Hearts in the Lowlands

I

ROBERT—

Ignatius—

Matthew—

Clement—

In a certain Family History their names are thus set down. As to the surname which follows, we need not give that here. Enough to say that it was a noble one in Maryland, as it had been in old England. As to our four lads, it was plain that the three last had been dedicated to the Church. Ignatius, Matthew, Clement,— saintly names were these. It was only Robert, the eldest, named after a muchmarried grandfather, who was expected to continue the line. At the time of which I write the faith of Cecil Calvert was sadly at a discount in the colony which he had planted. But a mother who had suffered much and loved accordingly had set these three apart.

It was, as I have said, Robert who was to go free. But who can tell how things will decide themselves! Before he was ten years old the Mother began to have her doubts. He was a boy that girls admire, yet always from a distance. As for interest in them, he showed none. They dwelt not in his thoughts. He was a slender lad, of medium height and well shapen. His face and hands had the perfect regularity, the color, of carved ivory. His hair and brows were black. His night-black eyes were for his age strangely unsmiling. Cold and clear was his voice. Somehow when the other three talked to or looked at Robert they thought of two facts otherwise partly forgotten. One was that their “family” was very old; the other, that some members of it back yonder in England had stood high for the Majesty of Law. No one thought of the Church at first, yet still it seemed not strange when he made his decision.

After all, the choice was a natural one. The Jesuits were then, as now, the mainspring of their Church in Maryland. In the Ark and the Dove they had come, patient, tireless, “zealous for souls.” They were now those who by their secret ministrations kept alive the earlier faith. Father Guesclin, the priest in this manorial household, was not a member of the order, but when Robert expressed a desire to study for its ministry he said, “ It seems the will of God.” Within a few months after, the boy was in France, duly installed a pupil at St. Omer’s.

There are, however, consequences to all such changes. One condition the Master of the Manor had made. One of the other lads must now be let off, must marry, and continue the name.

On the day after Robert’s departure they talked it over, — the Master, the Lady Mother, the priest. Which one? was now the question, and they found it open to much discussion.

With a woman’s intuition the Mother suggested Clement. Was not he the least spiritual of all? the lover of sport and activity? the born country gentleman? The Master it was who demurred. What! the youngest! He had given his eldestborn. Could he not justly claim the second ? But here the priest drew a line. He had doubts about Ignatius, but how could he give him up ? A vision of Clem’s fine hunting instinct turned soulward also flashed before him. Why not Matthew, the neutral and docile? It seemed a hard knot, but Father Guesclin had the wisdom of moderation. Neither had he forgotten the days of his own youth.

“Let it be,” he said presently, “the one who first loves a maid.”

And so it was decided.

It was an arrangement which left much to time and chance. As yet no girl to speak of had appeared on the scene. But those were leisurely days, and meanwhile life at the Manor House went smoothly.

Father Guesclin studied, thought, and prayed. The lady saw to the ways of her household. The Lord and Master also kept busy, held his Courts Baron and Leet, saw to his quitrents and escheats, rode, fox-hunted, and made merry. It was the old colonial life of a riverside Maryland manor, and in all its phases the lads had their share. Each had his own way of playing. In work and study they took equal ground. Of the situation indicated they seemed to have an intuitive understanding. One was to be “let off,” to take Robert’s place as Lord of the Manor, husband and father. Which one or how decided they knew not yet. There was no great cause for hurry. They were all good boys. Even Clem, the hunter, was duly loyal to the Church, though somehow both Ignatius and Matthew were oftener called on to serve in Chapel. Under Father Guesclin’s tutorship, with an occasional master from St. Mary’s, they were put through the same course of instruction, religious and secular. The same traditions appealed to them. Sometimes on winter evenings, when the wind crept in chill from the marshes, they gathered round the fire and heard tales of Jesuit travel and hardship, of Brebeuf and Jogues in Canada , of the cave-houses in Virginia, where Father Guesclin himself had been. There were stirring tales of the Calverts and their kin, of the famous Battle of the Severn. To the mother this time was strangely sweet. It was good to keep them by her side as long as possible. When matters should be settled, a few years would prepare the young priests for such simple parish duties as the country life of Maryland then called for. So it came to pass that for some time longer Clem hunted and fished on his marsh; Ignatius, the poet, roamed and dreamed upon the inland hills; Matthew, the singer of hymns and songs, the whittler and scribbler, following first one elder, then another. But the very longest lane has a turning, and at last — She came.

