Jenny Lawson by T.S. Arthur
It was impossible for such passionate interviews, brief though they were, to take place without leaving on the heart of a simple minded girl like Jenny Lawson, a deep impression. New impulses were given to her feelings, and a new direction to her thoughts. Nature told her that Mark Clifford loved her; and nothing but his cold disavowal of the fact could possibly have affected this belief. He had met her, it was true, only three or four times; but their interviews during these meetings had been of a character to leave no ordinary effect behind. So long as her eyes, dimmed by overflowing tears, could follow Mark's retiring form, she gazed eagerly after him; and when he was at length hidden from her view, she sat down to pour out her heart in passionate weeping.
Old Mrs. Lee, while she tenderly loved the sweet flower that had grown up under her care, was not, in all things, a wise and discreet woman; nor deeply versed in the workings of the human heart.
Rumor of Mark's wildness had found its way to the neighborhood of Fairview, and made an unfavorable impression. Mrs. Lee firmly believed that he was moving with swift feet in the way to destruction, and rolling evil under his tongue as a sweet morsel. When she heard of his arrival at his grandfather's, a fear came upon her lest he should cast his eyes upon Jenny. No wonder that she met the young man with such a quick repulse, when, to her alarm, she found that he had invaded her home, and was already charming the ear of the innocent child she so tenderly loved and cared for. To find them sitting alone in the woods, only a little while afterwards, almost maddened her; and so soon as she took Jenny home, she hurried over to Mr. Lofton, and in a confused, exaggerated, and intemperate manner, complained of the conduct of Mark.
"Together alone in the woods!" exclaimed the old gentleman, greatly excited. "What does the girl mean?"
"What does he mean, thus to entice away my innocent child?" said Mrs. Lee, equally excited. "Oh, Mr. Lofton! for goodness' sake, send him back to New York! If he remain here a day longer, all may be lost! Jenny is bewitched with him. She cried as if her heart would break when I took her back home, and said that I had done wrong to Mark in what I had said to him."
"Weak and foolish child! How little does she know of the world--how little of the subtle human heart! Yes--yes, Mrs. Lee, Mark shall go back at once. He shall not remain here a day longer to breathe his blighting breath on so sweet a flower. Jenny is too good a girl to be exposed to such an influence."
The mind of Mr. Lofton remained excited for hours after this interview; and when Mark appeared, he met him as has already been seen. The manner in which the young man received the angry words of his grandfather, was a little different from what had been anticipated. Mr. Lofton expected some explanation by which he could understand more clearly what was in the young man's thoughts. When, therefore, Mark abruptly turned from him with such strange language on his tongue, Mr. Lofton's anger cooled, and he felt that he had suffered himself to be misled by a hasty judgment. That no evil had been in the young man's mind he was sure. It was this change that had prompted him to make an effort to recall him. But, the effort was fruitless.
On Jenny's return home, after her last interview with Mark, she found a servant there with a summons from Mr. Lofton. With much reluctance she repaired to the mansion house. On meeting with the old gentleman he received her in a kind but subdued manner; but, as for Jenny herself, she stood in his presence weeping and trembling.
"Jenny," said Mr. Lofton, after the girl had grown more composed, "when did you first meet my grandson?"
Jenny mentioned the accidental meeting on the day before, and the call at the cottage in the morning.
"And you saw him first only yesterday?"
"What did he say when he called this morning?"
"He asked for my mother."
"Yes. I told him that my mother was dead, and that I lived with Mrs. Lee. He then wanted to see her; but I said that she had gone over to your house."
"What did he say then?"
"He spoke of you, and said you were a good man, and that we no doubt found you a good landlord. I had mentioned that you owned our cottage."
Mr. Lofton appeared affected at this.
"What then?" he continued.
"He told me who he was, and then asked me my name. When I told him that it was Jenny, he said, it was a good name, and that he always liked the sound of it, for his mother's name was Jenny. Then he asked me, if I had known his mother, and when I said yes, he wanted to know if I loved her. I said yes--for you know we all loved her. Then he covered his face with his hands, and I saw the tears coming through his fingers. 'Because you know my mother, and loved her, Jenny,' said he, 'we will be friends.' Afterwards he asked me a great many questions about her, and listened with the tears in his eyes, when I told him of many things she had said and done the last time she was up here. We were talking together about his mother, when Mrs. Lee came in. She spoke cross to him, and threatened to complain to you, if he came there any more. He went away angry. But I'm sure he meant nothing wrong, sir. How could he and talk as he did about his mother in heaven?"
