Ah! but if the other makes it no idol—his toy only—what shall follow this desecration of the sacred thing! What but shame, remorse, humiliation, perhaps death!—alas! for Margaret Cooper, the love which had so suddenly grown into a precious divinity with her, was no divinity with him. He is no believer. He has no faith in such things, but like the trader in religion, he can preach deftly the good doctrines which he can not feel and is slow to practise.
We should speak unprofitably and with little prospect of being understood, did our readers require to be told, that there is a certain impatient and gnawing restlessness in the heart of love, which keeps it for ever feverish and anxious. Where this passion is associated with a warm, enthusiastic genius, owning the poetic temperament, the anxiety is proportionatly greater. The ideal of the mind is a sort of classical image of perfect loveliness, chaste, sweet, commanding, but, how cold! But love gives life to this image, even as the warm rays of the sun falling upon the sullen lips of the Memnon, compel its utterance in music. It not only looks beauty—it breathes it. It is not only the aspect of the Apollo, it is the god himself; his full lyre strung, his golden bow quivering at his back with the majesty of his motion; and his lips parting with the song which shall make the ravished spheres stoop, and gather round to listen.
Hitherto Margaret Cooper had been a girl of strong will; will nursed in solitude, and by the wrong-headed indulgence of a vain and foolish mother. She was conscious of that bounding, bursting soul of genius which possessed her bosom; that strange, moody, and capricious god; pent-up, denied, crying evermore for utterance, with a breath more painful to endure, because of the suppression. This consciousness, with the feeling of denial which attended it, had cast a gloomy intensity over her features not less than her mind. The belief that she was possessed of treasures which were unvalued—that she had powers which were never to be exercised—that with a song such as might startle an empire, she was yet doomed to a silent and senseless auditory of rocks and trees; this belief had brought with it a moody arrogance of temper which had made itself felt by all around her. In one hour this mood had departed. Ambition and love became united for a common purpose; for the object of the latter, was also the profound admirer of the former.
The anxious restlessness which her newly-acquired sensations occasioned in her bosom, was not diminished by a renewal of those tender interviews with her lover, which we have endeavored, though so faultily, already to describe. Evening after evening found them together; the wily hypocrite still stimulating, by his glozing artifices, the ruling passion for fame, which, in her bosom, was only temporarily subservient to love, while he drank his precious reward from her warm, lovely, and still-blushing lips and cheeks. The very isolation in which she had previously dwelt in Charlemont, rendered the society of Stevens still more dear to her heart. She was no longer alone—no longer unknown—not now unappreciated in that respect in which hitherto she felt her great denial. "Here is one—himself a genius—who can do justice to mine."
The young poet who finds an auditor, where he has never had one before, may be likened to a blind man suddenly put in possession of his sight. He sees sun and moon and stars, the forms of beauty, the images of grace; and his soul grows intoxicated with the wonders of its new empire. What does he owe to him who puts him in possession of these treasures? who has given him his sight? Love, devotion, all that his full heart has to pay of homage and affection.
Such was very much the relation which Margaret Cooper bore to Alfred Stevens; and when, by his professions of love, he left the shows of his admiration no longer doubtful, she was at once and entirely his. She was no longer the self-willed, imperious damsel, full of defiance, dreaming of admiration only, scornful of the inferior, and challenging the regards of equals. She was now a timid, trembling girl—a dependant, such as the devoted heart must ever be, waiting for the sign to speak, looking eagerly for the smile to reward her sweetest utterance. If now she walked with Stevens, she no longer led the way; she hung a little backward, though she grasped his arm—nay, even when her hand was covered with a gentle pressure in the folds of his. If she sung, she did not venture to meet his eyes, which she FELT must be upon hers, and now it was no longer her desire that the village damsels should behold them as they went forth together on their rambles. She no longer met their cunning and significant smiles with confidence and pride, but with faltering looks, and with cheeks covered with blushes. Great, indeed, was the change which had come over that once proud spirit—change surprising to all, but as natural as any other of the thousand changes which are produced in the progress of moments by the arch-magician, Love. Heretofore, her song had disdained the ordinary topics of the youthful ballad-monger. She had uttered her apostrophes to the eagle, soaring through the black, billowy masses of the coming thunder-storm; to the lonely but lofty rock, lonely in its loftiness, which no foot travelled but her own; to the silent glooms of the forest—to the majesty of white-bearded and majestic trees. The dove and the zephyr now shared her song, and a deep sigh commonly closed it. She was changed from what she was. The affections had suddenly bounded into being, trampling the petty vanities underfoot; and those first lessons of humility which are taught by love, had subdued a spirit which, hitherto, had never known control.
Alfred Stevens soon perceived how complete was his victory. He soon saw the extent of that sudden change which had come over her character. Hitherto, she had been the orator. When they stood together by the lake-side, or upon the rock, it was her finger which had pointed out the objects for contemplation; it was her voice whose eloquence had charmed the ear, dilating upon the beauties or the wonders which they surveyed. She was now no longer eloquent in words. But she looked a deeper eloquence by far than any words could embody. He was now the speaker; and regarding him through the favoring media of kindled affections, it seemed to her ear, that there was no eloquence so sweet as his. He spoke briefly of the natural beauties by which they were surrounded.
"Trees, rocks, the valley and the hill, all realms of solitude and shade, inspire enthusiasm and ardor in the imaginative spirit. They are beneficial for this purpose. For the training of a great poet they are necessary. They have the effect of lifting the mind to the contemplation of vastness, depth, height, profundity. This produces an intensity of mood—the natural result of any association between our own feelings and such objects as are lofty and noble in the external world. The feelings and passions as they are influenced by the petty play of society, which diffuses their power and breaks their lights into little, become concentrated on the noble and the grand. Serious earnestness of nature becomes habitual—the heart flings itself into all the subjects of its interest—it trifles with none—all its labors become sacred in its eyes, and the latest object of study and analysis is that which is always most important. The effect of this training in youth on the poetic mind, is to the last degree beneficial; since, without a degree of seriousness amounting to intensity—without a hearty faith in the importance of what is to be done—without a passionate fullness of soul which drives one to his task—there will be no truthfulness, no eloquence, no concentrated thought and permanent achievement. With, you, dear Margaret, such has already been the effect. You shrink from the ordinary enjoyments of society. Their bald chat distresses you, as the chatter of so many jays. You prefer the solitude which feeds the serious mood which you love, and enables your imagination, unrepressed by the presence of shallow witlings, to evoke its agents from storm and shadow—from deep forest and lonesome lake—to minister to the cravings of an excited heart, and a soaring and ambitious fancy."
"Oh, how truly, Alfred, do you speak it," she murmured as he closed.
"So far, so good; but, dear Margaret—there are other subjects of study which are equally necessary for the great poet. The wild aspects of nature are such as are of use in the first years of his probation. To grow up in the woods and among the rocks, so that a hearty simplicity, an earnest directness, with a constant habit of contemplation should be permanently formed, is a first and necessary object. But it is in this training as in every other. There are successive steps. There is a law of progressive advance. You must not stop there. The greatest moral study for the poet must follow. This is the study of man in society—in the great world—where he puts on a thousand various aspects—far other than those which are seen in the country—in correspondence with the thousand shapes of fortune, necessity, or caprice, which attend him there. Indeed, it may safely be said, that he never knows one half of the responsibility of his tasks who toils without the presence of those for whom he toils. It is in the neighborhood of man that we feel his and our importance. It is while we are watching his strifes and struggles that we see the awful importance of his destiny; and the great trusts of self, and truth, and the future, which have been delivered to his hands. Here you do not see man. You see certain shapes, which are employed in raising hay, turnips, and potatoes; which eat and drink very much as man does; but which, as they suffer to sleep and rest most of those latent faculties, the exercise of which can alone establish the superiority of the intellectual over the animal nature, so they have no more right to the name of man than any other of those animals who eat as industriously, and sleep as profoundly, as themselves. The contemplation of the superior being, engaged in superior toils, awakens superior faculties in the observer. He who sees nothing but the gathering of turnips will think of nothing but turnips. As we enlarge the sphere of our observation, the faculty of thought becomes expanded. You will discover this wonderful change when you go into the world. Hitherto, your inspirers have been these groves, these rocks, lakes, trees, and silent places. But, when you sit amid crowds of bright-eyed, full-minded, and admiring people; when you see the eyes of thousands looking for the light to shine from yours; hanging, with a delight that still hungers, on the words of truth and beauty which fall from your lips—then, then only, dearest Margaret, will you discover the true sources of inspiration and of fame."
"Ah!" she murmured despondingly—"you daunt me when you speak of these crowds—crowds of the intellectual and the wise. What should I be—how would I appear among them?"
"As you appear to me, Margaret—their queen, their idol, their divinity, not less a beauty than a muse?"
The raptures which Stevens expressed seemed to justify the embrace which followed it; and it was some moments before she again spoke. When she did the same subject was running in her mind.
"Ah! Alfred, still I fear!"
"Fear nothing, Margaret. It will be as I tell you—as I promise! If I deceive you, I deceive myself. Is it not for the wife of my bosom that I expect this homage?"
Her murmurs were unheard. They strolled on—still deeper into the mazes of the forest, and the broad disk of the moon, suddenly gleaming, yellow, through the tops of the trees, sirprised them in their wanderings.
"How beautiful!" he exclaimed. "Let us sit here, dearest Margaret. The rock here is smooth and covered with the softest lichen. A perfect carpet of it is at our feet, and the brooklet makes the sweetest murmuring as it glides onward through the grove, telling all the while, like some silly schoolgirl, where you may look for it. See the little drops of moonlight falling here—and there in the small openings of the forest, and lying upon the greensward like so many scattered bits of silver. One might take it for fairy coin. And, do you note the soft breeze that seems to rise with the moon as from some Cytherean isle, breathing of love, love only—love never perishing!"
