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The grave, silent stranger, starting to his feet, cried:
“Hey, stranger, do you call the work of English officers the works of the devil ?”
“I do; by my soul, a greater outrage than you perpetrated on the Acadians never disgraced a Christian nation!”
“Have we a traitor here?”
“You have an Acadian, one who suffered by your accursed tyranny and greed of land.”
The officers started to their feet, and the landlord sat transfixed with amazement, while his good wife Becky raised her hands in silent horror and dread.
Lieutenant Jones, finally regaining in a certain measure his self-possession, said:
“You an Acadian? Your speech and manner are those of an Englishman.”
“I am a Virginian by birth,” the old man answered, in a voice that quivered with pent-up emotions. “Circumstances as distressing as those that bring me here took me at an early age to Acadia, which one might have hoped was neutral ground. There I married the woman I loved, the best on earth. There our children were born to droop and die, until but one was left me. My poor wife, thank God, never lived to see that wretched day, and would to heaven I had not. My countrymen,
whom I had always loved and defended, came at last like wolves on the fold, and, at the point of the bayonet, we were driven forth. It was my son that was to wed on that morn, when you drove him to the forest to madness and despair, to wander the earth, God knows where.”
The old man's voice grew fainter and weaker with emotion, until it died away in a whisper, and, burying his face in his hands, he sank down upon his chair and sobbed. It was a sad sight to behold that old gray head bowed in grief, and the feeble frame trembling with pent-up emotions. The officers were men with tender hearts, and they sympathized with the old man; but when he was asked to tell his story in detail, he was silent and soon after retired to sleep until morning.
Morning dawned bright and clear. The mists had cleared away, and the sun shone from a cloudless sky. The white-haired stranger was as calm as the morning; all show of passion having passed from his face. After breakfast, he thanked his host for his hospitality, and, with his stout staff, started again on his journey. The flowers bloomed and birds sang along the way, and all nature seemed gay; but he heeded not the beauties on every side. When he looked about, it was in the hope of seeing some familiar object; but changes come to the home of our childhood. A visit to scenes of youthful days is attended with more pain than pleasure. We miss the beloved faces of long ago, or, if met, they are wrinkled with age and unrecognizable. The old trees under which the childish feet pattered are gone. The cabin has disappeared or fallen to ruin. Nothing lasts; nothing is as it was; so, disappointed and weary with the ashes of former joys, we turn away.
Another day was drawing to a close, and the slanting rays of the descending sun fell on a palatial old Virginia mansion on the Rappahannock. It was that residence of Mr. Stevens. In that house Robert Stevens had died at a great age. No one living at this time knew Robert Stevens, unless it was his son Elmer, an ancient man, who still clung to the old spot. There was a strange tradition of Robert Stevens. He lived away back almost a hundred years ago and was one of the “great rebel's” officers. He was a son of John Smith Stevens, whose father Philip Estevan, or Stevens, was a friend of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. Though these traditions and rumors were current, people were skeptical about them, and no one thought the family half so old. Besides, they had never displayed any extraordinary ability. Noah, the oldest son of Mr. Elmer Stevens, was an officer in the provincial militia, but had not distinguished himself to a great degree.
Mr. Stevens was walking along the pebbled path which led from the great stiles in front of his house to the broad piazza. He paused under the wide-spreading branches of his favorite chestnut and gazed down at the river, glistening like a belt of silver in the pale light of the departing day. His hair was almost white as snow, and his shoulders were somewhat stooped, yet his frame was strong despite his great age.
As the old man still stood gazing on the beautiful and picturesque scene about him, he discovered the form of a wayfarer coming slowly and wearily down the turnpike which ran past the house. He was too far away for the dim eyesight of Mr. Stevens to distinguish more than an outline of a man.
“Perchance he will come here, then I shall see who he is,” the old man thought. Having nothing else to do, he watched him, and when the pedestrian reached a point of the road opposite the stiles he paused and, turning abruptly around, came toward them. He crossed the stiles and advanced slowly up the white pebbled path to where the proprietor of the mansion stood. Pausing before him, the pedestrian, who was himself an old man, leaned heavily on his staff and asked:
“Do you own this plantation?”
“I do, my friend; will you not come in and accept of my hospitality ?”
“I am weary and thirsty, sir, and would like to sit on your piazza.”
Mr. Stevens led the way to the broad piazza, where he drew up a couple of great, old-fashioned arm-chairs, and bade his companion seat himself and rest awhile.
“Now I will have some refreshments brought you. Won't you have a mug of cider and some bread?”
The stranger nodded his head until the silver locks trembled. Mr. Stevens called a negro boy and ordered him to bring up some cider and bread for the traveller.
“ Have you lived here long?" asked the traveller, as he partook sparingly of the refreshments.
“Most of my life has been spent here." “You have a great plantation.”
“In my young days I had a passion for the sea and, with a younger brother, became a sailor.”
“ Did you serve long?”
“His fate is unknown. We were serving on board a New England privateer about fifty years