There, indeed, were Lucy Munro and her aunt, holding a passive character in the strange assembly. This was encouraging; and Bunce, forgetting his wonder in the satisfaction which such a prospect afforded him, endeavored to force his way forward to them, when a salutary twitch of the arm from one of the beldam troop, by tumbling him backward upon the floor of the cavern, brought him again to a consideration of his predicament. He could not be restrained from speech, however—though, as he spoke, the old women saluted his face on all hands with strokes from brushes of fern, which occasioned him no small inconvenience. But he had gone too far now to recede; and, in a broken manner—broken as much by his own hurry and vehemence as by the interruptions to which he was subjected—he contrived to say enough to Lucy of the situation of Colleton, to revive in her an interest of the most painful character. She rushed forward, and was about to ask more from the beleaguered pedler; but it was not the policy of those having both of them in charge to permit such a proceeding. One of the stoutest of the old women now came prominently upon the scene, and, with a rough voice, which it is not difficult to recognise as that of Munro, commanded the young girl away, and gave her in charge to two attendants. But she struggled still to hear, and Bunce all the while speaking, she was enabled to gather most of the particulars in his narration before her removal was effected.
The mummery now ceased, and Bunce having been carried elsewhere, the maskers resumed their native apparel, having thrown aside that which had been put on for a distinct purpose. The pedler, in another and more secure department of the robbers' hiding-place, was solaced with the prospect of a long and dark imprisonment.
In the meantime, our little friend Chub Williams had been made to undergo his own distinct punishment for his share in the adventure. No sooner had Bunce been laid by the heels, than Rivers, who had directed the whole, advanced from the shelter of the cave, in company with his lieutenant, Dillon, both armed with rifles, and, without saying a word, singling out the tree on which Chub had perched himself, took deliberate aim at the head of the unfortunate urchin. He saw the danger in an instant, and his first words were characteristic: "Now don't—don't, now, I tell you, Mr. Guy—you may hit Chub!"
"Come down, then, you rascal!" was the reply, as, with a laugh, lowering the weapon, he awaited the descent of the spy. "And now, Bur, what have you to say that I shouldn't wear out a hickory or two upon you?"
"My name ain't Bur, Mr. Guy; my name is Chub, and I don't like to be called out of my name. Mother always called me Chub."
"Well, Chub—since you like it best, though at best a bur—what were you doing in that tree? How dare you spy into my dwelling, and send other people there? Speak, or I'll skin you alive!"
"Now, don't, Mr. Guy! Don't, I beg you! 'Taint right to talk so, and I don't like it!—But is that your dwelling, Mr. Guy, in truth?—you really live in it, all the year round? Now, you don't, do you?"
The outlaw had no fierceness when contemplating the object before him. Strange nature! He seemed to regard the deformities of mind and body, in the outcast under his eyes, as something kindred. Was there anything like sympathy in such a feeling? or was it rather that perversity of temper which sometimes seems to cast an ennobling feature over violence, and to afford here and there, a touch of that moral sunshine which can now and then give an almost redeeming expression to the countenance of vice itself? He contemplated the idiot for a few moments with a close eye, and a mind evidently busied in thought. Laying his hand, at length, on his shoulder, he was about to speak, when the deformed started back from the touch as if in horror—a feeling, indeed, fully visible in every feature of his face.
"Now, don't touch Chub, Mr. Guy! Mother said you were a dark man, and told me to keep clear of you. Don't touch me agin, Mr. Guy; I don't like it."
The outlaw, musingly, spoke to his lieutenant: "And this is education. Who shall doubt its importance? who shall say that it does not overthrow and altogether destroy the original nature? The selfish mother of this miserable outcast, fearing that he might be won away from his service to her, taught him to avoid all other persons, and even those who had treated her with kindness were thus described to this poor dependant. To him the sympathies of others would have been the greatest blessing; yet she so tutored him, that, at her death, he was left desolate. You hear his account of me, gathered, as he says, and as I doubt not, from her own lips. That account is true, so far as my other relationships with mankind are concerned; but not true as regards my connection with her. I furnished that old creature with food when she was starving, and when this boy, sick and impotent, could do little for her service. I never uttered a harsh word in her ears, or treated her unkindly; yet this is the character she gives of me—and this, indeed, the character which she has given of all others. A feeling of the narrowest selfishness has led her deliberately to misrepresent all mankind, and has been productive of a more ungracious result, in driving one from his species, who, more than any other, stands in need of their sympathy and association."
While Rivers spoke thus, the idiot listened with an air of the most stupid attention. His head fell on one shoulder, and one hand partially sustained it. As the former concluded his remarks, Chub recovered a posture as nearly erect as possible, and remarked, with as much significance as could comport with his general expression—
"Chub's mother was good to Chub, and Mr. Guy mustn't say nothing agin her."
"But, Chub, will you not come and live with me? I will give you a good rifle—one like this, and you shall travel everywhere with me."
"You will beat Chub when you are angry, and make him shoot people with the rifle. I don't want it. If folks say harm to Chub, he can lick 'em with his fists. Chub don't want to live with you."
"Well, as you please. But come in and look at my house and see where I live."
"And shall I see the strannger agin? I can lick him, and I told him so. But he called me Chub, and I made friends with him."
"Yes, you shall see him, and—"
"And Miss Lucy, too—I want to see Miss Lucy—Chub saw her, and she spoke to Chub yesterday."
The outlaw promised him all, and after this there was no further difficulty. The unconscious idiot scrupled no longer, and followed his conductors into—prison. It was necessary, for the further safety of the outlaws in their present abode, that such should be the case. The secret of their hiding-place was in the possession of quite too many; and the subject of deliberation among the leaders was now as to the propriety of its continued tenure. The country, they felt assured, would soon be overrun with the state troops. They had no fears of discovery from this source, prior to the affair of the massacre of the guard, which rendered necessary the secretion of many in their retreat, who, before that time, were perfectly unconscious of its existence. In addition to this, it was now known to the pedler and the idiot, neither of whom had any reason for secrecy on the subject in the event of their being able to make it public. The difficulty, with regard to the two latter, subjected them to no small risk of suffering from the ultimate necessities of the rogues, and there was a sharp and secret consultation as to the mode of disposing of the two captives; but so much blood had been already spilled, that the sense of the majority revolted at the further resort to that degree of violence—particularly, too, when it was recollected that they could only hold their citadel for a certain and short period of time. It was determined, therefore, that so long as they themselves continued in their hiding-place, Bunce and Chub should, perforce, continue prisoners. Having so determined, and made their arrangements accordingly, the two last-made captives were assigned a cell, chosen with reference to its greater security than the other portions of their hold—one sufficiently tenacious of its trust, it would seem, to answer well its purpose.
In the meantime, the sufferings of Lucy Munro were such as may well be understood from the character of her feelings, as we have heretofore beheld their expression. In her own apartment—her cell, we may style it, for she was in a sort of honorable bondage—she brooded with deep melancholy over the narrative given by the pedler. She had no reason to doubt its correctness, and, the more she meditated upon it, the more acute became her misery. But a day intervened, and the trial of Ralph Colleton must take place; and, without her evidence, she was well aware there could be no hope of his escape from the doom of felony—from the death of shame and physical agony. The whole picture grew up before her excited fancy. She beheld the assembled crowd—she saw him borne to execution—and her senses reeled beneath the terrible conjurations of her fancy. She threw herself prostrate upon her couch, and strove not to think, but in vain. Her mind, growing hourly more and more intensely excited, at length almost maddened, and she grew conscious herself—the worst of all kinds of consciousness—that her reason was no longer secure in its sovereignty. It was with a strong effort of the still-firm will that she strove to meditate the best mode of rescuing the victim from the death suspended above him; and she succeeded, while deliberating on this object, in quieting the more subtle workings of her imagination.
Many were the thoughts which came into her brain in this examination. At one time she thought it not impossible to convey a letter, in which her testimony should be carefully set down; but the difficulty of procuring a messenger, and the doubt that such a statement would prove of any avail, decided her to seek for other means. An ordinary mind, and a moderate degree of interest in the fate of the individual, would have contented itself with some such step; but such a mind and such affections were not those of the high-souled and spirited Lucy. She dreaded not personal danger; and to rescue the youth, whom she so much idolized, from the doom that threatened him, she would have willingly dared to encounter that doom itself, in its darkest forms. She determined, therefore, to rely chiefly upon herself in all efforts which she should make for the purpose in view; and her object, therefore, was to effect a return to the village in time to appear at the trial.
Yet how should this be done? She felt herself to be a captive; she knew the restraints upon her—and did not doubt that all her motions were sedulously observed. How then should she proceed? An agent was necessary; and, while deliberating with herself upon the difficulty thus assailing her at the outset, her ears were drawn to the distinct utterance of sounds, as of persons engaged in conversation, from the adjoining section of the rock.
