"Mine is a miserable pride," was my thought,—"that of arming myself with beauty and talent and going through the world conquering! Girls are ignorant, till they are disappointed. The only knowledge men proffer us is the knowledge of the heart; it becomes us to profit by it. Redmond will marry that girl. He must, and shall. I will empty the dust and ashes of my heart as soon as the fire goes down: that is, I think so; but I know that I do not know myself. I have two natures,—one that acts, and one that is acted upon,—and I cannot always separate the one from the other."
Something darkened the opening into the path. Two persons passed in slowly. I perceived the odor of violets, and felt that one of them must be Laura. Waiting till they passed beyond me, I rose and went home.
The next morning was cloudy, and the sea was rough with a high wind; but we were old sailors, and decided to go on our excursion. The sloop and Redmond's boat left the wharf at the same time. We expected to be several hours beating down to Bird Island, for the wind was ahead. Laura and I, muffled in cloaks, were placed on the thwarts and neglected; for Redmond and Maurice were busy with the boat. Laura was silent, and looked ill. Redmond sat at the helm, and kept the boat up to the wind, which drove the hissing spray over us. The sloop hugged the shore, and did not feel the blast as we did. I slid along my seat to be near Redmond. He saw me coming, and put out his hand and drew me towards him, looking so kindly at me that I was melted. Trying to get at my handkerchief, which was in my dress-pocket, my cloak flew open, the wind caught it, and, as I rose to draw it closer, I nearly fell overboard. Redmond gave a spring to catch me, and the boat lost her headway. The sail flapped with a loud bang. Maurice swore, and we chopped about in the short sea.
"It is your destiny to have a scene, wherever you are," said Laura. "If I did not feel desperate, I should be frightened. But these green, crawling waves are so opaque, if we fall in, we shall not see ourselves drown."
"Courage! the boat is under way," Maurice cried out; "we are nearly there."
And rounding a little point, we saw the light-house at last. The sloop anchored a quarter of a mile from the shore, the water being shoal, and Redmond took off her party by instalments.
"What the deuse was the matter with you at one time?" asked Jack Parker. "We saw you were having a sort of convulsion. Our cap'n said you were bold chaps to be trifling with such a top-heavy boat."
"Miss Denham," said Redmond, "thought she could steer the boat as well as I could, and so the boat lost headway."
Harry Lothrop gave Redmond one of his soft smiles, and a vexed look passed over Redmond's face when he saw it.
We had to scramble over a low range of rocks to get to the shore. Redmond anchored his boat by one of them. Bird Island was a famous place for parties. It was a mile in extent. Not a creature was on it except the light-house keeper, his wife, and daughter. The gulls made their nests in its rocky borders; their shrill cries, the incessant dashing of the waves on the ledges, and the creaking of the lantern in the stone tower were all the sounds the family heard, except when they were invaded by some noisy party like ours. They were glad to see us. The light-house keeper went into the world only when it was necessary to buy stores, or when his wife and daughter wanted to pay a visit to the mainland.
The house was of stone, one story high, with thick walls. The small, deep-set windows and the low ceilings gave the rooms the air of a prison; but there was also an air of security about them: for, in looking from the narrow windows, one felt that the house was a steadfast ship in the circle of the turbulent sea, whose waves from every point seemed advancing towards it. A pale, coarse grass grew in the sand of the island. It was too feeble to resist the acrid breath of the ocean, so it shuddered perpetually, and bent landward, as if invoking the protection of its stepmother, the solid earth.
"It is perfect," said Redmond to me; "I have been looking for this spot all my life; I am ready to swear that I will never leave it."
We were sitting in a window, facing each other. He looked out toward the west, and presently was lost in thought. He folded his arms tightly across his breast, and his eyes were a hundred miles away. The sound of a fiddle in the long alley which led from the house to the tower broke his reverie.
"We shall be uproarious before we leave," I said; "we always are, when we come here."
The fun had already set in. Some of the girls had pinned up their dresses, and borrowed aprons from the light-house keeper's wife, and with scorched faces were helping her to make chowder and fry fish. Others were arranging the table, assisted by the young men, who put the dishes in the wrong places. Others were singing in the best room. One or two had brought novels along, and were reading them in corners. It was all merry and pleasant, but I felt quiet. Redmond entered into the spirit of the scene. I had never seen him so gay. He chatted with all the girls, interfering or helping, as the case might be. Maurice brought his guitar, and had a group about him at the foot of the tower-stairs. He sung loud, but his voice seemed to fluctuate;—now it rang through the tower, now it was half overpowered by the roar of the sea. His poetical temperament led him to choose songs in harmony with the place, not to suit the company,—melancholy words set to wild, fitful chords, which rose and died away according to the skill of the player. I had gone near him, for his singing had attracted me.
"You are inspired," I said.
"You never sung so before."
"I feel old to-day," he answered, and he swept his hands across all the strings; "my ditties are done."
After dinner Laura asked me to go out with her. We slipped away unseen, and went to the beach, and seated ourselves on a great rock whose outer side was lapped by the water. The sun had broken through the clouds, but shone luridly, giving the sea a leaden tint. The wind was going down. We had not been there long, when Redmond joined us. He asked us to go round the island in his boat. Laura declined, and said she would sit on the rock while we went, if I chose to go. I did choose to go, and he brought the boat to the rock. He hoisted the sail half up the mast, and we sailed close to the shore. It rose gradually along the east side of the island, and terminated in a bold ledge which curved into the sea. We ran inside the curve, where the water was nearly smooth. Redmond lowered the sail and the boat drifted toward the ledge slowly. A tongue of land, covered with pale sedge, was on the left side. Above the ledge, at the right, we could see the tower of the light-house. Redmond tied down the helm, and, throwing himself beside me, leaned his head on his hand, and looked at me a long time without speaking. I listened to the water, which plashed faintly against the bows. He covered his face with his hands. I looked out seaward over the tongue of land; my heart quaked, like the grass which grew upon it. At last he rose, and I saw that he was crying,—the tears rained fast.
"My soul is dying," he said, in a stifled voice; "I am not more than mortal,—I cannot endure it."
I pointed toward the open sea, which loomed so vague in the distance.
"The future is like that,—is it not? Courage! we must drift through it; we shall find something."
He stamped his foot on the deck.
"Women always talk so; but men are different. If there is a veil before us, we must tear it away,—not sit muffled in its folds, and speculate on what is behind it. Rise."
I obeyed him. He held me firmly. We were face to face.
"Look at me."
I did. His eyes were blazing.
"Do you love me?"
He placed me on the bench, hoisted the sail, untied the helm, and we were soon ploughing round to the spot where we had left Laura; but she was gone. On the rock where she was, perched a solitary gull, which flew away with a scream as we approached.
That day was the last that I saw Redmond alone. He was at the party at Laura's house which took place the night before they left. We did not bid each other adieu.
After the three friends had gone, they sent us gifts of remembrance. Redmond's keepsake was a white fan with forget-me-nots painted on it. To Laura he sent the pen-holder, which was now mine.
We missed them, and should have felt their loss, had no deep feeling been involved; for they gave an impetus to our dull country life, and the whole summer had been one of excitement and pleasure. We settled by degrees into our old habits. At Christmas, Frank came. He looked worried and older. He had heard something of Laura's intimacy with Harry Lothrop, and was troubled about it, I know: but I believe Laura was silent on the matter. She was quiet and affectionate toward him during his visit, and he went back consoled.
The winter passed. Spring came and went, and we were deep into the summer when Laura was taken ill. She had had a little cough, which no one except her mother noticed. Her spirits fell, and she failed fast. When I saw her last, she had been ill some weeks, and had never felt strong enough to talk as much as she did in that interview. She nerved herself to make the effort, and as she bade me farewell, bade farewell to life also. And now it was all over with her!
* * * * *
I fell asleep at length, and woke late. It seemed as if a year had dropped out of the procession of Time. My heart was still beating with the emotion which stirred it when Redmond and I were together last. Recollection had stung me to the quick. A terrible longing urged me to go and find him. The feeling I had when we were in the boat, face to face, thrilled my fibres again. I saw his gleaming eyes; I could have rushed through the air to meet him. But, alas! exaltation of feeling lasts only a moment; it drops us where it finds us. If it were not so, how easy to be a hero! The dull reaction of the present, like a slow avalanche, crushed and ground me into nothingness.
"Something must happen at last," I thought, "to amuse me, and make time endurable."
What can a woman do, when she knows that an epoch of feeling is rounded off, finished, dead? Go back to her story-books, her dress-making, her worsted-work? Shall she attempt to rise to mediocrity on the piano or in drawing, distribute tracts, become secretary of a Dorcas society? or shall she turn her mind to the matter of cultivating another lover at once? Few of us women have courage enough to shoulder out the corpses of what men leave in our hearts. We keep them there, and conceal the ruins in which they lie. We grow cunning and artful in our tricks, the longer we practise them. But how we palpitate and shrink and shudder, when we are alone in the dark!
After Redmond departed, I had locked up my feelings and thrown the key away. The death of Laura, and the awakening of my recollections, caused by the appearance of Harry Lothrop, wrenched the door open. Hitherto I had acted with the bravery of a girl; I must now behave with the resolution of a woman. I looked into my heart closely. No skeleton was there, but the image of a living man,—Redmond.
