John Esten Cooke.

The Last of the Foresters Or, Humors on the Border; A story of the Old Virginia Frontier online

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That gentleman had left his horse at the outer gate, and approached
the house on foot. Absorbed by his own thoughts, Verty had not seen
him - as indeed neither had Redbud - and the gruff voice gave the young
man the first intimation of his presence.

"Well," repeated the lawyer, leaning on his knotty stick, and scowling
at the two young people from beneath his shaggy eyebrows, "what are
you standing there staring at me for? Am I a wild beast, a rhinoceros,
or a monster of any description, that you can't speak? I asked you why
you were not in town at your work?"

Verty pointed to the horizon.

"The day has only begun," he said.

"Well, sir - "

"And I stopped for only one minute, Mr. Rushton," added Verty."

"One minute! Do you know, sir, that life is made up of minutes?"

"Yes, sir," said Verty.

"Well, if you know that, why do you trifle away your minutes? Don't
reply to me, young man," continued the shaggy bear, "I have no desire
to argue with you - I hate and despise arguing, and will not indulge
you. But remember this, Life is the struggle of a man to pay the debt
he owes to Duty. If he forgets his work, or neglects it, for paltry
gratifications of the senses or the feelings, he is disgraced - he is a
coward in the ranks - a deserter from the regiment - he is an absconding
debtor, sir, and will be proceeded against as such - remember that,
sir! A pretty thing for you here, when you have your duty to
your mother to perform, to be thus dallying and cooing with this
baby - ough!"

And the lawyer scowled at Redbud with terrible emphasis.

Redbud knew Mr. Rushton well, - and smiled. She was rather grateful to
him for having interrupted an interview which her woman-instinct told
had commenced critically; and though Redbud could not, perhaps, have
told any one what she feared, still this instinct spoke powerfully to

It was with a smile, therefore, that Redbud held out her hand to Mr.
Rushton, and said:

"Please don't scold Verty - he won't stay long, and he just stopped to
ask how we all were."

"Humph!" replied the lawyer, his scowling brow relaxing somewhat as he
felt the soft, warm little hand in his own, - "humph! that's the way it
always is. He only stopped to say good morning to 'all;' - I suspect
his curiosity was chiefly on the subject of a single member of the

And a grim smile corrugated - so to speak - the rugged countenance.

Redbud blushed slightly, and said:

"Verty likes us all very much, and - "

"Not a doubt of it!" said the lawyer, "and no doubt 'we all' like
Verty! Come, you foolish children, don't be bothering me with your
nonsense. And you, Mr. Verty - you need'nt be so foolish as to consider
everything I say so harsh as you seem to. You'll go next and tell
somebody that old Rushton is an ill-natured huncks, without conscience
or proper feeling; that he grumbled with you for stopping a moment to
greet your friends. If you say any such thing," added Mr. Rushton,
scowling at the young man, "you will be guilty of as base a
slander - yes, sir! as base a slander, sir! - as imagination could

And with a growl, the speaker turned from Verty, and said, roughly, to

"Where's your father?"'

"Here I am," said the bluff and good-humored voice of the Squire, from
the door; "you are early - much obliged to you." And the Squire and
lawyer shook hands. Mr. Rushton's hand fell coldly to his side, and
regarding the Squire for a moment with what seemed an expression
of contemptuous anger, he said, frowning, until his shaggy, grey
eye-brows met together almost:

"Early! I suppose I am to take up the whole forenoon - the most
valuable part of the day - jogging over the country to examine
title-deeds and accounts? Humph! if you expect anything of the sort,
you are mistaken. No, sir! I started from Winchester at day-break,
without my breakfast, and here I am."

The jovial Squire laughed, and turning from Verty, with whom he had
shaken hands, said to the lawyer:

"Breakfast? - is it possible? Well, Rushton, for once I will be
magnanimous - magnificent, generous and liberal - "

"What!" growled the lawyer.

"You shall have some breakfast here!" finished the Squire, laughing
heartily; and the merry old fellow caught Miss Redbud up from the
porch, deposited a matutinal salute upon her lips, and kicking at old
Caesar as he passed, by way of friendly greeting, led the way into the
breakfast room.

Verty made a movement to depart, inasmuch as he had breakfasted; but
the vigilant eye of the lawyer detected this suspicious manoeuvre;
and the young man found himself suddenly commanded to remain, by the
formula "Wait!" uttered with a growl which might have done honor to a

Verty was not displeased at this interference with his movements, and,
obedient to a sign, followed the lawyer into the breakfast-room.

Everything was delightfully comfortable and cheerful there.

