His first visit was to the lawyer, from whom, however, he could procure nothing, besides being compelled, without possibility of escape, to listen to a long string of reproaches against his nephew.
"I could, and would have saved him, Colonel Colleton, if the power were in mortal," was the self-sufficient speech of the little man; "but he would not—he broke in upon me when the very threshold was to be passed, and just as I was upon it. Things were in a fair train, and all might have gone well but for his boyish interruption. I would have come over the jury with a settler. I would have made out a case, sir, for their consideration, which every man of them would have believed he himself saw. I would have shown your nephew, sir, riding down the narrow trace, like a peaceable gentleman; anon, sir, you should have seen Forrester coming along full tilt after him. Forrester should have cried out with a whoop and a right royal oath; then Mr. Colleton would have heard him, and turned round to receive him. But Forrester is drunk, you know, and will not understand the young man's civilities. He blunders out a volley of curses right and left, and bullies Master Colleton for a fight, which he declines. But Forrester is too drunk to mind all that. Without more ado, he mounts the young gentleman and is about to pluck out his eyes, when he feels the dirk in his ribs, and then they cut loose. He gets the dirk from Master Colleton, and makes at him; but he picks up a hatchet that happens to be lying about, and drives at his head, and down drops Forrester, as he ought to, dead as a door-nail."
"Good heavens! and why did you not bring these facts forward? They surely could not have condemned him under these circumstances."
"Bring them forward! To be sure, I would have done so but, as I tell you, just when on the threshold, at the very entrance into the transaction, up pops this hasty young fellow—I'm sorry to call your nephew so, Colonel Colleton—but the fact is, he owes his situation entirely to himself. I would have saved him, but he was obstinately bent on not being saved; and just as I commenced the affair, up he pops and tells me, before all the people, that I know nothing about it. A pretty joke, indeed. I know nothing about it, and it my business to know all about it. Sir, it ruined him. I saw, from that moment, how the cat would jump. I pitied the poor fellow, but what more could I do?"
"But it is not too late—we can memorialize the governor, we can put these facts in form, and by duly showing them with the accompanying proofs, we can obtain a new trial—a respite."
"Can't be done now—it's too late. Had I been let alone—had not the youth come between me and my duty—I would have saved him, sir, as under God, I have saved hundreds before. But it's too late now."
"Oh, surely not too late! with the facts that you mention, if you will give me the names of the witnesses furnishing them, so that I can obtain their affidavits—"
"Why, did you not tell me of the manner in which Forrester assaulted my nephew, and forced upon him what he did as matter of self-defense? Where is the proof of this?"
"Oh, proof! Why, you did not think that was the true state of the case—that was only the case I was to present to the jury."
"And there is, then, no evidence for what you have said?"
"Not a tittle, sir. Evidence is scarcely necessary in a case like this, sir, where the state proves more than you can possibly disprove. Your only hope, sir is to present a plausible conjecture to the jury. Just set their fancies to work, and they have a taste most perfectly dramatic. What you leave undone, they will do. Where you exhibit a blank, they will supply the words wanting. Only set them on trail, and they'll tree the 'possum. They are noble hands at it, and, as I now live and talk to you, sir, not one of them who heard the plausible story which I would have made out, but would have discovered more common sense and reason in it than in all the evidence you could possibly have given them. Because, you see, I'd have given them a reason for everything. Look, how I should have made out the story. Mr. Colleton and Forrester are excellent friends, and both agree to travel together. Well, they're to meet at the forks by midnight. In the meantime, Forrester goes to see his sweetheart, Kate Allen—a smart girl, by the way, colonel, and well to look on. Parting's a very uncomfortable thing, now, and they don't altogether like it. Kate cries, and Forrester storms. Well, must come comes at last. They kiss, and are off—different ways. Well, grief's but a dry companion, and to get rid of him, Forrester takes a drink; still grief holds on, and then he takes another and another, until grief gets off at last, but not before taking with him full half, and not the worst half either, of the poor fellow's senses. What then? Why, then he swaggers and swears at everything, and particularly at your nephew, who, you see, not knowing his condition, swears at him for keeping him waiting—"
"Ralph Colleton never swears, Mr. Pippin," said the colonel, grimly.
"Well, well, if he didn't swear then, he might very well have sworn, and I'll be sworn but he did on that occasion; and it was very pardonable too. Well, he swears at the drunken man, not knowing his condition, and the drunken man rolls and reels like a rowdy, and gives it to him back, and then they get at it. Your nephew, who is a stout colt, buffets him well for a time, but Forrester, who is a mighty, powerful built fellow, he gets the better in the long run, and both come down together in the road. Then Forrester, being uppermost, sticks his thumb into Master Colleton's eye—the left eye, I think, it was—yes, the left eye it was—and the next moment it would have been out, when your nephew, not liking it, whipped out his dirk, and, 'fore Forrester could say Jack Robinson, it was playing about in his ribs; and, then comes the hatchet part, just as I told it you before."
"And is none of this truth?"
"God bless your soul, no! Do you suppose, if it was the truth, it would have taken so long a time in telling? I wouldn't have wasted the breath on it. The witnesses would have done that, if it were true; but in this was the beauty of my art, and had I been permitted to say to the jury what I've said to you, the young man would have been clear. It wouldn't have been gospel, but where's the merit of a lawyer, if he can't go through a bog? This is one of the sweetest and most delightful features of the profession. Sir, it is putting the wings of fiction to the lifeless and otherwise immovable body of the fact."
Colonel Colleton was absolutely stunned by the fertility and volubility of the speaker, and after listening for some time longer, as long as it was possible to procure from him anything which might be of service, he took his departure, bending his way next to the wigwam, in which, for the time being, the pedler had taken up his abode. It will not be necessary that we should go with him there, as it is not probable that anything materially serving his purpose or ours will be adduced from the narrative of Bunce. In the meantime, we will turn our attention to a personage, whose progress must correspond, in all respects, with that of our narrative.
Guy Rivers had not been unapprized of the presence of the late comers at the village. He had his agents at work, who marked the progress of things, and conveyed their intelligence to him with no qualified fidelity. The arrival of Colonel Colleton and his daughter had been made known to him within a few hours after its occurrence, and the feelings of the outlaw were of a nature the most complex and contradictory. Secure within his den, the intricacies of which were scarcely known to any but himself, he did not study to restrain those emotions which had prompted him to so much unjustifiable outrage. With no eye to mark his actions or to note his speech, the guardian watchfulness which had secreted so much, in his association with others, was taken off; and we see much of that heart and those wild principles of its government, the mysteries of which contain so much that it is terrible to see. Slowly, and for a long time after the receipt of the above-mentioned intelligence, he strode up and down the narrow cell of his retreat; all passions at sway and contending for the mastery—sudden action and incoherent utterance occasionally diversifying the otherwise monotonous movements of his person. At one moment, he would clinch his hands with violence together, while an angry malediction would escape through his knitted teeth—at another, a demoniac smile of triumph, and a fierce laugh of gratified malignity would ring through the apartment, coming back upon him in an echo, which would again restore him to consciousness, and bring back the silence so momentarily banished.
"They are here; they have come to witness his degradation—to grace my triumph—to feel it, and understand my revenge. We will see if the proud beauty knows me now—if she yet continues to discard and to disdain me. I have her now upon my own terms. She will not refuse; I am sure of her; I shall conquer her proud heart; I will lead her in chains, the heaviest chains of all—the chains of a dreadful necessity. He must die else! I will howl it in her ears with the voice of the wolf; I will paint it before her eyes with a finger dipped in blood and in darkness! She shall see him carried to the gallows; I shall make her note the halter about his neck—that neck, which, in her young thought, her arms were to have encircled only; nor shall she shut her eyes upon the last scene, nor close her ears to the last groan of my victim! She shall see and hear all, or comply with all that I demand! It must be done: but how? How shall I see her? how obtain her presence? how command her attention? Pshaw! shall a few beardless soldiers keep me back, and baffle me in this? Shall I dread the shadow now, and shrink back when the sun shines out that makes it? I will not fear. I will see her. I will bid defiance to them all! She shall know my power, and upon one condition only will I use it to save him. She will not dare to refuse the condition; she will consent; she will at last be mine: and for this I will do so much—go so far—ay, save him whom I would yet be so delighted to destroy!"
Night came; and in a small apartment of one of the lowliest dwellings of Chestatee, Edith and her father sat in the deepest melancholy, conjuring up perpetually in their minds those images of sorrow so natural to their present situation. It was somewhat late, and they had just returned from an evening visit to the dungeon of Ralph Colleton. The mind of the youth was in far better condition than theirs, and his chief employment had been in preparing them for a similar feeling of resignation with himself. He had succeeded but indifferently. They strove to appear firm, in order that he should not be less so than they found him; but the effort was very perceptible, and the recoil of their dammed-up emotions was only so much more fearful and overpowering. The strength of Edith had been severely tried, and her head now rested upon the bosom of her father, whose arms were required for her support, in a state of feebleness and exhaustion, leaving it doubtful, at moments, whether the vital principle had not itself utterly departed.
