University of Virginia Library


Page 192


Mrs. Foster was greatly discomfited at the disaster
of her favorite. She contrived, however, to keep her
countenance; an effort of which her daughter was not
capable. She, as well as most of the young damsels, as
soon as it was discovered that Barry was in no danger,
laughed outright at his predicament, and were extremely
amused and interested at the way in which he was fished
out of the pond; the particular part taken by Nettles in
this delicate operation being very intelligible to most of
them. His disappearance in the bushes was followed
by a movement of the whole party. The day had passed
with great satisfaction to most of the company, and even
this accident did not materially abate the general satisfaction.
The dinner was excellent; the cates, wands,
the wines and dessert, in especial, were equally new and
grateful to the popular palate; and it was with heightened
feelings of enjoyment, and heightened expectations
also, that the guests listened to the signal of the drum,
which announced the return to the homestead. With
flying colors and triumphant music, the gay cavalcade
moved forward; but in order very different from that
in which they came. There was now more life and impulse,
and less formality. People are more at home
usually after the wine and walnuts; and the chatter was
incessant, the laughter wild, and not a few pranks and
petty excesses were practised on the return route among
the younger people. Hammond did not now escort Miss
Foster. He left that pleasant duty to other gallants,
of whom the fair damsel had a liberal supply. Henderson
also kept aloof, feeling quite too anxious and too


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much interested in the result of his application to risk
himself near the person who held his fate in her hands.
The return of the party was happily timed to bring them
into the grounds about the “Lodge,” just about dusk. A
fairy scene greeted the eyes of the guests as they now
drew nigh. A hundred altars seemed to flame, at intervals,
among the trees and along the great avenue.
Here rude elevations had been made of clay and sand,
upon which piles of dry combustible pine had been accumulated,
and which were now all blazing brightly, in
sharp, upward-darting tongues of fire. The rich illumination
lighted up the scene less softly and brightly, indeed,
but even more picturesquely than the moonshine;
and the happy groups wandered through various pathways
over which the blazing brands cast a rich, red lustre,
that eminently enlivened the rude forests, and made the
particular trees stand forth, each like a frowning giant.
The admiration of the company was unanimous, and
Mrs. Foster exulted in a triumph which she did not
inform any of her guests was due wholly to the fancy
of her step-daughter. For that matter, the entire scheme
of the day belonged to the latter. All that was fanciful
and picturesque in the design originated in her taste and
invention. Tea was served, as the party wandered
among the trees in the park. The tables which had
borne lemonade and cakes in the morning, were now
covered with hissing urns and fairy-like cups of china;
and here the pledges for partners were given for the
dances which were to follow. After the pleasant fashion
of the peasants in the south of Europe, gay squadrons
prepared to dance under the shade-trees, and by the
light of the pine-blazing altars. Others, more considerate
of domestic forms and health, prepared to occupy
the great hall, the parlor, and piazza of the dwelling-house.
The music was already in full discourse, and
the groups whirling in the dance, when Nettles and
Barry made their appearance. The latter had been fortunate,
taxing the full speed of his horse “Glaucus;”
the “Fair Geraldine” being in too great esteem to be


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used for common purposes, in getting from home a fresh
supply of snugly-fitting garments. His long-tailed blue,
and shining gold buttons, made a conspicuous figure in
the assembly, particularly when contrasted with his pantaloons,
of the most delicate velvet buff. Mrs. Foster
saw his return with delight. The good lady had begun
to be apprehensive of the game. She was afraid that
the ridiculous attitude in which he had been placed, his
somerset from the sleeper into the lake, and the unhappy
floundering which followed there, had disgusted
her daughter. She was also by no means a satisfied
spectator of the frequent, though brief and broken
sketches of conversation which had taken place between
Geraldine and Hammond. The reappearance of Barry,
restored in appearance, and looking rather attractive,
was refreshing. She drew him privately into an inner
room, and, while she served him with a dish of tea from
her own hands, she could not forbear breaking forth

“Really, Barry, how could you make yourself so ridiculous?”

“Ridiculous!” he exclaimed, sipping the beverage;
“I ridiculous, ma'am?”

“Such a ridiculous situation, I mean!”

“Perilous, you mean?”

“Yes! it was perilous. But how did you come to
fall? What carried you out on that sleeper?”

“I reckon the champagne had something to do with
it; champagne and love together.”


“To be sure! What else? Wasn't Miss Geraldine
at one end of the log, and alone? Didn't you give me
the hint, and wasn't this the letter?”

Here he showed the luckless epistle, which, full of fiery
virtue, might be supposed to have been well tempered
by its subsequent saturation, like a hissing blade of Damascus
in the sacred waters of the Baraddee. Mrs.
Foster seized the neatly-folded epistle in her hands.

