THE MISSING BRIDE
MRS. E. D. E. N. SOUTHWORTH
Author of Self-Raised, Ishmael, Retribution, The Bridal Eve, The Bride's Fate, Mother-in-Law, The Haunted Homestead, The Bride's Dowry, Victor's Triumph, A Fortune Seeker, etc.
Deep in the primeval forest of St. Mary's, lying between the Patuxent and the Wicomico Rivers, stands the ancient manor house of Luckenough.
The traditions of the neighborhood assert the origin of the manor and its quaint, happy and not unmusical name to have been—briefly this:
That the founder of Luckenough was Alexander Kalouga, a Polish soldier of fortune, some time in the service of Cecilius Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, first Lord Proprietary of Maryland. This man had, previous to his final emigration to the New World, passed through a life of the most wonderful vicissitudes—wonderful even for those days of romance and adventure. It was said that he was born in one quarter of the globe, educated in another, initiated into warfare in the third and buried in the fourth. In his boyhood he was the friend and pupil of Guy Fawkes; he engaged in the Gunpowder Plot, and after witnessing the terrible fate of his master, he escaped to Spanish America, where he led for years a sort of buccaneer life. He afterwards returned to Europe, and then followed years of military service wherever his hireling sword was needed. But the soldier of fortune was ill-paid by his mistress. His misfortunes were as proverbial as his bravery, or as his energetic complaints of "ill luck" could make them. He had drawn his sword in almost every quarrel of his time, on every battlefield in Europe, to find himself, at the end of his military career, no richer than he was at its beginning—save in wounds and scars, honor and glory, and a wife and son. It was at this point of his life that he met with Leonard Calvert, and embarked with him for Maryland, where he afterwards received from the Lord Proprietary the grant of the manor "aforesaid." It is stated that when the old soldier went with some companions to take a look at his new possessions, he was so pleased with the beauty, grandeur, richness and promise of the place that a glad smile broke over his dark, storm-beaten, battle-scarred face, and he remained still "smiling as in delighted visions," until one of his friends spoke and said:
"Well, comrade! Is this luck enough?"
"Yaw, mine frient!" answered the new lord of the manor in his broken English, cordially grasping the hand of his companion, "dish ish loke enough!"
Different constructions have been put upon this simple answer—first, that Lukkinnuf was the original Indian name of the tract; secondly, that Alexander Kalouga christened his manor in honor of Loekenoff, the native village of his wife, the heroic Marie Zelenski, the companion of all his campaigns and voyages, and the first lady of his manor; thirdly, that the grateful and happy soldier had only meant to express his perfect satisfaction with his fortune, and to say:
"Yes, this is luck enough! luck enough to repay me for all the past!" Be it as it may, from time immemorial the place has been "Luckenough."
The owner in 1814 was Commodore Nickolas Waugh, who inherited the property in right of his mother, the only child and heiress of Peter Kalouga.
This man had the constitution and character, not of his mother's, but of his father's family—a hardy, rigorous, energetic Montgomery race, full of fire, spirit and enterprise. At the age of twelve Nickolas lost his father.
At fifteen he began to weary of the tedium of Luckenough, varied only by the restraint of the academy during term. And at sixteen he rebelled against the rule of his indolent lymphatic mamma, broke through the reins of domestic government, escaped to Baltimore and shipped as cabin boy in a merchantman.
Nickolas Waugh went through many adventures, served on board merchantmen, privateers and haply pirates, too, sailed to every part of the known world, and led a wild, reckless and sinful life, until the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, when he took service with Paul Jones, the American Sea King, and turned the brighter part of his character up to the light. He performed miracles of valor—achieved for himself a name and a post-captain's rank in the infant navy and finally was permitted to retire with a bullet lodged under his shoulder blade, a piece of silver trepanned in the top of his skull, a deep sword-cut across his face from the right temple over his nose to the left cheek—and with the honorary title of commodore.
He was a perfect beauty about this time, no doubt, but that did not prevent him from receiving the hand of his cousin Henrietta Kalouga, who had waited for him many a weary year.
No children blessed his late marriage, and as year after year passed, until himself and his wife were well stricken in years, people, who never lost interest in the great estate, began to wonder to which among his tribe of impoverished relations Nickolas Waugh would bequeath the manor of Luckenough.
His choice fell at length upon his orphan grandniece, the beautiful Edith Lance, whom he took from the Catholic Orphan Asylum, where she had found refuge since the death of her parents and placed in one of the best convent schools in the South.
At the age of seventeen Edith was brought home from school and established at Luckenough as the adopted daughter and acknowledged heiress of her uncle.
Delicate, dreamy and retiring, and tinged with a certain pensiveness, the effect of too much early sorrow and seclusion upon a very sensitive temperament, Edith better loved the solitude of the grand old forest of St. Mary's or the loneliness of her own shaded rooms at Luckenough than any society the humdrum neighborhood could offer her. And when at the call of social duty she did go into company, she exercised a refining and subduing influence, involuntary as it was potent.
Yet in that lovely, fragile form, in that dreaming, poetical soul, lay undeveloped a latent power of heroism soon to be aroused into action. "Darling of all hearts and eyes," Edith had been at home a year when the War of 1812 broke out.
Maryland, as usual, contributed her large proportion of volunteers to the defense of the country. All men capable of bearing arms rapidly mustered into companies and hastened to put themselves at the disposal of the government.
The lower counties of Maryland were left comparatively unprotected. Old men, women, children and negroes were all that remained in charge of the farms and plantations. Yet remote from the scenes of conflict and hitherto undisturbed by the convulsions of the great world, they reposed in fancied safety and never thought of such unprecedented misfortunes as the evils of the war penetrating to their quiet homes.
But their rest of security was broken by a tremendous shock. The British fleet under Admiral Sir A. Cockburn suddenly entered the Chesapeake. And the quiet, lonely shores of the bay became the scene of a warfare scarcely paralleled in atrocity in ancient or modern times.
If among the marauding band of licensed pirates and assassins there was one name more dreaded, more loathed and accursed than the rest, it was that of the brutal and ferocious Thorg—the frequent leader of foraging parties, the unsparing destroyer of womanhood, infancy and age, the jackal and purveyor of Admiral Cockburn. If anywhere there was a beautiful woman unprotected, or a rich plantation house ill-defended, this jackal was sure to scent out "the game" for his master, the lion. And many were the comely maidens and youthful wives seized and carried off by this monster.
The Patuxent and the Wicomico, with the coast between them, offered no strong temptation to a rapacious foe, and the inhabitants reposed in the fancied security of their isolation and unimportance. The business of life went on, faintly and sorrowfully, to be sure, but still went on. The village shops at B—— and C—— were kept open, though tended chiefly by women and boys. The academicians at the little college pursued their studies or played at forming juvenile military companies. The farms and plantations were cultivated chiefly under the direction of ladies whose husbands, sons and brothers were absent with the army. No one thought of danger to St. Mary's.
Most terrible was the awakening from this dream of safety, when, on the morning of the 17th of August, the division under the command of Admiral Cockburn—the most dreaded and abhorred of all—was seen to enter the mouth of the Patuxent in full sail for Benedict. Nearly all the able-bodied men were absent with the army at the time when the combined military and naval forces tinder Admiral Cockburn and General Ross landed at that place. None remained to guard the homes but aged men, women, infants and negroes. A universal panic seized the neighborhood and nothing occurred to the defenseless people but instant flight. Females and children were hastily put into carriages, the most valuable items of plate or money hastily packed up, negroes mustered and the whole caravan put upon a hurried march for Prince George's, Montgomery or other upper counties of the State. With very few exceptions, the farms and plantations were evacuated and left to the mercy of the invaders.
At sunrise all was noise, bustle and confusion at Luckenough.
The lawn was filled with baggage wagons, horses, mules, cows, oxen, sheep, swine, baskets of poultry, barrels of provisions, boxes of property, and men and maid servants hurrying wildly about among them, carrying trunks and parcels, loading carts, tackling harness, marshaling cattle and making other preparations for a rapid retreat toward Commodore Waugh's patrimonial estate in Montgomery County.
Edith was placed upon her pony and attended by her old maid Jenny and her old groom Oliver.
Commodore and Mrs. Waugh entered the family carriage, which they pretty well filled up. Mrs. Waugh's woman sat upon the box behind and the Commodore's man drove the coach.
And the whole family party set forward on their journey. They went in advance of the caravan so as not to be hindered and inconvenienced by its slow and cumbrous movements. A ride of three miles through the old forest brought them to the open, hilly country. Here the road forked. And here the family were to separate.
It had been arranged that as Edith was too delicate to bear the forced march of days' and nights' continuance before they could reach Montgomery, she should proceed to Hay Hill, a plantation near the line of Charles County, owned by Colonel Fairlie, whose young daughter Fanny, recently made a bride, had been the schoolmate of Edith.
Here, at the fork, the party halted to take leave.
Commodore Waugh called his niece to ride up to the carriage window and gave her many messages for Colonel Fairlie, for Fanny and for Fanny's young bridegroom, and many charges to be careful and prudent, and not to ride out unattended, etc.
