HATCHIE THE GUARDIAN SLAVE;
THE HEIRESS OF BELLEVUE.
A Tale of the Mississippi and the South-west
WARREN T. ASHTON.
Boston: B. B. Mussey and Company, and R. B. Fitts and Company
Reprinted 1972 from a copy in the Fisk University Library Negro Collection New World Book Manufacturing Co., Inc. Hallandale, Florida 33009
"Here is a man, setting his fate aside, Of comely virtues."
"Is this the daughter of a slave?"
In the summer of 1848 the author of the following tale was a passenger on board a steamboat from New Orleans to Cincinnati. During the passage—one of the most prolonged and uncomfortable in the annals of western river navigation—the plot of this story was arranged. Many of its incidents, and all its descriptions of steamboat life, will be recognized by the voyager of the Mississippi.
The tale was written before the appearance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin,"—before negro literature had become a mania in the community. It was not designed to illustrate the evils or the blessings of slavery. It is, as its title-page imports, a tale; and the author has not stepped out of his path to moralize upon Southern institutions, or any other extraneous topic. But, as its locale is the South, and its principal character a slave, the story incidentally portrays some features of slavery.
With these explanations, the author submits the tale to the public, hoping the reader will derive some portion of the pleasure from its perusal which he experienced in its preparation.
BOSTON, November 18, 1852.
THE GUARDIAN SLAVE.
"Antony. You grow presumptuous. Ventidius. I take the privilege of plain love to speak. Antony. Plain love!—Plain arrogance! plain insolence!"
On the second floor of a lofty building in —— street, New Orleans, was situated the office of Anthony Maxwell, Esq., Attorney and Counsellor at Law, Commissioner for Georgia, Alabama, and a dozen other states. His office had not the usual dusty, business-like aspect of such places, but presented more the appearance of a gentleman's drawing-room; and, but for the ponderous cases of books bound in law-sheep, and a table covered with tin boxes and bundles of papers secured with red tape, the visitor would easily have mistaken it for such. The space on the walls not occupied by book-cases was hung with rich paintings, whose artistic beauty and elevated themes betokened a refined taste. The floor of the room was covered by a magnificent tapestry carpet. The chairs, lounges and tables, were of the most costly and elegant description. The windows were hung with graceful and brilliant draperies. Every arrangement of the office betokened luxury and indolence, rather than the severe toil and privation to which the aspirant for legal honors must so often submit. The costly appurtenances of the apartment seemed to indicate that the young lawyer's path to fame was over a velvet lawn, bedecked with beautiful flowers, rather than the rough road, steep and crooked, over which the greatest statesmen and most eminent jurists have trodden.
The occupant of this chamber was stretched at full length upon one of the luxurious lounges, puffing, with an abstracted air, a fragrant regalia. He was a young man, not more than five-and-twenty years of age, and what ladies of taste would have styled decidedly handsome. His face was pale, with a certain haggard appearance, which indicates the earlier stages of dissipation. His complexion was of a delicate white, unbrowned by the southern sun, and the skin was so transparent that the roots of his black beard were visible beneath its surface. His jet-black hair hung in rich, wavy curls, which seemed to be the especial care of some renowned tonsorial artist, so gracefully and accurately were they arranged. His black eye was sharp and expressive when his mind was excited in manly thought; but now it was a little unsteady,—disposed to droop, and wander, as though ashamed to express the emotions which agitated his soul. Altogether, his features were classic; but there was something about them which the moralist would not like—a sort of lascivious softness mingling with the nobler intellectual expression, that warned him to beware of the Siren, while he admired the Apollo.
The marks of vice were visible in his countenance. They had not yet become canker-spots on the surface, but they rankled and festered beneath that fair field of physical and intellectual grandeur.
The young attorney was dressed in the extreme of fashion, yet in good taste. Though he wore all the fashion demanded, he did not court ridicule by overstepping its flickering lines. He was not the over-dressed dandy, but the full-dressed gentleman of refined taste, in his external appearance.
Anthony Maxwell had been educated at a northern institution. A year before his introduction to the reader, he had entered his father's office in the capacity of a partner, where, by an assumed devotion to business, he had effectually deceived his father and his clients into the belief that he was a steady, industrious young man. His talents were of a very respectable order, which, superadded to a native eloquence and an engaging demeanor, had enabled him to acquit himself with much credit in the cases intrusted to his management. A few months after his professional debut, his father's decease had placed him in possession of a very lucrative practice and a moderate fortune, thus enabling him in some degree to follow the bent of his own inclinations. To those whose habits and desires were similar to his own, he was not long in unfolding his true character, though not to a sufficient extent to destroy at once his professional prospects. The irresponsible life of the man of leisure had more charms to him than an honorable distinction in his profession. To labor in any form he had an intolerable repugnance. His fortune was not sufficient to allow an entire neglect of business; therefore he determined to practise law in an easy manner, until a rich wife, or the "tricks" of his craft, would permit an entire devotion to the pleasures of affluence.
In accordance with this idea, his first step, after the death of his father, had been to locate himself in the magnificent apartments we have described. He gave up the house in which his father had dwelt, and, fitting up a sleeping-room in the rear of the office with oriental splendor, his life and habits were free from the scrutinizing gaze of friend and foe, and he found himself situated as nearly to his mind as his income would permit. These indications of a dissolute life were viewed with distrust by the more respectable of his clients. His subsequent actions were not calculated to increase their confidence; yet, for the respect they bore to the father's memory, they were slow in casting off the son.
Mr. Maxwell smoked his cigar, and occasionally uttered an impatient exclamation, as though some scheme he was turning in his mind refused to accommodate itself to his means. He was evidently engaged in the consideration of some complicated affair; and the more he thought, the more impatient he grew. He finished his cigar, and lit another; still the knotty point was not conquered. His haggard countenance at one moment was lighted up, as though success had dawned upon his mental contest; but at the next moment it darkened into disappointment, which he vented in an audible oath.
While thus laboring in his perplexity, the door communicating with the ante-chamber was opened, and the boy in attendance very formally announced "Miss Dumont."
This announcement seemed to dissipate the vexatious clouds which had environed the attorney, and a light and cheerful smile came, as if by magic, upon his care-worn features, as he apologized to the lady for the smoky atmosphere of the room.
"I trust your honored father is well," said he, after disposing of the usual commonplace introductions of conversation.
"I regret to say that his failing health is the occasion of this visit," replied the lady, in a cold and even serious tone. "I have called to request your immediate attendance at Bellevue. My father has some business matters upon which he requires your professional advice."
"Col. Dumout, I trust, is not seriously ill," returned Maxwell, with an appearance of sympathy.
"He is confined to his room, but not entirely to his bed. When shall I say you will come?" said the lady.
"I will be there within an hour after your own arrival, if you go direct."
"Very well, sir;" and she turned to depart.
This intention on the part of the lady did not seem to meet the approbation of the attorney.
"Stay a moment, Miss Dumont," said he, in an embarrassed manner; "pray, honor me with a moment's conversation."
"Nay, sir. I know too well your object in this request, and cannot accede to it," replied the lady, in a firm and dignified manner, while a rich crimson shade suffused her beautiful countenance.
"Be not so unkind,—a moment is all I ask," said Maxwell, with pleading earnestness.
"No, sir; not a moment. Your unopened letter, which I yesterday returned, should be enough to convince you that my mind is not changed," replied she, moving to the door.
The lawyer was vexed. The letter alluded to by the lady he had received, and it had troubled him exceedingly. He had a great purpose in view,—a purpose which, accomplished, would enable him to realize the cherished object of his life,—would enable him to revel in the ease and affluence he so much coveted. Something must be done. Here was an opportunity afforded by the providential visit of Miss Dumont which might never occur again, and he resolved to improve it. Determined to detain her, he adopted the first expedient which presented itself.
"Pardon me," said he, "I have not received the letter, and was not aware that you intended to return it."
"Indeed!" replied the lady, with evident astonishment, as she relinquished her hold of the door-handle, and returned to the table by the side of which the attorney stood.
"I regret that I did not, as it would have saved you from further annoyance, and me from a few of the hours of anguish with which I have awaited your reply," returned the lawyer, in accents of humility, which were too well feigned to permit the lady to suspect them. "The bitterness of a blighted hope were better than the agony of suspense."
A smile of pity and contempt rested upon the fair face of the lady, as she turned her glance from him to the papers on the table. There lay Maxwell's letter, with the envelope in which she had returned it! She only pointed to it, and looked into his face to read the shame and confusion her discovery must create.
Maxwell's pallid cheek reddened, as he perceived that his deceit was exposed; but he instantly recovered his self-possession, and said,
"Pardon this little subterfuge. I permitted myself to descend to it, that I might gain a moment's time to plead with you for the heart which is wasting away beneath your coldness. You do not, you cannot, know the misery I have endured in possessing the love upon which you so cruelly frown."
