The Purchase Price
Part 2 out of 6
"You despise the offer of one who would be a respectful servitor."
She mocked at him. "How strange a thing is man! That is the first
argument he makes to a woman, the first promise he makes. Yet at
once he forgets the argument and forgets the promise. What you
desire is to be not my servant, but my master, I should say. You
fancy you are my master? Well, then, the situation seems to me not
without its amusing features. I am a prisoner, I am set free. I
am sought to be again put in durance, under duress, by a man who
claims to be my humble servitor--who also claims to be a gentleman!
It is most noble of you! I do not, however, comprehend."
The dull flush on his face showed at least no weakening on his own
part. "Come now!" he exclaimed impatiently, "let us arrive at the
"And what honorable enterprise is it which you propose?"
"To make it short, Madam, I propose to take you home with me. Now
you have heard it." He spoke in a desperate, icy calm.
[Illustration: I propose to take you home with me.]
"You flatter me! But how, if I may ask, do you intend to
accomplish all that?"
"I have not thought so far along. In peace, if you please: it
would be much better."
"But, my God!" she exclaimed, pausing in her walk up and down.
"You speak as though you meant these things! Could it be there,
out there--beyond the great river--yes, my other jailer told me
that we were not to stop this side! I suppose you are my new
keeper, then, and not my friend? Duty again, and not chivalry! Is
that what you mean?"
"I hardly know what I mean," he answered miserably. "I like all
this no better than yourself. But let us begin with what is
certain. Each hour, each day I may be able to hold you here is
that much gained. I can't let you go."
"Most excellent! You begin well. But I shall not submit to such
insults longer. Such treatment is new to me. It shall not go
unrevenged. Nor shall it continue now."
"It is too late!" he broke in. "I know how much I have taken leave
of my own self-respect, but there are times when one takes leave of
everything--cares for nothing that lies between him and one
purpose. It would do no good for you to claim the protection of
others--even if I had to fight all the boat's officers, I might
win. But in that case you could only lose. You would have to
explain who you are, why you are here. You would not be believed."
"What I wish to know is only one thing," she rejoined. "Not
offering terms, I want to know what is the alternative you have
proposed. Let us see if we can not reason calmly over this
matter." She also was suddenly cold and pale. The hand of a swift
terror was upon her now.
"You ask me to reason, and I answer I have no reason left. You ask
me what I propose, ask what we should do, and I answer I do not
know. But also I know that if you left me, I should never see you
"But what difference, then? You are, I presume, only my new
"There could be no social chance for me--I've ruined that. You
would exact defeat of me as surely as you met me, there."
"Social chance?--Social--! Well, the _bon Dieu_! And here you
exact defeat for yourself. But what defeat? Come, your speech
sounds more personal than professional. What can you possibly
think yourself to be, but my new jailer?"
"I'm not so sure. Look, each turn of the wheels takes us farther
away from the places where society goes on in its own grooves. Out
here we manage the world in our own ways."
Unconsciously the eyes of both of them turned down the river, along
which the boat now steadily continued its course. He went on
"Out there," he said, pointing toward the west, "out beyond the big
river, there's a place where the wilderness sweeps. Out there the
law is that of the old times. It is far away."
"How dare you speak in such way to me?" she half whispered, low and
tense. "And you claim manhood!"
"No," he said, sighing. "I--claim nothing. I deny nothing. I
assert nothing--except that I'm going to be not your Jailer, but
your keeper. Yes, I'm going to hold you, keep you! You shall not
get away. Why," he added, pacing apart for a moment. "I have no
shame left. I've planned very little. I thought I might even ask
you to be a guest at my own plantation. My place is out on the
edge of the world, thirty miles back from the river. An amanuensis
is as reasonable there as on this boat, in the company of a
frontier army man."
"That, then, is your robber castle, I suppose."
"I rule there, Madam," he said simply.
"Over thrall and guest?"
"Over all who come there, Madam."
"I've heard of the time," she went on icily, "when this country was
younger, how the _seigneurs_ who held right under the old French
kings claimed the law of the high, low and middle justice. Life,
death, honor, all lay in their hands--in the hands of individuals.
But I thought those times past. I thought that this river was
different from the St. Lawrence. I thought that this was a
republic, and inhabited by men. I thought the South had
"You taunt me, my dear lady, my dear girl. But be not so sure that
times have changed. Out beyond, there, where we are going, I could
put you a mile back from the river, and you would find yourself in
a wilderness the most pathless in the world to-day, worse than the
St. Lawrence ever knew at any time, more lawless, more beyond the
reach of any law. These lands out here are wild; yes, and they
breed wild men. They have been the home of others besides myself,
lawless, restless under any restraint. If you come to wildernesses,
and if you come to the law of the individual, I say we're only just
approaching that sort of thing right now, and here."
She looked at him, some inarticulate sort of sound in her throat,
fully frightened now, seeing how mistaken she had been. He went on:
"Out there in the big valleys beyond the river, you would indeed
disappear. No man could guess what had become of you. You would
never be found again. And without any doubt or question, Madam, if
you force me to it, you shall have your answer in that way. I'm
not a boy to be fooled with, to be denied. I rule out there, over
free and thrall. There's where you're going. Your other jailer
told you the truth!"
She looked at him slowly and fully now, the color fading from her
face. Her soul had touched the steel in his own soul. She knew
that, once aroused, this man would hesitate at nothing. Crowded
beyond his limit, there was no measure he would not employ. Other
means must be employed with such a nature as his. She temporized.
"Listen. You are a man of family and traditions,--my late guardian
told me. You have been chosen to a position of trust, you are one
of the lawmakers of your own state. Do you ever stop to reflect
what you are doing, how you are abandoning yourself, your own
traditions, your own duties, when you speak as you have been
speaking to me? I had committed no crime. I am held by no process
of law. You take risks."
"I know. I have thrown it all away in the balance. If these
things were known, I would be ruined." He spoke dully and evenly,
"I lack many things, Madam," he resumed at length. "I do not lack
honesty even with myself, and I do not lie even to a woman. That's
the trouble. I have not lied to you. Come now, let us understand.
I suppose it's because I've been alone so much. Civilization does
not trouble us much back there. These are my people--they love
me--I hold them in my hand so long as I live up to their standards.
Maybe I've thrown them away, right now,--my people."
"You are not living up to your standards."
"No, but I can not make you understand me. I can not make you
understand that the great thing of life isn't the foolish ambition
of a man to get into a state legislature, to make laws, to see them
enforced. It isn't the original purpose of man to get on in
politics or business, or social regard. Man is made to love some
woman. Woman is made to be loved by some man. That's life. It's
all of it. I know there's nothing else."
"I have heard my share of such talk, perhaps, in this or that
corner of the world," she answered, with scorn. "Excellent, for
you to force it upon a woman who is helpless!"
"Talk doesn't help, but deeds will. You're going along with me. I
would swear you belonged to me, if need be. As, by the Almighty
God! I intend you some day shall. All the officers of the law are
sworn to help a man claim what is his own, this side or that of the
slave line. All the stars in the sky are sworn to help a man who
feels what I feel. Don't tempt me, don't try to drive me--it will
never do. I'll be harder to handle than the man who lost you to me
last evening in a game of cards,--and who went away last night and
left you--to me."
As she gazed at him she saw his hands clenched, his mouth
twitching. "You would do that, even--" she began. "I have never
known men grew thus unscrupulous. A game--a game at cards! And
I--was lost--I!--I! And also won? What can you mean? Am I then
indeed a slave, a chattel? Ah, indeed, now am I lost! My God, and
I have no country, no kin, no God, to avenge me!"
A sort of sob caught in his throat. "I was wrong!" he cried
suddenly. "I always say the wrong word, do the wrong thing, take
the wrong way. But--don't you remember about Martin Luther? He
said he couldn't help himself. 'Here stand I, I can not otherwise,
God help me!' That's just the way with me--you blame me, but I
tell you I can not otherwise. And I've told the truth. I've made
wreck of everything right now. You ask me to make plans; and I
tell you I can not. I would take you off the boat by force rather
than see you go away from me. This thing is not yet worked out to
the end. I'm not yet done. That's all I know. You'll have to go
along with me."
A sudden revulsion swept over him. He trembled as he stood, and
reached out a hand.
"Give me a chance!" he broke out, sobered now. "It was a new
thing, this feeling. Come, you sent for me--you asked me--that
other man placed me in his stead as your guardian. He didn't know
I would act in this way, that's true. I own I've been brutal. I
know I've forgotten everything, but it came over me all at once,
something new. Why, look at us two together--what could stop us?
Always I've lacked something: I did not know what. Now I know.
Give me my chance. Let me try again!"
In this strange, strained position, she caught, in spite of
herself, some sort of genuine note underneath the frankness of his
ungovernable passion. For once, she was in a situation where she
could neither fathom motives nor arrange remedies. She stood in
sheer terror, half fascinated in spite of all.
They both were silent for a while, but at length she resumed, not
so ungently: "Then let there be this contract between us, sir.
Neither of us shall make any further scene. We'll temporize, since
we can do no better. I gave parole once. I'll not give it again,
but I'll go a little farther on westward, until I decide what to
Impulsively he held out his hand to her, his mouth twitching with
emotion, some sort of strange impulse shining in his eyes,
"Be my enemy, even," he said, "only, do not leave me. I'll not let
A CONFUSION IN CHATTELS
Their conversation was brought to an end by sounds of hurrying feet
upon the decks above them. The hoarse boom of the steamer's
whistle indicated an intended landing. A swift thought of possible
escape came to the mind of Josephine St. Auban. When Dunwody
turned in his troubled pacing up and down the narrow floor of the
cabin, he found himself alone.
"Jeanne!" cried she, running from the stair to the door of her
state-room. "Hurry! Quick, get your valises! We'll leave the boat
here, at once!" Escape, in some fashion, to some place, at once,
that was her sole thought in the panic which assailed her.
But when presently, as the boat drew in along the dock, she made
ready to go ashore and hurriedly sought a servant to take care of
the luggage, it was the captain of the _Mount Vernon_ himself who
came to meet her.
