This dread crisis past, and what would be the result?
"Doctor," said Phillis, gently awaking him, "I'm sorry to disturb you. Miss Alice has had another little turn, and you'd better see her."
"How is her pulse?" said the doctor, quickly. "Is it failing?"
"'Pears to me not, sir; but you can see."
They went to the room, and the doctor took Alice's small wrist, and lightly felt her pulse. Then did the mother watch his face, to see its writing. What was there?
Nothing but deep attention. The wrist was gently laid down, and the doctor's hand passed lightly over the white arm. Softly it touched the forehead, and lay beneath the straying curl. There is no expression yet; but he takes the wrist again, and, laying one hand beneath it, he touches the pulse. Softly, like the first glance of moonlight on the dark waters, a smile is seen on that kind face. There is something else besides the smile. Large tears dropped from the physician's eyes; tears that he did not think to wipe away. He stooped towards the fragile sufferer, and gently as the morning air breathes upon the drooping violet, he kissed her brow. "Alice, sweet one," he said, "God has given you to us again."
Where is that mother? Has she heard those cheering words? She hears them, and is gone; gone even from the side of her only one. The soul, when there is too much joy, longs for God. She must lay her rich burden at the mercy-seat. Now, that mother kneels, but utters no word. The incense of her heart knows no language and needs none; for God requires it not. The sacrifice of praise from a rejoicing heart, is a grateful offering that he accepts.
"Miss Anna," said Phillis, with trembling voice, but beaming eye, "go to bed now; days and nights you have been up. How can you stand it? The doctor says she is a great deal better, but she may be ill for a good while yet, and you will give out. I will stay with her if you will take a sleep."
"Sleep;" said Mrs. Weston. "No, no, faithful Phillis not yet; joy is too new to me. God for ever bless you for your kindness to me and my child. You shall go home and sleep, and to-night, if she continue to do well, I will trust her with you, and take some rest myself."
Mr. Weston awoke to hear glad tidings. Again and again, through the long day, he repeated to himself his favorite Psalm, "Praise the Lord, oh my soul."
Miss Janet's joy, deep but silent, was visible in her happy countenance. Nor were these feelings confined to the family; every servant on the estate made his master's joy his own. They sorrowed with him when he sorrowed, but now that his drooping head was lifted up, many an honest face regarded him with humble congratulation, as kindly received as if it had come from the highest in the land.
Alice steadily, though slowly, improved; and Phillis again employed herself with her children and her work. Things had gone on very well, with one of her daughter's constant superintendence; but Bacchus had taken advantage of being less watched than usual, and had indulged a good deal, declaring to himself that without something to keep up his spirits he should die, thinking about Miss Alice. Phillis, lynx-eyed as she always was, saw that such had been the case.
It was about a week after Alice commenced to improve, that Phillis went to her house in the evening, after having taken charge of her for several hours, while Mrs. Weston slept. Alice was very restless at night, and Mrs. Weston generally prepared herself for it, by taking some repose previously; this prevented the necessity of any one else losing rest, which, now that Alice was entirely out of danger, she positively refused to permit. As Phillis went in the door, Lydia was on her knees, just finishing the little nightly prayer that Miss Janet had taught her. She got up, and as she was about to go to bed, saw her mother, and bade her good night.
"Good night, and go to bed like a good child. Miss Alice says you may come to see her again to-morrow," Phillis replied.
Lydia was happy as a queen with this promise. Aunt Phillis took her pipe, and her old station outside the door, to smoke. Bacchus had his old, crazy, broken-backed chair out there already, and he was evidently resolving something in his mind of great importance, for he propped the chair far back on its one leg, and appeared to be taking the altitude of the mountains in the moon, an unfailing sign of a convulsion of some kind in the inner man.
"Phillis," said he, after a long silence, "do you know, it is my opinion that that old creature," pointing with his thumb to Aunt Peggy's house, "is so long used to grumblin' and fussin', that she can't, to save her life, lie still in her grave."
"What makes you think so?" said Phillis.
"Bekase, I believes in my soul she's back thar this minute."
"People that drink, Bacchus, can't expect nothin' else than to be troubled with notions. I was in hopes Aunt Peggy's death would have made you afeered to go on sinning. 'Stead of that, when we was all in such grief, and didn't know what was comin' upon us, you must go drinking. You'd better a been praying, I tell you. But be sure your 'sin will find you out' some day or other. The Lord above knows I pray for you many a time, when I'm hard at work. My heart is nigh breaking when I think where the drunkards will be, when the Lord makes up his jewels. They can't enter the kingdom of Heaven; there is no place for them there. Why can't you repent? 'Spose you die in a drunken fit, how will I have the heart to work when I remember where you've got to; 'where the worm never dieth, and the fire is not quenched.'"
Bacchus was rather taken aback by this sudden appeal, and he moved uneasily in his chair; but after a little reflection, and a good long look at the moon, he recovered his confidence.
"Phillis," said he, "do you b'lieve in sperrits?"
"No, I don't," said Phillis, drily, "of no kind."
Bacchus was at a loss again; but he pretended not to understand her, and giving a hitch to his uncertain chair, he got up some courage, and said, doggedly,
"Well, I do."
"I don't," said Phillis, positively, "of no kind."
Bacchus was quite discomposed again, but he said in an appealing voice to his wife, "Phillis, I couldn't stand it; when Miss Alice was so low, you was busy, and could be a doin somethin for her; but what could I do? Here I sot all night a cryin, a thinkin about her and young master. I 'spected for true she was gwine to die; and my blessed grief! what would have come of us all. Master Arthur, he'd a come home, but what would be the use, and she dead and gone. Every which way I looked, I think I see Miss Alice going up to Heaven, a waving her hand good-by to us, and we all by ourselves, weepin and wailin. 'Deed, Phillis, I couldn't stand it; if I hadn't had a little whiskey I should a been dead and cold afore now."
"You'll be dead and cold afore long with it," said Phillis.
"I couldn't do nothing but cry, Phillis," said Bacchus, snuffing and blowing his nose; "and I thought I might be wanted for somethin, so I jest took a small drop to keep up my strength."
Phillis said nothing. She was rather a hard-hearted woman where whiskey was concerned; so she gave Bacchus no encouragement to go on excusing himself.
"I tell you why I believes in ghosts," said Bacchus, after a pause. "I've see'd one."
"When?" said Phillis.
"I was telling you that while Miss Alice was so ill," said Bacchus, "I used to set up most of de night. I don't know how I kep up, for you know niggers takes a sight of sleep, 'specially when they aint very young, like me. Well, I thought one time about Miss Alice, but more about old Aunt Peggy. You know she used to set outside de door thar, very late o' nights. It 'peared like I was 'spectin to see her lean on her stick, and come out every minute. Well, one night I was sure I hear somethin thar. I listened, and then somethin gin a kind o' screech, sounded like de little niggers when Aunt Peggy used to gin 'em a lick wid her switch. Arter a while I see de curtain lifted up. I couldn't see what it was, but it lifted it up. I hearn some more noise, and I felt so strange like, that I shut de door to, and went to bed. Well, I seed dat, and heard it for two or three nights. I was gettin scared I tell you; for, Phillis, there's somethin awful in thinkin of people walking out of their graves, and can't get rest even thar. I couldn't help comin, every night, out here, 'bout twelve o'clock, for that's time sperrits, I mean ghosts, is so uneasy. One night, de very night Miss Alice got better, I hearn de screech an de fuss, and I seed de curtain go up, and pretty soon what do you think I saw. I'm tellin' you no lie, Phillis. I seed two great, red eyes, a glarin out de winder; a glarin right at me. If you believe me, I fell down out of dis very cheer, and when I got up, I gin one look at de winder, and thar was de red eyes glarin agin, so I fell head-foremost over de door step, tryin to get in quick, and then when I did get in, I locked de door. My soul, wasn't I skeered. I never looked no more. I seen nuff dat time."
"Your head was mighty foolish," said Phillis, "and you just thought you saw it."
"No such thing. I saw de red eyes—Aunt Peggy's red eyes."
"High!" said Phillis, "Aunt Peggy hadn't red eyes."
"Not when she was 'live?" said Bacchus. "But thar's no knowin what kind of eyes sperrits gets, 'specially when they gets where it aint very comfortable."
"Well," said Phillis, "these things are above us. We've got our work to do, and the Lord he does his. I don't bother myself about ghosts. I'm trying to get to heaven, and I know I'll never get there if I don't get ready while I'm here. Aunt Peggy aint got no power to come back, unless God sends her; and if He sends her, its for some good reason. You better come in now, and kneel down, and ask God to give you strength to do what is right. We've got no strength but what He gives us."