At this period the door opened, and a stranger stood abruptly before them. His manner was sufficiently imposing, though his dress was that of the wandering countryman, savoring of the jockey, and not much unlike that frequently worn by such wayfarers as the stagedriver and carrier of the mails. He had on an overcoat made of buckskin, an article of the Indian habit; a deep fringe of the same material hung suspended from two heavy capes that depended from the shoulder. His pantaloons were made of buckskin also; a foxskin cap rested slightly upon his head, rather more upon one side than the other; while a whip of huge dimensions occupied one of his hands. Whiskers, of a bushy form and most luxuriant growth, half-obscured his cheek, and the mustaches were sufficiently small to lead to the inference that the wearer had only recently decided to suffer the region to grow wild. A black-silk handkerchief, wrapped loosely about his neck, completed the general outline; and the tout ensemble indicated one of those dashing blades, so frequently to be encountered in the southern country, who, despising the humdrum monotony of regular life, are ready for adventure—lads of the turf, the muster-ground, the general affray—the men who can whip their weight in wild-cats—whose general rule it is to knock down and drag out.
Though startling at first to both father and daughter, the manner of the intruder was such as to forbid any further alarm than was incidental to his first abrupt appearance. His conduct was respectful and distant—closely observant of the proprieties in his address, and so studiously guarded as to satisfy them, at the very outset, that nothing improper was intended. Still, his entrance without any intimation was sufficiently objectionable to occasion a hasty demand from Colonel Colleton as to the meaning of his intrusion.
"None, sir, is intended, which may not be atoned for," was the reply. "I had reason to believe, Colonel Colleton, that the present melancholy circumstances of your family were such as might excuse an intrusion which may have the effect of making them less so; which, indeed, may go far toward the prevention of that painful event which you now contemplate as certain."
The words were electrical in their effect upon both father and daughter. The former rose from his chair, and motioned the stranger to be seated; while the daughter, rapidly rising also, with an emotion which gave new life to her form, inquired breathlessly—
"Speak, sir! say—how!"—and she lingered and listened with figure bent sensibly forward, and hand uplifted and motionless, for reply. The person addressed smiled with visible effort, while slight shades of gloom, like the thin clouds fleeting over the sky at noonday, obscured at intervals the otherwise subdued and even expression of his countenance. He looked at the maiden while speaking, but his words were addressed to her father.
"I need not tell you, sir, that the hopes of your nephew are gone. There is no single chance upon which he can rest a doubt whereby his safety may be secured. The doom is pronounced, the day is assigned, and the executioner is ready."
"Is your purpose insult, sir, that you tell us this?" was the rather fierce inquiry of the colonel.
"Calmly, sir," was the response, in a manner corresponding well with the nature of his words; "my purpose, I have already said, is to bring, or at least to offer, relief; to indicate a course which may result in the safety of the young man whose life is now at hazard; and to contribute, myself, to the object which I propose."
"Go on—go on, sir, if you please, but spare all unnecessary reference to his situation," said the colonel, as a significant pressure of his arm on the part of his daughter motioned him to patience. The stranger proceeded:—
"My object in dwelling upon the youth's situation was, if possible, by showing its utter hopelessness in every other respect, to induce you the more willingly to hear what I had to offer, and to comply with certain conditions which must be preparatory to any development upon my part."
"There is something strangely mysterious in this. I am willing to do anything and everything, in reason and without dishonor, for the safety of my nephew; the more particularly as I believe him altogether innocent of the crime laid to his charge. More than this I dare not; and I shall not be willing to yield to unknown conditions, prescribed by a stranger, whatever be the object: but speak out at once, sir, and keep us no longer in suspense. In the meantime, retire, Edith, my child; we shall best transact this business in your absence. You will feel too acutely the consideration of this subject to listen to it in discussion. Go, my daughter."
But the stranger interposed, with a manner not to be questioned:—
"Let her remain, Colonel Colleton; it is, indeed, only to her that I can reveal the mode and the conditions of the assistance which I am to offer. This was the preliminary condition of which I spoke. To her alone can my secret be revealed, and my conference must be entirely with her."
"But, sir, this is so strange—so unusual—so improper."
"True, Colonel Colleton; in the ordinary concerns, the everyday offices of society, it would be strange, unusual, and improper; but these are not times, and this is not a region of the world, in which the common forms are to be insisted upon. You forget, sir, that you are in the wild abiding-place of men scarcely less wild—with natures as stubborn as the rocks, and with manners as uncouth and rugged as the woodland growth which surrounds us. I know as well as yourself that my demand is unusual; but such is my situation—such, indeed, the necessities of the whole case, that there is no alternative. I am persuaded that your nephew can be saved; I am willing to make an effort for that purpose, and my conditions are to be complied with: one of them you have heard—it is for your daughter to hear the rest."
The colonel still hesitated. He was very tenacious of those forms of society, and of intercourse between the sexes, which are rigidly insisted upon in the South, and his reluctance was manifest. While he yet hesitated, the stranger again spoke:
"The condition which I have proposed, sir, is unavoidable, but I ask you not to remove from hearing: the adjoining room is not so remote but that you can hear any appeal which your daughter may be pleased to make. Her call would reach your ears without effort. My own security depends, not less than that of your nephew, upon your compliance with the condition under which only will I undertake to save him."
These suggestions prevailed. Suspecting the stranger to be one whose evidence would point to the true criminal, himself an offender, he at length assented to the arrangement, and, after a few minutes' further dialogue, he left the room. As he retired, the stranger carefully locked the door, a movement which somewhat alarmed the maiden; but the respectful manner with which he approached her, and her own curiosity not less than interest in the progress of the event, kept her from the exhibition of any apprehensions.
The stranger drew nigh her. His glances, though still respectful, were fixed, long and searchingly, upon her face. He seemed to study all its features, comparing them, as it would seem, with his own memories. At length, as with a sense of maidenly propriety, she sternly turned away, he addressed her:—
"Miss Colleton has forgotten me, it appears, though I have some claim to be an old acquaintance. I, at least, have a better memory for my friends—I have not forgotten her."
Edith looked up in astonishment, but there was no recognition in her glance. A feeling of mortified pride might have been detected in the expression of his countenance, as, with a tone of calm unconsciousness, she replied—
"You are certainly unremembered, if ever known, by me, sir. I am truly sorry to have forgotten one who styles himself my friend."
"Who was—who is—or, rather, who is now willing again to be your friend, Miss Colleton," was the immediate reply.
"Yes, and so I will gladly call you, sir, if you succeed in what you have promised."
"I have yet promised nothing, Miss Colleton."
"True, true! but you say you have the power, and surely would not withhold it at such a time. Oh, speak, sir! tell me how you can serve us all, and receive my blessings and my thanks for ever."
"The reward is great—very great—but not greater—perhaps not as great, as I may demand for my services. But we should not be ignorant of one another in such an affair, and at such a time as this. Is it true, then, that Miss Colleton has no memory which, at this moment, may spare me from the utterance of a name, which perhaps she herself would not be altogether willing to hear, and which it is not my policy to have uttered by any lips, and far less by my own? Think—remember—lady, and let me be silent still on that one subject. Let no feeling of pride influence the rejection of a remembrance which perhaps carries with it but few pleasant reflections."
Again were the maiden's eyes fixed searchingly upon the speaker, and again, conflicting with the searching character of his own glance, were they withdrawn, under the direction of a high sense of modest dignity. She had made the effort at recognition—that was evident even to him—and had made it in vain.
"Entirely forgotten—well! better that than to have been remembered as the thing I was. Would it were possible to be equally forgotten by the rest—but this, too, is vain and childish. She must be taught to remember me."
Thus muttered the stranger to himself; assuming, however, an increased decision of manner at the conclusion, he approached her, and tearing from his cheeks the huge whiskers that had half-obscured them, he spoke in hurried accents:—
"Look on me now, Miss Colleton—look on me now, and while you gaze upon features once sufficiently well known to your glance, let your memory but retrace the few years when it was your fortune, and my fate, to spend a few months in Gwinnett county. Do you remember the time—do you remember that bold, ambitious man, who, at that time, was the claimant for a public honor—who was distinguished by you in a dance, at the ball given on that occasion—who, maddened by wine, and a fierce passion which preyed upon him then, like a consuming fire, addressed you, though a mere child, and sought you for his bride, who—but I see you remember all!"
"And are you then Creighton—Mr. Edward Creighton—and so changed!" And she looked upon him with an expression of simple wonder.
"Ay, that was the name once-but I have another now. Would you know me better—I am Guy Rivers, where the name of Creighton must not again be spoken. It is the name of a felon—of one under doom of outlawry—whom all men are privileged to slay. I have been hunted from society—I can no longer herd with my fellows—I am without kin, and am almost without kind. Yet, base and black with crime—doomed by mankind—banished all human abodes—the slave of fierce passions—the leagued with foul associates, I dared, in your girlhood, to love you; and, more daring still, I dare to love you now. Fear not, lady—you are Edith Colleton to me; and worthless, and vile, and reckless, though I have become, for you I can hold no thought which would behold you other than you are—a creature for worship rather than for love. As such I would have you still; and for this purpose do I seek you now. I know your feeling for this young man—I saw it then, when you repulsed me. I saw that you loved each other, though neither of you were conscious of the truth. You love him now—you would not have him perish—I know well how you regard him, and I come, knowing this, to make hard conditions with you for his life."
"Keep me no longer in suspense—speak out, Mr. Creighton"—she cried, gaspingly.
"Rivers—Rivers—I would not hear the other—it was by that name I was driven from my fellows."
"Mr. Rivers, say what can be done—what am I to do—money—thanks, all that we can give shall be yours, so that you save him from this fate."
