JUBA, setting candles upon a table in Haward’s bedroom, chanced to spill melted wax upon his master’s hand, outstretched on the board. “ Damn you! ” cried Haward, moved by sudden and uncontrollable irritation. “ Look what you are doing, sirrah ! ”
The negro gave a start of genuine surprise. Haward could punish, — Juba had more than once felt the weight of his master’s cane, — but justice had always been meted out with an equable voice and a fine impassivity of countenance. “ Don’t stand there staring at me ! ” now ordered the master as irritably as before. “ Go stir the fire, draw the curtains, shut out the light! Ha, Angus, is that you ? ”
MacLean crossed the room to the fire upon the hearth, and stood with his eyes upon the crackling logs. “ You kindle too soon your winter fire,” he said.
These forests, flaming red and yellow, should warm the land.”
“ Winter is at hand. The air strikes cold to-night,” answered Haward, and rising began to pace the room, while MacLean watched him with compressed lips and gloomy eyes. Finally he came to a stand before a card table, set full in the ruddy light of the fire, and taking up the cards ran them slowly through his fingers. “ When the lotus was all plucked and Lethe drained, then cards were born into the world,” he said sententiously. “ Come, my friend, let us forget awhile.”
They sat down, and Haward dealt.
“ I came to the house landing before sunset,” began the storekeeper slowly. “ I found you gone.”
“ Ay,” said Haward, gathering up his cards. “ ’T is yours to play.”
“ Juba told me that you had called for Mirza, and had ridden away to the glebe house.”
“ True,” answered the other. “ And what then ? ”
There was a note of warning in his voice, but MacLean did not choose to heed. “ I rowed on down the river, past the mouth of the creek,” he continued, with deliberation. “ There was a mound of grass and a mass of colored vines ” —
“ And a blood-red oak,” finished Haward coldly. “ Shall we pay closer regard to what we are doing ? I play the king.”
“ You were there ! ” exclaimed the Highlander. “ You — not Jean Hugon — searched for and found the poor maid’s hiding place.” The red came into his tanned cheek. “ Now, by St. Andrew ! ” he began ; then checked himself.
Haward tapped with his finger the bit of painted pasteboard before him. “ I play the king,” he repeated, in an even voice ; then struck a bell, and when Juba appeared ordered the negro to bring wine and to stir the fire. The flames, leaping up, lent strange animation to the face of the lady above the mantelshelf, and a pristine brightness to the swords crossed beneath the painting. The slave moved about the room, drawing the curtains more closely, arranging all for the night. While he was present the players gave their attention to the game, but with the sound of the closing door MacLean laid down his cards.
“ I must speak,” he said abruptly. “ The girl’s face haunts me. You do wrong. It is not the act of a gentleman.” The silence that followed was broken by Haward, who spoke in the smooth, slightly drawling tones which with him spelled irritation and sudden, hardly controlled anger. “ It is my home-coming,” he said. “ I am tired, and wish to-night to eat only of the lotus. Will you take up your cards again ? ”
A less impetuous man than MacLean, noting the signs of weakness, fatigue, and impatience, would have waited, and on the morrow have been listened to with equanimity. But the Highlander, fired by his cause, thought not of delay. “ To forget! ” he exclaimed. “ That is the coward’s part! I would have you remember : remember yourself, who are by nature a gentleman and generous; remember how alone and helpless is the girl; remember to cease from this pursuit ! ”
“ We will leave the cards, and say good-night,” said Haward, with a strong effort for self-control.
“ Good-niglit with all my heart! ” cried the other hotly. “ When you have promised to lay no further snare for that maid at your gates, whose name you have blasted, whose heart you have wrung, whose nature you have darkened and distorted ” —
“ Have you done ? ” demanded Haward. “ Once more, ’t were wise to say good-niglit at once.”
“Not yet! ” exclaimed the storekeeper, stretching out an eager hand. “ That girl hath so haunting a face. Haward, see her not again ! God wot, I think you have crushed the soul within her, and her name is bandied from mouth to mouth. ’T were kind to leave her to forget and be forgotten. Go to Westover : wed the lady there of whom you raved in your fever. You are her declared suitor; ’t is said that she loves you ” —
Haward drew his breath sharply and turned in his chair. Then, spent with fatigue, irritable from recent illness, sore with the memory of the meeting by the river, determined upon his course and yet deeply perplexed, he narrowed his eyes and began to give poisoned arrow for poisoned arrow.
“ Was it in the service of the Pretender that you became a squire of dames ? ” he asked. “ ’Gad, for a Jacobite you are particular! ”
MacLean started as if struck, and drew himself up. “ Have a care, sir! A MacLean sits not to hear his king or his chief defamed. In future, pray remember it.”
“ For my part,” said the other, “ I would have Mr. MacLean remember ” —
The intonation carried his meaning. MacLean, flushing deeply, rose from the table. . “That is unworthy of you,” he said. “ But since before to-night servants have rebuked masters, I spare not to tell you that you do most wrongly. ’T is sad for the girl she died not in that wilderness where you found her.”
“Ads my life!” cried Haward. “ Leave my affairs alone ! ”
Both men were upon their feet. “ I took you for a gentleman,” said the Highlander, breathing hard. “ I said to myself: ‘ Duart is overseas where I cannot serve him. I will take this other for my chief ’ ” —
“ That is for a Highland cateran and traitor,” interrupted Haward, pleased to find another dart, but scarcely aware of how deadly an insult he was dealing.
In a flash the blow was struck. Juba, in the next room, hearing the noise of the overturned table, appeared at the door. “ Set the table to rights and light the candles again,” said his master calmly. “No, let the cards lie. Now begone to the quarters ! ’T was I that stumbled and overset the table.”
Following the slave to the door he locked it upon him ; then turned again to the room, and to MacLean standing waiting in the centre of it. “ Under the circumstances, we may, I think, dispense with preliminaries. You will give me satisfaction here and now ? ”
“ Do you take it at my hands ? ” asked the other proudly. “ Just now you reminded me that I was your servant. But find me a sword ” —
Haward went to a carved chest; drew from it two rapiers, measured the blades, and laid one upon the table. MacLean took it up, and slowly passed the gleaming steel between his fingers. Presently he began to speak, in a low, controlled, monotonous voice : “ Why did you not leave me as I was ? Six months ago I was alone, quiet, dead. A star had set for me ; as the lights fall behind Ben More, it was lost and gone. You, long hated, long looked for, came, and the star arose again. You touched my scars, and suddenly I esteemed them honorable. You called me friend, and I turned from my enmity and clasped your hand. Now my soul goes back to its realm of solitude and hate; now you are my foe again.” He broke off to bend the steel within his hands almost to the meeting of hilt and point. “ A hated master,” he ended, with bitter mirth, “ yet one that I must thank for grace extended. Forty stripes is, I believe, the proper penalty.”
