Inez sank on the ground, and burying her face in her arms, rocked herself to and fro. Dr. Bryant had listened to her rambling, incoherent language, like one in a dream, till the name of Mary passed her lips, and then his head sank upon his chest, and he groaned in the anguish of his tortured spirit.
Inez held in one hand the small Bible given at parting; his eye fell upon it, and he stepped nearer to her:
"Inez, the Mary you have loved rests no longer on earth. She has passed away, and dwells in heaven. She was true to God, and his holy law, and great is her reward. Scarce a week since I laid her in her quiet grave, yet not there either, but yielded her up to the arms of God!"
He paused, for his deep tone faltered. Inez rose quickly to her feet as he spoke, and gazed vacantly on his face.
"Mary gone forever! Mary in heaven! Shall I never again see her, sweet angel of truth and purity, with her soft blue eyes, so full of holy love and gentleness? Oh, Mary, thou art blessed! thou art at rest! When shall I, too, find eternal rest? Ere long, Mary, I, too, will sleep the last, unbroken, dreamless sleep!"
Dr. Bryant laid his hand on the sacred volume, and would have drawn it from her clasp; but tightening her hold, she shook her head, and mournfully exclaimed:
"No, no; it is mine! When I die, it shall be my pillow; while I live, it rests near my heart, and in the churchyard I will not let it go. You have no right to claim it: you have not loved her as I have done. She loved you, yet you heeded not the jewel that might have, even now, been your own!"
"Inez, I have loved—I do love her, as none other can! Too late I found my love returned. Had God spared her to me, she would have been my wife. Oh, Mary, Mary! my own cherished one! May thy spirit hover round me now, as in life thou wert my guardian angel! Inez, I, too, have suffered, and severely. I have little to anticipate in life, yet I am not desponding as you; my faith in God and his unchanging goodness is unshaken. Let us both so live that we may join my Mary in glory."
Inez answered not, but passed her hand wearily across her brow.
"Inez, which will you do? retain your disguise, and go with me, or return to your old home? I am not going to Austin, but to Goliad, to join the Texans there; will you accompany me, and claim the protection of our banner? All that a brother could, I will gladly do; with me you are safe, at least for a time; and when the storm of war has passed, I doubt not your home will again be happy."
"I know you, Dr. Bryant, and I know that you are true to God, and keep his law. I will go with you to Goliad, and there we will decide what I must do. Oh! I am weary and sick at heart, and not long will I burden you."
She stooped, and picking up the hat, replaced it on her head, and turned toward her horse.
Frank kindly took her hand.
"Inez, do not despond. I trust all may yet be well with you, and rest assured it gives me heartfelt pleasure to be enabled to render you a service, and take you to a place of safety. But your hand is hot—burning: it is feverish excitement from which you suffer. When we have reached Goliad, and you can rest, I doubt not your strength and spirits will return; meantime take one of my pistols, it is loaded, and, in case of danger, will render good service."
She took the proffered weapon, and having secured it in the girdle, turned to mount her horse. Frank assisted in arranging the accouterments, and, springing upon his own recruited steed, they turned their faces southward.
"Our bosoms we'll bare to the glorious strife, And our oath is recorded on high, To prevail in the cause that is dearer than life, Or crushed in its ruins to die.
* * * * *
And leaving in battle no blot on his name, Look proudly to heaven, from the death-bed of fame."
A bloody seal was set upon thee, oh! Goliad. A gory banner bound around thy name; and centuries shall slowly roll ere thou art blotted from the memory of man. The annals of the dim and darkened past afford no parallel for the inhuman deed, so calmly, so deliberately committed within thy precincts; and the demon perpetrator escaped unpunished! A perfect appreciation of the spirit of the text—"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay," alone can sanction the apathy manifested by one to whom the world looked as the avenger of his murdered countrymen.
Rumors of the fall of the Alamo, the overwhelming force of Santa Anna, and his own imminent danger, had reached Colonel Fanning. In vain he entreated reinforcements, in vain urged the risk hourly incurred. The Texan councils bade him save himself by flight. "Retreat, fly from the post committed to my keeping!" The words sounded like a knell on the ear of the noble man to whom they were addressed. He groaned in the anguish of his spirit, "I will not leave this fortress—Travis fell defending with his latest breath the Alamo! Oh, Crocket! Bowie! can I do better than follow thy example, and give my life in this true cause?"
An untimely death—the separation and misery of his darling family, weighed not an atom! "Patria infelici fidelis!" was ever his motto, and unfaltering was his own step. There came a messenger from headquarters—"Abandon Goliad, and retreat!"
"Colonel, you will not sound a retreat?" and Dr. Bryant laid his hand upon his commander's arm.
"My God! it is a fearful thing to decide the destinies of four hundred brave men! Bryant, if we remain it is certain death—the tragedy of San Antonio will be reacted in our case!"
