A Song of a Single Note by Amelia Edith Barr - HTML preview
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"Yes, grandmother. I said no lessons yesterday. We were watching the soldiers pass, and the people, and I was expecting Neil, and there seemed no use in beginning then. I told Agnes I would say extra lessons to-day."
"And I'm doubting, even with the 'extra,' if the lessons amount to much."
"Oh grandmother! I have learned a page of 'Magnall's Questions,' and studied a whole chapter in 'Goldsmith's History' about King John."
"King who?" asked Madame, suspiciously. "I never heard tell o' a King John. David, and Robert, and James I ken; but John! No, no, lassie! There's nae King John."
"Maria means John of England," explained the Elder. "He was a vera bad king."
"John of England, or George of England!" answered Madame disdainfully, "kings are much of a muchness.
And if he was a bad king, he was a bad man, and ye ought to put your commandments on your granddaughter, Elder, to learn naething about such wicked men. Ye ken as well as I do, that the Almighty forbid the children o' Israel even to inquire anent the doings of thae sinners, the Canaanites. And it is bad enough to hae to thole the evil doings o' a living king, without inquiring after the crimes o' a dead one."
"I will give up my history if you wish it, grandmother. I care nothing about King John."
"Maria must learn what other people learn," said the Elder. "She has to live in the world, and she has sense enough to make her own reflections. Give me a kiss, dearie, and study King John if you like to, he was a bad man, and a bad king, but----"
"Others worse than him!" ejaculated Madame.
"Give me a kiss, darling grandmother, one for myself, and one for Agnes; she always asks for it."
"Oh, you flattering lassie!" But the old lady gave the two kisses, and with a sweeping courtesy, Maria closed the door and went humming down the garden walk: "Who Saw Fair Pamela?"
She had not gone far before she met Moselle, the only slave Bradley possessed. She was in her Sunday clothing, and she said Missee had given her a whole day's holiday. In that case Agnes would be alone, and Maria hastened her steps onward. The little house was as calm and peaceful looking as usual, the windows all open, the mignonette boxes on their sills in full bloom; the white shades gently stirring in the wind. The door was closed, but on the latch, and Maria turned the handle and went into the parlor. It was empty, but the ruffle Agnes was gathering was on the table, and Maria took off her bonnet and laid it and her books down on the cushioned seat within the window recess. As she lifted her head an astonishing sight met her eyes. In the middle of the yard there was a very handsome young man. He was bareheaded, tall, and straight as a ramrod, and stood with one hand on his hip and his face lifted to the sunshine. Maria's heart beat quick, she lifted her bonnet and books, retreated to the front door, and called "Agnes" in a clear, eager voice.
In a moment or two, Agnes came in at the opposite door. "Maria!" she cried, "I am glad to see you. Is your uncle with you? No? That is well. Come with me to the kitchen. I have given Moselle a holiday. Maria, I have a friend--a very dear friend. I am cooking him some breakfast. Come and help me."
Agnes spoke in a hurried, excited manner very unusual to her, and as she did so, the two girls went into the little outside kitchen. The coffee was ready, the steak broiled, and as Agnes lifted the food she continued,
"yes, I have a friend this morning. He is going to eat in the summer-house, and you will help me to wait upon him. Will you not, Maria? Oh, my dear, I am so happy!" And Maria, who remembered only too vividly the bare-headed youth she had seen for a moment, gladly accepted the office. A spirit of keen pleasure was in the dingy little kitchen, and the girls moved gaily to it. "You shall carry the coffee, and I will carry the steak,"
said Agnes; "the bread and the china are already placed." So laughing and chatting, and delighted with their service the two girls entered the summer-house.
"Harry," said Agnes, "this is my friend, Maria Semple; and Maria, this is Harry Deane." And Harry looked with frank eyes into Maria's eyes, and in a moment they knew each other. What was this strange impression made by a look? Not a word was spoken, but the soul salutation through meeting eyes was a far more overwhelming influence than any spoken word could have evoked. Then came the current forms of courtesy, and the happy tones of low laughter slipping in between the mingling of voices, or the soft tinkling of glass and china, and everyone knows that as soon as talking begins the divine gates close. It mattered not, Maria knew that something wonderful had happened to her; and never in all her subsequent life could she forget that breakfast under the clematis vines.
Swiftly the hot, still hours of the mid-day passed. The city was torpid in the quivering heat. There was no stir of traffic--no lumbering sound of loaded wagons--no noise of shouting drivers--no footsteps of hurrying men.
The streets were almost empty; the very houses seemed asleep. Only the cicadas ran from hedge to hedge calling shrilly; or now and then a solitary trumpet stirred the drowsy air, or, in the vicinity of the prisons, the moaning of the dying men, made the silence terribly vocal.
"Let us go into the house," said Agnes, "it will be cooler there." And they took Maria's hands and went to the shaded parlor. Then Harry drew some cool water from the well, and as they drank it they remembered the men in the various prisons and their pitiful need of water at all times.
"They are the true heroes," said Agnes; "tortured by heat and by cold, by cruel hunger and more cruel thirst, in all extremities of pain and sorrow, they are paying their life blood, drop by drop, like coin, for our freedom."
"And when our freedom is won," answered Harry, "we will give to the dead their due. They, too, have saved us."
"Do you think, Harry, this French alliance is going to end the war?"
"Those who know best say it will. But these Frenchmen are giving Washington no end of trouble. They are CHAPTER IV.
mostly military adventurers. They worry Washington for promotion and for increase of pay; they have only their own interest in view. They scorn our privations and simplicity, and their demands can only be gratified at the expense of native officers whose rights they unjustly wish to invade. Yet I am told that without French money and French help we should have to give up the struggle. I don't believe it. Starving and demoralized as our army is, there are many who will never give up while Washington is alive to lead them."
"If I was a rebel," said Maria, "I should want our freedom won by our own hands only. The French are coming here at the last hour, and they will get all the credit. Do you think it is for love of freedom they help the Americans? If so, why do they not give freedom to France? She has the most tyrannical and despotic of governments; Uncle Neil says so; and yet she pretends to thrill with indignation because England violates the liberties of her colonies. France had better mind her own affairs, or, as grandmother says, she will scald herself with other people's broth."
"God made the French, and He may understand them, I do not," answered Harry. "Fancy the French government allowing our Declaration of Independence to be translated and scattered broadcast all over the country! No wonder that Lafayette smiled grimly when he heard of it; no wonder he said that 'the principles of government we had announced would soon be heard from in France.' He can see the results, but the king and queen--who catch up every fashion and every enthusiasm with childish levity--do not imagine any one will have the audacity to apply American principles of government to the French monarchy. 'Give me good news from our dear American republicans,' is always Marie Antoinette's greeting to Franklin, and he himself is one of her prime favorites."
"Oh, he is a cunning old man," said Maria. "I have heard grandfather talk about him. I am sure he is disagreeable; yet the French have his picture on their snuff-boxes and rings and brooches. It is such foolishness. And Uncle Neil--who is a very clever lawyer--says some very disparaging things about this famous Declaration. It is at least most inconsistent."
Harry looked his dissent, and Agnes said: "Perhaps you did not understand your uncle, Maria."
"I am not quite a fool, Agnes. In one respect I am cleverer than Mr. Jefferson. Imagine an assembly composed largely, like himself, of slave-owners, saying 'that all men were created equal, and were given by God an unalienable right to liberty.' And do you think if I were king or queen of France I would scatter a paper in every house telling my miserable, starving subjects, that 'whenever a government did not do what it ought to do, it was the right of the people to alter or abolish it.' Indeed, I think King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette will be sorry some day for teaching their people American ideas of government."
"What do they say in England about the French alliance?" asked Agnes.
"The Parliament declares we have not only rebelled against the mother-country, but also mortgaged ourselves to her enemy; and that if we are to become an accession to France, self-preservation requires England to make that accession of as little value as possible. That does not sound very bad, Agnes, but it means killing men, women and children, burning houses, ravaging land, and making life so wretched that death will be preferable.
Now you understand such expeditions as Matthew's and Tryon's. So I say with Miss Semple, it is a pity for many reasons we had to beg foreign help; especially from the three nations who are hereditary foes of England."
"The French did not help you much at Newport," said Maria scornfully.
"They left us in the very oncoming of the battle; as soon as Lord Howe came in sight--sailed away to the West Indies, where they had plans of their own to carry out. The indignation of our army was beyond description; no one but Washington could at this time have kept peace between the French and American soldiers. Their jealousy was flaming, and Washington could not help saying he wished there was not a foreigner in the army CHAPTER IV.
but Lafayette. But when Necessity compels, it becomes Destiny, eh, Agnes?"
