Lewis Rand
By Mary Johnston

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Chapter XXVI: The Trial of Aaron Burr

At an early hour the crowd in the Hall of the House of Delegates was very great, and as it drew toward the time when the principals in the drama would appear, the press of the people and the heat of the August day grew well-nigh intolerable. In the gallery were many women, and their diaphanous gowns and the incessant flutter of their fans imparted to this portion of the Hall a pale illusion of comfort. In the hall below, men stood upon the window-sills, choked the entrances, crowded the corridors without. Not only was there a throng where something might be heard and seen, but the portico of the Capitol had its numbers, and the green surrounding slopes a concourse avid of what news the birds might bring. Within and without, the heat was extreme, even for August in Tidewater Virginia; an atmosphere sultry and boding, tense with the feeling of an approaching storm.

In the gallery, beside Unity and Mrs. Wickham, around her women of Federalist families who were loath to believe any one guilty who was prosecuted, or persecuted, by the present Government, and women of Republican houses who asserted, while they waved their fans, that, being guilty, Aaron Burr must be, should be, would be hanged! sat Jacqueline Rand, and wondered somewhat at her weakness in coming there that day. It had been, perhaps, in the last analysis, a painful curiosity, a vague desire to see the place, the men, all the circumstance and environment, with which her husband–she thanked God with every breath–had no connection! He might have had here his part, she knew tremulously; it might have been his role to stand here beside Aaron Burr, and, with a passionately humble and grateful heart, she nursed the memory of that winter night when he had sworn to her that from that hour he and this enterprise should be strangers.

There had been days and weeks of preliminaries to the actual trial for high treason, but she had not before been in this hall. All her delicacy shrank from the thought of sitting here beside her husband, conscious of his consciousness that she knew all that might have been, and saw in fancy more prisoners at the bar than one. No man would like that. He had come often to the Capitol during the days of skirmishing prior to the general engagement; had he not done so, it would have been at once remarked. She expressed no desire to accompany him, nor did he ever ask her to do so. She was aware of the general surprise that he had no place among the Government counsel. Whether or not such place had been offered to him, pressed upon him, she did not know, but she thought it possible that this was the case. If so, he had refused as was right. Acceptance, she knew, would have been impossible.

All through these months there had been between them a silent pact, a covenant to avoid all superfluous mention of the topic which met them on every hand, from every mouth, in every letter or printed sheet. Rand was much occupied with important cases, much in demand in various portions of the state, much away from home. She was not a woman to demand as her right entrance into every chamber of another’s soul. Her own had its hushed rooms, its reticences, its altars built to solitude; she was aware that beyond, below, above the fair chamber where he entertained her were other spaces in her husband’s nature. Into some she looked as through open door and clear windows, but others were closed to her, and she was both too proud and too pure of thought to search for keys that had not been offered her.

She knew that her husband had not meant to be absent from Richmond that day. An unexpected turn in the case he was conducting had compelled his presence in Williamsburgh, and on the other hand, in Richmond, the labour of finding an impartial jury had been brought to a sudden end by Burr’s coup de main in refusing to challenge and calmly accepting as prejudiced a twelve as perhaps, in the United States of America, ever decided whether a man should live or die. The move had hastened the day when the Government was to begin its cannonade.

Lewis was yet in Williamsburgh. Had he been present in this hail, watching events with his fellow lawyers, fellow politicians, fellow countrymen, who knew nothing of one snowy night a year ago last February, his wife, for both their sakes, would have remained away. As it was, she had been persuaded. Unity would not for much have missed the spectacle, friends had been pressing, and at last her own painful interest prevailed. She was here now, and she sat as in a waking dream, her hands idle, her eyes, wide and dark, steadily fixed upon the scene below. She saw, leaning against a window, Ludwell Cary, and, the centre of a cluster of men in hunting-shirts, Adam Gaudylock.

