MATTERS worked like a seesaw : one end of the feud went down, only to see the other go up ; McAlister wanted peace just when Beaumont had taken in fresh fuel for fight.
But with all his sense of the honorableness of wrath, and of the duty of running at his highest speed for Congress, Beaumont could not forget that his wrath and his running might trample on his youngest daughter’s chances of happiness. He strove to escape from the piteous remembrance ; but he was like a man who scrambles on the slippery footing of adverse dreams ; he leaped and leaped, and made no progress. O these women, these children; how puissantly we are bound to them ; how inextricably the varieties of humanity are entangled ; how well for the race that it is so !
This deep-chested, heavy-shouldered, bushy-browed, lion-eyed, pugnacious gentleman not only could not help thinking of his daughter’s troubled heart, but could not help talking about it. One day, looking at her as she walked with drooping head in the garden, he turned with an excited start to Mrs. Armitage, and demanded, “ What am I to do with that girl ? She mopes about here as if her own home were a place of confinement, a prison, or a lunatic asylum, or something of that sort. I shall have to send her over to her grandfather’s ; that is, till the election is over, and all these confounded uproars.”
“ Then I shall go too,” responded Nellie, promptly and rather spunkily. She had lately had more than one argument with her father in favor of the McAlister match, and she was somewhat irritated because of his persistent opposition to the measure which her heart had desired.
“You will!” exclaimed Beaumont with a stare. He was no longer the hub of the family then ; his tribe was to gather around Kate, instead of himself ; the new generation was decidedly mounting upon the throne of the old. His face wore an expression of annoyance, but even more of depression.
“ Let us talk like men about it, papa,” continued Nellie, in her heroic way. “ Let us call things by their true names, without any fear of the subject or of each other. Here, because Kate is not happy, you want to send her away from her home, and away from her father and brothers and sister.”
“For her own good,” broke in Beaumont, eagerly. “ Things are going disagreeably here, and she can’t want to see them. Besides, Kershaw is her grandfather, and you know how they pet each other. He can cheer her. He is such a kind, good old man ! O, he is so damn good ! ” he added with a groan of self-depreciation. “ I wish I was half as good. I wish I could respect myself as I do Kershaw.”
“ Bring him over here,” advised Nellie.
“ What ? ”
“ Bring him over here, for a few days. And when Major Lawson returns from his visit to Charleston, bring him too. Then Kate will have all her best friends around her, — all but one.”
Beaumont did not notice the allusion to Frank McAlister; he was taken up with considering Nellie’s plan, and with dreading it. Kershaw, that great pacificator of quarrels, he did not quite want him in the house just now. From such a presence there might emanate an influence which would once more beguile him into the weakness of resigning his candidature and washing off his war-paint generally. But after due argument and solicitation, after it had been borne in upon him that the old Colonel, in the temporary absence of Lawson, must be leading a dreary life in his own house, he withdrew an opposition for which he could not allege his reasons and of which he was secretly ashamed. Riding over to Kershaw’s place, he invited his father-inlaw to visit him for a fortnight, pressed the point with his characteristic cordiality and hospitality, and secured an acceptance. So the next morning the Colonel alighted from his carriage on the gravel-walk before the Beaumont door.
“ Is n’t he beautiful, papa ? ” whispered Kate, as she and her father hastened to greet their venerable visitor.
“ He is the white rose of South-Carolinian chivalry,” murmured Beaumont. “ Not a leaf fallen by reason of age, and not a stain by reason of sin.”
The sympathetic and passionate nature of this rough fighter enabled him to appreciate and worship a character which was beyond him.
In truth, the Colonel was beautiful, as healthy and good old men can be beautiful. He had fully recovered from his late severe illness ; to look at him, it seemed as if he might live twenty years longer. His long white hair, waving over his heavy, old-fashioned coatcollar, was as yet abundant and almost luxuriant. His massive aquiline face, rendered only the more expressive by deep wrinkles and large folds, was full of dignity, intelligence, and sympathy. Eighty or nearly eighty years of the life of this world, so generally commonplace, so often full of temptation, so often sorrowful or exasperating, had not dimmed the sunshine of that benignity which must have been the core of his character. He looked as George Washington might have looked, had he reached the same age. He made one think of what an angel might be, could an angel become white-haired and wrinkled. Very tall, and as yet of goodly fulness, he seemed a colossal statue erected to physical beauty and moral goodness, grown venerable.
Kate soon took possession of her pet, and led him to his room. She wanted to have him all to herself, and she wanted the luxury of serving him with her own hands. After prattling for some minutes, after seeing anew that his room was furnished with everything which he could need, she left him to wash off the dust of his drive and went below to wait for him, her eyes sparkling with impatience. Presently she ran and called up the stairway, “Grandpapa, are you never going to come down ? ” As he did not answer, probably not hearing her, she hurried to his room, drummed on the door with eager fingers, and said in a tone of loving reproach, “Why, how long you are ! ”
That was always the way with her when Kershaw came over. She was as impatient to get at him and as greedy of his company as a hungry child is impatient and greedy for its dinner. Moreover, she had absurd, charming little terrors, if he was long at a time out of her sight, lest he had hurt himself, or perhaps died. When she was a child and visited him for short terms at his plantation, she used to say, night after night, “ Promise me, grandpapa, that you won’t die before morning.” The benignant and affectionate old man, so like her lost mother, and indeed so like herself, exercised a sort of bewitchment over her, which was all the more potent because it had begun before the dawn of reason, because it had begun as an instinct. It was in vain that her other relatives sometimes jealously chafed because of this fascination, and sometimes good-humoredly laughed at her for it. On this point she remained sweetly childish, and could not be otherwise, nor wish it.
The bewitchment was mutual, as such affectionate magic often is. Despite his rational, grave, and one might say rather slow nature, the old man worshipped the girl as the girl worshipped him. At this moment, when he heard the well-known and expected drumming on his door, his solemn blue eyes and the massive folds of his face lighted up with a deep though serene pleasure.
“ Come in, my little girl,” his hollow and tremulous voice called. “ I am only brushing my hair.”
“ Let me brush it,” begged Kate ; and would do it, making him sit for the purpose.
“It needs cutting, doesn’t it?” asked the Colonel, who was in the habit of seeking her guidance, at least in little matters.
“ Not yet,” said Kate. “ It is too handsome to cut.”
“ Handsome ?” asked Kershaw, thinking of her chestnut curls.
“It is every bit as white as snow,” continued the girl, “ It makes me think of Mont Blanc. What color was it once ? ”
“A little darker than yours, child, if I remember right,” said the old man, after pausing a moment to send his memory backward many years. “ There, you have taken trouble enough with it. Now sit down where I can look at you.”
