Selections from
The Entailed Hat

George Alfred Townsend,
1841-1914

First electronic edition 2002
72,700 words, 470 Kb

Text scanned, encoded, and edited by
William C. Chase

Source:
The Entailed Hat
George Alfred Townsend
New York
Harper & Brothers
1884

Editorial Declaration: Typography and running titles have not been preserved. Words and abbreviations in italics have been rendered as such without interpretation. Quotation marks, apostrophes, and dashes have been transcribed as numeric entities. “Soft” hyphens occurring at line breaks have been removed. “Soft” hyphens occurring at page breaks have been removed and the trailing part of the word placed on the preceding page. Typographical and punctuation inconsistencies have been retained except where misreadings might result. “Footnotes” have been placed at the end of or within paragraphs in order to accomodate scrolling text. Editorial revisions consist of abridgement, part numbers and titles in the table of contents, an editor’s footnote, and the insertion of new paragraph breaks. The page numbers of the first edition (1884) appear within comment tags in the html source file.

    Pages or parts of pages appearing in the 1884 edition included in this edition:  1-36, 38-69, 89 91-6, 100-14, 116-22, 126-45, 147-51, 154, 158-73, 175-204, 218-23, 225, 229-34, 235-50, 252-93, 295-313, 391, 394-99.


 

Selections from
THE ENTAILED HAT

OR

PATTY CANNON’S TIMES

A ROMANCE

By GEORGE ALFRED TOWNSEND

“GATH”

Edited by
William C. Chase

First Electronic Edition
2002


TO
JUDGE GEORGE P. FISHER
OF DELAWARE
AND
HON. JOHN A.J. CRESWELL
OF MARYLAND
LOVERS OF OLD TIMES
WELCOMERS OF THE NEW ERA


“Friends! trust not the heart of that man for whom Old Clothes
are not venerable.” — CARLYLE: Sator Resartus


INTRODUCTION.

ONCE the author awoke to a painful reflection that he knew no place well, though his occupation had taken him to many, and that, after twenty-five years of describing localities and society, he would be identified with none.

“Where shall I begin to rove within confines?” he asked, feeling the vacant spaces in his nature: the want of all those birds, forest trees, household habits, weeds, instincts of the brooks, and tints and tones of the local species which lie in some neighborhood’s compass, and complete the pastoral mind.

Numerous districts rose up and contended together, each attractive from some striking scene, or bold contrast, or lovely face; and wiser policy might have led his inclinations to one of these, redundant, perhaps, in wealth or literary appreciation; yet the heart began to turn, as in first love, or vagrancy almost as sweet, to the little, lowly region where his short childhood was lived, and where the unknown generations of his people darkened the sand — the peninsula between the Chesapeake and the Delaware.

Far down this peninsula lies the old town of Snow Hill, on the border of Virginia; there the pilgrim entered the court-house, and asked to see an early book of wills, and in it he turned to the name of a maternal ancestor, of whom grand tales had been told him by an aged relative. His breath was almost taken by finding the following provisions, dated February 12, 1800:

“I give and bequeath to my son, Ralph Milbourn, MY BEST HAT, TO HIM AND HIS ASSIGNEES FOREVER, and no more of my estate.

“I give to Thomas Milbourn my small iron kettle, my brandy still, all my hand-irons, my pot-rack, and fifteen pounds bond that he gave to my daughter, Grace Milbourn.”

The next day a doctor took the author on his rounds through “the Forest,” as a neighboring tract was almost too invidiously called, and through a deserted iron-furnace village almost of the date of these wills.

Everywhere he went the Entailed Hat seemed, to the stranger in the land of his forefathers, to appear in the vistas, as if some odd, reverend, avoided being was wearing it down the defiles of time. Now like Hester Prynne wearing her Scarlet Letter, and now like Gaston in his Iron Mask, this being took both sexes and different characters, as the author weighed the probabilities of its existence. At last he began to know it, and started to portray it in a little tale.

The story broke from its confines as his own family generation had broken from that forest, and sought a larger hemisphere; yet, wherever the mystic Hat proceeded, his truant fancy had also been led by his mother’s hand.

Often had she told him of old Patty Cannon and her kidnapper’s den, and her death in the jail of his native town. He found the legend of that dreaded woman had strengthened instead of having faded with time, and her haunts preserved, and eye-witnesses of her deeds to be still living.

Hence, this romance has much local truth in it, and is not only the narration of an episode, but the story of a large region comprehending three state jurisdictions, and also of that period when modern life arose upon the ruins of old colonial caste.


 

CONTENTS
[chapter titles and numbers are those of the first edition]


CHAPTER I.

TWO HAT WEARERS.

PRINCESS ANNE, as its royal name implies, is an old seat of justice, and gentle-minded town on the Eastern Shore. The ancient county of Somerset having been divided many years before the revolutionary war, and its courts separated, the original court-house faded from the world, and the forest pines have concealed its site. Two new towns arose, and flourish yet, around the original records gathered into their plain brick offices, and he would be a forgetful visitor in Princess Anne who would not say it had the better society. He would get assurances of this from “the best people” living there; and yet more solemn assurances from the two venerable churches, Presbyterian and Episcopalian, whose gravestones, upright or recumbent, or in family rows, say, in epitaphs Latinized, poetical, or pious, “We belonged to the society of Princess Anne.” That, at least, is the impression left on the visitor as he wanders amid their myrtle and creeper, or receives, on the wide, loamy streets, the bows of the lawyers and their clients.

There were but two eccentric men living in Princess Anne in the early half of our century, and both of them were identified by their hats.

The first was Jack Wonnell, a poor fellow of some remote origin who had once attended an auction, and bought a quarter gross of beaver hats. Although that happened years before our story opens, and the fashions had changed, Jack produced a new hat from the stock no oftener than when he had well worn its predecessor, and, at the rate of two hats a year, was very slowly extinguishing the store. Like most people who frequent auctions, he was not provident, except in hats, and presented a startling appearance in his patched and shrunken raiment when he mounted a bright, new tile, and took to the sidewalk. His name had become, in all grades of society, “Bell-crown.”

The other eccentric citizen was the subject of a real mystery, and even more burlesque. He wore a hat, apparently more than a century old, of a tall, steeple crown, and stiff, wavy brim, and nearly twice as high as the cylinders or high hats of these days. It had been rubbed and re-covered and cleaned and straightened, until its grotesque appearance was infinitely increased. If the wearer had walked out of the court of King James I. directly into our times and presence, he could not have produced a more singular effect. He did not wear this hat on every occasion, nor every day, but always on Sabbaths and holidays, on funeral or corporate celebrations, on certain English church days, and whenever he wore the remainder of his extra suit, which was likewise of the genteel-shabby kind, and terminated by greenish gaiters, nearly the counterpart, in color, of the hat. To daily business he wore a cheap, common broadbrim, but sometimes, for several days, on freak or unknown method, he wore this steeple hat, and strangers in the place generally got an opportunity to see it.

Meshach Milburn, or “Steeple-top,” was a penurious, grasping, hardly social man of neighborhood origin, but of a family generally unsuccessful and undistinguished, which had been said to be dying out for so many years that it seemed to be always a remnant, yet never quite gone. He alone of the Milburns had lifted himself out of the forest region of Somerset, and settled in the town, and, by silence, frugality, hard bargaining, and, finally, by money-lending, had become a person of unknown means — himself almost unknown. He was, ostensibly, a merchant or storekeeper, and did deal in various kinds of things, keeping no clerk or attendant but a negro named Samson, who knew as little about his mind and affections as the rest of the town. Samson’s business was to clean and produce the mysterious hat, which he knew to be required every time he saw his master shave.

As soon as the lather-cup and hone were agitated, Samson, without inquiry, went into a big green chest in the bedroom over the old wooden store, and drew out of a leather hat-box the steeple-crown, where Meshach Milburn himself always sacredly replaced it. Then “Samson Hat,” as the boys called him, exercised his brush vigorously, and put the queer old head-gear in as formal shape as possible, and he silently attended to its rehabilitation through the medium of the village hatter, never leaving the shop until the tile had been repaired, and suffering none whatever to handle it except the mechanic. In addition to this, Samson cooked his master’s food, and performed rough work around the store, but had no other known qualification for a confidential servant except his bodily power.

He was now old, probably sixty, but still a most formidable pugilist; and he had caught, running afoot, the last wild deer in the county. Though not a drinking man, Samson Hat never let a year pass without having a personal battle with some young, willing, and powerful negro. His physical and mental system seemed to require some such periodical indulgence, and he measured every negro who came to town solely in the light of his prowess. At the appearance of some Herculean or clean-chested athlete, Samson’s eye would kindle, his smile start up, and his friendly salutation would be: “You’re a good man! ’Most as good as me!” He was never whipped, rumor said, but by an inoffensive black class-leader whom he challenged and compelled to fight.

Whenever Samson indulged his gladiatorial propensities he disappeared into the forest whence he came, and being a free man of mental independence equal to his nerve, he merely waited in his lonely cabin until Meshach Milburn sent him word to return. Then silently the old negro resumed his place, looked contrition, took the few bitter, overbearing words of his master silently, and brushed the ancient hat.

Meshach kept him respectably dressed, but paid him no wages; the negro had what he wanted, but wanted little; on more than one occasion the court had imposed penalties on Samson’s breaches of the peace, and he lay in jail, unsolicitous and proud, until Meshach Milburn paid the fine, which he did grudgingly; for money was Meshach’s sole pursuit, and he spent nothing upon himself.

Without a vice, it appeared that Meshach Milburn had not an emotion, hardly a virtue. He had neither pity nor curiosity, visitors nor friends, professions nor apologies. Two or three times he had been summoned on a jury, when he put on his best suit and his steeple-crown, and formally went through his task. He attended the Episcopal worship every Sunday and great holiday, wearing inevitably the ancient tile, which often of itself drew audience more than the sermon. He gave a very small sum of money and took a cheap pew, and read from his prayer-book many admonitions he did not follow.

He was not litigious, but there was no evading the perfectness of his contracts. His searching and large hazel eyes, almost proud and quite unkindly, and his Indian-like hair, were the leading elements of a face not large, but appearing so, as if the buried will of some long frivolous family had been restored and concentrated in this man and had given a bilious power to his brows and jaws and glances.

His eccentricity had no apparent harmony with anything else nor any especial sensibility about it. The boys hooted his hat, and the little girls often joined in, crying “Steeple-top! He’s got it on! Meshach’s loose!” But he paid no attention to anybody, until once, at court time, some carousing fellows hired Jack Wonnell to walk up to Meshach Milburn and ask to swap a new bell-crown for the old decrepit steeple-top. Looking at Wonnell sternly in the face, Meshach hissed, “You miserable vagrant! Nature meant you to go bareheaded. Beware when you speak to me again!”

“I was afraid of him,” said Jack Wonnell, afterwards. “He seemed to have a loaded pistol in each eye.”

No other incident, beyond indiscriminate ridicule, was recorded of this hat, except once, when a group of little children in front of Judge Custis’s house began to whisper and titter, and one, bolder than the rest, the Judge’s daughter, gravely walked up to the unsocial man; it was the first of May, and he was in his best suit:

“Sir,” she said, “may I put a rose in your old hat?”

The harsh man looked down at the little queenly child, standing straight and slender, with an expression on her face of composure and courtesy. Then he looked up and over the Judge’s residence to see if any mischievous or presuming person had prompted this act. No one was in sight, and the other children had run away.

“Why do you offer me a flower?” he said, but with no tenderness.

“Because I thought such a very old hat might improve with a rose.”

He hesitated a minute. The little girl, as if well-born, received his strong stare steadily. He took off the venerable old head-gear, and put it in the pretty maid’s hand. She fixed a white rose to it, and then he placed the hat and rose again on his head and took a small piece of gold from his pocket.

“Will you take this?”

“My father will not let me, sir!”

Meshach Milburn replaced the coin and said nothing else, but walked down the streets, amid more than the usual simpering, and the weather-beaten door of the little rickety storehouse closed behind him.


 

CHAPTER II.

JUDGE AND DAUGHTER.

JUDGE CUSTIS was the most important man in the county. He belonged to the oldest colonial family of distinction, the Custises of Northampton, whose fortune, beginning with King Charles II. and his tavern credits in Rotterdam, ended in endowing Colonel George Washington with a widow’s mite. The Judge at Princess Anne was the most handsome man, the father of the finest family of sons and daughters, the best in estate, most various in knowledge, and the most convivial of Custises.

In that region of the Eastern Shore there is so little diversity of productions, the ocean and the loam alone contributing to man, that Judge Custis had an exaggerated reputation as a mineralogist.

He had begun to manufacture iron out of the bog ores found in the swamps and hummocks of a neighboring district, and, with the tastes of a landholding and slaveholding family, had erected around his furnace a considerable town, his own residence as proprietor conspicuous in the midst. There he spent a large part of the time, and not always in the company of his family, entertaining friends from the distant cities, enjoying the luxuries of terrapin, duck, and wines, and, as rumor said in the forest, all the pleasures of a Russian or German nobleman on a secluded estate.

He could lie down on the ground with the barefooted foresters, equal and familiar with them, and carry off their suffrages for the State Senate or the Assembly. In Princess Anne he was more discriminating, rising in that society to his family stature, and surrounded by alliances which demanded what is called “bearing.” In short, he was the head of the community, and his wealth, originally considerable, had been augmented by marriage, while his credit extended to Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Not long after the occurrence of his young daughter, Vesta, placing the rose in Meshach Milburn’s mysterious hat, Judge Custis said to his lady at the breakfast-table:

“That man has been allowed to shut himself in, like a dog, too long. He owes something to this community. I’ll go down to his kennel, under pretence of wanting a loan — and I do need some money for the furnace!”

He took his cane after breakfast and passed out of his large mansion, and down the sidewalk of the level street. There were, as usually, some negroes around Milburn’s small, weather-stained store, and Samson Hat, among them, shook hands with the Judge, not a particle disturbed at the latter’s condescension.

“Judge,” said Samson, looking that large, portly gentleman over, “you’se a good man yet. But de flesh is a little soft in yo’ muscle, Judge.”

“Ah! Samson,” answered Custis, “there’s one old fellow that is wrastling you.”

“Time?” said the negro; “we can’t fight him, sho! But I’m good as any man in Somerset now.”

The Judge passed into the wide-open door of Meshach Milburn’s store. A few negroes and poor whites were at the counter, and Meshach was measuring whiskey out to them by the cheap dram in exchange for coonskins and eggs. He looked up, just a trifle surprised at the principal man’s advent, and merely said, without nodding:

“’Morning!”

Judge Custis never flinched from anybody, but his intelligence recognized in Meshach’s eyes a kind of nature he had not yet met, though he was of universal acquaintance. It was not hostility, nor welcome, nor indifference. It was not exactly spirit. As nearly as the Judge could formulate it, the expression was habitual self-reliance, and if not habitual suspicion, the feeling most near it, which comes from conscious unpopularity.

“Mr. Milburn,” said Judge Custis, “when you are at leisure let me have a few words with you.”

The storekeeper turned to the poor folks in his little area and remarked to them bluntly:

“You can come back in ten minutes.”

They all went out without further command. Milburn closed the door. The Judge moved a chair and sat down.

“Milburn,” he said, dropping the formal “mister,” “they tell me you lend money, and that you charge well for it. I am a borrower sometimes, and I believe in keeping interest at home in our own community. Will you discount my note at legal interest?”

“Never,” replied Meshach.

“Then,” said the Judge, smiling, “you’ll put me to some inconvenience.”

“That’s more than legal interest,” answered Milburn, sturdily. “You’ll pay the legal interest where you go, and the inconvenience of going will cost something too. If you add your expenses as liberally as you incur them when you go to Baltimore, to legal interest, you are always paying a good shave.”

“Where you have risks,” suggested the Judge, “there is some reason for a heavy discount, but my property will enrich this county and all the land you hold mortgages on.”

“Bog ore!” muttered the money-lender. “I never lent money on that kind of risk. I must read upon it! They say manufacturing requires mechanical talent. How much do you want?”

“Three thousand.”

“Secured upon the furnace?”

“Yes.”

Meshach computed on a piece of paper, and the Judge, with easy curiosity, studied his singular face and figure.

He was rather short and chunky, not weighing more than one hundred and thirty pounds, with long, fine fingers of such tracery and separate action that every finger seemed to have a mind and function of its own. Looking at his hands only, one would have said: “There is here a pianist, a penman, a woman of definite skill, or a man of peculiar delicacy.” All the fingers were well produced, as if the hand instead of the face was meant to be the mind’s exponent and reveal its portrait there.

Yet the face of Meshach Milburn, if more repellent, was uncommon.

The effects of one long diet and one climate, invariable, from generation to generation, and both low and uninvigorating, had brought to nearly aboriginal form and lines his cheek-bones, hair, and resinous brown eyes. From the cheek-bones up he looked like an Indian, and expressed a stolid power and swarthiness. Below, there dropped a large face, in proportion, with nothing noticeable about it except the nose, which was so straight, prominent, and complete, and its nostrils so sensitive, that only the nose upon his face seemed to be good company for his hands. When he confronted one, with his head thrown back a little, his brown eyes staring inquiry, and his nose almost sentient, the effect was that of a hostile savage just burst from the woods.

That was his condition indeed.

“Look at him in the eyes,” said the town-bred, “he’s all forester!”

“But look at his hand,” added some few observant ones.

Ah! who had ever shaken that hand?

It was now extended to the Judge and he took from its womanly fingers the terms of the loan. Judge Custis was surprised at the moderation of Meshach, and he looked up cheerfully into that ever sentinel face on which might have been printed “qui vive?

“It’s not the goodness of the security,” said Meshach, “I make it low to you, socially!”

The Custis pride started with a flush to the Judge’s eyes, to have this ostracised and hooted Shylock intimate that their relations could be more than a prince’s to a pawnbroker. But the Judge was a politician, with an adaptable mind and address.

“Speaking of social things, Milburn,” he said, carelessly, “our town is not so large that we don’t all see each other sometimes. Why do you wear that forlorn, unsightly hat?”

“Why do you wear the name Custis?

“Oh, I inherited that!”

“And I inherited my hat.”

There was a pause for a minute, but before the Judge could tell whether it was an angry or an awkward pause, the storekeeper said:

“Judge Custis, I concede that you are the best bred man in Princess Anne. Where did you get authority to question another person about any decent article of his attire?”

“I stand corrected, Milburn,” said the Judge. “Good feeling for you more than curiosity made me suggest it. And I may also remark to you, sir, that when you lend me money you will always do it commercially and not socially.”

“Very well,” remarked Meshach Milburn, “and if I ever enter your door, I will then take off my hat.”

*       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Meshach Milburn surprised Samson Hat by saying: “Boy, when you have another fight and make yourself a barbarian again, remember to bring back, from Nassawongo furnace, about a peck of the bog ores!”

*       *       *       *       *       *

The years moved on without much change in Princess Anne. The little Manokin river brought up oysters from the bay, and carried off the corn and produce. The great brick academy at neighboring “Lower Trappe” boarded and educated the brightest youths of the best families on the Peninsula; and these perceived, as the annual summers brought their fulness, what portion of their beauty remained with Vesta Custis. She was like Helen of Troy, a subject of homage and dispute in childhood, and became a woman, in men’s consideration, almost imperceptibly. Sent to Baltimore to be educated, her return was followed by suitors — not youthful admirers only, but mature ones — and the young men of the Peninsula remarked with chagrin: “None of us have a chance! Some great city nabob will get her.”

But the academy boys and visitors, and the townspeople, had one common opportunity to see her and to hear her — when she sang, every Sabbath and church day, in the Episcopal church.

Her voice was the natural expression of her beauty — sweet, powerful, free, and easily trained. A divine bird seemed hidden in the old church when this noble yet tender voice broke forth; but they who turned to see the singer who had made such Paradise, looked almost on Eve herself.

She was rather slight, tall, and growing fuller slowly every year, like one in whom growth was early, yet long, and who would wholly mature not until near middle life. Her head, however, was perfection, even in girlhood, not less by its proportions than its carriage: her graceful figure bore it like the slender setting, holding up the first splendor of the peach; a head of vital and spiritual beauty, where purity and luxuriance, woman and mind, dwelt in harmony and joy. As she seemed ever to be ripening, so she seemed never to have been a child, but, with faculties and sense clear and unintimidated, she was never wanting in modesty, nor accused of want of self-possession. Judge Custis made her his reliance and pride; she never reproved his errors, nor treated them familiarly, but settled the household by a consent which all paid to her character alone. More than once she had appeared at the furnace mansion when the Judge’s long absence had awakened some jealousy or distrust:

“Father, please go home with me! I want you to drive me back.”

The easy, self-indulgent Judge would look a slight protest, but at the soft, spirited command, “Come, sir! you can’t stay here any more,” dismissed his companions, and took his place at the head of Princess Anne society.

Vesta was almost a brunette, with the rich colors of her type — eyebrows like the raven’s wing, ripe, red lips, and hair whose darkness and length, released from the crown into which she wound it, might have spun her garments. Her eyes were of a steel-blue, in which the lights had the effect of black. She was dark with sky breaking through, like the rich dusk and twilights over the Chesapeake.

People wondered that, with such beauty, ease, and accomplishments she was not proud; but her pride was too ethereal to be seen. It was not the vain consciousness of gifts and endowments, but the serene sense of worthiness, of unimpaired health, honor, and descent, which made her kind and thoughtful to a degree only less than piety. Grateful for her social rank and parentage, she adorned but did not forget them. The suitors who came for her were weighed in this scale of perfect desert — to be sons of such parents and associates of her married sisters and sisters-in-law. Not one had survived the test, yet none knew where he failed.

“Vesta is too good for any of them,” exclaimed the Judge, on more than one occasion. “When I get the furnace in such shape that it will run itself I will take my daughter to Europe and give her a musical education.”

In truth, the Judge had expectations of his daughter; for the reputation he had attained as a manufacturer was not without its drawbacks. He maintained two establishments; he supported a large body of laborers and dependents, some of whom he had brought from distant places under contract; the experiment in which he had embarked was still an experiment, and he was subject to the knowledge and judgment of his manager, being himself rather the patron than the manufacturer at the works. Many days, when he was supposed to be testing the percentage and mixture of his ores, he was gunning off on the ocean bars, crabbing on Whollop’s Beach, or hunting up questionable company among the forest girls, or around the oystermen’s or wrecker’s cabins. He had plenty of property and family endorsers, however, and seldom failed to have a satisfactory interview with Meshach Milburn, who was now assisting him, at least once a quarter, to keep both principal and interest at home.

The Judge had grown thicker with Meshach, but the storekeeper merely listened and assented, and took no pains to incur another criticism on his motives. Meshach wore his great hat, as ever, to church and on festive days, and it was still derided, and held to be the town wonder. Vesta Custis often saw the odd little man come into church while she was singing, and she fancied that his large, coarse ears were turned to receive the music she was making, and she faintly remembered that once she had held in her hands that wonderful hat with its copper buckle in the band, and stiff, wide brim, flowing in a wave. More than that she knew nothing, except that the wearer was an humble-born, grasping creature — a forester without social propensities, or, indeed, any human attachments. The negro who abode under his roof was beloved, compared to the sordid master, and all testimony concurred that Meshach Milburn deserved neither commiseration, friendship, nor recognition. Her father, however, indulgent in all things, said the money-lender had a good mind, and was no serf.

Milburn had ceased to deal with negroes or dispense drams. His wealth was now known to be more than considerable. He had ceased, also, to lend money on the surrounding farms, and rumors came across the bay that he was a holder of stocks and mortgages on the Western Shore, and in Baltimore and Pennsylvania. The little town of Princess Anne was full of speculations about him, and even his age was uncertain; Jack Wonnell had measured it by hats. Said Jack:

“I bought my bell-crowns the year ole Milburn’s daddy and mammy died. They died of the bilious out yer in Nassawongo, within a few days of each other. Now, I wear two bell-crowns a year. I come out every Fourth of July and Christmas. ’Tother day I counted what was left, and I reckoned that Meshach couldn’t be forty-five at the wust.”

Vesta Custis was only twenty years old when the townsfolk thought she must be twenty-five, so long had she been the beauty of Somerset. Her mother had always looked with apprehension on the possible time when her daughter would marry and leave her; for Judge Custis had long ceased to have the full confidence of his lady, whose fortune he had embarked without return on ventures still in doubt, and he always waived the subject when it was broached, or remarked that no loss was possible in his hands while Mrs. Custis lived.


 

CHAPTER III.

THE FORESTERS.

ONE Saturday afternoon in October Meshach Milburn drew out his razor, cup, and hone, and prepared to shave, albeit his beard was never more than harmless down. By a sort of capillary attraction Samson Hat divined his purpose, and, opening the big green chest, brought out the mysterious hat.

“Put it down!” commanded the money-lender. “Go out and hire me a carriage with two horses — two horses, do you mind!”

Samson dropped the hat in wonderment.

“Make yourself decent,” added Meshach; “I want you to drive. Go with me, and keep with me: do you understand?”

“Yes, marster.”

When the negro departed, Meshach himself took up the tall, green, buckled hat, with the stiff, broad, piratical brim. He looked it over long and hard.

“Vanity, vanity!” he murmured, “vanity and habit! I dare not disown thee now, because they give thee ridicule, and without thee they would give me nothing but hate!”

The people around the tavern and court-house saw, with surprise too great for jeering, the note-shaver go past in a carriage, driven by his negro, and with two horses! Jack Wonnell took off his shining beaver to cheer. As the phenomenal team receded, the old cry ran, however, down the stilly street: “Steeple-top! He’s got it on! Meshach’s loose!”

The carriage proceeded out the forest road, and soon entered upon the sandy, pine-slashed region called Hardscrabble, or Hardship.

Here the roads were sandy as the hummocks and hills in the rear of a sea beach, and the low, lean pines covered the swells and ridges, while in occasional level basins, where the stiff clay was exposed, some forester’s unpainted hut sat black and smoking on the slope, without a window-pane, an ornament, or anything to relieve life from its monotony and isolation.

But where the rills ran off to the continuous swamps the leafage started up in splendrous versatility. The maple stood revealed in all its fair, light harmonies. The magnolia drooped its ivory tassels, and scented the forest with perfume. The kalmia and the alder gave undergrowth and brilliancy to the foliage. Hoary and green with precipitate old age, the cypress-trees stood in moisture, and drooped their venerable beards from angular branches, the bald cypress overhanging its evergreen kinsman, and looking down upon the swamp-woods in autumn, like some hermit artist on the rich pigments on his palette.

But nothing looked so noble as the sweet gum, which rose like a giant plume of yellow and orange, a chief in joyous finery, where the cypress was only a faded philosopher.

Beside such a tall gum-tree Samson Hat reined in, where a well-spring shone at the bottom of a hollow cypress. He borrowed a bucket from the hut across the road, and watered the horses.

“Marster,” ventured the negro, “dey say your gran’daddy sot dis spring.”

“Yes,” said Milburn, “and built the cabin. Yonder he lies, on the knoll by that stump, up in the field: he and more of our wasted race.”

“And yon woman is a Milburn,” added the negro, socially. “I know her by de hands.”

The barefoot woman living in the cabin — one room and a loft, and the floor but a few inches above the ground — cried out, impudently:

“If I could have two horses I’d buy a better hat!”

Milburn did not answer, but marked the poor, small corn ears ungathered on the fodderless stalks, the shrubs of peach-trees, of which the largest grew on his ancestors’ graves, the little cart for one horse or ox, which was at once family carriage and farm wagon, and the few pigs and chickens of stunted breeds around the woman’s feet.

“Drive on, boy,” he exclaimed; “the worst of all is that these people are happy!”

“Dat’s a fack, marster,” laughed Samson Hat. “Dey wouldn’t speak to you in Princess Anne. Dey think everybody’s proud and rich dar.”

“Here the sea once dashed its billows on a bar,” said Meshach Milburn, reflectively. “That geology book relates it! From the North the hummocks recede in waves, where successive beaches were formed as the sea slowly retreated. Hardly deeper than a human grave they strike water, below the sand and gravel. Below the water they drink is nothing but black mud, made of coarse, decayed grass. No lime is in the soil. Not a mineral exists in all this low, wave-made peninsula, where my people were shipwrecked — except the wonderful bog ores.”

The negro’s genial, wondering nature broke out with comfortable assurance.

“Dat must be in de Bible,” he said. “Marster, de Milburns been heah so long, dey must hab got shipwrecked wid ole Noah!”

“All families are shipwrecked,” absently replied Meshach, “who cast their lot upon an unrewarding land, and growing poorer, darker, down, from generation to generation, can never leave it, and, at last, can never desire to go.”

“Marster, dar is one got to go some ob dese days. It’s me — pore ole Samson!”

“Ha! has some one set you on to demand your wages?”

“No, marster, I am old. It’s you dat I’m troubled about! Dar’s none to mend for you, cook for you, cure yo’ sickness, or lay you in de grave.”

No more was said until they passed the settled part of the forest and entered one of the many straight aisles of sky and sand among the pines, which had been opened on the great furnace tract of Judge Custis. He had here several thousand acres, and for miles the roadways were cleft towards the horizon. The moon rose behind them as they entered the furnace village, and they saw the lights twinkle through the open doors of many cottages and the furnace flames dart over the forbidding mill-pond, where in the depths grew the iron ore, like a vegetable creation, and above the surface, on splayed and conical mud-washed roots, the hundreds of strong cypresses towered from the water. Between the steep banks of dark-colored pines, taller than the forest growth, this furnace lake lay black and white and burning red as the shadows, or moonrise, or flames struck upon it, and the stained water foamed through the breast or dam where the ancient road crossed between pines, cypresses and gum-trees of commanding stature.

Tawny, slimy, chilly, and solemn, the pond repeated the forms of the groves it submerged; the shaggy shadows added depth and dread to the effect; some strange birds hooted as they dipped their wings, in the surface, and, flying upward, seemed also sinking down. As Meshach felt the chill of that pond he drew down his hat and buttoned up his coat.

“The earliest fools who turned up the bog ores for wealth,” he said, “released the miasmas which slew all the people roundabout. They killed all my family, but set me free.”


 

CHAPTER IV.

DISCOVERY OF THE HEIRLOOM.

JUDGE CUSTIS was in his bedroom, in the second story of the large, inn-like mansion at the middle of the village, and he was just recovering from the effects of a long wassail. In his peculiar nervous condition he started at the sound of wheels, and, drawing his curtains, looked out upon the long, shadow of an advancing figure crowned with a steeple hat.

This human shadow strengthened and faded in the alternating light, until it was defined against his storehouse, his warehouse, his cabins, and the plain, and it seemed also against the wall of dense forest pines. Then footsteps ascended the stairs. His door opened and Meshach Milburn, with his holiday hat on his head, stood on the threshold; his eyes vigilant and bold as ever, and all his Indian nature to the front.

“My God, Milburn!” exclaimed the Judge, “odd as it is to see you here, I am relieved. Old Nick, I thought, was coming.”

“Shall I come in?” asked Milburn.

“Yes; I’m sleeping off a little care and business. Let your man stay outside on the porch. Draw up a chair. It’s money, I suppose, that brings you here?”

The money-lender carefully put his formidable hat upon a table, took a distant chair, pushed his gaitered feet out in front, and laid a large wallet or pocket-book on his lap. Then, addressing his whole attention to the host, he appeared never to wink while he remained.

“Judge Custis,” he said, straightforwardly, “the first time you came to borrow money from me, you said that Nassawongo furnace would enrich this county and raise the value of my land.”

“Yes, Milburn. It was a slow enterprise, but it’s coming all right. I shipped a thousand tons last year.”

“Judge Custis,” continued the money-lender, “I told you, when you made the first loan, that I would investigate this ore. I did so years ago. Specimens were sent by me to Baltimore and tested there. Not content with that, I have studied the manufacture of iron for myself — the society of Princess Anne not grudging me plenty of solitude! — and I know that every ton of iron you make costs more than you get for it. The bog ore is easy to smelt; but it is corrupted by phosphate of iron and is barely marketable.”

The Judge was sitting with eyes wide open, and paler than before.

“You have found that out?” he whispered. “I did not know it myself until within this year — so help me God!”

“I knew it before I made you the second loan.”

“Why did you not tell me?”

“Because you forbade our relations to be anything but commercial. I was not bound to betray my knowledge.”

“Why did you, then, from a commercial view, lend me large sums of money again and again?”

“Because,” said the money-lender, coolly, “you had other security. You have a daughter!”

Judge Custis broke from the bed-covers and rushed upon Meshach Milburn.

“Heathen and devil!” he shouted, taking the money-lender by the throat, “do you dare to mention her as part of your mortgage?”

They struggled together until a powerful pair of hands pinioned the Judge, and bore him back to his bed. Samson Hat was the man.

“Judge!” he exclaimed, gentle, but firm, “you is a good man, but not as good as me. Cool off, Judge!”

“I expected this scene,” said Meshach Milburn. “It could not have been avoided. I was bound in conscience and in common-sense to make you the only proposition which could save you from ruin. For, Judge Custis, you are a ruined man!”

Overcome with excitement and suspended stimulation, the old Judge fell back on his pillow and began to sob.

“Give him brandy,” said Meshach Milburn, “here is the bottle! He needs it now.”

The wretched gentleman eagerly drank the proffered draught from the negro’s hands. His fury did not revive, and he covered his face with his palms and moaned piteously.

“Judge Custis,” remarked Meshach Milburn, “if the apparent social distance between us could be lessened by any argument, I might make one. For the difference is in appearance only. The healthy flesh which gives you and yours stature and beauty is a matter of food alone. My stock has survived five generations of such diet as has bent the spines of the forest pigs and stunted the oxen. Money and family joy will give me children comely again. My life has been hard but pure.”

The old Judge felt the last unconscious reflection.

“Yes,” he uttered, solemnly, “no doubt Heaven marked me for some such degradation as this, when I yielded to low propensities, and sought my pleasure and companions in the huts of the forest!”

“You claim descent from the Stuart Restoration: I know the tale. A creditor of the two exiled royal brothers for sundry tavern loans and tipples drew for his obligation an office in far-off Virginia. Seizures, confiscations, the slave-trade, marriages — in short, the long game of advantage — built up the fortunes of the Custises, until they expired in a certain Judge, whose notes of hand a hard man, forest-born, held over the Judge’s head on what seemed hard conditions, but conditions in which was every quality of mercy, except consideration for your pride.”

The Judge made a laugh like a howl.

Mercy?” he exclaimed, “you do not know what it is! To ensnare my innocent daughter in the damned meshes of your principal and interest! Call it malignity — the visitation of your unsocial wrath on man and an angel; but not mercy!”

“Then we will call it compensation,” continued Meshach Milburn: “for twenty years I have denied myself everything; you denied yourself nothing. Your substance is wasted; renew it from the abundance of my thrift. It was not with an evil design that I made myself your creditor, although, as the years have rolled onward and solitude chilled my heart, that has always pined for human friendship, I could not but see the kindling glory of your daughter’s beauty. Like the schoolboys, the married husbands — yes, like the slaves — I had to admire her. Then, unknowing how deeply you were involved, I found offered to me for sale the paper you had negotiated in Baltimore — paper, Judge Custis, dishonorably negotiated!”

The money-lender rose and walked to the sad man’s bed, and held the hand, full of these notes, boldly over him.

“It was despair, Milburn!” moaned the Judge.

“And so was my resolution. Said I: ‘This lofty gentleman would cheat me, his neighbor, who have suffered all the contumely of this good society, and on starveling opportunity have slowly recovered independence. Now he shall take my place in the forest, or I will wear my hat at the head of his family table.’”

“A dreadful revenge!” whispered Custis, with a shudder. “Such a hat is worse than a cloven foot. In God’s name! whence came that ominous hat?”

Milburn took up the hat and held it before the lamplight, so that its shadow stood gigantic against the wall.

“Who would think,” he said, sarcastically, “that a mere head-covering, elegant in its day, could make more hostility than an idle head? I will tell you the silly secret of it. When I came from the obscurity of the forest, sensitive, and anxious to make my way, and slowly gathered capital and knowledge, a person in New York directed a letter of inquiry to me. It told how a certain Milburn, a Puritan or English Commonwealth man, had risen to great distinction in that province, and had revolutionized its government and suffered the penalty of high-treason.”

