The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 26 out of 51
looked as if he had something to communicate.
"Well?" said the Doctor.
"He's up to mischief o' some kind, I guess," said Abel. "I jest
happened daown by the mansion-haouse last night, 'n' he come aout o'
the gate on that queer-lookin' creator' o' his. I watched him, 'n'
he rid, very slow, all raoun' by the Institoot, 'n' acted as ef he
was spyin' abaout. He looks to me like a man that's calc'latin' to
do some kind of ill-turn to somebody. I should n't like to have him
raoun' me, 'f there wa'n't a pitchfork or an eel-spear or some sech
weep'n within reach. He may be all right; but I don't like his
looks, 'n' I don't see what he's lurkin' raoun' the Institoot for,
after folks is abed."
"Have you watched him pretty close for the last few days?" said the
"W'll, yes,--I've had my eye on him consid'ble o' the time. I haf to
be pooty shy abaout it, or he'll find aout th't I'm on his tracks. I
don' want him to get a spite ag'inst me, 'f I c'n help it; he looks
to me like one o' them kind that kerries what they call slung-shot,
'n' hits ye on the side o' th' head with 'em so suddin y' never know
what hurts ye."
"Why," said the Doctor, sharply,--"have you ever seen him with any
such weapon about him?"
"W'll, no,--I caan't say that I hev," Abel answered. "On'y he looks
kin' o' dangerous. Maybe he's all jest 'z he ought to be,--I caan't
say that he a'n't,--but he's aout late nights, 'n' lurkin' raonn'
jest 'z ef he was spyin' somebody, 'n' somehaow I caan't help
mistrustin' them Portagee-lookin' fellahs. I caan't keep the run o'
this chap all the time; but I've a notion that old black woman daown
't the mansion-haouse knows 'z much abaout him 'z anybody."
The Doctor paused a moment, after hearing this report from his
private detective, and then got into his chaise, and turned Caustic's
head in the direction of the Dudley mansion. He had been suspicious
of Dick from the first. He did not like his mixed blood, nor his
looks, nor his ways. He had formed a conjecture about his projects
early. He had made a shrewd guess as to the probable jealousy Dick
would feel of the schoolmaster, had found out something of his
movements, and had cautioned Mr. Bernard,--as we have seen. He felt
an interest in the young man,--a student of his own profession, an
intelligent and ingenuously unsuspecting young fellow, who had been
thrown by accident into the companionship or the neighborhood of two
persons, one of whom he knew to be dangerous, and the other he
believed instinctively might be capable of crime.
The Doctor rode down to the Dudley mansion solely for the sake of
seeing old Sophy. He was lucky enough to find her alone in her
kitchen. He began taking with her as a physician; he wanted to know
how her rheumatism had been. The shrewd old woman saw through all
that with her little beady black eyes. It was something quite
different he had come for, and old Sophy answered very briefly for
her aches and ails.
"Old folks' bones a'n't like young folks'," she said. "It's the
Lord's doin's, 'n' 't a'n't much matter. I sha'n' be long roan' this
kitchen. It's the young Missis, Doctor,--it 's our Elsie,--it 's the
baby, as we use' t' call her,--don' you remember, Doctor? Seventeen
year ago, 'n' her poor mother cryin' for her,--'Where is she? where
is she? Let me see her! '--'n' how I run up-stairs,--I could run
then,--'n' got the coral necklace 'n' put it round her little neck,
'n' then showed her to her mother,--'n' how her mother looked at her,
'n' looked, 'n' then put out her poor thin fingers 'n' lifted the
necklace,--'n' fell right back on her piller, as white as though she
was laid out to bury?"
The Doctor answered her by silence and a look of grave assent. He
had never chosen to let old Sophy dwell upon these matters, for
obvious reasons. The girl must not grow up haunted by perpetual
fears and prophecies, if it were possible to prevent it.
"Well, how has Elsie seemed of late?" he said, after this brief
The old woman shook her head. Then she looked up at the Doctor so
steadily and searchingly that the diamond eyes of Elsie herself could
hardly have pierced more deeply.
The Doctor raised his head, by his habitual movement, and met the old
woman's look with his own calm and scrutinizing gaze, sharpened by
the glasses through which he now saw her.
Sophy spoke presently in an awed tone, as if telling a vision.
"We shall be havin' trouble before long. The' 's somethin' comin'
from the Lord. I've had dreams, Doctor. It's many a year I've been
a-dreamin', but now they're comin' over 'n' over the same thing.
Three times I've dreamed one thing, Doctor,--one thing!"
"And what was that?" the Doctor said, with that shade of curiosity in
his tone which a metaphysician would probably say is an index of a
certain tendency to belief in the superstition to which the question
"I ca'n' jestly tell y' what it was, Doctor," the old woman answered,
as if bewildered and trying to clear up her recollections; "but it
was somethin' fearful, with a great noise 'n' a great cryin' o'
people,--like the Las' Day, Doctor! The Lord have mercy on my poor
chil', 'n' take care of her, if anything happens! But I's feared
she'll never live to see the Las' Day, 'f 't don' come pooty quick."
Poor Sophy, only the third generation from cannibalism, was, not
unnaturally, somewhat confused in her theological notions. Some of
the Second-Advent preachers had been about, and circulated their
predictions among the kitchen--population of Rockland. This was the
way in which it happened that she mingled her fears in such a strange
manner with their doctrines.
The Doctor answered solemnly, that of the day and hour we knew not,
but it became us to be always ready.--"Is there anything going on in
the household different from common?"
Old Sophy's wrinkled face looked as full of life and intelligence,
when she turned it full upon the Doctor, as if she had slipped off
her infirmities and years like an outer garment. All those fine
instincts of observation which came straight to her from her savage
grandfather looked out of her little eyes. She had a kind of faith
that the Doctor was a mighty conjurer, who, if he would, could
bewitch any of them. She had relieved her feelings by her long talk
with the minister, but the Doctor was the immediate adviser of the
family, and had watched them through all their troubles. Perhaps he
could tell them what to do. She had but one real object of affection
in the world,--this child that she had tended from infancy to
womanhood. Troubles were gathering thick round her; how soon they
would break upon her, and blight or destroy her, no one could tell;
but there was nothing in all the catalogue of terrors which might not
come upon the household at any moment. Her own wits had sharpened
themselves in keeping watch by day and night, and her face had
forgotten its age in the excitement which gave life to its features.
"Doctor," old Sophy said, "there's strange things goin' on here by
night and by day. I don' like that man,--that Dick,--I never liked
him. He giv' me some o' these things I' got on; I take 'em 'cos I
know it make him mad, if I no take 'em; I wear 'em, so that he need
n' feel as if I did n' like him; but, Doctor, I hate him,--jes' as
much as a member of the church has the Lord's leave to hate anybody."
Her eyes sparkled with the old savage light, as if her ill-will to
Mr. Richard Veneer might perhaps go a little farther than the
Christian limit she had assigned. But remember that her grandfather
was in the habit of inviting his friends to dine with him upon the
last enemy he had bagged, and that her grandmother's teeth were filed
down to points, so that they were as sharp as a shark's.
"What is that you have seen about Mr. Richard Veneer that gives you
such a spite against him, Sophy?" asked the Doctor.
"What I' seen 'bout Dick Veneer?" she replied, fiercely. "I'll tell
y' what I' seen. Dick wan's to marry our Elsie,--that 's what he
wan's; 'n' he don' love her, Doctor,--he hates her, Doctor, as bad as
I hate him! He wan's to marry our Elsie, In' live here in the big
house, 'n' have nothin' to do but jes' lay still 'n' watch. Massa
Venner 'n' see how long 't Ill take him to die, 'n' 'f he don' die
fas' 'puff, help him some way t' die fasser !---Come close up t' me,
Doctor! I wan' t' tell you somethin' I tol' th' minister t' other
day. Th' minister, he come down 'n' prayed 'n' talked good,--he's a
good man, that Doctor Honeywood, 'n' I tol' him all 'bout our Elsie,
but he did n' tell nobody what to do to stop all what I' been
dreamin' about happenin'. Come close up to me, Doctor!"
The Doctor drew his chair close up to that of the old woman.
"Doctor, nobody mus'n' never marry our Elsie 's longs she lives!
Nobody mus' n' never live with Elsie but ol Sophy; 'n' ol Sophy won't
never die 's long 's Elsie 's alive to be took care of. But I's
feared, Doctor, I's greatly feared Elsie wan' to marry somebody.
The' 's a young gen'l'm'n up at that school where she go,--so some of
'em tells me, 'n' she loves t' see him 'n' talk wi' him, 'n' she
talks about him when she 's asleep sometimes. She mus 'n' never
marry nobody, Doctor! If she do, he die, certain!"
"If she has a fancy for the young man up at the school there," the
Doctor said, "I shouldn't think there would be much danger from
"Doctor, nobody know nothin' 'bout Elsie but of Sophy. She no like
any other creator' th't ever drawed the bref o' life. If she ca'n'
marry one man 'cos she love him, she marry another man 'cos she hate
"Marry a man because she hates him, Sophy? No woman ever did such a
thing as that, or ever will do it."
"Who tol' you Elsie was a woman, Doctor?" said old Sophy, with a
flash of strange intelligence in her eyes.
The Doctor's face showed that he was startled. The old woman could
not know much about Elsie that he did not know; but what strange
superstition had got into her head, he was puzzled to guess. He had
better follow Sophy's lead and find out what she meant.
"I should call Elsie a woman, and a very handsome one," he said.
"You don't mean that she has any mark about her, except--you know--
under the necklace?"
The old woman resented the thought of any deformity about her
"I did n' say she had nothin'--but j es' that--you know. My beauty
have anything ugly? She's the beautifullest-shaped lady that ever
had a shinin' silk gown drawed over her shoulders. On'y she a'n't
like no other woman in none of her ways. She don't cry 'n' laugh
like other women. An' she ha'n' got the same kind o' feelin's as
other women.---Do you know that young gen'1'm'n up at the school,
"Yes, Sophy, I've met him sometimes. He's a very nice sort of young
man, handsome, too, and I don't much wonder Elsie takes to him. Tell
me, Sophy, what do you think would happen, if he should chance to
fall in love with Elsie, and she with him, and he should marry her?"
"Put your ear close to my lips, Doctor, dear!" She whispered a
little to the Doctor, then added aloud, "He die,--that's all."
"But surely, Sophy, you a'n't afraid to have Dick marry her, if she
would have him for any reason, are you? He can take care of himself,
if anybody can."
"Doctor!" Sophy answered, "nobody can take care of hisself that live
wi' Elsie! Nobody never in all this worl' mus' live wi' Elsie but of
Sophy, I tell you. You don' think I care for Dick? What do I care,
if Dick Venner die? He wam's to marry our Elsie so 's to live in the
big house 'n' get all the money 'n' all the silver things 'n' all the
chists full o' linen 'n' beautiful clothes. That's what Dick wan's.
