Few Englishmen or Englishwomen are intimately acquainted with the little
town of Le Puy. It is the capital of the old province of Le Velay, which
also is now but little known, even to French ears, for it is in these
days called by the imperial name of the Department of the Haute Loire.
It is to the south-east of Auvergne, and is nearly in the centre of the
southern half of France.
But few towns, merely as towns, can be better worth visiting. In the
first place, the volcanic formation of the ground on which it stands is
not only singular in the extreme, so as to be interesting to the
geologist, but it is so picturesque as to be equally gratifying to the
general tourist. Within a narrow valley there stand several rocks,
rising up from the ground with absolute abruptness. Round two of these
the town clusters, and a third stands but a mile distant, forming the
centre of a faubourg, or suburb. These rocks appear to be, and I believe
are, the harder particles of volcanic matter, which have not been
carried away through successive ages by the joint agency of water and
When the tide of lava ran down between the hills the surface left was no
doubt on a level with the heads of these rocks; but here and there the
deposit became harder than elsewhere, and these harder points have
remained, lifting up their steep heads in a line through the valley.
The highest of these is called the Rocher de Corneille. Round this and
up its steep sides the town stands. On its highest summit there was an
old castle; and there now is, or will be before these pages are printed,
a colossal figure in bronze of the Virgin Mary, made from the cannon
taken at Sebastopol. Half-way down the hill the cathedral is built, a
singularly gloomy edifice,–Romanesque, as it is called, in its style,
but extremely similar in its mode of architecture to what we know of
Byzantine structures. But there has been no surface on the rock side
large enough to form a resting-place for the church, which has
therefore been built out on huge supporting piles, which form a porch
below the west front; so that the approach is by numerous steps laid
along the side of the wall below the church, forming a wondrous flight
of stairs. Let all men who may find themselves stopping at Le Puy visit
the top of these stairs at the time of the setting sun, and look down
from thence through the framework of the porch on the town beneath, and
at the hill-side beyond.
Behind the church is the seminary of the priests, with its beautiful
walks stretching round the Rocher de Corneille, and overlooking the town
and valley below.
Next to this rock, and within a quarter of a mile of it, is the second
peak, called the Rock of the Needle. It rises narrow, sharp, and abrupt
from the valley, allowing of no buildings on its sides. But on its very
point has been erected a church sacred to St. Michael, that lover of
rock summits, accessible by stairs cut from the stone. This,
perhaps–this rock, I mean–is the most wonderful of the wonders which
Nature has formed at Le Puy.
Above this, at a mile’s distance, is the rock of Espailly, formed in the
same way, and almost equally precipitous. On its summit is a castle,
having its own legend, and professing to have been the residence of
Charles VII., when little of France belonged to its kings but the
provinces of Berry, Auvergne, and Le Velay. Some three miles farther up
there is another volcanic rock, larger, indeed, but equally sudden in
its spring,–equally remarkable as rising abruptly from the valley,–on
which stands the castle and old family residence of the house of
Polignac. It was lost by them at the Revolution, but was repurchased by
the minister of Charles X., and is still the property of the head of the
Le Puy itself is a small, moderate, pleasant French town, in which the
language of the people has not the pure Parisian aroma, nor is the glory
of the boulevards of the capital emulated in its streets. These are
crooked, narrow, steep, and intricate, forming here and there excellent
sketches for a lover of street picturesque beauty; but hurtful to the
feet with their small, round-topped paving stones, and not always as
clean as pedestrian ladies might desire.
And now I would ask my readers to join me at the morning table d’hôte at
the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs. It will of course be understood that this
does not mean a breakfast in the ordinary fashion of England, consisting
of tea or coffee, bread and butter, and perhaps a boiled egg. It
comprises all the requisites for a composite dinner, excepting soup; and
as one gets further south in France, this meal is called dinner. It is,
however, eaten without any prejudice to another similar and somewhat
longer meal at six or seven o’clock, which, when the above name is taken
up by the earlier enterprise, is styled supper.
The déjeûner, or dinner, at the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs, on the morning
in question, though very elaborate, was not a very gay affair. There
were some fourteen persons present, of whom half were residents in the
town, men employed in some official capacity, who found this to be the
cheapest, the most luxurious, and to them the most comfortable mode of
living. They clustered together at the head of the table, and as they
were customary guests at the house, they talked their little talk
together–it was very little–and made the most of the good things
before them. Then there were two or three commis-voyageurs, a chance
traveller or two, and an English lady with a young daughter. The English
lady sat next to one of the accustomed guests; but he, unlike the
others, held converse with her rather than with them. Our story at
present has reference only to that lady and to that gentleman.
Place aux dames. We will speak first of the lady, whose name was Mrs.
Thompson. She was, shall I say, a young woman of about thirty-six. In so
saying, I am perhaps creating a prejudice against her in the minds of
some readers, as they will, not unnaturally, suppose her, after such an
announcement, to be in truth over forty. Any such prejudice will be
unjust. I would have it believed that thirty-six was the outside, not
the inside of her age. She was good-looking, lady-like, and considering
that she was an Englishwoman, fairly well dressed. She was inclined to
be rather full in her person, but perhaps not more so than is becoming
to ladies at her time of life. She had rings on her fingers and a brooch
on her bosom which were of some value, and on the back of her head she
wore a jaunty small lace cap, which seemed to tell, in conjunction with
her other appointments, that her circumstances were comfortable.
The little girl who sat next to her was the youngest of her two
daughters, and might be about thirteen years of age. Her name was
Matilda, but infantine circumstances had invested her with the nickname
of Mimmy, by which her mother always called her. A nice, pretty, playful
little girl was Mimmy Thompson, wearing two long tails of plaited hair
hanging behind her head, and inclined occasionally to be rather loud in
her sport.
Mrs. Thompson had another and an elder daughter, now some fifteen years
old, who was at school in Le Puy; and it was with reference to her
tuition that Mrs. Thompson had taken up a temporary residence at the
Hôtel des Ambassadeurs in that town. Lilian Thompson was occasionally
invited down to dine or breakfast at the inn, and was visited daily at
her school by her mother.
“When I’m sure that she’ll do, I shall leave her there, and go back to
England,” Mrs. Thompson had said, not in the purest French, to the
neighbour who always sat next to her at the table d’hôte, the gentleman,
namely, to whom we have above alluded. But still she had remained at Le
Puy a month, and did not go; a circumstance which was considered
singular, but by no means unpleasant, both by the innkeeper and by the
gentleman in question.
The facts, as regarded Mrs. Thompson, were as follows:–She was the
widow of a gentleman who had served for many years in the civil service
of the East Indies, and who, on dying, had left her a comfortable income
of–it matters not how many pounds, but constituting quite a sufficiency
to enable her to live at her ease and educate her daughters.
Her children had been sent home to England before her husband’s death,
and after that event she had followed them; but there, though she was
possessed of moderate wealth, she had no friends and few acquaintances,
and after a little while she had found life to be rather dull. Her
customs were not those of England, nor were her propensities English;
therefore she had gone abroad, and having received some recommendation
of this school at Le Puy, had made her way thither. As it appeared to
her that she really enjoyed more consideration at Le Puy than had been
accorded to her either at Torquay or Leamington, there she remained from
day to day. The total payment required at the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs was
but six francs daily for herself and three and a half for her little
girl; and where else could she live with a better junction of economy
and comfort? And then the gentleman who always sat next to her was so
exceedingly civil!
The gentleman’s name was M. Lacordaire. So much she knew, and had
learned to call him by his name very frequently. Mimmy, too, was quite
intimate with M. Lacordaire; but nothing more than his name was known of
him. But M. Lacordaire carried a general letter of recommendation in his
face, manner, gait, dress, and tone of voice. In all these respects
there was nothing left to be desired; and, in addition to this, he was
decorated, and wore the little red ribbon of the Legion of Honour,
ingeniously twisted into the shape of a small flower.
M. Lacordaire might be senior in age to Mrs. Thompson by about ten
years, nor had he about him any of the airs or graces of a would-be
young man. His hair, which he wore very short, was grizzled, as was also
the small pretence of a whisker which came down about as far as the
middle of his ear; but the tuft on his chin was still brown, without a
gray hair. His eyes were bright and tender, his voice was low and soft,
his hands were very white, his clothes were always new and well fitting,
and a better-brushed hat could not be seen out of Paris, nor perhaps in
Now, during the weeks which Mrs. Thompson had passed at Le Puy, the
acquaintance which she had formed with M. Lacordaire had progressed
beyond the prolonged meals in the salle à manger. He had occasionally
sat beside her evening table as she took her English cup of tea in her
own room, her bed being duly screened off in its distant niche by
becoming curtains; and then he had occasionally walked beside her, as he
civilly escorted her to the lions of the place; and he had once
accompanied her, sitting on the back seat of a French voiture, when she
had gone forth to see something of the surrounding country.
On all such occasions she had been accompanied by one of her daughters,
and the world of Le Puy had had nothing material to say against her. But
still the world of Le Puy had whispered a little, suggesting that M.
Lacordaire knew very well what he was about. But might not Mrs. Thompson
also know as well what she was about? At any rate, everything had gone
on very pleasantly since the acquaintance had been made. And now, so
much having been explained, we will go back to the elaborate breakfast
at the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs.
Mrs. Thompson, holding Mimmy by the hand, walked into the room some few
minutes after the last bell had been rung, and took the place which was
now hers by custom. The gentlemen who constantly frequented the house
all bowed to her, but M. Lacordaire rose from his seat and offered her
his hand.
“And how is Mees Meemy this morning?” said he; for ’twas thus he always
pronounced her name.
Miss Mimmy, answering for herself, declared that she was very well, and
suggested that M. Lacordaire should give her a fig from off a dish that
was placed immediately before him on the table. This M. Lacordaire did,
presenting it very elegantly between his two fingers, and making a
little bow to the little lady as he did so.
“Fie, Mimmy!” said her mother; “why do you ask for the things before the
waiter brings them round?”
“But, mamma,” said Mimmy, speaking English, “M. Lacordaire always gives
me a fig every morning.”
“M. Lacordaire always spoils you, I think,” answered Mrs. Thompson, in
French. And then they went thoroughly to work at their breakfast. During
the whole meal M. Lacordaire attended assiduously to his neighbour; and
did so without any evil result, except that one Frenchman with a black
moustache, at the head of the table, trod on the toe of another
Frenchman with another black moustache–winking as he made the
sign–just as M. Lacordaire, having selected a bunch of grapes, put it
on Mrs. Thompson’s plate with infinite grace. But who among us all is
free from such impertinences as these?
“But madame really must see the château of Prince Polignac before she
leaves Le Puy,” said M. Lacordaire.
“The château of who?” asked Mimmy, to whose young ears the French words
were already becoming familiar.
“Prince Polignac, my dear. Well, I really don’t know, M. Lacordaire;–I
have seen a great deal of the place already, and I shall be going now
very soon; probably in a day or two,” said Mrs. Thompson.
“But madame must positively see the château,” said M. Lacordaire, very
impressively; and then after a pause he added, “If madame will have the
complaisance to commission me to procure a carriage for this afternoon,
and will allow me the honour to be her guide, I shall consider myself
one of the most fortunate of men.”
“Oh, yes, mamma, do go,” said Mimmy, clapping her hands. “And it is
Thursday, and Lilian can go with us.”
