Richard Hurdis, volume 1
by William Gilmore Simms
TO THE READER.
RICHARD HURDIS; OR, THE AVENGER OF BLOOD. A TALE OF ALABAMA.
I will recal
Some facts of ancient date: he must remember
When on Cithæron we together fed
Our several flocks.
TO THE READER.
Here, gentle reader, you have a genuine chronicle of our borders.
This story is truly named, a story of our own country. The events are
real, and within the memory of men, though names have been changed,
and, in some respects, localities altered, that living and innocent
affections should not be outraged. In the arrangement of my narrative,
I have not suffered myself to conduct it, as if the events had been
told according as they became known to the narrator; but, for the
easier comprehension of the reader, I have stated them, as if after
subsequent consideration, putting each in its connection with its
fellow for the sake of more coherence. The hero and the author become,
under this plan, identical——though I would not have any of my friends
suppose the author and narrator to be one. While I am unknown to all,
it matters little, indeed, how much they may be confounded; and
whetherthe reader shall ever grow wiser to know who I am, is, perhaps,
even less important to both of us. Our acquaintance may be continued
and increased to the profit and pleasure of both without disturbing the
secrets of either. At least I hope so.
April 1, 1838.
Enough of garlands, of the Arcadian crook,
And all that Greece and Italy have sung,
Of swains reposing myrtle graves among!
Ours couch on naked rocks, will cross a brook,
Swollen with chill rains, nor ever cast a look
This way or that, or give it even a thought
More than by smoothest pathway may be brought
Into a vacant mind. Can written book
Teach what they learn?
Of the hardihood of the American character there can be no doubts,
however many there may exist on the subject of our good manners. We
ourselves seem to be sufficiently conscious of our security on the
former head, as we forbear insisting upon it; about the latter,
however, we are sore and touchy enough. We never trouble ourselves to
prove that we are sufficiently able and willing, when occasionserves,
to do battle, tooth and nail, for our liberties and possessions; our
very existence, as a people, proves this ability and readiness. But let
John Bull prate of our manners, and how we fume and fret; and what
fierce action, and wasteful indignation we expend upon him! We are sure
to have the last word in all such controversies. Our hardihood comes
from our necessities, and prompts our enterprise; and the American is
bold in adventure to a proverb. Where the silken shodden and sleek
citizen of the European world would pause and deliberate to explore our
wilds, we plunge incontinently forward, and the forest falls before our
axe, and the desert blooms under the providence of our cultivator, as
if the wand of an enchanter had waved over them with the rising of a
sudden moonlight. Yankee necessities, and southern and western
curiosity will probe to the very core of the dusky woods, and palsy, by
the exhibition of superior powers, the very souls of their old
I was true to the temper and the nature of my countrymen. The
place, in which I was born, could not keep me always. With manhood——ay,
long before I was a man——came the desire to range. My thoughts craved
freedom, my dreams prompted the same desire, and the wandering spirit
of our people, perpetually stimulated by the continual opening of new
regions and more promising abodes, was working inmy heart with all the
volume of a volcano. Manhood came, and I burst my shackles. I resolved
upon the enjoyment for which I had dreamed and prayed. I had no fears,
for I was stout of limb, bold of heart, prompt in the use of my weapon,
a fearless rider, and a fatal shot. Here are the inevitable possessions
of the southern and western man, from Virginia to the Gulf, and
backward to the Ohio. I had them, with little other heritage, from my
Alabama origin, and I was resolved to make the most of them as soon as
I could. You may be sure I lost no time in putting my resolves into
execution. Our grain crops in Marengo were ripe in August, and my heart
bounded with the unfolding of the sheaves. I was out of my minority in
the same fortunate season.
I waited for the coming October only. I felt that my parents had
now no claims upon me. The customs of our society, the necessities of
our modes of life, the excursive and adventurous habits of our people,
all justified a desire, which, in a stationary community, would seem so
adverse to the nicer designs of humanity. But the life in the city has
very few standards in common with that of the wilderness. We
acknowledge few, at least. The impulses of the latter, to our minds,
are worth, any day, all the mercantile wealth of the former; and that
we are sincere in this opinion may be fairly inferred from the
preference which the forester will always showfor the one over the
other. Gain is no consideration for those who live in every muscle, and
who find enjoyment from the exercise of every limb. The man who lives
by measuring tape and pins by the sixpence-worth, may make money by his
vocation——but, God help him! he is scarce a man. His veins expand not
with generous ardour; his muscles wither and vanish, as they are
unemployed. And his soul!——it has no emotions which prompt him to noble
restlessness, and high and generous execution. Let him keep at his
vocation if he will, but he might, morally and physically, do far
better if he would.
My resolves were soon known to all around me. They are not yet
known to the reader. Well, they are quickly told. The freed youth at
twenty-one, for the first time freed and impatient only for the
exercise of his freedom, has but few purposes, and his plans are
usually single and unsophisticated enough. Remember, I am speaking for
the forester and farmer, not for the city youth who is taught the arts
of trade from the cradle up, and learns to scheme and connive while yet
he clips the coral in his boneless gums. I was literally going abroad,
after the fashion of the poorer youth of our neighbourhood, to seek my
fortune. As yet, I had but little of my own. A fine horse, a few
hundred dollars in specie, three able-bodied negroes, a good rifle,
which carried eighty to the pound, and was the admiration of many who
were even better shots than myself—— these made pretty much the sum
total of my earthly possessions. But I thought not much of this matter.
To ramble awhile, at least until my money was all gone, and then to
take service on shares with some planter who had land and needed the
help of one like myself, was all my secret. I had heard of the
Chickasaw Bluffs, and of the still more recent Choctaw purchase——at
that time a land of promise only, as its acquisition had not been
effected——and I was desirous of looking upon these regions. The Choctaw
territory was reported to be rich as cream, and I mediated to find out
the best spots, in order to secure them by entry, as soon as government
could effect the treaty which should throw them into the market. In
this ulterior object I was upheld by some of our neighbouring
capitalists, who had urged, to some extent, the measure upon me. I was
not unwilling to do for them, particularly as it did not interfere in
my own plans to follow up theirs; but my own desire was simply to
stretch my limbs in freedom, to traverse the prairies, to penetrate the
swamps, to behold the climbing hills and lovely hollows of the Choctaw
lands, and luxuriate in the eternal solitudes of their spacious
forests. To feel my freedom was now my hope. I had been fettered long
But do not think me wanting in natural affection to my parents: far
from it. I effected no small achievement, when I first resolved to
leave my mother. It was no pain to leave my father. He was a man, a
strong one too, and could do well enough without me. But, without
spoiling me, my mother, of all her children, had made me most a
favourite. I was her Richard always. She considered me first, though I
had an elder brother, and spoke of me in particular, when speaking of
her sons, and referred to me for counsel, in preference to all the
rest. This may have been because I was soon found to be the most
decisive of all my brothers; and folks did me the farther courtesy to
say, the most thoughtful too. My elder brother, John Hurdis, was too
fond of eating to be an adventurous man, and too slow and unready to be
a performing one. We often quarrelled too, and this, perhaps, was
another reason why I should desire to leave a place from which he was
quite too lazy ever to depart. Had he been bold enough to go forth, I
had not been so ready to do so, for there were motives and ties to keep
me at home, which shall have development as I proceed.
My father, though a phlegmatic and proud man, showed much more
emotion at the declaration of my resolve to leave him, than I had ever
expected. His emotion arose not so much from the love he boreme, as
from the loss which he was about to sustain by my departure. I had been
his best negro, and he confessed it. Night and day, without complaint,
my time had been almost entirely devoted to his service, and his crops
had never been half so good as when I had directed the labour of his
force, and regulated his resources. My brother John had virtually given
up to me the entire management, and my father was too well satisfied
with the fruits of the change, to make any objection. My resolution to
leave him now, once more threw the business of the plantation upon
John, and his incompetence, the result of his inertness and obesity,
rather than of any deficiency of mind, was sorely apprehended by the
old man. I felt this to be the strongest argument against my departure.
But was I always to be the slave I had been? Was I always to watch peas
and potatoes, corn and cotton, without even the poor satisfaction of
choosing the spot where it would please me best to watch them. This
reflection strengthened me in my resolves, and answered my father. In
answer to the expostulation of my mother, I made a promise, which in
part consoled her.
"I will go but for a few months, mother; for the winter only; you
will see me back in spring; and then, if father and myself can come to
any thinglike terms, I will stay and superintend for him, as I have
"Terms, Richard!" were the old lady's words in reply. "What terms,
would you have, my son, that he will not agree to, so that they be in
reason? He will give you one-fifth, I will answer for it, Richard, and
that ought to be quite enough to satisfy any one."
"More than enough, mother; more than I ask or expect. But I cannot
now agree even to that. I must see the world awhile; travel about; and
if, at the end of the winter, I see no better place——no place, I mean,
which I could better like to live in—— why then I will come back, as I
tell you, and go to work as usual."
There was some little indignation in the old lady's answer.
"Better place! like better to live in! Why, Richard, what has come
over you? Are not the place you were born in, and the parents who bred
you, and the people whom you have lived with all your life——are they
not good enough for you; that you must come to me at this time of day
and talk about better places, and all such stuff? Really, my son, you
forget yourself to speak in this manner. As if every thing was not good
enough for you here!"
"Good enough, mother," I answered gloomily; "good enough;
perhaps——I deny it not; and yet notexactly to my liking. I am not
pleased to waste my life as I do at present. I am not satisfied that I
do myself justice. I feel a want in my mind, and an impatience at my
heart; a thirst which I cannot explain to you, and which, while here, I
cannot quench. I must go elsewhere——I must fix my eyes on other
objects. You forget, too, that I have been repulsed, rejected——though
you told me I should not be—— where I had set my heart; and that the
boon has been given to another, for which I had struggled long, and for
a long season had hoped to attain. Can you wonder that I should seek to
go abroad, even were I not moved by a natural desire at my time of life
to see some little of the world?"
There were some portions of my reply which were conclusive, and to
which my mother did not venture any answer; but my last remark
suggested the tenor of a response which she did not pause to make.
"But what can you see of the world, my son, among the wild places
to which you think to go? What can you see at the Bluffs, or down by
the Yazoo but woods and Indians? Besides, Richard, the Choctaws are
said to be troublesome now in the nation. Old Mooshoolatubbé and La
Fleur are going to fight, and it will be dangerous travelling."
"The very thing, mother," was my hasty reply. "I will take side
with La Fleur, and when we haveto fight Mooshoolatubbé, get enough land
for my reward, to commence business for myself. That last speech of
yours, mother, is conclusive in my favour. I will be a rich man yet;
and then"——in the bitterness of a disappointed spirit I spoke——"and
then, mother, we will see whether John Hurdis is a better man with
thirty negroes than Richard Hurdis with but three."
"Why, who says he is, my son?" demanded my mother with a tenderness
of accent which increased while she spoke, and with eyes that filled
with tears in the same instant.
My heart told me I was wrong, but I could not forbear the reply
that rose to my lips.
"Mary Easterby," were the two words which made my only answer.
"Richard, Richard!" exclaimed the old lady, "you envy your
"Envy him! No! I envy him nothing, not even his better fortune. Let
him wear what he has won, whether he be worthy of it or not. If,
knowing me, she prefers him, be it so. She is not the woman for me. I
envy not his possessions; neither his wife, nor his servant, his ox,
nor his ass. It vexes me that I have been mistaken, mother, both in
her, and in him; but, thank Heaven! I envy neither. I am not humble
enough for that."
"Dear Richard, you know that I have alwayssought to make you happy.
It grieves me that you are not so. What would you have me do for you?"
"Let me go forth in peace. Say nothing to my father to prevent it.
Seem to be satisfied with my departure yourself. I will try to please
you better when I return."
"You ask too much, my son; but I will try. I will do any thing for
you, if you will only think and speak less indifferently of your elder
"And what are my thoughts and words to him, mother? He feels them
not——they do not touch him. Is he not my elder brother? Has he not all?
The favour of our grandmother gave him wealth, and with his wealth, and
from his wealth, comes the favour of Mary Easterby."
"You do her wrong!" said my mother.
"Do I, indeed?" I answered bitterly. "What! she takes him then for
his better person, his nobler thoughts, his boldness, his industry, and
the thousand other manly qualities, so winning in a woman's eyes, which
I have not, but which he possesses in such plenty? Is it this that you
would say, my mother? Say it then if you can; but well I know you must
be silent. You cannot speak, mother, and speak thus. For what then has
Mary Easterby preferred John Hurdis? God forgive me if I do her wrong,
and Heaven's mercy to her if she wrongs herself and me. At one time I
thought she loved me, and I showedher some like follies. I will not say
that she has not made me suffer; but I rejoice that. I can suffer like
a man. Let me go from you in quiet, dear mother; urge my departure, and
believe, as I think, that it will be for the benefit of all."
My father's entrance interrupted a conversation, which neither of
us was disposed readily to resume.
There was but one
In whom my heart took pleasure amongst women;
One in the whole creation; and in her
You dared to be my rival.
—— Second Maiden's Tragedy
The reader has discovered my secret. I had long loved Mary
Easterby, and without knowing it. The knowledge came to me at the
moment when I ceased to hope. My brother was my rival, and, whatever
were the charms he used, my successful rival. This may have given
bitterness to the feeling of contempt with which his own feebleness of
character had taught me to regard him. It certainly took nothing from
the barrier, which circumstances and time had set up as a wall between
us. Mary Easterby had grown up beside me. I had known no other
companion among her sex. We had played together from infancy, and I had
been taught to believe, when I came to know the situation of my own
heart, and to inquire into that of hers, that she loved me. If she did
not, I deceived myself most wofully; but such self deception, is no
uncommonpractice with the young of my age, and sanguine temperament. I
would not dwell upon her charms could I avoid it; yet though I speak
of, I should fail to describe and do not hope to do them justice. She
was younger by three years than myself, and no less beautiful than
young. Her person was tall, but not slight; it was too finely
proportioned to make her seem tall, and grace was the natural result,
not less of her physical symmetry, than of her maiden taste, and sweet
considerateness of character. Her eye was large and blue, her cheek not
so round as full, and its rich rosy colour almost vied with that which
crimsoned the pulpy outline of her lovely mouth. Her hair was of a dark
brown, and she wore it gathered up simply in volume behind, a few stray
tresses only being suffered to escape from bondage at the sides, to
attest, as it were, the bountiful luxuriance with which nature had
endowed her. See these tresses on her round white neck, and let your
eye trace them in their progress to the swelling bosom on which they
sometimes rested; and you may conceive something of those charms, which
I shall not seek farther to describe.
Though a dweller in the woods all her life, her mind and taste had
not been left without due cultivation. Her father had been taught in
one of the elder states, one of the old thirteen, and he carried many
of the refinements of city life with him intothe wilderness. Books she
had in abundance, and these taught her every thing of those older
communities, which she had never yet been permitted to see. Her natural
quickness of intellect, her prompt appreciation of what she read,
enabled her at an early period duly to estimate those conventional and
improved forms of social life to which her books perpetually referred,
and which belong only to stationary abodes, where wealth brings
leisure, and leisure provokes refinement. With such aid, Mary Easterby
soon stood alone among the neighbouring damsels. Her air, manner,
conversation, even dress, were not only different from, but more
becoming, than those of her associates. She spoke with the ease and
freedom of one bred up in the most assured society; and thought with a
mind filled with standards which are not often to be met with in an
insulated, and unfrequented community. In short she was one of those
beings, such as lift the class to which they belong; such as represent
rather a future than a present generation; and such as, by superior
grasp of judgment or of genius, prepare the way for, and guide the aims
of all the rest.
It were folly to dwell upon her excellences, but that my narration
may depend upon their development. They were powerful enough with me;
and my heart felt, ere my mind could analyze them. A boy's heart,
particularly one who is the unsophisticatedoccupant of the forests,
having few other teachers, is no sluggish and selfish creation, and
mine was soon filled with Mary Easterby, and all its hopes and desires
depended upon hers for their fulfilment. It was the thought of all,
that hers was not less dependent upon mine; and when the increasing
intimacy of the maiden with my brother, and his confident demeanor
towards herself and parents, led us all to regard him as the possessor
of those affections which every body had supposed to be mine, the
matter was no less surprising to all than it was for the season bitter
and overwhelming to me. I could have throttled my more fortunate
brother ——brother though he was——in the first moment of my rage at this
discovery; and all my love for Mary did not save her from sundry
unmanly denunciations which I will not now venture to repeat. I did not
utter these denunciations in her ears though I uttered them aloud. They
reached her ears, however, and the medium of communication was John
Hurdis. This last baseness aroused me to open rage against him. I told
him to his teeth he was a scoundrel; and he bore with the imputation,
and spoke of our blood connection as the reason for his forbearance to
resent an indignity which, agreeably to our modes of thinking, could
only be atoned for by blood.
"Brother indeed!" I exclaimed furiously in reply. "No, John Hurdis,
you are no brother of mine, though our father and mother be the same. I
acknowledge no relationship between us. We are of a different
family——of a far and foreign nature. My kindred shall never be found
among the base; and from this moment I renounce all kindred with you.
Henceforth, we know nothing of each other only so far as it may be
necessary to keep from giving pain and offence to our parents. But we
shall not be long under that restraint. I will shortly leave you to
yourself——to your conquests, and the undisturbed enjoyment of that
happiness which you have toiled for so basely at the expense of mine."
He would have explained and expostulated but I refused to hear him.
He proffered me his hand, but with a violent blow of my own, I struck
it down, and turned my shoulder upon him. It was thus, in such
relationship, that we stood, when I announced to my mother my intention
to leave the family. We barely spoke to one another when speech was
absolutely unavoidable, and it was soon known to Mary Easterby, not
less than to the persons of my own household, that our hearts were
lifted in enmity against each other. She seized an early opportunity
and spoke to me on the subject. Either she mistook the nature of our
quarrel, or the character of my affections. Yet how she could have
mistaken the latter or misunderstood the former, I cannot imagine. Yet
she did so.
"Richard, they say you have quarrelled with your brother."
"Does he say it——does John Hurdis say it, Mary?" was my reply.
She paused and hesitated. I pressed the question with more
earnestness as I beheld her hesitation. She strove to speak with
calmness, but was not altogether successful. Her voice trembled as she
"He does not, Richard——not in words; but I have inferred it from
what he does say, and from the fact, that he has said so little. He
seemed unwilling to tell me anything."
"He is wise," I replied bitterly; "he is very wise; but it is late.
Better he had been thus taciturn always."
"Why speak you so, Richard?" she continued; "why are you thus
violent against your brother? What has he done to vex you to this pass?
Let me hear your complaint."
"Complaint! I have none——you mistake me, Mary. I complain not. I
complain of nobody. If I cannot right my own wrongs, at least, I will
not complain of them."
"Oh, be not so proud, Richard; be not so proud," she replied
earnestly; and her long white fingers rested upon my wrist for an
instant, and were as instantly withdrawn. But that one touch was
enoughto thrill to the bone. It was my turn to tremble. She continued:
"There is no wisdom in this pride of yours, Richard; it is unbecoming
in such frail beings as we are, and it will be fatal to your
"Happiness——my happiness! Ah, Mary, if it be my pride only which is
to be fatal to my happiness then I am secure. But I fear not that. My
pride is my hope now, my strength. It protects me, it shields my heart
from my own weakness."
She looked in my face with glances of the most earnest inquiry for
a little while, and then spoke as follows:
"Richard, there is something now-a-days about you which I do not
exactly understand. You utter yourself in a language which is strange
to me, and your manners have become strange? Why is this! what is the
"Nay, Mary, but that should be my question. The change is in you,
not me. I am conscious of no change such as you speak of. But a truce
to this. I see you are troubled. Let us talk of other things."
"I am not troubled, Richard, except on your account. But as you
desire it, let us talk of other things; and to return——why this
hostility between yourself and your brother?"
"Let him tell you. Demand it of him, Mary; he will better tell the
story than I, as it will probablysound more to his credit, than to
mine, in your ears!"
"I know not that," she replied; "and know not why you should think
so, Richard, unless you are conscious of having done wrong, and if thus
conscious, the cure is in your own hands."
"What!" I exclaimed impetuously; "You would have me go on my knees
to John Hurdis, and humbly ask his pardon, for denouncing him as a
"You have not done this, Richard?" was her sudden inquiry,
silencing me in the middle of my hurried and thoughtless speech. The
error was committed, and I had only to avow the truth. Gloomily I did
so, and with a sort of sullen ferocity that must have savoured very
much of the expression of a wolf goaded to the verge of his den by the
spear of the hunter.
"Ay, but I have, Mary Easterby. I have called John Hurdis a
scoundrel, and only wonder that he told you not this along with the
rest of my misdoings which he has been careful to relate to you.
Perhaps, he might have done so, had the story spoken more favourably
for his manhood."
We had been sitting together by the window while the conversation
proceeded; but at this stage of it, she arose, crossed the apartment
slowly, lingered for a brief space at an opposite window, then
quietlyreturned to her seat. But her eyes gave proof of the big tears
that had been gathering in them.
"Richard, I fear that you are doing me, and your brother both
injustice. You are too quick, too prompt to imagine, wrong, and too
ready to act upon your imaginings. You speak to me with the tone of one
who has cause of complaint——of anger! Your eyes have an expression of
rebuke which is painful to me, and I think unjust. Your words are
sharp, and sometimes hostile and unfriendly. You are not what you
were——Richard, in truth, you are not."
"Indeed, do you think so, Mary?"
"Ay, I do. Tell me, Richard, in what have I done you wrong? Where
is my error? Of what do you complain?"
"Have I not told you, Mary, that I have no cause of complaint——that
I hold it unmanly to complain? And wherefore should I complain of you?
I have no right. You are mistress of your own words and actions so far
as Richard Hurdis is concerned."
The stubborn pride of my spirit was predominant, and the moment of
explanation had gone by. A slight sigh escaped her lips as she
"You are not what you used to be, Richard; but I know not what has
She had spoken soothly——I was not what I was. A dark change had
come upon me; a gloomy shadow had passed over my spirit, chilling its
natural warmthand clouding its glory. The first freshness of my heart's
feelings were rapidly passing from me. I had worshipped fruitlessly, if
not unwisely; and if the deity of my adoration was not unworthy of its
tribute, it gave back no response of favour to the prayer of the
Such were my thoughts——such the conviction which was driving me
into banishment. For banishment it was, utter, irrevocable banishment,
which I then meditated. The promise given to my mother was meant to
soothe her heart, and silence her entreaties. I meant never to return.
In deeper forests, in a wilder home, I had resolved to choose me out an
abode, which, if it had fewer attractions, had, at the same time, fewer
trials for a bosom vexed like mine. I feared not the silence and the
loneliness of the Indian habitations, when those to which I had been
accustomed, had become, in some respects, so fearful. I dreaded no
loneliness so much as that of my own heart, which, having devoted
itself exclusively to another, was denied the communion which it
Now go we in content
To liberty, and not to banishment.
—— As You Like It
Brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp?
Was I right in such a resolution? Was it proper in me, because one
had made me desolate, to make others——and not that one——equally so? I
know not. I inquired not thus at the time, and the question is
unnecessary now. My resolution was taken at a leap. It was a resolution
made by my feelings, in which my thoughts had little part. And yet I
reasoned upon it, and gave stubborn arguments in its defence to others.
It is strange how earnestly the mind will devote itself to the
exactions of the blood, and cog, and connive, and cavil, in compliance
with the appetites and impulses of the body. The animal is no small
despot when it begins to sway.
In leaving home, however, and going abroad among strangers, I did
not purpose to go alone. My arguments, which had not moved myself, had
theirinfluence upon another. A young man of the neighbourhood, about my
own age, with whom I had been long intimate, consented to go along with
me. His situation and motives were alike different from mine. He was
not only a wealthy man, in the estimation of the country, but he was
fortunate——perhaps because he was wealthy——in the favour and regard of
a young damsel to whom he had proffered vows which had proved
acceptable. He was an accepted man, fortunate or not; and in this
particular of fortune he differed from me as widely as in his monied
concerns. His property consisted in negroes and ready money. He had
forty of the former, and some three thousand dollars, part in specie,
but the greater part in United States Bank notes, then considered quite
as good. He wanted lands, and to supply this want was the chief motive
for his resolve to set out with me. The damsel to whom he was betrothed
was poor, but she wore none of the deportment of poverty. The
neighbourhood thought her proud. I cannot say that I thought with them.
She was more reserved than young women commonly at her time of life——
more dignified, thoughtful, and perhaps, more prudent. She was rather
pensive in her manner; and yet there was a quickness of movement in the
flashing of her dark black eye, that bespoke sudden resolve, and a
latent character which needed but the stroke of trial and the collision
of necessity to give forth unquenchable flame. She said little, but
that little, when spoken, was ever to the point and purpose, and seemed
unavoidable. Yet, though thus taciturn in language, there was speech in
every movement of her eyes——in all the play of her intelligent and
remarkable features. She was not beautiful, scarcely pretty, if you
examined her face with a design to see its charms. But few ever looked
at her with such an object. The character which spoke in her
countenance was enough, and you forbore to look for other beauties.
Catharine Walker was a thinking and intelligent creature, and her mind
pre-occupied yours at a glance, and satisfied you with her, without
suffering you to look farther. You felt——not as when gazing on mere
beauty——you felt that there was more to be seen than was seen——that she
had a resource of wealth beyond wealth, and which, like the gift of the
fairy, though worthless in its outward seeming, was yet inexhaustible
in its supplies.
Her lover, though a youth of good sense, and very fair education,
was not a man of mind. He was a man to memorise and repeat, not to
reason and originate. He could follow promptly, but he would not do to
lead. He lacked the thinking organs, and admired his betrothed the
more, as he discovered that she was possessed of a readiness, the want
of which he had deplored in himself. It is no unfrequent thing with us
to admire a quality ratherbecause of our own lack of it, than because
of its intrinsic value.
William Carrington was not without his virtues of mind, as well as
of heart. He was temperate in his deportment, forbearing in his
prejudices, modest in correspondence with his want of originality, and
earnest in his desire of improvement. His disposition was gentle and
playful. He laughed too readily, perhaps; and his confidence was quite
as free and unrestrainable as his mirth. While my nature, helped by my
experience, perhaps, made me jealous, watchful and suspicious; his, on
the other hand, taught him to believe readily, to trust fearlessly, and
to derive but little value even from his own experience of injustice.
We were not unfit foils, and, consequently, not unseemly companions for
Carrington was seeking lands, and his intention was to be at the
land sale in Chocchuma, and to purchase with the first fitting
opportunity. Having bought, he proposed to hurry back to Marengo,
marry, and set forth in the spring of the ensuing year for his new
home. His plans were all marked out, and his happiness almost at hand.
Catharine offered no objection to his arrangements, and showed no
womanly weakness at his preparations for departure. She gave my hand a
gentle pressure when I bade her farewell, and simply begged us to take
care of each other. I did not witness the separationbetween the lovers,
but I am convinced that Catharine exhibited far less, yet felt much
more than William, and that, after the parting, he laughed out aloud
much the soonest of the two. Not that he did not love her. He loved
quite as fervently as it was in his nature to love; but his heart was
of lighter make and of less earnest temper than hers. He could be won
by new colours to a forgetfulness of the cloud which had darkened his
spirits; and the moan of his affliction was soon forgotten in gayer and
newer sounds. Not so with her. If she did not moan aloud, she could
brood, in secret, like the dove upon the blasted bough, over her own
heart, and, watching its throbs, forget that the world held it a
propriety to weep.
Know you before whom, sir?
Ay, better than he I am before knows me. I know you are my elder
brother; and, in the gentle condition of blood, you should so know me.
The courtesy of nations allows you my better, in that you are the first
born; but the same tradition takes not away my blood were there twenty
brothers betwixt us. I have as much of my father in me as you; albeit,
I confess your coming before me is nearer to his reverence.
Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this.
Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?
I am no villain:——Wert thou not my brother I would not take this
hand from thy throat, till this other had pulled out thy tongue for
—— As You Like It
The time approached which had been appointed for our departure, and
the increased beating of my heart warned me of some trial scenes yet to
be undergone. I knew that I should have little difficulty at parting
with my father, and much less with my more fortunate brother. The
parting from my mother was a different matter, as, knowing well the
love which she bore me, I was already prepared for her sorrow, if not
agony, when bidding me farewell. Besides, resolving in my secret mind
never to return, I had a feeling of compunction for my meditated
hypocrisy, which added the annoyance of shame to my own sorrow on the
occasion. I did not think less of the final separation from Mary
Easterby, but my pride schooled my heart in reference to her. I
resolved that she should see me go without a change of feature, without
the quivering of a single muscle. I resolved to see her. A more prudent
man would have gone away in silence and in secrecy. He would have as
resolutely avoided as I sought the interview. But I was not a prudent
man. My feelings were too impetuous, my pride too ostentatious to
suffer me to hide it from exhibition. To depart without seeking and
seeing Mary would be a tacit acknowledgment of weakness. It would seem
that I feared the interview, that I questioned my own strength, to
contend against an influence which all around me suspected, but which
it was my pride not to acknowledge even to myself.
The day came preceding that on which I was to depart; and the
dinner was scarcely over, when, ordering my horse, I set out to go to
Squire Easterby's plantation. The distance was seven miles, a matter of
no importance in a country, where, from childhood, the people are used
equally to fine horses, and long distances. I rode slowly, however, for
I was meditating what I should say, and how I should demean myself
during the interview which I sought. While I deliberated I discovered
that I had overtasked my strength. I felt that I loved tooearnestly not
to be somewhat, if not severely, tried. Could it have been that at that
late moment I could have re-resolved, and without a depreciation of my
self-esteem, have turned back, I feel that I should have done so. But
my pride would not suffer this, and I resolved to leave it to the same
pride to sustain and succour me throughout. To lose emotions which I
found it impossible to subdue, I increased the speed of my horse;
striking the rowel into his flanks, and giving him free rein, I plunged
into the solitary yet crowded woods, over a road which I had often
trodden, and which was now filled at every step in my progress with
staring, obtrusive memories, which chattered as I went in sweet, and
bitter yet familiar tongues.
How often had I trodden the same region with her, when I had no
fears, and none but pleasant images rose up before my contemplation!
What harmonies were my unspoken, my unchallenged hopes on those
occasions! What pictures of felicity rose before the mind on every
side! Not that I then thought of love——not that I proposed to myself
any plan or purpose which regarded our union. No! It was in the death
of my hope that I was first taught to know that it had ever lived. It
was only in the moment that I was taught that I loved in vain, that my
boy-heart discovered it had ever loved at all. Memories were all that I
had rescued from the wreck of hope, and they were such as I had been
mostwilling to have lost forever. It was but a sad consolation to know
how sweet had been those things which I had once known, but which I was
doomed to know no longer.
Bitter were the thoughts which attended me as I rode; yet in their
very bitterness my soul gathered its strength. The sweets of life
enfeeble us. We struggle among them as a greedy fly in the honey which
clogs its wings, and fetters it forever. The grief of the heart is
sometimes its best medicine, and though it may not give us back the
lost, it arms us against loss, and blunts the sensibility which too
frequently finds its fate in its own acuteness. From my bitter thoughts
I gathered resolution. I remembered the intimacy which had formerly
prevailed between us——how we had mutually confided to each other, how I
had entirely confided to her——how joint were our sympathies, how
impatient our desires to be together——how clearly she must have seen
the feelings which I never spoke——how clearly had like feelings in her
been exhibited (so I now thought) to me; and as I dwelt on these
memories, I inly resolved that she had trifled with me. She had won me
by her arts, till my secret was in her possession, and then, either
unmoved herself, or willing to sacrifice her affections to a baser
worship——she had given herself to another whom she could not love,
butwhose wealth had been too great a temptation to her woman eyes, for
her feeble spirit to withstand.
That she was engaged to my brother, I never doubted for an instant.
It was as little the subject of doubt among the whole neighbourhood.
Indeed it was the conviction of the neighbourhood, and the old women
thereof, which produced mine; and then, the evidence seemed utterly
conclusive. John Hurdis spoke of Mary Easterby, as if the right were in
him to speak for her; and she——she never denied the imputation. It is
true I had never questioned her on the subject, nor, indeed, do I know
that she had ever been questioned by others; but where was the
necessity to inquire when there was seemingly so little occasion for
doubt? The neighbourhood believed, and it was no hard matter for one,
so jealous and suspicious as myself, to leap with even more readiness
to a like conclusion.
And yet, riding along that road, all my memories spoke against so
strange a faith. It was impossible that she who had so freely confided
to me the fancies and the feelings of her childhood, to whom I had so
readily yielded mine, should have given herself up to another, with
whom no such communion had existed ——to whom no such sympathy had been
ever shown. We had sat or reclined under the same tree——we had sought
the same walks together——the same echoes had caught the tones of our
kindred voices, and chronicled, by their responses from the hill side
and among the groves, the sentiments of our unfettered hearts. And how
could she love another? Her hand had rested in mine without a fear——my
arm had encircled her waist without a resistance on her part, or a
meditated wrong on mine. And had we not kissed each other at meeting
and parting, from childhood, and through its pleasant limits,
until——ay, almost until the moment, when the right of another first led
me to know what dear privileges had been my own? Wonder not at the
bitterness of my present memories.
It was at the moment when they were bitterest, that a sudden turn
in the road revealed to me the person of John Hurdis. I recoiled in my
saddle, and, under the involuntary impulse of my hands, bore back my
horse until he almost sank upon his haunches. The movement of both
could not have been more prompt if we had beheld a vexed and ready
adder in our path. And had he not been the adder in my path? Had he
not, by his sly and sneaking practices, infused his venom into the mind
of her upon whom my hope, which is the life of life, utterly depended?
Had he not struck at my heart with a sting not less fearful, though
more concealed, than that of the adder; and if he had failed to
destroy, was it not rather because of the feebleness of his fang, than
either its purpose or its venom. If he had not, then did I do him
grievous wrong. Ithought he had, and my soul recoiled, as I surveyed
him, with a hatred, which, had he been other than my mother's son,
would have prompted me to slay him.
I had rounded a little swamp that lay upon the side of the road,
and gave it the outline of a complete elbow. John Hurdis was some fifty
yards in advance of me. I had not seen him at dinner, and there was he
now on his way to the dwelling of her to whom I was about to pay my
parting visit. The thought that I should meet him with her, that he
might behold these emotions which it shamed me to think I might not be
altogether able to conceal, at once brought about a change in my
resolve. I determined to give him no such chance of triumph; and was
about to turn the head of my horse and return to my father, when he
stopped short, wheeled round and beckoned me to advance. My resolution
underwent a second change. That he should suppose that I shrunk from an
encounter with him of any description, was, if possible, even more
mortifying than to expose the whole amount of my heart's weakness to
Mary Easterby before his eyes. I determined to give him no such cause
for exultation, and furiously spurring forward, another instant brought
me beside him.