"I am sorry, Madam," he began, his cap in hand, "but your passage
was booked farther down the river than this point. You are
mistaken. This is not Cairo."
"What of that, sir? Is it not the privilege of a passenger to stop
at any intermediate point?"
"Not in this case, Madam."
"What do you mean?" she blazed out at him in anger on first
impulse. But even as she did so there came over her heart once
more the sick feeling of helplessness. Though innocent, she was
indeed a prisoner! As much as though this were the Middle Ages, as
though these were implacable armed enemies who stood about her, and
not commonplace, every-day individuals in a commonplace land, she
was a prisoner.
"You shall suffer for this!" she exclaimed. "There must be a law
somewhere in this country."
"That is true, Madam," said the captain, "and that is the trouble.
I'm told that my orders come from the _highest_ laws. Certainly I
have no option in the matter. I was told distinctly not to let you
off without his orders--not even to allow you to send any word
"But the gentleman who accompanied me is no longer on the boat. He
left me word that our journey in common was ended. See, here is
"All I can say, Madam, is that this is not signed, and that he did
not tell me he was going to leave. I can not allow you to go
ashore at this point. In fact, I should consider you safer here on
the boat than anywhere else."
"Are there then no gentlemen in all the world? Are you not a man
yourself? Have you no pity for a woman in such plight as mine?"
"Your words cut me deeply, my dear lady. I want to give you such
protection as I can. Any man would do that. I am a man, but also
I am an officer. You are a woman, but apparently also some sort of
fugitive, I don't know just what. We learn not to meddle in these
matters. But I think no harm will come to you--I'm sure not, from
the care the gentlemen used regarding you. Please don't make it
hard for me."
The boat was now alongside the dock at the river settlement, and
there was some stir at the gangway as room was made for the
reception of additional passengers. As they looked over the rail
they discovered these to be made up of a somewhat singular group.
Two or three roughly dressed men were guarding as many prisoners.
Of the latter, two were coal black negroes. The third was a young
woman apparently of white blood, of comely features and of composed
bearing in spite of her situation. A second glance showed that all
these three were in irons. Obviously then the law, which at that
time under the newly formed Compromise Acts allowed an owner to
follow his fugitive slaves into any state, was here finding an
example, one offering indeed all the extremes of cruelty both to
body and to soul.
"For instance, young lady, look at that," went on the boat captain,
turning to Josephine, who was carried back by the incoming rush of
the new passengers. "It is something we see now and again on this
river. Sometimes my heart aches, but what can I do? That's the
law, too. I have learned not to meddle."
[Illustration: "That's the law, too"]
"My God! My God!" exclaimed Josephine St. Auban, her eyes dilating
with horror, forgetting her own plight as she looked at the
spectacle before her. "Can these things really be in America! You
submit to this, and you are men? Law? Is there _any_ law?"
She did not hear the step behind them, but presently a voice broke
"If you please, Captain Rogers," said Warville Dunwody, "I think it
will not be necessary to restrain this lady in any way. By this
time she knows it will be better not to make any attempt to escape."
Jeanne, the maid, was first to see the distress in the face of her
"_Infame_! _Infame_!" she cried, flying at them, her hands
clenched, her foot stamping. "Dogs of pigs, you are not men, you
are not gentlemen! See now! See now!"
Tears stood in the eyes of Jeanne herself. "Come," said she, and
put an arm about her mistress, leading her back toward the door of
"This is bad business, sir," said the older man, turning to
Dunwody. "I don't understand all this case, but I'm almost ready
to take that girl's part. Who is she? I can't endure much longer
seeing a woman like that handled in this way. You'll some of you
have to show me your papers before long."
"You ask me who she is," replied Dunwody slowly, "and on my honor I
can hardly tell you. She is temporary ward of the government, that
much is sure. You know very well the arm of the national
government is long. You know, too, that I'm a state senator and
also a United States marshal in Missouri."
"But where do you come into this case, Senator?"
"I came into it last night at a little after nine o'clock,"
rejoined Dunwody. "Her former guardian has turned her over to me.
She does not leave the boat till I do, at Cairo, where I change for
up-river; and when I go, she goes. Don't pay any attention to any
outcry she may make. She's my--property."
Captain Rogers pondered for a time, but at length his face broke
out into a sort of smile. "There may be trouble ahead for you," he
began. "It is like my old friend Bill Jones in there. He buys him
a young filly last spring. Goes over to bring the filly home, and
finds she isn't broke, and wild as a hawk. So he puts a halter on
her and starts off to lead her home. The filly rears up, falls
over and breaks her neck; so he's out his money and his pains.
Some sorts of women won't lead."
"They all do in time," rejoined Dunwody grimly. "This one must."
The old boat captain shook his head.
"Some of them break their necks first," said he. "This one's got
blood in her too, I tell you that."
Dunwody made no answer except to turn and walk down the deck. The
captain, pondering on matters entirely beyond his comprehension,
but forced to accept the assurances of men such as these who had
appeared as guardians of this mysterious young woman, now returned
to his own quarters. "I reckon it's none of my business," he
muttered. "Some high-class forger or confidence worker that's beat
the government somehow, maybe. But she don't look it--I'll be
damned if she looks it. I wonder--?"
Dunwody, left to himself, began moodily to walk up and down the
narrow deck, his hands behind his back. On his face was the red
fighting flush, but it was backed by no expression of definite
purpose, and his walk showed his mental uncertainty. All at once
he turned and with decision passed down the stairs to the lower
deck. He had heard voices which he recognized.
Judge Clayton had joined the party in charge of the fugitives, and
was now in conversation with the overseer, a short man clad in a
coarse blue jacket, with high boots and greasy leather trousers.
The latter was expatiating exultantly upon his own bravery and
shrewdness in effecting the recapture of his prisoners.
"Why, Jedge," said he, "fust off it di'n't look like we'd ever git
track of 'em at all. I cotched the trail at Portsmouth at last,
and follered 'em back into Ohio. They was shore on the
'underground' and bound for Canada, or leastways Chicago. I found
'em in a house 'way out in the country--midnight it was when we got
thar. I'd summonsed the sher'f and two constables to go 'long.
Farm-house was a underground railway station all right, and the
farmer showed fight. We was too much fer him, and we taken 'em out
at last, but one of the constables got shot--some one fired right
through the winder at us. This Lily gal was the wust of the lot,
and I don't put it a-past her to 'a' done some of the shootin'
herself. But we brung 'em all along.
"Now, Jedge," he continued, "of co'se, I think I can do something
for these two bucks Bill and Jim--this gal only persuaded 'em to
run away with her. But if I was you, I shore would sell that Lily
gal South, right away. She's bound fer to make trouble, and
nothin' but trouble, fer you as long as you keep her round the
The speaker, coarse and ignorant, presented a contrast to the tall,
dignified and quiet gentleman whom he accosted, and who now stood,
with hands in pockets, looking on with genuine concern on his face.
"Lily," said he at length, "what makes you act this way? Haven't
you always been treated well down there at home?"
"Yas, sir, I reckon so," replied the girl sullenly; "well as
anybody's niggahs is!"
"Then why do you want to run off? This is the third time in the
last year. I've been kind to you--I say, Dunwody," he went on,
turning suddenly as he saw the latter approach--"haven't I always
treated my people right? Haven't I always given them everything in
the world they ought to have?"
"Yes, Judge, that's the truth, and any neighbor of yours will say
it," assented Dunwody as he joined the group. "What's wrong then?
This Lily girl run off again? Seems to me you told me about her."
"Yes," said Judge Clayton, rubbing a finger across his chin in
perturbation, "the poor thing doesn't know when she's well off.
But what am I to do with her, that's the question? I don't believe
in whipping; but in this case, Wilson, I'm going to turn over those
two boys to you. I won't have the girl whipped even yet. I'll see
you when we get down to Cairo," he added, turning away. "We'll
have to change there to the Sally Lee, for the Vernon doesn't stop
at our landing. She's going straight through to Memphis."
As Judge Clayton walked away, Dunwody turned to the overseer, whom
he had seen before on the Clayton plantations.
"So you had trouble this time?" he ventured.
"Heap of it, sir," replied the overseer, taking off his cap. "It
was that fine yaller lady there that made most of it. She's the
one that's a-fo_mint_in' trouble right along. She's a quiet
lookin' gal, but she ain't. It's all right what the jedge says to
me, but I'm goin' to have a little settle_ment_ with this fine lady
myself, this time."
The girl heard him plainly enough, but only turned moodily back
toward the coil of rope where sat the two blacks who had been her
companions. From these she kept her skirt as remote as though they
were not of her station. Dunwody approached the overseer, and put
a gold double-eagle in his hand.
"Listen here, Wilson," said he, "you seem to be able to handle such
people discreetly. Now I've got a prisoner along, up-stairs,
myself--never mind who she is or how she comes here. As you know,
I'm a United States marshal for this district, and this prisoner
has been turned over to me. I'm going on up home, beyond St.
Genevieve, and I've got to change down there at Cairo myself, to
take the up-river boat."
"Mulattress?" listlessly inquired Wilson, after grinning at the
coin. "They're the wust. I'd rather handle straight niggers my
"Well," said Dunwody, "now that you mention it, I don't know but
they would be easier to handle. This prisoner is about as tall as
that girl yonder, and she's a whole lot lighter, do you understand?
Of a dark night--say about the time we'd get down to Cairo,
midnight--well wrapped up, and the face of neither showing, it
might be hard to tell one of them from the other."
"How'll you trade?" grinned Wilson. "Anybody kin git a mighty good
trade for this yaller lady of ours here. If she was mine I'd trade
her for a sack of last year potatoes. I reckon Jedge Clayton'll be
sick enough of her, time he gets expenses of this last trip paid,
gittin' her back."
"I'm not trading," said Dunwody, frowning and flushing. "But now
I'll tell you what I want you to do, when we get into Cairo. I may
have trouble with my prisoner, and I don't know any better man than
yourself to have around in a case like that. Do you think, if I
left it all to you, you could handle it?"
