by Timothy Shay Arthur
Mark Clifford had come up from New York to spend a few weeks with his maternal grandfather, Mr. Meade, who lived almost alone on his beautiful estate a few miles from the Hudson, amid the rich valleys of Orange county. Mr. Meade belonged to one of the oldest families in the country, and retained a large portion of that aristocratic pride for which they were distinguished. The marriage of his daughter to Mark's father, Mr. Luke Clifford, a merchant of New York, had been strongly opposed on the ground that the alliance was degrading — Mr. Luke Clifford not being able to boast of an ancestor who was anything more than an honest man and a useful citizen.
A closer acquaintance with his son-in-law, after the marriage took place, reconciled Mr. Meade in a good measure to the union; for he found Mr. Luke Clifford to be a man of fine intelligence, gentlemanly feeling, and withal, tenderly attached to his daughter. The marriage was a happy one — and this is rarely the case when the external and selfish desire to make a good family connection, is regarded above the mental and moral qualities on which a true union only can be based.
A few years previous to the time at which our story opens, Mrs. Clifford died, leaving one son and two daughters. Mark, the oldest of the children, was in his seventeenth year at the time the sad bereavement occurred — the girls were quite young. He had always been an active boy — ever disposed to get beyond the judicious restraints which his parents wisely sought to throw around him. After his mother's death, he attained a wider liberty. He was still at college when this melancholy event occurred, and continued there for two years; but no longer in correspondence with, and therefore not under the influence of one whose love for him sought ever to hold him back from evil — his natural temperament led him into the indulgence of a liberty that too often went beyond the bounds of propriety.
On leaving college, Mr. Luke Clifford conferred with his son Mark concerning the profession he wished to adopt, and to his surprise found him bent on entering the Navy. All efforts to discourage the idea were of no avail. The young man was for the navy and nothing else. Yielding at last to the desire of his son, Mr. Luke Clifford entered the usual form of application at the Navy Yard in Washington for his son Mark, but, at the same time, in a private letter to the Secretary, intimated his wish that the application might not be favorably considered.
Time passed on, but Mark did not receive the anxiously looked for appointment. Many reasons were conjectured by the young man, who, at last, resolved on pushing through his application, if personal efforts could be of any avail. To this end, he repaired to the seat of government, and waited on the Secretary. In his interviews with this functionary, some expressions were dropped that caused a suspicion of the truth to pass through his mind. A series of rapidly recurring questions addressed to the Secretary were answered in a way that fully confirmed this suspicion. The effect of this upon the excitable and impulsive young man will appear as our story progresses.
It was while Mark's application was pending, and a short time before his visit to Washington, that he came up to Fairview, the residence of his grandfather, Mr. Meade. Mark had always been a favorite with the old gentleman, who rather encouraged his desire to enter the Navy.
"The boy will distinguish himself," Mr. Meade would say, as he thought over the matter. And the idea of distinction in the army or navy, was grateful to his aristocratic feelings. "There is some of the right blood in his veins for all."
One afternoon, some two or three days after the young man came up to Fairview, he was returning from a ramble in the woods with his gun, when he met a beautiful young girl, simply attired, and bearing on her head a light bundle of grain which she had gleaned in a neighboring field. She was tripping lightly along, singing as gaily as a bird, when she came suddenly upon the young man, over whose face there passed an instant glow of admiration. Mark bowed and smiled, the maiden dropped a bashful courtesy, and then each passed on; but neither to forget the other. When Mark turned, after a few steps, to gaze after the sweet wild flower he had met so unexpectedly, he saw the face again, for she had turned also. He did not go home on that evening, until he had seen the lovely being who glanced before him in her native beauty, enter a neat little cottage that stood half a mile from Fairview, nearly hidden by vines, and overshadowed by two tall sycamores.
