A New England Tale/Chapter XIV

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A New England Tale by Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Chapter XIV
CHAPTER XIV.


Oh, wad some pow'r the giftie gie us,
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
 And foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
 And e'en devotion!


A few days after Erskine's departure, Mrs. Harvey entered Jane's room hastily,—"Our village," she exclaimed, "is the most extraordinary place in the world; wonders cease to be wonderful among us."

"What has happened now?" inquired Jane, "I know not from your face whether to expect good or evil."

"Oh evil, my dear, evil enough to grieve and frighten you. Your wretched cousin David Wilson has got himself into a scrape at last, from which all the arts of all his family cannot extricate him. You know," she continued, "that we saw an account in the New-York paper of last week, of a robbery committed on the mail-stage: the robbers have been detected and taken, and Wilson, who it seems had assumed a feigned name, is among them."

"And the punishment is death!" said Jane, in a tone of sorrow and alarm.

"Yes; so Mr. Lloyd says, by the laws of the United States, against which he has offended. Mr. Lloyd has been here, to request that you, dear Jane, will go to your aunt, and say to her that he is ready to render her any services in his power. You know he is acquainted in Philadelphia, where David is imprisoned, and he may be of essential use to him."

"My poor aunt, and Elvira! what misery is this for them!" said Jane, instinctively transferring her own feelings into their bosoms.

"For your aunt it may be," replied Mrs. Harvey, "for I think nothing can quite root out the mother; but as for Elvira, I believe she is too much absorbed in her own affairs to think of David's body or soul."

"I will go immediately to my aunt; but what has happened to Elvira?"

"Why Elvira, it seems, during her visit to the west, met with an itinerant french dancing-master, who became violently enamoured of her, and who did not sigh or hope in vain. She probably knew his vocation would be an insuperable obstacle to her seeing him at home; and so between them they concerted a scheme to obviate that difficulty, by introducing him to Mrs. Wilson as a french physician, from Paris, who should volunteer his services to cure her scrofula, which, it is said, has lately become more troublesome than ever. By way of a decoy, he was to go upon the usual quack practice of 'no cure no pay.'"

"And this," exclaimed Jane, "is the sick physician we heard was at my aunt's?"

"Yes, poor fellow, and sick enough he has been. He arrived just at twilight, last week on Monday, and having tied his horse, he was tempted, by seeing the door of the chaise-house half open, to go in there to arrange his dress previous to making his appearance before Miss Wilson.He had hardly entered, before old Jacob coming along, saw the door open, and giving the careless boys (whom he supposed in fault) a reversed blessing, he shut and fastened it. It was chilly weather, you know, but there the poor fellow was obliged to stay the live-long night, and till Jacob, sallying forth to do his morning chores, discovered him half-starved and half frozen. But," said Mrs, Harvey, "you are prepared to go to your aunt, and I am detaining you—you may ask the sequel of Elvira."

"Oh no, let me hear the rest of it; only be short, dear Mrs. Harvey, for if any thing is to be done for that wretched young man, not a moment should be lost."

"My dear, I will be as short as possible, but my words will not all run out of my mouth at once, as they melted out of Gulliver's horn. Well, this poor french doctor, dancer, or whatever he is, effected an interview with Elvira, before he was seen by the mother; and though no doubt she was shocked by his unsentimental involuntary vigil, she overlooked it, and succeeded in palming him off on the old lady as a foreign physician, who had performed sundry marvellous cures in his western progress. Mrs. Wilson submitted her disease to his prescription. In the meanwhile, he, poor wretch, as if a judgment had come upon him for his sins, has been really and seriously sick, in consequence of the exposure to the dampness of a September night, in his nankins; and Elvira has been watching and nursing him according to the best and most approved precedents to be found in ballads and romances."

"Is it possible," asked Jane, "that aunt Wilson should be imposed on for so long a time? Elvira is Ingenious, and ready, but she is not a match for her quick-sighted mother."

"No, so it has proved in this case. The doctor became better, and the patient worse; bis prescriptions have had a dreadful effect upon the scrofula; and as the pain increased, your aunt became irritable and suspicious. Last evening, she overheard a conversation between the hopeful lovers, which revealed the whole truth to her."

"And what has she done?"

"What could she do, my dear, but turn the good for nothing fellow out of doors, and exhaust her wrath upon Elvira. The dreadful news she received from David late last evening, must have driven even this provoking affair out of her troubled mind. But," said Mrs. Harvey, rising and going to the window, "who is that coming through our gate? Elvira, as I live!—what can she be after here?"

"Aunt has probably sent for me," replied Jane; and she hastened to open the door for her cousin, who entered evidently in a flutter. "I was just going to your mother's," said Jane.

