The Intrigues, Amours, & Adventures of Rachel Cunningham
intrigues, amours, & adventures,
CALLED FROM HER MANY CRIMES, THE
Detailing the Eccentric Course of her Career, and leading the imagination horror-stricken in the contemplation of her vicious propensities, and predisposition to the most depraved pursuits, through a labyrinth of appalling wonder, that such exuberances in nature can have existence.
Her Deceitful Conduct to her Aunt,
and Entrance into Public Life at Sixteen;
Is Debauched by Mr. Wallingdon;
Becomes the Mistress of Mr. Haverley, His Death in a Duel;
Intrigue with his Antagonist;
Her Attempt to Poison her Keeper
Mr. Green and Failure, Her Debut at the
Saloons of the Theatres:
Engages the Affections of Mr. L—, the Wealthy Merchant;
Intrigue with that celebrated Debauchee Judge F——;
Her Amour with the
Sheriff, George van Swearington,
Murder of His Wife;
Together with their Escape, Capture, Trial, and
Execution for Murder.
london: printed and published by
Edward Duncombe, Middle-Row, Holborn
————————;'Twas Nature's blunder,
In that so far an outward form should hold,
And wear within a soul so black.
In the following Biography, which will develope, perhaps the most extraordinary circumstances that ever attached to and in one woman, combined to blacken the features of the female character, and to give a form and colour to criminal depravity from which modest virtue and common decency shrink abashed with shame, and at which appalled humanity shudders in blood-freezing horror, a rigid adherence to facts as they occurred will be supported throughout with undevious veracity.
RACHEL CUNNINGHAM, (designated, in allusion to the enormity of her depraved pursuits, "the American Milwood,") who is the subject of this Memoir, was born at Philadelphia, in the Province of ; her family, though not opulent, was highly respectable, her father being a medical professor of considerable celebrity and practice. In her early years, she evinced an uncommon liveliness and energy of spirit, exhibited an artfulness of disposition that was only equalled by her fascinating vivacity in displaying it, and her very shrewd conception of things coming within the sphere of her notice, which would have seemed beyond the reach of infantine comprehension; while she possessed those bewitching germs of beauty which won the favour and excited the admiration of all who beheld the superiority and contemplated the rising excellence of her charms. To these personal qualities and mental prefigurations of what, in their fond hopes they predicted, she might in future be, may be, not inaptly, attributed an overyielding indulgence, on the part of her parents, to all her little whims, desires, and growing caprices, without regard to the necessary restraint to curb that warmth and volatility nature had mingled with and implanted in her composition.
At a very early age she was put to a sort of preparatory boarding-school, and when she was in her ninth year, death deprived her of a kind mother's ever-watchful attention.—This, although she fell not then its weight, was a loss at once irreparable in itself and destructive in its effects; and as it effected the best interests of the blooming Rachel's future situation in society, fate could not, perhaps, have aimed a stroke more truly ruinous to her well-being.
At the seminary, before referred to, she remained but a short time subsequent to her mother's decease, when, for her better education and accomplishment for the station in life she was intended to fill, to be initiated in those branches of polite literature, deemed in the instruction of young ladies, as most imperatively necessary to the finish of the female character, she was removed to another establishment of higher order and repute, where in a little while, she preeminently distinguished herself by, for her age, the rapid progress she made in those acquirements and the facility with which she imbibed the benefits of tuition. She was now the almost worshipped idol of her father's most sanguine hopes, while he looked forward to the future day, when he should behold in his adored Rachel one of the most brilliant ornaments of female society, with anticipations that gladdened every coming hour of his existence with the heart cheering prospect before him. During the periods of school-vacation, when she would be at home, and more immediately under his eye, he, as it were, absolutely deified her. Nothing was too much to gratify her wishes; no indulgence was withheld from her desires, and all she hoped and asked was granted almost before the request found breath of utterance; nor was any thing denied that could by any possibility of means within his reach, be obtained to please this daughter of his heart's fondest affections, this child of his fairest prospect and delight, while the approving admiration her youthful, but brilliant wit and blooming beauty gave birth to amongst his friends and visiting connections, most highly flattered his parental feelings.
The sun of promise shone with seemingly increasing splendour on her future fortunes, as if with each succeeding day the prospect brightened still: she was at this lime just fourteen; five years had her mother slumbered in the silent grave, when, lo! as if to complete that fatality, which like a blighting cloud, (though yet unperceived) hung over her, her father under an attack of apoplexy, also paid the debt of nature. This fatal stroke of adverse fortune happened while she was at school, and the too sad intelligence was communicated to her with the greatest care and precaution, lest an abrupt disclosure thereof might operate a shock more violent upon her sensibility than her delicate frame might be able lo sustain under a sudden excess of grief, and her health be thereby endangered; for she had the heart-respect and interest of all who knew her in her favour.
However available, on such an awful occurrence, such laudable precaution might have been with some, with Rachel Cunningham it was decidedly unnecessary, and, I may add was in every respect positively useless; for with all her seeming perfections, nature appears not to have endued her with those little, tender, flexible cords of sensitive feeling, which, trembling under the most trifling touch, vibrate in soft affection to mark the genuine female character and stamp the kindly-framed excellence of the sex.
After the funeral expenses and some other demands were finally settled and his affairs altogether arranged, it was found that the property left by her deceased father amounted to a mere trifle in consideration as to what might have been hoped for his daughter's support thereafter; in consequence of which, she, at the expiration of the next half-year, was removed from the academy she was then a pupil in, and was taken to live with her uncle, (a brother of her mother's,) residing at Burlington, in New Jersey, by whom she was received and treated with all the indulgent tenderness of parental affection, till there, death again interposed his power and sped the shaft of fate with such sure and unerring aim, that only a few months had elapsed, when she was again deprived of that protection so immediately important (especially for a young female at that period of her age, of such exquisite loveliness, and formed of such fiery elements as she was,) to her future welfare; while thus the death of her kind uncle seemed particularly to mark the relentless malignity of her fate, she was again cast into the arms of chance for protection, and chance placed her now under the care of an aunt, a younger sister of her father's, then living at Bedford Pa. (a watering place, in the summer-seasons visited numerously by the American fashionables.) The extraordinary bounties which nature had lavishly bestowed upon her person in all those points which distinguish elegance of form and that external loveliness which she so abundantly possessed, were at this time developing themselves in the full luxuriance of beauty, and now, also, it was that the intricately-woven web of fate begun to involve and entangle her constitutionally-loose inclinations in its virtue-debasing inteastices.
As vicious example teaches more readily to effect than admonitory lessons instruct to honourable emulation, she (the ill-fated heroine of this memoir,) was early initiated in the principle-polluting vices and corruptions of that fashionable and licentious place of resort, (Bedford.) She there beheld that immodest demeanour in her own sex, (which, like the mildew-pregnant breeze blighting the tender blossom, blasts in the youthful mind each germ of feminine chastity,) not only countenanced, but applauded by those fashionables and esteemed as the true trails of good breeding and high accomplishment. Witnessing their licentious habits and that with a predisposed leaning to imitation of the example almost constantly before her eyes, she very soon entered into the practice of that, which as yet was only known to her in theory; and we need no supernatural agency to memorialize us of the fact, that she as soon found plenty of instructors there, ready to assist and perfect her in the accomplishment she desired.
