"Thank your stars for your safe deliverance," said the laughing Fanny.
"What were you thinking of, cousin?" said Anna, in a choking voice.
"I could think of nothing but the ten commandments; and I wondered what sinful iniquity my grandfather had been guilty of, that I should be visited in such an awful manner for his transgressions. But where on earth is my hat? I have looked in the hole, and all about for it."
"Look on your neck, Hoiky; you are wearing it for a stock," said my brother.
"By gracious! so I am."
I brushed the snow from his shoulders and hair, and assisted his long neck from its cumbrous stock, and pinning on the crown-piece, the hat was quite wearable again.
"Mr. Johnson will ride much more comfortably in one of the double-seated sleighs," said Edgar.
"Most certainly, Mr. Elliott," replied Cousin Jehoiakim, "you know I begged you to let me out the first sleigh we met. I reckon you did let me out to some purpose at last. By jimminy! but that was a cool dip. Wall, Cousin Anny, what do you say to my riding along with you, though I had a leetle rather sit alongside of Clarry, yet if you've no objections I havn't none."
So now was my turn to pay back my sister by as provoking a toss of the head as she gave me. Our ride the rest of the way was pleasant. Edgar's eyes grew warm and loving. Among the other interesting things we talked of, Edgar poured into my greedy ears the wonders and beauty of the almost new doctrine of the transcendentalists. He described the home he was going to give me, and called me his little wife, and said—but dear me, I am not going to tell you all he said. His passionate words and the love in his soul-full eyes lay deep in my heart as we stopped before Squire Brown's.
Then came the dressing, and then it was we found that Cousin Jehoiakim had contrived to crush the great bandbox on the seat beside him. The beautiful lace dress Miss Elliott was to have worn over a satin was torn and spoiled, also Anna's and my wreaths, also things too numerous to mention. When we told of the disaster, Brother Dick said that Anna and I looked much prettier in our own uncovered hair than with an artificial flower-garden upon our heads—that the elegant white satin of Miss Jane needed no lace to make it more beautiful—adding, in an undertone, that he would give more to see a woman dressed in the simple white muslin his little Fanny wore than for all the laces and satins that could be bought.
When we entered the ball-room we found Cousin Jehoiakim already dancing with a red-haired young lady, in a blue gauze dress. Seeing us, and wishing to astonish us, he attempted a quadruple pigeon-wing, which unfortunately entangled his great feet in the blue gauze dress, and ended in his own subversion and the dismemberment of the thin gauze. The young lady was obliged to retire for the night, while Cousin Jehoiakim slowly picked himself up. He was so much abashed I had to console him by asking him to dance with me. I really pitied the poor fellow, he could get no one but me to dance with him, still he tried so hard to make himself agreeable, and was so determinedly good-natured that it was not his fault that he could not be a second Apollo.
I was Edgar's partner for a reel.
"You seem to take very great interest in the well-doing of that odious cousin of yours," said he.
"Poor fellow! why should I not?" replied I.
"Because he is awkward and disagreeable," said he, half laughing at his own reason.
"He is as the Lord made him," replied I, in a tone of affected humility.
"But the Lord did not make you to dance with him and lavish so much attention upon him; you will oblige me very much, Clara, by not dancing any more with him and making yourself so ridiculous."
Now there was not very much in those words to take offence at, and I should, like a submissive woman that was about to be a wife, have promised obedience, but, unfortunately, being a daughter of Eve I inherited somewhat of her pride and vanity. In a different tone of voice Edgar might have said even those words without offending either pride or vanity, but his voice was cold, and his eyes were colder, and I, driving my heart away from my lips and eyes, replied—"I trust Mr. Elliott does not flatter himself he has yet the entire control of my actions."
"Just as you please."
The reel was finished, and he was off. I repented as soon as the words passed my lips—the first angry words I had spoken to him. But then, thought I, sitting down on a bench by myself, why is he so foolishly provoking and unreasonably jealous of my poor cousin. He to be so unkind, he who had ever been the noblest and most loving of sons, the kindest and truest of brothers. For a moment my heart misgave me at the thought of becoming his for life, it was only a moment. I saw through the dim vista of years a vision of peace and love.
Cousin Jehoiakim came and sat down beside me. "Ah! Cousin Clarry," said he, abruptly taking my hand and holding it, "you are good and kind to me, how happy I shall be when you are my own little wife, when the time comes to give you my hand as I already have my heart."
Cousin Jehoiakim sentimental! I looked up—Edgar's cold blue eyes were fastened upon me. I hastily drew my hand from my cousin, and sprung toward the glooming Edgar.
"Is it not near time to go, dear Edgar?" exclaimed I, grasping his hand in my own.
"Mr. Johnson can see you home. I have engaged to go with a friend of mine back to Boston."
"Edgar!"—but he was gone.
You may depend I did not ride home with Mr. Johnson, but begged a seat with my sister, leaving my cousin the "pung" with the gig-top all to himself. Whether he encountered any more stumps or pit-falls I cannot say. He and the pung came safely home, as did the rest of us.
"Mother," exclaimed I, "I do wish you would contrive some means to get rid of my odious Cousin Jehoiakim, he is the torment of my life."
"Mamma," chimed in Anna, while a smile twinkled in the corner of her eye, "Cousin Jehoiakim has ruined my beautiful French wreath, and has broken my Chinese pagoda, and my exquisite Chinese mandarins, and soiled my Book of Beauty, and has broken my new set of chess-men that Uncle Eb. brought from the East Indies, and has—dear mother, can you not think of some means of sending him to Uncle Abiram's, or to Halifax?"
"Yes, mother," said Brother Dick, with a laugh, "Hoiky has been here mischiefizing long enough; do invent some means of packing him off. We have been victimized long enough. He has broken every fishing-rod I have, and has lost my hooks, and he has lamed my beautiful pony Caesar, and ruined my gun, and yesterday, in shooting game, he shot my dog Neptune, that I have been offered fifty dollars for, and would not have taken one hundred."
"Wife," said our dear papa, coming into the room, "it is of no use, I can be patient no longer, you must devise some method of letting Nephew Jehoiakim understand we do not wish his presence any longer. Poor fellow! I would not for the world be unkind to him. I will give him an annual stipend that will support him liberally during his life, willingly, gladly, but I cannot have him here any longer. He is utterly incorrigible."
"What has he done now?" asked our dear mamma.
"He left the bars down that led into my largest, best field of wheat, and half the cattle in the country have been devouring it. They have ruined at least a couple of hundred dollars worth. The money is not what I care so much for, but it was the best wheat-field for miles around, and I had a pride in having it yield more than any field of my neighbors. I have borne with him day after day, hoping he might do better. Poor fellow! he is sorry enough always for his mistakes. The other day he left the garden-gate open, and the cows got in and eat all my cabbages and other vegetables; then he leaves the barn-door open, and the hogs go in and the calves come out."
"We will see," said our dear mamma.
The next morning at the breakfast-table said our dear mother—
"You will have a delightful day to ride in, dear nephew."
Cousin Jehoiakim opened wide his eyes, inquiringly.
"Richard, my son, I hope you did not forget to tell Mr. Grimes to let the stage stop here this morning. It will be very inconvenient for your cousin to be obliged to stay another day. I packed your trunk this morning early, dear nephew, just after you left your room, knowing how you disliked the trouble."
Still wider opened my cousin's eyes.
"Harry, my son," said mamma to my little brother, "those cakes and dough-nuts are for your cousin to take with him for his lunch."
"Mayn't I have a piece of pie then?"
"Go and get what you want of Mercy, my dear. I put some runs of yarn in your trunk, dear nephew, you may give them with my love to sister Abigal, and tell her the wool is from white Kitty. She will remember the sheep. Give my love to brother Abiram with this letter."
Still wider opened Cousin Jehoiakim's eyes.
"You will find also in your trunk a dozen and a half of new linen shirts that I have taken the liberty of putting there instead of your old ones."
"Thank you, dear aunt, you are very kind. I really am very sorry to leave you all. I have enjoyed myself very much here; but Aunt Abigail will feel hurt if I do not pay her a visit. I shall come again as soon as I can, so do not cry your eyes out, Cousin Clarry."
The stage came and Cousin Jehoiakim went.
And the way I lured back my flown bird would make quite an interesting sentimental little story of itself. Bless his bright eyes! they are shining on me now, full of mischief at this sketch I am giving you, beloved reader. But didn't we have a nice wedding time? There was Anna and her brave lieutenant, Brother Dick and his bright little Fanny, the beautiful, majestic Jane, and my beautiful, majestic Cousin Clarence, and my darling, good Edgar, and, dear reader, your very humble servant.
BY HENRY B. HIRST.
How many legends have been told or sung Since Rome—the nursling of the wolf—arose, Lean, gaunt and grim, and lapped the bubbling blood Of fallen and dying foes.
How many lyrics, which, like trumpets heard At dawn, when, clad in steel, the long array Of marshaled armies glittering in the sun Stretch, like the skies, away.
But none so golden, chivalric and holy As that of thine, Coriolanus—none In the imperial purple of old days But pale before its sun.
True, thou wast proud, and deemed the people base, Prone to idolatry of those who sought Their April smiles—who fawned to win their votes, Nor dreamed them dearly bought.
Thou, who hadst stood where death reigned like a king, First in Corioli—thy wounds in front— Preferring neigh of steed and clash of arms, The battle's deadly brunt,
To silken ease, and mirth, and song, and dance, And festal follies in Etruscan halls— Bacchantic revels, when the sun went down, Beyond the city walls,
Couldst well gaze on the mass with eagle eye, Demanding as a right their voice, and blush To bare thy scars, while thy patrician scorn Made cheek and forehead flush.
The base cabals—the hate which drove thee forth A wanderer, ennobled thee: thy fame Looked lightning on the curs that dared abuse, But lacked the power to shame.
Prouder thy spirit in that trying hour Than theirs who stung thee: well might'st thou go forth Undaunted, for thy fame was not of Rome, But, rather, of the earth.
Yet it was hard to leave thy wife and babe— Virgilia and thy little one—hard to break The bonds that held thee to them: Rome grew dear— Most dear for their sweet sake.
But as their forms waxed dim, thy festering heart Looked from thine eyes; thy swelling nostrils told The inward struggle, and thy heaving chest A human ocean rolled.