And then he called up the two old negroes and charged them to see their young mistress safely at Hay Hill and then to return to Luckenough and take care of the house and such things as were felt behind in case the British should not visit it, and to shut up the house after them in case they should come and rob it and leave it standing. Two wretched old negroes would be in little personal danger from the soldiers.
So argued Commodore Waugh as he took leave of them and gave orders for the carriage to move on up the main branch of the road leading north toward Prince George's and Montgomery.
But so argued not the poor old negroes, as they followed Edith up the west branch of the road that led to Charles County.
This pleasant road ran along the side of a purling brook under the shadow of the great trees that skirted the forest, and Edith ambled leisurely along, low humming to herself some pretty song or listening to the merry carols of the birds or noticing the speckled fish that gamboled through the dark, glimmering stream or reverting to the subject of her last reading.
But beneath all this childish play of fancy, one grave, sorrowful thought lay heavy upon Edith's tender heart. It was the thought of poor old Luckenough "deserted at its utmost need" to the ravages of the foe. Then came the question if it were not possible, in case of the house being attacked, to save it—even for her to save it. While these things were brewing in Edith's mind, she rode slowly and more slowly, until at length her pony stopped. Then she noticed for the first time the heavy, downcast looks of her attendants.
"What is the matter?" she asked.
"Oh! Miss Edith, don't ask me, honey—don't! Ain't we-dem got to go back to de house and stay dar by our two selves arter we see you safe?" said Jenny, crying.
"No! what? you two alone!" exclaimed Edith, looking from one to the other.
"Yes, Miss Edith, 'deed we has, chile—but you needn't look so 'stonish and 'mazed. You can't help of it, chile. An' if de British do come dar and burn de house and heave we-dem into de fire jes' out of wanton, it'll only be two poor, ole, unvaluable niggers burned up. Ole marse know dat well enough—dat's de reason he resks we."
"But for what purpose have you to return?" asked Edith, wondering.
"Oh! to feed de cattle and de poultry? and take care o' de things dat's lef behine," sobbed Jenny, now completely broken down by her terrors. "I know—I jis does—how dem white niggers o' Co'bu'ns 'ill set de house o' fire, an' heave we-dem two poor old innocen's into de flames out'n pure debblish wanton!"
Edith passed her slender fingers through her curls, stringing them out as was her way when absent in thought. She was turning the whole matter over in her mind. She might possibly save the mansion, though these two old people were not likely to be able to do so—on the contrary, their ludicrous terrors would tend to stimulate the wanton cruelty of the marauders to destroy them with the house. Edith suddenly took her resolution, and turned her horse's head, directing her attendants to follow.
"But where are you going to go, Miss Edith?" asked her groom, Oliver, now speaking for the first time.
"Back to Luckenough."
"What for, Miss Edith, for goodness sake?"
"Back to Luckenough to guard the dear old house, and take care of you two."
"But oh, Miss Edy! Miss Edy! for Marster in heaven's sake what'll come o' you?"
"What the Master in heaven wills!"
"Lord, Lord, Miss Edy! ole marse 'ill kill we-dem. What 'ill old marse say? What 'ill everybody say to a young gal a-doin' of anything like dat dar? Oh, dear! dear! what will everybody say?"
"They will say," said Edith, "if I meet the enemy and save the house—they will say that Edith Lance is a heroine, and her name will be probably preserved in the memory of the neighborhood. But if I fail and lose my life, they will say that Edith was a cracked-brained girl who deserved her fate, and that they had always predicted she would come to a bad end."
"Better go on to Hay Hill, Miss Edy! 'Deed, 'fore marster, better go to Hay Hill."
"No," said the young girl, "my resolution is taken—we will return to Luckenough."
The arguments of the old negroes waxed fainter and fewer. They felt a vague but potent confidence in Edith and her abilities, and a sense of protection in her presence, from which they were loth to part.
The sun was high when they entered the forest shades again.
"See," said Edith to her companions, "everything is so fresh and beautiful and joyous here! I cannot even imagine danger."
Edith on reaching Luckenough retired to bed, and addressed herself to sleep. It was in vain—her nerves were fearfully excited. In vain she tried to combat her terrors—they completely overmastered her. She was violently shocked out of a fitful doze.
Old Jenny stood over her, lifting her up, shaking her, and shouting in her ears:
"Miss Edith! Miss Edith! They are here! They are here! We shall be murdered in our beds!"
In the room stood old Oliver, gray with terror, while all the dogs on the premises were barking madly, and a noisy party at the front was trying to force an entrance.
Violent knocking and shaking at the outer door and the sound of voices.
"Open! open! let us in! for God's sake, let us in!"
"Those are fugitives—not foes—listen—they plead—they do not threaten—go and unbar the door, Oliver," said Edith.
Reluctantly and cautiously the old man obeyed.
"Light another candle, Jenny—that is dying in its socket—it will be out in a minute."
Trembling all over, Jenny essayed to do as she was bid, but only succeeded in putting out the expiring light. The sound of the unbarring of the door had deprived her of the last remnant of self-control. Edith struck a light, while the sound of footsteps and voices in the hall warned her that several persons had entered.
"It's Nell, and Liddy, and Sol, from Hay Hill! Oh, Miss Edy! Thorg and his men are up dar a 'stroyin' everything! Oh, Miss Edy! an' us thought it was so safe an' out'n de way up dar! Oh, what a 'scape! what a 'scape we-dem has had!"
That summer day was so holy in its beauty, so bright, so clear, so cool; that rural scene was so soothing in its influences, so calm, so fresh, so harmonious; it was almost impossible to associate with that lovely day and scene thoughts of wrong and violence and cruelty. So felt Edith as she sometimes lifted her eyes from her work to the beauty and glory of nature around her. And if now her heart ached it was more with grief for Fanny's fate than dread of her own. There comes, borne upon the breeze that lifts her dark tresses, and fans her pearly cheeks, the music of many rural voices—of rippling streams and rustling leaves and twittering birds and humming bees.
But mingled with these, at length, there comes to her attentive ear a sound, or the suspicion of a sound, of distant horse hoofs falling upon the forest leaves—it draws nearer—it becomes distinct—she knows it now—it is—it is a troop of British soldiers approaching the house!
They rode in a totally undisciplined and disorderly manner; reeling in their saddles, drunken with debauchery, red-hot, reeking from some scene of fire and blood!
And in no condition to be operated upon by Edith's beautiful and holy influences.
They galloped into the yard—they galloped up to the house—their leader threw himself heavily from his horse and advanced to the door.
It was the terrible and remorseless Thorg! No one could doubt the identity for a single instant. The low, square-built, thick-set body, the huge head, the bull neck, heavy jowl, coarse, sensual lips, bloodshot eyes, and fiery visage surrounded with coarse red hair—the whole brutalized, demonized aspect could belong to no monster in the universe but that cross between the fiend and the beast called Thorg! And now he came, intoxicated, inflamed, burning with fierce passions from some fell scene of recent violence!
Pale as death, and nearly as calm, Edith awaited his coming. She could not hope to influence this man or his associates. She knew her fate now—it was death!—death by her own hand, before that man's foot should profane her threshold! She knew her fate, and knowing it, grew calm and strong. There were no more hopes or fears or doubts or trepidations. Over the weakness of the flesh the spirit ruled victorious, and Edith stood revealed to herself richly endowed with that heroism she had so worshiped in others—in that supreme moment mistress of herself and of her fate. To die by her own hand! but not rashly—not till a trial should be made—not till the last moment. And how beautiful in this last fateful moment she looked! The death pallor had passed from her countenance—the summer breeze was lifting the light black curls—soft shadows were playing upon the pearly brow—a strange elevation irradiated her face, and it "shone as it had been the face of an angel."
"By George! boys, what a pretty wench! Keep back, you d——d rascals!" (for the men had dismounted and were pressing behind him) "keep back, I say, you drunken ——! Let rank have precedence in love as in other things! Your turn may come afterward! Ho! pretty mistress, has your larder the material to supply my men with a meal?"
Edith glanced around for her attendants. Jenny lay upon the hall floor, fallen forward upon her face, in a deep swoon. Oliver stood out upon the lawn, his teeth chattering, and his knees knocking together with terror, yet faintly meditating a desperate onslaught to the rescue with his wooden rake.
"No matter! for first of all we must have a taste of those dainty lips; stand back, bl—t you," he vociferated with a volley of appalling oaths, that sent the disorderly men, who were again crowding behind him, back into the rear; "we would be alone, d—— you; do you hear?"
The drunken soldiers fell back, and he advanced toward Edith, who stood calm in desperate resolution. She raised her hand to supplicate or wave him off, he did not care which—her other hand, hanging down by her side, grasped the pistol, which she concealed in the folds of her dress.
"Hear me," she said, "one moment, I beseech you!"
The miscreant paused.
"Proceed, my beauty! Only don't let the grace before meat be too long."
"I am a soldier's child," said Edith; her sweet, clear voice slightly quavering like the strings of a lute over which the wind has passed; "I am a soldier's child—my father died gallantly on the field of battle. You are soldiers, and will not hurt a soldier's orphan daughter."