The Capitol clock struck twelve. As the last stroke died upon the feverish air, the Chief Justice entered the Hall and took the Speaker’s chair. Beside him was Cyrus Griffin, the District Judge. Hay, the District Attorney, with his associates William Wirt and Alexander McRae, now appeared, and immediately afterward the imposing array of the prisoner’s counsel, a phalanx which included no less than four sometime Attorneys-General and two subalterns of note. These took the seats reserved for them; the marshal and his deputies pressed the people back, and the jury entered and filled the jury box. Below and near them sat a medley of witnesses–important folk, and folk whom only this trial made important.

A loud murmur was now heard from without; the marshal’s men, red and perspiring, cleared a thread-like path, and the prisoner, accompanied by his son-in-law, entered the Hall. He was dressed in black, with carefully powdered hair. Quiet, cool, smiling, and collected, he was brought to the bar, when, having taken his place, bowed to the judges, and greeted his counsel, he turned slightly and surveyed with his composed face and his extremely keen black eyes the throng that with intentness looked on him in turn. It was by no means their first encounter of eyes. The preliminaries of that famous trial had been many and prolonged. From the prisoner’s arrival in April under military escort to the present moment, through the first arraignment at that bar, the assembling of the Grand Jury, the tedious waiting for Wilkinson’s long-deferred arrival from New Orleans, the matter of the subpoena to the President with which the country rang, the adjournment from June to August, the victory gained by the defence in the exclusion of Wilkinson’s evidence, and the clamour of the two camps into which the city was divided,–through all this had been manifest the prisoner’s deliberate purpose and attempt to make every fibre of a personality ingratiating beyond that of most, tell in its own behalf. He had able advocates, but none more able than Aaron Burr. His day and time was, on the whole, a time astonishingly fluid and na´ve, and he impressed it.

There was in this moment, therefore, no novelty of encounter between him and the stare of the opposing throng. He was not seeing them, nor they him, for the first time. Yet the situation had its high intensity. This day was the beginning of the actual trial, and only the day which brought the verdict could outweigh it in importance. This was the lighting of the lamp that was to search out mysteries; this was the bending of the bow; this was the first rung of the ladder which might lead–where? As John Marshall’s voice was heard from the bench and the prisoner turned from his steadfast contemplation of the throng, a psychic wave overflowed and lifted all the great assembly. This was spectacle, this was drama! The oldest of all the first principles stirred under the stimulus, and with savage naturalness sucked in the sense of pageant.

The court was opened. Counsel on both sides brought forward and disposed of a minor point or two, then, amid a silence so great that the twittering of the martins outside the windows seemed importunate and shrill, proclamation was made, the prisoner stood up, and the indictment was read.

The grand inquest of the United States of America for the Virginia District upon their oath do present that Aaron Burr, late of the city of New York, and State of New York, attorney-at-law, being an inhabitant of and residing within the United States, and under the protection of the laws of the United States, and owing allegiance and fidelity to the same United States, not having the fear of God before his eyes, nor weighing the duty of his said allegiance, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, wickedly devising and intending the peace and tranquillity of the said United States to disturb, and to stir, move, and excite insurrection, rebellion, and war against the said United States, on the tenth day of December, in the year of Christ one thousand, eight hundred and six, at a certain place called and known by the name of Blennerhassett’s Island, in the county of Wood and District of Virginia aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of this court, with force and arms, unlawfully, falsely, maliciously, and traitorously did compass, imagine, and intend to raise and levy war, insurrection, and rebellion against the said United States–”

And so on through much thunderous repetition to the final,–

And the said Aaron Burr with the said persons as aforesaid traitorously assembled and armed and arranged in manner aforesaid, most wickedly, maliciously, and traitorously did ordain, prepare, and levy war against the said United States, and further to fulfil and carry into effect the said traitorous compassings, imaginings, and intentions of him the said Aaron Burr, and to carry on the war thus levied as aforesaid against the United States, the said Aaron Burr with the multitude last mentioned, at the island aforesaid, in the said county of Wood within the Virginia District aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of this court, did array themselves in a warlike manner, with guns and other weapons, offensive and defensive, and did proceed from the said island down the river Ohio in the county aforesaid, within the Virginia District, and within the jurisdiction of this court, on the said eleventh day of December, in the year one thousand, eight hundred and six aforesaid, with the wicked and traitorous intention to descend the said river and the river Mississippi, and by force and arms traitorously to take possession of the city commonly called New Orleans, in the territory of Orleans, belonging to the United States, contrary to the duty of their said allegiance and fidelity, against the Constitution, peace, and dignity of the United States and against the form of the Act of Congress of the United States in such case made and provided.”

