The mood of the Gael chimed with the present mood of the Saxon. As unlike in their natures as their histories, men would have called them; and yet, far away, in dim recesses of the soul, at long distances from the flesh, each recognised the other. And it was an evening, too, in which to take care of other things than the ways and speech of every day. The heat, the hush, and the stillness appeared well-nigh preternatural. A sadness breathed over the earth; all things seemed new and yet old; across the spectral river the dim plains beneath the afterglow took the seeming of battlefields.
"A friend!" said Haward. "There are many men who call themselves my friends. I am melancholy to-day, restless, and divided against myself. I do not know one of my acquaintance whom I would have called to be melancholy with me as I have called you." He leaned across the table and touched MacLean's hand that was somewhat hurriedly fingering the wineglass. "Come!" he said. "Loneliness may haunt the level fields as well as the ways that are rugged and steep. How many times have we held converse since that day I found you in charge of my store? Often enough, I think, for each to know the other's quality. Our lives have been very different, and yet I believe that we are akin. For myself, I should be glad to hold as my friend so gallant though so unfortunate a gentleman." He smiled and made a gesture of courtesy. "Of course Mr. MacLean may very justly not hold me in a like esteem, nor desire a closer relation."
MacLean rose to his feet, and stood gazing across the river at the twilight shore and the clear skies. Presently he turned, and his eyes were wet. He drew his hand across them; then looked curiously at the dew upon it. "I have not done this," he said simply, "since a night at Preston when I wept with rage. In my country we love as we hate, with all the strength that God has given us. The brother of my spirit is to me even as the brother of my flesh.... I used to dream that my hand was at your throat or my sword through your heart, and wake in anger that it was not so ... and now I could love you well."
Haward stood up, and the two men clasped hands. "It is a pact, then," said the Englishman. "By my faith, the world looks not so melancholy gray as it did awhile ago. And here is Juba to say that supper waits. Lay the table for two, Juba. Mr. MacLean will bear me company."
The storekeeper stayed late, the master of Fair View being an accomplished gentleman, a very good talker, and an adept at turning his house for the nonce into the house of his guest. Supper over they went into the library, where their wine was set, and where the Highlander, who was no great reader, gazed respectfully at the wit and wisdom arow before him. "Colonel Byrd hath more volumes at Westover," quoth Haward, "but mine are of the choicer quality." Juba brought a card table, and lit more candles, while his master, unlocking a desk, took from it a number of gold pieces. These he divided into two equal portions: kept one beside him upon the polished table, and, with a fine smile, half humorous, half deprecating, pushed the other across to his guest. With an, imperturbable face MacLean stacked the gold before him, and they fell to piquet, playing briskly, and with occasional application to the Madeira upon the larger table, until ten of the clock. The Highlander, then declaring that he must be no longer away from his post, swept his heap of coins across to swell his opponent's store, and said good-night. Haward went with him to the great door, and watched him stride off through the darkness whistling "The Battle of Harlaw."
That night Haward slept, and the next morning four negroes rowed him up the river to Jamestown. Mr. Jaquelin was gone to Norfolk upon business, but his beautiful wife and sprightly daughters found Mr. Marmaduke Haward altogether charming. "'Twas as good as going to court," they said to one another, when the gentleman, after a two hours' visit, bowed himself out of their drawing-room. The object of their encomiums, going down river in his barge, felt his spirits lighter than they had been for some days. He spoke cheerfully to his negroes, and when the barge passed a couple of fishing-boats he called to the slim brown lads that caught for the plantation to know their luck. At the landing he found the overseer, who walked to the great house with him. The night before Tyburn Will had stolen from the white quarters, and had met a couple of seamen from the Temperance at the crossroads ordinary, which ordinary was going to get into trouble for breaking the law which forbade the harboring of sailors ashore. The three had taken in full lading of kill-devil rum, and Tyburn Will, too drunk to run any farther, had been caught by Hide near Princess Creek, three hours agone. What were the master's orders? Should the rogue go to the court-house whipping post, or should Hide save the trouble of taking him there? In either case, thirty-nine lashes well laid on—
The master pursed his lips, dug into the ground with the ferrule of his cane, and finally proposed to the astonished overseer that the rascal be let off with a warning. "'Tis too fair a day to poison with ugly sights and sounds," he said, whimsically apologetic for his own weakness. "'Twill do no great harm to be lenient, for once, Saunderson, and I am in the mood to-day to be friends with all men, including myself."
The overseer went away grumbling, and Haward entered the house. The room where dwelt his books looked cool and inviting. He walked the length of the shelves, took out a volume here and there for his evening reading, and upon the binding of others laid an affectionate, lingering touch. "I have had a fever, my friends," he announced to the books, "but I am about to find myself happily restored to reason and serenity; in short, to health."
Some hours later he raised his eyes from the floor which he had been studying for a great while, covered them for a moment with his hand, then rose, and, with the air of a sleepwalker, went out of the lit room into a calm and fragrant night. There was no moon, but the stars were many, and it did not seem dark. When he came to the verge of the landing, and the river, sighing in its sleep, lay clear below him, mirroring the stars, it was as though he stood between two firmaments. He descended the steps, and drew toward him a small rowboat that was softly rubbing against the wet and glistening piles. The tide was out, and the night was very quiet.
Haward troubled not the midstream, but rowing in the shadow of the bank to the mouth of the creek that slept beside his garden, turned and went up this narrow water. Until he was free of the wall the odor of honeysuckle and box clung to the air, freighting it heavily; when it was left behind the reeds began to murmur and sigh, though not loudly, for there was no wind. When he came to a point opposite the minister's house, rising fifty yards away from amidst low orchard trees, he rested upon his oars. There was a light in an upper room, and as he looked Audrey passed between the candle and the open window. A moment later and the light was out, but he knew that she was sitting at the window. Though it was dark, he found that he could call back with precision the slender throat, the lifted face, and the enshadowing hair. For a while he stayed, motionless in his boat, hidden by the reeds that whispered and sighed; but at last he rowed away softly through the darkness, back to the dim, slow-moving river and the Fair View landing.
This was of a Friday. All the next day he spent in the garden, but on Sunday morning he sent word to the stables to have Mirza saddled. He was going to church, he told Juba over his chocolate, and he would wear the gray and silver.
A SABBATH DAY'S JOURNEY
Although the house of worship which boasted as its ornament the Reverend Gideon Darden was not so large and handsome as Bruton church, nor could rival the painted glories of Poplar Spring, it was yet a building good enough,—of brick, with a fair white spire and a decorous mantle of ivy. The churchyard, too, was pleasant, though somewhat crowded with the dead. There were oaks for shade, and wild roses for fragrance, and the grass between the long gravestones, prone upon mortal dust, grew very thick and green. Outside the gates,—a gift from the first master of Fair View,—between the churchyard and the dusty highroad ran a long strip of trampled turf, shaded by locust-trees and by one gigantic gum that became in the autumn a pillar of fire.
Haward, arriving somewhat after time, found drawn up upon this piece of sward a coach, two berlins, a calash, and three chaises, while tied to hitching-posts, trees, and the fence were a number of saddle-horses. In the shade of the gum-tree sprawled half a dozen negro servants, but on the box of the coach, from which the restless horses had been taken, there yet sat the coachman, a mulatto of powerful build and a sullen countenance. The vehicle stood in the blazing sunshine, and it was both cooler and merrier beneath the tree,—a fact apparent enough to the coachman, but the knowledge of which, seeing that he was chained to the box, did him small good. Haward glanced at the figure indifferently; but Juba, following his master upon Whitefoot Kate, grinned from ear to ear. "Larnin' not to run away, Sam? Road's clear: why don' you carry off de coach?"
Haward dismounted, and leaving Juba first to fasten the horses, and then join his fellows beneath the gum-tree, walked into the churchyard. The congregation had assembled, and besides himself there were none without the church save the negroes and the dead. The service had commenced. Through the open door came to him Darden's voice: "Dearly beloved brethren"—
Haward waited, leaning against a tomb deep graven with a coat of arms and much stately Latin, until the singing clave the air, when he entered the building, and passed down the aisle to his own pew, the chiefest in the place. He was aware of the flutter and whisper on either hand,—perhaps he did not find it unpleasing. Diogenes may have carried his lantern not merely to find a man, but to show one as well, and a philosopher in a pale gray riding dress, cut after the latest mode, with silver lace and a fall of Mechlin, may be trusted to know the value as well as the vanity of sublunary things.
Of the gathering, which was not large, two thirds, perhaps, were people of condition; and in the country, where occasions for display did not present themselves uncalled, it was highly becoming to worship the Lord in fine clothes. So there were broken rainbows in the tall pews, with a soft waving of fans to and fro in the essenced air, and a low rustle of silk. The men went as fine as the women, and the June sunshine, pouring in upon all this lustre and color, made a flower-bed of the assemblage. Being of the country, it was vastly better behaved than would have been a fashionable London congregation; but it certainly saw no reason why Mr. Marmaduke Haward should not, during the anthem, turn his back upon altar, minister, and clerk, and employ himself in recognizing with a smile and an inclination of his head his friends and acquaintances. They smiled back,—the gentlemen bowing slightly, the ladies making a sketch of a curtsy. All were glad that Fair View house was open once more, and were kindly disposed toward the master thereof.