Kneeling upon the ground, thy sinister arm Adjuring heaven, thy soul broke forth in tones Of thunder; but thy agony in that hour Pale Rome repaid with groans.
Coldly, with stately step and placid brow— A lull—the herald of the approaching storm— Thou went'st thy way toward Antium—trod its streets Without the thought of harm.
Humble was thy approach, but thou went'st forth A Mars of the time—thy snorting steed arrayed And glistering with gold, while at thy heels A thousand clarions brayed.
Rome from her seven hills looked down with fear, Appalled and breathless, while her people stood Like men awoke from sleep, amazed, aghast— With agues in their blood.
Like an avenging angel with the sword Of wrath unsheathed, careering toward thy home Through flame and blood, thou rod'st: thy coming shook The hundred gates of Rome.
She, who abused, beseeched thee, but in vain— Humbled herself before thee; yet thy hate Was unappeased; and, like one stricken dumb, Rome gazed upon her fate.
But when Volumnia came—thy mother—she Who bore thee 'neath her heart, and, at her side The one who, in thy softer hours, with love Thy trembling lip called bride,
Leading thy child—thy boy—the old hours came Like south wind over thee; thy icy soul Dissolved in tears; thy hard—thy iron heart Acknowledged love's control,
And Rome was saved—Rome, who had wronged, was free! —Thou lost!—O, never from the depths of Time Came sweeter record of the power of love Than this, in my poor rhyme.
Never was story fuller of the strength Of love o'er hate: undimmed by age, it breathes A perfume, and a crown around thy brow, Coriolanus, wreathes!
A TALE OF MARION'S MEN.
BY MRS. MARY G. HORSFORD.
—"Mightier far Than strength of nerve or sinew, or the sway Of magic potent over sun or star Is Love, though oft to agony distrest, And though his favorite seat be feeble woman's breast."
Night o'er the Santee! up the sky The pale moon went with misty eye; And in the west a brooding cloud— Departed day's wind-lifted shroud— Waved slowly in the depths of blue, While now and then a world looked through The broken edge, as from above Steals down a seraph's glance of love, Through sorrow's cloud and mortal air, On breaking hearts or tearful prayer.
Within the recess of the wood That on the river's margin stood, Encamped beneath the shade Of solemn pine and cypress tree, And tulip soaring high and free, A patriot band had made Their pillows of the moss and leaves, Through which the moaning south-wind grieves When day forsakes the glade. And all save one slept hushed as night Beneath the starry Infinite— That one a boy in years, Whose daring arm and flashing eye, When death and danger hovered nigh, Belied the trembling fears And shrinking dread that seemed to speak, From quivering lip and pallid cheek At sight of war's array; The first the fearful strife to bide, Forever at his captain's side, Was Lennard in the fray; Yet strange to tell, though oft beside That captain's form he dared to bide The cannon's fiery blast, His hand no human blood had shed, Beneath his steel no foe had bled, When in the battle cast. So said his comrades tried and cold, Who marveled that a heart so bold, Should beat in pitying breast. And now beside the smouldering fire, He marked its flickering flames expire, And watched his leader's rest.
That leader—in the civil strife Then waged for Liberty and Life, No braver spirit stood, Between his country and the chain, Mistaken tyranny would fain Have cast o'er lake and wood; And though in manhood's early morn, Young Huon led through strife and scorn A trusty troop and free, Who left their homes his lot to share, For Freedom sworn to live and dare, Or die—at Fate's decree; And from the covert solitude Of dark morass and thicket rude Guerilla warfare waged, On Tory band, unwary foe, And struck full many a dauntless blow, While hate and conflict raged.
One hour from midnight and the sleep That wrapped the stalwart frame so deep, Was woke by guard and sign; The forest sounded with the tramp Of rushing steeds, until the camp Was reached by foremost line Of the brigade of fearless men, Who rode through wood, and brake, and fen, As speeds the red deer to his glen. No gorgeous suit of war array, No uniform of red or gray In that rude band were seen; The ploughman's dress, but coarse and plain, And marred by toil with many a stain, Betrayed no gilded sheen; Their only badge the white cockade, No dagger's point or glittering blade Was worn with martial pride, But sabre hilt and rifle true, Oftimes of dark, ensanguined hue, Were ever at the side. They hailed their comrades in the fight, With blazing fires illumed the night, And waged with jest and smile, As toward the lurid torches' light Rode up their chief the while. No pert gallant or Conrad he, With gay plume waving haughtily; Nor donned he aught his troopers o'er, Save that the leathern cap he wore In front a silver crescent bore, Inscribed with "Death or Liberty." Of stature low, the piercing eye, And forehead broad, and full, and high, And lined with lofty thought; Were all that marked from his compeers, The man who through long, gloomy years With tireless vigor wrought, Nerved by defeat for loftier aim, To build his country's Hope and Fame, And win for her a seat divine Beneath bright Freedom's hallowed shrine; And few, though rashly brave, would dare, To start the Swamp Fox from his lair. Or in his fastness wild and dun, Cope with the rebel Marion.
[Footnote 2: Swamp Fox was the cognomen bestowed on Marion by the British.]
Soon Huon by the river's tide Sought out his brave commander's side, And listened with respectful air, To learn what new emprise to share, What lurking foe to shun or brave. Short was their conference and grave, Ere Huon bade a trooper call His page, young Lennard, to his aid; And passing 'neath the cedar tall, And giant oaks' far spreading shade, The boy with graceful step and light, Stood quickly in his captain's sight, And Marion thus, in kindly tone, Spoke with a frankness all his own. "'T is said, my boy, thy heart is brave, Thy courage sure, and caution grave; This night, then, we will task thy power. Seek, ere the closing of the hour, The village inn that stands below, Embowered within the coppice glade, And learn the bearings of the foe— Their force in camp, and field, and shade; But ere the silver moon again O'er Carolina's hills shall wane, Meet us beside the deep lagoon Beyond, that knows no scorching noon."
Anon, far down the silent wood, Undaunted by its solitude, Sped Lennard on his way; Until beneath a blasted pine, Beyond the forest gray, That tall, and bald, and hoary white, Gleamed through the dusky veil of night, As through Life's mist on human sight Gleams vital truth divine, He paused, and from a whistle clear, Drew notes that thrilled the valley near.
Within the rebel camp, meanwhile, No slumbers winning smiles beguile, From care to dreams away; The troop who view with fearless heart The coming strife and battle's mart; And thus with blithesome song, though rude, Awake the echoes of the wood:
Though dark the night, And fierce the fight, We fear no living foe; The swamp our home, The sky our dome, Our bed the turf below; We hail the strife, And prize not life, Unblessed by Freedom's smile;
And Age and Youth, To patriot Truth, Pledge hopefully the while.
Our Country's name Must sink in shame, Or sound in triumph free; Then, brothers, on! For Marion, Our homes and liberty.
'T was morning—from the golden sky Night fled before day's burning eye, As flies the minister of sin From souls that kneel to God, to win Courage to meet the tempter's wile, And strength upon the strife to smile. Scarce had the cloudless sun betrayed, The flowers that bloomed in meadows low, Ere toward a thickly shaded glade, An armed horseman traveled slow; And paused beside a gushing spring, Whose gentle murmurs thrilled the air, As thrills an angel's unseen wing The distant blue when mounting there. The dark trees hung above its wave, A tapestry of green, And arching o'er the waters, gave A softness to the sheen Of mellow light that darted through The dewy leaves of richest hue; While round the huge trunks many a vine, Had bade its graceful tendrils twine; The blossoming grape and jessamine pale, Loading with sweets the summer gale. Not long with hasty step he trod The narrow path and flowery sod, Ere gently o'er the sere leaves' bed A maiden passed with faltering tread.
Oh! light was the step of the blooming girl, And glossy the hue of the raven curl, And joyous the glance of the dark eye's play, When the pride of the village was Morna Grey. But ruthless war to her dwelling came, Her brothers slept on the field of fame, Her father's blood on his hearth was shed; And the desolate orphan in anguish fled To the cottage of one who her childhood nursed, And who soothed the spirit that grief had cursed; And now in the depths of that speaking eye There slumbered a sadness still and high, But veiled with a clear and mellow light, Like the softened glow of a moonlit night; And the rose on her cheek that came and went, Like the hues of the West when day is spent, Told how the chords of the heart below, Quivered and shrunk at the breath of wo. But why did a presage of coming ill, With a fiercer pang her bosom thrill, And pale her cheek to a deadlier hue, As she sought the spring where the jessamine grew? She had come to meet for a moment there, Ere he sought the field in the strife to share, One who her father had blessed in death, As she pledged her faith with faltering breath; And Huon with joyous smile and gay, Welcomed the presence of Morna Grey.
But the words they spoke were short and few— A soldier must be to his duty true; And ere a half hour had hastened by, She watched his steed as it hurried nigh, O'er the verdant plain to the cedars tall, Where his men were waiting their leader's call. As she dashed the drops that dimmed her sight, From the dark-fringed lids where they trembled bright, A rustling was heard in the brushwood near, And a crone, whose wild and fantastic gear Betrayed the erring of mind within, Stood in her presence with mocking grin. "Said I not sorrows in dark array, Crowded the future of Morna Grey? Why from the cheek do the roses fly? Where is the light of the flashing eye? Where has the rounded lips, ruby red, Gone, since we parted beside the dead? The white owl entered the casement high, O'er the brow of the dying I saw it fly; Presager of death! I hailed its wing, She scorned the omen but felt the sting Of bitter grief, when another day Bore her angel Mother from earth away. I warned her, when on the coming blast I saw the phantom-like shades flit past; She smiled on my words as idle play, But wept when her sire, in the midnight fray, Felled to the dust by the Tory's blade, Died in the home where his bones are laid; When the cold drops stood on the forehead fair, And the curdling blood on the thin, gray hair. But the dead in silence forgotten sleep; She is weaving on earth a vision deep, Of joyous hopes that must fade and die, Like the bow that smiles when the tempests fly, In vain the strength of her youth is shed, In a path where she trembles and fears to tread; In vain—in vain would the fragile form, Brave the hot breath of the cannon's storm; The bullet speeds on its mission free— A broken heart and a grave I see."