"Ah! were it so, Alfred!"
"Is it not, Margaret? If I could fancy that you would cease to love me or I you—could I think that these dear joys were to end—but no! no! let us not think of it. It is too sweet to believe, and the distrust seems as unholy as it is unwholesome. That bright soft planet seems to persuade to confidence as it inspires love. Do you not feel your heart soften in the moonlight, Margaret? your eye glistens, dearest—and your heart, I know, must be touched. It is—I feel its beating! What a tumult, dear Margaret, is here!"
"Do not, do not!" she murmured, gently striving to disengage herself from his grasp.
"No! no!—move not, dearest," he replied in a subdued tone—a murmur most like hers. "Are we not happy? Is there anything, dear Margaret, which we could wish for?"
"Ah! what a blessed chance it was that brought me to these hills. I never lived till now. I had my joys, Margaret—my triumphs! I freely yield them to the past! I care for them no more! They are no longer joys or triumphs! Yes, Margaret you have changed my heart within me. Even fame which I so much worshipped is forgotten."
"Say not that; oh, say not that!" she exclaimed, but still in subdued accents.
"I must—it is too far true. I could give up the shout of applause—the honor of popular favor—the voice of a people's approbation—the shining display and the golden honor—all, dear Margaret, sooner than part with you."
"But you need not give them up, Alfred."
"Ah, dearest, but I have no soul for them now. You are alone my soul, my saint—the one dear object, desire, and pride, and conquest."
"Alas! and have you not conquered, Alfred?"
"Sweet! do I not say that I am content to forfeit all honors, triumphs, applauses—all that was so dear to me before—and only in the fond faith that I had conquered? You are mine—you tell me so with your dear lips—I have you in my fond embrace—ah! do not talk to me again of fame."
"I were untrue to you as to myself, dear Alfred, did I not. No! with your talents, to forego their uses—to deliver yourself up to love wholly, were as criminal as it would be unwise."
"You shall be my inspiration then, dear Margaret. These lips shall send me to the forum—these eyes shall reward me with smiles when I return. Your applause shall be to me a dearer triumph than all the clamors of the populace."
"Let us return home—it is late."
"Not so!—and why should we go? What is sleep to us but loss? What the dull hours, spent after the ordinary fashion, among ordinary people. Could any scene be more beautiful than this—ah! can any feeling be more sweet? Is it not so to you, dearest? tell me—nay, do not tell me—if you love as I do, you can not leave me—not now—not thus—while such is the beauty of earth and heaven—while such are the rich joys clustering in our hearts. Nay, while, in that hallowing moonlight, I gaze upon thy dark eyes, and streaming hair, thy fair, beautiful cheeks, and those dear rosy lips!"
"Oh! Alfred, do not speak so—do not clasp me thus. Let us go. It is late—very late, and what will they say?"
"Let them say! Are we not blessed? Can all their words take from us these blessings—these sacred, sweet, moments—such joys, such delights? Let them dream of such, with their dull souls if they can. No! no! Margaret—we are one! and thus one, our world is as free from their control as it is superior to their dreams and hopes. Here is our heaven, Margaret—ah! how long shall it be ours! at what moment may we lose it, by death, by storm, by what various mischance! What profligacy to fly before the time! No! no! but a little while longer—but a little while!"
And there they lingered! He, fond, artful, persuasive; she, trembling with the dangerous sweetness of wild, unbidden emotions. Ah! why did she not go? Why was the strength withheld which would have carried out her safer purpose? The moon rose until she hung in the zenith, seeming to linger there in a sad, sweet watch, like themselves—the rivulet ran along, still prattling through the groves; the breeze, which had been a soft murmur among the trees at the first rising of the moon, now blew a shrill whistle among the craggy hills; but they no longer heard the prattle of the rivulet—even the louder strains of the breeze were unnoticed, and it was only when they were about to depart, that poor Margaret discovered that the moon had all the while been looking down upon them.
THE BIRTH OF THE AGONY.
It was now generally understood in Charlemont that Margaret Cooper had made a conquest of the handsome stranger. We have omitted—as a matter not congenial to our taste—the small by-play which had been carried on by the other damsels of the village to effect the same object. There had been setting of caps, without number, ay, and pulling them too, an the truth were known among the fair Stellas and Clarissas, the Daphnes and Dorises, of Charlemont, but, though Stevens was sufficiently considerate of the claims of each, so far as politeness demanded it, and contrived to say pleasant things, pour passer le temps, with all of them, it was very soon apparent to the most sanguine, that the imperial beauties and imperious mind of Margaret Cooper had secured the conquest for herself.
As a matter of course, the personal and intellectual attractions of Stevens underwent no little disparagement as soon as this fact was known. It was now universally understood that he was no such great things, after all; and our fair friend the widow Thackeray, who was not without her pretensions to wit and beauty, was bold enough to say that Mr. Stevens was certainly too fat in the face, and she rather thought him stupid. Such an opinion gave courage to the rest, and pert Miss Bella Tompkins, a romp of first-rate excellence, had the audacity to say that he squinted!—and this opinion was very natural, since neither of his eyes had ever rested with satisfaction on her pouting charms.
It may be supposed that the discontent of the fair bevy, and its unfavorable judgment of himself, did not reach the ears of Alfred Stevens, and would scarcely have disturbed them if it did. Margaret Cooper was more fortunate than himself in this respect. She could not altogether be insensible to the random remarks which sour envy and dark-eyed jealousy continued to let fall in her hearing; but her scorn for the speakers, and her satisfaction with herself, secured her from all annoyance from this cause. Such, at least, had been the case in the first days of her conquest. Such was not exactly the case now. She had no more scorn of others. She was no longer proud, no longer strong. Her eyes no longer flashed with haughty defiance on the train which, though envious, were yet compelled to follow. She could no longer speak in those superior tones, the language equally of a proud intellect, and a spirit whose sensibilities had neither been touched by love nor enfeebled by anxiety and apprehension. A sad change had come over her heart and all her features in the progress of a few days. Her courage had departed. Her step was no longer firm; her eye no longer uplifted like that of the mountain-eagle, to which, in the first darings of her youthful muse, she had boldly likened herself. Her look was downcast, her voice subdued; she was now not less timid than the feeblest damsel of the village in that doubtful period of life when, passing from childhood to girlhood, the virgin falters, as it were, with bashful thoughts, upon the threshold of a new and perilous condition. The intercourse of Margaret Cooper with her lover had had the most serious effect upon her manners and her looks. But the change upon her spirit was no less striking to all.
"I'm sure if I did love any man," was the opinion of one of the damsels, "I'd die sooner than show it to him, as she shows it to Alfred Stevens. It's a guess what he must think of it."
"And no hard guess neither," said another; "I reckon there's no reason why he should pick out Margaret Cooper except that he saw that it was no such easy matter any where else."
"Well! there can be no mistake about it with them; for now they're always together—and Betty, her own maid, thinks—but it's better not to say!"
And the prudent antique pursed up her mouth in a language that said everything.
"What!—what does she say?" demanded a dozen voices.
"Well! I won't tell you that. I won't tell you all; but she does say, among other things, that the sooner John Cross marries them, the better for all parties."
"Is it possible!"
"Can it be!"
"Bless me! but I always thought something wrong."
"And Betty, her own maid, told you? Well, who should know, if she don't?"
"And this, too, after all her airs!"
"Her great smartness, her learning, and verse-making! I never knew any good come from books yet."
"And never will, Jane," said another, with an equivocal expression, with which Jane was made content; and, after a full half-hour's confabulation, in the primitive style, the parties separated—each, in her way, to give as much circulation to Betty's inuendoes as the importance of the affair deserved.
Scandal travels along the highways, seen by all but the victim. Days and nights passed; and in the solitude of lonely paths, by the hillside or the rivulet, Margaret Cooper still wandered with her lover. She heard not the poisonous breath which was already busy with her virgin fame. She had no doubts, whatever might be the event, that the heart of Alfred Stevens could leave her without that aliment which, in these blissful moments, seemed to be her very breath of life. But she felt many fears, many misgivings, she knew not why. A doubt, a cloud of anxiety, hung brooding on the atmosphere. In a heart which is unsophisticated, the consciousness, however vague, that all is not right, is enough to produce this cloud; but, with the gradual progress of that heart to the indulgence of the more active passions, this consciousness necessarily increases and the conflict then begins between the invading passion and the guardian principle. We have seen enough to know what must be the result of such a conflict with a nature such as hers, under the education which she had received. It did not end in the expulsion of her lover. It did not end in the discontinuance of those long and frequent rambles amid silence, and solitude, and shadow. She had not courage for this; and the poor, vain mother, flattered with the idea that her son-in-law would be a preacher, beheld nothing wrong in their nightly wanderings, and suffered her daughter, in such saintly society, to go forth without restraint or rebuke.
There was one person in the village who was not satisfied that Margaret Cooper should fall a victim, either to the cunning of another, or to her own passionate vanity. This was our old friend Calvert. He was rather, inclined to be interested in the damsel, in spite of the ill treatment of his protege, if it were only in consequence of the feelings with which she had inspired him. It has been seen that, in the affair of the duel, he was led to regard the stranger with an eye of suspicion. This feeling had been further heightened by the statements of Ned Hinkley, which, however loose and inconclusive, were yet of a kind to show that there was some mystery about Stevens—that he desired concealment in some respects—a fact very strongly inferred from his non-employment of the village postoffice, and the supposition—taken for true—that he employed that of some distant town. Ned Hinkley had almost arrived at certainty in this respect; and some small particulars which seemed to bear on this conviction, which he had recently gathered, taken in connection with the village scandal in reference to the parties, determined the old man to take some steps in the matter to forewarn the maiden, or at least her mother, of the danger of yielding too much confidence to one of whom so little was or could be known.