"Shore I could--what's the use of your troublin' yourself about it,
Colonel Dunwody? This here's more in my line."
Dunwody turned away with a sudden feeling of revulsion, almost of
nausea at the thought now in his mind. It was a few moments later
that he again approached Wilson.
"There's a French girl along with this prisoner of mine," said he.
"Just take them both along together. I reckon the French girl
won't make any disturbance--it's the other--the lady--her mistress.
She's apt to--to 'fomint' trouble. Handle her gently as you can.
You'll have to have help. The captain will not interfere. You
just substitute my prisoner for yours yonder at Cairo--I'll show
you where she is when the time comes. Once you have her aboard my
boat for St. Genevieve, you can come back and take care of your own
prisoners here. There may be another eagle or so in it. I am not
asking questions and want none asked. Do your work, that's all."
"You don't need to be a-skeered but what I'll do the work,
Colonel," smiled Wilson grimly. "I've had a heap o' trouble the
last week, and I'm about tired. I'll not stand no foolishness."
Had any friend seen Warville Dunwody that night, he must have
pronounced him ten years older than when the Mount Vernon had begun
THE SHADOW CABINET
"All very well, gentlemen! All very well!" repeated the man who
sat at the head of the table. "I do not deny anything you say.
None the less, the question remains, what were we to do with this
woman, since she was here? I confess my own relief at this message
from our agent, Captain Carlisle, telling of her temporary
As he spoke, he half pushed back his chair, as though in impatience
or agitation over the problem which evidently occupied his mind. A
man above medium height, somewhat spare in habit of body, of
handsome features and distinguished presence, although with hair
now slightly thinned by advancing years, he seemed, if not by
natural right, at least by accorded authority, the leader in this
company with whose members he was not unwilling to take counsel.
Those who sat before him were his counselors, chosen by himself, in
manner ratified by law and custom. They made, as with propriety
may be stated, a remarkable body of men. It were less seemly
openly to determine their names and their station, since they were
public men, and since, as presently appeared, they now were engaged
on business of such nature as might not be placed in full upon
At least it may be stated that this meeting was held in the autumn
of the year 1850, and in one of the great public buildings of the
city of Washington. Apparently it was more private than official
in its nature, and apparently it now had lasted for some time. The
hour was late. Darkness presently must enshroud the room. Even
now the shadows fell heavy upon the lofty portraits, the rich
furnishings, the mixed assemblage of somewhat hodgepodge
decorations. Twice an ancient colored man had appeared at the door
with lighted taper, as though to offer better illumination, but
each time the master of the place had waved him away, as though
unwilling to have present a witness even so humble as he. Through
the door, thus half opened, there might have been seen in the hall
two silent and motionless figures, standing guard.
Obviously the persons here present were of importance. It was
equally obvious that they sought no intrusion. Why, then, in a
meeting so private and so serious, should there come a remark upon
a topic certainly not a matter of state in the usual acceptance of
the term? Why should the leader have been concerned over the
slight matter of a woman's late presence here in Washington?
As though to question his associates, the speaker turned his glance
down the long table, where sat figures, indistinct in the gathering
gloom. At his right hand, half in shadow, there showed the bold
outlines of a leonine head set upon broad shoulders. Under
cavernous brows, dark eyes looked out with seriousness. Half
revealed as it was, here was a countenance fairly fit to be called
godlike. That this presence was animated with a brain whose
decision had value, might have been learned from the flitting gaze
of the leader which, cast now on this or the other, returned always
to this man at the right. There were seven gentlemen of them in
all, and of these all were clad in the costume of the day, save
this one, who retained the fashion of an earlier time. His coat
might have come from the Revolution, its color possibly the blue of
an earlier day. The trousers fitted close to massive and shapely
limbs, and the long waistcoat, not of a modish silk, was buff in
color, such as might one time have been worn by Washington himself.
This man, these men, distinguished in every line, might have been
statesmen of an earlier day than that of Calhoun, Clay and Benton.
Yet the year of 1850, that time when forced and formal peace began
to mask the attitude of sections already arrayed for a later war,
might have been called as important as any in our history.
The ranks of these men at the table, too, might have been called
arranged as though by some shrewd compromise. Even a careless eye
or ear might have declared both sections, North and South, to have
been represented here. Grave men they were, and accustomed to
think, and they reflected, thus early in Millard Fillmore's
administration, the evenly balanced political powers of the time.
The headlong haste of both sections was in the year 1850 halted for
a time by the sage counsels of such leaders as Clay, in the South,
even Webster, in the North. The South claimed, after the close of
the Mexican War and the accession of the enormous Spanish
territories to the southwest, that the accepted line of compromise
established in 1820, by which slavery might not pass north of the
parallel of latitude thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, should be
extended westward quite to the Pacific Ocean. She grumbled that,
although she had helped fight for and pay for this territory, she
could not control it, and could not move into it legally the slaves
which then made the most valued part of a southern man's property.
As against this feeling, the united politicians had thrown to the
hot-headed Southerners a sop in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act.
The right for a southern owner to follow and claim his slave in any
northern state was granted under the Constitution of the United
States. Under the compromise of 1850, it was extended and
The abolitionists of the North rose in arms against this part of
the great compromise measure; a law which, though constitutional,
seemed to them nefarious and infamous. The leaders in Congress,
both Whig and Democrat, feared now, therefore, nothing in the world
so much as the outbreak of a new political party, which might
disorganize this nicely adjusted compromise, put an end to what all
politicians were fond of calling the "finality" of the arrangement,
and so bring on, if not an encounter of armed forces, if not a
rupture of the Union, at least what to them seemed almost as bad,
the disintegration of the two great parties of the day, the Whigs
If compromise showed in this meeting of men from different
sections, it was, therefore, but a matter in tune with the time.
Party was at that day not a matter of geography. There existed
then, however, as there exists to-day, the great dividing line
between those who are in and those who are out. Obviously now,
although they represented different sections of the country, these
men likewise represented the party which, under the adjusted vote
of the day, could be called fortunate enough to dwell within the
gates of Washington and not in the outer darkness of political
The dark-browed man at the leader's right presently began to speak.
His voice, deep and clear as that of a great bronze bell, was slow
and deliberate, as fittingly voicing an accurate mind.
"Sir," he said, "this matter is one deserving our most careful
study, trivial though at first blush it would seem. As to the
danger of this woman's machinations here, there is no question. A
match may produce convulsion, explosion, disaster, when applied to
a powder magazine. As you know, this country dwells continually
above an awful magazine. At any time there may be an explosion
which will mean ruin not only for our party but our country. The
Free Soil party, twice defeated, does not down. There is a
nationalist movement now going forward which ignores the
Constitution itself. With you, I dread any talk, any act, of our
own or another nation, which shall even indirectly inflame the
northern resentment against the fugitive law."
"On that, we are perfectly agreed, sir," began the original
speaker, "and then--"
"But then, sir, we come to the question of the removal of this
unwelcome person. She herself is a fugitive from no law. She has
broken no law of this land or of this District. She has a right to
dwell here under our laws, so long as she shall obey them, and
there is no law of this District, nor this republic, nor of any
state, any monarchy, not even any law of nations, which could be
invoked to dismiss her from a capital where, though unwelcome, she
has a right to remain. I may be unwelcome to you, you to me,
either of us to any man; yet, having done no treason, so long as we
pay our debts and observe the law, no man may raise hand or voice
"Quite right!" broke in the leader again. "But let us look simply
at the gravity of it. They say it is treason not only against our
own country but against a foreign power which this woman is
fomenting. The Austrian attache, Mr. Hulsemann, is altogether
rabid over the matter. He said to me privately--"
"Then most improperly!" broke in the tall dark man.
"Improperly, but none the less, insistently, he said that his
government will not tolerate her reception here. He charges her
with machinations in Europe, under cover of President Taylor's
embassy of investigation into Hungarian affairs. He declares that
Russia and Austria are one in their plans. That, I fear, means
also England, as matters now stand in Europe."
"But, sir," broke in the vibrant voice of a gentleman who sat at
the left of the speaker, concealed in the shadow cast by the heavy
window drapings, "what is our concern over that? It is our boast
that this is a free country. As for England, we have taken her
measure, once in full, a second time at least in part; and as for
Austria or Russia, what have we to do with their territorial
designs? Did they force us to fight, why, then, we might fight,
and with proper reason."
"True again, sir!" said the leader, recognizing the force of the
murmur which greeted this outburst. "It is not any of these powers
that I fear. They might bluster, and still not fight; and indeed
they lack any rational cause for war. But what I fear, what all of
us fear, gentlemen, is the danger here, inside our own walls,
inside our own country."
Silence again fell on all. They looked about them, as though even
in this dimly lighted room they felt the presence of that ominous
shadow which lay over all the land--the menace of a divided country.
"That is the dread of all of us," went on the leader. "The war
with Mexico showed us where England stands. She proved herself
once more our ancient enemy, showed that her chief desire is to
break this republic. Before that war, and after it, she has
cultivated a friendship with the South. Why? Now let the
abolitionist bring on this outbreak which he covets, let the North
and South fly at each other's throats, let the contending powers of
Europe cross the seas to quarrel over the spoils of our own
destruction--and what then will be left of this republic? And yet,
if this compromise between North and South be broken as all Europe
desires, and as all the North threatens, precisely those matters
will come hurrying upon us. And they will find us divided,
incapable of resistance. That is the volcano, the magazine, over
which we dwell continually. It passes politics, and puts us as
patriots upon the question of the endurance of our republic.
"And I tell you now, gentlemen," he concluded, "as you know very
well yourselves, that this woman, here in Washington, would hold
the match ready to apply to that magazine. Which of you does not
see its glimmering? Which of you doubts her readiness? There was
not twenty-four hours to argue the matter of her--her temporary
absence. We'd have had Austria all about our ears, otherwise.
