89 The Linwoods

CHAPTER XIII

“Is’t possible that but seeing you should love her?”

In the meantime Eliot had been released from his durance, where he had suffered, as mortals sometimes mysteriously do, what he seemed in nowise to have deserved; and passing unobserved into the entry, he had preceded Miss Linwood down the stairs, and was standing within the outer door in conversation with his attendant, so earnest that he did not perceive her approach till she said, “Am I intruding?”

She was answered by Herbert’s suddenly turning his face to her, and uttering ” Isabella!”

In the suddenness of surprise and joy she forgot every thing but his presence; and would have thrown her arms around him but for Eliot’s intervention,

“Herbert!—Miss Linwood! I entreat you to be cautious—your brother’s safety is at stake— not a moment is to be lost—is concealment possible at your father’s house”

“Possible !—certain. I will instantly go home.”

“Stop—pray hush, Herbert. Was the reason of your coming down stairs known to any one, Miss Linwood?”

“Only to Helen Ruthven and Mr. Meredith.”

“Two foxes on the scent!—that’s all,” said Herbert.

“Oh, no, Herbert; they would be the last to betray; but they do not suspect you.”

“Then all maybe managed,” said Eliot; “trust no one, Miss Linwood—you cannot serve your brother better than by appearing at Sir Henry’s table, and letting it be known, incidentally, that you have seen my attendant.”

“I understand you, and will do my best. Heaven help us !—avoid by all means seeing mamma, Herbert—she will not dare incur the responsibility of concealing your presence. Go in at the back gate—you can easily elude Jupe— trust all to Rose. God bless you, dear brother,” she concluded; and in spite of the danger of observation, she gave him one hasty embrace, and returned to the drawing-room to enact a part—a difficult task to Isabella Linwood.

The few guests expected soon after arrived; and Mr. Linwood reappeared from his walk with the air of a person who has tidings to communicate. “Ah, Isabella,” said he, “I have news for you.”

“The rebels have been crucifying more tories, I suppose?”

“Pshaw, Belle—you know I did not believe that any more than you did when Rivington first published it. I have heard news of your Yankee preservers.”

“Only heard!—then I have the advantage of you, for I have seen them.”

“Seen them! Lord bless me—where, child”

“In the hall below. I seized the opportunity of relieving you from the interview appointed this evening.”

“You astonish me! Well, after all, Robertson’s suspicions may be groundless. He has just received advice to look out sharply for the attendant of Captain Lee, who is suspected not to be the person he passes for.”

“And what if he is not, papa?”

“What if he is not!—a true girl-question! Why, he may be an officer, who, under the disguise of a servant, may be a very efficient emissary for Mr. Washington. He may have come to confer with ‘some of our whited sepulchres’—pretended tories, but whigs to the back-bone—we have plenty such.”

“It would be very dangerous,” said a sapient young lady, “to let such a person go at large.”

“But, papa,” continued Isabella, without noticing the last interlocutor, “it seems to me very improbable that General Washington would be accessary to any such proceeding.”

“Ah, he’ll take care to guard appearances. He is as chary of his reputation as Caesar was of his wife’s—a crafty one is Mr. Washington. The passport seems to have contained a true description of the true servant of this Captain Lee, Probably some young Curtius has assumed the responsibility of the imposition. His detection will reflect no dishonour on the great head of the schismatics—only expose the poor youth to danger.””Danger, papa!” Isabella’s tone indicated that the word fell on her ear associated with a life she loved.

“Yes, Miss Linwood; he may find a short and complete cure for whiggism; for, I take it, that in that department of t’other world which these gentry go to, they will find rebellion pretty well under.”

“Oh my! how you hate the whigs, Mr. Linwood !” exclaimed the aforesaid young lady. “Supposing it were poor dear Herbert who had disguised himself just to take a peep at us all.”

“Herbert!” echoed Mr. Linwood, his colour deepening and flushing his high forehead,—” Herbert!—he is joined to idols—I should let him alone.”