"I love him," I confessed. "To be his wife and the mother of his children is the only lot I ever care to choose. He is noble, handsome, and loyal. But I cannot belong to him, nor can he ever be mine.
"'Of love that never found his earthly close What sequel?'
"What did he do with the remembrance of me? He scattered it, perhaps, with the ashes of the first cigar he smoked after he went from me,—made a mound of it, maybe, in honor of Duty. I am as ignorant of him as if he no longer existed; so this image must be torn away. I will not burn the lamp of life before it, but will build up the niche where it stands into a solid wall."
The ideal happiness of love is so sweet and powerful, that, for a while, adverse influences only exalt the imagination. When Laura told me of Redmond's engagement, it did but change my dream of what might be into what might have been. It was a mirage which continued while he was present and faded with his departure. Then my heart was locked in the depths of will, till circumstance brought it a power of revenge. I think now, if we had spoken freely and truly to each other, I should have suffered less when I saw his friend. We feel better when the funeral of our dearest friend is over and we have returned to the house. There is to be no more preparation, no waiting; the windows may be opened, and the doors set wide; the very dreariness and desolation force our attention towards the living.
"Something will come," I thought; and I determined not to have any more reveries. "Mr. Harry Lothrop is a pleasant riddle; I shall see him soon, or he will write."
It occurred to me then that I had some letters of his already in my possession,—those he had written to Laura. I found the ebony box, and, taking from it the sealed package, unfolded the letters one by one, reading them according to their dates. There was a note among them for me, from Laura.
"When you read these letters, Margaret," it said, "you will see that I must have studied the writer of them in vain. You know now that he made me unhappy; not that I was in love with him much, but he stirred depths of feeling which I had no knowledge of, and which between Frank, my betrothed husband, and myself had no existence. But 'le roi s'amuse.' Perhaps a strong passion will master this man; but I shall never know. Will you?"
I laid the letters back in their place, and felt no very strong desire to learn anything more of the writer. I did not know then how little trouble it would be,—my share of making the acquaintance.
It was not many weeks before Mr. Lothrop came again, and rather ostentatiously, so that everybody knew of his visit to me. But he saw none of the friends he had made during his stay the year before. I happened to see him coming, and went to the door to meet him. Almost his first words were,—
"Maurice is dead. He went to Florida,—took the fever,—which killed him, of course. He died only a week after—after Laura. Poor fellow! did he interest you much? I believe he was in love with you, too; but musical people are never desperate, except when they play a false note."
"Yes," I answered; "I was fond of him. His conceit did not trouble me, and he never fatigued me; he had nothing to conceal. He was a commonplace man; one liked him, when with him,—and when away, one had no thought about him."
"I alone am left you," said my visitor, putting his hat on a chair, and slowly pulling off his gloves, finger by finger.
He had slender, white hands, like a woman's, and they were always in motion. After he had thrown his gloves into his hat, he put his finger against his cheek, leaned his elbow on the arm of his chair, crossed his legs, and looked at me with a cunning self-possession. I glanced at his feet; they were small and well-booted. I looked into his face; it was not a handsome one; but he had magnetic eyes, of a lightish blue, and a clever, loose mouth. It is impossible to describe him,—just as impossible as it is for a man who was born a boor to attain the bearing of a gentleman; any attempt at it would prove a bungling matter, when compared with the original. He felt my scrutiny, and knew, too, that I had never looked at him till then.
"Do you sing nowadays?" he asked, tapping with his fingers the keys of the piano behind him.
"They suit you admirably; but I perceive you attend to your dress still. How effective those velvet bands are! You look older than you did two years ago."
"Two years are enough to age a woman."
"Yes, if she is miserable. Can you be unhappy?" he asked, rising, and taking a seat beside me.
There was a tone of sympathy in his voice which made me shudder, I knew not why. It was neither aversion nor liking; but I dreaded to be thrown into any tumult of feeling. I realized afterward more fully that it is next to impossible for a passionate woman to receive the sincere addresses of a manly man without feeling some fluctuation of soul. Ignorant spectators call her a coquette for this. Happily, there are teachers among our own sex, women of cold temperaments, able to vindicate themselves from the imputation. They spare themselves great waste of heart and some generous emotion,—also remorse and self-accusations regarding the want of propriety, and the other ingredients which go to make up a white-muslin heroine.
Harry Lothrop saw that my cheek was burning, and made a movement toward me. I tossed my head back, and moved down the sofa; he did not follow me, but smiled and mused in his old way.
And so it went on,—not once, but many times. He wrote me quiet, persuasive, eloquent letters. By degrees I learned his own history and that of his family, his prospects and his intentions. He was rich. I knew well what position I should have, if I were his wife. My beauty would be splendidly set. I was well enough off, but not rich enough to harmonize all things according to my taste. I was proud, and he was refined; if we were married, what better promise of delicacy could be given than that of pride in a woman, refinement in a man? He brought me flowers or books, when he came. The flowers were not delicate and inodorous, but magnificent and deep-scented; and the material of the books was stalwart and vigorous. I read his favorite authors with him. He was the first person who ever made any appeal to my intellect. In short, he was educating me for a purpose.
Once he offered me a diamond cross. I refused it, and he never asked me to accept any gift again. His visits were not frequent, and they were short. However great the distance he accomplished to reach me, he staid only an evening, and then returned. He came and went at night. In time I grew to look upon our connection as an established thing. He made me understand that he loved me, and that he only waited for me to return it; but he did not say so.
I lived an idle life, inhaling the perfume of the flowers he gave me, devouring old literature, the taste for which he had created, and reading and answering his letters. To be sure, other duties were fulfilled, I was an affectionate child to my parents, and a proper acquaintance for my friends. I never lost any sleep now, nor was I troubled with dreams. I lived in the outward; all my restless activity, that constant questioning of the heavens and the earth, had ceased entirely. Five years had passed since I first saw Redmond. I was now twenty-four. The Fates grew tired of the monotony of my life, I suppose, for about this time it changed.
My oldest brother, a bachelor, lived in New York. He asked me to spend the winter with him; he lived in a quiet hotel, had a suite of rooms, and could make me comfortable, he said. He had just asked somebody to marry him, and that somebody wished to make my acquaintance. I was glad to go. My heart gave a bound at the prospect of change; I was still young enough to dream of the impossible, when any chance offered itself to my imagination; so I accepted my brother's invitation with some elation.
I had been in New York a month. One day I was out with my future sister, on a shopping raid; with our hands full of little paper parcels, we stopped to look into Goupil's window. There was always a rim of crowd there, so I paid no attention to the jostles we received. We were looking at an engraving of Ary Scheffer's Francoise de Rimini. "Not the worst hell," muttered a voice behind me, which I knew. I started, and pulled Leonora's arm; she turned round, and the fringe of her cloak-sleeve caught a button on the overcoat of one of the gentlemen standing together. It was Redmond; the other was his "ancient," Harry Lothrop. Leonora was arrested; I stood still, of course. Redmond had not seen my face, for I turned it from him; and his head was bent down to the task of disengaging his button.
"'Each only as God wills Can work; God's puppets, best and worst, Are we; there is no last nor first,'"
I thought, and turned my head. He instinctively took off his hat, and then planted it back on his head firmly, and looked over to Harry Lothrop, to whom I gave my hand. He knew me before I saw him, I am convinced; but his dramatic sense kept him silent,—perhaps a deeper feeling. There was an expression of pain in his face, which impelled me to take his arm.
"Let us move on, Leonora," I said; "these are some summer friends of mine," and I introduced them to her.
My chief feeling was embarrassment, which was shared by all the party; for Leonora felt that there was something unusual in the meeting. The door of the hotel seemed to come round at last, and as we were going in, Harry Lothrop asked me if he might see me the next morning.
"Do come," I answered aloud.
We all bowed, and they disappeared.
"What an elegant Indian your tall friend is!" said Leonora.
"Yes,—of the Camanche tribe."
"But he would look better hanging from his horse's mane than he does in a long coat."
"He is spoiled by civilization and white parents. But, Leonora, stay and dine with me, in my own room. John will not come home till it is time for the opera. You know we are going. You must make me splendid; you can torture me into style, I know."
She consented, provided I would send a note to her mother, explaining that it was my invitation, and not her old John's, as she irreverently called him. I did so, and she was delighted to stay.
"This is fast," she said; "can't we have Champagne and black coffee?"
She fell to rummaging John's closets, and brought out a dusty, Chinese-looking affair, which she put on for a dressing-gown. She found some Chinese straw shoes, and tucked her little feet into them, and then braided her hair in a long tail, and declared she was ready for dinner. Her gayety was refreshing, and I did not wonder at John's admiration. My spirits rose, too, and I astonished Leonora at the table with my chat; she had never seen me except when quiet. I fell into one of those unselfish, unasking moods which are the glory of youth: I felt that the pure heaven of love was in the depths of my being; my soul shone like a star in its atmosphere; my heart throbbed, and I cried softly to it,—"Live! live! he is here!" I still chatted with Leonora and made her laugh, and the child for the first time thoroughly liked me. We were finishing our dessert, when we heard John's knock. We allowed him to come in for a moment, and gave him some almonds, which, he leisurely cracked and ate.
