"Levin, what you doin' with that nigger buyer? Ain't you got no Dennis pride left in you?"
The Judge saw that Joe Johnson, safe from civil process on Sunday, even if his enemy had not been helpless in bed, was washing Levin Dennis's brandy-sickened head under the street pump, plying the pump-handle and shampooing him with alternate hands.
"Jimmy," answered Levin, when he was free from the spout, "this gentleman's give me a job. I'm goin' to take him out for tarrapin on the Sound. He's goin' to pay me for it."
"Tarrapin-catchin' on a Sunday ain't no respectable job for a Dennis, nohow," cried Jimmy Phoebus, bluntly; "an' doin' it with a nigger buyer is a fine splurge fur you, by smoke! I can't see where your pride is, Levin, to save my life."
Jack Wonnell, wearing a bell-crown, looked on with timid enjoyment of this plain talk, opening his mouth to grin, shutting it to shudder.
The big stranger, dropping Levin Dennis, strode in his long jack-boots, in which his coarse trousers were stuffed, right to the front of Jimmy Phoebus, and glared at him through his inflamed and unsightly eye. Jimmy met his scowl with a mildness almost amounting to contempt.
"Hark ye!" spoke the stranger, "you have been a picking a quarrel with me all yisterday, an' to-day air a beginnin' of it agin. Do you want to fight?"
"No," said Jimmy, whittling a stick; "I ain't fond of fighting, and I never do it of a Sunday. I wouldn't be guilty of fightin' you, by smoke!"
"I have tuk a bigger nug than you and nicked his kicks into the bottom of his gizzard till his liver-lights fell into my mauleys. So it's nish or knife betwixt us, my bene cove!"
He put his hand upon his hip, where he carried a sheath-knife.
"Raise that hand," said Jimmy Phoebus, with a quick pass of his whittling knife to the giant's throat. "Raise it or, by smoke! yer goes yer jugler."
As Phoebus spoke he lifted one foot, of a prodigious size, as deftly as an elephant hoisting his trunk, and kicked the man's hand from the hip pocket without moving either his own body or countenance. It was done so automatically that the other turned fiercely to see who kicked him, and his sheath-knife, partly raised, was flung by the force of the kick several yards away.
"Pick up his knife, Levin," Jimmy said, "or he'll hurt hisself with it."
At this moment Judge Custis came up and pushed the two powerful men apart.
"Fighting on Sunday in our public street," he exclaimed; "Phoebus, I wouldn't have thought it of you!"
"This yer bully, Judge," Jimmy said coolly, "started to take Prencess Anne the fust day, an' ole Meshach's Samson knocked him a sprawlin', an' Meshach hisself finished him. To-day he starts in to lead off yon poor imbecile, Levin Dennis, and, as I expresses my opinion of it, he draws his knife on me; so I takes my foot, Judge, that you have seen me untie a knot with, and I spiles his wrist with it. Take care of his knife, Levin,—he's a pore creetur without it."
"We'll have this out, nope for nope, or may I take the morning-drop!" growled the strange man.
"That kind of language ain't understood in honest company," Jimmy Phoebus said; "I s'pose it's thieves' lingo, used among your friends, or, maybe, big words you bully strangers with, when you want to cut a splurge. Now, as you've been licked by a nigger and kicked by a white man, maybe you can understand my language! Hark you, too, nigger buyer! Do you know where I saw you first?"
For the first time a flash of fire came from the pungy captain's black cherries of eyes, and his huge broad face of swarthy color expressed its full Oriental character:
"The last time I saw you, Joe Johnson, was not a-lurking in Judge Custis's kitchen fur no good, nor a-insultin' of the Judge's t'other visitor, Milburn of the steeple-top: it was a-huggin' the whippin'-post on the public green of Georgetown, State of Delaware, an' the sheriff a-layin' of it over your back; an' after he sot you up in the pillory I took the rottenest egg I could git, an' I bust it right on the eye where that nigger bruised you yisterday!"
The oppressive silence, as Joe Johnson slunk back, desperate with rage, yet unable to deny, was broken by Jack Wonnell's unthinking interjection:
"Whoop, Jimmy! Hooraw for Prencess Anne!"
"An' why did I git that egg an' make you smell it, Joe Johnson? Because, by smoke! you was a stinkin' kidnapper, robbing of the pore free niggers of their liberty, knowin' that they didn't carry no arms and couldn't make no good defense! That's your trade, an' it's the meanest an' most cowardly in the world. It's doin' what the Algerynes does in fair fighting. You're a fine American citizen, ain't you? I know your gang, and a bloody one it is, but you can't look a white man in the eye, because you're a thief and a coward!"
The Hellenic nature of the bay captain had never displayed itself to the Judge with this fulness, and he felt some natural admiration as he took Phoebus by the arm.
"Well, well!" said the Judge, "let him go now, Phoebus! Mr. Johnson, don't let me see you in Princess Anne again to-day. Continue your journey and disturb us no more, or I shall put criminal process upon you, and you see we have stout constables in Somerset."
As he led Phoebus around the corner of the bank, the Judge said:
"James, my wife is so sick that I must keep house with her this morning, and I want a little note left at the church for Mr. Tilghman. Will you take it?"
"Why, with pleasure, Judge," the nonchalant villager replied. "I don't look very handsome in the 'piscopal church, but I'll do a' arrand."
As the Judge wrote the note with his gold pencil on a leaf of his memorandum book, he said:
"James, did you identify that man yesterday?"
"Yes, I knowed him as soon as he come to the tavern. This mornin', seein' of him around town, I was afear'd Samson Hat would stumble on him, and the nigger buyer would kill him for yisterday's blow. Thinks I: 'Samson is too white a nigger to be killed that way, by smoke!' but the prejudice agin a nigger hittin' a white man is sich in this state that Joe Johnson, bloody as he is, would never have stretched hemp for Samson Hat; so I picked a quarrel with the nigger buyer to take the fight out of him before Samson should come. He won't fight nobody now in this town. His hokey-pokey is done yer."
"You took a great risk, Phoebus. He is such an evil fellow in his resentments, that I let him hide and eat in my quarters for fear of some ill requital if I refused. That gang of Patty Cannon's is the curse of the Eastern Shore."
"And if you'll pardon a younger and a porer man, Judge, it's jest sich gentlemen as you that lets it go on. You politicians give them people 'munity, an' let 'em alone because they fight fur you in 'lection times an' air popular with foresters an' pore trash, because they persecutes niggers an' treats to liquor. You know the laws is agin their actions on both sides of the Delaware line, but in Maryland they're a dead letter."
"You speak plain truth, James Phoebus, brave as your conduct. But the poor men must make a sentiment against these kidnappers, because among the ignorant poor they find their defenders and equals."
"Judge," the pungy captain said, "they'se a-makin' a pangymonum of all the destreak about Patty Cannon's. By smoke! it's a shame to liberty. In open day they lead free niggers, men, wimmin, an' little children, too, to be sold, who's free as my mommy and your daughter."
Judge Custis thought painfully of the scant freedom his daughter now enjoyed. Jimmy Phoebus continued:
"Now yer, we're raising hokey-pokey about the Algerynes and the Trypollytins capturin' of a few Christian people an' sellin' of 'em to Turkey, an' about the Turkey people makin' slaves of the Christian Greek folks. Henry Clay is cuttin' a big splurge about it. Money is bein' raised all over the country to send it to 'em. Commodo' Decatur was a big man for a-breakin' of it up. By smoke! they're sellin' more free people to death and hell along Mason and Dixon's line, than up the whole buzzum of the Mediterranean Sea."
The brown-skinned speaker was more excited now than he had been during all the collision with Joe Johnson.
"Indeed, Phoebus, they have kidnapped several thousand people, the Philadelphia abolitionists say, but the reports must be exaggerated. The demand for negroes is so great, since the cotton-gin and the foreign markets have made cotton a great staple, and the direct importation of slaves from Africa has been stopped, that there is a great run for border-state negroes, and free colored people seldom are righted when they have been pulled across the line."
"They never are righted, Judge Custis! I'm ashamed of my native state. Only a few years ago, when I was a boy, people around yer was a-freein' of their niggers, and it was understood that slavery would a-die out, an' everybody said, 'Let the evil thing go.' But niggers began to go up high; they got to be wuth eight hunderd dollars whair they wasn't wuth two hunderd; and all the politicians begun to say: 'Niggers is not fit to be free. Niggers is the bulrush, or the bulwork, or bull-something of our nation.' And then kidnapping of free niggers started, and the next thing they'll kidnap free American citizens!"
"Tut! tut! James! it will never go that far."
"Won't it? What did Joe Johnson say to me last night before the Washington Tavern? He said: 'I've sold whiter niggers than you, myself. I kin run you to market an' git my price for you!'"
The bay sailor took off his hat.
"Look at me!" he continued; "by smoke! look on my brown skin and black eyes an' coal black hair. Whair did they come from? They come from Greece, whair Leonidas an' Marky Bozarris and all them fellers came from: that's what my daddy said. He know'd better than me. I'm nothin' but a pore Eastern Shore man sailing my little vessel, but I'm a free-born man, and I tell you, Judge, it's a dangerous time when nothing but his shade of color protects a free man."
"James Phoebus," the Judge said, gravely, "I hope you believe me when I say that I think all these things outrages, and they grow out of the greater outrage of slavery itself. We are being governed by new states, hatched in the Southwest from the alligator eggs of old slavery, that had grown into political and moral disrepute with us in Maryland and Virginia."
"There's no nigger in me," Phoebus said, putting on his hat, "but I have taken these hints about my looking like a nigger to heart, and I'll take a nigger's part when he is imposed on, as if he was some of the body and blood of my Lord Jesus. Now you hear it!"
"And brave enough you are to mean it, my honest fellow. So do my errand, and good-morning, James."
As the Judge and Phoebus had turned the corner of the bank Samson Hat appeared, driving down Princess Anne's broad main street a young white girl.
"There's the nigger that set my peep in limbo," muttered the negro dealer, "but even he shall go past to-day. This accursed town is packed agin me."
He took a long look at Samson, however, who mildly returned it in the most respectful manner, as if he had never seen the strange gentleman before. "And now, my pals," Joe Johnson said, turning to Levin Dennis and Jack Wonnell, "we will all three go down to the bay and I'll pervide the lush, and pay the soap while you ketch the tarrapin, an' let me sleep my nazy off."
