"A Story of Life Insurance" Peterson's Magazine, vol. 41, June 1862, pp. 447-54.

Dublin Core

Title

"A Story of Life Insurance" Peterson's Magazine, vol. 41, June 1862, pp. 447-54.

Subject

Gothic; mystery; law; racial passing; secret identity; inheritance; antebellum south; John Page

Description

A STORY OF LIFE INSURANCE

BY THE AUTHOR OF “THE MURDER IN THE GLEN ROSS”

CHAPTER I.

Near the close of a crowded court clay, I was at work in my inner office with Messrs. Johns and Preston, counsel with myself in the Porton case, of which you have doubtless heard, if you know anything of the old dead-weights in Richmond courts.

The day had been foggy, and early in the evening the gas was lit inside, and the shutters closed, to bar out the view of the muddy-streets and murky sky. The half-open door of my sanctum showed glimpses of the outer offices, where the full number of clerks were assembled at their desks. It was a thronged session of court, as I said, so they were compelled to forego clubs and champagne parties, and plod drearily instead at briefs and deeds. No welcome exchange, as the occasional smothered whiff of a Cabana, smoked furtively under a desk-lid, told, or a stifled laugh at some pranks of Flint's. I only closed the door when these symptoms of rebellion reached me, knowing that Egan was within, a clerk as gray-headed as myself, and with a sharper eye over the boys, whether students or copyists. When the door was shut, however, despite Egan's presence, a continual hum penetrated to us, broken now and then by his sharp rap on the desk.

"Never mind," I said, when Johns looked up irritated, "the boys haven't done justice to the races yet; and Gray Eagle does not run every day." To which Slidell chuckled an assent.

It was late before our consultation was over; Slidell was more than usually lazy, Johns captious, and I, thoroughly worn-out, wishing I had the reins entirely in my own hands. They got up at last, and I turned on the gas, knowing a night's work lay before me, and rang for Pine to show them out. I noticed that there was a: sudden silence outside, as the door opened, and Egan's grizzly head was thrust in.

“Mr. Page, a lady on business. I told her it was out of reason; but she leaves Richmond in the morning."

Slidell, at the moment, shuffled his fat body out of the way, placing a chair for a lady who came in before Egan had finished his surly announcement.

She waited until the room was vacated, then took the seat, putting back her veil. A woman past middle-age, with dark, strongly marked features, wearing spectacles, dressed in a Quakerish color. That was all I noticed about her being hurried and secretly impatient.

"Mr. Page?"

I bowed.

The woman's voice faltered a little, like a person endeavoring to conceal some peculiarity.

I thought perhaps she stammered habitually, or perhaps was a foreigner trying to speak purely. This trait in her manner became more obvious as the interview proceeded. After circumstances caused me to recall it.

"I trouble you," she said, "upon a slight business, that will require little time or attention. I only wish to request that— In fact, it is necessary that it should— "

I was accustomed to such preludes with lady clients. "You wish your business to remain a secret?" I said. "Certainly, madam. The request was unnecessary."

She did not smile, but was evidently relieved. "It is necessary with me, for mere than the ordinary reasons," she said. "Even if you meet me again, in whatever circumstances, will you be kind enough to give no sign of recognition?"

Of course now I looked at her attentively while I gave the desired promise. There was no beauty in her certainly, that I should covet further acquaintance. Yet the dark, wrinkled face was honest enough, and bore traces of suffering.

"I am engaged in no dishonorable affair," she said, quickly, catching my keen glance. She had a package in her hand—a long, yellow envelope. She pulled and twisted it nervously. "I have been at the office down below, yonder. I have had my life insured. This is the policy," holding it out to me.

I took it, looking at her inquiringly. She steadied herself and continued more quietly. I did not wonder, by-the-by, at her agitation: Life insuring is a nerve-aching business. "I wish you to keep it for me. In case of my death, I want you to draw the money, and attend to having it settled upon the person named in the policy."

"Who is— "

"My daughter."

I bowed. "It is necessary that I should; know your name, madam."

"Louisa," she began, then stopped abruptly, her face growing scarlet; taking off her spectacles and rubbing them in her sudden embarrassment. There was a moment's pause. "You will find the name in the policy," she said, at last.

I hesitated. "Pardon me, but you probably ; are not aware—if for any reason you have given an assumed name to the underwriters your policy is vitiated."

