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Title: Fortunes of a Country-Boy; Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as J. R. S.]

Date: November 28, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00290

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 28, 1846: 1. Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue.

Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock, Nicole Gray, and Ed Folsom




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A Moral Tale.

FORTUNES OF A COUNTRY-BOY;

Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.

———

BY J. R. S. ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙.

———

[Continued.

Midnight hung its curtains round about the planter's dwelling. Sleep and Repose were there with their pleasant ministerings, and Silence, the handmaiden of both. In the chamber of the sick one there was a lamp, sending forth its feeble beams, and looking as if it were about to gasp its last gasp, ominous emblem of the life that lay flickering near. From the bed which held the beautiful sufferer, sounded breathings faint but regular. There was no nurse or watcher there, for the physician had said it was of no importance, and all were worn out with their long-continued attending upon the invalid. Even I myself had sunk into a deep sleep at the door of the room, exhausted nature refusing to allow any further demand upon her powers.

One of the long windows was partly open, and only a thin piece of gauze was between the ground to which it led, and the room. At that window appeared, time and again, two bright small orbs, fixed, and yet rolling in fire. Ever and anon they would draw back into the shadow; then again they would peer inwardly upon the room, their direction ever being to the bed whereon the sick one lay.

It was wrong to say that couch had no watcher! Three long hours did those glittering things, which were human eyes, continue to keep the vigils of that noiseless spot. Three long hours, while hardly a motion, except the swaying back and forth, before spoken of, disturbed the constancy of their gaze, or a sound broke the solemn stillness.

In the deep hour of that night the widow awoke; and as she awoke, her blood, for the first time during five days, coursed through veins that did not throb with loathsome heart. Then she knew that she should live.

All around was motionless and soundless, and the lady felt glad that it was so; for her heart was in that mood of blissful calm to which the least jar produces pain.

"Thank God!" sounded in a low murmur from her tongue; "thank God! I shall not die!"

The sounds came faintly; but faint as they were, they sank into ears beside those of the speaker. They sank and pierced, with a dagger's sharpness, the soul of Margaret, the creole; for she it was, whose eyes had been during those long three hours almost winkless at the room window.

And was her rival, then, to get well once more? And were all her late hopes to vanish? That pale-browed northerner married to him she loved? Never should the sun rise upon that marriage!

Horrid purposes lighted up the creole's eyes as she softly put aside the curtains, and stepped into the room. With a stealthy pace she drew near to the sick woman's bed. One moment she paused. The widow lay there, still very beautiful, and calm as a sleeping infant. As Margaret approached, the invalid turned and looked at her a moment, but it was plain she knew her not, and probably thought her to be some hired attendant.

Still nearer and nearer came the wrtched female: and now she stands by the very bedside. Unconscious yet, the lady is quiet and composed—fearing nothing and suspecting nothing. An instant more and her throat is clutched by a pair of tight-working hands. Startled with terror, she would shriek but cannot. What torture fills her heart! She turns, and struggles and writhes; but those deadly fingers loosen not their grasp.

The murderess presses upon her. Poor lady! Her soul feels very sick, as in one little minute whole troops of remembrances, and thoughts, and dreads, come over her. She grows fainter and fainter. Her struggles become less energetic, and her convulsive writhings cease. Still those terrible hands release not. Their suffocating span is continued yet for several minutes.

And now, no longer is it necessary that Margaret should keep her hold; that last faint gurgle tells the consummation of the fell design. Her deed is done. Her revenge triumphs!

Like some ghost condemned to wander on earth for actions done there, a figure stalked about the garden and the grounds near by, during the remainder of that night. Bright stars shone down, and the cool breeze swept by; but the Shape heeded them not, walking swiftly on in zigzag directions, apparently without any particular point of destination. Sometimes stretching off down a lane, and stopping by the fence, and leaning thereon, and looking at the cattle that lay doubled on the grass reposing: and sometimes standing like a marble statue, motionless, and gazing vacantly for a long time in the bodiless air: these were the freaks of the strange figure.

It was the murderess who wandered there and thus. And as the first streak of light appeared in the east, she started like the guilty thing she was, and returned to her abiding place.

Chapter X.

Upon the distraction which filled my breast, when it was found in the morning that the widow had died—and the burial of the body—and the cunning smoothess of the Creole during the intervening time—I shall bestow no more than this passing mention. Whether any suspicions of foul play were as yet aroused in the breasts of other persons, is more than I can say. As far as I was concerned, however, I had not the most distant idea of the kind; and taking all things into reflection, the likelihood is that no one thought Mrs. Conway's death, under the circumstances, aught more than was to have been expected.