An' he hates Elsie 'cos she don' like him. But if he marry Elsie,
she 'll make him die some wrong way or other, 'n' they'll take her
'n' hang her, or he'll get mad with her 'n' choke her.--Oh, I know
his chokin' tricks!--he don' leave his keys roun' for nothin'"
"What's that you say, Sophy? Tell me what you mean by all that."
So poor Sophy had to explain certain facts not in all respects to her
credit. She had taken the opportunity of his absence to look about
his chamber, and, having found a key in one of his drawers, had
applied it to a trunk, and, finding that it opened the trunk, had
made a kind of inspection for contraband articles, and, seeing the
end of a leather thong, had followed it up until she saw that it
finished with a noose, which, from certain appearances, she inferred
to have seen service of at least doubtful nature. An unauthorized
search; but old Sophy considered that a game of life and death was
going on in the household, and that she was bound to look out for her
The Doctor paused a moment to think over this odd piece of
information. Without sharing Sophy's belief as to the kind of use
this mischievous-looking piece of property had been put to, it was
certainly very odd that Dick should have such a thing at the bottom
of his trunk. The Doctor remembered reading or hearing something
about the lasso and the lariat and the bolas, and had an indistinct
idea that they had been sometimes used as weapons of warfare or
private revenge; but they were essentially a huntsman's implements,
after all, and it was not very strange that this young man had
brought one of them with him. Not strange, perhaps, but worth
"Do you really think Dick means mischief to anybody, that he has such
dangerous-looking things?" the Doctor said, presently.
"I tell you, Doctor. Dick means to have Elsie. If he ca'n' get her,
he never let nobody else have her! Oh, Dick 's a dark man, Doctor!
I know him! I 'member him when he was little boy,--he always cunin'.
I think he mean mischief to somebody. He come home late nights,--
come in softly,--oh, I hear him! I lay awake, 'n' got sharp ears,--I
hear the cats walkin' over the roofs,--'n' I hear Dick Veneer, when
he comes up in his stockin'-feet as still as a cat. I think he mean'
mischief to somebody. I no like his looks these las' days.--Is that
a very pooty gen'l'm'n up at the schoolhouse, Doctor?"
"I told you he was good-looking. What if he is?"
"I should like to see him, Doctor,--I should like to see the pooty
gen'l'm'n that my poor Elsie loves. She mus 'n' never marry nobody,
--but, oh, Doctor, I should like to see him, 'n' jes' think a little
how it would ha' been, if the Lord had n' been so hard on Elsie."
She wept and wrung her hands. The kind Doctor was touched, and left
her a moment to her thoughts.
"And how does Mr. Dudley Veneer take all this?" he said, by way of
changing the subject a little.
"Oh, Massa Veneer, he good man, but he don' know nothin' 'bout Elsie,
as of Sophy do. I keep close by her; I help her when she go to bed,
'n' set by her sometime when she--'sleep; I come to her in th'
mornin' 'n' help her put on her things."--Then, in a whisper;--
"Doctor, Elsie lets of Sophy take off that necklace for her. What
you think she do, 'f anybody else tech it?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, Sophy,--strike the person, perhaps."
"Oh, yes, strike 'em! but not with her han's, Doctor!"--The old
woman's significant pantomime must be guessed at.
"But you haven't told me, Sophy, what Mr. Dudley Veneer thinks of his
nephew, nor whether he has any notion that Dick wants to marry
"I tell you. Massa Venner, he good man, but he no see nothin' 'bout
what goes on here in the house. He sort o' broken-hearted, you
know,--sort o' giv up,--don' know what to do wi' Elsie, 'xcep' say
'Yes, yes.' Dick always look smilin' 'n' behave well before him.
One time I thought Massa Veneer b'lieve Dick was goin' to take to
Elsie; but now he don' seem to take much notice,--he kin' o' stupid-'
like 'bout sech things. It's trouble, Doctor; 'cos Massa Veneer
bright man naterally,--'n' he's got a great heap o' books. I don'
think Massa Veneer never been jes' heself sence Elsie 's born. He
done all he know how,--but, Doctor, that wa'n' a great deal. You
men-folks don' know nothin' 'bout these young gals; 'n' 'f you knowed
all the young gals that ever lived, y' would n' know nothin' 'bout
"No,--but, Sophy, what I want to know is, whether you think Mr.
Veneer has any kind of suspicion about his nephew,--whether he has
any notion that he's a dangerous sort of fellow,--or whether he feels
safe to have him about, or has even taken a sort of fancy to him."
"Lar' bless you, Doctor, Massa Veneer no more idee 'f any mischief
'bout Dick than he has 'bout you or me. Y' see, he very fond o' the
Cap'n,--that Dick's father,--'n' he live so long alone here, 'long
wi' us, that he kin' o' like to see mos' anybody 't 's got any o' th'
of family-blood in 'em. He ha'n't got no more suspicions 'n a baby,
--y' never see sech a man 'n y'r life. I kin' o' think he don' care
for nothin' in this world 'xcep' jes' t' do what Elsie wan's him to.
The fus' year after young Madam die he do nothin' but jes' set at the
window 'n' look out at her grave, 'n' then come up 'n' look at the
baby's neck 'n' say, 'It's fadin', Sophy, a'n't it? 'n' then go down
in the study 'n' walk 'n' walk, 'n' them kneel down 'n' pray.
Doctor, there was two places in the old carpet that was all
threadbare, where his knees had worn 'em. An' sometimes, you
remember 'bout all that,--he'd go off up into The Mountain, 'n' be
gone all day, 'n' kill all the Ugly Things he could find up there.---
Oh, Doctor, I don' like to think o' them days!--An' by 'n' by he
grew kin' o' still, 'n' begun to read a little, 'n' 't las' he got 's
quiet's a lamb, 'n' that's the way he is now. I think he's got
religion, Doctor; but he a'n't so bright about what's goin' on, 'n' I
don' believe he never suspec' nothin' till somethin' happens; for
the' 's somethin' goin' to happen, Doctor, if the Las' Day does n'
come to stop it; 'n' you mus' tell us what to do, 'n' save my poor
Elsie, my baby that the Lord has n' took care of like all his other
The Doctor assured the old woman that he was thinking a great deal
about them all, and that there were other eyes on Dick besides her
own. Let her watch him closely about the house, and he would keep a
look-out elsewhere. If there was anything new, she must let him know
at once. Send up one of the menservants, and he would come down at a
There was really nothing definite against this young man; but the
Doctor was sure that he was meditating some evil design or other. He
rode straight up to the Institute. There he saw Mr. Bernard, and had
a brief conversation with him, principally on matters relating to his
That evening, for some unknown reason, Mr. Bernard changed the place
of his desk and drew down the shades of his windows. Late that night
Mr. Richard Venner drew the charge of a rifle, and put the gun back
among the fowling-pieces, swearing that a leather halter was worth a
dozen of it.
THE PERILOUS HOUR.
Up to this time Dick Venner had not decided on the particular mode
and the precise period of relieving himself from the unwarrantable
interference which threatened to defeat his plans. The luxury of
feeling that he had his man in his power was its own reward. One who
watches in the dark, outside, while his enemy, in utter
unconsciousness, is illuminating his apartment and himself so that
every movement of his head and every button on his coat can be seen
and counted, experiences a peculiar kind of pleasure, if he holds a
loaded rifle in his hand, which he naturally hates to bring to its
climax by testing his skill as a marksman upon the object of his
Besides, Dick had two sides in his nature, almost as distinct as we
sometimes observe in those persons who are the subjects of the
condition known as double consciousness. On his New England side he
was cunning and calculating, always cautious, measuring his distance
before he risked his stroke, as nicely as if he were throwing his
lasso. But he was liable to intercurrent fits of jealousy and rage,
such as the light-hued races are hardly capable of conceiving,
blinding paroxysms of passion, which for the time overmastered him,
and which, if they found no ready outlet, transformed themselves into
the more dangerous forces that worked through the instrumentality of
his cool craftiness.
He had failed as yet in getting any positive evidence that there was
any relation between Elsie and the schoolmaster other than such as
might exist unsuspected and unblamed between a teacher and his pupil.
A book, or a note, even, did not prove the existence of any
sentiment. At one time he would be devoured by suspicions, at
another he would try to laugh himself out of them. And in the mean
while he followed Elsie's tastes as closely as he could, determined
to make some impression upon her,--to become a habit, a convenience,
a necessity,--whatever might aid him in the attainment of the one end
which was now the aim of his life.
It was to humor one of her tastes already known to the reader, that
he said to her one morning,--"Come, Elsie, take your castanets, and
let us have a dance."
He had struck the right vein in the girl's fancy, for she was in the
mood for this exercise, and very willingly led the way into one of
the more empty apartments. What there was in this particular kind of
dance which excited her it might not be easy to guess; but those who
looked in with the old Doctor, on a former occasion, and saw her,
will remember that she was strangely carried away by it, and became
almost fearful in the vehemence of her passion. The sound of the
castanets seemed to make her alive all over. Dick knew well enough
what the exhibition would be, and was almost afraid of her at these
moments; for it was like the dancing mania of Eastern devotees, more
than the ordinary light amusement of joyous youth,--a convulsion of
the body and the mind, rather than a series of voluntary modulated
Elsie rattled out the triple measure of a saraband. Her eyes began
to glitter more brilliantly, and her shape to undulate in freer
curves. Presently she noticed that Dick's look was fixed upon her
necklace. His face betrayed his curiosity; he was intent on solving
the question, why she always wore something about her neck. The
chain of mosaics she had on at that moment displaced itself at every
step, and he was peering with malignant, searching eagerness to see
if an unsunned ring of fairer hue than the rest of the surface, or
any less easily explained peculiarity, were hidden by her ornaments.
She stopped suddenly, caught the chain of mosaics and settled it
hastily in its place, flung down her castanets, drew herself back,
and stood looking at him, with her head a little on one side, and her
eyes narrowing in the way he had known so long and well.
"What is the matter, Cousin Elsie? What do you stop for?" he said.
Elsie did not answer, but kept her eyes on him, full of malicious
light. The jealousy which lay covered up under his surface-thoughts
took this opportunity to break out.
"You would n't act so, if you were dancing with Mr. Langdon,--would
you, Elsie?" he asked.
It was with some effort that he looked steadily at her to see the
effect of his question.
Elsie colored,--not much, but still perceptibly. Dick could not
remember that he had ever seen her show this mark of emotion before,
in all his experience of her fitful changes of mood. It had a
singular depth of significance, therefore, for him; he knew how
hardly her color came. Blushing means nothing, in some persons; in
others, it betrays a profound inward agitation,--a perturbation of
the feelings far more trying than the passions which with many easily
moved persons break forth in tears. All who have observed much are
aware that some men, who have seen a good deal of life in its less
chastened aspects and are anything but modest, will blush often and
easily, while there are delicate and sensitive women who can faint,
or go into fits, if necessary, but are very rarely seen to betray
their feelings in their cheeks, even when their expression shows that
their inmost soul is blushing scarlet. Presently she answered,
abruptly and scornfully, "Mr. Langdon is a gentleman, and would not
vex me as you do."
