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Title: A Country Doctor and Selected Stories and Sketches
Author: Jewett, Sarah Orne, 1849-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Country Doctor and Selected Stories and Sketches" ***

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A COUNTRY DOCTOR

by Sarah Orne Jewett


Published 1884



       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS


    I. THE LAST MILE

   II. THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN

  III. AT JAKE AND MARTIN'S

   IV. LIFE AND DEATH

    V. A SUNDAY VISIT

   VI. IN SUMMER WEATHER

  VII. FOR THE YEARS TO COME

 VIII. A GREAT CHANGE

   IX. AT DR. LESLIE'S

    X. ACROSS THE STREET

   XI. NEW OUTLOOKS

  XII. AGAINST THE WIND

 XIII. A STRAIGHT COURSE

  XIV. MISS PRINCE OF DUNPORT

   XV. HOSTESS AND GUEST

  XVI. A JUNE SUNDAY

 XVII. BY THE RIVER

XVIII. A SERIOUS TEA-DRINKING

  XIX. FRIEND AND LOVER

   XX. ASHORE AND AFLOAT

  XXI. AT HOME AGAIN

       *       *       *       *       *



I

THE LAST MILE


It had been one of the warm and almost sultry days which sometimes
come in November; a maligned month, which is really an epitome of the
other eleven, or a sort of index to the whole year's changes of storm
and sunshine. The afternoon was like spring, the air was soft and
damp, and the buds of the willows had been beguiled into swelling a
little, so that there was a bloom over them, and the grass looked as
if it had been growing green of late instead of fading steadily. It
seemed like a reprieve from the doom of winter, or from even November
itself.

The dense and early darkness which usually follows such unseasonable
mildness had already begun to cut short the pleasures of this
spring-like day, when a young woman, who carried a child in her arms,
turned from a main road of Oldfields into a foot-path which led
southward across the fields and pastures. She seemed sure of her way,
and kept the path without difficulty, though a stranger might easily
have lost it here and there, where it led among the patches of
sweet-fern or bayberry bushes, or through shadowy tracts of small
white-pines. She stopped sometimes to rest, and walked more and more
wearily, with increasing effort; but she kept on her way desperately,
as if it would not do to arrive much later at the place which she was
seeking. The child seemed to be asleep; it looked too heavy for so
slight a woman to carry.

The path led after a while to a more open country, there was a low
hill to be climbed, and at its top the slender figure stopped and
seemed to be panting for breath. A follower might have noticed that it
bent its head over the child's for a moment as it stood, dark against
the darkening sky. There had formerly been a defense against the
Indians on this hill, which in the daytime commanded a fine view of
the surrounding country, and the low earthworks or foundations of the
garrison were still plainly to be seen. The woman seated herself on
the sunken wall in spite of the dampness and increasing chill, still
holding the child, and rocking to and fro like one in despair. The
child waked and began to whine and cry a little in that strange,
lonely place, and after a few minutes, perhaps to quiet it, they went
on their way. Near the foot of the hill was a brook, swollen by the
autumn rains; it made a loud noise in the quiet pasture, as if it were
crying out against a wrong or some sad memory. The woman went toward
it at first, following a slight ridge which was all that remained of a
covered path which had led down from the garrison to the spring below
at the brookside. If she had meant to quench her thirst here, she
changed her mind, and suddenly turned to the right, following the
brook a short distance, and then going straight toward the river
itself and the high uplands, which by daylight were smooth pastures
with here and there a tangled apple-tree or the grassy cellar of a
long vanished farm-house.

It was night now; it was too late in the year for the chirp of any
insects; the moving air, which could hardly be called wind, swept over
in slow waves, and a few dry leaves rustled on an old hawthorn tree
which grew beside the hollow where a house had been, and a low sound
came from the river. The whole country side seemed asleep in the
darkness, but the lonely woman felt no lack of companionship; it was
well suited to her own mood that the world slept and said nothing to
her,--it seemed as if she were the only creature alive.

A little this side of the river shore there was an old burial place, a
primitive spot enough, where the graves were only marked by rough
stones, and the short, sheep-cropped grass was spread over departed
generations of the farmers and their wives and children. By day it was
in sight of the pine woods and the moving water, and nothing hid it
from the great sky overhead, but now it was like a prison walled about
by the barriers of night. However eagerly the woman had hurried to
this place, and with what purpose she may have sought the river bank,
when she recognized her surroundings she stopped for a moment, swaying
and irresolute. "No, no!" sighed the child plaintively, and she
shuddered, and started forward; then, as her feet stumbled among the
graves, she turned and fled. It no longer seemed solitary, but as if a
legion of ghosts which had been wandering under cover of the dark had
discovered this intruder, and were chasing her and flocking around her
and oppressing her from every side. And as she caught sight of a light
in a far-away farmhouse window, a light which had been shining after
her all the way down to the river, she tried to hurry toward it. The
unnatural strength of terror urged her on; she retraced her steps like
some pursued animal; she remembered, one after another, the fearful
stories she had known of that ancient neighborhood; the child cried,
but she could not answer it. She fell again and again, and at last all
her strength seemed to fail her, her feet refused to carry her farther
and she crept painfully, a few yards at a time, slowly along the
ground. The fear of her superhuman enemies had forsaken her, and her
only desire was to reach the light that shone from the looming shadow
of the house.

At last she was close to it; at last she gave one great sigh, and the
child fell from her grasp; at last she clutched the edge of the worn
doorstep with both hands, and lay still.



II

THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN


Indoors there was a cheerful company; the mildness of the evening had
enticed two neighbors of Mrs. Thacher, the mistress of the house, into
taking their walks abroad, and so, with their heads well protected by
large gingham handkerchiefs, they had stepped along the road and up
the lane to spend a social hour or two. John Thacher, their old
neighbor's son, was known to be away serving on a jury in the county
town, and they thought it likely that his mother would enjoy company.
Their own houses stood side by side. Mrs. Jacob Dyer and Mrs. Martin
Dyer were their names, and excellent women they were. Their husbands
were twin-brothers, curiously alike and amazingly fond of each other,
though either would have scorned to make any special outward
demonstration of it. They were spending the evening together in
brother Martin's house, and were talking over the purchase of a bit
of woodland, and the profit of clearing it, when their wives had left
them without any apology to visit Mrs. Thacher, as we have already
seen.

This was the nearest house and only a quarter of a mile away, and when
they opened the door they had found Mrs. Thacher spinning.

"I must own up, I am glad to see you more'n common," she said. "I
don't feel scary at being left sole alone; it ain't that, but I have
been getting through with a lonesome spell of another kind. John, he
does as well as a man can, but here I be,--here I be,"--and the good
woman could say no more, while her guests understood readily enough
the sorrow that had found no words.

"I suppose you haven't got no news from Ad'line?" asked Mrs. Martin
bluntly. "We was speaking of her as we come along, and saying it
seemed to be a pity she should'nt feel it was best to come back this
winter and help you through; only one daughter, and left alone as you
be, with the bad spells you are liable to in winter time--but there,
it ain't her way--her ambitions ain't what they should be, that's all
I can say."

"If she'd got a gift for anything special, now," continued Mrs. Jake,
"we should feel it was different and want her to have a chance, but
she's just like other folks for all she felt so much above farming. I
don't see as she can do better than come back to the old place, or
leastways to the village, and fetch up the little gal to be some use.
She might dressmake or do millinery work; she always had a pretty
taste, and 't would be better than roving. I 'spose 't would hurt her
pride,"--but Mrs. Thacher flushed at this, and Mrs. Martin came to the
rescue.

"You'll think we're reg'lar Job's comforters," cried the good soul
hastily, "but there, Mis' Thacher, you know we feel as if she was our
own. There ain't nothing I wouldn't do for Ad'line, sick or well, and
I declare I believe she'll pull through yet and make a piece of luck
that'll set us all to work praising of her. She's like to marry again
for all I can see, with her good looks. Folks always has their joys
and calamities as they go through the world."

Mrs. Thacher shook her head two or three times with a dismal
expression, and made no answer. She had pushed back the droning
wool-wheel which she had been using, and had taken her knitting from
the shelf by the clock and seated herself contentedly, while Mrs. Jake
and Mrs. Martin had each produced a blue yarn stocking from a
capacious pocket, and the shining steel needles were presently all
clicking together. One knitter after another would sheathe the spare
needle under her apron strings, while they asked each other's advice
from time to time about the propriety of "narrerin'" or whether it
were not best to "widden" according to the progress their respective
stockings had made. Mrs. Thacher had lighted an extra candle, and
replenished the fire, for the air was chillier since the sun went
down. They were all sure of a coming change of weather, and counted
various signs, Mrs. Thacher's lowness of spirits among the number,
while all three described various minor maladies from which they had
suffered during the day, and of which the unseasonable weather was
guilty.

"I can't get over the feeling that we are watchin' with somebody,"
said Mrs. Martin after a while, moved by some strange impulse and
looking over her shoulder, at which remark Mrs. Thacher glanced up
anxiously. "Something has been hanging over me all day," said she
simply, and at this the needles clicked faster than ever.

"We've been taking rather a low range," suggested Mrs. Jake. "We
shall get to telling over ghost stories if we don't look out, and I
for one shall be sca't to go home. By the way, I suppose you have
heard about old Billy Dow's experience night afore last, Mis'
Thacher?"

"John being away, I ain't had nobody to fetch me the news these few
days past," said the hostess. "Why what's happened to Billy now?"

The two women looked at each other: "He was getting himself home as
best he could,--he owned up to having made a lively evenin' of
it,--and I expect he was wandering all over the road and didn't know
nothin' except that he was p'inted towards home, an' he stepped off
from the high bank this side o' Dunnell's, and rolled down, over and
over; and when he come to there was a great white creatur' a-standin'
over him, and he thought 't was a ghost. 'T was higher up on the bank
than him, and it kind of moved along down's if 't was coming right on
to him, and he got on to his knees and begun to say his Ten
Commandments fast's he could rattle 'em out. He got 'em mixed up, and
when the boys heard his teeth a-chattering, they began to laugh and he
up an' cleared. Dunnell's boys had been down the road a piece and was
just coming home, an' 't was their old white hoss that had got out of
the barn, it bein' such a mild night, an' was wandering off. They said
to Billy that't wa'n't everybody could lay a ghost so quick as he
could, and they didn't 'spose he had the means so handy."

The three friends laughed, but Mrs. Thacher's face quickly lost its
smile and took back its worried look. She evidently was in no mood for
joking. "Poor Billy!" said she, "he was called the smartest boy in
school; I rec'lect that one of the teachers urged his folks to let him
go to college; but 't wa'n't no use; they hadn't the money and
couldn't get it, and 't wa'n't in him to work his way as some do. He's
got a master head for figur's. Folks used to get him to post books
you know,--but he's past that now. Good-natured creatur' as ever
stept; but he always was afeard of the dark,--'seems 's if I could see
him there a-repentin' and the old white hoss shakin' his head,"--and
she laughed again, but quickly stopped herself and looked over her
shoulder at the window.

"Would ye like the curtain drawed?" asked Mrs. Jake. But Mrs. Thacher
shook her head silently, while the gray cat climbed up into her lap
and laid down in a round ball to sleep.

"She's a proper cosset, ain't she?" inquired Mrs. Martin approvingly,
while Mrs. Jake asked about the candles, which gave a clear light. "Be
they the last you run?" she inquired, but was answered to the
contrary, and a brisk conversation followed upon the proper
proportions of tallow and bayberry wax, and the dangers of the
new-fangled oils which the village shop-keepers were attempting to
introduce. Sperm oil was growing more and more dear in price and
worthless in quality, and the old-fashioned lamps were reported to be
past their usefulness.

"I must own I set most by good candle light," said Mrs. Martin. "'T is
no expense to speak of where you raise the taller, and it's cheerful
and bright in winter time. In old times when the houses were draftier
they was troublesome about flickering, candles was; but land! think
how comfortable we live now to what we used to! Stoves is such a
convenience; the fire's so much handier. Housekeepin' don't begin to
be the trial it was once."

"I must say I like old-fashioned cookin' better than oven cookin',"
observed Mrs. Jake. "Seems to me's if the taste of things was all
drawed up chimbly. Be you going to do much for Thanksgivin', Mis'
Thacher? I 'spose not;" and moved by a sudden kind impulse, she added,
"Why can't you and John jine with our folks? 't wouldn't put us out,
and 'twill be lonesome for ye."

"'T won't be no lonesomer than last year was, nor the year before,"
and Mrs. Thacher's face quivered a little as she rose and took one of
the candles, and opened the trap door that covered the cellar stairs.
"Now don't ye go to makin' yourself work," cried the guests. "No,
don't! we ain't needin' nothin'; we was late about supper." But their
hostess stepped carefully down and disappeared for a few minutes,
while the cat hovered anxiously at the edge of the black pit.

