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THE DROVER'S CARPET-BAG.
"Man is fearfully and wonderfully made."-KING David.
A YOUTH and a maiden-a comely, wellsuited pair-were walking in a forest. It was a forest of pines. Minute fragments of leaves, the deposite of many years, covered the ground with a carpet softer than ever was woven in loom. The tall, columnar trunks, supporting the dense canopy that intercepted the rays of the sun, had long since cast off the lower branches, which might have obstructed the ramble of the lovers. The western gale, which was frolicking without, and spreading the newly made hay a second time over the meadows, could only murmur among the tree-tops of the forest, without power to penetrate its recesses. It was a lonely, and it might seem to some a melancholy spot, yet we envy not the man who is unable to find a pleasure in the high and solemn thought which such a scene tends to excite.
Thomas Austin and Jessie Rosse had grown up together; and each succeeding day seemed but to have increased their attachment. Austin's father, though a man of integrity and respectability, was both poor and ill-educated. Mr. Rosse, on the other hand, was by no means wealthy; yet he possessed a competence, and by personal qualities was fitted to adorn any society. With too much discernment to be unaware of the direction which the growing affections of his daughter were taking, he did not attempt to change it.
Within a twelvemonth past the relative situation of the parties had become quite different. Thomas had inherited a large estate. Jessie, too noble to suspect that this accession of property had altered his sentiments towards her, could not however but observe in him at times a coldness of manner which seemed not more contrary to his long-cherished affection than to his very nature, for by tempera
VOL. IV. NO. II. NEW SERIES.
ment he was ardent and excitable. She thought too that he avoided her society. When they did meet, his greetings wanted cordiality, and he often turned suddenly away, as if he experienced relief in separating from her. She was pained at all this, but felt nothing like resentment. Had she indeed believed that he was really as much estranged as appearances indicated, she would have suffered her heart to break rather than have humbled herself to reproach him for the desertion. But although a girl in years and in loveliness of character and person, she possessed the traits of a strong-minded woman, and, far from giving way to pensive tears, was determined first to ascertain the true nature and extent of the calamity which seemed to impend over her.
They had strolled more than a mile into the depths of the pines, and hitherto scarcely a dozen sentences had been exchanged between them.
Thomas," she said, with an effort, "have I offended you?"
"No," was his reply, "how can you imagine such a thing? So far from it, you love me more than I deserve-I would that you loved me less.
"It is true, then," she said, turning her eyes upon him sorrowfully, "it is true, then, that the rich Thomas Austin despises the lowly Jessie Rosse."
"Oh, Jessie, Jessie, you torture me. I ought indeed to allow you to adopt any impression that might serve to wean your heart from me-I ought to suffer you to believe me the contemptible, purse-proud thing you suppose. I ought to bear even this, miserable wretch that I am—but I cannot. No, Jessie, all that estate does not equal, in my estimation, one hair of your head. Hate and despise me, for I would have you both to hate and to despise me; but not on this account."
"Dear Thomas, tell me"
He interrupted her "Ask nothing, for you must not share that fearful burden which is crushing me to the earth; come, let us hurry home."
"Have you so little confidence in me, Thomas? What use is it for human beings to love, if they cannot share each other's sorrows? Many a grief, Thomas, which, if retained in the bosom, will gnaw through one's heart, may be banished by the counsel of a faithful friend."
"But it is for your sake, Jessie, that I do not tell you-your happiness must not be ruined."
"Oh, I care not for happiness," replied the animated girl, with flashing eyes"tell me hesitate not-tell me all!"
"You do not know what you ask, Jessie."
"And for that very reason it is that I ask it," she gaily rejoined.
He smiled at her eagerness, but it was a melancholy smile, and he remained silent after it. She renewed her solicitations, and so earnestly, that his reserve at length gave way.
