There would be sufficient time for all our purposes. It is true that the horse, like the house, its owner, the labourer, the chaise, and all we had yet seen about Willow Cove, as we had learned the place was called, was old; but he was the more safe and sure. The road led up the ascent by a ravine, through which it wound its way very prettily; the labourer walking by our side to point out the route, after we should reach the elevation of the country that stretched inland.
The view from the height, as it might be termed in reference to the river, though it was merely on the level of the whole region in that portion of the State, was both extensive and pretty. Willow Grove, as Marble called his mother's place three or four times, while our horse was working his way up the ascent, looked more invitingly than ever, with its verdant declivities, rich orchards, neat cottage, all ensconced behind the sheltering cover of the river heights. Inland, we saw a hundred farms, groves without number, divers roads, a hamlet within a mile of us, an old-fashioned extinguisher-looking church-spire, and various houses of wood painted white, with here and there a piece of rustic antiquity in bricks, or stone, washed with lime; or some livelier paint; for the Dutch of New York had brought the habits of Holland with them, delighting in colours. This relief may be desirable in a part of the world where the eternal green of the meadows in a manner fatigues the eye; but certainly the grey of nature has no just competitor in the tints of the more artificial portions of the ordinary landscape. White may make a scene look gay; but it can never lend it dignity, or the solemn hues that so often render the loveliness of a view impressive, as well as sweet. When this glaring colour reaches the fences, it gives the prettiest landscape the air of a bleaching-yard, or of a great laundry, with the clothes hung out to dry!
The guide pointed out to us the house of Van Tassel, and another at which we should find Kitty, who was to be brought home by us on our return. Understanding the course and distance, we put to sea without any misgivings. The horse was no flyer, and Marble and I had plenty of leisure to arrange preliminaries before reaching the door to which we were bound. After some consultation, and a good of discussion, I succeeded in persuading my companion it would not be wisest to break ground by flogging the attorney—a procedure to which he was strongly inclined. It was settled, however, he was at once to declare himself to be Mrs. Wetmore's son, and to demand his explanations in that character; one that would clearly give him every claim to be heard.
"I know what these usurers, as you call 'em, Miles, must be," said the mate. "They are a sort of in-shore pawn-brokers; and the Lord have mercy on them, for I'll have none. I've had occasion to pawn a watch, or a quadrant, in my time; and bloody poor prices does a fellow get for his goods and chattels. Yes, yes; I'll let the old gentleman know, at once, I'm Van Duzer Oloff Marble Wetmore Moses, or whatever's my name; and will stand up for the right in a fashion that will surprise him: but what are you to do in the mean time?"
It struck me, if I could get Marble to attempt practising a sort of ruse, it would have the effect to prevent his resorting to club-law, towards which I knew he had a strong natural disposition, and of which I was still a little afraid. With this object, then, I conceived the following scheme.
"You shall simply introduce me as Mr. Miles Wallingford," I said, "but in a formal manner, that may induce this Mr. Van Tassel to-imagine I'm a sort of lawyer; and this may have the effect to awe him, and bring him to terms the easier. Do not say I am a lawyer, for that will not be true, and it will also be awkward falling back when the truth comes to be known."
Marble took the idea, and seemed pleased with it, though he affirmed that there could be no such thing as acting lawyer without lying a little, and that "the truth was too good for one of your bloody usurers." I got him trained, however, by the time we reached the door; and we alighted as well prepared for our task as could be expected.
There was nothing about the residence of 'Squire Van Tassel to denote the grasping money-dealer, unless a certain negligence of the exterior might be supposed to betray the abode of such a man. His friends wished to ascribe this to an indifference to appearances; but the multitude, more accurately imputed it to parsimony. When the very soul gets to be absorbed in the process of rolling gold over and over, in order to make it accumulate, the spirit grudges the withdrawal of the smallest fraction from the gainful pursuit; and here lies the secret of the disdain of appearances that is so generally to be met with in this description of persons. Beyond this air of negligence, however, the dwelling of Van Tassel was not to be distinguished from those of most of the better houses of that part of the country. Our application for admission was favourably received, and, in a minute, we were shown into the attorney's office.
'Squire Van Tassel, as this man was universally termed, eyed us keenly as we entered, no doubt with a view to ascertain if we were borrowers. I might possibly have passed for one of that character, for I aimed at looking serious and thoughtful; but I would defy any man to mistake Moses for one who came on such an errand. He looked more like a messenger sent by the Father of Sin, to demand the payment of a certain bond that had been signed in blood, and of which the fatal pay-day had at length arrived. I had to give the skirt of his coat a pull, in order to recall him to our agreement, else I do think the first salutation received by the attorney, would have been a broadside in anything but words. The hint succeeded, and Marble permitted our host to open the communications.
Squire Van Tassel had a very miserly exterior. He even looked ill fed; though doubtless this appearance was more a consequence of habit of body, than of short-feeding. He wore spectacles with black rims, and had the common practice of looking over them at objects at a distance, which gave him an air still more watchful than that which he imbibed from character. His stature was small, and his years about sixty, an age when the accumulation of money begins to bring as much pain as pleasure; for it is a period of life when men cannot fail to see the termination of their earthly schemes. Of all the passions, however, avarice is notoriously that which the latest loosens its hold on the human heart.
"Your servant, gentlemen," commenced the attorney, in a manner that was civil enough; "your servant; I beg you to help yourselves to chairs." We all three took seats, at this invitation. "A pleasant evening," eyeing us still more keenly over his glasses, "and weather that is good for the crops. If the wars continue much longer in Europe," another look over the glasses, "we shall sell all the substance out of our lands, in order to send the belligerents wheat. I begin to look on real estate security as considerably less valuable than it was, when hostilities commenced in 1793, and as daily growing less and less so."
"Ay, you may say that," Marble bluntly answered; "particularly the farms of widows and orphans."
The "'Squire" was a little startled at this unexpected reply. He looked intently at each of us again, over the spectacles; and then asked, in a manner divided between courtesy and authority—
"May I inquire your names, and the object of this visit?"
"Sartain," said Marble. "That's reasonable and your right. We are not ashamed of our names, nor of our errand. As for the last, Mr. Van Tassell, you'll know it sooner than you will wish to know it; but, to begin at the right end, this gentleman with me, is Mr. Miles Wallingford, a partic'lar friend of old Mrs. Wetmore, who lives a bit down the road yonder, at a farm called Willow Grove; 'Squire Wallingford, sir, is her friend, and my friend, and I've great pleasure in making you acquainted with him."
"I am happy to see the gentleman," answered Van Tassel, taking another look, while at the same time he glanced his eye at an alphabetical list of the attorneys and counsellors, to see what place I occupied among them. "Very happy to see the gentleman, who has quite lately commenced practice, I should think by his age, and my not remembering the name."
"There must be a beginning to all things, Mr. Van Tassel," I replied, with a calmness that I could see the old usurer did not like.
"Very true, sir, and I hope your future success will be in proportion to the lateness of your appearance at the bar. Your companion has much more the air of a sailor than of a lawyer."—This was true enough, there being no mistaking Marble's character, though I had put on a body-coat to come ashore in;—"I presume he is not in the practice."
"That remains to be seen, sir." answered Marble. "Having told you my friend's name, Mr. Van Tassel, I will now tell you my own. I am called Moses Marble Wetmore Van Duser Oloff, sir, or some such bloody thing; and you're welcome to take your pick out of the whole list. I'll answer to either of them aliases."
"This is so extraordinary and unusual, gentlemen, I scarce know what to make of it. Has this visit any connection with Mrs. Wetmore, or her farm, or the mortgage I have been foreclosing on the last?"
"It has, sir; and I am that Mrs. Wetmore's son—yes sir, the only child of that dear, good, old soul."
"The son of Mrs. Wetmore!" exclaimed Van Tassel, both surprised and uneasy. "I knew there was a son; but I have been always told it was impossible to find him. I see no resemblance, sir, in you to either George Wetmore, or Kitty Van Duser."
Now this was not altogether true. As for George Wetmore, they who had known him in middle age, afterwards declared that Moses did resemble him greatly; while I, myself, could trace in the mouth and milder expression of the mate's features, a strong likeness to the subdued character of his aged mother's face. This resemblance would not have been observed, in all probability, without a knowledge of the affinity that existed between the parties; but, with that knowledge, it was not easy to overlook.