“Wait a little,” begged Kate. She was intent upon making the silver cataract fall behind his ears and roll evenly over his coat-collar. The work done, she drew a childlike smile of satisfaction, and seating herself in front of him, smiled in his face. Her smile, could he have understood its undersadness, would have told him that she loved him all the more because the outreachings of affection towards another had been rudely put aside.
“You don’t look in good flesh,” said the Colonel. His phrase was old-fashioned, but it suited his venerable mien, and it was made sweet by a tone of tender anxiety.
“ I am a little thinner than usual,” replied Kate. A spasm passed across her mouth, but she quelled it by an heroic effort, and presently the smile reappeared.
“ If you are ill, you must tell me,” urged Kershaw. “ We must have advice.”
He knew nothing of her love-affair, and suspected nothing ; even the garrulous, sympathetic Lawson had refrained from hinting it to him.
“ Grandpapa, you are always thinking about other people,” observed the girl, willing to change the subject of conversation.
“ Of course,” he replied, simply. “ My own affairs are of so little interest.”
At this moment Kate’s face turned as pale as death. Glancing out of a window near her, she had seen Frank McAlister dismounting at the gate, and the idea at once crossed her mind that his life was in peril.
“What is the matter?” inquired Kershaw, who noted her start and dimly perceived her change of color.
“ O, do go down there,” she begged, springing to her feet and seizing his arm. “ Do go, before there is trouble.”
“ What is it ? ” he repeated, slowly rising.
“ I don’t know,” stammered Kate. “What can he be here for? It is Mr. Frank McAlister.”
“ McAlister ! ” exclaimed Kershaw, in a tone which showed that he realized the full gravity of the situation. “ The young man,— the tall young man ? I remember. The one who saved your life. Of course I remember him. But he should n’t be here. I will go down.”
“ O, do, do,” implored the girl, almost hurrying him, almost pushing him. “ Don’t let any trouble happen.”
“ No, no,” said Kershaw, as he stalked out of the room, leaning forward in the manner of old men when they are in haste. “ But what can he be here for ? It is highly imprudent.”
We shall best see the end of this adventure by joining Frank McAlister. Dismounting at the high post gate which whitely glared in front of the house, he left his horse in charge of one of half a dozen pickaninnies who were kicking up the dust of the road with their bare black feet, and walked straight towards the veranda, where stood Peyton Beaumont grimly staring at him, a statue of mistrust and amazement. When he had got within a few yards of his father’s rival and enemy he halted, lifted his hat entirely from his head, and bowed without speaking. At the same moment Tom Beaumont came out of the door behind his father, and, seeing this most unexpected and somewhat alarming visitor, slipped a practised hand under the skirt of his shooting-jacket, obviously feeling for the handle of a pistol. Frank noted the threatening gesture ; but he did not change countenance, nor move a muscle ; he remained with his eyes fixed on the face of Peyton. The latter, after hesitating for a moment, slightly waved his hand in salutation.
“ Mr. Beaumont, I beg leave to deliver you a friendly letter from my father,” said Frank.
“ From your father, sir ! ” exclaimed Peyton. He reflected for an instant, thought of his political confederates, thought of the feud, too, and added, “ I do not feel at liberty to receive it, sir.”
Tom Beaumont drew his derringer, supposing that Frank would draw also, and determined to be beforehand with him. But just then Colonel Kershaw stepped slowly into the veranda and laid his hand gently on the elbow of the aristocratic young desperado. Tom glanced sideways, recognized the old man, and slowly returned the weapon to his pocket, still however keeping his hand on it, while he watched Frank steadily.
“ Am I intruding; Beaumont? ” asked Kershaw.
“ Ah ! ” started Beaumont. “ Why no, certainly not. In my house you are in your own. And by the way, Kershaw, by the way — Mr. McAlister, have the kindness to wait one instant. — Kershaw, I want your advice. A letter from the Judge,” he whispered, blowing out his cheeks with an air of demanding amazement. “ Shall I open it ? Would you ? Would you, indeed? Well, perhaps so ; decidedly so. Just to see what the scoundrel wants. Exactly.”
Turning to Frank, lie said, with ceremonious civility : “ Mr. McAlister, by the advice of Colonel Kershaw, I will now, with your permission, receive the letter. If I was discourteous to you personally in my first refusal, I ask excuse.”
He read the Judge’s communication with mingled feelings. First came the expression of that gentleman’s desire to resign his candidature to Congress for the sake of the peace of Hartland and the unity of South Carolina. Beaumont approved. He approved promptly, fully, and energetically ; for once he was harmonious with Duncan McAlister. But next came the hint that, in return for this concession, a seat in the United States district court would be acceptable. Beaumont hesitated ; there were good men of his own party to be thought of; his brow darkened with an ominous look of dissent. Then he went through his rival’s elegantly written, dignified, and almost pathetic peroration. It moved him ; the expression of noble sentiments always moved him ; he was just to that degree simple and sympathetic. Well, what should he do ? Obviously it was his personal interest to close with the bargain, and so get rid of his rival in the coming election. But he was not an ordinary politician ; he was honest, high-minded, and unselfish, at least so far as he knew how to be ; if he was ever moved by interest, it was unawares. Thus he had no difficulty in putting aside this egotistic consideration immediately.
On the other hand, here was a favor; the Judge was going to give up his candidature any way ; and surely he deserved a favor in return. The fact that he could say to Beaumont, “ You ought to have the seat in Congress,” made Beaumont want to say, “You ought to have the vacant judgeship.” The heart of this impulsive, unreflecting, headlong knight-errant began to warm towards his rival and enemy. He had scarcely read his letter through before he wanted to serve him. He became, as it were, his partisan. To be sure, old bellicose feelings boiled and bubbled somewhat in his heart ; but they were kept down in a measure by thoughts of Kate and of Kershaw, On this score the impulses of peace and war remained in even balance.
“ This is very important,” he observed, slowly turning to the old Colonel. “ Kershaw, I must have your advice. Mr. McAlister, will you do me the kindness to walk into my parlor. Tom, oblige me by seeing that we are not interrupted.”
In the parlor he seated his guests, closed the doors, and then approached Frank.
“ Mr. McAlister,” he said, “ Colonel Kershaw’s character — ”
“ It is sufficient,” bowed Frank. “ I am confident that my father would be willing to intrust any secret to Colonel Kershaw.”
