IT COULD NOT
been far from midnight, when I
came beneath Hollingsworth's window, and finding
it open, flung in a tuft of grass, with earth at
the roots, and heard it fall upon the floor. He
was either awake, or sleeping very lightly; for
scarcely a moment had gone by, before he looked
out and discerned me standing in the moonlight.
you, Coverdale?" he asked. "What is the
to me, Hollingsworth!" I answered. "I
am anxious to speak with you."
tone of my own voice startled me, and
him, probably, no less. He lost no time, and soon
issued from the house-door, with his dress
is the matter?" he asked,
seen Zenobia," said I, "since you parted
from her, at Eliot's pulpit?"
Hollingsworth; "nor did I expect
was deep, but had a tremor in it.
Hardly had he spoken, when Silas Foster thrust his
head, done up in a cotton handkerchief, out of
another window, and took what he called--as it
literally was--a squint at us.
what are ye about here?" he
demanded. "Aha, are you there, Miles Coverdale?
You have been turning night into day, since you
left us, I reckon; and so you find it quite
natural to come prowling about the house, at this
time o' night, frightening my old woman out of her
wits, and making her disturb a tired man out of
his best nap. In with you, you vagabond, and to
quietly, Foster," said I. "We want
not, for the life of me, keep that strange
tone out of my voice. Silas Foster, obtuse as
were his sensibilities, seemed to feel the ghastly
earnestness that was conveyed in it, as well as
Hollingsworth did. He immediately withdrew his
head, and I heard him yawning, muttering to his
wife, and again yawning heavily, while he hurried
on his clothes. Meanwhile, I showed Hollingsworth
a delicate handkerchief, marked with a well-known
cypher, and told where I had found it, and other
circumstances which had filled me with a suspicion
so terrible, that I left him, if he dared, to
shape it out for himself. By the time my brief
explanation was finished, we were joined by Silas
Foster, in his blue woollen frock.
cried he, peevishly, "what is to pay
Hollingsworth!" said I.
perceptibly, and drew in a
hard breath betwixt his teeth. He steadied
himself, however, and looking the matter more
firmly in the face than I had done, explained to
Foster my suspicions and the grounds of them, with
a distinctness from which, in spite of my utmost
efforts, my words had swerved aside. The
tough-nerved yeoman, in his comment, put a finish
on the business, and brought out the hideous idea
in its full terror, as if he were removing the
napkin from the face of a corpse.
you think she's drowned herself!" he
away my face.
earth should the young woman do that
for?" exclaimed Silas, his eyes half out of his
head with mere surprise. "Why, she has more means
than she can use or waste, and lacks nothing to
make her comfortable, but a husband--and that's an
article she could have, any day! There's some
mistake about this, I tell you!"
I, shuddering. "Let us go and
ascertain the truth."
answered Silas Foster, "just as
you say. We'll take the long pole, with the hook
at the end, that serves to get the bucket out of
the draw-well, when the rope is broken. With
that, and a couple of long-handled hay-rakes, I'll
answer for finding her, if she's anywhere to be
found. Strange enough! Zenobia drown herself!
No, no, I don't believe it. She had too much
sense, and too much means, and enjoyed life a
great deal too well."
few preparations were completed, we
hastened, by a shorter than the customary route,
through fields and pastures, and across a portion
of the meadow, to the particular spot, on the
river-bank, which I had paused to contemplate, in
the course of my afternoon's ramble. A nameless
presentiment had again drawn me thither, after
leaving Eliot's pulpit. I showed my companions
where I had found the handkerchief, and pointed to
two or three footsteps, impressed into the clayey
margin, and tending towards the water. Beneath
its shallow verge, among the water-weeds, there
were further traces, as yet unobliterated by the
sluggish current, which was there almost at a
stand-still. Silas Foster thrust his face down
close to these footsteps, and picked up a shoe,
that had escaped my observation, being half
imbedded in the mud.
kid-shoe that never was made on a
Yankee last," observed he. "I know enough of
shoemaker's craft to tell that. French
manufacture; and see what a high instep!--and how
evenly she trod in it! There never was a woman
that steps handsomer in her shoes than Zenobia
did. Here," he added, addressing Hollingsworth,
"would you like to keep the shoe?"
to me, Foster," said I.
it in the water, to rinse off the mud,
and have kept it ever since. Not far from this
spot, lay an old, leaky punt, drawn up on the oozy
river-side, and generally half-full of water. It
served the angler to go in quest of pickerel, or
the sportsman to pick up his wild-ducks. Setting
this crazy barque afloat, I seated myself in the
stern, with the paddle, while Hollingsworth sat in
the bows, with the hooked pole, and Silas Foster
amidships, with a hay-rake.
me in mind of my young days," remarked
Silas, "when I used to steal out of bed to go
bobbing for horn-pouts and eels.