At that place of fashionable folly, vice, and profligacy, (Bedford Pa.) while residing with her aunt, (who let off the greater part of her house, in elegantly furnished accommodations to the, what is called, first class of visitants taking up their abode there during the season,) it may be said, the ice of continence was first broken and she (Rachel,) went down rapidly with the full current of licentiousness that surrounded and bore away her youthful inclinations, finally to the wide and overwhelming ocean of sensual pleasures!
Her countenance was the very mirror of every winning grace,—every fascinating beauty,—and every fascinating smile calculated to charm the soul, enslave the heart of man, and hold the lover spell-bound to most inextricable attachment. Amidst and from amongst the gay throng, suitors innumerable were resistlessly attracted to her lovely person, fluttering about the shrine of her matchless charms, like butterflies sporting in the new-life-generating rays of a Mid-summer sun, each striving' to attain the summit of his happiness in her favour and amorous affection:
————and lo! wheree'er she turned,
The burning lustre of her eyes inflamed
And rouse the passions to excess untamed.
Wherever she appeared every eye, as if by enchantment lured and held in doating admiration of her charms by some resistless sorcery, seemed fixed immoveably upon her, while the love-inspired heart of each beholder bounding in the enraptured bosom towards her became instantly enslaved in magic-rivitted attachment to her beauteous person until excited affection raged in the very madness of desire to obtain a full possession of the so seeming inestimable treasure.
When she first arrived at her aunt's, it was near the close of that season and but few visitants were left remaining at Bedford, and those preparing for their speedy departure, yet from the few who had seen and witnessed this accession of loveliness to the attractions of the place, report went forth and with the wings of lightning's rapidity spread through the country the intelligence of what a prodigy in superior beauty had made its appearance and become stationary in that summer resort of profligacy and pollution.
On the following year, at a much earlier period of the season than usual, the place was thronged with the beaux-garçons of fashion and votaries of the delectable goddess. Mrs. Wallingdon, (Rachel Cunningham's aunt,) could have let every apartment of her extensive establishment, (at an advance of almost double her common demand for accommodation,) more than a hundred times over, and the requests of the several applicants to be received under her roof, became so pressingly vehement that, and while she was yet ignorant of its being her niece's charms operating this talismanic effect, she not only did actually nearly double her usual price for each suit of furnished apartments, but was absolutely necessitated to have printed bills posted up in various parts of the town, (Bedford Pa.) giving notice that every room in her house was completely occupied, not only at the present time, but taken positively for the whole entire season, and therefore all further applications would be useless. These notices, however, tended very little to abridge trouble of giving answers, for as the house still contained the grand magnet of attraction, many and continual were the requests made for accommodation, by parties merely hoping thereby to gain a sight of this phenomenon of lovely excellence (Rachel.)
Amongst the several parties, fortunate as they considered themselves in being inmates in Mrs. Wallingdon's house, under the same roof with such a prodigy of exquisite beauty, as, in the person of Rachel Cunningham, there presented himself to them, was a Mr Haverley, a young man of colour, just come into possession of a very rich and splendid patrimony, who paid her particular and marked attention, was most assiduous in his efforts to win and merit her sincere affection by every tenderness of delicate bearing towards her, and lavished very considerable sums in bestowing valuable presents upon her, at different times, of rich jewels, diamond ornament, &c. &c. to decorate her person, moved thereto by passionate regard, as well as an ardent desire to attach her heart's constancy to him through a liberal gratification of her vanity, of which she had no small share; and if constancy had been at all amongst the number of her qualities he could not perhaps, have adopted a more sure methods of securing it; but love of change, avarice, and their concomitant deception, as they after developed themselves in her licentious pursuits and actions, appear as the predominant characteristics of her natal disposition.
This gentleman had made some honourable advances, and would have as honourably acquitted himself of the proposals offered, in a way most important to her advantage and future station in society, has he not, long before the close of the watering-season, discovered that she allowed familiarities to many, and bestowed certain favours on other of the occupants in the house, which induced him to change his mode of siege, as he now felt conviction that, that only was requisite to obtaining the same privileges with her, she had conceded with so little ceremony to several of his more successful though less honourably inclined rivals.
On this suggestion, though not without some unpleasant feelings of reluctance, for his, attachment for her, (prior to this,) was affectionately sincere, abandoning his formerand intentions, (for, as he really loved her, he hoped as well as intended,) of making her his wife, he altered his, system, of attack, and taking a new ground of approach he succeeded in carrying his point; she capitulated to his desires without a struggle of resistance and yielded her person to his will more readily than he could willingly have wished, as true love is eve anxious under the circumstances to retain as much good opinion as possible of the object it has once adored.
During the remainder of the season, he freely enjoyed her society whenever opportunity could be rendered fairly subservient to their inclinations, and as he (Mr. Haverley,) had the means with the disposition to feed both her vanity and vicious propensities, she seemed devoted to his embraces only, notwithstanding that she artfully gave herself to more sly intrigues with other gentlemen visitants, but all conducted with such consummate cunning of management, that Mrs. Wallingdon, her aunt, entertained not the slightest suspicion to the contrary of her conduct being strictly correct.
Thus she commenced, at that early age, (then but turned of sixteen, about two or three months,) her vicious career of life, polluted at the heart's core, every virtuous principle fled, both her mind and person defiled, she soon became wholly lost to every sense of modest feeling which should adorn the sex and stamp the woman truly amiable. At the end of the prolonged season her lover in chief, Mr Haverley took his departure from Bedford, previously to which, as he was young, handsome, and, above all, rich; he had do difficulty in bringing Rachel to an arrangement for becoming his mistress. Her naturally loose principles, desire of gain for the advantage of gaiety, and her propensity to made the place and for some miles round, to ascertain the fugitive's retreat, hut, of course, no Rachel Cunningham was to be found, nor could any intelligence be obtained of in what manner she had lied, or what route she and her paramour had taken: all that could be called certain was that the young lady had eloped with some one or other, by her night-clothes remaining as the servant had left them on the previous day, and the bed, on which she commonly slept, not having been impressed with any one's lying on it the night before, while the door of her chamber was found locked on the inside, which under a horrible feeling of dread was forced open, when the state of the room and window clearly indicated by what way the apartment had been vacated.indulgences, were powerful advocates in favour of his proposals: she gave her decided preference to his terms, because she knew his means were ample to supply her extravagant wishes; therefore he had but to propose for Rachel to agree to his liberal offer; accordingly, he had been gone from her aunt's house three days, when on the evening of the third day, as agreed, he returned to Bedford Pa. in disguise and remained at a small Inn, in the outskirts, till the appointed hour should arrive:—Rachel was all in preparation and expectancy; the clock struck the signal hour for moving, she was instantly in the arms of her lover, the carriage was waiting to receive them at a short distance from the window whence she escaped, thus they eloped together that night, and with the help of swift horses, they were soon safe lodged in a handsome mansion on his estate in Chester county.—Mrs. Wallingdon's astonishment, on missing her niece Hachel the next morning, may be more easily supposed than told: every possible search was immediately
Now in full possession of her, enraptured in the charming acquisition of so much personal beauty concentrated in the object of his heart's desires, and revelling in the unmeasurable extacy and luxurious delights of her embraces, he in the burning fervor of hisamorous happiness literally idolized her as a deity, while she was no less sensible of the complete power she held over his enslaved affections, by which ascendancy she was the leader of his will and sole ruler of his actions, which controlling influence she took especial care to make the instrument of her own private advantage. Whatever she wished, and her wishes were not few, nor to be accomplished, in most cases, without some considerable sacrifice of pecuniary property, was always procured for her; however extravagant the demand might be or difficult to be obtained, no consideration of was ever opposed to the gratification of her desires.