Haward, who had seated himself at his escritoire and was writing, turned his head. “ For my reference to your imprisonment in Virginia I apologize. I demand the reparation due from one gentleman to another for the indignity of a blow. Pardon me for another moment, when I shall be at your service.”
He threw sand upon a sheet of giltedged paper, folded and superscribed it; then took from his breast a thicker document. “ The Solebay, man - of - war, lying off Jamestown, sails at sunrise. The captain —Captain Meade — is my friend. Who knows the fortunes of war ? If by chance I should fall to-night, take a boat at the landing, hasten upstream, and hail the Solebay. When you are aboard give Meade — who has reason to oblige me — this letter. He will carry you down the coast to Charleston, where, if you change your name and lurk for a while, you may pass for a buccaneer and be safe enough. For this other paper ” — He hesitated, then spoke on with some constraint: “ It is your release from servitude in Virginia, — in effect, your pardon. I have interest both here and at home — it hath been many years since Preston — the paper was not hard to obtain. I had meant to give it to you before we parted to-night. I regret that, should you prove the better swordsman, it may be of little service to you.”
He laid the papers on the table, and began to divest himself of his coat, waistcoat, and long, curled periwig. MacLean took up the pardon and held it to a candle. It caught, but before the flame could reach the writing Haward had dashed down the other’s hand and beaten out the blaze. “’Slife, Angus, what would you do ! ” he cried, and, taken unawares, there was angry concern in his voice. “ Why, man, ’t is liberty! ”
“ I may not accept it,” said MacLean, with dry lips. “ That letter, also, is useless to me. I would you were all villain.”
“ Your scruple is fantastic ! ” retorted the other, and as he spoke he put both papers upon the escritoire, weighting them with the sandbox. “ You shall take them hence when our score is settled,— ay, and use them as best you may ! Now, sir, are you ready ? ”
“ You are weak from illness,” said MacLean hoarsely. “ Let the quarrel rest until you have recovered strength.”
Haward, rapier in hand, smiled slightly. “I was not strong yesterday,” he said. “ But Mr. Everard is pinked in the side, and Mr. Travis, who would fight with pistols, hath a ball through his shoulder.”
The storekeeper started. “ I have heard of those gentlemen ! You fought them both upon the day when you left your sickroom ? ”
“ Assuredly,” answered the other, with a slight lift of his brows. “ Will you be so good as to move the table to one side ? So. On guard, sir ! ”
The man who had been ill unto death and the man who for many years had worn no sword acquitted themselves well. Had the room been a field behind Montagu House, had there been present seconds, a physician, gaping chairmen, the interest would have been breathless. As it was, the lady upon the wall smiled on, with her eyes forever upon the blossoms in her hand, and the river without, when it could be heard through the clashing of steel, made but a listless and dreamy sound. Each swordsman knew that he had provoked a friend to whom his debt was great, but each, according to his godless creed, must strive as though that friend were his dearest foe. The Englishman fought coolly, the Gael with fervor. The latter had an unguarded moment. Haward’s blade leaped to meet it, and on the other’s shirt appeared a bright red stain.
In the moment that he was touched the Highlander let fall his sword. Haward, not understanding, lowered his point, and with a gesture bade his antagonist recover the weapon. But the storekeeper folded his arms. “ Where blood has been drawn there is satisfaction,” he said. “ I have given it to you, and now, by the bones of Gillean-naTuaidhe, I will not fight you longer ! ”
For a minute or more Haward stood with his eyes upon the ground and his hand yet closely clasping the rapier hilt; then, drawing a long breath, he took up the velvet scabbard and slowly sheathed his blade. “ I am content,” he said. “ Your wound, I hope, is not dangerous ? ”
MacLean thrust a handkerchief into his bosom to stanch the bleeding. “ A pin prick,” he said indifferently.
His late antagonist held out his hand. “It is well over. Come ! We are not young hotheads, but men who have suffered, and should know the vanity and the pity of such strife. Let us forget this hour, call each other friend again ” —
“Tell me first,” demanded MacLean, his arm rigid at his side, — “ tell me first why you fought Mr. Everard and Mr. Travis.”
Gray eyes and dark blue met. “ I fought them,” said Haward, “ because, on a time, they offered insult to the woman whom I intend to make my wife.”
So quiet was it in the room when he had spoken that the wash of the river, the tapping of walnut branches outside the window, the dropping of coals upon the hearth, became loud and insistent sounds. Then, “ Darden’s Audrey ? ” said MacLean, in a whisper.
“Not Darden’s Audrey, but mine,” answered Haward, — “ the only woman I ever have loved or shall love.”
He walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. “ To-night there is no light,” he said to himself, beneath his breath. “ By and by we shall stand here together, listening to the river, marking the wind in the trees.” As upon paper heat of fire may cause to appear characters before invisible, so, when he turned, the flame of a great passion had brought all that was highest in this gentleman’s nature into his countenance, softening and ennobling it. “ Whatever my thoughts before,” he said simply, “ I have never, since that night at the Palace, meant other than this.” Coming back to MacLean he laid a hand upon his shoulder. “ Who made us knows we all do need forgiveness ! Am I no more to you, Angus, than Ewin Mor Mackinnon ? ”
An hour later, those who were to be lifetime friends went together down the echoing stair and through the empty house to the outer door. When it was opened, they saw that upon the stone step without, in the square of light thrown by the candles behind them, lay an Indian arrow. MacLean picked it up. “ ’T was placed athwart the door,” he said doubtingly. “ Is it in the nature of a challenge ? ”
Haward took the dart, and examined it curiously. “ The trader grows troublesome,” he remarked. “ He must back to the woods and to the foes of his own class.” As he spoke he broke the arrow in two, and flung the pieces from him.