One of the voices appeared familiar, and at length she distinctly made out her own name in various parts of the dialogue. She soon distinguished the nasal tones of the pedler, whose prison adjoined her own, separated only by a huge wall of earth and rock, the rude and jagged sides of which had been made complete, where naturally imperfect, for the purposes of a wall, by the free use of clay, which, plastered in huge masses into the crevices and every fissure, was no inconsiderable apology for the more perfect structures of civilization.
Satisfied, at length, from what she heard, that the two so confined were friendly, she contrived to make them understand her contiguity, by speaking in tones sufficiently low as to be unheard beyond the apartment in which they were. In this way she was enabled to converse with the pedler, to whom all her difficulties were suggested, and to whom she did not hesitate to say that she knew that which would not fail to save the life of Colleton.
Bunce was not slow to devise various measures for the further promotion of the scheme, none of which, however, served the purpose of showing to either party how they should get out, and, but for the idiot, it is more than probable, despairing of success, they would at length have thrown aside the hope of doing anything for the youth as perfectly illusory.
But Chub came in as a prime auxiliar. From the first moment in which he heard the gentle tones of Lucy's voice, he had busied himself with his long nails and fingers in removing the various masses of clay which had been made to fill up sundry crevices of the intervening wall, and had so far succeeded as to detach a large square of the rock itself, which, with all possible pains and caution, he lifted from the embrasure. This done, he could distinguish objects, though dimly, from one apartment in the other, and thus introduced the parties to a somewhat nearer acquaintance with one another. Having done so much, he reposed from his labors, content with a sight of Lucy, on whom he continued to gaze with a fixed and stupid admiration.
He had pursued this work so noiselessly, and the maiden and Bunce had been so busily employed in discussing their several plans, that they had not observed the vast progress which Chub had made toward furnishing them with a better solution of their difficulties than any of their own previous cogitations. When Bunce saw how much had been done in one quarter, he applied himself resolutely to similar experiments on the opposite wall: and had the satisfaction of discovering that, as a dungeon, the dwelling in which they were required to remain was sadly deficient in some few of the requisites of security. With the aid of a small pick of iron, which Lucy handed him from her cell, he pierced the outer wall in several places, in which the clay had been required to do the offices of the rock, and had the satisfaction of perceiving, from the sudden influx of light in the apartment, succeeding his application of the instrument, that, with a small labor and in little time, they should be enabled to effect their escape, at least into the free air, and under the more genial vault of heaven.
Having made this discovery, it was determined that nothing more should be done until night, and having filled up the apertures which they had made, with one thing or another, they proceeded to consult, with more deliberate composure, on the future progress. It was arranged that the night should be permitted to set in fairly—that Lucy should retire early, having first taken care that Munro and her aunt, with whom she more exclusively consorted—Rivers having kept very much out of sight since her removal—should see her at the evening meal, without any departure from her usual habits. Bunce undertook to officiate as guide, and as Chub expressed himself willing to do whatever Miss Lucy should tell him, it was arranged that he should remain, occasionally making himself heard in his cell, as if in conversation, for as long a period after their departure as might be thought necessary to put them sufficiently in advance of pursuit—a requisition to which Chub readily gave his consent. He was the only one of the party who appeared to regard the whole matter with comparative indifference. He knew that a man was in danger of his life—he felt that he himself was in prison, and he said he would rather be out among the pine-trees—but there was no rush of feeling, such as troubled the heart of the young girl, whose spirit, clothing itself in all the noblest habiliments of humanity, lifted her up into the choicest superiority of character—nor had the dwarf that anxiety to do a service to his fellow, which made the pedler throw aside some of his more worldly characteristics—he did simply as he was bid, and had no further care.
Miss Lucy, he said, talked sweetly, like his mother, and Chub would do for Miss Lucy anything that she asked him. The principle of his government was simple, and having chosen a sovereign, he did not withhold his obedience. Thus stood the preparations of the three prisoners, when darkness—long-looked-for, and hailed with trembling emotions—at length came down over the silent homestead of the outlaws.
The night gathered apace, and the usual hour of repose had come. Lucy retired to her apartment with a trembling heart but a courageous spirit, full of a noble determination to persevere in her project. Though full of fear, she never for a moment thought of retreat from the decision which she had made. Her character afforded an admirable model for the not unfrequent union that we find in woman, of shrinking delicacy with manly and efficient firmness.
Munro and Rivers, having first been assured that all was quiet, by a ramble which they took around their hiding-place, returned to the little chamber of the latter, such as we have described it in a previous portion of our narrative, and proceeded to the further discussion of their plans. The mind of the landlord was very ill at ease. He had arrived at that time of life when repose and a fixed habitation became necessary; and when, whatever may have been the habits of earlier manhood, the mind ceases to crave the excitements of adventure, and foregoes, or would fain forego, all its roving characteristics. To this state of feeling had he come, and the circumstances which now denied him the fruition of that prospect of repose which he had been promising himself so long, were regarded with no little restlessness and impatience. At the moment, the colleagues could make no positive arrangements for the future. Munro was both to give up the property which, in one way or other, he had acquired in the neighborhood, and which it was impossible for him to remove to any other region; and, strange to say, a strong feeling of inhabitiveness—the love of home—if home he could be thought to have anywhere—might almost be considered a passion with his less scrupulous companion.
Thus situated, they lingered on in the hope that the military would soon be withdrawn from the neighborhood, as it could only be maintained at great expense by the state; and then, as the country was but nominally settled, and so sparsely as to scarcely merit any consideration, they felt assured that they might readily return to their old, or any practices, and without any further apprehension. The necessity, however, which made them thus deliberate, had the effect, at the same time, of impressing them with a gloomy spirit, not common to either of them.
"Let us see, Munro," said the more desperate ruffian; "there is, after all, less to apprehend than we first thought. In a week, and the court will be over; in another week, and the guard will be withdrawn; and for this period only will it be necessary that we should keep dark. I think we are now perfectly safe where we are. The only persons who know of our retreat, and might be troublesome, are safe in our possession. They will hardly escape until we let them, and before we do so we shall first see that they can give us no further necessity for caution. Of our own party, none are permitted to know the secrets of our hiding-place, but those in whom we may trust confidently. I have taken care to provide for the doubtful at some distance in the adjoining woods, exaggerating so greatly the danger of exposure, that they will hardly venture to be seen under any circumstances by anybody. Once let these two weeks go over, and I have no fears; we shall have no difficulties then."
"And what's to be done with the pedler and the fool? I say, Guy, there must be no more blood—I will not agree to it. The fact is, I feel more and more dismal every day since that poor fellow's death; and now that the youngster's taken, the thought is like fire in my brain, which tells me he may suffer for our crime."
"Why, you are grown parson. Would you go and save him, by giving up the true criminal? I shall look for it after this, and consider myself no longer in safety. If you go on in this manner, I shall begin to meditate an off-hand journey to the Mississippi."
"Ay, and the sooner we all go the better—though, to be plain, Guy, let this affair once blow over and I care not to go with you any longer. We must then cut loose for ever. I am not a good man, I know—anything but that; but you have carried me on, step by step, until I am what I am afraid to name to myself. You found me a rogue—you have made me a—"
"Why do you hesitate? Speak it out, Munro; it is a large step gained toward reform when we learn to name truly our offences to ourselves."
"I dare not. The thought is sufficiently horrible without the thing. I hear some devil whispering it too frequently in my ears, to venture upon its utterance myself. But you—how you can live without feeling it, after your experience, which has been so much more dreadful than mine, I know not."
"I do feel it, Munro, but have long since ceased to fear it. The reiteration takes away the terror which is due rather to the novelty than to the offence. But when I began, I felt it. The first sleep I had after the affair of Jessup was full of tortures. The old man, I thought, lay beside me in my bed; his blood ran under me, and clotted around me, and fastened me there, while his gashed face kept peering into mine, and his eyes danced over me with the fierce light of a threatening comet. The dream nearly drove me mad, and mad I should have been had I gone to my prayers. I knew that, and chose a different course for relief."
"What was that?"
"I sought for another victim as soon after as I conveniently could. The one spectre superseded the other, until all vanished. They never trouble me now, though sometimes, in my waking moments, I have met them on the roadside, glaring at me from bush or tree, until I shouted at them fiercely, and then they were gone. These are my terrors, and they do sometimes unman me."
"They would do more with me; they would destroy me on the spot. But, let us have no more of this. Let us rather see if we can not do something towards making our visions more agreeable. Do you persevere in the sacrifice of this youngster? Must he die?"
"Am I a child, Walter Munro, that you ask me such a question? Must I again tell over the accursed story of my defeat and of his success? Must I speak of my thousand defeats—of my overthrown pretensions—my blasted hopes, where I had set my affections—upon which every feeling of my heart had been placed? Must I go over a story so full of pain and humiliation—must I describe my loss, in again placing before your eyes a portraiture like this? Look, man, look—and read my answer in the smile, which, denying me, teaches me, in this case, to arm myself with a denial as immutable as hers."