"Resemblance!" repeated Marble, much in the tone of one who is ready to quarrel on the slightest provocation; "how should there be any resemblance, after the life I've led. In the first place, I was carried out of my mother's sight in less than ten days after I was born. Then I was placed on a tombstone, by way of encouragement; after which, they sent me to live among paupers. I ran away at ten years old, and went to sea, where I've played the part of man-of-war's-man, privateer's-man, smuggler, mate, master, and all hands; everything, in short, but a pirate and mutineer. I've been a bloody hermit, Mr. Van Tassel, and if that won't take the resemblance to anything human out of a fellow, his face is as unchangeable as that on a gold coin."
"All this, Mr. Wallingford, is so unintelligible to me, that I shall have to ask you to explain it."
I can only add to it, sir, my belief that every word you hear is true. I am satisfied that this is, in a legal sense, Oloff Van Duser Wetmore, the only surviving child of George Wetmore and Catharine Van Duser. He has come to see you in relation to a claim you are said to hold against the farm his mother inherited from her parents."
"Said to hold!—I certainly do hold George Wetmore's bond, secured by a mortgage signed by his wife, balance due, including interest and costs, $963.42; and I am proceeding to sell, under the statute. One sale has been postponed, to oblige the widow; for a merciful man would not wish to press a single and aged woman, though I've lain out of my money a very long time. You are aware, sir, that I lose all my interest on interest, and must take up with just what the law will give; hardship enough in active times like these, when not a day passes that something good does not offer in the way of purchasing the best of securities, at liberal discounts. Trade is so lively, now, Mr. Wallingford, that men will almost sell their souls for money."
"I rather think, sir, that some men will do this at all times; nay, do it hourly, daily. But, I am instructed"—I could not help acting the counsel a little, on the occasion—"I am instructed that the bond of George Wetmore is paid in full."
"How can that be, sir, while I still hold bond and mortgage? As a business man, you must understand the value to be attached to the idle tales of women, and can see the danger of taking their gossip for authority. George Wetmore had some knowledge of business, and would not be likely to pay his bond without taking it up, or at least of obtaining a receipt; much less leave the mortgage on record."
"I am informed he did take your receipt, though he presumes he must have lost it with a missing pocket-book, which his widow supposes to have been dropped from his coat, the very day he returned from the court where he met you, and where he says he paid you the money, being anxious to stop interest as soon as possible."
"A very idle story, and one you do not suppose the chancellor will believe, confirmed by the hearsay of the party interested in preserving the property. You are aware, sir, that the sale can be stopped only by an injunction from the Court of Chancery."
Now, I was certainly no lawyer; but, like almost every American, I knew something of that branch of the jurisprudence of the country, which touched my own interests. As a land-holder, I had a little knowledge of the law of real estate, and was not absolutely ignorant of the manner in which matters were managed in that most searching of all tribunals, the Court of Chancery. A lucky thought suggested itself to my mind on the instant, and I made use of it on the spur of the moment.
"It is quite true, sir," I answered, "that any prudent judge might hesitate about entering a decree on authority no better than the oath of Mrs. Wetmore that she had heard her husband say he had paid the money; but you will remember that the party replying has to swear to his answer. All of us might be better satisfied in this affair, were you to make oath that the money was never paid."
This hit told; and from that moment I did not entertain a doubt that Wetmore had paid the money, and that Van Tassel retained a perfect recollection of the whole affair. This much I could read in the man's altered countenance and averted eye, though my impressions certainly were not proof. If not proof, however, for a court of justice, they served to enlist me earnestly in the pursuit of the affair, into which I entered warmly from that moment. In the meantime, I waited for Van Tassel's answer, watching his countenance the whole time, with a vigilance that I could easily see caused him great embarrassment.
"Kitty Wetmore and I were born neighbours' children," he said; "and this mortgage has given me more trouble than all the rest of my little possessions. That I have been in no hurry to foreclose is plain by the length of time I've suffered to go by, without claiming my dues. I could wait no longer, without endangering my rights, as there would be a presumption of payment after twenty years, and a presumption that would tell harder against me than old Kitty's oath. We are neighbours' children, as I've said, nevertheless, and rather than push matters to extremities I will consent to some sort of a compromise."
"And what sort of a compromise will be agreeable to your notions of justice, Mr. Van Tassel?"
"Why, sir, as Kitty is old, it would be a sad thing to drive her from the roof under which she was born. This I've said and thought from the first, and say, now. Still, I cannot part with my property without a compensation; though I'm willing to wait. I told Mrs. Wetmore, before advertising, that if she would give a new bond, making all clear, and giving me interest on the whole sum now due, I should be willing to grant her time. I now propose, however, as the simplest way of settling the affair, to accept from her a release of the equity of redemption, and to grant her a lease, for her own life, on a nominal rent."
Even Marble knew enough to see the rank injustice of such an offer. In addition to conceding the non-payment of the debt, it was securing to Van Tassel, at no distant day, the quiet possession of the farm, for somewhat less than one-third its value. I detected symptoms of an outbreak in the mate, and was obliged to repress it by a sign, while I kept the discussion in my own hands.
"Under such an arrangement, sir," I answered, "my friend here would be literally selling his birthright for a mess of porridge."
"You will remember, Mr. Wallingford, that a mortgage sale, legally made, is a ticklish thing, and the courts do not like to disturb one. This sale will take place, this day week; and the title once passed, it will not be so easy a matter to get it repassed. Mr. Wetmore, here, does not look like a man ready to pay down a thousand dollars."
"We shall not run the risk of letting the title pass. I will buy the property, myself, if necessary; and should it afterwards appear that the money has been actually paid, we believe you are sufficiently secure for principal, interest, and costs."
"You are young in the profession, Mr. Wallingford, and will come to learn the folly of advancing money for your clients."
"I am not in the profession at all, sir, as you have erroneously supposed, but am a ship-master; and Mr. Wetmore, or Marble, as he has hitherto been called, is my mate. Still, we are none the worse provided with the means of paying a thousand dollars—or twenty of them, should it be necessary."
"No lawyer!" cried Van Tassel, smiling grimly. "A couple of sailors about to dispute the foreclosure of a mortgage! Famous justice we should get at your hands, gentlemen! Well, well; I now see how it is, and that this has only been an attempt to work on my sympathies for an old woman who has been living on my money these twenty years. I rather think your $963.42, will prove to be of the same quality as your law."
"And, yet, it struck me, Mr. Van Tassel, that you rather disliked the idea of swearing to the truth of an answer to a certain bill in Chancery, which, if I cannot draw, one Abraham Van Vechten, of Albany, can!"
"Abraham Van Vechten is skilful counsel, and an honest man, and is riot likely to be employed in a cause that rests only on an old woman's hearsays—and all to save her own farm!"
Marble could keep silence no longer. He told me afterwards, that, during the dialogue, he had been taking the measure of the old usurer's foot, and felt it would be a disgrace to strike so feeble a creature; but, to sit and hear his newly-found mother sneered at, and her just rights derided, was more than his patience could endure. Rising abruptly, therefore, he broke out at once in one of the plainest philippics of the sea. I shall not repeat all he said; for, to render it justly, might be to render it offensive; but, in addition to calling old Van Tassel by a great many names that were as unusual as they were quaint, he called him by several that would be familiar to the ears of most of my readers, besides being perfectly well merited. I allowed his humour to find vent; and, giving the attorney to understand he should hear further from us, I succeeded in getting my companion to the wagon, without coming to blows. I could see that Van Tassel was very far from being at his ease, and that he would still gladly keep us, if he could, in the hope of bringing about some sort of a compromise, if possible; but I thought it wisest to let matters rest awhile, after the decided demonstration we had already made.
It was not an easy matter to get Marble into the vehicle; but this was no sooner effected, than I trotted him off, down the road, taking the direction of the house where we had been told to seek Kitty Huguenin, old Mrs. Wetmore's grand-daughter, who would be waiting the appearance of the chaise, in order to return home.
"You must put on a more amicable look," said I to the mate, as we went on our way, "or you'll frighten your niece; with whom, you will remember, you are about to make an acquaintance."
"The cheating vagabond, to take advantage of a poor, lonely, old woman, whose only husband was in the grave, and only son at sea!" the mate continued to mutter. "Talk about the commandments! I should like to know what commandment this was breaking. The whole six, in a batch."
"The tenth, I am inclined to think, my friend; and that is a commandment broken all day, and every day."
The denunciations of the mate continued for some time longer, and then went off like the rumbling of distant thunder in the heavens after the passage of the gust.
"No Moorish maid might hope to vie With Laila's cheek, or Laila's eye; No maiden loved with purer truth, Or ever loved a lovelier youth."