It was a pleasant afternoon, and Calvert was sitting beneath his roof-tree, musing over this very matter, when he caught a glimpse of the persons of whom he thought, ascending one of the distant hills, apparently on their way to the lake. He rose up instantly, and, seizing his staff, hurried off to see the mother of the damsel. The matter was one of the nicest delicacy—not to be undertaken lightly—not to be urged incautiously. Nothing, indeed, but a strong sense of duty could have determined him upon a proceeding likely to appear invidious, and which might be so readily construed, by a foolish woman, into an impertinence. Though a man naturally of quick, warm feelings, Calvert had been early taught to think cautiously—indeed, the modern phrenologist would have said that, in the excess of this prudent organ lay the grand weakness of his moral nature. This delayed him in the contemplated performance much longer than his sense of its necessity seemed to justify. Having now resolved, however, and secure in the propriety of his object, he did not scruple any longer.
A few minutes sufficed to bring him to the cottage of the old lady, and her voice in very friendly tenor commanded him to enter. Without useless circumlocution, yet without bluntness, the old man broached the subject; and, without urging any of the isolated facts of which he was possessed, and by which his suspicions were awakened, he dwelt simply upon the dangers which might result from such a degree of confidence as was given to the stranger. The long, lonely rambles in the woods, by night as well as day, were commented on, justly, but in an indulgent spirit; and the risks of a young and unsuspecting maiden, under such circumstances, were shown with sufficient distinctness for the comprehension of the mother, had she been disposed to hear. But never was good old man, engaged in the thankless office of bestowing good advice, so completely confounded as he was by the sort of acknowledgments which his interference obtained. A keen observer might have seen the gathering storm while he was speaking; and, at every sentence, there was a low, running commentary, bubbling up from the throat of the opinionated dame, somewhat like rumbling thunder, which amply denoted the rising tempest. It was a sort of religious effort which kept the old lady quiet till Calvert had fairly reached a conclusion. Then, rising from her seat, she approached him, smoothed back her apron, perked out her chin, and, fixing her keen gray eyes firmly upon his own, with her nose elongated to such a degree as almost to suggest the possibility of a pointed collision between that member and the corresponding one of his own face, she demanded—
"Have you done—have you got through?"
"Yes, Mrs. Cooper, this is all I came to say. It is the suggestion of prudence—the caution of a friend—your daughter is young, very young, and—"
"I thank you! I thank you! My daughter is young, very young; but she is no fool, Mr. Calvert—let me tell you that! Margaret Cooper is no fool. If you don't know that, I do. I know her. She's able to take care of herself as well as the best of us."
"I am glad you think so, Mrs. Cooper, but the best of us find it a difficult matter to steer clear of danger, and error and misfortune; and the wisest, my dear madam, are only too apt to fall when they place their chief reliance on their wisdom."
"Indeed! that's a new doctrine to me, and I reckon to everybody else. If it's true, what's the use of all your schooling, I want to know?"
"Precious little, Mrs. Cooper, if—"
"Ah! precious little; and let me tell you, Mr. Calvert, I think it's mighty strange that you should think Margaret Cooper in more need of your advice, than Jane Colter, or Betsy Barnes, or Susan Mason, or Rebecca Forbes, or even the widow Thackeray."
"I should give the same advice to them under the same circumstances, Mrs. Cooper."
"Should you, indeed! Then I beg you will go and give it to them, for if they are not in the same circumstances now, they'd give each of them an eye to be so. Ay, wouldn't they! Yes! don't I know, Mr. Calvert, that it's all owing to envy that you come here talking about Brother Stevens."
"But I do not speak of Mr. Stevens, Mrs. Cooper; were it any other young man with whom your daughter had such intimacy I should speak in the same manner."
"Would you, indeed? Tell that to the potatoes. Don't I know better. Don't I know that if your favorite, that you made so much of—your adopted son, Bill Hinkley—if he could have got her to look at him, they might have walked all night and you'd never have said the first word. He'd have given one eye for her, and so would every girl in the village give an eye for Brother Stevens. I'm not so old but I know something. But it won't do. You can go to the widow Thackeray, Mr. Calvert. It'll do her good to tell her that it's very dangerous for her to be thinking about young men from morning to night. It's true you can't say anything about the danger, for precious little danger she's in; but, lord, wouldn't she jump to it if she had a chance. Let her alone for that. You'd soon have cause enough to give her your good advice about the danger, and much good would come of it. She'd wish, after all was said, that the danger was only twice as big and twice as dangerous."
Such was the conclusion of Mr. Calvert's attempt to give good counsel. It resulted as unprofitably in this as in most cases; but it had not utterly fallen, like the wasted seed, in stony places. There was something in it to impress itself upon the memory of Mrs. Cooper; and she resolved that when her daughter came in, it should be the occasion of an examination into her feelings and her relation to the worthy brother, such as she had more than once before meditated to make.
But Margaret Cooper did not return till a comparatively late hour; and the necessity of sitting up after her usual time of retiring, by making the old lady irritable, had the effect of giving some additional force to the suggestions of Mr. Calvert. When Margaret did return, she came alone. Stevens had attended her only to the wicket. She did not expect to find her mother still sitting up; and started, with an appearance of disquiet, when she met her glance. The young girl was pale and haggard. Her eye had a dilated, wild expression. Her step faltered; her voice was scarcely distinct as she remarked timidly—
"Not yet abed, mother?"
"No! it's a pretty time for you to keep me up."
"But why did you sit up, mother? It's not usual with you to do so."
"No! but it's high time for me to sit up, and be on the watch too, when here's the neighbors coming to warn me to do so—and telling me all about your danger."
"Ha! my danger—speak—what danger, mother?"
"Don't you know what danger? Don't you know?"
"Know!" The monosyllable subsided in a gasp. At that moment Margaret Cooper could say no more.
"Well, I suppose you don't know, and so I'll tell you. Here's been that conceited, stupid old man, Calvert, to tell me how wrong it is for you to go out by night walking with Brother Stevens; and hinting to me that you don't know how to take care of yourself with all your learning; and how nobody knows anything about Brother Stevens; as if nobody was wise for anything but himself. But I gave him as good as he brought, I'll warrant you. I sent him off with a flea in his ear!"
It was fortunate for the poor girl that the light, which was that of a dipped candle, was burning in the corner of the chimney, and was too dim to make her features visible. The ghastly tale which they told could not have been utterly unread even by the obtuse and opinionated mind of the vain mother. The hands of Margaret were involuntarily clasped in her agony, and she felt very much like falling upon the floor; but, with a strong effort, her nerves were braced to the right tension, and she continued to endure, in a speechless terror, which was little short of frenzy, the outpourings of her mother's folly which was a frenzy of another sort.
"I sent him off," she repeated, "with a flea in his ear. I could see what the old fool was driving after, and I as good as told him so. If it had been his favorite, his adopted son, Bill Hinkley, it would have been another guess-story—I reckon. Then you might have walked out where you pleased together, at all hours, and no harm done, no danger; old Calvert would have thought it the properest thing in the world. But no Bill Hinkley for me. I'm for Brother Stevens, Margaret; only make sure of him, my child—make sure of him."
"No more of this, dear mother, I entreat you. Let us go to bed, and think no more of it."
"And why should we not think of it? I tell you, Margaret, YOU MUST THINK OF IT! Brother Stevens soon will be a preacher, and a fine speck he will be. There'll be no parson like him in all west Kentucky. As for John Cross, I reckon he won't be able to hold a candle to him. Brother Stevens is something to try for. You must play your cards nicely, Margaret. Don't let him see too soon that you like him. Beware of that! But don't draw off too suddenly as if you didn't like him—that's worse still; for very few men like to see that they ain't altogether pleasing even at first sight to the lady that they like. There's a medium in all things, and you must just manage it, as if you wa'n't thinking at all about him, or love, or a husband, or anything; only take care always to turn a quick ear to what he says, and seem to consider it always as if 'twas worth your considering. And look round when he speaks, and smile softly sometimes; and don't be too full of learning and wisdom in what you say, for I've found that men of sense love women best when they seem to talk most like very young children—maybe because they think it's a sign of innocence. But I reckon, Margaret, you don't want much teaching. Only be sure and fix him; and don't stop to think when he asks. Be sure to have your answer ready, and you can't say 'yes' too quickly now-a-days, when the chances are so very few."
The mother paused to take breath. Her very moral and maternal counsel had fallen upon unheeding ears. But Margaret was sensible of the pause, and was desirous of taking advantage of it. She rose from her chair, with the view of retiring; but the good old dame, whose imagination had been terribly excited by the delightful idea of having a preacher for her son-in-law who was to take such precedence over all the leaders of the other tribes, was not willing to abridge her eloquence.
"Why, you're in a great hurry now, Margaret. Where was your hurry when you were with Brother Stevens? Ah! you jade, can't I guess—don't I know? There you were, you two, under the trees, looking at the moon, and talking such sweet, foolish nonsense. I reckon, Margaret, 'twould puzzle you to tell what HE said, or what YOU said, I can guess he didn't talk much religion to you, heh? Ah! I know it all. It's the old story. It's been so with all young people, and will bo so till the end. Love is the strangest thing, and it does listen to the strangest nonsense. Ain't it so, Margaret? I know nothing but love would ever dumbfounder you in this way; why, child, have you lost your tongue? What's the matter with you?"
"Oh, mother, let me retire now, I have such a headache."
"Heartache, you mean."
"Heartache it is," replied the other desperately, with an air of complete abandonment.
"Ah! well, it's clear that he's got the heartache quite as much as you, for he almost lives with you now. But make him speak out, Margaret—get him to say the word, and don't let him be too free until he does. No squeezing of hands, no kissing, no—"
"No more, no more, I entreat you, mother, if you would not—drive me mad! Why do you speak to me thus—why counsel me in this manner? Leave me alone, I pray you, let me retire—I must—I must sleep now!"
