Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

tended-in her exceeding mental distress-in the anxiety she had evidenced about the coming of that letter (for she asked frequently at what hours letters were delivered)her emotion at receiving it her anxiousness about her appearance—and more than all, the hurried way in which she had gone off with her anonymous visitor-I began to think that my first fears were correct,—that the lady had eloped, and that I was, in a measure, a party concerned. Then, too, it first occurred to me that I was not sure of her identity; for though she had introduced herself as the daughter of my friend, she had never mentioned her husband's name, nor was there any address on her trunk to enable me to advise with him on the subject. I knew not what to do; there was her travelling dress, and watch, and other trinkets, and to address the colonel on the affair was a very delicate and unpleasant task; besides, I felt convinced, that, if anything of this kind had occurred, on his part, at least, some attempt would have been made to recover her, so I determined to wait patiently for time to unravel the apparent incongruities of the affair. Alas! all too soon I learnt the melancholy story.

Not much more than a fortnight after the circumstances I have described—at all events, while they were still fresh in all their inexplicableness—I was told that a person from Scotland desired to see me; and a respectable-looking old man, whom I at once recognised as the confidential servant of Colonel Singleton many years before, followed my intimation for him to be shewn in. I cannot say that I felt any surprise at the subdued air, and dejected manner of the poor old man, for I had fully made up my mind to the story of his young lady's disgrace, and I knew it would fall as heavily upon the faithful servant as if she had been his own child. Never can I sufficiently hate the uncharitable judgment of my illiberal heart, or forgive myself the injustice of my suspicion. It is one of those stories that occasionally gives to the page of truth the romance of fiction, and one to which I feel it impossible to do justice. It is the heart alone that can fill up such recitals. Poor Forbes told it to me with a bowed down head, and with accents broken by emotion.

Without entering into details that filled the papers of the period, and the lips of every one, it is merely necessary to state, that an afterdinner quarrel had occurred between Major Cameron, the husband of the unfortunate lady, and a brother officer, with whom he was dining; some objectionable expression had been used, which the major insisted on his friend's retracting, but which the other as pertinaciously refused to withdraw. Heated by wine and anger-for it is but charitable to believe that neither party was sensible at the time—a challenge ensued, which the major insisted on putting to the issue on the spot; and they fought with closed doors, and without seconds, although his antagonist was heard to say—“ This is not fair, Cameron; let us have witnesses.” But the vindictive feeling of the moment usurped the place of every other consideration in the breast of the angry man, and their conflict went on. It has escaped me now whether they made use of swords or pistols, but whatever the weapon, only a few moments elapsed, till the major came forth alone, sobered, and a murderer!

In those times, when duelling was an everyday occurrence, it must have been the peculiar atrociousness of this case that induced the rigorous measures that followed. Major Cameron was immediately apprehended, and at the then sitting assizes, convicted of the murder,

and sentenced to death-a sentence so unlooked for by his friends, that his wife and father-in-law were in court ready to receive him on his acquittal. Only a few days, and these the result of instant and important interest, intervened between his condemnation and the period of execution, for the law was not then so merciful as at present, if, indeed, it be a mercy to lengthen the terrors of death by days and nights of agonizing anticipation, but these were sufficient to enable the devoted wife to plan and execute her intrepid effort to redeem him.

Tearing herself from his embrace, and without even trusting her relatives with her design, lest their hopelessness and timidity should overrule it, she wrote to secure the aid of powerful friends at the court of St. James's, to procure her an audience of her then majesty, Queen Charlotte, and strong in the courage of despairing love, unprotected and unattended, set off for London.

And this was the mystery my narrow heart had so grossly interpreted! How well I could now understand the bitterness of her sorrow—the passionate agony of her supplications! But to continue my story. Introduced to the presence of her majesty, to cast herself at her feet, to pour forth the strong and affecting expression that the emergency of the occasion, and the anguish of her soul dictated, was the natural action of impulse; her youth-her earnestness-and the sight of her distress, so wrought upon the royal wife, that though she refused to interfere with the king's decision, as regarded her husband's fate, she herself led the unhappy lady to the door of the royal closet, and commanded the page in waiting to admit her, satisfied that no influence was so likely to affect his majesty's determinations as the natural eloquence of such a pleader. Roused by this solecism in courtly etiquette, the king turned to the intruder, who, with the instinctive action of supplication, was already kneeling at his feet; and, regardless of the royal mandate to rise, her woman's heart supplying her with the strong and affecting fluency of grief, she maintained her humble attitude-her unconnected, but heart-stirring appeal-till the resolution of the monarch merged in the compassion of the man, and he granted to her persevering devotion the mercy that a strict sense of justice had hitherto denied. She rose, enriched by the gift of a life a thousand times more precious than her own.