"It is mine. All that I have a right to," she added, bitterly. She got up, folding her shawl and shaking her cotton umbrella.

I interrupted her again. "I am yet in the dark. How shall I be advised, if it is necessary to draw the money? Where shall I find your daughter?"

Her embarrassment became greater than before.

"I had not thought of that. I am a woman—not used to business. I—" She stood, uncertain, growing pale and red by turns.

“There can be no difficulty surely. Your daughter's address is all that is required. She can communicate with me in case of— "

"Of my death." (On that point she was calm.) She hesitated still, however, then coming closer, and, leaning on my desk, went on hurriedly, "I will tell you plainly. My daughter does not know of this. She never may need the money. God forbid she ever should need the money. It is only in case of a certain event taking place, after my death, that it would be of use to her. Do you understand? If that event should occur," (her lips were actually blue and clammy now,) "she will apply to you. You will draw the money for her. I need not ask you to be kind to my girl," she said, with a curious choking in her voice—"why should you? What is she to you? Or her need or her wrong?" She leaned her head down on the desk for a moment. There was no affectation in her emotion, it was genuine.

"I am an old man," I said, gently, "and not without a man's kindly feeling, I hope. If I can give your daughter any aid or counsel, I assure you I will do it heartily."

She looked up with a dull look of pain on her face, which my words had not touched. "She is nothing to you. There is no help, nor law for her or me. Let it be so. If she does not apply to you, the money need never be drawn."

"I comprehend you, I think," I said, ushering her out, for she hurried away almost before she had finished speaking.

I followed her through the crowded offices, to insure her protection from the curious stare of the clerks. She had pulled her veil tightly over her face. It was raining heavily; I saw an omnibus waiting for her, and naturally enough went down the steps to assist her into it. She stopped with a strange laugh.

"You don't know what you do, Mr. Page. Go back. Go," more urgently. "You do not know what I am!"

"It is raining," I said, quietly, a little annoyed at her excitement; "and you are a woman," opening the door.

She put aside my offered hand and climbed in herself. "You have promised," she whispered, leaning out, "never to recognize me, wherever we may meet; I rely on your promise."

Evidently a vulgar-bred woman, I thought, as the omnibus drove off: the fact betrayed itself in every measured word (for, with all her unaffected emotion, she uttered each word guardedly), yet sincere, poor soul!

Going in, I glanced over the policy. It was drawn for some ten thousand dollars, on the life of Louisa Carew, payable on her death to her daughter, A. T. Carew. The absence of the girl's given name occurred to me as odd. However, the whole affair was odd. I folded up the policy, and, committing it to one of the safes for private papers, soon forgot it in the intricacies of Porton vs. Ames, et al. On inquiry, a year afterward, I found that the premiums were regularly paid in at the office on behalf of Louisa Carew, and after wondering once or twice at the singularity of the woman's mode of conducting business, the paper remained yellow and dusty in my secret drawer, and the whole matter passed from my memory.

CHAPTER II.

I think I mentioned, once before, that I accepted at one time a diplomatic appointment, and remained abroad for several years. On my return, although retaining an office in Richmond, I resided at a plantation I had, down in Lower Virginia. Consequently, I was no longer au courant de[1] Richmond gossip or changes.

In the winter of 18— I came up to the capital, for the first time in several years, to attend to some collecting business and consult with Brady, then the active partner in our firm. After I had been in the city a few days, I received a note from Col. Spalding, dated at a plantation a few miles out of Richmond. John Spalding and I had been college chums, and afterward brother lawyers, but his family being Alabamians, I had seen him but seldom in many years; often enough, however, to keep alive and warm our boyish friendships. He told me now that he had removed to Virginia, would remain there probably as long as he lived, having inherited the Poindexter estates. He had just learned that I was in Richmond, and wrote post-haste for me to come out and make my home with him. "The carriage will go for you to-night," he said, dogmatically. "I will not be defrauded of another hour. Annie and I will wait dinner for you. You do not know my niece Annie yet, John?" He added a postscript, asking me to take up Egan on the road.

I forgot to mention that my old trusty clerk, Egan, was one of the first to welcome me on my return. He had retired from business, and bought a small place on the James river. Egan belonged to an old, though decayed family of Henrico county, and, notwithstanding his poverty for many years, had never ceased to associate with the class rightfully his own. In Virginia, you know, as in all unchanging societies of landed proprietors, the test of rank is blood, not bank-notes. I was not surprised, therefore, to find Egan, now that he had leisure to gratify his natural taste, a popular guest and host in Richmond coteries, and his son, Philip, not only one of the most promising young surgeons in the city, but a favorite in Madame Cabell's literary conversaziones[2], as well as in the more unfastidious "hops" at the Spotswood.

