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James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851). The Spy. 1911.

Chapter XII

  • This fairy form contains a soul as mighty,
  • As that which lives within a giant’s frame;
  • These slender limbs, that tremble like the aspen
  • At summer evening’s sigh, uphold a spirit,
  • Which, roused, can tower to the height of heaven,
  • And light those shining windows of the face
  • With much of heaven’s own radiance.
  • DUO.

  • THE NUMBER and character of her guests had greatly added to the cares of Miss Jeanette Peyton. The morning found them all restored, in some measure, to their former ease of body, with the exception of the youthful captain of dragoons, who had been so deeply regretted by Dunwoodie. The wound of this officer was severe, though the surgeon persevered in saying that it was without danger. His comrade, we have shown, had deserted his couch; and Henry Wharton awoke from a sleep that had been undisturbed by anything but a dream of suffering amputation under the hands of a surgical novice. As it proved, however, to be nothing but a dream, the youth found himself much refreshed by his slumbers; and Dr. Sitgreaves removed all further apprehensions by confidently pronouncing that he would be a well man within a fortnight.

    During all this time Colonel Wellmere did not make his appearance; he breakfasted in his own room, and, notwithstanding certain significant smiles of the man of science, declared himself too much injured to rise from his bed. Leaving him, therefore, endeavoring to conceal his chagrin in the solitude of his chamber, the surgeon proceeded to the more grateful task of sitting an hour by the bedside of George Singleton. A slight flush was on the face of the patient as the doctor entered the room, and the latter advanced promptly and laid his fingers on the pulse of the youth, beckoning to him to be silent, while he muttered to himself,—

    “Growing symptoms of a febrile pulse—no, no, my dear George, you must remain quiet and dumb; though your eyes look better, and your skin has even a moisture.”

    “Nay, my dear Sitgreaves,” said the youth, taking his hand, “you see there is no fever about me: look, is there any of Jack Lawton’s hoarfrost on my tongue?”

    “No, indeed,” said the surgeon, clapping a spoon in the mouth of the other, forcing it open, and looking down his throat as if disposed to visit the interior in person; “the tongue is well, and the pulse begins to lower again. Ah! the bleeding did you good. Phlebotomy is a sovereign specific for southern constitutions. But that madcap Lawton absolutely refused to be blooded for a fall he had from his horse last night. Why, George, your case is becoming singular,” continued the doctor, instinctively throwing aside his wig. “Your pulse even and soft, your skin moist, but your eye fiery, and cheek flushed. Oh! I must examine more closely into these symptoms.”

    “Softly, my good friend, softly,” said the youth, falling back on his pillow, and losing some of that color which alarmed his companion; “I believe, in extracting the ball, you did for me all that is required. I am free from pain and only weak, I do assure you.”

    “Captain Singleton,” said the surgeon, with heat, “it is presumptuous in you to pretend to tell your medical attendant when you are free from pain: if it be not to enable us to decide in such matters, of what avail the lights of science? For shame, George, for shame! even that perverse fellow, John Lawton, could not behave with more obstinacy.”

    His patient smiled, as he gently repulsed his physician in an attempt to undo the bandages, and with a returning glow to his cheeks, inquired,—

    “Do, Archibald,”—a term of endearment that seldom failed to soften the operator’s heart,—“tell me what spirit from heaven has been gliding around my apartment, while I lay pretending to sleep?”

    “If any one interferes with my patients,” cried the doctor, hastily, “I will teach them, spirit or no spirit, what it is to meddle with another man’s concerns.”

    “Tut—my dear fellow, there was no interference made, nor any intended; see,” exhibiting the bandages, “everything is as you left it,—but it glided about the room with the grace of a fairy and the tenderness of an angel.”

    The surgeon, having satisfied himself that everything was as he had left it, very deliberately resumed his seat and replaced his wig, as he inquired, with a brevity that would have honored Lieutenant Mason,—

    “Had it petticoats, George?”

    “I saw nothing but its heavenly eyes—its bloom—its majestic step—its grace,” replied the young man, with rather more ardor than his surgeon thought consistent with his debilitated condition; and he laid his hand on his mouth to stop him, saying himself,—

    “It must have been Miss Jeanette Peyton—a lady of fine accomplishments, with—hem—with something of the kind of step you speak of—a very complacent eye; and as to the bloom, I dare say offices of charity can summon as fine a color to her cheeks, as glows in the faces of her more youthful nieces.”

    “Nieces! Has she nieces, then? The angel I saw may be a daughter, a sister, or a niece,—but never an aunt.”

    “Hush, George, hush; your talking has brought your pulse up again. You must observe quiet, and prepare for a meeting with your own sister, who will be here within an hour.”