"Colonel, you must remember the old saw—'He that fights and runs away, lives to fight another day,'" said a timeworn ranger, settling his collar with perfect nonchalance.
"Why, Furgeson, do you counsel flight? My brave comrade, bethink yourself!"
"Well, Colonel, it is something strange for me to say run; but when I do say it, I am in earnest. The most hot-headed fellow in our company dare not say I lack courage: you know as well as I do what they call me—'Bulldog Furgeson,' but who feels like fighting the grand devil himself, and his legion of imps to boot? I am a lone man and have nothing in particular to live for, it's true; but it is some object with me to do the most service I can for our Lone blessed Star! I should like a game with old 'Santy' in a clear ring, and fair play; but I am thinking we had best take French leave of this place, and join the main body where we can fight with some chance ahead. Now that's my opinion, but if you don't believe that doctrine, and want to take the 'old bull right by the horns,' I say let's at him."
A smile passed over the face of his commander.
"Thank you, Furgeson, and rest assured I shall not doubt your stanch support in time of need."
Again the broad brow contracted, and, linking his arm in that of Dr. Bryant, he paced to and fro, engrossed in earnest, anxious thought. Pausing at length, he pointed to his troops, awaiting in silence his commands.
"Bryant, at least half those brave fellows have wives and children, and bright homes, beckoning them away, yet see them calmly trust to me in this trying hour. Should my order go forth to man the fort, and meet the worst, I know full well not a murmur would be heard. Still it is equally certain that, if we brave the conflict, not one of us shall survive to tell the tale. What am I to do? Make this a second Thermopylae?"
"Peculiarly painful, I know full well, is the situation in which you are placed. Yet one strong argument remains to be urged. Colonel, if we desert Goliad, and sound a retreat, we cannot escape. The force of the enemy is too powerful, their movements too rapid, to allow us to retire to a place of safety without a desperate encounter. Is it not better policy to remain here, and meet the shock?"
"If we fight at all it must be at fearful odds; four hundred to six thousand! Yet, should I follow the dictates of my own heart, I would not give one inch!—no, not one! Dearly they should buy the ground on which I stand!"
"Colonel, shall we not meet them on this spot and lay down our lives, as did our brethren of the Alamo?"
"No, by Jove! I shall have to leave, whether I will or not!" And crumpling the note of orders, he tossed it to the ground, and pressed it with his heel.
He stepped forth, and drawing his military cap about his eyes, folded his arms upon his broad chest, and addressed his troops:
"Comrades! Retreat is no test of an army's bravery, neither the courage of its commander. In every age and nation, circumstances have occurred in which the cause of liberty, or the general welfare of the state, has been promoted by timely flight rather than desperate engagements. 'The Swamp Fox' often retired to his island of refuge, safe from invading bands—the daring Sumter was forced at times to retreat; and even our great Washington fled from superior forces, and waited till a more convenient season. Fellow-soldiers: there is one of two steps to be immediately taken. We will stand to our post, and fall to a man, like Travis and his noble band, and our names will go down to posterity as did the Spartans of old,
'Wreathed with honor, and immortal fame;'
or else we set out at once for headquarters, consolidate our forces, and march united to oppose Santa Anna.
"Comrades, which will ye do?"
No sound was heard along the ranks, each bent his head and communed with his own spirit; and the image of their distant, yet cherished homes, rose up and murmured—"Remember thy weeping wife and thy fair-browed boy; who will guard them when thou art gone?"
The eagle eye of their brave leader was piercingly bent on the mute assemblage; the momentary gleam of hope that lighted his noble countenance faded away. There came a faint sound of rising voices—it swelled louder, and louder still:
"God bless our noble Colonel! our brave Fanning! With him is the issue. Say but the word, and we will follow!"
"Bryant, I cannot sign their death-warrant!" he said in a low, subdued tone, sinking his head upon his breast. He lifted himself up, and raising his voice, calmly replied:
"Had I not received orders to retreat, and if I were not fully aware that lingering here insured our total destruction, I should scorn to turn my back upon Goliad! Oh! gladly I would die in its defense; but your fate is too entirely in my hands to admit of following my individual wishes! None know the pang it causes me to sound a 'Retreat,' yet it may be, that the success of our cause demands it at my hands, and therefore I say, 'Retreat, comrades!'—at dawn to-morrow, we move from Goliad."
The decree went forth, and the ensuing day saw the doomed band moving eastward toward headquarters they were destined never to reach.
On arriving at Goliad, Dr. Bryant had immediately enlisted, after placing Inez in safety at the house of an aged Senora of her nation; and no sooner was it decided to leave the town the following day than he sought his Spanish friend.
She was sitting alone when he entered, and quickly rising, placed a seat for him.