And ere long, at the head of the table sat Miss Lavinia, silent and
dignified; at the foot, the Squire, rubbing his hands, heaping plates
with the savory broil before him, and talking with his mouth full; at
the sides, Mr. Rushton, Redbud and Verty, who sedulously suppressed
the fact that he had already breakfasted, for obvious reasons,
doubtless quite plain to the reader.

The sun streamed in upon the happy group, and seemed to smile with
positive delight at sight of Redbud's happy face, surrounded by its
waving mass of curls - and soft blue eyes, which were the perfection of
tenderness and joy.

He smiled on Verty, too, the jovial sun, and illumined the young man's
handsome, dreamy face, and profuse locks, and uncouth hunter costume,
with a gush of light which made him like a picture of some antique
master, thrown upon canvas in a golden mood, to live forever. All
the figures and objects in the room were gay in the bright sunlight,
too - the shaggy head of Mr. Rushton, and the jovial, ruddy face of the
Squire, and Miss Lavinia's dignified and stately figure, solemn and
imposing, flanked by the silver jug and urn - and on the old ticking
clock, and antique furniture, and smiling portraits, and recumbent
Caesar, did it shine, merry and laughing, taking its pastime ere it
went away to other lands, like a great, cheerful simple soul, smiling
at nature and all human life.

And the talk of all was like the sunshine. The old Squire was king of
the breakfast table, and broke many a jesting shaft at one and all,
not even sparing the stately Miss Lavinia, and the rugged bear who
scowled across the table.

"Good bread for once," said the Squire, slashing into the smoking
loaf; astonishing how dull those negroes are - not to be able to learn
such a simple thing as baking."

"Simple!" muttered the lawyer, "it is not simple! If you recollected
something of chemistry, you would acknowledge that baking bread was no
slight achievement."

"Come, growl again," said his host, laughing; "come, now, indulge your
habit, and say the bread is sour."

"It is!"

"What! - sour!"


The Squire stands aghast - or rather sits, laboring under that

"It is the best bread we have had for six months," he says, at length,
"and as sweet as a nut."

"You have no taste," says Mr. Rushton.

"No taste?"

"None: and the fact that it is the best you have had for six months is
not material testimony. You may have had _lead_ every morning - humph!"

And Mr. Rushton continues his breakfast.

The Squire laughs.

"There you are - in a bad humor," he says.

"I am not."

"Come! say that the broil is bad!"

"It is burnt to a cinder."

"Burnt? Why it's underdone!"

"Well, sir - every man to his taste - you may have yours; leave me

"Oh, certainly; I see you are determined to like nothing. You'll say
next that Lavinia's butter is not sweet."

The lawyer growls.

"I have no desire to offend Miss Lavinia," he says, solemnly; "but
I'll take my oath that there's garlic in it - yes, sir, garlic!"

The Squire bursts into a roar of laughter.

"Good!" he cries - "you are in a cheerful and contented mood. You drop
in just when Lavinia has perfected her butter, and made it as fresh as
a nosegay; and when the cook has sent up bread as sweet as a kernel,
to say nothing of the broil, done to a turn - you come when this highly
desirable state of things has been arrived at, and presume to say that
this is done, that is burnt, the other is tainted with garlic! Admire
your own judgment!"

And the Squire laughs jovially at his discomfited and growling

"True, Lavinia has had lately much to distract her attention," says
the jest-hunting Squire; "but her things were never better in spite
of - . Well we won't touch upon that subject!"

And the mischievous Squire laughs heartily at Miss Lavinia's stately
and reproving expression.

"What's that?" says Mr. Rushton; "what subject?"

"Oh, nothing - nothing."

"What does he mean, madam?" asks Mr. Rushton, of the lady.

Miss Lavinia colors slightly, and looks more stately than ever.

"Nothing, sir," she says, with dignity.

"'Nothing!' nobody ever means anything!"

"Oh, never," says the Squire, and then he adds,
mischievously, - "by-the-by, Rushton, how is my friend, Mr.

"As villainous as ever," says the lawyer; "my opinion of Mr.
Roundjacket, sir, is, that he is a villain!"

Miss Lavinia colors to the temples - the Squire nearly bursts with
pent-up laughter.

"What has he done? A villain did you say?" he asks.

"Yes, sir! - a wretch!"


"Yes - it is possible: and if you knew as much of human nature as I do,
you would never feel surprised at any man's turning out a villain and
a wretch! I am a wretch myself, sir!"

And scowling at the Squire, Mr. Rushton goes on with his breakfast.

The Squire utters various inarticulate sounds which seem to indicate
the stoppage of a bone in his throat. Nevertheless he soon recovers
his powers of speech, and says:

"But how is Roundjacket so bad?"