On the next morning Mark took his way toward the cottage with his gun. As he drew near, the sweet voice he had heard on the day before was warbling tenderly an old song his mother had sung when he was but a child; and with the air and words so well remembered, came a gentleness of feeling, and a love of what was pure and innocent, such as he had not experienced for many years. In this state of mind he entered the little porch, and stood listening for several minutes to the voice that still flung itself plaintively or joyfully upon the air, according to the sentiment breathed in the words that were clothed in music; then as the voice became silent, he rapped gently at the door, which, in a few moments, was opened by the one whose attractions had drawn him thither.
A warm color mantled the young girl's face as her eyes fell upon so unexpected a visitor. She remembered him as the young man she had met on the evening before; about whom she had dreamed all night, and thought much since the early morning. Mark bowed, and, as an excuse for calling, asked if her mother were at home.
"My mother died when I was but a child," replied the girl, shrinking back a step or two; for Mark was gazing earnestly into her face.
"Ah! Then you are living with your — your — "
"Mrs. Lee has been a mother to me since then," said she, dropping her eyes to the floor.
"Then I will see the good woman who has taken your mother's place." Mark stepped in as he spoke, and took a chair in the neat little sitting room into which the door opened.
"She has gone over to Mr. Meade's," said the girl, in reply, "and won't be back for an hour."
"Has she, indeed? Then you know Mr. Meade?"
"Oh, yes. We know him very well. He owns our little cottage."
"Does he! No doubt you find him a good landlord."
"He's a kind man," said the girl, earnestly.
"He is, as I have good reason to know," remarked the young man. "Mr. Meade is my grandfather."
The girl seemed much surprised at this avowal, and appeared less at ease than before.
"And now, having told you who I am," said Mark, "I think I may be bold enough to ask your name."
"My name is Jenny Lawson," replied the girl.
"A pretty name, that — Jenny — I always liked the sound of it. My mother's name was Jenny. Did you ever see my mother? But don't tremble so! Sit down, and tell your fluttering heart to be still."
Jenny sunk into a chair, her bosom heaving, and the crimson flush still glowing on her cheeks, while Mark gazed into her face with undisguised admiration.
"Who would have thought," said he to himself, "that so sweet a wild flower grew in this out of the way place."
"Did you ever see my mother, Jenny?" asked the young man, after she was a little composed.
"Then we will be friends from this moment, Jenny. If you knew my mother then, you must have loved her. She has been dead now over three years."
There was a shade of sadness in the young man's voice as he said this.
"When did you see her last?" he resumed.
"The summer before she died, she came up from New York and spent two or three weeks here. I saw her then, almost every day."
"And you loved my mother? Say you did!"
The young man spoke with a rising emotion that he could not restrain.
"Everybody loved her," replied Jenny, simply and earnestly.
For a few moments Mark concealed his face with his hands, to hide the signs of feeling that were playing over it; then looking up again, he said —
"Jenny, because you knew my mother and loved her, we must be friends. It was a great loss to me when she died. The greatest loss I ever had, or, it may be, ever will have. I have been worse since then. Ah me! If she had only lived!"
Again Mark covered his face with his hands, and, this time, he could not keep the dimness from his eyes.
It was a strange sight to Jenny to see the young man thus moved. Her innocent heart was drawn toward him with a pitying interest, and she yearned to speak words of comfort, but knew not what to say.
After Mark grew composed again, he asked Jenny a great many questions concerning her knowledge of his mother; and listened with deep interest and emotion to many little incidents of Jenny's interactions with her, which were related with all the artlessness and force of truth. In the midst of this singular interview, Mrs. Lee came in and surprised the young couple, who, forgetting all reserve, were conversing with an interest in their manner, the ground of which she might well misunderstand. Jenny startled and looked confused, but, quickly recovering herself, introduced Mark as the grandson of Mr. Meade.
The old lady did not respond to this with the cordiality that either of the young folks had expected. No, not by any means. A flush of angry suspicion came into her face, and she said to Jenny as she handed her the bonnet she hurriedly removed —
"Here — take this into the other room and put it away."