The eyes of that gentleman were no longer for the gay parterre. Between it and the door, in uncushioned pews or on rude benches, were to be found the plainer sort of Darden's parishioners, and in this territory, that was like a border of sober foliage to the flower-bed in front, he discovered whom he sought.
Her gaze had been upon him since he passed the minister's pew, where she stood between my Lady Squander's ex-waiting-woman and the branded schoolmaster, but now their eyes came full together. She was dressed in some coarse dark stuff, above which rose the brown pillar of her throat and the elusive, singular beauty of her face. There was a flower in her hair, placed as he had placed the rosebuds. A splendor leaped into her eyes, but her cheek did not redden; it was to his face that the color rushed. They had but a moment in which to gaze at each other, for the singing, which to her, at least, had seemed suddenly to swell into a great ascending tide of sound, with somewhere, far away, the silver calling of a trumpet, now came to an end, and with another silken rustle and murmur the congregation sat down.
Haward did not turn again, and the service went drowsily on. Darden was bleared of eye and somewhat thick of voice; the clerk's whine was as sleepy a sound as the buzzing of the bees in and out of window, or the soft, incessant stir of painted fans. A churchwarden in the next pew nodded and nodded, until he nodded his peruke awry, and a child went fast asleep, with its head in its mother's lap. One and all worshiped somewhat languidly, with frequent glances at the hourglass upon the pulpit. They prayed for King George the First, not knowing that he was dead, and for the Prince, not knowing that he was King. The minister preached against Quakers and witchcraft, and shook the rafters with his fulminations. Finally came the benediction and a sigh of relief.
In that country and time there was no unsociable and undignified scurrying homeward after church. Decorous silence prevailed until the house was exchanged for the green and shady churchyard: but then tongues were loosened, and the flower-bed broken into clusters. One must greet one's neighbors; present or be presented to what company might be staying at the various great houses within the parish; talk, laugh, coquet, and ogle; make appointments for business or for pleasure; speak of the last horse-race, the condition of wheat and tobacco, and the news brought in by the Valour, man-of-war, that the King was gone to Hanover. In short, for the nonce, the churchyard became a drawing-room, with the sun for candles, with no painted images of the past and gone upon the walls, but with the dead themselves beneath the floor.
The minister, having questions to settle with clerk and sexton, tarried in the vestry room; but his wife, with Audrey and the schoolmaster, waited for him outside, in the shade of an oak-tree that was just without the pale of the drawing-room. Mistress Deborah, in her tarnished amber satin and ribbons that had outworn their youth, bit her lip and tapped her foot upon the ground. Audrey watched her apprehensively. She knew the signs, and that when they reached home a storm might break that would leave its mark upon her shoulders. The minister's wife was not approved of by the ladies of Fair View parish, but had they seen how wistful was the face of the brown girl with her, they might have turned aside, spoken, and let the storm go by. The girl herself was scarcely noticed. Few had ever heard her story, or, hearing it, had remembered; the careless many thought her an orphan, bound to Darden and his wife,—in effect their servant. If she had beauty, the ladies and gentlemen who saw her, Sunday after Sunday, in the minister's pew, had scarce discovered it. She was too dark, too slim, too shy and strange of look, with her great brown eyes and that startled turn of her head. Their taste was for lilies and roses, and it was not an age that counted shyness a grace.
Mr. Marmaduke Haward was not likely to be accused of diffidence. He had come out of church with the sleepy-headed churchwarden, who was now wide awake and mightily concerned to know what horse Mr. Haward meant to enter for the great race at Mulberry Island, while at the foot of the steps he was seized upon by another portly vestryman, and borne off to be presented to three blooming young ladies, quick to second their papa's invitation home to dinner. Mr. Haward was ready to curse his luck that he was engaged elsewhere; but were not these Graces the children to whom he had used to send sugar-plums from Williamsburgh, years and years ago? He vowed that the payment, which he had never received, he would take now with usury, and proceeded to salute the cheek of each protesting fair. The ladies found him vastly agreeable; old and new friends crowded around him; he put forth his powers and charmed all hearts,—and all the while inwardly cursed the length of way to the gates, and the tardy progress thereto of his friends and neighbors.
But however slow in ebbing, the tide was really set toward home and dinner. Darden, coming out of the vestry room, found the churchyard almost cleared, and the road in a cloud of dust. The greater number of those who came a-horseback were gone, and there had also departed both berlins, the calash, and two chaises. Mr. Haward was handing the three Graces into the coach with the chained coachman, Juba standing by, holding his master's horse. Darden grew something purpler in the face, and, rumbling oaths, went over to the three beneath the oak. "How many spoke to you to-day?" he asked roughly of his wife. "Did he come and speak?"
"No, he didn't!" cried Mistress Deborah tartly. "And all the gentry went by; only Mr. Bray stopped to say that everybody knew of your fight with Mr. Bailey at the French ordinary, and that the Commissary had sent for Bailey, and was going to suspend him. I wish to Heaven I knew why I married you, to be looked down upon by every Jill, when I might have had his Lordship's own man! Of all the fools"—
"You were not the only one," answered her husband grimly. "Well, let's home; there's dinner yet. What is it, Audrey?" This in answer to an inarticulate sound from the girl.
The schoolmaster answered for her: "Mr. Marmaduke Haward has not gone with the coach. Perhaps he only waited until the other gentlefolk should be gone. Here he comes."
The sward without the gates was bare of all whose presence mattered, and Haward had indeed reentered the churchyard, and was walking toward them. Darden went to meet him. "These be fine tales I hear of you, Mr. Darden," said his parishioner calmly. "I should judge you were near the end of your rope. There's a vestry meeting Thursday. Shall I put in a good word for your reverence? Egad, you need it!"
"I shall be your honor's most humble, most obliged servant," quoth the minister. "The affair at the French ordinary was nothing. I mean to preach next Sunday upon calumny,—calumny that spareth none, not even such as I. You are for home, I see, and our road for a time is the same. Will you ride with us?"
"Ay," said Haward briefly. "But you must send yonder fellow with the scarred hands packing. I travel not with thieves."
He had not troubled to lower his voice, and as he and Darden were now themselves within the shadow of the oak, the schoolmaster overheard him and answered for himself. "Your honor need not fear my company," he said, in his slow and lifeless tones. "I am walking, and I take the short cut through the woods. Good-day, worthy Gideon. Madam Deborah and Audrey, good-day."
He put his uncouth, shambling figure into motion, and, indifferent and lifeless in manner as in voice, was gone, gliding like a long black shadow through the churchyard and into the woods across the road. "I knew him long ago in England," the minister explained to their new companion. "He's a learned man, and, like myself, a calumniated one. The gentlemen of these parts value him highly as an instructor of youth. No need to send their sons to college if they've been with him for a year or two! My good Deborah, Mr. Haward will ride with us toward Fair View."
Mistress Deborah curtsied; then chided Audrey for not minding her manners, but standing like a stock or stone, with her thoughts a thousand miles away. "Let her be," said Haward. "We gave each other good-day in church."
Together the four left the churchyard. Darden brought up two sorry horses; lifted his wife and Audrey upon one, and mounted the other. Haward swung himself into his saddle, and the company started, Juba upon Whitefoot Kate bringing up the rear. The master of Fair View rode beside the minister, and only now and then spoke to the women. The road was here sunny, there shady; the excessive heat broken, the air pleasant enough. Everywhere, too, was the singing of birds, while the fields that they passed of tobacco and golden, waving wheat were charming to the sight. The minister was, when sober, a man of parts, with some education and a deal of mother wit; in addition, a close and shrewd observer of the times and people. He and Haward talked of matters of public moment, and the two women listened, submissive and admiring. It seemed that they came very quickly to the bridge across the creek and the parting of their ways. Would Mr. Haward ride on to the glebe house?
It appeared that Mr. Haward would. Moreover, when the house was reached, and Darden's one slave came running from a broken-down stable to take the horses, he made no motion toward returning to the bridge which led across the creek to his own plantation, but instead dismounted, flung his reins to Juba, and asked if he might stay to dinner.
Now, by the greatest good luck, considered Mistress Deborah, there chanced to be in her larder a haunch of venison roasted most noble; the ducklings and asparagus, too, cooked before church, needed but to be popped into the oven; and there was also an apple tart with cream. With elation, then, and eke with a mind at rest, she added her shrill protests of delight to Darden's more moderate assurances, and, leaving Audrey to set chairs in the shade of a great apple-tree, hurried into the house to unearth her damask tablecloth and silver spoons, and to plan for the morrow a visit to the Widow Constance, and a casual remark that Mr. Marmaduke Haward had dined with the minister the day before. Audrey, her task done, went after her, to be met with graciousness most unusual. "I'll see to the dinner, child. Mr. Haward will expect one of us to sit without, and you had as well go as I. If he's talking to Darden, you might get some larkspur and gilliflowers for the table. La! the flowers that used to wither beneath the candles at my Lady Squander's!"
Audrey, finding the two men in conversation beneath the apple-tree, passed on to the ragged garden, where clumps of hardy, bright-colored flowers played hide-and-seek with currant and gooseberry bushes. Haward saw her go, and broke the thread of his discourse. Darden looked up, and the eyes of the two men met; those of the younger were cold and steady. A moment, and his glance had fallen to his watch which he had pulled out. "'Tis early yet," he said coolly, "and I dare say not quite your dinner time,—which I beg that Mistress Deborah will not advance on my account. Is it not your reverence's habit to rest within doors after your sermon? Pray do not let me detain you. I will go talk awhile with Audrey."