"Though dark my way, I fear it not; Speed, woman, to thy sheltered cot, Lest thou, with no protector nigh, Should catch some hostile wanderer's eye. My trust is in that mighty Power, Who rules the battle's wildest hour; And woman's love is like the flower That bloometh not in sunny bower; But when the dark and solemn night, Has gathered round with storm and blight, Unfolds its petals bright and rare, And sheds its fragrance on the air; And if it dare and peril all, Asks only to preserve or fall, His bleeding land requires his arm— God will protect the brave from harm."
"Behold!" and Morna turned to gaze Upon the huge tree, dark and lone, The withered finger of the crone Marked out, and glancing in the rays Of morn, beheld a serpent coil Its glossy length, with easy toil, Up the brown trunk, till close it hung Above the wild bird's nest and young; While round and round, with scream of dread, The frighted bird in anguish fled; And vainly sought to drive the foe From his dark aim again below.
Moments there are when Reason's control, Yieldeth to Fancy in heart and soul; When the spirit views with prescient eye, The common light and shaded sky, An omen finds in the falling leaf, And symbols in all things of joy or grief. And this was one, for on that failing strife Had Morna cast her dearest hope in life. Must she behold with power as vain to shield, Earth's only blessing from her presence torn? Was there a fiercer pang for her revealed In that short conflict than she yet had known? Her dark eyes grew more wildly bright, And gleamed with an intenser light, As closer drew the venomed fang, And shrill the lone bird's accents rang. But, hark! a shot—a rustling fall— Approaching steps—a sportman's call— The parent bird is in the dust; And o'er the path that homeward led, With fleeting step fair Morna fled, And breathed a prayer of thanks and trust. Though sweet to live, more blest to die, For those that strong affections tie Has fettered to the clinging heart, With links not Death can wholly part.
The day wore on, and down the West, The sun had rolled in his unrest; While gorgeous clouds of gold and red, Reflected back the splendor fled; And twilight—pensive nun, to pray, In silence drew her veil of gray. The last bright gleam was waxing pale, And low night winds began their wail, When near a ruined house, that stood Within a grove of tulip wood, Young Lennard paused and gazed awhile, With clouded brow and saddened smile, On trampled flowers, and shrubs, and vine, Torn from the pillar it would twine With verdant bloom, and casting round Its scarlet blossoms on the ground. A waste of weeds the garden lay, And grass grew in the carriage way; Cold desolation, like a pall, Had spread its mantle over all; Yet not the creeping touch of Time, Had wrecked that dwelling in its prime. The fierce and unrelenting wrath Of human war had crossed that path, And left its trace on all things near, Save the blue sky above our sphere. Anon, with hurried step and free, He crossed the ruined balcony, And passing by the fallen door, Stood on the dark hall's oaken floor. Lighting the pine-torch that he bore, He watched its lurid beams explore The gloomy precincts, and passed on, As one who knew each winding well, To a low room that lay beyond, And echoed to the south wind's knell. Upon the threshold crushed and lone, By rude marauder's hand o'erthrown, The holy volume lay; He raised it from its station there, And smoothed the crumpled leaves with care, Then sadly turned away To gaze upon a portrait near, Whose thoughtful eyes, so calm and clear, And chastened look and lofty mien, And forehead noble and serene, Told of a spirit touched by time Only to soften and sublime; Of woman's earnest faith and love Surmounting earth to soar above.
With quivering lip the boy gazed long; Unheeded and unmarked a throng Might there have met, so fixed his soul On Memory's unfolding scroll. He knew not that the hours crept by, And sullen grew the deepening night; Again he met his mother's eye, As erst in joyous days and bright, And heard the accents clear and mild, Now hushed in death, breathe o'er her child A fervent blessing and a prayer; Again his father's silver hair Gleamed on his sight, although the tomb Had closed him in its rayless gloom.
His leathern cap aside was flung, And o'er his brow the dark locks hung In wild confusion, as he stood Amid that haunted solitude, Raising the blazing torch to throw Upon the pictured face its glow. In him a careless eye might see A semblance of that face in life; With more of fire and energy To brave the storm and strife; With more of earthly hope to claim, And less of Heaven—yet still the same.
But suddenly the mystic spell That bound him to the Past was rent; The vivid lightning, forked and red, Flashed through the broken casement, blent With the loud thunder's awful roar, Prolonged and echoing o'er and o'er. The warring of the world without Offended not the struggling heart; Roused from the apathy of thought He sought the casement with a start, And watched the raging storm sweep by With kindling cheek and flashing eye.
On! on! it came with fiery breath, Instinct with rage and winged with death, As downward swept, ere Time begun His swift and varied race to run, Through realms chaotic and sublime, With wing of light and forehead pale, Immortal in remorse and crime, Thrilling the Infinite with wail, The apostate troops from lands of light To darkness, shame and withering blight. On! on! it came, and in its path The tall trees bent beneath its wrath, And fell with hollow, crashing sound, Torn and uprooted, to the ground. Still nearer grew the lightning flash, And heavier broke the thunder crash; And as, with almost blinded gaze, Watched Lennard the electric blaze, He saw through rain and densest night A thin, pale line of waving light Speed to a lofty oak, whose head Sunk powerless to its parent bed.
The hours passed on—the storm had spent The fury to its madness lent, And wild and sullen clouds on high In broken masses swept the sky, As Lennard left the ruined hall, And, bounding o'er the garden wall, Walked swiftly o'er the lonely plain, Till 'neath the blasted pine again He paused, and blew the whistle low; Soon from a clump of firs below An aged servant slowly led A saddled steed: the pale moon shed Its fitful gleam as Lennard sprung Light to his seat, then fearless flung The bridle loose, and spurring, soon Drew up beside a deep lagoon, Whose stagnant waters 'neath the moon Glimmered through bush and hanging vine, And cypress bald and ragged pine. Concealed within the spectral gloom, Of wide morass and forest tomb, His comrades there he found; By many a devious winding led, Where the pale fire-flies' torches shed A fitful gleam around, He paused at length where Huon stood, Amid his faithful band, though rude, And thus his errand told: "Where bends the Santee in the plain Has Tarleton's troop encamped again, With careless movement bold; One half his men will march to-night To join the troop on Charleston height, The guard will be both dull and light; A few short hours, with speed and care, Must lead us to the station there."
His mission o'er, with thoughtful look, The boy sought out a shaded nook, Apart from all—yet near The opening where the men had laid Their rations on the mossy glade, Beside the swamp-marsh drear. Silent was he, reserved and shy, Seldom raising cap or eye; Not many days since first his hand Had joined him to that patriot band; Yet none more truly did fulfill, The duties of his arm required, Though slight withal, and often still When the loud signal-gun was fired, The herald of the coming fight, His cheek would pale like flowers at night Beneath the autumn's chilling blight; None knew his residence or name, Save that of Lennard, which he told The morn when to the camp he came, And begged that he might be enrolled In Huon's corps, to serve with those Who bled to heal their country's woes; Of late his arm had bolder grown When in the rout and skirmish thrown, And stronger, too, and Huon loved The slender boy who at his side Stood nobly when o'er War's red tide The fiery death-shot moved.
'Twas midnight, as with silent tread, Like one who bears the coffined dead, His valiant troopers Marion led Through long and dark defile; And on they marched till morning light With streaks of crimson touched the night; Then, unannounced by trumpet-clang, Fell on the slumb'ring foe; Swift to his post each warrior sprang, Above, around, below; And soon in close and eager strife, As o'er the tomb meet Death and Life, The hostile forces stood; The sabre flashed in day's bright eye, The whizzing shot, death-winged, swept by, The turf grew red with blood; And where the charge was hottest made, Where boldest fell the flashing blade, Was Huon foremost there; And ever near his daring hand The youngest, gentlest of his band, Stood Lennard on that day; Fierce raged the conflict o'er the dead, Until, o'erpowered, the vanquished fled; Yet ere they left the fray One aimed the bloody lance he bore At Huon's heart—a moment more, And Lennard fell, his life-blood o'er The green turf welling fast; The blade that sought his leader's breast His hand aside had cast; Swift to his aid his comrades prest; The death-hue on his forehead lay As Huon flung both sword and lance With quivering lip away, And met in Lennard's dying glance The smile of Morna Grey.
Beside the Santee's murmuring wave, They made the early dead a grave; And sometimes on its borders green The passing traveler has seen A spot where pale wild roses blow The lofty oaks and firs below— The turf is verdant with the spray— There sleeps the dust of Morna Grey. And Huon?—Still his daring arm Was lifted in his country's aid, Though life had lost its sunniest charm, And o'er the future hung a shade; And time would fail me now to tell Of all the deeds his valor wrought, How, when Fort Moultrie's color fell, He mounted 'mid the flames and shot The merlon height, and fixed on high The starry banner 'mid the sky. Nor how he died—the nobly slain, In bearing from the battle-plain The flag intrusted to his care. But deeds like these were common then As life, and light, and air; Brave deeds that shall forever round Our nation's annals cling; Perchance some louder harp shall sound, Some bolder spirit sing. For me—the first pale star on high Herald's the night with beaming eye, And down the west has rolled the sun— My song is o'er—my task is done.
During the Revolution, a young girl plighted to an officer of Marion's corps, followed him without being discovered to the camp, where, dressed in male attire, and unknown to him, she enrolled in the service. A few days after, during a fierce conflict that occurred, she stood by his side in the thickest of the fight, and in turning away a lance aimed at his heart received it in her own, and fell bleeding at his feet. She was buried on the banks of the Santee. He was afterward distinguished in the service at Fort Moultrie, and at Savannah, where he received his death-wound in carrying off the flag which was intrusted to him.
THE POLE'S FAREWELL.
BY WM. H. C. HOSMER.
Warsaw, farewell! Alone that word Fame's dark eclipse recalls; The voice of wail alone is heard Within her ruined walls— Her pavement rings beneath the tread Of bondsmen by their master led.
Hope kindles on my native shore No more her beacon fires— The Northern Bear is trampling o'er The dust of fallen sires, And signal ever to destroy Hath been his growl of savage joy.
Oh! for one hour of glory gone— An arm of might to hurl The Czar, in thunder, from his throne, And Freedom's flag unfurl; Then welcome, like a bride, the grave, Unbranded by the name of slave!
