AUDREY AND EVELYN.
HUGON went a-trading to the Southern Indians, but had lately returned to his lair at the crossroads ordinary, when, upon a sunny September morning, Audrey and Mistress Deborah, mounted upon the sorriest of Darden’s sorry steeds, turned from Duke of Gloucester into Palace Street. They had parted with the minister before his favorite ordinary, and were on their way to the house where they themselves were to lodge during the three days of town life which Darden had vouchsafed to offer them.
For a month or more Virginia had been wearing black ribbons for the King, who died in June, but in the last day or so there had been a reversion to bright colors. This cheerful change had been wrought by the arrival in the York of the Fortune of Bristol, with the new Governor on board. His Excellency had landed at Yorktown, and, after suitable entertainment at the hands of its citizens, had proceeded under escort to Williamsburgh. The entry into town was triumphal, and when, at the doorway of his Palace, the Governor turned, and addressed a pleasing oration to the people whom he was to rule in the name of the King and my Lord of Orkney, enthusiasm reached its height. At night the town was illuminated, and well-nigh all its ladies and gentlemen visited the Palace, in order to pay their duty to its latest occupant. It was a pleasure-loving people, and the arrival of a governor an occasion to be made the most of. Gentlemen of consideration had come in from every county, bringing with them wives and daughters. In the mild, sunshiny weather the crowded town overflowed into square and street and garden. Everywhere were bustle and gayety,— gayety none the less for the presence of thirty or more ministers of the Established Church. For Mr. Commissary Blair had convoked a meeting of the clergy for the consideration of evils affecting that body, — not, alas, from without alone. The Governor, arriving so opportunely, must, too, be addressed upon the usual subjects of presentation, induction, and all-powerful vestries. It was fitting, also, that the college of William and Mary should have its say upon the occasion, and the brightest scholar thereof was even now closeted with the Latin master. That the copy of verses giving the welcome of so many future planters, Burgesses, and members of Council would be choice in thought and elegant in expression, there could be no reasonable doubt. The Council was to give an entertainment at the Capitol; one day had been set aside for a muster of militia in the meadow beyond the college, another for a great horse race ; many small parties were arranged ; and last, but not least, on the night of the day following Darden’s appearance in town, his Excellency was to give a ball at the Palace. Add to all this that two notorious pirates were standing their trial before a court-martial, with every prospect of being hanged within the se’nnight; that a deputation of Nottoways and Meherrins, having business with the white fathers in Williamsburgh, were to be persuaded to dance their wildest, whoop their loudest, around a bonfire built in the market square ; that at the playhouse Cato was to be given with extraordinary magnificence, and one may readily see that there might have been found, in this sunny September week, places less entertaining than Williamsburgh.
Darden’s old white horse, with its double load, plodded along the street that led to the toy Palace of this toy capital. The Palace, of course, was not its riders’ destination ; instead, when they had crossed Nicholson Street, they drew up before a particularly small white house, so hidden away behind lilac bushes and trellised grapevines that it gave but here and there a pale hint of its existence. It was planted in the shadow of a larger building, and a path led around it to what seemed a pleasant, shady, and extensive garden.
Mistress Deborah gave a sigh of satisfaction. “ Seven years come Martinmas since I last stayed overnight with Mary Stagg! And we were born in the same village, and at Bath what mighty friends we were ! She was playing Dorinda, — that’s in The Beaux’ Stratagem, Audrey, — and her dress was just an old striped Persian, vastly unbecoming. Her Ladyship’s pink alamode, that Major D-spilt a dish of chocolate over, she gave to me for carrying a note; and I gave it to Mary (she was Mary Baker then), — for I looked hideous in pink, — and she was that grateful, as well she might be ! Mary, Mary ! ”
A slender woman, with red-brown hair and faded cheeks, came running from the house to the gate. “At last, my dear Deborah ! I vow I had given you up ! Says I to Mirabell an hour ago, — you know that is my name for Charles, for ’twas when he played Mirabell to my Millamant that we fell in love, — ‘ Well,’ says I, ‘I’ll lay a gold-furbelowed scarf to a yard of oznaburg that Mr. Darden, riding home through the night, and in liquor, perhaps, has fallen and broken his neck, and Deborah can’t come.’ And says Mirabell— But la, my dear, there you stand in your safeguard, and I ’m keeping the gate shut on you. Come in. Come in, Audrey. Why, you’ve grown to be a woman ! You were just a brown slip of a thing, that Lady Day, two years ago, that I spent with Deborah. Come in the both of you. There ’s cakes and a bottle of Madeira.”
Audrey fastened the horse against the time that Darden should remember to send for it, and then followed the exwaiting-woman and the former queen of a company of strollers up a grassy path and through a little green door into a pleasant room, where grape leaves wreathed the window and cast their shadows upon a sanded floor. At one end of the room stood a great, rudely built cabinet, and before it a long table, strewn with an orderly litter of such slender articles of apparel as silk and tissue scarfs, gauze hoods, breast knots, silk stockings, and embroidered gloves. Mistress Deborah must needs run and examine these at once, and Mistress Mary Stagg, wife of the lessee, manager, and principal actor of the Williamsburgh theatre, looked complacently over her shoulder. The minister’s wife sighed again, this time with envy.
“ What with the theatre, and the bowling green, and tea in your summerhouse, and dancing lessons, and the sale of these fine things, you and Charles must turn a pretty penny ! The luck that some folk have ! You were always fortunate, Mary.”
Mistress Stagg did not deny the imputation. But she was a kindly soul, who had not forgotten the gift of my Lady Squander’s pink alamode. The chocolate stain had not been so very large.
“ I’ve laid by a pretty piece of sarcenet of which to make you a capuchin,” she said promptly. “ Now, here’s the wine. Shan’t we go into the garden, and sip it there? Peggy,” to the black girl holding a salver, “put the cake and wine on the table in the arbor; then sit here by the window, and call me if any come. My clear Deborah, I doubt if I have so much as a ribbon left by the end of the week. The town is that gay! I says to Mirabell this morning, says I, ‘Lord, my dear, it a’most puts me in mind of Bath ! ’ And Mirabell says — But here ’s the garden door. Now, is n’t it cool and pleasant out here ? Audrey may gather us some grapes. Yes, they ’re very fine, full bunches ; it has been a bounteous year.”
The grape arbor hugged the house, but beyond it was a pretty, shady, fancifully laid out garden, with shell-bordered walks, a grotto, a summer house, and a gate opening into Nicholson Street. Beyond the garden a glimpse was to be caught through the trees of a trim bowling green. It had rained the night before, and a delightful, almost vernal freshness breathed in the air. The bees made a great buzzing amongst the grapes, and the birds in the mulberry trees sang as though it were nesting time. Mistress Stagg and her old acquaintance sat at a table placed in the shadow of the vines, and sipped their wine, while Audrey obediently gathered clusters of the purple fruit, and thought the garden very fine, but oh, not like — There could be no garden in the world so beautiful and so dear as that. And she had not seen it for so long, so long a time. She wondered if she would ever see it again.