"And who would speak thus for me? What fair pleader, fearless of man's opinion—that blights or blesses, without reference to right or merit—would so far speak for me!"
"Many—many, Mr. Rivers—I hope there are many. Heaven knows, though I may have rejected in my younger days, your attentions, I know not many for whom I would more willingly plead and pray than yourself. I do remember now your talents and high reputation, and deeply do I regret the unhappy fortune which has denied them their fulfilment."
"Ah, Edith Colleton, these words would have saved me once—now they are nothing, in recompense for the hopes which are for ever gone. Your thoughts are gentle, and may sooth all spirits but my own. But sounds that lull others, lull me no longer. It is not the music of a rich dream, or of a pleasant fancy, which may beguile me into pleasure. I am dead—dead as the cold rock—to their influence. The storm which blighted me has seared, and ate into the very core. I am like the tree through which the worm has travelled—it still stands, and there is foliage upon it, but the heart is eaten out and gone. Your words touch me no longer as they did—I need something more than words and mere flatteries—flatteries so sweet even as those which come from your lips—are no longer powerful to bind me to your service. I can save the youth—I will save him, though I hate him; but the conditions are fatal to your love for him."
There was much in this speech to offend and annoy the hearer; but she steeled herself to listen, and it cost her some effort to reply.
"I can listen—I can hear all that you may say having reference to him. I know not what you may intend; I know not what you may demand for your service. But name your condition. All in honor—all that a maiden may grant and be true to herself, all—all, for his life and safety."
"Still, I fear, Miss Colleton—your love for him is not sufficiently lavish to enable your liberality to keep pace with the extravagance of my demand—"
"Hold, sir—on this particular there is no need of further speech. Whatever may be the extent of my regard for Ralph, it is enough that I am willing to do much, to sacrifice much—in return for his rescue from this dreadful fate. Speak, therefore, your demand—spare no word—delay me, I pray, no longer."
"Hear me, then. As Creighton, I loved you years ago—as Guy Rivers I love you still. The life of Ralph Colleton is forfeit—for ever forfeit—and a few days only interpose between him and eternity. I alone can save him—I can give him freedom; and, in doing so, I shall risk much, and sacrifice not a little. I am ready for this risk—I am prepared for every sacrifice—I will save him at all hazards from his doom, upon one condition!"
"That you be mine—that you fly with me—that in the wild regions of the west, where I will build you a cottage and worship you as my own forest divinity, you take up your abode with me, and be my wife. My wife!—all forms shall be complied with, and every ceremony which society may call for. Nay, shrink not back thus—" seeing her recoil in horror and scorn at the suggestion—"beware how you defy me—think, that I have his life in my hands—think, that I can speak his doom or his safety—think, before you reply!"
"There is no time necessary for thought, sir—none—none. It can not be. I can not comply with the conditions which you propose. I would die first."
"And he will die too. Be not hasty, Miss Colleton—remember—it is not merely your death but his—his death upon the gallows—"
"Spare me! spare me!"
"The halter—the crowd—the distorted limb—the racked frame—"
"Would you see this—know this, and reflect upon the shame, the mental agony, far greater than all, of such a death to him?"
With a strong effort, she recovered her composure, though but an instant before almost convulsed—
"Have you no other terms, Mr. Rivers?"
"None—none. Accept them, and he lives—I will free him, as I promise. Refuse them—deny me, and he must die, and nothing may save him then."
"Then he must die, sir!—we must both die—before we choose such terms. Sir, let me call my father. Our conference must end here. You have chosen a cruel office, but I can bear its infliction. You have tantalized a weak heart with hope, only to make it despair the more. But I am now strong, sir—stronger than ever—and we speak no more on this subject."
"Yet pause—to relent even to-morrow may be too late. To-night you must determine, or never."
"I have already determined. It is impossible that I can determine otherwise. No more, sir!"
"There is one, lady—one young form—scarcely less beautiful than yourself, who would make the same—ay, and a far greater—sacrifice than this, for the safety of Ralph Colleton. One far less happy in his love than you, who would willingly die for him this hour. Would you be less ready than she is for such a sacrifice?"
"No, not less ready for death—as I live—not less willing to free him with the loss of my own life. But not ready for a sacrifice like this—not ready for this."
"You have doomed him!"
"Be it so, sir. Be it so. Let me now call my father."
"Yet think, ere it be too late—once gone, not even your words shall call me back."
"Believe me, I shall not desire it."
The firmness of the maiden was finely contrasted with the disappointment of the outlaw. He was not less mortified with his own defeat than awed by the calm and immoveable bearing, the sweet, even dignity, which the discussion of a subject so trying to her heart, and the overthrow of all hope which her own decision must have occasioned, had failed utterly to affect. He would have renewed his suggestions, but while repeating them, a sudden commotion in the village—the trampling of feet—the buzz of many voices, and sounds of wide-spread confusion, contributed to abridge an interview already quite too long. The outlaw rushed out of the apartment, barely recognising, at his departure, the presence of Colonel Colleton, whom his daughter had now called in. The cause of the uproar we reserve for another chapter.
The pledge which Munro had given to his niece in behalf of Colleton was productive of no small inconvenience to the former personage. Though himself unwilling—we must do him the justice to believe—that the youth should perish for a crime so completely his own, he had in him no great deal of that magnanimous virtue, of itself sufficiently strong to have persuaded him to such a risk, as that which he had undertaken at the supplication of Lucy. The more he reflected upon the matter, the more trifling seemed the consideration. With such a man, to reflect is simply to calculate. Money, now—the spoil or the steed of the traveller—would have been a far more decided stimulant to action. In regarding such an object, he certainly would have overlooked much of the danger, and have been less heedful of the consequences. The selfishness of the motive would not merely have sanctioned, but have smoothed the enterprise; and he thought too much with the majority—allowing for any lurking ambition in his mind—not to perceive that where there is gain there must be glory.
None of these consolatory thoughts came to him in the contemplation of his present purpose. To adventure his own life—perhaps to exchange places with the condemned he proposed to save—though, in such a risk, he only sought to rescue the innocent from the doom justly due to himself—was a flight of generous impulse somewhat above the usual aim of the landlord; and, but for the impelling influence of his niece—an influence which, in spite of his own evil habits, swayed him beyond his consciousness—we should not now have to record the almost redeeming instance in the events of his life at this period—the one virtue, contrasting with, if it could not lessen or relieve, the long tissue of his offences.
There were some few other influences, however—if this were not enough—coupled with that of his niece's entreaty, which gave strength and decision to his present determination. Munro was not insensible to the force of superior character, and a large feeling of veneration led him, from the first, to observe the lofty spirit and high sense of honor which distinguished the bearing and deportment of Ralph Colleton. He could not but admire the native superiority which characterized the manner of the youth, particularly when brought into contrast with that of Guy Rivers, for whom the same feeling had induced a like, though not a parallel respect, on the part of the landlord.
It may appear strange to those accustomed only to a passing and superficial estimate of the thousand inconsistencies which make up that contradictory creation, the human mind, that such should be a feature in the character of a ruffian like Munro; but, to those who examine for themselves, we shall utter nothing novel when we assert, that a respect for superiority of mental and even mere moral attribute, enters largely into the habit of the ruffian generally. The murderer is not unfrequently found to possess benevolence as well as veneration in a high degree; and the zealots of all countries and religions are almost invariably creatures of strong and violent passions, to which the extravagance of their zeal and devotion furnishes an outlet, which is not always innocent in its direction or effects. Thus, in their enthusiasm—which is only a minor madness—whether the Hindoo bramin or the Spanish bigot, the English roundhead or the follower of the "only true faith" at Mecca, be understood, it is but a word and a blow—though the word be a hurried prayer to the God of their adoration, and the blow be aimed with all the malevolence of hell at the bosom of a fellow-creature. There is no greater inconsistency in the one character than in the other. The temperament which, under false tuition, makes the zealot, and drives him on to the perpetration of wholesale murder, while uttering a prayer to the Deity, prompts the same individual who, as an assassin or a highwayman, cuts your throat, and picks your pocket, and at the next moment bestows his ill-gotten gains without reservation upon the starving beggar by the wayside.
There was yet another reason which swayed Munro not a little in his determination, if possible, to save the youth—and this was a lurking sentiment of hostility to Rivers. His pride, of late, on many occasions, had taken alarm at the frequent encroachments of his comrade upon its boundaries. The too much repeated display of that very mental superiority in his companion, which had so much fettered him, had aroused his own latent sense of independence; and the utterance of sundry pungent rebukes on the part of Rivers had done much towards provoking within him a new sentiment of dislike for that person, which gladly availed itself of the first legitimate occasion for exercise and development. The very superiority which commanded, and which he honored, he hated for that very reason; and, in our analysis of moral dependence, we may add, that, in Greece, and the mere Hob of the humble farmhouse, Munro might have been the countryman to vote Aristides into banishment because of his reputation for justice. The barrier is slight, the space short, the transition easy, from one to the other extreme of injustice; and the peasant who voted for the banishment of the just man, in another sphere and under other circumstances, would have been a Borgia or a Catiline. With this feeling in his bosom, Munro was yet unapprized of its existence. It is not with the man, so long hurried forward by his impulses as at last to become their creature, to analyze either their character or his own. Vice, though itself a monster, is yet the slave of a thousand influences, not absolutely vicious in themselves; and their desires it not uncommonly performs when blindfolded. It carries the knife, it strikes the blow, but is not always the chooser of its own victim.
