THE remainder of the day commenced in the preceding chapter, was spent in earnest conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Leamington. Much of the night was spent in prayer. Next morning, Mr. Wardloe, fearing further application in behalf of Frank, departed before the family arose, leaving kind messages and a promise of his return in a few days.
During breakfast our two friends were silent, unable to talk on common topics, and unwilling before the servants to converse on the topic now absorbing them. But shortly after, committing the children to Carrie, they withdrew to the study, where the conversation was resumed.
"My noble-hearted wife," said Edward in reply to a proposal—"were it not for my solemn vow I could accept your most generous offer—your real sacrifice."
"Dear husband, your sacrifice would be greater than mine—but we can make them. I am no theologian, Edward, and I cannot answer you with arguments; but my heart feels you would not offend God by an act of humanity. Surely, no vow can bind you if it prevents help to a sufferer—can it?"
"Perhaps, dear, I am morbidly scrupulous. Oh wife, help me, if you can, to think I commit no sin that my vow may be disregarded—and I will love you more than ever! None can tell what I have endured! The poor kneeling slave!—his clasped hands!—his earnest, piercing eye, looking into my very soul!—I dare not—I cannot reject him! And yet I fear to sin; although if I do reject him, his look will haunt me till I die!—it will be more terrible even then than the frown of death!"
"Oh! my Edward! your vow was taken without an intelligent view of possible cases. You would never—no, never, have vowed with this case in view. It may be excepted now. How often have I heard you say, 'God is the Infinite Reason of the Universe:' and that reason must approve, if ours does. God is Infinite Love, Edward! and my woman's heart feels you may venture; and my heart, I know, is here better than your logic."
"Mary! my feelings are the same as yours."
"And they cannot be wrong. Dear husband, remember how often you have said
that 'hiring other
men's slaves encouraged slavery as much as buying.'"
"I think so yet."
"Why, Edward, the slaves we sometimes hire are not so happy or so well instructed as those we own."
"That is true, Mary. Indeed, the hired slaves have several times privately asked me to buy them; and I always, for their sakes, poor fellows, did wish we owned them. How sad they often looked when their time was out here! Oh! dear wife! what an evil is the system!"
"I own it: yet surely, husband, that does not forbid our alleviating what we cannot cure?"
"Oh, no! no! Ah! if some honest and good men of the North saw as I now see, their judgment would be changed. I feel heartily ashamed of what I once thought and said. Well, I mean right. I will, although with trembling, venture. But now I fear our ability to outbid the dealer."
"Fear not, Edward! I know when I could not say this: but I have better learned my duty and my privilege. Edward, with divine help, I will sacrifice all! Christ says we should die for one another; and Frank is a Christian!"
Edward did not answer, he only interrupted this true Christian woman by folding her to his bosom. And then he felt he was absolved of his vow and that God approved. In a few moments, however, he spoke:
"God has given us a heart to do, and He will find the means. But, dear wife, a sad suspicion now and then, spite of all my convictions, steals over me, that, possibly, before his conversion, Frank may have been concerned in that conspiracy."
"Never, Edward! never!"
"How can you speak so confidently?"
"You must be told now, although Frank's life even now would be risked, if the secret becomes known to the blacks. Before we went North this summer, Mrs. Freeman without intending it, led me to believe Frank had disclosed the plot to her, and when she perceived her unintentional disclosure, she whispered, 'I will see Mr. Leamington on your return—I will tell him a great secret; but do not for the world allow yourself, my dear friend, on any account whatever, to speak of this, it will most assuredly cause great evil.' I solemnly promised, but Frank's own good absolves me from my vow.
"My dear wife, Frank shall be redeemed, if I die a beggar! To-day I will see Mr.Wardloe and make an effort to obtain some aid."
"It will be unavailing, Edward. Uncle believes Frank to be guilty. It would not do to tell him the little I know. It might not convince him, nor could he keep the secret if it did. It might cost Frank his life. Our only help is in God."
"Well, Mary, I will, at least, try."
"Dear husband, let us once more lift up our hearts together to God. I feel that He will help us."
