"The Alsatian Hound"
“The Alsatian Hound”
By the Author of “The Second Life”
It was near the close of a bright, quiet evening in the fall of the year 1791. The day had been dry and breathless, the sky filled with those sudden glints of hot color in the blue which hint at latent thunder. The storm would break during the night, people thought, glancing up into the sultry brown drift about the horizon and the vivid heat above, opening their doors and low windows, and coming out to sit on the balconies or porticos that faced the street. It has been the custom always in Baltimore, and gives that city its peculiar cheerful, heartsome welcome to a stranger’s eye. At the time of which we write, the old Catholic town wore an even more picturesque face than now. The setting sun threw long shadows down the crooked streets leading to the bay, edged with quaint houses, each apparently shaped out of some whim of the owner, but all draped with vines and divided from the sidewalk by beds of bright-colored flowers. Groups of children in their light summer dresses, matrons, gray-haired old men, leaning on their cane, dotted the broad pavements, laughing, jesting, sauntering carelessly along, while from the lighted windows came breaths music, and the fragrance of the great nosegays that filled every corner in-doors. The whole city seemed to have washed its hands of all traces of the day’s work, and come out for an hour’s healthy pleasure before sleep; and, with the old French blood running in its veins, it could have no idea of such pleasure without air, light, and music. Down on the wharf, also, crowds were gathered, watching the unloading of a lumber schooner and a brig, but with curious interest, a stranger would have thought. Something, too, in the aspect of these people would have attracted his inquiry: a repressed excitement, a sullen, angry watchfulness, reminding him of the smothered storm in the orange-tinted heat overhead. The men who watched the unloading of the ship, with pale and anxious faces, were not the shipping clerks or idlers who usually composed the groups upon the wharves: something in their quiet air of reticence and command, and the carelessness of fashion in their dress, marked them as principal men in the ruling caste of the city and planters from the nearer neighborhoods. There were a few women among them, also, their wives and daughters, closely veiled, and shrinking back from the jostling trucks and porters in this unusual plan, but watching eagerly the few passengers who left the ship, and slowly ascended the levee, as though they came from some land of the dead, and might bring tidings back of the loved one which each had lost. It was no idle fancy; they did come fresh from a suburb of hell; the fatal days of August were just passed, and these were refugees from the massacre of St. Domingo.  There were at that time many and close bonds of family union between the West Indian planters and a few old families in Maryland; we may guess, therefore, with what fever of anxiety each returning ship was watched for which might, perchance, contain any of the flying victims. Other fears, founded on more personal motives, caused the planters to gather around the refugees, drawing the apart from the slave laborers on the wharf, and questioning them in eager, hurried whispers, exclamations of horror and smothered curses breaking through the low undertone.
Piled up on the narrow street that faced the landing were trunks and hastily tied bundles, in some instances containing large treasures of specie and jewelry, the remnants of fortune which the Creoles had brought with them in their flight. Much of this treasure was without an owner, forwarded by friends to planters, who, it was supposed, had escaped to the states, but whose bones were now lying charred beneath their own hearth-stones. The foundation of many a large fortune was laid by ship owners during those three weeks of terror and confusion.
As the evening sun sunk lower, and heavier yellow shadows struck across the bay, the crowds slowly disappeared from the wharves, and the few groups who remained were more silent, and moody, and stood apart, thoughtfully, until the night came on, and then went gravely to their homes. The gloom of that murderous day in the world’s history seemed to have struck across the ocean from the fatal island, and thrown its dread into even this sunny, cheerful city. So deep and vivid was the terror produced by the tidings on the inhabitants, that even the storm, coming up the bay, seemed to darken with some mysterious portent; and the very ship, drifting at anchor to and fro, slow and pendulous, on the moaning water, was like some messenger already poisoned with the pestilence it presaged.