It was a wonderful night, with many stars and a keen wind. Moved each in his degree by its beauty, Haward and MacLean stood regarding it before they should go, the one back to his solitary chamber, the other to the store which was to be his charge no longer than the morrow. “ I feel the air that blows from the hills,” said the Highlander. “ It comes over the heather; it hath swept the lochs, and I hear it in the sound of torrents.” He lifted his face to the wind. “ The breath of freedom ! I shall have dreams to-night.”
When he was gone, Haward, left alone, looked for a while upon the heights of stars. “ I too shall dream to-night,” he breathed to himself. “ To-morrow all will be well.” His gaze falling from the splendor of the skies to the swaying trees, gaunt, bare, and murmuring of their loss to the hurrying river, sadness and vague fear took sudden possession of his soul. He spoke her name over and over ; he left the house and went into the garden. It was the garden of the dying year, and the change that in the morning he had smiled to see now appalled him. He would have had it June again. Now, when on the morrow he and Audrey should pass through the garden, it must be down dank and leafstrewn paths, past yellow and broken stalks, with here and there wan ghosts of flowers.
He came to the dial, and, bending, pressed his lips against the carven words that, so often as they had stood there together, she had traced with her finger. “ Love ! thou mighty alchemist! ” he breathed. “ Life ! that may now be gold, now iron, but never again dull lead ! Death ” — He paused ; then, “ There shall be no death,” he said, and left the withered garden for the lonely, echoing house.
AUDREY COMES TO WESTOVER.
It was ten of the clock upon this same night when Hugon left the glebe house. Audrey, crouching in the dark beside her window, heard him bid the minister, as drunk as himself, good-night, and watched him go unsteadily down the path that led to the road. Once he paused, and made as if to return ; then went on to his lair at the crossroads ordinary. Again Audrey waited, — this time by the door. Darden stumbled upstairs to bed. Mistress Deborah’s voice was raised in shrill reproach, and the drunken minister answered her with oaths. The small house rang with their quarrel, but Audrey listened with indifference ; not trembling and stopping her ears, as once she would have done. It was over at last, and the place sunk in silence; but still the girl waited and listened, standing close to the door. At last, as it was drawing toward midnight, she put her hand upon the latch, and, raising it very softly, slipped outside. Heavy breathing came from the room where slept her guardians; it went evenly on while she crept downstairs and unbarred the outer door. Sure and silent and light of touch, she passed like a spirit from the house that had given her shelter, nor once looked back upon it.
The boat, hidden in the reeds, was her destination ; she loosed it, and taking the oars rowed down the creek. When she came to the garden wall, she bent her head and shut her eyes; but when she had left the creek for the great dim river, she looked at Fair View house as she rowed past it on her way to the mountains. No light to-night; the hour was late, and he was asleep, and that was well.
It was cold upon the river, and sere leaves, loosening their hold upon that which had given them life, drifted down upon her as she rowed beneath arching trees. When she left the dark bank for the unshadowed stream, the wind struck her brow and the glittering stars perplexed her. There were so many of them. When one shot, she knew that a soul had left the earth. Another fell, and another, — it must be a good night for dying. She ceased to row, and, leaning over, dipped her hand and arm into the black water. The movement brought the gunwale of the boat even with the flood. . . . Say that one leaned over a little further . . . there would fall another star. God gathered the stars in his hand, but he would surely be angry with one that came before it was called, and the star would sink past him into a night forever dreadful. . . . The water was cold and deep and black. Great fish throve in it, and below was a bed of ooze and mud.
The girl awoke from her dream of self-murder with a cry of terror. Not the river, good Lord, not the river ! Not death, but life ! With a second shuddering cry she lifted hand and arm from the water, and with frantic haste dried them upon the skirt of her dress. There had been none to hear her. Upon the midnight river, between the dim forests that ever spoke, but never listened, she was utterly alone. She took the oars again, and went on her way up the river, rowing swiftly, for the mountains were far away, and she might be pursued.
When she drew near to Jamestown she shot far out into the river, because men might be astir in the boats about the town landing. Anchored in midstream was a great ship, — a man-of-war, bristling with guns. Her boat touched its shadow, and the lookout called to her. She bent her head, put forth her strength, and left the black hull behind her. There was another ship to pass, a slaver that had come in the evening before, and would land its cargo at sunrise. The stench that arose from it was intolerable, and, as the girl passed, a corpse, heavily weighted, was thrown into the water. Audrey went swiftly by, and the river lay clean before her. The stars paled and the dawn came, but she could not see the shores for the thick white mist. A spectral boat, with a sail like a gray moth’s wing, slipped past her. The shadow at the helm was whistling for the wind, and the sound came strange and shrill through the filmy, ashen morning. The mist began to lift. A few moments now, and the river would lie dazzlingly bare between the red and yellow forests. She turned her boat shorewards, and presently forced it beneath the bronze-leafed, drooping boughs of a sycamore. Here she left the boat, tying it to the tree, and hoping that it was well hidden. The great fear at her heart was that, when she was missed, Hugon would undertake to follow and to find her. He had the skill to do so. Perhaps, after many days, when she was in sight of the mountains, she might turn her head and, in that lonely land, see him coming toward her.
The sun was shining, and the woods were gay above her head and gay beneath her feet. When the wind blew, the colored leaves went before it like flights of birds. She was hungry, and as she walked she ate a piece of bread taken from the glebe-house larder. It was her plan to go rapidly through the settled country, keeping as far as possible to the great spaces of woodland which the axe had left untouched ; sleeping in such dark and hidden hollows as she could find ; begging food only when she must, and then from poor folk who would not stay her or be overcurious about her business. As she went on, the houses, she knew, would be farther and farther apart; the time would soon arrive when she might walk half a day and see never a clearing in the deep woods. Then the hills would rise about her, and far, far off she might see the mountains, fixed, cloudlike, serene, and still, beyond the miles of rustling forest. There would be no more great houses, built for ladies and gentlemen, but here and there, at far distances, rude cabins, dwelt in by kind and simple folk. At such a home, when the mountains had taken on a deeper blue, when the streams were narrow and the level land only a memory, she would pause, would ask if she might stay. What work was wanted she would do. Perhaps there would be children, or a young girl like Molly, or a kind woman like Mistress Stagg; and perhaps, after along, long while, it would grow to seem to her like that other cabin.