"He has taken to writing poetry."

"That's an old charge."

"No, sir - he has grown far worse, lately. He is writing an epic - an

And the lawyer looked inexpressibly disgusted.

"I should think a gentleman might compose an epic poem without
rendering himself amenable to insult, sir," says Miss Lavinia, with
freezing hauteur.

"You are mistaken," says Mr. Rushton; "your sex, madam, know nothing
of business. The lawyer who takes to writing poetry, must necessarily
neglect the legal business entrusted to him, and for which he is paid.
Now, madam," added Mr. Rushton, triumphantly, "I defy you, or any
other man - individual, I mean - to say that the person who takes money
without giving an equivalent, is not a villain and a wretch!"

Miss Lavinia colors, and mutters inarticulately.

"Such a man," said Mr. Rushton, with dreadful solemnity, "is already
on his way to the gallows; he has already commenced the downward
course of crime. From this, he proceeds to breach of promise - I mean
any promise, not of marriage only, madam - then to forging, then to
larceny, and finally to burglary and murder. There, madam, that is
what I mean - I defy you to deny the truth of what I say!"

The Squire could endure the pressure upon his larynx no longer, and
exploded like a bomb-shell; or if not in so terrible a manner, at
least nearly as loudly.

No one can tell what the awful sentiments of Mr. Rushton, on the
subject of Roundjacket would have led to, had not the Squire come to
the rescue.

"Well, well," he said, still laughing, "it is plain, my dear Rushton,
that for once in your life you are not well posted up on the 'facts of
your case,' and you are getting worse and worse in your argument, to
say nothing of the prejudice of the jury. Come, let us dismiss the
subject. I don't think Mr. Roundjacket, however, will turn out a
murderer, which would be a horrible blow to me, as I knew his worthy
father well, and often visited him at 'Flowery Lane,' over yonder. But
the discussion is unprofitable - hey! what do you think, Verty, and
you, Miss Redbud?"

Verty raises his head and smiles.

"I am very fond of Mr. Roundjacket," he says.

"Fond of him?"

"Yes, sir: he likes me too, I think," Verty says.

"How does he show it, my boy?"

"He gives me advice, sir."

"What! and you like him for that?"

"Oh, yes, sir."

"Well, perhaps the nature of the advice may modify my surprise at your
gratitude, Verty."

"_Anan_, sir?"

"What advice does he give you?"

Verty laughs.

"Must I tell, sir? I don't know if - "

And Verty blushes slightly, looking at Miss Lavinia and Redbud.

"Come, speak out!" laughs the Squire. "He advises you - "

"Not to get married."

And Verty blushes.

We need not say that the wicked old Squire greets this reply of Verty
with a laugh sufficient to shake the windows.

"Not to get married!" he cries.

"Yes, sir," Verty replies, blushing ingenuously.

"And you like Mr. Roundjacket, you say, because he advises you not to
get - "

"No, oh! no, sir!" interrupts Verty, with sudden energy, "oh! no, sir,
I did not mean that!"

And the young man, embarrassed by his own vehemence, and the eyes
directed toward his face, hangs his head and blushes. Yes, the bold,
simple, honest Verty, blushes, and looks ashamed, and feels as if he
is guilty of some dreadful crime. Do. not the best of us, under the
same circumstances? - that is to say, if we have the good fortune to be
young and innocent.

The Squire looks at Verty and laughs; then at Miss Lavinia.

"So, it seems," he says, "that Mr. Roundjacket counsels a bachelor
life, eh? Good! he is a worthy professor, but an indifferent
practitioner. The rascal! Did you ever hear of such a thing, Lavinia?
I declare, if I were a lady, I should decline to recognize, among my
acquaintances, the upholder of such doctrines - especially when he
poisons the ears of boys like Verty with them!"

And the Squire continues to laugh.

"Perhaps," says Miss Lavinia, with stately dignity, and glancing at
Verty as she speaks, - "perhaps the - hem - circumstances which induced
Mr. Roundjacket to give the advice, might have been - been - peculiar."

And Miss Lavinia smooths down her black silk with dignity.


"Yes," says the lady, glancing this time at Redbud.

"How was it, Verty?" the Squire says, turning to the young man.

Verty, conscious of his secret, blushes and stammers; for how can he
tell the Squire that Mr. Roundjacket and himself were discussing the
propriety of his marrying Redbud? He is no longer the open, frank, and
fearless Verty of old days - he has become a dissembler, for he is in

"I don't know - oh, sir - I could'nt - Mr. Roundjacket - "

The Squire laughs.