The clerk ceased to read. When the last sonorous word had died upon the air, the audience yet sat or stood in silence, bent a little forward, in the attitude of listeners. This lasted an appreciable moment, then the tension snapped. Marshall moved slightly in his great chair, Judge Griffin coughed, a rustling sound and a deep breath ran through the Hall. The prisoner, who had faced with the most perfect composure the indictment’s long thunder, now slightly inclined his head to the Judges and took his seat. His counsel, ostentatiously easy and smiling, gathered about him, and the District Attorney rose to open for the Government in a lengthy and able speech.

In the gallery, among the fluttering fans, Jacqueline asked herself if her rising and quitting the place would disturb those about her. She was in the very front, beside the gallery rail, there was a great crowd behind, she must stay it out. She bit her lip, forced back emotion, strove with resolution to conquer the too visionary aspect of all things before her. It had been foolish, she knew now, to come. She had not dreamed with what strong and feverish grasp such a scene could take prisoner the imagination. She saw too plainly much that was not there; she brought other figures into the Hall; abstractions and realities, they thronged the place. The place itself widened until to her inner sense it was as wide as her world and her life. Fontenoy was there and the house on the Three-Notched Road; Roselands, and much besides. For all the heat, and the fluttering of the fans, and the roll of declamation from the District Attorney, who was now upon the definition of treason, one night in February was there as well, the night that had seen so much imperilled, the night that had seen, thank God! the cloud go by. Of all the images that thronged upon her, creating a strange tumult of the soul, darkening her eyes and driving the faint colour from her cheek, the image of that evening was the most insistent. It was, perhaps, aided by her fancy that in that cool survey of the Hall in which the prisoner indulged himself, his eyes, keen and darting as a snake’s, had rested for a moment upon her face. She could have said that there was in them a curious light of recognition, even a cool amusement, a sarcasm,–the very memory of the look made for her a trouble vague, but deep! Had he, too, given a thought to that evening, to the man whom he did not secure, and to the woman with whom he had talked of black lace and Spanish songs? She wondered. But why should Colonel Burr be amused, and why sarcastic? She abandoned the enquiry and listened to the heavy lumbering up of Government cannon. “Courts of Great Britain–Foster’s Crown Laws–Demaree and Purchase–Vaughan–Lord George Gordon–Throgmorton–United States vs. Fries–Opinion of Judge Chase–Of Judge Iredell–Overt Act–Overt Act proven–Arms, array and treasonable purpose; here is bellum levatum if not bellum percussum-Treason and traitors, not potential but actual–their discovery and their punishment–”

On boomed the guns of the prosecution. Jacqueline listened, fascinated for a time, but the words at last grew to hurt her so that, could she have done so unobserved, she would have stopped her ears with her hands. The feverish interest of the scene still held her in its grasp, but the words were cruel and struck upon her heart. She could not free herself from the brooding thought of how poignant, how burning, how deadly poisonous they had been to her, had all things been different and she forced to sit in this place hearing them launched against another than Aaron Burr, there, there at that bar! She unlocked her hands, drew a long and tremulous breath, and, leaning a little forward, tried not to listen, and to lose herself in watching the throng below. Her eyes fell, at once, upon Ludwell Cary.

He was standing where she had before marked him, beside a window almost opposite, his arm upon the sill, his attention closely given to the District Attorney, who was now eulogising that great patriot, General James Wilkinson. Now, while Jacqueline looked, he turned his head. It was as though she had called and he had been ready with his answer.