The passionate eloquence of Maxwell might have melted a heart less firm than that of Emily Dumont. As it was, the cold expression of contempt left her features, and, if not disposed to listen with favor to his suit, she was softened into pity for his assumed misery. Under any other circumstances, the lie he had a moment before uttered would have forever condemned him in her sight. But her charitable disposition compelled her to believe that it was the last resort of a mind on the verge of despair.
"Mr. Maxwell," said she, "I am deeply grieved that you should have suffered any unhappiness on my account."
"I will bless you for even those words," returned Maxwell, hastily, feeling that he had gained the first point.
"But I do not intend to encourage your suit," promptly returned the lady.
"Be not again unkind! Veil not that heavenly sympathy in the coldness of indifference again!"
"I wish not to be harsh, or unkind. You have before given me an index of your sentiments, and I have endeavored, by all courteous means, to discountenance them."
"Yet I have always found something upon which to base a flickering hope."
"If you have, I regret it all the more."
"Do not say so! Changed as has been your demeanor towards me, I have dared to fan the flame in my heart, till now it is a raging fire, and beyond my control."
"I cannot give my hand where my heart is uninterested," replied the lady, feelingly. "I love you not. I am candid, and plain, and I trust this unequivocal declaration will forever terminate any hope you have cherished in relation to this matter. Painful as I now feel it must be for you to hear, and painful as it is to me, on that account, to declare it, I repeat—I can never reciprocate the affection you profess. And now let this interview terminate. It is too painful to be prolonged;"—and she again moved towards the door.
"Do not leave me to despair!" pleaded Maxwell, earnestly, as he followed her toward the door. "At least, bid me wait, bid me prove myself worthy,—anything, but do not forever extinguish the little star I have permitted to blaze in the firmament of my heart—the star I have dared to worship. Do not veil me in utter darkness!"
"I can offer no hope—not the slightest, even to rid myself of an annoyance," replied Miss Dumont, with the return of some portion of her former dignity; for the perseverance of the attorney perplexed and troubled her exceedingly.
"You know not to what a fate you doom me," said Maxwell, heedless of the lady's rebuke.
"There is no remedy;" and Miss Dumont grasped the door-knob.
"There is a remedy. Bid me wait a month, a year, any time, till you examine more closely your own heart. Give me any respite from hopeless misery."
"You have my answer; and now I trust to your honor as a gentleman to save me from further annoyance," said Miss Dumont, with spirit, for her patience was fast ebbing out.
"I will not annoy you," replied Maxwell, with emphasis, as he assumed an air of more self-possession. "I have been pleading for exemption from the direst of human miseries. But I will not annoy you, even to save myself from endless woe."
"Forget this misplaced affection; for he assured my sentiments will continue unchanged."
"I can never forget it; but I will strive to endure it with resignation. I feel that I must still cherish the presumptuous hope that you will yet relent."
"Destroy not your own peace; for the hope must be a vain one. Good-afternoon;" and the lady departed before the attorney had time to add another hyperbolical profession of a passion which, however well acted, was not half so deeply grounded as he had led the unsuspecting object of it to believe. That he really loved her was to some extent true. That his love was earnest and pure, such as the blight of coldness and inconstancy would render painful, was not true,—far from it. He had sought her hand, not to lay at her feet the offering of a hallowed affection, but to realize the object we have before mentioned,—to enable him, by the possession of her vast wealth, to live a life of ease and pleasure.
He had commenced his attack upon her affections with some prospect of success. To the occasional professional visit he paid her father he had added frequent social calls, in which he had used all his eloquence to enlist the sympathies of the fair daughter. She had regarded him as an agreeable visitor; and, indeed, his natural abilities, the unceasing wit and liveliness of his conversation, had well earned him this distinction. Flattering himself that he should be able to win her affections, he had gradually emerged from the indifference of the mere formalist to the incipient attentions of the devoted lover. These overtures were not well received, and, if she had before treated him with the favor which the agreeable visitor always receives, she now extended to him only the stately courtesy of entire indifference. The visible change in the cordiality of her receptions had opened his eyes, and revealed the nature of his unpromising position. But his disposition was too buoyant, his character too energetic, to allow him to despair.
Latterly, however, a new obstacle to his suit had presented itself, in the person of a rival, upon whom the object of his ambitious wishes appeared to bestow unusual favor. This individual was a young officer in the army, a sort of protege of the lady's father, who had been spending a furlough at Bellevue. In the matter of fortune Maxwell's rival was not to be dreaded, for he knew the lady was not mercenary in her views. The young captain was penniless; but his family was good, and he had the advantage of being a favorite with the father. He had won for himself a name on the fields of Mexico, which went far to enlist a lady's favor. He was a universal favorite both with the public and in the private circle.
Maxwell considered this young officer a formidable rival, and he resolved to retrieve himself at once. Upon his personal attractions he relied to overcome the lady's disfavor; and, notwithstanding the unequivocal intention of discountenancing his suit she had manifested, he resolved to open his campaign by addressing her, eloquently and tenderly, through the medium of a letter. He felt that he could in this manner gain her attention to his suit,—a point which his vanity assured him was equivalent to a victory. But his philosophy and his vanity were both sorely tried by the return of the letter unopened. His point was lost, and he was harassing his fertile brain with vain attempts to suggest any scheme short of honest, straight-forward wooing,—which the circumstances seemed to interdict,—when the visit of the lady herself rendered further efforts useless.
His position, resting, as it did, on the purpose of marrying the heiress,—a purpose too deeply incorporated with his future prospects to be resigned,—was now a desperate one. Through the long vista of struggles and difficulties he saw his end, and the fact that he had to some extent compromised his heart stimulated him still more to meet and overcome the barriers that environed him.
For an hour after the lady's departure the young lawyer pondered the obstacles which beset him. With the aspect of an angry rather than a disappointed man, he paced the office with rapid and irregular strides. He could devise no expedient. A lady's will is absolute, and he must bend in submission. He blamed his own tardiness one moment, and his precipitancy the next; then he cursed his ill luck, and vented his anger and disappointment in a volley of oaths.
His meditations were again interrupted, by his attendant's announcement of "Mr. Dumont."
"Ah, good-morning, sir! I was just on the point of going to Bellevue. Nothing serious has happened, I trust," said Maxwell, laying aside, with no apparent effort, his troubled visage, and assuming his usual bland demeanor.
"Nothing," replied the visitor, gruffly.
"Your niece left the office an hour since," continued Maxwell. "She requested me immediately to visit your brother."
"Which you have not done," returned the visitor, whom we will style Jaspar, to distinguish him from his brother, Colonel Dumont.
"But which I intend to do at once, a little matter having detained me longer than I supposed it would."
"I will save you the trouble. The business upon which my brother wished to see you was concerning his will."
"Indeed, sir! I hope he is not dangerously ill," said Maxwell, in apparent alarm.
"Not at all. The doctor says he will be out in a week; but he thinks otherwise, and is now engaged in putting his house in order," replied Jaspar, with a sickly smile.
"I am glad he is no worse, though it is better at all times to be prepared for the final event."
"Perhaps it is," said Jaspar, coldly. "Here is a rough draught of the will, which he wishes reduced to the usual form with all possible haste. Will it take you long?"
"An hour or two."
"I will wait, then, as he requested me to bring you with me on my return."
"It shall be done with all possible haste. There are cigars, and the morning papers. Pray make yourself comfortable."
Jaspar seated himself, and lit a cigar, without acknowledging his host's courtesy, while Maxwell applied himself to the task before him. The first part of the will was speedily written; but those parts which alluded to the testator's daughter, foreshadowing the opulence that awaited her, he could not so easily pass over. They were so strongly suggestive of the fortunate lot of him who should wed her, that he could scarcely proceed with the work. An hour before, she had veiled his prospects in darkness; now he was preparing a will which would, at no distant day, place her in possession of a princely fortune. His mind was so firmly fixed upon the attainment of this treasure that it refused to bend itself to the task before him.
Jaspar had finished his cigar, and began to be a little impatient. Thrice he rose from his chair, and looked over the lawyer's shoulder.
"This is an important paper," said Maxwell, noticing Jaspar's impatience, "and must be executed with great care."
"So it is; but the colonel may die before you get it done," observed Jaspar, coarsely, and with a crafty smile, which was not unnoticed by the attorney.
"O, no! I hope not," replied Maxwell, exhibiting the prototype of Jaspar's smile.