“Be quiet, Mimmy, do. Thank you, no, M. Lacordaire. I could not go
to-day; but I am extremely obliged by your politeness.”
M. Lacordaire still pressed the matter, and Mrs. Thompson still declined
till it was time to rise from the table. She then declared that she did
not think it possible that she should visit the château before she left
Le Puy; but that she would give him an answer at dinner.
The most tedious time in the day to Mrs. Thompson were the two hours
after breakfast. At one o’clock she daily went to the school, taking
Mimmy, who for an hour or two shared her sister’s lessons. This and her
little excursions about the place, and her shopping, managed to make
away with her afternoon. Then in the evening, she generally saw
something of M. Lacordaire. But those two hours after breakfast were
hard of killing.
On this occasion, when she gained her own room, she as usual placed
Mimmy on the sofa with a needle. Her custom then was to take up a novel;
but on this morning she sat herself down in her arm-chair, and resting
her head upon her hand and elbow, began to turn over certain
circumstances in her mind.
“Mamma,” said Mimmy, “why won’t you go with M. Lacordaire to that place
belonging to the prince? Prince–Polly something, wasn’t it?”
“Mind your work, my dear,” said Mrs. Thompson.
“But I do so wish you’d go, mamma. What was the prince’s name?”
“Mamma, ain’t princes very great people?”
“Yes, my dear; sometimes.”
“Is Prince Polly-nac like our Prince Alfred?”
“No, my dear; not at all. At least, I suppose not.”
“Is his mother a queen?”
“No, my dear.”
“Then his father must be a king?”
“No, my dear. It is quite a different thing here. Here in France they
have a great many princes.”
“Well, at any rate I should like to see a prince’s château; so I do hope
you’ll go.” And then there was a pause. “Mamma, could it come to pass,
here in France, that M. Lacordaire should ever be a prince?”
“M. Lacordaire a prince! No; don’t talk such nonsense, but mind your
“Isn’t M. Lacordaire a very nice man? Ain’t you very fond of him?”
To this question Mrs. Thompson made no answer.
“Mamma,” continued Mimmy, after a moment’s pause, “won’t you tell me
whether you are fond of M. Lacordaire? I’m quite sure of this,–that
he’s very fond of you.”
“What makes you think that?” asked Mrs. Thompson, who could not bring
herself to refrain from the question.
“Because he looks at you in that way, mamma, and squeezes your hand.”
“Nonsense, child,” said Mrs. Thompson; “hold your tongue. I don’t know
what can have put such stuff into your head.”
“But he does, mamma,” said Mimmy, who rarely allowed her mother to put
her down.
Mrs. Thompson made no further answer, but again sat with her head
resting on her hand. She also, if the truth must be told, was thinking
of M. Lacordaire and his fondness for herself. He had squeezed her hand
and he had looked into her face. However much it may have been nonsense
on Mimmy’s part to talk of such things, they had not the less absolutely
occurred. Was it really the fact that M. Lacordaire was in love with
And if so, what return should she, or could she make to such a passion?
He had looked at her yesterday, and squeezed her hand to-day. Might it
not be probable that he would advance a step further to-morrow? If so,
what answer would she be prepared to make to him?
She did not think–so she said to herself–that she had any particular
objection to marrying again. Thompson had been dead now for four years,
and neither his friends, nor her friends, nor the world could say she
was wrong on that score. And as to marrying a Frenchman, she could not
say she felt within herself any absolute repugnance to doing that. Of
her own country, speaking of England as such, she, in truth, knew but
little–and perhaps cared less. She had gone to India almost as a child,
and England had not been specially kind to her on her return. She had
found it dull and cold, stiff, and almost ill-natured. People there had
not smiled on her and been civil as M. Lacordaire had done. As far as
England and Englishmen were considered she saw no reason why she should
not marry M. Lacordaire.
And then, as regarded the man; could she in her heart say that she was
prepared to love, honour, and obey M. Lacordaire? She certainly knew no
reason why she should not do so. She did not know much of him, she said
to herself at first; but she knew as much, she said afterwards, as she
had known personally of Mr. Thompson before their marriage. She had
known, to be sure, what was Mr. Thompson’s profession and what his
income; or, if not, some one else had known for her. As to both these
points she was quite in the dark as regarded M. Lacordaire.
Personally, she certainly did like him, as she said to herself more than
once. There was a courtesy and softness about him which were very
gratifying to her; and then, his appearance was so much in his favour.
He was not very young, she acknowledged; but neither was she young
herself. It was quite evident that he was fond of her children, and that
he would be a kind and affectionate father to them. Indeed, there was
kindness in all that he did.
Should she many again,–and she put it to herself quite
hypothetically,–she would look for no romance in such a second
marriage. She would be content to sit down in a quiet home, to the tame
dull realities of life, satisfied with the companionship of a man who
would be kind and gentle to her, and whom she could respect and esteem.
Where could she find a companion with whom this could be more safely
anticipated than with M. Lacordaire?
And so she argued the question within her own breast in a manner not
unfriendly to that gentleman. That there was as yet one great hindrance
she at once saw; but then that might be remedied by a word. She did not
know what was his income or his profession. The chambermaid, whom she
had interrogated, had told her that he was a “marchand.” To merchants,
generally, she felt that she had no objection. The Barings and the
Rothschilds were merchants, as was also that wonderful man at Bombay,
Sir Hommajee Bommajee, who was worth she did not know how many thousand
lacs of rupees.
That it would behove her, on her own account and that of her daughters,
to take care of her own little fortune in contracting any such
connection, that she felt strongly. She would never so commit herself as
to put security in that respect out of her power. But then she did not
think that M. Lacordaire would ever ask her to do so; at any rate, she
was determined on this, that there should never be any doubt on that
matter; and as she firmly resolved on this, she again took up her book,
and for a minute or two made an attempt to read.
“Mamma,” said Mimmy, “will M. Lacordaire go up to the school to see
Lilian when you go away from this?”
“Indeed, I cannot say, my dear. If Lilian is a good girl, perhaps he may
do so now and then.”
“And will he write to you and tell you how she is?”
“Lilian can write for herself; can she not?”
“Oh yes; I suppose she can; but I hope M. Lacordaire will write too. We
shall come back here some day; shan’t we, mamma?”
“I cannot say, my dear.”
“I do so hope we shall see M. Lacordaire again. Do you know what I was
thinking, mamma?”
“Little girls like you ought not to think,” said Mrs. Thompson, walking
slowly out of the room to the top of the stairs and back again; for she
had felt the necessity of preventing Mimmy from disclosing any more of
her thoughts. “And now, my dear, get yourself ready, and we will go up
to the school.”
Mrs. Thompson always dressed herself with care, though not in especially
fine clothes, before she went down to dinner at the table d’hôte; but on
this occasion she was more than usually particular. She hardly explained
to herself why she did this; but, nevertheless, as she stood before the
glass, she did in a certain manner feel that the circumstances of her
future life might perhaps depend on what might be said and done that
evening. She had not absolutely decided whether or no she would go to
the Prince’s château; but if she did go—-. Well, if she did; what
then? She had sense enough, as she assured herself more than once, to
regulate her own conduct with propriety in any such emergency.
During the dinner, M. Lacordaire conversed in his usual manner, but said
nothing whatever about the visit to Polignac. He was very kind to Mimmy,
and very courteous to her mother, but did not appear to be at all more
particular than usual. Indeed, it might be a question whether he was not
less so. As she had entered the room Mrs. Thompson had said to herself
that, perhaps, after all, it would be better that there should be
nothing more thought about it; but before the four of five courses were
over, she was beginning to feel a little disappointed.
And now the fruit was on the table, after the consumption of which it
was her practice to retire. It was certainly open to her to ask M.
Lacordaire to take tea with her that evening, as she had done on former
occasions; but she felt that she must not do this now, considering the
immediate circumstances of the case. If any further steps were to be
taken, they must be taken by him, and not by her;–or else by Mimmy,
who, just as her mother was slowly consuming her last grapes, ran round
to the back of M. Lacordaire’s chair, and whispered something into his
ear. It may be presumed that Mrs. Thompson did not see the intention of
the movement in time to arrest it, for she did nothing till the
whispering had been whispered; and then she rebuked the child, bade her
not to be troublesome, and with more than usual austerity in her voice,
desired her to get herself ready to go up stairs to their chamber.
As she spoke she herself rose from her chair, and made her final little
bow to the table, and her other final little bow and smile to M.
Lacordaire; but this was certain to all who saw it, that the smile was
not as gracious as usual.
As she walked forth, M. Lacordaire rose from his chair–such being his
constant practice when she left the table; but on this occasion he
accompanied her to the door.
“And has madame decided,” he asked, “whether she will permit me to
accompany her to the château?”
“Well, I really don’t know,” said Mrs. Thompson.
“Mees Meemy,” continued M. Lacordaire, “is very anxious to see the rock,
and I may perhaps hope that Mees Lilian would be pleased with such a
little excursion. As for myself—-” and then M. Lacordaire put his hand
upon his heart in a manner that seemed to speak more plainly than he had
ever spoken.
“Well, if the children would really like it, and–as you are so very
kind,” said Mrs. Thompson; and so the matter was conceded.
“To-morrow afternoon?” suggested M. Lacordaire. But Mrs. Thompson fixed
on Saturday, thereby showing that she herself was in no hurry for the
“Oh, I am so glad!” said Mimmy, when they had re-entered their own room.
“Mamma, do let me tell Lilian myself when I go up to the school
But mamma was in no humour to say much to her child on this subject at
the present moment. She threw herself back on her sofa in perfect
silence, and began to reflect whether she would like to sign her name in
future as Fanny Lacordaire, instead of Fanny Thompson. It certainly
seemed as though things were verging towards such a necessity. A
marchand! But a marchand of what? She had an instinctive feeling that
the people in the hotel were talking about her and M. Lacordaire, and
was therefore more than ever averse to asking any one a question.
As she went up to the school the next afternoon, she walked through more
of the streets of Le Puy than was necessary, and in every street she
looked at the names which she saw over the doors of the more respectable
houses of business. But she looked in vain. It might be that M.
Lacordaire was a marchand of so specially high a quality as to be under
no necessity to put up his name at all. Sir Hommajee Bommajee’s name did
not appear over any door in Bombay;–at least, she thought not.
And then came the Saturday morning. “We shall be ready at two,” she
said, as she left the breakfast-table; “and perhaps you would not mind
calling for Lilian on the way.”
M. Lacordaire would be delighted to call anywhere for anybody on behalf
of Mrs. Thompson; and then, as he got to the door of the salon, he
offered her his hand. He did so with so much French courtesy that she
could not refuse it, and then she felt that his purpose was more tender
than ever it had been. And why not, if this was the destiny which Fate
had prepared for her?
Mrs. Thompson would rather have got into the carriage at any other spot
in Le Puy than at that at which she was forced to do so–the chief
entrance, namely, of the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs. And what made it worse
was this, that an appearance of a special fête was given to the
occasion. M. Lacordaire was dressed in more than his Sunday best. He had
on new yellow kid gloves. His coat, if not new, was newer than any Mrs.
Thompson had yet observed, and was lined with silk up to the very
collar. He had on patent leather boots, which glittered, as Mrs.
Thompson thought, much too conspicuously. And as for his hat, it was
quite evident that it was fresh that morning from the maker’s block.
In this costume, with his hat in his hand, he stood under the great
gateway of the hotel, ready to hand Mrs. Thompson into the carriage.