Painfully raised in feeling and driven out of habitual citadels, tense and fevered, subtly touched by the storm in the air, she found in the moment no sense of self-consciousness, no question and no movement of aversion. She and Cary looked at each other long and fully, and with something of an old understanding; on her part a softening of pardon for the quarrel and the duel, on his a light and compassion that she could not clearly understand. She knew that he read her thoughts, but if he, too, was remembering that evening long ago in February, he must also remember that Lewis Rand gave up, that snowy night, definitely and forever, the fevered ambitions, the too-high imaginings, the conqueror’s thirst for power; gave them up, and turned from the charmer into the path of right! There came into her heart a longing that Ludwell Cary should see the matter truly. He should have done so that afternoon in the cedar wood; where was the black mote that kept the vision out? She was suddenly aware–and it came to her with a dizzying strangeness–that there was in her own soul that reference of matters to the bar of Cary’s idea, thought, and judgment which, that day in the cedar wood, she had told him existed in that of her husband. Were she and Lewis grown so much alike? or had her own soul always recognised, deferred to, rested upon, something in the inmost nature of the man into whose eyes she looked across this thronged and fevered space–something of rare equanimity, dispassionate yet tender, calm, high, impartial, and ideal? She did not know; she had not thought of it before. Her eyes dilated. Suddenly she saw the drawing-room at Fontenoy, green and gold and cool, with the portraits on the wall,–Edmund Churchill, who fought with King Charles; Henry his son, who fled to Virginia and founded the family there; a second Edmund, aide-de-camp to Marlborough; two Governors of Virginia and a President of the Council; the Lely and the Kneller–both Churchill women; and the fair face and form of Grandaunt Jacqueline for whom she was named. She smelled the roses in the bowls, and she saw herself singing at her harp. It was a night in June, the night of the great thunderstorm. Lewis Rand had come down from the blue room, and Ludwell Cary entered from the darkness of the storm.

     “Stone walls do not a prison make,
       Nor iron bars a cage
     Minds innocent and quiet take
       That for a hermitage.”

Unity’s hand touched her. “Jacqueline, are you tired? Would you like to go away?”

The spell broke. Jacqueline was most tired, and she would very much have liked to go away, but a glance at her cousin and at the lady with whom they had come determined the question. That to both it was as good as a play, colour and animation proclaimed, and Jacqueline had not the heart to ring the curtain down. She shook her head and smiled. “We’ll stay it out.”

Her companion leaned back, relieved, and she was left to herself again. She knew that Cary’s eyes were still upon her, but she would not turn her own that way. She made herself look at the judges upon the bench, the District Attorney, the opposing lawyers, even the prisoner. It was the heat and the thunder in the air that made her so tense and yet so tremulous. Every nerve to-day was like a harpstring tightly drawn where every wandering air must touch it. All this would soon be over–then home and quiet! The day was growing old; even now Mr. Hay was addressing the jury with an impressiveness that announced the closing periods of a speech. When he was done, would not the court adjourn until to-morrow? It was said the trial might last two weeks. Mr. Hay sat down, but alas! before the applause and stir had ceased, Mr. Wickham was upon his feet.

Mr. Wirt followed Mr. Wickham, and was followed in turn by Luther Martin. The firing was heavy. Boom, boom! went the guns of the Government, quick and withering came the fire from the defence. If advantage of position was with the first, the last showed the higher generalship. The duel was sharp, and it was followed by the spectators with strained interest. The Chief Justice on the bench and the prisoner at the bar, attentive though they both were, alone of almost all concerned seemed to watch the struggle calmly. It drew toward late afternoon. Luther Martin, still upon the Overt Act, after an ironic compliment or two to the Government counsel, and a statement that George Washington, the great and the good, might with a like innocency of intents have found himself in a like position with Colonel Burr, withdrew his guns for the night. The prosecution, after a glare of indignation, announced that on the morrow it would begin examination of witnesses; the Chief Justice said a few weighty words, and the court was adjourned.

