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- [Sub The Tory's Daughter] - 40/72 -
accents--"with such sentiments, dear lady, will you doom me to plead my heart's cause in vain? Will you still adhere to a lover active in the work of oppression which you condemn, and reject his rival, equally active in the cause you approve and pray for?"
"I see my error, Mr. Woodburn," she replied, with an air of self-reproach and of slightly-offended pride, which, however, gave way to kindly tones, as she proceeded; "I have unintentionally helped you to an argument, while I am constrained to decide that no argument, so long as I stand in my present position, must prevail with me. Do not, then, O, do not press me with questions like these. You know not the extent of my perplexities, and I may not explain. Besides, are these the times to engage in such affairs, when the next hour may lead to an eternal separation, or place our respective destinies as wide as the poles asunder?"
"But will you not allow me even to hope for the future?" still persisted the lover.
"Why should I bid you tantalize yourself with hopes so likely to prove futile, when nobler thoughts should engross you? Look, Mr. Woodburn," she said, pointing, with charming enthusiasm, towards the distant summits of Manchester, then beginning to be dimly visible in the rays of the rising moon, "cast your eyes northward! Beneath yon blue mountains is gathered the council of your people. There also rolls the recruiting drum of your brave Warner, who needs men like you; or if, as you intimated, you are waiting to engage in a different corps, which your council is expected to raise, would not your attendance there be more worthily bestowed, than in adding to the perplexities of one already so thickly surrounded with difficulties, and one who, to your suit, cannot say yea, while she would be pained to say nay?"
"Cruel girl, but noble in your cruelty!" exclaimed Woodburn, with mingled disappointment and admiration. "I will forbear to press my suit for the present, but not forever. I will heed the lesson of patriotism you have given me, but only to remember my fair prompter with deeper devotion."
"Hark!" said the other, starting; "I hear my father's chiding voice in the house inquiring for me. I must go. Adieu, Mr. Woodburn. With this tendered hand of friendship and gratitude, adieu."
"If it must be so, my precious, my beautiful one, farewell to you, also."
Lips uttered no more, but the mute pause that followed, while eye met eye, and hand lingered in hand, was not meaningless. The fond lover was not permitted, however, to prolong the entrancing moment, which, as the slightly-returned pressure of the small white hand, closely imprisoned in his own, told him, had not been reluctantly vouchsafed him; for, quickly arousing herself, the maiden broke from his clinging grasp, and tripped silenty away, leaving him gazing after her retreating form, and listening to the soft and decreasing sounds of her light footsteps upon the grass, till the jar of the closing door, to which she had directed her devious course, made him feel that he was alone, and that the charm of the place was gone.
With a sigh, he turned from the spot, and soon gained the highway; when, taking the direction in which his rival and foe had departed, he walked musingly onward, heedless alike of the cool and balmly air of the evening, or the quietly reposing beauties which the light of a full moon, now beginning to peer over the eastern hills, was gradually unfolding around him, and intent only on the dreamy images with which love and his new-fledged hope seemed conspiring for a while to amuse his willing mind. At length, however, a quickened pace, a firmer tread, and a prouder bearing, showed that a different and less peaceful train of thought was springing up within.
"So this evil genius of mine, it seems," he muttered, "who forever appears in my path to snatch from me every prize I set my heart on, is secretly an officer in the British service, commissioned, probably, to head a regiment of tories, whom he is now by his false statements and delusive promises, attempting to gather from the weak and wavering of our overawed people. This must be instantly made known. Heavens! what effrontery!--to be playing the spy under the garb of pretended neutrality, and seducing away the deluded men under our very noses, to lead them back to fall with fire and sword on their kindred and neighbors! And I am to be the particular object of his vengeance, I presume, from the significant hint she gave me to avoid him. Avoid him! He shall be spared much trouble to find me if that is what he wants. He is now the country's foe, and lawful game with me. I would that I could meet him tonight--yes, this night; and if I thought I could overtake him--stay, why can't this be done?--only three miles start, probably, and on a moderate trot; while my horse is a fleet one, and--and--we will try it."