"I'll go an' no mistake!" cried Jack Wonnell, who had been taking a drink of pump-water out of his bell-crown. "So will you, Levin."
Levin Dennis hesitated; "I want to tell my mother first," he said, "maybe she won't like me fur to go of a Sunday. She'll send Jimmy Phoebus after me."
Joe Johnson took a bag of gold from inside his waist-band, hanging by a loop there, and held up a piece of five before the boy's bright eyes:
"Yer, kid! That's yourn if you don't have no mother about it. Pike away with me, pig widgeon, an' find your boat, and I pay you this pash at sundown."
Levin's credulous eyes shone, and with one reluctant look towards his mother's cottage he led the way into the country.
Little was said as they walked an hour or more towards the west, the stranger apparently brooding upon his indignities, and twice passing around the jug of brandy which Jack Wonnell was made to carry, and before noon they came to a considerable creek, out in which was anchored a small vessel bearing on her stern in illiterate, often inverted, letters the name: Ellenora Dennis.
"What's that glibe on yonder?" asked Johnson, pointing to the letters.
"That's his mother's name, boss," Jack Wonnell said, hitching at the stranger's breeches, "she's a widder, an' purty as a peach."
"Ain't you got no daddy, pore pap-lap?" Johnson asked coarsely.
"He's gone sence I was a baby," Levin answered; "he went on Judge Custis's uncle's privateer that never was heard of no mo'. We don't know if the British tuk him an' hanged him, or if the Idy sunk somewhair an' drowned him, or if she's a-sailin' away off. I has to take care of mother."
"Humph!" growled Joe Johnson; "son of a gander and a gilflirt: purty kid, too—got the ole families into him. No better loll for me!"
Drawing a punt concealed under some marsh brush, young Levin pushed off to his vessel, made her tidy by a few changes, pulled up the jib, and brought her in to the bank.
"Mr. Johnson, I never ketched tarrapin of a Sunday befo', but I reckon tain't no harm."
"Harm? what's that?" Joe Johnson sneered. "Hark ye, boy, no funking with me now! When I begin with a kinchin cove I starts squar. If ye think it's wicked to ketch tarrapin, why, I want 'em caught. If you don't keer, you kin jest stick up yer sail an' pint for Deil's Island, an' we'll make it a woyige!"
Not quite clear as to his instructions, Levin took the tiller, and Jack Wonnell superserviceably got the terrapin tongs, and stood in the bow while the cat-boat skimmed down Monie Creek before a good breeze and a lee tide. The chain dredge for terrapin was thrown over the side, but the boat made too much sail for Wonnell to take more than one or two tardy animals with his tongs, as they hovered around the transparent bottoms making ready for their winter descent into the mud.
"Take up your dredge," Johnson commanded in a few minutes. "It makes us go slow."
Jack Wonnell obediently made a few turns on the windlass, and as the bag came up, two terrapin of the then common diamond-back variety rolled on the deck, and a skilpot.
"That's enough tarrapins," Johnson said, "unless you're afraid it's doin' wrong, Levin. Say, spooney! is it wicked now?"
The boy laughed, a little pale of face, and Johnson closed his remark with:
"Nawthin' ain't wicked! Sunday is dustman's day to be broke by heroes. D'ye s'pose yer daddy on the privateer wouldn't lick the British of a Sunday? The way to git rich, sonny, is to break all the commandments at the post, an' pick 'em up agin at the score!"
"That's the way, sho' as you're born. Whoop! Johnson, you got it right!" chuckled Jack Wonnell, not clear as to what was said.
Levin Dennis felt a little shudder pass through him, but he gave the stranger the helm, and by Wonnell's aid raised the main-sheet, and the light boat went winging across Monie Bay, starting the water-fowl as it tacked through them.
"Here's another swig all round," Joe Johnson exclaimed, "and then I'll go below to lollop an hour, for I'm bloody lush."
Levin drank again, and it took the shuddering instinct out of him, and Joe Johnson cried, as he disappeared into the little cabin:
"Ree-collect! You pint her for Deil's Island thoroughfare, and wake me, pals, at the old camp-ground, fur to dine."
The two Princess Anne neighbors felt relieved of the long man's company, and Jack Wonnell lay on his back astern and grinned at Levin as if there was a great unknown joke or coincidence between them, finally whispering:
"Where does he git all his gold?"
Levin shook his head:
"Can't tell, Jack, to save my life. Nigger tradin', I reckon. It must be payin' business, Jack."
"Best business in the world. Wish I had a little of his money, Levin. Hu-ue-oo!" giving a low shout, "then wouldn't I git my gal!"
"Who's yo' gal, Jack, for this winter?"
"You won't tell nobody, Levin?"
"No, hope I may die!"
Jack put his bell-crown up to the side of his mouth, executed another grin, winked one eye knowingly, and whispered:
"Purty yaller Roxy, Jedge Custis's gal."
"She won't have nothin' to do with you, Jack; she's too well raised."
"She ain't had yit, Levin, but I'm follerin' of her aroun'. There ain't no white gal in Princess Anne purty as them two house gals of Jedge Custis's."
"Well, what kin you do with a nigger, Jack? You never kin marry her."
"Maybe I kin buy her, Levin."
"She ain't fur sale, Jack. Jedge Custis never sells no niggers. You can't buy a nigger to save your life. When some of Jedge Custis's niggers in Accomac run away he wouldn't let people hunt for 'em."
Jack Wonnell put his bell-crown to the side of his mouth again, grinned hideously, and whispered:
"Kin you keep a secret?"
Levin nodded, yes.
"Hope a may die?"
"Hope I may die, Jack."'
"Jedge Custis is gwyn to be sold out by Meshach Milburn."
"What a lie, Jack!"
Levin let the tiller half go, and the Ellenora Dennis swung round and flapped her sails as if such news had driven all the wind out of them.
"Jack," Levin exclaimed, "Jimmy Phoebus says you've turned out a reg'lar liar. Now I believe it, too."
"Hope I may die!" Jack Wonnell protested, "I never does lie: it's too hard to find lies for things when people comes an' tells you, or you kin see fur yourseff. Jimmy called me a liar fur sayin' Meshach Milburn was gone into the Jedge's front do', but we saw him come out of it, didn't we?"
"Yes, that was so; but this yer one is an awful lie."
"Well, Levin, purty yaller Roxy, she told me, an' she's too purty to tell lies. I loves that gal like peach-an'-honey, Levin, an' I don't keer whether she's white or no. She's mos' as white as me, an' a good deal better."
"So you do talk to Roxy some?"
"Levin, I'll tell you all about it, an' you won't tell nobody. Well, I picks magnoleys an' wild roses an' sich purty things fur Roxy to give her missis, an' Roxy gives me cake, an' chicken, an' coffee at the back door, knowin' I ain't got much to buy 'em with. Lord bless her! she don't half know I don't think as much of them cakes an' snacks an' warm rich coffee, as I do of her purty eyes. She's a white angel with a little coffee in her blood, but it's ole Goverment Javey an' more than half cream!"
Here Levin laughed loudly, and said that Jack must have learned that out of a book.
"Oh," said Jack, shutting one eye hard and joining in the grin, "sence I ben in love I kin say lots o' smart things like that. I have seen purty little Roxy grow up from a chile, an' as she begin to round up and git tall, says I: 'Nigger or no nigger, she's angel!' The white gals they all throwed off on me, caze I wasn't earnin' nothin', an' I sot my eyes on Roxy Custis an' I says: 'What kin I do fur to make her shine to me?' So I kept a-follerin' of her everywhere, an' I see her one day comin' along the road a-pickin' of the wild blossoms an' with her han' full of 'em, an' I says: 'Roxy, what you doin' of with them flowers?' 'They're fur my missis, Miss Vesty,' says she; 'she lives on wild flowers, an' they're all I has to give her, an' I want her to love me as much as Virgie.' You see Levin, the t'other gal, Virgie, waits on Miss Custis, an' Roxy she was a little jealous. Then I says: 'Roxy, I kin git you flowers for your missis. I know whair the magnoleys is bloomin' the whitest an' a-scentin' the whole day long.' 'Do you?' says she, 'Oh, Mr. Wonnell, I would like to have a bunch of magnoleys to put on Miss Vesty's toilet every day.' 'I'll git 'em fur you, Roxy,' says I, 'becaze I allus thought you was a little beauty.' Says she: 'I'd give most anything to surprise Miss Vesty with flowers every day,—rale wild ones!' 'Then,' says I, 'Roxy, I'll git' em fur you for a kiss!' An' she most a-blushed blood-red an' ran away."
"That's what I told you, Jack, she's raised too well to be talkin' to white fellers."
"Nobody's raised too well," rejoined Jack Wonnell, "to be deef to love and kindness. Says I to myself: 'Jack, you skeert that gal. Now say nothin' mo' about the kiss, an' go git her the flowers every day, an' she'll think mo' of you!' So away I went to King's Creek an' pulled the magnoleys, an' I come to the do' an' asked ole Hominy to bring down Roxy for a minute. Roxy she come, an' was gwyn to run away till she saw my flowers, an' she stopped a minute an' says I: 'I jest got 'em for you, Roxy, becaze I see you when you was a little chile.' She tuk 'em an' says: 'It was very kind of you, sir,' an' kercheyed an' melted away. Next day I was thar agin, Levin, an' I says, to make it seem like a trade: 'Roxy, kin ye give me a cup of coffee?' 'Law, yes!' she says, forgittin' her blushin' right away. So I kept shady on love an' put it on the groun's of coffee, an', Levin, I everlastin'ly fotched the wild flowers till that gal got to be a-lookin' fur me at the do' every day, an' I'd hide an' see her come to the window an' peep fur me. One day she says, as I was drinkin' of the coffee: 'Mr. Wonnell, what do you put yourself at sech pains fur to 'blige a pore slave girl that ain't but half white?' I thought a minute, so as to say something that wouldn't skeer her off, an' I says: 'Roxy, it's becaze I'm sech a pore, worthless feller that the white gals won't look at me!' The tears come right to her eyes, an' she says: 'Mr. Wonnell, if I was white I would look at you.' 'I believe you would,' says I, 'becaze you've got a white heart, Roxy.'"