He placed before his companion the miniature of Edith, which he took from his bosom, where he seemed carefully to treasure it. He was again the envenomed and the excited savage which we have elsewhere seen him, and in which mood Munro knew well that nothing could be done with him in the shape of argument or entreaty. He went on:—
"Ask me no questions, Munro, so idle, so perfectly unnecessary as this. Fortune has done handsomely here. He falls through me, yet falls by the common hangman. What a double blow is this to both of them. I have been striving to imagine their feelings, and such a repast as that effort has procured me—I would not exchange it—no—not for worlds—for nothing less, Munro, than my restoration back to that society—to that place in society, from which my fierce passions, and your cruel promptings, and the wrongs of society itself, have for ever exiled me."
"And would you return, if you could do so?"
"To-morrow—to-night—this instant. I am sanguinary, Munro—revengeful—fierce—all that is bad, because I am not permitted to be better. My pride, my strong feelings and deeply absorbing mood—these have no other field for exercise. The love of home, the high ambition, which, had society done me common justice, and had not, in enslaving itself, dishonored and defrauded me—would, under other circumstances, have made me a patriot. My pride is even now to command the admiration of men—I never sought their love. Their approbation would have made me fearless and powerful in their defence and for their rights—their injustice makes me their enemy. My passions, unprovoked and unexaggerated by mortifying repulses, would have only been a warm and stimulating influence, perpetually working in their service—but, pressed upon and irritated as they have been they grew into so many wild beasts, and preyed upon the cruel or the careless keepers, whose gentle treatment and constant attention had tamed them into obedient servants. Yet, would I could, even now, return to that condition in which there might be hope. The true spectre of the criminal—such as I am—the criminal chiefly from the crimes and injustice of society, not forgetting the education of my boyhood, which grew out of the same crimes, and whose most dreadful lesson is selfishness—is despair! The black waters once past, the blacker hills rise between, and there is no return to those regions of hope, which, once lost, are lost for ever. This is the true punishment—the worst punishment which man inflicts upon his fellow—the felony of public opinion. The curse of society is no unfit illustration of that ban which its faith holds forth as the penal doom of the future. There is no return!"
The dialogue, mixed up thus, throughout, with the utterance of opinions on the part of the outlaw, many of which were true or founded in truth, yet coupled with many false deductions—was devoted, for some little while longer, to the discussion of their various necessities and plans for the future. The night had considerably advanced in this way, when, of a sudden, their ears were assailed with an eldritch screech, like that of the owl, issuing from one of the several cells around them.
The quick sense of Rivers immediately discerned the voice of the idiot, and without hesitation he proceeded to that division of the rock which contained the two prisoners. To each of these apartments had been assigned a sentinel, or watch, whose own place of abode—while covered completely and from sight, and in all respects furnishing a dwelling, though rather a confined one for himself—enabled him to attend to the duty assigned him without himself being seen. The night had been fairly set in, when Bunce, with the aid of Chub Williams, with all due caution proceeded to his task, and with so much success, that, in the course of a couple of hours, they had succeeded, not only in making a fair outlet for themselves, but for Lucy Munro too.
The watchman, in the meantime, holding his duty as merely nominal, gave himself as little trouble as possible; and believing all things quiet, had, after a little while, insinuated himself into the good graces of as attractive a slumber as may usually be won in the warm summer season in the south, by one to whom a nightwatch is a peculiarly ungracious exercise. Before this conclusion, however, he looked forth every now and then, and deceived by the natural stillness of earth and sky, he committed the further care of the hours, somewhat in anticipation of the time, to the successor who was to relieve him on the watch.
Without being conscious of this decision in their favor, and ignorant entirely of the sentinel himself, the pedler fortunately chose this period for his own departure with the young lady whom he was to escort; and who, with probably far less fear than her gallant, did not scruple, for a single instant, to go forth under his guidance. Chub took his instructions from the lips of Lucy, and promised the most implicit obedience.
They had scarcely been well gone when the sentinels were changed, and one something more tenacious of discipline, or something less drowsy than his predecessor, took his place. After muttering at intervals, as directed, for the space of an hour, probably, from the time at which his companion had departed, Chub thought it only prudent to sally forth too. Accordingly, ascending to the break in the wall, through which his companion had made his way, the urchin emerged from the cavern at the unlucky moment, when, at some ten or fifteen paces in front of him, the sentinel came forth from his niche to inspect the order of his watch. Chub saw his adversary first, and his first impulse originated the scream which drew the attention of Rivers, as already narrated. The outlaw rushed quickly to the scene of difficulty, and before the sentinel had well recovered from the astonishment occasioned by the singularly sudden appearance and wild screech of the urchin.
"Why, what is this, Briggs; what see you?" was the hasty inquiry of Rivers.
"There, sir, there," exclaimed the watch, still half bewildered, and pointing to the edge of the hill, where, in a condition seemingly of equal incertitude with himself, stood the imbecile.
"Seize upon him—take him at once—let him not escape you!" were the hasty orders of the outlaw. Briggs set forward, but his approach had the effect of giving determination also to Chub; who, just as the pursuer thought himself sure of his captive, and was indeed indirectly upon him, doubled himself up, as it were into a complete ball, and without effort rolled headlong down the hill; gathering upon his feet as he attained the level, seemingly unhurt, and with all the agility of the monkey.
"Shall I shoot, sir?" was the inquiry of Briggs, as the urchin stood off, laughing wildly at his good fortune.
"Now, don't"—was the cry—"Now, don't"—was the exclamation of Chub himself, who, however, trusting nothing to the effect of his entreaty, ran vigorously on his way.
"Yes, shoot him down," was the sudden exclamation of Munro; but Rivers struck the poised weapon upward in the hands of the sentinel, to the astonishment, not less of him than of the landlord.
"No—let him live, Munro. Let him live. Such as he should be spared. Is he not alone—without fellowship—scorned—an outcast—without sympathy—like myself. Let him live, let him live!"
The word of mercy from his lips utterly confounded his companion. But, remembering that Rivers was a monster of contradictions, Munro turned away, and gave directions to see after the other prisoners.
A few moments sufficed for this, and the panic was universal among the inmates of the rock. The secret was now lost, unless immediate pursuit could avail in the recovery of the fugitives. This pursuit was immediately undertaken, and both Rivers and Munro, taking different directions, and dispersing their whole force about the forest, set off on the search.
Apprehensive of pursuit, the policy of Bunce, to whom Lucy gave up the entire direction of their flight, was determined upon with not a little judgment. Assured that his pursuers would search chiefly on the direct route between their abode and the village, to which they would necessarily surmise the flight was directed, he boldly determined upon a course, picked sinuously out, obliquing largely from the true direction, which, while it would materially lengthen the distance, would at least secure them, he thought, from the danger of contact with the scouring party.
By no means ignorant of the country, in and about which he had frequently travelled in the pursuit of trade, he contrived, in this way, completely to mislead the pursuers; and the morning found them still some distance from the village, but in a direction affording few chances of interruption in their contemplated approach to it.
Lucy was dreadfully fatigued, and a frequent sense of weariness almost persuaded her to lay down life itself in utter exhaustion: but the encouraging words of the pedler, and the thought of his peril, for whose safety—though herself hopeless of all besides—she would willingly peril all, restored her, and invigorated her to renewed effort.
At the dawn of day they approached a small farmhouse, some of the inmates of which happened to know Lucy; and, though they looked somewhat askant at her companion, and wondered not a little at the circumstance of her travelling at such a time of night, yet, as she was generally well respected, their surmises and scruples were permitted to sleep; and, after a little difficulty, they were persuaded to lend her the family pony and side-saddle, with the view to the completion of her journey. After taking some slight refreshment, she hurried on; Bunce, keeping the road afoot, alongside, with all the patient docility of a squire of the middle ages; and to the great satisfaction of all parties, they arrived in sight of the village just as Counsellor Pippin, learned in the law, was disputing with the state attorney upon the non-admissibility of certain points of testimony, which it was the policy of the former to exclude.
The village of Chestatee was crowded with visiters of all descriptions. Judges and lawyers, soldiers and citizens and farmers—all classes were duly represented, and a more wholesome and subordinate disposition in that quarter, may be inferred as duly resulting from the crowd. Curiosity brought many to the spot from portions of country twenty, thirty, and even forty miles off—for, usually well provided with good horses, the southron finds a difference of ten or twenty miles no great matter.
Such had been the reputation of the region here spoken of, not less for its large mineral wealth than for the ferocious character of those in its neighborhood, that numbers, who would not otherwise have adventured, now gladly took advantage of the great excitement, and the presence of so many, to examine a section of country of which they had heard so much. There came the planter, of rather more wealth than his neighbors, solicitous for some excitement and novelty to keep himself from utter stagnation. There came the farmer, discontented with his present abiding-place, and in search of a new spot of more promise, in which to drive stakes and do better. The lawyer, from a neighboring county, in search of a cause; the creditor in search of his runaway debtor—the judge and the jury also adding something, not less to the number than the respectability of the throng.