Timanthes, when he hid the countenance of Agamemnon-to the expression of which he felt his inability to do justice—only copied the expedient of nature, who throws the veil of tears and silence over all emotions in excess. What words could have expressed to the sympathizing sovereign the joy of those streaming tears—the passionate gratitude that hovered, but found no voice, on the uplifted and trembling lips—or the touching homage of her woman's form, bowing itself more lowly to bless than it had done to supplicate! Moved, almost, as painfully by the sight of her scarcely-supportable happiness as he had been by her excessive grief, the king hurried her from the apartment, and placing in her hand the instrument of her husband's safety, bade her remember, that till it was presented, her object was not achieved. With this sentence sobering her imagination, and quickening her resolves, without a moment's delay, or even making the necessary alterations in her attire, the anxious wife stepped into the carriage that had been prepared for her, and, accompanied by the friend who had taken her from my house, set off for Scotland. Relays of horses had been ordered at the different inns along the road, and the douceur of a guinea promised to the postillions for every mile effected in the hour above the ordinary rate of travelling. Yet uncalculated impediments seemed to throw themselves in the way; and as the foaming horses dashed into Edinburgh, on the morning appointed for her husband's execution, the sullen tolling of the death-bell was the first sound that met her agonized ear, and she knew that the very moments of his life were counted.

On, on, the carriage struggled through the crowded streets, where every moment fresh obstacles occurred to retard its progress-now, a line of vehicles already blocked the road, and there, an unseen barrier effectually prevented its entrance; throngs of people filled every avenue to the place of execution; and, for the first time, the halffrantic woman began to feel that even yet he might be lost to her. Throwing down the glasses, she implored the people, with the most piteous accents, to make way; but some, coarsely conceiving her object was to obtain a better view of the awful exhibition, only closed more completely the approach, while others, judging by the spattered state of the postillions and carriage, and the patches of froth on the chests of the panting horses, that the unfortunate lady was some relative hurrying to obtain a parting interview with the miserable prisoner, assured her that the attempt was useless—there was no forcing a way through the crowd. Maddened by her fears, she sprang from the carriage, and uttering the word “Reprieve!” in the most thrilling accents, with the document of her husband's deliverance in her uplifted hands, ran through the deuse throng, who instinctively separated, right and left, to admit her a passage. Her youth, the strange elegance of her appearance, just as she had quitted the presence of royalty, and more than all, the vehement anguish expressed in her countenance, affected even the rugged hearts that composed that curious assemblage; and the feelings of the mob, ever in extreme, suddenly became as interested in the safety of the condemned as they had been anxious for his execution. The cry of “Reprieve!” was caught up, and shouted as with one voice by the hoarse-throated multitude; but it was met by the frightened shriek of women; and died away in one huge groan as the figure of a man was suddenly seen to dangle from the gibbet; and after one frightful drawing up of the limbs, remained lax and motionless, except for the oscillation of the fatal rope. Still the miserable wife rushed on. Now she is at the foot of the scaffold, forcing her way, by means of the useless mandate, through the armed and intercepting soldiery-now she is tottering up its rude steps, and now beside the group of witnessing functionaries, and the ruffian-looking executioner, in his hideous mask and revolting habit. Can consciousness maintain that rigid composure a thousand times more terrible than the wildest outbreak of despair—that ghastly aspect--that stony silence! See, the executioner hastens to detach his victim-but, ah! too late, the heart is yet warm, but the cistern is broken at the wheel—the life of her life quenched!

Yes, madam,” said the old man, in conclusion, when he could again trust his voice to speak, “I took her away without a tear or groan, and apparently unconscious of all she witnessed; nor is there a hope of her recovery. It is the doctor's opinion that she will pass away in this state of mental lethargy. And my poor old master has never lifted up his head since.”

THE TWO FRONTIERSMEN; OR, LYNCH LAW.

а

a

BY CHARLES HOOTON.

The Bice. Sıx years have now passed since two young and enterprising citizens of one of the Southern American States, left their homes together, for the purpose of settling in the then newly declared republic of Texas. Their names, respectively, were Rivers and Savidge. They were born neighbours—they had been friends from childhood—not one solitary disagreement had ever occurred between them up to that time; and now were they banded together for the purpose of carrying out a speculative enterprise, in a new land, of the highest worldly importance to each. They purchased lands on the banks of the beautiful Guadaloupe -each paying an equal share of all expenses; built a log-house thereon, cultivated their wild domain, and dwelt together in all respects as brothers. The only agreement made between them was, that if, at any future period, either should desire to separate from the other, and go elsewhere, he should either accept such a reasonable sum for his half of the location as might be offered by the remaining party, or give as much himself for his companion's share.