Gentlemen, I am mild as any, and most of any I am sworn to obey the
laws, and to guarantee the safeguards of the Constitution; but I
say to you--" and here his hand came down with an emphasis unusual
in his nature--"law or no law, Constitution or no Constitution, an
exigency existed under which she had to leave Washington, and that
upon that very night."
"But where is she now?" ventured another voice. "This young army
captain simply says in his report that he left her on the _Mount
Vernon_ packet, en route down the Ohio. Where is she now; and how
long before she will be back here, match in hand?"
"It is the old, old case of Eve!" sighed one, who leaned a bony arm
upon the walnut, and who spoke in the soft accents which proclaimed
him of the South. "Woman! It is only the old Garden over again.
Trouble, thy name is Woman!"
"And specifically, its name is Josephine, Countess St. Auban!"
drawled another, opposite. A smile went around among these grave
and dignified men; indeed, a light laugh sounded somewhere in the
shadow. The face of the leader relaxed, though not sufficiently to
allow light comment. The dark man at the right spoke.
"The great Napoleon was right," said he. "He never ceased to prove
how much he dreaded woman at any juncture of public affairs.
Indeed, he said that all the public places of the government should
be closed to them, that they should be set apart and distinguished
from the managers of affairs."
"And so do we say it!" broke in the leader. "With all my heart, I
The tall man bowed, "It was the idea of Napoleon that woman should
be distinguished always by a veil and gown, a uniform of
unworthiness and of danger. True, Napoleon based his ideas on his
studies in the Orient. Us he accused of treating woman much too
well. He declared woman, by virtue of her birth, to be made as
man's inferior and his slave, and would tolerate no other
construction of the relation of the sexes. According to Napoleon,
women tyrannize over us Americans, whereas we should tyrannize over
them. It was plain, in his conception, that the main province of
woman is in making fools of men."
"In some ways, Napoleon was a thoughtful man," remarked, a voice to
the left; and once more a half subdued smile went around.
"I yield to no man in my admiration for the fair sex--" began the
tall, dark man. The smile broke into open laughter. The leader
rapped sharply on the table edge, frowning. The tall man bowed
once more, as he resumed.
"--but, viewed from the standpoint, of our diplomacy, the matter here
is simple. Last week, at the reception where the representatives of
Austria were present this woman appeared, properly introduced,
properly invited, it is true, but wholly unwelcome socially, in
certain quarters. The attache and his wife left the roof, and made
plain to their host their reasons for doing so."
"Yes, and it was public shame that they should take such action.
The woman had the right of her host's protection, for she was there
by invitation!" Thus the bony man in the shadows.
Again the leader rapped on the table. "Gentlemen, gentlemen!" he
began, not wholly humorously. "Let us have a care. Let us at
least not divide into factions here. We all of us, I trust, can
remember the case of Peggy O'Neil, who split Washington asunder not
so long ago. She was the wife of one of President Jackson's
cabinet members, yet when she appeared upon a ball-room floor, all
the ladies left it. It was Jackson and Eaton against the world.
That same situation to-day, granted certain conditions, might mean
a war which would disrupt this Union. In fact, I consider
Josephine St. Auban to-day more dangerous than Mrs. Eaton at her
"But we have just heard what rights we have before the law, sir,"
ventured a hesitating, drawling voice, which had earlier been
heard. "How can we take cognizance of private insult given by a
foreign power in only quasi-public capacity? I conceive it to be
somewhat difficult, no matter what the reception in the society of
Washington, to eject this woman from the city of Washington itself;
or at least, very likely difficult to keep her ejected, as you say,
"Where should she go?" demanded yet another voice. "And why should
she not come back?"
Impatiently, the leader replied: "Where? I do not know. I do not
_want_ to know. I _must_ not know! Good God, must we not bear
ourselves in mind?"
"Then, sir, in case of her sudden return, you ask an agent?" said a
keen, clear, and incisive voice, which had not yet been heard.
"Gentlemen, shall we cast lots for the honor of watching the
Countess St. Auban in case of her undesired return?"
The grim demand brought out a hasty protest from a timid soul: "To
that, I would not agree." A sort of shuffle, a stir, a shifting in
seats seemed to take place all about the table.
"Very well, then," went on the clear voice, "let us employ
euphemism in terms and softness in methods. If we may not again
kidnap the lady, why may we not bribe her?"
"It could not be done," broke in the dark man toward the head of
the table. "If I know the facts, this woman could not be bought
for any ransom. She has both station and wealth accorded her, so
the story goes, for some service of her family in the affairs of
France. But she will none of monarchies. She turned democrat,
revolutionist, in France, and on the hotter stage of Hungary--and
so finally sought this new world to conquer. She is no artless
miss, but a woman of the world, brilliant and daring, with ideas of
her own about a world-democracy. She is perhaps devout, or
"Nay, let us go softly," came the rejoinder from the shadows.
"Woman is man's monarch only part of the time. We need some man
who is a nice judge of psychological moments and nicely suited
methods. We stand, all of us, for the compromise of 1850. That
compromise is not yet complete. The question of this unwelcome
lady still remains to be adjusted. Were Mr. Clay not quite so old,
I might suggest his name for this last and most crucial endeavor of
a long and troublous life!"
"By the Eternal Jove!" broke in the dark man at the right, shaking
off the half-moodiness which had seemed to possess him. "When it
comes to wheedling, age is no such bar. I call to mind one man who
could side with Old Hickory in the case of Mrs. Peggy Eaton. I
mean him whom we call the Old Fox of the North."
"He was a widower, even then, and hence immune," smiled the man
across the table. "Now he is many years older."
"Yet, none the less a widower, and all the more an adjuster of nice
matters. He has proven himself a politician. It was his accident
and not his fault not to remain with us in our party! Yet I happen
to know that though once defeated for the presidency and twice for
the nomination, he remains true to his Free Soil beliefs. It has
just occurred to me, since our friend from Kentucky mentions it,
that could we by some fair means, some legal means--some means of
adjustment and compromise, if you please, gentlemen,--place this
young lady under the personal care of this able exponent of the
_suaviter in modo_, and induce him to conduct her, preferably to
some unknown point beyond the Atlantic Ocean, there to lose her
permanently, we should perhaps be doing our country a service, and
would also be relieving this administration of one of its gravest
concerns. Best of all, we should be using a fox for a cat's-paw,
something which has not often been done."
The matter-of-fact man who presided straightened his shoulders as
though with relief at some sign of action; yet he did not relax his
insistent gravity sufficiently to join the smile that followed this
"Let us be sure, gentlemen, of one thing at a time," he resumed.
"As we come to this final measure suggested by our friend from
Kentucky, I am at a loss how further to proceed. What we do can
not be made public. We can not sign a joint note asking this
distinguished gentleman to act as our intermediary."
"At the time of the ratification of the Constitution by the
convention of 1787," began the dark man who had earlier spoken,
"there arose a difficulty as to the unanimity of those signing. At
the suggestion of Doctor Franklin and Mr. Gouverneur Morris, there
was a clause added which stated that the Constitution was signed
'_as by the states actually present_,' this leaving the individual
signers not personally responsible! I suggest therefore, sir, that
we should evade the personal responsibility of this did you put it
to the vote of the _states_ represented here."
"I rely upon the loyalty and the unanimity of my family," replied
the leader, with more firmness than was wont. "Gentlemen, are we
then agreed? Does Massachusetts consent? Is Virginia with us? Is
New York agreeable? Does Kentucky also agree?"
There was no murmur of dissent, and the leader, half rising,
"Gentlemen, we agreed four days ago that the Countess St. Auban
should leave Washington not later than that night. We are now
agreed that, in case of her return, she shall if possible be placed
under the charge, not of any responsible figure of _our_ party, but
of a gentleman distinguished in the councils of an _opposing_
party, whose abolitionist beliefs coincide somewhat with her own.
Let us hope they will both get them to Missouri, the debating
ground, the center of the political battle-field to-day. But,
Missouri or Hungary, Kentucky or France, let us hope that one or
both of them shall pass from our horizon.
"There remains but one question, as earlier suggested by Kentucky:
if we agree upon New York as our agent, who shall be our emissary
to New York, and how shall he accomplish our purpose with that
gentleman? Shall we decide it by the usual procedure of
parliamentary custom? Do you allow the--the Chair--" he smiled as
he bowed before them--"to appoint this committee of one? I suppose
you agree that the smaller the committee and the more secret the
committee's action, the better for us all?"
There was silence to this. A moment's hesitation, and the speaker
announced his decision. "The gentleman from Kentucky is appointed
to execute this task for the people of the United States. Let us
hope he never will have need to serve."
It cost the self-control of some to remain silent at this, and the
courage of the remaining member also to preserve the silence which
meant his acceptance of a task so difficult and distasteful.
"Sir," hastily went on the original speaker, "our thanks are due to
you. We shall limit you with no instructions. All the money
required by you as agent, or required by your agent, shall of
course be forthcoming, and you shall quietly have also the
assistance of all the secret service, if so desired. None of us
must know what has become of the Countess St. Auban, now or later.
You have heard me. Gentlemen, we adjourn."
He stepped now to the door, and admitted the ancient colored man,
with his lights. The curtains were drawn, shutting out even the
twilight gloom. And now the lights blazed up, illuminating an
The chief of the deliberations now became the host, and motioned
his guests to the corner of the apartments where stood a long
sideboard of dark mahogany, bearing different crystal decanters.
Himself refraining, as did one or two others, he passed glasses,
motioned to the ancient colored man, and, raising his own hand,
proposed them a toast.
They bowed to him ceremoniously, each in his way, with reverence,
touching lips to his glass. As they parted, one for a moment stood
alone, the dark man who had sat at the speaker's right. For a
moment he paused, as though absorbed, as finally he set down his
glass, gazing steadily forward as though striving to read what lay
in the future.
"The Union!" he whispered, almost to himself.
It might have been the voice, as it was the thought of all those
who, now passing, brought to a close this extraordinary meeting.