“Give it to me! I will deliver it myself, this very


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night. Meanwhile, do you go out and make yourself
agreeable with the young ladies. Don't be too particular
with Geraldine. Only let her see you, and see that you
can make yourself agreeable to others. Dance with that
Miss Berrie; flirt as much as you can with Miss Dooly.
Either of them would be glad to snap you up. Let her
see that! There's several others, Miss Higbee, Ellen
Mairs, and Sophronia Ricketts, all of whom will be glad
to have you 'squire them. Only don't be rash, don't
venture any strange thing, and all will go right. I'll
deliver the letter!”

“Well! I thank you very much, for I was beginning
to feel quite squeamish about it. I'm a little afeard that
Hammond's getting on rather fast!”

“He! never fear. He has dropped too many stitches
for him to take up in a hurry. Will you have some more

“I shouldn't care if I had something stronger.”

“Oh! you mustn't think of any such thing now. I
can give you stronger tea.

“Well; if there's nothing better.”

“Taste that,” said the hostess, spooning him from a
cup which the servant handed; and the scene was a
good one for the painter. Barry, like an overgrown
boy, sitting back in his chair, while the fair widow—by
no means old or uncomely—cup and saucer in one hand,
and spoon in the other, fed him with the smoking

“Prime!” said he, with an air of satisfaction. Then
taking the cup, he dashed it off with something less of
appetite than resolution; and, abruptly darting from
the chamber, hurried out to seek a partner. Mrs.
Foster followed him with eager interest, and was at
length pleased to see him sprightly whirling it with the
bouncing Rebecca Floyd. It was with no dissatisfaction
that she beheld Miles Henderson dancing with
Geraldine. It was somewhat strange that she entertained
no such fears of this young man as of his friend.
He was quite a worthy and a very lovable person; tall,


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graceful, good-looking, very amiable, and tolerably well
off in point of fortune. But, somehow, these qualifications
never occasioned a fear; though they were in all
respects, but that of fortune, very far superior to any
of the possessions of her favorite. She kept the couple
in sight till the dance was over; and then hurriedly
summoned Geraldine, in a whisper, to the inner room,
but not before Hammond had succeeded in engaging
her for the country dance that followed; the silly and
highly objectionable custom of securing partners for
many dances ahead, not then prevailing as it does now—
certainly not “in these diggings.” When the two were
safely together in the snug little apartment, where
Barry but a little while before had sipped his tea,
Mrs. Foster, with a very triumphant air, thrust the
letter of that worthy into the hands of the young lady.

“There! There's something for you.”

“What's this?”

“An offer!”

“Indeed! Here's a pair of them, then, I suppose,”
said the maiden, somewhat coolly, as, for the first time,
she took from her bosom the billet of our friend, Henderson.
“First come, first served,” and she proceeded
to break the seal of the latter.

“Who's that from?” asked the step-mother, with
some anxiety.

“Miles Henderson. He gave it me at the mill.”

“Oh, well!” and the good lady seemed relieved as
the daughter proceeded in its perusal. This done, she
laid it quietly on the table; Mrs. Foster taking it up
and going over it as soon as she had laid it down. The
perusal of Jones Barry's declaration followed, on the
part of the person to whom it was addressed, and Mrs.
Foster watched Geraldine's countenance with increasing
curiosity, while pretending to examine Henderson's
letter. But she gathered nothing from the face of our
heroine. She read the one epistle, as she had done the
other, with a singular calm, amounting to indifference;


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and, handing it to the mother, begged her to take care
of both.

“But what will you say? What are you going to
do? You accept?”

“There's no hurry! I'm not in the humor now to
think of these things. The gentlemen deserve that I
should think of their offers respectfully.”

“Oh, certainly! But Barry?”

“Mr. Jones Barry must learn to wait as well as his
neighbor,” was the quiet reply; and at that moment
Geraldine was relieved from further questioning by the
entry of Miss Betsy Graystock, who bounced in to say
that Mr. Randall Hammond was looking for his partner,
the country dances being about to begin. It was with
some chagrin that Mrs. Foster saw the promptness with
which her protégé hurried out after this notice; and her
disquiet increased as she watched the couple through
all the mazes of the dance that followed. It was her
endeavor to keep these parties continually in sight,
while they remained together; but this was not altogether
possible, consistently with her cares and duties
as hostess. Her attention was finally called off to some
domestic arrangements; and, while she was engaged in
the inner room, the dance ceased. Returning to look
after her charge, as soon as the confusion of shifting
groups could possibly allow, she was a little displeased
and distressed to find that they were now nowhere in
sight. It was not her policy to afford to Hammond—
whose influence over Geraldine she really began to apprehend—any
unnecessary opportunities; and, seizing
Barry by the arm, she sent him off, with a whisper, to
look for Geraldine in one direction, while she set off
herself, in another, to detect the whereabouts of her
supposed companion.