Our snowy Eagle screams no more Defiance high and loud; The wing is broken that could soar Through battle's smoky cloud, And wounded by a coward's spear, His perch is now lost Poland's bier.
Once happy was the hall of Home, Now Desolation's lair— Blood stains its hearth, and I must roam A pilgrim of despair, Leaving, when heart and brain grow cold, My weary bones in foreign mould.
[Footnote 3: The Ensign of Poland is a White Eagle.]
THE FORTUNES OF A SOUTHERN FAMILY.
A TALE FOUNDED ON FACT.
BY A NEW CONTRIBUTOR.
"Oh! it is pleasant for the good to die—to feel Their last wild pulses throbbing, while the seal Of death is placed upon the tragic brow; The soul in quiet looks within itself, And sees the heavens faintly pictured there."
Now, would that I could wield as magic a pencil as did Benjamin West, that mighty paint-king, how quickly would glow upon canvas one of the most beautiful and magnificent landscapes that ever entranced the eye of a scenery-loving traveler—a landscape upon which you might gaze enraptured every day for years, as I have done, and yet never tire nor grow less fond of beholding it. I would paint for your especial gratification, a living, a breathing picture of my old homestead, endeared by so many joy-fraught hours, and the surrounding scenery, through which I roved until I knew its every nook and corner as well as my dog-leaved spelling-book, by the venerable Dilworth. But, as it is, dear reader, I must be content to offer you a rude "pen and ink sketch," excavated from the ruins of my childhood recollections of as exquisitely beautiful and picturesque a spot as ever riveted the human gaze.
Imagine, for a moment, that we are standing upon a ledge of moss-grown rocks, projecting from a red hill-side, and whose verge beetles over a foaming river, which swirls and rages amongst the uplifting crags, flashing with diamonds in its rush and impetuosity, and then, placid and almost waveless, creeping on through the gnarled old forest with a faint murmur, seeming like a huge serpent of silver asleep in the gushing sunshine.
We are leaning against a rugged mass of the gray ledge—your head is resting upon your right hand, and you are gazing intently down at the circle and whirl of the romping waters. Only a few yards above, a cool spring gushes up, quick and bright, dimpling and laughing in the arrowy sunshine, then flashing and foaming over the dark rocks, and twisting in and out among the bare roots of the majestic oak that cools us with its shadows, falls in a golden shower to the mossy basin at your feet, and leaping over the steep precipice, mingles in foam with the seething river below. We are turned toward the west, and as you raise your eyes to a level with the horizon, one of the most stupendous views of the Blue Mountains that ever caused man to stop in breathless awe, now presents itself to your astonished gaze. Mountain towers behind mountain, and peak behind peak in wild sublimity, like giant waves heaved along the blue sky, almost seeming as if they were the ramparts of the world. Their sloping sides are dark with forests, save here and there, where the axe has penetrated their recesses, and blocked out spaces which, having been touched with the magic of the plough, now smile with fertility. And yonder, a little to your right, lifting his narrow pinnance above all the rest, stands time-honored Currahee, with his red cap on—for thus we are accustomed to designate the barren soil which crowns his lofty summit.
Now, for a moment, permit me to call your attention farther up the river. Did you ever see a more entrancing and exquisitely beautiful cascade, steeped as it is in the softness, and glowing with the brightness of a cloudless spring morning? See how the wreathes of foam come bounding along, like a pack of ravenous wolves chasing each other, and stop suddenly in their mad career, for an instant equipoising upon the very brink, as if they had shrunk back and feared to take the awful leap, then, pushed on by the rush of the waters behind, descend like a shower of diamonds, and come whirling and dashing through the narrow gorge at our feet. And is not that deep basin at the base of the falls glorious? What an angry aspect its surface puts on, plunging and surging like a mass of living snow, while the flashing sunlight is perpetually endeavoring to paint a rainbow in the ever-mounting spray, and yet never quite succeeds. And those massive rocks, too, piling themselves up so quaintly on either side of the falls, just where they take the final plunge—are they not magnificent? How verdant and mossy, and superb in their ruggedness! Oh! if we were only upon one of those ledges—that one that seems ready to bow itself into the foaming torrent; if we only stood there, by that wide-spreading, gnarled old oak, twisting its dark roots in and out amongst the deep crevices like a knot of huge serpents, what a glorious prospect would burst upon your sight! There are so many entrancing scenes about my birth-place, but, among them all, none as magnificent as the one you behold from that mossy ledge. But the bridge—did you look at the old bridge? See where it stands festooned with shadows. That is a dear spot to me, for with it are associated some of the most treasured recollections of my boyhood. One end of this time-worn fabric opens into a sandy lane, with broad, green margins on both sides next the zig-zag fences, where I have so often gathered a bunch of flowers for my instructress, as I passed through it on my way to the school-house; the other is embowered by a clump of oak and beech trees, which, together with a few hemlocks and chestnuts, out-skirt a superb grove of evergreens, in the midst of which towers the little white cottage of Farmer Daniels. There was always a dream-like stillness about the old bridge that pleased me; and I have spent whole hours in peeping through the crevices of those time-worn and trampled planks, at the dark, deep waters creeping and dimpling beneath the massive and sodden arches with a low gurgle, receiving a sheet of silver sheen as they stole away into the rich sunshine; and, in gazing over the rude balustrade where the gaudy butterflies flitted around, or rested by the river's brink, opening and shutting their unruffled fans; or in flinging pebbles into the placid waters, and then watching the widening circles as they swept down with the current. But there is yet another thing about the old bridge for which I have cherished memories; that venerable buttonwood tree, gnarled and twisted into the quaintest and most comical deformity, that looms up from that high bank at the end of the lane. That bough which projects so far over the rippling surface, making a horizontal bend, like that of a man's arm, and then shooting up several yards at an obtuse angle, terminating in a mass of luxuriant foliage, was my favorite seat, when fishing, through many a long summer.
Now, look still farther down the river. Follow the grass-fringed banks in their graceful curve around yonder dark, gray promontory, until your eye rests upon a long ridge of snowy foam, where a stream of considerable magnitude mingles its waters with those of the river. Glancing a little way up this stream, a huge old mill presents itself to view, blackened with exposure, and grown picturesque by the lapse of years. Here and there the green moss adorns its roof, and slumbers along the walls with a quaint richness, especially where the heavy water-wheel, revolving in a sea of foam, keeps it shadowy and moist. A short distance above stands the pond—a broad, beautiful expanse of water, glittering like a sheet of untarnished silver; and, in a shady nook, close by the dam, where the large weeping-willow sways its long, drooping branches to and fro wearily, floats a little boat, endeared by many a fond remembrance.
Turn once more, and mark how the river, increased in size by the addition of the mill-stream, having swept around Castle-Hill, (so named from its rugged front and frowning aspect,) comes resplendently into view again, glowing like a sheet of burnished white, in strange and singular contrast with the many and dense shadows which always fringe its banks like heaps of black drapery. See where it takes a sudden bend, flowing back toward the falls, and then curving gracefully to the west, dividing against a jutting rock, and sweeping around it and the adjacent woodland, forming an island about a mile in circumference. That large white building, which crowns the summit of that gentle declivity on the nearest side of the island, with a neat porch in front, half embowered by vines and fruit trees—that is my birth-place. There never was a spot at once so tranquil and picturesque as that where stands my dear old homestead. Is it not a beautiful mansion-house? How sequestered and deliciously cool? The slope down to the river's brink is covered with a wilderness of shrubbery; while to the right of the garden-fence spreads a magnificent grove of white pines, once making a famous play-ground for us children. Down yonder, in that old field waving with long grass, beyond the grove, is a patch of splendid blackberry bushes; and near that old ivy-bound oak on the bank, leaning so gracefully over the placid waters, as if to greet his image reflected in its vast mirror, is a fine place to hunt summer grapes. At the building, that little right-hand window with a shutter, around which are trailed pea-vines and purple morning-glories, and just above the roof of the porch, opens into a small chamber—my sleeping-room. At night you can behold a most magnificent prospect from that little window. It looks directly down upon the river, which, when there is a full moon and cloudless sky, seems like one broad belt of molten silver, weaving its way in and out among the gnarled old trees, at intervals, sparkling through openings in the thrifty foliage with exceeding beauty; and again, entangled in the black shadows flung upon it by the beetling crags above. Then all is so silent, too, save the snowy water-fall sending up its eternal anthem to the skies, yet coming to your ears with such a pleasant sound that you never tire in listening. Sometimes the sky is full of golden stars, and then the scene is so beautiful—oh! so very beautiful! Many a time have I stolen from my bed, far away in the night, while all the rest were in deep repose, to gaze upon the soft moonlight flashing over the meadows until they looked like acres of green velvet, and gathering upon the dark foliage until it almost seemed as if it were sprinkled with umber dust, or to gaze at the deep blue cerulean, studded with innumerable burning orbs.
There is another object to which I must direct your particular attention, since it assumes an important place in the relation of my story. Trace the road from where it leaves the east end of the bridge with an abrupt curve, sweeping around that magnificent grove of evergreens, passes the old mill, and turning to the east again for a short distance, threads its way along a grassy lane, and you arrive before a neat, commodious frame building, prettily white-washed in front, and hedged in by a rustic fence, with a little gate opening next the road. This was the dwelling of our schoolmistress, the remembrance of whom will ever be an oasis upon the deserts of memory—for to her I owe some of the most pleasurable moments of my boyhood existence. A more Christian-like spirit, a soul fraught with greater or intenser sympathies, and a mind less selfish in its manifestations, or imbued with more genial influences than hers, never existed within the compass of human being. As a teacher, she was firm, yet mild; as a neighbor, kind and obliging—in a word, her whole demeanor was such that the heart unconsciously awakened to affectionate regard. The dwelling of our schoolmistress was originally built, at her request, by a benevolent farmer, with the understanding between them that some future day should witness a transfer of ownership, and contains but three apartments—a large room, which, in the words of the old song, serves for "parlor, for kitchen, and hall," and two small chambers, but all as neat as hands can make them. Its white front, and massive stone chimnies, were completely embowered by a clump of superb maples, whose heavy branches twining their dark foliage, form a delightful arbor over the very entrance, from the first bursting forth of the tiny buds into perfect life and beauty, until autumn comes with its garment of mourning, and the sere and yellow leaves slowly forsake the limbs which have been their birth-place. A thicket of damask and white roses, lilac trees, and clusters of pale-blue clematis, with a wealth of other flowers, luxuriate beneath, where they receive just enough of the warm and rich sunshine that flashed through the woven shades upon them in the morning, and of the scented dew-drops which the wind shakes from the leaves above at nightfall, to make them the most beautiful flower-plot in all the neighborhood. At the back, a low shed, extending the whole length of the house, one corner projecting further than the rest, and covering a cool spring that gushes up, quick and bright, with a sweet impetuosity, and goes dancing merrily across the green meadow, bright and glorious in the sunlight, but sullen in the shade. The scenery around, too, is magnificent. Here spreads a vast and unbroken forest, whose mighty solitudes once echoed to the whar-whoop of the savage, and looked upon his horrid rites beneath a midnight moon, or scowling sky; and, in the dim distance loom the granite-based mountains, like giant pillars to the vault of heaven, from whose tempest-beaten summits fifty centuries have looked down, unnoted and unknown.