"I forgot to ask ye if ye'd have some cider?" a sepulchral voice asked
presently; "but I don't know now's I can get at it. I told John I
shouldn't want any whilst he was away, and so he ain't got the spiggit
in yet," to which Mrs. Jake and Mrs. Martin both replied that they
were no hands for that drink, unless 't was a drop right from the
press, or a taste o' good hard cider towards the spring of the year;
and Mrs. Thacher soon returned with some slices of cake in a plate and
some apples held in her apron. One of her neighbors took the candle as
she reached up to put it on the floor, and when the trap door was
closed again all three drew up to the table and had a little feast.
The cake was of a kind peculiar to its maker, who prided herself upon
never being without it; and there was some trick of her hand or a
secret ingredient which was withheld when she responded with apparent
cheerfulness to requests for its recipe. As for the apples, they were
grown upon an old tree, one of whose limbs had been grafted with some
unknown variety of fruit so long ago that the history was forgotten;
only that an English gardener, many years before, had brought some
cuttings from the old country, and one of them had somehow come into
the possession of John Thacher's grandfather when grafted fruit was a
thing to be treasured and jealously guarded. It had been told that
when the elder Thacher had given away cuttings he had always stolen to
the orchards in the night afterward and ruined them. However, when the
family had grown more generous in later years it had seemed to be
without avail, for, on their neighbors' trees or their own, the
English apples had proved worthless. Whether it were some favoring
quality in that spot of soil or in the sturdy old native tree itself,
the rich golden apples had grown there, year after year, in
perfection, but nowhere else.

"There ain't no such apples as these, to my mind," said Mrs. Martin,
as she polished a large one with her apron and held it up to the
light, and Mrs. Jake murmured assent, having already taken a
sufficient first bite.

"There's only one little bough that bears any great," said Mrs.
Thacher, "but it's come to that once before, and another branch has
shot up and been likely as if it was a young tree."

The good souls sat comfortably in their splint-bottomed,
straight-backed chairs, and enjoyed this mild attempt at a festival.
Mrs. Thacher even grew cheerful and responsive, for her guests seemed
so light-hearted and free from care that the sunshine of their
presence warmed her own chilled and fearful heart. They embarked upon
a wide sea of neighborhood gossip and parish opinions, and at last
some one happened to speak again of Thanksgiving, which at once turned
the tide of conversation, and it seemed to ebb suddenly, while the
gray, dreary look once more overspread Mrs. Thacher's face.

"I don't see why you won't keep with our folks this year; you and
John," once more suggested Mrs. Martin. "'T ain't wuth while to be
making yourselves dismal here to home; the day'll be lonesome for you
at best, and you shall have whatever we've got and welcome."

"'T won't be lonesomer this year than it was last, nor the year
before that, and we've stood it somehow or 'nother," answered Mrs.
Thacher for the second time, while she rose to put more wood in the
stove. "Seems to me 't is growing cold; I felt a draught acrost my
shoulders. These nights is dreadful chill; you feel the damp right
through your bones. I never saw it darker than 't was last evenin'. I
thought it seemed kind o' stived up here in the kitchen, and I opened
the door and looked out, and I declare I couldn't see my hand before
me."

"It always kind of scares me these black nights," said Mrs. Jake Dyer.
"I expect something to clutch at me every minute, and I feel as if
some sort of a creatur' was travelin' right behind me when I am out
door in the dark. It makes it bad havin' a wanin' moon just now when
the fogs hangs so low. It al'ays seems to me as if 't was darker when
she rises late towards mornin' than when she's gone altogether. I do'
know why't is."

"I rec'lect once," Mrs. Thacher resumed, "when Ad'line was a baby and
John was just turned four year old, their father had gone down river
in the packet, and I was expectin' on him home at supper time, but he
didn't come; 't was late in the fall, and a black night as I ever see.
Ad'line was taken with something like croup, and I had an end o'
candle in the candlestick that I lighted, and 't wa'n't long afore it
was burnt down, and I went down cellar to the box where I kep' 'em,
and if you will believe it, the rats had got to it, and there wasn't a
week o' one left. I was near out anyway. We didn't have this
cook-stove then, and I cal'lated I could make up a good lively blaze,
so I come up full o' scold as I could be, and then I found I'd burnt
up all my dry wood. You see, I thought certain he'd be home and I was
tendin' to the child'n, but I started to go out o' the door and found
it had come on to rain hard, and I said to myself I wouldn't go out to
the woodpile and get my clothes all damp, 'count o' Ad'line, and the
candle end would last a spell longer, and he'd be home by that time. I
hadn't a least o' suspicion but what he was dallying round up to the
Corners, 'long o' the rest o' the men, bein' 't was Saturday night,
and I was some put out about it, for he knew the baby was sick, and I
hadn't nobody with me. I set down and waited, but he never come, and
it rained hard as I ever see it, and I left his supper standin' right
in the floor, and then I begun to be distressed for fear somethin' had
happened to Dan'l, and I set to work and cried, and the candle end
give a flare and went out, and by 'n' by the fire begun to get low and
I took the child'n and went to bed to keep warm; 't was an awful cold
night, considerin' 't was such a heavy rain, and there I laid awake
and thought I heard things steppin' about the room, and it seemed to
me as if 't was a week long before mornin' come, and as if I'd got to
be an old woman. I did go through with everything that night. 'T was
that time Dan'l broke his leg, you know; they was takin' a deck load
of oak knees down by the packet, and one on 'em rolled down from the
top of the pile and struck him just below the knee. He was poling, for
there wan't a breath o' wind, and he always felt certain there was
somethin' mysterious about it. He'd had a good deal worse knocks than
that seemed to be, as only left a black and blue spot, and he said he
never see a deck load o' timber piled securer. He had some queer
notions about the doin's o' sperits, Dan'l had; his old Aunt Parser
was to blame for it. She lived with his father's folks, and used to
fill him and the rest o' the child'n with all sorts o' ghost stories
and stuff. I used to tell him she'd a' be'n hung for a witch if she'd
lived in them old Salem days. He always used to be tellin' what
everything was the sign of, when we was first married, till I laughed
him out of it. It made me kind of notional. There's too much now we
can't make sense of without addin' to it out o' our own heads."

Mrs. Jake and Mrs. Martin were quite familiar with the story of the
night when there were no candles and Mr. Thacher had broken his leg,
having been present themselves early in the morning afterward, but
they had listened with none the less interest. These country neighbors
knew their friends' affairs as well as they did their own, but such an
audience is never impatient. The repetitions of the best stories are
signal events, for ordinary circumstances do not inspire them. Affairs
must rise to a certain level before a narration of some great crisis
is suggested, and exactly as a city audience is well contented with
hearing the plays of Shakespeare over and over again, so each man and
woman of experience is permitted to deploy their well-known but always
interesting stories upon the rustic stage.

"I must say I can't a-bear to hear anything about ghosts after
sundown," observed Mrs. Jake, who was at times somewhat troubled by
what she and her friends designated as "narves." "Day-times I don't
believe in 'em 'less it's something creepy more'n common, but after
dark it scares me to pieces. I do' know but I shall be afeared to go
home," and she laughed uneasily. "There! when I get through with this
needle I believe I won't knit no more. The back o' my neck is all
numb."

"Don't talk o' goin' home yet awhile," said the hostess, looking up
quickly as if she hated the thought of being left alone again. "'T is
just on the edge of the evenin'; the nights is so long now we think
it's bedtime half an hour after we've got lit up. 'T was a good lift
havin' you step over to-night. I was really a-dreadin' to set here by
myself," and for some minutes nobody spoke and the needles clicked
faster than ever. Suddenly there was a strange sound outside the door,
and they stared at each other in terror and held their breath, but
nobody stirred. This was no familiar footstep; presently they heard a
strange little cry, and still they feared to look, or to know what was
waiting outside. Then Mrs. Thacher took a candle in her hand, and,
still hesitating, asked once, "Who is there?" and, hearing no answer,
slowly opened the door.



III

AT JAKE AND MARTIN'S


In the mean time, the evening had been much enjoyed by the brothers
who were spending it together in Martin Dyer's kitchen. The houses
stood side by side, but Mr. Jacob Dyer's youngest daughter, the only
one now left at home, was receiving a visit from her lover, or, as the
family expressed it, the young man who was keeping company with her,
and her father, mindful of his own youth, had kindly withdrawn.
Martin's children were already established in homes of their own, with
the exception of one daughter who was at work in one of the cotton
factories at Lowell in company with several of her acquaintances. It
has already been said that Jake and Martin liked nobody's company so
well as their own. Their wives had a time-honored joke about being
comparatively unnecessary to their respective partners, and indeed the
two men had a curiously dependent feeling toward each other. It was
the close sympathy which twins sometimes have each to each, and had
become a byword among all their acquaintances. They were seldom
individualized in any way, and neither was able to distinguish
himself, apparently, for one always heard of the family as Jake and
Martin's folks, and of their possessions, from least to greatest, as
belonging to both brothers. The only time they had ever been separated
was once in their early youth, when Jake had been fired with a desire
to go to sea; but he deserted the coastwise schooner in the first port
and came home, because he could not bear it any longer without his
brother. Martin had no turn for seafaring, so Jake remained ashore and
patiently made a farmer of himself for love's sake, and in spite of a
great thirst for adventure that had never ceased to fever his blood.
It was astonishing how much they found to say to each other when one
considers that their experiences were almost constantly the same; but
nothing contented them better than an uninterrupted evening spent in
each other's society, and as they hoed corn or dug potatoes, or mowed,
or as they drove to the Corners, sitting stiffly upright in the
old-fashioned thorough-braced wagon, they were always to be seen
talking as if it were the first meeting after a long separation. But,
having taken these quiet times for the discussion of all possible and
impossible problems, they were men of fixed opinions, and were ready
at a moment's warning to render exact decisions. They were not fond of
society as a rule; they found little occasion for much talk with their
neighbors, but used as few words as possible. Nobody was more
respected than the brothers. It was often said of them that their word
was their bond, and as they passed from youth to middle age, and in
these days were growing to look like elderly men, they were free from
shame or reproach, though not from much good-natured joking and
friendly fun. Their farm had been owned in the family since the
settlement of the country, and the house which Martin occupied was
very old. Jake's had been built for him when he was married, from
timber cut in their own woodlands, and after thirty years of wear it
looked scarcely newer than its companion. And when it is explained
that they had married sisters, because, as people said, they even went
courting together, it will be easy to see that they had found life
more harmonious than most people do. Sometimes the wife of one brother
would complain that her sister enjoyed undue advantages and profits
from the estate, but there was rarely any disagreement, and Mrs. Jake
was mistress of the turkeys and Mrs. Martin held sway over the hens,
while they divided the spoils amiably at Thanksgiving time when the
geese were sold. If it were a bad year for turkeys, and the tender
young were chilled in the wet grass, while the hens flourished
steadily the season through, Mrs. Jake's spirits drooped and she
became envious of the good fortune which flaunted itself before her
eyes, but on the whole, they suffered and enjoyed together, and found
no fault with their destinies. The two wives, though the affection
between them was of an ordinary sort, were apt to form a league
against the brothers, and this prevented a more troublesome rivalry
which might have existed between the households.


Jake and Martin were particularly enjoying the evening. Some accident
had befallen the cooking-stove, which the brothers had never more than
half approved, it being one of the early patterns, and a poor exchange
for the ancient methods of cookery in the wide fireplace. "The women"
had had a natural desire to be equal with their neighbors, and knew
better than their husbands did the difference this useful invention
had made in their every-day work. However, this one night the
conservative brothers could take a mild revenge; and when their wives
were well on their way to Mrs. Thacher's they had assured each other
that, if the plaguey thing were to be carried to the Corners in the
morning to be exchanged or repaired, it would be as well to have it in
readiness, and had quickly taken down its pipes and lifted it as if it
were a feather to the neighboring woodshed. Then they hastily pried
away a fireboard which closed the great fireplace, and looked
smilingly upon the crane and its pothooks and the familiar iron dogs
which had been imprisoned there in darkness for many months. They
brought in the materials for an old-fashioned fire, backlog,
forestick, and crowsticks, and presently seated themselves before a
crackling blaze. Martin brought a tall, brown pitcher of cider from
the cellar and set two mugs beside it on the small table, and for some
little time they enjoyed themselves in silence, after which Jake
remarked that he didn't know but they'd got full enough of a fire for
such a mild night, but he wished his own stove and the new one too
could be dropped into the river for good and all.

They put the jug of cider between the andirons, and then, moved by a
common impulse, drew their chairs a little farther from the mounting
flames, before they quenched their thirst from the mugs.

"I call that pretty cider," said Martin; "'tis young yet, but it has
got some weight a'ready, and 'tis smooth. There's a sight o'
difference between good upland fruit and the sposhy apples that grows
in wet ground. An' I take it that the bar'l has an influence: some
bar'ls kind of wilt cider and some smarten it up, and keep it hearty.
Lord! what stuff some folks are willin' to set before ye! 'tain't wuth
the name o' cider, nor no better than the rensin's of a vinegar cask."