Then the letter was read aloud. A blush inundated Frank’s face when he heard Beaumont clarion forth his father’s demand for a quid pro quo, offering to dicker his chance for Congress against a seat in the temple of justice. For a minute or two he could not look Kershaw or Kate’s father in the face. His shame was only in part removed by Beaumont’s calm consideration of the bargain and charitable comment upon it. Beaumont, it must be understood, was by this time quite impulsively in favor of the Judge, looking upon himself as the patron of his rival, and desiring to do him a good turn.
“ Wishes to withdraw from politics, you see,” he remarked blandly. “Well, it is about time I should do the same. After this campaign, Kershaw,—after this campaign, you may rely on me. No more candidatures, no more stumpings.”
If he meant to make a bridge of gold for a retreating enemy, he certainly did his engineering rather neatly. The truth is, that, being now anxious to accept his rival’s offer, he was anxious to have Kershaw advise him to accept it.
The good old man responded to the wish from good motives of his own. He saw a chance before him to turn the swords and spears of the feud into the ploughshares and pruning-hooks of amity.
“ I approve of the proposition,” he said slowly and after deliberate consideration. “Judge McAlister is better fitted for the position in question than any other man in the upper country. He is our ablest lawyer and our most judicial mind.”
“ I have always admitted it,” Beaumont declared, and with entire truth. “ He deserves the place.”
“ In appointments to the judiciary there should be no question of partisan politics,” affirmed Kershaw.
“ Certainly not,” assented Beaumont. “ By heavens ! the President who should consider politics, in making appointments to the judiciary, ought to be impeached and deposed.”
There was no questioning his honesty in saying this. He looked like truth incarnate, and none the less for his bellicose expression.
“ What a gentleman he is at bottom,” thought Frank, only too glad to judge kindly of Kate’s father.
“ Why did n’t we come to this before?” continued Beaumont, delighted that he had secured Kershaw’s adherence, and quite resolved now to back McAlister. “ I shall rejoice in recommending the Judge to a position which he will fill so nobly. And so will my friends, I am confident. By heavens, if they don’t I won’t run for them ; I ’ll throw up my candidature immediately; I will, by heavens. Kershaw, I want you to bear witness to that, and stand by me in it,” he added, remembering that giving up candidatures did not come easy to him.
“ I think our friends will make no objections,” said the Colonel, knowing that Beaumont’s will and his own would be law to the district.
“ I should say not,” answered Peyton, swelling and ruffling at the idea of opposition. “ By heavens, I should like to see the man who would be fool enough and brute enough to object to such an appointment,” he went on, forgetting that he would himself have opposed it but for circumstances. “ Well, it is understood. Mr. McAlister, please do me the favor to say to your father that I assent most cordially to his chivalrous proposition. I make this declaration in the presence of Colonel Kershaw. If I made it alone, I would be bound by it. And now, Mr. McAlister, a glass of wine together.”
He fairly beamed upon the young man. The moment that he could be friends with him at all, he was as much his friend as he ever had been. He inclined towards him with all the vivacious promptness of his mercurial, yet energetic nature. He let himself remember distinctly that this was the man who had saved his daughter’s life, and with whom his daughter’s chance of happiness was perhaps entertwined. There was no mistaking the kindliness which glowed in his martial black eyes and his dark red visage. Frank was instantaneously as happy as a being is vulgarly supposed to be.
“ I am more gratified than I can possibly express,” he said, in a tone which told infinitely more than the words.
After the sherry had been tasted, the young man rose to take his leave, remarking, “ I must carry this good news to my father.”
“ Add that I cannot sufficiently thank him for sending you on this mission,” said Peyton, shaking hands.
“ I entirely concur with Beaumont in sentiment,” added Kershaw in his brief, weighty way, few words always, but every one doubly meant.
“ I trust that this begins a lasting peace,” ventured Frank.
Beaumont could not decide at once what to answer; but the Colonel, pressing the youngster’s hand warmly, said, “ I trust so.”
Frank glanced gratefully at his benign face and glorious crown of white hair, admiring him as noble young men do admire noble old ones, and thinking him too good for this world.
In the entry hall they encountered Nellie, who, seeing these demonstrations of amity, saluted Frank with a smile and a few words of commonplace civility.
During this brief moment Peyton Beaumont had one of those revulsions of feeling or opinion to which he was subject. A doubt, a scruple, troubled his sense of honor. He had been accustomed to call Judge McAlister an old fox, a Carthaginian, a perfidious rascal. Would a man whom he had thus stigmatized, and as he believed properly stigmatized, be the right man for the district court bench ? Would he render just judgment, and honor the Beaumont recommendation? “What do you think, Kershaw ? ”
The Colonel had none of Peyton’s hereditary prejudice against the McAlisters. He replied gently and gravely, “ Have no fears, Beaumont. Whatever McAlister may be as a politician, in his official character he is a gentleman. There is not a stain upon his professional honor. You have done well.”
“ Kershaw, you relieve me inexpressibly,” murmured Peyton with a sigh of deep satisfaction. Then, advancing quickly to Frank, he took his hand and said, “ I trust, with you, that this begins a lasting peace.”
As the young man heard this phrase, which filled him with inexpressible joy, he heard also a rapid step in the veranda. He did not turn, but the others did, and saw Randolph Armitage advancing, his hand under his coat as if seeking a pistol, and his drunken, fierce eyes fixed on Frank McAlister.
IT must be remembered that Randolph Armitage had passed several days on the verge of delirium tremens, either caring nothing for the exodus of his wife and children, or unaware of it.
But on recovering his wits he wanted his Israel back, as is apt to be the case with abandoned Pharaohs of our household Egypts, however vicious and unloving they may be. It is such a disgrace to be deserted, and involves such a diminution of sweet authority, besides loss of domestic comforts !
Conceited, confident in himself, passionately wilful and headlong, he soon determined to go in pursuit of Nellie, believing that at the sight of him she would fall under the old fascination and return to her wifely allegiance. Bentley objected, but only a little ; for not only was lie afraid of his brother, but he was in love with Kate; and loving Kate, he could not desire that Armitages and Beaumonts should be separated forever.
Sober when he left home, Randolph was quiet in demeanor and even somewhat anxious in spirit. He feared lest his wife or her sister might have told tales on him ; and, if that were the case, he would probably have to listen to a remonstrance from “ old man Beaumont ” ; and he knew that when that gentleman did remonstrate, it was in the style of a tornado. But with the fatuity of a shallow soul, incapable of appreciating its own scoundrelism, or of putting itself fairly in the place of another, he trusted that he could easily turn wrath into favor by a week of sobriety and of the superfine deportment which he prided himself on being able to assume.