"Not for the universe, my angel; bl——t 'em! let any of 'em hurt a hair of your head! I only want to love you a little, my beauty! that's all!—only want to pet you to your heart's content;" and the brute made a step toward her.
"Hear me!" exclaimed Edith, raising her hand.
"Well, well, go on, my dear, only don't be too long!—for my men want something to eat and drink, and I have sworn not to break my fast until I know the flavor of those ripe lips."
Edith's fingers closed convulsively upon the pistol still held bidden.
"I am alone and defenseless," she said; "I remained here, voluntarily, to protect our home, because I had faith in the better feelings of men when they should be appealed to. I had heard dreadful tales of the ravages of the enemy through neighboring sections of the country. I did not fully believe them. I thought them the exaggerations of terror, and knew how such stories grow in the telling. I could not credit the worst, believing, as I did, the British nation to be an upright and honorable enemy—British soldiers to be men—and British officers gentlemen. Sir, have I trusted in vain? Will you not let me and my servants retire in peace? All that the cellars and storehouses of Luckenough contain is at your disposal. You will leave myself and attendants unmolested. I have not trusted in the honor of British soldiers to my own destruction!"
"A pretty speech, my dear, and prettily spoken—but not half so persuasive as the sweet wench that uttered it," said Thorg, springing toward her.
Edith suddenly raised the pistol—an expression of deadly determination upon her face.
Thorg as suddenly fell back. He was an abominable coward in addition to his other qualities.
"Seize that girl! Seize and disarm her! What mean you, rascals? Are you to be foiled by a girl? Seize and disarm her, I say! Are you men?"
Yes, they were men, and therefore, drunken and brutal as they were, they hesitated to close upon one helpless girl.
"H—l fire and furies! surround! disarm her, I say!" vociferated Thorg.
Edith stood, her hand still grasping the pistol—her other one raised in desperate entreaty.
"Oh! one moment! for heaven's sake, one moment! Still hear me! I would not have fired upon your captain! Nor would I fire upon one of you, who close upon me only at your captain's order. There is something within me that shrinks from taking life! even the life of an enemy—any life but my own, and that only in such a desperate strait as this. Oh! by the mercy that is in my own heart, show mercy to me! You are men! You have mothers, or sisters, or wives at home, whom you hope to meet again, when war and its insanities are over. Oh! for their sakes, show mercy to the defenseless girl who stands here in your power! Do not compel her to shed her own blood! for, sure as you advance one step toward me, I pull this trigger, and fall dead at your feet." And Edith raised the pistol and placed the muzzle to her own temple—her finger against the trigger.
The men stood still—the captain swore.
"H—l fire and flames! Do you intend to stand there all day, to hear the wench declaim? Seize her, curse you! Wrench that weapon from her hand."
"Not so quick as I can pull the trigger!" said Edith—her eyes blazing with the sense of having fate—the worst of fate in her own hands; it was but a pressure of the finger, to be made quick as lightning, and she was beyond their power! Her finger was on the trigger—the muzzle of the pistol, a cold ring of steel, pressed her burning temple! She felt it kindly—protective as a friend's kiss!
"Seize her! Seize her, curse you!" cried the brutal Thorg, "what care I whether she pull the trigger or not? Before the blood cools in her body, I will have had my satisfaction! Seize her, you infernal—"
"Captain, countermand your order! I beg, I entreat you, countermand your order! You yourself will greatly regret having given it, when you are calmer," said a young officer, riding hastily forward, and now, for the first time, taking a part in the scene.
An honorable youth in a band of licensed military marauders.
"'Sdeath, sir! Don't interfere with me! Seize her, rascals!"
"One step more, and I pull the trigger!" said Edith.
"Captain Thorg! This must not be!" persisted the young officer.
"D—n, sir! Do you oppose me? Do you dare? Fall back, sir, I command you! Scoundrels! close upon that wench and bind her!"
"Captain Thorg! This shall not be! Do you hear? Do you understand? I say this violence shall not be perpetrated!" said the young officer, firmly.
"D—n, sir! Are you drunk, or mad? You are under arrest, sir! Corporal Truman, take Ensign Shields' sword!"
The young man was quickly disarmed, and once more the captain vociferated:
"Knock down and disarm that vixen! Obey your orders, villains! Or by h—l, and all its fiends, I'll have you all court-martialed, and shot before to-morrow noon!"
The soldiers closed around the unprotected girl.
"Lord, all merciful! forgive my sins," she prayed, and with a firm hand pulled the trigger!
It did not respond to her touch—it failed! it failed!
Casting the traitorous weapon from her, she sunk upon her knees, murmuring:
"Lost—lost—all is lost!" remained crushed, overwhelmed, awaiting her fate!
"Ha! ha! ha! as pretty a little make-believe as ever I saw!" laughed the brutal Thorg, now perfectly at his ease, and gloating over her beauty, and helplessness, and, deadly terror. "As pretty a little sham as ever I saw!"
"It was no sham! She couldn't sham! I drawed out the shot unbeknownst to her! I wish, I does, my fingers had shriveled and dropped off afore they ever did it!" exclaimed Oliver, in a passion of remorse, as he ran forward, rake in hand.
He was quickly thrown down and disarmed—no one had any hesitation in dealing with him.
"Now then, my fair!" said Thorg, moving toward his victim.
Edith was now wild with desperation—her eyes flew wildly around in search of help, where help there seemed none. Then she turned with the frenzied impulse of flying.
But the men surrounded to cut off her retreat.
"Nay, nay, let her run! Let her run! Give her a fair start, and do you give chase! It will be the rarest sport! Fox-hunting is a good thing, but girl-chasing must be the very h—l of sport, when I tell you—mind, I tell you, men—she shall be the exclusive prize of him who catches her!" swore the remorseless Thorg.
Edith had gained the back door.
They started in pursuit.
"Now, by the living Lord that made me, the first man that lays hands on her shall die!" suddenly exclaimed the young ensign, wresting his sword from the hand of the corporal, springing between Edith and her pursuers, flashing out the blade, and brandishing it in the faces of the foremost.
He was but a stripling, scarcely older than Edith's self—the arm that wielded that slender blade scarcely stronger than Edith's own—but the fire that flashed from the eagle eye showed a spirit to rescue or die in her defense.
Thorg threw himself into the most frantic fury—a volley of the most horrible oaths was discharged from his lips.
"Upon that villain, men! Beat him down! Slay him! Pin him to the ground with your bayonets! And then! do your will with the girl!"
But before this fiendish order could be executed, ay, before it was half spoken, whirled into the yard a body or about thirty horsemen, galloping fiercely to the rescue with drawn swords and shouting voices.
They were nearly three times the number of the foraging soldiers.
YOUNG AMERICA IN 1814.
Young students of the neighboring academy—mere boys of from thirteen to eighteen years of age, but brave, spirited, vigorous lads, well mounted, well armed, and led on by the redoubtable college hero, Cloudesley Mornington. They rushed forward, they surrounded, they fell upon the marauders with an absolute shower of blows.
"Give it to them, men! This for Fanny! This for Edith! And this! and this! and this for both of them!" shouted Cloudesley, as he vigorously laid about him. "Strike for Hay Hill and vengeance! Let them have it, my men! And you, little fellows! Small young gentlemen, with the souls of heroes, and the bodies of elves, who can't strike a very hard blow, aim where your blows will tell! Aim at their faces. This for Fanny! This for Edith!" shouted Cloudesley, raining his strokes right and left, but never at random.
He fought his way through to the miscreant Thorg.
Thorg was still on foot, armed with a sword, and laying about him savagely among the crowd of foes that had surrounded him.
Cloudesley was still on horseback—he had caught up an ax that lay carelessly upon the lawn, and now he rushed upon Thorg from behind.
He had no scruple in taking this advantage of the enemy—no scruple with an unscrupulous monster—an outlawed wretch—a wild beast to be destroyed, when and where and how it was possible!
And so Cloudesley came on behind, and elevating this formidable weapon in both hands, raising himself in his stirrups and throwing his whole weight with the stroke, he dealt a blow upon the head of Thorg that brought him to the earth stunned. From the impetus Cloudesley himself had received, he had nearly lost his saddle, but had recovered.
"They fly! They fly! By the bones of Caesar, the miscreants fly! After them, my men! After them! Pursue! pursue!" shouted Cloudesley, wheeling his horse around to follow.
But just then, the young British officer standing near Edith, resting on his sword, breathing, as it were, after a severe conflict, caught Cloudesley's eyes. Intoxicated with victory, Cloudesley sprang from his horse, and raising his ax, rushed up the stairs upon the youth!
Edith sprang and threw herself before the stripling, impulsively clasping her arms around him to shield him, and then throwing up one arm to ward off a blow, looked up and exclaimed:
"He is my preserver—my preserver, Cloudesley!"
And what did the young ensign do? Clasped Edith quietly but closely to his breast.
It was a beautiful, beautiful picture!
Nay, any one might understand how it was—that not years upon years of ordinary acquaintance could have so drawn, so knitted these young hearts together as those few hours of supreme danger.
"My preserver, Cloudesley! My preserver!"
Cloudesley grounded his ax.
"I don't understand that, Edith! He is a British officer."