The mother was not unaccustomed to such passionate bursts of speech from her daughter, and she ascribed the startling energy of her utterance now, to an excited spirit in part, and partly to the headache of which she complained.
"What! do you feel so bad, my child? Well, I won't keep you up any longer. I wouldn't have kept you up so long, if I hadn't been vexed by that old fool, Calvert."
"Mr. Calvert is a good man, mother."
"Well, he may be—I don't say a word against that," replied the mother, somewhat surprised at the mildly reproachful nature of that response which her daughter had made, so different from her usual custom:—"he may be very good, but I think he's very meddlesome to come here talking about Brother Stevens."
"He meant well, mother."
"Well or ill, it don't matter. Do you be ready when Brother Stevens says the word. He'll say it before long. He's mighty keen after you, Margaret. I've seen it in his eyes; only you keep a little off, till he begins to press and be anxious; and after that he can't help himself. He'll be ready for any terms; and look you, when a man's ready none of your long bargains. Settle up at once. As for waiting till he gets permission to preach, I wouldn't think of it. A man can be made a preacher or anything, at any time, but 'tain't so easy in these times, for a young woman to be made a wife. It's not every day that one can get a husband, and such a husband! Look at Jane Colter, and Betsy Barnes, and Rebecca Forbes, and Susan Mason; they'll be green again, I reckon, before the chance comes to them; ay, and the widow Thackeray—though she's had her day already. If 'twas a short one she's got no reason to complain. She'll learn how to value it before it begins again. But, go to bed, my child, you oughtn't to have a headache. No! no! you should leave it to them that's not so fortunate. They'll have headaches and heartaches enough, I warrant you, before they get such a man as Brother Stevens."
At last, Margaret Cooper found herself alone and in her chamber. With unusual vigilance she locked and doublelocked the door. She then flung herself upon the bed. Her face was buried in the clothes. A convulsion of feeling shook her frame. But her eyes remained dry, and her cheeks were burning. She rose at length and began to undress, but for this she found herself unequal. She entered the couch and sat up in it—her hands crossed upon her lap—her face wan, wild, the very picture of hopelessness if not desperation! The words of her weak mother had tortured her; but what was this agony to that which was occasioned by her own thoughts.
"Oh God!" she exclaimed at length, "can it be real? Can it be true? Do I wake? Is it no dream? Am I, am I what I dare not name to myself—and dread to hear from any other? Alas! it is true—too true. That shade, that wood!—oh, Alfred Stevens! Alfred Stevens! What have you done! To what have you beguiled me!"
STRENGTH AFTER FALL.
That weary night no sleep came to the eyelids of the hapless Margaret Cooper. The garrulous language of the mother had awakened far other emotions in her bosom than those which she labored to inspire; and the warning of Mr. Calvert, for the first time impressed upon herself the terrible conviction that she was lost. In the wild intoxicating pleasures of that new strange dream, she had been wofully unconscious of the truth. So gradual had been the progress of passion, that it had never alarmed or startled her. Besides, it had come to her under a disguise afforded by the customary cravings of her soul. Her vanity had been the medium by which her affections had been won, by which her confidence had been beguiled, by which the guardian watchers of her virtue had been laid to sleep.
What a long and dreadful night was that when Margaret Cooper was first brought to feel the awful truth in its true impressiveness of wo. Alas! how terribly do the pleasures of sin torture us. The worst human foe is guilt. The severest censure the consciousness of wrong doing. Poverty may be endured—nay is—and virtue still be secure; since the mind may be made strong to endure the heaviest toil, yet cherish few desires; the loss of kin may call for few regrets, if we feel that we have religiously performed our duties toward them, and requited all their proper claims upon us. Sickness and pain may even prove benefits and blessings, if it shall so happen that we resign ourselves without complaint, to the scourge of the chastener, and grow patient beneath his stripes. But that self-rebuke of one's own spirit from which we may not fly—that remorseful and ever-vexing presence which haunts us, and pursues with a wing even more fleet than that of fear—which tells clamorously of what we had, and scornfully of what we have lost—lost for ever! that is the demon from whom there is no escape, and beyond whom there is no torture. Vainly would we strive with this relentless enemy. Every blow aimed at its shadowy bosom recoils upon our own. In the crowd, it takes the place of other forms and dogs us with suspicious glances; in the solitude, it stalks boldly to our side, confronts us with its audacious truths and terrible denunciations—leaves no moment secure, waking or sleeping! It is the ghost of murdered virtue, brooding over its grave in that most dark and dismal of all sepulchres, the human heart. And if we cry aloud, as did Margaret Cooper, with vain prayer for the recall of a single day, with what a yell of derisive mockery it answers to our prayer.
The night was passed in the delusive effort of the mind to argue itself into a state of fancied security. She endeavored to recall those characteristics in Alfred Stevens, by which her confidence had been beguiled. This task was not a difficult one in that early day of her distress; before experience had yet come to confirm the apprehensions of doubt—before the intoxicating dream of a first passion had yet begun to stale upon her imagination. Her own elastic mind helped her in this endeavor. Surely, she thought, where the mind is so noble and expansive, where the feelings are so tender and devoted, the features so lofty and impressive, the look so sweet, the language so delicate and refined, there can be no falsehood.
"The devotion of such a man," she erringly thought, "might well sanction the weakness of a woman's heart—might well persuade to the momentary error which none will seek more readily to repair than himself. If he be true to me, what indeed should I care for the scorn of others."
Alas! for the credulous victim. This was the soul of her error. This scorn of others—of the opinions of the world around her, is the saddest error of which woman, who is the most dependant of all beings in the moral world, can ever be guilty. But such philosophy did not now deceive even the poor girl by whom it was uttered. It is a melancholy truth, that, where there is no principle, the passions can not be relied on; and the love of Alfred Stevens had hitherto shown itself in selfishness. Margaret Cooper felt this, but she did not dare to believe it.
"No! no!" she muttered—"I will not doubt—I will not fear! He is too noble, too generous, too fond! I could not be deceived."
Her reliance was upon her previous judgment, not upon his principles. Her self-esteem assisted to make this reference sufficient for the purposes of consolation, and this was all that she desired in this first moment of her doubt and apprehension.
"And if he be true—if he keep for ever the faith that his lips and looks declare—then will I heed nothing of the shame and the sin. The love of such a man is sufficient recompense for the loss of all besides. What to me is the loss of society? what should I care for the association and opinions of these in Charlemont? And elsewhere—he will bear me hence where none can know. Ah! I fear not: he will be true."
Her self-esteem was recovering considerably from its first overthrow. Her mind was already preparing to do battle with those, the scorn of whom she anticipated, and whose judgments she had always hitherto despised. This was an easy task. She was yet to find that it was not the only task. Her thoughts are those of many, in like situations, and it is for this reason that we dwell upon them. Our purpose is, to show the usual processes of self-deception.
Margaret Cooper, like a large class of persons of strong natural mind and sanguine temper, was only too apt to confound the cause of virtue with its sometimes uncouth, harsh and self-appointed professors. She overlooked the fact that public opinion, though a moral object against which woman dares not often offend, is yet no standard for her government; that principles are determinable elsewhere; and that, whatever the world may think of them, and whatever may be their seeming unimportance under existing circumstances, are the only real moral securities of earth. She might fly from Charlemont, either into a greater world, or into a more complete solitude, but she would fly to no greater certainties than she now possessed. Her securities were still based upon the principles of Alfred Stevens, and of these she knew nothing. She knew that he was a man of talent—of eloquence; alas for her! she had felt it; of skill—she had been its victim; of rare sweetness of utterance, of grace and beauty; and as she enumerated to herself these his mental powers and personal charms, she felt, however numerous the catalogue, that none of these afforded her the guaranty she sought.
She arose the next day somewhat more composed, and with a face which betrayed sleeplessness, but nothing worse. This she ascribed to the headache with which she had retired. She had not slept an instant, and she arose entirely unrefreshed. But the stimulating thoughts which had kept her wakeful, furnished her with sufficient strength to appear as usual in the household, and to go through her accustomed duties. But it was with an impatience scarcely restrainable that she waited for the approach of evening which would bring her lover. Him she felt it now absolutely of the last necessity that she should see; that she should once more go with him to those secret places, the very thougnt of which inspired her with terror, and, laying bare her soul to his eyes, demand of him the only restitution which he could make.
He came. Once more she descended the steps to meet him—Her mother arrested her on the stairway. A cunning leer was in her eye, as she looked into the woful, impassive eyes of her daughter. She grinned with a sort of delight expressive of the conviction that the advice she had given the night before was to be put in execution soon.
"Fix him, Margaret; he's mighty eager for you. You've cut your eye-tooth—be quick, and you'll have a famous parson for a husband yet."
The girl shrunk from the counsellor as if she had been a serpent. The very counsel was enough to show her the humiliating attitude in which she stood to all parties.
"Remember," said the old woman, detaining her—"don't be too willing at first. Let him speak fairly out. A young maiden can't be too backward, until the man offers to make her a young wife!"
The last words went to her soul like an arrow.
"A young maiden!" she almost murmured aloud, as she descended the steps—"O God! how lovely now, to my eyes, appears the loveliness of a young maiden!"
She joined Stevens in silence, the mother watching them with the eyes of a maternal hawk as they went forth together. They pursued a customary route, and, passing through one of the gorges of the surrounding hills, they soon lost sight of the village. When the forest-shadows had gathered thickly around them, and the silence of the woods became felt, Stevens approached more nearly, and, renewing a former liberty, put his arm about her waist. She gently but firmly removed it, but neither of them spoke a word. A dense copse appeared before them. Toward it he would have led the way. But she resolutely turned aside, and, while a shudder passed over her frame, exclaimed—
"Not there—not there!"