"Yes. I think England must now be in a very dangerous predicament, Harry."
"She has thirteen colonies in revolt; France, Spain, Holland, uniting against her, and a large majority of her own people conspicuously in our favor. Our old mother-country! I am sorry for her, for she is ours, and we are her sons, even though we have been compelled to rebel against her."
"I think it is England that has rebelled against us," said Agnes. "She has repudiated our chartered rights, and made us aliens to the laws and privileges which are our natural heritage. England is traitor to America, and I don't see why you should be sorry for her."
"Can you take the English blood out of my heart? No. I want our Independence, that we must have, nothing less will now satisfy us; but I don't want to see three other nations, who have no business in our family quarrel, badgering the old mother. If you had a liking for some noble old mastiff, and saw him attacked by three strange dogs, how would you feel?"
"Well, Harry, if the mastiff was hurting me, I might feel obliged to the strange dogs. I do not wonder that France, Spain, and Holland should take this opportunity to fight England; but I do wonder that Englishmen, living in England, should be on our side."
"They have been so from the very first. The King has found it impossible to get soldiers to fight us. They regard us as their countrymen. They refuse to acknowledge the war as an 'English' war; they call it 'The King's War'; and they look upon our victories as triumphs for representative government. I saw a letter from Judge Curwen of Boston, in which he says he visited a large factory in Birmingham where they were making rifles to be used by the English troops in America; and he found that the proprietor, as well as every man thus employed, was enthusiastically on our side. Fox spoke of an English success on Long Island as 'the terrible news from America'; and many say that the Whig party, of which he is the leader, adopted blue and buff for their colors, because Washington had chosen them for his troop. In both houses of Parliament we have many powerful friends, and the American cause is spoken of throughout England as the cause of Liberty."
"Oh, you must be mistaken!" cried Maria. "Grandfather says things very different; and if England is for us, why does the war go on? Whose fault is that."
"It is the fault of King George; the most stupid of men, but with a will as indomitable as the beasts of the desert. Not even King Charles was so determined to ruin himself and the nation. He is cruel as he is immovable. It is The King's War, my mistresses, and only the King's friends and sycophants and the clergy defend it."
"And what will those Englishmen who would not lift a finger against us do against our allies?"
"Do? They are preparing with joyful enthusiasm to fight their old enemies. It made my heart throb to hear how they were jumping to arms, at the mere idea of a French and Spanish fleet in the English Channel."
"You are half an Englishman, Mr. Deane," said Maria.
"No," he answered warmly; "I am out and out, from head to foot, an American! I was born here, bred here, and I shall live and die here; nor do I wish to live in any other country. But brave men and free men feel with a gigantic throb each other's rights and wrongs, even across oceans--thus we are brothers. And the roots of my being are somewhere in England; I can not cut myself loose from them; I do not wish to. The feeling belongs to the unknown side of human reasons--but it governs me."
"I thought," said Maria, "you would talk about nothing but Washington, and you have hardly named him. Is he as great a man as we are told he is? Or does he have faults like the rest of poor mortals?"
"Indeed, Miss Semple, he is so great a man I have forgotten whether he has a fault. He is such a man as men build their love round while he leads them on the way to immortality. Often I have seen the whole army shaken, confused, hopeless; but Washington never shrank, or slipped, or compromised; he looked unswervingly to the end. He is the Moses of America; our people's hope, our young men's idol, our old men's staff and sword. And even physically, who would compare our god-like Washington with this?" and he took from his pocket-case a pen-and-ink sketch of King George, taken at the beginning of the war and showed it to the girls.
They looked at it curiously, and Maria said: "Surely, Mr. Deane, that is not a true likeness; it is what you call a pasquil--a lampoon--to make ridiculous his Majesty."
"It is not intended as a lampoon. But I never see it without thinking of the mighty ghosts of the great Henrys, and the armed Edwards, and then I wonder if they are not watching, with anger and amazement, the idiotic folly of this German."
"I must really go home now," said Maria. She spoke as if she had all at once become aware of the gravity of the words she was listening to. "I should not have stopped so long. Grandmother is not well."
And she thought Agnes was not sorry to bid her good-bye; "but that is natural," she reflected, "I suppose I should feel the same. She must have a great many things to tell such a lover. I dare be bound I have been much in the way."
Her feelings were captious and impetuous, and she walked rapidly to them, in spite of the heat. Somehow she was not pleased with Agnes, and Harry Deane also had bid her but a formal farewell. And yet not formal, for when he held her hand a moment, he laid it open within his own, and said with a look she could not forget,
"my life lies there. I have put it in your hand myself, knowingly, willingly." And she had clasped his hand and answered gravely:
"It is as safe there as it would be in the hand of your mother--or of Agnes."
It was not Harry that she was fretted at, it was Agnes. She felt that in some way Agnes had deceived her. She had not said secrecy would include hours of rebel conversation--"and I wonder at myself for listening to it,"
said the little woman angrily. "I suppose it was Mr Deane--men talk women down. I know I should not have let Agnes talk in that way to me--just as if I believed all he said! If Uncle Neil had been there, he would have scattered every word to the four winds with little trouble. And," she continued, with rising temper, "I don't think Agnes acts fairly to Uncle Neil. He is her devoted lover, and she knows it, she must know it. People don't walk slowly up and down in the moonlight and not know such things. I am, they say, only a child, but I have walked with Captain Macpherson in the moonlight, and I know how amiable it makes me feel. I am disappointed in Agnes!" and she really felt at that moment as if her friend had done her some great wrong. So much easier is it to blame others than to look deep down into our own hearts for the reason of dissatisfaction.
For whenever we are disappointed, we are disappointed with ourselves, though we may not admit it.
When she entered the Semple garden she was encompassed with the delicious perfume of carnations. Then she remembered that they were her grandfather's favorite flower, and that before the war his garden had been a wonder and delight with their beauty and fragrance. And in some subtle way, the flowers made an avenue for a spiritual influence, more in accord with the natural uprightness of the girl's nature. She sighed and sauntered through the scented space, and as she did so, began to make her confession. "Perhaps it was my fault--perhaps I was just a little jealous--it is not pleasant to be the outside one; if Captain Macpherson, or even that stupid Lord Medway had been my servant I should not have felt so small; but that was not the fault CHAPTER IV.
of Agnes--nevertheless, Agnes ought not to treat Uncle Neil badly."
It was a kind of inconsequent reasoning, but it restored her to herself, and she entered the house very cheerfully, looking into the parlor first of all, to see whom she could find to talk to. All the rooms down stairs were sweet with the same enthralling odor of carnations; but they were dusky, silent and empty; and she went to her grandmother's room on the second floor. "Are you awake, dear grandmother?" she asked, as she tapped gently on the door.
"Come in, dearie," was the answer, and Madame raised herself from the bed as Maria entered and went to a large chair by the open window. "It is hotter than needs be," she said, "and I have had company."
"Who has been here, grandmother?"
"Mrs. Jermyn brought us an invitation to the Bayards. It is for a three days' visit."
"I am so happy. I have heard about Colonel Bayard's fine house on the Heights; you will surely go, grandmother?"
"I can not go, Maria; but Mrs. Jermyn offered to take you in her party; and to that I am agreeable. Madame Jacobus will go with you, and I am vera fond o' Madame Jacobus. She is not an ordinary woman; she has had romantics in her life, and the vera look o' her sets you thinking o' all sorts o' impossibilities. Tell her Madame Semple keeps good mind o' her, and would be glad to see her again;" then she added sharply, "Mrs. Gordon was with her. I was quite taken aback. I was all in a tremble at first."
"She is so anxious to be friends with you; can't you forgive her, grandmother? It is a long time since."
"Maria Semple, no one is mair willing than I am, to let byganes be byganes. But mind this, there are folks simply unlucky to you, and not intending it; and Adelaide Gordon and Janet Semple are best apart. She is one o' them women who bring happenings and events, and I notice they are not pleasant or favorable. You will hae heard say, Maria, wha it is, that sends a woman, where he canna go himsel'. Cousin Gordon means no harm--but."
"Indeed, she really likes you. She talks to me of the days she lived with you, and of all your kindness to her. It was Katherine Van Heemskirk that behaved badly. I don't think I like that person--and I want you to forgive Mrs. Gordon."
"I have forgiven Mrs. Gordon, Maria. Do you think I would put the Lord's prayer behind my back for Adelaide Gordon? And I couldna dare to say it and not forgive her; but to love your friend, and look to yoursel' isna out o' the way o' wisdom."