"Jack, you're a dog-gone smart lover," said Levin. "I didn't think you had no kind of sense."
"Love-makin' is the best sense of all," said Jack, "it's that sense that keeps the woods a-full of music, where the birds an' bees is twitterin' and hummin' an' a-matin'. Love is the last sense to come, after you can see, an' hear, an' feel, an' they're give to people to find out something purty to love. Love was the whole day's work in the garding of Eden befo' man got too industrious, an' it's all the work I do, an' I hope I do it well."
"Now what did Roxy tell you about Meshach Milburn and Judge Custis?"
"You see, Levin, as I kept up the flower-givin', I could see a little love start up in purty Roxy, but she didn't understand it, an' I was as keerful not to skeer it as if it had been a snow-bird hoppin' to a crumb of bread. She would talk to me about her little troubles, an' I listened keerful as her mammy, becaze little things is what wimmin lives on, an' a lady's man is only a feller patient with their little talk. The more I listened the more she liked to tell me, an' I saw that Roxy was a-thinkin' a great deal of me, Levin, without she or me lettin' of it on.
"This mornin' she came to the door with her eyes jest wiped from a-cryin'. Says I, 'Roxy, little dear, what ails you?' 'Oh, nothin',' says she, 'I can't tell you if thair is.' 'Here's your wild flowers for Miss Vesty,' says I, 'beautiful to see!' 'Oh,' says Roxy, 'Miss Vesty won't need 'em now.' Says I: 'Roxy, air you goin' to have all that trouble on your mind an' not let me carry some of it?' 'Oh, my friend,' she says, 'I must tell you, fur you have been so kind to me: don't whisper it! But my master is in debt to Meshach Milburn, an' he's married Miss Vesty, an' we think we're all gwyn to be sold or made to live with that man that wears the bad man's hat.' Says I: 'Roxy, darling, maybe I kin buy you.' 'Oh, I wish you was my master,' Roxy said. An' jest at that minute, love bein' oncommon strong over me this mornin', I took the first kiss from Roxy's mouth, an' she didn't say nothin' agin it."
Here Jack Wonnell kissed the atmosphere several times with deep unction, and ended by a low whoop and whistle, and looked at Levin Dennis with one eye shut, as if to get Levin's opinion of all this.
"Well," Levin said, "I never ain't been in love yet. I 'spect I ought to be. But mother is all I kin take keer of, and, pore soul! she's in so much trouble over me that she can't love nobody else. I git drunk, an' go off sailin' so long, an' spend my money so keerless, that if the Lord didn't look out for her maybe she'd starve."
"Yes, Levin, you likes brandy as much as I likes the gals. You go off for tarrapin, an' taters, an' oysters, an' peddles 'em aroun' Prencess Anne, an' then somebody pulls you in the grog-shops an' away goes your money, an' your mother ain't got no tea and coffee."
"Jack," said Levin, abruptly, "do you believe in ghosts?"
"I don't know, Levin. If I saw one maybe I would, but I'm too trashy for ghosts to see me."
"Well, now," Levin said, "there's a ghost, or something, that looks out for mother when I'm drunk or gone, an' it leaves tea and coffee in the window for her."
"Sho'! why, Levin, that's Jimmy Phoebus! He's ben in love with your mother for years an' she won't have him, but he keep's a hangin' on. He's your mother's ghost."
"No, Jack. I thought it was till Jimmy come to me an' asked me who I guessed it was. He was a little jealous, I reckon. I said: 'It's you, of course, Jimmy!' 'No,' says he, 'by smoke! I don't do any hokey-pokey like that. What I give, I go and give with no sneakin' about it or prying into Ellanory's poverty.' He was right down mad, but he couldn't find nothing out. So I think it may be the ghost of father, drowned at sea, bringing tea and coffee, and sometimes a dress, and a pair of shoes, too, to keep mother warm."
Levin Dennis, standing against the tiller, seemed to Jack Wonnell to be fair and spiritual as a woman, as his comely brow and large eyes grew serious with this relation of his father's mysterious fate. His dark auburn hair, in short ringlets parted in the middle, gave his sunburnt countenance a likeness to some of the old gentle families with which he was allied, his father having been a son of younger sons, in a date when primogeniture prevailed in all this bay region; and therefore, possessing nothing, he went into the war against England as a sailor, and his family influence obtained for him command of the new privateer launched on the Manokin, the Ida, which set sail with a good crew and superior armament, amid the acclaims of all Somerset, and, sailing past the Capes into the ocean with all her bunting flying, slid down the farther world to everlasting silence and the vapors of mystery.
His widow waited long and patiently with this only boy, Levin, a scarcely lisping child, and stories of every kind were current; that the captain had been captured and hanged by the enemy, and the ship burned or condemned; that he had hoisted the black flag and become a pirate and quit the western world for the East India waters; and finally, that the Ida foundered off Guiana and every soul was drowned.
The widow, a beautiful woman, neglected by her husband's connection, who were sullen at the loss of their investment and their expected profits from the vessel, lived in the little house she had owned before her marriage, and sank into the plainer class of people, almost losing her identity with the ruling families to which her son was kin, but in her humbler class highly respected and solicited in marriage.
She was still young and fair, and Jimmy Phoebus, a hale bachelor, and captain of a trading schooner, had endeavored to marry her for years, and held on to his hope patiently, exercising many kind offices for her, though his means were limited, and he had poor kin looking to him for help. She feared the absent lover might be alive and return to find her another's wife.
So her son, growing up without a father's discipline, and being too respectable, it was supposed, to put to a trade or be indentured, lived by fugitive pursuits on land and water, hauling and peddling vegetables and provisions at times; and now, by the gift of Jimmy Phoebus, he sailed his little sloop or cat-boat chiefly to carry terrapin to Baltimore. Rough sailor acquaintances, exposure, a credulous, easily led nature, and almost total neglect of school at a time when education was a high privilege, had made him wayward and often intemperate, but without developing any selfish or cruel characteristics, and being of an agreeable exterior and affable disposition, he fell a prey to any strangers who might be in town—gunners, negro buyers, idle planters, and spreeing overseers, many of whom hired his company and vessel to take their excursions; and, while loving his mother, and being her only reliance, she saw him slipping further and further into manhood without steadiness or education or fixed principles, or any female influence to draw him to domestic constraints.
His slender, supple figure, and marks of gentility in his limbs, and shapely brow and large, gentle eyes, poorly consorted with ragged clothes, bare feet, and absolute dependence on chance employment, the latter becoming more precarious as his age and stature made more demands for money through his false appetites.
"Jack," said Levin Dennis, "what do you mean by gittin' money to buy Roxy Custis? You never git no money."
"Won't he give it to me? Him?" Jack Wonnell indicated the hatchway down which Joe Johnson had gone. "He's got bags of it."
"Him? Why, Jack, how much money do you s'pose a beautiful servant like Roxy will fetch?"
"Won't that piece he's gwyn to give you buy her?"
"Five dollars? Why, you poor fool, she will bring five hundred dollars—maybe thousands. This nigger trader, with all his gold, would be hard pushed, I 'spect, to buy Roxy."
Jack looked downcast, and failed to wink or whistle.
"Gals like her," said Levin, "goes for mistresses to rich men, an' sometimes they eddicates 'em, I've hearn tell, to know music, an' writin', an' grammar, an' them things."
"And a pore man who wouldn't abuse a gal most white like that, but would respect her an' marry her, too, Levin, they makes laws agin him! Maybe I kin steal Roxy?"
Here Jack whistled low, shut one eye with deep knowingness, and grinned behind his bell-crown.
"Oh, you simpleton!" Levin said. "Where could you take her to?"
"Pennsylvany, Cannydy, Turkey, or some of them Abolition states up thar"—Jack Wonnell indicated the North with his finger. "Ain't there no place where a white man kin treat a bright-skinned slave like that as if they both was a Christian?"
"No," answered Levin, "not in this world."
The hero of the bell-crowns was much affected, and Levin thought he really was whimpering, though his vacant grin was a poor frame for grief.
"Jack," said Levin, "if what Roxy Custis told is true, the gal is the slave of your pertickler enemy, Meshach Milburn."
The wearer of the rival species of hat was "badly sobered," as Levin mentally expressed it, at this dismal solution of his gentle dreams of love. He arose and walked to the bow of the boat, and looked down into the flying waves over which the cat-boat skipped, as if he might seek the solution of his own disconnected yet harmless life in the bottom of the sound, among the oyster rocks.
The water was now speckled with canoes and periaugers (pirogues), and little sail-boats coming from Deil's Island preaching, and before them rose out of the bay the low woody islands and capes which, with white straits between, enclose from the long blue nave of the Chesapeake the scalloped aisle called Tangier Sound. Like pigeons and wrens around some cathedral, the wild-fowl flew in these involuted, almost fantastic, architectures of archipelago and peninsula, which, lying flat to the water, yet took ragged perspective there, as if some Gothic builder had laid his foundations, but had not bent the tall pines together, that grew above in palm-like groves, to make the groined roofs and arches of his design.
Here could be seen the ospreys, sailing in graceful pairs above the herrings' or the old wives' shoals, taking with elegance and conscientiousness the daily animal food that even man demands, with all his sentiments and gospels. There the canvas-back duck, in a little flock, broke the Sabbath to dive for the wild celery that grows beneath the sound. In yonder tree the bald eagle was starting out upon his Algerine work of vehemence and piety, to intercept the hawk and steal his cargo. The wild swan might be those faint, far birds flying so high over Kedge's Straits, in the south, and the black loon, spreading his wings like a demon, disappears close to the cat-boat, and rises no more till memory has forgotten him.
Levin Dennis steered close to a point where he had been wont to scatter food for the black ducks, and draw them to the gunner's ambush. Sheldrakes and goosanders, coots and gulls, whifflers and dippers, made the best of Sunday, and bathed and wrote their winged penmanship on the white sheet of water.
Poor Jack Wonnell returning, with something on his face between a grin and a tear, said:
"Levin, didn't I never harm nobody?"
"Not as I ever heard about, Jack. They say you ain't got no sense, but you never fight nobody. Everybody kin git along with you, Jack!"