"There's some secret here," he says; "out with it, Verty, or it
will choke you. Come, Rushton, you are an adept - cross-examine the

Mr. Rushton growls.

"You won't - then I will."

"Perhaps the time, and the subject of conversation, might aid you,"
says Miss Lavinia, who is nettled at Verty, and thus is guily of what
she is afterwards ashamed of.

"A good idea," says the Squire; "and I am pleased to see, Lavinia,
that you take so much interest in Verty and Mr. Roundjacket."

Miss Lavinia blushes, and looks solemn and stiff.

"Hum!" continues the Squire. "Oyez! the court is opened! First
witness, Mr. Verty! Where, sir, did this conversation occur?"

Verty smiles and colors.

"At Mr. Roundjacket's, sir," he replies.

"The hour, as near as you can recollect."

"In the forenoon, sir."

"Were there any circumstances which tend to fix the hour, and the day,
in your mind?"

"Yes, sir."

"What were they?"

"I recollect that Miss Lavinia called to see Mr. Roundjacket that day,
sir; and as she generally comes into town on Tuesday or Wednesday,
soon after breakfast it must have been - "

Verty is interrupted by a chair pushed back from the table. It is Miss
Lavinia, who, rising, with a freezing "excuse me," sails from the

The Squire bursts into a roar of laughter, and leaving the table,
follows her, and is heard making numerous apologies for his wickedness
in the next room. He returns with the mischievious smile, and says:

"There, Verty! you are a splendid fellow, but you committed a

And laughing, the Squire adds:

"Will you come and see the titles, Rushton?"

The lawyer growls, rises, and bidding Verty remain until he comes out,
follows the Squire.



Redbud rose, smiling, and with the gentle simplicity of one child to
another, said:

"Oh! you ought not to have said that about cousin Lavinia,
Verty - ought you?"

Verty looked guilty.

"I don't think I ought," he said.

"You know she is very sensitive about this."

"Anan?" Verty said, smiling.

Redbud looked gently at the young man, and replied:

"I mean, she does not like any one to speak of it?"

"Why?" said Verty.

"Because - because - engaged people are so funny!"

And Redbud's silver laughter followed the words.

"Are they?" Verty said.

"Yes, indeed."

Verty nodded.

"Next time I will be more thoughtful," he said; "but I think I ought
to have answered honestly."

Redbud shook her curls with a charming little expression of affected

"Oh, no! no!"

"Not answer?"

"Certainly not, sir - fie! in the cause of ladies!"

Verty laughed.

"I understand," he said, "you are thinking of the books about the
knights - the old Froissart, yonder, in four volumes. But you know
there were'nt any courts in those days, and knights were not obliged
to answer."

Redbud, training up a drooping vine, replied, laughing:

"Oh, no - I was only jesting. Don't mind my nonsense. Look at that
pretty morning-glory."

Verty looked at Redbud, as if she were the object in question.

"You will hurt your hand," he said, - "those thorns on the briar are so
sharp; take care!"

And Verty grasped the vine, and, no doubt, accidentally, Redbud's hand
with it.

"Now I have it," he said; and suddenly seeing the double meaning of
his words, the young man added, with a blush and a smile, "it is all I
want in the world."

"What? the - oh!"

And Miss Redbud, suddenly aware of Mr. Verty's meaning, finds her
voice rather unsafe, and her cheeks covered with blushes. But with
the tact of a grown woman, she applies herself to the defeat of her
knight; and, turning away, says, as easily as possible:

"Oh, yes - the thorn; it is a pretty vine; take care, or it will hurt
your hand."

Verty feels astounded at his own boldness, but says, with his dreamy
Indian smile:

"Oh, no, I don't want the thorn - the rose! - the rose!"

Redbud understands that this is only a paraphrase - after the Indian
fashion - for her own name, and blushes again.

"We - were - speaking of cousin Lavinia," she says, hesitatingly.

Verty sighs.

"Yes," he returns.

Redbud smiles.

"And I was scolding you for replying to papa's question," she adds.

Verty sighs again, and says:

"I believe you were right; I don't think I could have told them what
we were talking about."

"Why?" asks the young girl.

"We were talking about you," says Verty, gazing at Redbud tenderly;
"and you will think me very foolish," adds Verty, with a tremor in
his voice; "but I was asking Mr. Roundjacket if he thought you
could - love - me - O, Redbud - "

Verty is interrupted by the appearance of Miss Lavinia.

Redbud turns away, blushing, and overwhelmed with confusion.

Miss Lavinia comes to the young man, and holds out her hand.