He put up his watch and rose to his feet. Darden cleared his throat. "I have, indeed, a letter to write to Mr. Commissary, and it may be half an hour before Deborah has dinner ready. I will send your servant to fetch you in."
Haward broke the larkspur and gilliflowers, and Audrey gathered up her apron and filled it with the vivid blooms. The child that had thus brought loaves of bread to a governor's table spread beneath a sugar-tree, with mountains round about, had been no purer of heart, no more innocent of rustic coquetry. When her apron was filled she would have returned to the house, but Haward would not have it so. "They will call when dinner is ready," he said. "I wish to talk to you, little maid. Let us go sit in the shade of the willow yonder."
It was almost a twilight behind the cool green rain of the willow boughs. Through that verdant mist Haward and Audrey saw the outer world but dimly. "I had a fearful dream last night," said Audrey. "I think that that must have been why I was to glad to see you come into church to-day. I dreamed that you had never come home again, overseas, in the Golden Rose. Hugon was beside me, in the dream, telling me that you were dead in England: and suddenly I knew that I had never really seen you; that there was no garden, no terrace, no roses, no you. It was all so cold and sad, and the sun kept growing smaller and smaller. The woods, too, were black, and the wind cried in them so that I was afraid. And then I was in Hugon's house, holding the door,—there was a wolf without,—and through the window I saw the mountains; only they were so high that my heart ached to look upon them, and the wind cried down the cleft in the hills. The wolf went away, and then, somehow, I was upon the hilltop.... There was a dead man lying in the grass, but it was too dark to see. Hugon came up behind me, stooped, and lifted the hand.... Upon the finger was that ring you wear, burning in the moonlight.... Oh me!"
The remembered horror of her dream contending with present bliss shook her spirit to its centre. She shuddered violently, then burst into a passion of tears.
Haward's touch upon her hair, Haward's voice in her ear, all the old terms of endearment for a frightened child,—"little maid," "little coward," "Why, sweetheart, these things are shadows, they cannot hurt thee!" She controlled her tears, and was the happier for her weeping. It was sweet to sit there in the lush grass, veiled and shadowed from the world by the willow's drooping green, and in that soft and happy light to listen to his voice, half laughing, half chiding, wholly tender and caressing. Dreams were naught, he said. Had Hugon troubled her waking hours?
He had come once to the house, it appeared; but she had run away and hidden in the wood, and the minister had told him she was gone to the Widow Constance's. That was a long time ago; it must have been the day after she and Mistress Deborah had last come from Fair View.
"A long time," said Haward. "It was a week ago. Has it seemed a long time, Audrey?"
"I have been busy. I must learn to be a planter, you know. But I have thought of you, little maid."
Audrey was glad of that, but there was yet a weight upon her heart. "After that dream I lay awake all night, and it came to me how wrongly I had done. Hugon is a wicked man,—an Indian. Oh, I should never have told you, that first day in the garden, that he was waiting for me outside! For now, because you took care of me and would not let him come near, he hates you. He is so wicked that he might do you a harm." Her eyes widened, and the hand that touched his was cold and trembling. "If ever hurt came to you through me, I would drown myself in the river yonder. And then I thought—lying awake last night—that perhaps I had been troublesome to you, those days at Fair View, and that was why you had not come to see the minister, as you had said you would." The dark eyes were pitifully eager; the hand that went to her heart trembled more and more. "It is not as it was in the mountains," she said. "I am older now, and safe, and—and happy. And you have many things to do and to think of, and many friends—gentlemen and beautiful ladies—to go to see. I thought—last night—that when I saw you I would ask your pardon for not remembering that the mountains were years ago; for troubling you with my matters, sir; for making too free, forgetting my place"—Her voice sank; the shamed red was in her cheeks, and her eyes, that she had bravely kept upon his face, fell to the purple and gold blooms in her lap.
Haward rose from the grass, and, with his back to the gray hole of the willow, looked first at the veil of leaf and stem through which dimly showed house, orchard, and blue sky, then down upon the girl at his feet. Her head was bent and she sat very still, one listless, upturned hand upon the grass beside her, the other lying as quietly among her flowers.
"Audrey," he said at last, "you shame me in your thoughts of me. I am not that knight without fear and without reproach for which you take me. Being what I am, you must believe that you have not wearied me; that I think of you and wish to see you. And Hugon, having possibly some care for his own neck, will do me no harm; that is a very foolish notion, which you must put from you. Now listen." He knelt beside her and took her hand in his. "After a while, perhaps, when the weather is cooler, and I must open my house and entertain after the fashion of the country; when the new Governor comes in, and all this gay little world of Virginia flocks to Williamsburgh; when I am a Councilor, and must go with the rest, and must think of gold and place and people,—why, then, maybe, our paths will again diverge, and only now and then will I catch the gleam of your skirt, mountain maid, brown Audrey! But now in these midsummer days it is a sleepy world, that cares not to go bustling up and down. I am alone in my house; I visit not nor am visited, and the days hang heavy. Let us make believe for a time that the mountains are all around us, that it was but yesterday we traveled together. It is only a little way from Fair View to the glebe house, from the glebe house to Fair View. I will see you often, little maid, and you must dream no more as you dreamed last night." He paused; his voice changed, and he went on as to himself: "It is a lonely land, with few to see and none to care. I will drift with the summer, making of it an idyl, beautiful,—yes, and innocent! When autumn comes I will go to Westover."
Of this speech Audrey caught only the last word. A wonderful smile, so bright was it, and withal so sad, came into her face. "Westover!" she said to herself. "That is where the princess lives."
"We will let thought alone," continued Haward. "It suits not with this charmed light, this glamour of the summer." He made a laughing gesture. "Hey, presto! little maid, there go the years rolling back! I swear I see the mountains through the willow leaves."
"There was one like a wall shutting out the sun when he went down," answered Audrey. "It was black and grim, and the light flared like a fire behind it. And there was the one above which the moon rose. It was sharp, pointing like a finger to heaven, and I liked it best. Do you remember how large was the moon pushing up behind the pine-trees? We sat on the dark hillside watching it, and you told me beautiful stories, while the moon rose higher and higher and the mockingbirds began to sing."
Haward remembered not, but he said that he did so. "The moon is full again," he continued, "and last night I heard a mockingbird in the garden. I will come in the barge to-morrow evening, and the negroes shall row us up and down the river—you and me and Mistress Deborah—between the sunset and the moonrise. Then it is lonely and sweet upon the water. The roses can be smelled from the banks, and if you will speak to the mockingbirds we shall have music, dryad Audrey, brown maid of the woods!"
Audrey's laugh, was silver-clear and sweet, like that of a forest nymph indeed. She was quite happy again, with all her half-formed doubts and fears allayed. They had never been of him,—only of herself. The two sat within the green and swaying fountain of the willow, and time went by on eagle wings. Too soon came the slave to call them to the house; the time within, though spent in the company of Darden and his wife, passed too soon; too soon came the long shadows of the afternoon and Haward's call for his horse.
Audrey watched him ride away, and the love light was in her eyes. She did not know that it was so. That night, in her bare little room, when the candle was out, she kneeled by the window and looked at the stars. There was one very fair and golden, an empress of the night. "That is the princess," said Audrey, and smiled upon the peerless star. Far from that light, scarce free from the murk of the horizon, shone a little star, companionless in the night. "And that is I," said Audrey, and smiled upon herself.
THE BEND IN THE ROAD
"'Brave Derwentwater he is dead; From his fair body they took the head: But Mackintosh and his friends are fled, And they'll set the hat upon another head'"—
chanted the Fair View storekeeper, and looked aside at Mistress Truelove Taberer, spinning in the doorway of her father's house.
Truelove answered naught, but her hands went to and fro, and her eyes were for her work, not for MacLean, sitting on the doorstep at her feet.
"'And whether they're gone beyond the sea'"—
The exile broke off and sighed heavily. Before the two a little yard, all gay with hollyhocks and roses, sloped down to the wider of the two creeks between which stretched the Fair View plantation. It was late of a holiday afternoon. A storm was brewing, darkening all the water, and erecting above the sweep of woods monstrous towers of gray cloud. There must have been an echo, for MacLean's sigh came back to him faintly, as became an echo.
"Is there not peace here, 'beyond the sea'?" said Truelove softly. "Thine must be a dreadful country, Angus MacLean!"
The Highlander looked at her with kindling eyes. "Now had I the harp of old Murdoch!" he said.
"'Dear is that land to the east, Alba of the lakes! Oh, that I might dwell there forever'"—
He turned upon the doorstep, and taking between his fingers the hem of Truelove's apron fell to plaiting it. "A woman named Deirdre, who lived before the days of Gillean-na-Tuaidhe, made that song. She was not born in that land, but it was dear to her because she dwelt there with the man whom she loved. They went away, and the man was slain; and where he was buried, there Deirdre cast herself down and died." His voice changed, and all the melancholy of his race, deep, wild, and tender, looked from his eyes. "If to-day you found yourself in that loved land, if this parched grass were brown heather, if it stretched down to a tarn yonder, if that gray cloud that hath all the seeming of a crag were crag indeed, and eagles plied between the tarn and it,"—he touched her hand that lay idle now upon her knee,—"if you came like Deirdre lightly through the heather, and found me lying here, and found more red than should be in the tartan of the MacLeans, what would you do, Truelove? What would you cry out, Truelove? How heavy would be thy heart, Truelove?"