The grand-jury had found several bills, and most of them for the more aggravated offences in the estimation of the law. Rivers, Munro, Blundell, Forrester, were all severally and collectively included in their inquiries; but as none of the parties were to be found for the present at least, as one of them had been removed to another and higher jurisdiction, the case of most importance left for trial was that which charged Colleton with Forrester's murder.
There was no occasion for delay; and, in gloomy and half-desponding mood, though still erect and unshrinking to the eye of the beholder, Ralph refused the privilege of a traverse, and instructed Pippin to go on with the case. The lawyer himself had not the slightest objection to this procedure, for, not to be harsh in our estimate of his humanities, there is no reason to believe that he regarded for a single instant the value of his client's life, but as its preservation was to confer credit upon his capacity as his legal friend and adviser. The issue was consequently made up without delay—the indictment was read—the prisoner put himself upon God and the country, according to the usual forms, and the case proceeded.
The general impression of the spectators was decidedly in favor of the accused. His youth—the noble bearing—the ease, the unobtrusive confidence—the gentle expression, pliant and, though sad, yet entirely free from anything like desponding weakness—all told in his favor. He was a fine specimen of the southern gentleman—the true nobleman of that region, whose pride of character is never ostentatiously displayed and is only to be felt in the influence which it invariably exercises over all with whom it may have contact or connection. Though firm in every expression, and manly in every movement, there was nothing in the habit and appearance of Ralph, which, to the eye of those around, savored of the murderer. There was nothing ruffianly or insincere. But, as the testimony proceeded—when the degree of intimacy was shown which had existed between himself and the murdered man—when they heard that Forrester had brought him wounded and fainting to his home—had attended him—had offered even to fight for him with Rivers; when all these facts were developed, in connection with the sudden flight of the person so befriended—on the same night with him who had befriended him—he having a knowledge of the proposed departure of the latter-and with the finding of the bloody dagger marked with the youth's initials—the feeling of sympathy very perceptibly underwent a change. The people, proverbially fickle, and, in the present instance justifiably so, veered round to the opposite extreme of opinion, and a confused buzz around, sometimes made sufficiently audible to all senses, indicated the unfavorable character of the change. The witnesses were closely examined, and the story was complete and admirably coherent. The presumptions, as they were coupled together, were conclusive; and, when it was found that not a solitary witness came forward even to say that the accused was a man of character and good connections—a circumstance which could not materially affect the testimony as it stood, but which, wanting, gave it additional force—the unhappy youth, himself, felt that all was over.
A burning flush, succeeded by a deathlike paleness, came over his face for a moment—construed by those around into a consciousness of guilt; for, where the prejudices of men become active, all appearances of change, which go not to affect the very foundation of the bias, are only additional proofs of what they have before believed. He rested his head upon his hands in deep but momentary agony. What were his feelings then? With warm, pure emotions; with a pride only limited by a true sense of propriety; with an ambition whose eye was sunward ever; with affections which rendered life doubly desirable, and which made love a high and holy aspiration: with these several and predominating feelings struggling in his soul, to be told of such a doom; to be stricken from the respect of his fellows; to forfeit life, and love, and reputation; to undergo the punishment of the malefactor, and to live in memory only as a felon—ungrateful, foolish, fiendish—a creature of dishonest passions, and mad and merciless in their exercise!
The tide of thought which bore to his consciousness all these harrowing convictions, was sudden as the wing of the lightning, and nearly shattered, in that single instant, the towering manhood whose high reachings had attracted it. But the pride consequent to his education, and the society in which he had lived, came to his relief; and, after the first dreadful agony of soul, he again stood erect, and listened, seemingly unmoved, to the defences set up by his counsel.
But how idle, even to his mind, desirous as he must have been of every species of defence, were all the vainglorious mouthings of the pettifogger! He soon discovered that the ambition of Pippin chiefly consisted in the utterance of his speech. He saw, too, in a little while, that the nonsense of the lawyer had not even the solitary merit—if such it be—of being extemporaneous; and in the slow and monotonous delivery of a long string of stale truisms, not bearing any analogy to the case in hand, he perceived the dull elaborations of the closet.
But such was not the estimate of the lawyer himself. He knew what he was about; and having satisfied himself that the case was utterly hopeless, he was only solicitous that the people should see that he could still make a speech. He well knew that his auditory, perfectly assured with himself of the hopelessness of the defence, would give him the credit of having made the most of his materials, and this was all he wanted. In the course of his exhortations, however, he was unfortunate enough to make an admission for his client which was, of itself, fatal; and his argument thence became unnecessary. He admitted that the circumstances sufficiently established the charge of killing, but proceeded, however, to certain liberal assumptions, without any ground whatever, of provocation on the part of Forrester, which made his murder only matter of self-defence on the side of the accused, whose crime therefore became justifiable: but Ralph, who had for some time been listening with manifest impatience to sundry other misrepresentations, not equally evil with this, but almost equally annoying, now rose and interrupted him; and, though the proceeding was something informal, proceeded to correct the statement.
"No one, may it please your honor, and you, gentlemen, now presiding over my fate, can be more conscious than myself, from the nature of the evidence given in this case, of the utter hopelessness of any defence which may be offered on my behalf. But, while recognising, in their fullest force, the strong circumstantial proofs of crime which you have heard, I may be permitted to deny for myself what my counsel has been pleased to admit for me. To say that I have not been guilty of this crime, is only to repeat that which was said when I threw myself upon the justice of the country. I denied any knowledge of it then—I deny any knowledge of, or participation in it, now. I am not guilty of this killing, whether with or without justification. The blood of the unfortunate man Forrester is not upon my hands; and, whatever may be your decree this day, of this sweet consciousness nothing can deprive me."
"I consider, may it please your honor, that my counsel, having virtually abandoned my cause, I have the right to go on with it myself—"
But Pippin, who had been dreadfully impatient heretofore, started forward with evident alarm.
"Oh, no—no, your honor—my client—Mr. Colleton—how can you think such a thing? I have not, your honor, abandoned the case. On the contrary, your honor will remember that it was while actually proceeding with the case that I was interrupted."
The youth, with a singular degree of composure, replied:—
"Your honor will readily understand me, though the gentleman of the bar does not. I conceive him not only to have abandoned the case, your honor, but actually to have joined hand and hand with the prosecuting counsel. It is true, sir, that he still calls himself my counsel—and still, under that name, presumes to harangue, as he alleges, in my behalf; but, when he violates the truth, not less than my instructions—when he declares all that is alleged against me in that paper to be true, all of which I declare to be false—when he admits me to be guilty of a crime of which I am not guilty—I say that he has not only abandoned my case, but that he has betrayed the trust reposed in him. What, your honor, must the jury infer from the confession which he has just made?—what, but that in my conference with him I have made the same confession? It becomes necessary, therefore, may it please your honor, not only that I take from him, thus openly, the power which I confided to him, but that I call upon your honor to demand from him, upon oath, whether such an admission was ever made to him by me. I know that my own words will avail me nothing here—I also know why they should not—but I am surely entitled to require that he should speak out, as to the truth, when his misrepresentations are to make weight against me in future. His oath, that I made no such confession to him, will avail nothing for my defence, but will avail greatly with those who, from present appearances, are likely to condemn me. I call upon him, may it please your honor, as matter of right, that he should be sworn to this particular. This, your honor will perceive, if my assertion be true, is the smallest justice which he can do me; beyond this I will ask and suggest nothing—leaving it to your own mind how far the license of his profession should be permitted to one who thus not only abandons, but betrays and misrepresents his client."
The youth was silent, and Pippin rose to speak in his defence. Without being sworn, he admitted freely that such a confession had not been made, but that he had inferred the killing from the nature of the testimony, which he thought conclusive on the point; that his object had been to suggest a probable difficulty between the parties, in which he would have shown Forrester as the aggressor. He bungled on for some time longer in this manner, but, as he digressed again into the defence of the accused, Ralph again begged to interrupt him.
"I think it important, may it please your honor, that the gentleman should be sworn as to the simple fact which he has uttered. I want it on record, that, at some future day, the few who have any interest in my fate should feel no mortifying doubts of my innocence when reminded of the occurrence—which this strange admission, improperly circulated, might otherwise occasion. Let him swear, your honor, to the fact: this, I think, I may require."
After a few moments of deliberation, his honor decided that the demand was one of right, strictly due, not merely to the prisoner and to the abstract merits of the case, but also to the necessity which such an event clearly occasioned, of establishing certain governing principles for restraining those holding situations so responsible, who should so far wilfully betray their trusts. The lawyer was made to go through the humiliating process, and then subjected to a sharp reprimand from the judge; who, indeed, might have well gone further, in actually striking his name from the rolls of court.
