A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art,
SEPTIMIUS went into his house, and sat in his study for some hours, in that unpleasant state of feeling which a man of brooding thought is apt to experience when the world around him is in a state of intense action, which he finds it impossible to sympathize with. There seemed to be a stream rushing past him, by which, even if he plunged into the midst of it, he could not be wet. He felt himself strangely ajar with the human race, and would have given much either to be in full accord with it, or to be separated from it forever.
“ I am dissevered from it. It is my doom to be only a spectator of life ; to look on as one apart from it. Is it not well, therefore, that, sharing none of its pleasures and happiness, I should be free of its fatalities, its brevity ? How cold I am now, while this whirlpool of public feeling is eddying around me. It is as if I had not been born of woman ! ”
Thus it was, that, drawing wild inferences from phenomena of the mind and heart common to people who, by some morbid action within themselves, are set ajar with the world, Septimius continued still to come round to that strange idea of undyingness which had recently taken possession of him. And yet he was wrong in thinking himself cold, and that he felt no sympathy in the fever of patriotism that was throbbing through his countrymen. He was restless as a flame ; he could not fix his thoughts upon his book; he could not sit in his chair, but kept pacing to and fro, while through the open window came noises to which his imagination gave diverse interpretation. Now it was a distant drum ; now shouts ; by and by there came the rattle of musketry, that seemed to proceed from some point more distant than the village ; a regular roll, then a ragged volley, then scattering shots. Unable any longer to preserve this unnatural indifference, Septimius snatched his gun, and, rushing out of the house, climbed the abrupt hillside behind, whence he could see a long way towards the village, till a slight bend hid the uneven road. It was quite vacant, not a passenger upon it. But there seemed to be Confusion in that direction ; an unseen and inscrutable trouble, blowing thence towards him, intimated by vague sounds, — by no sounds. Listening eagerly, however, he at last fancied a mustering sound of the drum ; then it seemed as if it were coming towards him ; while in advance rode another horseman, the same kind of headlong messenger, in appearance, who had passed the house with his ghastly cry of alarum ; then appeared scattered countrymen, with guns in their hands, straggling across fields. Then he caught sight of the regular array of British soldiers, filling the road with their front, and marching along as firmly as ever, though at a quick pace, while he fancied that the officers looked watchfully around. As he looked a shot rang sharp from the hillside towards the village; the smoke curled up, and Septimius saw a man stagger and fall in the midst of the troops. Septimius shuddered ; it was so like murder that he really could not tell the difference ; his knees trembled beneath him ; his breath grew short, not with terror, but with some new sensation of awe.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1872, by JAMES R. OSGOOD & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Another shot or two came almost simultaneously from the wooded height, but without any effect, that Septimius could perceive. Almost at the same moment a company of the British soldiers wheeled from the main body, and, dashing out of the road, climbed the hill, and disappeared into the wood and shrubbery that veiled it. There were a few straggling shots, by whom fired, or with what effect, was invisible, and meanwhile the main body of the enemy proceeded along the road. They had now advanced so nigh that Septimius was strangely assailed by the idea that he might, with the gun in his hand, fire right into the midst of them, and select any man of that now hostile band to be a victim. How strange, how strange it is, this deep, wild passion that nature has implanted in us to be the death of our fellowcreatures, and which coexists at the same time with horror ! Septimius levelled his weapon, and drew it up again ; he marked a mounted officer, who seemed to be in chief command, whom he knew that he could kill. But no ! he had really no such purpose. Only it was such a temptation. And in a moment the horse would leap, the officer would fall and lie there in the dust of the road, bleeding, gasping, breathing in spasms, breathing no more.
While the young man, in these unusual circumstances, stood watching the marching of the troops, he heard the noise of rustling boughs, and the voices of men, and soon understood that the party, which he had seen separate itself from the main body and ascend the hill, was now marching along on the hill top, the long ridge which, with a gap or two, extended as much as a mile from the village. One of these gaps occurred a little way from where Septimius stood. They were acting as flank guard, to prevent the uproused people from coming so close to the main body as to fire upon it. He looked and saw that the detachment of British was plunging down one side of this gap, with intent to ascend the other,, so that they would pass directly over the spot where he stood ; a slight removal to one side, among the small bushes, would conceal him. He stepped aside accordingly, and from his concealment, not without drawing quicker breaths, beheld the party draw near. They were more intent upon the space between them and the main body than upon the dense thicket of birch-trees, pitch-pines, sumach, and dwarf oaks, which, scarcely yet beginning to bud into leaf, lay on the other side, and in which Septimius lurked.