When she brought the fruit to the table, the two women made room for her kindly enough; and she sat and drank her wine and went to her world of dreams, while her companions bartered town and country gossip. It has been said that the small white house adjoined a larger building. A window in this structure, which had much the appearance of a barn, was now opened, with the result that a confused sound, as of several people speaking at once, made itself heard. Suddenly the noise gave place to a single high - pitched voice : —
Full in my sight, that I may view at leisure
The bloody corse, and count those glorious wounds.’ ”
A smile irradiated Mistress Stagg’s faded countenance, and she blew a kiss toward the open window. “ He does Cato so extremely well; and it’s a grave, dull, odd character, too. But Mirabell — that’s Charles, you know — manages to put a little life in it, a Je ne sais quoi, a touch of Sir Harry Wildair. Now — now he’s pulling out his laced handkerchief to weep over Rome ! You should see him after he has fallen on his sword, and is brought on in a chair, all over blood. This is the third rehearsal; the play ’s ordered for Monday night. Who is it, Peggy ? Madam Travis ! It’s about the lace for her damask petticoat, and there ’s no telling how long she may keep me ! My dear Deborah, when you have finished your wine, Peggy shall show yon your room. You must make yourself quite at home. For says I to Mirabell this morning, ‘ Far be it from me to forget past kindnesses, and in those old Bath days Deborah was a good friend to me, — which was no wonder, to be sure, seeing that when we were little girls we went to the same dame school, and always learned our book and worked our samplers together.’ And says Mirabell— Yes, yes, ma’am, I’m coming ! ”
She disappeared, and the black girl showed the two guests through the hall and up a tiny stairway into a little dormer-windowed, whitewashed room. Mistress Deborah, who still wore remnants of my Lady Squander’s ancient gifts of spoiled finery, had likewise failed to discard the second-hand fine-lady airs acquired during her service. She now declared herself excessively tired by her morning ride, and martyr, besides, to a migraine. Moreover, it was enough to give one the spleen to hear Mary Stagg’s magpie chatter, and to see how some folk throve, willy - nilly, while others just as good — Here tears of vexation ensued, and she must lie down upon the bed and call in a feeble voice for her smelling salts. Audrey hurriedly searched in the ragged portmanteau brought to town the day before in the ox-cart of an obliging parishioner, found the flask, and took it to the bedside, to receive in exchange a sound box of the ear for her tardiness. The blow reddened her cheek, but brought no tears to her eyes. It was too small a thing to weep for; tears were for blows upon the heart.
It was a cool and quiet little room, and Mistress Deborah, who had drunk two full glasses of the Madeira, presently fell asleep. Audrey sat very still, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes upon them, until their hostess’s voice announced from the foot of the stairs that Madam Travis had taken her departure. She then slipped from the room, and was affably received below, and taken into the apartment which they had first entered. Here Mistress Stagg became at once extremely busy. A fan was to be mounted ; yards of silk gathered into furbelows; breast knots, shoulder knots, sword knots, to be made up. Her customers were all people of quality, and unless she did her part not one of them could go to the ball. Audrey shyly proffered her aid, and was set to changing the ribbons upon a mask.
Mistress Stagg’s tongue went as fast as her needle : “And Deborah is asleep ! Poor soul! she’s sadly changed from what she was in old England thirteen years ago. As neat a shape as you would see in a day’s journey, with the prettiest color, and eyes as bright as those marcasite buttons ! And she saw the best of company at my Lady Squander’s, — no lack there of kisses and guineas and fine gentlemen, you may be sure! There’s a deal of change in this mortal world, and it’s generally for the worse. Here, child, you may whip this lace on Mr. Lightfoot’s ruffles. I think myself lucky, I can tell you, that there are so few women in Cato. If’t were n’t so, I should have to go on myself ; for since poor, dear, pretty Jane Day died of the smallpox, and Oriana Jordan ran away with the rascally Bridewell fellow that we bought to play husbands’ parts, and was never heard of more, but is supposed to have gotten clean off to Barbadoes by favor of the master of the Lady Susan, we have been short of actresses. But in this play there are only Marcia and Lucia. ‘ It is extremely fortunate, my dear,’ said I to Mirabell this very morning, ‘ that in this play, which is the proper compliment to a great gentleman just taking office, Mr. Addison should have put no more than two women.’ And Mirabell says — Don’t put the lace so full, child ; ’t won’t go round.”
“ A chair is stopping at the gate,” said Audrey, who sat by the window. “There’s a lady in it.”
The chair was a very fine painted one, borne by two gayly dressed negroes, and escorted by a trio of beribboned young gentlemen, prodigal of gallant speeches, amorous sighs, and languishing glances. Mistress Stagg looked, started up, and, without waiting to raise from the floor the armful of delicate silk which she had dropped, was presently curtsying upon the doorstep.
The bearers set down their load. One of the gentlemen opened the chair door with a flourish, and the divinity, compressing her hoop, descended. A second cavalier flung back Mistress Stagg’s gate, and the third, with a low bow, proffered his hand to conduct the fair from the gate to the doorstep. The lady shook her head ; a smiling word or two, a slight curtsy, the wave of a painted fan, and her attendants found themselves dismissed. She came up the path alone, slowly, with her head a little bentAudrey, watching her from the window, knew who she was, and her heart beat fast. If this lady were in town, then so was he ; he would not have stayed behind at Westover. She would have left the room, but there was not time. The mistress of the house, smiling and obsequious, fluttered in, and Evelyn Byrd followed.
There had been ordered for her a hood of golden tissue, with wide and long streamers to be tied beneath the chin, and she was come to try it on. Mistress Stagg had it all but ready, — there was only the least bit of stitchery; would Mistress Evelyn condescend to wait a very few minutes ? She placed a chair, and the lady sank into it, finding the quiet of the shadowed room pleasant enough after the sunlight and talkativeness of the world without. Mistress Stagg, in her rôle of milliner, took the gauzy trifle, called by courtesy a hood, to the farthest window, and fell busily to work.
It seemed to grow more and more quiet in the room : the shadow of the leaves lay still upon the floor; the drowsy humming of the bees outside the windows, the sound of locusts in the trees, the distant noises of the town, — all grew more remote, then suddenly appeared to cease.
Audrey raised her eyes, and met the eyes of Evelyn. She knew that they had been upon her for a long time, in the quiet of the room. She had sat breathless, her head bowed over her work that lay idly in her lap, but at last she must look. The two gazed at each other with a sorrowful steadfastness ; in the largeness of their several natures there was no room for self-consciousness ; it was the soul of each that gazed. But in the mists of earthly ignorance they could not read what was written, and they erred in their guessing. Audrey went not far wide. This was the princess, and, out of the fullness of a heart that ached with loss, she could have knelt and kissed the hem of her robe, and wished her long and happy life. There was no bitterness in her heart; she never dreamed that she had wronged the princess. But Evelyn thought: “ This is the girl they talk about. God knows, if he had loved worthily, I might not so much have minded ! ”
From the garden came a burst of laughter and high voices. Mistress Stagg started up. “ ’T is our people, Mistress Evelyn, coming from the playhouse. We lodge them in the house by the bowling green, but after rehearsals they ’re apt to stop here. I ’ll send them packing. The hood is finished. Audrey will set it upon your head, ma’am, while I am gone. Here, child ! Mind you don’t crush it.” She gave the hood into Audrey’s hands, and hurried from the room.