"And then there's weather too," agreed Mr. Jacob Dyer, "had ought to
be took into consideration. Git your apples just in the right
time--not too early to taste o' the tree, nor too late to taste o' the
ground, and just in the snap o' time as to ripeness', on a good sharp
day with the sun a-shining; have 'em into the press and what comes out
is _cider_. I think if we've had any fault in years past, 't was
puttin' off makin' a little too late. But I don't see as this could be
beat. I don't know's you feel like a pipe, but I believe I'll light
up," and thereupon a good portion of black-looking tobacco was cut and
made fine in each of the hard left hands, and presently the clay pipes
were touched off with a live coal, and great clouds of smoke might
have been seen to disappear under the edge of the fire-place, drawn
quickly up the chimney by the draft of the blazing fire.

Jacob pushed back his chair another foot or two, and Martin soon
followed, mentioning that it was getting hot, but it was well to keep
out the damp.

"What set the women out to go traipsin' up to Thacher's folks?"
inquired Jacob, holding his cider mug with one hand and drumming it
with the finger ends of the other.

"I had an idee that they wanted to find out if anything had been heard
about Ad'line's getting home for Thanksgiving," answered Martin,
turning to look shrewdly at his brother. "Women folks does suffer if
there's anything goin' on they can't find out about. 'Liza said she
was going to invite Mis' Thacher and John to eat a piece o' our big
turkey, but she didn't s'pose they'd want to leave. Curi's about
Ad'line, ain't it? I expected when her husband died she'd be right
back here with what she'd got; at any rate, till she'd raised the
child to some size. There'd be no expense here to what she'd have
elsewhere, and here's her ma'am beginnin' to age. She can't do what
she used to, John was tellin' of me; and I don't doubt 't 'as worn
upon her more'n folks thinks."

"I don't lay no great belief that John'll get home from court," said
Jacob Dyer. "They say that court's goin' to set till Christmas maybe;
there's an awful string o' cases on the docket. Oh, 't was you told
me, wa'n't it? Most like they'll let up for a couple o' days for
Thanksgivin', but John mightn't think't was wuth his while to travel
here and back again 'less he had something to do before winter shets
down. Perhaps they'll prevail upon the old lady, I wish they would,
I'm sure; but an only daughter forsakin' her so, 'twas most too bad of
Ad'line. She al'ays had dreadful high notions when she wa'n't no
more'n a baby; and, good conscience, how she liked to rig up when she
first used to come back from Lowell! Better ha' put her money out to
interest."

"I believe in young folks makin' all they can o' theirselves,"
announced Martin, puffing hard at his pipe and drawing a little
farther still from the fireplace, because the scorching red coals had
begun to drop beneath the forestick. "I've give my child'n the best
push forrard I could, an' you've done the same. Ad'line had a dreadful
cravin' to be somethin' more'n common; but it don't look as if she was
goin' to make out any great. 'Twas unfortunate her losin' of her
husband, but I s'pose you've heard hints that they wa'n't none too
equal-minded. She'd a done better to have worked on a while to Lowell
and got forehanded, and then married some likely young fellow and
settled down here, or to the Corners if she didn't want to farm it.
There was Jim Hall used to be hanging round, and she'd been full as
well off to-day if she'd took him, too. 'T ain't no use for folks to
marry one that's of another kind and belongs different. It's like two
fiddles that plays different tunes,--you can't make nothin' on't, no
matter if both on em's trying their best, 'less one on 'em beats the
other down entirely and has all the say, and ginerally 't is the worst
one does it. Ad'line's husband wa'n't nothin' to boast of from all we
can gather, but they didn't think alike about nothin'. She could 'a'
done well with him if there'd been more of _her_. I don't marvel his
folks felt bad: Ad'line didn't act right by 'em."

"Nor they by her," said the twin brother. "I tell ye Ad'line would
have done 'em credit if she'd been let. I seem to think how't was with
her; when she was there to work in the shop she thought 't would be
smart to marry him and then she'd be a lady for good and all. And all
there was of it, she found his folks felt put out and hurt, and
instead of pleasing 'em up and doing the best she could, she didn't
know no better than to aggravate 'em. She was wrong there, but I hold
to it that if they'd pleased her up a little and done well by her,
she'd ha' bloomed out, and fell right in with their ways. She's got
outward ambitions enough, but I view it she was all a part of his
foolishness to them; I dare say they give her the blame o' the whole
on't. Ad'line ought to had the sense to see they had some right on
their side. Folks say he was the smartest fellow in his class to
college."

"Good King Agrippy! how hot it does git," said Jake rising
indignantly, as if the fire alone were to blame. "I must shove back
the cider again or 't will bile over, spite of everything. But 't is
called unwholesome to get a house full o' damp in the fall o' the
year; 't will freeze an' thaw in the walls all winter. I must git me a
new pipe if we go to the Corners to-morrow. I s'pose I've told ye of a
pipe a man had aboard the schooner that time I went to sea?"

Martin gave a little grumble of assent.

"'Twas made o' some sort o' whitish stuff like clay, but 'twa'n't
shaped like none else I ever see and it had a silver trimmin' round
it; 'twas very light to handle and it drawed most excellent. I al'ays
kind o' expected he may have stole it; he was a hard lookin' customer,
a Dutchman or from some o' them parts o' the earth. I wish while I was
about it I'd gone one trip more."

"Was it you was tellin' me that Ad'line was to work again in Lowell? I
shouldn't think her husband's folks would want the child to be fetched
up there in them boardin' houses"--

"Belike they don't," responded Jacob, "but when they get Ad'line to
come round to their ways o' thinkin' now, after what's been and gone,
they'll have cause to thank themselves. She's just like her gre't
grandsir Thacher; you can see she's made out o' the same stuff. You
might ha' burnt him to the stake, and he'd stick to it he liked it
better'n hanging and al'ays meant to die that way. There's an awful
bad streak in them Thachers, an' you know it as well as I do. I expect
there'll be bad and good Thachers to the end o' time. I'm glad for the
old lady's sake that John ain't one o' the drinkin' ones. Ad'line'll
give no favors to her husband's folks, nor take none. There's plenty
o' wrongs to both sides, but as I view it, the longer he'd lived the
worse 't would been for him. She was a well made, pretty lookin' girl,
but I tell ye 't was like setting a laylock bush to grow beside an
ellum tree, and expecting of 'em to keep together. They wa'n't mates.
He'd had a different fetchin' up, and he _was_ different, and I wa'n't
surprised when I come to see how things had turned out,--I believe I
shall have to set the door open a half a minute, 't is gettin'
dreadful"--but there was a sudden flurry outside, and the sound of
heavy footsteps, the bark of the startled cur, who was growing very
old and a little deaf, and Mrs. Martin burst into the room and sank
into the nearest chair, to gather a little breath before she could
tell her errand. "For God's sake what's happened?" cried the men.

They presented a picture of mingled comfort and misery at which Mrs.
Martin would have first laughed and then scolded at any other time.
The two honest red faces were well back toward the farther side of the
room from the fire, which still held its own; it was growing toward
low tide in the cider jug and its attendant mugs, and the pipes were
lying idle. The mistress of the old farm-house did not fail to notice
that high treason had been committed during her short absence, but she
made no comment upon the fireplace nor on anything else, and gasped as
soon as she could that one of the men must go right up to the Corners
for the doctor and hurry back with him, for't was a case of life and
death.

"Mis' Thacher?" "Was it a shock?" asked the brothers in sorrowful
haste, while Mrs. Martin told the sad little story of Adeline's having
come from nobody knew where, wet and forlorn, carrying her child in
her arms. She looked as if she were in the last stages of a decline.
She had fallen just at the doorstep and they had brought her in,
believing that she was dead. "But while there's life, there's hope,"
said Mrs. Martin, "and I'll go back with you if you'll harness up.
Jacob must stop to look after this gre't fire or 'twill burn the
house down," and this was the punishment which befell Jacob, since
nothing else would have kept him from also journeying toward the
Thacher house.


A little later the bewildered horse had been fully wakened and
harnessed; Jacob's daughter and her lover had come eagerly out to hear
what had happened; Mrs. Martin had somehow found a chance amidst all
the confusion to ascend to her garret in quest of some useful remedies
in the shape of herbs, and then she and her husband set forth on their
benevolent errands. Martin was very apt to look on the dark side of
things, and it was a curious fact that while the two sisters were like
the brothers, one being inclined to despondency and one to enthusiasm,
the balance was well kept by each of the men having chosen his
opposite in temperament. Accordingly, while Martin heaved a great sigh
from time to time and groaned softly, "Pore gal--pore gal!" his
partner was brimful of zealous eagerness to return to the scene of
distress and sorrow which she had lately left. Next to the doctor
himself, she was the authority on all medical subjects for that
neighborhood, and it was some time since her skill had been needed.

"Does the young one seem likely?" asked Martin with solemn curiosity.

"Fur's I could see," answered his wife promptly, "but nobody took no
great notice of it. Pore Ad'line catched hold of it with such a grip
as she was comin' to that we couldn't git it away from her and had to
fetch'em in both to once. Come urge the beast along, Martin, I'll give
ye the partic'lars to-morrow, I do' know's Ad'line's livin' now. We
got her right to bed's I told you, and I set right off considerin'
that I could git over the ground fastest of any. Mis' Thacher of
course wouldn't leave and Jane's heavier than I be." Martin's smile
was happily concealed by the darkness; his wife and her sister had
both grown stout steadily as they grew older, but each insisted upon
the other's greater magnitude and consequent incapacity for quick
movement. A casual observer would not have been persuaded that there
was a pound's weight of difference between them.

Martin Dyer meekly suggested that perhaps he'd better go in a minute
to see if there was anything Mis' Thacher needed, but Eliza, his wife,
promptly said that she didn't want anything but the doctor as quick as
she could get him, and disappeared up the short lane while the wagon
rattled away up the road. The white mist from the river clung close to
the earth, and it was impossible to see even the fences near at hand,
though overhead there were a few dim stars. The air had grown somewhat
softer, yet there was a sharp chill in it, and the ground was wet and
sticky under foot. There were lights in the bedroom and in the kitchen
of the Thacher house, but suddenly the bedroom candle flickered away
and the window was darkened. Mrs. Martin's heart gave a quick throb,
perhaps Adeline had already died. It might have been a short-sighted
piece of business that she had gone home for her husband.



IV

LIFE AND DEATH


The sick woman had refused to stay in the bedroom after she had come
to her senses. She had insisted that she could not breathe, and that
she was cold and must go back to the kitchen. Her mother and Mrs. Jake
had wrapped her in blankets and drawn the high-backed wooden rocking
chair close to the stove, and here she was just established when Mrs.
Martin opened the outer door. Any one of less reliable nerves would
have betrayed the shock which the sight of such desperate illness must
have given. The pallor, the suffering, the desperate agony of the
eyes, were far worse than the calmness of death, but Mrs. Martin spoke
cheerfully, and even when her sister whispered that their patient had
been attacked by a hæmorrhage, she manifested no concern.

"How long has this be'n a-goin' on, Ad'line? Why didn't you come home
before and get doctored up? You're all run down." Mrs. Thacher looked
frightened when this questioning began, but turned her face toward her
daughter, eager to hear the answer.

"I've been sick off and on all summer," said the young woman, as if it
were almost impossible to make the effort of speaking. "See if the
baby's covered up warm, will you, Aunt 'Liza?"

"Yes, dear," said the kind-hearted woman, the tears starting to her
eyes at the sound of the familiar affectionate fashion of speech which
Adeline had used in her childhood. "Don't you worry one mite; we're
going to take care of you and the little gal too;" and then nobody
spoke, while the only sound was the difficult breathing of the poor
creature by the fire. She seemed like one dying, there was so little
life left in her after her piteous homeward journey. The mother
watched her eagerly with a mingled feeling of despair and comfort; it
was terrible to have a child return in such sad plight, but it was a
blessing to have her safe at home, and to be able to minister to her
wants while life lasted.

They all listened eagerly for the sound of wheels, but it seemed a
long time before Martin Dyer returned with the doctor. He had been
met just as he was coming in from the other direction, and the two men
had only paused while the tired horse was made comfortable, and a
sleepy boy dispatched with the medicine for which he had long been
waiting. The doctor's housekeeper had besought him to wait long enough
to eat the supper which she had kept waiting, but he laughed at her
and shook his head gravely, as if he already understood that there
should be no delay. When he was fairly inside the Thacher kitchen, the
benefaction of his presence was felt by every one. It was most
touching to see the patient's face lose its worried look, and grow
quiet and comfortable as if here were some one on whom she could
entirely depend. The doctor's greeting was an every-day cheerful
response to the women's welcome, and he stood for a minute warming his
hands at the fire as if he had come upon a commonplace errand. There
was something singularly self-reliant and composed about him; one felt
that he was the wielder of great powers over the enemies, disease and
pain, and that his brave hazel eyes showed a rare thoughtfulness and
foresight. The rough driving coat which he had thrown off revealed a
slender figure with the bowed shoulders of an untiring scholar. His
head was finely set and scholarly, and there was that about him which
gave certainty, not only of his sagacity and skill, but of his true
manhood, his mastery of himself. Not only in this farm-house kitchen,
but wherever one might place him, he instinctively took command, while
from his great knowledge of human nature he could understand and help
many of his patients whose ailments were not wholly physical. He
seemed to read at a glance the shame and sorrow of the young woman who
had fled to the home of her childhood, dying and worse than defeated,
from the battle-field of life. And in this first moment he recognized
with dismay the effects of that passion for strong drink which had
been the curse of more than one of her ancestors. Even the pallor and
the purifying influence of her mortal illness could not disguise these
unmistakable signs.