“True enough,” said Judge Custis, pouring a second glass of brandy; “Milburn and Leisler were executed in New York during the lifetime of the first Custis. They anticipated the expulsion of James II., and were entrapped by their provincial enemies and made political martyrs.”

“The inquirer,” said Meshach, “who had obtained my address in the course of business, related, that after Milburn’s death his brethren and their families had sailed to the Chesapeake, where the Protestants had successfully revolutionized for King William, and, making choice of poor lands, they had become obscure. He asked me if the court-house records made any registry of their wills.”

“Of course you found them?”

“Yes. It was a revelation to me, and gave me the honorable sense of some origin and quality. I traced myself back to the earliest folios, at the close of the seventeenth century.”

“Any property, Milburn?” asked the Judge, voluptuous and reanimated again.

“My great-grandfather had left his son nothing but a Hat.”

“Not uncommon!” exclaimed Judge Custis. “Our early wills contain little but legacies of wearing apparel, household articles, bedding, pots and kettles, and the elements of civilization.”

“The will on record said: ‘I give to my eldest son, Meshach Milburn, my best Hat, and no more of my estate.’”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the Judge, loudly. “Genteel to the last! A hat of fashion, no doubt, made in London; quite too ceremonious and topgallant for these colonies. He left it to his eldest son, en-tiled it, we may say. Ho! ho!”

“When my indignation was over, I took the same view you do, Judge Custis, that it was a bequest of dignity, not of burlesque; and I made some inquiries for that best Hat. It was a legend among my forest kin, had been seen by very old people, was celebrated in its day, and worn by my grandfather thankfully. He left it to my father, still a hat of reputation—”

“Still en-tiled to the oldest son! Ha, ha! Milburn.”

“My father sold the hat to Charles Wilson Peale, who was native to our peninsula, and knew the ancient things existing here that would help him to form Peale’s Museum during the last century. I found the hat in that museum, covering the mock-figure of Guy Fawkes!”

“Conspirator’s hat; bravo!” exclaimed the Judge.

“It had been used for the heads of George Calvert and Shakespeare, but in time of religious excitements was proclaimed to be the true hat of Guy Fawkes. I reclaimed it, and brought it to Princess Anne, and in a vain moment put it on my head and walked into the street. It was assailed with halloos and ribaldry.”

“It was another Shirt of Nessus, Milburn; it poisoned your life, eh?”

“Perhaps so,” replied Milburn, with intensity. “They say what is one man’s drink is another man’s poison. You will accept that hat on the head of your son-in-law, or no more drink out of the Custis property!”


 

CHAPTER V.

THE BOG-ORE TRACT.

RESOLUTION of character and executive power had been trifled away by Judge Custis. The trader had concluded their interview with a decision and fierceness that left paralysis upon the gentleman’s mind. He saw, in sad fancy, the execution served upon his furniture, the amazement of his wife, the pallor of his daughter, the indignation of his sons. He also shrank before the impending failure of his furnace and abandonment of the bog-ore tract, on which he had raised so much state and local fame; people would say: “Custis was a fool, and deceived himself, while old Steepletop Milburn played upon the Custises’ vanity, and turned them into the street.”

“No doubt,” thought the Judge, “that fellow, Milburn, can get anything when he gets my house. The poor folks’ vote he may command, because he is of their class. He is a lender to many of the rich. Who could have suspected his intelligence? His address, too? He handled me as if I were a forester and he a judge. A very, very remarkable man!” finished Judge Custis, taking the last of the brandy.

He was interrupted by the entrance of Samson Hat.

“Where’s your master, boy?” asked the Judge.

“He’s gone up to de ole house, Judge, where his daddy and mammy died. It’s de place where I hides after my fights.”

“May the ague strike him there! Let the bilious sweat from the mill-pond be strong to-night, that, like Judas of old, his bowels may drop out! But, no,” continued the irresolute man, “I have no right to hate him.”

“Judge,” softly said the old negro, “my marster is a sick man. He ain’t happy like you an’ me. He’s ’bitious. He’s lonely. Dat’s enough to spile angels. But a gooder man I never knowed, ’cept in de onpious sperrit. He’s proud as Lucifer. He’s full of hate at Princess Anne and all de people. Your darter may git a better man, not a pyorer one.”

“Purity goes a very little way,” exclaimed the Judge, “on the male side of marriage contracts. It’s always assumed, and never expected. You need not remember, Samson, that I expressed any anger at your master!”

“My whole heart, Judge, is to see him happy. Hard as he is, dat man has power to make him loved. Your darter might go farder and fare wuss! I wish her no harm, God knows!”

The negro said an humble good-night, and the Judge lay down upon his bed to think of the dread alternatives of the coming week; but, voluptuous even in despair, he slept before he had come to any conclusion.

Samson Hat walked up the side of the mill-pond on a sandy road, divided from the water by a dense growth of pines. The bullfrogs and insects serenaded the forest; the furnace chimney smoked lurid on the midnight. At the distance of half a mile or more an old cabin, in decay, stood in a sandy field near the road; it had no door in the hollow doorway, no sash in the one gaping window; the step was broken leading to the sill, and some of the weather-boarding had rotted from the skeleton. The old end-chimney bore it toughly up, however, and the low brick props under the corners stood plumb. Within lay a single room with open beams, a sort of cupboard stairway projecting over the fireplace, and another door and window were in the rear. Before this fireplace sat Meshach Milburn on an old chair, fairly revealed by the light of some of the burning weather-boarding he had thrown upon the hearth. On the hearth was a little heap of the bog iron ore and a bottle.

“Come in, Samson!” he called. “Don’t think me turned drunkard because I am taking this whiskey. I drink it to keep out the malaria, and partly as a communion cup; for to-night the barefooted ghosts who have drooped and withered here are with me in spirit.”

“Dey was all good Milburns who lived heah, marster,” said the negro. “Dey had hard times, but did no sin. Dey shook wid chills and fevers, not wid conscience.”

“I shall shake with neither,” said the money-lender. “Go up into the loft, and sleep till you are called. I want the horses early for Princess Anne!”

The negro obeyed without remark, and disappeared behind the cupboard-like door. Milburn sat before the fire, and looked into it long, while a procession of thoughts and phantoms passed before it.

He saw a poor family of independent Puritans setting sail at different dates from English seaports. Some were indentured servants, hoping for a career; others were avoiding the civil wars; others were small political malefactors, noisy against the oppressions of their hero, Cromwell, and conspirators against his power; and, thrown by him in English jails, were only delivered to be sold into slavery, driven through the streets of market-towns, placed on troop-ships between the decks, among the horses, and set up at auction in Barbadoes, like the blacks; whence they in time continued onward westward. One, the fortunate possessor of some competence, sailed his own ship across the Atlantic, and delivered up to Massachusetts her governor and gentry. Another, incapable of being suppressed, though a servant, seized the destinies of an aristocratic colony, and held them for a while, until accumulating enemies bore him down, and wedlock and the gibbet followed close together. Poverty would not relinquish its gripe upon the race; they struggled up like clods upon the ploughshare, and fell back again into the furrow.

As Meshach Milburn thought of these things he took up a portion of the bog ore from the hearth.

“Here is iron,” he said, thoughtfully, “true iron, which makes the blood red, moulds into infinite forms, nails houses together, binds wheels, and casts into cannon and ball. But this iron ran into a bog, formed low combinations, and had no other mould than twigs and leaves afforded. Its volcanic origin was forgotten when it ran with sand and gravel away from the mountain vein and upland ore along the low, alluvial bar, till, like an oyster, the iron is dredged from the stagnant pool, impure, inefficacious, corrupted. So is it with man, whose magnetic spirit follows the dull declivity to the barren sandbars of the world, and lodges there. I am of the bog ores; but that exists which will flux with me, clean me of rust, and transmit my better quality to posterity. O, youth, beauty, and station — lovely Vesta! for thee I will be iron!”

Milburn looked around the single room inquiringly. He placed his finger upon the crevices in the weather-boarding; he opened the little closet below the stairs, and a weasel dashed out and shot through the door; he ascended the steep, short stairs, and with a torch examined the black shingles, but nothing was there except a litter of young owls, whose parents had gone poaching. Then, returning, he searched on every open beam and rotting board, as if for writing.

“They could not write!” he thought. “Nothing is left to me, not even a sign, down the century and a half, to tell that I had parents!”

As he spoke be felt an object move behind him, and, looking back, the shadow of the Entailed Hat was dancing on the wall. As he threw his head back, so did it; as he retired from it, the hat enlarged, until the little room could hardly hold its shadow. Retiring again, he lifted it from his head with bitter courtesy, and the shadow did the same. The man and the shadow looked each at a peaked hat and stroked it.

“This is everything,” exclaimed Milburn. “The hundred humble heads are at rest in the sand; one gravestone would mock them all. But once the family brain expanded to a hat, and that survived the race. I am the Quaker who respects his hat, the Cardinal who is crowned with it; yes, and the dunce who must wear it in his corner!”

Then the picture of his parents arose upon his sight: a cheerful father, with two or three old slaves, ploughing in the deep sand, to drop some shrivelled grains of corn, or tinkering a disordered mill-wheel that moved a blacksmith’s saw. Ever full of confidence in nothing which could increase, credulous and sanguine, tender and laborious, Milburn’s sire nursed his forest patches as if they were presently to be rich plantations, and was ever “pricing” negroes, mules, tools, and implements, in expectation of buying them. Nothing could diminish his confidence but disease and old age. He heard of the great “improvement” on the Furnace tract, and took his obedient wife and brood there. As the laborers pulled out the tussocks and roots, encrusted with iron, from the swamp and creek, fever and ague came forth and smote them both.

How wretched that scene when, almost too haggard to move, father and mother, in this one bare room where Meshach sat, groaning amid their many offspring, saw death with weakness creep upon each other — death without priest or doctor, without residue or cleanliness — the death the million die in lowly huts, yet, oh, how hard!

“Haste, sonny, good boy,” the frightened father had said, knowing not how ill he was, in his dependence on his wife; “take the horse, and ride into Snow Hill for the doctor. Poor mother is dreadful sick!”

Then, leaping upon the lean old horse, bare-backed and with a rope bridle, Meshach had pushed through the deep sand, bareheaded and barefooted, and almost crazy with excitement, until he entered the shining streets of the sandhilled town, and sensitively rushed into the doctor’s office, crying, “Daddy and mammy is sick, at the Furnace!” and told his name, and wheeled, and fled.

But, as the boy rode home, more slowly, past the river full of splutter-docks, the yellow masts of vessels rising above the woods, the flat fields of corn everywhere bounded by forest, and the small white houses of the better farmers, and at last entered the murmurous, complaining woods, he saw but one thing — his mother.

Was she to disappear from the lonely clearing, and leave only the hut and its orphans? she, who kept heaven here below, and was the saints, the arts, the all-sufficient for her child? With her there could be no poverty; without her riches would be only more sand. With a little molasses she made Christmas kingly with a cake. She could name a little chicken “Meshach,” and every egg it laid was a new toy. A mocking-bird caught in the swamp became one of the family by her kindness; would it ever sing again? The religion they knew was all of her. The poor slaves saw no difference in mistresses while she was theirs. In sickness she was in her sphere — health itself had come. And once, the tenderest thing in life, when his father and she had quarrelled, and the light of love being out made the darkness of poverty for the only time visible, Meshach saw her weeping, and he could not comfort her.

Then, blinded by tears, he lashed his nag along, and entered the low door. She was dead!

“Sonny, mammy’s gone!” the wretched father groaned; the little children, huddling about the form, lifted their wail; the mocking-bird could find no note for this; and was hushed.

Milburn arose; the fire was low. He walked to the door, and there was a sign of day; the all-surrounding woods of pine were still dark, but on the sandy road and hummock-field some light was shining, like hopefulness against hope; the farm was ploughed no more; the ungrateful centuries were left behind and abandoned, like old wilderness battle-fields, so sterile that their great events remain ever unvisited.

“Ho! Samson, boy! It is time!”

“Yes, marster!” answered the negro in the loft.

As the negro gathered himself up and passed down the stairs, he saw Meshach Milburn before the fire, stirring the coals. Passing out, Samson stood a moment at the gate, and lounged up the road, not to lose his master. As he stood there, flames burst out of the old hut and glistened on the evergreen forest, lighting the tops of the mossy cypresses in the mill-pond, and revealing the forms of the sandy fields. Before he could start back Samson saw his master’s figure go round and round the house, lighting the weather-boarding from place to place with a torch; and then the low figure, capped with the long hat, came up the road as if at mighty strides, so lengthened by the fire.

“No need of alarm, boy!” exclaimed the filial incendiary. “Henceforth my only ancestral hall is here!

He held the ancient tile, up in the light of the, blaze.

“Ah, marster!” said the negro, “yo’ hat will never give comfort like a home, fine as de hat may be, mean as de roof! De hat will never hold two heads, and dat makes happiness.”

“The hat, at least,” answered Milburn, bitterly, “will cover me where I go. Such rotted roofs as that was make captives of bright souls.”

They looked on the fire in silence a few minutes.

“You have burnt me out, boss,” said old Samson, finally. “I ain’t got no place to go an’ hide when I fights, now. It makes me feel solemn.”

“Peace!” replied Meshach Milburn. “Now for the horses and Princess Anne!”


 

CHAPTER VI.

THE CUSTISES RUINED.

VESTA CUSTIS, dressing in her chamber, heard early wheels upon the morning air, and looking through the blinds saw a double team coming up the road from Hardship.

“Mother,” she said, “is that father coming, yonder? No, it is not his driver.”

“Why, Vesta!” exclaimed Mrs. Custis, “that is old Milburn’s man.”

“Samson Hat? so it is. What is he doing with two horses?”

Here Vesta laughed aloud, and began to skip about in her long, slender, worked slippers, whose insteps would spare a mouse darting under.

“Mamma, it is Milburn himself, in a hack and span. See there; the steeple-top hat, copper buckle and all! Isn’t he too funny for anything! But, dear me! he is staring right up at this window. Let us duck!”

Vesta’s long, ivory-grained arms, divided from her beautiful shoulders only by a spray of lace, pulled her mother down.

“Don’t be afraid, dear! he can see nothing but the blinds. Perhaps he is looking for the Judge.”

Vesta rose again in her white morning-gown, like a stag rising from a snow-drift. A long, trembling movement, the result of tittering, passed down the graceful column of her back.

“He sits there like an Indian riding past in a show, mamma! Did you ever see such a hat?”

“I think it must be buggy by this time,” said the mother; and both of them shook with laughter again. “Unless,” added Mrs. Custis, “the bugs are starved out.”

“Poor, lonely creature,” said Vesta, “he can only wear such a hat from want of understanding.”

“His understanding is good enough, dear. He has the green gaiters on.”

They laughed again, and Vesta’s hair, shaken down by her merriment, fell nearly to her slipper, like the skin of some coal-black beast, that had sprung down a poplar’s trunk.

“Ah! well,” exclaimed Vesta, as her maid entered and proceeded to wind up this satin cordage on her crown, “what men are in their minds, can woman know? Old ladies, not unfrequently, wear their old coal-scuttle bonnets long past the fashion, but it is from want. This man is his own master and not poor. His companion is a negro, and his taste a mouldy hat, old as America. How happy are we that it is not necessary to pry into such minds! A little refinement is the next blessing to religion.”

“Your father’s mind is a puzzle, too, Vesta. He has everything which these foresters lack, — education, society, standing, and comforts. But he returns to the forest, like an opossum, the moment your eye is off him. He can’t be traced up like this man, by his hat. I think it’s a shame on you, particularly. If he don’t come home this day, I shall send for my brother and force an account of my property from Judge Custis!”

The wife sat down and began to cry.

“I’ll take the carriage after breakfast, mamma, and seek him at the Furnace or wherever he may be. Those bog ores have given him a great deal of trouble.”

“I wish I had never heard of bog ore,” exclaimed Mrs. Custis. “When the money was in bank, there was no ore about it. He goes to the forest looking like a magistrate and a gentleman; he always comes back looking like a bog-trotter and a drunkard. There must be women in it!”

Here, in an impulse of weak rage, the poor lady got up and walked to her mirror and looked at her face. Apparently satisfied that such charms were trampled on, she dried her tears altogether, and resumed:

“Ginny, go out of the room! (to the neat mulatto lass). Vesta, my dear daughter, I would not cast a stain upon you for the world; but flesh and blood will cry out. If your father don’t do better I will separate from him, and leave Princess Anne.”

“Why, mother!

The daughter’s bright eyes were large and startled now, and their steel-blue tint grew plainer under her rich black eyebrows.

“I will do it, if I die, unless he reforms!”

“Why, mother!”

Vesta stood with her lips parted, and her beautiful teeth just lacing the coral of the lip. She could say no more for a long moment. Rising as she spoke, with her head thrown back, and her mould the fuller and a pallor in her cheeks, she looked the Eve first hearing the Creator’s rebuke.

“A separation in this family?” whispered Vesta. “It would scandalise all Maryland. It would break my heart.”

“Darling daughter, my heart must be considered sometimes. I was something before I was a Custis. I am a woman, too.”

Vesta, still pale, crossed to her mother’s side and kissed her.

“Don’t, don’t, mamma, ever harbor a thought like that again. You, who have been so brave and patient longer than I have lived!”

“Ah, Vesta, it is the length of injury that wears us out! What if something should happen to us? None are so unfit to bear poverty as we.”

“We cannot be poor,” said the daughter, soothingly. “Don’t you remember, mother, where it says: ‘As thy day, so shall thy strength be’?”

“My child,” Mrs. Custis replied, “your day is young. Life looks hopeful to you. I am growing old, and where is the arm on which I should be leaning? What are we but two women left? There is another passage on which I often think when we sit so often alone: ‘Two women shall be grinding at the mill: the one shall be taken and the other left!’ Is that you, or is it I? Listen, my child! it is time that you should feel the melancholy truth! Your father’s habits have mastered him. He is beyond reclamation!”

Vesta was kneeling, and she slowly raised her head and looked at her mother, with her nostrils dilated. Mrs. Custis felt uneasy before the aroused mind of her child.

“Don’t look at me so, Vesta,” the poor lady pleaded. “I thought you ought to know it.”

“How dare you say that of my father? Of Judge Custis?”

As they were in this suspense of feeling, wheels were heard. The daughter went to the window and looked down, and then returned to her mother’s ear.

“Hush, mother, it is papa. Now, wash your eyes at the toilet. Let us meet him cheerfully. Never say again that he is beyond reclamation, while we can try!”

A kiss smoothed Mrs. Custis’s countenance. Vesta was dressed for breakfast in a few moments, and descended to the library and was received in her father’s arms. He held her there a long while, and held her close, and by little fits renewed his embrace, but she felt that his breath was feverish and his arms trembled. Looking up at him she saw, indeed, that he was flushed, yet haggard and careworn.

“Vessy,” he spoke with a feeble attempt to smile, “I want a glass of brandy. Mine gave out at the Furnace, and the morning ride has weakened me. Where is the key?”

She looked at him with a half-glance, so that he might not suspect, as if to measure his need of stimulant. Then, without a word, she led the way to the dining-room and unlocked the liquor closet, and turned her back lest he might not drink his need from sensitiveness.

“Naughty man,” said Vesta, standing off and looking at him when he was done. “I was going down for you to the Furnace after breakfast. We will have no more of this truantry. Mamma and I have set our feet down! You must come back from the Furnace every night, and go again in the morning, like other business men. Be very kind to mamma this morning, sir! She feels your neglect.”

Vesta had already rung for the Judge’s valet, who now appeared, drew off his boots, supplied his slippers and dressing-gown, and led the way to his bath. In a quarter of an hour he re-appeared, looking better.

They went to the breakfast-table, and the Judge’s countenance was down. He bit off some toast and filled his mouth with tea, but could not swallow. A hand softly touched his elbow, and, looking there, he saw a wine-glass full of brandy softly glide to the spot. As he looked up and saw the rich, yearning face of his dark-eyed daughter tenderly consulting his weakness, his heart burst forth; he leaned his head upon the table and cried, between drink and grief:

“Darling, we are ruined!”

Mrs. Custis at once arose, and looked frightenedly at the Judge. Vesta as quickly turned to the servants and motioned them to go.

“No, let them hear it!” raved Judge Custis, perceiving the motion. “They are interested, like us. They must be sold, too. Faithful servants! Perhaps it may warn them to escape in time!”

The servants, bred like ladies, quietly left the room.

Mrs. Custis, growing paler, exclaimed:

“Daniel Custis, have you lost everything in that furnace?”

“Everything!”

“And my money, too?”

“Yes.”

“Merciful God!”

Before the weak lady could fall Vesta’s arm was around her, and her finger on the table-bell. Servants entered and Mrs. Custis was carried out, her daughter following.

When Vesta returned her father was walking up and down the floor with his long silk handkerchief in both hands, weeping bitterly, and speaking broken syllables.

Could this be true; that he, the grand, the kind, the gentleman, was beneath the plummet’s sounding, where light could not pierce, nor Hope overtake? Her father, the first gentleman in Somerset, a drunkard, going ever downward towards the gutter, and no ray of heaven to beam upon his grave!


 

CHAPTER VII.

JACK-O’-LANTERN IRON.

MRS. CUSTIS was in no situation to give annoyance for that day, as a sick-headache seized her and she kept her room. Infirm of will, purely social in her marriage relations, and never aiming higher than respectability, she missed the coarse mark of her husband who, with all his moral defections, probably was her moral equal, his vital standard higher, his tone a genial hypocrisy, and at bottom he was a democrat.

Mrs. Custis had no insight nor variability of charity; her mind, bounded by the municipal republic of Baltimore, which esteems itself the world, particularly among its mercantile aristocracy, who live like the old Venetian nobility among their flat lagoons, and do commerce chiefly with the Turk in the more torrid and instinctive Indies and South. Amiable, social, afraid of new ideas, frugal of money; if hospitable at the table, with a certain spiritedness that is seldom intellectual, but a beauty that powerfully attracts, till, by the limited sympathies beneath it, the husband from the outer world discerns how hopelessly slavery and caste sink into an old shipping society, the Baltimore that ruled the Chesapeake had no more perfected product than Mrs. Custis.

Her modesty and virtue were as natural as her prejudices; she believed that marriage was the close of female ambition, and marrying her children was the only innovation to be permitted. Certain accomplishments she thought due to woman, but none of them must become masculine in prosecution; a professional woman she shrank from as from an infidel or an abolitionist; reading was meritorious up to an orthodox point, but a passion for new books was dangerous, probably irreligious. To lose one’s money was a crime; to lose another’s money the unforgiven sin, because that was Baltimore public opinion, which she thought was the only opinion entitled to consideration. The old Scotch and Irish merchants there had made it the law that enterprise was only excusable by success, and that success only branded an innovator. A good standard of society, therefore, had barely permitted Judge Custis to take up the bog-ore manufacture, and, failing in it, his wife thought he was no better than a Jacobin.

On the Eastern Shore, where society was formed before Glasgow and Belfast had colonized upon the Chesapeake with their precise formulas of life, a gentler benevolence rose and descended upon the ground every day, like the evaporations of those prolific seas which manure the thin soil unfailingly. Religion and benevolence were depositions rather than dogmas there; moderate poverty was the not unwelcome expectation, wealth a subject of apprehensive scruples, kindness the law, pride the exception, and grinding avarice, like Meshach Milburn’s, was the mark of the devil entering into the neighbor and the fellow-man.

Judge Custis was representative of his neighbors except in his Virginia voluptuousness; his neighbors were neither prudes nor hypocrites, and he respected them more than the arrogant race in the old land of Accomac and in the Virginia peninsulas, whose traits he had almost lost. Sometimes it seemed to him that the last of the cavalier stock was his daughter, Vesta. From him it had nearly departed, and his sense of moral shortcomings expanded his heart and made him tenderly pious to his kind, if not to God. He admired new-comers, new business modes, and Northern intruders and ideas, feeling that perhaps the last evidence of his aristocracy from nature was a chivalric resignation. The pine-trees were saying to him: “Ye shall go like the Indians, but be not inhospitable to your successors, and leave them your benediction, that the great bay and its rivers may be splendid with ships and men, though ye are perished forever.” A perception of the energy of his countrymen, and a pride in it, without any mean reservation, though it might involve his personal humiliation, was Judge Custis’s only remaining claim to heaven’s magnanimity. Still, rich in human nature, he was beloved by his daughter with all her soul.

He awoke long after noon, in body refreshed, and a glass of milk and a plover broiled on toast were ready for him to eat, with some sprigs of new celery from the garden to feed his nerves. He made this small meal silently, and Vesta said, as the tray was removed:

“Now, papa, before we leave this room, you are to tell me the whole injury you have suffered, and what all of us can do to assist you; for if you had succeeded the reward would have been ours, and we must divide the pains of your misfortune with you without any regret. Courage, papa! and let me understand it.”

The Judge feebly looked at Vesta, then searched his mind with his eyes downcast, and finally spoke:

“My child, I am the victim of good intentions and self-enjoyment. I am less than a scoundrel and worse than a fool. I am a fraud, and you must be made to see it, for I fear you have been proud of me.”

“Oh, father, I have!” said Vesta, with an instant’s convulsion.

The Judge strode up and down, and proceeded to tell the tale of iron.

“I have duplicated loans,” he said at last, “on the same properties, incurring, I fear, a stigma upon my family and character; as well as the ruin of our fortune.”

Vesta arose with pale lips and a sinking heart.

“Oh, father,” she whispered, in a frightened tone, “who knows this terrible secret!”

“Only one man,” said the Judge, cowering down to the carpet, with his courage and volatility immediately gone, “old Meshach Milburn knows it all! He has purchased the duplicate notes of protest, and holds them with his own. He has me in his power, and hates me. He will expose me, unless I submit to an awful condition.”

“What is it, father?”

The Judge looked up in terror, and, meeting Vesta’s pale but steady gaze, hid his face and groaned:

“Oh! it is too disgraceful to tell. It will break your mother’s heart.”

“Tell me at once!” exclaimed Vesta, in a low and hollow tone. “What further disgrace can this monster inflict upon us than to expose our dishonor? Can he kill us more than that?”

“I know not how to tell you, Vessy. Spare me, my darling! My face I hide for shame.”

“Papa, look at me this instant! You shall not be a coward to me.”

The father raised his hands as if to protest, but before he could speak a shadow fell upon the window, and the figure of a small, swarthy man covered with a steeple-crowned hat advanced up the front steps.

“Saviour, have mercy!” murmured Judge Custis, “the wolf is at the door.”

Vesta took her father in her arms, and kissed him once assuringly.

“Papa, go send a servant to open the door. Have Mr. Milburn shown into this room to await me. Do you go and engage my mother affectionately, and both of you remain in your chamber till I am ready to call you.”

The proximity of the dreadful creditor had almost paralyzed Judge Custis, and he glided out like a ghost.


 

CHAPTER VIII.

THE HAT FINDS A RACK.

MESHACH MILBURN had locked the store after writing some letters, and had taken the broad street for Judge Custis’s gate. The news of his disappearance towards the Furnace, with an extravagant livery team, had spread among all the circle around the principal tavern, and they were discussing the motive and probabilities of the act, with that deep inner ignorance so characteristic of an instinctive society. Old Jimmy Phœbus, a huge man, with a broad face and small forehead, was called upon for his view.

“It’s nothin’ but a splurge,” said Jimmy; “sooner or later everybody splurges — shows off! Meshach’s jest spilin’ with money and he must have a splurge — two hosses and a nigger. If it ain’t a splurge I can’t tell what ails him to save my life.”

A general chorus went up of “Dogged if I kin tell to save my life!”

Levin Dennis, the terrapin-buyer, made a wild guess, as follows:

“Meshach, I reckon, is a goin’ into the hoss business. He’s a ben in everything else, and has tuk to hosses. If it tain’t hosses, I can’t tell to save my life!”

All the lesser intellects of the party executed a low chuckle, spun around half-way on their boot-heels and back again, and muttered: “Not to save my life!”

Jack Wonnell, wearing one of the new bell-crowns, and barefooted, and looking like a vagrant who had tried on a militia grenadier’s imposing bearskin hat, let off this irrelevant addendum:

“Ole Milbun’s gwyn to see a gal. Fust time a man changes his regler course wilently, it’s a gal. I went into my bell-crowns to git a gal. Milbun’s gwyn get a gal out yonda in forest. If that ain’t it, can’t tell to save m’ life!”

The smaller fry, not being trained to suggestion, grinned, held their mouths agape, executed the revolution upon one heel, and echoed: “Dogged ef a kin tell t’ save m’ life!”

“He’s a comin’, boys, whooep!” exclaimed Jimmy Phœbus. “Now we’ll all take off our hats an’ do it polite, for, by smoke! thar’s goin’ to be hokey-pokey of some kind or nuther in Prencess Anne!”

The smallish man in the Guy Fawkes hat and the old, ultra-genteel, greenish gaiters, walked towards them with his resinous bold eyes to the front, his nose informing him of what was in the air like any silken terrier’s, and yet with a pallor of the skin as of a sick person’s, and less than his daily expression of hostility to Princess Anne.

“He’s got the ager,” remarked Levin Dennis, “them’s the shakes, comin’ on him by to-morrey, ef I know tarrapin bubbles!”

The latter end only of the nearest approach to profanity current in that land was again heard, fluttering around: “to save my life!”

Jimmy Phœbus had the name of being descended from a Greek pirate, or patriot, who had settled on the Eastern Shore, and Phœbus looked it yet, with his rich brown complexion, broad head, and Mediterranean eyes. “Good afternoon, Mr. Milburn!” spoke Jimmy, loud and careless.

“Good-afternoon, Mr. Phœbus. Gentlemen, good-afternoon!”

As he responded, with a voice hardly genial but placating, Milburn lifted his ancient and formidable hat, and in an instant seemed to come a century nearer to his neighbors. His stature was reduced, his unsociableness seemed modified; he now looked to be a smallish, friendless person, as if some ownerless dog had darted through the street, and heard a kind chirp at the tavern door, where his reception had been stones. His voice, with a little tremor in it, emboldened Levin Dennis also to speak:

“Look out for fevernager this month, Mr. Milburn!”

Meshach bowed his head, gliding along as if bashfully anxious to pass.

“Nice weather for drivin’!” added Jack Wonnell, having also taken off his own tile of frivolity, to feel the effect; but this remark was regarded by the group as too forward, and a low chorus ran round of “Jack Wonnell can’t help bein’ a fool to save his life!”

Milburn said to himself, passing on: “Are those voices kinder than usually, or am I more timid? What is it in the air that makes everything so acute, and my cheeks to tingle? Am I sick, or is it Love?”

The word frightened him, and the sand under his feet seemed to crack; a woodpecker in an old tree tapped as if it was the tree’s old heart quickened by something; the houses all around looked like live objects, with their windows fixed upon his walk, like married folks’ eyes. As he came in sight of Judge Custis’s residence, so expressive of old respect and long intentions, the money-lender almost stopped, so mild and peacefully it looked at him — so undisturbed, while he was palpitating.

“Why this pain?” thought Milburn. “Am I afraid? That house is mine. Do I fear to enter my own? And yet it does not fear me. It has been there so long that it has no fears, and every window in it faces benignant to my coming. The three gables survey yonder forest landscape like three old magistrates on the bench, administering justice to a county where never till now was there a ravisher!”

The thought produced a moment’s intellectual pride in him, like lawless power’s uneasy paroxysm. “It is the Forest these gentles have to fear to-day!” he thought, resentfully, then stopped, with another image his word aroused:

“What has that forest ever felt of injury or hate, with every cabin-door unlatched, no robber feared by any there, the blossoms on the negro’s peach-tree, the ripe persimmons on the roadside, plenteous to every forester’s child, and humility and affection making all richer, without out a dollar in the world, than I, the richest upstart of the forest, compelled to buy affection, like an indifferent slave!”

A large dog at Custis’s home, seeing him walk so slowly, came down the path to the gate, also walking slow, and showed neither animosity nor interest, except mechanically to walk behind him towards the door.

“The dog knows me,” thought the quickened heart of Meshach, “from life-long seeing of me, but never wagged his tail at me in all that time. Could I acquire the heart even of this dog, though I might buy him? My debtor’s step would still be most welcome to him, and he would eat my food in strangeness and fear.”

Milburn walked up the steps, and sounded the substantial brass knocker. It struck four times, loud and deep, and the stillness that followed was louder yet, like the unknown thing, after sentence has been passed. He seemed to be there a very long time with his heart quite vacant, as if the debtor’s knocker had scared every chatterer out of it, and yet his temples and ears were ringing. He was thinking of sounding the knocker again, when a lady’s servant, partly white, rolled back the bolt, and bowed to his question whether the Judge was in.

He entered the broad hall of that distinguished residence, and taking the Entailed Hat from his head, hung it up at last, where better head-coverings had been wont to keep equal society, on a carved mahogany rack of colonial times. The venerable object, once there, gave a common look to everything, as Meshach thought, and deepened his personal sense of unworthiness. He tried to feel angry, but apprehension was too strong for passion even to be simulated.

“O, discriminating God!” he felt, within, “is it not enough to create us so unequal that we must also cringe in spirit, and acknowledge it! I expected to feel triumphant when I lodged my despised hat in this man’s house, but I feel meaner than before.”

The room, whose door was opened by the lady’s maid, was the library, containing three cumbrous cases of books, and several portraits in oil, with deep, gilded frames, a map of Virginia and its northeastern environs, including all the peninsula south of the Choptank river and Cape Henlopen; and near the door was a tall clock, that a giant might stand in, solemnly cogging and waving time, and giving the monotony of everlasting evening to the place, which was increased by the flickering fire of wood on the tall brass fire-irons, before which some high-backed, wide, comfortable leather chairs were drawn, all worn to luxurious attitudes, as if each had been the skin of Judge Custis and his companions, recently evacuated.

A woman’s rocking-chair was disposed among them, as though every other chair deferred to it. This was the first article to arrest Milburn’s attention, so different, so suggestive, almost a thing of superstition, poised, like a woman’s instinct and will, upon nothing firm, yet, like the sphere it moved upon, traversing a greater arc than a giant’s seat would fill. Purity and conquest, power and welcome, seemed to abide within it, like the empty throne in Parliament.

Milburn, being left alone, touched the fairy rocker with his foot. It started so easily and so gracefully, that, when it died away, he pressed his lips to the top of it, nearest where her neck would be, and whispered aloud, with feeling, “God knows that kiss, at least, was pure!”

He looked at the portraits, and, though they were not inscribed, he guessed at them all, right or wrong, from the insight of local lore or envious interpretation.

“Yon saucy, greedy, superserviceable rogue,” thought Meshach, “with wine and beef in his cheeks, and silver and harlotry in his eye, was the Irish tavern-keeper of Rotterdam, who kept a heavy score against the banished princes whom Cromwell’s name ever made to swear and shiver, and they paid him in a distant office in Accomac, where they might never see him and his bills again, and there they let him steal most of the revenue, and, of course, his loyalty was in proportion to his booty. Many a time, no doubt, he was procurer for both royal brothers, Charles and James, making his tavern their stew, with Betty Killigrew, or Lucy Walters, or Katy Peg, or even Anne Hyde, the mother of a queen — of her who was the Princess Anne, godmother of our worshipful town here. I have not read in vain,” concluded Meshach, “because my noble townsmen drove me to my cell!”

The next portrait was clothed in military uniform, with a higher type of manhood, shrewd and vigilant, but magisterial. “That should be Major-general John Custis,” thought Milburn, looking at it, “son of John the tapster, and a marrying, shifty fellow, who first began greatness as a salt-boiler on these ocean islands, till his father’s friend, Charles II., in a merry mood, made Henry Bennet, the king’s bastard son’s father-in-law, Earl of Arlington and lessee of Virginia. All the province for forty shillings a year rent! Those were pure, economical times, indeed, around the court. So salt-boiler John flunkeyed to Arlington’s overseers, named his farm ‘Arlington,’ hunted and informed upon the followers of the Puritan rebel Bacon, then turned and fawned upon King William, too. His grandchildren, all well provided for, spread around this bay. So much for politics in a merchant’s hands!”

