BROKEN down in health, after ten years of close confinement in his situation, Jerome resolved to give it up, and thereby release himself from an employment which seemed calculated to send him to a premature grave.
It was on a beautiful morning in summer that he started for Scotland, having made up his mind to travel for his health. After visiting Edinburgh and Glasgow, he concluded to spend a few days in the old town of Perth, with a friend whose acquaintance he had made in Manchester. During the second day of his stay in Perth, while crossing the main street, Jerome saw a pony-chaise coming toward him with great speed. A lady, who appeared to be the only occupant of the vehicle, was using her utmost strength to stop the frightened horses. The footman, in his fright, had leaped from behind the carriage, and was following with the crowd. With that self-forgetfulness which was one of his chief characteristics, Jerome threw himself before the horses to stop them; and, seizing the high-spirited animals by the bit, as they dashed by him, he was dragged several rods before their speed was checked, which was not accomplished until one of the horses had fallen to the ground, with the heroic man struggling beneath him.
All present were satisfied that this daring act alone had saved the lady's life, for the chaise must inevitably have been dashed in pieces, had the horses not been thus suddenly checked in their mad career.
On the morning following this perilous adventure, Col. G-- called at Jerome's temporary residence, and, after expressing his admiration for his noble daring, and thanking him for having saved his daughter's life, invited him to visit him at his country residence. This invitation was promptly accepted in the spirit in which it was given; and three days after, Jerome found himself at the princely residence of the father of the lady for whose safety he had risked his own life. The house was surrounded by fine trees, and a sweet little stream ran murmuring at the foot, while beds of flowers on every hand shed their odors on the summer air. It was, indeed, a pleasant place to spend the warm weather, and the colonel and his family gave Jerome a most cordial welcome. Miss G. showed especial attention to the stranger. He had not intended remaining longer than the following day: but the family insisted on his taking part in a fox-hunt that was to come off on the morning of the third day. Wishing to witness a scene as interesting as the chase usually proves to be, he decided to remain.
Fifteen persons, five of whom were ladies, were on the ground at the appointed hour. Miss G. was, of course, one of the party. In vain Jerome endeavored to excuse himself from joining in the chase. His plea of ill-health was only met by smiles from the young ladies, and the reply that a ride would effect a cure.
Dressed in a scarlet coat and high boots, with the low, round cap worn in the chase, Jerome mounted a high-spirited horse, whip in hand, and made himself one of the party. In America, riding is a necessity; in England, it is a pleasure. Young men and women attend riding-school in our fatherland, and consider that they are studying a science. Jerome was no rider. He had not been on horseback for more than ten years, and as soon as he mounted, every one saw that he was a novice, and a smile was on the countenance of each member of the company.
The blowing of the horn, and assembling of the hounds, and finally the release of the fox from his close prison, were the signals for the chase to commence. The first half-mile the little animal took his course over a beautiful field where there was neither hedge nor ditch. Thus far the chase was enjoyed by all, even by the American rider, who was better fitted to witness the scene than to take part in it.
We left Jerome in our last reluctantly engaged in the chase; and though the first mile or so of the pursuit, which was over smooth meadow-land, had had an exhilarating effect upon his mind, and tended somewhat to relieve him of the embarrassment consequent upon his position, he nevertheless still felt that he was far from being in his proper element. Besides, the fox had now made for a dense forest which lay before, and he saw difficulties in that direction which to him appeared insurmountable.
Away went the huntsmen, over stone walls, high fences, and deep ditches. Jerome saw the ladies even leading the gentlemen, but this could not inspire him. They cleared the fences, four and five feet high with perfect ease, showing they were quite at home in the saddle. But alas for the poor American! As his fine steed came up to the first fence, and was about to make the leap, Jerome pulled at the bridle, and cried at the top of his voice, "Whoa! whoa! whoa!" the horse at the same time capering about, and appearing determined to keep up with the other animals.
Away dashed the huntsmen, following the hounds, and all were soon lost to the view of their colored companion. Jerome rode up and down the field looking for a gate or bars, that he might get through without risking his neck. Finding, however, that all hope of again catching up with the party was out of the question, he determined to return to the house, under a plea of sudden illness, and back he accordingly went.
"I hope no accident has happened to your honor," said the groom, as he met our hero at the gate.
"A slight dizziness," was the answer.
One of the servants, without being ordered, went at once for the family physician. Ashamed to own that his return was owing to his inability to ride, Jerome resolved to feign sickness. The doctor came, felt his pulse, examined his tongue, and pronounced him a sick man. He immediately ordered a tepid bath, and sent for a couple of leeches.
Seeing things taking such a serious turn, the American began to regret the part he was playing; for there was no fun in being rubbed and leeched when one was in perfect health. He had gone too far to recede, however, and so submitted quietly to the directions of the doctor; and, after following the injunctions given by that learned Esculapius, was put to bed.
Shortly after, the sound of the horns and the yelp of the hounds announced that the poor fox had taken the back track, and was repassing near the house. Even the pleasure of witnessing the beautiful sight from the window was denied our hero; for the physician had ordered that he must be kept in perfect quiet.
The chase was at last over, and the huntsmen all in, sympathizing with their lost companion. After nine days of sweating, blistering, and leeching, Jerome left his bed convalescent, but much reduced in flesh and strength. This was his first and last attempt to follow the fox and hounds.
During his fortnight's stay at Colonel G.', Jerome spent most of his time in the magnificent library. Claude did not watch with more interest every color of the skies, the trees, the grass, and the water, to learn from nature, than did this son of a despised race search books to obtain that knowledge which his early life as a slave had denied him.