LOVE IN A COTTAGE,
FRANCIS A. DURIVAGE.
BOSTON: SANBORN, CARTER, BAZIN & CO., 25 & 29 CORNHILL.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853, by
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
THE FIRST TO ENCOURAGE MY EFFORTS,
AND THE MOST INDULGENT OF MY CRITICS,
IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
The volume here submitted to the public is composed of selections from my contributions to the columns of the American press. The stories and sketches were written, most of them, in the intervals of relaxation from more serious labor and the daily business of life; and they would be suffered to disappear in the Lethe that awaits old magazines and newspapers, had not their extensive circulation, and the partial judgment of friends,—for I must not omit the stereotyped plea of scribblers,—flattered me that their collection in a permanent form would not prove wholly unacceptable. Some of these articles were published anonymously, or under the signature of "The Old 'Un," and have enjoyed the honor of adoption by persons having no claim to their paternity; and it seems time to call home and assemble these vagabond children under the paternal wing.
The materials for the tales were gathered from various sources: some are purely imaginative, some authentic, not a few jotted down from oral narrative, or derived from the vague remembrance of some old play or adventure; but the form at least is my own, and that is about all that a professional story-teller, gleaning his matter at random, can generally lay claim to.
Some of these sketches were originally published in the Boston "Olive Branch," and many in Mr. Gleason's popular papers, the "Flag of Our Union," and the "Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion." Others have appeared in the "New York Mirror," the "American Monthly Magazine," the New York "Spirit of the Times," the "Symbol," and other magazines and papers.
Should their perusal serve to beguile some hours of weariness and illness, as their composition has done, I shall feel that my labor has not been altogether vain; while the moderate success of this venture will stimulate me to attempt something more worthy the attention of the public.
FRANCIS A. DURIVAGE.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
THE GOLDSMITH'S DAUGHTER.
THE SURRENDER OF CORNWALLIS.
THE THREE BRIDES.
THE FRENCH GUARDSMAN.
THE CASTLE ON THE RHINE.
LOVE IN A COTTAGE.
THE CAREER OF AN ARTIST.
SOUVENIRS OF A RETIRED OYSTERMAN IN ILL HEALTH.
THE NEW YEAR'S STOCKINGS.
THE OBLIGING YOUNG MAN.
THE OLD CITY PUMP.
THE TWO PORTRAITS.
THE CASKET OF JEWELS.
THE GREEN CHAMBER.
HE WASN'T A HORSE JOCKEY.
THE LATE ELIAS MUGGS.
THE SOLDIER'S WIFE.
A KISS ON DEMAND.
THE RIFLE SHOT.
THE WATER CURE.
MARRIED FOR MONEY.
THE EMIGRANT SHIP.
THE LAST OF THE STAGE COACHES.
THE SEXTON OF ST. HUBERT'S.
THE SILVER HAMMER.
THE CHRIST CHURCH CHIMES.
THE POLISH SLAVE.
THE DEACON'S HORSE.
THE STAGE-STRUCK GENTLEMAN.
THE DIAMOND STAR.
THE GAME OF CHANCE.
THE SOLDIER'S SON.
TAKING CHARGE OF A LADY.
THE NEW YEAR'S BELLS.
THE OLD YEAR AND THE NEW.
THE GOLDSMITH'S DAUGHTER.
A LEGEND OF MADRID.
Many, many years ago, in those "good old times" so much bepraised by antiquaries and the laudatores temporis acti,—the good old times, that is to say, of the holy office, of those magnificent autos when the smell of roasted heretics was as sweet a savor in the nostrils of the faithful, as that of Quakers done remarkably brown was to our godly Puritan ancestors,—there dwelt in the royal city of Madrid a wealthy goldsmith by the name of Antonio Perez, whose family—having lost his wife—consisted of a lovely daughter, named Magdalena, and a less beautiful but still charming niece, Juanita. The housekeeping and the care of the girls were committed to a starched old duenna, Donna Margarita, whose vinegar aspect and sharp tongue might well keep at a distance the boldest gallants of the court and camp. For the rest, some half dozen workmen and servitors, and a couple of stout Asturian serving wenches made up the establishment of the wealthy artisan. As the chief care of the latter was to accumulate treasure, his family, while they were denied no comfort, were debarred from luxury, and, perhaps, fared the better from this very frugality of the master. Yet in the stable, which occupied a portion of the basement story of his residence,—the other half being devoted to the almacen, or store,—there were a couple of long-tailed Flemish mares, and a heavy, lumbering chariot; and in the rear of the house a garden, enclosed on three sides with a stone wall, and comprising arbors, a fountain, and a choice variety of fruits and flowers.
One evening, the goldsmith's daughter and her cousin sat in their apartment, on the second story, peeping out through the closed "jalousies," or blinds, into the twilight street, haply on the watch for some gallant cavalier, whose horsemanship and costume they might admire or criticize. Seeing nothing there, however, to attract their attention, they turned to each other.
"Juanita," said the goldsmith's daughter, "I believe I have secured an admirer."
"An admirer!" exclaimed the pretty cousin. "If your father and dame Margarita didn't keep us cooped here like a pair of pigeons, we should have, at least, twenty apiece. But what manner of man is this phoenix of yours? Is he tall? Has he black eyes, or blue? Is he courtier or soldier?"
"He is tall," replied Magdalena, smiling; "but for his favor, or the color of his eyes, or quality, I cannot answer. His face and figure shrouded in a cloak, his sombrero pulled down over his eyes, he takes up his station against a pillar of the church whenever I go to San Ildefonso with my duenna, and watches me till mass is ended. I have caught him following our footsteps. But be he gentle or simple, fair or dark, I know not."
"A very mysterious character!" cried Juanita, laughing, "like unto the bravo of some Italian tale. Jesu Maria!" she exclaimed, springing to the window, "what goodly cavalier rides hither? His mantle is of three-pile velvet, and he wears golden spurs upon his heels. And with what a grace he sits and manages his fiery genet! Pray Heaven your suitor be as goodly a cavalier."
Magdalena gazed forth upon the horseman, and her heart silently confessed that the praises of her cousin were well bestowed. As the cavalier approached the goldsmith's house, he checked the impatient speed of his horse, and gazed upward earnestly at the window where the young girls sat.
"Magdalena!" cried the mischievous Juanita, "old Margarita is not here to document us, and I declare your beauty shall have one chance." As she spoke she threw open the blind, and exposed her lovely and blushing cousin to the gaze of the cavalier.
Ardently and admiringly he gazed upon her dark and faultless features, and then raising his plumed hat, bowed to his very saddle bow, and rode on, but turned, ever and anon, till he was lost in the distance and gradual darkening of the street.
"Mutual admiration!" cried the gay Juanita, clapping her hands. "Thank me for the stratagem. Yon cavalier is, without a doubt, the mysterious admirer of San Ildefonso."
Don Julio Montero—for that was the name of the cavalier—returned again beneath the casement, and again saw Magdalena. He also made some purchases of the old goldsmith, and managed to speak a word with his fair daughter in the shop; and in spite of the duenna, billets were exchanged between the parties. The very secrecy with which this little intrigue was managed, the mystery of it, influenced the imagination of Magdalena and increased the violence of her attachment, and loving with all the fervor of her meridian nature, she felt that any disappointment would be her death.
One evening, as her secret suitor was passing along a narrow and unfrequent street, a light touch was laid upon his shoulder, and turning, he perceived a tall figure, muffled in a long, dark cloak.
"Senor Montero," said the stranger, "one word with you." And then, observing that he hesitated, he threw open his cloak, and added, "Nay, senor, suspect not that my purpose is unfriendly; you see I have no arms, while you wear both rapier and dagger. I merely wish to say a few words on a matter of deep import to yourself."
"Your name, senor," replied the other, "methinks should precede any communication you have to make me, would you secure my confidence."
"My name, senor, I cannot disclose."
"Umph! a somewhat strange adventure!" muttered the young cavalier. "However, friend, since such you purport to be, say your say, and that right briefly, for I have affairs of urgency on my hands."
"Briefly, then, senor. You have cast your eyes on the daughter of Antonio Perez, the rich goldsmith?"
"That is my affair, methinks," replied the cavalier, haughtily. "By what right do you interfere with it? Are you brother or relative of the fair Magdalena?"
"Neither, senor; but I take a deep interest in your affairs; and I warn you, if your heart be not irretrievably involved, to withdraw from the prosecution of your addresses. To my certain knowledge, Magdalena is beloved by another."
"What of that, man? A fair field and no favor, is all I ask."
"But what if she loves another?"
"Ha!" exclaimed the cavalier. "Can she be sporting with me?—playing the coquette? But no! I will not believe it, at least upon the say so of a stranger. I must have proofs."
"Pray, senor, have you never observed upon the lady's fair arm a turquoise bracelet?"
"Yea, have I," replied the cavalier; "by the same token that she has promised it to me as a gage d'amour."
"Do you recognize the bracelet?" cried the stranger, holding up, as he spoke, the ornament in question. "Or, if that convince you not, do you recognize this tress of raven hair—this bouquet that she wore upon her bosom yesternight?"
"That I gave her myself!" cried the cavalier. "By Heaven! she has proved false to me. But I must know," he added, fiercely, "who thou art ere thou goest hence. I must have thy secret, if I force it from thee at the dagger's point. Who art thou? speak!"
"Prithee, senor, press me not," said the stranger, drawing his cloak yet closer about him, and retreating a pace or two.
"Who art thou?" cried the cavalier, menacingly, and striding forward as the other receded.
"One whose name breathed in thine ear," replied the other, "would curdle thy young blood with horror."
Julio laughed loud and scornfully.
"Now, by Saint Iago! thou art some juggling knave—some impish charlatan, who seeks to conceal his imposture in the garb of mystery and terror. Little knowest thou the mettle of a Castilian heart. Thy name?"
The stranger stooped forward, and whispered a word or two in the ear of his companion. The young man recoiled, while his cheek turned from the glowing tinge of health and indignation to the hue of ashes; and, as he stood, rooted to the spot in terror and dismay, the stranger threw the hem of his cloak over his shoulder, and glided away like a dark shadow.