[Describe how their faces affected him, passing so near ; how strange they seemed.]
They had all passed, except an officer who brought up the rear, and who had perhaps been attracted by some slight motion that Septimius made,— some rustle in the thicket ; for he stopped, fixed his eyes piercingly towards the spot where he stood, and levelled a light fusil which he carried. “ Stand out, or I shoot,” said he.
Not to avoid the shot, but because his manhood felt a call upon it not to skulk in obscurity from an open enemy, Septimius at once stood forth, and confronted the same handsome young officer with whom those fierce words had passed on account of his rudeness to Rose Garfield. Septimius’s fierce Indian blood stirred in him, and gave a murderous excitement.
“ Ah, it is you ! ” said the young officer, with a haughty smile. “ You meant, then, to take up with my hint of shooting at me from behind a hedge ? This is better. Come, we have in the first place the great quarrel between me a king’s soldier, and you a rebel ; next our private affair, on account of yonder pretty girl. Come, let us take a shot on either score ! ”
The young officer was so handsome, so beautiful, in budding youth ; there was such a free, gay petulance in his manner; there seemed so little of real evil in him ; he put himself on equal ground with the rustic Septimius so generously, that the latter, often so morbid and sullen, never felt a greater kindness for a fellow-man than at this moment for this youth.
“ I have no enmity towards you,” said he ; “go in peace.”
“ No enmity ! ” replied the officer. “ Then why were you here with your gun amongst the shrubbery ? But I have a mind to do my first deed of arms on you ; so give up your weapon, and come with me as prisoner.”
“ A prisoner ! ” cried Septimius, that Indian fierceness that was in him arousing itself, and thrusting up its malign head like a snake. “ Never ! If you would have me, you must take my dead body.”
“ Ah, well, you have pluck in you, I see, only it needs a considerable stirring. Come, this is a good quarrel of ours. Let us fight it out. Stand where you are, and I will give the word of command. Now ; ready, aim, fire ! ”
As the young officer spoke the three last words, in rapid succession, he and his antagonist brought their firelocks to the shoulder, aimed and fired. Septimius felt, as it were, the sting of a gadfly passing across his temple, as the Englishman’s bullet grazed it; but, to his surprise and horror (for the whole thing scarcely seemed real to him), he saw the officer give a great start, drop his fusil, and stagger against a tree, with his hand to his breast. He endeavored to support himself erect, but, failing in the effort, beckoned to Septimius.
“Come, my good friend,” said he, with that playful, petulant smile flitting over his face again. “ It is my first and last fight. Let me down as softly as you can on mother earth, the mother of both you and me ; so we are brothers ; and this may be a brotherly act, though it does not look so, nor feel so. Ah ! that was a twinge indeed ! ”
“ Good God ! ” exclaimed Septimius. “ I had no thought of this, no malice towards you in the least! ”
“ Nor I towards you,” said the young man. “It was boy’s play, and the end of it is that I die a boy, instead of living forever, as perhaps I otherwise might.”
“ Living forever ! ” repeated Septimius, his attention arrested, even at that breathless moment, by words that rang so strangely on what had been his brooding thought.
“ Yes ; but I have lost my chance,” said the young officer. Then, as Septimius helped him to lie against the little hillock of a decayed and buried stump, “ Thank you ; thank you. If you could only call back one of my comrades to hear my dying words. But I forgot. You have killed me, and they would take your life.”
In truth, Septimius was so moved and so astonished, that he probably would have called back the young man’s comrades, had it been possible ; but, marching at the swift rate of men in peril, they had already gone far onward, in their passage through the shrubbery that had ceased to rustle behind them.
“ Yes ; I must die here ! ” said the young man, with a forlorn expression, as of a school-boy far away from home,
“ and nobody to see me now but you, who have killed me. Could you fetch me a drop of water? I have a great thirst.”