"I wish you'd pray loud to-night," said Bacchus; "for I aint felt easy of late, and somehow I can't pray."
"Well, I can't do much, but I can ask God to give us grace to repent of our sins, and to serve him faithfully," said Phillis.
And they both kneeled down, and prayer went forth from an earnest heart; and who shall say that a more welcome offering ascended to His ear in that time of prayer, than the humble but believing petition of the slave!
Phillis was of a most matter-of-fact disposition, and possessed, as an accompaniment, an investigating turn of mind; so, before any one was stirring in her cottage, she dressed herself, and took from a nail a large-sized key, that was over the mantel-piece. She hung it to her little finger, and made straight for Aunt Peggy's deserted cabin. She granted herself a search-warrant, and determined to find some clue to Bacchus's marvellous story. Her heart did not fail her, even when she put the key in the lock, for she was resolved as a grenadier, and she would not have turned back if the veritable red eyes themselves had raised the cotton curtain, and looked defiance. The lock was somewhat out of repair, requiring a little coaxing before she could get the key in, and then it was some time before she succeeded in turning it; at last it yielded, and with one push the door flew open.
Now Phillis, anxious as she was to have the matter cleared up, did not care to have it done so instantaneously, for hardly had she taken one step in the house before she, in the most precipitous manner, backed two or three out of it.
At first she thought Aunt Peggy herself had flown at her, and she could hardly help calling for assistance, but making a great effort to recover her composure, she saw at a glance that it was Aunt Peggy's enormous black cat, who not only resembled her in color, but disposition. Jupiter, for that was the cat's name, did not make another grab, but stood with his back raised, glaring at her, while Phillis, breathing very short, sunk into Aunt Peggy's chair and wiped the cold perspiration from her face with her apron.
"Why, Jupiter," said Phillis, "is this you? How on earth did I happen to forget you. Your eyes is red, to be sure, and no wonder, you poor, half-starved creature. I must a locked you up here, the day after the funeral, and I never would a forgot you, if it hadn't been my mind was so taken up with Miss Alice. Why, you're thin as a snake,—wait a minute and I'll bring you something to eat."
Jupiter, who had lived exclusively on mice for a fortnight, was evidently subdued by the prospects of an early breakfast. The apology Phillis had made him seemed not to be without its effect, for when she came back, with a small tin pan of bread and milk, and a piece of bacon hanging to a fork, his back was not the least elevated, and he proceeded immediately to the hearth where the provender was deposited, and to use an inelegant Westernism, "walked into it;" Phillis meanwhile going home, perfectly satisfied with the result of her exploration. Bacchus's toilet was completed, he was just raising up from the exertion of putting on his slippers, when Phillis came in, laughing.
This was an unusual phenomenon, so early in the morning, and Bacchus was slightly uneasy at its portent, but he ventured to ask her what was the matter.
"Nothing," said Phillis, "only I've seen the ghost."
"The ghost!" said Phillis, "and its got red eyes, too, sure enough."
"Phillis," said Bacchus, appealingly, "you aint much used to jokin, and I know you wouldn't tell an ontruth; what do you mean?"
"I mean," said Phillis, "that the very ghost you saw, and heard screeching, with the red eyes glarin at you through the window, I've seen this morning."
"Phillis," said Bacchus, sinking back in his chair, "'taint possible! What was it a doin?"
"I can tell you what its doing now," said Phillis, "its eating bread and milk and a piece of bacon, as hard as it can. Its eyes is red, to be sure, but I reckon yours would be red or shut, one, if you'd a been nigh a fortnight locked up in an empty house, with now and then a mouse to eat. Why, Bacchus, how come it, you forgot old Jupiter? I was too busy to think about cats, but I wonder nobody else didn't think of the poor animal."
"Sure enough," said Bacchus, slowly recovering from his astonishment, "its old Jupiter—why I'd a sworn on the Bible 'twas Aunt Peggy's sperrit. Well, I do b'lieve! that old cat's lived all this time; well, he aint no cat any how—I always said he was a witch, and now I knows it, that same old Jupiter. But, Phillis, gal, I wouldn't say nothin at all about it—we'll have all dese low niggers laughin at us."
"What they going to laugh at me about?" said Phillis. "I didn't see no ghost."
"Well, its all de same," said Bacchus, "they'll laugh at me—and man and wife's one—'taint worth while to say nothin 'bout it, as I see."
"I shan't say nothing about it as long as you keep sober; but mind, you go pitching and tumbling about, and I aint under no kind of promise to keep your secret. And its the blessed truth, they'd laugh, sure enough, at you, if they did know it."
And the hint had such a good effect, that after a while, it was reported all over the plantation that Bacchus "had give up drinkin, for good and all."
It was in answer to Arthur's letter, expressing great anxiety to hear from home, in consequence of so long a time having passed without his receiving his usual letters, that Mr. Weston wrote him of Alice's illness. She was then convalescing, but in so feeble and nervous a condition, that Dr. Lawton advised Arthur's remaining where he was—wishing his patient to be kept even from the excitement of seeing so dear a relative. Mr. Weston insisted upon Arthur's being contented with hearing constantly of her improvement, both from himself and Mrs. Weston. This, Arthur consented to do; but in truth he was not aware of the extent of the danger which had threatened Alice's life, and supposed it to have been an ordinary fever. With what pleasure did he look forward, in his leisure moments, to the time when it would be his privilege always to be near her; and to induce the tedious interval to pass more rapidly, he employed himself with his studies, as constantly as the season would allow. He had formed a sincere attachment to Abel Johnson, whose fine talents and many high qualities made him a delightful companion. Mr. Hubbard was a connection of young Johnson's, and felt privileged often to intrude himself upon them. It really was an intrusion, for he had at present a severe attack of the Abolition fever, and he could not talk upon any other subject. This was often very disagreeable to Arthur and his friend, but still it became a frequent subject of their discussion, when Mr. Hubbard was present, and when they were alone.
In the mean time, the warm season was passing away, and Alice did not recover her strength as her friends wished. No place in the country could have been more delightful than Exeter was at that season; but still it seemed necessary to have a change of scene. September had come, and it was too late to make their arrangements to go to the North, and Alice added to this a great objection to so doing. A distant relation of Mr. Weston, a very young girl, named Ellen Graham, had been sent for, in hopes that her lively society would have a good effect on Alice's unequal spirits; and after much deliberation it was determined that the family, with the exception of Miss Janet, should pass the winter in Washington. Miss Janet could not be induced to go to that Vanity Fair, as she called it; and if proper arrangements for her comfort could not be made, the project would have to be given up. After many proposals, each one having an unanswerable difficulty, the old lady returned from town one day, with a very satisfied countenance, having persuaded Mrs. Williams, a widow, and her daughter, to pass the winter at Exeter with her. Mrs. Williams was a much valued friend of the Weston family, and as no objection could be found to this arrangement, the affair was settled. Alice, although the cause of the move, was the only person who was indifferent on the subject. Ellen Graham, young and gay as she was, would like to have entered into any excitement that would make her forget the past. She fancied it would be for her happiness, could the power of memory be destroyed. She had not sufficient of the experience of life to appreciate the old man's prayer, "Lord, keep my memory green."
Ellen at an early age, and an elder brother, were dependent, not for charity, but for kindness and love, on relatives who for a long time felt their guardianship a task. They were orphans; they bore each other company in the many little cares of childhood; and the boy, as is not unusual in such a case, always looked to his sister for counsel and protection, not from actual unkindness, but from coldness and unmerited reproof. They never forgot their parting with their mother—the agony with which she held them to her bosom, bitterly reflecting they would have no such resting-place in the cold world, in which they were to struggle.
Yet they were not unkindly received at their future home. Their uncle and aunt, standing on the piazza, could not without tears see the delicate children in their deep mourning, accompanied only by their aged and respectable colored nurse, raise their eyes timidly, appealing to them for protection, as hand in hand they ascended the steps. It was a large and dreary-looking mansion, and many years had passed since the pictures of the stiff looking cavalier and his smiling lady, hanging in the hall, had looked down upon children at home there. The echoes of their own voices almost alarmed the children, when, after resting from their journey, they explored the scenes of their future haunts. On the glass of the large window in the hall, were the names of a maiden and her lover, descended from the cavaliers of Virginia. This writing was cut with a diamond, and the children knew not that the writing was their parents'. The little ones walked carefully over the polished floors; but there seemed nothing in all they saw to tell them they were welcome. They lifted the grand piano that maintained its station in one of the unoccupied rooms of the house; but the keys were yellow with age, and many of them soundless—when at last one of them answered to the touch of Ellen's little hand, it sent forth such a ghostly cry that the two children gazed at each other, not knowing whether to cry or to laugh.