"You can't do me any good, doctor," she whispered. "I shouldn't have
let you come if it had been only that. I don't care how soon I am out
of this world. But I want you should look after my little girl," and
the poor soul watched the physician's face with keen anxiety as if
she feared to see a shadow of unwillingness, but none came.

"I will do the best I can," and he still held her wrist, apparently
thinking more of the fluttering pulse than of what poor Adeline was
saying.

"That was what made me willing to come back," she continued, "you
don't know how close I came to not doing it either. John will be good
to her, but she will need somebody that knows the world better by and
by. I wonder if you couldn't show me how to make out a paper giving
you the right over her till she is of age? She must stay here with
mother, long as she wants her. 'Tis what I wish I had kept sense
enough to do; life hasn't been all play to me;" and the tears began to
roll quickly down the poor creature's thin cheeks. "The only thing I
care about is leaving the baby well placed, and I want her to have a
good chance to grow up a useful woman. And most of all to keep her out
of _their_ hands, I mean her father's folks. I hate 'em, and he cared
more for 'em than he did for me, long at the last of it.... I could
tell you stories!"--

"But not to-night, Addy," said the doctor gravely, as if he were
speaking to a child. "We must put you to bed and to sleep, and you can
talk about all these troublesome things in the morning. You shall see
about the papers too, if you think best. Be a good girl now, and let
your mother help you to bed." For the resolute spirit had summoned the
few poor fragments of vitality that were left, and the sick woman was
growing more and more excited. "You may have all the pillows you wish
for, and sit up in bed if you like, but you mustn't stay here any
longer," and he gathered her in his arms and quickly carried her to
the next room. She made no resistance, and took the medicine which
Mrs. Martin brought, without a word. There was a blazing fire now in
the bedroom fire-place, and, as she lay still, her face took on a
satisfied, rested look. Her mother sat beside her, tearful, and yet
contented and glad to have her near, and the others whispered together
in the kitchen. It might have been the last night of a long illness
instead of the sudden, startling entrance of sorrow in human shape.
"No," said the doctor, "she cannot last much longer with such a cough
as that, Mrs. Dyer. She has almost reached the end of it. I only hope
that she will go quickly."

And sure enough; whether the fatal illness had run its natural course,
or whether the excitement and the forced strength of the evening
before had exhausted the small portion of strength that was left, when
the late dawn lighted again those who watched, it found them sleeping,
and one was never to wake again in the world she had found so
disappointing to her ambitions, and so untrue to its fancied promises.


The doctor had promised to return early, but it was hardly daylight
before there was another visitor in advance of him. Old Mrs. Meeker, a
neighbor whom nobody liked, but whose favor everybody for some reason
or other was anxious to keep, came knocking at the door, and was let
in somewhat reluctantly by Mrs. Jake, who was just preparing to go
home in order to send one or both the brothers to the village and to
acquaint John Thacher with the sad news of his sister's death. He was
older than Adeline, and a silent man, already growing to be elderly in
his appearance. The women had told themselves and each other that he
would take this sorrow very hard, and Mrs. Thacher had said
sorrowfully that she must hide her daughter's poor worn clothes, since
it would break John's heart to know she had come home so beggarly. The
shock of so much trouble was stunning the mother; she did not
understand yet, she kept telling the kind friends who sorrowed with
her, as she busied herself with the preparations for the funeral. "It
don't seem as if 'twas Addy," she said over and over again, "but I
feel safe about her now, to what I did," and Mrs. Jake and Mrs.
Martin, good helpful souls and brimful of compassion, went to and fro
with their usual diligence almost as if this were nothing out of the
common course of events.

Mrs. Meeker had heard the wagon go by and had caught the sound of the
doctor's voice, her house being close by the road, and she had also
watched the unusual lights. It was annoying to the Dyers to have to
answer questions, and to be called upon to grieve outwardly just then,
and it seemed disloyal to the dead woman in the next room to enter
upon any discussion of her affairs. But presently the little child,
whom nobody had thought of except to see that she still slept, waked
and got down from the old settle where she had spent the night, and
walked with unsteady short footsteps toward her grandmother, who
caught her quickly and held her fast in her arms. The little thing
looked puzzled, and frowned, and seemed for a moment unhappy, and then
the sunshine of her good nature drove away the clouds and she clapped
her hands and laughed aloud, while Mrs. Meeker began to cry again at
the sight of this unconscious orphan.

"I'm sure I'm glad she can laugh," said Mrs. Martin. "She'll find
enough to cry about later on; I foresee she'll be a great deal o'
company to you, Mis' Thacher."

"Though 't ain't every one that has the strength to fetch up a child
after they reach your years," said Mrs. Meeker, mournfully. "It's
anxious work, but I don't doubt strength will be given you. I s'pose
likely her father's folks will do a good deal for her,"--and the three
women looked at each other, but neither took it upon herself to
answer.

All that day the neighbors and acquaintances came and went in the lane
that led to the farm-house. The brothers Jake and Martin made journeys
to and from the village. At night John Thacher came home from court
with as little to say as ever, but, as everybody observed, looking
years older. Young Mrs. Prince's return and sudden death were the only
subjects worth talking about in all the country side, and the doctor
had to run the usual gauntlet of questions from all his outlying
patients and their families. Old Mrs. Thacher looked pale and excited,
and insisted upon seeing every one who came to the house, with evident
intention to play her part in this strange drama with exactness and
courtesy. A funeral in the country is always an era in a family's
life; events date from it and centre in it. There are so few
circumstances that have in the least a public nature that these
conspicuous days receive all the more attention.

But while death seems far more astonishing and unnatural in a city,
where the great tide of life rises and falls with little apparent
regard to the sinking wrecks, in the country it is not so. The
neighbors themselves are those who dig the grave and carry the dead,
whom they or their friends have made ready, to the last resting-place.
With all nature looking on,--the leaves that must fall, and the grass
of the field that must wither and be gone when the wind passes
over,--living closer to life and in plainer sight of death, they have
a different sense of the mysteries of existence. They pay homage to
Death rather than to the dead; they gather from the lonely farms by
scores because there is a funeral, and not because their friend is
dead; and the day of Adeline Prince's burial, the marvelous
circumstances, with which the whole town was already familiar, brought
a great company together to follow her on her last journey.

The day was warm and the sunshine fell caressingly over the pastures
as if it were trying to call back the flowers. By afternoon there was
a tinge of greenness on the slopes and under the gnarled apple-trees,
that had been lost for days before, and the distant hills and
mountains, which could be seen in a circle from the high land where
the Thacher farmhouse stood, were dim and blue through the Indian
summer haze. The old men who came to the funeral wore their faded
winter overcoats and clumsy caps all ready to be pulled down over
their ears if the wind should change; and their wives were also warmly
wrapped, with great shawls over their rounded, hard-worked shoulders;
yet they took the best warmth and pleasantness into their hearts, and
watched the sad proceedings of the afternoon with deepest interest.
The doctor came hurrying toward home just as the long procession was
going down the pasture, and he saw it crossing a low hill; a dark and
slender column with here and there a child walking beside one of the
elder mourners. The bearers went first with the bier; the track was
uneven, and the procession was lost to sight now and then behind the
slopes. It was forever a mystery; these people might have been a
company of Druid worshipers, or of strange northern priests and their
people, and the doctor checked his impatient horse as he watched the
retreating figures at their simple ceremony. He could not help
thinking what strange ways this child of the old farm had followed,
and what a quiet ending it was to her wandering life. "And I have
promised to look after the little girl," he said to himself as he
drove away up the road.

It was a long walk for the elderly people from the house near the main
highway to the little burying-ground. In the earliest days of the farm
the dwelling-place was nearer the river, which was then the chief
thoroughfare; and those of the family who had died then were buried on
the level bit of upland ground high above the river itself. There was
a wide outlook over the country, and the young pine trees that fringed
the shore sang in the south wind, while some great birds swung to and
fro overhead, watching the water and the strange company of people who
had come so slowly over the land. A flock of sheep had ventured to the
nearest hillock of the next pasture, and stood there fearfully, with
upraised heads, as if they looked for danger.

John Thacher had brought his sister's child all the way in his arms,
and she had clapped her hands and laughed aloud and tried to talk a
great deal with the few words she had learned to say. She was very gay
in her baby fashion; she was amused with the little crowd so long as
it did not trouble her. She fretted only when the grave, kind man, for
whom she had instantly felt a great affection, stayed too long by that
deep hole in the ground and wept as he saw a strange thing that the
people had carried all the way, put down into it out of sight. When he
walked on again, she laughed and played; but after they had reached
the empty gray house, which somehow looked that day as if it were a
mourner also, she shrank from all the strangers, and seemed dismayed
and perplexed, and called her mother eagerly again and again. This
touched many a heart. The dead woman had been more or less unfamiliar
of late years to all of them; and there were few who had really
grieved for her until her little child had reminded them of its own
loneliness and loss.

That night, after the house was still, John Thacher wrote to acquaint
Miss Prince, of Dunport, with his sister's death and to say that it
was her wish that the child should remain with them during its
minority. They should formally appoint the guardian whom she had
selected; they would do their best by the little girl. And when Mrs.
Thacher asked if he had blamed Miss Prince, he replied that he had
left that to her own conscience.

In the answer which was quickly returned, there was a plea for the
custody of the child, her mother's and her own namesake, but this was
indignantly refused. There was no love lost between the town and the
country household, and for many years all intercourse was at an end.
Before twelve months were past, John Thacher himself was carried down
to the pasture burying-ground, and his old mother and the little child
were left to comfort and take care of each other as best they could in
the lonely farm-house.



V

A SUNDAY VISIT


In the gray house on the hill, one spring went by and another, and it
seemed to the busy doctor only a few months from the night he first
saw his ward before she was old enough to come soberly to church with
her grandmother. He had always seen her from time to time, for he had
often been called to the farm or to the Dyers and had watched her at
play. Once she had stopped him as he drove by to give him a little
handful of blue violets, and this had gone straight to his heart, for
he had been made too great a bugbear to most children to look for any
favor at their hands. He always liked to see her come into church on
Sundays, her steps growing quicker and surer as her good grandmother's
became more feeble. The doctor was a lonely man in spite of his many
friends, and he found himself watching for the little brown face that,
half-way across the old meeting-house, would turn round to look for
him more than once during the service. At first there was only the top
of little Nan Prince's prim best bonnet or hood to be seen, unless it
was when she stood up in prayer-time, but soon the bright eyes rose
like stars above the horizon of the pew railing, and next there was
the whole well-poised little head, and the tall child was possessed by
a sense of propriety, and only ventured one or two discreet glances at
her old friend.

The office of guardian was not one of great tasks or of many duties,
though the child's aunt had insisted upon making an allowance for her
of a hundred dollars a year, and this was duly acknowledged and placed
to its owner's credit in the savings bank of the next town. Her
grandmother Thacher always refused to spend it, saying proudly that
she had never been beholden to Miss Prince and she never meant to be,
and while she lived the aunt and niece should be kept apart. She would
not say that her daughter had never been at fault, but it was through
the Princes all the trouble of her life had come.

Dr. Leslie was mindful of his responsibilities, and knew more of his
ward than was ever suspected. He was eager that the best district
school teacher who could be found should be procured for the Thacher
and Dyer neighborhood, and in many ways he took pains that the little
girl should have all good things that were possible. He only laughed
when her grandmother complained that Nan would not be driven to
school, much less persuaded, and that she was playing in the brook, or
scampering over the pastures when she should be doing other things.
Mrs. Thacher, perhaps unconsciously, had looked for some trace of the
father's good breeding and gentlefolk fashions, but this was not a
child who took kindly to needlework and pretty clothes. She was
fearlessly friendly with every one; she did not seem confused even
when the minister came to make his yearly parochial visitation, and as
for the doctor, he might have been her own age, for all humility she
thought it necessary to show in the presence of this chief among her
elders and betters. Old Mrs. Thacher gave little pulls at her
granddaughter's sleeves when she kept turning to see the doctor in
sermon-time, but she never knew how glad he was, or how willingly he
smiled when he felt the child's eyes watching him as a dog's might
have done, forcing him to forget the preaching altogether and to
attend to this dumb request for sympathy. One blessed day Dr. Leslie
had waited in the church porch and gravely taken the child's hand as
she came out; and said that he should like to take her home with him;
he was going to the lower part of the town late in the afternoon and
would leave her then at the farm-house.