Truelove sat in silence, with her eyes upon the sky above the dream crags. "How heavy would grow thy heart, Truelove, Truelove?" whispered the Highlander.
Up the winding water, to the sedges and reeds below the little yard, glided the boy Ephraim in his boat. The Quakeress started, and the color flamed into her gentle face. She took up the distaff that she had dropped, and fell to work again. "Thee must not speak to me so, Angus MacLean," she said. "I trust that my heart is not hard. Thy death would grieve me, and my father and my mother and Ephraim"—
"I care not for thy father and mother and Ephraim!" MacLean began impetuously. "But you do right to chide me. Once I knew a green glen where maidens were fain when paused at their doors Angus, son of Hector, son of Lachlan, son of Murdoch, son of Angus that was named for Angus Mor, who was great-grandson of Hector of the Battles, who was son of Lachlan Lubanach! But here I am a landless man, with none to do me honor,—a wretch bereft of liberty"—
"To me, to all Friends," said Truelove sweetly, halting a little in her work, "thee has now what thee thyself calls freedom. For God meant not that one of his creatures should say to another: 'Lo, here am I! Behold thy God!' To me, and my father and mother and Ephraim, thee is no bond servant of Marmaduke Haward. But thee is bond servant to thy own vain songs; thy violent words; thy idle pride, that, vaunting the cruel deeds of thy forefathers, calls meekness and submission the last worst evil; thy shameless reverence for those thy fellow creatures, James Stewart and him whom thee calls the chief of thy house,—forgetting that there is but one house, and that God is its head; thy love of clamor and warfare; thy hatred of the ways of peace"—
MacLean laughed. "I hate not all its ways. There is no hatred in my heart for this house which is its altar, nor for the priestess of the altar. Ah! now you frown, Truelove"—
Across the clouds ran so fierce a line of gold that Truelove, startled, put her hand before her eyes. Another dart of lightning, a low roll of thunder, a bending apart of the alder bushes on the far side of the creek; then a woman's voice calling to the boy in the boat to come ferry her over.
"Who may that be?" asked Truelove wonderingly.
It was only a little way to the bending alders. Ephraim rowed across the glassy water, dark beneath the approach of the storm; the woman stepped into the boat, and the tiny craft came lightly back to its haven beneath the bank.
"It is Darden's Audrey," said the storekeeper.
Truelove shrank a little, and her eyes darkened. "Why should she come here? I never knew her. It is true that we may not think evil, but—but"—
MacLean moved restlessly. "I have seen the girl but twice," he said. "Once she was alone, once—It is my friend of whom I think. I know what they say, but, by St. Kattan! I hold him a gentleman too high of mind, too noble—There was a tale I used to hear when I was a boy. A long, long time ago a girl lived in the shadow of the tower of Duart, and the chief looked down from his walls and saw her. Afterwards they walked together by the shore and through the glens, and he cried her health when he drank in his hall, sitting amongst his tacksmen. Then what the men whispered the women spoke aloud; and so, more quickly than the tarie is borne, word went to a man of the MacDonalds who loved the Duart maiden. Not like a lover to his tryst did he come. In the handle of his dirk the rich stones sparkled as they rose and fell with the rise and fall of the maiden's white bosom. She prayed to die in his arms; for it was not Duart that she loved, but him. She died, and they snooded her hair and buried her. Duart went overseas; the man of the MacDonalds killed himself. It was all wrought with threads of gossamer,—idle fancy, shrugs, smiles, whispers, slurring speech,—and it was long ago. But there is yet gossamer to be had for the gathering; it gleams on every hand these summer mornings."
By now Darden's Audrey had left the boat and was close upon them. MacLean arose, and Truelove hastily pushed aside her wheel. "Is thee seeking shelter from the storm?" she asked tremulously, and with her cheeks as pink as a seashell. "Will thee sit here with us? The storm will not break yet awhile."
Audrey heeded her not, her eyes being for MacLean. She had been running,—running more swiftly than for a thousand May Day guineas. Even now, though her breath came short, every line of her slender figure was tense, and she was ready to be off like an arrow. "You are Mr. Haward's friend?" she cried. "I have heard him say that you were so—call you a brave gentleman"—
MacLean's dark face flushed. "Yes, we are friends,—I thank God for it. What have you to do with that, my lass?"
"I also am his friend," said Audrey, coming nearer. Her hands were clasped, her bosom heaving. "Listen! To-day I was sent on an errand to a house far up this creek. Coming back, I took the short way home through the woods because of the storm. It led me past the schoolhouse down by the big swamp. I thought that no one was there, and I went and sat down upon the steps to rest a moment. The door behind me was partly open. Then I heard two voices: the schoolmaster and Jean Hugon were inside—close to me—talking. I would have run away, but I heard Mr. Haward's name." Her hand went to her heart, and she drew a sobbing breath.
"Well!" cried MacLean sharply.
"Mr. Haward went yesterday to Williamsburgh—alone—without Juba. He rides back—alone—to Fair View late this afternoon—he is riding now. You know the sharp bend in the road, with the steep bank above and the pond below?"
"Ay, where the road nears the river. Well?"
"I heard all that Hugon and the schoolmaster said. I hid behind a fallen tree and watched them leave the schoolhouse; then I followed them, making no noise, back to the creek, where Hugon had a boat. They crossed the creek, and fastened the boat on this side. I could follow them no farther; the woods hid them; but they have gone downstream to that bend in the road. Hugon had his hunting-knife and pistols; the schoolmaster carried a coil of rope." She flung back her head, and her hands went to her throat as though she were stifling. "The turn in the road is very sharp. Just past the bend they will stretch the rope from side to side, fastening it to two trees. He will be hurrying home before the bursting of the storm—he will be riding the planter's pace"—
"Man and horse will come crashing down!" cried the storekeeper, with a great oath "And then"—
"Hugon's knife, so there will be no noise.... They think he has gold upon him: that is for the schoolmaster.... Hugon is an Indian, and he will hide their trail. Men will think that some outlying slave was in the woods, and set upon and killed him."
Her voice broke; then went on, gathering strength: "It was so late, and I knew that he would ride fast because of the storm. I remembered this house, and thought that, if I called, some one might come and ferry me over the creek. Now I will run through the woods to the road, for I must reach it before he passes on his way to where they wait." She turned her face toward the pine wood beyond the house.
"Ay, that is best!" agreed the storekeeper. "Warned, he can take the long way home, and Hugon and this other may be dealt with at his leisure. Come, my girl; there's no time to lose."
They left behind them the creek, the blooming dooryard, the small white house, and the gentle Quakeress. The woods received them, and they came into a world of livid greens and grays dashed here and there with ebony,—a world that, expectant of the storm, had caught and was holding its breath. Save for the noise of their feet upon dry leaves that rustled like paper, the wood was soundless. The light that lay within it, fallen from skies of iron, was wild and sinister; there was no air, and the heat wrapped them like a mantle. So motionless were all things, so fixed in quietude each branch and bough, each leaf or twig or slender needle of the pine, that they seemed to be fleeing through a wood of stone, jade and malachite, emerald and agate.
They hurried on, not wasting breath in speech. Now and again MacLean glanced aside at the girl, who kept beside him, moving as lightly as presently would move the leaves when the wind arose. He remembered certain scurrilous words spoken in the store a week agone by a knot of purchasers, but when he looked at her face he thought of the Highland maiden whose story he had told. As for Audrey, she saw not the woods that she loved, heard not the leaves beneath her feet, knew not if the light were gold or gray. She saw only a horse and rider riding from Williamsburgh, heard only the rapid hoofbeats. All there was of her was one dumb prayer for the rider's safety. Her memory told her that it was no great distance to the road, but her heart cried out that it was so far away,—so far away! When the wood thinned, and they saw before them the dusty strip, pallid and lonely beneath the storm clouds, her heart leaped within her; then grew sick for fear that he had gone by. When they stood, ankle-deep in the dust, she looked first toward the north, and then to the south. Nothing moved; all was barren, hushed, and lonely.
"How can we know? How can we know?" she cried, and wrung her hands.
MacLean's keen eyes were busily searching for any sign that a horseman had lately passed that way. At a little distance above them a shallow stream of some width flowed across the way, and to this the Highlander hastened, looked with attention at the road-bed where it emerged from the water, then came back to Audrey with a satisfied air. "There are no hoof-prints," he said. "No marks upon the dust. None can have passed for some hours."
A rotted log, streaked with velvet moss and blotched with fan-shaped, orange-colored fungi, lay by the wayside, and the two sat down upon it to wait for the coming horseman. Overhead the thunder was rolling, but there was as yet no breath of wind, no splash of raindrops. Opposite them rose a gigantic pine, towering above the forest, red-brown trunk and ultimate cone of deep green foliage alike outlined against the dead gloom of the sky. Audrey shook back her heavy hair and raised her face to the roof of the world; her hands were clasped upon her knee; her bare feet, slim and brown, rested on a carpet of moss; she was as still as the forest, of which, to the Highlander, she suddenly seemed a part. When they had kept silence for what seemed a long time, he spoke to her with some hesitation: "You have known Mr. Haward but a short while; the months are very few since he came from England."
