Lewis Rand
By Mary Johnston

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Chapter XXVII: The Letter

The windows were open to the dusky rose of the west, and their long curtains stirred in the hot and fitful breeze. Jacqueline, waiting for the lights, pushed the heavy hair from her forehead and panted a little with the oppression of the night. Young Isham entered with the candles, and Mammy Chloe brought her upon a salver a cup of coffee and a roll. She ate and drank, then sent her old nurse away. The candles, under their tall glass shades, were upon the centre table, and beside them lay the letters she was to read. Her husband’s own letter was slipped beneath the ribbon that confined her dress, and lay against her heart.

It was so hot and dull a night that she stood for a while at a window, leaning a little out, trying to fancy that there was rain in the fantastic mass of clouds that rose on either side of the evening star. The smell of the box at the gate was strong. She thought of Fontenoy, of Major Edward, and of Deb. A grey moth touched her; she looked once again at the bright star between the clouds, then, turning back into the room, drew a chair to the table and, sitting down, took into her lap the papers that lay beside the candles.

There had come a letter in the stage from Winchester. She opened it. “Could Mr. Rand arrive by such a day? The case was important–the interests large–the fee large, too. Could he come just as soon as the jury, the press, and Mr. Jefferson hanged Aaron Burr? An early reply–”

Jacqueline rose, brought writing-materials from the escritoire to the table, and copied rapidly, in her clear, Italian hand, the Winchester letter, then laid it to one side to be folded with her own to Lewis for to-morrow’s stage to Williamsburgh. The next letter was, she knew, from Albemarle, and not important. She laid it aside. The third she opened; it was from a gentleman in Westmoreland who wished in a certain litigation “the services, sir, of the foremost lawyer in the state." Jacqueline smiled and laid it with the Albemarle letter. The matter might wait until the foremost lawyer’s return. There were now two letters, and neither was from Washington. One was indeed about matters political, a tirade from a party leader on Rand’s folly in declining, last year, the nomination for Governor, but it contained nothing to demand his instant attention. The other, which had come by boat from Norfolk, seemed of no consequence.

Jacqueline put both aside, and took into her hand the packet given her by Colonel Nicholas. She sat for a moment, looking at the superscription. “A letter from Washington,” Lewis said, “outlining the Embargo measures. Open and glance through it to see if there be any message I should have at once.” She thought no otherwise than that this was the letter in question. Mr. Jefferson was, she knew, upon the defensive in regard to these measures, and she was glad to believe that he had fallen into an ancient habit and was willing, as of old, to expatiate upon his policy to Lewis Rand.

She broke the red seals and unfolded the paper. It proved to be a letter covering a letter. She let fall the folded, inner missive, drew a candle nearer, and read in Jefferson’s small, formal, and very clear hand:–

     I have the honour to restore to you the letter which you will find
     enclosed. If you ask how it came into my hands, I have but to say
     that, in times of crisis and peril, rules of conduct, on the part
     of a government as of an individual, have somewhat to bow to
     necessity. Enough that it did come into my hands–last autumn.
     Judge if I have used it against you! It is now returned to you
     because I no longer conceive it necessary to hold it. I might have
     burned it; I prefer that you shall do so.

     I have but a word to add to our conversation of last August at
     Monticello. I am a man of strong affections. Your youth and all the
     eager service you did me in those years, and the great hopes I had
     for you, endeared you to me. These things are present in my mind.
     Were they not so, you would have heard from me in other wise! Were
     they not so, that which I now enclose should not travel back to the
     writer’s hand; it should remain, distinct and black, upon your
     Country’s records, for your children’s children to read with
     burning cheeks! I spare you, but you are of course aware that the
     affection of which I spoke is dead, dead as the trust with which I
     regarded you, or as the pride with which I dwelt upon your future!
     Reread and destroy that which I place in your hand.

Thomas Jefferson.

Jacqueline laid down the large, blue, crackling sheet, and took from the floor beside her, where it had fallen, the President’s enclosure. Hand and eye moved mechanically; she neither thought nor feared. Her judgment was in suspension, and she was unconscious of herself or of her act. The seals upon this second letter were broken. She unfolded it. On the outside it was addressed in a hand that, had she thought, she would have recognised for Tom Mocket’s, to an undistinguished person at Marietta upon the Ohio; within, the writing was her husband’s and the address was to Aaron Burr. The date was last August, the subject-matter the disruption of the Republic and the conquest of Mexico, and the detail of plans included the arrangement by which Rand was to leave Albemarle, ostensibly to examine a purchase of land beyond the mountains He would leave, however, not to return. Once out of the country, he with his wife would press on rapidly to the Ohio, to Blennerhassett’s island.