Meantime, events which might have held interest in certain circles
in Washington had they been known, passed on their course, and
toward that very region which had half in jest been named as the
storm center of the day--the state of Missouri, anomalous,
inchoate, discordant, half North, half South, itself the birth of
compromise and sired by political jealousy; whither, against her
will, voyaged a woman, herself engine of turbulence, doubt and
strife, and in company now of a savage captor who contemplated
nothing but establishing her for his own use in his own home.
Tallwoods, the home plantation of the Dunwody family in the West,
now the personal property of the surviving son, state senator
Warville Dunwody of Missouri, presented one of the contrasts which
now and again might have been seen in our early western
civilization. It lay somewhat remote from the nearest city of
consequence, in a region where the wide acres of the owner blended,
unused and uncultivated, with those still more wild, as yet
unclaimed under any private title. Yet in pretentiousness, indeed
in assuredness, it might have rivaled many of the old estates of
Kentucky, the Carolinas, or Virginia; so much did the customs and
ambitions of these older states follow their better bred sons out
into the newer regions.
These men of better rank, with more than competency at their
disposal, not infrequently had few neighbors other than the humble
but independent frontiersman who left for new fields when a dog
barked within fifty miles of his cabin. There were neighbors
within half that distance of Tallwoods, settlers nestled here or
there in these enfolding hills and forests; but of neighbors in
importance equal to that of the owner of Tallwoods there were few
or none in that portion of the state. The time was almost feudal,
but wilder and richer than any feudal day, in that fief tribute was
unknown. The original landlord of these acres had availed himself
of the easy laws and easy ways of the time and place, and taken
over to himself from the loose public domain a small realm all his
own. Here, almost in seclusion, certainly in privacy, a generation
had been spent in a life as baronial as any ever known in old
Virginia in earlier days. A day's ride to a court house, two days
to a steamer, five hours to get a letter to or from the occasional
post--these things seem slight in a lifelong accustomedness; and
here few had had closer touch than this with civilization.
The plantation itself was a little kingdom, and largely supplied
its own wants. Mills, looms, shops,--all these were part of the
careless system, easy and opulent, which found support and gained
arrogance from a rich and generous environment. The old house
itself, if it might be called old, built as it had been scarce
thirty years before, lay in the center of a singular valley, at the
edge of the Ozark Hills. The lands here were not so rich as the
wide acres thirty miles or more below, where on the fat bottom
soil, black and deep, the negroes raised in abundance the
wealth-making crop of the country. On the contrary, this, although
it was the capital of the vast Dunwody holdings thereabout, was
chosen not for its agricultural richness so much as for its
healthfulness and natural beauty.
In regard to these matters, the site could not better have been
selected. The valley, some three or four miles across, lay like a
deep saucer pressed down into the crest of the last rise of the
Ozarks. The sides of the depression were as regular as though
created by the hands of man. Into its upper extremity there ran a
little stream of clear and unfailing water, which made its entrance
at an angle, so that the rim of the hills seemed scarcely nicked by
its ingress. This stream crossed the floor of the valley, serving
to water the farms, and, making its way out of the lower end by a
similar curious angle, broke off sharply and hid itself among the
rocks on its way out and down from the mountains--last trace of a
giant geology which once dealt in continental terms, rivers once
seas, valleys a thousand miles in length. Thus, at first sight,
one set down in the valley might have felt that it had neither
inlet nor outlet, but had been created, panoplied and peopled by
some Titanic power, and owned by those who neither knew nor desired
any other world. As a matter of fact, the road up through the
lower Ozarks from the great Mississippi, which entered along the
bed of the little stream, ended at Tallwoods farm. Beyond it,
along the little river which led back into the remote hills, it was
no more than a horse path, and used rarely except by negroes or
whites in hunting expeditions back into the mountains, where the
deer, the wild turkey, the bear and the panther still roamed in
considerable numbers at no great distance from the home plantation.
Tallwoods itself needed no other fence than the vast wall of hills,
and had none save where here and there the native stone had been
heaped up roughly into walls, along some orchard side. The fruits
of the apple, the pear and the peach grew here handsomely, and the
original owner had planted such trees in abundance. The soil,
though at first it might have been, called inhospitable, showed
itself productive. The corn stood tall and strong, and here and
there the brown stalks of the cotton plant itself might have been
seen; proof of the wish of the average Southerner to cultivate that
plant, even in an environment not wholly suitable. All about, upon
the mountain sides, stood a heavy growth of deciduous trees, at
this time of the year lining the slopes in flaming reds and golds.
Beyond the valley's rim, tier on tier, stately and slow, the
mountains rose back for yet a way--mountains rich in their means of
frontier independence, later to be discovered rich also in
minerals, in woods, in all the things required by an advancing
Corn, swine and cotton,--these made the wealth of the owner of
Tallwoods' plantation and of the richer lands in the river bottoms
below. These products brought the owner all the wealth he needed.
Here, like a feudal lord, master of all about him, he had lived all
his life and had, as do all created beings, taken on the color and
the savor of the environment about him. Rich, he was generous;
strong, he was merciful; independent, he was arrogant; used to his
own way, he was fierce and cruel when crossed in that way. Not
much difference, then, lay between this master of Tallwoods and the
owner of yonder castle along the embattled Rhine, or the towered
stronghold of some old lord located along an easy, wandering,
English stream; with this to be said in favor of this solitary lord
of the wilderness, that his was a place removed and little known.
It had been passed by in some manner through its lack of appeal to
those seeking cotton lands or hunting grounds, so that it lay
wholly out of the ken and the understanding of most folk of the
If in Tallwoods the owner might do as he liked, certainly he had
elected first of all to live somewhat as a gentleman. The mansion
house was modeled after the somewhat stereotyped pattern of the
great country places of the South. Originally planned to consist
of the one large central edifice of brick, with a wing on each side
of somewhat lesser height, it had never been entirely completed,
one wing only having been fully erected. The main portion of the
house was of two stories, its immediate front occupied by the
inevitable facade with its four white pillars, which rose from the
level of the ground to the edge of the roof, shading the front
entrance to the middle rooms. Under this tall gallery roof, whose
front showed high, white and striking all across the valley, lay
four windows, and at each side of the great double doors lay yet
other two windows. On either side of the pillars and in each
story, yet other two admitted light to the great rooms; and in the
completed wing which lay at one side of the main building, deep
embrasures came down almost to the level of the ground, well hidden
by the grouped shrubbery which grew close to the walls. The
visitor approaching up the straight gravel walk might not have
noticed the heavy iron bars which covered these, giving the place
something the look of a jail or a fortress. The shrubs,
carelessly, and for that reason more attractively planted, also
stood here and there over the wide and smooth bluegrass lawn.
The house was built in the edge of a growth of great oaks and elms,
which threw their arms out over even the lofty gables as though in
protection. Tradition had it that the reason the building had
never been completed was that the old master would have been
obliged to cut down a favorite elm in order to make room for it;
and he had declared that since his wife had died and all his
children but one had followed her, the house was large enough as it
was. So it stood as he had left it, with its two tall chimneys,
one at each end of the mid-body of the house, marking the two great
fireplaces, yet another chimney at the other end of the lesser wing.
Straight through the mid-body of the house ran a wide hall, usually
left open to all the airs of heaven; and through this one could see
far out over the approach, entirely through the house itself, and
note the framed picture beyond of woods glowing with foliage, and
masses of shrubbery, and lesser trees among which lay the white
huts of the negroes. Still to the left, beyond the existing wing,
lay the fenced vegetable gardens where grew rankly all manner of
provender intended for the bounteous table, whose boast it was
that, save for sugar and coffee, nothing was used at Tallwoods
which was not grown upon its grounds.
So lived one, and thus indeed lived more than one, baron on
American soil not so long ago, when this country was more American
than it is to-day--more like the old world in many ways, more like
a young world in many others. Here, for thirty years of his life,
had lived the present owner of Tallwoods, sole male of the family
surviving in these parts.
It might have been called matter of course that Warville Dunwody
should be chosen to the state legislature. So chosen, he had,
through sheer force of his commanding nature, easily become a
leader among men not without strength and individuality. Far up in
the northern comer, where the capital of the state lay, men spoke
of this place hid somewhere down among the hills of the lower
country. Those who in the easier acres of the northwestern prairie
lands reared their own corn and swine and cotton, often wondered at
the half-wild man from St. Francois, who came riding into the
capital on a blooded horse, who was followed by negroes also on
blooded horses, a self-contained man who never lacked money, who
never lacked wit, whose hand was heavy, whose tongue was keen,
whose mind was strong and whose purse was ever open.
The state which had produced a Benton was now building up a rival
to Benton. That giant, then rounding out a history of thirty years'
continuous service in the Senate of the United States, unlike the
men of this weaker day, reserved the right to his own honest and
personal political belief. He steadily refused to countenance the
extending of slavery, although himself a holder of slaves; and,
although he admitted the legality and constitutionality of the
Fugitive Slave Act, he deplored that act as much as any. To the
eventual day of his defeat he stood, careless of his fate, firm
in his own principles, going down in defeat at last because he
would not permit his own state legislature--headed then by men
such as Warville Dunwody and his friends--to dictate to him the
workings of his own conscience. Stronger than Daniel Webster, he
was one of those who would not obey the dictates of that leader,
and he _did_ set up his "conscience above the law." These two men,
Benton and Dunwody, therefore, were at the time of which we write
two gladiators upon the scenes of a wild western region, as yet
little known in the eastern states, though then swiftly coming
forward into more specific notice.
Perhaps thirty or forty slaves were employed about Tallwoods home
farm, as it was called. They did their work much as they liked, in
a way not grudging for the main part. Idle and shiftless, relying
on the frequent absence of the master and the ease of gaining a
living, they worked no more than was necessary to keep up a
semblance of routine. In some way the acres got plowed and reaped,
in some way the meats were cured, in some way the animals were fed
and the table was served and the rooms kept in a semi-tidiness,
none too scrupulous. Always in Tallwoods there was something at
hand ready to eat, and there was fuel whereby fires might be made.