But, fortunately for Ralph Colleton, whatever and how many or how few were the impelling motives leading to this determination, Munro had decided upon the preservation of his life; and, with that energy of will, which, in a rash office, or one violative of the laws, he had always heretofore displayed, he permitted no time to escape him unemployed for the contemplated purpose. His mind immediately addressed itself to its chosen duty, and, in one disguise or another, and those perpetually changing, he perambulated the village, making his arrangements for the desired object. The difficulties in his way were not trifling in character nor few in number; and the greatest of these was that of finding coadjutors willing to second him. He felt assured that he could confide in none of his well-known associates, who were to a man the creatures of Rivers; that outlaw, by a liberality which seemed to disdain money, and yielding every form of indulgence, having acquired over them an influence almost amounting to personal affection. Fortunately for his purpose, Rivers dared not venture much into the village or its neighborhood; therefore, though free from any fear of obstruction from one in whose despite his whole design was undertaken, Munro was yet not a little at a loss for his co-operation. To whom, at that moment, could he turn, without putting himself in the power of an enemy? Thought only raised up new difficulties in his way, and in utter despair of any better alternative, though scarcely willing to trust to one of whom he deemed so lightly, his eyes were compelled to rest, in the last hope, upon the person of the pedler, Bunce.
Bunce, if the reader will remember, had, upon his release from prison, taken up his abode temporarily in the village. Under the protection now afforded by the presence of the judge, and the other officers of justice—not to speak of the many strangers from the adjacent parts, whom one cause or another had brought to the place—he had presumed to exhibit his person with much more audacity and a more perfect freedom from apprehension than he had ever shown in the same region before. He now—for ever on the go—thrust himself fearlessly into every cot and corner. No place escaped the searching analysis of his glance; and, in a scrutiny so nice, it was not long before he had made the acquaintance of everybody and everything at all worthy, in that region, to be known. He could now venture to jostle Pippin with impunity; for, since the trial in which he had so much blundered, the lawyer had lost no small portion of the confidence and esteem of his neighbors. Accused of the abandonment of his client—an offence particularly monstrous in the estimation of those who are sufficiently interested to acquire a personal feeling in such matters—and compelled, as he had been—a worse feature still in the estimation of the same class—to "eat his own words"—he had lost caste prodigiously in the last few days, and his fine sayings lacked their ancient flavor in the estimation of his neighbors. His speeches sunk below par along with himself; and the pedler, in his contumelious treatment of the disconsolate jurist, simply obeyed and indicated the direction of the popular opinion. One or two rude replies, and a nudge which the elbow of Bunce, effected in the ribs of the lawyer, did provoke the latter so far as to repeat his threat on the subject of the prosecution for the horse; but the pedler snapped his fingers in his face as he did so, and bade him defiance. He also reminded Pippin of the certain malfeasances to which he had referred previously, and the consciousness of the truth was sufficiently strong and awkward to prevent his proceeding to any further measure of disquiet with the offender. Thus, without fear, and with an audacity of which he was not a little proud, Bunce perambulated the village and its neighborhood, in a mood and with a deportment he had never ventured upon before in that quarter.
He had a variety of reasons for lingering in the village seemingly in a state of idleness. Bunce was a long-sighted fellow, and beheld the promise which it held forth, at a distance, of a large and thriving business in the neighborhood; and he had too much sagacity not to be perfectly aware of the advantage, to a tradesman, resulting from a prior occupation of the ground. He had not lost everything in the conflagration which destroyed his cart-body and calicoes; for, apart from sundry little debts due him in the surrounding country, he had carefully preserved around his body, in a black silk handkerchief, a small wallet, holding a moderate amount of the best bank paper. Bunce, among other things, had soon learned to discriminate between good and bad paper, and the result of his education in this respect assured him of the perfect integrity of the three hundred and odd dollars which kept themselves snugly about his waist—ready to be expended for clocks and calicoes, horn buttons and wooden combs, knives, and negro-handkerchiefs, whenever their proprietor should determine upon a proper whereabout in which to fix himself. Bunce had grown tired of peddling—the trade was not less uncertain than fatiguing. Besides, travelling so much among the southrons, he had imbibed not a few of their prejudices against his vocation, and, to speak the truth, had grown somewhat ashamed of his present mode of life. He was becoming rapidly aristocratic, as we may infer from a very paternal and somewhat patronizing epistle, which he despatched about this time to his elder brother and copartner, Ichabod Bunce, who carried on his portion of the business at their native place in Meriden, Connecticut. He told him, in a manner and vein not less lofty than surprising to his coadjutor, that it "would not be the thing, no how, to keep along, lock and lock with him, in the same gears." It was henceforward his "idee to drive on his own hook. Times warn't as they used to be;" and the fact was—he did not say it in so many words—the firm of Ichabod Bunce and Brother was scarcely so creditable to the latter personage as he should altogether desire among his southern friends and acquaintances. He "guessed, therefore, best haul off," and each—here Bunce showed his respect for his new friends by quoting their phraseology—"must paddle his own canoe."
We have minced this epistle, and have contented ourselves with providing a scrap, here and there, to the reader—despairing, as we utterly do, to gather from memory a full description of a performance so perfectly unique in its singular compound of lofty vein, with the patois and vulgar contractions of his native, and those common to his adopted country.
It proved to his more staid and veteran brother, that Jared was the only one of his family likely to get above his bread and business; but, while he lamented the wanderings and follies of his brother, he could not help enjoying a sentiment of pride as he looked more closely into the matter. "Who knows," thought the clockmaker to himself, "but that Jared, who is a monstrous sly fellow, will pick up some southern heiress, with a thousand blackies, and an hundred acres of prime cotton-land to each, and thus ennoble the blood of the Bunces by a rapid ascent, through the various grades of office in a sovereign state, until a seat in Congress—in the cabinet itself—receives him;"—and Ichabod grew more than ever pleased and satisfied with the idea, when he reflected that Jared had all along been held to possess a goodly person, and a very fair development of the parts of speech. He even ventured to speculate upon the possibility of Jared passing into the White House—the dawn of that era having already arrived, which left nobody safe from the crowning honors of the republic.
Whether the individual of whom so much was expected, himself entertained any such anticipations or ideas, we do not pretend to say; but, certain it is, that the southern candidate for the popular suffrage could never have taken more pains to extend his acquaintance or to ingratiate himself among the people, than did our worthy friend the pedler. In the brief time which he had passed in the village after the arrest of Colleton, he had contrived to have something to say or do with almost everybody in it. He had found a word for his honor the judge; and having once spoken with that dignitary, Bunce was not the man to fail at future recognition. No distance of manner, no cheerless response, to the modestly urged or moderate suggestion, could prompt him to forego an acquaintance. With the jurors he had contrived to enjoy a sup of whiskey at the tavern bar-room, and had actually, and with a manner the most adroit, gone deeply into the distribution of an entire packet of steel-pens, one of which he accommodated to a reed, and to the fingers of each of the worthy twelve, who made the panel on that occasion—taking care, however, to assure them of the value of the gift, by saying, that if he were to sell the article, twenty-five cents each would be his lowest price, and he could scarcely save himself at that. But this was not all. Having seriously determined upon abiding at the south, he ventured upon some few of the practices prevailing in that region, and on more than one occasion, a gallon of whiskey had circulated "free gratis," and "pro bono publico," he added, somewhat maliciously, at the cost of our worthy tradesman. These things, it may not be necessary to say, had elevated that worthy into no moderate importance among those around him; and, that he himself was not altogether unconscious of the change, it may be remarked that an ugly kink, or double in his back—the consequence of his pack and past humility—had gone down wonderfully, keeping due pace in its descent with the progress of his upward manifestations.
Such was the somewhat novel position of Bunce, in the village and neighborhood of Chestatee, when the absolute necessity of the case prompted Munro's application to him for assistance in the proposed extrication of Ralph Colleton. The landlord had not been insensible to the interest which the pedler had taken in the youth's fortune, and not doubting his perfect sympathy with the design in view, he felt the fewer scruples in approaching him for the purpose. Putting on, therefore, the disguise, which, as an old woman, had effectually concealed his true person from Bunce on a previous occasion, he waited until evening had set in fairly, and then proceeded to the abode of him he sought.
The pedler was alone in his cottage, discussing, most probably, his future designs, and calculating to a nicety the various profits of each premeditated branch of his future business. Munro's disguise was intended rather to facilitate his progress without detection through the village, than to impose upon the pedler merely; but it was not unwise that he should be ignorant also of the person with whom he dealt. Affecting a tone of voice, therefore, which, however masculine, was yet totally unlike his own, the landlord demanded a private interview, which was readily granted, though, as the circumstance was unusual, with some few signs of trepidation. Bunce was no lover of old women, nor, indeed, of young ones either. He was habitually and constitutionally cold and impenetrable on the subject of all passions, save that of trade, and would rather have sold a dress of calico, than have kissed the prettiest damsel in creation. His manner, to the old woman who appeared before him, seemed that of one who had an uncomfortable suspicion of having pleased rather more than he intended; and it was no small relief, therefore, the first salutation being over, when the masculine tones reassured him. Munro, without much circumlocution, immediately proceeded to ask whether he was willing to lend a hand for the help of Colleton, and to save him from the gallows?
"Colleton!—save Master Colleton!—do tell—is that what you mean?"