    “What, Isabella! and who sent for her?”

    “The major.”

    “Considerate Dunwoodie!” murmured the exhausted youth, sinking again on his pillow, where the commands of his attendant compelled him to remain silent.

    Even Captain Lawton had been received with many and courteous inquiries after the state of his health, from all the members of the family, when he made his morning entrance; but an invisible spirit presided over the comforts of the English colonel. Sarah had shrunk with consciousness from entering the room; yet she knew the position of every glass, and had, with her own hands, supplied the contents of every bowl, that stood on his table.

    At the time of our tale, we were a divided people, and Sarah thought it was no more than her duty to cherish the institutions of that country to which she yet clung as the land of her forefathers; but there were other and more cogent reasons for the silent preference she was giving to the Englishman. His image had first filled the void in her youthful fancy, and it was an image that was distinguished by many of those attractions that can enchain a female heart. It is true, he wanted the personal excellence of Peyton Dunwoodie, but his pretensions were far from contemptible. Sarah had moved about the house during the morning, casting frequent and longing glances at the door of Wellmere’s apartment, anxious to learn the condition of his wounds, and yet ashamed to inquire; conscious interest kept her tongue tied, until her sister, with the frankness of innocence, had put the desired question to Dr. Sitgreaves.

    “Colonel Wellmere,” said the operator, gravely, “is in what I call a state of free-will, madam. He is ill, or he is well, as he pleases. His case, young lady, exceeds my art to heal; and I take it Sir Henry Clinton is the best adviser he can apply to; though Major Dunwoodie has made the communication with his leech rather difficult.”

    Frances smiled, but averted her face, while Sarah moved, with the grace of an offended Juno, from the apartment. Her own room, however, afforded her but little relief, and in passing through the long gallery that communicated with each of the chambers of the building, she noticed the door of Singleton’s room to be open. The wounded youth seemed sleeping, and was alone. She had ventured lightly into the apartment, and busied herself for a few minutes in arranging the tables, and the nourishment provided for the patient, hardly conscious of what she was doing, and possibly dreaming that these little feminine offices were performed for another. Her natural bloom was heightened by the insinuation of the surgeon, nor was the lustre of her eye in any degree diminished. The sound of the approaching footsteps of Sitgreaves hastened her retreat down a private stairway, to the side of her sister. The sisters then sought the fresh air on the piazza; and as they pursued their walk, arm in arm, the following dialogue took place:—

    “There is something disagreeable about this surgeon of Dunwoodie,” said Sarah, “that causes me to wish him away most heartily.”

    Frances fixed her laughing eyes on her sister; but forbearing to speak, the other readily construed their expression, and hastily added, “But I forget he is one of your renowned corps of Virginians, and must be spoken of reverently.”

    “As respectfully as you please, my dear sister; there is but little danger of exceeding the truth.”

    “Not in your opinion,” said the elder, with a little warmth; “but I think Mr. Dunwoodie has taken a liberty that exceeds the rights of consanguinity; he has made our father’s house a hospital.”

    “We ought to be grateful that none of the patients it contains are dearer to us.”

    “Your brother is one.”

    “True, true,” interrupted Frances, blushing to the eyes; “but he leaves his room, and thinks his wound lightly purchased by the pleasure of being with his friends. If,” she added, with a tremulous lip, “this dreadful suspicion that is affixed to his visit were removed, I could consider his wound of little moment.”

    “You now have the fruits of rebellion brought home to you; a brother wounded and a prisoner, and perhaps a victim; your father distressed, his privacy interrupted, and not improbably his estates torn from him, on account of his loyalty to his king.”

    Frances continued her walk in silence. While facing the northern entrance to the vale, her eyes were uniformly fastened on the point where the road was suddenly lost by the intervention of a hill; and at each turn, as she lost sight of the spot, she lingered until an impatient movement of her sister quickened her pace to an even motion with that of her own. At length, a single horse chaise was seen making its way carefully among the stones which lay scattered over the country road that wound through the valley, and approached the cottage. The color of Frances changed as the vehicle gradually drew nearer; and when she was enabled to see a female form in it by the side of a black in livery, her limbs shook with an agitation that compelled her to lean on Sarah for support. In a few minutes the travellers approached the gate. It was thrown open by a dragoon who followed the carriage, and who had been the messenger dispatched by Dunwoodie to the father of Captain Singleton. Miss Peyton advanced to receive their guest, and the sisters united in giving her the kindest welcome; still Frances could with difficulty withdraw her truant eyes from the countenance of their visitor. She was young, and of a light and fragile form, but of exquisite proportions. Her eyes were large, full, black, piercing, and at times a little wild. Her hair was luxuriant, and as it was without the powder it was then the fashion to wear, it fell in raven blackness. A few of its locks had fallen on her cheek, giving its chilling whiteness by the contrast a more deadly character. Dr. Sitgreaves supported her from the chaise; and when she gained the floor of the piazza, she turned an expressive look on the face of the practitioner.