Evelyn sat motionless, her silken draperies flowing around her, one white arm bent, the soft curve of her cheek resting upon ringed fingers. Her eyes yet dwelt upon Audrey, standing as motionless, the mist of gauze and lace in her hands. “ Do not trouble yourself,” she said, in her low, clear voice. “ I will wait until Mistress Stagg returns.”
The tone was very cold, but Audrey scarce noticed that it was so. “ If I may, I should like to serve you, ma’am,” she said pleadingly. “ I will be very careful.”
Leaving the window, she came and knelt beside Evelyn ; but when she would have put the golden hood upon her head, the other drew back with a gesture of aversion, a quick recoil of her entire frame. The hood slipped to the floor. After a moment Audrey rose and stepped back a pace or two. Neither spoke, but it was the one who thought no evil whose eyes first sought the floor. Her dark cheek paled, and her lips trembled; she turned, and going back to her seat by the window took up her fallen work. Evelyn, with a sharp catch of her breath, withdrew her attention from the other occupant of the room, and fixed it upon a moted sunbeam lying like a bar between the two.
Mistress Stagg returned. The hood was fitted, and its purchaser prepared to leave. Audrey rose and made her curtsy, timidly, but with a quick, appealing motion of her hand. Was not this the lady whom he loved, that people said he was to wed ? And had he not told her, long ago, that he would speak of her to Mistress Evelyn Byrd, and that she too would be her friend ? Last May Day, when the guinea was put into her hand, the lady’s smile was bright, her voice sweet and friendly. Now, how changed ! In her craving for a word, a look, from one so near him, one that perhaps had seen him not an hour before ; in her sad homage for the object of his love, she forgot her late repulse, and grew bold. When Evelyn would have passed her, she put forth a trembling hand and began to speak, to say she scarce knew what ; but the words died in her throat. For a moment Evelyn stood, her head averted, an angry red staining neck and bosom and beautiful, down - bent face. Her eyes half closed, the long lashes quivering against her cheek, and she smiled faintly, in scorn of the girl and scorn of herself. Then, dragging her skirts from Audrey’s clasp, she passed in silence from the room.
Audrey stood at the window, and with wide, pained eyes watched her go down the path. Mistress Stagg was with her, talking volubly, and Evelyn seemed to listen with smiling patience. One of the bedizened negroes opened the chair door ; the lady entered, and was borne away. Before Mistress Stagg could reenter her house Audrey had gone quietly up the winding stair to the little whitewashed room, where she found the minister’s wife astir and restored to good humor. Her sleep had helped her ; she would go down at once and see what Mary was at. Darden, too, was coming as soon as the meeting at the church had adjourned. After dinner they would walk out and see the town, until when Audrey might do as she pleased. When she was gone, Audrey softly shut herself in the little room, and went and lay down upon the bed, very still, with her face hidden in her arm.
With twelve of the clock came Darden, quite sober, distrait in manner and uneasy of eye, and presently interrupted Mistress Stagg’s flow of conversation by a demand to speak with his wife alone. At that time of day the garden was a solitude, and thither the two repaired, taking their seats upon a bench built round a mulberry tree.
“Well?” queried Mistress Deborah bitterly. “ I suppose Mr. Commissary showed himself vastly civil ? I dare say you ’re to preach before the Governor next Sunday ? Or maybe they’ve chosen Bailey ? He boasts that he can drink you under the table! One of these fine days you ’ll drink and curse and game yourself out of a parish ! ”
Darden drew figures on the ground with his heavy stick. “ On such a fine day as this,” he said, in a suppressed voice, and looked askance at the wife whom he beat upon occasion, but whose counsel he held in respect.
She turned upon him. “ What do you mean ? They talk and talk, and cry shame, — and a shame it is, the Lord knows ! But it never comes to anything ” —
“ It has come to this,” interrupted Darden, with an oath : “ that this Governor means to sweep in the corners; that the Commissary — damned Scot! — to-day appointed a committee to inquire into the charges made against me and Bailey and John Worden ; that seven of my vestrymen are dead against me ; and that 'deprivation ’ has suddenly become a very common word ! ”
“ Seven of the vestry?” said his wife, after a pause. “ Who are they ? ” Darden told her.
“If Mr. Haward ” — she began slowly, her green eyes steady upon the situation. “ There ’s not one of that seven would care to disoblige him. I warrant you he could make them face about. They say he knew the Governor in England, too; and there ’s his late gift to the college, — the Commissary wouldn’t forget that. If Mr. Haward would ” — She broke off, and with knit brows studied the problem more intently.
“ If he would, he could,” Darden finished for her. “ With his interest this cloud would go by, as others have done before. I know that, Deborah. And that’s the card I’m going to play.”
“ If you had gone to him, hat in hand, a month ago, he’d have done you any favor,” said his helpmate sourly. “ But it is different now. He ’s over his fancy ; and besides, he’s at Westover.”
“ He’s in Williamsburgh, at Marot’s ordinary,” said the other. “As for his being over his fancy, — I ’ll try that. Fancy or no fancy, if a woman asked him for a fairing, he would give it her, or I don’t know my gentleman. We ’ll call his interest a ribbon or some such toy, and Audrey shall ask him for it.”
“ Audrey is a fool! ” cried Mistress Deborah. “ And you had best be careful, or you ’ll prove yourself another! There’s been talk already. Audrey, village innocent that she is, is the only one that does n’t know it. The town ’s not the country; if he sets tongues a-clacking here ” —
“ He won’t,” said Darden roughly. “ He’s no hare-brained one-and-twenty ! And Audrey’s a good girl. Go send her here, Deborah. Bid her fetch me Stagg’s inkhorn and a pen and a sheet of paper. If he does anything for me, it will have to be done quickly. They ’re in haste to pull me out of saddle, the damned canting pack ! But I ’ll try conclusions with them.”
His wife departed, muttering to herself, and the reverend Gideon pulled out of his capacious pocket a flask of usquebaugh. In five minutes from the time of his setting it to his lips the light in which he viewed the situation turned from gray to rose color. By the time he espied Audrey coming toward him through the garden he felt a moral certainty that when he came to die (if ever he died) it would be in his bed in the Fair View glebe house.
WITHIN THE PLAYHOUSE.
Haward, sitting at the table in Marot’s best room, wrote an answer to Audrey’s letter, and tore it up ; wrote another, and gave it to Juba, to be given to the messenger waiting below ; recalled the negro before he could reach the door; destroyed the second note, and wrote a third. The first had been wise and kind, telling her that he was much engaged, lightly and skillfully waving aside her request — the only one she made — that she might see him that day. The second had been less wise. The last told her that he would come at five o’clock to the summer house in Mistress Stagg’s garden.