At Brownville he heard for the first time that Frank had met Nellie there and gone on with her to Hartland. The news was angering ; the man, being a McAlister, had no right to travel with his family; moreover, it looked as if he had helped the woman to run away. Randolph took a drink and then several drinks. By the time the train started (it was early in the morning, observe) he was in a state to go on drinking. He treated himself at every station, and he accepted treats from fellow-passengers who carried bottles in their wayfarings, as is the genial habit of certain Southerners. Long before he reached Hartland he was fit to shoot an enemy on sight, and to see an enemy in the first man who stared at him. He forgot that the object of his journey was to wheedle back his wife to her married wretchedness. His inflamed brain settled down upon the idea that it was his duty as a gentleman to chastise Frank McAlister for abetting Nellie’s elopement, and for daring to associate himself to Beaumonts. Clenching his fist and muttering, he carried on imaginary conversations with that criminal, reproving him for his impertinence and threatening punishment.
“You ’ve no call to speak to a Beaumont,” he babbled, identifying himself with the famous family feud, for which when sober he did not care a picayune. “ My wife is a Beaumont, sir. She’s above you, sir. My people have nothing to do with your people. I ’m a Beaumont — by kinsmanship. You sha’ n’t travel with my wife, sir. You sha’n’t go in the same car with her. You sha’ n’t lead her away from her home and her husband. We ’ll settle this matter, sir. We 'll settle it now sir.” And so on.
At the Hartland station his first inquiry was for Air. Frank McAlister. “Never saw him in my life,” he explained. “ Don’t know him from Adam. But he’s a tall fellow. He’s a scoundrel. I ’m after him, I’m on his trail. Seen anything of him ? ”
Frank’s person was more exactly described to him by a little, red-eyed, seedy old gentleman, who seemed to be doing “ the dignified standing round ” in the grocery attached to the station, and in whom we may no doubt recognize General Johnson. The General, smelling an affair of honor, and always willing to give chivalry a lift, made prompt inquiries as to the whereabouts of young McAlister, and presently brought word that he had been seen only half an hour before riding in the direction of the Beaumont territories.
“ Gone to attack my relatives ! ” muttered the drunkard, honestly believing at the moment that he loved the Beaumonts. “ I ’ll be there. I ’m on his trail. I ’ll be there.”
He was as mad as Don Quixote. He was in a state to succor people who did not want to be succored, and to right wrongs which had never been given, and to see a caitiff in every chance comer. He was one of those knight-errants who are created by the accolade of a bottle.
Reaching the castle which he meant to save, just as Frank, Beaumont, and Kershaw came out of it, he had no difficulty in recognizing his proposed victim. The obvious amicableness of the interview did not in the least enlighten this lunatic. In the smiling and happy young man, who was shaking hands with the master of the house, he could only see a villain who had deeply injured himself, and who was now assaulting or insulting his wife’s relatives. Clapping his hand on the but of his revolver, he strode, or rather staggered, towards Frank, scarcely observing Beaumont and Kershaw.
It was a singular scene. Frank McAlister, who did not know Armitage by sight, and did not at all suspect danger to himself, towered calmly like a colossal statue, his grave blue eyes just glancing at this menacing apparition, and then turning a look of inquiry upon Beaumont. The white-haired Kershaw, nearly as tall as Frank, was gazing blandly into the face of the young man, unconscious that anything strange was happening, his whole air full of benignity and satisfaction. Beaumont, the only one of the three who both saw and recognized the intruder, had turned squarely to face him, eyes flaming, eyebrows bristling, and hands clenched. It must be remembered that he hated Armitage as a man who had filled Nellie’s life with wretchedness. At the first glimpse of his insolent approach and air of menace he had been filled with such rage, that if he had had a pistol he would perhaps have shot him instantly. In a certain sense he would have been pardonable for such action, for he supposed that the drunkard’s charge was directed against himself. There he stood, undismayed and savage ; all the more defiant because the odds were against him ; all the grimmer because he was unarmed, gouty, and in no case for battle ; as heroic an old Tartar as ever scowled in the face of death. When the reeling desperado was within six feet of him he thundered out, “You scoundrel! ”
Armitage made no answer to Beaumont, and merely stared at him with an indescribably stupid leer, not unlike the stolid, savage grin of an angry baboon. Then, lurching a little to one side, he passed him and pushed straight towards Frank, at the same time drawing his revolver. Halting with difficulty, he looked up in the astonished face of the young giant, and demanded in a sort of yell, “ What y’ here for ? ”
“ I don’t understand you, sir,” replied Frank. “ I don’t know you.”
“What does this mean ? ” exclaimed Beaumont, suddenly realizing that his guest’s life was threatened, and trying to step between him and Armitage.
“ Let me alone,” screamed the drunkard. “ He’s run away with my wife.”
The coarse suspicion thus flung upon Nellie inflamed her father to fury. Without a word he seized his son-inlaw, pushed him toward the low steps which led down from the veranda, and sent him rolling upon the gravelled walk at their base.
Frank had no weapons. He had come unarmed into the house of the hereditary enemies of his house. He had resolved to put it beyond his power to do battle, even in self-defence, under the roof of Kate’s father. But he now stepped forward hastily, calling, “ This is my affair, Mr. Beaumont.”
Kershaw stopped him, placing both hands on his arms, and saying, “ You are our guest. I do not understand this quarrel. But we are responsible for your safety.”
At the same moment Beaumont hastened to the door and shouted, “ Tom ! Vincent ! Nellie ! Here, somebody ! Bring me my pistols ! ”
Then he turned to look, for a shot had been fired. The overthrown maniac, even while struggling to rise, had discharged one barrel of his revolver, aiming, however, as a drunken man would naturally aim, and missing his mark. Kershaw let go of Frank and sank into a rustic chair, as if overcome by the excitement of the scene, or by the weakness of age. Thus freed for action, the youngster plunged towards his unknown and incomprehensible enemy, with the intention of disarming him. Two more shots missed him, and then there was a struggle. Of course it was brief; the inebriate went down almost instantly ; his pistol was wrenched out of his hand and flung away; then a heavy knee was on his breast and a hard fist in his neckcloth.
At this moment the younger Beaumonts, aroused by the firing and by the call of their father, swarmed out upon the veranda, every one with his cocked pistol. Seeing their brotherin-law (of whose domestic misconduct they knew nothing) under the hostile hands of a McAlister, they naturally inferred that here was a fresh outbreak of the feud, and rushed forward to rescue their relative.
“ Stop, gentlemen,” called Kershaw, but so weakly that he was not heard.
“ Boys ! boys ! ” shouted Beaumont, limping after them down the steps. “ You don’t understand it, boys.”