Driving out with Egan, this evening (we were alone in the carriage), I inquired for Phil.

"He will follow us presently, on horseback," said his father, with a slight hesitation. "The fact is," he continued, after a moment's pause, "I intended to mention a little matter concerning Philip to you, and this is a good opportunity. Phil has an especial penchant tor Col. J Spalding's house."

I lit my cigar. "Well, Egan, and then—?" I understood, however: "My niece, Annie, etc." I had always a weakness for a love-story.

"Well, to be honest, I fear Spalding has no penchant for Philip. The young people are sincerely attached, and a better looking couple— you can see for yourself, however."

"What is the objection to Phil?" I asked. "Perhaps I can reason John Spalding into reason, eh ?"

"Perhaps you can. That is my object in telling you. I don't know his objection. He is an eccentric man, you know. When Philip broached the matter to him, he put him off evasively. Next day, however, I saw the old colonel, on his mare Bess, coming down the street. Came straight to the office, and took me aside. I never saw a man more vexed. He said he liked Philip; that to himself, his family, or prospects, he had no objection—none in the world! That what was wanting in money, he could make up for Miss Spalding; but that the marriage was impossible—impossible! He repeated that several times. That Annie could not—dared not marry in Virginia. He dared not allow it. I couldn't doubt his sincerity; he was vexed to his heart's core. He took my hand, going away, and said, 'Before God, Brooks Egan, I would give Annie to your son with all my heart, if I could. But it is a point of honor. Honor! do you understand?' I believe him, too. John Spalding is a queer man, but he's honest."

"Yes, he's honest," I said, reflectively, some odd incidents of Spalding's life rising before me. Once, for example, he had been on the point of freeing his slaves and packing them off to Liberia; but he didn't do it. Another time he contemplated joining a communist fraternity that

bought a tract of land on the Ohio. He stopped short of that achievement also. Somehow, he always just grazed a noteworthy act—never hit it in the bull's eye. I fancied this difficulty about his niece arose from some whim.

Egan, while I sat silent, had been looking out of the carriage window, with a disturbed face. We were nearing the house, now, through a stately oak avenue.

"The reason why I am urgent about this matter is this," he said. "The young people are sincere: they feel deeply. I don't call love a sham, old as I am. If the separation is to be final, the sooner it is decided the better for both. Yet Col. Spalding invites Phil, as usual, to the house, and keeps up a wavering hope. It is cruel if he intends not to relent. Last week, through our consul at St. Petersburg, I was offered a surgeonship for Philip in the Russian army. If his marriage is not to come off, nothing better could chance for the boy than a sojourn abroad for some years. For that reason, Mr. Page, I requested you to speak to Col. Spalding. It will bring about some definite result."

"I will do so, to-night, if you choose!" thinking how careless Egan seemed of the girl's feelings in providing chance and change for Philip. But then, Phil was "his boy." I never had a boy; so managed, generally, to see all the sides of the picture.

I saw a different side from Egan that, evening, I fancy, watching the dramatis personae[3]of his story. For, after Spalding and I had talked through old times and old friends, for an hour or two, and the first glow of welcome was over, I did watch, curiously and closely. There were but two or three strangers in the party. To Egan and his son Col. Spalding was not only friendly, but eager in his cordiality. I believed, I too, as Egan said, "the young people were sincere in their attachment." Very slight recognition passed between them; but when Philip heard her singing, I saw his face color, and heard his nervous laugh—like a woman's—uncertain, unassured. Miss Spalding, when he came near her, showed no sign of embarrassment; only her lips whitened a little, and her clear gray eye grew stiller, deeper. There was a difference between them. She had the more manly soul of the two. Yet Philip Egan, with his assertant physical nature, his bluff voice, frank face, hearty good-humor, was a master for many women. It was a mistake of chance it that this one had chosen him for hers.