When he was alone in the room, he sat for some time very still, with his eyes closed and his head thrown back against the tall woodwork of his chair. His face was stern in repose: a handsome, even a fine face, with a look of power and reflection, but to-day somewhat worn and haggard of aspect. When presently he roused himself and took up the letter that lay before him, the paper shook in his hand. “ Wine, Juba,” he said to the slave, who now reentered the room. “ And close the window ; it is growing cold.”
There were but three lines between the “ Mr. Haward ” and “ Audrey ; ” the writing was stiff and clerkly, the words very simple, — a child’s asking of a favor. He guessed rightly that it was the first letter of her own that she had ever written. Suddenly a wave of passionate tenderness took him ; he bowed his head and kissed the paper ; for the moment many-threaded life and his own complex nature alike straightened to a beautiful simplicity. He was the lover, merely ; life was but the light and shadow through which moved the woman whom he loved. He came back to himself, and tried to think it out, but could not. Finally, with a weary impatience, he declined to think at all. He was to dine at the Governor’s. Evelyn would be there.
Only momentarily, in those days of early summer, had he wavered in his determination to make this lady his wife. Pride was at the root of his being, — pride and a deep self-will; though because they were so sunken, and because poisonous roots can flower most deceivingly, he neither called himself nor was called of others a proud and willful man. He wished Evelyn for his wife ; nay, more, though on May Day he had shown her that he loved her not, though in June he had offered her a love that was only admiring affection, yet in the past month at Westover he had come almost to believe that he loved her truly. That she was worthy of true love he knew very well. With all his strength of will, he had elected to forget the summer that lay behind him at Fair View, and to live in the summer that was with him at Westover. His success had been gratifying ; in the flush of it, he persuaded himself that a chamber of the heart had been locked forever, and the key thrown away. And lo now! a touch, the sudden sight of a name, and the door had flown wide ; nay, the very walls were rived away ! It was not a glance over the shoulder ; it was full presence in the room so lately sealed.
He knew that Evelyn loved him. It was understood of all their acquaintance that he was her suitor ; months before he had formally craved her father’s permission to pay his addresses. There were times in those weeks at Westover when she had come nigh to yielding, to believing that he loved her ; he thought that with time he could make her do so. . . . But the room, the closed room, in which now he sat!
He buried his face in his hands, and was suddenly back in spirit in his garden at Fair View. The cherries were ripe; the birds were singing; great butterflies went by. The sunshine beat on the dial, on the walks, and the smell of the roses was strong as wine. His senses swam with the warmth and fragrance ; the garden enlarged itself, and blazed in beauty. Never was sunshine so golden as that; never were roses so large, never odors so potent-sweet. A spirit walked in the garden paths: its name was Audrey. . . . No, it was speaking, speaking words of passion and of woe. . . . Its name was Eloïsa!
When he rose from his chair, he staggered slightly, and put his hand to his head. Recovering himself in a moment, he called for his hat and cane, and, leaving the ordinary, turned his face toward the Palace. A garrulous fellow Councilor, also bidden to his Excellency’s dinner party, overtook him, and, falling into step, began to speak first of the pirates’ trial, and then of the weather. A hot and feverish summer. ’T was said that a good third of the servants arriving in the country since spring had died of their seasoning. The slaverlying in the York had thrown thirty blacks overboard in the run from Barbadoes, — some strange sickness or other. Adsbud ! He would not buy from the lot the master landed ; had they been white, they had showed like spectres! September was the worst month of the year. He did not find Mr. Haward in looks now. Best consult Dr. Contesse, though indeed he himself had a preventive of fever which never failed. First he bled ; then to two ounces of Peruvian bark —
Mr. Haward declared that he was very well, and turned the conversation piratewards again.
The dinner at the Palace was somewhat hurried, the gentlemen rising with the ladies, despite the enticements of Burgundy and champagne. It was the afternoon set apart for the Indian dance. The bonfire in the field behind the magazine had been kindled; the Nottoways and Meherrins were waiting, still as statues, for the gathering of their audience. Before the dance the great white father was to speak to them ; the peace pipe, also, was to be smoked. The town, gay of mood and snatching at enjoyment, emptied its people into the sunny field. Only they who could not go stayed at home. Those light-hearted folk, ministers to a play-loving age, who dwelt in the house by the bowling green or in the shadow of the theatre itself, must go, at all rates. Marcia and Lucia, Syphax, Sempronius, and the African prince made off together, while the sons of Cato, who chanced to be twin brothers, followed with a slower step. Their indentures would expire next month, and they had thoughts, the one of becoming an overseer, the other of moving up country and joining a company of rangers: hence their somewhat haughty bearing toward their fellow players, who — except old Syphax, who acted for the love of it — had not even a bowing acquaintance with freedom.
Mr. and Mrs. Stagg saw their minions depart, and then themselves left the little white house in Palace Street. Mistress Deborah was with them, but not Audrey. “ She can’t abide the sight of an Indian,” said the minister’s wife indifferently. “ Besides, Darden will be here from the church presently, and he may want her to write for him. She and Peggy can mind the house.”
The Capitol clock was telling five when Haward entered the garden by the Nicholson Street gate. There had arisen a zephyr of the evening, to loosen the yellow locust leaves and send them down upon the path, to lay cool fingers upon his forehead that burned, and to whisper low at his ear. House and garden and silent street seemed asleep in the late sunshine, safe folded from the storm of sound that raged in the field on the border of the town. Distance muffled the Indian drums, and changed the screams of the pipes into a far-off wailing. Savage cries, bursts of applause and laughter, — all came softly, blent like the hum of the bees, mellow like the sunlight. There was no one in the summer house. Haward walked on to the grape arbor, and found there a black girl, who pointed to an open door, pertaining not to the small white house, but to that portion of the theatre which abutted upon the garden. Haward, passing a window of Mistress Stagg’s domicile, was aware of Darden sitting within, much engaged with a great book and a tankard of sack. He made no pause for the vision, and another moment found him within the playhouse.
The sunlight entered in at the door and at one high window, but yet the place was dim. The gallery and the rude boxes were all in shadow; the sunbeams from the door struck into the pit, while those from the high window let fall a shaft of misty light upon the stage itself, set for a hall in Utica, with five cane chairs, an ancient settle, and a Spanish table. On the settle, in the pale gold of the falling light, sat Audrey, her hands clasped over her knees, her head thrown back, and her eyes fixed upon the shadowy, chill, and soundless space before her. Upon Haward’s speaking her name she sighed, and, loosing her hands, turned toward him. He came and leaned upon the back of the settle. “ You sent for me, Audrey,” he said, and laid his hand lightly upon her hair.
She shrank from his touch. “ The minister made me write the letter,” she said, in a low voice. “ I did not wish to trouble you, sir.”
Upon her wrist were dark marks. “ Did Darden do that? ” demanded Haward, as he took his seat beside her.