While the city sank into uneasy slumber beneath the fitful and greenish light of the approaching tempest, Capt. Bureau, the master of the brig, stood in the window of his own house, his eyes fixed on the changing clouds, but his thoughts evidently far adrift. It was a low, palisaded dwelling, in the outskirts of the city; a quiet, solidly built home, marked by an air of thorough order and comfort within and without, but with few traces of grace or useless beauty. The master’s income had been slowly gained, and had measured his wants and tastes into a hard and narrow bound. The man himself, as he stood in the full light of a lamp upon the table, bore marks of the discipline of his niggardly fate in his toughened skin, sharpened nose, obstinately set mouth. The very tight-fitting clothes, unlike those of men of his craft, the implacable bend of his head, that sure index to character, betrayed a man who would give the last drop of his blood in the cause of justice and exact the pound of flesh, as if it were his by right. By the low table sat his wife. Madame Bureau had shared the fate of French women, whose early bloom of beauty has been rare—it perished soon, but an indescribable grace lingered in her manner, a fine tact in her habit of thought, as the aroma of a flower remains long after the color and freshness are dead. She sat motionless, watching her husband’s face anxiously, glancing, now and then, at a figure propped up in an easy-chair near the open window. It was that of a boy of about fifteen years of age, his clothes torn and stained with mud, and his face haggard with illness or pain. Nothing of the cavalier in the face, Madame Bureau thought, after her earnest scrutiny. The pure blood, filtered through generations of refinement into his veins, betrayed itself but illy; the features were rough, carelessly moulded, mouth wide, nose retrousse, eyes brown and earnest. Just an honest, mischievous, jolly English boy’s face, out of whom a useful citizen and kind husband might be made, but a man of note—never! Much as this decision imparted to her, Madame Bureau’s face did not alter when she made it, but retained its quiet naive smile.
Crouching beside the boy, and resting its head upon his knee, was a large Alsatian hound, coal-black, keeping guard, one could see at once; his eyes full of repressed fierceness, turned suspiciously from one to the other of the strange faces before him, his tail stirring angrily on the floor. There was but one other inmate of the room, a sickly-looking little girl, some years younger than the boy, who had fallen asleep on the ottoman opposite him; not a pretty child; but with one of those rare faces and forms which even in sleep express an intense womanliness, tenderness, weakness in every curve. The boy’s face, turned toward her, gathered a certain protecting, fond look, which did not escape the lady’s keen eye.
“How heavily she sleeps, Addy!” he said. “Quiet, Trull!”
“Quiet, Bernard!” said the lady, with a motion of her white hand. “My boy forgets his wound—that he needs rest. To-morrow I have a long story to hear. The whole story, mon cher, from the hour you were first wakened by the crackling flames, until you found yourself in the brig.”
A spasm of pain passed over the boy’s face. “I—Monsieur Bureau will tell you, madame. He saved me—”
“And that,” she said, hastily rising and caressing him with one hand, “is all you need ever remember of the days gone. That—and that he brought you to a home only less tender than the one you have lost.”
Bernard held the delicate fingers against his cheek tightly, but without speaking.
Captain Bureau watched them with a smile on his grim mouth. There were reasons why, in bringing this boy home, he should feel the peculiar angry discomfort attendant on a just action performed for the sake of duty alone, and he seized on any motive eagerly which would make duty more palatable to his whims as well as his conscience. He had performed his duty to the uttermost limit. When his ship lay at anchor off The Roads, ready to receive the refugees who had escaped the wholesale murder inland, he had penetrated far into the interior for the sole purpose of saving the family, of which this boy was the only one left to tell the tale of death. He had saved him, and, facing him now on his own hearth-stone, he did not forget that this boy, Bernard Menager, homeless and a beggar, was as much the affianced husband of his child, and future partner in his business, as he had been three years ago, when the contract had been made with his father, and the boy represented the largest estate on the islands. “Times are changed, Bernard,” he said, seconding his wife’s kindly effort in the best way he knew. “But promises remain the same. The Bureaus never go back of their word. You shall be with us a son from this day forth, and—what was to be, shall be.”
Bernard fixed his eyes on him. There was a steady probing look in them that made the master wince, but he met it quietly. “It was rough, perhaps, to make the lad conscious of the change so soon,” he thought. “But he has sense disproportioned to his years, he would know what a sacrifice it is for me to fulfill my bond with regard to Addy. He might have doubted me. Even by a boy I will not be mistaken or doubted,” his sallow face growing hot beneath the yellow whiskers.
“And the dog, Bernard?” said the lady, her eyes growing moist as she looked into the boy’s worn, grieved face. So little time it seemed since that happy summer when she and Addy grew strong and fresh in the rose-gardens about the great villa of Menagers! How Bernard and the little girl passed the days like silly children, hunting for gold beetles in the melon fields, or orange plantations, or fishing in the hot blue creek below the orchards. How stately was the courtesy of that gray-haired old sage, Monsieur Menager! Truly a sage, whether he read books or no—a philosopher—a— For his English wife—ah—pfui! shrugging her drooping shoulders. Now English wife and gray-haired old cavalier lay, burned and mangled corpses, on their own threshold. The very orange grove was burned—the captain said—ah! such delicious oranges, the real Antonelli graft. And this pauve enfant— “Well, my child, the dog?”