Two years he had cohabited with her in this state, and she receiving from him every possible indulgence that money and ample means could provide; every species of prodigal gaiety and profligate extravagance was profusely resorted to for her amusement: travelling at times in the highest style of fashion and splendour of folly; expensive entertainments to numerous parties were given, on which large sums were expanded, and the gaming-table, at which she was an adept, was also made a source of revelrous excesses. Although he (Mr. Haverley,) was aware of her naturally intemperate disposition, her proneness to incontinence, and her ready-yielding of herself, in fondness of variety, to the amorous embraces of others than himself, both while with her aunt and since she had been under his protection, yet his whole heart, soul and warm affections were so bound up and rivetted in his attachment to her, so infatuated was he by her charms and syren-arts, that he, even then and knowing all this would have sacrificed himself and her, had she not positively refused her acceptance of his offers, alleging as her reason for declining the honour proposed, that as they had and could still, in freedom enjoy the sweet pleasures of love, it would be nonsense, she thought, to shackle them in the yoke of matrimony, which would only legalize their connection to destroy the richest zest of their enjoyments in it.
So little did any sense of shame operate upon her feelings, that the heroine of this Millwood-drama, after an absence of about two years and a half, having resolved to revisit Bedford, that season, actually wrote to her aunt for apartments to be prepared for her and inamorato, so far, however, in this instance, assuming virtue though she had it not, as by her signature to imply, that her connection with Mr. Haverley, was honourable and had been legally consummated. The subjoined is a verbatim copy of her letter on this occasion to Mrs. Wallington, her aunt:
I shall not trouble yon with any apology either for my abrupt departure or for my silence since that period, as I hate all excuses, because, however well manufactured they are offered—Of that enough; at me, and I think quite as much if not more than you expected from your runaway niece.
"Well; I took the liberty of jumping out of the window at night, and you took alarm at my flight next morning: you (as I guess,) condemned my conduct, but I applaud it still: you may contend that my choice was repulsive, but I consider that my judgment was both natural and correct; Mr. Haverley's face is nearly black I admit, but his heart is of the purest complexion that ever—but I am pursuing the very path of palliation I deprecate.
"We shall be at Bedford on Thursday next; prepare your best accommodation for us; price is no object, for my dear Orlando spares no expence where my desires prompt his liberality.
I am, dear aunt.
Your affecttonate niece,
(Signed) Rachel Haverly."
Friday Evening, &c. Chester County,
The signature "Haverley," assumed in lieu of her real name "Cunningham," had the effect with her aunt she intended, of inducing a belief that her niece was lawfully united to the gentleman whose patronymick appellation she had, on this occasion, used; and under that impression Mrs. Wallingdon reserved the best suit of apartments expressly for their accommodation, highly felicitating herself in the contemplation of her fortunate relative, Rachel , being, as he thought, so happily married; for she (the aunt,) had learned the facts, that Mr. Orlando Haverley was by a white lady, the son of a wealthy black man. who had left him sole possessor of very extensive and immensely rich plantations.
Rachel had resolved, and the indulgent Orlando, well acquainted with herdisposition, and knowing it would be of no avail to oppose any objection to her purpose, although he would, (from modest feeling on her account, which she felt not for herself,) gladly have evaded, reluctantly yielded a seeming readiness to accord his assent to her wishes.
They arrived at Bedford Pa. as appointed, and were received with the warmest gratulations by her aunt and introduced to the elegant apartments prepared for their reception, where she passed as Mrs. Haverley, but not without indulging her vicious propensity to variety of intrigue, particularly with a Mr. G—, a young man of great property and dashing appearance, with whom, at last, she was detected by her protector, in a situation of amorous connection quite unequivocal; the immediate result of which was a duel that terminated fatally to Mr. Haverley, who receiving his adversary's shot, instantly fell and expired on the ground
Here her real character became more decidedly developed, he heard the intelligence of the above mentioned melancholy event with the most senseless apathy, and so brutally indecent was her indifference to the fate of the man whose very soul's dearest affections she knew were devoted wholly to her in boundless love and attachment that ended only with his life, that, without regard or waiting for the funeral arrangements being made and concluded, she, the very succeeding day to the event of the duel, and while yet, the outstretched corpse of him, whose tender kindnesses she had so often and eminently experienced was scarcely cold, ransacked all the property he had with him, possessed herself of all his cash, jewels, and every valuable that came or could be brought within her fingers' reach, at once disposed of the horses, carriage, and splendid equipments for a very considerable sum, and on the forenoon of the next day, she taking her seal at the side of the very man, by whose band her former too fondly-doating protector had fallen, departed from Bedford amidst the execrations of all who witnessed her disgusting conduct on that occasion, while she (this Rachel Cunningham,) in the presence and to her aunt, unblushingly avowed that she was not the wife of the defunct Mr. Haverley, that she was herself her own properly, and therefore no one had province to dispute her right of disposing of her person as her own pleasure should direct.
No tender seed, kind virtue to impart,
Had nature planted In her ruthless heart,;
Her Adamantean breast no pathos shared.
No feeling there, but selfish lust, appeared.
With this her newly captivated inamorato, Mr. G—, they having thus left Bedford Pa. together in manner already describe, she now continued on travel for the remaining part of the summer, during which period they visited several different counties, occasionally slaying for a short time at various towns, enjoying all the luxuries that an extravagantly profuse expenditure could procure, and revelling in every sensual pleasure that the pampered appetite of inordinate desire could taste: but their stay in each of those places was very limited, probably from Mr.G—'s being aware of her aptitude at forming intriguing intimacies, and his tenacity with regard to the hope of securing the sole possession of her charms to himself, for he was little less infatuatedly attached by her personal attractions to her, than her late sable protector, wherefore it may be, not unreasonably, inferred that he kept almost constantly moving from one town to another, purposely to defeat the opportunity of any attempt at amour succeeding in effect. He allowed her every indulgence but that of the chance of her bestowing the last favour upon any other man than himself; he fed her vanity with every show of pomp and splendour her desires could crave; led her exulting in the pride of dress through the ranks of fashion the envy of her own sex, and the admiration of his; and he also invited and feasted large parties to gratify her love of luxury and riotous jollification, but always took especial care never to lose sight of her, or leave her for a single moment, in those assemblies, free from his watchful observance of her conduct, for he knew she was prompt to contrive and quick to execute on any proposal of amorous tendency.
About the approach of the cold Mason, they arrived at Annapolis, on the Severn, a handsome and particularly pleasant town in Arundel County, where Mr. G— was the owner of a very noble mansion, and where his introduction of Rachel Cunningham excited a strong feeling of discord, as well as being otherwise the cause of distressing consequences.