The tone of Meshach’s comment had somewhat raised his courage, and a sense of pleasurable interest in the warm room and genial surroundings led him to pass the time, which was of considerable length, quite contentedly, till Judge Custis was ready.

*       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, the steeple-top hat was giving some silent astonishment to the house-servants, assembled to gaze upon it from the foot of the hall. The neat chamber-servant, Virgie, had carried the wondrous information to the colonnade that the dreadful creditor had come, and Roxy, the table waiter, had carried it from the colonnade to the kitchen, where the common calamity immediately produced a revolution against good manners.

“Hab he got dat debbil hat on he head, chile?” inquired Aunt Hominy, laying down the club with which she was beating biscuit-dough on the block.

“Yes, aunty, he’s left it on the hat-rack. I’m afraid to go past it to the do’.”

Aunt Hominy threw the club on the blistered bulk of dough, and retreated towards the big black fireplace, with a face expressive of so much fright and cunning humor together that it seemed about to turn white, but only got as far as a pucker and twitches.

“De Lord a massy!” exclaimed Aunt Hominy, “chillen, le’s burn dat hat in de fire! Maybe it’ll lift de trouble off o’ dis yer house. We got de hat jess wha’ we want it, chillen. Roxy, gal, you go fotch it to Aunt Hominy!”

The girl started as if she had been asked to take up a snake: “’Deed, Aunt Hominy, I wouldn’t touch it to save my life. Nobody but ole Samson ever did that!”

“Go ’long, gal!” cried Aunt Hominy, “didn’t Miss Vessy hole dat ar’ hat one time, an’ pin a white rose in it? Didn’t he, dat drefful Meshach Milbun, offer Miss Vessy a gole dollar, an’ she wouldn’ have none of his gole? Dat she did! Virgie, you go git dat hat, chile! Poke it off de rack wid my pot-hook heah. ’Twon’t hurt you, gal! I’ll sprinkle ye fust wid camomile an’ witchhazel dat I keep up on de chimney-jamb.”

Aunt Hominy turned towards the broadly notched chimney sides, where fifty articles of negro pharmacy were kept — bunches of herbs, dried peppers, bladders of seeds, and bottles of every mystic potency.

“Aunty,” answered Virgie, “if I wasn’t afraid of the Bad Man, I would be afraid to move that hat, because Miss Vessy would be mortified. Think of her seeing me treating a visitor’s things like that. Why, I’d rather be sold!”

“Dat hat,” persisted Aunt Hominy, “is de ruin ob dis family. Dat hat, gals, de debbil giv’ ole Meshach, an’ made him wear it fo’ de gift ob gittin’ all de gole in Somerset County. Don’t I know when he wore it fust? Dat was when he begun to git all de gole. Fo’ dat he had been po’ as a lizzer, sellin’ to niggers, cookin’ fo’ heseff, an’ no ’count, nohow. He sot up in de loft of his ole sto’ readin’ de Bible upside down to git de debbil’s frenship. De debbil come in one night, and says to ole Meshach: ‘Yer’s my hat! Go, take it, honey, and measure land wid it, and all de land you measure is yo’s, honey!’ An’ Meshach’s measured mos’ all dis county in. Jedge Custis’s land is de last.”

The relation affected both girls considerably, and the group of little colored boys and girls still more, who came up almost chilled with terror, to listen; but it produced the greatest effect on Aunt Hominy herself, whose imagination, widened in the effort, excited all her own fears, and gave irresistible vividness to her legend.

“How can his hat measure people’s lands in, Aunty?” asked Virgie, drawing Roxy to her by the waist for their mutual protection.

“Why, chile, he measures land in by de great long shadows dat debbil’s hat throws. Meshach, he sots his eyes on a good farm. Says he, ‘I’ll measure dat in!’ So he gits out dar some sun-up or sun-down, when de sun jest sots a’mos’ on de groun, an’ ebery tree an’ fence-pos’ and standin’ thing goes away over de land, frowin’ long crooked shadows. Dat’s de time Meshach stans up, wid dat hat de debbil gib him to make him longer, jest a layin’ on de fields like de shadow of a big church-steeple. He walks along de road befo’ de farm, and wherever dat hat makes a mark on de ground all between it an’ where he walks is ole Meshach’s land. Dat’s what he calls his mortgage!”

The children had their mouths wide open; the maids heard with faith only less than fear.

“But, Aunt Hominy,” spoke Roxy, “he never measured in Judge Custis’s house, and all of us in it, that is to be sold.”

“Didn’t I see him a doin’ of it?” whispered Aunt Hominy, stooping as if to creep, in the contraction of her own fears, and looking up into their faces with her fists clinched. “He’s a ben comin’ along de fence on de darkest, cloudiest nights dis long a time, like a man dat was goin’ to rob something, and peepin’ up at Miss Vessy’s window. He took de dark nights, when de streets of Prencess Anne was clar ob folks, an’ de dogs was in deir cribs, an’ nuffin’ goin’ aroun’ but him an’ wind an’ cold an’ rain. One night, while he was watchin’ Miss Vessy’s window like a black crow, from de shadow of de tree, I was a-watchin’ of him from de kitchen window. De moon, dat had been all hid, come right from behin’ de rain-clouds all at once, gals, an’ scared him like. De moon was low on de woods, chillen, an’ as ole Meshach turned an’ walked away, his debbil’s shadow swept dis house in. He measured it in dat night. It’s ben his ever since.”

“Well,” exclaimed Roxy, after a pause, “I know I wouldn’t take hold of that hat now.”

“I am almost afraid to look at it,” said Virgie, “but if Miss Vessy told me to go bring it to her, I would do it.”

“Le’s us all go together,” ventured Aunt Hominy, “and take a peep at it. Maybe it won’t hurt us, if we all go.”

Aware that Judge Custis and his wife were not near, the little circle of servants — Aunt Hominy, Virgie, Roxy, and the four children, from five to fourteen years of age — filed softly from the kitchen through the covered colonnade, and thence along the back passage to the end of the hall, where they made a group, gazing with believing wonder at the king James tile.

*       *       *       *       *       *

Vesta Custis, having changed her morning robe for a walking-suit, and slightly rearranged her toilet, and knelt speechless awhile to receive the unknown will of Heaven, came down the stairs at last, in time to catch a glimpse of half-a-dozen servants staring at a strange old hat on the hall rack. They hastily fled at her appearance, but the idea of the hat was also conveyed to her own fancy by their unwonted behavior. She looked up an instant at the queer, faded article, hanging among its betters, and with a reminiscence of childhood, and of having held it in her hand, there descended along the intervening years upon the association, the odor of a rose and the impression of a pair of bold, startled eyes gazing into hers. She opened the library door, and the same eyes were looking up from her father’s easy-chair.

“Mr. Milburn, I believe?” said Vesta, walking to the visitor, and extending her hand with native sweetness.

He arose and bowed, and hardly saw the hand in the earnest look he gave her, as if she had surprised him, and he did not know how to express his bashfulness. She did not withdraw the hand till he took it, and then he did not let it go. His strong, rather than bold, look, continuing, she dropped her eyes to the hand that mildly held her own, and then she observed, all calm as she was, that his hand was a gentleman’s, its fingers long and almost delicate, the texture white, the palm warm, and, as it seemed to her, of something like a brotherly pressure, respectful and gentle too.

As he did not speak immediately, Vesta returned to his face, far less inviting, but peculiar — the black hair straight, the cheek-bones high, no real beard upon him anywhere, the shape of the face broad and powerful, and the chops long, while the yellowish-brown eyes, wide open and intense, answered to the open, almost observant nostrils at the end of his straight, fine nose. His complexion was dark and forester-like, seeming to show a poor, unnutritious diet. He was hardly taller than Vesta. His teeth were good, and the mouth rather small. She thought he was uncertain what to say, or confused in his mind, though no sign of fear was visible. Vesta came to his rescue, withdrawing her hand naturally.

“I have seen you many times, Mr. Milburn, but never here, I think.”

“No, miss, I have never been here.” He hesitated. “Nor anywhere in Princess Anne. You are the first lady here to speak to me.”

His words, but not his tone, intimated an inferiority or a slight. The voice was a little stiff, appearing to be at want for some corresponding inflection, like a man who had learned a language without having had the use of it.

“Will you sit, Mr. Milburn? You owe this visit so long that you will not be in haste to-day. I hope you have not felt that we were inhospitable. But little towns often encourage narrow circles, and make people more selfish than they intend.”

“You could never be selfish, miss,” said Milburn, without any of the suavity of a compliment, still carrying that wild, regarding gaze, like the eyes of a startled ox.

Vesta faintly colored at the liberty he took. It was slightly embarrassing to her, too, to meet that uninterpretable look of inquiry and homage; but she felt her necessity as well as her good-breeding, and made allowance for her visitor’s want of sophistication. He was like an Indian before a mirror, in a stolid excitement of apprehension and delight. The most beautiful thing he ever saw was within the compass of his full sight at last, and whether to detain it by force or persuasion he did not know.

Her dark hair, silky as the cleanest tassels of the corn, fell as naturally upon her perfect head as her teeth, white as the milky corn-rows, moved in the May cherries of her lips. The delicate arches of her brows, shaded by blackbirds’ wings, enriched the clear sky of her harmonious eyes, where mercy and nobility kept company, as in heaven.

“How could you know I was unselfish, Mr. Milburn?”

“Because I have heard you sing.”

“Oh, yes! You hear me in our church, I remember.”

“I have heard you every Sunday that you sung there for years,” said Meshach, with hardly a change of expression.

“Are you fond of music, Mr. Milburn?”

“Yes, I like all I have ever heard — birds and you.”

“I will sing for you, then,” said Vesta, taking the relief the talk directed her to. A piano was in another room, but, to avoid changing the scene, as well as to use a simpler accompaniment for an ignorant man’s ears, she brought her guitar, and, placing it in her lap, struck the strings and the key, without waiting, to these tender words:

“Oh, for some sadly dying note,
  Upon this silent hour to float,
  Where, from the bustling world remote,
      The lyre might wake its melody!
  One feeble strain is all can swell,
  From mine almost deserted shell,
  In mournful accents yet to tell
      That slumbers not its minstrelsy.

“There is an hour of deep repose,
  That yet upon my heart shall close,
  When all that nature dreads and knows
      Shall burst upon me wondrously;
  Oh, may I then awake, forever,
  My harp to rapture’s high endeavor;
  And, as from earth’s vain scene I sever,
      Be lost in Immortality.”

Vesta ceased a few minutes, and, her visitor saying nothing, she remarked, with emotion,

“Those lines were written at my grandfather’s house, in Accomac County, by a young clergyman from New York, who was grandfather’s rector, Rev. James Eastburn. He was only twenty-two years old when he died, at sea, of consumption. His is the only poetry I have ever heard of, Mr. Milburn, written in our beautiful old country here.”

“I wondered if I should ever hear you sing for me,” spoke Milburn, after hesitation. “Now it is realized, I feel sceptical about it. You are there, Miss Custis, are you not?”

Vesta was puzzled. Under other circumstances she would have been amused, since her humor could flow freely as her music. It faintly seemed to her that the little odd man might be cracked in the head.

“Yes, indeed, Mr. Milburn. If it were a dream, I should have no expression all this day but song. I think I never felt so sad to sing as just now. Father is ill. Mamma is ill. I have become the business agent of the family, and have heard within this hour that papa is deeply involved. You are his creditor, are you not?”

Meshach Milburn bowed.

“What is the sum of papa’s notes and mortgages? Is it more than he can pay by the sacrifice of everything?”

“Yes. He has nothing to sell at forced sale which will bring anything, but the household servants here; these maids in the family are marketable immediately. You would not like to sell them?”

“Sell Virgie! She was brought up with me; what right have I to sell her any more than she has to sell me?”

“None,” said Milburn, bluntly, “but there is law for it.”

“To sell Roxy, too, and old Aunt Hominy, and the young children! how could I ever pray again if they were sold? Oh! Mr. Milburn, where was your heart, to let papa waste his plentiful substance in such a hopeless experiment? If my singing in the church has given you happiness, why could it not move you to mercy? Think of the despair of this family, my father’s helpless generosity, my mother’s marriage settlement gone, too, and every other son and daughter parted from them!”

“I never encouraged one moment Judge Custis’s expenditure,” said Meshach, “though I lent him money. The first time he came to me to borrow, my mind was in a liberal disposition, for you had just entered it with your innocent attentions. I supposed he wanted a temporary accommodation, and I gave it to him at the lowest rate one Christian would charge another.”

“You say that I influenced you to lend my father money? Why, sir, I was a child. He has been borrowing from you since my earliest recollections.”

The creditor took from his breast-pocket a large leather wallet, and, arising, laid its contents on the table. He opened a piece of folded paper, and drew from it two objects; one a lock of blue-black hair like his own, and the other a pressed and faded rose.

“This flower,” said Milburn, with reverence, “Judge Custis’s daughter fastened in my derided hat. I kept it till it was dead, and laid it away with my mother’s hair, the two religious objects of my life. That faded rose made me your father’s creditor, Miss Custis.”

Vesta took the rose, and looked at him with surprise and inquiry.

“Oh, why did not this flower speak for us?” she said; “to open your lips after that, to save my father? Then you informed yourself, and knew that he was hurrying to destruction, but still you gave him money at higher interest.”

Milburn looked at her with diminished courage, but sincerity, and answered: “Your voice sang between us, Miss Custis, every time he came. I did not admit to myself what it was, but the feeling that I was being drawn near you still opened my purse to your father, till he has drained me of the profits of years, which I gave him with a lavish fatality, though grasping every cent from every source but that. I did know, then, he could not probably repay me, but every Sabbath at the church you sang, and that seemed some compensation. I was bewitched; indistinct visions of gratitude and recognition from you filled the preaching with concourses of angels, all bearing your image, and hovering above me. The price I paid for that unuttered and ever-repelled hope has been princely, but never grudged, and it has been pure, I believe, or Heaven would have punished me. The more I ruined myself for your father, the more successful my ventures were in all other places; if you were my temptation, it had the favor or forgiveness of the God in whose temple it was born.”

Vesta arose also, with a frightened spirit.

“Do I understand you?” she said, with her rich gray eyes abide open under their startled lashes. “My father has spoken of a degrading condition? Is it to love you?”

For the first time Meshach Milburn dropped his eyes.

“I never supposed it possible for you to love me,” he said, bitterly. “I thought God might permit me some day to love you.”

“Do you know what love is?” asked Vesta, with astonishment.

“No.”

“How came you, then, to be interpreting my good acts so basely, carrying even my childhood about in your evil imagination, and cursing my father’s sorrow with the threat of his daughter’s slavery?”

Milburn heard with perfect humility these hard imputations.

“You have not loved, I think, Miss Custis?” he said, with a slight flush. “I have believed you never did.”

He raised his eyes again to her face.

“I loved my father above everything,” faltered Vesta. “I saw no man, besides, admiring my father.”

“Then I displaced no man’s right, coveting your image. Sometimes it seemed you were being kept free so long to reward my silent worship. I do not know what love is, but I know the gifts of God, as they bloom in nature, repel no man’s devotion. The flowers, the birds, and the forest, delighted my childhood; my youth was spent in the study of myself and man; at last a beautiful child appeared to me, spoke her way to my soul, and it could never expel her glorious presence. All things became subordinate to her, even avarice and success. She kept me a Christian, or I should have become utterly selfish; she kept me humble, for what was my wealth when I could not enter her father’s house! I am here by a destiny now; the power that called you to this room, so unexpectedly to me, has borne us onward to the secret I dreaded to speak to you. Dare I go further?”

She was trying to keep down her insulted feelings, and not say something that should forever exasperate her father’s creditor, but the possibility of marrying him was too tremendous to reply.

“This moment is a great one,” continued Milburn, firmly, “for I feel that it is to terminate my visions of happiness, and of kindness as well. You have expressed yourself so indignantly, that I see no thought of me has ever lodged in your mind. Why should it have ever done so? Though I almost dreamed it had, because you filled my life so many years with your rich image, I thought you might have felt me, like an apparition, stealing around this dwelling often in the dark and rain, content with the ray of light your window threw upon the deserted street. Now I see that I was a weak dunce, whose passion nature lent no nerve of hers to convey even to your notice. Better for me that I had hugged the debasing reality of my gold, and lost my eyes to everything but its comfort!”

He looked towards the door. Vesta sat down in the fairy rocker, and detained him.

“You have told me the feeling you think you had, Mr. Milburn. Poor as we Custises are now, it will not do to be proud. How did you ever think that feeling could be returned by me? My youth, my connections, everything, would forbid me, without haughtiness, to see a suitor in you. Then, you took no means to turn my attention towards you. You could have been neighborly, had you desired. You did not not even wear the commonest emblems of a lover”

She paused. Milburn said to himself:

“Ah! that accursed Hat.”

The interruption ruffled his temper:

“I have had reasons, also proud, Miss Custis, to be consistent with my perpetual self here. I will put the substantial merits of my case to you, since I see that I am not likely to make myself otherwise attractive. This house is already mine. The law will, in a few weeks, put me in possession of your father’s entire property. I shall change outward circumstances with him in Princess Anne. He is too old to adopt my sacrifices, and recover his situation; he may find some shifting refuge with his sons and daughters, but, even if his spirit could brook that dependence, it would be very unnecessary, when, by marrying his creditor, you can retain everything he now has to make his family respectable. I offer you his estate as your marriage portion!”

He took up from the table the notes her father had negotiated, and laid them in her lap.

Vesta sat rocking slowly, and deeply agitated. She had in her mouth the comfort and honor of her parents, which she could confer in a single word. It was a responsibility so mighty that it made her tremble.

“Oh! what shall I say?” she thought. “It will be a sin to say ‘Yes.’ To say ‘No’ would be a crime.”

“You shall retain every feature of your home — your servants, your mother, and her undiminished portion; your liberty in the fullest sense. I will contribute to send your father to the legislature or to congress, to sustain his pride, and keep him well occupied. The Furnace he may appear to have sold to me, and I will accept the unpopularity of closing it. I ask only to serve you, and inhabit your daily life, like one of these negroes you are kind to, and if I am ever harsh to you, Miss Vesta, I swear to surrender you to your family, and depart forever.”

Vesta shook her head.

“There is no separation but one,” she said, “when Heaven has been called down to the marriage solemnity. It is before that act that we must consider everything. How could I make you happy? My own happiness I will dismiss. Yours must then comprehend mine. Kindness might make me grateful, but gratitude will not satisfy your love.”

“Yes,” exclaimed Milburn, chasing up his advantage with tremulous ardor; “the long famine of my heart will be thankful for a dry crust and a cup of ice. Here at the fireside let me sit and warm, and hear the rustle of your dress, and grow in heavenly sensibility. You will redeem a savage, you will save a soul!”

“It is not the price I must pay to do this, I would have you consider, sir,” Vesta replied, with her attention somewhat arrested by his intensity; “it is the price you are paying — your self-respect, perhaps — by the terms on which you obtain me. It may never be known out of this family that I married you for the sake of my father and mother. But how am I to prevent you from remembering it, especially when you say that I am the sum of your purest wishes? If your interest would consume after you obtained me, we might, at least, be indifferent; but if it grew into real love, would you not often accuse yourself?”

Meshach Milburn sat down, cast his large brown eyes upon the floor, and listened in painful reflection.

“You cannot conceive I have had any real love for you?” he exclaimed, dubiously.

“You have seen me, and desired me for your wife; that is all,” said Vesta, “that I can imagine. Lawless power could do that anywhere. To be an obedient wife is the lot of woman; but love, such as you have some glimmering of, is a mystic instinct so mutual, so gladdening, yet so free, that the captivity you set me in to make me sing to you will divide us like the wires of a cage.”

“There is no bird I ever caught,” said Meshach Milburn, “that did not learn to trust me. Your comparison does not, therefore, discourage me. And you have already sung for me, the saddest day of your life!”

A slight touch of nature in this revelation of her strange suitor called Vesta’s attention to the study of him again. With her intelligence and sense of higher worth coming to her rescue, she thought: “Let me see all that is of this Tartar, for, perhaps, there may be another way to his mercy.”

As she recovered composure, however, she grew more beautiful in his sight, her dark, peerless charms filling the room, her kindling eyes conveying love, her skin like the wild plum’s, and her raven brows and crown of luxuriant hair rising upon a queenly presence worthy of an empress’s throne. Such beauty almost made Milburn afraid, but the energies of his character were all concentred to secure it.

“Who are you?” she asked, with a calm, searching look, cast from her highest self-respect and alert intelligence. “Have you any relations or connections fit to bring here — to this house, to me?”

“Not one that I know,” said the forester. “I am nothing but myself, and what you will make of me.”

“Where were you born and reared?”

“The house does not stand which witnessed that misery,” spoke Milburn, with a flush of obdurate pride; “it was burned last night, not far from the furnace which swallowed your father’s substance.”

“Why, I would be afraid of you, Mr. Milburn, if your errand here was not so practical. Omens and wonders surround you. Birds forget their natural life for you. Iron ceases to be occult when you take it up. Your birthplace in this world disappears by fire the night before you foreclose a mortgage upon a gentleman’s daughter. Is all this sorcery inseparable from that necromancer’s Hat you wear in Princess Anne?”

She had touched the sensitive topic by a skilful approach, yet he changed color, as if the allusion piqued him.

“Nature never rebuked my hat, Miss Vesta, and you are so like nature, it will not occupy your thoughts. I recollect the day you decorated my old hat; said I: ‘perhaps this vagrant head-covering, after all its injuries and wanderings, may some day find a peg beneath my own roof, and the kind welcome of a lady like that little miss.’ That was several years ago, and to-day, for the first time, my hat is on the rack of your hall. The long wish of the heart is not often denied. We are not responsible for it. The only conspiracy I have plotted here, was that I did not oppose most natural occurrences, all drawing towards this scene. My magic was hope and humility. I dared to wear my ancestor’s hat in the face of a contemptuous and impertinent provincial public, and it gave me the pride to persevere till I should bring it home to honors and to noble shelter. If you despise my hat, you will despise me.”

“Oh, no; Mr. Milburn! I try never to despise anything. If you wore your family hat from some filial respect, it was, in part, piety. But was that, indeed, your motive in being so eccentric?”

Milburn felt uneasy again. He hesitated, and said:

“In perfect truth, I fear not. There may have been something of revenge in my mind. I had been grossly insulted.”

“Is it not something of that revenge which instigates you here — even in this profession of love?” exclaimed Vesta, judicially.

Meshach looked up, and the shadows cleared from his face.

“I can answer that truthfully, lady. Towards you, not an indignant thought has ever harbored in my brain. It has been the opposite: protection, worship, tender sensibility.”

“Has that exceptional charity extended to my father?”

“No.”

Vesta would have been exasperated, but for his candor.

“My father never insulted you, sir?”

“No, he patronized me. He meant no harm, but that old hat has worn a deep place in my brain through carrying it so long, and it is a subject that galls me to mention it. Yet, I must be consistent with my only eccentricity. Wherever I may go, there goes my hat; it makes my identity, my inflexibility; it achieves my promise to myself, that men shall respect my hat before I die.”

“Pardon me,” said Vesta, not uninterested in his character, “I can understand an eccentricity founded on family respect. We were Virginians and that is next to religion there. The negroes of our family share it with us. You had a family, then?”

Milburn shook his head.

“No; not a family in the sense you mean. Generations of obscurity, a parentage only virtuous; no tombstone anywhere, no crest nor motto, not even a self-deluding lie of some former gentility, shaped from hand to hand till it commits a larceny on history, and is brazen on a carriage panel! We were foresters. We came forth and existed and perished, like the families of ants upon the ant-hills of sand. We migrated no more than the woodpeckers in your sycamore trees, and made no sound in events more than their insectivorous tapping. Out yonder beyond Dividing Creek, in the thickets of small oak and low pines, many a little farm, scratched from the devouring forest, speckling the plains and wastes with huts and with little barns of logs, once bore the name of Milburn through all the localities of the Pocomoke to and beyond the great Cypress Swamp. They are dying, but never dead. The few who live expect no recognition from me, and, happy in their poverty, envy me nothing I have accumulated. My name has grown hard to them, my hat is the subject of their superstitions, my ambition and success have lost me their sympathy without giving me any other social compensation. You behold a desperate man, a merciless creditor, a tussock of ore from the bogs of Nassawongo, yet one whose only crimes have been to adore you, and to wear his forefathers’ hat.”

“Is this pride, then, wholly insulted sensibility, Mr. Milburn?”

“I cannot say, Miss Custis. You may smile, but I think it is aristocracy.”

“I think so, too,” exclaimed Vesta reflectively; “you are a proud man. My father, who has had reason to be proud, is less an aristocrat, sir, than you.”

Milburn’s flush came and stayed a considerable while. He was not displeased at Vesta’s compliment, though it bore the nature of an accusation.

“You are aristocratic,” explained Vesta, “because you adopted the obsolete hat of your people. Whatever vanity led you to do it, it was the satisfaction of some origin, I think.”

She checked herself, seeing that she was entering into his affairs with too much freedom.

“I suppose that somewhere, some time,” spoke the strange visitor, “some person of my race has been influential and prosperous. Indeed, I have been told so. He was elevated to both the magistracy and the scaffold, but my hat had even an older origin.”

“Tell me about that ancestor,” said Vesta, the heartache from his greater errand instigating her to defer it, while she was yet barely conscious that the man was original, if not interesting.

He told a singular tale, tracing his hat to Raleigh’s times and through Sir Henry Vane to America, till it became the property of Jacob Milborne, the popular martyr who was executed in New York, and his brethren driven into Maryland, bringing with them the harmless hat as their only patrimony.

Milburn drew up his compact little figure and opened the door to the hall. The wind or air from some of the large, cold apartments of the long house, coming in by some crack or open sash, gave almost a shriek, and scattered the fire in the chimney.

Vesta felt her blood chill a moment as her visitor reentered with the antediluvian hat, and placed it upon the table beneath the lamp.

It had that look of gentility victorious over decay, which suggested the mummy of some Pharaoh, brought into a drawing-room on a learned society’s night. Vesta repressed a smile, rising through her pain, at the gravity of the forester guest, who was about to demonstrate his aristocracy through this old hat. It seemed to her, also, that the portraits of the Custises, on the wall, carried indignant noses in the air at their apparently conscious knowledge of the presence of some unburied pretender, as if, in Westminster Abbey, the effigies of the Norman kings had slightly aroused to feel Oliver Cromwell lying among them in state.

The hat, Vesta perceived, was Flemish, such as was popular in England while the Netherlands was her ally against the house of Spain, and, stripped of its ornaments, was lengthened into the hat of the Puritans.

Vesta attempted to exert her liberality and perceive some beauty in this hat, but the utmost she could admit was the tyranny of fashion over the mind — it seemed, over the soul itself, for this old hat, inoffensive as it was, weighed down her spirits like a diving-bell.

The man, without his hat, had somewhat redeemed himself from low conversation and ideas, but now, that he brought this hat in and associated his person with it, she shrank from him as if he had been a triple-hatted Jew, peddling around the premises.

The obnoxious hat also exercised some exciting influence over Meshach Milburn, if his changed manner could be ascribed to that article; for he resumed his strong, wild-man’s stare, deepened and lowered his voice, and without waiting for any query or expression of his listener, told the tale.


 

CHAPTER XI.

DYING PRIDE.

AT the termination of Milburn’s long visit,Vesta had gone to her own room, and read her passage in the Bible, and said her prayer, and tried to think, but the day’s application had been too great to leave her mind its morning energy, when health, which is so much of decision, was elastic in her veins and brain.

To see if there was the least glimmer of relief from this marriage Vesta crossed to her mother’s room, and found Mrs. Custis with her head wrapped in handkerchiefs steeped in cologne, and a vial of laudanum in her hand, and in a condition bordering on hysteria.

“Mamma,” said poor Vesta, “are you in pain?”

“Oh!” screamed Mrs. Custis, “I am just dying here of cruelty and brutality. Your father is a villain. I’ll have that rascal, Milburn, killed. Go get me ink and paper, daughter, and sit here and write me a letter to my brother, Allan McLane, in Baltimore. He shall settle with Judge Custis for this robbery, and take you and me back to Baltimore, leaving your father to go to the almshouse or the jail, I don’t care which.”

“Mother,” exclaimed Vesta, “what a sin! to abuse poor father now in all his trouble!”

“Trouble!” echoed Mrs. Custis, mockingly, “what trouble has he had, I would like to know? Living in the woods like a Turk among his barefooted forest concubines! Spending my money, raked and scraped by my poor father in the sugar importation, to make puddle iron out of the swamp, and be considered a smart man! The family is broken up. We are paupers, and now ‘it is save yourself.’ I’ll take care of you if I can, but your father may starve for any aid I will give him.”

“Then he shall have the only aid in my power, mother,” said Vesta, decisively.

“Your aid!” Mrs. Custis exclaimed. “What have you got? Your jewels, I suppose? How long will they keep him? You had better keep your jewels, girl, for your wedding, and have it come quickly, for marriage is now your only salvation.”

“My last jewel shall go, then,” Vesta said, with a pale resolution that darted through her veins like ice.

“Save your jewels,” Mrs. Custis continued, “and choose a husband before this thing is noised abroad! You have a good large list to select from. There is your cousin, Chase McLane, crazy for you, and with an estate in Kent. There is that young fool Carroll, with thousands of acres on the western shore, and the widower Hynson of King George, Virginia, with eighty slaves and his stables full of race-horses. You can marry any of these Dennis boys, or take Captain Ringgold of Frederick, who lives in elegance at West Point, or be mistress of Tench Purvience’s mansion on Monument Square in Baltimore. All you have to do is to write a letter, saying: ‘I expect you,’ or, what is better, take to-morrow’s steamer for Baltimore and use your Uncle Allan’s house and become engaged and married there.”

“Mamma,” Vesta spoke without rebuke, only with a sad, confirmed feeling of her destiny, “I could be capable of deceiving any of those gentlemen if I could so heartlessly leave my father.”

“Deceiving!” Mrs. Custis remarked, filling her palm and brow with the cologne. “What is man’s whole work with a woman but deceit? To court her for her money, to kiss her into taking her money out of good mortgages and putting it into bog iron ore? To tell her when past middle life that she has nothing to live upon, except the charity of the public, or her reluctant friends. All this for an experiment! The Custis family are all knaves or fools. Your father is a monster.”

Vesta went to her mother’s side and bathed her forehead.

“Dear mamma,” she said, “let you and I do something for ourselves, while papa looks around and finds something to do. We can rent a house in Princess Anne and open a seminary. I can teach French and music, you can be the matron and do the correspondence and business, and if papa is at a loss for larger occupation he can lecture on history and science. Our friends will send their children to us, and we shall never be separated. I will give up the thought of marriage and live for you two.”

Mrs. Custis made a gesture of impatience.

“And be an old maid!” she blurted. “That is insufferable. What are all these accomplishments and charms for but a husband, and what is he for but to provide bread and clothes. Don’t be as crazy as your unprincipled father! Try no experiments! Drop philanthropy! Money is the foundation of all respectability.”

Vesta thought to herself: “Can that be so? Does it not, then, justify the man who solicits me in his means of getting money? Mother” — Vesta spoke — “you would have me marry, then?”

“There is no would about it,” answered Mrs. Custis. “You must marry!”

“Marry immediately?”

“Yes, the sooner the better, to a rich man. Have you picked out one?”

“Give me your blessing, and I will try,” Vesta said; “I think I know such a one.”

Mrs. Custis kissed her daughter, and moaned about her poor head and lost marriage portion, and Vesta set out to look for her father.

She found him in the luxury of tears and squab, as comfortable among his negro servants as in the state legislature or at the head of society, and they wrapped up in his condescension and misfortunes.

As Vesta saw the curious scene of such patriarchal democracy in the old kitchen, she wondered if that voluptuous endowment of her father was not the happy provision to make marriage unions tolerable, and social revulsions philosophical. Something of regret that she had not more of the animal faintly grew upon her sad smile when she considered that wherever her father went he made welcome and warmth, as she already felt at the picture of him, after parting with her apathetic mother.

“Roxy,” said Vesta, as she left the kitchen, “do you go up to my mother and stay with her all this night. Make your spread there beside her bed. Virgie, put on your hood and carry a letter for me, — I will write it in the library.”

She sat before her father, he too undecided to speak, and seeing by her fixed expression that it was no time for loquacity. She sealed the letter with wax, and, Virgie coming in, her father heard the direction she gave with curiosity greater than his embarrassment:

“Take this to Rev. William Tilghman. Give it to him only, and see that he reads it, Virgie, before you leave him. If he asks you any questions, tell him please to do precisely what this note says, and, as he is my friend, not to disappoint me.”

The girl’s steps were hardly out of hearing when Vesta opened the drawer of the library-table and took out a package of papers tied with a string. She unloosed it, and her father recognized from where he sat his notes of hand and mortgages.

“Gracious God, my darling!” exclaimed Judge Custis, “how came you by those papers?”

“They are to be mine to-night, father — in one hour. The moment they become mine they will be yours.”

“Why, Vessy,” said the Judge, “if they are yours even to keep a minute, the shortest way with them is up the chimney!”

He made a stride forward to take them from her hand. She laid them in her lap and looked at him so calmly that he stopped.

“You may burn the house, papa,” she said, “it is still your own. But these papers you could only burn by a crime. It would be cheating an honorable man.”

“Honorable! Who?” the Judge exclaimed.

“He who is to be my husband.”

“You marry Meshach Milburn!” shouted the Judge, “O curse of God! — not him?”

“Yes, this night,” answered Vesta; “I respect him. I hold these obligations by his trust in me. They are my engagement ring.”

Judge Custis raised a loud howl like a man into whom a nail is driven, and fell at his daughter’s feet and clasped her knees.

“This is to torture me,” he cried; “he has not dared to ask you, Vesta?”

“Yes, and my word is passed, father. Shall that word, the word of a Custis, be less than a Milburn’s faith. By the love he bore me, Mr. Milburn gave me these debts for my dower — a rare faith in one so prudent. If I do not marry him, they will be given back to him this night.”

“Then give them back, my child, and save your soul and your purity, lest I live to be cursed with the sight of my noble daughter’s shame? This marriage will be unholy, and the censure to follow it will be the bankruptcy of more than our estate — of our simple fame and old family respect. We have friends left who would help us. If you marry Milburn, they will all despise and repudiate us.”

“I do not believe it,” said Vesta. “The sense and courage of that gentleman — he is a gentleman, for I have seen him, and a gentleman of many gifts — will compel respect even where false pride and family pretension appear to put him down. Who that underrates him will make any considerable sacrifice to assist us? Your sons, — will they do it? Then by what right do they decide my marriage choice? No, father, I only do my part to support our house in its extremity, as these gentlemen and others have done before.”

She pointed to the old portraits of Custises on the wall. If any of them looked dissatisfied, he met a countenance haughty as his own.

“Vesta,” her father called, “you know you do not love this man?”

Looking back a minute at the longing in his face, which now wore the solicitude of personal affection, she melted under it.

“No, father,” she said, with a burst of tears. “I love you.”

She threw her arms around him and kissed him long and fondly, both weeping together.


 

CHAPTER XII.

PRINCESS ANNE FOLKS.

THE Washington Tavern, or, rather, the brick sidewalk which came up to its doors, and was the lounging-place for all the grown loiterers in Princess Anne, had been in the greatest activity all that Saturday afternoon, since it was reported by Jack Wonnell, who set himself to be a spy on Meshach’s errand, that the steeple-hat had disappeared in the broad mansion of Judge Daniel Custis.

Jack Wonnell had a worn bell-crown on his head, exposed to all kinds of weather, as he was in the habit of fishing in these beaver-hats, and never owned an umbrella in his life. He lived near Meshach, in the old part of Princess Anne, near the bridge, and was the subject of the money-lender’s scorn and contempt, as tending to make a mutual eccentricity ridiculous. Milburn had been willing to be hated for his hat, but Jack Wonnell made all unseasonable hats laughable, the more so that he was nearly as old a wearer of his bell-crowns as Milburn of the steeple-top. Although he had no such reasons of reverence and stern consistency as his rich neighbor, he seemed to have, in his own mind, and in plain people’s, a better defence for violating the standard taste of dress.