"Somehow, Margaret," he said, "you remind me of those women who enjoy the Indian festival of the funeral pile. I have seen the thing done; you have something of the sort in your mind; be sure to immolate yourself handsomely. Women are the deuse."
"Finish your almonds, John," I said, "and go away; we must dress."
He put his hand on my arm, and whispered,—
"Smother that light in your eyes, my girl; it is dangerous. And you have lived under your mother's eye all your life! You see what I have done,"—indicating Leonora with his eyebrows,—"taken a baby on my hands."
"John, John!" I inwardly ejaculated, "you are an idiot."
"She shall never suffer what you suffer; she shall have the benefit of the experience which other women have given me."
"Very likely," I answered; "I know we often serve you as pioneers merely."
He gave a sad nod, and I closed the door upon him.
"Put these pins into my hair, Leonora, and tell me, how do you like my new dress?"
"Paris!" she cried.
It was a dove-colored silk with a black velvet stripe through it. I showed her a shawl which John had given me,—a pale-yellow gauzy fabric with a gold-thread border,—and told her to make me up. She produced quite a marvellous effect; for this baby understood the art of dress to perfection. She made my hair into a loose mass, rolling it away from my face; yet it was firmly fastened. Then she shook out the shawl, and wrapped me in it, so that my head seemed to be emerging from a pale-tinted cloud. John said I looked outlandish, but Leonora thought otherwise. She begged him for some Indian perfume, and he found an aromatic powder, which she sprinkled inside my gloves and over my shawl.
We found the opera-house crowded. Our seats were near the stage. John sat behind us, so that he might slip out into the lobby occasionally; for the opera was a bore to him. The second act was over; John had left his seat; I was opening and shutting my fan mechanically, half lost in thought, when Leonora, who had been looking at the house with her lorgnette, turned and said,—
"Is not that your friend of this morning, on the other side, in the second row, leaning against the third pillar? There is a queenish-looking old lady with him. He hasn't spoken to her for a long time, and she continually looks up at him."
I took her glass, and discovered Redmond. He looked back at me through another; I made a slight motion with my handkerchief; he dropped his glass into the lap of the lady next him and darted out, and in a moment he was behind me in John's seat.
"Who is with you?" he asked.
"Brother," I answered.
"You intoxicate me with some strange perfume; don't fan it this way."
I quietly passed the fan to Leonora, who now looked back and spoke to him. He talked with her a moment, and then she discreetly resumed her lorgnette.
"What happened for two years after I left B.? The last year I know something of."
"Breakfast, dinner, and tea; the ebb and flow of the tide; and the days of the week."
"Nothing more?" And his voice came nearer.
"A few trifles."
"They are under lock and key, I suppose?"
"We do not carry relics about with us."
"There is the conductor; I must go. Turn your face toward me more."
I obeyed him, and our eyes met. His searching gaze made me shiver.
"I have been married," he said, and his eyes were unflinching, "and my wife is dead."
All the lights went down, I thought; I struck out my arm to find Leonora, who caught it and pressed it down.
"I must get out," I said; and I walked up the alley to the door without stumbling.
I knew that I was fainting or dying; as I had never fainted, I did not know which. Redmond carried me through the cloak-room and put me on a sofa.
"I never can speak to him again," I thought, and then I lost sight of them all.
A terribly sharp pain through my heart roused me, and I was in a violent chill. They had thrown water over my face; my hair was matted, and the water was dripping from it on my naked shoulders. The gloves had been ripped from my hands, and Leonora was wringing my handkerchief.
"The heat made you faint, dear," she said.
John was walking up and down the room with a phlegmatic countenance, but he was fuming.
"My new dress is ruined, John," I said.
"Hang the dress! How do you feel now?"
"It is drowned; and I feel better; shall we go home?"
He went out to order the carriage, and Leonora whispered to me that she had forgotten Redmond's name.
"No matter," I answered. I could not have spoken it then.
When John came, Leonora beckoned to Redmond to introduce himself. John shook hands with him, gave him an intent look, and told us the carriage was ready. Redmond followed us, and took leave of us at the carriage-door.
Leonora begged me to stay at her house; I refused, for I wished to be alone. John deposited her with her mother, and we drove home. He gave me one of his infallible medicines, and told me not to get up in the morning. But when morning came, I remembered Harry Lothrop was coming, and made myself ready for him. As human nature is not quite perfect, I felt unhappy about him, and rather fond of him, and thought he possessed some admirable qualities. I never could read the old poets any more without a pang, unless he were with me, directing my eye along their pages with his long white finger! I never should smell tuberoses again without feeling faint, unless they were his gift!
By the time he came I was in a state of romantic regret, and in that state many a woman has answered, "Yes!" He asked me abruptly if I thought it would be folly in him to ask me to marry him. The question turned the tide.
"No," I answered,—"not folly; for I have thought many times in the last two years, that I should marry you, if you said I must. But now I believe that it is not best. You have pursued me patiently; your self-love made the conquest of me a necessary pleasure. That was well enough for me; for you made me feel all the while, that, if I loved you, you were worth possessing. And you are. I like you. But my feeling for you did not prevent my fainting away at the opera-house last night, when Redmond told me that his wife was dead."
"So," he said, "the long-smothered fire has broken out again! Chance does not befriend me. He saw you last night, and yielded. He said yesterday he should not tell you. He asked me about you after we left you, and wished to know if I had seen you much for the last year. I offered him your last letter to read,—am I not generous?—but he refused it.
"'When I see her,' he asked, 'am I at liberty to say what I choose?'
"On that I could have said, 'No.' Redmond and I have not seen each other since the period of my first visit to you. He has been nursing his wife in the mean time, taking journeys with her, and trying all sorts of cures; and now he seems tied to his aunt and mother-in-law. He was merely passing through the city with her, and this morning they have gone again.—Well," after a pause, "there is no need of words between us. I have in my possession a part of you. Beautiful women are like flowers which open their leaves wide enough for their perfume to attract wandering bees; the perfume is wasted, though the honey may be hid."
"Alas, what a lesson this man is giving me!" I thought.
"Farewell, then," he said. He bit his lips, and his clenched hands trembled; but he mastered his emotion. "You must think of me."
"And see you, too," I answered. "Everything comes round again, if we live long enough. Dramatic unities are never preserved in life; if they were, how poetical would all these things be! But Time whirls us round, showing us our many-sided feelings as carelessly as a child rattles the bits of glass in his kaleidoscope."
"So be it!" he replied. "Adieu!"
That afternoon I staid at home, and put John's room in order, and cleaned the dust from his Indian idols, and was extremely busy till he came in. Then I kissed his whiskers, and told him all my sins, and cried once or twice during my confession. He petted me a good deal, and made me eat twice as much dinner as I wanted; he said it was good for me, and I obeyed him, for I felt uncommonly meek that day.
Soon after, Redmond sent me a long letter. He said he had been, from a boy, under an obligation to his aunt, the mother of his wife. It was a common story, and he would not trouble me with it. He was married soon after Harry Lothrop's first visit to me, at the time they had received the news of Laura's death. How much he had thought of Laura afterward, while he was watching the fading away of his pale blossom! His aunt had been ill since the death of her daughter, restless, and discontented with every change. He hoped she was now settled among some old friends with whom she might find consolation. In conclusion, he wrote,—"My aunt noticed our hasty exit from the opera-house that night, when I was brute enough to nearly kill you. I told her that I loved you. She now feels, after a struggle, that she must let me go. 'Old women have no rights,' she said to me yesterday. Margaret, may I come, and never leave you again?"
My answer may be guessed, for one day he arrived. It was the dusk of a cheery winter day, the time when home wears so bright a look to those who seek it. It was an hour before dinner, and I was waiting for John to come in. The amber evening sky gleamed before the windows, and the fire made a red core of light in the room. John's sandal-wood boxes gave out strange odors in the heat, and the pattern of the Persian rug was just visible. A servant came to the door with a card. I held it to the grate, and the fire lit up his name.
"Show him up-stairs," I said.
I stood in the doorway, and heard his step on every stair. When he came, I took him by the hand, and drew him into the room. He was speechless.
"Oh, Redmond, I love you! How long you were away!"
He kneeled by me, and put my arms round his neck, and we kissed each other with the first, best kiss of passion.
John came in, and I reached out my hand to him and said, "This is my husband."
"That's comfortable," he answered. "Won't you stay to dinner?"
"Oh, yes," replied Redmond; "this is my hotel."
"I see," said John.
But after dinner they had a long talk together. John sent me to my room, and I was glad to go. I walked up and down, crying, I must say, most of the time, asking forgiveness of myself for my faults, and remembering Laura and Maurice,—and then thinking Redmond was mine, with a contraction of the heart which threatened to stifle me.
John took us up to Leonora's that evening; he said he wanted to see if Puss would be tantalized with the sight of such a beautiful romantic couple just from fairy-land, who were now prepared "to live in peace."
We were married the next day in a church in a by-street. John was the only witness, and flourished a large silk handkerchief, so that it had the effect of a triumphal banner. Redmond put the ring on the wrong finger,—a mistake which the minister kindly rectified. All I had new for the occasion was a pair of gloves.
