Lionel Lincoln, Or, The Leaguer Of Boston
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This melodramatic tale was a great favorite in its day, and formed the foundation of a play called The Leaguer of Boston.
PACING the deck of a ship entering the port of Boston one evening in April, 1775, was an old man, with a bowed and attenuated form and hair silvered by at least eighty winters, but whose quick, vigorous steps and flashing eyes appeared to deny the indications of his years. He wore a simple and somewhat tarnished suit of gray, which bore the marks of long use and neglect. As he walked the deserted quarter-deck engrossed with his own thoughts, his lips moved rapidly, though no sound issued from his mouth, and he cast piercing looks at the shores. As the vessel neared the harbor, a young man of about twenty-five years, wearing a military cloak, came on deck, and, encountering the eyes of the restless old man, bowed courteously before turning to the view. The rounded heights of Dorchester were still radiant with the setting sun, whose beams lay on the waters and illumined the forts and ships over which waved England's flag. Simultaneous with the reports of the evening guns, the proud symbols of British power came fluttering down. While watching this scene, the young man felt his arm pressed by the hand of his aged fellow passenger.
"Will the day ever arrive," he asked, in a low, hollow voice, "when those flags shall be lowered, never to rise again in this hemisphere?"
The young soldier turned his quick eyes on the speaker, but instantly bent them on the deck to avoid his keen, searching glance. After a moment of painful silence, "Tell me," he said, "you who are of Boston, the names of the places I see."
"And are you not of Boston, too?" asked his old companion. "Certainly, by birth, but an Englishman by habit and education."
"Accursed be the habits, and neglected the education, which would teach a child to forget its parentage!" muttered the old man, turning suddenly and walking away.
When the officer went ashore, he found the old gentleman in the same landing-boat, to the disgust of his valet Meriton, who spoke of his garments as a filthy bundle of rags. "Enough of this," interrupted his master, a little angrily; "the company is such as I am content with."
When they reached the landing, the officer said: "Here we must part, sir, but I trust the acquaintance thus accidentally formed is not to be forgotten, now there is an end to our common privations."
"It is not in the power of a man whose days, like mine, are numbered," said the stranger, "to mock the liberality of his God by any vain promises. I am one, young gentleman, who has returned from a sad pilgrimage in the other hemisphere, to lay his bones in this his native land; but should many hours be granted me, you will hear further of the man whom your courtesy and kindness have so greatly obliged."
The officer, sensibly affected, pressed his wasted hand fervently as he answered:
"Do; I ask it as a singular favor. I know not why—'tis a mystery—I feel that I not only venerate but love you."
The old man held him at arm's length a moment, while he fastened on him a look of glowing interest; then, pointing impressively upward, said:
"'Tis from heaven, and for God's own purposes; smother not the sentiment, boy, but cherish it in your heart's core!"
They were interrupted by violent shrieks, mingled with blows of a lash, and rude oaths. All within hearing ran toward the cries and found a group of soldiers around a man, whom they were beating.
"Mercy! for the sake of the blessed God, have mercy, and don't kill Job!" shrieked the sufferer. " Job will run your arr'nds! Mercy on poor Job!"
"What means this outcry? Why is this man thus abused?"
demanded the young man, arresting the arm of an infuriated soldier.
"By what authority dare you lay hands on a British grenadier?" cried the fellow, turning in fury and raising his lash against the supposed townsman. But when he caught sight of the officer's uniform, he said in a humble, deprecating tone: "We was just polishing this 'ere natural, because he won't drink the health of his Majesty."
" Job loves the King, but Job don't love rum!" cried the youth, with the tears rolling down his cheeks.
"I see you belong to the 47th," said the officer, showing the button of the same regiment on his sleeve. "Ye are noble supporters of the fame of Wolfe's own. Away with ye ! To-morrow it shall be looked to."
The disconcerted soldiers slunk away, and the officer, turning to a bystander, asked the reason of the trouble.
"The boy is weak," replied he, "quite an innocent, who knows but little good, but does no harm. The soldiers sport with his infirmity. If these doings a'n't checked, I fear trouble will grow out of them. Hard laws from t'other side of the water, and tarring and feathering on this—"
"It is wisest for us, my friend," interrupted the officer, "to pursue this subject no farther. Know ye the dwelling of Mrs. Lechmere?"
"The house is well known to all in Boston. Job will show you the way, won't you, Job ? "
"Ma'am Lechmere's! Job could go there blindfolded if—if—"
"If what, simpleton?"