And these children of God, deemed by some vile, and reprobate; and cursed, in the scornful indignation of meetings wrought to fury by a speaker playing the orator, and for sport showing the occasional cruelties enacted here and there in the South—these knelt and implored the divine aid and guidance in redeeming a brother. Aye! ye men of the Church, in the North and across the water, ye will some day blush and shed remorseful tears, because ye misunderstood, and misrepresented, and abused your southern brethren! Ye will ask to kiss their hands, and beg to be forgiven!
* * * * * *
Toward evening, Mr. L. was at Eagle Island, called thus from leing a favorite resort of bald-eagles and all sorts of birds that live by their talons. Here taking a short path from the water's edge, he quickly met Mr. Wardloe, who was promenading in the piazza: when, salutations over, both entered the parlor, and Mr. L. opened the conversation:
"Uncle Wardloe, you will not refuse me?"
"Edward," interrupted the uncle, "you put me on guard, and well; for there is little I can refuse you. Still there is one thing I must refuse."
"Uncle, I fear I lack caution; and yet the best way to approach you is, to be open and direct."
"To another I would say, blarney! but I cannot to you."
"And yet, uncle, if I ever spoil from praise, blame yourself."
"Come, Edward; what's in the wind? If I can help I will."
"Of that I am as sure as of my existence. Yet I am half afraid to do my errand."
"I can guess it?"
"Yes—I come about Frank."
"I feared so. But, dear Edward, I pity—but I cannot help. The fellow just escaped hanging; he ought, at least, to suffer what he may get south-west."
"Uncle, I know Frank is innocent!"
"Sir, he is not! how do you know better than I?—better than the planters?"
"Be not angry with me, dear uncle."
"I am not angry, sir—no, sir, you are mistaken. Frank, prompted by that infernal Tibbets, would have helped murder us in bed! in deep sleep!— your own wife, my adopted daughter!—Good heavens! she might have suffered worse than death! Accursed traitors! Would to God I had seen them swing with the rest! Tibbets will never die a natural death!"
Mr. L. felt his uncle's anger and indignation were natural; although he himself knew Frank was innocent; but as he made no remark Mr. W. went on—
"Tibbets! infamous villain! how with the smile of an angel, and the form of an Apollo, and the manners of a Chesterfield, and the eloquence of a Cicero, he won our regard and confidence! and yet he was only the paid hireling of some diabolical, Yankee secret association—philanthropic cut-throats! The Infinite Justice will overtake the whole crew!"
Greatly agitated Mr. W. walked for some time up and down the room, when suddenly turning and taking Edward by the hand he exclaimed:
"Edward! forgive me! All northern men are not Yankees. You have taught me, without your knowing how or when, that the North has its noble, generous, pious, gentlemanly sons!"
"Dear uncle," interrupted Edward, "I have nothing to forgive. I value your good opinion more than I can express; yet, the North has many men vastly better than I pretend to be, or believe myself to be. Nay, as to myself I know I have been changed for the better by my life in the South. Uncle, If I have innocently moved you I ask forgiveness myself."
"Edward, we are one in heart, ever when we
seem to be two. I will be calm; but the remem-
brance of our past danger makes me often forget myself. I have spoken of that clerical scoundrel by the name of Tibbets; but we have some reason to believe that was not his real name. He came to the South under that name, however; although I am glad, for your sake, that some persons think he was not really a clergyman. The captain of the packet, who died two years ago, told somebody that the fellow had booked a lady as his wife; but that she had a separate room.—Why, Edward, are you sick?" suddenly exclaimed the speaker, abruptly breaking the narrative, as he saw Mr. L. fall rather than sit down in his chair.
"I have stood too long."
"But you do not look well; let me ring for Carlo."
"No! oh, no! Do not ring; I shall soon recover. I was up late last night."
"I must ring."
"I beseech you, uncle, do not ring. Go on, uncle, you said Tibbets was not his real name?"
"Yes; Captain Woodward, poor fellow, he's gone now, said the lady was an angel for beauty; but that she was not really his wife, nor yet his mistress— Edward! Edward! I will ring—I know you are sick or you would not groan."
Edward was sick. He had fainted.