Our schoolmistress was a widow, the Widow White, as she was usually designated. A woman of middle-age at the commencement of my story, she had devoted many years to securing a decent competence for her declining years, and for her only child such an education as would prepare him for an honorable station in society. Early wedded to a young clergyman of promising expectations, she was left a widow shortly after the birth of a son, and only a few days after her husband had assumed his duties as pastor of the little flock amidst which she had scarcely taken her abode. Thus left alone at the very period when most she needed a protector, she began her course with the unfaltering energy which ever characterized her undertakings. Yielding to conscientious scruples, she refused the assistance kindly offered by the surrounding community, and having chosen a vocation, assiduously applied herself to the accomplishment of her cherished purpose. Ere long, she had heaped together an amount of money sufficiently large to purchase the comfortable homestead I have pointed out.
There it is that the opening scene of my story commences. The sun was setting leisurely behind the western mountains in a mass of lurid clouds, and drowsy twilight had already begun to blur the fine scenery in the east, when Widow White sat down to her evening repast. A fire of hickory reflected a ruddy glare upon the hearth, before which reclined innocent pussy, with eyes half-closed, gazing intently at the flames as they crept slowly around the logs, and uniting, darted suddenly up the wide-mouthed chimney. The pine floor and splint chairs were scoured with scrupulous exactness; a small, oblong looking-glass, crowned with shrubs of evergreen, rested upon the high mantle-piece; the two windows were adorned with curtains of coarse, but milk-white linen, and, in one corner, stood a quaint bedstead of curled maple, covered with a counterpane of old-fashioned dimity, which lay upon it like a sheet of snow. In the centre of the room was placed a small table, covered with a cloth of freshly ironed linen, which fairly rivaled the ermine in whiteness, upon which sat a garniture of glossy porcelain. A plate of venison and nut-brown sausages, surrounded by pearly and yellow eggs, sent up its savory odors to tempt the palate, while a pitcher of rye-coffee, on which the heavy cream was mounting like a foam, stood at its side; and, near by, a loaf of warm wheat-bread, a saucer of wild-honey, and another of golden butter—these constituting the wholesome repast of which Widow White was partaking.
"Heaven be praised for a comfortable house and bountiful meal!" she piously ejaculated, rising from her seat with the expression of gratitude warm from her heart. "If we always have as good, we shall never have cause to complain."
Although no apparent attention was paid them, these words were evidently intended for her son, a tall, premature-looking youth, between the ages of fourteen and fifteen, who had entered the room only a few moments before, and now stood leaning against the mantle-piece, beating the devil's tatoo upon the wall, and, from time to time, whistling snatches of a popular air. His strongly marked features, though handsome, were bold and repulsive, the upper lip curling with half a sneer—but it was merely the soul imaged in the countenance, for, lad as he was, the spirit had quaffed many a deep draught of sinfulness, while mildew and iciness had crept down and sullied the purity of his heart, whose stern monitor-angel, conscience, still vainly strove to awaken rich melody from the chords which had once vibrated to its slightest touch.
"David," again spoke Widow White in a subdued tone of voice, raising her eyes to the face of her son, "for the last few days I have been thinking deeply of the past—thinking what a mighty change fourteen short, rapid years have wrought in every thing around me. You were a babe in the cradle then, and the grave of your father was fresh in the lonely church-yard. The sky of my life was black with the storms of adversity, and I was very unhappy, for it almost seemed as if the day which had departed from it never would dawn again. But amidst all this gloominess and desolation, one star beamed with a constant and steady radiance, and that star was yourself. I loved you as my life, and many, many a time, as I rocked you to repose, have I pictured out a bright and glorious future for you, while my mind thrilled with the pleasure of its own creations. But a blight has come upon it all. I loved you too well—too well for either mine or your own good. Yielding to the fondness of a mother's love, I indulged almost your every wish, until now, turbulent and self-willed, you spurn my best and holiest affections as a mockery, and I find, almost too late, that I have greatly erred. I speak this in no spirit of unkindness, David. I feel it to be my duty as a Christian—my duty as a mother, to talk with you as I am now doing. God knows bow fearful was the struggle within my mind before I could bring myself to the determination I have. But I am resolved now; the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I can plainly see both your danger and my own. You are trembling upon the very brink of destruction, and I would ever feel as if there were a curse upon my soul, were I to see it all, and yet not endeavor to save you. I have come to an unshaken determination. There must be a reformation."
"Another sermon, I suppose. It is bad enough to hear one every Sunday, but one every day is intolerable and insufferable," insolently broke in the lad, and he kicked the cat across the room, and began to whistle snatches of a lively air.
The widow turned with a deep sigh to the window, while a gleam of sharp agony shot across her face, and then seeming not to heed the interruption, she continued:
"Yesterday I was in the village, and saw Mr. Warwick, the saddler. I have made arrangements with him for your becoming an apprentice to the trade, and to-morrow you are to go there. It is the best thing I can do for you, David, and the fullness of a mother's heart alone prompted it. If you conduct yourself properly, you may still become an honorable man, and occupy an honorable station in society; but if you persist in your vicious habits, God only knows where you will end." Here she paused for a moment, and then added: "To-night I am going away for some hours. Mrs. Williams is very sick, perhaps dying, and has sent for me. I may not return until quite late, but, in the morning before you go, we can talk this subject over fully."
There was such an earnestness and depth of feeling in his mother's remarks, that David White felt but little inclined to reply the second time, but the dark thoughts and evil feelings rankled deeply in his heart, though no tongue gave them utterance.
Widow White gazed intently into the fire for several minutes after she had ceased speaking, and then taking her bonnet from the bed, advanced to the door, but stopped a moment on its threshold, and turning to her son, said, "Should you become drowsy before I return, carefully cover up the fire ere retiring to bed." She closed it after her, and David was alone.
He stood still until the last echo of his mother's footsteps died away in the distance, and then crept stealthily to the front window, where, seeing her passing the gate into the lane, he broke out into a low laugh, and returned again to the fire-place.
"So, I must be a saddler, must I? Ahem! Well! it takes two to play at that, so we'll see who makes high, low, Jack, and the game this deal. Hurst was about right when he said things would come to a compass afore long. Guess they have, but who cares? I reckon I know which side my bread is buttered!"
Here David White again crossed over to the window, and looked out. His mother was far away in the lane, and just turning the last pannel of the garden fence, where the road branched off, and led by the old mill. Withdrawing from the window, he took a small hand-saw file, and a rudely fashioned key from his pocket, passed over to the bed, and lifting the foot-valance, drew out a large and strong oaken chest; then glancing hurriedly around the room to be sure that no one was present, he applied the key to the lock. It did not quite fit, but, after carefully filing and applying it for some time, the bolt turned in its socket, and the chest stood open before him. In rummaging the till, he at length discovered the object of his search, a purse of silver coin, the accumulated gains of months, and placed there by his mother only a few days previous. This was not her usual depository for money, but, in the present instance, it had been laid aside until the absent minister of the village should return, into whose hands she was accustomed to deliver her spare funds for safe keeping. Laying the purse by his side, he locked the chest, and having arranged every thing as nearly as possible as he found it, retired through an opposite door into his chamber.
"Twenty dollars and a shilling, I think they said," muttered he to himself. "A good round sum for one evening's work. I wonder if I hadn't better take mother's fashion, and praise Heaven for it?"
Having entered his chamber, he sat down to count his newly-acquired treasure, and finding the amount as large as he expected, carefully deposited it, with the exception of a few dollars, in a leathern belt around his person. Then assuming his shot-pouch, and flinging his rifle to his shoulder, he stooped down, and taking a small bundle, wrapped in a silk handkerchief, from his trunk, retired from the house, slamming the door violently after him, and walked rapidly on, until he reached the summit of an eminence near the old moss-grown mill, which was the last place from which he could see the home he was leaving, perhaps forever. Here he stopped for a few moments, leaned his rifle and bundle against a large, long-limbed, butter-nut, and sat down upon a decaying log at its foot, to gaze, for the last time, upon the old mansion which had been his home from earliest remembrance.
It has been said that there are times when the stoniest hearts are softened; when the sternest natures are made mild, and when the most abandoned are like little children. That moment had now come for David White. It was strange, passing strange. He had committed crime upon crime, yet scarcely felt a moment's remorse; for years he had acted toward his mother as if his whole soul were naught but selfishness; but when he came to leave that mother, that old homestead, and all the bright and beautiful objects around it, a softness breathed over his iron-nature, and the fount of tears sent up its gushing libations. I have often thought that such feelings must be akin to those mysterious, indefinable, and gloomy forebodings—those dim and indescribable fears and shrinkings within self, that sometimes come over our spirits like a creeping, icy thrill—in the midst of a giddy round of pleasure, or, as we stand by the grave's brink to see our friends entombed, and yet which no earthly or human cause is able to explain.