Septimius, in a dream of horror and pity, rushed down the hillside ; the house was empty, for Aunt Keziah had gone for shelter and sympathy to some of the neighbors. lie filled a jug with cold water, and hurried back to the hill-top, finding the young officer looking paler and more death-like within those few moments.
“ I thank you, my enemy that was, my friend that is,” murmured he, faintly smiling. “ Methinks, next to the father and mother that gave us birth, the next most intimate relation must be with the man that slays us, who introduces us to the mysterious world to which this is but the portal. You and 1 are singularly connected, doubt it not, in the scenes of the unknown world.”
“ O, believe me,” cried Septimius, “ I grieve for you like a brother !”
“ I see it, my dear friend,” said the young officer ; “ and though my blood is on your hands, I forgive you freely, if there is anything to forgive. But I am dying, and have a few words to say, which you must hear. You have slain me in fair fight, and my spoils, according to the rules and customs of warfare, belong to the victor. Hang up my sword and fusil over your chimneyplace, and tell your children, twenty years hence, how they were won. My purse, keep it or give it to the poor. There is something here, next my heart, which I would fain have sent to the address which I will give you.”
Septimius, obeying his directions, took from bis breast a miniature that hung round it; but, on examination, it proved that the bullet had passed directly through it, shattering the ivory, so that the woman’s face it represented was quite destroyed.
“ Ah ! that is a pity,” said the young man ; and yet Septimius thought that there was something light and contemptuous mingled with the pathos in his tones. " Well, but send it ; cause it to be transmitted, according to the address.”
He gave Septimius, and made him take down on a tablet which he had about him, the name of a hall in one of the midland counties of England.
“Ah, that old place,” said he, “ with its oaks, and its lawn, and its park, and its Elizabethan gables ! I little thought I should die here, so far away, in this barren Yankee land. Where will you bury me ? ”
As Septimius hesitated to answer, the young man continued : “ I would like to have lain in the little old church at Whitnash, which comes up before me now, with its low, gray tower, and the old yew-tree in front, hollow with age, and the village clustering about it, with its thatched houses. I would be loath to lie in one of your Yankee graveyards, for I have a distaste for them, - - though I love you, my slayer. Bury me here, on this very spot. A soldier lies best where he falls.”
“ Here, in secret?” exclaimed Septimius.
“ Yes ; there is no consecration in your Puritan burial-grounds,” said the dying youth, some of that queer narrowness of English Churchism coming into his mind. “So bury me here, in my soldier’s dress. Ah ! and my watch ! I have done with time, and you, perhaps, have a long lease of it; so take it, not as spoil, but as my parting gift. And that reminds me of one other thing. Open that pocket-book which you have in your hand.”
Septimius did so, and by the officer’s direction took from one of its compartments a folded paper, closely written in a crabbed hand ; it was considerably worn in the outer folds, but not within. There was also a small silver key in the pocket-book.
“ I leave it with you,” said the officer; “it was given me by an uncle, a learned man of science, who intended me great good by what he there wrote. Reap the profit, if you can. Sooth to say, I never read beyond the first lines of the paper.”
Septimius was surprised, or deeply impressed, to see that through this paper, as well as through the miniature, had gone his fatal bullet,—straight through the midst; and some of the young man’s blood, saturating his dress, had wet the paper all over. He hardly thought himself likely to derive any good from what it had cost a human life, taken (however uncriminally) by his own hands, to obtain.
“ Is there anything more that I can do for you ? ” asked he, with genuine sympathy and sorrow, as he knelt by his fallen foe’s side.
“ Nothing, nothing, I believe,” said he. “ There was one thing I might have confessed ; if there were a holy man here, I might have confessed, and asked his prayers ; for though I have lived few years, it has been long enough to do a great wrong. But I will try to pray in my secret soul. Turn my face towards the trunk of the tree, for I have taken my last look at the world. There, let me be now.”
Septimius did as the young man requested, and then stood leaning against one of the neighboring pines, watching his victim with a tender concern that made him feel as if the convulsive throes that passsed through his frame were felt equally in his own. There was a murmuring from the youth’s lips which seemed to Septimius swift, soft, and melancholy, like the voice of a child when it has some naughtiness to confess to its mother at bedtime ; contrite, pleading, yet trusting. So it continued for a few minutes ; then there was a sudden start and struggle, as if he were striving to rise ; his eyes met those of Septimius with a wild, troubled gaze, but as the latter caught him in his arms, he was dead. Septimius laid the body softly down on the leafstrewn earth, and tried, as he had heard was the custom with the dead, to compose the features distorted by the dying agony. He then flung himself on the ground at a little distance, and gave himself up to the reflections suggested by the strange occurrences of the last hour.