"Why, if 'twas daylight."
"Do but hear the silly child. Come, Job, you must take this gentleman to Tremont Street without further words."
" Job will show the officer Ma'am Lechmere's, if the officer won't let the grannies catch Job afore he gets off the North End ag'in."
Assured on this point, Job led the party through many narrow streets and crooked alleys, pointing out Faneuil Hall and other buildings on the way, and descanting on the glories of Boston, until the officer, beginning to get angry, exclaimed, "Sirrah, we have loitered until the clocks are striking eight!"
"Now you make me forget the road," exclaimed Job. "Let's go in and ask old Nab; she knows the way."
"Old Nab! you wilful dolt! Who is Nab?"
"Everybody in Boston knows Abigail Pray."
"What of her?" asked the startling voice of the old man. "What of Abigail Pray, boy?"
"Nab lives in the old ware'us, and a good place it is, too. Job and his mother have each a room to sleep in, and they say the King and Queen haven't more."
"Let us see this Abigail Pray," cried the stranger, seizing Job by the arm and leading him through the low door.
The officer, impelled by curiosity at the old man's movements, followed and, through the open door of a room, heard the sharp tones of a woman's voice:
"Where have you been, graceless? I have been waiting for you to go to Madame Lechmere's to tell her of the arrival of the ship."
"Don't be cross, mother. I do believe that Ma'am Lech-mere has moved; I been trying to find her house this hour for this gentleman who come off the ship."
"I am the person expected by Mrs Lechmere," said the officer, coming forward. "Your son has led me by a circuitous path—"
"Excuse the witless child," said the woman, eying the officer keenly through her spectacles; "he knows the way well, but he is wilful at times. This will be a joyful night in Tremont Street, sir." Then, hall-unconsciously, as she held up the candle to inspect his features, "he has the sweet smile of the mother, and the terrible eye of his father."
"You know me and my family, then ? "
"I was at your birth, young gentleman, and a joyful birth it was! But Madame Lechmere waits for you. Job, show the gentleman to Tremont street directly. You know, my son, you love to go to Madame Lechmere's."
" Job would never go, if Job could help it," muttered the boy sullenly; "and if Nab had never gone, 'twould have been better for her soul."
"Do you dare, disrespectful viper!" exclaimed the angry woman, seizing the tongs as if to strike him.
"Woman, peace!" said a voice behind.
The weapon fell from her hands, and her yellow and withered countenance took the hue of death. "Who speaks?" she muttered after a moment's silence.
"It is I," said the stranger, coming into the light, "a man who knows that as God loves him, so is he bound to love the children of his loins."
The woman sank in her chair and her eyes rolled from the face of one visitor to the other, while she seemed to have lost the power of speech. Job stole to the side of the old man and, looking up piteously in his face, said:
"Don't hurt old Nab. She'll never strike Job with the tongs ag'in, will you mother?"
The officer now expressed his desire to go, and turning to the stranger, who stood in the doorway, said: "Precede me, sir; the hour grows late, and you too may need a guide to reach your dwelling."
"The streets of Boston have long been familiar to me," said the old man. "It matters not under what roof I lay my head; this will do as well as another. Go to your palace in Tremont Street; it shall be my care that we meet again."
The officer, understanding his character too well to hesitate, quitted the miserable apartment, leaving the amazed matron gazing at her unexpected guest with a wonder that was not unmingled with dread.
Major Lionel Lincoln, whose return to his native Boston was thus attended by mysteries, found more mysteries when he reached the mansion of his great-aunt, Mrs. Lechmere, whom he found living with her granddaughter, Cecil Dynevor, and her grandniece, Agnes Danforth. The old lady received him courteously but with a certain nervousness which betrayed some hidden anxiety. She sent Agnes from the room to call Cecil, and, as soon as the door closed upon her, said in a choked and husky voice, while her color changed and her lips trembled: "I may have appeared remiss, Cousin Lionel, but—Sir Lionel—you left him in as good a state of health, I hope, as his mental illness will allow?"
"It was so represented to me."
"You have seen him lately?"
"Not in fifteen years. My presence was said to increase his disorder, and the physicians forbade more interviews. He is still at the private establishment near town, and as his lucid intervals are thought to increase, I often indulge in the pleasing hope that he may again be restored to us."
A painful silence succeeded this expressed hope, and at last Mrs. Lechmere said: "I will retire a few moments, with your indulgence, and hasten the appearance of my grandchild. I pine that you may meet."