"A gentleman!" Dick answered, with the most insulting accent,--
"a gentleman! Come, Elsie, you 've got the Dudley blood in your
veins, and it does n't do for you to call this poor, sneaking
schoolmaster a gentleman!"
He stopped short. Elsie's bosom was heaving, the faint flush on her
cheek was becoming a vivid glow. Whether it were shame or wrath, he
saw that he had reached some deep-lying centre of emotion. There was
no longer any doubt in his mind. With another girl these signs of
confusion might mean little or nothing; with her they were decisive
and final. Elsie Venner loved Bernard Langdon.
The sudden conviction, absolute, overwhelming, which rushed upon him,
had well-nigh led to an explosion of wrath, and perhaps some terrible
scene which might have fulfilled some of old Sophy's predictions.
This, however, would never do. Dick's face whitened with his
thoughts, but he kept still until he could speak calmly.
"I've nothing against the young fellow," he said; "only I don't think
there's anything quite good enough to keep the company of people that
have the Dudley blood in them. You a'n't as proud as I am. I can't
quite make up my mind to call a schoolmaster a gentleman, though this
one may be well enough. I 've nothing against him, at any rate."
Elsie made no answer, but glided out of the room and slid away to her
own apartment. She bolted the door and drew her curtains close.
Then she threw herself on the floor, and fell into a dull, slow ache
of passion, without tears, without words, almost without thoughts.
So she remained, perhaps, for a half-hour, at the end of which time
it seemed that her passion had become a sullen purpose. She arose,
and, looking cautiously round, went to the hearth, which was
ornamented with curious old Dutch tiles, with pictures of Scripture
subjects. One of these represented the lifting of the brazen
serpent. She took a hair-pin from one of her braids, and,
insinuating its points under the edge of the tile, raised it from its
place. A small leaden box lay under the tile, which she opened, and,
taking from it a little white powder, which she folded in a scrap of
paper, replaced the box and the tile over it.
Whether Dick had by any means got a knowledge of this proceeding, or
whether he only suspected some unmentionable design on her part,
there is no sufficient means of determining. At any rate, when they
met, an hour or two after these occurrences, he could not help
noticing how easily she seemed to have got over her excitement. She
was very pleasant with him,--too pleasant, Dick thought. It was not
Elsie's way to come out of a fit of anger so easily as that. She had
contrived some way of letting off her spite; that was certain. Dick
was pretty cunning, as old Sophy had said, and, whether or not he had
any means of knowing Elsie's private intentions, watched her closely,
and was on his guard against accidents.
For the first time, he took certain precautions with reference to his
diet, such as were quite alien to his common habits. On coming to
the dinner-table, that day, he complained of headache, took but
little food, and refused the cup of coffee which Elsie offered him,
saying that it did not agree with him when he had these attacks.
Here was a new complication. Obviously enough, he could not live in
this way, suspecting everything but plain bread and water, and hardly
feeling safe in meddling with them. Not only had this school-keeping
wretch come between him and the scheme by which he was to secure his
future fortune, but his image had so infected his cousin's mind that
she was ready to try on him some of those tricks which, as he had
heard hinted in the village, she had once before put in practice upon
a person who had become odious to her.
Something must be done, and at once, to meet the double necessities
of this case. Every day, while the young girl was in these relations
with the young man, was only making matters worse. They could
exchange words and looks, they could arrange private interviews, they
would be stooping together over the same book, her hair touching his
cheek, her breath mingling with his, all the magnetic attractions
drawing them together with strange, invisible effluences. As her
passion for the schoolmaster increased, her dislike to him, her
cousin, would grow with it, and all his dangers would be multiplied.
It was a fearful point he had, reached. He was tempted at one moment
to give up all his plans and to disappear suddenly from the place,
leaving with the schoolmaster, who had come between him and his
object, an anonymous token of his personal sentiments which would be
remembered a good while in the history of the town of Rockland. This
was but a momentary thought; the great Dudley property could not be
given up in that way.
Something must happen at once to break up all this order of things.
He could think of but one Providential event adequate to the
emergency,--an event foreshadowed by various recent circumstances,
but hitherto floating in his mind only as a possibility. Its
occurrence would at once change the course of Elsie's feelings,
providing her with something to think of besides mischief, and remove
the accursed obstacle which was thwarting all his own projects.
Every possible motive, then,--his interest, his jealousy, his longing
for revenge, and now his fears for his own safety,--urged him to
regard the happening of a certain casualty as a matter of simple
necessity. This was the self-destruction of Mr. Bernard Langdon.
Such an event, though it might be surprising to many people, would
not be incredible, nor without many parallel cases. He was poor, a
miserable fag, under the control of that mean wretch up there at the
school, who looked as if he had sour buttermilk in his veins instead
of blood. He was in love with a girl above his station, rich, and of
old family, but strange in all her ways, and it was conceivable that
he should become suddenly jealous of her. Or she might have
frightened him with some display of her peculiarities which had
filled him with a sudden repugnance in the place of love. Any of
these things were credible, and would make a probable story enough,--
so thought Dick over to himself with the New-England half of his
Unfortunately, men will not always take themselves out of the way
when, so far as their neighbors are concerned, it would be altogether
the most appropriate and graceful and acceptable service they could
render. There was at this particular moment no special reason for
believing that the schoolmaster meditated any violence to his own
person. On the contrary, there was good evidence that he was taking
some care of himself. He was looking well and in good spirits, and
in the habit of amusing himself and exercising, as if to keep up his
standard of health, especially of taking certain evening-walks,
before referred to, at an hour when most of the Rockland people had
"retired," or, in vulgar language, "gone to bed."
Dick Veneer settled it, however, in his own mind, that Mr. Bernard
Langdon must lay violent hands upon himself. He even went so far as
to determine the precise hour, and the method in which the "rash
act," as it would undoubtedly be called in the next issue of "The
Rockland Weekly Universe," should be committed. Time,--this evening.
Method, asphyxia, by suspension. It was, unquestionably, taking a
great liberty with a man to decide that he should become felo de se
without his own consent. Such, however, was the decision of Mr.
Richard Veneer with regard to Mr. Bernard Langdon.
If everything went right, then, there would be a coroner's inquest
to-morrow upon what remained of that gentleman, found suspended to
the branch of a tree somewhere within a mile of the Apollinean
Institute. The "Weekly Universe" would have a startling paragraph
announcing a "SAD EVENT!!!" which had "thrown the town into an
intense state of excitement. Mr. Barnard Langden, a well-known
teacher at the Appolinian Institute, was found, etc., etc. The vital
spark was extinct. The motive to the rash act can only be
conjectured, but is supposed to be disappointed affection. The name
of an accomplished young lady of the highest respectability and great
beauty is mentioned in connection with this melancholy occurrence."
Dick Venner was at the tea-table that evening, as usual.---No, he
would take green tea, if she pleased,--the same that her father
drank. It would suit his headache better.--Nothing,--he was much
obliged to her. He would help himself,--which he did in a little
different way from common, naturally enough, on account of his
headache. He noticed that Elsie seemed a little nervous while she
was rinsing some of the teacups before their removal.
"There's something going on in that witch's head," he said to
himself. "I know her,--she 'd be savage now, if she had n't got some
trick in hand. Let 's see how she looks to-morrow!"
Dick announced that he should go to bed early that evening, on
account of this confounded headache which had been troubling him so
much. In fact, he went up early, and locked his door after him, with
as much noise as he could make. He then changed some part of his
dress, so that it should be dark throughout, slipped off his boots,
drew the lasso out from the bottom of the contents of his trunk, and,
carrying that and his boots in his hand, opened his door softly,
locked it after him, and stole down the back-stairs, so as to get out
of the house unnoticed. He went straight to the stable and saddled
the mustang. He took a rope from the stable with him, mounted his
horse, and set forth in the direction of the Institute.
Mr. Bernard, as we have seen, had not been very profoundly impressed
by the old Doctor's cautions,--enough, however, to follow out some of
his hints which were not troublesome to attend to. He laughed at the
idea of carrying a loaded pistol about with him; but still it seemed
only fair, as the old Doctor thought so much of the matter, to humor
him about it. As for not going about when and where he liked, for
fear he might have some lurking enemy, that was a thing not to be
listened to nor thought of. There was nothing to be ashamed of or
troubled about in any of his relations with the school-girls. Elsie,
no doubt, showed a kind of attraction towards him, as did perhaps
some others; but he had been perfectly discreet, and no father or
brother or lover had any just cause of quarrel with him. To be sure,
that dark young man at the Dudley mansion-house looked as if he were
his enemy, when he had met him; but certainly there was nothing in
their relations to each other, or in his own to Elsie, that would be
like to stir such malice in his mind as would lead him to play any of
his wild Southern tricks at his, Mr. Bernard's, expense. Yet he had
a vague feeling that this young man was dangerous, and he had been
given to understand that one of the risks he ran was from that
On this particular evening, he had a strange, unusual sense of some
impending peril. His recent interview with the Doctor, certain
remarks which had been dropped in his hearing, but above all an
unaccountable impression upon his spirits, all combined to fill his
mind with a foreboding conviction that he was very near some
overshadowing danger. It was as the chill of the ice-mountain toward
which the ship is steering under full sail. He felt a strong impulse
to see Helen Darley and talk with her. She was in the common parlor,
and, fortunately, alone.
"Helen," he said,--for they were almost like brother and sister now,
--"I have been thinking what you would do, if I should have to leave
the school at short notice, or be taken away suddenly by any
"Do?" she said, her cheek growing paler than its natural delicate
hue,--"why, I do not know how I could possibly consent to live here,
if you left us. Since you came, my life has been almost easy;
before, it was getting intolerable. You must not talk about going,
my dear friend; you have spoiled me for my place. Who is there here
that I can have any true society with, but you? You would not leave
us for another school, would you?"
"No, no, my dear Helen," Mr. Bernard said, "if it depends on myself,
I shall stay out my full time, and enjoy your company and friendship.
But everything is uncertain in this world. I have been thinking that
I might be wanted elsewhere, and called when I did not think of it;--
it was a fancy, perhaps,--but I can't keep it out of my mind this
evening. If any of my fancies should come true, Helen, there are two
or three messages I want to leave with you. I have marked a book or
two with a cross in pencil on the fly-leaf;--these are for you.
There is a little hymn-book I should like to have you give to Elsie
from me;--it may be a kind of comfort to the poor girl."
Helen's eyes glistened as she interrupted him,--
"What do you mean? You must not talk so, Mr. Langdon. Why, you
never looked better in your life. Tell me now, you are not in
earnest, are you, but only trying a little sentiment on me?"
Mr. Bernard smiled, but rather sadly.
"About half in earnest," he said. "I have had some fancies in my
head,--superstitions, I suppose,--at any rate, it does no harm to
tell you what I should like to have done, if anything should happen,
--very likely nothing ever will. Send the rest of the books home, if
you please, and write a letter to my mother. And, Helen, you will
find one small volume in my desk enveloped and directed, you will see
to whom;--give this with your own hands; it is a keepsake."
The tears gathered in her eyes; she could not speak at first.