It was just after this interesting period in the history of the trial—and when Pippin, who could not be made to give up the case, as Ralph had required, was endeavoring to combat with the attorney of the state some incidental points of doctrine, and to resist their application to certain parts of the previously, recorded testimony—that our heroine, Lucy Munro, attended by her trusty squire, Bunce, made her appearance in the courthouse.
She entered the hall more dead than alive. The fire was no longer in her eye—a thick haze had overspread its usually rich and lustrous expression; her form trembled with the emotion—the strong and struggling emotion of her soul; and fatigue had done much toward the general enervation of her person. The cheek was pale with the innate consciousness; the lips were blanched, and slightly parted, as if wanting in the muscular exercise which could bring them together. She tottered forward to the stand upon which the witnesses were usually assembled, and to which her course had been directed, and for a few moments after her appearance in the courtroom her progress had been as one stunned by a sudden and severe blow.
But, when roused by the confused hum of human voices around her, she ventured to look up, and her eye, as if by instinct, turned upon the dark box assigned for the accused—she again saw the form, in her mind and eye, of almost faultless mould and excellence—then there was no more weakness, no more struggle. Her eye kindled, the color rushed into her cheeks, a sudden spirit reinvigorated her frame; and, with clasped hands, she boldly ascended the small steps which led to the stand from which her evidence was to be given, and declared her ability, in low tones, almost unheard but by the judge, to furnish matter of interest and importance to the defence. Some little demur as to the formality of such a proceeding, after the evidence had been fairly closed, took place between the counsel; but, fortunately for justice, the judge was too wise and too good a man to limit the course of truth to prescribed rules, which could not be affected by a departure, in the present instance, from their restraints. The objection was overruled, and the bold but trembling girl was called upon for her testimony.
A new hope had been breathed into the bosoms of the parties most concerned, on the appearance of this interruption to the headlong and impelling force of the circumstances so fatally arrayed against the prisoner. The pedler was overjoyed, and concluded that the danger was now safely over. The youth himself felt his spirit much lighter in his bosom, although he himself knew not the extent of that testimony in his favor which Lucy was enabled to give. He only knew that she could account for his sudden flight on the night of the murder, leading to a fair presumption that he had not premeditated such an act; and knew not that it was in her power to overthrow the only fact, among the circumstances arrayed against him, by which they had been so connected as to make out his supposed guilt.
Sanguine, herself, that the power was in her to effect the safety of the accused, Lucy had not for a moment considered the effect upon others, more nearly connected with her than the youth, of the development which she was prepared to make. These considerations were yet to come.
The oath was administered; she began her narration, but at the very outset, the difficulties of her situation beset her. How was she to save the man she loved? How, but by showing the guilt of her uncle? How was she to prove that the dirk of the youth was not in his possession at the time of the murder? By showing that, just before that time, it was in the possession of Munro, who was setting forth for the express purpose of murdering the very man, now accused and held guilty of the same crime. The fearful gathering of thoughts and images, thus, without preparation, working in her mind, again destroyed the equilibrium by which her truer senses would have enforced her determination to proceed. Her head swam, her words were confused and incoherent, and perpetually contradictory. The hope which her presence had inspired as suddenly departed; and pity and doubt were the prevailing sentiments of the spectators.
After several ineffectual efforts to proceed, she all at once seemed informed of the opinions around her, and gathering new courage from the dreadful thought now forcing itself upon her mind, that what she had said had done nothing toward her object, she exclaimed impetuously, advancing to the judge, and speaking alternately from him to the jury and the counsel—
"He is not guilty of this crime, believe me. I may not say what I know—I can not—you would not expect me to reveal it. It would involve others whom I dare not name. I must not say that—but, believe me, Mr. Colleton is not guilty—he did not commit the murder—it was somebody else—I know, I will swear, he had no hand in the matter."
"Very well, my young lady, I have no doubt you think, and honestly believe, all that you say; but what reasons have you for this bold assertion in the teeth of all the testimony which has already been given? You must not be surprised, if we are slow in believing what you tell us, until you can show upon what grounds you make your statement. How know you that the prisoner did not commit this crime? Do you know who did? Can you reveal any facts for our knowledge? This is what you must do. Do not be terrified—speak freely—officer! a chair for the lady—tell us all that you know—keep nothing back—remember, you are sworn to speak the truth—the whole truth."
The judge spoke kindly and encouragingly, while, with considerable emphasis, he insisted upon a full statement of all she knew. But the distress of the poor girl increased with every moment of thought, which warned her of the predicament in which such a statement must necessarily involve her uncle. "Oh, how can I speak all this? How can I tell that which must destroy him—"
"Him?—Of whom do you speak, lady? Who is he?" inquired the attorney of the state.
"He—who?—Oh, no, I can say nothing. I can tell you nothing. I know nothing but that Mr. Colleton is not guilty. He struck no blow at Forrester. I am sure of it—some other hand—some other person. How can you believe that he would do so?"
There was no such charitable thought for him, however, in the minds of those who heard—as how should there be? A whispering dialogue now took place between the judge and the counsel, in which, while they evidently looked upon her as little better than demented with her love for the accused, they still appeared to hold it due to justice, not less than to humanity, to obtain from her every particular of testimony bearing on the case, which, by possibility, she might really have in her possession. Not that they really believed that she knew anything which might avail the prisoner. Regarding her as individually and warmly interested in his life, they looked upon her appearance, and the evidence which she tendered—if so it might be styled—as solely intended to provoke sympathy, gain time, or, possibly, as the mere ebullition of feelings so deeply excited as to have utterly passed the bounds of all restraining reason. The judge, who was a good, not less than a sensible man, undertook, in concluding this conference, to pursue the examination himself, with the view to bringing out such portions of her information as delicacy or some other more influential motive might persuade her to conceal.
"You are sure, Miss Munro, of the innocence of the prisoner so sure that you are willing to swear to it. Such is your conviction, at least; for, unless you saw the blow given by another hand, or could prove Mr. Colleton to have been elsewhere at the time of the murder, of course you could not, of a certainty, swear to any such fact. You are not now to say whether you believe him capable of such an act or not. You are to say whether you know of any circumstances which shall acquit him of the charge, or furnish a plausible reason, why others, not less than yourself, should have a like reason with yourself to believe him innocent. Can you do this, Miss Munro? Can you show anything, in this chain of circumstances, against him, which, of your own knowledge, you can say to be untrue? Speak out, young lady, and rely upon every indulgence from the court."
Here the judge recapitulated all the evidence which had been furnished against the prisoner. The maiden listened with close attention, and the difficulties of her situation became more and more obvious. Finding her slow to answer, though her looks were certainly full of meaning, the presiding officer took another course for the object which he had in view. He now proceeded to her examination in the following form:—
"You know the prisoner?"
"You knew the murdered man?"
"Were they frequently together since the appearance of the prisoner in these regions?"
"At the house in which you dwell?"
"Were they together on the day preceding the night of the murder?"
"They were—throughout the better portion of it."
"Did they separate at your place of residence, and what was the employment of the prisoner subsequently on the same day?"
"They did separate while at our house, Mr. Colleton retiring at an early hour of the evening to his chamber."
"So far, Miss Munro, your answers correspond directly with the evidence, and now come the important portions. You will answer briefly and distinctly. After that, did you see anything more of the prisoner, and know you of his departure from the house—the hour of the night—the occasion of his going—and the circumstances attending it?"
These questions were, indeed, all important to the female delicacy of the maiden, as well as to the prisoner, and as her eye sunk in confusion, and as her cheek paled and kindled with the innate consciousness, the youth, who had hitherto been silent, now rose, and without the slightest hesitancy of manner, requested of the maiden that she would say no more.
"See you not, your honor, that her mind wavers—that she speaks and thinks wildly? I am satisfied that though she might say something, your honor, in accounting for my strange flight, yet, as that constitutes but a small feature in the circumstances against me, what she can allege will avail me little. Press her no farther, therefore, I entreat you. Let her retire. Her word can do me no good, and I would not, that, for my sake and life, she should feel, for a single instant an embarrassment of spirit, which, though it be honorable in its character, must necessarily be distressing in its exercise. Proceed with your judgment, I pray you—whatever it may be; I am now ready for the worst, and though innocent as the babe unborn of the crime urged against me, I am not afraid to meet its consequences. I am not unwilling to die."
"But you must not die—they will not—they can not find you guilty! How know they you are guilty? Who dares say you are guilty, when I know you are innocent? Did I not see you fly? Did I not send you on your way—was it not to escape from murder yourself that you flew, and how should you have been guilty of that crime of which you were the destined victim yourself? Oh, no—no! you are not guilty—and the dagger—I heard that!—that is not true—oh, no, the dagger,—you dropt it—"
The eye of the inspired girl was caught by a glance—a single glance—from one at the opposite corner of the court-room, and that glance brought her back to the full consciousness of the fearful development she was about to make. A decrepit old woman, resting with bent form upon a staff, which was planted firmly before her, seemed wrapped in the general interest pervading the court. The woman was huge of frame and rough of make; her face was large and swollen, and the tattered cap and bonnet, the coarse and soiled materials which she wore, indicated one of the humblest caste in the country. Her appearance attracted no attention, and she was unmarked by all around; few having eyes for anything but the exciting business under consideration.