"When am I to go, grandmother?"
"Mrs. Jermyn will call for you at ten o'clock tomorrow morning. How about thae lessons, and the 'extras' you were speaking o'?"
"It is such warm weather. I think I ought to have my holiday now; and what about my frocks, grandmother?
Shall I not have to pack my small trunk?"
This subject was, of course, paramount, and Madame went to Maria's room with her, and the proper garments were selected and packed. Very soon the whole house was infected with the hurry and excitement of the little lady, and the Elder tried to join in the discussion and employment; it being one of his pet ideas that he had a pretty taste about women's clothing. But his first suggestion that the simple frock of India chintz Maria was CHAPTER IV.
wearing was a most becoming morning gown, met with such a decided rebuff he had no courage left for further advice. For Maria looking scornfully down at its short simplicity asked, "Why do you not advise a white ruffled pinafore also, grandfather? Then I would be fit for an infant school. I am a young lady now," she continued, as she spread out its three breadths to their utmost capacity, showing in the act the prettiest little feet, shod in bronze leather with red rosettes on the instep. And when a man finds his opinions out of date, what can he do but retire with them into silence?
The quiet that fell upon the house after Maria's departure was a grateful respite. The old people sat down with a sigh of relief, and while they praised their granddaughter's sweet nature, and talked proudly of all her excellences, they were not sorry to be at rest for a day or two. Neither was the Elder sorry to casually notice the absence of Maria to certain royalist upstarts who had won wealth through their chicaneries, but who had not been able to win the social notice they craved.
"Elder Semple may be pinched, now and then, for a few sovereigns," he thought, "but he and his can sit down with the highest of the King's servants and be counted one o' them. And it will be lang ere the Paynes and the Bradleys and many others I could name, will get that far!"
Such reflections gave to the old gentleman's steps something of the carriage of his more prosperous days; he looked outward and upward in his old manner, and thus saw Mr. Cohen, the Jewish trader, standing in his shop door. He asked pleasantly after his health, and by so doing brought a few good words on himself, which somehow went warmly to his heart. In this amiable temper he passed the famous saddlery shop. John Bradley was just dismissing a customer. He was wearing his apron of blue and white ticking, and had a paper cap upon his head, and he looked precisely what he was--a capable, self-respecting workman. Semple had always permitted a polite salutation to cover all claims on his courtesy that Bradley might have; but this morning he said with a friendly air, "How's all with you, Mr. Bradley? Will you tell your charming daughter that her friend, Miss Semple, has gone wi' a party o' our military friends to the Bayards' for a three days' visit?"
"Agnes will miss her friend, Elder."
"Yes, yes! They went off this morning early, up the river wi' music and singing. Young things, most o' them, Mr. Bradley, and we must make allowances."
"If we must, we must, Elder. And God knows, if it isn't the lute and the viol, and the tinkling feet of the foolish maidens, it is the trumpet, and the sword, and the hell of the battlefield. Evil times we are fallen on, sir."
"But they are to bring us good times. We must not doubt that. My respects, sir, to Miss Bradley, who has a voice to lift a soul on the wings of melody, heavenward. Good day, sir."
Semple went forward a little dashed, he hardly knew why; and Bradley was chagrined. He had tried to say something that should not only represent himself, but also acknowledge the kindness he was sensible of; but he had only blundered into commonplaces, and quite against his will, shown much of his roughest side. Why did he include the Elder's granddaughter among the tinkling feet of foolish maidens? She was the friend of his own child also. He felt that he had had an opportunity and mismanaged it, and a sense of his inabilities in all social matters mortified and fretted him all the day afterward.
Maria was expected home in three days, but she did not come. Her party went directly from the Bayard house to Hempstead, where Colonel Birch was entertaining a large company from the city; so it was fully a week before the young lady returned to New York. In the meantime Destiny was not asleep, and affairs in which Maria was interested did not lie still waiting for her reappearance.
Maria had left a message for Agnes with her uncle, and he resolved to take it personally that evening. But as CHAPTER IV.
he was drinking his tea the Elder said, "I saw Mr. Bradley this morning, and I sent word by him to his daughter anent Maria's absence." Neil did not make any answer, but his mother noticed the sweep of color up and down his dark face, and she was on the point of saying, "you hae taken the job out o' hands that would hae done it better, gudeman." But the wisdom and kindness of silence was granted her; yet the Elder felt his remark to be unpropitious, and sighed. There were so many subjects these days that he made mistakes about; and he had a moment's recollection of his old authoritative speech, and a wonder as to what had happened him. Was it that he had fallen out of the ranks of the workers of the world? Or, was it because he was growing old? He was silent, and so pathetic in his silence, that Neil observed it and blamed himself.
"Father," he said, "pardon me! I was thinking. I have been with Major Crosby all day about the Barrack Department finances, and that is not work to be talked about. It is well you told Mr. Bradley of Maria's absence."
"I wonder you did not go with Maria; you had an invitation."
"Yes, I had an invitation, but I had engagements of more importance with Brigadier Skinner and Treasurer McEvers. McEvers is to pay me with wood from a rebel tract granted him. So when the cold weather comes we shall not require to count the sticks; we can at least keep warm."
He rose with these words and went to his room. He told himself that he would there consider a visit to Miss Bradley, and yet he knew that he intended to make it no matter what considerations came up for his deliberation. Not for a moment did he deceive himself; he was well aware that for the first time in his life he was really in love. He admitted frankly that his early passion for the pretty Katherine Van Heemskirk had been a selfish affair; and that his duel with Captain Hyde was fought, not so much for love of Katherine, as for hatred and jealousy of his rival. He had never loved Katherine as he loved Agnes, for it was the soul of Agnes that attracted him and drew him to her by a gravitation, like that which one star exerts upon another. His first love he had watched grow from childhood to maidenhood; he could count on his fingers the number of times he had seen Agnes Bradley; and yet from this slender experience there had sprung an invincible longing to say to her, "O, Soul of my Soul, I love you! I need you!"
Yet to make Agnes his wife at this time was to make sacrifices that he durst not contemplate. They included the forfeiture of his social position, and this loss was certain to entail the same result on his political standing and emoluments. His father was connected with his financial affairs, and to ruin himself meant also ruin to the parents he loved so truly. Then the sudden fear that assails honest lovers made his heart tremble; Agnes might have scruples and reluctances; she might not be able to love him; she might love some other man, Maria had named such a probability; with a motion of his hand he swept all contingencies aside; no difficulties should abate his ardor; he loved Agnes Bradley and he was determined to win her.
With this decision he rose, stood before his mirror, and looked at himself. Too proud a man to be infected with so small a vice as vanity, he regarded his personality without unreasonable favor. "I am still handsome,"
he said. "If I have not youth, I have in its place the perfection of my own being; I am now in the prime of life, and have not begun to fall away from it. Many young and beautiful women have shown me favor I never sought. Now, I will seek favor; I will woo it, beg it, pray for it. I will do anything within honor and honesty to win this woman of my soul, this adorable Agnes!"
He found her in the garden of her home; that is, she was sitting on the topmost step of the short flight leading to the door. Her silent, penetrative loveliness encompassed her like an atmosphere in which all the shafts of the shelterless, worrying day fell harmless. She smiled more than spoke her welcome, and her eyes unbarred her soul so that they seemed to understand each other at a glance; for Neil's love was set far above all passionate tones of welcome or personal adulation. Sitting quiet by her side he noticed a man walking constantly before the house, and he pointed out the circumstance to Agnes.
"He will walk there until my father comes home," she answered. "It is Elias Hurd the chapel keeper. Father pays him to come here every day at sunset and watch till he returns."
"Your words take a great fear from me," said Neil; and then, though his heart was brim full he could say no more. Silence again enfolded them, and the song in each heart remained unsung. Yet the overwhelming influence of feelings which had not found words was upon them, and this speechless interlude had been to both the clearest of revealers.
After a week's pleasure-seeking Maria returned home. It was in the middle of a hot afternoon, and life was at its most languid pitch. The Elder was asleep in his chair, Madame asleep on the sofa, and the negroes dozing in the kitchen. Her entry aroused the house, her personality instantly filled it. She was flushed and tired, but alive with the egotistical spirit of youth. "Were you not expecting me?" she asked with an air of injury, as she entered the drowsy, tidy house. "And I do want a cup of tea so much, grandmother."