"But, how came you to meet him, in the woods, Jenny?" said Mr. Lofton. "Did he tell you that he would wait there for you?"
"Oh, no, sir. The meeting was accidental. I was sent over to Mrs. Jasper's on an errand, and, in passing through the woods, saw him sitting alone and looking very unhappy. I was frightened; but he told me that he wouldn't hurt a hair of my head. Then he made me sit down upon the grass beside him, and talk to him about his mother. He asked me a great many questions, and I told him all that I could remember about her. Sometimes the tears would steal over his cheeks; and sometimes he would say--'Ah! if my mother had not died. Her death was a great loss to me, Jenny--a great loss--and I have been worse for it.'"
"And was this all you talked about, Jenny," asked Mr. Lofton, who was much, affected by the artless narrative of the girl.
"It was all about his mother," replied Jenny. "He said that I not only bore her name, but that I looked like her, and that it seemed to him, while with me, that she was present."
"He said that, did he!" Mr. Lofton spoke more earnestly, and looked intently upon Jenny's face. "Yes--yes--it is so. She does look like dear Jenny," he murmured to himself. "I never saw this before. Dear boy! We have done him wrong. These hasty conclusions--ah, me! To how much evil do they lead!"
"And you were talking thus, when Mrs. Lee found you?"
"What did she say?"
"I can hardly tell what she said, I was so frightened. But I know she spoke angrily to him and to me, and threatened to see you."
Mr. Lofton sighed deeply, then added, as if the remark were casual--
"And that is the last you have seen of him."
"No, sir; I met him a little while ago, as he was hurrying away from your house."
"You did!" Mr. Lofton started at Jenny's unexpected reply.
"Did he speak to you?"
"Yes; he stopped and caught hold of my hand, saying, 'God bless you, Jenny! We may never meet again. They have driven me away, because they thought I meant to harm you.' But he said nothing wrong was in his heart, and asked me to pray for him, as he would need my prayers."
At this part of her narrative, Jenny wept bitterly, and her auditor's eyes became dim also.
Satisfied that Jenny's story was true in every particular, Mr. Lofton spoke kindly to her and sent her home.
A week after Mark Clifford left Fairview, word came that he had enlisted in the United States' service and gone to sea as a common sailor; accompanying this intelligence was an indignant avowal of his father that he would have nothing more to do with him. To old Mr. Lofton this was a serious blow. In Mark he had hoped to see realized some of his ambitious desires. His daughter Jenny had been happy in her marriage, but the union never gave him much satisfaction. She was to have been the wife of one more distinguished than a mere plodding money-making merchant.
Painful was the shock that accompanied the prostration of old Mr. Lofton's ambitious hopes touching his grandson, of whom he had always been exceedingly fond. To him he had intended leaving the bulk of his property when he died. But now anger and resentment arose in his mind against him as unworthy such a preference, and in the warmth of a moment's impulse, he corrected his will and cut him off with a dollar. This was no sooner done than better emotions stirred in the old man's bosom, and he regretted the hasty act; but pride of consistency prevented his recalling it.
From that time old Mr. Lofton broke down rapidly. In six months he seemed to have added ten years to his life. During that period no news had come from Mark; who was not only angry with both his father and grandfather, but felt that in doing what he had done, he had offended them beyond the hope of forgiveness. He, therefore, having taken a rash step, moved on in the way he had chosen, in a spirit of recklessness and defiance. The ties of blood which had bound him to his home were broken; the world was all before him, and he must make his way in it alone. The life of a common sailor in a government ship he found to be something different from what he had imagined, when, acting under a momentary excitement, he was so mad as to enlist in the service. Unused to work or ready obedience, he soon discovered that his life was to be one not only of bodily toil, pushed sometimes to the extreme of fatigue, but one of the most perfect subordination to the will of others, under pain of corporeal punishment. The first insolent word of authority passed to him by a new fledged midshipman, his junior by at least three years, stung him so deeply that it was only by a most violent effort that he could master the impulse that prompted him to seize and throw him overboard. He did not regret this successful effort at self-control, when, a few hours afterwards, he was compelled to witness the punishment of the cat inflicted on a sailor for the offence of insolence to an officer. The sight of the poor man, writhing under tile brutality of the lash, made an impression on him that nothing could efface. It absorbed his mind and brought it into a healthier state of reflection than it had yet been.