Breathlessly she spoke. He well enough understood her. They pursued an opposite direction, and, in the shade of a wood which before they had never traversed, they at length paused. Stevens, conducting her to the trunk of a fallen tree, seated her, and placed himself beside her. Still they were silent. There was a visible constraint upon both. The thoughts and feelings of both were alike active—but very unlike in character. With him, passion, reckless passion, was uppermost; selfish in all its phases, and resolute on its own indulgence at every hazard. In her bosom was regret if not remorse, mingled with doubts and hopes in pretty equal proportion. Yet had she, even then, but little doubt of him. She accused him of no practice. She fancied, foolish girl, that his error, like her own, had been that of blind impulse, availing itself of a moment of unguarded reason to take temporary possession of the citadel of prudence. That he was calculating, cunning—that his snares had been laid beforehand—she had not the least idea. But she was to grow wiser in this and other respects in due season. How little did she then conjecture the coldness and hardness of that base and selfish heart which had so fanned the consuming flame in hers!
Her reserve and coolness were unusual. She had been the creature, heretofore, of the most uncalculating impulse. The feeling was spoken, the thought uttered, as soon as conceived. Now she was silent. He expected her to speak—nay, he expected reproaches, and was prepared to meet them. He had his answer for any reproaches which she might make. But for that stony silence of her lips he was not prepared. The passive grief which her countenance betrayed—so like despair—repelled and annoyed him. Yet, wherefore had she come, if not to complain bitterly, and, after exhaustion, be soothed at last? Such had been his usual experience in all such cases. But the unsophisticated woman before him had no language for such a situation as was hers. Her pride, her ambition—the very intensity of all her moods—rendered the effort at speech a mockery, and left her dumb.
"You are sad, Margaret—silent and very cold to me," he said, at last breaking the silence. His tones were subdued to a whisper, and how full of entreating tenderness! She slowly raised her eyes from the ground, and fixed them upon him. What a speech was in that one look! There was no trace of excitement, scarcely of expression, in her face. There was no flush upon her cheeks. She was pale as death. She was still silent. Her eye alone had spoken; and from its searching but stony glance his own fell in some confusion to the ground. There was a dreary pause, which he at length broke:—
"You are still silent, Margaret—why do you not speak to me?"
"It is for you to speak, Alfred," was her reply. It was full of significance, understood but not FELT by her companion. What, indeed, had she to say—what could she say—while he said nothing? She was the victim. With him lay the means of rescue and preservation. She but waited the decision of one whom, in her momentary madness, she had made the arbiter of her destiny. Her reply confused him. He would have preferred to listen to the ordinary language of reproach. Had she burst forth into tears and lamentations—had she cried, "You have wronged me—you must do me justice!"—he would have been better pleased than with the stern, unsuggestive character that she assumed. To all this, his old experience would have given him an easy answer. But to be driven to condemn himself—to define his own doings with the name due to his deserts—to declare his crime, and proffer the sufficient atonement—was an unlooked-for necessity.
"You are displeased with me, Margaret."
He dared not meet her glance while uttering this feeble and purposeless remark. It was so short of all that he should have said—of all that she expected—that her eyes glistened with a sudden expression of indignation which was new to them in looking upon him. There was a glittering sarcasm in her glance, which showed the intensity of her feelings in the comment which they involuntarily made on the baldness and poverty of his. Displeasure, indeed! That such an epithet should be employed to describe the withering pang, the vulturous, gnawing torture in her bosom—and that fiery fang which thought, like some winged serpent, was momentarily darting into her brain!
"Displeased!" she exclaimed, in low, bitter tones, which she seemed rather desirous to suppress—"no, no! sir—not displeased. I am miserable, most miserable—anything but displeased. I am too wretched to feel displeasure!"
"And to me you owe this wretchedness, dear Margaret—THAT—THAT is what you would say. Is it not, Margaret? I have wronged—I have ruined you! From me comes this misery! You hate, you would denounce me."
He put his arm about her waist—he sank upon his knee beside her—his eye, now that he had found words, could once more look courageously into hers.
"Wronged—ruined!" she murmured, using a part of his words, and repeating them as if she did not altogether realize their perfect sense.
"Ay, you would accuse me, Margaret," he continued—"you would reproach and denounce me—you hate me—I deserve it—I deserve it."
She answered with some surprise:—
"No, Alfred Stevens, I do not accuse—I do not denounce you. I am wretched—I am miserable. It is for you to say if I am wronged and ruined. I am not what I was—I know THAT!—What I am—what I will be!—"
She paused! Her hands were clasped suddenly and violently—she looked to heaven, and, for the first time, the tears, streamed from her eyes like rain—a sudden, heavy shower, which was soon over.
"Ah, Margaret, you would have me accuse myself—and I do. The crime is mine! I have done you this wrong—-"
She interrupted him.
"No, Alfred Stevens, I have done wrong! I FEEL that I have done wrong. That I have been feeble and criminal, I KNOW. I will not be so base as to deny what I can not but feel. As for your crime, you know best what it is. I know mine. I know that my passions are evil and presumptuous; and though I blush to confess their force, it is yet due to the truth that I should do so, though I sink into the earth with my shame. But neither your self-reproaches nor my confession will acquit us. Is there nothing, Alfred Stevens, that can be done? Must I fall before you, here, amidst the woods which have witnessed my shame, and implore you to save me? I do! Behold me! I am at your feet—my face is in fhe dust. Oh! Alfred Stevens—when I called your eyes to watch, in the day of my pride, the strong-winged eagle of our hills, did I look as now? Save me from this shame! save me! For, though I have no reproaches, yet God knows, when we looked on that eagle's flight together, my soul had no such taint as fills it now. Whatever were my faults, my follies, my weaknesses, Heaven knows, I felt not, feared not this! a thought—a dream of such a passion, then—never came to my bosom. From you it came! You put it there! You woke up the slumbering emotion—you—but no!—I will not accuse you! I will only implore you to save me! Can it be done? can you do it—will you—will you not?"
"Rise, dearest Margaret—let me lift you!" She had thrown herself upon the earth, and she clung to it.
"No, no! your words may lift me, Alfred Stevens, when your hands can not. If you speak a hope, a promise of safety, it will need no other help to make me rise! If you do not!—I would not wish to rise again. Speak! let me hear, even as I am, what my doom shall be? The pride which has made me fall shall be reconciled to my abasement."
"Margaret, this despair is idle. There is no need for it. Do I not tell you that there is no danger?"
"Why did you speak of ruin?" she demanded.
"I know not—the word escaped me. There is no ruin. I will save you. I am yours—yours only. Believe me, I will do you right. I regard you as sacredly my wife as if the rites of the church had so decreed it."
"I dare not disbelieve you, Alfred! I have no hope else. Your words lift me! Oh! Alfred Stevens, you did not mean the word, but how true it was; what a wreck, what a ruin do I feel myself now—what a wreck have I become!"
"A wreck, a ruin! no, Margaret, no! never were you more beautiful than at this very moment. These large, sad eyes—these long, dark lashes seem intended to bear the weight of tears. These cheeks are something paler than their wont, but not less beautiful, and these lips—"
He would have pressed them with his own—he would have taken her into his arms, but she repulsed him.
"No, no! Alfred—this must not be. I am yours. Let me prove to you that I am firm enough to protect your rights from invasion."
"But why so coy, dearest? Do you doubt me?"
"Ah! but you do. Why do you shrink from me—why this coldness? If you are mine, if these charms are mine, why not yield them to me? I fear, Margaret, that you doubt me still?"
"I do not—dare not doubt you, Alfred Stevens. My life hangs upon this faith."
"Why so cold, then?"
"I am not cold. I love you—I will be your wife; and never was wife more faithful, more devoted, than I will be to you; but, if you knew the dreadful agony which I have felt, since that sad moment of my weakness, you would forbear and pity me."
"Hear me, Margaret; to-morrow is Saturday. John Cross is to be here in the evening. He shall marry us on Sunday. Are you willing?"
"Oh, yes! thankful, happy! Ah! Alfred, why did I distrust you for an instant?"
"Why, indeed! But you distrust me no longer—you have no more misgivings?"
"You will be no longer cold, no longer coy, dear Margaret—here in the sweet evening, among these pleasant shades, love, alone, has supremacy. Here, in the words of one of your favorites:—
"'Where transport and security entwine, Here is the empire of thy perfect bliss, And here thou art a god—'"
concluding this quotation, he would have taken her in his embrace—he would have renewed those dangerous endearments which had already proved so fatal; but she repulsed the offered tenderness, firmly, but with gentleness.
"Margaret, you still doubt me," he exclaimed reproachfully.
"No, Alfred, I doubt you not. I believe you. I have only been too ready and willing to believe you. Ah! have you not had sufficient proof of this? Leave me the consciousness of virtue—the feeling of strength still to assert it, now that my eyes are open to my previous weakness."
"But there is no reason to be so cold. Remember you are mine by every tie of the heart—another day will make you wholly mine. Surely, there is no need for this frigid bearing. No, no! you doubt—you do not believe me, Margaret!"
"If I did not believe you, Alfred Stevens," she answered gravely, "my prayer would be for death, and I should find it. These woods which have witnessed my fault should have witnessed my expiation. The homes which have known me should know me no more."
The solemnity of her manner rather impressed him, but having no real regard for her, he was unwilling to be baffled in his true desires.
"If you doubt me not—if you have faith in me, Margaret, why this solemnity, this reserve? Prove to me, by your looks, by your actions, by the dear glances, the sweet murmurs, and the fond embrace, what these cold assurances do not say."
His hand rested on her neck. She gently raised and removed it.