"Thank you, Inez, I have only a moment to remain—I come to say good-by."
"Which way do your people go now?" she hoarsely asked.
"Santa Anna is marching with overwhelming forces toward us, and Colonel Fanning thinks it advisable to retire to headquarters. We set out at dawn to-morrow."
"You cannot escape by flight: it were better to remain here. I tell you now, if you leave Goliad, you will be cut off to a man."
"Inez, my own feelings would strongly incline me to follow your advice, but it has been decided otherwise!'
"Then, if you must go, I go with you!"
"Impossible, Inez, impossible! you know not what you say! For you to venture from this place under existing circumstances, beset as we are on every hand with dangers seen and unseen,—would be the height of madness."
"I know not fear! of that you must have been convinced long ere this. Danger cannot intimidate me; what you meet and suffer, that will I encounter."
"Bethink yourself, Inez! What can you hope to accomplish by this strange step? You have nothing to fear here from your own nation: what can you gain by seeking a home among my people? Strange, mysterious being! I wish for your own sake you were timid—that fear might strengthen your sense of prudence!"
Inez had bent her head while he spoke, as in humiliation, now she lifted herself and said, in a low, determined tone:
"I am alone in the wide world, and I have but one hope, but one pleasure; to be with you while life remains, and to die near, that you may close my eyes and lay me down to rest." She paused a moment, and then clasping her hands, approached him, and continued in a more passionate tone:
"Oh, if you knew how I have loved you, you could not look down so coldly, so calmly upon me! you could not refuse the favor I ask! Oh, Dr. Bryant, do not scorn me for my love!—'tis not a common love; for it I have lost every earthly comfort and blessing; for this struggled and toiled, and braved numberless dangers. I have loved you better than everything beside! Turn not from me, and think contemptuously of the worship given unsought! If you cannot love me, do not, oh, do not despise me! Let me a little while longer be with you, and see you; I will not trouble or incommode any one—do not leave me. Oh, Dr. Bryant, do not leave me!"
The large black eyes were raised entreatingly to his, and an expression of the keenest anguish rested on her colorless, yet beautiful face.
Sadly he regarded her as she hurried on: no glance of scorn rested even for a moment upon her. Yet a stern sorrow settled on his broad brow, and around the firmly compressed lips.
"Inez, I do not, cannot love you, other than as the kind friend of other days. I have never loved but one—I never shall. Mary, my own angel Mary, ever rests in my heart. I cannot forget her—I can never love another. I do not even thank you for your love, for your avowal gives me inexpressible pain! I have suspected this, Inez, for long, and your own heart will tell you I gave no ground to hope that I could return your affection. I have striven to treat you like a sister of late, yet this painful hour has not been averted. Equally painful to both. Inez, your own words make it more than ever necessary that we should part forever. I cannot return your love—I will not encourage it. You must, as soon as safety allows, return to your old home. Inez, do not cherish your affection for me, it can only bring pain and remorse; forget me, and remember that you have imperative duties of your own to perform. This is your darkest hour, and believe me, in time you will be happy, and a blessing to your people. Remember Mary's words, and her parting gift, and I pray God that we may so live that we shall all meet in a happier home."
"Then I shall never see you again?" she said, in a calm and unfaltering voice.
"For your sake, Inez, it is best that we should not meet again. If I survive this war I go to Europe, and you will probably never see me more. Inez, I pain you—forgive me. Your own good requires this candor on my part."
An ashy paleness overspread the cheek and brow of his companion as he spoke, and the small hands clutched each other tightly, yet no words passed the quivering lips.
"Good-by, Inez! my kind and valued friend, good-by!" He held out his hand. She raised her head, and gazed into the sad yet noble face of the man she had loved so long. She clasped his hand between both hers, and a moan of bitter anguish escaped the lips.
"My love will follow you forever! A woman of my nature cannot forget. I shall sink to eternal rest with your name on my lips—your image in my heart. Yet I would not keep you here—go, and may your God ever bless you, and—and—may you at last meet your Mary, if there be a heaven! We part now, for you have said it; good-by, and sometimes, when all is joy and gladness to you, think a moment on Inez! the cursed, the miserable Inez! sitting in bitter darkness by her lonely hearth! Good-by!" She pressed her lips to his hand, and without a tear, shrouded her face in her mantilla and turned away.
"God bless you, Inez, and keep you from all harm!" and Dr. Bryant left the house, and returned to his commander.
* * * * *
Colonel Fanning had led his troops but a few miles when the vanguard halted, and some excitement was manifested. Spurring forward, he inquired the cause of delay.
"Why, Colonel, if we ain't 'out of the frying-pan into the fire,' my name is not Will Furgeson. Look yonder, Colonel, it takes older and weaker eyes than mine to say them ain't Santy Anna's imps marching down upon us thick as bees just swarmed, too!"