This would have been nothing if the landlord and landlady had not been
there also, as well as the man-cook, and the four waiters, and the fille
de chambre. Two or three other pair of eyes Mrs. Thompson also saw, as
she glanced round, and then Mimmy walked across the yard in her best
clothes with a fête-day air about her for which her mother would have
liked to have whipped her.
But what did it matter? If it was written in the book that she should
become Madame Lacordaire, of course the world would know that there must
have been some preparatory love-making. Let them have their laugh; a
good husband would not be dearly purchased at so trifling an expense.
And so they sallied forth with already half the ceremony of a wedding.
Mimmy seated herself opposite to her mother, and M. Lacordaire also sat
with his back to the horses, leaving the second place of honour for
Lilian. “Pray make yourself comfortable, M. Lacordaire, and don’t mind
her,” said Mrs. Thompson. But he was firm in his purpose of civility,
perhaps making up his mind that when he should in truth stand in the
place of papa to the young lady, then would be his time for having the
back seat in the carriage.
Lilian, also in her best frock, came down the school-steps, and three of
the school teachers came with her. It would have added to Mrs.
Thompson’s happiness at that moment if M. Lacordaire would have kept
his polished boots out of sight, and put his yellow gloves into his
And then they started. The road from Le Puy to Polignac is nearly all up
hill; and a very steep bill it is, so that there was plenty of time for
conversation. But the girls had it nearly all to themselves. Mimmy
thought that she had never found. M. Lacordaire so stupid; and Lilian
told her sister on the first safe opportunity that occurred, that it
seemed very much as though they were all going to church.
“And do any of the Polignac people ever live at this place?” asked Mrs.
Thompson, by way of making conversation; in answer to which M.
Lacordaire informed madame that the place was at present only a ruin;
and then there was again silence till they found themselves under the
rock, and were informed by the driver that the rest of the ascent must
be made on foot.
The rock now stood abrupt and precipitous above their heads. It was
larger in its circumference and with much larger space on its summit
than those other volcanic rocks in and close to the town; but then at
the same time it was higher from the ground, and quite as inaccessible,
except by the single path which led up to the château.
M. Lacordaire, with conspicuous gallantry, first assisted Mrs. Thompson
from the carriage, and then handed down the two young ladies. No lady
could have been so difficult to please as to complain of him, and yet
Mrs. Thompson thought that he was not as agreeable as usual. Those
horrid boots and those horrid gloves gave him such an air of holiday
finery that neither could he be at his ease wearing them, nor could she,
in seeing them worn.
They were soon taken in hand by the poor woman whose privilege it was to
show the ruins. For a little distance they walked up the path in single
file; not that it was too narrow to accommodate two, but M. Lacordaire’s
courage had not yet been screwed to a point which admitted of his
offering his arm to the widow. For in France, it must be remembered,
that this means more than it does in some other countries.
Mrs. Thompson felt that all this was silly and useless. If they were not
to be dear friends this coming out fêting together, those boots and
gloves and new hat were all very foolish; and if they were, the sooner
they understood each other the better. So Mrs. Thompson, finding that
the path was steep and the weather warm, stood still for a while leaning
against the wall, with a look of considerable fatigue in her face.
“Will madame permit me the honour of offering her my arm?” said M.
Lacordaire. “The road is so extraordinarily steep for madame to climb.”
Mrs. Thompson did permit him the honour, and so they went on till they
reached the top.
The view from the summit was both extensive and grand, but neither
Lilian nor Mimmy were much pleased with the place. The elder sister, who
had talked over the matter with her school companions, expected a fine
castle with turrets, battlements, and romance; and the other expected a
pretty smiling house, such as princes, in her mind, ought to inhabit.
Instead of this they found an old turret, with steps so broken that M.
Lacordaire did not care to ascend them, and the ruined walls of a
mansion, in which nothing was to be seen but the remains of an enormous
kitchen chimney.
“It was the kitchen of the family,” said the guide.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Thompson.
“And this,” said the woman, taking them into the next ruined
compartment, “was the kitchen of monsieur et madame.”
“What! two kitchens?” exclaimed Lilian, upon which M. Lacordaire
explained that the ancestors of the Prince de Polignac had been very
great people, and had therefore required culinary performances on a
great scale.
And then the woman began to chatter something about an oracle of Apollo.
There was, she said, a hole in the rock, from which in past times,
perhaps more than a hundred years ago, the oracle used to speak forth
mysterious words.
“There,” she said, pointing to a part of the rock at some distance, “was
the hole. And if the ladies would follow her to a little outhouse which
was just beyond, she would show them the huge stone mouth out of which
the oracle used to speak.”
Lilian and Mimmy both declared at once for seeing the oracle, but Mrs.
Thompson expressed her determination to remain sitting where she was
upon the turf. So the guide started off with the young ladies; and will
it be thought surprising that M. Lacordaire should have remained alone
by the side of Mrs. Thompson?
It must be now or never, Mrs. Thompson felt; and as regarded M.
Lacordaire, he probably entertained some idea of the same kind. Mrs.
Thompson’s inclinations, though they had never been very strong in the
matter, were certainly in favour of the “now.” M. Lacordaire’s
inclinations were stronger. He had fully and firmly made up his mind in
favour of matrimony; but then he was not so absolutely in favour of the
“now.” Mrs. Thompson’s mind, if one could have read it, would have shown
a great objection to shilly-shallying, as she was accustomed to call it.
But M. Lacordaire, were it not for the danger which might thence arise,
would have seen no objection to some slight further procrastination. His
courage was beginning, perhaps, to ooze out from his fingers’ ends.
“I declare that those girls have scampered away ever so far,” said Mrs.
“Would madame wish that I should call them back?” said M. Lacordaire,
“Oh, no, dear children! let them enjoy themselves; it will be a pleasure
to them to run about the rock, and I suppose they will be safe with that
“Oh, yes, quite safe,” said M. Lacordaire; and then there was another
little pause.
Mrs. Thompson was sitting on a broken fragment of a stone just outside
the entrance to the old family kitchen, and M. Lacordaire was standing
immediately before her. He had in his hand a little cane with which he
sometimes slapped his boots and sometimes poked about among the rubbish.
His hat was not quite straight on his head, having a little jaunty twist
to one side, with reference to which, by-the-bye, Mrs. Thompson then
resolved that she would make a change, should ever the gentleman become
her own property. He still wore his gloves, and was very smart; but it
was clear to see that he was not at his ease.
“I hope the heat does not incommode you,” he said after a few moments’
silence. Mrs. Thompson declared that it did not, that she liked a good
deal of heat, and that, on the whole, she was very well where she was.
She was afraid, however, that she was detaining M. Lacordaire, who might
probably wish to be moving about upon the rock. In answer to which M.
Lacordaire declared that he never could be so happy anywhere as in her
close vicinity.
“You are too good to me,” said Mrs. Thompson, almost sighing. “I don’t
know what my stay here would have been without your great kindness.”
“It is madame that has been kind to me,” said M. Lacordaire, pressing
the handle of his cane against his heart.
There was then another pause, after which Mrs. Thompson said that that
was all his French politeness; that she knew that she had been very
troublesome to him, but that she would now soon be gone; and that then,
in her own country, she would never forget his great goodness.
“Ah, madame!” said M. Lacordaire; and, as he said it, much more was
expressed in his face than in his words. But, then, you can neither
accept nor reject a gentleman by what he says in his face. He blushed,
too, up to his grizzled hair, and, turning round, walked a step or two
away from the widow’s seat, and back again.
Mrs. Thompson the while sat quite still. The displaced fragment, lying,
as it did, near a corner of the building, made not an uncomfortable
chair. She had only to be careful that she did not injure her hat or
crush her clothes, and throw in a word here and there to assist the
gentleman, should occasion permit it.
“Madame!” said M. Lacordaire, on his return from a second little walk.
“Monsieur!” replied Mrs. Thompson, perceiving that M. Lacordaire paused
in his speech.
“Madame,” he began again, and then, as he again paused, Mrs. Thompson
looked up to him very sweetly; “madame, what I am going to say will, I
am afraid, seem to evince by far too great audacity on my part.”
Mrs. Thompson may, perhaps, have thought that, at the present moment,
audacity was not his fault. She replied, however, that she was quite
sure that monsieur would say nothing that was in any way unbecoming
either for him to speak or for her to hear.
“Madame, may I have ground to hope that such may be your sentiments
after I have spoken! Madame”–and now he went down, absolutely on his
knees, on the hard stones; and Mrs. Thompson, looking about into the
distance, almost thought that she saw the top of the guide’s
cap–“Madame, I have looked forward to this opportunity as one in which
I may declare for you the greatest passion that I have ever yet felt.
Madame, with all my heart and soul I love you. Madame, I offer to you
the homage of my heart, my hand, the happiness of my life, and all that
I possess in this world;” and then, taking her hand gracefully between
his gloves, he pressed his lips against the tips of her fingers.
If the thing was to be done, this way of doing it was, perhaps, as good
as any other. It was one, at any rate, which left no doubt whatever as
to the gentleman’s intentions. Mrs. Thompson, could she have had her
own way, would not have allowed her lover of fifty to go down upon his
knees, and would have spared him much of the romance of his declaration.
So also would she have spared him his yellow gloves and his polished
boots. But these were a part of the necessity of the situation, and
therefore she wisely took them as matters to be passed over with
indifference. Seeing, however, that M. Lacordaire still remained on his
knees, it was necessary that she should take some step toward raising
him, especially as her two children and the guide would infallibly he
upon them before long.
“M. Lacordaire,” she said, “you surprise me greatly; but pray get up.”
“But will madame vouchsafe to give me some small ground for hope?”
“The girls will be here directly, M. Lacordaire; pray get up. I can talk
to you much better if you will stand up, or sit down on one of these
M. Lacordaire did as he was bid; he got up, wiped the knees of his
pantaloons with his handkerchief, sat down beside her, and then pressed
the handle of his cane to his heart.
“You really have so surprised me that I hardly know how to answer you,”
said Mrs. Thompson. “Indeed, I cannot bring myself to imagine that you
are in earnest.”
“Ah, madame, do not be so cruel! How can I have lived with you so long,
sat beside you for so many days, without having received your image into
my heart? I am in earnest! Alas! I fear too much in earnest!” And then
he looked at her with all his eyes, and sighed with all his strength.
Mrs. Thompson’s prudence told her that it would be well to settle the
matter, in one way or the other, as soon as possible. Long periods of
love-making were fit for younger people than herself and her future
possible husband. Her object would be to make him comfortable if she
could, and that he should do the same for her, if that also were
possible. As for lookings and sighings and pressings of the hand, she
had gone through all that some twenty years since in India, when
Thompson had been young, and she was still in her teens.
“But, M. Lacordaire, there are so many things to be considered. There! I
hear the children coming! Let us walk this way for a minute.” And they
turned behind a wall which placed them out of sight, and walked on a few
paces till they reached a parapet, which stood on the uttermost edge of
the high rock. Leaning upon this they continued their conversation.
“There are so many things to be considered,” said Mrs. Thompson again.
“Yes, of course,” said M. Lacordaire. “But my one great consideration is
this;–that I love madame to distraction.”
“I am very much flattered; of course, any lady would so feel. But, M.