His face was complaisance itself, and his manner was unpresuming
enough; but there was something in the slight smile which played about
the corners ofhis mouth, and in the twinkle of his eye, which I did not
relish. It may have been that, in the morbid state of my feelings, I
saw through a false medium; but I could not help the thought, that
there was exultation in his smile, and my jaundiced spirit put on new
forms of jealousy with this conviction. The blood boiled within my
veins, as I regarded him, and thought thus; and I trembled like a dry
leaf in the gusts of November, while I suppressed, or strove to
suppress, the rebellious and unruly impulses to which it prompted me. I
struggled to be calm. For my mother's sake, I resolved to say and do
nothing which should savour of violence at the moment when I was about
to part with her forever.
"I will bear it all——all. I will be patient," I said to my soul;
"It is not long, it will soon be over. Another day, and I will be free
from the chance of contact with the base, dishonest reptile. Let him
gain, let him triumph as he may. It may be——the day may come! But no——I
will not think of such a thing; revenge is not for me. He is still,
though base, a brother. Let the eternal avenger decree his punishment,
and choose his fitting executioner."
These thoughts, and this resolution of forbearance were all over in
the progress of an instant; and we rode by the side of one another, as
two belligerents who had lately been warring to the very knife, butwho,
under the security of a temporary truce, look on one another, and move
together with a mixed air, half of peace, half of war, and neither
altogether assured of the virtue which is assumed to exist in their
"Did I not see you turn your horse, Richard, as if to go back?"
"You did," was my reply; and my face flushed as he thus compelled
me to the acknowledgment.
"Wherefore!" I paused when I had repeated the word. It would have
been too galling to have spoken out the truth. I continued thus:
"I saw you proceeding in the same direction, and cared not to be in
the way. Your good fortune is too well known, to require that you
should have fresh witnesses. Besides, my farewell——for it is only to
say farewell, that I go now——is no such important matter."
"You are right, Richard. My good fortune needs no witnesses, though
it likes them. But why should you think that you could be in the way?
What do you mean by that?"
"Mean! can you ask," I replied, with something of a sneer growing
on my lips as I proceeded; "when you know it is proverbial that young
lovers, who are apt to be more sentimental than sensible, usually, need
no third persons at their interviews? Indeed, for that matter, the
third person likes it quite as little as themselves."
"Less, perhaps, Richard, if he himself has been a loser at the
game," was the retort.
"Ay," I rejoined bitterly; but if the game be played foully, his
dislike is quite as much the result of his scorn, as of his
disappointment. He is reconciled to his loss, when he finds its
worthlessness, and he envies not the victor, whose treachery, rather
than his skill, has been the source of his greater success."
The lips of my brother grew positively livid, as he opened them, as
if in the act to speak. He was prudent in forbearing, for he kept
"Look you, John Hurdis," I continued, turning full upon him as I
spoke, and putting my hand upon his shoulder. He shrank from under it.
His guilty conscience had put a morbid nerve under every inch of flesh
in his system. I laughed aloud as I beheld him.
"Why do you shrink?" I demanded, now in turn becoming the
"Shrink——I shrink——did I shrink?" He answered me confusedly,
scarcely conscious what he said.
"Ay——did you," I responded with a glance intended to go through
him; "You shrank as if my finger were fire——as if you feared that I
meant to harm you."
His pride came to his relief. He plucked upstrength to say, "You
mistake, Richard. I did not shrink, and if I did, it was not through
fear of you or any other man."
My hand again rested on his shoulder, as I replied——my eye
searching through him all the while with a keenness, beneath which, it
was a pleasure to me to behold him again shrink and falter.
"You may deceive yourself, John Hurdis, but you cannot deceive me.
You did shrink from my touch, even as you shrink now beneath mine eye.
More than this, John Hurdis, you do fear me whatever may be your
ordinary courage in the presence of other men. I see——I feel that you
fear me; and I am not less assured on the subject of your fears. You
would not fear were you not guilty——nor tremble now while I speak were
you less deserving of my punishment. But you need not tremble. You are
secure, John Hurdis. That which you have in your bosom of my blood is
your protection for the greater quantity which you have that is not
mine, and with which my soul scorns all communion."
His face grew black as he gazed upon me. The foam flecked his
blanched lips even as it gathers upon the bit of the driven and
infuriated horse. His frame quivered——his tongue muttered inaudible
sounds, and he gazed on me, labouring but in vain to speak. I laughed
as I beheld his feeble fury——Ilaughed in the abundance of my scorn, and
he then spoke.
"Boy!" he cried——"boy,——but for your mother, I should lay this whip
over your shoulders."
He shook it before me as he spoke, and I grappled with him on the
second instant. With a sudden grasp, and an effort, to oppose which, he
had neither strength of soul nor of body, I dragged him from his horse.
Straining feebly and ineffectually to resist his coward tendency, he,
at length, after a few struggles, fell heavily upon the ground and
almost under the feet of my animal. His own horse passed away, and at
the same moment, I leaped down from mine. My blood was in a dreadful
tumult——my fingers twitched nervously to grapple with him again, but
ere I could do so, a sound——a scream——the sudden and repeated shrieks
of a woman's voice, arrested me in my angry purpose, and I stood rooted
to the spot. Too well I knew that voice, and the tremor of rage which
an instant before had shaken me to the centre was now succeeded by a
tremor far more powerful. Unlike the former it was enfeebling,
palsying——it took from me the wolfish strength with which the former
seemed to have endued me. The voice of a girl had given me the weakness
of a girl, and like a culprit I stood, as if fixed and frozen, until my
brother had arisen from the ground where I had thrown him, and Mary
Easterby stood between us.
I thought to chide thee, but it will not be;
True love can but awhile look bitterly.
—— Heywood——Love's Mistress.
You have led me,
Into a subtle labyrinth, where I never
Shall have fruition of my former freedom.
—— The Lady's Privilege
She stood between us like some judge suddenly descended from
heaven, and armed with power to punish, and I stood before her like a
criminal conscious of my demerits and waiting for the doom. An instant
before she came, and I had a thousand arguments, each, to my mind,
sufficient to justify me for any violence which I might execute upon
John Hurdis. Now, I had not one. The enormity of the act of which I had
been guilty, seemed to expand and swell with every accumulated thought
upon it; and my tongue, that had been eloquent with indignation but a
little while before, was now frozen with silence, and without even the
power of evasion or appeal. I did not venture to look her in the
face——I did not venture even to look upon my brother. What were his
feelings I know not; but if they partook, at that moment, of any of the
intense humility which made up the greater part of mine, then was he
almost sufficiently punished for the injuries which he had done me. I
certainly felt that he was almost if not quite avenged in my present
humility for the unbrotherly anger of which he had been the victim.
"Oh, Richard Hurdis," she exclaimed, "this violence, and upon your
Why had she not addressed her speech to him? Was I alone guilty?
Had he not provoked? Had he not even threatened me? The thought that
she was now again showing the partiality in his favour which had been
the source of my unhappiness, changed the tenor of my feelings. My
sense of humiliation gave way to offended pride, and I answered with
"And am I only to blame, Mary Easterby? Can you see fault in no
other than me? Methinks this is less than justice, and I may safely
deny the authority which so openly affronts justice with an avowal of
"I have no partialities, Richard——it is you that are unjust. The
violence that I witnessed was only yours. I saw not any other."
"There was indignity and insolence——provocation enough, Mary
Easterby," I replied hastily, "if not violence, to justify me in what I
did. But I knewnot that you beheld us. I would not else have punished
John Hurdis. I would have borne with his insolence——I would have spared
him his shame——if not on his account on yours. I regret that you have
seen us, though I have no regret for what I have done."
I confronted my brother as I spoke these words, as if to satisfy
him that I was ready to give him the only form of atonement which I
felt his due. He seemed to understand me, and to do him all justice,
his port was as manly as I could desire that of my father's son to be
at all times. His eye flashed back a family expression of defiance, and
his lips were closed with a resoluteness that showed him to be fully
roused. But for the presence of Mary Easterby, we had come to the death
struggle in that very hour. But we felt ourselves too greatly wrong not
to acknowledge her superiority. Vexed and sullen as I was, I was doubly
vexed with the consciousness of error; and when she spoke again in
answer to my last words my chagrin found due increase in what she said.
"I know nothing of the provocation, Richard, and need nothing to
believe that there was provocation, or that you thought so, which moved
you to what you did. I could not suppose, for an instant, that you
would proceed to such violence without provocation; but that any
provocation short of violence itself willjustify violence——and violence
too upon a brother——I cannot admit, nor, in your secret heart, Richard,
do you admit it yourself. What would your mother say, Richard, were she
to hear this story?"
"She might be less angry, and less pained, Mary Easterby, than you
imagine, if she knew all the story. If she knew——but no! why should I
recount his villanies, Mary Easterby, and least of all why recount them
to you? I will not."
"Nor do I wish——nor would I hear them, Richard," she replied
promptly, though gently. I saw the eyes of John Hurdis brighten, and my
soul felt full of bitterness.
"What! you would not believe me, then, Mary Easterby. Can it be
that your prejudices go so far as that?"
The tears gathered in her eyes as they were fixed upon mine and
beheld the sarcastic and scornful expression in them, but she replied
"You are unjust, and unkind to me, Richard;" and her voice
trembled: she proceeded:
"I would be unwilling to believe, and am quite as unwilling to
hear, any thing which could be prejudicial to the good name of any of
your family, your brother or yourself. I have loved them all too long,
and too truly, Richard, to find pleasure in any thing which spoke
against their worth. I should be not less unwilling, Richard, to think
that you could sayanything, which did not merit and command belief. I
might think you guilty of error, never of falsehood."
"Thank you, Mary; for so much, at least, let me thank you. You do
me justice only. When I speak falsely, of man or woman, brother or
stranger, friend or foe, let my tongue cleave to my mouth in blisters."
John Hurdis mounted his horse at this moment, and an air of
dissatisfaction seemed to hang upon his features. He muttered something
to himself, the words of which were unintelligible to us; then speaking
hurriedly to Mary, he declared his intention of riding on to her
father's farm, then but a short mile off. She begged him to do so,
courteously, but, as I thought, coldly; and giving a bitter glance of
enmity towards me, he put spurs to his horse and was soon out of sight.
His absence had a visible effect upon her, and I felt that much of
the vexation was passing from my own heart. There was something in the
previous conversation between us which had softened me, and when the
tramp of his horse's heels was no longer in hearing, it seemed as if a
monstrous barrier had been broken down from between us. All my old
thoughts and fancies returned to me; sweet memories, which I had just
before angrily dismissed, now came back confidently to my mind, and
taking herhand in one of mine, while leading my horse with the other,
we took our course through a narrow path which wound through a pleasant
thicket, we had trodden together a thousand times before.
"Mary," I began, as we proceeded——this is our old walk. Do you
remember? That pine has lain across the path from the first time we
"Yes, it looks the same as ever, Richard, with one exception which
I have remarked more than once and particularly this morning. The end
of it, upon which we used to sit, is scarcely to be got at now, the
bushes have grown up so thickly around it."
"It is so long, Mary, since we have used it. It was our visits that
kept the brush down. The weeds grow now without interruption from
us——from me at least; and the time is far distant when I shall visit it
again. Do you know, Mary, I am come to bid you good-bye? I leave
"To-morrow! so soon?"
"Soon! Do you think it soon, Mary? I have been making preparations
for months. Certainly, I have declared my intention for months."
"Indeed! but not to me. I did hear something of such a purpose
being in your mind; but I hoped, I mean I believed, that it was not
"Did you hope that it was not true?" I demanded with some
earnestness. She answered with the ready frankness of childhood.
"Surely I did; and when John Hurdis told me——"
"John Hurdis is no authority for me," I said gloomily, breaking off
her speech in the middle. The interruption brought us back to our
starting place, from the contemplation of which, since my brother's
departure, we had both tacitly seemed to shrink.
"Oh, Richard, this is an evil temper!" she exclaimed. "Why do you
encourage it? Why this angry spirit towards your brother? It is an evil
mood, and can do no good. Besides, I think you do him injustice. He is
gentle and good natured; he wants your promptness, it may be, and he
lacks something of your enterprise and industry. Perhaps, too, he has
not the same zealous warmth of feeling, but truly I believe that his
heart is in the right place."
"It is your policy to believe so, Mary; else where is yours?"
"Mine!" she exclaimed; and her eye was fixed upon me with an
expression of mixed curiosity and wonder.
"Ay, yours," I continued, giving a construction to the equivocal
form of my previous speech, differing from that which I originally
"Ay, yours, for if it be not, your charity is wasted. But no more
of this, Mary, if you please.The subject, for sundry reasons, is an
unpleasant one to me. John Hurdis is fortunate in your eulogy, and for
your sake, not less than his, I will not seek, by any word of mine, to
disturb your impressions. My words might prejudice your opinion of his
worth, without impairing its intrinsic value; and it may be as you
think, that I am all wrong about it. He is a fortunate man, that John
Hurdis; doubly fortunate, Mary. He has the wealth which men toil for,
and fight for, and lie for, and sell themselves to the foul fiend for
in a thousand ways; he has the favour of women; a greater temptation,
for which they do a thousand times worse. He has those possessions,
Mary, some of which I am never to have, but for the rest of which I am
even now about to leave the home, and perhaps, all the happiness of my
"You surely do not envy your brother, Richard, any of his
"Let me know what they are Mary; let them be enumerated, and then
will I answer you. Envy John Hurdis I do not; that is to say, I do not
envy him his wealth, or his wisdom, his lands, his negroes or any of
his worldly chattels. Are you satisfied now, Mary, that there is
nothing base in my envy; though it may be that he has something yet
which provokes it!"
"And what is that, Richard?"
Why did I not answer her in plain language? How often have I
repented that I did not. How much sorrow might have been spared me
else. But I was proud of heart as Lucifer; proud in my own despite,
stubborn to my own sorrow.
"Mary, ask me not," I answered. "What matter is it to know, when
even were he to lose that which I envy him, it might be that I would
not be esteemed worthy to possess it."
"Richard, there is something strange to me in your tones, and
mysterious in your language. Why do you not speak to me as formerly?
Why are you changed——why should you be changed to me? You scarcely
speak now without saying something which I do not thoroughly
comprehend. There is a hidden meaning in every thing you say; and it
seems to me that you are suspicious and distrustful of the honesty of
"And should I not be, Mary? He is not a wise man who learns no
lessons of caution from the deception of others; who, wronged once,
suffers himself to be wronged a second time from the same source. I may
be distrustful, but I am prudently so, Mary."
"You prudent, Richard! I fear that even now you deceive yourself,
as it seems to me you must have deceived yourself before. You have not
said, Richard, by whom you have been wronged——by whose dishonesty, you
have acquired all these lessons of prudence and circumspection."
How could I answer this? Who could I accuse? I could only answer by
replying to another portion of her remarks.
"You think me changed, Mary, and I will not deny it. I am certainly
not so happy as I have been; but my change has only corresponded with
the changed aspects of the world around me. I know that I have
undergone no greater change than others that I know——than you, for
example. You are changed, Mary, greatly changed in my sight."
The deepest crimson, and the utmost pallor succeeded to each other
in rapid alternations upon her cheek. Her bosom heaved——her hand
trembled within my own. I thought at first that she would have fainted,
and, dropping the bridle of my horse, I supported her shrinking form
with my arm. But she recovered herself almost instantly; and, advancing
from the clasp of my arm which had encircled her waist——with a sudden
composure which astonished me, she replied:
"I did not think it, Richard——I am not conscious of any change in
me, but it may be even as you say. I could have wished you had not seen
it, if it be so; for, of a truth, I have not striven forchange, and it
gives me pain to think that I do seem so——to my friends at least."
"It is so, Mary. I once thought——but no! wherefore should I speak
of such things now——." She interrupted me by a sudden and hurried
effort——seemingly an impulsive one.
"Oh, speak it, Richard——speak aloud——speak freely as you used to
speak when we were happy children together. Be no longer
estranged——think me not so. Speak your thought, and as I hope for
kindness from all I love, I will as freely utter mine."
"No!" I exclaimed coldly, and half releasing her fingers from my
grasp. "No! Mary, it were but a folly now to say what were my thoughts
once—— my feelings——my fancies. I might have done so in a former day;
but now I cannot. I acknowledge the change, and so must you. It is a
wise one. Ere long, Mary, long before I return to Marengo, you will
undergo another change, perhaps, which I shall not witness, and shall
not desire to witness.
"What is it that you mean, Richard?"
"Nothing——no matter what. It will be a happy change to you, Mary,
and that should be enough to make me satisfied with it. God knows I
wish you happiness——all happiness——as complete as it is in man's power
to make it to you. I must leave you now. The sun is gone, and I have to
ride over toCarrington's to night. Good bye, Mary, good bye."
"Are you going, Richard?" she said without looking up.
"Yes; I have loitered too long already."
"You will write to us——to father?"
"No! of what use to write? Wherefore tax your sympathies by telling
the story of my sufferings?"
"But your successes, Richard."
"You will believe them without the writing."
"So cold, Richard?"
"So prudent, Mary——prudent."
"And you will not go to the house?"
"What! to meet him there! No, no! Good bye——God bless you, Mary,
whatever be your changes of fortune or condition." I carried her hand
to my lips, flung it from me, and, gathering up the bridle of my steed,
was soon upon my way. Was it in truth a sob which I heard behind me? I
stole a glance backward——and she sat upon the log with her face buried
in her hands.
Why talk we not together hand in hand
And tell our griefs in more familiar terms?
But thou art gone, and leav'st me here alone,
To dull the air with my discoursive moan."
—— Marlowe and T. Nash
"She sat upon the long with her face buried in her hands." More
than once as I rode away that evening did I repeat these words to
myself. Wherefore should she exhibit such emotion? Wherefore should she
sob at my departure? Did she not love? Was she not betrothed to
another? Of this I had no doubt, and what could I think? Was not such
emotion natural enough? Had we not been born as it were together? Had
we not been together from the earliest dawn of infancy——at that period
when children, like clustering buds upon a rose bush in early spring,
rejoice to intertwine, as if the rude hands of the world were never to
pluck them asunder, and place them in different and foreign bosoms? Was
it not natural enough that she should show some sign of sorrow at thus
parting with a youthful playmate? I laboured to persuade myself that
this was all; yet the more I reflected upon the matter, the more
mysterious and contradictory did it seem. If it were that her emotion
were natural to her as a long familiar playmate, why had she been so
estranged from me, for so many previous and painful months? Why did she
look always so grave, in later days, whenever we met? Why so reserved?
So different from the confiding girl who had played with me from
infancy? Why so slow to meet me as formerly? Why so unwilling to wander
with me as before among the secluded paths which our own feet had
beaten into confirmed tracks? Why, above all, so much more intimate and
free with John Hurdis, who had never been her companion in childhood,
and who, it was the most surprising thing in the world to me, should be
her companion now? He coarse, listless, unsympathising——in his taste
low, in his deportment unattractive, in his conversation, tedious and
prosing, in his propensities, if not positively vicious, at least far
from virtuous or good!
What had they in common together? How could they mingle? How unite?
By what arts had he won her to his wishes? By what baser arts had he
estranged her from mine? Of some of these, indeed, I had heard. More
than once already had I exposed him. His hints and equivokes had, as I
thought, recoiled only upon his own head; and yet the ties grew and
increased between them, even, as the walls and barriers continued to
rise and thicken between herself and me. I degraded him, but disdained
any longer to strive for her. The busy neighbourhoodsoon informed me
how idle would be such struggles. They declared her betrothed to John
Hurdis, and did not stop at this. They went farther and proclaimed her
to have been bought by his money to see in him those qualities and that
superior worth, which, but for this, she had been slow to discover.
Should I struggle against his good fortune? Should I desire to win one
whose market value was so readily understood by all. I turned from the
contest in disdain; and wondering at her baseness as a matter no less
surprising than humiliating, I strove to fling her from my thoughts as
I would the tainted and offensive weed, which had been, at one time, a
pure and chosen flower.
I had not been successful. I could not fling her from my thoughts.
Night and day she was before me; at all hours, whatever were my
pursuits, my desires, my associates. Her image made the picture in the
scene; her intelligence, her mind, the grace of her sentiments, the
compass and the truth of her thoughts were forced upon me for
contemplation, by the obtrusive memory, in disparagement of those to
which I listened. How perfect had she ever before seemed to me in her
thoughts and sentiments! How strange that one so correct in her
standards of opinion, should not have strength enough to be the thing
which she approved! This is the most mortifying conviction of humanity.
We build the temple, but the god does not inhabit it, though we solicit
him with incense, and bring our best offerings to his altars.
I reached the dwelling of William Carrington ere I felt that my
journey was begun. The velocity of my thoughts had made me unconscious
of that of my motion——nay, had prompted me to increase it beyond my
ordinary habit. When I alighted, my horse was covered with foam.
"You have ridden hard," said Carrington.
"No; I think not. I but came from 'Squire Easterby's."
He said no more then, for the family was around; but that night,
when we retired, our conversation was long, upon various subjects, and,
in the course of it, I told him all the particulars of my rencontre
with John Hurdis, and of my parting interview with Mary Easterby. He
listened with much attention and then spoke abruptly.
"You do that girl wrong, Richard. You are quite too harsh to her at
times. I have heard and seen you. Your jealousy prompts you to language
which is ungenerous to say the least; and which you have no right to
use. You never told her that you loved her——never asked her to love
you——what reason can you have to complain, either that she is beloved
by, or that she loves another?"
"None!——I do not complain."
"You do. Your actions, your looks, your language, are all full of
complaint. The show of dissatisfaction——of discontent——is complaint,
and that too of the least manly description. It savours too much of the
sullenness of a whipt school boy or onedenied his holiday, to be manly.
Let us have no more of it, Richard."
"You speak plainly enough."
"I do, and you should thank me for it. I were no friend if I did
not. Do not be angry, Richard, that I do so. I have your good at heart,
and I think you have been fighting seriously against it. You think too
bitterly of your brother to do him justice."
"Speak nothing of him, William."
"I will not say much, for you know I like him quite as little as
yourself. Still I do not hate him as you do, and cannot agree with you,
therefore, as to the propriety of your course towards him. You cannot
fight him as you would a stranger, and have done with it."
"I could——you mistake——I feel that I could fight him with even less
reluctance than I would a stranger."
"I grant you that your hostility is bitter enough for it, but you
have too much sense of propriety left to indulge it. You cannot, and
should not, were I by, even if you were yourself willing. Have done
with him then; and as you have already separated, let your thoughts
maintain as rigid a distance from him as your person."
"And leave him the field to himself?"
"Have you not already done so? Have you not pronounced the field
unworthy fighting for! Pshaw! man, this is but wasting valour."
I listened gloomily, and in utter silence, as he went on thus:
"But," he continued, "I am not so sure either, that the field is in
his possession, or that it is so unworthy. I tell you, you do Mary
Easterby injustice. I do not think that she loves your brother. I doubt
that she even likes him. I see no proof of it."
"Aye, but there is proof enough. You see not because your eyes are
elsewhere. But say no more, William; let us drop this hateful subject."
"I am afraid your jealous spirit makes it hateful, Richard. That
girl, Mary, is a treasure too valuable to be given up so lightly. By my
soul, were I not otherwise bound, I should struggle for her myself."
"Yea! Even I——William Carrington. Nay, look not so grim and
gluttonous. You forget that you renounce the spoil, and that I am sworn
elsewhere. I would that all others were as little in your path as I
"And I care not how many crowd the path when I am out of it," was
my sullen answer.
"Ah, Richard, you were born to muddy the spring you drink from. You
will pay for this perversity in your nature. Be more hopeful——more
confiding, man. Think better of your own nature, and of the nature of
those around you. It is the best policy. To look for rascals, is to
find rascals,and to believe in wrong, is not only to suffer, but to do
wrong. For my part, I would rather be deceived than doubt; rather lose,
than perpetually fear loss; rather be robbed than suspect every one I
meet of roguery."
"I answer you through my experience, William, when I tell you that
you will pay dearly for your philanthropy. Your faith will be rewarded
"Stay!" he cried; "no more. You would not impute insincerity to
"No; surely not."
"Then let the world be false, and play double with me as it
pleases. She cannot——I know her, Dick——I know her. She will perish for
me as freely, I am sure, as I would for her. And shall I doubt, when
she is true. Would to heaven, Richard, you would believe but half so
confidently in Mary."
"And what use in that?"
"Why, then, my life on it, she will believe in you. I somehow
suspect that you are all wrong in that girl. I doubt that these old
women, who have no business but their neighbours' to attend to, and for
whose benefit a charitable society should be formed for knocking them
all in the head, have been coining and contriving as usual to the
injury of the poor girl, not to speak of your injury. What the devil
can she see in that two hundred pounder, John Hurdis, to fall in love
"No, by G——d, Richard, I'll not believe it. The girl is too humble
in her wants, and too content in her poverty, and too gentle in her
disposition, and too sincere in her nature, to be a thing of barter. If
she is engaged to John Hurdis, it is a d——d bad taste to be sure, of
which I should not have suspected her; but it is not money."
"There is no disputing tastes," I rejoined bitterly; "let us sleep
"Ah, Richard, you have an ugly sore on your wrist, which you too
much love to chafe. You toil for your own torture, man. You labour for
your own defeat. I would you could rid yourself of this self-troubling
nature. It will madden you, yet."
"If it is my nature, William," I responded gloomily; "I must even
make the most of the evil, and do as well with it as I can."
"Do nothing with it——have done with it. Believe better of yourself
and others. Think better of Mary Easterby and your brother."
"I cannot. You ask me to think better of them, yet name them
together. To have been successful in your wish, you should have put
them as far asunder as the poles. But say no more to me now, William. I
am already fevered, and can hear nothing, or heed nothing that I hear.
I must sleep now."
"Well, as you will. But, look out and tell mewhat sort of night we
have. I would be sure of a pleasant day to-morrow."
He was already in his bed, and I looked out as he desired. The
stars were few and gave a faint light. The winds were rising, and a
murmur, almost a moan, came from the black forests in the distance. It
seemed like the voice of a spirit, and it came to me as if in warning.
I turned to my companion, but he was already asleep. I could not then
sleep, desire it as I might. I envied him——not his happiness, but what
I then misdeemed his insensibility. I confounded the quiet mind, at
peace with all the world and in itself secure, with the callous and
unfeeling nature. Sleep is only the boon of the mind conscious of its
own rectitude, and having no jealous doubts of that of its fellows. I
had no such consciousness and could not sleep. I resumed my seat beside
the window, and long that night did I watch the scene——lovely beyond
comparison——before, in utter exhaustion, I laid my head upon the
pillow. The night in the forests of Alabama was never more beautiful
than then. There was no speck in the heavens; not even the illuminated
shadow of a cloud; and the murmur of the wind swelling in gusts from
the close containing woods, was a music, rather than a mere murmur. In
the vexed condition of my mood, the hurricane had been more soothing to
my rest, and more grateful to my senses.
My father blessed me fervently
But did not much complain,
Yet sorely will my mother sigh,
Till I come home again.
At the dawn of day I rose, and without waiting breakfast, hurried
off to the habitation of my father. I should have slept at home the
last night, but that I could not, under my excited state of feeling,
have trusted myself to meet John Hurdis. For that matter, however, I
might have safely ventured; for he, probably with a like caution, had
also slept from home. It was arranged between William Carrington and
myself that we were to meet at mid-day, at a spot upon the road
equidistant from both plantations, and then proceed together. The time
between was devoted to our respective partings; he with Catharine
Walker, and I with my father and mother. Could it have been avoided
with propriety, I should have preferred to leave this duty undone. I
wished to spare my old mother any unnecessary pain. Besides, to look
her in the face, and behold hergrief at the time when I meditated to
make our separation a final one, would, I well knew, be a trial of my
own strength, to which I was by no means willing to subject it. My
sense of duty forbade its evasion, however, and I prepared for it, with
as much manful resolve as I could muster.
My mother's reproaches were less painful to me than the cold and
sullen forbearance of my father. Since I had resolved to work for him
no longer, he did not seem to care very greatly where I slept. No that
he was indifferent; but his annoyance at my resolution to leave him,
made him less heedful of my other and minor movements; so he said
nothing to me on my return. Not so my mother.
"The last night, Richard, and to sleep from home! Ah, my son, you
do not think but it may be indeed the very last night. You know not
what may happen, while you are absent. I may be in my grave before you
I was affected; her tears always affected me; and her reproaches
were always softened by her tears. From childhood she had given me to
see that she sorrowed even when she punished me; that she shared in the
pain she felt it her duty to inflict. How many thousand better sons
would there be in the world, if their parents punished and rewarded
from principle, and never from passion or caprice. I am sure, with a
temperament, reckless and impatientlike mine, I should have grown up to
be a demon, had not my mother been to me a saint. I sought to mollify
"I did wish to come, mother——I feel the truth of all you say——but
there was a circumstance——I had a reason for staying away last night."
"Ay, to be sure," said my father sullenly; "it would not be Richard
Hurdis if he had not a reason for doing what he pleased. And pray what
was this good and sufficient reason, Richard?"
"Excuse me, sir, I would rather not mention it."
"Indeed!" was the response. "You are too modest by half, Richard.
It is something strange that you should at any time distrust the force
of your own arguments."
I replied to the sarcasm calmly.
"I do not now, sir——I only do not care to give unnecessary
particulars; and I'm sure that my mother will excuse them. I trust that
she will believe what I have already said, and not require me to
declare what I would be glad to withhold."
"Surely, my son," said the old lady, and my father remained silent.
A painful interval ensued, in which no one spoke, though all were
busily engaged in thought. My father broke the silence by asking a
question which my mother had not dared to ask.
"And at what hour do you go, Richard?"
"By twelve, sir; my horse is at feed now, and,I having nothing but
my saddle bags to see to. You have the biscuit ready, mother, and the
"Yes, my son——I have put up some cheese also, which you will not
find in the way. Your shirts are all done up and on the bed."
It required some effort on my mother's part to tell me this. I
thanked her, and my father proceeded.
"You will want your money, Richard, and I will get it for you at
once. If you desire more than I owe you, say so. I can let you have
"I thank you, sir, but I shall not need it; my own money will be
He had made the proffer coldly——I replied proudly; and he moved
away with a due increase of sullenness. The quick instinct of my
mother, when my father had gone, informed her of the matter which I had
been desirous to withhold.
"You have seen your brother, Richard?"
"How know you?"
"Ask not a mother how she knows the secret of a son's nature, and
how she can read those passions which she has been unable to control.
You have seen your brother, Richard——you have quarrelled with him."
I looked down, and my cheeks burned as with fire. She came nigh to
me and took my hand.
"Richard, you are about to leave us; why can you not forgive him?
Forget your wrongs, if indeed you have had any at his hands, and let me
no longer have the sorrow of knowing that the children, who have been
suckled at the same breasts, part, and perhaps for ever, as enemies."
"Better, mother, that they should part as enemies, than live
together as such. Your maternal instinct divines not all, mother——it
falls short of the truth. Hear me speak, and have your answer. I not
only quarrelled with John Hurdis, yesterday; but I laid violent hands
"You did not, you could not."
"I must speak the truth, mother——I did."
"And struck him?"
"No! but would have done so, had we not been interrupted."
"Thank God, for that. It is well for you——Richard. I should have
cursed you with bitterness, had you struck your brother with clenched
"I came nigh it, mother. He shook his whip over my head, and I
dragged him from his horse. I would at that moment have trampled him
under my feet, but that the voice of Mary Easterby arrested me. She
came between us. She alone——I confess it, mother——she alone kept me
from greater violence."
"Heaven bless her! Heaven bless the chance that brought her there.
Oh, Richard Hurdis! My son, my son. Why will you not bear more
patientlywith John? Why will you not labour for my sake, Richard; if
not for his and your own?"
She trembled, as if palsied, while I related to her the adventure
of the preceding day; and though schooled, as women in the new
countries of the south and west are very apt to be, against those
emotions which overcome the keener sensibilities of the sex in very
refined communities, yet I had never seen her exhibit so much mental
suffering before. She tottered to a chair, at the conclusion of her
speech, refusing my offer to assist her, and burying her face in her
hands, wept without restraint, until suddenly aroused to consciousness
by the approaching foot-steps of my father. He was a stern man and gave
little heed, and no sympathy to such emotions for any cause. He would
have been more ready to rebuke than to relieve them; and that feeling
of shame which forbids us to show our sorrows to the unsympathising,
made her hasten to clear up her countenance, and remove the traces of
her suffering, as he re-entered the apartment.
"Well, Richard," he said, throwing down a handkerchief of silver
dollars, a more profuse collection than is readily to be met with, in
the same region now, "here is your money; half in specie, half in
paper. It is all your own; count it for yourself, and tell me if it's
"I'm satisfied if you have counted it, sir; there's no use in
counting it again."
"That's as you think proper, my son; yet I shall be better
satisfied if you will count it."
I did so to please him, declared myself content and put the money
aside. This done, I proceeded to put up my clothes, and get myself in
readiness. Such matters took but little time, however; the last words
form the chief and most serious business in every departure. The fewer
of them the better.
So my father thought. His farewell and benedic- tion were equally
and almost mortifyingly brief.
"Well, Richard, since it must be so——if you will be obstinate——if
you will go from where your bread has been so long buttered, why God
send you to a land where you won't feel the want of those you leave. I
trust, however, to see you return before long, and go back to the old
"Return I may, father, but not to the old busi- ness," was my
prompt reply; "I have had enough of that. If I am able to be nothing
better than an overseer, and to look after the slaves of others, the
sooner I am nothing, the better."
"You speak bravely now, boy," said my father now,
"but the best bird that ever crowed in the morning has had his tail
feathers plucked before evening. Look to yourself, my son; be
prudentkeep a bright eye about you as you travel, and learnfrom me what
your own fortunes have not taught you yet, but what they may soon
enough teach you unless you take counsel from experience, that there is
no chicken so scant of flesh, for which there is not some half starved
hawk to whom his lean legs yield good picking. You have not much money,
but enough to lose, and quite enough for a sharper to win. Take care of
it. Should you find it easily lost, come back, I say, and you can
always find employment on the old terms."
"I doubt it not, father——I doubt not to find the same terms any
where on my route from Marengo to Yalo-busha. There is no lack of
employment when the pay is moderate, and the work plenty."
"I can get hundreds who will take your place, Richard, for the same
price," said my father hastily, and with no little disquiet.
"And do what I have done, sir?"
He did not answer the question, but walked to and fro for several
moments in silence, while I spoke with my mother.
"And what about your own negroes, Richard?" he again abruptly
"Why, sir, you must work them as usual if you have no objections. I
shall have no need of them for the present."
"Yes, but you may want them when the next year's crop is to be put
into the ground."
"Hardly, sir——but if I should, I will then charge you nothing for
their time. It shall be my loss."
"No, that it shall not be, Richard; you shall have what is right
since you leave it altogether to me. And now, good bye. I'll leave you
with your mother and go into the woods; you can always talk more freely
with her, than you are willing to talk with me; I don't know why,
unless it is that I have some d——d surly ways about me. Tell her if you
want any thing from me, or if I can do any thing for you, don't spare
your speech——let her know it, and if it's to be done at all, I'll do
it. I won't palaver with you about my love and all that soft stuff, but
I do love you, Richard, as a man and no sneak. Good bye, boy——good bye
and take care of yourself."