"Stay a moment," said Elvira; "I must speak with you. Come into your room," and she hastened forward to Jane's apartment. She paused a moment on seeing Mrs. Harvey, and then begged she would allow her to speak with her cousin alone.

Mrs. Harvey left the apartment, and Elvira turned to Jane, and was beginning with great eagerness to say something, but she paused—unpinned her shawl, took it off, and then put it on again—and then asked Jane, if she had heard from Erskine; and, without waiting a reply, which did not seem to be very ready, she continued, "How glad I was he fought that duel; it was so spirited. I wish my lover would fight a duel. It would have been delightful if he had only been wounded."

Jane stared at her cousin, as if she had been smitten with distraction. "Elvira," she said, with more displeasure than was often extorted from her, you are an incurable trifler! How is it possible, that at this time you can waste a thought upon Erskine or his duel?"

"Oh! my spirits run away with me, dear Jane; but I do feel very miserable," she replied, affecting to wipe away the tears from her dry eyes. Poor David!—I am wretched about him. He has disgraced us all. I suppose you have heard, too, about Lavoisier. Every body has heard of mother's cruelty to him and to me. Oh, Jane! he is the sweetest creature—the most interesting being"———

"Elvira," replied Jane, coldly, "I do not like to reproach you in your present affliction; but you strangely forget all that is due to your sex, by keeping up such an intercourse with a stranger—by ranting in this way about a wandering dancing-master—a foreigner."

"A foreigner, indeed! as if that was against him. Why, my dear, foreigners are much more genteel than Americans; and besides, Lavoisier is a Count in disguise. Oh! if you could only hear him speak French; it is as soft as an Eolian harp. Now Jane, darling, don't be angry with me. I am sure there never was any body so persecuted and unfortunate as I am. Nobody feels for me."

"It is impossible, Elvira, to feel for those who have no feeling for themselves."

"Oh, Jane! you are very cruel," replied Elvira, whimpering; "I have been crying ever since I received poor David's letter, and it was about that I came here; but you do not seem to have any compassion for our sorrows, and I am afraid to ask for what I came for."

"I cannot afford to waste any compassion on unnecessary or imaginary sorrows, Elvira. The real and most horrible calamity that has fallen upon you, requires all the exertions and feelings or your friends."

"That's spoken like yourself, dear, blessed Jane," said Elvira, brightening; "now I am sure you will not refuse me—you are always so generous and kind."

"I have small means to be generous," replied Jane; " but let me know, at once, what it is you want, for I am in haste to go to your mother."

"You are a darling, Jane—you always was."

"What is it you wish, Elvira?" inquired Jane again, aware that Elvira's endearments were always to be interpreted as a prelude to the asking of a favour.

"I wish, dear Jane," she replied, summoning all her resolution to her aid; "I wish you to lend me twenty dollars. If you had seen David's piteous letter to me, you could not refuse. It is enough to make any body's heart ache; he is down in a dark disagreeable dungeon, with nothing to eat, from morning to night, but bread and water. He petitions for a little money so earnestly, it would make your heart bleed to read his letter. Mother declares she will not send him a dollar."

"How do you intend sending the money to him?" asked Jane, rising and going to her bureau.

"Oh!" replied Elvira, watching Jane's movements, "you are a dear soul. It is easy enough getting the money to him. I heard, this morning, that Mr. Harris is going on to the south; he starts this afternoon. I shall not mind walking to his house, though it is four miles from here; I shall go immediately, end I shall charge him to deliver the money himself. It will be such a relief and comfort to my unfortunate brother.

There seemed to be something in Elvira's eagerness to serve her brother, and in her newly awakened tenderness for him, that excited Jane's suspicions; for she paused in the midst of counting the money, turned round, and fixed a penetrating look upon her cousin. Elvira, without appearing to notice any thing peculiar in her expression; said, (advancing towards her,) "Do be quick, dear Jane; it is a great way to Mr. Harris's; Iam afraid I shall be late."

Jane had finished counting the money.

"Twenty dollars, is it, dear?" said Elvira, hastily and with a flutter of joy seizing it. "There are five dollars more," she continued, looking at a single bill Jane had laid aside; "let me have that too, dear; it will not be too much for David."

"I cannot," replied Jane; "that is all I have in the world, and that I owe to Mrs. Harvey."

"La, Jane! what matter is that; you can have as much money as you want of Erskine; and besides, you need not be afraid of losing it; I shall soon be of age, and then I shall pay you, for mother can't keep my portion from me one day after that. Then I will have a cottage. Lavoisier says, we can have no idea, in this country, how beautiful, a cottage is, à la Française. Do, dearest, let me have the other five."

"No," said Jane, disgusted with Elvira's importunity and levity, and replacing the note in her drawer; "I have given you all I possess in the world, and you must be contented with it."