It was at a ball at St. Mary’s that they saw her first. Though not only the Governor’s niece, but their own distant cousin, she was just out of a convent school in England. There was, however, nothing nunlike about that face and form. Of other mould and fashion her beauty. Though, at fifteen, but a promise of more glorious things to come, it was of the sort to make one fetch one’s breath. In the quaint yet rich dress of the time, the lustrous silk brocaded with silver, the golden ringlets over white shoulders, no wonder it dazzled — almost blinded— our three lads looking from their corner. It was their first Governor’s ball. They were shy, and not among the dancers. This had not been a part of their training, save for Robert, who hated and despised it. As yet they were but onlookers. She was in all the joy of a first triumph. Yet seeing them, she found time to ask their names. As for hers, they had learned it an hour before. It was one which a century back had figured high in English tragedy. On a certain Tower window it was once written Iane. As we write a vision comes; a girl’s head on the block, a lover husband soon to follow her. Let our maid be Iania! It hath a noble sound. So to her seemed the names of these young Marylanders.

A few weeks after this she was staying at the Manor House, in all the old-time ease of cousinship.

Now, this is not primarily a love-story. I am not going to tell of moonlight nights out o’ doors (for it was early autumn), nor of still more intimate rainy evenings by the fire. I am not going to spin out the tale of what then befell. Let no blame attach to them! She was their first. She seemed of all possible girls the best. If Ignatius held back a little, if at times he fell into strange musing reserves; if Clem ran off some days to marsh or river — what difference did it make ? They were both between whiles no better than Matthew, who did not resist at all. They were all three, if not quite slaves, under her spell. Nor was it that of beauty alone. She had both sweetness and spirit. All the simple school lore of her day she knew — but hers the charm that is born, not taught. Even Father Guesclin’s eyes followed her with more than the rather dismayed interest of the situation. He had not planned for this, but it was stimulating. To the Master the humorous side appealed. A puzzle, to be sure, yet it made him feel young again. It was with a loud “ Ho, ho!” that he finally asked of the other two, “What do you think on’t ?”

They were in Father Guesclin’s own little study. The Master on the hearth, back to fire. The Lady Mother was sitting, very pale and grave. She knew not what to think or do. The priest was walking back and forth with hands behind him. His brow was slightly knitted, but the ghost of a smile hovered over his lip. “There is but one way to decide, now,” he said.

The Master gave a chuckle, then poked the fire most vigorously with his spurred boot heel.

“ Well, what way ?” he asked. “I’ve a guess — but never mind.”

The priest sighed very softly. “ God and Nature look after such things,”he said. “The girl can love but one of them that way.”

II

A hundred yards or so below the landing at Delabroke, beside the creek that stole down to the river, and just where this same creek left solid ground for the marshes, there stood in those days a mighty ash tree overshading a rude boathouse where Clem kept his boats and fishing-tackle. The ground underfoot was pebbly and strewn with mussel shells. All around, save where the path from the house stole through, was a thicket of “chill bushes” or wild ailantus trees, now leafless. On the tree above a few rust-red leaves yet lingered, but on a certain evening whereof I am telling one might have seen the gray-blue sky overhead, and a yellow sunset to westward.

It was plainly a meeting of serious importance, this. Clem was standing against the log wall of the boathouse, his hands in his doublet pockets, a frown on his brow, his nether lip pushed out. On a fallen tree-trunk near sat Ignatius, very still, his eyes unusually dark and deep. In a sand cove up among the big tree’s roots, Matthew, half-lying, leaned on his elbow.

There was silence for a bit, broken only by the river a half-mile away, the cry of a bird on the marsh.