Children are like politicians, not easily discouraged; and Ellen's "Come on, Willy," showed that she, by no means, despaired of finding something to amuse them. They lingered up stairs in their own apartment, William pointing to the moss-covered rock that lay at the foot of the garden.
"Willy, Willy, come! here is something," and Willy followed her through a long passage into a room, lighted only by the rays that found entrance through a broken shutter. "Only see this," she continued, laying her hand on a crib burdened with a small mattress and pillow; "here too," and she pointed to a little child's hat that hung over it, from which drooped three small plumes. "Whose can they be?"
"Come out o' here, children," said the nurse, who had been seeking them. "Your aunt told me not to let you come into this part of the house; this was her nursery once, and her only child died here."
The children followed their nurse, and ever afterward the thought of death was connected with that part of the house. Often as they looked in their aunt's face they remembered the empty crib and the drooping plumes.
Time does not always fly with youth; yet it passed along until Ellen had attained her sixteenth year, and William his eighteenth year. Ellen shared all her brother's studies, and their excellent tutor stored their minds with useful information. Their uncle superintended their education, with the determination that it should be a thorough one. William did not intend studying a profession; his father's will allowed him to decide between this, or assuming, at an early age, the care of his large estate, with suitable advisers.
Ellen made excellent progress in all her studies. Her aunt was anxious she should learn music, and wished her to go to Richmond or to Alexandria for that purpose, but Ellen begged off; she thought of the old piano and its cracked keys, and desired not to be separated from her brother, professing her dislike to any music, but her old nurse's Methodist hymns.
William was tall and athletic for his age, passionate when roused by harshness or injustice, but otherwise affectionate in his disposition, idolizing his sister. His uncle looked at him with surprise when he saw him assume the independence of manner, which sat well upon him; and his aunt sometimes checked herself, when about to reprove him for the omission of some unimportant form of politeness, which in her days of youth was essential. Ellen dwelt with delight upon the approaching time, when she would be mistress of her brother's establishment, and as important as she longed to be, on that account. Though she looked upon her uncle's house as a large cage, in which she had long fluttered a prisoner, she could not but feel an affection for it; her aunt and uncle often formal, and uselessly particular, were always substantially kind. It was a good, though not a cheerful home, and the young look for joy and gaiety, as do the flowers for birds and sunshine. Ellen was to be a ward of her uncle's until she was of age, but was to be permitted to reside with her brother, if she wished, from the time he assumed the management of his estate.
The young people laid many plans for housekeeping. William had not any love affair in progress, and as yet his sister's image was stamped on all his projects for the future.
Two years before Ellen came to Exeter, William stood under his sister's window, asking her what he should bring her from C——, the neighboring town. "Don't you want some needles," he said, "or a waist ribbon, or some candy? make haste, Ellen; if I don't hurry, I can't come home to-night."
"I don't want any thing, Willie; but will you be sure to return to-night? I never sleep well when you are away. Aunt and I are going on Tuesday to C——; wait and we will stay all night then."
"Oh, no," said William, "I must go; but you may depend upon my being back: I always keep my promises. So good-by."
Ellen leaned from the window, watching her handsome brother as he rode down the avenue leading into the road He turned in his saddle, and bowed to her, just before he passed from her sight.
"Oh, mammy," she said to her attendant, for she had always thus affectionately addressed her; "did you ever see any one as handsome as Willie?"
"Yes, child," she replied, "his father was, before him. You both look like your father; but Master Willie favors him more than you do. Shut down the window, Miss Ellen, don't you feel the wind? A strong March wind aint good for nobody. Its bright enough overhead to-day, but the ground is mighty damp and chilly. There, you're sneezin; didn't I tell you so?"
Late in the same day Ellen was seated at the window, watching her brother's return; gaily watching, until the shadows of evening were resting on his favorite rocks. Then she watched anxiously until the rocks could no longer be seen; but never did he come again, though hope and expectation lingered about her heart until despair rested there in their place.
William was starting on horseback, after an early dinner at the tavern in C——. As he put his foot in the stirrups, an old farmer, who had just driven his large covered wagon to the door, called to him.
"You going home, Mr. William?" said he.
"Yes, I am; but why do you ask me?"
"Why, how are you going to cross Willow's Creek?" asked the old man.
"On the bridge," said William, laughing; "did you think I was going to jump my horse across?"
"No, but you can't cross the bridge," said the farmer, "for the bridge is broken down."
"Why, I crossed it early this morning," said William.
"So did I," said the farmer, "and, thank God, I and my team did not go down with it. But there's been a mighty freshet above, and Willow's Creek is something like my wife—she's an angel when she aint disturbed, but she's the devil himself when any thing puts her out. Now, you take my advice, and stay here to-night, or at any rate don't get yourself into danger."
"I must go home to-night," said William; "I have promised my sister to do so. I can ford the creek;" and he prepared again to start.
"Stop, young man," said the farmer, solemnly, "you mind the old saying, 'Young people think old people fools, but old people know young people are fools.' I warn you not to try and ford that creek to-night; you might as well put your head in a lion's mouth. Havn't I been crossing it these fifty years? and aint I up to all its freaks and ways? Sometimes it is as quiet as a wearied baby, but now it is foaming and lashing, as a tiger after prey. You'd better disappoint Miss Ellen for one night, than to bring a whole lifetime of trouble upon her. Don't be foolhardy, now; your horse can't carry you safely over Willow's Creek this night."
"Never fear, farmer," said William. "I can take care of myself."
"May the Lord take care of you," said the farmer, as he followed the youth, dashing through the town on his spirited horse. "If it were not for this wagon-load, and there are so many to be clothed and fed at home, I would follow you, but I can't do it."
William rode rapidly homeward. The noonday being long passed, the skies were clouding over, and harsh spring winds were playing through the woods.
William enjoyed such rides. Healthy, and fearing nothing, he was a stranger to a feeling of loneliness. Alternately singing an old air, and then whistling with notes as clear and musical as a flute, he at last came in sight of the creek which had been so tranquil when he crossed it in the morning. There was an old house near, where lived the people who received the toll. A man and his wife, with a large family of children, poor people's inheritance, had long made this place their home, and they were acquainted with all the persons who were in the habit of traveling this way.
William, whom they saw almost daily, was a great favorite with the children. Not only did he pay his toll, but many a penny and sixpence to the small folks besides, and he was accustomed to receive a welcome.
Now the house was shut up. It had rained frequently and heavily during the month, and the bright morning, which had tempted the children out to play, was gone, and they had gathered in the old house to amuse themselves as they could.
The bridge had been partly carried away by the freshet. Some of the beams were still swinging and swaying themselves with restless motion. The creek was swollen to a torrent. The waters dashed against its sides, in their haste to go their way. The wind, too, howled mournfully, and the old trees bent to and fro, nodding their stately heads, and rustling their branches against each other.
"Oh, Mr. William, is it you?" said the woman, opening the door. "Get off your horse, and come in and rest; you can't go home to-night."
"Yes, I can though," said William, "I have often forded the creek, and though I never saw it as it is now, yet I can get safely over it, I am sure."
"Don't talk of such things, for the Lord's sake," said Mrs. Jones. "Why, my husband could not ford the creek now, and you're a mere boy."
"No matter for that," said William. "I promised my sister to be at home to-night, and I must keep my word. See how narrow the creek is here! Good-by, I cannot wait any longer, it is getting dark."
"Don't, try it, please don't, Mr. William," again said Mrs. Jones. All the children joined her, some entreating William, others crying out at the danger into which their favorite was rushing.
"Why, you cowards," cried William, "you make more noise than the creek itself. Here's something for gingerbread." None of the children offered to pick up the money which fell among them, but looked anxiously after William, to see what he was going to do.
"Mr. William," said Mrs. Jones, "come back; look at the water a roaring and tossing, and your horse is restless already with the noise. Don't throw your life away; think of your sister."
"I'm thinking of her, good Mrs. Jones. Never fear for me," said he, looking back at her with a smile, at the same time urging his horse toward the edge of the creek, where there was a gradual descent from the hill.
As Mrs. Jones had said, the horse had already become restless, he was impatiently moving his head, prancing and striking his hoofs against the hard ground. William restrained him, as he too quickly descended the path, and it may be the young man then hesitated, as he endeavored to check him, but it was too late. The very check rendered him more impatient; springing aside from the path he dashed himself from rock to rock. William saw his danger, and with a steady hand endeavored to control the frightened animal. This unequal contest was soon decided. The nearer the horse came to the water the more he was alarmed,—at last he sprang from the rock, and he and his rider disappeared.