One morning after my marriage, when Redmond and John were smoking together, I was turning over some boxes, for I was packing to go home on a visit to our mother. I called Redmond to leave his pipe and come to me.
"You have not seen any of my property. Look, here it is:—
"One bitten handkerchief.
"A fan never used.
"A gold pen-holder.
"A draggled shawl."
"Margaret," he said, taking my chin in his hand and bringing his eyes close to mine, "I am wild with happiness."
"Your pipe has gone out," we heard John say.
* * * * *
The pines were dark on Ramoth hill, Their song was soft and low; The blossoms in the sweet May wind Were falling like the snow.
The blossoms drifted at our feet, The orchard birds sang clear; The sweetest and the saddest day It seemed of all the year.
For, more to me than birds or flowers, My playmate left her home, And took with her the laughing spring, The music and the bloom.
She kissed the lips of kith and kin, She laid her hand in mine: What more could ask the bashful boy Who fed her father's kine?
She left us in the bloom of May: The constant years told o'er Their seasons with as sweet May morns. But she came back no more.
I walk, with noiseless feet, the round Of uneventful years; Still o'er and o'er I sow the spring And reap the autumn ears.
She lives where all the golden year Her summer roses blow; The dusky children of the sun Before her come and go.
There haply with her jewelled hands She smooths her silken gown,— No more the homespun lap wherein I shook the walnuts down.
The wild grapes wait us by the brook, The brown nuts on the hill, And still the May-day flowers make sweet The woods of Follymill.
The lilies blossom in the pond, The bird builds in the tree, The dark pines sing on Ramoth hill The slow song of the sea.
I wonder if she thinks of them, And how the old time seems,— If ever the pines of Ramoth wood Are sounding in her dreams.
I see her face, I hear her voice: Does she remember mine? And what to her is now the boy Who fed her father's kine?
What cares she that the orioles build For other eyes than ours,— That other hands with nuts are filled, And other laps with flowers?
O playmate in the golden time! Our mossy seat is green, Its fringing violets blossom yet, The old trees o'er it lean.
The winds so sweet with birch and fern A sweeter memory blow; And there in spring the veeries sing The song of long ago.
And still the pines of Ramoth wood Are moaning like the sea,— The moaning of the sea of change Between myself and thee!
THE MAROONS OF SURINAM.
When that eccentric individual, Captain John Gabriel Stedman, resigned his commission in the English navy, took the oath of abjuration, and was appointed ensign in the Scots brigade employed for two centuries by Holland, he little knew that "their High Mightinesses the States of the United Provinces" would send him out, within a year, to the forests of Guiana, to subdue rebel negroes. He never imagined that the year 1773 would behold him beneath the rainy season in a tropical country, wading through marshes and splashing through lakes, exploring with his feet for submerged paths, commanding impracticable troops and commanded by an insufferable colonel, feeding on gree-gree worms and fed upon by mosquitoes, howled at by jaguars, hissed at by serpents, and shot at by those exceedingly unattainable gentlemen, "still longed for, never seen," the Maroons of Surinam.
Yet, as our young ensign sailed up the Surinam river, the world of tropic beauty came upon him with enchantment. Dark, moist verdure was close around him, rippling waters below; the tall trees of the jungle and the low mangroves beneath were all hung with long vines and lianas, a maze of cordage, like a fleet at anchor; odd monkeys travelled ceaselessly up and down these airy paths, in armies, bearing their young, like knapsacks, on their backs; macaws and humming-birds, winged jewels, flew from tree to tree. As they neared Paramaribo, the river became a smooth canal among luxuriant plantations, the air was perfumed music, redolent of orange-blossoms and echoing with the songs of birds and the sweet plash of oars; gay barges came forth to meet them; "while groups of naked boys and girls were promiscuously playing and flouncing, like so many tritons and mermaids, in the water." And when the troops disembarked,—five hundred fine young men, the oldest not thirty, all arrayed in new uniforms and bearing orange-flowers in their caps, a bridal wreath for beautiful Guiana,—it is no wonder that the Creole ladies were in ecstasy, and the boyish recruits little foresaw the day, when, reduced to a few dozens, barefooted and ragged as filibusters, their last survivors would gladly reembark from a country beside which even Holland looked dry and even Scotland comfortable.
For over all that earthly paradise there brooded not alone its terrible malaria, its days of fever and its nights of deadly chill, but the worse shadows of oppression and of sin, which neither day nor night could banish. The first object which met Stedman's eye, as he stepped on shore, was the figure of a young girl stripped to receive two hundred lashes, and chained to a hundred-pound-weight. And the few first days gave a glimpse into a state of society worthy of this exhibition,—men without mercy, women without modesty, the black man a slave to the white man's passions, and the white man a slave to his own. The present West Indian society in its worst forms is probably a mere dilution of the utter profligacy of those days. Greek or Roman decline produced nothing more debilitating or destructive than the ordinary life of a Surinam planter, and his one virtue of hospitality only led to more unbridled excesses and completed the work of vice. No wonder that Stedman himself, who, with all his peculiarities, was essentially simple and manly, soon became disgusted, and made haste to get into the woods and cultivate the society of the Maroons.
The rebels against whom this expedition was sent were not the original Maroons of Surinam, but a later generation. The originals had long since established their independence, and their leaders were flourishing their honorary silver-mounted canes in the streets of Paramaribo. Fugitive negroes had begun to establish themselves in the woods from the time when the colony was finally ceded by the English to the Dutch, in 1674. The first open outbreak occurred in 1726, when the plantations on the Seramica river revolted; it was found impossible to subdue them, and the government very imprudently resolved to make an example of eleven captives, and thus terrify the rest of the rebels. They were tortured to death, eight of the eleven being women; this drove the others to madness, and plantation after plantation was visited with fire and sword. After a long conflict, their chief, Adoe, was induced to make a treaty, in 1749. The rebels promised to keep the peace, and in turn were promised freedom, money, tools, clothes, and, finally, arms and ammunition.
But no permanent peace was ever made upon a barrel of gunpowder as a basis, and of course an explosion followed this one. The colonists naturally evaded the last item of the bargain, and the rebels, receiving the gifts and remarking the omission of the part of Hamlet, asked contemptuously if the Europeans expected negroes to subsist on combs and looking-glasses? New hostilities at once began; a new body of slaves on the Ouca river revolted; the colonial government was changed in consequence, and fresh troops shipped from Holland; and after four different embassies had been sent into the woods, the rebels began to listen to reason. The black generals, Captain Araby and Captain Boston, agreed upon a truce for a year, during which the colonial government might decide for peace or war, the Maroons declaring themselves indifferent. Finally the government chose peace, delivered ammunition, and made a treaty, in 1761; the white and black plenipotentiaries exchanged English oaths and then negro oaths, each tasting a drop of the other's blood during the latter ceremony, amid a volley of remarkable incantations from the black gadoman or priest. After some final skirmishes, in which the rebels almost always triumphed, the treaty was at length accepted by all the various villages of Maroons. Had they known that at this very time five thousand slaves in Berbice were just rising against their masters and were looking to them for assistance, the result might have been different; but this fact had not reached them, nor had the rumors of insurrection in Brazil, among negro and Indian slaves. They consented, therefore, to the peace. "They write from Surinam," says the "Annual Register" for January 23, 1761, "that the Dutch governor, finding himself unable to subdue the rebel negroes of that country by force, hath wisely followed the example of Governor Trelawney at Jamaica, and concluded an amicable treaty with them; in consequence of which, all the negroes of the woods are acknowledged to be free, and all that is past is buried in oblivion." So ended a war of thirty-six years, and in Stedman's day the original three thousand Ouca and Seramica Maroons had multiplied (almost incredibly) to fifteen thousand.
But for the slaves not sharing in this revolt it was not so easy to "bury the whole past in oblivion." The Maroons had told some very plain truths to the white ambassadors, and had frankly advised them, if they wished for peace, to mend their own manners and treat their slaves humanely. But the planters learned nothing by experience,—and indeed, the terrible narrations of Stedman were confirmed by those of Alexander, so lately as 1831. Of course, therefore, in a colony comprising eighty thousand blacks to four thousand whites, other revolts were stimulated by the success of this one. They reached their highest point in 1772, when an insurrection on the Cottica river, led by a negro named Baron, almost gave the finishing blow to the colony; the only adequate protection being found in a body of slaves liberated expressly for that purpose,—a dangerous and humiliating precedent. "We have been obliged to set three or four hundred of our stoutest negroes free to defend us," says an honest letter from Surinam in the "Annual Register" for September 5, 1772. Fortunately for the safety of the planters, Baron presumed too much upon his numbers, and injudiciously built a camp too near the sea-coast, in a marshy fastness, from which he was finally ejected by twelve hundred Dutch troops, though the chief work was done, Stedman thinks, by the "black rangers" or liberated slaves. Checked by this defeat, he again drew back into the forests, resuming his guerrilla warfare against the plantations. Nothing could dislodge him; bloodhounds were proposed, but the moisture of the country made them useless; and thus matters stood when Stedman came sailing, amid orange-blossoms and music, up the winding Surinam.