Elvira saw that she should obtain no more. She hastily kissed Jane; and after saying, "Good bye, my dear, go to mother's, and stay till I come," she flew out of the house, exulting that her false pretences had won so much from her cousin. At a short distance from Mrs. Harvey's she joined her lover, according to a previous arrangement between them.

Lavoisier had procured a chaise from a neighbouring farmer, which was principally devoted to the transportation of its worthy proprietor and the partner of his joys to and from the meeting-house on Sundays and lecture days, but was occasionally hired out to oblige such persons as might stand in need of such an accommodation, and could afford to pay what was 'consistent' for it.

"Allons—marche donc!" said the dancing philosopher to his horse, after seating Elvira; and turning to her, he pressed one of her hands to his lips, saying, "Pardonnez-moi,"—adding, as he dropt it, "tout nous sourit dans la nature."

Elvira pointed out the road leading to the dwelling of a justice of the peace, a few miles beyond the line which divides the State of Massachusetts from that of New-York. They arrived at this temple of Hymen, and of petty litigation, about eleven in the morning. The justice was at work on his farm; a messenger was soon despatched for him, with whom he returned in about thirty minutes, which seemed as many hours to oar anxious lowers.

"Dey say," said Lavoisier, "l'amour fait passer le temps, but in l'Amerique it is very differente."

The justice took Lavoisier aside, and inquired whether there were any objections to the marriage, on the part of the lady's friends.

"Objections!" said Lavoisier, "it is the most grande félicité to every body. You cannot conceive."

On being further interrogated, Lavoisier confessed that they came from Massachusetts; and being asked why they were not married at the place of the lady's residence, he said that "some personnes without sensibilité may wait, but for mademoiselle and me, it is impossible."

Elvira being examined apart, in the manner, declared that her intended husband's impatience and her own dislike to the formality of a publishment, had led them to avoid the usual mode and forms of marriage.

The justice, who derived the chief profits of his office from clandestine matches, and who had made these inquiries more because it was a common custom, than from any scruples of conscience, or sense of official duty, was perfectly satisfied; and after requiring from the bridegroom the usual promise to love and cherish; and from the bride, to love, cherish, and obey; pronounced them man and wife, and recorded the marriage in a book containing a record of similar official acts, and of divers suits and the proceedings therein.

The bride and bridegroom immediately set out for the North River, intending to embark there for New-York.

"These things do manage themselves better in France," said Lavoisier. "Les nôces qui se fent ici—the marriages you make here—are as solemn que la sepulture—as to bury. Le Cupidon ici a l'air bien sauvage; if de little god was paint here, they would make him work as de justice. Eh bien!" said be, after a pause, "chacun a son métier; without some fermiers there should not be some maîtres-de-danse, some professeurs of de elegant arts: et sans les justices, you would not be mon ange—you would not be Madame Lavoisier."

Elvira was so occupied with the change in her condition, and the prospect before her, that she did not observe the direction in which they were travelling; and by mistake they took the road leading back through a cleft iii the mountain towards a village in the vicinity of the one they had left.

As they ascended the top of a hill, their steed began to prick his ears at the distant sound of a drum and fife, which the fugitives soon perceived to be part of the pride, pomp, and circumstance of a militia training. The village tavern was in full view, and within a short distance, and the company was performing some marching evolutions a little beyond. An election of captain had just taken place; and the suffrages of the citizen soldiers had fallen upon a popular favourite, who had taken his station as commanding officer, and was showing his familiarity with the marches and counter-marches of Eaton's Manual. He had been just promoted from the rank of first lieutenant; and previous to the dismissal of his men, which was about to take place, he drew them up in front of the village store, when, according to custom, and with due regard to economy, which made the store a more eligible place for his purposes than the tavern, he testified his gratitude for the honour which had been done him by copious libations of cherry rum, and of St. Croix, which was diluted or not, according to the taste of each individual. The men soon, began to grow merry; and some of them swore that they would not scruple to vote for the captain for major-general, if they had the choosing of that officer. The venders of gingerbread felt the influence of the good fellowship and generosity which the captain had set in motion. A market for a considerable portion of their commodity was soon furnished by the stimulated appetites of the men, and a portion was distributed by the more gallant among them, to some spectators of the softer sex, who were collected upon the occasion.

The happy pair in the mean time had arrived at the tavern. Elvira's attention had not been sufficiently awakened by any thing but the conversation of her husband, to notice where she was, until she was called to a sense of her embarrassing situation by the landlord's sign, as it was gently swinging in the wind between two high posts, and exhibited a successful specimen of village sign-painting, the distinguished name of the host, and the age of his establishment.

Elvira directed the Frenchman to stop and turn his horse, which he did immediately, without understanding the object.