Audrey looked at the bruise indifferently ; then with her other hand covered it from sight. “ I have a favor to ask of Mr. Haward,” she said. “ I hope that after his many kindnesses he will not refuse to do me this greatest one. If he should grant my request, the gratitude which I must needs already feel toward him will be increased tenfold.” The words came precisely, in an even voice.
Haward smiled. “ Child, you have conned your lesson well. Leave the words of the book, and tell me in your own language what his reverence wants.”
Audrey told him, but it seemed to her that he was not listening. When she had come to an end of the minister’s grievances, she sat, with downcast eyes, waiting for him to speak, wishing that he would not look at her so steadily. She meant never to tell him her heart, — never, never ; but beneath his gaze it was hard to keep her cheek from burning, her lip from quivering.
At last he spoke: “ Would it please you, Audrey, if I should save this man from his just deserts? ”
Audrey raised her eyes. “ He and Mistress Deborah are all my friends,” she said. “ The glebe house is my home.”
Deep sadness spoke in voice and eye. The shaft of light, moving, had left her in the outer shadow : she sat there with a listless grace ; with a dignity, too, that was not without pathos. There had been a forlorn child ; there had been an unfriended girl; there was now a woman, for Life to fondle or to wreak its rage upon. The change was subtle; one more a lover or less a lover than Haward might not have noted it. “ I will petition the Commissary to-night,” he said, “ the Governor to-morrow. Is your having in friends so slight as you say, little maid ? ”
Oh, he could reach to the quick ! She was sure that he had not meant to accuse her of ingratitude, and pitifully sure that she must have seemed guilty of it. “ No, no ! ” she cried. “ I have had a friend ” — Her voice broke, and she started to her feet, her face to the door, all her being quiveringly eager to be gone. She had asked that which she was bidden to ask, had gained that which she was bidden to gain ; for the rest, it was far better that she should go. Better far let him think her dull and thankless as a stone than see — than see —
When Haward caught her by the hand, she trembled and drew a sobbing breath. " 'I have had a friend,’ Audrey ? ” he asked. “ Why not ‘ I have a friend ’ ? ”
“ Why not ? ” thought Audrey. “ Of course he would think, why not ? Well, then ” —
“ I have a friend,” she said aloud.
“ Have you not been to me the kindest friend, the most generous ” — She faltered, but presently went on, a strange courage coming to her. She had turned slightly toward him, though she looked not at him, but upward to where the light streamed through the high window. It fell now upon her face. “ It is a great thing to save life,” she said. “ To save a soul alive, how much greater! To have kept one soul in the knowledge that there is goodness, mercy, tenderness, God ; to have given it bread to eat where it sat among the stones, water to drink where all the streams were dry, — oh, a king might be proud of that ! And that is what you have done for me. . . . When you sailed away, so many years ago, and left me with the minister and his wife, they were not always kind. But I knew that you thought them so, and I always said to myself, ‘If he knew, he would be sorry for me.’ At last I said, ' He is sorry for me ; there is the sea, and he cannot come, but he knows, and is sorry.’ It was makebelieve, — for you thought that I was happy, did you not ? — but it helped me very much. I was only a child, you see, and I was so very lonely. I could not think of mother and Molly, for when I did I saw them as — as I had seen them last. The dark scared me, until I found that I could pretend that you were holding my hand, as you used to do when night came in the valley. After a while I had only to put out my hand, and yours was there waiting for it. I hope that you can understand — I want you to know how large is my debt. . . . As I grew, so did the debt. When I was a girl it was larger than when I was a child. Do you know with whom I have lived all these years ? There is the minister, who comes reeling home from the crossroads tavern, who swears over the dice, who teaches cunning that he calls wisdom, laughs at man and scarce believes in God. His hand is heavy ; this is his mark.” She held up her bruised wrist to the light, then let the hand drop. When she spoke of the minister, she made a gesture toward the shadows growing ever thicker and darker in the body of the house. It was as though she saw him there, and was pointing him out. “ There is the minister’s wife,” she said, and the motion of her hand again accused the shadows. “ Oh, their roof has sheltered me ; I have eaten of their bread. But truth is truth. There is the schoolmaster with the branded hands. He taught me, you know. There is ” — she was looking with wide eyes into the deepest of the shadows — “ there is Hugon ! ”
Her voice died away. Haward did not move or speak, and for a minute there was silence in the dusky playhouse. Audrey broke it with a laugh, soft, light, and clear, that came oddly upon the mood of the hour. Presently she was speaking again : “ Do you think it strange that I should laugh ? I laughed to think I have escaped them all. Do you know that they call me a dreamer ? Once, deep in the woods, I met the witch who lives at the head of the creek. She told me that I was a dream child, and that all my life was a dream, and I must pray never to awake ; but I do not think she knew, for all that she is a witch.
They none of them know, — none, none ! If I had not dreamed, as they call it, — if I had watched, and listened, and laid to heart, and become like them, — oh, then I should have died of your look when at last you came ! But I ‘ dreamed; ’ and in that long dream you, though you were overseas, you showed me, little by little, that the spirit is not bond, but free, — that it can walk the waves, and climb to the sunset and the stars. And I found that the woods were fair, that the earth was fair and kind as when I was a little child. And I grew to love and long for goodness. And, day by day, I have had a life and a world where flowers bloomed, and the streams ran fresh, and there was bread indeed to eat. And it was you that showed me the road, that opened for me the gates ! ”
She ceased to speak, and, turning fully toward him, took his hand and put it to her lips. “ May you be very happy ! ” she said. “ I thank you, sir, that when you came at last you did not break my dream. The dream fell short! ”
The smile upon her face was very sweet, very pure and noble. She would have gone without another word, but Haward caught her by the sleeve. “ Stay awhile ! ” he cried. “I too am a dreamer, though not like you, you maid of Dian, dark saint, cold vestal, with your eyes forever on the still, white flame! Audrey, Audrey, Audrey! Do you know what a pretty name you have, child, or how dark are your eyes, or how fine this hair that a queen might envy ? Westover has been dull, child.”
Audrey shook her head and smiled, and thought that he was laughing at her. A vision of Evelyn, as Evelyn had looked that morning, passed before her. She did not believe that he had found Westover dull.
“I am coming to Fair View, dark Audrey,” he went on. “ In its garden there are roses yet blooming for thy hair; there are sweet verses calling to be read ; there are cool, sequestered walks to be trodden, with thy hand in mine, — thy hand in mine, little maid. Life is but once ; we shall never pass this way again. Drink the cup, wear the roses, live the verses! Of what sing all the sweetest verses, dark-eyed witch, forest Audrey ? ”
“ Of love,” said Audrey simply. She had freed her hand from his clasp, and her face was troubled. She did not understand ; never had she seen him like this, with shining eyes and hot, unsteady touch.
“ There is the ball at the Palace tomorrow night,” he went on. “ I must be there, for a fair lady and I are to dance together.” He smiled. “ Poor Audrey, who hath never been to a ball; who only dances with the elves, beneath the moon, around a beechen tree ! The next day I will go to Fair View, and you will be at the glebe house, and we will take up the summer where we left it, that weary month ago.”