A smile! What is it? What volumes are conveyed in a single smile! It is the magnetic telegraph by which sympathetic hearts convey their untold and unmentionable purposes. To the anxious lover it is the bearer of the first tidings of joy. Long before the heart dare resort to coarse, material words, the smile carries the messages of affection. To the villain it reveals the sympathetic purposes of his according fiend. What the lead and line are to the pilot, the smile, the cunning, dissembling smile, is to the base mind. By means of it he feels his way into the heart and soul of his supposed prototype.
Maxwell knew enough of human character to read correctly the meaning of Jaspar's crafty smile. The attorney had long known that he was cold and unfeeling, a bear in his deportment, and sadly lacking in common integrity; but that he was capable of bold and daring villany he had had no occasion to suspect. As he turned to the document again, the base character of the uncle came up for consideration in connection with his suit to the niece. Might not this circumstance open the way to the attainment of his grand purpose?
But, while he considers, let us turn our attention to the development of the history and circumstances of the Dumont family.
"Lorenzo. You loved, and he did love! Mariana. To say he did Were to affirm what oft his eyes avouched, What many an action testified—and yet, What wanted confirmation of his tongue."
On the right bank of the Mississippi river, a few miles above New Orleans, was situated the plantation of Colonel Dumont, which he had chosen to designate by the expressive appellation of "Bellevue;" though, it would seem, from the level nature of the country, it could not have been chosen on account of any fitness in the term.
In territorial extent, in the number of slaves employed, and in the quantity of sugar annually produced, the plantation of Colonel Dumont was one of the most important on the river. This fact, added to the possession of immense estates in the city, rendered its owner a man of no small consequence in the vicinity. But, more than this, Colonel Dumont was beloved and respected for his many good qualities of mind and heart. In the late war with England he had served in the army, and as an officer had won an enviable distinction by his courage and his talents. Coming unexpectedly into the possession of this estate by the death of an uncle, he retired, at the close of the war, from a profession to which a genuine patriotism alone had invited him, and devoted himself entirely to the improvement of his lands.
Colonel Dumont had been married; but, after a single year of happiness in the conjugal state, his wife died, leaving him an only daughter in remembrance of her. This child, at the opening of the tale, was within a few years of maturity,—the image of her father's only love,—not less fair, not less pure and good.
Emily Dumont was a beautiful girl, fair as the lily, gentle as the dove. She was of a medium height, and of slender and graceful form. Her step was light and elastic, and, if there was any poetry in her light, elegant form, there was more in her easy, fairy-like motion. Her features were as daintily moulded as her form. Her eye was light blue, soft, and beautifully expressive of a pure heart. She was a little paler than the connoisseur in female loveliness would demand in his ideal, and her expression was a little inclined to sadness; but it was a sadness—or rather a sweet dignity—more winning than repulsive to the gazer.
Emily Dumont, highly as fortune had favored her in the bestowal of worldly goods and personal beauty, was still more blessed in the gifts of an expansive mind and a gentle heart; and mind and heart had both been faithfully cultivated by the assiduous care of her devoted father. She was a true woman,—not a mere plaything to while away a dandy's idle hours, not a piece of tinsel to adorn the parlor of a nabob, but a true woman,—one fitted by nature and education to adorn all the varied scenes of life. Although brought up in unclouded prosperity, amid luxury and affluence, she was still prepared for the day of adversity, if it should ever come.
As the heiress of immense wealth, her hand was eagerly sought in the aristocratic circle around her; but thus far she had resisted all these attacks upon her heart, and upon her prospective riches. In the crowd of suitors who gathered around her was Anthony Maxwell. In the item of wealth his fortune was comparatively small; and in that of a noble character, smaller still. Emily could have forgiven him the want of the former, but the latter was imperatively demanded. At the young lawyer's return from the North, and on his first appearance at the bar, Emily had regarded him with more than ordinary attention. But, after the death of his father, the reports which reached her ears of his dissolute habits and inclinations caused her to regard him with distrust. His wit, accomplishments and native suavity, had procured him admission into the circle of her more favored friends. But the report of his vices had as promptly produced his expulsion.
The return of the army from Mexico brought with it the young officer whom we have before mentioned. The father of this young man had been a companion-in-arms of Colonel Dumont, and a strong friendship had grown up between the veterans. The tie was severed only by the death of the former, after a life of mercantile misfortunes, and finally of utter ruin. At the period of the father's insolvency and death, Henry Carroll, the son, was a cadet at West Point, and was about abandoning his chosen profession, for the want of means, when Colonel Dumont wrote him an affectionate letter, offering all that he required to complete his studies. This offer, coming from one who had been a heavy loser by his father's bankruptcy, was highly appreciated, and the young student had allowed no false delicacy to prevent his acceptance of the generous proposal, though with a stipulation to repay all sums, with interest. Colonel Dumont, in his regular summer tour to the North, never failed to visit his young friend, whose noble bearing and lofty principle entirely won his heart, and he charged himself with a father's duty towards him. A regular correspondence was kept up between the self-constituted guardian and his protege; and the more the former read the heart of the young man, the more did he rejoice that he had befriended him. He read with mingled pride and affection the repeated instances of his daring courage and matchless skill which found their way into the newspapers; while the record of his humanity to a fallen foe contributed to swell the tide of the old gentleman's affection.
On his return from Mexico, Henry's first care was to see his devoted friend and guardian, and he accepted his pressing invitation to spend a month at Bellevue.
As an inmate of her father's family, he was, of course, a constant companion of Emily. Her radiant beauty had captivated his heart long ere the month had expired; and he saw, or thought he saw, in the heart of the fair girl, indications of a sympathetic sentiment. In the rashness of his warm blood he had allowed himself to cherish a lively hope that his dawning love was not entirely unrequited. He had seen that his bouquet was more fondly cherished than the offerings of others; that his hand, as she alighted from the carriage, was more gladly received than any other; that his conversation never wearied her; in short, there was in all their intercourse an unmistakable exponent of feelings deeper than those of common friendship.
In the midst of this delighted existence,—while yet he revelled in the pleasure of loving and being loved,—there came to him, like a dark cloud over a clear sky, the unwelcome thought that it was wrong for him to entangle the affections of his benefactor's daughter. He was a beggar,—the object of her father's charity. Her prospects were brilliant and certain, and he felt that he had no right to mar or destroy them. He knew that she would love him none the less for his poverty; but, probably, her father had already anticipated something better than a beggar for his future son-in-law.
Poor Captain Carroll! The modesty of true greatness of soul had left unconsidered the genuine nobility of the man. He thought not of the name he had won on the field of battle,—of the honorable wounds he bore as testimonials of his devotion to his country. He was poor, and, in the despondency which his position induced, he attributed to wealth a value which to the truly good it never possesses.
He loved Emily, and his poverty seemed to shut him out from the hallowed field to which his heart fondly sought admission.
Henry Carroll was a high-minded man; he felt that to love the daughter while the father's views were unknown to him would be rank ingratitude; and ingratitude towards so good a man, so kind a benefactor, was repugnant to every principle of his nature. There was but one path open to him. If he could not help loving her, he could strive to prevent the loved one from squandering her affections where pain and sorrow might ensue. They had often met; but he strove to believe, in his unwilling zeal, that their intimacy had not yet resulted in an incurable passion. She had as yet shown nothing that could not have resulted from simple friendship. And yet she had,—the warm glow that adorned her cheek when she received his flower, the expressive glance of her soft eye as he assisted her to the carriage, the sweet smile with which she had always greeted him,—ah, no, these were not friendship! I He could not believe that his affection was unreturned; it was too precious to remain unacknowledged. The will and the heart would not conform to each other. But his duty seemed plain, and he did not hesitate to obey its call, though it demanded a great sacrifice.
The month to which he had limited his visit at Bellevue expired about the period at which our tale begins. Inclination prompted him to accept the pressing invitation of Colonel Dumont to prolong his stay; but, bitter as was the thought of parting from her he loved, his nice sense of honor compelled him to be firm in his purpose.
The announcement of his intended departure to Emily, as they were seated in the drawing-room on the designated day, afforded him another evidence that her heart was not untouched. Her pale cheek grew paler, and the playful smile was instantly dismissed.
"So soon?" said she, scarcely able to conceal the tremulous emotion which agitated her.
"So soon! I have finished the month allotted to me," replied Henry Carroll, with a weak effort to appear gayer than he felt.
"Allotted to you! And pray are you stinted in the length of your visit?"
"My orders will not permit a longer stay, happy as I should be to remain; and I have already trespassed long on your hospitality."
"Indeed, Henry, you have grown sensitive! You were not wont to consider your visits a trespass. Pray, have you not been regarded as one of the family?"
"True, I have. I can never repay the debt of gratitude for the many kindnesses I have received at your good father's hands."