The moment Jenny retired, Mrs. Lee turned to Mark, and after looking at him somewhat sternly for a moment, surprised him with this speech —
"If I ever find you here again, young man, I'll complain to your grandfather!"
"Will you, indeed!" returned Mark, elevating his person, and looking at the old lady with flashing eyes. "And what will you say to the old gentleman?"
"Fine doings, indeed, for the likes of you to come creeping into a decent woman's house when she is away!" resumed Mrs. Lee. "Jenny's not the kind you're looking after, let me tell you. What would your poor dear mother, who is in Heaven, God bless her! think, if she knew of this?"
The respectful and even affectionate reference to his mother, softened the feelings of Mark, who was growing very angry.
"Good day," said he, as he turned away; "you don't know what you're talking about!" and springing from the door, he hurried off with rapid steps. On reaching a forest that lay at some distance off, Mark sought a retired spot, near where a quiet stream went stealing noiselessly along amid its oak-tree and willow-fringed banks, and sitting down upon a grassy spot, gave himself up to meditation. Little inclined was he now for hunting. The birds sung in the trees above him, fluttered from branch to branch, and even dipped their wings in the calm waters of the stream — but he heeded them not. He had other thoughts. Greatly had old Mrs. Lee, in the blindness of her suddenly aroused fears, wronged the young man. If the sphere of innocence that was around the beautiful girl had not been all powerful to subdue evil thoughts and passions in his heart, the reference to his mother would have been effectual to that end.
For half an hour had Mark remained seated alone, busy, with thoughts and feelings of a less wandering and adventurous character than usually occupied his mind, when, to his surprise, he saw Jenny Lawson advancing along a path that led through a portion of the woods, with a basket on her arm. She did not observe him until she had approached within some fifteen or twenty paces; when he arose to his feet, and she, seeing him, stopped suddenly, and looked pale and alarmed.
"I am glad to meet you again, Jenny," said Mark, going quickly toward her, and taking her hand, which she yielded without resistance. "Don't be frightened. Mrs. Lee did me wrong. Heaven knows I would not hurt a hair of your head! Come and sit down with me in this quiet place, and let us talk about my mother. You say you knew her and loved her. Let her memory make us friends."
Mark's voice trembled with feeling. There was something about the girl that made the thought of his mother a holier and tenderer thing. He had loved his mother intensely, and since her death, had felt her loss as the saddest calamity that had, or possibly ever could, befall him. Afloat on the stormy sea of human life, he had seemed like a mariner without helm or compass.
Urged by so strong an appeal, Jenny allowed herself to be led to the retired spot where Mark had been reclining, half wondering, half fearful — yet impelled by a certain feeling that she could not well resist. In fact, each exercised a power over the other, a power not arising from any determination of will, but from a certain emotional affinity that neither comprehended. Some have called this "destiny," but it has a better name.
"Jenny," said Mark, after they were seated — he still retained her hand in his, and felt it tremble — "tell me something about my mother. It will do me good to hear of her from your lips."
The girl tried to make some answer, but found no utterance. Her lips trembled so that she could not speak. But she grew more composed after a time, and then in reply to many questions of Mark, related incident after incident, in which his mother's goodness of character stood prominent. The young man listened intently, sometimes with his eyes upon the ground, and sometimes gazing admiringly into the sweet face of the young speaker.
Time passed more rapidly than either Mark or Jenny imagined. For fully an hour had they been engaged in earnest conversation, when both were painfully surprised by the appearance of Mrs. Lee, who had sent Jenny on an errand, and expected her early return. A suspicion that she might encounter young Clifford having flashed through the old woman's mind, she had come forth to learn if possible the cause of Jenny's long absence. To her grief and anger — she discovered them sitting together engaged in earnest conversation.
"Now, Mark Clifford!" she exclaimed as she advanced, "this is too bad! And Jenny, you weak and foolish girl! are you madly bent on seeking the fowler's snare? Child! child! is it thus you repay me for my love and care over you!"
