The Bewitchment of Lieut. Hanworthy

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The Bewitchment of Lieut. Hanworthy
Charles G. D. Roberts
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THE BEWITCHMENT OF LIEUT. HANWORTHY. BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS. From the Saturday Evening Post. As the sun, dropping through a raw and fireedged slit in the cloud, sank behind South Mountain, some three miles off to my right, I snuggled my head deeper into the fold of my thick cloak, and spurred my good sorrel to a trot. This wind, drawing down the long valley of the Port Royal stream, had a bleaker unfriendliness than even the bleak east which I imagined whistling at this moment over my own hill pastures of Salem. Across the harsh, salty smells that blew in gusts from the half-uncovered mud-flats of the river, my memory of old Thanksgivings at home called up most rich and tender savors of roast goose, till an appetite of huge anticipation began to riot beneath my waistcoat. Should I be in time? For my sake the hour had been set late, far beyond the ordinary; but it was even now near, and the roofs of Port Royal were yet a good six miles distance. With dejection I remembered the Major’s parting words: “Punctuality, remember! Be on hand at the minute! Not even for you, Mark, my boy, shall such a goose as Tamin has brought in be suffered to spoil by waiting.” * * * Though the good sorrel was tired, and owed me naught on that day’s journeying, I pushed him to his utmost. I could not contemplate with equanimity the loss of such a dinner as might make me forget my long months of Acadian exile. It was five months since I had left Salem, coming to Acadia with the Boston expedition for the capture of Port Royal. In the taking of it there had been some spirit, some diversion, in truth; but the holding of it was a daily-growing monotony. The Acadians seemed passably content with their new masters. No peril menaced the green-sodded ramparts of our prize; the townsfolk trafficked in an established peace, selling us their fish and flax; and, in the dearth of matters more stirring for discussion, the Major’s Thanksgiving dinner had been for days a theme of grave import. * * * I thought of the gravity with which the Major, on Monday of the preceding week, had announced his purpose. With his little council of five officers, among whom I had the honor to be his secretary and aide, he had been considering certain weighty matters of his government, when suddenly, swerving from questions of toll and tax, his voice took on a deeper tone, and he said: “Gentlemen, since duty dooms us to this exile, even upon the approaching day of Thanksgiving, I have resolved that New England shall, in a sense, upon that day, be brought to us!” He paused for a moment, and approbation shone in our faces. “These good people of Acadia,” he went on, “do not observe our feast, but I have noted that they can supply the wherewithal for its proper observation. Their ducks and geese feed fat upon these marshes. Their gardens are instructed in the growth of sage and onions. They are not unskilled in the subtleties of apple sauce; and I have found pumpkins! You observe the possibilities! Well, I may add that our good Josephite, who has ruled our kitchen so capably these months past, has acquired, with suggestions from myself, the art of making such a pumpkin pie as might pass for the product of Duxbury or Dedham. (The Major hailed from Duxbury.) “Oh, her pies will pass, I assure you! But mince I have not suffered her to essay, for failure there, you will agree, would be a desecration!” The memory of this speech appealed now most potently to my imagination. The Major’s face, too, as he leaned forward over the council table to note the effect of his words, came pleasantly before me. It was a strange face, but I loved it well. The forehead, broad, low-arched, and bald far back to the very crown of the skull, was fenced, as it were, with a stiff, forward-bristling fringe of red hair, recalcitrant to the brush. The eyes, small but deeply clear, beamed sweet humor; but the mouth, little better than a long crevice across the bleak and stony promontory of his chin, was such as men make haste to conciliate. The nose, large and much awry, gave me ever a notion that the rest of the face had been finished earlier, and this feature added afterward, lavishly but hastily, in the dark. * * * It came upon me now, as I mused, that herein lay the incongruity which ever sat upon our good Major’s face – this nose, a ceaseless entertainment to the tolerantly mirthful eyes, was a ceaseless affront to the uncompromising mouth. Thence conflict perennial in the Major’s countenance! Pleased at this whimsical solution of an ancient enigma, I chuckled aloud. The patient sorrel cocked his ears at the sound and cheerily bettered his pace. He doubtless reasoned that, if his master were pleased, some good thing for both must be close at hand. I looked carefully about me. Then, behind a screen of fir trees, rose three sharp gables in a row. It was the place of the Sieur de Belhish, a very great man among the Acadians. I perceived that, in my musings of Thanksgiving meals and the Major’s nose, I had beguiled a good mile of the journey. My appetite was furious, but my humor was mending. “The Major will wait a half-hour for me!” I said confidently, in my heart. As I passed the wide-open gate of De Belhish Place, the sorrel swerved obstinately to enter, as if here, in his opinion, were the fitting termination to his journey. Reining him back to the road, I could not but laugh again, for I recalled another word of the Major’s to me as I was setting out on my journey. “Better not stop at the De Belhish place on your way,” he had said, his eyes twinkling askance over the biased nose; “if you do you will be sure to miss the goose!” “Why, sir?” I had inquired with interest. “There is a witch there!” And he had turned away into the barracks, very stiff and soldierly in his well-kept uniform. Had he been a Salem man, he would not have spoken so lightly of witches. * * * I had heard of Mademoiselle de Belhish, but I had never seen her. She had been in Quebec, and was but lately returned to Acadia with her uncle. I had heard of her strange beauty, of her mocking gayety, the warmth of her great eyes, the inimitable coldness of her heart. Now, as I passed her uncle’s gates, a sense of the wonder and the nearness of her beauty came upon me in a fashion that made me marvel. My interest in the Major’s dinner went out like a snuffed candle, so inconsistent an organ is the stomach of a man who has brains and imagination. The fat goose, at that moment being discreetly based at Port Royal, was forgotten, just because I had apprehended that a woman's eyes were beautiful. I regretted that I had not let my sorrel carry me through the gate. But the notion of turning back was not for a moment entertained. Never have I accounted myself a candidate for the fellowship of Lot’s wife. Then of a sudden the face of Mademoiselle de Belhish flashed upon the eyes of my soul. Her face -- it could be none other; yet never, as I have already said, had I seen the maiden; and never had she been described to me, save in a general shining confusion of mobile features and unfathomable eyes. It did not occur to me to doubt that the face which now so curiously crossed my brain could be any face but hers; and I found myself muttering: “Renee de Belhish. It is a name of music, very fitting to so fair a face!” * * * Then I remembered that, to the best of my knowledge, I had never been told her name was Renee! “Fool!” I snapped aloud, pulling myself together and sitting erect in the saddle. “Fool! These are the hallucinations of the fasting! Her name is most like to be Ninette, Babette, Lisette, or such light nonsense. Renee, indeed! Why should I think of that for a name! Let me return to thoughts of the Major’s goose, well stuffed with sage and onions!” But there was a witchcraft in the air, and do what I would my thoughts flew wild, dispersed like a covey of birds. I noted now particularly -- though why it was matter for particular notice I could not have told -- that I had come to the limit of the thick spruce hedge which fronted the garden of the De Belhish place. Beyond this limit I passed with a dragging, incomprehensible reluctance, and I perceived, to my astonishment, that my hand upon the rein had brought the good sorrel to a stop. As if to give me a reason for my stopping, pat upon the moment came a sharp cry of distress from behind the covert of the hedge. It was not loud, but it was imperative. “Who’s there? What's the matter?" I demanded brusquely. There was a moment of silence, thrilled by the passing phantom of a sob. Then came a voice, so close that I started. “I am afraid, monsieur, that it is very much that I need your help. I fear it is that I have sprained my poor ankle: for I have not the power to at all stand up.” (To be continued.)