The summer night deepened, hot and languorous, with a sweep of moths to the candle flames, with vagrant odours of flowering vines and vagrant sounds of distant laughter, voices, footsteps down the long street. Jacqueline sat very still, the letter in her lap. The curtains at the window moved in the fitful air. Through the open doors from the kitchen in the yard behind the house came the strumming of a banjo, then Joab’s deep bass:–

     “Go down, go down, Moses,
       Tell Pharaoh let us go!
     Go down, go down, Moses,
       King Pharaoh, let us go!”

There was a wave of honeysuckle, too faint and deadly sweet. A party of men, boatmen or waggoners, went by, and as they passed, broke into rough laughter.

Jacqueline rose, letting fall the letter. With her hand to her forehead she stood for a minute, then moved haltingly to the window. Her eyes were blank; she wanted air, she knew, and for the moment she knew little else. She was whelmed in deep waters, and all horizons were one. When she reached the casement, she could only cling to the sill, raise her eyes to the stars, and find nothing there to help her understand. There was in them neither calm nor sublimity; they swung and danced like insensate fireflies. The honeysuckle was too strong–and she must tell Joab she did not wish to hear his banjo to-night. The men who had passed were still laughing.

She put her hand again to her forehead, then presently withdrew it and looked over her shoulder at the paper lying upon the floor beside the table. By degrees the vagueness and the absence of sensation vanished. She had had her moments of merciful deadening, of indifference to pain; they were past, and torment now began.

Perhaps half an hour went by. She rose from the sofa upon which she had thrown herself, face down, pressed her hands to her temples, then, moving to the table, wrote there a word or two, folded and addressed the paper, and rang the bell. Young Isham appeared and she gave him the note, bidding him, in a voice that by an effort she made natural, to hasten upon his errand. When he was gone, she stooped and gathered from the floor the fallen letters–the President’s and Lewis Rand’s–and laid them in a drawer. The touch seemed to burn her, for she moaned a little. She wandered for a moment uncertainly, here and there in the room, then, returning to the sofa, fell upon her knees beside it, stretched out her arms along the silk, and laid her head upon them. “O God! O God!” she said, but made no other prayer.

The minutes passed. There was a step, the sound of the gate-latch, and a hand upon the knocker. She rose from her knees, and was standing by the table when, in another moment, the drawing-room door opened to admit Ludwell Cary. He came forward.

“You sent for me"–He paused, stepped back, and looked at her fully and gravely. “Something has happened. Tell me what it is.”

“You know. You have known all the time. You knew last summer in the cedar wood!” Her voice broke; she raised her arms above her head, then let them fall with a cry. “You knew–you knew!”

“How have you come to know? No, don’t tell me!”

“I am mad, I think. A letter came that told me. I see now how the world must look to madmen. It is a curious place where we are all strangers–and yet we think it is our safe home.”

As she turned from him, she reeled. There was a great chair near, beside the window. Cary caught her by both hands, forced her to sit down, and drew the curtains apart so that the air of night came fully in. The quiet street was now deserted; the maple boughs, too, screened the place. “Look!” he said. “Look how brightly Venus shines! All the immense rack of clouds that we had at sunset has vanished. The box smells like the garden at Fontenoy, where, I make no doubt, Deb and Major Edward are walking up and down, counting the stars. Yes, I knew, that afternoon in the cedar wood–but not for happiness itself would I have robbed you of that faith, that confidence–”

She leaned forward in the great chair, her hands clasped upon its arms, her dark eyes wide upon the night without the window. “I sent for you because I wished you to tell me all. I wanted truth as I wanted air! I want it now. That day we met in the cedar wood–you and Uncle Edward talked together.” She drew a difficult breath. “It was then that they–Uncle Dick and Uncle Edward–began to treat me as though–as though I had never left home! It was then–”

“They feared,” said Cary gently, “for your happiness.”

“I returned to Roselands, and in three days we were to travel across the mountains. Then at sunset, underneath the beech tree"–She sat for a moment perfectly still, then turned in her chair and spoke in a clear voice. “That was why you forced him to challenge you, and that was why you named a distant time and place? The truth, please.”

“That was why.”

She rose from the chair and leaned, panting, against the window-frame. “Was there no other way–”

“It seemed the simplest way,” he answered quietly. “There was no harm done, and it answered my purpose.” He paused, then went on. “My purpose was to detain Mr. Rand from so rash and so fatal a step until it was too late for him to take it.”