Cecil Dynevor entered almost immediately and greeted her cousin cordially. "My grandmother has long been expecting this pleasure, Major Lincoln," she said, "and your arrival has been at a most auspicious moment. The state of the country grows so alarming that I have long urged her to visit our relatives in England until disputes here shall have terminated."
"If half I have heard from a fellow passenger of the state of the country be true," he answered, "I shall be foremost in seconding your request. Both Ravenscliffe and the house in Soho would be greatly at the service of Mrs. Lechmere."
"I perceive, Cousin Lionel," said Mrs. Lechmere, reentering, leaning on the arm of Agnes, "that you and Cecil have found each other out. But here is Cato with the tea."
The old servant placed a small table before Miss Dynevor and set on it a salver of massive silver with an equipage of the finest Dresden china. The refusal of Miss Danforth, whose sympathies were with her countrymen, to drink tea led the conversation on the inhibited beverage, during which she remarked that Job Pray had called Boston harbor a big teapot.
"You know Job Pray, then, Miss Danforth?" asked Lionel, amused by her spirit.
"Boston is so small and Job so useful that everybody knows the simpleton."
"He belongs to a distinguished family, then, for I have his own assurance that everybody knows his mother, Abigail."
"What can you know," exclaimed Cecil, "of poor Job and his almost equally unfortunate mother?"
"Now, young ladies, I have you in my snare!" cried Lionel.
"But I will not inflame your curiosity further than to say that I have already had an interview with Mrs. Pray."
A slight crash and a piece of the Dresden china lay shattered on the floor at Mrs. Lechmere's feet.
"My dear grandmamma is ill!" cried Cecil, running to her assistance. "For Heaven's sake, a glass of water—Agnes, your salts."
"You will mistake me for a sad invalid, Cousin Lionel," said the old lady, when she became a little composed, "but I believe this tea, which I drink from excess of loyalty, unsettles my nerves."
Leaning on her two assistants, the old lady withdrew, and Major Lincoln soon retired to his own apartment, where he meditated long on the events of the day and the several incidents which seemed to have some intimate but inexplicable connection.
The next morning, Sunday, he was still more mystified, on walking up Beacon Hill, to find Job Pray seated on a step of the beacon, singing a snatch of a song then common about "p'ison tea," showing that the imbecile was thoroughly in accord with the sentiments of his countrymen.
"How now, Master Pray; do you come here to sing your orisons to the goddess of liberty on a Sunday morning?"
Job shook his head, as he looked up and said, "Don't you let Ralph hear you say anything ag'in liberty!"
"Ralph! who is he, lad? Where do you keep him that there is danger of his overhearing what I say?"
"He's up there in the fog," said Job, pointing toward the foot of the beacon, which was enveloped in mist.
Lionel looked up and saw the dim figure of his aged fellow passenger, still in his soiled gray garments.
"Come hither, Lionel Lincoln," he called, "to the foot of this beacon, where you may gather warnings which, if properly heeded, will guide you through many and great dangers unharmed."
"You look like a being of another world," said Lionel, " wrapped in that mantle of fog."
"Am I not a being of another world? Most of my interests are in the grave, and I tarry here only for a space, because there is a great work to be done which cannot be done without me."
Lionel expressed the hope that he had not been subjected to inconvenience in Job's home.
"The boy is a good boy," said the old man, stroking Job's head. "We understand each other, Major Lincoln, and that shortens introductions."
"That you feel alike on one subject I have already discovered," replied Lionel.
Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Captain Polwarth, an old friend and officer of the 47th, who welcomed Major Lincoln cordially to Boston. His arrival was the signal for the departure of Ralph and Job, and the two officers descended the hill in earnest conversation in which Lincoln picked up the military news and learned that his friend was in love with his cousin, Agnes Danforth. He and Polwarth had been together at Oxford and for many years comrades in the same regiment, and were therefore on the footing of old friends. An arrangement was soon made by which Polwarth, who was an adept in culinary matters, should superintend their mess in quarters near Mrs. Lechmere's, while Lionel still retained his sleeping-apartment in her mansion.
After this, Major Lincoln was continually meeting the old man whom Job called Ralph. One stormy night he found him in his own sleeping-room attentively reading a letter written by himself, which he had left open on his table. The old man hastened to excuse himself for this apparent breach of faith, and with tears in his eyes avowed that an interest in his affairs, which Lionel could not understand and which could not yet be explained, justified his act.