"It is. Are you the man to help your friend—will you make one along with others who are going to try for it?"
"Well, now, don't be rash; give a body time to consider. It's pesky full of trouble; dangerous, too. It's so strange!—" and the pedler showed himself a little bewildered by the sudden manner in which the subject had been broached.
"There's little time to be lost, Bunce: if we don't set to work at once, we needn't set to work at all. Speak out, man! will you join us, now or never, to save the young fellow?"
With something like desperation in his manner, as if he scrupled to commit himself too far, yet had the will to contribute considerably to the object, the pedler replied:—
"Save the young fellow? well, I guess I will, if you'll jest say what's to be done. I'll lend a hand, to be sure, if there's no trouble to come of it. He's a likely chap, and not so stiff neither, though I did count him rather high-headed at first; but after that, he sort a smoothed down, and now I don't know nobody I'd sooner help jest now out of the slush: but I can't see how we're to set about it."
"Can you fight, Bunce? Are you willing to knock down and drag out, when there's need for it?"
"Why, if I was fairly listed, and if so be there's no law agin it. I don't like to run agin the law, no how; and if you could get a body clear on it, why, and there's no way to do the thing no other how, I guess I shouldn't stand too long to consider when it's to help a friend."
"It may be no child's play, Bunce, and there must be stout heart and free hand. One mustn't stop for trifles in such cases; and, as for the law, when a man's friend's in danger, he must make his own law."
"That wan't my edication, no how; my principles goes agin it. I must think about it. I must have a little time to consider." But the landlord saw no necessity for consideration, and, fearful that the scruples of Bunce would be something too strong, he proceeded to smooth away the difficulty.
"After all, Bunce, the probability is, we shall be able to manage the affair without violence: so we shall try, for I like blows just as little as anybody else; but it's best, you know, to make ready for the worst. Nobody knows how things will turn up; and if it comes to the scratch, why, one mustn't mind knocking a fellow on the head if he stands in the way."
"No, to be sure not. 'Twould be foolish to stop and think about what's law, and what's not law, and be knocked down yourself."
"Certainly, you're right, Bunce; that's only reason."
"And yet, mister, I guess you wouldn't want that I should know your raal name, now, would you? or maybe you're going to tell it to me now? Well—"
"To the business: what matters it whether I have a name or not? I have a fist, you see, and—"
"Yes, yes, I see," exclaimed he of the notions, slightly retreating, as Munro, suiting the action to the word, thrust, rather more closely to the face of his companion than was altogether encouraging, the ponderous mass which courtesy alone would consider a fist—
"Well, I don't care, you see, to know the name, mister; but somehow it raally aint the thing, no how, to be mistering nobody knows who. I see you aint a woman plain enough from your face, and I pretty much conclude you must be a man; though you have got on—what's that, now? It's a kind of calico, I guess; but them's not fast colors, friend. I should say, now, you had been taken in pretty much by that bit of goods. It aint the kind of print, now, that's not afeard of washing."
"And if I have been taken in, Bunce, in these calicoes, you're the man that has done it," said the landlord, laughing. "This piece was sold by you into my own hands, last March was a year, when you came back from the Cherokees."
"Now, don't! Well, I guess there must be some mistake; you aint sure, now, friend: might be some other dealer that you bought from?"
"None other than yourself, Bunce. You are the man, and I can bring a dozen to prove it on you."
"Well, I 'spose what you say's true, and that jest let's me know how to mister you now, 'cause, you see, I do recollect now all about who I sold that bit of goods to that season."
The landlord had been overreached; and, amused with the ingenuity of the trader, he contented himself with again lifting the huge fist in a threatening manner, though the smile which accompanied the action fairly deprived it of its terrors.
"Well, well," said the landlord "we burn daylight in such talk as this. I come to you as the only man who will or can help me in this matter; and Lucy Munro tells me you will—you made her some such promise."
"Well, now, I guess I must toe the chalk, after all; though, to say truth, I don't altogether remember giving any such promise. It must be right, though, if she says it; and sartain she's a sweet body—I'll go my length for her any day."
"You'll not lose by it; and now hear my plan. You know Brooks, the jailer, and his bulldog brother-in-law, Tongs? I saw you talking with both of them yesterday."
"Guess you're right. Late acquaintance, though; they aint neither on 'em to my liking."
"Enough for our purpose. Tongs is a brute who will drink as long as he can stand, and some time after it. Brooks is rather shy of it, but he will drink enough to stagger him, for he is pretty weak-headed. We have only to manage these fellows, and there's the end of it. They keep the jail."
"Yes, I know; but you don't count young Brooks?"
"Oh, he's a mere boy. Don't matter about him. He's easily managed. Now hear to my design. Provide your jug of whiskey, with plenty of eggs and sugar, so that they shan't want anything, and get them here. Send for Tongs at once, and let him only know what's in the wind; then ask Brooks, and he will be sure to force him to come. Say nothing of the boy; let him stay or come, as they think proper. To ask all might make them suspicious. They'll both come. They never yet resisted a spiritual temptation. When here, ply them well, and then we shall go on according to circumstances. Brooks carries the keys along with him: get him once in for it, and I'll take them from him. If he resists, or any of them—"
"Knock 'em down?"
"Ay, quickly as you say it!"
"Well, but how if they do not bring the boy, and they leave him in the jail?"
"What then! Can't we knock him down too?"
"But, then, they'll fix the whole business on my head. Won't Brooks and Tongs say where they got drunk, and then shan't I be in a scant fixin'?"
"They dare not. They won't confess themselves drunk—it's as much as their place is worth. They will say nothing till they got sober, and then they'll get up some story that will hurt nobody."
"But what? will you never cease to but against obstacles? Are you a man—are you ready—bent to do what you can? Speak out, and let me know if I can depend on you," exclaimed the landlord, impatiently.
"Now, don't be in a passion! You're as soon off as a fly-machine, and a thought sooner. Why, didn't I say, now, I'd go my length for the young gentleman? And I'm sure I'm ready, and aint at all afeared, no how. I only did want to say that, if the thing takes wind, as how it raaly stood, it spiles all my calkilations. I couldn't 'stablish a consarn here, I guess, for a nation long spell of time after."
"And what then? where's your calculations? Get the young fellow clear, and what will his friends do for you? Think of that, Bunce. You go off to Carolina with him, and open store in his parts, and he buys from you all he wants—his negro-cloths, his calicoes, his domestics, and stripes, and everything. Then his family, and friends and neighbors, under his recommendation—they all buy from you; and then the presents they will make you—the fine horses—and who knows but even a plantation and negroes may all come out of this one transaction?"
"To be sure—who knows? Well, things do look temptatious enough, and there's a mighty deal of reason, now, in what you say. Large business that, I guess, in the long run. Aint I ready? Let's see—a gallon of whiskey—aint a gallon a heap too much for only three people?"
"Better have ten than want. Then there must be pipes, tobacco, cigars; and mind, when they get well on in drinking, I shall look to you through that window. Be sure and come to me then. Make some pretence, for, as Brooks may be slow and cautious, I shall get something to drop into his liquor—a little mixture which I shall hand you."
"What mixture? No pizen, I hope! I don't go that, not I—no pizening for me."
"Pshaw! fool—nonsense! If I wanted their lives, could I not choose a shorter method, and a weapon which I could more truly rely upon than I ever can upon you? It is to make them sleep that I shall give you the mixture."
"Oh, laudnum. Well, now why couldn't you say laudnum at first, without frightening people so with your mixtures'?—There's no harm in laudnum, for my old aunt Tabitha chaws laudnum-gum jest as other folks chaws tobacco."
"Well, that's all—it's only to get them asleep sooner. See now about your men at once. We have no time to lose; and, if this contrivance fails, I must look about for another. It must be done to-night, or it can not be done at all. In an hour I shall return; and hope, by that time, to find you busy with their brains. Ply them well—don't be slow or stingy—and see that you have enough of whiskey. Here's money—have everything ready."
The pedler took the money—why not? it was only proper to spoil the Egyptians—and, after detailing fully his plans, Munro left him. Bunce gave himself but little time and less trouble for reflection. The prospects of fortune which the landlord had magnified to his vision, were quite too enticing to be easily resisted by one whose morale was not of a sort to hold its ground against his habitual cupidity and newly-awakened ambition; and having provided everything, as agreed upon, necessary for the accommodation of the jailer and his assistant, Bunce sallied forth for the more important purpose of getting his company.
SACK AND SUGAR.
The task of getting the desired guests, as Munro had assured him, was by no means difficult, and our pedler was not long in reporting progress. Tongs, a confirmed toper, was easily persuaded to anything that guarantied hard drinking. He luxuriated in the very idea of a debauch. Brooks, his brother-in-law, was a somewhat better and less pregnable person; but he was a widower, had been a good deal with Tongs, and, what with the accustomed loneliness of the office which he held, and the gloomy dwelling in which it required he should live, he found it not such an easy matter to resist the temptation of social enjoyment, and all the pleasant associations of that good-fellowship, which Bunce had taken care to depict before the minds of both parties. The attractions of Bunce himself, by-the-way, tended, not less than the whiskey and cigars, to persuade the jailer, and to neutralize most of the existing prejudices current among those around him against his tribe. He had travelled much, and was no random observer. He had seen a great deal, as well of human nature as of places; could tell a good story, in good spirit; and was endowed with a dry, sneaking humor, that came out unawares upon his hearers, and made them laugh frequently in spite of themselves.