He had taken a human life ; and, however the circumstances might excuse him, — might make the thing even something praiseworthy, and that would be called patriotic, — still, it was not at once that a fresh country youth could see anything but horror in the blood with which his hand was stained. It seemed so dreadful to have reduced this gay, animated, beautiful being to a lump of dead flesh for the flies to settle upon, and which in a few hours would begin to decay ; which must be put forthwith into the earth, lest it should be a horror to men’s eyes ; that delicious beauty for woman to love; that strength and courage to make him famous among men, — all come to nothing; all probabilities of life in one so gifted ; the renown, the position, the pleasures, the profits, the keen ecstatic joy, — this never could be made up, — all ended quite ; for the dark doubt descended upon Septimius, that, because of the very fitness that was in this youth to enjoy this world, so much the less chance was there of his being fit for any other world. What could it do for him there, — this beautiful grace and elegance of feature, — where there was no form, nothing tangible nor visible ? what good that readiness and aptness for associating with all created things, doing his part, acting, enjoying, when, under the changed conditions of another state of being, all this adaptedness would fail? Had he been gifted with permanence on earth, there could not have been a more admirable creature than this young man ; but as his fate had turned out, he was a mere grub, an illusion, something that nature had held out in mockery, and then withdrawn. A weed might grow from his dust now ; that little spot on the barren hill-top, where he had desired to be buried, would be greener for some years to come, and that was all the difference. Septimius could not get beyond the earthiness ; his feeling was as if, by an act of violence, he had forever cut off a happy human existence. And such was his own love of life and clinging to it, peculiar to dark, sombre natures, and which lighter and gayer ones can never know, that he shuddered at his deed, and at himself, and could with difficulty bear to be alone with the corpse of his victim, — trembled at the thought of turning his face towards him.
Yet he did so, because he could not endure the imagination that the dead youth was turning his eyes towards him as he lay ; so he came and stood beside him, looking down into his white, upturned face. But it was wonderful ! What a change had come over it since, only a few moments ago, he looked at that death - contorted countenance ! Now there was a high and sweet expression upon it, of great joy and surprise, and yet a quietude diffused throughout, as if the peace being so very great was what had surprised him. The expression was like a light gleaming and glowing within him. Septimius had often, at a certain space of time after sunset, looking westward, seen a living radiance in the sky,—the last light of the dead day, that seemed just the counterpart of this death-light in the young man’s face. It was as if the youth were just at the gate of heaven, which, swinging softly open, let the inconceivable glory of the blessed city shine upon his face, and kindle it up with gentle, undisturbing astonishment and purest joy. It was an expression contrived by God’s providence to comfort ; to overcome all the dark auguries that the physical ugliness of death inevitably creates, and to prove, by the divine glory on the face, that the ugliness is a delusion. It was as if the dead man himself showed his face out of the sky, with heaven’s blessing on it, and bade the afflicted be of good cheer, and believe in immortality.
Septimius remembered the young man’s injunctions to bury him there, on the hill, without uncovering the body ; and though it seemed a sin and shame to cover up that beautiful body with earth of the grave, and give it to the worm, yet he resolved to obey.
Be it confessed that, beautiful as the dead form looked, and guiltless as Septimius must be held in causing his death, still he felt as if he should be eased when it was under the ground. He hastened down to the house, and brought up a shovel and a pickaxe, and began his unwonted task of grave-digging, delving earnestly a deep pit, sometimes pausing in his toil, while the sweat-drops poured from him, to look at the beautiful clay that was to occupy it. Sometimes he paused, too, to listen to the shots that pealed in the far distance, towards the east, whither the battle had long since rolled out of reach and almost out of hearing. It seemed to have gathered about itself the whole life of the land, attending it along its bloody course in a struggling throng of shouting, shooting men, so still and solitary was everything left behind it. It seemed the very midland solitude of the world where Septimius was delving at the grave. He and his dead were alone together, and he was going to put the body under the sod, and be quite alone.