Julio's heart was so far enlisted in favor of Magdalena, that it cost him a severe struggle to throw her off as utterly unworthy of his attachment, but pride came to his rescue, and he performed his task. He wrote a letter, in which, assigning no cause for the procedure, he calmly, coldly, contemptuously renounced her hand, and told her that henceforth, should they meet, it must be as strangers.
This unexpected blow almost paralyzed Magdalena's reason. It was to be expected of her temperament that her anguish should be in proportion to her former rapture. At first stunned, she roused to the paroxysm of wild despair. Henceforth, if she lived, her life, she felt, would be an utter blank. Passion completely overmastering her reason, she resolved to destroy herself. This fearful resolution adopted, her excitement ceased. She became calm—calm as the senseless stone; no tremors shook her soul, no remorse, no regret.
She was seated alone, one evening, at that very window whence she had first beheld her false suitor, and bitter memories were crowding on her brain, when the door of her apartment opened, and closed again after admitting her old duenna, Margarita. The old woman approached with a stealthy, cat-like step, and sitting down beside the maiden, and gazing inquisitively into her dim eyes, said, in a whining voice, intended to be very winning and persuasive,—
"What ails my pretty pet? Is she unwell?"
"I am not unwell," replied Magdalena, coldly, rousing herself to the exertion of conversing, with an effort.
"Nay, my darling," said the old woman, in the same whining tone, "I am sure that something is the matter with you. You look feverish."
"I am well, Margarita; let that suffice."
"And feel no regret for the false suitor, hey?"
Magdalena turned upon her quickly—almost fiercely.
"What do you know of him?"
"All! all!" cried the old woman, while her gray eyes flashed with exultation.
"Then you know him for a false and perjured villain!" cried the beautiful Spaniard.
"I know him for an honorable cavalier; true as the steel of his Toledo blade!" retorted the duenna. "I speak riddles, Magdalena, but I will explain myself. Do you think I can forget your insults, jeers, and jokes? Do you think I knew not when you mocked me behind my back, or sought to trick me before my face? You little knew, when you and your gay-faced cousin were making merry at my expense, what wrath you were storing up against the day of evil. But I come of a race that never forgets or forgives; there is some of the blood of the wild Zingara coursing in these shrivelled veins—a love of vengeance, that is dearer than the love of life. I watched your love intrigue from the very first. I saw that it bade fair to end in happiness. Don Julio was wealthy and well born, and his intentions were honorable. After indulging your romantic spirit by a secret wooing, he would have openly claimed you of your father, and the old man would have been but too proud to give his consent. Now came the moment for revenge. I traduced you to your lover, making use of an agent who was wholly mine. Trifles produce conviction when once the faith of jealous man is shaken. A few toys—a turquoise bracelet, a lock of hair, a bunch of faded flowers—sufficed to turn the scale; and now, were an angel of heaven to pronounce you true, Don Julio would disbelieve the testimony. Ha, ha! am I not avenged?"
"And was it," said Magdalena, in a low, pathetic voice,—"was it for a few jests,—a little childish chafing against restraint, that you wrecked the happiness of a poor young girl,—blighted her hopes, and broke her heart? Woman—fiend! dare you tell me this?" she cried, kindling into passion with a sudden transition. "Avaunt! begone! Leave my sight, you hideous and evil thing! But take with you my bitter curse—no empty anathema! but one that will cling to you like the garment of flame that wraps the doomed heretic! Begone! accursed wretch—hideous in soul as you are abhorrent and repulsive in person."
Cowed, but muttering wrathful words, the stricken wretch hurried out of the apartment, into which Juanita instantly rushed.
"Magdalena, what means this?" she cried. "I heard you uttering fearful threats against old Margarita. Calm yourself; you are strangely excited."
"O Juanita, Juanita!" cried Magdalena, the tears starting from her eyes, and wringing her fair hands. "If you knew all—if you knew the wrong that woman has done me; but not now—not now; leave me, good cousin,—leave me!"
"You are not well, dearest," said Juanita; "take my advice, go to bed and repose. To-morrow you will be calm, and to-morrow you shall tell me all."
"To-morrow! to-morrow!" muttered Magdalena. "Well, well; to-morrow you will find me!"
"Yes; I will waken you, and sit at your bedside, and laugh your griefs away. Good night, Magdalena!"
"Farewell, dearest!" said the heart-stricken girl; and Juanita left the chamber.
Before a silver crucifix, Magdalena knelt in prayer.
"Father of mercies, blessed Virgin, absolve me of the sin—if sin it be to rush unbidden to the presence of my Judge! My burden is too great to bear!"
She rose from her knees, took from a cupboard a goblet of Venetian glass, and a flask of Xeres wine. Into the goblet she first dropped the contents of a paper she took from her bosom, and then filled it to the brim with wine. She had already stretched forth her hand to the fatal glass, when she heard her name called by her father.
"He would give me a good-night kiss," said the wretched girl. "I must receive it with pure lips. I come, dear father,—I come."
Scarcely had she left her chamber when the old duenna again stole into the room.
"If I could only find one of the gallant's letters," she muttered to herself, "I could arm her father's mind against her; and then if madam tried to get me turned away, she would have her labor for her pains. What have we here? A flask of Xeres, as I live! So ho, senorita! Is this the source of your inspiration when you berate your betters? I declare it smells good; the jade is no bad judge of wine!"
As she spoke, the old woman, who had no particular aversion to the juice of the grape, hurriedly drank off the contents of the goblet, and immediately filled it up again from the flask.
"There! she'll be no wiser," said she, with a cunning leer. "And now I must hurry off. I would not have the young baggage find me here for a month's wages!"
Margarita effected her retreat just in time. Magdalena returned, after having, as she supposed, seen her poor father for the last time.
Had not despair completely overmastered the reason of the poor girl, she would have shrunk from the idea of committing suicide. But misery had completely, though temporarily, wrecked her intellect. She felt no horror, no remorse at the deed she was about to commit. With a steady hand she raised the goblet to her lips, and then drank the fatal draught, as she supposed it, to the last dregs.
"I must sleep now," she said, with a deep sigh. "I shall never wake again." And throwing herself, dressed as she was, upon her couch, she soon fell into a deep slumber.
How long her senses were steeped in oblivion, she could not tell. But she was awakened by shrill screams, and started to her feet in terror.
"Where am I?" she exclaimed. "Are those the cries of the condemned? Am I indeed in another world?"
"But louder and louder came the shrieks, and now she recognized the tones as those of the old duenna. Deeply as the woman had wronged her, Magdalena's feminine nature could not be insensible to her distress. She sprang down the stairway, and now stood by the bedside of the duenna, over which Juanita was already bending.
"What is the matter?" she exclaimed.
"The wine! the wine! the flask of Xeres! the Venetian goblet! I am poisoned!" cried the old woman, as she writhed in agony.
The truth instantly flashed on the preternaturally-sharpened intellect of Magdalena. Her own immunity from pain confirmed the fatal supposition.
"Good God!" she cried, in tones of unutterable anguish, "I have killed her!"
The exclamation caught the keen ear of the malignant hag, suffering as she was. She raised herself up on her elbow, and pointing with her skinny finger to the horror-stricken girl, she screamed,—
"Yes, yes; you have murdered me! Send for a leech, a priest, an officer of justice! Do not let that wretch escape! She gave me a poisoned draught! she knew it—she confesses it! Ha, ha! I shall not die unavenged!"
These fearful words caught the ear of Don Antonio, as, having hastily dressed himself, he rushed into the room. They caught the ear, too, of a curious servitor, who flew to the alguazil before he summoned priest and chirurgeon.
In less than an hour afterwards, the old beldam had breathed her last, but not before she had made her false deposition to the officer of justice; not before she had learned that a paper containing evidence of poison had been found in Magdalena's room; not before she had seen the hapless girl arrested; and then she died with a lie and a smile of hideous triumph on her lips.
We cannot attempt to describe the anguish of the old goldsmith, and the despair of Juanita, as they beheld Magdalena torn from their arms to be carried before a judge for examination, and thence to be cast into prison. Believing in her innocence, and confident that it would be established in the eyes of the world, they longed for the dread ordeal of the trial. The hour came, but only to crush their hearts within them. The guilt was fixed by circumstantial evidence on the unfortunate Magdalena. Poor Juanita was forced to testify to the facts of a quarrel between her cousin and the hapless duenna, and to violent language used by the former to the latter. A paper which had contained poison had been found in the apartment of the accused. Her own hasty confession of guilt, the dying declaration of the victim added
"—confirmation strong As proofs of Holy Writ."
Magdalena was condemned to die. In that supreme hour, when her protestations of innocence had proved of no avail, the film fell from the organs of her mental vision. Knowing herself guilty of premeditated suicide, she saw in the established charge of murder a dreadful retribution. To make her peace with Heaven in the solitude of the prison cell, was now all that she desired. She had proved the worthlessness of life, and now she prepared herself to die. But her tortures were not ended. Julio, her lost lover, demanded an interview with her, and when, after listening to her sad tale, he renewed his vows of love, and expressed his firm belief in her innocence, earth once more bloomed attractive to her eyes; life became again dear to her at the very moment she was condemned to surrender it. Her execution was fixed for the next day, at the hour of noon. At that hour, she was to take her last look of her father, her cousin, her lover—the last look of God's blessed earth.
The morning came. She had passed the night in prayer, and it found her firm and resigned. In the heart of a true woman there lies a reserve of courage that shames the prouder boast of man. She may not face death on the battle-field with the same defying front; but when it comes in a more appalling form and scene, she shrinks not from the dread ordeal. When man's foot trembles on the scaffold, woman stands there serene, unwavering, and self-sustained.
One hour before the appointed time, the door of Magdalena's cell opened, and a tall figure, wrapped in a dark cloak, with a slouched hat and sable plume, stood before her. It was the same who had gazed on her so often in the church of San Ildefonso, the same who had encountered Julio in the narrow street with proofs of her alleged falsity.
"Is the hour arrived?" asked Magdalena, calmly.
"Nay," replied the stranger, in a deep tone. "Can you not see the prison clock through the bars of your cell door? Look; it lacks yet an hour of noon."