"Miles," said Moses, suddenly, after riding a short distance in silence, "I must quit the old lady, this very night, and go down with you to town. We must have that money up at the place of sale, in readiness for the vagabond; for, as to letting him have the smallest chance at Willow Grove, that is out of the question."
"As you please, Marble; but, now, get yourself in trim to meet another relation; the second you have laid eyes on in this world."
"Think of that, Miles! Think of my having two relations! A mother and a niece! Well, it is a true saying that it never rains but it pours."
"You probably have many more, uncles, aunts, and cousins in scores. The Dutch are famous for counting cousins; and no doubt you'll have calls on you from half the county."
I saw that Marble was perplexed, and did not know, at first, but he was getting to be embarrassed by this affluence of kindred. The mate, however, was not the man long to conceal his thoughts from me; and in the strength of his feelings he soon let his trouble be known.
"I say, Miles," he rejoined, "a fellow may be bothered with felicity, I find. Now, here, in ten minutes perhaps, I shall have to meet my sister's darter—my own, born, blood niece; a full-grown, and I dare say, a comely young woman; and, hang me if I know exactly what a man ought to say in such a state of the facts. Generalizing wont do with these near relations; and I suppose a sister's darter is pretty much the same to a chap as his own darter would be, provided he had one."
"Exactly; had you reasoned a month, you could not have hit upon a better solution of the difficulty than this. Treat this Kitty Huguenin just as you would treat Kitty Marble."
"Ay, ay; all this is easy enough aforehand, and to such scholars as you; but it comes hard on a fellow like myself to heave his idees out of him, as it might be, with a windlass. I managed the old woman right well, and could get along with a dozen mothers, better than with one sister's darter. Suppose she should turn out a girl with black eyes, and red cheeks, and all that sort of thing; I dare say she would expect me to kiss her?"
"Certainly; she will expect that, should her eyes even be white, and her cheeks black. Natural affection expects this much even among the least enlightened of the human race."
"I am disposed to do everything according to usage," returned Marble, quite innocently, and more discomposed by the situation in which he so unexpectedly found himself, than he might have been willing to own; "while, at the same time, I do not wish to do anything that is not expected from a son and an uncle. If these relations had only come one at a time."
"Poh, poh, Moses—do not be quarrelling with your good luck, just as it's at its height. Here is the house, and I'll engage one of those four girls is your niece—that with the bonnet, for a dollar; she being ready to go home, and the whole having come to the door, in consequence of seeing the chaise driving down the road. They are puzzled at finding us in it, however, instead of the usual driver."
Marble hemmed, attempted to clear his throat, pulled down both sleeves of his jacket, settled his black handkerchief to his mind, slily got rid of his quid, and otherwise "cleared ship for action," as he would have been very apt to describe his own preparations. After all, his heart failed him, at the pinch; and just as I was pulling up the horse, he said to me, in a voice so small and delicate, that it sounded odd to one who had heard the man's thunder, as he hailed yards and tops in gales of wind—
"Miles, my dear boy, I do not half like this business; suppose you get out, and open the matter to the ladies. There's four of them, you see, and that's three too many. Go, now, Miles, that's a good fellow, and I'll do the same for you another time. I can't have four nieces here, you'll own yourself."
"And while I am telling your story to your niece, your own sister's daughter, what will you be doing here, pray?"
"Doing?—Why anything, my dear Miles, that can be useful—I say, boy, do you think she looks anything like me? When you get nearer, if you should think so, just hold up a hand as a signal, that I may not be taken by surprise. Yes, yes; you go first, and I'll follow; and as for 'doing,' why, you know, I can hold this bloody horse."
I laughed, threw the reins to Marble, who seized them with both hands, as if the beast required holding, while I alighted, and walked to the cluster of girls, who awaited my movements in surprise and silence. Since that day; I have seen more of the world than might have been expected in one of my early career; and often have I had occasion to remark the tendency there exists to extremes in most things; in manners as well as in every other matter connected with human feelings. As we become sophisticated, acting takes the place of nature, and men and women often affect the greatest indifference in cases in which they feel the liveliest interest. This is the source of the ultra sang froid of what is termed high breeding, which would have caused the four young women, who then stood in the door-yard of the respectable farm-house at which I had alighted, to assume an air as cold, and as marble-like, at the sudden appearance of Mrs. Wetmore's chaise, containing two strange faces, as if they had been long expecting our arrival, and were a little displeased it had not occurred an hour sooner. Such, however, was not my reception. Though the four girls were all youthful, blooming, pretty, delicate in appearance, according to the fashion of American women, and tolerably well attired, they had none of the calm exterior of conventional manner. One would speak quick to another; looks of surprise were often exchanged; there were not a few downright giggles, and then each put on as dignified an air to meet the stranger as, under the circumstances, she could assume.
"I presume Miss Kitty Huguenin is among you, young ladies," I commenced, bowing as civilly as was necessary; "for this appears to be the house to which we were directed."
A girl of about sixteen, of decidedly pleasing appearance, and one who bore a sufficient resemblance to old Mrs. Wetmore to be recognised, advanced a step out of the group, a little eagerly, and then as suddenly checked herself, with the timidity of her years and sex, as if afraid of going too far.
"I am Kitty," she said, changing colour once or twice; now flushing and now growing pale—"Is any thing the matter, sir—has grandmother sent for me?"
"Nothing is the matter, unless you can call good news something the matter. We have just left your grandmother's on business, having been up to 'Squire Van Tassel's on her affairs; rather than let us go on foot, she lent us her chaise, on condition that we should stop on our return and bring you home with us. The chaise is the evidence that we act under orders."
In most countries, such a proposition would have excited distrust; in America, and in that day, more especially among girls of the class of Kitty Huguenin, it produced none. Then, I flatter myself, I was not a very frightful object to a girl of that age, and that my countenance was not of such a cast as absolutely to alarm her. Kitty, accordingly, wished her companions hasty adieus, and in a minute she was placed between Marble and myself, the old vehicle being sufficiently spacious to accommodate three. I made my bows and away we trotted, or ambled would be a better word. For a brief space there was silence in the chaise, though I could detect Marble stealing side-long glances at his pretty little niece. His eyes were moist, and he hemmed violently once, and actually blew his nose, taking occasion, at the same time, to pass his handkerchief over his forehead, no less than three times in as many minutes. The furtive manner in which he indulged in these feelings, provoked me to say—
"You appear to have a bad cold this evening, Mr. Wetmore," for I thought the opportunity might also be improved, in the way of breaking ground with our secret.
"Ay, you know how it is in these matters, Miles—somehow, I scarce know why myself, but somehow I feel bloody womanish this evening."
I felt little Kitty pressing closer to my side, as if she had certain misgivings touching her other neighbour.
"I suppose you are surprised, Miss Kitty," I resumed, "at finding two strangers in your grandmother's chaise?"
"I did not expect it—but—you said you had been to Mr. Van Tassel's, and that there was good news for me—does 'Squire Van Tassel allow that grandfather paid him the money?"
"Not that exactly, but you have friends who will see that no wrong shall be done you. I suppose you have been afraid your grandmother and yourself might be turned away from the old place?"
"'Squire Van Tassel's daughters have boasted as much,"—answered Kitty, in a very subdued tone—a voice, indeed, that grew lower and more tremulous as she proceeded—"but I don't much mind them, for they think their father is to own the whole country one of these days." This was uttered with spirit. "But the old house was built by grandmother's grandfather, they say, and grandmother was born in it, and mother was born in it, and so was I. It is hard to leave a place like that, sir, and for a debt, too, that grandmother says she is sure has once been paid."
"Ay, bloody hard!" growled Marble.
Kitty again pressed nearer to me, or, to speak more properly, farther from the mate, whose countenance was particularity grim just at that moment.
"All that you say is very true, Kitty," I replied; "but Providence has sent you friends to take care that no wrong shall be done your grandmother, or yourself."
"You're right enough in that, Miles," put in the mate. "God bless the old lady; she shall never sleep out of the house, with my consent, unless it is when she sails down the river to go to the theatre, and the museum, the ten or fifteen Dutch churches there are in town, and all them 'ere sort o' thingumerees."
Kitty gazed at her left-hand neighbour with surprise, but I could feel that maiden bashfulness induced her to press less closely to my side than she had done the minute before.
"I don't understand you," Kitty answered, after a short pause, during which she was doubtless endeavouring to comprehend what she had heard. "Grandmother has no wish to go to town; she only wants to pass the rest of her days, quietly, at the old place, and one church is enough for anybody."