Presently, "Why, Bernard, my dear friend, my brother, it cannot be
that you are in danger? Tell me what it is, and, if I can share it
with you, or counsel you in any way, it will only be paying back the
great debt I owe you. No, no,--it can't be true,--you are tired and
worried, and your spirits have got depressed. I know what that is;--
I was sure, one winter, that I should die before spring; but I lived
to see the dandelions and buttercups go to seed. Come, tell me it
was nothing but your imagination."
She felt a tear upon her cheek, but would not turn her face away from
him; it was the tear of a sister.
"I am really in earnest, Helen," he said. "I don't know that there
is the least reason in the world for these fancies. If they all go
off and nothing comes of them, you may laugh at me, if you like. But
if there should be any occasion, remember my requests. You don't
believe in presentiments, do you?"
"Oh, don't ask-me, I beg you," Helen answered. "I have had a good
many frights for every one real misfortune I have suffered.
Sometimes I have thought I was warned beforehand of coming trouble,
just as many people are of changes in the weather, by some
unaccountable feeling,--but not often, and I don't like to talk about
such things. I wouldn't think about these fancies of yours. I don't
believe you have exercised enough;--don't you think it's confinement
in the school has made you nervous?"
"Perhaps it has; but it happens that I have thought more of exercise
lately, and have taken regular evening walks, besides playing my old
gymnastic tricks every day."
They talked on many subjects, but through all he said Helen perceived
a pervading tone of sadness, and an expression as of a dreamy
foreboding of unknown evil. They parted at the usual hour, and went
to their several rooms. The sadness of Mr. Bernard had sunk into the
heart of Helen, and she mingled many tears with her prayers that
evening, earnestly entreating that he might be comforted in his days
of trial and protected in his hour of danger.
Mr. Bernard stayed in his room a short time before setting out for
his evening walk. His eye fell upon the Bible his mother had given
him when he left home, and he opened it in the New Testament at a
venture. It happened that the first words he read were these,--
"Lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping." In the state of mind
in which he was at the moment, the text startled him. It was like a
supernatural warning. He was not going to expose himself to any
particular danger this evening; a walk in a quiet village was as free
from risk as Helen Darley or his own mother could ask; yet he had an
unaccountable feeling of apprehension, without any definite object.
At this moment he remembered the old Doctor's counsel, which he had
sometimes neglected, and, blushing at the feeling which led him to do
it, he took the pistol his suspicious old friend had forced upon him,
which he had put away loaded, and, thrusting it into his pocket, set
out upon his walk.
The moon was shining at intervals, for the night was partially
clouded. There seemed to be nobody stirring, though his attention
was unusually awake, and he could hear the whirr of the bats
overhead, and the pulsating croak of the frogs in the distant pools
and marshes. Presently he detected the sound of hoofs at some
distance, and, looking forward, saw a horseman coming in his
direction. The moon was under a cloud at the moment, and he could
only observe that the horse and his rider looked like a single dark
object, and that they were moving along at an easy pace. Mr. Bernard
was really ashamed of himself, when he found his hand on the butt of
his pistol. When the horseman was within a hundred and fifty yards
of him, the moon shone out suddenly and revealed each of them to the
other. The rider paused for a moment, as if carefully surveying the
pedestrian, then suddenly put his horse to the full gallop, and
dashed towards him, rising at the same instant in his stirrups and
swinging something round his head, what, Mr. Bernard could not make
out. It was a strange manoeuvre,--so strange and threatening in
aspect that the young man forgot his nervousness in an instant,
cocked his pistol, and waited to see what mischief all this meant.
He did not wait long. As the rider came rushing towards him, he made
a rapid motion and something leaped five-and-twenty feet through the
air, in Mr. Bernard's direction. In an instant he felt a ring, as of
a rope or thong, settle upon his shoulders. There was no time to
think, he would be lost in another second. He raised his pistol and
fired,--not at the rider, but at the horse. His aim was true; the
mustang gave one bound and fell lifeless, shot through the head. The
lasso was fastened to his saddle, and his last bound threw Mr.
Bernard violently to the earth, where he lay motionless, as if
In the mean time, Dick Venner, who had been dashed down with his
horse, was trying to extricate himself,--one of his legs being held
fast under the animal, the long spur on his boot having caught in the
saddle-cloth. He found, however, that he could do nothing with his
right arm, his shoulder having been in some way injured in his fall.
But his Southern blood was up, and, as he saw Mr. Bernard move as if
he were coming to his senses, he struggled violently to free himself.
"I 'll have the dog, yet," he said,--"only let me get at him with the
He had just succeeded in extricating his imprisoned leg, and was
ready to spring to his feet, when he was caught firmly by the throat,
and looking up, saw a clumsy barbed weapon, commonly known as a hay
fork, within an inch of his breast.
"Hold on there! What 'n thunder 'r' y' abaout, y' darned Portagee?"
said a voice, with a decided nasal tone in it, but sharp and
Dick looked from the weapon to the person who held it, and saw a
sturdy, plain man standing over him, with his teeth clinched, and his
aspect that of one all ready for mischief.
"Lay still, naow!" said Abel Stebbins, the Doctor's man; "'f y'
don't, I'll stick ye, 'z sure 'z y' 'r' alive! I been aafter ye f'r
a week, 'n' I got y' naow! I knowed I'd ketch ye at some darned
trick or 'nother 'fore I'd done 'ith ye!"
Dick lay perfectly still, feeling that he was crippled and helpless,
thinking all the time with the Yankee half of his mind what to do
about it. He saw Mr. Bernard lift his head and look around him. He
would get his senses again in a few minutes, very probably, and then
he, Mr. Richard Venner, would be done for.
"Let me up! let me up!" he cried, in a low, hurried voice,--"I 'll
give you a hundred dollars in gold to let me go. The man a'n't
hurt,--don't you see him stirring? He'll come to himself in two
minutes. Let me up! I'll give you a hundred and fifty dollars in
gold, now, here on the spot,--and the watch out of my pocket; take it
yourself, with your own hands!"
"I'll see y' darned fust! Ketch me lett'n' go!" was Abel's emphatic
answer. "Yeou lay still, 'n' wait t'll that man comes tew."
He kept the hay-fork ready for action at the slightest sign of
Mr. Bernard, in the mean time, had been getting, first his senses,
and then some few of his scattered wits, a little together.
"What is it?"--he said. "Who'shurt? What's happened?"
"Come along here 'z quick 'z y' ken," Abel answered, "'n' haalp me
fix this fellah. Y' been hurt, y'rself, 'n' the' 's murder come
pooty nigh happenin'."
Mr. Bernard heard the answer, but presenth stared about and asked
again, "Who's hurt? What's happened?"
"Y' 'r' hurt, y'rself, I tell ye," said Abel; "'n' the' 's been a
murder, pooty nigh."
Mr. Bernard felt something about his neck, and, putting his hands up,
found the loop of the lasso, which he loosened, but did not think to
slip over his head, in the confusion of his perceptions and thoughts.
It was a wonder that it had not choked him, but he had fallen forward
so as to slacken it.
By this time he was getting some notion of what he was about, and
presently began looking round for his pistol, which had fallen. He
found it lying near him, cocked it mechanically, and walked, somewhat
unsteadily, towards the two men, who were keeping their position as
still as if they were performing in a tableau.
"Quick, naow!" said Abel, who had heard the click of cocking the
pistol, and saw that he held it in his hand, as he came towards him.
"Gi' me that pistil, and yeou fetch that 'ere rope layin' there. I
'll have this here fella,h fixed 'n less 'n two minutes."
Mr. Bernard did as Abel said,--stupidly and mechanically, for he was
but half right as yet. Abel pointed the pistol at Dick's head.
"Naow hold up y'r hands, yeou fellah," he said, "'n' keep 'em up,
while this man puts the rope mound y'r wrists."
Dick felt himself helpless, and, rather than have his disabled arm
roughly dealt with, held up his hands. Mr. Bernard did as Abel said;
he was in a purely passive state, and obeyed orders like a child.
Abel then secured the rope in a most thorough and satisfactory
complication of twists and knots.
"Naow get up, will ye?" he said; and the unfortunate Dick rose to
"Who's hurt? What's happened?" asked poor Mr. Bernard again, his
memory having been completely jarred out of him for the time.
"Come, look here naow, yeou, don' Stan' askin' questions over 'n'
over;--'t beats all! ha'n't I tol' y' a dozen times?"
As Abel spoke, he turned and looked at Mr. Bernard.
"Hullo! What 'n thunder's that 'ere raoun' y'r neck? Ketched ye
'ith a slippernoose, hey? Wal, if that a'n't the craowner I Hol' on
a minute, Cap'n, 'n' I'll show ye what that 'ere halter's good for."
Abel slipped the noose over Mr. Bernard's head, and put it round the
neck of the miserable Dick Veneer, who made no sign of resistance,--
whether on account of the pain he was in, or from mere helplessness,
or because he was waiting for some unguarded moment to escape,--since
resistance seemed of no use.
"I 'm go'n' to kerry y' home," said Abel; "'T' th' ol Doctor, he's got
a gre't cur'osity t' see ye. Jes' step along naow,--off that way,
will ye?--'n' I Ill hol' on t' th' bridle, f' fear y' sh'd run
He took hold of the leather thong, but found that it was fastened at
the other end to the saddle. This was too much for Abel.
"Wal, naow, yeou be a pooty chap to hev raound! A fellah's neck in a
slippernoose at one eend of a halter, 'n' a hors on th' full spring
at t' other eend!"
He looked at him from' head to foot as a naturalist inspects a new
specimen. His clothes had suffered in his fall, especially on the
leg which had been caught under the horse.
"Hullo! look o' there, naow! What's that 'ere stickin' aout o' y'r
It was nothing but the handle of an ugly knife, which Abel instantly
relieved him of.
The party now took up the line of march for old Doctor Kittredge's
house, Abel carrying the pistol and knife, and Mr. Bernard walking in
silence, still half-stunned, holding the hay-fork, which Abel had
thrust into his hand. It was all a dream to him as yet. He
remembered the horseman riding at him, and his firing the pistol; but
whether he was alive, and these walls around him belonged to the
village of Rockland, or whether he had passed the dark river, and was
in a suburb of the New Jerusalem, he could not as yet have told.
They were in the street where the Doctor's house was situated.
"I guess I'll fire off one o' these here berrils," said Abel.
Presently there was a noise of opening windows, and the nocturnal
head-dresses of Rockland flowered out of them like so many
developments of the Nightblooming Cereus. White cotton caps and red
bandanna handkerchiefs were the prevailing forms of efflorescence.
The main point was that the village was waked up. The old Doctor
always waked easily, from long habit, and was the first among those
who looked out to see what had happened.
"Why, Abel!" he called out, "what have you got there? and what 's
all this noise about?"
"We've ketched the Portagee! "Abel answered, as laconically as the
hero of Lake Erie, in his famous dispatch. "Go in there, you
The prisoner was marched into the house, and the Doctor, who had
bewitched his clothes upon him in a way that would have been
miraculous in anybody but a physician, was down in presentable form
as soon as if it had been a child in a fit that he was sent for.