Thus, after his own rough fashion, my father spoke his parting. A
fountain of good feeling was warm and playing at heart, though it
seemed stolid and impenetrable as the rocky surface that shut it in. He
was cold, and phlegmatic in his manner only. One hurried embrace was
taken, and seizing his staff, he disappeared in another instant from my
sight. The soul of my mother seemed to expand at his departure. His
presence restrained her; and with more than woman's strength, she kept
down, while under the inspection of his stern andpiercing eye, all of
the warmth and tenderness of woman——of a mother.
"My son, my son, you leave me, you leave me doubly unhappy——unhappy
as you leave me and perhaps forever——unhappy as you leave me with a
deadly enmity raging in your breast against your brother. Could you
forget this enmity——could you forgive him before you go, I should be
half reconciled to your departure. I could bear to look for you daily
and to find you not——to call for you hourly, and to have no answer——to
dream of your coming, and wake only to desire to dream again. Can you
not forgive him, Richard? Tell me that you will. I pray you, my son, to
grant me this, as a gift and a blessing to myself. I will pray heaven
for all gifts upon you in return. Think, my son, should death come
among us——should one of us be taken during the time you think to be
gone——how dreadful to think of the final separation without peace being
made between us. Let there be peace, my son. Dismiss your enmity to
John. You know not that he has wronged you——you know not that he has
used any improper arts with Mary——but if he has, my son——admitting that
he has, still I pray you to forgive him. Wherefore should you not
forgive him? Of what use to cherish anger? You cannot contend with him
in violence; you must not, you dare not, as you value a mother's
blessing, as youdread a mother's curse. Such violence would not avail
to do you justice; it could not give you what you have lost. To
maintain wrath is to maintain a curse that will devour all your
substance and lastly devour yourself. Bless your poor mother, Richard,
and take her blessing in return. Grant her prayer, and all her prayers
will go along with you for ever."
"Mother, bless me, for I do forgive him."
Such were my spontaneous words. They came from my uninstructed,
untutored impulse, and at the moment when I uttered them, I believed
fervently that they came from the bottom of my heart. I fear that I
deceived myself. I felt afterwards, as if I had not forgiven, and could
not forgive him. But when I spoke, I thought I had, and could not have
spoken otherwise. Her own voluminous and passionate appeal, had
overcome me, and her impulse bore mine along with it. I may have
deceived her, but I, as certainly, deceived myself. Be it so. The error
was a pious one, and made her happy; as happy, at least, as, at that
moment, she could well be.
I need not dwell upon our parting. It was one of mixed pain and
pleasure. It grieved me to see how much she suffered, yet it gratified
my pride to find how greatly I was beloved. Once taught how delicious
was the one feeling of pleasure which such a trial brought with it, I
feel——I fear——that I couldfreely have inflicted the pain a second time,
if sure to enjoy the pleasure. Such is our selfishness. Our vanity
still subdues our sufferings, and our pride derives its most grateful
aliment from that which is, or should be, our grief.
In an hour I was on the road with my companion, and far out of
hearing of my mother's voice. And yet——I heard it.
But with the word, the time will bring on summer,
When briars shall have leaves as well as thorns,
And be as sweet as sharp. We must away;
Our wagon is prepared, and time revives us.
I heard it then——in long days after, when she was speechless, I
heard it——I still hear it——I shall never lose its lingering memories.
They cling to me with a mother's love; the purest, the least selfish of
all human affections. The love of woman is a wondrous thing, but the
love of a mother is yet more wonderful. What is there like it in
nature? What tie is there so close, so warm, so uncalculating in its
compliances, so unmeasured in its sacrifices, so enduring in its
tenacious tenderness? It may accompany the feeble intellect, the coarse
form, the equivocal virtue; but, in itself, it is neither feeble, nor
coarse, nor equivocal. It refines vulgarity, it softens violence, it
qualifies and chastens, even when it may not redeem, all other vices. I
am convinced that, of all human affections, it is endowed with the
greatest longevity; it is the most hardy, if not themost acute in its
vitality. Talk of the love of young people for one another; it is not
to be spoken of in the same breath; nothing can be more inferior. Such
love is of the earth, earthy——a passion born of tumults, wild and
fearful as the storm, and yet more capricious. An idol of clay——a
miserable pottery, the work, which in a fit of phrensied devotion we
make with our own hands, and in another, and not more mad fit of
brutality, we trample to pieces with our feet. Appetite is the fiend
that degrades every passion, and the flame, of which it is a part, must
always end in smoke and ashes.
Thus I mused when I encountered my friend and companion. He was in
fine spirits; overjoyed with the novelty of the situation in which he
found himself. For the first time in his life, he was a traveller, and
his nature was one of those that correspond with the generous season,
and keep happy in spite of the cloudy. His soul began to expand with
the momently increasing consciousness of its freedom; and when he
described to me the sweet hour which had just terminated, and which he
had employed for his parting with Catharine Walker, he absolutely
shouted. His separation from his former home, his relatives, and the
woman whom he loved, was very different from mine; and his detail of
his own feelings, and his joys and hopes, only added bitterness to
mine. Going and coming, the worldsmiled upon him. Backwards and
forwards, an inviting prospect met his eyes. He saw no sun go down in
night. He was conscious of no evening not hallowed by a moon. Happy
world, where the blessed and blessing heart moves the otherwise
disobedient and froward elements as it pleases, banishes the clouds,
suspends the storm, and lighting up the sky without, from the heaven
within, casts forever more upon it, the smile of a satisfied and
indulgent Deity. The disappointed demon in my soul actually chafed to
hear the self gratulations of the delighted God in his.
And yet what had been my reflections but a moment before? To what
conclusion had I come? In what——supposing me to have been right in that
conclusion——in what respect was his fortune better than mine? In what
respect was it half so good? The love of the sexes I had proclaimed
worthless and vulnerable; that of a mother beyond all price. I had a
mother, a fond, unselfish mother, and Carrington was an orphan. He had
only that love, which I professed to think so valueless. But did I
seriously think so? What an absurdity. The love of the young for each
other is a property of the coming time, and it is the coming time for
which the young must live. That of a mother is a love of the past, or,
at the best, of the present only. It cannot, in the ordinary term of
human allotment, last us while we live. It is notmeant that it should,
and the Providence that beneficently cares for us always, even when we
are least careful of ourself, has wisely prompted us to seek and desire
that love which may. It was an instinct that made me envy my companion,
in spite of my own philosophy. I would have given up the love of a
thousand mothers, to be secure of that of Mary Easterby.
I strove to banish thought, by referring to the most ordinary
matters of conversation;matters,indeed, about which I did not care a
straw. In this way, I strove, not only to dispel my own topics of
grief, but to silence those of triumph in my companion. What did I care
to hear of Catharine Walker, and how she loved him, and how she cheered
him, with a manly spirit, on a journey from which other and perhaps
finer damsels would have sought to discourage their lovers; and how she
bade him return as soon as he had bought the lands on which they were
to settle all their future lives? This was talk no less provoking than
unnecessary; and it was not without some difficulty that I could divert
him from it. And even then my success was only partial. He was forever
getting back to it again.
"And what route are we to take, William?" I demanded, when we had
reached a point of fork in the road. "You spoke yesterday of going up
by way of Tuscaloosa. But if you can do without taking that route, it
will be the better; it is forty miles out of your road to Columbus, and
unless you have some business there, I see no reason to go that way.
The town is new, and has nothing worth seeing in it."
"It is not that I go for, Richard. I have some money owing me in
that neighbourhood. There is one Matthew Webber, who lives a few miles
on the road from Tuscaloosa to Columbus, who owes me a hundred and
thirty dollars for a mule I sold him last spring was a year. I have his
note. The money was due five months ago, and it needs looking after. I
don't know much of Webber, and think very little of him. The sooner I
get the money out of his hands, the better, and the better chance then
of his paying me. I'm afraid if he stands off much longer, he'll stand
off for ever, and I may then whistle for my money."
"You are wise, and forty miles is no great difference to those who
have good horses. So speed on to the right. It's a rascally road let me
tell you. I have ridden it before."
"I know nothing about it; but thank the stars, I care as little.
When a man's heart is in the right place, sound and satisfied, it
matters not much what is the condition of the road he travels. One
bright smile, one press of the hand from Kate, makes all smooth,
however rough before."
I struck the spurs into my horse's flanks impatiently. He saw the
movement, and, possibly, the expression of my countenance, and laughed
"Ah, Dick, you take things to heart too seriously. What if you are
unfortunate, man? You are not the first. You will not be the last. You
are in a good and goodly company. Console yourself, man, by taking it
for granted that Mary has been less wise than you thought her, and that
you have made a more fortunate escape than you can well appreciate at
"Pshaw, I think not of it," was my peevish reply. "Let us talk of
"Agreed! But what other matters to talk of that shall please you,
Richard, is beyond my knowledge now. My happiness, at this moment, will
be sure to enter into every thing I say; as I certainly can think of no
more agreeable subject. I shall speak of Kate, and that will remind you
of Mary, however different may be their respective treatment of us. If
I talk of the land I am looking for, and resolve to settle on, you will
begin to brood over the solitary life in store for you, unless, as I
think very likely, it will not be long before you console yourself with
some Mississippi maiden, who will save you the trouble of looking for
lands, and the cost of paying for them, by bringing you a comfortable
"I am not mercenary, William," was my answer,somewhat more
temperately spoken than usual. I had discovered the weakness of which I
had been guilty, and at once resolved that though I was not successful,
I would not be surly. Indeed a playful commentary which Carrington
uttered about my savage demeanor, brought me back to my senses. It was
in reply to some uncivil sarcasm of mine.
"Hush, man, hush! Because you have been buffeted, you need not be a
bear. Let the blows profit you as they do a beefsteak, and though I
would not have your tenderness increased by the process, heaven keep
you from any increase of toughness. Forgive me, my dear fellow, for
being so happy. I know well enough that to the miserable, the good
humour of one's neighbours is sheer impertinence. But I am more than a
neighbour to you, Dick Hurdis. I am a friend; and you must forgive
"Ay, that I do, William," I answered frankly, and taking his hand
while I spoke. "I will not only forgive, but tolerate your happiness.
You shall see that I will; and to prove it to you, I beg that you will
talk on, and only talk of that. What were Kate's last words!"
"Come back soon."
"And she smiled when she said them?"
"Ay; that was the strangest thing of all, Richard. She did smile
when we parted, and neither then norat any time since I have known her,
have I ever seen her shed a tear. I almost bleated like a calf."
"She is a strong woman, high-spirited, firm and full of character.
She does not feel the less for not showing her feelings. Still water
"A suspicious proverb, Richard. One that has too many meanings to
be complimentary. Nevertheless, you are quite right. Kate is a still
girl—— thinks more than she says, feels more than she will acknowledge;
and loves the more earnestly that she does not proclaim it from the
pine tops. Your professing women, like your professing men, are all
puff and plaster. They know their own deficiencies, and in the
inventory which they make of their virtues, take good care to set them
down as the very chattels in possession. Like church builders and
church goers, they seek to make up, for the substantials which they
have not, by the shows and symbols which belong to them; and, truth to
say, such is the universality of this habit, that, now-a-days, no one
looks farther than the surplice, and the colour of the cloth. Forms are
virtues, and names things. You remember the German story, where the
devil bought the man's shadow in preference to his soul. Heaven help
mankind were the devil disposed to pursue his trade. What universal
bankruptcy among men would follow the loss of their shadows. Howthe
church would groan; the pillars crumble and fall, the surplice and the
black coat shrivel and stink. What a loss would there be of demure
looks and saintly faces——of groaning and psalm singing tradesmen——men
who seek to make a brotherhood and sisterhood in order to carry their
calicoes to a good market. Well, thank heaven, the country to which we
are now bending our steps, Richard, is not yet overrun by these saintly
hypocrites. Time will come, I doubt not, when we shall have them where
the Choctaws now hunt and pow-wow, making long prayers, and longer
sermons, and concluding as usual, with a collection."
"It may be that the country is quite as full of rascals, William,
though it may lack hypocrites. We have bold villains in place of
cunning ones, and whether we fare better or worse than the city in
having them, is a question not easily decided. We shall have need of
all our caution in our travelling. I have no fear of the Indians while
they are sober; and it will not be hard to avoid them when they are
drunk; but we have heard too many stories of outlaws and robbery on the
borders of the nation and within it, where the villains were not
savages, to render necessary any particular counsel to either of us
"I don't believe the half of what I hear of these squatters. No
doubt, they are a rough enough setof people; but what of that; let them
but give us fair play, and man to man, I think, we need not fear them.
I know that you can fling a stout fellow with a single flirt, and I
have a bit of muscle here that has not often met its match. I fear not
your bold boys; let them come. It is your city sneaks, Richard, that I
don't like; your saintly demure, sly rogues, that pray for you at the
suppertable, and pick your pocket when you sleep."
Carrington extended his brawny and well shaped arm as he spoke,
giving it a glance of unconcealed admiration. He did not overrate his
own powers; but, in speaking of rogues, and referring to their
practices, it was no part of my notion that they would ever give us
fair play. I told him that, and by a natural transition, passed to
another topic of no little importance on the subject.
"I don't fear any thing from open violence, William," was my reply.
"You know enough of me for that; but men who aim to rob, will always
prefer to prosecute their schemes by art rather than boldness. Valour
does not often enter into the composition of a rogue. Now I have enough
money about me to tempt a rascal, and more than I am willing to
surrender to one. You have probably brought a large sum with you also."
"All I have, three thousand dollars, more or less in United States
Bank bills, some few Alabama,and Georgia, all passable at the land
office," was his reply.
"The greater need of caution. There are land pirates on the Black
Warrior, and Alabama, who are said to be worse by far than the pirates
of the Gulf. Look to it, William, and keep your money out of sight. The
more poor your pretensions, the more certain your safety. Show no more
money than you wish to spend."
"I will not, Richard; and yet I should have no objection to put my
money down upon the butt end of a log, and take a hug with any pirate
of them all who should have it."
"More brave than wise," was my reply. "But let us have no more of
this; there are travellers before and behind us. Let our circumspection
begin from this moment. We have both need of it, being at greater risk,
as we bring, like a terrapin, our homes and all that is in them, on our
backs. You have too much money about you. In that, William, you were
any thing but wise. I wish I had counselled you. You could have entered
the lands with one fourth of it. But it is too late now to repent. You
must be watchful only. I am not at so great a risk as you, but I have
quite enough to tempt a Red river gambler to his own ruin and mine."
"I shall heed you," replied my companion, buttoninghis coat, and
turning the butt of a pistol in his bosom, making it more convenient to
his grasp. "But who are these travellers? Settlers from North Carolina,
I reckon. Poor devils from Tar river as usual, going they know not
where, to get, they know not what."
"They cannot go to a poorer region, nor fare much worse than they
have done, if your guess be right."
"I'll lay a picayune upon it. They look sleepy and poor enough to
have lived at Tar river a thousand years. But, we shall see."
An aged man whose head some seventy years
Had snow'd on freely, led the caravan;——
His sons and sons' sons, and their families,
Tall youths and sunny maidens——a glad groupe
That glow'd in generous blood, and had no care,
And little thought of the future, follow'd him:——
Some perch'd on gallant steeds——others, more slow,
The infants and the matrons of the flock,
In coach and jersey——but all moving on
To the new land of promise, full of dreams
Of western riches, Mississippi mad!
—— Southern Literary Journal
By this time we had overtaken the cavalcade, and sure enough, it
turned out as my companion had conjectured. The wanderers were from one
of the poorest parts of North Carolina, bent to better their condition
in the western valleys, "full of dreams," and as one of our southern
poets, whom I quote above, energetically expresses it, "Mississippi
mad." They consisted of several families, three or four in number, all
from the same neighbourhood, who were thus making a colonising
expedition of it; and as they had all along formed a little world to
themselves before, now resolving with a spirit not lesswise than
amiable, to preserve the same social and domestic relations in the new
regions to which they bent their steps. They thus carry with them the
morals and the manners to which they have been accustomed, and find a
natural home accordingly wherever they go. But even this arrangement
does not supply their loss, and the social moralist may well apprehend
the deterioration of the graces of society in every desertion by a
people of their ancient homes. Though men may lose nothing of their
fecundity by wandering, and in emigration to the west from a sterile
region like North Carolina, must, most commonly, gain in their worldly
goods, their losses are yet incomputable. The delicacies of society are
most usually thrust from the sight of the pioneers; the nicer harmonies
of the moral world become impaired; the sweeter cords of affection are
undone or rudely snapped asunder, and a rude indifference to the claims
of one's fellow, must follow every breaking up of the old and
stationary abodes. The wandering habits of our people are the great
obstacles to their perfect civilisation. These habits are encouraged by
the cheapness of our public lands, and their constant exposure for
sale. The morals not less than the manners of our people are diseased
by the license of the wilderness; and the remoteness of the white
settler from his former associates approximate him to the savage
feebleness of the Indian, who has been subjugated and expelled simply
because of his inferior morality.
We joined the wayfarers, and accommodating our pace to the slow and
weary movement of their cavalcade, kept with them long enough to answer
and to ask an hundred questions. They were a simple and hardy people,
looking poor, but proud; and though evidently neither enterprising nor
adventurous, yet, once abroad and in the tempest, sufficiently strong
and bold to endure and to defy its buffetings. There was a venerable
grandfather of the flock, one of the finest heads I ever looked upon,
who mingled the smiling elasticity of youth, with the garrulity of age.
He spoke as sanguinely of his future prospects in Mississippi, as if he
were only now about to commence the world; and while he spoke, his eyes
danced and twinkled with delight, and his laugh rang through the
forests, with such fervour and life, that an irrepressible sympathy
made me laugh with him, and forget, for a moment, my own dull
misgivings, and heavy thoughts. His mirth was infectious, and old and
young shared in it, as most probably they had done from childhood. We
rode off leaving them in a perfect gale of delighted merriment, having
their best wishes, and giving them ours in return.
To one ignorant of the great West; to the dweller in the Eastern
cities——accustomed only to the dullunbroken routine of a life of trade,
which is at best only disturbed by some splendid forgery, or a
methodical and fortunate bankruptcy, which makes the bankrupt rich at
the expense of a cloud of confiding creditors——the variety, and the
vicissitudes of forest life, form a series of interesting romances. The
very love of change, which is the marked characteristic of our people
in reference to their habitations, is productive of constant
adventures, to hear which, the ears tingle, and the pulses bound. The
mere movement of the self-expatriated wanderer, with his motley
caravan, large or small, as it winds its way through the circuitous
forests, or along the buffalo tracks, in the level prairies, is
picturesque in the last degree. And this picturesqueness is not a whit
diminished by the something of melancholy, which a knowledge of the
facts provokes necessarily in the mind of the observer. Not that they
who compose the cavalcade, whether masters or men, women or children,
are troubled with any of this feeling. On the contrary, they are
usually joyful and light spirited enough. It is in the thoughts and
fancies of the spectator only that gloom hangs over the path, and
clouds the fortune of the wayfarer. He thinks of the deserted country
which they have left——of the cottage overgrown with weeds——of the young
children carried into wildernesses, where no Sabbath bell invites them
to a decorous service——where the schoolmaster is never seen, or is of
little value——and where, if fortune deigns to smile upon the desires of
the cultivator, the wealth which he gains, descends to a race,
uninformed in any of its duties, and, therefore, wholly ignorant of its
proper uses. Wealth, under such circumstances, becomes a curse, and the
miserable possessor a victim to the saddest error that ever tempted the
weak mind, and derided it in its overthrow.
These thoughts force themselves upon you as you behold the patient
industry of the travellers while they slowly make their way through the
tedious forests. Their equipage, their arrangements, the evidence of
the wear and tear inevitable in a long journey, and conspicuous in
shattered vehicle and bandaged harness, the string of wagons of all
shapes, sorts and sizes, the mud-bespattered carriages, once finely
varnished, in which the lady and the children ride, the fiery horse of
the son in his teens, the chunky poney of the no less daring boy, the
wriggling Jersey——the go-cart with the little negro children; and the
noisy whoop of blacks of both sexes, mounted and afoot, and taking it
by turns to ride or walk——however cheering all these may seem at a
first sight, as a novelty, removing the sense of loneliness which you
may have felt before, cannot but impress upon you a sentiment of gloom,
which will not be lessened as you watch their progress. Their very
lightheartedness——so full of hope and confidence as it denotes them to
be, is a subject of doubtful reflection. Will their hopes be confirmed?
Will the dreams so seducing to them now, be realized? Will they find
the fortune which tempted them to new homes and new dangers? Will they
even be secure of health, without which wealth is a woful mockery.
These are doubts which may well make the thoughtful sad, and the
And yet the wayfarers themselves feel but little of this. Their
daily progress, and the new objects of interest that now and then
present themselves, divert them from troublous thoughts. The lands, the
woods, the waters, that attract the eye of the planter on every side,
serve to fix his attention and keep it in constant exercise and play.
They travel slowly, but twelve or fifteen miles a day, and by night
they encamp upon the road side, hew down a tree, clear the brush, and
build up fires that illuminate the woods for miles round. Strange,
fantastic forms dance in the mazes which the light makes among the
receding trees; and the boisterous song of the woodman, and the
unmeasured laugh of the negro, as he rends the bacon with his teeth and
fingers, and hearkens to the ready joke of his companion the while,
convey no faint idea of those German stories of the wild men, or demons
of the Hartz Mountains or the Black Forests, which we cannotbut admire,
however uncouth, grotesque and disproportioned, for their felicitous
and playful ingenuity. The watch-dog takes his place under the wagon by
night; sometimes he sleeps within it, and upon the baggage. The men
crouch by the fire, while rude and temporary couches of bush and
blanket are made for the women and the children of the party. These
arrangements necessarily undergo change according to circumstances. The
summer tempests compel a more compact disposition of their force; the
sudden storm by night drives the more weak and timid to the deserted
house, or if there be none in the neighbourhood, to the bottom of the
wagon where they are sheltered by skins or blankets, with both of which
the accustomed traveller is usually well provided. Before the dawn of
day they are prepared to renew their journey, with such thoughts as
their dreams or their slumbers of the night have rendered most active
in their imaginations. The old are usually thoughtful when they rise,
the young hopeful. Some few of both are sad, as an obtrusive memory
haunts them with threatening or imploring shadows. Others again, and
not the smaller number, cheerily set forth singing, the first day being
safely passed——singing some country ditty; and when they meet with
travellers like themselves—— an event, which, in our western woods, may
be likened to a "sail" at sea——cracking with them somehearty joke upon
their prospects, trim and caparison, with a glee that would startle the
nerves and astound the measured sensibilities of the quiet occupant of
more civilised abodes. The negroes are particularly famous for the
lightheartedness of their habit while journeying in this manner. You
will sometimes see ten or twenty of them surrounding a Jersey wagon,
listening to the rude harmony of some cracked violin in the hands of
the driver, and dancing and singing as they keep time with his
instrument, and pace with his horse. The grin of their mouths, the
white teeth shining through the glossy black of their faces, is
absolutely irresistible; while he, perched, as I have often seen him,
upon the foreseat, the reins loosely flung over his left arm, in the
hand of which is grasped the soiled and shattered instrument, the seams
and cracks of which are carefully stopped with tar or pine gum; while
the bow in his right hand, scrapes away unmercifully until it extorts
from the reluctant strings the quantity of melody necessary to satisfy
the amateur who performs, or the self taught connoisseurs that hearken
to and depend upon him. Sometimes the whites hover nigh, not less
delighted than their slaves, and partaking, though with a less
ostentatious show of interest, in the pleasure and excitement which
such an exhibition, under such circumstances, is so well calculated to
inspire. Sometimes the grinningMomus of the group is something more
than a mere mechanician, and adds the interest of improvvisation to the
doubtful music of his violin. I have heard one of these performers sing
as he went, verses suited to the scene around him, in very tolerable
rhythm, which were evidently flung off as he went. The verses were full
of a rough humour which is a characteristic of all inferior people. In
these he satirized his companions without mercy, ridiculed the country
which he left, no less than that to which he was going, and did not
spare his own master, whom he compared to a squirrel that had lived
upon good corn so long, that he now hungered for bad, in his desire of
change. This was a native figure, by which his fruitless and
unprofitable discontent with what was good in his previous condition,
was clearly bodied forth. The worthy owner heard the satire, with which
he was not less pleased than the other hearers, who were so much less
interested in it. Enough of episode. We will now resume our progress.
Had she no lover there
That wails her absence?'
O, sir, to such as boasting, show their scars,
A mock is due. Will you walk on, my lord?
She was beloved——she loved——she is, and both——
But still, sweet love is food for fortune's tooth.
—— Troilus and Cressida
That night we slept at a miserable hovel, consisting of but one
apartment into which the whole family, husband, wife, three children
and ourselves, were oddly clustered together. The house was of logs,
and the rain which fell in torrents before we sought shelter in so foul
a stye, came through upon the trundle bed in which we strove to sleep.
Still we had no occasion for discontent. The poor wretches who kept the
hovel, gave us the best they had. A supper of bacon, eggs, and
hoe-cake, somewhat consoled us for the doubtful prospect in our eyes;
and our consolation was complete, when, at rising in the morning, we
found that the storm had passed over, and we were in safety to depart.
We had not been so sure that such would be the case at retiring for the
night. Our host had quite a cut-throat and hang-dog expression, and we
lay with dirk and pistol at hand, ready for the last emergencies.
Fortunately, we had no need to use them; and bestowing a couple of
dollars upon the children, for their parents refused all pay, we
sallied forth upon our journey. That night we arrived at Tuscaloosa, a
town now of considerable size, of increasing prosperity and population,
but at the time of our visit, but little more than opened in the woods.
Here we took lodgings at the only hotel in the place, and were assigned
a room in common with two other persons. To this arrangement we
objected in vain. The chambers were too few and the crowd too great to
permit a tavernkeeper to tolerate any unnecessary fastidiousness on the
part of his guests.
Here let me pause in the narrative of my own progress, and retrace
for a brief period my steps. Let me unfold the doings of others,
necessarily connected with my own, which are proper to be made known to
the reader in this place, though only known to me long after their
occurrence. The parting with my brother will be remembered. It will be
recollected, that, when Mary Easterby came between us after I had
dragged him from his horse, and prevented strife, and possibly
bloodshed, that he left us together, and proceeded to the habitation of
her parents. There, with a heart full of bitterness towards me, and a
mind crowded with conflicting and angryemotions, he yet contrived
effectually to conceal from observation, both the struggle and the
bitterness. His words were free, easy, well arranged and good-natured
as usual, to all around, and when Mary Easterby returned to the cottage
after I had left her, she started with surprise to see how effectually
he could hide the traces of that fierce and unnatural strife in which,
but a little while before, he had been so earnestly engaged. The
unlookedfor ease with which this was done, effectually startled and
pained her. By what mastery of his emotions had this been done, and
what was the nature of that spirit which could so hermetically seal its
anger, its hate, its human and perhaps holiest passions. She saw him in
a new light. Heretofore she had regarded him but in one aspect; as a
man more solicitous of his ease than of his reputation, good natured in
the extreme, too slothful to be irritable, too fond of repose and good
living to harbour secret hostilities. If her opinion on this subject
did not suffer change, it, at least, called for prompt revision and
re-examination under the new light in which it appeared, and which now
served only to dazzle and confound her. The wonder increased as the
evening advanced. He was even humorous and witty in his easy
volubility; and but for the annoyance which she naturally felt at what
seemed to her his unnatural flow of spirits, she would have been
constrained to confess that never before had he seemed so positively
agreeable. All his resources of reading and observation were brought
into requisition, and he placed them before the company with so much
order, clearness and facility that she was disposed to give him credit
for much more capacity of nature and acquisition, than she had ever
esteemed him to possess before. He was acting a part, and had she not
been troubled with misgivings to this effect, he might have acted it
successfully. But he overshot his mark. He had not the art, the result
only of frequent practice, to conceal the art which he employed. His
purpose was to seem amiable——to be above the passions which governed
me; and to possess the forbearance which could forgive them, even where
he himself had been, in a measure, their victim. He erred in seeming,
not only above their control, but free from their annoyance. Had he
been slightly grave during the evening, had he seemed to strive at
cheerfulness, and at a forgetfulness of that which could not but be
unpleasant to any brother, he had been far more successful with Mary
Easterby. Her natural good sense revolted at the perfect mastery which
he possessed over his emotions. Such a man might well become an Iago,
having a power, such as he certainly exhibited, "to smile and smile,
and be," if not a villain, one at least, wholly insensible to those
proper sentimentsand sorrows which belonged to his situation under
existing circumstances. Little did my brother conjecture the thoughts
passing through her mind as he thus played his part. What would I have
given to know them? How many pangs, doubts and sorrows would have been
spared me? What time had I not saved, what affections had I not spared
and sheltered! But this is idle.
John Hurdis lingered late that night for an opportunity which was
at length given him. Mary and himself were left alone together, and he
proceeded to do that which, with the precipitate apprehensions of a
jealous lover, I had long before supposed to have been over. Either
emboldened by the belief that my rash conduct had sufficiently offended
the maiden, and that he had properly prepared the way for his
declaration, or, possibly, somewhat anxious lest, in my parting
interview, I had poured out desperately those emotions which I had,
with undue timidity, hopelessly and long locked up, and anxious to know
the result, he resolved to close a pursuit, which he had hitherto
conducted with no less art than perseverance. John Hurdis was a vain
man and confident of his position; and yet he did not approach that
calm, and high minded girl without some trepidation. His first overture
began with a reference to the conflict which she had so happily
"Mary, you have this day witnessed that which I should willingly
have kept forever from your knowledge. You have seen the strife of
brother with brother——you have beheld a violence, shocking to humanity,
and, if not ending like that of the first murderer, one which, but for
your timely coming, might have had, for one or both of us, a no less
fatal termination. I hope, Mary, you do me the justice to believe that
I was not to blame in this quarrel."
He drew his chair nigher to hers, as he thus spoke, and waited for
her answer with no little solicitude. She hesitated. How could she else
than hesitate when an assenting answer sanctioned the address, the
sincerity of which she seriously questioned?
"I know not what to say, Mr. Hurdis;" was her reply. "I saw not
enough of the strife of which you speak to pass judgment upon it. I
will not pretend to say who began it; I would rather not speak on the
subject at all."
"Yet he——Richard Hurdis——he spoke of it to you?" he replied
"No, I spoke of it to him, rather," was the fearless answer. "In
the first moment of my surprise and terror, Mr. Hurdis, I spoke to
Richard——to your brother——about his rashness; and yet, though I spoke,
I know not truly what I said. I was anxious. I was alarmed."
"Yet you know that it was his rashness, Mary, that provoked the
affair," he said quickly.
"I know that Richard is rash, constitutionally rash, John," she
replied gravely. "Yet I will not pretend to say, nor am I willing to
think, that the provocation came entirely from him."
"But you saw his violence, only, Mary."
"Yes; that is true; but did his violence come of itself, John? Said
you nothing? Did you nothing to provoke him to that violence? Was there
no vexing word? Was there no cause of strife, well known before,
between you? I am sure that there must have been, John, and I leave it
to your candour to say if there were not. I have known Richard long——we
were children together——and I cannot think, that in sheer wantonness,
and without provocation, he could do what I this day beheld."
A faint yet bitter smile passed over his lips as he replied.
"And do you think, Mary——is it possible that you, a lady, one
brought up to regard violence with terror, and brutality with
disgust——is it possible that you can justify a resort to blows for a
provocation given in words?"
The cheek of the maiden crimsoned beneath the tacit reproach; but
she replied without shame.
"God forbid! I do not; blows are brutal, and violencedegrading to
humanity in my eyes. But though I find no sanction for the error of
Richard, I am not so sure that you have your justification in his
violence for every provocation of which you may have been guilty. Your
brother is full of impulse, quick and irritable. You knew his nature
well. Did you scruple to offend it? Did you not offend it? I ask you in
honour, John Hurdis, since you have invited me to speak, was there not
some previous cause of strife between you, which provoked, if it did
not justify, your brother in his violence?"
"It may be; nay, there was, Mary. I confess it. And would you know
the cause, Mary? Nay, you must; it is of that I would speak. Will you
"Freely, John," was the ready and more indulgent reply. "If the
cause be known, the remedy cannot be far off, John, if we have the will
to apply it."
He smiled at what he considered the aptness of the reply. He drew
his chair still nigher to her own; and his voice fell and trembled as
"You are the cause, Mary!"
"I——I, the cause!" she paused and looked at him with unreserved
"Yes; you, and you only, Mary. Richard Hurdis hates me simply
because I love you. Not that he loves you himself, Mary," he spoke
quickly;"no, he would control you for his own pride; he would rule you
and me, and every thing alike. But that he shall not. No, Mary; hear
me——I have been slow to speak, as I was fearful to offend. I would not
be precipitate. I sought to win your regard before I ventured to
proffer mine. The affair this day prompts me to speak sooner than I
might have done. Hear me then, Mary; I love you, I proffer you my
heart, my life. I will live for you. I implore you then——be mine."
The head of Mary Easterby sank as she heard this language. Her
cheek assumed a deeper flush; there was a sorrowful expression in her
eye which did not encourage the pleader, and when she spoke, which,
after a little pause she did, it annoyed him to perceive that she was
composed and dignified in her manner, and that all trace of emotion had
departed from her voice.
"I thank you, John——I thank you for your favourable opinion; but I
am not satisfied that I should be the occasion of strife between you
and your brother. You tell me that I am——that he is unwilling that you
should love me, or that I should love you in return."
"It is——it is that, Mary," he exclaimed, hastily interrupting her
speech, which was uttered composedly, and even slow.
"I am sorry that it is——sorry that you think so, John, for I am
sure you must be mistaken."
"Mistaken!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, John, mistaken. You are——you must be mistaken. It cannot be
as you imagine. Supposing that Richard was unwilling that you should
regard me with favour, and that I should respond favourably to your
regard——for which I see no reason——"
He Interrupted her again, and with some show of impatience.
"There is reason, reason enough, though you may not see it. I tell
you that he would rule us both; his nature is despotical. A younger
brother, he has yet the management of every thing at home, and, having
been been brought up as your companion from childhood, he claims to
have some right to manage your concerns also. He would rule in all
things, and over every body, and would not have me love you, Mary, or
you me, for that very reason. Not that he loves you himself, Mary; no,
no——that might alter the case were it so——but I am sure, I know, that
he loves another. It is a sort of dog in the manger spirit that
possesses him, and which brought about our quarrel."
Here was a batch of lies, and yet there was truth in much that he
said. Without doubt I had much of that despotic nature, which he
ascribed to me, and which, more or less, affected my deportment inall
my associations; but the whole tissue of his speech was woven in
falsehood, and one difficulty in which he had involved himself by a
previous remark, led even to a greater number yet. He had ascribed to
her the occasion of our quarrel, without reflecting that he had already
persuaded her that my regards were given to another. It was difficult
now for him to account for my hostility to his success with Mary,
unless by supposing in me a nature unnaturally froward and
contradictory. And such a nature, whatever were my other faults, could
not fairly be laid to my charge. To have suffered Mary to suppose that
I really loved her, was no part of his subtle policy. For months, it
had been his grateful labour to impress upon her mind a different
After hearing him patiently through his hurried tirade, Mary
"I think you do your brother much injustice, John, when you ascribe
to him a temper so unreasonable. I have known him for many years, and
while I have often found him jealous and passionate, I must defend him
from any charge of mere wilful and cold perversity. He is too
irritable, too quick and impetuous for such a temper. He does not
sufficiently deliberate to be perverse; and as for the base malignity
of desiring to keep one, and that one a brother, from the possession of
that which he did not himself desire to possess, I cannot think it.