Both Mark and Jenny startled to their feet, the face of the former flushed with instant anger, and that of the other pale from alarm.
"Come!" and Mrs. Lee caught hold of Jenny's arm and drew her away. As they moved off, the former, glancing back at Mark, and shaking her finger towards him, said —
"I'll see your grandfather, young man!"
Fretted by this second disturbance of an interview with Jenny, and angry at an unjust imputation of motive, Mark dashed into the woods, with his gun in his hand, and walked rapidly, but aimlessly, for nearly an hour, when he found himself at the summit of a high mountain, from which, far down and away towards the east, he could see the silvery Hudson winding along like a vein of silver. Here, wearied with his walk, and faint in heart from over excitement, he sat down to rest and to compose his thoughts. Scarcely intelligible to himself were his feelings. The meeting with Jenny, and the effect upon him, were things that he did not clearly understand. Her influence over him was a mystery. In fact, what had passed so hurriedly, was to him more like a dream than a reality.
No further idea of hunting entered the mind of the young man on that day. He remained until after the sun had passed the meridian in this retired place, and then went slowly back, passing the cottage of Mrs. Lee on his return. He did not see Jenny as he had hoped. On meeting his grandfather Mr. Meade, Mark became aware of a change in the old man's feelings towards him, and he guessed at once rightly as to the cause. If he had experienced any doubts, they would have been quickly removed.
"Mark!" said the old gentleman, sternly, almost the moment the grandson came into his presence, "I wish you to go back to New York tomorrow. I presume I need hardly explain my reason for this wish, when I tell you that I have just had a visit from old Mrs. Lee."
The fiery spirit of Mark was stung into madness by this further reaction on him in a matter that involved nothing of criminal intent. Impulsive in his feelings, and quick to act from them, he replied with a calmness and even sadness in his voice that Mr. Meade did not expect — the calmness was from a strong effort; the sadness expressed his real feelings:
"I will not trouble you with my presence an hour longer. If evil arise from this trampling of good impulse out of my heart, the sin rest on your own head. I never was and never can be patient under a false judgment. Farewell, grandfather! We may never meet again. If you hear of evil befalling me, think of it as having some connection with this hour."
With these words Mark turned away and left the house. The old man, in grief and alarm at the effect of his words, called after him, but he heeded him not.
"Run after him, and tell him to come back," he cried to a servant who stood near and had listened to what had passed between them. The order was obeyed, but it was of no avail. Mark returned a bitter answer to the message he brought him, and continued on his way. As he was hurrying along, suddenly he encountered Jenny. It was strange that he should meet her so often. There was something in it more than accident, and he felt that it was so.
"God bless you, Jenny!" he exclaimed with much feeling, catching hold of her hand and kissing it. "We may never meet again. They thought I meant you harm, and have driven me away. But, Heaven knows how no evil purpose was in my heart! Farewell! Sometimes, when you are kneeling to say your nightly prayers, think of me, and breathe my name in your petitions. I will need the prayers of the innocent. Farewell!"
And under the impulse of the moment, Mark bent forward and pressed his lips fervently upon her pure forehead; then, springing away, left her bewildered and in tears.
Mark hurried on towards the nearest landing place on the river, some three miles distant, which he reached just as a steamboat was passing. Waving his handkerchief, as a signal, the boat rounded to, and touching at the crude pier, took him on board. He arrived in New York that evening, and on the next morning started for Washington to see after his application for a midshipman's appointment in the navy. It was on this occasion that the young man became aware of the secret influence of his father against the application which had been made. His mind, already feverishly excited, lost its balance under this new disturbing cause.
"He will repent of this!" said he, bitterly, as he left the room of the Secretary of the Navy, "and repent it until the day of his death. Make a fixture of me in a counting room! Shut me up in a lawyer's office! Lock me down in a medicine chest! Mark Clifford never will submit! If I cannot enter the service in one way, I will in another."