His sisters, two accomplished and lovely young ladies, very strenuously, on their privilege as his nearest relatives to object, and their ever since his coming into possession having resided with him, remonstrated against the impropriety of his bringing a lewd woman into the house besides the gross indecency of even supposing that they could be brought to debase their character, to the outrage of all modest as well virtuous feeling, by associating themselves with, at best, a kept mistress, and that, that they were positively determined not to submit to. On which he peremptorily informed them, that his determination was as positive as theirs could he on the subject; that the house was his—that she (Rachel) was in the house—that it was for his pleasure and not for theirs. and that in that house she should not only remain but be also the mistress of it; and further, that the young lady (Rachel) was at least equally accomplished with themselves,therefore, whether they would or would not submit lo meet and receive her on sociable terms was matter of total indifference to him, with this exception only in reservation, that if their resolves continued as they had expressed them, in the negative, his resolve was and would be to command and enforce their immediate absence. This, as may be readily supposed, in the first instance their maintained refusal to comply, and in the latter, finally operated in their expulsion from under his roof.
Thus was Rachel Cunningham left in full possession of the mistress-ship of the domestic affairs of the house, the command of all the servants, and the complete government of her paramour's will and actions.
Possession by the right of conquest gives sanction to the most despotic exercise of power, and, I may add, never fails to compel a prompt obedience; which assertion is amply verified in the following circumstance of the heroine of these extraordinary scenes:—
Some few days subsequent to Mr. G—'s expelling his two sister from his residence, Miss Lennam Penville.an amiable young lady, of most respectable and opulent family, residing in Annapolis, who had, for a long time previous to his unfortunate connection with Rachel Cunningham, received and favoured the addresses of Mr. G——, and to whom he had some months before made promise of marriage, which marriage, according to arrangements entered into prior to his leaving home, was to have been consummated in (at the time of his return,) about five weeks to come, went to his house, and, as her purpose then was, ventured on the ground of her honourable intimacy and expectations to expostulate with him upon the very great impropriety and cruelty of his treatment to his sisters, at the same time urging, in the mildest terms with the hope of reclaiming him, the sacred promise he had given her,—the insulting outrage on her feelings ho was now hourly committing by devoting himself to the filthy embraces of an abandoned woman, and that if he still persisted in it, short as the period was to the promised time For their union, she fell in herself the sad certainty, instead of his receiving her hand at the altar, ere it arrived she should be for ever wedded to her grave.
Although those tender sentiments, accompanied with tears wrung from the breaking heart's bitterest anguish gushing down her lovely cheeks, were uttered in a tone of grief that might have melted the most obdurate bosom to soft soothing pity, he suffered her to depart, with scarcely a kind word on which her woes could rest a hope upon.
Rachel, who purposely concealed had overheard the same exulting in her triumph, then came forth from her hiding-place, and with a thousand artful wiles she hung upon his neck.—kissed him with seemingly vehement affection,—applauded to extacy his self-possession,—flattered him on his manly resistance; but above all extolled his inflexible attachment in love, she said, more than the worth of worlds to her; and, in fine, by her witching caresses, superinduced him to write a note peremptorily interdicting Miss Penvilie's future visits on any occasion whatsoever to him. That letter had its effect: Miss Penville instantly sickened; it was decidedly the instrument of her death; but a few days after her receiving this, expired literally of a broken heart, and, as in her poignant grief she had predicted, she was in her tomb long before the day arrived that was to have made her the happy bride of the deluded, and thence faithless Mr. G——.
Her friends severely upbraided him for his disgracefully heartless treatment of this young lady, by which he had thus prematurely deprived them of an amiable relative and lost to himself a virtuous partner worthy of his best and most tender affections, and would have been, as his wife, an ornament to him in the society in which he moved, while with this be also incurred the general censure lo all parties who knew them and were acquainted with the circumstances of his conduct; but such not-to-be-shaken ascendency had Rachel attained to over his every source and spring whence honourable sentiment emanates, that his feelings seemed wholly dead to all reproof and insensibly steeled against the admonitory effects of reflection.
At length, however, an incident occurred that roused his reason from the torpor into which too long his blind attachment to this syren, Rachel, by her wily arts bad lulled it.
On some account it happened, that an old and faithful servant who had years been in and was rigidly firm to the interests of the family, and who also had ever been a particular favourite of Mr. G——'s late father, had given her (Rachel) some offence, for which she took authority immediately to dismiss that servant from the establishment, but which dismissal Mr. G——, not only refused to sanction, but also against the vehement remonstrances of his mistress recalled the servant to the situation so long faithfully held in the family; in consequence of this (and it was the first,) act of opposition to her will, she meditated fatal revenue; she watched her opportunity to effect her diabolical purpose, when a mere accidental circumstance totally defeated it and discovered her murderous intention. One evening, when it happened they were tete-a-tete, and while she affected a high degree of playful fondness, as he usually took his champagne out of a very large-sized goblet, he had filled his first glass and drank once, a small part of it only, with his taste full alive to its exquisite flavour, (to which circumstance alone may be attributed his escape from death,) when he had a necessity to withdraw for a few minutes from the apartment they were in, leaving her (Rachel,) by herself, On his return and seating himself, he again took the goblet to his lips, but only sipping, as to enjoy its superior relish, he detected a strange alteration in the zest of the wine offensive to his palate; he sipped again,—put down the glass,—observed some trilling change, he thought, in the colour of the liquor;—again put it to his lips,—its offensiveness seemed increased: impulsively, as it were, suspicion flashed upon his mind,—he rung the bell, and commanded the servant who came not to quit the room, while another was sent to order the instant attendance of a medical gentleman, who soon presented himself and on his assaying the wine, instantly pronounced that in the goblet to be strongly impregnated with an active vegetable poison, while that part remaining in the bottle was wholly free and in its pure state. This was evidence too convicting to admit of any possible doubt, and suddenly brought him (Mr. G——,) to his rational senses: now it was his thoughts reverted to the fate of the once lovely, but for ever lost to him, Miss Lennam Penville; struck with deep-goading remorse, he now viewed her death as a murder, in which Rachel was the primary agent and himself, in her hand, the vile instrument of its cruel perpetration!
Stung with these hurried thoughts and reflections, he started from his seat and left her and at once gave preremptory directions to his servants for instantly ejecting her then, that night from his house, with whatever property was there belonging to her, and a sum of money to be put into her hands at her departure, never to see him more. Those orders were executed with the utmost precision, and Rachel, now found herself completely thrown upon the world without a protector, abandoned to her own guilty reflections, and left in sole dependence upon her wits for her future means of subsistance:
To arts, the generants of actions foul,
And vice, the inbred tenant of her soul.
From this period to the time she next appeared conspicuously figuring on the theatre of her depraved and lewd career, a lapse of nearly three years intervened, and nothing was known of her; no trace of report led curiosity to her abode, marked the step of her retreat, or pointed the finger of conjecture to the quarter of then obscure existence; the chain of her notoriety, during that interval, was completely broken asunder, so that supposition had no other conclusion to form than either she must have emigrated entirely to some other country, or that death had, in more friendly haste, snatched her from a life of infamy which even then seemed her destiny, to which she appeared on the broad high road, and at the very acme foreboded of that infamy, she has through time's eventful space finally arrived.