All might have been explained, and further trouble avoided, but at this moment there arrived a rescue for Frank, a rescue which comprehended nothing, and so did harm. It seems that Bruce and Wallace McAlister, learning from their mother what mission their brother had gone upon, and having little confidence in the sense or temper or good faith of their ancient foes, had decided to mount and follow up the adventure. When Armitage’s first pistol-shot resounded, they were in ambush behind a grove not three hundred yards distant. A few seconds more saw them dashing up to the gate which fronted the veranda, and blazing away with their revolvers at the Beaumonts, who were hurrying towards Frank. A sharp exclamation from Tom told that one bullet had taken effect.
“ Come here, brother ! ” shouted Wallace. “ Run for your horse.”
Frank sprang to his feet and stared about him in bewilderment. He saw Tom handling his wounded arm; he saw Vincent and Poinsett aiming towards the road ; turning his head, he saw Bruce and Wallace, also aiming. It was the feud once more; the two families were slaughtering each other ; all hope of peace was perishing in blood. At the top of his speed he ran towards his brothers, calling, “You are mistaken. Stop, stop ! ”
Vincent fired after him. Poinsett, pacific as he was, discharged several barrels, but rather at the men on horseback than at Frank. Tom picked up his pistol with his sound arm and joined in the skirmish. The two McAlisters in the highway, sitting calmly on their plunging horses, returned bullet for bullet. At least thirty shots were exchanged in as many seconds. That amateur of ferocities, chivalrous old General Johnson, ought to have been there to cure his sore eyes with the spectacle. Never before had there been such a general battle between the rival families as was this hasty, unforeseen, unpremeditated combat, the result of a misunderstanding growing naturally out of lifelong hostility, Peyton Beaumont alone, knowing that the mêlée was one huge blunder, took no part in it, and indeed tried hard to stop it, calling, “ Gentlemen, gentlemen ! Hear me one instant.”
When Frank reached his brothers there was a streak of blood down his cheek from a pistol-shot scratch across his temple. Moreover, he was in peril of further harm, for Randolph Armitage had regained his feet, and followed him, and was now reeling through the gate with a drawn bowie-knife.
“For God’s sake, stop!” implored Frank, unaware both of his wound and his danger. “ It was not the Beaumonts who attacked me. It was some drunken brute ! ”
Wallace made no reply, except to spur past his brother upon the pursuing Armitage and knock him senseless with a pistol-but blow over the head.
“ Mount your horse,” shouted Bruce. “ They are reloading. Mount your horse.”
“ I must go and explain,” cried Frank, turning back, “ I forbid you to fire,” he added in a terrible voice. “ Don’t you see her ? ”
His dilated eyes were fixed upon Kate Beaumont, who, with the aid of a negro, was leading Kershaw into the house. When she had disappeared and he believed that she was in safety, he lifted his clasped hands toward heaven, and reeled as if he would have fallen.
“Come, Frank,” begged Wallace, throwing his broken pistol at him in his desperation. “ Do you want us all shot here ? Mount your horse.”
In his confusion and anguish of soul, just understanding that his brothers would not leave him, and that he must ride with them to save their lives, the young man sprang into his saddle and galloped away.
“ I ought to go back,” he said, after he had traversed a few rods. “ I must know if anything has happened to them.”
“This is the second time that you have barely escaped being assassinated by those savages,” replied Bruce, sternly. “ If you are not a maniac, you will come with us.”
“ O, it was a horrible mistake,” groaned Frank. “You meant well, but you were mistaken. The Beaumonts did not attack me. It was that madman.”
“That was Randolph Armitage,” said Wallace. “ Do you mean the fellow that I knocked down ? That was Peyton Beaumont’s son-in-law. He is another of the murdering tribe. They are all of a piece.”
Perplexed as well as wretched, Frank made no reply, and dashed on after his brothers. The retreat was a rapid one, although two of the horses were wounded, and Bruce had received a shot in the thigh which made riding painful. As there was now only one pistol among the McAlisters, and as their enemies were well armed and had fast horses within easy call, it was well to distance pursuit.
But the Beaumonts did not think of giving chase; they were paralyzed by the shock of an immense calamity.
At the firing of the first shot Kate was sitting by a window of her own bedroom, looking out upon the yard through a loop in the curtain. We may guess that her object was to get an unobserved glance at Frank McAlister when he should remount his horse and ride away. She had so much confidence in her grandfather’s influence, that she did not expect any serious trouble.
The explosion of the pistol surprised her into a violent fright. To her imagination the feud was always at hand ; it was a prophet of evil uttering incessant menaces ; it was an assassin ever ready for slaughter. Her instantaneous thought was that the old quarrel had broken out in a deadly combat between her pugnacious brothers and the man whom she knew full well at the moment that she loved. She could not see the veranda from her window, and she hurried down stairs into the front-entry hall. There she heard her father’s voice calling for pistols, and beheld her sister running one way and her brothers another. In her palpitating anxiety to learn all that this turmoil meant she stepped into the veranda, and there discovered Frank McAlister holding down Randolph Armitage. Next she heard a faint voice, — a voice familiar to her and yet somehow strange, — saying earnestly, “ My dear, go in ; you will be hurt.”
Turning her head, she beheld her grandfather in the rustic chair, motioning her back. Had she looked at him closely, she would have perceived that he was very pale, and that he had the air of a man grievously ill or injured. But she was in no condition to see clearly ; the hurry and fright of the occasion made everything vague to her ; she recognized outlines and little more. Accustomed to obey her venerable relative’s slightest wish, she sprang into the house and shielded herself behind a doorpost. Then came the sally of her brothers; then the trampling of horses arriving at full speed, and the calling of strange voices from the road ; then a cracking of pistol-shots, a hissing of bullets, and a shouting of combatants. She was in an agony of terror, or rather of anxiety, believing that all those men out there were being killed, and screaming convulsively in response to the discharges. Without knowing it, she was struggling to get into the veranda ; and without knowing it, she was being held back by her sister.
Next followed a lull. Nellie leaped through the doorway, and Kate at once leaped after her. There were her father and her brothers ; they were staring after Frank McAlister and his brothers ; these last were already turning away. She did not see Tom’s bleeding arm, nor the prostrate Randolph Armitage. Her impression was that every one had escaped harm, and she uttered a shriek of hysterical joy.
But when she turned to look for her grandfather, she was paralyzed with horror. His face was of a dusky or ashy pallor, and he seemed to be sinking from his seat. For a moment she could not go to him ; she stood staring at him with outstretched arms ; her whole life seemed to be centred in her dilated eyes. Then seeing black Cato step out of a window and approach the old man with an air of alarm, she also ran forward and threw herself on her knees before him, with the simple cry of “ O grandpapa ! ”
He was so faint with the shock of his wound and the loss of blood, that he could not answer her and probably could not see her. He sat there inert and apparently unconscious, his grand old head drooping upon his chest, and his long silver hair falling around his face.
