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- The Hallam Succession - 20/43 -
of an unlimited capacity for pride, passion, aristocratic--or cottonocratic--self-sufficiency. In his best moods he was well aware of the dangerous points in his character, and kept a guard over them; otherwise they came prominently forward; and, sitting in John Millard's presence, Richard Fontaine was very much indeed the Richard Fontaine of a nature distinctly overbearing and uncontrolled.
John Millard leaned against the pillar of the piazza, talking to him. He had a brown, handsome face, and short, brown, curly hair. His eyes were very large and blue, with that steely look in them which snaps like lightning when any thing strikes fire from the heart. He was very tall and straight, and had a lofty carriage and an air of command. His dress was that of an ordinary frontiersman, and he wore no arms of any kind, yet any one would have said, with the invincible assurance of a sudden presentiment, "The man is a soldier."
Richard and he were talking of frontier defense, and Richard, out of pure contradiction, was opposing it. In belittling the cause he had some idea that he was snubbing the man who had been fighting for it. John was just going to reply when Phyllis's approach broke the sentence in two, and he did not finish it. He stood still watching her, his whole soul in his face; and, when he took her hands, said, heartily, "O, Phyllis, I am so happy to see you again! I was afraid I never would!"
"What nonsense!" said Richard, coldly; "a journey to Europe is a trifle--no need to make a fuss about it; is there, Phyllis? Come, let us go to dinner. I hear the bell."
Before dinner was over the sun had set and the moon risen. The mocking-birds were singing, the fire-flies executing, in the sweet, languid atmosphere, a dance full of mystery. The garden was like a land of enchantment. It was easy to sit still and let the beauty of heaven and earth sink into the heart. And for some time John was contented with it. It was enough to sit and watch the white-robed figure of Phyllis, which was thrown into the fairest relief by the green vines behind it. And Richard was silent because he was trying to conquer his resentment at John finding satisfaction in the exquisite picture.
Perhaps few people understand how jealous a true brotherly love can be, How tenderly careful of a sister's welfare, how watchful of all that pertains to her future happiness, how proud of her beauty and her goodness, how exacting of all pretenders to her favor. His ideal husband for Phyllis was not John Millard. He wondered what she could see to admire in the bronzed frontier soldier. He wondered how John could dare to think of transplanting a gentlewoman like Phyllis from the repose and luxury of her present home to the change and dangers and hardships of pioneer life.
It would have been an uncomfortable evening if the Bishop had not called. He looked at John and loved him. Their souls touched each other when they clasped hands. Perhaps it was because the nature of both men was militant--perhaps because both men loved frontier fighting. "I like," said the old soldier of Christ, "I dearly like to follow the devil to his outposts. He has often fine fellows in them, souls well worth saving. I was the first Methodist--I may say the first Protestant preacher--that entered Washington County, in Texas. Texas was one of our mission stations in 1837. I never was as happy as when lifting the cross of Christ in some camp of outlaws."
"Did they listen to you?"
"Gladly. Many of them clung to it. The worst of them respected and protected me. One night I came to a lonely log-house in the Brazos woods--that was 'far, far West' then. I think the eight men in it were thieves; I believe that they intended to rob, and perhaps to murder, me. But they gave me supper, and took my saddle-bags, and put up my horse. 'Reckon you're from the States,' one said. 'Twelve months ago.' 'Any news?' 'The grandest. If you'll get your boys together I'll tell you it.'"
"They gathered very quickly, lit their pipes, and sat down; and, sitting there among them, I preached the very best sermon I ever preached in my life. I was weeping before I'd done, and they were just as wretched as I like to see sinners. I laid down among them and slept soundly and safely. Ten years afterward I gave the sacrament to four of these very men in Bastrop Methodist Church. If I was a young man I would be in the Rio Grande District. I would carry 'the glad tidings' to the ranger camps on the Chicon and the Secor, and the United States forts on the Mexican border. It is 'the few sheep in the wilderness' that I love to seek; yea, it is the scape-goats that, loaded with the sins of civilized communities, have been driven from among them!"
Richard started to his feet. "My dear father, almost you persuade me to be a missionary!"
"Ah, son Richard, if you had the 'call' it would be no uncertain one! You would not say 'almost;' but it is a grand thing to feel your heart stir to the trumpet, even though you don't buckle on the armor. A respectable, cold indifference makes me despair of a soul. I have more hope for a flagrant sinner."
