Part 9 out of 12
look after my affairs, seldom came to see me and relieve my loneliness.
The only associate I had was a sort of bailiff or steward,
Nighthawk--you know him, and his attachment for me. It was
hereditary--this attachment. My father had loved and trusted his;
relieved the necessities of the humble family once when they were about
to be turned adrift for debt. The elder Nighthawk then conceived a
profound affection for his benefactor--and dying, left to his son the
injunction to watch over and serve faithfully the son of his 'old
"Do not laugh at that word, Surry. It is the old English term, and
England is best of all, I think. So Nighthawk came to live with me, and
take care of my interests. You know that he has continued to be
faithful, and to serve me, and love me, to this moment.
"But in spite of the presence of this true friend, I was still lonely.
I craved life, movement, company--and this I promised myself to secure
at the university of Virginia, to which I accordingly went, spending
there the greater portion of my time until I had reached the age of
twenty. Then I returned to Fonthill--only to find, however, that the
spot was more dreary than before. I was the master of a great estate,
but alone; 'lord of myself,' I found, like the unhappy Childe Harold,
and Randolph of Roanoke after him, that it was a 'heritage of woe.'
There was little or no society in the neighborhood--at least suited to
my age--I lived a solitary, secluded, dormant existence; and events
soon proved that this life had prepared my character for some violent
passion. A philosopher could have foretold that. Every thing in excess
brings on reaction. The drunkard may abstain long, but the moment he
touches spirit, an orgy commences. Men love, because the time and a
woman have come--and that hour and person came all at once to arouse me
from my lethargy.
"One day I was inert, apathetic, sluggish in my movements, careless of
all things and all persons around me. On the next I was aroused,
excited, with every nerve and faculty strung. I was becoming suddenly
intoxicated, and soon the drunkenness of love had absorbed all the
powers of my being.
"You know who aroused that infatuation, the daughter of George Conway."
"At that time she was called Miss Mortimer. The commencement of our
acquaintance was singular. Fate seemed to have decreed that all
connected with our relations should be 'dramatic.'
"One night I was returning at full speed from the house of a gentleman
in the neighborhood, whither I had been to make a visit. The night was
as dark as a wolf's mouth, and a violent storm rushed down upon me,
when I was still many miles from home. I have scarcely ever witnessed a
more furious tempest; the thunder and lightning were fearful, and I
pushed my horse to his utmost speed to reach Fonthill before the
torrents of rain drenched me to the skin.
"Well, I had entered the Fonthill woods, a mile or two from the house,
and was galloping at full speed through the black darkness which the
lightning only occasionally illumined now, when all at once my horse
struck his chest against something. I heard a cry, and then a dazzling
flash showed me a light carriage which had evidently just been
overturned. I was nearly unseated by the collision, but leaped to the
ground, and at the same moment another flash showed me the form of a
lady whom a man was extricating from the broken vehicle. I hastened to
render my assistance. The lady was lifted in our arms, and then I aided
in raising the fallen horse, who lay on his side, frightened and
"Ten minutes afterward I was placed in possession of what the lawyers
call 'the facts of the case.' Mr. Mortimer, of Georgia, was travelling
home from the North, with his sick sister in his carriage, for the
benefit of her health. They had lost their way; the storm had caught
them; their carriage had overturned in the darkness,--where could Mr.
Mortimer obtain lodgings for the night? The condition of his sister
rendered it imperative that they should not continue their journey
until morning, even if the storm and broken vehicle permitted.
"I listened, and felt a warm sympathy for the poor sick girl--she was
only a girl of eighteen, and very beautiful. I would gladly have
offered my own house, but it was still some miles distant, and the
young woman was so weak, and trembled so violently, that it would
plainly be impossible to conduct her so far on foot. True, my carriage
might have been sent for her, but the rain was now descending in
torrents; before it arrived she would be drenched--something else must
be thought of. All at once the idea occurred to me, 'Parson Hope's is
only a quarter of a mile distant.' Mr. Hope was the parson of the
parish, and a most excellent man. I at once suggested to Mr. Mortimer
that his sister should be conducted thither, and as he assented at
once, we half conducted, half carried the poor girl through the woods
to the humble dwelling of the clergyman.
"The good parson received us in a manner which showed his conviction
that to succor the stranger or the unfortunate is often to 'entertain
angels unawares.' It is true that on this occasion it was something
like a brace of devils whom he received into his mansion! The young
lady threw herself into a seat; seemed to suffer much; and was soon
conducted by the parson's old housekeeper--for he was a childless
widower--to her chamber in which a fire had been quickly kindled. She
disappeared, sighing faintly, but in those few minutes I had taken a
good look at her. You have seen her; and I need not describe her. She
is still of great beauty; but at that time she was a wonder of
loveliness. Slender, graceful, with a figure exquisitely shaped; with
rosy lips as artless as an infant's; grand dark eyes which seemed to
burn with an inner light as she looked at you; such was _Miss Mortimer_
at eighteen, when I first saw her on that night in the Fonthill woods."
"An hour after the scene which I have tried to describe, I was at home;
and, seated in this apartment, then very different in appearance,
reflected deeply upon this romantic encounter with the beautiful girl.
"It was midnight before I retired. I fell asleep thinking of her, and
the exquisite face still followed me in my dreams.
"These few words tell you much, do they not, Surry? You no doubt begin
to understand, now, when I have scarcely begun the real narrative, what
is going to be the character of the drama. Were I a romance writer, I
should call your attention to the fact that I have introduced my
characters, described their appearance, and given you an inkling of the
series of events which are about to be unrolled before you. A young man
of twenty is commended to your attention; a youth living in a great
mansion; lord of himself, but tired of exercising that authority; of
violent passions, but without an object; and at that very moment,
presto! appeared a lovely girl, with dark eyes, rosy lips; whom the
youth encounters and rescues under most romantic circumstances!
"Well, the 'lord of himself' acted in real life as he would have done
in a novel. In other words, my dear Surry, I proceeded straightway to
fall violently in love with _Miss Mortimer_; and it is needless to say
that on the next day my horse might have been seen standing at the rack
of the parsonage. I had gone, you see, as politeness required, to ask
how the young lady felt after her accident.
"She was leaning back in an arm-chair, reading a 'good book,' and
looked charming. The accident seemed to have greatly shocked the
delicate frame of the young creature, but when I entered, she held out
her hand, greeting me with a fascinating smile. Mademoiselle was
imitated by Monsieur. I mean Mr. Mortimer. I did not fancy the
countenance of that gentleman much. It was dark and forbidden, but his
manners were those of a person acquainted with good society; he thanked
me 'with effusion,' as the French say, for my timely assistance on the
night before; and then he strolled forth with the good parson to look
at the garden, leaving me _tete-a-tete_ with his sister.
"Why lengthen out my story by comment, reflections, a description of
every scene, and the progressive steps through which the 'affair'
passed? I was in love with Miss Mortimer. She saw it. Her eyes said,
'Love me as much as you choose, and don't be afraid I will not love you
soon, in return.' At the end of this interview, which the worthy Mr.
Mortimer did not interrupt for at least two hours, I rode home thinking
with a throb of the heart 'If she will only love me?' Then the throb
was succeeded by a sudden sinking of the same organ. 'But there will be
no opportunity!' I groaned, 'doubtless in two or three days she will
leave this part of the country!' A week afterward that apprehension had
been completely removed. Miss Mortimer was still faint and weak, 'from
her accident.' All her movements were slow and languid. She had not
left the good parson's house, Surry--and what is more she was not going
to leave it! She had learned what she desired to know about me; heard
that I was a young man of great wealth; and had devised a scheme so
singular that--but let me not anticipate! She proceeded rapidly. In our
second interview she 'made eyes at me.' In the third, she blushed and
murmured, avoiding my glances, when I looked at her. In the fourth, she
blushed more deeply when I took her hand--but did not withdraw it. In
the fifth, the fair head in some manner had come to rest on my
shoulder--no doubt from weakness. And in a few days afterward the shy,
embarrassed, loving, palpitating creature, blushing deeply, 'sunk upon
my bosom,' as the poets say, and murmured, 'How can I resist you?'
"In other words, my dear friend, _Miss Mortimer_ had promised to become
_my wife_, and I need not say, I was the happiest of men. I thought
with rapture of the bliss I was about to enjoy in having by my side,
throughout life, this charming creature. I trembled at the very thought
that the accident in the wood might not have happened, and I might
never have known her! I was at the parsonage morning, noon, and night.
When not beside _her_ I was riding through the forest at full speed,
with bared brow, laughing lips, and shouts of joy--in a word, my dear
friend, I was as much intoxicated as ever youth was yet, and fed on
froth and moonshine to an extent that was really astonishing!
"There was absolutely nothing to oppose our marriage. My old guardian,
it is true, shook his head, and suggested inquiries into the family,
position, character, etc., of the Mortimers; I was young, wealthy, heir
of one of the oldest families, he said, and sharpers might deceive me.
But all I heard was the word 'sharpers'--and I left my guardian, whose
functions had ceased now, in high displeasure at his unworthy
imputations. That angel a sharper! That pure, devoted creature, guilty
of deception! I fell into a rage; swore never to visit my guardian
again; and returning to the parsonage urged a speedy consummation of
"The fair one was not loth. She indicated that fact by violently
opposing me at first, but soon yielded. When I rode home that night I
had made every arrangement for our union in one month from that time.
"So much for Act I., Surry!"