The people said that Jack Wonnell, being a poor man, could not buy all the fashions, and was merely wearing out a bargain; that he knew he was ridiculous, and set no such conceit on his absurdity as that grim Milburn; and they rather enjoyed his playing the Dromio to that Antipholus, and turning into farce the comedy of Meshach’s error.

Jack Wonnell had partly embraced his bargain by the example of Meshach. A frivolous, unambitious, childish fellow, amusing people, obliging people, running errands, driving stage, gardening, fishing, playing with the lads, courting poor white bound girls, incontinent, inoffensive, he had been impelled to bid off his lot of old hats by Jimmy Phœbus saying:

“Jack, dirt cheap! Last you all your life! Better hats than old Meshach Milburn’s. You’ll drive his’n out of town.”

To his infinite amusement and dignity, his appearance in the bell-crown hats attracted the severe regard of Milburn, and set the little town on a grin. The joke went on till Jimmy Phœbus, Judge Custis, and some others prompted Jack Wonnell, with the promise of a gallon of whiskey, to ask Meshach to trade the steeple-top for the bell-crown. The intense look of outrage and hate, with the accompanying menace his townsman returned, really frightened Jack, and he had prudently avoided Milburn ever since, while keeping as close a watch upon his movements and whereabouts as upon some incited bulldog, liable to appear anywhere.

In this way Jack Wonnell had followed Meshach to the court-house corner, where stood Judge Custis’s brick bank — which, of late, had done little discounting — and, from the open space between it and the court-house in its rear, he peeped after Milburn up the main cross street, called Prince William Street, which stopped right at Judge Custis’s gate. There, in the quiet of early afternoon, he heard the knocker sound, saw the door open, and beheld the Entailed Hat disappear in the great doorway. Then, scarcely believing himself, Wonnell ran back to the tavern, and exclaimed:

“May I be struck stone dead ef ole Meshach ain’t gwyn in to the Jedge’s!”

“You’re a liar!” said Jimmy Phœbus, promptly, catching Jack by the back of the neck, and pushing his bell-crown down till it mashed over his nose and eyes. “What do you mean by tellin’ a splurge like that?”

“I seen him, Jimmy,” was the bell-crowned hero’s smothered cry; “if I didn’t, hope I may die!”

“What did he go there for?”

“I can’t tell, Jimmy, to save my life!”

“Whoo-oo-p!” cried Phœbus, waving his old straw hat, itself nearly out of season. “If this is a lie, Jack Wonnell, I’ll make you eat a raw fish. Levin” — to Levin Dennis — “you slip up by Custis’s, and see if ole Meshach hain’t passed around the fence, or dropped along Church Street and hid in the graveyard, where he sometimes goes. I’ll stay yer, and make Jack Wonnell account for sech lyin’!”

Levin Dennis, a boyish, curly-haired, graceful-going orphan, walked up the cross street, passing Church lane and the Back alley, and slowly turned the long front of Teackle Hall, till he could see the three great-chimneyed buildings lifting their gables and lightning-rods to his sight, the partly stripped trees allowing that manorial pile to stand forth in much of its length and imposing proportions. Lest he might not be suspected of curiosity, Levin continued on to the bridge at Manokin landing, and counted the geese come out of a lawn on a willowy cape there, and take to water like a fleet of white schooners. He ascended the rise beyond the bridge, and looked over to see if Meshach might have taken a walk down the road. Then returning, he swept the back view of Princess Anne. Nothing was visible of the owner of the distinguishing hat.

So Levin Dennis returned more slowly around the north wing of Teackle Hall, looking at every window, as if Meshach might be there; but nothing did he see except the dog, which, to Levin’s eye, appeared uneasy, and ran out of the gate to make friends with him.

“So, Turk!” Dennis muttered, patting the dog’s head, “no wonder you’re scared, boy, to see old Meshach Milburn come in.”

Teackle Hall, according to rumor, was built at the close of the revolutionary war by an uncle, or grand-uncle, of Judge Custis, who came from Virginia, somewhere between Accomac and Northampton counties, and went into shipbuilding on the Manokin, adding some privateering and banking, too, and once, going abroad, he brought back from some ducal residence the plan of Teackle Hall. A tall, broad, panelled doorway, opening on a low, open portico platform with steps, seemed to say to visitors: “Men of port and consideration come in this way, but inferiors enter by some of the smaller doors!”

Levin Dennis, who had never sounded that knocker, though he had often taken his terrapins to the kitchen, stared in concern at the door where it was reported Meshach Milburn had gone in, and would hardly have been surprised if that intruder had now appeared at one of the three deep windows over the door with a firebrand in his hand.

Levin muttered to himself: “Rich folks, I reckon, must make a trade. Maybe it’s hosses — maybe not. I know it ain’t hats.”

He then turned down to the Episcopal Church, only a square from Teackle Hall, and on a street between it and the main street, though in a retired situation, its front turned from the town.

There, since the Stamp Act Congress, or when Princess Anne was not half a century old, the old church had taken its stand, recluse from its gossip. The mossy walls, often scraped, the mossified pavement, the greenish tombs of marble under the maples and firs, showed the effect of shade, solitude, and humidity upon all things of brick in this climate, where wood was already rising into favor as building material, but to the detraction of picturesqueness and all the appearance of antiquity.

No sign of the unpopular townsman was to be seen anywhere, but, as Levin Dennis peeked around the foliage in the yard he beheld a man he had never observed before, and of a tall, bearded, suspicious, and rufanly exterior, lying flat on the top of a memorial vault, with his head and feet half concealed in some cedar brambles.

“Hallo!” Dennis shouted.

“What do you hallo for?” spoke the man; “don’t you never come to a churchyard to git yer sins forgive?”

“No,” said the terrapin-finder, “not till I knows I has some sins.”

“What air you prowlin’ about the church then fur, anyhow?” demanded the stranger, standing up in his boots, into which his trousers were tucked; and he stood such a straight, long-limbed, lithe giant of a man that Levin saw he could never run away, even if the intruder meant to chew him up right there.

“I ain’t a prowlin’, friend,” answered Levin Dennis. “I was jess a lookin’.”

“Lookin’ fur what, fur which, fur who?” said the man, taking a step towards Dennis, who felt himself to be no bigger than one of the other’s long, ditch-leaping, good-for-wading legs.

“Why, I was jess a follerin’ a man — that is, friend, not ’zackly a man, but a hat.”

“A hat?” The man walked up to Dennis this time, and stood over him like a pine-tree over a sucker. “Yer’s yer hat,” pulling an old straw article, over-worn, from Dennis’s head. “No wind’s a blowin’ to blow hats into graveyards. Or did you set yer hat under a hen in yere, by a stiffy?”

Dennis looked up, laughing, though not all at ease, but his amiable want of either intelligence or fear, which belong near together, made his most natural reply to the pertinacious intruder a disarming grin.

“No, man,” Dennis said, “it was a hat on a man’s head — ole Meshach Milburn’s steeple-top. I was a follerin’ of him.”

“Stow your wid!” The man clapped the hat back on Levin’s head. “You’re a poor hobb, anyhow. Is thair any niggers to sell hereby?”

“Oh, that’s your trade, nigger buyin’? Well, there’s mighty few niggers to sell in Prencess Anne. Unless” — here a flash of intelligence shone in Levin’s eyes — “unless that’s what’s took ole Meshach Milburn to Jedge Custis’s. He goes nowhar unless there’s trouble or money for him.”

“And where is Judge Custis’s, you rum chub?”

“Yander!” pointing to Teackle Hall.

“Ha! that is a Judge’s? And niggers? Broke, too! Well, it’s no hank for a napper bloke. So bingavast! Git! Whir’s the tavern?”

“I’m a-goin’ right thair,” answered Levin, much relieved. “You must be a Yankee, or some other furriner, sir.”

“No, hobb! I’m workin’ my lay back to Delaware from Norfolk, by pungy to Somers’s cove. Show me to the tavern and I’ll sluice your gob. I’ll treat you to swig.”

At the prospect of a drink, of which he was too fond, Levin led the way to the Washington Tavern, where there was a material addition to the attendance since Jimmy Phœbus had called to every passer-by that Meshach Milburn, on the testimony of Jack Wonnell, had actually been and gone and disappeared in Judge Custis’s doorway, and nearly a dozen townsfolks were now discussing the why and wherefore, when, suddenly, Levin Dennis came out of Church Street with a man over six feet high, of a prodigious pair of legs, and arms nearly as long, with a cold, challenging, yet restless pair of blue eyes, and with reddish-brown beard and hair, coarse and stringy. The free negro, Samson Hat, being a little way off, was observed to cast a beaming glance of admiration at the athletic proportions of the stranger, who looked as if he might shoulder an ox, or outrun a horse.

“Hallo!” exclaimed Jimmy Phœbus, looking the stranger over boldly, yet with indifference, at last. “You’re cuttin’ a splurge, Levin, too. Where’s Meshach?”

“Can’t see no sign of him, Jimmy. Guess Jack Wonnell hit it, an’ he’s gone in the Jedge’s. Mebbe he’s buyin’ of Jedge Custis’s niggers. That’s this gentleman’s business.”

Jimmy Phœbus, himself no slight specimen of a man, gave another glance at the stranger from the black cherries of his eyes, and, apparently no better satisfied with the inspection, made no sign of acquaintance.

“Whoever ain’t too nice to drink with a nigger buyer,” said the man, independently, “can come in and set up his drink, with my redge, for I’m rhino-fat and just rotten with flush.”

There was a pause for somebody to take the initiative, but Jimmy Phœbus, turning his big, broad Greekish face and small forehead on the stranger, remarked:

“I never tuk a drink with a nigger buyer yit, and, by smoke! I reckon I’m too old to begin.”

The man stopped and measured Jimmy up in his eye.

“Humph!” he said with a sneer, “you look to be a little more than half nigger yourself. If I was dead broke I’d run you to market an’ git my price for you.”

“No doubt of it whatever, as fur as you’re concerned,” said Jimmy, unexcited, while the man pushed Levin Dennis in towards the bar.

Either the new movement of Meshach Milburn, or the example of the strange man, set Princess Anne in a tipsy condition that day. The stranger was full of money, and treating indiscriminately, and the pavement before the hotel was continually beset with the loiterers, and the bar took money and spread mischief. So when, an hour after dark, the unpopular townsman, avoiding the crowd, passed by on the opposite side of the street, nearest his own lodging, one of the loudest and most unanimous yells he had ever heard in his experience, rang out from the Washington Tavern.

“Steeple-top! Steeple-top! Old Meshach’s loose. Whoo-o-op!”

“Laugh on!” thought Meshach, “till now I never knew the meaning of ‘let them laugh who win.’”

He felt confirmed in his idea to be married in the Raleigh tile, and when he saw Samson Hat, Milburn said: “Boy, brush all my clothing well. Then go back to the livery stable, and order a buggy to be ready for you at ten o’clock. At that hour set out for Berlin, and bring back Rhody Holland with you in the morning.”

“It’s more dan thirty mile, marster, an’ a sandy road.”

“No matter. Take it slow. I will write you a letter to carry. Samson, I am going to be married to-night to the rose of Princess Anne.”

“Dar’s on’y one,” said Samson. “Not Miss Vesty Custis?”

“Yes, Samson. Princess Anne may now have something to howl at. The poor girl may be lonesome, as, no doubt, she will be dropped everywhere on my account, and not a soul can I think of, to be my young lady’s maid, unless it is Rhody.”

“Yes, Marster, wid all your money you’re pore in friends; in women-friends you is starved.”

“You may go with me to the church,” said Meshach, “I suppose you want to see me married.”

“Yes, sir. Dat I do! Wouldn’t miss dat fo’ my Christmas gift. I ’spect dat gal Virgie will come wid Miss Vesty to de cer’mony, marster.”

“Perhaps so. You are not thinking of love, too, Samson?”

“Well, don’t know, marster. Virgie’s a fine gal, sho’. I am a little old, Marster Milburn, but I’ll have to look out for myseff, I ’spec, now you done burnt down my spreein’ place. Dar’s a wife comin’ in yar now. So if you don’t speak a good word fur me wid some o’ Miss Vesty’s gals, I’m aboot done.”

“Well, boy,” Meshach said, “you have got the same chance I had: the upper hand. I owe you a nice little sum in wages, and you may be able to buy one of the Custis housemaids, and set her free, and marry her, or, be her owner. You are a free man.”

Samson shook his head gravely.

“Dat won’t do among niggers,” he said. “Niggers never kin play de upper hand in love, like white people. Dey has to do it by love itseff: by kindness, marster.”

Before nine o’clock Milburn and his negro left the old store by the town bridge, and passing by the river lane called Front Street, into Church Street, walked back of the hotel, avoiding its triflers, and reached the church in a few minutes unobserved. The long windows shed some light, however, but as it was Saturday night, this was attributed, by the few who noticed it, to preparations for the next Sabbath morning. Before setting out, Samson Hat, observing his employer to shake a trifle, asked him if a dram of whiskey would not be proper.

“No, boy; this is a wedding without wine. I shall need all my wits to find my manners.”

He entered the church, and found it warmed, and the minister already present in his surplice, kneeling alone at the altar. Mr. Tilghman arose, with his youthful face very pale, and tears upon his cheeks, and seeing his neglected parishioner and the serving-man, came down the aisle.

“Mr. Milburn,” he said, extending his hand, “I hope to congratulate, after this ceremony, a Christian-hearted bridegroom. Let me be your friend, because I have been your wife’s!”

“Have I another friend already?” exclaimed Milburn, his voice quivering. “What wealth she brings me never known before!”

They clasped hands upon it, and old Samson Hat, sitting back, was heard to chuckle aloud such a warming laugh, that Meshach’s response to it, in a sudden pallid shivering, seemed slightly out of keeping. He was recalled, however, by the entrance of Judge Custis with his daughter, and her maid, Virgie.

Vesta was very pale, but neither shrinking nor negative. On the contrary, she supported her father rather than received his support, and Milburn saw the Judge’s worn, helpless face, with the pride faded from it, and pity for his daughter absorbing every other feeling of depression.

He wore his best cloth suit, with the coat tails falling to his knees behind, the body cut square to the hips, and the collar raised high upon his stock of white enamelled English leather. His low-buttoned vest exposed his shirt-buttons of crystal and gilt, and a ruffle, ironed by Roxy’s slender hands with nimble touches, parted down the middle like sea foam on shell, and similar ruffles at the wrists were clasped by chain buttons of pearl and silver. His vest was of figured Marseilles stuff, and gaiters of the same material partly covered his shoes; and his heavy seal, with his coat of arms upon it, fell from a pale ribbon at his fob. Debtor though he was, and answering at the bar of the church to a heavy personal and family judgment, his large and flowing lines of body, deeply cut chin, full eyes, and natural height and grace of stature made him a marked and noble presence anywhere.

Vesta Custis, dropping off a mantle of blue velvet at a touch of her maid, stood in a party dress of white silk, the neck, shoulders, and arms bare; and, as she halted a minute in the aisle, Virgie struck the cloth sandals from her mistress’s white slippers of silk, and, removing her hood of home-embroidered cloth, a veil of white fell to her train. The dingy light from the lamps of whale-oil gathered, like poor folks’ children’s marvelling eyes, around the pair of diamonds in her delicately moulded, but alert and generous ears. Her fine gold watch-chain, twice dependent from her neck, disappeared in the snowy mould of her bosom, on whose heaving drift swam a magnolia-bud and blossom, each with a leaf. Her father’s picture, in a careful miniature set in pearls, lay higher on her breast, fastened by a pearl necklace. Her hands were covered with white gloves, and her arms were without ornament. Her hair, dropping in dark ringlets around her forehead and temples, was combed upward farther back, and then gathered around a pearl comb in high braids, and the plentiful loops drooped to her shoulder.

Milburn glanced at the treasures of her peerless bodily charms, never till now revealed to his sight, and their splendor almost made him afraid.

Never had he been at a theatre, a ball, or anywhere from which he could have foreseen a swan-like neck and bosom sculptured like these, and arms as white as the limbs of the silver-maple, and warmed with bridal-life and modesty.

As she stepped forward he spoke to her with that bold instinct or ecstasy she had observed when she first addressed him in her father’s house, ten hours before.

“You have dressed yourself for me?” he said.

“Sir, such as I could command upon this necessity I thought to do you honor with.”

“For me, to look so beautiful! what can I say? You are very lovely!”

“It is gracious of you to praise me. Shall we wait, or are you ready?”

He gave her his hand, unable to speak again, and she was calm enough to notice that his hand was now hot, as if he had fever. Her father, at her side, reached out also, and took the bridegroom’s other hand:

“Milburn,” he said, huskily, “this is no work of mine. My daughter has my consent only because it is her will.”

“The nobler to me for that,” Milburn spoke, with his countenance strangely flushed. “What shall we do, my lady?”

“Give me you arm; not that one. This is right. Have you brought a ring, sir?”

“Yes.” He drew from his vest pocket a little, lean gold ring, worth hardly half a dollar.

“It was my poor mother’s,” he said.

Without another word she walked forward, her arm drawing him on, Virgie following, and her father bringing up the rear.

Mr. Tilghman pronounced them man and wife. Then, shaking Meshach’s hand, he said, with his boyish countenance bright as faith could make it:

“My friend, may I take my kiss?”

Meshach nodded his head. Mr. Tilghman kissed Vesta, saying,

“Cousin, your husband is my friend, and love and friendship both surround you now. May your happiness be, like your goodness, securest when you surmount difficulties, like birds that have struggled above the clouds.”

“May I kiss you now?” Milburn said, gazing upon her rich eyes.

As she obediently raised her lips, a strange, warm, husky breath, not natural nor even passionate, came from his nostrils. The Judge, looking at this — no pleasing scene to him, the fairest Custis in two hundred years being devoured before his sight — exclaimed within his soul,

“Is Meshach drinking? His eyes look fiery.”

So, after kissing his daughter also, and saying, “May God reward you with triumphs and compensation beyond our fears!” the Judge said:

“Milburn, I suppose, in the sudden conclusion of this union, you have made no arrangements as to where you will go; so come, of course, to Teackle Hall, and make it your home.”

“Is that your wish, my dear one?”

Vesta replied, “Yes. But it is yours to choose, sir.”

“You have some business with your father for an hour,” Milburn said; “meantime, I require something at my warehouse, and, as it is yet early in the night, may I leave you a little while?”

She bowed her head again, and, while they proceeded towards the church-door. As they all stepped from the happy old church, where Vesta’s voice had so often pierced, in her flights of harmony, to heaven’s gate, she saw fall upon the pavement of the churchyard the long, preposterous, moon-thrown hat of the bridegroom.

“Oh, what will he do with that hat, now that he has married me?” Vesta thought. “Will he continue to afflict me with it?”

Her heart sank down, so that she felt relieved when he kissed her again at the church-gate, and saying, “I will come soon, darling,” went, with his man, into Princess Anne.

“Is your buggy ready harnessed, Samson?” his master asked, when they turned the court-house corner.

“Yes, marster.”

At this moment a large crowd of men, comprising all the idle population in town, as well as many Saturday-night bacchanalians from the country and coasts, some standing before the tavern, others on the opposite sidewalks or gathered on the court-house corner, seeing the hatted figure of Meshach rise against the moonlight, raised the scattering cry, finally deepening into a yell, of:

“Man with the hat loose! Steeple-top! Three cheers for old Meshach’s hat!”

With a minute’s irresolution, as if hesitating to go through the crowd, Milburn turned into the main street, crossed it, and continued down the opposite sidewalk, on the same side with his domicile, the jeers and jests still continuing.

“Dar’s rum a workin’ in dis town all arternoon, marster,” his faithful negro said, “eber sence dat long man come in from de churchyard wid Levin Dennis. Look out, marster!”

He had scarcely spoken, when three men were seen to bar the way, two of them drunk, the third ugly with drink, emerging from a groggery that stood across the street from the tavern, where further beverage had been denied them. The first was Jack Wonnell. He hiccoughed, cried “Steeple-top!” and slunk behind a mulberry-tree. The second man was Levin Dennis, hardly able to stand, and he sat down on the groggery step, smiling up idiotically.

The third man, rising like a giant out of his boots, with his arms swaying like loose grapevines, and his bearded face streaked with tobacco drippings, looking insolence and contempt, brought the flat of one hand fairly down on the crown of Milburn’s surprising tile, with the words:

“Halloo! Yer’s Goosecap! Hocus that cady, Old Gripefist!”

The hat, age being against it, wilted down on Meshach’s eyes, and the heedless stroke, unconsciously powerful, staggered him.

Samson, who had drunk in the giant’s qualifications with an instant’s admiration, immediately drew off, seeing his master insulted, and struck the tall stranger a blow with his fist. The man reeled, rallied, and sought to grapple with Samson. That skilful pugilist bent his knees, slided his shoulders back, and, avoiding the clutch, raised, and threw his trunk forward, with the blow studied well, and planted his knuckles in the white man’s eyes. The tall ruffian went down as from a bolt of lightning.

Milburn saw all this happen in a minute of time, and his eye, looking for something to defend himself, dropped on the brick pier under the groggery steps, where Levin Dennis sat, stupefied by the scene. A brick in the pier was loose, and Milburn stepped towards it. In this small interval the hardy stranger had recovered himself and staggered to his feet, and had drawn a dirk-knife.

“The ruffian cly you!” he bellowed. “Knocked down by a nigger, too! Hell have you, then!”

As he darted forward, he described a rapid circle backward and downward with the knife, aiming to turn it through Samson’s bowels, which he would have done — that valorous servant being without defence, and not so much as a pebble of stone lying on the bare plain of the soil to to give him aid — had not Meshach, wresting the loose brick from the pier, aimed it at the corresponding exposed portion of the assassin’s body, and struck him full in the pit of the stomach. The man’s eyes rolled, and he fell, like one stone-dead, his dirk sticking in the sidewalk.

“Let him lie there,” said Meshach, contemptuously. “No danger of such a dog dying! If there is time he shall mend in the jail. Take to your buggy, boy, and keep out of the way.”

The negro needed no warning, as the impiety of striking a white man was forbidden in a larger book than the Bible — the book of ignorance. He disappeared through the houses and was a mile out of Princess Anne, driving fast, before the new man had raised his head from the ground.

“Where is the nigger?” he gasped, his pale face painted by his bloodshot eyes. “What kind of coves are you to let a black bloke fight a white man? I’ll cut his heart out before I tip the town.”

He looked around on the crew which had crossed over from the tavern; Meshach had vanished in his store at the descent of the road. Jimmy Phœbus was the only one to speak.

“Nigger buyer,” he said, “if you are around this town from now till midnight, or after midnight to-mower, Sunday night, ole Meshach Milburn will have you in that air jail till Spring. By smoke! he’ll find out yer aunty’s cedents, whair you goin, whair you been, what’s yer splurge, an all yer hokey pokey. You’ve struck the Ark of the Lord this time — ole Milburn’s Entailed Hat! Take my advice an’ travel!”

The man washed his face at the tavern pump, turned the bank corner, and disappeared in the night towards Teackle Hall.


 

CHAPTER XIII.

SHADOW OF THE TILE.

AS Vesta and her father stepped over the sill of Teackle Hall, it seemed very dear, yet somewhat dread to them, being reclaimed again, but at the penalty of a new member of the family and he an intruder. To the library Vesta and her father went, and he threw some wood upon the low fire, and lighted the lamp and candles; then turning, he took his daughter in his arms and sobbed bitterly, repeating over the words: “What shall I do! O what shall I do!” She also yielded to the luxury of grief, but was speechless till he said:

“My darling, I have dreamed of your wedding-day many a time, but it was not like this. Music and joy, free-heartedness, a handsome, youthful bridegroom, our whole connection gathered here from the army and navy, from South, West, and North, and all happy except poor Daniel Custis, about to lose his child!”

“Your child is not to go,” Vesta whispered; “is not that a comfort?”

“I do not know. Had I seen you waste with consumption, day by day, like a dying lilac-tree, I could have wept in heavenly sympathy. But, in your flower to be a forester’s plucking, stripped from my stem and trodden in the sand, your pride reduced, your tastes unheeded, your heart dragged into the wigwam of a savage and made to consult his maudlin will — Oh, what shall I do!”

“I do not fear my husband like that,” Vesta said, opening his arms. “Dear father, thoughts like that beset me, too — the pride of aristocracy, the remembrance of what has been; but I want to be honest and not to cheat my heart or any person. We have fallen from our height; he has raised himself from his condition; and there is no deception in my conduct. He knows I do not love him. Instead of standing upon an obdurate heart, I pray God to melt my nature and mould it to his affection!”

Regarding her a moment with increasing interest, Judge Custis came forward and kissed her forehead.

“Amen, then!” he said. “May you love your husband! I will do all I can to love him, too.”

“That is spoken like a true man,” Vesta said. “And now, father, good-night! Be ready here for Mr. Milburn’s arrival. Ring for a decanter and some cake. It will not hurt you, after your fast, to drink a glass of sherry with the bridegroom.”

He kissed her and felt her trembling in his arms. As she started to go, she returned and clung to him again. Her face was pale with fear.

“Oh, dreadful God!” he muttered, “to visit my many sins upon this spotless angel! Where shall I fly?”

A step was upon the porch, and Vesta flashed up the stairway.

Judge Custis went to his door apprehensive and in tears. A strange man stood there, with his eye bruised and blood dripping down to his coarse, rope-like beard. He was in liquor, but so pale that it was apparent by the starlight.

“Good-evening,” said the man; “you don’t know me, Judge Custis? No matter, I’m Joe Johnson.”

The Judge, whose tears had taken him far from things of trivial memory, looked at the man and repeated “Joe Johnson. Not Joe Johnson of Dorchester?”

“Yes, Judge, Joe Johnson, the slave-dealer. I’ve bought many a nigger from a Custis when it was impolite to sell ’em, Judge, so they let me run ’em off, and cussed me for it to the public. An’ that’s made me onpopular, Judge Custis, and that’s my fix to-night.”

“You have been fighting, Johnson, I think,” said the Judge, with suppressed dislike.

“I’ve been knocked down by a nigger,” said the man, with a glare of ferocity, removing his hand from the wounded eye, as if it inflamed his recollection of the blow to see the drops of blood drip from his beard to the porch. “This town is too nice to abide a dealer in the constitutional article, and so they set on me, when I was a little jingle-brained with lush, an’ while the nigger klemmed me in the peep, a little white villain with a steeple bonnet hit me in the bread-bag with a stone. I’ve come yer, Judge, to lie up in the kitchen, an’ sleep warm over Sunday, for the cops threaten to take me, if they catch me before midnight.”

“I suppose you know, Johnson, that I am a magistrate, and the proper harborage I give to breakers of the peace is the jail.”

“I’m not afraid of that limbo, Judge Custis, when I come to you. Old Patty Cannon has done you many a good turn with Joe Johnson’s gang about election times in the upper destreeks of Somerset. Patty always said Judge Custis was a game gentleman that returned a favor.”

The Judge’s countenance, an instant blank, lighted up with all a vote-getter’s smile, and he said:

“Joe, you’re a terrible fellow, but dear old Aunt Patty did always take my part! I suspect, Joe, that you have run afoul of Samson, the hired man of Meshach Milburn, who is a boxer, though I wonder that he could get away with your youth and size. Of course, I won’t let you come to harm. You haven’t been playing your tricks on anybody’s negroes, Joe?”

“No, upon my word, Judge! You see, I took a load of Egypt down the Nanticoke to Norfolk, and shipped ’em to Orleens. Says I: ‘I’ll go back Eastern Shore way, and see if there’s any niggers to git.’ So I tramped it from Somers’s Cove to Princess Anne, an’ sluiced my gob at Kingston and the Trappe till I felt noddy with the booze, and lay down in the churchyard to snooze it off. Bein’ awaked before my nod was out, I felt evil an’ chiveyish, and the tavern blokes, an’ the nigger, an’ the feller with the steeple shap, all clecked me at once.”

“Well, Joe, for Aunt Patty’s sake, I’ll take care of you. Go to the kitchen door, and I’ll step through the house and tell our Aunt Hominy to give you supper and breakfast, and a place to get some sleep. But you must keep out of the way, and slip off quietly on Sunday, for we have had a wedding in the family to-day, Joe, and though I cannot understand your peculiar slang, I suspect the bridegroom to be the man who knocked the breath out of you with the stone.”

The stranger lifted his hand from his bloody eye again, and counted the red drops splashing down from his beard. Judge Custis marked his scowl.

“Tut, tut!” said the Judge, “you will never get your revenge out of that man. He is too strong. I don’t wonder that he disabled you, and don’t you ever get into his clutches, Joe; for if he knows you are here, I shall be forced to send you to jail this very night. Keep out of the hands of Meshach Milburn! He has knocked the breath out of you, Mr. Johnson, but there are some whose hearts he has twisted out of their bodies.”

“I’ll meet him somewhere,” Joe Johnson muttered, “but not in Princess Anne;” and he pulled down his slouched hat to cover his eyes, and stalked away to find the kitchen.

“Oh, what a day can bring forth,” Judge Custis thought, raising his hands to the October stars: “Meshach of the ominous hat the host in my parlor: Joe Johnson, the son-in-law of Patty Cannon, the guest of my kitchen!”


 

CHAPTER XIV.

MESHACH’S HOME.

VESTA had slept she hardly knew how long, but it was day, and slowly her eyes turned towards the remainder of her bed to see if it was occupied.

The bridegroom was not there.

She reached her foot into her slipper at the bedside, and at one swift step passed before her mirror, whispering:

“I have dreamed it all!”

The fresh, flushing skin, and radiant contrasts of hair and eyes seemed so welcome to her in their perfect assurance of health, that she whispered again:

“Have I dreamed it? He is not here. Oh, am I free?”

Then a feeling of reproval came to her as the minutest memory of yesterday rose to her mind, and the vow she had made to honor and obey seemed to have been too easily repented. She looked upon her hand, and the little, thin, pathetic thread of gold reaffirmed her memory of the wedding-ring, and at the next suggestion a blush coursed through her being like a redbird in the apple-blossoms: perhaps he had stolen from her chamber stealthily as he came, while she, drowned in deep slumber, wotted not.

A glance into the mirror again revealed those blushes repeating each other, like the Aurora in the northern dawn, till, with a searching consciousness, and her voice raised above the whisper, she said,

“Be still, silly girl!

Opening the door, she found Virgie lying on the rug without, warmly wrapped in her mistress’s blanket-shawl, but wide awake.

“Virgie, no one has passed?” asked Vesta.

“No, Miss Vessy. Nobody could have stepped over me, for my mind has been too awake, if I did sleep a little. Maybe he ain’t a-coming, Miss Vessy. Maybe he’s ashamed!”

“Hush, Virgie,” Vesta said, “you are speaking of your master.”

Throwing her morning-robe around her shoulders, the maiden bride tripped noiselessly to her mother’s apartment; the door was open, the night taper floating in its vase, and Mrs. Custis lay asleep with her bank-book under her pillow.

Vesta kissed her mother softly, and placed her cheek beside that lady’s thin, respectable profile as she awoke, and said:

“Daughter, mercy! why, what has become of you? It seems to me I have seen nobody for days, and I wanted to express my indignation even in my dreams. Where have you been?”

“Oh, mamma,” Vesta said, taking Mrs. Custis’s head in her arms, “I have been finding your lost fortune, which troubled us all so much. It is to be given back to you, dearest — my husband has promised to do so.”

“Your husband? Whom have you selected, that he is so free with his money? How could you hear from Baltimore so soon? Now, don’t tell me a parcel of stuff, thinking to comfort me. Your father is a villain, and my connections shall know it.”

Mrs. Custis drew her bank-book from under her head, and began to cry, as she took a single look at its former total.

“Darling mamma,” Vesta said, “seeing you so miserable yesterday on account of papa’s failure, and your portion gone with it, I accepted an offer of marriage, and have a rich man’s promise that, first of all, your part shall be paid to you. This house, and our manor, and everything as it is — the servants, the stable, and the movables — belong to me, in my own name, paid for in papa’s notes, and by him transferred to me to be our home forever, so that a revulsion like yesterday may not again cross the sill of our door. Does not that deserve a kiss, mamma?”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Mrs. Custis. “This is another trick to deceive me. I don’t accuse you of it, Vesta, but you are the victim of somebody and your father. Now, who can this man be, so free with his ready money? It’s not the style in Baltimore to promise so liberally as all that. Have you accepted young Carroll?”

“No, nor thought of him, mamma.”

“Then it must be that widower fool, Hynson, ready to sell his negroes for a second wife like you.”

“He has neither been here in body or mind,” Vesta said; “never in my mind.”

“That would be a marriage to make a talk: it wouldn’t be like you to bestow so much beauty on a widower. I think there is a certain vulgarity about an elegant girl marrying a widower. She is so refined, and he is generally so sleek and sensual. Did you hear from Charles McLane?”

“Nothing, mamma; let me ease your mind by telling you that my husband lives here in Princess Anne. He was father’s creditor, Mr. Meshach Milburn. He has loved me unknown for years. I saw a way to stop all scandal and recrimination by marrying him at once, that the society we know would have but one, and not two, subjects of curiosity. Papa saw me married last night to Mr. Milburn, and I bear his name this Sabbath day.”

“His wife? Meshach Milburn? The vulgarian in the play-actor’s hat? That man! Daughter, you play with my poor head. It is going again. Oh-h-h!”

“Mother, it is true. I am Mrs. Milburn. My husband is your benefactor.”

It was unnecessary to say more, for Mrs. Custis had really fainted.

Roxy was summoned to assist Vesta, and after Mrs. Custis had become conscious, and sighed and cried hysterically, her daughter, sitting in her lady’s rocker, spoke out plainly:

“Mother, I appreciate your disappointment in my marriage, though I should be the one to make complaint and receive sympathy. I pity your illness, dear mamma, but I fear Mr. Milburn is ill, too, for he has not been here all night, though he left me at the church-gate.”

“I hope the viper is dead!” Mrs. Custis said, with great clearness, and energized it by sitting up in bed. Roxy left the room.

“I hope he has been murdered,” said Mrs. Custis, “and that the murderer will never be discovered. If there is any spirit of the McLanes left in my brothers and nephews, they will wipe out, in blood, the insult of this marriage between my daughter and the man who set a trap upon the honor of a respectable family.”

Vesta arose with a pale, troubled face, yet with some of her mother’s prejudice flashing back.

“He can defend himself, mamma. I shall go to seek him now, since he is so much hated for me.”

She returned to her room, and put on a walking-suit, and made her toilet. In the library Vesta found her father dozing in a large chair, with his feet upon a leather sofa, and a silk handkerchief drawn across his crown, under which were the dry beds of tears that had coursed down his cheeks. She saw, with a touch of joy, that the sherry in the decanter was untouched, and the two glasses were still clean: he had not relapsed into his habits, even while making an all-night vigil to wait for the unwelcome son-in-law. He started as she entered, and then stared at her between his dazed wits and a mute inquiry that she could understand.

“He has not come, papa. And mamma — oh! she is severe.”

Vesta, trembling at the throat a moment, rushed into her father’s wide-open arms.

“Poor soul! Poor lamb! Poor thing!” he said, over and over, while his temper slowly rose. Vesta felt his tones change while he petted her, and at last heard him say, hoarsely:

“By God!”

“Sh—h!” she whispered, raising her hand to his mouth.

“I will kill somebody,” he went on, finishing his sentence, and as she drew away he strode across the room and back again.

“Don’t lose your true pride, papa, after you have persevered so long,” Vesta said. “It is Sunday. Do you think he will come? What can have happened?”

“He will either come or fight me,” Judge Custis remarked. “I have tried to be a peaceable man and Christian magistrate, albeit a poor hypocrite in some things, but I am pushed too far. My wife’s smallness is worse than insanity and wickedness put together. Between her and this money-broking fiend, and my neglected child entrapped into such a marriage, by God! I will clean my old duelling arms, and appeal to injustice itself to set me even.”

If he had been fine-looking in his sincere grief, he was thrice more attractive in his sincere high spirit. Vesta, admiring him in spite of her cares, did not like to see him in this unnatural recklessness.

“Dear father,” she said, soothingly, “you have no cause of quarrel.”