"Richard Veneer!" the Doctor exclaimed. "What is the meaning of all
this? Mr. Langdon, has anything happened to you?"
Mr. Bernard put his hand to his head.
"My mind is confused," he said. "I've had a fall.---Oh, yes!---wait
a minute and it will all come back to me."
"Sit down, sit down," the Doctor said. "Abel will tell me about it.
Slight concussion of the brain. Can't remember very well for an hour
or two,--will come right by to-morrow."
"Been stunded," Abel said. "He can't tell nothin'."
Abel then proceeded to give a Napoleonic bulletin of the recent
combat of cavalry and infantry and its results,--none slain, one
The Doctor looked at the prisoner through his spectacles.
"What 's the matter with your shoulder, Venner?"
Dick answered sullenly, that he didn't know, fell on it when his
horse came down. The Doctor examined it as carefully as he could
through his clothes.
"Out of joint. Untie his hands, Abel"
By this time a small alarm had spread among the neighbors, and there
was a circle around Dick, who glared about on the assembled honest
people like a hawk with a broken wing.
When the Doctor said, "Untie his hands," the circle widened
"Isn't it a leetle rash to give him the use of his hands? I see
there's females and children standin' near."
This was the remark of our old friend, Deacon Soper, who retired from
the front row, as he spoke, behind a respectable-looking, but
somewhat hastily dressed person of the defenceless sex, the female
help of a neighboring household, accompanied by a boy, whose
unsmoothed shock of hair looked like a last year's crow's-nest.
But Abel untied his hands, in spite of the Deacon's considerate
"Now," said the Doctor, "the first thing is to put the joint back."
"Stop," said Deacon Soper,--"stop a minute. Don't you think it will
be safer--for the women-folks--jest to wait till mornin', afore you
put that j'int into the socket?"
Colonel Sprowle, who had been called by a special messenger, spoke up
at this moment.
"Let the women-folks and the deacons go home, if they're scared, and
put the fellah's j'int in as quick as you like. I 'll resk him,
j'int in or out."
"I want one of you to go straight down to Dudley Venner's with a
message," the Doctor said. "I will have the young man's shoulder in
"Don't send that message!" said Dick, in a hoarse voice;--"do what
you like with my arm, but don't send that message! Let me go,--I can
walk, and I'll be off from this place. There's nobody hurt but
myself. Damn the shoulder!--let me go! You shall never hear of me
Mr. Bernard came forward.
"My friends," he said, "I am not injured,--seriously, at least.
Nobody need complain against this man, if I don't. The Doctor will
treat him like a human being, at any rate; and then, if he will go,
let him. There are too many witnesses against him here for him to
want to stay."
The Doctor, in the mean time, without saying a word to all this, had
got a towel round the shoulder and chest and another round the arm,
and had the bone replaced in a very few minutes.
"Abel, put Cassia into the new chaise," he said, quietly. "My
friends and neighbors, leave this young man to me."
"Colonel Sprowle, you're a justice of the peace," said Deacon Soper,
"and you know what the law says in cases like this. It a'n't so
clear that it won't have to come afore the Grand Jury, whether we
will or no."
"I guess we'll set that j'int to-morrow mornin'," said Colonel
Sprowle,--which made a laugh at the Deacon's expense, and virtually
settled the question.
"Now trust this young man in my care," said the old Doctor, "and go
home and finish your naps. I knew him when he was a boy and I'll
answer for it, he won't trouble you any more. The Dudley blood makes
folks proud, I can tell you, whatever else they are."
The good people so respected and believed in the Doctor that they
left the prisoner with him.
Presently, Cassia, the fast Morgan mare, came up to the front-door,
with the wheels of the new, light chaise flashing behind her in the
moonlight. The Doctor drove Dick forty miles at a stretch that
night, out of the limits of the State.
"Do you want money?" he said, before he left him.
Dick told him the secret of his golden belt.
"Where shall I send your trunk after you from your uncle's?"
Dick gave him a direction to a seaport town to which he himself was
going, to take passage for a port in South America.
"Good-bye, Richard," said the Doctor. "Try to learn something from
The Southern impulses in Dick's wild blood overcame him, and he
kissed the old Doctor on both cheeks, crying as only the children of
the sun can cry, after the first hours in the dewy morning of life.
So Dick Venner disappears from this story. An hour after dawn,
Cassia pointed her fine ears homeward, and struck into her square,
honest trot, as if she had not been doing anything more than her duty
during her four hours' stretch of the last night.
Abel was not in the habit of questioning the Doctor's decisions.
"It's all right," he said to Mr. Bernard. "The fellah 's Squire
Venner's relation, anyhaow. Don't you want to wait here, jest a
little while, till I come back? The's a consid'able nice saddle 'n'
bridle on a dead boss that's layin' daown there in the road 'n' I
guess the' a'n't no use in lettin' on 'em spite,--so I'll jest step
aout 'n' fetch 'em along. I kind o' calc'late 't won't pay to take
the cretur's shoes 'n' hide off to-night,--'n' the' won't be much
iron on that hose's huffs an haour after daylight, I'll bate ye a
"I'll walk along with you," said Mr. Bernard; "I feel as if I could
get along well enough now."
So they set off together. There was a little crowd round the dead
mustang already, principally consisting of neighbors who had
adjourned from the Doctor's house to see the scene of the late
adventure. In addition to these, however, the assembly was honored
by the presence of Mr. Principal Silas Peckham, who had been called
from his slumbers by a message that Master Langdon was shot through
the head by a highway-robber, but had learned a true version of the
story by this time. His voice was at that moment heard above the
rest,--sharp, but thin, like bad cider-vinegar.
"I take charge of that property, I say. Master Langdon 's actin'
under my orders, and I claim that hoss and all that's on him. Hiram!
jest slip off that saddle and bridle, and carry 'em up to the
Institoot, and bring down a pair of pinchers and a file,--and--stop--
fetch a pair of shears, too; there's hosshair enough in that mane and
tail to stuff a bolster with."
"You let that hoss alone!" spoke up Colonel Sprowle. "When a fellah
goes out huntin' and shoots a squirrel, do you think he's go'n' to
let another fellah pick him up and kerry him off? Not if he's got a
double-berril gun, and t'other berril ha'n't been fired off yet! I
should like to see the mahn that'll take off that seddle 'n' bridle,
excep' the one th't hez a fair right to the whole concern!"
Hiram was from one of the lean streaks in New Hampshire, and, not
being overfed in Mr. Silas Peckham's kitchen, was somewhat wanting in
stamina, as well as in stomach, for so doubtful an enterprise, as
undertaking to carry out his employer's orders in the face of the
Just then Mr. Bernard and Abel came up together. "Here they be,"
said the Colonel. "Stan' beck, gentlemen!"
Mr. Bernard, who was pale and still a little confused, but gradually
becoming more like himself, stood and looked in silence for a moment.
All his thoughts seemed to be clearing themselves in this interval.
He took in the whole series of incidents: his own frightful risk; the
strange, instinctive, nay, Providential impulse, which had led him so
suddenly to do the one only thing which could possibly have saved
him; the sudden appearance of the Doctor's man, but for which he
might yet have been lost; and the discomfiture and capture of his
It was all past now, and a feeling of pity rose in Mr. Bernard's
"He loved that horse, no doubt," he said,--"and no wonder. A
beautiful, wild--looking creature! Take off those things that are on
him, Abel, and have them carried to Mr. Dudley Veneer's. If he does
not want them, you may keep them yourself, for all that I have to
say. One thing more. I hope nobody will lift his hand against this
noble creature to mutilate him in any way. After you have taken off
the saddle and bridle, Abel, bury him just as he is. Under that old
beech-tree will be a good place. You'll see to it,--won't yon,
Abel nodded assent, and Mr. Bernard returned to the Institute, threw
himself in his clothes on the bed, and slept like one who is heavy
Following Mr. Bernard's wishes, Abel at once took off the high-peaked
saddle and the richly ornamented bridle from the mustang. Then, with
the aid of two or three others, he removed him to the place
indicated. Spades and shovels were soon procured, and before the
moon had set, the wild horse of the Pampas was at rest under the turf
at the wayside, in the far village among the hills of New England.
THE NEWS REACHES THE DUDLEY MANSION.
Early the next morning Abel Stebbins made his appearance at Dudley
Veneer's, and requested to see the maan o' the haouse abaout
somethin' o' consequence. Mr. Veneer sent word that the messenger
should wait below, and presently appeared in the study, where Abel
was making himself at home, as is the wont of the republican citizen,
when he hides the purple of empire beneath the apron of domestic
"Good mornin', Squire!" said Abel, as Mr. Venner entered. "My name's
Stebbins, 'n' I'm stoppin' f'r a spell 'ith of Doctor Kittredge."
"Well, Stebbins," said Mr. Dudley Veneer, "have you brought any
special message from the Doctor?"
"Y' ha'n't heerd nothin' abaout it, Squire, d' ye mean t' say?" said
Abel,--beginning to suspect that he was the first to bring the news
of last evening's events.
"About what?" asked Mr. Veneer, with some interest.
"Dew tell, naow! Waal, that beats all! Why, that 'ere Portagee
relation o' yourn 'z been tryin' t' ketch a fellah 'n a slippernoose,
'n' got ketched himself,---that's all. Y' ha'n't heerd noth'n'
"Sit down," said Mr. Dudley Veneer, calmly, "and tell me all you have
So Abel sat down and gave him an account of the events of the last
evening. It was a strange and terrible surprise to Dudley Veneer to
find that his nephew, who had been an inmate of his house and the
companion of his daughter, was to all intents and purposes guilty of
the gravest of crimes. But the first shock was no sooner over than
he began to think what effect the news would have on Elsie. He
imagined that there was a kind of friendly feeling between them, and
he feared some crisis would be provoked in his daughter's mental
condition by the discovery. He would wait, however, until she came
from her chamber, before disturbing her with the evil tidings.
Abel did not forget his message with reference to the equipments of
the dead mustang.
"The' was some things on the hoss, Squire, that the man he ketched
said he did n' care no gre't abaout; but perhaps you'd like to have
'em fetched to the mansion-haouse. Ef y' did n' care abaout 'em,
though, I should n' min' keepin' on 'em; they might come handy some
time or 'nother; they say, holt on t' anything for ten year 'n'
there 'll be some kin' o' use for 't."
"Keep everything," said Dudley Veneer. "I don't want to see anything
belonging to that young man."
So Abel nodded to Mr. Veneer, and left the study to find some of the
men about the stable to tell and talk over with them the events of
the last evening. He presently came upon Elbridge, chief of the
equine department, and driver of the family-coach.
"Good mornin', Abe," said Elbridge. "What's fetched y' daown here so
"You're a darned pooty lot daown here, you be!"
Abel answered. "Better keep your Portagees t' home nex' time,
ketchin' folks 'ith slippernooses raoun' their necks, 'n' kerryin'
knives 'n their boots!"
"What 'r' you jawin' abaout?" Elbridge said, looking up to see if he
was in earnest, and what he meant.