“Poor Trull! I do not know, madame. It is confused. He wakened me, that I remember, pulling at the bed-clothes. There was a struggle outside, many of them, it may be, I do not know; his jaw is cut, and his fore-leg. When I found myself on the brig, the dog was with me.”
“The hound fought like a lion,” interrupted the captain; “I brought him with us. He has as much soul in his body as would suffice for a dozen carcasses of yonder fiends. We will keep him here,” to the boy.
“Yes,” quietly. “Trull never leaves me.”
There was a slight pause. “It grows late,” said Madame Bureau. “I will wish you happy dreams—morning dreams, remember, my son, for this is the dawn of a new, pleasant life, we will hope, for you,” kissing him lightly on each cheek. “I will send her bonne for Adelaide,” passing her husband with a cheerful, gay reverence.
He smiled, following her with his eyes to the door. Just in proportion as his life had otherwise been coarse-grained and practical, he loved the grace and delicate air of sunshine and pleasure about his wife. Bernard watched her also, and, looking up, met with an answering smile of admiration the master’s glance. Perhaps that look of the boy’s did more to soften the captain’s heart to him than all his losses and pain.
“You are tired, lad,” he said, “I will bid you good-night. Antoine shall show you your chamber.”
“Not yet, captain, if you are willing. I have a word to say to you.”
There was an odd sort of self-reliance in the boy that pleased the old seaman. They waited silently until Addy, grumbling at being wakened, was swept off to bed by her nurse and the door closed behind them, then the boy turned and raised himself gravely. “Only a few words, Capt. Bureau, then I will not bring the subject before you again. I am young to speak of such matters—but with us hot-blooded islanders life grows real early.”
The captain was startled. There was more in the jesting, laughing boy than he had thought. He suffered him to go on in silence, however, although he hesitated for encouragement.
“I understood your words a few moments ago. It is noble as well as just to redeem a promise made under circumstances so different.”
“It is simply just, Bernard.”
“As you will. I am only a boy, but I love the woman who is to be my wife as a man loves. Addy shall be tenderly cared for always as she has been in her father’s house.”
“We need not speak of that, boy. There are many years to come before the contract can be fulfilled.”
“But five, sir, if I remember aright. It was not that I wished to say to you; but this, that, boy as I am, I know and comprehend how great is the sacrifice you have made in promising your child again—to me—a beggar, and,” rising suddenly to his feet, and lowering his voice, “that as He hears me who will help me, you shall never repent it. I saw, to-night, all you gave up for your plighted word. I will not be unworthy of the sacrifice. It shall be my life’s work to made you as proud to receive the penniless Bernard Menager as though he yet owned his inheritance.”
“If I had not known and respected your individual character, lad,” said the captain, gruffly, “I would not have promised to wed my child to blood and position. Young as you were, I saw you were the counterpart of your father. That is enough. We will say no more about it. Your being penniless does not injure the contract.”
“It does to me,” said Bernard, hotly. “You do not understand me. I will not marry your daughter penniless. The home I give her must be as warm a nest as the one she leaves.”
“Well, well, boy, so be it,” repressing a half-contemptuous smile. “We’ll go to bed now. I made it a rule in these first weeks of home-coming, to make up for all the sleep lost in the voyage. I advise you to put Addy out of your head and follow my example. If you persist in your desire to be a sailor, I will see to-morrow what can be done toward finding you a berth on a man of war; but I have but little influence, Bernard. It is most probable you will have to content yourself with the place on the brig which I can give you.”
“It may answer for the present,” he replied, quietly. “Good-night, Capt. Bureau.” There were thoughts and ambitions in the boy’s head of which he knew nothing, the captain thought, as he made his way over the flagged hall and up the stair-case. There was a resistance, an under-texture of firmness, which the old sailor did not understand, in the careless, jolly boy. It was like putting your finger on limpid water and finding a sheet of elastic iron beneath. He liked it—liked the boy. He was glad he had kept his word about Addy.
