the same time one who followed it for pleasure, rather than as a means of support. This was evident from his dress, which although somewhat characteristic of the time, was much superior to that generally worn by the woodsman. He had on a woolen hunting frock, of fine texture, of a dark green color, that came a few inches below the hips. Beneath this, and fitting closely around his shoulders, neck and breast, was a scarlet jacket, ornamented with two rows of round, white metal buttons. A large cape, with a deep red fringe, of about inch in width, was attached to the frock, and extended from the shoulders nearly to the elbow. Around the waist, outside the frock, passed a dark leather belt, in which were confined a brace of handsome pistols, and a long silver-hilted hunting knife. Breeches of cloth, like the frock, were connected with leggins of tanned deer skin, which in turn extended over, and partly concealed, heavy cow-hide boots. A neatly made cap of deer skin, with the hair outside, surmounted a finely shaped head. His features, though somewhat pale and haggard, as if from recent grief or trouble, were mostly of the Grecian cast. He had a high, noble forehead; a large, clear, fascinating gray eye; a well formed mouth, and a prominent chin. In height he was about five feet and ten inches, broad shouldered, straight, heavy set, with handsome proportions.
Upon the shoulder of the young man, as he emerged from the wood, rested an elegant rifle; which, after advancing a short distance, he brought into a trailing position; and then pausing, he dropped the breech upon the ground, placed his hands over the muzzle, and, carelessly leaning his chin upon them, swept with his eye the surrounding country, to which he was evidently a stranger.
The day had been one of those mild and smoky ones, peculiar to the climate and season; and the sun, large and red, was near to sinking behind the far western ridge, giving a beautiful crimson, mellow tinge to each object which came beneath his rays. The landscape, over which the stranger gazed, was by no means unpleasing. His position was on an eminence, overlooking a fertile valley, partly cleared, and partly shaded by woods, through which wound a crystal stream, whose gentle murmurs could be heard even where he stood. Beyond this stream, the ground, in pleasing undulations, took a gentle rise, to a goodly height, and was covered by what is termed an open wood—a wood peculiar to Kentucky at this period—consisting of trees in the regularity of an orchard, at some distance apart, devoid of underbrush, beneath which the earth was beautifully carpeted with a rank growth of clover, high grass, and wild flowers innumerable. In the rear of the young hunter, as if to form a background to the picture, was the wood he had just quitted, which, continuing the elevation spoken of, but more abruptly, rose high above him, and was crowned by a ledge of rocks. Far in the distance, to his right, could be seen another high ridge; while to the left, spreading far away from the mouth of the valley, if we may so term it, like the prairies of Missouri, was a beautiful tangle, or cane-brake, containing its thousands of wild animals. The open space wherein the hunter stood was not large, covering an area of not more than half a dozen acres. It was of an oblong form, and sloped off from his position to the right, left, and front, and reached from the wood down to the stream in the valley, where stood a rather neat log cabin, from which a light blue smoke ascended in graceful wreaths. The eye of the stranger, glancing over the scene, fell upon this latter with that gleam of satisfaction which is felt by a person after performing a long fatiguing journey, when he sees before him a comfortable inn, where he is to repose for the night; and pausing for a couple of minutes, he replaced his rifle upon his shoulder, and started forward down the hill, at a leisure pace.
Scarcely had the stranger advanced twenty paces, when he was startled by a fierce yell, accompanied by the report of a rifle, the ball of which whizzed past him, within an inch of his head. Ere he could recover from his surprise, a sharp pain in the side, followed by another report, caused him to reel like one intoxicated, and finally sink to the earth. As the young man fell, two Indians sprung from behind a cluster of bushes, which skirted the clearing some seventy-five yards to the right, and, with a whoop of triumph, tomahawk in hand, rushed toward him. Believing that his life now depended upon his own speedy exertions, the young hunter, by a great effort, succeeded in raising himself on his knees; and drawing up his rifle with a hasty aim, he fired; but with no other success than that of causing one of the savages to jerk his head suddenly aside without slackening his speed. There was still a chance left him; and setting his teeth hard, the wounded man drew his pistols from his belt, and awaited the approach of his enemies; who, when within thirty paces, discovering the weapons of death, suddenly came to a halt, and commenced loading their rifles with great rapidity.
The young hunter now perceived, with painful regret, that only an interposition of Providence could save him, for his life was hanging on a thread that might snap at any moment. It was an awful moment of suspense, as there, on his knees, far, far away from the land of his birth, in a strange country, he, in the prime of life, without a friend near, wounded and weak, was waiting to die, like a wild beast, by the hands of savages, with his scalp to be borne hence as a trophy, his flesh to be devoured by wolves, and his bones left to bleach in the open air. It was an awful moment of suspense! and a thousand thoughts came rushing through his mind; and he felt he would have given worlds, were they his, for the existence of even half an hour, with a friend by, to receive his dying requests. To add to his despair, he felt himself fast growing weaker and weaker; and with an unsteady vision, as his last hope, he turned his eye in the direction of the cottage, to note if any assistance were at hand; but he saw none; and nature failing to support him longer in his position, he sunk back upon the ground, believing the last sands of his existence were run.
Meantime, the Indians had loaded their rifles; and one of them, stepping a pace in front of his companion, was already in the act of aiming, when, perceiving the young man falter and sink back, he lowered the muzzle of his gun, and, grasping his tomahawk, darted forward to despatch him without further loss of ammunition. Already had he reached within five or six paces of his victim, who, now unable to exert himself in his own defence, could only look upon his savage enemy and the weapon uplifted for his destruction, when, crack went another rifle, in an opposite direction whence the Indians approached, and, bounding into the air, with a terrific yell, the foremost fell dead by the young man's side. On seeing his companion fall, the other Indian, who was only a few paces behind, stopped suddenly, and, with a yell of fear and disappointment, turned and fled.
Those only who have been placed in peril sufficient to extinguish the last gleam of hope, and have suddenly been relieved by a mysterious interposition of Providence, can fully realize the feelings with which the wounded hunter saw himself rescued from an ignominious death. True, he was weak and faint from a wound which was, perhaps, mortal; still it was a great consolation to feel that he should die among those who would bury him, and perhaps bear a message to friends in a far-off land. With such thoughts uppermost in his mind, the young man, by great exertion, raised himself upon his elbow, and turned his head in the direction whence his deliverer might be expected; but, to his surprise and disappointment, no one appeared; and after vainly attempting to regain his feet, he sunk back, completely exhausted. The wound in his side had now grown very painful, and was bleeding freely; while he became conscious, that unless the hemorrhage could be stanched immediately, the only good service a friend could render him, would be to inter his remains. In this helpless state, something like a minute elapsed, when he felt a strange sensation about his heart—his head grew dizzy—his thoughts seemed confused—the sky appeared suddenly to grow dark, and he believed the icy grasp of death was already settling upon him. At this moment a form—but whether of friend or foe he could not tell—flitted before his uncertain vision; and then all became darkness and nonentity. He had swooned.
When the young stranger recovered his senses, after a lapse of some ten minutes, his glance rested on the form of a white hunter, of noble aspect, who was bending over him with a compassionate look; and who, meantime, had opened his dress to the wound and stanched the blood, by covering it with a few pieces of coarse linen, which he had torn into shreds for the purpose, and secured there by means of his belt.
As this latter personage is destined to figure somewhat in the following pages, we shall take this opportunity of describing him as he appeared to our wounded friend.