Had the little girl lived a few years later, she would have ascertained that some persons require half-a-dozen.
"And you, Kitty, do you suppose your grandmother has no thought for you, when she shall be called away herself?
"Oh! yes—I know she thinks a good deal of that, but I try to set her heart at ease, poor, dear, old grandmother, for it's of no use to be distressing herself about me! I can take care of myself well enough, and have plenty of friends who will never see me want. Father's sisters say they'll take care of me."
"You have one friend, Kitty, of whom you little think, just now, and he will provide for you."
"I don't know whom you mean, sir—unless—and yet you can't suppose I never think of God, sir?"
"I mean a friend on earth—have you no friend on earth, whom you have not mentioned yet?"
"I am not sure—perhaps—you do not mean Horace Bright, do you, sir?"
This was said with a bright blush, and a look in which the dawning consciousness of maiden shame was so singuarly blended with almost childish innocence, as both to delight me, and yet cause me to smile.
"And who is Horace Bright?" I asked, assuming as grave an air as possible.
"Oh! Horace is nobody—only the son of one of our neighbours. There, don't you see the old stone house that stands among the apple and cherry trees, on the banks of the river, just here in a line with this barn?"
"Quite plainly; and a very pretty place it is. We were admiring it as we drove up the road."
"Well, that is Horace Bright's father's; and one of the best farms in the neighbourhood. But you mustn't mind what he says, grandmother always tells me; boys love to talk grandly, and all the folks about here feel for us, though most of them are afraid of 'Squire Van Tassel, too."
"I place no reliance at all on Horace's talk—not I. It is just as your grandmother tells you; boys are fond of making a parade, and often utter things they don't mean."
"Well, I don't think that is Horace's way, in the least; though I wouldn't have you suppose I ever think, the least in the world, about what Horace says concerning my never being left to want. My own aunts will take care of that."
"And should they fail you, my dear," cried Marble, with strong feeling, "your own uncle would step into their places, without waiting to have his memory jogged."
Again Kitty looked surprised, a very little startled, and again she pressed to my side.
"I have no uncle," she answered, timidly. "Father never had a brother, and grandmother's son is dead."
"No, Kitty," I said, giving a look at Marble to keep him quiet; "in the last you are mistaken. This is the good news of which we spoke. Your grandmother's son is not dead, but living, and in good health. He is found, acknowledged, has passed the afternoon with your grandmother, has money more than enough to satisfy even the unjust demand of the miserly Van Tassel, and will be a father to you."
"Oh! dear me—can this be true!" exclaimed Kitty, pressing still closer than ever to my side. "And are you uncle after all, and will it all come out as you say? Poor, poor grandmother, and I not at home to hear it all, and to help her under such a great trial!"
"Your grandmother was a little distressed of course, at first, but she bore it all remarkably well, and is as happy at this moment, as you yourself could wish her to be. You are under a mistake, however, in supposing I am your uncle—do I look old enough to be your mother's brother?
"Dear me, no—I might have seen that, hadn't I been so silly—can it be this other gentleman?"
Here Marble took his hint from nature, and clasping the pretty young creature in his arms, he kissed her with an affection and warmth that were truly paternal. Poor Kitty was frightened at first, and I dare say, like her grandmother in a slight degree disappointed; but there was so much heartiness in the mate's manner, that it reassured her in degree.
"I'm a bloody poor uncle, I know, Kitty, for a young woman like you to own," Marble got out, though sorely tempted to blubber; "but there's worse in the world, as you'll discover, no doubt, in time. Such as I am, you must take me, and, from this time henceforth, do not care a strap for old Van Tassel, or any other griping vagabond like him in York state."
"Uncle is a sailor!" Kitty answered, after being fairly released from the mate's rough embrace. "Grandmother heard once that he was a soldier."
"Ay, that comes of lying. I don't think they could have made a soldier of me, had two wicked nurses run away with me, and had they placed me on fifty tombstones, by way of commencing life. My natur' would revolt at carrying a musket, for sartain, while the seas have always been a sort of home to me."
Kitty made no answer to this, being a little in doubt, I believe, as to the manner in which she was to regard this new acquisition of an uncle.
"Your grand-parents did suppose your uncle a soldier," I remarked, "but, after the man was seen the mistake was discovered, and now the truth has come out in a way that will admit of no dispute."
"How is uncle named?" demanded the niece, in a low voice, and a hesitating manner. "Mother's brother was christened Oloff, I have heard grandmother say."
"Very true, dear; we've been all over that, the old lady and I. They tell me, too, I was christened by the name of Moses—I suppose you know who Moses was, child?"
"To be sure, uncle!" said Kitty, with a little laugh of surprise. "He was the great law-maker of the Jews."
"Ha, Miles, is that so?"
I nodded assent.
"And do you know about his being found in the bulrushes, and the story of the king of Ethiopia's daughter?"
"The king of Egypt, you mean, do you not, uncle Oloff?" cried Kitty, with another little laugh.
"Well, Ethiopia or Egypt; it's all pretty much the same—this girl has been wonderfully edicated, Miles, and will turn out famous company for me, in the long winter evenings, some twenty years hence, or when I've worked my way up into the latitude of the dear, good, old soul under the hill yonder."
A slight exclamation from Kitty was followed by a blush, and a change of expression, that showed she was thinking, just at that moment, of anything but uncle Oloff. I asked an explanation.
"It's only Horace Bright, out yonder in the orchard, looking at us. He will be puzzled to know who is with me, here, in the old chaise. Horace thinks he can drive a horse better than any one about here, so you must be careful how you hold the reins, or use the whip.—Horace!"
This boded no good to Marble's plans for passing the evenings of his old age with Kitty to amuse him; but, as we were now on the brow of the hill, with the cottage in sight, Horace Bright was soon lost to view. To do the girl justice, she appeared now to think only of her grandmother, and of the effects the recent discovery of her son would be likely to produce on one of her years and infirmities. As for myself, I was surprised to see Mr. Hardinge in earnest conversation with old Mrs. Wetmore, both seated on the stoop of the cottage, in the mild summer's evening, and Lucy walking, to and fro, on the short grass of the willow bottom, with an impatience and restlessness of manner it was very unusual for her to exhibit. No sooner was Kitty alighted, than she ran to her grandmother, Marble following, while I hastened to the point where was to be found the great object of my interest. Lucy's face was full of feeling and concern, and she received me with an extended hand that, gracious as was the act itself, and most grateful as it would have proved to me under other circumstances, I now feared boded no good.
"Miles, you have been absent an age!" Lucy commenced. "I should be disposed to reproach you, had not the extraordinary story of this good old woman explained it all. I feel the want of air and exercise; give me your arm, and we will walk a short distance up the road. My dear father will not be inclined to quit that happy family, so long as any light is left."
I gave Lucy my arm, and we did walk up the road together, actually ascending the hill I had just descended; but all this did not induce me to overlook the fact that Lucy's manner was hurried and excited. The whole seemed so inexplicable, that I thought I would wait her own pleasure in the matter.
"Your friend, Marble," she continued—"I do not know why I ought not to say our friend, Marble, must be a very happy man at having, at length, discovered who his parents are, and to have discovered them to be so respectable and worthy of his affection."
"As yet, he seems to be more bewildered than happy, as, indeed, does the whole family. The thing has come on them so unexpectedly, that there has not been time to bring their feelings in harmony with the facts."
"Family affection is a blessed thing, Miles," Lucy resumed, after a short pause, speaking in her thoughtful manner; "there is little in this world that can compensate for its loss. It must have been sad, sad, to the poor fellow to have lived so long without father, mother, sister, brother or any other known relative."
"I believe Marble found it so; yet, I think, he felt the supposed disgrace of his birth more than his solitary condition. The man has warm affections at the bottom, though he has a most uncouth manner of making it known."
"I am surprised one so circumstanced never thought of marrying; he might, at least, have lived in the bosom of his own family, though he never knew that of a father."
"These are the suggestions of a tender and devoted female heart, dear Lucy; but, what has a sailor to do with a wife? I have heard it said Sir John Jervis—the present Lord St. Vincent—always declared a married seaman, a seaman spoiled; and I believe Marble loves a ship so well he would hardly know how to love a woman."
Lucy made no answer to this indiscreet and foolish speech. Why it was made, I scarce knew myself; but the heart has its bitter moods, when it prompts sentiments and declarations that are very little in accordance with its real impulses. I was so much ashamed of what I had just said, and, in truth, so much frightened, that, instead of attempting to laugh it off, as a silly, unmeaning opinion, or endeavouring to explain that this was not my own way of thinking, I walked on some distance in silence, myself, and suffered my companion to imitate me in this particular. I have since had reason to think that Lucy was not pleased at my manner of treating the subject, though, blessed creature! she had another matter to communicate, that lay too heavy on her heart, to allow one of her generous, disinterested nature to think much of anything else.