Of a sudden Kate, who had been on the point of fainting, was endowed with immense strength. Aided only by the negro boy, who trembled and whimpered, “O Mars Kershaw! Mars Kershaw ! ” she lifted the ponderous frame of her grandfather, and led him reeling into the house.
BY the time that Kate and the negro had laid the Colonel on a settee in the broad entry, he was in a dead faint
The girl, believing that life was extinct, fell on her knees by his side, clasping one of his drooping hands in both hers, and staring at his ashy iace with dilated eyes, the whites showing clear around the iris. Feeling, presently, a little flutter at his wrist, she regained some hope, but only so much hope, only such a terrible hope, as to gasp, “ He is dying.”
Just then the Beaumont men, getting news in some way of the catastrophe, hurried into the hall one after the other and gathered around the senseless octogenarian. Peyton was for a moment so overcome by the calamity that he actually lost his head and called like a frightened child, “ Kershaw 1 Kershaw! ” Then, catching sight of Vincent, he turned sharply upon him and demanded, “ Why don’t you see to him ? ”
“ He is living,” replied the young man, who, it will be remembered, had been bred a physician. “ Cato, bring some wine and cold water. He has swooned away entirely. He must have been hit early.”
“ In my house ! ” groaned Peyton. “ My best friend shot in my own house ! ”
“ Why did n’t he call for help ? ” wondered Tom. “An old gentleman like that — ”
“Ah, Tom, you don’t know him,” muttered the father. “ He is n’t the man to call for help when his friends are under fire.”
“ Are none of you going to do anything ? ” sobbed Kate, turning a piteous and reproachful stare from face to face.
“My dear sister, he has simply fainted,” replied Vincent. “The wound is in the thigh, and probably a mere flesh wound. Let go of him now, and let us get him to bed.”
By this time the hall was crowded with the house-servants, most of them uttering suppressed whimpers of grief, for Kershaw was worshipped by these poor people. Under the direction of Vincent, four of the strongest men took up the settee with its heavy load and bore it to a bedroom, followed by the trembling and crying Kate.
“ I say, Vincent,” whispered Tom. “ When you get through with him, take a look at me. I want to know if any bones are smashed.”
“ You hit ? ” stared the elder brother. He took hold of the wounded arm, moved it up and down, and added, “ It ’s all right, Tom. Nothing broken.”
Meantime Beaumont senior was glowering about him and asking, “Where the deuce is Nellie ? ”
“ She’s jess done gone out to look after Mars Nanny, what’s out thar in the ditch,” explained Cato.
“Ah!” grunted Peyton; “that’s what I wanted to tell her. Drunken beast! I hope he’s dead.”
A little later his heart smote him for thus leaving his eldest daughter to face her perplexities and troubles alone. He sought her out and found that she had already caused her husband to be carried to her room and laid on her bed.
“ Nellie,” he whispered, just glancing with aversion at the soiled, bloody, and still insensible drunkard. “ I don’t want to be hard. He can stay here till he is able to go. But no longer, Nellie ; at least I prefer not. He is the cause of all this. But for him there would have been no difficulty. Besides, he has been such a brute to you,— such a cruel, insulting brute ! I don’t feel that I can have him here long.”
There were tears in Nellie’s eyes. It is not easy for a woman to look at blood and suffering without pity. As she gazed at Randolph’s disfigured face and thought that possibly he might be dying, she could not help remembering that he had once been Handsome Armitage, and that it was not many years since it had been her greatest joy to worship him. Much reason as she had for despising and abhorring him, there had come into her heart now some sympathy and tenderness, and she had almost thought that she might again endure, might even again love him. Nevertheless, she was rational ; she admitted that her father was right; the man must not stay long in this house.
“ I ask nothing more,” she said, shaking her head hysterically. “ Only that you will please send for a physician. I don’t want him to die like a dog.”
“ He shall not,” replied Beaumont, seizing and pressing her arm. “ Send yourself for everything you want.”
Hurrying now to Kershaw’s room, he found that the old man had recovered his consciousness, and was able to speak.
“Ah, my dear friend, you are quite yourself again,” exclaimed Beaumont, his grim face brightening with a joy which made it beautiful.
“ We will hope for the best,” murmured Kershaw. In reality he had little confidence ; there were pains in his body which led him to believe that the ball had glanced upwards and made a mortal wound ; but Kate’s eyes were fixed on him with a piteous anxiety which would not allow him to utter forebodings.
“ O my dear! ” she sighed, partly divining the affectionate heroism of this sublime utterance, and thanking him for it by pressing his wrinkled hand against her wet face.
“ Do not be troubled, my little girl,” he continued, noticing her tears. “ Even if the worst comes, it is well. I have lived a long while with you. I have seen you grow up. It is a great deal. I was an old man when you were born.”
“You were already wounded when you told me to go in,” said Kate. “ O, why did n’t I see it then ? ”
“It would have made little difference,” he replied. “ I could wait.”
It was evident that he spoke with difficulty, and that his faintness was returning.
“ Here, take this, Kershaw,” interposed Beaumont, pouring out a glass of wine. “ My dear child, you must not make him talk, and I think you had better go. She can't help talking to you, Kershaw ; she never could.”
“ O, don’t take me away !” implored the girl, rendered childish in mind and speech by her grief. “ I won’t say a word.”
“ She will do me no harm,” whispered the invalid. 41 She helps me.”
Presently, recovering his strength a little, he added in a clear voice, “ Don’t trouble yourself, my dear Beaumont. You will suffer with this standing. Sit down.”
Quite overcome with this thoughtfulness for himself at such a moment, Peyton turned away with the spasmodic grimace of a man who struggles not to weep. When he had somewhat regained his calmness, he dropped wearily into an arm-chair, and gazed at Kershaw with humid eyes.
The spectacle was worthy of his or of any man’s wonder and worship. In that dusky face, seeming already stained with death, — in that noble face, sublimely sweet with native goodness and with the good thoughts and deeds of a long life, — there was not a look, not even a passing paroxysm of selfishness. Neither pain, nor the loss of vital power, nor the belief that he was drawing near his end, could make Kershaw utter a complaint or a claim for pity. If he had words that were pathetic, it was because they were touching with self-forgetfulness, eloquent with sympathy for others.
After a while Dr. Mattieson, who had been sent for in all haste, was shown in by Vincent. Then Beaumont and Kate had to leave the chamber in order to allow of a thorough examination of the wound. “ Will they hurt him ? ” asked the daughter in the crying tone of a grieving child ; and then, without waiting for an answer, she fled to her room and locked the door. She felt that her grief had reduced her to a state of moral weakness which was infantile ; and she had resolved to seek strength at the foot of that invisible throne which pierces the heavens. Meantime the father walked softly up and down the hall, expecting evil tidings, but striving to hope. At last Vincent came out with a grave face.