"You are right, Furgeson; it is the entire Mexican force! let us form at once and meet them!"
Quick and clearly his orders rung out, and his little band, compact and firm, waited in silence the result. With an exulting shout the Mexicans charged. Desperately the doomed Texans fought, heaping up the slain at every step. The wily Santa Anna changed his tactics. There came a momentary cessation as the crowding thousands were furiously driven back. And, seizing the opportunity, he spurred forward, offered honorable terms, and besought Fanning to surrender and save the lives of his brave followers.
"We will only surrender on condition that every privilege of prisoners of war be guaranteed to us," replied Colonel Fanning.
"I, Santa Anna, commander-in-chief of the Mexican forces, do most solemnly pledge my word, that all the privileges consistent with your situation as prisoners of war, shall be extended to yourself and men. And hereby swear, that on these conditions you may lay down your arms in safety, without further molestation on our part."
Is there one of my readers who for a moment would attach blame to the noble Fanning? The lives of his men were of far more importance to him than the renown of perishing, like Travis, in a desperate struggle. With the latter there was no alternative, for the cry of even seven exhausted men for "quarter" was disregarded, and the garrison fell to a man. But honorable terms were offered Fanning: he remembered his men, and surrendered. Santa Anna! can there be pardon for such a hardened wretch as you? Does not sleep fly your pillow? In the silent watches of the night, do not the specter forms of your victims cluster about your couch, and the shambles of Goliad rise before you? Can you find rest from the echoing shrieks of murdered thousands, or shut your eyes and fail to perceive the mangled forms stiffening in death, and weltering in gore? If you are human, which I much doubt, your blackened soul will be tortured with unavailing remorse, till Death closes your career on earth, and you are borne to the tribunal of Almighty God, there to receive your reward....
Night found the Texans again in Goliad, and they sought sleep secure from evil; for had not Santa Anna's word been given that further molestation would not be allowed? and they believed! Soundly they slept, and dreamed of far-off homes and fireside joys.
"That bright dream was their last!"
Sunrise came, and they were drawn out upon the Plaza. Their leader was retained in custody, and, unsuspicious of harm, they each maintained their position. Dr. Bryant raised his eyes—they rested but a moment on Santa Anna's face. Turning quickly, he shouted aloud,
"Turn, comrades, let us not be shot in the back!"
Another moment the signal was given, and a deadly fire poured upon four hundred unresisting prisoners of war, to whom honorable conditions had been granted by the brave and noble generalissimo of the Mexican forces.
Not one of many noble forms was spared. Dr. Bryant sank without a struggle to the earth; and his spirit, released from sorrowing mortality, sprung up to meet his Mary and his God!
The deed was done; and Santa Anna, the mighty chief who mowed down four hundred unarmed men, was immortalized! Fear not, brave heart, that posterity will forget thee! Rest assured that the lapse of time cannot obliterate the memory of thy mighty deeds!
Fanning survived but a few hours, and then a well-aimed ball laid low forever his noble head. Who among us can calmly remember that his body was denied a burial? Oh, thou martyr leader of a martyr band, we cherish thy memory! dear to the heart of every Texan, every American, every soldier, and every patriot. Peace to thee, noble Fanning! and may the purest joys of heaven be yours in that eternity to which we all are hastening.
* * * * *
It was noon! Still and cold lay the four hundred forms upon the Plaza. Even as they sank, so they slept. No disturbing hand had misplaced one stiffened member. The silence of death reigned around the murdered band. A muffled figure swiftly stole down the now deserted streets, and hurrying to the Plaza, paused and gazed on the ruin and wreck that surrounded her. Pools of blood were yet standing, and the earth was damp with gore. One by one Inez turned the motionless forms, still the face she sought was not to be found. She had almost concluded her search, when her eye fell on a prostrate form, closely wrapt in a long black cloak; she knelt and gazed into the upturned face, and a low cry of bitter anguish welled up and passed her colorless lips. Gently she lifted the cloak, clasped by one icy hand: the ball had pierced his side, and entered the heart. So instantaneous had been his death that not a feature was convulsed. The dark clustering hair was borne back from the broad white brow, the eyes closed as in deep sleep, the finely-cut lips just parted. Pallid was the cheek, yet calm and noble beyond degree was the marble face on which Inez gazed. She caught the cold hand to her lips, and laid her cheek near his mouth, that she might know and realize that his spirit had indeed joined Mary's in the "land of rest." The icy touch extinguished every gleam of hope, and calmly she drew the cloak over the loved face, concealing every feature, then dropped her handkerchief upon the covered head, and drawing her mantilla like a shroud about her, went her way to wait for night and darkness.