Heigh-ho!--well!--life and death together make sad
work for us all. Then, I was a boy, bobbing for
fish; and now I am getting to be an old fellow,
and here I be, groping for a dead body! I tell
you what, lads, if I thought anything had really
happened to Zenobia, I should feel kind o'
at least, you would hold your tongue!"
that night, though past the full, was
still large and oval, and having risen between
eight and nine o'clock, now shone aslantwise over
the river, throwing the high, opposite bank, with
its woods, into deep shadow, but lighting up the
hither shore pretty effectually. Not a ray
appeared to fall on the river itself. It lapsed
imperceptibly away, a broad, black, inscrutable
depth, keeping its own secrets from the eye of
man, as impenetrably as mid-ocean could.
Coverdale," said Foster, "you are the
helmsman. How do you mean to manage this
let the boat drift, broadside foremost,
past that stump," I replied. "I know the bottom,
having sounded it in fishing. The shore, on this
side, after the first step or two, goes off very
abruptly; and there is a pool, just by the stump,
twelve or fifteen feet deep. The current could
not have force enough to sweep any sunken
object--even if partially buoyant--out of that
said Silas. "But I doubt whether I
can touch bottom with this hay-rake, if it's as
deep as you say. Mr. Hollingsworth, I think
you'll be the lucky man, to-night, such luck as it
past the stump. Silas Foster plied his
rake manfully, poking it as far as he could into
the water, and immersing the whole length of his
arm besides. Hollingsworth at first sat
motionless, with the hooked-pole elevated in the
air. But, by-and-by, with a nervous and jerky
movement, he began to plunge it into the blackness
that upbore us, setting his teeth, and making
precisely such thrusts, methought, as if he were
stabbing at a deadly enemy. I bent over the side
of the boat. So obscure, however, so awfully
mysterious, was that dark stream, that--and the
thought made me shiver like a leaf--I might as
well have tried to look into the enigma of the
eternal world, to discover what had become of
Zenobia's soul, as into the river's depths, to
find her body. And there, perhaps, she lay, with
her face upward, while the shadow of the boat, and
my own pale face peering downward, passed slowly
betwixt her and the sky.
thrice, I paddled the boat up stream,
and again suffered it to glide, with the river's
slow, funereal motion, downward. Silas Foster had
raked up a large mass of stuff, which, as it came
towards the surface, looked somewhat like a
flowing garment, but proved to be a monstrous tuft
of water-weeds. Hollingsworth, with a gigantic
effort, upheaved a sunken log. When once free of
the bottom, it rose partly out of water--all weedy
and slimy, a devilish-looking object, which the
moon had not shone upon for half a hundred
years--then plunged again, and sullenly returned
to its old restingplace, for the remnant of the
ugly!" quoth Silas. "I half thought
it was the Evil One on the same errand as
ourselves--searching for Zenobia!"
never get her!" said I, giving the boat
a strong impulse.
for you to say, my boy!" retorted the
yeoman. "Pray God he never has, and never may!
Slow work this, however! I should really be glad
to find something. Pshaw! What a notion that is,
when the only good-luck would be, to paddle, and
drift and poke, and grope, hereabouts, till
morning, and have our labor for our pains! For my
part, I shouldn't wonder if the creature had only
lost her shoe in the mud, and saved her soul
alive, after all. My stars, how she will laugh at
us, tomorrow morning!"
indescribable what an image of Zenobia--at
the breakfast-table, full of warm and mirthful
life--this surmise of Silas Foster's brought
before my mind. The terrible phantasm of her
death was thrown by it into the remotest and
dimmest back-ground, where it seemed to grow as
improbable as a myth.
it may be as you say!" cried I.
of the stream had again borne us a
little below the stump, when I felt--yes, felt,
for it was as if the iron hook had smote my
breast--felt Hollingsworth's pole strike some
object at the bottom of the river. He started up,
and almost overset the boat.
cried Foster. "You have her!"
fury of strength into the effort,
Hollingsworth heaved amain, and up came a white
swash to the surface of the river. It was the
flow of a woman's garments. A little higher, and
we saw her dark hair, streaming down the current.