"You were coming Monday, and then you were coming Wednesday; we did not know whether you would come to-day or not; but you are very welcome, dear, and you shall have tea in ten minutes."
She went upstairs while it was preparing, took off her bonnet and her silk coat, dashed cool water over her flushed face and shoulders and arms, wet her hair and brushed it backward, and then put on a loose gown of thin muslin. "Now I can drink my tea in comfort," she said, "and just talk at my leisure. And dear me! What a week of tumult it has been!"
"Have you enjoyed your visits?" asked the Elder when she reappeared.
"So, so, grandfather," she answered; and as she spoke, she lifted the small tea-table close to his side, and whispered on his cheek, "you will have a cup of tea with me, dear grandfather, I shall not enjoy mine unless you do." He said "pooh! pooh! child," but he was delighted, and with beaming smiles watched her small hands busy among the china, and the bread and meat.
"I am downright hungry," she said. "We had breakfast before leaving, but that seems hours and hours ago, and, O grandmother! there is no tea and bread like yours in all the world."
Then she began her long gossip concerning people and events: the water parties on the river, the picnics in the woods, the dancing and gambling and games in the house. "And I must tell you," she said, "that really and truly, I was the most admired of all the beauties there. The ladies all envied my frocks, and asked where I got them, and begged for the patterns; and I wished I had taken more with me. It is so exhilarating to have a new one for every evening. Lord Medway said every fresh one became me better than the last."
"Lord Medway!" said the Elder. "Is he that long, lazy man that trails after General Clinton like his shadow?"
"Well, they love each other. It seems funny for men to love one another; but General Clinton and Lord Ernest Medway are like David and Jonathan."
"Maria Semple!" cried Madame, "I think you might even the like o' Clinton and the English Lord, to some one o' less respectability than Bible characters."
"O grandmother! General Clinton is just as blood-thirsty as General David ever was. He hates his enemies quite as perfectly, and wishes them all the same sorts and kinds of calamities. I don't know whether Jonathan was good-natured, but Lord Medway is. He danced with me as often as I would let him, and he danced with nobody else! think of that, grandmother! the women were all madly jealous of me. I did not care for that much."
"Janet, dear," said the Elder to his wife, "if you had ever seen this Lord Medway trailing up William Street or Maiden Lane, you wouldna believe the lassie. He is just the maist inert piece o' humanity you could imagine.
Dancing! Tuts! Tuts! lassie!"
"He can dance, grandfather. Mrs. Gordon said the way he led me through a minuet was adorable; and Major Andre told me that in a skirmish or a cavalry charge, no one could match him. He was the hardest rider and fiercest fighter in the army."
"Weel, weel!" said Madame, "a man that isna roused by anything short o' a battle or a cavalry charge, might be easy to live with--if you have any notion for English lords."
"Indeed, I have not any notion for Lord Medway. He is the most provoking of men. He takes no interest in games, he won't stake money on cards, he listened to the music with his eyes shut; and when Miss Robertson and Major Andre acted a little piece the Major had written, he pretended to be asleep. He was not asleep, for I caught him awake, and he smiled at me, as much as to say that I knew all about his deception, and sanctioned it. I told him so afterward, and he laughed so heartily that every one looked amazed, and what do you think he said? 'It is a fact, ladies; I really laughed, but it is Miss Semple's fault.' I don't think, grandmother, I would have been invited to Hempstead if he had not let it be known that he was not going unless Miss Semple went."
"Is he in love with you?"
"He thinks he is."
"Are you in love with him?"
Maria smiled, and with her teacup half-way to her mouth hummed a line from an old Scotch song:
"I'm glad that my heart's my ain."
Such conversation, touching many people and many topics, was naturally prolonged, and when Neil came home it was carried on with renewed interest and vigor. And Maria was not deceived when Neil with some transparent excuse of 'going to see a friend' went out at twilight.
"He is going to see Agnes," she thought; "my coming home is too good an excuse to lose, but why did he not tell me? Lovers are so sly, and yet all their cunning is useless. People always see through their little moves. In the morning I shall go to Agnes, and I hope she will not be too advising, because I am old enough to have my own ideas: besides, I have some experiences."
All the way to her friend's house in the morning, she was making resolutions which vanished as soon as they were put to the test. It was only too easy to fall into her old confidential way, to tell all she had seen and heard and felt; to be petted and admired and advised. Also, she could relate many little episodes to Agnes that she had not felt disposed to tell her grandparents, or even Neil--compliments and protestations, and sundry "spats"
of envy and jealousy with the ladies of the party. But the conversation settled mainly, however often it diverged, upon Lord Medway. Agnes had often heard her father speak of him. He knew John Wesley, and had asked him to preach at Market-Medway to his tenants and servants; and on the anniversary of the Wesley Chapel in John Street he had given Mr. Bradley twenty pounds toward the Chapel fund. "He is a far finer man than he affects to be," she added, "and father says he wears that drawling, trailing habit like a cloak, to hide his real nature. Do you think he has fallen in love with you, Maria?"
"Would it be a very unlikely thing to happen, Agnes? He danced only with me, and when Major Andre arranged the Musical Masque, he consented to sing only on the condition that I sang with him."
"And what else, Maria?"
"One evening Quentin Macpherson danced the Scotch sword dance--a very clever barbaric thing--but I did not like it; the man looks better at the head of his company. However, he sang a little song called 'The Soldier's Kiss' that was pretty enough. The melody went in this way"--and Maria hummed a strain that sounded like the gallop of horses and shaking of bridles--"I only remember the chorus," she said.
"A kiss, Sweet, a kiss, Sweet, For the drums are beat along the street, And we part, and know not when we meet, With another kiss like this, Sweet.
"And Lord Medway whispered to me that Shakespeare had said it all far better in one line, 'Touch her soft mouth and march.' In Major Andre's masque we had a charming little verse; I brought you a copy of it, see, here it is. The first two lines have a sweet crescendo melody; at the third line there was a fanfare of trumpets in the distance and the gentlemen rattled their swords. The fourth line we sang alone, and at the close Lord Medway bowed to me, and the whole room took up the refrain." Then the girls leaned over the paper, and Agnes read the words aloud slowly, evidently committing them to her memory as she read:
"A song of a single note! But it soars and swells above The trumpet's call, and the clash of arms, For the name of the song is Love."
"Now sing me the melody, Maria," said Agnes; and Maria sang, and Agnes listened, and then they sang it together until it was perfect. "Just once more," said Maria, and as they reached the close of the verse, a strong, musical voice joined in the refrain, and then Harry came into the room singing it.
"Harry! Harry!" cried Agnes, joyfully.
"And the name of the song is Love!" he answered, taking Agnes in his arms and kissing the word on her lips.
Then he turned with a glowing face to Maria, and she bent her head a little proudly, and remained silent. But soon Agnes went away to order coffee for her visitor, and then Harry sat down by Maria, and asked to see the song, and their hands met above the passionate words, and the dumb letters became vocal. They sang them over and over, their clear, fresh voices growing softer and softer, till, almost in a whisper of delight, they uttered the last word "Love!" Then he looked at her as only a lover can look, and she looked at him like one who suddenly awakens. Her past was a sleep, a dream; that moment her life began. And she had all the tremors that mark the beginnings of life; a great quiet fell upon her, and she wanted to go into solitude and examine this wonderful experience. For Harry had stirred one of those unknown soul depths that only Love ventures down to.
When Agnes returned she said she must go home, her grandmother was not well; and then she blundered into such a number of foolish excuses as made Agnes look curiously, perhaps anxiously, at her. And for several days she continued these excuses; she sent Neil with messages and letters, but she did not go to her friend.
There was something wrong between them, and Maria finally threw the blame upon Agnes.
"Any one may see that she is deceiving either Harry or uncle Neil--and I hate a deceiver. It is not fair--I am sure if Harry knew about uncle--if he was not engaged to Agnes--Oh, no! I must not think of him. Poor uncle Neil! If Agnes treats him badly, I shall never forgive her, never!" Thus, and so on, ran her reflections day after day, and yet she had not the courage to go and talk the matter out with Agnes. But she noticed an unusual exaltation in her uncle's manner; he dressed with more than his usual sombre richness; he seemed to tread upon air, and though more silent than ever, a smile of great sweetness was constantly on his lips. And one afternoon as Maria sat at her tambour frame, Madame entered the parlor hastily, looking almost frightened.
"Do you hear him? Your uncle, I mean. Do you hear him, Maria?" she cried. "He is singing. He must be fey. I haven't heard him sing since he was a lad going to Paul Gerome's singing class. It's uncanny! It frightens me!
And what is he singing, Maria?"
And Maria lifting a calm face answered-- "The name of the song is Love."
LOVE'S SWEET DREAM.
It is not truth, but falsehood which requires explanation, and Maria was sensible of this fact as she sat at her tambour frame thinking of Agnes and of Harry and of her uncle Neil. There was something not straightforward in the life of Agnes, and she resolved every day to make inquiry into it, and every day she made, instead, some deferring excuse. But one morning, while eating breakfast, they were all sensitive to unusual movements in the city, and the air was tense with human emotion. The Elder and Neil became restless and anticipative, and Maria could not escape the feverish mental contagion. When the men had left the house she hurried through her few duties, and then went to her friend. Agnes was standing at the garden gate, watching and listening. "There is news of some kind, Maria," she said; "I am anxious to know what it is."
"Grandmother says we need not run after news, it will find us out, and I dare say it is only more Connecticut ravaging."
Then Agnes turned into the house with Maria, for she perceived something unusual in her voice and manner--dissatisfaction, and perhaps a tone of injury. There was no pretence of study about her, she had not even brought her books, and Agnes became silent, and lifted her sewing. At length Maria spoke:
"What is the matter with you, Agnes?" she asked, and then added: "you are not like yourself this morning."
"Whatever the matter is, Maria, I caught it from you."
"You are cross."
"I was only curious and anxious when you came. You brought dissatisfaction and annoyance with you. I think you had better tell me at once what has displeased you."
"Oh, you must know what displeases me, Agnes. Do you think I can bear to see you playing with two lovers at once? I am very fond of my uncle Neil, and he adores you. And when Harry is away, uncle Neil is everything; but as soon as Harry comes, then Harry is everything. It is not fair to uncle, and I do not approve of such ways. If I were to act in that kind of fashion between Lord Medway and Quentin Macpherson, who would be so shocked as Agnes Bradley? I am so disappointed in you, Agnes. I have not been able to come and see you for days; this morning I felt that I must speak to you about things."
"Maria, I once asked you to defer judgment on whatever you saw or heard or suspected, and to take my word for it being all right. It seems that I asked too much."
"But how can it be all right, if you allow two men to make love to you?--and you seem to like it from both of them."
"I do like it--from both of them. The two loves are different."
"Agnes! Agnes! I am shocked at you!" and Maria hid her face on the sofa cushion and began to cry.
Then Agnes knelt at her side, and lifted her face and kissed it, and whispered four words in her ear; and there was a look of wonder, and Maria asked softly, "Why did you not tell me before?"
"I thought every time you saw him you would surely guess the truth."
"I did not."
"You must have seen also that Harry is deeply in love with you. Now, how could he be in love with me also?"
"Harry in love with me! O Agnes!"
"You know it. Love cannot be hid. Only lovers look at a woman as I have seen Harry look at you."
"I do think Harry likes me, and I felt as if--I don't know what I felt, Agnes. I am very unhappy."
"Let me tell you what you felt. You said to yourself: if Harry was not bound to Agnes he would be my lover; and Agnes does not care for him, she does not treat him well, and yet she treats him too well to be doing right to uncle Neil. You would include your uncle, because you would feel it selfish to be wounded and disappointed only on your own account."
"You ought not to speak in that way, Agnes. Suppose I had such feelings, it is not nice of you to put them into words so plain and rude."
"I do not blame you, Maria. Your attitude is natural, and specially womanly. It is I who have been wrong. I must now excuse myself to you; once you said you could believe in me without explanations."
"Forgive me, Agnes. I do not want explanations now."
"For I have told you that Harry is my brother, not my lover. That is the main fact, and accounts for all that specially troubles you. Now you must know the whole truth. Harry was sent to England out of the way of the war, for my father lives and moves in his being and welfare. But Harry wanted to be in the thick of the war; he wanted the post of most danger for his country's sake. He said he was ashamed to be in England; that every American who could be in active service ought to be there, because it might be, God intended to use just him.
I gave in to all he proposed; I had no heart to resist him. I only stipulated that come what would, our father should not know he was in the country."
"Why did you not tell me at first that he was your brother?"
"Harry is handsome, and I was afraid you might be attracted by him; and the secrecy and romance of the situation and the danger he was constantly facing--these are things that capture a woman's imagination. And marriage is such an important affair, I could not think it right to run the risk of engaging you to Harry unknown to your father or friends. I told Harry that you believed him to be my lover, and I was sure that this belief would save you from thinking of him in any light but that of a friend or brother."
"It ought to have done, dear Agnes; it did do--but Harry."
"I know, at Harry's second visit, if not at his first, he was your lover; and I knew that this explanation must come. Now, I can only beg you to keep the knowledge of Harry Bradley's presence in America absolutely to yourself. I assure you, if father knew he was here and in constant danger, he would be distracted."
"But does he not suspect? He must wonder that Harry does not write to him."
"Harry does write. He sends letters to a friend in London, who re-mails them to father. About three times a year father gets a London letter, and that satisfies him. And he so little suspects Harry's presence in America that the boy has passed his father on the street without the slightest recognition on father's part; for he has more disguises than you could believe possible. I have seen him as a poor country doctor, buying medicines for his settlement; as an old schoolmaster, after a few books and slates at Rivington's; and a week ago, I met him one day shouting to the horses which were pulling a load of wood up Golden Hill. And he has no more transitions than a score of other young men who serve their country in this secret and dangerous manner. I can CHAPTER V.
assure you General Washington's agents go in and out of New York constantly, and it is beyond the power of England to prevent them."
"Suppose in some evil hour he should be suspected! Oh, Agnes!"
"There are houses in every street in the city where a window or a door is always left open. Harry told me he knew of sixteen, and that he could pass from one to the other in safety."
"Suppose he should be noticed on the river, at your landing or any other."
"He can swim like a fish and dive like a seal and run like a deer. The river banks that look like a tangle to you and me, are clear as a highway to Harry. And you know it is the East river that is watched; no one thinks much about the water on this side; especially so near the fort. I do not think Harry is in any great danger; and he will be mainly on the river now for some months."
"I wish I had not said a word, Agnes, I am so sorry! So sorry!"
"We are always sorry when we doubt. I felt that you were mistrusting me, and I promised Harry, on his last visit, to tell you the truth before he came again. I have been waiting for you all week. I should have told you to-day, even if you had not said a word."
"I shall never forgive myself."
"I was wrong also, Maria. I ought, at the first, to have trusted you fully."
"Or not trusted me at all, Agnes."
"You are right, Maria."
A great chagrin made Maria miserable. A little faith, a little patience, and the information she had demanded in spirit unlovely and unloving, would have come to her by Harry's desire, and with the affectionate confidence of Agnes. But neither of the girls were fully satisfied or happy, and the topic was dropped. Both felt that the matter would have to rest, in order to clear itself, and Agnes was not unconscious of those mute powers within, which, if left to themselves, clear noiselessly away the debris of our disputes and disappointments. She proposed a walk in the afternoon; she said she had shopping to do, and if there was any news, they would likely hear it from some one.
There was evidently news, and Agnes at once judged it unfavorable for the royalists. The military were moving with sullen port; the houses were generally closed, and the people on the streets not inclined to linger or to talk. "We had better ask my father," she said, and they turned aside to Bradley's store to make the inquiry. The saddler was standing at the door talking to Lord Medway; and his eyes flashed an instant's triumphant signal as they caught his daughter's glance of inquiry. But he kept his stolid air, and when he found Lord Medway and Maria so familiarly pleased to meet each other, he introduced Agnes and gave a ready acquiescence to Lord Medway's proposal to walk with the ladies home.
Then, Maria, suddenly brilliant with a sense of her power, asked, "What is the matter with the city this afternoon? Every one seems so depressed and ill-humored."
"We have lost Stony Point," answered Medway. "There was a midnight attack by twelve hundred picked men.
It was an incomparable deed of daring. I would like to have been present. I said to General Clinton when I heard the story, 'Such men are born to rule, and coming from the stock they do, you will never subdue them!'"
"Who led the attack?" asked Agnes.
"Anthony Wayne, a brave daring man, they tell me. The Frenchman, De Fleury, was first in, and he hauled down our flags. Dash it! If it had been an American, I would not have cared so much. Now, perhaps, Generals Clinton and Tryon will understand the kind of men they have to fight. When Americans fight Englishmen, it is Greek meeting Greek. Clinton tells me the rebels have taken four thousand pounds' worth of ordnance and stores and nearly seven hundred prisoners. Oh, you know a deed like this makes even an enemy proud of the men who could do it!"
"Was it a very difficult deed?" asked Maria.
"I am told that Stony Point is a rock two hundred feet high, surrounded by the Hudson River on three sides, and almost isolated from the land on the fourth side by a marsh, which at high tide is two feet under water.
They reached the fort about midnight, and while one column drew the defenders to the front by a rapid continuous fire, two other columns, armed only with the bayonet, broke into the fort from opposite points. In five minutes the rebels were rushing through every embrasure, and a thousand tongues crying 'Victory'! There is no use belittling such an affair. It was as brave a thing as ever men did, and I wish I had seen the doing of it."
In such conversation they passed up Maiden Lane, and by the ruins of Trinity Church to the river side; all of them influenced by the tense feeling which found no vocal outlet for its passion. Men and women would appear for a moment at a window, and then disappear. They were American patriots on the look-out to spread the good news. A flash from the lifted eyes of Agnes was sufficient. Again they would meet two or three royalists talking in a dejected, disparaging way of the victory; or else blustering in anger over the supineness or inefficiency of their generals.
"I hope General Clinton will now find his soldiers some tougher work than hay-making," sneered an irate old man who stopped Lord Medway. "If he goes out hay-making, he ought to leave fighting men in the forts. Why the commander at Stony Point--Colonel Johnson--I know him, had a wine party, and the officers from Verplanck's Point were drinking with him, when Wayne walked into their midst and made them all prisoners.
I am told the sentinels had been secured, the abatis removed, and the rebels in the works before our fine soldiers knew an enemy was near. And it was that tanner from Pennsylvania--that Dandy Wayne, that stole the march on them! It makes me ashamed of our English troops, my lord!
"Well, Mr. Smith, General Clinton will be in New York in a few days. There will be many to call him to account, I have no doubt."
In this electric atmosphere heart spoke to heart very readily, for in the midst of great realities conventionalities are of so little consequence, and genuine feeling, of any kind, forgets, or puts aside, flatteries or compliments.
So when they reached the Bradley house, Agnes asked Lord Medway if he would enter and rest awhile? And he said he would, and so sat talking about the war until it was tea-time for the simple maidens, who ate their dinner at twelve o'clock. Then he saw Agnes bring in the tray, and take out the china, and lay the round table with a spotless nicety; and it delighted him to watch the homely scene. Maria was knitting, and he turned her ball of pink yarn in his hands and watched her face glow and smile and pout and change with every fresh sentiment. Or, if he lifted his eyes from this picture, he could look at Agnes, who had pinned a clean napkin across her breast, and was cutting bread and butter in the wafer slices he approved. He wondered if she would ask him to take tea with them; if she did not he was resolved to ask himself. Then he noticed she had placed three cups on the tray, and he was sure of her hospitality.
It made him very happy, and he never once fell into the affectation of talk and manner appropriate to a fashionable tea-table. He seemed to enjoy both the rebel sentiments of Agnes, and the royalist temper of Maria; and he treated both girls with such hearty deference and respect as he did not always show to much CHAPTER V.
more famous dames. And it was while sitting at this tea-table he gave his heart without reserve to Maria Semple. If he had any doubts or withdrawals, he abandoned them in that happy hour, and said frankly to himself:
"I will make her my wife. That is my desire and my resolve; and I will not turn aside from it for anything, nor for any man living; Maria Semple is the woman I love, no one else shall have her."
In following out this resolve he understood the value of Agnes; and he did all he could to gain her good-will.
She was well disposed to give it; her father's approval bespoke hers. A feeling of good comradeship and confidence grew rapidly as they ate, and drank their tea, and talked freely and without many reservations, for the sake of their political feelings. So much so, that when Lord Medway rose to go, there came to Agnes a sudden fear and chill. She looked at him apprehensively, and while he held her hand, she said:
"Lord Medway, Maria and I have been very sincere with you, but I am sure our sincerity cannot wrong us, in your keeping."
This was not very explicit, but he understood her meaning. He laid his hand upon the table at which they had eaten, and said: "It is an altar to faith and friendship. When I am capable of repeating anything said at the table where I sit as guest, I shall be lost to truth and honor, and be too vile to remember." He spoke with force, and with a certain eloquence, very different from his usual familiar manner, and both Agnes and Maria showed him in their shining eyes and confiding air how surely they believed in him.
After this event there was continual excitement in the city, and General Clinton returned to it at once. He called in the little army he had cutting grass for winter fodder, and with twenty thousand troops shut himself up in New York.
"For once the man has been employing himself well and wiselike," said Madame Semple. "He has cut all the grass, and cured all the grass round about Rye, and White Plains, and New Rochelle, and East Chester, and a few other places; and he has left it all ahint him. What a wiselike wonderfu' man is General Sir Henry Clinton!"
"And the rebels have carried off the last wisp o' hay he made," said the Elder angrily. "They were on the vera heels o' our soldiers. It's beyond believing! It's just the maist mortifying thing that ever happened us."
Madame looked pityingly at her husband, raised her shoulders to emphasize the look, and then in a thin voice, quavering a little with her weakness and emotion, began to sing to herself from that old translation of the Psalms so dear to every Scottish heart:
"Kings of great armies foiled were And forced to flee away; And women who remained at home Did distribute the prey. God's chariots twenty thousand are, Thousands of angels strong."
"Janet! Janet! Will you sing some kind o' calming verse? The Lord is naething but a man of war in your thoughts. Do you believe He goes through the earth wi' a bare, lifted sword in His hand?"
"Whiles He does, Alexander. And the light from that lifted sword lightens the earth. I hae tasted o' the goodness of the Lord; I know of old His tender mercy, and His loving kindness, but in these awfu' days, I am right glad to think o' Him as The Lord of Hosts! He is sure to be on the right side, and He can make of one man a thousand, and of a handful, a great multitude."
"It's a weary warld."
"But just yet there's nae better one, my dear auld man! So we may as well tak' cheerfully what good comes CHAPTER V.
to-day, there will be mair to-morrow, or I'm far wrang."
If Janet's "to-morrow" be taken as she meant it to be taken, her set time was long enough for other startling events. Tryon's expedition was ordered back to New York, and Quentin Macpherson brought the news of his own return. He did not meet with as warm a welcome as he hoped for. Madame was contemptuous and indignant over the ravaging character of the expedition. The Elder said they had "alienated royalists without intimidating rebels"; and Maria looked critically at the young soldier, and thought him less handsome than she had supposed: the expedition, so cowardly and cruel, had been demoralizing and had left its mark on the young man. He was disappointed, jealous, offended; he had an overweening opinion of the nobility of his family and not a very modest one as to his own deserts. He was also tenacious, and the thing he desired grew in value as it receded from his grasp; so, although angry at Maria, he had no idea of relinquishing his suit for her hand.
She kept as much as possible out of his company, and this was not difficult. The troops were constantly on the alert, for one piece of bad news, for the royalists, followed another. A month after the capture of Stony Point, the rebels took Paulus Hook in a midnight attack. This fort had been most tenaciously held by the English from the earliest days of the war, it being the only safe landing-place in Jersey for their foraging parties. It was within sight of New York, and almost within reach of its guns. The shame and anger of the royalist burghers was unspeakable; they would have openly insulted the military, if they had dared to do so.
About two weeks later came the news of Sullivan's sweeping victory over the Six Nations of Indians under Sir John Johnson and the Indian Chief, Brandt. The Americans turned their country into a desert, and drove the whole people in headlong flight as far as Niagara. This Autumn also was rendered remarkable by the astonishing success of the American privateers; never had they been at once so troublesome and so fortunate.
So that there was plenty for every one to talk about, if there had been neither lovers nor love-making in the land. But it seemed as if Love regarded the movement of great armies and the diplomacies of great nations, as the proper background and vehicles for his expression. While Medway was talking, or fishing, or hunting with Clinton, he was thinking of Maria. While Macpherson was inspecting his company, he was thinking of Maria.
While Harry was traversing the woods and the waters, he was thinking of Maria. And while Neil Semple was drawing out titles, and making arguments in Court, he was always conscious of the fact that his happiness was bound up in the love of Agnes Bradley. On every side also, other lovers were wooing and wedding. The sound of trumpets did not sadden the music of the marriage feast, nor did the bridal dance tarry a moment for the tramp of marching soldiers. All the chances and changes of war were but ministers of Love, and did his pleasure.
In the meantime John Bradley was stitching his saddles, and praying and working for Washington, the idol of his hopes, quite unconscious of how completely his home had been confiscated to the service of love and lovers. No house in all the restless city seemed less likely to be the rendezvous of meeting hearts; and yet quite naturally, and by the force of the simplest circumstances, it had assumed this character. It began with Maria. Her beauty and charm had given her three lovers, who were, all of them, men with sufficient character to find, or to make a way to her presence. But every movement, whether of the body or the soul, takes, by a certain law, the direction in which there is the least resistance; and the road of least resistance to Maria, was by way of Agnes Bradley.
At the Semple house, Madame was a barrier Medway could not pass. She told Maria plainly, "no English lord should cross her doorstep." She could not believe in his good heart, or his good sense, and she asked scornfully, "how a close friend of General Clinton's could be fit company for an American girl? He has nae charm for touching pitch without being defiled," she said, "and I'll not hae him sitting on my chairs, and putting his feet on my hearth, and fleching and flattering you in my house while my name is Janet Semple.
And you may tell him I said so."
And in order to prevent Madame giving her own message, Maria was compelled to confess to Lord Medway, CHAPTER V.
her grandmother's antagonism. He was politely sorry for her dislike to Englishmen--for he preferred to accept it as a national, rather than a personal feeling; but it did not interfere with his intentions. There was Miss Bradley. She had a kind feeling toward him, and Maria spent a large part of every day with her friend. By calling on Miss Bradley he could see Miss Semple. As the best means toward this end he cultivated Agnes through her father. He talked with him, listened to his experiences, and gave him subscriptions for Wesley Chapel, and for the prisoners he could find means to help. He made such a good impression on John Bradley, that he told his daughter he felt sure the good seed he had sown would bring forth good fruit in its season.
Macpherson had a certain welcome at the Semples, but he could not strain it. Madame was not well, company fatigued her, and, though he did not suspect this reason, she was feeling bitterly that she must give up her life-long hospitality--she could not afford to be hospitable any longer. She did not tell Maria this, she said rather, "the laddie wearied her mair than once a week. She wasna strong, and she didna approve o' his excuses for General Clinton. I could tear them all to ravlins," she said, angrily, "but I wad tear mysel' to pieces doing it. He has the reiving, reiving Highland spirit, and nae wonder! The Macphersons have carried fire and sword for centuries."
As for Harry Deane, he, of course, could not come at all, though Madame might have borne him more than once a week, if she had been trusted. But Harry was as uncertain as the wind. He came when no one looked for him, and when he was expected, he was miles away. So there was no possible neutral ground for Love but such as Agnes in her good-nature and wisdom would allow. But Agnes was not difficult. Neil Semple had taught her the sweetness and clemency of love, and she would not deprive Maria of those pleasant hours, with which so many days were brightened that would otherwise have been dull and monotonous. For, during the summer's heat the royalist families, who could afford to do so, left the city, and the little tea parties at Agnes Bradley's were nearly the only entertainment at Maria's command.
These were informal and often delightful. Lord Medway knew that about five o'clock Agnes would be setting the tea-tray, and he liked to sit beside Maria and watch her do it. And sometimes Maria made the tea, and poured his out, and put in the sugar and cream with such enchanting smiles and ways that he vowed never tea in this world tasted so refreshing and delicious. And not infrequently Quentin Macpherson would come clattering in when the meal had begun, take a chair at the round table, and drinking his tea a little awkwardly, soothe his self-esteem by an aggressive self-importance. For Lord Medway's nonchalant manner provoked him to such personal assertion as always mortified when the occasion was over. About half-past seven was Neil's hour, and then the conversation became general, and love found all sorts of tender occasions; every glance of meeting eyes, and every clasp of meeting hands, bearing the one sweet message, "I love you, dear!"
It was usually in the morning that Harry came springing up the garden path. There was neither work nor lessons that day, nor any pretense of them. Harry had too much to tell, and both Agnes and Maria hung upon his words as if they held the secret of life and happiness. Now, granted two beautiful girls with a moderate amount of freedom, and four lovers in that pleasantly painful condition between hope and fear that people in love make, if it is not made for them, and put all in a position where they have the accessories of sunlight and moonlight, a shady garden, a noble river, the scent of flowers, the goodness of fine fruit, the pleasures of the tea-table, and if these young people do not advance in the sweet study their hearts set them, they must be either coldly indifferent, or stupidly selfish.
This company of lovers was however neither stupid nor selfish. In the midst of war's alarms, while fleets and armies were gathering for battle, they were attending very faithfully to their own little drama. Quentin Macpherson had one advantage over both his rivals: he went to the Semple house every Sunday evening, and then he had Maria wholly under his influence. He walked in the garden with her, she made his tea for him, he sat by her side during the evening exercise, sung the psalm from the same Bible, and then, rising with the family, stood, as one of them, while the Elder offered his anxious yet trustful prayer. It was Madame who had thought of connecting this service with the young soldier. "It is little good he can get from thae Episcopals,"
she said, "and it's your duty, Alexander, to gie him a word in season," and though Macpherson was mainly CHAPTER V.
occupied in watching Maria, and listening to her voice, he had been too well grounded in his faith not to be sensible of the sacredness of those few minutes, and to be insensibly influenced by their spirit.
Neil was never present. When the tea-table was cleared, he went quietly out, and those who cared to follow him would have been led to the little Wesleyan Chapel on John Street. He always took the same seat in a pew near the door, and there he worshipped for an hour or two the beautiful daughter of John Bradley. He was present to watch them enter. Sometimes the father went to the pulpit, sometimes he went with Agnes to the singing-pew. And to hear these two translating into triumphant song the holy aspirations and longings of Watts and Wesley, was reason enough for any one who loved music to be in Wesley Chapel when they were singing together.
All who have ever loved, all who yet dream of love, can tell the further story of those summer days for themselves. They have only to keep in mind that it had a constant obligato of trumpets and drums and marching men, and a constant refrain, made up of all the rumors of war, victory, and defeat; good news and bad news, fear, and hope, and sighing despair. At length the warm weather gave place to the dreamy hours of the Indian summer. A heavenly veil of silvery haze lay over the river and the city; a veil which seemed to deaden every sound but the shrill chirping of the crickets; and a certain sense of peace calmed for a short time the most restless hearts. The families who had been at various places during the hot months returned to their homes in New York, with fresh dreams of conquest and pleasure, for as yet the terrors of the coming winter were not taken into thought or account. The war was always going to be "over very soon," and General Clinton assured the butterflies of his military court they might eat, drink, and be merry, for he intended at once to "strike such a blow as would put an end to confederated rebellion for ever." And they gladly believed him.
In less than a week Maria received half-a-dozen invitations to dinners, dances, card parties, and musical recitations. She began at once to look over her gowns, and Agnes came every day to the Semple house to assist in remodeling and retrimming them. They were delightful days long to be remembered. Both the Elder and Madame enjoyed them quite as much as the girls; and even Neil entered into the discussions about colors, and the suitability of guimpes and fringes, with a smiling gravity that was very attractive.
"Uncle Neil thinks he is taking depositions and weighing evidence; see how the claims of pink and amber perplex him!" and then Neil would laugh a little, and decide in such haste that he generally contradicted his first opinion.
The Sunday in this happy week was made memorable by the news which Quentin Macpherson brought.
"Some one," he said, "had whispered to General Clinton that it was the intention of Washington to unite with the French army and besiege New York, and Clinton had immediately ordered the troops garrisoning Rhode Island to return to the city with all possible speed. And would you believe it, Elder?" said the young soldier,
"they came so hastily that they left behind them all the wood they had cut for winter, and all the forage and stores provided for six thousand men. No sooner were they out of sight than the American army slipped in and took possession of everything; and now it appears that it was a false report--the general is furious, and is looking for the author of it."
"He needna look very far," answered Semple. "There is a man that dips his sop in the dish wi' him, and that coils him round his finger wi' a mouthful o' words, wha could maist likely give him the whole history o' the matter, for he'll be at the vera beginning o' it."
"Do you mean to say, sir, that our Commander-in-Chief has a traitor for his friend and confidant and adviser?"
"I mean to say all o' that. But where will you go and not find Washington's emissaries beguiling thae stupid English?"
"You cannot call the English stupid, sir."
"I can and I will. They are sae sure o' their ain power and wisdom that they are mair than stupid. They are ridic'lus. It makes them the easy tools of every clever American that is willing to take a risk--and they maist o'
them are willing."
"But when the English realize----"
"Aye, when they realize!"
"Well, sir, they came to realization last month splendidly in that encounter with the privateer, Paul Jones. It was the grandest seafight ever made between seadogs of the same breed. Why, the muzzles of their guns touched each other; the ships were nearly torn to pieces, and three-fourths of the men killed or wounded.
Gentlemen, too, as well as fighters though but lowborn men, for I am told they began the combat with a courtesy worthy of the days of chivalry. Both captains bowed and remained uncovered until the foremost guns of the English ship bore on the starboard quarter of the American. Then Captain Paul Jones put on his hat, as a sign that formalities were over, and the battle began, and raged until the English ship was sinking; then she surrendered."
"Mair's the pity!" said the Elder, "she ought to have gone down fighting."
"She saved the great fleet of merchantmen she was convoying from the Baltic; while she was fighting the American every one of them got safe away and into port, and the American ship went down two days afterward--literally died of her wounds and went down to her grave. And by the bye, Mr. Semple, this Paul Jones is a countryman of ours--a Scotchman."
"Aye, is he!--from Kirkcudbright. I was told he had an intention o' sacking Edinburgh. Fair, perfect nonsense!"
"An old friend of the Macphersons--Stuart of Invernalyle--was sought out to defend the town. I had a letter from the family."
"Weel, Stuart could tak' that job easy. The west wind is a vera reliable one in the Firth o' Edinburgh, and it is weel able, and extremely likely, to defend its ain city. In fact, it did do so, for Paul couldna win near, and so he went 'north about' and found the Baltic fleet with the Serapis guarding it. Weel, then, he had his fight, though he lost the plunder. But it was a ridic'lus thing in any mortal, menacing the capital o' Scotland wi' three brigs that couldna have sacked a Fife fishing village! And what is mair," added the old man with a tear glistening in his eyes, "he wouldna have hurt Leith or Edinburgh. Not he! Scots may love America, but they never hate their ain dear Scotland; they wouldna hurt the old land, not even in thought. If put to the question, all o' them would say, as David o' Israel and David o' Scotland baith said, 'let my right hand forget its cunning----' you ken the rest, and if you don't, it will do you good to look up the 137th Psalm."
The stir of admiration concerning these and other events--all favorable to the Americans--irritated General Clinton and made him much less courteous in his manner to both friends and foes. And, moreover, it was not pleasant for him to know that General Washington was entertaining the first French Minister to the United States at Newburgh, and that John Jay was then on his way to Madrid to complete with the Spanish government terms of recognition and alliance. So that even through the calmness of these Indian summer days there were definite echoes of defeat and triumph, whether expressed publicly or discussed so privately that the bird of the air found no whisper to carry.
One day at the end of October, Agnes did not come until the afternoon, and Maria rightly judged that Harry was in New York. There was no need to tell her so, the knowledge was an intuition, and when Agnes said to Madame, "she had a friend, and would like Maria to bring the pelerine they were retrimming to her house, and spend the evening with her," no objection was made. "I shall miss you baith; so will the Elder," she answered, CHAPTER V.
"but I dare say that English lord is feeling I have had mair than my share o' your company."
"Oh, Madame!" said Agnes, "it is not the English lord, it is a true American boy from--up the river," and Agnes opened her eyes wide as she lifted them to Madame's, and there was some sort of instantaneous and satisfactory understanding. Then she added, "Will you ask Mr. Neil Semple to come for Maria about eight o'clock?"
"There will be nae necessity to ask him. His feet o' their ain accord will find their way to your house, Agnes,"
said Madame. "Before he has told himsel' where he is going he will be at your doorstep. He must be very fond o' his niece Maria--or of somebody else," and the old lady smiled pleasantly at the blushing girl. Then both girls kissed Madame and stopped at the garden gate to speak to the Elder, and so down the road together full of happy expectation, divining nothing of One who went forth with them. How should they? Neither had ever seen the face of sorrow or broke with her the ashen crust. They were not aware of her presence and they heard not the stir of her black mantle trailing upon the dust and the dead leaves as she walked at their side.
"Harry will be here for tea," said Agnes, when they reached the house, and a soft, delightful sense of pleasure to come pervaded the room as they sat sewing and talking until it was time to set the table. And as soon as Agnes began this duty there was a peculiar whistle, and Maria glanced at Agnes, threw aside her work, and went down the garden to meet her lover. He was tying his boat to the little jetty, and when the duty was done they sat down on the wooden steps and talked of this, and that, and of everything but love, and yet everything they said was a confession of their interest in each other. But the truest love has often the least to say, and those lovers are to be doubted and pitied who must always be seeking assurances, for thus they sow the path of love with thorns. Far happier are they who leave something unsaid, who dare to enter into that living silence which clasps hearts like a book of songs unsung. They will sing them all, but not all at once. One by one, as their hour comes, they will learn them together.
That calm, sweet afternoon was provocative of this very mood. Maria and Harry sat watching the river rocking the boat, and listening to the chirruping of the crickets, and both were satisfied with their own silence.
It was a heavenly hour, hushed and halcyon, full of that lazy happiness which is the most complete expression of perfect love. When Agnes called, they walked hand in hand up the garden, and at the tea-table came back again into the world. Harry had much to tell them, and was full of confidence in the early triumph of the Americans.
"Then I hope we shall have peace, and all be friends again," said Maria. She spoke a little wearily, as if she had no faith in her words, and Harry answered her doubt rather than her hope.
"There will not be much friendship this generation," he said; "things have happened between England and America which men will remember until they forget themselves."
After tea, Harry said, "Maria is going with me to the river to see if the boat is safe," and Agnes, smiling, watched them a little way; then turned again to her china, and without any conscious application began to sing softly the aria of an old English anthem by King:
"I went down into the garden of nuts, to see whether the pomegranates budded--to see whether the pomegranates--the pomegranates budded," but suddenly, even as her voice rose and fell sweetly to her thoughts, a strange chill arrested the flow of the melody; and she was angry at herself because she had inadvertently wondered, "if the buds would ever open full and flowerwise?"
 "Solomon's Song," 6:11.
In about half an hour Agnes, having finished her house duties, went to the door opening into the garden and called Harry and Maria. They turned toward the house when they heard her voice, and she remained in the CHAPTER V.
open door to watch them come through the tall box-shrubs and the many-colored asters. And as she did so, Quentin Macpherson reached the front door--which also stood open--and perceiving Agnes, he did not knock, but waited for her to turn inward. Consequently he saw Harry and Maria, and did not fail to notice the terms of affectionate familiarity between them. The fire of jealousy was kindled in a moment; he strode forward to meet the company, and was received with the usual friendly welcome; for such a situation had often been spoken of as possible, and Agnes was not in the least disconcerted.
"My friend, Mr. Harry Deane, Captain Macpherson," she said, without hesitation, and the Captain received the introduction with his most military air. Then Agnes set herself to keep the conversation away from the war, but that was an impossible thing; every incident of life somehow or other touched it, and before she realized the fact, Harry was deprecating Tryon's outrages in Connecticut, and Macpherson defending them on the ground that "the towns destroyed had fitted out most of the privateers which had so seriously interfered with English commerce. Both the building of the ships and the destruction of the towns for building them are natural incidents of war," he said, and then pointedly, "perhaps you are a native of Connecticut?"
"No," answered Harry, "I am a native of New York."
"Ah! I have not met you before."
"I am a great deal away----" then receiving from Agnes a look of anxious warning, he thought it best to take his leave. Agnes rose and went to the door with him, and Maria wished Captain Macpherson anywhere but in her society; especially as he began to ask her questions she did not wish to answer.
"So Miss Bradley has a lover?" he said, looking pointedly at the couple as they left the room.
"I used to think so once," answered Maria.
"But not now?"
"But not now. Mr. Deane is an old friend, a playmate even."
"I suppose he is a King's man?"
"Ask him; he is still standing at the gate. I talk to him on much pleasanter subjects."
"Love, for instance?"
"How can you be so cruel, Maria?"
"It is Miss Semple's nature to be cruel."
The reproof snubbed him, and both were silent for some minutes; then the same kind of desultory fencing was renewed, and Maria felt the time to be long and the tension unendurable. She could have cried out with anger.
Why had not Agnes let her go to the door with Harry? She had had no opportunity to bid him "good-bye"; and yet, even after Harry had gone, there Agnes stood at the gate, "watching for Uncle Neil, of course," thought Maria, "and no doubt she has a message for me; she might come and give it to me--very likely Harry is at the boat waiting for me--oh, dear! Why does she not come?"
With such thoughts urging her, the very attitude of Agnes was beyond endurance. She stood at the gate as still as if she was a part of it, and at length Maria could bear the delay no longer.