The name brought Audrey down to earth again. "Did you not know?" she asked wonderingly. "You also are his friend,—you see him often. I thought that at times he would have spoken of me." For a moment her face was troubled, though only for a moment. "But I know why he did not so," she said softly to herself. "He is not one to speak of his good deeds." She turned toward MacLean, who was attentively watching her, "But I may speak of them," she said, with pride. "I have known Mr. Haward for years and years. He saved my life; he brought me here from the Indian country; he was, he is, so kind to me!"
Since the afternoon beneath the willow-tree, Haward, while encouraging her to speak of her long past, her sylvan childhood, her dream memories, had somewhat sternly checked every expression of gratitude for the part which he himself had played or was playing, in the drama of her life. Walking in the minister's orchard, sitting in the garden or upon the terrace of Fair View house, drifting on the sunset river, he waved that aside, and went on to teach her another lesson. The teaching was exquisite; but when the lesson for the day was over, and he was alone, he sat with one whom he despised. The learning was exquisite; it was the sweetest song, but she knew not its name, and the words were in a strange tongue. She was Audrey, that she knew; and he,—he was the plumed knight, who, for the lack of a better listener, told her gracious tales of love, showed her how warm and beautiful was this world that she sometimes thought so sad, sang to her sweet lines that poets had made. Over and through all she thought she read the name of the princess. She had heard him say that with the breaking of the heat he should go to Westover, and one day, early in summer, he had shown her the miniature of Evelyn Byrd. Because she loved him blindly, and because he was wise in his generation, her trust in him was steadfast as her native hills, large as her faith in God. Now it was sweet beneath her tongue to be able to tell one that was his friend how worthy of all friendship—nay, all reverence—he was. She spoke simply, but with that strange power of expression which nature had given her. Gestures with her hands, quick changes in the tone of her voice, a countenance that gave ample utterance to the moment's thought,—as one morning in the Fair View library she had brought into being that long dead Eloisa whose lines she spoke, so now her auditor of to-day thought that he saw the things of which she told.
She had risen, and was standing in the wild light, against the background of the forest that was breathless, as if it too listened, "And so he brought me safely to this land," she said. "And so he left me here for ten years, safe and happy, he thought. He has told me that all that while he thought of me as safe and happy. That I was not so,—why, that was not his fault! When he came back I was both. I have never seen the sunshine so bright or the woods so fair as they have been this summer. The people with whom I live are always kind to me now,—that is his doing. And ah! it is because he would not let Hugon scare or harm me that that wicked Indian waits for him now beyond the bend in the road." At the thought of Hugon she shuddered, and her eyes began to widen. "Have we not been here a long time?" she cried. "Are you sure? Oh, God! perhaps he has passed!"
"No, no," answered MacLean, with his hand upon her arm. "There is no sign that he has done so. It is not late; it is that heavy cloud above our heads that has so darkened the air. Perhaps he has not left Williamsburgh at all: perhaps, the storm threatening, he waits until to-morrow."
From the cloud above came a blinding light and a great crash of thunder,—the one so intense, the other so tremendous, that for a minute the two stood as if stunned. Then, "The tree!" cried Audrey. The great pine, blasted and afire, uprooted itself and fell from them like a reed that the wind has snapped. The thunder crash, and the din with which the tree met its fellows of the forest, bore them down, and finally struck the earth from which it came, seemed an alarum to waken all nature from its sleep. The thunder became incessant, and the wind suddenly arising the forest stretched itself and began to speak with no uncertain voice. MacLean took his seat again upon the log, but Audrey slipped into the road, and stood in the whirling dust, her arm raised above her eyes, looking for the horseman whose approach she could not hope to hear through the clamor of the storm. The wind lifted her long hair, and the rising dust half obscured her form, bent against the blast. On the lonesome road, in the partial light, she had the seeming of an apparition, a creature tossed like a ball from the surging forest. She had made herself a world, and she had become its product. In all her ways, to the day of her death, there was about her a touch of mirage, illusion, fantasy. The Highlander, imaginative like all his race, and a believer in things not of heaven nor of earth, thought of spirits of the glen and the shore.
There was no rain as yet; only the hurly-burly of the forest, the white dust cloud, and the wild commotion overhead. Audrey turned to MacLean, watching her in silence. "He is coming!" she cried. "There is some one with him. Now, now he is safe!"
HUGON SPEAKS HIS MIND
MacLean sprang up from the log, and, joining her, saw indeed two horsemen galloping toward them, their heads bent and riding cloaks raised to shield them from the whirlwind of dust, dead leaves, and broken twigs. He knew Haward's powerful steed Mirza, but the other horse was strange.
The two rode fast. A moment, and they were splashing through the stream; another, and the horses, startled by Audrey's cry and waving arms and by the sudden and violent check on the part of their riders, were rearing and curveting across the road. "What the devil!" cried one of the horsemen. "Imp or sprite, or whatever you are, look out! Haward, your horse will trample her!"
But Audrey, with her hand on Mirza's bridle, had no fears. Haward stared at her in amazement. "Child, what are you doing here? Angus, you too!" as the storekeeper advanced. "What rendezvous is this? Mirza, be quiet!"
Audrey left her warning to be spoken by MacLean. She was at peace, her head against Mirza's neck, her eyes upon Haward's face, clear in the flashing lightning. That gentleman heard the story with his usual calmness; his companion first swore, and then laughed.
"Here's a Canterbury tale!" he cried. "Egad, Haward, are we to take this skipping rope, vault it as though we were courtiers of Lilliput? Neither of us is armed. I conceive that the longest way around will prove our shortest way home."
"My dear Colonel, I want to speak with these two gentlemen."
"But at your leisure, my friend, at your leisure, and not in dying tones! I like not what I hear of Monsieur Jean Hugon's pistols. Flank an ambush; don't ride into it open-eyed."
"Colonel Byrd is right," said the storekeeper earnestly. "Ride back, the two of you, and take the bridle path that will carry you to Fair View by way of the upper bridge. In the mean time, I will run through the woods to Mr. Taberer's house, cross there, hurry to the quarters, rouse the overseer, and with a man or two we will recross the creek by the lower bridge, and coming upon these rogues unawares, give them a taste of their own medicine! We'll hale them to the great house; you shall have speech of them in your own hall."
Neither of the riders being able to suggest a better plan, the storekeeper, with a wave of his hand, plunged into the forest, and was soon lost to view amidst its serried trunks and waving branches. Haward stooped from his saddle; Audrey set her bare foot upon his booted one, and he swung her up behind him. "Put thine arm around me, child," he told her. "We will ride swiftly through the storm. Now, Colonel, to turn our backs upon the enemy!"
The lightning was about them, and they raced to the booming of the thunder. Heavy raindrops began to fall, and the wind was a power to drive the riders on. Its voice shrilled above the diapason of the thunder; the forest swung to its long cry. When the horses turned from the wide into the narrow road, they could no longer go abreast. Mirza took the lead, and the bay fell a length behind. The branches now hid the sky; between the flashes there was Stygian gloom, but when the lightning came it showed far aisles of the forest. There was the smell of rain upon dusty earth, there was the wine of coolness after heat, there was the sense of being borne upon the wind, there was the leaping of life within the veins to meet the awakened life without. Audrey closed her eyes, and wished to ride thus forever. Haward, too, traveling fast through mist and rain a road whose end was hidden, facing the wet wind, hearing the voices of earth and sky, felt his spirit mount with the mounting voices. So to ride with Love to doom! On, and on, and on! Left behind the sophist, the apologist, the lover of the world with his tinsel that was not gold, his pebbles that were not gems! Only the man thundering on,—the man and his mate that was meant for him since time began! He raised his face to the strife above, he drew his breath, his hand closed over the hand of the woman riding with him. At the touch a thrill ran through them both; had the lightning with a sword of flame cut the world from beneath their feet, they had passed on, immortal in their happiness. But the bolts struck aimlessly, and the moment fled. Haward was Haward again; he recognized his old acquaintance with a half-humorous, half-disdainful smile. The road was no longer a road that gleamed athwart all time and space; the wind had lost its trumpet tone; Love spoke not in the thunder, nor seemed so high a thing as the lit heaven. Audrey's hand was yet within his clasp; but it was flesh and blood that he touched, not spirit, and he was glad that it was so. For her, her cheek burned, and she hid her eyes. She had looked unawares, as by the lightning glare, into a world of which she had not dreamed. Its portals had shut; she rode on in the twilight again, and she could not clearly remember what she had seen. But she was sure that the air of that country was sweet, she was faint with its beauty, her heart beat with violence to its far echoes. Moreover, she was dimly aware that in the moment when she had looked there had been a baptism. She had thought of herself as a child, as a girl; now and for evermore she was a woman.
They left the forest behind, and came to open fields where the tobacco had been beaten to earth. The trees now stood singly or in shivering copses. Above, the heavens were bare to their gaze, and the lightning gave glimpses of pale castles overhanging steel-gray, fathomless abysses. The road widened, and the bay was pushed by its rider to Mirza's side. Fields of corn where the long blades wildly clashed, a wood of dripping cedars, a patch of Oronoko, tobacco house in midst, rising ground and a vision of the river, then a swift descent to the lower creek, and the bridge across which lay the road that ran to the minister's house. Audrey spoke earnestly to the master of Fair View, and after a moment's hesitation he drew rein. "We will not cross, Colonel," he declared. "My preserver will have it that she has troubled us long enough; and indeed it is no great distance to the glebe house, and the rain has stopped. Have down with thee, then, obstinate one!"