She turned from the window. “You are generous,” she said, in a stifled voice. “I ask your pardon for my hard thoughts of you. Oh, for a storm and a wind to blow! It is too hot, too heavy a night. I never wish to smell the honeysuckle again.”

He followed her back to the light of the candles. “Listen to me for a moment. I do not think that you know–I am not sure that I know–the iron strength of the laws that rule an ambitious nature. Ambition becomes an atmosphere; the man whose temperament and self-training enure him to it breathes it at last as though it were his native air. It becomes that–an inner and personal clime, the source and spring of countless actions, great and small. The light, too, is refracted, and the great background of life is not seen quite truly. It is, I think, an enchanted air, into which a man drifts upon a river of dreams and imaginations–and how hard to reascend, against the current!” He paused, stood a moment with downcast eyes, measuring the table with his hand, then drew a quick breath and spoke on. “Given his parentage and descent, his unhappy and hardly-treated boyhood, the visions, the rebellions, the longings with which he must have walked the hot and rank tobacco-fields; given the upward struggle of his youth, so determined and so successful; given the courage, the hardihood, the wide outlook of a man who has neither inherited nor been granted, but has himself hewn out and built up his holding in life; given genius and sense of power, will, perseverance, and the fatal knowledge that all events and all currents habitually bend to his hand,–given all this and opportunity"–He raised his head and met her eyes. “It is not strange and it is not monstrous that Mr. Rand should have involved himself, to a greater or less degree, in this attempt upon the West. God is my witness, I would not have you think it strange and monstrous! Ambition is, perhaps, the most human of all qualities. Many and many an ambitious man has been loved, loved passionately, loved deservedly!–many a conqueror, many a one of those who failed to conquer and who were called by an ugly name! Love does not love the ambition, it loves that which is love-worthy below the iron grating and the tracery of false gold! As the world goes, Lewis Rand and I are enemies; but I could swear to you to-night that I see, that I have always seen, a greatness in him! I believe it to be distorted and darkened, but the quality of it is greatness. Were I he"–He paused for a moment, then continued, with dignity. “Were I he, I would say to the lady who, for love, had given me her hand in wedlock,–’Love me still. My land is one of storm and darkness, of rude wastes and frowning strongholds whence sometimes issue robber bands. But it is not a petty land, and side by side with all that is wrong runs not a little that is heroic and right! Love me still and help me there, even though–even though I am forsworn to you!”

“I would not have you think,” she said clearly,–"I would not have you even lightly dream, that his country is not my country! I love him!”

“I know that you do.”

“There is no place so dark that I would not wait for him there as for the dawn. There is no flood I would not cross to him; there is no deep pit in which I would not seek him, were he fallen there! He has done wrong, and I am unhappy for it. But never think, never dream, that, though I see the dark and broken ground, I would leave that country, or am less than wholly loyal to its King!”

“I have neither thought nor dreamed it.”

“When I–when I learned this thing, it shook me so! My brain whirled, and then I thought of you and called to you.”

“There is no service to which you could call me that I would not thankfully render. I am your friend and your people’s friend. There is one thing more I should like to say to you. Do not fear for him. There is no reason to believe that this will ever be discovered. The lips of those who know are sealed.”

“Who knows?”

“On our side your uncles, my brother and I,–and your cousin, I think, guesses. The President, also, is aware–”

She reddened deeply. “I know,” she said, in a stifled voice. “The President, too, is generous–”

“On his–on Mr. Rand’s side, certain men whom we need not name. That he has secured their silence, events have proved, and I take it for granted that he has been careful to recall and to destroy any writing that might incriminate. He is, I think, quite safe.”

She turned from him and, sitting down by the table, laid her head upon her arms. He regarded her for a moment with compassion and understanding, chivalrous and deep, then, moving to the window, stood there with his face to the evening star. At last she spoke in a broken and tremulous voice “Mr. Cary–”

He came to her side. “It is a peaceful night, still and bright. You will sleep, will you not? Leave all this to Time and to the power of steadfast love! You may yet see in this land the grandeur of the dawn.”

“I know that I shall,” she answered. “And when I see it, I shall think reverently of you. It was like you to come, like you to help me so. Now, good-night!”

She took his hand, and before he could prevent her, raised it to her lips. “No,–let me! You are generous and you are noble. I acknowledge it from my heart. Good-night–good-bye!”

He showed for a moment his pent emotion, then strove with and conquered it. “I will go. Your cousin is from home, and you are alone to-night. Would you prefer that she should return?”

“No. I had rather be alone.”

He took the hand that she gave him, kissed it, and said good-night. When he was gone and his step had died from the street, she stood for some moments as he had left her, then, with a sobbing breath, turned to the table and took the letters from the drawer.


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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