Without pausing to weigh the consequences of his act, Mark, in a spirit of revenge towards his father, went, while the angry fever was on him, to the Navy Yard, and there entered the United States service as a common sailor, under the name of Edward James. On the day following, the ship on board of which he had enlisted was gliding down the Potomac, and, in a week after, left Hampton Roads and went to sea.
From Norfolk, Mr. Luke Clifford received a brief note written by his son, upbraiding him for having defeated the application to the Navy, and avowing the fact that he had gone to sea in the government service, as a common sailor.
It was impossible for such passionate interviews, brief though they were, to take place without leaving on the heart of a pure-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 several 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 as soon as she took Jenny home, she hurried over to Mr. Meade, 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. Meade! for goodness' sake, send him back to New York! If he remains 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. Meade 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. Meade 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. Meade's anger cooled, and he felt that he had allowed 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. Meade. 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. Meade, 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. Meade 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 crossly 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, did you come to meet him, in the woods, Jenny?" said Mr. Meade. "Did he tell you that he would wait there for you?"
"Oh, no, sir. The meeting was purely 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. Meade, 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. Meade 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. Meade 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. Meade 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 harm to 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. Meade 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 information, was an indignant avowal of his father that he would have nothing more to do with him. To old Mr. Meade, 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. Meade'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 of such a preference, and in the warmth of a moment's impulse, he corrected his will and cut him off without 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. Meade 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 hasty 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 physical 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 inflicted on a sailor for the offence of insolence to an officer. The sight of the poor man, writhing under the 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 such flogging, 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 from the young midshipmen on board 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 mirthful 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 Mark Clifford. His hand had stirred the waters of affection in her gentle bosom; and they knew no rest.
Mr. Meade 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. Meade 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 Mark 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. Meade companionable; and, before a year had elapsed from the time Mark went away, Mrs. Lee, having passed her custody of Jenny — 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 sincere minded, innocent, true-hearted girl, in whose bosom scarce beat a single selfish impulse — she had found herself suddenly approached by Mark, 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 fellowship, 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 find 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. Meade, 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. Meade 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, "Chile, South America" 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 Enterprise, Chile, South America, September 4, 1876
"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 service 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 no one 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 Meade's 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 purity. 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 shown 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 a flogging on 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 anyone 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. Meade'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 news.
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 Enterprise 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. Meade, who had now come to be much attached to her —
"Will you grant me a favor?"
"Ask what you will, my child," replied Mr. Meade, 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 Enterprise 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 Marshall Meade?"
"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 Mark Clifford, do you mean?" The Secretary looked surprised as he spoke. "He is not in the service."
"He is on board the ship Enterprise 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. Judson, 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 Enterprise, 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 cannon. It announces, in all probability, the arrival of the ship Enterprise 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 Enterprise 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 those of the cruder 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 made than one eye grew dim.
Not long did Jenny linger on the deck of the Enterprise. Now that she had found Mark, her next thought was to secure his discharge.
It was little more than half an hour after the Secretary of the Navy parted with Jenny, before she entered his office again; but now with her beautiful face flushed and eager.
"I have found him!" she exclaimed; "I knew he was on board this ship!"
The Secretary's interest had been awakened by the former brief interview with Jenny, and when she came in with the announcement, he was not only affected with pleasure, but his feelings were touched by her manner. "How is it, then," he inquired, "that his name is not to be found in the list of her crew?"
"He entered the service under the name of Edward James."
"Ah! that explains it."
"And now, sir," said Jenny, in a voice so earnest and appealing, that her auditor felt like granting her desire without a moment's reflection: "I have come to entreat you to give me his release."
"On what ground do you make this request?" inquired the Secretary, gazing into the sweet young face of Jenny, with a feeling of respect blended with admiration.
"On the ground of humanity," was the simple yet earnestly spoken reply.