Audrey slipped to the earth, and pushed back her hair from her eyes. Colonel Byrd observed her curiously. "Faith," he exclaimed, "'tis the Atalanta of last May Day! Well, child, I believe thou hast saved our lives. Come, here are three gold baubles that may pass for Hippomenes' apples!"
Audrey put her hands behind her. "I want no money, sir. What I did was a gift; it has no price." She was only Darden's Audrey, but she spoke as proudly as a princess might have spoken. Haward smiled to hear her; and seeing the smile, she was comforted. "For he understands," she said to herself. "He would never hurt me so." It did not wound her that he said no word, but only lifted his hat, when she curtsied to them both. There was to-morrow, and he would praise her then for her quickness of wit and her courage in following Hugon, whom she feared so much.
The riders watched her cross the bridge and turn into the road that led to the glebe house, then kept their own road in silence until it brought them to the doors of Fair View.
It was an hour later, and drawing toward dusk, when the Colonel, having changed his wet riding clothes for a suit of his friend's, came down the stairs and entered the Fair View drawing-room. Haward, in green, with rich lace at throat and wrist, was there before him, walking up and down in the cheerful light of a fire kindled against the dampness. "No sign of our men," he said, as the other entered. "Come to the fire. Faith, Colonel, my russet and gold becomes you mightily! Juba took you the aqua vitae?"
"Ay, in one of your great silver goblets, with a forest of mint atop. Ha, this is comfort!" He sank into an armchair, stretched his legs before the blaze, and began to look about him. "I have ever said, Haward, that of all the gentlemen of my acquaintance you have the most exact taste. I told Bubb Dodington as much, last year, at Eastbury. Damask, mirrors, paintings, china, cabinets,—all chaste and quiet, extremely elegant, but without ostentation! It hath an air, too. I would swear a woman had the placing of yonder painted jars!"
"You are right," said Haward, smiling. "The wife of the minister of this parish was good enough to come to my assistance."
"Ah!" said the Colonel dryly. "Did Atalanta come as well? She is his reverence's servant, is she not?"
"No," answered Haward shortly to the last question, and, leaning across, stirred the fire.
The light caused to sparkle a jeweled pin worn in the lace of his ruffles, and the toy caught the Colonel's eye. "One of Spotswood's golden horseshoes!" he exclaimed. "I had them wrought for him in London. Had they been so many stars and garters, he could have made no greater pother! 'Tis ten years since I saw one."
Haward detached the horseshoe-shaped bauble from the lace, and laid it on the other's palm. The master of Westover regarded it curiously, and read aloud the motto engraved upon its back: "'Sic Juvat Transcendere Montes.' A barren exploit! But some day I too shall please myself and cross these sun-kissing hills. And so the maid with the eyes is not his reverence's servant? What is she?"
Haward took the golden horseshoe in his own hand, and fell to studying it in the firelight. "I wore this to-night," he said at length, with deliberation, "in order that it might bring to your mind that sprightly ultramontane expedition in which, my dear Colonel, had you not been in England, you had undoubtedly borne a part. You have asked me a question; I will answer it with a story, and so the time may pass more rapidly until the arrival of Mr. MacLean with our friends who set traps." He turned the mimic horseshoe this way and that, watching the small gems, that simulated nails, flash in the red light. "Some days to the west of Germanna," he said, "when about us were the lesser mountains, and before us those that propped the sky, we came one sunny noon upon a valley, a little valley, very peaceful below the heights. A stream shone through it, and there were noble trees, and beside the stream the cabin of a frontiersman."
On went the story. The fire crackled, reflecting itself in mirrors and polished wood and many small window panes. Outside, the rain had ceased, but the wind and the river murmured loudly, and the shadows of the night were gathering. When the narrative was ended, he who had spoken and he who had listened sat staring at the fire. "A pretty story!" said the Colonel at last. "Dick Steele should have had it; 'twould have looked vastly well over against his Inkle and Yarico. There the maid the savior, here the man; there perfidy, here plain honesty; there for the woman a fate most tragical, here"—
"Here?" said Haward, as the other paused.
The master of Westover took out his snuffbox. "And here the continued kindness of a young and handsome preserver," he said suavely, and extended the box to his host.
"You are mistaken," said Haward. He rose, and stood leaning against the mantel, his eyes upon the older man's somewhat coldly smiling countenance. "She is as innocent, as high of soul, and as pure of heart as—as Evelyn."
The Colonel clicked to the lid of his box. "You will be so good as to leave my daughter's name out of the conversation."
"As you please," Haward answered, with hauteur.
Another silence, broken by the guest. "Why did you hang that kit-kat of yourself behind the door, Haward?" he asked amiably. "'Tis too fine a piece to be lost in shadow. I would advise a change with yonder shepherdess."
"I do not know why," said Haward restlessly. "A whim. Perhaps by nature I court shadows and dark corners."
"That is not so," Byrd replied quietly. He had turned in his chair, the better to observe the distant portrait that was now lightened, now darkened, as the flames rose and fell. "A speaking likeness," he went on, glancing from it to the original and back again. "I ever thought it one of Kneller's best. The portrait of a gentleman. Only—you have noticed, I dare say, how in the firelight familiar objects change aspect many times?—only just now it seemed to me that it lost that distinction"—
"Well?" said Haward, as he paused.
The Colonel went on slowly: "Lost that distinction, and became the portrait of"—
"Well? Of whom?" asked Haward, and, with his eyes shaded by his hand, gazed not at the portrait, but at the connoisseur in gold and russet.
"Of a dirty tradesman," said the master of Westover lightly. "In a word, of an own brother to Mr. Thomas Inkle."
A dead silence; then Haward spoke calmly: "I will not take offense, Colonel Byrd. Perhaps I should not take it even were it not as my guest and in my drawing-room that you have so spoken. We will, if you please, consign my portrait to the obscurity from which it has been dragged. In good time here comes Juba to light the candles and set the shadows fleeing."
Leaving the fire he moved to a window, and stood looking out upon the windy twilight. From the back of the house came a sound of voices and of footsteps. The Colonel put up his snuffbox and brushed a grain from his ruffles. "Enter two murderers!" he said briskly. "Will you have them here, Haward, or shall we go into the hall?"
"Light all the candles, Juba," ordered the master. "Here, I think, Colonel, where the stage will set them off. Juba, go ask Mr. MacLean and Saunderson to bring their prisoners here."
As he spoke, he turned from the contemplation of the night without to the brightly lit room. "This is a murderous fellow, this Hugon," he said, as he took his seat in a great chair drawn before a table. "I have heard Colonel Byrd argue in favor of imitating John Rolfe's early experiment, and marrying the white man to the heathen. We are about to behold the result of such an union."
"I would not have the practice universal," said the Colonel coolly, "but 'twould go far toward remedying loss of scalps in this world, and of infidel souls hereafter. Your sprightly lover is a most prevailing missionary. But here is our Huguenot-Monacan."
MacLean, very wet and muddy, with one hand wrapped in a blood-stained rag, came in first. "We found them hidden in the bushes at the turn of the road," he said hastily. "The schoolmaster was more peaceably inclined than any Quaker, but Hugon fought like the wolf that he is. Can't you hang him out of hand, Haward? Give me a land where the chief does justice while the king looks the other way!" He turned and beckoned. "Bring them in, Saunderson."
There was no discomposure in the schoolmaster's dress, and as little in his face or manner. He bowed to the two gentlemen, then shambled across to the fire, and as best he could held out his bound hands to the grateful blaze. "May I ask, sir," he said, in his lifeless voice, "why it is that this youth and I, resting in all peace and quietness beside a public road, should be set upon by your servants, overpowered, bound, and haled to your house as to a judgment bar?"
Haward, to whom this speech was addressed, gave it no attention. His gaze was upon Hugon, who in his turn glared at him alone. Haward had a subtle power of forcing and fixing the attention of a company; in crowded rooms, without undue utterance or moving from his place, he was apt to achieve the centre of the stage, the head of the table. Now, the half-breed, by very virtue of the passion which, false to his Indian blood, shook him like a leaf, of a rage which overmastered and transformed, reached at a bound the Englishman's plane of distinction. His great wig, of a fashion years gone by, was pulled grotesquely aside, showing the high forehead and shaven crown beneath; his laced coat and tawdry waistcoat and ruffled shirt were torn and foul with mud and mould, but the man himself made to be forgotten the absurdity of his trappings. Gone, for him, were his captors, his accomplice, the spectator in gold and russet; to Haward, also, sitting very cold, very quiet, with narrowed eyes, they were gone. He was angered, and in the mood to give rein after his own fashion to that anger. MacLean and the master of Westover, the overseer and the schoolmaster, were forgotten, and he and Hugon met alone as they might have met in the forest. Between them, and without a spoken word, the two made this fact to be recognized by the other occupants of the drawing-room. Colonel Byrd, who had been standing with his hand upon the table, moved backward until he joined MacLean beside the closed door: Saunderson drew near to the schoolmaster: and the centre of the room was left to the would-be murderer and the victim that had escaped him.
"Monsieur le Monacan," said Haward.
Hugon snarled like an angry wolf, and strained at the rope which bound his arms.
Haward went on evenly: "Your tribe has smoked the peace pipe with the white man. I was not told it by singing birds, but by the great white father at Williamsburgh. They buried the hatchet very deep; the dead leaves of many moons of Cohonks lie thick upon the place where they buried it. Why have you made a warpath, treading it alone of your color?"
