University of Virginia Library


Page 166


But an event was now at hand which was calculated
to divert the thoughts of Geraldine Foster into other
channels. Her seventeenth birthday was approaching,
a period of immense importance to all young damsels.
It was destined to be regarded as such in the present
instance. Already, for more than a month previous,
the rumor had gone abroad through the neighboring
country, of a great fête to be given at the “Lodge.”
Supplies for the occasion were already making their
appearance. Wagons from Savannah and Augusta,
laden with good things, were seen arriving, and public
expectation was on tiptoe for the event. In due season
our young men were all honored with invitations to the
birthday féte. Mrs. Hammond was also included in
this compliment, though Mrs. Foster was pleased to say,
while her step-daughter was penning the invitation, that
she knew “very well that the haughty old hag would
never come again.” She was mistaken, as we shall see
hereafter. The truth is, as regards herself and her own
feelings, it never would have been the wish of Mrs. Hammond
to darken the doors of a lady like Mrs. Foster,
for whom she could never feel esteem; but the case was
altered in respect to Geraldine. She regarded the
latter as the innocent, though perhaps misguided child
of a very dear friend, and on this account alone she
was prepared to treat her with solicitous consideration.
There was yet a better reason. Mrs. Hammond
had now satisfied herself that the affections of her son
were really engaged to the maiden; too deeply engaged,
indeed, to render prudent any farther exhortations and


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warnings on her part. She resolved, therefore, instead
of discouraging with a vain importunity his pursuit of
the object, to yield herself to his cause, and contribute,
as far as it would be becoming in her, to the promotion
of his wishes. She distinguished, accordingly, between
the girl and the silly step-mother; and, while revolting at
the offensive frivolities and forwardnesses of the latter,
was prepared to take the other, as the future wife of her
son, to her most affectionate embraces. This determination
led her to accept an invitation which she otherwise
might have treated with indifference. It must not
be supposed, however, because we find Mrs. Foster speaking
in offensive terms of Mrs. Hammond, that the visit
of the latter had been disagreeable to her, or that she
had failed in returning it. This was very far from being
the case. While she disliked to meet with the old lady,
from a real feeling of inferiority, and from a painful consciousness
that Mrs. Hammond knew more of her real
history than anybody else; she yet felt the importance,
in a social point of view, of appearing to maintain an
intimacy with one of a rank so unquestionable. She
soon, with Geraldine, returned the visit in which she had
behaved with so much insolent familiarity; and was received
with the sweet benignity, mingled with dignity,
which so becomes a well-bred lady in the character of a
hostess. Geraldine could not but feel the superiority of
bearing in this venerable representative of a passing age,
to that to which she was accustomed; and could scarcely
reconcile the gentleness and meekness of the old lady's
manner and tone with that which was so commanding
in her carriage and so impressive in what she uttered.
True to her decision, and regarding the possible relation
in which the maiden might yet stand in regard to her
son, Mrs. Hammond was particularly anxious to please her
younger visitor. While the three ladies traversed the garden,
which was a very ample and beautiful one, she loitered
with the younger of the three, and again renewed the
subject of her intercourse with her mother. The garden
itself afforded a sufficient reason for recalling the subject.


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Mrs. Hammond's taste for flowers had been greatly influenced
by the superior sympathies, for these lovely
creations, of the first Mrs. Foster; and it was in the
power of the former to indicate to Geraldine a fact, of
which she was now for the first time made conscious,
that the garden at the “Lodge” had been laid out
exactly of the size and plan of that which she now examined.
Its fate, however, had been very different.
While the latter was blooming in full perfection and
variety, the former had grown into a waste with weeds.
Geraldine only resolved to make amends to the memory
of her mother by restoring her favorite fruits and flowers.
The judicious manner of Mrs. Hammond, the equal
delicacy and adroitness with which she had again managed
to speak to the young girl of her mother, and to
show the tender interest which she herself felt for her
memory, were by no means thrown away upon the
daughter, who was sensibly touched, as well by the
manner as by the matter of her venerable hostess. Mrs.
Foster beheld this with some disquiet, and more than
once contrived to divert the conversation to other and
far less interesting topics. She herself was treated
with the greatest deference, Mrs. Hammond being at
pains, for the sake of the ward, to treat the guardian as
if she fully deserved to be such a custodian. At the end
of an hour, the visitors were prepared to depart, and
Randall Hammond made his appearance just in time to
see the ladies to the carriage.

