Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LVII

Female Suffrage

All that could be done by skill and care and love, was done for Firm. Our lady manager and head nurse never left him when she could be spared, and all the other ladies vied in zeal for this young soldier, so that I could scarcely get near him. His grandfather’s sad and extraordinary tale was confirmed by a wounded prisoner. Poor Ephraim Gundry’s rare power of sight had been fatal perhaps to the cause he fought for, or at least to its greatest captain. Returning from desperate victory, the general, wrapped in the folds of night, and perhaps in the gloom of his own stern thoughts, while it seemed quite impossible that he should be seen, encountered the fire of his own troops; and the order to fire was given by his favorite officer, Colonel Firm Gundry. When the young man learned that he had destroyed, by a lingering death, the chief idol of his heart, he called for a rifle, but all refused him, knowing too well what his purpose was. Then under the trees, without a word or sigh, he set the hilt of his sword upon the earth, and the point to his heart — as well as he could find it. The blade passed through him, and then snapped off — But I can not bear to speak of it.

And now, few people might suppose it, but the substance of which he was made will be clear, when not only his own knowledge of his case but also the purest scientific reasoning established a truth more frankly acknowledged in the New World than in the Old one. It was proved that, with a good constitution, it is safer to receive two wounds than one, even though they may not be at the same time taken. Firm had been shot by the captain of Mexican robbers, as long ago related. He was dreadfully pulled down at the time, and few people could have survived it. But now that stood him in the very best stead, not only as a lesson of patience, but also in the question of cartilage. But not being certain what cartilage is, I can only refer inquirers to the note-book of the hospital, which has been printed.

For us it was enough to know that (shattered as he was and must be) this brave and single-minded warrior struggled for the time successfully with that great enemy of the human race, to whom the human race so largely consign one another and themselves. But some did say, and emphatically Uncle Sam, that Colonel Firm Gundry — for a colonel he was now, not by courtesy, but commission — would never have held up his head to do it, but must have gone on with his ravings for death, if somebody had not arrived in the nick of time, and cried over him — a female somebody from old England.

And, even after that, they say that he never would have cared to be a man again, never would have calmed his conscience with the reflection, so commonplace and yet so high — that having done our best according to our lights, we must not dwell always on our darkness — if once again, and for the residue of life, there had not been some one to console him — a consolation that need not have, and is better without, pure reason, coming, as that would come, from a quarter whence it is never quite welcome. Enough for me that he never laid hand to a weapon of war again, and never shall unless our own home is invaded.

For after many months — each equal to a year of teaching and of humbling — there seemed to be a good time for me to get away and attend to my duties in England. Of these I had been reminded often by letters, and once by a messenger; but all money matters seemed dust in the balance where life and death were swinging. But now Uncle Sam and his grandson, having their love knit afresh by disaster, were eager to start for the Saw-mill, and trust all except their own business to Providence.

I had told them that, when they went westward, my time would be come for starting eastward; and being unlikely to see them again, I should hope for good news frequently. And then I got dear Uncle Sam by himself, and begged him, for the sake of Firm’s happiness, to keep him as far as he could from Pennsylvania Sylvester. At the same time I thought that the very nice young lady who jumped upon his nose from the window, Miss Annie — I forgot her name, or at any rate I told him so — would make him a good straightforward wife, so far as one could tell from having seen her. And that seemed to have been settled in their infancy. And if he would let me know when it was to be, I had seen a thing in London I should like to give them.

When I asked the Sawyer to see to this, instead of being sorry, he seemed quite pleased, and nodded sagaciously, and put his hat on, as he generally did, to calculate.

“Both of them gals have married long ago,” he said, looking at me with a fine soft gaze; “and bad handfuls their mates have got of them. But what made you talk of them, missy — or ‘my lady,’ as now you are in old country, I hear — what made you think of them like that, my dearie?”

“I can’t tell what made me think of them. How can I tell why I think of every thing?”

“Still, it was an odd thing for your ladyship to say.”

“Uncle Sam, I am nobody’s ladyship, least of all yours. What makes you speak so? I am your own little wandering child, whose life you saved, and whose father you loved, and who loses all who love her. Even from you I am forced to go away. Oh, why is it always my fate — my fate?”

“Hush!” said the old man; and I stopped my outburst at his whisper. “To talk of fate, my dearie, shows either one thing or the other — that we have no will of our own, or else that we know not how to guide it. I never knew a good man talk of fate. The heathens and the pagans made it. The Lord in heaven is enough for me; and He always hath allowed me my own free-will, though I may not have handled ’un cleverly. And He giveth you your own will now, my missy — to go from us or to stop with us. And being as you are a very grand young woman now, owning English land and income paid in gold instead of greenbacks — the same as our nugget seems likely — to my ideas it would be wrong if we was so much as to ask you.”

“Is that what you are full of, then, and what makes you so mysterious? I did think that you knew me better, and I had a right to hope so.”

“Concerning of yourself alone is not what we must think of. You might do this, or you might do that, according to what you was told, or, even more, according to what was denied you. For poor honest people, like Firm and me, to deal with such a case is out of knowledge. For us it is — go by the will of the Lord, and dead agin your own desires.”

“But, dear Uncle Sam,” I cried, feeling that now I had him upon his own tenterhooks, “you rebuked me as sharply as lies in your nature for daring to talk about fate just now; but to what else comes your own conduct, if you are bound to go against your own desire? If you have such a lot of freewill, why must you do what you do not like to do?”

“Well, well, perhaps I was talking rather large. The will of the world is upon us as well. And we must have respect for its settlements.”

“Now let me,” I said, with a trembling wish to have every thing right and maidenly. “I have seen so much harm from misunderstandings, and they are so simple when it is too late — let me ask you one or two questions, Uncle Sam. You always answer every body. And to you a crooked answer is impossible.”

“Business is business,” the Sawyer said. “My dear, I contract accordingly.”

“Very well. Then, in the first place, what do you wish to have done with me? Putting aside all the gossip, I mean, of people who have never even heard of me.”

“Why, to take you back to Saw-mill with us, where you always was so natural.”

“In the next place, what does your grandson wish?”

“To take you back to Saw-mill with him, and keep you there till death do you part, as chanceth to all mortal pairs.”

“And now, Uncle Sam, what do I wish? You say we all have so much free-will.”

“It is natural that you should wish, my dear, to go and be a great lady, and marry a nobleman of your own rank, and have a lot of little noblemen.”

“Then I fly against nature; and the fault is yours for filling me so with machinery.”

The Sawyer was beaten, and he never said again that a woman can not argue.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50