"Diable!" cried Hugon. "Pig of an Englishman! I will kill you for"—
"For an handful of blue beads," said Haward, with a cold smile. "And I, dog of an Indian! I will send a Nottoway to teach the Monacans how to lay a snare and hide a trail."
The trader, gasping with passion, leaned across the table until his eyes were within a foot of Haward's unmoved face. "Who showed you the trail and told you of the snare?" he whispered. "Tell me that, you Englishman,—tell me that!"
"A storm bird," said Haward calmly. "Okee is perhaps angry with his Monacans, and sent it."
"Was it Audrey?"
Haward laughed. "No, it was not Audrey. And so, Monacan, you have yourself fallen into the pit which you digged."
From the fireplace came the schoolmaster's slow voice: "Dear sir, can you show the pit? Why should this youth desire to harm you? Where is the storm bird? Can you whistle it before a justice of the peace or into a court room?"
If Haward heard, it did not appear. He was leaning back in his chair, his eyes fixed upon the trader's twitching face in a cold and smiling regard. "Well, Monacan?" he demanded.
The half-breed straightened himself, and with a mighty effort strove in vain for a composure that should match the other's cold self-command,—a command which taunted and stung now at this point, now at that. "I am a Frenchman!" he cried, in a voice that broke with passion. "I am of the noblesse of the land of France, which is a country that is much grander than Virginia! Old Pierre at Monacan-Town told me these things. My father changed his name when he came across the sea, so I bear not the de which is a sign of a great man. Listen, you Englishman! I trade, I prosper, I buy me land, I begin to build me a house. There is a girl that I see every hour, every minute, while I am building it. She says she loves me not, but nevertheless I shall wed her. Now I see her in this room, now in that; she comes down the stair, she smiles at the window, she stands on the doorstep to welcome me when I come home from my hunting and trading in the woods so far away. I bring her fine skins of the otter, the beaver, and the fawn; beadwork also from the villages and bracelets of copper and pearl. The flowers bloom around her, and my heart sings to see her upon my doorstep.... The flowers are dead, and you have stolen the girl away.... There was a stream, and the sun shone upon it, and you and she were in a boat. I walked alone upon the bank, and in my heart I left building my house and fell to other work. You laughed; one day you will laugh no more. That was many suns ago. I have watched"—
Foam was upon his lips, and he strained without ceasing at his bonds. Already pulled far awry, his great peruke, a cataract of hair streaming over his shoulders, shading and softening the swarthy features between its curled waves, now slipped from his head and fell to the floor. The change which its absence wrought was startling. Of the man the moiety that was white disappeared. The shaven head, its poise, its features, were Indian; the soul was Indian, and looked from Indian eyes. Suddenly, for the last transforming touch, came a torrent of words in a strange tongue, the tongue of his mother. Of what he was speaking, what he was threatening, no one of them could tell; he was a savage giving voice to madness and hate.
Haward pushed back his chair from the table, and, rising, walked across the room to the window. Hugon followed him, straining at the rope about his arms and speaking thickly. His eyes were glaring, his teeth bared. When he was so close that the Virginian could feel his hot breath, the latter turned, and uttering an oath of disgust struck the back of his hand across his lips. With the cry of an animal, Hugon, bound as he was, threw himself bodily upon his foe, who in his turn flung the trader from him with a violence that sent him reeling against the wall. Here Saunderson, a man of powerful build, seized him by the shoulders, holding him fast; MacLean, too, hurriedly crossed from the door. There was no need, for the half-breed's frenzy was spent. He stood with glittering eyes following Haward's every motion, but quite silent, his frame rigid in the overseer's grasp.
Colonel Byrd went up to Haward and spoke in a low voice: "Best send them at once to Williamsburgh."
Haward shook his head. "I cannot," he said, with a gesture of impatience. "There is no proof."
"No proof!" exclaimed his guest sharply. "You mean"—
The other met his stare of surprise with an imperturbable countenance. "What I say," he answered quietly. "My servants find two men lurking beside a road that I am traveling. Being somewhat over-zealous, they take them up upon suspicion of meaning mischief and bring them before me. It is all guesswork why they were at the turn of the road, and what they wanted there. There is no proof, no witness"—
"I see that there is no witness that you care to call," said the Colonel coldly.
Haward waved his hand. "There is no witness," he said, without change of tone. "And therefore, Colonel, I am about to dismiss the case."
With a slight bow to his guest he left the window, and advanced to the group in the centre of the room. "Saunderson," he said abruptly, "take these two men to the quarter and cut their bonds. Give them a start of fifty yards, then loose the dogs and hunt them from the plantation. You have men outside to help you? Very well; go! Mr. MacLean, will you see this chase fairly started?"
The Highlander, who had become very thoughtful of aspect since entering the room, and who had not shared Saunderson's start of surprise at the master's latest orders, nodded assent. Haward stood for a moment gazing steadily at Hugon, but with no notice to bestow upon the bowing schoolmaster; then walked over to the harpsichord, and, sitting down, began to play an old tune, soft and slow, with pauses between the notes. When he came to the final chord he looked over his shoulder at the Colonel, standing before the mantel, with his eyes upon the fire. "So they have gone," he said. "Good riddance! A pretty brace of villains!"
"I should be loath to have Monsieur Jean Hugon for my enemy," said the Colonel gravely.
Haward laughed. "I was told at Williamsburgh that a party of traders go to the Southern Indians to-morrow, and he with them. Perhaps a month or two of the woods will work a cure."
He fell to playing again, a quiet, plaintive air. When it was ended, he rose and went over to the fire to keep his guest company; but finding him in a mood for silence, presently fell silent himself, and took to viewing structures of his own building in the red hollows between the logs. This mutual taciturnity lasted until the announcement of supper, and was relapsed into at intervals during the meal; but when they had returned to the drawing-room the two talked until it was late, and the fire had sunken to ash and embers. Before they parted for the night it was agreed that the master of Westover should remain with the master of Fair View for a day or so, at the end of which time the latter gentleman would accompany the former to Westover for a visit of indefinite length.
AUDREY AND EVELYN
Hugon went a-trading to the Southern Indians, but had lately returned to his lair at the crossroads ordinary, when, upon a sunny September morning, Audrey and Mistress Deborah, mounted upon the sorriest of Darden's sorry steeds, turned from Duke of Gloucester into Palace Street. They had parted with the minister before his favorite ordinary, and were on their way to the house where they themselves were to lodge during the three days of town life which Darden had vouchsafed to offer them.
For a month or more Virginia had been wearing black ribbons for the King, who died in June, but in the last day or so there had been a reversion to bright colors. This cheerful change had been wrought by the arrival in the York of the Fortune of Bristol, with the new governor on board. His Excellency had landed at Yorktown, and, after suitable entertainment at the hands of its citizens, had proceeded under escort to Williamsburgh. The entry into the town was triumphal, and when, at the doorway of his Palace, the Governor turned, and addressed a pleasing oration to the people whom he was to rule in the name of the King and my Lord of Orkney, enthusiasm reached its height. At night the town was illuminated, and well-nigh all its ladies and gentlemen visited the Palace, in order to pay their duty to its latest occupant. It was a pleasure-loving people, and the arrival of a governor an occasion of which the most must be made. Gentlemen of consideration had come in from every county, bringing with them wives and daughters. In the mild, sunshiny weather the crowded town overflowed into square and street and garden. Everywhere were bustle and gayety,—gayety none the less for the presence of thirty or more ministers of the Established Church. For Mr. Commissary Blair had convoked a meeting of the clergy for the consideration of evils affecting that body,—not, alas! from without alone. The Governor, arriving so opportunely, must, too, be addressed upon the usual subjects of presentation, induction, and all-powerful vestries. It was fitting, also, that the college of William and Mary should have its say upon the occasion, and the brightest scholar thereof was even now closeted with the Latin master. That the copy of verses giving the welcome of so many future planters, Burgesses, and members of Council would be choice in thought and elegant in expression, there could be no reasonable doubt. The Council was to give an entertainment at the Capitol; one day had been set aside for a muster of militia in the meadow beyond the college, another for a great horse-race; many small parties were arranged; and last, but not least, on the night of the day following Darden's appearance in town, his Excellency was to give a ball at the Palace. Add to all this that two notorious pirates were standing their trial before a court-martial, with every prospect of being hanged within the se'ennight; that a deputation of Nottoways and Meherrins, having business with the white fathers in Williamsburgh, were to be persuaded to dance their wildest, whoop their loudest, around a bonfire built in the market square; that at the playhouse Cato was to be given with extraordinary magnificence, and one may readily see that there might have been found, in this sunny September week, places less entertaining than Williamsburgh.
Darden's old white horse, with its double load, plodded along the street that led to the toy Palace of this toy capital. The Palace, of course, was not its riders' destination; instead, when they had crossed Nicholson Street, they drew up before a particularly small white house, so hidden away behind lilac bushes and trellised grapevines that it gave but here and there a pale hint of its existence. It was planted in the shadow of a larger building, and a path led around it to what seemed a pleasant, shady, and extensive garden.
