University of Virginia Library


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Come può ritrarre il piede
Inesperto pellegrino
Dagli Inciampi che non vede,
Dai Perigli che non sa?


It was long before the dawn of one of the few
soft days of October, 1779, that Bessie Lee left her
safe home to begin a perilous journey. The light
of reason was not quite extinct, and with some
forecast she took a few coins, keepsakes, that had
long lain idly in a drawer, and transferred them to
her pocket; then placing in her bosom the little
ivory box containing, as she wildly fancied, the
charms that bound her to Jasper Meredith, she
equipped herself for her journey. A regard to
dress is an innate idea in woman that no philosopher
can deny to the sex. In all her mutations,
that remains.

The resemblance of the dress of an insane person
to the ill-sorted and imperfect equipment in a
dream, verifies Rush's remark, that derangement
is a long dream—a dream a short derangement.
Bessie, after looking over her moderate wardrobe,
selected the only gala dress it contained—a white
silk petticoat and blue bodice; but after dressing


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herself in them, either from the instinct of neatness
or from the glimmering of the unfitness of
such travelling apparel, she took off the silk petticoat,
and after tying it in a handkerchief with some
more essential articles, she laced the bodice over
a dimity skirt, and put over that a long linen night-gown.
Delighted with her own provident sagacity
in arraying herself for day and night, she threw
over the whole a brown silk cardinal, and a
chip gipsy hat tied down with a blue gauze
handkerchief. “He always told me I had inspiration
in dress,” she said, as she gave a pleased, parting
glance at the glass. In passing her mother's
door, she paused: “I have heard it was a bad sign,”
thought she, “to leave home without your parent's
blessing, but I go forth with Heaven's, and hers
must follow.” She then proceeded to equip her
horse, and set out on the New-York road, which
she pursued unerringly. She fancied that the
same providential exemption from the necessity of
sustenance vouchsafed to her was extended to her
horse Steady, and the animal, happening to be fullfed,
sturdy and of hardworking habits seemed to
acquiesce in his supposed destiny, save now and
then, when he resolutely halted at a stream of water
to slake his thirst. The part of New-England
through which Bessie's route lay was steril and
sparsely settled. She was unmolested, and for the
most part unobserved. She would sometimes pass
a house where the children would pause from their


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play, stare, and ask, one of the other, who that
pretty lady could be? and wonder, that with such
a nice cloak, she should ride without gloves! Once
a kind-hearted farmer stopped her, and after asking
her numberless questions to which he received
no satisfactory replies, he earnestly begged her to
stop at his house for some refreshment. She declined
his hospitality with an assurance that she
did not need it, and a smile that so little harmonized
with her blanched cheek, and wild and melancholy
eye, that the good man said her looks
haunted him. In truth, so unearthly was her appearance,
that two gossips, whom she passed on
the road, stopped, drew nearer to each other, and
without speaking, gazed after her till she was out
of sight; and then, with feminine particularity,
compared their observations.

“She's master beautiful!” exclaimed one of

“Call you that beautiful!” replied her companion,
“why, she has neither flesh nor blood—I felt
a chill when I looked at her.”

“And I felt my blood rush to my heart, as if I
had seen something out of nature. I might have
taken her for an angel but for her silk cardinal, and
her horse, that looked more like our old roan than
like the horses in Revelations.”

Nancy was less imaginative. “I did not see
nothing mysterious,” she said, “but her pale little


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hands, that looked as if they could hardly hold a
thread of silk.”

“My! did not you see those long curls that
streamed down below the hood of her cloak, looking
as bright and soft as Judith's baby when we
laid it out—poor thing! and the colour of her
cheeks, that were as white as my poor man's fresh
tombstone—and her eyes, that shone like stars of a
frosty night! don't tell me, Nancy! we must expect
to see visions, and dream dreams when
there's war in the land and famine at the door!”
The unconscious subject of this colloquy went on,
her innocent heart dilating with a hope as assured
and buoyant as that of a penitent on her way to a
shrine where absolution and peace await her.

It was late in the afternoon when, emerging from
a wood, she observed that at a short distance before
her the road forked. She was hesitating which direction
to take, when seeing two men seated on a log
by the fence, she reined her horse towards them.
They were soldiers returning from service, who had
deposed their knapsacks and halted to refresh themselves
with some coarse food, which was spread
on the ground. Bessie was close upon them, and
had stopped her horse, when their broad insolent
stare awakened her timidity, and she was turning
away when one of them seized her bridle, exclaiming,
“Not so fast, my pretty mistress! first
thoughts are best; what did you come here for?”