No,John, that cannot be the true reason. I have no doubt that you think
so, but as little is my doubt that you think unjustly."
"I know no other reason, Mary," was the somewhat cold answer.
"Nay, John, I speak not so much of the general cause of the
difference between you, as of the particular provocation of the strife
to day. Let it be as you say, that Richard is thus perverse with little
or no reason, yet it could not be that without immediate and rude cause
of anger he should rush upon you in the high road and assault you with
blows. Such violence is that of the robber who seeks for money, or the
blood-thirsty assassin who would revenge, by sudden blow, the wrong for
which he dared not crave open and manly atonement. Now, I know that
Richard is no robber, and we both know him too well to think that he
would assassinate, without warning, the enemy whom he had not the
courage to fight. Cowardice is not his character any more than
dishonesty; and yet it were base cowardice if he assaulted you this day
without provocation and without due warning."
The cool, deliberate survey which Mary Easterby took of the
subject, utterly confounded her companion. He was unprepared for this
form of the discussion. To dwell longer upon it was not his policy, yet
to turn from it in anger and impatience wasto prejudice his own cause
and temper, in the estimation of one so considerate and acute as Mary
had shown herself to be. Passing his hand over his face, he rose from
his seat, paced the room slowly twice or thrice, and then returned to
his place with a countenance once more calm and unruffled, and with a
smile upon his lips as gently winning as if they had never worn any
other expression. The readiness of this transition was again
unfavourable to his object. Mary Easterby was a woman of earnest
character, not liable to sudden changes of mood herself, and still less
capable of those sudden turns of look and manner which denote strong
transitions of it. She looked distrustfully upon them accordingly, when
they were visible in others.
"You are right, Mary," said the tempter approaching her, and
speaking in tones in which an amiable and self-accusing spirit seemed
to mingle with one of wooing solicitation. "You are right, Mary; there
was an immediate provocation of which I had not spoken, and which I
remember occasioned Richard's violence. He spoke to me in a manner
which I thought insolently free, and I replied to him in sarcastic
language. He retorted in terms which led me to utter a threat which it
did not become me to utter, and which, I doubt not, was quite too
provoking for him to bear with composure. Thence came his violence. You
were right, I think, in supposinghis violence without design. I do not
think it myself; and though, as I have said, I regard Richard's conduct
towards me as ungracious, and inexcusable, I am yet but too conscious
of unkind feelings towards him to desire to prolong this conversation.
There is another topic, Mary, which is far more grateful to me——will
you suffer me to speak on that? You have heard my declaration. I love
you, Mary. I have long loved you. I feel that I cannot cease to love,
and cannot be happy without you. Turn not from me, Mary; hear me, I
pray you; be indulgent, and hear me."
"I should not do justice to your good regards, John, nor to our
long intimacy, if I desired to hear you father on this subject. Forgive
me——leave me now——let me retire."
She arose as if to depart. He caught her hand and led her back to
the seat from which she had arisen. It was now that he trembled;
trembled more than ever, as he beheld her so little moved.
"You are cold, Mary; you dislike, you hate me," he stammered forth
"No, John, you are wrong. I neither hate nor dislike you; and you
know it. On the contrary, I have much respect for you, as well on your
own account as on that of your family."
"Family——respect! Oh, Mary, choose some other words. Cannot you not
hear me speak of warmerfeelings, closer ties? Will you not heed me when
I say that I love?——When I pray you to accept——to love me in return?"
"It must not be, John!——to love you as a husband should be
loved——as a wife should love——wholly, singly, exclusively; so that one
should leave father, mother, and all other ties only for that one——I
cannot! I should speak a base untruth, John, were I to say so. It gives
me pain to tell you this, sir; it gives me pain——but better that both
of us should suffer the present and momentary anguish which comes from
defrauded expectations, than risk the permanent sorrow of a long life,
passed in the exercise of falsehood. I am grateful for your love, John;
for the favour with which you distinguish me; but I cannot give you
mine. I cannot reply as you would wish me."
"Mary——you love another!"
"I know not, John; I would not know——I pray that you would not
strive to force the reflection upon me."
"You mistake Richard Hurdis, if you think that he loves you, Mary;
he does not; you can have no hope of him."
The coarse, cold speech of the selfish man, was well answered by
the calm and quiet tone of the maiden.
"And if I had hopes of him, or of any man, John Hurdis, they should
be entombed in the bosom, where they had their birth, before my lips,
or looks should declare them to other bosoms than my own. I have no
hopes, such as you speak of; and so truly as I stand before you, I tell
you that I know not that I have in my heart a solitary sentiment with
reference to your brother, which, according to my present thought, I
would not you should hear. That I have always regarded him with favour,
is true; that I deem him to be possessed of some very noble qualities,
is no less true. More, I tell you——it is with pain, anxious and deep
pain, that I have beheld his coldness, when we have met of late; and
his estrangement from me, for so long a period. I would give much to
know why it is. I would do much that it should be otherwise."
"And yet you know not, Mary, that you love him?"
"I know not, John; and if the knowledge may be now obtained, I
would infinitely prefer not to know. It would avail me nothing, and
might——might become known to him."
There is no need to dwell longer upon this interview, though the
vexing spirit of my brother, clothing what he spoke still in the
language of dissimulation, protracted it for some time longer, in vain
assaults upon her firmness, and, failing in that, in mean sarcasms,
which were doubly mean as they were disguised alternately in the
language of humiliation and of love. When he left her, she hurried to
her chamber, utterly exhausted with a struggle in which all the
strength of her mind had been employed in the double duty of contending
with his, and of keeping her own feelings, upon which it was his
purpose to play, in quiet and subjection. Her tears came to her relief,
when she found herself alone, but they could not banish from her mind a
new consciousness, which, from the moment when she parted with my
brother, kept forcing itself upon her. "Did she in truth, love Richard
Hurdis?" was her question to herself. How gladly, that moment, would I
have listened to her answer.
That it was he, in the times past, which held you
So under fortune; which you thought, had been
Our innocent self: this I made good to you
In our last conference; pass'd in probution with you,
How you were borne in hand; how cross'd.
——Now, if you have a station in the file,
And not in the worst rank of manhood, say it;
And I will put that business in your bosoms,
Whose execution takes your enemy off;
Grapples you to the heart and love of us,
Who wear our health but sickly in his life,
Which in his death were perfect.
Murderers. I am one, my Liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed, that I am reckless what
I do, to spite the world.
The interview had barely terminated when my brother left the
habitation of the maiden. He had preserved his composure, at least he
had concealed the passion which his disappointment had aroused within
him, until fairly out of sight. It was then that he gave vent to
feelings which I had not supposed him to possess. Base I thought him,
envious it may be; but of malignity and viperous hate, I hadnever once
suspected him. He had always seemed to me, as he seemed to others, too
fat for bitterness, too fond of ease and quiet to suffer any
disappointment to disturb him greatly. We were all mistaken. When he
reached the cover of the woods he raved like a mad man. The fit of fury
did not last very long, it is true; but while it lasted, it was
terrible, and in the end exhausting. He threw himself from his horse,
and, casting the bridle over a shrub, flung himself indifferently upon
the grass, and gave way to the bitterest meditations. He had toiled
long, without cessation, and his toils had all been taken in vain. It
did not offer any qualification to his mortified feelings to reflect
that he had also toiled dishonourably.
But on a sudden he rose, and resumed his seat in the saddle. His
meditations had taken a new course. His hopes had revived; and he now
planned projects, the character of which, even worse than those already
known to the reader, will soon be developed. He put spurs to his steed,
and rode furiously through the wood. It was deep, dark and tangled; but
he knew the country, with which, it was fortunate for him, his horse
was also familiar. Through by-paths which were made by the cattle, or
by scouting negroes, he hurried through the forest, and in a couple of
hours' space, emerged from it into a more beaten path. A ride of an
hour more carried him beyond the plantation of my father, which the
circuit through the forest had enabled him to avoid, and in the
immediate neighbourhood of a miserable cabin that stood in a secluded
and wild spot, and was seen with difficulty through the crowding
darkness. A faint light shone through the irregular logs of which it
was built, and served, while indicating the dwelling, to convey to the
observer an increased idea of its cheerlessness.
It was before this habitation, if such it might be called, that
John Hurdis drew up his horse. He alighted, and, having first led the
animal into shadow behind the house, he returned to the door in front,
and tapping, obtained immediate entrance. The room into which he was
admitted was a small one, and so filled with smoke that objects were
scarce discernible. Some light wood thrown into the fire on his
entrance served to illumine, if not to disperse it, and John spoke to
the inmates with a degree of familiarity which showed him to have been
an old acquaintance. They were old acquaintance, not only of him but of
myself. The man was a villain whom I had caught stealing corn from our
fields, and whom, but for John, I should have punished accordingly. I
little knew what was the true motive which prompted his interference,
and gave him credit for a greater degree of humanity than was
consistent either with justice or his true character.He was a burly
ruffian, a black-bearded, black-faced fellow, rarely clean, seldom
visible by day, a sullen, sour, bad-minded wretch, who had no mode of
livelihood of which the neighbours knew, except by inveigling the
negroes into thefts of property which, in his wanderings, he disposed
of. He was a constant wanderer to the towns around, and it was said,
sometimes extended his rambles to others out of the state. His rifle
and a mangy cur that slept in the fire place, and like his master was
never visible by day, were his sole companions when abroad. At home he
had a wife and one child. The wife like himself seemed sour and
dissatisfied. Her looks when not vacant, were dark and threatening. She
spoke little but rarely idly, and however much her outward deportment
might resemble that of her husband, it must be said in her favour, that
her nature was decidedly gentler, and her character as far superior as
it well could be, living in such contact, and having no sympathies save
those which she found in her child and husband. Perhaps, too, her mind
was something stronger, as it was more direct and less flexible, than
his. She was a woman of deliberate and composed manner, rarely
passionate, and careful to accommodate her conduct and appearance to
the well known humility of condition in which she lived. In this lay
her wisdom. The people around commiserated her as she was neither
presumptuousnor offensive, and tolerated many offences in him, in
consideration of herself and child, which would have brought any other
person to the whipping post. The child, an unhappy creature, a girl of
fifteen, was an idiot-born. She was pretty, very pretty, and sometimes,
when a sudden spark of intelligence lighted up her eye, she seemed
really beautiful. But the mind was utterly lacking. The temple was
graceful, erect, and inviting, but the God had never taken possession
of his shrine.
Enough! It was to this unpromising family and mean abode that John
Hurdis came late at night. The inmates were watchful and the man ready
to answer to the summons. The woman too was a watcher, probably after
an accustomed habit, but the idiot girl slept on a pallet in one corner
of the apartment. When John Hurdis entered, she raised her head, and
regarded him with a show of interest which he did not appear to see. He
looked with some curiosity at her couch, however; but for an instant
only. His regards that night were for her father only.
"Ah, Pickett," said he with an air of jocularity on entering, "how
goes it? How does the world use you now a-days? How d'ye do, Mrs.
Pickett? And Jane——how is Jane?"
"I'm well, sir, I'm quite well, Mr. John," was the quick response
of the poor innocent in the corner, whom every body thought asleep. The
answers of Pickett and his wife were not so prompt. That of the former
was somewhat surly, that of the wife slow. A brief formal dialogue
passed between the party in which John Hurdis spoke with infinite good
humour. He did not seem to heed the coldness of his host and hostess;
and all traces of his late anger had passed effectually from his voice
and visage. His only concern seemed now to conciliate those whom he
sought, and it does not take long for the rich man to make the poor and
the inferior unbend. In a little time John Hurdis had the satisfaction
to see the hostess smile, and to hear a broken and surly chuckle of
returning good nature from the lips of Pickett. The preliminary
difficulty was over; and making a sign to Pickett, while his wife's
back was turned, the guest led the way to the door bidding the latter
good night. The idiot girl half raised herself in the bed and answered
for the mother.
"Good night, Mr. John, good night, Mr. John."
Pickett followed Hurdis to the door, and the two went forth
They soon buried themselves in the thick cover of the neighbouring
wood, when John Hurdis, who had led the way, turned and confronted his
"Well, 'Squire," said Pickett with abrupt familiarity, "I see you
have work for me. What's the mischief to night?"
"You are right. I have work for you, and mischief. Will you do it?"
"If it suits me. You know I'm not very nice. Let's hear the kind of
work, and then the pay that I'm to get for doing it, 'fore I answer."
"Richard Hurdis goes for the 'Nation' to-morrow," said John in a
lower tone of voice.
"Well, you're glad to get rid of him, I suppose. He's out of your
way now. I wish I could be certain that he was out of mine."
"You can make it certain."
"'Tis that I came about. He goes to the 'Nation,' on some wild
goose chase; not that he wishes to go, but because he thinks that Mary
Easterby is fond of me."
"So, the thing works, does it?"
"Ay, but does not work for me, though it may work against him. I
have succeeded in making them misunderstand each other, but I have not
yet been successful in convincing her that I am the only proper person
for her. You know my feeling on that subject, it is enough that she
declines my offer."
"Well, what then are you to do?"
"That troubles me. She declines me simply because she prefers him."
"But you say she has no hope of him. She thinks he loves another."
"Yes! But that does not altogether make her hopeless. Hope is a
thing not killed so easily; and when women love, they cling to their
object even when they behold it in the arms of another. The love lives,
in spite of them, though, in most cases, they have the cunning to
conceal it. Mary Easterby would not give up the hope of having Richard
Hurdis, so long as she could lay eyes on him, and they were both
"Perhaps you're right; and yet, if Richard drives for the 'Nation'
she'll lose sight of him, and then ——"
"Will he not return?" replied the other sternly and gloomily. "Who
shall keep him away? The discontent that drives him now will bring him
back. He goes because he believes that she is engaged to me. He will
come back because he doubts it. He will not sleep until he finds out
our deception. They will have an explanation——had he not been blinded
by his own passions he would have found it out before——and then all my
labors will have been in vain. It will be my turn to go among the
"Well, but 'Squire, while he's off and out of sightcan't you get
her to marry you and have done with it?" said Pickett.
"Not easily; and if I could, what would it avail? Loving him as she
does, I should but marry her for him. His hand would be in my dish, and
I should but fence in a crop for his benefit. No! no! that would not do
either. I tell you, where these women once love a man, to see him, to
have opportunity with him, is fatal, though they be lawfully bound to
another. I should not sleep secure in her arms, as I should not be able
to think that I alone was their occupant."
"Now that's what I call being of a mighty jealous sort of
disposition, 'Squire. I'm sure that you're wrong in your notion of Miss
Mary. I don't think she'd be the woman to do wrong in that way. She's a
mighty nice girl, is so modest and well behaved, and so much of a lady;
I'm always afraid to look at her when I speak to her, and she carries
herself so high, that I'm sure if a man had any thing wrong to say to
her, he could not say it if he looked at her and saw her look."
"Ay, that is her look to you, Pickett, and to me, perhaps, whom she
does not love," said John bitterly; "but let her look on Richard
Hurdis, and meet his eye, and the matter changes fast enough. She has
no dignified look for him; no cold, composed, commanding voice. Oh, no!
It is then herturn to tremble, and to speak brokenly and with downcast
eyes; it is then her turn to feel the power of another, and to forget
her own; to be awed, rather than to awe; to fear herself rather than to
inspire that fear in him which she may in both of us."
"I reckon he feels it too, 'Squire, quite as much if not more than
you; for, say what you please, there's no saying Richard Hurdis don't
love her. I've watched him often when he's been with her, and when he
has not thought that any body was looking at him, and that was at a
time, too, when I had no reason to like any bone in his skin, and I saw
enough to feel certain that he felt a real earnest love for her."
"Let us say no more of that now," said John Hurdis coldly, as if
not altogether pleased with the tone of his companion's speech. "Do you
like him any better now, Ben Pickett? Is he not the same man to you now
that he has ever been? Would he not drive you out of the country if he
could? Has he not tried to do it? And who was it stood between you and
the whipping post, when at the head of the county regulators he would
have dragged you to it, for robbing the corn house and buying cotton
from the negroes? Have you forgotten all this, Ben Pickett? And do you
like Richard Hurdis any better when you remember that, to this moment,
he has not relaxed against you, and, to my knowledge, only a month ago
threatened you with the horse-whip, if he found you prowling about the
"Ay, I hear you," said the man, while the thick sweat actually
stood upon his forehead, as he listened to an enumeration of events
from which his peril had been great: "I hear you, John Hurdis; all is
true that you say, but you say not all the truth. Did you hear what I
said to Richard Hurdis when he threatened me with the horse-whip? Do
you know what I said to myself and swore in my own heart, when he would
have hauled me to the whipping-post from which you saved me?"
"No; what said you? what did you swear?"
"To put my bullet through his head, if he laid the weight of his
finger upon me; and but that you saved him, in saving me, so surely
would I have shot him, had the regulators tied me to the tree and used
one hickory upon me."
"I was a fool for saving you then, Pickett; that's all. Had I known
that you could so well have fought your own battles, I had let him go
on. I am not sorry, Ben, that I saved you from the whip, but by God, I
am sorry to the soul that I saved him from the shot."
"I'm not sorry!" said the other. "Let Richard Hurdis live; I wish
him no harm. I could even like him; for, blast me, but he has something
about himthat I'm always glad to see in a man, and if he would only let
"He will not let you alone, Ben Pickett. He cannot let you alone,
if you would look at the matter. He comes back from the 'Nation,' and
Mary Easterby is still unmarried. What then?——an explanation takes
place between them. They find out the truth. They find, perhaps, that
you put the letter in the way of Mary that told her about Richard's
doings at Coosauda; that you have been my agent in breeding the
difference between them. More than this, they marry, and Richard brings
his wife home to live with him at the old man's, where, if he does
that, he will have full authority. Do you suppose when that time comes,
I will stay in the neighbourhood? Impossible. It will be as impossible
for me to stay here as it will be for you. The moment I go, who will
protect you? Richard will route you out of the neighbourhood; he has
sworn to do it; and we both know him too well not to know that if he
once gets the power to do what he swears, he will not hesitate to use
it. He will drive you to Red River as sure as you're a living man."
"Let the time come," said the other gloomily, "let the time come.
Why do you tell me of this matter now, 'Squire?"
"You are cold and dull, Ben Pickett. You are getting old," said
John Hurdis with something like asperity. "Do I not tell you other
things? Do you not hear that Richard Hurdis sets off to-morrow for the
'Nation?' I have shown you that his absence is of benefit to both of
us, that his return is to our mutual injury. Why should he return? The
gamblers may cut his throat, and the fighting Choctaws may shoot him
down among their forests, and nobody will be the wiser, and both of us
the better for it."
"Why, let them, it will be a happy riddance," said Pickett.
"To be sure, let them," said the other impatiently; "but suppose
they do not, Ben? Should we not send them a message telling them that
they will serve and please us much by doing so? that they will rid us
of a very troublesome enemy, and that they have full permission to put
him to death as soon as they please?"
"Well, to say the truth, 'Squire John," said Pickett, "I don't see
what you're driving at."
"You mean that you won't see, Ben," responded the other quickly;
"listen awhile. You are agreed that it will do us no small service if
the gamblers, or the Choctaws put a bullet through the ribs of Richard
Hurdis; it will be a benefit rather than a harm to us."
"But suppose, they think it will not benefit them, are we to forego
our benefits because they showthemselves selfish? Shall Richard Hurdis
survive the Choctaws, and come home to trouble us? Think of it, Ben
Pickett; what folly it would be to suffer it. Why not speed some one
after the traveller, who will apprise the gamblers, or the Choctaws, of
our enemy——who will show them how troublesome he is——how he carries a
good sum of money in his saddle-bags? How easy it will be for them to
stop a troublesome traveller who has money in his saddle-bags? It may
be, that such a messenger might do the business himself in
consideration of the benefit and the money; but how should we or any
body know that it was done by him? The Choctaws, Ben——the Choctaws will
get the blame, we the benefit, and our messenger, if he pleases, the
"I understand you now, 'Squire," said Pickett.
"I knew you would," replied John Hurdis, "and only wonder that you
did not readily comprehend before. Hear me, Ben; I have a couple of
hundred dollars to spare——they are at your service. Take horse
to-morrow, and track Richard Hurdis into the 'Nation;' he is your enemy
and mine. He is gone there to look for land. Give him as much as he
needs. Six feet will answer all his purposes, if your rifle carries as
truly now, as it did a year ago."
The man looked about him with apprehension ere he replied. When he
did so, his voice had sunk into a hoarse breathing, the syllables of
which were scarce distinguishable.
"I will do it," he said, grasping the hand of his cold and cowardly
tempter. "I will do it; it shall be done; but by God, 'Squire, I would
much rather do it with his whip warm upon my back, and his angry curses
loud in my ears."
"Do it as you will, Ben; but let it be done. The Choctaws are cruel
and treacherous people, and these gamblers of the Mississippi are quite
as bad. Their murders are very common. It was very imprudent for
Richard to travel at this season; but if he dies, he has no body but
himself to blame."
They separated. The infernal compact was made and chronicled in
their mutual memories, and witnessed only by the fiends that prompted
the hellish purpose.
Thou trust'st a villain, he will take thy hand
And use it for his own; yet when the brand
Hows the dishonor'd member——not his loss——
Thou art the victim!
—— The Flight
When Pickett returned to his hovel on leaving John Hurdis, his wife
abruptly addressed him thus:
"Look you, Ben, John Hurdis comes after no good to night. I see it
in that smile he has. I know there's mischief in his eye. He laughs but
he does not look on you while he laughs——it isn't an honest laugh as if
the heart was in it, and as if he wasn't afraid to have every thing
known in his heart. He's a bad man, Ben, whatever other people may
think; and though he has helped you once or twice, I don't think him
any more certain your friend for all that. He only wants to make use of
you, and if you let him go too far, Ben, mark my words, he'll leave you
one day in a worse hobble than ever he helped you out of."
"Pshaw, Betsy, how you talk——you've a spiteagainst John Hurdis, and
that's against reason too. You forget how he saved me from his
"No, I do not forget it, Ben. He did no more than any man should
have done, who saw a dozen about to trample upon one. He saved you, it
is true, but he has made you pay him for it. He has made you work for
him long enough for it, high and low, playing a dirty sort of a game,
carrying letters to throw in people's paths, there's no knowing for
what; and telling you what to say in people's ears, when you havn't
always been certain that you've been speaking truth when you did so. I
don't forget that he served you, Ben, but I also know that you are
serving him day and night in return. Besides, Ben, what he did for you
was what one gentleman might readily do for another——I'm not sure that
what he makes you do for him isn't rascal work."
"Hush!" said Pickett, in a whisper, "you talk too loud. Is Jane
The watchful idiot, with the cunning of imbecility which still has
its object, closed her eyes, and put on the appearance of one lost to
"Yes, she's asleep; but what if she does hear us? She's our own
child, though not a wise one, and it will be hard if we can't trust
ourselves to speak before her," said the mother.
"But there's something, Betsy, that we shouldn't speak at all
before any body."
"I hope the business of John Hurdis aint of that character, Ben
Pickett," she retorted quickly.
"And what if it is?" he replied.
"Why then, Ben, you should have nothing to do with it, if you'll
mind what I'm telling you. John Hurdis will get you into trouble. He's
a bad man."
"What, for helping me out of trouble?"
"No, but for hating his own brother as he does, his own flesh and
blood as I may say, the child that has suckled at the same nipple with
himself; and what's worse, for fearing the man he hates. Now, I say
that the hate is bad enough and must lead to harm; but when he's a
coward that hates, then nothing's too bad for him to do, provided he
can keep from danger when he does it. That's the man to light the
match, and run away from the explosion. He'll make you the match, and
he'll take your fingers to light it, and then take to his own heels and
leave you all the danger."
"Pshaw, Betsy, you talk like a woman and a child," said Pickett
with an air of composure and indifference which he was far from
"And so I do, Ben; and if you'll listen to a woman's talk, it will
be wise. It would have saved you many times before, and it may do much
to save you now. Why should you do any business that you're afraid to
lay out to me. There must be something wrong in it, I'm sure; and it
can't be nosmall wrong neither, Ben; that you're afraid to tell me.
What should the rich 'Squire Hurdis want of Ben Pickett the squatter?
Why should he come palavering you, and me, and that poor child with
fine words; and what can we, poor and mean and hated as we are by every
body, what can we do for so great a man as him. I tell you, Ben
Pickett, he wants you to do dirty work, that he's ashamed and afraid to
do himself. That's it, Ben; and there's no denying it. Now, why should
you do his dirty work? He's better able to do it himself, he's rich
enough to do almost what he pleases; and you, Ben, you're too poor to
do even what is proper. These rich men ask what right a poor man has to
be good and honest; they expect him to be a rascal."
"Well," said the other sulkily, "we ought to be so then, if it's
only to oblige them."
"No, Ben Pickett, we ought hardly to oblige them in any thing; but,
whether we would oblige them or not, my notion is, we ought to keep
different tracks from them altogether. If we are too mean and poor, to
be seen by them without turning up their noses, let us take care not to
see them at any time, or if we do see them, let us make use of our eyes
to take different tracks from them. There's always two paths in the
world, the one's a big path for big people; let them have it to
themselves, and let us keep off it; the other's a little path for
thelittle, let them stick to it and no jostling. It's the misfortune of
poor people that they're always poking into the wrong path, trying to
swell up to the size of the big, and making themselves mean by doing
so. No wonder the rich despise such people. I despise them myself,
though God knows I'm one of the poorest."
"I'm not one to poke in big paths," said Pickett.
"No! But why do big folks come out of their road into yours, Ben
Pickett? I'll tell you. Because they think they can buy you to go into
any path, whether big or little, high or low, clean or dirty. John
Hurdis says in his heart, I'm rich; Pickett's poor;——my riches can buy
his poverty to clean the road for me where it's dirty. Isn't that it,
The keen gray eyes of the woman were fixed on him with a glance of
penetration, as she spoke these words, that seemed to search his very
soul. The eyes of Pickett shrank from beneath their stare.
"Betsy, you're half a witch," he exclaimed with an effort at
jocularity which was not successful.
"I knew it was something like that, Ben Pickett. John Hurdis would
never seek you, except when he had dirty work on hand. Now, what's the
work, Ben Pickett?"
"That's his secret, Betsy; and you know I can't tell you what
concerns only another and not us."
"It concerns you; it is your secret too; Ben Pickett——it is my
secret——it is the secret of that poor child."
The speaker little knew that the idiot was keenly listening. She
"If it's to do his work, and if it's work done in his name, work
that you won't be ashamed of, and he won't be ashamed of when it's
done, Ben Pickett, then it's all right enough. You may keep his secret
and welcome; I would not turn on my heel to know it. But if it's dirty
work that you'll both be ashamed of, such as carrying stories to Mary
Easterby, who is a good girl, and deserves the best; then it's but too
much of that sort of work you've done already."
"It's nothing like that," said Pickett quickly. "But don't bother
me any more about it, Betsy; for if you were to guess a hundred times,
and guess right, I shouldn't tell you. So have done and go to bed."
"Ben Pickett, I warn you, take care what you do. This man, John
Hurdis, is too strong for you. He's winning you fast, he'll wrong you
soon. You're working for him too cheaply; he'll laugh at you when you
come for pay; and may be, put to your own account the work you do on
his. Beware, look what you're about, keep your eyes open; for I see
clear as day light, that you're in a bad way. The work must be worse
than dirty you're goingupon now, when you are so afraid to speak of it
"I tell you, Betsy, shut up. It's his business not mine, and I'm
not free to talk of it even to you. Enough that I don't work for
nothing. The worst that you shall know of it will be the money it will
"The devil's money blisters the fingers. And what's money to me,
Ben Pickett, or what is money to you? What can money do for us? Can it
make men love us and seek us? Can it bring us pride and character? Can
it make me forget the scorn that I've been fed on from the time I was a
simpler child, than that poor idiot in the corner? Can it bring sense
into her mind, and make us proud of her? Can it make you forget or
others forget, Ben Pickett, that you have been hauled to the whipping
post, and saved from it only to be the slave of a base coward, such as
John Hurdis has ever been, and ever will be?"
"No more of that, Betsy, if you please. You are quite too fond of
bringing up that whipping post."
"And if I do, it has its uses. I wish you would think of it half as
frequently, Ben Pickett; you would less frequently stand in danger of
it. But I speak of it, because it is one of the black spots in my
memory——like the lack of that child——like the scorn of those around
us——like every thing that belongs to us, as we are living now. Why will
you not go as I wish you, away from this neighbourhood? Let us go to
the Red River where we know no body; where no body knows us. Let us go
among the savages, if you please, Ben Pickett, where I may see none of
the faces that remind me of our shame."
"Why, so we will. Just as you say, Betsy. I will but do some
business that I'm bound for, that will give us money to go upon and
"No, don't wait for that. Let the money stay; we have enough to
carry us to the Red River, and we shall want but little of it there.
When you talk to me of money you vex me. We have no use for it. We want
hominy only, and homespun. These are enough to keep from cold and
hunger. To use more money, Ben Pickett, we must be good and conscious
of good. We must not stand in fear and shame, to meet other than our
own eyes. I have that fear and shame, Ben Pickett; and this dirty
business of John Hurdis——it must be dirty since it must be a
secret——makes me feel new fear of what is to come; and I feel shame
even to sickness as I think upon it. Hear me, Ben; hear me while it is
in time for me to speak. There may not be time to-morrow, and if you do
not listen to me now, you might listen another day in vain. Drop this
business of John Hurdis——"
"I've promised him."
"Break your promise."
"No! d——d if I do that!"
"And why not? There's no shame in breaking a bad promise. There's
shame and cowardice in keeping it."
"I'm no coward, Betsy."
"You are! You're afraid to speak the truth to me, to your wife and
child. I dare you to wake up that poor idiot and say to her, weak and
foolish as she is, the business you're going on for John Hurdis. You'd
fear that, in her very ignorance, she would tell you that your
intention was crime!"
"Ay, crime——lies perhaps in a poor girl's ear——theft perhaps——the
robbery of some traveller on the highway; perhaps——perhaps——Oh, Ben
Pickett, my husband, I pray to God, it be not murder!"
"Damnation, woman! will you talk all night?" cried the pale and
quivering felon in a voice of thunder. "To bed, I say, and shut up. Let
us have no more of this."
The idiot girl started in terror from her mattress.
"Lie down, child; what do you rise for?"
The stern manner of her father frightened her into obedience, and
she resumed her couch, wrapping the coverlet over her head, and thus,
hiding her face and hushing her sobs at the same moment. Thewife
concluded the dialogue by a repetition of her exhortation in brief.
"Once more, Ben, I warn you. You are in danger. You will tell me
nothing; but you have told me all. I know you well enough to know that
you have sold yourself to do wrong——that John Hurdis has bought you to
do that which he has not the courage to do himself——"
"Yet you say I am a coward."
"I say so still. I wish you were brave enough to want no more money
than you can honestly get; and when a richer man than yourself comes to
buy you to do that which he is too base to do himself, to take him by
the shoulder and tumble him from the door. Unfortunately you have
courage enough to do wrong——there's a greater courage than that, Ben
Pickett, that strengthens even a starving man to do right."
Pickett felt that he had not this courage, and his wife had before
this discovered that the power was not in her to endow him with it.
Both parties were compelled, when they discovered the idiot girl to be
awake and watchful, to forego their discussion of the subject for the
night; and when the woman did resume it, which she did with a tenacity
of purpose, worthy of a more ostentatious virtue; she was only
successful in arousing that sort of anger in her companion, which is
but too much the resort of the wilful when the argument goes against
them. It was more easy for Pickett, with the sort of courage which he
possessed, to do wrong than right, and having once resolved to sin, the
exhortations of virtue were only so many suggestions to obstinacy. With
a warmth and propriety infinitely beyond her situation did the wife
plead; but her earnestness, though great, was not equal to the
doggedness of his resolve. She was compelled to give up the cause in
His was the fault; be his the punishment.
'Tis not their own crimes only, men commit;
They harrow them into another's breast,
And they shall reap the bitter growth with pain.
The messenger of blood departed the next day upon his fearful
mission. His calculation was to keep due pace with his victim; to watch
his progress; command his person at all times, and to avail himself of
the first fitting opportunity, to execute the cruel trust which he had
undertaken. Such a purpose required the utmost precaution and some
little time. To do the deed might be often easy; to do it secretly and
successfully, but seldom. He was to watch the single moment in a
thousand, and be ready to use it before it was gone forever.
"You will not be gone long, Ben?" said the wife, as he busied
himself in preparation.
"I know not——a day, a week, a month!——I know not. It matters
little; you can do without me."
"Yes, your wife can do without you——I wish that John Hurdis could
do without you also. I do notlike this business, Ben, upon which he
sends you now."
"What business? what know you of it?" he demanded hastily. "Why
should you dislike the business which you know nothing about?"
"That's the very reason that makes me dislike it. Why should I know
nothing about it? Why should a man keep his business from his wife's
"Good reason enough, to keep it from the knowledge of every body
else. You might as well print it in the Montgomery paper, as tell it to
a woman. There won't be a Methodist preacher that don't hear of it the
first week, and not a meeting in the country that won't talk of it the
second. They have quite enough of other folks's affairs to blab, Betsy;
we needn't give them any of mine."
"You well enough know, Ben Pickett, that this sort of talk means
nothing. You know I am not the woman to make her own or her husband's
concerns the business of the country. I go not often to the church. I
do not often see the preachers, and there is very little to say between
us. It might be much better if there were more; and you know well
enough, that I see few women and have no neighbours. We are not the
people to have neighbours—— what would tempt them? It is enough for me,
Ben, to stay at home, and keep as much out of sight as I can,as well on
your account as on account of that poor ignorant creature."
"Pshaw! you talk too much of Jane, and think too much of her folly.
She is no more a fool than most other girls of her age, and talks far
less nonsense. She's quite as good as any of them, and a devilish sight
handsomer than most of them. There's hardly one that wouldn't be glad
to have her face."
"You mean me, father Ben, don't you?" said the witless one, perking
up her face with a smile and raising it under the chin of Pickett.
"Go, Jane, go and put the things to rights on the table, and don't
mind what we're a saying."
The girl obeyed reluctantly, and the father, tapping her on the
head kindly, the only parting which he gave her, left the house, and
proceeded to his horse which was fastened to the fence. There he
arranged the saddle, and while thus employed his wife came to him.
"Ben Pickett," she said, resuming the subject of her apprehensions,
"I heard that Richard Hurdis is going to the 'Nation' to day."
"Well! what of that!" said Pickett gruffly.