Mohun had commenced his narrative in a mild voice, and with an
expression of great sadness upon his features. As he proceeded,
however, this all disappeared; gradually the voice became harsh and
metallic, so to describe it, and his face resumed that expression of
cynical bitterness which I had observed in him on our first meeting. As
he returned thus, to the past, all its bitterness seemed to revive;
memory lashed him with its stinging whip; and Mohun had gone back to
his "first phase,"--that of the man, stern, implacable, and
After uttering the words, "So much for Act I., Surry!" he paused. A
moment afterward, however, he resumed his narrative.
"What I am now going to tell you is not agreeable to remember, my dear
Surry, and I shall accordingly relate every thing as briefly as
possible. I aim only to give you a clear conception of the tragedy. You
will form your own opinion.
"I was impolite enough in introducing _Miss Mortimer_ to you, at the
parsonage, to describe that young lady as a 'devil.' No doubt the term
shocked you, and yet it conveyed something very like the exact truth. I
declare to you that this woman was, and is still, a marvel to me, a
most curious study. How could she be such as she was? She had the lips
of an infant, and the eyes of an angel. Was it not strange that, under
all that, she should hide the heart of a born devil? But to continue my
"The month or two which elapsed between my engagement and my marriage
was not an uninterrupted dream of bliss. The atmosphere was strangely
disturbed on more than one occasion. Mademoiselle was frequently absent
from the parsonage when I arrived, taking long walks with Monsieur, her
brother; and when she returned from these excursions, I could see a
very strange expression on her countenance as she looked at me.
Occasionally her glance was like those lurid flashes of lightning which
you may have seen issue from the depths of a black cloud. Her black
eyes were the cloud--admire the simile!--and I assure you their
expression at such moments was far from agreeable. What to make of it,
I knew not. I am not constitutionally irritable, but on more than one
occasion I felt a strange angry throb of the heart when I encountered
"Mademoiselle saw my displeasure, and hastened at once to soothe and
dissipate it. The dark flash was always succeeded by the most brilliant
sunshine; but, even in moments of her greatest apparent abandon, I
would still meet suddenly, when she did not think I was looking at her,
the sombre glance which appalled me.
"In spite of this strange phenomenon, however, the young girl possessed
unbounded influence over me. I could not resist her fascinations, and
was as wax in her hands. She took a charming interest in all that
concerned me; painted the blissful future before us, in all the colors
of the rainbow; and declared that the devotion of her whole life would
not be sufficient to display 'her gratitude for my magnanimity in
wedding a poor girl who had nothing but her warm love to offer me.'
"'That is more than enough,' I said, charmed by her caressing voice. 'I
have few relations, and friends--you are all to me.'
"'And you to me!' she said. Then she added, with a sort of shudder,
'but suppose you were to die!'
"I laughed, and replied:--
"'You would be well provided for, and find yourself a gay young widow
with hundreds of beaux?'
"She looked at me reproachfully.
"'Do you think I would ever marry again?' she said. 'No! I would take
our marriage ring, and some little souvenir connected with you, leave
your fine house, and go with my brother to some poor home in a foreign
country, where the memory of our past happiness would be my solace!'
"I shook my head.
"'You will not do that,' I said, 'you will be the mistress of all my
fortune, after my death!'
"'Oh, no!' she exclaimed.
"'Oh, yes!' I responded, laughing; 'and, to make every thing certain, I
am going to draw up my will this very day, leaving you every thing
which I possess in the world.'
"Her face suddenly flushed.
"'How can you think of such a thing!' she said. 'I did not know how
much you loved me!'
"You will understand, my dear Surry, that those words did not change my
resolution. When I left her I went home, and wrote the will in due
form, and on my next visit she asked, laughing, if I had carried out my
"'Yes,' I said, 'and now let us talk of a more interesting affair--our
"She blushed, then turned pale, and again I saw the strange lurid
glance. It disappeared, however, in an instant, and she was all smiles
and fascinations throughout the remainder of the day. Never had I been
"As the day of our marriage approached," continued Mohun, "I saw more
than once the same singular expression in the lady's eyes, and I
confess it chilled me.
"She seemed to be the prey to singular moods, and fits of silence. She
took more frequent and longer walks with Mortimer than before. When
they returned from these walks and found me awaiting them at the
parsonage, both would look at me in the strangest way, only to quickly
withdraw their eyes when they caught my own fixed upon them.
"I longed to speak of this curious phenomenon to some one, but had no
friend. My best friend, Nighthawk, was alienated from me, and
Mademoiselle had been the cause. From the first moment of our
acquaintance, Nighthawk had seemed to suspect something. He did not
attempt to conceal his dislike of Mortimer and the young lady. Why was
that? I could not tell. Your dog growls when the secret foe approaches
you, smiling, and, perhaps, Nighthawk, my faithful retainer, had
something of the watch dog in him.
"Certain it is that he had witnessed my growing intimacy with Miss
Mortimer, with ill-concealed distaste. As I became more and more
attentive, he became almost sour toward me. When I asked him the
meaning of his singular deportment, he shook his head--and then, with
flushed cheeks and eyes, exclaimed: 'do not marry this young person,
sir! something bad will come of it!' When he said that, I looked at him
with haughty surprise--and this sentiment changed in a few moments to
cold anger. 'Leave this house,' I said, 'and do not return until you
have learned how to treat me with decent respect!' He looked at me for
a moment, clasped his hands, opened his lips--seemed about to burst
forth into passionate entreaty--but all at once, shaking his head, went
out in silence. I looked after him with a strange shrinking of the
heart. What could he mean? He was senseless!--and I mounted my horse,
galloped to the parsonage, was received with radiant smiles, and forgot
the whole scene. On the next day Nighthawk did not return--nor on the
next. I did not see him again until the evening of the day on which I
"To that 'auspicious moment' I have now conducted you, my dear Surry.
The morning for my marriage came. I say 'the morning'--for my
'enchantress,' as the amatory poets say, had declared that she detested
the idea of being married at night; she also objected to
company;--would I not consent to have the ceremony performed quietly at
the parsonage, with no one present but her brother and the excellent
parson, Hope, and his old housekeeper? Then she would belong to me--I
could do as I pleased with her--take her to Fonthill, or where I
chose--she only begged that I would allow her to embark on the ocean of
matrimony, with no one to witness her blushes but myself, her brother,
the old housekeeper, and the good minister!
"I consented at once. The speech charmed me, I need not say--and I was
not myself unwilling to dispense with inquisitive eyes and laughing
witnesses. Infatuated as I was, I could not conceal from myself that my
marriage was a hasty and extremely 'romantic' affair. I doubted whether
the old friends of my father in the neighborhood would approve of it;
and now, when Mademoiselle gave me a good excuse to dispense with their
presence, I gladly assented, invited no one, and went to my wedding
alone, in the great family chariot, unaccompanied by a single friend or
"Mademoiselle met me with a radiant smile, and her wedding dress of
white silk, made her look perfectly charming. Her lips were caressing,
her eyes melting, but all at once, as she looked at me, I saw the color
all fade out of the rosy lips of the lady; and from the great dark eyes
darted the lurid flash. A chill, like that of death smote me, I know
not why, but I suppressed my emotion. In ten minutes, I was standing
before the excellent clergyman, the young lady's cold hand in mine--and
we were duly declared man and wife.
"All my forebodings and strange shrinkings were completely dissipated
at this instant. I was overwhelmed with happiness, and would not have
envied a king upon his throne. With the hand of the lovely creature in
my own, and her eyes fixed upon me with an expression of the deepest
love, I experienced but one emotion--that of full, complete, unalloyed
"Let me hasten on. The storm is coming, my dear Surry. I linger on the
threshold of the tragedy, and recoil even now, with a sort of shudder
from the terrible scenes which succeeded my marriage. _Tragedy_ is a
mild word, as you will perceive, for the drama. It was going to surpass
Aeschylus--and preserve the Greek 'unities' with frightful precision!
"Half an hour after the ceremony, I led madam to my chariot; followed
her into the vehicle, and making a last sign of greeting to the good
parson, directed the driver to proceed to Fonthill. Madam's excellent
brother did not accompany us. He declared his intention to remain on
that night at the parsonage. He would call at Fonthill on the next
day--on the day after, he proposed to continue his way to Georgia. His
eyes were not a pleasant spectacle as he uttered these words, and I
observed a singular pallor came to madam's countenance. But I was in no
mood to nourish suspicion. At the height of happiness, I looked
serenely down upon all the world, and with the hand of _my wife_ in my
own, was driven rapidly to Fonthill.
"We arrived in the afternoon, and dined in state, all alone. Madam did
the honors of _her table_ with exquisite grace, but more than once I
saw her hand shake in a very singular way, as she carried food or a
glass to her lips.
"After dinner she bade me a smiling courtesy, leaving me to find
company in my cigar, she said; and tripped off to her chamber.
"Well, I lit my cigar, retired to the library, and seating myself in an
arm-chair before the fire, began to reflect. It was nearly the middle
of December, and through the opening in the curtains I could see the
moonlight on the chill expanse of the lawn.
"I had just taken my seat, when I heard a step in the passage, the door
of the library opened, and Nighthawk, as pale as a ghost, and with a
strange expression in his eyes, entered the apartment."
"I had recognized his step," continued Mohun, "but I did not move or
turn my head, for I had not recovered from my feeling of ill humor
toward the faithful retainer. I allowed him to approach me, and then
said coldly, without looking at him--
"'Who is that?'
"'I, sir,' said Nighthawk, in a trembling voice.