"He has been a thousand times repaid by the honorable life you have led,—by feeling that the talents he has encouraged you to foster are now blessing the world," replied Emily, warmly; "so no more of your gratitude, if you please."
"However lightly you, or your father, may regard my obligations to him, I cannot view them coldly."
"Well, then, your presence here will give him more pleasure than any other token of respect you can bestow; and, I am sure, I should be rejoiced—that is to say—that is—I should be glad to have you stay longer, if you can be contented," stammered Emily, as her mantling blushes betrayed her confusion. Deception was not in her nature, and, strive as hard as she might, she must reveal her feelings.
"I should be happier than it is possible for me to express in remaining at Bellevue. My month has passed away like a dream of pleasure,—so short it seemed that time had staid his wheels,—so joyous that earth seemed shorn of sorrow. You know not how much I have enjoyed the society of your father, and, pardon me, of yourself," returned Henry, scarcely less confused than Emily.
"I am glad to hear you say so," she replied, with some hesitation, and fearful of exposing the sentiment she was conscious of cherishing. "I have thought that, accustomed as you are to the stirring life of the camp, you had grown tired of our quiet home."
"You wrong me, Emily, I should never weary here; but I was fearful that I had already staid too long," said Henry, in a sad tone, for he felt it most deeply, though not in the sense that Emily understood him.
"Too long! Then you are weary of us, and I will not chide you forbidding us adieu," said Emily, with a glance of anxiety at Henry.
"Nay, Miss Dumont, do not misinterpret my words. I am not weary, I cannot be weary, of Bellevue and its fair and good inmates."
"Then what mean you by saying you have staid too long?"
"Pardon me, I cannot tell why I said it; but I feel that I should do wrong to prolong my stay, however congenial to my feelings to do so," replied Henry, with the most evident embarrassment.
"How strange you talk, Henry! What mystery is this?" said Emily, to whom prudential motives were unknown.
"If it be a mystery, pray do not press me to unravel it, for I cannot."
His resolution was fast giving way before the strength of his love. He was sorely tempted to throw himself at her feet and pour forth the acknowledgment of his affection, which, he felt, would be kindly received. It was a difficult position for a man of sensitive feelings to be placed in, and he felt it keenly. But the duty he owed to his benefactor seemed imperative.
Emily, on her part, was sadly bewildered by the strangeness of Henry's words; but she had no suspicion of the truth. If she had, perhaps, with a woman's ingenuity, she had devised some plan to extricate him from the dilemma. She was conscious of the strong interest she felt in the man before her; but the fact that she loved him was yet unrecognized. How should it be? She was unskilled in the subtleties even of her own heart. She know not the meaning of love yet. She was conscious of a grateful sensation in her heart; but she had yet to learn that this sensation was that called love in the great world. She began to fear, in her inability to account for Henry's strangeness in any other way, that some secret sorrow weighed heavily upon him.
"I will not press you," said she, in a tone of affectionate sympathy; "but, if you have any sorrow which oppresses you, reveal it to my father, and take counsel against it. My father's house is your home,—at least, we have always endeavored to make it so. Father has always regarded you with the affection of a parent, and taught me to consider you as a brother—"
"A brother!" interrupted Henry, feeling that the relation of brother and sister was too cold for the warmth of his affection; but, instantly banishing the unworthy thought, he continued,
"And so, my pretty sister, you are for the first time entering upon your sisterly relations?"
"The first time! Have I not always given you evidence of a sister's esteem?"
"Pardon me. I only jested," said Henry, as the playful smile left his countenance.
"Do not jest upon serious things, Henry," replied Emily. "But, brother, something troubles you. You cannot deny it. You look so gloomy and sad, and must leave us so suddenly."
"Nay, my sweet sister,—since sister I am permitted to call you,—you must forgive me if I am obstinate just this once."
"I will forgive your obstinacy because you desire it, and not because I am satisfied. Do you know, brother," said she, with a playful smile, "that I suspect you are in love?"
This raillery was intended to have been uttered with a pert archness; but the crimson cheek and tremulous lips entirely defeated the intention.
"Fie, sister! You are jesting now, yourself," replied Henry, with what was intended for a smile, but which, like his assailant's archness, was a signal failure.
Both parties were now in the most unfortunate position imaginable. Neither dared to speak, for fear of disclosing their emotions. Both felt the awkwardness of the silence, and both felt the danger of breaking it. Henry twirled the tassel of the window drapery, and Emily twisted her pocket-handkerchief into every conceivable shape. Henry was the first to gather fortitude enough to venture a remark.
"I must leave you, sister, now that, for the first time, the relation is acknowledged. I assure you, however, that I appreciate the sisterly kindness you have always lavished upon me. And I shall always remember this visit as the happiest period of my life."
"Then I may hope you will often repeat it," replied Emily, sadly.
"However pleasant it would be for me to do so, I fear my duty will be a barrier to my inclination. My future post, you are aware, is Newport."
"And you depart so suddenly, and then seem inclined to make your absence perpetual! But we shall see you where-ever you are. We go to Newport this season, if father's health will permit," returned Emily, with a playful pout.
"I would stay by you,—that is, I would stay at Bellevue forever,—if my duty to your father—I mean to my country—would permit," stammered Henry, much agitated, as he rose to depart.
"I must go and bid farewell to your father," continued he, taking her hand, which he perceived trembled violently, in his own; "and I trust you will remember your absent brother—" kindly, he was about to say, but Emily, attempting to rise, was overpowered by the emotions which she had vainly striven to suppress, and sunk back in a swoon.
Henry summoned assistance, and applied the usual restoratives, but he did not again venture to address her; and, as her pale features exhibited signs of returning consciousness, he hurried from the room.
As the hour of his departure drew near, he bade an affectionate farewell to Colonel Dumont, who was confined to his room by illness. His kind friend used many entreaties for him to prolong his stay, but Henry pleaded his duty, and that the dying request of a brother officer required him to take a journey into Georgia, which would consume some three or four weeks' time. He intended to go to his future station by the way of the Mississippi, and promised that, if any time were left him on his return, he would again visit Bellevue. This, however, he thought was improbable.
Colonel Dumont gave his protege much good advice, and, as his failing health had infected his usually cheerful spirits, he said that they would probably meet no more in this world. He frankly told him that he should remember him in his will, and wished him ever to regard Emily in the relation of a sister.
This last wish seemed like a positive prohibition of the fond hope he had cherished, of regarding her in a nearer and more tender relation. He congratulated himself on the decision with which he had resisted the temptation to avow his love.
This injunction of Emily's father could be interpreted in two ways,—as a requirement to preserve the present friendly relations, or as a prohibition against his ever making her his wife. The latter method of rendering his meaning seemed to him the most in accordance with their relative positions, and he was compelled to adopt it.
After renewing his thanks to his benefactor, he took his leave with a sad heart, and departed from the mansion which contained his newly-found yet now rejected love.
"Macbeth.—What is 't ye do? Witches.—A deed without a name."
In the management of his estates, Colonel Dumont had, for many years, been assisted by an only brother. This brother was directly the opposite of himself in character, in aims, in everything. Even in his childhood this brother had displayed a waywardness of disposition which gave the promise of much evil in his future years. As the seed sown so was the harvest. Parental instruction, counsel and rebuke, were alike unavailing, and he attained the years of manhood morose and unsympathizing in his disposition, avaricious and hard with his equals, and cruel and unjust towards his inferiors. His selfish mind, his low aims, and his tyrannical character, had long been preparing him for deeds of villany and injustice.
In the earlier years of his life he had been a merchant in New Orleans; but, being universally detested for his meanness and duplicity, in a season of general panic in the financial world he was completely ruined, by the want of those kind offices which are so freely interchanged in the mercantile community. In this dilemma, he asked his brother's assistance. Colonel Dumont examined his affairs, and, considering his position in the community, with the almost hopeless embarrassment of his concerns, concluded that success under these circumstances was impossible. He frankly and kindly informed his brother of his conclusion, and offered him a share in his planting operations. His brother—Jaspar—was sorely wounded in his pride by this reply. It generated in him a sentiment, if not of malignity, at least of hatred, and from that day he was his brother's enemy. Jaspar's business was gone, and he never allowed his spirit of revenge even to interfere with his interest; so he availed himself of his brother's offer.
Colonel Dumont trusted much to the gentle influence of his family circle to soften Jaspar's moroseness, and infuse some principle of charity and love. But these anticipations proved vain. He was cold and taciturn. Business alone could call forth the display of his energy, of which he was possessed of a liberal share. The society of Emily and other ladies he seemed to shun. The gentle influence of domestic life seemed entirely wasted upon him. Colonel Dumont was forced to believe his brother a misanthrope, and no longer strove to soften his character. Emily regarded his coldness as his natural manner, and left him to the full enjoyment of his eccentricity. Between persons of such opposite dispositions there could be, of course, but little sympathy, and that little was entirely upon one side.