It was about six years from this time that the English family evacuated the island of Hespaniola, leaving it in possession of the blacks and a few French planters, who struggled and intrigued vainly for the possession of their lands. Tidings from the islands came but seldom to the American shores, and then were vague and uncertain, full of horrors of alternate slaughter by blacks and whites, of pestilence, and, in some instances, of famine—tales which grew stale, at last, and lost their warning import to the slaveholders of the main-land.
Great and immediate changes had passed over the house of the Bureaus, where our story began. The gruff old captain was dead, lost in a storm off shore, within sight almost of the smoke of his own dwelling. After that came other trials, less keen, but coarser, and irritating to health and temper: loss of fortune and position. The old sailor had been no financier—ill-luck had dogged his money, invest it where he would—and, in consequence, Madame Bureau found herself six months after her widowhood commenced, dependent on her daughter’s husband, Bernard Menager. For the course of love both true and arranged by contract had run smoothly in its grooves, and the boy and girl, now a grave, working man and woman, worked and enjoyed life together, coming closer to God, let us believe, in that they were happy and together.
It was a dull, rainy morning in September when our story recommences. A low fire was burning on the hearth of the room where, six years before, old Capt. Bureau had renewed his contract with the boy which he had made with the father. A low fire, though the day was chilly. The room was set apart for Madame Bureau’s use, and she professed to dislike a heated air. Now, however, when no one was by, she shivered, drawing her woolen shawl closer about her. Fuel was dear, even in that day of plenty, for people with the stinted means of the Menagers. The lady had grown thin and haggard; skillfully added folds in her dress, however, preserved the graceful contour of old; but nothing could conceal the anxious lines upon her face, or give to the unquiet blue eye its former tranquil brilliance. She moved now uneasily about the room, stooping over the charring logs, then hurrying to the window to gaze drearily out into the plashing rain, tracing the fallen drops upon the pane absently with her finger. Now and then she gave vent to a deep sigh, or clasped her hands together in her bizarre French fashion, taking out occasionally, also, a delicate handkerchief—part of the poor lady’s trousseau, by the way—to wipe away the tears that were creeping slowly down her withered cheek.
Sometimes a hurried, heavy step overhead would cause her to pause and listen intently, and then again would come the “Hélas!” and the tear, and a muttered “Pauvres enfants!” It was the eve of one of Bernard Menager’s voyages, for he was yet a master’s mate on the brig Swanwick. Places and preferment were hard to obtain in those days, even in the merchant service, and Menager had no aid to success beyond his own industry and indomitable perseverance. The old lady had been alone about half an hour, and had seated herself finally close by the flickering fire, when the door noiselessly opened and her son-in-law entered. She looked up at him with a cheerful smile: there was something infectious in Bernard Menager’s earnest, hearty face and his bursts of jovial laughter.
“Why, ma mere, how cold it is!” taking her withered hand and chafing it.
“It is better for my chest that the fire be low,” she said, repressing a cough.
“Tut, tut! I understand. Has it come to that? Let Addy bring the boy here, and extinguish the fire in the nursery, if the child will not disturb you. It will only be for a few weeks,” he added, in a lower voice.
“Weeks?” She wrung her hands once more. “Dufond will close the mortgage then on the house?”
“Yes!” putting his hand soothingly on her shoulder.
“And we are homeless!” speaking in French, as she always did when agitated. “Houseless, my Addy and her child! And I have brought them to this! Yes, I; you need not look surprised, Bernard. I never have told you, but it was for bills for dress and bijouterie that the mortgage was given by Capt. Bureau to Dufond. It is I that have laid the burdens on you, my son, which you have been struggling so long to bear.”
“Well, well, madame,” said the bluff sailor, putting his arm about her as tenderly as if she had been a child, and seating her, “we will not look back to that, but take courage to meet what comes. It is you who will suffer most, we never will forget that. We are young—Addy and I—and can fight poverty; but you—it is not easy to leave the home every stone of which has some tender memory of a long life.” The old lady choked back her tears, and tried to smile. “That’s right, ma mere,” cheerily. “I will have returned before the day for foreclosing the mortgage, and, by that time, will have devised some place of refuge for you and the children,” for by that name Addy and her baby were oftenest called.
“Yes, yes. Go now, my son. Do not waste more time with me—Addy waits to say farewell.” She embraced him and turned away.