Such as it was, the hospitality of the place was ready. It was a
rich, loose way of life, and went on lazily and loosely, like the
fashion of some roomy old vehicle, not quite run down, but
advancing now and then with a groan or a creak at tasks imposed.
But now, another and most important matter for our note--there was
no woman's hand at Tallwoods. The care was that of servants, of
slaves. When things grew insupportable in their shiftlessness the
master lashed out an order and got what he demanded; then soon
matters sank back again to their old state. None might tell when
the master would ride away, and when gone none could say when he
would return. Since the death of his mother no woman's control had
ruled here, nor, in spite of the busy tongues at the larger cities
above, did there seem likelihood that any would soon share or alter
the fortunes of Tallwoods. Rumors floated here and there, tongues
wagged; but Tallwoods lay apart; and Tallwoods, as commonly was
conceded, had ways of its own.
It was to these remote and somewhat singular surroundings that
there approached, on the evening of a bland autumn day, along the
winding road which followed the little stream, the great coach of
the master of Tallwoods, drawn by four blooded carriage horses,
weary, mud-stained and flecked with foam. At the end of the
valley, where the road emerged from its, hidden course among the
cliffs, the carriage now halted. Dunwody himself sprang down from
the driver's seat where he had been riding in order to give the
occupants of the coach the more room. He approached the window,
hat in hand.
"My dear lady," said he, "this is the end of our journey. Yonder
is my home. Will you not look at it?"
It was a pale and languid face which greeted him, the face of a
woman weary and even now in tears. Hastily she sought to conceal
these evidences of her distress. It was the first time he had seen
her weeping. Hitherto her courage had kept her cold and defiant,
else hot and full of reproofs. This spectacle gave him concern.
His face took on a troubled frown.
"Come now, do not weep, my dear girl,--anything but that."
"What, then, is it you would say?" she demanded. "It makes little
difference to me where you are taking me."
He threw open the coach door and extended a hand to aid her in
alighting. "Suppose we walk up from here," he said. "I know you
are tired by the ride. Besides," he added, with pride, "I want to
show you Tallwoods."
Scarce touching his hand, she stepped down. Dunwody motioned to
the driver to advance, and in spite of the protests of the maid
Jeanne, thus left alone within, the coach rolled on up the driveway
ahead of them.
It was in fact a beautiful prospect which lay before the travelers
thus arrived. The sun was low in the west, approaching the rim of
the hills, and its level rays lighted the autumn foliage, crossed
the great trees, brightened the tall white pillars. It even
illuminated the grounds beyond, so that quite through the body of
the house itself its golden light could be seen on the farther
slopes, framing the quaint and singular picture thus set apart.
All around rose the wide cup of the valley, its sides as yet
covered by unbroken decoration of vivid or parti-colored foliage.
Here and there the vivid reds of the wild sumac broke out in riot;
framed lower in the scale were patches of berry vines touched by
the frost; while now and again a maple lifted aloft a fan of clean
scarlet against the sky,--all backed by the more somber colors of
the oaks and elms, or the now almost naked branches of the lindens.
These enfolding forests gave a look of protectedness to this secret
place. They left a feeling not of discomfort but of shelter.
Moreover, the grass underfoot was soft and still green. Some sort
of comeliness, picturesque though rude, showed in the scant
attempts to modify nature in the arrangement of the grounds. And
there, noble and strong, upon a little eminence swelling at the
bottom of the valley's cup, lay the great house, rude, unfinished,
yet dignified. If it seemed just this side of elegance, yet the
look of it savored of comfort. To a woman distracted and wearied
it should have offered some sort of rest. To her who now gazed
upon it the sight afforded only horror. This then was the place.
Here was to be her trial. This was the battle-ground.
Dunwody lingered, hoping to hear some word of satisfaction.
"The hills are beautiful, the trees are beautiful, and the sky,"
she said, at length. "What God has done here is beautiful. But
God Himself is gone."
Rage filled him suddenly. "At any rate, this is what I have and
all I have," he said. "Like it, woman, or by that God! hate it!
Here you are, and here you stay, until--until I die or until God
returns. You are the only woman in it for me when you step into
that house there. You are its mistress. I rule here. But what
you want shall be yours at any time you want it. You can think of
nothing in the world that shall not be brought to you when you ask
for it. My servants are yours. Choose from them as many as you
"Slaves for your slave? You are full of kindness indeed! But I
shall never be what you delicately call the mistress of Tallwoods."
"By the Lord! girl, if I thought that would be true--if I thought
for one moment that it were true--" in a half-frenzy he threw out
his arm, rigid. An instant later he had lapsed into one of the
moods new to him. "There is no punishment I don't deserve," he
said. "All the time I have hurt you, when I'd rather cut my tongue
out than hurt you. I've seen you, these few days. God knows, at
the hardest--me at the worst--you at the worst. But your worst is
better than the best of any other woman I ever saw. I'm going to
have you. It's you or nothing for me, and I'm going to have you.
Choose your own title here, then, Madam. This is your home or your
prison, as you like."
For a moment Josephine paused, looking around her at the
surrounding hills. He seemed to catch her thought, and smiled at
"Twenty miles to the nearest house that way, Madam. None at all
that other way. Every path known and guarded by my people. No
paths at all in these hills out yonder. Wild animals in them,
little food in them for man or woman not used to living wild. You
would be helpless in one day, if you tried to get put. We'd find
you before you'd gone five miles. Don't attempt any foolishness
about trying to escape from here. You're mine, I say. I shall not
let you go."
Yet in spite of his savagery, his face softened in the next moment.
"If it could only be in the right way! Look at me, look at you.
You're so very beautiful, I'm so strong. There is only one right
way about it. Oh, woman!
"But come," he resumed with a half sigh, seeking in a rough way to
brush back a wisp of hair from his forehead, to join the tangled
mane upon his crest; "I hate myself as much as you hate me, but
it's your fault--your fault that you are as you are--that you set
me mad. Let's try to forget it for to-night, at least. You're
tired, worn out. I'm almost tired myself, with all this war
She was silent as they slowly advanced, silent as a prisoner facing
prison doors; but he still went on, arguing.
"Think of what you could do here, how happy we could be here.
Think of what we could do, together. There isn't anything I
wouldn't try to do. Why, I could do _anything_; and I'd bring
everything I got, everything, back to you,--and set it down at your
feet and say, 'I brought you this.' What would I care for it,
alone? What does it mean to me? What glory or success do I want?
Without you, what does all this world, all my life, all I can do,
mean to me after this? I knew long ago I couldn't be happy, but I
didn't know why, I know now what I wanted, all along. I can do
something in the world, I can succeed, I can be somebody now--and
now I want to, want to! Oh, I've lacked so much, I've longed so
much. Some way the world didn't seem made right. I wondered, I
puzzled, I didn't know, I couldn't understand--I thought all the
world was made to be unhappy--but it isn't, it's made for
happiness, for joy, for exultation. Why, I can see it plainly
enough now--all straight out, ahead of me,--all straight ahead of
"How like a man you are!" she said slowly. "You seek your own
success, although your path lies over a woman's disgrace and ruin."
"Haven't you ever thought of the other side of this at all? Can't
a woman ever think of mercy to a man? Can't she ever blame herself
just for being Eve, for being the incarnate temptation that she is
to any real man? Can't she see what she is to him? You talk about
ruin--I tell you it's ruin here, sure as we are born, for one or
both of us. I reckon maybe it's for both."
"Yes, it is for both."
"No. I'll not admit it!" he blazed out. "If I've been strong
enough to pull you down, I'm strong enough to carry you up again.
Only, don't force the worst part of me to the front all the time."
"A gentle wooer, indeed! And yet you blame me that I can not see a
man's side in a case like this."
"But in God's name, why should a man see any but a man's side of
it? Things don't go by reason, after all. The world goes, I
reckon, because there is a man's side to it. Anyhow, I am as I am.
Whatever you do here, whatever you are, don't try to wheedle me,
nor ask me to see your side, when there is only one side to this.
If any man ever lifted hand or eye to you, I'd kill him. I'll not
give up one jot of the right I've got in you, little as it is--I've
taken the right to hold you here and talk to you. But when you say
you'll not listen to me, then you do run against my side of it, my
man's side of it; and I tell you once more, I'm the owner of this
place. I live here. It's mine. I rule here, over free and
With rude strength and pride he swept an arm widely around him,
covering half the circle of the valley. "It's mine!" he said
slowly. "Fit for a king, isn't it? Yes, fit for a queen. It is
almost fit for you."
His hat was in his hand. The breeze of the evening, drawing down
the valley, now somewhat chilled, lifted the loose hair on his
forehead. He stood, big, bulky and strong, like some war lord of
older days. The argument on his lips was that of the day of skins
She who stood at his side, this prisoner of his prowess, taken by
his ruthless disregard of wish or rights of others, stood even with
his shoulder, tall, deep-bosomed, comely, as fair and fit and
womanly a woman as man's need has asked in any age of the world.
In the evening light the tears which had wet her eyes were less
visible. She might indeed have been fit queen for a spot like
this, mate for a man like this.
And now the chill of autumn lay in the twilight. Night was
coming--the time when all creatures, save ravening night feeders,
feel apprehension, crave shelter, search out a haven for repose.
This woman was alone and weary, much in need of some place to rest
her head. Every fiber in her heart craved shelter, comfort,
Dunwody turned, offered her a hand, and led her to the wide double
FREE AND THRALL
"Sally, come here," called Dunwody to one of the row of grinning
negro servants who were loosely lined up in the hall, as much in
curiosity as deference, to give their master his only welcome home.
"Take this lady up to the room in the east part. See that she has
everything she wants. She is not to be disturbed there until
morning, do you hear, Sally? When you come down I want to see you
again. You others there, make your duty to this lady. Call her
Miss Josephine. When she wants anything, you jump and get it. Go
They scattered grinning, all but the bent and grizzled old woman
Sally, who now came forward. She looked with blank brown eyes at
the new-comer, herself inscrutable as the Sphinx. If she commented
mentally on the droop of the young woman's mouth and eyes, at least
she said nothing. It was not her place to ask what white folk did,
or why. She took up the traveling-bags and led the way up the
narrow stairway which made out of the central hall.