"Oh, my God!" said Mrs. Jones, "he is gone. The poor boy; and there is no one to help him." She at first hid her eyes from the appalling scene, and then approached the creek and screamed as she saw the horse struggling and plunging, while William manfully tried to control him. Oh! how beat her heart, as with uplifted hands, and stayed breath, she watched for the issue—it is over now.
"Hush! hush! children," said their mother, pale as death, whose triumph she had just witnessed. "Oh! if your father had been here to have saved him—but who could have saved him? None but thou, Almighty God!" and she kneeled to pray for, she knew not what.
"Too late, too late!" yet she knelt and alternately prayed and wept.
Again she gazed into the noisy waters—but there was nothing there, and then calling her frightened and weeping children into the house, she determined to set forth alone, for assistance—for what?
* * * * *
Oh! how long was that night to Ellen, though she believed her brother remained at C——. She did not sleep till late, and sad the awakening. Voices in anxious whispers fell upon her ear; pale faces and weeping eyes, were everywhere around her—within, confusion; and useless effort without. Her uncle wept as for an only son; her aunt then felt how tenderly she had loved him, who was gone forever. The farmer, who had warned him at the tavern-door, smote his breast when he heard his sad forebodings were realized. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, assembled for days about the banks of the creek, with the hopes of recovering the body, but the young rider and his horse were never seen again. Ah! Ellen was an orphan now—father, mother, and friend had he been to her, the lost one. Often did she lay her head on the kind breast of their old nurse, and pray for death.
As far as was in their power, her uncle and aunt soothed her in her grief. But the only real comfort at such a time, is that from Heaven, and Ellen knew not that. How could she have reposed had she felt the protection of the Everlasting Arms!
But time, though it does not always heal, must assuage the intensity of grief; the first year passed after William's death, and Ellen felt a wish for other scenes than those where she had been accustomed to see him. She had now little to which she could look forward.
Her chief amusement was in retiring to the library, and reading old romances, with which its upper shelves were filled; this, under other circumstances, her aunt would have forbidden, but it was a relief to see Ellen interested in any thing, and she appeared not to observe her thus employing herself.
So Ellen gradually returned to the old ways; she studied a little, and assisted her industrious aunt in her numerous occupations. As of old, her aunt saw her restlessness of disposition, and Ellen felt rebellious and irritable. With what an unexpected delight, then, did she receive from her aunt's hands, the letters from Mrs. Weston, inviting her to come at once to Exeter, and then to accompany them to Washington. She, without any difficulty, obtained the necessary permission, and joyfully wrote to Mrs. Weston, how gladly she would accept the kind invitation.
There was an ancient enmity between Jupiter and Bacchus. While the former was always quiet when Phillis came to see his mistress during her life, Bacchus never went near him without his displaying symptoms of the greatest irritation; his back was invariably raised, and his claws spread out ready for an attack on the slightest provocation. Phillis found it impossible to induce the cat to remain away from Aunt Peggy's house; he would stand on the door-step, and make the most appalling noises, fly into the windows, scratch against the panes, and if any children approached him to try and coax him away, he would fly at them, sending them off in a disabled condition. Phillis was obliged to go backward and forward putting him into the house and letting him out again. This was a good deal of trouble, and his savage mood continuing, the servants were unwilling to pass him, declaring he was a good deal worse than Aunt Peggy had ever been. Finally, a superstitious feeling got among them, that he was connected in some way with his dead mistress, and a thousand absurd stories were raised in consequence. Mr. Weston told Bacchus that he was so fierce that he might do some real mischief, so that he had better be caught and drowned. The catching was a matter of some moment, but Phillis seduced him into a bag by putting a piece of meat inside and then dexterously catching up the bag and drawing the string. It was impossible to hold him in, so Bacchus fastened the bag to the wheelbarrow, and after a good deal of difficulty, he got him down to the river under the bridge, and threw him in. He told Phillis when he got home, that he felt now for the first time as if Aunt Peggy was really dead, and they all might hope for a little comfort. Twenty-four hours after, however, just as the moon was rising, Bacchus was taken completely by surprise, for Jupiter passed him with his back raised, and proceeded to the door of his old residence, commencing immediately a most vociferous demand to be admitted.
Bacchus was speechless for some moments, but at last made out to call Phillis, who came to the door to see what was the trouble. "Look thar," said he, "you want to make me b'lieve that aint ole Aunt Peggy's wraith—ground can't hold her, water can't hold him—why I drowned him deep—how you 'spose he got out of that bag?"
Phillis could not help laughing. "Well, I never did see the like—the cat has scratched through the bag and swam ashore."
"I b'lieves you," said Bacchus, "and if you had throw'd him into the fire, he wouldn't a got burned; but I tell you, no cat's a gwine to get the better of me—I'll kill Jupiter, yet."
Phillis, not wanting the people aroused, got the key, and unlocked the door, Jupiter sprang in, and took up his old quarters on the hearth, where he was quiet for the night. In the morning she carried some bread and milk to him, and told Bacchus not to say any thing about his coming back to any one, and that after she came home from town, where she was going on business for Mrs. Weston, they would determine what they would do. But Bacchus secretly resolved to have the affair settled before Phillis should return, that the whole glory of having conquered an enemy should belong to him.
Phillis was going on a number of errands to L——, and she expected to be detained all day, for she understood shopping to perfection, and she went charged with all sorts of commissions; besides, she had to stop to see one or two sick old colored ladies of her acquaintance, and she told Mrs. Weston she might as well make a day of it. Thus it was quite evening when she got home—found every thing had been well attended to, children in bed, but Bacchus among the missing, though he had promised her he would not leave the premises until her return.
Now, if there is a severe trial on this earth, it is for a wife (of any color) who rarely leaves home,—to return after a day of business and pleasure, having spent all the money she could lay her hands on, having dined with one friend and taken a dish of tea and gossiped with another—to return, hoping to see every thing as she expected, and to experience the bitter disappointment of finding her husband gone out in spite of the most solemn asseverations to the contrary. Who could expect a woman to preserve her composure under such circumstances?
Poor Phillis! she was in such spirits as she came home. How pretty the flowers look! She thought, after all, if I am a slave, the Lord is mighty good to me. I have a comfortable home, and a good set of children, and my old man has done so much better of late—Phillis felt really happy; and when she went in, and delivered all her parcels to the ladies, and was congratulated on her success in getting precisely the desired articles, her heart was as light as a feather. She thought she would go and see how all went on at home, and then come back to the kitchen and drink a cup of good tea, for the family had just got through with theirs.
What a disappointment, then, to find any thing going wrong. It was not that Bacchus's society was so entirely necessary to her, but the idea of his having started on another spree. The fear of his being brought home sometime to her dead, came over her with unusual force, and she actually burst into tears. She had been so very happy a few minutes before, that she could not, with her usual calmness, make the best of every thing. She forgot all about the pleasant day she had passed; lost her wish for a cup of tea; and passing even her pipe by, with a full heart she took her seat to rest at the door. For some time every thing seemed to go wrong with her. All at once she found out how tired she was. Her limbs ached, and her arm hurt her, where she had carried the basket. She had a great many troubles. She had to work hard. She had more children than anybody else to bother her; and when she thought of Bacchus she felt very angry. He might as well kill himself drinking, at once, for he was nothing but a care and disgrace to her—had always been so, and most likely would be so until they were both under the ground.
But this state of mind could not last long. A little quiet, rest, and thought had a good effect. She soon began again to look at the bright side of things, and to be ashamed of her murmuring spirit. "Sure enough he has kept very sober of late, and I can't expect him to give it up entirely, all of a sudden. I must be patient, and go on praying for him." She thought with great pity of him, and her heart being thus subdued, her mind gradually turned to other things.
She looked at Aunt Peggy's house, and wondered if the old woman was better off in another world than she was in this; but she checked the forbidden speculation. And next she thought of Jupiter, and with this recollection came another remembrance of Bacchus and his antipathy both to the mistress and her cat. All at once she recalled Bacchus's determination to kill Jupiter, and the strange ferocity the animal evinced whenever Bacchus went near him; and she got up to take the key and survey the state of things at the deserted house. There was no key to be found; and concluding some one had been after Jupiter, she no longer delayed her intention of finding out what had occurred in that direction. She found the key in the door, but every thing was silent. With some caution she opened it, remembering Jupiter's last unexpected onset; when, looking round by the dim light, she perceived him seated opposite Aunt Peggy's big chest, evidently watching it. On hearing the door open, though, he got up and raised his back, on the defensive.
Phillis, having an indefinable feeling that Bacchus was somehow or other connected with the said elevation, looked carefully round the room, but saw nothing. Gradually the chest lid opened a little way, and a sepulchral voice, issuing from it, uttered in a low tone these words:
"Phillis, gal, is that you?"