Menager looked after her, a deeper pain in his face than she had seen there. He had hidden from her the worst of the fate coming upon them; he felt for her such a pitiful affection, knowing how faithful and weak was the woman’s heart under her wasted breast. He never had forgotten the kiss she gave to the motherless boy, long ago.
Leaving the room and crossing the damp, vacant hall, he pushed open a door opening at the top of a flight of stone steps set in the wall. The stone was moist, overgrown with moss and lichen, and the garden below was matted, beneath the beating rain, with the rank, lush growth and gaudy colors of late autumn. His wife waited for him on the steps, her slight figure and light hair covered with a flannel cloak and hood.
“I came here, Bernard, because I thought we would be unheard,” as he caught her hands, looking in her face.
“God bless you, Addy, for that look. My girl is brave—she is going to meet all that comes without quailing.”
“I must know the worst, Bernard.” If her face grew paler, her eyes did not falter.
He caught her passionately to his heart, and, after a moment, said,
“You shall know all, child. I tried to spare you, but it is too late now.”
“There is worse than the mortgage to dread? Other debts of my fathers’—”
“Yes. I assumed them all. The just man, I thought, should not have one stone of dishonor thrown on his grave. You know, Addy, I have done what I could,” wiping his forehead.
She clung closer to him. Only they know the years of hard, exhausting labor which those words meant.
“I know, Bernard, I know.”
“I have failed. If I had my hands free from debt, my wages would keep us in comfort; more would come hereafter. But the day after the one on which the mortgage will be foreclosed, another debt is due to Dufond. He is a hard creditor, and, failing to pay it—”
She looked up, her lips scarcely moving, “To prison? You, Bernard?”
He nodded. “Be calm, my little girl. I have faced this a long time. It’s a hard law, but—God is on our side,” his color changing.
She said nothing, her head sinking helplessly against his arm. There was a long pause. “Is there no hope?” she said, at last, in a hoarse voice.
“I know of none, unless it rests in this mysterious summons I have received to Hespaniola, or Hayti, as they call it now.”
“I had forgotten that,” raising her head, her face flushing. There may be a chance there. You never showed me the letter, Bernard. What is it?”
“I left it on the brig. The ship touched at Tiburon on the last voyage; the letter was brought to me there, dated from my father’s plantation”—he winced as he said this—“urging me to meet the writer on a certain day, three weeks from now, in the banana grove below the dwelling-house, near the sea. The letter was in pure enough French; its writer professed to be my father’s steward. His purpose in meeting me was to restore to me certain jewels and treasures, secreted by him at the time of the massacre, of sufficient value to induce me to brave the danger of seeking the interview. I knew there were such jewels,” he said, thoughtfully. “My father concealed them days before the insurrection; but they doubtless fell into the hands of the negroes, unless this man, Petrie—I remember him well, but I was not aware that any one accompanied my father when he hid the casket. I helped him collect them,” speaking disjointedly, as the old memories rose up before him. “There were diamonds of my mother’s, her own other personal jewels, besides these heir-looms of the Menagers. It was a fortune for a princess, it seems to me now,” with a faint smile. “I do not know what warning of evil tempted my father to secret them; but I helped him, as I said, collect these jewels, plate, and specie, in the house, and secure it in a small iron chest. I remember old Dr. Thoreau’s step was heard; so I remained in the library to receive him, while my father carried the chest away.”
“Trull followed him, but Trull cannot speak,” patting the old hound, that, gaunt and gray with age, had crept close to the step on which they stood.
“Your father may have taken Petrie to assist him in concealing it,” said his wife, musingly.
“It is probable. At any rate, I will risk an interview. What motive could he have in drawing me to the plantation, other than the one he assigns? My father was not able, afterward, to speak to me alone. There were guests in the house until a late hour, that night, and by dawn—he was a corpse.”
Addy put her arm gently about him. “I know, Bernard—hush! We will not speak of that,” as a strong shudder passed over him. “Bernard—” She paused.
“What is it darling?”
“I have a strange fear of this attempt to revisit the plantation. It—”
“It is our only hope, Addy,” with a desperate sigh for breath. “You do not know how fatal the future is for us without some sudden and immediate help. I foresee nothing but a prison for me, beggary for you and your mother. I must meet this Petrie. The danger is less than we think, for the army of the blacks is concentrated about the capital. I shall easily escape their picquets by coasting along shore in a bateau. If I am discovered, it will be a fight for life—not the first, nor the hardest.”