These were her rose-colored visions. At other times a terror took her by the shoulders, holding her until her face whitened and her eyes grew wide and dark. The way was long and the leaves were falling fast, and she thought that it might be true that in this world into which she had awakened there was for her no home. The cold would come, and she might have no bread, and for all her wandering find none to take her in. In those forests of the west the wolves ran in packs, and the Indians burned and wasted. Some bitter night-time she would die. . . . Watching the sky from Fair View windows, perhaps he might idly mark a falling star.
All that day she walked, keeping as far as was possible to the woods, but forced now and again to traverse open fields and long stretches of sunny road. If she saw any one coming, she hid in the roadside bushes, or, if that could not be done, walked steadily onward, with her head bent and her heart beating fast. It must have been a day for minding one’s own business, for none stayed or questioned her. Her dinner she begged from some children whom she found in a wood gathering nuts. Supper she had none. When night fell, she was glad to lay herself down upon a bed of leaves that she had raked together; but she slept little, for the wind moaned in the halfclad branches, and she could not cease from counting the stars that shot. In the morning, numbed and cold, she went slowly on until she came to a wayside house. Quaker folk lived there ; and they asked her no question, but with kind words gave her of what they had, and let her rest and grow warm in the sunshine upon their doorstep. She thanked them with shy grace, but presently, when they were not looking, rose and went her way. Upon the second day she kept to the road. It was loss of time wandering in the woods, skirting thicket and marsh, forced ever and again to return to the beaten track. She thought, also, that she must be safe, so far was she now from Fair View. How could they guess that she was gone to the mountains ?
About midday, two men on horseback looked at her in passing. One spoke to the other, and turning their horses they put after and overtook her. He who had spoken touched her with the butt of his whip. “ Ecod ! ” he exclaimed. “ It’s the lass we saw run for a guinea last May Day at Jamestown ! Why so far from home, light o’ heels ? ”
A wild leap of her heart, a singing in her ears, and Audrey clutched at safety.
“ I be Joan, the smith’s daughter,” she said stolidly. “ I niver ran for a guinea. I niver saw a guinea. I be going an errand for feyther.”
“ Ecod, then ! ” said the other man. “ You ’re on a wrong scent. ’T was no dolt that ran that day ! ”
The man who had touched her laughed. “ Facks, you are right, Tom ! But I’d ha’ sworn ’t was that brown girl. Go your ways on your errand for ‘ feyther ’! ” As he spoke, being of an amorous turn, he stooped from his saddle and kissed her. Audrey, since she was at that time not Audrey at all, but Joan, the smith’s daughter, took the salute as stolidly as she had spoken. The two men rode away, and the second said to the first: 舠 A Williamsburgh man told me that the girl who won the guinea could speak and look like a born lady. Did n’t ye hear the story of how she went to the Governor’s ball, all tricked out, dancing, and making people think she was some fine dame from Maryland, maybe ? And the next day she was scored in church before all the town. I don’t know as they put a white sheet on her, but they say ’t was no more than her deserts.”
Audrey, left standing in the sunny road, retook her own countenance, rubbed her cheek where the man’s lips had touched it, and trembled like a leaf. She was frightened, both at the encounter and because she could make herself so like Joan, — Joan who lived near the crossroads ordinary, and who had been whipped at the Court House.
Late that afternoon she came upon two or three rude dwellings clustered about a mill. A knot of men, the miller in the midst, stood and gazed at the mill stream. They wore an angry look, and Audrey passed them hastily by. At the farthest house she paused to beg a piece of bread ; but the woman who came to the door frowned and roughly bade her begone, and a child threw a stone at her. “ One witch is enough to take the bread out of poor folks’ mouths ! ” cried the woman. “ Be off, or I ’ll set the dogs on ye! ” The children ran after her as she hastened from the inhospitable neighborhood. “ ’T is a young witch,” they cried, “ going to help the old one swim to-night ! ” and a stone struck her, bruising her shoulder.
She began to run, and, fleet of foot as she was, soon distanced her tormentors. When she slackened pace it was sunset, and she was faint with hunger and desperately weary. From the road a bypath led to a small clearing in a wood, with a slender spiral of smoke showing between the trees. Audrey went that way, and came upon a crazy cabin whose door and window were fast closed. In the unkempt garden rose an apple tree, with the red apples shriveling upon its boughs, and from the broken gate a line of cedars, black and ragged, ran down to a piece of water, here ghastly pale, there streaked like the sky above with angry crimson. The place was very still, and the air felt cold. When no answer came to her first knocking, Audrey beat upon the door; for she was suddenly afraid of the road behind her, and of the doleful woods and the coming night.
The window shutter creaked ever so slightly, and some one looked out; then the door opened, and a very old and wrinkled woman, with lines of cunning about her mouth, laid her hand upon the girl’s arm. 舠Who be ye?” she whispered. “ Did ye bring warning ? I don’t say, mind ye, that I can’t make a stream go dry, — maybe I can and maybe I can’t, — but I did n’t put a word on the one yonder.” She threw up her arms with a wailing cry. “ But they won’t believe what a poor old soul says! Are they in an evil temper, honey ? ”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Audrey. “ I have come a long way, and I am hungry and tired. Give me a piece of bread, and let me stay with you tonight.”
The old woman moved aside, and the girl, entering a room that was mean and poor enough, sat down upon a stool beside the fire. “ If ye came by the mill,” demanded her hostess, with a suspicious eye, “ why did ye not stop there for bite and sup ? ”
“ The men were all talking together,” answered Audrey wearily. “ They looked so angry that I was afraid of them. I did stop at one house ; but the woman bade me begone, and the children threw stones at me and called me a witch.”
The crone stooped and stirred the fire ; then from a cupboard brought forth bread and a little red wine, and set them before the girl. “ They called you a witch, did they ? ” she mumbled as she went to and fro. 舠 And the men were talking and planning together ? ”
Audrey ate the bread and drank the wine; then, because she was so tired, leaned her head against the table and fell half asleep. When she roused herself, it was to find her withered hostess standing over her with a sly and toothless smile. “ I ’ve been thinking,” she whispered, “ that since you ’re here to mind the house, I ’ll just step out to a neighbor’s about some business I have in hand. You can stay by the fire, honey, and be warm and comfortable. Maybe I ’ll not come back to-night.”
Going to the window, she dropped a heavy bar across the shutter. “Ye ’ll put the chain across the door when I ’m out,” she commanded. “ There be evildisposed folk may want to win in.” Coming back to the girl, she laid a skinny hand upon her arm. Whether with palsy or with fright the hand shook like a leaf, but Audrey, half asleep again, noticed little beyond the fact that the fire warmed her, and that here at last was rest. “ If there should come a knocking and a calling, honey,” whispered the witch, “ don’t ye answer to it or unbar the door. Ye ’ll save time for me that way. But if they win in, tell them I went to the northward.”