Afterwards it was, however, discovered that during this alluded to interregnum of shameless notoriety, by which she had before been, and has been since distinguished, she had not been idle in the wiley exercise of her fascinating powers of allurement, to her own immediate advantage and generally to the ultimate ruin, both as to peace and property of all who were unfortunate enough lo be caught in her toils.
During the interval referred to above, she traversed several provinces. New Hampshire, Connecticut. Delaware, New York, Massachusets, &c. &c. in all of which, more or less, many of before-happy families, through her syren influence, were reduced to a slate of domestic misery, and not a few were drained of the very last means of commonly decent support: thus and so destructive was the witchery of her presence wherever she had been, that to detail all the minute circumstances of her intrigues and their effects, as they occurred through and in that short interim of scarcely three years, would, in particulars, All volumes in lieu of pages,—
That would a tale unfold, which through the ear,
In telling as the deadly nightshade baneful.
Upon the heart to tender love attuned
A poison shed would be.—death to affection,
And change the kind and freely flowing stream
Of love, to hate of beauty's charms.
Next, pursuing the same course and in the full exercise of her alluring arts, Rachel Cunningham appeared in Franklin, County Pa. where she ensnared the affections of a Mr L—— one of the most wealthy and thitherto most respectable merchants of that county. In her illicit intimacy with that gentleman she so won him altogether to her purpose, so benumbed his reason by the magic of her lewd endearments, and so completely entwined his affections in the web of her amorous sorcery, that he became wholly regardless of his immediate interests, totally neglected all his general concerns, and gave himself entirely up to sensual indulgence in her unchaste society and lust-polluted embraces. Thus he sacrificed the happiness of his family by his own devotion to her, offended the feelings and forfeited the respect of his relatives, while, at the same time that his dereliction of moral prudence and self-respect excited the censure of his best friends on his conduct, it moved their pity for his weakness, to see him so unfortunately lost to every sense of manly feeling, as well as to that rectitude which should have preserved and supported bis character still unblemished in its worthiness.
Many of his most intimate, and most esteemed by him, acquaintances presumed the liberty of exerting their friendly influence in unqualified admonitions, by reasoning with him upon the seriously threatening results, as well as the disgusting and highly reproachable impropriety of his blind attachment to a connection of such disgraceful tendency; pointed out to him, in the strongest terms of reprobation, the selfish fraudulency in the mere show of affection practised toward him by the very unworthy object upon whom he was most profusely lavishing his means, and in whose impure embraces he was devoting himself to, and wasting his time in debauchery, which must, if he still thus persisted in the continuance of that course of destructive profligacy with her, terminate in his inevitable ruin.—But he was inexorably deaf to every thing they advanced with the hope of reclaiming him, except to those expressions of their feelings that involved her name in obloquy and degrading epithets, which generally moved his anger to retort, and hurl the application back upon the parties uttering them.
Such imperious, such firmly established command had Rachel attained over his passions, his desires, and his rational faculties, that his every power of reason was subdued to her wishes and every movement of his will was in her absolute guidance and control; nor did she hold that power unexercised or dormant in its force, but gave it ample operation upon and in the sway of Mr. L——'s disposition and subsequent conduct; for on her instigation of the act was effected a separation between himself and his wife, and the abandonment of his family which followed.
Mrs. L——, was of mild demeanour and domestic habits; had a share of personal beauty too, more than falls generally to the lot of females, and was withal accomplished, kind in her manners, of amiable endearing disposition, and most tenderly affectionate in her anxiety to promote her husband's happiness in all her duties both as a wife and a mother. To all this be added, she had borne him two lovely children, whose cast and mould of features, so closely the counterparts of their father most distinctly stamped them the genuine offspring of their mother's connubial faith. She also, at the time of her husband's secession from her, was some months advanced in her state of pregnancy. Thus deserted, thus left, thus plunged in heart wringing sorrow, and sunk in unmerited grief,—thus abandoned to soul-piercing bitter reflection on the cruelty of her treatment by the deluded partner of her bosom's love, and the legitimate protector of her fortunes, the goading poignancy and agonizing suffering of anguish she endured, baffles the powers of language to describe, and can only be left in the sympathetic feelings of the reader for imagination.
On this separation from his wife, Mr. L—— hired a handsome house, had it most elegantly furnished, and there cohabited entirely in adulterous intercourse with Rachel Cunningham, while his disconsolate and almost heart-broken wife was pining under the life-wasting effects of that affliction which his misconduct had brought upon her; and while the whole management of his commercial concerns was consigned to his clerks, to be conducted without any sort of directions either left with them by, or received from their principal, or any communication, excepting only his frequent orders upon them for supplies of money. But as the management of those sums, through her artful management of her inamorato, devolved generally upon her, the fact will not be doubted, that she so managed them (the sums of none; drawn,) to her own will and advantage that they were, after coming to hand, very speedily disposed of; for her profligate extravagance exceeded all bounds of liberal indulgence as her avarice was to get hold; but not to hold, at least not long, whatever monies or valuables she could possibly obtain possession of; all was wasted in riotous profusion and prodigal folly that came within her grasp.
Over Mr. L——'s will her power was imperatively resistless; she was the ruling deity of all his thoughts, his hopes, and his enjoyments: he would sit whole days gazing on her charms, till his enraptured fancy, led through bewildering admiration, absorbed his senses and involved his faculties in a maze of extatic delirium. When and wherever she moved his eyes would follow her with ineffable delight, while his heart fluttered in excessive transport, and his whole frame shook with blissful agitation. Her presence was his heaven of happiness, and if, but for a few minutes, she quitted the apartment he suffered most distressing impatience for her reappearance; when the spoke her voice was a celestial charm of divine music to his ear which seemed to vivify his very inmost soul; but her touch was positively electric, at which his passions became suddenly inflamed to amorous madness, his blood in hurried pulse rushed through each swelling vein, and every trembling nerve was instantaneously in motion!
'Twas burning joy! 'twas hot affection's fire!!
'Twas more than love;—'twas madness of desire!
Whatever she wished and however enormous the request might be, her surety for obtaining the object of it lay in her wheedling wiles; it was but to hang upon his neck, toy on his bosom, pat his cheek, apply her lips in wanton kisses to his, tickle him and amorously convolve herself with and about his person, to entrap his consent to and compliance with her fullest desires, in grant and execution to the utmost extent she willed and urged him to effect.
Daring the summer months, in gratification of her attached inclining to fashionable show and wasteful prodigality, he took her to all the places of licentious resort, traveling through the several provinces in the most expensive and dashing style, living and every where revelling to the highest degree of luxurious profusion in the enjoyments of loose and lust-excited pleasures: intemperate marked the path of their proceeding shameless folly bore the torch of notoriety before them, and every place of their abiding witnessed the unblushing infamy of their modesty-abashing demeanour and glaring adulterous connection. Mr. L—— was so well and generally known, and heretofore respected, that he was almost every where met by some person or persons who recognized him and knew the station he held in society at an eminent merchant of worthy character and repute, and though the degrading hum of ridicule on his dotage buzzed in his ears the inaccuracy of his conduct, yet so infatuatedly linked in the chain of Rachel's allurements was he, that he openly braved all the attacks of censure without as well as of reflection within, and such was the force of the delusion which involved his adherence to her and enslaved his reason, that even her most gross and shameful improprieties, however offensive to common decency in their exposure, were in his eyes so many traits of her splendid accomplishments, wit, and superior mental qualities.