The cat looked ready to spring, and the chest lid suddenly closed again. But while Phillis was recovering herself the lid was cautiously opened, and Bacchus's eyes glaring through the aperture. The words were repeated.
"Why, what on earth?" said the astonished woman: "Surely, is that you, Bacchus?"
"It is, surely," said Bacchus; "but put that devil of a tiger out of de room, if you don't want me to die dis minute."
Phillis's presence always had an imposing effect upon Jupiter; and as she opened the door to the other room, and called him in, he followed her without any hesitation.
She shut him in, and then hurried back to lift up the chest lid, to release her better half.
"Why, how," said she, as Bacchus, in a most cramped condition endeavored to raise himself, "did the lid fall on you?"
"No," groaned Bacchus. "Are you sure de middle door's shut. Let me git out o' dis place quick as possible, for since ole Peggy left, de ole boy hisself has taken up his abode here. 'Pears as if I never should git straight agin."
"Why, look at your face, Bacchus," said his wife. "Did Jupiter scratch you up that way."
"Didn't he though? Wait till I gits out of reach of his claws, and I'll tell you about it;" and they both went out, Phillis locking the door to keep Jupiter quiet, that night at least. After having washed the blood off his face and hands, and surveyed himself with a dismal countenance in the looking-glass, Bacchus proceeded to give an account of his adventure.
After dinner he thought he would secure Jupiter, and have him effectually done for before Phillis came back. He mustered up all his courage, and unlocking the house, determined to catch and tie him, then decide on a mode of death that would be effectual. He had heard some officer from Mexico describe the use of the lasso, and it occurred to him to entrap Jupiter in this scientific manner. But Jupiter was an old bird; he was not to be caught with chaff. Bacchus's lasso failed altogether, and very soon the cat became so enraged that Bacchus was obliged to take a three-legged stool, and act on the defensive. He held the stool before his face, and when Jupiter made a spring at him, he dodged against him with it. Two or three blows excited Jupiter's anger to frenzy, and after several efforts he succeeded in clawing Bacchus's face in the most dreadful manner, so that it was with the greatest difficulty he could clear himself. Desperate with pain and fright, he looked for some way of escape. The door was shut, and Jupiter, who seemed to be preparing for another attack, was between him and it. He had but one resource, and that was to spring into Aunt Peggy's great chest, and close the lid to protect himself from another assault.
Occasionally, when nearly suffocated, he would raise the lid to breathe, but Jupiter immediately flew at him in such a furious manner, that he saw it would be at the risk of his life to attempt to escape, and he was obliged to bide his time. What his meditations were upon while in the chest, would be hard to decide; but when once more protected by the shadow of his own roof, he vowed Jupiter should die, and be cut in pieces before he was done with him.
Phillis went to Miss Janet, and gave her an account of the whole affair, with Bacchus's permission, and the kind old lady came to him with some healing ointment of her own manufacture, and anointed his wounds.
William was sent for; and the result of the discussion was, that he and his father should, early next morning, shoot the much dreaded cat effectually.
This resolution was carried into effect in the following manner. Phillis went a little in advance with a large bowl of bread and milk, and enticed Jupiter to the hearth. As he was very hungry, he did not perceive William entering with a very long gun in his hand, nor even Bacchus, his ancient enemy, with a piece of sticking-plaster down his nose and across his forehead.
William was quite a sportsman. He went through all the necessary formalities. Bacchus gave the word of command in a low voice: Make ready, take aim, fire—bang, and William discharged a shower of shot into Jupiter's back and sides. He gave one spring, and all was over, Bacchus looking on with intense delight.
As in the case of Aunt Peggy, now that his enemy was no more, Bacchus became very magnanimous. He said Jupiter had been a faithful old animal, though mighty queer sometimes, and he believed the death of Aunt Peggy had set him crazy, therefore he forgave him for the condition in which he had put his face, and should lay him by his mistress at the burial-ground. Lydia begged an old candle-box of Miss Janet, for a coffin, and assisted her father in the other funeral arrangements. With a secret satisfaction and a solemn air, Bacchus carried off the box, followed by a number of black children, that Lydia had invited to the funeral. They watched Bacchus with great attention while he completed his work, and the whole party returned under the impression that Aunt Peggy and Jupiter were perfectly satisfied with the morning's transactions.
The time had come to leave home, and the Westons had but one more evening. Neither Mr. Weston nor Alice were well, and all hoped the change would benefit them. They were to travel in their own carriage, and the preparations were completed. The three ladies' maids were to go by the stage. Miss Janet had a number of things stowed away in the carriage, which she thought might be useful, not forgetting materials for a lunch, and a little of her own home-made lavender, in case of a headache. The pleasure of going was very much lessened by the necessity of leaving the dear old lady, who would not listen to their entreaties to accompany them. "You, with your smooth cheeks and bright eyes, may well think of passing a winter in Washington; but what should I do there? Why, the people would say I had lost my senses. No, we three ladies will have a nice quiet time at Exeter, and I can go on with my quilting and patchwork. You see, Miss Alice, that you come back with red cheeks. The birds and the flowers will be glad to see you again when the spring comes."
"Ring the bell, Alice," said Mr. Weston. "I must know how Mr. Mason's little boy is. I sent Mark shortly after dinner; but here he is. Well, Mark, I hope the little fellow is getting well?"
"He is receased, sir," said Mark, solemnly.
"He is what?" said Mr. Weston. "Oh! ah! he is dead—I understand you. Well, I am truly sorry for it. When did he die?"
"Early this morning, sir," said Mark. "Have you any more orders to give, sir? for as I am to be up mighty early in the morning, I was thinking of going to bed when you are done with me."
"Nothing more," said Mr. Weston; and Mark retired.
"Mark," continued Mr. Weston, "has the greatest propensity for using hard words. His receased means deceased. He was excessively angry with Bacchus the other day for interfering with him about the horses. 'Nobody,' said he, 'can stand that old fellow's airs. He's got so full of tomposity, that he makes himself disagreeable to everybody.' By tomposity, I suppose you all know he meant pomposity. Bacchus is elated at the idea of going with us. I hope I shall not have any trouble with him."
"Oh! no, uncle," said Alice; "he is a good old fellow, and looks so aristocratic with his gray hair and elegant bows. Ellen and I will have to take him as a beau when you are out. Aunt Phillis says, that he has promised her not to drink a drop of any thing but water, and she seems to think that he has been so sober lately that he will keep his word."
"It is very doubtful," said Mr. Weston; "but the fact is he would be troublesome with his airs and his tomposity were I to leave him; so I have no choice."
"Dear Alice," said Ellen, fixing her large dark eyes on her; "how can I ever be grateful enough to you?"
"For what?" asked Alice.
"For getting sick, and requiring change of air, which is the first cause of my being here on my way to the great metropolis. Whoever likes a plantation life is welcome to it; but I am heartily sick of it. Indeed, Miss Janet, good as you are, you could not stand it at uncle's. Ten miles from a neighbor—just consider it! Uncle disapproves of campmeetings and barbecues; and aunt is sewing from morning till night; while I am required to read the Spectator aloud. I have a mortal grudge against Addison."
"But, my dear," said Miss Janet, "you must remember you are to return to your uncle's, and you must not learn to love the great world too much."
"Perhaps," said Mr. Barbour, who was much depressed at the approaching parting, "Miss Ellen may not mean to return to her uncle's. A young lady with good looks, and a heavy purse, will be found out in Washington. She will just suit a great many there—clerks with small salaries, army and navy men with expensive habits; and foreign attaches, who, being nothing in their own country, turn our young ladies' heads when they come here."
"So you think I am destined for no other fate than to pay a fortune-hunter's debts. Thank you, Mr. Barbour!"
"The fact is, Mr. Barbour wants you himself, Ellen, and he is afraid somebody will carry you off. He will pay us a visit this winter, I expect," said Mrs. Weston.
"Well," said Ellen laughingly, "I'd rather take up with him than to go back to my old life, now that I see you are all so happy here."
"But your aunt and uncle," said Miss Janet, "you must not feel unkindly toward them."
"No, indeed," said Ellen, "they are both good and kind in their way, but uncle is reserved, and often low-spirited. Aunt is always talking of the necessity of self-control, and the discipline of life. She is an accomplished teaze. Why, do you know," continued Ellen, laughingly, as she removed Miss Janet's hand from her mouth, the old lady thus playfully endeavoring to check her, "after I had accepted Mrs. Weston's kind invitation, and mammy and I were busy packing, aunt said I must not be too sanguine, disappointments were good for young people, and that something might occur which would prevent my going. I believe I should have died outright, if it had turned out so."