"He is my deliverer! When Thorg set his men on me to hunt me, he cast himself before me, and kept them at bay until you came!"
"Mutinied!" exclaimed Cloudesley, in astonishment, and a sort of horror.
"Yes, I suppose it was mutiny," said the young ensign, speaking for the first time and blushing as he withdrew his arm from Edith's waist.
"Whe-ew! here's a go!" Cloudesley was about to exclaim, but remembering himself he amended his phraseology, and said, "A very embarrassing situation, yours, sir."
"I cannot regret it!"
"Certainly not! There are laws of God and humanity above all military law, and such you obeyed, sir! I thank you on the part of my young countrywoman," said Cloudesley, who imagined that he could talk about as well as he could fight.
"If the occasion could recur, I would do it again! Yes, a thousand times!" the young man's eyes added to Edith—only to her.
"But oh! perdition! while I am talking here that serpent! that copperhead! that cobra capella! is coming round again! How astonishingly tenacious of life all foul, venomous creatures are!" exclaimed Cloudesley, as he happened to espy Throg moving slightly where he lay, and rushed out to dispatch him.
The other two young people were left alone in the hall.
"I am afraid you have placed yourself in a very, very dangerous situation, by what you did to save me."
"But do you know—oh, do you know how happy it has made me? Can you divine how my heart—yes, my soul—burns with the joy it has given me? When I saw you standing there before your enemies so beautiful! so calm! so constant—I felt that I could die for you—that I would die for you. And when I sprang between you and your pursuers, I had resolved to die for you. But first to set your soul free. Edith, you should not have fallen into the hands of the soldiers! Yes! I had determined to die for and with you! You are safe. And whatever befalls me, Edith, will you remember that?"
"You are faint! You are wounded! Indeed you are wounded! Oh, where! Oh! did any of our people strike you?"
"No—it was one of our men, Edith! I do not know your other name, sweet lady!"
"Never mind my name—it is Edith—that will do; but your wound—your wound—oh! you are very pale—here! lie down upon this settee. Oh, it is too hard!—come into my room, it opens here upon the hall—there is a comfortable lounge there—come in and lie down—let me get you something?"
"Thanks—thanks, dearest lady, but I must get upon my horse and go!"
"Yes, Edith—don't you understand, that after what I have done—after what I have had the joy of doing—the only honorable course left open to me, is to go and give myself up to answer the charges that may be brought against me?"
"Oh, heaven! I know! I know what you have incurred by defending me! I know the awful penalty laid upon a military officer who lifts his hand against his superior. Don't go! oh, don't go!"
"And do you really take so much interest in my fate, sweetest lady?" said the youth, gazing at her with the deepest and most delightful emotions.
"'Take an interest' in my generous protector! How should I help it? Oh! don't go! Don't think of going. You will not—will you? Say that you will not!"
"You will not advise me to anything dishonorable, I am sure."
"No—no—but oh! at such a fearful cost you have saved me. Oh! when I think of it, I wish you had not interfered to defend me. I wish it had not been done!"
"And I would not for the whole world that it had not been done! Do not fear for me, sweetest Edith! I run little risk in voluntarily placing myself in the hands of a court-martial—for British officers are gentlemen, Edith!—you must not judge them by those you have seen—and when they hear all the circumstances, I have little doubt that my act will be justified—besides, my fate will rest with Ross, General Ross—one of the most gallant and noble spirits ever created, Edith! And now you must let me go, fairest lady." And he raised her hand respectfully to his lips, bowed reverently, and left the hall to find his horse.
Just then Cloudesley was seen approaching, crying out that they had escaped.
"You are not going to leave us, sir?" he asked Cloudesley, catching sight of the ensign.
"I am under the necessity of doing so."
"But you are not able to travel—you can scarcely sit your horse. Pray do not think of leaving us."
"You are a soldier—at least an amateur one, and you will understand that after what has occurred, I must not seem to hide myself like a fugitive from justice! In short, I must go and answer for that which I have done."
"I understand, but really, sir, you look very ill—you—"
But here the young officer held out his hand smilingly, took leave of Cloudesley, and bowing low to Edith, rode off.
Cloudesley and Edith followed the gallant fellow with their eyes. He had nearly reached the gate, the old green gate at the farthest end of the semi-circular avenue, when the horse stopped, the rider reeled and fell from his saddle. Cloudesley and Edith ran toward him—reached him. Cloudesley disentangled his foot from the stirrup, and raised him in his arms. Edith stood pale and breathless by.
"He has fainted! I knew he was suffering extreme pain. Edith! fly and get some water! Or rather here! sit down and hold up his head while I go."
Edith was quickly down by the side of her preserver, supporting his head upon her breast. Cloudesley sped toward the house for water and assistance. When he procured what he wanted and returned, he met the troop of collegians on their return from the chase of the retreating marauders. They reported that they had scattered the fugitives in every direction and lost them in the labyrinths of the forest.
Several of them dismounted and gathered around the young ensign.
But Cloudesley was now upon the spot, and while he bathed the face of the fainting man, explained to them how it was, and requested some one to ride immediately to the village and procure a physician. Thurston Willcoxen, the next in command under him, and his chosen brother-in-arms, mounted his horse and galloped off.
In the meantime the wounded man was carried to the mansion house and laid upon a cot in one of the parlors.
Presently Edith heard wheels roll up to the door and stop. She looked up. It was the carriage of the surgeon, whom she saw alight and walk up the steps. She went to meet him, composedly as she could, and conducted him to the door of the sick-room, which he entered. Edith remained in the hall, softly walking up and down, and sometimes pausing to listen.
After a little, the door opened. It was only Solomon Weismann, who asked for warm water, lint, and a quantity of old linen. These Edith quickly supplied, and then remained alone in the hall, walking up and down, and pausing to listen as before; once she heard a deep shuddering groan, as of one in mortal extremity, and her own heart and frame thrilled to the sound, and then all was still as before.
An hour, two hours, passed, and then the door opened again, and Edith caught a glimpse of the surgeon, with his shirt sleeves pushed above his elbows, and a pair of bloody hands. It was Solomon who opened the door to ask for a basin of water, towels and soap, for the doctor to wash. Edith furnished these also.
Half an hour passed, and the door opened a third time, and the doctor himself came out, fresh and smiling. His countenance and his manner were in every respect encouraging.
"Come into the drawing-room a moment, if you please, Miss Edith, I want to speak with you."
Edith desired nothing more earnestly just at that moment.
"Well, doctor—your patient?" she inquired, anxiously.
"Will do very well! Will do very well! That is, if he be properly attended to, and that is what I wished to speak to you about, Miss Edith. I have seen you near sick-beds before this, my dear, and know that I can better trust you than any one to whom I could at present apply. I intend to install you as his nurse, my dear. When a life depends upon your care, you will waive any scruples you might otherwise feel, Miss Edith, I am sure! You will have your old maid, Jenny, to assist you, and Solomon at hand, in case of an emergency. But I intend to delegate my authority, and leave my directions with you."
"Yes, doctor, I will do my very best for your patient."
"I am sure of that. I am sure of that."
Edith watched by his cot through all the night, fanning him softly, keeping his chest covered from the air, giving him his medicine at the proper intervals, and putting drink to his lips when he needed it. But never trusted her eyelids to close for a moment. Jenny shared her vigil by nodding in an easy chair; and Solomon Weismann, a young medical student, by sleeping soundly on the wooden settee in the hall. So passed the night. After midnight, to Edith's great relief, his fever began to abate, and he sank into a sweet sleep. In the morning Solomon roused himself, and came in and relieved Edith's watch, and attended to the wants of the patient, while she went to her room to bathe her face and weary eyes.
But instead of growing better the patient grew worse, and for days life was despaired of. The most skillful medical treatment, and the most careful nursing scarcely saved his life. And even after the imminent danger was over, it was weeks before he was able to be lifted from the bed to the sofa.
In the meantime, Throg, who was also treated by the doctor, recovered. He took quite an affectionate leave of the young ensign, and with an appearance of great friendliness and honesty, promised to interest himself at headquarters in behalf of the young officer. This somehow filled Edith with a vague distrust, and dark foreboding, for which she could neither account, nor excuse herself, nor yet shake off. Thorg had been exchanged, and he joined his regiment after its return from Washington City, and before it sailed from the shores of America.
Weeks passed, during which the invalid occupied the sofa in his room—and Edith was his sole nurse. And then Commodore Waugh, with his wife, servants and caravan returned to Luckenough.
The old soldier had been "posted up," he said, relative to all that had transpired in his absence.
There were no words, he declared, to express his admiration of Edith's "heroism."
It was in vain that Edith assured him that she had not been heroic at all—that the preservation of Luckenough had been due rather to the timely succor of the college boys than to her own imprudent resolution. It did no good—the old man was determined to look upon his niece as a heroine worthy to stand by the side of Joan of Arc.