Annie Spalding was not beautiful. Small and puny in figure, with a pale, meek face. But her eyes—dark, pitiful, solitary eyes —made my old heart throb warm with sudden pity toward her. Yet I saw no cause to pity her. Col. Spalding held her as the apple of his eye; life opened fair and broad before her. As for the marriage with Philip Egan, when I had watched them for an hour, I found myself muttering, "Unsuitable, utterly unsuitable!" Yet Philip Egan was a trump of a fellow in his way. I never denied that. But, surely, a woman, whose soul looked out—as that girl's did—into the world, earnest, questioning, solemn, deserved something better of fate than a husband whom one, involuntarily, described as a "perfect brick."

Before the evening was over, Egan came to me. "Defer your remonstrance with Col. Spalding for a day or two," he said. "He may introduce the subject to you himself."

I nodded assent, watching the look with which Annie followed her lover. How lonesome it was! Tired, I fancied, of pain—of herself—of life.

"You are admiring my favorite," said old Dr. Ames, leaning over my chair. "Annie Spalding? Yes? Poor child!"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

The old doctor took snuff. "Well, well, we doctors see the skeleton under the flesh, you know: 'smell the mould above the rose,' eh ? There is a latent disease in the Spalding family of the heart: their deaths are all sudden. The colonel yonder, with his broad shoulders and bulky chest, is walking on ice."

"And his niece?"

"Has the same latent flaw in her constitution. She might be his daughter: their temperaments, physical and spiritual, are so much alike. She never will live to see thirty."

For an instant I was shocked; then, remembering it was Dr. Ames' habit—pleasure, I had almost said—to smell the mould in preference to the rose, I poohed and pished myself into good-humor; especially when Miss Spalding came up, and, with a shy color in her face, took hold of my arm, saying, "her uncle had sent her to sing me some Scotch songs." I led her to the music-room, not blaming John Spalding if he chose a more heroic hero for her than good, whimsical Phil Egan.

CHAPTER III.

I tell my story curtly. Incidents are all I attempt to give. I draw no inferences to “point a moral," delineate no characters "to adorn the tale." I hasten over the time, therefore, rapidly.

Some two weeks after I became an inmate of Col. Spalding's house, I was sitting with Annie in the breakfast-room—our favorite morning resort. I was smoking (the young lady was good-humored as well as good-natured), and the colonel reading scraps of news from the morning papers to us, while she sewed. I had not spoken of Philip Egan to the colonel as yet—bad set apart, this morning's ride as the time when it should be done. I had no fear that my mention of the matter would be deemed intrusive: Col. Spalding had hinted it to me frequently—seemed to desire that whatever had been told me by the Egans should be openly spoken of and discussed. The horses had been brought to the door, but we lingered. Col. Spalding had a headache, and I was lazy; so we read on at the Enquirer.

The etagere[4] by which I sat was covered with daguerreotypes. Stereoscopes were then unknown. But the colonel, with his usual enthusiasm for a new fancy, had daguerreotypes not only of his friends, but also of his favorite slaves, horses, dogs. An odd collection, that made me smile furtively, once or twice, as I examined it.

I opened one case, at last, the face, in which troubled me. Certainly, I knew it. I hesitated only a moment. It was the woman of the life insurance policy.

I pushed it across the table to Miss Spalding. "That, face is familiar to me," I said. "May I ask the name of the lady?"

“You must he mistaken, John," said her uncle. "It is impossible that you could have seen her. It is Louisa Carew, my housekeeper, for many years, in Alabama."

"And my nursery governess," said Annie, her eyes growing wet.

"She is dead.'" I asked.

I thought Col. Spalding fidgeted, brushing the hair off his thin face, as he answered, “Yes."

“Did she leave any children?" I persisted, my mind naturally reverting to my own perplexing dilemma.

Col. Spalding rose from his seat, rang the bell to order the horses nearer, not seeming to hear my question.

"I think she did," said Annie, in her quiet voice. "I fear she did. She often used to talk to me of a daughter who was far from her farther than land or sea could divide them, she said. I don't know what she meant by that."

"Come, Page, the horses wait. Good-by, Annie!' cried the colonel, kissing her cheek, and pinching her ear. "Wait lunch on us, little girl."

I asked no more questions. Some unpleasant memory stung him at the mention of this woman's name. Besides, I had promised her to keep her secret—to recognize her nowhere.

After we had struck into the open country, I broached the subject of Philip Egan.

"I am glad you mentioned this, Page," said the old man, drawing rein. "I knew Brooks Egan had consulted you; and I want you, as my friend, to convince him and his son that it can never be—never!"