Out to the air, the grass and the trees, the gleam of the distant James, and a tremendous and fantastic show of clouds, piled along the horizon and flushed by the declining sun, streamed the crowd. Excited and voluble, lavish of opinions that had been pent up for hours, and drinking in greedily the fresher air, it made no haste to quit the Capitol portico or the Capitol Square. There were friends and acquaintances to greet, noted people to speak to, or to hear and see others speak to, the lawyers to congratulate and the judges to bow to–and last but not least, there was the prisoner to mark enter, with the marshal, a plain coach and drive away to the house opposite the Swan, to which he had been removed from his rooms in the Penitentiary.

The women who had observed the first day of the great trial from the gallery made, of course, no such tarrying. They left the building and the square at once, and the men of their families present saw them into their carriages, or, if the distance home was not great, watched them walk away in little groups with a servant or two behind them.

At the head of the Capitol steps Jacqueline and Unity found Fairfax Cary awaiting them, and upon the grass below they were joined by Mr. Washington Irving. Mrs. Wickham was with them, Mrs. Carrington, Mrs. Ambler, and Miss Mayo. All the women lived within a short distance of one another, and all, escorted by the two gentlemen, would walk the little way across Capitol and Broad to Marshall Street. Unity was to take supper with Mrs. Carrington and to spend the night with Mrs. Ambler, and she would not go home first, unless–She looked at Jacqueline. “Did the fireworks frighten you, honey? Would you rather that I stayed with you?”

Jacqueline laughed. “The fireworks were alarming, weren’t they, Mrs. Wickham? No, no; go with Mrs. Carrington, Unity. To-night I’m going to write to Deb and read a novel.” They were now opposite the Chief Justice’s house, and as she spoke, she paused and made a slight curtsy to the elder ladies. “Our ways part here.”

“I will walk with you to your door,” said Fairfax Cary.

She shook her head. “No, do not. I am almost there.” Then, as his intention still held, she continued in a lower voice, “I had rather be alone. Obey me, please.”

The small discussion ended in the group of ladies and their two escorts giving Jacqueline Rand her way, and with laughing good-byes keeping to their course down the street that was now bathed in the glow of sunset. She watched them for a moment, then turned her face toward her own house. The distance was short, and she traversed it lightly and rapidly, glad to be alone, glad to feel upon her brow the sunset wind, and glad at the prospect of her solitary evening. She was conscious of a strong revulsion of feeling. The sights and the sounds of the past hours were still in mind, but all the air had changed, and was no longer fevered and boding. She had thought too much and made too much, she told herself, of that vague and dark “It might have been.” It was not; thank God, it was not! And Lewis, there in Williamsburgh, walking now, perhaps, down Duke of Gloucester Street, or sitting in the Apollo room at the Raleigh,–would she have had Lewis read her mind that day? Generous! had she been generous–or just? The colour flowed over her face and throat. “Neither just nor generous!” she cried to herself, in a passion of relief. “I’ll go no more to that place!”

She reached her own gate, entered between the two box bushes, and mounted the steps to the honeysuckle-covered porch. The door before her was open, and the hall, wide and cool, with the tall clock and the long sofa, the portraits on the wall and a great bowl of stock and gillyflower, brought to her senses a blissful feeling of home, of fixedness and peace.

Mammy Chloe came from the back of the house, and in her mistress’s chamber took from her her straw bonnet, gauze scarf, and filmy gloves, then brought her slippers of morocco and a thin, flowered house-dress, narrow and fine as an infant’s robe.

“Has Joab gone to the post-office?” asked Jacqueline.

“Yaas’m. De Williamsbu’gh stage done come, fer I heah de horn more’n an hour ago. Dar Joab now!”

Mammy Chloe put down the blue china ewer, left the room, and returned with a letter in her hand. “Dar, now! Marse Lewis ain’ neber gwine fergit you! Ef de sun shine, or ef hit don’ shine, heah come de letter jes’ de same!”

Jacqueline took the letter from her. “Yes, Mammy, yes,” she said, with a sweet and tremulous laugh. “He’s a good master, isn’t he?”