Our young officer went into the woods in the condition of Falstaff, "heinously unprovided." Coming from the unbounded luxury of the plantations, he found himself entering "the most horrid and impenetrable forests, where no kind of refreshment was to be had,"—he being provisioned only with salt pork and peas. After a wail of sorrow for this inhuman neglect, he bursts into a gush of gratitude for the private generosity which relieved his wants at the last moment by the following list of supplies:—"24 bottles best claret, 12 ditto Madeira, 12 ditto porter, 12 ditto cider, 12 ditto rum, 2 large loaves white sugar, 2 gallons brandy, 6 bottles muscadel, 2 gallons lemon-juice, 2 gallons ground coffee, 2 large Westphalia hams, 2 salted bullocks' tongues, 1 bottle Durham mustard, 6 dozen spermaceti candles." The hams and tongues seem, indeed, rather a poor halfpennyworth to this intolerable deal of sack; but this instance of Surinam privation in those days may open some glimpse at the colonial standards of comfort. "From this specimen," moralizes our hero, "the reader will easily perceive, that, if some of the inhabitants of Surinam show themselves the disgrace of the creation by their cruelties and brutality, others, by their social feelings, approve themselves an ornament to the human species. With this instance of virtue and generosity I therefore conclude this chapter."
But the troops soon had to undergo worse troubles than those of the commisariat. The rainy season had just set in. "As for the negroes," said Mr. Klynhaus, the last planter with whom they parted, "you may depend on never seeing a soul of them, unless they attack you off guard; but the climate, the climate, will murder you all." Bringing with them constitutions already impaired by the fevers and dissipation of Paramaribo, the poor boys began to perish long before they began to fight. Wading in water all day, hanging their hammocks over water at night, it seemed a moist existence, even compared with the climate of England and the soil of Holland. It was "Invent a shovel and be a magistrate," even more than Andrew Marvell found it in the United Provinces. In fact, Raynal evidently thinks that nothing but Dutch experience in hydraulics could ever have cultivated Surinam.
The two gun-boats which held one division of the expedition were merely old sugar-barges, roofed over with boards, and looking like coffins. They were pleasantly named the "Charon" and the "Cerberus," but Stedman thought that the "Sudden Death" and the "Wilful Murder" would have been titles more appropriate. The chief duty of the troops consisted in lying at anchor at the intersections of wooded streams, waiting for rebels who never came. It was dismal work, and the raw recruits were full of the same imaginary terrors which have haunted other heroes less severely tested: the monkeys never rattled the cocoa-nuts against the trees, but they all heard the axes of Maroon wood-choppers; and when a sentinel declared, one night, that he had seen a negro go down the river in a canoe, with his pipe lighted, the whole force was called to arms—against a firefly. In fact, the insect race brought by far the most substantial dangers. The rebels eluded the military, but the chigres, locusts, scorpions, and bush-spiders were ever ready to come half-way to meet them; likewise serpents and alligators proffered them the freedom of the forests and exhibited a hospitality almost excessive. Snakes twenty feet long hung their seductive length from the trees; jaguars volunteered their society through almost impenetrable marshes; vampire bats perched by night with lulling endearments upon their toes. When Stedman describes himself as killing thirty-eight mosquitoes at one stroke, we must perhaps pardon something to the spirit of martyrdom. But when we add to these the other woes of his catalogue,—prickly-heat, ring-worm, putrid-fever, "the growling of Colonel Fougeaud, dry, sandy savannas, unfordable marshes, burning hot days, cold and damp nights, heavy rains, and short allowance,"—we can hardly wonder that three captains died in a month, and that in two months his detachment of forty-two was reduced to a miserable seven.
Yet, through all this, Stedman himself kept his health. His theory of the matter almost recalls the time-honored prescription of "A light heart and a thin pair of breeches," for he attributes his good condition to his keeping up his spirits and kicking off his shoes. Daily bathing in the river had also something to do with it,—and, indeed, hydropathy (this may not be generally known) was first learned of the West India Maroons, who did their "packing" in wet clay,—and it was carried by Dr. Wright to England. But his extraordinary personal qualities must have contributed most to his preservation. Never did a "meagre, starved, black, burnt, and ragged tatterdemalion," as he calls himself, carry about him such a fund of sentiment, philosophy, poetry, and art. He had a great faculty for sketching, as the engravings in his volumes, with all their odd peculiarities, show; his deepest woes he coined always into couplets, and fortified himself against hopeless despair with Ovid and Valerius Flaccus, Pope's "Homer" and Thomson's "Seasons." Above all reigned his passion for natural history, a ready balm for every ill. Here he was never wanting to the occasion, and, to do justice to Dutch Guiana, the occasion never was wanting to him. Were his men sickening, the peccaries were always healthy without, and the cockroaches within the camp; just escaping from a she-jaguar, he satisfies himself, ere he flees, that the print of her claws on the sand is precisely the size of a pewter dinner-plate; bitten by a scorpion, he makes sure of his scientific description in case he should expire of the bite; is the water undrinkable, there is at least some rational interest in the number of legs possessed by the centipedes which preoccupy it. This is the highest triumph of man over his accidents, when he thus turns his pains to gains, and becomes an entomologist in the tropics.
Meanwhile the rebels kept their own course in the forests, and occasionally descended upon plantations beside the very river on whose upper waters the useless troops were sickening and dying. Stedman himself made several campaigns, with long intervals of illness, before he came any nearer to the enemy than to burn a deserted village or destroy a rice-field. Sometimes they left the Charon and the Cerberus moored by grape-vines to the pine-trees, and made expeditions into the woods single file. Our ensign, true to himself, gives the minutest schedule of the order of march, and the oddest little diagram of manikins with cocked hats, and blacker manikins bearing burdens. First, negroes with bill-hooks to clear the way; then the van-guard; then the main body, interspersed with negroes bearing boxes of ball-cartridges; then the rear-guard, with many more negroes, bearing camp-equipage, provisions, and new rum, surnamed "kill-devil," and appropriately followed by a sort of palanquin for the disabled. Thus arrayed, they marched valorously forth into the woods, to some given point; then they turned, marched back to the boats, then rowed back to camp, and straightaway went into the hospital. Immediately upon this, the coast being clear. Baron and his rebels marched out again and proceeded to business.
In the course of years, these Maroons had acquired their own peculiar tactics. They built stockaded fortresses on marshy islands, accessible by fords which they alone could traverse. These they defended further by sharp wooden pins, or crows'-feet, concealed beneath the surface of the miry ground,—and, latterly, by the more substantial protection of cannon, which they dragged into the woods, and learned to use. Their bush-fighting was unique. Having always more men than weapons, they arranged their warriors in threes,—one to use the musket, another to take his place, if wounded or slain, and a third to drag away the body. They had Indian stealthiness and swiftness, with more than Indian discipline; discharged their fire with some approach to regularity, in three successive lines, the signals being given by the captain's horn. They were full of ingenuity: marked their movements for each other by scattered leaves and blazed trees; ran zigzag, to dodge bullets; gave wooden guns to their unarmed men, to frighten the plantation negroes on their guerrilla expeditions; and borrowed the red caps of the black rangers whom they slew, to bewilder the aim of the others. One of them, finding himself close to the muzzle of a ranger's gun, threw up his hand hastily. "What!" he exclaimed, "will you fire on one of your own party?" "God forbid!" cried the ranger, dropping his piece, and was instantly shot through the body by the Maroon, who the next instant had disappeared in the woods.
These rebels were no saints: their worship was obi-worship; the women had not far outgrown the plantation standard of chastity, and the men drank "kill-devil" like their betters. Stedman was struck with the difference between the meaning of the word "good" in rebellious circles and in reputable. "It must, however, be observed that what we Europeans call a good character was by the Africans looked upon as detestable, especially by those born in the woods, whose only crime consisted in avenging the wrongs done to their forefathers." But if martial virtues be virtues, such were theirs. Not a rebel ever turned traitor or informer, ever flinched in battle or under torture, ever violated a treaty or even a private promise. But it was their power of endurance which was especially astounding; Stedman is never weary of paying tribute to this, or of illustrating it in sickening detail; indeed, the records of the world show nothing to surpass it; "the lifted axe, the agonizing wheel" proved powerless to subdue it; with every limb lopped, every bone broken, the victims yet defied their tormentors, laughed, sang, and died triumphant.
Of course, they repaid these atrocities in kind. If they had not, it would have demonstrated the absurd paradox, that slavery educates higher virtues than freedom. It bewilders all the relations of human responsibility, if we expect the insurrectionary slave to commit no outrages; if slavery have not depraved him, it has done him little harm. If it be the normal tendency of bondage to produce saints like Uncle Tom, let us all offer ourselves at auction immediately. It is Cassy and Dred who are the normal protest of human nature against systems which degrade it. Accordingly, these poor, ignorant Maroons, who had seen their brothers and sisters flogged, burned, mutilated, hanged on iron hooks, broken on the wheel, and had been all the while solemnly assured that this was paternal government, could only repay the paternalism in the same fashion, when they had the power. Stedman saw a negro chained to a red-hot distillery-furnace; he saw disobedient slaves, in repeated instances, punished by the amputation of a leg, and sent to boat-service for the rest of their lives; and of course the rebels borrowed these suggestions. They could bear to watch their captives expire under the lash, for they had previously watched their parents. If the government rangers received twenty-five florins for every rebel right-hand which they brought in, of course they risked their own right-hands in the pursuit. The difference was, that the one brutality was that of a mighty state, and the other was only the retaliation of the victims. And after all, Stedman never ventures to assert that the imitation equalled the original, or that the Maroons had inflicted nearly so much as they had suffered.