Stretched on a couch in the home of the kind-hearted Senora who had received her, Inez noted the moments and hours as they passed. An eternity seemed comprised in the time which elapsed from noon till dusk. Again and again she raised her bowed head, and looked out on the slowly sinking sun. It passed at length beyond her vision. She rose and sought her friend, an aged dame, whom God had gifted with a gentle heart, keenly alive to the grief and sufferings of another.
"Well, Senorita Inez, what will you have?"
"I have a great favor to ask, yet it is one I doubt not will be granted. Senora, among yonder slain is one who in life was ever kind to me and to our people. Since morning he has lain in his own blood! To-morrow will see them thrown into heaps, and left with scarce sod enough to cover! I cannot, will not see him buried so! I myself will lay him down to rest, if Santa Anna claims my life for it to-morrow! I have caused a grave to be dug in a quiet spot, but I cannot bear him to it unassisted. My strength is gone—I am well-nigh spent: will you help me to-night? They will not miss him to-morrow, and none will know till all is at rest! Senora, will you come with me?"
"Tell me first, Inez, if it is he who brought you here; who acted so nobly to me, and bade adieu to you but two days since?"
"Yes, the same! will you refuse to assist me now?"
"No, by our blessed Virgin! I will do all an old woman like me can do; yet united, Inez, we shall be strong."
Wrapping their mantillas about them, they noiselessly proceeded to the Plaza. Darkness had closed in, and happily they met not even a straggling soldier, for all, with instinctive dread, shunned the horrid scene. They paused as Senora Berara stumbled over a dead body, and well-nigh slipped in blood:
"Jesu Maria! my very bones ache with horror! this is no place for me. Senorita, how will you know the body? Oh! let us make haste to leave here!"
"Hush! do you see a white spot gleaming yonder? Nay, don't clutch my arm, it is only my handerchief. I laid it there to mark the place. Come on, step lightly, or you will press the dead."
With some difficulty they made their way along the damp, slippery ground, now and then catching at each other for support. Inez paused on reaching her mark, and bent down for several moments; then raising herself she whispered:
"Senora, I have wrapped his cloak tightly about him, lift the corners near his feet, while I carry his head. Be careful, lift gently, and do not let the cloak slip."
Slowly they lifted the motionless form, and steadily bore it away: Inez taking the lead, and stepping cautiously. She left the Plaza and principal streets, and turned toward a broad desolate waste, stretching away from the town, and bare, save a few gnarled oaks that moaned in the March wind. The moon rose when they had proceeded some distance beyond the last house, and Inez paused suddenly, and looked anxiously about her.
"Sacra Dio! I trust you have not lost your way! Holy Mother, preserve us if we have gone wrong."
"I knew we must be near the place: it is under yonder tree; fear nothing Senora, come on:" and a few more steps brought them to the designated spot.
A shallow excavation had been made, sufficient to admit with ease the body of a full-grown man; and on its margin they softly laid their burden down. Every object shone in the clear moonlight, and stranger scene never moon shone upon. A dreary waste stretched away in the distance, and sighingly the wind swept over it. Inez knelt beside the grave, her wan yet still beautiful features convulsed with the secret agony of her tortured soul; the long raven hair floating like a black veil around the wasted form. Just before her stood the old woman, weird-like, her wrinkled, swarthy face exposed to full view, while the silver hair, unbound by her exertion, streamed in the night breeze. Loosely her clothes hung about her, and the thin, bony hands were clasped tightly as she bent forward and gazed on the marble face of the dead. Wonder, awe, fear, pity, all strangely blended in her dark countenance.
Inez groaned, and rocked herself to and fro, as if crushed in body and spirit. She could not lay him to rest forever without the bitterest anguish, for in life she had worshiped him, and in death her heart clung to the loved form. Again and again she kissed the cold hand she held.
"Senorita, we must make haste to lay him in, and cover him closely. Don't waste time weeping now; you cannot give him life again. Have done, Senorita Inez, and let us finish our work."
"I am not weeping, Senora! I have not shed a single tear; yet be patient: surely there is yet time."
Inez straightened the cloak in which Frank Bryant was shrouded, placed the hands calmly by his side, and softly smoothed the dark hair on his high and noble brow. She passionately kissed the cold lips once, then covered forever the loved, loved features, and they carefully lowered the still form into its last resting-place.
They stood up, and the old dame pointed to the earth piled on either side. Inez shuddered and closed her eyes a moment, as if unequal to the task.
Her companion stooped, and was in the act of tossing forward a mass of earth; but Inez interposed: "Senora, softly! I will do this: remember there is no coffin."
Fearfully calm was her tone as she slowly pushed in the earth. There was no hollow echo, such as ofttimes rends the heart of the mourner, but a heavy, dull sound of earth crushing earth. Gradually she filled the opening even with the surface, then carefully scattered the remaining sod.