"Nothing but this, Ben; I'm afraid that his going to the 'Nation'
has something to do with your journey. Now, I don't know what it is
that troubles me, but I am troubled, and have been so ever since I
heard that Richard was going to day."
"And how did you hear it?"
"Jane, the fool! how did she hear it?"
"She is a fool, but there's no need for you to call her so always,
Ben. It's not right; it's not like a father. As for where she heard it,
I can't say; I didn't ask her; perhaps from some of the negroes. old
Billy, from 'Squire Easterby's was over here, last night."
"Last night! old Billy! at what hour was he here?"
"Nay, I don't know exactly. He went away just before John Hurdis
Pickett appeared annoyed by the intelligence, but was silent and
concealed his annoyance, whatever may have occasioned it, by strapping
his saddle and busying himself with the bridle of his horse.
"You say nothing, Ben; but tell me, I beg you, and ease my mind,
only tell me that the business you're going upon don't concern Richard
Hurdis. Say, only say, you don't go the same road with Richard Hurdis,
that you didn't know that he was going, that you won't follow him."
"And how should I say such a thing, Betsy," replied the now
obdurate ruffian, "when I don't know which road he's going? How can I
follow him, if I don't know the track he takes?"
"That's not it——not it. Tell me that you won'ttry to find it, that
you don't mean to follow him, that——Oh! my God, that I should ask such
a thing of my husband——that you are not going after Richard Hurdis to
"Betsy, you're a worse fool than Jane;" was the reply of Pickett.
"What the devil put such nonsense into your head? What makes you think
I would do such a thing? It's true, I hate Dick Hurdis, but I don't
hate him bad enough to kill him, unless in fair fight. If he'll give me
fair fight at long shot, by God, I'd like nothing better than to crack
at him; but I'm not thinking of him. If I had wanted to kill him, don't
you think I'd a done it long before, when he was kicking me about like
a foot-ball. You may be sure I won't try to do it now, when he's let me
alone, and, when, as you say yourself, he's going out of the country.
Damn him, let him go in peace, say I."
"Amen," exclaimed the woman, "amen; yet, look you, Ben Pickett.
What you mightn't feel wicked enough to do for yourself, you may be
weak enough to do for one who is more wicked than you are. That's the
misfortune of a great many people; and the devil gets them to do a
great deal of work, which they wouldn't be willing to do on their own
account. Oh, Ben, take care of that John Hurdis If you didn't hate
Richard Hurdis bad enough to kill him on your own score, don't let that
cowardlyJohn tempt you to do it for him. I know he hates his brother
and wants to get him out of the way; for he wants to marry Mary
Easterby; but don't let him make use of you in any of his wickedness.
He stands no chance of Mary with all his trying, for I know she won't
have him; and so, if you work for him, you will work against the wind,
as you have done long enough both for yourself and him. But whether you
work for him or not, hear me, Ben Pickett; do nothing that you'll be
ashamed or afraid to hear of again. My mind misgives me about Dick
Hurdis. I wish you were not a-going——I wish you were not a-going the
same day with him."
"Don't I tell you, Betsy, I'm not on his trail? I shan't look after
him, and don't care to see him."
"Yes, but should you meet?"
"Well, what then? Would you have me cut and run like a nigger's
"No, but I would not have you go to day. I would rather you
"We won't, be sure of that. I promise you, we won't meet; and if we
do, be sure we shan't quarrel."
"You'll promise that, Ben? you'll swear it?" said the woman
"Ay, to be sure, I will; I swear Betsy, I won't meet him, and we
shan't quarrel, if I can help it."
"That's enough Ben, and now go in peace, andcome back soon. It's
off my mind now, Ben, since you promise me; but it's been a trouble and
a fear to me, this going of yours to day, ever since I heard that
Richard Hurdis was to be on the road."
"Pshaw! you're a fool all over about Dick Hurdis," said Pickett
with a burly air of good humour. "I believe now, Betsy, that you like
him better than me."
"Like him!" exclaimed the woman relapsing into the phlegmatic and
chilling sternness of expression and countenance which were her wonted
characteristics in ordinary moods. "Like him! I neither like nor
dislike, Ben Pickett, out of this paling. These old logs, and this worm
fence, contain all that I can expend feeling upon, and when you talk to
me of likes and dislikes, you only mock at your own condition and
The man said no more, and they separated. She returned to the
house, and in a few moments he leaped upon his horse, which was a
light-made and fast-going though small animal, and was soon out of
sight even of the idiot girl, who laughed and beckoned to him, without
being heeded, until his person was no longer visible in the dull gray
of the forests which enveloped him.
"Fool!" he exclaimed as he rode out of hearing, "fool to think to
make me swear what she pleases, and then to take the oath just as I
think proper. Iwill not meet him, and still less will I quarrel with
him if I can help it; but I will try and put a bullet through him for
all that. It's an old score, and may as well be wiped out now as never.
This year is just as good for settlement, as the next. Indeed, for that
matter, it's best now. It's much the safest. He breaks off from one
neighbourhood, and they know nothing of him in any other. Well, as John
Hurdis said, the Choctaws have done it, or the gamblers. Ben Pickett
has been too long quiet, and lives too far off from the nation, to lay
it to his door. And yet, by God, it's true what Betsy says, that John
Hurdis is a poor coward after all."
It was in thoughts and musings, such as these—— sometimes muttered
audibly, but most frequently entertained in secret——that Ben Pickett
commenced his pursuit of me, a few hours only after I had begun my
journey. Circumstances, however, and probably an error in the
directions given him by my brother, misled him from the path, into
which he did not fall until late the ensuing day. This gave me a start
of him which he would not have made up, had I not come to a full stop
at Tuscaloosa. But of this afterwards.
She dwelt among the untrodden ways,
Beside the springs of Dove,
A maid, whom there were none to praise,
And very few to love.
A violet by a mossy stone,
Half hidden from the eye,
Fair as a star when only one
Is shining in the sky.
And yet lack!
The afternoon of the day following that of Pickett's departure was
one of the loveliest among the lovely days so frequent in the Alabama
November. The glances of the oblique sun rested with a benignant smile,
like that of some venerable and single hearted sire, upon the groves of
the forest, which, by this time, had put on all the colours of the
rainbow. The cold airs of coming winter had been just severe enough to
put a flush-like glow into the cheeks of the leaf, and to envelope the
green, here and there, with a coating of purple and yellow, which
served it as some rich and becoming border, and made the brief remains
of the gaudy garb ofsummer seem doubly rich, and far more valuable in
such decorations. Dark brown and blooded berries hung wantonly from
bending branches, and trailing vines, that were smitten and torn
asunder by premature storms of cold, lay upon the path and depended
from over head, with life enough in them still, even when severed from
the parent stem, to nourish and maintain the warm and grape like
clusters which they bore. Thousands of flowers, of all varieties of
shape and colour came out upon the side of the path, and, as it were,
threw themselves along the thoroughfare only to be trodden upon; while,
hidden in the deeper recesses of the woodland, millions beside appeared
to keep themselves in store only to supply the places of those which
were momently doomed to suffer the consequences of exposure and to
perish beneath the sudden gusts or the equally unheeding footsteps of
the wayfarer. Hidden from sight only by the winter bloom, that absorbed
all space, and seemed resolute to exclude from all sight, thousands of
trees, of more delicate nature, already stripped of their foliage,
stood like mourning ghosts or withered relics of the past——the
melancholy spider, the only living decoration of their gaunt and
stretching arms——her web now completely exposed in the absence of the
leaves, under whose sheltering volume, it had been begun in secret. At
moments the breeze would gather itself up from the dead leaves that
strewed the paths of the forest, andruffle lightly, in rising, the
pleasant bed where it had lain. A kindred ruffler of leaves and
branches, was the nimble squirrel, who skipped along the forests,
making all objects subservient to his forward motion; and now and then
the rabbit timidly stealing out from the long yellow grass beside the
bay, would bound and crouch alternately; the sounds that shake the
lighter leaves and broken branches, stirring her heart with more keen
and lasting sensations, and compelling her to pause in her progress, in
constant dread of the pursuer.
A fitting dweller in a scene of such innocence and simplicity was
the thoughtless and unendowed creature that now enters it; her hand
filled with bush and berry and leaf, sought with care, pursued with
avidity, gathered with fatigue and thrown away without regard. A
thousand half formed plans in her mind——if the idiot child of Ben
Pickett may be said to possess one——a thousand crowding, yet incomplete
conceits, hurrying her forward in a pursuit only begun to be discarded
for others more bright, yet not more enduring; and from her lips a
heartfelt laugh or cry of triumph poured forth in the merriest tones of
childhood, while the tears gather in her eyes, and she sits upon the
grass, murmuring and laughing and weeping; all by turns and nothing
long. From the roadside she has gathered the pale blue and yellow
flowers, and these adorn her head,and peep out from her bosom. Now she
bounds away to hidden bushes after flaunting berries, and now she
throws herself upon a bank and tears to pieces the flowers and shrubs
which have cost her so much pains to gather. She sings and weeps by
turns as she thus employs herself, and prating in idiot soliloquy at
fits, she speaks to the flowers that she rends, and has some idle
history of each.
"There's more of blue than of the others, and sure there should be,
for the skies are blue, and they take their colour from the skies. But
I don't want so much of the blue; I won't have so much; I must have
more yellow; and there's a little pink flower that Mister John showed
me long time ago, if I could get only one of them; one would do me to
put in the middle. There's a meaning in that little flower, and Mister
John read it like a printed book. It has drops of yellow in the bottom,
and it looks like a little cup for the birds to drink from. I must look
for that. If I can only get one now, I would keep it for Mister John to
read, and I would remember what he tells me of it. But Mister John
don't love flowers, he does not wear them in his button hole as I see
Mr. Richard; and Miss Mary loves flowers too; I always see her with a
bunch of them in her hand, and she gathers great bunches for the
fire-place at home. She reads them too like a book; but I will not get
her to read my little pink flower for me. I will get Mister John; for
he laughs when he reads it, and Miss Mary looks almost like she would
cry, and she looks at me, and she does not look at the flower, and she
carries me home with her; but Mister John takes me a long walk with him
in the woods, and we gather more flowers together, and we sit down upon
the log, and pull them to pieces. I wish he would come now. If he were
with me, I could go deeper into the woods; but they look too black when
I am by myself, and I will not go alone. There's more than twenty bears
in those black woods, so mother tells me, and yet, when I go there with
Mr. John, I don't see any, and I don't even hear them growl; they must
be afraid of him, and run when they know he's coming. I wish he were
coming to read my flower. I have one——I have two——if he would but come.
Oh me, mother! what's that."
The girl started from the bank in fear, dashing down the flowers in
the same instant, and preparing herself for flight. The voice of the
intruder reassured her.
"Ah, Jane, my pretty, is it you?"
"Dear me, Mr. John, I'm so glad you're come. I thought it was the
black bears. Mother says there's more than twenty in these woods, and
tells me that I musn't go into them; that they'll eat me up, and won't
even leave my bones. But whenyou're with me, Mister John, I'm not
afraid of the bears."
"Humph!" was the unuttered thought of the new comer. "Not the less
danger perhaps, but of this no matter."
"So you're afraid of the bears, my pretty Jane?" he said aloud.
"Ah no, not when you're with me, Mister John; they're afraid of
you. But when I'm by myself, the woods look so black, I'm afraid to go
"Pretty idiot!" exclaimed John Hurdis, for it was he; "but you're
not afraid now, Jane; let us take a walk and laugh at these bears. They
will not not stop to look at us, and if they do, all we have to do is
to laugh at them aloud, and they'll be sure to run. There's no danger
in looking at them when they run, you know."
"No, to be sure; but Mr. John——stop. I don't know whether I ought
to go with you any longer; for do you know——" Here she lowered her
voice to a whisper, and looked cautiously around her as she spoke; "do
you know mother's been talking to dad about you, and she says——but I
won't tell you."
And, with a playful manner she turned from him as she finished the
sentence, and proceeded to gather up the flowers, which, in her first
alarm, she had scattered all around her. He stooped to assist her, and
putting his arm about her waist, theywalked forward into the wood, the
silly creature all the while refusing to go, yet seeming perfectly
unconscious that she was even then complying with his demand. When they
were somewhat concealed within its recesses, he stopped, and with some
little anxiety, demanded to know what it was that her mother had said.
"I won't tell you, Mr. John, I won't."
He knew very well how to effect his purpose, and replied calmly,
"Well if you won't tell me, Jane, I will call the bears——"
"No, don't," she screamed aloud; "don't, Mister John, I'll tell you
every thing; did you think I would'nt tell you, Mister John; I was only
in play. Wait now till I pick up this little pink flower, Mister John,
that's got the yellow drops in the bottom, and I'll tell you all. This
is the flower that you read to me, Mister John; do now, that's a good
dear, do read it to me now."
"Not now, Jane——after you tell me about your mother."
"Yes; but Mister John, would you set the bears on me for true?"
"To be sure, if you wouldn't tell me. Come Jane, be quick, or I'll
"No, don't——don't, I beg you. I'm sure it's nothing so great to
tell you, but I tell you, MisterJohn, you see, because mother didn't
want you to know. Dad and she talked out, but when they thought I was
awake, oh, then there was no more talk for awhile; but I heard them
"All what, Jane?"
"Oh, don't you know? All about you and Dad, and Mister Richard, and
how you hate Mister Richard, and how Dad is to shoot him——"
"The d——l! You didn't hear that, Jane!" was the exclamation of the
thunderstruck criminal; his voice thick with apprehension, his limbs
trembling, his flesh shrinking and shivering, and his eyes, full of
wonder and affright, absolutely starting from the sockets. So sudden
had been the revelation, it might well have startled or stunned a much
bolder spirit than was his. He led, almost dragged her, still deeper
into the woods, as if he dreaded the heedful ears of any passing
"What have you heard, Jane? what more did your mother say? She
surely said not what you tell me; how could she know——how could she say
it? She did not say it, Jane, she could not."
"Oh, yes, but she did; she said a great deal more, but it's no use
"How no use! Tell me all, Jane. Come my pretty, tell me all that
your mother said, and how she came to say it. Did your father say it to
"Who, Dad! Lord bless you, Mister John, no. Dad never tells mother
nothing, and what she knows she knows by herself, without him."
"Indeed! But this about Richard and your father; you don't mean
that your mother knew any such thing. Your father told her; you heard
him talking to her about it."
"No, I tell you. Father wouldn't talk at all. It was mother that
talked the whole. She asked Dad, and Dad wouldn't tell her, and so she
"Told him what! did she hear?"
"Yes, she told him as how you loved Miss Mary; but Mister John, it
isn't true that you love Miss Mary, is it?"
"Pshaw! Jane, what nonsense. Go on; tell me about your mother."
"Well, I knew it couldn't be that you loved Miss Mary. I don't want
you to love her; she's a fine lady, and a sweet, good lady, but I don't
like you to love her; it don't seem right; and——"
The impatient, anxious spirit of John Hurdis could no longer brook
the trifling of the idiot, which, at another period, and with a mind
less excited and apprehensive, he would rather have encouraged than
rebuked. But now, chafing with excited feelings and roused fears, he
did not scruple to interrupt her.
"Nonsense, Jane——nonsense. Say no more ofMary, but tell me of your
mother. Tell me how she began to speak to your father. What she said?
What she knows? And we'll talk of Miss Mary, and other matters
afterwards. What did she say of Richard? What of me? And this shooting
of your father."
"Oh, she didn't say about shooting Dad; no, no, it was Mr. Richard
that he was to shoot."
"Well——well, tell me that——that!"
"Oh, dear me, Mr. John——what a flurry you're in. I'm sure I can't
tell you any thing when you look so. You frighten me too much; don't
look so, Mr. John, if you please."
The trembling criminal tried to subdue the appearance of anxiety
and terror, which the girl's countenance and manner sufficiently
assured him must be evident in his own. He turned from her for an
instant, moved twice or thrice around a tree——she meanwhile watching
his proceedings with a degree of curiosity that made her forget her
fears——then, returning, with a brow somewhat smoothed, and a half smile
upon his lips, he succeeded in persuading her to resume a narrative,
which her natural imbecility of mind, at no period, would have enabled
her to give consecutively. By questions carefully put, and at the
proper moment, he at length got from her the whole amount of her
knowledge, and learned enough to conclude, as was the truth, that what
hadbeen said by the mother of the girl had been said conjecturally. His
fear had been that she had stolen forth on the previous night, and
secreting herself near the place of conference between Pickett and
himself, had witnessed the interview and comprehended all its terms.
However relieved from his fear by the revelation of the idiot, he was
still not a little annoyed by the close guessing of the woman. A mind
so acute, so penetrating, so able to search into the bosom, and watch
its secret desires without the help of words, was able to effect yet
more; and he dreaded its increased activity in the present business.
Vague apprehensions still floated in his soul though he strove to
dissipate them, and he felt a degree of insecurity which made him half
forgetful of his simple and scarcely conscious companion. She,
meanwhile, dwelt upon the affair which she had narrated, with a
tenacity as strange as had been her former reluctance or indifference;
until, at length, as she repeated her mother's unfavourable opinion of
himself, his disquiet got the better of his courtesy, for he exclaimed
"No more of this nonsense, Jane. Your mother's a fool, and the best
thing she can do hereafter, is to keep her tongue."
"No, no! Mr. John," replied the girl earnestly, "mother's no fool,
Mr. John; it's Jane that's a fool.Every body calls Jane a fool, but
nobody calls mother so."
"I don't call you so, Jane," said Hurdis kindly sitting beside her
as he spoke, and putting his arm about her waist.
"No, Mr. John, I know you don't, and" in a whisper, "I'd like you
to tell me, Mr. John, why other people call me so? I'm a big girl, and
I can run and walk, and ride like other people. I can spin and I can
sew. I help mother plant potatoes, I can break the corn, hull it and
measure it, and can do a hundred things beside. I talk like other
people, and did you ever see a body pick flowers, and such pretty ones
faster than me, Mr. John?"
"No, Jane, I never did."
"And such pretty ones too, Mr. John. Look at this little pink one,
with the yellow drops; come, read it to me, now, Mr. John, and show me
how to read it like you?"
"Not now, Jane! some other time. Give me a kiss now, a sweet kiss?
"Well there, no body asks me to kiss but you and Miss Mary
sometimes, Mr. John——sometimes I kiss mother, but she don't seem to
like it. I wonder why, Mr. John——it must be because I'm a fool."
"No, no, Jane, you're not a fool."
"I wish I wasn't, Mr. John, I don't think I am. For you know, I
told you, how many things I can do just like other people."
"Yes, Jane, and you have a sweeter little mouth than any body. You
kiss like a little angel, and your cheeks are as rosy——"
"Oh, don't Mr. John, that's enough. Lord, if mother was only to see
us now, what would she say? Tell me, Mr. John, why don't I want mother
to see me, when you're so good to me? And when you kiss me so, what
makes me afraid and tremble? It is strange, Mr. John."
"It's because your mother's cross to you, and cold, and gets vexed
with you so often, Jane."
"Do you think so, Mr. John? But, it can't be; mother isn't cross to
me, Mr. John, and she hasn't whipped me I don't know the day when. She
don't know that you walk with me into the woods, Mr. John——why don't I
want to tell her——it's so very strange? She would be mighty vexed if
she was to see me now.
Hurdis answered her with a kiss, and in the next instant the tread
of a sudden footstep behind them, and the utterance of a single word by
the intruder caused the simple girl to scream out, and to leap like an
affrighted deer from the arms that embraced her.
I thought as much when first from thickest leaves,
I saw you trudging in such posting pace.
But to the purpose; what may be the cause
Of this most strange and sudden banishment?
The cause, ask you? a simple cause, God wot;
Twas neither treason, nor yet felony,
But for because I blamed his foolishness.
I hear you say so, but I greatly fear,
Ere that your tale be brought unto an end,
You'll prove yourself the author of the same.
But pray, be brief; what folly did your spouse,
And how will you revenge your wrong on him?
—— Robert Greene.
Her fear seemed to possess the power of a spell to produce the very
person whose presence she most dreaded. As if in compliance with its
summons, her mother stood before her. Her tall majestic form, raised to
its fullest height by the fever of indignation in her mind, stood
between her idiot daughter and the astounded John Hurdis. He had sprung
to his feet on the instant when Jane, in terror, had started from his
embrace, and without daring to face the woman, he stood fixed to the
spot where she first confronted him. Her meagre, usually pale and
severefeatures, were now crimsoned with indignation——her eyes flashed a
fire of feeling and of character which lifted her, however poor and
lowly had been her birth and was her station, immeasurably above the
base creature whose superior wealth had furnished the facilities, and,
too frequently in the minds of men, provide a sanction, for the vilest
abuses of the dependence and inferiority of the poor. The consciousness
of wrong in his mind totally deprived him at that instant, of those
resources of audacity with which he who meditates villany should always
be well supplied; and, woman as she was——poor, old, and without
character and command as was the wife of the worthless Pickett——the
sound of her voice went through the frame of Hurdis with a keenness
that made him quiver. And yet the tones were gentle; they were
studiously subdued, and from this cause, indeed, their influence was
most probably increased upon both Hurdis and the daughter.
"Jane, my child, go home——go home!"
These were words not to be disobeyed by the trembling and weeping
idiot. Yet she looked and lingered——she fain would have disobeyed them
for the first time——but the bony and long finger of the mother was
uplifted, and simply pointed in the direction of their cottage, which
was not visible from the point on which they stood. Slowly at first,
then,after she had advanced a few paces, bounding off with the rapidity
of fear, the girl hurried away, and was soon lost to the sight of the
two remaining persons.
When satisfied that she was no longer within sound of their voices,
for her keen eye had followed all the while the retreating footsteps of
the maiden, she turned the entire force of its now voluminous
expression upon the man before her. Her gray eyebrows, which were
thick, were brought down by the muscular compression of the skin of the
forehead, into a complete pent house above her eyes, and served to
concentrate their rays, which shot forth like summer lightning from the
sable cloud. The lips were compressed with a smiling scorn, her whole
face partaking of the same contemptuous and withering expression. John
Hurdis stole but a single glance at the features which were also full
of accusation, and, without looking a second time, turned uneasily
away. But the woman did not suffer him to escape. She drew nigher——she
called him by name; and, though she spoke in low and quiet tones, they
were yet such that he did not venture to persist in his movement, which
seemed to threaten as prompt and rapid a departure as that of the
idiot. Her words began, abruptly enough, with one of the subjects
nearest to her heart. She was not a woman to trifle. The woods in which
she had lived, and their obscurity, had taught lessons of taciturnity,
and it was, therefore, in the fulness of her heart only, that she
suffered her lips to speak.
"And wherefore is it" she demanded, "that Mr. Hurdis takes such
pains to bring the idiot daughter of Ben Pickett into these secret
places? Why do these woods, which are so wild——so little beautiful, and
attractive——so far inferior to his own——why do they tempt him to these
long walks? And this poor child, is it that he so pities her
infirmity——which every body should pity——that he seeks her for a
constant companion in these woods, where no eye may watch over his
steps, and no ear hear the language which is uttered in her own?
Explain to me this, I pray you, Mr. Hurdis. Why is it that these woods
are so much more agreeable to you than your father's or 'Squire
Easterby's, and why a gentleman, who makes bold to love Mary Easterby,
and who values her sense and smartness, can be content with the idle
talk of an unhappy child like mine? Tell me what it means, I intreat
you, Mr. Hurdis; for in truth——supposing that you mean rightly——it is
all a mystery to me."
The very meekness of the woman's manner helped to increase the
annoyance of Hurdis. It was too little offensive to find fault with;
and yet the measured tones of her voice had in them so much that was
bitter that he could not entirely conceal fromher that he felt it. His
reply was such as might have been expected.
"Why, Mrs. Pickett, I meant no harm, to be sure. As for the woods,
they are quiet and pretty enough for me; and though, it is true, that
my own or Mr. Easterby's are quite as pretty, yet that's no reason, one
should be confined only to them. I like to ramble elsewhere by way of
change, and to day, you see, happening to see your daughter as I
rambled, I only jointed her and we walked together; that's all."
"And do you mean to say, Mr. Hurdis, that you have never before
joined Jane Pickett in these walks?"
"To be sure not——no——"
"Yes, that's to say, I don't make a practice of it. I may have
walked with her here once, or it may be. twice before, Mrs. Pickett——"
"Ay, sir, twice, thrice, and a half dozen times, if the truth is to
be told," exclaimed the woman vehemently. "I have seen you, sir, thrice
myself and watched your footsteps, and heard your words—— words
cunningly devised, sir, to work upon the simple feelings of that poor
ignorant, whose very feebleness should commend her to the protection,
not the abuse, of a noble minded man. Deny it, sir, if you dare. I tell
you, here, in the presence of theeternal God, that I have heard and
seen you walk secretly in this wood with Jane Pickett more than three
several times——nay more, sir, you have enticed her into it by various
arts; and have abused her ignorance by speaking to her in language
unbecoming in a gentleman to speak, and still more unbecoming in a
female to hear. I have seen you, and heard you, sir, with my own eyes
and ears; and that you have not done worse, sir, is perhaps only owing
to her ignorance of your meaning."
"You, at least, would have known better, Mrs. Pickett," replied
Hurdis with a sneer——the discovery of the woman being too obviously
complete to leave him any hope from evasion.
"Your sneer falls harmlessly upon my mind, Mr. Hurdis——I am too
poor, and too much of a mother, sir, to be provoked by that. It only
shows you to me in a somewhat bolder point of view than I had been
accustomed to regard you. I knew well enough your character, when I
watched you in your walks with my child, and heard the language which
you used in her ears——"
"Certainly a very commendable and honourable employment, Mrs.
Pickett. I give you credit for it."
"Ay, sir, both proper and commendable when employed as a precaution
against those whose designs are known to be improper, and whose
character is without honour. I well enough understand yourmeaning. It
was scarcely honourable, you would say, that I should place myself as a
spy upon your conduct, and become an eavesdropper to possess myself of
your counsels. These are fashions of opinion, sir, which have no effect
upon me. I am a mother, and I was watching over the safety of a frail
and feeble child, who, God help her that made her so! was too little
able to take care of herself not to render it needful that I should do
so. It was a mother's eye that watched——not you, sir, but her child——it
was a mother's ear that sought to know——not the words which were spoken
by John Hurdis, but all words, no matter of whom, which were poured
into the ears of her child. I watched not you but her; and learn from
me now, sir, that you never whistled her from our cabin that my cars
caught not the signal as readily as hers——she never stole forth at your
summons, but my feet as promptly followed hers. Do you wonder now that
I should know you as I do? Ah, Mr. Hurdis, does it not shame you to the
heart to think that you have schemed so long with all the arts of a
cunning man for the ruin of a feeble idiot scarcely sixteen years of
"It's false!" exclaimed John Hurdis, hoarse with passion; "I tell
you, woman, 'tis false, what you say. I had no such design."
"'Tis true, before Heaven that hears us, Mr. Hurdis; I say it is
true," replied the woman in moderatetones. "You may deny it as you
please, sir, but you can neither deceive Heaven nor me, and to us your
denial must be unavailing. I could not mistake nor misunderstand your
arts and language. You have striven to teach Jane Hurdis an idea of
sin, and, perhaps, you have not succeeded in doing so, only because
nobody yet has been able to teach her any idea——even one of virtue. But
it was not only her mind that you strove to inform. You have appealed
to the blood and to the passions of the child, and but for the mother
that watched over her, you might have succeeded, at last, in your bad
purposes. Oh, John Hurdis, if Ben Pickett could only know, what, for
the sake of peace and to avoid bloodshed I have kept to myself, he
would have thrust his knife into your throat long before this. I could
have stopped you in your pursuit of my child, by a word to her father;
for, low and poor as he is, and base as you may think you have made
him, he has pride enough yet to avenge our dishonour. I have kept back
what I had to say to this moment, and now I tell you and you, only,
what I do know——it will be for yourself to say whether Ben Pickett
shall ever know it."
"Pshaw, woman, you talk nonsense: and but that you are a woman, I
could be very angry with you. As for doing any thing improper with Jane
Pickett, I swear——"
"No, do not swear; for if you do, John Hurdis, if you dare swear
that you had no such design, I will swear that you belie yourself——that
your oath is false before Heaven, and that you are as black hearted and
perjured, as I hold you base and cowardly. And if you did swear, of
what use would be your oath. Could you hope to make me believe you
after my own oath? Could you hope to deceive Heaven! Who else is here
to listen? Keep your false oath for other witnesses, John Hurdis, who
are more blind and deaf than I am, and more easily, deceived than the
God who alone sees us now."
"Mrs. Pickett, you are a very singular woman. I don't know what to
make of you."
The manner of the woman had absolutely quelled the base spirit of
the man. When he spoke thus, he literally knew not what he said.
"You shall know more of me, Mr. Hurdis, before I have done," was
her reply. "My feelings on the subject of my child, have almost made me
forget some other matters upon which I have sought to speak with you.
You questioned my child upon the subject of a conversation between her
father and myself. She told you that we spoke of you."
"Yes; I think I remember," he said breathlessly, and with feeble
"You do remember; you must," said the woman. "You were very anxious
to get the truth from mychild; you shall hear it all from me. You have
sent Ben Pickett upon your business."
"He will not tell you that," said Hurdis.
"Perhaps not; but I know it."
"Well, what is it?"
"Dare you tell? No! And he dare not. The husband may not show to
his own wife, the business upon which he goes. There is something wrong
in it, and it is your business."
"It is not; he goes, if he goes at all, upon his own, not mine. I
do not employ him."
"You do. Beware, John Hurdis; you are not half so secure as you
pretend, and perhaps, think yourself. The eyes that watch the footsteps
of a weak and idiot child, will not be the less heedful of those of a
weak and erring husband. If Ben Pickett goes to do wrong, he goes upon
your business. If wrong is done, and is traced to him, believe me—— for
I swear it——I will perish in the attempt, but I will trace it home to
its projector and proprietor. You are not, and you shall not be safe. I
have my suspicions."
"What suspicions? I defy you to say I have any thing to do with
The boldness of John Hurdis was all assumed, and the veil was
readily seen through by the keen sighted woman.
"I will confirm to your own ears the intelligencewhich you procured
from my child. It was base in me to follow and to watch over her
safety——it was not base in you to pick from her thoughtless lips the
secrets of her parents, and the private conversation of her household.
I will not ask you to define the distinction between the two. She told
you the truth. I suspected that you were using Ben Pickett to do the
villany which you had the soul to conceive, but not to execute. I know
some villanies on which you have before employed him."
"What villanies mean you?" he demanded anxiously.
"No matter now——I may find them of more use to me some future day
than now. I will tell you now what were my fears——my suspicions——when
you came to our cabin the last night and carried Ben Pickett with you
into the woods——"
"You followed us? You heard——you listened to what was said between
us?" was the hurried speech of Hurdis, his apprehensions denoted in his
tremulous and broken utterance——in the startling glare of his eyes, and
the universal pallor of his whole countenance. A smile of scorn played
upon the lips of the woman——she felt her superiority. She spoke, after
a moment's pause, during which the scorn of her face changed into
"Your cheek betrays you, John Hurdis, and confirms my worst fears.
I would that you had been more bold. I would have given much to have
seen you more indifferent to my answer. Could you defy me now, as you
did but a little while ago, I should sleep much easier to night. But
now I tremble quite as much as you. I feel that all my doubts are true.
I would have forgiven you your meditated wrong to my child could you
have looked and spoken differently."
"God of Heaven, woman," exclaimed John Hurdis, with a feeling of
desperation in his voice and manner——"what is it that you mean? Speak
out and tell me all——say the worst——what is it that you know ——what is
it you believe? Did you or did you not follow us last night? Did you
hear my conference with your husband?"
"I did not!"
Hurdis was relieved by the answer. He breathed freely once more, as
"Ha! say no more then——I do not care to hear you now. I have had
wind and fury enough."
"You must hear me. I will tell you now what I believe."
"I will not hear you. Let me go. I have heard enough. What is your
belief to me?"
He would have passed her, but she caught his arm.
"You shall——but for one moment."
He paused, and like an impatient steed beneatha curb which chafes
him, and from which he cannot break away, John Hurdis turned in her
grasp, revolving upon the same ground while she spoke, and striving not
to hear the language which yet forced itself upon his senses.
"I believe, John Hurdis, that you have sent my husband to do some
violence. He denies it, and I have striven to believe him, but I
cannot. Since he has left me, I find my suspicions return; and they
take a certain shape to my mind, the more I think of them. I believe
that you have sent him against your own brother whom you both hate and
He broke away from her grasp, but lingered.
"I will not call you man, John Hurdis——but I will not think
unkindly of you, if it be as you say, that I lie. God grant that my
fears be false. But believing what I say——that you have despatched my
husband to do a crime which you dare not do yourself, I tell you that
if it be done——"
"He will be the criminal!" said Hurdis, in low but emphatic tones
as he turned from her. "He will be the criminal, and if detected——if,
as you think, he has gone to commit crime, and such a crime——the
gallows, woman, will be the penalty, and it may be that your hand will
guide him to it."
The woman shrank back and shivered; but only for an instant.
Recovering she advanced——
"Not my hand, John Hurdis, but yours, if any. But let that day
come, no matter whose hand shall guide Ben Pickett to such a doom, I
tell you John Hurdis, he shall have company. You are rich, John Hurdis,
and I am poor; but know from me that there is energy and resolution
enough, in this withered bosom, to follow you in all your secret
machinations, to trace your steps in any forests, and to bring you to
the same punishment, or a worse, than that which you bring on him. I am
poor and old——men scorn me, and my own sex turns away, and, sickening
at my poverty, forget for a while that they are human, in ceasing to
believe me so. But the very scorn of mankind will strengthen me; and
when I am alone——when the weak man whom you entice with your money to
do the deed from which you shrink, becomes your victim——beware of me;
for so surely as there is a God in heaven, he will help me to find the
evidence which shall bring you to punishment on earth."
"The woman is a fiend——a very devil!" cried Hurdis as he rushed
from the strong and resolute spirit before him. Her tall form was
lifted beyond her ordinary height as she spoke, and he shrank from the
intense fire that shot through her long gray eye-brows. "I would sooner
face the devil," hemuttered as he fled. "There's something speaks in
her that I fear! Curse the chance, but it is terrible to have such an
enemy, and to feel that one is doing wrong."
He looked back but once ere he left the forest, and her eyes were
still fixed upon him. He ventured no second glance; but, annoyed with a
thousand apprehensions, to which the interview had given existence, he
hurried homeward like one pursued, starting at every sound in the
woods, though it were only the falling of a leaf in the sudden gust of
You must eat men. Yet thanks, I must you con
That you are thieves professed; that you work not
In holier shapes; for there is boundless theft
In limited professions. Rascal thieves,
—— Timon of Athens
So I leave you
To the protection of the prosperous gods,
As thieves to keepers.