In height and proportion—but not in age—these two individuals were somewhat alike—the new comer being full five feet, ten inches, with a robust, athletic frame, and all the concomitants of a powerful man. At the moment when first beheld by the young man, after regaining his senses, he was kneeling by his side, his cap of the wild-cat skin was lying on the ground, and the last mellow rays of the setting sun were streaming upon an intelligent and manly countenance, which, now rendered more deeply interesting by the earnest, compassionate look wherewith he regarded the other, made him appear to that other, in his peculiar situation, this most noble being he had ever seen. Of years he had seen some fifty; though there was a freshness about his face, owing probably to his hardy, healthy mode of life, which made him appear much younger. His countenance was open and pleasing, with good, regular, though not, strictly speaking, handsome features. His forehead was high and full, beneath which beamed a mild, clear blue eye. His nose was rather long and angular; his cheekbones high and bold; his lips thin and compressed, covering a goodly set of teeth; his chin round and prominent; the whole together conveying an expression of energy, decision, hardy recklessness and manly courage. His dress was fashioned much like the other's, already described, but of coarser materials—the frock being of linsey-woolsey; the breeches and leggings of deerskin; and the moccasins, in place of boots of the same material. Around his waist passed a belt; wherein, instead of pistols, were confined a tomahawk and scalping knife—two weapons which were considered as indispensable to the regular white hunter of that day as to the Indian warrior himself.
So soon as the elder of the two became aware of consciousness on the part of the younger, a friendly smile succeeded to the look of anxiety with which he had been regarding him; and in the frank, cordial, familiar tone of that period, when every man's cabin was the traveler's home, and every strange guest was treated with the hospitality of an old acquaintance, he said:
"Well, stranger, I'm right glad to welcome you back to life agin; for I war beginning to fear your account with earthly matters had closed. By the Power that made me! but you've had a narrow escape on't; and ef Betsy (putting his hand on his rifle, which was lying by his side,) hadn't spoke out as she did, that thar red skin varmint (pointing to the dead Indian) would have been skulking now like a thief through yonder woods, with your crown piece hanging to his girdle."
"A thousand thanks," returned the wounded man, pressing the hand of the other as much as his strength would permit, and accompanying it with a look of gratitude more eloquent than words: "A thousand thanks, sir, for your timely shot, and subsequent kindness and interest in behalf of one you know not, but who will ever remember you with gratitude."
"See here, stranger, I reckon you've not been long in these parts?"
"But a few days, sir."
"And you've come from a good ways east o' the Alleghanies?"
"I knew it. I'd have bet Betsey agin a bushel of corn, and that's large odds you know, that such war the fact, from the particular trouble you've taken to thank me for doing the duty of a man. Let me assure you, stranger, that you're in a country now whar equality exists; and whar one man's just as good as another, provided he is no coward, and behaves himself as he should do; and whether stranger or not, is equally entitled to the assistance of his fellows; perticularly when about being treed by such a sneaking varmint as that lying yonder. Besides, I don't want any body to thank me for shooting Indians; for I always do it, whensomever I get a chance, as Betsey would tell you, ef she could speak English; for somehow thar's no perticular agreement atween us, unless it's for each to make the most he can off the other; and so far I reckon thar's a ballance in my favor, though the wretches are ever trying desperate hard to get even. But come, stranger, it won't do for you to be lying thar with that hole in your side; and so just have patience a minute, till I've secured the top-knot of this beauty here, and then I'll assist you down to yonder cabin, whar I doubt not you'll be well cared for."
As he spoke, the old woodsman rose to his feet, drew his knife, and turning to the dead Indian, to the surprise of the other, who was but little familiar with Kentucky customs of that day, deliberately took off the scalp, which he attached to his belt; and then spurning the body with his foot, he muttered: "Go, worthless dog! and fill the belly of some wolf! and may your cowardly companion be soon keeping you company." Then, as he turned to the other, and noticed his look of surprise, he added: "Well, stranger, I reckon this business looks a little odd to you, coming from away beyond the mountains as you do."
"Why, if truth must be told, I confess it does," answered the other.
"Don't doubt it, stranger; but you'll do it yourself afore you've wintered here two seasons."
"I must beg leave to differ with you on that point."
"Well, well, we'll not quarrel about it—it arn't worth while; but ef you stay here two year, without scalping a red-skin and perhaps skinning one, I'll agree to pay you for your time in bar-skins at your own valuation."
"I am much obliged to you for the offer," answered the young man—a faint smile lighting his pale features; "but I think it hardly probable I shall remain in the country that length of time."
"Not unless you have good care, I reckon," returned the other; "for that thar wound o' yourn arn't none o' the slightest; though I don't want you to be skeered, for I've seen many a worse one cured. But come, I'll assist you down to yon cabin, and then I must be off—for I've got a good distance to travel afore daylight to-morrow;" and bending down as he spoke, the veteran hunter placed his arms under the arms of the wounded man, and gently raised him upon his feet.
Although extremely weak from loss of blood, the latter, by this means of support, was enabled to walk, at a slow pace; and the two descended the hill—the elder, the while, talking much, and endeavoring by his discourse to amuse and cheer up his companion.
"Why," he continued, "you think your case a hard one, no doubt, stranger; but it's nothing compared to what some of us old settlers have seen and been through with, without even winking, as one may say. Within the last few year, I've seen a brother and a son shot by the infernal red-skins—have lost I don't know how many companions in the same way—been shot at fifty times myself, and captured several; and yet you see here I am, hale and hearty, and just as eager, with Betsey's permission, to talk to the varmints now as I war ten year ago."
"But do you not weary of this fatiguing and dangerous mode of life?" inquired the other.
"Weary, stranger? Lord bless ye! you're but a young hunter to ax such a question as that. Weary, friend? Why I war born to it—nursed to it—had a rifle for a plaything; and the first thing I can remember particularly, war shooting a painter; and it's become as nateral and necessary as breathing; and when I get so I can't follow the one, I want to quit the other. Weary on't, indeed! Why, thar's more real satisfaction in sarcumventing and scalping one o' there red heathen, than in all the amusement you could scare up in a thick-peopled, peaceable settlement in a life time."
"By the way," said the other, "pray tell me how you chanced to be so opportune in saving my life?"
"Why, you must know, I war just crossing through the wood back here about a mile, on my way home from the Licks, when I came across the trail of two Indians, whom I 'spected war arter no good; and as Betsey war itching for something to do, I kind o' kept on the same way, and happened round on the other side o' this ridge, just as the red varmints fired. I saw you fall, but could'nt see them, on account o' the hill; but as I knowed they'd be for showing themselves soon, I got Betsey into a comfortable position, and waited as patiently as I could, until the ugly face of that rascal yonder showed clar; when I told her to speak to him, which she did in rale backwood's dialect, and he died a answering her. I then hurried round on the skirt of the wood, loading Betsey as I went; but finding the other varmint had got off, I hastened to you and found you senseless: the rest you know."
By this time the two had reached nearly to the foot of the hill, and within a hundred yards of the cabin. Here they were joined by a tall, lank, lantern-jawed, awkward young man, some twenty years of age, with small, dark eyes, a long, peaked nose, and flaxen hair that floated down over his ungainly shoulders, like weeping willows over a scrub oak, and who carried in his hand a rifle nearly as long and ugly as himself.
"Why, colonel, how are ye? good even' to ye, stranger," was his salutation, as he came up. "I war down by the tangle yonder, when I heerd some firing, and some yelling, and I legged it home, ahead o' the old man, just to keep the women folks in sperets, in case they war attacked, and get a pop or so at an Injen myself; but thank the Lord, they warn't thar; and so I ventered on, with long Nance here, to see whar they mought be."
"Well, Isaac," returned the one addressed as colonel, "I don't doubt your being a brave lad, and I've had some opportunity o' seeing you tried; but being is how thar's no Indians to shoot just now, I'll ax you to show your good qualities in another way. This young man's been badly wounded, and ef you'll give him a little extra care, you'll put me under obligations which I'll be happy to repay whensomever needed."
"It don't need them thar inducements you've just mentioned, colonel, to rouse all my sympathies for a wounded stranger. Rely on't, he shan't suffer for want o' attention."