"I will not raise a mound, for they would tear him up, should they know where I have laid him." Inez walked away, and gathering a quantity of brown, shriveled leaves, and also as much grass as she could draw from the short bunches, sprinkled them on the grave and along the fresh earth.
"Think you, Senora, they will find him here?"
"No, no, Senorita! none will know that we have buried him. But the night is already far gone, why do you linger?"
For a moment longer Inez gazed down upon the new-made grave: "But a few more hours, and I shall sleep here by your side; farewell till then."
She turned away, and silently they retraced their steps to the town, reaching without inquiry or molestation their own home.
"So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, that moves To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry slave, at night Scourged to his dungeon; but sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."
A bright day in April drew near its close, and the golden rays of the spring sun poured joyously through the open casement into the chamber of death. Yes, the "King of Terrors" drew nigh, and the cold damp, which his black pinions swept on, settled upon the brow of Inez. A few days after the massacre at Goliad, a raging fever crimsoned her cheeks, and lent unwonted brilliance to the large black eyes. Delirium ensued, and wildly the unfortunate girl raved of the past—of her former love, her hopelessness, her utter desolation. The dreamless sleep of exhaustion followed this temporary madness: long she lay in the stupor so near akin to death, and now, consciousness restored, she awaited in silence her hour! In vain the kind-hearted Senora entreated her to see a priest—steadfastly she refused. At length Madame Berara assumed the responsibility of calling in her own confessor, and silently quitting the room, went in quest of him. Inez suspected the cause of her usual absence, and too feeble to concentrate her thoughts, turned her face to the wall, and wearily closed her eyes. Yet one hand felt along the cover and beneath the pillow. For what was she searching on the bed of death? The thin fingers rested on a small and well-worn Bible, and a tiny package, wrapped in paper and carefully tied. The sacred volume was feebly pushed beneath her head, and mechanically she undid the knot, and drew forth a glossy lock of black hair. Wearily she pressed it to her lips several times, and again folding it away, her hands sank powerless upon her bosom.
Inez, Inez! are there none near to clasp thy cold hand and tenderly lift thy weary head? Alas, thou desolate one, Thou art left alone in the bitter hour of thy trial! When all things seem shrouded in impenetrable gloom, and thy darkened soul turns from the tortured past to the dim, uncertain future, no loved one is nigh to dash away the gathering mists, and point to that celestial home "of which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive."
Oh, Inez! thy short life has been dark and tempestuous; it is hard that a calm and peaceful end is denied to thee, thou suffering one, longing for rest, oblivion of the past, utter unconsciousness! Struggle on, proud maiden! but a few moments, and thy tones will vibrate no longer, thy firm step cease forever, and thy memory pass away like the shadows of night!
Senora Berara re-entered the silent chamber, accompanied by a priest, clad in the vestments of his order. They approached the bed, and the aged dame, bending over Inez, whispered audibly:
"I could not find my own Padre, but I bring one who will confess and absolve thee? Make haste to prepare for heaven."
"I want neither confession nor absolution! Begone! and let me die in peace," she answered, without unclosing the lids, which lay so heavily upon the sunken eyes.
"Leave us together! I will call thee when thou art wanted," whispered he of the Order of Jesus. The matron immediately withdrew, repeating an Ave Maria; and they were left alone.
A shudder crept through the wasted form, and, with a start, she looked upon the face of the intruder. Even in death, hatred was strong; the dim eye flashed, and the cold, damp lips wreathed into a smile of utter scorn:
"Well, Padre! you have tracked me at last. It is a pity, though, you had not set out one day later; you would have altogether missed your prey! But I am content, for I am far beyond your reach!" She gasped for breath, yet ghastly was the mocking smile which lit up the face.
"Not so, Inez! you escaped me once; I have you now! You have defied me in health; but in death I conquer. You cannot die in peace without my blessing. Remember, remember, one sin unconfessed will sink you into everlasting perdition! Think you I will absolve you! Never! Never!"
"What brings you here? Think you the approach of death will terrify me?—that I shall claim your intercession and absolution? Have you come hoping to make a bargain, and receive my order for a hundred sheep, or as many cattle, on condition that you pray me out of purgatory? I tell you now, if there be such a place, you will surely follow me ere long. We shall not be separated long, my godly Padre!"