Clem was the first to speak. “Well,” said he, “now we’ve met, and ’t is time we were settling it one way or t’other.”

He paused, very red. Matthew answered with a long sigh. Ignatius nodded gravely. Clem went on.

“There’s but one of us can have her.”

Another sigh, another nod from the listeners.

“ T is but young we are, I know, to settle down ” (a note of regret here crept into Clem’s voice). “ Still I am ’most sixteen — and cannot one see what they asked her here for ? For the matter of that I’d have loved her just the same” (a sort of groan here came from the others). “ So would we all, I reckon. There’s nobody like her — there never was. But I ’ve somehow known ’t was all talked over, just as I’ve somehow known since brother Bob went away that one of us was to be let off to marry. ’T is not like we were common folk. There’s the name! She was asked here for one of us.”

Matthew was sitting up now, and rocking on both elbows. Ignatius with cheek on one hand was tracing something in the pebbly sand with a stick. It began with an I. It would probably end with an a.

Clem did not often talk much, but he now had something to say. “I’m but young, I know, to think o’t,” said he. “You’re both older. Then I know not which one they mean, and one must mind one’s parents I suppose — not to speak o’ the Father! But one cannot be a baby, and, hang it! why did they bring her here amongst us all ? They might have settled it, i’ faith, another way. But one thing I think they’ve missed counting on&emdaash; now that she knows us all, doth anybody think she’ll have no say i’ the matter ? I trow she’s not that sort of a maid! ”

He took a turn over the shingle, stamping vigorously.

Nace had finished his word, or name. He drew the stick sharply across it.

Matt’s piping voice spoke up. “I come next to Nace,”cried he. “There’s only ’leven months betwixt us. You’re the youngest, Clem. I’ll stand back for Nace’s courting — not yours.”

It was Clem’s turn to groan. “Oh ninny! hush!” cried he. “ Who talks of courting! I can hardly speak to her about the commonest things. Faith, my voice dies in my throat if I but say ' ’T is a good day, Mistress!’ Courting! Why, e’en if ’t were right — an’ they’d all three given leave — what chance would I have against you two? Have I learned to talk by saying prayers in Chapel ever since I was knee-high to a duck ?”

There was here a faint, strangled laugh from Matthew. Nace looked at him frowning, pale and grave. His lips were slightly a-quiver. What memories of “serving” in Chapel, what tender sense of loyalty to Priest and Church were fighting in his breast against a new, surging emotion!

Clem kicked a pebble, then broke forth again.

“Oh,” he cried, “I am for fair play. I’m no priest to talk! I could fight for Holy Church! If either one of you get her — get her fair — I will take your place like a man. Do not I know how Mamma hath set, her heart on’t ? Do not I know how she was once served ? Father Guesclin himself told me. She was a girl like this one, and most —nay, he said, she was more beautiful. She was dragged before the Governor and Council and rebuked like some common wench because of her religion. By the Saints! when I think o’t! But never mind! I’ll stand by mine own — never fear! But we’ll have fair play. I ’m not yet sworn bachelor all my days! What I want is a chance, an’ the best way’s to fight for ’t. Do not girls like a bold fighter? Aye, that do they! And now what say you to this scheme?”

He paused and waited, but for several moments no word came. Matt rose to his feet and began feeling his slim arms. " Faith, ’t is a bad chance for me,” he said at last with a glance at Clem’s thickset sturdiness. Nace was staring in pale reverie, in his face both disgust and approval mingled with the surprise of this new idea.

Clem laughed contemptuously.

“Ninny!” said he again. “Do you think I mean a fist-fight or single-stick ? There’s but one way for gentlemen to fight. For what else, pray, hath the Father been giving us lessons all this while ? We will slip the buttons an’ meet tomorrow at daybreak here — nay, ’t, is too near the landing. Down on the Point will be best. And to give you both fair chance (you being the more priestly-like), I’ll stand ’gainst you both. Now, what think you?”

His honest face was shining. His curly head went back with a brave air pleasant to see. But Ignatius stood up all at once, straight, and very tall for his not yet eighteen years.