“Oh!” she answered confused and stammering,


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“I—I—I do not know—I came for—for—

“Then don't be scared—for nothing can come
of nothing—(a rare sight, a petticoat, hey, Mart?)—
come, dismount, lady fair.”

Bessie seemed paralyzed. Mart's face expressed
an emotion of compassion—“I say, Raphe,”
he interposed, “be civil; let her go on.”

“I mean to be civil, you sir; don't you see her
horse is half starved” (the poor beast was eagerly
cropping the grass), “and she looks as if she had
not tasted victuals for a month—come, come, little
one, what are you 'fraid of?” and slipping her foot
from the stirrup, he lifted her from the saddle and
seated her on the log. He then took up the blue
check handkerchief on which their repast (coarse
brown bread, slices of raw pork, and apples) was
spread; “come, take some and eat away,” he continued,
“that's a nice girl!” Bessie, the delicate,
shrinking Bessie, seized the food thus offered and
thus served, and ate ravenously. In her disordered
state she seemed to exist in two separate natures;
the mind took no cognizance of the necessities or
sensations of the body, and the body, at the first
opportunity, asserted and gratified its cravings.
While she ate, the men talked apart. “This is
droll, by jiminy!” said Mart, “who or what do
you guess she is, Raphe?”

“Some stray cast-off of some of the old country
folks—German gin'rals or English lords.”


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“She don't look like it,” said Mart, after having
cast at Bessie a surveying glance, in which pity
was mingled with curiosity.

“Don't look like it! you can't tell what she
does look like—she's worried, and pale, and scared
out of her wits—but I tell you what does look like
it—do you see that fandango finery (Bessie's blue
bodice) peeping out of the neck of her gown!
By the living jingo, she eats like a Trojan, don't
she? This way she'll soon get the blood back to
her pretty cheeks. But I say, Mart, we must
make some sort of a calculation what to do—”

“What to do—that's plain enough, let her go her
way, and we'll go ours.”

“You're a fool, Mart, and t'ant the first time I've
thought so.”

“And you're a rogue, Raphe, nor is it the first
time I've thought so.”

Raphe's angry blood mounted to his cheeks, but
well aware this was not the moment for a broil, he
gulped down his passion, and resumed in a more
conciliating tone. “There's no use in falling out,
Mart; we've had lean fortin long enough, and when
a streak of fat comes, I don't see no reason in
turning our plates bottom side upwards—do you?”


“It's plaguy tedious walking barefoot,” he looked
significantly at the horse; “there's a hundred
long miles to foot it before I see home.”


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“And a hundred and fifty to boot, before I see
the top of our steeple.”

“Then I conclude 'twould be an accommodation
to you, as well as to me, to ride and tie that stout

“And she?” said Mart, interrogatively, and pointing
to Bessie.

“Why, she—she's as light as a feather; she can
ride behind while she behaves and holds her
tongue, and we find it convenient; the like of her
can't expect to pick and choose.”

“You're a d—d rascal, Raphe!” This exclamamation
spoken with energy and in a louder voice
than the previous conversation, roused Bessie's attention,
and she listened to and comprehended what
followed. “I'm going home, to our folks,” continued
Mart, “and do you think I could look
mammy in the face after such a trick as that?”

“Well, well, man—don't be mad; if one shoe
don't fit, another may. Supposing we just slip
into this wood with this traveller, just so far that
she can't rouse people on the high road here with
crying `stop thief,' and then we'll be off on the
beast, that, on my conscience, I believe is no more
hers than ours.” Before the sentence was finished,
Bessie had sprung into her saddle. Raphe, whose
fierce passions had been kept in abeyance by the
necessity of his companion's co-operation, now
sprang forward and seized her bridle. “Oh, mercy!
mercy!” cried the terrified girl.


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A blow from Mart's fist on his side obliged
Raphe to turn and defend himself; and Bessie, thus
released, urged her horse onward, leaving her
champion to do battle in her righteous cause, which
he did so manfully and thoroughly that Raphe was
disabled for the present, and left to curse his own
folly and to pursue his pedestrian journey alone.