But the disguise did not conceal her uncle from the glance of his niece. That one look had the desired effect—the speech was arrested before its conclusion, and the spectators, now more than ever assured of the partial sanity of the witness, gave up any doubts which had previously began to grow in behalf of the accused. A second look of the landlord was emphatic enough for the purpose of completely silencing her farther evidence. She read in its fearful expression, as plainly as if spoken in words—"The next syllable you utter is fatal to your uncle—your father. Now speak, Lucy, if you can."
For a single moment she was dumb and stationary—her eye turned from her uncle to the prisoner. Horror, and the agonies natural to the strife in her bosom, were in its wild expression, and, with a single cry of "I can not—I must not save him!" from her pallid lips, she sunk down senseless upon the floor, and was borne out by several of the more sympathizing spectators.
There was nothing now to delay the action of the court. The counsel had closed with the argument, and the judge proceeded in his charge to the jury. His remarks were rather favorable than otherwise to the prisoner. He dwelt upon his youth—his manliness—the seeming excellence of his education, and the propriety which had marked his whole behavior on trial. These he spoke of as considerations which must, of course, make the duty, which they had to perform, more severely painful to all. But they could not do away with the strong and tenacious combination of circumstances against him. These were all closely knit, and all tended strongly to the conviction of the guilt of the accused. Still they were circumstantial; and the doubts of the jury were, of course, so many arguments on the side of mercy. He concluded.
But the jury had no doubts. How should they doubt? They deliberated, indeed, for form's sake, but not long. In a little while they returned to their place, and the verdict was read by the clerk.
"Guilty," responded the prisoner, and for a moment his head dropped upon his clasped hands, and his frame shivered as with an ague.
"Guilty—guilty—Oh, my father—Edith—Edith—have I lived for this?"
There was no other sign of human weakness. He arose with composure, and followed, with firm step, the officer to his dungeon. His only thought was of the sorrows and the shame of others—of those of whom he had been the passion and the pride—of that father's memory and name, of whom he had been the cherished hope—of that maiden of whom he had been the cherished love. His firm, manly bearing won the esteem of all those who, nevertheless, at the same moment, had few if any doubts of the justice of his doom.
PRAYERS AND PROMISES.
Ralph Colleton was once more in his dungeon—alone and without hope. For a moment during the progress of his trial, and at the appearance of Lucy, he deemed it possible that some providential fortune might work a change in the aspect of things, favorable to his escape from what, to his mind, was far worse than any thought of death, in the manner of his death. But when, after a moment of reflection, he perceived that the feminine delicacy of the maiden must suffer from any further testimony from her lips—when he saw that, most probably, in the minds of all who heard her narration, the circumstance of her appearance in his chamber and at such an hour of the night, and for any object, would be fatal to her reputation—when he perceived this consciousness, too, weighing down even to agony the soul of the still courageous witness—the high sense of honor which had always prompted him, not less than that chivalrous consideration of the sex taught in the south among the earliest lessons of society to its youth—compelled him to interpose, and prevent, if possible, all further utterance, which, though possibly all-important to him, would be fatally destructive to her.
He did so at his own self-sacrifice! We have seen how the poor girl was silenced. The result was, that Ralph Colleton was again in his dungeon—hope shut out from its walls, and a fearful death and ignominy written upon them. When the officers attending him had retired—when he heard the bolt shot, and saw that the eyes of curiosity were excluded—the firm spirit fled which had supported him. There was a passing weakness of heart which overcame its energies and resolve, and he sunk down upon the single chair allotted to his prison. He buried his face in his hands, and the warm tears gushed freely through his fingers. While thus weeping, like a very child, he heard the approach of footsteps without. In a moment he recovered all his manliness and calm. The traces of his weakness were sedulously brushed from his cheeks, and the handkerchief employed for the purpose studiously put out of sight. He was not ashamed of the pang, but he was not willing that other eyes should behold it. Such was the nature of his pride—the pride of strength, moral strength, and superiority over those weaknesses, which, however natural they may be, are nevertheless not often held becoming in the man.
It was the pedler, Bunce, who made his appearance—choosing, with a feature of higher characteristic than would usually have been allotted him, rather to cheer the prison hours of the unfortunate, than to pursue his own individual advantages; which, at such a time, might not have been inconsiderable. The worthy pedler was dreadfully disappointed in the result of his late adventure. He had not given himself any trouble to inquire into the nature of those proofs which Lucy Munro had assured him were in her possession; but satisfied as much by his own hope as by her assurance, that all would be as he wished it, he had been elevated to a pitch of almost indecorous joy which strongly contrasted with his present depression. He had little now to say in the way of consolation, and that little was coupled with so much that was unjust to the maiden, as to call forth, at length, the rebuke of Colleton.
"Forbear on this subject, my good sir—she did what she could, and what she might have said would not have served me much. It was well she said no more. Her willingness—her adventuring so much in my behalf—should alone be sufficient to protect her from everything like blame. But tell me, Bunce, what has become of her—where is she gone, and who is now attending her?"
"Why, they took her back to the old tavern. A great big woman took her there, and looked after her. I did go and had a sight on her, and there, to be sure, was Munro's wife, though her I did see, I'll be sworn, in among the rocks where they shut us up."
"And was Munro there?"
"Where—in the rocks?"
"No—in the tavern?—You say his wife had come back—did he trust himself there?"
"I rather guess not—seeing as how he'd stand a close chance of 'quaintance with the rope. No, neither him, nor Rivers, nor any of the regulators—thank the powers—ain't to be seen nowhere. They're all off—up into the nation, I guess, or off, down in Alabam by this time, clear enough."
"And who did you see at the rocks, and what men were they that made you prisoners?"
"Men—if I said men, I was 'nation out, I guess. Did I say men?"
"I understood you so."
"'Twan't men at all. Nothing better than women, and no small women neither. Didn't see a man in the neighborhood, but Chub, and he ain't no man neither."
"What is he?"
"Why, for that matter, he's neither one thing nor another—nothing, no how. A pesky little creature! What they call a hobbe-de-hoy will suit for his name sooner than any other that I know on. For he ain't a man and he ain't a boy; but jest a short, half-grown up chunk of a fellow, with bunchy shoulders, and a big head, with a mouth like an oven, and long lap ears like saddle flaps."
In this manner the pedler informed Ralph of all those previous particulars with which he had not till then been made acquainted. This having been done, and the dialogue having fairly reached its termination—and the youth exhibiting some strong symptoms of weariness—Bunce took his departure for the present, not, however, without again proffering his services. These Ralph did not scruple to accept—giving him, at the same time, sundry little commissions, and among them a message of thanks and respectful consideration to Miss Munro.
She, in the meanwhile, had, upon fainting in the court-room, been borne off in a state of utter insensibility, to the former residence of Munro, to which place, as the pedler has already informed us, the wife of the landlord had that very morning returned, resuming, precisely as before, all the previous order of her domestic arrangements. The reason for this return may be readily assigned. The escape of the pedler and of Lucy from their place of temporary confinement had completely upset all the prior arrangements of the outlaws. They now conceived it no longer safe as a retreat; and failing as they did to overtake the fugitives, it was determined that, in the disguises which had been originally suggested for their adoption, they should now venture into the village, as many of them as were willing, to obtain that degree of information which would enable them to judge what further plans to adopt.
As Rivers had conjectured, Chub Williams, so far from taking for the village, had plunged deeper into the woods, flying to former and well known haunts, and regarding the face of man as that of a natural enemy. The pedler had seen none but women, or those so disguised as such as to seem none other than what they claimed to be—while Lucy had been permitted to see none but her uncle and aunt, and one or two persons she had never met before.
Under these circumstances, Rivers individually felt no apprehensions that his wild refuge would be searched; but Munro, something older, less sanguine, and somewhat more timid than his colleague, determined no longer to risk it; and having, as we have seen, effectually checked the utterance of that evidence which, in the unconscious excitation of his niece, must have involved him more deeply in the meshes of the law, besides indicating his immediate and near neighborhood, he made his way, unobserved, from the village, having first provided for her safety, and as he had determined to keep out of the way himself, having brought his family back to their old place of abode.
He had determined on this course from a variety of considerations. Nothing, he well knew, could affect his family. He had always studiously kept them from any participation in his offences. The laws had no terror for them; and, untroubled by any process against him, they could still remain and peaceably possess his property, of which he well knew, in the existing state of society in the South, no legal outlawry of himself would ever avail to deprive them. This could not have been his hope in their common flight. Such a measure, too, would only have impeded his progress, in the event of his pursuit, and have burdened him with encumbrances which would perpetually involve him in difficulty. He calculated differently his chances. His hope was to be able, when the first excitements had overblown, to return to the village, and at least quietly to effect such a disposition of his property, which was not inconsiderable, as to avoid the heavy and almost entire loss which would necessarily follow any other determination.
