Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
By Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy (18631945)
[Born in Richmond, Va., 1863. Died in Charlottesville, Va., 1945. Virginia of Virginia. 1888.]
VIRGINIA was sitting silent by her bedroom window when the first copper glare began to tinge the dense upward column of black smoke. She knew in a minute what it was, although Aunt Tishy muttered something about bresh fires.
She leaped to her feet, her heart once more renewing its old-time measure. Mammy! she calledMammy! thats th mill stable! th mill stables on fire! O God above! Th pore horsesan Bonnibel! O pore Mr. Jackpore Mr. Jack! Ef Bonnibels hurt, itll break his heart. She had forgotten everything in her thought for him. Her own sin, his harsh wordsall that had passed between them since first he gave Bonnibel into her glad keeping.
She was down-stairs and out of the house almost before the old negress knew what she was about to undertake. Out at a side gate she dashed, and down a grassy hill at the back of the house. Some catalpa-tree roots caught at her flying feet with their knotty fingers as though, fiend-like, they would hinder her on her errand of mercy. On, on; her breath came quick and laboring. She was on the open road now, straining with all her might up a steep, stone-roughed hill. All the northern heavens were ablaze with an angry orange. As she gained the top of the hill a little fan of lilac flames burst from the stable roof against the night. There was yet timeBonnibel was in a loose-box near the door. O God, the other horses! Must they roast alivethe beautiful, agile creatures that he so loved?
Below, in the placid breast of the large pond, the lurid mass above was reflected with an effect as incongruous as when some world-tossed soul pours out its hot confession into the calm keeping of a saintly heart.
The shallow stream shoaled into fire among the black stems of the water-reeds, and tossed the flames upon its mimic waves. She gained the rough bridge which spanned it; her feet passed with a swift, hollow sound across it. She was thereat the stable, and her breath had not yet given out. Then all at once she remembered. Oh, joy! joy! If she saved Bonnibel, and was herself hurt to death, would not that be atonement? Might he not forgive her then? Poor little savage childpoor, sweet, uncivilized, true heart! I think indeed he would forgive you if he knew.
There were men running frantically aboutomnipresentuseless: they had delayed so long to set about extinguishing the fire that it was now beyond all bounds. The wild, dull trampling of the hoofs of the terrified horses made horror in the air. They whinnied and nickered like children pleading for help. One of the English grooms was dashing into the smoke and heat. Virginia seized him by the arm.
Alas! alas! the maddened, silly brutes refused to follow. They reared madly whenever approached, and struck with their fore-feet at the plucky little lad. In no way could he approach them; threats and cajolery were in vain. Virginia snatched a whip from the stable wall and tried to beat them out. Usurper, vicious to the last, rushed furiously at her, and but for the lads striking him over the head with a pitchfork, would inevitably have dashed her brains out with his wicked hoofs. There was no further time to be lost. One side of the roof was blazing ominously, and the wall on the eastern side began to tremble.
Virginia, in spite of entreaties and hands held out to stop her, turned her skirts about her head and went into Bonnibels box. Six of us ave tried to get er out, miss, said the panting lad, who had followed her. Dont you venture in, for Gods sake, miss; shes that mad shell kill youth poor hussy!
Bonnibel was in truth like a horse distraught. She was leaping back and forth, and trotting from side to side of her capacious box, nickering from time to time, with head aloft and tail held like a plume above her satin quarters. No sooner did she hear Virginias voice than she stopped short, quivering in every splendid limb and sinew.
Bonnibel! said Virginia, in that soft monotone the frightened creature had not now heard for many a dayBonnibel! There was a seconds pause; then stooping her bright head, with a low whinny as of welcome and trust, the gallant mare came to the well-known voice.
In the mean time the rest of the English lads and the head groom had arrived, with fire-engines and more help. They had already succeeded in getting the horse out. The vicious Usurper they were compelled to leave to his awful fate.
Almost they were safe. Why do things happen with only an inch between safety and destruction? One instant more and horse and woman would have been free. But in that tarrying instant a heavy beam from the front of the stable fell crashing down, bringing with it a great mass of bricks and mortar. Virginia and Bonnibel were half buried under the reeking mass. The flames sent up an exultant roar as of triumph. There was a smothered, horrified groan from the men, and then Bonnibel, freeing herself by one powerful effort of her iron quarters, galloped off into the coolness of the night.