"For," said he, "was it not the soul of a heroine that enabled her to stay and guard the house; and would the college company ever have come to the rescue of these old walls if they had not heard that she had resolutely remained to guard them and was almost alone in the house? Don't tell me! Edith is the star maiden of old St. Mary's, and I'm proud of her! She is worthy to be my niece and heiress! A true descendant of Marie Zelenski, is she! And I'll tell you what I'll do, Edith!" he said, turning to her, "I'll reward you, my dear! I will. I'll marry you to Professor Grimshaw! That's what I'll do, my dear! And you both shall have Luckenough; that you shall!"
Months passed—the war was over—peace was proclaimed, and still the young ensign, an invalid, unable to travel, lingered at Luckenough. Regularly he received his pay; twice he received an extension of leave of absence; and all through the instrumentality of—Thorg. Yet all this filled Edith with the greatest uneasiness and foreboding—ungrateful, incomprehensible, yet impossible to be delivered from.
Late in the spring Ensign Michael Shields received orders to join his regiment in Canada, and upon their reception he had an explanation with Edith, and with her permission, had requested her hand of her uncle, Commodore Waugh. This threw the veteran into a towering passion, and nearly drove him from his proprieties as host. The young ensign was unacceptable to him upon every account. First and foremost, he wasn't "Grim," Then he was an Israelite. And, lastly! horror of horrors! he was a British officer, and dared to aspire to the hand of Edith. It was in vain that his wife, the good Henrietta, tried to mollify him; the storm raged for several days—raged, till it had expended all its strength, and subsided from exhaustion. Then he called Edith and tried to talk the matter over calmly with her.
"Now all I have to say to you, Edith, is this," he concluded, "that if you will have the good sense to marry Mr. Grimshaw, these intentions shall be more than fulfilled—they shall be anticipated. Upon your marriage with Grimshaw, I will give you a conveyance of Luckenough—only reserving to myself and Old Hen a house, and a life-support in the place; but if you will persist in your foolish preference for that young scamp, I will give you—nothing. That is all, Edith."
During the speech Edith remained standing, with her eyes fixed upon the floor. Now, she spoke in a tremulous voice:
"That is all—is it not, uncle? You will not deprive me of any portion of your love; will you, uncle?"
"I do not know, Edith! I cannot tell; when you have deliberately chosen one of your own fancy, in preference to one of mine—the man I care most for in the world, and whom I chose especially for you; why, you've speared me right through a very tender part; however, as I said before, what you do, do quickly! I cannot bear to be kept upon the tenter hooks!"
"I will talk with Michael, uncle," said Edith, meekly.
She went out, and found him pacing the lawn at the back of the house.
He turned toward her with a glad smile, took her hand as she approached him, and pressed it to his lips.
"Dearest Edith, where have you been so long?"
"With my uncle, Michael. I have my uncle's 'ultimatum,' as he calls it."
"What is it, Edith?"
"Ah! how shall I tell you without offense? But, dearest Michael you will not mind—you will forgive an old man's childish prejudices, especially when you know they are not personal—but circumstantial, national, bigoted."
"Well, Edith! well?"
"Michael, he says—he says that I may give you my hand—"
"Said he so! Bless that fair hand, and bless him who bestows it!" he exclaimed, clasping her fingers and pressing them to his lips.
"Yes, Michael, but—"
"But what! there is no but; he permits you to give me your hand; there is then no but—'a jailer to bring forth some monstrous malefactor.'"
"Yet listen! You know I was to have been his heiress!"
"No, indeed I did not know it! never heard it! never suspected it! never even thought of it! How did I know but that he had sons and daughters, or nephews away at school!"
"Well, I was to have been his heiress. Now he disinherits me, unless I consent to be married to his friend and favorite, Dr. Grimshaw."
"You put the case gently and delicately, dear Edith, but the hard truth is this—is it not—that he will disinherit you, if you consent to be mine? You need not answer me, dearest Edith, if you do not wish to; but listen—I have nothing but my sword, and beyond my boundless love nothing to offer you but the wayward fate of a soldier's wife. Your eyes are full of tears. Speak, Edith Lance! Can you share the soldier's wandering life? Speak, Edith, or lay your hand in mine. Yet, no! no! no! I am selfish and unjust. Take time, love, to think of all you abandon, all that you may encounter in joining your fate to mine. God knows what it has cost me to say it—but—take time, Edith," and he pressed and dropped her hand.
"I do not need to do so. My answer to-day, to-morrow, and forever, must be the same," she answered, in a very low voice; and her eyes sought the ground, and the blush deepened on her cheek, as she laid her hand in his. How he pressed that white hand, to his lips, to his heart! How he clasped her to his breast! How he vowed to love and cherish her as the dearest treasure of his life need not here be told.
"Now take me in to uncle, and tell him, for he asked me not to keep him in suspense."
Michael led her into the hall, where the commodore strode up and down, making the old rafters tremble and quake with every tread—puffing—blowing over his fallen hopes, like a nor'-wester over the dead leaves.
Michael advanced, holding the hand of his affianced, and modestly announced their engagement.
"Humph! So the precious business is concluded, is it?"
"Yes, sir," said Michael, with a bow.
"Well, I hope you may be as happy as you deserve! When is the proceeding to come off?"
"The marriage, young gentleman?"
"When shall I say, dearest Edith?" asked Michael, stooping to her ear.
"When uncle pleases," murmured the girl.
"Uncle pleases nothing, and will have nothing to do with it, except to advise as early a day as possible," he blurted out; "what says the bride?"
"Answer, dearest Edith," entreated Michael Shields.
"Then let it be at New Year," said Edith, falteringly.
"Whew!—six months ahead! Entirely too far off!" exclaimed the commodore.
"And so it really is, beloved," whispered Michael.
"Let it be next week," abruptly broke in the commodore. "What's the use of putting it off? Tuesdays and Thursdays are the marrying days, I believe; let it then be Tuesday or Thursday."
"Tuesday," pleaded Michael.
"Thursday," murmured Edith.
"The deuce!—if you can't decide, I must decide for you," growled Old Nick, storming down toward the extremity of the hall, and roaring—"Old Hen! Old Hen! These fools are to be spliced on Sunday! Now bring me my pipe;" and the commodore withdrew to his sanctum.
Good Henrietta came in, took the hand of the young ensign, and pressed it warmly, saying that he would have a good wife, and wishing them both much happiness in their union. She drew Edith to her bosom, and kissed her fondly, but in silence.
As this was Friday evening, little preparations could be made for the solemnity to take place on Sunday. Yet Mrs. Henrietta exerted herself to do all possible honor to the occasion. That very evening she sent out a few invitations to the dinner and ball, that in those days invariably celebrated a country wedding. She even invited a few particular friends to meet the bridal pair at dinner, on their return from church.
The little interval between this and Sunday morning was passed by Edith and Shields in making arrangements for their future course.
A young lady of the neighborhood officiated as bridesmaid, and Cloudesley Mornington as groomsman. The ceremony was to be performed at the Episcopal Church at Charlotte Hall. The bridal party set forward in two carriages. They were attended by the commodore and Mrs. Waugh. They reached the church at an early hour, and the marriage was solemnized before the morning service. When the entries had been made, and the usual congratulations passed, the party returned to the carriages. Before entering his own, Commodore Waugh approached that in which the bride and bridegroom were already seated, and into which the groomsman was about to hand the bridesmaid.
"Stay, you two, you need not enter just yet," said the old man, "I want to speak with Mr. Shields and his wife, Edith!"
Edith put her head forward, eagerly.
"I have nothing against you; but after what has occurred, I don't want to see you at Luckenough again. Good-by!" Then, turning to Shields, he said, "I will have your own and your wife's goods forwarded to the hotel, here," and nodding gruffly, he strode away.
Cloudesley stormed, Edith begged that the carriage might be delayed yet a little while. Vain Edith's hope, and vain Mrs. Waugh's expostulations, Old Nick was not to be mollified. He said that "those who pleased to remain with the new-married couple, might do so—he should go home! They did as they liked, and he should do as he liked." Mrs. Waugh, Cloudesley, and the bridesmaid determined to stay.
The commodore entered his carriage, and was driven toward home.
The party then adjourned to the hotel. Mrs. Waugh comforting Edith, and declaring her intention to stay with her as long as she should remain in the neighborhood—for Henrietta always did as she pleased, notwithstanding the opposition of her stormy husband. The young bridesmaid and Cloudesley also expressed their determination to stand by their friends to the last.
Their patience was not put to a very long test. In a few days a packet was to sail from Benedict to Baltimore, and the young couple took advantage of the opportunity, and departed, with the good wishes of their few devoted friends.
Their destination was Toronto, in Canada, where the young ensign's regiment was quartered.
Several miles from the manor of Luckenough, upon a hill not far from the seacoast, stood the cottage of the Old Fields.
The property was an appendage to the Manor of Luckenoug—, and was at this time occupied by a poor relation of Commodore Waugh, his niece, Mary L'Oiseau, the widow of a Frenchman. Mrs. L'Oiseau had but one child, a little girl, Jacquelina, now about eight or nine years of age.
Commodore Waugh had given them the cottage to live in, permission to make a living, if they could, out of the poor land attached to it. This was all the help he had afforded his poor niece, and all, as she said, that she could reasonably expect from one who had so many dependents. For several years past the little property had afforded her a bare subsistence.