In all this, however, it may be remarked that the reasonings of Rivers, rather than his own, determined his conduct. That more adventurous ruffian had, from his superior boldness and greater capacities in general, acquired a singular and large influence over his companion: he governed him, too, as much by his desire of gain as by any distinct superiority which he himself possessed; he stimulated his avarice with the promised results of their future enterprises in the same region after the passing events were over; and thus held him still in that fearful bondage of subordinate villany whose inevitable tendency is to make the agent the creature, and finally the victim. The gripe which, in a moral sense, and with a slight reference to character, Rivers had upon the landlord, was as tenacious as that of death—but with this difference, that it was death prolonged through a fearful, and, though not a protracted, yet much too long a life.
The determination of Munro was made accordingly; and, following hard upon the flight of Lucy from the rocks, we find the landlady quietly reinstated in her old home as if nothing had happened. Munro did not, however, return to the place of refuge; he had no such confidence in circumstances as Rivers; his fears had grown active in due proportion with his increase of years; and, with the increased familiarity with crime, had grown up in his mind a corresponding doubt of all persons, and an active suspicion which trusted nothing. His abode in all this time was uncertain: he now slept at one deserted lodge, and now at another; now in the disguise of one and now of another character; now on horseback, now on foot—but in no two situations taking the same feature or disguise. In the night-time he sometimes adventured, though with great caution, to the village, and made inquiries. On all hands, he heard of nothing but the preparations making against the clan of which he was certainly one of the prominent heads. The state was roused into activity, and a proclamation of the governor, offering a high reward for the discovery and detention of any persons having a hand in the murder of the guard, was on one occasion put into his own hands. All these things made caution necessary, and, though venturing still very considerably at times, he was yet seldom entirely off his guard.
Rivers kept close in the cover of his den. That den had numberless ramifications, however, known only to himself; and his calm indifference was the result of a conviction that it would require two hundred men, properly instructed, and all at the same moment, to trace him through its many sinuosities. He too, sometimes, carefully disguised, penetrated into the village, but never much in the sight of those who were not bound to him by a common danger. To Lucy he did not appear on such occasions, though he did to the old lady, and even at the family fireside.
Lucy, indeed, had eyes for few objects, and thoughts but for one. She sat as one stupified with danger, yet sufficiently conscious of it as to be conscious of nothing besides. She was bewildered with the throng of horrible circumstances which had been so crowded on her mind and memory in so brief a space of time. At one moment she blamed her own weakness in suffering the trial of Ralph to progress to a consummation which she shuddered to reflect upon. Had she a right to withhold her testimony—testimony so important to the life and the honor of one person, because others might suffer in consequence—those others the real criminals, and he the innocent victim? and loving him as she did, and hating or fearing his enemies? Had she performed her duty in suffering his case to go to judgment? and such a judgment—so horrible a doom! Should she now suffer it to go to its dreadful execution, when a word from her would stay the hand of the officer, and save the life of the condemned? But would such be its effect? What credence would be given now to one who, in the hall of justice, had sunk down like a criminal herself—withholding the truth, and contradicting every word of her utterance? To whom, then, could she apply? who would hear her plea, even though she boldly narrated all the truth, in behalf of the prisoner? She maddened as she thought on all these difficulties; her blood grew fevered, a thick haze overspread her senses, and she raved at last in the most wild delirium.
Some days went by in her unconsciousness, and when she at length grew calm—when the fever of her mind had somewhat subsided—she opened her eyes and found, to her great surprise, her uncle sitting beside her couch. It was midnight; and this was the hour he had usually chosen when making his visits to his family. In these stolen moments, his attendance was chiefly given to that hapless orphan, whose present sufferings he well knew were in great part attributable to himself.
The thought smote him, for, in reference to her, all feeling had not yet departed from his soul. There was still a lurking sensibility—a lingering weakness of humanity—one of those pledges which nature gives of her old affiliation, and which she never entirely takes away from the human heart. There are still some strings, feeble and wanting in energy though they be, which bind even the most reckless outcast in some little particular to humanity; and, however time, and the world's variety of circumstance, may have worn them and impaired their firm hold, they still sometimes, at unlooked-for hours, regrapple the long-rebellious subject, and make themselves felt and understood as in the first moments of their creation.
Such now was their resumed sway with Munro. While his niece—the young, the beautiful, the virtuous—so endowed by nature—so improved by education—so full of those fine graces, beyond the reach of any art—lay before him insensible—her fine mind spent in incoherent ravings—her gentle form racked with convulsive shudderings—the still, small, monitorial voice, unheard so long, spoke out to him in terrible rebukings. He felt in those moments how deeply he had been a criminal; how much, not of his own, he had appropriated to himself and sacrificed; and how sacred a trust he had abused, in the person of the delicate creature before him, by a determination the most cruel and perhaps unnecessary.
Days had elapsed in her delirium; and such were his newly-awakened feelings, that each night brought him, though at considerable risk, an attendant by her bed. His hand administered—his eyes watched over; and, in the new duties of the parent, he acquired a new feeling of duty and domestic love, the pleasures of which he had never felt before. But she grew conscious at last, and her restoration relieved his mind of one apprehension which had sorely troubled it. Her condition, during her illness, was freely described to her. But she thought not of herself—she had no thought for any other than the one for whom thoughts and prayers promised now to avail but little.
"Uncle—" she spoke at last—"you are here, and I rejoice to see you. I have much to say, much to beg at your hands: oh, let me not beg in vain! Let me not find you stubborn to that which may not make me happy—I say not that, for happy I never look to be again—but make me as much so as human power can make me. When—" and she spoke hurriedly, while a strong and aguish shiver went through her whole frame—"when is it said that he must die?"
He knew perfectly of whom she spoke, but felt reluctant to indulge her mind in a reference to the subject which had already exercised so large an influence over it. But he knew little of the distempered heart, and fell into an error by no means uncommon with society. She soon convinced him of this, when his prolonged silence left it doubtful whether he contemplated an answer.
"Why are you silent? do you fear to speak? Have no fears now. We have no time for fear. We must be active—ready—bold. Feel my hand: it trembles no longer. I am no longer a weak-hearted woman."
He again doubted her sanity, and spoke to her soothingly, seeking to divert her mind to indifferent subjects; but she smiled on the endeavor, which she readily understood, and putting aside her aunt, who began to prattle in a like strain, and with a like object, she again addressed her uncle.
"Doubt me not, uncle: I rave no longer. I am now calm—calm as it is possible for me to be, having such a sorrow as mine struggling at my heart. Why should I hide it from you? It will not be hidden. I love him—love him as woman never loved man before—with a soul and spirit all unreservedly his, and with no thought in which he is not always the principal. I know that he loves another; I know that the passion which I feel I must feel and cherish alone; that it must burn itself away, though it burn away its dwelling-place. I am resigned to such a fate; but I am not prepared for more. I can not bear that he too should die—and such a death! He must not die—he must not die, my uncle; though we save him—ay, save him—for another."
"Shame on you, my daughter!—how can you confess so much? Think on your sex—you are a woman—think on your youth!" Such was the somewhat strongly-worded rebuke of the old lady.
"I have thought on all—on everything. I feel all that you have said, and the thought and the feeling have been my madness. I must speak, or I shall again go mad. I am not the tame and cold creature that the world calls woman. I have been differently made. I can love in the world's despite. I can feel through the world's freeze. I can dare all, when my soul is in it, though the world sneer in scorn and contempt. But what I have said, is said to you. I would not—no, not for worlds, that he should know I said it—not for worlds!" and her cheeks were tinged slightly, while her head rested for a single instant upon the pillow.
"But all this is nothing!" she started up, and again addressed herself to the landlord. "Speak, uncle! tell me, is there yet time—yet time to save him I When is it they say he must die?"
"On Friday next, at noon."
"He must not die—no, not die, then, my uncle! You must save him—you must save him! You have been the cause of his doom: you must preserve him from its execution. You owe it him as a debt—you owe it me—you owe it to yourself. Believe not, my uncle, that there is no other day than this—no other world—no other penalties than belong to this. You read no bible, but you have a thought which must tell you that there are worlds—there is a life yet to come. I know you can not doubt—you must not doubt—you must believe. Have a fear of its punishments, have a hope of its rewards, and listen to my prayer. You must save Ralph Colleton; ask me not how—talk not of difficulties. You must save him—you must—you must!"
"Why, you forget, Lucy, my dear child—you forget that I too am in danger. This is midnight: it is only at this hour that I can steal into the village; and how, and in what manner, shall I be able to do as you require?"