"Eh bien!" said he, his eyes still fixed on the young soldiers; "Il me vient une idée. I shall tell you." He went on to signify that he would immediately offer to teach the art of fencing and of using the broad-sword; that he would instruct them "dans l'art militaire, à la mode de Napoleon;" and that, after giving a few lessons, he would make a tournament, in which he would let them see, among other things, how Bonaparte conquered the world; how the cavalry could trample down flying infantry; and how the infantry, in such circumstances, could defend themselves;' and that he would, in this way, make himself "bien riche."

During all this time, Elvira was collecting her wits to know what the emergency required; and as soon as Lavoisier's volley ceased, she begged him to turn again, thinking she might best avoid observation by seeking shelter in the tavern till dark.

They immediately alighted, and Lavoisier, after showing his bride to her apartment, descended to give some orders about his horse; when, to his astonishment, he was accosted by the jolly landlord, whose name was Thomas, "Ha, mounsheer, I guess you are the man who staid with me a fortnight two years ago, when I kept house in York state, and borried my chaise to go a jaunting, and told me to take care of your trunks that had nothing but a big stone in it, till you came back. I got my horse and chaise agin," continued he, seizing the astounded professor of the dancing and military arts by the collar, "and now I'll take my recknin out of your skin, if I can't get it any other way."

At this moment the new captain and a considerable number of his merry men entered the house. After they had learned the circumstances of the case, from what passed between monsieur and the landlord, one of them cried out, "ride him on a rail—let him take his steps in the air!"

"He ought to dance on nothing, with a rope round his neck," said Thomas.

"No, no," said a third, "he has taken steps enough; that flashy jacket had better be swapped for one of tar and feathers."

"Messieurs, messieurs," said Lavoisier, "je suis bien malheureux. I am very sorry. II etoit mon malheur—it was my misère to not pay monsieur Thomas, and it was his malheur not to be paid. I shall show you my honneur, when I shall get de Targent. II faut se soumettre aux circonstances. De honesty of every body depend upon what dey can do. I am sure, every body is gentleman in dis country. C'est un beau pays."

By this time one of the corporals had set a skillet of tar on the fire, and another, at the direction of the lieutenant, who seemed to take upon himself the command of the party, had brought a pillow from a bed in an adjoining room. The pillow was very expeditiously uncased, and a sufficient rent made in the ticking. The astonished Français stood aghast, as his bewildered mind caught a faint notion of the purpose of these preparations. He changed his tones of supplication to those of anger. "Vous êtes des sauvages!" he exclaimed. "You are monstres, diables! You do not merit to have some gentiman to teach la belle danse in dis country."

"He'll cackle like a blue jay," said the corporal, "by the time we get the feathers on him."

"They are hen's feathers," said the lieutenant, "but they'll do. Now ensign Sacket get on to the table, and corporal you hand him the skillet of tar. You Mr. Le Vosher, or whatever your name is, stand alongside of the table."

Monsieur believed his destiny to be fixed—"Oh, mon Dieu!" he exclaimed; "le diable! qu'est que c'est que ça? Vat you do—vat is dat?"

"Tar, tar, nothing but tar—stand up to the table," was the reply.

"Sacristie! put dat sur ma tête—on my head et sur mes habits—my clothes; mes beaux habits de noces—my fine clothes for de marriage! Oh, messieurs, de grace, pardonnez moi; vous gaterez—you will spoil all my clothes."

" Blast your clothes!" said the corporal; "pull them off."

"Je vous remercie, tank you gentlemen;" and he very deliberately divested himself of a super-fine light blue broad-cloth coat, an embroidered silk vest, a laced cravat, and an under cravat of coarser fabric. He prolonged the operation as much as possible, making continued efforts to conciliate the compassion of his persecutors, which only added to their merriment.

At last all pretences for delay were over; every voice was hushed. The ensign began to uplift the fatal skillet, when all composure of mind forsook the affrighted bridegroom, and he uttered a loud hysteric shriek. Favoured by the general stillness, Elvira distinctly heard his voice, and knew at once that it betokened the extremity of distress. She rushed to the rescue, screaming for mercy. The men fell back, leaving their trembling victim in the Centre of the room. "Ah! ma chère, quels bêtes!" he exclaimed, with a grimace that produced a peal of laughter. One of the men threw him his coat, another his vest; while the corporal set down the skillet, saying, "If it had not been for his gal, I'd have given him a wedding suit."

But we rather think monsieur would have been released without the interposition of bis distressed bride, for a yankey mob is proverbially good-natured, and the merry men had enlisted in the landlord's cause, for the sake of a joke, rather than with the intention of inflicting pain. After the ludicrous adventure was over—ludicrous to the jolly trainers, but sad enough to the fugitive pair—Elvira deemed it expedient to press their retreat. Monsieur brought the chaise to the door, and they drove away, amidst the loud huzzas and merry clappings of the jovial company.