    “Your brother is out of danger and wishes to see you, Miss Singleton,” said the surgeon.

    The lady burst into a flood of tears. Frances had stood contemplating the action and face of Isabella with a kind of uneasy admiration, but she now sprang to her side with the ardor of a sister, and kindly drawing her arm within her own, led the way to a retired room. The movement was so ingenuous, so considerate, and so delicate, that even Miss Peyton withheld her interference, following the youthful pair with only her eyes and a smile of complacency. The feeling was communicated to all the spectators, and they dispersed in pursuit of their usual avocations. Isabella yielded to the gentle influence of Frances without resistance; and, having gained the room where the latter conducted her, wept in silence on the shoulder of the observant and soothing girl, until Frances thought her tears exceeded the emotion natural to the occasion. The sobs of Miss Singleton for a time were violent and uncontrollable, until, with an evident exertion, she yielded to a kind observation of her companion, and succeeded in suppressing her tears. Raising her face to the eyes of Frances, she rose, while a smile of beautiful radiance passed over her features; and making a hasty apology for the excess of her emotion, she desired to be conducted to the room of the invalid.

    The meeting between the brother and sister was warm, but, by an effort on the part of the lady, more composed than her previous agitation had given reason to expect. Isabella found her brother looking better, and in less danger than her sensitive imagination had led her to suppose. Her spirits rose in proportion; from despondency, she passed to something like gayety; her beautiful eyes sparkled with renovated brilliancy; and her face was lighted with smiles so fascinating, that Frances, who, in compliance with her earnest entreaties, had accompanied her to the sick chamber, sat gazing on a countenance that possessed so wonderful variability, impelled by a charm that was beyond her control. The youth had thrown an earnest look at Frances, as soon as his sister raised herself from his arms, and perhaps it was the first glance at the lovely lineaments of our heroine, when the gazer turned his eyes from the view in disappointment. He seemed bewildered, rubbed his forehead like a man awaking from a dream, and mused.

    “Where is Dunwoodie, Isabella?” he said; “the excellent fellow is never weary of kind actions. After a day of such service as that of yesterday, he has spent the night in bringing me a nurse, whose presence alone is able to raise me from my couch.”

    The expression of the lady’s countenance changed; her eye roved around the apartment with a character of wildness in it that repelled the anxious Frances, who studied her movements with unabated interest.

    “Dunwoodie! is he then not here? I thought to have met him by the side of my brother’s bed.”

    “He has duties that require his presence elsewhere: the English are said to be out by the way of the Hudson, and they give us light troops but little rest: surely nothing else could have kept him so long from a wounded friend. But, Isabella, the meeting has been too much for you; you tremble.”

    Isabella made no reply: she stretched her hand towards the table which held the nourishment of the captain, and the attentive Frances comprehended her wishes in a moment. A glass of water in some measure revived the sister, who was enabled to say,—

    “Doubtless it is his duty. ’T was said above, a royal party was moving on the river; though I passed the troops but two miles from this spot.” The latter part of the sentence was hardly audible, and it was spoken more in the manner of a soliloquy, than as if for the ears of her companions.

    “On the march, Isabella?” eagerly inquired her brother.

    “No, dismounted, and seemingly at rest,” was the reply.

    The wondering dragoon turned his gaze on the countenance of his sister, who sat with her eye bent on the carpet in unconscious absence, but found no explanation. His look was changed to the face of Frances, who, startled by the earnestness of his expression, arose, and hastily inquired if he would have any assistance.

    “If you can pardon the rudeness,” said the wounded officer, making a feeble effort to raise his body, “I would request to have Captain Lawton’s company for a moment.”

    Frances hastened instantly to communicate his wish to that gentleman, and impelled by an interest she could not control, she returned again to her seat by the side of Miss Singleton.

    “Lawton,” said the youth, impatiently, as the trooper entered, “hear you from the major?”

    The eye of the sister was now bent on the face of the trooper, who made his salutations to the lady with ease, blended with the frankness of a soldier.

    “His man has been here twice,” he said, “to inquire how we fared in the Lazaretto.”

    “And why not himself?”

    “That is a question the major can answer best; but you know the red-coats are abroad, and Dunwoodie commands in the county; these English must be looked to.”

    “True,” said Singleton, slowly, as if struck with the other’s reasons; “but how is it that you are idle, when there is work to do?”