"And so," said Mr. Barbour, "to get rid of a dull home, you are determined to fly in the face of fate, and are going to Washington after a husband. Ah! Miss Ellen, beware of these young men that have nothing but their whiskers and their epaulettes. Let me tell you of a young friend of mine, who would marry the man of her choice, in spite of the interference of her friends, and one April morning in the honey moon they were seen breakfasting under a persimmon tree. However, as you are a young lady of fortune, you will always be sure of coffee and hot rolls; your good father has made such a sensible will, that the principal never can be touched. How many fine fortunes would have been saved, if Southerners had taken such precautions long ago. You will have a fine time young ladies, you must keep an account of your conquests, and tell me of them when you come back."
"Its only Ellen who is going in search of love adventures, Mr. Barbour," said Alice.
"Make yourself easy, Mr. Barbour," said Ellen. "I mean to have a delightful time flirting, then come back to marry you, and settle down. Mammy says I can't help getting good, if I live near Miss Janet."
"Well, I will wait for you," said Mr. Barbour. "And now Alice, sing me a sweet old Scotch song. Sing, ''Twas within half a mile of Edinburgh town'."
"I can't come quite so near it as that," said Alice, "but I will sing ''Twas within a mile.'" She sang that, and then "Down the burn Davie." Then Miss Janet proposed 'Auld lang syne,' in which they all joined; in singing the chorus, Mr. Barbour, as usual, got very much excited, and Alice a little tired, so that the music ceased and Alice took her seat by her uncle on the sofa.
"Miss Janet," said Mr. Barbour, "you look better than I have seen you for a long time."
"Thank you," said Miss Janet. "Mr. Washington asked me the other day if I were ever going to die. I suppose, like Charles II., I ought to apologize for being so long in dying; but I am so comfortable and happy with my friends, that I do not think enough of the journey I soon must take to another world. How many comforts I have, and how many kind friends! I feel now that we are about to be separated, that I should thank you all for your goodness to me, lest in the Providence of God we should not meet again. Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, my poor thanks are most gratefully offered."
"Oh! Cousin Janet," said Alice, with her eyes full of tears, "why will you not go with us; your talking so makes me dread to part with you."
"My darling, we must all try to get to Heaven, where there are no partings. I cannot be a great while with you; remember, I am eighty-five years old. But I will not grieve you. We will, I trust, all meet here in the spring. God is here, and He is in the great city; we are all safe beneath His care. Next summer He will bring Arthur home again."
"Partings should be as short as possible," said Mr. Barbour. "So I mean to shake hands with everybody, and be off. Young ladies, be generous; do not carry havoc and desolation in your train; take care of your uncle, and come back again as soon as possible."
He then took a friendly leave of Mr. and Mrs. Weston, and mounted his horse to return home.
"What a nice old beau Mr. Barbour would make," said Ellen, "with his fine teeth and clear complexion. I wonder he never married."
"Upon my word!" said Miss Janet, "you will be wondering next, why I never married. But know, Miss Ellen, that Mr. Barbour once had a romantic love-affair—he was to have been married to a lovely girl, but death envied him his bride, and took her off—and he has remained true to her memory. It was a long time before he recovered his cheerfulness. For two years he was the inmate of an asylum."
"Poor old gentleman," said Ellen. "I do believe other people besides me have trouble."
"Ah! when you look around you, even in the world, which you anticipate with so much pleasure, you will see many a smiling face that tries to hide a sad and aching heart; a heart that has ached more painfully than yours."
"No," said Ellen, looking up from the ottoman at Miss Janet's feet, where she was seated; and then bursting into tears. "Oh! thoughtless and frivolous as I am, I shall never forget him. If you knew how I have wept and suffered, you would not wonder I longed for any change that would make me forget."
"Dear child," said Miss Janet, laying her hand on that young head, "I did not mean to reprove you. When God brings sorrow on the young, they must bear it with resignation to his will. He delights in the happiness of his creatures, and it is not against his will that the young should enjoy the innocent pleasures of life. Then go you and Alice into the world, but be not of the world, and come back to your homes strengthened to love them more. Cousin Weston has the Bible opened, waiting for us."
* * * * *
In the mean time, Bacchus has received a good deal of wholesome advice from Phillis, while she was packing his trunk, and in return, he has made her many promises. He expresses the greatest sorrow at leaving her, declaring that nothing but the necessity of looking after his master induces him to do so, but he is secretly anticipating a successful and eventful campaign in Washington. All the servants are distressed at the prospect of the family being away for so long a time; even old Wolf, the house-dog, has repeatedly rubbed his cold nose against Alice's hand, and looked with the most doleful expression into her beautiful face; but dogs, like their masters, must submit to what is decreed, and Wolf, after prayers, went off peaceably with William to be tied up, lest he should attempt, as usual, to follow the carriage in the morning.
You are very much mistaken in your estimate of the character of a Virginian, if you suppose he allows himself, or his horses, to be driven post-haste, when there is no urgent necessity for it. It is altogether different with a Yankee; there is no enjoyment for him from the time he starts on a journey until he reaches the end of it. He is bound to be in a hurry, for how knows he but there may be a bargain depending, and he may reach his destination in time to whittle successfully for it.
The Westons actually lingered by the way. There were last looks to be taken of home, and its neighborhood; there were partings to be given to many objects in nature, dear from association, as ancient friends. Now, the long line of blue hills stands in bold relief against the hazy sky—now, the hills fade away and are hid by thick masses of oak and evergreen. Here, the Potomac spreads her breast, a mirror to the heavens, toward its low banks, the broken clouds bending tranquilly to its surface. There, the river turns, and its high and broken shores are covered with rich and twining shrubbery, its branches bending from the high rocks into the water, while the misty hue of Indian summer deepens every tint.
Fair Alice raises her languid head, already invigorated by the delightful air and prospect. The slightest glow perceptible is making its way to her pale cheek, while the gay and talkative Ellen gazes awhile at the scenery around her, then leans back in the carriage, closes her brilliant eyes, and yields, oh! rare occurrence, to meditation.
Two days are passed in the journey, and our party, arrived safely at Willard's, found their comfortable apartments prepared for them, and their servants as glad of their arrival as if they had been separated a year, instead of a day.
And now, dear reader, I do not intend discussing Washington society. It must be a more skilful pen than mine that can throw a sun of light upon this chaos of fashionable life, and bring forth order and arrangement. We are only here for relaxation and change of air, and when our invalids feel their good effects, we must return with them to their quiet, but not unuseful life.
There were many preparations to be made, for our young ladies proposed to enter into the gayeties of the season. Ellen was to throw off her mourning, and her old nurse begged her and Alice "to buy a plenty of nice new clothes, for they might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion." They both agreed with her, for they were determined to be neither unnoticed nor unknown among the fair ones of the Union who were congregated at the capital.
Do not be astonished; there is already a tinge of red beneath the brown lashes on Alice's cheek. And as for her heart, oh! that was a great deal better, too; for it has been found by actual experiment, that diseases of the heart, if treated with care, are not fatal any more than any other complaints. Mrs. Weston grew happier every day; and as to Alice's uncle, he hardly ever took his eyes off her, declaring that there must be something marvellously strengthening in the atmosphere of our much abused city; while Alice, hearing that Walter Lee was mixing in all the gayeties of Richmond, already began to question her attachment to him, and thinking of Arthur's long-continued and devoted affection, trembled lest she should have cast away the love of his generous heart.
Mr. Weston often felt the time hang heavily upon him, though he saw many valued friends. He would not have exchanged the life of a country gentleman for all the honors that politics could offer to her favorite votary; and for the ordinary amusements which charmed Alice and Ellen, even in advance, the time had come for him to say, "I have no pleasure in them." But thinking of Alice's health only, and, above all, anxious that her marriage with his son should be consummated during his lifetime, no sacrifice appeared to him too great to make.
The weather was still delightful, and as the soirees, assemblies, and matinees had not yet commenced, a party was formed to go to Mount Vernon. The day fixed upon was a brilliant one, in the latter part of November. A number of very agreeable persons boarding in the hotel were to accompany them. Bacchus was exceedingly well pleased at the prospect. "'Deed, Miss Alice," he said, "I is anxious to see de old gentleman's grave; he was a fine rider; the only man as ever I seed could beat master in de saddle." Mark objected to his carriage and horses being used over such rough roads, so a large omnibus was engaged to carry the whole party, Mark and Bacchus going as outriders, and a man in a little sort of a carry-all having charge of all the eatables, dishes, plates, &c., which would be required. The company were in good spirits, but they found traveling in the State of Virginia was not moving over beds of roses. Where are such roads to be found? Except in crossing a corduroy road in the West, where can one hope to be so thoroughly shaken up? I answer, nowhere! And have I not a right to insist, for my native State, upon all that truth will permit? Am I not a daughter of the Old Dominion, a member of one of the F.F.V's? Did not my grandfather ride races with General Washington? Did not my father wear crape on his hat at his funeral? Let that man or woman inclined to deny me this privilege, go, as I have, in a four-horse omnibus to Mount Vernon. Let him rock and twist over gullies and mud-holes; let him be tumbled and jostled about as I was, and I grant you he will give up the point.