"Miles," Lucy, at length, broke the silence, by saying—"I wish, I do wish we had not met that other sloop this morning."
I stopped short in the highway, dropped my beautiful companion's arm, and stood gazing intently in her face, as if I would read her most inmost thoughts through those windows of the soul, her serene, mild, tender, blue eyes. I saw that the face was colourless, and that the beautiful lips, out of which the words that had alarmed me more by their accents than their direct signification, were quivering in a way that their lovely mistress could not control. Tears, as large as heavy drops of rain, too, were trembling on the long silken eye-lashes, while the very attitude of the precious girl denoted hopelessness and grief!
"This relates to Grace!" I exclaimed, though my throat was so parched, as almost to choke my utterance.
"Whom, or what else, can now occupy our minds, Miles; I can scarce think of anything but Grace; when I do, it is to remember that my own brother has killed her!"
What answer could I have made to such a speech, had my mind been sufficiently at ease as respects my sister to think of anything else? As it was, I did not even attempt the vain office of saying anything in the way of alleviating my companion's keen sense of the misconduct of Rupert.
"Grace is then worse in consequence of this unhappy rencontre?" I observed, rather than asked.
"Oh! Miles; what a conversation I have had with her, this afternoon! She speaks, already, more like a being that belongs to the regions of the blessed, than like one of earth! There is no longer any secret between us. She would gladly have avoided telling me her precise situation with Rupert, but we had already gone so far, I would know more. I thought it might relieve her mind; and there was the chance, however slight, of its enabling us to suggest some expedient to produce still further good. I think it has had some of the first effect, for she is now sleeping."
"Did Grace say anything of your communicating the miserable tale to me?"
"It is, indeed, a miserable tale! Miles, they were engaged from the time Grace was fifteen! Engaged distinctly, and in terms, I mean; not by any of the implied understandings, by which those who were so intimate, generally, might believe themselves bound to each other."
"And in what manner did so early and long-continued an engagement cease?"
"It came from Rupert, who should have died first, before he was so untrue to himself, to my poor father, to me, to all of us, Miles, as well as to his own manhood. It has been as we supposed; he has been deluded by the eclat that attaches to these Mertons in our provincial society; and Emily is rather a showy girl, you know,—at least for those who are accustomed only to our simple habits."
Alas! little did Lucy then know—she has learned better since—that "showy" girls belong much more to our "simple" state of society, than to the state of those which are commonly conceived to be more advanced. But Emily Merton was, in a slight degree, more artificial in manner, than it was usual for a Manhattanese female of that day, to be, and this was what Lucy meant; Lucy, who always thought so humbly of herself, and was ever so ready to concede to her rivals all that could plausibly be asked in their behalf.
"I am well aware how much importance the leading set among ourselves attaches to English connection, and English rank," I answered; "but, it does not strike me Emily Merton is of a class so elevated, that Rupert Hardinge need break his faith, in order to reap the advantage of belonging to her, or her family."
"It cannot be altogether that, Miles," Lucy added, in an appealing, but touchingly confidential manner, "you and I have known each other from children, and, whatever may be the weaknesses of one who is so dear to me, and who, I hope, has not altogether lost his hold on your own affections, we can still rely on each other. I shall speak to you with the utmost dependence on your friendship, and a reliance on your heart that is not second to that which I place on my dear father's; for this is a subject on which there ought to be no concealment between us. It is impossible that one as manly, as upright, as honest I will say, as yourself, can have lived so long in close intimacy with Rupert, and not be aware that he has marked defects of character."
"I have long known that he is capricious," I answered, unwilling to be severe on the faults of Lucy's brother, to Lucy's own ear; "perhaps I might add, that I have known he pays too much attention to fashion, and the opinions of fashionable people."
"Nay, as we cannot deceive ourselves, let us not attempt the ungrateful task of endeavouring to deceive each other," that true-hearted girl replied, though she said this with so great an effort, that I was compelled to listen attentively to catch all she uttered. "Rupert has failings worse than these. He is mercenary; nor is he always a man of truth. Heaven knows, how I have wept over these defects of character, and the pain they have given me from childhood! But, my dear, dear father overlooks them all—or, rather, seeing them, he hopes all things; it is hard for a parent to believe a child irreclaimable."
I was unwilling to let Lucy say any more on this subject, for her voice, her countenance, I might almost say her whole figure showed how much it cost her to say even this much of Rupert. I had long known that Lucy did not respect her brother as much as she could wish; but this was never before betrayed to me in words, nor in any other manner, indeed, that would not have eluded the observation of one who knew the parties less thoroughly than myself. I could perceive that she felt the awful consequences she foresaw from her brother's conduct gave me a claim on her sincerity, and that she was suffering martyrdom, in order to do all that lay in her own power to lessen the force of the blow that unworthy relative had inflicted. It would have been ungenerous in me to suffer such a sacrifice to continue a moment longer than was necessary.
"Spare yourself, and me, dearest Lucy," I eagerly said, "all explanations but those which are necessary to let me know the exact state of my sister's case. I confess, I could wish to understand, however, the manner in which Rupert has contrived to explain away an engagement that has lasted four years, and which must have been the source of so much innocent confidence between Grace and himself."
"I was coming to that, Miles; and when you know it, you will know all. Grace has felt his attentions to Emily Merton, for a long time; but there never was a verbal explanation between them until just before she left town. Then she felt it due to herself to know the truth; and, after a conversation which was not very particular, your sister offered to release Rupert from his engagement, did he in the least desire it."
"And what answer did he make to a proposal that was as generous as it was frank?"
"I must do Grace the justice to say, Miles, that, in all she said, she used the utmost tenderness towards my brother. Still, I could not but gather the substance of what passed. Rupert, at first, affected to believe that Grace, herself, wished to break the engagement; but, in this, you well know, her ingenuous simplicity would not permit him to succeed. She did not attempt to conceal how deeply she should feel the change in her situation, and how much it might influence her future happiness."
"Ay, that was like both of them—like Rupert, and like Grace," I muttered, huskily.
Lucy continued silent an instant, apparently to allow me to regain my self-command; then she continued—
"When Rupert found that the responsibility of the rupture must rest on him, he spoke more sincerely. He owned to Grace that his views had changed; said they were both too young to contract themselves when they did, and that he had made an engagement to marry, at a time when he was unfit to bind himself to so solemn a contract—said something about minors, and concluded by speaking of his poverty and total inability to support a wife, now that Mrs. Bradfort had left me the whole of her property."
"And this is the man who wishes to make the world believe that he is the true heir!—nay, who told me, himself, that he considers you as only a sort of trustee, to hold half, or two-thirds of the estate, until he has had leisure to sow his wild oats!"
"I know he has encouraged such notions, Miles," Lucy answered, in a low voice; "how gladly would I realize his hopes, if things could be placed where we once thought they were! Every dollar of Mrs. Bradfort's fortune would I relinquish with joy, to see Grace happy, or Rupert honest."
"I am afraid we shall never see the first, Lucy, in this evil world at least."
"I have never wished for this engagement, since I have been old enough to judge of my brother's true character. He would ever have been too fickle, and of principles too light, to satisfy Grace's heart, or her judgment. There may have been some truth in his plea that the engagement was too early and inconsiderately made. Persons so young can hardly know what will, or what will not be necessary to their own characters, a few years later. As it is, even Grace would now refuse to marry Rupert. She owned to me, that the heaviest part of the blow was being undeceived in relation to his character. I spoke to her with greater freedom than a sister ought to have used, perhaps, but I wished to arouse her pride, as the means of saving her. Alas! Grace is all affections, and those once withered, I fear, Miles, the rest of her being will go with them."
I made no answer to this prophetic remark, Lucy's visit to the shore, her manner, and all that she had said, convincing me that she had, in a great degree, taken leave of hope. We conversed some time longer, returning toward the cottage; but there was nothing further to communicate, that it is necessary to record. Neither of us thought of self, and I would as soon have attempted to desecrate a church, as attempt to obtain any influence over Lucy, in my own behalf, at such a moment. All my feelings reverted to my poor sister again, and I was dying with impatience to return to the sloop, whither, indeed, it was time to repair, the sun having some time before disappeared, while even the twilight was drawing to a close.