Thus better,—thus yoked in amorous bondage, and moved only by the leading-strings of her will, she continued still to hold him securely in her will, she continued still to hold him securely in her toils the slave of her caprice. At length he returned with her to the house, before-mentioned, in Franklin County Pa. and there, without even once visiting his own immediate home, he remained with her in still adulterous cohabitation.
In the course of that period of her husband's absence from Franklin County, Mrs. L—— had sustained her accouchement of the child with which she was enceinte before his departure, but which infant expired in a few minutes after its birth, probably from, as the professional gentleman who attended her declared his belief to be, the excessive mental agitation its mother had suffered during the time of bearing. Since she had lain in, Mrs. L—— had continued confined to her bed, in a very doubtful state of indisposition; of which, er dangerons case, he (Mr. L——) had been informed by especial communication, but which he received and treated with the moat heartiest indifference to the expected consequence.
Notwithstanding all this, which one might have supposed quite enough to have operated a change in his conduct, favourable to his wife and family in a return to his bounden duties as a husband and a father, still Rachel's command of actions and his will continued unalterable in the sway she held over them. Nay more, he now became so proud of his connection with her, that he at various times invited persons of his acquaintance to witness, what he called, "her exquisite perfections," purposely for the pleasure he derived from the praises they would bestow upon her charms, which few, (however they reprobated his criminal attachment to her,) could withhold. Of whom one was a Monsieur Le Charbonnier, who was intimately acquainted as well as commercially connected with him; a French gentleman, a man of keen penetration, and what was still more, a man of open honest sentiment.
This gentleman being one evening at the house, and during Rachel's temporary absence from the sitting-room, having had the usual questions put lo him by Mr. L——, of "is she not a heavenly creature! so much tenderness in every look: is not she an exquisite beauty, such perfection, to enchantingly kind to every one and obligingly convenient in her manners, eh?" He replied, "Oui, Monsieur L——,; me vil allow vat she is all beauty vat you say agreeable, and to to all your friend, vat me can see as your money vil make convenient; mais, toujours a soi (illegible text)," said he, "elle est commode parfaitement, il paroit! Nothing more than as your purse, mon ami, sur ma foi!"
Mr. L—— received this reply with no very pleasing feelings of disappointment: he remained silent, but his countenance very intelligibly spoke out his chagrin: which being observed, the worthy Frenchman rejoined, "me do no mean to hurt your pride in this voman, but as my vord on it, you vil so find de end of it no good." Mr L—— waived the conversation,—Rachel re-entered the apartment, and in a short time, afterwards Monsieur Le Charbonnier rose from his seat, took his hat, and mere); saying, "Monsieur, je prends conge—bon soir!" immediately departed.
Whether the observations of this French friend had any weight or share in moving his reflections to the recovery of his reason and stimulating a resolution to dissolve the charm of his amorous enchantment, cannot on certainty be said, but most certain it is, that at a very short distance of time subsequent to the conversation mentioned^ he, Mr. L , as if suddenly struck with remorse from his past conduct, summoned sufficient courage to break the spell that bound him, and by a successful stratagem, effected through the aid of one of his confidential clerks, he finally succeeded in extricating himself.
This stratagem was as follows: having made up his mind to the sticking-point of determined execution of his purpose, he private communicated with the clerk alluded to upon that subject, and the plan to be pursued was thus arranged: a letter, purporting the highest importance in money affairs requiring his (Mr. L——'s) personal attendance without delay to meet the parties at a place considerably distant from Franklin County, was written and signed, as if from one of those parties,) by the said clerk, and brought to Mr. L——, in a packet with others. On reading this particular letter, he affected sudden and very great concern at the painful necessity it imposed upon him of separating himself, though but for a short time from her; (Rachel,) and promising his return should be as speedy as possible, he kissed her fervently and immediately set off, as she believed, for the place of appointment, but his journey was not a long one. The clerk, who was personally unknown to her, went the same evening to the house, as agreed upon, provided with a large sum of money about him, as a bait to be shown as needful to the occasion; he begged the lady would, though a stranger, allow a short interview with her in private, which he was readily admitted to; and having made proposals, with representations of himself as a gentleman of immense possessions, she as readily agreed to accompany him on the next day to a small town named, some few miles off, where it was settled they should sleep together, as he heeded not, he told her what sum of money should purchase such a delectable gratification of his desires; and on these mutual assurances he bade her a good night,—The next morning came, all was now in fair train: Rachel Cunningham's cunning genius had for this time deceived her, however. She entered the vehicle prepared and in waiting for her, with her new-caught paramour, as she believed the clerk to be, and drove off quite in high spirits for, and in a few hours arrived at the place previously fixed upon for her amour with him; from which she had promised herself much enjoyment and hoped to have benefitted largely; little dreaming of how that amour was destined to terminate.
No hovering sylph in friendly whisper spake
With kindly hint lulled caution to awake;
Nor told in thought the tale what ill would come,
Suspicion slept, and fearful doubt was dumb.
Arrived at their proposed place of destination, a sumptuous dinner was ordered and as expeditiously as it was possible served up in the best style; this, as she delighted in high living, was to Rachel of itself alone a heart-winning trait or outline of her (as she supposed him to be,) lover's unsparing liberality, from which she looked forward to a masterly filling up of the picture; but after dinner, while taking their wine freely, at which our heroine was no flincher, she was overwhelmed with astonishment at the excessively lavish bounty of her (pretended) captive, when towards the evening he, (Mr. L——'s clerk,) as he had had instructions to do, presented her with a sum, in hard cash, of such vast amount, as she thought it, for the first compliment, and that before any liberty with her person had yet been proceeded to, or even offered: she was amazed at bis forbearance, too, in this latter particular, However, as to the first, although the adage says. "those who pay before hand and those who never pay, are bad pay-masters," Rachel preferred the former to any other mode of paying whatsoever, therefore she hesitated not a moment to pocket the whole weight of gold presented to her, while the donor acquired three-hundred-fold more agreeableness in her sight than before.—Tea, coffee, and afterwards supper and wine and jollity succeeded, till at length the power of the copious draughts she had taken, and which had been purposely pressed upon her inclination, begun to operate with imperious potency in soporiferous effects: the attendance of the femme-de-chambre was required, by whom Rachel was carefully escorted to bed, wherein being safely deposited for the night. she was soon secure in the downy arms of Morpheus. While all this was going on Mr. L—— had not been idle at home.—The next morning, when our heroine, rather at a late hour, awoke, she was not a little surprised on finding no one in bed with her; she arose and in some agitation hastily dressed herself, came down stairs, and on inquiry below for her inamorato, was then informed that the gentleman with whom she came there, had discharged every demand soon after she had retired to repose, and immediately left the house in the vehicle that brought them.—This news excited her utmost wonder how to account for what had passed: she waited some few hours in doubt whether she could or not expect his (the clerk's) coming back to her. She at last—in short, returning to her former place of habitation, her astonishment exceeded all bounds when she found the house entirely stript close shut up, and every entrance barred against her, and when to complete which the subjoined letter was put into her hands, by a person stationed to await and watch her return.