“My ! Isabella, is it not quite shocking to hear your father speak in such a hard-hearted way of poor Herbert?” whispered the young lady, who still cherished a boarding-school love for Herbert. “But, dear me! who is that coming in with Sir Henry?—He must be one of the young officers who arrived in the ship yesterday. ‘Captain Lee, an American officer !'” reiterating Sir Henry’s presentation of his guest. “My! I ought to have known the uniform; but I had no idea there was such an elegant young man in the American army —had you, Isabella”

Isabella was too much absorbed in her own observations to return any thing more than bows and nods to her voluble companion. She saw Meredith advance to Eliot with that engaging cordiality which he knew so well bow to throw into his manner; and she perceived that Eliot met him with a freezing civility, that painfully re-excited the apprehensions she had long felt, that there was “something rotten in the state of Denmark.” Sir Henry, after addressing each of his guests with that official and measured politeness that marks the great man’s exact estimate of the value of each nod, smile, and word vouchsafed to his satellites, advanced to her, and said in an under tone, “My dear Miss Linwood, I have sacrificed my tastes at your shrine—invited a rebel to my table in consideration of the service he had the honour of rendering you, and my valued friend your father, this morning.”

“If all I have heard of the gentleman be true,” replied Isabella, ” Sir Henry will find his society an indulgence rather than a sacrifice of taste.”

“Perhaps so.” Sir Henry shrugged his shoulders. “He seems a clever person; but you know antipathies are stubborn; and, entre nous, I have what may be termed a natural aversion to an American. I mean, of course, a rebel American.”

England was so much the Jerusalem of the loyal colonists, the holy city towards which they always worshiped, that Sir Henry, in uttering this sentiment, had no doubt of its calling forth a responsive “amen” from Miss Linwood’s bosom. But her pride was touched. For the first time an American feeling shot athwart her mind, and, like a sunbeam falling on Memnon’s statue, it elicited music to one ear at least. “Have a care, Sir Henry,” she replied aloud; ” such sentiments from our rulers engender rebellion, and almost make it virtue. I am beginning to think that if I had been a man, I should not have forgotten that I was an American.” Her eye encountered Eliot Lee’s- \ and his expressed a more animated delight than he would have ventured to embody in words, or than she would have heard spoken with complacency.

Sir Henry turned on his heel, and Eliot occupied his position. Without adverting to what he had just overheard, or alluding to the discords of the country, he spoke to Miss Linwood of her brother, of course, as if he had left him in camp; from her brother they naturally passed to his sister. Both were topics that called forth their most eloquent feelings. The consciousness of a secret subject of common concern heightened their mutual interest, and in half an hour they had passed from the terra incognita of strangers to the agreeable footing of friends.

“I saw you bow to Miss Ruthven,” said Isabella: “you knew her at West Point?”

“Slightly,” replied Eliot, with a very expressive curl of his lip.

“Did not I hear my name V asked Miss Ruthven, advancing, hanging on Meredith’s arm, and seating herself in a vacant chair near Miss Linwood.

“You might, for we presumed to utter it,” replied Isabella.

“Oh, I suppose Captain Lee has been telling you of my escape from that stronghold of the enemy—indeed, 1 could endure it no longer. You know, Captain Lee, there is no excitement there but the scenery; and even if I were one of those favoured mortals who find ‘tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, and sermons in stones,’ I have no fancy for them. I prefer the lords of the creation,” fixing her eyes expressively on Meredith, “to creation itself.”

“Pray tell me, Captain Lee,” asked Isabella, “is your sister such a worshipper of nature as she used to be? it seemed to be an innate love with her.”

“Yes, it is; and it should be so, if, as some poets imagine, there is a mysterious correspondence and affinity between the outward world and pure spirits.”