"The serpent of the field, by art And spells, is won from harming, But that which coils around the heart, Oh! who hath power of charming?"
It was not easy to make Mr. Hardinge a sharer in my impatience. He had taken a fancy to Marble, and was as much rejoiced at this accidental discovery of the mate's parentage, as if he had been one of the family himself. With such feelings, therefore, I had a good deal of difficulty in getting him away. I asked Marble to go off with me, it being understood that he was to be landed again, in order to pass the first night of his recognition under his mother's roof. To this scheme, however, he raised an objection, as soon as told it was my intention to go down the river as far as New York, in quest of further medical advice, insisting on accompanying me, in order to obtain the thousand dollars with which to face 'Squire Van Tassel, or, at least, his mortgage sale. Accordingly, there were leave-takings, and about eight we were all on board the sloop.
I did not see, nor did I ask to see, my sister again, that night. I had not seen her, indeed, since the moment Rupert was discovered in company with the Mertons; and, to own the truth, I felt afraid to see her, knowing, as I did, how much her frame was apt to be affected by her mind. It appeared to me there remained but the single duty to perform, that of getting below as fast as possible, in order to obtain the needed medical aid. It is true, we possessed Post's written instructions, and knew his opinion that the chief thing was to divert Grace's thoughts from dwelling on the great cause of her malady; but, now he had left us, it seemed as if I should neglect a most sacred duty, did I delay obtaining some other competent physician.
The tide turned at nine, and we got immediately under way, with a light south-west wind. As for Marble, ignorant as Mr. Hardinge himself of the true condition of my sister, he determined to celebrate his recent discoveries by a supper. I was about to object to the project, on account of Grace, but Lucy begged me to let him have his way; such convives as my late guardian and my own mate were not likely to be very boisterous; and she fancied that the conversation, or such parts of it as should be heard through the bulk-head, might serve to divert the invalid's mind from dwelling too intently on the accidental rencontre of the morning. The scheme was consequently carried out; and, in the course of an hour, the cabins of the Wallingford presented a singular spectacle. In her berth was Grace, patiently and sweetly lending herself to her friend's wish to seem to listen to her own account of the reason of the mate's festa, and to be amused by his sallies; Lucy, all care and attention for her patient, as I could discover through the open door of the after-cabin, while she endeavoured to appear to enter into the business that was going on at the table, actually taking wine with the mate, and drinking to the happiness of his newly-found relatives; Mr. Hardinge, over-flowing with philanthropy, and so much engrossed with his companion's good fortune as not to think of aught else at the moment; Marble, himself, becoming gradually more under the influence of his new situation, as his feelings had time to gather force and take their natural direction; while I was compelled to wear the semblance of joining in his festivities, at an instant when my whole soul was engrossed with anxiety on behalf of Grace.
"This milk is just the richest and best that ever came on board a vessel!" exclaimed the mate, as he was about to wind up his own share of the repast with a cup of coffee—"and as for butter, I can say I never tasted the article before. Little Kitty brought both down to the boat with her own hands, and that makes them so much the sweeter, too, for, if anything can add to the excellence of eatables, it is to have them pass through the hands of one's own relations. I dare say, Mr. Hardinge, now, you have verified this, time and again, in your own experience?"
"In feeling, my friend; in feeling, often, though little in practice, in the sense that you mean. My family has been my congregation, unless, indeed, Miles here, and his beloved sister, can be added to my own children in fact, as they certainly are in affection. But, I can understand how butter made by the hands of one's own mother, or by those of such a pretty niece as your Kitty, would taste all the sweeter."
"It's such a providential thing, as you call it, to find such a mother in the bargain! Now I might have discovered a slattern, or a scold, or a woman of bad character; or one that never went to church; or even one that swore and drank; for, begging your pardon, Miss Lucy, just such creatur's are to be met with; whereas, instead of any of these disagreeable recommendations, I've fallen in with an A. No. 1. mother; ay, and such an old lady as the king of England, himself, need not be ashamed to own.[A] I felt a strong desire, Mr. Hardinge, to get down on my knees, and to ask the dear, good old soul, just to say, 'God bless you, my dear son, Moses, Van Duzer, or Oloff, whatever your name may be.'"
[Footnote 2: In that day, all allusions to royalty were confined to the Majesty of Great Britain; it being no uncommon thing, at the commencement of this century, to hear "The King" toasted at many of the best tables of the country.]
"And if you had, Mr. Marble, you would not have been any the worse for it. Such feelings do you honour, and no man need be ashamed of desiring to receive a parent's blessing."
"I suppose now, my dear sir," added Marble, innocently, "that is what is called having a religious turn? I've often foreseen, that religion would fetch me up, in the long run; and now that I am altogether relieved from bitterness of heart on the subject of belonging to none, and no one's belonging to me, my sentiments have undergone a great alteration, and I feel a wish to be at peace with the whole human family—no, not with the whole; I except that rascally old Van Tassel."
"You must except no one—we are told to 'love those that hate us, to bless those that curse us, and to pray for those that despitefully use us.'"
Marble stared at Mr. Hardinge; for, to own the truth, it would have been difficult, in a Christian land, to meet with one of his years who had less religious instruction than himself. It is quite probable that these familiar mandates had never been heard by him before; but I could see that he was a little struck with the profound morality that pervaded them; a morality to which no human heart appears to be so insensible as not in secret to acknowledge its sublimity. Still he doubted.
"Where are we told to do this, my dear sir?" demanded Marble, after looking intently at the rector for a moment.
"Where? why, where we get all our divine precept and inspired morality, the bible. You must come to wish this Mr. Van Tassel good, instead of evil; try to love, instead of hating him."
"Is that religion?" demanded the mate, in his most dogmatical and determined manner.
"It is Christianity—its spirit, its very essence; without which the heart cannot be right, let the tongue proclaim what delusion it may."
Marble had imbibed a sincere respect for my late guardian, equally from what he had heard me say in his favour and what he had seen himself, of his benevolent feelings kind-hearted morality, and excellent sense. Nevertheless, it was not an easy matter to teach a being like Marble the lesson that he was to do good to those who used him despitefully; and just at that moment he was in a frame of mind to do almost anything else, sooner than pardon Van Tassel. All this I could see, understanding the man so well and, in order to prevent a useless discussion that might disturb my sister, I managed to change the discourse before it was too late; I say too late, because it is not easy to shake off two moralists who sustain their doctrines as strongly as Mr. Hardinge and my mate.
"I am glad the name of this Mr. Van Tassel has been mentioned," I observed, "as it may be well to have your advice, sir, concerning our best mode of proceeding in his affair."
I then related to Mr. Hardinge the history of the mortgage, and the necessity there was for promptitude, inasmuch as the sale was advertised for the ensuing week. My late guardian was better acquainted with the country, up the river, than I was myself; and it was fortunate the subject was broached, as he soon convinced me the only course to be pursued was to put Marble ashore at Hudson, where, if too late for the regular stage, he might obtain some other conveyance, and proceed to town by land. This would barely leave him time to transact all the necessary business, and to be back in season to prevent the title to the Willow Cove from passing into the usurer's grasp. As was usual with Mr. Hardinge, he entered into this, as into every good work, heart and hand, and immediately set about writing directions for Marble's government when he got ashore. This put in end to the banquet, and glad was I to see the table removed, and the other signs of a tranquil night reappear.
It was twelve before the sloop was as low as Hudson, and I saw by our rate of sailing, that, indeed, there was little prospect of her reaching New York in time for Marble's necessities. He was landed, therefore, and Mr. Hardinge and myself accompanied him to the stage-house, where we ascertained that the next morning after breakfast he would be enabled to get into the stage, which would reach town in the evening of the succeeding day. But this was altogether too slow for Marble's impatience. He insisted on procuring a private conveyance, and we saw him drive out of the long street that then composed most of the city of Hudson, at a slapping pace, about one o'clock in the morning. This important duty discharged, Mr. Hardinge and I returned to the sloop in which Neb had been standing off and on, in waiting for us, and again made sail down the river. When I turned in, the Wallingford was getting along at the rate of about five miles the hour; the wind having freshened, and come out at the westward, a quarter that just enabled her to lay her course.