Mistress Deborah gave a sigh of satisfaction. "Seven years come Martinmas since I last stayed overnight with Mary Stagg! And we were born in the same village, and at Bath what mighty friends we were! She was playing Dorinda,—that's in 'The Beaux' Stratagem,' Audrey,—and her dress was just an old striped Persian, vastly unbecoming. Her Ladyship's pink alamode, that Major D—— spilt a dish of chocolate over, she gave to me for carrying a note; and I gave it to Mary (she was Mary Baker then),—for I looked hideous in pink,—and she was that grateful, as well she might be! Mary, Mary!"
A slender woman, with red-brown hair and faded cheeks, came running from the house to the gate. "At last, my dear Deborah! I vow I had given you up! Says I to Mirabell an hour ago,—you know that is my name for Charles, for 'twas when he played Mirabell to my Millamant that we fell in love,—'Well,' says I, 'I'll lay a gold-furbelowed scarf to a yard of oznaburg that Mr. Darden, riding home through the night, and in liquor, perhaps, has fallen and broken his neck, and Deborah can't come.' And says Mirabell—But la, my dear, there you stand in your safeguard, and I'm keeping the gate shut on you! Come in. Come in, Audrey. Why, you've grown to be a woman! You were just a brown slip of a thing, that Lady Day, two years ago, that I spent with Deborah. Come in the both of you. There are cakes and a bottle of Madeira."
Audrey fastened the horse against the time that Darden should remember to send for it, and then followed the ex-waiting-woman and the former queen of a company of strollers up a grassy path and through a little green door into a pleasant room, where grape leaves wreathed the windows and cast their shadows upon a sanded floor. At one end of the room stood a great, rudely built cabinet, and before it a long table, strewn with an orderly litter of such slender articles of apparel as silk and tissue scarfs, gauze hoods, breast knots, silk stockings, and embroidered gloves. Mistress Deborah must needs run and examine these at once, and Mistress Mary Stagg, wife of the lessee, manager, and principal actor of the Williamsburgh theatre, looked complacently over her shoulder. The minister's wife sighed again, this time with envy.
"What with the theatre, and the bowling green, and tea in your summer-house, and dancing lessons, and the sale of these fine things, you and Charles must turn a pretty penny! The luck that some folk have! You were always fortunate, Mary."
Mistress Stagg did not deny the imputation. But she was a kindly soul, who had not forgotten the gift of my Lady Squander's pink alamode. The chocolate stain had not been so very large.
"I've laid by a pretty piece of sarcenet of which to make you a capuchin," she said promptly. "Now, here's the wine. Shan't we go into the garden, and sip it there? Peggy," to the black girl holding a salver, "put the cake and wine on the table in the arbor; then sit here by the window, and call me if any come. My dear Deborah, I doubt if I have so much as a ribbon left by the end of the week. The town is that gay! I says to Mirabell this morning, says I, 'Lord, my dear, it a'most puts me in mind of Bath!' And Mirabell says—But here's the garden door. Now, isn't it cool and pleasant out here? Audrey may gather us some grapes. Yes, they're very fine, full bunches; it has been a bounteous year."
The grape arbor hugged the house, but beyond it was a pretty, shady, fancifully laid out garden, with shell-bordered walks, a grotto, a summer-house, and a gate opening into Nicholson Street. Beyond the garden a glimpse was to be caught through the trees of a trim bowling green. It had rained the night before, and a delightful, almost vernal freshness breathed in the air. The bees made a great buzzing amongst the grapes, and the birds in the mulberry-trees sang as though it were nesting time. Mistress Stagg and her old acquaintance sat at a table placed in the shadow of the vines, and sipped their wine, while Audrey obediently gathered clusters of the purple fruit, and thought the garden very fine, but oh, not like—There could be no garden in the world so beautiful and so dear as that! And she had not seen it for so long, so long a time. She wondered if she would ever see it again.
When she brought the fruit to the table, Mistress Stagg made room for her kindly enough; and she sat and drank her wine and went to her world of dreams, while her companions bartered town and country gossip. It has been said that the small white house adjoined a larger building. A window in this structure, which had much the appearance of a barn, was now opened, with the result that a confused sound, as of several people speaking at once, made itself heard. Suddenly the noise gave place to a single high-pitched voice:—
"'Welcome, my son! Here lay him down, my friends, Full in my sight, that I may view at leisure The bloody corse, and count those glorious wounds.'"
A smile irradiated Mistress Stagg's faded countenance, and she blew a kiss toward the open window. "He does Cato so extremely well; and it's a grave, dull, odd character, too. But Mirabell—that's Charles, you know—manages to put a little life in it, a Je ne sais quoi, a touch of Sir Harry Wildair. Now—now he's pulling out his laced handkerchief to weep over Rome! You should see him after he has fallen on his sword, and is brought on in a chair, all over blood. This is the third rehearsal; the play's ordered for Monday night. Who is it, Peggy? Madam Travis! It's about the lace for her damask petticoat, and there's no telling how long she may keep me! My dear Deborah, when you have finished your wine, Peggy shall show you your room. You must make yourself quite at home. For says I to Mirabell this morning, 'Far be it from me to forget past kindnesses, and in those old Bath days Deborah was a good friend to me,—which was no wonder, to be sure, seeing that when we were little girls we went to the same dame school, and always learned our book and worked our samplers together.' And says Mirabell—Yes, yes, ma'am, I'm coming!"
She disappeared, and the black girl showed the two guests through the hall and up a tiny stairway into a little dormer-windowed, whitewashed room. Mistress Deborah, who still wore remnants of my Lady Squander's ancient gifts of spoiled finery, had likewise failed to discard the second-hand fine-lady airs acquired during her service. She now declared herself excessively tired by her morning ride, and martyr, besides, to a migraine. Moreover, it was enough to give one the spleen to hear Mary Stagg's magpie chatter and to see how some folk throve, willy-nilly, while others just as good—Here tears of vexation ensued, and she must lie down upon the bed and call in a feeble voice for her smelling salts. Audrey hurriedly searched in the ragged portmanteau brought to town the day before in the ox-cart of an obliging parishioner, found the flask, and took it to the bedside, to receive in exchange a sound box of the ear for her tardiness. The blow reddened her cheek, but brought no tears to her eyes. It was too small a thing to weep for; tears were for blows upon the heart.
It was a cool and quiet little room, and Mistress Deborah, who had drunk two full glasses of the Madeira, presently fell asleep. Audrey sat very still, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes upon them, until their hostess's voice announced from the foot of the stairs that Madam Travis had taken her departure. She then slipped from the room, and was affably received below, and taken into the apartment which they had first entered. Here Mistress became at once extremely busy. A fan was to be mounted; yards of silk gathered into furbelows; breast knots, shoulder knots, sword knots, to be made up. Her customers were all people of quality, and unless she did her part not one of them could go to the ball. Audrey shyly proffered her aid, and was set to changing the ribbons upon a mask.
Mistress Stagg's tongue went as fast as her needle: "And Deborah is asleep! Poor soul! she's sadly changed from what she was in old England thirteen years ago. As neat a shape as you would see in a day's journey, with the prettiest color, and eyes as bright as those marcasite buttons! And she saw the best of company at my Lady Squander's,—no lack there of kisses and guineas and fine gentlemen, you may be sure! There's a deal of change in this mortal world, and it's generally for the worse. Here, child, you may whip this lace on Mr. Lightfoot's ruffles. I think myself lucky, I can tell you, that there are so few women in Cato. If 'tweren't so, I should have to go on myself; for since poor, dear, pretty Jane Day died of the smallpox, and Oriana Jordan ran away with the rascally Bridewell fellow that we bought to play husbands' parts, and was never heard of more, but is supposed to have gotten clean off to Barbadoes by favor of the master of the Lady Susan, we have been short of actresses. But in this play there are only Marcia and Lucia. 'It is extremely fortunate, my dear,' said I to Mirabell this very morning, 'that in this play, which is the proper compliment to a great gentleman just taking office, Mr. Addison should have put no more than two women.' And Mirabell says—Don't put the lace so full, child; 'twon't go round."
"A chair is stopping at the gate," said Audrey, who sat by the window. "There's a lady in it."
The chair was a very fine painted one, borne by two gayly dressed negroes, and escorted by a trio of beribboned young gentlemen, prodigal of gallant speeches, amorous sighs, and languishing glances. Mistress Stagg looked, started up, and, without waiting to raise from the floor the armful of delicate silk which she had dropped, was presently curtsying upon the doorstep.
The bearers set down their load. One of the gentlemen opened the chair door with a flourish, and the divinity, compressing her hoop, descended. A second cavalier flung back Mistress Stagg's gate, and the third, with a low bow, proffered his hand to conduct the fair from the gate to the doorstep. The lady shook her head; a smiling word or two, a slight curtsy, the wave of a painted fan, and her attendants found themselves dismissed. She came up the path alone, slowly, with her head a little bent. Audrey, watching her from the window, knew who she was, and her heart beat fast. If this lady were in town, then so was he; he would not have stayed behind at Westover. She would have left the room, but there was not time. The mistress of the house, smiling and obsequious, fluttered in, and Evelyn Byrd followed.
There had been ordered for her a hood of golden tissue, with wide and long streamers to be tied beneath the chin, and she was come to try it on. Mistress Stagg had it all but ready,—there was only the least bit of stitchery; would Mistress Evelyn condescend to wait a very few minutes? She placed a chair, and the lady sank into it, finding the quiet of the shadowed room pleasant enough after the sunlight and talkativeness of the world without. Mistress Stagg, in her role of milliner, took the gauzy trifle, called by courtesy a hood, to the farthest window, and fell busily to work.