The demon of Jaspar's nature displayed itself in the cane-field and in the sugar-house, which Colonel Dumont rarely visited, having intrusted the entire management of the estate to him, his own attention being occupied by the exterior business of the plantation, and by his city possessions. The poor negro, who was compelled to submit to cruel usage and short fare, knew Jaspar's nature better than uncle or niece. His advent among them had been the era from which they dated the life of misery they led—a life so different from that they had been accustomed to under the superintendence of the more Christian brother.
Jaspar Dumont managed the "negro stock" in the true spirit of a demon, and as such the "hands" learned to regard him. Runaways, which, under the mild management of his brother, were rarely known, were common now; and almost the only amusement Jaspar knew was to hunt them down with rifle and bloodhound.
This state of things Colonel Dumont saw, but he did not appreciate the reason of it. Himself a rigid disciplinarian, he wished not to interfere, though the cruelty of Jaspar pained his heart. His failing health had latterly withdrawn his attention still more from the plantation, and Jaspar drew the reins the tighter when he saw that the humane eye was removed from him.
Such was Jaspar Dumont, whom we left in Maxwell's office at the close of our first chapter.
On the day succeeding the departure of Henry Carroll, Colonel Dumont felt himself much weaker in body, and was fully impressed with the conviction that his final sickness had laid its hand upon him. To Emily he had not communicated these gloomy forebodings, and she had discovered no alarming symptoms in his illness. She had no suspicion of the nature of her father's business with Maxwell, and had borne his message to the attorney, as she had often done before, in her frequent visits to New Orleans, though on this occasion, as may be supposed, she felt much delicacy in doing so.
In her absence Colonel Dumont had become more and more impressed with the omens of a speedy dissolution, and in his uneasiness had despatched Jaspar with a draft of his intentions, wishing the attorney to write the will in his office (where he could have his authorities at hand), and return with his brother.
Maxwell considered the will and his own position, while Jaspar lit another cigar. Each was striving to penetrate the thoughts of the other, but neither had the boldness to enter upon the subject which occupied his mind. The lawyer wanted the lady and the fortune, and he had an undefined purpose of obtaining them through the agency of Jaspar, who wanted only the fortune, and had a decided anticipation of being able to retain the attorney in his service. Neither knew the purposes of the other; but each wanted the assistance of the other.
Maxwell, with an absent mind, perused and reperused the first page of Colonel Dumont's instructions. Without a purpose he turned the leaf, and his attention was attracted by the name of his formidable rival, Henry Carroll. He read, with astonishment, a bequest to him of fifty thousand dollars. If it needed anything to complete his discomfiture, this was sufficient. He began to think Colonel Dumont was in his dotage. He had scarcely heard of Captain Carroll until his return from Mexico, and now he was a legatee in the will of a millionaire. With much anxiety he completed the reading of the instructions, fearful that he should find the young officer's name in connection with Emily's. To his great relief he found no such allusion, and again he applied himself to the task of writing out the will.
Jaspar smoked his cigar, glanced occasionally at the newspaper, and stared out of the window. He was evidently lost to all around him, in the workings of his own mind. Now his thoughts seemed to excite him, for his eye glared with an unusual lustre, and his thin lips moved, as if they would disclose the operations of his mind. "Will he do it?" muttered he. "He shall do it, or by —— he shall suffer! I have the means of compelling him. I will use them."
Apparently satisfied with his conclusion, he rose hastily and approached the attorney. A smooth smile—an unwonted expression on his features—seemed to come on demand. Again he looked over the lawyer's shoulder. He saw the name of Henry Carroll, and his former severe expression returned, and his frame was stirred by angry emotions. A half-suppressed oath did not escape the quick ear of the attorney, and he turned to observe the face of his companion. He read at a glance the dissatisfaction which the will occasioned. The reason was plain; and, with the intention of drawing out Jaspar's views, he addressed him.
"This Carroll is a lucky fellow," said he.
"The devil is always the luckiest fellow in the crowd," growled Jaspar, with an oath.
"You are right, sir," returned Maxwell, pleased to see no better feeling between his rival and the uncle.
"But who is this Carroll?" said he.
"A hungry cub, whom the colonel has helped along in the world."
"Well, he has proved himself a brave and skilful officer, and reflects credit on your brother's judgment in the selection of a protege," returned Maxwell, adroitly.
"The fellow is all well enough, for aught I know, but he has wheedled the colonel out of fifty thousand dollars, and I can never forgive him for that," said Jaspar, in what was intended for a playful tone, but which was designed as a "feeler" of the attorney's conscience.
"But there is still an immense property left, even after deducting the liberal charitable donations," said Maxwell.
"There is, but where does it go to? That whining young cub has divided a hundred thousand with me, and the silly girl has the rest."
"Which will eventually go into the hands of Captain Carroll,—lucky dog, he!" returned Maxwell, striving to provoke Jaspar still more.
"What! what mean you, man?" said Jaspar, with a scowl, as he caught a glimpse of the attorney's meaning.
"Is it possible, my dear sir," said Maxwell, laying down his pen, and turning half round, "is it possible you have not observed the intimacy which has grown up between this Carroll and your niece?"
"Intimacy! what do you mean? Speak out! no equivocation!" said Jaspar, almost fiercely.
"Do you not see that she will yet be the wife of Captain Carroll?"
Jaspar scowled, but said nothing. He had seen nothing from which he could draw such an inference, but he doubted not the information was correct.
"Well, well, it matters not. He may as well have it as she," muttered he. "This will suits me not, and must be broken or altered."
"It is hard upon you," said Maxwell, who had overheard Jaspar's mutterings.
"It is rather hard to be placed upon the same level with a comparative stranger," replied Jaspar, thoughtfully, after a long pause. He had not intended the lawyer should hear his previous remarks, and had reflected whether he should disown them, or pursue the subject as thus opened.
"Of course you will not mention the idle remark I made," continued Jaspar, in a vein of prudence. "My brother has an undoubted right to dispose of his property as he pleases."
"O, certainly. What transpires in my office is always regarded with the strictest confidence, whatever its nature, and however it affects any individual," replied Maxwell, laying peculiar emphasis on the latter clause.
"That's right, always be secret," said Jaspar, without any of the appearance of obligation for the favor which the attorney expected to see.
"I have secrets in my possession which would ruin some of the best families in the State of Louisiana."
"Without doubt," replied Jaspar, coldly.
The attorney resumed his writing, and pronounced in an audible tone each sentence as he committed it to the paper.
"To my beloved brother—Jaspar Dumont—I give and bequeath the sum of fifty thousand dollars."
These words, as intended, again fired Jaspar's passions.
"Is there no remedy for this?" asked he, hastily.
"No legal remedy," replied Maxwell, indifferently, as he continued his task.
"Is there any, legal or illegal?"
"None that an honest man would be willing to resort to."
"That any man would resort to?" and Jaspar was not a little provoked at the attorney's moral inferences.
"I know of none."
"Then why do you not put it into operation before it is too late? The will is now nearly written."
"Pshaw! man; you do not understand me. A bolder step than you are thinking of."
"Well, what do you wait for?"
"I need assistance."
"If I can afford you any aid, honorably, I shall be most happy."
"Honorably! What the devil do you mean by honorably?" said Jaspar, exasperated by this unexpected display of morality.
"What do I mean by honorably? Why, anything which does not affect the legal or moral rights of others," replied Maxwell, a little touched by the seeming reflection of Jaspar.
"Fudge! how long have you been so conscientious?" sneered Jaspar.
"When a man has a reputation to make or break, it becomes him to handle it with care."
"Out upon you, man! Your reputation is not so fair, that you need be so tender of it," replied Jaspar, with some severity.
"O, you needn't 'sir' me! You have led me to commit myself, and now assume a virtue you possess not."
"Sir, I value my reputation, and—"
"Of course you do, but you would not sacrifice a fortune for it," interrupted Jaspar, easily changing the tenor of the conversation.
"I certainly would not stain it unnecessarily," replied Maxwell, with a meaning smile, for he saw the folly of attempting the "high flight" with Jaspar.
"Now you talk sensibly," said Jaspar.
"Mr. Dumont, it is useless to beat about the bush any longer; if you have any proposition to make, out with it at once; and if I cannot aid you, I will, at least, keep your secret."
"Will you swear never to reveal what I shall propose?"
"Yes, if paid for it," said Maxwell, frankly.
"It is well. Now, I will put you in the way of making ten thousand dollars, if you so will," said Jaspar, slapping the attorney on the back with a familiarity which was likely to breed contempt.