The reader will easily imagine I did not oversleep myself the following morning. My uneasiness was so great, indeed, that I dreamed of the dreadful accident which had produced my father's death, and then fancied that I saw him, my mother, and Grace, all interred at the same time, and in the same grave. Fortunately, the wind stood at the west, and the sloop was already within twenty miles of the creek at Clawbonny, when I got on deck. All was quiet in the after-cabin; and, Mr. Hardinge still continuing in his berth, I went out to breathe the fresh morning air, without speaking to any below. There was no one on the quarter-deck but the pilot, who was at the helm; though I saw a pair of legs beneath the boom, close in with the mast, that I knew to be Neb's, and a neat, dark petticoat that I felt certain must belong to Chloe. I approached the spot, in tending to question the former on the subject of the weather during his watch; but, just as about to hail him, I heard the young lady say, in a more animated tone than was discreet for the character of the conversation—
"No, nebber, sah—nebber, widout de apperbation of my modder and de whole famerly. Mattermony a berry differ t'ing, Neb, from what you surposes. Now, many a young nigger gentleman imagine dat he has only to coax his gal to say 'yes,' and den dey goes to de clergy and stands up for de blessin', and imagines all right for de futur', and for de present time, all which is just a derlusion and a derception. No, sah; mattermony a berry differ t'ing from dat, as any old lady can tell you. De fuss t'ing in mattermony, is to hab a consent."
"Well, Chloe, and hab'n't I had dis berry consent from you, now for most two year?"
"Ay, dat not de consent I surposes. You wouldn't t'ink, Neb, ongrateful feller, to get marry, widout first askin' do consent of Masser Mile, I do surpose! You, who has been his own waiter so long, and has gone to sea wid him so often; and has saved his life; and has helped kill so many hateful saverges; and has been on a desert conternent wid him."
"I nebber told you dat, Chloe—I said on an island."
"Well, what's the differ? You cannot tell me anyt'ing of edercation, Neb; for I hab hear Miss Grace and Miss Lucy say deir lesson so often, dat I sometime surposes I can say 'em all, one by one, almost as well as my young lady, 'emselves. No, Neb; on dat subjeck better be silent. You been much too busy, ebber to be edercated; and, if I do marry you, remember I now tell you, I shall not enter into mattermony wid you on account of any edercation you hab."
"All Clawbonny say dat we can make as good a couple, Chloe, as ebber stood up togedder."
"All Clawbonny don't know much of mattermony, Neb. People talks inderskrimernaterly, and doesn't know what dey says, too often. In de fuss place my modder, my own born modder, upposes our uner, and dat is a great differculty to begin wid. When a born modder upposes, a darter ought to t'ink sebberal time."
"Let me speak to Masser Mile; he'll fetch up her objeckshun wid a round turn."
"What dat, Neb?"
"It mean Masser will order her to consent."
"Dat nebber saterfy my conscience, Neb. We be nigger dat true; but no Clawbonny master ebber tell a Clawbonny slabe to get marry, or not to get marry, as he choose. Dat would be intollabull, and not to be supported! No; mattermony is religion; and religion free. No colour' young lady hab vergin affeckshun, to t'row 'em away on just whom her masser say. But, Neb, dere one odder differculty to our uner dat I don't know—sometime, I feel awful about it!"
As Chloe now spoke naturally, for the first time. Neb was evidently startled; and I had sufficient amusement, and sufficient curiosity, to remain stationary in order to hear what this new obstacle might be. The voice of the negress was music itself; almost as sweet as Lucy's; and I was struck with a slight tremor that pervaded it, as she so suddenly put an end to all her own affectation of sentiment, and nipped her airs and graces, as it might be, in the bud.
"Nebber talk to me of mattermony, Neb," Chloe continued, almost sobbing as she spoke, "while Miss Grace be in dis berry bad way! It hard enough to see her look so pale and melercholy, widout t'inking of becomin' a wife."
"Miss Grace will grow better, now Masser Mile carry her on de water. If he only take her to sea, she get so fat and hearty, no libbin' wid her!"
Chloe did not acquiesce in this opinion; she rather insisted that "Miss Grace" was altogether too delicate and refined a person to live in a ship. But the circumstance that struck me with the greatest force, in this characteristic dialogue, was the fact that Chloe betrayed to me the consciousness of the cause of my sister's indisposition; while true to her sex's instincts, and faithful to her duty, the girl completely concealed it from her lover. I was also oppressively struck with the melancholy forebodings that appeared in Chloe's manner, rather than in her words, and which made it apparent that she doubted of her young mistress's recovery. She concluded the conversation by saying—
"No, no, Neb—don't talk to me of mattermony while Miss Grace so ill; and if any t'ing should happen, you need nebber talk to me of it, at all. I could nebber t'ink of any uner (union) should anyt'ing happen to Miss Grace. Lub (love) will die forebber in de family, when Miss Grace die!"
I turned away, at this speech, the tears starting to my eyes, and saw Lucy standing in the companion-way. She was waiting to speak to me, and no sooner caught my eye, than beckoning me to her side, she let me know that my sister desired to see me. Erasing every sign of emotion as soon as possible, I descended with Lucy, and was soon at the side of my sister's berth.
Grace received me with an angelic smile; but, I almost gasped for breath as I noticed the prodigious change that had come over her in so brief a space. She now looked more like a being of another world than ever; and this, too, immediately after coming from the refreshment of a night's rest. I kissed her forehead, which had an unnatural chill on it, I thought; and I felt the feeble pressure of an arm that was thrown affectionately round my neck. I then sat down on the transom, still holding my sister's hand. Grace looked anxiously at me for half a minute, ere she spoke, as if to ascertain how far I was conscious of her situation.
"Lucy tells me, brother," she at length said, "that you think of carrying me down the river, as far as town, in order to get further advice. I hope this is a mistake of our dear Lucy's, however?"
"It is not, Grace. If the wind stand here at the westward, I hope to have you in Lucy's own house in Wall street, by to-morrow evening. I know she will receive you hospitably, and have ventured to form the plan without consulting you on the subject."
"Better that I should be at Clawbonny—if anything can now do me good, brother, it will be native air, and pure country air. Hearken to my request, and stop at the creek."
"Your serious request, Grace, will be a law to me, if made on due reflection. This growing feebleness, however, alarms me; and I cannot justify it to myself not to send for advice."
"Remember, Miles, it is not yet twenty-four hours since one of the ablest men of the country saw me. We have his written instructions; and, all that man can do for me, they will do for me. No, brother; listen to my entreaties, and go into the creek. I pine, I pine to be again at dear Clawbonny, where alone I can enjoy anything like peace of body or mind. This vessel is unsuited to me; I cannot think of a future, or pray in it. Brother, dearest brother, carry me home, if you love me!"
There was no resisting such an appeal. I went on deck with a heavy heart, and gave the necessary orders to the pilot; and, in about eight-and-forty hours after we emerged into the Hudson, we left that noble stream again, to shoot beneath the shaded, leafy banks of our own inlet. Grace was so feeble as to be carried to the chaise, in which she was supported by Lucy, during the short drive to the house. When I reached my own dwelling, I found Mr. Hardinge pacing the little portico, or piazza, waiting for my arrival, with an uneasiness of manner that at once proclaimed his anxiety to see me. He had driven the horse of the chaise, and had imbibed a first impression of Grace's danger.
"Miles, my dear boy—my second son"—the simple-hearted, excellent old man commenced; "Miles, my dear boy, the hand of God has been laid heavily on us—your beloved sister, my own precious Grace, is far more ill than I had any idea of, before this morning."
"She is in the hands of her merciful Creator," I said, struggling to command myself, "who, I greatly fear, is about to call her from a world that is not good enough for one so innocent and pure, to take her to himself. I have foreseen this from the hour I first met her, after my return; though a single ray of hope dawned on me, when Post advised the change of scene. So far from producing good, this excursion has produced evil; and she is much worse than when we left home."
"Such short-sighted mortals are we!—But what can we do, my boy?—I confess my judgment, my faculties themselves, are nearly annihilated by the suddenness of this shock. I had supposed her illness some trifling complaint that youth and care would certainly remove; and here we stand, as it might be, at the call of the trumpet's blast, almost around her grave!"
"I am most anxious to lean on your wisdom and experience, my dear sir, at this critical moment; if you will advise, I shall be happy to follow your instructions."
"We must lean on God, Miles," answered my worthy guardian, still pacing the piazza, the tears running down his cheeks in streams, and speaking so huskily as barely to be intelligible; "yes, we will have the prayers of the congregation next Sunday morning; and most devout and heartfelt prayers they will be; for her own sainted mother was not more deservedly loved! To be called away so young—to die in the first bloom of youth and loveliness, as it were—but, it is to go to her God! We must endeavour to think of her gain—to rejoice over, rather than mourn her loss."
"I grieve to perceive that you regard my sister's case as so entirely hopeless, sir."