“Nay,” he said haughtily, “if I fight, I will not fight two against one.”

Matthew also put in a disclaimer, but Clem was firm. He argued thus. They were more than equal to him in some things. There was talking, for one. On that “singing in Chapel, ” which was supposed to have given them the advantage here, he dwelt again. Even in fencing Nace had sometimes the skillfuller hand, but failing this, who was twice as strong ?

“Ye can take it by turns,” quoth he, “or not at all. If I’m not mistook you ’ll both be finely worn out. If instead you beat me fair, talk or fight it out betwixt you, I care not which, I ’ll be out on ’t then. You may go to her then an’ say, ‘Well, Mistress, we’ve beat him.' She shall see my face no more, for I ’ll get ordained bachelor an’ go missioning to the Indians. I will die like old Brebeuf. Then she’ll mayhap be sorry. But mind you, sirs, this if I fail. If I win, ’t is you that will go a-missioning. I want her to myself. Ye’re both too good at talking — you. Faith, now is it a bargain?”

In sooth there seemed to them no other way. If any gentle reader be shocked, let him or her remember that it was a time when the “Triall by Battel” was much in vogue. Not by gentlemen alone and with the small-sword were vexed questions so settled; not only did Tom Hodge and Man Jack go at it with fist and foot; but yeomen, the most lawabiding, in like case fought with oaken cudgels in the presence of witnesses from sunrise to sunset. Even Ignatius could see no better way out of it. So it was agreed that at sunrise next morning they should go to the Point and try their luck.

It was noticed that night, and afterwards spoken of, that our three lads had never been more friendly.

The air was chill and a fire of dry sticks crackled in the great fireplace of the parlor at the Manor House. Around it were gathered the whole family. On one side sat the Lady Mother with her netting; on the other the Master, surrounded by his dogs and busy polishing a set of antlers. His jolly Ho, ho! rang out now and then. In the midst, in front sat Father Guesclin. His mood to-night was a reminiscent one. Strange tales of wild life among the Indians, of hardships endured, of perils escaped, were those he told. The young people around him listened eagerly. The one girl sat with softly shining eyes. Her lips were parted, her cheeks warmly flushed. No wonder the lads, looking, adored. More than once did the priest’s astute gaze linger on her face. Never once so far had she given sign which one she liked best. Was it (he wondered) cousinly impartial friendliness, or the coquetry of a maid ? Girls of this sort puzzled him. It also seemed as it there were something unusual about the boys to-night. An atmosphere of mystery, of somewhat or other kept back, seemed to surround them. Something dogged about Clement, something impish and sly about Matthew, he felt or fancied. As for the one he loved best, the one he thought the girl must surely also prefer, — as for Ignatius, — Father Guesclin’s keen sense had never before got such an impression of mental and emotional conflict.

III

Next morning was the first of black frost that year. Down on the Point, a bit of solid ground where creek met river, it was like iron underfoot. On the shallow marsh-pools, on the margin of the creek, the ice broke with a glassy crackle. Beyond the gray-blue river the opposite shore stood out with the clearness of such weather. Far adown stream, toward St. Mary’s twenty miles away, sunrise was beginning to tinge the highest points with gold.

Our three lads had stolen noiselessly from the house. As may be guessed, they had slept but little. As they crept, shoes in hand, down a long hallway on which the upper bedrooms opened, Clem stopped, and with awkward gallantry kissed Iania’s door-latch. Matthew followed his example, dropping, however, lightly on one knee and kissing the sill. They passed on, half-proud, halfashamed. Ignatius paused, hesitated a moment, then fell on both knees. He pressed his burning forehead to the door. The hard coldness of it seemed to steady and revive him. As he rose and turned to go, he thought he heard another door, that of the priest’s room just opposite, softly close. For a moment the lad paused, startled, irresolute, then ran downstairs like a deer.

There is no need to follow their going. It was, as I have said, sunrise when they found themselves on the Point. There were only two rapiers between them, one the fine Toledo blade with which Father Guesclin had given them lessons, the other an ordinary weapon bought for their own use. They had looked with longing eyes, but in vain, at some choice swords which the Master kept under lock and key. However, but two weapons were really needed, and they were fain to be content.