Madame,—"I have at last found that reason which has too long been lost to me, and wholly neglected in all its proper uses; the result of which recovery is, that from this time our separation is final, and all further connection between us and every communication with this, from the present moment ceases for ever.
"The sum you were last night put in possession of, as the last you have to expect or will ever receive from me, will I trust, as intended, be amply sufficient to meet all your present emergencies. Your own immediate property, of apparel, ornaments, jewels, &c. of whatsoever kind and value, is all safely deposited where the bearer of this will attend you, and see the whole delivered up to your demand.
"Finally, adieu for ever,
" H. R. L————
"To Rachel Cunningham."
Thus conclusively did Mr. L—— succeed in extricating himself from the amorous thraldom in which she held him too long her slave, and, to the great joy of his family and friends, returned to his domestic duties. The heroine of this eventful drama does not hold us long in suspense, for in no prolonged period of time the scene shifts to, and we find her commencing the next art in Pittsberg, with captivating the affections of a wealthy blacksmith, who was also the proprietor of an extensive range of livery-stables. There again, she by her artful management of, and seductive power over his will, through her wiley machinations effected another matrimonial separation.
All her whole force of bad qualities, of basely vitiated principles, and most vilely vindictive feelings were called into action to support and carry into full effective operation her infamous purposes. Having once inveigled and caught him in the magic sphere of her attractive influence, she spared no exertion of her demoniacal malevolence, no means howsoever black in villainy, or assertion, though false at hell's deep guilt could make it, to bias, infect and poison his mind against his wife, the virtuous partner of his bosom; to excite his anger and provoke his hatred, till she (the blacksmith's wife,) felt too often the painful effects of the ire Rachel's malignity had engendered against her in corporeal suffering inflicted upon her by the hand of her husband, in the knowledge of which, most unnaturally brutal as it must seem, Rachel received not only a secret delight, but would, also, often express her pleasure by her approval of the deed:
A savage fiend in will,—of malice dire,—
Though seeming formed for love and soft desire.
He was so altogether the slave of her beauty, was so completely bewildered by the magic of her personal charms, and yielded his subdued reason so unreservedly to the entire government of her will, that he could neither think or act but as she influenced and directed. He became so decidedly the instrument of her designs and the obedient agent of her profligate commands, that she led him into every species of prodigal waste and sensual debauchery.
A circumstance took place, however, which finally broke this charm: his glaring folly and shameless infidelity, at length threw his wife into a violent stale of frenzy, who, in a fit of temporary madness and ungovernable desperation, set fire to his premises, by which all his extensive stables were totally burned to the ground, and more than forty horses were consumed with them besides other valuable property. This produced the effect the wife desired; it brought the blacksmith back to his senses and to his home again.
We now have our heroineoff in the high figure of her intriguing celebrity at Harrisburgh, the capitol of Pensylvania, as une dame d'haut-gout,, a leading fashionable, and the polar magnet of lascivious attraction; where she vary soon entrapped, in her toils, and formed an amorous intimacy with Judge F– – – – – – –, a name prominently conspicuous and foremost in the list of debauchees in that said pious, and exemplary state. Notwithstanding the dignity of his rank, the gravity of his official character, and, above all, the ample experience he must have derived from his many engagements in prior amours and lustful connections with similar loose fish. Judge F– – – – – – – was as deeply smitten by her alluring graces, as much fascinated with her beauty, and not less the purblind dupe of her cunning practices, than any of her former lovers had proved themselves to be.
What her reason was for leaving the judge is not certain; but is has generally been said to be, that the judge was to far gone for her, too much worn out in the service of Venus by his former debaucheries, to afford our heroine that satisfaction her warmth of constitution naturally required.
The next principal and most horrible scene, from the appalling atrocities of it, took place in Alleghany County, where this vile, this infamous woman gives full loose to her diabolical disposition; and the following circumstances of deep and damning criminality, involving the perpetration of the blackest deeds of guilt, will afford the fullest demonstration, in development of her character, that never did monster in the shape of woman, and bearing angel show of form without, have more the spirit of the foulest fury within that hell's worst malice could engender:
If that a soul it be her form inhabit,
'Twas the arch-fiend, then, did most sure infuse
And with hit fondest breath give life!
If ever the devil had hand in giving a woman life and being, Rachel Cunningham, is most assuredly one who comes within his rightful claim as primary author of her existence; for though her outward person was beauteous to behold, it was the inborn, vindictive, vengeful spirit of a Bend that gave it animation to act and instigate to murder.
At this place, (Hagerstown Md.) she practised her wiles with more fatal effect, in the ultimate consequences than hitherto had marked her licentious career. She had by her intrigues obtained great notoriety, and personal intimacy was sought with her, and enjoyed by many gentlemen of consideration, as men of property age leading debauchees of the town and country; till at length, she attracted the amorous notice of the sheriff, George Van Swearingen, whose affections she ensnared, in the first instance, by an artfully-managed stratagem purposely planned and practiced to entrap him: she one day way-layed him, when it happened he had been engaged on some public duty, and was returning from it on foot; she had dressed and decorated her person that day, in the most effective manner she could to give her natural charms their full force of captivating influence for rendering conquest certain, and thus prepared she threw herself in his way; when chance favoured her, as if intentionally becoming an accomplice in her purpose, occasioned a horse, then passing, suddenly to start near her, just as the sheriff was approaching, on which she, pretending alarm at the accidental circumstance, fell as if in a fainting-fit, produced thereby, taking care to have the lower part of her clothes in no very decent state of disorder as she lay: Van Swearingen, as might be supposed, immediately flew to her assistance, raised her up again, and supported in his arms till she, in a few minutes, recovered from the fit she had counterfeited; when the, in a tone of most bewitching softness, thanked him for his kind attention. Struck with the beauty of a female of such seeming loveliness, he was instantly captivated. The trap so baited and the pigeon to secured and caged with her in her private apartment, it can be very easily imagined what there transpired to fix him in attachment lo her, which led to at horrible events in the sequel as ever yet disgraced and blackened the human character.
It was now that his fate seemed to have left him totally without a choice or will of his own to act: he was now wholly lost to all social obligation and every moral tie, that should have bound him to the rectitude of natural and common duty, was broken and set at naught. From that moment Rachel Cunningham's ascendancy over him was proudly absolute and uncontrollable; he became, from that hour of his being ensnared by her, the abject slave of her caprice and the very drudge of her guilty machinations. Her influence was the active principle in all he did, and her hellish instigation the sole director of his steps to the last and most appalling of crimes!
This connection, and the imprudent criminality of it, in the adulterous share pertaining to the sheriff, became the general topic of conversation and severe censure: he sacrificed himself and his time entirely to her society in riotous revelries and lewd debauch?
The adulterous connection still continued in wastefull profusion, in blushless lewdness of dissipation, and shamefully immodest profligacy.