“I have every cause,” he cried; “the proposal to marry you was an insult, for which I should have challenged him, and shot him if he declined. Now he has married you and absconded, using you and the Custis honor with contempt. Public opinion will clear me under this provocation. My sons-in-law would leap to take the quarrel up, and rid the world of Meshach Milburn.”

“That is mamma’s idea, to kill the debtor who has been specially kind to her. She says she will send for Uncle Allan McLane, and is more unreasonable than ever. Papa, your feelings are unjust. Something we do not know of has happened to Mr. Milburn. He was not himself all the while at the church.”

“Milburn was drunk at the ceremony, I saw that,” Judge Custis said, “but it was no excuse. What good can come of this violent alliance? It seems to me that we have leaped from the frying-pan into the fire. I feel ugly, my daughter, and there is no concealing it.”

“Then you are in the mood to talk to mother this morning,” Vesta said, “while you have some unusual will and spirit. I will go to find my husband. Yes, that is my place.”

“You don’t mean that you are going to visit him at his den?”

“I shall go there first. It would have been my home last night if he had required it. To tell the truth,” Vesta said, blushing, “the poor man was so kind to me yesterday, in spite of his object, and so quaint, and, as it seemed, dependent on me, that my charity is enlisted for him, and I could almost have married him from pity.”

The Judge’s temper fell a little in the study of his daughter’s blushing.

“Wonderful! wonderful!” he thought to himself; “that poor corn-bred fellow has already made more impression on this girl’s pride than a hundred cavalier gallants. Truly, we are a republic, Vesta,” he continued aloud, “and you lay down the Custis character as easily as our old connection, Lord Fairfax, accepted the democracy of his hired surveyor, Mr. Washington, before he died.”

“I laid down the Custis name yesterday,” Vesta said, “though not their better character, I hope.”

At the corner of old Front Street, and extending almost out upon the little Manokin bridge, stood Meshach Milburn’s two-story house and store, with a door upon both streets. Though planted low, in a hollow, it stood forward like Milburn’s challenging countenance, unsupported by any neighbors.

“Don’t it look like a witch’s, Missy?” Virgie said, as Vesta took in its not unpicturesque outlines and crude plank carpentry, the weather-rotted roof, the decrepit chimney at the far end, the one garret window in the sharp gable, the scant little windows above stairs, and the doors low to the sand.

“It may have been the pride of the town fifty years ago, Virgie. I have passed it many a day, looking with mischievous curiosity for the steeple-hat, to show that to some city friend, little thinking I must ever enter the house. But hear that wilful bird singing so loud! Where is it?”

“I can’t tell to save my life. It ain’t in the tree yonder. It’s the first bird up this mornin’, Miss Vessy, sho’!”

“Is not that larger door standing ajar, the one with the four panels in it?” Vesta asked. “Yes, it is unfastened and partly open.”

The blood left Vesta’s heart a moment, as the thought ran through her mind: “He has been watched, followed home, and murdered!”

The idea seemed to explain his absence on his marriage night, and, like a sudden flame first seen upon a burning ship, lighting up the wide ocean with its bright terrors, Vesta saw the infinite relations of such a crime: her almost secret marriage, her custody of her father’s notes, the record of them upon her husband’s books, his last word at the church gate: “I will come soon, darling,” and now, this silent abode, with its door ajar on Sunday dawn, before the town was up — they might bear the suspicion of a dreadful crime by the ruined debtor house of Custis against their friendless creditor.

Vesta advanced towards the door, and the wild bird from somewhere poured out a shriek, a chuckle, a hurrah, enough to turn her blood to ice.

As Vesta pushed open the old, seasoned door it dragged along the floor, and the loose iron bar and padlock, dropping down, made a ring that brought an echo like a tomb’s out of the hollow interior.

“’Deed, Miss Vessy, I’m ’fraid to go in there,” Virgie said.

“You are not to come in till I call you. But hear that bird rioting in song! Does Mr. Milburn keep birds?”

“I can’t tell, Miss Vessy. That bird’s a Mocker. It must be in there somewhere. Oh, don’t go in, Miss Vessy; something will catch you, dear Missy, sho!”

But Vesta was already gone, following the piercing sound of the native bird, that seemed to be in the loft.

She saw a little counter of pine, and a pine desk built into it, and bundles of skins, some cord-wood, a pile of lumber and boxes, a few barrels of oil or spirits, and dust and cobwebs thick on everything; and a little way in from the door the light and darkness made weird effects upon each other, increasing the apparent distances, and changing the forms; and the sun, now risen, made turning cylinders of gold-dust at certain knot-holes in the eastern gable, across whose film she saw two lean mice stand upon the floor unalarmed, and tamely watch her come.

The screaming of the bird was conveyed through the thin floor from above with loud distinctness, and every note of singing things seemed to be imitated by it, from the hawk’s gloating cry to the swallow’s twittering alarm, with the most rapid versatility, and even hurry, as if the creature was trying over every bird language, with the hope of finding one mankind could understand. It was idle to expect to be heard amid such clamor, and Vesta, having pounded on the floor a few times, made her way to a sort of cupboard, that might turn out to be a stairway, and, sure enough, a door opened on its dark side, and light from above flickered down.

At this moment the bird’s notes abruptly ceased, and a voice, unlike anything she had ever heard in her life, yet human, spoke in response to a more natural human voice, both issuing from above.

The second voice seemed to be Milburn’s; the first voice was something like it, yet not like anything from the throat of man, and the superstition she had been rebuking in her servant came with a thrilling influence upon her entire nature. She was about to fly, but called out one word as she arrested herself:

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!”

The loud, unclassifiable voice above immediately answered:

“Gent! Gent-gent-gent-en! t-chee, t-chee! Gents, tss-tss-tss! Ha! ha! Gentlemen!”

“May I come up?” Vesta cried.

“Come, p-chee! Come chee! come tsee! See me! see me! see me! Come p-chee! come see! come see me!”

The last accentuation, in spite of the bird’s interference, was sufficiently distinct to amount to an invitation, and with a raising of her eyelids once dependently to heaven, Vesta went up the stairs.

She put her head into a large, long room, which took up the whole contents of the second story, and was lighted on three sides by the small windows she had seen without. It had no carpet or floor-covering of any kind; the fire was gone out upon the chimney-hearth in the end, and the atmosphere, a little chill, was melting before the sunshine which now streamed in at both sides of the fireplace and clearly revealed every object in the apartment, — some clothes-pegs, a wooden table with a blue plate, a blue cup and saucer and a saucepan upon it, and a coarse knife and fork; a large green chest, and a leather hatbox; an old hair trunk fifty years old, and nearly falling to pieces; black silhouettes, in little round ebony frames, of a woman and a man hung over the mantel, and between them a silhouette of a face she had no difficulty in recognizing to be intended for her own.

Stretched upon a low child’s bed, of the sort called trundle-bed in those days, which could be wheeled under the high-legged bed of the parents, lay the bridegroom, in his wedding-dress and gaitered shoes, with his steeple, crowned hat upon the faded calico quilt beside him, and his face as red as burning fever could make it.

Vesta only verified the particulars of the inventory of Milburn’s lodge afterwards, her instant attention being drawn to the motionless form of her husband, whose flushed face seemed to indicate a death by strangulation or apoplexy. She went forward and put her hand upon him.

“Mr. Milburn!” she spoke.

“Milburn!” echoed a voice of piercing strength, though ill articulated. She looked around in astonishment, and saw nobody.

“Husband!” Vesta spoke, louder, stooping over him.

“S’band! s’band! See! see!” shouted the wanton voice, almost at her elbow.

Vesta, with one hand on the helpless man’s brow, turned again, almost indignantly, for the tone seemed to address some sense of neglect or shame in her, which she had not been guilty of. Still, nothing was to be seen.

At the far corner of the room was a step-ladder leading to a hole in the loft above; but this was not the place of the interruption, for she heard the voice now come as from the chimney at the opposite end of the room, nearer the bed, and accompanied with a fluttering and scratching, as if some spirit of evil, with the talons of a rat or a bat, was trying to break in where the prostrate man lay on the bed of oblivion.

“Meshach! Meshach!” rang the half-human cry, “Hoo! hoo! Vesty! Vesty! Sweet! sweet! sweet! Ha, ha! See me! See me! Meshach, he! Vesty, she! She! she! she! Hoot! hoot! ha!”

Rapidly changing her view, with her ears no less than her heart tingling at the use of her own name, Vesta saw on the dusty wooden mantel a common bird of a gray color, with dashes of brown and black upon his wings, and a whitish breast, and he was greatly agitated, as if he meant to fly upon her or upon some other intruder she could not see.

His eyes, of black pupils upon yellowish eyeballs, sparkled with nervous activity. He flung himself into the air above her head, uttering sounds of such mellow richness and such infinite fecundity of modulation, that the old hovel almost burst with intoxicated song, combining gladness, welcome, fear, defiance, superstition, horror, and epithalamium all together, like Orpheus gone mad, and losing the continuity of his golden notes.

The bird’s upper bill was beaked like a hawk’s, his lower was sharp as a lance, and between them issued that infuriated melody and cadence and epithet that old Patrick Henry’s spirit might have migrated into from his grave in the Virginia woods. He suddenly flung himself from his vortex of song upon the bed of the sick man, with a twitching hop and rapid opening and shutting of the tail, like the fan of a disturbed beauty, and thence perched upon Milburn’s peaked hat, and with a convulsive struggle of his throat and body, as if he were in superhuman labor, brought out, distinct as man could speak, the words,

“’Sband! ’sband! Vesty! Vesty! Sweet! sweet! Come see! come see!”

Vesta, by a quick, expert movement, grasped the bird, and smoothed it against her bosom, and soothed its excitement.

She had heard verified what Audubon avowed, and had but recently published in the beautiful edition of his works her father was a subscriber to, that some said the American mocking-bird could imitate the human voice, though the naturalist remarked that he himself had never heard the bird do it.

The present verification, Vesta thought, of the mocking-bird’s supremest power, might have issued from its excitement at the silent and helpless condition of its master — that master who had told Vesta that no bird in the woods ever resisted his seductions and mystic influence.

“If that be true,” Vesta said to herself, “there is no danger of this vociferous pet making his escape if I put him out of the window till I can see if his master speaks or lives.”

So she raised the window, and flung the mocking-bird up into the air, and it came down and dropped into the old willow-tree beneath, and there set up a concert the Sabbath morning might have been proud of.

Relieved from the agitation of the mocking-bird, Vesta now gave her whole attention to her husband; and the high heat of his brain and circulation, and his muttering, like delirium, seemed to indicate that he had an intense attack of intermittent fever. She heard the words several times repeated by him: “I will come soon, darling!” and the simplicity of his devotion to her, unloved as he was, had such flavor of pathos in it that the tears started to Vesta’s eyes.

“Poor soul!” she said, “it will be long before I can love him. But my duty is not the less clear, as his wife.”

She looked Milburn over carefully, to see if any wound or sign of violence, whether by accident or an enemy, appeared upon him, and finding none, and he all the time wandering in his sleep, she climbed the ladder and peeped into the garret, to see if his servant might be there. Samson’s bed, as she supposed it was, had not been disturbed, and so, descending, she raised the window over the larger door she had entered by, and beckoned Virgie to come up.

“Take this tin cup,” she said to the quadroon, “and go to the spring, near here, and bring it to me full of water.”

Then, as the girl tripped away, Vesta found a piece of paper, and wrote her father a note, telling him to come to her; and to the girl, when she returned, her mistress said:

“I want you to get a roll of new rag-carpet at Teackle Hall, and have it brought here, to spread upon this floor. Send me, too, a pair of our brass andirons, and pack in a basket some glass, table-ware, and linen. Tell papa to bring one of his own night-shirts, and to take down my picture in the sewing-room, and wrap it up, and have it sent. I must have mamma’s medicine-box and a wheelbarrow of ice; and let Hominy make some strong tea and hot-water toast. Virgie, do not forget that this sick gentleman is my husband, and a part of our own family!”

The girl’s face preserved its respect with difficulty as she heard the last part of the sentence, but she replied to what she understood to be a warning by saying:

“Miss Vessy, I never tell anybody tales.”

Judge Custis made his way up the dark stairs in a little while, and, as soon as he looked at Milburn, exclaimed,

“Curses come home to roost! It was only night before last that I said, in the presence of Meshach’s negro, ‘May the ague strike him and the bilious sweat from Nassawongo mill-pond!’ He slept by it that night, while I was tossing in misery. The next night it was his turn. Daughter, he has the bilious intermittent fever, the legacy of all his fathers. He exposed himself, I suppose, extraordinarily that night, and I hear that he burned the old cabin in the morning. Now he will burn, in memory of it, for the next ten weeks; for he has, I suspect, from the time of day the burning and delirium came, what is called the double quotidian type of the fever, with two attacks in the twenty-four hours.”

“Poor man!” exclaimed Vesta.

“Now I can account for his appearance at the marriage ceremony last night. The fever was on him, but he went through it by hard grit, and, probably, returning here to get some relief, he just fell over on that bed, and his head left him for some hours. The paroxysm goes away during sleep; and returns in the morning; so, before he could get abroad to-day, even if he could walk, to report himself at Teackle Hall, another fever came, and a furious one, too, and he will have good luck to survive forty days of fever, with probably eighty sweats in that time.”

“He must be doctored at once, papa.”

“Well, I am good enough doctor for the bilious fever. He wants plenty of cold lemonade, cold sponging, and ice to suck when the fever is on him. When the chills intervene he wants blanketing, hot bottles at his feet, and hot tea, or something stronger. In the rest between the attacks of fever and chill, he wants calomel and Peruvian bark, and if these delirious spells go on, he may want both bleeding and opium.”

“Here are some of the things he immediately needs, then,” Vesta said, as a tall white man she had never seen before came up the stairs with Virgie, bringing some Susquehanna ice in a blanket, and a roll of carpet, and other articles she had sent for. The man’s face wore a large bruise that heightened his savage appearance.

“Judge,” exclaimed the stranger, “I’m doin’ a little work to pay fur my board. Who’s your whiffler? He’ll know me when he sees me next time.”

Following the stranger’s eyes, Vesta and her father saw Meshach Milburn, half raised up from the low trundle-bed, staring at Joe Johnson as if trying to get at him. His lips moved, he partly articulated:

“Catch the — scoundre — him!

“Joe,” said the Judge, “slip away! He recognizes you as the assailant yesterday. Don’t hesitate: see how he glares at you!”

“Oh, it’s the billy-noodle with the steeple nab-cheat, him that settled me with the brick,” said the stranger, in a low voice. “So I have piped him. Ah! that’s plumby.”

As the tall man started to go Milburn’s countenance relaxed, he wandered again in his head, and fell back upon the bed.

“I told you he was a hard hater, Mr. Johnson,” the Judge remarked.

“Them shakes is the equivvy for the bruise he give me, — that is, till we both heal up. He’s painted the ensigns of all nations on my stummick, Judge. But a blow is cured by a blow!”

With a look of admiring computation upon the girl Virgie, Joe Johnson drew his long figure down the stairs, like a pole.

“What a brutal giant,” Vesta said; “and how came he to be doing our errands?”

“Why, Aunt Hominy hadn’t nobody to bring the wheelbarrow load, and this man said he’d come, and he would come, Miss Vesty, so I couldn’t say anything.”

“He’s a man of a good deal of influence,” said the Judge, uneasily, “in the upper part of our county, and in Delaware. Last night, after the wedding, he slapped Meshach’s hat, and old Samson knocked him down for it, and he would have killed Samson, I hear, but for your bridegroom, who felled him with a timely brick.”

“Oh, what troubles will not that hat bring upon us!” Vesta thought; and then spoke: “If Mr. Milburn was strong, I think he would hardly let that man get out of the county before night.”

“Well, daughter, what are you going to do with these articles he has brought?”

“They are to make this room comfortable. See, he has my picture here, cut by his own hands: I want to put a better one before him: help me hang it, papa!”

In a few minutes the bright oil portrait, but recently painted by Mr. Rembrandt Peale, was taking the sunlight upon its warm brunette cheeks, in full sight of the bridegroom, and the thick rag carpet warmed the floor, and Virgie had made a second errand to Teackle Hall, and brought back the lady’s rocking-chair that Milburn so much affected, and toilet articles, and some dark cloth to hide the bare boards in places, and the old loft soon wore a reasonable appearance of habitable life. Virgie made up the fire, and the brass andirons took the cheerful flame upon them, while Vesta sweetened the lemonade after her father had cut and squeezed the lemons, and added some magnesia to make the drink foam.

“Really,” said Judge Custis, “this miserable den takes the rudimentary form of a home. I suppose there are now more comforts in his sight than Meshach’s whole race ever collected. What is your next move, Vesta?”

“To stay right here, darling papa, till it is safe and convenient to carry Mr. Milburn home.”

“Oh, folly! it will excite scandal, and be repulsive to my feelings. This loft over a former groggery is no place for you: the news will spread from Chincoteague to Arlington. Every Custis that lives will censure me and outlaw you.”

“I think you had best see Mr. Tilghman before the service, papa, and have the marriage announced from the desk this morning: that will settle the excitement before night. As for staying here, it is of the greatest necessity to my nature to improve my intercourse with my husband while he is sick, that the hasty marriage we made may still have its period of acquaintance and good understanding. I want to sound the possibilities of my happiness. He will be less my master now than in his strength and possession. Perhaps—” Vesta’s voice fell, and she turned to gaze upon the bridegroom, whose fever still consumed his wits — “perhaps I can influence his dress, — his appearance.”

“You mean the steeple-top!” Judge Custis exclaimed, petulantly.

At the loud sound of this familiar word, the feverish man’s ears were pierced as through some ever-open ventricle, like an old wound.

“Steeple-top! Who cried ‘steeple-top’?” he muttered. “Oh, can’t you see I’m married. She hears it. Oh, spare and pity her!”

He wandered into the miasmatic world again, leaving them all touched, yet oppressed.


 

CHAPTER XV.

THE KIDNAPPER.

IT seemed to Judge Daniel Custis as he walked abroad into the Sunday sunshine, that he had never seen a more perfect day. The leaves were turning on the great sycamore-trees, and the maples along the rise in the road wore their most delicate garments of nankeen. He walked through Princess Anne, worship now having commenced in all the churches, and saw nobody upon the street except a divided group before the tavern. There he heard Jimmy Phœbus speak to Levin Dennis sharply:

“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 Phœbus, 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 Phœbus, 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 Phœbus, with a quick pass of his whittling knife to the giant’s throat. “Raise it or, by smoke! yer goes yer jugler.”

As Phœbus 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; “Phœbus, 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 Phœbus 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 Phœebus by the arm.

“Well, well!” said the Judge, “let him go now, Phœbus! 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 Phœbus 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, Phœbus. 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 Phœbus, 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 Phœbus 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. 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, Phœbus, they have kidnapped several thousand people, the Philadelphia abolitionists say. 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!”

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: 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.”


 

CHAPTER XVI.

BELL-CROWN MAN.

AS the Judge and Phœbus 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 Phœbus after me.”

Joe Johnson took a bag of gold from inside his waistband, 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 Phœbus 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 Phœbus! 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.

“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 hive 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’ biIed ’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!’


 

CHAPTER XVII.

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-cumin’.”

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 Phœbus 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!”

“But — mother?”

“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 rule 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 jive 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-dorador?” 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 shan’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.”


 

CHAPTER XVIII.

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, coming 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?”

“Marble?”

“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.”


 

CHAPTER XX.

CASTE WITHOUT TONE.

THE little reading-circle assembled over the old store, and the young minister directed it. In the warm afternoon the windows were raised till Milburn’s chill began to set in again, and they could hear the mocking-bird, in his tree, tantalizing the great shaggy dog Turk by whistling to him,

“Wsht! wsht! Come, sir! come, sir! Sic ’em! sic ’em! wh-i-it! sic ’em, Turk! wsht! wh-i-i-t! Sirrah! Ha! ha!”

Turk would run a little way, run back, see nobody, watch all the windows of the store, and finally he seemed to think the spot was haunted, or unreliable in some way; for he would next run to the open store door, and bark, run back, and, from a distance, watch the hollow dark within, as if a vague enemy lived there, mocking his obedient nature and keeping his mistress captive. Turk was a setter with mastiff mixing, worth a little for the hunt and more for the watch, but as an ornament and friend worth more than all; he was so impartial in his favors as to like Aunt Hominy and Vesta about equally, and often slept in the kitchen before the great chimney fire.

“Do we worry you, Mr. Milburn, by reading here?” Vesta asked.

“No, my darling. It is so kind of you to bring music to my poor loft.”

William Tilghman opened his Bible at a place marked by a little ribbon-backed bristol card, inscribed in Vesta’s childhood by her learning fingers, “Watch with me.” He thought of his cousin, now fluttering between her betrayal to this Pilate and her crucifixion, and caught her eyes looking at the Bible-marker.

Tilghman started the reading, Vesta followed, and Rhoda had to do her part, also; but she required to labor hard to keep up, as the chapter was in the Acts, descriptive of Paul’s voyage towards Rome, and had plenty of hard words and geography in it. At one verse, Rhoda’s reading was like this:

“And — when — we — had — sailed — slowl-li — many — days — and — scare — scare — skar — skurse — I declar’, Aunt Vesty, this print is blombinable! — scace — Oh, yes, scacely — scarce — were — come — over — against — Ceni — Snide — Snid — Mr. Tilghman, what is this crab-kine of word? Cnidus? Well, I declar’! a dog couldn’t spell that — against Cnidus — the — wind — not — snuffers — no, snuffering (here Rhoda executed the double sniffle) — I mean suffering — suffering — us — we — sailed — under — I can’t spell that nohow; nobody kin!”

“’Sailed under Crete,’ dear,” assisted Vesta.

“Sailed under — Crety — over — against — Sal — Sal — Salm — oh, yes, psalms!”

“Salmone,” explained the rector, not daring to look up; “‘we sailed under Crete over against Salmone; and, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called the Fair Havens, nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.’”

“Lord sakes!” exclaimed Rhoda, putting out her crescent foot, on which was Vesta’s worked stocking.

Vesta then sang Charles Wesley’s hymn:

“‘Jesus, in us thyself reveal!’”

The sounds of her singing reached the people, rambling curiously around on Sunday afternoon to see the principals in the surprising marriage they had but lately heard of, and, as she ended, Mr. Milburn called her, saying,

“It is time for you to leave me till to-morrow.”

“Is that your desire?”

“It is, kind lady. I have a servant-man, Samson, used to all my work. I want you to feel free as ever, though my wife at last.”

Vesta bent and touched his forehead with her lips, and, as she drew back, he raised his cold hand and put a piece of paper in hers.

“Present my love to your mother,” he said, in a chill; “and return her the losses Judge Custis has named to me as her portion in Nassawongo furnace. The amount is in this check, which represents no business among any of us, but an act of peace.”

He managed, between his chill, to whistle a note or two, and Tom flew in the window and fluttered viciously around his head, as if to be revenged for exile, and then, leaping on the old hat-box, set up a show performance, in which were all the menagerie of town and field, and, stopping a little while to hear the bird sing her name again, Vesta and her friends withdrew.

Mrs. Custis was found in her bedroom, much improved in spirits, but highly nervous.

“Oh, my poor, martyred, murdered idol! are you alive? Is the beast dead? Don’t tell me he dares to live.”

“Yes, mamma, here are his teeth,” Vesta said, when she had kissed her mother warmly. “He has sent you a check for all your lost money, and his love. Is he not a gentleman now?”

Mrs. Custis eagerly took the check.

“Do you believe it is good, precious? Maybe he sent it to deceive me while he could take advantage of your gratitude. Oh, these foresters are devils! I wish I had the money for it.”

“It is good for everything he has, mamma. He gave it to me almost with gallantry. Indeed, he is the most singular man I ever knew.”

“That is the case with all pirates,” said Mrs. Custis; “something in the female nature attracts us to lawless men, who take what they want — ourselves included. But you, Vesta, with the Baltimore blood in you, do not expect to play the Sabine bride tamely like that — to defend your spoiler and reconcile him to your brethren!

“I was thinking it was the Baltimore blood that made me appreciate Mr. Milburn, mamma. The Custises were not traders.”

“Pshaw! the Custises were libertines; they had else no popularity in the scamp court of Charley-over-the-water. He thought the daughter of any gentleman in his following was made for his mistress, and a large percentage of the said damsels thought he was right.”

“Mr. Milburn is no Cavalier, I can see that,” Vesta said; “I am attracted to him by elements of such strength and simplicity that I fancy he is a Puritan.”

“Puritan fiddlestick!” Mrs. Custis said, putting Milburn’s check in her bosom and pinning it in there, and looking vigilantly at the pin afterwards. “Now, do not idealize this forester as of any beginning whatsoever.”

“I have on my finger, mother, his mother’s ring.”

“A pretty object it is,” said Mrs. Custis, taking a peep at it and another at her check; “it requires a microscope to find it. The first thing is to see that he pays this check. Oh, my dear money!” — she pressed it to her heart — “how delightful it is to see you again. Science, love, glory, ideas: how vulgar they are without money. If I had my life to go over again I would marry a business man, and let the aristocracy go. There the front-door. I believe I will dress myself and go down-stairs.”

There were two ladies in the parlor when Vesta went there — Grandmother Tilghman and the Widow Dennis.

“Good-evening, Vesta,” said the old lady, who was stone-blind, but easily knew Vesta’s footstep. “William thought you would not go to evening service on account of Mr. Milburn’s illness, so I came around to sit till church was over, when he will take me home. But what is that I hear in this parlor, like somebody sniffling?”

“It’s me, Aunt Vesty,” said the voice of Rhoda Holland from the background.

“This is Mr. Milburn’s niece, who has come here to stay with me,” Vesta said.

“Ah! then it is no Custis. The last sniffle I heard was at the ball to Lafayette in the spring of 1781. The marquis had marched from Head of Elk to the Bald Friars’ ferry up the Susquehanna and inland among the hills to Baltimore, and we gave him a ball which, at his request, was turned into a clothing-party. He snuffed so much that he kept up a sniffle all the evening, like—”

Here Rhode’s sniffle was heard again.

“Yes, that’s a good imitation,” said Grandmother Tilghman, “but I don’t like it.”

“Did the gineral dance at the ball?” asked Rhoda. “What did he do with his sword? Did he dance with it outen his scibburd?”

“He danced like a gentleman,” Mrs. Tilghman replied, as if she would rather not, “and led me out in the first set. You danced with him, Vesta, at the ball in ’24, forty-three years afterwards. Does he sniffle yet?”

“I don’t recollect, grand-aunt. I was a little girl, and so much flattered that I thought everything he did was perfect.”

“Ah me!” exclaimed Mrs. Tilghman, pulling the feather of her turban up, and looking as much like an old belle as possible at eighty years of age; “you danced before Lafayette with my grandson Bill. Bill hardly remembers Lafayette at all, thinking of you that night, so wonderful in your girl’s charms. I told him Vesta would never marry him, as he was too plain and poor. But I never thought you would marry that—”

Here Rhoda snifed warningly.

“Yes,” exclaimed the old lady, catching the sniffle; “I never thought you would marry that! But Bill is as dear a fool as ever. He says now that Meshach Milburn is a good man, too. I never thought he was above a—”

Rhoda sniffled earnestly.

“Precisely that,” exclaimed the old lady; “that was my estimate of the stock. Bill says he is a financial genius. I don’t see what is to become of girls in this generation. Here is Ellenora, too good to marry Phœbus, the sailor man, too poor to marry anybody else; now, if Milburn had married her and taken her son Levin into his business, it would have been reasonable; but to take you and pervert your happiness, almost makes me—”

Sniffle from Rhoda.

“Yes,” said the old lady, snappishly; “almost!”

“Did you ever see Gineral Washin’ton, mem?” Rhoda asked. “I thought, maybe, you was old enough. Misc Somers, she see him up yer to Kint River a-crossin’ to ’Napolis. He was a-swarin’ at the cappen of the piriauger and a dammin’ of the Eas’n Shu, and he said they wan’t no good rudes in Marylan’ nohow; that the Wes’n Shu was all red mud, an’ the Eas’n Shu yaller mud, an’ the bay was jus’ pizen. Misc Somers say she don’t think it was Gineral Washin’ton, caze he cuss so. She goin’ to find out when she kin git a book an’ somebody to read outen it to her, caze she dreffle smart.”

“Grand-aunt Tilghman,” Vesta interposed to the blank silence of the room, “knew General Washington intimately.”

“Do tell us!” cried Rhoda. “You kin be a right interestin’ ole woman, I reckon, ef you air so quar.”

In the midst of a smile, in which the blind old lady herself joined, and Mrs. Custis at the same time entered the room, Mrs. Tilghman spoke:

“We Custises rather looked down on Colonel Washington in those days; he was not of the old gentry; his poor mother could barely read and write, and once, when we went to Fredericksburg to see her, she was riding out in the field among her few negroes as her own overseer, wearing an old sun-bonnet, and sunburned like a forester.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Custis. “I should think she was a great impediment to Washington.”

“I reckon that’s the way her son got big,” exclaimed Rhoda; “if his mar had laid down in bed all day, he couldn’t have killed King George so easy with his swurd.” (Slight sniffle.)

“Do get that girl a pocket-handkerchief, and show her how to use it,” exclaimed Mrs. Tilghman.

As the conversation proceeded, now by general participation, Vesta found herself a subject of sympathy, with no little curiosity interwoven in it. She also imagined that an undertone of belief was abroad that she had made a mercenary marriage. Old Mrs. Tilghman — in her prime a most caustic belle, and worldly as three marriages, all shrewdly contracted, could make her — seemed determined to hold that Vesta had rejected her grandson for the money-lender on the consideration of wealth. Vesta’s mother, too, hinted the same. Even the inoffensive Ellenora had accepted that idea, or another kin to it, and Rhoda Holland had remembered that her uncle was the richest of bridegrooms in Princess Anne. Vesta felt the injustice.

The feeling of despondency increased after the little company separated, and Vesta went to her room and laid herself upon her still maiden bed. As she turned down the lamp, it being nearly midnight, a short, fierce cry, quickly stifled, as if some wild animal had howled once in nightmare and fallen asleep in his kennel again, seized on her ears and chilled her blood.

Vesta started up in bed and listened. It seemed to her that there were footsteps, but they passed away, and she listened in vain for any other sounds, till sleep fell deep and dreamless upon her.


 

CHAPTER XXI.

LONG SEPARATIONS.

VESTA was awakened by Roxy, Virgie, and her mother all standing around her bed at once, exclaiming something unintelligible together. It was late morning, the whole family having slept long, after the several experiences of two such days, and the sun was shining through the great trees before Teackle Hall and burnishing the windows, so that Vesta could hardly see.

“The kitchen servants have run away,” Mrs. Custis shrieked, on Vesta’s request that her mother only should talk. “Old Hominy is gone, and has taken all her herbs and witcheries with her; and all the young children bred in the kitchen, Ned and Vince, the boys, and little Phillis, the baby, they, too, are gone.”

“I heard a strange cry or howl last night, as I dropped to sleep,” Vesta exclaimed, rubbing her eyes.

“Dear missy,” cried Virgie, falling upon the pillow, “it was your poor dog Turk; his throat has been cut upon the lawn.”

“Yes, missy,” Roxy blubbered, “poor Turk lies in his blood. There is nobody to get breakfast but Virgie and me. Indeed, we did not know about it.”

“That is not very likely,” said the suspicious Mrs. Custis.

“I know you did not, girls,” Vesta said, “you have too much intelligence and principle, I am sure; nor could Hominy have been so inhuman to my poor dog.”

Vesta at once rose up and threw on her morning-gown.

“The first thing to be done is to have breakfast. Roxy, do you go at once to Mr. Milburn’s and bring his man Samson here, and awake Miss Holland to take Samson’s place by her uncle. Tell Samson to make the fire and you and he get the breakfast. No person is to speak of this incident of the kitchen servants leaving us on any pretence.”

“Won’t you give the alarm the first thing?” cried Mrs. Custis, not very well pleased to see Vesta keep her temper. “They may be overtaken before they get far away, daughter. Those four negroes are worth twelve hundred dollars!”

“They are not worth one dollar, mamma, if they have run away from us; because I should never either sell them or keep them again if they had behaved so treacherously.”

“I say, sell them and get the money,” Mrs. Custis cried; “are they not ours?”

“No, mamma, they are mine; why should they have deserted at the moment I had redeemed them? Virgie, can you guess?”

Virgie hesitated, only a moment.

“Miss Vesty, I think I can see what made Hominy go. She was afraid of Meshach Milburn and his queer hat. She believed the devil give it to him. She thought he had bought her by marrying you, and was going to christen her to the Bad Man, or do something dreadful with her and the little children.”

“That’s it, Miss Vessy,” plump little Roxy added. “Hominy loved the little children dearly; she thought they was to become Meshach’s, and she must save them.”

“Poor, superstitious creature!” Vesta exclaimed.

“More misery brought about by that fool’s hat!” cried Mrs. Custis. “If I ever lay hands on it, it shall end in the fire.”

“No wonder,” Vesta said, “that this poor, ignorant woman should do herself such an injury on account of an article of dress that disturbs liberal and enlightened minds! Do you suppose a poor old woman like that could have killed my dog?”

“A gross, ignorant, fetich-worshipping negro would kill a dog, or a child, or anything, when she is possessed with a devil,” Mrs. Custis insisted.

“I don’t believe she killed Turk,” Roxy remarked, as she left the room. “There was a white man in the kitchen last Saturday night: I think he slept there; master gave him leave.”

“Yes, missy,” Virgie continued, after Roxy had gone to obey her orders; “he was a dreadful man, and looked at me so coarse and familiar that I have dreamed of him since. It was the man Mr. Milburn knocked down for mashing his hat; he was afraid Mr. Milburn would throw him into jail, so he asked master to hide in the kitchen. But Hominy was almost crazy with fear of Mr. Milburn before that.”

Vesta held up her beautiful arms with a look of despair.

“What has not that poor old hat brought upon every body?” she cried. “Oh, who dares contest the sunshine with the tailor and hatter? They are the despots that never will abdicate or die.”

“The idea of your father letting a tramp like that sleep in the kitchen among the slaves!” cried Mrs. Custis. “What obligation had he incurred there, too, I should like to know? Teackle Hall is become a cave of owls and foxes; it is time for me to leave it. Here is my husband gone, riding fifty miles for his worst enemy,* leaving us without a cook and without a man’s assistance to discover where ours is gone. I know what I shall do: I will start this day for Cambridge, to meet my brother, and visit the Goldsboroughs there till some order is brought out of this attempt to plant wheat and tares together.”

[* The Judge has departed the day before, on a legal errand to Delaware for his ex-creditor, and new son-in-law — ed.]

Vesta stopped a moment and kissed her mother: “That is just the thing, dear mother,” she said. “Let me straighten out the difficulties here; go, and come back when all is done, and you can be yourself again.”

“Brother Allan gets to Cambridge to-morrow afternoon; I will go as far as Salisbury this day, and either meet him on the road to-morrow or find him at Cambridge. Oh, what a house is Teackle Hall — full of male and female foresters, abolitionists, runaways, and radicals! All made crazy by the bog ores and the fool’s hat!”

Descending to the yard, Vesta found Turk lying in his blood, his mastiff jaws and shaggy sides clotted red, and, as it seemed, the howl in which he died still lingering in the air. The Virginia spirit rose in Vesta’s eyes:

“Whoever killed this dog only wanted the courage to kill men!” she exclaimed. “James Phœbus, look here!”

The pungy captain had been abroad for hours, and the masts of his vessel were just visible across the marshy neck in the rear of Teackle Hall. He touched his hat and came in.

“Early mornin’, Miss Vesty! Hallo! Turk dead? By smoke, yer’s pangymonum!”

“He’s stabbed, Jimmy!” Samson Hat remarked, coming out of the kitchen; “see whar de dagger struck him right over de heart! Dat made him howl and fall dead. His froat was not cut dat sudden; it’s gashed as if wid somethin’ blunt.”

“Right you are, nigger! The throat-cuttin’ was a make believe; the stab will tell the tale. But who’s this yer, lurkin’ aroun’ the kitchen do’; if it ain’t Jack Wonnell, I hope I may die! Sic!”