"I have placed myself in this position by a rash act," he said to himself, as he turned, sick at heart, away from the painful and disgusting sight. "And all rebellion against the authority around me will but make plainer my own weakness. I have degraded myself; but there is a lower degradation still, and that I must avoid. Drag me to the gangway, and I am lost!"
Strict obedience and submission was from that time self-compelled on the part of Mark Clifford. It was not without a strong effort, however, that he kept down the fiery spirit within him. A word of insolent command--and certain of the young midshipmen on board could not speak to a senior even if he were old as their father, except in a tone of insult--would send the blood boiling through his veins.
It was only by the narrowest chances that Mark escaped punishment during the first six months of the cruise, which was in the Pacific. If he succeeded in bridling his tongue, and restraining his hands from violence he could not hide the indignant flash of his eyes, nor school the muscles of his face into submission. They revealed the wild spirit of rebellion that was in his heart. Intelligent promptness in duty saved him.
This was seen by his superior officers, and it was so much in his favor when complaints came from the petty tyrants of the ship who sometimes shrunk from the fierce glance that in a moment of struggling passion would be cast upon them. After a trying ordeal of six months, he was favored by one of the officers who saw deeper than the rest; and gathered from him a few hints as to his true character. In pitying him, he made use of his influence to save him from some of the worst consequences of his position.
Jenny Lawson was a changed girl after her brief meeting with Mark Clifford. Before, she had been as light hearted and gay as a bird. But, her voice was no longer heard pouring forth the sweet melodies born of a happy heart. Much of her time she sought to be alone; and when alone, she usually sat in a state of dreamy absent-mindedness. As for her thoughts, they were most of the time on Clifford. His hand had stirred the waters of affection in her gentle bosom; and they knew no rest. Mr. Lofton frequently sent for her to come over to the mansion house. He never spoke to her of Mark; nor did she mention his name--though both thought of him whenever they were together. The oftener Mr. Lofton saw Jenny, and the more he was with her, the more did she remind him of his own lost child--his Jenny, the mother of Mark--now in heaven. The incident of meeting with young Clifford had helped to develop Jenny's character, and give it a stronger type than otherwise would have been the case. Thus, she became to Mr. Lofton companionable; and, ere a year had elapsed from the time Mark went away, Mrs. Lee, having passed to her account, she was taken into his house, and he had her constantly with him. As he continued to fail, he leaned upon the affectionate girl more and more heavily; and was never contented when she was away from him.
It would be difficult to represent clearly Jenny's state of feeling during this period. A simple minded, innocent, true-hearted girl, in whose bosom scarce beat a single selfish impulse, she found herself suddenly approached by one in station far above her, in a way that left her heart unguarded. He had stooped to her, and leaned upon her, and she, obeying an impulse of her nature, had stood firmer to support him as he leaned. Their tender, confiding, and delightful intercourse, continued only for a brief season, and was then rudely broken in upon; forced separation was followed by painful consequences to the young man. When Jenny thought of how Mark had been driven away on her account, she felt that in order to save him from the evils that must be impending over him, she would devote even her life in his service. But, what could she do? This desire to serve him had also another origin. A deep feeling of love had been awakened; and, though she felt it to be hopeless, she kept the flame brightly burning.
Intense feelings produced more active thoughts, and the mind of Jenny took a higher development. A constant association with Mr. Lofton, who required her to read to him sometimes for hours each day, filled her thoughts with higher ideas than any she had known, and gradually widened the sphere of her intelligence. Thus she grew more and more companionable to the old man, who, in turn, perceiving that her mind was expanding, took pains to give it a right direction, so far as external knowledge were concerned.
Soon after Mark went to sea, Jenny took pains to inform herself accurately as to the position and duties of a common sailor on board of a United States' vessel. She was more troubled about Mark after this, for she understood how unfitted he was for the hard service he entered upon so blindly.