"'What do you want?'
"'I wish to speak to you, sir.'
"'I am not at leisure.'
"'I _must_ speak to you, sir.'
"I wheeled round in my chair, and looked at him. His pallor was
"'What does all this mean?' I said, coldly, 'this is a singular
"'I would not intrude upon you, if it was not necessary sir,' he said,
in an agitated voice, 'but I must speak to you to-night!'
"There was something in his accent which frightened me, I knew not why.
"'Well speak!' I said, austerely, 'but be brief!'
"'As brief as I can, sir; but I must tell you all. If you strike me
dead at your feet, I must tell you all, sir!'
"In spite of myself I shuddered.
"'Speak!' I said, 'what does this mean, Nighthawk?' Why do you look
like a ghost at me?'
"He came up close to me.
"'What I have to tell you concerns your honor and your life, sir!' he
said, in a low tone.
"I gazed at him in speechless astonishment. Was I the prey of some
nightmare? I protest to you, Surry, I thought for a moment that I was
dreaming all this. A tremor ran through my frame; I placed my hand upon
my heart, which felt icy cold--then suddenly my self-possession and
coolness seemed to return to me as by magic.
"'Explain your words,' I said, coldly, 'there is some mystery in them
which I do not understand. Speak, and speak plainly.'
"'I will do so, sir,' he replied, in the same trembling voice.
"And going to the door of the apartment, he bent down and placed his
ear at the key-hole. He remained in this attitude for a moment without
moving. Then rising, he went to the window, and drawing aside the
curtains, looked out on the chill moonlit expanse. This second
examination seemed to satisfy him. At the same instant a light
step--the step of madam--was heard crossing the floor of the apartment,
above our heads; and this evidently banished Nighthawk's last fears.
"He returned quickly to the seat where I was sitting; looked at me for
some minutes with eyes full of fear, affection, sympathy, fright, and
said in a voice so low, that it scarce rose above a whisper:--
"'We are alone, sir, and I can speak without being overheard by these
devils who have betrayed and are about to murder you! Do not interrupt
me sir!--the time is short!--you must know every thing at once, in an
hour it would be too late! The man calling himself Mortimer is probably
within a hundred yards of us at this moment. The woman you have married
is----his wife. Stop, sir!--do not strike me!--listen! I know the truth
of every thing now. She talked with him for an hour under the big
cedar, near the parsonage last night. He will see her again to-night,
and in this house--hear me to the end, sir! You will not harm him; you
will care nothing for all this; you will not know it, for you will be
"At these words I must have turned deadly pale, for Nighthawk hastened
to my side, and placed his arm around me to support me. But I did not
need his assistance. In an instant I was as calm as I am at this
moment. I quietly removed the arm of Nighthawk, and said in a low
"'How do you know this?'
"'I overheard their talk,' he replied, in a husky voice, and looked at
me with infinite tenderness as he spoke. 'I was coming to see you at
the parsonage, where I thought you had gone, sir. I could not bear to
keep away from my old master's son any longer; and let him get married
without making up, and having him feel kindly again to me. Well, sir, I
had just reached the big cedar, when I saw _the lady_ come out of the
house, hasten toward the cedar, and hide herself in the shadow, within
a few feet of me. No sooner had she done so, than I saw a man come from
the rear of the house, straight to the cedar, and as he drew nearer I
recognized Mortimer. Madam coughed slightly, as though to give him the
signal; he soon reached her; and then they began to talk. I was hidden
by the trunk of the tree, and the shadow of the heavy boughs, reaching
nearly to the ground; so I heard every word they said, without being
"'What was it they said?'
"'I can not repeat their words, sir, but I can tell you what I learned
from their talk.'
"'Tell me,' I said.
"'First, I discovered that madam had been married to that man more than
a year before you saw her.'
"'Before which she had been tried, convicted, and confined for six
months in a prison in New York, as a thief. You turn pale, sir; shall I
"'No, go on,' I said.
"'These facts,' continued Nighthawk, 'came out in a sort of quarrel
which madam had with the man. He reproached her with intending to
desert him--with loving you--and said he had not rescued her from
misery to be thus treated. She laughed, and replied that she was only
following a suggestion of his own. They were poor, they must live; he
had himself said that they must procure money either honestly or
dishonestly; and he had fully approved of the plan she had now
undertaken. _You_, sir--she added--were an "empty-headed fool,"--the
idea of her "loving" you was absurd!--but you were wealthy; immensely
wealthy; had made a will leaving her your entire property;--_if you
died suddenly on your wedding night_, she and himself would possess
Fonthill, and live in affluence.'
"'Go on,' I said.
"'At these words,' continued Nighthawk, 'I could see the man turn pale.
He had not intended _that_, he said. His scheme had been, that madam
should induce you to bestow upon her a splendid trousseau in the shape
of jewels and money, with which they would elope. The marriage was only
a farce, he added--he did not wish to turn it into a tragedy. But she
interrupted him impatiently, and said she hated and would have no mercy
on you. She would have all or nothing. Your will made her the mistress.
What was a crime, more or less, to people like themselves! At these
words he uttered a growl. In a word, she added, you were _an obstacle_,
and she was going to _suppress you_--with or without his consent. She
then proceeded to tell him her resolution; and it is a frightful, a
horrible one, sir! All is arranged--you are about to be _murdered_!'
"'How, and when?' I said.
"'This very night, by poison!'
"'Ah!' I said, 'explain that.'
"'Madam has provided herself with strychnine, which she will place in
the tea you drink to-night. Tea will be served in half an hour. _He_
will be waiting--for she forced him to agree--and your cries will
announce all to him. You will be poisoned between eight and nine
o'clock in the evening, sir,--at ten you will already be dying,--and at
midnight you will be dead. Then madam will banish every one from her
chamber, in inconsolable grief--lock the door--tap on the
window-pane--_he_ will hear the signal, and come up the back
staircase--when madam will open the private door for him to come in and
take a look at your body! Do you understand now, sir?'
"'Yes,' I said. 'Remain here, Nighthawk. There is the step of the
servant coming to tell me tea is ready!'"
THE CUP OF TEA.
"The door opened as I uttered the words, and my old major-domo--gray
haired, and an heir-loom, so to say, of the family--bowed low, and
announced that tea was served and madam waiting.
"I rose and looked into the mirror above the fireplace. I was pale, but
not sufficiently so to excite suspicion; and with a smile which
frightened Nighthawk, took my way toward the supper-room.
"Madam was awaiting me, as I suspected, and I had never seen her look
more radiant. A single glance told me that she had made an elaborate
toilet in honor of--my funeral! Her dark hair was in shining braids;
her eyes sparkled with joy; her parted lips showed her white
teeth;--the only evidence I saw of concealed emotion was in the
bloodless cheeks. They were as white as the lace falling over her
superb silk dress.
"'You see you keep me waiting!' she said, with playful _naivete_, 'and
your tea is growing cold, sir--which is worse for me than for you, as
you do not care, but I care for you!'
"And as I passed her, she drew me playfully toward her, dragged me
down, and held up her lips. I touched them with my own; they were as
cold as ice, or the cheek my own face just touched in passing. I went
to the table; took my seat; and madam poured out the tea, with a covert
glance toward me. I was not looking at her, but I saw it.
"A moment afterward, the old waiter presented me the small gilt cup,
smoking, fragrant, and inviting.
"I took it, looking, as before, out of the corner of my eye at madam.
She was leaning forward, watching me with a face as pale as death. I
could hear her teeth chatter.
"I placed the cup to my lips;--her hand, holding a spoon, trembled so
that the spoon beat a tattoo on her saucer. She was watching me in
breathless suspense; and all at once I turned full toward her.
"'The taste of this tea is singular,' I said, 'I should call it very
"'Oh, it is--excellent!' she muttered, between her chattering teeth.
"'The cup you send me is certainly wretched. Do me the _pleasure to
taste it, madam_.'
"And depositing it upon the waiter of the old servant, I
"'Take this to your mistress.'
"He did so; she just touched it with her lips, her hand trembling, then
replaced it upon the waiter.
"'I perceive nothing disagreeable,' she murmured.
"'Swallow a mouthful,' I said, with a bitter smile.
"She looked at me with sudden intentness. Her eyes, full of wild
inquiry, seemed attempting to read into my very soul.
"'Perhaps you object to drinking after me, as the children say,' I
added--this time with a species of sneer, and a flash of the eye, I
"'Oh, no!' she exclaimed, with an attempt to laugh; 'and to show
"With a quick movement she attempted--as though by accident--to strike
the waiter with her elbow, in order to overturn the cup.
"But the old servant was too well trained. The lady's elbow struck the
waiter, but the skilful attendant withdrew it quickly. Not a drop of
the tea was spilled.
"A moment afterward I was beside madam.
"'I pray you to drink,' I said.
"'I can not--I feel unwell,' she murmured, cowering beneath the fire in
"'I beg you to drink from this cup.'
"'I have told you--I will not.'
"'I beseech you to humor me, madam. Else I shall regard you as a
"She rose suddenly.
"'Your meaning, sir!' she exclaimed, as pale as death.
"I took the cup and poured the tea into a saucer. At the bottom was a
modicum of white powder, undissolved. I poured the tea into the cup
again--then a second time into the saucer. This time nothing
remained--and I proceeded to pour cream into the saucer, until it was
filled. Madam watched me with distended eyes, and trembling from head
to foot. Then suddenly she uttered a cry--a movement of mine had caused
"I had gone to the fire where a cat was reposing upon the rug, and
placed the saucer before her. In two minutes its contents had
disappeared down the throat of the cat. Five minutes afterward the
animal was seized with violent convulsions--uttered unearthly
cries--tore the carpet with its claws--glared around in a sort of
despair--rolled on its back, beat the air with its paws--and expired.