“No, no,” said Audrey hurriedly, and shook her head. A vague and formless trouble had laid its cold touch upon her heart; it was as though she saw a cloud coming up, but it was no larger than a man’s hand, and she knew not what it should portend, nor that it would grow into a storm. He was strange to-day, — that she felt ; but then all her day since the coming of Evelyn had been sad and strange.
The shaft of sunshine was gone from the stage, and all the house was in shadow. Audrey descended the two or three steps leading into the pit, and Haward followed her. Side by side they left the playhouse, and found themselves in the garden, and also in the presence of five or six ladies and gentlemen, seated upon the grass beneath a mulberry tree, or engaged in rifling the grape arbor of its purple fruit.
The garden was a public one, and this gay little party, having tired of the Indian spectacle, had repaired hither to treat of its own affairs. Moreover, it had been there, scattered upon the grass in view of the playhouse door, for the better part of an hour. Concerned with its own wit and laughter, it had caught no sound of low voices issuing from the theatre ; and for the two who talked within, all outward noise had ranked as coming from the distant, crowded fields.
A young girl, her silken apron raised to catch the clusters which a gentleman, mounted upon a chair, threw down, gave a little scream, and let fall her purple hoard. “ ’Gad ! ” cried the gentleman. One and another exclaimed, and a withered beauty seated beneath the mulberry tree laughed shrilly.
A moment, an effort, a sharp recall of wandering thoughts, and Haward had the situation in hand. An easy greeting to the gentlemen, debonair compliments for the ladies, a question or two as to the entertainment they had left, then a negligent bringing forward of Audrey. “A little blown ward and ancient playmate of mine, — shot up in the night to be as tall as a woman. Make thy curtsy, child, and go tell the minister what I have said on the subject he wots of.”
Audrey curtsied and went away, having never raised her eyes to note the stare of curiosity, the suppressed smile, the glance from eye to eye, which had trod upon her introduction to the company. Haward, remaining with his friends and acquaintances, gathered grapes for the blooming girl and the withered beauty, and for a little, smiling woman who was known for as arrant a scandalmonger as could be found in Virginia.
A QUESTION OF COLORS.
Evelyn, seated at her toilette table, and in the hands of Mr. Timothy Green, hairdresser in ordinary to Williamsburgh, looked with unseeing eyes at her own fair reflection in the glass before her. Chloe, the black handmaiden who stood at the door, latch in hand, had time to grow tired of waiting before her mistress spoke. “You may tell Mr. Haward that I am at home this morning, Chloe. Bring him here.”
The hairdresser drew a comb through the rippling brown tresses and commenced his most elaborate arrangement, working with pursed lips, and head bent now to this side, now to that. He had been a hard-pressed man since sunrise, and the lighting of the Palace candles that night might find him yet employed by some belated dame. Evelyn was very pale, and shadows were beneath her eyes. Moved by a sudden impulse, she took from the table a rouge pot, and hastily and with trembling fingers rubbed bloom into her cheeks ; then the patch box, — one, two, three Tory partisans. “Now I am less like a ghost,” she said. “ Mr. Green, do I not look well and merry, and as though my sleep had been sound and dreamless ? ”
In his high, cracked voice, the hairdresser was sure that, pale or glowing, grave or gay, Mistress Evelyn Byrd would be the toast at the ball that night. The lady laughed, for she heard Haward’s step upon the landing. He entered to the gay, tinkling sound, bent over the hand she extended, then, laying aside hat and cane, took his seat beside the table.
“ 'Fair tresses man’s imperial race insnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair,’ ”
he quoted, with a smile. Then: “Will you take our hearts in blue to-night, Evelyn ? You know that I love you best in blue.”
She lifted her fan from the table, and waved it lightly to and fro. “ I go in rose color,” she said. “ ’T is the gown I wore at Lady Rich’s rout. I dare say you do not remember it ? But my Lord of Peterborough said ” — She broke off, and smiled to her fan.
Her voice was sweet and slightly drawling. The languid turn of the wrist, the easy grace of attitude, the beauty of bared neck and tinted face, of lowered lids and slow, faint smile, — oh, she was genuine fine lady, if she was not quite Evelyn! A breeze blowing through the open windows stirred their gay hangings of flowered cotton; the black girl sat in a corner and sewed ; the supple fingers of the hairdresser went in and out of the heavy hair ; roses in a deep blue bowl made the room smell like a garden. Haward sighed, so pleasant was it to sit quietly in this cool chamber, after the glare and wavering of the world without. “ My Lord of Peterborough is magnificent at compliments,” he said kindly, “ but ’t would be a jeweled speech indeed that outdid your deserving, Evelyn. Come, now, wear the blue ! I will find you white roses ; you shall wear them for a breast knot, and in the minuet return me one again.”
Evelyn waved her fan. “ I dance the minuet with Mr. Lee.” Her voice was sweet and languid, her manner most indifferent. The thick and glossy tress that, drawn forward, was to ripple over white neck and bosom was too loosely curled. She regarded it in the mirror with an anxious frown, then spoke of it to the hairdresser.
Haward, smiling, watched her with heavy-lidded eyes. “Mr. Lee is a fortunate gentleman,” he said. “ I may gain the rose, perhaps, in the country dance ? ”
“ That is better,” remarked the lady, surveying with satisfaction the newcurled lock. “ The country dance ? For that Mr. Lightfoot hath my promise.”
“ It seems that I am a laggard,” said Haward.
The knocker sounded below. “ I am at home, Chloe,” announced the mistress ; and the slave, laying aside her work, slipped from the room.
Haward played with the trifles upon the dressing table. “ Wherein have I offended, Evelyn ? ” he asked, at last.
The lady arched her brows, and the action made her for the moment very like her handsome father. “ Why, there is no offense! ” she cried. “ An old acquaintance, a family friend! I step a minuet with Mr. Lee ; I stand up for a country dance with Mr. Lightfoot;
I wear pink instead of blue, and have lost my liking for white roses, — what is there in all this that needs such a question ? Ah, you have broken my silver chain ! ”
“ I am clumsy to-day! ” he exclaimed. “ A thousand pardons ! ” He let the broken toy slip from his fingers to the polished surface of the table, and forgot that it was there. “ Since Colonel Byrd (I am sorry to learn) keeps his room with a fit of the gout, may I — an old acquaintance, a family friend — conduct you to the Palace to-night? ”
The fan waved on. “Thank you, but I go in our coach, and need no escort.” The lady yawned, very delicately, behind her slender fingers; then dropped the fan, and spoke with animation : “ Ah, here is Mr. Lee ! In a good hour, sir ! I saw the bracelet that
you mended for Mistress Winston. Canst do as much for my poor chain here ? See! it and this silver heart have parted company.”