And now this year the long drought had parched up her garden and corn-field, and her cows had failed in their yield of milk for the want of grass.
It was upon a dry and burning day, near the last of August, that Mary L'Oiseau and her daughter sat down to their frugal breakfast. And such a frugal breakfast! The cheapest tea, with brown sugar, and a corn cake baked upon the griddle, and a little butter—that was all! It was spread upon a plain pine table without a tablecloth.
The furniture of the room was in keeping—a sanded floor, a chest of drawers, with a small looking-glass, ornamented by a sprig of asparagus, a dresser of rough pine shelves on the right of the fireplace, and a cupboard on the left, a half-dozen chip-bottomed chairs, a spinning-wheel, and a reel and jack, completed the appointments.
Mrs. L'Oiseau was devouring the contents of a letter, which ran thus:
"MARY, MY DEAR! I feel as if I had somewhat neglected you, but, the truth is, my arm is not long enough to stretch from Luckenough to Old Fields. That being the case, and myself and Old Hen being rather lonesome since Edith's ungrateful desertion, we beg you to take little Jacko, and come live with us as long as we may live—and of what may come after that we will talk at some time. If you will be ready I will send the carriage for you on Saturday.
"YOUR UNCLE NICK."
Mrs. L'Oiseau read this letter with a changing cheek—when she finished it she folded and laid it aside in silence.
Then she called to her side her child—her Jacquelina—her Sans Souci—as for her gay, thoughtless temper she was called. I should here describe the mother and daughter to you. The mother needs little description—a pale, black-haired, black-eyed woman, who should have been blooming and sprightly, but that care had damped her spirits, and cankered the roses in her cheeks.
But Jacquelina—Sans Souci—merits a better portrait. She was small and slight for her years, and, though really near nine, would have been taken for six or seven. She was fair-skinned, blue-eyed and golden-haired. And her countenance, full of spirit, courage and audacity. As she would dart her face upward toward the sun, her round, smooth, highly polished white forehead would seem to laugh in light between its clustering curls of burnished gold, that, together with the little, slightly turned-up nose, and short, slightly protruded upper lip, gave the charm of inexpressible archness to the most mischievous countenance alive. In fact her whole form, features, expression and gestures seemed instinct with mischief—mischief lurked in the kinked tendrils of her bright hair; mischief looked out and laughed in the merry, malicious blue eyes; mischief crept slyly over the bows of her curbed and ruby lips, and mischief played at hide and seek among the rosy dimples of her blooming cheeks.
"Now, Jacquelina," said Mrs. L'Oiseau, "you must cure yourself of these hoydenish tricks of yours before you expose them to your uncle—remember how whimsical and eccentric he is."
"So am I! Just as whimsical! I'll do him dirt," said the young lady.
"Good heaven! Where did you ever pick up such a phrase, and what upon earth does doing any one 'dirt' mean?" asked the very much shocked lady.
"I mean I'll grind his nose on the ground, I'll hurry him and worry him, and upset him, and cross him, and make him run his head against the wall, and butt his blundering brains out. What did he turn Fair Edith away for? Oh! I'll pay him off! I'll settle with him! Fair Edith shan't be in his debt for her injuries very long."
From her pearly brow and pearly cheeks, "Fair Edith" was the name by which the child had heard her cousin once called, and she had called her thus ever since.
Mrs. L'Oiseau answered gravely.
"Your uncle gave Edith a fair choice between his own love and protection, and the great benefits he had in store for her, and the love of a stranger and foreigner, whom he disapproved and hated. Edith deliberately chose the latter. And your uncle had a perfect right to act upon her unwise decision."
"And for my part, I know he hadn't—all of my own thoughts. Oh! I'll do him—"
"Hush! Jacquelina. You shall not use such expressions. So much comes of my letting you have your own way, running down to the beach and watching the boats, and hearing the vulgar talk of the fishermen."
On Saturday, at the hour specified, the carriage came to Old Field Cottage, and conveyed Mrs. L'Oiseau and her child to Luckenough. They were very kindly received by the commodore, and affectionately embraced by Henrietta, who conducted them to a pleasant room, where they could lay off their bonnets, and which they were thenceforth to consider as their own apartment. This was not the one which had been occupied by Edith. Edith's chamber had been left undisturbed and locked up by Mrs. Waugh, and was kept ever after sacred to her memory.
The sojourn of Mrs. L'Oiseau and Jacquelina at Luckenough was an experiment on the part of the commodore. He did not mean to commit himself hastily, as in the case of his sudden choice of Edith as his heiress. He intended to take a good, long time for what he called "mature deliberation"—often one of the greatest enemies to upright, generous, and disinterested action—to hope, faith, and charity, that I know of, by the way. Commodore Waugh also determined to have his own will in all things, this time at least. He had the vantage ground now, and was resolved to keep it. He had caught Sans Souci young, before she could possibly have formed even a childish predilection for one of the opposite sex, and he was determined to raise and educate a wife for his beloved Grim.
THE BLIGHTED HEART.
In February the deepest snow storm fell that had fallen during the whole winter. The roads were considered quite impassable by carriages, and the family at Luckenough were blocked up in their old house. Yet one day, in the midst of this "tremendous state of affairs," as the commodore called it, a messenger from Benedict arrived at Luckenough, the bearer of a letter to Mrs. Waugh, which he refused to intrust to any other hands but that lady's own. He was, therefore, shown into the presence of the mistress, to whom he presented the note. Mrs. Waugh took it and looked at it with some curiosity—it was superscribed in a slight feminine hand—quite new to Henrietta; and she opened it, and turned immediately to the signature—Marian Mayfield—a strange name to her; she had never seen or heard it before. She lost no more time in perusing the letter, but as she read, her cheek flushed and paled—her agitation became excessive, she was obliged to ring for a glass of water, and as soon as she had swallowed it she crushed and thrust the letter into her bosom, ordered her mule to be saddled instantly, and her riding pelisse and hood to be brought. In two hours and a half Henrietta reached the village, and alighted at the little hotel. Of the landlord, who came forth respectfully to meet her, she demanded to be shown immediately to the presence of the young lady who had recently arrived from abroad. The host bowed, and inviting the lady to follow him, led the way to the little private parlor, the door of which he opened to let the visitor pass in, and then bowing again, he closed it and retired.
And Mrs. Waugh found herself in a small, half-darkened room, where, reclining in an easy chair, sat—Edith? Was it Edith? Could it be Edith? That fair phantom of a girl to whom the black ringlets and black dress alone seemed to give outline and personality? Yes, it was Edith! But, oh! so changed! so wan and transparent, with such blue shadows in the hollows of her eyes and temples and cheeks—with such heavy, heavy eyelids, seemingly dragged down by the weight of their long, sleeping lashes—with such anguish in the gaze of the melting, dark eyes!
"Edith, my love! My dearest Edith!" said Mrs. Waugh, going to her.
She half arose, and sank speechless into the kind arms opened to receive her. Mrs. Waugh held her to her bosom a moment in silence, and then said:
"Edith, my dear, I got a note from your friend, Miss Mayfield, saying that you had returned, and wished to see me. But how is this, my child? You have evidently been very ill—you are still. Where is your husband, Edith? Edith, where is your husband?"
A shiver that shook her whole frame—a choking, gasping sob, was all the answer she could make.
"Where is he, Edith? Ordered away somewhere, upon some distant service? That is hard, but never mind! Hope for the best! You will meet him again, dear? But where is he, then?"
She lifted up her poor head, and uttering—"Dead! dead!" dropped it heavily again upon the kind, supporting bosom.
"You do not mean it! My dear, you do not mean it! You do not know what you are saying! Dead! when? how?" asked Mrs. Waugh, in great trouble.
"Shot! shot!" whispered the poor thing, in a tone so hollow, it seemed reverberating through a vault. And then her stricken head sank heavily down—and Henrietta perceived that strength and consciousness had utterly departed. She placed her in the easy chair, and turned around to look for restoratives, when a door leading into an adjoining bedroom opened, and a young girl entered, and came quietly and quickly forward to the side of the sufferer. She greeted Mrs. Waugh politely, and then gave her undivided attention to Edith, whose care she seemed fully competent to undertake.
This young girl was not over fourteen years of age, yet the most beautiful and blooming creature, Mrs. Waugh thought, that she had ever beheld.
Her presence in the room seemed at once to dispel the gloom and shadow.
She took Edith's hand, and settled her more at ease in the chair—but refused the cologne and the salammoniac that Mrs. Waugh produced, saying, cheerfully:
"She has not fainted, you perceive—she breathes—it is better to leave her to nature for a while—too much attention worries her—she is very weak."
Marian had now settled her comfortably back in the resting chair, and stood by her side, not near enough to incommode her in the least.
"I do not understand all this. She says that her husband is dead, poor child—how came it about? Tell me!" said Mrs. Waugh, in a low voice.
Marian's clear blue eyes filled with tears, but she dropped their white lids and long black lashes over them, and would not let them fall; and her ripe lips quivered, but she firmly compressed them, and remained silent for a moment. Then she said, in a whisper:
"I will tell you by and by," and she glanced at Edith, to intimate that the story must not be rehearsed in her presence, however insensible she might appear to be.