Large drops rolled from her brow, and, gasping, she continued more indistinctly:
"There is one to stand between us now, even blackbrowed Death! and now, as I speak, I see his shadow flung over me. I am dying, and if I am lost, you are to blame! you, and you only! You a man of God! You forgive my sins, and give me a passport to heaven! Padre, I know you, in all your hypocrisy, and I know that, if there be a God, you have outraged His every law! You have led me astray! You have brought me to this! Padre, I am sinful, full well I know it; for this is an hour when the barrier which hides the secret soul is thrown down, and every deed and thought stands up boldly for itself. I have not served God! But oh! I would not change places with you, leader, teacher, guide, consecrated priest, as you are—for you have mocked him! Yes, mocked him! set aside his written word, and instead of Bible truths you told me of Saints, and Relics, and Miracles! You bade me worship the cross, and never once mentioned Him who consecrated it with his agony and blood! In my childhood I believed your legends and miracles, and trusted to such as you to save me. A dreadful curse will rest upon your head, for you came in sheep's clothing, and devoured many precious souls! Padre, I—I—" In vain she strove to articulate, further utterance was denied her. The ghastly hue of death settled upon her face. She lifted her eyes to heaven as in prayer; vacantly they wandered to the face of the Padre, now well-nigh as pale as her own; then slowly closed forever. A slight quiver passed over the lips, a faint moan, and Inez was at rest. For long her wearied spirit had cried "Peace! peace!" and now she laid herself down and slept the long, unbroken sleep of death.
"Oh! you have yearned for rest, May you find it in the regions of the blest."
As she had died without the pale of the church, they refused the lifeless form a narrow bed in consecrated ground. Even the ordinary service for the dead was entirely omitted; and, without a prayer, they committed her to the silent tomb. The kind old dame, remembering her grief at the secret burial of her noble friend, obtained permission to lay her by his side, and, with the fierce howlings of the tempest for her funereal dirge, they consigned Inez—the proud, beautiful, gifted, yet unfortunate Inez—to rest. Peace, Inez, to thy memory, and may the sod lie lightly on thy early grave!
"There's a bliss beyond all that the minstrel has told, When two, that are linked in one heavenly tie, With heart never changing, and brow never cold, Love on through all ills, and love on till they die!"
"Come, Florence, put on your bonnet; we land in a few moments," said Mr. Stewart, entering the splendidly furnished saloon of a Mississippi steamer, where she sat, book in hand. Quietly the young wife, for such she now was, complied with his request, and taking her husband's arm, they advanced to the bow of the boat. It was a bright, sunny morning in early May, and the balmy breath of the opening summer wafted gladness to many a weary, aching heart. The margin of the river was fringed with willow, poplar, cotton-wood, and cypress, the delicate fresh green foliage contrasting beautifully with the deep azure sky, and the dark whirling waters of the turbid stream. It was such a day as all of us may have known, when nature wore the garb of perfect beauty, and the soothing influence is felt and acknowledged gratefully—joyfully acknowledged by every one accustomed from childhood duly to appreciate, admire, and love the fair and numberless works of God, who,
—"Not content With every food of life to nourish man. Makes all nature beauty to his eye And music to his ear."
Florence was gazing intently, as each object receded from her view. They turned an angle in the stream, and drew near a landing, with only a solitary warehouse visible. She started, and her clasped hands, resting on her husband's arm, pressed heavily. He looked down into the flushed face, and said with a smile:
"Well, Florence, what is it? Why do you tremble so?"
"Mr. Stewart, I cannot be mistaken: this is my father's old landing! Why do you look so strangely? Oh! if you knew what painful memories crowd upon my mind, you could not smile so calmly!" and her voice faltered.
Laying his hand tenderly on hers, he replied:
"You once asked me whereabouts on the river my plantation was situated. I evaded your question. You are aware that I inherited it from a bachelor uncle. He purchased it from your father, and to your old home, my dear Florence, we have come at last. It is yours again, and I should have told you long ago, but feared you might be impatient of the journey; and then it is pleasant to surprise you."
Ere Florence could speak the mingled emotions of her heart, the boat stopped, and the jangling bells warned them to lose no time.
Mr. Stewart placed her on the bank, and beckoning to a coachman mounted on a large heavy carriage, opened the door, assisted her in, and then cordially shaking the outstretched hand of the servant, inquired if all were well at home?"
"Oh yes, sir! all well except your mother. She has had the asthma, but is better. But ain't you going to let me look at your wife? You put her in as if I wan't to see my new mistress."
Mr. Stewart laughed, and opening the door, bade Florence look out; she threw back her long mourning veil, and bent forward; their eyes met, and both started with surprise:
"Miss Florry! sure as I am alive!" and he grasped the white hand heartily.
"I cannot understand this at all! Isaac, how came you here?"
"Why you see, when the plantation was sold, we were sold with it; that's how I come to be here."
"My dear Florence, it is strange, very strange, that I never once thought of your recognizing the servants, though I should have known you could not forget them. In what capacity did Isaac formerly serve?"
"He was always our coachman; and many a ride in childhood I owe to his kindness and wish to make me happy. Isaac, I am very glad to see you again." And her smile confirmed her words.
Mr. Stewart took the seat by her side, and was closing the door, when the old man interfered.
"Miss Florry, I know old master is dead—we heard that sometime ago; but where is Miss Mary? that blessed good child, that never gave a cross word to one on the plantation. Why didn't she come home with you?"
