The Dynamiter

Page 14

You are accused of some concealment. You will pay more taxes in the future, and be mulcted in a fine. It is disquieting, indeed, to find our acts so spied upon, and the most private known. But is this new? Have we not long feared and suspected every blade of grass?'

'Ay, and our shadows!' cried my father. 'But all this is nothing. Here is the letter that accompanied the list.'

I heard my mother turn the pages, and she was some time silent.

'I see,' she said at last; and then, with the tone of one reading: '"From a believer so largely blessed by Providence with this world's goods,"' she continued, '"the Church awaits in confidence some signal mark of piety." There lies the sting. Am I not right? These are the words you fear?'

'These are the words,' replied my father. 'Lucy, you remember Priestley? Two days before he disappeared, he carried me to the summit of an isolated butte; we could see around us for ten miles; sure, if in any quarter of this land a man were safe from spies, it were in such a station; but it was in the very ague-fit of terror that he told me, and that I heard, his story. He had received a letter such as this; and he submitted to my approval an answer, in which he offered to resign a third of his possessions. I conjured him, as he valued life, to raise his offering; and, before we parted, he had doubled the amount. Well, two days later he was gone--gone from the chief street of the city in the hour of noon-- and gone for ever. O God!' cried my father, 'by what art do they thus spirit out of life the solid body? What death do they command that leaves no traces? that this material structure, these strong arms, this skeleton that can resist the grave for centuries, should be thus reft in a moment from the world of sense? A horror dwells in that thought more awful than mere death.'

'Is there no hope in Grierson?' asked my mother.

'Dismiss the thought,' replied my father. 'He now knows all that I can teach, and will do naught to save me. His power, besides, is small, his own danger not improbably more imminent than mine; for he, too, lives apart; he leaves his wives neglected and unwatched; he is openly cited for an unbeliever; and unless he buys security at a more awful price--but no; I will not believe it: I have no love for him, but I will not believe it.'

'Believe what?' asked my mother; and then, with a change of note, 'But oh, what matters it?' she cried. 'Abimelech, there is but one way open: we must fly!'

'It is in vain,' returned my father. 'I should but involve you in my fate. To leave this land is hopeless: we are closed in it as men are closed in life; and there is no issue but the grave.'

'We can but die then,' replied my mother. 'Let us at least die together. Let not Asenath {2} and myself survive you. Think to what a fate we should be doomed!'

My father was unable to resist her tender violence; and though I could see he nourished not one spark of hope, he consented to desert his whole estate, beyond some hundreds of dollars that he had by him at the moment, and to flee that night, which promised to be dark and cloudy. As soon as the servants were asleep, he was to load two mules with provisions; two others were to carry my mother and myself; and, striking through the mountains by an unfrequented trail, we were to make a fair stroke for liberty and life. As soon as they had thus decided, I showed myself at the window, and, owning that I had heard all, assured them that they could rely on my prudence and devotion. I had no fear, indeed, but to show myself unworthy of my birth; I held my life in my hand without alarm; and when my father, weeping upon my neck, had blessed Heaven for the courage of his child, it was with a sentiment of pride and some of the joy that warriors take in war, that I began to look forward to the perils of our flight.

Before midnight, under an obscure and starless heaven, we had left far behind us the plantations of the valley, and were mounting a certain canyon in the hills, narrow, encumbered with great rocks, and echoing with the roar of a tumultuous torrent.

The Dynamiter Page 15

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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