Bunce had been now sufficiently long in the village to enable those about him to come at a knowledge of his parts; and his accomplishments, in the several respects referred to, were by this time generally well understood. The inducement was sufficiently strong with the jailer; and, at length, having secured the main entrance of the jail carefully, he strapped the key to a leathern girdle, which he wore about him, lodging it in the breast-pocket of his coat, where he conceived it perfectly safe, he prepared to go along with his worthy brother-in-law. Nor was the younger Brooks forgotten. Being a tall, good-looking lad of sixteen, Tongs insisted it was high time he should appear among men; and the invitation of the pedler was opportune, as affording a happy occasion for his initiation into some of those practices, esteemed, by a liberal courtesy, significant of manliness.
With everything in proper trim, Bunce stood at the entrance of his lodge, ready to receive them. The preliminaries were soon despatched, and we behold them accordingly, all four, comfortably seated around a huge oaken table in the centre of the apartment. There was the jug, and there the glasses—the sugar, the peppermint, the nutmegs—the pipes and tobacco—all convenient, and sufficiently tempting for the unscrupulous. The pedler did the honors with no little skill, and Tongs plunged headlong into the debauch. The whiskey was never better, and found, for this reason, anything but security where it stood. Glass after glass, emptied only to be replenished, attested the industrious hospitality of the host, not less than its own excellence. Tongs, averaging three draughts to one of his companion's, was soon fairly under way in his progress to that state of mental self-glorification in which the world ceases to have vicissitudes, and the animal realizes the abstractions of an ancient philosophy, and denies all pain to life.
Brooks, however, though not averse to the overcoming element, had more of that vulgar quality of prudence than his brother-in-law, and far more than was thought amiable in the opinion of the pedler. For some time, therefore, he drank with measured scrupulousness; and it was with no small degree of anxiety that Bunce plied him with the bottle—complaining of his unsociableness, and watching, with the intensity of any other experimentalist, the progress of his scheme upon him. As for the lad—the younger Brooks—it was soon evident that, once permitted, and even encouraged to drink, as he had been, by his superiors, he would not, after a little while, give much if any inconvenience to the conspirators. The design of the pedler was considerably advanced by Tongs, who, once intoxicated himself, was not slow in the endeavor to bring all around him under the same influence.
"Drink, Brooks—drink, old fellow," he exclaimed; "as you are a true man, drink, and don't fight shy of the critter! Whiskey, my boy—old Monongahely like this, I say—whiskey is wife and children—house and horse—lands and niggers—liberty and [hiccup] plenty to live on! Don't you see how I drive ahead, and don't care for the hind wheels? It's all owing to whiskey! Grog, I say—Hark ye, Mr. Pedler—grog, I say, is the wheels of life: it carries a man for'ad. Why don't men go for'ad in the world? What's the reason now? I'll tell you. They're afeared. Well, now, who's afeared when he's got a broadside of whiskey in him? Nobody—nobody's afeared but you—you, Ben Brooks, you're a d——d crick—crick—you're always afeared of something, or nothing; for, after all, whenever you're afeared of something, it turns out to be nothing! All 'cause you don't drink like a man. That's his cha-cha-rack-ter, Mr. Bunce; and it's all owing 'cause he won't drink!"
"Guess there's no sparing of reason in that bit of argument, now, I tell you, Mr. Tongs. Bless my heart—it's no use talking, no how, but I'd a been clean done up, dead as a door-nail, if it hadn't been for drink. Strong drink makes strong. Many's the time, and the freezing cold, and the hard travelling in bad roads, and other dreadful fixins I've seed, would soon ha' settled me up, if it hadn't been for that same good stuff there, that Master Brooks does look as if he was afeared on. Now, don't be afeared, Master Brooks. There's no teeth in whiskey, and it never bites nobody."
"No," said Brooks, with the utmost simplicity; "only when they take too much."
"How?" said the pedler, looking as if the sentence contained some mysterious meaning. Brooks might have explained, but for Tongs, who dashed in after this fashion:—
"And who takes too much? You don't mean to say I takes too much, Ben Brooks. I'd like to hear the two-legged critter, now, who'd say I takes more of the stuff than does me good. I drinks in reason, for the benefit of my health; and jest, you see, as a sort of medicine, Mr. Bunce; and, Brooks, you knows I never takes a drop more than is needful."
"Sometimes—sometimes, Tongs, you know you ain't altogether right under it—now and then you take a leetle too much for your good," was the mild response of Brooks, to the almost fierce speech of his less scrupulous brother-in-law. The latter, thus encountered, changed his ground with singular rapidity.
"Well, by dogs!—and what of that?—and who is it says I shan't, if it's my notion? I'd like now to see the boy that'll stand up agin me and make such a speech. Who says I shan't take what I likes—and that I takes more than is good for me? Does you say so, Mr. Bunce?"
"No, thank ye, no. How should I say what ain't true? You don't take half enough, now, it's my idee, neither on you. It's all talk and no cider, and that I call monstrous dry work. Come, pass round the bottle. Here's to you, Master Tongs—Master Brooks, I drink your very good health. But fill up, fill up—you ain't got nothing in your tumbler."
"No, he's a sneak—you're a sneak, Brooks, if you don't fill up to the hub. Go the whole hog, boy, and don't twist your mouth as if the stuff was physic. It's what I call nation good, now; no mistake in it, I tell you."
"Hah! that's a true word—there's no mistake in this stuff. It is jest now what I calls ginywine."
"True Monongahely, Master Bunce. Whoever reckoned to find a Yankee pedler with a raal good taste for Monongahely? Give us your fist, Mr. Bunce; I see you know's what's what. You ain't been among us for nothing. You've larned something by travelling; and, by dogs! you'll come to be something yit, if you live long enough—if so be you can only keep clear of the old range."
The pedler winced under the equivocal compliments of his companion, but did not suffer anything of this description to interfere with the vigorous prosecution of his design. He had the satisfaction to perceive that Brooks had gradually accommodated himself not a little to the element in which his brother-in-law, Tongs, was already floating happily; and the boy, his son, already wore the features of one over whose senses the strong liquor was momentarily obtaining the mastery. But these signs did not persuade him into any relaxation of his labors; on the contrary, encouraged by success, he plied the draughts more frequently and freely than before, and with additional evidence of the influence of the potation upon those who drank, when he found that he was enabled, unperceived, to deposit the contents of his own tumbler, in most instances, under the table around which they gathered. In the cloud of smoke encircling them, and sent up from their several pipes, Bunce could perceive the face of his colleague in the conspiracy peering in occasionally upon the assembly, and at length, on some slight pretence, he approached the aperture agreeably to the given signal, and received from the hands of the landlord a vial containing a strong infusion of opium, which he placed cautiously in his bosom, and awaited the moment of more increased stupefaction to employ it. So favorably had the liquor operated by this time upon the faculties of all, that the elder Brooks grew garrulous and full of jest at the expense of his son—who now, completely overcome, had sunk down with his head upon the table in a profound slumber. The pedler joined, as well as Tongs, in the merriment—this latter personage, by the way, having now put himself completely under the control of the ardent spirit, and exhibiting all the appearance of a happy madness. He howled like the wolf, imitated sundry animals, broke out into catches of song, which he invariably failed to finish, and, at length, grappling his brother-in-law, Brooks, around the neck, with both arms, as he sat beside him, he swore by all that was strong in Monongahely, he should give them a song.
"That's jest my idee, now, Master Tongs. A song is a main fine thing, now, to fill up the chinks. First a glass, then a puff or two, and then a song."
Brooks, who, in backwood parlance, was "considerably up a stump"—that is to say, half drunk—after a few shows of resistance, and the utterance of some feeble scruples, which were all rapidly set aside by his companions, proceeded to pour forth the rude melody which follows:—
THE HOW-D'YE-DO BOY.
"For a how-d'ye-do boy, 'tis pleasure enough To have a sup of such goodly stuff— To float away in a sky of fog, And swim the while in a sea of grog; So, high or low, Let the world go, The how-d'ye-do boy don't care for it—no—no—no—no."
Tonga, who seemed to be familiar with the uncouth dithyrambic, joined in the chorus, with a tumultuous discord, producing a most admirable effect; the pedler dashing in at the conclusion, and shouting the finale with prodigious compass of voice. The song proceeded:—
"For a how-d'ye-do boy, who smokes and drinks, He does not care who cares or thinks; Would Grief deny him to laugh and sing, He knocks her down with a single sling— So, high or low, Let the world go, The how-d'ye-do boy don't care for it—no—no—no—no.
"The how-d'ye-do boy is a boy of the night— It brings no cold, and it does not fright; He buttons his coat and laughs at the shower, And he has a song for the darkest hour— So, high or low, Let the world go, The how-d'ye-do boy don't care for it—no—no—no—no."
The song gave no little delight to all parties. Tongs shouted, the pedler roared applause, and such was the general satisfaction, that it was no difficult thing to persuade Brooks to the demolition of a bumper, which Bunce adroitly proposed to the singer's own health. It was while the hilarity thus produced was at its loudest, that the pedler seized the chance to pour a moderate portion of the narcotic into the several glasses of his companions, while a second time filling them; but, unfortunately for himself, not less than the design in view, just at this moment Brooks grew awkwardly conscious of his own increasing weakness, having just reason enough left to feel that he had already drunk too much. With a considerable show of resolution, therefore, he thrust away the glass so drugged for his benefit, and declared his determination to do no more of that business. He withstood all the suggestions of the pedler on the subject, and the affair began to look something less than hopeless when he proceeded to the waking up of his son, who, overcome by the liquor, was busily employed in a profound sleep, with his head upon the table.