"I was going to ask you for something for her shoulder," said
Grandmother Thacher, much pleased, "she'll tell you about it, it was a
fall she had out of an apple-tree,"--and Nan looked up with not a
little apprehension, but presently tucked her small hand inside the
doctor's and was more than ready to go with him. "I thought she looked
a little pale," the doctor said, to which Mrs. Thacher answered that
it was a merciful Providence who had kept the child from breaking her
neck, and then, being at the foot of the church steps, they separated.
It had been a great trial to the good woman to give up the afternoon
service, but she was growing old, as she told herself often in those
days, and felt, as she certainly looked, greatly older than her years.

"I feel as if Anna was sure of one good friend, whether I stay with
her or not," said the grandmother sorrowfully, as she drove toward
home that Sunday noon with Jacob Dyer and his wife. "I never saw the
doctor so taken with a child before. 'Twas a pity he had to lose his
own, and his wife too; how many years ago was it? I should think he'd
be lonesome, though to be sure he isn't in the house much. Marilla
Thomas keeps his house as clean as a button and she has been a good
stand-by for him, but it always seemed sort o' homesick there ever
since the day I was to his wife's funeral. She made an awful sight o'
friends considering she was so little while in the place. Well I'm
glad I let Nanny wear her best dress; I set out not to, it looked so
much like rain."

Whatever Marilla Thomas's other failings might have been, she
certainly was kind that day to the doctor's little guest. It would
have been a hard-hearted person indeed who did not enter somewhat into
the spirit of the child's delight. In spite of its being the first
time she had ever sat at any table but her grandmother's, she was not
awkward or uncomfortable, and was so hungry that she gave pleasure to
her entertainers in that way if no other. The doctor leaned back in
his chair and waited while the second portion of pudding slowly
disappeared, though Marilla could have told that he usually did not
give half time enough to his dinner and was off like an arrow the
first possible minute. Before he took his often interrupted afternoon
nap, he inquired for the damaged shoulder and requested a detailed
account of the accident; and presently they were both laughing
heartily at Nan's disaster, for she owned that she had chased and
treed a stray young squirrel, and that a mossy branch of one of the
old apple-trees in the straggling orchard had failed to bear even so
light a weight as hers. Nan had come to the ground because she would
not loose her hold of the squirrel, though he had slipped through her
hands after all as she carried him towards home. The guest was proud
to become a patient, especially as the only remedy that was offered
was a very comfortable handful of sugar-plums. Nan had never owned so
many at once, and in a transport of gratitude and affection she lifted
her face to kiss so dear a benefactor.

Her eyes looked up into his, and her simple nature was so unconscious
of the true dangers and perils of this world, that his very heart was
touched with compassion, and he leagued himself with the child's good
angel to defend her against her enemies.

And Nan took fast hold of the doctor's hand as they went to the study.
This was the only room in the house which she had seen before; and was
so much larger and pleasanter than any she knew elsewhere that she
took great delight in it. It was a rough place now, the doctor
thought, but always very comfortable, and he laid himself down on the
great sofa with a book in his hand, though after a few minutes he grew
sleepy and only opened his eyes once to see that Nan was perched in
the largest chair with her small hands folded, and her feet very far
from the floor. "You may run out to see Marilla, or go about the house
anywhere you like; or there are some picture-papers on the table," the
doctor said drowsily, and the visitor slipped down from her throne and
went softly away.

She had thought the study a very noble room until she had seen the
dining-room, but now she wished for another look at the pictures there
and the queer clock, and the strange, grand things on the sideboard.
The old-fashioned comfort of the house was perfect splendor to the
child, and she went about on tiptoe up stairs and down, looking in at
the open doors, while she lingered wistfully before the closed ones.
She wondered at the great bedsteads with their high posts and dimity
hangings, and at the carpets, and the worthy Marilla watched her for a
moment as she stood on the threshold of the doctor's own room. The
child's quick ear caught the rustle of the housekeeper's Sunday gown;
she whispered with shining eyes that she thought the house was
beautiful. Did Marilla live here all the time?

"Bless you, yes!" replied Marilla, not without pride, though she added
that nobody knew what a sight of care it was.

"I suppose y'r aunt in Dunport lives a good deal better than this;"
but the child only looked puzzled and did not answer, while the
housekeeper hurried away to the afternoon meeting, for which the bell
was already tolling.

The doctor slept on in the shaded study, and after Nan had grown tired
of walking softly about the house, she found her way into the garden.
After all, there was nothing better than being out of doors, and the
apple-trees seemed most familiar and friendly, though she pitied them
for being placed so near each other. She discovered a bench under a
trellis where a grape-vine and a clematis were tangled together, and
here she sat down to spend a little time before the doctor should call
her. She wished she could stay longer than that one short afternoon;
perhaps some time or other the doctor would invite her again. But what
could Marilla have meant about her aunt? She had no aunts except Mrs.
Jake and Mrs. Martin; Marilla must well know that their houses were
not like Dr. Leslie's; and little Nan built herself a fine castle in
Spain, of which this unknown aunt was queen. Certainly her grandmother
had now and then let fall a word about "your father's folks"--by and
by they might come to see her!

The grape leaves were waving about in the warm wind, and they made a
flickering light and shade upon the ground. The clematis was in bloom,
and its soft white plumes fringed the archway of the lattice work. As
the child looked down the garden walk it seemed very long and very
beautiful to her. Her grandmother's flower-garden had been constantly
encroached upon by the turf which surrounded it, until the snowberry
bush, the London pride, the tiger-lilies, and the crimson phlox were
like a besieged garrison.

Nan had already found plenty of wild flowers in the world; there were
no entertainments provided for her except those the fields and
pastures kindly spread before her admiring eyes. Old Mrs. Thacher had
been brought up to consider the hard work of this life, and though she
had taken her share of enjoyment as she went along, it was of a
somewhat grim and sober sort. She believed that a certain amount of
friskiness was as necessary to young human beings as it is to colts,
but later both must be harnessed and made to work. As for pleasure
itself she had little notion of that. She liked fair weather, and
certain flowers were to her the decorations of certain useful plants,
but if she had known that her grand-daughter could lie down beside the
anemones and watch them move in the wind and nod their heads, and
afterward look up into the blue sky to watch the great gulls above the
river, or the sparrows flying low, or the crows who went higher, Mrs.
Thacher would have understood almost nothing of such delights, and
thought it a very idle way of spending one's time.

But as Nan sat in the old summer-house in the doctor's garden, she
thought of many things that she must remember to tell her grandmother
about this delightful day. The bees were humming in the vines, and as
she looked down the wide garden-walk it seemed like the broad aisle in
church, and the congregation of plants and bushes all looked at her as
if she were in the pulpit. The church itself was not far away, and the
windows were open, and sometimes Nan could hear the preacher's voice,
and by and by the people began to sing, and she rose solemnly, as if
it were her own parishioners in the garden who lifted up their voices.
A cheerful robin began a loud solo in one of Dr. Leslie's
cherry-trees, and the little girl laughed aloud in her make-believe
meeting-house, and then the gate was opened and shut, and the doctor
himself appeared, strolling along, and smiling as he came.

He was looking to the right and left at his flowers and trees, and
once he stopped and took out his pocket knife to trim a straying
branch of honeysuckle, which had wilted and died. When he came to the
summer-house, he found his guest sitting there demurely with her hands
folded in her lap. She had gathered some little sprigs of box and a
few blossoms of periwinkle and late lilies of the valley, and they lay
on the bench beside her. "So you did not go to church with Marilla?"
the doctor said. "I dare say one sermon a day is enough for so small a
person as you." For Nan's part, no sermon at all would have caused
little sorrow, though she liked the excitement of the Sunday drive to
the village. She only smiled when the doctor spoke, and gave a little
sigh of satisfaction a minute afterward when he seated himself beside
her.

"We must be off presently," he told her. "I have a long drive to take
before night. I would let you go with me, but I am afraid I should
keep you too long past your bedtime."

The little girl looked in his kind face appealingly; she could not
bear to have the day come to an end. The doctor spoke to her as if she
were grown up and understood everything, and this pleased her. It is
very hard to be constantly reminded that one is a child, as if it were
a crime against society. Dr. Leslie, unlike many others, did not like
children because they were children; he now and then made friends with
one, just as he added now and then to his narrow circle of grown
friends. He felt a certain responsibility for this little girl, and
congratulated himself upon feeling an instinctive fondness for her.
The good old minister had said only that morning that love is the
great motive power, that it is always easy to do things for those whom
we love and wish to please, and for this reason we are taught to pray
for love to God, and so conquer the difficulty of holiness. "But I
must do my duty by her at any rate," the doctor told himself. "I am
afraid I have forgotten the child somewhat in past years, and she is a
bright little creature."

"Have you been taking good care of yourself?" he added aloud. "I was
very tired, for I was out twice in the night taking care of sick
people. But you must come to see me again some day. I dare say you and
Marilla have made friends with each other. Now we must go, I suppose,"
and Nan Prince, still silent,--for the pleasure of this time was
almost too great,--took hold of the doctor's outstretched hand, and
they went slowly up the garden walk together. As they drove slowly
down the street they met the people who were coming from church, and
the child sat up very straight in the old gig, with her feet on the
doctor's medicine-box, and was sure that everybody must be envying
her. She thought it was more pleasant than ever that afternoon, as
they passed through the open country outside the village; the fields
and the trees were marvelously green, and the distant river was
shining in the sun. Nan looked anxiously for the gray farmhouse for
two or three minutes before they came in sight of it, but at last it
showed itself, standing firm on the hillside. It seemed a long time
since she had left home in the morning, but this beautiful day was to
be one of the landmarks of her memory. Life had suddenly grown much
larger, and her familiar horizon had vanished and she discovered a
great distance stretching far beyond the old limits. She went gravely
into the familiar kitchen, holding fast the bits of box and the
periwinkle flowers, quite ready to answer her grandmother's questions,
though she was only too certain that it would be impossible to tell
any one the whole dear story of that June Sunday.

A little later, as Marilla came sedately home, she noticed in the
driveway some fresh hoofmarks which pointed toward the street, and
quickly assured herself that they could not have been made very long
before. "I wonder what the two of 'em have been doing all the
afternoon?" she said to herself. "She's a little lady, that child is;
and it's a burnin' shame she should be left to run wild. I never set
so much by her mother's looks as some did, but growin' things has
blooms as much as they have roots and prickles--and even them Thachers
will flower out once in a while."



VI

IN SUMMER WEATHER


One morning Dr. Leslie remembered an old patient whom he liked to go
to see now and then, perhaps more from the courtesy and friendliness
of the thing than from any hope of giving professional assistance. The
old sailor, Captain Finch, had long before been condemned as
unseaworthy, having suffered for many years from the effects of a bad
fall on shipboard. He was a cheerful and wise person, and the doctor
was much attached to him, besides knowing that he had borne his
imprisonment with great patience, for his life on one of the most
secluded farms of the region, surrounded by his wife's kinsfolk, who
were all landsmen, could hardly be called anything else. The doctor
had once made a voyage to Fayal and from thence to England in a
sailing-vessel, having been somewhat delicate in health in his younger
days, and this made him a more intelligent listener to the captain's
stories than was often available.

Dr. Leslie had brought his case of medicines from mere force of habit,
but by way of special prescription he had taken also a generous
handful of his best cigars, and wrapped them somewhat clumsily in one
of the large sheets of letter-paper which lay on his study table near
by. Also he had stopped before the old sideboard in the carefully
darkened dining-room, and taken a bottle of wine from one of its
cupboards. "This will do him more good than anything, poor old
fellow," he told himself, with a sudden warmth in his own heart and a
feeling of grateful pleasure because he had thought of doing the
kindness.

Marilla called eagerly from the kitchen window to ask where he was
going, putting her hand out hastily to part the morning-glory vines,
which had climbed their strings and twisted their stems together until
they shut out the world from their planter's sight. But the doctor
only answered that he should be back at dinner time, and settled
himself comfortably in his carriage, smiling as he thought of
Marilla's displeasure. She seldom allowed a secret to escape her, if
she were once fairly on the scent of it, though she grumbled now, and
told herself that she only cared to know for the sake of the people
who might come, or to provide against the accident of his being among
the missing in case of sudden need. She found life more interesting
when there was even a small mystery to be puzzled over. It was
impossible for Dr. Leslie to resist teasing his faithful hand-maiden
once in a while, but he did it with proper gravity and respect, and
their friendship was cemented by these sober jokes rather than torn
apart.