The grave was now deep, and Septimius was stooping down into its depths among dirt and pebbles, levelling off the bottom, which he considered to be profound enough to hide the young man’s mystery forever, when a voice spoke above him ; a solemn, quiet voice, which he knew well.
“ Septimius ! what are you doing here?”
He looked up and saw the minister.
“ I have slain a man in fair fight,” answered he, “ and am about to bury him as he requested. I am glad you are come. You, reverend sir, can fitly say a prayer at his obsequies. I am glad for my own sake ; for it is very lonely and terrible to be here.”
He climbed out of the grave, and, in reply to the minister’s inquiries, communicated to him the events of the morning, and the youth’s strange wish to be buried here, without having his remains subjected to the hands of those who would prepare it for the grave. The minister hesitated.
“ At an ordinary time,” said he, “ such a singular request would of course have to be refused. Your own safety, the good and wise rules that make it necessary that all things relating to death and burial should be done publicly and in order, would forbid it.”
“Yes,” replied Septimius; “but, it may be, scores of men will fall to-day, and be flung into hasty-graves without funeral rites ; without its ever being known, perhaps, what mother has lost her son. I cannot but think that I ought to perform the dying request of the youth whom I have slain. He trusted in me not to uncover his body myself, nor to betray it to the hands of others.”
“ A singular request,” said the good minister, gazing with deep interest at the beautiful dead face, and graceful, slender, manly figure. “ What could have been its motive ? But no matter. I think, Septimius, that you are bound to obey his request ; indeed, having promised him, nothing short of an impossibility should prevent your keeping your faith. Let us lose no time, then.”
With few but deeply solemn rites the young stranger was laid by the minister and the youth who slew him in his grave. A prayer was made, and then Septimius, gathering some branches and twigs, spread them over the face that was turned upward from the bottom of the pit, into which the sun gleamed downward, throwing its rays so as almost to touch it. The twigs partially hid it, but still its white shone through. Then the minister threw a handful of earth upon it, and, accustomed as he was to burials, tears fell from his eyes along with the mould.
“ It is sad,” said he, “ this poor young man, coming from opulence, no doubt, a dear English home, to die here for no end, one of the first-fruits of a bloody war, — so much privately sacrificed. But let him rest, Septimius. I am sorry that he fell by your hand, though it involves no shadow of a crime. But death is a thing too serious not to melt into the nature of a man like you.”
“It does not weigh upon my conscience, I think,” said Septimius ;
“ though I cannot but feel sorrow, and wish my hand were as clean as yesterday. It is, indeed, a dreadful thing to take human life.”
“It is a most serious thing,” replied the minister ; “but perhaps we are apt to over-estimate the importance of death at any particular moment. If the question were whether to die or to live forever, then, indeed, scarcely anything should justify the putting a fellow-creature to death. But since it only shortens his earthly life, and brings a little forward a change which, since God permits it, is, we may conclude, as fit to take place then as at any other time, it alters the case. I often think that there are many things that occur to us in our daily life, many unknown crises, that are more important to us than this mysterious circumstance of death, which we deem the most important of all. All we understand of it is, that it takes the dead person away from our knowledge of him, which, while we live with him, is so very scanty.”
“ You estimate at nothing, it seems, his earthly life, which might have been so happy.”
“ At next to nothing,” said the minister ; “since, as I have observed, it must, at any rate, have closed so soon.”
Septimius thought of what the young man, in his last moments, had said of his prospect or opportunity of living a life of interminable length, and which prospect he had bequeathed to himself. But of this he did not speak to the minister, being, indeed, ashamed to have it supposed that he would put any serious weight on such a bequest, although it might be that the dark enterprise of his nature had secretly seized upon this idea, and, though yet sane enough to be influenced by a fear of ridicule, was busy incorporating it with his thoughts.