Under the severity of suffering and smarting with the jealous pangs his cruel conduct inflicted on his wife, she, whenever they met, naturally vented on him the most poignant reproaches. On one of which occasions, slung with the force of just reproof, he afterwards, while with Rachel, evinced unusual disquietude, when, on seeing it, she inquired the cause, as she fondling hung upon his neck with wheedling kisses seemingly to sooth his uneasiness; on which with a sigh he replied:
"Nothing, my dearest love! but,—that I wish to heaven that woman, that plague, my wife, was dead."
Rachel, eagerly catching at that wish, for that, that wish was really hers, hastily replied, "that wish then completed can be your's; and speedily."
"Ay; but then" said he, "there a fearful—"
"A fearful what? A folly." cried she, "too weak for thought! Resolve at once—I'll aid you in it, and stake my life upon the danger being nothing."
Having all their infernal machinery of destruction in perfect readiness, as he (the Sheriff,) had always in his possession the key of a small private door of his house, by which at all hours of the night he had been accustomed, at time, to enter, no difficulty was opposed to their admission, and if perchance heard in the house by any of the servants, no suspicion of its being any one but their master was at all likely to be excited; therefore, a little after midnight, of the night appointed, Van Swearingen, with his demon-like accomplice, Rachel, entered by the door alluded to; they proceeded upstairs cautiously to the bedchamber, where his wife lay fast asleep, (it was her last.) in peaceful unconsciousness of the murderous hand being so nigh.
They now, with the instruments of death, while still she slept, approached her bed arranging themselves, Rachel one side, and the husband of their victim on the other, each holding an end of a strong cord brought with them for the purpose ready prepared, with a running noose in the middle of it, to be slipped over the head to the neck of the so destined sacrifice to lust and treachery: but lest, in effecting this, alarm might arise out of her awaking too soon, to secure her certain silence they, at the moment of passing the noose over her head, instantly covered her whole face, eyes, nose, and month, with a thickly-spread plaister of birdlime closely pressed upon it;  and each, in the act of wrangling her, and drawing the noose light about her neck, pulled at the opposite ends of the cord with all their might for some time, and then made each end fast to the bed-posts, that possibility of returning life might remain.
They then ransacked every secret drawer, place, and cabinet recess, and took every portable valuable they could find in the room, or elsewhere at hand. That done, they placed and lighted a quantity of combustible materials immediately under the bed of their murdered victim, making sure of that, and the whole house, with its inmates included, being totally destroyed before daylight, and were then retreating, when Rachel, with most internal fiend-engendered savageness of heart, us it were "to make assurance doubly sure," by herself returned to Mr. Van Swearingen's bed, and cut her throat. literally, from ear to ear! Their bloody work thus finished, they escaped together from the house undiscovered, and unobserved to Rachel's residence, where they (without a light, as caution dictated,) immediately went to bed, but whether, under such a weight of frightful enormity, they could sleep, remain in negative conjecture.
The next morning they (Van Swearingen and his accomplice, Rachel,) were astonished that all abroad was silent; no consternation at, or alarm of fire, as they expected, was heard The combustible matter they had kindled, had from some cause not ascertained, gone out, as supposed, soon after they had left it. About the middle of the day, the Sheriff's servants became alarmed that their mistress, who was accustomed to rather early rising, had not that morning appeared: their alarm increased, when on one knocking at her chamber no answer was given; they (the servants.) assembled and opening the door, entered together, when a most appalling spectacle presented itself to them, in their murdered lady, in the horrible state already described, and the room flowing with blood; the only circumstance, perhaps, that might account for the fire being extinguished.
Alarm instantaneously spread; various reports, on surmise circulated; the house had certainly not been broken into. Van Swearingen affected the deepest and feigned even frenzy at the fate of his wife in the course of the afternoon, however, suspicion whispered too loudly, not to be heard and distinctly understood by him and his she-demon accomplice. Guilt was the positive accuser, and self-preservation became now their only leading counsel: they had no time to lose, and in the middle of that night, covered, by darkness, through the black, deep-sable shade of nocturnal gloom, black as their monstrous crimes, they passed unseen, and effected their flight from Hagerstown and Alleghany County altogether, without a trace-step of the route they had taken being known.
On the following day a Proclamation was issued by the Governor, offering a large reward for their apprehension.
They had crossed the country in various directions, and by bye-roads had successfully eluded pursuit, although parties in active chase were dispatched, and pressing forward through all parts to gain a scent, if possible, of the course they might have chosen, till however, at length their luck forsook them.
They had passed the night at a tavern, the keeper, or landlord of which, happened also to be a post-master. They regaled themselves and enjoyed their supper and wine there, in seemingly high spirits and jollity; yet mine host, for some cause or other conceived, that he discovered a something singularly strange in their manners. They retired to bed, breakfasted there the next morning, paid their bill, and departed, the mail arrived at the tavern with Governor Kent's Proclamation, describing the person of Van Swearingen and that of his paramour and accomplice in the murder of his wile. Suspicion was at once directed towards them, and the post-master, collecting a few neighbours, set off instantly in pursuit and overlook them near the red-river, in Kentucky County. On being approached and ordered to surrender, he (the Sheriff,) drew and discharged a brace of pistols at the party, as also, the same did Rachel, swearing vehemently at the line, that she would not be taken alive, and defending herself in desperate resistance with the butt-ends of her pistols to the very last extremity against their assailants, till at length quite exhausted and overpowered by numbers only, or she, Rachel, would not have yielded, they were both taken, secured, and brought back prisoners to Alleghany County, to await the decree of justice and punishment of the law by and in expiation of their hideous offences and horrible crimes of matchless atrocity under the hands of the common executioner.
Her conduct, while on trial, was most vehemently outrageous after sentence, in jail her imprecations and threats of vengeance to all around her were truly terrific, and at her last moment, when there were not more than three breathings betwixt her and eternity, while she exclaimed, "By Go—! I'll suffer no injury without resenting it!" she struck her forehead with such violence, in the effort, upon the face of the executioner, then near hers, that it actually blackened both his eyes, and brought a copious purple stream from his nasal organ; on the sight of which she burst into a fit of loud-laughing extacy, in the midst of which, death closed her life of infamy for ever.
Printed by Edw. Duncombe, Middle-row, Holborn.
- It is said, that it was with the utmost astonishment observed, when she was made acquainted with the melancholy event, she did not betray even the slightest emotion or trifling symptom indicative of filial affection having existence in her bosom; but turned from the tale of grief to her usual common amusement, as destitute of every natural feeling and wholly regardless of what had happened.
- By this it would appear that the parties were under apprehensions that suicide might have been committed, which we think could scarcely have been conceived, considering her volatile disposition.
- We can confidently assert on our own knowledge of the fact, that Rachel Cunningham, was not singular in that opinion by several instances: one married woman of rather loose habits we have heard, that the kisses of any other man than her husband were, to her lips, as rich hot cordials compared to cold water.
- Had the history of this disgrace of her sex closed here, and left us in ignorance of her profligate career, we could scarcely have looked forward in supposition, for an incident of her life stronger in proof of her innate depravity.
- We think this gentleman's must have been a most painful service of guardianship to keep his lamb sweet from chance pollution,
- It would appear from this, that we owe the merit of the plaister-work so much noised about is this country, to the example of American ingenuity.