“ What is it ? ” demanded Beaumont, dragging the young man aside. “ Not bad, I hope.”
“Very bad,” said Vincent. “ The ball has glanced upward, and probably penetrated the abdomen. There is only too much danger of peritonitis, and of course of death.”
“ Death ! ” whispered Beaumont, his ruddy face turning to a brownish pallor. “O my God, no, Vincent!” he absolutely begged, smiting his nails into his palms. “ We can’t have it so. Kershaw to die ! Kershaw murdered in my house ! O no, Vincent ! ”
His first thought was grief; his next was vengeance. His eyes were reddened with tears, but they were also bloodshot with rage.
“ O, what an account those brutes have opened for themselves ! ” he went on hoarsely. “ They have murdered the noblest man I ever knew. Murdered my best friend. What an account— in the next world — and in this ! God will remember them. But I can’t leave it to him,” he burst out, after a pause. “ I and my boys must take them in hand. Lest God should forget,” he added, wiping away with his short, thick, hairy hand the sweat of grief and wrath which stood on his dark forehead.
Vincent made no demonstrations and muttered few words. He was a calmer and more taciturn man than his father, and valued himself on doing more than he looked or said. He scarcely scowled and his voice was almost soft as he replied, “ No one will blame us, whatever happens.”
“ You are right,” returned Beaumont. “ Public opinion will be with us. Hartland can’t support desperadoes who shoot such men as Kershaw.”
Presently a new thought and a very painful one startled him for a moment out of these ideas of vengeance.
“ Who will tell this to Kate ? ” he asked. Almost immediately he added with vehemence, “ I can’t.”
Vincent, though not a very sensitive or affectionate being, was perplexed and made no answer.
“ She worships her grandfather,” groaned Beaumont. “ I can’t tell her he is going to die.”
Still Vincent offered no suggestion.
“I won’t tell her,” decided the father. “ Time will let her know all.”
“It is the best way,” assented Vincent. “ Distribute a great emotion over as many pulsations as possible. It is generally the best way.”
During the afternoon Kershaw rallied a little, and even the physicians began to have faint hopes of him, impossible as it seemed that so old a man could survive such a wound. But early in the evening the horrible agony of peritonitis, or inflammation of the abdominal case, declared itself. Wonderful as was the self-control of the invalid, he could not help moaning and writhing under his torture. No sleep ; opiates could not render nature insensible to that pain ; all night he was conscious and on the rack.
When in the morning Kate succeeded in fighting her way with tears and pleadings to his bedside, he was a pitiable spectacle. His face had fallen ; his forehead, nose, and chin were prominent ; his eyes were of a leaden blue, and surrounded by dark circles ; his complexion, notwithstanding the fever, was ashy and deathlike. His natural expression of benignity had been so changed by long straining against intolerable anguish, that, had the girl seen him thus otherwhere, she would not at once have recognized him. Now and then there was a moan ; it was a feeble one, it is true, because he tried still to hold himself under restraint; but, breaking as it did through a lifelong habit of self-command, it was significant of immense agony. It was like the last ripple, the feeble remnant, of a mighty wave, which dies almost without noise among the reeds of a sloping shore. Little in itself, it told of a tempest.
“ My dear,” he whispered to Kate as she sat down paralyzed by his side. “ I wish to see our clergyman.”
“ O, you are not going to die,” she burst out, wringing her hands.
“ My dear, have they not told you ? ” he answered. “ Doubtless they meant it in kindness. Neither did they tell me. But it is so.”
Kate was crushed. She could neither weep nor speak. She seemed to herself to be of stone.
“Will you send for him ? ” he asked, after waiting for some time in patient silence, striving meanwhile to suppress all utterance of pain.
Starting from her chair, Kate reeled out of the room on her awful errand, moving by jerks, as if she were a piece of imperfect mechanism. During the half-hour which elapsed before the arrival of the clergyman, she walked the house without speaking, except to whisper now and then, “ It is n’t true, it is n’t true.” Her reason, tried for months past by trouble after trouble, nearly sank under this new catastrophe. She retained intelligence enough, however, to know that her agitation would harm the invalid if he should witness it, and to keep away from the sickroom until she should be able to reenter it calmly. Her father and sister, fearing for her sanity, sought to condole with her, and to hold her quiet with caressing arms.
“ Let her walk,” whispered Vincent. “If she could be got to gallop twenty miles, it would be still better. I never saw such infatuation,” he muttered to himself. “However, he is like her, and we are not like her. It is a case of natural sympathy, exaggerated by circumstances.”
When Kate saw the minister arrive and go in to Kershaw, she suddenly became calm, and went to her own room, there, no doubt, to pray for strength and resignation.
The Rev. Arthur Gilyard was a man of twenty-eight or thirty, tall and slender, slightly bald, his skin fair and very pale, with calm, serious blue eyes, and an expression of natural firmness alternating with an acquired gentleness. Firm as he was, however, and disciplined as he had been by the trials and duties of his profession, he faltered when he saw the death-marked face of his venerable parishioner, one of the chief supporters of his little church, and his own model of deportment and life.
“ My dear friend and brother,” he began, and stopped there, overcome by grief. His next words were forced from him by deep humility of soul, arising from a sense of his own unworthiness to stand forward as a preceptor to this elder disciple, this man to whom from his childhood he had looked up as his superior. “ I have come to you,” he said, “to learn how to die.”
“ My dear pastor, I cannot teach you,” sighed Kershaw. “ Pray that we may both be taught.”
But we will not ascend farther into the solemnities of this more than earthly interview.
When it was over, the dying man sent word to his son-in-law that he wished to see him alone.
“ Well, Kershaw, what can I do for you ? ” asked Beaumont with assumed cheerfulness as he seated himself by the bedside and took the hand of his revered friend.
“ Beaumont, you are a kind-hearted man,” murmured the Colonel. “ You have warm and generous sympathies.”
“ Ah, Kershaw, I am a poor, rough, old fellow,” returned Peyton, shaking his head.
“ Beaumont, you love your children,” continued the invalid. “ I wish you could love your fellow-men as you do your children.”
“ I do love some of them. I have loved you, Kershaw — ”
Here he stopped a moment, his hard face twitching with emotion, and his grim eyes filling with tears.