They pulled Virginia out, with such gentleness as they could spare to the encroaching flames, and a bed was instantly made for her on the damp turf by means of the mens hastily torn-off coats. She lay there, still, white, most beautiful, with peace at last upon her tired face. Did she dream, perchance, that he forgave her?
At one oclock next day old Herrick returned. He was wordless and almost majestic in his deep grief. All day long he sat holding her in such positions as would ease her; talking to her; trying to follow her wandering fancies. She knew him always, though she knew no one else. Father, she said, suddenly, in one of the intervals when reason returned to her, wont you please sen fur Mr. Jack? Somethin in my heart tells me hell comenow. Write to him bout Bonnibel. Tell him I saved her. Tell him I jess want ter say good-by. I don wan him ever ter furgive me. I only want toto look at him once more. Fatherwistfullyyou think hell come?
He cameoh yes, he came! mad with regret and remorse, repentant, eager to atone. Where is she? where is she? he asked as he threw down his hat upon the hall table, and jerked off his spurs, that their jingling might not disturb her. If he had only known the music that they made to her ears!
He went in softly. There she lay, pathetic, fragile as some long-ill child upon his narrow bed. He went and stooped over her, taking into one of his brown hands her restless, slender fingers. Her gentle look rested unknowingly upon him.
Aint they goin ter sen fur Mr. Jack? she said. I think hell comenow; father thought ez how he would. Please write it down that I saved Bonnibelplease write that down. Twas mighty hot, but I saved her. Oh, don yo think hell come?don yo think hell come? I don even arst him to speak to me. Ef hell only stand in th door so ez I kin see him when I go.
She went rambling on. I wonder ef he would furgive me ef he knew? I wisht Bonnibel could tell himI wisht I was Bonnibel! with a little rippling laugh infinitely pathetic. Oh, wouldn I kyar him pretty an straight at his fences, an win evy race fur him! Her eyes opened vague and sorrowful again upon Rodens pale face. Oh, she said, with a long sighing breath, dont you think hell come? Write to him bout Bonnibelplease write that ter him.
Virginia, look at melook at me, said the young man, half lifting her in his arms. Dear little Virginia, here I am. I forgive you with all my heart and soul, Virginia. Oh, please look at me, please remember me.
Her eyes fixed themselves upon his face, first vacantly, then with a wonder-stricken radiance. Mr. Jack, she said, under her breath, did they tell yo? I saved her; thats all. Yo needn say nothin; I jess wanted to look at yo. I saved her. Twas awful hot. I kin hear it roarin now. She come to me; she wouldn come to nobody else.
Doyoureally? she said, with the old timid joy in her soft voice. I aint dreamin? Well, Gods so good to me! But I did save her. Bonnibel! I saidBonnibel! an she come right straight ter me with her pretty head tucked down. Then came all that fire on us. I thought twas over. But I saved herI saved her. Please tell him thatplease tell him that. I reckon hell sorter remember me kind fur that; don you, father?
They rolled the bed to the window, and little Hicks led Bonnibel up beside it. Roden went out himself and gathered a handful of fresh grass. I think the lad only respected his master more for the tears that ran down his cheeks. He couldnt see very distinctly himself just then, this good little Hicks.
What was the matter? Had suffering charged some magic in that soft voice? Bonnibel turned indifferently away from the anxious hand, and rubbed her bright head with an impatient movement against one of her fore-legs.
Oh! said the girl, while the glad flush died out of her face, and the green blades fell from her hold upon the window-sill, Bonnibel don know me any moreshe don care. I gave my life for her, anan she don care.
No taint, said the girl, sadly. I aint the same, I reckon; I reckon Im right near gone, Mr. Jack. Well, I saved her, anyhow. The most part fell on me; she kicked herself loose. Please, father, ef Mr. Jack don come in timeplease, father, tell him ez how I saved Bonnibel. Oh, father, I mus tell somebody fore I go. I kyarn bear to think there wont be anybody in all th world ez knows it when Im gone. I loved him, father dearI loved him so! An Ive been mighty wicked; an Gods been mighty good ter me; an Im goin to heaven, mammy says. But I wont have him even thereI wont have himeven there.
Roden had buried his face in her two pale hands. When he looked up, old Herrick was closing gently with his toil-roughened hand the sweet wide eyes which never more would look on anything this side the stars.