"Rightly said, lad; rightly said; and so I leave him in your care. Tender my regards to your family, for I must be off, and can't stay to see them." Then turning to the wounded man, he grasped his hand and said: "Stranger, thar's something about you I like; I don't say it of every man I meet; and so you may put it down for a compliment or not, just as you please. Give me your name?"
"Algernon Reynolds, I hope we shall meet again, though in a different manner from our introduction; but whether or no, ef you ever need the assistance of either Betsey or myself, just make it known, and we'll do our best for you. Good bye, sir—good bye, Isaac!" and without waiting a reply, the speaker sprung suddenly behind a cluster of bushes near which the party stood, and the next moment was lost to view in the gathering darkness.
"A great man, that thar, sir!—a powerful great man," observed Isaac, gazing with admiration after the retreating form of the hunter. "Always doing good deeds, and never looking for pay nor thanks; may God give him four-score and ten."
"Amen to that!" returned Reynolds. "But pray tell me his name."
"And you don't know him?"
"I do not."
"And you didn't inquire his name?"
"I did not."
"And ef you had, sir, ten to one but he'd a given you a fictitious one, to keep clar o' your surprise and extra thanks. Why that, sir, war the great white hunter, Colonel Daniel Boone."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Reynolds, in no feigned surprise—"the very man I have so longed to behold; for his fame has already extended far beyond the Alleghanies. But come, friend Isaac, my wound grows painful; my exertions thus far have weakened me exceedingly; and with your permission, I will proceed to the cottage. Ah! I feel myself growing faint—fainter—fa-i-n-t;" and he sunk senseless into the other's arms; who, raising him, apparently without an effort, bore him into the house.
[Footnote 1: However barbarous such a proceeding may appear to thousands in the present day of civilization and refinement, we can assure them, on the authority of numerous historians of that period, that it was a general custom with the early settlers of the west, to take the scalp of an Indian slain by their hand, whenever opportunity presented.]
[Footnote 2: Backwoods name for a panther.]
When young Reynolds again regained his senses, it was some minutes before he could sufficiently recover from the confusion of ideas consequent upon his mishap, to follow up the train of events that had occurred to place him in his present situation. His first recollection was of the attack made upon him by the Indians; and it required considerable argument with himself, to prove conclusively, to his own mind, that he was not even now a captive to the savage foe. Gradually, one by one, each event recurred to his mind, until he had traced himself to the moment of his swooning in the arms of a tall, ungainly young man, called Isaac; but of what, had taken place since—where he now was—or what length of time had intervened—he had not the remotest idea. He was lying on his back, upon a rude, though by no means uncomfortable, bed; and, to the best of his judgment, within the four walls of some cabin—though to him but two of the walls were visible—owing to the quantity of skins of the buffalo, bear, and deer, which were suspended around the foot and front of his pallet. He was undressed; and, as he judged, upon applying his hand to the wounded part, had been treated with care; for it came in contact with a nicely arranged bandage of cloth, which was even now moist with some spirituous liquid. But what perplexed him most, was the peculiar light, with the aid of which, though dim, he could discern every object so distinctly. It could not proceed from a candle—it was too generally diffused; nor from the fire—it was too gray, and did not flicker; nor from the moon—it was not silvery enough: from what then did it proceed? It appeared the most like daylight; but this it could not be, he reasoned, from the fact that he was wounded just before night-fall—unless—and the idea seemed to startle him—unless he had lain in a senseless state for many hours, and it was indeed again morning. Determined, however, to satisfy himself on this point, he attempted to rise for the purpose; but found, to his no small surprise and regret, that he had not even strength sufficient to lift his body from the bed; and, therefore, that nothing was left him, but to surmise whatever he chose, until some one should appear to solve the riddle; which, he doubted not, would be ere long.
While these reflections and surmises were rapidly passing through the mind of our hero—for such we must acknowledge him to be—he heard no sound indicating the immediate vicinity of any other human being; and turning his thoughts upon this latter, he was beginning to doubt whether, at the moment, he was not the only individual beneath the roof; when he heard a step, as of some one entering another apartment; and, directly following, a female voice addressed to some person within.
"Have ye looked to the stranger agin, Ella, and moisted his bandage?"
"I have, mother," was the answer, in a sweet and silvery voice, which caused our wounded hero to start with a thrill of pleasing astonishment.
"And how appeared he, Ella?" continued the first speaker.
"Why, I thought a little better," answered the same soft, musical voice; "he seemed asleep, and entirely tranquil."
"God send it, gal, for he's had a tougher, sartin. Three days, now, nater's bin tugging away for him; and I'd hate to see him die now, arter all; and being the colonel's recommind, too; for Isaac says the colonel injuncted him strongly to take car o' him; and I'd do any thing to oblege sech a man as him. He didn't appear to have his senses, I reckon?"
"I judged not," answered Ella; "though, from his tranquil sleep, I argued favorably of his case."
"Well," rejoined the other, "it's my opine the crisis is at hand; and that he'll ayther come out o' this lethargick—as they calls it—a rational, or die straight off. 'Spose you look at him agin, Ella; or, stay, I'll look myself. Poor feller! how he did rave and run on 'bout his troubles at home, that's away off, until I all but cried, in reckoning how I'd feel ef it war Isaac as war going on so.".
As the speaker concluded, she advanced to where the object of her remarks was lying; and, drawing aside in a gentle manner, some of the skins near his head, gazed upon him.
As will be surmised by the reader, not a syllable of the foregoing colloquy had been lost upon Reynolds; who heard, with unbounded astonishment, of his narrow escape from that dark valley whence none who enter again return, and that three days had elapsed since he had fallen into an unconscious state. He learned, too, with regret, that he had been communicating matters—to what extent he knew not—to others, which he wished safely locked in his own breast; and judging it best, in the present instance, to dissemble a little, that his informant might not be aware of his having overheard her, he feigned to be asleep on her approach.
"He's sleeping yit, poor creater," continued the hostess, as she bent over the bed of our hero, until he felt her breath upon his face. "I hope it arn't a going to be his final sleep—so young, and so handsome too! but, O dear, thar's no telling what them Injen bullets will do, for folks does say as how they have a knack o' pizening them, that's orful to tell on! O Lord o' marcy, Ella, child, do come here!" cried the dame suddenly: "I do believe he's coming to, for sartin."
This latter speech was occasioned by a movement of the pretended sleeper, and the gradual opening of his eyes, with the rude stare of bewildered surprise natural to one in his supposed situation, and such as he would have exhibited without feigning, had the hostess been present some ten minutes sooner. Discovering, as already intimated, a returning consciousness on the part of her guest, the good woman drew back her head, but still kept her position by the bed, and her eyes fixed upon him, with an expression which betrayed a fear lest her hopes of this important event should prove entirely fallacious. Behind her, with timid step, stole up Ella, and, peeping over her shoulders, encountered the eyes of the young man beaming upon her, with a look which her acute perception told her was any thing but insane; and instantly starting back, the blood rushed upward, crimsoning her neck and face with a beautiful glow. As for Reynolds—in whom, as already stated, the voice of Ella alone was sufficient to awaken a thrill of pleasure—no sooner did he behold her, though but for an instant, than he felt that thrill revived with a sensation, which, in spite of himself, he knew was expressed in his own countenance; and he hastened to speak, in order as much as possible to conceal it.
"Will you have the goodness, madam, to inform me where I am?"
"Thar, thar, Ella, child!" exclaimed the matron, joyously; "I told ye so—I know'd it—he's come to, for sartin—the Lord be praised!" Then addressing herself to Reynolds, she continued: "Whar are you, stranger, do you ax? Why you're in the cabin o' Ben Younker—as honest a man as ever shot a painter—who's my husband, and father of Isaac Younker, what brought ye here, according to the directions of Colonel Boone, arter you war shot by the Injens, the varmints, three days ago; and uncle of Ella Barnwell here, as I calls daughter, 'cause her parents is dead, poor creaters, and she hadn't a home to go to, but come'd to live with us, that are fetching her up in a a dutiful way;" and the good woman concluded her lucid account of family matters with a sound that much resembled a person taking breath after some laborious exertion.