The pair walked on almost unconsciously, as Austin delivered the following nar
and strengthened with my strength. I had leaned upon that assured trust as the vine leans upon the oak, and the moment which tore it away might well resemble the commencement of the agonies of dissolution. Something else was not wanting to add a pang even to such sufferings. My own headlong passions, my own more than brutish folly, had caused all the ruin! I must at length have dropped into some sort of slumber, for the sound of voices in the adjoining room was the first intimation I received of the arrival of guests. I overheard their conversation as a man listens in a dream. Every word fell upon my ear with the utmost distinctness, yet it excited no emotion. A matter was discussed which might have startled the innocence of childhood, or the apathy of old age, yet I-I-so vitally interested, heard, but felt not. I recognized the persons talking. One was our nearest neighbor, that excellent and respected man, Mr. Rosse-your father, Jessie. He asked a question:
You have said the body was taken to Mrs. Walker; how did you get it there?' "I'll tell you all about it.' This speaker was Richard Smith, a very steady young fellow who manages his mother's farm on the edge of the next county-
Well,' said he, when Trott and I found the corpse as we've told you, we at once began to think what to do. We saw plain enough that Walker had been struck on the head as well as stabbed, and we couldn't be certain that he was not rather stunned than mortally hurt. Trott spoke about the coroner; but for my part I felt no notion to be waiting for any coroner, when perhaps the poor man might be brought to. It's a very lonely place there, no dwelling-house within three miles; so when I heard the rumbling of a wagon ahead, off I starts down the road for it.'
"I had been to see my uncle. I reached home again the evening of the eighth of June, excessively tired. It was long after dusk, yet as I passed the windows I perceived from the appearance of the table, that supper had not been taken. I was not surprised at this, inferring at once that there were no strangers in the house, and that my sisters, as might be expected in the mistresses of a small country inn, had little appetite for a lonely meal. Disappointed and heart-sick as well as weary, I went at once to my chamber, and placing the carpet-bag behind my large chest, threw myself upon the bed. I could not sleep. Though the door communicating with the common sitting-room was wide open, the sultry heat of the evening probably had something to do with my restlessness, for I had not taken time to remove any part of my clothing. Mental distraction, however, contributed far more to render me wakeful. That day had seen the annihilation of a hope which I had cherished from infancy; a hope which had grown with my growth | huckstering all over the country. When
"And you were gone a great while,' interposed Trott, and I felt real peculiar too, staying by that bloody corpse.'
"I believe Smith laughed slightly as he continued: 'It warnt so long as you in your scariness supposed, but I was kept back some little time. After a couple of miles or more I came up with a person in a two-horse wagon. It was Coward the marketman-Wat Coward, who
I told him about Walker, he showed no mind to go back. He said he reckoned Walker was dead, and 'twas no use for him to go way up the ridge again with his tired beasts. I told him then that I'd help him to remove the things from his wagon, so that he might return empty. He spoke out, very quick and short, that he would not do that, and said it was hard for him to lose his market for the sake of a dead man. At last I told him he must go back, and accordingly he did go, but after a very sulky fashion. So we put the corpse in on top of the marketing, and brought it down to Mrs. Walker, his wife-the house is right on the roadside you know.'
"Mr. Rosse then spoke, and though he lowered his voice almost to a whisper, I heard every syllable-How did it happen that Coward failed to notice the body when he came by at first? Is it possible that he could have committed the murder?' "After a pause Smith answered, 'He is a dark, ugly-looking fellow to be sure, and acted strangely about returning for Walker's corpse, yet I must say I don't think we have cause enough to charge him with doing the deed. The corpse lay behind Carter's old stable-the Carter dwellinghouse, you know, was burnt down some twenty years ago, and all the hill has long been out in common. But, since the body was behind the stable, no one of course could see it in passing along the road. Trott and I thought we'd get off the stones of the wagon-track by riding around the stable over the old field, which we could easily do, being on horseback.'
Where is Coward now?' inquired Mr. Rosse.
"Oh, he'll be along before midnight I reckon; he said he was going to put up here.'
"I have no distinct recollection of what followed of the conversation, until Mr. Rosse put some query in relation to the baggage of the murdered drover. He was travelling on foot,' replied Smith, and his wife told us he was in the habit of carrying a carpet-bag. Now, what is curious enough, when we found him, he had a small piece of worsted stuff like carpeting, griped so tight in his hand that it was as much as both Trott and I could do to get it loose. Mrs. Walker, as
"No,' said Smith, he had put the money he got for his cattle in bank, instead of bringing it home with him. So the villain who killed him got nothing by it.' Of all that ensued after this, I was unconscious. Fatigue, that powerful anodyne, gained the mastery of everything else. I must have slept very soundly, but my slumber was not the slumber that refreshes. When I awoke, the sun was shining into my chamber. I got up instantly; but my head swam-I reeled, and would have fallen prostrate, but for the old chest in the recess. As I sank down upon it, my hand, dropping behind, touched the carpet-bag; I drew it forth suddenly. A rent stared me in the face. A piece was gone; where was it? Thought flew at once to the rigid fist of the dead man. The lining was not torn, and retained the contents of the bag, but there was no money in it; the words of Smith rang in my ears, The villain who killed him got nothing by it! How easily that fearful witness of guilt might have been discovered by any one happening to come into the room! Suppose somebody should now enter the reflection nerved me at once. I sprang up, buttoned my loose frock-coat over the carpet-bag, and stepped rapidly out of the room.