"Then, sir, you come to announce the arrival of the holy father,—of my friends."
"They will be here anon," said the stranger.
"I do not," said Magdalena, in the same calm tone she had before employed, "see you now for the first time."
"Beautiful girl!" cried the stranger; "no! I have for months haunted you like your shadow. Your fair face threw the first gleams of sunshine into my heart that have visited it from early manhood. I love you, Magdalena!"
"This is no hour and no place for words like these," replied the captive, coldly.
"Nay!" cried the stranger, with sudden energy. "Beautiful girl, I come to save you!"
"To save me!" cried Magdalena, a sudden, wild hope springing in her breast,"—to save me! It is well done. Believe me, I am innocent. You have bribed the jailer to open my prison doors; you have contrived some means of evasion. I know not—I care not what. I shall be freed! I shall clasp my father's knees once more. I shall go forth into the blessed air and light of heaven. God bless you, whoever you are, for your words of hope!"
"You shall go forth, if you will," replied the stranger; "but openly, in the face and eyes of man. At my word the prison bars will fall, the keys will turn, the gates will be unbarred. I have a royal pardon!"
"Give it me! give it me!" almost shrieked Magdalena.
"It is bestowed on one condition: that you become my wife."
"That I become your wife!" repeated Magdalena, as if she but half comprehended the words. "Forsake poor Julio! And yet the bribe, to escape a death of infamy, to save my father's gray hairs from going down to a dishonored grave! Speak! who are you, with power to save me on these terms?"
The stranger tossed aside his sable hat and plume, and dropped his cloak, and stood before her in a rich dress of black velvet, trimmed with point lace, a broadsword belted to his waist. He was a man of middle age, of a fine, athletic figure, and handsome face, but there was an indescribable expression in his dark eyes, in the stern lines about his handsome mouth, that affected the gazer with a strange, shuddering horror.
"Peruse me well, maiden," said the stranger. "I am not deformed. I am as other men. If there be no glow in my cheek, still the blood that flows through my veins is healthy and untainted. Moreover, though I be not noble, my character is stainless. If to be the wife of an honest man is not too dear a purchase for your life, accept my hand, and you are saved."
"Who are you?" cried Magdalena, intense curiosity mastering her even in that moment.
"I am the executioner of Madrid!" replied the stranger.
Magdalena covered her face with her hands, and uttered a low cry of horror.
"I am the executioner of Madrid!" repeated he. "I have never committed crime in my life, though my blade has been reddened with the blood of my fellow-creatures. Yet no man takes my hand,—no man breaks bread or drinks wine with me. I, the dread minister of justice, a necessity of society, like the soldier on the rampart, or the priest at the altar, am a being lonely, abhorred, accursed. Yet I have the feelings, the passions of other men. But what maiden would listen to the suit of one like me? What father would give his daughter to my arms? None, none! And, therefore, the state decrees that when the executioner would wed, he must take to his arms a woman doomed to death. I loved you, Magdalena, hopelessly, ere I dreamed the hour would ever arrive when I might hope to claim you. That hour has now come. I offer you your life and my hand. You must be my bride, or my victim!"
"Your victim! your victim!" cried Magdalena. "Death a thousand times, though a thousand times undeserved, rather than your foul embrace!"
"You have chosen. Your blood be on your own head!" cried the executioner, stamping his foot. "You die unshriven and unblessed!"
"At least, abhorred ruffian," cried Magdalena, "I have some little time for preparation! The hour has not yet arrived."
"Has it not?" cried the executioner. "Behold yon clock!"
And as her eyes were strained upon the dial, he strode out of the cell, and seizing the hands, advanced them to the hour of noon. Then, at a signal from his hand, the prison bell began to toll.
"Mercy; mercy!" cried Magdalena, as he rejoined her. "Slay me not before my time!"
But the hand of the ruffian already grasped her arm, and he dragged her forth into the corridor.
At that moment, however, a loud shout arose, and a group of officials, escorting the goldsmith and Julio, waving a paper in his hand, rushed breathlessly along the passage.
"Saved, saved!" cried Magdalena. "Hither, hither, father, Julio!"
The executioner had wreathed his hand in her dark, flowing tresses; already his dreadful weapon was brandished in the air, when it was crossed by the bright Toledo blade of the young cavalier, and flew from his grasp, clanging against the prison wall.
"Unhand her, dog!" cried Julio, "or die the death!"
Sullenly the executioner released his hold, and sullenly listened to the royal pardon.
Magdalena was soon beneath her father's roof,—soon in the arms of her cousin Juanita. Long did she resist the importunities of Julio; for though innocent in fact, judicially she stood convicted of a capital offence. But as time rolled on,—as her innocence became the popular belief,—she finally relented, accepted his hand, and beneath the beautiful sky of Italy, forgot, or remembered only as a dream, the perils and sorrows of her early life.
A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.
Philetus Potts is dead. Like Grimes, he was a "good old man!" A true gentleman of the old school, he clung to many of the fashions of a by-gone period with a pertinacity, which, to the eyes of the thoughtless, savored somewhat of the ludicrous. It was only of late years that he relinquished his three-cornered hat; to breeches, buckles, and hair powder he adhered to the last. He was also partial to pigtails, though his earliest was shorn from his head by a dangerous rival, who cut him out of the good graces of Miss Polly Martine, a powdered beauty of the past century, by amputating his cue; while his latest one was sacrificed on the altar of humanity—but thereby hangs a tale.
If Mr. Potts was behind his age in dress, he was in advance of it in sentiment. In his breast the milk of human kindness never curdled, and his intelligent mind was ever actively employed in devising ways and means to alleviate the sufferings of humanity, and to change the hearts of evil doers. His comprehensive kindness included the brute creation as well as mankind, in the circle of his active sympathy.
We remember an instance of his sympathy for animals. We had been making an excursion into the country. It was high noon of a sultry summer day; eggs were cooking in the sun, and the mercury in the thermometer stood at the top of the tube. Passing out of a small village, we passed a young lady pleasantly and coolly attired in white, and carrying a sunshade whose grateful shadow melted into the cool, clear olive of her fine complexion.
Mr. Potts sighed, for she reminded him of Miss Polly Martine at the same age; and Polly Martine reminded him of parasols by some recondite association. Mr. Potts remembered the first umbrella that was brought into Boston. He always carried one that might have been the first, it was so venerable, yet whole and decent, like an old gentleman in good preservation. It was a green silk one, with a plain, mahogany handle, and a ring instead of a ferrule, and very large. Discoursing of umbrellas, we came upon a cow. Mr. Potts was fond of cows—grateful to them—always spoke of them with respect. This particular cow inhabited a small paddock by the roadside, which was enclosed by a Virginia fence, and contained very little grass, and no provision for shade and shelter. So the cow stood in the sunshine, with her head resting on the fence, and her tongue lolling out of her mouth, and her large, intelligent eyes fixed on the far distance, where a herd of kine were feasting knee-deep in a field of clover, beside a running brook, overshadowed by magnificent walnut trees.
"Poor thing!" said Mr. Potts; and he stopped short and looked at the cow.
The cow looked at Mr. Potts. One had evidently magnetically influenced the other.
"She is a female, like the lady we encountered," said Mr. Potts, "but," added he, with a burst of feeling, "she has no parasol!"
The assertion was indisputable. It was a truism, cows are never provided with parasols,—but then great men are famous for uttering truisms, and we venerated Mr. Potts for following the example.
"It is now twelve o'clock!" said Mr. Potts, consulting his repeater. "At half past four, the shadow of the buttonwood will fall into this poor animal's pasture. Four hours and a half of torture, rendered more painful by the contemplation of the luxuries of her remote companions! It is insufferable!"
Then Mr. Potts, with a genial smile on his Pickwickian countenance, expanded his green silk umbrella, mounted the fence, on which he sat astride, and patiently held the umbrella over the cow's head for the space of four and a half mortal hours. The action was sublime. I regret to add that the animal proved ungrateful, and, when Mr. Potts closed his umbrella on the shadow of the buttonwood relieving guard, facilitated his descent from the Virginia fence by an ungraceful application of her horns to the amplitude of his venerable person.
It was in the summer following, that the incident I am about to relate occurred. It was fly-time,—I remember it well. We were again walking together, when we came to a wall-eyed horse, harnessed to a dog's meat cart, and left standing by his unfeeling master while he indulged in porter and pipes in a small suburban pothouse, much affected by Milesians. The horse was much annoyed by flies, and testified his impatience and suffering by stamping and tossing his head. Mr. Potts was the first to notice that the poor animal had no tail,—for the two or three vertebrae attached to the termination of the spine could hardly be supposed to constitute a tail proper. The discovery filled him with horror. A horse in fly-time without a tail! The case was worse than that of the cow.
"And here I am!" exclaimed the great and good man, in a tone of the bitterest self-reproach, "luxuriating in a pigtail which that poor creature would be glad of!"
With these words he produced a penknife, and placing it in my hands, resolutely bade me amputate his cue. I did so with tears in my eyes, and placed the severed ornament in the hands of my companion. With a piece of tape he affixed it to the horse's stump, and the gush of satisfaction he felt at seeing the first fly despatched by the ingenious but costly substitute for a tail, must have been, I think, an adequate recompense for the sacrifice.
I think it was in that same summer that Mr. Potts laid before the Philanthropic and Humane Society, of which he was an honorable and honorary member, his "plan for the amelioration of the condition of no-tailed horses in fly-time, by the substitution of feather dusters for the natural appendage, to which are added some hints on the grafting of tails with artificial scions, by a retired farrier in ill health."
During the last year of his life, Mr. Potts offered a prize of five thousand dollars for the discovery of a harmless and indelible white paint, to be used in changing the complexion of the colored population, to place them on an equality with ourselves, or for any chemical process which would produce the same result.
Mr. Potts proposed to substitute for capital punishment, houses of seclusion for murderers, where, remote from the world, in rural retreats, they might converse with nature, and in the cultivation of the earth, or the pursuit of botany, might become gradually softened and humanized. At the expiration of a few months' probation, he proposed to restore them to society.