The horse knew as well as his master that nothing of particular
importance was in hand, and however well he always caught the spirit
of the occasion when there was need for hurry, he now jogged along the
road, going slowly where the trees cast a pleasant shade, and paying
more attention to the flies than to anything else. The doctor seemed
to be in deep thought, and old Major understood that no notice was to
be taken of constant slight touches of the whip which his master held
carelessly. It had been hot, dusty weather until the day and night
before, when heavy showers had fallen; the country was looking fresh,
and the fields and trees were washed clean at last from the white dust
that had powdered them and given the farms a barren and discouraged
look.

They had come in sight of Mrs. Thacher's house on its high hillside,
and were just passing the abode of Mrs. Meeker, which was close by the
roadside in the low land. This was a small, weather-beaten dwelling,
and the pink and red hollyhocks showed themselves in fine array
against its gray walls. Its mistress's prosaic nature had one most
redeeming quality in her love for flowers and her gift in making them
grow, and the doctor forgave her many things for the sake of the
bright little garden in the midst of the sandy lands which surrounded
her garden with their unshaded barrenness. The road that crossed these
was hot in summer and swept by bitter winds in winter. It was like a
bit of desert dropped by mistake among the green farms and spring-fed
forests that covered the rest of the river uplands.

No sentinel was ever more steadfast to his duty in time of war and
disorder than Mrs. Meeker, as she sat by the front window, from which
she could see some distance either way along the crooked road. She was
often absent from her own house to render assistance of one sort or
another among her neighbors, but if she were at home it was impossible
for man, woman, or child to go by without her challenge or careful
inspection. She made couriers of her neighbors, and sent these errand
men and women along the country roads or to the village almost daily.
She was well posted in the news from both the village and the country
side, and however much her acquaintances scolded about her, they found
it impossible to resist the fascination of her conversation, and few
declined to share in the banquet of gossip which she was always ready
to spread. She was quick witted, and possessed of many resources and
much cleverness of a certain sort; but it must be confessed that she
had done mischief in her day, having been the murderer of more than
one neighbor's peace of mind and the assailant of many a reputation.
But if she were a dangerous inmate of one's household, few were so
attractive or entertaining for the space of an afternoon visit, and it
was usually said, when she was seen approaching, that she would be
sure to have something to tell. Out in the country, where so many
people can see nothing new from one week's end to the other, it is,
after all, a great pleasure to have the latest particulars brought to
one's door, as a townsman's newspaper is.

Mrs. Meeker knew better than to stop Dr. Leslie if he were going
anywhere in a hurry; she had been taught this lesson years ago; but
when she saw him journeying in such a leisurely way some instinct
assured her of safety, and she came out of her door like a
Jack-in-the-box, while old Major, only too ready for a halt, stood
still in spite of a desperate twitch of the reins, which had as much
effect as pulling at a fish-hook which has made fast to an anchor.
Mrs. Meeker feigned a great excitement.

"I won't keep you but a moment," she said, "but I want to hear what
you think about Mis' Thacher's chances."

"Mrs. Thacher's?" repeated the doctor, wonderingly.

"She's doing well, isn't she? I don't suppose that she will ever be a
young woman again."

"I don't know why, but I took it for granted that you was goin'
there," explained Mrs. Meeker, humbly. "She has seemed to me as if she
was failing all summer. I was up there last night, and I never said so
to her, but she had aged dreadfully. I wonder if it's likely she's had
a light shock? Sometimes the fust one's kind o' hidden; comes by night
or somethin', and folks don't know till they begins to feel the damage
of it."

"She hasn't looked very well of late," said the doctor. For once in
his life he was willing to have a friendly talk, Mrs. Meeker thought,
and she proceeded to make the most of her opportunity.

"I think the care of that girl of Ad'line's has been too much for her
all along," she announced, "she's wild as a hawk, and a perfect
torment. One day she'll come strollin' in and beseechin' me for a
bunch o' flowers, and the next she'll be here after dark scarin' me
out o' my seven senses. She rigged a tick-tack here the other night
against the window, and my heart was in my mouth. I thought 'twas a
warnin' much as ever I thought anything in my life; the night before
my mother died 'twas in that same room and against that same winder
there came two or three raps, and my sister Drew and me we looked at
each other, and turned cold all over, and mother set right up in bed
the next night and looked at that winder and then laid back dead. I
was all sole alone the other evenin',--Wednesday it was,--and when I
heard them raps I mustered up, and went and put my head out o' the
door, and I couldn't see nothing, and when I went back, knock--knock,
it begun again, and I went to the door and harked. I hoped I should
hear somebody or 'nother comin' along the road, and then I heard
somethin' a rus'lin' amongst the sunflowers and hollyhocks, and then
there was a titterin', and come to find out 'twas that young one. I
chased her up the road till my wind give out, and I had to go and set
on the stone wall, and come to. She won't go to bed till she's a mind
to. One night I was up there this spring, and she never come in until
after nine o'clock, a dark night, too; and the pore old lady was in
distress, and thought she'd got into the river. I says to myself there
wa'n't no such good news. She told how she'd be'n up into Jake an'
Martin's oaks, trying to catch a little screech owl. She belongs with
wild creatur's, I do believe,--just the same natur'. She'd better be
kept to school, 'stead o' growin' up this way; but she keeps the rest
o' the young ones all in a brile, and this last teacher wouldn't have
her there at all. She'd toll off half the school into the pasture at
recess time, and none of 'em would get back for half an hour."

"What's a tick-tack? I don't remember," asked the doctor, who had been
smiling now and then at this complaint.

"They tie a nail to the end of a string, and run it over a bent pin
stuck in the sash, and then they get out o' sight and pull, and it
clacks against the winder, don't ye see? Ain't it surprisin' how them
devil's tricks gets handed down from gineration to gineration, while
so much that's good is forgot," lamented Mrs. Meeker, but the doctor
looked much amused.

"She's a bright child," he said, "and not over strong. I don't believe
in keeping young folks shut up in the schoolhouses all summer long."

Mrs. Meeker sniffed disapprovingly. "She's tougher than ellum roots. I
believe you can't kill them peakèd-looking young ones. She'll run like
a fox all day long and live to see us all buried. I can put up with
her pranks; 't is of pore old Mis' Thacher I'm thinkin'. She's had
trouble enough without adding on this young 'scape-gallows. You had
better fetch her up to be a doctor," Mrs. Meeker smilingly continued,
"I was up there yisterday, and one of the young turkeys had come
hoppin' and quawkin' round the doorsteps with its leg broke, and she'd
caught it and fixed it off with a splint before you could say Jack
Robi'son. She told how it was the way you'd done to Jim Finch that
fell from the hay-rigging and broke his arm over to Jake an' Martin's,
haying time."

"I remember she was standing close by, watching everything I did,"
said the doctor, his face shining with interest and pleasure. "I
shall have to carry her about for clerk. Her father studied medicine
you know. It is the most amazing thing how people inherit"--but he did
not finish his sentence and pulled the reins so quickly that the wise
horse knew there was no excuse for not moving forward.

Mrs. Meeker had hoped for a longer interview. "Stop as you come back,
won't you?" she asked. "I'm goin' to pick you some of the handsomest
poppies I ever raised. I got the seed from my sister-in-law's cousin,
she that was 'Miry Gregg, and they do beat everything. They wilt so
that it ain't no use to pick 'em now, unless you was calc'latin' to
come home by the other road. There's nobody sick about here, is
there?" to which the doctor returned a shake of the head and the
information that he should be returning that way about noon. As he
drove up the hill he assured himself with great satisfaction that he
believed he hadn't told anything that morning which would be repeated
all over town before night, while his hostess returned to her house
quite dissatisfied with the interview, though she hoped for better
fortune on Dr. Leslie's return.

For his part, he drove on slowly past the Thacher farmhouse, looking
carefully about him, and sending a special glance up the lane in
search of the invalid turkey. "I should like to see how she managed
it," he told himself half aloud. "If she shows a gift for such things
I'll take pains to teach her a lesson or two by and by when she is
older.... Come Major, don't go to sleep on the road!" and in a few
minutes the wagon was out of sight, if the reader had stood in the
Thacher lane, instead of following the good man farther on his errand
of mercy and good fellowship.


At that time in the morning most housekeepers were busy in their
kitchens, but Mrs. Thacher came to stand in her doorway, and shaded
her forehead and eyes with her hand from the bright sunlight, as she
looked intently across the pastures toward the river. She seemed
anxious and glanced to and fro across the fields, and presently she
turned quickly at the sound of a footstep, and saw her young
grand-daughter coming from the other direction round the corner of the
house. The child was wet and a little pale, though she evidently had
been running.

"What have you been doin' now?" asked the old lady fretfully. "I won't
have you gettin' up in the mornin' before I am awake and stealin' out
of the house. I think you are drowned in the river or have broken your
neck fallin' out of a tree. Here it is after ten o'clock. I've a mind
to send you to bed, Nanny; who got you out of the water, for in it
you've been sure enough?"

"I got out myself," said the little girl. "It was deep, though," and
she began to cry, and when she tried to cover her eyes with her
already well-soaked little apron, she felt quite broken-hearted and
unnerved, and sat down dismally on the doorstep.

"Come in, and put on a dry dress," said her grandmother, not unkindly;
"that is, if there's anything but your Sunday one fit to be seen. I've
told you often enough not to go playin' in the river, and I've wanted
you more than common to go out to Jake and Martin's to borrow me a
little cinnamon. You're a real trial this summer. I believe the bigger
you are the worse you are. Now just say what you've been about. I
declare I shall have to go and have a talk with the doctor, and he'll
scold you well. I'm gettin' old and I can't keep after you; you ought
to consider me some. You'll think of it when you see me laying dead,
what a misery you've be'n. No schoolin' worth namin';" grumbled Mrs.
Thacher, as she stepped heavily to and fro in the kitchen, and the
little girl disappeared within the bed-room. In a few minutes,
however, her unusual depression was driven away by the comfort of dry
garments, and she announced triumphantly that she had found a whole
flock of young wild ducks, and that she had made a raft and chased
them about up and down the river, until the raft had proved
unseaworthy, and she had fallen through into the water. Later in the
day somebody came from the Jake and Martin homesteads to say that
there must be no more pulling down of the ends of the pasture fences.
The nails had easily let go their hold of the old boards, and a stone
had served our heroine for a useful shipwright's hammer, but the
young cattle had strayed through these broken barriers and might have
done great damage if they had been discovered a little later,--having
quickly hied themselves to a piece of carefully cultivated land. The
Jake and Martin families regarded Nan with a mixture of dread and
affection. She was bringing a new element into their prosaic lives,
and her pranks afforded them a bit of news almost daily. Her
imagination was apt to busy itself in inventing tales of her unknown
aunt, with which she entertained a grandchild of Martin Dyer, a little
girl of nearly her own age. It seemed possible to Nan that any day a
carriage drawn by a pair of prancing black horses might be seen
turning up the lane, and that a lovely lady might alight and claim her
as her only niece. Why this event had not already taken place the
child never troubled herself to think, but ever since Marilla had
spoken of this aunt's existence, the dreams of her had been growing
longer and more charming, until she seemed fit for a queen, and her
unseen house a palace. Nan's playmate took pleasure in repeating these
glowing accounts to her family, and many were the head-shakings and
evil forebodings over the untruthfulness of the heroine of this story.
Little Susan Dyer's only aunt, who was well known to her, lived as
other people did in a comparatively plain and humble house, and it was
not to be wondered at that she objected to hearing continually of an
aunt of such splendid fashion. And yet Nan tried over and over again
to be in some degree worthy of the relationship. She must not be too
unfit to enter upon more brilliant surroundings whenever the time
should come,--she took care that her pet chickens and her one doll
should have high-sounding names, such as would seem proper to the
aunt, and, more than this, she took a careful survey of the house
whenever she was coming home from school or from play, lest she might
come upon her distinguished relative unawares. She had asked her
grandmother more than once to tell her about this mysterious
kinswoman, but Mrs. Thacher proved strangely uncommunicative, fearing
if she answered one easy question it might involve others that were
more difficult.

The good woman grew more and more anxious to fulfil her duty to this
troublesome young housemate; the child was strangely dear and
companionable in spite of her frequent naughtiness. It seemed, too, as
if she could do whatever she undertook, and as if she had a power
which made her able to use and unite the best traits of her ancestors,
the strong capabilities which had been illy balanced or allowed to run
to waste in others. It might be said that the materials for a fine
specimen of humanity accumulate through several generations, until a
child appears who is the heir of all the family wit and attractiveness
and common sense, just as one person may inherit the worldly wealth of
his ancestry.



VII

FOR THE YEARS TO COME


Late one summer afternoon Dr. Leslie was waked from an unusually long
after-dinner nap by Marilla's footsteps along the hall. She remained
standing in the doorway, looking at him for a provoking length of
time, and finally sneezed in her most obtrusive and violent manner. At
this he sat up quickly and demanded to be told what was the matter,
adding that he had been out half the night before, which was no news
to the faithful housekeeper.