"No they can't, Levin. Meshach Milburn hates the ground I tread on. If he know'd I was in love with little Roxy he'd marry her to a nigger."
"What makes him hate you so, Jack?"
"Becaze I wears my bell-crowns, and he wears the steeple-top hat. He thinks I'm a-mockin' of him. Levin, I ain't got no other kind of hat to wear. Meshach Milburn needn't wear that air hat, but if I don't wear a bell-crown I must go bareheaded. I bought that lot of hats with the only dollar or two I ever had, as they say a fool an' his money is soon parted. The boys said they was dirt cheap. Now there wouldn't be nothin' to see wrong in my bell-crowns, ef all the people wasn't pintin' at ole Milburn's Entail Hat, as they call it. Why can't he, rich as a Jew, go buy a new hat, or buy me one? I don't want to mock him. I'm afeard of him! He looks at me with them loaded pistols of eyes an' it mos' makes me cry, becaze I ain't done nothin'. I'm as pore as them trash ducks," pointing to a brace of dippers, which were of no value in the market, "but I ain't got no malice."
"No, Jack. That trader could give you that bag of gold to keep and it would be safe, becaze it wasn't your own."
"I 'spect I will have to go to the pore-house some day, Levin; my ole aunt, who takes keer of me, can't live long, an' I ain't good fur nothin'. I can't git no jobs and I run arrands for everybody fur nothin', but the first money I git I'm gwyn to buy a new hat with. Ever sence I wore these bell-crowns Meshach hates me, an' I hope he's the only man that does hate me, Levin. I don't think Meshach kin be a bad man."
"How kin he be good, Jack?"
"Why, I have seen him in the woods when he didn't see me, calling up the birds. Danged if they didn't come and git on him! Now birds ain't gwyn to hop on a man that's a devil, Levin. Do you believe he deals with the devil?"
"I do," said Levin; "I see sich quare things I believe in most anything quare. These yer tarrapins has got sense, and they're no more like it than a stone. One night when we hadn't nothin' to eat at home, mother and me, an' she was a sittin' there with tears in her eyes wonderin' what we'd do next day, I ree-collected, Levin, that there was four tarrapins down in the cellar,—black tarrapin, that had been put there six months before. I said to mother: 'I 'spect them ole tarrapins is dead an' starved, but I'll go see.'
"I found 'em under the wood-pile, an' they didn't smell nor nothin', so I took 'em all four up to mother an' put 'em on the kitchen table befo' the fire, an' I devilled 'em every way to wake up, an' crawl, and show some signs of life. No, they was stone dead!
"'Well, mother,' says I, 'put on your bilin' water an' we'll see if dead tarrapin is fit fur to eat!' She smiled through her cryin', and put the water on, an' when it began to bubble in the pot, I lifted up one of them tarrapins an' dropped him in the bilin' water, an' Jack, I'll be dog-goned if them other three tarrapins didn't run right off the table an' drop on to the flo' an' skeet for that cellar door!
"I caught 'em an' biled 'em, an' as we sat there eatin' stewed tarrapin without no salt, or sherry wine, or coffee, or even corn-bread, we heard somethin' like paper scratchin' on the window, an' mother fell back and clasped her hands, an' said, 'There, do you hear the ghost?'
"I rushed to the door an' hopped into the yard, an' not a livin' creature did I see; but there on the window-shelf was packages of salt, coffee, tea, and flour, and a half a dollar in silver! I run back in the house, white as a ghost myself, an' I cried out, 'Mother, it's father's sperrit come again!'
"She made me git on my knees an' pray with her to give poor father's spirit comfort in his home or in heaven!"
SABBATH AND CANOE.
They now approached an island with low bluffs, on which appeared a considerable village, shining whitely amid the straight brown trunks of a grove of pine-trees; but no people seemed moving about it, and they saw but a single vessel at anchor in the thoroughfare or strait they steered into—a canoe, which revealed on her bow, as they rounded to beside her, a word neither Levin nor Jack could read, except by hearsay: The Methodist.
"Jack," said Levin, "that was a big pine-tree the parson hewed his canoe outen. She fell like cannon, going off inter the swamp. She's a'most five fathom long, an' a man can lie down acrost her. She's to carry the Methodis' preachers out to the islands."
"Hadn't we better wake him up now?" said Jack Wonnell; "I 'spect you want a drink, Levin?"
"Yes; I got a thirst on me like fire," Levin exclaimed. "I could do somethin' wicked now, I 'spect, for a drink of that brandy."
Mooring against the shore, Levin went to his passenger, who was still in deep sleep stretched upon the bare floor of the hold or cabin—a brawny, wiry man, with strong chin and long jaws, and his reddish, dark beard matted with the blood that had spilled from his disfigured eye, and now disguised nearly one half his face, and gave him a wild, bandit look.
"Cap'n! mister! boss! wake up! We have come to Deil's Island."
The long man, lying on his back, seemed unable to turn over upon his side, though he muttered in his stirred sleep such words as Levin could not understand:
"The darbies, Patty! Make haste with them darbies! Put the nippers on her wrists an' twist 'em. Ha! the mort is dying. Well, to the garden with her!"
At this he awoke, and turned his cold, light eyes on Levin, and leaped to his feet.
"Did you hear me?" he cried. "It was only nums, kid, and jabber of a nazy man. Some day this sleep-talk will grow my neck-weed. Don't mind me, Levin! Come, lush and cock an organ with me, my bene cove!"
"If you mean brandy," Levin said, "I must have some or I'll jump out of my skin. I feel like the man with the poker was a-comin'."
Joe Johnson gave him the jug and held it up, and the boy drank like one desperate.
"How the young jagger lushes his jockey," the tall man muttered. "He's in Job's dock to-day. I'll take no more. A bloody fool I was all yesterday, an' oaring with my picture-frame. What place is this?"
"Deil's Island, sir."
"Ha! so it is. 'Twas Devil's Island once, till the Methodies changed it fur politeness. This is the camp-meetin', then? Yer, Wonnell, take this piece of money, an' go to some house an' fetch us a bite of dinner. We'll wait fur you."
The tall man led the way to the heart of the grove of pines, where the seeming town was found—a deserted religious encampment of durable wooden shells, or huts, in concentric circles of horseshoe shape, and at the open end of the circle was the preaching-stand, a shed elevated above the empty benches and pegs of removed benches, and which had a wide shelf running across the whole front for the preacher's Bible, and to receive his thwacks as he walked up and down his platform.
It looked a little mysterious now, with the many evidences of a large human occupation in the recent summer, to see this naked town and hollow pulpit lying so suggestively under the long moan of the pine-trees, conferring together like dread angels in council, and expressing at every rising breeze their impatience with the sins of men.
At times the great branches paused awhile, scarcely murmuring, as if they were brooding on some question propounded in their council, or listening to human witnesses below; and then they would gravely converse, as the regular zephyrs moved in and out among them, and pause again, as if their decision was almost dreaded by themselves. At intervals, a stern spirit in the pines would rise and thunder and shake the shafts of the trees, and others would answer him, and patience would have a season again. And so, with scarcely ever a silence that remained more than a moment, this council went on all day, continued all night, was resumed as the sun arose to comfort the world again, ceased not when the rainbow hung out its perennial assurance upon the storm, and typified to trembling worshippers the great synod of the Creator, in everlasting session, ready to smite the world with fire, but suspending sentence in the evergreen pity of God.
In one of the deserted shells, or "tents," of pine, with neatly shingled roof, facing the preaching-booth, Joe Johnson and Levin Dennis found benches, and, at the tall man's example, Levin also lighted a pipe, and looked out between the escapes of smoke at Tangier Sound, deserted as this camp-ground on the Sabbath, since the worshippers had reached home from church in their canoes. He thought of his lonely mother in the town of Princess Anne, wondering where he was, and of the Sundays fast speeding by and bringing him to manhood, with no change in their condition for the better, but penury and disappointment, a vague expectation of the dead to return, and deeper intemperance of the dead man's son and widow's only hope. He would have cried out with a sense of misery contagious from the music of those pines above him, perhaps, if the brandy had not begun to creep along his veins and shine bold in his large, girlish eyes.
"Levin," said Joe Johnson, "don't you like me?"
"Yes, Mr. Johnson, I think I does, 'cept when you use them quare words I can't understan'."
"I'm dead struck with you, Levin," Joe Johnson said. "I want to fix you an' your mother comfortable. You're blood stock, an' ought to be stabled on gold oats."
He drew the canvas bag of eagles and half-eagles out of his trousers, and held its mouth open for Levin to feast his eyes.
"Thar," said he, "I told you, Levin, I was a-goin' to give you one of them purties. I've changed my mind; I'm a-goin' to give you five of 'em!"
"My Lord!" exclaimed Levin; "that's twenty-five dollars, ain't it, sir?"
"Oll korrect, Levin. Five of them finniffs makes a quarter of a hundred dollars—more posh, Levin, I 'spect, than ever you see."
"I never had but ten, sir, at a time, an' that I put in this boat, and Jimmy Phoebus put ten to it, an' that paid for her."
"What a stingy pam he was to give you only ten!" Joe Johnson exclaimed, with disgust. "Ain't I a better friend to ye? Yer, take the money now!"
He pressed the gold pieces ostentatiously upon the boy, who looked at them with fear, yet fascination.
"What am I to do to earn all this, Mr. Johnson?"
"You comes with me fur a week,—you an' yer boat. I charters you at that figger!"
"Well, when we discharge pigwidgeon, your friend with the bell shape—Jack Sheep yer—all you got to do, Levin, is to send the hard cole to your mother by him, sayin', 'Bless you, marm; my wages will excoos my face!'"
"Oh, yes, that will do. Mother will know by the money that I have got a long job, and not be a 'spectin' of me. When do we sail, cap'n?"
"How fur is it to Prencess Anne? What time to-night kin you make it?"
Levin stepped out of the shanty and looked at the wind and water, his pulses all a-flutter between the strong brandy and the wonderful gold in his pocket; and as he watched the veering of the pine-boughs to see which way they moved, their moaning seemed to be the voice of his widowed mother by her kitchen fire that day, saying, "He is in trouble. Where is my son? Why stays he, O my Levin?"
"The tide is on the stand, cap'n, an' will turn in half an hour. It will take us up the Manokin with this wind by dark, ef we can get water enough in the thoroughfare without going around by Little Deil's."