A criminal is an erring brother. The object of punishment is reformation, and not vengeance. Hence, Mr. Potts proposed to supply our prisoners with teachers of languages, arts and sciences, dancing and gymnastics. Every prison should have, he contended, a billiard room and bowling saloon, a hairdresser, and a French cook. Occasionally, accompanied by proper officers, the convicts should be taken to the Italian Opera, or allowed to dance at Papanti's. The object would be so to refine their tastes that they should shrink from theft and murder, simply because they were ungentlemanly. Readmitted to society, these gentlemen would give tone to the upper classes.
But Mr. Potts has gone in the midst of his schemes of usefulness. The tailless quadruped, the shedless cow, the unwhitewashed African, the condemned felon, the unhappy prisoner, actually treated as if he were no gentleman, in him have lost a friend. When shall we see his like again? Echo answers, Probably not for a very long period.
O, rest thee here, my gondolier, Rest, rest, while up I go, To climb yon light balcony's height While thou keep'st watch below. Ah! if high Heaven had tongues as well As starry eyes to see— O, think what tales 'twould hate to tell Of wandering youths like me.
The traveller of to-day who visits Venice sees in that once splendid city nothing but a mass of mouldering palaces, the melancholy remains of former grandeur and magnificence; but few tokens to remind him that she was once the queen of the Adriatic, the emporium of Europe. But at the period of which we write the "sea Cybele" was in the very zenith of her brilliancy and power.
It was the season of carnival, and nowhere else in Italy were the holidays celebrated with such zest and magnificence. By night millions of lamps burned in the palace windows, rivalling the splendors of the firmament, and reflected in the still waters of the lagoons like myriads of stars. Night and day music was resounding. There were regattas, balls, and festas, and the entire population seemed to have gone mad with gayety, and to have lost all thought of the Council of Ten, the Bridge of Signs, and the poniards of the bravoes.
On a bright morning of this holiday season, a group of young gondoliers, attired in their gayest costume, were sitting at the head of a flight of marble steps that led up from one of the canals, waiting for their fares. A cavalier and lady, both gayly attired, and both masked, had just alighted from a gondola and passed the boatman on their way to some rendezvous.
The gondolier who had conducted them, an old, gray-headed, hard-looking fellow, had pocketed his fee, nodded his thanks, and pushed off again from the landing.
"There goes old Beppo," said one of the gondoliers on shore. "He will make a good day's work of it. I can swear I saw the glitter of gold in his hand just now."
"Yes, yes!" said another. "Let him alone for making his money. And what he makes, he keeps. He's a close-fisted old hunks."
"And what is he so scrimping and saving for?" asked a third. "He is unmarried—he has no children."
"No—but he is to be married," said the first.
"How! the man's past sixty."
"Yes, comrade, but he will not be the first old fellow who has taken a young wife in his dotage. Have you never heard that he has a young ward, beautiful as an angel, whom he keeps cooped up as tenderly as a brooding dove in his tumble-down old house on the Canal Orfano? Nobody but himself has ever set eyes on her to my knowledge."
"There you're mistaken, Stefano," said a young man, who had not hitherto spoken. He was a fine, dashing, handsome young fellow of twenty-six, in a holiday suit of crimson and gold, with a fiery eye, long, curling locks, and a mustache as black as jet.
"Let's hear what Antonio Giraldo has to say about the matter!" cried his companions.
"Simply this," said the young man. "I have seen the imprisoned fair one—the peerless Zanetta—for such is her name. She is lovely as the day; and for her voice—why—Corpo di Bacco! La Gianina, the prima donna, is a screechowl to my nightingale."
"Your nightingale! Bravo!" cried Stefano, in a tone of mocking irony. "What can you know about her voice?"
"Simply this, Master Stefano," replied the young gondolier. "When floating beneath her window in my gondola, I have addressed her in such rude strains of melody as I best knew how to frame. She has replied in tones so liquid and pure that the angels might have listened."
"By Heaven! the fellow's in love!" cried Stefano.
"Long live music and love!" cried Antonio. "What were life worth without them?"
"You're in excellent spirits!" cried Stefano.
"And why shouldn't a man be, on his wedding day?"
"Mad as a march hare," cried Stefano.
"Mark me," said Antonio. "That girl shall never marry old Beppo—my word for it. She hates him."
"She'll elope with some noble, then."
"To be cast off to wither when he is tired of her charms? No! the bridegroom for Zanetta is a gondolier."
"With all my heart," said Stefano. "But come, comrades, it is no use waiting here. Let us to our gondolas, and row for St. Marks. You'll come with us, Antonio."
"Not I—my occupation's gone."
"I have sold my gondola."
"Sold your gondola."
"Ay—that was my word."
"I wanted money."
"Your gondola was the means of earning it."
"Very true—but I had occasion for a certain sum at once."
"And why not have recourse to our purses, Antonio? Light as they are, we would have made it up by contributions among us."
"I doubted not your kindness—but my self-respect would not permit me to ask your aid. Good by, comrades; we shall meet again to-morrow."
* * * * *
There was a brilliant masquerade that evening at the palazzo of Count Giulio Colonna. Invitations had been issued to all the world, and all the world was present. The finest music, the richest wines, the most splendid decorations were lavished on the occasion. Perhaps, among that brilliant company, there was more than one plebeian, who, under cover of the masque, and employing the license common at these saturnalia, had intruded himself unbidden.
Old Beppo, the gondolier, was in attendance at the vestibule of the palace, feasting his avaricious eyes on the glimpses of wealth and luxury he noted within doors, when a gentleman in rich costume, and wearing a mask, beckoned him to one side, and desired a moment's interview.
"Do you know me?" was the first question asked by the stranger.
"No, signor," replied the old gondolier.
"Do you know these gentlemen?" asked the mask, slipping a couple of gold pieces into the miser's hand.
"Perfectly," replied the boatman, grinning. "What are your lordship's commands?"
"Is your gondola in waiting?"
"Yes, signor. It lies below, moored to the landing."
"'Tis well; hast thou any scruples about aiding in a love intrigue?"
"None in the world, signor."
"Then I'll make a confidant of you."
"I will be all secrecy, signor."
"Briefly then, gondolier," said the mask, "I am in love with a very charming young person."
"Well—and this young person loves me in return."
"Good; and you are going to marry her."
"Not so fast, gondolier. She has an old guardian, who, at the age of sixty, or more, has been absurd enough—only think of it—to propose to marry her himself."
"The absurd old fool!" cried Beppo, not without some twinges, for he thought of his own projects with regard to Zanetta.
"Now, then," said the mask, "I have resolved to run away with her to-night. I have the opportunity—for she is here in the Palazzo Colonna. Now will and can you aid me? I will recompense you liberally."
"Ah! my lord—your lordship has come to the right market," said the old sinner. "I'm used to affairs of this kind. Has your lordship a priest engaged?"
"I have not."
"Then I can recommend one. Hard by is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, where there is a very worthy man, accustomed to affairs of this kind, who will tie the knot for a moderate fee, without asking any impertinent questions."
"Good! he is the man for us—and you are the prince of gondoliers. Get your gondola ready, and I will rejoin you at the foot of the stairs with the lady in a moment."
Old Beppo hastened to prepare his gondola, and while so doing, muttered to himself,—
"Well, well—this is a good night's work. I'm getting old, and I must soon retire from business. Every stroke of luck like this helps on the day when I shall call Zanetta mine. So, there's another old fool to be duped to-night! Serve him right! Why don't he keep his treasure under lock and key, as I do? But men will never learn wisdom. Here they come."
The young cavalier reappeared upon the marble steps, leading a lady, masked and veiled, but whose elastic step and graceful bearing seemed to designate her as one moving in the highest circles. The young lovers took their seats in the centre of the light craft, and drew the curtains round them, while Beppo pushed off, and his vigorous oar soon sent the shallop dancing over the waters of the lagoon. After a few moments the motion ceased, and Beppo informed his patron that they had arrived at their place of destination. After making the boat fast, the gondolier landed, and entered the small chapel which stood on the brink of the canal. In a few moments he returned, and informed the masked cavalier that all was prepared. The gentleman then handed out the lady, and both entered the chapel, Beppo keeping guard without, to prevent or give notice of any intrusion.
The marriage ceremony was performed very rapidly by Father Dominic, for he was just going to bed when the gondola arrived, and was duly anxious to despatch his business, that he might consign his wearied limbs to rest.
"Is it all over?" whispered Beppo, in the ear of the cavalier, as he came out with his lady.
"All right," replied the mask, in the same tone of voice. "But one thing perplexes me. I have no place that I can call my home, to-night. The lady will be missed; my palace will be watched—I should incur the risk of swords crossing and bloodshed, if I sought to take her thither, to-night."
"If my house were not so very humble," said the gondolier, hesitatingly.
"The very thing," said the mask, joyfully. "No matter how humble the roof, provided that it shelter us. To-morrow we can arrange matters for flight, or for remaining."
"Then get into the gondola, my lord, and I will row you thither in a few minutes."
The party reembarked, and soon reached the gondolier's residence. After fastening his craft, he unlocked his door; and striking a light, conducted his distinguished guests up stairs. As he passed one of the chamber doors, the old gondolier, addressing the masked lady as he pointed to it, said,—
"You have made a moonlight flitting, to-night, signora, and I wish you joy of your escape. But if you had been as safely kept as a precious charge I have in this room, you would never have stood before the altar to-night, with your noble bridegroom."
"You forget that 'love laughs at locksmiths,'" said the cavalier.
At the door of their apartments, the old man, before bidding them good night, pausing, said,—
"Pardon me, signor, but I would fain know the name of the noble cavalier I have had the honor of serving to-night."
"You shall know to-morrow," replied the mask. "Buona notte, Beppo. Remember it's carnival time."
The next morning Beppo was up betimes, anxious to learn the mystery connected with the married couple. He was not kept long in suspense. His patron of the preceding evening soon made his appearance, but masked as before.
"Beppo!" said the stranger, "you rendered me an inestimable service last night."
"You rewarded me handsomely, signor, and I shall never regret it."
"Give me your word then, that you will never upbraid me with the service I imposed on you."
"I give you my word," said the old man, surprised; "but why do you exact it?"