Florence could not reply, and the tears rolled silently over her cheeks.
"Isaac," said Mr. Stewart, in a low, saddened tone, "Mary has gone to a brighter home in heaven! She is happier far than she could be even here with us! She died about a month ago."
There was a pause, and then, wiping his rough sleeve across his eyes, Isaac slowly said—"And Miss Mary is dead! Well, she has gone to heaven, if ever anybody did! for she was never like common children. Many's the time when my poor little Hannah was burnt, and like to die, that child has come by herself of dark nights to bring her a cake, or something sweet and good! God bless her little soul! she always was an angel!" and again wiping his eyes he mounted the box and drove homeward.
Ah! gentle Mary! no sculptured monument marks thy resting-place! No eulogistic sermon, no high-flown panegyric was ever delivered, on thy life and death! Yet that silent tear of old Isaac's outspoke a thousand eulogies! It told of all thy kindness, charity, love, angelic purity of heart, and called thee "Guardian Angel" of the house of Hamilton.
Night found Florence sitting alone in the parlor of her old and dearly loved home. The apartment was much as she had left it five years before, and old familiar articles of furniture greeted her on every side. She sat down to the piano, on which in girlhood she had practised, and gently touched the keys. The soft tones, waking the "slumbering chord of memory," brought most vividly back the scenes of other days. Again she stood there an only cherished daughter, and her father's image, as he used to stand leaning against the mantel-piece, rose with startling distinctness before her. And there, too, stood her cousin, with the soft blue eyes and golden curls of her girlhood; and she fancied she heard, once again, the clear, sweet voice, and felt the fond twining of her arms about her. Long forgotten circumstances in primitive freshness rushed upon her mind, and unable to bear the sad associations which crowded up, Florence turned away from the instrument, and seating herself on the sofa, gave vent to an uncontrollable burst of sorrow—
"Oh! what a luxury it is to weep, And find in tears a sad relief!"
And calmly Florence wept, not bitterly, for she had had much of sorrow to bear, and schooled her heart to meet grief and sadness. Yet it was hard to come back to her cherished home and miss from her side the gentle playmate of her youth, the parent she had almost idolized, and feel that she had left them in far distant resting-places. She heard her husband's step along the hall, and saw him enter—she strove to repress her tears and seem happy, but the quivering lips refused to smile. He sat down, and drawing his arm around her, pressed her face to his bosom, and tenderly said:
"My mother had much to say, after my long absence, and I could not leave her till this moment My own heart told me that you suffered, and I longed to come to you and sympathize and cheer."
"Do not think me weak, Mr. Stewart, because you find me weeping. It is seldom I give vent to my feelings, but to-night I am overwhelmed with recollections of the past. Oh! now, for the first time, I realize that Mary has indeed gone forever. Mary! Mary! my heart aches already for you, and your warm unchanging love! Oh! how can I look forward to the long coming years, and feel that I shall never see her again?"
"Florence, my own Florence, I would not have you repress a single tear. I know how sadly altered all things are, and what a dreary look your home must bear. All I ask is, that when you feel lonely and unhappy, instead of hiding your grief, come to me, lay your weary head upon my shoulder, and I will strive to cheer you my precious wife! Let nothing induce you to keep aught from me—let perfect confidence reign between us: and do not, for a moment, doubt that I wish you other than you are. The past is very painful both to you and to me, and the memory of Frank and Mary constantly saddens my spirit. Yet we will look forward to a happier future, and strive to guide and cheer each other." He kissed the broad brow as he spoke, and drew tighter the arm which encircled his wife, as though no danger could assail while he was near.
"Of late, Mr. Stewart, I have wondered much how you ever learned to love me; for I am much changed, and in my girlhood I was cold, proud, and often contemptuous in my manner. Ah, Mary, how different from you! If I have higher aims in life, and purer joys, I owe it all to her, for she led me to love the law of God, and exemplified in her daily life the teachings of Christ! But for her, I shudder to think what I should now have been! O God, I thank thee that I am saved even as a burning brand from the fire! I have hope of happiness on earth, and at last a joyful reunion with the loved ones that have gone on home before me. And you, my husband, help me to conquer myself to break down my pride, and to be more like Mary. Oh, forgive my weaknesses, and ever love me as you now do!"
He clasped her to his heart, and whispered—"Fear not, Florence, that I will ever love you less! I, too, have faults which you may be called on to excuse, yet all is bright for us, and I trust no common share of happiness will be our portion through life!"
"Oh, sweet reward of danger past! How lovely, through the tears That speak her heart's o'erflowing joy, The young wife's smile appears. The fount of love for her hath gushed, Life's shadows all have flown, Joy, Florence! thou a heart hast found Responding to thine own!"