Johnson came out and made the same observations on wind and flood.
"I reckon it's eighteen miles to the head of deep water on Manokin, Levin?"
"Not quite, sir, through the thoroughfare; it's nigh eighteen. We've got four hours and a half of daylight yet."
"Then stand for the head of Manokin an' obey all my orders like a 'listed man, an' I'll git ye and yer mother a plantation, an' stock it with niggers for you. Come, brace up again!"
He offered the brandy-jug, and encouraged the boy to drink heartily, and affected to do the same himself, though it was but a feint.
While they stood in the shelter of the camp cottage going through this pastime, a voice from near at hand resounded through the woods, and made their blood stop to circulate for an instant on the arrested heart.
It was a voice making a prayer at a high pitch, as if intended to cover all the camp-ground and be heard to the outermost bounds. The sincerity of the sound made Levin Dennis feel that the camp might still be inhabited by some spiritual congregation which the eyes of profane visitors could not see—the remainder of the saints, the souls of the converted, or an ethereal host from above the solemn organ of the pines.
The idea had scarcely seized upon him when a fluttering of wings was heard, and on the old camp-ground alighted a flock of white wild-geese.
They balanced their large deacon and elder-like bodies upon the empty seats, and there set up as grave a squawking as if they were singing a hymn, with that indifferent knowledge of harmony possessed by camp-meeting choristers.
The accident of their coming—no unusual thing on these exposed islands—might have made untroubled people only laugh, but it produced the contrary effect on both our visitors. Levin felt a superstitious fear seize upon him, and, turning to Joe Johnson, he saw that person with a face so pale that it showed his blood-gathered eye yet darker and more hideous, like a brand upon his countenance, gazing upon the late empty preaching-booth.
There Levin, turning his eyes, observed a solitary man kneeling, of a plain appearance and dress, and with locks of womanly hair falling carelessly upon a large and almost noble forehead, his arms raised to heaven and his voice flowing out in a mellow stream of supplication, in the intervals of which the geese could be heard quacking aloud and paddling their wings as they balanced and hopped over the camp-meeting arena.
"Who's he a prayin' to?" Levin asked of Joe Johnson.
"Quemar!" muttered Johnson, as if he were terrified at something; "his potato-trap is swallerin' ghosts! Curse on the swaddler? The kid will whindle directly. Come, boy, come!"
At this, seizing Levin's hand, partly in persuasion, partly as if he wanted the lad's protection, Johnson, fairly trembling, ran for the boat.
Levin was frightened too; the more that he saw the stronger man's fear. As they dashed across the camp-ground the wild-geese took alarm, and, some running, some flying, scudded towards the Sound. A voice from the pulpit cried after the retreating men, but only to increase their fears, and when they leaped on board the Ellenora, Joe Johnson was livid with terror. He ran partly down the companion-way and stopped to look back: the wild-geese were now spreading their wings like a fleet of fleecy sails, and fluttering down the sound in gallant convoy.
"What did you run for?" Levin said; "the jug of brandy is left. It was only Parson Thomas!"
"You run first," the man replied, gasping for breath, and a little ashamed. "What did he preach at me fur?"
"That's the parson of the islands," Levin said; "he started Deil's Island camp-meetin' last year, an' his favo-rite preacher dyin' jess as he got it done, ole Pap Thomas, who lives yer, comes out to the preachin'-stand sometimes alone, an' has a cry and a prayer. The geese scared me, cap'n."
"Push off!" ordered Joe Johnson; "my teeth are most a-chatterin' with the chill that mace cove give me."
He pulled up the anchor, hoisted the jib, and showed such nervous apprehension that Levin subsided to managing the helm, and steered down the thoroughfare, or strait, which, for some distance, wound around the camp-meeting grove.
"Yer's Jack Wonnell comin' with the jug and the dinner. Sha'n't we wait fur him?"
"He's got the kingdom-come cove with him! No; stop for nothing."
But the boat had to stop, as her keel scraped the mud in the almost dry thoroughfare, and a plain island man of benevolent, nearly credulous, face, hailed them, saying, stutteringly:
"Ne-ne-neighbors, do-don't be sc-scared that a-way. We ain't he-eee-thens yer. Br-br-brother Wonnell's bringin' your taters and pone."
"Come on, an' be damned to you?" Johnson cried to Wonnell. "What do we want with this tolabon sauce?"
"Sw-w-wear not a-a-at all!" cried the parson of the islands. "'Twon't l-l-lift ye over l-l-low tide, brother. Stay an' eat, an' t-t-talk a little with us. Why, I have seen that f-f-face before!"
"Never in a gospel-ken before," the slave-dealer muttered, with an oath.
"B-but it can't be him," spoke the island parson, with solemnity. "Ole Ebenezer Johnson died s-s-several year ago."
"Who was he?" cried the slave-dealer, with a little respectful interest.
"Ebenez-z-zer Johnson," Parson Thomas replied, with a mild and credulous countenance, "was the wickedest man on the Eastern Sho' for twenty year. P-pardon me, brother, fur a likin' ye to him, but somethin' in ye y-y-yur," passing his hand upon his skull, "p-puts me in mind of him. It was hyur he was shot"—still keeping his hand upon the skull—"through an' through, an' died the death of the sinner. I have p-p-put my f-finger through the two holes where the b-bullet come an' went, an' rid this w-world of a d-d-demon!"
The story appeared to have a fascination for the slave-buyer, Levin Dennis thought, and Johnson exclaimed:
"Well, hod, did he ever run afoul of you?"
"O y-y-yes," answered the genial island exhorter, with obliging loquacity; "it was tw-w-enty-s-seven year ago that I see ole Eben-nezer Johnson come on the camp-ground of P-p-pungoteague with a mob of p-p-pirates to break up the f-f-fust Methodies camp-meetin' ever held about these sounds. He was en-c-couraged by ole King Custis, f-f-father of our Daniel Custis, of Prencess Anne, who was a b-b-big man fur the Establish Church an' d-dispised the Methodies. It was a cowardly thing to do, but while King C-C-Custis laughed and talked a' durin' of the p-p-preachin', Eb-b-b-benezer Johnson started a fight. The preacher c-c-cut his eye and saw who was a w-w-winkin' at the interference. He was a l-l-lion of the L-l-lord, and bore the c-c-commission of Immanuel. He knowed he was outen the s-s-state of Maryland and over in the V-v-vergeenia county of Ac-c-comack, an' that if the l-l-aws was a little more t-t-tolerant sence the Revolutionary war the ar-r-ristocracy there was b-bitter as ever towards the people of the Lord. He t-t-urned from his preachin' at last, right on King Custis, an' he pinted his f-finger at him straight. The p-preacher was L-l-lorenzo Dow."
"Wheoo!" Jack Wonnell exclaimed, with a coinciding grin; "I've hearn of him: a Yankee-faced feller, like a woman, with long braids an' curls of hair fallin' around of his breast an' back, and a ole straw hat, rain or shine."
"That was L-l-lorenzo Dow," the parson of the islands said. "He turned on K-k-king Custis and screamed, 'W-who art thou? The L-lord shall smite thee, w-whited sepulchre, and m-mock thee in thy ch-h-hildren's children, thou A-a-a-hab and thy J-j-jezebel!' It was King Custis's wife he pinted at, too, the greatest lady and heiress in V-v-virgeenia. Sh-h-e f-f-ainted in f-fear or r-rage to hear the prophecy and insult of her. Then, turning on Eb-b-benezer Johnson, Lorenzo Dow cried out, 'The dogs shall lie buried safer than his bones. Lay hold of him, brethren!' And s-something in Lorenzo Dow's t-trumpet-blast made every M-methodis' a giant. They s-swept on Ebenezer Johnson, the bully of thr-ree states, an' beat him to the ground, an' raced his band to their boats, an' then they th-hrew him into a little j-j-jail they had on the camp-ground, f-for safe keeping."
"What did King Custis do then, Pappy Thomas?" asked Levin.
"Why, brethren, what did he do but use his f-f-family influence to g-git out a warrant for the preacher and his m-managers, on the ground of f-false imprisonment and s-slander! Lorenzo Dow got over into Maryland s-safe from the warrant, but our p-presiding elder was p-put in jail till he could p-pay two thousand dollars fine. It almost beggared the poor Methodies of that day to raise so much money, but g-glory be to G-god! we can raise it now any day in the year, and in the next g-generation we can buy our p-persecutors."
"So Ebenezer Johnson, accordin' to the autum bawler's patter, got popped in the mazzard, my brother of the surplice? But he didn't climb no ladder, did he?"
The stuttering host seemed not to comprehend this sneering exclamation, and Levin Dennis said:
"King Custis wasn't killed, was he, Pappy Thomas?"
"It was his children's children his p-p-punishment was promised to," the island parson said, "and to the Lord a thousand y-years are but as d-days."
"The tide is fuller, Levin," Joe Johnson cried, "your keel is clear. Now pint her for Manokin. So bingavast, my benen cove, and may you chant all by yourself when I am gone!"
"God bless the boys!" the islander cried, "an' k-keep them from the f-fire everlasting that is burning in your jug. And s-s-stranger, remember the end of Eb-b-benezer Johnson, an' repent!"
The old man, barefooted, stoop-shouldered, stuttering, yet with a chord of natural rhetoric in his high fiddle-string of a windpipe, stood looking after them till they passed down the thoroughfare under the jib-sail, and Joe Johnson did not say a word till some marsh brush intervened between them, he being apparently under a remnant of that panic which had seized him on the camp-ground.
"That's a good man," Levin Dennis said, giving the tiller to Jack Wonnell and raising the sail; "he preached to the Britishers when they sailed from Tangiers Islands to take Baltimore, and told 'em they would be beat an' their gineral killed. He's made the oystermen all round yer jine the island churches an' keep Sunday. That stutterin' leaves him when he preaches, and when he leads the shout in meetin' it's piercin' as a horn."
"He's a bloody Romany rogue," Joe Johnson muttered, "to tell me such a tale! But, kirjalis! he cursed not me!"
"What language is that, Mr. Johnson? Is it Dutch or Porteygee?"