With this, active as the dog had been but yesterday, Jimmy rushed on Jack Wonnell, chased him to the fence, and brought him back by the neck. Wonnell wore a bell-crown, and his hand was full of fall blossoms. As Wonnell observed the dead dog, pretty little Roxy came out of the kitchen, and stood blushing, yet frightened, to see him.

“What yo’ doin’ with them rosy-posies?” Jimmy demanded. “Who’re they fur? What air you sneakin’ aroun’ Teackle Hall fur so bright of a mornin’, lazy as I know you is, Jack Wonnell?”

“They are flowers he brings every morning for me,” Roxy spoke up, coming forward with a pretty simper.

“For you?” exclaimed Vesta. “You are not receiving the attentions of white men, Roxy?”

“He offered, himself, to get flowers for me, so I might give you as pretty ones as Virgie, missy. I let him bring them. He’s a poor, kind man.”

“I joss got ’em, Jimmy,” interjected Jack Wonnell, with his peculiar wink and leer, “caze Roxy’s the belle of Prencess Anne, and I’m the bell-crown. She’s my little queen, and I ain’t ashamed of her.”

“Courtin’ niggers, air you!” Jimmy exclaimed, collaring Jack again. “Now whar did you go all day Sunday with Levin Dennis and the nigger buyer? What hokey-pokey wair you up to?”

“Mr. Wonnell,” Roxy had the presence of mind to say, “take care you tell the truth, for my sake! Aunt Hominy is gone, with all the kitchen children, and Mr. Phœbus suspects you!”

“Great lightnin’ bugs!” Jimmy Phœbus cried. “The niggers stole, an’ the dog dead, too?”

“I ’spect Jedge Custis sold ’em, Jimmy,” Jack Wonnell pleaded, twisting out of the bay captain’s hands. “He’s gwyn to be sold out by Meshach Milburn. Maybe he jess sold ’em and skipped.”

“Where is Judge Custis, Miss Vesty?” Phœbus asked.

“He has gone to Delaware, to be absent several days.”

“Is what this bell-crowned fool says, true, Miss Vesty?”

“No. There was some fear among the kitchen servants of being sold; there was no such necessity when they ran away, as it had been settled.”

“It is unfortunate that your father is gone. He has been seen with a negro trader. That trader and he disappear the same evening. The trader lives about Delaware, too, Miss Vesty.”

Vesta’s countenance fell, as she thought of the suspicion that might attach to her father. The great old trees around Teackle Hall seemed moaning together in the air, as if to say, “Ancestors, this is strange to hear!”

“Who told you, Jack Wonnell,” spoke the bay sailor, “that Judge Custis was to be sold out?”

“I won’t tell you, Jimmy.”

“I told him,” Roxy cried, after an instant’s hesitation, while Jimmy Phœbus was grinding the stiff bell-crown hat down on Wonnell’s suffocating muzzle. “I did think we was all going to be sold, and had nobody to pity me but that poor white man, and I told him as a friend.”

“And I never told anybody in the world but Levin Dennis yisterday,” Jack cried out, when he was able to get his breath.

“Whar did you go, Jack, wid the long man and Levin all day yisterday?” Samson asked.

“Yes, whar was you?” Jimmy Phœbus shouted, with one of his Greek paroxysms of temper on, as his dark skin and black-cherry eyes flamed volcanic. “Whar did you leave Ellenora’s boy and that infernal soul-buyer? Speak, or I’ll throttle you like this dog!”

“You let him alone, sir!” little Roxy cried, hotly, “he won’t deceive anybody; he’s going to tell all he knows.”

“Let go, Jimmy,” Samson said; “don’t you see Miss Vesty heah?”

“Don’t scare the man, Mr. Phœbus,” Vesta added; “but I command him to tell all that he knows, or papa shall commit him to jail.”

Jack Wonnell, taking his place some steps away from Phœbus, and wiping his eyes on his sleeve, whimpering a few minutes, to Roxy’s great agitation, finally told his tale.

“I’m sorry, Jimmy, you accused me before this beautiful lady an’ my purty leetle Roxy — bless her soul! — of stealing Jedge Custis’s niggers. Thair’s only one I ever looked sheep’s eyes at, an’ she’s a-standin’ here, listenin’ to every true word I says. I’m pore trash, an’ I reckon the jail’s as good as the pore-house for me, ef they want to send me thair, fur it’s in town, and Roxy kin come an’ look through the bars at me every day.”

Roxy was so much affected that she threw her apron up to her face, and Vesta and Phœbus had to smile, while Samson Hat, looking indulgently on, exclaimed,

“Dar’s love all froo de woods. Doves an’ crows can’t help it. It’s deeper down dan fedders an’ claws.”

“That nigger trader,” continued Jack Wonnell, bell-crown in hand, “hired me an’ Levin to take him a tarrapinin’. He had a bag of gold that big” — measuring with his hand in the crown of the hat — “an’ he give Levin some of it, an’ I took it to Levin’s mother las’ night, and told her Levin wouldn’t be back fur a week, maybe. I thought Mr. Johnson was gwyn to give me some gold too, so I could buy Roxy, but yer’s all he give me. Everybody disappints me, Jimmy!”

Jack Wonnell showed an old silver fi’penny bit, and his countenance was so lugubrious that the sailor exclaimed,

“Jack, he paid you too well for all the sense you got. Now, whar has Levin gone with the Ellenora Dennis?

“I don’t know, Jimmy. He made Levin sail her up to the landin’ down yer below town, whair Levin’s father, Cap’n Dennis, launched the Idy fifteen year ago. I left Levin thar; and he said, ‘Jack, I’m goin’ off with the nigger trader to git some of his money fur mother!’”

“Poor miserable boy!” Phœbus exclaimed; “he’s led off easy as his pore daddy. The man he’s gone with, Miss Vesty, is black as hell. Joe Johnson is known to every thief on the bay, every gypsy on the shore. He steals free niggers when he can’t buy slave ones, outen Delaware state. He sometimes runs away Maryland slaves to oblige their hypocritical masters that can’t sell ’em publicly, an’ Johnson and the bereaved owner divides the price. Go in the house, yaller gal!” Jimmy Phœbus turned to Roxy, who obeyed instantly. “Jack Wonnell, you go too, I’m done with you!” (Jack slipped around the house and made his peace with Roxy before he started.) “You needn’t to go, Samson I know you’re true as steel!”

“I must go an’ git de breakfast, Jimmy,” the negro said, going in.

“Now, Miss Vesty” — Phœbus turned to the mistress of Teackle Hall — “Joe Johnson has got old Hominy and the little niggers, by smoke! That part of this hokey pokey is purty sure! Did he steal them an’ decoy them, or wair they sold to him by Judge Custis or by Meshach Milburn?”

“By neither, I will risk my life. Mr. Milburn was taken to his bed Saturday evening, and on Sunday father went to Delaware on legal business for my husband.”

“That is Meshach Milburn, I hear,” the bay sailor remarked, with a penetrating look. “Shall I go and see him on this nigger business?”

No,” Vesta replied; “he is too sick, and it is a delicate subject. My girls, Virgie and Roxy, think old Hominy ran away from a superstitious fear she had of Mr. Milburn, who had become the master of Teackle Hall by marriage.”

“Yes, by smoke! every nigger in town, big and little, is afraid of Milburn’s hat.”

“He has no ownership in those servants, nor has my father now. I will tell you, James — relying on your prudence — that Hominy belonged to me, and so did those three children, having passed from my father to my husband and thence to me. I fear they have been persuaded away, to be abused and sold out of Maryland.”

Jimmy Phœbus looked up at the sighing trees and over the wide facade of Teackle Hall, and exclaimed “by smoke!” several times before he made his conclusions.

“Miss Vesty,” he said, finally, “send for your father to come home immediately. People will not understand how Joe Johnson, outlaw as he is, dared to rob a Maryland Judge of his house servants, Johnson himself bein’ a Marylander, unless they had some understanding. Your sudden marriage, an’ your pappy’s embarrassments, will be put together, by smoke! an’ thar is some blunt enough to say that when Jedge Custis is hard up, he’ll git money anyhow!”

The charge, made with an honest man’s want of skill, battered down all explanations.

“I confess it,” said Vesta. “Papa’s going away on a Sunday, and these people disappearing on Sunday night, might excite idle comment. It might be said that he endeavored to sell some of his property before his creditor could seize it.”

“I have seen you about yer since you was a baby, Vesty! That’s why I take the liberty of calling you Vesty. Now, let me tell you about your niggers. If they was a-gwyn to freedom in a white man’s keer, I wouldn’t stop ’em to be cap’n of a man-of-war. But Joe Johnson, supposin’ that he’s got of ’em, is a demon. Do you see the stab on that dog? well, it’s done with one of the bagnet pistols them kidnappers carries — hoss pistols, with a spring dagger on the muzzle; and, when they come to close quarters, they stab with ’em. Johnson killed your dog; I know his marks. He sails this whole bay, and maybe he’s run them niggers to Washin’ton, or to Norfolk, an’ sold ’em south. It ain’ no use to foller him to either of them places, if he has, with the wind an’ start he’s got, and your pappy’s influence lost to us by his absence. But thar is one chance to overhaul the thief.”

“What is that, James?” said Vesta, earnestly. “I do want to save those poor people from the abuse of a man who could kill my poor, fond dog.”

“Joe Johnson keeps a hell-trap — a reg’lar Pangymonum, up near the head of Nanticoke River. It’s the headquarters of his band, and a black band they air. He has had good wind” — the pungy captain looked up and noted the breeze — “to get him out of Manokin last night, and into the Sound: but he must beat up the Nanticoke all day, and we kin head him off by land, if that’s his destination, before he gits to Vienna, an’ make him show his cargo. Then, with a messenger to follow Jedge Custis an’ turn him back, we can swear these niggers on Johnson — and, you see, we can’t make no such oath till we git the evidence — an’ then, by smoke! we’ll bring ole Hominy an’ the pore chillen back to Teackle Hall.”

Virgie appeared upon the lawn to say that Mrs. Custis wanted to know who should drive her as far as Salisbury, where she could get a slave of her son-in-law to continue on with her to Cambridge.

“I have been thinking all the morning where I can find a reliable man to go and bring back papa,” Vesta answered; “there are a few slaves at the Furnace, but time is precious.”

“Here is Samson,” Virgie said, “and he has got a mule he rides all over the county. Let him go.”

“Go whar?” asked Samson.

“To Dover, in Delaware,” Vesta answered. “You can ride to Laurel by dark, Samson, and get to Dover tomorrow afternoon.”

“And I can ride with him as far as Salisbury,” Jimmy Phœbus said, “and get out to the Nanticoke some way.”

“You can do better than that, James,” Vesta said, rapidly thinking. “Samson can take you to Spring Hill Church or Barren Creek Springs, and at the Springs you will be only three miles from the Nanticoke. Even mamma might go on with the carriage to-night as far as the Springs, or to Vienna.”

“If two of them are going,” Virgie exclaimed, “one can drive Missy Custis and the other ride the mule.”

As they went to their abodes to make ready, Jimmy Phœbus found Jack Wonnell playing marbles with the boys at the court-house corner.

“Jack,” he said, “I’m a-going to find Levin an’ that nigger trader. I may git in a peck of trouble up yonder on the Nanticoke. Tell all the pungy men whair I’m a-goin’, an’ what fur.”

“Can’t I do somethin’ fur you, Jimmy? Can’t I give you one o’ my bell-crowns; thair’s a-plenty of ’em left.”

“Take my advice, Jack, an’ tie a stone to all them hats and sink ’em in the Manokin. Ole Meshach’s hat has made more hokey-pokey than the Bank of Somerset. Pore an’ foolish as you air, maybe your ole bell-crowns will ruin you.”

The road to Salisbury — laid out in 1667, when “Cecil, Lord of Maryland and Avalon,” erected a county “in honor of our dear sister, the Lady Mary Somerset” — followed the beaver-dams across the little river-heads, and pierced the flat pine-woods and open farms, and passed through two little hamlets, before our travellers saw the broad mill-ponds and poplar and mulberry lined streets of the most active town — albeit without a court-house — in the lower peninsula. Jimmy Phœbus, driving the two horses and the family carriage, and Samson, following on his mule, descended into the hollow of Salisbury at the dinner-hour, and stopped at the hotel. The snore of grist-mills, the rasp of mill-saws, the flow of pine-colored breast-water into the gorge of the village, the forest cypress-trees impudently intruding into the obliquely-radiating streets, and humidity of ivy and creeper over many of the old, gable-chimneyed houses, the long lumber-yards reflected in the swampy harbor among the canoes, pungies, and sharpies moored there, the small houses sidewise to the sandy streets, the larger ones rising up the sandy hills, the old box-bush in the silvery gardens, the bridges close together, and the smell of tar and sawdust pleasantly inhaled upon the lungs, made a combination like a caravan around some pool in the Desert of the Nile.

“If there is any chance to catch my negroes,” Mrs. Custis said, “I will go right on after dinner. Samson, send Dave, my daughter’s boy, to me immediately; he is working in this hotel.”

Samson found Dave to be none other than the black class-leader he had failed to overcome at the beginning of our narrative, but changes were visible in that individual Samson had not expected. From having a clean, godly, modest countenance, becoming his professions, Dave now wore a sour, evil look; his eyes were bloodshotten, and his straight, manly shoulders and chest, which had once exacted Samson’s admiration and envy, were stooped to conform with a cough he ever and anon made from deep in his frame.

“Dave,” said Samson, “your missis’s modder wants you, boy, to drive her to Vienny. What ails you, Dave, sence I larned you to box?”

“Is you de man?” Dave exclaimed, hoarsely; “den may de Lord forgive you, fur I never kin. Dat lickin’ I mos’ give you, made me a po’, wicked, backslidin’ fool.”

“Why, Dave, I jess saw you was a good man; I didn’t mean you no harm, boy.”

“You ruined me, free nigger,” repeated the huge slave, with a scowl, partly of revenge and partly remorse. “You set up my conceit dat I could box. I had never struck a chile till dat day; after dat I went aroun’ pickin’ quarrels wid bigger niggers, an’ low white men backed me to fight. I was turned out o’ my church; I turned my back on de Lord; whiskey tuk hold o’ me, Samson. De debbil has entered into Class-leader Dave.”

“Oh, brudder, wake up an’ do better. Yer, I give you a dollar, an’ want to be your friend, Davy, boy.”

“I’ll git drink wid it,” Dave muttered, going; and, as he passed out of the stable-door he looked back at Samson fiercely, and exclaimed, “May Satan burn your body as he will burn my soul. I hate you, man, long as you live!”

Jimmy Phœbus remarked, a few moments afterwards, that Dave, dividing a pint of spirits with a lean little mulatto boy, put a piece of money in the boy’s hands, who then rode rapidly out of the tavern-yard upon a fleet Chincoteague pony.

At two o’clock they again set forward, the man Dave driving the carriage and Jimmy Phœbus sitting beside him, while Samson easily kept alongside upon his old roan mule, the road becoming more sandy as they ascended the plateau between the Wicomico and Nanticoke, and the carriage drawing hard.

“If it is too late to keep on beyond Vienna to-night,” said Mrs. Custis, “I will stop there with my friends, the Turpins, and start again, after coffee, in the morning, and reach Cambridge for breakfast.”

“I will turn off at Spring Hill,” Samson spoke, “and I kin feed my mule at sundown in Laurel an’ go to sleep.”

In an hour they came in sight of old Spring Hill church, a venerable relic of the colonial Established Church, at the sources of a creek called Rewastico; and before they crossed the creek the driver, Dave, called “Ho, ho!” in such an unnecessarily loud voice that Mrs. Custis reproved him sharply. Dave jumped down from the seat and appeared to be examining some part of the breeching, though Samson assured him that it was all right. As Dave finished his examination, he raised both hands above his head twice, and stretched to the height of his figure as he stood on the brow of a little hill.

“Missy Custis,” he apologized, as he turned back, “I is tired mighty bad dis a’ternoon. Dat stable keeps me up half de night.”

“Liquor tires you more, David,” Mrs. Custis spoke, sharply; “and that tavern is no place to hire you to with your appetite for drink, as I shall tell your master.”

At this moment Jimmy Phœbus observed the lean little mulatto boy who had left the hotel come up out of the swampy place in the road and exchange a look of intelligence with Dave as he rode past on the pony.

“Boy,” cried Samson, “is dat de road to Laurel?”

The boy made no answer, but, looking back once, timidly, ground his heels into the pony’s flank and darted into the brush towards Salisbury.

“Samson,” spoke Dave, “you see dat ole woman in de cart yonder?” — he pointed to a figure, ascending the rise in the ground beyond the brook — “I know her, an’ she’s gwyn right to Laurel. She lives dar. It’s ten miles from dis yer turn-off, an’ she knows all dese yer woods-roads.”

“Good-bye, den, an’ may you find Aunt Hominy an, de little chillen, Jimmy, an’ bring dem all home to Prencess Anne from dat ar Joe Johnson!” cried Samson, and trotted his mule through the swamp and away. Jimmy Phœbus saw him overtake the old woman in the cart and begin to speak with her as the scrubby woods swallowed them in.

“What’s dat he said about Joe Johnson?” observed Dave, after a bad spell of coughing, as they cleared the old church and entered the sandy pine-woods.

Mrs. Custis spoke up more promptly than Jimmy Phœbus desired, and told the negro about the escape of Hominy and the children, and the hope of Mr. Phœbus to head the party off as they ascended the Nanticoke towards the Delaware state-line.

“You don’t want to git among Joe Johnson’s men, boss?” said the red-eyed negro; “dey bosses all dis country heah, on boff sides o’ de state-line. All dat ain’t in wid dem is afraid o’ dem.”

“How fur is it from this road to Delaware, Dave?” asked Phœbus.

“We’re right off de corner-stone o’ Delawaw state dis very minute. It’s hardly a mile from whar we air. De corner’s squar as de stone dat sots on it, an’ is cut wid a pictur o’ de king’s crown.”

“Mason and Dixon’s line they call it,” interpreted Mrs. Custis.

“Do you know Joe Johnson, Dave?”

“Yes, Marster Phœbus, you bet I does. He’s at Salisbury, he’s at Vienna, he’s up yer to Crotcher’s Ferry, he’s all ober de country, but he don’t go to Delawaw any more in de daylight. He was whipped dar, an’ banished from de state on pain o’ de gallows. But he lives jess on dis side o’ de Delawaw line, so dey can’t git him in Delawaw. He calls his place Johnson’s Cross-roads: ole Patty Cannon lives dar, too. She’s afraid to stay in Delawaw now.”

“Why, what is the occupation of those terrible people at present?” asked Mrs. Custis.

No answer was made for a minute, and then Dave said, in a low, frightened voice, as he stole a glance at both of his companions out of his fiery, scarred eyes:

“Kidnappin’, I ’spect.”

“It’s everything that makes Pangymonum,” Jimmy Phœbus explained; “that old woman, Patty Cannon, has spent the whole of a wicked life, by smoke! — or ever sense she came to Delaware from Cannady, as the bride of pore Alonzo Cannon — a-makin’ robbers an’ bloodhounds out of the young men she could git hold of. Some of ’em she sets to robbin’ the mails, some to makin’ an’ passin’ of counterfeit money, but most of ’em she sets at stealin’ free niggers outen the State of Delaware; and, when it’s safe, they steal slaves too. She fust made a tool of Ebenezer Johnson, the pirate of Broad Creek, an’ he died in his tracks a-fightin fur her. Then she took hold of his sons, Joe Johnson an’ young Ebenezer, an’ made ’em both outlaws an’ kidnappers, an’ Joe she married to her daughter, when Bruington, her first son-in-law, had been hanged. When Samson Hat, who is the whitest nigger I ever found, knocked Joe Johnson down in Princess Anne, the night before last, he struck the worst man in our peninsula.”

Dave listened to this recital with such a deep interest that his breath, strong with apple whiskey, came short and hot, and his hands trembled as he guided the horses. At the last words, he exclaimed:

“Samson knocked Joe Johnson down? Den de debbil has got him, and means to pay him back!”

“What’s that?” cried Jimmy Phœbus.

The sweat stood on the big slave’s forehead, as if his imagination was terribly possessed, but before he could explain Mrs. Custis interrupted:

“I think it was said that old Patty Cannon corrupted Jake Purnell, who cut his throat at Snow Hill five years ago. He was a free negro who engaged slaves to steal other slaves and bring them to him, and he delivered them up to the white kidnappers for money; and nobody could account for his prosperity till a negro who had been beaten to death was found in the Pocomoke River, and three slaves who had been seen in his company were arrested for the murder. They confessed that they had stolen the dead negro and he had escaped from them, and was so beaten with clubs, to make him tractable, that when they gave him to Purnell his life was all gone. Then he was thrown in the river, but his body came up after sinking, and the confession of the wretched tools explained to the slave-owners where all their missing negroes had gone. They marched and surrounded Purnell’s hut, and he was discovered burrowed beneath it. They brought the dogs, and fire to drive him out, and as he came out he cut his throat with desperate slashes from ear to ear.”

During this narrative the man Dave had listened with rising nervous excitement, rolling his eyes as if in strong inward torment, till the concluding words inspired such terror in him that he dropped the reins, threw back his head, and shouted, with large beads of sweat all round his brow:

“Mercy! mercy! Have mercy! Save me, oh, my Lord!”

“He’s got a fit, I reckon,” cried Jimmy Phœbus, promptly grasping the reins as the horses started at the cry, and with his leg pinning Dave to the carriage-seat. At that moment the road descended into the hollow of Barren Creek, and, leaping down at the old Mineral Springs Hotel, a health resort of those days, Phœbus humanely procured water and freshened up the gasping negro’s face.

“I declare, I am almost afraid to trust myself to this man,” Mrs. Custis observed, with more distaste than trepidation.

“Every nigger in this region,” exclaimed Jimmy Phœbus, “thinks Pangymonum’s comin’ down at the dreaded name of Patty Cannon; an’ this nigger’s gone most to ruin, any way.”

“Oh, marster,” exclaimed the slave, recovering his speech and glaring wildly around, “I hain’t been always the pore sinner rum an’ fightin’ has made of me. I served the Lord all my youth; I praised his name an’ kept the road to heaven; an’ thinkin’ of the shipwreck I’se made of a good conscience, an’ hearin’ missis tell of the end of Jake Purnell, it made me yell to de good Lord for mercy, mercy, oh, my soul!”

His frightful agitation increased, and Jimmy Phœbus soothed him, good-naturedly saying:

“Mrs. Custis, I reckon you’d better let him come in the tavern and take a little sperits; it’ll strengthen his nerves an’ make him drive better.”

As they drank at the old summer-resort bar, at that time in the height of its celebrity, and the only spa on the peninsula, south of the Brandywine Springs, Phœbus spoke low to the negro:

“Dave, somethin’ not squar and fair is a-workin’ yer, by smoke! I’ve got my eye on you, nigger, an’ sure as hokey-pokey thair it’ll stay. You know my arrand yer, Dave: to save a pore, ignorant, deluded black woman from Joe Johnson’s band. Now, you’ve been a-cryin’ ‘Mercy!’ I want you to show mercy by a-tellin’ of me whar I’m to overtake an’ sarch Levin Dennis’s catboat if it comes up the Nanticoke to-night with them people and Joe Johnson aboard!”

Having swallowed his liquor greedily, the colored man replied, with his former lowering countenance and evasive eyes:

“You can’t do nothin’ as low down de river as Vienny, ’case de Nanticoke is too wide dar, and if you cross it at Vienny ferry, den you got de Norfwest Fork between you and Johnson’s Cross-roads, wid one ferry over dat, at Crotcher’s, an’ Joe Johnson owns all dat place. But you kin keep up dis side o’ de Nanticoke, Marster Phœbus, de same distance as from yer to Vienny, to de pint whar de Norfwest Fork come in. Sometimes Joe Johnson sails up dat big fork to get to his cross-roads. In gineral he keeps straight up de oder fork to Betty Twiford’s wharf, right on de boundary line.”

“How far is that?”

“It’s five miles from yer to Vienny, and five miles from yer to a landin’ opposite de Norfwest Fork. Four miles furder on you’re at Sharptown, an’ dar you can see Betty Twiford’s house on de bank two miles acrost de Nanticoke.”

“Nine miles, then, to Sharptown! He’s had the tide agin him since he entered the Nanticoke, and it’s not turned yit. By smoke! I’ll look for a conveyance!”

“You can ride with me to the first landing,” spoke up a noble-looking man, whip in hand; “and after delaying a little there, I shall go on to Sharptown ferry and cross the river.”

Phœbus accepted the invitation immediately, and cautioning Mrs. Custis to speak with less freedom in that part of the country, he bade her adieu, and took the vacant seat in the stranger’s buggy.

When Mrs. Custis came to Vienna ferry, and the horses and carriage went on board the scow to be rowed to the little, old, shipping settlement of that name, the negro Dave, standing at the horses’ heads, exchanged a few sentences with the ferry-keeper.

“Dave,” called Mrs. Custis, a little later on, “you have no love, I see, for old Samson.”

“He made a boxer outen me an’ a bad man, missis.”

“Do you know the man he works for — Meshach Milburn?”

“No, missis. I never see him.”

“He wears a peculiar hat — nothing like gentlemen’s hats nowadays: it is a hat out of a thousand.”

“I never did see it, missis.”

“You cannot mistake it for any other hat in the world. Now, Samson is the only servant and watchman at Mr. Milburn’s store, and he attends to that disgraceful hat. If you can ever get it from him, Dave, and destroy it, you will be doing a useful act, and I will reward you well.”

The moody negro looked up from his remorseful, brutalized orbs, and said:

“Steal it?”

“Oh, no, I do not advise a theft, David — though such a wretched hat can have no legal value. It is an affliction to my daughter and Judge Custis and all of us, and you might find some way to destroy it — that is all.”

“I’ll git it some day,” the negro muttered; and drove into the old tobacco-port of Vienna.


 

CHAPTER XXII.

NANTICOKE PEOPLE.

A MAP would be out of place in a story, yet there are probably some who perceive that this is a story with a reality; and if such will take any atlas and open it at the “Middle States” of the American republic, they will see that the little State of Delaware is fitted as nicely into a square niche of Maryland as if it were a lamp, or piece of statuary, standing on a mantelpiece. It stands there on a mantelshelf about forty miles wide, and rises to more than three times that height, making a perfectly straight north and south line at right angles with its base. Thus mortised into Maryland, its ragged eastern line is formed of the Atlantic Ocean and the broad Delaware Bay.

The only considerable river within this narrow strip or Hermes of a state is the Nanticoke, which, like a crack in the wall, — and the same blow fractured the image on the mantel, — flows with breadth and tidal ebb and flow from the Chesapeake Bay through the Eastern Shore of Maryland into Delaware, and is there formed of two tidal sources, the one to the north continuing to be called the Nanticoke, and that to the south — nearly as imposing a stream — named Broad Creek.

Nature, therefore, as if anticipating some foolish political boundaries on the part of man, prepared one drain and channel of ingress at the southwestern corner of Delaware to the splendid bay of Virginia.

Around that corner of the little Delaware commonwealth, in a flat, poor, sandy, pine-grown soil, Jimmy Phœbus rode by the stranger in the afternoon of October, with the sun, an hour high in the west, shining upon his dark, Greekish cheeks and neck, and he hearing the fall birds whistle and cackle in the mellowing stubble and golden thickets.

The meadow-lark, the boy’s delight, was picking seed, gravel, and insects’ eggs in the fields — large and partridge-like, with breast washed yellow from the bill to the very knees, except at the throat, where hangs a brilliant reticule of blackish brown; his head and back are of hawkish colors — umber, brown, and gray — and in his carriage is something of the gamecock. He flies high, sometimes alone, sometimes in the flock, and is our winter visitor, loving the old fields improvidence has abandoned, and uttering, as he feeds, the loud sounds of challenge, as if to cry, “Abandoned by man; pre-empted by me!”

Jimmy Phœbus also heard the bold, bantering woodpecker, with his red head, whose schoolmaster is the squirrel, and whose tactics of keeping a tree between him and his enemy the Indian fighters adopted. He mimics the tree-frog’s cry, and migrates after October, like other voluptuaries, who must have the round year warm, and fruit and eggs always in market. Dressed in his speckled black swallow-tail coat, with his long pen in his mouth and his shirt-bosom faultlessly white, the woodpecker works like some Balzac in his garret, making the tree-top lively as he spars with his fellow-Bohemians; and being sure himself of a tree, and clinging to it with both tail and talons, he esteems everything else that lives upon it to be an insect at which he may run his bill or spit his tongue — that tongue which is rooted in the brain itself.

In the hollow golden bowl of echoing evening the sailor noted, too, the flicker, in golden pencilled wings and back of speckled umber and mottled white breast, with coal-black collar and neck and head of cinnamon. His golden tail droops far below his perch, and, running downward along the tree-trunk, it flashes in the air like a sceptre over the wood-lice he devours with his pickaxe bill. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard!” was an instigation to murder in the flicker, who loves young ants as much as wild-cherries or Indian corn, and is capable of taking any such satire seriously upon things to eat. Not so elfin and devilish as the small black woodpecker, he is full of bolder play.

The redbird, like the unclaimed blood of Abel, flew to the little trees that grew low, as if to cover Abel’s altar; the jack-snipe chirped in the swampy spots, like a divinity student, on his clean, long legs, probing with his bill and critical eye the Scriptures of the fields; the quail piped like an old bachelor with family cares at last, as he led his mate where the wild seeds were best; and through the air darted voices of birds forsaken or on doctor’s errands, crying “Phœbe? Phœbe?” or “Killed he! killed he!”

“Are you a dealer?” asked the gentleman of Jimmy Phœbus.

“Just a little that way,” said Jimmy, warily, “when I kin git somethin’ cheap.”

The stranger had a pair of keen, dancing eyes, and a long, eloquent, silver-gray face that might have suited a great general, so fine was its command, and yet too narrowly dancing in the eyes, like spiders in a well, disturbing the mirror there.

“Ha!” chuckled the man, as if his eyes had chuckled, so poorly did that sound represent his lordly stature and look of high spirit — “ha! that’s what brings them all to my neighbor Johnson: a fair quotient!”

“Quotient?” repeated Jimmy.

“Johnson’s a great factor hereabout,” continued the military-looking man, bending his handsome eyes on the bay captain, as if there was a business secret between them, and peering at once mischievously and nobly; “he makes the quotient to suit. He leaves the suttle large and never stints the cloff.”

“He don’t narry a feller down to the cloth he’s got, sir?” assented Jimmy, dubiously.

“Why should he? His equation is simple: I suppose you know what it is.”

“Not ezackly,” answered Phœbus, pricking up his ears to learn.

“Well, it is force and class sympathy against a dead quantity: laws which have no consignees, cattle which have no lawyer and no tongue, rights which have lapsed by their assertion being suspended, till demand and supply, like a pair of bulldogs, tear what is left to pieces. Armed with his ca. sa., my neighbor Johnson offsets everybody’s fi. fa., serves his writ the first, and makes to gentlemen like you a satisfactory quotient. But he cuts no capers with Isaac and Jacob Cannon!”

“I expect now that you are Jacob Cannon?” remarked the tawny sailor, not having understood a word of what preceded. “If that’s the case, I’m glad to know your name, and thank you for givin’ me this lift.”

By a bare nod, just intelligible, Mr. Cannon signified that the guess would do; and still meditating aloud in his small, grand way, continued:

“We let neighbor Johnson and his somewhat peculiar mother-in-law make such commerce as suits him, provided he studies to give us no inconvenience. That is his equation; with his quotient we have no concern other than our slight interest in his wastage, as when Madame Cannon rides down to change a bill and leaves an order for supplies — rum, chiefly, I believe. Gentlemen like you come into this country to deal, replevin, or what not, and we say to you all, ‘Don’t tread on us — that is all.’ We shall not look into your parcels, nor lie awake of nights to hear alarms; but harm Isaac and Jacob Cannon one ha’pence and levari facias, fa. fa.!

“And fee-fo-fum,” ejaculated Jimmy, cheerfully; “I’ve hearn it before.”

Looking again with some curiosity at his companion, Phœbus saw that he was not beyond fifty years of age, of a spare, lofty figure — at least six feet four high — sitting straight and graceful as an Indian, his clothes well-tailored, his countenance and features both stern and refined; every feature perfected, and all keen without being hard or angular — and yet Jimmy did not like him. There seemed to have been made a commodore or a general — some one designed for deeds of chivalry and great philanthropy; and yet around and between the dancing eyes spider lines were drawn, as if the fine high brain of Jacob Cannon had put aside matters that matched it and meddled with nothing that ascended higher above the world than the long white bridge of his nose. His sentiments apparently fell no further towards his heart than that; his brain belonged to the bridge of his nose.

“Another Meshach Milburn, by smoke!” concluded Jimmy.

After a little pause Phœbus inquired into the character of the people in this apparently new region of country.

“The quotient of much misplanting and lawyering is the lands on the Nanticoke,” spoke the gray-nosed Apollo; “the piece of country directly before us, in the rear of my neighbor Johnson’s cross-roads, was an old Indian reservation for seventy years, and so were three thousand acres to our right, on Broad Creek. The Indian is a bad factor to civilize his white neighbors; he does not know the luxury of the law, that grand contrivance to make the equation between the business man and the herd. Ha, ha!”

Mr. Cannon chuckled as if he, at least, appreciated the law, and turned the fine horsy bridge of his nose, all gray with dancing eyelight, enjoyingly upon Mr. Phœbus.

“The Indians were long imposed upon, and when they went away, at the brink of the Revolutionary War, they left a demoralized white race; and others who moved in upon the deserted lands of the Nanticokes were, if possible, more Indian than the Indians. This peninsula never produced a great Indian, but when Ebenezer Johnson settled on Broad Creek it possessed a greater savage than Tecumseh. He took what he wanted and appealed to nature, like the Indian. He stole nothing; he merely took it. He served, with anything convenient, from his fists to a blunderbuss, his fi. fa. and his ca. sa. upon wondering but submissive mankind. Need I say that this was before the perfect day of Isaac and Jacob Cannon?”

“They would have socked it to him, I reckon,” Jimmy exclaimed, consonantly.

Mr. Jacob Cannon gave a tender smile, such as the gray horse emits at the prospect of oats, and continued:

“Such was the multiplicand to make the future race. Here, too, raged the boundary-line debate between Penns and Calverts, with occasional raids and broken heads, and a noble suit in chancery of fifty years, till no man’s title was known, and, instead of improving their lands, our voluptuous predecessors improved chiefly their opportunities. You cut sundry cords of wood and hauled it to the landing, and Ebenezer Johnson coolly scowed it over to his paradise at the mouth of Broad Creek. You had a little parcel of negroes, but the British war-ships, in two successive wars, lay in the river mouth and beckoned them off. Having no interest in any certain property, the foresters of the Nanticoke would rather trade with the enemy than fight for foolish ideas; and so this region was more than half Tory, and is still half passive, the other half predatory. To neither half of such a quotient belongs the house of Isaac and Jacob Cannon!”

His nostrils swelled a trifle with military spirit, and he raised the bridge of his nose delicately, turning to observe his instinctive companion.

“If it’s any harm I won’t ask it,” the easy-going mariner spoke, “but air you two Cannons ary kin to ole Patty Cannon?”

Mr. Cannon smiled.

“In Adam all sinned — there we may have been connected,” he said. “The question you ask may one day be actionable, sir. The Cannons are a numerous people in our region, of fair substance, such as we have, but they showed nothing to vary the equation of subsistence here till there arose the mother of Isaac and Jacob Cannon. She was a remarkable woman; unassisted, she procured the charter for Cannon’s Ferry, and made the port settlement of that name by the importance her ferry acquired; and when she died there were found in her house nine hundred dollars in silver — for she never would take any paper money — the earnings of that sequestered ferry, to start her sons on their career. She knew the peculiar character of some of her neighbors — how lightly meum and tuum sat upon their fears or consciences — but she kept no guard except her own good gray eyes and dauntless heart over that accumulating pile of little sixpences, for there was but one spirit as bold as she in all this region of the world—”

“And that, I reckon,” observed Jimmy Phœbus, “was ole Patty Cannon herself.”