"There, I'm sure I didn't mean to wake you up," she said, with an
apparent lack of self-reproach. "I never can tell whether you are
asleep or only kind of drowsin'. There was a boy here just now from
old Mis' Cunningham's over on the b'ilin' spring road. They want you
to come over quick as convenient. She don't know nothin', the boy
said."

"Never did," grumbled the doctor. "I'll go, toward night, but I can't
do her any good."

"An' Mis' Thacher is out here waitin' too, but she says if you're busy
she'll go along to the stores and stop as she comes back. She looks to
me as if she was breakin' up," confided Marilla in a lower tone.

"Tell her I'm ready now," answered the doctor in a more cordial tone,
and though he said half to himself and half to Marilla that here was
another person who expected him to cure old age, he spoke
compassionately, and as if his heart were heavy with the thought of
human sorrow and suffering. But he greeted Mrs. Thacher most
cheerfully, and joked about Marilla's fear of a fly, as he threw open
the blinds of the study window which was best shaded from the sun.

Mrs. Thacher did indeed look changed, and the physician's quick eyes
took note of it, and, as he gathered up some letters and newspapers
which had been strewn about just after dinner, he said kindly that he
hoped she had no need of a doctor. It was plain that the occasion
seemed an uncommon one to her. She wore her best clothes, which would
not have been necessary for one of her usual business trips to the
village, and it seemed to be difficult for her to begin her story. Dr.
Leslie, taking a purely professional view of the case, began to
consider what form of tonic would be most suitable, whether she had
come to ask for one or not.

"I want to have a good talk with you about the little gell; Nanny, you
know;" she said at last, and the doctor nodded, and, explaining that
there seemed to be a good deal of draught through the room, crossed
the floor and gently shut the door which opened into the hall. He
smiled a little as he did it, having heard the long breath outside
which was the not unfamiliar signal of Marilla's presence. If she were
curious, she was a discreet keeper of secrets, and the doctor had more
than once indulged her in her sinful listening by way of friendliness
and reward. But this subject promised to concern his own affairs too
closely, and he became wary of the presence of another pair of ears.
He was naturally a man of uncommon reserve, and most loyal in keeping
his patients' secrets. If clergymen knew their congregations as well
as physicians do, the sermons would be often more closely related to
the parish needs. It was difficult for the world to understand why,
when Dr. Leslie was anything but prone to gossip, Marilla should have
been possessed of such a wealth of knowledge of her neighbors'
affairs. Strange to say this wealth was for her own miserly pleasure
and not to be distributed, and while she often proclaimed with
exasperating triumph that she had known for months some truth just
discovered by others, she was regarded by her acquaintances as if she
were a dictionary written in some foreign language; immensely
valuable, but of no practical use to themselves. It was sometimes
difficult not to make an attempt to borrow from her store of news, but
nothing delighted her more than to be so approached, and to present
impenetrable barriers of discretion to the enemy.

"How is Nanny getting on?" the doctor asked. "She looks stronger than
she did a year ago."

"Dear me, she's wild as ever," answered Mrs. Thacher, trying to smile;
"but I've been distressed about her lately, night and day. I thought
perhaps I might see you going by. She's gettin' to be a great girl,
doctor, and I ain't fit to cope with her. I find my strength's
a-goin', and I'm old before my time; all my folks was rugged and sound
long past my age, but I've had my troubles--you don't need I should
tell you that! Poor Ad'line always give me a feelin' as if I was a hen
that has hatched ducks. I never knew exactly how to do for her, she
seemed to see everything so different, and Lord only knows how I worry
about her; and al'ays did, thinkin' if I'd seen clearer how to do my
duty her life might have come out sort of better. And it's the same
with little Anna; not that she's so prone to evil as some; she's a
lovin'-hearted child if ever one was born, but she's a piece o'
mischief; and it may come from her father's folks and their ways o'
livin', but she's made o' different stuff, and I ain't fit to make
answer for her, or for fetchin' of her up. I come to ask if you won't
kindly advise what's best for her. I do' know's anything's got to be
done for a good spell yet. I mind what you say about lettin' her run
and git strong, and I don't check her. Only it seemed to me that you
might want to speak about her sometimes and not do it for fear o'
wronging my judgment. I declare I haven't no judgment about what's
reasonable for her, and you're her guardeen, and there's the money her
father's sister has sent her; 't would burn my fingers to touch a cent
of it, but by and by if you think she ought to have schoolin' or
anything else you must just say so."

"I think nothing better could have been done for the child than you
have done," said Dr. Leslie warmly. "Don't worry yourself, my good
friend. As for books, she will take to them of her own accord quite
soon enough, and in such weather as this I think one day in the fields
is worth five in the school-house. I'll do the best I can for her."

Mrs. Thacher's errand had not yet been told, though she fumbled in her
pocket and walked to the open window to look for the neighbor's wagon
by which she was to find conveyance home, before she ventured to say
anything more. "I don't know's my time'll come for some years yet,"
she said at length, falteringly, "but I have had it borne in upon my
mind a good many ways this summer that I ain't going to stay here a
gre't while. I've been troubled considerable by the same complaints
that carried my mother off, and I'm built just like her. I don't feel
no concern for myself, but it's goin' to leave the child without
anybody of her own to look to. There's plenty will befriend her just
so long as she's got means, and the old farm will sell for something
besides what she's got already, but that ain't everything, and I can't
seem to make up my mind to havin' of her boarded about. If 't was so
your wife had lived I should know what I'd go down on my knees to her
to do, but I can't ask it of you to be burdened with a young child
a-growin' up."

The doctor listened patiently, though just before this he had risen
and begun to fill a small bottle at the closet shelves, which were
stocked close to their perilous edges with various drugs. Without
turning to look at his patient he said, "I wish you would take five or
six drops of this three times a day, and let me see you again within a
week or two." And while the troubled woman turned to look at him with
half-surprise, he added, "Don't give yourself another thought about
little Nan. If anything should happen to you, I shall be glad to bring
her here, and to take care of her as if she were my own. I always have
liked her, and it will be as good for me as for her. I would not
promise it for any other child, but if you had not spoken to-day, I
should have found a way to arrange with you the first chance that
came. But I'm getting to be an old fellow myself," he laughed. "I
suppose if I get through first you will be friendly to Marilla?" and
Mrs. Thacher let a faint sunbeam of a smile shine out from the depths
of the handkerchief with which she was trying to stop a great shower
of tears. Marilla was not without her little vanities, and being
thought youthful was one of the chief desires of her heart.

So Mrs. Thacher went away lighter hearted than she came. She asked the
price of the vial of medicine, and was answered that they would talk
about that another time; then there was a little sober joking about
certain patients who never paid their doctor's bills at all because of
a superstition that they would immediately require his aid again. Dr.
Leslie stood in his study doorway and watched her drive down the
street with Martin Dyer. It seemed to him only a year or two since
both the man and woman had been strong and vigorous; now they both
looked shrunken, and there was a wornness and feebleness about the
bodies which had done such good service. "Come and go," said the
doctor to himself, "one generation after another. Getting old! all the
good old-fashioned people on the farms: I never shall care so much to
be at the beck and call of their grandchildren, but I must mend up
these old folks and do the best I can for them as long as they stay;
they're good friends to me. Dear me, how it used to fret me when I was
younger to hear them always talking about old Doctor Wayland and what
he used to do; and here I am the old doctor myself!" And then he went
down the gravel walk toward the stable with a quick, firm step, which
many a younger man might have envied, to ask for a horse. "You may
saddle him," he directed. "I am only going to old Mrs. Cunningham's,
and it is a cool afternoon."

Dr. Leslie had ridden less and less every year of his practice; but,
for some reason best known to himself, he went down the village street
at a mad pace. Indeed, almost everybody who saw him felt that it was
important to go to the next house to ask if it were known for what
accident or desperate emergency he had been called away.



VIII

A GREAT CHANGE


Until the autumn of this year, life had seemed to flow in one steady,
unchanging current. The thought had not entered little Nan Prince's
head that changes might be in store for her, for, ever since she could
remember, the events of life had followed each other quietly, and
except for the differences in every-day work and play, caused by the
succession of the seasons, she was not called upon to accommodate
herself to new conditions. It was a gentle change at first: as the
days grew shorter and the house and cellar were being made ready for
winter, her grandmother seemed to have much more to do than usual, and
Nan must stay at home to help. She was growing older at any rate; she
knew how to help better than she used; she was anxious to show her
grandmother how well she could work, and as the river side and the
windy pastures grew less hospitable, she did not notice that she was
no longer encouraged to go out to play for hours together to amuse
herself as best she might, and at any rate keep out of the way. It
seemed natural enough now that she should stay in the house, and be
entrusted with some regular part of the business of keeping it. For
some time Mrs. Thacher had kept but one cow, and early in November,
after a good offer for old Brindle had been accepted, it was announced
to Nan's surprise that the young cow which was to be Brindle's
successor need not be bought until spring; she would be a great care
in winter time, and Nan was to bring a quart of milk a day from Jake
and Martin's. This did not seem an unpleasant duty while the mild
weather lasted; if there came a rainy day, one of the kind neighbors
would leave the little pail on his way to the village before the young
messenger had started out.

Nan could not exactly understand at last why Mrs. Jake and Mrs. Martin
always asked about her grandmother every morning with so much interest
and curiosity, or why they came oftener and oftener to help with the
heavy work. Mrs. Thacher had never before minded her occasional
illnesses so much, and some time passed before Nan's inexperienced
eyes and fearless young heart understood that the whole atmosphere
which overhung the landscape of her life had somehow changed, that
another winter approached full of mystery and strangeness and
discomfort of mind, and at last a great storm was almost ready to
break into the shelter and comfort of her simple life. Poor Nan! She
could not think what it all meant. She was asked many a distressing
question, and openly pitied, and heard her future discussed, as if her
world might come to an end any day. The doctor had visited her
grandmother from time to time, but always while she was at school,
until vacation came, and poor Mrs. Thacher grew too feeble to enter
into even a part of the usual business of the farmhouse.

One morning, as Nan was coming back from the Dyer farm with the milk,
she met Mrs. Meeker in the highway. This neighbor and our heroine were
rarely on good terms with each other, since Nan had usually laid
herself under some serious charge of wrong-doing, and had come to
believe that she would be disapproved in any event, and so might enjoy
life as she chose, and revel in harmless malice.

The child could not have told why she shrank from meeting her enemy so
much more than usual, and tried to discover some refuge or chance for
escape; but, as it was an open bit of the road, and a straight way to
the lane, she could have no excuse for scrambling over the stone wall
and cutting short the distance. However, her second thought scorned
the idea of running away in such cowardly fashion, and not having any
recent misdemeanor on her conscience, she went forward unflinchingly.

Mrs. Meeker's tone was not one of complaint, but of pity, and
insinuating friendliness. "How's your grandma to-day?" she asked, and
Nan, with an unsympathetic answer of "About the same," stepped bravely
forward, resenting with all her young soul the discovery that Mrs.
Meeker had turned and was walking alongside.

"She's been a good, kind grandma to you, hain't she?" said this
unwelcome companion, and when Nan had returned a wondering but almost
inaudible assent, she continued, "She'll be a great loss to you, I can
tell you. You'll never find nobody to do for you like her. There, you
won't realize nothing about it till you've got older'n you be now;
but the time'll come when"--and her sharp voice faltered; for Nan had
turned to look full in her face, had stopped still in the frozen road,
dropped the pail unconsciously and given a little cry, and in another
moment was running as a chased wild creature does toward the refuge of
its nest. The doctor's horse was fastened at the head of the lane, and
Nan knew at last, what any one in the neighborhood could have told her
many days before, that her grandmother was going to die. Mrs. Meeker
stared after her with a grieved sense of the abrupt ending of the
coveted interview, then she recovered her self-possession, and,
picking up the forsaken pail, stepped lightly over the ruts and frozen
puddles, following Nan eagerly in the hope of witnessing more of such
extraordinary behavior, and with the design of offering her services
as watcher or nurse in these last hours. At any rate the pail and the
milk, which had not been spilt, could not be left in the road.


So the first chapter of the child's life was ended in the early winter
weather. There was a new unsheltered grave on the slope above the
river, the farm-house door was shut and locked, and the light was out
in the kitchen window. It had been a landmark to those who were used
to driving along the road by night, and there were sincere mourners
for the kindly woman who had kept a simple faith and uprightness all
through her long life of trouble and disappointment. Nan and the cat
had gone to live in the village, and both, being young, had taken the
change with serenity; though at first a piteous sorrow had been waked
in the child's heart, a keen and dreadful fear of the future. The past
seemed so secure and pleasant, as she looked back, and now she was in
the power of a fateful future which had begun with something like a
whirlwind that had swept over her, leaving nothing unchanged. It
seemed to her that this was to be incessant, and that being grown up
was to be at the mercy of sorrow and uncertainty. She was pale and
quiet during her last days in the old home, answering questions and
obeying directions mechanically; but usually sitting in the least
visited part of the kitchen, watching the neighbors as they examined
her grandmother's possessions, and properly disposed of the contents
of the house. Sometimes a spark flew from her sad and angry eyes, but
she made no trouble, and seemed dull and indifferent. Late in the
evening Dr. Leslie carried her home with him through the first heavy
snow-storm of the year, and between the excitement of being covered
from the fast-falling flakes, and so making a journey in the dark, and
of keeping hold of the basket which contained the enraged kitten, the
grief at leaving home was not dwelt upon.