“ If they were all like you, it would be easy,” he went on. “ But some of them are such — such rascals ! Those McAlisters, for instance. How can a man love those savages ? ”
“ I was thinking of them,” resumed Kershaw. “ You know, Beaumont, that I have wanted you all my Hie — my latter life, at least — to be at peace with them. I want it now.”
“ But they have just shot you, Kershaw,” blurted out Peyton. “ I could have forgiven them before. Now I can’t.”
“ I can,” said the dying man, fixing his eyes solemnly on his friend.
Beaumont bowed his face under that gaze.
“ ‘ Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,’ ” continued Kershaw, his voice falling to a whisper under a paroxysm of pain.
Beaumont shook his iron-gray head, as if the text proffered aid to his vengeance, and he could not accept it.
“ It was a misunderstanding,” went on Kershaw. “ Those young men thought we were attacking their brother.
“ But they knew you,” persisted Peyton. “ They knew that you never did harm to a human being. Why should they fire so as to hit you? The miserable, barbarous wretches ! Kershaw, I never can forgive them, never! ”
After a short silence, during which he wrestled with his agony, the old man said deliberately, “ We South-Carolinians are not a law-abiding people.”
“ Not a law-abiding people ! ” exclaimed Peyton, in such surprise that he forgot where he was and spoke quite loudly.
“ No. We take punishment into our own hands. We cannot wait for the law. We do not trust the law. We make of ourselves judge, jury, and executioner. The consequence is that the State is full of homicide. It is wrong, Beaumont. It is a violation of the faith of man in man. It strikes at the base of society. It tends to barbarism.”
“ Kershaw, you astonish me,” said Peyton, who thought his friend’s reason was beginning to fail. “ But are you not tiring yourself? Had n’t you better rest a little ? ”
“ I cannot rest, Beaumont. I must not rest until I have an answer from you. I ask you not to avenge me upon the McAlisters. Can’t you promise it to me ? Beaumont, can’t you ? ”
“Ah, Kershaw, you drive me to the wall,” groaned Peyton. “Well — yes, I must promise. I do.”
“ And will you beg of your sons not to avenge me ? ”
“ Yes, I will do even that,” assented Peyton. He did not want to agree to so much, but he was fairly driven to it by a sudden spasm in Kershaw’s face, which he thought was the invasion of death.
A glass of wine partially restored the invalid, and he continued his plea for humanity.
“ I know that I can trust you,” he whispered. “ You always keep your word. And now, if I could obtain one other promise from you, I should die contented. Can you not forgive these men altogether, Beaumont ? Can you not make peace with them ? Has not this feud shed blood enough ? Remember that I am one of its victims. I have a right to bear witness against it. Can you not, for my sake as well as for the sake of humanity, for the sake of those whom it still threatens, and for the sake of their Creator and yours, can you not promise to do your utmost to end it ? ”
It may seem strange that Peyton Beaumont should not have told some gentle falsehood with regard to making peace, for the purpose of soothing his dying friend. But this rough man was profoundly honest; he would not have uttered a white lie, if he had thought of it; and he did not even think of it. No, it was not in his nature to promise to end the feud, unless he meant to end it. So, with Kershaw looking at him, as it were, from the other side of the grave, he remained silent until he could come to a decision. When it was reached, such as it was, he uttered it.
44 Yes, Kershaw,” he said. 44 I will — yes, I will do — the best I can. You know how old this thing is. You know how it is tangled up with our lives and our very natures. Don’t make me promise more than I can perform. But I will remember what you ask, Kershaw. I will do what I can.”
44 It is enough,” said the invalid. “ I trust you and thank you.”
Here he fainted quite away and was thought for a time to be dead; but the charge of vitality was not yet exhausted, and he came back to consciousness. It was during this insensibility that Lawson arrived and was shown into the room. The dying man received him with a smile which triumphed over a spasm of agony.
“ Lawson, I am glad to see you,” he said. 44 I bear this the better for seeing you once more. But I can only say a few words. I must bid you good by quickly. You are a good man, Lawson ; you have a gentle, loving heart. I think you never wished a human being harm. I have seen the sweetness of your soul and loved you for it. You are one of the children of peace. God reward you, Lawson. God bless you.”
It was visible at this moment that the Major was not that shallow and merely babbling being which many people judged him to be. Completely overwhelmed by this parting from the man whom he loved and reverenced above all other men, he could not utter a word beyond a convulsive, 44 Kershaw ! ” Then he knelt down suddenly, hid his face in the bedclothes, and sobbed audibly.
The invalid next bade a calm farewell to Nellie Armitage, to her three brothers, and to Mrs. Chester.
44 My dear young friends, I have left something for each of you,” was one thing which he said to them. “And in my will I have ventured to beg that you—you young men, I mean—will strive to be at peace with your fellowmen. I trust that you will not be vexed with me for that exhortation, and that you will bear it in mind. God guide and bless you all, my dear friends.”
After this he was left alone, at his own gently hinted request, with Peyton Beaumont and Kate.
44 Hold fast to my hand,” he whispered to the girl. “ I go straight from you to your mother.”
At these words the tears burst loose from Beaumont’s eyelids, and rolled down his grim, unshaven face.
44 Kershaw, give her my love,” he said with impulsive faith, alluding to his dead wife. “ But I never was worthy of her. God forgive me.”
Kate, with the hand that was free, reached out and took her father’s hand. She was not crying ; her grief was too hard to give forth tears ; but with all her suffering, she could pity.
“ I will be good to her child, — to my child,” added Beaumont, with a sob.
“ God help you so,” replied Kershaw in a voice so solemn that it seemed to come from the other world. “ God be with you both.”
These were the last rational words that he spoke. For some time, unobservedly to those about him and unconsciously to himself, he had been struggling, not only with weakness and anguish, but also with the commencement of that delirium which invariably results from the intense inflammation of peritonitis. He had, as it were, fought with devils for his reason in order that he might bid farewell to those whom he loved, and exhort them to a better life. This duty accomplished, he fell on his field of victory. Incoherence came upon him, like reeling upon a wounded hero ; and then followed hours on hours of wandering, without one gleam of sanity. The next stage was come ; there were hours more of sleep, or rather of stupor ; he saw nothing, heard nothing, and, happy at least in this, felt nothing. Then, before any one perceived it, he was dead.
“ He is gone,” said Beaumont, taking one of his daughter’s hands, and passing an arm around her waist, as if he would prevent her from flying also to the other world.
For a minute she made no reply, her whole soul being absorbed in gazing into the face of the dead and searching there for some signs of life. At last she said with strange deliberation, “ All the confidence and sympathy that it has taken all my life to create are gone in one moment.”
Having thus summed up the catastrophe that had overtaken her, she fell back on her father’s shoulder, pallid and apparently senseless.
J. W. DeForest.