"And is it possible," answered Reynolds, who hastened to reply, in order to conceal a strong inclination he felt for laughing, "that I have lain here three whole days?"
"Three days, and four nights, and part o' another day, jest as true as buffaloes run in cane-brakes, and Injen varmints shoot white folks whensomever they git a chance," replied Mrs. Younker, with great volubility. "And Ella, the darling, has tended on ye like you war her own nateral born brother; and Isaac, and Ben, and myself ha' tended on ye too, while you war raving and running on at an orful rate, though you've had the best bed, and best o' every thing we've got in the house."
"For all of which I am at a loss for terms to express my gratitude," returned Reynolds, coloring slightly as he thought of the assiduous attentions he had unconsciously received from Ella Barnwell, who already began to be an object in his eyes of no little importance.
"Don't mention about gratitude," rejoined the kind hearted Mrs. Younker; "don't talk about gratitude, for a lettle favor sech as every body's got a right to, what comes into this country and gits shot by savages. We havn't done no more for you than we'd a done for any body else in like sarcumstances; and, la, sir, the pleasure o' knowing you're a going to git well agin, arter being shot by Injen's pizen bullets, is enough to pay us twenty times over—Eh! Ella, child—don't you say so?"
"No one, save the gentleman himself, or his dearest friends, can be more rejoiced at his favorable symptoms than myself," responded Ella, timidly, in a voice so low, sweet and touching, that Reynolds, who heard without seeing her—for she kept the rude curtain of skins between them—felt his heart beat strangely, while his eyes involuntarily grew moist.
"That's truly said, gal—truly said, I do believe," rejoined Mrs. Younker; "for she's hung over you, sir, (turning to the wounded man) night and day, like a mother over her child, until we've had to use right smart authority to make her go to bed, for fear as how she'd be sick too."
"And if I live," answered Reynolds, in a voice that trembled with emotion, "and it is ever in my power to repay such disinterested attention and kindness, I will do it, even to the sacrificing that life which she, together with you and your family, good woman, has been the means, under God, of preserving."
"Under God," repeated the matron; "that's true; I like the way you said that, stranger; it sounds reverential—it's just—and it raises my respect for you a good deal; for all our doings is under God's permit;" and she turned her eyes upward, with a devout look, in which position she remained several seconds; while Ella, with her fair hands clasped, followed her example, and seemed, with her moving lips, engaged in prayer.
"But come," resumed the dame, "it won't do for you, stranger, to be disturbed too much jest now; for you arn't any too strong, I reckon; and so you'll jest take my advice, and go to sleep awhile, and you'll feel all the better for't agin Ben and Isaac come home, which'll be in two or three hours."
Saying this, Mrs. Younker again disposed the curtains so as to conceal from Reynolds all external objects; and, together with Ella, withdrew, leaving him to repose. Whether he profited by her advice immediately, or whether he meditated for some time on other matters, not excluding Ella, we shall leave to the imagination of the reader; while we proceed, by way of episode, to give a general, though brief account, of the Younker family.
Benjamin Younker was a man about fifty-five years of age—tall, raw-boned and very muscular—and although now past the prime, even the meridian of life, was still possessed of uncommon strength. His form, never handsome, even in youth, was now disfigured by a stoop in the shoulders, caused by hard labor and rheumatism. His face corresponded with his body—being long and thin, with hollow cheeks, and high cheek bones,—his eyes were small and gray, with heavy eye-brows; his nose long and pointed; his mouth large and homely, though expressive; and his forehead medium, surmounted by a sprinkling of brown-gray hair. In speech he was deliberate, generally pointed, and seldom spoke when not absolutely necessary. He was a good farmer—such being his occupation; a keen hunter, whenever he chose to amuse himself in that way; a sure marksman; and, although ignorant in book learning, possessed a sound judgment, and a common-sense understanding on all subjects of general utility. He was a native of Eastern Virginia, where the greater portion of his life had been spent in hunting and agricultural pursuits—where he was married and had been blessed with two children—a son and a daughter—of whom the former only was now living, and has already been introduced to the reader as Isaac—and whence, at the instance of his wife and son, he removed, in the spring of 1779, into the borders of Kentucky—finally purchased and settled where he now resided; and where, although somewhat exposed, he and his family had thus far remained unmolested.
The dame, Mrs. Younker, was a large, corpulent woman of forty-five, with features rather coarse and masculine, yet expressive of shrewdness and courage, and, withal, a goodly share of benevolence. She was one of that peculiar class of females, who, if there is any thing to be said, always claim the privilege of saying it; in other words, an inveterate talker; and who, if we may be allowed the phrase, managed her husband, and all around her, with the length of her tongue. In the country where she was brought up and known, to say of another, that he or she could compete with Ben Younker's wife in talking, was considered the extreme of comparison; and it is not recorded that any individual ever presumed on the credulity of the public sufficient to assert that the vocal powers of the said Mrs. Younker were ever surpassed. Unlike most great talkers, she was rarely heard to speak ill of any, and then only such as were really deserving of censure; while her rough kind of piety—if we may so term it—and her genuine goodness of heart, known to all with whom she came in contact, served to procure her a long list of friends. She possessed, as the reader has doubtless judged from the specimen we have given, little or no education; but this deficiency, in her eyes, as well as in most of those who lived on the frontiers, was of minor consequence—the knowledge of hunting, farming, spinning and weaving, being considered by far the more necessary qualifications for discharging the social duties of life.
Of Isaac, with whom the reader is already, acquainted, we shall not now speak, other than to say, he could barely read and write—rather preferring that he develop his character in his own peculiar way. But there is another, and though last, we trust will not prove least in point of interest to the reader, with whom we shall close, this episodical history—namely—Ella Barnwell.
The mother of Ella—a half sister to the elder-Younker—died when she was very young, leaving her to the care of a kind and indulgent father, who, having no other child, lavished on her his whole affections. At the demise of his wife, Barnwell was a prosperous, if not wealthy merchant, in one of the eastern cities of Virginia; and knowing the instability of wealth, together with his desire to fit his daughter for any station in society, he spared no expense necessary to educate her in all the different branches of English usually studied by a female. To this was added drawing, needle-work, music and dancing; and as Ella proved by no means a backward scholar in whatever she undertook, she was, at the age of fifteen, to use a familiar phrase, turned out an accomplished young lady. But alas! she had been qualified for a station which fate seemed determined not to let her occupy; for just at this important period of her life, her father became involved in an unfortunate speculation, that ended in ruin, dishonor, and his own bodily confinement in prison for debts he could never discharge. Naturally high spirited and proud, this misfortune and persecution proved too much for his philosophy—and what was more, his reason—and in a state of mental derangement, he one night hung himself to the bars of his prison window—leaving his daughter at the age we have named, a poor, unprotected, we might almost add friendless, orphan; for moneyless and friendless are too often synonymous terms, as poor Ella soon learned to her mortification and sorrow.
Ella Barnwell, the young, the beautiful, and accomplished heiress, was a very different personage from poor Ella Barnwell the bankrupt's daughter; and those who had fawned upon and flattered and courted the one, now saw proper to pass the other by in silent contempt. It was a hard, a very hard lesson for one at the tender age of Ella, who had been petted and pampered all her life, and taught by her own simplicity of heart to look upon all pretenders as real friends—it was a hard lesson, we say, for one of her years, to be forced at one bold stroke to learn the world, and see her happy, artless dreams vanish like froth from the foaming cup; but if hard, it was salutary—at least with her; and instead of blasting in the bud, as it might have done a frailer flower, it set her reason to work, destroyed the romantic sentimentalism usually attached to females of that excitable age, taught her to rely more upon herself, and less upon others, more upon actions and less upon words, and, in short, made a strong minded woman of her at once. Yet this was not accomplished without many a heart-rending pang, as the briny tears of chagrin, disappointment, and almost hopeless destitution, that nightly chased each other down the pale cheeks of Ella Barnwell to the pillow which supported her feverish head, for weeks, and even months after the death of her father, could well attest.