"Sally," said Josephine, turning, when they reached the stairway,
"where's my own maid--the other--Jeanne?"
"I dunno, Ma'am," said Sally. "I reckon she's all right, though.
Dis heah's yuah room, Ma'am, if you please." She shuffled ahead,
into a tall and wide room, which overlooked the lawn and the
Once alone, Josephine flung herself face downward upon the bed and
burst into a storm of tears, her fine courage for once outworn.
She wept until utterly spent. Sally, after leaving the room, had
returned unnoticed, and when at last Josephine turned about she saw
the old woman standing there. A hard hand gently edged under her
heaving shoulder. "Thah now, honey, doan' cry! God A'mighty,
girl, doan' cry dat-a-way. What is wrong, tell me." Sympathy even
of this sort was balm to a woman wholly unnerved. Josephine found
her head on the old negro woman's shoulder.
[Illustration: Her fine courage for once outworn.]
"Now you jus' lay right quiet, Ma'am," went on Sally. "I'se gwine
to git you a little something warm to drink and something to eat
right soon, and den I'se gwine put you-all to bed nice and clean,
and in de mawnin' you'll feel like you was anotheh lady, you
suttinly will, Ma'am."
"Who are you?" demanded Josephine, turning to look into the old and
"I'se jus' Sally."
"I suppose you are keeper of the prison," commented Josephine
"Dis ain't no prisum, Ma'am, I'se bin heah a long time 'mong dese
triflin' niggahs. Dis ain't no prisum--but God knows, Ma'am, we
needs a lady heah to run things. Is you come foh dat?"
"No, no," said Josephine. "I'm just--I'm just--I'm going away as
soon as I can."
"Sho, now! Huc'cum you heah, Ma'am?"
"It was a mistake."
"I didn't know white folks evah done nothin' they didn't want to
do," commented Sally. "But doan' you mind. Ef you wants me, jes'
call for Sally."
"Tell me, Sally, isn't there any Mrs. Dunwody here?" demanded
The face of the old woman remained inscrutable, and Josephine could
see no sign except that a sort of film crossed her eyes, as though
veiling some inmost thought.
"Ef dey was, I doan' reckon you-all would have come heah, would
you? Now you lay down and git comf'table. Doan' you worry none,
Ma'am. You gwine be fine, by mawnin'. You suttinly is a right
handsome lady, Ma'am!"
The old woman shuffled from the room, to join her master at the
foot of the stairs.
"Where is she, Sally?" demanded Dunwody, "and how is she?"
"She's right tired, suh," said Sally non-committally. And then,
"Mighty fine lookin' lady, suh. An' she is a lady! Huc'cum her
here, Marse Warv'l? Whut you-all--"
"What did she say to you?"
"Nothin' 'cept she's gwine git away right soon. White folkes'
business ain't none o' my business."
"Well, never you mind about all that, Sally. Now listen. It's
your business to keep her there, in that room. When she wants
anything, get it. But don't you talk to her, you understand. I
reckon you do understand, don't you?"
"I reckon I does, suh."
"Well, all right then. If she goes to walk, keep her in sight.
She doesn't send out letters to any one, and doesn't talk to
strangers, do you understand?"
"I reckon I does, suh."
Old Sally stood looking at him for a time with her small brown eyes
half-covered under her gray brows. At last, with something of the
liberty of the old servant she said, "Marster, is you married to
that dere lady? Ef you isn't, is you gwine marry her?"
"If I told you you'd know too much, Sally. It's enough for you to
know that you're responsible for her. If she turns up missing any
time, you'll be missing yourself not long after."
"I reckon I will," said Sally chuckling; and then shuffled off
about her own duties.
THE GARMENTS OF ANOTHER
Left alone, Josephine St. Auban at last attempted to pull herself
together. With the instinct of a newly caged animal, she made a
little tour of the room. First she noted the depth of the windows,
their height above the ground. No escape there, that was
sure--unless one, cat-like, could climb down this light ladder up
which the ivy ran between the cornice and the ground. No, it was a
In the room itself were good yet simple furnishings. The wall
paper was of a small and ancient figuring. In places it hung torn.
The furniture was old mahogany, apparently made in an earlier
generation. An engraving or so hung askew upon the wall, a broken
bust stood on a bracket. The tall tester bed, decorated with a
patchwork silken covering, showed signs of comfort, but was neither
modern nor over neat. The room was not furnished in poverty, but
its spirit, its atmosphere, its feeling, lacked something, a woman
could have told what.
She pushed back the heavy dresser, but the wall was without opening
behind it. She looked for the key to the door, and was glad to
find the lock in order. For the first time now she laid off her
bonnet, unfastened her wrap. With a hand which trembled she made
some sort of attempt at toilet, staring into the mirror at a face
scarcely recognized as her own. The corners of its mouth were
drooping plaintively. A faint blue lay beneath the eyes.
She faced the fact that she must pass the night alone. If it is at
night that the shadows fall upon the soul, then most of all does
woman, weak and timorous animal, long for some safe and accustomed
refuge place, for a home; and most of all does she shrink from
unfamiliar surroundings. Yet she slept, wearied to exhaustion.
The night was cool, the air fresh from the mountains coming in
through the opened window, and bringing with it calm.
Dawn came. A chirping cedar bird, busy in the near-by shrubbery,
wakened her with a care-free note. She started up and gazed out
with that sudden wonder and terror which at times seize upon us
when we awake in strange environment. Youth and vitality resumed
sway. She was alive, then. The night had passed, then. She was
as she had been, herself, her own, still. The surge of young blood
came back in her veins. The morning was there, the hills were
there, the world was there. Hope began once more with the throb of
her perfect pulse. She stretched a round white arm and looked down
it to her hand. She held up her fingers against the light, and the
blood in them, the soul in them, showed pink and clean between.
Slowly she pushed down the patchwork silk. There lay her splendid
limbs and body. Yes, it was she, it was herself, her own. Yes,
she would live, she would succeed, she would win! All of which, of
course, meant to her but one thing--escape.
A knock came at the door, really for the third time, although for
the first time heard. Old Sally entered, bearing her tray, with
"Now you lay right still whah you is, Ma'am," she began. "You-all
wants a li'l bit o' coffee. Then I'll bring you up some real
breakfus'--how you like yuah aigs? Ma'am, you suttinly is lookin'
fine dis mawnin'. I'll fetch you yuah tub o' watah right soon now."
In spite of herself Josephine found herself unable to resist
interest in these proceedings. After all, her prison was not to be
without its comforts. She hoped the eggs would be more than two.
The old serving woman slowly moved about here and there in the
apartment, intent upon duties of her own. While thus engaged,
Josephine, standing femininely engaged before her glass, chanced to
catch sight of her in the mirror. She had swiftly slipped over and
opened the door of a wardrobe. Over her arm now was some feminine
"What have you there?" demanded Josephine, turning as swiftly.
"Jus' some things I'se gwine take away to make room for you, tha'ss
Josephine approached and took up in her own hands these evidences
of an earlier occupancy of the room. They were garments of a day
gone by. The silks were faded, dingy, worn in the creases from
sheer disuse. Apparently they had hung untouched for some time.
[Illustration: They were garments of a day gone by.]
"Whose were these, Sally?" demanded Josephine.
"I dunno, Ma'am. I'se been mos'ly in the kitchen, Ma'am."
Josephine regarded her closely. No sign of emotion showed on that
brown mask. The gray brows above the small eyes did not flicker.
"I suppose these may have belonged to Mr. Dunwody's mother," said
"Or his wife, perhaps?"
"Yassam, ef they really wuz one."
"Was there ever?" demanded Josephine sharply.
"Might a-been none, er might a-been a dozen, fur's I know. Us
folks don' study much 'bout whut white folks does."
"You must have known if there was any such person about--you've
been here for years. Don't talk nonsense!"
Temptation showed on Sally's face. The next instant the film came
again over the small brown eyes, the mask shut down again, as the
ancient negro racial secretiveness resumed sway. Josephine did not
ask for what she knew would be a lie.
"Where is my own maid, Jeanne?" she demanded. "I am anxious about
"I dunno, Ma'am."
"Is she safe--has she been cared for?"
"I reckon she's all right."
"Can you bring her to me?"
"I'll try, Ma'am."
But breakfast passed and no Jeanne appeared. From the great house
came no sounds of human occupancy. Better struggle, conflict, than
this ominous waiting, this silence, here in this place of infamy,
this home of horror, this house of some other woman. It was with a
sense of relief that at length she heard a human voice.
Outside, beneath the window, quavering sounds rose. The words were
French, Canadian French, scarce distinguishable to an ear trained
only in the Old World. It was an old man singing, the air perhaps
that of some old chanson of his own country, sung by villagers long
"Souvenirs du jeune age
Sont gravis dans mon coeur,
Quand je pense au village,
Revenant du bonheur--"
The old voice halted, at length resuming, idly: "_Quand je
pense--quand je pense_." Then after humming the air for a little
time it broke out as though in the chorus, bold and strong:
"Rendes-moi ma patrie, ou laisses-moi mourir!"
The words came to her with a sudden thrill. What did they not mean
to the alien, to the prisoner, to the outcast, anywhere in all the
world! "Give me back my country, or let me die!"
She stepped to the window and looked down. An old man, brown, bent
and wrinkled, was digging about the shrubbery, perhaps preparing
some of the plants for their winter sleep. He was clad in leather
and linsey, and seemed ancient as the hills. He resumed his song.
Josephine leaned out from the casement and softly joined in the
"Rendez-moi ma patrie, ou laissez-moi mourir!"
[Illustration: An old man, brown, bent and wrinkled]
The old man dropped his spade. "_Mon Dieu_!" he exclaimed, and
looked all about, around, then at last up.