He was beholding everything for the last time, and he looked around him as the dying man upon his nearest friends, when he feels the cold hand of death pressed heavily upon his brow, and the silver chords of his spirit's harp gathering to their utmost tension, and snapping, one by one, like reeds before the blast. There was the home which had sheltered him in his helplessness, glowing in a shower of soft moonlight, and seeming more beautiful than he ever saw it before. There the only true love this wide world of cold and bitter heartlessness can know, beamed on his infant eyes; and there he had spent the only happy moments in all his boyhood existence. In that little room he had first learned to pray, and there, first forgotten the duty. There his mother had watched over him night after night, when he had a burning fever, and the grave had half-opened its terrible portals for his entrance. And now he was going to abandon that mother who had loved and cherished him so fondly—leave her all alone, a joyless, childless widow, and for what cause? He choked down the emotion that rose to his mind, and turned hurriedly in another direction. Not more than twenty paces from him, a stream went dancing and bubbling across the road like a track of liquid silver—the stream that was fed by the cool spring at home; and he remembered how he had gazed in transport, many years agone, at the bright-hued insects floating in the meek, golden-colored sunshine, now sinking their velvet feet into the moist sand upon the water's brink, and sipping tiny draughts; or, resting upon the edges of the blue and crimson flowers that looked up like gems from the verdant grass, opening and shutting their unruffled fans, woven of gold and sunlight. He turned away from the scene sick at heart, but still another object presented itself to view, awakening old memories. A little farther on yonder in the green meadow, through which murmured the mill-stream, and by the drooping-willow whose long branches rippled in the current, was a deep place, in the midst of which loomed up a dark-gray rock, like a lone sentinel to the rapid waters, and the scene made his heart bound again. There he had angled for trout for many a summer, and looked down delighted into the music-breathing waters, watching the silver and mottled fishes as they went trooping swiftly past, like guests to a fairy wedding. The tears gushed into his eyes as old recollections came thronging to his mind, and he faltered in his determination. He turned, and took one step toward home, but vicious impulses triumphed, and the rainbow that had begun to arch his heart faded in darkness. He disappeared down the slope toward the old bridge, and David White was ruined forever.
Meanwhile Widow White had almost reached her destination. A few steps farther on rose a little white-washed cottage, with sloping roof, and two large china-trees embowering it in front. As she arrived at the small trellis-work gate, a light met her eye, faintly twinkling through the dark foliage of an intervening bough, and reflecting a ruddy glare upon the side-walk that lay entombed in shadow. She opened the gate, followed the narrow foot-path leading to the front door, and found herself in a dark entry, with a few rays of light shimmering through the key-hole of a door immediately before her. As she put her hand to the latch, a stifled sob broke upon her ear, and noiselessly opening the door, she glided into the apartment. It was indeed the chamber of death. On a little table by the fire-place, amidst a number of glasses and vials, burned a solitary candle over a long and lengthening wick, shedding a dim radiance throughout the room. By the side of an old-fashioned bedstead, hung with snow-white valance, knelt the old gray-headed minister, and his low voice, broken and thrillingly solemn, went up in earnest prayer for a departing soul. Upon the bed itself, propped up with pillows, lay the invalid. Three days ago the flush of health had mantled her cheek, and brightened in her eye, and now, how ghastly and changed she was! The sunken and mist-covered eye; the pallid cheek; the hueless lips, and painful breath, too truly testified that the dark angel Azrael was watching by the couch-side. At the head of the bed sat the daughter, a little girl apparently five years of age, with her head bent upon her knees, and her hands clasped beneath her face, weeping bitterly. The supplicating accents of the gray-haired minister ceased, and he arose from his kneeling posture, his eyes streaming with tears, and clasping in both of his the thin white hand that rested upon the snowy counterpane, leaned gently over, and placed his lips close to the ear of the dying woman.
"My dear Mrs. Williams," said he kindly, "we all feel that you are rapidly sinking; do you die happy? Do you feel that there is a Jesus in heaven, through whose mediation you will be saved?"
There was a rustling of the bed-clothes, a faint murmur, and the sufferer languidly turned her eyes upon the speaker. A dimness was in those sunken orbs; a clamminess upon her wan brow, and her breast heaved wildly beneath the linen that lay in snowy waves across it. But she did not appear to have heard the inquiry of the minister.
"The Widow White—has she not come yet? It is getting late—quite late," feebly spoke the sufferer.
Until then Widow White had stood unnoticed in the dark shadow, unwilling to interrupt; but, hearing this inquiry, she glided to the bedside.
"Yes, Mrs. Williams, I have come," and she laid her hand upon the dewy brow of her she had named, and tenderly smoothed back the long hair that lay loosely upon it.
A gleam of satisfaction shot across the wan countenance of the sufferer as these words fell upon her ear. A light, almost preternatural, stole to her eyes, until they sparkled as the diamond, and she lifted her head upon her hand, and strove to speak. But the effort was too great for her debilitated condition—a weakness came over her, and she sunk back exhausted to her pillow. Ere long, however, she recovered sufficient strength to speak, and turning toward Widow White, clasped her hand affectionately.
"I feel that my life is fast ebbing away," she began in a subdued and thrilling voice. "A few short hours will pass by, and this body will be a soulless mass. But I do not fear to die; for me, death has no terror, nor the grave a victory. I am standing upon its very brink, and look down into its blackness without an emotion save that of pleasure. This is a vain and heartless world! I have found it so, again and again, and the grave is the only place where I can find rest from its temptations and persecutions, and I feel glad that the time is almost here, when rest, both for body and soul, will be attained. But there is one thing that troubles me. My husband slumbers beneath the heavy sod in the village grave-yard; I am standing upon the very brink of eternity; I have no relatives living on this side of the Atlantic, and when I am gone, what is to become of my poor friendless, motherless child? I know there is One above who has promised to take care of the orphan, but still, it would give me a pleasure to know, that when my mouldering body reposes in 'that bourne whence no traveler returns,' that the light of a pleasant home would shed its radiance on her girlish years. I fear to trust her to the world. I fear its buffetings—I fear its bitterness—I fear its selfishness!—I have keenly felt them all, and they bowed my strength of spirit almost to the dust!—they sullied my purity of purpose, and my love of God! Three years ago I took up my abode in this community. Life was in its spring-time of joyousness. Pleasure opened her thousand portals, and nature breathed in beauty. Then a stern blight came upon it all! The gloom of death shadowed my dwelling, and soon the cold and rigid form of my beloved partner was carried out, and laid in the narrow bier where the 'dust returns to dust as it was.' The feeling of desolation entered my heart; I sorrowed in tears, and life almost became a weariness. Then you, Widow White, came to me in my distress, like a ministering angel; advised me, prayed with me, and led me on, until a light broke in upon my soul, and a new life spread out its million paths to happiness. From that moment I loved you as my own mother in heaven. And now I have a request to make—the request of a dying woman—will you grant it?" and she grasped the arm of the listener with a wild eagerness, and looked into her eyes, as if she saw down into the very soul, and read her every thought.
"Mrs. Williams," began Widow White in reply, in a tone of voice thrillingly solemn, her eyes dimmed with tears, and her whole frame trembling with emotion, "Mrs. Williams, you know how endeared you are to me—that I love you as if you were my own daughter, and that if I could comply with any thing that would give you pleasure in a dying moment, I would most willingly do so."
"Thank God!—thank God!" exclaimed she fervently, clasping her hands as if in prayer. "I have prayed for this, again and again, and now it has come to pass—when the grave closes over my mouldering remains, my child will have a home and a mother still! Widow White, cherish her as your own. Educate her for heaven, and if we mortals, after death, are sent as ministering angels to the living, then will I be your guardian spirit. Our kind minister, into whose hands I have committed them, will inform you of my little worldly concerns after I am gone, for my strength is fast failing me, and I feel that I have little time left for words. Mary, dear, come to my bedside. A little nearer for I am quite weak and exhausted. I am dying, Mary. I am going far away—away to heaven. In a short time, my body will be cold and motionless, and then I cannot hear you, or speak to you any more. Then you will have no mother; she will be dead. In a few days I will be laid in the cold and dark ground, and you will never see me again in this world. When I am dead, this lady will be your mother. She will take care of you, and be kind to you, just as I am; and you must obey her, and try not to be naughty. If bad feelings come into your mind, think of your dead mother, and how she talked to you and advised you when she was dying. If you do what is right, God will love you, and bless you, and take care of you, and when death comes, you will go to live with Jesus, where there is nothing but happiness; but if you are wicked, God will hate you, and when you die, you will go down to hell, where all the bad people dwell, and where there is nothing but misery and anguish. Now kiss me, for I am too weak to talk to you any longer," and the dying woman drew the child to herself, and imprinted a lingering, burning kiss upon her forehead.
She sunk back exhausted to the pillow, and her breath came in painful gasps from her parted lips, while her hands moved about spasmodically on the white counterpane—the excitement of the last hour had been too much for her weakened condition. She lay thus for several moments, and then suddenly started from her recumbent position, and sat upright in the bed. A glorious lustre broke through the mist that whelmed her eyes, and a faint color sprung to her pallid cheek. She clasped her daughter in her arms with an hysterical sob; looked wildly into her face; pressed a burning, quivering kiss upon her forehead, and then her lips gave forth fragments of speech, broken, but beautiful. But this did not last long; a weakness came over her almost preternatural strength; she loosened the embrace that circled her child; the color fled her cheek, the brightness her eye; the death-rattle rung out shrilly upon the air, and she fell back motionless to the bed. They looked upon her countenance—a single glance was sufficient—it was cold, calm, passionless—the seal of the grave was upon it.
* * * * *
The gloom of death had shadowed that cottage for two days, and now it was desolate indeed. The stealthy tread of those who came to gaze upon the dead and prepare its burial, no longer broke the solemn hush that brooded over the dwelling. The departed was in truth the departed—they had borne her over the threshold of her home, and laid her remains in the narrow house where all must one day repose—a plain head-board alone marking the grave in which slumbered what was once Eliza Williams. Like others, she had died sincerely mourned by many—like others, futurity would leave no memorial to tell that she had ever existed. Decay, and rude hands, and careless feet, after the lapse of years, would mar her last resting-place, as many in the grave-yard had already been marred, but the form below could never know nor feel the injury—she slept, and would sleep, as sleep the dead, until the trump of Gabriel awakens and clothes the dry bones in the habiliments of another world.