Our party jogged along. At last the old gates were in sight, and the ragged little negroes stood ready to open them. Here we should begin to be patriotic, but do not fear being troubled with a dissertation on this worn-out subject. I will not even observe that by the very gate that was opened for the Westons did the Father of his country enter; for it would be a reflection on the memory of that great and good man to suppose that he would have put his horse to the useless trouble of jumping the fence, when there was such a natural and easy way of accomplishing his entrance. Ellen, however, declared "that she firmly believed those remarkable-looking children that opened the gates, were the same that opened them for Washington; at any rate, their clothes were cut after the same pattern, if they were not the identical suits themselves."
There was a gentleman from the North on the premises when they arrived. He joined the party, introduced himself, and gave information that he was taking, in plaster, the house, the tomb, and other objects of interest about the place, for the purpose of exhibiting them. He made himself both useful and agreeable, as he knew it was the best way of getting along without trouble, and he was very talkative and goodnatured. But some, as they approached the grave, observed that Mr. Weston, and one or two others, seemed to wish a certain quietness of deportment to evince respect for the hallowed spot, and the jest and noisy laugh were suddenly subdued. Had it been a magnificent building, whose proportions they were to admire and discuss; had a gate of fair marble stood open to admit the visitor; had even the flag of his country waved where he slept, they could not have felt so solemnized—but to stand before this simple building, that shelters his sarcophagus from the elements; to lean upon unadorned iron gates, which guarded the sacred spot from intrusion; to look up and count the little birds' nests in the plastered roof, and the numberless hornets that have made their homes there too; to pluck the tendrils of the wild grapes that cluster here—this simple grandeur affected each one. He was again in life before them, steadily pursuing the great work for which he was sent, and now, reposing from his labor.
And then they passed on to the old, empty grave. It was decaying away, yawning with its open mouth as if asking for its honored tenement. Ellen gazed down and sprang in, and ere the others could recover from their astonishment, or come forward to offer her assistance, she looked up in her beauty from the dark spot where she was standing.
"Let me get out alone," said she; "I have such a prize;" and she held in her hand a bird's nest, with its three little white eggs deposited therein.
"Oh! Ellen," said Mrs. Weston, robbing a bird's nest. "Put it back, my dear."
"No, indeed, Mrs. Weston, do not ask me. Think of my finding it in Washington's grave. I mean to have it put on an alabaster stand, and a glass case over it, and consider it the most sacred gem I possess. There, Uncle Bacchus, keep it for me, and don't crush the eggs."
"I won't break 'em, Miss Ellen," said Bacchus, whose thoughts were apt to run on "sperrits." "I thought for certain you had see'd de old gentleman's ghost, and he had called you down in dat dark hole. But thar aint no danger of his comin back agin, I reckon. 'Pears as if it hadn't been long since I followed him to dis very grave."
"What!" said the Northern gentleman, "were niggers allowed to attend Washington's funeral?"
"Colored people was, sir," said Bacchus, in a dignified manner. "We aint much used to being called niggers, sir. We calls ourselves so sometimes, but gentlemen and ladies, sir, mostly calls us colored people, or servants. General Washington hisself, sir, always treated his servants with politeness. I was very well acquainted with them, and know'd all about the general's ways from them."
Mr. Weston could not but smile at the reproof Bacchus had given. He turned and apologized to the gentleman for his servant's talkativeness, saying he was an old and much indulged servant.
They turned away from that empty grave. The young girls round whom so many affections clustered; the fond and anxious mother; the aged and affectionate relative; the faithful and valued servant—turned away from that empty grave. When will stay the tumultuous beatings of their hearts? When will they sleep in the shadow of the old church? Each heart asked itself, When?
Ere they left this hallowed spot, Mr. Weston addressed a gentleman who lingered with him. This gentleman was an Abolitionist, but he acknowledged to Mr. Weston that he had found a different state of things at the South from what he expected.
"Sir," said he to Mr. Weston, "there is a melancholy fascination in this hollow, deserted grave. It seems to be typical of the condition in which our country would be, should the spirit that animated Washington no longer be among us."
Mr. Weston smiled as he answered, "Perhaps it is good for you to be here, to stand by the grave of a slaveholder, and ask yourself 'Would I dare here utter the calumnies that are constantly repeated by the fanatics of my party?' On this spot, sir, the Abolitionist should commune with his own heart, and be still. Well was it said by one of your own statesmen, 'My doctrines on the slavery question are those of my ancestors, modified by themselves, as they were in an act of Confederation. In this one respect they left society in the political condition in which they found it. A reform would have been fearful and calamitous. A political revolution with one class was morally impracticable. Consulting a wise humanity, they submitted to a condition in which Providence had placed them. They settled the question in the deep foundations of the Constitution.' Would you then, sir, destroy the fabric, by undermining the Constitution? Alas! this would be the consequence, were it possible to carry out the views of the Abolition party."
* * * * *
The beautiful words of Harrison G. Otis, delivered in Faneuil Hall, Boston, Aug. 22d, 1835, would have been appropriate here, too. Speaking of the formation of Anti-slavery Societies, he said, "Suppose an article had been proposed to the Congress that framed the instrument of Confederation, proposing that the Northern States should be at liberty to form Anti-slavery Associations, and deluge the South with homilies upon slavery, how would it have been received? The gentleman before me apostrophized the image of Washington. I will follow his example, and point to the portrait of his associate, Hancock, which is pendant by its side. Let us imagine an interview between them, in the company of friends, just after one had signed the commission for the other; and in ruminating on the lights and shadows of futurity, Hancock should have said, 'I congratulate my country upon the choice she has made, and I foresee that the laurels you gained in the field of Braddock's defeat, will be twined with those which shall be earned by you in the war of Independence; yet such are the prejudices in my part of the Union against slavery, that although your name and services may screen you from opprobrium, during your life, your countrymen, when millions weep over your tomb, will be branded by mine as man-stealers and murderers; and the stain of it consequently annexed to your memory.'"
But, alas! the Abolitionist will not reflect. He lives in a whirlpool, whither he has been drawn by his own rashness. What to him is the love of country, or the memory of Washington? John Randolph said, "I should have been a French Atheist had not my mother made me kneel beside her as she folded my little hands, and taught me to say, 'Our Father.'" Remember this, mothers in America; and imprint upon the fair tablet of your young child's heart, a reverence for the early institutions of their country, and for the patriots who moulded them, that "God and my country" may be the motto of their lives.
"Alice," said Mrs. Weston, as they sat together one morning, before it was time to dress for dinner, "if you choose, I will read to you the last part of Cousin Janet's letter. You know, my daughter, of Walter's gay course in Richmond, and it is as I always feared. There is a tendency to recklessness and dissipation in Walter's disposition. With what a spirit of deep thankfulness you should review the last few months of your life! I have sometimes feared I was unjust to Walter. My regret at the attachment for him which you felt at one time, became a personal dislike, which I acknowledge, I was wrong to yield to; but I think we both acted naturally, circumstanced as we were. Dear as you are to me, I would rather see you dead than the victim of an unhappy marriage. Love is not blind, as many say. I believe the stronger one's love is, the more palpable the errors of its object. It was so with me, and it would be so with you. That you have conquered this attachment is the crowning blessing of my life, even should you choose never to consummate your engagement with Arthur. I will, at least, thank God that you are not the wife of a man whose violent passions, even as a child, could not be controlled, and who is destitute of a spark of religious principle. I will now read you what Cousin Janet says.
"'I have received a long letter from Mr. C., the Episcopal clergyman in Richmond, in answer to mine, inquiring of Walter. All that I feared is true. Walter is not only gay, but dissipated. Mr. C. says he has called to see him repeatedly, and invited him to his house, and has done all that he could to interest him in those pleasures that are innocent and ennobling; but, alas! it is difficult to lay aside the wine cup, when its intoxicating touch is familiar to the lips, and so of the other forbidden pleasures of life. To one of Walter's temperament there is two-fold danger. Walter is gambling, too, and bets high; he will, of course, be a prey to the more experienced ones, who will take advantage of his youth and generosity to rob him. For, is a professed gambler better than a common thief?