The leaders of the rebels, especially, were men who had each his own story of wrongs to tell. Baron, the most formidable, had been the slave of a Swedish gentleman, who had taught him to read and write, taken him to Europe, promised to manumit him on his return,—and then, breaking his word, sold him to a Jew. Baron refused to work for his new master, was publicly flogged under the gallows, fled to the woods next day, and became the terror of the colony. Joli Coeur, his first captain, was avenging the cruel wrongs of his mother. Bonny, another leader, was born in the woods, his mother having taken refuge there just previously, to escape from his father, who was also his master. Cojo, another, had defended his master against the insurgents until he was obliged by ill usage to take refuge among them; and he still bore upon his wrist, when Stedman saw him, a silver band, with the inscription,— "True to the Europeans." In dealing with wrongs like these, Mr. Carlyle would have found the despised negroes quite as ready as himself to take the total-abstinence pledge against rose-water.
In his first two months' campaign, Stedman never saw the trace of a Maroon; in the second, he once came upon their trail; in the third, one captive was brought in, two surrendered themselves voluntarily, and a large party was found to have crossed a river within a mile of the camp, ferrying themselves on palm-trunks, according to their fashion. Deep swamps and scorching sands,—toiling through briers all day, and sleeping at night in hammocks suspended over stagnant water, with weapons supported on sticks crossed beneath,—all this was endured for two years and a half, before Stedman personally came in sight of the enemy.
On August 20th, 1775, the troops found themselves at last in the midst of the rebel settlements. These villages and forts bore a variety of expressive names, such as "Hide me, O thou surrounding verdure," "I shall be taken," "The woods lament for me," "Disturb me, if you dare," "Take a tasting, if you like it," "Come, try me, if you be men," "God knows me and none else," "I shall moulder before I shall be taken." Some were only plantation-grounds with a few huts, and were easily laid waste; but all were protected more or less by their mere situations. Quagmires surrounded them, covered by a thin crust of verdure, sometimes broken through by one man's weight, when the victim sank hopelessly into the black and bottomless depths below. In other directions there was a solid bottom, but inconveniently covered by three or four feet of water, through which the troops waded breast-deep, holding their muskets high in the air, unable to reload them when once discharged, and liable to be picked off by rebel scouts, who ingeniously posted themselves in the tops of palm-trees.
Through this delectable region Colonel Fougeaud and his followers slowly advanced, drawing near the fatal shore where Captain Meyland's detachment had just been defeated, and where their mangled remains still polluted the beach. Passing this point of danger without attack, they suddenly met a small party of rebels, each bearing on his back a beautifully-woven hamper of snow-white rice: these loads they threw down, and disappeared. Next appeared an armed body from the same direction, who fired upon them once and swiftly retreated; and in a few moments the soldiers came upon a large field of standing rice, beyond which lay, like an amphitheatre, the rebel village. But between the village and the field had been piled successive defences of logs and branches, behind which simple redoubts the Maroons lay concealed. A fight ensued, lasting forty minutes, during which nearly every soldier and ranger was wounded, but, to their great amazement, not one was killed. This was an enigma to them until after the skirmish, when the surgeon found that most of them had been struck, not by bullets, but by various substitutes, such as pebbles, coat-buttons, and bits of silver coin, which had penetrated only skin-deep. "We also observed that several of the poor rebel negroes, who had been shot, had only the shards of Spa-water cans, instead of flints, which could seldom do execution; and it was certainly owing to these circumstances that we came off so well."
The rebels at length retreated, first setting fire to their village; a hundred or more lightly built houses, some of them two stories high, were soon in flames; and as this conflagration occupied the only neck of land between two impassable morasses, the troops were unable to follow, and the Maroons had left nothing but rice-fields to be pillaged. That night the military force was encamped in the woods; their ammunition was almost gone; so they were ordered to lie flat on the ground, even in case of attack; they could not so much as build a fire. Before midnight an attack was made on them, partly with bullets and partly with words; the Maroons were all around them in the forest, but their object was a puzzle: they spent most of the night in bandying compliments with the black rangers, whom they alternately denounced, ridiculed, and challenged to single combat. At last Fougeaud and Stedman joined in the conversation, and endeavored to make this midnight volley of talk the occasion for a treaty. This was received with inextinguishable laughter, which echoed through the woods like a concert of screech-owls, ending in a charivari of horns and hallooing. The Colonel, persisting, offered them "life, liberty, victuals, drink, and all they wanted"; in return, they ridiculed him unmercifully: he was a half-starved Frenchman, who had run away from his own country, and would soon run away from theirs; they profoundly pitied him and his soldiers; they would scorn to spend powder on such scarecrows; they would rather feed and clothe them, as being poor white slaves, hired to be shot at and starved for four-pence a day. But as for the planters, overseers, and rangers, they should die, every one of them, and Bonny should be governor of the colony. "After this, they tinkled their bill-hooks, fired a volley, and gave three cheers; which being answered by the rangers, the clamor ended, and the rebels dispersed with the rising sun."
Very aimless nonsense it certainly appeared. But the next day put a new aspect on it; for it was found, that, under cover of all this noise, the Maroons had been busily occupied all night, men, women, and children, in preparing and filling great hampers of the finest rice, yams, and cassava, from the adjacent provision-grounds, to be used for subsistence during their escape, leaving only chaff and refuse for the hungry soldiers. "This was certainly such a masterly trait of generalship in a savage people, whom we affected to despise, as would have done honor to any European commander."
From this time the Maroons fulfilled their threats. Shooting down without mercy every black ranger who came within their reach,—one of these rangers being, in Stedman's estimate, worth six white soldiers,—they left Colonel Fougeaud and his regulars to die of starvation and fatigue. The enraged Colonel, "finding himself thus foiled by a naked negro, swore he would pursue Bonny to the world's end." But he never got any nearer than to Bonny's kitchen-gardens. He put the troops on half-allowance, sent back for provisions and ammunition,—and within ten days changed his mind, and retreated to the settlements in despair. Soon after, this very body of rebels, under Bonny's leadership, plundered two plantations in the vicinity, and nearly captured a powder-magazine, which was, however, successfully defended by some armed slaves.
For a year longer these expeditions continued. The troops never gained a victory, and they lost twenty men for every rebel killed; but they gradually checked the plunder of plantations, destroyed villages and planting-grounds, and drove the rebels, for the time at least, into the deeper recesses of the woods or into the adjacent province of Cayenne. They had the slight satisfaction of burning Bonny's own house, a two-story wooden hut, built in the fashion of our frontier guard-houses. They often took single prisoners,—some child, born and bred in the woods, and frightened equally by the first sight of a white man and of a cow,—or some warrior, who, on being threatened with torture, stretched forth both hands in disdain, and said, with Indian eloquence,—"These hands have made tigers tremble." As for Stedman, he still went bare-footed, still quarrelled with his colonel, still sketched the scenery and described the reptiles, still reared gree-gree worms for his private kitchen, still quoted good poetry and wrote execrable, still pitied all the sufferers around him, black, white, and red, until finally he and his comrades were ordered back to Holland in 1776.
Among all that wasted regiment of weary and broken-down men, there was probably no one but Stedman who looked backward with longing as they sailed down the lovely Surinam. True, he bore all his precious collections with him,—parrots and butterflies, drawings on the backs of old letters, and journals kept on bones and cartridges. But he had left behind him a dearer treasure; for there runs through all his eccentric narrative a single thread of pure romance, in his love for his beautiful quadroon wife and his only son.
Within a month after his arrival in the colony, our susceptible ensign first saw Joanna, a slave-girl of fifteen, at the house of an intimate friend. Her extreme beauty and modesty first fascinated him, and then her piteous narrative,—for she was the daughter of a planter, who had just gone mad and died in despair from the discovery that he could not legally emancipate his own children from slavery. Soon after, Stedman was dangerously ill, was neglected and alone; fruits and cordials were anonymously sent to him, which proved at last to have come from Joanna, and she came herself, ere long, and nursed him, grateful for the visible sympathy he had shown to her. This completed the conquest; the passionate young Englishman, once recovered, loaded her with presents, which she refused,—talked of purchasing her and educating her in Europe, which she also declined, as burdening him too greatly,—and finally, amid the ridicule of all good society in Paramaribo, surmounted all legal obstacles and was united to the beautiful girl in honorable marriage. He provided a cottage for her, where he spent his furloughs, in perfect happiness, for four years.
The simple idyl of their loves was unbroken by any stain or disappointment, and yet always shadowed with the deepest anxiety for the future. Though treated with the utmost indulgence, she was legally a slave, and so was the boy of whom she became the mother. Cojo, her uncle, was a captain among the rebels against whom her husband fought. And up to the time when Stedman was ordered back to Holland, he was unable to purchase her freedom, nor could he, until the very last moment, procure the emancipation of his boy. His perfect delight at this last triumph, when obtained, elicited some satire from his white friends. "While the well-thinking few highly applauded my sensibility, many not only blamed, but publicly derided me for my paternal affection, which was called a weakness, a whim." "Nearly forty beautiful boys and girls were left to perpetual slavery by their parents of my acquaintance, and many of them without being so much as once inquired after at all."