And now they were alone—the mother and her adopted daughter, making preparations for a final departure from that desolate old homestead. The ashes lay cold upon the hearth-stone, and a gloomy loneliness reigned throughout the whole building, flinging a pall over the feelings of Widow White. A chill crept over her as the large gray cat came purring to her side, and rubbed his soft coat against her ankle; and tears sprung to her eyes when she saw the countenance of the little child wearing such a sad and mournful expression, and she vowed in her heart that no blight should come over her youthful prospects, if it were in her power to prevent it.
Ere long, the necessary preparations were completed, and the two bade a final adieu to the lonely dwelling, and passed slowly along the road toward the mansion of Widow White.
"Parent! who with speechless feeling, O'er thy cradled treasure bent, Found each year new charms revealing, Yet thy wealth of love unspent; Hast thou seen that blossom blighted By a drear, untimely frost? All thy labor unrequited? Every glorious promise lost!"
Time, at whose touch the monument of a thousand ages crumbles to dust; at whose embrace empires totter to ruin, and at whose breath cities rise and sink like bursting bubbles in a pool, rolled on his car of wonderful mutations.
Ten years—ten short, rapid years had lapsed away into the infinitude of the past, and mighty changes had marked their progress. The wave of population, like the ocean at its flood, had gradually advanced over the land, and many new habitations sent up their curling smoke within sight of the old homestead of Widow White. The mansion-house itself had changed but little, though one of the tall maples had been cut away from the massive stone chimney at the south end of the building, and the moss had crept over the sloping roof in spots, giving a quaint richness of appearance to the time-honored shingles. The huge old mill below the dam had grown a little more picturesque with the lapse of years; but it was fast going to decay, for its owner was long since dead, and there being some still pending lawsuit between the heirs concerning this piece of property, no repairs had been made, or even any attention paid to its mouldering condition; and for several twelvemonths it had ceased to send up its daily medley of pleasant sounds. The old wooden bridge that spanned the river where it swept across the mouth of the valley, seemed as it ever did, save that rude hands had leveled the magnificent clump of trees that had embowered one end, and enveloped it, during half the day, in a mass of dense shadows, which always slept about this old fabric, and darkened the waters like heaps of black drapery. The scenery around was still as magnificent and entrancing as ever, though, immediately surrounding the dwelling of Widow White, it had undergone a very material change. The adjacent hills that gradually sloped down to the river's brink, were still dark with forests, though here and there the settler's axe had penetrated their sun-hidden recesses, and blocked out spaces, in the midst of which arose many a comfortable farm-house. But, at the time of which I speak, stern-browed winter had breathed over the scene, and the gnarled oak forest stood out like an army of skeletons against the stormy sky.
But ten years had not thus glided away without leaving their stern impress upon Widow White. She had become thinner and paler; many white hairs had crept in amongst the auburn that once adorned her head; and her hazel eye had assumed a milder, more subdued expression. The sudden departure of her self-willed son, and the manner of it, had caused her many a heart-pang; yet for months after it occurred she entertained serious hopes of his becoming repentant and returning; and this, for a time, had served to buoy up her depressed spirits; but when years had gone by, and no intelligence reached her concerning him, hope fell to the ground, and her ardent expectancy settled down into a stern grief. Mary, the adopted daughter, stood upon the threshold of woman-hood, in all the flush and spring-time of life and enjoyment. Widow White seemed to love her as if she were her own child, and watched over her with the tenderest care and solicitude. At this period Mary was near sixteen years of age, and rather striking in her appearance, though by no means what would be strictly termed beautiful. Indeed, the contour of her features, as a whole, was rather commonplace than otherwise; but a soul beamed out through her flashing black eye, and lit up her countenance with a sweetness, a loveliness, which was strange, and sometimes startling, from the brilliancy of its expression. A ruddy glow, like the blush of a summer sunset, dwelt in either cheek, and a slight contraction at both corners of the mouth gave her face a half-mirthful look; but her forehead, full in the upper and lateral portions, seemed almost too severely intellectual for the other features. She possessed a wealth of luxuriant black hair, which she had a quaint method of coiling around her head in a single massive braid, singularly contrasting with the alabaster whiteness of the delicate temples upon which it rested. She was very happy at the home she occupied, which was often enlivened by the joyous snatches of music that broke from her ruby lips as from a bird; but she had but a faint, a dream-like remembrance of the scenes connected with her early childhood.
It was a cold afternoon in December—cold even for that ice-clad month. Dark, gloomy, stern-browed winter had spread his varied desolations around. The first snow of the season had fallen during the night previous, and lay upon the ground to the depth of several inches, in some places, drifted into the ravines, leaving the declivities almost entirely uncovered, and at others, overspreading the soil with an unruffled sheet of stainless white. The winds had awakened from their August slumbers, and blustered and shrieked dismally through the leafless forests, then sweeping out among the houses, sought entrance, but finding none, flung themselves despairingly against the doors, and mocked at the clattering windows, which every now and then threatened to burst from their casements; anon, swept moaning around the corners, now muttering, and now whispering at the crevices, then passing up toward the eaves, died away in sobbings and wailings. Even the dark blue cerulean wore a chilly aspect; and the huge masses of heavy, leaden-colored clouds that piled themselves up so quaintly over by the lofty-peaked, snow-capt mountains, drifted wildly before every impulse of the ice-winged lord of the storm.
Late on this afternoon a solitary traveler on horseback might have been seen winding slowly along the serpentine road that led over the hill above the falls. This traveler was David White. At his heart, were the same fierce and turbulent passions—the same dark thoughts and bad feelings—the same willful and perverse nature that dwelt there, when I left him, ten years ago, forsaking home and happiness; time had only served to deepen the impressions, and crime almost entirely to blot out the few remaining influences of a religious education, while the vicious impulses strengthened. But, in person, he was greatly changed. From the stripling he had become the man. A half sneer was on his countenance as in boyhood; and the same restless, wicked eye lighted up his features with an evil fire. It was a face that told the wily hypocrite—the man who could assume any character he chose—now, high-minded and honorable, and again, crime-seeking and fiendish, just as circumstances required. The cheeks were thin and sunken, and the deep pallor which had stolen away the rosy tints of health, plainly showed a course of continual dissipation. In person, he was somewhat above the standard height, and slender in his make, though his frame exhibited great powers of endurance, and no common share of muscular strength.
He wound slowly down the hill, stopped for a moment to gaze at the falls, adorned with huge, long icicles, and a shore of frozen foam; then moved on again, passed leisurely along the curving lane, and paused once more at the old bridge, to look up and down the river; after which he advanced a short distance into the magnificent grove of evergreens which skirted the road, and fastening his horse securely to one of the strongest pine saplings, bent his steps toward the home of his childhood. By this time the last flashing gleams of sunset were dying away in the west, and dark-hued twilight began to shroud the east in a mist-like dimness.
David White had been a wanderer in foreign lands. More than once had he stood amidst a field of the ghastly dead and shrieking wounded, when the tide of a great battle raged fiercest and strongest, his foothold bathed in the life-blood of his comrades. Such scenes ever tend to pervert the kinder tendencies of our nature, and to render the mind adamantine in its manifestations; nor were his less susceptible to these influences than others. When first he entered the ranks of the army, and joined in the death-dealing battle, he saw the daily commission of crimes which made his soul shrink even to contemplate; but, by degrees, he learned to look upon them merely as the amusements of a passing hour, and finally, to lend a ready hand to their accomplishment. Then his heart grew still colder and more feelingless. He thirsted for excitement, lawful or unlawful. He longed for the bloody onset to come; the deafening roar of the cannon was a music in his ears, and the murderous combat brought a restlessness that pleased him. But human nature is strange—passing strange. At intervals he was mild and gentle. Standing upon the battlefield, when night had drawn her silvery curtain over the ghastly and hideous spectacle, when the booming shot and frightful discord—the shriek, the groan, the shout, and ceaseless rush of angered men were passed away, he had looked round upon the cold and bloody scene, and wept—his sternness softened, and he became as other men. He brought water to the wounded and dying soldier; staunched the flowing blood; pillowed his head upon his knee, and as the body shuddered in the last fierce agony, and the enfranchised spirit went trembling up to God, tears fell like jewels on the pallid face of the dying, and thoughts, of which the good might have been proud, flashed through his mind. Who, at such moments, would recognize David White, the bold, dark, dangerous man? But thus it is; mirthful feelings will sometimes obtrude when the heavy clod is falling upon the coffin of a friend, and the grave closing over him forever; thoughts of the last agony, the bourne of death, and the curtained futurity, will sometimes come like a pall over our minds, when the dance is at its flush, and pleasure in its spring-time; and moments will sometimes roll round when a softness breathes upon the hearts of hardened men.
David White was again amongst the scenes of his boyhood; but he looked upon them merely as the passing traveler—with an idle curiosity. Change had been more busy than he expected, yet nothing around him served to awaken emotion. Not even when he stood upon the little eminence, and on almost the very spot where he had stood ten years agone, to bid a final adieu to home, and then to pass on to ruin, did he seem to remember, save by a faint and sickly smile, half-sneering in its expression. Yet, had he seen it when environed by other circumstances, perhaps his heart might have been touched—but now it was feelingless.
Arrived at the old homestead, he knocked loudly at the door—but no one answering the call, he lifted the latch and entered the apartment. A large hickory fire was blazing on the hearth, casting a ruddy glare upon the floor, and radiating a pleasant heat throughout the room. Upon a worsted hearth-rug reclined a large gray cat, which he thought the very same he had kicked across the room on the evening of his departure, and which started up at his approach, and took refuge beneath the bed. Finding that no one was conscious of his presence, he flung off his dark overcoat, and laying it on a little pine table by the window, drew a large rocking-chair from its nook in the corner, and seating himself by the hearth, began very complacently to contemplate the ornaments upon the mantle-piece. But soon growing tired of this employment, he left his seat and crossed over to some pictures that hung against the opposite wall. At this moment a door opened to his left, and turning, he beheld Mary entering the apartment, her cheeks rosier than ever with recent exercise.
"Good evening to you, my pretty lass," he observed in his blandest tones, and slightly bowing as she drew back in surprise at his sudden appearance. "A widow was once the occupant of this dwelling—the Widow White she was usually called; is she still living, and a resident here? and if so, will you be so kind as to inform her of my presence."