“Dear Bessie! I am so charmed to hear from her again. She has sent me but one letter in six months, and that a very, very sad one.” Isabella’s eye involuntarily turned towards Meredith, but there was no indication that the sounds that entered his ears touched a chord of feeling, or even of memory. It was worth remarking, that while subjects had been alluded to that must have had the most thrilling interest for both Miss Ruthven and Meredith, they neither betrayed by a glance of the eye, a variation of colour, or a faltering of voice, the slightest consciousness. Truly, “the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”

At the very moment Isabella was speaking so tenderly of her friend, Meredith interrupted her with, ” I beg your pardon, Miss Linwood, but I have a controversy with Miss Ruthven which you must decide. I insist there is disloyalty in discarding the Queen Charlotte bonnet; a fright, I grant, very like the rustic little affair your sister Bessie used to wear, Lee; and absolute treason in substituting la vendange, a Bacchante concern, introduced by the Queen of France, the patroness of the rebel cause—pardon me, Captain Lee—your decision, Miss Linwood; we wait your decision—” “Isabella carelessly replied, “I wear la vendange;” but not thus carelessly did she dismiss the subject from her mind. “Meredith could not so lightly have alluded to Bessie, in speaking to her brother,” thought she, while she weighed each word in a tremulous balance, “if he had ever trifled with the affections of that gentle creature, I have been unjust to him! he is no heart-breaker after all.” There is no happier moment in the history of the heart than when it is relieved of a distrust; and most deeply to be pitied is a young, enthusiastic, and noble-minded creature, who, with a standard of ideal perfection, has her affections fixed, and her confidence wavering.

Eliot perceived that Miss Linwood’s mind was abstracted, and feeling his position to be an awkward one, he withdrew to a distant part of the room. Meredith, too, made his observations. He was acute enough to perceive that he had allayed Isabella’s suspicions. He was satisfied with the present, and not fearful of the future.

“Pray tell me, Meredith, do you know that Captain Lee?” asked a Major St. Clair.

“Very well; we were at Harvard together!”

“Ah! scholar turned soldier. These poor fellows have no chance against the regular bred military. Homer and Virgil are not the masters to teach our art.”

“Our army would halt for officers if they were,” said Miss Linwood.

“St. Clair,” said Meredith, “is of the opinion of the old Romans. Plutarch, you know, says they esteemed Greek and scholar terms of reproach.”

“You mistake me, Meredith; I meant no reproach to the learned Theban; upon my word, he strikes me as quite a soldier-like looking fellow—a keen, quick eye—powerful muscles—good air— very good air, has he not, Miss Linwood?”

“Just now he appears to me to have very much the air of a neglected guest. Jasper, pray present Major St. Clair to your sometime friend.”

“Excuse me, Miss Linwood,” replied the major, “we have roturiers enough in our own household. I am not ambitious of making the acquaintance of those from the rebel camp.”

“May I ask,” resumed Isabella, “who our roturiers are?”

“Oh, the merchants—men of business, and that sort of people.”

“Our city gentry?”

Major St. Clair bowed assent.

Isabella bowed and smiled too, but not graciously; her pride was offended. A new light had broken upon her, and she began to see old subjects in a fresh aspect. Strange as it may appear to those who have grown up with the rectified notions of the present day, she for the first time perceived the folly of measuring American society by a European standard—of casting it in an old and worn mould—of permitting its vigorous youth to be cramped and impaired by transmitted manacles and shackles. Her fine mind was like the perfectly organized body, that wanted but to be touched by fire from Heaven to use all its faculties freely and independently.

It was obvious that Meredith avoided Eliot, but this she now believed was owing to the atmosphere of the court drawing-room. Eliot was not so uncomfortable as she imagined. A common man in his position might not have risen above the vanities and littlenesses of self. He might have been fearful of offending against etiquette, the divinity of small polished gentlemen. He might, an irritable man would, have been annoyed by the awkward silence in which he was left, interrupted only by such formal courtesies as Sir Henry deemed befitting the bearing of the host to an inferior guest. But Eliot Lee cared for none of these things—other and higher matters engrossed him. He was meditating the chances of getting Herbert safe back to West Point, and the means of averting Washington’s displeasure. He was eagerly watching Isabella Linwood’s face, where it seemed to him her soul was mirrored, and inferring from its eloquent mutations her relations with Linwood; and he was contrasting Sir Henry’s luxurious establishment, and the flippant buzz of city gossip he heard around him, with the severe voluntary privations and intense occupations of his own general and his companions in arms. His meditations were suddenly put to flight.