"I turned to madam, who was gazing at me with distended eyes, and
pointing to the cat, said:--
"'See this unfortunate animal, madam! Her death is curious. She has
died in convulsions, in consequence of drinking a cup of tea!'"
"Up to this moment," continued Mohun, "madam had exhibited every
indication of nervous excitement, and a sort of terror. Had that arisen
from a feeling of suspense, and the unexpected discovery of her intent
by the proposed victim? I know not; but now, when all was discovered,
her manner suddenly changed.
"She glared at me like a wild animal driven to bay. Her pearly teeth
closed upon her under lip until the blood started. Pallid, but defiant,
she uttered a low hoarse sound which resembled the growl of a tigress
from whom her prey has been snatched, and with a firm and haughty step
left the apartment, glaring over her shoulder at me to the last.
"Then her step was heard upon the great staircase; she slowly ascended
to her chamber; the door opened, then closed--and I sat down, overcome
for an instant by the terrible scene, within three paces of the dead
animal, destroyed by the poison intended for myself.
"This paralysis of mind lasted only for a moment, however. I rose
coolly; directed the old servant, who alone had witnessed the scene, to
retire, and carefully abstain from uttering a word of what had passed
before him--then I leaned upon the mantel-piece, reflected for five
minutes--and in that time I had formed my resolution.
"Mortimer was first to be thought of. I intended to put him to death
first and foremost. It would have been easy to have imitated the old
seigneurs of the feudal age, and ordered my retainers to assassinate
him; but that was repugnant to my whole character. It should never be
said that a Mohun had shrunk before his foe; that one of my family had
delegated to another the punishment of his enemy. I would fight
Mortimer--meet him in fair and open combat--if he killed me well and
good. If not, I would kill him. And it should not be with the pistol. I
thirsted to meet him breast to breast; to feel my weapon traverse his
heart. To accomplish this was not difficult. I had often heard
Mortimer, when at the parsonage, boast of his skill with the foils. I
had a pair at hand. By breaking off the buttons, and sharpening the
points, I would secure two rude but excellent rapiers, with which
Mortimer and myself could settle our little differences, after the
fashion of gentlemen in former ages! As to the place of
combat,--anywhere--in the house, or a part of the grounds around the
mansion--it was unimportant I said, so that one of us was killed. But a
moment's reflection induced me to change my views. Under any
circumstances _I_ was going to die--that was true. My character,
however, must be thought of. It would not do to have a stain rest on
the last of the house of Mohun! Were I to kill Mortimer in the house,
or grounds, it would be said that I had murdered him, with the aid of
my servants--that I had drawn him thither to strike him--had acted the
traitor and the coward. 'No,' I said, 'even in death I must guard the
family honor. This man must fall elsewhere--in some spot far distant
from this house--fall without witnesses--in silence--in fair fight with
me, no one even seeing us.'
"I had formed this resolution in five minutes after the departure of
madam from the supper-room. I went straight to the library; calmly
stated my resolution to Nighthawk; and in spite of his most obstinate
remonstrances, and repeated refusals, broke down his opposition by
sheer force of will. It took me half an hour, but at the end of that
time I had succeeded. Nighthawk listened, with bent head, and pale face
covered with drops of cold perspiration, to my orders. These orders
were to have the horses put to the carriage, which was to be ready at
my call; then to proceed with a trusty servant, or more if necessary,
to a private spot on the river, which I described to him; dig a grave
of full length and depth; and when his work was finished, return and
report the fact to me, cautioning the servant or servants to say
"This work, I calculated, would be completed about midnight--and at
midnight I promised myself an interview with my friend Mortimer.
"Nighthawk groaned as he listened to my cold and resolute voice, giving
minute instructions for the work of darkness--looked at my face, to
discover if there were any signs of yielding there--doubtless saw none
whatever--and disappeared, uttering a groan, to carry out the orders
which he had received from me.
"Then I took the two foils from the top of the bookcase where they were
kept; broke off the buttons by placing my heel upon them; procured a
file, and sharpened the points until they would have penetrated through
an ordinary plank. That was sufficient, I said to myself--they would
pierce a man's breast--and placing them on the buffet, I went to a
drawer and took out a loaded revolver, which I thrust into my breast.
"Two minutes afterward I had ascended to madam's chamber, opened the
door, and entered."
WHILE WAITING FOR MIDNIGHT.
"I did not arrive a moment too soon--in fact I came in the nick of
"Madam had hastily collected watches, chains, breastpins, necklaces,
and all the money she could find; had thrust the whole into a jewel
casket; thrown her rich furs around her shoulders; and was hurrying
toward the door, in rear of the apartment which opened on the private
"She had not locked the main door of the apartment, doubtless fearing
to excite suspicion, or knowing I could easily break the hasp with a
single blow of my foot. She had plainly counted on my stupor of
astonishment and horror at her crime, and was now trying to escape.
"That did not suit my view, however. In two steps, I reached the
private door, turned the key, drew it from the lock, and placed it in
"'Sit down, madam,' I said, 'and do not be in such a hurry to desert
your dear husband. Let us talk for a few moments, at least, before you
"She glared at me and sat down. She looked regal in her costly furs,
holding the casket, heaped with rich jewels.
"'What is your programme, madam, if I may ask?' I said, taking a chair
which stood opposite to her.
"'To leave this house!' she said, hoarsely.
"'Ah! you are tired of me, then?'
"'I am sick of you!--have long been sick of you!'
"'Indeed!' I said. 'That is curious! I thought our marriage was a love
affair, madam; at least you induced me to suppose so. What, then, has
suddenly changed your sentiments in my direction? Am I a monster? Have
I been cruel to you? Am I unworthy of you?'
"'I hate and despise you!'
"It was the hoarse growl of a wild animal rather than the voice of a
woman. She was imperial at that moment--and I acknowledge, Surry, that
she was 'game to the last!'
"'Ah! you hate me, you despise me!' I said. 'I have had the misfortune
to incur madam's displeasure! No more connubial happiness--no more
endearments and sweet confidences--no more loving words, and
glances--no more bliss!'
"She continued to glare at me.
"'I am unworthy of madam; I see that clearly,' I went on. 'I am only a
poor little, plain little, insignificant little country clodhopper! I
am nothing--a mere nobody,--while madam is--shall I tell you, madam?
While you are a convict--a bigamist,--and a poisoner! Are you not?'
"Her face became livid, but her defiant eyes never sank before my
glance. I really admired her, Surry. No woman was ever braver than that
one. I had supposed that these words would overwhelm her; that the
discovery of my acquaintance with her past life, and full knowledge of
her attempted crime, would crush her to the earth. Perhaps I had some
remnant of pity for this woman. If she had been submissive, repentant!
but, instead of submission and confusion, she exhibited greater
defiance than before. In the pale face her eyes burned like coals of
fire--and it was rage which inflamed them.
"'So you have set your spies on me!' she exclaimed, in accents of
inexpressible fury. 'You are a chivalric gentleman, truly! You are
worthy of your boasted family! You pretend to love and confide in
me--you look at me with smiles and eyes of affection--and all the time
you are laying a trap for me--endeavoring to catch me and betray me!
Well, yes, sir! yes! What you have discovered through your spies is
true. I _was_ tried and sentenced as a thief--I _was_ married when I
first saw you--and it is this miserable creature, this offscouring of
the kennels, this thief, that has become _the wife_ of the proud Mr.
Mohun--in the eyes of the world at least! I am so still--my character
is untainted--dare to expose me and have me punished, and it is _your_
proud name that will be tarnished! _your_ grand escutcheon that will be
blotted! Come! arrest me, expose me, drag me to justice! I will stand
up in open court, and point my finger at you where you stand cowering,
in the midst of jeers and laughter, and say: "There is Mr. Mohun, of
the ancient family of the Mohuns,--he is the husband and the dupe of a
"She was splendid as she uttered these words, Surry. They thrilled me,
and made my blood flame. I half rose, nearly beside myself--then I
resumed my seat and my coolness. A moment afterward I was as calm as I
am at this moment, and said, laughing:--
"'So you have prepared that pretty little tableau, have you, madam? I
compliment you on your skill;--and even more on your nerve. But have
you not omitted one thing--a very trifling portion, it is true, of the
indictment to be framed against you? I refer to the little scene of
this evening, madam.'
"Her teeth closed with a snap. Otherwise she exhibited no emotion. Her
flashing eyes continued to survey me with the former defiance.
"'Is there not an additional clause in the said indictment, madam?' I
calmly continued, 'which the commonwealth's attorney will perhaps rely
on more fully than upon all else in the document, to secure your
conviction and punishment? You are not only a bigamist and an
ex-convict,--you are also a poisoner, my dear madam, and may be hanged
for that. Or, if not hanged--there is that handsome white house at
Richmond, the state penitentiary. The least term which a jury can affix
to your crime, will be eighteen years, if you are not sent there for
life! For life!--think of that, madam. How very disagreeable it will
be! Nothing around you but blank walls; no associates but thieves and
murderers--hard labor with these pretty hands--a hard bed for this
handsome body--coarse and wretched food for these dainty red lips--the
dress, the food, the work, and the treatment of a convict!