"Ah! _Bon jour_, Mademoiselle!" he said, smiling and taking off his
old fur cap. "You spik also my language, Mademoiselle?"
"_Mais oui_, Monsieur," rejoined Josephine; and addressed him
further in a few sentences on trivial topics. Then, suddenly
resolved, she stepped out of her own room, passed softly down the
stair, out through the wide central hall, and so, having
encountered no one, joined the ancient man on the lawn. It chanced
he had been at labor directly in front of one of the barred lower
windows. He now left his spade and stepped apart, essaying now a
little broken English.
"You seeng my song al_so_, Mademoiselle? You like the old song
from Canadian village, aye? I seeng heem many tam, me."
"Who are you?" demanded Josephine.
"Me, I am Eleazar, the ol' trap' man. Summers, I work here for
Monsieur Dunwodee. Verr' reech man, Monsieur Dunwodee. He say,
'Eleazar, you live here, all right.' When winter come I go back in
the heel, trap ze fur-r, Madame, ze cat, ze h'ottaire, ze meenk,
sometime ze coon, also ze skonk. Pret' soon I'll go h'out for trap
"How long have you been here, Eleazar?" she asked.
"Many year, Mademoiselle. In these co'ntree perhaps twent'--thirt'
year, I'll don' know."
"Were you here when the lady lived here?" she demanded of him
He frowned at this suddenly. "I'll not know what you mean,
"I mean the other lady, the wife of Mr. Dunwody."
"My faith! Monsieur Dunwody he'll live h'alone here, h'all tam."
She affected not to understand him. "How long since she was here,
Eleazar?" she demanded.
"What for you'll talk like those to me? I'll not know nossing,
Mademoiselle. I'll not even know who is Mademoiselle, or why
she'll been here, me. I'll not know for say, whether 'Madame,'
whether 'Mademoiselle.' _Mais_ 'Mademoiselle'--_que je pense_."
She looked about her hastily. "I'm here against my wish, Eleazar.
I want to get away from here as soon as I can."
He drew away in sudden fright. "I'll not know nossing at all, me,"
"Eleazar, you like money perhaps?"
"Of course, yes. _Tout le monde il aime l'argent_."
"Then listen, Eleazar. Some day we will walk, perhaps. How far is
it to Cape Girardeau, where the French people live?"
"My son Hector he'll live there wance, on Cap' Girardeau. He'll
make the tub, make the cask, make the bar_rel_. Cap' Girardeau,
oh, perhaps two--t'ree day. Me, I walk heem once, maybe so feefty
mile, maybe so seexty mile, in wan day, two-t'ree a little more
tam, me. I was more younger then. But now my son he'll live on
St. Genevieve, French place there, perhaps thirtee mile. Cap'
Girardeau, seventy-five mile. You'll want for go there?" he added
"Sometime," she remarked calmly. Eleazar was shrewd in his own
way. He strolled off to find his spade.
Before she could resume the conversation Josephine heard behind her
in the hall a step, which already she recognized. Dunwody greeted
her at the door, frowning as he saw her sudden shrinking back at
sight of him.
"Good morning," he said. "You have, I hope, slept well. Have you
and Eleazar here planned any way to escape as yet?" He smiled at
her grimly. Eleazar had shuffled away.
"You had not come along so far as details then;" smilingly.
"You intruded too soon."
"At least you are frank, then! You will never get away from here
excepting on one condition."
She made no answer, but looked about her slowly. Her eyes rested
upon a little inclosed place where some gray stones stood upright
in the grass; the family burial place, not unusual in such
proximity to the abode of the living, in that part of the country
at the time.
"One might escape by going there!" she pointed.
"They are my own, who sleep there," he said simply but grimly. "I
wish it might be your choice; but not now; not yet. We've a lot of
living to do yet, both of us."
She caught no note of relenting in his voice. He looked large and
strong, standing there at the entrance to his own home. At length
he turned to her, sweeping out his arm once more in a gesture
including the prospect which lay before them.
"If you could only find it in your heart," he exclaimed, "how much
I could do for you, how much you could do for me. Look at all
this. It's a home, but it's just a desert--a desert--the way it is
"Has it always been so?"
"As long as I can remember."
"So you desire to make all life a desert for me! It is very noble
Absorbed, he seemed not to hear her. "Suppose you had met me the
way people usually meet--and you some time had allowed me to come
and address you--could you have done that, do you reckon?" He
turned to her, an intent frown on his face, unsmiling.
"That's a question which here at least is absurd," she replied.
"You spoke once of that other country, abroad,--" he broke off,
shaking his head. "Who are you? I don't feel sure that I even
know your name as yet."
"I am, as you have been told, Josephine, Countess St. Auban. I am
French, Hungarian, American, what you like, but nothing to you. I
came to this country in the interest of Louis Kossuth. For that
reason I have been misunderstood. They think me more dangerous
than I am, but it seems I am honored by the suspicions of Austria
and America as well. I was a revolutionist yonder. I am already
called an abolitionist here. Very well. The name makes little
difference. The work itself--"
"Is that how you happened to be there on the boat?"
"I suppose so. I was a prisoner there. I was less than a chattel.
I was a piece of property, to be staked, to be won or lost at
cards, to be kidnapped, hand-cuffed, handled like a slave, it
seems. And you've the hardihood to stand here and ask me who I am!"
"I've only that sort of hardihood, Madam, which makes me ride
straight. If I had observed the laws, I wouldn't have you here
now, this morning."
"You'll not have me long. If I despise you as a man without
chivalry, I still more do so because you've neither ambition nor
any sense of morals."
"You go on to improve me. I thank you, Mademoiselle--Eleazar was
right. I heard him. I like you as 'Mademoiselle.'"
"What difference?" she flared out. "We are opposed at all angles
of the human compass. There is no common meeting ground between
us. Let me go."
He looked at her full in the face, his own features softened,
relenting for a time, as though her appeal had touched either his
mental or his moral nature. Then slowly, as he saw the excellence
of her, standing there, his face dropped back into its iron mold.
"You are a wonderful woman," he said, "wonderful. You set me on
fire--and it's only eight o'clock in the morning. I could crush
you--I could tear you to pieces. I never saw your like, nor ever
shall. Let you go? Yes! When I'm willing to let my blood and
soul go. Not till then. If I were out in that graveyard, with my
bones apart, and your foot crossed my grave, I'd get up and come,
and live again with you--live--again. I say, I could live again,
do you hear me?"
She broke out into a torrent of hot speech. He did not seem to
hear her. "The wrong of it," said he, "is that we should fight
apart and not together. Do as you like for to-day. Be happy as
you can. Let's live in the present, as we were, at least for
to-day. But to-night--"
He turned swiftly, and left her, so that she found left unsaid
certain questions as well as certain accusations she had stored for
this first meeting.
That night, Josephine St. Auban did not sleep. For hours she
tossed about, listening. Infrequently, sounds came to her ears.
Through the window came now and again faint notes of night-faring
birds, south bound on their autumnal migration. Once in a while a
distant step resounded in the great building, or again there came
the distant voices of the negroes singing in their quarters beyond.
The house had ceased its daily activities. The servants had left
it. Who occupied it now? Was she alone? Was there one other?
In apprehension which comes to the senses in the dark watches of
the night--impressions, conclusions, based upon no actual or
recognized action of the physical senses--Josephine rose, passed to
the window and looked out. The moonlight lay upon the lawn like a
broad silver blanket. Faint stars were twinkling in the clear sky
overhead. The night brooded her planets, hovering the world, so
that life might be.
The dark outlines of the shrubbery below showed black and strong.
Upon the side of a near-by clump of leafless lilacs shone a faint
light, as though from one of the barred windows below. The house
was not quite asleep. She stilled her breath as she might, stilled
her heart as she might, lest its beating should be heard. What was
about to happen? Where could she fly, and how?
Escape by the central stairway would be out of the question,
because by that way only could danger approach. She leaned out of
the window. Catching at the coarse ivy vine which climbed up the
old wall of the house, she saw that it ascended past her window to
the very cornice where the white pillars joined the roof. The
pillars themselves, vast and smooth, would have been useless even
could she have reached them. Below, a slender lattice or ladder
had been erected to the height of one story, to give the ivy its
support. A strong and active person might by mere possibility
reach this frail support if the ivy itself proved strong enough to
hold under the strain. She clutched at it desperately. It seemed
to her that although the smaller tendrils loosened, the greater
arms held firm.
She stepped back into the room, listened, straining all her soul in
a demand for certitude. As yet she had only dreaded to hear a
sound, had not indeed done so. Now at last there came a
footfall--was it true? It seemed not heavy enough for a man's
step, but a man on secret errand might tread light. She flung
herself upon the bed, her hands clasped, her lips moving in
But now it came again, that was it--it was a footfall. It
approached along the hall, paused at the barricaded door. It was
there outside, stopping. She heard a breath drawn. The knob was
tried, silently at first, then with greater force. "Who is there?"
she quavered. "Who is there?" she repeated. No answer came.
"Jeanne!" she cried aloud. "Oh, Jeanne! Jeanne! Sally!"
There was once a sound of a distant door opening. No voice came.
Outside her own door now was silence.
She could endure no more. Though it were into flames, she must
escape from this place, where came one to claim a property, not a
woman; where a woman faced use, not wooing. God! And there was no
weapon, to assure God's vengeance now, here, at once.
Half-clad as she was, she ran to the window, and unhesitatingly let
herself out over the sill, clutching at the ivy as she did so. She
feared not at all what now was before her. It is doubtful whether
those who spring from a burning building dread the fall--they dread
only that which is behind them.
As she now half-slid from the window, she grasped wildly at the
screen of ivy, and as fate would have it caught one of its greater
branches. It held fast, and she swung free from the sill, which
now she could never again regain. She clung desperately, blindly,
swung out; then felt the roots of the ivy above her rip free, one
after another, far up, almost to the cornice. Its whole thin
ladder broke free from the wall. She was flung into space. Almost
at that instant, her foot touched the light lattice of the lower
story. The ivy had crawled up the wall face and followed the
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