“Madame, I am all attention. But, if you would deign to make me happy,
say that one word, ‘I love you!’” M. Lacordaire, as he uttered these
words, did not look, as the saying is, at his best. But Mrs. Thompson
forgave him. She knew that elderly gentlemen under such circumstances do
not look at their best.
“But if I consented to–to–to such an arrangement, I could only do so
on seeing that it would be beneficial–or, at any rate, not
injurious–to my children; and that it would offer to ourselves a fair
promise of future happiness.”
“Ah, madame; it would be the dearest wish of my heart to be a second
father to those two young ladies; except, indeed—-” and then M.
Lacordaire stopped the flow of his speech.
“In such matters it is so much the best to be explicit at once,” said
Mrs. Thompson.
“Oh, yes; certainly! Nothing can be more wise that madame.”
“And the happiness of a household depends so much on money.”
“Let me say a word or two, Monsieur Lacordaire. I have enough for myself
and my children; and, should I every marry again, I should not, I hope,
be felt as a burden by my husband; but it would, of course, be my duty
to know what were his circumstances before I accepted him. Of yourself,
personally, I have seen nothing that I do not like.”
“Oh, madame!”
“But as yet I know nothing of your circumstances.”
M. Lacordaire, perhaps, did feel that Mrs. Thompson’s prudence was of a
strong, masculine description; but he hardly liked her the less on this
account. To give him his due he was not desirous of marrying her solely
for her money’s sake. He also wished for a comfortable home, and
proposed to give as much as he got; only he had been anxious to wrap up
the solid cake of this business in a casing of sugar of romance. Mrs.
Thompson would not have the sugar; but the cake might not be the worse
on that account.
“No, madame, not as yet; but they shall all be made open and at your
disposal,” said M. Lacordaire; and Mrs. Thompson bowed approvingly.
“I am in business,” continued M. Lacordaire; “and my business gives me
eight thousand francs a year.”
“Four times eight are thirty-two,” said Mrs. Thompson to herself;
putting the francs into pounds sterling, in the manner that she had
always found to be the readiest. Well, so far the statement was
satisfactory. An income of three hundred and twenty pounds a year from
business, joined to her own, might do very well. She did not in the
least suspect M. Lacordaire of being false, and so far the matter
sounded well.
“And what is the business?” she asked, in a tone of voice intended to be
indifferent, but which nevertheless showed that she listened anxiously
for an answer to her question.
They were both standing with their arms upon the wall, looking down upon
the town of Le Puy; but they had so stood that each could see the
other’s countenance as they talked. Mrs. Thompson could now perceive
that M. Lacordaire became red in the face, as he paused before answering
her. She was near to him, and seeing his emotion gently touched his arm
with her hand. This she did to reassure him, for she saw that he was
ashamed of having to declare that he was a tradesman. As for herself,
she had made up her mind to bear with this, if she found, as she felt
sure she would find, that the trade was one which would not degrade
either him or her. Hitherto, indeed,–in her early days,–she had looked
down on trade; but of what benefit had her grand ideas been to her when
she had returned to England? She had tried her hand at English genteel
society, and no one had seemed to care for her. Therefore, she touched
his arm lightly with her fingers that she might encourage him.
He paused for a moment, as I have said, and became red; and then feeling
that he had shown some symptoms of shame–and feeling also, probably,
that it was unmanly in him to do so, he shook himself slightly, raised
his head up somewhat more proudly than was his wont, looked her full in
the face with more strength of character than she had yet seen him
assume; and then, declared his business.
“Madame,” he said, in a very audible, but not in a loud voice,
“madame–je suis tailleur.” And having so spoken, he turned slightly
from her and looked down over the valley towards Le Puy.
* * * * *
There was nothing more said upon the subject as they drove down from the
rock of Polignac back to the town. Immediately on receiving the
announcement, Mrs. Thompson found that she had no answer to make. She
withdrew her hand–and felt at once that she had received a blow. It was
not that she was angry with M. Lacordaire for being a tailor; nor was
she angry with him in that, being a tailor, he had so addressed her. But
she was surprised, disappointed, and altogether put beyond her ease. She
had, at any rate, not expected this. She had dreamed of his being a
banker; thought that, perhaps, he might have been a wine merchant; but
her idea had never gone below a jeweller or watchmaker. When those words
broke upon her ear, “Madame, je suis tailleur,” she had felt herself to
be speechless.
But the words had not been a minute spoken when Lilian and Mimmy ran up
to their mother. “Oh, mamma,” said Lilian, “we thought you were lost; we
have searched for you all over the château.”
“We have been sitting very quietly here, my dear, looking at the view,”
said Mrs. Thompson.
“But, mamma, I do wish you’d see the mouth of the oracle. It is so
large, and so round, and so ugly. I put my arm into it all the way,”
said Mimmy.
But at the present moment her mamma felt no interest in the mouth of the
oracle; and so they all walked down together to the carriage. And,
though the way was steep, Mrs. Thompson managed to pick her steps
without the assistance of an arm; nor did M. Lacordaire presume to offer
The drive back to town was very silent. Mrs. Thompson did make one or
two attempts at conversation, but they were not effectual. M. Lacordaire
could not speak at his ease till this matter was settled, and he already
had begun to perceive that his business was against him. Why is it that
the trade of a tailor should be less honourable than that of a
haberdasher, or even a grocer?
They sat next each other at dinner, as usual; and here, as all eyes were
upon them, they both made a great struggle to behave in their accustomed
way. But even in this they failed. All the world of the Hôtel des
Ambassadeurs knew that M. Lacordaire had gone forth to make an offer to
Mrs. Thompson, and all that world, therefore, was full of speculation.
But all the world could make nothing of it. M. Lacordaire did look like
a rejected man, but Mrs. Thompson did not look like the woman who had
rejected him. That the offer had been made–in that everybody agreed,
from the senior habitué of the house who always sat at the head of the
table, down to the junior assistant garçon. But as to reading the
riddle, there was no accord among them.
When the dessert was done, Mrs. Thompson, as usual, withdrew, and M.
Lacordaire, as usual, bowed as he stood behind his own chair. He did
not, however, attempt to follow her.
But when she reached the door she called him. He was at her side in a
moment, and then she whispered in his ear–
“And I, also–I will be of the same business.”
When M. Lacordaire regained the table the senior habitué, the junior
garçon, and all the intermediate ranks of men at the Hôtel des
Ambassadeurs knew that they might congratulate him.
Mrs. Thompson had made a great struggle; but, speaking for myself, I am
inclined to think that she arrived at last at a wise decision.
I would wish to declare, at the beginning of this story, that I shall
never regard that cluster of islets which we call Bermuda as the
Fortunate Islands of the ancients. Do not let professional geographers
take me up, and say that no one has so accounted them, and that the
ancients have never been supposed to have gotten themselves so far
westwards. What I mean to assert is this–that, had any ancient been
carried thither by enterprise or stress of weather, he would not have
given those islands so good a name. That the Neapolitan sailors of King
Alonzo should have been wrecked here, I consider to be more likely. The
vexed Bermoothes is a good name for them. There is no getting in or out
of them without the greatest difficulty, and a patient, slow navigation,
which is very heart-rending. That Caliban should have lived here I can
imagine; that Ariel would have been sick of the place is certain; and
that Governor Prospero should have been willing to abandon his
governorship, I conceive to have been only natural. When one regards the
present state of the place, one is tempted to doubt whether any of the
governors have been conjurors since his days.
Bermuda, as all the world knows, is a British colony at which we
maintain a convict establishment. Most of our outlying convict
establishments have been sent back upon our hands from our colonies, but
here one is still maintained. There is also in the islands a strong
military fortress, though not a fortress looking magnificent to the eyes
of civilians, as do Malta and Gibraltar. There are also here some six
thousand white people and some six thousand black people, eating,
drinking, sleeping, and dying.
The convict establishment is the most notable feature of Bermuda to a
stranger, but it does not seem to attract much attention from the
regular inhabitants of the place. There is no intercourse between the
prisoners and the Bermudians. The convicts are rarely seen by them, and
the convict islands are rarely visited. As to the prisoners themselves,
of course it is not open to them–or should not be open to them–to have
intercourse with any but the prison authorities.
There have, however, been instances in which convicts have escaped from
their confinement, and made their way out among the islands. Poor
wretches! As a rule, there is but little chance for any that can so
escape. The whole length of the cluster is but twenty miles, and the
breadth is under four. The prisoners are, of course, white men, and the
lower orders of Bermuda, among whom alone could a runagate have any
chance of hiding himself, are all negroes; so that such a one would be
known at once. Their clothes are all marked. Their only chance of a
permanent escape would be in the hold of an American ship; but what
captain of an American or other ship would willingly encumber himself
with an escaped convict? But, nevertheless, men have escaped; and in one
instance, I believe, a convict got away, so that of him no further
tidings were ever heard.
For the truth of the following tale I will not by any means vouch. If
one were to inquire on the spot one might probably find that the ladies
all believe it, and the old men; that all the young men know exactly how
much of it is false and how much true; and that the steady, middle-aged,
well-to-do islanders are quite convinced that it is romance from
beginning to end. My readers may range themselves with the ladies, the
young men, or the steady, well-to-do, middle-aged islanders, as they
Some years ago, soon after the prison was first established on its
present footing, three men did escape from it, and among them a certain
notorious prisoner named Aaron Trow. Trow’s antecedents in England had
not been so villanously bad as those of many of his fellow-convicts,
though the one offence for which he was punished had been of a deep dye:
he had shed man’s blood. At a period of great distress in a
manufacturing town he had led men on to riot, and with his own hand had
slain the first constable who had endeavoured to do his duty against
him. There had been courage in the doing of the deed, and probably no
malice; but the deed, let its moral blackness have been what it might,
had sent him to Bermuda, with a sentence against him of penal servitude
for life. Had he been then amenable to prison discipline,–even then,
with such a sentence against him as that,–he might have won his way
back, after the lapse of years, to the children, and perhaps, to the
wife, that he had left behind him; but he was amenable to no rules–to
no discipline. His heart was sore to death with an idea of injury, and
he lashed himself against the bars of his cage with a feeling that it
would be well if he could so lash himself till he might perish in his
And then a day came in which an attempt was made by a large body of
convicts, under his leadership, to get the better of the officers of the
prison. It is hardly necessary to say that the attempt failed. Such
attempts always fail. It failed on this occasion signally, and Trow,
with two other men, were condemned to be scourged terribly, and then
kept in solitary confinement for some lengthened term of months. Before,
however, the day of scourging came, Trow and his two associates had
I have not the space to tell how this was effected, nor the power to
describe the manner. They did escape from the establishment into the
islands, and though two of them were taken after a single day’s run at
liberty, Aaron Trow had not been yet retaken even when a week was over.
When a month was over he had not been retaken, and the officers of the
prison began to say that he had got away from them in a vessel to the
States. It was impossible, they said, that he should have remained in
the islands and not been discovered. It was not impossible that he might
have destroyed himself, leaving his body where it had not yet been
found. But he could not have lived on in Bermuda during that month’s
search. So, at least, said the officers of the prison. There was,
however, a report through the islands that he had been seen from time to
time; that he had gotten bread from the negroes at night, threatening
them with death if they told of his whereabouts; and that all the
clothes of the mate of a vessel had been stolen while the man was
bathing, including a suit of dark blue cloth, in which suit of clothes,
or in one of such a nature, a stranger had been seen skulking about the
rocks near St. George. All this the governor of the prison affected to
disbelieve, but the opinion was becoming very rife in the islands that
Aaron Trow was still there.