Audrey looked at her with glazed, uncomprehending eyes, while the gnomelike figure appeared to grow smaller, to melt out of the doorway. It was a minute or more before the wayfarer thus left alone in the hut could remember that she had been told to bar the door. Then her instinct of obedience sent her to the threshold. Dusk was falling, and the waters of the pool lay pale and still beyond the ebony cedars. Through the twilit landscape moved the crone who had housed her for the night; but she went not to the north, but southwards toward the river. Presently the dusk swallowed her up, and Audrey was left with the ragged garden and the broken fence and the tiny firelit hut. Reëntering the room, she fastened the door, as she had been told to do, and then went back to the hearth. The fire blazed and the shadows danced; it was far better than last night, out in the cold, lying upon dead leaves, watching the falling stars. Here it was warm, warm as June in a walled garden ; the fire was red like the roses . . . the roses that had thorns to bring heart’s blood.
Audrey fell fast asleep ; and while she was asleep and the night was yet young, the miller whose mill stream had run dry, the keeper of a tippling house whose custom had dwindled, the ferryman whose child had peaked and pined and died, came with a score of men to reckon with the witch who had done the mischief. Finding door and window fast shut, they knocked, softly at first, then loudly and with threats. One watched the chimney, to see that the witch did not ride forth that way ; and the father of the child wished to gather brush, pile it against the entrance, and set all afire. The miller, who was a man of strength, ended the matter by breaking in the door. They knew that the witch was there, because they had heard her moving about, and, when the door gave, a cry of affright. When, however, they had laid hands upon her, and dragged her out under the stars, into the light of the torches they carried, they found that the witch, who, as was well known, could slip her shape as a snake slips its skin, was no longer old and bowed, but straight and young.
“ Let me go ! ” cried Audrey. “ How dare you hold me ! I never harmed one of you. I am a poor girl come from a long way off ” —
“ Ay, a long way! ” exclaimed the ferryman. “ More leagues, I ’ll warrant, than there are miles in Virginia ! We ’ll see if ye can swim home, ye witch ! ”
“ I’m no witch ! ” cried the girl again. “ I never harmed you. Let me alone! ”
One of the torchbearers gave ground a little. “ She do look mortal young. But where be the witch, then ? ”
Audrey strove to shake herself free. “ The old woman left me alone in the house. She went to — to the northward.”
“ She lies ! ” cried the ferryman, addressing himself to the angry throng. The torches, flaming in the night wind, gave forth a streaming, uncertain, and bewildering light; to the excited imaginations of the rustic avengers, the form in the midst of them was not always that of a young girl, but now and again wavered toward the semblance of the hag who had wrought them evil. “ Before the child died he talked forever of somebody young and fair that came and stood by him when he slept. We thought ’t was his dead mother, but now — now I see who ’t was ! ” Seizing the girl by the wrists, he burst with her through the crowd. “ Let the water touch her, she ’ll turn witch again ! ”
The excited throng, blinded by its own imagination, took up the cry. The girl’s voice was drowned ; she set her lips, and strove dumbly with her captors ; but they swept her out of the weed-grown garden and broken gate, past the cedars that were so ragged and black, down to the cold and deep water. She thought of the night upon the river and of the falling stars, and with a sudden, piercing cry struggled fiercely to escape. The bank was steep ; hands pushed her forward ; she felt the ghastly embrace of the water, and saw, ere the flood closed over her upturned face, the cold and quiet stars.
So loud was the ringing in her ears that she heard no access of voices upon the bank, and knew not that a fresh commotion had arisen. She was sinking for the second time, and her mind had begun to wander in the Fair View garden, when an arm caught and held her up. She was borne to the shore : there were men on horseback ; some one with a clear, authoritative voice was now berating, now good-humoredly arguing with, her late judges.
The man who had sprung to save her held her up to arms that reached down from the bank above ; another moment and she felt the earth again beneath her feet, but could only think that, with half the dying past, these strangers had been cruel to bring her back. Her rescuer shook himself like a great dog. “ I’ve saved the witch alive,” he panted. “ May God forgive and your Honor reward me! ”
“ Nay, worthy constable, you must look to Sathanas for reward! ” cried the gentleman who had been haranguing the miller and his company. These gentry, hardly convinced, but not prepared to debate the matter with a justice of the peace and great man of those parts, began to slip away. The torchbearers, probably averse to holding a light to their own countenances, had flung the torches into the water, and now, heavily shadowed by the cedars, the place was in deep darkness. Presently there were left to berate only the miller and the ferryman, and at last these also went sullenly away without having troubled to mention the witch’s late transformation from age to youth.
“ Where is the rescued fair one ? ” continued the gentleman who, for his own pleasure, had led the conservers of law and order. “ Produce the sibyl, honest Dogberry! Faith, if the lady be not an ingrate, you’ve henceforth a friend at court ! ”
“ My name is Saunders, — Dick Saunders, your Honor,” quoth the constable. “ For the witch, she lies quiet on the ground beneath the cedar yonder.”
“She won’t speak!” cried another. “ She just lies there trembling, with her face in her hands.”
“ But she said, ‘ O Christ! ’ when we took her from the water,” put in a third.
“ She was nigh drowned,” ended the constable. “ And I’m a-tremble myself, the water was that cold. Wauns ! I wish I were in the chimney corner at the Court House ordinary ! ”
The master of Westover flung his riding cloak to one of the constable’s men. “ Wrap it around the shivering iniquity on the ground yonder ; and you, Tom Hope, that brought warning of what your neighbors would do, mount and take the witch behind you. Master Constable, you will lodge Hecate in the gaol to-night, and in the morning bring her up to the great house. We would inquire why a lady so accomplished that she can dry a mill stream to plague a miller cannot drain a pool to save herself from drowning ! ”
At a crossing of the ways, shortly before Court House, gaol, and ordinary were reached, the adventurous Colonel gave a good-night to the constable and his company, and, with a negro servant at his heels, rode gayly on beneath the stars to his house at Westover. Hardy, alert, in love with living, he was well amused by the night’s proceedings. The incident should figure in his next letter to Orrery or to his cousin Taylor.