Mary replied briefly in the affirmative, and hastened out to call her mother from an out-house, a new building which had lately been erected to subserve the two-fold purpose of kitchen and dairy, where they both had been busily engaged at the time of his arrival, while he sauntered familiarly to his seat by the fire, and commenced drumming a tune upon the head-board of the mantle-piece. In a few moments the widow made her appearance, and politely requested her guest to be seated.
He flung himself carelessly into the chair he had occupied, and slightly turning in his seat, fixed his dark eyes on her face, and remarked, "You seem to be quite comfortably situated, Mistress White; this pleasant fire and comfortable apartment contrast finely with the cold and dreariness without doors."
"Yes, thanks to Providence! things have gone especially well with me for many years, indeed, much more so perhaps than I really deserve. Though this world often requires much care and toil from us frail mortals, it also yields many blessings for which to be thankful."
"That is true," replied he; and then breaking off suddenly from the topic of conversation, remarked, "But I perceive, Mistress White, that you do not recognize your quondam friend. I hope you do not suffer prosperity to dampen your recollection of old times."
The widow stopped her knitting for a few moments, leaned slightly forward, and scrutinized the features of the stranger; then recovering her former position, answered, "I have a faint, a dream-like recollection of your countenance. It seems that I have seen it before, yet I cannot distinctly remember where."
"Look again!" exclaimed he, divesting himself of a pair of false whiskers, and again bending his dark eyes searchingly upon her face. "Now do you know me?"
She gazed but an instant, a deathly pallor sprung to her cheeks, and extending her arms as if to embrace, she tottered toward him, exclaiming, "It is!—I cannot be mistaken!—it is my long lost son, David White! Oh, David! David!" and she fell upon his neck, and twined her arms around him, sobbing aloud in her ecstasy of enjoyment.
"Tut-tut, mother—what's the use of carrying on so? To be sure I am your son, in flesh and blood, and just the same as ever, only changed a little for the better. But where's the use in crying? I reckon I am not going to die, that you should take on after this fashion."
Here he rudely shook off her embrace, and reseated himself, while a sharp pang, such as she had not known since the years of his boyhood and unfeeling transgressions, struck deeply into her heart as his light mocking tones smote upon her ear, and sinking into a chair, she gave vent to her feelings in a gush of tears.
Who, at that moment, to have looked upon the dark countenance of David White, and to have witnessed his heartless and unmanly actions, would have recognized the cradle-joy of his mother's early widow-hood—the babe that smiled so sweetly upon the beholder—the little prattler for whom she had pictured out such a bright and glorious future. She had loved him—still loved him with all the devotedness and dewy freshness of life's morning hours; she had cherished and watched over him with the tenderest care and most affectionate solicitude, and now, when the fountains of deep-toned feeling and sympathetic emotion should have sent up their gushing libations, and she should have been reaping the rich benefits of her manifold attentions, the son, so fondly cherished, and so dearly loved, turns, like the frozen serpent that the shepherd warmed in his own bosom, to sting his benefactor.
But if we look back to this man's infancy, it will be found that much of this harvest was unconsciously sown by the mother. Domestic education exerts a great power in forming the manners and regulating the conduct which is to guide the future man; and as the system of Widow White had been injudicious, though she discovered her error at the last, it was too late for reform—her son was ruined, and an ingratitude engendered which would tinge the whole stream of her future life with bitterness. The mother is almost always the arbiter of her child's destiny; and if she misguide the bark of his life so that it finally anchors in a gulf of base and stormy passions, can it be wondered that his sympathies should be blunted, and the manifestations of his mind vile and ignoble?
"There, now! I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," again spoke the son, first breaking the silence which had existed for several minutes, and the mother looked up half smilingly through her tears as these gentle words came to her ear, they were so unlike the mocking tones with which he had sought to evade her welcome. The kind manner of their utterance went to her heart, and the best affections of her nature gushed to meet them.
"You look worn and tired with your journey, David—would you not be the better of some supper? something warm might refresh you," and she took a step toward the door in execution of her kind purpose.
"No, no—my time is precious, and I have none to waste in eating. I must be back to the Bend before nine, and there is famous little moon left to light the way."
"So soon! Why not remain with us to-night, and then return in a more comfortable manner in the morning? You surely have no imperative necessity to visit the Bend on such a blustering night as this. The north, too, is black with a gathering storm. You had better stay."
"I can't. It is impossible. I have a very urgent necessity to return, and quickly told, too—money; I must have money, and in no small amount either. It is absolutely necessary that I have twenty-five dollars, and that I have it now. I am in debt, and the debt must be paid—paid to-night. It has been a long time since I asked you for money, but I reckon you have enough of the mother about you to let me have that sum."
"In debt, David! to whom?"
"To the boat for my passage. But it is getting late, and I have no time to ask or answer questions; so, once for all, will you let me have it or not?"
The mother was deeply imposed upon, but never, even for an instant, did the thought flash across her mind that his statements were false, and only used for the purpose of extortion. Obtaining the specified amount, she placed it in his hands with a gush of tears, for her feelings were greatly hurt at his harsh words.
He received the money, bade her farewell in blander tones than his previous conversation, and hastened from the dwelling. When he arrived at the spot where was fastened his horse, his mind was fired to a high degree of excitement by the dark thoughts rankling within. His face was pale with anger; his heavy brows worked and knit themselves over eyes that flashed like fire, and he was muttering slowly to himself in broken expressions, while his fingers played unconsciously about the handle of the bowie-knife which slightly protruded from beneath his vest. Having taken a sudden turn in the undergrowth, he unexpectedly stood immediately before the horse, which, seeing him indistinctly, became affirighted, and ran back with an impetuosity that almost tore up the sapling by its roots.
"So, so," he muttered between his clenched teeth, as composedly as his anger would permit. "Easy, Oliver, easy!" and advancing, he tenderly patted him on the neck, while the restive animal, recognizing his voice, greeted him with a low neigh.
Detaching the bridle from the mass of twigs that entangled it, he carefully led the way out into the road, and brushing off the snow which had collected upon the saddle, leaped to his seat, still agitated with the deep passion he was in vain endeavoring to control.
"On!" burst from his lips in a hoarse whisper, which seemed like a low shout suppressed by a strong will. "On!" and he struck the spurs fiercely into the sides of his steed, and dashed swiftly across the old bridge, the clattering hoofs ringing out upon the still night with a strange distinctness.
At first, the moon looked down brightly from the starry sky, shedding around a shower of flashing beams, which rested upon the sheeted snow until it became dazzling in its whiteness. Soon, however, the heavy masses of clouds in the northeast, that drove wildly before every ice-winged impulse of the storm-king, overwhelmed and shrouded the silver disc from sight, and gave forth the tempest they had so long threatened. Still, now and then, as the wrathful clouds would separate for a moment, a faint lustre would dart forth, sprinkling, as with the purple glories of the orient morn, the torn and ragged opening, and illuminating the landscape with a quaint beauty—half light and half shadow—then all would become dark again. But soon, even this ceased, and the heavens were hung with black. Still his horse plunged on amid sheets of driving and whirling snow, never stopping his speed for an instant.
Ere long the impetuous rider drew up before a dark, weather-beaten, dilapidated building, at the north end of the village, and dismounted. The old chestnut by the fence creaked dismally as the winds swept fiercely up from the valley below, and through one of the swaying boughs came a faintly twinkling light, which seemed forcing itself through the folds of a window-curtain. Knocking loudly at the front door, it was presently opened, and giving some hasty directions concerning his horse, he hurried through a dark, narrow entry, and guiding his way up a creaking staircase by the aid of a balustrade which ran along either side, at length stood before a small door, through whose key-hole issued a narrow stream of light, slightly illuminating the thick gloom around him. Here he paused for a short time to recuperate his exhausted energies, and to subdue the passion that still somewhat agitated him. Then pushing open the door, he entered the apartment.
It was a gaming-room. Six or eight small tables stood about on the floor, at each of which, where the forgotten candles burned dimly over the long and lengthening wicks, sat several men—some, with faces brightly haggard, gloating over their unhallowed gains—others, dark, sullen, silent, fierce, gazing furtively at their piles of lost money. Here rattled the dice-box, and yonder fell the dirty cards—all were busily engaged—all were motionless, save their hands and eyes—all were hushed, save when they uttered solitary words to tell their bets.
David White had almost reached the centre of this room before any one was cognizant of his presence; then, several looked up with a nod of recognition, and once more bent themselves, pale, watchful, though weary, to the duties of the game. The emotion which had so recently agitated him was passed away, and his countenance wore the same expression which most frequently lurked over it. Crossing over to a table at the farthest end of the apartment from the door, he addressed a few words to its occupants; assumed a vacant chair by its side, and joined in the play. For hours he sat grasping the cards with trembling avidity, winning and losing, apparently unmindful of either. But this was merely the gilded outwardness—within, rankled fierce passions, like the lightning in the summer-evening cloud. The night glided on; its dank air grew fresher; the fire burned low on the hearth-stone; the raging storm was hushed to stillness, and three was sounding from the antique clock that adorned the mantle-piece. Save two men the room was deserted. One by one the rest had stolen away, until these two were its only occupants. The last stake of David White was in the pool; the cards had been dealed, and the game was about to be played which was to determine the ownership of the large pile of silver that lay in the middle of the table. He had lost, won, and lost again—doubled his bets—trebled them, until all had been swept away—money, horse, and even his Bowie-knife. Then he had contrived to borrow—won again, and now the last stake trembled in the scales. The game was played—once more he was penniless. He sat still for several minutes, his eyes gazing on vacancy, and when he arose he seemed like a strange man, his face was so changed with the workings of evil passions.
"There! now you have it all, and I am ruined! Do you hear?" exclaimed the frenzied man, his lips quivering with emotion as his voice became elevated with excitement. "And who is the dastardly craven that made me so? Who was it found me pure, and innocent, and stainless as the babe unborn, and lured me from happiness to scenes of madness and debauchery—of crime and wretchedness? Say! who was it did all this? Who was it first placed the cards in my hands, and trained my youthful mind to the cheateries of the gaming-table? And who, when I became older, taught me to revel in human gore, and to delight in carnage and distress, making me the heartless villain that I am? Who was it did all this, I say? Was it not you, Wilson Hurst—was it not you that did it?" and the frantic man struck the table a tremendous blow with his clenched fist as this last question trembled on his white lips, while he glared fiercely upon the listener.