"How can you put it on that ground?"
"A young man of his education and abilities can serve society better in another position."
"But he has chosen the place he is in."
"Not deliberately. In a moment of disappointment and blind passion — he took a false step. Severely has he suffered for this act. Let it not be prolonged, lest it destroy him. One of his spirit can scarcely pass through so severe an ordeal without fainting."
"Does Mr. Meade, his grandfather, desire what you ask?"
"Mr. Meade is a proud man. He entertained high hopes for Mark, who has, in this act, so bitterly disappointed them, that he has not been known to utter his name since the news of his enlistment was received."
"And his father?"
Jenny shook her head, sighing —
"I don't know anything about him. He was angry, and, I believe, cast him off."
"And you, then, are his only advocate?"
Jenny's eyes dropped to the floor, and a deeper tinge overspread her countenance.
"What is your relation to him, and to his friends?" asked the Secretary, his manner becoming more serious.
It was some moments before Jenny replied. Then she said, in a more subdued voice:
"I am living with Mr. Meade. But — "
She hesitated, and then became silent and embarrassed.
"Does Mr. Meade know of your journey to Washington?"
Jenny shook her head.
"Where did you tell him you were going?"
"I said nothing to him, but came away the moment I heard the ship was expected to arrive at Norfolk."
"Suppose I release him from the service?"
"I will persuade him to go back with me to Fairview, and then I know that all will be forgiven between him and his grandfather. You don't know how Mr. Meade has failed since Mark went away," added Jenny in a tone meant to reach the feelings of her auditor.
"He looks many years older. Ah, sir, if you would only grant my request!"
"Will the young man return to his family! Have you spoken to him about it?"
"No; I wished not to create hopes which might fail. But give me his release, and I will have a claim on him."
"And you will require him to go home in acknowledgment of that claim."
"I will not leave him till he goes back," said Jenny.
"Is he not satisfied in the service?"
"How could he be satisfied with it?" Jenny spoke with a quick impulse, and with something like rebuke in her voice. "No! It is crushing out his very life. Think of your own son in such a position!"
There was something in this appeal, and in the way it was uttered, that decided the Secretary's mind. A man of acute observation, and humane feelings, he not only understood pretty clearly the relation that Jenny bore to Mark and his family, but sympathized with the young man and resolved to grant the maiden's request. Leaving her for a few minutes, he went into an adjoining room. When he returned, he had a sealed letter in his hand directed to the commander of the ship Enterprise.
"This will procure his dismissal from the service," said he, as he reached it towards Jenny.
"May Heaven reward you!" fell from the lips of the young girl, as she received the letter. Then, with the tears glistening in her eyes, she hurriedly left the room.
While old Mr. Meade was yet wondering what Jenny could want with fifty dollars, a servant came and told him that she had just heard from a neighbor who came up a little while before from the landing, that he had seen Jenny go on board of a steamboat that was on its way to New York.
"It can't be so," quickly answered Mr. Meade.
"Mr. Jones said, positively, that it was her."
"Tell Henry to go to Mr. Jones and ask him, as a favor, to step over and see me."
In due time Mr. Jones came.
"Are you certain that you saw Jenny Lawson go on board the steamboat for New York today?" asked Mr. Meade, when the neighbor appeared.
"Oh, yes, sir; it was her," replied the man.
"Did you speak to her?"
"I was going to, but she hurried past me without looking in my face."
"Had she anything with her?"
"There was a small bundle in her hand."
"Strange — strange — very strange," murmured the old man to himself. "What does it mean? Where can she have gone?"
"Did she say nothing about going away?"
"Nothing — nothing!"
Mr. Meade's eyes fell to the floor, and he sat thinking for some moments.
"Mr. Jones," said he, at length, "can you go to New York for me?"
"I suppose so," replied Mr. Jones.
"When will the morning boat from Albany pass here?"
"In about two hours."
"Then get yourself ready, if you please, and come over to me. I do not like this of Jenny, and must find out where she has gone."