"Because," said the stranger, raising his mask, "I am no Venetian noble, but simply Antonio Giraldi, a gondolier like yourself."
"You! Antonio Giraldi! And the lady—?"
"Was your ward, Zanetta. You locked her chamber door, and took the house key with you—but a ladder of ropes from a lady's balcony is as good as a staircase; and as I told you last night, 'love laughs at locksmiths.'"
Of course old Beppo stormed and swore, as irascible old gentlemen are very apt to do in similar circumstances, but he ended by forgiving the lovers, as that was the only act in his power. He not only forgave them, but gave up his gondola to the stronger hands of Antonio, and settled a handsome portion on Zanetta; nor did he ever regret his generosity, for they proved grateful and affectionate, and were the stay and solace of his declining years. Such is the veritable history of a carnival incident of the olden days of Venice.
THE SURRENDER OF CORNWALLIS.
A MILITARY SKETCH.
It was a great day for Dogtown, being no other than the anniversary of the annual militia muster; and on this occasion not only the Dogtown Blues were on parade upon the village green, but the entire regiment of which they formed a part, commanded by the gallant Colonel Zephaniah Slorkey, postmaster and variety-store keeper, was to engage in a sham fight, representing the surrender of Cornwallis. There was no attempt at historical costume, but it was understood that Slorkey, with his cowhide boots and rusty plated spurs, his long, swallow-tailed blue coat, and threadbare chapeau with a cock's tail feather in it, mounted on his seventy-five dollar piebald mare, promoted from the plough and "dump cart," was the representative of General Washington. Major Israel Ryely, his second in command, a native of the rival village of Hardscrabble, was to figure as Lord Cornwallis; and the selection was the more appropriate, since the private relations of these two great men were any thing but amicable, and they espoused opposite sides in politics. Dr. Galenius Jalap, an apothecary and surgeon of the regiment, a man with a hatchet face, hook nose, and thin, weeping whiskers, the color of sugar gingerbread, undertook the character of La Fayette at very short notice, and a very dim conception of the character he had.
The entire population of Dogtown and Hardscrabble turned out to witness the stupendous military operations of the day. On the American side were the Dogtown Blues, with four companies of ununiformed militia, armed with rifles, fowling pieces, and rusty muskets, and typifying the continental army. Their artillery consisted of two light field pieces, served by a select band of volunteers. These pieces were posted on an eminence commanding the entire plain. At the foot of this hill, Colonel Slorkey drew up his troops in line of battle, his left wing protected by an impassable frog pond, and his right resting on a large piggery, whose extent prevented the enemy from turning his flank in that direction.
On the descent of an opposing eminence, likewise strengthened by two guns, Major Ryely placed the Hardscrabble Guards, the Sheet Iron Riflemen, the Mudhollow Invincibles, the Dandelion Fireeaters, and the Scrufftown Sharpshooters. A thousand bright eyes, from the commanding eminences, looked down on the serried ranks of bayonets, the brazen-throated artillery, the panoplied plough horses, the plumed commanders, the rustling banners, and all the "pomp, pride, and circumstance of glorious war."
Preliminaries being thus settled, the commanding officers put spurs to their horses, and met in the centre of the plain, there saluting with their scythe-blade swords.
"Major Ryely," said the colonel, rising in his stirrups, "the follerin' are the odder of pufformances: we open with eour artillery—you reply with yourn. Under kiver of eour guns we advance to the attack. You do the same to meet us—firin' like smoke. Arter a sharp scrimmedge you retire—send us a flag of truce with terms—and finally lay down your arms."
The major bowed till his ostrich feather touched the mane of his wall-eyed plough horse, then turned bridle, and regained his ranks at a gait something between a stumble and a rack. The representative of General Washington rejoined his men at a hard trot, rising two feet from his saddle at every concussion of his bony steed.
"Fellur sogers!" roared the temporary father of his country; "yonder stands Cornwallis and his redcoats—only they haint got red coats, partickerlarly them in blue swaller-tails. We air bound to lick 'em—hurrah for our side! Go inter 'em like a thousand of bricks fallin' off 'n a slated rufe. The genius of Ammerikin liberty, in the shape of the carnivorous eagle, soarin' aloft on diluted pillions, seems to mutter E Pluribus Unum—we are one of 'em! Hail Columby happy land! Sing Yankee Doodle that fine tune—cry havock! and let looset the dogs of war."
Then commenced the horror of the sham fight. The continental guns opened in thunder tones. The British artillery hurled back their terrific echoes. Bang! bang! boom! boom! The canopy of heaven was stained with the sulphurous smoke. The drummers rattled away on their sheepskins—the fifers distended their cheeks till they resembled blown bladders. In the midst of all this noise and tumult, the undaunted Slorkey, and the indomitable Jalap, rushed to and fro, with clanking scabbards, and brandished scythe blades, twin thunderbolts of war.
"Forrard march!" roared Slorkey. With the yell of demons, his fierce followers advanced to the onset, firing their blank cartridges with desperate valor.
Equally alert were Major Ryely and his followers.
"Their swords were a thousand, their bosoms were one."
Their faces begrimed with powder, their eyes gleaming with ferocity, they descended to the plain—an avalanche of heroes. The soul of Headly would have swelled within him had he seen them.
For more than one hour that deadly consumption of blank cartridges endured, and then Ryely and his troops retired in good order.
"Boys," said the major, "old Slorkey wants us to gin out—send a flag of truce—a white pocket handkerchief on a beanpole—and propose to surrender. But it goes agin my grit for Hardscrabble to cave in to Dogtown, when we could knock the hindsights off 'em, if we was only a mind to."
"Hurray for the major!" responded the Hardscrabblers.
"I've got a grudge agin the kurnil," said the major, "and if you'll stand by me, I'll take it out of 'em. What say?"
"Agreed!" was the spontaneous response.
While Slorkey was waiting for the covenanted flag of truce, he saw the hated Ryely rise in his stirrups, and heard his stentorian voice roar out the word, "Charge!"
A deafening shout answered his appeal. In an instant Hardscrabble and its allies were down on Dogtown and its defenders. The latter stood it for a moment, but Ryely knocked the colonel off his horse, the surgeon had his nose pulled, the Dogtown Blues justified their name by their looks, and, seized with a sudden panic, fled—fled ingloriously from their native training field. The audacious outrage was consummated—history was violated—and General Washington was beaten by Cornwallis.
Dire were the threats against Ryely uttered by the colonel, as he was carried home on a shutter; nothing short of a court martial was his slightest menace. But no court martial ever took place. The military pride and glory of Dogtown were wounded to the quick; the force of popular opinion compelled Slorkey to resign, and to consummate his chagrin, his treacherous rival was chosen colonel of the regiment. So unstable are human honors—so ungrateful are republics.
THE THREE BRIDES.
Towards the close of a chilly afternoon, in the latter part of last November, I was travelling in New Hampshire on horseback. The road was solitary and rugged, and wound along through gloomy pine forests and over abrupt and stony hills. Several circumstances conduced to my discomfort. I was not sure of my way; I had a hurt in my bridle hand, and evening was approaching, heralded by an icy rain and a cold, searching wind. I felt a sinking of spirits which I could not dispel by rapid riding; for my horse, fatigued by a long day's journey, refused to answer spur and whip with his usual animation. In an hour after, I was convinced that I had mistaken my road, and night surprised me in the forest. I had been in more unpleasant situations; so I adopted my usual expedient of letting the reins fall upon my courser's neck. He, however, blundered on, with his nose drooping to the ground, stumbling every moment, though ordinarily as surefooted as a roebuck. So we plodded on for a mile, while the landscape grew darker and darker. At length, finding my horse less intelligent or more despairing than myself, I resumed the rein, and endeavored to cheer my brute companion. To tell the truth, I stood in need of something exhilarating myself. The sombre air of the eternal pines struck a deathly gloom to my heart, as one by one they seemed to rise on my path, like threatening genii extending their scathed limbs to meet me. The rain, fine and cold, bedewed me from head to foot, and I question if a more miserable pair of animals ever threaded their way through the mazes of an enchanted forest. I thought of the comfortable home I had left for my forlorn pleasure excursion, of that cheerful hearth around which my family were gathered, of wine, music, love, and the thousand endearments I had left behind, and then I gazed into the recesses of the shadowy wood that closed about me, almost in despair. I began to dread the apparition of some giant intruder, and was seriously meditating the production of a pair of pistols, when my quick glance caught the glimmer of distant lights, twinkling through some opening in the trees, and darting a beam of hope upon the wanderer's soul. My reins were instantly grasped, and my rowels were struck into the sides of my charger. He snorted, pricked up his ears, erected his head, and sprang forth in an uncontrollable gallop. Up hill and down hill I pricked my gallant gray; and when the forest was past, and his hoofs glinted on the stones of a street leading through a small village, I felt an animation that I cannot well describe. A creaking signboard, swinging in the wind on rusty irons, directed me to the only inn of the village. It was a two-story brick building, standing a little back from the road. I drew rein at the door, and dismounted my weary nag. My loud vociferations summoned to my side a bull dog, cursed with a most unhappy disposition, and a hostler whose temper was hardly more amiable. He took my horse with an air of surly indifference, and gruffly directed me to the bar room.
This apartment was tenanted by half a dozen rough farmers, rendered savage and morose by incessantly imbibing alcohol; and by the proprietor of the tavern, a bluff man, with a portly paunch, a hard gray eye, and a stern Caledonian lip. He welcomed me without much frankness or cordiality, and I sank into a wooden settle, eyed by the surly guests of mine host, and the subject of sundry muttered remarks. The group, as it was lighted up by the strong red glare of the fire, had certainly a bandit appearance, which, however delightful to a Salvator Rosa, was by no means inviting to a traveller who had sought the bosom of the hills for pleasure. After making a few remarks, which elicited only monosyllables in answer, I relapsed into silence; from which, however, I was soon aroused by the entrance of the surly hostler, who in no very gracious manner informed me that my horse was lame, and likely to be sick. This intelligence produced a visit to the stable, and the conviction that I could not possibly resume my journey on the ensuing day; which was somewhat disagreeable to a man who had taken up a decided prejudice against the inn and all its inmates.
