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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Catalina’s Escape

By James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860)

[The Dutchman’s Fireside. 1831.]

THE NEXT day Catalina, unconscious of the danger that hovered around her, took a fancy to stroll to the little rocky dell we have heretofore described as a favorite resort of Sybrandt, where he was once accustomed to retire to conjure up spectres of misery and mortification.

In happier times they had been used to visit it together, and it was associated in the mind of Catalina with many hours of innocent happiness. She wished to see it once more before she left the country; led by that attractive sympathy which forever draws the heart towards scenes of past enjoyment. The morning was one of the favorite progeny of autumn. The indications of the storm the night before had passed away, and were succeeded by a still, clear, hazy sky, a pure elastic air, that never fails to waken pleasant feelings in the heart where they are not asleep forever.

As she passed onward the blue-bird chirped his plaintive notes of farewell ere he went to seek the summer in some more genial climate; the grasshoppers, awakened from the torpor of the chilly night, were sporting and chirping as gay as ever, forgetful of the past, and happily careless of the future; the grass under her feet began to show a pale and sickly yellowness, and every instant some portion of the party-colored robes of the woods fell whispering to the ground, again to mingle with the dust which first gave it life and maturity. All was calm, and beautiful, and touching. It was beauty smiling in the consciousness of being still lovely, yet sighing in the certainty that youth is past; that she has already gained the summit hill of life, is now descending into the vale, and though the prospect is still fair to look upon, it is every day contracting into a single point, beyond which there is nothing but eternity. The white columns of smoke ascended straight upwards, uncurled by a breath of wind, and presenting to the contemplative mind images of rural happiness here, of pure and spiritual bliss hereafter. But the feelings of Catalina were not in a state to enjoy the touching beauties of the scene, or the associations it naturally inspired. She passed onwards in painful musings until she came to the little quiet solitude, and, seating herself, soon became buried in the labyrinth of her own perplexities and sorrows.

The residence of Mr. Dennis Vancour was on a little rising ground, which overlooked the extensive meadows spreading along the river, and commanded from its porch a view of the mansion-house. Sybrandt saw Catalina depart; and the course she pursued, as well as the whispering consciousness of his own heart, told him whither she was going. He turned pale and trembled when he called to mind the circumstances of the preceding night; and taking an opposite direction, he hastened to the little glen, determined to hide himself and watch over her safety. He arrived at the spot before her, and concealing himself in the hollow of an immense oak that nodded on the brink of the high precipice, waited what might follow. In a few moments Catalina made her appearance, and seated herself, as we have before described, in a recess among the rocks and trees, just where the bubbling basin at the foot of the cascade laved at her feet against the mossy stones. There was something touching and sorrowful in her attitude and look as she leaned on her hand, and watched the foaming torrent tumbling down the precipice. Now is the time to tell her all, thought Sybrandt, and he forgot his great purpose in coming thither for a moment. Another moment brought it back to his remembrance. Here he remained quiet for somewhat more than half an hour, when he fancied he saw a pair of eyes glaring behind the thick evergreens that skirted the rear of the high rocky precipice. He shrunk closer in his covert, and in another moment saw a head cautiously protruded beyond the bushes. It was that of Captain Pipe. He saw him look cautiously round in every direction; he saw him lay himself down and crawl on his belly, dragging his gun after him towards the edge of the precipice, that he might gain a full view of his victim below,—and he followed him noiselessly, creeping like a shadow rather than a substance. At length the Indian raised himself on his knees, cocked his unerring musket, and carried it to his cheek. In an instant it was snatched from his grasp, and in another instant the Indian had grappled it again. It went off in the struggle and Catalina looking up, saw a sight that recalled all her tenderness and all her fears.

Almost on the verge of the precipice stood Sybrandt and the active, powerful Indian, struggling for life, each almost bursting their sinews to force the other off the brink. Now one, now the other seemed to have the advantage; now the back of one and anon of the other was towards her: and then both seemed to be quivering on the verge of eternity. In vain she attempted to cry out—her voice was lost in the agony of her fears; in vain she attempted to climb the steep—her limbs refused their office. Still the deadly struggle continued, and she saw their quick pantings from the depth below. The gun had been thrown away in the contest, and now they wrestled limb to limb, heart to heart. More than once the Indian attempted to draw his knife, but Sybrandt gave him such full employment for both his hands, that he as often failed in his purpose. But the vigor of the youth was now waning fast, for he had of late become weakened by watching and anxiety. The Indian felt the trembling of his limbs, and heard with savage delight the increased quickness of his breathing. He redoubled his exertions; he grasped him tight in his arms, lifted him off his feet, and hurried him towards the verge of the rock. Sybrandt made a desperate effort; he placed one foot on the rock, and with a quick motion of the other tripped up the heels of the Indian. Both fell, with their heads from the precipice, and their feet actually projecting over its edge. Sybrandt was uppermost, but this was rather a disadvantage, for the Indian was enabled by violent exertions to edge himself on by degrees, until both were poised on the extremest verge, and hovered on the very brink, being determined to perish with him rather than fail in his purpose. Another moment and all had been over, when fortunately Sybrandt perceived a little evergreen growing out of the rock within his reach. He seized hold of it, and it sustained his grasp. With one hand he held it fast, with the other he suddenly pushed the Indian from under him, and he slipped over the precipice, still grasping the legs of the young man, who now clung to the shrub with both hands, making efforts to shake the Indian from his hold. But for some moments his exertions were vain, and only served to exhaust his remaining strength. Feeling himself gradually relaxing his hold, and every instant growing fainter and fainter, he gathered himself to a last effort. He extricated one of his legs from the grasp of the Indian, and dashed his foot in his face with such convulsive violence, that he loosed his hold, and fell among the pointed rocks which projected out of the pool below. Catalina heard the splashing of his body in the water, and not knowing who it was that had fallen, became insensible. Sybrandt raised himself slowly and with difficulty, and descended as fast as possible towards her. She waked in his arms, and by degrees came to a comprehension of all that had passed.

