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Grandmother's Grandmother by Grace E. King


As the grandmother related it fresh from the primeval sources that feed a grandmother's memory, it happened thus:

In the early days of the settlement of Georgia—ah, how green and rustic appears to us now the world in the early days of the settlement of Georgia! Sometimes to women, listening to the stories of their grandmothers, it seems better to have lived then than now—her grandmother was at that time a young wife. It was the day of arduous, if not of long, courtship before marriage, when every wedding celebrated the close of an original romance; and when young couples, for bridal trips, went out to settle new States, riding on a pillion generally, with their trousseaux following as best they could on sumpter mules; to hear the grandmother describe it made one long to be a bride of those days.

The young husband had the enumeration of qualities that went to the making of a man of that period, and if the qualities were in the proportion of ten physical to one intellectual, it does not follow that the grandmother's grandfather was not a man of parts. For, to obtain the hand of his bride, an only child and an heiress, he had to give test of his mettle by ignoring his fortune, studying law, and getting his license before marriage, and binding himself to live the first year afterward on the proceeds of his practice; a device of the time thought to be a wholesome corrective of the corrupting influence of over-wealth in young domesticities.

Although he had already chosen the sea for his profession, and was a midshipman at the time, with more of a reputation for living than for learning, such was he, and such, it may be said, was the incentive genius of his choice, that almost before his resignation as midshipman was accepted, his license as a lawyer was signed. As for practice, it was currently remarked at his wedding, at the sight of him flying down the room in the reel with his bride for partner, that his tongue was as nimble as his heels, and that if he only turned his attention to criminal practice, there was no man in the country who would make a better prosecuting attorney for the State. And with him for prosecuting attorney, it was warranted that sirrahs the highwaymen would not continue to hold Georgia judge-and-jury justice in quite such contemptible estimation, and that the gallows would not be left so long bereft of their legitimate swingings. As for fees, it was predicted that the young fellow as he stood, or rather “chasse'd,” could snap his fingers at both his and his bride's trustees.

He did turn his attention to criminal law, was made prosecuting attorney for the State in his county, and, before his six months had passed, was convincing the hitherto high and mighty, lordly, independent knights of the road that other counties in Georgia furnished more secure pasturage for them.

It was a beautiful spring morning. The young wife bade him a hearty good-by, and stood in the doorway watching him, gay and debonair, riding off, on his stout black charger Beetle, in the direction of the town in which court was to be held that week.

She herself feeling as full of ambition and work as if she also were prosecuting attorney, with a perennial spring of eloquence bubbling in her brain, turned to her domestic duties, and, without going into the detail of them, it suffices to say that, according to the grandmother's estimation, one morning's list of duties for a healthy young bride of that period would shame the week's work of a syndicate of them to-day. Finding herself nearing the limit of diminution of several household necessities, and the spring suggesting the beginning of new ones, she made up her mind to profit by her husband's absence and the fair weather to make a trading visit to the neighboring town next day.


So, early in a morning as beautiful as the preceding one, mounted on her own stanch mare Maid Marion, she ambled down the green over-hung forest-road, in the vista of which she had watched her husband disappear the day before; thinking about what she had to buy, and thinking, no doubt, much more, as brides will, of the absent lord and master—as brides of those days loved to consider and denominate their husbands.

Coming into the little town, the freshly painted, swinging sign-board of the new tavern, “The Honest Georgian,” as usual was the thing to catch her eye; but the instant after what should she see but Black Beetle hitched to the rack under the tree that shadowed the hostelry!

It was not decorous; but she was young, and the day of her first separation from her husband had been so long; and was he not also, against the firmest of resolutions and plans, hastening back to her, the separation being too long for him also?

Slipping her foot from the stirrup, she jumped to the ground, and ran into the tavern. There he stood calling hastily for a drink; and her heart more than her eyes took in his, to her, consecrated signalment—the riding-boots, short clothes, blue coat, cocked hat, ruffles. She crept up behind to surprise him, her face, with its delight and smiles, beyond her control. She crept, until she saw his watch-fob dangling against the counter, and then her heart made a call. He turned. He was not her husband! Another man was in her husband's clothes, a man with a villainous countenance! With a scream she gave the alarm. The stranger turned, dropped his drink, bounded to the door and out, leaped to the back of Beetle, gave rein and spur, and the black horse made good his reputation. In a second all was hue-and-cry and pursuit. While men and horses made, for all they were worth, down the road after Beetle, she on Maid Marion galloped for her life in the opposite direction, the direction of the court town whither her husband had journeyed. The mare's hide made acquaintance with the whip that day if never before, for not even the willing Maid Marion could keep pace with the apprehensions on her back.

Scouring with her eyes the highway ahead of her, shooting hawk's glances into the forest on each side of her, the wife rode through the distance all, all day, praying that the day might be long enough, might equal the distance. The sun set, and night began to fall; but she and Maid Marion were none the less fresh, except in the heart.

The moon rose straight before them down the road, lighting it and them through the threatened obscurity. And so they came to trampled earth and torn grass, and so she uncovered concealed footsteps, and so, creeping on her hands and knees, she followed traces of blood, through thicket and glade, into the deep forest, to a hastily piled hillock of earth, gravel, and leaves. Burrowing with her hands, she came to it, the naked body of her young husband, cold and stiff, foully murdered. Maid Marion approached at her call. She wrapped him in her cloak, and—a young wife of those times alone would do it—put him in the saddle before her: the good mare Maid Marion alone knows the rest. In the early gray dawn, from one highway there rode into the town the baffled pursuers, from the other the grandmother's grandmother, clasping the corpse of her husband with arms as stiff as his own; loving him, so the grandmother used to say, with a love which, if ever love could do so, would have effected a resurrection.


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