Chapter III.
 

On the next morning Colonel Willoughby plied the landlord with a few more questions about Captain Allen, and then, inquiring the direction of his house, started out, as he said, to take a ramble through the town. He did not come back until near dinner time, and then he showed no disposition to encourage familiarity on the part of Mr. Adams. But that individual was not in the dark touching the morning whereabouts of his friend. A familiar of his, stimulated by certain good things which the landlord knew when and how to dispense, had tracked the stranger from the "White Swan" to Captain Allen's house. After walking around it, on the outside of the enclosure once or twice, and viewing it on all sides, he had ventured, at last, through the gate, and up to the front door of the stately mansion. A servant admitted him, and the landlord's familiar loitered around for nearly three hours before he came out. Mrs. Allen accompanied him to the door, and stood and talked with him earnestly for some time in the portico. They shook hands in parting, and Colonel Willoughby retired with a firm, slow step, and his eyes bent downwards as if his thoughts were sober, if not oppressive.

All this Mr. Adams knew; and of course, his curiosity was pitched to a high key. But, it was all in vain that he threw himself in the way of his guest, made leading remarks, and even asked if he had seen the splendid dwelling of Captain Allen. The handsome stranger held him firmly at a distance. And not only on that day and evening, but on the next day and the next. He was polite even to blandness, but suffered no approach beyond the simplest formal intercourse. Every morning he was seen going to Captain Allen's house, where he always stayed several hours. The afternoons he spent, for the most part, in his own room.

All this soon became noised throughout the town of S----, and there was a little world of excitement, and all manner of conjectures, as to who this Colonel Willoughby might be. The old nurse, of whom mention has been made, presuming upon her professional acquaintance with Mrs. Allen, took the liberty of calling in one afternoon, when, to her certain knowledge, the stranger was in the house. She was, however, disappointed in seeing him. The servant who admitted her showed her into a small reception-room, on the opposite side of the hall from the main parlor, and here Mrs. Allen met her. She was "very sweet to her"--to use her own words--sweet, and kind, and gentle as ever. But she looked paler than usual, and did not seem to be at ease.

The nurse reported that something was going wrong; but, as to its exact nature, she was in the dark. It certainly didn't look right for Mrs. Allen to be receiving daily the visits of an elegant looking stranger, and her husband away. There was only one opinion on this head.

And so it went on from day to day for nearly a week--Colonel Willoughby, as he had called himself, spending the greater part of every morning with Mrs. Allen, and hiding himself from curious eyes, during the afternoons, in his room at the "White Swan." Then came the denouement to this exciting little drama.

One day the stranger, after dining, asked Mr. Adams for his bill, which he paid in British gold. He then gave directions to have a small trunk, the only baggage he had with him, sent to the house of Captain Allen.

The landlord raised his eyebrows, of course; looked very much surprised, and even ventured a curious question. But the stranger repelled all inquisition touching his movements. And so he left the "White Swan," after sojourning there for nearly a week, and the landlord never saw him again.

The news which came on the following day, created no little sensation in S----. Jacob Perkins, who lived near Captain Allen's, and often worked for him, told the story. His relation was to this effect: About ten o'clock at night, Mrs. Allen sent for him, and he waited on her accordingly. He found her dressed as for a journey, but alone.

"Take a seat, Jacob," she said. "I wish to have some talk with you." The man noticed something unusual in her talk and manner.

"Jacob," she resumed, after a pause, bending towards Mr. Perkins, "can I trust you in a matter requiring both service and secrecy? I have done some kind things for you and yours; I now wish you to return the favor."

As she spoke, she drew out a purse, and let him see something of its golden contents.

"Say on, Mrs. Allen. You may trust me. If you ask anything short of a crime, it shall be done. Yes, you have been kind to me and mine, and now I will repay you, if in my power to do so."

Jacob Perkins was in earnest. But, whether gratitude, or that apparition of golden sovereigns, had most influence upon him, cannot at this remote period be said.

"Can you get a pair of horses and a carriage, or light wagon, to-night?"

"I can," replied Jacob.

"And so as not to excite undue curiosity?"

"I think so."

"Very well. Next, will you drive that team all night?"

And Mrs. Allen played with the purse of gold, and let the coins it contained strike each other with a musical chink, very pleasant to the ear of Jacob Perkins.