This was a tempting offer, and Maxwell prepared to listen to the proposition. He was aware that it was some design upon the estate of Colonel Dumont, and he inwardly resolved to be a gainer by the operation, whether he joined in it or not.
Jaspar Dumont laid aside his sternness, and disclosed his plot to Maxwell. It was, as may be supposed, a nefarious scheme, and not only intended to deprive Henry Carroll of his legacy, but also to disinherit the heiress, and cast a stigma upon the character of his brother.
The plot we will not here disclose.
Maxwell listened attentively, occasionally interrupting the speaker, by asking for details, or pointing out dangers But the foul wrong intended towards her for whom he entertained warmer sentiments than those of friendship shocked even his hardened sensibilities, and he strongly objected to its consummation. It would also, by stripping her of her broad lands, and stigmatizing her birth, render her undesirable as a wife. But Jaspar was firm in his purpose, and refused to listen to any other scheme. This one, he contended, was the safest and surest.
"But it is a diabolical transaction," suggested Maxwell.
"Call it what you will, it is the only one that will work well."
Maxwell remained silent. He was studying to make this scheme subservient to his own purpose. He was obliged to confess to himself that his hopes with the heiress were worse than folly, and he judged that the execution of Jaspar's scheme would remove his rival. He looked forward years, and saw his own purpose gained by means of Jaspar's plan. It was true that he and Jaspar both could not have her estates; but then Jaspar was a villain, and it would be a good service, at a convenient season, to be a traitor to him. His plans were arranged, and he determined to encourage his companion to proceed, though, at the same time, to seem unwilling, and to keep his own hands clean from all participation in it.
After this long interval of silence, which Jaspar had endured with patience, for he recognized the truth of the saying, that "He who deliberates is damned," Maxwell said,
"I cannot consent to stain my hands with such gross injustice."
"You cannot!" sneered Jaspar.
"It would ruin me."
"It was part of my intention to keep the transaction a secret," said Jaspar, sarcastically.
"Of course, and your confidence in me shall not be misplaced."
Jaspar's fists were clenched, and a demoniacal expression rested on his countenance, as he said, savagely,
"You know your own interest too well to do otherwise."
"I am not to be intimidated," replied Maxwell, who despised his companion most heartily, and did not relish his tyrannical manner. "Your confidence, I repeat, is safe. Honor will keep your secret,—threats will not compel me to do so."
"Honor! ha, ha, ha!" chuckled Jaspar. "Do you know, Maxwell, that you are a —— fool, to talk to me of your honor?"
"Would you insult me, sir?" said, Maxwell, with vehemence.
"O, no, my fine fellow! Your honor!—ha, ha!" returned Jaspar, taking from his pocket a little slip of paper. "Look here, my honorable worthy, do you know this check?"
Maxwell's face assumed a livid hue, and a convulsive tremor passed through his frame, as he read the check.
In a moment of temporary embarrassment he had been tempted to forge the name of Colonel Dumont to this check, for five hundred dollars, to liquidate a debt of honor, not doubting that he should be able to obtain it again before the day of settlement at the bank, by means of a dissolute teller, a boon companion at the gaming-table. But Colonel Dumont, in arranging his affairs for their final settlement, had sent Jaspar for a statement of his bank account at an unusual time. Jaspar, who, in the illness of his brother, had managed all his business, immediately discovered the forgery. Without disputing its genuineness, he ascertained who had presented it, and traced the deed to the attorney, and thus obtained a hold upon him which was peculiarly favorable to the execution of his great purpose.
"You see I have not laid myself open to your fire without fortifying my position," said Jaspar, enjoying, with hearty relish, the discomfiture of the lawyer. "Now, no more of honor to me. I have kept your secret for my own interest, and now you will keep mine from the same motive."
"But I dare not do this thing," replied Maxwell, keenly sensitive to the weakness of his position; "I lack the ability."
"You have signed the colonel's name once very well; perhaps you can do it again," sneered Jaspar, who had no mercy for an unwilling servant.
"It will not be for your interest or mine that I should do it," returned Maxwell, determined, if possible, to avoid committing himself.
"Why not?" said Jaspar.
"My frequent visits to Bellevue would subject me to suspicion. I am known. Another would not be suspected. If I clear myself, I shall clear you at the same time. I can procure a person who will accomplish all in safety."
"Think you I will trust another man with the possession of the secret?"
"I shall compromise my own safety by writing the will, as you propose."
"True,—who is this person?"
"His name is—" and Maxwell hesitated; then a severe fit of coughing apparently prevented his uttering the name—"his name is Antoine De Guy."
"Do I know him?"
"You do, I think,—a kind of street lawyer,—you must have met him at the Exchange."
"What looking man is he?"
"About fifty years of age," replied Maxwell, more thoughtful than the simple description of a person would seem to require,—"rather corpulent, black hair and whiskers, intermixed with gray,—dresses old-fashioned, and always looks rusty."
"I do not remember him,—De Guy—De Guy," said Jaspar, musing; "no, I do not know him. Are you confident he can be trusted?"
"Perfectly confident. I pledge my own safety on his fidelity," replied Maxwell, not a little satisfied at gaining his point,—for he had a point, and a strong one, as the reader may yet have occasion to know.
"Very good,—I will inquire about him."
"And expose us both!" replied Maxwell, in much alarm.
"True,—on reflection, it would not be wise, and it would be best for you and I not to be seen together. But finish the will; the colonel will not relish my long absence. A word more: do not say anything about this will. The colonel has a fancy to keep it secret, and this fancy will be the salvation of our scheme."
But we will not follow the conversation any further. The reader has obtained a sufficient knowledge of these worthies from their own mouths, to believe them capable of any villany they may be called upon to perpetrate.
The plot was further arranged in all its details. A meeting with De Guy was fixed for the next day, when all parties were to be prepared to act their parts.
"He is a man, setting his fate aside, Of comely virtues; Nor did he soil the fact with cowardice, But with a noble fury and a fair spirit He did oppose his foe."
Colonel Dumont's melancholy forebodings proved to be too well grounded, for in ten days after the departure of Henry Carroll he breathed his last, not fully ripe in years, but mature in the stature of a good man. His worldly affairs had all been arranged, and with his mind at peace with God and man he bade a final adieu to his weeping daughter and dissembling brother, and calmly resigned his spirit to its Author.
The mansion of Colonel Dumont had been the abode of happiness. Cheerfulness and contentment—rare visitors at the home of opulence—dwelt gracefully amid the luxurious splendor of this house. But now a heavy stroke of affliction had come upon the devoted Emily. The ruthless hand of death had struck down her father in the midst of prosperity and happiness. She felt that she was alone in the world. Her unsympathizing uncle seemed not to feel the loss, but appeared even more cold and churlish than ever. She could not expect from him the offices of kindness and sympathy. She was an orphan, but not till she was prepared to combat with the trials of life. Recognizing the hand of Providence in this visitation of the Angel of Death, she bowed meekly and submissively to the Master Will, and was even cheerful and happy in her tears.
It was about ten o'clock on the night succeeding the funeral of Colonel Dumont that a small canoe, containing a single individual, touched at the bank of the river near the now gloomy mansion. Leaping from the canoe, which was nearly swamped by the act, the person it had contained drew the frail bark beyond the reach of the rapid current, and ascended the steep bank. Following the smooth shell road through the long vista of negro huts, he reached the little grove of tropical trees which surrounded the proprietary mansion. Casting an anxious glance around him, to satisfy himself that he was not watched, he cautiously approached the only illuminated window on that side of the house, upon which, after a close scrutiny of the interior of the room, he gave several light taps. This signal was answered by Jaspar Dumont, who, with a word of caution, opened the window. The stranger, with a light spring which belied his apparent years, gained the interior of the room, which was the library of the late owner.
The person who had thus obtained admission was the lawyer, Antoine De Guy, whom Maxwell had suggested as a fit agent for the execution of Jaspar's scheme. He was certainly an odd-looking man. His face was of a very dark red color, much like that which is produced by the united effects of exposure and intemperance, and was encircled by a pair of black whiskers, intermixed with gray. His cranium was ornamented with a huge mass of the same parti-colored hair. His fiery red nose was placed in strange contrast with a pair of green spectacles, which entirely concealed the color and expression of his eyes. His clothes were of a most primitive cut, and had probably been black once, but were now rusty and white from long service. His form was portly, a little inclined to corpulency. His hands were most unprofessionally dirty; but this might have been occasioned by contact with the canoe in his passage. On one of his fingers glittered a diamond ring, which, considering the lack of ornaments in other respects, but ill accorded with the apparent parsimony of the man. It might, however, have been obtained in the way of trade, for Maxwell had hinted that he did business under the sign of the "three golden balls." He was apparently in the neighborhood of five-and-forty, and looked like the debauchee in the face, while his dress indicated the penurious man of business.