Her face grew paler every moment. “Come in,” she said, at last, “give our little Renaud your good-by kiss—and your blessing—and—me—”
The poor girl sobbed like a child. She was so young, poor Addy! and had had so few bright days in her life to strengthen her.
Menager carried her into the room. Half an hour after, he went through the rain down to the wharf, tightening his belt, and arranging his flask and knife, his swarthy face working convulsively, and old Trull hobbling after him. Bernard never went on a voyage without Trull.
A sombre evening; dull, red clouds in clogged masses about the horizon; the air hot, immovable, unfit for breathing, as we find it in these islands, soaked, as it were, with sickly smells of over-ripe fruit.
Along the shore a heavy shadow, cast by the rising hills, and tangled trees and vines; poisonous creepers, trailing from every limb, in a rank vegetation, with the dingy, sultry-colored flowers that belong to all deadly plants; the saffron berries of the parasite ivy, and the purple bloom of the night-shade. If life is most sensual and lustful in tropical climes, death also lies nearest in wait, in a thousand forms, with hot breath touching our flesh. Along the scarcely rippling water, close to the dripping vines, a little canoe steered noiselessly toward an inlet, where a narrow creek emptied into the sea. A stoutly built man held the oars, watching keenly every motion of the leaves on the shore. Night was gathering so fast and heavily that he had need to watch keenly to detect a lurking foe, if any such there were. A shaggy dog lay at his feet, its red eye also peering suspiciously through the darkness. Turning up the creek, he bent to the oars, still with caution: the current of the black water was deep and strong, yet so narrow that the trees overlapped their branches overhead. Now and then a break in the hedge showed glimpses of fens, deep and foul, with nauseous smelling weeds, with asphodel, glittering serpents gliding into their holes as the low plash of the oars was heard. Familiar sights and sounds to Menager; yet years had passed since he had known them, and now the savage, revengeful memories they wakened made his blood grow cold, and his teeth clench together. For an hour he rowed up the stream, then more slowly, as he came in sight of old land-marks near his plantation. The banana grove was in sight at last—the yellow fruit showing white in the sickly moonlight that began to creep over the landscape, throwing ghostly and uncertain shadows. Bernard rested on his oars for a moment, then drawing the bateau close to the shore, secured it under the shade of a heavy tree. The dog raised his head, look cautiously around, and then slowly rose to his feet and sprang on the bank beside his master. It was curious to mark the quick, keen look of intelligence between the hound and the man before they ventured to penetrate the thicket with noiseless steps. Menager noted the strange glance of recognition which the dog had given when they touched their old play-grounds—the shiver of terror that passed over him—the new alertness, defiant and watchful, that seemed to have kindled in his veins their long dead life, as he proudly trode beside him.
“Not to the house, old friend,” he muttered; “you and I will never cross that threshold again,” as, with bated breath and bent body, he thrust his way through the thicket. The hound glanced up into his face. “Here is the pool where I caught the great turtle, and Trull dragged it out for me. I wonder if he remembers?” Far up the hill in the moonlight he could see a part of the house, a mass of burned rafters and bricks, over which the ivy had begun to creep. Menager turned his eyes away, and thought of Addy. There were fiends at work at his honest heart, and he went back to the thought of the little wife for safety.
On, slower and slower, until the banana wood was reach. The dog stopped, snuffed the air, whined, and caught at his master’s trousers, pulling him toward the boat impatiently. “You snuff danger, old boy? Let it be so. It’s for life and freedom,” with the thought of the prison waiting for him.
There was a low stone-house in the center of the wood, used, in old times, as a tool-house; there Petrie had promised to wait for him. Menager saw a light gleaming from under the closed oak door. He examined the priming of the pistols in his belt, and loosened the sharp knife in its case. “Lie down, Trull; keep watch for me here by this tree; come when I whistle.” The dog hesitated—then, accustomed to obedience, laid down with a low howl. Menager walked on a few steps, then he turned. “Good-by, old fellow,” he said.
There was an unnatural silence about him, as he neared the house, that stillness, that grave warning of sudden and lurking danger. He paused a moment by the door. The moon from behind a cloud threw a sharp beam of light over fen and poisonous thickets, the sultry, livid sky, the path and the hound laying there, the green, heaving sea, the ship far off at anchor—the sea, beyond which was Addy!