Mr. Jacob Cannon slightly bowed his head, and spoke aloud from an inner communion:

“Forgive me, mother, that I make the comparison! Thy frugal oil, that burned with pure and lonely widow’s flame at Cannon’s Ferry window, the traveller hailed with comfort in his heart, and blessed the enterprise. But to compound the equation another unknown quantity of female force arose beside my mother’s lamp. A certain young Cannon, distantly of our stock, must needs go see the world, and he returned with a fair demon of a bride, and settled, too, at Cannon’s Ferry. He lived to see the wondrous serpent he had warmed in his arms, and died, they say, of the sting. But she lived on, and, shrinking back into the woods to a little farm my mother’s sons rented to her, she lighted there a Jack-o’-the-lantern many a traveller has pursued who never returned to tell. With Ebenezer Johnson’s progeny and her own siren sisters, who followed Madame Cannon to the Nanticoke, the nucleus of a settlement began, and has existed for twenty years, that only the Almighty’s venire facias can explore.”*

[* “Slavery, in the State of Delaware, never had any constitutional recognition. It existed in the colonial period by custom, as over the whole country, but subject to be regulated or abolished by simple legislative enactment. Very early the State of Delaware undertook its regulation, with the view of securing the personal and individual rights of the persons so held in bondage, and to prevent the increase by importation. In 1787 the export of Delaware slaves was forbidden to the Carolinas, Georgia, and the West Indies, and two years later the prohibition was extended to Maryland and Virginia, and it never was repealed, and in 1793 the first penalties were enacted against kidnappers.” — Letter of Hon. N. B. Smithers to the Author.]

“That’s my arrand, Jacob Cannon,” quietly remarked Jimmy Phaebus. “I’m a pore man from Prencess Anne. If you took me for a nigger-dealer you did me as pore a compliment as when I asked if you was Patty Cannon’s kin. But I have got just one life to lose, an’ if God takes me thar, I’m a-goin’ to Johnson’s Cross-roads.”

Mr. Jacob Cannon turned and examined his companion with some twinkling care, but showed no personal concern.

“Every man must be his own security, my dark-skinned friend, till he can find a bailsman. That place I never take — neither the debtor’s nor the security. The firm of Isaac and Jacob Cannon allows no trespass, and further concern themselves not. But we are at the Nanticoke.”

“I’m obliged to you for the lift, Mr. Jacob Cannon,” said Jimmy, springing down, “and hope you may never find it inconvenient to have let such a pack of wolves use your neighborhood to trespass on human natur.”


 

CHAPTER XXIII.

TWIFORD’S ISLAND.

SOME piles of wood and an old wharf were at the riverside, and a little scow, half filled with water, and with only a broken piece of paddle in it, was the only boat the pungy captain could find. The merchant’s buggy was soon out of sight, and the wide, gray Nanticoke, several hundred yards wide, and made wider by a broad river that flowed into it through low bluffs and levels immediately opposite, was receiving the strong shadows of approaching night, and the tide was running up it violent and deep.

Long lines of melancholy woods shut both these rivers in; an osprey suddenly struck the surface of the water, like a drowning man, and rose as if it had escaped from some demon in the flood; the silence following his plunge was deeper than ever, till a goatsucker, noiselessly making his zigzag chase, cried, as if out of eternal gloom, his solemn command to “Whip poor Will.” Those notes repeated — as by some slave ordering his brother to be lashed, or one sympathetic soul in perdition made the time-caller to another’s misery — floated on the evening light as if the oars of Charon echoed on the Styx, and broken hearts were crossing over.

Alone, unintimidated, but not altogether comfortable, Jimmy Phœbus proceeded to bail out the old scow, and wished he had accepted one of Jack Wonnell’s hats to do the task, and, when he had finished it, the stars and clouds were manœuvring around each other in the sky, with the clouds the more aggressive, and finally some drops of rain punctured the long, bare muscles of the inflowing tide, making a reticule of little pittings, like a net of beads on drifting women’s tresses. As night advanced, a puffing something ascended the broad, black aisle of this forest river, and slowly the Norfolk steamboat rumbled past, with passengers for the Philadelphia stage. Then silence drew a sheet of fog around herself and passed into a cold torpor of repose, affected only by the waves that licked the shores with intermittent thirst.

The waterman, regretting a little that he had not taken his stand at Vienna, where human assistance might have been procured, and thinking that the poison airs might also afflict him with Meshach Milburn’s complaints, fought sleep away till midnight, straining his eyes and ears ever and anon for signs of some sail; but nothing drew near, and he had insensibly closed his lids and might have soon been in deep sleep, but that he suddenly heard, between his dreams and this world, something like a little baby moaning in the night.

He sat up in the damp scow, where he had been lying, and listened with all his senses wide open, and once again the cry was wafted upon the river zephyrs, and before it died away the sailor’s paddle was in the water, and his frail, awkward vessel was darting across the tide.

He saw, in the black night, what none but a sailor’s eyes would have seen, a thing not visible, but divined, coming along on the bosom of the river; and his ears saw it the clearer as that little cry continued — now stopped, now stifled, now rising, now nearly piercing; and then there was a growl, momentary and loud, and a rattle as of feet over wood, and a stroke or thud, or heavy concussion, and then a white thing rose up against the universal ink and rushed on the little scow, sucking water as it came — the cat-boat under full sail.

Phœbus had paddled for the opposite shore of the river to prevent the object of his quest escaping up the Northwest Fork, yet to be in its path if it beat up the main fork, and, by a piece of instinctive calculation, he had run nearly under the cat-boat bows.

“Ahoy, there!” cried Jimmy, standing up in his tipsy little skiff; “ahoy the Ellenory Dennis! I’m a-comin’ aboard.”

And with this, the paddle still in his hand, and his knees and feet nearly sentient in their providence of uses, the sailor threw himself upon the low gunwale, and let it glide through his palms till he could see the man at the helm.

There was no light to be called so, but the helmsman was yet perceived by the sailor’s experienced eyes, and he grappled the gunwale firmer, and, preparing to swing himself on board, shouted hoarsely,

“You Levin Dennis, I see you, by smoke! You know Jimmy Phœbus is your friend, an’ come out of this Pangymonum an’ stop a-breakin’ of your mother’s heart! Oh, I see you, my son!”

If he did see Levin Dennis, Levin did not see Jimmy Phœbus, nor apparently hear him, but stood motionless at the helm as a frozen man, looking straight on in the night. The rigging made a little flapping, the rudder creaked on its hooks, but every human sound was still as the grave now, and the boy at the helm seemed petrified and deaf and blind.

The pungy captain’s temper rose, his superstition not being equal to that of most people, and he cried again,

“You’re a disgrace to the woman that bore you. Hell’s a-waitin’ for your pore tender body an’ soul. Heave ahoy an’ let drop that gaff, an’ take me aboard, Levin!”

Still silent and passive as a stone, the youthful figure at the helm did not seem to breathe, and the cat-boat cut the water like a fish-hawk.

A flash of bright fire lighted up the vessel’s side, a loud pistol-shot rang out, and the sailor’s hands loosened from the gunwale and clutched at the air, and he felt the black night fall on him as if he had pulled down its ebony columns upon his head.

He knew no more for hours, till he felt himself lying in cold water and saw the gray morning coming through tree-boughs over his head. He had a thirsty feeling and pain somewhere, and for a few minutes did not move, but lay there on his shoulder, holding to something and guessing what it might be, and where he might be making his bed in this chilly autumn dawn.

His hand was clutching the a-stern plank of the old scow, and was so stiff he could not for some time open it. The scow was aground upon a marshy shore, in which some large trees grew, and were the fringes of a woods that deepened farther back.

“By smoke!” muttered Jimmy, “if yer ain’t hokey-pokey. But I reckon I ain’t dead, nohow.”

With this he lifted the other hand, that had been stretched beneath his head, and was also numb with cramp and cold, and it was full of blood.

“Well,” said Jimmy, “that feller did hit me; but, if he’ll lend me his pistol, I’ll fire a straighter slug than his’n. I wonder where it is.”

Feeling around his head, the captain came to a raw spot, the touch of which gave him acute pain, and made the blood flow freshly as he withdrew his hand, and he could just speak the words, “Water, or I’ll—” when he swooned away.

The sun was up and shining cheerily in the tree-tops as Phœbus, who was its name-bearer, recovered his senses again, and he bathed his face, still lying down, and tore a piece of his raiment off for a bandage, and, by the mirror of a still, green pool of water, examined his wound, which was in the fleshy part of his cheek — a little groove or gutter, now choked with almost dried blood, where the ball had ploughed a line. It had probably struck a bone, but had not broken it, and this had stunned him.

“I was so ugly before that Ellenory wouldn’t more than half look at me,” Jimmy mused, “an’ now, I ’spect, she’ll never kiss that air cheek.”

He then bandaged his cheek roughly, sitting up, and took a survey of the scenery.

The river was here a full quarter of a mile wide, on the opposite shore bluffy, and in places bold, but, on the side where Phœbus had drifted with the tide, clutching his old scow with mortal grip, there extended a point of level woods and marsh or “cripple,” as if by the action of some back-water, and this low ground appeared to have a considerable area, and was nowhere tilled or fenced, or gave any signs of being visited.

But the opposite or northern shore was quite otherwise; there the river had a wide bend or hollow to receive two considerable creeks, and changed its course almost abruptly from west to southwest, giving a grand view of its wide bosom for the distance of more than two miles into Maryland; and the prospect was closed in that direction by a whitish-looking something, like lime or shell piles, standing against the background of pale blue woods and bluffs.

Right opposite the spot where Phœbus had been stranded, a cleared farm came out to the Nanticoke, affording a front of only a single field, on the crest of a considerable sand-bluff — elevations looking magnified here, where nature is so level; and at one end of this field, which was planted in corn that was now clinging dry to the naked stalks, an old lane descended to a shell-paved wharf of a stumpy, square form; and almost at the other, or western, end of the clearing stood a respectable farm-house of considerable age, with a hipped roof and three queer dormer windows slipping down the steeper half below, and two chimneys, not built outside of the house, as was the general fashion, but naturally rising out of the old English-brick gables. All between the gables was built of wood; a porch of one story occupied nearly half the centre of that side of the house facing the river; and to the right, against the house and behind it, were kitchen, smoke-house, corn-cribs, and other low tenements, in picturesque medley; while to the left crouched an old, low building on the water’s edge, looking like a brandy-still or a small warehouse. The road from the wharf and lane passed along a beach, and partly through the river water, to enter a gate between this shed and the dwelling; and from the garden or lawn, on the bluff before the latter, arose two tall and elegant trees, a honey-locust and a stalwart mulberry.

“Now, I never been by this place before,” Jimmy Phœbus muttered, “but, by smoke! yon house looks to me like Betty Twiford’s wharf, an’, to save my life, I can’t help thinkin’ yon white spots down this side of the river air Sharptown. If that’s the case, which state am I in?”

He rose to his feet, bailed the scow, which was nearly full of water, and began to paddle along the shore, and, seeing something white, he landed and parted the bushes, and found it to be a stone of a bluish marble, bearing on one side the letter M, and on the other the letter P, and a royal crown was also carved upon it.

“Yer’s one o’ Lord Baltimore’s boundary stones,” Phœbus exclaimed. “Now see the rascality o’ them kidnappers! Yon house, I know, is Twiford’s, because it’s a’most on the state-line, but, I’m ashamed to say, it’s a leetle in Maryland. And that lane, coming down to the wharf, is my way to Joe Johnson’s Pangymonum at his cross-roads.”

A sound, as of some one singing, seemed to come from the woods near by, and Phœbus, listening, concluded that it was farther along the water, so he paddled softly forward till a small cove or pool led up into the swamp, and its shores nowhere offered a dry landing; yet there were recent foot-marks deeply trodden in the bog, and disclosed up the slope into the woods, and from their direction seemed to come the mysterious chanting.

“My head’s bloody and I’m wet as a musk-rat, so I reckon I ain’t afraid of gittin’ a little muddy,” and with this the navigator stepped from the scow in swamp nearly to his middle, and pulled himself up the slope by main strength.

“I believe my soul this yer is a island,” Jimmy remarked; “a island surrounded with mud, that’s wuss to git to than a water island.”

The tall trees increased in size as he went on and entered a noble grove of pines, through whose roar, like an organ accompanied by a human voice, the singing was heard nearer and nearer, and, following the track of previous feet, which had almost made a path, Phœbus came to a space where an axe had laid the smaller bushes low around a large loblolly pine that spread its branches like a roof only a few feet from the ground; and there, fastened by a chain to the trunk, which allowed her to go around and around the tree, and tread a nearly bare place in the pine droppings or “shats,” sat a black woman, singing in a long, weary, throat-sore wail. Jimmy listened to a few lines:

“Deep-en de woun’ dy han’s have made
      In dis weak, helpless soul,
 Till mercy wid its mighty aid
      De-scen to make me whole;
            Yes, Lord!
      De-scen to make me whole.”

A little negro child, perhaps three years old, was lying asleep on the ground at the woman’s feet, in an old tattered gray blanket that might have been discarded from a stable. Near the child was a wooden box, in which were a coarse loaf of corn-bread and some strips of bacon, and a wooden trough, hollowed out of a log, contained water. The woman’s face was scratched and bruised, and, as she came to some dental sounds in her chant, her teeth were revealed, with several freshly missing in front, and her lips were swollen and the gums blistered and raw.

She glanced up as Phœbus came in sight, looked at him a minute in blank curiosity, as if she did not know what kind of animal he was, and then continued her song, wearily, as if she had been singing it for days, and her mind had gone into it and was out of her control. As she moved her feet from time to time, the chain rattled upon her ankles.

“Well,” said Jimmy, “if this ain’t Pangymonum, I reckon I’ll find it at Johnson’s Cross-roads! Git up thar, gal, an’ let me see what ails you.”

The woman rose mechanically, still singing in the shrill, cracked, weary drone, and, as she rose, the baby awoke and began to cry, and she stooped and took it up, and, patting it with her hands, sang on, as if she would fall asleep singing, but could not.

The chain, strong and rusty, had been very recently welded to her feet by a blacksmith; the fresh rivet attested that, and there were also pieces of charcoal in the pine strewings, as if fire had been brought there for smith’s uses. Jimmy Phœbus took hold of the chain and examined it link by link till it depended from a powerful staple driven to the heart of the pine-tree; though rusty, it was perfect in every part, and the condition of the staple showed that it was permanently retained in its position, as if to secure various and successive persons, while the staple itself had been driven above the reach of the hands, as by a man standing on some platform or on another’s shoulders.

Phœbus took the chain in his short, powerful arms, and, giving a little run from the root of the tree, threw all the strength of his compact, heavy body into a jerk, and let his weight fall upon it, but did not produce the slightest impression.

“There’s jess two people can unfasten this chain,” exclaimed Jimmy, blowing hard and kneading his palms, after two such exertions, “one of em’s a blacksmith and t’other’s a woodchopper. Gal, how did you git yer?”

The woman, a young and once comely person of about twenty-eight years of age, sang on a moment as if she did not understand the question, till Phœbus repeated it with a kinder tone:

“Pore, abused creatur, tell me as your friend! I ain’t none of these kidnappers. Git your pore, scattered wits together an’ tell a friend of all women an’ little childern how he kin help you, fur time’s worth a dollar a second, an’ bloody vultures are nigh by. Speak, Mary!”

The universal name seemed timely to this woman; she stopped her chanting and burst into tears.

“My husband brought me here,” she said, between her long sobs. “He sold me. I give him everything I had and loved him, too, and he sold me — me and my baby.”

“I reckon you don’t belong fur down this way, Mary? You don’t talk like it.”

“No, sir; I belong to Philadelphia. I was a free woman and a widow; my husband left me a little money and a little house and this child; another man come and courted me, a han’some mulatto man, almost as white as you. He told me he had a farm in Delaware, and wanted me to be his wife; he promised me so much and was so anxious about it, that I listened to him. Oh, he was a beautiful talker, and I was lonesome and wanted love. I let him sell my house and give him the money, and started a week ago to come to my new home. Oh, he did deceive me so; he said he loved me dearly.”

She began to cry again, and her mind seemed to wander, for the next sentence was disconnected. Jimmy took the baby in his arms and kissed it without any scruples, and the child’s large, black eyes looked into his as if he might be its own father, while he dandled it tenderly.

“The foxes has come an’ barked at me two nights,” said the woman; “they wanted the bacon, I ’spect. The water-snakes has crawled around here in the daytime, and the buzzards flew right down before me and looked up, as if they thought I ought to be dead. But I wasn’t afraid: that man I give my love to was so much worse than them, that I just sung and let them look at me.”

“You say he sold you, Mary?”

The woman rubbed her weary eyes and slowly recollected where she had left off.

“We moved our things on a vessel to Delaware, and come up a creek to a little town in the marshes, and there we started for my husband’s farm. He said we had come to it in the night. I couldn’t tell, but I saw a house in the woods, and was so tired I went to sleep with my baby there, and in the night I found men in the room, and one of them, a white man, was tying my feet.”

A crow cawed with a sound of awe in the pine tops, and squirrels were running tamely all round about as she hesitated.

“I thought then of the kidnappers of Delaware, for I had heard about them, and I jumped out of bed and fought for my life. They knocked me down and the rope around my feet tripped me up; but I fought with my teeth after my hands was tied, too, and I bit that white man’s knees, and then he picked up a fire-shovel, or something of iron, and knocked my teeth out. My last hope was almost gone when I saw my husband coming in, and I cried to him, ‘Save me! save me, darling!’ He had a rope in his hand, and, before I could understand it, he had slipped it over my neck and choked me.”

“Your own husband? I can’t believe it, to save my life!”

“I didn’t believe it, neither, till I heard him say, when they loosened the slip-knot that had strangled me — the voice was his I had trusted so much; I never could forget it! — ‘Eben,’ he said, ‘I’ve took down every mole and spot on her body and can swear to ’em, for I’ve learned ’em by heart, and you won’t have no trouble a-sellin’ her, as she can’t testify.”

“The imp of Pangymonum!” Jimmy cried. “He had married you to note down your marks, and by ’em swear you to be a slave!”

“The white man tried to sell me to a farmer, and then I told what I had heard them say. He believed me, and told them the mayor of Philadelphia had a reward out for them, for kidnappin’ free people, already. Then they talked together — a little scared they was — and tied me again, and brought me on a cart through the woods to the river and fetched me here, and chained me, and told me if I ever said I was free, to another man, they meant to sell my baby and to drown me in the river.”

She finished with a chilly tremor and a low wail like an infant, but the sailor passed her baby into her arms to engage her, and said:

“The Lord is still a-countin’ of his sparrows, or I wouldn’t have been on this arrand, by smoke! To drift yer, hangin’ senseless to that ole scow, must have been to save you, Mary. This is a island where they chains up property, I reckon, that is bein’ follered up too close. Time’s very precious, Mary, but I’ve got a sailor’s knife yer, an’ I’ll stay to cut the staple out o’ this ole pine if they come an’ kill me. You take an’ wash my face off outen that water-trough while I bite a bit of the bacon.”

He took the child again and amused it while the woman carefully cleaned his wound and rebandaged it so that he could breathe and see and eat, though the cotton folds wrapped in much of his face like a mask. He then examined the chain again, especially where it was rivetted at the feet, and lifted a large iron ball weighing several pounds, which was also affixed to her ankle, so that she could not climb the tree. Her ankle he found blistered by the red-hot rivet being smithed so barbarously close to the flesh.

“Don’t leave me, oh! don’t leave me here to die,” the woman pleaded, as he started into the woods.

“I’ll stay by you an’ we’ll die together, if we must; but it’s not my idee to die at all, Mary. I’m goin’ to bring that air scow ashore while I cut a hickory, if I can find one, to break this yer chain.”

Plunging again into the mud nearly to his waist, Phœbus pulled the scow up into the woods, and had barely concealed himself when he saw come out of the creek below Twiford’s house a cat-boat like the Ellenora Dennis, and stand towards the island in the cripple.

“The tide’s agin ’em, an’ they must make a tack to get yer,” Jimmy muttered; “but I’m afraid this knife will have to go to the heart of some son of Pangymonum in ten minutes, or Ellenory Dennis never agin be pestered by her ugly lover.”

He was seized with a certain frenzy of strength and discernment at the danger he was in, and, as he carried the scow onward and across the woodland island, heavy as it was, he also noted a single small hickory tree on that farther margin, and threw himself against it and bent it down, and plunged his knife into the straining fibres so that it crackled and splintered in his hand. He leaped to the tree and scaled it as he had often climbed a mast, and he thrust the sapling under the staple, trimming the point down with the knife as he clutched the tree by his knees, and then, catching the young hickory like a lever, he dropped down the pine trunk and got his shoulder under the sapling and brought the weight of his body desperately against it. The staple bent upward in the tree, but did not loosen.

At that instant the scraping of a boat upon the mud was heard, and the black woman fell upon her knees.

“Pray, but do it soft,” Jimmy whispered; “an’ not a cry from the child, or there’ll be a murder!”

He had rapidly trimmed the hickory stem of its branches while he spoke, so that it could penetrate the arborage of the tree from above, and climbing higher, like a cat, he worked the point of the lever downwards into the now crooked staple, and threw himself out of the tree against the sapling, which bent like a bow nearly double, but would not break, and, as the staple yielded and flew out, the chain and the deliverer fell together on the soft pine litter.

“Hark!” exclaimed a voice through the woods.

“What was it?” asked another voice.

“Come!” Phœbus murmured, and gathered together the woman, the child, and the chain and ball, and stepped, long and silent as a rabbit’s leaps, through the awe-hushed pines, carrying the whole burden on his shoulders.

He sat them in the scow, which sank to the edges, and, covered by a protruding point of woods, pushed off into the deep river, yet guiding the frail vessel in to the sides of the stream, away from the influence of the out-running tide. As the scow turned the first crease or elbow in the river, it began to sink.

“If you make a sound you are a slave fur life,” whispered the waterman, as he slipped overboard and began to swim, with his hand upon the stern. As he did this, straining every muscle of his countenance to keep afloat, the wound in his cheek began to bleed again, and he felt his strength going. Down, down he began to settle, till the water reached his nostrils, and the woman heard him sigh as he was sinking.

The scow, now full of water, turned upside down, and threw mother and child into the stream, and the child was gone beneath the surface before the woman could catch herself upon a sunken branch of an imbedded tree; and, as she gasped there, the body of the pungy captain swept past her and she caught him by the hair, and he clutched her with the drowning instinct, and down they went together, like husband and wife, in nature’s contempt of distinctions between living worms.

They went down to the very bottom, but not to drown; for the old tree, having fallen where it grew in other years, was sustained upon its limbs, and made an invisible yet sure pathway to the shore. The long chain and the iron ball fettered to the colored woman’s foot, however, deprived her for a few moments of all power to step along the slippery, submerged trunk, and, with her soul full of agony for her child, which she no longer saw, she was about to let go of her deliverer’s body and throw herself also into the river, to die with them, when the old scow, having emptied itself of the water, reappeared at the surface and struck the woman a buoyant blow that altered the course of her thought.

“Pore, brave man,” the woman gasped. “He’s got a wife, maybe, an’ he give his life for a poor creature like me. God has took my baby. I can’t do nothing for it now, but maybe I can save this man’s life before I die.”

Indifferent to her personal fate, she drew intelligence from her spirit of sacrifice, which is the only thing better than learning. She pushed the scow down and under Phœbus with her remaining hand, till it relieved her of a portion of the weight of his body, and rose up, half-bearing the bronze-faced sailor’s form. Then, gathering the long meshes of the iron chain up from its termination at her feet, she threw the longer portion of it into the scow, so that it no longer became entangled in the cross-branches and knots below, and she could lift the iron ball sufficiently to glide her feet along the tree.

With pain and difficulty, lessened by self-forgetfulness, she pushed the scow and the body to the foot of the tree, and, feeling around its old roots for further support, the red-eyed terrapins arose and swam around her, disturbed in their possessions; but she feared no reptiles any more, since Death, the mighty crocodile, had eaten the babe that she had nursed but this morning.

She had intelligent remembrance enough to think of all the precautions her deliverer had taken, and, when she had dragged his body on the shore into the dense, scrubby woods, she also drew out the little scow and heaped some dead brush upon it, and had scarcely concealed herself when she heard voices from the river, and the report of a sail swung around upon its boom, and of feet upon a deck. The voices said:

“If she’s got off to Delaware, Joe Johnson won’t have long to stay on his visit.”

“I’m sorry fur Joe,” answered another voice; “he hoped to make one more big scoop this trip, an’ quit the Corners fur good.”

The colored woman now worked with all her strength to revive the insensible sailor, rolling him, rubbing his body till her elbows seemed almost to be dropping off, and then rubbing his great, broad breast with her head and face and neck. She breathed into his mouth the breath heaven vouchsafed to Hagar as bountifully as to Sarah, and, wringing out portions of her garments and hanging them at sunny exposures to dry, she substituted them, in her exhausted intervals, for the wet clothing of the man; and as she worked, with a hollow, desolate heart, she sobbed:

“Lord, gi’ me this man’s life! O Lord, that took my chile, I will have this life back!”

Crying and weeping, fainting and laboring, the moments, it seemed the very hours, ran by and still he did not waken; and still, with all that noble strength that makes the fields of white men grow and blossom under the negro’s unthanked toil, the widow and childless one fought on for this cold lump of brother nature.

He warmed, he breathed, he groaned, he spoke!

His voice was like a happy sigh, as of one disturbed near the end of a comforting morning nap in summer:

“You thar, Mary?”

He stared around with difficulty, his wounded face now clotted and stained with blood, and his eyes next looked an inquiry so kind and apprehensive that she answered it, to save him breath:

“Baby’s drowned. God does best!”

He reached his hand to hers — she was almost naked to the waist, having sacrificed all she had, the greatest of which was modesty, to bring back that life in him which came naked and unashamed into the world — and he put his little strength into the grasp.

“Mary,” he exhaled, “why didn’t you ketch the baby and leave me go?”

“Oh, dearly as I loved it,” the woman answered, “I’m glad you come up under my hands instead. You can do good: you’re a white man. Baby would have only been a poor slave, or a free negro nobody would care for.”

“I mean to do good, if the Lord lets me,” sighed the sailor; “I mean to go and die agin for human natur at Johnson’s Cross-roads.”


 

CHAPTER XXIV.

OLD CHIMNEYS.

THE day was far advanced when Jimmy Phœbus was strong enough to rise and walk, and leave the refuge in the woods. He advised the colored woman to crawl through the pine-trees along the margin, while he paddled in the old scow in the shadow of the forest, which now lay strong upon the river’s breast.

At the distance of about a mile, Broad Creek, like a tributary river, flowed into the Nanticoke from the east, fully a quarter of a mile wide, and half a mile up this stream an old, low, extended, weather-blackened house faced the river, and seemed to grin out of its broken ribs and hollow window-sockets like a traitor’s skull discolored upon a gibbet. It was falling to pieces, and along its roof-ridge a line of crows balanced and croaked, as if they had fine stories to tell and weird opinions to pass upon the former inhabitants of the tenement.

“There, I have hearn tell,” said Jimmy, as he drew in to the bank, and took the woman into the scow and began to tow her along the beach, wading in the water, “there, I have hearn tell, lived the pirate of Broad Creed, ole Ebenezer Johnson, who was shot soon after the war of ’12 at Twiford’s house down yonder.”

“For kidnapping free people?” asked the woman, without interest, the question coming from her desolate heart.

“In them days they didn’t kidnap much; it was jest a-beginnin’. The war of ’12 busted everything on the bay, burned half a dozen towns, kept the white men layin’ out an’ watchin’, and made loafers of half of ’em, an’ brought bad volunteers an’ militia yer to trifle with the porer gals, an’ some of them strangers stuck yer after the war was done. I don’t know whar ole Ebenezer come from; some says this, an’ some that. All we know is, that he an’ the Hanlen gals, one of ’em Patty Cannon, was the head devils in an’ after the war.”

“It’s a bad-lookin’ ole house, sir. See, yonder’s a coon runnin’ out of the door. Oh! I hear my child cryin’ everywhere I look.”

“The British begun to run the black people off in the war. The black people wanted to go to ’em. The British filled the islands in Tangier yer with nigger camps; they was a goin’ to take this whole peninsuly, an’ collect an’ drill a nigger army on it to put down Amerikey. When the war was done, the British sailed away from Chesapeake Bay with thousands of them colored folks, an’ then the people yer begun to hate the free niggers.”

“For lovin’ liberty?” the woman sighed, looking at the ball, which had galled her ankle bloody.

“They hated free niggers as if they was all Tories an’ didn’t love Amerikey. So, seein’ the free niggers hadn’t no friends, these Johnsons an’ Patty Cannon begun to steal ’em, by smoke! There was only a million niggers in the whole country; Louisiana was a-roarin’ for ’em; every nigger was wuth twenty horses or thirty yokes of oxen, or two good farms around yer, an’ these kidnappers made money like smoke, bought the lawyers, went into polytics, an’ got sech a high hand that they tried a murderin’ of the nigger traders from Georgey an’ down thar, comin’ yer full of gold to buy free people. That give ’em a back-set, an’ they hung some of Patty’s band — some at Georgetown, some at Cambridge.”

“If my baby’s made white in heaven, I’m afraid I won’t know him,” the woman said, nodding, and wandering in her mind.

“At last the Delawareans marched on Johnson’s Crossroads an’ cleaned his Pangymonum thar out, an’ guarded him, and sixteen pore niggers in chains he’d kidnapped, to Georgetown jail. Young John M. Clayton was paid by the Phildelfy Quakers to git him convicted. Johnson was strong in the county — we’re in it now, Sussex — an’ if Clayton hadn’t skeered the jury almost to death, it would have disagreed. He held ’em over bilin’ hell, an’ dipped ’em thar till the court-room was like a Methodis’ revival meetin’, with half that jury cryin’ ‘Save me, save me, Lord!’ while some of ’em had Joe Johnson’s money in their pockets. Joe was licked at the post, banished from the state, an’ so skeered that he laid low awhile, goin’ off somewhar — to Missoury, or Floridey, or Allybamy. But Patty Cannon never flinched; she trained the young boys around yer to be her sleuth-hounds an’ go stealin’ for her; an’, till she dies, it’s safer to be a chicken than a free nigger. They stole you, pore crestur’ from Phildelfy, an’ they steal ’em in Jersey and away into North Carliney; fur Joe Johnson’s a smart feller fur enterprise, and Patty Cannon’s deep as death an’ the grave.”

Phœbus looked at the woman sitting in the scow, and he saw that she was fast asleep; his tale having no power to startle her senses, now worn-out by every infliction.

“I must git that ball an’ chain off,” the sailor said; “but iron, in these ole sandy parts, is scarce as gold.”

He lifted her out of the scow and laid her in the shade, and began to explore the old house. To his joy, he found the iron crane still hanging in the chimney, and signs of recent fire.

“These yer ole cranes was valleyble once,” Jimmy said, “an’ in the wills they left ’em to their children like farms, an’ lawsuits was had over the bilin’ pots an’ the biggest kittles. It broke a woman’s heart to git a little kittle left her, an’ the big-kittled gal was jest pestered with beaux. But, by smoke! we’re a-makin’ iron now in Amerikey! Kittles is cheap, and that’s why this crane is left by robbers an’ gypsies after they used it.”

He twisted the crane out of the bricks on which it was hinged, and some of the mantel jamb fell down.

“Hallo!” cried Jimmy, “what’s this a rollin’ yet? A shillin’, by George! I say, by George, this time caze ole George the Third’s picter’s on it. Maybe thar’s more of ’em.”

He pulled a few bricks out of the jamb, and raked the hollow space inside with his hand, and brought forth a steel purse of English manufacture, filled with shillings at one end, and fifteen golden guineas at the other; they rolled out through the decayed filigree, rusted, probably, by the rain percolating through the chimney, and the purse crumbled to iron-mould in his hand.

“‘The Lord is my shepherd,’” said the sailor, reverently; “‘I shall not want. He leadeth me by the still waters.’ Look thar at the waters of the Nanticoke, beautiful as silver. Lord, make ’em pure waters an’ free, to every pore creatur!”

“To who! to who!” screamed a voice out of the hollow chimney.

“Well,” answered Jimmy, hardly excited, “I ain’t partickler. Ha! I thought I knew you, Barney,” he continued, as an owl fluttered out and hopped up a ruined stairway.

“Now, British money ain’t coined by Uncle Sam; what is the date? I can make figgers out easy: ‘Eighteen hundred and fifteen!’ I was about to do Ebenezer Johnson the onjustice of saying that he’d sold his country out to ole Admiral Cockburn, but the war was done when this money was coined. Whose was it?”

He removed more carefully some of the bricks, to put his hand in the hollow depository left there, and, feeling around and higher up, brought out the bronze hilt of a sword, on which was a name.

“Who would have thought this was a house of learnin’?” Jimmy said, dubiously. “I can’t read it. By smoke! maybe they’ve murdered somebody yet. I reckon he was British.”

There was nothing more, and, as he left the rotting old house, a crash and a cloud of smoke rose up behind him, and the chimney fell into the middle of the floor.

With the crane’s sharp wrought-iron point and long leverage the pungy captain succeeded, after tedious efforts, in breaking the links of the chain and also in removing the linked cannon-ball from the woman’s foot, but he could not remove the iron band and link around her ankle.

“God bless you!” exclaimed the woman. “It’s a sin to say so, but I feel as if I could fly since that dreadful weight is off. Oh, I want to fly, for I dreamed of my baby, an’ he smiled at me from heaven as if he said, ‘I’m happy, mamma!’”

“You don’t owe me nothin’, Mary. When you git to Prencess Anne, whir I want you to go, find Ellenory Dennis, an’ tell her I’ve seen her boy, an’ I’ll bring him back if I kin.”

“Princess Anne? where is it?”

“It’s, maybe, forty mile from yer, Mary; half-way between sunrise and sunset.”

“Right south, sir?”

“That’s it. Now I’ll tell you how to git thar. Take this old woods road along Broad Creek and walk to Laurel, five miles; it’s a little town on the creek. Keep in under the woods, but don’t lose the road, fur every foot of it’s dangerous to niggers. You kin git thar, maybe, by dark. I don’t know nobody thar, Mary, an’ I can’t write, fur I never learned how. But you go right to the house of some preacher of the Gospel, and tell him a lie.”

Mary opened her eyes.

“I wouldn’t have you tell a lie to anybody but a good man,” continued Phœbus, “fur then it’s so close to the Lord it won’t git fur an’ pizen many, as lies always does. You must tell that preacher that you’re the runaway slave of Judge Custis of Prencess Anne, an’ you’re sorry you run away, an’ want to go home.”

“Oh, sir, you are not like my wicked husband, trying to sell me too?”

“No, Mary, bad as you’ve been used, faith’s your only sure friend. If you was to tell the preacher you had been kidnapped, he’d, maybe, be afraid to help you. They’re a timid set down yer on any subject concernin’ niggers; these preachers will help save black folks’ souls, but never rescue their pore broken, bodies. When you tell him you are the slave of a rich man like Judge Custis, he’ll jump at the chance to do the Judge a favor, an’ tell you that you do right to go back to your master. That’s whair he’s a liar, Mary — so he’ll scratch your lie off”

“They’ll turn me back at Princess Anne, and wont know me, maybe.”

“Not if you do this, Mary. Make them take you to Judge Custis’s daughter — the one that’s just been married. Tell her you want to speak to her privately. Then tell her the nigger-skinned man — I’m him — that she sent away with her mother, found you whar you was chained in the woods. Take this link of the chain to show her. Tell her you want to be her cook till the one that run away is found.”

“I’ll do it, sir. I’ve got no home to go to, now.”

“Tell her all you remember. Tell her I’m a-startin’ for Pangymonum. Yer’s a gold piece an’ three silver pieces I found, Mary, to pay your way. Good-bye.”

“Won’t you give me your knife?” asked the woman.

“What fur, Mary?”

“To kill myself if they kidnap me again.”

“I have nothin’ else to fight for my life with,” said Phœbus. “No, you must not do that. Keep in the woods to Laurel.”

She fell on the ground and kissed his knees, and bathed them with her tears.

“I do have faith, master,” she said, “faith enough to be your slave.”