A vigilant search, however, is a task of great labour, and cannot be
kept up for ever. By degrees it was relaxed. The warders and gaolers
ceased to patrol the island roads by night, and it was agreed that Aaron
Trow was gone, or that he would be starved to death, or that he would in
time be driven to leave such traces of his whereabouts as must lead to
his discovery; and this at last did turn out to be the fact.
There is a sort of prettiness about these islands which, though it never
rises to the loveliness of romantic scenery, is nevertheless attractive
in its way. The land breaks itself into little knolls, and the sea runs
up, hither and thither, in a thousand creeks and inlets; and then, too,
when the oleanders are in bloom, they give a wonderfully bright colour
to the landscape. Oleanders seem to be the roses of Bermuda, and are
cultivated round all the villages of the better class through the
islands. There are two towns, St. George and Hamilton, and one main
high-road, which connects them; but even this high-road is broken by a
ferry, over which every vehicle going from St. George to Hamilton must
be conveyed. Most of the locomotion in these parts is done by boats, and
the residents look to the sea, with its narrow creeks, as their best
highway from their farms to their best market. In those days–and those
days were not very long since–the building of small ships was their
chief trade, and they valued their land mostly for the small scrubby
cedar-trees with which this trade was carried on.
As one goes from St. George to Hamilton the road runs between two seas;
that to the right is the ocean; that on the left is an inland creek,
which runs up through a large portion of the islands, so that the land
on the other side of it is near to the traveller. For a considerable
portion of the way there are no houses lying near the road, and there is
one residence, some way from the road, so secluded that no other house
lies within a mile of it by land. By water it might probably be reached
within half a mile. This place was called Crump Island, and here lived,
and had lived for many years, an old gentleman, a native of Bermuda,
whose business it had been to buy up cedar wood and sell it to the
ship-builders at Hamilton. In our story we shall not have very much to
do with old Mr. Bergen, but it will be necessary to say a word or two
about his house.
It stood upon what would have been an island in the creek, had not a
narrow causeway, barely broad enough for a road, joined it to that
larger island on which stands the town of St. George. As the main road
approaches the ferry it runs through some rough, hilly, open ground,
which on the right side towards the ocean has never been cultivated. The
distance from the ocean here may, perhaps, be a quarter of a mile, and
the ground is for the most part covered with low furze. On the left of
the road the land is cultivated in patches, and here, some half mile or
more from the ferry, a path turns away to Crump Island. The house cannot
be seen from the road, and, indeed, can hardly be seen at all, except
from the sea. It lies, perhaps, three furlongs from the high road, and
the path to it is but little used, as the passage to and from it is
chiefly made by water.
Here, at the time of our story, lived Mr. Bergen, and here lived Mr.
Bergen’s daughter. Miss Bergen was well known at St. George’s as a
steady, good girl, who spent her time in looking after her father’s
household matters, in managing his two black maid-servants and the black
gardener, and who did her duty in that sphere of life to which she had
been called. She was a comely, well-shaped young woman, with a sweet
countenance, rather large in size, and very quiet in demeanour. In her
earlier years, when young girls usually first bud forth into womanly
beauty, the neighbours had not thought much of Anastasia Bergen, nor had
the young men of St. George been wont to stay their boats under the
window of Crump Cottage in order that they might listen to her voice or
feel the light of her eye; but slowly, as years went by, Anastasia
Bergen became a woman that a man might well love; and a man learned to
love her who was well worthy of a woman’s heart. This was Caleb Morton,
the Presbyterian, minister of St. George; and Caleb Morton had been
engaged to marry Miss Bergen for the last two years past, at the period
of Aaron Trow’s escape from prison.
Caleb Morton was not a native of Bermuda, but had been sent thither by
the synod of his church from Nova Scotia. He was a tall, handsome man,
at this time of some thirty years of age, of a presence which might
almost have been called commanding. He was very strong, but of a
temperament which did not often give him opportunity to put forth his
strength; and his life had been such that neither he nor others knew of
what nature might be his courage. The greater part of his life was spent
in preaching to some few of the white people around him, and in teaching
as many of the blacks as he could get to hear him. His days were very
quiet, and had been altogether without excitement until he had met with
Anastasia Bergen. It will suffice for us to say that he did meet her,
and that now, for two years past, they had been engaged as man and wife.
Old Mr. Bergen, when he heard of the engagement, was not well pleased at
the information. In the first place, his daughter was very necessary to
him, and the idea of her marrying and going away had hardly as yet
occurred to him; and then he was by no means inclined to part with any
of his money. It must not be presumed that he had amassed a fortune by
his trade in cedar wood. Few tradesmen in Bermuda do, as I imagine,
amass fortunes. Of some few hundred pounds he was possessed, and these,
in the course of nature, would go to his daughter when he died; but he
had no inclination to hand any portion of them over to his daughter
before they did go to her in the course of nature. Now, the income which
Caleb Morton earned as a Presbyterian clergyman was not large, and,
therefore, no day had been fixed as yet for his marriage with Anastasia.
But, though the old man had been from the first averse to the match, his
hostility had not been active. He had not forbidden Mr. Morton his
house, or affected to be in any degree angry because his daughter had a
lover. He had merely grumbled forth an intimation that those who marry
in haste repent at leisure,–that love kept nobody warm if the pot did
not boil; and that, as for him, it was as much as he could do to keep
his own pot boiling at Crump Cottage. In answer to this Anastasia said
nothing. She asked him for no money, but still kept his accounts,
managed his household, and looked patiently forward for better days.
Old Mr. Bergen himself spent much of his time at Hamilton, where he had
a woodyard with a couple of rooms attached to it. It was his custom to
remain here three nights of the week, during which Anastasia was left
alone at the cottage; and it happened by no means seldom that she was
altogether alone, for the negro whom they called the gardener would go
to her father’s place at Hamilton, and the two black girls would crawl
away up to the road, tired with the monotony of the sea at the cottage.
Caleb had more than once told her that she was too much alone, but she
had laughed at him, saying that solitude in Bermuda was not dangerous.
Nor, indeed, was it; for the people are quiet and well-mannered, lacking
much energy, but being, in the same degree, free from any propensity to
“So you are going,” she said to her lover, one evening, as he rose from
the chair on which he had been swinging himself at the door of the
cottage which looks down over the creek of the sea. He had sat there for
an hour talking to her as she worked, or watching her as she moved about
the place. It was a beautiful evening, and the sun had been falling to
rest with almost tropical glory before his feet. The bright oleanders
were red with their blossoms all around him, and he had thoroughly
enjoyed his hour of easy rest. “So you are going,” she said to him, not
putting her work out of her hand as he rose to depart.
“Yes; and it is time for me to go. I have still work to do before I can
get to bed. Ah, well; I suppose the day will come at last when I need
not leave you as soon as my hour of rest is over.”
“Come; of course it will come. That is, if your reverence should choose
to wait for it another ten years or so.”
“I believe you would not mind waiting twenty years.”
“Not if a certain friend of mine would come down and see me of evenings
when I’m alone after the day. It seems to me that I shouldn’t mind
waiting as long as I had that to look for.”
“You are right not to be impatient,” he said to her, after a pause, as
he held her hand before he went. “Quite right. I only wish I could
school myself to be as easy about it.”
“I did not say I was easy,” said Anastasia. “People are seldom easy in
this world, I take it. I said I could be patient. Do not look in that
way, as though you pretended that you were dissatisfied with me. You
know that I am true to you, and you ought to be very proud of me.”
“I am proud of you, Anastasia—-” on hearing which she got up and
courtesied to him. “I am proud of you; so proud of you that I feel you
should not be left here all alone, with no one to help you if you were
in trouble.”
“Women don’t get into trouble as men do, and do not want any one to help
them. If you were alone in the house you would have to go to bed without
your supper, because you could not make a basin of boiled milk ready for
your own meal. Now, when your reverence has gone, I shall go to work and
have my tea comfortably.” And then he did go, bidding God bless her as
he left her. Three hours after that he was disturbed in his own lodgings
by one of the negro girls from the cottage rushing to his door, and
begging him in Heaven’s name to come down to the assistance of her
When Morton left her, Anastasia did not proceed to do as she had said,
and seemed to have forgotten her evening meal. She had been working
sedulously with her needle during all that last conversation; but when
her lover was gone, she allowed the work to fall from her hands, and sat
motionless for awhile, gazing at the last streak of colour left by the
setting sun; but there was no longer a sign of its glory to be traced in
the heavens around her. The twilight in Bermuda is not long and enduring
as it is with us, though the daylight does not depart suddenly, leaving
the darkness of night behind it without any intermediate time of
warning, as is the case farther south, down among the islands of the
tropics. But the soft, sweet light of the evening had waned and gone,
and night had absolutely come upon her, while Anastasia was still seated
before the cottage with her eyes fixed upon the white streak of
motionless sea which was still visible through the gloom. She was
thinking of him, of his ways of life, of his happiness, and of her duty
towards him. She had told him, with her pretty feminine falseness, that
she could wait without impatience; but now she said to herself that it
would not be good for him to wait longer. He lived alone and without
comfort, working very hard for his poor pittance, and she could see, and
feel, and understand that a companion in his life was to him almost a
necessity. She would tell her father that all this must be brought to an
end. She would not ask him for money, but she would make him understand
that her services must, at any rate in part, be transferred. Why should
not she and Morton still live at the cottage when they were married? And
so thinking, and at last resolving, she sat there till the dark night
fell upon her.
She was at last disturbed by feeling a man’s hand upon her shoulder. She
jumped from her chair and faced him,–not screaming, for it was
especially within her power to control herself, and to make no utterance
except with forethought. Perhaps it might have been better for her had
she screamed, and sent a shrill shriek down the shore of that inland
sea. She was silent, however, and with awe-struck face and outstretched
hands gazed into the face of him who still held her by the shoulder. The
night was dark; but her eyes were now accustomed to the darkness, and
she could see indistinctly something of his features. He was a low-sized
man, dressed in a suit of sailor’s blue clothing, with a rough cap of
hair on his head, and a beard that had not been clipped for many weeks.
His eyes were large, and hollow, and frightfully bright, so that she
seemed to see nothing else of him; but she felt the strength of his
fingers as he grasped her tighter and more tightly by the arm.
“Who are you?” she said, after a moment’s pause.
“Do you know me?” he asked.
“Know you! No.” But the words were hardly out of her mouth before it
struck her that the man was Aaron Trow, of whom every one in Bermuda had
been talking.
“Come into the house,” he said, “and give me food.” And he still held
her with his hand as though he would compel her to follow him.
She stood for a moment thinking what she would say to him; for even
then, with that terrible man standing close to her in the darkness, her
presence of mind did not desert her. “Surely,” she said, “I will give
you food if you are hungry. But take your hand from me. No man would lay
his hands on a woman.”
“A woman!” said the stranger. “What does the starved wolf care for that?
A woman’s blood is as sweet to him as that of a man. Come into the
house, I tell you.” And then she preceded him through the open door into
the narrow passage, and thence to the kitchen. There she saw that the
back door, leading out on the other side of the house, was open, and she
knew that he had come down from the road and entered on that side. She
threw her eyes around, looking for the negro girls; but they were away,
and she remembered that there was no human being within sound of her
voice but this man who had told her that he was as a wolf thirsty after
her blood!