"It's what we call the gypsy; some calls it the Quaker. It's convenient, Levin, when you go to Philadelfey, or Washinton, or New York, or some o' them big cities, an' wants to talk to men of enterprise without the quails a-pipin' of you. Some day I'll larn it to you if you're a good boy."
They now sailed out of the thoroughfare into the broad mouth of the Manokin, where a calm fell upon air and water for a little while, and they could hear smothered music, as of drum-fish beneath the water, beating, "thum! thum!" and crabs and alewives rose to the surface around them, chased by the tailor-fish. The cat-boat drifted into the mouth of a creek where rock and perch were running on the top of the water, and with the tongs Jack Wonnell raised half a bushel of oysters in a few dips, and opened them for the party. Along the shores wild haws and wild plums still adhered to the bushes, and the stiff-branched persimmon-trees bore thousands of their tomato-like fruit. The partridges were chirping in the corn, the crow blackbirds held a funeral feast around the fodder, some old-time bayside mansions stretched their long sides and speckled negro quarters along the inlets, half hidden by the nut-trees, and in the air soared the turkey-buzzard, like a voluptuary politician, taking beauty from nothing but his lofty station.
"The ole Eastern Sho'," Jack Wonnell said, with his animated vacancy, "is jess stuffed with good things, Cap'n Johnsin. You kin fall ovaboard most anywhair an' git a full meal. You kin catch a bucket of crabs with a piece of a candle befo' breakfast, an' shoot a wild-duck mos' with your eyes shet."
"This country's good for nothin'," Joe Johnson said. "Floredey is the land! Wot kin a nigger earn for yer? Corn, taters, melons: faugh! Tobacco is a givin' out, cotton won't live yer. But Floredey is the hell-dorader of the yearth."
"What's the hell-dorader?" asked Levin.
"That's Spanish or Porteygee for cheap niggers an' cotton," cried the trader. "Cotton's the bird!"
"I thought cotton was a wool," Levin said.
"No, boy, cotton is a plant, growin' like a raspberry on a bush, havin' pushed the blossoms off an' burst the pods below 'em, an' thar it is fur niggers to pick it. Thar's a Yankee in Georgey made a cotton-gin to gin it clean, an' now all the world wants some of it."
"Some of the gin?" asked the irrelevant Wonnell.
"No, some of the cotton, Doctor Green! They can't git enough of it. Eurip is crazy about it, but there ain't niggers enough to pick it all. So I'm in the nigger trade an' tryin' to be useful to my country, an' wot does I git fur it? I git looked down on, an' a nigger's pertected fur a-topperin' of me! But never mind, I'll be a big skull yet, an' keep my kerrige—in Floredey."
"What's Floredey good fur?" Levin asked.
"It's full of nigger Injins, Simminoles, every one of 'em goin' to be caught an' branded, an' put at cotton an' tobakker plantin', an' hog an' cow herdin'. More niggers will be run in from Cubey, an' all the free niggers in Delaware and up North will be sold, an' you an' me, Levin, is gwyn to own a drove of 'em an' have a orchard of oranges an' a thousand acres of cotton in bloom. We'll hold our heads up. Your mother shall be switched to a nabob. My wife will be a shakester in diamonds. We'll dispise Cambridge an' Princess Anne, an' there sha'n't be a free nigger left on the face of the earth. We'll swig to it!"
The sick-headed yet fancy-ridden Levin drank again, and listened to the dealer's marvellous tales of golden fruit on coasts of indigo, and palms that sheltered parrots calling to the wild deer. Jack Wonnell took the helm when Levin lay down to sleep in the little cabin, still lulled by tales of wealth and lawless daring, and there he slept the deep sleep of the castaway, when the vessel grounded at dusk, in the sound of evening church-bells, at Princess Anne.
"Let him sleep," Joe Johnson spoke; "yer, Wonnell, I give you tray of his strangers to take to his mommy," handing out three gold pieces. "Don't you forgit it! Yer's a syebuck fur you," giving Jack a sixpence. "You an' me will part company at Prencess Anne."
UNDER AN OLD BONNET.
Vesta had been sitting half an hour beside her unconscious husband, listening to his broken speech, and thinking upon the rapidity of events once started on their course, like eaglets scarcely taught to fly before they attack and kill, when the sound of carriage-wheels, arrested at the door, called her to the window, and Tom, the mocking-bird, which had been comparatively quiet since he found his master snugly cared for, now began to hop about, fly in the air, and sing again:
"Sweet—sweet—sweetie! come see! come see!"
Vesta saw Meshach's wiry, deliberate colored man step down and turn the horses' heads, and there dropped from the carriage, without using the carriage-step, at a leap and a skip, a young female object whose head was invisible in an enormous coal-scuttle bonnet of figured blue chintz. However quick she executed the leap, Vesta observed that the arrival had forgotten to put on her stockings.
Before Vesta could turn from the window this singular object had darted up the dark stairs of the old storehouse and thrown herself on the delirious man's bed:
"Uncle, Uncle Meshach! air you dead, uncle? Wake up and kiss your Rhudy!"
She had kissed her uncle plentifully while awaiting the same of him, and the attack a little excited him, without recalling his mind to any sustained remembrance, though Vesta heard the words "dear child," before he turned his head and chased the wild poppies again. Then the young female, ejaculating,
"Lord sakes! Uncle don't know his Rhudy!" pulled her black apron over her head and had a silent cry—a little convulsion of the neck and not an audible sigh besides.
"She weeps with some refinement," Vesta thought; and also observed that the visitor was a tall, long-fingered, rather sightly girl of, probably, seventeen, with clothing the mantuamaker was guiltless of, and a hoop bonnet, such as old people continued to make in remembrance of the high-decked vessels which had brought the last styles to them when their ancestors emigrated with their all, and forever, from a land of modes. The bonnet was a remarkable object to Vesta, though she had seen some such at a distance, coining in upon the heads of the forest people to the Methodist church. It resembled the high-pooped ship of Columbus, which he had built so high on purpose, the girls at the seminary said, so as to have the advantage of spying the New World first; but it also resembled the long, hollow, bow-shaped Conestoga wagons of which Vesta had seen so many going past her boarding-school at Ellicott's Mills before the late new railroad had quite reached there. As she had often peered into those vast, blue-bodied wagons to see what creatures might be passengers in their depths, so she took the first opportunity of the blue scuttle being jolted up by the mourner to discern the face within.
It was a pretty face, with a pair of feeling and also mischievous brown eyes, set in the attitude of wonder the moment they observed another woman in the room. The skin was pale, the mouth generous, the nose long, like Milburn's, but not so emphatic, and the neck, brow, and form of the face longish, and with something fine amid the wild, cow-like stare she fixed on Vesta, exclaiming, in a whisper,
"Lord sakes! a lady's yer!"
Then she threw her apron over the Conestoga bonnet again, and held it up there with her long fingers, and long, plump, weather-stained wrists.
Vesta looked on with the first symptoms of amusement she had felt since the morning she and her mother laughed at the steeple-crown hat, as they looked down from the windows of Teackle Hall upon the man already her husband. That morning seemed a year ago; it was but yesterday.
"Old hats and bonnets," Vesta thought, "will be no novelties to me by and by. This family of the Milburns is full of them."
Then, addressing the new arrival, Vesta said,
"This is your uncle, then? Where do you live?"
"I live at Nu Ark," answered the miss, taking down the black apron and looking from the depths of the bonnet, like a guinea-pig from his hole.
"If she had said 'the Ark' without the 'New,'" Vesta thought, "it would have seemed natural."
"Your uncle has a high fever," Vesta said, kindly; "he is not in danger, we think. It was right of you to come, however. Now take off your bonnet. What is your name?"
"Rhudy—I'm Rhudy Hullin, ma'am."
"Rhoda—Rhoda Holland, I think you say."
"Yes'm, Rhudy Hullin. I live crost the Pookamuke, on the Oushin side, out thar by Sinepuxin. I don't live in a great big town like Princess Anne; I live in Nu Ark."
At this the girl carefully extricated her head from the Conestoga scuttle, looked all over the bonnet with pride and anxiety, and then carefully laid it on the top of her uncle's hat-box.
"Uncle Meshach give it to me," she said, with a sly inclination towards the sick bed. "Misc Somers made it. Uncle, he bought all the stuff; Misc Somers draw'd it. Did you ever see anything like it?"
"Never," said Vesta.
"Well, some folks out Sinepuxin said it was a sin and a shame—sech extravagins; but Misc Somers she said Uncle Meshach was rich an' hadn't but one Rhudy. It ain't quite as big as Misc Somers's bonnet, but it's draw'd mour."
Here Rhoda gave a repetition of what Vesta had twice before observed—an inaudible sniffle, and, being caught in it, wiped her nose on her apron.
"Take my handkerchief," Vesta said, "you are cold," and passed over her cambric with a lace border.
"What's it fur?" Rhoda asked, looking at it superstitiously. "You don't wipe your nuse on it, do you? Lord sakes! ain't it a piece of your neck fixin'?"
Vesta felt in a good humor to see this weed of nature turn the handkerchief over and hold it by the thumb and finger, as if she might become accountable for anything that might happen to it.
"I got two of these yer," she said; "Misc Somers made 'em outen a frock. They ain't got this starch on 'em; they're great big things. I always forgit 'em. My nuse wipes itself."
"Now come near the fire and warm your feet," said Vesta; "for your ride from the oceanside, this cold morning, through the forests of the Pocomoke, must have chilled you through. Lay off your blanket shawl."
Rhoda laid the huge black and green shawl, that reached to her feet, on the green chest, and smoothed it with evident pride.
"Uncle Meshach bought that in Wilminton," she said; "ain't it beautiful! I never wear it but when I come over yer or go to Snow Hill. Snow Hill's sech a proud place!"
She had a way of laughing, by merely indenting her cheeks, without a sound, just as she expressed the sense of pain; the only difference being in the beaming of her eyes; and Vesta thought it had something contagious in it. She would laugh broadly and in silence, as if she had been put on behavior in church, and there had adopted a grimace to make the other girls laugh and save herself the suspicion.
As she pulled her skirts down to her feet, Vesta's observation was confirmed that Rhoda had no stockings on, and she could not help exclaiming,
"My dear child, what possessed you to ride this October morning only half dressed? You might catch your death."