Mr. Lee kissed her hand, and took snuff with Mr. Haward ; then, after an ardent speech crammed with references to Vulcan and Venus, chains that were not slight, hearts that were of softer substance, sat down beside this kind and dazzling vision, and applied his clever fingers to the problem in hand. He was a personable young gentleman, who had studied at Oxford, and who, proudly conscious that his tragedy of Artaxerxes, then reposing in the escritoire at home, much outmerited Haward’s talked - of comedy, felt no diffidence in the company of the elder fine gentleman. He rattled on of this and that, and Evelyn listened kindly, with only the curve of her cheek visible to the family friend. The silver heart was restored to its chain; the lady smiled her thanks; the enamored youth hitched his chair some inches nearer the fair whom he had obliged, and, with his hand upon his heart, entered the realm of high-flown speech. The gay curtains waved ; the roses were sweet; black Chloe sewed and sewed ; the hairdresser’s hands wove in and out, as though he were a wizard making passes.
Haward rose to take his leave. Evelyn yielded him her hand ; it was cold against his lips. She was nonchalant and smiling; he was easy, unoffended, admirably the fine gentleman. For one moment their eyes met. “ I had been wiser,” thought the man, “ I had been wiser to have myself told her of that brown witch, that innocent sorceress ! Why something held my tongue I know not. Now she hath read my idyl, but all darkened, all awry.” The woman thought: “ Cruel and base ! You knew that my heart was yours to break, cast aside, and forget ! ”
Out of the house the sunlight beat and blinded. Houses of red brick, houses of white wood ; the long, wide, dusty Duke of Gloucester Street; gnarled mulberry trees broad-leafed against a September sky, deeply, passionately blue ; glimpses of wood and field, — all seemed remote without distance, still without stillness, the semblance of a dream, and yet keen and near to oppression. It was a town of stores, of ordinaries and public places ; from open door and window all along Duke of Gloucester Street came laughter, round oaths, now and then a scrap of drinking song. To Haward, giddy, ill at ease, sickening of a fever, the sounds were now as a cry in his ear, now as the noise of a distant sea. The minister of James City parish and the minister of Ware Creek were walking before him, arm in arm, set full sail for dinner after a stormy morning. “For lo ! the wicked prospereth ! ” said one, and “ Fair View parish bound over to the devil again ! ” plained the other. “ He ’s firm in the saddle ; he ’ll ride easy to the day he drinks himself to death, thanks to this sudden complaisance of Governor and Commissary! ”
“ Thanks to ” — cried the other sourly, and gave the thanks where they were due.
Haward heard the words, but even in the act of quickening his pace to lay a heavy hand upon the speaker’s shoulder a listlessness came upon him, and he forbore. The memory of the slurring speech went from him; his thoughts were thistledown blown hither and yon by every vagrant air. Coming to Marot’s ordinary he called for wine; then went up the stair to his room, and sitting down at the table presently fell asleep, with his head upon his arms.
After a while the sounds from the public room below, where men were carousing, disturbed his slumber. He stirred, and awoke refreshed. It was afternoon, but he felt no hunger, only thirst, which he quenched with the wine at hand. His windows gave upon the Capitol and a green wood beyond; the waving trees enticed, while the room was dull and the noises of the house distasteful. He said to himself that he would walk abroad, would go out under the beckoning trees and be rid of the town. He remembered that the Council was to meet that afternoon. Well, it might sit without him! He was for the woods, where dwelt the cool winds and the shadows deep and silent.
A few yards, and he was quit of Duke of Gloucester Street; behind him, porticoed Capitol, gaol, and tiny vineclad debtor’s prison. In the gaol yard the pirates sat upon a bench in the sunshine, and one smoked a long pipe, and one brooded upon his irons. Gold rings were in their ears, and their black hair fell from beneath colored handkerchiefs twisted turbanwise around their brows. The gaoler watched them, standing in his doorway, and his children, at play beneath a tree, built with sticks a mimic scaffold, and hanged thereon a broken puppet. There was a shady road leading through a wood to Queen’s Creek and the Capitol Landing, and down this road went Haward. His step was light; the dullness, the throbbing pulses, the oppression of the morning, had given way to a restlessness and a strange exaltation of spirit. Fancy was quickened, imagination heightened ; to himself he seemed to see the heart of all things. Across his mind flitted fragments of verse, — now a broken line just hinting beauty, now the pure passion of a lovely stanza. His thoughts went to and fro, mobile as the waves of the sea; but firm as the reefs beneath them stood his knowledge that presently he was going back to Fair View. To-morrow, when the Governor’s ball was over, when he could decently get away, he would leave the town ; he would go to his house in the country. Late flowers bloomed in his garden; the terrace was fair above the river; beneath the red brick wall, on the narrow little creek shining like a silver highway, lay a winged boat; and the highway ran past a glebe house ; and in the glebe house dwelt a dryad whose tree had closed against her. Audrey ! — a fair name. Audrey, Audrey! — the birds were singing it; out of the deep, Arcadian shadows any moment it might come, clearly cried by satyr, Pan, or shepherd. Hark! there was song —
It was but a negro on the road behind, singing to himself as he went about his master’s business. The voice was the voice of the race, mellow, deep, and plaintive ; perhaps the song was of love in a burning land. He passed the white man, and the arching trees hid him, but the wake of music was long in fading. The road leading through a cool and shady dell, Haward left it, and took possession of the mossy earth beneath a holly tree. Here, lying on the ground, he could see the road through the intervening foliage; else the place had seemed the heart of an ancient wood.
It was merry lying where were glimpses of blue sky, where the leaves quivered and a squirrel chattered and a robin sang a madrigal. Youth the divine, halfway down the stair of misty yesterdays, turned upon his heel and came back to him. He pillowed his head upon his arm, and was content. It was well to be so filled with fancies, so iron of will, so headstrong and gay; to be friends once more with a younger Haward, with the Haward of a mountain pass, of mocking comrades and an irate Excellency.
From the road came a rumble of oaths. Sailors, sweating and straining, were rolling a very great cask of tobacco from a neighboring warehouse down to the landing and some expectant sloop. Haward, lying at ease, smiled at their weary task, their grunting and swearing ; when they were gone, smiled at the blankness of the road. All things pleased. There was food for mirth in the call of a partridge, in the inquisitive gaze of a squirrel, in the web of a spider gaoler to a gilded fly. There was food for greater mirth in the appearance on the road of a solitary figure in a winecolored coat and bushy black peruke.
Haward sat up. “ Ha, Monacan ! ” he cried, with a laugh, and threw a stick to attract the man’s attention.
Hugon turned, stood astare, then left the road and came down into the dell.
“ What fortune, trader ? ” smiled Haward. “ Did your traps hold in the great forest ? Were your people easy to fool, giving twelve deerskins for an old match-coat ? There is charm in a woodsman life. Come, tell me of your journeys, dangers and escapes.”
The half-breed looked down upon him with a twitching face. “ What hinders me from killing you now ? ” he demanded, with a backward look at the road. “ None may pass for many minutes.”