“Give me food at once,” he said.
“And will you go if I give it you?” she asked.
“I will knock out your brains if you do not,” he replied, lifting from
the grate a short, thick poker which lay there. “Do as I bid you at
once. You also would be like a tiger if you had fasted for two days, as
I have done.”
She could see, as she moved across the kitchen, that he had already
searched there for something that he might eat, but that he had searched
in vain. With the close economy common among his class in the islands,
all comestibles were kept under close lock and key in the house of Mr.
Bergen. Their daily allowance was given day by day to the negro
servants, and even the fragments were then gathered up and locked away
in safety. She moved across the kitchen to the accustomed cupboard,
taking the keys from her pocket, and he followed close upon her. There
was a small oil lamp hanging from the low ceiling which just gave them
light to see each other. She lifted her hand to this to take it from its
hook, but he prevented her. “No, by Heaven!” he said, “you don’t touch
that till I’ve done with it. There’s light enough for you to drag out
your scraps.”
She did drag out her scraps and a bowl of milk, which might hold perhaps
a quart. There was a fragment of bread, a morsel of cold potato-cake,
and the bone of a leg of kid. “And is that all?” said he. But as he
spoke he fleshed his teeth against the bone as a dog would have done.
“It is the best I have,” she said; “I wish it were better, and you
should have had it without violence, as you have suffered so long from
“Bah! Better; yes! You would give the best no doubt, and set the hell
hounds on my track the moment I am gone. I know how much I might expect
from your charity.”
“I would have fed you for pity’s sake,” she answered.
“Pity! Who are you, that you should dare to pity me! By —-, my young
woman, it is I that pity you. I must cut your throat unless you give me
money. Do you know that?”
“Money! I have got no money.”
“I’ll make you have some before I go. Come; don’t move till I have
done.” And as he spoke to her he went on tugging at the bone, and
swallowing the lumps of stale bread. He had already finished the bowl of
milk, “And, now,” said he, “tell me who I am.”
“I suppose you are Aaron Trow,” she answered, very slowly.
He said nothing on hearing this, but continued his meal, standing close
to her so that she might not possibly escape from him out into the
darkness. Twice or thrice in those few minutes she made up her mind to
make such an attempt, feeling that it would be better to leave him in
possession of the house, and make sure, if possible, of her own life.
There was no money there; not a dollar! What money her father kept in
his possession was locked up in his safe at Hamilton. And might he not
keep to his threat, and murder her, when he found that she could give
him nothing? She did not tremble outwardly, as she stood there watching
him as he ate, but she thought how probable it might be that her last
moments were very near. And yet she could scrutinise his features, form,
and garments, so as to carry away in her mind a perfect picture of them.
Aaron Trow–for of course it was the escaped convict–was not a man of
frightful, hideous aspect. Had the world used him well, giving him when
he was young ample wages and separating him from turbulent spirits, he
also might have used the world well; and then women would have praised
the brightness of his eye and the manly vigour of his brow. But things
had not gone well with him. He had been separated from the wife he had
loved, and the children who had been raised at his knee,–separated by
his own violence; and now, as he had said of himself, he was a wolf
rather than a man. As he stood there satisfying the craving of his
appetite, breaking up the large morsels of food, he was an object very
sad to be seen. Hunger had made him gaunt and yellow, he was squalid
with the dirt of his hidden lair, and he had the look of a beast;–that
look to which men fall when they live like the brutes of prey, as
outcasts from their brethren. But still there was that about his brow
which might have redeemed him,–which might have turned her horror into
pity, had he been willing that it should be so.
“And now give me some brandy,” he said.
There was brandy in the house,–in the sitting-room which was close at
their hand, and the key of the little press which held it was in her
pocket. It was useless, she thought, to refuse him; and so she told him
that there was a bottle partly full, but that she must go to the next
room to fetch it him.
“We’ll go together, my darling,” he said. “There’s nothing like good
company.” And he again put his hand upon her arm as they passed into the
family sitting-room.
“I must take the light,” she said. But he unhooked it himself, and
carried it in his own hand.
Again she went to work without trembling. She found the key of the side
cupboard, and unlocking the door, handed him a bottle which might
contain about half-a-pint of spirits. “And is that all?” he said.
“There is a full bottle here,” she answered, handing him another; “but
if you drink it, you will be drunk, and they will catch you.”
“By Heavens, yes; and you would be the first to help them; would you
“Look here,” she answered. “If you will go now, I will not say a word to
any one of your coming, nor set them on your track to follow you. There,
take the full bottle with you. If you will go, you shall be safe from
“What, and go without money!”
“I have none to give you. You may believe me when I say so. I have not a
dollar in the house.”
Before he spoke again he raised the half empty bottle to his mouth, and
drank as long as there was a drop to drink. “There,” said he, putting
the bottle down, “I am better after that. As to the other, you are
right, and I will take it with me. And now, young woman, about the
“I tell you that I have not a dollar.”
“Look here,” said he, and he spoke now in a softer voice, as though he
would be on friendly terms with her. “Give me ten sovereigns, and I will
go. I know you have it, and with ten sovereigns it is possible that I
may save my life. You are good, and would not wish that a man should die
so horrid a death. I know you are good. Come, give me the money.” And he
put his hands up, beseeching her, and looked into her face with
imploring eyes.
“On the word of a Christian woman I have not got money to give you,” she
“Nonsense?” And as he spoke he took her by the arm and shook her. He
shook her violently so that he hurt her, and her breath for a moment was
all but gone from her. “I tell you you must make dollars before I leave
you, or I will so handle you that it would have been better for you to
coin your very blood.”
“May God help me at my need,” she said, “as I have not above a few penny
pieces in the house.”
“And you expect me to believe that! Look here! I will shake the teeth
out of your head, but I will have it from you.” And he did shake her
again, using both his hands and striking her against the wall.
“Would you–murder me?” she said, hardly able now to utter the words.
“Murder you, yes; why not? I cannot be worse than I am, were I to murder
you ten times over. But with money I may possibly be better.”
“I have it not.”
“Then I will do worse than murder you. I will make you such an object
that all the world shall loathe to look on you.” And so saying he took
her by the arm and dragged her forth from the wall against which she had
Then there came from her a shriek that was heard far down the shore of
that silent sea, and away across to the solitary houses of those living
on the other side,–a shriek, very sad, sharp, and prolonged,–which
told plainly to those who heard it of woman’s woe when in her extremest
peril. That sound was spoken of in Bermuda for many a day after that, as
something which had been terrible to hear. But then, at that moment, as
it came wailing through the dark, it sounded as though it were not
human. Of those who heard it, not one guessed from whence it came, nor
was the hand of any brother put forward to help that woman at her need.
“Did you hear that?” said the young wife to her husband, from the far
side of the arm of the sea.
“Hear it! Oh Heaven, yes! Whence did it come?” The young wife could not
say from whence it came, but clung close to her husband’s breast,
comforting herself with the knowledge that that terrible sorrow was not
But aid did come at last, or rather that which seemed as aid. Long and
terrible was the fight between that human beast of prey and the poor
victim which had fallen into his talons. Anastasia Bergen was a strong,
well-built woman, and now that the time had come to her when a struggle
was necessary, a struggle for life, for honour, for the happiness of
him who was more to her than herself, she fought like a tigress attacked
in her own lair. At such a moment as this she also could become wild and
savage as the beast of the forest. When he pinioned her arms with one of
his, as he pressed her down upon the floor, she caught the first joint
of the forefinger of his other hand between her teeth till he yelled in
agony, and another sound was heard across the silent water. And then,
when one hand was loosed in the struggle, she twisted it through his
long hair, and dragged back his head till his eyes were nearly starting
from their sockets. Anastasia Bergen had hitherto been a sheer woman,
all feminine in her nature. But now the foam came to her mouth, and fire
sprang from her eyes, and the muscles of her body worked as though she
had been trained to deeds of violence. Of violence, Aaron Trow had known
much in his rough life, but never had he combated with harder antagonist
than her whom he now held beneath his breast.
“By —- I will put an end to you,” he exclaimed, in his wrath, as he
struck her violently across the face with his elbow. His hand was
occupied, and he could not use it for a blow, but, nevertheless, the
violence was so great that the blood gushed from her nostrils, while the
back of her head was driven with violence against the floor. But she did
not lose her hold of him. Her hand was still twined closely through his
thick hair, and in every move he made she clung to him with all her
might. “Leave go my hair,” he shouted at her, but she still kept her
hold, though he again dashed her head against the floor.
There was still light in the room, for when he first grasped her with
both his hands, he had put the lamp down on a small table. Now they were
rolling on the floor together, and twice he had essayed to kneel on her
that he might thus crush the breath from her body, and deprive her
altogether of her strength; but she had been too active for him, moving
herself along the ground, though in doing so she dragged him with her.
But by degrees he got one hand at liberty, and with that he pulled a
clasp knife out of his pocket and opened it. “I will cut your head off
if you do not let go my hair,” he said. But still she held fast by him.
He then stabbed at her arm, using his left hand and making short,
ineffectual blows. Her dress partly saved her, and partly also the
continual movement of all her limbs; but, nevertheless, the knife
wounded her. It wounded her in several places about the arm, covering
them both with blood;–but still she hung on. So close was her grasp in
her agony, that, as she afterwards found, she cut the skin of her own
hands with her own nails. Had the man’s hair been less thick or strong,
or her own tenacity less steadfast, he would have murdered her before
any interruption could have saved her.
And yet he had not purposed to murder her, or even, in the first
instance, to inflict on her any bodily harm. But he had been determined
to get money. With such a sum of money as he had named, it might, he
thought, be possible for him to win his way across to America. He might
bribe men to hide him in the hold of a ship, and thus there might be for
him, at any rate, a possibility of escape. That there must be money in
the house he had still thought when first he laid hands on the poor
woman; and then, when the struggle had once begun, when he had felt her
muscles contending with his, the passion of the beast was aroused within
him, and he strove against her as he would have striven against a dog.
But yet, when the knife was in his hand, he had not driven it against
her heart.
Then suddenly, while they were yet rolling on the floor, there was a
sound of footsteps in the passage. Aaron Trow instantly leaped to his
feet, leaving his victim on the ground, with huge lumps of his thick
clotted hair in her hand. Thus, and thus only, could he have liberated
himself from her grasp. He rushed at the door, and there he came against
the two negro servant-girls who had returned down to their kitchen from
the road on which they had been straying. Trow, as he half saw them in
the dark, not knowing how many there might be, or whether there was a
man among them, rushed through them, upsetting one scared girl in his
passage. With the instinct and with the timidity of a beast, his impulse
now was to escape, and he hurried away back to the road and to his lair,
leaving the three women together in the cottage. Poor wretch! As he
crossed the road, not skulking in his impotent haste, but running at his
best, another pair of eyes saw him, and when the search became hot after
him, it was known that his hiding-place was not distant.