"You shall be paid handsomely for your trouble," added the lady, as she fixed her beautiful blue eyes upon Jacob with an earnest, almost pleading look.

"I hope there is nothing wrong," said Jacob, as some troublesome suspicions began turning themselves over in his mind.

"Nothing wrong, as God is my witness!" And Mrs. Allen lifted her pale face reverently upwards.

"Forgive me, madam; I might have known that," said Jacob. "And now, if you will give me your orders, they shall be obeyed to the letter."

"Thank you, my kind friend," returned Mrs. Allen. "The service you are now about to render me, cannot be estimated in the usual way. To me, it will be far beyond all price."

She was agitated, and paused to recover herself. Then she resumed, with her usual calmness of manner--

"Bring the carriage here--driving with as little noise as possible--in half an hour. Be very discreet. Don't mention the matter even to your wife. You can talk with her as freely as you choose on your return from Boston."

"From Boston? Why, that is thirty miles away, at least!"

"I know it, Jacob; but I must be in Boston early to-morrow morning. You know the road?"

"Every foot of it."

"So much the better. And now go for the carriage."

Jacob Perkins arose. As he was turning to go, Mrs. Allen placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said--

"I can trust you, Mr. Perkins?"

"Madam, you can," was his reply; and he passed from the quiet house into the darkness without. The night was moonless, but the stars shone down from an unclouded sky. When Jacob Perkins found himself alone, and began to look this adventure full in the face, some unpleasant doubts touching the part he was about to play, intruded themselves upon his thoughts. He had seen the handsome stranger going daily to visit Mrs. Allen, for now nearly a week, and had listened to the town talk touching the matter, until his own mind was filled with the common idea, that something was wrong. And now, to be called on to drive Mrs. Allen to Boston, secretly, and under cover of the night, seemed so much like becoming a party to some act of folly or crime, that he gave way to hesitation, and began to seek for reasons that would justify his playing the lady false. Then came up the image of her sweet, reverent face, as she said so earnestly, "Nothing wrong, as God is my witness!" And his first purpose was restored.

Punctually, at half-past ten o'clock, the team of Jacob Perkins drove noiselessly in through the gate, and up the carriage-way to the door of the Allen mansion. No lights were visible in any part of the house. Under the portico were two figures, a man and a woman--the man holding something in his arms, which, on a closer observation, Jacob saw to be a child. Two large trunks and a small one stood near.

"Put them on the carriage," said Mrs. Allen, in a low, steady voice; and Jacob obeyed in silence. When all was ready, she got in, and the man handed her the sleeping child, and then took his place beside her.

"To Boston, remember, Jacob; and make the time as short as possible."

No other words were spoken. Jacob led his horses down the carriage-way to the gate, which he closed carefully after passing through; and then mounting to his seat, drove off rapidly.

But little conversation took place between Mrs. Allen and her traveling companion; and that was in so low a tone of voice, that Jacob Perkins failed to catch a single word, though he bent his ear and listened with the closest attention whenever he heard a murmur of voices.

It was after daylight when they arrived in Boston, where Jacob Perkins left them, and returned home with all speed, to wake up the town of S----with a report of his strange adventure. Before parting with Mrs. Allen, she gave him a purse, which, on examination, was found to contain a hundred dollars in gold. She also placed in his hand a small gold locket, and said, impressively, while her almost colorless lips quivered, and her bosom struggled with its pent up feelings--

"Jacob, when my son--he is now absent with his father--reaches his tenth year, give him this, and say that it is a gift from his mother, and contains a lock of her hair. Can I trust you faithfully to perform this office of love?"

Tears filled her eyes; then her breast heaved with a great sob.

"As Heaven is my witness, madam," answered Jacob Perkins, "it shall be done."

"Remember," she said, "that you are only to give this to John, and not until his tenth year. Keep my gift sacred from the knowledge of every one until that time, and then let the communication be to him alone."

Jacob Perkins promised to do according to her wishes, and then left her looking so pale, sad, and miserable, that, to use his own words, "he never could recall her image as she stood looking, not at him, but past him, as if trying to explore the future, without thinking of some marble statue in a grave-yard."

She was never seen in S----again.