It figured largely in the table talk next morning, when the sprightly gentleman sat at breakfast with his daughter and his second wife, a fair and youthful kinswoman of Martha and Teresa Blount. The gentleman, launched upon the subject of witchcraft, handled it with equal wit and learning. The ladies thought that the water must have been very cold, and trusted that the old dame was properly grateful, and would, after such a lesson, leave her evil practices. As they were rising from table, word was brought to the master that constable and witch were outside.
The Colonel kissed his wife, promised his daughter to be merciful, and, humming a song, went through the hall to the open house door and the broad, threesided steps of stone. The constable was awaiting him.
“ Here be mysteries, your Honor ! As I serve the King, ’t were n’t Goody Price for whom I ruined my new frieze, but a slip of a girl! ” He waved his hand. “ Will your Honor please to take a look at her ? ”
Audrey sat in the sunshine upon the stone steps; her head was bowed upon her arms. The morning that was so bright was not bright for her; she thought that life had used her but unkindly. A great tree, growing close to the house, sent leaves of dull gold adrift, and they lay at her feet and upon the skirt of her dress. The constable spoke to her : “ Now, mistress, here’s a gentleman as stands for the King and the law. Look up! 舡
A white hand was laid upon the Colonel’s arm. I came to make sure that you were not harsh with the poor creature,” said Evelyn’s pitying voice. “ There is so much misery. Where is she ? Ah ! ”
To gain at last his prisoner’s attention, the constable struck her lightly across the shoulders with his cane. “ Get up ! ” he cried impatiently. “ Get up and make your curtsy ! Ecod, I wish I’d left you in Hunter’s Pond ! ”
Audrey rose, and turned her face, not to the justice of the peace and arbiter of the fate of witches, but to Evelyn, standing above her, — Evelyn, slighter, paler, than she had been at Williamsburgh, but beautiful in her colored, fragrant silks and the air that was hers of sweet and mournful distinction. Now she cried out sharply, while “ That girl again ! ” swore the Colonel, beneath his breath.
Audrey did as she had been told, and made her curtsy. Then, while father and daughter stared at her, the gentleman very red and biting his lip, the lady marble in her loveliness, she tried to speak, to ask them to let her go, but found no words. The face of Evelyn, at whom alone she looked, wavered into distance, gazing at her coldly and mournfully from miles away. She made with her hand a faint gesture of weariness and despair; then sank down at Evelyn’s feet, and lay there in a swoon.
Evelyn, hearing footsteps across the floor of the attic room above her own bedchamber, arose and set wide the door; then went back to her chair by the window that looked out upon green grass and party-colored trees and long reaches of the shining river. “ Come here, if you please,” she called to Audrey, as the latter slowly descended the stair from the room where, half asleep, half awake, she had lain since the morning.
Audrey entered the pleasant chamber, furnished with what luxury the age afforded, and stood before the sometime princess of her dreams. “ Will you not sit down ?” asked Evelyn, in a low voice, and pointed to a chair.
“I had rather stand,” answered Audrey. “ Why did you call me? I was on my way ” —
The other’s clear eyes dwelt upon her. “ Whither were you going ? ”
“ Out of your house,” said Audrey simply, “and out of your life.”
Evelyn folded her hands in her silken lap, and looked out upon river and sky and ceaseless drift of colored leaves. “ You can never go out of my life,” she said. “ Why the power to vex and ruin was given you I do not know, but you have used it. Why did you run away from Fair View ? ”
“ That I might never see Mr. Haward again,” answered Audrey. She held her head up, but she felt the stab. It had not occurred to her that hers was the power to vex and ruin ; apparently that belonged elsewhere.
Evelyn turned from the window, and the two women, the princess and the herdgirl, regarded each other. “ Oh, my God! ” cried Evelyn. “ I did not know that you loved him so! ”
But Audrey shook her head, and spoke with calmness : “ Once I loved and knew it not, and once I loved and knew it. It was all in a dream, and now I have waked up.” She passed her hand across her brow and eyes, and pushed back her heavy hair. It was a gesture that was common to her. To Evelyn it brought a sudden stinging memory of the ballroom at the Palace; of how this girl had looked in her splendid dress, with the roses in her hair; of Haward’s words at the coach door. She had not seen him since that night. “ I am going a long way,” continued Audrey. “ It will be as though I died. I never meant to harm you.”
The other gazed at her with wide, dry eyes, and with an unwonted color in her cheeks. “ She is beautiful,” thought Audrey; then wondered how long she must stay in this room and this house. Without the window the trees beckoned, the light was fair upon the river ; in the south hung a cloud, silver-hued, and shaped like two mighty wings. Audrey, with her eyes upon the cloud, thought, “ If the wings were mine, I would reach the mountains to-night.”
“ Do you remember last May Day ? ” asked Evelyn, in a voice scarcely above a whisper. “ He and I, sitting side by side, watched your running, and I praised you to him. Then we went away, and while we gathered flowers on the road to Williamsburgh he asked me to be his wife. I said no, for he loved me not as I wished to be loved. Afterward, in Williamsburgh, he would have spoken again ; but I would not let him, although in my heart I believed that it was all coming right, — oh, God, that it was all coming right! I said, ‘ When you come to Westover ; ’ and he kissed my hand, and vowed that the next week should find him here.” She turned once more to the window, and, with her chin in her hand, looked out upon the beauty of the autumn. “ Day by day, and day by day,” she said, in the same hushed voice, “I sat at this window and watched for him to come. The weeks went by, and he came not. I began to hear talk of you. Oh, I deny not that it was bitter ! ”
“ Oh me ! oh me ! ” cried Audrey. “ I was so happy, and I thought no harm.”
“ He came at last,” continued Evelyn. “ For a month he stayed here, paying me court. I was too proud to speak of what I had heard. After a while I thought it must have been an idle rumor.” Her voice changed, and with a sudden gesture of passion and despair she lifted her arms above her head, then clasped and wrung her hands. “ Oh, for a month he forgot you ! In all the years to come I shall have that comfort: for one little month, in the company of the woman whom, because she was of his own rank, because she had wealth, because others found her fair and honored her with heart as well as lip, he wished to make his wife, — for that short month he forgot you ! The days were sweet to me, sweet, sweet! Oh, I dreamed my dreams! . . . And then we were called to Williamsburgh to greet the new Governor, and he went with us. . . . There was between us no betrothal. I had delayed to say yes to his asking, for I wished to make sure, — to make sure that he loved me. No man can say he broke troth with me. For that my pride gives thanks! ”
“ What must I do ? ” said Audrey to herself. “ Pain is hard to bear.”