—— I bid
In the meanwhile, Ben Pickett, moved with no such considerations as
those which touched his wife, set forth in pursuit of his destined
victim. His footsteps I may not pursue at present. It will be enough
that I detail my own progress. The reader has already seen that I
arrived safely at Tuscaloosa. How I came to escape him so far, I cannot
say; since, allowing that he pursued me with even moderate avidity, he
must have overtaken me if he had so purposed it. But, it is believed,
that he mistook my route. He believed that I had struck directly for
the river, on my nearest path to Chochuma. He had no knowledge of my
companion's business in Tuscaloosa, and John Hurdis, being equally
ignoranton that subject, could not counsel him. Whatever may have been
the cause of my escape so far, from a foe whose aim was certain, and
who had overcome all scruples of policy or conscience——if, indeed, he
ever held them——I had reason for congratulating myself upon my own good
fortune, which had availed for my protection against his murderous
purpose. But, conscious of no evil then, and wholly ignorant of the
danger I had thus escaped, I gave myself no concern against the future;
and with all the buoyant recklessness of youth, pleased with novelty,
and with faces turned for a new world, my companion and myself entered
our strange lodgings in Tuscaloosa, with feelings of satisfaction
amounting to enthusiasm. The town was little more than hewn out of the
woods. Piles of brick and timber crowded the main, indeed, the only
street of the place, and denoted the rawness and poverty of the region
in all things which could please the eye, and minister to the taste of
the traveller. But it had other resources in my sight. The very
incompleteness and rude want of finish, indicated the fermenting
character of life. The stagnation of the forests was disturbed. The
green and sluggish waters of its inactivity were drained off into new
channels of enterprise and effort. Life had opened upon it; its veins
were filling fast with the life blood of human greatness; active and
sleepless endeavours——and awarm sun seemed pouring down its rays for
the first time upon the cold and covered bosom of its swamps and
caverns. To the young, it matters not the roughness and the storm.
Enthusiasm loves the encounter with biting winds, and active
opposition; but there is death in inaction——death in the sluggish
torpor of the old community, where ancient drones, like the old man of
the sea on the shoulders of Sinbad, keep down the choice spirit of a
country, and chill and palsy all its energies. There was more meaning
in the vote of the countryman who ostracised Aristides, because he
hated to hear him continually called "the Just," than is altogether
visible to the understanding. The customary names of a country are very
apt to become its tyrants.
Our lodging house was poor enough, but by no means wanting in
pretension. You would vainly look for it now in Tuscaloosa. It has
given way to more spacious and better conducted establishments. When we
arrived, it was filled to overflowing, and, much against our will, we
were assigned a chamber in common with two other persons, who were
strangers to us. To this arrangement we vainly opposed all manner of
objections. We were compelled to submit. Our landlord was a turbulent
sort of savage, who bore down all opposition, and held to his laws,
which were not often consistent with one another, with as hardy a
tenacity as did the Medesand Persians. The long and short of it was
that we must share our chamber with two other men, or seek lodgings
elsewhere. This, in a strange town where no other tavern was yet
dreamed of, was little else than a downright declaration that we might
"go to the d——l and shake ourselves," and with whatever grace given, we
were compelled to take the accommodations as they were accorded to us.
We insisted on separate beds, however, and here we gained our point.
"Aye, you may have two a-piece," was the cold and ready answer;
"one for each leg."
Our objections to a chamber in connection with strangers, did us no
service in that wild community; and the rough adventurers about, seemed
to hold us in no fair esteem on the strength of them. But they saw that
we were able to hold our own, and that, in our controversy with the
landlord, though we had been compelled to yield our point, we had yet
given him quite as good as he sent; and so, they suffered their
contempt to escape in winks to each other, and muttered sentences,
which, as we only saw and heard them indistinctly, we were wise enough
to take no heed of. Not that we did not feel in the humour to do so. My
comrade fidgetted more than once with his heavy headed whip handle, and
my own hand felt monstrous disposed to tap the landlord on his crown;
but it was too obviously our policy to forbear, and we took ourselves
off to our chamber as soon as we could beat a retreat gracefully.
Well might our landlord have given us two or four beds each. There
were no less than twelve in the one apartment which had been assigned
us. We chose our two, getting them as nigh each other as possible, and
having put our saddle bags in a corner behind them, and got our dirks
and pistols in readiness, some on the table and some under our pillows,
we prepared to get to bed as fast as possible. Before we had entirely
undressed, however, our two other occupants of the chamber appeared,
one of whom we remembered to have seen in the bar-room below, at the
time of our discussion with the landlord. They were, neither of them,
calculated to impress me favourably. They were evidently too fond of
their personal appearance to please one who was rather apt to be
studiless of his. They were dandies——a sort of New York dandies: men
with long coats and steeple crowned hats, great breast-pins, thick gold
chains, and a big bunch of seals hanging at at their hips. "What the
deuce!" thought I to myself, "brings such people into this country.
Such gewgaws are not only in bad taste any where, but nowhere in such
bad taste as in a wild and poor country such as ours. Of course, they
cannot be gentlemen; that sort of ostentation is totally incompatible
with gentility." Their first overtures did notimpress me more
favourably towards them. They were disposed to be familiar at the
start. There was an assumed composure, a laborious ease about them,
which showed them to be practising a part. There is no difficulty in
discovering whether a man has been bred a gentleman or not. There is no
acquiring gentility at a late day, and but few, not habituated to it
from the first, can ever, by any art, study, or endeavour, acquire, in
a subsequent day, those nice details of manners, that exquisite
consideration of the claims and peculiarities of those in their
neighbourhood, which early education alone can certainly give. Our
chamber companions evidently strove at self complacency. There was a
desperate ostentation of sang froid, a most lavish freedom of air about
them, which made their familiarity obtrusiveness, and their ease,
swagger. A glance told me what they were, so far as manners went; and,
I never believed in the sympathy between bad manners and proper morals.
They may exist together. There's some such possibility; yet I never saw
them united. A man with bad manners may not steal, nor lie, but he
cannot be amiable; he cannot often be just; he will be tyrannical if
you suffer him, and the cloven hoof of the beast must appear, though it
makes its exhibition on a Brussels carpeting.
These fellows had a good many questions to ask us, and a good many
remarks to make, before wegot to sleep that night. Nor was this very
much amiss. The custom of the country is to ask questions, and to ask
them with directness. There the southwest differs from the eastern
country. The Yankee obtains his knowledge by circumlocution; and his
modes of getting it, are as ingeniously indirect, as the cow-paths of
Boston. He proceeds as if he thought it impertinent to gratify his
desire, or ——and perhaps this is the better reason——as if he were
conscious of motives for his curiosity, other than those which he
acknowledges. The southwestern man, living remotely from the great
cities, and anxious for intelligence of regions of which he has little
personal acquaintance, taxes, in plain terms, the resources of every
stranger whom he meets. He is quite as willing to answer, as to ask,
and this readiness acquits him, or should acquit him, of any charge of
rudeness. We found no fault with the curiosity of our companions, but I
so little relished their manners, as to forbear questioning them in
return. Carrington was less scrupulous, however——he made sundry
inquiries to which he received unsatisfactory replies, and towards
midnight, I was pleased to find that the chattering was fairly over.
We slept without interruption, and awakened before the strangers.
It was broad day light, and, hastening our toilets, we descended to the
breakfast room. There we were soon followed by the two,and my
observation by day, rather confirmed my impressions of the preceding
night. They were quite too nice in their deportment to be wise——they
found fault with the arrangements of the table, their breakfast did not
suit them——the eggs were too much or too little done, and they turned
up their noses at the coffee with exquisite distaste. The landlord
reddened, but bore it with tolerable patience for a republican; and the
matter passed off without a squall, though I momently looked for one.
Little things are apt to annoy little people; and I have usually found
those persons most apt to be dissatisfied with the world, whose
beginnings in it have been most mean and contemptible. The whole
conduct of the strangers increased my reserve towards them.
To us, however, they were civil enough. Their policy was in it.
They spoke to us as if we were not merely friends but bed-fellows; and,
in a style of gentility exceedingly new to us, one of them put his arm
about the neck of my friend. I almost expected to see him knocked down;
for, with all his gentleness of mood, Carrington was a very devil when
his blood was up, and hated every sort of impertinence——but whether he
thought it wiser to forbear in a strange place, or was curious to see
how far the fellow would go, he said nothing, but smiled patiently till
the speech which accompanied the embrace was fairly over, and then
quietly withdrew from its affectionate control.
The day was rainy and squally——to such a degree that we could not
go out. How to amuse ourselves was a question not so easily answered in
a strange country tavern where we had no books, and no society. After
breakfast we returned to our apartment, and threw ourselves upon the
beds. To talk of home, and the two maidens, whom we had left under such
differing circumstances, was our only alternative; and thus employed,
our two stranger companions came in. Their excuse for the intrusion was
the weather, and as their rights to the chamber were equal to ours, we
had nothing to say against it. Still I was disquieted and almost angry.
I spoke very distantly and coldly in reply to their speeches, and they
quickly saw that I was disposed to keep them at arm's length. But my
desire, with such persons, was not of so easy attainment. The reserve
of a gentleman is not apt to be respected, even if seen, by those who
have never yet learned the first lessons of gentility: and do what I
would, I still found that they were uttering propositions in my ears
which I was necessarily obliged to answer, or acknowledge. In this,
they were tacitly assisted by my friend. Carrington, whose disposition
was far more accessible than mine, chatted with them freely, and what
was worse, told them very nearlyall of his purposes and projects. They
too were seeking land——they were speculators from New York——agents for
great Land Companies——such as spring up daily in that city, and flood
the country with a nominal capital, that changes like magic gold, into
worthless paper every five years or less. They talked of thousands, and
hundreds of thousands, with the glibness of men who had handled nothing
else from infancy; and never was imagination more thoroughly taken
prisoner than was that of Carrington. He fairly gasped while listening
to them. Their marvellous resources confounded him. With three thousand
dollars and thirty negroes, he had considered himself no small
capitalist; but now, he began to feel really humble, and I laughed
aloud as I beheld the effects of his consternation upon him.
Conversation lagged at length; even those wondrous details of the
agents of the great New York company tired the hearers and, it would
seem, the speakers too; for they came to a pause. The mind cannot bear
too much glitter any more than the eye. They now talked together, and
one of them at length produced cards from his trunk.
"Will you play, gentlemen?" they asked civilly.
"I'm obliged to you," was my reply in freezing tones, "but I would
I was answered, greatly to my mortification, by Carrington.
"And why not, Dick? You play well, and I know you like it."
This was forcing upon me an avowal of my dislike to our would-be
acquaintance which I would have preferred to avoid. But as it was, I
resolved upon my course.
"You know I never like to play among strangers, William!"
"Pshaw, my dear fellow——what of that? come, take a hand——we're here
in a place we know nothing about, and where nobody knows us. It's
monstrous dull, and if we don't play, we may as well drown."
"Excuse me, William."
"Can't, Dick——can't think of it," was his reply.
"You must take a hand or we can't play. Whist is my only game, you
know, and there's but three of us without you."
"Take Dummy!" was my answer.
"What, without knowing how to value him——Oh, no! Besides, I can't
play that game well."
You may fight or eat, or speak, or travel with a man, without
making yourself his companion——but you can't play with him without
incurring his intimacy. Now, I was somewhat prejudiced against these
strangers, and had so far studiously avoided their familiarity. To play
with them was to make my former labour in vain, as well as to invite
the consequenceswhich I had been so desirous to avert. But to utter
these reasons aloud was to challenge them to the bull ring, and there
was no wisdom in that. My thoughtless friend urged the matter with a
zeal no less imprudent in his place than it was irksome in mine. He
would hear no excuses, and appealed to my courtesy against my
principle, alleging the utter impossibility of their being able to find
the desired amusement without my help. Not to seem churlish I at length
gave way. Bitterly do I reproach myself that I did so. But how was I
then——in my boyhood as it were——to anticipate such consequences from so
seemingly small a source. But in morals, no departure from principles
is small. All principles are significant——are essential——in the
formation of truth; and the neglect or omission of the smallest among
them is not one evil merely, or one error——but a thousand——it is the
parent of a thousand, each, in its turn, endowed with a frightful
fecundity more productive than the plagues of Egypt——more enduring, and
not less hideous and frightful. Take care of small principles, if you
would preserve great truths sacred.
As I have said, I suffered myself——it matters not with what motives
or feeling——to be persuaded by my friend to play with him and the
strangers. I took my seat opposite to Carrington. The strangers played
together. Whist was the game——a game we both delighted in, and which we
both played with tolerable skill. The cards were thrown upon the table,
and we drew for the deal.
"What do you bet?" said one of the strangers addressing me. At the
same moment his companion addressed a like inquiry to my partner.
"Nothing——I never bet," was my reply.
"A Mexican," said Carrington throwing the coin upon the table. My
opponent expressed his disappointment at my refusal.
"There's no fun in playing unless you bet."
"You mistake," was my reply. "I find an interest in the game which
no risk of money could stimulate. I do not bet; it is a resolution."
My manner was such as to forbid any farther prosecution of his
object. He was compelled to content himself as he might; and drawing
for the deal, it fell to him. He took the cards, and to my surprise,
proceeded to shuffle them after a fashion which I had been always
taught to regard as dishonourable. He would draw single cards
alternately from top and bottom and bring them together; and, in this
way, as I well knew, would throw all the trump cards into the hands of
himself and partner. I did not scruple to oppose this mode of
"The effect will be," I told him, "to bring the trumps into your
own and partner's hands. I have seen the trick before. It is a trick,
and that isenough to make it objectionable. I have no pleasure in
playing a game with all the cards against me."
He denied the certainty of the result which I predicted, and
persisted in finishing as he had begun. I would have risen from the
table but my friend's eyes appealed to me to stay. He was anxious to
play, and quite too fond of the game, and perhaps too dull where he
was, to heed or insist upon any little improprieties. The result was as
I predicted. There was but a single trump between myself and partner.
"You see," I exclaimed as the hand was finished, "such dealing is
"No——I see not——It so happens, it is true, but it is not unfair,"
was the reply of the dealer.
"Fair or not," I answered, "it matters not. If this mode of
shuffling has the effect of throwing the good cards invariably into one
hand, it produces such a disparity between the parties as takes
entirely from the pleasure in the game. There is no game, indeed, when
the force is purely on the one side."
"But such is not invariably the result."
Words were wasted upon them. I saw then what they were. Gentlemen
disdain the advantage, even when fairly obtained, which renders
intelligence, skill, memory and reflection——indeed, all qualities of
mind——entirely useless. As players, ouropponents had no skill——like
gamblers usually they relied on trick for success; and strove to
obtain, by miserable stratagem, what other men seek from thought and
honest endeavour. I would have risen from the table as these thoughts
passed through my mind. We had lost the game, and I had had enough of
them and it——But miend entreated me.
"What matters one game?" he said. "It is our turn now. We shall do
The stake was removed by his opponent, and, while I shuffled the
cards, he was required to renew his bet. In doing so, by a singular
lapse of thought, he drew from a side pocket in his bosom, the large
roll of money with which he travelled, forgetting the small purse which
he had prepared for his travelling expenses. He was conscious, when too
late, of his error. He hurried it back to its place of concealment, and
drew forth the purse; but in the one moment which he employed in doing
so, I could see that the eyes of our companions had caught sight of the
treasure. It may have been fancy in me, the result of my suspicious
disposition, but I thought that their eyes sparkled as they beheld it,
and there was an instant interchange of glances between them. Hurriedly
I shuffled through, and with an agitation which I could not well
conceal, I dealt out the cards. There was a general and somewhat
unwonted silencearound the table. We all seemed to be conscious of
thoughts, and feelings, which needed to be concealed. The cheeks of my
companion were red; but he laughed and played. His first play was an
error. I fixed my eye upon one of the strangers and his glance fell
bencath it. There was a guilty thought busy in his bosom. Scarcely a
word was spoken ——none unnecessarily——while that hand lasted. But when
it came to the turn of one of our opponents to deal, and when I found
him shuffling as before, I grew indignant. I protested. He insisted
upon his right to shuffle as he pleased——a right which I denied. He
would not yield the point, and I left the table. The fellow would have
put on airs, and actually thought to bully me. He used some big words,
and rising at the same time approached me.
"Sir, your conduct——"
I stopped him half way, and in his speech——
"Is insulting you would say."
"I do, sir; very insulting, sir, very."
"Be it so. I cannot help it. I will play with no man who employs a
mode of shuffling which puts all the trump cards into his own and
partner's hands. I do not wish to play with you, any how, sir; and very
much regret that the persuasions of my friend made me yield against my
better judgment. My rule is never to play with strangers, and your game
has confirmed me in my opinion of itspropriety. I shall take care never
to depart from it in future."
"Sir, you don't mean to impute any thing to my honour. If you do,
My reply to this swagger was anticipated by William, who had not
before spoken, but now stood between us.
"And what if he did, eh?"
"Why, sir——but I was not speaking to you, sir," said the fellow.
"Ay, I know that, but I'm speaking to you. What if he did doubt
your honour, and what if I doubt it, eh?"
"Why then, sir, if you did——" The fellow paused. He was a mere
bully, and looked round to his companion who still kept a quiet seat at
"Pshaw!" exclaimed William, in the most contemptuous manner.
"You are mistaken in your men, my good fellow. Take up your
Mexican, and thank your stars you have got it so easily. Shut up now
and be quiet. It lies upon the table." The fellow obeyed.
"You won't play any longer?" he demanded.
"No," was my reply. "To play with you, is to make you, and declare
you, our friends. We will fight with you, if you please, but not play
To this proposition the answer was slow. We were, at least,
possessors of the ground. But our triumph was a monstrous small one,
and we paid for it. The annoyance of the whole scene was excessive to
me. Carrington did not so much feel it. He was a careless, buoyant,
good sort of creature, having none of my suspicion, and little of that
morbid pride which boiled in me. He laughed at the fellows and the
whole affair, when I was most disposed to groan over it, and to curse
them. I could only bring his countenance to a grave expression, when I
reminded him of his imprudence in taking out his roll of money.
"Ay, that was cursed careless," he replied; "but there's no helping
it now——I must only keep my wits about me next time; and if harm comes
from it keep a stiff lip, and a stout heart, and be ready to meet it."
William Carrington was too brave a fellow to think long of danger,
and he went to bed that night with as light a heart as if he had not a
sixpence in the world.
I heard myself proclaim'd;
And, by the happy hollow of a tree,
Escap'd the hunt. No port is free; no place,
That guard and most unusual vigilance
Does not attend my taking. While I may 'scape,
I will preserve myself.
—— King Lear
"The next day opened bright and beautiful, and we prepared to
resume our journey. Our fellow chamberers had not shown themselves to
us since our rupture; they had not slept that night at the tavern.
Their absence gave us but little concern at the time, though we
discovered afterwards that it had no little influence upon our
movements. I have already said that my companion held a claim upon a
man in the neighbourhood of Tuscaloosa, for some hundred and thirty
dollars, the price of a mule which he had sold to him during the
previous season. To collect this debt had been the only motive for
carrying us so far from our direct route, which had been to Chochuma.
The man's name was Matthew Webber; of his character and condition we
knew nothing, save that he was a small farmersupposed to be doing well.
That he had not paid the money before, when due, was rather an
unfavourable symptom; but of the ultimate payment of it William had not
the slightest doubt. He was secured by the indorsed promise of a Col.
Grafton, a gentleman of some wealth, who planted about fourteen miles
from Tuscaloosa, in the direction of Columbus, but fully eleven miles
from the road. There was a short cut to his house, and we proposed to
ride thither and obtain directions for finding the debtor. He had once
been Grafton's overseer and the latter knew all about him. Our
landlord, who had grown civil enough to us, and who was really a very
good sort of body when taken in the grain, freely gave us proper
instructions for finding our road by the short cut. Of Grafton he spoke
with kindness and respect, but I could not help observing, when we
inquired after Webber, that he evaded inquiry, and when repeated, shook
his head and turned away to other customers. He evidently knew enough
to think unfavourably, and his glance when he spoke of the man was
uneasy and suspicious. Finding other questions unproductive, we had our
horses brought forth, paid our charges, and prepared to mount. Our feet
were already in the stirrups, when the landlord followed us, saying
abruptly, but in a low tone, as he reached the spot where we stood——
"Gentlemen, I don't know much of the people whom you seek, but I
know but little that is very favourable of the country into which
you're going. Take a hint before starting. If you have any thing to
lose, it's easy losing it on the road to Chochuma, and the less company
you keep as you travel, the better for your saddle-bags. Perhaps, too,
it wouldn't be amiss, if you looked at your pistols before you start."
He did not wait for our answer, but returned to his bar-room and
other avocations as if his duty was ended. We were both surprised, but
I did not care to reject his warnings. William laughed at the gravity
of the advice given us, but I saw it with other eyes. If I was too
suspicious of evil, I well knew that my companion was apt to err in the
opposite extreme——he was imprudent and thoughtless; and, in
recklessness of courage only, prevented a thousand evil consequences
which had otherwise occurred from his too confiding nature.
"Say nothing now," I observed to him——"but let us ride till we get
into the woods, then see to your pistols."
"Pshaw, Dick," was his reply, "what do you suspect now? The pistols
have been scarcely out of sight since we left home."
"They have been out of sight. We left them always in the chamber
when we went to meals."
"True, but for a few moments only, and then all about the house
were at meals also."
"No; at breakfast yesterday those gamblers came in after us, and I
think then they came from our chamber. Besides, though they did not
sleep with us last night, I am persuaded that one or both of them were
in the room. I heard a light step at midnight, or fancied it; and found
my overcoat turned this morning upon the chair."
"The chambermaid, or Cuffy for the boots. You are the most
suspicious fellow, Dick, and, somehow, you hated these two poor devils
from the very first moment you laid eyes on them. Now, d——n 'em, for my
part, I never gave 'em a second thought. I could have licked either, or
both, and when that chap with the hook-nose began to swagger about, I
felt monstrous like doing it. But he was a poor shote, and the less
said and thought of him the better. I should not care much to meet him
if he had carried the pistols quite off, and presented them to me,
muzzle-stuffed, at the next turning."
"He may yet do so," was my calm reply. "At least it will do us no
harm to prepare for all events. Let us clear the town, and when we once
get well hidden in the woods, we'll take counsel of our landlord, and
see to our priming."
"Why not do it now?"
"For the best of reasons——there are eyes on us,and some of them may
be unfriendly. Better that they should suppose us ignorant and
unprepared, if they meditate evil."
"As you please, but I would not be as jealous and suspicious as you
are, Dick, not for all I'm worth."
"It may be worth that to you to become so:——but ride on; the
ferryman halloos and beckons us to hasten; there are other travellers
to cross. I'm sorry for it. We want no more company."
"Ay, but we do, Dick. The more the merrier, say I. If there's a
dozen, no harm, so they be not in our way in entering land. I like good
company. A hearty joke, or a good story, sets me laughing all the day.
None of your travellers that need to be bawled at to ride up, and open
their ovens. None of your sobersided, drawling, croaking methodists,
for me——your fellows that preach against good living, yet eat of the
fat of the land whenever they can get it, and never refuse a
collection, however small the amount. If I hate any two legged creature
that calls himself human, it is your canting fellow, that preaches
pennyworths of morality and practises pounds of sin——that says a long
grace at supper till the meat grows cold, and that same night inveigles
your chambermaid into the blankets beside him. I wouldn't think so much
of the sin if it wasn't for the hypocrisy. It's bad enough to love the
meal; but to preach over it, before eating, is a shame aswell as a sin.
None but your sneaks do it; fellows whom you might safer trust with
your soul than with your purse. They could do little to harm the one,
but they'd make off with the other. None of those chaps for me, Dick;
yet give me as many travellers as you please. Here seem to be several
going to cross; all wagoners but one, and he seems just one of the
scamps I've been talking of; a short, chunky, black-coated little body;
ten to one his nose turns up like a pug-puppy's, and he talks through
It was in such careless mood and with such loose speech that my
companion beguiled the time between our leaving the hotel and reaching
the flat which was to convey us across the river. William was in the
very best of spirits, and these prompted him to a freedom of speech
which might be supposed to denote some laxity of morals; and yet his
morals were unquestionable. Indeed, it is not unfrequently the case
that a looseness of speech is associated with a rigid practice of
propriety. A consciousness of purity is very apt to prompt a license of
speech in him who possesses it, while he, on the other hand, who is
most apt to indulge in vice, will most usually prove himself most
circumspect in speech. Vice, to be successful, calls for continual
circumspection; and in no respect does it exhibit this quality more
strikingly than in the utterance of its sentiments. The familyof Joe
Surface is a singularly numerous one. My companion was no Joe Surface.
He carried his character in his looks, in his speech, and in his
actions. When you saw the looks, heard the speech, and witnessed the
actions, you had him before you, without possibility or prospect of
change, for good and for evil; and, to elevate still more highly the
character which I admired, and the man I could not but love, I will
add, that he was only too apt to extenuate the motives of others by a
reference to his own. He had no doubts of the integrity of his
fellow——no fears of wrong at his hand——was born with a nature as clear
as the sunlight, as confiding as the winds, and had seen too little of
the world, at the period of which I speak, to have had experience
unteach the sweeter lessons of his unsophisticated humanity. Let not
the reader chide me as lavish in my eulogy; before he does so, let me
pray him to suppose it written upon his tombstone.
We soon reached the flat, and were on our way across the river in a
few minutes after. The little man in the black coat had, in truth, as
my companion had predicted, a little pug-puppy nose, but in his other
guesses he was quite out. We soon discovered that he was no
sermoniser——there was any thing but hypocrisy in his character. On the
contrary, he swore like a trooper whenever occasion offered; and I was
heartily rejoiced, for the decency of thething, if for no other reason,
to discover, as I soon did, that the fellow was about to take another
road from ourselves. The other men, three in number, were farmers in
the neighbourhood, who had been in to supply the Tuscaloosa market.
Like the people of all countries who live in remote interior
situations, and see few strangers who can teach them any thing, these
people had each a hundred questions to ask, and as many remarks to make
upon the answers. They were a hearty, frank, plain spoken, unequivocal
set, who would share with you their hoe cake and bacon, or take a fling
or dash of fisticuffs with you, according to the several positions, as
friend or foe, which you might think proper to take. Among all the
people of this soil, good humour is almost the only rule which will
enable the stranger to get along safely.
We were soon over the river, which is broad and not so rapid at
this spot as at many others. The Tuscaloosa, or Black Warrior river, is
a branch of the Alabama.
The site of the town which bears its name, and which is now the
capital town of Alabama, was that of the Black Warrior's best village.
There is no remnant, no vestige, no miserable cabin, to testify to what
he and his people were. The memorials of this tribe, like that of all
the American tribes, are few, and yet, the poverty of the relics but
speak themore emphatically for the mournfulness of their fate. Who will
succeed to their successors, and what better memorials will they leave
to the future? It is the boast of civilisation only, that it can build
its monument, leave its memorial, and yet, Cheops, could he now look
upon his mausoleum, might be seen to smile over the boast. Enough of
We had no sooner separated from our companions of the boat, and got
fairly into the shelter of the woods, than I reminded William of the
inspection of our fire arms, which I proposed to make after the
cautionary hint of my landlord. We rode aside accordingly into a thick
copse that lay to the right, and covered a group of hills, and drew out
our weapons. To the utter astonishment of my companion, and to my own
exasperation, we found, not only no priming in the pans of our pistols,
but the flints knocked out, and wooden ones, begrimed with gunpowder,
substituted in their place. Whom could we suspect of this but our two
shuffling companions of the chamber? The discovery was full of warning.
We were in a bad neighbourhood and it behoved us to keep our wits about
us. We were neither of us men to be terrified into inactivity by the
prospect of danger, and though aroused and apprehensive, we proceeded
to prepare against the events which seemed to threaten us, and we knew
not on which hand. Fortunately, we had other flints, and other weapons,
and we put all of them in readiness for instant requisition. We had
scarcely done so, and remounted, when we heard a horseman riding down
the main track towards the river. We did not look to see who the
traveller might be, but taking our own course, entered upon the left
hand trail of a fork, which took us out of the main, into a
neighbouring road, by which we proposed to reach the plantation of Mr.
Grafton in the rear, avoiding the front or main road as it was some
little distance longer. To our own surprise we reached the desired
place in safety and without the smallest interruption of any kind. Yet
our minds had been wrought up and excited to the very highest pitch of
expectation, and I felt that something like disappointment was
predominant in my bosom, for the very security we then enjoyed. A
scuffle had been a relief to that anxiety which was not diminished very
greatly by the knowledge that, for a brief season, we were free from
danger. The trial, we believed, was yet to come, and the suspense of
waiting was a greater source of annoyance, than any doubts or
apprehension, which we might have had, of the final issue.
"This night at least * * * * *
The hospitable hearth shall flame
And * * * * *
Find for the wanderer rest and fire."
—— Walter Scott
Colonel Grafton——for we are all colonels more or less in the
southern and southwestern states—— received us at the doorsteps of his
mansion, and gave us that cordial kind of reception which makes the
stranger instantly at home. Our horses were taken, and, in defiance of
all our pleading, were hurried off to the stables, while we were
ushered into the house by our host, and made acquainted with his
family. This consisted of his wife, a fine portly dame of forty-five,
and some five children, in the several stages from seven to seventeen.
The eldest, a lovely damsel, with bright blue eyes, and dark brown
hair, fair as a city lily; the youngest, an ambitious urchin, the
cracking of whose knotted whip filled the room with noises, which it
required an occasional finger-shake of the indulgent mother finally to
subdue. Hospitality was a presidingvirtue, not an ostentatious
pretender, in that pleasant household, and, in the space of half an
hour, we felt as comfortably at home with its inmates as if we had been
associates all our lives. Colonel Grafton would not listen to our
leaving him that night. When William pleaded his business, he had a
sufficient answer. The man whom he sought lived full twelve miles off,
and, through a tedious region of country, it would take us till dark,
good riding, to reach and find the spot, even if we started before
dinner——a violation of good breeding not to be thought of in Alabama.
We were forced to stay, and, indeed, needed no great persuasion. The
air of the whole establishment took us both at first sight. There is a
household as well as individual manner, which moves us almost with as
great an influence; and that of Colonel Grafton's was irresistible. A
something of complete life——calm, methodical, symmetrical life——life in
repose——seemed to mark his parlour, his hall, the arrangement of his
grounds and gardens——the very grouping of the trees. All testified to
the continual presence of a governing mind, whose whole feeling of
enjoyment was derived from order——a method as rigorous as it was simple
and easy of attainment. Yet there was no trim formality either in his
own or his wife's deportment; and as for the arrangement of things
about his house, you could impute to neither of them a fastidiousnicety
and marked disposition to set chairs and tables, books and pictures,
over and against each other of equal size and like colour. To mark what
I mean more distinctly, I will say, that he never seemed to insist upon
having things in their places, but he was always resolute to have them
never in the way. There is no citizen of the world who will not readily
conceive the distinction.
We had a good dinner, and after dinner, taking his wife, and all
his children along, he escorted us over a part of his grounds, pointed
out his improvements, and gave us the domestic history of his
settlement. Miss Grafton afterwards, at her father's suggestion,
conducted us to a pleasant promenade of her own finding, which, in the
indulgence of a very natural sentimentality, she had entitled, "The
Grove of Coronattee," after a love-sick Indian maiden of that name,
who, it is said by tradition, preferred leaving her tribe when it
emigrated to the Mississippi, to an exile from a region in which she
had lived from infancy, and which she loved better than her people. She
afterwards became the wife of a white man named Johnson, and there the
tradition ends. The true story——as Colonel Grafton more than
hinted——was, that Coronattee was tempted by Johnson to become his wife
long before the departure of the tribe, and she, in obedience to
natural, not less than Scripture laws, preferred cleaving toher husband
to going with less endearing relations into foreign lands. The colonel
also intimated his doubts as to the formality of the ceremony by which
the two were united; but this latter suggestion was made to us in a
whisper;——Julia Grafton wholly denying, and with some carnestness I
thought, even such portions of her father's version of the romance as
he had permitted to reach her ears.
That night we rejoiced in a warm supper, and when it was ended, I
had reason to remark, with delight, the effect upon the whole household
of that governing character on the part of its head, which had
impressed me at first entering it. The supper things seemed removed by
magic. We had scarcely left the table, Mrs. Grafton leading the way,
and taken our places around the fire, when Julia took her mother's
place at the waiter; and without noise, bustle or confusion, the plates
and cups and saucers were washed and despatched to their proper places.
A single servant only attended, and this servant seemed endowed with
ubiquity. She seemed to have imbibed the general habits of her
superiors, and did quite as much, if not more, than would have been
done by a dozen servants, and with infinitely less confusion. Such was
the result of method in the principal——there is a moral atmosphere, and
we become acclimated, when under its action, precisely as in the
physical world. The slave had tacitly fallen into the habits and moods
of those above her ——as inferiors are very apt to do——and, without a
lesson prescribed or a reason spoken, she had heeded all lessons, and
felt, though she might not have expressed, the reasons for all. The
whole economy of the household was admirable——not an order was
given——no hesitation or ignorance of what was needed, shown——but each
seemed to know by instinct, and to perform with satisfaction, his or
her several duties. Our repasts are seldom conducted any where in the
Southwest with a strict attention to order. A stupid slave puts every
thing into confusion, and we do not help the matter much by bringing in
a dozen to her aid. The fewer servants about houses the better——they
learn to do the more they are required to do, and acquire a habit of
promptness without which a servant might be always utterly worth ess.
When the table was removed Julia joined us, and we all chatted
pleasantly together for the space of an hour. As soon as the
conversation seemed to flag, at a signal from Colonel Grafton, which
his daughter instantly recognised and obeyed, she rose, and bringing a
little stand to the fireside, on which lay several books, she prepared
to read to us in compliance with one of the fireside laws of her
father—— one which he had insisted upon, and which she had followed,
from the first moment of her being able toread tolerably. She now read
well——sweetly, unaffectedly, yet impressively. A passage from the
"Deserted Village" interested us for half an hour; and the book made
way for conversation among the men, aud needle work among the women.
But the whole scene impressed me with delight. It was so natural, yet
so uncommon in its aspect——done with so much ease, with so little
effort, yet so completely. Speaking of it in compliment to our host
when the ladies had retired, we received a reply which struck me as
embodying the advantages of a whole host of moral principles, such as
are laid down in books, but without any of their cold and freezing
drynesses. "Sir," said Colonel Grafton, "I ascribe the happiness of my
family to a very simple origin. It has always been a leading endeavour
with me to make my children love the family fireside. If the virtues
should dwell any where in a household, it is there. There I have always
and only found them."
And there they did dwell of a truth. I felt their force and so did
my companion. William, indeed, was so absolutely charmed with Julia
Grafton, that I began to apprehend that he would not only forget his
betrothed, but his journey also——a journey which, I doubt not, the
reader, agreeing with myself, would have us instantly resume. But we
had consented to stay with our friendly host that night; and before we
retired we made all necessary inquiries touchinghis debtor. Colonel
Grafton gave my friend little encouragement on the subject of his
"I am almost sorry," he said, "that I endorsed that man's note. I
fear I shall have to pay it; not that I regard the loss, but that it
will make me the more reluctant hereafter to assist other poor men in
the same manner. The dishonesty of one beginner in this way affects the
fortunes of a thousand others, who are possibly free from his or any
failings of the kind. When I signed the note for Webber, he was my
overseer but disposed to set up for himself. I had found him honest——or
rather, I had never found him dishonest. If he was, he had rogue's
cunning enough to conceal it. Since he left me, however, he has become
an object of suspicion to the whole neighbourhood, and many are the
tales which I hear of his misconduct. It is not known how he lives. A
miserable patch of corn and one of potatoes form his only pretence as a
farmer, and to these he pays so little attention, that his apology is
openly laughed at. The cattle are commonly in the cornfield, and the
hogs do what they please with the potato patch. He does not see, or
does not care to see. He is seldom at home, and you may have to return
to-morrow without finding him. If so, scruple not to make my house your
home so long as it may serve your purpose and prove agreeable."