Having succeeded in procuring a private room and a fire, I ignited an execrable cigar, (ah, how unlike thy principes, dear S.,) and endeavored to lose myself in the agreeable occupation of castle building while supper was preparing. Alas! my fancy came not at my call. I had lost my power of abstraction—the realities around me were too engrossing. Ere the dying shriek of a majestic rooster had ceased to sound in my ear, his remains were served upon my table, together with a cup or two of very villanous gunpowder tea, and a pitcher of cider, with coarse bread and butter ad libitum. Supper was soon despatched, and in answer to a bell, lightly touched, a vinegar-visaged waiting-maid, of the interesting age of forty-five, entered and removed the scarcely touched viands—the rudis indigestaque moles. I ventured to address her, with a request that I might be supplied with a few books, to enable me to while away the evening. I anticipated a literary feast from the readiness with which she rushed from the room; but she reappeared, bringing only Young's Night Thoughts, (very greasy,) a volume of tales with the catastrophes torn out, a set of plays consisting only of first acts, and an odd number of the Eclectic Magazine. This was sufficiently provoking; but I read a few pages, and tried a second cigar, and made the tour of the apartment, examining a family mourning-piece worked in satin, a genealogical tree done in worsted, and a portrait of the mutton-headed landlord and his snappish wife. I counted the ticks of the clock for half an hour, and was finally reduced to the forlorn expedient of seeing likenesses in the burning embers. When the clock struck nine, I rang for slippers and a guide to my bed room, and the landlord appeared, candle in hand, to usher me to my sleeping apartment. As I followed him up the creaking staircase, and along the dark upper entry, I could not help regretting that fancy was unable to convert him into the seneschal of a baronial mansion, and the room to which I was going a haunted chamber. It seemed as if my surly host had the power of divining what was passing in my mind, for when he had ushered me into the room, and placed the candle on the light stand, he said,—
"I hope you'll sleep comfortable, for there ain't many rats here, sir. And as for the ghost they say frequents this chamber, I believe that's all in my eye, though, to be sure, the window does look out on the burial ground."
"Umph! a comfortable prospect."
"Very, sir; you have a fine view of the squire's new tomb and the poorhouse, with a wing of the jail behind the trees. And I've stuck my second-best hat in that broken pane of glass, and there's a chest of drawers to set against the door; so you'll be warm and free from intrusion. I wish you good night, sir."
All that night I was troubled with strange dreams, peopled by phantoms from the neighboring churchyard; but a bona fide ghost I cannot say I saw. In the morning I rose very early, and took a look from the window, but the prospect was very uninviting. The churchyard was a bleak, desolate place, overgrown with weeds, and studded with slate stones, bounded by a ruinous brick wall, and having an entrance through a dilapidated gateway. One or two melancholy-looking cows were feeding on the rank herbage that sprang from the unctuous soil, spurning many a hic jacet with their cloven hoofs. But afar, in the most distant part of the field, I espied the figure of a man who was busily occupied in digging a grave. There was something within that impelled me to stroll forth and accost him. I dressed, descended, and having ordered breakfast, left the inn, clambered over the ruinous wall, and stood within the precincts of the burial-place. The spot had evidently been used for the purposes of sepulture for a number of years, for the ground rose into numerous hillocks, and I could hardly walk a step without stumbling upon some grassy mound. Even where the perishable gravestones had been shattered by the hand of time, the length of the elevations enabled me to judge of the age of the deceased. This slight swell rose over the remains of some beloved child, who had been committed to the dust with only the simple ceremonies of the Protestant faith, bedewed by the tears of parents, and blessed by the broken voice of farewell affection. This mound, of larger dimension, was heaped above the giant frame of manhood. Some sturdy tiller of the soil, or rough dweller in the forest, perhaps cut off by a sudden casualty, had been laid here in his last leaden sleep—no more to start at the rising beam of the sun, no more to rush to the glorious excitement of the hunt, no more to pant in noonday toil. Over the whole field of the dead there seemed to brood the spirit of desolation. Stern heads, rudely chiselled, from the grave stones, and frightful emblems met the eye at every turn. Here was none of that simple elegance with which modern taste loves to invest the memorials of the departed; no graceful acacias, or nodding elms, or sorrowing willows shed their dews upon the turf—every thing spoke of the bitterness of parting, of the agony of the last hour, of the passing away from earth—nothing of the reunion in heaven!
I passed on to where the grave digger was pursuing his occupation. He answered my morning salutation civilly enough, but continued intent upon his work. He was a man of about fifty years of age, spare, but strong, with gray hair, and sunken cheeks, and certain lines about the mouth which augured a propensity to indulge in dry jest, though the sternness of his gray eye seemed to contradict the tacit assertion.
"An unpleasant morning, sir, to work in the open air," said I.
"He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap," replied the grave digger, still plying his spade. "Death stalks abroad fair day and foul day, and we that follow in his footsteps must prepare for the dead, rain or shine."
"A melancholy occupation."
"A fit one for a moralist. Some would find a pleasure in it. Deacon Giles, I am sure, would willingly be in my place now."
"And why so?"
"This grave is for his wife," replied the grave digger, looking up from his occupation with a dry smile that wrinkled his sallow cheek and distorted his shrunken lips. Perceiving that his merriment was not infectious, he resumed his employment, and that so assiduously, that in a very short time he had hollowed the last resting-place of Deacon Giles's consort. This done, he ascended from the trench with a lightness that surprised me, and walking a few paces from the new-made grave, sat down upon a tombstone, and beckoned me to approach. I did so.
"Young man," said he, "a sexton and a grave digger, if he is one who has a zeal for his calling, becomes something of an historian, amassing many a curious tale and strange legend concerning the people with whom he has to do, living and dead. For a man with a taste for his profession cannot provide for the last repose of his fellows without taking an interest in their story, the manner of their death, and the concern of the relatives who follow their remains so tearfully to the grave."
"Then," replied I, taking a seat beside the sexton, "methinks you could relate some interesting tales."
Again the withering smile that I had before observed passed over the face of the sexton, as he answered,—
"I am no story teller, sir; I deal in fact, not fiction. Yes, yes, I could chronicle some strange events. But of all things I know, there is nothing stranger than the melancholy history of the three brides."
"The three brides?"
"Ay. Do you see three hillocks yonder, side by side? There they sleep, and will till the last trumpet comes wailing and wailing through the heart of these lone hills, with a tone so strange and stirring, that the dead will start from their graves at its first awful note. Then will come the judgment and the retribution. But to my tale. Look there, sir; on yonder hill you may observe a little isolated house, with a straggling fence in front, and a few stunted apple trees on the ascent behind it. It is sadly out of repair now, and the garden is all overgrown with weeds and brambles, and the whole place has a desolate appearance. If the wind were high now, you might hear the old crazy shutters flapping against the sides, and the wind tearing the gray shingles off the roof. Many years ago, there lived in that house an old man and his son, who cultivated the few acres of arable land which belong to it.
"The father was a self-taught man, deeply versed in the mysteries of science, and, as he could tell the name of every flower that blossomed in the wood and grew in the garden, and used to sit up late of nights at his books, or reading the mystic story of the starry heavens, men thought he was crazed or bewitched, and avoided him, and even hated him, as the ignorant ever shun and dread the gifted and enlightened. A few there were, and among others the minister, and lawyer, and physician of the place, who showed some willingness to afford him countenance; but they soon dropped his acquaintance, for they found the old man somewhat reserved and morose, and, moreover, their vanity was wounded by discovering the extent of his knowledge. To the minister he would quote the Fathers and the Scriptures in the original tongues and showed himself well armed with the weapons of polemical controversy. He astonished the lawyer by his profound acquaintance with jurisprudence; and the physician was surprised at the extent of his medical knowledge. So they all deserted him, and the minister, from whom the old man differed in some trifling points of doctrine, spoke very slightingly of him; and by and by all looked upon the self-educated farmer with eyes of aversion. But he little cared for that, for he derived his consolation from loftier resources, and in the untracked paths of science found a pleasure as in the pathless woods! He instructed his son in all his lore—the languages, literature, history, philosophy, science, were unfolded, one by one, to the enthusiastic son of the solitary. Years rolled away, and the old man died. He died when a storm convulsed the face of nature, when the wind howled around his shattered dwelling, and the lightning played above the roof; and though he went to heaven in faith and purity, the vulgar thought and said that the evil one had claimed his own in the thunder and commotion of the elements. I cannot paint to you the grief of the son at his bereavement. He was, for a time, as one distracted. The minister came and muttered a few cold and hollow phrases in his ear, and a few neighbors, impelled by curiosity to see the interior of the old man's dwelling, came to his funeral. With a proud and lofty look the son stood beside the departed in the midst of the band of hypocritical mourners, with a pang at his heart, but a serenity on his brow. He thanked his friends for their kindness, acknowledged their courtesy, and then strode away from the grave to bury his grief in the privacy of his deserted dwelling.
"He found, at first, the solitude of the mansion almost insupportable, and he paced the echoing floors from morning till night, in all the agony of woe and desolation, vainly imploring Heaven for relief. It came to him first in the guise of poetic inspiration. He wrote with a wonderful ease and power. Page after page came from his prolific pen, almost without an effort; and there was a time when he dreamed (vain fool!) of immortality. Some of his productions came before the world. They were praised and circulated, and inquiries were set on foot in the hope of discovering the author. He, wrapped in the veil of impenetrable obscurity, listened to the voice of applause, more delicious because it was obtained by stealth. From the obscurity of yonder lone mansion, and from this remote region, to send forth lays which astonished the world, was, indeed, a triumph to the visionary bard.