He pushed open the door and entered. A low room, with stone floor and walls, deadening all sound; heavy rafters above; one square window high out at arm’s reach; a pine table with a dull oil-lamp burning on it. The door swung behind him with a clang. He stood silent a moment, then approached the table. Petrie was not here: had difficulty, probably, in eluding the blacks. He rested his arm on the table, glancing about him indifferently. “It is a strangely bare room,” he thought, “but—”
With a sharp cry he fell to the ground, rose with a desperate struggle, fell again, his arms pinioned to his side, his legs bound together, tightening cords about his chest, his head and neck. The fall stunned him, but Menager had a cool head. Before he was able to open his eyes, he was aware of all that had happened; he was bound by a lasso, thrown by no unskillful hand: let him but get his hand on his knife, and he was free. Another struggle, in which every muscle was strained, when a bony hand, with a grip like steel, held his wrist, and, looking up, his vision still bleared from the concussion of the fall, he saw a gaunt, muscular figure leaning over him, and in a moment busy hands were knotting the cords about his arms.
“You need not struggle, you but give me additional trouble, uselessly for yourself,” with a laugh.
“Yes. It is I,” said the woman, for it was a woman, seating herself beside him. “You were helpless in my arms when a baby, but not so helpless as now.” She laughed again, slowly chafing her hands together. The woman was almost gigantic in size, with the strength of two such men as Menager, burly though he was, in her body. He looked into her face. Some old memory came over him that made him know that then he faced death. Cold drops covered his face, for he thought of Addy and of his child.
“You know why I have brought you here, Bernard Menager?”
“I wrote the note. Petrie is gone years ago. I have lived here alone since the night—” She stopped, her great rude features growing suddenly still.
“Since that night my father was murdered! You did it? It was your hand struck the blow?” the white foam coming to his lips. “It was but that of which I had often warned him from you.”
She shook her head, a strange dreamy look in her eyes. “No, I could not do that. When the time came, though I had chosen it for my work, I hid, Bernard. Afterward I went into the burning houses and pulled out his body—I washed and dressed it. How bonnily his hair had curled! Yours is coarse and straight, Bernard. But the blacks took him from me to do what they would with. I loved him so, boy.” She started to her feet. “I hated him! There’s a lie on my lips even now.” She leaned her gray head against the wall, standing motionless.
The old memory, with its awful shame and anguish, came to Bernard’s mind. If the woman had been his father’s murderer, he must yet have pitied her! have looked on her as an avenger, have shrunk guiltily from her with the weight of crimes not his.
“Unloose me. I, at least, am innocent of harm toward you, woman.”
She came back, cool and grave, looking steadily at him. It was the most dangerous form her insanity assumed, as Bernard knew of old. “I have schemed to bring you here for years. I do not give up my purposes when they are fulfilled. Caught by a woman! The strong-limbed Bernard, whose muscles his father used to show me with pride. While my boy—Oh! my boy! my baby!” She checked the wild cry suddenly and peered down into his face. “I held my baby in my arms—dead, you know—and swore that no child of its murderer should live. I think I have not been myself since that night. But I keep my oath. Why, Bernard,” laying her hand on his arm, “was ever heard such a pitiful thing that a father should murder his own child! I must keep my vow, Bernard,” her head dropping on her breast. She would keep it, he knew that. The woman was persistent as a bull-dog when she had taken her grip of an enemy. But was he to lie her chained like some beast to be done to death? She drew the pistols from his belt and threw them aside, the knife. Turning on his side with one mighty effort, he essayed to grapple with her, his arms still pinioned. It was for life or death. Her clutch was like iron. “It is useless,” putting her heavy arm on his throat. She drew out a sharp lancet and plunged it into his arm. “You are very like him,” in the same dreamy, quiet voice, “I will not be cruel. One falls asleep—dying so.”
“Bah!” said Menager. “Dying!”
He called aloud once, twice.
“There is no one within a mile’s call. The black picquets are at the Ford.”
“So it will be easier for me to return to the ship,” he said, taunting her.
But he called again, fiercely, for the blood was flowing faster and his strength was failing. There was a noise outside, a mad growl, a leap, a shaggy mass bounding in the window, and the hound had seized the woman by the throat. What followed was a confusion of terror afterward to Menager. He never lingered on its recital. While the desperate struggle went on beside him, he rolled himself over within reach of the knife, and at last cut the cords. He was free. A half-hour afterward, the woman was bound with the cords she had furnished. Menager tied up a great wound in the dog’s breast which she had given him, and then turned to bind her wounded throat.