"I am sure," said John, "our camp on the San Saba would welcome you. One night a stranger came along who had with him a child--a little chap about five years old. He had been left an orphan, and the man was taking him to an uncle that lived farther on. As we were sitting about the fire he said, 'I'm going into the wagon now. I'm going to sleep. Who'll hear my prayers?' And half a dozen of the boys said, 'I will,' and he knelt down at the knee of Bill Burleson, and clasped his hands and said 'Our Father;' and I tell you, sir, there wasn't a dry eye in camp when the little chap said 'Amen.' And I don't believe there was an oath or a bad word said that night; every one felt as if there was an angel among us."
"Thank you, John Millard. I like to hear such incidents. It's hard to kill the divinity in any man. And you are on the San Saba? Tell me about it."
It was impossible for Richard to resist the enthusiasm of the conversation which followed. He forgot all his jealousy and pride, and listened, with flashing eyes and eager face, and felt no angry impulse, although Phyllis sat between the Bishop and John, and John held her hand in his. But when the two young men were left alone the reaction came to Richard. He was shy and cold. John did not perceive it; he was too happy in his own thoughts.
"What a tender heart your sister has, Richard. Did you see how interested she was when I was telling about the sufferings of the women and children on the frontier?"
"No; I fancied she was rather bored."
John was at once dashed, and looked into Richard's face, and felt as if he had been making a bragging fool of himself. And Richard was angry, and ashamed, for a gentleman never tells a lie, though it be only to his own consciousness, without feeling unspeakably mean. And by a reflex motion of accountability he was angry with John for provoking him into so contemptible a position.
The "good-night" was a cooler one than the evening had promised; but Richard had recollected himself before he met John in the morning; and John, for Phyllis's sake, was anxious to preserve a kindly feeling. Love made him wise and forbearing; and he was happy, and happiness makes good men tolerant; so that Richard soon saw that John would give him no excuse for a quarrel. He hardly knew whether he was glad or sorry, and the actions and speech of one hour frequently contradicted those of the next.
Still there followed many days of sunshine and happy leisure, of boating and fishing, of riding upon the long stretch of hard sands, of sweet, silent games of chess in shady corners, of happy communion in song and story, and of conscious conversations wherein so few words meant so much. And perhaps the lovers in their personal joy grew a little selfish, for; one night the Bishop said to Phyllis, "Come and see me in the morning, daughter, I have something to say to you."
He was sitting waiting for her under an enormous fig-tree, a tree so large that the space it shadowed made a pretty parlor, with roof and walls of foliage so dense that not even a tropical shower could penetrate them. He sat in a large wicker-chair, and on the rustic table beside him was a cup of coffee, a couple of flaky biscuits, and a plate of great purple figs, just gathered from the branches above him. When Phyllis came, he pulled a rocking-chair to his side, and touched a little hand-bell. "You shall have some coffee with me, and some bread and fruit; eating lubricates talking, dear, and I want to talk to you-- very seriously."
"About John, father?"
"Yes, about John. You know your own mind, Phyllis Fontaine? You are not playing with a good man's heart?"
"I told you two years ago, father, that I loved John. I love him still. I have applied the test my leader gave me, and which I told you of. I am more than willing to take John for eternity; I should be miserable if I thought death could part us."
"Very good--so far; that is, for John and yourself. But you must think of Richard. He has claims upon you, also. Last night I saw how he suffered, how he struggled to subdue his temper. Phyllis, any moment that temper may subdue him, and then there will be sorrow. You must come to some understanding with him. John and you may enjoy the romance of your present position, and put off, with the unreasonable selfishness of lovers, matter-of-fact details, but Richard has a right to them."
"Am I selfish, father?"
"I think you are."
"What must I do?"
"Send John to speak plainly to Richard. That will give your brother an opportunity to say what he wishes. If the young men are not likely to agree, tell John to propose my advice in the matter. You can trust me to do right, daughter?"
"Yes, I can."
In the evening Phyllis called on the Bishop again. He was walking in his garden enjoying the cool breeze, and when he saw her carriage he went to meet her. A glance into her face was sufficient. He led her into the little parlor under the fig-tree. "So you are in trouble, Phyllis?"
"Yes, father. The conversation you advised had unfortunately taken place before I got an opportunity to speak to John. There has been a quarrel."
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