"You are the young lady who wrote to me?"
"You are a friend of my poor girl's?"
"Something more than that, madam—I will tell you by and by," said Marian, and her kind, dear eyes were again turned upon Edith, and observing the latter slightly move, she said, in her pleasant voice:
"Edith, dear, shall I put you to bed—are you able to walk?"
"Yes, yes," murmured the sufferer, turning her head uneasily from side to side.
Marian gave her hand, and assisted the poor girl to rise, and tenderly supported her as she walked to the bedroom.
Mrs. Waugh arose to give her assistance, but Marian shook her head at her, with a kindly look, that seemed to say, "Do not startle her—she is used only to me lately," and bore her out of sight into the bedroom.
Presently she reappeared in the little parlor, opened the blinds, drew back the curtains, and let the sunlight into the dark room. Then she ordered more wood to the fire, and when it was replenished, and the servant had left the room, she invited Mrs. Waugh to draw her chair to the hearth, and then said:
"I am ready now, madam, to tell you anything you wish to know—indeed I had supposed that you were acquainted with everything relating to Edith's marriage, and its fatal results."
"I know absolutely nothing but what I have learned to-day. We never received a single letter, or message, or news of any kind, or in any shape, from Edith or her husband, from the day they left until now."
"Yon did not hear, then, that he was court-martialed, and—sentenced to death!"
"No, no—good heaven, no!"
"He was tried for mutiny or rebellion—I know not which—but it was for raising arms against his superior officers while here in America—the occasion was—but you know the occasion better than I do."
"Yes, yes, it was when he rescued Edith from the violence of Thorg and his men. But oh! heaven, how horrible! that he should have been condemned to death for a noble act! It is incredible—impossible—how could it have happened? He never expected such a fate—none of us did, or we would never have consented to his return. There seemed no prospect of such a thing. How could it have been?"
"There was treachery, and perhaps perjury, too. He had an insidious and unscrupulous enemy, who assumed the guise of repentance, and candor, and friendship, the better to lure him into his toils—it was the infamous Colonel Thorg, who received the command of the regiment, in reward for his great services in America. And Michael's only powerful friend, who could and would have saved him—was dead. General Ross, you are aware, was killed in the battle of Baltimore."
"God have mercy on poor Edith! How long has it been since, this happened, my dear girl?"
"When they reached Toronto, in Canada West, the regiment commanded by Thorg was about to sail for England. On its arrival at York, in England, a court-martial was formed, and Michael was brought to trial. There was a great deal of personal prejudice, distortion of facts, and even perjury—in short, he was condemned and sentenced one day and led out and shot the next!"
There was silence between them then. Henrietta sat in pale and speechless horror.
"But how long is it since my poor Edith has been so awfully widowed?" at length inquired Mrs. Waugh.
"Nearly four months," replied Marian, in a tremulous voice. "For six weeks succeeding his death, she was not able to rise from her bed. I came from school to nurse her. I found her completely prostrated under the blow. I wonder she had not died. What power of living on some delicate frames seem to have. As soon as she was able to sit up, I began to think that it would be better to remove her from the strange country, the theatre of her dreadful sufferings, and to bring her to her own native land, among her own friends and relatives, where she might resume the life and habits of her girlhood, and where, with nothing to remind her of her loss, she might gradually come to look upon the few wretched months of her marriage, passed in England, as a dark dream. Therefore I have brought her back."
"And you, my dear child," she said, "you were Michael Shields' sister?"
"No, madam, no kin to him—and yet more than kin—for he loved me, and I loved him more than any one else in the world, as I now love his poor young widow. This was the way of it, Mrs. Waugh: Michael's father and my mother had both been married before, and we were children of the first marriages; when Michael was fourteen years old, and I was seven, our parents were united, and we grew up together. About two years ago, Michael's father died. My mother survived him only five months, and departed, leaving me in charge of her stepson. We had no friends but each other. Our parents, since their union, had been isolated beings, for this reason—his father was a Jew—my mother a Christian—therefore the friends and relatives on either side were everlastingly offended by their marriage. Therefore we had no one but each other. The little property that was left was sold, and the proceeds enabled Michael to purchase a commission in the regiment about to sail for America, and also to place me at a good boarding school, where I remained until his return, and the catastrophe that followed it.
"Lady, all passed so suddenly, that I knew no word of his return, much less of his trial or execution, until I received a visit from the chaplain who had attended his last moments, and who brought me his farewell letter, and his last informal will, in which the poor fellow consigned me to the care of his wife, soon to be a widow, and enjoined me to leave school and seek her at once, and inclosed a check for the little balance he had in bank. I went immediately, found her insensible through grief, as I said—and, lady, I told you the rest."
Henrietta was weeping softly behind the handkerchief she held at her eyes. At last she repeated:
"You say he left you in his widow's charge?"
"Left his widow in yours, rather, you good and faithful sister."
"It was the same thing, lady; we were to live together, and to support each other."
"But what was your thought, my dear girl, in bringing her here?"
"I told you, lady, that in her own native land, among her own kinsfolk, she might be comforted, and might resume her girlhood's thoughts and habits, and learn to forget the strange, dark passages of her short married life, passed in a foreign country."
"But, my dear girl, did you not know, had you never heard that her uncle disowned her for marrying against his will?"
"Something of that I certainly heard from Edith, lady, when I first proposed to her to come home. But she was very weak, and her thoughts very rambling, poor thing—she could not stick to a point long, and I overruled and guided her—I could not believe but that her friends would take her poor widowed heart to their homes again. But if it should be otherwise, still—"
"Why, I cannot regret having brought her to her native soil—for, if we find no friends in America, we have left none in England—a place besides full of the most harrowing recollections, from which this place is happily free. America also offers a wider field for labor than England does, and if her friends behave badly, why I will work for her, and—for her child if it should live."
"Dear Marian, you must not think by what I said just now, that I am not a friend of Edith. I am, indeed. I love her almost as if she were my own daughter. I incurred my husband's anger by remaining with her after her marriage until she sailed. I will not fail her now, be sure. Personally, I will do my utmost for her. I will also try to influence her uncle in her favor. And now, my dear, it is getting very late, and there is a long ride, and a dreadful road before me. The commodore is already anxious for me, I know, and if I keep him waiting much longer, he will be in no mood to be persuaded by me. So I must go. To-morrow, my dear, a better home shall be found for you and Edith. That I promise upon my own responsibility. And, now, my dear, excellent girl, good-by. I will see you again in the morning."
And Mrs. Waugh took leave.
"No," thundered Commodore Waugh, thrusting his head forward and bringing his stick down heavily upon the floor. "No, I say! I will not be bothered with her or her troubles. Don't talk to me! I care nothing about them! What should her trials be to me? The precious affair has turned out just as I expected it would! Only what I did not expect was that we should have her back upon our hands! I wonder at Edith! I thought she had more pride than to come back to me for comfort after leaving as she did!"
This was all the satisfaction Mrs. Waugh got from Old Nick, when she had related to him the sorrowful story of Edith's widowhood and return, and had appealed to his generosity in her behalf. But he unbent so far as to allow Edith and Marian to be installed at Mrs. L'Oiseau's cottage, and even grudgingly permitted Henrietta to settle a pension upon her.
It was a jocund morning in early summer—some five years after the events related in the last chapter.
Old Field Cottage was a perfect gem of rural beauty. The Old Fields themselves no longer deserved the name—the repose of years had restored them to fertility, and now they were blooming in pristine youth—far as the eye could reach between the cottage and the forest, and the cottage and the sea-beach, the fields were covered with a fine growth of sweet clover, whose verdure was most refreshing to the sight. The young trees planted by Marian, had grown up, forming a pleasant grove around the house. The sweet honeysuckle and fragrant white jasmine, and the rich, aromatic, climbing rose, had run all over the walls and windows of the house, embowering it in verdure, bloom and perfume.
While Marian stood enjoying for a few moments the morning hour, she was startled by the sound of rapid footsteps, and then by the sight of a young woman in wild attire, issuing from the grove at the right of the cottage, and flying like a hunted hare toward the house.
Marian impulsively opened the gate, and the creature fled in, frantically clapped to the gate, and stood leaning with her back against it, and panting with haste and terror.
She was a young and pretty woman—pretty, notwithstanding the wildness of her staring black eyes and the disorder of her long black hair that hung in tangled tresses to her waist. Her head and feet were bare, and her white gown was spotted with green stains of the grass, and torn by briars, as were also her bleeding feet and arms. Marian felt for her the deepest compassion; a mere glance had assured her that the poor, panting, pretty creature was insane. Marian took her hand and gently pressing it, said:
"You look very tired and faint—come in and rest yourself and take breakfast with us."
The stranger drew away her hand and looked at Marian from head to foot. But in the midst of her scrutiny, she suddenly sprang, glanced around, and trembling violently, grasped the gate for support. It was but the tramping of a colt through the clover that had startled her.
"Do not be frightened; there is nothing that can hurt you; you are safe here."
"And won't he come?"
"Who, poor girl?"
"No, poor one, no destroyer comes near us here; see how quiet and peaceable everything is here!"