"I have already proved to you my weakness. I will now prove my strength. It is better so, Alfred. If I have won your love, let me now command your esteem, or maintain what is left me of my own. Do not be angry with me if I insist upon it. I am resolute now to be worthy of you and of myself."
"Ah! you call this love?" said he bitterly. "If you ever loved, indeed, Margaret—"
"If I ever loved—and have I given you no proofs?" she exclaimed in a burst of passion; "all the proofs that a woman can give, short of her blood; and that, Alfred Stevens—that too, I was prepared to give, had you not promptly assured me of your faith."
She drew a small dagger from her sleeve, and bared it beneath his glance.
"Think you I brought this without an object? No! Alfred Stevens—know me better! I came here prepared to die, as well as a frail and erring woman could be prepared. You disarmed the dagger. You subdued the determination when you bid me live for you. In your faith, I am willing to live. I believe you, and am resolved to make myself worthy of your belief also. I have promised to be your wife, and here before Heaven, I swear to be your faithful wife; but, until then, you shall presume in no respect. Your lip shall not touch mine; your arms shall not embrace me; you shall see, dear Alfred, that, with my eyes once opened fully upon my own weakness, I have acquired the most certain strength."
"Give me the dagger," he said.
"You doubt me still?"
"No, no!" she exclaimed, handing him the weapon—"no, no! I do not doubt you—I dare not. Doubt you, Alfred?—that were death, even without the dagger!"
BULL-PUPS IN TRAINING.
Alfred Stevens was sufficiently familiar with the sex to perceive that Margaret Cooper was resolved. There was that in her look and manner which convinced him that she was not now to be overcome. There was no effort or constraint in either her looks or language. The composure of assured strength was there. The discovery of her weakness, which he had so unexpectedly made, had rendered her vigilant. Suspecting herself—which women are not apt to do—she became watchful, not only of the approach of her lover, but of every emotion of her own soul; and it was with a degree of chagrin which he could scarcely refrain from showing, that he was compelled to forego, at least for the present, all his usual arts of seduction.
Yet he knew not how to refrain. Never had Margaret Cooper seemed so lovely in his eyes, so commanding, so eloquent with beauty, as now, when remorse had touched her eyes with an unwonted shadow, and tears and nightwatching had subdued the richer bloom upon her cheek. Proud still, but pensive in her pride, she walked silently beside him, still brooding over thoughts which she would not willingly admit were doubts, and grasping every word of assurance that fell from his lips as if it had been some additional security.
These assurances he still suffered to escape him, with sufficient frequency and solemnity, to confirm that feeling of confidence which his promise of marriage had inspired in her mind. There was a subdued fondness in his voice, and an EMPRESSMENT in his manner, which was not all practice. The character which Margaret Cooper had displayed in this last interview—her equal firmness and fear—the noble elevation of soul which, admitting her own errors, disdained to remind him of his—a course which would have been the most ready of adoption among the weaker and less generous of the sex—had touched him with a degree of respect akin to admiration; and so strong was the impression made upon him of her great natural superiority of mind to almost all the women he had ever met, that, but for her one unhappy lapse, he had sought no other wife. Had she been strong at first as she proved herself at last, this had been inevitable.
When in his own chamber that night, he could not help recalling to his memory the proud elevation of her character as it had appeared in that interview. The recollection really gave him pain, since along with it arose the memory also of that unfortunate frailty, which became more prominent as a crime in connection with that intellectual merit which, it is erroneously assumed, should have made it sure.
"But for that, Margaret Cooper, and this marriage were no vain promise. But that forbids. No, no—no spousals for me: let John Cross and the bride be ready or not, there shall be a party wanting to that contract! And yet, what a woman to lose! what a woman to win! No tragedy queen ever bore herself like that. Talk of Siddons, indeed! SHE would have brought down the house in that sudden prostration—that passionate appeal. She made even me tremble. I could have loved her for that, if for that only. To make ME tremble! and with such a look, such an eye, such a stern, sweet, fierce beauty! By Heavens! I know not how to give her up. What a sensation she would make in Frankfort! Were she my wife—but no, no! bait for gudgeons! I am not so great a fool as that. She who is mine on my terms, is yours, sir, or yours—is anybody's, when the humor suits and the opportunity. I can not think of that. Yet, to lose her is as little to be thought of. I must manage it. I must get her off from this place. It need not be to Frankfort! Let me see—there is—hum!—hum!—yes, a ride of a few miles—an afternoon excursion—quite convenient, yet not too near. It must be managed; but, at all events, I must evade this marriage—put it off for the present—get some decent excuse. That's easy enough, and for the rest, why, time that softens all things, except man and woman, time will make that easy too. To-morrow for Ellisland, and the rest after."
Thus, resolving not to keep his vows to his unhappy victim, the criminal was yet devising plans by which to continue his power over her. These plans, yet immature in his own mind, at least unexpressed, need not be analyzed here, and may be conjectured by the reader.
That night, Stevens busied himself in preparing letters. Of these he wrote several. It will not further our progress to look over him as he writes; and we prefer rather, in this place, to hurry on events which, it may be the complaint of all parties, reader not omitted, have been too long suffered to stagnate. But we trust not. Let us hurry Stevens through Friday night—the night of that last interview.
Saturday morning, we observe that his appetite is unimpaired. He discusses the breakfast at Hinkley's as if he had never heard of suffering. He has said an unctuous grace. Biscuits hot, of best Ohio flour, are smoking on his plate. A golden-looking mass of best fresh butter is made to assimilate its luscious qualities with those of the drier and hotter substance. A copious bowl of milk, new from the dugs of old Brindle, stands beside him, patiently waiting to be honored by his unscrupulous but not unfastidious taste. The grace is said, and the gravy follows. He has a religious regard for the goods and gifts of this life. He eats heartily, and the thanks which follow, if not from the bottom of the soul, were sufficiently earnest to have emanated from the bottom of his stomach.
This over, he has a chat with his hosts. He discusses with old Hinkley the merits of the new lights. What these new lights were, at that period, we do not pretend to remember. Among sectarians, there are periodical new lights which singularly tend to increase the moral darkness. From these, after a while, they passed to the love festivals or feasts—a pleasant practice of the methodist church, which is supposed to be very promotive of many other good things besides love; though we are constrained to say that Brother Stevens and Brother Hinkley—who, it may be remarked, had very long and stubborn arguments, frequently without discovering, till they reached the close, that they were thoroughly agreed in every respect except in words—concurred in the opinion that there was no portion of the church practice so highly conducive to the amalgamation of soul with soul, and all souls with God, as this very practice of love-feasts!
Being agreed on this and other subjects, Mr. Hinkley invited Brother Stevens out to look at his turnips and potatoes; and when this delicate inquiry was over, toward ten o'clock in the day, Brother Stevens concluded that he must take a gallop; he was dyspeptic, felt queerish, his studies were too close, his mind too busy with the great concerns of salvation. These are enough to give one dyspepsia. Of course, the hot rolls and mountains of volcanic butter—steam-ejecting—could have produced no such evil effects upon a laborer in the vineyard. At all events, a gallop was necessary, and the horse was brought. Brother Hinkley and our matronly sister of the same name watched the progress of the pious youth, as, spurring up the hills, he pursued the usual route, taking at first the broad highway leading to the eastern country.
There were other eyes that watched the departure of Brother Stevens with no less interest, but of another kind, than those of the venerable couple. Our excellent friend Calvert started up on hearing the tread of the horse, and, looking out from his porch, ascertained with some eagerness of glance that the rider was Alfred Stevens.
Now, why was the interest of Calvert so much greater on this than on any other previous occasion? We will tell you, gentle reader. He had been roused at an early hour that morning by a visit from Ned Hinkley.
"Gran'pa," was the reverent formula of our fisherman at beginning, "to-day's the day. I'm pretty certain that Stevens will be riding out to-day, for he missed the last Saturday. I'll take my chance for it, therefore, and brush out ahead of him. I think I've got it pretty straight now, the place that he goes to, and I'll see if I can't get there soon enough to put myself in a comfortable fix, so as to see what's a-going on and what he goes after. Now, gran'pa, I'll tell you what I want from you—them pocket-pistols of your'n. Bill Hinkley carried off grandad's, and there's none besides that I can lay hold on."
"But, Ned, I'm afraid to lend them to you."
"What 'fraid of?"
"That you'll use them."
"To be sure I will, if there's any need, gran'pa. What do I get them for?"
"Ah, yes! but I fear you'll find a necessity where there is none. You'll be thrusting your head into some fray in which you may lose your ears."
"By Jupiter, no! No, gran'pa, I'll wait for the necessity. I won't look for it. I'm going straight ahead this time, and to one object only. I think Stevens is a rascal, and I'm bent to find him out. I've had no disposition to lick anybody but him, ever since he drove Bill Hinkley off—you and him together."
"You'll promise me, Ned?"
"Sure as a snag in the forehead of a Mississippi steamer. Depend upon me."
"But there must be no quarrelling with Stevens either, Ned."
"Look you, gran'pa, if I'm to quarrel with Stevens or anybody else, 'twouldn't be your pistols in my pocket that would make me set on, and 'twouldn't be the want of 'em that would make me stop. When it's my cue to fight, look you, I won't need any prompter, in the shape of friend or pistol. Now THAT speech is from one of your poets, pretty near, and ought to convince you that you may as well lend the puppies and say no more about it. If you don't you'll only compel me to carry my rifle, and that'll be something worse to an enemy, and something heavier for me. Come, come, gran'pa, don't be too scrupulous in your old age. YOUR HAVING them is a sufficient excuse for MY HAVING them too. It shows that they ought to be had."
"You're logic-chopping this morning, Ned—see that you don't get to man-chopping in the afternoon. You shall have the pistols, but do not use them rashly. I have kept them simply for defence against invasion; not for the purpose of quarrel, or revenge."