"His thirst for fame was gratified, and now he began to yearn for the companionship of some sweet being of the other sex, to share the laurels he had won, to whisper consolation in his ear in moments of despondency, and to supply the void which the death of his old father had occasioned. He would picture to himself the felicity of a refined intercourse with a highly intellectual and beautiful woman, and, as he had chosen for his motto, What has been done may still be done, he did not despair of success. In this village lived three sisters, all beautiful and all accomplished. Their names were Mary, Adelaide, and Madeleine. I am far enough past the age of enthusiasm, but never can I forget the beauty of those young girls. Mary was the youngest, and a fairer-haired, more laughing damsel never danced upon a green. Adelaide, who was a few years older, was dark haired and pensive; but of the three, Madeleine, the eldest, possessed the most fire, spirit, cultivation, and intellectuality. Their father was a man of taste and education, and, being somewhat above vulgar prejudices, permitted the visits of the hero of my story. Still he did not altogether encourage the affection which he found springing up between Mary and the poet. When, however, he found that her affections were engaged, he did not withhold his consent from her marriage, and the recluse bore to his solitary mansion the young bride of his affections. O sir, the house assumed a new appearance within and without. Roses bloomed in the garden, jessamines peeped through its lattices, and the fields about it smiled with the effects of careful cultivation. Lights were seen in the little parlor in the evening, and many a time would the passenger pause by the garden gate to listen to strains of the sweetest music, breathed by choral voices from the cottage. If the mysterious student and his wife were neglected by their neighbors, what cared they? Their endearing and mutual affection made their home a little paradise. But death came to Eden. Mary fell suddenly sick, and, after a few hours' illness, died in the arms of her husband and her sister Madeleine. This was the student's second heavy affliction.
"Days, months, rolled on, and the only solace of the bereaved was to sit with the sisters of the deceased, and talk of the lost one. To Adelaide, at length, he offered his widowed heart. She came to his lone house like the dove, bearing the olive branch of peace and consolation. Their bridal was not one of revelry and mirth, for a sad recollection brooded over the hour. Yet they lived happily; the husband again smiled, and, with a new spring, the roses again blossomed in their garden. But it seemed as if a fatality pursued this singular man. When the rose withered and the leaf fell, in the mellow autumn of the year, Adelaide, too, sickened and died, like her younger sister, in the arms of her husband and of Madeleine.
"Perhaps you will think it strange, young man, that, after all, the wretched survivor stood again at the altar. But he was a mysterious being, whose ways were inscrutable, who, thirsting for domestic bliss, was doomed ever to seek and never to find it. His third bride was Madeleine. I well remember her. She was a beauty, in the true sense of the word. It may seem strange to you to hear the praise of beauty from such lips as mine; but I cannot help expatiating upon hers. She might have sat upon a throne, and the most loyal subject, the proudest peer, would have sworn the blood within her veins had descended from a hundred kings. She was a proud creature, with a tall, commanding form, and raven tresses, that floated, dark and cloud-like, over her shoulders. She was a singularly-gifted woman, and possessed of rare inspiration. She loved the widower for his power and his fame, and she wedded him. They were married in that church. It was on a summer afternoon—I recollect it well. During the ceremony, the blackest cloud I ever saw overspread the heavens like a pall, and, at the moment when the third bride pronounced her vow, a clap of thunder shook the building to the centre. All the females shrieked, but the bride herself made the response with a steady voice, and her eyes glittered with wild fire as she gazed upon her bridegroom. He remarked a kind of incoherence in her expressions as they rode home-ward, which surprised him at the time. Arrived at his house, she shrunk upon the threshold: but this was the timidity of a maiden. When they were alone he clasped her hand—it was as cold as ice! He looked into her face.
"Madeleine," said he, "what means this? your cheeks are as pale as your wedding gown!" The bride uttered a frantic shriek.
"My wedding gown!" exclaimed she; "no, no—this—this is my sister's shroud! The hour for confession has arrived. It is God that impels me to speak. To win you I have lost my soul! Yes—yes—I am a murderess! She smiled upon me in the joyous affection of her young heart—but I gave her the fatal drug! Adelaide twined her white arms about my neck, but I administered the poison! Take me to your arms: I have lost my soul for you, and mine must you be!"
"She spread her long, white arms, and stood like a maniac before him," said the sexton, rising, in the excitement of the moment, and assuming the attitude he described; "and then," continued he, in a hollow voice, "at that moment came the thunder and the flash, and the guilty woman fell dead upon the floor!" The countenance of the narrator expressed all the horror that he felt.
"And the bridegroom," asked I; "the husband of the destroyer and the victims—what became of him?"
"He stands before you!" was the thrilling answer.
Mose Jenkins did not take the California fever when it first broke out; for he was, as he acknowledged himself, "slow-motioned," and his skull was of such formidable thickness, that it required a good many months for an idea to penetrate into his brain. In the interim, he delved and digged away on a corner of his father's farm, having leased the land of the old gentleman, and purchased his time of the same respectable individual for the purpose of working it. But to work a farm where the rocks are so near together, that the sheep's noses have to be sharpened before they can graze between them, is not a very profitable business; and Mose, by dint of hard thinking, arrived at the conclusion that there might possibly be some other occupation less laborious and quite as lucrative.
"Confound these granite rocks!" he exclaimed, one day, as he was ploughing, after he had broken his trace chains for a second time; "they hev another kind er rocks in Calliforny. Jehosaphat! If I was only thar. There a fellur hez to dig; but he gets pretty good wages—five thousand dollars a month is middlin', not to say fair."
In short, Mose Jenkins made up his mind to go to San Francisco, having got the wherewithal to carry him in a packet to the land of promise. Fearful of opposition, he communicated his project neither to the author of his days, the venerable Zephaniah Jenkins, nor to the beloved of his heart, Miss Prudence Salter, a cherry-cheeked damsel in a state of orphanage; but wrote down to a friend in Boston to secure a passage. He reserved his communications to the very last moment, when he was all ready for starting. His father gave him his blessing; Prudence was more difficult to manage.
"It's a breach of promise case," said she, "I don't believe you mean to marry me arter all."
"Yes, I do, ye silly critter," said Mose. "I'll come and make you Mrs. Jenkins; but I want to get the rocks first."
"Ain't there rocks enough here?" asked Prudence, simply.
"Pooh! I mean the rocks what folks carries in their pockets, an' treats every body with—all sollid gold."
"I don't believe half them stories," said Prudence, contemptuously.
"They're as true as gospil," said Mose, "'cause I see it in a paper. And there's Curnil Hateful Slowboy, that went from here last year—you'd ort to know him, Prudence, coz he was one of your old beaux—wall, now, they say he's one of the richest men in Calliforny. I tell you I'm bound to make my fortin' there."
"And so am I," said Prudence, resolutely.
"You!" exclaimed Mose.
"Yes. I'm bound to go, too; and I'll follow you in the next ship, else you'll be green enough to marry one of them 'ere Ingine gals."
"Prudence, you're spunk!" exclaimed Mose, in terms of the warmest admiration. "Good by! And I swow I'll marry you jest as soon as you set foot in Calliforny."
Not to amplify on details, our adventurer landed there safely, and was, of course, like all verdant voyagers, much surprised at the tariff of prices subjected to his notice. The porter who carried his trunk to the hotel charged him ten dollars; and though that same hotel was a leaky tent, a plate of tough beef was charged seventy-five cents, and a watery potato fifty. Business was very dull, too, at the moment of his arrival; the accounts from the mines were disastrous, and every thing announced an approaching crisis. Moses confided his griefs to Colonel Hateful Slowboy, his fellow-townsman, who was really one of the richest men in California, winding up with lamentations over the expected arrival of Prudence, whom he had promised to marry.
"What kin I do with a wife," said he, "when I can't support myself, even?"
"Very true," said the colonel. "Now, if it were me, the case would be very different."
"Prudence done all the courtin' herself, curnil," said our hero, sulkily. "I never should have offered if it hadn't been for her. I kinder like 'er pretty well, though: she's a sort of pretty nice gal."
"Well, Mose," said the colonel, "what do you say to giving up your claim?"
"Eh?" said Mose, pricking up his ears.
"What'll you take for your right and title—cash down—no questions asked?"
"Wall, I dunnow," said Mose, opening his jackknife and picking up a chip. "Prudence is a pretty nice gal, as you said, curnil."
"As you said, Mr. Jenkins."
"Wall, it's all the same. The critter's very fond of me and so be I of her. I had plaguy hard work, I tell you, to get her consent."
"Come, come," said the colonel, "you want to drive a hard bargain with me. I'm willing to give you a fair price, say twenty thousand; but I don't want to be swindled."
"Say twenty-five thousand and take her, curnil."
"The money's ready whenever Prudence is."
In a few days another ship from Boston came in, and Prudence was among the first to land. Mose met her with very little ardor, the colonel remaining in the background. After some little conversation, the young lady reminded her lover of their agreement.
"I can't do it, Prudence; I've swore off—I've jined the old bachelor society."
"But you promised me," screamed Prudence.
"Can't help that; you can't get a verdict here for breaches of promise; there ain't no law here; every body goes on his own individual hook."
"You cruel monster, why can't you marry me?"
"'Cause," said Mose, retreating to a safe distance, "I've traded you away!"
Colonel Slowboy was at hand to catch the fair one as she came near falling. He was her old beau, and he knew the weak points of her character; moreover he had splendid red whiskers and a million of money—she married him, partly from ambition and partly from revenge.
The moment they were united, Moses set sail for the United States, with his twenty thousand dollars, and arrived back safely. When asked how he had accumulated such a sum in so short a time, he answered, "trading," and when questioned about the prospects of the El Dorado, would answer, with a grin, that it was a "great country for women." And this was the end of his California speculation.
THE FRENCH GUARDSMAN.
With the army of Marshal Saxe, encamped near Fontenoy ready to give battle to the allies, there were not a few ladies, who, impelled by a chivalric feeling, or personally interested in the fate of some of the combatants, had followed the troops to witness the triumph of the French arms. Their presence was at once the incitement and reward of valor, for what soldier would not fight with tenfold gallantry when he knew that his exploits were witnessed by the eyes of her he loved as wife, mistress, or mother, and whose safety or honor, perhaps, depended on his prowess?