But guilt has a vital power, which gives it life, until it is held up to scorn. It happened so in this case. Louis, the former page of Margaret, was taken sick with the same disease of which the widow was supposed to have died. Strangely enough, when the Creole plotted with the boy to entice his mistress into the infected cottage (for that occurrence was the result of design,) she did not think how the danger would be shared by Louis too. Her soul had strained its gaze with the single purpose of revenge; and she saw not each incidental effect. Thus it is with evil intentions. The bad are always short-sighted: in the plots they form, and the manœuvres they engage in, some little thing or other escapes their view, and proves, after a while, to be a seed of punishment and remorse.

Again the curtains of darkness hung around the planter's dwelling; and again had the balancing point of the sickness arrived for a sufferer there.—That sufferer was little Louis. He had left the house of the overseer, and now lived at his old abode. There was the same breathlessness and the same want of movement, as on the preceding occasion; but instead of the sick room being almost deserted, as in the former case, many persons waited there. Perhaps they had become more callous to fear, because it was not a new thing; perhaps it was, that they thought the influences of a sick child's apartment more gentle and less dangerous than the former one. Margaret stood in a position so quiet, and with eyes so stony in their gaze, that she seemed like one entranced. On the result of the pending sleep of her favorite, it seemed as if her reason and her life were wavering.

At last the slumberer awoke. The Creole shrieked! for it was plain Louis but aroused himself for a moment, to sink shortly in that deep senselessness which knows no waking here on earth. He shifted himself uneasily on his bed. A film came over Margaret's eyes—a film of fear and agony; and when it passed off and left her sight clear, she saw lying before her, the quiet ghastly corpse of the only being who had ever truly loved her.

Those who were present felt awed at her terrible grief. She screamed aloud, and threw her arms around the boy, and pressed his forehead to her lips. She called him by all the old endearing epithets, and seemed crazed with her sense of desperate sorrow. The wild exclamations that started from her mouth, the listeners heard with wonder.

"Do not go!" she said, looking on the inanimate form of the boy. "Do not go. The pleasant days are not all past. If you leave me, my heart will crack!"

Then in a whisper:

"O, never tell me of her kindness. Lead her into the hut I say. She is a witch, and can steal hearts."

She passed, and looked intently at some phantom before her.

"Why, how long she sleeps! She shall sleep longer, though, and deeper, after to-night. Softly! softly! softly!"

The heart strings were too much wrought, and the Creole sank heavily down upon the floor, in a fit. Those who stood by looked strangely into each other's faces, but no one spoke.

It was evident that something wrong had been done, and weighed heavily on the wretched woman's mind. Her words, her strange gestures, could not but have a meaning to them. Gossipping tongues, once started upon such matters, are not easily put to rest; and before long the dark rumor came to Mr. Phillips's ear that his kinswoman had been murdered.

The overseer, whatever might have been his deficiencies, was a shrewd clear-headed man, and in ferreting out a mystery, had few equals. He worked with sagacity, and allowed no incident to escape him, small or large. As might be expected, he soon discovered enough to make his surmises a positive belief.

Many of what the people would have called trifles, were noted down by this man; and the sum of these trifles presented an array dangerous enough to warrant the suspicion of even the most incredulous. The strange appearance of Mr. Conway's body was remembered—how the bed was all disordered, as if from a violent struggle—the livid spots upon her neck—the open window—and the tracks of some person's feet from the grounds without, through the room—even the fact that Margaret's couch had the next morning borne no sign of occupancy the preceding night—were hunted out by the indefatigable overseer. Many other minor and corroborating incidents were also brought to light—the whole making the case of the suspected woman a dark one indeed.

Mr. Phillips applied to the proper authorities for a warrant, and had Margaret lodged in prison, as one who, at the very least, was involved in deep clouds of suspicion.

In the meantime, I myself was as one petrified. Never in all my life did I receive such a shock, as when authentic information was first brought me of the charge against the Creole! I could not join the overseer in efforts to worm out the facts of the case; neither could I do aught to screen the murderess of one whom I had so loved. I shut myself up in my room for several days, waiting the conclusion of all these horrible circumstances.

Let me hasten toward that conclusion. I have already dwelt long enough, and too long, on this part of my history. And I feel glad that I have arrived at the end of the chapter, for my mind revolts at the ideas the narration of these things has already called up in most disagreeable distinctness.

The overseer continued his investigation, but he might as well have spared himself the trouble. From some train of motives which the great Heart-Viewer alone can fathom, the Creole soon after sent for Phillips and myself, and made a full confession. Upon her story as she told it me, and her own acknowledgment, I have given many of the incidents in the preceding two chapters, which, at the time they took place, were of course totally unknown to me. That very night she committed suicide in her cell. I never saw her again.


To be continued.1


Notes:

1. Click here for the next installment of "Fortunes of a Country-Boy." [back]


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