"And you've kept them mighty well, gran'pa," replied the young man, as he contemplated with an eye of anxious admiration, the polish of the steel barrels, the nice carving of the handles, and the fantastic but graceful inlay of the silver-mounting and setting. The old man regarded him with a smile.
"Yes, Ned, I've kept them well. They have never taken life, though they have been repeatedly tried upon bull's eye and tree-bark. If you will promise me not to use them to-day, Ned, you shall have them."
"Take 'em back, gran'pa."
"Why, I'd feel the meanest in the world to have a we'pon, and not use it when there's a need to do so; and I'm half afraid that the temptation of having such beautiful puppies for myself—twin-puppies, I may say—having just the same look out of the eyes, and just the same spots and marks, and, I reckon, just the same way of giving tongue—I'm half afraid, I say, that to get to be the owner of them, might tempt me to stand quiet and let a chap wink at me—maybe laugh outright—may be suck in his breath, and give a phew-phew-whistle just while I'm passing! No! no! gran'pa, take back your words, or take back your puppies. Won't risk to carry both. I'd sooner take Patsy Rifle, with all her weight, and no terms at all."
"Pshaw, Ned, you're a fool."
"That's no news, gran'pa, to you or me. But it don't alter the case. Put up your puppies."
"No, Ned; you shall have them on your own terms. Take 'em as they are. I give them to you."
"And I may shoot anybody I please this afternoon, gran'pa?"
"Ay, ay, Ned—; anybody—"
Thus far the old man, when he stopped himself, changed his manner, which was that of playful good-humor, to that of gravity, while his tones underwent a corresponding change—
"But, Ned, my son, while I leave it to your discretion, I yet beg you to proceed cautiously—seek no strife, avoid it—go not into the crowd—keep from them where you see them drinking, and do not use these or any weapons for any trifling provocation. Nothing but the last necessity of self-preservation justifies the taking of life."
"Gran'pa—thank you—you've touched me in the very midst of my tender-place, by this handsome present. One of these puppies I'll name after you, and I'll notch it on the butt. The other I'll call Bill Hinkley, and I won't notch that. Yours, I'll call my pacific puppy, and I'll use it only for peace-making purposes. The other I'll call my bull-pup, and him I'll use for baiting and butting, and goring. But, as you beg, I promise you I'll keep 'em both out of mischief as long as I can. Be certain sure that it won't be my having the pups that'll make me get into a skrimmage a bit the sooner; for I never was the man to ask whether my dogs were at hand before I could say the word, 'set-on!' It's a sort of nature in a man that don't stop to look after his weapons, but naturally expects to find 'em any how, when his blood's up, and there's a necessity to do."
This long speech and strong assurance of his pacific nature and purposes, did not prevent the speaker from making, while he spoke, certain dextrous uses of the instrument's which were given into his hands. Right and left were equally busy; one muzzle was addressed to the candle upon the mantelpiece, the other pursued the ambulatory movements of a great black spider upon the wall. The old man surveyed him with an irrepressible smile. Suddenly interrupting himself the youth exclaimed:—
"Are they loaded, gran'pa?"
He was answered in the negative.
"Because, if they were," said he, "and that great black spider was Brother Stevens, I'd show you in the twinkle of a musquito, how I'd put a finish to his morning's work. But I'd use the bull-pup, gran'pa—see, this one—the pacific one I'd empty upon him with powder only, as a sort of feu de joie—and then I'd set up the song—what's it? ah! Te Deum. A black spider always puts me in mind of a rascal."
THE FOX IN THE TRAP.
The youth barely stopped to swallow his breakfast, when be set off from the village. He managed his movements with considerable caution; and, fetching a circuit from an opposite quarter, after having ridden some five miles out of his way, passed into the road which he suspected that Stevens would pursue. We do not care to show the detailed processes by which he arrived at this conclusion. The reader may take for granted that he had heard from some way-side farmer, that a stranger rode by his cottage once a week, wearing such and such breeches, and mounted upon a nag of a certain color and with certain qualities. Enough to say, that Ned Hinkley was tolerably certain of his route and man.
He sped on accordingly—did not once hesitate at turns, right or left, forks and crossroads, but keeping an inflexible course, he placed himself at such a point on the road as to leave it no longer doubtful, should Stevens pass, of the place which usually brought him up. Here he dismounted, hurried his horse, out of sight and hearing, into the woods, and choosing a position for himself, with some nicety, along the road-side, put himself in close cover, where, stretching his frame at length, he commenced the difficult labor of cooling his impatience with his cogitations.
But cogitating, with a fellow of his blood, rather whets impatience. He was monstrous restiff. At his fishing pond, with a trout to hook, he would have lain for hours, as patient as philosophy itself, and as inflexible as the solid rock over which he brooded. But without an angle at his hand, how could he keep quiet? Not by thinking, surely; and, least of all, by thinking about that person for whom his hostility was so active. Thinking of Stevens, by a natural association, reminded him of the pistols which Calvert had given him. Nothing could be more natural than to draw them from his bosom. Again and again he examined them in fascinated contemplation. He had already charged them, and he amused himself by thinking of the mischief he could do, by a single touch upon the trigger, to a poor little wood-rat, that once or twice ran along a decaying log some five steps from his feet. But his object being secrecy, the rat brushed his whiskers in safety. Still he amused himself by aiming at this and other objects, until suddenly reminded of the very important difference which he had promised Calvert to make between the pistols in his future use of them. With this recollection he drew out his knife, and laid the weapons before him.
"This," said he, after a careful examination, in which he fancied he discovered some slight difference between them in the hang of the trigger—"this shall be my bull-pup—this my peace-maker!"
The latter was marked accordingly with a "P," carved rudely enough by one whose hand was much more practised in slitting the weasand of a buck, than in cutting out, with crayon, or Italian crow-quill, the ungainly forms of the Roman alphabet. Ned Hinkley shook his head with some misgiving when the work was done; as he could not but see that he had somewhat impaired the beauty of the peacemaker's butt by the hang-dog looking initial which he had grafted upon it. But when he recollected the subordinate uses to which this "puppy" was to be put, and considered how unlikely, in his case, it would be exposed to sight in comparison with its more masculine brother, he grew partially reconciled to an evil which was now, indeed, irreparable.
It does not require that we should bother the reader with the numberless thoughts and fancies which bothered our spy, in the three mortal hours in which he kept his watch. Nothing but the hope that he should ultimately be compensated to the utmost by a full discovery of all that he sought to know, could possibly have sustained him during the trying ordeal. At every new spasm of impatience which he felt, he drew up his legs, shifted from one side to the other and growled out some small thunder in the shape of a threat that "it would be only so much the worse for him when the time came!" HIM—meaning Stevens.
At last Stevens came. He watched the progress of his enemy with keen eyes; and, with his "bull-pup" in his hand, which a sort of instinct made him keep in the direction of the highway, he followed his form upon the road. When he was out of sight and hearing, the spy jumped to his feet. The game, he felt, was secure now—in one respect at least.
"He's for Ellisland. That was no bad guess then. He might have been for Fergus, or Jonesboro', or Debarre, but there's no turn now in the clear track to Ellisland. He's there for certain."
Ned Hinkley carefully restored his pistols to his bosom and buttoned up. He was mounted in a few moments, and pressing slowly forward in pursuit. He had his own plans which we will not attempt to fathom; but we fear we shall be compelled to admit that he was not sufficiently a gentleman to scruple at turning scout in a time of peace (though, with him, by the way, and thus he justified, he is in pursuit of an enemy, and consequently is at war), and dodging about, under cover, spying out the secrets of the land, and not very fastidious in listening to conversation that does not exactly concern him. We fear that there is some such flaw in the character of Ned Hinkley, though, otherwise, a good, hardy fellow—with a rough and tumble sort of good nature, which, having bloodied your nose, would put a knife-handle down your back, and apply a handful of cobwebs to the nasal extremity in order to arrest the haemorrhage. We are sorry that there is such a defect in his character; but we did not put it there. We should prefer that he should be perfect—the reader will believe us—but there are grave lamentations enough over the failures of humanity to render our homilies unnecessary. Ned Hinkley was not a gentleman, and the only thing to be said in his behalf, is, that he was modest enough to make pretensions to the character. As he once said in a row the company muster:—
"I'm blackguard enough, on this occasion, to whip e'er a gentleman among you!"
Without any dream of such a spectre at his heels to disturb his imagination, Alfred Stevens was pursuing his way toward Ellisland, at that easy travelling gait, which is the best for man and beast, vulgarly called a "dog-trot." Some very fine and fanciful people insist upon calling it a "jog-trot." We beg leave, in this place, to set them right. Every trot is a jog, and so, for that matter, is every canter. A dog-trot takes its name from the even motion of the smaller quadruped, when it is seized with no particular mania, and is yet disposed to go stubbornly forward. It is in more classical dialect, the festina lente motion. It is regularly forward, and therefore fast—it never puts the animal out of breath, and is therefore slow. Nobody ever saw a dog practice this gait, with a tin canister at his tail, and a huddle of schoolboys at his heels. No! it is THE travelling motion, considering equally the health of all parties, and the necessity of getting on.
In this desire, Ned Hinkley pressed too closely on the heels of Stevens. He once nearly overhauled him; and falling back, he subdued his speed, to what, in the same semi-figurative language, he styled "the puppy-trot." Observing these respective gaits, Brother Stevens rode into Ellisland at a moderately late dinner-hour, and the pursuer followed at an unspeakable, but not great, distance behind him. We will, henceforward, after a brief glance at Ellisland, confine ourselves more particularly to the progress of Brother Stevens.