"Jawin' abaout? You'll find aout'z soon 'z y' go into that 'ere
stable o' yourn! Y' won't curry that 'ere long-tailed black hoss no
more; 'n' y' won't set y'r eyes on the fellah that rid him, ag'in, in
Elbridge walked straight to the stable, without saying a word, found
the door unlocked, and went in.
"Th' critter's gone, sure enough!" he said. "Glad on 't! The
darndest, kickin'est, bitin'est beast th't ever I see, 'r ever wan'
t' see ag'in! Good reddance! Don' wan' no snappin'-turkles in my
stable! Whar's the man gone th't brought the critter?"
"Whar he's gone? Guess y' better go 'n ask my ol man; he kerried him
off lass' night; 'n' when he comes back, mebbe he 'll tell ye whar
he's gone tew!"
By this time Elbridge had found out that Abel was in earnest, and had
something to tell. He looked at the litter in the mustang's stall,
then at the crib.
"Ha'n't eat b't haalf his feed. Ha'n't been daown on his straw.
Must ha' been took aout somewhere abaout ten 'r 'levee o'clock. I
know that 'ere critter's ways. The fellah's had him aout nights
afore; b't I never thought nothin' o' no mischief. He 's a kin' o'
haalf Injin. What is 't the chap's been a-doin' on? Tell 's all
Abel sat down on a meal-chest, picked up a straw and put it into his
mouth. Elbridge sat down at the other end, pulled out his jack-
knife, opened the penknife-blade, and began sticking it into the lid
of the meal-chest. The Doctor's man had a story to tell, and he
meant to get all the enjoyment out of it. So he told it with every
luxury of circumstance. Mr. Veneer's man heard it all with open
mouth. No listener in the gardens of Stamboul could have found more
rapture in a tale heard amidst the perfume of roses and the voices of
birds and tinkling of fountains than Elbridge in following Abel's
narrative, as they sat there in the aromatic ammoniacal atmosphere of
the stable, the grinding of the horses' jaws keeping evenly on
through it all, with now and then the interruption of a stamping
hoof, and at intervals a ringing crow from the barn-yard.
Elbridge stopped a minute to think, after Abel had finished.
"Who's took care o' them things that was on the hoss? "he said,
"Waal, Langden, he seemed to kin 'o' think I'd ought to have 'em,--
'n' the Squire; he did n' seem to have no 'bjection; 'n' so,--waal, I
calc'late I sh'll jes' holt on to 'em myself; they a'n't good f 'r
much, but they're cur'ous t' keep t' look at."
Mr. Veneer's man did not appear much gratified by this arrangement,
especially as he had a shrewd suspicion that some of the ornaments of
the bridle were of precious metal, having made occasional
examinations of them with the edge of a file. But he did not see
exactly what to do about it, except to get them from Abel in the way
"Waal, no,--they a'n't good for much 'xcep' to look at. 'F y' ever
rid on that seddle once, y' would n' try it ag'in, very spry,--not 'f
y' c'd haalp y'rsaalf.
"I tried it,--darned 'f I sot daown f'r th' nex' week,--eat all my
victuals stan'in'. I sh'd like t' hev them things wal enough to heng
up 'n the stable; 'f y' want t' trade some day, fetch 'em along
Abel rather expected that Elbridge would have laid claim to the
saddle and bridle on the strength of some promise or other
presumptive title, and thought himself lucky to get off with only
offering to think abaout tradin'.
When Elbridge returned to the house, he found the family in a state
of great excitement. Mr. Venner had told Old Sophy, and she had
informed the other servants. Everybody knew what had happened,
excepting Elsie. Her father had charged them all to say nothing
about it to her; he would tell her, when she came down.
He heard her step at last,--alight, gliding step,--so light that her
coming was often unheard, except by those who perceived the faint
rustle that went with it. She was paler than common this morning, as
she came into her father's study.
After a few words of salutation, he said quietly, "Elsie, my dear,
your cousin Richard has left us."
She grew still paler, as she asked,
"Is he dead?"
Dudley Venner started to see the expression with which Elsie put this
"He is living,--but dead to us from this day forward," said her
He proceeded to tell her, in a general way, the story he had just
heard from Abel. There could be no doubting it;--he remembered him
as the Doctor's man; and as Abel had seen all with his own eyes, as
Dick's chamber, when unlocked with a spare key, was found empty, and
his bed had not been slept in, he accepted the whole account as true.
When he told of Dick's attempt on the young schoolmaster, ("You know
Mr. Langdon very well, Elsie,--a perfectly inoffensive young man, as
I understand,") Elsie turned her face away and slid along by the wall
to the window which looked out oh the little grass-plot with the
white stone standing in it. Her father could not see her face, but
he knew by her movements that her dangerous mood was on her. When
she heard the sequel of the story, the discomfiture and capture of
Dick, she turned round for an instant, with a look of contempt and of
something like triumph upon her face. Her father saw that her cousin
had become odious to her: He knew well, by every change of her
countenance, by her movements, by every varying curve of her graceful
figure, the transitions front passion to repose, from fierce
excitement to the dull languor which often succeeded her threatening
She remained looking out at the window. A group of white fan-tailed
pigeons had lighted on the green plot before it and clustered about
one of their companions who lay on his back, fluttering in a strange
way, with outspread wings and twitching feet. Elsie uttered a faint
cry; these were her special favorites and often fed from her hand.
She threw open the long window, sprang out, caught up the white
fantail, and held it to her bosom. The bird stretched himself out,
and then lay still, with open eyes, lifeless. She looked at him a
moment, and, sliding in through the open window and through the
study, sought her own apartment, where she locked herself in, and
began to sob and moan like those that weep. But the gracious solace
of tears seemed to be denied her, and her grief, like her anger, was
a dull ache, longing, like that, to finish itself with a fierce
paroxysm, but wanting its natural outlet.
This seemingly trifling incident of the death of her favorite
appeared to change all the current of her thought. Whether it were
the sight of the dying bird, or the thought that her own agency might
have beep concerned in it, or some deeper grief, which took this
occasion to declare itself,--some dark remorse or hopeless longing,--
whatever it might be, there was an unwonted tumult in her soul. To
whom should she go in her vague misery? Only to Him who knows all
His creatures' sorrows, and listens to the faintest human cry. She
knelt, as she had been taught to kneel from her childhood, and tried
to pray. But her thoughts refused to flow in the language of
supplication. She could not plead for herself as other women plead
in their hours of anguish. She rose like one who should stoop to
drink, and find dust in the place of water. Partly from
restlessness, partly from an attraction she hardly avowed to herself,
she followed her usual habit and strolled listlessly along to the
Of course everybody at the Institute was full of the terrible
adventure of the preceding evening. Mr. Bernard felt poorly enough;
but he had made it a point to show himself the next morning, as if
nothing had happened. Helen Darley knew nothing of it all until she
hard risen, when the gossipy matron of the establishment made her
acquainted with all its details, embellished with such additional
ornamental appendages as it had caught up in transmission from lip to
lip. She did not love to betray her sensibilities, but she was pale
and tremulous and very nearly tearful when Mr. Bernard entered the
sitting-room, showing on his features traces of the violent shock he
had received and the heavy slumber from which he had risen with
throbbing brows. What the poor girl's impulse was, on seeing him, we
need not inquire too curiously. If he had been her own brother, she
would have kissed him and cried on his neck; but something held her
back. There is no galvanism in kiss-your-brother; it is copper
against copper: but alien bloods develop strange currents, when they
flow close to each other, with only the films that cover lip and
cheek between them. Mr. Bernard, as some of us may remember,
violated the proprieties and laid himself open to reproach by his
enterprise with a bouncing village-girl, to whose rosy cheek an
honest smack was not probably an absolute novelty. He made it all up
by his discretion and good behavior now. He saw by Helen's moist eye
and trembling lip that her woman's heart was off its guard, and he
knew, by the infallible instinct of sex, that he should be forgiven,
if he thanked her for her sisterly sympathies in the most natural
way,--expressive, and at the same time economical of breath and
utterance. He would not give a false look to their friendship by any
such demonstration. Helen was a little older than himself, but the
aureole of young womanhood had not yet begun to fade from around her.
She was surrounded by that enchanted atmosphere into which the girl
walks with dreamy eyes, and out of which the woman passes with a
story written on her forehead. Some people think very little of
these refinements; they have not studied magnetism and the law of the
square of the distance.
So Mr. Bernard thanked Helen for her interest without the aid of the
twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet,--the love labial,--the limping
consonant which it takes two to speak plain. Indeed, he scarcely let
her say a word, at first; for he saw that it was hard for her to
conceal her emotion. No wonder; he had come within a hair's-breadth
of losing his life, and he had been a very kind friend and a very
dear companion to her.
There were some curious spiritual experiences connected with his last
evening's adventure which were working very strongly in his mind. It
was borne in upon him irresistibly that he had been dead since he had
seen Helen,--as dead as the son of the Widow of Nain before the bier
was touched and he sat up and began to speak. There was an interval
between two conscious moments which appeared to him like a temporary
annihilation, and the thoughts it suggested were worrying him with
He remembered seeing the dark figure on horseback rise in the saddle
and something leap from its hand. He remembered the thrill he felt
as the coil settled on his shoulders, and the sudden impulse which
led him to fire as he did. With the report of the pistol all became
blank, until he found himself in a strange, bewildered state, groping
about for the weapon, which he had a vague consciousness of having
dropped. But, according to Abel's account, there must have been an
interval of some minutes between these recollections, and he could
not help asking, Where was the mind, the soul, the thinking
principle, all this time?
A man is stunned by a blow with a stick on the head. He becomes
unconscious. Another man gets a harder blow on the head from a
bigger stick, and it kills him. Does he become unconscious, too? If
so, when does he come to his consciousness? The man who has had a
slight or moderate blow comes to himself when the immediate shock
passes off and the organs begin to work again, or when a bit of the
skull is pried up, if that happens to be broken. Suppose the blow is
hard enough to spoil the brain and stop the play of the organs, what
A British captain was struck by a cannon-ball on the head, just as he
was giving an order, at the Battle of the Nile. Fifteen months
afterwards he was trephined at Greenwich Hospital, having been
insensible all that time. Immediately after the operation his
consciousness returned, and he at once began carrying out the order
he was giving when the shot struck him. Suppose he had never been
trephined, when would his consciousness have returned? When his
breath ceased and his heart stopped beating?
When Mr. Bernard said to Helen, "I have been dead since I saw you,"
it startled her not a little; for his expression was that of perfect
good faith, and she feared that his mind was disordered. When he
explained, not as has been done just now, at length, but in a
hurried, imperfect way, the meaning of his strange assertion, and the
fearful Sadduceeisms which it had suggested to his mind, she looked
troubled at first, and then thoughtful. She did not feel able to
answer all the difficulties he raised, but she met them with that
faith which is the strength as well as the weakness of women,--which
makes them weak in the hands of man, but strong in the presence of
"It is a strange experience," she said; "but I once had something
like it. I fainted, and lost some five or ten minutes out of my
life, as much as if I had been dead. But when I came to myself, I
was the same person every way, in my recollections and character. So
I suppose that loss of consciousness is not death. And if I was born
out of unconsciousness into infancy with many family-traits of mind
and body, I can believe, from my own reason, even without help from
Revelation, that I shall be born again out of the unconsciousness of
death with my individual traits of mind and body. If death is, as it
should seem to be, a loss of consciousness, that does not shake my
faith; for I have been put into a body once already to fit me for
living here, and I hope to be in some way fitted after this life to
enjoy a better one. But it is all trust in God and in his Word.