"Phil is a clever fellow," I ventured.

"I know it. Not just the man I'd have chosen for Annie; but she likes him, and that's enough. Put there is a bar, Page; there is a bar."

His gray eyes glowered dark and sombre; some thought of which I knew nothing troubled him, deep and painful.

"Well," I said, putting spurs to my horse, "I have discharged my duty to Egan. My heart was not much in it. A higher type of man would match Annie better."

Spalding groaned, "Annie? God help her!" He said nothing more.

Despite all my efforts, the ride was dull and silent. I was puzzled, as Egan had been. However, it was no concern of mine; further remark would have been but idle curiosity. Yet silently, I confess, I wondered what the fatal bar could be!

We returned early. I fancied the colonel was more tender even than usual with his niece. It was the manner of one who has done another a deadly wrong and strives to atone.

The house, that day, I recollect, was alive with visitors. I saw but little of Col. Spalding. Dinner—a state dinner—was over late; and when the last, lingering guest retired, I rung for my night-lamp to go to my own room. The colonel's man met me in the hall.

"Mars' John wish um moment's conversation wid you, in's chamber."

I turned and followed the servant through the corridors to the colonel's study.

Col. Spalding was sitting by the fire, a small table beside him, on which lay some papers, beside a bottle of wine and goblets. The red Bohemian glass glowed in the lamp-light, throwing a hot nicker on the man's pale, bearded face.

"Come in, Page. A bit of business on hand, to-night."

I sat down.

"Take a glass. It is pure Lachryme Christi.[5] Your thin Spanish wines for me. There's fire

in them, when a man needs heart."

We drank, and criticised our drink for a moment.

"I don't feel right to-night," he said, getting up and pacing the floor. "I have a curious heaviness in the lungs; must see Ames in the morning. What a confounded old croaker he is! Well, Page, here's the business," sitting down, abruptly. "I'm going to be ready for this thing when it comes," hurrying out the words: "Dying, you know! I've lived a poor life enough; but I'll try and patch matters up before I go. You know what old Ames says: I have not three hours' purchase on life, any day. There is one thing I tried to do right in ; but God knows how it will turn out!" He muttered thus to himself, leaning his head on his hand. Looking up at last, he went on more calmly. "Do not laugh at me, Page; but I feel at times as if my lease of life were short. To-night I am haunted by the feeling. Indulge me in my whim; it is this: You know circumstances have made me a slave-holder; in principle I am almost a Fourierite.[6] You smile! But there is no tyrant like circumstance, after all. I'll shake it off, at the last. I want you to draw up free papers for all my people."

"To-night?"

"No; to-morrow. I have not the documents prepared for you. To-morrow." He stirred the fire. “ I only wished to tell you, and explain why I meant to do this.”

During the whole time the man was smothering down some terrible emotion. I saw this, and rose to go. We were friends, but I had no right to pry into his heart-secrets.

“Very well, Spalding. We will make it all right in the morning. You will lessen Annie’s portions considerably, however.”

His face was actually ghastly as he turned from me quickly. “Annie!” Why do you talk of her?” moving the lamp with an unsteady hand.

"Good-night, Spalding."

"Will you go, Page? Good-night then."

He came up as my hand was on the door. "Good-night, John. Don't leave your life for the last moment to set right."

I spoke cheerfully, bidding him good-night; thought his depression transient and morbid, and told him so; recommended him to commend his soul and body to God in an honest, manly fashion, and leave the wine untouched, so go to bed with a clear conscience.

It was late before I slept; my brain was heated with the strange forebodings carried from his chamber: my sleep, when it came, was heavy and lasted long. It was broken by a sharp clutch on my elbow. I looked up; the gray morning light was stealing wanly through the curtains, the night-lamp flared pale on the table; beside me stood old Dave, Col. Spalding's butler. His gray head was shaking as with palsy, his teeth chattering.

“What is it, uncle?” I cried, starting up.

“Fur de lub ob de Lord don’t wake dat chile, Miss Annie—but mars’ is dead.”

CHAPTER IV.

Dead! That page was closed. Let us leave it in silence. With the sins or short-comings of the dead, I have nothing to do; my story is only of the sore and heavy weight which fell from them on the survivors.

