University of Virginia Library


Page 243


Dismissing Tennessee for the present, we retrace our
steps, and go back to the field of personal combat—that
famous “Pistol Quarter,” which has witnessed so many
fearful and violent transitions from time to eternity.
We resume our narrative at the moment when Nettles
sent poor Barry in terror off the field. Hardly had he
disappeared when a wild shriek was heard from the adjoining
thicket, and, before the parties on the ground could
conjecture what was the matter, who should rush out
amongst them but Geraldine Foster? Never were people
so much confounded. Randall Hammond was lying
on the grass just where he had fallen, his body partly
raised, and resting on his elbow. She threw herself
upon him with a cry which betrayed the wildest sense
of personal suffering.

“I have slain him—I have slain him! Speak to me,
Hammond; dear Hammond, speak to me. Say that you
forgive me. Forgive the madness and the folly that
have brought you to this. I loved you only; I shall
always love you; but they told me you were proud and
tyrannical, and they provoked my childish vanity until I
maddened. Oh! Hammond, will you not forgive me?
Will you not? will you not?”

She clung to him as she cried. Her arms were wound
about him, and her face was buried in his bosom.

“Geraldine! Miss Foster!” said Hammond, trying
to rise.

“Call me Geraldine; call me yours; forgive me, and


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take me with you, Hammond! At this moment, I am
yours only! I loved you only from the first!”

Nettles winked to the prostrate man, and made certain
motions which, strictly construed, might be supposed to
mean, “Take her at her word, marry her on the spot;”
and the looks and signs of Henderson, now thoroughly
cured of his passion, were equally significant to the same
effect. But Hammond was superior to the temptation.

“Nay, Geraldine, you are deceived. I am in no danger;
indeed, I am unhurt.”

She started as if to rise, but he now restrained her,
and, looking to his friends, motioned their departure.

“What does this mean?” she demanded.

“Hear me patiently, Geraldine, and let me plead in
turn for your forgiveness. It means a foolish hoax, in
which nobody ever dreamed that you would be a party.
I am unwounded, and the object has been simply to
scare the foolish person who, without provocation, has
sought my life.”

“Without provocation, Mr. Hammond? Do you
forget the cruel insult you put upon me? Was it no
provocation to shame a young maiden before all her
friends and people? Oh, Hammond, how could you do
me so—you, for whom I showed but too much preference
from the beginning, in spite of all that my mother
would say?”

“Will you suffer me to repent, Geraldine—to make
amends?” And, by this time, the arm of the pleader
was round about her waist, and his lips were pressed
upon hers, and alone in that haunted wood, famous for
its many murders, the two were betrothed with all the
dearest promises of love. We need not follow the progress
of the scene. Enough to say that the persons
whom Barry and his friend from Tennessee encountered
in the buggy, were Mr. and Mrs. Hammond. They
had been fully three months married, and were living
very comfortably together at the residence of Hammond's
mother; while Mrs. Foster, vexed to the heart,
was chewing the cud of disappointment at the “Lodge”


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alone. All these facts were gathered from Tom Nettles,
who very frankly declared his agency in the proceedings.

“I'm blowed,” said the Tennesseean, “if I was
Barry, if I wouldn't have a real fight on the strength
of it, and I'd make you my mark, my man.”

But Barry himself shook his head.

“I've had enough of killing,” said he.

“I can put you in the way of something better,” said
Nettles. “Polly Ewbanks is still alive, single, and fat
as ever; Sukey Davy still keeps the bar at the old man's
corner; and Mrs. Foster looks as well as I have ever
seen her, and keeps a most excellent table. I'm willing
to make amends, Jones, for what harm I've done you,
by doing you finally `for better or worse.' Now, if
there's a man to manage either of these three pretty
pieces of mortality, I'm that person. Shall it be `back
to back, Miss Polly—'”

“Hush, you Satan!—”

“Or, `Is it to your liking, sir?'”


“Or, `Is it more of the honey or more of the peach,
dear Mr. Barry?'”

