Page images
PDF

THE RECLUSE OF THE LAKE. 63

resource remained, but the sale of his beautiful cottage. Unused as the Recluse was to all the rankling cares of life, this alternative went like a dagger to his sensitive heart. However, he resolved to support Mary and George at all events, even if he were compelled to personal exertion. Accordingly, a day was appointed, and the retreat, with all its elegant appendages, was sold at public auction. Much curiosity was excited, and crowds assembled to witness the sale. A tall, dignified, middle aged gentleman appeared to take an extraordinary interest in all that was passing. He asked innumerable questions concerning the character and habits of Vandellyn ; doubled what was last offered for any article, however extravagant the price, and left the spot undisputed master of the whole establishment. In this way, a much larger sum was obtained than his creditors had expected; and, after every debt was honorably discharged, the Recluse found that rigid economy would enable him still to support himself and the orphans. His first impulse was to thank the generous unknown ; but he had much of that unbending pride, too often the fault of genius, and he could not endure the idea that he owed his present security to the compassion of a stranger. An honest spirit of independence was stirred within him, and for the first time in his life he thought of the productions of his pencil as a means of future support. Among other unfinished views, he had a favorite one, which represented Mary Campbell as he had first seen her stepping into the boat at Diamond Isle. He had ceased to visit that island, together with many a beloved haunt, during his recent distress; but he now resolved to take his canvas to the picturesque spot where he had first sketched its outlines. As he approached the margin of the lake, and saw his boat pushing off from the shore, the painful recollection that it was no longer his own, crowded upon him. He made a signal to the bargeman, which was instantly obeyed; and, in the embarrassment of offering money for a passage to Diamond Isle, he did not at first notice that the stately unknown was already a passenger.

The haughty Recluse would gladly have retreated; but the gentleman ordered the boat to be drawn up for his accommodation, and with the most friendly politeness urged him to enter. “I am a stranger here, Mr Vandellyn,” said he ; “and I hear that you have an artist's eye, and a poet's tongue. I should really like to share this romantic prospect with you.” He spoke with a slightly foreign accent, and his manner was so fascinating, that Vandellyn could not decline the invitation.

It was a clear, bright, autumnal day. The lake shone beneath the sinking sun like liquid amber; the little green islands seemed to smile at their own shadows ; the distant mountains threw an almost imperceptible outline on the cloudless sky; and the rugged peaks which surrounded the lake, looked down upon it in stern and lofty majesty. Thus enclosed, the fair sheet of water, so pellucid and motionless, looked like a lovely babe sleeping at the feet of steel clad warriors, enjoying its dream of peace, all unconscious of their frowns.

THE RECLUSE OF THE LAKE. 65

The gentlemen had not long admired the beautiful sublimity of the scene, when a cloud of dingy white was observed gathering around the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain. At first, it was thin and shadowy, as the vapor which enveloped Samuel when he rose at the summons of the sorceress; but it gradually accumulated, like the soiled plumes of a regiment rushing from the battle field in confusion and dismay. “Is that an omen of an approaching thunder shower 2" inquired the stranger. “It forebodes a sudden, and a dreadful one,” replied Vandellyn, speaking low, and keeping his eye fixed upon the mountain. The bargeman rowed with almost supernatural strength; and the quick, convulsive heavings of his breath had a fearful sound amid the stillness of the coming storm. Long before they could reach Diamond Isle, the sky was covered with one deep, black mantle of clouds; the lake was dimpled by the falling rain, and illumined with forked lightning; and the thunder rolled from mountain to mountain, ever and anon bursting out in echoing peals, as if the spirits of the air shouted their far off warnings to each other. The scene was too terrific in its majesty for even the poet to enjoy; for an instinctive dread of thunder was one of his peculiarities. “Row faster, bargeman, and avoid the current,” were the only words he uttered ; but his eye changed its wonted flash of inspiration for the intense light of fear. The boat cut the black waves rapidly, and, amid the uproar of the elements, they landed in safety. Without waiting for their hasty summons to be answered, Vandellyn entered the wretched hut of Mrs Campbell. The old woman, crouching in the corner, seemed to rejoice at the sight of a human being. “I have lived here twenty long years,” said she ; “but never have I seen a storm like this.” Few words were spoken by the gentlemen, as they watched the clouds heavily and reluctantly dispersing. Nearly an hour elapsed, before a speck of clear blue sky looked forth, like a seraph stilling the tempest; but the sun at length shone out in its glory, making the grass glitter with transient pearls, and showing every spider's web studded with diamonds, fit for the regalia of a fairy queen. The light entered a small window and shone obliquely upon an embroidered genealogical tree, which immediately attracted the stranger's attention. Fixing his eye upon it for an instant, he exclaimed, “James Mac Ferguson was he a relation of yours, ma'am 2" “He was father to my husband's first wife,” answered the woman. “Has he any heirs living?” “Yes, there are two great grandchildren, George and Mary Campbell; but it is precious little they’ll be heir to, I guess.” “George and Mary Campbell,” repeated the stranger, as if talking to himself. “Did I not hear—” He paused, and looked inquiringly at Wandellyn; who, blushing slightly, replied, “If you have heard that I am educating the young lady, and intend to marry her, you have heard the truth.” The unknown glanced his eye round the miserable dwelling. A frown flitted over his brow for an instant; but it passed away, as he added, half

THE RECLUSE OF THE LAKE. 67

audibly, “Well, she is beautiful and virtuous, I am told. How can you support her, young man?” continued he, aloud. Recent circumstances rushed at once upon the mind of the Recluse. His blood boiled with indignation at the unfeeling question; and he answered haughtily, “By the exertion of my talents, sir. My mind is my kingdom.” “It is nobly said,” rejoined the stranger. “When romance leads us to be useless, it is not without sin. Have you any papers belonging to James Mac Ferguson P” continued he, turning toward Mrs Campbell. “There are some writings in that case of drawers,” she replied, “which my old man would never have burned.” “Will you trust Mr Wandellyn and myself to look at them?” “Folks that know Mr Wandellyn, trust him with anything,” rejoined the old woman. “I would not trust *him when he was rich, but I will now.” The young man looked gratefully at her; for he loved to remember what had softened her stern heart towards him. The papers were produced with alacrity; and, on opening the third roll, the unknown exclaimed, “I have found it at last !” After examin ing it carefully, he explained to Arthur and Mrs Campbell that it was the grant of a large tract of land in Missouri, to James Mac Ferguson, for services rendered the United States during the revolutionary war; that a lead mine of immense value had been discovered in this tract; and that he had come to New York with forty thousand dollars, prepared for the purchase, provided any heirs could be found. “And I am delighted,” continued he, “to find those heirs are George and Mary Campbell.”

A

« PreviousContinue »