“ That night at the ball,” continued Evelyn, “ when, coming down the stair, I saw you standing beside him . . . and after that, the music, and the lights, and you dancing with him, in your dark beauty, with the flowers in your hair . . . and after that, you and I in my coach and his face at the window! . . . Oh, I can tell you what he said ! He said :
‘ Good-by, sweetheart. . . . The violets are for you ; but the great white blossoms, and the boughs of rosy mist, and all the trees that wave in the wind are for Audrey. ’ ”
“ For me,” cried Audrey, for me an hour in Bruton church next morning ! ”
A silence followed her words. Evelyn, sitting in the great chair, rested her cheek upon her hand and gazed steadfastly at her guest of a day. The sunshine had stolen from the room, but dwelt upon and caressed the world without the window. Faint, tinkling notes of a harpsichord floated up from the parlor below, followed by young Madam Byrd’s voice singing to the perturbed Colonel : —
That say thy sweet is bitter,
When thy rich fruit is such
As nothing can be sweeter.
Fair house of joy and bliss ’ ” —
The song came to an end, but after a pause the harpsichord sounded again, and the singer’s voice rang out: —
Who loves to lie with me ' 舠 —
Audrey gave an involuntary cry ; then, with her lip between her teeth, strove for courage, failed, and with another strangled cry sank upon her knees before a chair and buried her face in its cushions.
When a little time had passed, Evelyn arose and went to her. “ Fate has played with us both,” she said, in a voice that strove for calmness. “ If there was great bitterness in my heart toward you then, I hope it is not so now ; if, on that night, I spoke harshly, unkindly, ungenerously, I — I am sorry. I thought what others thought. I — I cared not to touch you. . . . But now I am told that’t was not you that did unworthily. Mr. Haward has written to me ; days ago I had this letter.” It was in her hand, and she held it out to the kneeling girl. “ Yes, yes, you must read ; it concerns you.” Her voice, low and broken, was yet imperious. Audrey raised her head, took and read the letter. There were but a few unsteady lines, written from Marot’s ordinary at Williamsburgh. The writer was too weak as yet for many words ; few words were best, perhaps. His was all the blame for the occurrence at the Palace, for all besides. That which, upon his recovery, he must strive to teach his acquaintance at large he prayed Evelyn to believe at once and forever. She whom, against her will and in the madness of his fever, he had taken to the Governor’s house was most innocent, — guiltless of all save a childlike affection for the writer, a misplaced confidence, born of old days, and now shattered by his own hand. Before that night she had never guessed his passion, never known the use that had been made of her name. This upon the honor of a gentleman. For the rest, as soon as his strength was regained, he purposed traveling to Westover. There, if Mistress Evelyn Byrd would receive him for an hour, he might in some measure explain, excuse. For much, he knew, there was no excuse, — only pardon to be asked.
The letter ended abruptly, as though the writer’s strength were exhausted. Audrey read it through, then with indifference gave it back to Evelyn. “ It is so — what he says ? ” whispered the latter, crumpling the paper in her hand.
Audrey gazed up at her with wide, tearless eyes. “Yes, it is so. There was no need for you to use those words to me in the coach, that night, — though even then I did not understand. There is no reason why you should fear to touch me.”
Her head sank upon her arm. In the parlor below the singing came to an end, but the harpsichord, lightly fingered, gave forth a haunting melody. It was suited to the afternoon: to the golden light, the drifting leaves, the murmurs of wind and wave, without the window ; to the shadows, the stillness, and the sorrow, within the room. Evelyn, turning slowly toward the kneeling figure, of a sudden saw it through a mist of tears. Her clasped hands parted ; she bent and touched the bowed head, Audrey looked up, and her dark eyes made appeal. Evelyn stooped lower yet; her tears fell upon Audrey’s hair ; a moment, and the two, cast by life in the selfsame tragedy, were in each other’s arms.
“ You know that I came from the mountains,” whispered Audrey. “I am going back. You must tell no one ; in a little while I shall be forgotten.”
“ To the mountains ! ” cried Evelyn. “No one lives there. You would die of cold and hunger. No, no. We are alike unhappy : you shall stay with me here at Westover.”
She rose from her knees, and Audrey rose with her. They no longer clasped each other, — that impulse was past, — but their eyes met in sorrowful amity. Audrey shook her head. “ That may not be,” she said simply. “ I must go away that we may not both be unhappy.” She lifted her face to the cloud in the south. “ I almost died last night. When you drown, there is at first fear and struggling, but at last it is like dreaming, and there is a lightness. . . . When that came I thought, ' It is the air of the mountains, — I am drawing near them.’ . . . Will you let me go now ? I will slip from the house through the fields into the woods, and none will know ” —
But Evelyn caught her by the wrist. “ You are beside yourself ! I would rouse the plantation; in an hour you would be found. Stay with me ” —
A knock at the door, and the Colonel’s secretary, a pale and grave young man, bowing on the threshold. He was just come from the attic room, where he had failed to find the young woman who had been lodged there that morning. The Colonel, supposing that by now she was recovered from her swoon and her fright of the night before, and having certain questions to put to her, desired her to descend to the parlor. Hearing voices in Mistress Evelyn’s room —
“ Very well, Mr. Drew,” said the lady. “ You need not wait. I will myself seek my father with — with our guest.舡
In the parlor Madam Byrd was yet at the harpsichord, but ceased to touch the keys when her stepdaughter, followed by Darden’s Audrey, entered the room. The master of Westover, seated beside his young wife, looked quickly up, arched his brows and turned somewhat red, as his daughter, with her gliding step, crossed the room to greet him. Audrey, obeying a motion of her companion’s hand, waited beside a window, in the shadow of its heavy curtains. “Evelyn,” quoth the Colonel, rising from his chair and taking his daughter’s hand, “ this is scarce befitting ” —
Evelyn stayed his further speech by an appealing gesture. “ Let me speak with you, sir. No, no, madam, do not go! There is naught the world might not hear.”
