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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 15
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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 15 Post by :kids8 Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1075

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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV

I had not formed my plan of taking part in the coming insurrection without many misgivings lest I should by so doing bring harm upon the Cavendishes. But on discussing the matter in all its bearings with Major Robert Beverly, whom I had ever held to be a man of judgment, he assured me that in his opinion there could no possible ill result come to such a household of women, especially when the head of it was of such openly-avowed royalist leanings. Unless, indeed, he admitted, the bringing over of the arms and the powder was to be traced to Mistress Mary Cavendish. This he said, not knowing the secret of his first wife's tomb, and I feeling, as indeed I was, an arch deceiver. But what other course is left open to any man, when he can shield the one he loves best in the whole world only at the expense of some one else? Can he do otherwise but let the other suffer, and even forfeit his sense of plain dealing? I have lived to be an old man, and verily nothing hath so grown in the light of my experience as the impossibility of serving love except at a loss, not only to others, but to oneself. But that truth of the greatest importance in the whole world hath also grown upon me, that love should be served at whatever cost. I cared not then, and I care not now, who suffered and who was wronged, if only that beloved one was saved.

I went home that night from Barry Upper Branch riding a horse which Dick Barry lent me, on learning that I had come thither without one, though not in what mad fashion, and Sir Humphrey rode with me until our roads parted. Much gaming was there that night after we left; we leaving the Barrys and my Lord Estes and Drake and Captain Jaynes and many others intent upon the dice, but Humphrey and I did not linger, I having naught to stake, and he having promised his mother not to play. "Sometimes I wish that I had not so promised my mother," he said, looking back at me over his great boyish shoulder as he rode ahead, "for sometimes I think 'tis part of the estate of a man to put up stakes at cards, and to win or lose as beseems a gentleman of Virginia and a cavalier. But, sure, Harry, a promise to a man's mother is not to be broke lightly, and indeed she doth ask me every night when I return late, and I shall see her face at the window when I ride in sight of the great house; but faith, Harry, I would love to win in something, if not in hearts, in a throw of the dice. For sure I am a man grown, and have never had my own will in aught that lies near my heart."

With that he gave a great sigh, and I striving to cheer him, and indeed loving the lad, replied that he was but young, and there was still time ahead, and the will of one's heart required often but a short corner of turning. But he was angry again at me for that, and cried out I knew not for all I was loved in return, the heart of a certain maid as well as he who was despised, and spurred his horse and rode on ahead, and when we had come to the division of the road, saluted me shortly, and was gone, and the sound of his galloping died away in the distance, and I rode home alone meditating.

And when I reached Drake Hill a white curtain fluttered athwart a window, and I caught a gleam of a white arm pulling it to place, and knew that Mistress Mary had been watching for me--I can not say with what rapture and triumph and misgivings.

It was well toward morning, and indeed a faint pallor of dawn was in the east, and now and then a bird was waking. Not a slave on the plantation was astir, and the sounds of slumber were coming from the quarters. So I myself put my borrowed horse in stable, and then was seeking my own room, when, passing through the hall, a white figure started forth from a shadow and caught me by the arm, and it was Catherine Cavendish. She urged me forth to the porch, I being bewildered and knowing not how, nor indeed if it were wise, to resist her. But when we stood together there, in that hush of slumber only broken now and then by the waking love of a bird, and it seemed verily as if we two were alone in the whole world, a sense of the situation flashed upon me. I turned on my heel to reenter the house. "Madam," I said, "this will never do. If you remain here with me, your reputation--"

"What think you I care for my reputation?" she whispered. "What think you? Harry Wingfield, you cannot do this monstrous thing. You cannot be so lost to all honour as to let my sister--You cannot, and you a convict--"

Then, indeed, for the first time in my life and the last I answered a woman as if she were a man, and on an equal footing of antagonism with me. "Madam," I replied, "I will maintain my honour against your own." But she seemed to make no account of what I said. Indeed I have often wondered whether a woman, when she is in pursuit of any given end, can progress by other methods than an ant, which hath no power of circuitousness, and will climb over a tree with long labour and pain rather than skirt it, if it come in her way. Straight at her purpose she went. "Harry, Harry," she said, still in that sharp whisper, "you will not, you cannot--she is but a child."

Before I could reply, out ran Mary Cavendish herself, and was close at my side, turning an angry face upon her sister.

"Catherine," she cried out, "how dare you? I am no child. Think you that I do not know my own mind? How dare you? You shall not come between Harry and me! I am his before the whole world. I will not have it, Catherine!"

Then Catherine Cavendish, awakening such bewilderment and dismay in me as I had never felt, looked at her sister, and said in a voice which I can hear yet: "Have thy way then, sister; but 'tis over thy own sister's heart."

"What mean you?" Mary asked breathlessly.

"I love him!" said Catherine.

I felt the hot blood mount to my head, and I knew what shame was. I turned to retreat. I knew not what to do, but Mary's voice stopped me. It rang out clear and pitiless, with that pitilessness of a great love.

"And what is that to me, Catherine?" she cried out. "Sure it is but to thy shame if thou hast loved unsought and confessed unasked. And if I had ten thousand sisters, and they all in love with him, as well they might be, for there is no one like him in the whole world, over all their hearts would I go, rather than he should miss me for but a second, if he loved me. Think you that aught like that can make a difference? Think you that one heart can outweigh two, and the misery of one be of any account before that of three?"

Then suddenly she looked sharply at her sister and cried out angrily:

"Catherine Cavendish, I know what this means. 'Tis but another device to part us. You love him not. You have hated him from the first. You have hated him, and he is no more guilty than you be. 'Tis but a trick to turn me from him. Fie, think you that will avail? Think you that a sister's heart counts with a maid before her lover's? Little you know of love and lovers to think that."

Then to my great astonishment, since I had never seen such weakness in her before, Catherine flung up her hands before her face and burst into such a storm of wild weeping as never was, and fled into the house, and Mary and I stood alone together, but only for a second, for Mary, also casting a glance at me, then about her at the utter loneliness and silence of the world, fled in her turn. Then I went to my room, but not to sleep nor to think altogether of love, for my Lord Culpeper was to sail that day, and the next night was appointed for the beginning of the plant cutting.

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