The father of Ella was an Englishman, who had emigrated to this country a few years previous to his marriage; and as none of his near relations had seen proper to follow his example, Ella, on his side, was left entirely destitute of any to whom she could apply for assistance and protection. On her mother's side, she knew of none who would be likely to assist her so readily as her half uncle, Benjamin Younker, whom she remembered as having seen at the funeral of her mother; and who then, taking her in his brawny arms, while the tears dimmed his eyes, in a solemn, impressive manner told her, that, in the ups and downs of life, should she ever stand in need of another's strong arm or purse, to call on him, and that, while blest with either himself, she should not want. This at the time had made a deep impression on her youthful mind, but subsequently had been nearly or quite obliterated, until retouched by feeling the want of that aid then so solemnly and generously tendered. Accordingly, after trying some of her supposed true-hearted friends—who had more than once been sharers in her generosity; and who, in return, had professed the most devoted attachment; but who now, in her distress, unkindly treated her urgent requests with cold neglect,—Ella hastened to make her situation known to her uncle; the result of which had been her adoption into a family, who, if not graced with that refinement and education to which she had been accustomed, at least possessed virtues that many of the refined and learned were strangers to—namely—truth, honesty, benevolence, and fidelity.
Ella, in her new situation, with her altered views of society in general, soon grew to love her benefactor and his family, and take that sincere pleasure in their rude ways, which, at one time, she would have considered as next to impossible. With a happy faculty, belonging only to the few, she managed to work herself into their affections, by little and little, almost imperceptibly, until, ere they were aware of the fact themselves, she was looked upon rather as a daughter and sister, than a more distant relation. In sooth, the former appellation the reader has already seen applied to her during the recorded conversation of the voluble Mrs. Younker—an appellation which Ella ever took good care to acknowledge by the corresponding title of mother.
About a year from the period of Ella's becoming a member of the family, the Younkers had removed, as already stated, to what was then considered the "Far West," and had finally purchased and settled where we find them in the opening of our story. In this expedition, Ella, though somewhat reluctantly, had accompanied them—had remained with them ever since—and was now, notwithstanding her former lady-like mode of life, through the tuition of Mrs. Younker, regularly installed into all the mysteries of milking, churning, sewing, baking, spinning and weaving. With this brief outline of her past history, we shall proceed to describe her personal appearance, at the time of her introduction to the reader, and then leave her to speak and act for herself during the progress of this drama of life.
Eighteen years of sunshine and cloud, had served to mould the form of Ella Barnwell into one of peculiar beauty and grace. In height she was a little above five feet, had a full round bust, and limbs of that beautiful and airy symmetry, which ever give to their possessor an appearance of etherial lightness. Her complexion was sufficiently dark to entitle her to the appellation of brunette; though by many it would have been thought too light, perhaps, owing to the soft, rich transparency of her skin; through which, by a crimson tint, could be traced the "tell-tale-blood," on the slightest provocation tending to excitement. Her features, if examined closely, could not be put down as entirely regular, owing to a very slight defect in the mouth, which otherwise was very handsome, and which was graced with two plump, pretty, half pouting lips. This defect, however, was only apparent when the countenance was in stern repose; and, as this was seldom, when in company with others, it was of course seldom observed. The remainder of her features were decidedly good, and, seen in profile, really beautiful. Her eye was a full, soft, animated hazel, that could beam tenderly with love, sparkle brilliantly with wit, or flash scornfully with anger; but inclining more to the first and second qualities than the last. Her eye-brows were well defined, and just sufficiently arched to correspond with the eyes themselves. Her forehead was prominent, of a noble cast, and added dignity to her whole appearance. Her hair was a rich, dark brown, fine and glossy, and although neatly arranged about the head, evidently required but little training to enable it to fall gracefully about her neck in beautiful ringlets. The general expression of her face, was a soft, bewitching playfulness, which, combined with the half timid, benevolent look, beaming from her large, mild, hazel eye, invariably won upon the beholder at the first glance, and increased upon acquaintance. Her voice we have already spoken of as possessing a silvery sweetness; and if one could be moved at merely seeing her, it only required this addition to complete the charm. To all of the foregoing, let us add an ardent temperament—capable of the most tender, lasting and devoted attachment, when once the affections were placed on an object—a sweet disposition, modest deportment, and graceful manners—and you have the portrait in full of Ella Barnwell, the orphan, the model of her sex, and the admiration of all who knew her.
[Footnote 3: Mrs. Younker is the only authority we have for supposing Indians poison their bullets, although we have read of poisoned arrows, and hence infer such a proceeding to be rather a supposition with her than a certainty.]
THE TALE AND FATAL SECRET.
The dwelling of Benjamin Younker, as already mentioned, stood at the base of a hill, on the margin of a beautiful valley, and within a hundred feet of a lucid stream, whose waters, finding their source in the neighboring bills, rushed down, all gleesome and sparkling, over a limestone bed, and
"From morn till night, from night till morn,"
sung gentle melodies for all who chose to listen.
The building itself though rough, both externally and internally, was what at that period was termed a double cabin; and in this respect was entitled to a superiority over most of its neighbors. As this may serve for a representative of the houses or cabins of the early settlers of Kentucky, we shall proceed to describe its structure and general appearance somewhat more minutely than might otherwise be deemed necessary.
The sides of the cottage in question, were composed of logs, rough from the woods where they had been felled, with the bark still clinging to them, and without having undergone other transformation than being cut to a certain length, and notched at either end, so as to sink into each other, when crossed at right angles, until their bodies met, thereby forming a structure of compactness, strength and solidity. Some ten or twelve feet from the ground, the two upper end logs of the cabin projected a foot or eighteen inches beyond the lower, and supported what were called butting poles—poles which crossed these projections at right angles, and, extending along the front and back of the building, formed the eaves of the roof. This latter was constructed by gradually shortening the logs at either end, until those which crossed them, as we said before, at right angles, came together at an angle of forty-five degrees, and the last one formed the ridge-pole or comb of the whole. On these logs, lapping one over the other, and the lower tier resting against the butting poles, were laid slabs of clapboard—a species of plank split from some straight-grained tree—about four feet long, and from three to four wide. These were secured in their places by logs in turn resting on them, at certain intervals, and answering the purpose of nails; necessity requiring these latter articles of convenience to be dispensed with in the early settlements of the West. As the cabin was double, two doors gave entrance from without, one into either apartment. These entrances were formed by cutting away the logs for the space of three feet by six, and were closed by rude doors, made of rough slabs, pinned strongly to heavy cross bars, and hung on hinges of the same material. These, like the rest of the building, were rendered, by their thickness, bullet proof—so that when closed and bolted, the house was capable of withstanding an ordinary attack of the Indians. With the exception of one window, opening into the apartment generally occupied by the family, and flanked by a heavy shutter, the doors and chimney were the only means through which light and air were admitted. These were all firmly secured at night—the unsettled and exposed state of the country, and the dangerous proximity of the pioneers to the ruthless savage, particularly those without the forts, rendering necessary, on their part, the most vigilant caution.