Rhoda caught her nose on the half sniffle, raised and dimpled her cheeks in a sly laugh, and cried,
"Lord sakes! you mean my legs? Why, I ain't got but two pairs of stockings, an' Misc Somers is a wearin' one of' em, and the ould pair's in the wash. It's so tejus to knit stockings, and sech fun to go barefoot, that I don't wear' em unless Misc Somers finds it out. Why, the boys can't see me!"
She grimaced again so naturally and engagingly that Vesta had to laugh quite aloud, and saw meantime that the young woman's oft-cobbled shoes covered a slender foot a lady might have envied.
"Now, Rhoda," Vesta said, almost indignantly, "why did you not ask your wealthy uncle for some good yarn stockings?"
"Him? Why, ma'am, he's got so many pore kin, if he begin to give' em all stockings, he'd go barefoot himself."
"Has he other nieces like you?"
"No." The girl quietly grimaced, with her brown eyes full of laughter. "There's plenty of others, but none like Rhudy; the woods is full of them others."
"So you are the favorite? Now, what was your uncle going to do with all his money?"
"Lord sakes!" Rhoda said; "he was going to marry Miss Vesty with it. That's what Misc Somers said."
The mocking-bird had been striking up once or twice in the conversation, and now pealed his note loud:
"Vesta, she! she! she! she-ee-ee!"
A tingle of that superstition she had felt more than once already, in her brief knowledge of this forest family, went through Vesta's veins and nerves, and she silently remarked,
"How little a young girl knows of men around her—what satyrs are taking her image to their arms! These people knew he loved me, when I knew not that he ever saw me."
She addressed the niece again:
"Rhoda, did your uncle say he loved Miss Vesta?"
"No'm. He never said he luved nothing; but I heard Tom, the mocking-bird, shout 'Vesty,' and saw a lady's picture yonder between grandpar and grandmem, and told Misc Somers, and she says, 'Your Uncle Meshach's in luve!' Oh, I was right glad of it, because he was so sad and lonesome!"
The fountain of sympathy burst up again in Vesta's heart, and she felt that there were compensations riches and station knew not of in humble alliances like hers.
"Rhoda," she said, going to the young girl and putting her hand upon her soft brown hair, "you have not noticed the new picture of a lady hanging up here, have you?"
"No'm, not yet. Everything is so quare in this room sence I saw it last, I hain't seen nothin' in it but you. Now I see the carpet, an' the brass andirons, an' the chiney, an'—Lord sakes! is that a picture? Why, I thought it was you."
"It is, Rhoda. I am Vesta; I am your new aunt."
The girl made one of her engaging, dimpled, silent laughs, as if by stealth again, changed it into a silent cry by a revulsion as natural, and rose to her feet and took Vesta in her arms.
"I'm so glad, I will cry a little," Rhoda simpered, her eyes all dewy; "oh, how Misc Somers will say, 'I found it out first!'"
Tom kept up a whistling, self-gratulating little cry, as if he had his own thoughts:
"Sweety! sweety! sweet! Vesty, see! see! see!"
Vesta felt a chain of happy thoughts arise in her mind, which she expressed as frankly as the girl of forest product had spoken, that she might not retard the welcome of these homely friendships:
"Yes, Rhoda, I am thankful to find a social life open to me where there seemed no way, and brooks and playmates where everything looked dry. You come here like a sunbeam, God bless you! I can hear you talk, and teach you what little I know, and we will relieve each other, watching him."
She felt a slight modification of her joy at this reminder, but the bird seemed to teach her patience, as he suggested, hopping and flying in the air,
"Come see! come see! come see!"
"Yes," thought Vesta, "come and see! It is good counsel. I begin to feel the breaking of a new sense,—curiosity about the poor and lowly. My education seems to have closed my observation on people of my own race, who daily trode almost upon my skirts, and whom I never saw—whom it was considered respectable not to see—while even my colored servants enjoyed my whole confidence because they were my slaves. Yet, in misfortune, to these plain white people I must have dropped; and then Roxy and Virgie, sold to some temporary rich man, would have been above me, slaves as they would continue! How false, how fatal, both slavery and proud riches to the republicans we pretend to be! Compelled 'to see' at last, I shall not close my eyes nor harden my heart."
The maid from Newark had meantime quietly inspected the rag carpet, the cloth hangings, the fairy rocker, and all the acquisitions of her uncle's abode, and Vesta again observed that she was of slender and willowy shape and motion, unaffected in anything, not forward nor excited, and with the shrewd look so near ready wit that she could make Vesta laugh almost at will. Vesta showed her how to administer cool drink and the sponging to the sufferer, and he saw them together with a look of inquiry which the febrile action soon drove away.
"Are your parents living, Rhoda?"
"No'm; they're both dead. My mother was Uncle Meshach's sister, and she married a rich man, who biled salt and had vessels an' kept tavern. Father Hullin died of the pilmonary; mar died next. Misc Somers brought me up whar the tavern used to be. It ain't a stand no more. Uncle Meshach owns it."
"Is it a nice place?"
"Now it ain't as nice as it use to be, Aunt Vesty"—the girl glided easily over what Vesta thought might be a hard word—"sence the shews don't stop thar no mour."
"The shoes? What is that?"
"The wax figgers and glass-blowers, and the strongis' man in the world. Did you ever see him?"
Vesta said, "No, dear."
"I saw him," Rhoda said, with a compression of her mouth and a gleam of her eyes. "He bruke a stone with his fist and Misc Somers kep the stone, and what do you think it was?"
"No'm; chork! He jest washed the chork over with a little shell or varnish or something, and, of course, it bruke right easy; so he wasn't the strongest man in the world at all, and if Misc Somers ever see him, she'll tell him so."
"Is it a little or a large house, Rhoda?"
"Oh, it's a magnificins house, twice as big as this, with the roof bent like an elefin's back, an' three windows in it—rale dormant windows, that looks like three eyes outen a crab, and a gabil end three rows of windows high, and four high chimneys. The rope-walker said it was fit to be a rueyal palace. Then thar's the kitchen an' colonnade built on to it. It's the biggest house, I reckon, about Sinepuxin. That rope-walker's a mountin-bank."
"A mountain bank? You mean a mountebank—an impostor?"
"Yes'm,"—the mouth shut and the eyes flashed again. "He allowed he'd break the rupe after he'd walked on it, and he said it wasn't stretched tight enough, and went along a feeling of it; and Misc Somers found out every time he teched of it he put on some bluestone water or somethin' else to rot it, so, of course, he bruke it easy. But Misc Somers's going to tell him, if he comes agin, he's a mountin-bank. Lord sakes! she ain't afraid."
"So, since it has ceased to be a tavern, dear, you see no more jugglers?"
"The last shew there," Rhoda said, "was the canninbils and the missionary. The missionary had converted of 'em, and they didn't eat no more; but he tuld how they used to eat people; and they stouled a pony outen the stables an' run to the Cypress swamp, and thar they turned out to be some shingle sawyers he'd just a stained up. Misc Somers is a-waitin' for him. Lord sakes! she don't keer."
"And so you were an orphan, brought up at the old roadside stage-house at Newark? And who is Mrs. Somers?"
"Misc Somers, she's a ole aunt of Par Hullin. She an' me live together sence par and mar died of the pilmonary. Oh, I have a passel of beaus that takes me over to the Oushin on Sinepuxin beach, outen the way of the skeeters, an' thar we wades and sails, and biles salt and roasts mammynoes. Aunt Vesty, I can cut out most any girl from her beau; but, Lord sakes! I ain't found no man I love yet."
"I'm glad of that," said Vesta, "because you will then be satisfied with Princess Anne. They say your uncle will be sick here several weeks, and we can help each other to make him well. Now he is waking."
Milburn opened his eyes and sighed, and saw them together, and Rhoda held back considerately while the young wife approached the bed. He looked at her with a bewildered doubt.
"I thought they said you had gone forever," he murmured.
"No, I am come forever, or until you wish me gone."
"I told them so," he sighed; "I said, 'She has high principle, though she can't love me.'"
"Uncle Meshach, give Auntie time!" cried Rhoda, with a quick divination of something unsettled or misunderstood. "Don't you know your Rhudy? Even I was afraid of you till I was tuke sick and you thought it was the pilmonary and nursed me."
"You have a good niece," Vesta said, as her husband kissed the stranger; "and we shall love each other, I hope, and improve each other."
"Yes, that will be noble," he replied. "Teach her something; I have never had the time. Oh, I am very ill; at a time like this, too!"
"Be composed, Mr. Milburn," the bride said; "it is only Nature taking the time you would not give her, and which she means for us to improve our almost violent acquaintance. I shall be very happy sitting here, and wish you would let your niece be with me; I desire it."
He tried to smile, though the strong sweat succeeding the fever broke upon him from his hands to his face.
"She is yours," he said; "the best of my poor kin. Do not despise us!"
Vesta drew her arm around Rhoda and kissed her, that he might see it.
"What goodness!" he sighed, and the opening of his pores, as it let the fever escape, gave him a feeling of drowsy relief which Vesta understood.
"Now let us turn the covers under the edges, Rhoda," she said, "and put your blanket-shawl over him, and he will get some natural sleep."
He turned once, as if to see if she was there, and closed his eyes peacefully as a child.
"Now, Rhoda," said Vesta, in a few minutes, "I hear papa's carriage at the door, and, while he comes up, I shall ride back to see my mother and get a few things at home."
"Who is your poppy, Aunt Vesty?"
"Don't you know him?—Judge Custis, who lives in Princess Anne."
"Jedge Custis! Why, Lord sakes! he ain't your par, is he? Aunt Vesty, he's one of my old beaus."
The Judge brought with him Reverend William Tilghman, and Vesta, as she was retiring, introduced Rhoda to both of them:
"This is Miss Rhoda—Mr. Milburn's niece."
Judge Custis, a trifle blushing, took both of Rhoda's hands:
"Ha, my pretty partner and dancing pupil! How are our friends at St. Martin's Bay and Sinepuxent? Many a sail and clam-bake we have had, Rhoda."
"You're a deceiver," Rhoda cried, with a dimpling somewhere between glee and accusation. "I'm goin' to plosecute you, Jedge, fur not tellin' of me you was a married man. My heart's bruke."