Haward lay back upon the moss, with his hands locked beneath his head. “What indeed?” he answered calmly. “Come, here is a velvet log, fit seat for an emperor — or a sachem ; sit and tell me of your life in the woods. For peace pipe let me offer my snuffbox.” In his mad humor he sat up again, drew from his pocket, and presented with the most approved flourish, his box of chased gold. “ Monsieur, c’est le tabac pour le nez d’un monarque,” he said lazily.
Hugon sat down upon the log, helped himself to the mixture with a grand air, and shook the yellow dust from his ruffles. The action, meant to be airy, only achieved fierceness. From some hidden sheath he drew a knife, and began to strip from the log a piece of bark. “ Tell me, you,” he said. “ Have you been to France ? What manner of land is it ? ”
“ A gay country,” answered Haward; “ a land where the men are all white, and where, at present, periwigs are worn much shorter than the one monsieur affects.”
“ He is a great brave, a French gentleman ? Always he kills the man he hates ? ”
“ Not always,” said the other. “ Sometimes the man he hates kills him.”
By now one end of the piece of bark in the trader’s hands was shredded to tinder. He drew from his pocket his flint and steel, and struck a spark into the frayed mass. It flared up, and he held first the tips of his fingers, then the palm of his hand, then his bared forearm, in the flame that licked and scorched the flesh. His face was perfectly unmoved, his eyes unchanged in their expression of hatred. “ Can he do this ? ” he asked.
“ Perhaps not,” said Haward lightly. “ It is a very foolish thing to do.”
The flame died out, and the trader tossed aside the charred bit of bark. “ There was old Pierre at Monacan-Town who taught me to pray to le bon Dieu. He told me how grand and fine is a French gentleman, and that I was the son of many such. He called the English great pigs, with brains as dull and muddy as the river after many rains. My mother was the daughter of a chief.
She had strings of pearl for her neck, and copper for her arms, and a robe of white doeskin, very soft and fine. When she was dead and my father was dead, I came from Monacan-Town to your English school over yonder. I can read and write. I am a white man and a Frenchman, not an Indian. When I go to the villages in the woods, I am given a lodge apart, and the men and women gather to hear a white man speak. . . . You have done me wrong with that girl, that Ma’m’selle Audrey that I wish for wife. We are enemies: that is as it should be. You shall not have her, — never, never ! But you despise me: how is that ? That day upon the creek, that night in your cursed house, you laughed ” —
The Haward of the mountain pass, regarding the twitching face opposite him and the hand clenched upon the handle of a knife, laughed again. At the sound the trader’s face ceased to twitch. Haward felt rather than saw the stealthy tightening of the frame, the gathering of forces, the closer grasp upon the knife, and flung out his arm. A hare scurried past, making for the deeper woods. From the road came the tramp of a horse and a man’s voice singing, —
“ 'To all you ladies now on land ’ ” — and an inquisitive dog turned aside from the road, and plunged into the dell.
The rider, havingchecked his horse and quit his song in order to call to his dog, looked through the thin veil of foliage and saw the two men beneath the holly tree. “Ha, Jean Hugon!” he cried. “ Is that you ? Where is that packet of skins you were to deliver at my store ? Come over here, man ! ”
The trader moistened his dry lips with his tongue, and slipped the knife back into its sheath. “ Had we been a mile in the woods,” he said, “ you would have laughed no more.”
Haward watched him go. The argument with the rider was a lengthy one. He upon horseback would not stand still in the road to finish it, but put his beast into motion. The trader, explaining and gesticulating, walked beside his stirrup; the voices grew fainter and fainter, — were gone. Haward laughed to himself ; then, with his eyes raised to the depth on depth of blue, serene beyond the grating of thorn-pointed leaves, sent his spirit to his red brick house and silent, sunny garden, with the gate in the ivied wall, and the six steps down to the boat and the lapping water.
The shadows lengthened, and a wind of the evening entered the wood. Haward shook off the lethargy that had kept him lying there for the better part of an afternoon, rose to his feet, and left the green dell for the road, all shadow now, winding back to the toy metropolis, to Marot’s ordinary, to the ball at the Palace that night.
The ball at the Palace ! — he had forgotten that. Flare of lights, wail of violins, a painted, silken crowd, laughter, whispers, magpie chattering, wine, and the weariness of the dance, when his soul would long to be with the night outside, with the rising wind and the shining stars. He half determined not to go. What mattered the offense that would be taken ? Did he go he would repent, wearied and ennuyé?, watching Evelyn, all rose - colored, moving with another through the minuet; tied himself perhaps to some pert miss, or cornered in a cardroom by boisterous gamesters, or, drinking with his peers, called on to toast the lady of his dreams. Better the dull room at Marot’s ordinary, or better still to order Mirza, and ride off at the planter’s pace, through the starshine, to Fair View. On the river bank before the store MacLean might be lying, dreaming of a mighty wind and a fierce death. He would dismount, and sit beside that Highland gentleman, Jacobite and strong man, and their moods would chime as they had chimed before. Then on to the house and to the eastern window ! Not to-night, but to-morrow night, perhaps, would the darkness be pierced by the calm pale star that marked another window. It was all a mistake, that month at Westover, — days lost and wasted, the running of golden sands ill to spare from Love’s brief glass. . . .
His mood had changed when, with the gathering dusk, he entered his room at Marot’s ordinary. He would go to the Palace that night; it would be the act of a boy to fling away through the darkness, shirking a duty his position demanded. He would go and be merry, watching Evelyn in the gown that Peterborough had praised.
When Juba had lighted the candles, he sat and drank and drank again of the red wine upon the table. It put maggots in his brain, fired and flushed him to the spirit’s core. An idea came, at which he laughed. He bade it go, but it would not. It stayed, and his fevered fancy played around it as a moth around a candle. At first he knew it for a notion, bizarre and absurd, which presently he would dismiss. All day strange thoughts had come and gone, appearing, disappearing, like will-o’-the-wisps for which a man upon a firm road has no care. Never fear that he will follow them! He sees the marsh that it has no footing. So with this Jack-o’-lantern conception, — it would vanish as it came.
It did not so. Instead, when he had drunken more wine, and had sat for some time methodically measuring, over and over again, with thumb and forefinger, the distance from candle to bottle, and from bottle to glass, the idea began to lose its wildfire aspect. In no great time it appeared an inspiration as reasonable as happy. When this point had been reached, he stamped upon the floor to summon his servant from the room below. “ Lay out the white and gold, Juba,” he ordered, when the negro appeared, “ and come make me very fine. I am for the Palace, — I and a brown lady that hath bewitched me! The white sword knot, sirrah; and cock my hat with the diamond brooch ” —
It was a night that was thronged with stars, and visited by a whispering wind. Haward, walking rapidly along the almost deserted Nicholson Street, lifted his burning forehead to the cool air and the star-strewn fields of heaven. Coming to the gate by which he had entered the afternoon before, he lifted the latch and passed into the garden. By now his fever was full upon him, and it was a man scarce to be held responsible for his actions that presently knocked at the door of the long room where, at the window opening upon Palace Street, Audrey sat with Mistress Stagg and watched the people going to the ball.
(To be continued.)