Clem felt the edge of his, the Toledo, with the air of a connoisseur.

“Shall we toss up for ’t?” he asked.

“No, you take that,” was the short reply.

But Clem still hesitated. “To be sure you’re older,” said he. “Then you’re oft the skillfuller hand. When it comes to Matt we might trade — still” —

Ignatius gave a stamp. “Take it!” cried he.

He had pulled off his doublet and stood neatly folding it. Though still at times seemingly irresolute, it was plain that excitement was stirring in his veins. His hands were steady, but a red spot had come into each cheek. As he threw himself tentatively on guard next moment, he was a slender, graceful figure in the morning light. Clem, now also capless and jacketless, was much stouter, and seemed a mere rustic by contrast. His face bore only its natural rosy sunburn, his gray-blue eye was cool as the morning. Both of them appeared older than their years, the early maturity of their time and class. Matthew in the background had sunk to one knee. He looked like a watchful attendant spaniel.

All was ready, and yet Clem still hesitated.

“Well,” he said at last with an effort, “ if it’s wrong may our name saints forgive us!” (He crossed himself piously.) “Some folk might think so,— but I’ve thought on ’t a heap, and hang me if I know any other way!”

Nace made a trial pass, his look dreamily set on the glittering point of his weapon.

“No,” he said with a long breath.

No better — no other.”

“He that first draws blood is victor,” said Clem, emphasizing the already settled understanding.

“I know,” answered Ignatius.

“No need of aught more than that ’mongst gentlemen and brothers, I trust,” went on Clem pompously.

“Surely not,” said Nace. Under his breath he muttered, “St. Ignatius and Mary Mother forgive me!”

Meanwhile Matthew was chafing. He piped up here.

“I’ve two or three old kerchiefs for bandages,” he cried cheerfully. “My cap holds water an’ it’s needed. For my part, you may stick more than once, an’ ye give me a chance back.” He had evidently set his mind on a rousing fray. But the two other lads took it more seriously.

“Give me your hand, Nace,” said Clem, huskily. They shook hands.

“We won’t hurt each other worse than can be holpen, will we ? ” he added. “For my part I’ve no mind to vex Mamma unneedfully. She hath had trouble enough i’ this world. Now, ready ? Till you want a rest! — St. Clement to me!”

In a moment they took stand, Matthew’s one, two, three rang out, and the Battle had begun.

At this very time it was that a blackrobed figure, which had been advancing quickly along the creekside, through a strip of fringing wood, paused and stood gazing. To one seeing, as this person had done, the handshake just given, it did not look like a quarrel. He did not rush forward. A play is — a play. Where the lads stood the ground was clear. He could see every outline, each movement sharp and dark against the morning.

And now to worthily describe that fray! To her sorrow be it owned that the Present Writer cannot claim a knowledge of the fine art of fence, being in that respect much behind some of her contemporaries. This is a great pity. It is now the fashion to dwell knowingly upon such encounters. As to our lads, they did well. For some years Father Guesclin had been giving them occasional lessons. As they now passed and parried, cut and thrust, there was something like pleasure in the eyes of that watcher at the wood’s edge. It was a fairly matched game; for Ignatius, as Clem had said, had the skillfuller hand, but Clem the stronger. It was, moreover, plain that Nace was in high - strung mood, Clem as cool as the morning. They had both forgotten Matthew, who presently began to fret. “Am not I to have my turn?” he cried shrilly. But the others only paused for a breathing space. “I am not tired,”said Nace. He spoke calmly enough, though as he did so he wiped his brow. Clem was not even breathing hard. So to work they fell again, all unknowing that in that space two more spectators had been added. One of them was a stout, red-faced gentleman, the other a lady who hung panting on his arm. He was bare-headed, she with a hood falling off her roughened hair. With wide eyes and pale lips she stared at the scene. Her companion opened his mouth as if for a shout. But no sound came. A gesture from that first comer said, “ Wait! be still!’'