The wanderer slowly shook her head with a cunning, bitter smile, that looked stranger on her fair face than the madness itself had looked, and:
"So it was there," she said, "but the Destroyer was at hand, and the thunder of terror and destruction burst upon our quiet—but I forgot—the fair spirit said I was not to think of that—such thoughts would invoke the fiend again," added the poor creature, smoothing her forehead with both hands, and then flinging them wide, as if to dispel and cast away some painful concentration there.
"But now come in and lie down on the sofa, and rest, while I make you a cup of coffee," said Marian.
But the same expression of cunning came again into the poor creature's face, as she said:
"In the house? No, no—no, no! Fanny has learned something. Fanny knows better than to go under roofs—they are traps to catch rabbits! 'Twas in the house the Destroyer found us, and we couldn't get out! No, no! a fair field and no favor and Fanny will outfly the fleetest of them! But not in a house, not in a house!"
"Well, then I will bring an easy chair out here for you to rest in—you can sit under the shade, and have a little stand by your side, to eat your breakfast. Come; come nearer to the house," said Marian, taking poor Fanny's hand, and leading her up the walk.
They were at the threshold.
"Are you Marian?" poor Fanny asked, abruptly.
"Yes, that is my name."
"Oh, I oughtn't to have come here! I oughtn't to have come here!"
"Why? What is the matter? Come, be calm! Nothing can hurt you or us here!"
"Don't love! Marian, don't love! Be a nun, or drown yourself, but never love!" said the woman, seizing the young girl's hands, gazing on her beautiful face, and speaking with intense and painful earnestness.
"Why? Love is life. You had as well tell me not to live as not to love. Poor sister! I have not known you an hour, yet your sorrows so touch me, that my heart goes out toward you, and I want to bring you in to our home, and take care of you," said Marian, gently.
"You do?" asked the wanderer, incredulously.
"Heaven knows I do! I wish to nurse you back to health and calmness."
"Then I would not for the world bring so much evil to you! Yet it is a lovelier place to die in, with loving faces around."
"But it is a better place to live in! I do not let people die where I am, unless the Lord has especially called them. I wish to make you well! Come, drive away all these evil fancies and let me take you into the cottage," said Marian, taking her hand.
Yielding to the influence of the young girl, poor Fanny suffered herself to be led a few steps toward the cottage; then, with a piercing shriek, she suddenly snatched her hand away, crying:
"I should draw the lightning down upon your head! I am doomed! I must not enter!" And she turned and fled out of the gate.
Marian gazed after her in the deepest compassion, the tears filling her kind blue eyes.
"Weep not for me, beautiful and loving Marian, but for yourself—yourself!"
Marian hesitated. It were vain to follow and try to draw the wanderer into the house; yet she could not bear the thought of leaving her. In the meantime the sound of the shriek had brought Edith out. She came, leading her little daughter Miriam, now five years old, by the hand.
Edith was scarcely changed in these five years—a life without excitement or privation or toil—a life of moderation and regularity—of easy household duties, and quiet family affections, had restored and preserved her maiden beauty. And now her pretty hair had its own will, and fell in slight, flossy black ringlets down each side the pearly brow and cheeks; and nothing could have been more in keeping with the style of her beauty than the simple, close-fitting black gown, her habitual dress.
But lovely as the young mother was, you would scarcely have looked at her a second time while she held that child by her hand—so marvelous was the fascination of that little creature's countenance. It was a face to attract, to charm, to delight, to draw you in, and rivet your whole attention, until you became absorbed and lost in the study of its mysterious spell—a witching face, whose nameless charm it were impossible to tell, I might describe the fine dark Jewish features, the glorious eyes, the brilliant complexion, and the fall of long, glossy, black ringlets that veiled the proud little head; but the spell lay not in them, any more than in the perfect symmetry of her form, or the harmonious grace of her motion, or the melodious intonations of her voice.
Edith, still leading the little girl, advanced to Marian's side, where the latter stood at the yard gate.
"I heard a scream, Marian, dear—what was it?"
Marian pointed to the old elm tree outside the cottage fence, under the shade of which stood the poor stroller, pressing her side, and panting for breath.
"Edith, do you see that young woman? She it was."
"Good heaven!" exclaimed Edith, turning a shade paler, and beginning, with trembling fingers, to unfasten the gate.
"Why, do you know her, Edith?"
"Yes! yes! My soul, it is Fanny Laurie! I thought she was in some asylum at the North!" said Edith, passing the gate, and going up to the wanderer. "Fanny! Fanny! Dearest Fanny!" she said, taking her thin hand, and looking in her crazed eyes and lastly, putting both arms around her neck and kissing her.
"Do you kiss me?" asked the poor creature, in amazement.
"Yes, dear Fanny! Don't you know me?"
"Yes, yes, you are—I know you—you are—let's see, now—"
"Edith Lance, you know—your old playmate!"
"Ah! yes, I know—you had another name."
"Edith Shields, since I was married, but I am widowed now, Fanny."
"Yes, I know—Fanny has heard them talk!"
She swept her hands across her brow several times, as if to clear her mental vision, and gazing upon Edith, said:
"Ah! old playmate! Did the palms lie? The ravaged tome, the blood-stained hearth, and the burning roof for me—the fated nuptials, the murdered bridegroom, and the fatherless child for you. Did the palms lie, Edith? You were ever incredulous! Answer, did the palms lie?"
"The prediction was partly fulfilled, as it was very likely to be at the time our neighborhood was overrun by a ruthless foe. It happened so, poor Fanny! You did not know the future, any more than I did—no one on earth knows the mysteries of the future, 'not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.'"
This seemed to annoy the poor creature—soothsaying, by palmistry, had been her weakness in her brighter days, and now the strange propensity clung to her through the dark night of her sorrows, and received strength from her insanity.
"Come in, dear Fanny," said Edith, "come in and stay with us."
"No, no!" she almost shrieked again. "I should bring a curse upon your house! Oh! I could tell you if you would hear! I could warn you, if you would be warned! But you will not! you will not!" she continued, wringing her hands in great trouble.
"You shall predict my fate and Miriam's," said Marian, smiling, as she opened the gate, and came out leading the child. "And I know," she continued, holding out her palm, "that it will be such a fair fate, as to brighten up your spirits for sympathy with it."
"No! I will not look at your hand!" cried Fanny, turning away. Then, suddenly changing her mood, she snatched Marian's palm, and gazed upon it long and intently; gradually her features became disturbed—dark shadows seemed to sweep, as a funereal train, across her face—her bosom heaved—she dropped the maiden's hand.
"Why, Fanny, you have told me nothing! What do you see in my future?" asked Marian.
The maniac looked up, and breaking, as she sometimes did, into improvisation, chanted, in the most mournful of tones, these words:
"Darkly, deadly, lowers the shadow, Quickly, thickly, comes the crowd— From death's bosom creeps the adder, Trailing slime upon the shroud!"
Marian grew pale, so much, at the moment, was she infected with the words and manner of this sybil; but then, "Nonsense!" she thought, and, with a smile, roused herself to shake off the chill that was creeping upon her.
"Feel! the air! the air!" said Fanny, lifting her hand.
"Yes, it is going to rain," said Edith. "Come in, dear Fanny."
But Fanny did not hear—the fitful, uncertain creature had seized the hand of the child Miriam, and was gazing alternately upon the lines in the palm and upon her fervid, eloquent face.
"What is this? Oh! what is this?" she said, sweeping the black tresses back from her bending brow, and fastening her eyes upon Miriam's palm. "What can it mean? A deep cross from the Mount of Venus crosses the line of life, and forks into the line of death! a great sun in the plain of Mars—a cloud in the vale of Mercury! and where the lines of life and death meet, a sanguine spot and a great star! I cannot read it! In a boy's hand, that would betoken a hero's career, and a glorious death in a victorious field; but in a girl's! What can it mean when found in a girl's? Stop!" And she peered into the hand for a few moments in deep silence, and then her face lighted up, her eyes burned intensely, and once more she broke forth in improvisation:
"Thou shalt be bless'd as maiden fair was never bless'd before, And the heart of thy belov'd shall be most gentle, kind and pure; But thy red hand shall be lifted at duty's stern behest, And give to fell destruction the head thou lov'st the best.
"Feel! the air! the air!" she exclaimed, suddenly dropping the child's hand, and lifting her own toward the sky.
"Yes, I told you it was going to rain, but there will not be much, only a light shower from the cloud just over our heads."
"It is going to weep! Nature mourns for her darling child! Hark! I hear the step of him that cometh! Fly, fair one! fly! Stay not here to listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely!" cried the wild creature, as she dashed off toward the forest.
Marian and Edith looked after her, in the utmost compassion.
"Who is the poor, dear creature, Edith, and what has reduced her to this state?"
"She was an old playmate of my own, Marian. I never mentioned her to you—I never could bear to do so. She was one of the victims of the war. She was the child of Colonel Fairlie and the bride of Henry Laurie, one of the most accomplished and promising young men in the State. In one night their house was attacked, and Fanny saw her father and her husband massacred, and her home burned before her face! She—fell into the hands of the soldiers! She went mad from that night!"