Three weeks after the death of Col. Spalding, I sat again in the breakfast-room. This time alone. Annie, who had sunk under the sudden shock, had never, as yet, left her room; and the light snow falling without was whitening the old colonel's grave. I had remained after his death; the girl seemed singularly alone. Their residence in Virginia had been short; so, although the planter's wives were kind in offering their houses for her present home, she shrank from them as from strangers. "The house puts me in mind of him," she said to me, "and he was all I had. I am an orphan, you know." My age and intimacy with her uncle seemed to call on me to assume the temporary care of the poor child, until something definite of her uncle's intentions could be ascertained. This was no easy matter: no will, no writing of any kind throwing light on his arrangements for the future could be found. I had but little doubt that reference to the proper authorities in Alabama would establish Annie's claim to the estate.

Upon this morning Brooks Egan and his son were with me.

“I am confident, Mr. Page,” said Philip, "that you will adopt my plan, when you consider it. Let Annie at once be removed to the guardianship of my aunt, and the marriage take place immediately. Her peculiar loneliness makes it proper. Necessary; I am sure you think so?”

"I am sure you do," I laughed. "Be patient. She is not unprotected. Wait until we hear from Alabama. Brady has written to Mobile, and hopes to receive an answer to-day."

"I know," said Philip, impatiently. more reason she should commit herself to me, her rightful guardian, while her fate is undecided, before she is declared an heiress, or otherwise. I do not wish my motives doubted."

"Philip is right," urged Brooks Egan. "Consider, Page—"

"I have no right to consider, or decide. She is of age, consult her."

"That is all I ask," said Philip, confidently. I rang the bell. "Ask your mistress if she will see Mr. Philip Egan," I said to the servant.

A few moments after she returned, saying that Miss Spalding was in the library and attended Mr. Egan. He went out eagerly. An hour after he returned, flushed but crest-fallen; Annie had declined to marry him until her uncle's papers had been thoroughly searched, to discover, if possible, his reason for refusing his consent so long. “It is but a question of time," said young Egan, triumphantly, as he prepared to leave. “Annie will be mine at last.”

I stood at the lodge-gate watching the Egans, as they rode down the avenue; as I turned

away, I saw Brady driving up rapidly in a gig, and waited for him.

"News from Alabama?" I said, as he came up. He nodded, and, jumping out, threw the reins to a servant, and joined me.

I knew Brady's face well: something was wrong. I had not seen him look in this way since we lost the great Stokes case.

"What is it?"

"Read for yourself," he said, thrusting a letter in my hand. "Decide for us. Something must be done, to-night." Then he went walking up and down the path, wiping the sweat off his face.

It was a lawyer's letter, on blue paper, brief, to the point. He (Thomas Jordan, attorney-at-law in Mobile,) regretted deeply to learn the news of the death of his former client, Col. Spalding. It was true that in the midst of life we are in death. He was instructed by James Spalding, nephew and heir-at-law of the deceased, to inform Messrs. Page and Brady that he would set out for Richmond immediately, arrive probably as soon as the letter. Meanwhile, he desired the estate, real and personal, should remain intact. The slaves belonging to the Virginia plantation would probably remain there. One, however, brought from Alabama deserved peculiar care from her painful position which Mr. James Spalding fully appreciated; the pale mulatto, named Annie, daughter of Col. Spalding and his slave Louisa. The girl, the lawyer had understood, was ignorant of her real position, believed herself the niece of Col. Spalding and his heiress. That he had permitted her to believe this, was but another proof of the mental weakness under which he had long labored. The letter closed with “highest considerations,” etc.

A postscript informed us that Mr. J. Spalding had not decided what disposition should be made of the woman Annie.

I had, even then, a suspicion that the letter was written to give us timely warning. Afterward I knew it. Whatever Brady or I may have felt, it was no time for anything but keen decision and speedy action. The life-insurance was intended for this girl. Brady drew a check on the bank for the amount, trusting to luck to repay it from the insurance office afterward; which was done by-the-way.

A harder task remained for me: to break the news to the wretched girl. I put it off, until, at least, escape was certain. I only told her that it was necessary for her to leave the house instantly on account of some legal procedures. Poor Annie had a wholesome horror of the law, and an utter ignorance. I said to her we must leave in the night train to join her friends, who had written to claim her, and bewildered, half-sick, terrified by my assumed impatience, she made little objection.

Shall I tell you how John Page, at that time the owner of two or three hundred negroes, ran a slave over the under-ground railroad to Canada? We went straight down to Charleston, S.C., completely to baffle all pursuers: thence across New Orleans, and then in as direct a route as possible to Quebec. The letter I left in Brady’s hands to give to the Egans.