Disagreeable, is it not, madam? But that is the least that a felon,
convicted of an attempt to poison, can expect! There is only one point
which I have omitted, and which may count for you. This life in prison
will not be so hard to you--since your ladyship has already served your
apprenticeship among felons.'
"The point at last was reached. Madam had listened with changing color,
and my words seemed to paint the frightful scene in all its horror.
Suddenly fury mastered her. She rose and seemed clutching at some
weapon to strike me.
"'You are _a gentleman_! you insult a woman.'
"'You are a poisoner, madam--you make tea for the gentleman!'
"'You are a coward! do you hear? a coward!'
"'I can not return, madam, the same reproach!' I replied, rising and
bowing; 'it required some courage to attempt to poison me upon the very
night of my wedding!'
"My words drove her to frenzy.
"'Beware!' she exclaimed, taking a step toward me, and putting her hand
into her bosom.
"'Beware!' I said, with a laugh, 'beware of what, my dear Madam
"And with a movement as rapid as lightning she drew from her breast a
small silver-mounted pistol, which she aimed straight at my breast.
"I was not in a mood to care much for pistols, Surry. When a man is
engaged in a little affair like that, bullets lose their influence on
"'That is a pretty toy!' I said. 'Where did you procure it madam, the
"With a face resembling rather a hideous mask than a human countenance,
she rushed upon me; placed the muzzle of the pistol on my very breast;
and drew the trigger.
"The weapon snapped.
"A moment afterward I had taken it from her hand and thrown it into a
"'Very well done!' I said. 'What a pity that you use such indifferent
caps! Your pistol is as harmless as your tea!'
"She uttered a hoarse cry, but did not recoil in the least, Surry! This
woman was a curiosity. Instead of retreating from me, she clenched her
small white hand, raised it above her head, and exclaimed:--
"'If _he_ only were here!'
"'_He_, madam?' I said. 'You refer to your respected _brother_--to Mr.
"'Yes! _he_ would make you repent your cowardly outrages and insults.'
"I looked at my watch, it was just eleven.
"'The hour is earlier than I thought, madam,' I said, 'but perhaps he
has already arrived.'
"And advancing to the side of the lady, I took her arm, drew her toward
the window, and said:--
"'Why not give your friend the signal you have agreed on, madam?'
"At a bound she reached the window, and struck a rapid series of blows
with her fingers upon the pane.
"Five minutes afterward a heavy step was heard ascending the private
staircase. I went to the door and unlocked it; the step
approached--stopped at the door--the door opened, and Mortimer
"'Come in, my dear brother-in-law,' I said, 'we are waiting for you.'"
THE RESULT OF THE SIGNAL.
"Mortimer recoiled as if a blow had been suddenly struck at him. His
astonishment was so comic that I began to laugh.
"'Good! you start!' I said. 'You thought I was dead by this time?'
"'Yes,' he coolly replied.
"As he spoke, his hand stole under the cloak in which he was wrapped,
and I heard the click of a pistol as he cocked it. I drew my own
weapon, cocked it in turn, and placing the muzzle upon Mortimer's
"'Draw your pistol and you are dead!'
"He looked at me with perfect coolness, mingled with a sort of
curiosity. I saw that he was a man of unfaltering courage, and that the
instincts of a gentleman had not entirely left him, soiled as he was
with every crime. His eye was calm and unshrinking. He did not move an
inch when I placed my pistol muzzle upon his breast. At the words which
I uttered he withdrew his hand from his cloak--he had returned the
weapon to its place--and with a penetrating glance, said:--
"'What do you wish, sir; as you declare you await me?'
"'Ask madam,' I said, 'or rather exert your own ingenuity.'
"'Why not tell me?'
"'So be it. The matter is perfectly simple, sir. I wish to kill you, or
give you an opportunity to kill me--is that plain?'
"'Quite so,' replied Mortimer, without moving a muscle.
"'I can understand, without further words, that all explanations and
discussions are wholly useless.'
"'You wish to fight me,' he said.
"'To put an end to me, if possible?'
"'Well, I will give you that opportunity, sir, and, even return you my
thanks for not killing me on the spot.'
"He paused a moment, and looked keenly at me.
"'This whole affair is infamous,' he said. 'I knew that when I
undertook it. I was once a gentleman, and have not forgotten every
thing I then learned, whatever my practice may be. You have been
tricked and deceived. You have been made the victim of a disgraceful
plot, and I was the author of the whole affair; though this lady would,
herself, have been equal to that, or even more. You see I talk to you
plainly, sir; I know a gentleman when I see him, and you are one. I was
formerly something of the same sort, but having outlawed myself, went
on in the career that brought me to this. I was poor--am poor now. I
originated the idea of this pseudo-marriage, with a view to profit by
it, but with no further--'
"He suddenly paused and looked at the woman. Their glances in that
moment crossed like lightning.
"'Speak out!' she cried, 'say plainly--'
"'Hush! I did not mean to--I am no coward, madam!'
"'Say plainly that it was _I_ who formed the design to get rid of this
"And she pointed furiously at me.
"'Let no scruples restrain you--take nothing upon yourself--it was I,
I!--I who planned his death!'
"Mortimer remained for an instant silent. Then he resumed, in the same
measured voice as before:--
"'You hear,' he said. 'I tried to shield her, to take the blame--meant
to give you no inkling of this--but she spoils all. To end this. I have
offered you a mortal insult--soiled an ancient and honorable name--the
last representative of the Mohuns has formed through me a degrading
connection. I acknowledge all that. I am going to try to kill you, to
bury every thing in the grave. I would have shrunk from assassinating
you, though I wish your death. You offer me honorable combat, and you
do me an honor, which I appreciate. Let us finish. The place, time, and
"There was, then, something not altogether base in this man. I listened
with joy. I had expected to encounter a wretch without a single
attribute of the gentleman.
"'You accept this honorable combat, then?' I said.
"'With thanks,' he replied.
"'You wish to fight as gentlemen fight?'
"'You fence well?'
"'Are you certain? I warn you I am excellent at the foils.'
"'They suit me--that is agreed on, then?'
"He bowed, and said:--
"'Yes. And now, as to the place, the time, and every detail. All that I
leave to you.'
"I bowed in turn.
"'Then nothing will delay our affair. I have ordered a grave to be dug,
in a private spot, on the river. The foils are ready, with the buttons
broken, the points sharpened. The carriage has been ordered. A ride of
fifteen minutes will bring us to the grave, which is done by this time,
and we can settle our differences there, by moonlight, without
witnesses or interruption.'
"Mortimer looked at me with a sinister smile.
"'You are provident!' he said, briefly. 'I understand. The one who
falls will give no trouble. The grave will await him, and he can enter
at once upon his property!'
"'And this lady?'
"'That will come afterward,' I said.
"'If I kill you--?'
"'She is your property.'
"'And if you kill me--?'
"'She is mine,' I said.
"The sinister smile again came to the dark features of Mortimer.
"'So be it,' he said, 'and I am ready to accompany you, sir.'
"I drew my pistol and threw it upon the bed, looking at Mortimer as I
did so. He imitated me, and opening his coat, showed me that he was
wholly unarmed. I did the same, and having locked the private door
leading to the back staircase, led the way out, followed by Mortimer.
He turned and looked at madam as he passed through the door. She was
erect, furious, defiant, full of anticipated triumph. Was it a glance
of gloomy compassion and deep tenderness which Mortimer threw toward
her? I thought I heard him sigh.
"I locked the door, and we descended to the library."
WHAT TOOK PLACE IN FIFTY MINUTES.
"As we entered the apartment, the clock on the mantel-piece struck
"My body servant was within call, and I ordered my carriage, which
Nighthawk had been directed to have ready at a moment's warning.
"In five minutes it was at the door, and I had just taken the two foils
under my arm, when I heard a step in the passage. A moment afterward,
"He was so pale that I scarcely recognized him. When his eyes
encountered Mortimer, they flashed lightnings of menace.
"'Well?' I said, in brief tones.
"'It is ready, sir,' Nighthawk replied, in a voice scarcely audible. I
looked at him imperiously.
"'And the servants are warned to keep silent?'
"'Very well. Remain here until I return,' I said.
"And I pointed to a seat, with a glance at Nighthawk, which said
plainly to him, 'Do not presume to attempt to turn me from my present
purpose--it will be useless, and offensive to me.'
"He groaned, and sat down in the seat I indicated. His frame was bent
and shrunken like that of an old man, in one evening. Since that
moment, I have loved Nighthawk, my dear Surry; and he deserves it.
"Without delay I led the way to the carriage, which was driven by my
father's old gray-haired coachman, and entered it with Mortimer,
directing the driver to follow the high-road down the river. He did so;
we rolled on in the moonlight, or the shadow, as it came forth or
disappeared behind the drifting clouds. The air was intensely cold.
From beyond the woods came the hollow roar of the Nottoway, which was
swollen by a freshet.
"Mortimer drew his cloak around him, but said nothing. In ten minutes I
called to the old coachman to stop. He checked his spirited horses--I
had some good ones then--and I descended from the carriage, with the
foils under my arm, followed by Mortimer.
"The old coachman looked on in astonishment. The spot at which I had
stopped the carriage was wild and dreary beyond expression.
"'Shall I wait, sir?' he said, respectfully.
"'No; return home at once, and put away the carriage.'
"He looked at me with a sort of stupor.
"'Go home, sir?' he said.
"'And leave you?'