Hammond, meanwhile, had readily persuaded Geraldine
to a promenade under the shade-trees along the
avenue. They were not alone in this measure. The
gay groups, most of them, after dancing, had taken a
similar direction; and, as the night was pleasant, they


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might be seen straying away through the various groves,
glimpsing here and there through the prolonged vistas,
their white garments gleaming spiritually under the
flickering lights from the numerous blazing pyres of
pine wood, which the watchful care of the negroes in
attendance from time to time supplied with fuel. The
search of Barry and Mrs. Foster was not an easy one,
to examine these various groups and trace out the particular
couple among the scattered flocks that wound
about capriciously in every turning of the wood. It
was still more difficult, when the object of Hammond—
perhaps not unobserved by his companion—was temporary
secrecy and seclusion. He led her away from all
other sets, and, in the doubtful light of a half-decaying
pile, and under the friendly shadows of a venerable
oak which had lived long enough to know how to keep
secrets, and was probably too deaf to hear, our hero
made his declaration. He spoke in warm and touching
language, evidently with a full and feeling heart, but
still in accents of a firm and dignified character. The
imperfect light did not suffer him to perceive the emotion
which his proposals occasioned on the cheeks of
the damsel; but he felt her hand tremble in his, and
her reply was slow. For some moments, indeed, a profound
silence followed his speech, and his heart began
to sink with a feeling of dread and disappointment, for
which, it must be confessed, he found himself very imperfectly
prepared. But, with some abruptness in her
manner, as if her reply was the result of a real effort,
and was, indeed, foreign to the genuine feeling which
was at her heart, she somewhat surprised him by saying—

“I am honored, Mr. Hammond, by your offer,

There was a pause, when she again began—

“You have heard, no doubt, Mr. Hammond, that I
am a very thoughtless, a very whimsical, a very capricious,
a very eccentric girl, and, in truth, I am so. I
have been very foolish, and my foolish resolutions sometimes


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trouble me, as they do in this instance. But the
kind and complimentary declaration which you have
made reminds me of one of my own, and I am half
ashamed to tell you what it is.”

“Indeed! But, dear Miss Foster, you cannot doubt
that I will be the most indulgent of all judges—”

“Oh, surely, as far as it is possible; but your declaration
makes you an interested one, and my resolve
concerns this very declaration.”

“Indeed!” with an air of some surprise.

“Yes, indeed!” and there was now some little pique
mingled in with the lady's embarrassment; “but it
concerns not only your proposals, sir, but those of other
persons. You must know, sir, and I do not mention
the fact except from the necessity of the case, that
yours is the third offer of marriage which I have had

“Then, Miss Foster, I am to understand that I am
too late?” This was said rather proudly.

“Not so, Mr. Hammond. You are, on the contrary,
rather quick. I have as yet determined on neither,
and a rash resolution—a foolish vow—makes it impossible
that I should determine directly. I—I have been
very foolish, sir.”

The poor girl seemed really very much embarrassed.
Her sympathies were all with Hammond; but her pride
had been committed, and it was still watchful and resentful.
Hammond perceived and felt for her embarrassment.

“If I knew what to say or what to do!” said he.
“If I could only conjecture the cause of your embarrassment!”

And he hesitated. The pride of the girl came to
her relief.

“I have been very foolish, no doubt; but that is no
reason why I should be cowardly. I must risk the reproach
of being whimsical and ridiculous; but you shall
know all. Mr. Hammond, your horse `Ferraunt' is, you
tell me, the fastest horse in the country?”


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Her companion was confounded. This question,
seemingly so absurd, was put with all imaginable seriousness;
nay, with something like a vehement earnestness,
while the speaker looked directly up into the face
of the person she addressed, as if anxiously awaiting
his answer. He was bewildered.

“Really, Miss Foster, you surprise me. What can
the speed of my horse have to do with the matter?”

“A great deal—a great deal. Only tell me, is it
not so? Is not `Ferraunt' the fastest horse in the
country? In short, can't he beat Mr. Henderson's
`Sorella,' and the `Geraldine,' my namesake, of Mr.

“Such is my opinion. Nay, without an accident, I
am very sure of it. But really, Miss Foster, you must
again permit me to express my surprise at the question.”

“Oh, I know that you think me very ridiculous, and
I am so—I am so,” answered the girl, now laughing
playfully and wildly, as if with a heart fully relieved of
a burden.

“Forgive me, sir, I am but a child; seventeen only,
to-day. Forgive me; but will you spare me to-night?
Suffer me to convey to you my answer in writing.”

She gave him her hand as she spoke. He seized and
conveyed it to his lips, and the action was in noways rebuked.
But it was witnessed. Mrs. Foster broke in, at
this moment, with “Geraldine, Geraldine! my daughter,
you are wanted.”

“I am with you, mother;” and she whirled away
with the intruder, who had barely time to say, “What
do I see, Geraldine?” when Jones Barry came up to
entreat the hand of the latter for the next cotillon, and
to relieve her from the necessity of answering a very
awkward question.