One day, it was over a year from the time that Mark left Fairview, Mr. Lofton sent for Jenny, and, on her coming into his room, handed her a sealed letter, but without making any remark. On it was superscribed her name; and it bore, besides, the word "Ship" in red printed letters, "Valparaiso," also, was written upon it. Jenny looked at the letter wonderingly, for a moment or two, and then, with her heart throbbing wildly, left the room. On breaking the seal, she found the letter to be from Mark. It was as follows:
"U. S. SHIP----, Valparaiso, September 4, 18--,
"MY GENTLE FRIEND.--A year has passed since our brief meeting and unhappy parting. I do not think you have forgotten me in that time; you may be sure I have not forgotten you. The memory of one about whom we conversed, alone would keep your image green in my thoughts. Of the rash step I took you have no doubt heard. In anger at unjust treatment both from my father and grandfather, I was weak enough to enter the United States' service as a sailor. Having committed this folly, and being unwilling to humble myself, and appeal to friends who had wronged me for their interest to get me released, I have looked the hardship and degradation before me in the face, and sought to encounter it manfully. The ordeal has been thus far most severe, and I have yet two years of trial before me. As I am where I am by my own act, I will not complain, and yet, I have felt it hard to be cut off from all the sympathy and kind interest of my friends--to have no word from home--to feel that none cares for me. I know that I have offended both my father and grandfather past forgiveness, and my mind is made up to seek for no reconciliation with them. I cannot stoop to that. I have too much of the blood of the Loftons in my veins.
"But why write this to you, Jenny? You will hardly understand how such feelings can govern any heart--your own is so gentle and innocent in all of its impulses. I have other things to say to you! Since our meeting I have never ceased to think of you! I need no picture of your face, for I see it ever before me as distinctly as if sketched by the painter's art. I sometimes ask myself wonderingly, how it is that you, a simple country maiden, could, in one or two brief meetings, have made so strong an impression upon me? But, you bore my mother's name, and your face was like her dear face. Moreover, the beauty of goodness was in your countenance, and a sphere of innocence around you; and I had not strayed so far from virtue's paths as to be insensible to these. Since we parted, Jenny, you have seemed ever present with me, as an angel of peace and protection. In the moment when passion was about overmastering me, you stood by my side, and I seemed to hear your voice speaking to the rising storm, and hushing all into calmness. When my feet have been ready to step aside, you instantly approached and pointed to the better way. Last night I had a dream, and it is because of that dream that I now write to you. I have often felt like writing before; now I write because I cannot help it. I am moved to do so by something that I cannot resist.
"Yesterday I had a difficulty with an officer who has shewn a disposition to domineer over me ever since the cruise commenced. He complained to the commander, who has, in more than one instance shown me kindness. The commander said that I must make certain concessions to the officer, which I felt as humiliating; that good discipline required this, and that unless I did so, he would be reluctantly compelled to order me to the gangway. Thus far I had avoided punishment by a strict obedience to duty. No lash had ever touched me. That degradation I felt would be my ruin; and in fear of the result I bore much, rather than give any petty officer the power to have me punished. 'Let me sleep over it, Captain,' said I, so earnestly, that my request was granted.
"Troubled dreams haunted me as I lay in my hammock that night. At last I seemed to be afloat on the wide ocean, on a single plank, tossing about with the hot sun shining fiercely upon me, and monsters of the great deep gathering around, eager for their prey. I was weak, faint, and despairing. In vain did my eyes sweep the horizon, there was neither vessel nor land in sight. At length the sun went down, and the darkness drew nearer and nearer. Then I could see nothing but the stars shining above me. In this moment, when hope seemed about leaving my heart forever, a light came suddenly around me. On looking up I saw a boat approaching. In the bow stood my mother, and you sat guiding the helm! She took my hand, and I stepped into the boat with a thrill of joy at my deliverance. As I did so, she kissed me, looked tenderly towards you, and faded from my sight. Then I awoke.
"The effect of all this was to subdue my haughty spirit. As soon as an opportunity offered, I made every desired concession for my fault, and was forgiven. And now I am writing to you, I feel as if there was something in that dream, Jenny. Ah! Shall I ever see your face again? Heaven only knows!
"I send this letter to you in care of my grandfather. I know that he will not retain it or seek to know its contents. Unless he should ask after me, do not speak to him or any one of what I have written to you. Farewell! Do not forget me in your prayers.
The effect of this letter upon Jenny, was to interest her intensely. The swell of emotion went deeper, and the activity of her mind took a still higher character. It was plain to her, when she next came into Mr. Lofton's presence, that his thoughts had been busy about the letter she had received. But he asked her no questions, and, faithful to the expressed wish of Mark, she made no reference to the subject whatever.
One part of Jenny's service to the failing old man, had been to read to him daily from the newspapers. This made her familiar with what was passing in the world, gave her food for thought, and helped her to develop and strengthen her mind. Often had she pored over the papers for some news of Mark, but never having heard the name of the vessel in which he had gone to sea, she had possessed no clue to find what she sought for. But now, whenever a paper was opened, her first search was for naval intelligence.