The Tennesseean lingered a week among his new
friends, and became so much enamored of Nettles that
he asked him home with him. But the latter, born for
the use of his neighbors, had a commission in hand for
Barry that was somewhat urgently pressed. His hints
had not been wholly thrown away, and Barry, among
his latter-day reveries, was frequently and pleasurably
entertained by the recollection of that cup of tea, and
that bowl of toddy, by which the widow Foster had refreshed
him in the little back room of her domicil. He
remembered her round, well-proportioned figure, the
sweet smile upon her face, the pleasant sparkle in her
eye, and the grateful beverage in her hand; and he so
earnestly pressed his ruminations and convictions on his
friend Nettles, that the latter posted off one pleasant
afternoon to the “Lodge,” and did not return home


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until the next day. He was, as usual, received in the
kindest manner by the widow. He had always been
solicitous of her favor, on the score of his just appreciation
of her dinners and evening parties. If Nettles had
a weakness at all, it lay in his passion for the creature
comforts. He had always taken care to please her
accordingly, and she was always glad to welcome him.
He was a good companion, who picked up all the scandal
going, and was ever ready for any mischief. We will
suppose that, when the hour came for the evening meal,
he found and enjoyed a delightful supper. The widow
was unusually fresh and attractive. She had stolen off
soon after his arrival, leaving him to adjust his six-feet
upon the sofa, while she consulted her toilet. She returned
just as he was emerging from his siesta, looking
like Cleopatra, except that her dimensions were not so
great, her skin so dark, nor her jewels quite so magnificent
as those of that famous queen of Egypt.

“Really, Mrs. Foster, you grow younger and more
fascinating every time I see you.”

These gallant words accompanied a graceful taking
and squeezing of the fair lady's hand. “There is one
thing, however, which I think faulty about you.”

“Faulty!” in consternation.

“Yes, faulty! and the fault is in your mind, your
feelings, your thoughts, your sentiments.”

“Indeed, Mr. Nettles!” bewildered.

“Yes, madam! it consists in your contentment; in
that cold disdain of humanity; in that scornful indifference
to my sex, which makes you willing to sacrifice this
youth, this bloom, this beauty—nay, you know I never
flatter!—I say, to sacrifice all these possessions in seclusion,
without sharing them with that most precious of all
heavenly gifts, a husband.”

“Really, Mr. Nettles, you have a most elevated opinion
of the value and usefulness of your sex.”

“Not more than the really wise of your sex have been
always pleased to entertain. You remember it was the


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foolish virgins that were unprepared at the coming of
the bridegroom.”

“Yes, sir! but even were I to allow that, there is still
another difficulty. The bridegroom does not happen so
frequently in a widow's chances that she can change
her solitary condition when she pleases; and, unless
there is a prospect of his coming, what's the policy of
her admitting that she finds her solitude unpleasant?”

“Mrs. Foster, many a man would woo if the lady
would only coo; but men, you are aware, are naturally

“Oh, Mr. Nettles!”

“They are, madam! they are! It is the woman always
that is the tempter, and naturally enough. If we
put a very high estimate on her value, we are apt to
feel that we fall below it, and we approach her rather
with a sense of her superior merits and position than of
our passion, though it may burn us up all the while.
Now, a case happens at this moment to my knowledge,
and I must say that you are interested in it.”

“Me, sir!”

“Yes, Mrs. Foster, you! I know a gentleman who
feels for you a most profound passion, but who dares

“Nay, Mr. Nettles! what have you ever seen about
me that should repel or discourage any gentleman?”
and the lady smoothed down the folds of her dress, and,
smiling sweetly, inclined somewhat to the speaker.

“The beautiful crocodile!” thought Nettles to himself;
“she evidently suspects me of being this bashful
gentleman. What a harpy!”

But, though thus thinking, he never suffered his eyes
to breathe any but an expression of tender interest and
regard. Still, fearing that she might assume too much,
as Nettles never deceived himself in the opinion that he
was a very personable man and likely to prove quite too
attractive for most women, he hurried forward to a full
revelation of his object, and of the person in whose behalf
he came. He had his own way of doing this.


Page 248

“Mrs. Foster,” said he, gravely, “you have certainly
shown yourself to be the most remarkable of women. I
have seen you for six months working busily to procure
for another the devotion which was all the while over-flowing
for yourself.”

“Really, Mr. Nettles, you speak parables. What
are you driving at?”

“Let me explain. You will do me the justice to
admit that if anybody knows the people of this county,
man, woman, hoyden and hobby-de-hoy, it is myself.”

“Granted, sir!”

“Some of these have been accustomed to consult me
in the most important matters. Among these persons
is my friend Jones Barry. You partially took him out
of my hands, but you played your hands badly. You
perversely tried to persuade him that he was desperately
in love with Miss Geraldine—”

“Don't speak of that young lady in my hearing, I beg
you, Mr. Nettles!”

“Pardon me, but I can't help it; it's necessary to
what I've got to say. But I'll not dwell upon it. Well,
as I tell you, at the very time that you were doing your
best against nature and yourself, to force this belief into
his heart, the poor fellow was devotedly attached to another.”

“Indeed! You surprise me, sir.”

“Such was your powerful influence over him, that
you could persuade him to anything; and, yielding to
your seeming wishes and opinions, he professed attachment
to your step-daughter, while his heart was all the
time ready to burst with a passion for yourself.”