Mr. Jones promised to do as was desired, and went to make all necessary preparations. Before he returned, a servant brought Mr. Meade a sealed note bearing his name, which she had found in Jenny's chamber. It was as follows:
"Do not be alarmed at my telling you that, when you receive this, I will be on a journey of two or three hundred miles in extent, and may not return for weeks. Believe me, that my purpose is a good one. I hope to be back much sooner than I have said. When I do get home, I know you will approve of what I have done. My errand is one of Mercy.
"Humbly and faithfully yours, JENNY."
It was some time before Mr. Meade's mind grew calm and clear, after reading this note. That Jenny's absence was, in some way, connected with Mark, was a thought that soon presented itself. But, in what way, he could not make out; for he had never heard the name of the ship in which his grandson sailed, and knew nothing of her expected arrival home.
By the time Mr. Jones appeared, ready to start on the proposed mission to New York, Mr. Meade had made up his mind not to attempt to follow Jenny, but to wait for some word from her. Not until this sudden separation took place, did Mr. Meade understand how necessary to his happiness the affectionate girl had become. So troubled was he at her absence, and so anxious for her safety, that when night came he found himself unable to sleep. In thinking about the dangers that would gather around one so ignorant of the world, his imagination magnified the trials and temptations to which, alone as she was, she would be exposed. Such thoughts kept him tossing anxiously upon his pillow, or restlessly pacing the chamber floor until day dawn. Then, from over-excitement and loss of rest, he was seriously unwell — so much so, that his physician had to be called in during the day. He found him with a good deal of fever, and deemed it necessary to resort to bloodletting, as well as to the application of other remedies to allay the over-action of his vital system. These prostrated him at once — so much so, that he was unable to sit up. Before night he was so seriously ill that the physician had to be sent for again. The fever had returned with great violence, and the pressure on his brain was so great that he had become slightly delirious.
During the second night, this active stage of the disease continued; but all the worst symptoms subsided towards morning. Daylight found him sleeping quietly, with a cool moist skin, and a low, regular pulse. Towards mid-day he awoke; but the anxiety that came with thought brought back many of the unfavorable symptoms, and he was worse again towards evening. On the third day he was again better, but so weak as to be unable to sit up.
How greatly did old Mr. Meade miss the gentle girl, who had become almost as dear to him as a child, during this brief illness, which was brought on by her strange absence. No hand could smooth his pillow like hers. No presence could supply her place by his side. He was companionless, now that she was away; and his heart reached vainly around for something to lean upon for support.
On the fourth day he was better, and sat up a little. But his anxiety for Jenny was increasing. Where could she be? He read her brief letter over and over again.
"May not return for weeks," he said, as he held the letter in his hand. "Where can she have gone? Foolish child! Why did she not consult with me? I would have advised her for the best."
Late on the afternoon of that day, Jenny, in company with Mark, the latter in the dress of a seaman in the United States service, passed from a steamboat at the landing near Fairview, and took their way towards the mansion of Mr. Meade. They had not proceeded far, before the young man began to linger, while Jenny showed every disposition to press on rapidly. At length Mark stopped.
"Jenny," said he, while a cloud settled on his face, "you've had your own way up to this moment. I've been passive in your hands. But I can't go on with you any further."
"Don't say that," returned Jenny, her voice almost imploring in its tones. And in the earnestness of her desire to bring Mark back to his grandfather, she seized one of his hands, and, by a gentle force, drew him a few paces in the direction they had been going. But he resisted that force, and they stood still again.
"I don't think I can go back, Jenny," said Mark, in a subdued voice: "I have some pride left, much as has been crushed out of me during the period of my absence, and this rises higher and higher in my heart the nearer I approach my grandfather. How can I meet him!"
"Only come into his presence, Mark," urged Jenny, speaking tenderly and familiarly. She had addressed him as Mr. Clifford, but he had forbidden that, saying —
"To you my name is Mark — let none other pass your lips!"