The burning suns of three seasons had scarcely travelled over their heads, before a flourishing homestead and a fertile plantation rewarded their industry; and by the contrast they afforded to the wild vast tracts around, seemed to mark with a degree of emphasis not to be mistaken, the beautiful triumphs of man over nature, and to point with unerring finger to the delights which, in a land of liberty, where man toils for himself and not for others, well-directed industry and perseverance, aided by a small capital, are capable of placing within the reach of those who properly exercise them.

Assuredly there was one dark feature amidst all this natural brightness. Slavery was there. Ten coloured people called up the productions of that soil. For though slavery is virtually repudiated by

. the laws of the country, practically it is as common as in the native State which our friends had left behind. With them, however, slavery was little other than a name. The chains were metaphorical ; the lash a mere pedagogue’s cane, and as seldom used; the labour lighter than that which is borne by millions in the very land whose sensitive blood turns chill, and whose face grows pale with ire, only at the name of slave. The life of these coloured people was one of absolute liberty and independence, when put in opposition to that dreary mass of misery, called life, which is passed by thousands in our own coal-pits; and which can scarcely be exceeded in horror by the existences of the banished in the mines of Siberia. Happily or unhappily, however-whichever the reader pleases—the English are a long-sighted people. Their telescopic eyes can reach across an ocean, and pick out every detail of wretchedness that the opposite land may present, while the same organs, or instruments, applied to objects within arm's length, very naturally fail to define a single limb of the same monster that is worthy of being crippled by a national exertion. As a nation we preach long and loudly against slavery under the open heavens—slavery beneath the bright material eye of the universeVOL, VI,

L

a

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

while at the very moment our lips are hurling this indignation against the farthest parts of the earth, our own feet are standing upon that hollow ground beneath which, in darkness, and suffering, and sorrow, the children of our own land are slaving like gnomes or unhappy genii, unblessed with a vision of God's light, or a breath of his pure air, more frequently than once a week.

But this is not exactly telling my story.

So far, nothing had happened to actually disturb the tranquillity of our two friends; though a difference of some standing had, during a considerable period, seemed to threaten it.

About noon one day in the month of August, 1831, when the almost perpendicular rays of the sun made every vegetative beauty of that sweltering world droop its fevered leaves and flowers beneath their power, and when the slaves had left for a couple of hours the spade in the ground, and the hoe in the furrow, to seek a shelter within doors from the heat, Mr. Rivers and Mr. Savidge might have been seen sitting in a large room of their habitation, every aperture of which was thrown wide open, engaged in earnest though not unfriendly conversation. Both were clad as lightly as possible in the ordinary cotton or printed calico garments of the country; and on the floor, against each one's chair, lay two immensely broad-brimmed grass hats —the produce of Carthagena or Panama--which had been thrown off when they entered.

On the table before them stood decanters of the finest wines, a magnum of the famous old Monongahela whisky of the States, and various kinds of that indescribable fruit, the cold delicious melon, which Providence seems to have especially designed for the health and pleasure of all such of his creatures whose fate it is to dwell within the terrible influence of a tropical sun.

“Well, Savidge,” remarked Mr. Rivers, as he replenished his glass with claret; “ I don't see, after all, what way we can fix it. We are both equal—we are both free and independent-we both want to marry the same woman, and neither can stand aside, because one has jest as good a title to her as the other. If gals wer’n't so remarkably scarce as they are jest now in Texas, why a chance might open up, and something of a clearin' be seen through; but as it is, we are come to a stand-still, and that is all about it—anyhow!"

“ Suppose we agree to go on as we have done,” observed Savidge, in reply; " each man make the best sea-way he can, and then leave the question to be decided by the lady herself, when we both pop the question to her together; because, old hoss, you know she must be judge and jury at last.”

"I had raither bowl her down at nine-pins,” answered Rivers. “ The fact is, have her I must

“ If you can get her.”

“Right! If I can get her;--well put in. But if not, Savidge, I'll jest tell you what I shall do. I shall sell out here, stalk and stump, and clear off again for old Kentucky.”

“Nay, nay; don't do that, man? We shall go to war with Sant Anna again before you die; and then when we march on Mexico, you can get a Spanish countess as easily as a doubloon,-come back, take lands adjoining these, and live comfortable neighbours with me and Isabella, after we are married.”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« EdellinenJatka »