Isabella had been watching for an opportunity to speak privately to Eliot of her brother. Miss Ruthven and Meredith never quitted her side. Miss Ruthven seemed like an humble worshipper incensing two divinities, while, like the false priest, she was contriving to steal the gift from the altar; or rather, like an expert finesser, she seemed to leave the game to others while she held, or fancied she held, the controlling card in her own hand. “I must make a bold push,” thought Isabella, “to escape from these people ;” and beckoning to Eliot, who immediately obeyed her summons, she said, “Permit me, Sir Henry, to show Captain Lee the fine picture of Lord Chatham in your breakfasting-room”

“Lord Chatham has been removed to give place to the Marquis of Shelburne,” replied Sir Henry, with a sarcastic smile.

“Shall I show you the marquis, then? The face of an enemy is not quite so agreeable as that of a friend, but I am sure Captain Lee will never shrink from either.”

“This Captain Lee,” whispered Helen Ruthven to Meredith, “has a surprising faculty in converting enemies into friends—have a care lest he make friends enemies.”

Unfortunately, Isabella’s tactics were baffled by a counter-movement. She was met at the door by the servant announcing dinner, and Eliot was obliged to resign her hand to Sir Henry, to fall behind the privileged guests entitled to precedence, and follow alone to the dining-room.

There were no indications on Sir Henry’s table of the scarcity and dearness of provisions so bitterly complained of by the royalists who remained in the city. At whatever rate procured, Sir Henry’s dinner was sumptuous. Eliot compared it with the coarse and scanty fare of the American officers, and he felt an honest pride in being one among those who contracted for a glorious future, by the sacrifice of all animal and present indulgence.

Dish after dish was removed and replaced, and the viands were discussed, and the generous wines poured out, as if to eat and to drink were the chief business and joy of life. “A very pretty course of fish for the season,” said Major St. Clair, who sat near Eliot, passing his eye over the varieties on the table : ” Pray, Captain Lee, have you a good fish-market at West Point?”

“We are rather too far from the seaboard, sir, for such a luxury.”

“Ah, yes—I forgot, pardon me; but you must have fine trout in those mountain-streams—a pretty resource at a station is trout-fishing.”

“Yes, to idlers who need resources; but time, as the lady says in the play,’ time travels in divers paces with divers persons’—it never ‘stays’ with us.”

“You’ve other fish to fry—he! he!—very good —allow me to send you a bit of brandt, Captain Lee; do the brandt get up as far as the Highlands?”

“I have never seen them there.”

“Indeed!—but you have abundance of other game—wild geese, turkeys, teal, woodcock, snipe, broad-bills?”

“We have none of these delicacies, sir.”

“God bless me !—how do you live?”

Eliot was pestered with this popinjay, and he answered, with a burst of pardonable pride, “I’ll tell you how we live, sir”—the earnest tone of his voice attracted attention—”we live on salt beef, brown bread, and beans, when we can get them; and when we cannot, some of us fast, and some share their horses’ messes.”

“Bless me—how annoying!”

“You may possibly have heard, sir,” resumed Eliot, ” of the water that was miraculously sweetened, and of certain bread that came down from Heaven; and we, who live on this nutriment that excites your pity, and feel from day to day our resolution growing bolder and our hopes brighter, we fancy a real presence in the brown bread, and an inspiration in the water that wells up through the green turf of our native land.”
There is a chord in the breast of every man that vibrates to a burst of true feeling—this vibration was felt in the silence that followed. It was first broken by Isabella Linwood’s delicious voice. She turned her eye, moistened with the emotion he had excited, towards Eliot; and filling a glass from a goblet of water, she pushed the goblet towards him, saying, ” Ladies may pledge in the pure element—our native land! Captain Lee.”

Eliot filled a bumper, and never did man drink a more intoxicating draught. Sir Henry looked tremendously solemn, Helen Ruthven exchanged glances with Meredith, and Mr. Linwood muttered between his teeth, “nonsense—d—d nonsense, Belle!”

It must be confessed, that Miss Linwood violated the strict rules that governed her contemporaries. She was not a lady of saws and precedents. But if she sometimes too impulsively threw open the door of her heart, there was nothing there exposed that could stain her cheek with a blush. We would by no means recommend an imitation of her spontaneous actions. Those only can afford them to whom they are spontaneous.