Black River of Death, thou hadst yielded up thy
victim! Zenobia was found!
laid hold of the body--Hollingsworth,
likewise, grappled with it--and I steered towards
the bank, gazing, all the while, at Zenobia, whose
limbs were swaying in the current, close at the
boat's side. Arriving near the shore, we all
three stept into the water, bore her out, and laid
her on the ground, beneath a tree.
said Foster--and his dry old heart,
I verily believe, vouchsafed a tear--"I'm sorry
to describe the perfect horror of the
spectacle, the reader might justly reckon it to me
for a sin and shame. For more than twelve long
years I have borne it in my memory, and could now
reproduce it as freshly as if it were still before
my eyes. Of all modes of death, methinks it is
the ugliest. Her wet garments swathed limbs of
terrible inflexibility. She was the marble image
of a death-agony. Her arms had grown rigid in the
act of struggling, and were bent before her, with
clenched hands; her knees, too, were bent,
and--thank God for it!--in the attitude of prayer.
Ah, that rigidity! It is impossible to bear the
terror of it. It seemed--I must needs impart so
much of my own miserable idea--it seemed as if her
body must keep the same position in the coffin,
and that her skeleton would keep it in the grave,
and that when Zenobia rose, at the Day of
Judgment, it would be in just the same attitude as
I had; and that, too, was mingled half
with fear. She knelt, as if in prayer. With the
last, choking consciousness, her soul, bubbling
out through her lips, it may be, had given itself
up to the Father, reconciled and penitent. But
her arms! They were bent before her, as if she
struggled against Providence in never-ending
hostility. Her hands! They were clenched in
immitigable defiance. Away with the hideous
thought! The flitting moment, after Zenobia sank
into the dark pool--when her breath was gone, and
her soul at her lips--was as long, in its capacity
of God's infinite forgiveness, as the lifetime of
over the body, and carefully examined
wounded the poor thing's breast," said
he to Hollingsworth. "Close by her heart, too!"
Hollingsworth, with a start.
he had, indeed, both before and after
Foster. "That's the place where the
iron struck her. It looks cruelly, but she never
to arrange the arms of the corpse
decently by its side. His utmost strength,
however, scarcely sufficed to bring them down; and
rising again, the next instant, they bade him
defiance, exactly as before. He made another
effort, with the same result.
name, Silas Foster," cried I, with
bitter indignation, "let that dead woman alone!"
it's not decent!" answered he, staring
at me in amazement. "I can't bear to see her
looking so! Well, well," added he, after a third
effort, "'tis of no use, sure enough; and we must
leave the women to do their best with her, after
we get to the house. The sooner that's done, the
two rails from a neighboring fence, and
formed a bier by laying across some boards from
the bottom of the boat. And thus we bore Zenobia
homeward. Six hours before, how beautiful! At
midnight, what a horror! A reflection occurs to
me, that will show ludicrously, I doubt not, on my
page, but must come in, for its sterling truth.
Being the woman that she was, could Zenobia have
foreseen all these ugly circumstances of death,
how ill it would become her, the altogether
unseemly aspect which she must put on, and,
especially, old Silas Foster's efforts to improve
the matter, she would no more have committed the
dreadful act, than have exhibited herself to a
public assembly in a badly-fitting garment!
Zenobia, I have often thought, was not quite
simple in her death. She had seen pictures, I
suppose, of drowned persons, in lithe and graceful
attitudes. And she deemed it well and decorous to
die as so many village-maidens have, wronged in
their first-love, and seeking peace in the bosom
of the old, familiar stream--so familiar that they
could not dread it--where, in childhood, they used
to bathe their little feet, wading mid-leg deep,
unmindful of wet skirts. But, in Zenobia's case,
there was some tint of the Arcadian affectation
that had been visible enough in all our lives, for
a few months past.
to my conception, takes nothing
from the tragedy. For, has not the world come to
an awfully sophisticated pass, when, after a
certain degree of acquaintance with it, we cannot
even put ourselves to death in whole-hearted
with many a dreary pause--resting
the bier often on some rock, or balancing it
across a mossy log, to take fresh hold--we bore
our burthen onward, through the moonlight, and, at
last, laid Zenobia on the floor of the old
farm-house. By-and-by, came three or four
withered women, and stood whispering around the
corpse, peering at it through their spectacles,
holding up their skinny hands, shaking their
night-capt heads, and taking counsel of one
another's experience what was to be done.
tire-women, we left Zenobia!
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