"Who could remember what he was, Rhoda, sitting all that evening beside you at—where was it?"
"The Blohemian glass-blowers," Rhoda cried; "the only ones that ever visited the Western Himisfure. Jedge," with sudden impetuosity, "that little one, with the copper rings in his years, wasn't a Blohemian at all. He lived up at Cape Hinlupen, an' Misc Somers see him thar when she was a buyin' of herring thar. She's goin' to tell him, when she catches him at Nu-ark."
The young rector observed the flash of those bright eyes following the pleasing dimples, and the slips of orthography seemed to him never less culpable coming from such lips and teeth.
"William," said Vesta, "come around this afternoon, and let us have our usual Sunday reading-circle. Mr. Milburn will be awake and appreciate it, as he is one of your most regular parishioners. Rhoda, you can read?"
"Oh, yes'm. Misc Somers, she's a good reader. She reads the Old Testamins. The names thar is mos' too long for me, but I reads the Psalms an' the Ploverbs right well."
"Very well, then, we will read verse about, so that Mr. Milburn can hear both our voices and his favorite minister's, too. You'll come, papa?"
"Yes, if I can. We have had a love-feast at Teackle Hall this morning, and your sister from Talbot is down, but I think I can get off."
"Lord sakes!" Rhoda said, looking at Mr. Tilghman candidly; "you ain't a minister now? Not a minister of the Gospil?"
"Unworthily so, Miss Rhoda."
"Well, I don't see how you was old enough to be convicted and learn it all, unless you was a speretual merikle. Misc Somers see one of 'em at Jinkotig. They called him the enfant phrenomeny. He exhorted at five year old, and at seven give his experyins."
"Rare, Miss Rhoda," the rector said, hardly able to keep his reverence in amusement at her impetuosity.
"Oh, he made a wild excitemins, Aunt Vesty. The women give each other their babies to hold while they tuk turns a-shouting. 'Yer, Becky, hold my baby while I shout!' says one. 'Now, Nancy, hold mine while I shout!' To see that little boy up thar tellin' of his experyins was meriklus, an' made an excitemins like the high tides on Jinkotig that drowns' em out. But, Aunt Vesty, that little phrenomeny was a dwarf, twenty year old, an' Misc Somers found it out and told about it."
"I'll be bound Mrs. Somers knows!" exclaimed the Judge.
"That she do," continued Rhoda, earnestly, with a slight sniffle of a well-modelled nose and a dimpling that argued to Vesta something to come. "Misc Somers says you held one of them babies, Jedge, to let its mother shout, and pretended to be under a conviction; an' that you backslid right thar and was a-whisperin' to the other mother. Lord sakes! Misc Somers finds it all out."
"Well," said the Judge, finding the laugh against him, "I never did better electioneering than that day. By holding that baby five minutes I made a vote, and the mother will hold it twenty years before she will make a vote."
"Misc Somers says, Jedge, you hold the women longer than thar babies; but I told her you was in sech conviction you didn't know one from the other. 'Oh,' she says, 'he's sly and safe when he gits over yer on the Worcester side.' Misc Somers, she's dreadful plain."
William Tilghman, during the continuation of this colloquy, looked with interest on the two young ladies: Vesta, the elder by two or three years, and richly endowed with the lights of both beauty and accomplishments; the maid from the ocean side, plainer, and with no ornament within or without; but he could foresee, under Vesta's fostering, a graceful woman, with coquetry and fascination not wholly latent there; and, as his eyes met Rhoda's, he interpreted the look that at a certain time of life almost every maiden casts on meeting a young man—"Is he single?" She shot this look so archly, yet so strong, that the arrow wounded him a very little as it glanced off. He smiled, but the consciousness was restored a moment that he was a young man still, as well as a priest. Love, which had closed a door like the portal of a tomb against him, began to come forth like a glow-worm and wink its lamp athwart the dark.
"She must come to Sunday-school," he thought, "if she stays in Princess Anne. We will polish her."
The mocking-bird, not being satisfied with any lull in the conversation, "pearted up," as he saw Vesta withdraw, and cried,
"'Sband! 'Sband! Meee—shack! Mee-ee-ee-shack! See me! see me! Gents! gents! gents! genten! Sweet! sweetie! sweetie! Hoo! hoo! See! see! Vesty, she! Ha! ha!"
He flew in the air over his stirring master, as if doubting that all was well since the strange lady, who had been so quiet all the morning, was gone.
"That bird almost speaks," said William Tilghman; "I have spent many an hour teaching them, but never could make one talk like that."
"Maybe you had too much to teach to it," Rhoda Holland said; "it ain't often they can speak, and they mustn't have much company to learn well. Uncle Meshach haint had no company but that bird for years. I reckon the bird got mad and lonesome, and jest hooted words at him."
"What is it saying now?" Tilghman asked. "See! it is almost convulsive in its attempts to say something."
The gray bird, as impressive as a poor poet, seemed nearly in a state of epilepsy to bring up some burden of oppressive sound, and, as they watched it, almost tipsy with the intoxicant of speech, fluttering, driving, and striking in the air, it suddenly brought out a note liquid as gurgling snow from a bird-cote spout:
"L-l-lo-love! love! love! Ha! ha! L-l-love!"
"Well done, old bachelor!" Judge Custis remarked, in spite of his fagged face, for good resolution and yesterday's unbracing had left him somewhat limp and haggard still. "He brings out 'love' as if he had made a vow against it, but the confession had to come. Many a monk would sing the same if instinct could find a daring word in his chorals. These mockers of Maryland were celebrated in the British magazines a hundred years ago, and I recall some lines about them."
He then recited:
"'His breast whose plumes a cheerful white display, His quivering wings are dressed in sober gray, Sure all the Muses this their bird inspire, And he alone is equal to a choir. Oh, sweet musician! thou dost far excel The soothing song of pleasing Philomel: Sweet is her song, but in few notes confined, But thine, thou mimic of the feathery kind! Runs thro' all notes: thou only know'st them all, At once the copy and th' original!'"
"That's magnificins!" Rhoda exclaimed, with quiet delight; "who is 'fellow Mil,' Jedge?"
"Oh, that's the British nightingale. These American mocking-birds surpass them as one of our Eastern Shore clippers outsails all the naval powers of Europe."
"I've hearn 'The British Nightingale,'" Rhoda said, with a flash of her eyes; "he was a blind man with green specticklers that sang at Nu-ark, ''ome, sweet 'ome'—that's the way he plonounced it—an' it affected of him so, he had to drink a whole tumbler of water, an' Misc Somers, spying around to see if he was the rale nightingale, she found it was gin in that glass, and told about it."
Rhoda made even the minister laugh, as she indented her cheeks and cast a sheep's glance at him and the Judge. He marvelled that such forest English could be resented so little by his mind, but he thought,
"Never mind, she may have had no more lessons than the bird, whose difficulty is even beautiful. But see! Mr. Milburn is wide awake. My friend, how do you feel?"
"Better, better!" murmured Milburn. "I cannot lie here any more. There is money, money, gentlemen, dependent on my getting about."
He started up with the greatest resolution and confidence, and fell upon his head before he had left the coverlets.
"No, no!" said the Judge, as he and Tilghman picked Milburn up and arranged him as before. "Your will is matched this time, my brave son-in-law! You are back in the hut you have consumed, among the fires thereof, and the avenging blast of Nassawongo furnace burns in your veins and cools you in the mill-pond alternately. Lie there and repent for the injury you have done a spotless one!"
If Meshach heard this it was never known, but the unconscious or impulsive utterance strengthened the impression with Tilghman and Rhoda that Vesta's marriage was not altogether voluntary, and produced on both a feeling of deeper sympathy and respect for her.
"Judge," the young minister said, "do good for evil, if evil there has been! I have given him my hand sincerely; perhaps you can relieve his mind of some business care."
"Mr. Milburn," the Judge said, when he saw the resinous eyes roll towards him again out of that swarthy face, now pale with weakness, "I am out of a job now, and can work cheap. Let me do any errand for you."
A look of petulance, followed by one of inquiry, came up from Milburn's eyes, and he pressed his head between his wrists, as if to bring back the blood that might propel his judgment. They heard him mutter,
"No business prudence—yet plausible, persuasive—might do it well."
The Judge spoke now, with some firmness:
"Milburn, there is no use of your rebelling. Here you are and here you will lie till nature does her restoration, assisted by this medicine I have brought you. You must undergo calomel, and this quinine must set on its work of several weeks to break up the regularity of these chills. In the meantime, as your interests are also Vesta's, and Vesta's are mine, let me serve her, if not you."
The positive tone influenced the weakened system of the patient. He looked at all three of the observers, and said to Tilghman, "William, I might send you but for your calling; leave me with the Judge a little while, both you and Rhoda."
Rhoda took the Conestoga bonnet from the top of the Entailed Hat box, and arrayed herself in it, to the rector's exceeding wonder.
"Let's you and me go take a little walk," she said, putting her hand in his arm with a quiet confidence in which was a spark of Meshach's will. "I ain't afraid of Princess Anne people, if they are proud. Mise Somers says King Solomons was no better than a lily outen the pond, and said so himself."
The young man, sincere as his humility was, blushed a little at the idea of walking through his native town with that bonnet at his side, he being of one of the self-conscious, high-viewing families of the old peninsula—his grand-uncle the staff-officer of Washington, and messenger from Yorktown to Congress with the news, "Cornwallis has fallen;" but it was his chivalric sense, and not his piety, which immediately dispelled the last touch of coxcombry, when he felt that a lady had requested him.
"With happiness, Miss Holland;" and he did not feel one shrinking thought again as he ran the gantlet of the idle fellows of the town, many of them his former vagrant playmates. Rhoda was perfectly happy. He would have taken her to his grandmother's, with whom he kept house, but that aristocratic old dowager might say something, he considered, to destroy Rhoda's confidence in her elegant appearance and easy vocabulary; and they walked past Teackle Hall, where Vesta saw them, and opened the door and made them come in and eat a little. Rhoda at first showed some uneasiness under this great pile of habitation, but Vesta was so natural and gracious that the shyness wore off, and, at a fitting moment, the bride said:
"Rhoda, my dear, there is a bonnet up-stairs I expect to wear this winter, and I want to try it on you, whom I think it will particularly become."