"Did any one see you?" asked Jaspar, whose teeth were chattering with apprehension, notwithstanding his natural boldness.
"Not that I am aware of," replied De Guy, in a silky tone, which, proceeding from such a form, would have astonished the listener.
"You met no one?" interrogated the anxious Jaspar.
"Not a soul! Everything was still."
"Let us be sure of it. Step into this room for a moment. I will see that all the servants have retired," said Jaspar, pushing his confederate into an adjoining apartment.
A light pull at the bell-rope brought to the library the body-servant of the late planter.
This "boy," who was known by the name of Hatchie, was a mulatto. He was about forty years of age, and, having never been reduced to labor in the cane-fields, bore his age remarkably well. He was about six feet in height, very stout built, and was endowed with immense physical strength. His brow was a little wrinkled, and his head was a little bald upon the top,—and these were the only evidences of his years. His expression was that of great intelligence. In his countenance there was a kind of humility, to which his demeanor corresponded, that might have resulted from his condition, or have been inherent in his nature. He was a man who, even in a land of slavery, would be instinctively respected.
He had been a great favorite with his late master, in whose family he had spent the greater part of his life. By being constantly in attendance upon him and his guests, he had acquired a much greater amount of information than is often found in those of his condition. He could read and write, and by his intelligence and singular fidelity had proved a valuable addition to his master's household. Possessing his confidence, and regarded more as a friend than a slave by Emily, he was a privileged person in the house,—a confidence which in no instance did he abuse, and which in no degree abated his affection or his fidelity.
Hatchie was not a phrenologist, but he had long ago acquired a perfect knowledge of Jaspar's character,—a knowledge which his master or Emily had never obtained.
Hatchie considered Emily, now that her father was dead, as his own especial charge, and he watched over her, in the disparity of their stations, very much as a faithful dog watches over a child intrusted to its keeping. Towards her he entertained a sentiment of the profoundest respect as his mistress, and of parental affection as one who had grown up under his eye.
"Hatchie," said Jaspar, as the mulatto entered the library, "are the hands all in?"
"Yes, sir," replied Hatchie, whose penetrating mind detected the tremulous quiver of Jaspar's lip; "all in two hours ago, according to regulations."
"All right, then. You can go to bed now."
"Yes, sir," replied Hatchie, with his customary obeisance, as he turned to depart.
"Stay a moment. Go to Miss Emily, and get the keys of the secretary," said Jaspar, with assumed carelessness.
Hatchie obeyed; and, suspecting something before, he was confirmed in the opinion now, and determined to watch. His suspicions of something—he knew not what—had been excited by seeing Maxwell in earnest consultation with Jaspar on the day of the funeral. He had, of course, no idea of the plots of the latter; but, in common with all the "boys," he hated Jaspar, and was willing to know more of his transactions.
Giving the keys to Jaspar, he left the room, and heard the creaking of the bolt which fastened the door.
As soon as the servant had departed, Jaspar called his confederate from his concealment.
"Are you ready for business?" said he.
"I am," replied De Guy, "as soon as you pay me the first instalment. I can't take a single step in the dark."
"Here it is," and Jaspar took from his pocket the money. "Have you the document?"
"I have," replied De Guy, producing the fictitious will, which Maxwell had drawn up in conformity with the instructions of Jaspar.
"And you are ready to affix the signature?" said Jaspar, who appeared not to be in the possession of his usual confidence. Few villains ever become so hardened as never to tremble.
"I am. I came for that purpose. Give me the genuine will, and I will soon make this one so near like it that the witnesses themselves shall not discover the cheat," replied De Guy, with an air of confidence.
"You shall have it; but first read this to me. I do nothing blindly."
The attorney, in his silky tones, read the paper through, and Jaspar pronounced it correct in every particular.
"I see nothing in the way of entire success," said Jaspar, rubbing his hands with delight at his prospective fortune.
"Nor I," replied De Guy, "except that these witnesses will deny the substance of it."
"How can they, when they know it not? The colonel, for some reason or other, would not let them read it or know its purport. Maxwell and myself are pledged to secrecy. It is upon this fact that I based the scheme."
"But the will would not be worth a tittle in the law with such witnesses."
"Bah! the colonel knew no one would contest it. He did it at his own risk."
"But will they not contest your will?"
"If they do, I shall find the means of proving what the document affirms, and my case will then stand just as well. As a kind of assurance for the witnesses my brother affixed a character,—a kind of cabalistic design,—upon the will, assuring them it was placed on the will alone. You have a copy of this design?"
"I have. Maxwell gave it to me, and I have practised till I can do it to perfection. Your brother had an odd way of doing business."
"He had; but his oddity in this instance is a God-send."
"But the other document, Mr. Dumont! My stay is already too long!"
Jaspar, taking the keys from the table, opened the secretary, and took from a small iron safe in the lower part of it a large packet, on which were several large masses of wax bearing the impress of Colonel Dumont's seal.
"Now, De Guy," said he, "do your best."
"Do not fear! I never yet saw a name I could not imitate."
"So much the better; but be careful, I entreat you! Think how much depends upon care!"
"O, I can do it so nicely that your brother himself would not deny it, if he should step out of his grave!"
"Silence, man!" said Jaspar, angrily, as a superstitious thrill of terror crept through his veins.
Jaspar took up the packet, and was about to snap the seals, when, quicker than thought, the window through which De Guy had entered flew open, and Hatchie leaped into the room. Without giving Jaspar or his accomplice time to recover from the surprise of his sudden entrance, he levelled a blow at the lawyer, and another at the perfidious brother, which placed both in a rather awkward position on the floor. Hatchie then seized the envelope containing the will, and made his escape in the manner he had entered, well knowing that Jaspar would not hesitate to take his life rather than be foiled in his purpose.
The mulatto's blows produced no serious effect upon the heads of the two villains, and, recovering from the surprise and shock the act had occasioned, they lost not a moment in pursuing their assailant. Hatchie directed his course to the river, and scarcely a moment had elapsed before he heard the steps of his pursuers. Leaping down the bank, he ran along by the edge of the water, with the intention of reaching a boat which he knew was moored a few rods further down. In his flight, however, he discovered the canoe in which De Guy had arrived, and, casting it off, he paddled with astonishing rapidity towards the opposite shore.
His pursuers reached the bank, and perceiving the canoe through the darkness, Jaspar discharged his rifle at it. A heavy splash followed the discharge. The canoe appeared to float at the mercy of the current. Jaspar and De Guy, satisfied that the rifle-ball had done its work, hastened down stream to a small point of land which projected into the river, with the hope of securing the canoe and the body of the slave, upon which they expected to find the will. The canoe was driven ashore, as they had anticipated; but it contained not the objects for which they sought. The corpse of Hatchie was nowhere to be found, though they paddled about the river an hour in search of it,—not that the body of the mulatto was of any consequence, but in the hope of obtaining the precious will.
Here was a contingency for which Jaspar was wholly unprepared. The original signature of the will was not now available, and they must trust to luck for accuracy in signing the false one. There was little difficulty in this, as the will was known to have been signed in the usual manner, and the private character they had in their possession. Still Jaspar felt that the original paper afforded the surer means of deceiving the witnesses. They had before intended to produce a fac-simile, mechanically, of the original,—a purpose which could not now be accomplished. The witnesses were all friends of Colonel Dumont, and they had various papers signed by them from which to copy their signatures. The worst, and to Jaspar's daring mind the only difficulty which now presented itself, was the fear that the body of Hatchie might be found, and the genuine will thus brought to light. After much reflection and consultation with De Guy, he determined to risk all, to watch for the body, and be prepared to overcome any obstacle which might be presented. With this conclusion they returned to the library. By the aid of old notes, checks, and other papers, the fictitious will was duly signed, the significant character affixed, and the document enveloped so as to exactly resemble the original packet.
The whole transaction was so well performed that Jaspar retired to his pillow confident of success, to await the result on the morrow, when the will was to be read.
"Is this the daughter of a slave? I know 'Tis not with men as shrubs and trees, that by The shoot you know the rank and order of The stem. Yet who from such a stem would look For such a shoot?"
The morrow came. Emily was summoned to the library, to hear the reading of her father's will. With her no worldly consideration could mitigate the deep grief that pervaded her heart. She derived her only consolation from a purer, higher source. She was a true mourner, and the acquisition of the immense fortune of which she was the heiress was not an event which could heal the wound in her heart. She looked not forward to the bright scenes of triumph and of conquest that awaited her. She was not dazzled by the brilliancy of the position to which wealth and an honorable name entitled her. Such thoughts never occurred to her. She did think of Henry Carroll; but not in the proud situation to which her wealth might elevate him, but as a pure heart that would beat in unison with her own, that would sympathize with her in her hour of sorrow; as one who would mingle his tears with hers, over the bier of a common parent. She was not sentimental in her love, nor in her grief. Sighs and tears with her were not a sentimental commodity,—an offering which the boarding-school miss makes alike at the altar of her love, or at the shrine of a dead parent's memory. The desolation of heart and home was not a trial which wealth and honors could adorn with tinsel, and thus render it desirable, or even tolerable!