The internal appearance of the cabin corresponded well with the external. The apartment occupied by the family during the day, where the meals were cooked and served, and the general household affairs attended to, was very homely; and might, if contrasted with some of the present time, be termed almost wretched; though considered, at the period of which we write, rather above than below the ordinary. The floor was composed of what by the settlers were termed puncheons; which were made by splitting in half trees of some eighteen inches in diameter, and hewing the faces of them as regular as possible with the broad-axe. These were laid, bark side downwards, upon sleepers running crosswise for the purpose, and formed at least a dry, solid and durable, if not polished, floor. At one end of the cabin was the chimney, built of logs, outside the apartment, but connecting with it by a space cut away for the purpose. The back, jambs, and hearth of this chimney were of stone, and put together, in a manner not likely to be imitated by masons of the present day. A coarse kind of plaster filled up the surrounding crevices, and served to keep out the air and give a rude finish to the whole.
The furniture of the Younkers, if the title be not too ambiguous, would scarcely have been coveted by any of our modern exquisites, even had they been living in that age of straight-forward common sense. A large, rough slab, split from some tree, and supported by round legs set in auger holes, had the honor of standing for a table—around which, like a brood of chickens around their mother, were promiscuously collected several three-legged stools of similar workmanship. In one corner of the room were a few shelves; on which were ranged some wooden trenchers, pewter plates, knives and forks, and the like necessary articles, while a not very costly collection of pots and kettles took a less dignified and prominent position beneath. Another corner was occupied by a bed, the covering of which was composed of skins of different animals, with sheetings of home-made linen. In the vicinity of the bed, along the wall, was a row of pegs, suspending various garments of the occupants; all of which—with the exception of a few articles, belonging to Ella, procured for her before the death of her father—were of the plainest and coarsest description. A churn—a clock—the latter a very rare thing among the pioneers of Kentucky—a footwheel for spinning flax—a small mirror—together with several minor articles, of which it is needless to speak—completed the inventory of the apartment. From this room were two exits, besides the outer door—one by a ladder leading above to a sort of attic chamber, where were two beds; and the other through the wall into the adjoining cabin, whither our hero had been borne in a state of insensibility on the night of his mishap, and where he was for the second time presented to the reader. This latter place was graced with a bed, a loom for weaving, a spinning-wheel, a large oaken chest, and a few rough benches.
Such, reader, as our description has set forth, was the general appearance of Younker's dwelling, both without and within, in the year of our Lord 1781; and, moreover, a fair representative of an hundred others of the period in question—so arbitrary was necessity in making one imitate the other. But to resume our story.
In the after part of a day as mild and beautiful as the one on which we opened our narrative, but some four weeks later, Ella Barnwell, needle-work in hand, was seated near the open door leading from the apartment first described to the reader. Her head was bent forward, and her eyes were apparently fixed upon her occupation with great intentness—though a close observer might have detected furtive glances occasionally thrown upon a young man, with a pale and somewhat agitated countenance, who was pacing to and fro on the ground without. With the exception of these two, no person was within sight—though the rattling of a loom in the other apartment or cabin, betokened the vicinity of the industrious hostess.
For some moments the young man—a no less personage than our hero—paced back and forth like one whose mind is harrowed by some disagreeable thought: then suddenly halting in front of the doorway, and in a voice which, though not intended to be so, was slightly tremulous, he addressed himself to the young lady, in words denoting a previous conversation.
"Then I must have said some strange things, Ella—I beg pardon—Miss Barnwell."
"Have I not requested you, Mr. Reynolds, on more than one occasion, to call me Ella, instead of using the formality which rather belongs to strangers in fashionable society than to those dwelling beneath the same roof, in the wilds of Kentucky?" responded the person addressed, in a tone of pique, while she raised her head and let her soft, dark eyes rest reproachfully on the other.
"Well, well, Ella," rejoined Reynolds, "I crave pardon for my heedlessness; and promise you, on that score at least, no more cause for offence in future."
"Offence!" said Ella, quickly, catching at the word: "O, no—no—not offence, Mr. Reynolds! I should be sorry to take offence at what was meant in all kindness, and with true respect; but somehow I—that is—perhaps it may not appear so to others—but I—to me it appears studied—and—and—cold;" and as she concluded, in a hesitating manner, she quickly bent her head forward, while her cheek crimsoned at the thought, that she might perhaps have ventured too far, and laid herself liable to misconstruction.
"And yet, Ella," returned Reynolds, somewhat playfully, "you resemble many others I have known, in preaching what you do not practice. You request me to lay aside all formality, and address you by your name only; while you, in that very request, apply to me the title you consider as studied, formal and cold."
"You have reference to my saying Mr. Reynolds, I presume," answered Ella; "but I see no analogy between the two; as in addressing you thus, I do but what, under the circumstances, is proper; and what, doubtless, habit has rendered familiar to your ear; while, on the other hand, no one ever thinks of calling me any thing but Ella, or at the most, Ella Barnwell—and hence all superfluities grate harshly."
"Even complimentary adjectives, eh?" asked Reynolds, with an arch look.
"Even those, Mr. Reynolds; and those most of all are offensive, I assure you."
"I thought all of your sex were fond of flattery."
"Then have you greatly erred in thinking."
"But thus says general report."
"Then, sir, general report is a slanderer, and should not be credited. Those who court flattery, are weak-minded and vain; and I trust you do not so consider all our sex."
"Heaven forbid," answered Reynolds, with energy, "that I should think thus of all, or judge any too harshly!—but there may be causes to force one into the conviction, that the exceptions are too few to spoil the rule."
"I trust such is not your case," responded Ella, quickly, while her eyes rested on the other with a searching glance.
"No one is required to criminate himself in law," replied Reynolds, evasively, with a sigh; and then immediately added, as if anxious to change the topic: "But I am eager for you to inform me what I said during my delirium."
"O, many things," returned Ella, "the half of which I could not repeat; but more particularly you spoke of troubles at home, and often repeated the name of Elvira with great bitterness. Then you would run on incoherently, for some time, about pistols, and swords, and end by saying that the quarrel was just—that you were provoked to it, until it became almost self defence—and that if he died, his blood would be on his own head."
"Good heavens, Ella! did I indeed say this?" exclaimed Reynolds, with a start, while his features became deadly pale. "Did I say more? did I mention further particulars?—speak! tell me—tell me truly!"
"Not in my hearing," answered Ella, while her own face blanched at the sudden vehemence of the other.
"Well, well, do not be alarmed!" said Reynolds, evidently somewhat relieved, and softening his voice, as he noticed the change in her countenance; "people sometimes say strange things, when reason, the great regulator of the tongue, is absent. What construction did you put upon my words, Ella?"
"Why, in sooth," replied Ella, watching his features closely as she spoke, "I thought nothing of them, other than to suppose you might formerly have had some trouble; and that in the chaos of wild images crowding your brain, after being attacked and wounded by savages, it was natural some of these image should be of a bloody nature."
"Then you did not look upon the words as having reference to a reality."
"No! at the time I did not."
"At the time?" repeated Reynolds, with a slight fall of countenance; "have you then seen or heard any thing since to make you suspicious?"
"Well, well," said Reynolds, quickly, as she hesitated; "speak out and fear nothing!"
"Until but now, when you became so agitated, and spoke so vehemently on my repeating your delirious language," added Ella, concluding the sentence.
"Ha!" ejaculated Reynolds, as if to himself; "sanity has done more to betray me than delirium. Well, Ella," continued he, addressing her more direct, "you have heard enough to make you doubtful of my character; therefore you must needs hear the whole, that you may not judge me worse than I am; but remember, withal, the tale is for your ear alone."
"Nay, Mr. Reynolds, if it be a secret, I would rather not have it in keeping," answered Ella.
"It is a secret," returned Reynolds, solemnly, with his eyes cast down in a dejected manner; "a secret, I would to Heaven I had not myself in keeping! but hear it you must, Ella, for various reasons, from my lips; and then we part—(his voice slightly faltered) we part—forever!"