In going from the house, I heard the clatter of knives and forks; all were eating breakfast, and the way was clear. I had not been summoned to the meal, because my return was not yet known. Behind the cedar hedge of the orchard was a deep and never-failing well, but the water is so brackish that my father, at considerable expense, conducted to the house some years ago the stream of a distant spring. The wel!, in consequence, has been quite disused. I approached it, raised the cover, and was about to drop my burden; but a thought occurred to me. The little bag seemed very light-might it not float? I unlaced it-a soiled shirt was disclosed.
The sight carried me in imagination to the widow's house on the road. But the picture which my heated fancy conjured up, affected me with nothing like contrition or remorse. I thought not of the desolate woman, weeping over the gory body of her husband, I thought only of that miserable fragment of carpet which might bring me to the gallows. I uttered no exclamation. I did not even gnash my teeth, but, with the calmness of a man engaged in his daily labor, I took up a stone of several pounds weight, and deposited it in the bag, which, when it was again securely laced, I dropped out of sight in the gloomy pit before me. To close the lid and stride back to the house was little more than an instant's work. I sought my chamber, but how dreadfully I was startled on entering it, to perceive the form of a man peering behind the chest! My footfall aroused him. He turned, and showed the countenance of the marketman Coward. He was agitated, but bent on me a firm and searching glance. As for myself, I trembled, but desperation gave me vigor to glare back so fiercely that his eye sank beneath mine.
'So you've got back, Mr. Austin,' he
Yes,' was the reply which I gasped rather than articulated.
"He seemed about to make some other observation, but checked himself and hurried out of the room, merely saying, as if by way of apology for his sudden departure, My horses and wagon are down the road, I am afraid to be away from them any longer.'
"He was gone; did he carry my secret with him? I knew not, but feared. I heard my father's voice at the outer door. He was addressing Coward, and a resistless curiosity drew me to the window of the adjoining room.
"I thought I left a bundle behind,'
the marketman answered.
"You have got it now, I suppose,' said my father, glancing at the breast of the fellow's great-coat, which seemed to enclose something more than his lank
'Oh, yes; I have it,' returned Coward, but it has caused me a long trudge. Good morning, sir.'
"I don't like that man,' muttered my
father. So easily may the best persons be deceived! Turning away from Coward he met his son. Which of the two seemed to him to bear the appearance of a murderer-the smooth-faced youth of twenty, or that dark, scowling man, upon whose features nature herself had stamped the impress of villany? My father expressed much surprise at learning that I had been in the house all night; and my sisters having joined us, I was subjected to a volley of interrogatories.
"The three days' absence-for so long had I been away from home-had been spent in a visit to an uncle who lived forty miles off. This old man, my only wealthy relative, had no family, and lived in great seclusion. People called him eccentric. He had been but once in my father's house, though I never heard that anything had been done to displease him. At the time of that single visit I was about ten years old, and was considered by my parents at least more lively and intelligent than children of that age usually are. How this may have been I know not, but it is certain that my uncle appeared to take a great fancy for me, and on leaving the house charged my father by all means to give me a good education, adding that if this were done, he would himself take care of my establishment in a profession. Since that time he had more than once inquired with an appearance of interest, how I was progressing in study. These marks of concern, which might have been disregarded, if manifested by any one else, coming from him were thought to constitute sufficient foundation for many an ambitious scheme. My father used far more of his narrow means than he could afford, in endeavoring to make me equal to the expectations of my uncle. I had done what I could, devoting the time and labor which, if applied to agriculture or trade, would have given me the power to lighten the declining steps of my self-sacrificing parent, to the acquisition of knowledge, which after all could be of little avail unless such pecuniary assistance were now given as would enable me to add to it still more. But you know this already, Jessie, let me return to what you do not know.
"It had taken me two days to walk to my uncle's. If I had gone on horseback the journey must have occupied me still