    “My sword arm is not in the best condition, and Roanoke has but a shambling gait this morning; besides, there is another reason I could mention, if it were not that Miss Wharton would never forgive me.”

    “Speak, I beg, without dread of my displeasure,” said Frances, returning the good-humored smile of the trooper, with the archness natural to her own sweet face.

    “The odors of your kitchen, then,” cried Lawton bluntly, “forbid my quitting the domains, until I qualify myself to speak with more certainty concerning the fatness of the land.”

    “Oh! aunt Jeanette is exerting herself to do credit to my father’s hospitality,” said the laughing girl, “and I am a truant from her labors, as I shall be a stranger to her favor, unless I proffer my assistance.”

    Frances withdrew to seek her aunt, musing deeply on the character and extreme sensibility of the new acquaintance chance had brought to the cottage.

    The wounded officer followed her with his eyes, as she moved, with infantile grace, through the door of his apartment, and as she vanished from his view, he observed,—

    “Such an aunt and niece are seldom to be met with, Jack; this seems a fairy, but the aunt is angelic.”

    “You are doing well, I see; your enthusiasm for the sex holds its own.”

    “I should be ungrateful as well as insensible, did I not bear testimony to the loveliness of Miss Peyton.”

    “A good motherly lady, but as to love, that is a matter of taste. A few years younger, with deference to her prudence and experience, would accord better with my fancy.”

    “She must be under twenty,” said the other, quickly.

    “It depends on the way you count. If you begin at the heel of life, well; but if you reckon downward, as is most common, I think she is nearer forty.”

    “You have mistaken an elder sister for the aunt,” said Isabella, laying her fair hand on the mouth of the invalid; “you must be silent! Your feelings are beginning to affect your frame.”

    The entrance of Dr. Sitgreaves, who, in some alarm, noticed the increase of feverish symptoms in his patient, enforced this mandate; and the trooper withdrew to pay a visit of condolence to Roanoke, who had been an equal sufferer with himself in their last night’s somersault. To his great joy, his man pronounced the steed to be equally convalescent with the master; and Lawton found that by dint of rubbing the animal’s limbs several hours without ceasing, he was enabled to place his feet in what he called systematic motion. Orders were accordingly given to be in readiness to rejoin the troop at the Four Corners, as soon as his master had shared in the bounty of the approaching banquet.

    In the mean time, Henry Wharton entered the apartment of Wellmere, and by his sympathy succeeded in restoring the colonel to his own good graces. The latter was consequently enabled to rise, and prepared to meet a rival of whom he had spoken so lightly, and, as the result had proved, with so little reason. Wharton knew that their misfortune, as they both termed their defeat, was owing to the other’s rashness; but he forbore to speak of anything except the unfortunate accident which had deprived the English of their leader, and to which he good-naturedly ascribed their subsequent discomfiture.

    “In short, Wharton,” said the colonel, putting one leg out of bed, “it may be called a combination of untoward events; your own ungovernable horse prevented my orders from being carried to the major, in season to flank the rebels.”

    “Very true,” replied the captain, kicking a slipper towards the bed; “had we succeeded in getting a few good fires upon them in flank, we should have sent these brave Virginians to the right about.”

    “Aye, and that in double quick time,” cried the colonel, making the other leg follow its companion; “then it was necessary to rout the guides, you know, and the movement gave them the best possible opportunity to charge.”

    “Yes,” said the other, sending the second slipper after the first; “and this Major Dunwoodie never overlooks an advantage.”

    “I think if we had the thing to do over again,” continued the colonel, raising himself on his feet, “we might alter the case very materially, though the chief thing the rebels have now to boast of is my capture; they were repulsed, you saw, in their attempt to drive us from the wood.”

    “At least they would have been, had they made an attack,” said the captain, throwing the rest of his clothes within reach of the colonel.

    “Why, that is the same thing,” returned Wellmere, beginning to dress himself; “to assume such an attitude as to intimidate your enemy, is the chief art of war.”

    “Doubtless, then, you may remember in one of their charges they were completely routed.”

    “True—true,” cried the colonel, with animation: “had I been there to have improved that advantage, we might have turned the table on the Yankees;” saying which he displayed still greater animation in completing his toilette; and he was soon prepared to make his appearance, fully restored to his own good opinion, and fairly persuaded that his capture was owing to casualties absolutely beyond the control of man.

    The knowledge that Colonel Wellmere was to be a guest at the table, in no degree diminished the preparations which were already making for the banquet; and Sarah, after receiving the compliments of the gentleman, and making many kind inquiries after the state of his wounds, proceeded in person to lend her counsel and taste to one of those labored entertainments, which, at that day, were so frequent in country life, and which are not entirely banished from our domestic economy at the present moment.