"Hopeless!—It is full of the brightest promise; and when I come to look calmly at it, my reason tells me I ought not to grieve. Still, Miles, the loss of Lucy, herself, would scarce be a more severe blow to me. I have loved her from childhood, cared for her as for one of my own, and feel the same love for her that I should feel for a second daughter. Your parents were dear to me, and their children have always appeared to me to belong to my own blood. Had I not been your guardian, boy, and you and Grace been comparatively so rich, while I and mine were so poor, it would have been the first wish of my heart to have seen Rupert and Grace, you and Lucy, united, which would have made you all my beloved children alike. I often thought of this, until I found it necessary to repress the hope, lest I should prove unfaithful to my trust. Now, indeed, Mrs. Bradfort's bequest might have smoothed over every difficulty; but it came too late! It was not to be; Providence had ordered otherwise."
"You had an ardent supporter of your scheme in one of your children, at least, sir."
"So you have given me to understand, Miles, and I regret that I was informed of the fact so late, or I might have contrived to keep off other young men while you were at sea, or until an opportunity offered to enable you to secure my daughter's affections. That done, neither time nor distance could have displaced you; the needle not being more true than Lucy, or the laws of nature more certain."
"The knowledge of these sterling qualities, sir, only makes me regret my having come too late, so much the more."
"It was not to be;—at one time, I did think Rupert and Grace had a preference for each other; but I must have been deceived. God had ordered it otherwise, and wisely no doubt; as his omniscience foresaw the early drooping of this lovely flower. I suppose their having been educated together, so much like brother and sister, has been the reason there was so much indifference to each other's merits. You have been an exception on account of your long absences, Miles, and you must look to those absences for the consolation and relief you will doubtless require. Alas! alas! that I could not now fold Grace to my heart, as a daughter and a bride, instead of standing over her grave! Nothing but Rupert's diffidence of his own claims, during our days of poverty, could have prevented him from submitting himself to so much loveliness and virtue. I acquit the ad of insensibility; for nothing but the sense of poverty and the pride of a poor gentleman, added perhaps to the brotherly regard he has always felt for Grace, could have kept him from seeking her hand. Grace, properly enough, would have requited his affection."
Such is a specimen of the delusion under which we live, daily. Here was my sister dying of blighted affections, under my own roof; and the upright, conscientious father of the wretch who had produced this withering evil, utterly unconscious of the wrong that had been done; still regarding his son with the partiality and indulgence of a fond parent. To me, it seemed incredible at the time, that unsuspecting integrity could carry its simplicity so far; but I have since lived long enough to know that mistakes like these are constantly occurring around us; effects being hourly attributed to causes with which they have no connection; and causes being followed down to effects, that are as imaginary as human sagacity is faulty. As for myself, I can safely say, that in scarce a circumstance of my life, that has brought me the least under the cognizance of the public, have I ever been judged justly. In various instances have I been praised for acts that were either totally without any merit, or, at least, the particular merit imputed to them; while I have been even persecuted for deeds that deserved praise. An instance or two of the latter of these cases of the false judgment of the world will be laid before the reader as I proceed.
Mr. Hardinge continued for some time to expatiate on the loveliness of Grace's character, and to betray the weight of the blow he had received, in gaining this sudden knowledge of her danger. He seemed to pass all at once from a state of inconsiderate security to one of total hopelessness, and found the shock so much harder to endure. At length he sent for Lucy, with whom he continued closeted for near an hour. I ascertained, afterwards, that he questioned the dear girl closely on the subject of my sister's malady; even desiring to know if her affections were any way connected with this extraordinary sinking of the vital powers; but not in the slightest degree inclining to the distrust of Rupert's being in any manner implicated in the affair. Lucy, truthful and frank as she was, felt the uselessness, nay, the danger, of enlightening her father, and managed to evade all his more delicate inquiries, without involving herself in falsehoods. She well knew, if he were apprised of the real state of the case, that Rupert would have been sent for; and every reparation it was in his power to make would have been insisted on, as an act of justice; a hopeless and distressing attempt to restore the confidence of unbounded love, and the esteem which, once lost, is gone forever. Perhaps the keenest of all Grace's sufferings proceeded from the consciousness of the total want of merit in the man she had so effectually enshrined in her heart, that he could only be ejected by breaking in pieces and utterly destroying the tenement that had so long contained him. With ordinary notions, this change of opinion might have sufficed for the purposes of an effectual cure; but my poor sister was differently constituted. She had ever been different from most of her sex, in intensity of feeling; and had come near dying, while still a child, on the occasion of the direful catastrophe of my father's loss; and the decease of even our mother, though long expected, had come near to extinguish the flame of life in the daughter. As I have already said more than once, a being so sensitive and so pure, ever seemed better fitted for the regions of bliss, than for the collisions and sorrows of the world.
Now we were at Clawbonny again, I scarce knew how to employ myself. Grace I could not see; Lucy, who took the entire management of the invalid, requiring for her rest and quiet. In this she did but follow the directions of reason, as well as those left by Post; and I was fain to yield, knowing that my sister could not possibly have a more judicious or a more tender nurse.
The different persons belonging to the mill and the farm came to me for directions, which I was compelled to give with thoughts engrossed with the state of my sister. More than once I endeavoured to arouse myself; and, for a few minutes, seemed to enter, if I did not truly enter, with interest into the affairs presented to my consideration; but these little rallies were merely so many attempts at self-delusion, and I finally referred everything to the respective persons entrusted with the different branches of the duty bidding them act as they had been accustomed to do in my absence.
"Why, yes, Masser Mile," answered the old negro who was the head man in the field, "dis berry well, if he can do it. Remember I alway hab Masser Hardinge to talk to me about 'e crop, and sich t'ing, and dat a won'erful help to a poor nigger when he in a nonplush."
"Surely, Hiram, you are a better husbandman than Mr. Hardinge and myself put together, and cannot want the advice of either to tell you how to raise corn, or to get in hay!"
"Dat berry true, sah—so true, I wont deny him. But, you know how it be, Masser Mile; a nigger do lub to talk, and it help along work won'erfully, to get a good dispute, afore he begin."
As respects the blacks, this was strictly true. Though as respectful as slavery and habit could make them, they were so opinionated and dogmatical, each in his or her sphere, that nothing short of a downright assertion of authority could produce submission to any notions but their own. They loved to argue the different points connected with their several duties, but they did not like to be convinced. Mr. Hardinge would discuss with them, from a sense of duty, and he would invariably yield, unless in cases that involved moral principles. On all such points, and they were not of unfrequent occurrence in a family of so many blacks, he was as inflexible as the laws of the Medes and Persians; but, as respected the wheat, the potatoes, the orchards, the mill, or the sloop, he usually submitted to the experience of those more familiar with the business, after having discussed the matters in council. This rendered him exceedingly popular at Clawbonny, the persuaded usually having the same sort of success in the world as a good listener. As for the rector himself, after so many long discussions, he began to think he had actually influenced the different steps adopted; the cause of one of the illusions I have already pourtrayed.
Old Hiram did not quit me when he came for instructions alias a "dispute," without a word of inquiry touching Grace I could see that the alarm had passed among the slaves, and it was quite touching to note the effect it produced on their simple minds. It would have been sufficient for them to love her, that Grace was their young mistress; but such a mistress as she had ever been, and one so winning in manner and person, they might be said almost to worship her.
"I berry sorry to hear Miss Grace be onwell, sah," said old Hiram, looking at me sorrowfully. "It go hard wid us all, if anyt'ing happen dere! I alway s'pose, Masser Mile, dat Miss Grace and Masser Rupert come togeder, some time; as we all expects you and Miss Lucy will. Dem are happy days, sah, at Clawbonny, for den we all know our new masser and new missus from de cradle. No, no—we can nebber spare Miss Grace, sah; even I should miss her in 'e field!"
The very blacks had observed the state of things which had deluded my poor sister; and the slave had penetrated his master's secret. I turned away abruptly from the negro, lest he should also detect the evidence of the weakness extorted by his speech, from the eyes of manhood.
—"Like the lily That once was mistress of the field, and flourished, I'll hang my head, and perish."
I saw little of Lucy that night. She met us at evening prayers, and tears were in her eyes as she arose from her knees. Without speaking, she kissed her father for good night, more affectionately than ever, I thought, and then turned to me. Her hand was extended, (we had seldom met or parted for eighteen years, without observing this little act of kindness), but she did not—nay, could not, speak. I pressed the little hand fervently in my own, and relinquished it again, in the same eloquent silence. She was seen no more by us until next day.