“I will secure you for the sake of my own safety,” he said. “You can gnaw the cords, but it will be a day’s work, Winifred,” with a smile.
“So many years I have schemed for this,” she muttered, closing her eyes. He doubted if she would ever gnaw the cords. It would be more like her to starve to death—that would give action for her diseased power of endurance. But what could he do? He took up the still loaded pistols. “Come, Trull, I’m strong enough to carry you, old boy. You are my patient now.
In his long voyages, Menager had accustomed himself to talk to the hound as if he were a human being. But the dog drew himself over the floor, pawing at one stone in the wall a trifle more discolored from mould than the others. The woman gave a sudden cry of anger.
“Come, Trull. What ails the beast? Heh?” He came closer. The dog scratched more vehemently at the same spot, and Menager kicked it with his foot. It shook, he stooped down, some sudden recollection making his face grave, silencing him. There was a secret entrance to the family vault from this house, he remembered. Pressing his foot firmly on the stone, it moved slowly back, disclosing a narrow staircase. Menager glanced suspiciously at the woman, then went down. The stair-case ended abruptly in a solid wall; the entrance to the vault was walled up, but he stumbled over some obstacle. There was a moment’s pause, then he remembered bearing an iron chest. He carried it outside the building, whither the dog dragged himself painfully.
For the first time the man grew weak, recognizing the danger passed, the new life that lay before him—of which the treasure that chest contained was the key. He carried the dog first to the boat, then the box. Before he untied the bateau, he wrenched the lid off the chest. The moonlight fell on it, and awakened him to a sudden glory of glowing color, ruby, emerald, diamond, flashing a welcome, as it were, to hope and happiness. Bernard Menager thrust his arm deep among them, and laughed aloud like a child. “Oh, Addy! Addy!” he cried. Old Trull tried to bark and licked his hand. “Why, old dog, I had forgotten you.” When he loosened the boat, he did not take the oars, but held the hound’s head on his knee.
“The leap and struggle have been more than your age could bear, old Bruin,” he said. “You and I are not as young as we were when we hunted together.” There was a laugh on the dog’s face, but his big eyes were fixed with a strange, solemn earnestness on his master’s. Menager put his hand on the wound. “How hotly it throbs. Oh, Trull! why cannot you tell me where the pain is!” There was unutterable hunger in the dog’s look, which belongs to things whose lives have been thwarted. Surely he knew that he was dumb.
They floated down the creek out into the sea. It was time now for Menager to take the oars, but he had forgotten them; he was stooping, chafing the dog’s breast, looking in his face, but saying nothing. The boat drifted out to sea; the dog, now and then, feebly wagged his tail and licked Bernard’s face or hand. Not when he stood near to death himself was Menager so colorless as now. He stooped closer. “It’s been a hard life we’ve lived together, Trull. Now it will be happy and gay. Do you—do you hear me?”
Happy and gay! Surely he heard. He shook himself, stood up proudly, drawn to his immense height. A deep bay of triumph broke the silent echoes; then he laid down at his master’s feet, looking up into his face long and sadly. What the spirits of the old friends said to each other, in that last hour, only they know; presently the dog’s eyes slowly closed, and Menager let his head sink between his hands and sat motionless. He roused himself at last and rowed to the ship, trying to think of the happy life coming, and of home; but home, and Addy and her child seemed very far off, for his heart was heavy, and his hand was on the dead head of his oldest friend.
1. The Haitian Revolution began in 1791 with a rebellion by escaped slaves in opposition to slavery and French and American colonialism. It lasted until 1804, when Haiti gained independence under indigenous rule. The impact on the American and entire Atlantic slave systems was immense. RHD’s reference to “planters” were, in fact, colonialist slaveowners.↩
2. Money in the form of coins.↩
3. French: nez retroussé means snubbed nosed.↩
4. French: my dear.↩
5. French: poor infant.↩
6. French: housemaid.↩
7. Hispaniola is the Caribbean island now divided between the countries of Haiti and the Domincan Republic.↩
8. French: Alas . . . poor infants.↩
9. French: my mother.↩
10. French: jewelry.↩
11. French: pickets.↩
12. French: flat-bottomed boat; a canoe.↩
13. Bear. ↩