Among those most distinguished for their beauty was the youthful Heloise, the lovely daughter of the Baron de Clairville, a French general officer. The beaux yeux of the demoiselle had enslaved more than one young officer, but of the host of suitors none could boast with reason of encouragement, except Henri de Grandville, and Raoul, Count de St. Prix, both commanding companies in the French Guards. Both were handsome and accomplished young men, and both had yet their spurs to win upon the field of battle. They had been fast friends until the pursuit of the same lady had created a sort of estrangement between them. Little was known of Henri de Grandville previous to his reception of his commission in the guards. He had been brought up by his mother in an old provincial chateau, and though his manners and education were those of a gentleman, still he seemed but little acquainted with the world, and above all ignorant of the lighter accomplishments of the courtier. Perhaps this very simplicity of manner and frankness of character, contrasting so strangely with the fashionable affectations of the court, endeared him to his comrades, and strongly prepossessed Heloise de Clairville in his favor. His rival was of a different stamp. Raoul de St. Prix was a dashing, brilliant officer, brave as steel, but fond of dress, reckless, dissipated, and extravagant. Yet his faults were those of his age, and belonged to the circumstances by which he was surrounded. The Baron de Clairville, while he left his daughter free to make her election, yet, as a plain, blunt soldier, rather than a courtier, secretly inclined to favor the pretensions of Henri. Still, his treatment of the two young guardsmen was the same, for they gave equal promise of military gallantry.
It was on the eve of the battle of Fontenoy that Henri sought an interview with Heloise, who occupied a gay pavilion near her father's tent. He found her alone and weeping.
"Mademoiselle," said he, "you are unhappy. Will you permit a friend to inquire the cause of your sorrow?"
"Can you ask me, Monsieur de Grandville! Of the thousands of brave men who lie down to-night in peaceful slumber, how many sleep their last sleep on earth! How many eyes, that will witness to-morrow's sun arise, will be closed forever before it goes down at evening! O, what a dreadful business is this trade of war! My poor father, he never cares for himself, he never asks his men to go where he is unwilling to lead. I fear for his safety in the deadly conflict of to-morrow."
"If the devotion of one faithful follower can save him, lady," answered Henri, "be assured of his safety. I would pour out the blood in my veins as freely as water to shield the father of Heloise de Clairville."
"But you—you—Henri—Monsieur de Grandville—you think nothing of your own life."
"If I fall," answered the young soldier, "my poor mother will weep bitterly for her only son, though he perish on the field of honor. But who else will shed a tear for the poor guardsman?"
"Henri!" exclaimed the young girl, reproachfully, and the soft eyes she raised to his were filled with tears.
"Is it possible?" cried the young soldier. "Can my fate awaken even a momentary interest in the heart of the loveliest, the gentlest of her sex? Ah, why do you render life so dear to me at the moment I must peril it?"
"Believe me," answered Heloise, drying her tears, "that I would not hold you back, when honor beckons you. It is to such hands as yours that the honor of the golden lilies is committed. I am the daughter of a soldier, and though these tears confess my sex, I honor bravery when it is displayed in a good cause. I honor the soldier as much as I detest the duellist."
"Then listen to one whose sword was never stained with his brother's blood. I had thought to go to the field with my secret concealed in my own breast, but something impels me to speak out. I love you, Heloise—I have dared to love—to adore you."
The fair girl blushed till her very temples were crimsoned over with eloquent blood. The young soldier threw himself at her feet, and taking the fair hand she abandoned to him, covered it with kisses; nor did he rise till he had received confirmation of his new-born hopes, and knew that, for good or ill, the heart of Heloise was irrevocably his. Finally, he was compelled to tear himself away, but he carried to his tent a feeling of delicious joy which steeled his mind against all thought of the chances of the morrow.
The moments passed away in delirious revery, but at length he was interrupted by St. Prix.
The count was in the worst of humors—his brow was dark with passion, and he threw himself into a seat, and flung his plumed hat on the table with an energy that betrayed the violence of his emotions.
"What's the matter, Raoul?" asked Henri. "Has Saxe changed his plans? Do we fall back instead of advancing?"
"No, thank God! there will be plenty of throat-cutting to-morrow, and the French Guards have the post of honor."
"Thank Heaven!" exclaimed Henri, joyfully.
"You seem in excellent spirits to-night, Captain Henri de Grandville."
"I wish I could say as much of you, Captain Raoul de St. Prix."
"Tell me the cause of your felicity."
"Enlighten me respecting your ill humor."
"Willingly, on condition that you will explain your satisfaction."
"Well, then—you know the marked preference—marked preference, I say—always shown me by Mademoiselle Heloise de Clairville."
"I will not dispute with you—go on."
"You must have been blinded by absurd hopes not to have noticed it; every officer in the army looked to me as the futur of the lady. Well, sir, encouraged and led on by this siren, I made my proposals to her to-night. Ventre St. Gris! I had engaged to settle with my creditors out of her marriage portion."
"Go on—go on—this is excellent, St. Prix."
"Well, sir, she rejected me—me, the Count de St. Prix. A prior engagement, forsooth! I wish to Heaven I knew the fellow! Before sunrise he should have more button holes in his doublet than ever his tailor made."
"Captain St. Prix," replied Henri, "you have not far to look. In me behold the fortunate suitor. Come, come; confess that your pride, and not your heart, was engaged in the affair. The game was fairly played; the stakes are mine."
"This trifling will not pass muster with me, sir," said the count, sternly. "Know—if you knew it not before—that Raoul de St. Prix never fixed his eye on a prize that he did not obtain, or missing it, failed to punish his successful rival. You are a soldier, and you understand me, sir," he added, touching his sword knot with his gloved hand.
"This is midsummer madness, Raoul," answered Henri, with good temper. "Had I been unsuccessful, painful, fatal as the disappointment would have been, I should have resigned the lady to you without a struggle."
"That shows the difference between a gentleman and a parvenu," retorted St. Prix.
"A parvenu!" cried De Grandville, starting to his feet.
"Yes. Who knows you? Whence came you? You are an intruder in our ranks."
"I bear the king's commission."
"Yes, and have not courage enough to sustain it. I have defied you to your teeth, and you refuse to fight."
"My principles are opposed to duelling. In the words of the lady whose preference honors me, 'I honor the soldier as much as I detest the duellist.' Besides, has not the marshal strictly forbidden duels in the camp? Conscience, reason, authority, every consideration forbids my acceptance of the challenge."
"Then," said St. Prix, "you shall submit to an indignity that disgraces a French gentleman forever." And raising his sheathed sword, he struck De Grandville with the flat of the scabbard.
Henri's sword instantly flashed in the lamplight, and St. Prix drawing his rapier, they were instantly engaged in deadly combat. Both were expert swordsmen, and while one fought with the ferocity of hatred and disappointment, the arm of the other was nerved by a sense of wrong. The metallic ring of their blades was unintermitted, for neither paused to take breath, but, with teeth set and eyes glaring, thrust, parried, advanced, and fell back in the fierce ardor of the combat. At last, De Grandville, seeing an opportunity, sent his adversary's blade whirling through the air, and drawing back his weapon, prepared to thrust it through his breast.
"Strike!" said St. Prix; "you have vanquished me in love and in arms, and there is nothing left me but to die."
"Die, then, but on the field of battle, brave Raoul," said de Grandville, "and since I have deprived you of your sword, take mine; I shall be honored by the exchange."
"Hold!" said a stern voice; and turning, Henri beheld with confusion the countenance of Marshal Saxe, who, attended by a file of musketeers, had entered the tent at the close of the duel. "You will give up your sword to this officer, Captain de Grandville," added he, pointing to a commissioned officer by whom he was accompanied. "Count de St. Prix, you will pick up your weapon, also, and surrender it. Officers who forget themselves so far as to seek each other's lives upon the eve of battle, with the enemy before them, are unworthy of command. This is matter for the provost marshal."
And the old soldier seated himself at the table, and eyed the offenders angrily and sternly.
"May it please your excellency," said St. Prix, "I alone deserve to suffer. I insulted the gentleman, and forced him to fight."
"Forced him to fight?" said the marshal. "Hadn't he read the orders of the day?"
"I do not claim your clemency, marshal," said Henri. "I committed this fault with my eyes open. But a man cannot always command his passions."
"That's true, my lad. But what were you fighting about?"
"A woman, your excellency," said St. Prix.
"A woman! fools! a woman that's not to be had without fighting for isn't worth having. Well, well—boys will be boys. I pardon you on two conditions. In the first place, you must shake hands." Henri and Raoul advanced and joined their hands. "And in the next place, that you give a good account of yourselves to-morrow. Sacre nom de Dieu! I can ill spare two lads of spirit from the guards. And now," said the marshal, rising, after restoring their swords to the officers, "good night, gentlemen; and plenty of hard knocks to-morrow."
The next day witnessed one of those terrible encounters, whose sanguinary prints make a more indelible impression on the page of history than the records of the more generous deeds of peaceful life. The greatest gallantry was displayed on both sides, and on the part of the French no officers were more distinguished for their valor than the two guardsmen whose encounter on the previous evening we have just related. Raoul de St. Prix, in the early part of the engagement, fell sword in hand at the head of his company, thus meeting with honor a fate he had earnestly desired. Henri de Grandville, in the course of the day, found himself in command of the regiment, every officer of higher rank having fallen. When the carnage had ceased, he laid a stand of captured colors at the feet of the commander-in-chief, and was complimented by Marshal Saxe at the head of the army, receiving assurance that his gallantry should be at once reported to the king.
Flushed with triumph, the young guardsman flew to the presence of his mother, to receive her embrace and recount in modest terms the story of his deeds. She rejoiced in his safety, and sympathized with his joy. But all at once, as he made her the confident of other hopes, and enlarged on the prospect of his speedy union with Heloise de Clairville, her countenance changed, and her eyes became suffused with tears.
"Dear Henri," said she, "I knew nothing of this. Why did you not sooner apprise me of this fatal passion?"
"Fatal passion, dear mother! Why do you thus characterize the love I bear to the purest, the most beautiful of her sex?"
"She is, indeed, all that you paint her, Henri; but you must learn the hard task of renouncing your hopes. You can never marry her."
"And why so? Do you refuse your consent?"
"Alas! no. But the Baron de Clairville—"
"He regards me with a favorable eye. I have reason to think he knows of my attachment to his daughter, and approves of it. Even now, his congratulations had a marked meaning, which could hardly be ambiguous."