"I did not mean to hurt your feelings, just now, Verty," she says,
"pardon me if I made you feel badly. I was somewhat nettled, I

And having achieved this speech, Miss Lavinia stiffens again into
imposing dignity, sails away into the house, and disappears, leaving
Verty overwhelmed with surprise.

He feels a hand laid upon his arm; - a blushing face looks frankly and
kindly into his own.

"Don't let us talk any more in that way, Verty, please," says the
young girl, with the most beautiful frankness and ingenuousness; "we
are friends and playmates, you know; and we ought not to act toward
each other as if we were grown gentleman and lady. Please do not; it
will make us feel badly, I am sure. I am only Redbud, you know, and
you are Verty, my friend and playmate. Shall I sing you one of our old

The soft, pure voice sounded in his ears like some fine melody of
olden poets - her frank, kind eyes, as she looked at him, soothed and
quieted him. Again, she was the little laughing star of his childhood,
as when they wandered about over the fields - little children - that
period so recent, yet which seemed so far away, because the opening
heart lives long in a brief space of time. Again, she was to him
little Redbud, he to her was the boy-playmate Verty. She had done all
by a word - a look; a kind, frank smile, a single glance of confiding
eyes. He loved her more than ever - yes, a thousand times more
strongly, and was calm.

He followed her to the harpsichord, and watched her in every movement,
with quiet happiness; he seemed to be under the influence of a charm.

"I think I will try and sing the 'Rose of Glengary,'" she said,
smiling; "you know, Verty, it is one of the old songs you loved so
much, and it will make us think of old times - in childhood, you know;
though that is not such old, _old_ time - at least for me," added
Redbud, with a smile, more soft and confiding than before. "Shall I
sing it? Well, give me the book - the brown-backed one."

The old volume - such as we find to-day in ancient country-houses - was
opened, and Redbud commenced singing. The girl sang the sweet ditty
with much expression; and her kind, touching voice filled the old
homestead with a tender melody, such as the autumn time would utter,
could its spirit become vocal. The clear, tender carol made the place
fairy-land for Verty long years afterwards, and always he seemed to
hear her singing when he visited the room. Redbud sang afterwards more
than one of those old ditties - "Jock o' Hazeldean," and "Flowers of
the Forest," and many others - ditties which, for us to-day, seem like
so many utterances of the fine old days in the far past.

For, who does not hear them floating above those sweet fields of the
olden time - those bright Hesperian gardens, where, for us at least,
the fruits are all golden, and the airs all happy?

Beautiful, sad ditties of the brilliant past! not he who writes would
have you lost from memory, for all the modern world of music. Kind
madrigals! which have an aroma of the former day in all your cadences
and dear old fashioned trills - from whose dim ghosts now, in the faded
volumes stored away in garrets and on upper shelves, we gather what
you were in the old immemorial years! Soft melodies of another age,
that sound still in the present with such moving sweetness, one
heart at least knows what a golden treasure you clasp, and listens
thankfully when you deign to issue out from silence; for he finds in
you alone - in your gracious cadences, your gay or stately voices - what
he seeks; the life, and joy, and splendor of the antique day sacred to
love and memory!

And Verty felt the nameless charm of the good old songs, warbled by
the young girl's sympathetic voice; and more than once his wild-wood
nature stirred within him, and his eyes grew moist. And when she
ceased, and the soft carol went away to the realm of silence, and was
heard no more, the young man was a child again; and Redbud's hand was
in his own, and all his heart was still.

The girl rose, with a smile, and said that they had had quite enough
of the harpsichord and singing - the day was too beautiful to spend
within doors. And so she ran gaily to the door, and as she reached it,
uttered a gay exclamation. Ralph and Fanny were seen approaching from
the gate.



Ralph was mounted, as usual, upon his fine sorrel, and Fanny rode a
little milk-white pony, which the young man had procured for her. We
need not say that Miss Fanny looked handsome and coquettish, or Mr.
Ralph merry and good-humored. Laughter was Fanny's by undoubted right,
unless her companion could contest the palm.

Miss Fanny's first movement, after dismounting, was to clasp Miss
Redbud to her bosom with enthusiastic affection, as is the habit with
young ladies upon public occasions; and then the fair equestrian
recognized Verty's existence by a fascinating smile, which caused the
unfortunate Ralph to gaze and sigh.

"Oh, Redbud!" cried Miss Fanny, laughing, and shaking gaily her ebon
curls, "you can't think what a delightful ride I've had - with Ralph,
you know, who has'nt been half as disagreeable as usual - "

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Online LibraryJohn Esten CookeThe Last of the Foresters Or, Humors on the Border; A story of the Old Virginia Frontier → online text (page 24 of 26)