Tongs, who had lost nearly all the powers of action, though retaining not a few of his parts of speech, now came in fortunately to the aid of the rather-discomfited pedler. Pouring forth a volley of oaths, in which his more temperate brother-in-law was denounced as a mean-spirited critter, who couldn't drink with his friend or fight with his enemy, he made an ineffectual effort to grapple furiously with the offender, while he more effectually arrested his endeavor to waken up his son. It is well, perhaps, that his animal man lacked something of its accustomed efficiency, and resolutely refused all co-operation with his mood; or, it is more than probable, such was his wrath, that his more staid brother-in-law would have been subjected to some few personal tests of blow and buffet. The proceedings throughout suggested to the mind of the pedler a mode of executing his design, by proposing a bumper all round, with the view of healing the breach between the parties, and as a final draught preparatory to breaking up.
A suggestion so reasonable could not well be resisted; and, with the best disposition in the world toward sobriety, Brooks was persuaded to assent to the measure. Unhappily, however, for the pedler, the measure was so grateful to Tongs, that, before the former could officiate, the latter, with a desperate effort, reached forward, and, possessing himself of his own glass, he thrust another, which happened to be the only undrugged one, and which Bunce had filled for himself, into the grasp of the jailer. The glass designed for Brooks was now in the pedler's own hands, and no time was permitted him for reflection. With a doubt as to whether he had not got hold of the posset meant for his neighbor, Bunce was yet unable to avoid the difficulty; and, in a moment, in good faith, the contents of the several glasses were fairly emptied by their holders. There was a pause of considerable duration; the several parties sank back quietly into their seats; and, supposing from appearances that the effect of the drug had been complete, the pedler, though feeling excessively stupid and strange, had yet recollection enough to give the signal to his comrade. A moment only elapsed, when Munro entered the apartment, seemingly unperceived by all but the individual who had called him; and, as an air of considerable vacancy and repose overspread all the company he naturally enough concluded the potion had taken due hold of the senses of the one whom it was his chief object to overcome. Without hesitation, therefore, and certainly asking no leave, he thrust one hand into the bosom of the worthy jailer, while the other was employed in taking a sure hold of his collar. To his great surprise, however, he found that his man suffered from no lethargy, though severely bitten by the drink. Brooks made fierce resistance; though nothing at such a time, or indeed at any time, in the hands of one so powerfully built as Munro.
"Hello! now—who are you, I say? Hands off!—Tongs! Tongs!—Hands off!—Tongs, I say—"
But Tongs heard not, or heeded not, any of the rapid exclamations of the jailer, who continued to struggle. Munro gave a single glance to the pedler, whose countenance singularly contrasted with the expression which, in the performance of such a duty, and at such a time, it might have been supposed proper for it to have worn. There was a look from his eyes of most vacant and elevated beatitude; a simper sat upon his lips, which parted ineffectually with the speech that he endeavored to make. A still lingering consciousness of something to be done, prompted him to rise, however, and stumble toward the landlord, who, while scuffling with the jailer, thus addressed him:—
"Why, Bunce, it's but half done!—you've bungled. See, he's too sober by half!"
"Sober? no, no—guess he's drunk—drunk as a gentleman. I say, now—what must I do?"
"Do?" muttered the landlord, between his teeth, and pointing to Tongs, who reeled and raved in his seat, "do as I do!" And, at the word, with a single blow of his fist, he felled the still refractory jailer with as much ease as if he had been an infant in his hands. The pedler, only half conscious, turned nevertheless to the half-sleeping Tongs, and resolutely drove his fist into his face.
It was at that moment that the nostrum, having taken its full effect, deprived him of the proper force which alone could have made the blow available for the design which he had manfully enough undertaken. The only result of the effort was to precipitate him, with an impetus not his own, though deriving much of its effect from his own weight, upon the person of the enfeebled Tongs: the toper clasped him round with a corresponding spirit, and they both rolled upon the floor in utter imbecility, carrying with them the table around which they had been seated, and tumbling into the general mass of bottles, pipes, and glasses, the slumbering youth, who, till that moment, lay altogether ignorant of the catastrophe.
Munro, in the meanwhile, had possessed himself of the desired keys; and throwing a sack, with which he had taken care to provide himself, over the head of the still struggling but rather stupified jailer, he bound the mouth of it with cords closely around his body, and left him rolling, with more elasticity and far less comfort than the rest of the party, around the floor of the apartment.
He now proceeded to look at the pedler; and seeing his condition, though much wondering at his falling so readily into his own temptation—never dreaming of the mistake which he had made—he did not waste time to rouse him up, as he plainly saw he could get no further service out of him. A moment's reflection taught him, that, as the condition of Bunce himself would most probably free him from any suspicion of design, the affair told as well for his purpose as if the original arrangement had succeeded. Without more pause, therefore, he left the house, carefully locking the doors on the outside, so as to delay egress, and hastened immediately to the release of the prisoner.
The landlord lost no time in freeing the captive. A few minutes sufficed to find and fit the keys; and, penetrating at once to the cell of Ralph Colleton, he soon made the youth acquainted with as much of the circumstances of his escape as might be thought necessary for the satisfaction of his immediate curiosity. He wondered at the part taken by Munro in the affair, but hesitated not to accept his assistance. Though scrupulous, and rigidly so, not to violate the laws, and having a conscientious regard to all human and social obligations, he saw no immorality in flying from a sentence, however agreeable to law, in all respects so greatly at variance with justice. A second intimation was not wanting to his decision; and, without waiting until the landlord should unlock the chain which secured him, he was about to dart forward into the passage, when the restraining check which it gave to his forward movement warned him of the difficulty.
Fortunately, the obstruction was small: the master-key, not only of the cells, but of the several locks to the fetters of the prison, was among the bunch of which the jailer had been dispossessed; and, when found, it performed its office. The youth was again free; and a few moments only had elapsed, after the departure of Munro from the house of the pedler, when both Ralph and his deliverer were upon the high-road, and bending their unrestrained course toward the Indian nation.
"And now, young man," said the landlord, "you are free. I have performed my promise to one whose desire in this matter jumps full with my own. I should have been troubled enough had you perished for the death of Forrester, though, to speak the truth, I should not have risked myself, as I have done to-night, but for my promise to her."
"Who?—of whom do you speak? To whom do I owe all this, if it comes not of your own head?"
"And you do not conjecture? Have you not a thought on the subject? Was it likely, think you, that the young woman, who did not fear to go to a stranger's chamber at midnight, in order to save him from his enemy, would forget him altogether when a greater danger was before him?"
"And to Miss Munro again do I owe my life? Noble girl! how shall I requite—how acknowledge my deep responsibility to her?"
"You can not! I have not looked on either of you for nothing; and my observation has taught me all your feelings and hers. You can not reward her as she deserves to be rewarded—as, indeed, she only can be rewarded by you, Mr. Colleton. Better, therefore, that you seek to make no acknowledgments."
"What mean you? Your words have a signification beyond my comprehension. I know that I am unable to requite services such as hers, and such an endeavor I surely should not attempt; but that I feel gratitude for her interposition may not well be questioned—the deepest gratitude; for in this deed, with your aid, she relieves me, not merely from death, but the worse agony of that dreadful form of death. My acknowledgments for this service are nothing, I am well aware; but these she shall have: and what else have I to offer, which she would be likely to accept?"
"There is, indeed, one thing, Mr. Colleton—now that I reflect—which it may be in your power to do, and which may relieve you of some of the obligations which you owe to her interposition, here and elsewhere."
The landlord paused for a moment, and looked hesitatingly in Ralph's countenance. The youth saw and understood the expression, and replied readily:—
"Doubt not, Mr. Munro, that I shall do all things consistent with propriety, in my power to do, that may take the shape and character of requital for this service; anything for Miss Munro, for yourself or others, not incompatible with the character of the gentleman. Speak, sir: if you can suggest a labor of any description, not under this head, which would be grateful to yourself or her, fear not to speak, and rely upon my gratitude to serve you both."
"I thank you, Mr. Colleton; your frankness relieves me of some heavy thoughts, and I shall open my mind freely to you on the subject which now troubles it. I need not tell you what my course of life has been. I need not tell you what it is now. Bad enough, Mr. Colleton—bad enough, as you must know by this time. Life, sir, is uncertain with all persons, but far more uncertain with him whose life is such as mine. I know not the hour, sir, when I may be knocked on the head. I have no confidence in the people I go with; I have nothing to hope from the sympathies of society, or the protection of the laws; and I have now arrived at that time of life when my own experience is hourly repeating in my ears the words of scripture: 'The wages of sin is death.' Mine has been a life of sin, Mr. Colleton, and I must look for its wages. These thoughts have been troubling me much of late, and I feel them particularly heavy now. But, don't think, sir, that fear for myself makes up my suffering. I fear for that poor girl, who has no protector, and may be doomed to the control of one who would make a hell on earth for all under his influence. He has made a hell of it for me."
"Who is he? whom do you mean?"
"You should know him well enough by this time, for he has sought your life often enough already—who should I mean, if not Guy Rivers?"
"And how is she at the mercy of this wretch?"