Ellisland was one of those little villages to which geographers scarcely accord a place upon the maps. It is not honored with a dot in any map that we have ever seen of Kentucky. But, for all this, it is a place! Some day the name will be changed into Acarnania or Etolia, Epirus or Scandinavia, and then be sure you shall hear of it. Already, the village lawyers—there are two of them—have been discussing the propriety of a change to something classical; and we do not doubt that, before long, their stupidity will become infectious. Under these circumstances Ellisland will catch a name that will stick. At present you would probably never hear of the place, were it not necessary to our purposes and those of Brother Stevens.
It has its tavern and blacksmith shop—its church—the meanest fabric in the village—its postoffice and public well and trough. There is also a rack pro bono publico, but as it is in front of the tavern, the owner of that establishment has not wholly succeeded in convincing the people that it was put there with simple reference to the public convenience. The tavern-keeper is, politically, a quadrupled personage. He combines the four offices of post-master, justice of the peace, town council, and publican; and is considered a monstrous small person with all. The truth is, reader—this aside—he has been democrat and whig, alternately, every second year of his political life. His present politics, being loco-foco, are in Ellisland considered contra bonos mores. It is hoped that he will be dismissed from office, and a memorial to that effect is in preparation; but the days of Harrison—"and Tyler too"—have not yet come round, and Jerry Sunderland, who knows what his enemies arc driving at, whirls his coat-skirts, and snaps his fingers, in scorn of all their machinations. He has a friend at Washington, who spoons in the back parlor of the white-house—in other words, is a member o f the kitchen-cabinet, of which, be it said, en passant, there never was a president of the United States yet entirely without one—and—there never will be! So much for politics and Ellisland.
There was some crowd in the village on the day of Brother Stevens's arrival. Saturday is a well known day in the western and southern country for making a village gathering; and when Brother Stevens, having hitched his horse at the public rack, pushed his way to the postoffice, he had no small crowd to set aside. He had just deposited his letters, received others in return, answered some ten or fifteen questions which Jerry Sunderland, P. M., Q. U., N. P., M. C., publican and sinner—such were all deservedly his titles—had thought it necessary to address to him, when he was suddenly startled by a familiar tap upon the shoulder; such a tap as leads the recipient to imagine that he is about to be honored with the affectionate salutation of some John Doe or Richard Roe of the law. Stevens turned with some feeling of annoyance, if not misgiving, and met the arch, smiling, and very complacent visage of a tall, slender young gentleman in black bushy whiskers and a green coat, who seized him by the hand and shook it heartily, while a chuckling half-suppressed laughter gurgling in his throat, for a moment, forbade the attempt to speak. Stevens seemed disquieted and looked around him suspiciously.
"What! you here, Ben?"
"Ay, you see me! You didn't expect to see me, Warham—-"
"Hush!" was the whispered word of Stevens, again looking round him in trepidation.
"Oh! ay!" said the other with a sly chuckle, and also in a whisper, "Mr. Stevens—Brother Stevens—hem! I did not think. How is your holiness to-day?"
"Come aside," muttered Stevens; and, taking the arm of the incautious speaker, he led him away from the crowd and took the way out of the village. Their meeting and departure did not occasion much, if any, sensation. The visitors in the village were all too busy in discussing the drink and doctrines, pretty equally distributed, of Jerry the publican. But there was one eye that noted the meeting of the friends; that beheld the concern and confusion of Stevens: that saw their movements, and followed their departing steps.
"Take your horse—where is he?" demanded Stevens.
"Here, at hand; but what do you mean to do?"
"Nothing, but get out of hearing and sight; for your long tongue, Ben, and significant face, would blab any secret, however deep."
"Ah! did I not say that I would find you out? Did you get my last letter?"
"Ay, I did: but I'm devilish sorry, Ben, that you've come. You'll do mischief. You have always been a mar-plot."
"Never, never! You don't know me."
"Don't I?—but get your horse, and let's go into the woods, while we talk over matters."
"Why not leave the nags here?"
"For a very good reason. My course lies in that direction, so that I am in my way; while yours, if your purpose be to go back to Frankfort, will lie on the upper side. Neither of us need come back to the village."
"And you think to shuffle me off so soon, do you?"
"What would you have me do?"
"Why, give us a peep at this beauty—this Altamira of yours—at least."
"Impossible! Do not think of it, Ben; you'd spoil all. But, get the horse. These billet-heads will suspect mischief if they see us talking together, particularly whon they behold your conceited action. This political landlord will surmise that you are a second Aaron Burr, about to beat up recruits to conquer California. Your big whiskers—what an atrocious pair!—with your standing collar, will confirm the impression."
The two were soon mounted, and rode into the adjoining woods. They were only a stone's-throw from the village, when Stevens alighted, followed by his companion. They hitched their horses to some swinging branches of a sheltering tree, and, going aside a few paces beyond, seated themselves upon the grass, as they fancied, in a place of perfect security.
"And now, Ben, what in truth brings you here?" demanded Stevens, in tones of voice and with a look which betrayed anything but satisfaction with the visit.
"Curiosity, I tell you, and the legs of my horse."
"Pshaw! you have some other motive."
"No, 'pon honor. I resolved to find you out—to see what you were driving at, and where. I could only guess a part from your letter to Barnabas, and that costive scrawl with which you honored me. Perhaps, too—and give my friendship credit for the attempt—I came with some hope to save you."
"Save me—from what?"
"Why, wedlock—the accursed thing! The club is in terror lest you should forget your vows. So glowing were your descriptions of your Cleopatra, that we knew not what to make. We feared everything."
"Why, Barnabas might have opened your eyes: he knew better."
"You're not married, then?"
The other laughed as he replied:—
"Why, on that head, the least said the better. The roving commission permits you to run up any flag that the occasion requires."
"Ah, you sly dog!—and what success?"
"Come, come, Ben, you must not be so inquisitive. The game's my own, you know; and the rules of the club give me immunity from a fellow-member."
"By Gad, I'll resign! I must see this forest beauty."
"Where's she? How will you prevent?"
"By a very easy process. Do you know the bird that shrieks farthest from her young ones when the fowler is at hand? I'll follow her example."
"I'll follow you to the uttermost ends of the earth, Warham!"
"Hush! you forget! Am I not Brother Stevens? Ha! ha! ha! You are not sufficiently reverent, brother. See you no divinity in my look and bearing? Hark you, Ben, I've been a sort of small divinity in the eyes of a whole flock for a month past!"
"Ha! ha! ha!—devilish good; but I must see you in order to believe. I must, indeed, Brother Stevens. Why, man, think of it—success in this enterprise will make you head of the fraternity—you will be declared pope: but you must have witnesses!"
"So I think; and hark ye, Ben"—laying a finger on the arm of the other—"I am successful!"
"What! you don't say so! This queen, this princess of Egypt, Cleopatra, Altamira—eh?"
"Is mine—soul and body—she is mine!"
"And is what you say? Come, come, you don't mean that such a splendid woman as you describe—such a genius, poet, painter, musician—beauty too!—you don't mean to say that—"
"I do, every bit of it."
"'Gad! what a fellow!—what a lucky dog! But you must let me see her, Warham!"
"What! to spoil all—to blurt out the truth?—for, with every disposition to fib, you lack the ability. No, no, Ben: when the game's up—when I'm tired of the sport, and feel the necessity of looking out fresh viands—you shall then know all; I'll give the clue into your own hands, and you may follow it to your heart's content. But not now!"
"But how will you get rid of me, mon ami, if my curiosity is stubborn?"
"Do as the kill-deer does—travel from the nest—go home with you, rather than you should succeed in your impertinence, and have you expelled from the club for thrusting your spoon into the dish of a brother-member."
"You're a Turk, with no bowels of compassion. But, at all events, you promise me the dish when you're done with it? you give me the preference?"
"Swear by Beelzebub and Mohammed; by Jupiter Ammon and Johannes Secundus; by the ghost of Cardinal Bembo, and the gridiron of the fraternity!"
"Ay, and by the virginity of Queen Elizabeth!"
"Simulacrum! no! no! no such oath for me! That's swearing by the thing that is not, was not—could not be! You shall swear by the oaths of the club—you must be bound on the gridiron of the fraternity, before I believe you. Swear!"
"You are as tenacious as the ghost of buried Denmark But you shall be satisfied. I swear by the mystic gridiron of the fraternity, and by the legs thereof, of which the images are Beelzebub, Mohammed, Johannes Secundus, and so forth—nay, by that memorable volume, so revered in the eyes of the club, the new edition of 'The Basiad,' of which who among us has been the true exponent?—that profound mystery of sweets, fathomed hourly, yet unfathomable still—for which the commentators, already legions, are hourly becoming legions more;—by these, and by the mysteries of the mirror that reflects not our own, but the image we desire;—by these things—by all things that among the brotherhood are held potent—I swear to—"
"Give me the preference in the favor of this princess; the clue to find her when you have left her; and the assurance that you will get a surfeit as soon as possible: swear!"
"Nay, nay! I swear not to that last! I shall hold on while appetite holds, and make all efforts not to grow dyspeptic in a hurry. I'll keep my stomach for a dainty, be sure, as long as I can. I were no brother, worthy of our order, if I did not."
"Well, well—to the rest! Swear to the rest, and I am satisfied."
"You go back, then, instanter?"
"What! this very day?"
"The d—-l! you don't mean THAT, Warham?" returned the other in some consternation.
"Ay, this very hour! You must swear to that. Your oath must precede mine."
"Ah! man, remember I only got here last night—long ride—hard-trotting horse. We have not seen each other for months. I have a cursed sight to tell you about the boys—girls too—love, law, logic, politics. Do you know they talk of running you for the house?"
"All in good season, Ben; not now. No, no! you shall see me when you least look for me, and there will be time enough for all these matters then. They'll keep. For the present, let me say to you that we must part now within the hour. You must swear not to dog my steps, and I will swear to give you carte blanche, and the first privileges at my princess, when I leave her. This is my bargain. I make no other."