It was some time before any of the women were able to act, and when some
step was taken, Anastasia was the first to take it. She had not
absolutely swooned, but the reaction, after the violence of her efforts,
was so great, that for some minutes she had been unable to speak. She
had risen from the floor when Trow left her, and had even followed him
to the door; but since that she had fallen back into her father’s old
arm-chair, and there sat gasping not only for words, but for breath
also. At last she bade one of the girls to run into St. George, and beg
Mr. Morton to come to her aid. The girl would not stir without her
companion; and even then, Anastasia, covered as she was with blood, with
dishevelled hair, and her clothes half torn from her body, accompanied
them as far as the road. There they found a negro lad still hanging
about the place, and he told them that he had seen the man cross the
road, and run down over the open ground towards the rocks of the
sea-coast. “He must be there,” said the lad, pointing in the direction
of a corner of the rocks; “unless he swim across the mouth of the
ferry.” But the mouth of that ferry is an arm of the sea, and it was not
probable that a man would do that when he might have taken the narrow
water by keeping on the other side of the road.
At about one that night Caleb Morton reached the cottage breathless with
running, and before a word was spoken between them, Anastasia had fallen
on his shoulder and had fainted. As soon as she was in the arms of her
lover, all her power had gone from her. The spirit and passion of the
tiger had gone, and she was again a weak woman shuddering at the thought
of what she had suffered. She remembered that she had had the man’s hand
between her teeth, and by degrees she found his hair still clinging to
her fingers; but even then she could hardly call to mind the nature of
the struggle she had undergone. His hot breath close to her own cheek
she did remember, and his glaring eyes, and even the roughness of his
beard as he pressed his face against her own; but she could not say
whence had come the blood, nor till her arm became stiff and motionless
did she know that she had been wounded.
It was all joy with her now, as she sat motionless without speaking,
while he administered to her wants and spoke words of love into her
ears. She remembered the man’s horrid threat, and knew that by God’s
mercy she had been saved. And _he_ was there caressing her, loving her,
comforting her! As she thought of the fate that had threatened her, of
the evil that had been so imminent, she fell forward on her knees, and
with incoherent sobs uttered her thanksgivings, while her head was still
supported on his arms.
It was almost morning before she could induce herself to leave him and
lie down. With him she seemed to be so perfectly safe; but the moment he
was away she could see Aaron Trow’s eyes gleaming at her across the
room. At last, however, she slept; and when he saw that she was at rest,
he told himself that his work must then begin. Hitherto Caleb Morton had
lived in all respects the life of a man of peace; but now, asking
himself no questions as to the propriety of what he would do, using no
inward arguments as to this or that line of conduct, he girded the sword
on his loins, and prepared himself, for war. The wretch who had thus
treated the woman whom he loved should be hunted down like a wild beast,
as long as he had arms and legs with which to carry on the hunt. He
would pursue the miscreant with any weapons that might come to his
hands; and might Heaven help him at his need as he dealt forth
punishment to that man, if he caught him within his grasp. Those who had
hitherto known Morton in the island, could not recognise the man as he
came forth on that day, thirsty after blood, and desirous to thrust
himself into personal conflict with the wild ruffian who had injured
him. The meek Presbyterian minister had been a preacher, preaching ways
of peace, and living in accordance with his own doctrines. The world had
been very quiet for him, and he had walked quietly in his appointed
path. But now the world was quiet no longer, nor was there any preaching
of peace. His cry was for blood; for the blood of the untamed savage
brute who had come upon his young doe in her solitude, and striven with
such brutal violence to tear her heart from her bosom.
He got to his assistance early in the morning some of the constables
from St. George, and before the day was over, he was joined by two or
three of the warders from the convict establishment. There was with him
also a friend or two, and thus a party was formed, numbering together
ten or twelve persons. They were of course all armed, and therefore it
might be thought that there would be but small chance for the wretched
man if they should come upon his track. At first they all searched
together, thinking from the tidings which had reached them that he must
be near to them; but gradually they spread themselves along the rocks
between St. George and the ferry, keeping watchmen on the road, so that
he should not escape unnoticed into the island.
Ten times during the day did Anastasia send from the cottage up to
Morton, begging him to leave the search to others, and come down to her.
But not for a moment would he lose the scent of his prey. What! should
it be said that she had been so treated, and that others had avenged
her? He sent back to say that her father was with her now, and that he
would come when his work was over. And in that job of work the
life-blood of Aaron Trow was counted up.
Towards evening they were all congregated on the road near to the spot
at which the path turns off towards the cottage, when a voice was heard
hallooing to them from the summit of a little hill which lies between
the road and the sea on the side towards the ferry, and presently a boy
came running down to them full of news. “Danny Lund has seen him,” said
the boy, “he has seen him plainly in among the rocks.” And then came
Danny Lund himself, a small negro lad about fourteen years of age, who
was known in those parts as the idlest, most dishonest, and most useless
of his race. On this occasion, however, Danny Lund became important, and
every one listened to him. He had seen, he said, a pair of eyes moving
down in a cave of the rocks which he well knew. He had been in the cave
often, he said, and could get there again. But not now; not while that
pair of eyes was moving at the bottom of it. And so they all went up
over the hill, Morton leading the way with hot haste. In his waistband
he held a pistol, and his hand grasped a short iron bar with which he
had armed himself. They ascended the top of the hill, and when there,
the open sea was before them on two sides, and on the third was the
narrow creek over which the ferry passed. Immediately beneath their feet
were the broken rocks; for on that side, towards the sea, the earth and
grass of the hill descended but a little way towards the water. Down
among the rocks they all went, silently, Caleb Morton leading the way,
and Danny Lund directing him from behind.
“Mr. Morton,” said an elderly man from St. George, “had you not better
let the warders of the gaol go first; he is a desperate man, and they
will best understand his ways?”
In answer to this Morton said nothing, but he would let no one put a
foot before him. He still pressed forward among the rocks, and at last
came to a spot from whence he might have sprung at one leap into the
ocean. It was a broken cranny on the sea-shore into which the sea beat,
and surrounded on every side but the one by huge broken fragments of
stone, which at first sight seemed as though they would have admitted of
a path down among them to the water’s edge; but which, when scanned more
closely, were seen to be so large in size, that no man could climb from
one to another. It was a singularly romantic spot, but now well known to
them all there, for they had visited it over and over again that
“In there,” said Danny Lund, keeping well behind Morton’s body, and
pointing at the same time to a cavern high up among the rocks, but quite
on the opposite side of the little inlet of the sea. The mouth of the
cavern was not twenty yards from where they stood, but at the first
sight it seemed as though it must be impossible to reach it. The
precipice on the brink of which they all now stood, ran down sheer into
the sea, and the fall from the mouth of the cavern on the other side was
as steep. But Danny solved the mystery by pointing upwards, and showing
them how he had been used to climb to a projecting rock over their
heads, and from thence creep round by certain vantages of the stone till
he was able to let himself down into the aperture. But now, at the
present moment, he was unwilling to make essay of his prowess as a
cragsman. He had, he said, been up on that projecting rock thrice, and
there had seen the eyes moving in the cavern. He was quite sure of that
fact of the pair of eyes, and declined to ascend the rock again.
Traces soon became visible to them by which they knew that some one had
passed in and out of the cavern recently. The stone, when examined, bore
those marks of friction which passage and repassage over it will always
give. At the spot from whence the climber left the platform and
commenced his ascent, the side of the stone had been rubbed by the close
friction of a man’s body. A light boy like Danny Lund might find his way
in and out without leaving such marks behind him, but no heavy man could
do so. Thus before long they all were satisfied that Aaron Trow was in
the cavern before them.
Then there was a long consultation as to what they would do to carry on
the hunt, and how they would drive the tiger from his lair. That he
should not again come out, except to fall into their hands, was to all
of them a matter of course. They would keep watch and ward there, though
it might be for days and nights. But that was a process which did not
satisfy Morton, and did not indeed well satisfy any of them. It was not
only that they desired to inflict punishment on the miscreant in
accordance with the law, but also that they did not desire that the
miserable man should die in a hole like a starved dog, and that then
they should go after him to take out his wretched skeleton. There was
something in that idea so horrid in every way, that all agreed that
active steps must be taken. The warders of the prison felt that they
would all be disgraced if they could not take their prisoner alive. Yet
who would get round that perilous ledge in the face of such an
adversary? A touch to any man while climbing there would send him
headlong down among the waves! And then his fancy told to each what
might be the nature of an embrace with such an animal as that, driven to
despair, hopeless of life, armed, as they knew, at any rate, with a
knife! If the first adventurous spirit should succeed in crawling round
that ledge, what would be the reception which he might expect in the
terrible depth of that cavern?
They called to their prisoner, bidding him come out, and telling him
that they would fire in upon him if he did not show himself; but not a
sound was heard. It was indeed possible that they should send their
bullets to, perhaps, every corner of the cavern; and if so, in that way
they might slaughter him; but even of this they were not sure. Who could
tell that there might not be some protected nook in which he could lay
secure? And who could tell when the man was struck, or whether he were
“I will get to him,” said Morton, speaking with a low dogged voice, and
so saying he clambered up to the rock to which Danny Lund had pointed.
Many voices at once attempted to restrain him, and one or two put their
hands upon him to keep him back, but he was too quick for them, and now
stood upon the ledge of rock. “Can you see him?” they asked below.
“I can see nothing within the cavern,” said Morton.
“Look down very hard, Massa,” said Danny, “very hard indeed, down in
deep dark hole, and then see him big eyes moving!”
Morton now crept along the ledge, or rather he was beginning to do so,
having put forward his shoulders and arms to make a first step in
advance from the spot on which he was resting, when a hand was put forth
from one corner of the cavern’s mouth,–a hand armed with a pistol;–and
a shot was fired. There could be no doubt now but that Danny Lund was
right, and no doubt now as to the whereabouts of Aaron Trow.
A hand was put forth, a pistol was fired, and Caleb Morton still
clinging to a corner of the rock with both his arms was seen to falter.
“He is wounded,” said one of the voices from below; and then they all
expected to see him fall into the sea. But he did not fall, and after a
moment or two, he proceeded carefully to pick his steps along the ledge.
The ball had touched him, grazing his cheek, and cutting through the
light whiskers that he wore; but he had not felt it, though the blow had
nearly knocked him from his perch. And then four or five shots were
fired from the rocks into the mouth of the cavern. The man’s arm had
been seen, and indeed one or two declared that they had traced the dim
outline of his figure. But no sound was heard to come from the cavern,
except the sharp crack of the bullets against the rock, and the echo of
the gunpowder. There had been no groan as of a man wounded, no sound of
a body falling, no voice wailing in despair. For a few seconds all was
dark with the smoke of the gunpowder, and then the empty mouth of the
cave was again yawning before their eyes. Morton was now near it, still
cautiously creeping. The first danger to which he was exposed was this;
that his enemy within the recess might push him down from the rocks with
a touch. But on the other hand, there were three or four men ready to
fire, the moment that a hand should be put forth; and then Morton could
swim,–was known to be a strong swimmer;–whereas of Aaron Trow it was
already declared by the prison gaolers that he could not swim. Two of
the warders had now followed Morton on the rocks, so that in the event
of his making good his entrance into the cavern, and holding his enemy
at bay for a minute, he would be joined by aid.
It was strange to see how those different men conducted themselves as
they stood on the opposite platform watching the attack. The officers
from the prison had no other thought but of their prisoner, and were
intent on taking him alive or dead. To them it was little or nothing
what became of Morton. It was their business to encounter peril, and
they were ready to do so;–feeling, however, by no means sorry to have
such a man as Morton in advance of them. Very little was said by them.
They had their wits about them, and remembered that every word spoken
for the guidance of their ally would be heard also by the escaped
convict. Their prey was sure, sooner or later, and had not Morton been
so eager in his pursuit, they would have waited till some plan had been
devised of trapping him without danger. But the townsmen from St.