"My voice must have shown that remonstrance would be useless. My old
servitor uttered a sigh like the groan which had escaped from the lips
of Nighthawk, and, mounting the box, turned the heads of his horses
"I watched the carriage until it turned a bend in the road, and then,
making a sign to Mortimer to follow me, led the way into the woods.
Pursuing a path which the moonlight just enabled me to perceive, I
penetrated the forest; went on for about ten minutes; and finally
emerged upon a plateau, in the swampy undergrowth near which stood the
ruins of an old chimney.
"This chimney had served to indicate the spot to Nighthawk; and, before
us, in the moonlight, was the evidence that he had found it. In the
centre of the plateau was a newly dug grave--and in front of it I
"'We have arrived,' I said.
"Mortimer gazed at the grave with a grim smile.
"'That is a dreary and desolate object,' he said.
"'It will soon be inhabited,' I returned; 'and the issue of this combat
is indifferent to me, since in either event I shall be dead.'
"'Ah!' he exclaimed, 'explain that.'
"'Then you do not understand! You think this duel will end every thing?
You deceive yourself! A family history like mine does not terminate
with a duel. Have you read those tragedies where everybody is
killed?--where not a single one of the _dramatis personae_ escapes?
Well, this is going to be a drama of that exact description. Do you
wish to save that woman, yonder? To do so, you must kill _me_. I tell
you that to warn you to do your best, sir!'
"Mortimer glared at me. It is hard to imagine a glance more sinister.
"'So you have arranged the whole affair?' he said; 'there is to be a
"'You are going to kill--_her_?'
"Mortimer's smile became more sinister, as he raised his foil.
"'Take your position, sir,' he said; 'I am going to save you the latter
"I grasped my weapon, and placed myself on guard.
"In an instant he had thrown himself upon me with a fury which
indicated the profound passion under his assumed coolness. His eyes
blazed; his lips writhed into something like a deadly grin; I felt that
I had to contend rather with a wild animal than a man. The grave yawned
in the moonlight at our very feet, and Mortimer closed in, with fury,
endeavoring to force me to its brink, and hurl me into it.
"Ten minutes afterward the combat was over; and it was Mortimer who
occupied the grave.
"He had given ground an instant, to breathe; had returned to the attack
more furiously than before; a tremendous blow of his weapon snapped my
own, eighteen inches from the hilt; but this had probably saved my life
instead of destroying it, as Mortimer, from his fierce exclamation as
the blade broke, evidently expected.
"Before he could take advantage of his success, I sprang at his throat,
grasped his sword-arm with my left hand, and, shortening my stump of a
weapon, drove the point through his breast.
"He uttered a cry, staggered, and threw up his hands; I released my
clutch on his arm; and he fell heavily backward into the grave.
"'Now to end all,' I said, and I set out rapidly for Fonthill."
GOING TO REJOIN MORTIMER.
"I had not gone a hundred yards, when I heard the sound of wheels
"I had said to myself, 'I am going back to madam; she will hear my
footsteps upon the staircase; will open the door; will rush forward to
embrace me, under the impression that I am her dear Mortimer, returning
triumphant from the field of battle; and then a grand tableau!' Things
were destined to turn out differently, as you will see in an instant.
"The sound of wheels grew louder; a carriage appeared; and I recognized
my own chariot.
"'Why have you disobeyed my orders?' I said to the old gray-haired
driver, arresting the horses as I spoke, by violently grasping the
"The old coachman looked frightened. Then he said, in an agitated
"'Madam ordered me to obey her, sir.'
"'Where is she?'
"'In the carriage, sir. As soon as I got back, she came down to the
door--ordered me to drive her to _you_--and I was obliged to do so,
"'Good,' I said, 'you have done well.'
"And opening the door of the carriage, through the glass of which I saw
the pale face of the woman, I entered it, directing the coachman to
drive to the 'Hicksford Crossing.'
A hoarse, but defiant voice at my side said:--
"'Where is Mr. Mortimer?'
"'Gone over the river,' I said, laughing, 'and we are going, too.'
"'To rejoin him?'
"The carriage had rolled on, and as it passed the grave I heard a
"'What is that?' said she.
"'The river is groaning over yonder, madam.'
"'You will not attempt to pass it to-night?'
"'Yes, madam. Are you afraid?'
"She looked at me with fiery eyes.
"'Afraid? No!' she said, 'I am afraid of nothing!'
"I really admired her at that moment. She was truly brave. I said
nothing, however. The carriage rolled on, and ten minutes afterward the
roar of the river, now near at hand, was heard. That sound mingled with
the deep bellowing of the thunder, which succeeded the dazzling flashes
at every instant dividing the darkness.
"All at once my companion said:--
"'I am tired of this--where is Mr. Mortimer?'
"'He awaits us,' I replied.
"'You are going to him?'
"We had reached the bank of the river, and, stopping the carriage, I
sprung out. Madam followed me, without being invited. A small boat rose
and fell on the swollen current. I detached the chain, seized a paddle,
and pointed to the stern seat.
"'The river is dangerous to-night,' said madam, coldly.
"'Then you are afraid, after all?'
"'No!' she said.
"And with a firm step she entered the boat.
"'Go back with the carriage,' I said to the driver. He turned the heads
of the horses, and obeyed in silence.
"Madam had taken her seat in the stern of the boat. I pushed from shore
into the current, and paddling rapidly to the middle of the foaming
torrent, filled with drift-wood, threw the paddle overboard, and took
my seat in the stern.
"As I threw away the paddle, my resolution seemed to dawn for the first
time upon my companion. She had become deadly pale, but said nothing.
With folded arms, I looked and listened; we were nearing a narrow and
rock-studded point in the river, where there was no hope.
"The frail boat was going to be overturned there, or dashed to pieces
without mercy. I knew the spot--knew that there was no hope. The
torrent was roaring and driving the boat like a leaf toward the jagged
and fatal rocks.
"'Then you are going to kill me and yourself at the same time!' she
"The woman was fearless.
"'Yes,' I said, 'it is the only way. I could not live dishonored--you
dishonored me--I die--and die with you!'
"And I rose erect, baring my forehead to the lightning.
"The point was reached. The boat swept on with the speed of a
racehorse. A dazzling flash showed a dark object amid the foam, right
ahead of us. The boat rushed toward it--the jagged teeth seemed
grinning at us--the boat struck--and the next moment I felt the torrent
sweep over me, roaring furious and sombre, like a wild beast that has
caught its prey."
"When I opened my eyes, the sun was shining in my face.
"I was lying on a mass of drift-wood, caught by a ledge of rock,
jutting out into the river. I had apparently been hurled there, by the
force of the current, stunned and bruised; the sunshine had aroused me,
bringing me back to that life which was a burden and a mockery.
"And where was _she_? I shuddered as I asked myself that question. Had
she been thrown from the boat? Had it been overturned? Was she drowned?
I closed my eyes with a shudder which traversed my body, chilling my
blood as with the cold hand of death.
"For a moment I thought of throwing myself into the river, and thus
ending all my woes. But I was too cowardly.
"I turned toward the shore, groaning; dragged my bruised and aching
limbs along the ledge of jagged rocks, through the masses of
drift-wood; and finally reached the shore, where I sank down exhausted,
and ready to die.
"I will not lengthen out the gloomy picture. At last I rose, looked
around, and with bent head and cowering frame, stole away through the
woods toward Fonthill. On my way, I passed within two hundred yards of
_the grave_--but I dared not go thither. He was dead, doubtless--and he
had been slain in fair combat! It was another form that haunted me--the
form of a woman--one who had dishonored me--attempted to poison me--a
terrible being--but still a woman; and I had--murdered her!
"I reached home an hour or two afterward. Nighthawk was sitting in the
library, pale, and haggard, watching for me.
"As I entered, he rose with an exclamation, extending his arms toward
me, with an indescribable expression of joy.
"I shrunk back, refusing his hand.
"'Do not touch that,' I groaned, 'there is blood on it!'
"He seized it, and kneeling down, kissed it.
"'Bloody or not, it is _your_ hand--the hand of my dear young master!'
"And the honest fellow burst into tears, as he covered my hand with
"A month afterward, I was in Europe, amid the whirl and noise of Paris.
I tried to forget that I was a murderer--but the shadow went with me!"
MOHUN TERMINATES HIS NARRATIVE.
Mohun had spoken throughout the earlier portions of his narrative in a
tone of cynical bitterness. His last words were mingled, however, with
weary sighs, and his face wore an expression of the profoundest
The burnt-out cigar had fallen from his fingers to the floor; he leaned
back languidly in his great arm-chair: with eyes fixed upon the dying
fire, he seemed to go back in memory to the terrible scenes just
described, living over again all those harsh and conflicting emotions.
"So it ended, Surry," he said, after a long pause. "Such was the
frightful gulf into which the devil and my own passions pushed me, in
that month of December, 1856. A hand as irresistible and inexorable as
the Greek Necessity had led me step by step to murder--in intent if not
in fact--and for years the shadow of the crime which I believed I had
committed, made my life wretched. I wandered over Europe, plunged into
a thousand scenes of turmoil and excitement--it was all useless--still
the shadow went with me. Crime is a terrible companion to have ever at
your elbow. The _Atra cura_ of the poet is nothing to it, friend! It is
a fiend which will not be driven away. It grins, and gibbers, and
utters its gibes, day and night. Believe me, Surry,--I speak from
experience--it is better for this world, as well as the next, to be a
boor, a peasant, a clodhopper with a clear conscience, than to hold in
your hand the means of all luxury, and so-called enjoyment, and, with
it, the consciousness that you are blood guilty under almost any
"Some men might have derived comfort from the circumstances of _that_
crime. I could not. They might have said, 'I was goaded, stung, driven,
outraged, tempted beyond my strength, caught in a net of fire, from
which there was but one method of exit--to burst out, trampling down
every thing.' Four words silenced all that sophistry--'She was a
woman!' It was the face of that woman, as I saw it last on that stormy
night by the lightning flashes, which drove me to despair. I, the son
of the pure gentleman whose portrait is yonder--I, the representative
of the Mohuns, a family which had acted in all generations according to
the dictates of the loftiest honor--I, had put to death a woman, and
that thought spurred me to madness!