It was evident, however, that a time for interference would soon come. This was getting beyond play. Over the faces of the lads a change was creeping. Clem’s eyes had narrowed. From his cheek the ruddy hue faded. It looked simply brown and hard. It would seem on the contrary as if all the blood in Nace’s body had surged into his face. A dull flush had overspread it. His hand was still steady, but his breath fetched hard. And now for a full understanding of this tale we must change our point of view a little. So far it has been from the outside, now for a peep within!

Of all my lads Ignatius was the only one whose nature had the interest of complexity. Mastiff Clem, Spaniel Matthew, what did they know of that conflict which the priest had divined! Clem had cut deep with that taunt of “singing in Chapel.” Ah! those hours of gentle “serving,” those long talks by the fire, those readings with the Father! They had struck deep here. It is doubtful if the spiritual side had been deeply touched, but his hereditary Church, her late trials, her sufferings in this Province of Maryland, had made an appeal not in vain. Behind the Virgin Mother’s shoulder he saw ever his own mother. It was a persecuting age. She had, as Clem had said, been indeed harshly dealt with. Who was this girl to turn him from her will ? What strange revolt was this of body against soul that had brought him here, and for this! Let us here point the meaning. That it was to him a revolt showed which side was, though obscured, still uppermost. For all the poet nature which for weeks had been sailing amid roseate clouds, here was the born priest. All this while, as he parried, thrust, passed, and reversed, the mind was actively busy. Did he after all want to send poor Clem “ a-missioning ? ” Even now he was not quite sure. It was the old, old question. To take or give up ? Which ? For all Clem was pressing him hard, it was still his to choose. Did not such conceited precocity need a prick ? As to what would come afterward, well, was he not the oldest and cleverest? True he dared not think of the blank where that other thing had been, but even with her he would make it right somehow. He would do penance — atone —

“ Ah-h-h! ”

Involuntarily that long sob broke from him. His own wrist had not faltered once, but Clem’s excitement had surely gotten the better of him. As he lunged forward, stumbled and fell, Nace’s point took him fairly in the shoulder. It was high up, just the place for the blood-letting that was to end this conflict. But in Nace’s sudden, involuntary effort to avoid even this much, he simply inflicted a jagged wound. In the same instant he knew at last his own mind. But Fate was deciding in more ways than one just now. There came, louder than his groan, a cry out of the wood; not, however from the Mother there a-watching. It was a swift newcomer, a slim girl figure that rushed forward ahead of all the rest; rushed with hair wildly flying and disheveled garments to throw her two arms around — Clem.

it was late in that same day when Ignatius and Matthew started on their journey down the river. There had been farewells to say, preparations to make before the setting off. They were going for the present to St. Mary’s. Clem was doing well, but home was now no place for them. In the other end of the barge sat Father Guesclin. He too was going away for a time. His place was now with these. He had come into his own and was content. After all, he reflected, the woman is a mystery. To choose Clem! Well, was it not best ? Surely the Virgin Mother herself had so ordained it for that other mother’s sake!

As they went, the sunset faded and the stars came out. As the last light of the Manor House disappeared, Matthew gave a great choking sob. He had wept more than once to-day. His eyes were quite red. Not so Ignatius, He sat very straight and still; his arm around the other boy, his face upturned to the stars. On it was a look never seen there before by Matthew. The eyes seemed deep as wells. The mouth had thinned, not hardened, but had taken on another sort of sweetness. Matt gazed, slightly awestricken. Here, in the years to come, he was to seek and find strength.

Just now, however, weakness had the best of it.

“Oh-h-h!” he said quiveringly. “To think that I never struck once for her!”

The priest heard, and smiled involuntarily. Ignatius neither smiled nor spoke. His arm pressed closer. He had struck too well, and yet — but had he failed ? Was not such failure the best winning, such giving up best gain ? Clem at least would be happy, — and Mamma! It is well for us all that some are made this way. Very fair was the girl-face now lost to him. Not an hour ago had he seen it last. But already it shone far off and dim. The one that he saw up yonder in the twilight, though crowned with thorns, attracted him more.