The landlord continued as if he had not heard the inquiry:
"Well, as I say, I know not how long I shall be able to take care of and provide for that poor girl, whose wish has prompted me this night to what I have undertaken. She was my brother's child, Mr. Colleton, and a noble creature she is. If I live, sir, she will have to become the wife of Rivers; and, though I love her as my own—as I have never loved my own—yet she must abide the sacrifice from which, while I live, there is no escape. But something tells me, sir, I have not long to live. I have a notion which makes me gloomy, and which has troubled me ever since you have been in prison. One dream comes to me every night—whenever I sleep—and I wake, all over perspiration, and with a terror I'm ashamed of. In this dream I see my brother always, and always with the same expression. He looks at me long and mournfully, and his finger is uplifted, as if in warning. I hear no word from his lips, but they are in motion as if he spoke, and then he walks slowly away. Thus, for several nights, has my mind been haunted, and I'm sure it is not for nothing. It warns me that the time is not very far distant when I shall receive the wages of a life like mine—the wages of sin—the death, perhaps—who knows?—the death of the felon!"
"These are fearful fancies, indeed, Mr. Munro; and, whether we think on them or not, will have their influence over the strongest-minded of us all: but the thoughts which they occasion to your mind, while they must be painful enough, may be the most useful, if they awaken regret of the past, and incite to amendment in the future. Without regarding them as the presentiments of death, or of any fearful change, I look upon them only as the result of your own calm reflections upon the unprofitable nature of vice; its extreme unproductiveness in the end, however enticing in the beginning; and the painful privations of human sympathy and society, which are the inevitable consequences of its indulgence. These fancies are the sleepless thoughts, the fruit of an active memory, which, at such a time, unrestrained by the waking judgment, mingles up the counsels and the warnings of your brother and the past, with all the images and circumstances of the present time. But—go on with your suggestion. Let me do what I can for the good of those in whom you are interested."
"You are right: whatever may be my apprehensions, life is uncertain enough, and needs no dreams to make it more so. Still, I can not rid myself of this impression, which sticks to me like a shadow. Night after night I have seen him—just as I saw him a year before he died. But his looks were full of meaning; and when his lips opened, though I heard not a word, they seemed to me to say, 'The hour is at hand!' I am sure they spoke the truth, and I must prepare for it. If I live, Mr. Colleton, Lucy must marry Rivers: there's no hope for her escape. If I die, there's no reason for the marriage, for she can then bid him defiance. She is willing to marry him now merely on my account; for, to say in words, what you no doubt understand, I am at his mercy. If I perish before the marriage take place, it will not take place; and she will then need a protector—"
"Say no more," exclaimed the youth, as the landlord paused for an instant—"say no more. It will be as little as I can say, when I assure you, that all that my family can do for her happiness—all that I can do—shall be done. Be at ease on this matter, and believe me that I promise you nothing which my heart would not strenuously insist upon my performing. She shall be a sister to me."
As he spoke, the landlord warmly pressed his hand, leaning forward from his saddle as he did so, but without a single accompanying word. The dialogue was continued, at intervals, in a desultory form, and without sustaining, for any length of time, any single topic. Munro seemed heavy with gloomy thoughts; and the sky, now becoming lightened with the glories of the ascending moon, seemed to have no manner of influence over his sullen temperament. Not so with the youth. He grew elastic and buoyant as they proceeded; and his spirit rose, bright and gentle, as if in accordance with the pure lights which now disposed themselves, like an atmosphere of silver, throughout the forest. The thin clouds, floating away from the parent-orb, and no longer obscuring her progress, became tributaries, and were clothed in their most dazzling draperies—clustering around her pathway, and contributing not a little to the loveliness of that serene star from which they received so much. But the contemplations of the youth were not long permitted to run on in the gladness of his newly-found liberty. On a sudden, the action of his companion became animated: he drew up his steed for an instant, then applying the rowel, exclaimed in a deep but suppressed tone—
"We are pursued—ride, now—for your life, Mr. Colleton; it is three miles to the river, and our horses will serve us well. They are chosen—ply the spur, and follow close after me."
Let us return to the village. The situation of the jailer, Brooks, and of his companions, as the landlord left them, will be readily remembered by the reader. It was not until the fugitives were fairly on the road, that the former, who had been pretty well stunned by the severe blow given him by Munro, recovered from his stupor; and he then laboured under the difficulty of freeing himself from the bag about his head and shoulders, and his incarceration in the dwelling of the pedler.
The blow had come nigh to sobering him, and his efforts, accordingly, were not without success. He looked round in astonishment upon the condition of all things around him, ignorant of the individual who had wrested from him his charge, besides subjecting his scull to the heavy test which it had been so little able to resist or he to repel; and, almost ready to believe, from the equally prostrate condition of the pedler and his brother, that, in reality, the assailant by which he himself was overthrown was no other than the potent bottle-god of his brother's familiar worship.
Such certainly would have been his impression but for the sack in which he had been enveloped, and the absence of his keys. The blow, which he had not ceased to feel, might have been got by a drunken man in a thousand ways, and was no argument to show the presence of an enemy; but the sack, and the missing keys—they brought instant conviction, and a rapidly increasing sobriety, which, as it duly increased his capacity for reflection, was only so much more unpleasant than his drunkenness.
But no time was to be lost, and the first movement—having essayed, though ineffectually, to kick his stupid host and snoring brother-in-law into similar consciousness with himself—was to rush headlong to the jail, where he soon realized all the apprehensions which assailed him when discovering the loss of his keys. The prisoner was gone, and the riotous search which he soon commenced about the village collected a crowd whose clamors, not less than his own, had occasioned the uproar, which concluded the conference between Miss Colleton and Guy Rivers, as narrated in a previous chapter.
The mob, approaching the residence of Colonel Colleton, as a place which might probably have been resorted to by the fugitive, brought the noise more imperiously to the ears of Rivers, and compelled his departure. He sallied forth, and in a little while ascertained the cause of the disorder. By this time the dwelling of Colonel Colleton had undergone the closest scrutiny. It was evident to the crowd, that, so far from harboring the youth, they were not conscious of the escape; but of this Rivers was not so certain. He was satisfied in his own mind that the stern refusal of Edith to accept his overtures for the rescue, arose only from the belief that they could do without him. More than ever irritated by this idea, the outlaw was bold enough, relying upon his disguise, to come forward, and while all was indecisive in the multitude, to lay plans for a pursuit. He did not scruple to instruct the jailer as to what course should be taken for the recovery of the fugitive; and by his cool, strong sense and confidence of expression, he infused new hope into that much-bewildered person. Nobody knew who he was, but as the village was full of strangers, who had never been seen there before, this fact occasioned neither surprise nor inquiry.
His advice was taken, and a couple of the Georgia guard, who were on station in the village, now making their appearance, he suggested the course which they should pursue, and in few words gave the reasons which induced the choice. Familiar himself with all the various routes of the surrounding country, he did not doubt that the fugitive, under whatever guidance, for as yet he knew nothing of Munro's agency in the business, would take the most direct course to the Indian nation.
All this was done, on his part, with an excited spirit, the result of that malignant mood which now began to apprehend the chance of being deprived of all its victims. Had this not been the case—had he not been present—the probability is, that, in the variety of counsel, there would have been a far greater delay in the pursuit; but such must always be the influence of a strong and leading mind in a time of trial and popular excitement. Such a mind concentrates and makes effective the power which otherwise would be wasted in air. His superiority of character was immediately manifest—his suggestions were adopted without dissent; and, in a few moments the two troopers, accompanied by the jailer, were in pursuit upon the very road taken by the fugitives.
Rivers, in the meanwhile, though excessively anxious about the result of the pursuit, was yet too sensible of his own risk to remain much longer in the village. Annoyed not a little by the apprehended loss of that revenge which he had described as so delicious in contemplation to his mind, he could not venture to linger where he was, at a time of such general excitement and activity. With a prudent caution, therefore, more the result of an obvious necessity than of any accustomed habit of his life, he withdrew himself as soon as possible from the crowd, at the moment when Pippin—who never lost a good opportunity—had mounted upon a stump in order to address them. Breaking away just as the lawyer was swelling with some old truism, and perhaps no truth, about the rights of man and so forth, he mounted his horse, which he had concealed in the neighborhood, and rode off to the solitude and the shelter of his den.
There was one thing that troubled his mind along with its other troubles, and that was to find out who were the active parties in the escape of Colleton. In all this time, he had not for a moment suspected Munro of connection with the affair—he had too much overrated his own influence with the landlord to permit of a thought in his mind detrimental to his conscious superiority. He had no clue, the guidance of which might bring him to the trail; for the jailer, conscious of his own irregularity, was cautious enough in suppressing everything like a detail of the particular circumstances attending the escape; contenting himself, simply, with representing himself as having been knocked down by some persons unknown, and rifled of the keys while lying insensible.
Rivers could only think of the pedler, and yet, such was his habitual contempt for that person, that he dismissed the thought the moment it came into his mind. Troubled thus in spirit, and filled with a thousand conflicting notions, he had almost reached the rocks, when he was surprised to perceive, on a sudden, close at his elbow, the dwarfish figure of our old friend Chub Williams. Without exhibiting the slightest show of apprehension, the urchin resolutely continued his course along with the outlaw, unmoved by his presence, and with a degree of cavalier indifference which he had never ventured to manifest to that dangerous personage before.