"Forever!" gasped Ella, quickly, with a choking sensation, while her features grew pale, and then suddenly flushed, and her work unconsciously dropped from her hand. Then, as if ashamed of having betrayed her feelings, she became confused, and endeavored to cover the exposure by adding, with a forced laugh: "But really, Mr. Reynolds, I must crave pardon for my silly behavior—but your manner of speaking, somehow, startled me—and—and I—before I was aware—really, it was very silly—indeed it was, and I pray you overlook it!"
"Were circumstances not as I have too much reason to fear they are," returned Reynolds, slowly, sadly, and impressively, with his eyes fixed earnestly and even tenderly upon the other, "I would not exchange that simple expression of yours, Ella, for a mine of gold. By that alone you have spoken volumes, and told me what I already feared was true, but hoped was otherwise. Nay, turn not your head away, Ella—dear Ella, if you will allow me so to address you—it is better, under the circumstances, that we speak plainly and understandingly, as the time of our final separation draweth near. I fear that my manner and language have hitherto too much expressed my feelings, and encouraged hopes in you that can never be realized. Oh! Ella, if such be the case, I would, for your dear sake, we had never met!—and the thought hereafter, that I have caused you a pang, will add its weight of anguish to my already bitter lot. The days that I have spent beneath this hospitable roof, and in your sweet presence, are so many of bright sunshine, in a life of cloud and storm; but will only serve, as I recall them, to make the remainder, by contrast, seem more dark and dreary. From the first I learned you were an orphan, and my sympathy was aroused in your behalf; subsequently, I listened to your recital of grief, and trouble, and cold treatment by the world—told in an artless manner—and in spite of me, in spite of my struggles to the contrary, I discovered awakening in my breast a feeling of a stronger nature. Had my wound permitted, I should have torn myself from your presence then, with the endeavor, if such a thing were possible, to forget you; but, alas! fate ordered otherwise, and the consequence I fear will be to add sorrow to both. But one thing, dear Ella, before I go further, let me ask: Can you, and will you forgive me, for the manner in which I have conducted myself in your company?"
"I have nothing to forgive; and had I, it should be forgiven," answered Ella, sweetly, in a timid voice, her hands unconsciously toying with her needle-work, and her face half averted, whereon could be traced the suppressed workings of internal emotion.
"Thank you, Ella—thank you, for taking a weight from my heart. And now, ere I proceed with what to both of us will prove a painful revelation, let me make one request more—a foolish one I know—but one I trust you will grant nevertheless."
"Name it," said Ella, timidly, as the other paused.
"It is, simply, that in judging me by the evidence I shall give against myself, you will lean strongly to the side of mercy; and, when I am gone, think of me rather as an unfortunate than criminal being."
"You alarm me, Mr. Reynolds, with such a request!" answered Ella, looking up to the other with a pale, anxious countenance. "I know not the meaning of it! and, as I said before, I would rather not have your secret in keeping—the more so, as you say the revelation will be a painful one to both."
For a moment the young man paused, as though undecided as to his reply, while his countenance expressed a look of mortified regret really painful to behold—so much so, that Ella, moved by this to a feeling of compassion, said:
"I perceive my answer wounds your feelings—I meant no harm; go on with your story; I will listen, and endeavor to concede all you desire."
"Thank you—again thank you!" returned the other, energetically, with emotion. "I will make my narrative brief as possible."
Saying which, he entered the apartment where the other was sitting, and seating himself a few feet distant from her, after some little hesitation, as if to bring his resolution to the point, thus began:
"I shall pass over all minor affairs of my life, and come at once to the period and event, which changed me from a happy youth, blessed with home and friends, to a wanderer—I know not but an outlaw—on the face of the earth. I was born in the state of Connecticut, A.D. 1759; and my father being a man of property, and one determined on giving his children (of whom there were two, one older than myself) a liberal education, I was at an early age sent to a neighboring school, where I remained until turned of eighteen, and then returned to my parents.
"About this period, an old, eccentric lady—a maiden aunt of my father—died, bequeathing to me—or rather to the second born of her nephew, Albert Reynolds, which chanced to be myself—the bulk of her property—in value some fifty thousand dollars, on condition, that, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, I should marry a certain Elvira Longworth—a lady some three years my junior, for whom my great aunt had formed a strong attachment. And the will further provided, That in case the said second born of Albert Reynolds, either through the intervention of Providence, in removing him from off the face of the earth, (so it was worded) and from among the living, or through a mutual dislike of the parties seemed, did not between the specified ages, celebrate, with due rejoicing, the said nuptials with the said Elvira Longworth, the sum of twenty thousand dollars should be paid over to the said Elvira, if living, and the remainder of the property (or in case she was deceased the whole) should revert to the regular heirs at law.
"Such was the will—one of the most singular perhaps on record—which, whatever the design of its author, was destined, by a train of circumstances no one could foresee, to result in the most terrible consequences to those it should have benefited. On the reading thereof, no little dissatisfaction was expressed in regard to it, by numerous relatives of the deceased; each of whom, as a matter of course, was expecting a considerable share of the old lady's property; and all of whom, with but few exceptions, were nearer akin than myself; and therefore, in that respect, more properly entitled to it. As a consequence of the will, I, though innocent of its construction—for none could be more surprised at it than myself—became a regular target for the ridicule, envy, and hate of those who chanced to be disappointed thereby. At the outset, I had no intention of seeking a title to the property by complying with the specification set forth at the instance of its late owner; and only looked upon it as a piece of crack-brained folly, that would serve for a nine days' comment and jest, and then be forgotten; but when I saw, that instead of being treated with the courtesy and respect no conscious act of mine had ever forfeited, I was ridiculed, sneered at, and looked upon with jealousy and hate by those whose souls were too narrow to believe in a noble action—and who, measuring and judging me by their own sordid standards of avaricious justice, deemed I would spare no pains to legally rob them, as they termed it,—when I saw this, I say, my blood became heated, my fiercer passions were roused, and I inwardly swore, that if it were now in my power to accomplish what they feared, I would do it, though the lady in question were a fright to look upon. In this decision I was rather encouraged by my father, who being at the time somewhat involved, thought it a feasible plan of providing for me, and then, by my aid, recovering from his own pecuniary embarrassments.
"As yet I had never seen Elvira—she living in an adjoining county, some thirty miles distant, where my aunt, on a visit to a distant relative, had first made her acquaintance, and formed that singular attachment, peculiar to eccentric temperaments, which had resulted in the manner already shown. Accordingly, one fine spring morning, I mounted my horse, and set forth to seek my intended, and behold what manner of person she was of. Late at night I arrived at the village where she resided—stabled my beast—took lodging at a hotel—inquired out her residence—and, betimes, the morning following, made my obeisance in her presence, and with that bashful, awkward grace—if I may be allowed so paradoxical a term—which my youth present purpose, and former good breeding combined, were calculated to produce. I was more embarrassed still a minute after, when, having given my name, and hinted at the singular document of the old lady deceased, I found my fair intended, as well as her family, were in total ignorance of my meaning; and could I at the moment have been suddenly transferred to my horse, I do not think I should have paused to make the necessary explanation. As it was, there was no alternative; and accordingly begging a private interview with Elvira, I disclosed the whole secret; which she listened to for a time with unfeigned surprise; and then bursting into a wild, ringing laugh, declared it to be 'The funniest and most ridiculous thing she ever heard of.'