“For me, sir? Jones Barry fond of me?”

“To devotion—to distraction; and how you could be
so blind as not to have seen it, passes my imagination.
How often has he consulted with me on this very subject!
How often have I told him, `Come out like a man,
and tell her what you feel!' His only answer was:
`No! She doesn't think of me. It's evident she thinks
only of the marriage of Geraldine. She will never


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marry again. Her heart's in the grave with Foster!'
Then he would weep, and say: `I must marry Geraldine,
if it's only to be near to her!'”

“Poor Jones! and how he concealed it!”

“Concealed it? No, madam, it was only from your
eyes that he concealed it. It wasn't his art in hiding;
it was your blindness in not seeing. Why, the night of
the fête, he said to me that, when you fed him with tea
from the cup, while he sat in a chair in your little back-room,
he thought he should overflow with delight, and
the next day, when you mixed him some peach toddy, he
said, `coming from your hands, it was the most delicious
dram that ever his lips had tasted.'”

“Dear Jones, and he felt all this?”

“All this, and was silent!”

“And I was doing my best to force him upon one
who didn't care a straw for him.”

“Suicidally, as I called it; for, as I said to him, you
are evidently made for each other.”

“You said that, Mr. Nettles? Ah! you're a sharp-sighted

“Says I, `Barry! Foster is young and lovable.
She's scarcely older than her step-daughter. She's unselfish.
She sees that you are the man to make Geraldine
happy, because she feels that you would make herself
so; and she ought not to be permitted to sacrifice
herself. Go to her, tell her the truth, lay your whole
heart open to her, and my life on it, she will then discover
what, perhaps, she does not yet see, that you
have taken a deeper hold on her own heart than she
has any idea. At her, like a man; and, if she be the
tender-hearted woman that I think her, she will not
reject you.'”

The widow sighed deeply. “But he did not follow
your counsel?”

“He did not believe me. His fears blinded him.
He worshipped you too devotedly. Had he felt a weaker
passion, he would have been more bold. But his heart
failed him, and he would have suffered himself to be


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shot; nay, don't I know that he went out fully expecting
to be killed by Hammond's bullet, even hoping it,
that he might no longer be kept in such miserable

“Poor, poor fellow!”

“And now, that he knows my object in coming here,
he is on thorns of misery. His horse is already saddled.
He has raised all the ready money he can, and, the moment
he gets my report, if it's unfavorable, he'll set off
to join his fat friend in Tennessee. He will sell out, and
leave Georgia forever. He even talks of joining the
regular army, hoping to be killed in the first engagement.”

“But he must never do it.”

“It will depend on you. He is at my house waiting.
I have agreed that, if I am successful, I am to wave a
white handkerchief, and if not, a red one, just as I get
in the avenue. His mind's in a most awful state, and
it's for you, my dear Mrs. Foster, to determine his

“Oh! Mr. Nettles, you see too deeply into the hearts
of us poor women to doubt what must be my answer.
Poor, dear Barry, I always was fond of him. But I
never thought he had any feeling for me, and so I tried
only to get for him that disobedient girl.”

“What blindness! And so?”

“Oh! you do with me what you please, Mr. Nettles.
It's a wonder you never married yourself. You're
single only because you never wished to be otherwise.”

“Ah! you flatter me, Foster! But I must resign
my hopes and wishes to others. I live for my friends
only. But, in giving them up, I have my consolation;
and when carrying off the heart of a lady to another, I
am privileged, as a matter of course, to take her kisses
for myself.”

The widow did not struggle seriously against the
spoliation which followed this pretty speech.

“Barry will be the happiest man alive.”

“But have you a white handkerchief with you? I


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see that you use a red one,” demanded the provident

“Indeed I have not!” said Nettles, feeling in his
pockets, and looking disquieted.

“Take mine, dear Mr. Nettles. Poor Barry, he
must not be suffered to throw himself away!”

How Nettles chuckled as he left the “Lodge!” In
less than a month, the widow became Mrs. Barry. We
have no reason to suppose that her husband repented
the proceeding, and we know that Nettles did not. He
usually took his Sunday dinner at the “Lodge,” and
was master of ceremonies on all occasions. He himself
never married. Why should he, when he could so easily
persuade his friends to do so? Miles Henderson, in
the course of the year, was caught by Henrietta Bailey,
one of the girls of whom Mrs. Hammond thought so
much; and he lived sufficiently happy with her to feel
no repinings at the sweet and singular affection which
existed between Hammond and his wife. He, it is true,
remained the master, but she exercised, though she did
not assert, all the authority of the mistress. There
has been no duel at “Pistol Quarter” since the famous
affair that terminated the tragic part of our comedy.


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