"Only come into his presence. You need not speak to him, nor look towards him. This is all I ask."
"But, the humiliation of going back after my resentment of his former treatment," said Mark. "I can bear anything but this bending of my pride — this humbling of myself to others."
"Don't think of yourself, Mark," replied Jenny. "Think of your grandfather, on whom your absence has wrought so sad a change. Think of what he must have suffered to break down so, in less than two years. In pity to him, then, come back. Be guided by me, Mark, and I will lead you right. Think of that strange dream!"
At this appeal, Mark moved quickly forward by the side of the beautiful girl, who had so improved in every way — mind and body having developed wonderfully since he parted with her — that he was filled all the while by wonder, respect and admiration. He moved by her side as if influenced by a spell that subdued his own will.
In silence they walked along, side by side, the pressure of thought and feeling on each mind being so strong as to take away the desire to speak, until the old mansion house of Mr. Meade appeared in view. Here Mark stopped again; but the tenderly uttered "Come," and the tearful glance of Jenny, effectually controlled the promptings of an unbroken will. Together, in a few minutes afterwards, they approached the house and entered.
"Where is Mr. Meade?" asked Jenny of a servant who met them in the great hall.
"He's been very ill," replied the servant.
"Ill!" Jenny became pale.
"Yes, very ill. But he is better now."
"Where is he?"
"In his own chamber."
For a moment Jenny hesitated whether to go up alone, or in company with Mark. She would have preferred going alone; but fearing that, if she parted even thus briefly from Mark, her strong influence over him, by means of which she had brought him, almost as a struggling prisoner, thus far, would be weakened, and he tempted to turn from the house — she resolved to venture upon the experiment of entering Mr. Meade's sick chamber, in company with his grandson.
"Is he sitting up?" she asked of the servant.
"He's been sitting up a good deal today, but is lying down now."
"He's much better?"
"Come," said Jenny, turning to Mark, and moving towards the stairway. Mark followed passively. On entering the chamber of Mr. Meade, they found him sleeping.
Both silently approached, and looked upon his venerable face, composed in deep slumber. Tears came to the eyes of Mark as he gazed at the countenance of his grandfather, and his heart became soft as the heart of a child. While they yet stood looking at him, his lips moved, and he uttered both their names. Then he seemed disturbed, and moaned, as if in pain.
"Grandfather!" said Mark, taking the old man's hand, and bending over him.
Quickly his eyes opened. For a few moments he gazed earnestly upon Mark, and then tightened his hand upon that of the young man, closed his eyes again, and murmured in a voice that deeply touched the returning wanderer —
"My poor boy! My poor boy! Why did you do so? Why did you break my heart? But, God be thanked, you are back again! God be thanked!"
"Jenny!" said the old man, quickly, as he felt her take his other hand and press it to her lips. "And it was for this that you left me! Dear child, I forgive you!"
As he spoke, he drew her hand over towards the one that grasped that of Mark, and uniting them together, murmured —
"If you love each other, it is all right. My blessing shall go with you."
How mild and delicious was the thrill that ran through each of the hearts of his auditors. This was more than they expected. Mark tightly grasped the hand that was placed within his own, and that hand gave back an answering pressure. Thus was the past reconciled with the present; while a vista was opened toward a bright future.
Little more than a year has passed since this joyful event took place. Mark Clifford, with the entire approval of his grandfather, who furnished a handsome capital for the purpose, entered, during the time, into the mercantile house of his father as a partner, and is now actively engaged in business, well sobered by his severe experience. He has taken a lovely bride, who is the charm of all circles into which she is introduced. But few who meet her dream that she once grew, a beautiful wild flower, near the banks of the Hudson.
Old Mr. Meade could not be separated from Jenny; and, as he could not separate her from her husband, he has removed to the city, where he has an elegant residence, in which her voice is the music and her smiles the ever present sunshine.