"Oh, man!—man!—forgive me, dear uncle, I would not vex you! But if there were gold in that dungeon—broad bars of gold, or shining silver, or a prize that would make you rich, would you ask me the how and the where? Would that clumsy block, and those slight bars, and that dull jailer, be an obstacle that would keep you back? Would you need a poor girl like me to tell you that the blocks might be pierced—that the bars might be broken—that the jailer might be won to the mercy which would save? You have strength—you have skill—you have the capacity, the power—there is but one thing wanting to my prayer—the will, the disposition!"
"You do me wrong, Lucy—great wrong, believe me. I feel for this young man, and the thought has been no less painful to me than to you, that my agency has contributed in great measure to his danger. But what if I were to have the will, as you say—what if I went forward to the jailer and offered a bribe—would not the bribe which the state has offered for my arrest be a greater attraction than any in my gift? To scale the walls and break the bars, or in any forcible manner to effect the purpose, I must have confederates, and in whom could I venture to confide? The few to whom I could intrust such a design are like myself, afraid to adventure or be seen, and such a design would be defeated by Rivers himself, who so much hates the youth, and is bent on his destruction."
"Speak not of him—say to him nothing—you must do it yourself if you do it all. You can effect much if you seriously determine. You can design, and execute all, and find ready and able assistance, if you once willingly set about it. I am not able to advise, nor will you need my counsel. Assure me that you will make the effort—that you will put your whole heart in it—and I have no fears—I feel confident of his escape."
"You think too highly of my ability in this respect. There was a time, Lucy, when such a design had not been so desperate, but now—"
"Oh, not so desperate now, uncle, uncle—I could not live—not a moment—were he to perish in that dreadful manner. Have I no claim upon your mercy—will you not do for me what you would do for money—what you have done at the bidding of that dreadful wretch, Rivers? Nay, look not away, I know it all—I know that you had the dagger of Colleton—that you put it into the hands of the wretch who struck the man—that you saw him strike—that you strove not to stop his hand. Fear you not I shall reveal it? Fear you not?—but I will not—I can not! Yet this should be enough to make you strive in this service. Heard you not, too, when lie spoke and stopped my evidence, knowing that my word would have saved him—rather than see me brought to the dreadful trial of telling what I knew of that night—that awful night—when you both sought his life? Oh, I could love him for this—for this one thing—were there nothing else besides worthy of my love!"
The incident to which she referred had not been unregarded by the individual she addressed, and while she spoke, his looks assumed a meditative expression, and he replied as in soliloquy, and in broken sentences:—
"Could I pass to the jail unperceived—gain admittance—then—but who would grapple with the jailer—how manage that?—let me see—but no—no—that is impossible!"
"What is impossible?—nothing is impossible in this work, if you will but try. Do not hesitate, dear uncle—it will look easier if you will reflect upon it. You will see many ways of bringing it about. You can get aid if you want it. There's the pedler, who is quite willing, and Chub—Chub will do much, if you can only find him out."
The landlord smiled as she named these two accessaries "Bunce—why, what could the fellow do?—he's not the man for such service; now Chub might be of value, if he'd only follow orders: but that he won't do. I don't see how we're to work it, Lucy—it looks more difficult the more I think on it."
"Oh, if it's only difficult—if it's not impossible—it will be done. Do not shrink back, uncle; do not scruple. The youth has done you no wrong—you have done him much. You have brought him where he is, he would have been safe otherwise You must save him. Save him, uncle—and hear me as I promise. You may then do with me as you please. From that moment I am your slave, and then, if it must be so—if you will then require it, I am willing then to become his slave too—him whom you have served so faithfully and so unhappily for so long a season."
"Of whom speak you?"
"Guy Rivers! yes—I shall then obey you, though the funeral come with the bridal."
"It is true. I hope not to survive it. It will be a worse destiny to me than even the felon death to the youth whom I would save. Do with me as you please then, but let him not perish. Rescue him from the doom you have brought upon him—and oh, my uncle, in that other world—if there we meet—the one good deed shall atone, in the thought of my poor father, for the other most dreadful sacrifice to which his daughter now resigns herself."
The stern man was touched. He trembled, and his lips quivered convulsively as he took her hand into his own. Recovering himself, in a firm tone, as solemn as that which she had preserved throughout the dialogue, he replied—
"Hear me, Lucy, and believe what I assure you. I will try to save this youth. I will do what I can, my poor child, to redeem the trust of your father. I have been no father to you heretofore, not much of one, at least, but it is not too late, and I will atone. I will do my best for Colleton—the thing is full of difficulty and danger, but I will try to save him. All this, however, must be unknown—not a word to anybody; and Rivers must not see you happy, or he will suspect. Better not be seen—still keep to your chamber, and rest assured that all will be done, in my power, for the rescue of the youth."
"Oh, now you are, indeed, my father—yet—uncle, shall I see you at the time when it is to be done? Tell me at what moment you seek his deliverance, that I may be upon my knees. Yet say not to him that I have done anything or said anything which has led to your endeavors. He will not think so well of me if you do; and, though he may not love, I would have him think always of me as if—as if I were a woman."
She was overcome with exertion, and in the very revival of her hope, her strength was exhausted; but she had sunk into a sweet sleep ere her uncle left the apartment.
NEW PARTIES ON THE STAGE.
A day more had elapsed, and the bustle in the little village was increased by the arrival of other travellers. A new light came to the dungeon of Ralph Colleton, in the persons of his uncle and cousin Edith, whom his letters, at his first arrest, had apprized of his situation. They knew that situation only in part, however; and the first intimation of his doom was that which he himself gave them.
The meeting was full of a painful pleasure. The youth himself was firm—muscle and mind all over; but deeply did his uncle reproach himself for his precipitation and sternness, and the grief of Edith, like all deep grief, was dumb, and had no expression. There was but the sign of wo—of wo inexpressible—in the ashy lip, the glazed, the tearless and half-wandering eye, and the convulsive shiver, that at intervals shook her whole frame, like strong and sudden gusts among the foliage. The youth, if he had any at such an hour, spared his reproaches. He narrated in plain and unexaggerated language, as if engaged in the merest narration of commonplace, all the circumstances of his trial. He pointed out the difficulties of his situation, to his mind insuperable, and strove to prepare the minds of those who heard, for the final and saddest trial of all, even as his own mind was prepared. In that fearful work of preparation, the spirit of love could acknowledge no restraining influence, and never was embrace more fond than that of Ralph and the maiden. Much of his uncle's consolation was found in the better disposition which he now entertained, though at too late a day, in favor of their passion. He would now willingly consent to all.
"Had you not been so precipitate, Ralph—" he said, "had you not been so proud—had you thought at all, or given me time for thought, all this trial had been spared us. Was I not irritated by other things when I spoke to you unkindly? You knew not how much I had been chafed—you should not have been so hasty."
"No more of this, uncle, I pray you. I was wrong and rash, and I blame you not. I have nobody but myself to reproach. Speak not of the matter; but, as the best preparation for all that is to come, let your thought banish me rather from contemplation. Why should the memory of so fair a creature as this be haunted by a story such as mine? Why should she behold, in her mind's eye, for ever, the picture of my dying agonies—the accursed scaffold—the—" and the emotion of his soul, at the subject of his own contemplation, choked him in his utterance, while Edith, half-fainting in his arms, prayed his forbearance.
"Speak not thus—not of this, Ralph, if you would not have me perish. I am fearfully sick now, my head swims, and all is commotion at my heart. Not water—not water—give me hope—consolation. Tell me that there is still some chance—some little prospect—that some noble people are striving in your cause—that somebody is gone in search of evidence—in search of hope. Is there no circumstance which may avail? Said you not something of—did you not tell me of a person who could say for you that which would have done much towards your escape? A woman, was it not—speak, who is she—let me go to her—she will not refuse to tell me all, and do all, if she be a woman."
Ralph assured her in the gentlest manner of the hopelessness of any such application; and the momentary dream which her own desires had conjured into a promise, as suddenly subsided, leaving her to a full consciousness of her desolation. Her father at length found it necessary to abridge the interview. Every moment of its protraction seemed still more to unsettle the understanding of his daughter. She spoke wildly and confusedly, and in that thought of separation which the doom of her lover perpetually forced upon her, she contemplated, in all its fearful extremities, her own. She was borne away half delirious—the feeling of wo something blunted, however, by the mental unconsciousness following its realization.
Private apartments were readily found them in the village, and having provided good attendance for his daughter, Colonel Colleton set out, though almost entirely hopeless, to ascertain still farther the particulars of the case, and to see what might be done in behalf of one of whose innocence he felt perfectly assured. He knew Ralph too well to suspect him of falsehood; and the clear narrative which he had given, and the manly and unhesitating account of all particulars having any bearing on the case which had fallen from his lips, he knew, from all his previous high-mindedness of character, might safely be relied on. Assured of this himself, he deemed it not improbable that something might undergo development, in a course of active inquiry, which might tend to the creation of a like conviction in the minds of those in whom rested the control of life and judgment.