So Septimius smoothed down the young stranger’s earthy bed, and returned to his home, where he hung up the sword over the mantel-piece in his study, and hung the gold watch, too, on a nail, — the first time he had ever had possession of such a thing. Nor did he now feel altogether at ease in his mind about keeping it, — the timemeasurer of one whose mortal life he had cut off. A splendid watch it was, round as a turnip. There seems to be a natural right in one who has slain a man to step into his vacant place in all respects ; and from the beginning of man’s dealings with man this right has been practically recognized, whether among warriors or robbers, as paramount to every other. Yet Septimius could not feel easy in availing himself of this right. He therefore resolved to keep the watch, and even the sword and fusil, — which were less questionable spoils of war, — only till he should be able to restore them to some representative of the young officer. The contents of the purse, in accordance with the request of the dying youth, he would expend in relieving the necessities of those whom the war (now broken out, and of which no one could see the limit) might put in need of it. The miniature, with its broken and shattered face, that had so vainly interposed itself between its wearer and death, had been sent to its address.
But as to the mysterious document, the written paper, that he had laid aside without unfolding it, but with a care that betokened more interest in it than in either gold or weapon, or even in the golden representative of that earthly time on which he set so high a value. There was something tremulous in his touch of it ; it seemed as if he were afraid of it by the mode in which he hid it away, and secured himself from it, as it were.
This done, the air of the room, the low-ceilinged eastern room where he studied and thought, became too close for him, and he hastened out ; for he was full of the unshaped sense of all that had befallen, and the perception of the great public event of a brokenout war was intermixed with that of what he had done personally in the great struggle that was beginning. He longed, too, to know what was the news of the battle that had gone rolling onward along the hitherto peaceful country road, converting everywhere (this demon of war, we mean), with one blast of its red sulphurous breath, the peaceful husbandman to a soldier thirsting for blood. He turned his steps, therefore, towards the village, thinking it probable that news must have arrived either of defeat or victory, from messengers or fliers, to cheer or sadden the old men, the women, and the children, who alone perhaps remained there.
But Septimius did not get to the village. As he passed along by the cottage that has been already described, Rose Garfield was standing at the door, peering anxiously forth to know what was the issue of the conflict, — as it has been woman’s fate to do from the beginning of the world, and is so still. Seeing Septimius, she forgot the restraint that she had hitherto kept herself under, and, flying at him like a bird, she cried out, “ Septimius, dear Septimius, where have you been ? What news do you bring? You look as if you had seen some strange and dreadful thing.”
“ Ah, is it so ? Does my face tell such stories ? ” exclaimed the youngman. “ I did not mean it should. Yes, Rose, I have seen and done such things as change a man in a moment.”
“ Then you have been in this terrible fight,” said Rose.
“ Yes, Rose, I have had my part in it,” answered Septimius.
He was on the point of relieving his overburdened mind by telling her what had happened no farther off than on the hill above them ; but, seeing her excitement, and recollecting her own momentary interview with the young officer, and the forced intimacy and link that had been established between them by the kiss, he feared to agitate her further by telling her that that gay and beautiful young man had since been slain, and deposited in a bloody grave by his hands. And yet the recollection of that kiss caused a thrill of vengeful joy at the thought that the perpetrator had since expiated his offence with his life, and that it was himself that did it, so deeply was Septimius’s Indian nature of revenge and blood incorporated with that of more peaceful forefathers, although Septimius had grace enough to chide down that bloody spirit, feeling that it made him, not a patriot, but a murderer.
“Ah,” said Rose, shuddering, “it is awful when we must kill one another ! And who knows where it will end ? ”
“With me it will end here, Rose,” said Septimius. “ It may be lawful for any man, even if he have devoted himself to God, or however peaceful his pursuits, to fight to the death when the enemy’s step is on the soil of his home; but only for that perilous juncture, which passed, he should return to his own way of peace. I have done a terrible thing for once, dear Rose, one that might well trace a dark line through all my future life ; but henceforth I cannot think it my duty to pursue any further a work for which my studies and my nature unfit me.”
“O no ! O no !” said Rose ; “never ! and you a minister, or soon to be one. There must be some peacemakers left in the world, or everything will turn to blood and confusion ; for even women grow dreadfully fierce in these times. My old grandmother laments her bedriddenness, because, she says, she cannot go to cheer on the people against the enemy. But she remembers the old times of the Indian wars, when the women were as much in danger of death as the men, and so were almost as fierce as they, and killed men sometimes with their own hands. But women, nowadays, ought to be gentler ; let the men be fierce, if they must, except you, and such as you, Septimius.”