George, of whom some dozen were now standing there, were quick and eager
and loud in their counsels. “Stay where you are, Mr. Morton,–stay
awhile for the love of God–or he’ll have you down.” “Now’s your time,
Caleb; in on him now, and you’ll have him.” “Close with him, Morton,
close with him at once; it’s your only chance.” “There’s four of us
here; we’ll fire on him if he as much as shows a limb.” All of which
words as they were heard by that poor wretch within, must have sounded
to him as the barking of a pack of hounds thirsting for his blood. For
him at any rate there was no longer any hope in this world.
My reader, when chance has taken you into the hunting-field, has it ever
been your lot to sit by on horseback, and watch the digging out of a
fox? The operation is not an uncommon one, and in some countries it is
held to be in accordance with the rules of fair sport. For myself, I
think that when the brute has so far saved himself, he should be
entitled to the benefit of his cunning; but I will not now discuss the
propriety or impropriety of that practice in venery. I can never,
however, watch the doing of that work without thinking much of the
agonising struggles of the poor beast whose last refuge is being torn
from over his head. There he lies within a few yards of his arch enemy,
the huntsman. The thick breath of the hounds make hot the air within his
hole. The sound of their voices is close upon his ears. His breast is
nearly bursting with the violence of that effort which at last has
brought him to his retreat. And then pickaxe and mattock are plied above
his head, and nearer and more near to him press his foes,–his double
foes, human and canine,–till at last a huge hand grasps him, and he is
dragged forth among his enemies. Almost as soon as his eyes have seen
the light the eager noses of a dozen hounds have moistened themselves in
his entrails. Ah me! I know that he is vermin, the vermin after whom I
have been risking my neck, with a bold ambition that I might ultimately
witness his death-struggles; but, nevertheless, I would fain have saved
him that last half hour of gradually diminished hope.
And Aaron Trow was now like a hunted fox, doomed to be dug out from his
last refuge, with this addition to his misery, that these hounds when
they caught their prey, would not put him at once out of his misery.
When first he saw that throng of men coming down from the hill top and
resting on the platform, he knew that his fate was come. When they
called to him to surrender himself he was silent, but he knew that his
silence was of no avail. To them who were so eager to be his captors the
matter seemed to be still one of considerable difficulty; but, to his
thinking, there was no difficulty. There were there some score of men,
fully armed, within twenty yards of him. If he but showed a trace of his
limbs he would become a mark for their bullets. And then if he were
wounded, and no one would come to him! If they allowed him to lie there
without food till he perished! Would it not be well for him to yield
himself? Then they called again and he was still silent. That idea of
yielding is very terrible to the heart of a man. And when the worst had
come to the worst, did not the ocean run deep beneath his cavern’s
But as they yelled at him and hallooed, making their preparations for
his death, his presence of mind deserted the poor wretch. He had stolen
an old pistol on one of his marauding expeditions, of which one barrel
had been loaded. That in his mad despair he had fired; and now, as he
lay near the mouth of the cavern, under the cover of the projecting
stone, he had no weapon with him but his hands. He had had a knife, but
that had dropped from him during the struggle on the floor of the
cottage. He had now nothing but his hands, and was considering how he
might best use them in ridding himself of the first of his pursuers. The
man was near him, armed, with all the power and majesty of right on his
side; whereas on his side, Aaron Trow had nothing,–not a hope. He
raised his head that he might look forth, and a dozen voices shouted as
his face appeared above the aperture. A dozen weapons were levelled at
him, and he could see the gleaming of the muzzles of the guns. And then
the foot of his pursuer was already on the corner stone at the cavern’s
mouth. “Now, Caleb, on him at once!” shouted a voice. Ah me! it was a
moment in which to pity even such a man as Aaron Trow.
“Now, Caleb, at him at once!” shouted the voice. No, by heavens; not so,
even yet! The sound of triumph in those words raised the last burst of
energy in the breast of that wretched man; and he sprang forth, head
foremost, from his prison house. Forth he came, manifest enough before
the eyes of them all, and with head well down, and hands outstretched,
but with his wide glaring eyes still turned towards his pursuers as he
fell, he plunged down into the waves beneath him. Two of those who stood
by, almost unconscious of what they did, fired at his body as it made
its rapid way to the water; but, as they afterwards found, neither of
the bullets struck him. Morton, when his prey thus leaped forth,
escaping him for awhile, was already on the verge of the cavern,–had
even then prepared his foot for that onward spring which should bring
him to the throat of his foe. But he arrested himself, and for a moment
stood there watching the body as it struck the water, and hid itself at
once beneath the ripple. He stood there for a moment watching the deed
and its effect, and then leaving his hold upon the rock, he once again
followed his quarry. Down he went, head foremost, right on to the track
in the waves which the other had made; and when the two rose to the
surface together, each was struggling in the grasp of the other.
It was a foolish, nay, a mad deed to do. The poor wretch who had first
fallen could not have escaped. He could not even swim, and had therefore
flung himself to certain destruction when he took that leap from out of
the cavern’s mouth. It would have been sad to see him perish beneath the
waves,–to watch him as he rose, gasping for breath, and then to see him
sinking again, to rise again, and then to go for ever. But his life had
been fairly forfeit,–and why should one so much more precious have been
flung after it? It was surely with no view of saving that pitiful life
that Caleb Morton had leaped after his enemy. But the hound, hot with
the chase, will follow the stag over the precipice and dash himself to
pieces against the rocks. The beast thirsting for blood will rush in
even among the weapons of men. Morton in his fury had felt but one
desire, burned with but one passion. If the Fates would but grant him to
fix his clutches in the throat of the man who had ill-used his love; for
the rest it might all go as it would.
In the earlier part of the morning, while they were all searching for
their victim, they had brought a boat up into this very inlet among the
rocks; and the same boat had been at hand during the whole day.
Unluckily, before they had come hither, it had been taken round the
headland to a place among the rocks at which a government skiff is
always moored. The sea was still so quiet that there was hardly a ripple
on it, and the boat had been again sent for when first it was supposed
that they had at last traced Aaron Trow to his hiding-place. Anxiously
now were all eyes turned to the headland, but as yet no boat was there.
The two men rose to the surface, each struggling in the arms of the
other. Trow, though he was in an element to which he was not used,
though he had sprung thither as another suicide might spring to certain
death beneath a railway engine, did not altogether lose his presence of
mind. Prompted by a double instinct, he had clutched hold of Morton’s
body when he encountered it beneath the waters. He held on to it, as to
his only protection, and he held on to him also as to his only enemy. If
there was a chance for a life struggle, they would share that chance
together; and if not, then together would they meet that other fate.
Caleb Morton was a very strong man, and though one of his arms was
altogether encumbered by his antagonist, his other arm and his legs were
free. With these he seemed to succeed in keeping his head above the
water, weighted as he was with the body of his foe. But Trow’s efforts
were also used with the view of keeping himself above the water. Though
he had purposed to destroy himself in taking that leap, and now hoped
for nothing better than that they might both perish together, he yet
struggled to keep his head above the waves. Bodily power he had none
left to him, except that of holding on to Morton’s arm and plunging with
his legs; but he did hold on, and thus both their heads remained above
the surface.
But this could not last long. It was easy to see that Trow’s strength
was nearly spent, and that when he went down Morton must go with him. If
indeed they could be separated,–if Morton could once make himself free
from that embrace into which he had been so anxious to leap,–then
indeed there might be a hope. All round that little inlet the rock fell
sheer down into the deep sea, so that there was no resting-place for a
foot; but round the headlands on either side, even within forty or fifty
yards of that spot, Morton might rest on the rocks, till a boat should
come to his assistance. To him that distance would have been nothing, if
only his limbs had been at liberty.
Upon the platform of rocks they were all at their wits’ ends. Many were
anxious to fire at Trow; but even if they hit him, would Morton’s
position have been better? Would not the wounded man have still clung to
him who was not wounded? And then there could be no certainty that any
one of them would hit the right man. The ripple of the waves, though it
was very slight, nevertheless sufficed to keep the bodies in motion; and
then, too, there was not among them any marksman peculiar for his skill.
Morton’s efforts in the water were too severe to admit of his speaking,
but he could hear and understand the words which were addressed to him.
“Shake him off, Caleb.” “Strike him from you with your foot.” “Swim to
the right shore; swim for it, even if you take him with you.” Yes; he
could hear them all; but hearing and obeying were very different. It was
not easy to shake off that dying man; and as for swimming with him, that
was clearly impossible. It was as much as he could do to keep his head
above water, let alone any attempt to move in one settled direction.
For some four or five minutes they lay thus battling on the waves before
the head of either of them went down. Trow had been twice below the
surface, but it was before he had succeeded in supporting himself by
Morton’s arm. Now it seemed as though he must sink again,–as though
both must sink. His mouth was barely kept above the water, and as Morton
shook him with his arm, the tide would pass over him. It was horrid to
watch, from the shore the glaring upturned eyes of the dying wretch, as
his long streaming hair lay back upon the wave. “Now, Caleb, hold him
down. Hold him under,” was shouted in the voice of some eager friend.
Rising up on the water, Morton made a last effort to do as he was bid.
He did press the man’s head down,–well down below the surface,–but
still the hand clung to him, and as he struck out against the water, he
was powerless against that grasp.
Then there came a loud shout along the shore, and all those on the
platform, whose eyes had been fixed so closely on that terrible struggle
beneath them, rushed towards the rocks on the other coast. The sound of
oars was heard close to them,–an eager pressing stroke, as of men who
knew well that they were rowing for the salvation of a life. On they
came, close under the rocks, obeying with every muscle of their bodies
the behests of those who called to them from the shore. The boat came
with such rapidity,–was so recklessly urged, that it was driven
somewhat beyond the inlet; but in passing, a blow was struck which made
Caleb Morton once more the master of his own life. The two men had been
carried out in their struggle towards the open sea; and as the boat
curved in, so as to be as close as the rocks would allow, the bodies of
the men were brought within the sweep of the oars. He in the bow–for
there were four pulling in the boat–had raised his oar as he neared the
rocks,–had raised it high above the water; and now, as they passed
close by the struggling men, he let it fall with all its force on the
upturned face of the wretched convict. It was a terrible, frightful
thing to do,–thus striking one who was so stricken; but who shall say
that the blow was not good and just? Methinks, however, that the eyes
and face of that dying man will haunt for ever the dreams of him who
carried that oar!
Trow never rose again to the surface. Three days afterwards his body was
found at the ferry, and then they carried him to the convict island and
buried him. Morton was picked up and taken into the boat. His life was
saved; but it may be a question how the battle might have gone had not
that friendly oar been raised in his behalf. As it was, he lay at the
cottage for days before he was able to be moved, so as to receive the
congratulations of those who had watched that terrible conflict from the
shore. Nor did he feel that there had been anything in that day’s work
of which he could be proud;–much rather of which it behoved him to be
thoroughly ashamed. Some six months after that he obtained the hand of
Anastasia Bergen, but they did not remain long in Bermuda. “He went
away, back to his own country,” my informant told me; “because he could
not endure to meet the ghost of Aaron Trow, at that point of the road
which passes near the cottage.” That the ghost of Aaron Trow may be seen
there and round the little rocky inlet of the sea, is part of the creed
of every young woman in Bermuda.