Epoch the Third
Chapter XVIII. Maiden no More
 

It was late mid-summer, and just such an evening as had seen the attempted capture of Jessica Leveret years before. She sat at a window, looking out upon the garden and the river. The room was at the top of the house. It had been to her a kind of play-room when she had visited Governor Nicholls years before. To every woman memory is a kind of religion; and to Jessica as much as to any, perhaps more than to most, for she had imagination. She half sat, half knelt, her elbow on her knee, her soft cheek resting upon her firm, delicate hand. Her beauty was as fresh and sweet as on the day we first saw her. More, something deep and rich had entered into it. Her eyes had got that fine steadfastness which only deep tenderness and pride can give a woman: she had lived. She was smiling now, yet she was not merry; her brightness was the sunshine of a nature touched with an Arcadian simplicity. Such an one could not be wholly unhappy. Being made for others more than for herself, she had something of the divine gift of self-forgetfulness.

As she sat there, her eyes ever watching the river as though for some one she expected, there came from the garden beneath the sound of singing. It was not loud, but deep and strong:

         "As the wave to the shore, as the dew to the leaf,
          As the breeze to the flower,
          As the scent of a rose to the heart of a child, 343
          As the rain to the dusty land--
          My heart goeth out unto Thee--unto Thee!
          The night is far spent and the day is at hand.

         "As the song of a bird to the call of a star,
          As the sun to the eye,
          As the anvil of man to the hammers of God,
          As the snow to the north
          Is my word unto Thy word--to Thy word!
          The night is far spent and the day is at hand."

It was Morris who was singing. With growth of years had come increase of piety, and it was his custom once a week to gather about him such of the servants as would for the reading of Scripture.

To Jessica the song had no religious significance. By the time it had passed through the atmosphere of memory and meditation, it carried a different meaning. Her forehead dropped forward in her fingers, and remained so until the song ended. Then she sighed, smiled wistfully, and shook her head.

"Poor fellow! poor--Iberville!" she said, almost beneath her breath.

The next morning she was to be married. George Gering had returned to her, for the second time defeated by Iberville. He had proved himself a brave man, and, what was much in her father's sight, he was to have his share of Phips's booty. And what was still more, Gering had prevailed upon Phips to allow Mr. Leveret's investment in the first expedition to receive a dividend from the second. Therefore she was ready to fulfil her promise. Yet had she misgivings? For, only a few days before, she had sent for the old pastor at Boston, who had known her since she was a child. She wished, she said, to be married by him and no other at Governor Nicholls's house, rather than at her own home at Boston, where there was none other of her name.

The old pastor had come that afternoon, and she had asked him to see her that evening. Not long after Morris had done with singing there came a tapping at her door. She answered and old Pastor Macklin entered, a white-haired man of kindly yet stern countenance, by nature a gentleman, by practice a bigot. He came forward and took both her hands as she rose. "My dear young lady!" he said, and smiled kindly at her. After a word of greeting she offered him a chair, and came again to the window.

Presently she looked up and said very simply: "I am going to be married. You have known me ever since I was born: do you think I will make a good wife?"

"With prayer and chastening of the spirit, my daughter," he said.

"But suppose that at the altar I remembered another man?"

"A sin, my child, for which should be due sorrow." The girl smiled sadly. She felt poignantly how little he could help her.

"And if the man were a Catholic and a Frenchman?" she said.

"A papist and a Frenchman!" he cried, lifting up his hands. "My daughter, you ever were too playful. You speak of things impossible. I pray you listen." Jessica raised her hand as if to stop him and to speak herself, but she let him go on. With the least encouragement she might have told him all. She had had her moment of weakness, but now it was past. There are times when every woman feels she must have a confidant, or her heart will burst--have counsel or she will die. Such a time had come to Jessica. But she now learned, as we all must learn, that we live our dark hour alone.

She listened as in a dream to the kindly bigot. When he had finished, she knelt and received his blessing. All the time she wore that strange, quiet smile. Soon afterwards he left her.

She went again to the window. "A papist and a Frenchman--unpardonable sin!" she said into the distance. "Jessica, what a sinner art thou!"

Presently there was a tap, the door opened, and George Gering entered. She turned to receive him, but there was no great lighting of the face. He came quickly to her, and ran his arm round her waist. A great kindness looked out of her eyes. Somehow she felt herself superior to him--her love was less and her nature deeper. He pressed her fingers to his lips. "Of what were you thinking, Jessica?" he asked.

"Of what a sinner I am," she answered, with a sad kind of humour.

"What a villain must I be, then!" he responded. "Well, yes," she said musingly; "I think you are something of a villain, George."

"Well, well, you shall cure me of all mine iniquities," he said. "There will be a lifetime for it. Come, let us to the garden."

"Wait," she said. "I told you that I was a sinner, George; I want to tell you how."

"Tell me nothing; let us both go and repent," he rejoined, laughing, and he hurried her away. She had lost her opportunity.

Next morning she was married. The day was glorious. The town was garlanded, and there was not an English merchant or a Dutch burgher but wore his holiday dress. The ceremony ended, a traveller came among the crowd. He asked a hurried question or two and then edged away. Soon he made a stand under the trees, and, viewing the scene, nodded his head and said: "The abbe was right."

It was Perrot. A few hours afterwards the crowd had gone and the governor's garden was empty. Perrot still kept his watch under the tree, though why he could hardly say--his errand was useless now. But he had the gift of waiting. At last he saw a figure issue from a door and go down into the garden. He remembered the secret gate. He made a detour, reached it, and entered. Jessica was walking up and down in the pines. In an hour or so she was to leave for England. Her husband had gone to the ship to do some needful things, and she had stolen out for a moment's quiet. When Perrot faced her, she gave a little cry and started back. But presently she recovered, smiled at him, and said kindly: "You come suddenly, monsieur."

"Yet have I travelled hard and long," he answered.

"Yes?"

"And I have a message for you."

"A message?" she said abstractedly, and turned a little pale.

"A message and a gift from Monsieur Iberville." He drew the letter and the ring from his pocket and held them out, repeating Iberville's message. There was a troubled look in her eyes and she was trembling a little now, but she spoke clearly.

"Monsieur," she said, "you will tell Monsieur Iberville that I may not; I am married."

"So, madame," he said. "But I still must give my message." When he had done so he said: "Will you take the letter?" He held it out.

There was a moment's doubt and then she took it, but she did not speak.

"Shall I carry no message, madame?"

She hesitated. Then, at last: "Say that I wish him good fortune--with all my heart."

"Good fortune--ah, madame!" he answered, in a meaning tone.

"Say that I pray God may bless him, and make him a friend of my country," she added in a low, almost broken voice, and she held out her hand to him.

The gallant woodsman pressed it to his lips. "I am sorry, madame," he replied, with an admiring look.

She shook her head sadly. "Adieu, monsieur!" she said steadily and very kindly.

A moment after he was gone. She looked at the missive steadfastly for a moment, then thrust it into the folds of her dress and, very pale, walked quietly to the house, where, inside her own room, she lighted a candle. She turned the letter over in her hand once or twice, and her fingers hung at the seal. But all at once she raised it to her lips, and then with a grave, firm look, held it in the flame and saw it pass in smoke. It was the last effort for victory.