One trial I was spared. I had not to tell Annie her story. Before we reached New Orleans she was ill, and the remainder of her journey was accomplished at the risk of her life. But we went on. I knew, though she did not, that worse than death lay behind.

I had a friend in Quebec, a Quaker lady, with a home as full of quiet content as her heart was full of love. I brought Annie to her, and told her the story; left Annie there, white and weak, and in the little bed where the Friend’s daughter died years before.

“Tell her nothing until you hear from me,” I said; and then come back to Richmond, leaving the money from the life-insurance ready for her use.

I met Brady at the depot.

“Safe?” he whispered.

I nodded.

“Spalding is here, and it is, or he is, the deuce to pay.”

“Come to supper first, and then we’ll pay it,” I rejoined.

After supper, we went up to the Spotswood, where Spalding boarded. He was a thin, wiry trader, Alabamian though he might be, or Spalding born. “What can ennoble fools, or sots, or cowards? Not all the blood of all the Howards,”[7] or Spaldings either, in this case.

He affected the bully for awhile, until he found it was no use.

“There is the money,” I said, counting it on the table, “the full value of the woman Annie. For her escape I alone am responsible. Bring it before a court of justice, if you will. You will see how James Spalding and John Page stand before a Richmond jury.” I bluffed him down. He threatened and swore at us we left the house, but I knew he would do nothing. I never heard from him again.

My story is sad, I hurry over it. I remained in Richmond only long enough to know what course the Egans meant to pursue. I met Phillip in the club-room that night. To do him justice, he looked worn and pale. I saw he avoided me, watching me furtively. I heard him tell an acquaintance that he would leave in the morning train.

“For what place?” I said, facing him.

“New York, en route for Russia,” he answered, following me, whispering, “Where is she? For God’s sake, Mr. Page, tell me something about her before I go!” I shook him off—the poor, pitiful hound!

After my return home, I received weekly bulletins from my Quaker friend, about her charge, written as tenderly as though she had spoken of a daughter. “She knows all,” she wrote once. “No heavier blow ever fell on one of God’s flock; but He tries none more than they are able to bear.”

In March I received a note from Annie herself, asking me to come and see her. “Let me thank you for all you have done before I go,” she said. “The pain was for a use. I see now. I had but a few months to live, and it was better the world should hold little was hard to part from. Now, now one will grieve for me, whose pain will not soon be healed.”

God knows how bitter was the solitude of heart from which the poor girl wrote that world. I hurried to Quebec in time to see her once again, for her last steps down were swift. Quiet though and firm, He led her who holds the lambs in His bosom.

I remember but one look of bitterness on her peaceful face. When I first came, I raised her hand to my lips in my old-fashioned way.

“You forget, she said, her face dyed red. She never forgot.

It was a cool, bright evening, when she died. She never spoke of Phillip. It may be that the honest clearness of dying hours showed her how false were the grounds on which such love rested, or perhaps the hurt was too deep. I cannot tell. She lay that evening, holding my hand in hers, her head resting on the Quaker’s breast, talking cheerily and brightly for an hour or two, looking at the clear crimson west.

“What is it He said?” she whispered.

“‘Peace I leave with you. Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’[8] Say it for me.”

I repeated it, my voice husky and choked. She noticed it, half-smiling.

“You don’t want to see me go?” patting my hand. “How foolish that is! I am tired, you know. Good-night! I think I’ll sleep awhile. Waken me early in the morning.”

And so she slept until the morning: the morning of the Resurrection!

[1] French for to be aware or familiar with.

[2] A scholarly gathering held for discussion of literature and the arts.

[3] Characters of a play, novel, or narrative

[4] French for a piece of furniture with open shelves for display.

[5] A famous Italian wine from Mount Vesuvius.

[6] A follower of Fourierism, a utopian and socialistic system founded by French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772-1837).

[7] See Alexander Pope (1688-1744), “An Essay on Man” Epistle IV.

[8] See John 14:27

Creator

Laney Jolley

Date

Upated February 19, 2020

Contributor

Laney Jolley

Collection

Citation

Laney Jolley, “"A Story of Life Insurance" Peterson's Magazine, vol. 41, June 1862, pp. 447-54.,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed April 2, 2020, http://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/206.

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