These are enough for me; I hope they are for you."
Helen was a minister's daughter, and familiar from her childhood with
this class of questions, especially with all the doubts and
perplexities which are sure to assail every thinking child bred in
any inorganic or not thoroughly vitalized faith,--as is too often the
case with the children of professional theologians. The kind of
discipline they are subjected to is like that of the Flat-Head Indian
pappooses. At five or ten or fifteen years old they put their hands
up to their foreheads and ask, What are they strapping down my brains
in this way for? So they tear off the sacred bandages of the great
Flat-Head tribe, and there follows a mighty rush of blood to the
long-compressed region. This accounts, in the most lucid manner, for
those sudden freaks with which certain children of this class
astonish their worthy parents at the period of life when they are
growing fast, and, the frontal pressure beginning to be felt as
something intolerable, they tear off the holy compresses.
The hour for school came, and they went to the great hall for study.
It would not have occurred to Mr. Silas Peckham to ask his assistant
whether he felt well enough to attend to his duties; and Mr. Bernard
chose to be at his post. A little headache and confusion were all
that remained of his symptoms.
Later, in the course of the forenoon, Elsie Venner came and took her
place. The girls all stared at her--naturally enough; for it was
hardly to have been expected that she would show herself, after such
an event in the household to which she belonged. Her expression was
somewhat peculiar, and, of course, was attributed to the shock her
feelings had undergone on hearing of the crime attempted by her
cousin and daily companion. When she was looking on her book, or on
any indifferent object, her countenance betrayed some inward
disturbance, which knitted her dark brows, and seemed to throw a
deeper shadow over her features. But, from time to time, she would
lift her eyes toward Mr. Bernard, and let them rest upon him, without
a thought, seemingly, that she herself was the subject of observation
or remark. Then they seemed to lose their cold glitter, and soften
into a strange, dreamy tenderness. The deep instincts of womanhood
were striving to grope their way to the surface of her being through
all the alien influences which overlaid them. She could be secret
and cunning in working out any of her dangerous impulses, but she did
not know how to mask the unwonted feeling which fixed her eyes and
her thoughts upon the only person who had ever reached the spring of
her hidden sympathies.
The girls all looked at Elsie, whenever they could steal a glance
unperceived, and many of them were struck with this singular
expression her features wore. They had long whispered it around
among each other that she had a liking for the master; but there were
too many of them of whom something like this could be said, to make
it very remarkable. Now, however, when so many little hearts were
fluttering at the thought of the peril through which the handsome
young master had so recently passed, they were more alive than ever
to the supposed relation between him and the dark school-girl. Some
had supposed there was a mutual attachment between them; there was a
story that they were secretly betrothed, in accordance with the rumor
which had been current in the village. At any rate, some conflict
was going on in that still, remote, clouded soul, and all the girls
who looked upon her face were impressed and awed as they had never
been before by the shadows that passed over it.
One of these girls was more strongly arrested by Elsie's look than
the others. This was a delicate, pallid creature, with a high
forehead, and wide-open pupils, which looked as if they could take in
all the shapes that flit in what, to common eyes, is darkness,--a
girl said to be clairvoyant under certain influences. In the recess,
as it was called, or interval of suspended studies in the middle of
the forenoon, this girl carried her autograph-book,--for she had one
of those indispensable appendages of the boarding-school miss of
every degree,--and asked Elsie to write her name in it. She had an
irresistible feeling, that, sooner or later, and perhaps very soon,
there would attach an unusual interest to this autograph. Elsie took
the pen and wrote, in her sharp Italian hand,
Elsie Venner, Infelix.
It was a remembrance, doubtless, of the forlorn queen of the
"AEneid"; but its coming to her thought in this way confirmed the
sensitive school-girl in her fears for Elsie, and she let fall a tear
upon the page before she closed it.
Of course, the keen and practised observation of Helen Darley could
not fail to notice the change of Elsie's manner and expression. She
had long seen that she was attracted to the young master, and had
thought, as the old Doctor did, that any impression which acted upon
her affections might be the means of awakening a new life in her
singularly isolated nature. Now, however, the concentration of the
poor girl's thoughts upon the one object which had had power to reach
her deeper sensibilities was so painfully revealed in her features,
that Helen began to fear once more, lest Mr. Bernard, in escaping the
treacherous violence of an assassin, had been left to the equally
dangerous consequences of a violent, engrossing passion in the breast
of a young creature whose love it would be ruin to admit and might be
deadly to reject. She knew her own heart too well to fear that any
jealousy might mingle with her new apprehensions. It was understood
between Bernard and Helen that they were too good friends to tamper
with the silences and edging proximities of lovemaking. She knew,
too, the simply human, not masculine, interest which Mr. Bernard took
in Elsie; he had been frank with Helen, and more than satisfied her
that with all the pity and sympathy which overflowed his soul, when
he thought of the stricken girl, there mingled not one drop of such
love as a youth may feel for a maiden.
It may help the reader to gain some understanding of the anomalous
nature of Elsie Veneer, if we look with Helen into Mr. Bernard's
opinions and feelings with reference to her, as they had shaped
themselves in his consciousness at the period of which we are
At first he had been impressed by her wild beauty, and the contrast
of all her looks and ways with those of the girls around her.
Presently a sense of some ill-defined personal element, which half-
attracted and half-repelled those who looked upon her, and especially
those on whom she looked, began to make itself obvious to him, as he
soon found it was painfully sensible to his more susceptible
companion, the lady-teacher. It was not merely in the cold light of
her diamond eyes, but in all her movements, in her graceful postures
as she sat, in her costume, and, he sometimes thought, even in her
speech, that this obscure and exceptional character betrayed itself.
When Helen had said, that, if they were living in times when human
beings were subject to possession, she should have thought there was
something not human about Elsie, it struck an unsuspected vein of
thought in his own mind, which he hated to put in words, but which
was continually trying to articulate itself among the dumb thoughts
which lie under the perpetual stream of mental whispers.
Mr. Bernard's professional training had made him slow to accept
marvellous stories and many forms of superstition. Yet, as a man of
science, he well knew that just on the verge of the demonstrable
facts of physics and physiology there is a nebulous border-land which
what is called "common sense" perhaps does wisely not to enter, but
which uncommon sense, or the fine apprehension of privileged
intelligences, may cautiously explore, and in so doing find itself
behind the scenes which make up for the gazing world the show which
is called Nature.
It was with something of this finer perception, perhaps with some
degree of imaginative exaltation, that he set himself to solving the
problem of Elsie's influence to attract and repel those around her.
His letter already submitted to the reader hints in what direction
his thoughts were disposed to turn. Here was a magnificent
organization, superb in vigorous womanhood, with a beauty such as
never comes but after generations of culture; yet through all this
rich nature there ran some alien current of influence, sinuous and
dark, as when a clouded streak seams the white marble of a perfect
It would be needless to repeat the particular suggestions which had
come into his mind, as they must probably have come into that of the
reader who has noted the singularities of Elsie's tastes and personal
traits. The images which certain poets had dreamed of seemed to have
become a reality before his own eyes. Then came that unexplained
adventure of The Mountain,--almost like a dream in recollection, yet
assuredly real in some of its main incidents,--with all that it
revealed or hinted. This girl did not fear to visit the dreaded
region, where danger lurked in every nook and beneath every tuft of
leaves. Did the tenants of the fatal ledge recognize some mysterious
affinity which made them tributary to the cold glitter of her diamond
eyes? Was she from her birth one of those frightful children, such
as he had read about, and the Professor had told him of, who form
unnatural friendships with cold, writhing ophidians? There was no
need of so unwelcome a thought as this; she had drawn him away from
the dark opening in the rock at the moment when he seemed to be
threatened by one of its malignant denizens; that was all he could be
sure of; the counter-fascination might have been a dream, a fancy, a
coincidence. All wonderful things soon grow doubtful in our own
minds, as do even common events, if great interests prove suddenly to
attach to their truth or falsehood.
--I, who am telling of these occurrences, saw a friend in the great
city, on the morning of a most memorable disaster, hours after the
time when the train which carried its victims to their doom had left.
I talked with him, and was for some minutes, at least, in his
company. When I reached home, I found that the story had gone before
that he was among the lost, and I alone could contradict it to his
weeping friends and relatives. I did contradict it; but, alas! I
began soon to doubt myself, penetrated by the contagion of their
solicitude; my recollection began to question itself; the order of
events became dislocated; and when I heard that he had reached home
in safety, the relief was almost as great to me as to those who had
expected to see their own brother's face no more.
Mr. Bernard was disposed, then, not to accept the thought of any
odious personal relationship of the kind which had suggested itself
to him when he wrote the letter referred to. That the girl had
something of the feral nature, her wild, lawless rambles in forbidden
and blasted regions of The Mountain at all hours, her familiarity
with the lonely haunts where any other human foot was so rarely seen,
proved clearly enough. But the more he thought of all her strange
instincts and modes of being, the more he became convinced that
whatever alien impulse swayed her will and modulated or diverted or
displaced her affections came from some impression that reached far
back into the past, before the days when the faithful Old Sophy had
rocked her in the cradle. He believed that she had brought her
ruling tendency, whatever it was, into the world with her.
When the school was over and the girls had all gone, Helen lingered
in the schoolroom to speak with Mr. Bernard.
"Did you remark Elsie's ways this forenoon?" she said.
"No, not particularly; I have not noticed anything as sharply as I
commonly do; my head has been a little queer, and I have been
thinking over what we were talking about, and how near I came to
solving the great problem which every day makes clear to such
multitudes of people. What about Elsie?"
"Bernard, her liking for you is growing into a passion. I have
studied girls for a long while, and I know the difference between
their passing fancies and their real emotions. I told you, you
remember, that Rosa would have to leave us; we barely missed a scene,
I think, if not a whole tragedy, by her going at the right moment.
But Elsie is infinitely more dangerous to herself and others.
Women's love is fierce enough, if it once gets the mastery of them,
always; but this poor girl does not know what to do with a passion."
Mr. Bernard had never told Helen the story of the flower in his
Virgil, or that other adventure--which he would have felt awkwardly
to refer to; but it had been perfectly understood between them that
Elsie showed in her own singular way a well-marked partiality for the
"Why don't they take her away from the school, if she is in such a
strange, excitable state?" said Mr. Bernard.