"Of _his_ death I did not think in the same manner. I had slain him in
fair combat, body to body--and, however the law of God may stigmatize
homicide, there was still that enormous difference. I had played my
life against his, as it were--he had lost, and he paid the forfeit. But
_the other_ was _murdered_! That fact stared me in the face. She had
dishonored me; tricked me; attempted to poison, and then shoot me.
_She_ had designed to murder _me_, and had set about her design
deliberately, coolly, without provocation, impelled by the lust of gold
only. She deserved punishment, but--she was a woman! I had not said
'Go!' either, in pointing to the gloomy path to death. I had said
'Come!'--had meant to die too. I had not shrunk from the torrent in
which I had resolved she should be borne away. I had gone into the boat
with her; accompanied her on her way; devoted myself, too, to death, at
the same moment. But all was useless. I said to myself a thousand
times--'at least they can not say that I was a coward, as well as a
murderer. The last of the Mohuns may have blackened his escutcheon with
the crime of murder--but at least he did not spare _himself_; he faced
death with his victim.' Useless, Surry--all useless! The inexorable
Voice with which I fenced, had only one reply--one lunge--'She was a
woman!' and the words pierced me like a sword-blade!
"Let me end this, but not before I say that the dreadful Voice was
_right_. As to the combat with Mortimer, I shall express no opinion.
You know the facts, and will judge me. But the other act was a deadly
crime. Gloss it over as you may, you can never justify murder. Use all
the special pleading possible, and the frightful deed is still as black
in the eyes of God and man as before. I saw that soon; saw it always;
see it to-day; and pray God in his infinite mercy to blot out that
crime from his book--to pardon the poor weak creature who was driven to
madness, and attempted to commit that deadly sin.
"Well, to end my long history. I remained in Europe until the news from
America indicated the approach of war--Nighthawk managing my estate,
and remitting me the proceeds at Paris. When I saw that an armed
collision was going to take place, I hastened back, reaching Virginia
in the winter of 1860. But I did not come to Fonthill. I had a horror
of the place. From New York, where I landed, I proceeded to Montgomery,
without stopping upon the route; found there a prominent friend of my
father who was raising a brigade in the Southwest; was invited by him
to aid him; and soon afterward was elected to the command of a company
of cavalry by his recommendation. I need only add, that I rose
gradually from captain to colonel, which rank I held in 1863, when we
first met on the Rappahannock--my regiment having been transferred to a
brigade of General Lee's cavalry.
"You saw me then, and remember my bitterness and melancholy. But you
had no opportunity to descry the depth and intensity of those
sentiments in me. Suddenly the load was lifted. _That woman_ made her
appearance, as if from the grave, and you must have witnessed my
wonder, as my eyes fell upon her. Then, she was not dead after all! I
was not a murderer! And to complete the wonder, _he_ was also alive. A
man passing along the bank of the river, as I discovered afterward from
Nighthawk, who ferreted out the whole affair--a man named Swartz, a
sort of poor farmer and huckster, passing along the Nottoway, on the
morning after the storm, had found the woman cast ashore, with the boat
overturned near her; and a mile farther, had found Mortimer, not yet
dead, in the grave. Succored by Swartz, they had both recovered--had
then disappeared. I was to meet them again, and know of their existence
only when the chance of war threw us face to face on the field.
"You know the scenes which followed. Mortimer, or Darke, as he now
calls himself, confronted me everywhere, and _she_ seemed to have no
object in life but my destruction. You heard her boast in the house
near Buckland that she had thrice attempted to assassinate me by means
of her tool, the man Swartz. Again, at Warrenton, in the hospital, she
came near poniarding me with her own hand. Nighthawk, who had followed
me to the field, and become a secret agent of General Stuart, warned me
of all this--and one day, gave me information more startling still. And
this brings me, my dear Surry, to the last point in my narrative, I now
enter upon matter with which you have been personally 'mixed up.'
"On that night when I attacked Darke in his house in Pennsylvania,
Swartz stole a paper from madam--the certificate of her marriage with
Mr. Mortimer-Darke, or Darke-Mortimer. The object of Swartz was, to
sell the paper to me for a large sum, as he had gotten an inkling of
the state of affairs, and my relation with madam. Well, Nighthawk
reported this immediately, made an appointment to meet Swartz in the
Wilderness, and many times afterward attempted to gain possession of
the paper, which Swartz swore was a _bona fide_ certificate of the
marriage of these two persons _before the year_ 1856, when I first met
"You, doubtless, understand now, my dear Surry, my great anxiety to
gain possession of that paper. Or, if you do not, I have only to state
one fact--that will explain all. I am engaged to be married to Miss
Conway, and am naturally anxious to have the proof in my possession
that I have not _one wife_ yet living! I know _that woman_ well. She
will stop at nothing. The rumor that I am about to become the happy
husband of a young lady whom I love, has driven madam nearly frantic,
and she has already shown her willingness to stop at nothing, by
imprisoning Swartz, and starving him until he produced the stolen
paper. Swartz is dead, however; the paper is lost; I and madam are both
in hot pursuit of the document. Which will find it, I know not. She, of
course, wishes to suppress it--I wish to possess it. Where is it? If
you will tell me, friend, I will make you a deed for half my estate!
You have been with me to visit that strange woman, Amanda, as a forlorn
hope. What will come I know not; but I trust that an all-merciful
Providence will not withdraw its hand from me, and now dash all my
hopes, at the very moment when the cup is raised to my lips! If so, I
will accept all, submissively, as the just punishment of my great
crime--a crime, I pray God to pardon me, as the result of mad
desperation, and not as a wanton and wilful defiance of His Almighty
authority! I have wept tears of blood for that act. I have turned and
tossed on my bed, in the dark hours of night, groaning and pleading for
pardon. I have bitterly expiated throughout long years, that brief
tragedy. I have humbled myself in the dust before the Lord of all
worlds, and, falling at the feet of the all-merciful Saviour, besought
His divine compassion. I am proud--no man was ever prouder--but I have
bowed my forehead to the dust, and if the Almighty now denies me the
supreme consolation of this pure girl's affection,--if loving her as I
do, and beloved by her, as I may venture to tell you, friend, I am to
see myself thrust back from this future--then, Surry, I will give the
last proof of my submission: I will bow down my head, and say 'Thy
will, not mine, Lord, be done!'"
Mohun's head sank as he uttered the words. To the proud face came an
expression of deep solemnity and touching sweetness. The firm lips were
relaxed--the piercing eyes had become soft. Mohun was greater in his
weakness than he had ever been in his strength.
When an hour afterward we had mounted our horses, and were riding back
slowly through the night, I said, looking at him by the dim
"This is no longer a gay young cavalryman--a mere thoughtless
youth--but a patriot, fit to live or die with Lee!"
THE DEAD GO FAST.
THE "DOOMED CITY" IN PROFILE--DECEMBER, 1864.
The scenes just described took place in the month of November. In
December I obtained the priceless boon of a few days' leave of absence,
and paid a visit to Richmond.
There was little there of a cheerful character; all was sombre and
lugubrious. In the "doomed city," as throughout the whole country, all
things were going to wreck and ruin. During the summer and autumn,
suffering had oppressed the whole community; but now misery clutched
the very heartstrings. Society had been convulsed--now, all the
landmarks of the past seemed about to disappear in the deluge. Richmond
presented the appearance, and lived after the manner, of a besieged
city, as General Grant called it. It no longer bore the least likeness
to its former peaceful and orderly self. The military police had
usurped the functions of the civil, and the change was for the worse.
Garroters swarmed the streets of the city after dark. House-breakers
everywhere carried on their busy occupation. Nothing was safe from
these prowlers of the night; all was fish for their nets. The old
clothes in rags and bales; the broken china and worn spoons; the very
food, obtained through immense exertions by some father to feed his
children--all became the spoil of these night-birds, who were ever on
the watch. When you went to make a visit in the evening, you took your
hat and cloak with you into the drawing-room, to have them under your
eye. When you retired at night, you deposited your watch and purse
under your pillow. At the hotels, you never thought of placing your
boots outside the door; and the landlords, in the morning, carefully
looked to see if the towels, or the blankets of the beds had been
stolen. All things were thus unhinged. Misery had let loose upon the
community all the outlaws of civilization; the scum and dregs of
society had come to the top, and floated on the surface in the
The old respectable population of the old respectable city had
disappeared, it seemed. The old respectable habitudes had fallen into
contempt. Gambling-houses swarmed everywhere; and the military police
ignored them. "The very large number of houses," said a contemporary
journal, "on Main and other streets, which have numbers painted in
large gilt figures over the door, and illuminated at night, are faro
banks. The fact is not known to the public. The very large numbers of
flashily dressed young men, with villainous faces, who hang about the
street corners in the daytime, are not gamblers, garroters, and plugs,
but young men studying for the ministry, and therefore exempt from
military duty. This fact is not known to General Winder." The quiet and
orderly city had, in a word, become the haunt of burglars, gamblers,
adventurers, blockade-runners. The city, once the resort of the most
elegant society in Virginia, had been changed by war and misery into a
strange chaotic caravanserai, where you looked with astonishment on the
faces going and coming, without knowing in the least "who was who," or
whether your acquaintance was an honest man or a scoundrel. The
scoundrels dressed in excellent clothes, and smiled and bowed when you
met them; it was nearly the sole means of identifying them, at an
epoch, when virtue almost always went in rags.