“Again!” at length said she, looking up tenderly, “again! yet you thanked God I was going away.”

“Cannot you comprehend the reason now, dearest Catalina? and will you not listen to what you refused to hear yesterday?”

She cast a shuddering glance at the pool. “I thought I heard a groan. Perhaps the poor creature yet lives, and may be saved.”

“Let him perish!” said the youth, indignantly. “O, if you only knew the days and nights of anxious misery he has occasioned me!”

“And me,—yet I pity him.”

“And wish he were alive?”

“If I were sure—if I could be made quite sure neither of us could possibly ever see him again. Go, cousin, and see if he is yet alive, but take care!”

Sybrandt went and dragged the body from the pool. It was dreadfully mangled and apparently lifeless. Catalina shuddered as she cast one look at it.

“Let us go home,” said she.

“Will you not listen to my explanation now? You are going away from me to-morrow, and we may never meet again.”

“No, dearest Sybrandt. I now see it all. You knew this wretched being had not left the country.”

“I did; at least I suspected so from various circumstances.”

“And you were every night on the watch, guarding me—me—who was accusing you of spending them in gaming, riot, and seduction—yes, seduction—for such was the story I heard. O, blessed Heaven! what short-sighted creatures we are!” And she raised her tearful eye to his, as if to ask forgiveness. “Was it not so?”

“I confess it was.”

“But why did you not tell me you suspected the Indian was still lurking about the neighborhood?”

“What! and poison all your moments of returning ease and happiness! No: I thought I could guard you from the danger, without making you wretched by knowing it.”

“And left me to endure suspicions a thousand times more painful.”

“Recollect, dear Catalina, I could not anticipate your suspicions.”

“True; and your apprehensions for my safety prompted that ungallant wish,” said she, smiling languidly, “‘Thank God you are going.’”

“What else could have prompted it, dear love? And yet, much as I feared for you, I did not know half the danger. He then related to her the incidents of the preceding night. She turned deadly pale, and remained silent for a few moments.

“I recollect I stood at the window more than four or five minutes, wondering what was the matter with the dogs. Once—twice—thrice: it is a heavy debt, and how can I repay it?”

“By never doubting me again, till I deceive you.”

“That can never be!” exclaimed she fervently.

“And will you, can you love me, and trust me with your happiness, dearest Catalina?”

“I can—I will,” said she, solemnly; “and here before the body of that dead wretch, who has expiated his intended crimes at your hands; in the presence of that good Being who has preserved me from his vengeance; by the life and all the hopes here and hereafter of the life you have three times, perhaps thrice three times, preserved, I promise to be yours, and to devote myself to your happiness whenever you shall ask it of me. I give myself to you by this kiss, such as no one man ever before received from me, and no other ever will again. I give myself away forever!” And she kissed his forehead with her balmy lips.

“Blessed, forever blessed, be this day, and this hour!” cried Sybrandt, as he folded her in his arms. “I cannot thank you, dearest, but I am blessed!” and he leaned his head on her shoulder, overpowered by the varying emotions and exertions of the past and present.

“You are hurt!” screamed Catalina.

“’Tis only happiness—I am faint with joy;” and again he leaned his head on her panting bosom. A dreadful shriek from Catalina roused him, and he saw the ghastly Indian close upon him, covered with blood, with his arm raised, and grasping his knife. Before he could take a step to defend himself the blow was given. The knife entered his bosom, and he staggered backwards, but did not fall. In a moment Sybrandt rallied himself, and evading a second blow, closed with the now exhausted and dying wretch, whom he dashed to the ground with furious indignation. The agony of death came upon him, but did not quench his ruling passion of revenge. With convulsive agony he repeatedly buried his knife up to the hilt in the earth, and his last breath expired in a blow.