A few days after came the invitation to the fête.

“You will go, dear mother, will you not?” was the
inquiry of Hammond, uttered in pleading accents. She
was disposed to plague him, and expressed herself

“I don't know. I am old. These night parties are
not good for me, and I don't enjoy them.”

“But, for my sake, mother.”

“I don't know but that, for your sake, I ought to
stay away. I am half afraid to give any encouragement
to this pursuit.”


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“Oh, don't say so, mother; don't think so.”

“Oh, but I must think so, Randall,” said the old
lady, with real gravity; “for I confess I am not satisfied
that Geraldine Foster is the lady for you. That
foolish step-mother has done her best to spoil her.”

“But she is not spoiled.”

“Perhaps not. Of that I can say nothing; but what
does the world say?”

“Mere scandal, I warrant you.”

“Nay, nay, Randall; we can't so easily dismiss the
popular report. We hear every day of her eccentricities;
of her riding wild horses without a saddle, leaping
high fences, and even threatening John Estes with
horsewhip and pistol.”

“Pshaw, mother! How ridiculous!”

“Ridiculous, it may be, but not wholly wanting in
truth. Our old neighbor, Jacob Barnes, tells me that
he has it from Peter Estes, the brother of John.”

“Be assured, a wholesale falsehood. This John
Estes was the overseer for Mrs. Foster, and was dismissed
by her for neglect and insolence. He no doubt
revenges himself by all sorts of falsehoods. He is a
worthless fellow, I know; but if I hear him at his slanders,
let him but cross my path with them, and I'll—”

“Come, come, Randall! none of that. You are
only too ready to take up the cudgels for other people.
You are not yet authorized to be the champion of Mrs.
Foster or Geraldine; and I'm afraid, as I hear the
story, that the young lady can be her own champion,
and will be apt to reject your assistance. Barnes says,
on the report of Peter Estes, that, when John Estes demanded
his full year's wages, Mrs. Foster ordered him
from the house; and he, not seeming in a hurry to obey
her, Miss Geraldine threatened him with the horsewhip,
and seemed disposed to use it. At all events, as
Barnes phrases it, John Estes, in fear of bodily danger,
made off in double-quick time. There's no doubt something
in it.”


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“Yes! no doubt he deserved the whip for his insolence;
and in her indignation she told him so.”

“But Estes reports that she got her father's pistols,
and said she was not afraid to use them; and professed
to be as expert with them as any man.”

“Pshaw! another exaggeration, quite as easily explained.
How naturally would a young woman wish
that she were a man to pistol an insolent fellow who
dared to bully her at her own fireside!”

“Still, my son, you would prefer that such a speech
should be made by Mrs. Foster rather than the daughter?”

“I don't know! I don't see any harm in this expression
of a strong and becoming indignation by a young
lady. Geraldine is, no doubt, high-spirited and impulsive.
Perhaps, too, she may be called and considered
eccentric, as she undoubtedly possesses talents.
But I have seen nothing in her conduct which can at
all justify these stories; and I ask you, dear mother,
whether you have?”

“You know, my son, that I have seen her very seldom
since she was a mere child.”

“Ah! mother, the long and short of it is, that you
would rather see me married to that stately dowd, Miss
Arabella Mason, or that cold Grecian, your amiable
beauty, now rapidly becoming an antique, Miss Jane
Hallett, or—”

“Randall, these are young ladies whom I very much
esteem,” said the mother, gravely. “Either of them,
in my opinion, would make you a much safer wife, if
personally less beautiful, than Geraldine Foster. But I
have no prejudice against her. On the contrary, if I
were not stunned and alarmed by what I hear of her
wildness, I should prefer that she should be your wife
in preference to anybody else. You have heard me
speak of her mother, who was very dear to me. Had
she been so fortunate as to enjoy her mother's guardianship,
instead of that of the coarse, weak woman
who succeeded her, I should have had no apprehensions.


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I offer no opposition to your pursuit. You are of age,
and I only entreat that you do not allow the beauty,
and the more piquant attractions of the young lady's wit,
to blind you to her deficiencies. I will go to the fête,
since you wish it; nay, I had meant to go before you
spoke to me, if it were only to show how readily I can
sacrifice my own scruples, whenever such sacrifice becomes
necessary to my son's happiness.”