"'It is needless for me to say, I have shed many tears over this letter. Tears are for the living, and I expect to shed them while I wear this garment of mortality. Can it be that in this case the wise Creator will visit the sins of the father upon the child? Are are all my tears and prayers to fail? I cannot think so, while He reigns in heaven in the same body with which He suffered on earth. In the very hand that holds the sceptre is the print of the nails; under the royal crown that encircles His brow, can still be traced the marks of the thorns. He is surely, then, touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and He will in the end, bring home this child of my love and my adoption. I often say to myself, could I see Alice and Arthur and Walter happy, how happy should I be! I would be more than willing to depart; but there would be still a care for something in this worn-out and withered frame. It will be far better to be with Jesus, but He will keep me here as long as He has any thing for me to do. The dear girls! I am glad they are enjoying themselves, but I long to see them again. I hope they will not be carried away by the gay life they are leading. I shall be glad when they are at their home duties again.
"'It will be well with Arthur and Alice; you know old maids are always the best informed on other people's love affairs. When Arthur left home Alice felt only a sisterly affection for him; when Walter went away it was really no more for him either, but her kind heart grieved when she saw him so situated: and sympathy, you know, is akin to love. She must remember now the importance that attaches itself to an engagement of marriage, and not give Arthur any more rivals. She was off her guard before, as her feeling an affection for Arthur was considered rather too much a matter of course; but she cannot fail at some future day to return his devoted affection. In the mean time, the young people are both, I trust, doing well. Arthur, so long in another section of his own dear country, will be less apt to be unduly prejudiced in favor of his own; and Alice will only mingle in the gay world enough to see the vanity of its enjoyments. She will thus be prepared to perform with fidelity the duties that belong to her position as the wife of a country gentleman. No wonder that my spectacles are dim and my old eyes aching after this long letter. Love to dear Cousin Weston, to the girls, to yourself, and all the servants.
"'From COUSIN JANET.'
"'Phillis says she has not enough to do to keep her employed. She has not been well this winter; her old cough has returned, and she is thinner than I ever saw her. Dr. L. has been to see her several times, and he is anxious for her to take care of herself. She bids me say to Bacchus that if he have broken his promise, she hopes he will be endowed with strength from above to keep it better in future. How much can we all learn from good Phillis!'"
Alice made no observation as her mother folded the letter and laid it on her dressing table; but there lay not now on the altar of her heart a spark of affection for one, who for a time, she believed to be so passionately beloved. The fire of that love had indeed gone out, but there had lingered among its embers the form and color of its coals—these might have been rekindled, but that was past forever. The rude but kind candor that conveyed to her the knowledge of Walter's unworthiness had dissolved its very shape; the image was displaced from its shrine. Walter was indeed still beloved, but it was the affection of a pure sister for an erring brother; it was only to one to whom her soul in its confiding trust and virtue could look up, that she might accord that trusting devotion and reverence a woman feels for the chosen companion of her life.
And this, I hear you say, my reader, is the awakening of a love dream so powerful as to undermine the health of the sleeper—so dark as to cast a terror and a gloom upon many who loved her; it is even so in life, and would you have it otherwise? Do you commend that morbid affection which clings to its object not only through sorrow, but sin? through sorrow—but not in sin. Nor is it possible for a pure-minded woman to love unworthily and continue pure.
This Alice felt, and she came forth from her struggle stronger and more holy; prizing above all earthly things the friends who had thus cleared for her her pathway, and turning with a sister's love, which was all indeed she had ever known, to that one who, far away, would yet win with his unchanging affection her heart to his own.
Walter Lee's case was an illustration of the fact that many young men are led into dissipation simply from the want of proper occupation. There was in him no love of vice for itself; but disappointed in securing Alice's consent to his addresses, and feeling self-condemned in the effort to win her affections from Arthur, he sought forgetfulness in dissipation and excitement. He fancied he would find happiness in the ball-room, the theatre, the midnight revel, and at the gambling table. Have you not met in the changing society of a large city, one whose refined and gentle manners told of the society of a mother, a sister, or of some female friend whose memory, like an angel's wing, was still hovering around him? Have you not pitied him when you reflected that he was alone, far away from such good influences? Have you not longed to say to him, I wish I could be to you what she has been, and warn you of the rocks and quicksands against which you may be shipwrecked.
There were many who felt thus towards Walter; his strikingly handsome face and figure, his grace and intelligence, with a slight reserve that gave a charm to his manner. To few was his history familiar; the world knew of his name, and to the world he was an object of importance, for gold stamps its owner with a letter of credit through life.
Walter launched into every extravagance that presented itself. He was flattered, and invited to balls and parties; smiles met him at every step, and the allurements of the world dazzled him, as they had many a previous victim. Sometimes, the thought of Alice in her purity and truth passed like a sunbeam over his heart; but its light was soon gone. She was not for him; and why should he not seek, as others had done, to drown all care? Then the thought of Cousin Janet, good and holy Cousin Janet, with her Bible in her hand, and its sacred precepts on her lips, would weigh like a mountain on his soul; but he had staked all for pleasure, and he could not lose the race.
It is not pleasant to go down, step after step, to the dark dungeon of vice. We will not follow Walter to the revel, nor the gaming-table. We will close our ears to the blasphemous oaths of his companions, to the imprecations on his own lips. The career of folly and of sin was destined to be closed; and rather would we draw a veil over its every scene. Step by step, he trod the path of sin, until at last, urged by worldly and false friends to a quarrel, commenced on the slightest grounds, he challenged one who had really never offended him; the challenge was accepted, and then—Walter Lee was a murderer! He gazed upon the youthful, noble countenance; he felt again and again the quiet pulse, weeping when he saw the useless efforts to bring back life.
He was a murderer, in the sight of God and man! for he had been taught that He who gave life, alone had the power to take it away. He knew that God would require of him his brother's blood. He knew, too, that though the false code of honor in society would acquit him, yet he would be branded, even as Cain. He could see the finger of scorn pointed towards him; he could hear men, good men, say, "There is Walter Lee, who killed a man in a duel!"
Ah! Cousin Janet, not in vain were your earnest teachings. Not in vain had you sung by his pillow, in boyhood, of Jesus, who loved all, even his enemies. Not in vain had you planted the good seed in the ground, and watered it. Not in vain are you now kneeling by your bedside, imploring God not to forsake forever the child of your prayers. Go to your rest in peace, for God will yet bring him home, after all his wanderings; for Walter Lee, far away, is waking and restless; oppressed with horror at his crime, flying from law and justice, flying from the terrors of a burdened conscience—he is a murderer!
Like Cain, he is a wanderer. He gazes into the depths of the dark sea he is crossing; but there is no answering abyss in his heart, where he can lose the memory of his deed. He cannot count the wretched nights of watching, and of thought. Time brings no relief, change no solace. When the soul in its flight to eternity turns away from God, how droop her wings! She has no star to guide her upward course; but she wanders through a strange land, where all is darkness and grief.
He traversed many a beautiful country; he witnessed scenes of grandeur; he stood before the works of genius and of art; he listened to music, sweet like angels' songs; but has he peace? Young reader, there is no peace without God. Now in this world, there is many a brow bending beneath the weight of its flowers. Could we trace the stories written on many hearts, how would they tell of sorrow! How many would say, in the crowded and noisy revel, "I have come here to forget; but memory will never die!"
Alice and Ellen, accompanied by Mrs. Weston, and some gentlemen from their section of the country, were to attend a private ball, expected to be one of the most brilliant of the season. Mr. Weston, not feeling well, retired early, preferring to listen to the young ladies' account of the evening, after his breakfast and newspaper the next morning. When they were ready to go, they came into Mr. Weston's parlor, to obtain his commendation on their taste. Mrs. Weston was there awaiting them; and her own appearance was too striking to be passed over without notice. She was still really a handsome woman, and her beauty was greatly enhanced by her excellent taste in dress. Her arms, still round and white, were not uncovered. The rich lace sleeves, and the scarf of the same material that was thrown over her handsome neck and shoulders, was far more becoming than if she had assumed the bare arms and neck which was appropriate to her daughter. Her thick dark hair was simply put back from her temples, as she always wore it, contrasting beautifully with the delicate white flowers there. Her brocade silk, fitting closely to her still graceful figure, and the magnificent diamond pin that she wore in her bosom; the perfect fitness of every part of her apparel gave a dignity and beauty to her appearance, that might have induced many a gay lady who mixes, winter after winter, in the amusements of our city, to go and do likewise. When youth is gone forever, it is better to glide gracefully into middle age; and if half the time and thought that is expended on the choice of gay colors and costly material, were passed in properly arranging what is suitable to age and appearance, the fashionable assemblies of the present day would not afford such spectacles, as cannot fail both to pain and amuse.