“Lawd knows I ain’ neber had a better,” assented Mammy Chloe. “He powerful stric’ to mek you min’, is Marse Lewis, but he am’ de kin’ what licks he lips ober de fac’ dat you is a-mindin’! I ain’ gwine say, honey, an’ I neber is gwine say, dat he’s wuth what de Churchills is wuth, but I’s ready to survigerate dat he’s got he own wuth. An’ ef hit’s enough fer you, chile, hit’s enough fer yo’ ole mammy. Read yo’ letter while I puts on yo’ slippers.”

Jacqueline broke the seal and read:–

     JACQUELINE:–I am kept here for an uncertain time–worse luck, dear
     heart! Do not send what letters may have come for me, as I may
     leave sooner than I think for, and so would pass them on the road.
     Open any from the court in Winchester, where I have a case
     pending–if the matter seems pressing, take a copy, and send copy
     or original to me by to-morrow’s stage. I am expecting a letter
     from Washington–an important one, outlining the Embargo measures.
     I looked for it before I left Richmond. If it has arrived, open it,
     dear heart, and glance through it to see if there be any message or
     enquiry which I should have at once. It is very hot, very dusty,
     very tiresome in the court room. I will leave Tom Mocket here to
     wind things up, and will get home as soon as I can. Then, as soon
     as the hurly-burly’s over, we’ll go to Roselands for a little
     while–to the calm, the peace, bright days and white nights! While
     I write here in the Apollo, you are at church in Saint John’s.
     Shall I say, “Pray for me, sweet saint?” You’ll do that without my
     asking. So I’ll say instead, “Think of me, dear wife, and love me
     still.”

Thine, LEWIS.

Jacqueline stood up in her faintly coloured gown, all rich light and rose bloom. From her dressing-table she took her keys, and, opening her mother’s desk of rosewood and mother-of-pearl, lifted from it several letters and the packet which Colonel Nicholas had given her the day before. With these in her hands she left her chamber and went into the drawing-room. “Bring the candles,” she said over her shoulder to Mammy Chloe. “It is growing too dark to see to read.”

Continue...

Chapter I: The Road to Richmond  •  Chapter II: Mr. Jefferson  •  Chapter III: Fontenoy  •  Chapter IV: The Two Candidates  •  Chapter V: Monticello  •  Chapter VI: Rand Comes to Fontenoy  •  Chapter VII: The Blue Room  •  Chapter VIII: Cary and Jacqueline  •  Chapter IX: Expostulation  •  Chapter X: To Althea  •  Chapter XI: In the Garden  •  Chapter XII: A Marriage At Saint Margaret’s  •  Chapter XIII: The Three-Notched Road  •  Chapter XIV: The Law Office  •  Chapter XV: Company to Supper  •  Chapter XVI: At Lynch’s  •  Chapter XVII: Fairfax and Unity  •  Chapter XVIII: The Green Door  •  Chapter XIX: Monticello Again  •  Chapter XX: The Nineteenth of February  •  Chapter XXI: The Cedar Wood  •  Chapter XXII: Major Edward  •  Chapter XXIII: A Challenge  •  Chapter XXIV: The Duel  •  Chapter XXV: Old Saint John’s  •  Chapter XXVI: The Trial of Aaron Burr  •  Chapter XXVII: The Letter  •  Chapter XXVIII: Rand and Mocket  •  Chapter XXIX: The River Road  •  Chapter XXX: Homeward  •  Chapter XXXI: Husband and Wife  •  Chapter XXXII: The Brothers  •  Chapter XXXIII: Greenwood  •  Chapter XXXIV: Fairfax Cary  •  Chapter XXXV: The Image  •  Chapter XXXVI: In Pursuit  •  Chapter XXXVII: The Simple Right  •  Chapter XXXVIII: M. De Pincornet  •  Chapter XXXIX: Unity and Jacqueline  •  Chapter XI: The Way of the Transgressor

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Lewis Rand
By Mary Johnston
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