In the night march to Lexington and Concord Major Lincoln, who had not yet been assigned to service, went as a volunteer. In that memorable retreat he saw among the "embattled farmers" both Ralph and Job, and his life was saved by the old man, who beat up the firearms of several Americans when orders had gone forth to pick off that mounted officer. At the same time the bridle of Lionel's horse was seized by Job, who said earnestly, "If Major Lincoln will ride straight down the hill, the people won't fire for fear of hitting Job; and when Job fires, he'll shoot that granny who's getting over the wall."
Lionel rode with desperate speed down the slight declivity, amid the shouts of the Americans, hearing the whizzing of the bullet which Job sent, as he had promised, in a direction to do him no harm. The next day he saw both in Boston once more.
Again, when Major Lincoln volunteered for the last charge up Breed's Hill, over ground thick with the bodies of the King's troops, he saw Job among his countrymen using a musket as if he well understood how to manage it. Captain Polwarth lost a leg in the battle and Major Lincoln was so severely wounded that he was confined to his bed many weeks. As soon as he was recovered he asked Mrs. Lechmere for the hand of her granddaughter, and the old lady not only acceded to his request, but suggested an immediate marriage, and it was decided that the ceremony should take place that very evening in King's Chapel.
The night set in stormy with snow falling. By Lincoln's arrangement, Polwarth was to take the ladies to the church in a covered sleigh, and the Major was to meet them there. The sexton had taken the smallpox and the fires were low, and Major Lincoln, unable to get other assistance on so stormy a night, brought Job Pray. He explained to him that he was to marry Miss Dynevor, and asked him to remain after the ceremony to extinguish the lights and return the key to the rector.
Job put on an air of singular importance as he answered : "Major Lincoln is to be married, and he asks Job to the wedding! Now, Nab may preach her sermons about pride as much as she will; but blood is blood, and flesh is flesh, for all her sayings!"
Major Lincoln demanded an explanation of his ambiguous language, but before Job could reply the clergyman entered, followed almost immediately by Polwarth with Agnes and Cecil. The ceremony was soon over, and the party went out, leaving the chapel to the possession of the son of Abigail Pray.
Arrived at the house the newly married couple were summoned at once to the bedside of Mrs. Lechmere, who, ill, had caused herself to be raised in a sitting posture, supported by pillows. Her wrinkled and emaciated cheeks were flushed with unnatural color, and her eyes gleamed with a satisfaction she could not conceal. She stretched out her arms and called to her child in a voice raised above its natural tones, "Kiss me, my Cecil, my bride, my Lady Lincoln! for by that loved title I may now call you, as yours, in the course of nature, it soon will be."
Madame Lechmere was stricken that same night with death. Even as she was congratulating herself on the fulfilment of her cherished hopes and looking forward to a long and tranquil evening of life, the aged man whom Job called Ralph appeared at the foot of her bed, and said, in a tremulous voice:
"Woman! thou deceivest thyself!"
"Who—who is it speaks?" she exclaimed.
"'Tis I, Priscilla Lechmere, who knows thy merits and thy doom!"
The appalled woman fell back on her pillows, gasping. "Why am I braved, at such a moment, in the privacy of my sick-chamber? Have that madman or impostor removed!"
Lionel neither moved nor answered, and Cecil clung to him. "My mother's mother!" exclaimed Cecil, "would that I could die for thee!"
"Die!" cried she, "who would die amid the festivities of a bridal? Away-leave me! To thy knees, if thou wilt, but leave me!"
While the dying woman watched, with bitter resentment, the retiring form of Cecil, Lionel said solemnly: "If thou knowest aught of the dreadful calamity that has befallen my family, or in any manner hast been accessory to its cause, disburden thy soul, and die in peace. I conjure thee, speak—what of my injured mother? Tell me of her dark fate!"'
"The truth!" cried Ralph; "declare the truth, and thy own wicked agency in the deed!"
"Who speaks? Surely I heard sounds I should know!"
"Look on me, Priscilla Lechmere. 'Tis I that speak to thee. The truth—the truth; the holy, undefiled truth!"
"My time has been too short! Cecil—Agnes—Abigail; where are ye? Help me, or I fall ! "
She caught the hand of Lionel in her dying grasp, and with a ghastly smile settled to her eternal rest.