"She was a gay, sprightly, beautiful being—fresh in the bloom of some fifteen summers—with a bright, sparkling, roguish eye—long, floating, auburn ringlets—a musical voice—a ringing laugh—the latter frequent and long,—so that I soon felt it needed not the stimulating desire of wealth and revenge to urge me on to that, which, under any circumstances, would have been by no means disagreeable. To make a long story short, I called upon her at stated periods; and, within a year from our first acquaintance, we were plighted to each other. About this time my father, together with some influential friends, procured me a lieutenancy, to serve in our present struggle for the maintainance of that glorious independence, drawn up by the immortal Jefferson, and signed by the noble patriots some two years before. I served a two years' campaign, and fought in the unfortunate and bloody battle of Camden; which resulted, as doubtless you have heard, in great loss and defeat to the American arms. Shortly after the action commenced, our captain was killed, and the command of the company devolved on me. I fulfilled my duties to the best of my ability, and myself and men were in the hottest of the fight. But from some alleged misdemeanor, whereof I can take my oath I was guiltless, I was afterward very severely censured by one of my superior officers; which so wounded my feelings, that I at once resigned my commission and returned to my native state.
"On arriving at home, to my surprise and mortification, I learned that my intended was just on the eve of marriage with a cousin of mine—a worthless fellow—who, urged on by the relatives interested, and his own desire of acquiring the handsome competence of twenty thousand dollars, had taken advantage of my absence to calumniate me, (in which design he had been aided by several worthy assistants) and supplant me in the good graces—I will not say affections, as I think the term too strong—of Elvira Longworth.
"The lady in question I do not think I ever loved—at least as I understand the meaning of that term—and now—that she had listened to slander against me while absent, and, without waiting to know whether it would be refuted on my return, had engaged herself to another—I cared less for her than before;—but my pride was touched, that I should be thus tamely set aside for one I heartily despised; and this, together with my desire to thwart the machinations of the whole intriguing clique arrayed against me, determined me, if feasible, to regain the favor of Elvira, and have the ceremony performed as soon as possible. This, Ella, I know you think, and I am ready to admit it, was wrong—very wrong; but I make no pretensions to be other than a frail mortal, liable to all the errors appertaining thereto; and were this is the only sin to be laid to my charge, my conscience were far less troublesome than now.
"I determined, I say, to regain my former place in her favor or affection—whichever you like—and, to be brief, I apparently succeeded. The day was set for our marriage; which, for several reasons unnecessary to be detailed, was to take place at the residence of my father; and, as the will specified it should be with all due rejoicings, great preparations were accordingly made, and a goodly number of guests invited.
"At length the day came—the eventful day. Never shall I forget it; nor with what feelings, at the appointed hour, I entered the crowded hall, where the ceremony was to take place, with Elvira leaning tremblingly on my arm, her features devoid of all color, and approached the spot where the divine stood ready to unite us forever. All eyes were now fixed upon us; and the marriage rite was begun amid that deep and almost awful solemnity, which not unfrequently characterizes such proceedings on peculiar occasions, when every spectator, as well as the actors themselves, feel a secret awe steal over them, as though about to witness a tragic, rather than a civil, performance.
"I have mentioned that Elvira trembled violently when we entered the hall; but this trembling increased after the divine commenced the ritual; so that when I had answered in the affirmative the solemn question pertaining to my taking the being by my side as mine till death, her trepidation had become so great that it was with difficulty I could support her; and when the same interrogative was put to her, a silence of some moments followed; and then the answer came forth, low and trembling, but still sufficiently distinct to be generally understood; and was, to the unbounded astonishment of all, in the negative!"
"In the negative!" exclaimed Ella, suddenly, who had during the last few sentences been unconsciously leaning forward, as though to devour each syllable as it was uttered, and who now resumed her former position with a long drawn breath. "In the negative say you, Alger—a—a—Mr. Reynolds?"
"Call me Algernon, Ella, I pray you; it sounds more sweet and friendly. Ay, she answered in the negative. Heavens! what a shock was there for my proud nature! To be thus publicly insulted and rejected—to be thus made the butt and ridicule of fools and knaves—a mark for the jests and sneers of friend and foe! Oh! how my blood boiled and coursed in lava streams through my heated veins! I saw it all. I was the dupe of some artful design, intended to stigmatize me forever; and wild with a thousand terrible brain-searing thoughts, I rushed from the hall to my own apartment, seized upon my pistols, and was just in the act of putting a period to my existence, when my arm was suddenly grasped, and my hated rival and cousin stood before me.
"'Fiend!' cried I in frenzy; 'devil in human shape!—do you seek me in the body? What want you here?'
"His features were pale with excitement, and his lips quivered as he made answer: 'Be calm, Algernon, be calm; it was meant but in jest!'
"'Jest!' screamed I; 'do you then own to a knowledge of it, villain?—were you its author?—then take that, and answer it as you dare!'—and as I spoke, with the breech of my undischarged pistol, I stretched him senseless at my feet. Under the excitement of the moment, I was about to take a more terrible revenge; when others suddenly rushed in—seized and disarmed me—bore my rival from my sight—and, to conclude, placed me in bed, where I was confined for three weeks by a delirious fever, and then only recovered as it were by a miracle.
"During my convalescence, I learned that my cousin, soon after my return, had been privately married to Elvira; and prompted by his evil genius, and some of my enemies, had induced his wife to enter into the plot, the result of which has already been briefly narrated. I do not think she did it through malice, and doubtless little thought of the consequences that were destined to follow; but whether so or not, her punishment has, I think, been fully adequate to her crime; for the last I heard of her, she was an inmate of a mad-house—remorse for her conduct, the abuse heaped upon her by society, and her own severe fright at the termination of the stratagem, having driven her insane. Now comes the most tragic part of my narrative.
"When so far recovered as to again be abroad, I was cautioned by my parents against my rash act; and for their sakes, I promised to be temperate in all my movements; but, alas! how little we know when we promise, what we may be in sooth destined to perform. On my father's estate, about a mile distant from his residence, was a beautiful grove—whither, for recreation, I was in the habit of repairing at all periods of my life; and where, so soon as my strength permitted, after my sickness, I rambled daily. About ten days from my recovery, as I was taking my usual stroll through these grounds, I was suddenly confronted by my cousin. His cheeks were hollow and pale, and his whole appearance haggard in the extreme. His eyes, too, seemed to flash, or burn, as it were, with an unearthly brightness; and his voice, as he addressed me, was hoarse, and his manner hurried.
"'We meet well,' he said, 'well! I have watched for you long.'
"'Away!' cried I; 'tempt me no more—or something will follow I may regret hereafter!'
"'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed he, in derision, with that peculiar, hollow sound, which even now, as I recall it, makes my blood run cold:—'Say you so, cousin?—I came for that;' and again he laughed as before. 'See here—see here!' and he presented, as he spoke, with the butts toward me, a brace of pistols. 'Here is what will settle all our animosities,' he continued; 'take your choice, and be quick, or perchance we may be interrupted.'
"'Are you mad,' cried I, 'that you thus seek my life, after the wrongs you have done me?'
"'Mad!—ha, ha!—yes!—yes!—I believe I am,' he answered; 'and my wife is mad also. I did you wrong, I know—went to apologise for it, and you struck me down. Whatever the offence, a blow I never did and never will forgive; so take your choice, and be quick, for one or both of us must never quit this place alive.'
"'Away!' cried I, turning aside; 'I will not stain my hands with the blood of my kin. Go! the world is large enough to hold us both.'
"'Coward!' hissed he; 'take that, then, and bear what I have borne;' and with the palm of his hand he smote me on the cheek.
"I could bear no more—I was no longer myself—I was maddened with passion—and snatching a pistol from his hand, which was still extended toward me, without scarcely knowing what I did, I exclaimed, 'Your blood be on your own head!'—and—and—Oh, Heaven!—pardon me, Ella—I—shot him through the body."
Ella, who had partly risen from her seat, and was listening with breathless attention, now uttered an exclamation of horror, and sunk back, with features ghastly pale; while the other, burying his face in his hands, shook his whole frame with convulsive sobs. For some time neither spoke; and then the young man, slowly raising his face, which was now a sad spectacle of the workings of grief and remorse, again proceeded: