Part 2 out of 8
should have been singularly slow and cautious. As a man of proud,
reserved, and suspicious temper, I had little or no confidence in
my own strength with the people; and defeat would be more mortifying
than success grateful to a person of my pride. I fancied, however,
that popular life would somewhat subdue the consuming passions which
were rioting within my bosom; and I threw myself into the thick of
the struggle with all the ardor of a sanguine temperament.
To my surprise and increased vexation, I found my worthy uncle
striving in every possible way, without actually declaring his
purpose, in opposing my efforts and prospects. It is true he did
not utter my name; but he had formed a complete ticket, in which
my name was not; and he was toiling with all the industry of a
thoroughgoing partisan in promoting its success. The cup which he
had commended to my lips was overrunning with the gall of bitterness.
Hostility to me seemed really to have been a sort of monomania
with him from the first. How else was this canton procedure to be
accounted for? how, even with this belief, could it be excused? His
conduct was certainly one of those mysteries of idiosyncracy upon
which the moral philosopher may speculate to doomsday without being
a jot the wiser.
If his desire was to baffle me, he was successful. I was defeated,
after a close struggle, by a meagre majority of seven votes in some
seventeen hundred; and the night after the election was declared,
he gave a ball in honor of the successful candidates, in which
his house was filled to overflowing. I passed the dwelling about
midnight. Music rang from the illuminated parlor. The merry dance
proceeded. All was life, gayety, and rich profusion. And Julia!
even then she might have been whirling in the capricious movements
of the dance with my happy rival--she as happy--unconscious of him
who glided like some angry spectre beneath her windows, and almost
within hearing of her thoughtless voice.
Such were my gloomy thoughts--such the dark and dismal subjects of
my lonely meditations. I did the poor girl wrong. That night she
neither sung nor danced; and when I saw her again, I was shocked at
the visible alteration for the worse which her appearance exhibited
She was now grown thin, almost to meagreness; her cheeks were very
wan, her lips whitened, and her beauty greatly faded in consequence
of her suffering health.
Yet, will it be believed that, in that interview, though such
was her obvious condition, my perverse spirit found the language
of complaint and suspicion more easy than that of devotion and
tenderness. I know that it would be easy, and feel that it would
be natural, to account for and to excuse this brutality, by a
reference to those provocations which I had received from her father. A
warm temper, ardent and glowing, it is very safe to imagine, must
reasonably become soured and perverse by bad treatment and continual
injury. But this for me was no excuse. Julia was a victim also of
the same treatment, and in far greater degree than myself, as she
was far less able to endure it. Mine, however, was the perverseness
of impetuous blood--unrestrained, unchecked--having a fearful
will, an impetuous energy, and, gradually, with success and power,
swelling to the assertion of its own unqualified dominion--the
despotism of the blind heart.
Julia bore my reproaches until I was ashamed of them. Her submission
stung me, and I loved then too ardently not to arrive in time at
justice, and to make atonement. Would I had made it sooner! When I
had finished all my reproaches and complainings, she answered all
by telling me that the affair with young Roberts had been just
closed, and she hoped finally, by her unqualified rejection of
his suit, even though backed by all her father's solicitations,
complaints, nay, threats and anger. How ungenerous and unmanly,
after this statement had been made, appeared all the bitter eludings
in which I had indulged! I need not say what efforts I made to
atone for my precipitation and injustice; and how easily I found
forgiveness from one who knew not how to harbor unkindness--and
if she even had the feeling in her bosom, entertained it as one
entertains his deadliest foe, and expelled it as soon as its real
character was discovered.
Thus stood the affair between my fair cousin and myself--a
condition of things seriously and equally affecting her health and
my temper--when an explosion took place, of a nature calculated to
humble my uncle and myself, if not in equal degree, or to the same
attitude, at least to a most mortifying extent in both cases. I
have not stated before--indeed, it was not until the affair which
I am now about to relate had actually exploded, that I was made
acquainted with any of the facts which produced it--that, prior to
my father's death, there had been some large business connections
between himself and my uncle. In those days secret connections in
business, however dangerous they might be in social, and more than
equivocal in moral respects, were considered among the legitimate
practices of tradesmen. What was the particular sort of relations
existing between my father and uncle, I am not now prepared to
state, nor is it absolutely necessary to my narrative. It is enough
for me to say that an exposure of them took place, in part, in
consequence of some discovering made by my father's unsatisfied
creditors, by which the obscure transactions of thirty years
were brought to light, or required to be brought to light; and in
the development of which, the fair business fame of my uncle was
likely to be involved in a very serious degree--not to speak of
the inevitable effects upon his resources of a discovery and proof
of fraudulent concealment. The reputation of my father must have
suffered seriously, had it not been generally known that he left
nothing--a fact beyond dispute from the history of my own career,
in which neither goods nor chattels, lands nor money, were suffered
to enure to my advantage.
The business was brought to me. The merchant who brought it, and who
had been busy for some years in tracing out the testimony, so far
as it could be procured, gave me to understand that he had determined
to place it in my hands for two reasons: firstly, to enable me
to release the memory of my father from the imputation--under any
circumstances discreditable--of bankruptcy, by compelling my uncle
to disgorge the sums which he had appropriated, and which, as was
alleged, would satisfy all my father's creditors; and, secondly,
to give me an opportunity of revenging my own wrongs upon one, of
whose course of conduct toward me the populace had already seen
enough, during the last election, to have a tolerably correct idea.
I examined the papers, thanked my client for his friendly intentions,
but declined taking charge of the case for two other reasons. My
relations to the dead and to the living were either of them sufficient
reasons for this determination. I communicated the grounds of
action, in a respectful letter, to my uncle, and soon discovered,
by the alarm which he displayed in consequence, that the cause
of the complaint was in all probability good. The case belonged to
the equity jurisdiction, and the relator soon filed his bill.
My uncle's tribulation may be conjectured from the fact that
he called upon me, and seemed anxious enough to bury the hatchet.
He wished me to take part in the proceedings--insisted, somewhat
earnestly, and strove very hard to impress me with the conviction
that my father's memory demanded that I should devote myself to the
task of meeting and confounding the creditor who thus, as it were,
had set to work to rake up the ashes of the dead; but I answered
all this very briefly and very dryly:--
"If my father has participated in this fraud, he has reaped none
of its pleasant fruits. He lived poor, and died poor. The public
know that; and it will be difficult to persuade them, with a due
knowledge of these facts, that he deliberately perpetrated such
unprofitable villany. Besides, sir, you do not seem to remember
that, if the claim of Banks, Tressell, & Sons, is good, it relieves
my father's memory of the only imputation that now lies against
it--that of being a bankrupt."
"Ay !" he cried hoarsely, "but it makes me one--me, your uncle."
"And what reason, sir, have I to remember or to heed this relationship?"
I demanded sternly, with a glance beneath which he quailed.
"True, true, Edward, your reproach is a just one. I have not been
the friend I should have been; but--let us be friends, now, and
hereafter--we must be friends. Mrs. Clifford is very anxious that
it should be so--and--and--Edward," solemnly, "you must help me
out of this business. You must, by Heaven, you must--if you would
not have me blow my brains out!"
The man was giving true utterance to his misery--the fruit of those
pregnant fears which filled his mind.
"I would do for you, sir, whatever is proper for me to do, but can
not meddle in this unless you are prepared to make restitution,
which I should judge to be your best course."
"How can you advise me to beggar my child? This claim, if recognised,
will sweep everything. The interest alone is a fortune. I can not
think of allowing it. I would rather die!"
"This is mere madness, Mr. Clifford; your death would not lessen the
difficulty. Hear me, sir, and face the matter manfully. You must do
justice. If what I understand be true, you have most unfortunately
suffered yourself to be blinded to the dishonor of the act which you
have committed; you have appropriated wealth which did not belong
to you, and, in thus doing, you have subjected the memory of my father
to the reproach of injustice which he did not deserve. I will not
add the reproach which I might with justice add, that, in thus
wronging the father's memory, and making it cover your own improper
gains, you have suffered his son to want those necessaries of
education and sustenance, which--"
"Say no more, Edward, and it shall all be amended. Listen to me
now; but stay--close that door for a moment--there!--Now, look
And, having taken these precautionary steps, the infatuated man
proceeded to admit the dishonest practices of which he had been
guilty. His object in making the confession, however, was not that
he might make reparation. Far from it. It was rather to save from
the clutch of his creditors, from the grasp of justice, his ill-gotten
possessions. I have no patience in revealing the schemes by which
this was to be effected; but, as a preliminary, I was to be made the
proprietor of one half of the sum in question, and the possessor of
his daughter's hand; in return for which I was simply to share with
him in the performance of certain secret acts, which, without
rendering his virtue any more conspicuous, would have most effectually
eradicated all of mine.
"I have listened to you, Mr. Clifford, and with great difficulty.
I now distinctly decline your proposals. Not even the bribe, so
precious in my sight, as that which you have tendered in the person
of your daughter, has power to tempt me into hesitation. I will
have nothing to do with you in this matter. Restore the property
to your creditors."
"But, Edward, you have not heard;--your share alone will be twenty
odd thousand dollars, without naming the interest!"
"Mr. Clifford, I am sorry for you. Doubly sorry that you persist
in seeing this thing in an improper light. Even were I disposed to
second your designs, it is scarcely possible, sir, that you could
be extricated. The discovery of those papers, and the extreme
probability that Hansford, the partner of the English firm of
Davis, Pierce, & Hansford, is surviving, and can be found, makes
the probabilities strongly against you. My advice to you, is,
that you make a merit of necessity;--that you endeavor to effect a
compromise before the affair has gone too far. The creditors will
make some concessions sooner than trust the uncertainties of a legal
investigation, and whether you lose or gain, a legal investigation
is what you should particularly desire to avoid. If you will adopt
this counsel, I will act for you with Banks & Tressel: and if you
will give me carte blanche, I think I can persuade them to a private
arrangement by which they will receive the principal in liquidation
of all demands. This may be considered a very fair basis for an
arrangement, since the results of the speculation could only accrue
from the business capacities of the speculator, and did not belong
to a fund which the proprietor had resolved not to appropriate,
and which must therefore, have been entirely unproductive. I do
not promise you that they will accept, but it is not improbable.
They are men of business--they need, at this moment, particularly,
an active capital; and have had too much knowledge of the doubts
and delays attending a prolonged suit in equity, not to listen to a
proposition which yields them the entire principal of their claim."
I need not repeat the arguments and entreaties by which I succeeded
in persuading my uncle to accede to the only arrangement which
could possibly have rescued him from the public exposure which was
impending; but he did consent, and, armed with his credentials, I
proceeded to the office of Banks & Tressell, without loss of time.
Though resolved, if I could effect the matter, that my uncle
should liquidate their claim to the uttermost farthing which they
required, it was my duty to make the best bargain which I could, in
reference to his unfortunate family. Accordingly, without suffering
them to know that I had carte blanche, I simply communicated to them
my wish to have the matter arranged without public investigation--that
I was persuaded from a hasty review which I had given to the case,
that there were good grounds for action;--but, at the same time,
I dwelt upon the casualties of such a course--the possibility that
the chief living witness--if he were living--might not be found,
or might not survive long enough--as he was reputed to be very
old--for the purposes of examination before the commission;--the
long delays which belonged to a litigated suit, in which the details
of a mixed foreign and domestic business of so many years was to
be raked up, reviewed and explained; and the further chances, in
the event of final success, of the property of the debtor being
so covered, concealed, or made away with, as to baffle at last all
the industry and labors of the creditor.
The merchants were men of good sense, and estimated the proverb--"a
bird in hand is worth two in the bush"--at its true value. It did
not require much argument to persuade them to receive a sum of over
forty thousand dollars, and give a full discharge to the defendant;
and I flattered myself that the matter was all satisfactorily
arranged, and had just taken a seat at my table to write to Mr.
Clifford to this effect, when, to my horror, I receive a note from
that gentleman, informing me of his resolve to join issue with
the claimants, and "maintain his RIGHTS(?) to the last moment."
He thanked me, in very cold consequential style, for my "FRIENDLY
efforts"--the words italicised, as I have now written it;--but
conduced with informing me that he had taken the opinion of older
counsel, which, though it might be less correct than mine, was,
perhaps, more full of promise for his interests.
This note justified me in calling upon the unfortunate gentleman.
It is true I had not committed him to Banks & Tressell--the
suggestions which I had made for the arrangement were all proposed
as a something which I might be able to bring about in a future
conference with him--but I was too anxious to save him from
his lamentable folly--from that miserable love of money, which,
overreaching itself in its blindness, as does every passion--was
not only about to deliver him to shame but to destitution also.
I found him in Mrs. Clifford's presence. That simple and silly woman
had evidently been made privy to the whole transaction, so far as
my arguments had been connected with it;--for ALL the truth is
not often to be got out of the man who means or has perpetrated a
dishonesty. She had been alarmed at the immense loss of money, and
consequently of importance, with which the family was threatened;
and without looking into, or being able to comprehend the facts as
they stood, she had taken around against any measure which should
involve such a sacrifice. Her influence over the weak man beside
her, was never so clear to me as now; and in learning to despise his
character more than ever, I discovered, at the same time, the true
source of many of his errors and much of his misconduct. She did
not often suffer him to reply for himself--yielded me the ultimatum
from her own lips; and condescended to assure me that she could
only ascribe the advice which I had given to her husband, to the
hostile disposition which I had always entertained for herself and
family. That I was "a wolf in sheep's clothing, SHE had long since
been able to see, though all others unhappily seemed blind."
Here she scowled at her husband, who contented himself with walking
to and fro, playing with his coatskirts, and feeling, no doubt,
a portion of the shame which his miserable bondage to this silly
woman necessarily incurred.
"Mr. Clifford has got a lawyer who can do for him what it seems
you can not," was her additional observation. "He promises to get
him to dry land, and save him without so much as wetting his shoes,
though his own blood relations, who are thought so smart, can not,
it appears, do anything."
Of course I could have nothing to say to the worthy lady, but my
expostulations were freely urged to Mr. Clifford.
"You, at least," said I, "should know the risks which you incur
by this obstinacy. Mrs. Clifford can not be expected to know; and
I now warn you, sir, that the case of Banks & Tressell is a very
strong one, very well arranged, and so admirably hung together,
in its several links of testimony, that even the absence of old
Hansford (the chief witness), should his answers never be obtained,
would scarcely impair the integrity of the evidence. In a purely
moral point of view, nothing can be more complete than it is now."
"Well, and who would it convict, Mr. Edward Clifford?" exclaimed the
inveterate lady, anticipating her husband's answer with accustomed
interference; "who would it convict, if not your own father? It
was as much his business as my husband's; and if there's any shame,
I'm sure his memory and his son will have to bear their share of
it; and this makes it so much more wonderful to me that you should
take sides against Mr. Clifford, instead of standing up in his
"I would save him, madam, if you and he would let me," I exclaimed
with some indignation. "Your reference to my father's share in this
transaction does not affect me, as it is very evident that you are
not altogether acquainted with the true part which he had in it.
He had all the risk, all the loss, all the blame--and your husband
all the profit, all the importance. He lived poor, and died so;
without a knowledge of those profitable results to his brother
of which the latter has made his own avails by leaving my father's
memory to aspersion which he did not deserve, and his son to
destitution and reproach which he merited as little. My father's
memory is liable to no reproach when every creditor knows that he
died in a state of poverty, in which his only son has ever lived.
Neither he nor I ever shared any of the pleasant fruits, for which
we are yet to be made accountable."
"And whose fault was it that you didn't get your share I'm sure Mr.
Clifford made you as handsome an offer yesterday as any man could
desire. Didn't he offer you half? But I suppose nothing short of
the whole would satisfy so ambitious a person."
"Neither the half nor the whole will serve me, madam, in such
a business. My respect for your husband and his family would, of
itself, have been sufficient to prevent my acceptance of his offer."
"But there was Julia, too, Edward!" said Mr. Clifford, approaching
me with a most insinuating smile.
"It is not yet too late," said Mrs. Clifford, unbending a little.
"Take the offer of Mr. Clifford, Edward, and be one of us; and then
this ugly business--"
"Yes, my dear Edward, even now, though I have spoken with young
Perkins about the affair, and he tells me there's nothing so much
to be afraid of, yet, for the look of the thing, I'd rather that
you should be seen acting in the business. As it's so well known
that your father had nothing, and you nothing, it'll then be easy
for the people to believe that nothing was the gain of any of us;
"Young Perkins may think and say what he pleases, and you are
yourself capable of judging how much respect you may pay to his
opinion. Mine, however, remains unchanged. You will have to pay
this money--nay, this necessity will not come alone. The development
of all the particulars connected with the transaction will disgrace
you for ever, and drive you from the community. Even were I to
take part with you, I do not see that it would change the aspect of
affairs. So far from your sharing with me the reputation of being
profitless in the affair, the public would more naturally suspect
that I had shared with you--now, if not before--and the whole amount
involved would not seduce me to incur this imputation."
"But my daughter--Julia--"
"Do not speak of her in this connection, I implore you, Mr. Clifford.
Let her name remain pure, uncontaminated by any considerations,
whether of mere gain or of the fraud which the gain is supposed
to involve. Freely would I give the sum in question, were it mine,
and all the wealth besides that I ever expect to acquire, to make
Julia Clifford my wife;--but I can not suffer myself, in such a
case as this, to accept her as a bribe, and to sanction crime. Nay,
I am sure that she too would be the first to object."
"And so you really refuse? Well, the world's coming to a pretty
pass. But I told Mr. Clifford, months ago, that you had quite forgot
yourself, ever since you had grown so great with the Edgertons,
and the Blakes, and Fortescues, and all them high-headed people.
But I'm sure, Mr. Edward Clifford, my daughter needn't go a-begging
to any man; and as for this business, whatever you may say against
young Perkins, I'll take his opinion of the law against that of
any other young lawyer in the country. He's as good as the best,
"Your opinion is your own, Mrs. Clifford, but I beg to set you right
on the subject of mine. I did not say anything against Mr. Perkins."
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I'm sure you did. You said he was nothing
of a lawyer, and something more."
Was there ever a more perverse and evil and silly woman! I contented
myself with assuring her that she was mistaken and had very much
misunderstood me--took pains to repeat what I had really said, and
then cut short an interview that had been painful and humbling to
me on many grounds. I left the happy pair t�te-�-t�te, in their
princely parlor together, little fancying that there was another
argument which had been prepared to overthrow my feeble virtue.
But all this had been arranged by the small cunning of this really
witless couple. I was left to find my way down stairs as I might;
and just when I was about to leave the dwelling--vexed to the heart
at the desperate stolidity of the miserable man, whom avarice and
weakness were about to expose to a loss which might be averted in
part, and an exposure to infamy which might wholly be avoided--I
was encountered by the attenuated form and wan countenance of his
suffering but still lovely daughter.
LOVE FINDS NO SMOOTH WATER IN THE SEA OF LAW
"Julia!" I exclaimed, with a start which betrayed, I am sure, quite
as much surprise as pleasure. My mood was singularly inflexible.
My character was not easily shaken, and, once wrought upon by any
leading influence, my mind preserved the tone which it acquired
beneath it, long after the cause of provocation had been withdrawn.
This earnestness of character--amounting to intensity--gave me an
habitual sternness of look and expression, and I found it hard to
acquire, of a sudden, that command of muscle which would permit
me to mould the stubborn lineaments, at pleasure, to suit the
moment. Not even where my heart was most deeply interested--thus
aroused--could I look the feelings of the lover, which, nevertheless,
were most truly the predominant ones within my bosom.
"Julia," I exclaimed, "I did not think to see you."
"Ah, Edward, did you wish it?" she replied in very mournful accents,
gently reproachful, as she suffered me to take her hand in mine,
and lead her back to the parlor in the basement story. I seated
her upon the sofa, and took a place at her side.
"Why should I not wish to see you, Julia? What should lead you to
fancy now that I could wish otherwise?"
"Alas!" she replied, "I know not what to think--I scarcely know
what I say. I am very miserable. What is this they tell me? Can it
be true, Edward, that you are acting against my father--that you
are trying to bring him to shame and poverty?"
I released her hand. I fixed my eyes keenly upon hers.
"Julia, you have your instructions what to say. You are sent here
for this. They have set you in waiting to meet me here, and speak
things which you do not understand, and assert things which I know
you can not believe."
"Edward, I believe YOU!" she exclaimed with emphasis, but with
downcast eyes; "but it does not matter whether I was sent here, or
sought you of my own free will. They tell me other things--there
is more--but I have not the heart to say it, and it needs not much."
"If you believe me, Julia, it certainly does not need that you
should repeat to me what is said of me by enemies, equally unjust
to me, and hostile to themselves. Yet I can readily conjecture some
things which they have told you. Did they not tell you that your
hand had been proffered me, and that I had refused it?"
She hung her head in silence.
"You do not answer."
"Spare me; ask me not."
"Nay, tell me, Julia, that I may see how far you hold me worthy
of your love, your confidence. Speak to me--have they not told you
some such story?"
"Something of this; but I did not heed it, Edward."
"Julia--nay!--did you not?"
"And if I did, Edward--"
"It surely was not to believe it?"
"No! no! no! I had no fears of you--have none, dear Edward! I knew
that it was not, could not be true."
"Julia, it was true!"
"True, indeed! There was more truth in THAT than in any other part
of the story. Nay, more--had they told you all the truth, dearest
Julia, that part, strange as it may appear, would have given you
less pain than pleasure."
"How! Can it be so?"
"Your hand was proffered me by your father, and I refused it.
Nay, look not from me, dearest--fear not for my affection--fear
nothing. I should have no fear that you could suppose me false to
you, though the whole world should come and tell you so. True love
is always secured by a just confidence in the beloved object; and,
without this confidence, the whole life is a series of long doubts,
struggles, griefs, and apprehensions, which break down the strength,
and lay the spirit in the dust. I will now tell you, in few words,
what is the relation in which I stand to your father and his family.
He, many years ago, committed an error in business, which the laws
distinguish by a harsher name. By this error he became rich. Until
recently, the proofs of this error were unknown. They have lately
been discovered by certain claimants, who are demanding reparation.
In the difficulty of your father, he came to me. I examined the
business, and have given it as my opinion that he should stifle
the legal process by endeavoring to make a private arrangement with
"Could he do this?"
"He could. The creditors were willing, and at first he consented
that I should arrange it with them. He now rejects the arrangement."
"Because it involves the surrender of the entire amount of property
which they claim--a sum of forty thousand dollars."
"But, dear Edward, is it due?--does my father owe this money? If
he does, surely he can not refuse. Perhaps he thinks that he owes
"Nay, Julia, unhappily he knows it, and the offer of your hand, and
half of the sum mentioned, was made to me, on the express condition
that I should exert my influence as a man, and my ingenuity as a
lawyer, in baffling the creditors and stifling the claim."
The poor girl was silent and hung her head, her eyes fixed upon
the carpet, and the big tears slowly gathering, dropping from them,
one, by one. Meanwhile, I explained, as tenderly as I could, the
evil consequences which threatened Mr. Clifford in consequence of
"Alas" she exclaimed, "it is not his fault. He would be willing--I
heard him say as much last night--but mother--she will not consent.
She refused positively the moment father said it would be necessary
to sell out, and move to a cheaper house. Oh, Edward, is there no
way that you can save us? Save my father from shame, though he
gives up all the money."
"Would I not do this, Julia? Nay, were I owner of the necessary
amount myself, believe me, it should not be withheld."
"I do believe you, Edward; but"--and here her voice sunk to a
whisper--"you must try again, try again and again--for I think that
father knows the danger, though mother does not; and I think--I
hope--he will be firm enough, when you press him, and warn him of
the danger, to do as you wish him."
"I am afraid not, Julia. Your mother--"
"Do not fear; hope--hope all, dear Edward; for, to confess to you,
I KNOW that they are anxious to have your support--they said as
much. Nay, why should I hide anything from you? They sent me here
to see--to speak with you, and--"
"To see what your charms could do to persuade me to be a villain.
Julia! Julia! did you think to do this--to have me be the thing
which they would make me?"
"No! no!--Heaven forbid, dear Edward, that you should fancy that
any such desire had a place, even for a moment, in my mind. No! I
knew not that the case involved any but mere money considerations.
I knew not that--"
"Enough! Say no more, Julia! I do not think that you would counsel
me to my own shame."
"No! no! You do me only justice. But, Edward, you will save my
father! You will try--you will see him again--"
"What! to suffer again the open scorn, the declared doubts of my
friendship and integrity, which is the constant language of your
mother? Can it be that you would desire that I should do this--nay,
"For my poor father's sake!" she cried, gaspingly.
But I shook my head sternly.
"For mine, then--for mine! for mine!"
She threw herself into my arms, and clung to me until I promised
all that she required. And as I promised her, so I strove with her
father. I used every argument, resorted to every mode of persuasion,
hut all was of no avail. Mr. Clifford was under the rigid, the iron
government of his fate! His wife was one of those miserably silly
women--born, according to Iago--
"To suckle fools and chronicle small beer"--
who, raised to the sudden control of unexpected wealth, becomes
insane upon it, and is blind, deaf, and dumb, to all counsel or
reason which suggests the possibility of its loss. From the very
moment when Mr. Clifford spoke of selling out house, horses, and
carriage, as the inevitable result which must follow his adoption of
my recommendation, she declared herself against it at all hazards,
particularly when her husband assured her that "the glorious uncertainties
of the law" afforded a possibility of his escape with less loss.
The loss of money was, with her, the item of most consideration;
her mind was totally insensible to that of reputation. She was
willing to make this compromise with me, as a sort of alternative,
for, in that case, there would be no diminution of attendance
and expense--no loss of rank and equipage. We should all live
together--how harmoniously, one may imagine--but the grandeur and
the state would still be intact and unimpaired. Even for this,
however, she was not prepared, when she discovered that there was
no certainty that my alliance would bring immunity to her husband.
How this notion got even partially into his head, I know not;
unless in consequence of a growing imbecility of intellect, which
in a short time after betrayed itself more strikingly. But of this
in its own place.
My attempts to convince my unfortunate uncle were all rendered
unavailing, and shown to be so to Julia herself in a very short
time afterward. The insolence of Mrs. Clifford, when I did seek
an interview with her husband, was so offensive and unqualified,
that Julia herself, with a degree of indignation which she could
not entirely suppress, begged me to quit the house, and relieve
myself from such undeserved insult and abuse. I did so, but with
no unfriendly wishes for the wretched woman who presided over its
destinies, and the no less wretched husband whom she helped to
make so; and my place as consulting friend and counsellor was soon
supplied by Mr. Perkins--one of those young barristers, to be
found in every community, who regard the "penny fee" as the sine
qua non, and obey implicitly the injunction of the scoundrel in
the play "Make money--honestly if you can, but--make money!" He was
one of those creatures who set people at loggerheads, goad foolish
and petulant clients into lawsuits, stir up commotions in little sets,
and invariably comfort the suit-bringer with the most satisfactory
assurances of success. It was the confident assurances of this
person which had determined Mr. Clifford--his wife rather--to
resist to the last the suit in question. Through the sheer force
of impudence, this man had obtained a tolerable share of practice.
His clients, as may be supposed, lay chiefly among such persons
as, having no power or standard for judging, necessarily look upon
him who is most bold and pushing as the most able and trustworthy.
The bullies of the law--and, unhappily, the profession has quite
too many--are very commanding persons among the multitude. Mr.
Clifford knew this fellow's mental reputation very well, and was
not deceived by the confidence of his assurances; nay, to the last,
he showed a hankering desire to give me the entire control of the
subject; but the hostility of Mrs. Clifford overruled his more
prudent if not more honorable purposes; and, as he was compelled to
seek a lawyer, the questionable moral standing of Perkins decided
his choice. He wished one, in short, to do a certain piece of
dirty work: and, as if in anticipation of the future, he dreaded
to unfold the case to any of the veterans, the old-time gentlemen
and worthies of the bar. I proposed this to him. I offered to
make a supposititious relation of the facts for the opinion of Mr.
Edgerton and others--nay, pledged myself to procure a confidential
consultation--anything, sooner than that he should resort to a mode
of extrication which, I assured him, would only the more deeply
involve him in the meshes of disgrace and loss. But there was a
fatality about this gentleman--a doom that would not be baffled,
and could not be stayed. The wilful mind always precipitates
itself down the abyss; and, whether acting by his own, or under
the influence of another's judgment, such was, most certainly, the
case with him. He was not to be saved. Mr. Perkins was regularly
installed as his defender--his counsellor, private and public--and
I was compelled, though with humiliating reluctance, to admit to
the plaintiffs, Banks & Tressell, that there was no longer any hope
of compromise. The issue on which hung equally his fortune and his
reputation was insanely challenged by my uncle.
But my share in the troubles of this affair was not to end, though
I was no longer my uncle's counsellor. An event now took place
which gave the proceedings a new and not less unpleasing aspect
than they had worn before. Mrs. Clifford, it appears, in her
communications to her husband's lawyer, did not confine herself to
the mere business of the lawsuit. Her voluminous discourse involved
her opinions of her neighbors, friends, and relatives; and, one
day, a few weeks after, I was suddenly surprised by a visit from
a gentleman--one of the members of the bar--who placed a letter
in my hands from Mr. Perkins. I read this billet with no small
astonishment. It briefly stated that certain reports had reached his
ears, that I had expressed myself contemptuously of his abilities
and character, and concluded with an explicit demand, not for an
explanation, but an apology. My answer was immediate.
"You will do me the favor to say, Mr. Carter, that Mr. Perkins has
been misinformed. I never uttered anything in my life which could
disparage either his moral or legal reputation."
"I am sorry to say, Mr. Clifford," was the reply, "that denial is
unnecessary, and can not be received. Mr. Perkins has his information
from the lips of a lady; and, as a lady is not responsible, she can
not be allowed to err. I am required, sir to insist on an apology.
I have already framed it, and it only needs your signature."
He drew a short, folded letter, from his pocket, and placed it
before me. There was so much cool impertinence in this proceeding,
and in the fellow's manner, that I could with difficulty refrain
from flinging the paper in his face. He was one of the little and
vulgar clique of which Perkins was a sort of centre. The whole set
were conscious enough of the low estimate which was put upon them
by the gentlemen of the bar. Denied caste, they were disposed to
force their way to recognition by the bully's process, and stung
by some recent discouragements, Mr. Perkins was, perhaps, rather
glad than otherwise, of the silly, and no less malicious than
silly, tattle of Mrs. Clifford for I did not doubt that the gross
perversion of the truth which formed the basis of his note, had
originated with her, which enabled him to single out a victim, who,
as the times went, had suddenly risen to a comparative elevation
which is not often accorded to a young beginner. I readily conjectured
his object from his character and that of the man he sent. My own
nature was passionate; and the rude school through which my boyhood
had gone, had made me as tenacious of my position as the grave.
That I should be chafed by reptiles such as these, stung me to
vexation; and though I kept from any violence of action, my words
did not lack of it.
"Mr. Perkins is, permit me to say, a very impertinent fellow; and,
if you please, our conference will cease from this moment."
He was a little astounded--rose, and then recovering himself,
proceeded to reply with the air of a veteran martinet.
"I am glad, sir, that you give me an opportunity of proceeding
with this business without delay. My friend, Mr. Perkins, prepared
me for some such answer. Oblige me, sir, by reading this paper."
He handed me the challenge for which his preliminaries had prepared
"Accepted, sir; I will send my friend to you in the course of the
As I uttered this reply, I bowed and waved him to the door. He
did not answer, other than by a bow, and took his departure. The
promptness which I had shown impressed him with respect. Baffled,
in his first spring, the bully, like the tiger, is very apt to slink
back to his jungle. His departure gave me a brief opportunity for
reflection, in which I slightly turned over in my mind the arguments
for and against duelling. But these were now too late--even were
they to decide me against the practice--to affect the present
transaction; and I sallied out to seek a friend--a friend!
Here was the first difficulty. I had precious little choice among
friends. My temper was not one calculated to make or keep friends.
My earnestness of character, and intensity of mood, made me dictatorial;
and where self-esteem is a large and active development, as it must
be in an old aristocratic community, such qualities are continually
provoking popular hostility. My friends, too, were not of the kind
to whom such scrapes as the present were congenial. I was unwilling
to go to young Edgerton, as I did not wish to annoy his parents
by my novel anxieties. But where else could I turn? To him I went.
When he heard my story, he began by endeavoring to dissuade me from
"I am pledged to it, William," was my only answer.
"But, Edward, I am opposed to duelling myself, and should not
promote or encourage, in another, a practice which I would not be
willing myself to adopt."
"A good and sufficient reason, William. You certainly should not.
I will go to Frank Kingsley."
"He will serve you, I know; but, Edward, this duelling is a bad
business. It does no sort of good. Kill Perkins, and it does not
prove to him, even if he were then able to hear, that Mrs. Clifford
spoke a falsehood; and if he kills you, you are even still farther
from convincing him.
"I have no such desire, William; and your argument, by the way,
is one of those beggings of the question which the opponents of
duelling continually fall into when discussing the subject. The
object of the man, who, in a case like mine, fights a duel, is
not to prove his truth, but to protect himself from persecution.
Perkins seeks to bully and drive me out of the community. Public
opinion here approves of this mode of protecting one's self;--may,
if I do not avail myself of its agency, the same public opinion
would assist my assailant in my expulsion. I fight on the same
ground that a nation fights when it goes to war. It is the most
obvious and easy mode to protect myself from injury and insult. So
long as I submit, Perkins will insult and bully, and the city will
encourage him, If I resist, I silence this fellow, and perhaps
protect other young beginners. I have not the most distant idea of
convincing him of my truth by fighting him--may, the idea of giving
him satisfaction is an idea that never entered my brain. I simply
take a popular mode of securing myself from outrage and persecution."
"But, do you secure yourself? Has duelling this result?"
"Not invariably, perhaps; simply because the condition of humanity
does not recognise invariable results. If it is shown to be the
probable, the frequent result, it is all that can be expected of
any human agency or law."
"But, is it probable--frequent?"
"Yes, almost certain, almost invariable. Look at the general manners,
the deportment, the forbearance, of all communities where duelling
is recognised as an agent of society. See the superior deference
paid to females, the unfrequency of bullying, the absence of
blackguarding, the higher tone of this public press, and of society
in general, from which the public press takes its tone, and which
it represents in our country, but does not often inform. Even
seduction is a rare offence, and a matter of general exclamation,
where this extra-judicial agent is recognised."
And so forth. It is not necessary to repeat our discussion
on this vexed question, of its uses and abuses. I did not succeed
in convincing him, and, under existing circumstances, it is not
reasonable to imagine that his arguments had any influent over me.
To Frank Kingsley I went, and found him in better mood to take up
the cudgels, and even make my cause his own. He was one of those
ardent bloods, who liked nothing better than the excitement of such
an affair; whether as principal or assistant, it mattered little.
To him I expressed my wish that his arrangements should bring the
matter to an issue, if possible, within the next twenty-four hours.
"Prime!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands. "That's what I like. If
you shoot as quickly now, and as much to the point, you may count
any button on Perkins's coat."
He proceeded to confer with the friend of my opponent, while, with
a meditative mind, I went to my office, necessarily oppressed with
the strange feelings belonging to my situation. In less than two
hours after Kingsley brought me the carte, by which I found that
the meeting was to take place two miles out of town, by sunrise
the day after the one ensuing--the weapons, pistols--distance, as
customary, ten paces!
"You are a shot, of course?" said Kingsley.
My answer, in the negative, astonished him.
"Why, you will have little or no time for practice."
"I do not intend it. My object is not to kill this man; but to make
him and all others see that the dread of what may be done, either
by him or them, will never reconcile me to submit to injury or
insult. I shall as effectually secure this object by going out, as
I do, without preparation, as if I were the best shot in America.
He does not know that I am not; and a pistol is always a source of
danger when in the grasp of a determined man."
"You are a queer fellow in your notions, Clifford, and I can not
say that I altogether understand you; but you must certainly ride
out with me this afternoon, and bark a tree. It will do no hurt to
a determined man to be a skilful one also."
"I see no use in it."
"Why--what if you should wish to wing him?"
"I think I can do it without practice. But I have no such desire."
"Really you are unnecessarily magnanimous. You may be put to it,
however. Should the first shot be ineffectual and he should demand
a second, would you throw away that also?"
"No! I should then try to shoot him. As my simple aim is to secure
myself from persecution, which is usually the most effectual mode
of destroying a young man in this country, I should resort only to
such a course as would be likely to yield me this security. That
failing, I should employ stronger measures; precisely as a nation
would do in a similar conflict with another nation. One must not
suffer himself to be destroyed or driven into exile. This is the
first law of nature--this of self-preservation. In maintaining
this law, a man must do any or all things which in his deliberate
judgment, will be effectual for the end proposed. Were I fighting
with savages, for example, and knew that they regarded their scalps
with more reverence than their lives, I should certainly scalp as
well as slay."
"They would call that barbarous?"
"Ay, no doubt; particularly in those countries where they paid
from five to fifty, and even one hundred pounds to one Indian for
the scalp of his brother, until they rid themselves of both. But see
you not that the scalping process, as it produces the most terror
and annoyance, is decidedly the most merciful, as being most likely
to discourage and deter from war. If the scalp could bo taken from
the head of every Seminole shot down, be sure the survivors never
after would have come within range of rifle-shot."
But these discussions gave way to the business before me. Kingsley
left me to myself, and though sad and serious with oppressive
thoughts, I still had enough of the old habits, dominant with me,
to go to my daily concerns, and arrange my papers with considerable
industry and customary method. My professional business was set
in order, and Edgerton duly initiated in the knowledge of all such
portions as needed explanation. This done, I sat down and wrote
a long farewell letter to Julia, and one, more brief, but renewing
the counsel I had previously given to her father, in respect to the
suit against him. These letters were so disposed as to be sent in
the event of my falling in the fight. The interval which followed
was not so easy to be borne. Conscience and reflection were equally
busy, and unpleasantly so. I longed for the time of action which
should silence these unpleasant monitors.
The brief space of twenty-four hours was soon overpassed, and my
anxieties ceased as the moment for the meeting with my enemy, drew
nigh. My friend called at my lodgings a good hour before daylight--it
was a point of credit with him that we should not delay the
opposite party the sixtieth part of a second. We drove out into the
country in a close carriage, taking a surgeon--who was a friend of
Kingsley--along with us. We were on the ground in due season, and
some little time before our customers. But they did not fail or
delay us. They were there with sufficient promptitude.
Perkins was a man of coolness and courage. He took his position
with admirable nonchalance; but I observed, when his eyes met mine,
that they were darkened with a scowl of anger. His brows were
contracted, and his face which was ordinarily red, had an increased
flush upon it which betrayed unusual excitement. He evidently
regarded me with feelings of bitter animosity. Perhaps this was
natural enough, if he believed the story of Mrs. Clifford--and my
scornful answer to his friend, Mr. Carter, was not calculated to
lessen the soreness. For my part, I am free to declare, I had not
the smallest sentiment of unkindness toward the fellow. I thought
little of him, but did not hate--I could not have hated him. I had
no wish to do him hurt; and, as already stated, only went out to
put a stop to the further annoyances of insolents and bullies, by
the only effectual mode--precisely as I should have used a bludgeon
over his head, in the event of a personal assault upon me. Of
course, I had no purpose to do him any injury, unless--with the
view to my own safety. I resolved secretly to throw away my fire.
Kingsley suspected me of some such intention, and earnestly protested
"I should not place you at all," he said, "if I fancied you could
do a thing so d---d foolish. The fellow intends to shoot you if he
can. Help him to a share of the same sauce."
I nodded as he proceeded to his arrangements. Here some conference
ensued between the seconds:--
"Mr. Carter was very sorry that such a business must proceed. Was it
yet too late to rectify mistakes? Might not the matter be adjusted?"
Kingsley, on such occasions, the very prince of punctilio, agreed
that the matter was a very lamentable one--to be regretted, and so
forth--but of the necessity of the thing, he, Mr. Carter, for his
principal, must be the only judge.
"Mr. Carter could answer for his friend, Mr. Perkins, that he was
always accessible to reason."
"Mr. Kingsley never knew a man more so than HIS principal."
"May we not reconcile the parties?" demanded Mr. Carter.
"Does Mr. Perkins withdraw his message?" answered Kingsley by
"He would do so, readily, were there any prospect of adjusting the
matter upon an honorable footing."
"Mr. Carter will be pleased to name the basis for what he esteems
an honorable adjustment."
"Mr. Perkins withdraws his challenge."
"We have no objection to that."
"He substitutes a courteous requisition upon Mr. Clifford for an
explanation of certain language, supposed to be offensive, made to
"Mr. Clifford denies, without qualification, the employment of any
"This throws us back on our old ground," said Carter--"there is a
lady in question--"
"Who can not certainly be brought into the controversy," said
Kingsley--"I see no other remedy, Mr. Carter, but that we should
place the parties. We are here to answer to your final summons."
"Very good, sir; this matter, and what happens, must lie at your
door. You are peremptory. I trust you have provided a surgeon."
"His services are at your need, sir," replied Kingsley with military
"I thank you, sir--my remark had reference to your own necessity.
Shall we toss up for the word?"
These preliminaries were soon adjusted. The word fell to Carter,
and thus gave an advantage to Perkins, as his ear was more familiar
than mine with the accents of his friend. We were placed, and the
pistol put into my hands, without my uttering a sentence.
"Coolly now, my dear fellow," said Kingsley in a whisper, as he
withdrew from my side;--"wing him at least--but don't burn powder
Scarcely the lapse of a moment followed, when I heard the words "one,"
"two," "three," in tolerably rapid succession, and, at the utterance
of the last, I pulled trigger. My antagonist had done so at the
first. His eye was fixed upon mine with deliberate malignity--THAT
I clearly saw--but it did not affect my shot. This, I purposely
threw away. The skill of my enemy did not correspondend (sic) with
his evident desires. I was hurt, but very slightly. His bullet
merely raised the skin upon the fleshy part of my right thigh. We
kept our places while a conference ensued between the two seconds.
Mr. Perkins, through his friend, declared himself unsatisfied
unless I apologized, or--in less unpleasant language--explained.
This demand was answered by Kingsley with cavalier indifference He
came to me with a second pistol. His good-humored visage was now
"Clifford!" said he, as he put the weapon into my hand, "you must
trifle no longer. This fellow abuses your generosity. He knows,
as well as I, that you threw away your fire; and he will play the
same game with you, on the same terms, for a month together, Sundays
not excepted. I am not willing to stand by and see you risk your
life in this manner; and, unless you tell me that you will give
him as good as he sends, I leave you on the spot. Will you take
aim this time?"
"You promise me then?"
I was conscious of the increased activity of my organ of
destructiveness as I said these words. I smiled with a feeling
of pleasant bitterness--that spicy sort of malice which you may
sometimes rouse in the bosom of the best-natured man in the world,
by an attempt to do him injustice. The wound I had received, though
very trifling, had no little to do with this determination. It
was not unlike such a wound as would be made by a smart stroke of
a whip, and the effect upon my blood was pretty much as if it had
been inflicted by some such instrument. I was stung and irritated
by it, and the pertinacity of my enemy, particularly as he must
have seen that my shot was thrown away, decided me to punish him
if I could. I did so! I was not conscious that I was hurt myself,
until I saw him falling!--I then felt a heavy and numbing sensation
in the same thigh which had been touched before. A faintness relieved
me from present sensibility, and when I became conscious, I found
myself in the carriage, supported by Kingsley and the surgeon, on
my way to my lodgings. My wound was a flesh wound only; the ball
was soon extracted, and in a few weeks after, I was enabled to
move about with scarcely a feeling of inconvenience. My opponent
suffered a much heavier penalty. The bone of his leg was fractured,
and it was several months before he was considered perfectly safe.
The lesson he got made him a sorer and shorter--a wiser, if not a
better man; but as I do not now, and did not then, charge myself
with the task of bringing about his moral improvement, it is not
incumbent upon me to say anything further on this subject. We will
leave him to get better as he may.
The hurts of Perkins did not, unhappily, delay the progress of my
uncle to that destruction to which his silly wife and knavish lawyer
had destined him. His business was brought before the court by the
claimants, Messrs. Banks & Tressell; and a brief period only was
left him for putting in his answer. When I thought of Julia, I
resolved, in spite of all previous difficulties--the sneers of the
father, and the more direct, coarse insults of the mother--to make
one more effort to rescue him from the fate which threatened him.
I felt sure that, for the reasons already given, the merchants
would still be willing to effect a compromise which would secure
them the principal of their claim, without incurring the delay and
risk of litigation. Accordingly, I penned a note to Mr. Clifford,
requesting permission to wait upon him at home, at a stated hour.
To this I received a cold, brief answer, covering the permission
which I sought. I went, but might as well have spared myself the
labor and annoyance of this visit. Mrs. Clifford was still in the
ascendant--still deaf to reason, and utterly blind to the base
position into which her meddlesome interference in the business
threw her husband. She had her answer ready; and did not merely
content herself with rejecting my overtures, but proceeded to speak
in the language of one who really regarded me as busily seeking,
by covert ways, to effect the ruin of her family. Her looks and
language equally expressed the indignation of a mind perfectly
convinced of the fraudulent and evil purposes of the person she
addressed. Those of my uncle were scarcely less offensive. A grin
of malicious self-gratulation mantled his lips as he thanked me
for my counsel, which, he yet remarked, "however wise and good,
and well-intended, he did not think it advisable to adopt. He had
every confidence in the judgment of Mr. Perkins, who, though without
the great legal knowledge of some of his youthful neighbors, had
enough for his purposes; and had persuaded him to see the matter
in a very different point of view from that in which I was pleased
to regard it."
There was no doing anything with or for these people. The fiat for
their overthrow had evidently been issued. The fatuity which leads
to self-destruction was fixed upon them; and, with a feeling rather
of commiseration than anger, I prepared to leave the house. In this
interview, I made a discovery, which tended still more to lessen
the hostility I might otherwise have felt toward my uncle. I
was constrained to perceive that he labored under an intellectual
feebleness and incertitude which disconcerted his expression, left
his thoughts seemingly without purpose, and altogether convinced
me that, if not positively imbecile in mind and memory, there were
yet some ugly symptoms of incapacity growing upon him which might
one day result in the loss of both. I had always known him to be a
weak-minded man, disposed to vanity and caprice, but the weakness
had expanded very much in a brief period, and now presented itself to
my view in sundry very salient aspects. It was easy now to divert
his attention from the business which he had in hand--a single casual
remark of courtesy or observation would have this effect--and then
his mind wandered from the subject with all the levity and caprice
of a thoughtless damsel. He seemed to entertain now no sort of
apprehension of his legal difficulties, and spoke of them as topics
already adjusted. Nay, for that matter, he seemed to have no serious
sense of any subject, whatever might be its personal or general
interest; but, passing from point to point, exhibited that
instability of mental vision which may not inaptly be compared to
that wandering glance which is usually supposed to distinguish and
denote, in the physical eye, the presence of insanity. It was not
often now that he indulged, while speaking to me, in that manner of
hostility--those sneers and sarcastic remarks--which had been his
common habit. This was another proof of the change which his mental
man had undergone. It was not that he was more prudent or more
tolerant than before. He was quite as little disposed to be generous
toward me. But he now appeared wholly incapable of that degree
of intellectual concentration which could enable him to examine
a subject to its close. He would begin to talk with me seriously
enough, and with a due solemnity, about the suit against him;
but, in a tangent, he would dart off to the consideration of some
trifle, some household matter, or petty affair, of which, at any
other time, he must have known that his hearers had no wish to hear.
Poor Julia confirmed the conjectures which I entertained, but did
not utter, by telling me that her father had changed very much in
his ways ever since this business had been begun.
"Mother does not see it, but he is no longer the same man. Oh,
Edward, I sometimes think he's even growing childish."
The fear was a well-founded one. Before the case was tried, Mr.
Clifford was generally regarded, among those who knew him intimately,
as little better than an imbecile; and so rapid was the progress of
his infirmity, that when the judgment was given, as it was, against
him, he was wholly unable to understand or fear its import. His own
sense of guilt had anticipated its effects, and his intense vanity
was saved from public shame only by the substitution of public pity.
The decree of the court gave all that was asked; and the handsome
competence of the Cliffords was exchanged for a miserable pittance,
which enabled the family to live only in the very humblest manner.
It will readily be conjectured, from what I have stated in respect
to myself, that mine was not the disposition to seek revenge, or
find cause for exultation in these deplorable events. I had no
hostility against my unhappy uncle; I should have scorned myself if
I had. If such a feeling ever filled my bosom, it would have been
most effectually disarmed by the sight of the wretched old man,
a grinning, gibbering idict, half-dancing and half-shivering from
the cold, over the remnants of a miserable and scant fire in the
severest evening in November. It was when the affair was all over;
when the property of the family was all in the hands of the sheriff;
when the mischievous counsel of such a person as Jonathan Perkins,
Esquire could do no more harm even to so foolish a person as my
uncle's wife; and when his presence, naturally enough withdrawn
from a family from which he could derive no further profit, and
which he had helped to ruin, was no longer likely to offend mine by
meeting him there--that I proceeded to renew my direct intercourse
with the unfortunate people whom I was not suffered to save.
The reader is not to suppose that I had kept myself entirely aloof
from the family until these disasters had happened. I sought Julia
when occasion offered, and, though she refused it, tendered my
services and my means whenever they might be hestowed with hope of
good. And now, when all was over, and I met her at the door, and
she sank upon my bosom, and wept in my embrace, still less than
ever was I disposed to show to her mother the natural triumph of a
sagacity which had shown itself at the expense of hers. I forgot,
in the first glance of my uncle, all his folly and unkindness. He
was now a shadow, and the mental wreck was one of the most deplorable,
as it was one of the most rapid and complete, that could be imagined.
In less than seven months, a strong man--strong in health--strong,
as supposed, in intellect--singularly acute in his dealings among
tradesmen--regarded by them as one of the most shrewd in
the fraternity--vain of his parts, of his family, and of his
fortune--solicitous of display, and constant in its indulgence!--that
such a man should be stricken down to imbecility and idiotism--a
meagre skeleton in form--pale, puny, timid--crouching by
the fireplace--grinning with stealthy looks, momently cast around
him--and playing--his most constant employment--with the bellows
strings that hung beside him, or the little kitten, that, delighted
with new consideration, had learned to take her place constantly
at his feet! What a wreck!
But the moral man had been wrecked before, or this could not have
been. It was only because of his guilt--of its exposure rather--that
he sunk. In striving to shake off the oppressive burden, he shook
off the intellect which had been compelled chiefly to endure it.
The sense of shame, the conviction of loss, and, possibly, other
causes of conscience which lay yet deeper--for the progeny of crime
is most frequently a litter as numerous as a whelp's puppies--helped
to crush the mind which was neither strong enough to resist temptation
at first, nor to bear exposure at last. I turned away with a tear,
which I could not suppress, from the wretched spectacle. But I could
have borne with more patience to behold this ruin, than to subdue
the rising reproach which I felt as I turned to encounter Mrs.
This weak woman, still weak, received me coldly, and I could see
in her looks that she regarded me as one whom it was natural to
suppose would feel some exultation at beholding their downfall.
I saw this, but determined to say nothing, in the attempt to undo
these impressions. I knew that time was the best teacher in all
such matters, and resolved that my deportment should gradually make
her wiser on the subject of that nature which she had so frequently
abused, and which, I well knew, she could never understand. But
this hope I soon discovered to be unavailing. Her disaster had
only soured, not subdued her; and, with the natural tendency of
the vulgar mind, she seemed to regard me as the person to whom she
should ascribe all her misfortunes. As, to her narrow intellect,
it seemed natural that I should exult in the accomplishment of my
predictions, so it was a process equally natural that she should
couple me with their occurrence; and, indeed, I was too nearly
connected with the event, through the medium of my unconscious
father, not to feel some portion of the affliction on his account
also; though neither his memory nor my reputation suffered from
the development of the affair in the community where we lived.
Mrs. Clifford did not openly, or in words, betray the feelings
which were striving in her soul; but the general restraint which
she put upon herself in my presence, the acerbity of her tone,
manner, and language, to poor Julia, and the unvaried querulousness
of her remarks, were sufficient to apprize me of the spite which
she would have willingly bestowed upon myself, had she any tolerable
occasion for doing so. A few weeks served still further to humble
the conceit and insolence of the unfortunate woman. The affair
turned out much more seriously than I expected. A sudden fall in
the value of real and personal estate, just about the time when
the sheriff's sale took place, rendered necessary a second levy,
which swept the miserable remnant of Mr. Clifford's fortune, leaving
nothing to my uncle but a small estate which had been secured by
settlement to Mrs. Clifford and her daughter, and which the sheriff
could not legally lay hands on.
I came forward at this juncture, and, having allowed them to remove
into the small tenement to which, in their reduced condition they
found it prudent to retire, I requested a private interview with
Mrs. Clifford, and readily obtained it.
I was received by the good lady in apparent state. All the little
furniture which she could save from the former, was transferred
very inappropriately to the present dwelling-house. The one was
quite unsuited to the other. The massive damask curtains accorded
badly with the little windows over which they were now suspended,
and the sofa, ten feet in length, occupied an unreasonable share
of an apartment twelve by sixteen. The dais of piled cushions, on
which so many fashionable groups had lounged in better times, now
seemed a mountain, which begot ideas of labor, difficulty, and
up-hill employment, rather than ease, as the eye beheld it cumbering
two thirds of the miserable area into which it was so untastefully
compressed. These, and other articles of splendor and luxury,
if sold, would have yielded her the means to buy furniture more
suitable to her circumstances and situation, and left her with
some additional resources to meet the daily and sometimes pressing
exigencies of life.
The appearance of this parlor argued little in behalf of the salutary
effect which such reverses might be expected to produce in a mind
even tolerably sensible. They argued, I fancied, as unfavorably for
my suit as for the humility of the lady whom I was about to meet.
If the parlor of Mrs. Clifford bore such sufficient tokens of her
weakness of intellect, her own costume betrayed still more. She had
made her person a sort of frame or rack upon which she hung every
particle of that ostentatious drapery which she was in the habit
of wearing at her fashionable evenings. A year's income was paraded
upon her back, and the trumpery jewels of three generations found
a place on every part of her person where it is usual for fashionable
folly to display such gewgaws. She sailed into the room in a style
that brought to my mind instantly the description which Milton gives
of the approach of Delilah to Samson, after the first days of his
"But who is this, what thing of se or land?--
Female of sex it seems--
That so bedecked, ornate and gay,
Comes this way sailing, like a stately ship
Of Tarsus, bound for the isles
Of Javan or Gadire,
With all her bravery on and tackle trim,
Sails filled, and streamers waving,
Courted by all the winds that hold their play,
An amber scent of odorous perfume
No description could have been more, just and literal in the case
of Mrs. Clifford. I could scarce believe my eyes; and when forced
to do so, I could scarcely suppose that this bravery was intended
for my eyes only. Nor was it;--but let me not anticipate. This
spectacle, I need not say, sobered me entirely, if anything
was necessary to produce this effect, and increased the grave
apprehensions which were already at my heart. The next consequence
was to make the manner of my communication serious even to severity.
A smile, which was of that doubtful sort which is always sinister
and offensive, overspread her lips as she motioned me to resume
the seat from which I had risen at her entrance; while she threw
herself with an air of studied negligence upon one part of the
sofa. I felt the awkwardness of my position duly increased, as
her house, dress, and manner, convinced me that she was not yet
subdued to hers; but a conscious rectitude of intention carried me
forward, and lightened the task to my feelings.
"Mrs. Clifford," I said, without circumlocution, "I have presumed
to ask your attention this morning to a brief communication
which materially affects my happiness, and which I trust may not
diminish, if it does not actually promote, yours. Before I make
this communication, however, I hope I may persuade myself that
the little misunderstandings which have occurred between us are no
longer to be considered barriers to our mutual peace, and happiness--"
"Misunderstandings, Mr. Clifford?--I don't know what misunderstandings
you mean. I'm sure I've never misunderstood you."
I could not misunderstand the insolent tenor of this speech, but
I availed myself of the equivoque which it involved to express my
gratification that such was the case.
"My path will then be more easy, Mrs. Clifford--my purpose more
"I am glad you think so, sir," she answered coolly, smoothing down
certain folds of her frock, and crossing her hands upon her lap,
while she assumed the attitude of a patient listener. There was
something very repulsive in all this; but I saw that the only way
to lessen the unpleasantness of the scene, and to get on with her,
would be to make the interview as short as possible, and come at
once to my object. This I did.
"It is now more than a year, Mrs. Clifford, since I had the honor
to say to my uncle, that I entertained for my cousin Julia such
a degree of affection as to make it no longer doubtful to me that
I should best consult my own happiness by seeking to make her my
wife. I had the pleasure at the same time to inform him, which I
believed to be true, that Julia herself was not unwilling that such
should be the nearer tie between us--"
"Yes, yes, Mr. Clifford, I know all this; but my husband and myself
thought better of it, and--" she said with fidgetty impatience.
"And my application was refused," I said calmly; thus finishing
the sentence where she had paused.
"Well, sir, and what then?"
"At that time, madam, my uncle gave as a reason that he had other
arrangements in view."
"Yes, sir, so we had; and this reminds me that those arrangements
were broken off entirely in consequence of the perversity which
you taught my daughter. I know it all, sir; there's no more need
to tell me of it, than there is to deny it. You put my daughter
up to refusing young Roberts, who would have jumped at her, as his
father did--and he one of the best families and best fortunes in
the city. I'm sure I don't know, sir, what object you can have in
reminding me of these things."
Here was ingenious perversity. I bore with it as well as I could,
and strove to preserve my consideration and calmness.
"You do your daughter injustice, Mrs. Clifford, and me no less, in
this opinion. But I do not seek to remind you of misunderstandings
and mistakes, the memory of which can do no good. My purpose now
is to renew the offer to you which I originally made to Mr. Clifford.
My attachment to your daughter remains unaltered, and I am happy
to say that fortune has favored me so far as to enable me to place
her in a situation of comparative comfort and independence which
I could not offer then--"
"Which is as much as to say that she don't enjoy comfort and
independence where she is; and if she does not, sir, to whom is it
all owing, sir, but to you and your father? By your means it is
that we are reduced to poverty; but you shall see, sir, that we
are not entirely wanting in independence. My answer, sir, is just
the same as Mr. Clifford's was. I am very much obliged to you for
THE HONOR you intend my family, but we must decline it. As for the
comfort and independence which you proffer to my daughter, I am
happy to inform you that she can receive it at any moment from a
source perhaps far more able than yourself to afford both, if her
perversity does not stand in the way, as it did when young Roberts
made his offers. Mr. Perkins, sir, the excellent young man that
you tried to murder, is to be here, sir, this very morning, to see
my daughter. Here's his letter, sir, which you may read, that you
may be under no apprehensions that my daughter will ever suffer
from a want of comfort and independence."
She flung a letter down on the sofa beside her, but I simply bowed,
and declined looking at it. I did not, however, yield the contest
in this manner. I urged all that might properly be urged on the
subject, and with as much earnestness as could be permitted in an
interview with a lady--and such a lady!--but, as the reader may
suppose, my toils were taken in vain: all that I could suggest,
either in the shape of reason or expostulation, only served to make
her more and more dogged, and to increase her tone of insolence;
and sore, stung with vexation, disappointed, and something more
than bewildered, I dashed almost headlong out of the house, without
seeing either Julia or her father, precisely at the moment when
Mr. Perkins was about to enter.
The result of this interview of my rival with the mother of Julia,
was afforded me by the latter. The mother had already given her
consent to his suit--that of Julia alone was to be obtained; and
to this end the arts of the suitor and the mother were equally
devoted. Her refusal only brought with it new forms of persecution.
Her steps were haunted by the swain, to whom Mrs. Clifford gave
secret notice of all her daughter's intentions. He was her invariable
attendant at church, wheve I had the pain constantly to behold them,
in such close proximity, that I at length abandoned the customary
house of worship, and found my pew in another, where I could be
enabled to endure the forms of service without being oppresssd by
foreign and distracting thoughts and fancies.
Of the progress of the suit I had occasional intelligence from
Julia herself, whom I had, very reluctantly on her part, persuaded
to meet me at the house of a female relative and friend, who favored
our desires and managed our interviews. Brief were these stolen
moments, but oh, how blissful! The pleasures they afforded, however,
were almost wholly mine. The clandestine character of our meetings
served to deprive her of the joy which they otherwise might have
yielded; and the fear that she was not doing right, humbled her
spirit and made her tremble with frequent apprehensions.
At length Mrs. Clifford suspected our interviews, and detected
them. We had a most stormy scene on one occasion, when the sudden
entrance of this lady surprised us together, at the house of our
friend. The consequence of this was, a rupture between the ladies,
which resulted in Julia's being forbidden to visit the house of
her relative again. This measure was followed by others of such
precaution, that at length I could no longer communicate with her,
or even seek her, unless when she was on her way to church. Her
appearance then was such as to awaken all my apprehensions. Her
form, always slender, was become more so. The change was striking
in a single week. Her face, usually pale and delicate, was now
haggard. Her walk was feeble, and without elasticity. Her whole
appearance was wo-begone and utterly spiritless. Days and weeks
passed, and my heart was filled with hourly-increasing apprehensions.
I returned to the familiar church, but here I suffered a new alarm.
That sabbath the family pew was unoccupied. While I trembled lest
something serious had befallen her, I was called on by the family
physician. This gentleman had been always friendly. He had been
my father's physician, and had been his friend and frequent guest;
he knew my history, and sympathized with my fortunes. He now know
the history of Julia's affections. She had made him her confidante
so far, and he brought me a letter from her. She was sick, as I
expected. This letter was of startling tenor:--
"Save me, Edward, if you can. I am now willing to do as you proposed.
I can no longer endure these annoyances--these cruel persecutions!
My mother tells me that I must submit and marry this man, if we
would save ourselves from ruin. It seems he has a claim against
the estate for professional services; and as we have no other means
of payment, without the sale of all that is left, he is base enough
to insist upon my hand as the condition of his forbearance. He
uses threats now, since entreaties have failed him. Oh, Edward,
if you can save me, come!--for of a certainty, I can not bear this
persecution much long and live. I am now willing to consent to do
what Aunt Sophy recommended. Do not think me bold to say so, dear
Edward--if I am bold, it is despair which makes me so."
I read this letter with mingled feelings of indignation and
delight--indignation, because of the cruelties to which the worthless
mother and the base suitor subjected one so dear and innocent
delight, since the consent which she now yielded placed the means
of saving her at my control. The consent was to flight and clandestine
marriage, to which I had, with the assistance of our mutual friend,
endeavored to persuade her, in several instances, before.
The question now was, how to effect this object, since we had
no opportunities for communication; but, before I took any steps
in the matter, I made it a point of duty to deprive the infamous
attorney, Perkins, of his means of power over the unhappy family.
I determined to pay his legal charges; and William Edgerton, at
my request, readily undertook this part of the business. They were
found to be extortionate, and far beyond anything either warranted
by the practice or the fee bill. Edgerton counselled me to resist
the claim; but the subject was too delicate in all its relations,
and my own affair with Perkins would have made my active opposition
seem somewhat the consequence of malice and inveterate hostility.
I preferred to pay the excess, wnich was done by Edgerton, rather
than have any further dispute or difficulty with one whom I so
much despised. Complete satisfaction was entered upon the records
of the court, and a certified discharge, under the hand of Perkins
himself--which he gave with a reluctance full of mortification--was
sent in a blank envelope to Mrs. Clifford. She was thus deprived
of the only excuse--if, indeed, such a woman ever needs an excuse
for wilfulness--for persecuting her unhappy daughter on the score
of the attorney.
But the possession of this document effected no sort of change in
her conduct. She pursued her victim with the same old tenacity. It
was not to favor Perkins that she strove for this object: it was
to baffle ME. That blind heart, which misguides all of us in turn,
was predominant in her, and rendered her totally incapable of
seeing the cruel consequences to her daughter which her perseverance
threatened. Julia was now so feeble as scarcely to leave her
chamber; the physician was daily in attendance; and, though I could
not propose to make use of his services in promoting a design which
would subject him to the reproach of the grossest treachery, yet,
without counsel, he took it upon him plainly to assure the mother
that the disorder of her daughter arose solely from her mental
afflictions. He went farther. Mrs. Clifford, whose garrulity was
as notorious as her vanity and folly, herself took occasion, when
this was told her, to ascribe the effect to me; and, with her
own coloring, she continued, by going into a long history of our
"course of wooing." The doctor availed himself of these statements
to suggest the necessity of a compromise, assuring Mrs. Clifford
that I was really a more deserving person than she thought me, and,
in short, that some concessions must be made, if it was her hope
to save her daughter's life.
"She is naturally feeble of frame, nervous and sensitive, and these
excitements, pressing upon her, will break down her constitution
and her spirits together. Let me warn you, Mrs. Clifford, while yet
in season. Dismiss your prejudices against this young man, whether
well or ill founded, and permit your daughter to marry him. Suffer
me to assure you, Mrs. Clifford, that such an event will do more
toward her recovery than all my medicine."
"What, and see him the master of my house--he, the poor beggar-boy
that my husband fed in charity, and who turned from him with ingratitude
in his moment of difficulty, and left him to be despoiled by his
enemies? Never! never! Daughter of mine shall never be wife of his!
The serpent! to sting the hand of his benefactor!"
"My dear Mrs. Clifford, this prejudice of yours, besides being
totally unfounded, amounts to monomania. Now, I know something of
all these matters, as you should be aware; and I should be sorry to
counsel anything to you or to your family which would be either
disgraceful or injurious. So far from this young man being ungrateful,
neglectful, or suffering your husband to be preyed on by enemies,
I am of opinion that, if his counsel had been taken in this late
unhappy business, you would probably have been spared all of the
misery and nearly one half of the loss which has been incurred by
the refusal to do so."
"And so you, too, are against us, doctor? You, too, believe everything
that this young man tells you?"
"No, madam; I assure you, honestly, that I never heard a single
word from his lips in regard to this subject. It is spoken of by
everybody but himself."
"Ay! ay! the whole town knows it, and from who else but him, I
wonder? But you needn't to talk, doctor, on the subject. My mind's
made up. Edward Clifford, while I have breath to say 'No,' and a
hand to turn the lock of the door against him, shall never again
darken these doors!"
The physician was a man of too much experience to waste labor
upon a case so decidedly hopeless. He knew that no art within his
compass could cure so thorough a case of heart-blindness, and he
gave her up; but he did not give up Julia. He whispered words of
consolation into her ears, which, though vague, were yet far more
useful than physic.
"Cheer up, my daughter; be of good heart and faith. I AM SURE that
there will be some remedy provided for you, before long, which will
do you good. I have given the letter to your aunt, and she promises
to do as you wish."
It may be said, en passant, that the billet sent to me had been covered
in another to my female friend and Julia's relative; and that the
doctor, though not unconscious of the agency of this lady between
us, was yet guilty of no violation of the faith which is always
implied between the family and the physician. He might SUSPECT,
but he did not KNOW; and whatever might have been his suspicions,
he certainly did not have the most distant idea of that concession
which Julia had made, and of the course of conduct for which her
mother's persecutions had now prepared her mind.
Mr. Perkins, though deprived of his lien upon Mrs. Clifford, by
reason of his claim, did not in the least forego his intentions.
His complaints and threatenings necessarily ceased--his tone was
something lowered; but he possessed a hold upon this silly woman's
prejudices which was far superior to any which he might before have
had upon her fears. His hostility to me was grateful to the hate
which she also entertained, and which seemed to be more thoroughly
infixed in her after her downfall--which, as it has been seen, she
ascribed to me; chiefly because of my predictions that such would
be the case. In due proportion to her hate for me, was her desire
to baffle my wishes, even though it might be at the expense of her
own daughter's life. But a vain mother has no affections--none, at
least, worthy of the name, and none which she is not prepared to
discard at the first requisition of her dearer self. Her hate of
me was so extreme as to render her blind to everything besides--her
daughter's sickness, the counsel of the physician, the otherwise
obvious vulgarity and meanness of Perkins, and that gross injustice
which I had suffered at her hands from the beginning, and which, to
many minds, might have amply justified in me the hostile feelings
which she laid to my charge. In this blindness she precipitated
events, and by her cruelty justified extremities in self-defence.
The moment that Julia exhibited some slight improvement, she was
summoned to an interview with Perkins, and in this interview her
mother solemnly swore that she should marry him. The base-minded
suitor stood by in silence, beheld the loathing of the maiden,
heard her distinct refusal, yet clung to his victim, and permitted
the violence of the mother, without rebuke--that rebuke which the
true gentleman might have administered in such a case, and which,
to forbear, was the foulest shame--the rebuke of his own decided
refusal to participate in such a sacrifice. But he was not capable
of this; and Julia, stunned and terrified, was shocked to hear
Mrs. Clifford appoint the night of the following Thursday for the
"She will consent--she shall consent, Mr. Perkins," were the vehement
assurances of the mother, as the craven-spirited suitor prepared
to take his leave. "I know her better than you do, and she knows
me. Do you fear nothing, but bring Mr--" (the divine) "along with
you. We shall put an end to this folly."
"Oh, do not, do not, mother, if you would not drive me mad!" was
the exclamation of the destined victim, as she threw herself at the
feet of her unnatural parent. "You will kill me to wed this man!
I can not marry him--I can not love him. Why would you force this
matter upon me--why! why!"
"Why will you resist me, Julia? why will you provoke your mother
to this degree? You have only to consent willingly, and you know
how kind I am."
"I can not consent!" was the gasping decision of the maiden.
"You shall! you must! you will!"
"Never! never! On my knees I say it, mother. God will witness what
you refuse to believe. I will die before I consent to marry where
I do not give my heart."
"Oh, you talk of dying, as if it was a very easy matter. But you
won't die. It's more easy to say than do. Do you come, Mr. Perkins.
Don't you mind--don't you believe in these denials, and oaths,
and promises. It's the way with all young ladies. They all make a
mighty fuss when they're going to be married; hut they're all mighty
willing, if the truth was known. I ought to know something about
it. I did just the same as she when I was going to marry Mr.
Clifford; yet nobody was more willing than I was to get a husband.
Do you come and bring the parson; she'll sing a different tune when
she stands up before him, I warrant you."
"That shall never be, Mr. Perkins!" said the maiden solemnly,
and somewhat approaching the person whom she addressed. "I have
already more than once declined the honor you propose to do me.
I now repeat to you that I will sooner marry the grave and the
winding-sheet than be your wife! My mother mistakes me and all my
feelings. For your own sake, if not for mine, I beg that YOU will
not mistake them; for, if the strength is left me for speech, I
will declare aloud to the reverend man whom you are told to bring,
the nature of those persecutions to which you have been privy. I
will tell him of the cruelty which I have been compelled to endure,
and which you have beheld and encouraged with your silence."
Perkins looked aghast, muttered his unwillingness to prosecute
his suit under such circumstances, and prepared to take his leave.
His mutterings and apologies were all swallowed up in that furious
storm of abuse and denunciation which now poured from the lips
of the exemplary mother. These we need not repeat. Suffice it
that the deep feelings of Julia--her sense of propriety and good
taste--prevailed to keep her silent, while her mother, still raving,
renewed her assurances to the pettifogger that he should certainly
receive his wife at her hands on the evening of the ensuing Thursday.
The unmanly suitor accepted her assurances--and took leave of mother
and daughter, with the expression of a simpering hope, intended
chiefly for the latter, that her objections would resolve themselves
into the usual maidenly scruples when the appointed time should
arrive. Julia mustered strength enough to reply in language which
brought down another storm from her mother upon her devoted head.
"Do not deceive Perkins--do not let the assurances of my mother
deceive you. She does not know me. I can not and will not marry
you. I will sooner marry the grave--the winding-sheet--the worm!"
Her strength failed her the moment he left the apartment. She
sank in a fainting-fit upon the floor, and was thus saved from
hearing the bitter abuse which her miserable and misguided parent
continued to lavish upon her, even while undertaking the task of
her restoration. The evident exhaustion of her frame, her increasing
feebleness, the agony of her mind, and the possibly fatal termination
of her indisposition, did not in the least serve to modify the
violent and vexing mood of this most unnatural woman!
"GONE TO BE MARRIED."
These proceedings, the tenor of which was briefly communicated
to me in a hurried note from Julia, despatched by the hands of
the physician, under a cover, to the friendly aunt, rendered it
imperatively necessary that, whatever we proposed to do should be
done quickly, if we entertained any hope to save.
The tone of her epistle alarmed me exceedingly in one respect, as
it evidently showed that she could not much longer save herself. Her
courage was sinking with her spirits, which were yielding rapidly
beneath the continued presence of that persecution which had
so long been acting upon her. She began now to distrust her own
strength--her very powers of utterance to declare her aversion to
the proposed marriage, if ever the trial was brought to the threatened
issue before the holy man.
"What am I to do--what say--" demanded her trembling epistle,
"should they go so far? Am I to declare the truth?--can I tell to
strange ears that it is my mother who forces this cruel sacrifice
upon me? I dread I can not. I fear that my soul and voice will
equally fail me. I tremble, dear Edward, when I think that the awful
moment may find me speechless, and my consent may be assumed from
my silence. Save me from this trial, dearest Edward; for I fear
everything now--and fear myself--my unhappy weakness of nerve and
spirit more than all. Do not leave me to this trial of my strength--for
I have none. Save me if you can!"
It may be readily believed that I needed little soliciting to
exertion after this. The words of this letter occasioned an alarm
in my mind, little less--though of a different kind--than that which
prevailed in hers. I knew the weakness of hers--I knew hers--and
felt the apprehension that she might fail at the proper moment,
even more vividly than she expressed it.
This letter did not take me by surprise. Before it was received,
and soon after the first with which she had favored me, by the
hands of the friendly physician, I had begun my preparations with
the view to our clandestine marriage. I was only now required to
quicken them. The obstacle, on the face of it, was, comparatively, a
small one. To get her from a dwelling, in which, though her steps
were watched, she was not exactly a prisoner, was scarcely a
difficulty, where the lover and the lady are equally willing.
Our mode of operations was simple. There was a favorite servant--a
negro--who had been raised in the family, had been a playmate
with my poor deceased cousin and myself, and had always been held
in particular regard by both of us. He was not what is called
a house-servant, but was employed in the yard in doing various
offices, such as cutting wood, tending the garden, going of messages,
and so forth. This was in the better days of the Clifford family.
Since its downfall he had been instructed to look an owner, and,
opportunely, at this moment, when I was deliberating upon the
process I should adopt for the extrication of his young mistress,
he came to me to request that I would buy him. The presence of this
servant suggested to me that he could assist me materially in my
plans. Without suffering him to know the intention which I had
formed I listened to his garrulous harangue. A negro is usually very
copious, where he has an auditor; and though, from his situation,
he could directly see nothing of the proceedings in the house of
his owner, yet, from his fellow-servants he had contrived to gather,
perhaps, a very correct account of the general condition of things.
It appeared from his story that the attachment of Miss Julia to
myself was very commonly understood. The effort of the mother to
persuade her to marry Perkins was also known to him; but of the
arrangement that the marriage should take place at the early day
mentioned in her note, he told me nothing, and, in all probability,
this part of her proceedings was kept a close secret by the wily
dame Peter--the name of the negro--went on to add, that, loving
me, and loving his young mistress, and knowing that we loved one
another, and believing that we should one day be married, he was
anxious to have me for his future owner.
"I will buy you, Peter, on one condition."
"Wha's dat, Mas' Ned?"
"That you serve me faithfully on trial, for five days, without
letting anybody know who you serve--that you carry my messages
without letting anybody hear them except that person to whom you
are sent--and, if I give you a note to carry, that you carry it
safely, not only without suffering anybody to see the note but the
one to whom I send it, but without suffering anybody to know or
suspect that you've got such a thing as a note about you."
The fellow was all promises; and I penned a billet to Julia which,
in few words, briefly prepared her to expect my attendance at her
house at three in the afternoon of the very day when her nuptials
were contemplated. I then proceeded to a friend--Kingsley--the friend
who had served me in the meeting with Perkins; a bold, dashing,
frank fellow, who loved nothing better than a frolic which worried
one of the parties; and who, I well knew, would relish nothing more
than to baffle Perkins in a love affair, as we had already done in
one of strife. To him I unfolded my plan and craved his assistance,
which was promised instantly. My female friend, the relative of
Julia, whose assistance had been already given us, and whose quarrel
with Mrs. Clifford in consequence, had spiced her determination to
annoy her still further whenever occasion offered, was advised of
our plans; and William Edgerton readily undertook what seemed to
be the most innocent part of all, to procure a priest to officiate
for us, at the house of the lady in question, and at the appointed
My new retainer, Peter, brought me due intelligence of the delivery
of the note, in secret, to Julia, and a verbal answer from her
made me sanguine of success. The day came, and the hour; and in
obedience to our plan, my friend, Kingsley, proceeded boldly to the
dwelling of Mrs. Clifford, just as that lady had taken her seat at
the dinner-table, requesting to see and speak with her on business
of importance. The interview was vouchsafed him, though not until
the worthy lady had instructed the servant to say that she was
just then at the dinner-table, and would be glad if the gentleman
would call again.
But the gentleman regretted that he could not call again. He was
from Kentucky, desirous of buying slaves, and must leave town the
next morning for the west. The mention of his, occupation, as Mrs.
Clifford had slaves to sell, was sufficient to persuade her to lay
down the knife and fork with promptness; and the servant was bade
to show the Kentucky gentleman, into the parlor. Our arrangement
was, that, with the departure of the lady from the table Julia should
leave it also--descend the stairs, and meet me at the entrance.
Trembling almost to fainting, the poor girl came to me, and I
received her into my arms, with something of a tremor also. I felt
the prize would be one that I should be very loath to lose; and
joy led to anxiety, and my anxiety rendered me nervous to a womanly
degree. But I did not lose my composure and when I had taken her
into my arms, I thought it would be only a prudent precaution to
turn the key in the outer dour, and leave it somewhere along the
highway. This I did, absolutely forgetting, that, in thus securing
myself against any sudden pursuit, I had also locked up my friend,
the Kentucky trader.
Fortune favored our movements. Our preparations had been properly
laid, and Edgerton had the divine in waiting. In less than half
an hour after leaving the house of her parents, Julia and myself
stood up to be married. Pale, feeble, sad--the poor girl, though she
felt no reluctance, and suffered not the most momentary remorse for
the steps she had taken, and was about to take, was yet necessarily
and naturally impressed with the solemnity and the doubts which
hung over the event. Young, timid, artless, apprehensive, she
was unsupported by those whom nature had appointed to watch over
and protect her; and though they had neglected, and would have
betrayed their trust, she yet could not but feel that there was an
incompleteness about the affair, which, not even the solemn accents
of the priest, the deep requisitions of those pledges which she
was called upon to make, and the evident conviction which she now
entertained, that what had been done was necessary to be done,
for her happiness, and even her life--could entirely remove. There
was an awful but sweet earnestness in the sad, intense glance of
entreaty, with which she regarded me when I made the final response.
Her large black eye dilated, even under the dewy suffusion of its
tears, as it seemed to say:--
"It is to you now--to you alone--that I look for that protection,
that happiness which was denied where I had best right to look for
it. Ah! let me not look, let me not yield myself to you in vain!"
How imploring, yet how resigned was that glance of tears--love in
tears, yet love that trusted without fear! It was the embodiment of
innocence, struggling between hope and doubt, and only strengthened
for the future by the pure, sweet faith which grew out of their
conflict. I look back upon that scene, I recall that glance, with
a sinking of the heart which is full of terror and terrible reproach.
Ah! then, then, I had no fear, no thought, that I should see that
look, and others, more sad, more imploring still, and see them
without a corresponding faith and love! I little knew, in that
brief, blessed hour, how rapidly the blindness of the heart comes
on, even as the scale over the eyes--but such a scale as no surgeon's
knife can cut away.
In the first gush of my happiness--the ceremony being completed,
and the possession of my treasure certain--I had entirely forgotten
my Kentucky friend, whom I had locked up, in confidential TETE-A-TETE
with madam, my exemplary mother-in-law. He was a fellow with
a strong dash of humor, and could not resist the impulse to amuse
himself at the expense of the lady, by making an admirable scene
of the proceeding. He began the business by stating that he had
heard she had several negroes whom she wished to sell--that he was
anxious to buy--he did not care how many, and would give the very
best prices of any trader in the market. At his desire, all were
summoned in attendance--some three or four in number, that she
had to dispose of--all but the worthy Peter, who, under existing
circumstances, was quite too necessary to my proceedings to be
dispensed with. These were all carefully examined by the trader.
They were asked their ages, their names, their qualities; whether
they were willing to go to Kentucky, the paradise of the western
Indian, and so forth--all those questions which, in ordinary cases,
it is the custom of the purchaser to ask. They were, then dismissed,
and the Kentuckian next discussed with the lady the subject of
prices. But let the worthy fellow speak for himself:--
"I was so cursed anxious," he said, "to know whether you had got
off and in safety, for I was beginning to get monstrous tired of
the old cat, that I jumped up every now and then to take a peep out
of the front window. I made an excuse to spit on such occasions--though
sometimes I forgot to do so--and then I would go back and begin
again, with something about the bargain and the terms, and whether
the negroes were honest, and sound, and all that. Well, though I
looked out as often as I well could with civility, I saw nothing
of you, and began to fear that something had happened to unsettle
the whole plan; but, after a while, I saw Peter, with his mouth drawn
back and hooked up into his ears, with his white teeth glimmering
like so many slips of moonshine in a dark night, and I then concluded
that all was as it should be. But seeing me look out so earnestly
and often, the good lady at length said:--
"'I suppose, sir, your horses are in waiting. Perhaps you'd like
to have a servant to mind them.'
"'No, ma'am, I'm obliged to you; but I left the hotel on foot.'
"'Yes, sir,' said she, 'but I thought it might be your horses seeing
you so often look out.'
"I could scarcely keep in my laughter. It did burst out into a sort
of chuckle; and, as you were then safe--I knew THAT from Peter's
jaws--I determined to have my own fun out of the old woman. So I
said--pretty much in this sort of fashion, for I longed to worry
her, and knew just how it could be done handsomest--I said:--
"'The truth is, ma'am--pardon me for the slight--but really I
was quite interested--struck, as I may say, by a very suspicious
transaction that met my eyes a while ago, when I first got up to