Bessie's horse fortunately selected the right
road; and refreshed by his half hour's rest, he obeyed
his mistress' signals to hasten onward. These
signals she reiterated from an impression of some
indefinite danger pursuing her. By degrees, however,
her thoughts reverted to their former channels,
and she dwelt no more on her recent alarm than a
dreamer does on an escaped precipice. A languor
stole over her that prevented her from observing
Steady's motions. From a fast trot he had slackened
to a walk, and after thus creeping on for a
mile or two, he stood stock still.

Bessie sat for a while as if waiting his pleasure,
and then looking at the setting sun, she said,
“Well, Steady, you have done your day's duty, and
I'll not be unmerciful to you. I too have a tired
feeling,” and she passed her hand over her throbbing
temples; “but, Steady, we will not stay here
by the roadside, for I think there be bad people on
this road, and besides, it is better to be alone where
only God is.”

The country through which Bessie was now
passing was rocky, hilly, and wooded, excepting


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narrow intervals and some few cleared and cultivated
slopes. She had just passed a brook, that
glided quietly through a very green little meadow
on her left, but which on her right, though screened
from sight, sounded its approach as in the glad
spirit of its young life it came leaping and dancing
down a rocky gorge. Bessie, as it would seem,
from the instinct of humanity, let down some bars
to allow her hungry steed admittance to the meadow,
saying as she did so, “You shall have the green
pastures and still waters, Steady, where those
home-looking willows are turning up their silvery
leaves as if to kiss the parting sunbeams, and the
sunflower and the golden-rod are still flaunting in
their pride—poor things! but I will go on the other
side, where the trees stand bravely up, to screen and
guard me—and the waterfall will sing me to sleep.”

She crossed the road and plunged into the wood,
and without even a footpath to guide her, she
scrambled along the irregular margin of the brook;
sometimes she swung herself round the trunk of a
tree by grasping the tough vines encircling it;
sometimes, when a bald perpendicular rock projected
over the water, she surmounted it as if the
danger of wetting her feet must be avoided at all
pains and risks; then, a moss covered rock imbedded
in the stream attracting her eye, she would
spring on to it, drop her feet into the water, doff
her little chip hat, and bathe her burning temples
in the cool stream: and when she again raised her


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head, shook back her curls and turned her face
heavenward, her eye glowing with preternatural
brightness, she might have been mistaken for a
wanderer from the celestial sphere gazing homeward.
After ascending the stream for about a
hundred yards, she came to a spot which seemed to
her excited imagination to have been most graced
“By the sovereign planter when he formed
All things for man's delightful use;”
and, in truth, it was a resting-place for the troubled
spirit, far more difficult to find than a bed of down
for the wearied body.

The thicket here expanded and spread its encircling
arms around a basin worn into the earth by
the force of the stream, which leaped into it over
a rock some thirty feet in height. Here and there
a rill straggled away from the slender column of
water, and as it caught the sun's slant ray, dropped
down the rock in sparkling gems. The trees were
wreathed with grape-vines, whose clusters peeped
through the brown leaves into the mirror below.
The leaves of the topmost branches of the trees
were touched with the hues of autumn, and
hung over the verdant tresses below them like
a wreath of gorgeous flowers. The sky was
clear, and the last rays of the setting sun stole in
obliquely, sweet and sad, as the parting smile of a
friend, glancing along the stems of the trees and
flashing athwart the waterfall.


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“Here will I lay me down and rest,” said Bessie,
rolling up with her foot a pillow of crisp crimson
leaves, that had fallen from a young delicate tree,
fit emblem of herself, stricken by the first touch
of adversity. “But first I will say my prayers,
for I think this is one of God's temples.” She
knelt and murmured forth the broken aspirations
of her pure heart, and then laying herself down,
she said, “I wish mother and Eliot could see me
now—they would be so satisfied!”

Once she raised her head, gazed at the soft mist
that was curling up from the water, and seemed
intently listening. “I have somewhere read,” she
said, that

“ `Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth,
Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.'
I believe it!” again her head fell back on its sylvan
pillow, and utterly incapable of farther motion or
thought, she sank to deep repose. Night came on,
the watchful stars shone down upon her, the
planets performed their nightly course, the moon
rose and set, and still the unconscious sufferer
slept on.