“Ah, dear Rose,” said Septimius,
“ I have not the kind and sweet impulses that you speak of. I need something to soften and warm my cold, hard life ; something to make me feel how dreadful this time of warfare is. I need you, dear Rose, who are all kindness of heart and mercy.”
And here Septimius, hurried away by I know not what excitement of the time, —the disturbed state of the country, his own ebullition of passion, the deed he had done, the desire to press one human being close to his life, because he had shed the blood of another, his half-formed purposes, his shapeless impulses ; in short, being affected by the whole stir of his nature, — spoke to Rose of love, and with an energy that, indeed, there was no resisting when once it broke bounds. And Rose, whose maiden thoughts, to say the truth, had long dwelt upon this young man,— admiring him for a certain dark beauty, knowing him familiarly from childhood, and yet having the sense, that is so bewitching, of remoteness, intermixed with intimacy, because he was so unlike herself; having a woman’s respect for scholarship, her imagination the more impressed by all in him that she could not comprehend,— Rose yielded to his impetuous suit, and gave him the troth that he requested. And yet it was with a sort of reluctance and drawing back ; her whole nature, her secretest heart, her deepest womanhood, perhaps, did not consent. There was something in Septimius, in his wild, mixed nature, the monstrousness that had grown out of his hybrid race, the black infusions, too, which melancholic men had left there, the devilishness that had been symbolized in the popular regard about his family, that made her shiver, even while she came the closer to him for that very dread. And when he gave her the kiss of betrothment her lips grew white. If it had not been in the day of turmoil, if he had asked her in any quiet time, when Rose’s heart was in its natural mood, it may well be that, with tears and pity for him, and half-pity for herself, Rose would have told Septimius that she did not think she could love him well enough to be his wife.
And how was it with Septimius? Well ; there was a singular correspondence in his feelings to those of Rose Garfield. At first, carried away by a passion that seized him all unawares, and seemed to develop itself all in a moment, he felt, and so spoke to Rose, so pleaded his suit, as if his whole earthly happiness depended on her consent to be his bride. It seemed to him that her love would be the sunshine in the gloomy dungeon of his life. But when her bashful, downcast, tremulous consent was given, then immediately came a strange misgiving into his mind. He felt as if he had taken to himself something good and beautiful doubtless in itself, but which might be the exchange for one more suited to him, that he must now give up. The intellect, which was the prominent point in Septimius, stirred and heaved, crying out vaguely that its own claims, perhaps, were ignored in this contract. Septimius had perhaps no right to love at all ; if he did, it should have been a woman of another make, who could be his intellectual companion and helper. And then, perchance, — perchance, — there was destined for him some high, lonely path, in which, to make any progress, to come to any end, he must walk unburdened by the affections. Such thoughts as these depressed and chilled (as many men have found them, or similar ones, to do) the moment of success that should have been the most exulting in the world. And so, in the kiss which these two lovers had exchanged there was, after all, something that repelled ; and when they parted they wondered at their strange states of mind, but would not acknowledge that they had done a thing that ought not to have been done. Nothing is surer, however, than that, if we suffer ourselves to be drawn into too close proximity with people, if we overestimate the degree of our proper tendency towards them, or theirs towards us, a reaction is sure to follow.
Septimius quitted Rose, and resumed his walk towards the village. But now it was near sunset, and there began to be straggling passengers along the road, some of whom came slowly, as if they had received hurts; all seemed wearied. Among them one form appeared which Rose soon found that she recognized. It was Robert Hagburn, with a shattered firelock in his hand, broken at the but, and his left arm bound with a fragment of his shirt, and suspended in a handkerchief ; and he walked weariedly, but brightened up at sight of Rose, as if ashamed to let her see how exhausted and dispirited he was. Perhaps he expected a smile, at least a more earnest reception than he met ; for Rose, with the restraint of what had recently passed drawing her back, merely went gravely a few steps to meet him, and said, “Robert, how tired and pale you look ! Are you hurt ?”
“It is of no consequence,” replied Robert Hagburn; “ a scratch on my left arm from an officer’s sword, with whose head my gunstock made instant acquaintance. It is no matter, Rose ; you do not care for it, nor do I either.”
“ How can you say so, Robert ? ” she replied. But without more greeting he passed her, and went into his own house, where, flinging himself into a chair, he remained in that despondency that men generally feel after a fight, even if a successful one.