“Thanks, dear mother, many thanks! You will not
regret, you will not repent, you indulgence. You will
see Geraldine in better aspects, the more you know
her. These reports are mere silly exaggerations, easily
raised upon a vivacity of character, and a freedom of
carriage, which are not common to our country damsels.
I think as little of the step-mother as you do; but I
doubt whether Mrs. Foster can greatly influence Geraldine.
She is quite too independent for that.”

“No doubt, provided the attempt to influence is
apparent, but this is very doubtful. People like Mrs.
Foster, sprung from a low condition to one for which
they are unfit, are very apt to exercise habitual cunning,
and they operate their ends with secrecy; while
persons of very independent temper, like Geraldine,
particularly where they pride themselves on their independence,
are very apt to be taken in by the very persons
who affect to acknowledge their want of power.
Art, in this way, operates, by successful subtleties, in
blinding the judgment of superior will; and the more
stubborn the person, the more easily deluded when in
contact with such an agency. This I suspect to be the
true relation between the two. Mrs. Foster I know to
be artful in a high degree. She had never succeeded in
becoming the wife of Henry Foster, but for the practice
of her housekeeper-cunning.”

“Mother, you are harsh.”

“Randall, you are right! But it is in your ears only
that I speak these opinions, and they are meant to guard
you from mishap. If, as I suppose, you are resolute to


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address Geraldine, I warn you that Mrs. Foster is secretly
working against you.”

“Ha! how do you know it?”

“I know her; she cannot but work against you, being
what you are; and the report goes that she openly
favors this little person, Barry.”

“You hear that too from this old chronicler, Jacob

“Barnes is a simple and an honest creature, who
reports things just as he hears them. But his reports,
Randall, and my opinions, are only to be valued as they
teach caution. Pursue your object steadily, if you will,
but with an eye open to the degree of influence which
this lady exercises over her ward. By this you may
judge whether you can succeed with the one, without
regard to the prejudices of the other. I should be
sorry to see my son rejected, even where I would not
have him seek.”

This concluded the conversation, which was interrupted
by the arrival of Miles Henderson. He too had
received his invitation for the fête, and he came over
to consult with Hammond in regard to it. The two
friends wandered out into the fields, and, under the
shade of quiet trees, they conferred frankly about their
mutual feelings and prospects. There were no reserves
between them; and, without hesitation, Henderson
showed his friend the draft of a letter to Geraldine, in
which he had made his proposals. The letter he himself
designed to give her, at some favorable opportunity,
on the day or evening of the fête. This festivity contemplated
a picnic in the woods, and by the banks of a
small fishing-stream and mill-seat called Gushlynn; and
at evening, music, dancing, and other sports at the
“Lodge,” and in the grounds, which were to be lighted up
for the occasion. All these arrangements had already
transpired, and were freely discoursed of by the multitudinous
mouth of rumor. Henderson did not doubt that
he should find more than one fitting occasion, during
the day or night, on which to present his billet d'amour.


Page 173

“It is very well, Miles; fairly and properly written.
For my part, I have to move with caution. I am too
decidedly the object of Mrs. Foster's dislike not to feel
how doubtful are all my chances; for, though I sometimes
fancy I have made a favorable impression upon
Geraldine, yet her changes are very sudden, and she is
yet so young as not to feel the importance of shaping
her conduct consistently after deliberate resolve. I do
not deceive myself as to the danger which I stand from
this caprice, which may invite and beguile, only that it
may deny and contemn; not that I suppose Geraldine
the woman to behave thus with any previous design.
But she is so much the creature of impulse, and is so
likely to be governed, in some degree at least, by that
spiteful mother-in-law, that I feel more and more dubious
the more closely I approach the subject. It is barely
possible that I, too, shall propose to her on the day of
the fête. This will depend, however, entirely on the
temper which she appears to be in, and upon the sort
of opportunity which is afforded me. Of late, Mrs.
Foster seems disposed to keep watch upon me, and, by
her constant presence, to baffle everything like private
or interesting conversation with Geraldine. I can only
deal in common-talk and generalities, which lead to

“Which lead to a great deal, Randall. Your generalities
have always a meaning in them. I see that
Mrs. Foster watches you more closely than she does anybody
else, and that only proves to me that she considers
you the most dangerous. But you make more out of
the restraint than anybody could beside yourself. It's
evident enough that, though you talk generalities only,
as you call them, they are such particularities to Geraldine
that she gives them the best attention; and, if you
don't seem to say anything meant especially for her ear,
it's very certain she appropriates it all more eagerly
than any other. The truth is, Randall, I'm more jealous
of you than ever, and this is the very reason, that
you get on so successfully in fixing the interest of Geraldine