“I’d cry a little, too,” said Jimmy, twitching his eyes, as the woman disappeared in the forest, “if I knowed how to do it; but, by smoke! the wind on the bay’s dried up my tear ponds. I’ll bury these curiosities right yer, with this chain and ball, and put some old bricks around ’em outen the chimney they come from.”

He dug a hole with his knife, carefully cutting out a piece of the sod, and restoring it over the buried articles; and, after notching some trees to mark the place, he pushed in the scow again into Broad Creek, and descended the Nanticoke on the falling tide to Twiford’s wharf.

Dragging the scow up the bed of a creek to conceal it, he discovered another boundary stone. A beach led under the cover of a sandy bluff to the river gate of Twiford’s comfortable house, and he boldly entered the lane and lawn, saying to himself:

“I reckon a feller can ask to buy one squar meal a day in a free country, fur I’m hungry.”

Even in that day the house was probably seventy years old, roofed by an artistic shingler in lines like old lacework, the short roofs over the three pretty dormers like laced bib-aprons, the window-casements in small checkers of dark glass, the roof capacious as an armadillo’s back or land-turtle’s; but half of it was almost as straight as the walls, and the small, foreign bricks in the gables, glazed black and dark-red alternately, were laid by conscientious workmen, and bade fair to stand another hundred years, as they smoked their tidy chimney pipes from hearty stomachs of fireplaces below.

Standing beneath the honey-locust tree at the lawn-gate, the sailor beheld an extensive prospect of the river Nanticoke, bending in a beautiful curve, like the rim of a silver salver, towards the south, the blue perspective of the surrounding woods fading into the azure bluffs on the farther shore, where, as he now identified it, the hamlet of Sharptown assumed the mystery and similitude of a city by the enchantment of distance. A large brig was riding up the river under the afternoon breeze, carrying the English flag at her spanker. The wild-fowl, flying in V-formed lines, like Hyads astray, flickered on the salver of the river like house-flies. Some fishermen distantly appeared, human, yet nearly stationary, as if to enliven a dream, and the bees in a row of hives kept murmuring near by, increasing the restful sense in the heart and the ears.

“Why cannot human natur be happy yer?” Phœbus thought; “why must it git cruel an’ desperate for money, lookin’ out on this dancin’ water, an’ want to turn this trance into a Pangymonum?”

He crossed the lane to a squatty old structure of brick by the water-side, and peeped in.

“A still, by smoke!” he said. “If it ain’t apple brandy may I forgit my compass! No, it’s peach brandy. Well, anyway, it’s hot enough; an’ this, I ’spect, is what started the Pangymonum.”

He took a stout drink, and it revived his weakened system, and he bathed his head in its strong alcohol. He then returned to the lawn and walked around the house, peeping into the lower rooms — of which there were two in the main building, the kitchen being an appendage — but saw nobody. The porch in the rear extended the full width of the house, unlike the smaller shed in front, which only covered two doors, standing curiously side by side.

Completely sheltered by the longer porch, Phœbus, looking into a window, there saw a table already set with a clean cloth, and bread and cold chicken, and a pitcher of creamy milk, with a piece of ice floating in it. On either side of a large fireplace at the table-side was a door, one open, and leading by a small winding stair to the floor above. A bed was also in the room, which looked out by one window upon the lawn and the river, and by the other at the farm, the corn-cribs, and the small barns and pound-yard.

With a sailor’s quiet, sliding feet, Jimmy walked into the low hall, and a cat-bird, in a cage there, immediately started such a shrill series of cries that his steps were unheard by himself.

“Nobody bein’ yer,” thought Jimmy, “an’ the flies gittin’ at the victuals, I reckon I’ll do as I would be done by.”

Finishing the chicken, and undertaking to rise from his chair, Jimmy made a loud scraping on the floor, and the table-knife fell with a ringing sound.

“Who’s there?” cried a voice, and added, “I knew the dogs ought to be loose.”

“Now, if I don’t git out, the dogs will be set loose,” muttered Jimmy, as he disappeared up the farm-house lane and put the barn and pound between him and the house.

In a level field of deep sand — the soil here being the poorest in the region — and between the cattle-pound and the pines, which were everywhere jealous of their other indigenous brother, the Indian corn, an old family burial-lot lay under some low cedar-trees, with wild berry bushes growing all around. There were several little stones over Twifords that had died early, and a large heap of sand, planted with some flowers, that might have covered a favorite horse, but which Phœbus believed was the resting-place of the river buccaneer;* and there was also a vault of brick and plaster, with the little door ajar, where prurient visitors had poked and peeped about until the coffin lids had been drawn back and the dead pair exposed to the dry peninsular air.

[* Ebenezer Johnson — ed.]

The bay captain looked in and beheld his predecessor, Captain Twiford, who also sailed the bay, lying in his shroud — not in full clothing, as men are buried now, for clothing was too valuable in the scanty-peopled country to feed it to the worms. Twiford lay shrivelled up, shroud and flesh making but one skin, the face of a walnut color, the hair complete, the teeth sound, and severe dignity unrelaxed by the exposure he was condemned to for his evil alliance with Betty Hanley.*

[* Betty Hanley Twiford, step-daughter of Ebenezer Johnson — ed.]

She also lay exposed, who had lived so shamelessly, respecting not the mould of beauty God had given her, till now men leered to look upon her nearly kiln-dried bosom glued into its winding sheet, and the glory of her hair, that had been handled by bantering outlaws, and in a rippling wave of unbleached coal covered the grinning coquetry of her skull.

“Them that mocks God shall be mocked of him,” said Jimmy Phœbus, closing the door and putting some of the scattered bricks of the vault against it. “Now, I reckon, I kin git to the cross-roads by a leetle after dark.”


 

CHAPTER XXV.

PATTY CANNON’S.

PHŒBUS passed along the side of a large, black, cypress-shaded millpond, and found the boundary stone again, and took the angle from its northern face as a compass-point, and, proceeding in that direction, soon fell in with a sort of blind path hardly feasible for wheels, which ran almost on the line between the states of Maryland and Delaware, passing in sight of several of these old boundary stones. Not a dwelling was visible as he proceeded, not even a clearing, not a stream except one mere gutter in the sand, not a man, hardly an animal or a bird; the monotonous sand-pines, too low to moan, too thick to expand, too dry to give shade, yet grew and grew, like poor folks’ sandy-headed children, and kept company only with some scrubby oaks that had strayed that way, till pine-cone and acorn seemed to have bred upon each other, and the wild hogs disdained the progeny.

“Maybe I’ll git killed up yer in this Pangymonum,” Jimmy reflected; “an’ though I ’spose it don’t make no difference whair you plant your bones, I don’t want to grow up into ole pines. Good, big, preachin’ kind of pines, that’s a little above the world, an’ says ‘Holy, rolley, melancho-ly, mind your soul-y’ — I could go into their sap and shats fust-rate. But to die yer an’ never be found in these desert wastes is pore salvage for a man that’s lived among the white sails of the bay.”

It was dark, and he could hardly see his way in half an hour. Sometimes a crow would caw, to hear strange sounds go past, like an old watchman’s rattle moved one cog. The stars became bright, however, and the moon was new, and when Phœbus came to a large cleared opening in the pines, the lambent heavens broke forth and bathed the sandy fields with silver, and showed a large, high house at the middle of the clearing, with outside chimneys, one thicker than the other, and a porch of two stories facing the east.

Though not a large dwelling, it was large for those days and for that unfrequented region, and its roof seemed to Phœbus remarkably steep and long, and yet, while enclosing so much space, had not a single dormer window in it. The two main stories were well lighted, however, and the porch was enclosed at the farther end. No sheds, kitchens, or stables were attached to the premises, but an old pole-well, like some catapult, reared its long pole between the crotch of another tree. Roads, marked by tall worm fences, crossed at the level vista where this tall house presided, and a quarter of a mile beyond the crossroads, to the northeast, was another house, much smaller, standing up a lane and surrounded by small stables, cribs, orchard, and garden.

“I never ’spected to come yer,” Jimmy Phœbus observed, “but I’ve hearn tell of this place considabul. The big barn-roofed house is Joe Johnston’s tavern for the entertainment of Georgey nigger-traders that comes to git his stolen goods. It’s at the cross-roads, three miles from Cannon’s Ferry, whar the passengers from below crosses the Nanticoke fur Easton and the north, an’ the stages from Cambridge by the King’s road meets ’em yonder at the tavern. The tavern stands in Dorchester County, with a tongue of Caroline reaching down in front of it, an’ Delaware state hardly twenty yards from the porch. Thar ain’t a court-house within twenty miles, nor a town in ten, except Crotcher’s Ferry, whar every Sunday mornin’ the people goin’ to church kin pick up a basketful of ears, eyes, noses, fingers, an’ hair bit off afightin’ on Saturday afternoon. The t’other house out in the fields is Patty Cannon’s own, whar she did all her dev’lishness fur twenty years, till Joe got rich enough to build his palace.”

With the rapid execution of a man who only plans with his feet and hands, the bay sailor observed that there was a grove of good high timber — oaks and pines — only a few rods from the cross-roads and to the right, under cover of which he could draw near the tavern. As he proceeded to gain its shade, he heard extraordinary sounds of turbulence from the front of the tavern, the yelling of men, the baying of hounds, oaths and laughter, and, listening as he crossed the intervening space, he fell into a ditch inadvertently, almost at the edge of the timber.

“Hallo!” cried Jimmy, lying quite still to draw his breath, since the ditch was now perfectly dry, “this ditch seems to me to pint right for that tavern.”

He therefore crawled along its dry bed till it crossed under a road by a wooden culvert or little bridge of a few planks.

The noise at the tavern was now like a fight, and, as Phœbus continued to crawl forward, he heard twenty voices, crying,

“Gouge him, Owen Daw!” “Hit him agin, Cyrus James!” “Chaw him right up!” “Give ’em room, boys!”

Having crawled to what he judged the nearest point of concealed approach, Phœbus lost the moment to take a single glance only, and, drawing his old slouched hat down on his face to hide the bandaging, he muttered, “Now’s jess my time,” and crept up to the back of the crowd, which was all facing inwards in a circle, and did not perceive him.

A fully grown man, as it seemed, was having a fight with a boy hardly fifteen years old; but the boy was the more reckless and courageous of the two, while the man, with three times the boy’s strength, lacked the stomach or confidence to avail himself of it; and, having had the boy down, was now being turned by the latter, amid shouts of “Three to two on Owen Daw!” “Bite his nose off, Owen Daw!” “Five to two that Cyrus James gits gouged by Owen Daw!”

The boy with a Celtic face and supple body was full of zeal to merit favor and inflict injury, and, as the circle of vagrants and outlaws of all ages reeled and swayed to and fro, Phœbus, unobserved by anybody, put his head down among the rest and searched the faces for those of Levin Dennis or Joe Johnson.

Neither was there, and the only face which arrested his attention was a woman’s, standing in the door of the enclosed space at the end of the porch, at right angles to the central door of the tavern, and just beside it. The whole building was without paint, and weather-stained, but the room on the porch was manifestly newer, as if it had been an afterthought, and its two windows revealed some of the crude appendages of a liquor bar, as a fire somewhere within flashed up and lighted it.

By this fire the woman’s face was also revealed, and she was so much interested in the fight that she turned all parts of her countenance into the firelight, slapping her hands together, laughing like a man, dropping her oaths at the right places, and crying:

“I bet my money on little Owen Daw! Cy James ain’t no good, by God! Yer’s whiskey a-plenty for Owen Daw if he gouges him. Give it to him, Owen Daw! Shame on ye, Cy James!”

There was occasional servility and deference to this woman from members of the crowd, however they were absorbed in the fight. She was what is called a “chunky” woman, short and thick, with a rosy skin, low but pleasing forehead, coal-black hair, a rolling way of swaying and moving herself, a pair of large black eyes, at once daring, furtive, and familiar, and a large neck and large breast, uniting the bull-dog and the dam, cruelty and full womanhood.

Behind this woman, whom Phœbus thought to be Patty Cannon herself, the moonlight from the rear came through the door in the older and main building, shining quite through the house; and Phœbus saw that the rear door was also open and was unguarded.

He took the first chance, therefore, of dodging around the corner of the bar, intending to pass around the north gable of the house and dart up the stairs by the unwatched door; but he had barely got out of sight when a loud hurrah burst from the crowd as a feeble voice was heard crying “Enough, enough!” followed by jeers rapidly approaching.

The large outside chimney, where Phœbus now was, had an arched cavity in it large enough to contain a man, being the chimney of two different rooms within, whose smoke, uniting higher up, ascended through one stem. Into this cavity Phœbus dodged, in time to avoid the beaten party to the fight, the grown man, who staggered blindly by towards a well, his face dripping blood, and he was sobbing babyishly; but the concealed sailor heard him say, in a whining tone:

“She set him on me; I’ll make her pay for it.”

Several of the partisans or tormentors of this craven followed after him, and Jimmy himself fell in at the rear, and, instead of going with the rest towards the well, where the loser was bathing his face, Phœbus softly stepped over the low sill of the back door, the woman’s back being turned to him, and, as he had anticipated, a stairway ascended there out of a large room, which answered the purposes of parlor and hall, dining and gambling room, as Jimmy drank in at one glance, from seeing tables, dishes and cards, bottles and whips, arms and saddles.

Satisfying himself, as he had suspected, that there was no cellar under Johnson’s tavern, the sailor slipped up the stairs, intent to find where Judge Custis’s property and Ellenora’s wayward son had been concealed. The second story had a hall, and four doors upon this hall indicated four bedrooms. One of them was ajar, and, peeping through, Phœbus saw, extended on a bed, oblivious to all the fighting and din outside, Joe Johnson the negro-trader, his form revealed by a lamp and the open fire.

An impulse, immediately repressed, came on the sailor to draw his knife and stab Johnson to the heart, as probably the villain who had shot him from the cat-boat. The negro-trader wearily turned his long length in the bed, and Phœbus slipped back along the hall to the only door besides that was not closed fast.

This door creaked loudly as it was opened, and a man of a bandit form and dress, who was lying on a pallet within, revealed by the bright moonlight streaming in at two windows, half roused himself as Jimmy crouched at the door, where a very large clothes-press, taking up fully half the room, rose between the intruder and the occupant.

“Who’s there?” exclaimed a voice.

Jimmy discovered that there was a low door near the floor, opening into this remarkable closet, and he slipped inside and drew his knife again. The man was heard moving about the narrow room, and he finally seemed to walk out into the hall and down the stairs.

Feeling around his closet, which was pitch dark, Phœbus found a deep indentation in it, as of a smaller closet, and the sound of crooning voices came from above.

“By smoke!” Jimmy mentally exclaimed, “this big closet is nothin’ but a blind fur a stairway to climb up to the dungeon under the big roof!”

He stole upon a door secured by a padlock fastening an iron bar. The key was in the padlock, and Jimmy turned it back, drew off the lock and dropped the bar.

The moment he opened the door an almost insupportable smell came down a shallow hatchway within, up which leaned a rough step-ladder, movable, and of stout construction.

“That smell,” said Phœbus, entering, and pulling the door close behind him, “might be wool, or camel, or a moral menagerie from the royal gardings of Europe, but I guess it’s Nigger.”

He went up the steep steps with some difficulty, as they were made to pass only one person, and at the top he entered a large garret, divided into two by a heavy partition of yellow pine, with a door at the middle of it, and from beyond this partition came the sounds of crooning and babbling he had heard.

The bright night, shining through a small gable window, revealed this outer half of the garret empty, and no furniture or other appurtenance than the hole in the floor up which he had come, and the door into the place of wailing beyond, which was fastened by a long iron spike dropping into a staple that overshot a heavy wooden bar. As he slipped up the spike and took the bar off, Phœbus heard some person in the room below mutter, and lock the great padlock upon the other door, effectually barring his escape by that egress.

“We must take things as they come,” thought Jimmy, grimly, “partickler in Pangymonum, whar I am now.”

He also reflected that the arrangements of this kidnappers’ pen, simple as they seemed, were quite sufficient. If authority should demand to search the house, the double clothes-press below, with the ladder pulled up into the loft, became a harmless closet hung with wardrobe matters, and the inner closet a storeroom for articles of bulk; and no human being could either go up or come down without passing two inhabited floors and three different doors, besides the door to the slave-pen.

This last door Phœbus now threw open and walked into the pen itself, stooping his head to avoid the low entrance.

For some minutes he could not see the contents at all in the total darkness that prevailed, as there was no window whatever in this pen or den, but he heard various voices, and inhaled the strong, close air of many African breaths exhausting the supply of oxygen, and knew that chains and irons were being moved against the boards of the floor.

“Thair ain’t nothin’ to do yer,” Jimmy remarked, softly, “but jess squat down an’ git a-climated, as they say about strangers to our bilious shore, an’ git your eyeballs tuned to the dark. But I should say that this was both hokey-pokey an’ Pangymonum, by smoke!”

A man in some part of the den was praying in a highly nervous, excited way, slobbering out his agonizing sentences, and dwelling hard upon his more open vowels, and keeping several other inmates in sympathy or equal misery, as they piped in answer to his apostrophes:

“Lawd, de-scen’! De-scen’, O my Lawd. I will not let dee go; no, oh my Lawd! Come, save me! Yes, my Lawd! Come walkin’ on de waters! Come outen Lazarus’s tomb! Come on de chario’f fire! Come in de power! De-scen’ now, O my Lawd!”

Phœbus’s entranoe made no excitement, and he crouched down to await the strengthening of his eyes to see around him. The place appeared to be nearly twenty-five feet square, and was cross-boarded both the gable way and under the sloping roof, whose eaves were planked up a foot or two above the floor; in the middle any man could stand upright and scarcely touch the ridge beam with his hands, but along the sloping sides could barely sit upright.

The man still continuing to express his absolute subjection of spirit in a frenzy of words, and several little children crying and shouting responsively, Phœbus ordered the man to cease, after asking him kindly to do so several times; and the command being disobeyed, he slapped the praying one with his open hand, and the poor wretch rolled over in a kind of feeble fit.

A little child somewhere continuing to cry, Phœbus took it in his arms and held between it and the starlight, at the half-open door, one of the shillings he had obtained from the old cabin on Broad Creek a few hours before. The child, seeing something shine, seized it and held fast, and Phœbus next passed his hand over the face of a sleeping man, who was snoring calmly and strenuously on the floor beside him. He made room for the faint light to shine upon the sleeper’s black face, and exclaimed, in a moment:

“If it ain’t Samson Hat I hope I may be swallered by a whale!”

Calling his, name, “Samson! Samson!” Phœbus observed a most dejected mulatto person, who had been lying back in the shadows, crawl forward, rattling his manacles. This man, when spoken to, replied with such refinement and accuracy, however his face betokened great inward misery, that the sailor took as careful a survey of him as the moonlight permitted, coming in by that one lean attic window. He was a man who had shaved himself only recently, and his dark, curling side-whiskers and clean lips, and the tuft of goatee in the hollow of his chin, and intelligent, high forehead, seemed altogether out of place in this darksome eyrie of the sad and friendless.

“Is he your friend, sir?” asked this man, turning towards Samson. “He must have a good conscience if he is, for he slept soon after he was brought here, and has never uttered a single complaint.”

“And you have, I reckon?” said the waterman.

“Oh, yes, sir; I have been treated with such ingratitude. It would break any gentleman’s heart to hear my tale. Who is your friend, sir?”

“Samson, wake up, old bruiser!” cried Phœbus, shaking the sleeper soundly; “you didn’t give in to one or two, by smoke!”

“Is it you, Jimmy?” the old negro finally said, with a sheepish expression; “why, neighbor, I’m glad to see you, but I’m sorry, too. A black man dey don’t want to kill yer, caze dey kin sell him, but a white man like you dey don’t want to keep, and dey dassn’t let him go.”

“A white man here?” exclaimed the superior-looking person; “what can they mean?”

“I’m ironed so heavy, Jimmy,” continued Samson, “dat I can’t set up much. My han’s is tied togedder wid cord, my feet’s in an iron clevis, and a ball’s chained to de clevis.”

“Give me your hands,” exclaimed Jimmy; “I’ll settle them cords, by smoke!”

In a minute he had severed the cords at the wrist, and the intelligent yellow man pleaded that a similar favor be done for him, to which the sailor acceded ungrudgingly.

“Jimmy,” said Samson, “if it’s ever known in Prencess Anne — as I ’spect it never will be, fur we’re in bad hands, neighbor — dar’ll be a laugh instid of a cry, fur ole boxin’ Samson, dat was kidnapped an’ fetched to jail by a woman!”

“You licked by a woman, Samson?”

“Yes, Jimmy, a woman all by herseff frowed me down, tied my hands an’ feet, an’ brought me to dis garret. I hain’t seen nobody but her an’ dese yer people, sence I was tuk.”

“Ha!” exclaimed the dejected mulatto, “that’s a favorite feat of Patty Cannon. She is the only woman ever seen at a threshing-floor who can stand in a half-bushel measure and lift five bushels of grain at once upon her shoulders, weighing three hundred pounds.”

“I ain’t half dat,” Samson smiled, quietly, “an’ she handled me, shore enough. You remember, Jimmy, when I leff you by ole Spring Hill church, to go an’ git a woman on a little wagon to show me de way to Laurel?”

“Why, it was only yisterday, Samson!”

“Dat was de woman, Jimmy. She was a chunky, heavy-sot woman, right purty to look at, an’ maybe fifty year ole. She was de nicest woman mos’ ever I see. She made me git off my mule an’ ride in de wagon by her, an’ take a drink of her own applejack — she said she ’stilled it on her farm. She said she knowed Judge Custis, an’ asked me questions about Prencess Anne, an’ wanted me to work fur her some way. We was goin’ froo a pore, pine country, a heap wuss dan Hardship, whar Marster Milburn come outen, an’ hadn’t seen nobody on de road till we come to a run she said was named de Tussocky branch, whar she got out of de wagon to water her hoss. At dat place she come up to me an’ says, Samson, I’ll wrastle you!’ ‘Go long,’ says I, ‘I kin’t wrastle no woman like you.’ ‘You got to,’ she says, swearin’ like a man, an’ takin’ holt of me jess like a man wrastles. I felt ashamed, an’ didn’t know what to do, and, befo’ I could wink, Jimmy, dat woman had give me de trip an’ shoved me wid a blow like de kick of an ox, and was a-top of my back wid a knee like iron pinnin’ of me down.”

“The awful huzzy of Pangymonum!”

“De fust idee I had was dat she was a man dressed up like a woman. I started like lightnin’ to jump up, an’ my legs caught each oder; she had carried de cord to tie me under her gown, an’ clued it aroun’ me in a minute. As I run at her an’ fell hard, she drew de runnin’ knot tight an’ danced aroun’ me like a fat witch, windin’ me all up in de rope. De sweat started from my head, I yelled an’ fought an’ fell agin, an’, as I laid with my tongue out like a calf in de butcher’s cart, she whispered to me, ‘Maybe you’re de las’ nigger ole Patty Cannon’ll ever tie!’

“At dat name I jess prayed to de Lord, but it was too late. She put me in de cart an’ gagged me so I couldn’t say a word, and blood came outen my mouth. I heard her talkin’ to people as we passed by a town an’ over a bridge. Nobody looked in de cart whar I laid kivered over, till we come to a ferry in de night, an’ dar we passed over, and I heard her talkin’ to a man on dis side of de ferry. He come to de side of de wagon an’ peeped at me, layin’ helpless dar, my eyes jess a-prayin’ to him — and he had an elegant eye in his head, Jimmy. He says softly to hisself, ‘Dis is no consignment, manifes’ly, to Isaac an’ Jacob Cannon,’ an’ he kivered me up again, an’ the woman fetched me yer, put on de irons, and shoved me into dis hole in de garret.”

“I reckon that was Isaac Cannon, t’other Levite that never sees anything that ain’t in his quoshint.”

“How’s the purty gals, Jimmy? I shall see ’em in my dreams, I ’spect, if I am sold Souf. I ain’t got long to stay, nohow, Jimmy, fur I’m mos’ sixty. If you ever git out, tell my marster to buy dat gal Virgie, an’ make her free. She ain’t fit to be a slave.”

“Gals has their place,” said Phœbus, “but not whair men has to fight for liberty. How many fighting men are we here?”

“I ’spect you’s de only one, Jimmy; we’s all chained up; dese nigger-dealers is all blacksmifs an’ keeps balls, hobbles, gripes, an’ clevises, an’ loads us wid iron.”

“Who is that woman back yonder so quare an’ still?”

“Why, Jimmy, don’t you know Aunt Hominy, Jedge Custis’s ole cook? Dey brought her in dis mornin’ wi’ two little children outen Teackle Hall kitchen; one of dem you give dat silver to — little Ned. Hominy ain’t said a word sence she come.”

Jimmy Phœbus went back to the corner of the den where the old woman cowered, and called her name in many different accents and with kind assurances:

“Hominy, ole woman, don’t you know Jimmy? Jedge Custis is comin’ for you, aunty. I’m yer to take you home.”

She did not speak at all, and Phœbus lifted her without resistance nearer to the moonlight. Her lips mumbled unintelligibly, her eyes were dull, she did not seem to know them.

Samson crawled forward, and also called her name kindly:

“Aunt Hominy, Miss Vesty’s sent fur you. Dis yer is Jimmy Phœbus.”

The little boy Ned now spoke up:

“Aunt Hominy ain’t spoke sence dat Quaker man killed little Phillis.”

“Jimmy,” solemnly whispered Samson, “Aunt Hominy’s lost her mind.”

“Yes,” spoke up the dejected and elegant mulatto prisoner, “she’s become an idiot. They sometimes take it that way.”

Phœbus bent his face close down to the poor old creature’s, sitting there in her checkered turban and silver earrings, clean and tidy as servants of the olden time, and he studied her vacant countenance, her tenantless eyes, her lips moving without connection or relevance, and felt that cruelty had inflicted its last miraculous injury — whipped out her mind from its venerable residence, and left her body yet to suffer the pains of life without the understanding of them.

“Oh, shame! shame!” cried the sailor, tears finally falling from his eyes, “to deceive and steal this pore, believin’ intelleck! To rob the cook of the little tin cup full o’ brains she uses to git food fur bad an’ fur good folks! Why, the devils in Pangymonum wouldn’t treat that a way the kind heart that briled fur ’em.”

“De long man said he was Quaker man,” exclaimed Vince, the larger boy, “an’ he come to take Hominy to de free country. Hominy was sold, she said, an’ must go. De long man had a boat — Mars Dennis’s boat — an’ in de night little Phillis woke up an’ cried. Nobody couldn’t stop her. De long man picked little Phillis up by de leg an’ mashed her skull in agin de flo’. Aunt Hominy ain’t never spoke no mo’.”

“Did you hear the long man speak after that, Vince?”

“Yes, mars’r. I heerd de long man tell Mars Dennis dat if he didn’t steer de boat an’ shet his mouf, he’d shoot him. I heerd de pistol go off, but Mars Dennis wasn’t killed, fur I saw him steerin’ afterwards.”

“Thank God!” spoke the sailor, kissing the child. “Ellenory’s boy was innocent, by smoke! That nigger-trader shot me an’ threatened Levin’s life if he listened to me hailing of him. The noise I heard was the murder of the baby, whose cries betrayed the coming of the vessel. Samson, thar’s been treachery ever sence we left Salisbury, an’ that nigger Dave’s a part of it.”

“He said he hated me caze I larned him to box. Maybe my fightin’s been my punishment, Jimmy, but I never struck a man a foul blow.”

“And what was your hokey-pokey?” the pungy captain cried to the man who had been making so much religious din. “Did they sell you fur never knowin’ whar to stop a good thing?”

The man hoarsely explained, himself interested by the disclosures and fraternity around him:

“I was slave to a local preacher in Delaware, an’ de sexton of de church. It was ole Barrett’s chapel, up yer between Dover an’ Murderkil — de church whar Bishop Coke an’ Francis Asbury fust met on de pulpit stairs. My marster an’ me was boff members of it, but he loved money bad, an’ I was to be free when I got to be twenty-five years ole, accordin’ to de will of his Quaker fader, dat left me to him. Las’ Sunday night dey had a long class-meetin’ dar, an’ when nobody was leff in de church but my marster an’ me, he says to me, ‘Rodney, le’s you an’ me have one more prayer togedder befo’ you put out dat las’ lamp. You pray, Rodney!’ I knelt an’ prayed for marster after I must leave him to be free next year, an’, while I was prayin’ loud, people crept in de church an’ tied me, and marster was gone.”

“He sold you fur life to them kidnappers, boy, becaze you was goin’ to be free next year. Don’t your Bible tell you to watch an’ pray?”

“Yes, marster.”

“Well, then, boys, it’s all watch to-night and no more praying,” cried Jimmy Phœbus, cheerily. “Here are four men, loving liberty, bound to have it or die. Thar’s one of ’em with a knife, an’ the first kidnapper that crosses that sill, man or woman — fur we’ll trust no more women, Samson — gits the knife to the hilt! The blessed light that shone onto Calvary an’ Bunker Hill is a gleamin’ on the blade. Work off your irons, if you kin; I’ll git you rafters outen this roof to jab with if you can’t do no better. Are you all with me?”

“I am, Jimmy,” answered Samson, quietly.

“I’ll die with ye, too,” exclaimed the praying man, with rekindled spirit.

“We will all be murdered, gentlemen,” protested the dejected mulatto. “I know these desperate people.”

“Then you crawl over in the corner,” Phœbus commanded, “and see three men fight fur you. We don’t want any fine buck nigger to spile his beauty for us.”

The man crawled back into the blackness of the den again, and Phœbus began to search the open half of the garret for implements of war. He found two long pieces of chain, with which determined men might beat out an adversary’s brains.

“Now, boys,” Jimmy delivered himself, “I hain’t lost my head yisterday nor to-day neither, by smoke! I’m goin’ to kill the first person that comes yer, an’ git the keys of this den from him, an’ lock all of you in fast, an’ the dead kidnapper, too. Then they won’t git at you to ship you off till I kin git to Seaford, over yer in Delaware — it’s not more than six mile — whar I know three captains of pungies, and all of ’em’s in port thar now — all friends of Jimmy Phœbus, all well armed, and their crews enough to handle Pangymonum!”


 

CHAPTER XXXII.

GARTER-SNAKES.

AT Princess Anne Vesta had moved her husband to Teackle Hall, and he occupied her father’s room and seemed to be growing better, though the doctor said that he had best be sent to the hills somewhere.

The free woman, Mary, whom Jimmy Phœbus sent to Vesta, had arrived very opportunely, and took Aunt Hominy’s place in the kitchen, where all the children’s echoes were gone; but, alas! her tale was not legal testimony, because she was black.

Jack Wonnell had found unexpected favor in Meshach Milburn’s eyes, and was appointed to sleep in the store and watch it. That evening, Virgie and the free woman walked together down to Milburn’s store, to see if Jack Wonnell was on the watch. As they trode in the soft grass and sand under the old storehouse they saw the bell-crowned hat — a new one, brought from the ancient stock that very day — shining glossily on Wonnell’s high, eccentric head, as he sat in the hollow window of the old storehouse and talked to the mocking-bird, which he was feeding with a clamshell full of boiled potato and egg, and some blue haws.

“Tom, say ‘Roxy,’ an’ I’ll give ye some, Tommy! Now, boy! ‘Roxy, Roxy, purty Roxy! purty Roxy! Poor ole Jack! poor ole Jack!’”

The bird flew around Wonnell’s head, biting at the hat which stood in such elegant irrelevance to the remainder of his dress, and cried, “Meshach, he! he! he! Vesty, she! Vesty, Meshach! Vesty, Meshach!” but said nothing the village vagrant would teach it. He showed the patience idleness can well afford, and, feeding it a little, or withholding the food awhile, continued to plead and teach:

“‘Roxy, Roxy, purty Roxy! Poor, pore Jack! pore Jack!’ Now, Tom, say ‘Roxy, Roxy, pore Jack!’”

The bird flew and struck, and sang a little, very niggardly, and so, as the lights in the west sank and faded, the shiftless lover continued in vain to seek to give the bird one note more than the magician, his master, had taught.

The stars modestly appeared in the soft heavens, and Princess Anne gathered its roofs together like a camp of camels in the desert, and, with an occasional bleat or bark or human sound, seemed dozing out the soft fall night.

“Miss Virgie,” said the woman Mary — ten years her senior, but comely still — “have you ever loved like me? Oh, I had a kind husband, and I tried to love once more. Maybe it was a sin.”

“I love my mistress,” Virgie said; “I love her father, too, as if he was not my master. Oh, how I love them all! They say they will soon set me free. Mary, how do people feel when they are free?”

“They don’t appreciate it,” sighed Mary. “They go and put themselves in captivity again: they falls in love.”

“But to love and be free!” Virgie said, her bosom glowing in the thought till her rich eyes seemed to shed warmth and starlight on her companion’s face.

“Pore Jack! pore Jack! Sing ‘Roxy, Roxy, Roxy,’ Tom!” coaxed Wonnell above to the sleepy bird.

“Poor Virgie!” sighed Mary; “remember we are black!”

“Dog my hide!” mumbled Wonnell, above, “ef a bird ain’t a perwerse critter. Purty Roxy won’t think I’m smart a bit ef I can’t make Tom say ‘Roxy, Roxy, Roxy! Pore Jack!’”

“I am almost white,” Virgie continued; “Why can’t I be so?”

“Pore chile!” Mary said.

“Hush!” said Virgie, trembling, “what voice is that?”

There was an old willow-tree in a recessed spot at the end of the store, and by it were two sheds or small buildings, now disused, into one of which, with a door low to the ground, Mary drew Virgie, and they listened to a low voice saying,

“Dave, air your pops well slugged?”

“Yes, Mars Joe.”

“Allan McLane pays fur the job?”

“Yes, Mars Joe.”

“You can’t mistake him, Dave. No shag is worn like that nowadays. Look only fur his headpiece, and aim well!”

“Yes, Mars Joe.”

“Fur me,” continued the other voice, “I’ll go right to the tavern an’ prove an alibi. My lay is to take the house gal that old Gripefist’s young wife thinks so much of. I’ll snake her out to-night. She’s Allan’s to-morrow, but tonight she’s mine!”

A sensual, sucking, chuckling sound, like a kiss made upon the back of his own hand, followed this significant threat; and Mary, placing her hand over the slave girl’s mouth, held her motionless.

“Tommy, Tommy! sing ‘Roxy, Roxy, Roxy! Pore Jack! Pore Jack!’ Sing, Tommy, sing!”

There,” whispered the white man, softly, and was gone.

Mary breathed only the words to Virgie, “Kidnappers — come!” and they glided from the old tenement unobserved, and entered the copse along the stream.

“Pore Jack! Pore Jack! His leetle Roxy’s gone away. Pore Jack! Roxy! Roxy! Roxy!” the mourner at the window above chattered sleepily to the nodding bird.

The negro at the corner of the old warehouse, half covered by the willow’s shade, peered up with bloodshotten eyes to distinguish the covering on the bird-tamer’s head.

He saw Jack Wonnell sitting backward on the window-frame, swaying in and out, as he lazily tempted the mocking-bird to sing, and once the bell-crown hat, so singular to view, came in full relief against the gray sky.

“It’s ole Meshach,” said the negro, silently, with desperate eyes. “I hoped it wasn’t. Dar is de hat, sho!”

He cocked his huge horse-pistol, and took aim directly from below.

“Pore Jack! Pore Jack! I reckon Roxy won’t have pore Jack, caze Tommy won’t sing. Sing, Tommy, little Roxy’s pet: ‘Pore Jack! Pore—’”

The great horse-pistol boomed on the night, and in the smoke the negro rushed into the bush and sought the fields.

Down from his seat in the window-sill the witless villager came backward, all bestrewn, measuring his body in the sand, where he lay, silent as the other shadows, with his arms extended in the frenzy of death, and his mouth wide open and flowing blood.

Jack Wonnell had paid the penalty of being out of fashion.

The mocking-bird, aroused by the loud report, leaped into the empty window-sill to seek his tutor, and set up the lesson he had learned too late:

“Poor Jack! Poor Jack! Roxy! Roxy! Roxy!” came screaming on the night, and all was still.