But Stedman was a true-hearted fellow, if his sentiment did sometimes run to rodomontade; he left his Joanna only in the hope that a year or two in Europe would repair his ruined fortunes, and he could return to treat himself to the purchase of his own wedded wife. He describes, with unaffected pathos, their parting scene,—though, indeed, there were several successive partings,—and closes the description in a manner worthy of that remarkable combination of enthusiasms which characterized him. "My melancholy having surpassed all description, I at last determined to weather one or two painful years in her absence; and in the afternoon went to dissipate my mind at a Mr. Roux' cabinet of Indian curiosities; where as my eye chanced to fall on a rattlesnake, I will, before I leave the colony, describe this dangerous reptile."
It was impossible to write the history of the Maroons of Surinam except through the biography of our Ensign, (at last promoted Captain,) because nearly all we know of them is through his quaint and picturesque narrative, with its profuse illustrations by his own hand. It is not fair, therefore, to end without chronicling his safe arrival in Holland, on June 3d, 1777. It is a remarkable fact, that, after his life in the woods, even the Dutch looked slovenly to his eyes. "The inhabitants, who crowded about us, appeared but a disgusting assemblage of ill-formed and ill-dressed rabble,—so much had my prejudices been changed by living among Indians and blacks: their eyes seemed to resemble those of a pig; their complexions were like the color of foul linen; they seemed to have no teeth, and to be covered over with rags and dirt. This prejudice, however, was not against these people only, but against all Europeans in general, when compared to the sparkling eyes, ivory teeth, shining skin, and remarkable cleanliness of those I had left behind me." Yet, in spite of these superior attractions, he never recrossed the Atlantic; for his Joanna died soon after, and his promising son, being sent to the father, was educated in England, became a midshipman in the navy, and was lost at sea. With his elegy, in which the last depths of bathos are sadly sounded by a mourning parent,—who is induced to print them only by "the effect they had on the sympathetic and ingenious Mrs. Cowley,"—the "Narrative of a Five Years' Expedition" closes.
The war, which had cost the government forty thousand pounds a year, was ended, and left both parties essentially as when it began. The Maroons gradually returned to their old abodes, and, being unmolested themselves, left others unmolested thenceforward. Originally three thousand,—in Stedman's time, fifteen thousand,—they were estimated at seventy thousand by Captain Alexander, who saw Guiana in 1831,—and a recent American scientific expedition, having visited them in their homes, reported them as still enjoying their wild freedom, and multiplying, while the Indians on the same soil decay. The beautiful forests of Surinam still make the morning gorgeous with their beauty, and the night deadly with their chill; the stately palm still rears, a hundred feet in air, its straight gray shaft and its head of verdure; the mora builds its solid, buttressed trunk, a pedestal for the eagle; the pine of the tropics holds out its myriad hands with water-cups for the rain and dews, where all the birds and the monkeys may drink their fill; the trees are garlanded with epiphytes and convolvuli, and anchored to the earth by a thousand vines. High among their branches, the red and yellow mockingbirds still build their hanging nests, uncouth storks and tree-porcupines cling above, and the spotted deer and the tapir drink from the sluggish stream below. The night is still made noisy with a thousand cries of bird and beast; and the stillness of the sultry noon is broken by the slow tolling of the campanero, or bell-bird, far in the deep, dark woods, like the chime of some lost convent. And as Nature is unchanged there, so apparently is man; the Maroons still retain their savage freedom, still shoot their wild game and trap their fish, still raise their rice and cassava, yams and plantains,—still make cups from the gourd-tree and hammocks from the silk-grass plant, wine from the palm-tree's sap, brooms from its leaves, fishing-lines from its fibres, and salt from its ashes. Their life does not yield, indeed, the very highest results of spiritual culture; its mental and moral results may not come up to the level of civilization, but they rise far above the level of slavery. In the changes of time, the Maroons may yet elevate themselves into the one, but they will never relapse into the other.
She had remained, during all that day, with a sick neighbor,—those eastern wilds of Maine in that epoch frequently making neighbors and miles synonymous,—and so busy had she been with care and sympathy that she did not at first observe the approaching night. But finally the level rays, reddening the snow, threw their gleam upon the wall, and, hastily donning cloak and hood, she bade her friends farewell and sallied forth on her return. Home lay some three miles distant, across a copse, a meadow, and a piece of woods,—the woods being a fringe on the skirts of the great forests that stretch far away into the North. That home was one of a dozen log-houses lying a few furlongs apart from each other, with their half-cleared demesnes separating them at the rear from a wilderness untrodden save by stealthy native or deadly panther tribes.
She was in a nowise exalted frame of spirit,—on the contrary, rather depressed by the pain she had witnessed and the fatigue she had endured; but in certain temperaments such a condition throws open the mental pores, so to speak, and renders one receptive of every influence. Through the little copse she walked slowly, with her cloak folded about her, lingering to imbibe the sense of shelter, the sunset filtered in purple through the mist of woven spray and twig, the companionship of growth not sufficiently dense to band against her the sweet home-feeling of a young and tender wintry wood. It was therefore just on the edge of the evening that she emerged from the place and began to cross the meadow-land. At one hand lay the forest to which her path wound; at the other the evening star hung over a tide of failing orange that slowly slipped down the earth's broad side to sadden other hemispheres with sweet regret. Walking rapidly now, and with her eyes wide-open, she distinctly saw in the air before her what was not there a moment ago, a winding-sheet,—cold, white, and ghastly, waved by the likeness of four wan hands,—that rose with a long inflation and fell in rigid folds, while a voice, shaping itself from the hollowness above, spectral and melancholy, sighed,—"The Lord have mercy on the people! The Lord have mercy on the people!" Three times the sheet with its corpse-covering outline waved beneath the pale hands, and the voice, awful in its solemn and mysterious depth, sighed, "The Lord have mercy on the people!" Then all was gone, the place was clear again, the gray sky was obstructed by no deathly blot; she looked about her, shook her shoulders decidedly, and, pulling on her hood, went forward once more.
She might have been a little frightened by such an apparition, if she had led a life of less reality than frontier settlers are apt to lead; but dealing with hard fact does not engender a flimsy habit of mind, and this woman was too sincere and earnest in her character, and too happy in her situation, to be thrown by antagonism merely upon superstitious fancies and chimeras of the second-sight. She did not even believe herself subject to an hallucination, but smiled simply, a little vexed that her thought could have framed such a glamour from the day's occurrences, and not sorry to lift the bough of the warder of the woods and enter and disappear in their sombre path. If she had been imaginative, she would have hesitated at her first step into a region whose dangers were not visionary; but I suppose that the thought of a little child at home would conquer that propensity in the most habituated. So, biting a bit of spicy birch, she went along. Now and then she came to a gap where the trees had been partially felled, and here she found that the lingering twilight was explained by that peculiar and perhaps electric film which sometimes sheathes the sky in diffused light for very many hours before a brilliant aurora. Suddenly, a swift shadow, like the fabulous flying-dragon, writhed through the air before her, and she felt herself instantly seized and borne aloft. It was that wild beast—the most savage and serpentine and subtle and fearless of our latitudes—known by hunters as the Indian Devil, and he held her in his clutches on the broad floor of a swinging fir-bough. His long sharp claws were caught in her clothing, he worried them sagaciously a little, then, finding that ineffectual to free them, he commenced licking her bare white arm with his rasping tongue and pouring over her the wide streams of his hot, fetid breath. So quick had this flashing action been that the woman had had no time for alarm; moreover, she was not of the screaming kind; but now, as she felt him endeavoring to disentangle his claws, and the horrid sense of her fate smote her, and she saw instinctively the fierce plunge of those weapons, the long strips of living flesh torn from her bones, the agony, the quivering disgust, itself a worse agony,—while by her side, and holding her in his great lithe embrace, the monster crouched, his white tusks whetting and gnashing, his eyes glaring through all the darkness like balls of red fire,—a shriek, that rang in every forest hollow, that startled every winter-housed thing, that stirred and woke the least needle of the tasselled pines, tore through her lips. A moment afterward, the beast left the arm, once white, now crimson, and looked up alertly.
She did not think at this instant to call upon God. She called upon her husband. It seemed to her that she had but one friend in the world; that was he; and again the cry, loud, clear, prolonged, echoed through the woods. It was not the shriek that disturbed the creature at his relish; he was not born in the woods to be scared of an owl, you know; what then? It mast have been the echo, most musical, most resonant, repeated and yet repeated, dying with long sighs of sweet sound, vibrated from rock to river and back again from depth to depth of cave and cliff. Her thought flew after it; she knew, that, even if her husband heard it, he yet could not reach her in time; she saw that while the beast listened he would not gnaw,—and this she felt directly, when the rough, sharp, and multiplied stings of his tongue retouched her arm. Again her lips opened by instinct, but the sound that issued thence came by reason. She had heard that music charmed wild beasts,—just this point between life and death intensified every faculty,—and when she opened her lips the third time, it was not for shrieking, but for singing.