We thanked him with due frankness, and he proceeded——
"This man has no known resources whatsoever, yet he is seldom
without money. He is lavish of it, and must get it easily. It is
commonly thought that he gambles and is connected with a vast
association of gamblers that live upon the steamboats, and harass the
country from Georgia to Louisiana, assessing the unwary traveller
wherever they meet with him——and you know how many thoughtless,
confident youth we have, who lose their money from an unwillingness to
believe that they can be outwitted by their neighbour."
My eye, as these words were spoken, caught that of William, which
turned away in confusion from my glance. I felt mischievous enough to
relate our adventure at the Tuscaloosa tavern, but Colonel Grafton
talked too well, and we were both too much interested in what he said
to desire to interrupt him. He proceeded——
"It is even said and supposed by some that he does worse——that he
robs where he cannot win, and seizes where he cannot cheat. I am not of
this opinion. Rogues as well as honest men find it easy enough to get
along in our country without walking the highway; and, though I know
him to be bold enough to be a ruffian, I doubt whether such would be
his policy. My notion is that he is a successful gambler, and, as such,
if you find him at home, I doubt not that you will get your money. At
least, such is my hope for your sake as well as my own. If you do, Mr.
Carrington, you will trust again, and I——yes——I will endorse again the
poor man's promise to pay."
"And how far from you is the residence of this man?" was my
"From twelve to fourteen miles, and through a miserably wild
country. I do not envy you the ride; you will have an up-hill journey
of it full two thirds of the route, and a cheerless one throughout. I
trust you may not take it in vain; but——whether you do or not, you must
return this way. It is your nearest route to Columbus, and I can put
you on your way by a short cut which you could not find yourselves. I
shall, of course, expect you."
Such was the amount of our conference with this excellent man that
night. We separated at twelve o'clock——a late hour in the country, but
the evening had passed too pleasantly to permit us to feel it so. A
cheerful breakfast in the morning, and a renewal of all those pleasant
thoughts and images which had fascinated us the night before, made us
hesitate to leave this charming family; and slow were the first
movements which carried us from the happy territory. Well provided with
directions for finding the way, and cautions to be circumspect and
watchful, we set out for the dwelling of our suspicious debtor.
Old Giaffar sat in his divan,
Deep thought was in his aged eye;
And though the face of Mussulman
Not oft betrays to standers by
The mind within——well skill'd to hide
All but unconquerable pride——
His pensive cheek and pondering brow
Did more than he was wont avow.
—— Bride of Abydos
Our host had in no respect exaggerated the tediousness of our
journey. Perhaps it became doubly so to us from the pleasant
consciousness, fresh in our minds, of the few preceding hours which had
been so unqualifiedly delightful. The hills rose before us, and we felt
it to be indeed toilsome to ascend them, when we knew that by such
ascent, we only threw them as barriers between us and the spot to which
we both felt every disposition to return. It is strange how susceptible
to passing and casual influences are the strongest among us. Let our
pride not rise in our path as a dogged opponent, and what flexibility
is ours——what may we not become——what not achieve! How lovely will
seemplace and person, if, when they commend themselves to our
affections, they forbear to assail or offend our pride! I could tear
myself from the dwelling of my childhood——from the embrace of the
fondest of mothers——from all the sympathies and ties to which I had
been accustomed——yea, from the sight of her to whom all my hopes had
been addressed——in obedience to this arbitrary influence; and, failing
to derive even the coldest satisfaction from friends and family and
birth place, could yet be sensible of pleasure derived from the
contemplation of a strange home, and a passing intercourse with
strangers. Perhaps it may be safe to assert that the greatest enemy to
our affections, is our mind. The understanding, even among the
weakest——as if conscious of its superior destiny——will assert its sway,
and sacrifice the heart which depends on it for life, in deference to
that miserable vanity which lives only on its diseases. I have always
been conscious of this sort of warfare going on with me. I have spoken
the sarcasm to the loved one, even when my own bosom felt the
injustice, and when my heart, with the keenest sympathy, quivered also
with the pang.
We had ridden, perhaps, an hour, and were winding our way down from
gorge to gorge among a pile of hills of which there seemed to be no
end, when we came suddenly upon three men, sitting among thebushes at a
little distance from the road side. Two of them we knew at the first
glance to be our chamber companions at Tuscaloosa. The third we had
neither of us seen before. He was a short thickset person of black hair
and unimposing features, presenting, in his dress, a singular contrast
to the trim and gaudy caparison of his comrades. They were sitting
around a log, and may have been eating for aught we knew. They had
something between them which called for their close scrutiny, and
seemed so well to receive it that we completely surprised them. When
they heard us, there was a visible start, and one of the two gamblers
started to his feet. I rode on without giving them the least notice;
but, thoughtless as ever, William half advanced to them, and in a good
humoured, dare-devil style of expression, cried out to them aloud.
"Halloo, my good fellows, do you feel like another game to day."
What their answer was, and whether they sufficiently heard to
understand his words or not, I cannot say——they stood motionless and
watched our progress; and I conceived it fortunate that I was able to
persuade my companion to ride on without farther notice. He did not
relish the indifference with which they seemed to regard us, and a
little pause and provocation might have brought us intoa regular fight.
Perhaps——the issue of our journey considered——such would have been a
fortunate event. We might not have suffered half so much as in the end
"Now could I take either or both of those fellows by the neck, and
rattle their pates together, for the fun of it," was the speech of my
companion, as we rode off.
There was a needless display of valour in this, and my answer
exhibited a more cautious temper. Rash enough myself at times, I yet
felt the necessity of temperateness when in company with one so very
thoughtless as my friend.
"Ay, and soil your fingers and bruise your knuckles for your pains.
If they are merely dirty dogs, you would surely soil your fingers, and
if they were at all insolent, you would run some risk of getting them
broken. The least we have to do with all such people, the better for
all parties——I, at least, have no ambition to couple with them either
in love or hostility. Enough to meet them in their own way when they
cross the path, and prevent our progress."
"Which these chaps will never do, I warrant you."
"We have less need to cross theirs——the way is broad enough for
both of us. But let us on, since our road grows more level, though not
less wild. Iam tired of this jade pace——our nags will sleep at last,
and stop at the next turning."
We quickened our pace, and, in another hour we approached the
confines of our debtor's habitation. We knew it by the generally
sterile and unprepossessing aspect of every thing around it. The
description which Colonel Grafton had given us was so felicitous that
we could have no doubts; and riding up to the miserable cabin, we were
fortunate enough to meet in proper person the man we sought.
He stood at the entrance, leaning sluggishly against one of the
door posts——a slightly built person, of slovenly habits, an air coarse,
inferior, unprepossessing, and dark lowering features. His dress was
shabby, his hat mashed down on one side of his head——his arms thrust to
the elbows in the pockets of his breeches, and he wore the mocasins of
an Indian. Still, there was something in the keen lively glances of his
small black eye, that denoted a restless and quick character, and his
thin, closely pressed lips were full of promptness and decision. His
skin was tanned almost yellow, and his long, uncombed but flowing hair,
black as a coal, falling down upon his neck which was bare, suited
well, while contrasting strongly with his swarthy lineaments. He
received us with civility——advanced from his tottering door steps on
our approach, and held our horses while we dismounted.
"You remember me, Mr. Webber?" said my companion calling him by
"Mr. Carrington, I believe," was the reply——"I don't forget easily.
Let me take your horses, gentlemen?"
There was a composure in the fellow's manners that almost amounted
to dignity. Perhaps, this too was against him. Where should he learn
such habits——such an air? From whence could come the assurance——the
thorough ease and self complacency of his deportment? Such confidence
can spring from two sources only——the breeding of blood——the systematic
habits of an unmingled family, admitting of no connection with strange
races, and becoming aristocratic from concentration——or the
recklessness of one indifferent to social claims, and obeying no other
master than his own capricious mood.
We were conducted into his cabin, and provided with seats. Wretched
and miserable as every thing seemed about the premises, our host showed
no feeling of disquiet or concern on this account. He made no apology;
drew forth the rude chairs covered with bull's hides; and proceeded to
get the whiskey and sugar, the usual beverage presented in that region
to the guest.
"You have ridden far, and a sup of whiskey will do you good,
gentlemen. From Tuscaloosa this morning——you've ridden well."
William corrected his error by telling where we had stayed last
night. A frown insensibly gathered above the brow of the man as he
heard the name of Colonel Grafton.
"The Colonel and myself don't set horses now altogether," was the
quick remark——"he's a rich—— I'm a poor man."
"And yet I should scarce think him the person to find cause of
disagreement between himself and any man from a difference of
condition," was the reply of William to this remark.
"You don't know him, Mr. Carrington, I reckon. For a long time I
didn't know him myself——I was his overseer you know, and it was then he
put his name to that little bit of paper, that I s'pose you come about
"Well," continued the debtor, "so long as I was his overseer,
things went on smoothly; but the Colonel don't like to see men setting
up for themselves; and tried to keep me from it, but he couldn't; and
since I've left him, he doesn't look once in the year over to my side
of the country. He don't like me now I know——did you hear him say
nothing about me?"
I could detect the keen black eye of the speaker, as he finished,
watching the countenance of Carrington as he waited for the reply. I
feared that the perfect frankness of William might have betrayed him
into a partial revelation of Colonel Grafton's information; but he
evaded the inquiry with some address.
"Yes, he gave us full directions how to find your place, and warned
us that we might not find you at home. He said you travelled a great
deal about the country and didn't plant much. You deal in merchandise,
The fellow looked somewhat disappointed as he replied in the
negative. But dismissing every thing like expression from his face, in
the next instant he asked if we had met with any travellers on the
road. I replied quickly by stating with the utmost brevity, the fact
that we had met three——whose appearance I briefly described without
giving any particulars, and studiously suppressed the previous
knowledge which we had of the gamblers at Tuscaloosa; but I had
scarcely finished when William, with his wonted thoughtlessness, took
up the tale where I had left it incomplete, and omitted nothing. The
man looked grave, and when he was ended, contented himself with
remarking that he knew no person like those described, and inquired if
we had not met with others. But, with my wonted suspiciousness of
habit, I fancied that there was a something in his countenance that
told a different story, and whether there were reason for this fancy or
not, I was inlypersuaded that our debtor and the two gamblers were
birds of a feather. It will be seen in the sequel that I was not
mistaken. There was an awkward pause in the conversation, for
Carrington, like a man not accustomed to business, seemed loth to ask
about his money. He was relieved by the debtor.
"Well, Mr. Carrington," he said, "you come I s'pose about that
little paper of mine. You want your money, and, to say truth, you ought
to have had it some time ago. I would have sent it to you but I
couldn't get any safe hand going down into your parts."
Carrington interrupted him.
"That's no matter, Mr. Webber, I didn't want the money, to say
truth, till just now; but if you can let me have it now, it will be as
good to me as if you had sent it to me six months ago. I'm thinking to
buy a little land in Mississippi, if I can get it moderate, and can get
a long credit for the best part of it, but it will be necessary to put
down something, you know, to clinch the bargain, and I thought I might
as well look to you for that."
"To be sure——certain——it's only reasonable; but if you think to go
into Mississippi to get land now on a long credit, and hardly any cash,
Mr. Carrington, you'll find yourself mightily mistaken. You must put
down the real grit if you want to do any thing in the land market."
"Oh, yes, I expect to put down some——"
The acute glance of my eye, arrested the speech of my thoughtless
companion. In two minutes more he would probably have declared the very
amount he had in possession, and all the purposes he had in view. I do
not know, however, but that the abrupt pause and silence which followed
my interposition, revealed quite as much to the cunning debtor as the
words of my companion would have done. The bungling succession of half
formed and incoherent sentences which William uttered to hide the truth
and conceal that which, by this time, was sufficiently told, perhaps
contributed to impress him with an idea of much greater wealth in our
possession than was even the case. But, whatever may have been his
thoughts, his countenance was too inflexibly indifferent to convey to
us their character. He was stolid and seemingly unobservant to the last
degree, scarcely giving the slightest heed to the answers which his own
remarks and inquiries demanded. At length, abruptly returning to the
business in hand, he spoke thus:
"Well, now, Mr. Carrington, I'll have to give you a little
disappointment. I can't pay you to-day, much as I would like to do it,
for you see, my money is owing to me and is scattered all about the
neighbourhood. If you could take a bed with me to night, and be
satisfied to put off travelling for aday, I could promise you, I think
for certain, to give you the whole of your money by to-morrow night. I
can get it, for that matter, from a friend, but I should have to ride
about fifteen or twenty miles for it, and that couldn't be done to
"Nor would I wish it, Mr. Webber," was the reply of William.
"To-morrow will answer, and though we are obliged to you for your offer
of a bed to night, yet we have a previous promise to return and spend
the night with Colonel Grafton."
The brows of the man again blackened, but he spoke in cool
deliberate accents, though his language was that of enmity and
"Ay, I supposed as much. Colonel Grafton has a mighty fine house,
and every thing in good fix——he can better accommodate fine gentlemen
than a poor man like me. You can do what you like about that, Mr.
Carrington——stay with me to-night, or come at mid-day to-morrow——all
the same to me——you shall still have your money. I'll get it for you at
all hazards, if it's only to get rid of all farther obligation to that
man. I've been obligated to him too long already, and I'll wipe out the
score to-morrow or I'm no man myself."
On the subject of Webber's motive for paying his debt, the creditor
of course had but little to say. But the pertinacity of the fellow on
another topic annoyed me.
"You speak," said I, "of the greater wealth and better
accommodations of Colonel Grafton, as prompting us to prefer his
hospitality to yours. My good sir, why should you do us this wrong?
What do you see in either of us to think such things? We are both poor
men——poorer, perhaps, than yourself——I know I am, and believe that such
too is the case with my companion."
"Do you though?" said the fellow coolly interrupting me. I felt
that my blood was warming—— he perhaps saw it, for he instantly went
"I don't mean any offence to you, gentlemen—— very far from it; but
we all very well know what temptations are in a rich man's house more
than those in a poor man's. I'm a little jealous you see, that's all;
for I look upon myself as just as good as Colonel Grafton any day, and
to find people go from my door to look for his, is a sort of slight,
you see, that I can't always stomach. But I suppose you are another
guess sort of people; and I should be sorry if you found any thing
amiss in what I say. I'm a poor man, it's true, but by God, I'm an
honest one, and come when you will, Mr. Carrington, I'll take up that
bit of paper almost as soon as you bring it."
We drank with the fellow at parting, and left him on tolerably
civil terms; but there was something about him which troubled and made
me apprehensive and suspicious. His habits of life——as we sawthem——but
ill compared with the measured and deliberate manners and tone of voice
which he habitually employed. The calmness and dignity of one,
conscious of power and practised in authority, were conspicuous in
every thing he said and did. Such characteristics never mark the
habitually unemployed man. What then were his occupations? Time will
show. Enough for the present to know that he was even then meditating
as dark a piece of villany as the domestic historian of the frontier
was ever called upon to record.
——They are a lawless brood,
But rough in form nor mild in mood;
And every creed and every race,
With them hath found——may find a place.
We had not well departed from the dwelling of the debtor before it
was occupied by the two gamblers, whose merits we had discovered in
Tuscaloosa, and the third person whom we had seen with them on the road
side. They had watched and followed our steps, and by a better
knowledge of the roads than we possessed, they had been enabled to
arrive at the same spot without being seen, and to lurk in waiting for
the moment of our departure, before they made their appearance. No
sooner were we gone, however, than they emerged from their place of
concealment and made for the house. A few words sufficed to tell their
story to their associate, for such he was.
"Do you know the men that have left you? What was their business
They were answered, and they then revealedwhat they knew. They
dwelt upon the large sum in bills which William had incautiously
displayed to their eyes, and, exaggerating its amount, they insisted
not the less upon the greater amount which they assumed——nay,
asserted——to be in my possession; a prize, both sums being considered,
which, they coolly enough contended, would be sufficient to reward them
for the most extreme and summary efforts to obtain it.
"We must pursue them instantly," said the scoundrel who had sought
to bully us at the tavern. "There are four of us, and we can soon
"They are armed to the teeth, George," said our debtor.
"We have seen to that," was the reply. "Ben had an opportunity to
inspect their pistols, which they wisely left in their chamber when
they went down to eat; and with his usual desire to keep his neighbours
from doing harm, he knocked out the priming, and for the old flints, he
put in fine new ones, fashioned out of wood. These will do no mischief,
I warrant you, to any body, and so let us set on. If my figures do not
fail me, these chaps have money enough about them to pay our way, for
the next three months, from Tennessee to New Orleans and back."
His proposal was seconded by his immediatecompanions, but the
debtor, with more deliberateness and effectual judgment, restrained
"I'm against riding after them now, though all be true, as you say,
about the money in their hands."
"What! will you let them escape us——are you growing chicken, Mat,
in your old days?——you refuse to be a striker, do you?——it's beneath
your wisdom and dignity, I suppose," said our bullying gambler, who
went by the name of George.
"Shut up, George, and don't be foolish," was the cool response.
"You ought to know me by this time, and one thing is certain, I know
enough of you. You talk of being a striker. Why, man, you mistake.
You're a chap for a trick——for making a pitfall, but not for shoving
the stranger into it. Be quiet, and I'll put you at your best business.
These men come back here at mid-day to-morrow."
"Ha!——the devil they do."
"Ay——they dine with me, and then return to Colonel Grafton's. To
one of them, as I told you—— the younger of the two——a full-faced, good
natured looking fellow——I owe a hundred or two dollars. He hopes to get
it by coming. Now, it's for you to say if he will or not. I leave it to
you. I can get the money easily enough; and if you've got any better
from that camp meeting that you went to, on the 'Bigby, you will
probably say I ought to pay him——but if not——"
"Psha!" was the universal answer. "What nonsense. Pay the devil.
The very impudence of the fellow in coming here to make collections
should be enough to make us cut his throat."
"Shall we do that, men?" was the calm inquiry of the debtor.
"It's best," was the bloody answer of the gambler, George. Cowards
of bad morals are usually the most sanguinary people when passion
prompts and opportunity occurs. "I'm clear," continued the same fellow,
"for making hash of these chaps. There is one of them——the slenderer
fellow with the long nose, (meaning me)——his d——d insolence to me in
Tuscaloosa is enough to convict him. The sooner we fix him the better."
"George seems unwilling to give that chap a chance. I rather think
it would be better to let him go in order that the two might fight out
their quarrel. Eh, George, what say you?"
The host proposed a cutting question, but in his own cool and
measured manner. It did not seem to fall harmlessly upon the person to
whom it was addressed. His features grew darkly red with the ferocity
of his soul, but his reply was framed with a just knowledge of the
fearless nature of the man who had provoked him.
"You know, Mat, I can fight well enough when it pleases me to do
"True," was the answer; "nobody denies that. I only meant to say
that you don't often find pleasure in it; nor, indeed, George, do I;
and that's one reason which I have for disagreeing with you about these
"What!" said one of the companions, "you won't lift?"
"Who says I won't? To be sure I will. We'll lift what we can, and
empty the sack; but I'm not for slitting any more pipes if I can help
it——not in this neighbourhood, at least."
"Mat's going to join the Methodists. He'll eat devil's broth, but
dip no meat," said George.
"No——if it's needful I'll eat both; but one I don't like so much as
the other, and when I can get the one without the other I'll always
prefer to do so."
"But they'll blab."
"So they may——but what care we about that when we're going where
they can't find us? Let us keep them quiet till to-morrow midnight, and
then they may use their pipes quite as much as they please. By that
time we shall all be safe in the Nation, and the sheriff may whistle
"Well, as to that part of the plan," said George, "I'm opposed to
it now, and have always been against it. I see no reason to leave a
country where we've done, and where we're still doing, so excellent a
"What business——no striking for a week or more," said one of the
"But what's the chance to-morrow. These very chaps show us the
goodness of the business we may do by holding on a time longer. Here's
hundreds going for the Nation and thereabouts every week, and most of
them have the real stuff. They sell out in the old states, raise all
the cash they can, and give us plenty of picking if we'll look out and
wait for it. But we mustn't be so milk-hearted. There's no getting on
in safety if we only crop the beast's tail and let it run. We can stay
here six months longer, if we stop the mouth of the sack when we empty
"Ah, George, you are quite too brave in council, and too full of
counsel in the field," was the almost indifferent reply of the
debtor——"to stay here six weeks would be to hang us all. The people are
getting too thick and too sober between this and 'Bigby. They'll cut us
off from running after awhile. Now, you are too brave to run——you'd
rather fight and die any day than that. Not so with me——I'm for lifting
and striking any where, so long as the back door's open; but the moment
you shut up that, I'm for other lodgings. But enough of this. We've
made the law for going already, and it's a mere waste of breath to talk
over that matter now. There's other business before us, and if you'll
let me, we'll talk about that."
"Crack away," was the answer.
"These lads come here to-morrow——they dine with me. The old trick
is the easiest——we'll rope them to their chairs, and then search their
pockets. They carry their bills in their bosoms, I reckon, and if
they've got specie it's in the saddle bags. We can rope them, rob them,
and leave them at table. All the expense is a good dinner and we'll
leave them that too, as it will be some hours, I reckon, before any
body will come along to help them out of hobble, and they'll be hungry
when their first trouble's fairly over. By that time, we'll be mighty
nigh Columbus, and if the lads have the money you say they have, it
wlll help us handsomely through the Nation. It will be a good finishing
stroke to our business in this quarter."
The plan thus briefly stated, was one well understood by the
fraternity, as it had been practised in their robberies more than once
before; and it received the general approbation. The bully, George, was
opposed to leaving us alive, but he was compelled to yield his bloody
wishes in compliance with the more humane resolution of the rest.
"I am against cutting more throats than I can help, George," said
the calculating host——"It's a dirty practice and I don't like it, as
it's always so hard for me to clean my hands and take the spots out of
my breeches. Besides, I hate to see a mandropped like a bullock never
to get up again. There's only one chap in the world that I have such a
grudge against that I should like to shed his blood, and even him I
should forgive if he was only willing to bend his neck when a body
meets him, and say 'how d'ye do,' with civility."
"Who's that, Bill?" demanded George.
"No matter about the name. If I have to cut his throat I don't care
to trouble you to help me."
"Ay, if I hold him for the knife. Enough, George——we'll try you
to-morrow. You shall have the pleasure of dropping the slip over that
fellow with the long nose. See that you do it bravely. If you don't
pinion his arms you may feel his elbow, and he looks very much like a
chap that had bone and muscle to spare."
"I'll see to that——but suppose they refuse to dine?" was the
suggestion of the bully.
"Why, then, we must take them when at the drink, or as they go
through the passage. You must watch your chance, and choose the moment
you like best; but you who are the strikers must be careful to move
together. If you miss a minute you may have trouble, for one will
certainly come to help the other, and it may compel us to use the knife
"It's a shorter way to use it at first," said George.
"Perhaps so——but let me tell you it lasts much longer. The business
is not dead with the man; and when you have done that sort of thing
once or twice, you'll find that it calls for you to do a great deal
more business of different kinds which will be not only troublesome but
disagreeable. I tell you, as I told you before, it is the very devil to
wash out the stains."
This affair settled, others of like nature, but of less immediate
performance, came up for consideration; but these need not be related
now. One fact, however, may be stated. When they had resolved upon our
robbery, they set themselves down to play for the results, and having
made a supposed estimate of our effects, they staked their several
shares in moderate sums, and won and lost the moneys which they were
yet to steal. It may be added that my former opponent, the bully
George, was one of the most fortunate; and having won the right from
his comrades to the spoils which they were yet to win, he was the most
impatient for the approach of the hour when his winnings were to be
realised. Let us now relate our own progress.
So thy fair hand, enamour'd fancy! gleans
The treasured pictures of a thousand scenes;
Thy pencil traces on the lover's thought
Some cottage home, from towns and toil remote,
Where love and peace may claim alternate hours
With peace embosom'd in Idalian bowers!
Remote from busy life's bewilder'd way
O'er all his heart shall taste and beauty sway——
Free on the sunny slope, or winding shore,
With hermit steps to wander and adore.
On our return to Colonel Grafton's, we were received with a welcome
due rather to a long and tried intimacy than to our new acquaintance.
There we met a Mr. Clifton——a young man about twenty-five years of
age——of slight, but elegant figure, and a face decidedly one of the
most handsome I had ever seen among men. It was evident to me after a
little space that such also was the opinion of Julia Grafton. Her eyes,
when an opportunity offered, watched him narrowly; and I was soon
enabled to see that the gentleman himself was assiduous in those
attentions which are apt enough to occasion love, and to yield it
opportunity. I learned casually in the course of the evening, and after
the young man had retired, what I had readily inferred from my previous
observation——namely, that they had been for some time known to each
other. Mr. Clifton's manners were good——artless exceedingly, and frank,
and he seemed in all respects, a perfect and pleasing gentleman. He
left us before night, alleging a necessity to ride some miles on
business which admitted of no delay. I could see the disappointment in
the cheek of Julia, and the quivering of her lovely lips was not
entirely concealed. That night she sang us a plaintive ditty to the
music of an ancient but nobly toned harpischord, and trembling but
anticipative love was the burden of her song. The obvious interest of
these two in each other, had the effect of carrying me back to
Marengo——but the vision which encountered me there drove me again into
the wilderness and left me no refuge but among strangers. I fancied
that I beheld the triumphant joy of John Hurdis; and the active and
morbid imagination completed the cruel torture by showing me Mary
Easterby locked in his arms. My soul shrank from the portraiture of my
fancy, and I lapsed away into gloom and silence in defiance of all the
friendly solicitings of our host and his sweet family.
But my companion had no such suffering as mine, and he gave a free
rein to his tongue. He related toColonel Grafton the circumstances
attending our interview with the debtor, not omitting the remarks of
the latter in reference to the Colonel himself.
"It matters not much," said the Colonel, "what he thinks of me, but
the truth is, he has not told you the precise reason of his hostility.
The pride of the more wealthy is always insisted upon by the poorer
sort of people, to account for any differences between themselves and
their neighbours. It is idle to answer them on this head. They
themselves know better. If they confessed that the possession of
greater wealth was an occasion of their constant hate or dislike they
would speak more to the purpose, and with far more justice. Not that I
think that Webber hates me because I am wealthy. He spends daily quite
as much money as I do——but he cannot so well convince his neighbours
that he gets it as honestly; and still less can he convince me of the
fact. In his own consciousness lies my sufficient justification for the
distance at which I keep him, and for that studied austerity of
deportment on my part of which he so bitterly complains. I am sorry for
my own sake, not less than his, that I am forced to the adoption of a
habit which is not natural to me and far from agreeable. It gives me no
less pain to avoid any of my neighbours than it must give them offence.
But I act from a calm conviction of duty, and this fellow knows it. Let
us say no more abouthim. It is enough that he promises to pay you your
money——he can do it if he will; and I doubt not that he will keep his
promise, simply because my name is on his paper. It will be a matter of
pride with him to relieve himself of an obligation to one who offends
his self-esteem so greatly as to provoke him to complaint."
About ten o'clock the next day we left Colonel Grafton's for the
dwelling of the debtor. He rode a mile or two with us, and on leaving
us renewed his desire that we should return and spend the night with
him. His residence lay in our road, and we readily made the promise.
"Could I live as Grafton lives," said William, after our friend had
left us——"Could I have such an establishment, and such a family——and be
such a man ——it seems to me I should be most happy. He wants for
nothing that he has not——he is beloved by his family, and has acquired
so happily the arts of the household——and there is a great deal in
that—— that he cannot but be happy. Every thing is snug, and every
thing seems to fit about him. Nothing is out of place; and wife,
children, servants——all, not only seem to know their several places,
but to delight in them. There is no discontent in that family; and that
dear girl——Julia——how much she reminds me of Catharine——what a gentle
being, yethow full of spirit——how graceful and light in her thoughts
and movements, yet how true, how firm."
I let my friend run on in his eulogy without interruption. The
things and persons which had produced a sensation of so much pleasure
in his heart, had brought but sorrow and dissatisfaction to mine. His
fancy described his own household, in similarly bright colours to his
mind and eye——whilst my thoughts, taking their complexion from my own
denied and defeated fortunes, indulged in gloomy comparisons of what I
saw in the possession of others, and the cold, cheerless fate——the
isolation and the solitude——of all my future life. How could I
appreciate the enthusiasm of my friend——how share in his raptures?
Every picture of bliss to the eye of the sufferer is provocation and
bitterness. I felt it such and replied querulously——
"Your raptures may be out of place, William, for aught you know.
What folly to judge of surfaces. But your young traveller always does
so. Who shall say what discontent reigns in that family, in the absence
of the stranger? There may be bitterness and curses for aught you know,
in many a bosom, the possessor of which meets you with a smile and
cheers you with a song——and that girl Julia—— she is beautiful you
say——but is she blest? she loves ——you see that!——Is it certain that
she loves wisely, worthily——that she wins the object of her
love——thathe does not deceive her——or that she does not jilt him in
some moment of bitter perversity and chafing passion? Well did the
ancient declare, that the happiness of man could never be estimated
till the grave had closed over him."
"The fellow was a fool to say that, as if the man could be happy
then. But I can declare him false from my own bosom. I am happy now,
and am resolved to be more so. Look you, Dick——in two weeks more I will
be in Marengo. I shall have entered my lands, and made my preparations.
In four weeks Catharine will be mine; and then, hey for an
establishment like Grafton's. All shall be peace and sweetness about my
dwelling as about his. I will lay out my grounds in the same manner——I
will bring Catharine to see his——"
I ventured to interrupt the dreamer: "Suppose she does not like
them as much as you do? Women have their own modes of thinking and
planning these matters. Will you not give her her own way?"
He replied good-naturedly but quickly: "Oh! surely; but she will
like them——I know she will. They are entirely to her taste; and whether
they be or not, she shall have her own way in that. You do not suppose
I would insist upon so small a matter?"
"But it was any thing but a small matter whileyou were dwelling
upon the charms of Colonel Grafton's establishment. The grounds make no
small part of its charms in both our eyes; and I wonder that you should
give them up so readily."
"I do not give them up, Richard. I will let Catharine know how much
I like them, and will insist upon them as long as I can in reason. But,
however lovely I think them, do not suppose that I count them as any
thing in comparison of the family beauty——the harmony that makes the
circle a complete system in which the lights are all clear and lovely,
and the sounds all sweet and touching."
"I will sooner admit your capacity to lay out your grounds as
tastefully as Colonel Grafton than to bring about such results in your
family, whatever it may be. You are not Colonel Grafton, William; you
lack his prudence, his method, his experience, his years. The harmony
of one's household depends greatly upon the discretion and resolve of
its master. Heaven knows I wish you happy, William, but, if you promise
yourself a home like that of this gentleman, you must become a cooler
headed, and far more prudent personage than any of your friends esteem
you now. You are amiable enough, and, therefore, worthy to have such a
family; but you are not grave enough to create its character, and so to
decree and impel, as to make the lights revolve harmoniously in your
circle, and call forth the musicin its place. Your lights will
sometimes annoy you by their glare, or go out when you most need their
assistance; and your music will ring in your ears at times when your
evening nap seems to you the most desirable enjoyment in nature. Joy,
itself, is known to surfeit, and you, unhappily, are not a man to feed
He received my croakings with good nature, and laughed heartily at
"You are a sad boy, Richard. You are quite too philosophical ever
to be happy," was his good natured reply. "You analyse matters too
closely. You must not subject the things which give you pleasure to a
too close inspection of your mind, or ten to one you despise them. The
mind has but little to do with the affections——the less the better. I
would rather not think, but only believe, where I have set my heart. It
is so sweet to confide——it is so worrying to doubt. It appears to me
now, for example, that the fruit plucked by Eve, producing all the
quarrel between herself and daddy Adam, was from the tree of jealousy."
"What a transition!" was my reply. "You have brought down your
generalisation to a narrow and very selfish point. But give your horse
the spur, I pray you——when your theme becomes domestic I feel like a
He pricked his steed in compliance with my wish;but the increased
pace of our horses offered no interruption to his discourse on a
subject so near his heart. He continued to speak in the same fashion.
"Once fairly married, Dicky, you will see how grave I can be. I
will then become a public man. You will hear of me as a commissioner of
the poor, of roads, bridges and ferries. I will get up a project for an
orphan asylum in Marengo, and make a speech or two at the muster ground
in favour of an institute for coupling veteran old maids and inveterate
old bachelors together. The women will name all their first children
after me, and in five years I will be god-father to half Marengo. You
smile—— you will see. And then, Dick, when Kate gives me a dear little
brat of our own——ah! Dick."
He struck the spur into his steed, and the animal bounded up the
hill as if a wing, like that in the soul of his master, was lifting him
forwards and upwards without his own exertions. I smiled, with a sad
smile, at the enthusiast lover; and bitterly did his dream of delight
force me to brood over my own experience of disappointment. The
brightness of his hope was like some glowing and breathing flower cast
upon the grave of mine. I could almost have quarrelled with him for his
joy on such a subject. Little did he, or I, think, poor fellow, that
his joy was but a dream——that the doom of denial, nor of denial merely,
was already written by the fates against him. Terrible indeed, with a
sudden terribleness——when I afterwards reflected upon his boyish ardor,
appeared to me the sad fate which lay, as it were, in the very path
over which he was bounding with delight. Could he or I have lifted the
thick veil at that moment——how idle would have appeared all his
hopes——how much more idle my despondency.
I hate him for he is a Christian——
But more, for that, in low simplicity,
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
If I can catch him once upon the hip
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
—— Merchant of Venice
We at length reached the dwelling of our debtor He received us as
before, with a plain, rude indifference of manner, mingled with good
nature, nevertheless, that seemed willing to give pleasure, howover
unwilling to make any great exertion for it. There was nothing to
startle our apprehension or make us suspicious. Nobody appeared, save
the host, who played his part to admiration. He would have carried our
horses to the stable, but we refused to suffer him to do so, alleging
our intention to ride back to Colonel Grafton's as soon as possible.
"What! not before dinner!——you will surely stay and dine with me. I
have prepared for you."
The rascal spoke truly. He had prepared for us with a vengeance. I
would have declined for I did not like, though to confess a truth, I
did not distrust, appearance. But finding us hesitate, and fearing
probably to lose his prey, he resorted to a suggestion which at once
"I'm afraid if you can't stop for dinner, I can't let you have the
money to day. A neighbour of mine to whom I lent it a month ago,
promised to bring it by meal-time, and as he lives a good bit off, I
don't look for him before."