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in spite of the clear dislike and the crossplays
of the step-mother. I'm only going to propose now, to
get my answer. I don't see that I've the least chance
or hope. She treats me civilly, and Mrs. Foster is a
great deal more kind to me than she is to you; but,
after all, though I try hard to find a meaning in this
civility, it amounts only to this, that I don't behave
amiss, and the attention of a young fellow is never disagreeable
to a miss. But the suspense and anxiety vex
me, and so I'm going to make an end of it, and either
make the spoon or spoil the horn.”

“With such feelings, Miles, I should not propose;
but the subject is one which I dare not undertake to
counsel you upon. You will, of course, do as you

“Oh! I'm sworn to give in this paper. There may
be more hope than I have reason for. A man, who is
really in love, can't always see his chances for himself;
and Geraldine Foster is the first and only woman I've
ever seen that I really wished to marry. I'll try her,
at all events; and if nothing better comes of the trial, it
will at once put an end to my anxiety.”

“Be it so, Miles. You hear what I tell you. I
shall prepare no letter. I'll leave it to circumstances
to determine. If opportunity offers, and she seems favorable,
ten to one that I shall declare myself. If not,
I have only to keep quiet and wait a better season.”

“Yes; but you may wait too long. 'Spose she takes

“My dear Miles, she couldn't take a better fellow.
Next to myself, I should rejoice to see you in possession
of the prize.”

“But suppose, seeing no chance of you, and tired of
waiting, she takes this beauty, Barry?”

“Then he's welcome to her, and she wouldn't be the
woman for me. I should rejoice in my escape.”

“Randall, you're a cursed sight too proud.”

“No, Miles, I only put a proper value upon a wife.
The girl who is in such haste to get a husband as to


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marry any that offers rather than lose a chance is worth
no man's having.”

“I don't know but you're right.”

While upon this fruitful subject, let us pass from the
two friends to another of the parties to our story, whose
feelings, about this period, were similarly concerned
with the fair Geraldine, and the approaching festivities.
Sunday was usually chosen by our excellent acquaintance,
Jones Barry, for his dinners. He was then apt
to call in his acquaintance, to see his friends, and make
a day of it. He never denied himself on these days.
He was a bachelor, a man of wealth, and enjoyed a certain
degree of impunity. He at least assumed that
one, whose behavior was so uniformly good during the
week, should be permitted his enjoyments on the Sabbath.
Of course, we quarrel with no man for his opinions.
We are indulgent, and only propose to show his
practice under them.

Jones Barry had a cleverish cook, who could make
mock turtle to perfection, and dress a haunch of vension
to the equal satisfaction of epicure and hunter. He
loved good things, and never stinted himself at any time;
but it was on Sunday that he particularly laid himself
out to be happy. The first day of the week had come
in which the birthday fête of Miss Foster was to be
celebrated. He had several guests that day, and an
excellent dinner. There was our old friend, Nettles,
among the former, to whom one end of the table was
assigned. Joe Blake, Dick Moore, and Tom Lechmere
formed the rest of the company. The dinner passed off
gloriously. When the cloth was removed, the host,
raising his glass, cried—

“Fill, gentlemen, and drink to the health of the fair

“Lady or filly?” inquired Nettles.

“Come, Tom, don't be disrespectful. She may yet
be my wife.”

Nettles repeated the question.

“Lady or filly, Jones?”


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“You're a beast,” cried Barry; “drink before I send
the bottle at your head.”

“Do nothing of the kind, I beg, until you've emptied
it at least. But still let me ask. I drink, you see; for
it matters not much to your friends whom you marry;
but which is it, Jones? We know you love the lady, at
least you say so, and it's very certain to everybody that
you really love the mare. Now, if a Roman emperor
made one of his mares a divinity, and fed it on silver
crowfoot and golden ears, handsomely cracked in a
marble basin, there's no reason why a Georgia planter
shouldn't promote his filly by marriage.”

“Pshaw! that's all nonsense about the Roman emperor.”

“True, every bit of it, except that I have my doubts
about the gender of the beast. But tell us truly. Out
with it like a man. Are you to be married to the fair

“To the lady, perhaps.”