Emily Dumont entered the library. The occasion was repugnant to her feelings. The unceremonious blending of dollars and cents with the revered name of her father was extremely painful to her sensibility. It seemed like a profanation of his memory.
Her uncle, Maxwell, the witnesses of the will, and several others,—intimate friends of the family,—were already there. On Jaspar's countenance were no tell-tale traces of the last night's villany. He looked gloomy and sorrowful. So thoroughly had he schooled himself in hypocrisy for this occasion, that the scene he knew would, in a few minutes, transpire, had no prophetic indications in his features. Like the tragedian who is tranquil and unaffected in the scene in which he knows his own death or triumph occurs, Jaspar was calm, and his aspect even sanctimonious.
As Emily entered Maxwell tendered his sympathies in his usual elegant manner, and so touchingly did he allude to the death of her father that with much difficulty she restrained a flood of tears. The scene in the office, and the disfavor with which she had lately regarded him, were forgotten in his eloquence.
After this courtesy to the daughter of his former patron, Maxwell again seated himself, and after briefly and formally stating the reasons of their meeting, to which he added a short but apparently very feeling eulogy of the deceased, he took the packet from the safe, and proceeded to break the seals.
In his full and musical tones the attorney read the preliminary parts of the instrument, and then commenced upon the principal items of the will. First came several legacies to charitable institutions and to personal friends; after which was a legacy of ten thousand dollars to Emily Dumont, to be paid in Cincinnati by his brother. The testator further declared that the said Emily was manumitted, and should proceed under the guidance of his brother to the place designated for the payment of the legacy.
Emily, who had scarcely heeded the provisions of the will until the mention of her name attracted her attention, was, as may be supposed, somewhat astonished to hear her own name in connection with a legacy. She raised her sad eyes from the floor, and heard the other stipulations in regard to her. So utterly unexpected, so terribly revolting, was the clause which pronounced her a slave, that for a time she did not realize its awful import. But the blank dismay of her friends, the well-counterfeited surprise of Jaspar and Maxwell, brought her to a painful sense of her position. She attempted to rise, but in the act the color forsook her face, and she sunk back insensible. In this condition she was conveyed to her room.
The attorney completed the reading of the will, though, after the extraordinary incident which had just occurred, but little attention was given him. The witnesses at once recognized the strange character, and acknowledged the signatures to be genuine. Here, then, thought they, was the reason why the provisions of the will had been concealed from them. So impressed were they with the apparent purpose of Colonel Dumont in throwing the veil of secrecy over the contents of his will, that the very strangeness of it seemed to confirm its genuineness; and they did not scrutinize it so closely as under other circumstances they probably would have done.
How often may a good motive be tortured, by the appearance of evil, into the most despicable criminality! Colonel Dumont in this will had devised large sums of money to various charitable institutions, and in the event of his life being prolonged, did not wish to be pointed at and lauded for this act. True charity is modest, and Colonel Dumont did not desire to see his name blazoned forth to the world for doing that which he honestly and religiously deemed his duty.
This modesty had favored Jaspar's plans. No one could now gainsay the will he had invented; and he felt strong in his position, especially after the witnesses had assented to their signatures.
Among the persona who had been present in the library was Mr. Faxon, an aged and worthy clergyman. He had for many years been an intimate friend of Colonel Dumont, and was a legatee in his will to a liberal amount. A constant visitor in the family, its spiritual adviser and comforter, he had possessed the unlimited confidence of the late planter and his daughter. To him the whole clause relating to Emily seemed like a falsehood. Pure and holy in his own character, it was beyond his conception that a man of Colonel Dumont's lofty and Christian views could have lived so many years in the practice of this deception. He had no means of disproving the illegitimacy of Emily. The family had been unknown to him at the period of her birth. The house-servants, with the exception of Hatchie, were all younger than Emily. Then, the statement was made in the will, and was, therefore, the statement of Colonel Dumont himself,—for the genuineness of the will he did not call in question. In accordance with his general character, her father had manumitted her, and left her a competence. From this clause he inferred that her father intended to place her beyond the reach of harm, and beyond the possibility of ever being reduced to the degraded condition so often the lot of the quadroon at the South. He had not only given her freedom, but had provided for her conveyance beyond the pale of slavery. With these intentions, if she were in reality a slave, Mr. Faxon could find no fault. They were liberal in the extreme. But why had he, at this late period, mentioned the stain upon her birth? Why not let her live as he had educated her? These queries were so easily answered that the good clergyman could not condemn the dead on account of them. If the daughter, then she was the heiress; if not, legitimately, it would be injustice to the brother.
Mr. Faxon reasoned in this manner. He could not believe, even with all the evidence before him. There was a reasonable answer, apparently, to every objection he could think of, and he resolved to apply to Jaspar and Hatchie for more information. All that Jaspar could say, or would say, in answer to his interrogatories, was that his brother's wife had died in giving birth to a dead child; and that Emily, who was the child of a house-servant by him, had so engaged his attention by her singular beauty that he had substituted her for his own child. This story, Jaspar said, his brother had told him in the strictest confidence, many years before. Mr. Faxon, appreciating the disappointment of a father with such a sensitive nature as Colonel Dumont, was willing to believe that Emily had been substituted to supply in his affections the place of the lost child; but that he should educate her as his own child, and then cast her out from the pale of society, was incredible!
The evidence was so strong, he could see no escape from the terrible conclusion that the gentle being, to whom he had ministered in joy and in sorrow, was a slave! It required a hard struggle in his mind before he could reconcile himself to the revolting truth. Her beautiful character, built up mostly under his own supervision, he regarded with peculiar pride. He was not so bigoted, however, as to believe his labors lost, or even less worthy, because bestowed, as it now appeared, upon a slave. In heaven his labors would be just as apparent in the quadroon as in the noble-born lady.
After the departure of the friends who had been summoned to the reading of the will, and whose stay had been prolonged by the melancholy interest they felt in the unfortunate Emily, Mr. Faxon requested to see her, and was shown to her room. She had just been restored to consciousness, by the assiduous efforts of her maids, as the good man entered.
"O, Mr. Faxon!" sobbed Emily, but she could articulate no more. The terrible reality of her situation had entirely overcome her.
"Be comforted, my dear child," said Mr. Faxon, affectionately, taking her hand. "The ways of Providence are mysterious, and we must bend humbly to our lot."
"I will try to be resigned to my fate, terrible as it is," replied Emily, looking at the minister with a subdued expression, while hot tears poured down her cheeks. "You will not forsake me, if all others do!"
"No, no, my dear child; it is my duty to wrestle with sorrow. I have come to direct your thoughts to that better world, where the distinctions of caste do not exist."
"O, that I could die!" murmured Emily, as a feeling of despair crept to her mind.
"Nay, child, you must not repine at the will of Heaven. In God's own good time He will call you hence."
"I will not repine; but what a terrible life is before me!"
"The future is wisely concealed from us. It is in the keeping of the Almighty. He may have many years of happiness and usefulness in store for you."
"But I am an outcast now,—one whom all my former friends will despise,—a slave!" replied Emily, covering her face with her hands, and sobbing convulsively.
"Nay, be calm; do not give way to such bitter thoughts. This may be a deception, though, to be candid, I can scarcely see any reason to think so."
Emily caught at the slight hope thus extended to her; her eyes brightened, and a little color returned to her pallid cheek.
"Heaven send that it may prove so!" said she; "for I cannot believe that he who taught me to call him by the endearing name of father; who watched so tenderly over my infancy, and guided my youthful heart so faithfully; who, an hour before he died, called me daughter, and blessed me with his dying breath,—I cannot believe he has been so cruel to me!"
"It seems scarcely possible; but, my child, the ways of Providence are inscrutable. Whatever afflictions visit us, they are ordered for our good. Trust in God, my dear one, and all will yet be well."
"I will, I will! My father's and your good instructions shall not be lost upon me, slave though I am. Dear father," said she, and the tears blinded her,—"I love his memory still, though every word of this hated will were true. I ought not to repine, whatever be my future lot. That he loved me as a daughter, I can never doubt; that he never told me I am a slave, I will forgive, for he meant it well."
"I am glad to witness your Christian faith and patience in this painful event. But, Emily, had you no intimation or suspicion of this trial before?"