To clear the mystery which shrouds the characters and events up to this period, we must look back to an earlier generation, when Reginald Lincoln came to the New World. He had three sons and a daughter. Lionel, the eldest son, became Sir Lionel Lincoln, Baronet, of Ravenscliffe, Devonshire, and died without issue. Reginald, the second son, died leaving a son Lionel, who succeeded to the baronetcy. A third son died leaving a daughter, who married a Danforth and became the mother of Agnes Danforth. The fourth child of Reginald, Priscilla, became Mrs. Lechmere, and had a daughter Priscilla. Mrs. Lechmere, ambitious for the future of this daughter, and foreseeing that her nephew Lionel would succeed to the baronetcy, tried to bring about a marriage between the cousins, but Lionel preferred to choose for himself and married a relative and goddaughter of Mrs. Lechmere, who bore him a son Lionel, the hero of the story. Called not long after to England to assume his rights, this father of our hero was detained there two years, and on his return to America he found that his wife had died; and, according to Mrs. Lechmere, had died dishonored, in giving birth to the fruit of her infamy. Mrs. Lechmere then sought again to bring about a marriage between the Baronet and her daughter Priscilla, and when he declined she tried to compass his ruin. He was utterly crushed beneath the weight of the blow he had received, and Mrs. Lechmere, profiting by his temporary derangement, had him consigned to a madhouse in England. Such was the story told to Lionel by the old man called Ralph.
Major Lincoln listened to a sequel to this story at the bedside of Job Pray, who lay dying in the old warehouse. Surrounding the bed, besides himself, were Ralph, Cecil, and Abigail.
"The hand of Providence is too manifest in this assemblage to be unheeded," said Abigail Pray. "Major Lincoln, in that stricken and helpless child you see one who shares your blood. Job is your brother!"
"Grief has maddened her," said Cecil.
"'Tis true!" said the calm tones of Ralph.
"Woman!" said Lionel, "though a voice from heaven should declare the truth of thy damnable tale, still would I deny that foul object as being the child of my beauteous mother."
"He is the offspring of one not less fair, though far less fortunate, than thy own boasted parent. He is thy brother, and the elder born."
"'Tis true—'tis most solemnly a truth!" said the old man.
Abigail then confessed that she had yielded to the seductions of Sir Lionel before his marriage to Major Lincoln's mother, and that Job had been the fruit of their union. Sir Lionel never knew her condition, however. When Sir Lionel's child was born, Abigail, unknown to him, received the infant from the hands of his jealous aunt. The Baronet went to England in quest of his rights, and during his absence the wife died of the smallpox. She had hardly departed before a vile plot was hatched by Mrs. Lechmere to destroy the purity of her fame, for she hoped that by her arts, aided by his own wounded affections, she might capture the Baronet for her own daughter; while Abigail was vain enough to dream that justice and her boy might induce her seducer to raise her to the envied position.
"And this foul calumny you repeated to my abused father?"
"We did—yes, God knows we did!"
"And he," said Lionel, "he believed it?"
"Yea, but the heart we thought to alienate from its dead partner we destroyed; and the reason we conspired to deceive was maddened!"
At this confession the old man sprang upon her with a cry so wild, so horrid, that all shuddered.
"Beldame!" he shouted, "I have thee now!"
"Monster! release the woman!" cried Lionel. "Thou, too, hoary-headed wretch, hast deceived me!"
" Lincoln ! " shrieked Cecil, " stay that unnatural hand ! You raise it on your own father!"
Lionel staggered back to the wall, where he stood gasping for breath. The maniac would speedily have ended the sorrows of the wretched woman, had not the door been burst open and a man ushed in and seized him.
"I know your yell, my gentle Baronet!" cried the keeper. "I have not followed you from Europe to America to be cheated by a lunatic!"
Ralph abandoned his hold of the woman and darted on him. The struggle was fierce and obstinate, but the strength of the maniac soon prevailed and he placed his knee on the chest of his victim and grasped his throat with fingers of iron.
"For the love of justice, aid me!" gasped the keeper. "Will you see me murdered?"
But Lionel looked upon the savage fray with a vacant eye. In the moment of despair the man struck the maniac twicethrice—in the side. Ralph sprang up at the third blow, and, laughing immoderately as the blood gushed from his wounds, fell dead on the body of Job.
The bodies of Sir Lionel Lincoln and his son Job were placed in the family vault beside that of Mrs. Lechmere, and the new Sir Lionel, with Cecil, his bride, sailed away to occupy their ancestral halls in England, leaving their property in Boston to Agnes Danforth, who married an American officer on the reoccupation of the town.