By this time he had reached a log house, and barn of the same materials, which formed a small opening on the left side of the road, and which was the residence of a recently-married and here settled friend, in whose care he had left his horse before proceeding, as on the lady's account he did, through the adjoining wood and Haviland's broad fields beyond, to the clandestine interview with her that we have described. And now turning in towards this rude establishment, he hastily proceeded, without calling at the house, directly to the barn, that was partially enclosed by one of those close-laid, high, pole fences which the settlers usually constructed round their barns to protect their flocks against the depredations of wild beasts. Within this strong enclosure, the owner's cattle, consisting of a pair of oxen, cow, and two or three young creatures of the same species, were now quietly chewing their cuds, with those occasional wheezing grunts, which with them seem so indicative of animal enjoyment; while in one corner stood the horse of which Woodburn was in quest--a little model of a creature, of a lively, attent appearance, as now particularly manifested by a low, earnest, recognizing whinny, and by instantly starting off, in a sort of half trot towards the bars of the enclosure, as her master came up on the other side.
"Yes, yes, Lightfoot, you shall go now, and as fast as you desire, this time," responded the latter, throwing himself over the bars, and patting the animal on the neck, as he passed on to the barn for his saddle and bridle.
To equip his willing steed, examine the trusty pistols, which, like his foe, he carried about his person, let down, pass through, and replace the bars, occupied him but a moment, and he was about springing into his saddle, when he was hailed from the house.
"Halloo, there, Woodburn, is that you?" exclaimed a cheerly voice, as a stout-built, crank, honest-looking young man, without hat or coat, came out of the door, and with a free and careless air made his way towards the other; "but what is your hurry? Nothing unpleasant has befallen you in your affair over yonder that makes you feel like being off in this sly and hasty manner, has there?"
"No, Risdon, not quite so bad as that yet," replied Woodburn, taking all in good part.
"How much better, then? Come, Harry, I have taken stones enough out of your path, and thrown them into that of your rival there, to earn a candid answer to such a question."
"True, sir; but you ask more than I am permitted to know myself. I can neither get accepted nor rejected. She, however has given me fresh reason to admire her. She is no common girl, friend Risdon."
"There is not a finer or fairer in all the Green Mountains; but what is that fresh reason you name?"
"The discovery that at heart she is warmly with us in the good cause."
"That is, you hope, and therefore believe so, eh?"
"I have a much better reason than that, sir, for my assertion. She has, within this hour, told me so herself."
"Ah! Well, then, it is indeed so; for Sabrey Haviland never uttered aught but perfect truth and sincerity in all her life. Why, God bless her for her spunk and independence, living and visiting, as she mostly has, from a child, in that circle of high-toned and bitter tories. And it argues well for your suit, too, Woodburn, which till now I have considered rather an unpromising one; for it tells me that she will struggle hard to get free from the fetters which Peters and her father have fastened on her, and by which, counting on her high sense of the sacredness of all promises and contracts, they suppose have secured her beyond the least fear of escape."
"Do you allude to any thing other than the mere consent which she formerly gave to Peters's proposals of marriage, and which, I had supposed, constituted the only engagement existing between them?"
"Yes, a far stronger case, which I have learned by way of my wife, since I last conversed with you on the subject."
"Ah! What is it?" eagerly demanded the lover.
"Why as I gathered it, the case was this," answered the other. "The old man, as well as Peters, you know, must always do things, if possible, after the English custom; and both thinking more of property than women, they got up a regularly-written marriage contract, or settlement, by which one bound himself to give the other his daughter, with such and such a dowry, and the other to marry the daughter, and settle such and such sums on her and her heirs, all to be void in case the marriage fell through by fault of the girl. But to provide against this, they made another part to the instrument for her to sign, in which they made her solemnly promise and covenant to marry Peters, and none else; otherwise she was to forfeit her birthright in her father's estate. This they somehow or other at last induced her to sign and seal thus binding herself hand and foot forever, with but one single advantage, which, it seems, she had the wit to get added to the contract before she would sign it; and that was, that the time of fulfilling the contract, or day of the marriage, was to be left to her."
"What a detestable conspiracy for a father to enter into against the rightful liberty and happiness of a daughter!" exclaimed Woodburn, after a pause, during which surprise and indignation kept him silent. "That, then, explains the hints she has several times thrown out to me respecting some peculiar trials and difficulties to which she was subjected. But was she of age when she signed that paper?"
"No; but she probably, in her great scrupulousness, would long hesitate to break the engagement on account of that, or the fraudulent means they doubtless used to draw her into the shameful affair. Nevertheless, I would persevere. Her right to stave off the fellow, with her known wish to get rid of him, may yet procure her an honorable release; or she may be brought to take a different view about the binding nature of a promise obtained under such circumstances; or, as a last resort, that paper may be got out of his possession by some scheme or other. So I think you will worst him in the long run, in spite of his present advantages of the father's help, his own wealth, and----"
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