After the momentary excitement had passed, Eliot felt that he had perhaps been a little too heroic for the occasion. Awkward as the descent is from an assumed elevation, he effected it with grace, by falling into conversation with the major on sporting and fishing; in which he showed a science that commanded more respect from that gentleman, than if he had manifested all the virtues of all the patriots that ever lived, fasted, starved, and died for their respective countries.

It was hard for Eliot to play citizen of the world, while he saw Meredith courted, admired, and apparently happy, mapping out, at his own will, a brilliant career, and thought of his sister wasting the incense of her affections; no more to Meredith than a last summer’s flower. “He deserves not,” he thought indignantly, as his eye fell on Isabella, ” the heart of this glorious creature—no man deserves; I almost wonder that any man should dare aspire to it.”

When a man begins to be humble in relation to a woman, he is not very far from love; and absurd as Eliot would have deemed it to fall in love at first sight, and utterly absurd for him, at any time, to fall in love with Miss Linwood, it was most fortunate for him that he was suddenly taken from her presence, by a request from Sir Henry (who had just had a note put into his hands) that he would accompany him to his council-chamber. When there, he informed Eliot, that suspicions having been excited in relation to his attendant, a quest for him had been made at Mrs. Billings’s—but in vain. “Captain Lee must be aware,” he said, “that the disappearance of the man was a confirmation of the suspicions!”

Eliot replied, that “he was not responsible for any suspicions that might be felt by the timid, or feigned by the ill-disposed.”

“That may be, sir,” replied Sir Henry; “but we must make you responsible for the reappearance of the man—your flag cannot exempt you from this!”

“As you please, sir,” replied Eliot, quite undaunted; “you must decide how far the privilege of my flag extends. You, sir, can appreciate the importance of not violating, in the smallest degree, the few humanities of war.”

Sir Henry pondered for a moment before he asked, “Is there any thing in the character of your attendant which might betray him into an indiscretion”

“I am an interested witness, Sir Henry; but if you do not choose to infer the character from the action, which certainly has been sufficiently indiscreet, give me leave to refer you to Mr. Meredith; he knew the poor lad in Massachusetts.”

“But how can you identify him with this man”

“He saw this man to-day.”

Meredith was summoned and questioned: “He had seen Captain Lee’s servant on Sir Henry’s door-step, and recognised him at the first glance— the dullest eye could mistake no other man for Kisel.”

“Do me the favor, Mr. Meredith,” said Eliot, “to tell Sir Henry Clinton whether you think my man would be liable to a panic; for it appears that having overheard that he was under suspicion, he has fled.”

“True to himself, Kisel I He would most assuredly fly at the slightest alarm. He is one of those helpless animals whose only defense is the instinct of cowardice. I have seen him run from the barking of a family dog, and the mewing of a house cat; and yet, for he is a curious compound, such is his extraordinary attachment to Captain Lee, that I believe he would stand at the cannon’s mouth for him. Poor fellow! his mind takes no durable impression; to attempt to make one is like attempting to form an image in sand; and yet, like this same sand, which, from the smelting furnace, appears in brilliant and defined forms, his thoughts, kindled in the fire of his affections, assume an expression and beauty that would astonish you; always in fragments, as if the mind had been shattered by some fatal jar.”

Meredith spoke con amore. He was delighted with the opportunity of doing Eliot a grace; and Eliot, in listening to the sketch of his simple friend, had almost forgot the subterfuge that called it forth. He wds not, however, the less pleased at its success, when Sir Henry told him that his despatches and passports should be furnished in the course of the evening, and that no impediment would be thrown in the way of his departure.

The three gentlemen then parted, Meredith expressing such animated regret at their brief meeting, that Eliot was on the point of reciprocating it, when the thought of his sister sealed his lips and clouded his brow. Meredith’s conscience rightly interpreted the sudden change of countenance ; but his retained its cordial smile, and his hand abated nothing of its parting pressure.

Again we must quote that most apposite sentence—” Truly, the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”

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The Linwoods by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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