A little thread of melody stole out, a rill of tremulous motion; it was the cradle-song with which she rocked her baby;—how could she sing that? And then she remembered the baby sleeping rosily on the long settee before the fire,—the father cleaning his gun, with one foot on the green wooden rundle,—the merry light from the chimney dancing out and through the room, on the rafters of the ceiling with their tassels of onions and herbs, on the log walls painted with lichens and festooned with apples, on the king's-arm slung across the shelf with the old pirate's-cutlass, on the snow-pile of the bed, and on the great brass clock,—dancing, too, and lingering on the baby, with his fringed gentian eyes, his chubby fists clenched on the pillow, and his fine breezy hair fanning with the motion of his father's foot. All this struck her in one, and made a sob of her breath, and she ceased.
Immediately the long red tongue was thrust forth again. Before it touched, a song sprang to her lips, a wild sea-song, such as some sailor might be singing far out on trackless blue water that night, the shrouds whistling with frost and the sheets glued in ice,—a song with the wind in its burden and the spray in its chorus. The monster raised his head and flared the fiery eyeballs upon her, then fretted the imprisoned claws a moment and was quiet; only the breath like the vapor from some hell-pit still swathed her. Her voice, at first faint and fearful, gradually lost its quaver, grew under her control and subject to her modulation; it rose on long swells, it fell in subtile cadences, now and then its tones pealed out like bells from distant belfries on fresh sonorous mornings. She sung the song through, and, wondering lest his name of Indian Devil were not his true name, and if he would not detect her, she repeated it. Once or twice now, indeed, the beast stirred uneasily, turned, and made the bough sway at his movement. As she ended, he snapped his jaws together, and tore away the fettered member, curling it under him with a snarl,—when she burst into the gayest reel that ever answered a fiddle-bow. How many a time she had heard her husband play it on the homely fiddle made by himself from birch and cherry-wood! how many a time she had seen it danced on the floor of their one room, to the patter of wooden clogs and the rustle of homespun petticoat! how many a time she had danced it herself!—and did she not remember once, as they joined clasps for right-hands-round, how it had lent its gay, bright measure to her life? And here she was singing it alone, in the forest, at midnight, to a wild beast! As she sent her voice trilling up and down its quick oscillations between joy and pain, the creature who grasped her uncurled his paw and scratched the bark from the bough; she must vary the spell; and her voice spun leaping along the projecting points of tune of a hornpipe. Still singing, she felt herself twisted about with a low growl and a lifting of the red lip from the glittering teeth; she broke the hornpipe's thread, and commenced unravelling a lighter, livelier thing, an Irish jig. Up and down and round about her voice flew, the beast threw back his head so that the diabolical face fronted hers, and the torrent of his breath prepared her for his feast as the anaconda slimes his prey. Franticly she darted from tune to tune; his restless movements followed her. She tired herself with dancing and vivid national airs, growing feverish and singing spasmodically as she felt her horrid tomb yawning wider. Touching in this manner all the slogan and keen clan cries, the beast moved again, but only to lay the disengaged paw across her with heavy satisfaction. She did not dare to pause; through the clear cold air, the frosty starlight, she sang. If there were yet any tremor in the tone, it was not fear,—she had learned the secret of sound at last; nor could it be chill,—far too high a fervor throbbed her pulses; it was nothing but the thought of the log-house and of what might be passing within it. She fancied the baby stirring in his sleep and moving his pretty lips,—her husband rising and opening the door, looking out after her, and wondering at her absence. She fancied the light pouring through the chink and then shut in again with all the safety and comfort and joy, her husband taking down the fiddle and playing lightly with his head inclined, playing while she sang, while she sang for her life to an Indian Devil. Then she knew he was fumbling for and finding some shining fragment and scoring it down the yellowing hair, and unconsciously her voice forsook the wild war-tunes and drifted into the half-gay, half-melancholy Rosin the Bow.
Suddenly she woke pierced with a pang, and the daggered tooth penetrating her flesh;—dreaming of safety, she had ceased singing and lost it. The beast had regained the use of all his limbs, and now, standing and raising his back, bristling and foaming, with sounds that would have been like hisses but for their deep and fearful sonority, he withdrew step by step toward the trunk of the tree, still with his flaming balls upon her. She was all at once free, on one end of the bough, twenty feet from the ground. She did not measure the distance, but rose to drop herself down, careless of any death, so that it were not this. Instantly, as if he scanned her thoughts, the creature bounded forward with a yell and caught her again in his dreadful hold. It might be that he was not greatly famished; for, as she suddenly flung up her voice again, he settled himself composedly on the bough, still clasping her with invincible pressure to his rough, ravenous breast, and listening in a fascination to the sad, strange U-la-lu that now moaned forth in loud, hollow tones above him. He half closed his eyes, and sleepily reopened and shut them again.
What rending pains were close at hand! Death! and what a death! worse than any other that is to be named! Water, be it cold or warm, that which buoys up blue ice-fields, or which bathes tropical coasts with currents of balmy bliss, is yet a gentle conqueror, kisses as it kills, and draws you down gently through darkening fathoms to its heart. Death at the sword is the festival of trumpet and bugle and banner, with glory ringing out around you and distant hearts thrilling through yours. No gnawing disease can bring such hideous end as this; for that is a fiend bred of your own flesh, and this—is it a fiend, this living lump of appetites? What dread comes with the thought of perishing in flames! but fire, let it leap and hiss never so hotly, is something too remote, too alien, to inspire us with such loathly horror as a wild beast; if it have a life, that life is too utterly beyond our comprehension. Fire is not half ourselves; as it devours, arouses neither hatred nor disgust; is not to be known by the strength of our lower natures let loose; does not drip our blood into our faces from foaming chaps, nor mouth nor snarl above us with vitality. Let us be ended by fire, and we are ashes, for the winds to bear, the leaves to cover; let us be ended by wild beasts, and the base, cursed thing howls with us forever through the forest. All this she felt as she charmed him, and what force it lent to her song God knows. If her voice should fail! If the damp and cold should give her any fatal hoarseness! If all the silent powers of the forest did not conspire to help her! The dark, hollow night rose indifferently over her; the wide, cold air breathed rudely past her, lifted her wet hair and blew it down again; the great boughs swung with a ponderous strength, now and then clashed their iron lengths together and shook off a sparkle of icy spears or some long-lain weight of snow from their heavy shadows. The green depths were utterly cold and silent and stern. These beautiful haunts that all the summer were hers and rejoiced to share with her their bounty, these heavens that had yielded their largess, these stems that had thrust their blossoms into her hands, all these friends of three moons ago forgot her now and knew her no longer.
Feeling her desolation, wild, melancholy, forsaken songs rose thereon from that frightful aerie,—weeping, wailing tunes, that sob among the people from age to age, and overflow with otherwise unexpressed sadness,—all rude, mournful ballads,—old tearful strains, that Shakspeare heard the vagrants sing, and that rise and fall like the wind and tide,—sailor-songs, to be heard only in lone mid-watches beneath the moon and stars,—ghastly rhyming romances, such as that famous one of the "Lady Margaret," when
"She slipped on her gown of green A piece below the knee,— And 'twas all a long, cold winter's night A dead corse followed she."
Still the beast lay with closed eyes, yet never relaxing his grasp. Once a half-whine of enjoyment escaped him,—he fawned his fearful head upon her; once he scored her cheek with his tongue: savage caresses that hurt like wounds. How weary she was! and yet how terribly awake! How fuller and fuller of dismay grew the knowledge that she was only prolonging her anguish and playing with death! How appalling the thought that with her voice ceased her existence! Yet she could not sing forever; her throat was dry and hard; her very breath was a pain; her mouth was hotter than any desert-worn pilgrim's;—if she could but drop upon her burning tongue one atom of the ice that glittered about her!—but both of her arms were pinioned in the giant's vice. She remembered the winding-sheet, and for the first time in her life shivered with spiritual fear. Was it hers? She asked herself, as she sang, what sins she had committed, what life she had led, to find her punishment so soon and in these pangs,—and then she sought eagerly for some reason why her husband was not up and abroad to find her. He failed her,—her one sole hope in life; and without being aware of it, her voice forsook the songs of suffering and sorrow for old Covenanting hymns,—hymns with which her mother had lulled her, which the class-leader pitched in the chimney-corners,—grand and sweet Methodist hymns, brimming with melody and with all fantastic involutions of tune to suit that ecstatic worship,—hymns full of the beauty of holiness, steadfast, relying, sanctified by the salvation they had lent to those in worse extremity than hers,—for they had found themselves in the grasp of hell, while she was but in the jaws of death. Out of this strange music, peculiar to one character of faith, and than which there is none more beautiful in its degree nor owning a more potent sway of sound, her voice soared into the glorified chants of churches. What to her was death by cold or famine or wild beasts? "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," she sang. High and clear through the frore fair night, the level moonbeams splintering in the wood, the scarce glints of stars in the shadowy roof of branches, these sacred anthems rose,—rose as a hope from despair, as some snowy spray of flower-bells from blackest mould. Was she not in God's hands? Did not the world swing at His will? If this were in His great plan of providence, was it not best, and should she not accept it?