“Is it fixed?”

“Not exactly, but so nigh there's no fun in it.”

“Ah! then you have proposed, Jones?”

“No—not to Geraldine herself, but the mother goes
for me.”

“But that's not the daughter.”

“It's something towards the election.”

“Don't believe a word of it, Jones,” answered the
reckless Nettles. “It's like your racehorse calculations.
You'll be beaten when you're most certain.”

“And who's to beat me, do you think?”

“Why Ran. Hammond, to be sure.”

“He! he stands no more chance than my grandmother.
Why, Mrs. Foster hates him as she does poison.”

“What of that? I can tell you she wouldn't hate him
long, if he was willing to marry her instead of the daughter.
But her hate don't hurt. That girl has a will of her
own, if ever woman had; and Madam Foster's dislikes
won't help your likes, I can tell you.”

“She as good as tells me I'm sure of Geraldine.”


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“Many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. Now look
you, Jones, my boy; I like you well enough; your dinners
are excellent, and you keep the best wine decidedly
in the country.”

“Do you really think so, Tom? You are a judge.”

“You do—only you keep it always too near your own

“There it is—Blake, hand that bottle to the ox.”

“Ox! well, I suppose it is because I'm an ox that
you offer me a horn.”

“Take two of them, that you may be finished.”

“But I'll not finish there.”

“Go ahead!”

“Well, as I was saying, I like you and your dinners
well enough. You're a good fellow in your way, though
you have too great fondness for women of the circus.”

“Tom! Tom! mum! Honor bright, old fellow.”

“Out with it, Nettles!” was the cry of Joe Blake, and
the rest.

“Another time, boys, another time. Let's see, where
was I? Ah! I was saying,—but, to begin fair, I'll give
you a toast. Fill, if you please.”

“Fill, gentlemen,” said the host. “Fill to Tom
Nettles, charged.”

“Here's to Ran. Hammond; a stiff fellow, perhaps,
but a real man and a true gentleman.”

Jones Barry gulped and swallowed with the rest.

“I drink,” said he. “I can afford it. I'm not afraid
of anything Ran. Hammond can do in this affair.”

“You're not! Well, mark my words; this girl's for
him, and not for you; and better, let me tell you, that
he should marry her, and not you. Better for us as
well as you.”

“And why, pray?”

“Why, then, let me tell you. She'd be your master
in no time, and she'd rule you with a rod of iron. No
more dinners on Sunday, boys. No more wine for good
fellows; and, instead of our excellent friend, Jones Barry,
presiding where he does—now running a fine horse, now


Page 178
opening a fine bottle, now jerking at a gander's gullet,
and now sitting in a Sultana's lap—”

“Mum, Tom, mum!”

“I say, instead of this, look at the poor fellow, afraid
to say his soul's his own! He gives no dinners, boys,
for his wife finds no pleasure in our company; he opens
no wine, my boys—his wife keeps the keys; he pulls no
gander's neck, since his wife makes him tender-hearted
by pulling his; and, instead of sitting, now and then,
in the lap of a pretty woman at the circus, drinking
apple-toddy, he hates the very sight of a pretty woman,
as it tells him that, instead of a mistress, he has got a
master. No, no, boys! I say the fair Geraldine to
Ran. Hammond; he can tame her; and if our friend
Jones must have a wife, let her be the fat, laughing girl,
that serves the bar at old Hiram Davy's corner; who
sweetens the toddy with her smiles instead of sugar;
and when she says, `Is it to your liking, sir?' makes it
go down like a blessing. She's the girl, boys, for Jones
Barry; and I drink the health of Susannah Davy, and
may good fellow never get a smaller armful!”

“Armful, you snake in the grass! Why she's a
houseful; she weighs three hundred if she weighs a

“Three hundred! Jones, that's a scandal. I was
at the last weighing; two hundred and forty-five, and
the stillyard on a perfect level—not a grain more.
You couldn't get a better wife, if happiness is what you
aim at.”

All these sallies produced their appropriate merriment.
But we need not pursue our good fellows through
their midnight orgies. Enough that Tom Nettles
floored his host, and, after seeing him solemnly laid
out on the rug before the fireplace, he coolly took possession
of Barry's own couch, which the latter did not
seem greatly to affect. The rest of the company,
towards the small hours of the morning, were similarly
disposed of.