"I believe they are afraid of her," Helen answered. "It is just one
of those cases that are ten thousand thousand times worse than
insanity. I don't think from what I hear, that her father has ever
given up hoping that she will outgrow her peculiarities. Oh, these
peculiar children for whom parents go on hoping every morning and
despairing every night! If I could tell you half that mothers have
told me, you would feel that the worst of all diseases of the moral
sense and the will are those which all the Bedlams turn away from
their doors as not being cases of insanity!"
"Do you think her father has treated her judiciously?" said Mr.
"I think," said Helen, with a little hesitation, which Mr. Bernard
did not happen to notice,--"I think he has been very kind and
indulgent, and I do not know that he could have treated her otherwise
with a better chance of success."
"He must of course be fond of her," Mr. Bernard said; "there is
nothing else in the world for him to love."
Helen dropped a book she held in her hand, and, stooping to pick it
up, the blood rushed into her cheeks.
"It is getting late," she said; "you must not stay any longer in this
close schoolroom. Pray, go and get a little fresh air before dinner-
A SOUL IN DISTRESS.
The events told in the last two chapters had taken place toward the
close of the week. On Saturday evening the Reverend Chauncy
Fairweather received a note which was left at his door by an unknown
person who departed without saying a word. Its words were these:
"One who is in distress of mind requests the prayers of this
congregation that God would be pleased to look in mercy upon the soul
that he has afflicted."
There was nothing to show from whom the note came, or the sex or age
or special source of spiritual discomfort or anxiety of the writer.
The handwriting was delicate and might well be a woman's. The
clergyman was not aware of any particular affliction among his
parishioners which was likely to be made the subject of a request of
this kind. Surely neither of the Venners would advertise the
attempted crime of their relative in this way. But who else was
there? The more he thought about it, the more it puzzled him, and as
he did not like to pray in the dark, without knowing for whom he was
praying, he could think of nothing better than to step into old
Doctor Kittredge's and see what he had to say about it.
The old Doctor was sitting alone in his study when the Reverend Mr.
Fairweather was ushered in. He received his visitor very pleasantly,
expecting, as a matter of course, that he would begin with some new
grievance, dyspeptic, neuralgic, bronchitic, or other. The minister,
however, began with questioning the old Doctor about the sequel of
the other night's adventure; for he was already getting a little
Jesuitical, and kept back the object of his visit until it should
come up as if accidentally in the course of conversation.
"It was a pretty bold thing to go off alone with that reprobate, as
you did," said the minister.
"I don't know what there was bold about it," the Doctor answered.
"All he wanted was to get away. He was not quite a reprobate, you
see; he didn't like the thought of disgracing his family or facing
his uncle. I think he was ashamed to see his cousin, too, after what
he had done."
"Did he talk with you on the way?"
"Not much. For half an hour or so he did n't speak a word. Then he
asked where I was driving him. I told him, and he seemed to be
surprised into a sort of grateful feeling. Bad enough, no doubt, but
might be worse. Has some humanity left in him yet. Let him go. God
can judge him,--I can't."
"You are too charitable, Doctor," the minister said. "I condemn him
just as if he had carried out his project, which, they say, was to
make it appear as if the schoolmaster had committed suicide. That's
what people think the rope found by him was for. He has saved his
neck,--but his soul is a lost one, I am afraid, beyond question."
"I can't judge men's souls," the Doctor said. "I can judge their
acts, and hold them responsible for those,--but I don't know much
about their souls. If you or I had found our soul in a half-breed
body; and been turned loose to run among the Indians, we might have
been playing just such tricks as this fellow has been trying. What
if you or I had inherited all the tendencies that were born with his
"Oh, that reminds me,"--the minister said, in a sudden way,--"I have
received a note, which I am requested to read from the pulpit
tomorrow. I wish you would just have the kindness to look at it and
see where you think it came from."
The Doctor examined it carefully. It was a woman's or girl's note,
he thought. Might come from one of the school-girls who was anxious
about her spiritual condition. Handwriting was disguised; looked a
little like Elsie Veneer's, but not characteristic enough to make it
certain. It would be a new thing, if she had asked public prayers
for herself, and a very favorable indication of a change in her
singular moral nature. It was just possible Elsie might have sent
that note. Nobody could foretell her actions. It would be well to
see the girl and find out whether any unusual impression had been
produced on her mind by the recent occurrence or by any other cause.
The Reverend Mr. Fairweather folded the note and put it into his
"I have been a good deal exercised in mind lately, myself," he said.
The old Doctor looked at him through his spectacles, and said, in his
usual professional tone,
"Put out your tongue."
The minister obeyed him in that feeble way common with persons of
weak character,--for people differ as much in their mode of
performing this trifling act as Gideon's soldiers in their way of
drinking at the brook. The Doctor took his hand and placed a finger
mechanically on his wrist.
"It is more spiritual, I think, than bodily," said the Reverend Mr.
"Is your appetite as good as usual?" the Doctor asked.
"Pretty good," the minister answered; "but my sleep, my sleep,
Doctor,--I am greatly troubled at night with lying awake and thinking
of my future, I am not at ease in mind."
He looked round at all the doors, to be sure they were shut, and
moved his chair up close to the Doctor's.
"You do not know the mental trials I have been going through for the
last few months."
"I think I do," the old Doctor said. "You want to get out of the new
church into the old one, don't you?"
The minister blushed deeply; he thought he had been going on in a
very quiet way, and that nobody suspected his secret. As the old
Doctor was his counsellor in sickness, and almost everybody's
confidant in trouble, he had intended to impart cautiously to him
some hints of the change of sentiments through which he had been
passing. He was too late with his information, it appeared, and
there was nothing to be done but to throw himself on the Doctor's
good sense and kindness, which everybody knew, and get what hints he
could from him as to the practical course he should pursue. He
began, after an awkward pause,
"You would not have me stay in a communion which I feel to be alien
to the true church, would you?"
"Have you stay, my friend?" said the Doctor, with a pleasant,
friendly look,--"have you stay? Not a month, nor a week, nor a day,
if I could help it. You have got into the wrong pulpit, and I have
known it from the first. The sooner you go where you belong, the
better. And I'm very glad you don't mean to stop half-way. Don't
you know you've always come to me when you've been dyspeptic or sick
anyhow, and wanted to put yourself wholly into my hands, so that I
might order you like a child just what to do and what to take? That
's exactly what you want in religion. I don't blame you for it. You
never liked to take the responsibility of your own body; I don't see
why you should want to have the charge of your own soul. But I'm
glad you're going to the Old Mother of all. You wouldn't have been
contented short of that."
The Reverend Mr. Fairweather breathed with more freedom. The Doctor
saw into his soul through those awful spectacles of his,--into it and
beyond it, as one sees through a thin fog. But it was with a real
human kindness, after all. He felt like a child before a strong man;
but the strong man looked on him with a father's indulgence. Many
and many a time, when he had come desponding and bemoaning himself on
account of some contemptible bodily infirmity, the old Doctor had
looked at him through his spectacles, listened patiently while he
told his ailments, and then, in his large parental way, given him a
few words of wholesome advice, and cheered him up so that he went off
with a light heart, thinking that the heaven he was so much afraid of
was not so very near, after all. It was the same thing now. He
felt, as feeble natures always do in the presence of strong ones,
overmastered, circumscribed, shut in, humbled; but yet it seemed as
if the old Doctor did not despise him any more for what he considered
weakness of mind than he used to despise him when he complained of
his nerves or his digestion.
Men who see into their neighbors are very apt to be contemptuous; but
men who see through them find something lying behind every human soul
which it is not for them to sit in judgment on, or to attempt to
sneer out of the order of God's manifold universe.
Little as the Doctor had said out of which comfort could be
extracted, his genial manner had something grateful in it. A film of
gratitude came over the poor man's cloudy, uncertain eye, and a look
of tremulous relief and satisfaction played about his weak mouth. He
was gravitating to the majority, where he hoped to find "rest"; but
he was dreadfully sensitive to the opinions of the minority he was on
the point of leaving.
The old Doctor saw plainly enough what was going on in his mind.
"I sha'n't quarrel with you," he said,--"you know that very well; but
you mustn't quarrel with me, if I talk honestly with you; it isn't
everybody that will take the trouble. You flatter yourself that you
will make a good many enemies by leaving your old communion. Not so
many as you think. This is the way the common sort of people will
talk:--'You have got your ticket to the feast of life, as much as any
other man that ever lived. Protestantism says,--"Help yourself;
here's a clean plate, and a knife and fork of your own, and plenty of
fresh dishes to choose from." The Old Mother says,--"Give me your
ticket, my dear, and I'll feed you with my gold spoon off these
beautiful old wooden trenchers. Such nice bits as those good old
gentlemen have left for you!" There is no quarrelling with a man who
prefers broken victuals.' That's what the rougher sort will say; and
then, where one scolds, ten will laugh. But, mind you, I don't
either scold or laugh. I don't feel sure that you could very well
have helped doing what you will soon do. You know you were never
easy without some medicine to take when you felt ill in body. I'm
afraid I've given you trashy stuff sometimes, just to keep you quiet.
Now, let me tell you, there is just the same difference in spiritual
patients that there is in bodily ones. One set believes in wholesome
ways of living, and another must have a great list of specifics for
all the soul's complaints. You belong with the last, and got
accidentally shuffled in with the others."
The minister smiled faintly, but did not reply. Of course, he
considered that way of talking as the result of the Doctor's
professional training. It would not have been worth while to take
offence at his plain speech, if he had been so disposed; for he might
wish to consult him the next day as to "what he should take" for his
dyspepsia or his neuralgia.
He left the Doctor with a hollow feeling at the bottom of his soul,
as if a good piece of his manhood had been scooped out of him. His
hollow aching did not explain itself in words, but it grumbled and
worried down among the unshaped thoughts which lie beneath them. He
knew that he had been trying to reason himself out of his birthright
of reason. He knew that the inspiration which gave him understanding
was losing its throne in his intelligence, and the almighty Majority-
Vote was proclaiming itself in its stead. He knew that the great
primal truths, which each successive revelation only confirmed, were
fast becoming hidden beneath the mechanical forms of thought, which,
as with all new converts, engrossed so large a share of his
attention. The "peace," the "rest," which he had purchased were
dearly bought to one who had been trained to the arms of thought, and
whose noble privilege it might have been to live in perpetual warfare
for the advancing truth which the next generation will claim as the
legacy of the present.
The Reverend Mr. Fairweather was getting careless about his sermons.
He must wait the fitting moment to declare himself; and in the mean
time he was preaching to heretics. It did not matter much what he
preached, under such circumstances. He pulled out two old yellow
sermons from a heap of such, and began looking over that for the
forenoon. Naturally enough, he fell asleep over it, and, sleeping,
he began to dream.
He dreamed that he was under the high arches of an old cathedral,
amidst a throng of worshippers. The light streamed in through vast
windows, dark with the purple robes of royal saints, or blazing with
yellow glories around the heads of earthly martyrs and heavenly
messengers. The billows of the great organ roared among the
clustered columns, as the sea breaks amidst the basaltic pillars
which crowd the stormy cavern of the Hebrides. The voice of the
alternate choirs of singing boys swung back and forward, as the
silver censer swung in the hands of the whiterobed children. The
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