With what a throb of interest did she one day, about a week after Mark's letter came to hand, read an announcement that the ship ---- had been ordered home, and might be expected to arrive daily at Norfolk.
A woman thinks quickly to a conclusion; or, rather, arrives there by a process quicker than thought; especially where her conclusions are to affect a beloved object. In an hour after Jenny had read the fact just stated, she said to Mr. Lofton, who had now come to be much attached to her--
"Will you grant me a favor?"
"Ask what you will, my child," replied Mr. Lofton, with more than usual affection in his tones.
"Let me have fifty dollars."
"Certainly. I know you will use it for a good purpose."
Two days after this Jenny was in Washington. She made the journey alone, but without timidity or fear. Her purpose made her self-possessed and courageous. On arriving at the seat of government, Jenny inquired for the Secretary of the Navy. When she arrived at the Department over which he presided, and obtained an interview, she said to him, as soon as she could compose herself--
"The ship ---- has been ordered home from the Pacific?"
"She arrived at Norfolk last night, and is now hourly expected at the Navy Yard," replied the Secretary.
At this intelligence, Jenny was so much affected that it was some time before she could trust herself to speak.
"You have a brother on board?" said the Secretary.
"There is a young man on board," replied Jenny, in a tremulous voice, "for whose discharge I have come to ask."
The Secretary looked grave.
"At whose instance do you come?" he inquired.
"Solely at my own."
"Who is the young man?"
"Do you know Marshal Lofton?"
"I do, by reputation, well. He belongs to a distinguished family in New York, to which the country owes much for service rendered in trying times."
"The discharge I ask, is for his grandson."
"Young Clifford, do you mean?" The Secretary looked surprised as he spoke. "He is not in the service."
"He is on board the ship ---- as a common sailor."
"It is too true. In a moment of angry disappointment he took the rash step. And, since then, no communication has passed between him and his friends."
The Secretary turned to the table near which he was sitting, and, after writing a few lines on a piece of paper, rung a small hand-bell for the messenger, who came in immediately.
"Take this to Mr J----, and bring me an answer immediately."
The messenger left the room, and the Secretary said to Jenny--
"Wait a moment or two, if you please."
In a little while the messenger came back and handed the Secretary a memorandum from the clerk to whom he had sent for information.
"There is no such person as Clifford on board the ship ----, nor, in fact, in the service as a common sailor," said the Secretary, addressing Jenny, after glancing at the memorandum he had received.
"Oh, yes, there is; there must be," exclaimed the now agitated girl. "I received a letter from him at Valparaiso, dated on board of this ship. And, besides, he wrote home to his father, at the time he sailed, declaring what he had done."
"Strange. His name doesn't appear in the Department as attached to the service. Hark! There's a gun. It announces, in all probability, the arrival of the ship ---- at the Navy Yard."
Jenny instantly became pale.
"Perhaps," suggested the Secretary, "your best way will be to take a carriage and drive down, at once, to the Navy Yard. Shall I direct the messenger to call a carriage for you?"
"I will thank you to do so," replied Jenny, faintly.
The carriage was soon at the door. Jenny was much agitated when she arrived at the Navy Yard. To her question as to whether the ship ---- had arrived, she was pointed to a large vessel which lay moored at the dock. How she mounted its side she hardly knew; but, in what seemed scarcely an instant of time, she was standing on the deck. To an officer who met her, as she stepped on board, she asked for Mark Clifford.
"What is he? A sailor or marine?"
"There is no such person on board, I believe," said the officer.
Poor Jenny staggered back a few paces, while a deadly paleness overspread her face. As she leaned against the side of the vessel for support, a young man, dressed as a sailor, ascended from the lower deck. Their eyes met, and both sprung towards each other.
"Jenny! Jenny! is it you!" fell passionately from his lips, as he caught her in his arms, and kissed her fervently. "Bless you! Bless you, Jenny! This is more than I had hoped for," he added, as he gazed fondly into her beautiful young face.
"They said you were not here," murmured Jenny, "and my heart was in despair."
"You asked for Mark Clifford?"
"I am not known in the service by that name. I entered it as Edward James."
This meeting, occurring as it did, with many spectators around, and they of the ruder class, was so earnest and tender, yet with all, so mutually respectful and decorous, that even the rough sailors were touched by the manner and sentiment of the interview; and mole than one eye grew dim.
Not long did Jenny linger on the deck of the ----. Now that she had found Mark, her next thought was to secure his discharge.