The era of "social unrealities," to use the trenchant phrase of Daniel,
had come. Even braid on sleeves and collars did not tell you much. Who
was the fine-looking Colonel Blank, or the martial General Asterisks?
Was he a gentleman or a barber's boy--an F.F. somewhere, or an
exdrayman? The general and colonel dressed richly; lived at the
"Spottswood;" scowled on the common people; and talked magnificently.
It was only when some young lady linked her destiny to his, that she
found herself united to quite a surprising helpmate--discovered that
the general or the colonel had issued from the shambles or the gutter.
Better society was not wanting; but it remained largely in the
background. Vice was strutting in cloth of gold; virtue was at home
mending its rags. Every expedient was resorted to, not so much to keep
up appearances as to keep the wolf from the door. Servants were sent
around by high-born ladies to sell, anonymously, baskets of their
clothes. The silk or velvet of old days was now parted with for bread.
On the shelves of the bookstores were valuable private libraries,
placed there for sale. In the shops of the silversmiths were seen
breastpins, watches, bracelets, pearl and diamond necklaces, which
their owners were obliged to part with for bread. "Could we have
traced," says a late writer, "the history of a set of pearls, we should
have been told of a fair bride, who had received them from a proud and
happy bridegroom; but whose life had been blighted in her youthful
happiness by the cruel blast of war--whose young husband was in the
service of his country--to whom stark poverty had continued to come,
until at last the wedding present from the dear one, went to purchase
food and raiment... A richly bound volume of poems, with here and there
a faint pencil-marked quotation, told perchance of a lover perished on
some bloody field; and the precious token was disposed of, or pawned,
when bread was at last needed for some suffering loved one."
You can see these poor women--can you not, reader? The bride looking at
her pearl necklace, with flushed cheeks and eyes full of tears,
murmuring:--"_He_ gave me this--placed it around my neck on my wedding
day--and I must _sell_ it!" You can see too, the fair girl, bending
down and dropping tears on the page marked by her dead lover; her bosom
heaving, her heart breaking, her lips whispering:--"_His_ hand touched
this--we read this page together--I hear his voice--see his smile--this
book brings back all to me--and now, I must go and sell it, to buy
bread for my little sister and brother, who are starving!"
That is dolorous, is it not, reader?--and strikes you to the heart. It
is not fancy. December, 1864, saw that, and more, in Virginia.
THE MEN WHO RUINED THE CONFEDERACY.
In the streets of Richmond, crowded with uniforms, in spite of the
patrols, marching to and fro, and examining "papers," I met a number of
old acquaintances, and saw numerous familiar faces.
The "Spottswood" was the resort of the _militaires_, and the moneyed
people. Here, captains and colonels were elbowed by messieurs the
blockade-runners, and mysterious government employees--employed, as I
said on a former occasion, in heaven knows what. The officer stalked by
in his braid. The "Trochilus" passed, smiling, in shiny broadcloth.
Listen! yonder is the newsboy, shouting, "The _Examiner_!"--that is to
say, the accurate photograph of this shifting chaos, where nothing
seems stationary long enough to have its picture taken.
Among the first to squeeze my hand, with winning smiles and cordial
welcome, was my friend Mr. Blocque. He was clad more richly than
before; smiled more sweetly than ever; seemed more prosperous, better
satisfied, firmer in his conviction than ever that the President and
the administration had never committed a fault--that the world of
December, 1864, was the best of all possible worlds.
"My dear colonel!" exclaimed Mr. Pangloss-Trochilus, _alias_ Mr.
Blocque, "delighted to see you, I assure you! You are well? You will
dine with me, to-day? At five precisely? You will find the old
company--jolly companions, every one! We meet and talk of the affairs
of the country. All is going on well, colonel. Our city is quiet and
orderly. The government sees farther than its assailants. It can not
explain now, and set itself right in the eyes of the people--that would
reveal military secrets to the enemy, you know. I tell my friends in
the departments not to mind their assailants. Washington himself was
maligned, but he preserved a dignified silence. All is well, colonel! I
give you my word, we are all right! I know a thing or two--!" and Mr.
Blocque looked mysterious. "I have friends in high quarters, and you
can rely on my statement. Lee is going to whip Grant. The people are
rallying to the flag. The finances are improving. The resources of the
country are untouched. A little patience--only a _very_ little
patience! I tell my friends. Let us only endure trials and hardships
with brave hearts. Let us not murmur at dry bread, colonel--let us
cheerfully dress in rags--let us deny ourselves every thing, sacrifice
every thing to the cause, cast away all superfluities, shoulder our
muskets, and fight to the death! Then there _can_ be no doubt of the
result, colonel--good morning!"
And Mr. Blocque shook my hand cordially, gliding away in his shiny
broadcloth, at the moment when Mr. Croker, catching my eye in passing,
stopped to speak to me.
"You visit Richmond at an inauspicious moment, colonel," said Mr.
Croker, jingling his watch-seals with dignity. "The country has at last
reached a point from which ruin is apparent in no very distant
perspective, and when the hearts of the most resolute, in view of the
depressing influences of the situation, are well nigh tempted to
surrender every anticipation of ultimate success in the great cause
which absorbs the energies of the entire country--hem!--at large. The
cause of every trouble is so plain, that it would be insulting your
good judgment to dwell upon the explanation. The administration has
persistently disregarded the wishes of the people, and the best
interests of the entire community; and we have at last reached a point
where to stand still is as ruinous as to go on--as we are going--to
certain destruction and annihilation. Look at the finances, entirely
destroyed by the bungling and injudicious course of the honorable Mr.
Memminger, who has proceeded upon fallacies which the youngest tyro
would disdain to refute. Look at the quartermaster's department,--the
commissary department,--the State department, and the war department,
and you will everywhere find the proofs of utter incompetence, leading
straight, as I have before remarked, to that ruin which is pending at
the present moment over the country. Our society is uprooted, and there
is no hope for the country. Blockade-runners, forestallers, stragglers
from the army--Good morning, Colonel Desperade; I was just speaking to
our friend, Colonel Surry."
And leaving me in the hands of the tall, smiling, and imposing Colonel
Desperade, who was clad in a magnificent uniform, Mr. Croker,
forestaller and extortioner, continued his way with dignity toward his
"This is a very great pleasure, colonel!" exclaimed Colonel Desperade,
squeezing my hand with ardor. "Just from the lines, colonel? Any news?
We are still keeping Grant off! He will find himself checkmated by our
boys in gray! The country was never in better trim for a good hard
fight. The immortal Lee is in fine spirits--the government steadily at
work--and do you know, my dear Colonel, I am in luck to-day? I am
certain to receive my appointment at last, as brigadier-general--"
"Look out, or you'll be mistaken!" said a sarcastic voice behind us.
And Mr. Torpedo, smoking a short and fiery cigar, stalked up and shook
hands with me.
"Desperade depends on the war department, and is a ninny for doing so!"
said Mr. Torpedo, member of Congress. "The man that depends on Jeff
Davis, or his war secretary, is a double-distilled dolt. Jeff thinks
he's a soldier, and apes Napoleon. But you can't depend on him,
Desperade. Look at Johnston! He fooled _him_. Look at Beauregard--he
envies and fears _him_, so he keeps him down. Don't depend on the
President, Desperade, or you'll be a fool, my friend!"
And Mr. Torpedo walked on, puffing away at the fiery stump of his
cigar, and muttering curses against President Davis.
An hour afterward, I was conversing in the rotunda of the capitol, with
the high-bred and smiling old cavalier, Judge Conway, and he was saying
"The times are dark, colonel, I acknowledge that. But all would be
well, if we could eradicate abuses and bring out our strength. A
fatality, however, seems pursuing us. The blockade-runners drain the
country of the little gold which is left in it; the forestallers run up
prices, and debase the currency beyond hope; the able-bodied and
healthy men who ought to be in the army, swarm in the streets; and the
bitter foes of the President poison the public mind, and infuse into it
despair. It is this, colonel, not our weakness, which is going to ruin
us, if we are ruined!"
MY LAST VISIT TO JOHN M. DANIEL.
On the night before my return to the army, I paid my last visit to John
Shall I show you a great career, shipwrecked--paint a mighty ship run
upon the breakers? The current of our narrative drags us toward
passionate and tragic events, but toward few scenes more sombre than
that which I witnessed on this night in December, 1864.
I found John M. Daniel in his house on Broad Street, as before; perched
still in his high chair of black horse-hair, all alone. His face was
thinner; his cheeks more sallow, and now haggard and sunken; his eyes
sparkling with gloomy fire, as he half reclined beneath the cluster of
globe lamps, depending from the ceiling, and filling the whole
apartment with their brilliant light--one of his weaknesses.
He received me with grim cordiality, offered me a cigar, and
"I am glad to see you, colonel, and to offer you one of the last of my
stock of Havanas. Wilmington is going soon--then good-bye to blockade
"You believe Wilmington is going to fall, then?"