Audrey waited in the shadow by the window, and her mind was busy, for she had her plans to lay. Sometimes Evelyn’s low voice, sometimes the Colonel’s deeper tones, pierced her understanding ; when this was so she moved restlessly, wishing that it were night and she away. Presently she began to observe the room, which was richly furnished. There were garlands upon the ceiling; a table near her was set with many curious ornaments ; upon a tall cabinet stood a bowl of yellow flowers ; the lady at the harpsichord wore a dress to match the flowers, while Evelyn’s dress was white ; beyond them was a pier glass finer than the one at Fair View.
This glass reflected the doorway, and thus she was the first to see the man from whom she had fled. “ Mr. Marmaduke Haward, massa! ” announced the servant who had ushered him through the hall.
Haward, hat in hand, entered the room. The three beside the harpsichord arose; the one at the window slipped deeper into the shadow of the curtains, and so escaped the visitor’s observation. The latter bowed to the master of Westover, who ceremoniously returned the salute, and to the two ladies, who curtsied to him, but opened not their lips.
“ This, sir,” said Colonel Byrd, holding himself very erect, “ is an unexpected honor.”
“ Rather, sir, an unwished-for intrusion,” answered the other. “ I beg you to believe that I will trouble you for no longer time than matters require.”
The Colonel bit his lip. “ There was a time when Mr. Haward was most welcome to my house. If ’t is no longer thus ” —
Haward made a gesture of assent. “ I know that the time is past. I am sorry that ’t is so. I had thought, sir, to find you alone. Am I to speak before these ladies ? ”
The Colonel hesitated, but Evelyn, leaving Madam Byrd beside the harpsichord, came to her father’s side. That gentleman glanced at her keenly. There was no agitation to mar the pensive loveliness of her face ; her eyes were steadfast, the lips faintly smiling. “ If what you have to say concerns my daughter,” said the Colonel, “ she will listen to you here and now.”
For a few moments dead silence; then Haward spoke, slowly, weighing his words: “I am on my way, Colonel Byrd, to the country beyond the falls. I have entered upon a search, and I know not when it will be ended or when I shall return. Westover lay in my path, and there was that which needed to be said to you, sir, and to your daughter. When it has been said I will take my leave.” He paused ; then, with a quickened breath, again took up his task: “ Some months ago, sir, I sought and obtained your permission to make my suit to your daughter for her hand. The lady, worthy of a better mate, hath done well in saying no to my importunity. I accept her decision, withdraw my suit, wish her all happiness.” He bowed again, formally ; then stood with lowered eyes, his hand griping the edge of the table.
“ I am aware that my daughter has declined to entertain your proposals,” said the Colonel coldly, “ and I approve her determination. Is this all, sir ? ”
“ It should, perhaps, be all,” answered Haward. “ And yet ” — He turned to Evelyn, snow-white, calm, with that faint smile upon her face. “ May I speak to you ? ” he said, in a scarcely audible voice.
She looked at him, with parting lips. “ Here and now,” the Colonel answered for her. “ Be brief, sir.” The master of Fair View found it hard to speak. “ Evelyn ” — he began, and paused, biting his lip. It was very quiet in the familiar parlor, quiet and dim, and drawing toward eventide. The lady at the harpsichord chanced to let fall her hand upon the keys. They gave forth a deep and melancholy sound that vibrated through the room. The chord was like an odor in its subtle power to bring crowding memories. To Haward, and perhaps to Evelyn, scenes long shifted, long faded, took on fresh colors, glowed anew, replaced the canvas of the present. For years the two had been friends ; later months had seen him her avowed suitor. In this very room he had bent over her at the harpsichord when the song was finished; had sat beside her in the deep window seat while the stars brightened, before the candles were brought in.
Now, for a moment, he stood with his hand over his eyes; then, letting it fall, he spoke with firmness. “ Evelyn,” he said, “ if I have wronged you, forgive me. Our friendship that has been I lay at your feet: forget it and forget me. You are noble, generous, high of mind : I pray you to let no remembrance of me trouble your life. May it be happy, — may all good attend you. . . . Evelyn, good-by ! ”
He kneeled and kissed the hem of her dress. As he rose, and bowing low would have taken formal leave of the two beside her, she put out her hand, staying him by the gesture and the look upon her colorless face. “ You spoke of a search,” she said. “ What search ? ”
Haward raised his eyes to hers that were quiet, almost smiling, though darkly shadowed by past pain. “ I will tell you, Evelyn. Why should not I tell you this, also ? . . . Four days ago, upon my return to Fair View, I sought and found the woman that I love, — the woman that, by all that is best within me, I love worthily ! She shrank from me ; she listened not; she shut eye and ear, and fled. And I, — confident fool! — I thought, ‘ To-morrow I will make her heed,’and so let her go. When the morrow came she was gone indeed.” He halted, made an involuntary gesture of distress, then went on, rapidly and with agitation : “ There was a boat missing ; she was seen to pass Jamestown, rowing steadily up the river. But for this I should have thought — I should have feared — God knows what I should not have feared ! As it is I have searchers out, both on this side and on the southern shore. An Indian and myself have come up river in his canoe. We have not found her yet. If it be so that she has passed unseen through the settled country, I will seek her toward the mountains.”
“ And when you have found her, what then, sir ? ” cried the Colonel, tapping his snuffbox.
舠 Then, sir,” answered Haward, with hauteur, “ she will become my wife.”
He turned again to Evelyn, but when he spoke it was less to her than to himself. “ It grows late,” he said. “ Night is coming on, and at the fall of the leaf the nights are cold. One sleeping in the forest would suffer ... if she sleeps. I have not slept since she was missed. I must begone ” —
“ It grows late indeed,” replied Evelyn, with lifted face and a voice low, clear, and sweet as a silver bell, — “ so late that there is a rose flush in the sky beyond the river. Look ! you may see it through yonder window.”
She touched his hand and made him look to the far window. “ Who is it that stands in the shadow, hiding her face in her hands ? ” he asked at last, beneath his breath.
“ ’T is Audrey,” answered Evelyn, in the same clear, sweet, and passionless tones. She took her hand from his and addressed herself to her father. “ Dear sir,” she said, “to my mind no quarrel exists between us and this gentleman. There is no reason ” — she drew herself up — “ no reason why we should not extend to Mr. Marmaduke Haward the hospitality of Westover.” She smiled and leaned against her father’s arm. “ And now let us three, — you and Maria, whom I protest you keep too long at the harpsichord, and I, who love this hour of the evening, — let us go walk in the garden and see what flowers the frost has spared.”
(To be continued.)