This, uttered with an air of indifference, settled our
irresolution. The idea of coming back again to such a place, and so
wasting another day, was any thing but agreeable, and we resolved to
stay by all means, if by so doing, we could effect our object. Still,
as we were bent to ride, as soon as we had got the money, we insisted
that he should not take our horses, which were fastened to the swinging
limbs of a shady tree before the entrance, in instant readiness for
use. This preparatory conference took place at the door. We then
entered the hovel, which it will be necessary, in order to detail
following events, briefly to describe. In this particular, our task is
easy——the arts of architecture, in the southwestern country, being of
no very complicated character. The house, as I have said before, was
built of logs, unhewn, unsquared, rude, ill-adjointed ——the mere hovel
of a squatter, who cuts down fine trees, spoils a good site, and
establishes what he impudently styles his improvements! It consistedof
a single story, raised upon blocks four feet from the ground, having an
entrance running through the centre of the building with apartments on
either hand. To the left hand apartment which was used as a hall, was
attached at each end, a little lean-to or shed, the doors to which
opened at once upon the hall. These rooms were possibly meant as
sleeping apartments, nothing being more common in the southwest than
such additions for such purposes. In this instance, however, all regard
to appearances seemed to have been neglected, since, in attaching the
shed to each end of the hall, one of these ugly excrescences was
necessarily thrown upon the front of the building, which, without such
an incumbrance was already sufficiently uncouth and uninviting. If the
exterior of this fabric was thus unpromising what could be said of it
within? It was a mere shell. There was no ceiling to the hall, and the
roof which covered it, was filled with openings that let in the
generous sun-light, and with undiscriminating liberality would have let
in any quantity of rain. The furniture consisted of an old sideboard,
garnished with a couple of common decanters, a pitcher with the mouth
broken off, and some three or four cracked tumblers. A ricketty table
was stationary in the centre of the room, which held, besides, some
half dozen high backed and low bottom chairs, the seats of which were
covered with untanned deer-skins.
Into these we squatted with little ceremony. Our host placed before
us a bundle of segars. I did not smoke and declined to partake; but my
companion joined him, and the two puffed away cosily together to my
great annoyance. Mean while an old negro wench made her appearance,
spread a cloth which might have been clean in some earlier period of
the world's history, but which was inconceivably dirty now, and
proceeded to make other shows, of a like satisfactory nature, of the
promised dinner. The cloth was soon laid——plates, dishes, knifes and
forks, produced from the capacious sideboard, and, this done, she
proceeded to fill the decanter from a jug which she brought from the
apartment opposite. She then retired to make her final preparations for
To join with him in a glass of whiskey was the next proceeding, and
setting us a hearty example by half filling his own glass, he would
have insisted upon our drinking with equal liberality. Fortunately for
me, at least, I was stubborn in my moderation. I was not moderate from
prudence, but from fastidiousness. In the society and house of one whom
I esteemed more than I did the vulgar creature who sought to persuade
me, I feel, and confess, I should have been more self indulgent. But
Icould not stomach well the whiskey of the person, whose frequent
contact I found it so difficult to endure. I should not have drank with
him at all, but that I was unwilling to give offence. Such might have
been the case in the event of my refusal, had it been his cue to
We drank, however, and resumed our seats; our host with a sang
froid which seemed habitual if not natural, dashing into speech without
"So you're going back to Colonel Grafton's, are you. He's a mighty
great man now-a-days, and it's no wonder you young men like him. It's
natural enough for young men to like great men, particularly when
they're well off and have handsome daughters. You've looked hard upon
Miss Julia, I reckon?"
I said nothing, but Carrington replied in a jocular manner, which I
thought rather too great a concession of civility to such a creature.
"Once, to tell you a dog-truth, I rather did like him myself. He
was a gentleman to say the littlest for him; and, dang it! he made me
feel it always when I stood before him. It was that very thing that
made me come to dislike him. I stood it well enough while I worked for
him, but after I left him the case was different——I didn't care to have
such a feeling when I set up business for myself. Andthen he took it
upon him to give me advice, and to talk to me about reports going
through the neighbourhood, and people's opinions of me, and all that
d——d sort of stuff, just as if he was my god-father. I kicked at that,
and broke loose mighty soon. I told him my mind, and then he pretty
much told me his——for Grafton's no coward——and so we concluded to say
as little to one another as we well could spare."
"The wisest and safest course for both of you, I doubt not," was
"As for the safety now, Mr. Carrington," replied the debtor,
"that's neither here nor there. I would not give this stump of tobacco
for any better security than my eyes and fingers against Grafton or any
other man in the land. I don't ask for any protection from the laws——I
won't be sued and I don't sue. Catch me going to the squire to bind my
neighbour's fist or fingers. Let him use them as he pleases; all I ask
is good notice beforehand, a fair field, and no favour. Let him hold to
it then, and see who first comes bottom upwards."
"You are confident of your strength," was my remark——"yet I should
not think you able to match with Colonel Grafton. He seems to me too
much for you. He has a better frame, and noble muscle."
Not displeased at what might look like personaldisparagement, the
fellow replied with cool good nature.
"Ah! you're but a young beginner, stranger, though it may be a bold
one. For a first tug or two, Grafton might do well enough; but his
breath wouldn't hold him long. His fat is too thick about his ribs to
stand it out. I'd be willing to run the risk of three tugs with him to
have a chance at the fourth. By my grinders, but I would gripe him
then. You should then see a death hug, stranger, if you never saw it
The fellow's teeth gnashed as he spoke, and his mouth was
distorted, and his eyes glared with an expression absolutely fiendish.
At the same moment dropping the end of the segar from his hand, he
stuck forth his half contracted fingers, as if in the effort to grasp
his opponent's throat; and I almost fancied, I beheld the wolf upon his
leap. The nails of his fingers had not been cut for a month, and looked
rather like the claws of a wild beast than the proper appendages of a
"You seem to hate him very much," was my unnecessary remark. I
uttered it almost unconsciously. It prompted him to farther speech.
"I do hate him," was the reply, more than I hate any thing beside
in nature. I don't hate a bear for I can shoot him; nor a dog, for I
can scourge him; nor a horse for I can manage him; nor a wild bull,for
I have taken him by the horns when he was maddest. But I hate that man,
Grafton, by the eternal; and I hate him more because I can't manage him
in any way. He's neither bear, nor bull nor dog——not so dangerous, yet
more difficult than all. I'd give all I'm worth, and that's something,
though you don't see it, perhaps, only to meet him as a bear, as a
bull, as a dog——ay, by the hokies, as all three together——and let us
all show after our own fashion, what we are good for. I'd lick his
blood that day, or he should lick mine."
"It seems to me," I replied, and my looks and language must both
have partaken largely of the unmitigated disgust within my soul——"It
seems to me strange, indeed, how any man, having the spirit of manhood,
should keep such a hatred as that festering in his heart, without
seeking to work it out. Why, if you hate him, do you not fight him?"
"That's well enough said, young master——" he cried, without hearing
me to the end——"but it's easier to say that, and to desire it, than to
get it. Fight it out indeed——and how am I to make him fight? send him a
challenge! Ha! ha! ha! why he'd laugh at it, and so would you, young
sir, if he showed you the challenge while you happened to be in the
house. His wife would laugh; and his daughter would laugh, and even
nigger Tom would laugh. You'd have lots of fun over it——Ha! ha! a
challengefrom Mat Webber to Colonel John Grafton, Grafton Lodge! what a
joke for my neighbour democrats. Every rascal among them——each of whom
would fight you to-morrow, sir, if you ventured to say they were not
perfectly your equal, would yet laugh to split their sides to think of
the impudence of that poor devil, Webber, in challenging Colonel John
Grafton, Squire Grafton——the great planter of Grafton Lodge. Oh no,
sir——that's all my eye. There's no getting a fight out of my enemy in
that way. You must think of some other fashion for righting poor men in
There was certainly some truth in what the fellow said. He felt it,
but he seemed no longer angry. Bating a sarcastic grin, and a slight
and seemingly nervous motion of his fingers, which accompanied the
words, they were spoken with a coolness almost amounting to good
nature. I had, meanwhile, got somewhat warmed by the viperous malignity
which he had indicated towards a gentleman, who, as you have seen, had
won greatly upon my good regards, and, without paying much attention to
the recovered ease and quiet of the fellow——so entirely different from
the fierce and wolfish demeanour which had marked him but a few moments
before——I proceeded, in the same spirit in which I had begun, to reply
"Had you heard me out, sir, you would, perhaps,have spared your
speech. I grant you that it might be a difficult, if not an impossible
thing to bring Mr. Grafton to a meeting; but this difficulty would not
arise, I imagine, from any difference between you of wealth or station.
No mere inequalities of fortune would deprive any man of his claim to
justice in any field; or my own affairs would frequently subject me to
such deprivation. There must be something beside this, which makes a
man incur a forfeiture of this sort."
"Yes, yes," he replied instantly, with surprising quickness——"I
understand what you would say. The world must esteem me a gentleman."
"Precisely," was my careless reply. The fellow looked gravely upon
me for an instant, but smoothing down his brow, which began to grow
wrinkled, he proceeded in tones as indifferent as before.
"I confess to you I'm no gentleman——I don't pretend to it——I wasn't
born one and can't afford to take up the business. It costs too much in
clothes, in trinkets, in fine linen, in book learning and other
I was about to waste a few sentences upon him to show that these
were not the requisites of gentility, but he spared me any such foolish
labour by going on thus:
"That's neither here nor there. You were going to tell me of some
way by which I could getmy revenge out of Grafton. Let's hear your
ideas about that. That's the hitch."
"Not your revenge——I spoke of redress for wrong."
"Well, well," he replied, shaking his head, "names for the same
things, pretty much——but, as you please. Only tell me how, if you are
no gentleman, mark that——I don't want the revenge——the redress I mean,
of a gentleman——I want the redress of a man——tell me how I am to get
it, when the person who has wronged me, thinks me too much beneath him
to meet me on a fair ground. What's my remedy? Tell me that, and I'll
give you my thanks, and call you a mighty clever fellow in the
His insolence annoyed me, and he saw it in my quick reply: "I thank
you, sir, I can spare the compliment——"
He grinned good naturedly: "You a poor man!" he exclaimed,
interrupting me; "by the hokies, you ought to be rich, and your mother
must have had some mighty high notions when she carried you. But go
on——I ask your pardon——go on."
I should not have complied with the fellow's wish but that I felt a
secret desire which I could not repress, to goad him for his insolence:
"Well, sir, I say that I see no difficulty, if the person injured has
the commonest spirit of manhood in him, in getting redress from a man
who has injured him whatever be his station. I am convinced, if you
seriously wish for it, you could get yours from Grafton. There is such
a thing, you know, as taking the road of an enemy."
"Ha! ha! ha! and what would that come to, or rather what do you
think it would bring me to, here in Tuscaloosa county? I'll tell you in
double quick time——the gallows. It wouldn't bring you to the gallows,
or any man passing for a gentleman, but democrats can't bear to see
democrats taking upon themselves the airs of gentlemen. They'd hang me,
my good friend, if they didn't burn me beforehand, and that would be
the upshot of following your counsel. But, your talk isn't new to me, I
have thought of it long before. Do you think—— but to talk about what
you didn't do, is mighty little business. To put a good deal in a small
calabash, let me tell you then that Mat Webber isn't the man to sit
down and suck his thumbs when his neighbour troubles him, if so be he
can help himself in a quicker way. I've turned over all this matter in
my mind, and I've come to this conclusion, that I must wait for some
odd hour when good luck is willing to do what she has never done yet,
and gives me a chance at my enemy. Be certain when that hour comes,
stranger, my teeth shall meet in the flesh."
He filled his glass and drank freely as he concluded. His face had
in it an air of resolve as he spoke which left little doubt in my mind
that he was the ruffian to do what he threatened, and involuntarily I
shuddered when I thought how many opportunities must necessarily arise
to him for the execution of any villany from the near neighbourhood in
which he lived with the enemy whom he so deeply hated. I was not
suffered to meditate long upon this or any subject. The negro woman
appeared bringing in dinner. Some fried bacon and eggs formed the chief
items in our repast, and with an extra hospitality which had its
object, our host placed our chairs, which were both on the one side of
the table, he, alone, occupying the seat opposite. Without a solitary
thought of evil we sat down to the repast, which might well be compared
to the bait which is placed by the cunning fowler for the better
entrapping of the unwary bird.
——Am I then catch'd?
——How think you, sir? you are.
—— Ben Jonson
Though neither William Carrington nor myself sat entirely at ease
at the table of our host, neither of us had any suspicion of his
purposes. Regarding the fellow as essentially low in his character, and
totally unworthy the esteem of honourable men, we were only solicitous
to get our money and avoid collision with him. And so far, we had but
little reason to complain. Though indulging freely in remarks upon
persons——Colonel Grafton for example——which were not altogether
inoffensive, his language in reference to ourselves was sufficiently
civil; and bating a too frequent approach which he made to an undue
familiarity, and which, when it concerned me particularly, I was always
prompt to check, there was nothing in his manner calculated to offend
the most irritable. On the contrary the fellow played the part of
humility in sundry instances to admiration; when we resisted him on any
subject he shrank from pursuing it, and throughoutthe interview
exhibited a disposition to forbear all annoyance, except possibly on
the one subject of Colonel Grafton. On that point even his present
policy did not suffer him to give way——his self esteem had been
evidently wounded to the quick by his former employer, and with a
forbearance like his own, which, under any other circumstances, would
have been wisdom, we avoided controversy on a topic in which we must
evidently disagree. But not so Webber. He seemed desirous to gain
aliment for his anger by a frequent recurrence to the matter which
provoked it, and throughout the whole of our interview until the
occurrence of those circumstances which served, by their personal
importance, to supersede all other matters in our thoughts, he
continued, in spite of all our discouragements, to bring Grafton before
us in various lights and anecdotes, throughout the whole of which, his
own relation to the subject of remark was that of one who hated with
the bitterest hate, and whom fear, or some less obvious policy, alone,
restrained from an attempt to wreak upon his enemy the full extent of
that malice which he yet had not the wisdom to repress.
It was while he indulged in this very vein that we heard the
approaching tramp of horses. Webber stopped instantly in his discourse.
"Ah, there he comes," he remarked——"the debtor is punctual enough,
though he should have been here an hour sooner. And now, 'Squire
Carrington, I hope we shall be able to do your business."
Sincerely did I hope so too. There was an odd sort of smile upon
the fellow's lips as he said these words which did not please me. It
was strange and sinister. It was not good humoured certainly, and yet
it did not signify any sort of dissatisfaction. Perhaps, it simply
denoted insincerity and for this I did not like it. Carrington made
some reply; and by this time we heard a bustling among our horses which
were fastened to the branches of a tree at the entrance. I was about to
rise, for I recollected that we had money in the saddle bags, when I
was prevented by the appearance of the stranger who entered in the same
moment. One glance at the fellow was enough. His features were those of
the undisguised ruffian; and even then I began to feel some little
apprehension though I could not to my own mind define the form of the
danger which might impend. I could not think it possible that these two
ruffians, bold however they might be, would undertake to grapple with
us face to face, and in broad day light. They could not mistake our
strength of body; and, body and soul, we felt ourselves more than a
match for them, and a third to help them. And yet, when I reflected
upon thelarge amount of money which William had in his possession, I
could not but feel that nothing but a like knowledge of the fact, was
wanting to prompt, not only these but a dozen other desperates like
them, to an attempt, however unfavourable the aspect, to possess
themselves of it. Besides, we had surely heard the trampling of more
horses than one when the newcomer was approaching. Had he companions?
Where were they? These thoughts began to annoy and make me suspicious,
and I turned to William. Never was unquestioning confidence so clearly
depicted in any countenance as in his. He looked on the stranger with,
perhaps, no less disgust than myself, but suspicion of foul play he had
none. I determined that he should be awakened, and was about to rise,
and suggest the conclusion of our business, in such a manner as to make
it absolutely impossible that he should not see that I was placing
myself against the wall, when Webber of himself proposed the adjustment
of the debt. Every thing seemed to be unequivocal and above board. The
stranger pulled forth his wallet, and sitting down to the table, on the
side next to Carrington, proceeded to count out the money before him.
The amount was in small bills, and having completed his count, which
took him an uneasy time, he pushed the bundle towards Webber, who
slowly proceeded to go through a like examination. I grew impatient
atthe delay, but concluded that it would be better to say nothing. To
show temper at such a moment might have been to defeat the purpose
which we had in view; and send us off with a satisfaction, essentially
different from that for which we came. The face of Webber grew more
grave than usual as he counted the money, and I could observe that his
eyes were frequently lifted from the bills, and seemed to wander about
the room as if his thoughts were elsewhere. But he finished at length,
and handing the required sum over to William he begged him to see that
all was right. The latter was about to do so——had actually taken the
bills in his hand, when I heard a slight footstep behind me——before I
could turn, under the influence of the natural curiosity which prompted
me to do so, I heard a sudden exclamation from my companion, and in the
very same instant, felt something falling over my face. Suspicious of
foul play before, I leaped, as if under a natural instinct, to my feet,
but was as instantly jerked down, and falling over the chair behind,
dragged it with me upon the floor. All this was the work of a moment.
Striving to rise, I soon discovered the full extent of my predicament,
and the way in which we were taken. My arms were bound to my
side——almost drawn behind my back ——by a noose formed in a common
plough line, which was cutting into the flesh at every movementwhich I
made. That I struggled furiously for release need not be said. I was
not the man to submit quietly to martyrdom. But I soon found my
exertions were in vain. The cords were not only tightly drawn, but
securely fastened behind me to one of the sleepers of the cabin——a
vacant board from the floor enabling my assailants to effect this
arrangement with little difficulty. Added to this, my struggles brought
upon me the entire weight of the two fellows who had effected my
captivity. One sat upon my body as indifferently as a Turk upon his
cushions, while the other, at every movement which I made, thrust his
sharp knees into my breast, and almost deprived me of the power of
breathing. Rage for the moment, added to my strength, which surprised
even myself as it surprised my enemies. More than once, without any use
of my arms, by the mere writhings of my body did I throw them from it;
but exhaustion did for them what their own strength could not; and I
lay quiet at length and at their mercy. The performance of this affair
took far less time than the telling of it; and was over, I may say, in
an instant. With William Carrington the case was different. He was more
fortunate. I thought so at the time, at least. He effected his escape.
By what chance it was I know not; but they failed to noose him so
completely as they had done me. The slip was caught by his hand
indescending over his shoulders, and he threw it from him, and in the
same moment with a blow of his fist that might have felled an ox, he
prostrated the ruffian who had brought the money, and who stood most
convenient to his hand. Without stopping to look at the enemy behind,
with that prompt impulse which so frequently commands success, he
sprang directly over the table, and aimed a second blow at Webber, who
had risen from his seat, and stood directly in the way. With a
fortunate alacrity the fellow avoided the blow, and darting on one side
drew his dirk, and prepared to await the second. By this time, however,
I was enabled, though prostrated, and overcome, to behold the combat in
which I could bear no part. I saw that the only chance of my companion
was in flight. Our enemies, as if by magic, had sprung up around us
like the teeth of the dragon. There were no less than seven persons in
the room beside ourselves. With my utmost voice I commanded William to
fly. He saw, in the same instant with myself, the utter inability of
any efforts which he might make, and the click of a pistol cock in the
hands of a fellow behind me, was a warning too significant to be
trifled with. With a single look at me which fully convinced me of the
pang which he felt at being compelled to leave me in such a situation,
he sprang through the entrance, and in anothermoment had disappeared
from sight. Webber and three others immediately rushed off in pursuit,
leaving me in the custody and at the mercy of the three remaining.
How stubbornly this fellow answer'd me.
—— Beaumont and Fletcher
When, more complacently, I looked around, and in the faces of my
captors, what was my surprise to behold in the most turbulent, the
bullying gambler with whom I had refused to play at the tavern in
Tuscaloosa. The countenance of the rascal plainly showed that he
remembered the transaction. There was a complacent and triumphant grin
upon his lips which, as I could not then punish him, added to the
bitterness of my situation. I tried to turn away from regarding him,
but the relative situation in which we were now placed was but too
grateful to his mean and malicious soul, and changing his position to
correspond with mine, he continued to face me with a degree of coldness
which could only be ascribed to his perfect consciousness of my
inability to strive with him. I felt that my anger would be not only
vain to restrain him in his impudence, but must, from its impotence,
only provoke him to an increased indulgence of it, besides giving him a
degreeof satisfaction which I was too little his friend to desire. I
accordingly fixed my eyes upon him with as much cool indifference as I
could of a sudden put into them, and schooling my lips to a sort of
utterance which fell far short of the feverish wrath in my bosom, I
thus addressed him.
"If you are the same person who would have cheated me at cards in
Tuscaloosa a few days ago, I congratulate you upon a sudden increase of
valour. You have improved amazingly in a very short space of time, and
though I cannot say that your courage is even now of the right kind,
yet there's no saying how fast one may acquire it who has commenced so
happily. Perhaps——as I doubt not that you desire still farther to
improve——you would be pleased to give me some little opportunity to try
you, and test your progress. If you would but free an arm or so, and
let us try it with fist or hickory——ay, or with other weapons with
which I see you are well enough provided——I should very much alter the
opinion I had formed of you at our first meeting."
The fellow chafed to hear these words and let fly a volley of oaths
which only served to increase the coolness of my temper. I felt that I
had a decided advantage over him, and a speech so little expected from
one in my situation, and so contemptuous at the same time, provoked the
unmitigated laughter of the fellow's companions, who had assumed with
him the custody of my person.
"And what the h——ll is there to grin about," he said to them as
soon as their subsiding merriment enabled him to be heard——"do you
mind, or do you think I mind the crowings of this cock sparrow, when I
can clip his wings at any moment? Let him talk while he may——who cares?
It will be for me to wind up with him when I get tired of his
"But won't you let the chap loose, Bully George," cried one of the
companions——"let him loose as he asks you, and try a hickory——I know
you're famous at a stick fight——I saw you once at the Sipsy, when you
undertook to lather Jim cudworth. You didn't know Jim, before that
time, George, or you wouldn't ha' chose that weapon——but this lark
now——he, I reckon's, much easier to manage than Jim——let him try it,
This speech turned the fury of the bully from me to his comrades.
But it was the fury of foul language only, and would not bear
repetition. The fellow, whom they seemed pleased to chafe, foamed like
a madman in striving to reply. The jest was taken up by the two who
bandied it to and fro, as two expert ball players do their ball without
suffering it once to fall to the ground, until they tired of the game;
and they repeated and referred to a numberof little circumstances in
the history of their vexed associate, all calculated at once to provoke
him into additional fury and to convince me that the fellow was, as I
had esteemed him at the very first glance, a poor and pitiable coward.
In due proportion as they found merriment in annoying him, did they
seem to grow good natured towards myself, perhaps, because I had set
the ball in motion which they had found it so pleasant to keep up; but
their sport had like to have been death to me. The ruffian, driven
almost to madness by the sarcasms of those whom he did not dare to
attack, turned suddenly upon me, and with a most murderous
determination aimed his dagger at my throat. I had no way to ward the
weapon, and must have perished but for the promptitude of one of the
fellows who seemed to have watched the bully closely and who caught his
arm ere it descended and wrested the weapon from him. The joke had
ceased. The man who stayed his arm now spoke to him in the fierce
language of a superior.
"Look you, Bully George, had you bloodied the boy I should ha' put
my cool steel into your ribs for certain."
"Why, what is he to you, Geoffrey——that you should take up for
him?" was the subdued answer.
"Nothing much, and for that matter you're nothing much to me
either; but I don't see the profit ofkilling the chap, and Mat Webber
ordered that we shouldn't hurt him."
"Mat Webber's a milk and water fool," replied the other.
"Let him hear you say so," said Geoffrey, "and see the end of it.
It's a pretty thing, indeed, that you should talk of Mat being a milk
and water fool ——a man that will fight through a thicket of men, when
you'd be for sneaking round it. Shut up, Bully George, and give way to
your betters. The less you say the wiser. Don't we know that the chap's
right——if you were only half the man that he seems to be, you wouldn't
be half so bloody minded with a prisoner. You wouldn't cut more throats
than Mat Webber, and, perhaps, you'd get a larger share of the plunder.
I've always seen that it's such chaps as you that don't love fight when
it's going, that's always most ready to cut and stab when there's no
danger, and when there's no use for it. Keep your knife 'till it's
wanted. It may be that you may soon have better use for it, since if
that other lark get off, he'll bring Grafton and all the constables of
the district upon us."
"It's a bad job, that chap's getting off," said the other ruffian.
"How did you happen to miss, Geoffrey?"
"The devil knows. I had the rope fair enough, I thought, but some
how he twisted round, or raisedhis hand just when I dropped it over
him, and threw it off a bit quicker than I threw it on. He's a stout
fellow, that, and went over the table like a ball. I'm dubious he'll
get off. Look out, John, and say what you see."
The fellow complied, and returned after a few moments with an
unsatisfactory answer. Some far ther conference ensued between them
touching the probable chances of Carrington's escape, and my heart grew
painfully interested, as I heard their cold and cruel calculations as
to the wisest course of action among the pursuers. Their mode of
disposing of the difficulty, summary and reckless as it showed them to
be, was enough to inspire me with the most anxious fear. If they,
unvexed by flight, and unexcited by the pursuit, could yet deliberately
resolve that the fugitive should be shot down, rather than suffered to
escape, the event was surely not improbable. I could listen no longer
"I hear you, sir——" I said, interrupting the fellow who was styled
Geoffrey, and who seemed the most humane among them——"you coolly
resolve that my friend should be murdered. You cannot mean that Webber
will do such a deed? I will not believe you. If you only think to annoy
and frighten me, you are mistaken. I am in your power, it is true, and
you may put me to death, as your companion, who thinks to make up in
cruelty what he lacks in courage, appeared just now to desire——but is
this your policy? What good can come of it? It will neither help you in
present flight nor in future safety. As for my money, if it is that
which you want, it is quite as easy for you to take that as my life.
All that I have is in your possession. My horse, my clothes, my
cash——they are all together; and having these, the mere shedding of my
blood can give you no pleasure, unless you have been schooled among the
savages. As for your men overtaking my friend, I doubt it, unless their
horses are the best blood in the country. That which he rides I know to
be so, and cannot easily be caught."
"A bullet will make up the difference," said Geoffrey; "and sure as
you lie there, Webber will shoot if he finds he can't catch. He can't
help doing so if he hopes to get off safely himself. If the chap
escapes, he brings down old Grafton upon us, and Webber very well knows
the danger of falling into his clutches. We must tie you both up for
to-night if we can. As for killing you or scaring you, we want to do
neither one nor t'other, if we can tie up your hands and shut up your
mouths for the next twenty-four hours. If we can't——"
He left the rest of the sentence unuttered, meaning I suppose to be
merciful in his forbearance; and nothing more was said by either of us
for some time, particularly affecting the matter in hand; a fullhour
had elapsed, and yet we heard nothing of the pursuit. My anxiety began
to be fully shared among my keepers. They went out to the road,
alternately at frequent periods, to make inquiries, but without
success. Geoffrey at length, after going forth with my gambling
acquaintance of the Tuscaloosa tavern, for about fifteen minutes,
returned, bringing in with them, to my great surprise, the saddle bags
of William Carrington. In my first fear, I demanded if he was taken,
and my surprise was great, when they told me he was not.
"How then came you by those saddle bags?" was my question.
"What! are they his?" replied Geoffrey.
"Then he's taken your horse, and not his own," was the answer; "for
we found these on one of the nags that you brought with you."
They were not at all dissatisfied with the exchange, when they
discovered the contents, which they soon got at, in spite of the lock,
by slashing the leather open with their knives in various places. The
silver dollars rolled from the handkerchief in which they had been
wrapped, in every direction about the floor, and were scrambled after
by two of the fellows, with the avidity of urchins gathering nuts. But,
I observed that they put carefully together all that they took from the
saddle bags, as ifwith reference to a common division of the spoil. The
few clothes which the bags contained were thrown out without any heed
upon the floor, but not till they had been closely examined in every
part for concealed money. They got a small roll of bills along with the
silver, but I was glad when I recollected that William had the greater
sum in his bosom. Poor fellow——at that moment I envied him his escape.
I thought him fortunate; and regarded myself as the luckless wretch
whom fate had frowned upon, only. Alas! for him I envied——my
short-sightedness was pitiable. Little did I dream, or he apprehend,
the dreadful fate that lay in his path.
A sad writ tragedy, so feelingly
Languaged and cast; with such a crafty cruelty
Contrived and acted; that wild savages
Would weep to lay their ears to.
—— Roe. Davenport.
It may be just as well that the knowledge of the reader should
anticipate my own; and that I should narrate in this place those events
of which I knew nothing till some time after. I will therefore proceed
to state what happened to William Carrington after leaving me at the
hovel where I had fallen into such miserable captivity. Having, by a
promptness of execution and a degree of physical energy and power which
had always distinguished him, gained the entrance, he seized upon the
first horse which presented itself to his hand, and which happened to
be mine. It was a moment, when, perhaps, he could not discriminate, or
if he could, when it might have been fatal for him to attempt to do so.
The blood-hounds were close in pursuit behind him. He heard theircries
and following footsteps; and in an instant tore away the bridle from
the swinging bough to which it was fastened, tearing a part of the
branch with it. He did not stop to throw the bridle over the animal's
neck. To a rider of such excellent skill, the reins were hardly
necessary. He leaped instantly upon his back making his rowels answer
all purposes in giving the direction which he desired him to take. His
foes were only less capable and energetic than himself; they were no
less prompt and determined. With a greater delay, but at the same time
better preparedness, they mounted in pursuit. Their safety, perhaps,
depended upon arresting his flight, and preventing him from bringing
down upon them a competent force for their arrest, which certainly
would be the case if they suffered him to convey the intelligence to
such an active magistrate as Colonel Grafton. Their desire was farther
stimulated by the knowledge which they had of the large amount of money
which William carried with him. If their motives were sufficent to
quicken their movements to the utmost point within their endeavours,
his were not less so. His life, he must have known, depended upon his
present escape. Nor was it merely necessary to keep ahead of them; he
must keep out of bullet reach also to be safe. But I will not do him
the injustice to suppose for an instant that his considerations were
purely selfish. I knewbetter. I feel assured that my safety was no less
the matter in his thoughts than his own. I feel sure he would never
have been content with his own escape did he not believe that mine now
depended upon it. These were all considerations to move him to the
fullest exertion; and never did good steed promise to serve at need his
rider better than did mine in that perilous flight. An animal only
inferior to his own, my horse had the blood of a racer that was worthy
of his rider's noble nature. He answered the expectations of Carrington
without making necessary the frequent application of the spur. He left
the enemy behind him. He gained at every jump; and the distance between
them at the first, which was not inconsiderable, for the movement of
William had been so unexpected as to have taken Webber and the rest by
surprise, was increased in ten minutes nearly double. At moments they
entirely lost sight of him, until very long stretches of a direct road
again made him visible; but he was already far beyond the reach of
their weapons. These, with but one exception, were pistols of large
size, which in a practised hand might carry truly a distance of thirty
yards. Webber, however, had a short double-barrelled ducking gun, which
he had caught up the moment his horse was ready. This was loaded with
buck shot, and would have told at eighty yards in the hands of
theruffian who bore it. But the object was beyond its reach, and the
hope of the pursuers was now in some casualty, which seemed not
improbable in the desperate and headlong manner of Carrington's flight.
But the latter had not lost any of his coolness in his impetuosity. He
readily comprehended the nature of that hope in his enemies which
prompted them to continue the pursuit; and, perhaps less confident than
he might have been, in his own horsemanship, he determined to baffle
them in it. Looking round, as he did repeatedly, he availed himself of
a particular moment when he saw that he might secure his bridle and
discard the fragment of the bough which was still attached to it,
before they could materially diminish the space between them; and
drawing up his horse with the most perfect coolness, he proceeded to
unloose the branch and draw the reins fairly over the head of the
animal. The pursuers beheld this, and it invigorated the pursuit. If
the reader knows anything of the region of country in which these
events took place, he will probably recognise the scene over which I
now conduct him. The neighbourhood-road leading by Grafton's and
Webber's, was still a distinct trace, though but little used, a few
years ago. It was a narrow track at best and had been a frontier road
for military purposes before the Chickasaws left that region. The path
was intricate and winding, turning continually toright and left, in
avoiding sundry little creeks and difficult hills which sprinkled the
whole face of the country. But the spot where William halted to arrange
his bridle was more than usually straight, and for a space of half a
mile, objects might be discerned in a line nearly direct. Still the
spot was an obscure and gloomy one. The road in one place ran between
two rising grounds, the elevations of which were greater and more steep
than usual. On one side there was an abrupt precipice, from which the
trees almost entirely overhung the path. This was called at that
period, the "Day Blind" in a taste kindred with that which named a
corresponding region, only a few miles off, "the Shades of Death." For
a space of forty yards or more, this 'blind' was sufficiently close and
dense, almost to exclude the day——certainly the sunlight. William had
entered upon this passage, and the pursuers were urging their steeds
with a last and despairing effort, almost hopeless of overtaking him,
and, perhaps, only continuing the chase under the first impulse of
their start, and from the excitement which rapid motion always
provokes. He now felt his security and laughed at the pursuit. The
path, though dim and dusky, was yet distinct before him. At the outlet
the sunshine lay, like a protecting spirit, in waiting to receive him;
and the sight so cheered him, that he half turned about upon his horse,
and while he stayed not his progress, he shook his unemployed arm in
triumph at his enemies. Another bound brought him out of the dim valley
through which he had ridden; and when he was most sure of his escape,
and when his pursuers began to meditate their return from the hopeless
chase, a sudden shot was heard from the woods above, and in the same
instant, Webber, who was in the advance, saw the unhappy youth bound
completely out of his saddle, and fall helplessly, like a stone upon
the ground, while his horse passed from under him, and, under the
impulse of sudden fright, continued on his course with a more headlong
speed than ever. The event which arrested forever the progress of the
fugitive, at once stopped the pursuit as suddenly. Webber called one of
his companions to his side—— a sallow and small person, with a keen
black eye, and a visage distinguished by dogged resolution, and
"Barrett," said the one ruffian to the other—— "we must see who it
is that volunteers to be our striker. He has a ready hand and should be
one of us, if he be not so already. It may be Eberly. It is high time
he should have left Grafton's, where the wonder is he should have
trifled so long. There's something wrong about that business; but no
matter now. We must see to this. Should the fellow that tumbled the
chap not be one of us, youmust make him one. We have him on our own
terms. Pursue him though he takes you into Georgia. Away now——sweep
clean round the blind and come on his back——he will keep close when he
sees us two coming out in front; and when you have got his trail, come
back for an instant to get your instructions. Be off now; we will see
to the carrion."
When Webber and his remaining companion reached the body it was
already stiff. In the warm morning of youth, in the flush of hope——with
a heart as true and a form as noble, as ever bounded with love and
courage, my friend, my almost brother, was shot down by a concealed
ruffian to whom he had never offered wrong. What a finish to his day!
What a sudden night, for so fair a morning!