When she had been unwound from one of the doctor's great cloaks, and
her eyes had grown used to the bright light in the dining-room, and
Marilla had said that supper had been waiting half an hour, and she
did not know how she should get along with a black cat, and then
bustled about talking much faster than usual, because the sight of the
lonely child had made her ready to cry, Nan began to feel comforted.
It seemed a great while ago that she had cried at her grandmother's
funeral. If this were the future it was certainly very welcome and
already very dear, and the time of distress was like a night of bad
dreams between two pleasant days.


It will easily be understood that no great change was made in Dr.
Leslie's house. The doctor himself and Marilla were both well settled
in their habits, and while they cordially made room for the little
girl who was to be the third member of the household, her coming made
little difference to either of her elders. There was a great deal of
illness that winter, and the doctor was more than commonly busy; Nan
was sent to school, and discovered the delight of reading one stormy
day when her guardian had given her leave to stay at home, and she had
found his own old copy of Robinson Crusoe looking most friendly and
inviting in a corner of one of the study shelves. As for school, she
had never liked it, and the village school gave her far greater misery
than the weather-beaten building at the cross-roads ever had done. She
had known many of the village children by sight, from seeing them in
church, but she did not number many friends among them, even after the
winter was nearly gone and the days began to grow brighter and less
cold, and the out-of-door games were a source of great merriment in
the playground. Nan's ideas of life were quite unlike those held by
these new acquaintances, and she could not gain the least interest in
most of the other children, though she grew fond of one boy who was a
famous rover and fisherman, and after one of the elder girls had read
a composition which fired our heroine's imagination, she worshiped
this superior being from a suitable distance, and was her willing
adorer and slave. The composition was upon The Moon, and when the
author proclaimed the fact that this was the same moon which had
looked down upon Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, little Nan's eyes had
opened wide with reverence and awe, and she opened the doors of her
heart and soul to lofty thought and high imagination. The big girl,
who sat in the back seat and glibly recited amazing lessons in
history, and did sums which entirely covered the one small blackboard,
was not unmindful of Nan's admiration, and stolidly accepted and
munched the offerings of cracked nuts, or of the treasured English
apples which had been brought from the farm and kept like a squirrel's
hoard in an archway of the cellar by themselves. Nan cherished an idea
of going back to the farm to live by herself as soon as she grew a
little older, and she indulged in pleasing day-dreams of a most
charming life there, with frequent entertainments for her friends, at
which the author of the information about the moon would be the
favored guest, and Nan herself, in a most childish and provincial
fashion, the reigning queen. What did these new town-acquaintances
know of the strawberries which grew in the bit of meadow, or the great
high-bush blackberries by one of the pasture walls, and what would
their pleasure be when they were taken down the river some moonlight
night and caught sight of a fire blazing on a distant bank, and went
nearer to find a sumptuous feast which Nan herself had arranged? She
had been told that her aunt--that mysterious and beneficent aunt--had
already sent her money which was lying idle in the bank until she
should need to spend it, and her imaginary riches increased week by
week, while her horizon of future happiness constantly grew wider.

The other children were not unwilling at first to enter upon an
inquisitive friendship with the new-comer; but Marilla was so
uncongenial to the noisy visitors, and so fastidious in the matter of
snowy and muddy shoes, that she was soon avoided. Nan herself was a
teachable child and gave little trouble, and Marilla sometimes
congratulated herself because she had reserved the violent objections
which had occurred to her mind when the doctor had announced, just
before Mrs. Thacher's death, that his ward would henceforth find a
home in his house.

Marilla usually sat in the dining-room in the evening, though she was
apt to visit the study occasionally, knitting in hand, to give her
opinions, or to acquaint herself with various events of which she
thought the doctor would be likely to have knowledge. Sometimes in the
colder winter nights, she drew a convenient light-stand close beside
the kitchen stove and refused to wander far from such comfortable
warmth. Now that she had Nan's busy feet to cover, there was less
danger than ever that she should be left without knitting-work, and
she deeply enjoyed the child's company, since Nan could give innocent
answers to many questions which could never be put to elder members of
the Dyer and Thacher neighborhood. Mrs. Meeker was apt to be discussed
with great freedom, and Nan told long stories about her own childish
experiences, which were listened to and encouraged, and matched with
others even longer and more circumstantial by Marilla. The doctor, who
was always reading when he could find a quiet hour for himself, often
smiled as he heard the steady sound of voices from the wide kitchen,
and he more than once took a few careful steps into the dining-room,
and stood there shaking with laughter at the character of the
conversation. Nan, though eager to learn, and curious about many
things in life and nature, at first found her school lessons
difficult, and sometimes came appealingly to him for assistance, when
circumstances had made a temporary ending of her total indifference to
getting the lessons at all. For this and other reasons she sometimes
sought the study, and drew a small chair beside the doctor's large one
before the blazing fire of the black birch logs; and then Marilla in
her turn would venture upon the neutral ground between study and
kitchen, and smile with satisfaction at the cheerful companionship of
the tired man and the idle little girl who had already found her way
to his lonely heart. Nan had come to another home; there was no
question about what should be done with her and for her, but she was
made free of the silent old house, and went on growing taller, and
growing dearer, and growing happier day by day. Whatever the future
might bring, she would be sure to look back with love and longing to
the first summer of her village life, when, seeing that she looked
pale and drooping, the doctor, to her intense gratification, took her
away from school. Presently, instead of having a ride out into the
country as an occasional favor, she might be seen every day by the
doctor's side, as if he could not make his morning rounds without her;
and in and out of the farm-houses she went, following him like a
little dog, or, as Marilla scornfully expressed it, a briar at his
heels; sitting soberly by when he dealt his medicines and gave advice,
listening to his wise and merry talk with some, and his helpful advice
and consolation to others of the country people. Many of these
acquaintances treated Nan with great kindness; she half belonged to
them, and was deeply interesting for the sake of her other ties of
blood and bonds of fortune, while she took their courtesy with
thankfulness, and their lack of notice with composure. If there were a
shiny apple offered she was glad, but if not, she did not miss it,
since her chief delight was in being the doctor's assistant and
attendant, and her eyes were always watching for chances when she
might be of use. And one day, coming out from a bedroom, the doctor
discovered, to his amusement, that her quick and careful fingers had
folded the papers of some powders which he had left unfolded on the
table. As they drove home together in the bright noon sunshine, he
said, as if the question were asked for the sake of joking a little,
"What are you going to do when you grow up, Nan?" to which she
answered gravely, as if it were the one great question of her life, "I
should like best to be a doctor." Strangely enough there flitted
through the doctor's mind a remembrance of the day when he had talked
with Mrs. Meeker, and had looked up the lane to see the unlucky turkey
whose leg had been put into splints. He had wished more than once that
he had taken pains to see how the child had managed it; but old Mrs.
Thacher had reported the case to have been at least partially
successful.

Nan had stolen a look at her companion after the answer had been
given, but had been pleased and comforted to find that he was not
laughing at her, and at once began a lively picture of becoming famous
in her chosen profession, and the valued partner of Dr. Leslie, whose
skill everybody praised so heartily. He should not go out at night,
and she would help him so much that he would wonder how he ever had
been able to manage his wide-spread practice alone. It was a matter of
no concern to her that Marilla had laughed when she had been told of
Nan's intentions, and had spoken disrespectfully of women doctors; and
the child's heart was full of pride and hope. The doctor stopped his
horse suddenly to show Nan some flowers which grew at the roadside,
some brilliant cardinals, and she climbed quickly down to gather them.
There was an unwritten law that they should keep watch, one to the
right hand, and the other to the left, and such treasures of blossoms
or wild fruit seldom escaped Nan's vision. Now she felt as if she had
been wrong to let her thoughts go wandering, and her cheeks were
almost as bright as the scarlet flowers themselves, as she clambered
back to the wagon seat. But the doctor was in deep thought, and had
nothing more to say for the next mile or two. It had become like a
bad-case day suddenly and without apparent reason; but Nan had no
suspicion that she was the patient in charge whose welfare seemed to
the doctor to be dependent upon his own decisions.



IX

AT DR. LESLIE'S


That evening Dr. Leslie made signs that he was not to be interrupted,
and even shut the study doors, to which precaution he seldom resorted.
He was evidently disturbed when an hour later a vigorous knocking was
heard at the seldom-used front entrance, and Marilla ushered in with
anything but triumph an elderly gentleman who had been his college
classmate. Marilla's countenance wore a forbidding expression, and as
she withdrew she took pains to shut the door between the hall and
dining-room with considerable violence. It was almost never closed
under ordinary circumstances, but the faithful housekeeper was
impelled to express her wrath in some way, and this was the first
that offered itself. Nan was sitting peacefully in the kitchen playing
with her black cat and telling herself stories no doubt, and was quite
unprepared for Marilla's change of temper. The bell for the Friday
evening prayer-meeting was tolling its last strokes and it was
Marilla's habit to attend that service. She was apt to be kept closely
at home, it must be acknowledged, and this was one of her few social
indulgences. Since Nan had joined the family and proved that she could
be trusted with a message, she had been left in charge of the house
during this coveted hour on Friday evenings.

Marilla had descended from her room arrayed for church going, but now
her bonnet was pulled off as if that were the prime offender, and when
the child looked wonderingly around the kitchen, she saw the bread-box
brought out from the closet and put down very hard on a table, while
Marilla began directly afterward to rattle at the stove.

"I'd like to say to some folks that we don't keep hotel," grumbled the
good woman, "I wish to my heart I'd stepped right out o' the front
door and gone straight to meetin' and left them there beholdin' of me.
Course he hasn't had no supper, nor dinner neither like's not, and if
men are ever going to drop down on a family unexpected it's always
Friday night when everything's eat up that ever was in the house. I
s'pose, after I bake double quantities to-morrow mornin', he'll be
drivin' off before noon-time, and treasure it up that we never have
nothin' decent to set before folks. Anna, you've got to stir yourself
and help, while I get the fire started up; lay one o' them big dinner
napkins over the red cloth, and set a plate an' a tea-cup, for as for
laying the whole table over again, I won't and I shan't. There's water
to cart upstairs and the bed-room to open, but Heaven be thanked I was
up there dustin' to-day, and if ever you set a mug of flowers into one
o' the spare-rooms again and leave it there a week or ten days to
spile, I'll speak about it to the doctor. Now you step out o' my way
like a good girl. I don't know whether you or the cat's the worst for
gettin' before me when I'm in a drive. I'll set him out somethin' to
eat, and then I'm goin' to meetin' if the skies fall."

Nan meekly obeyed directions, and with a sense of guilt concerning the
deserted posies went to hover about the study door after the plates
were arranged, instead of braving further the stormy atmosphere of the
kitchen. Marilla's lamp had shone in so that there had been light
enough in the dining-room, but the study was quite dark except where
there was one spark at the end of the doctor's half-finished cigar,
which was alternately dim and bright like the revolving lantern of a
lighthouse.

At that moment the smoker rose, and with his most considerate and
conciliatory tone asked Marilla for the study lamp, but Nan heard, and
ran on tiptoe and presently brought it in from the kitchen, holding it
carefully with both hands and walking slowly. She apparently had no
thought beyond her errand, but she was brimful of eagerness to see the
unexpected guest; for guests were by no means frequent, and since she
had really become aware of a great outside world beyond the boundaries
of Oldfields she welcomed the sight of any messengers.

Dr. Leslie hastily pushed away some books from the lamp's place; and
noticing that his visitor looked at Nan with surprise, quickly
explained that this little girl had come to take care of him, and bade
Nan speak to Dr. Ferris. Whereupon her bravery was sorely tried, but
not overcome, and afterward she sat down in her own little chair,
quite prepared to be hospitable. As she heard a sound of water being
poured into a pitcher in the best room upstairs, she was ready to
laugh if there had been anybody to laugh with, and presently Marilla
appeared at the door with the announcement that there was some tea
waiting in the dining-room, after which and before anybody had thought
of moving, the side gate clacked resolutely, and Marilla, looking more
prim and unruffled than usual, sped forth to the enjoyment of her
Friday evening privileges.

Nan followed the gentlemen to the dining-room not knowing whether she
were wanted or not, but feeling quite assured when it was ascertained
that neither sugar nor teaspoons had been provided. The little feast
looked somewhat meagre, and the doctor spoke irreverently of his
housekeeper and proceeded to abstract a jar of her best strawberry jam
from the convenient store-closet, and to collect other articles of
food which seemed to him to be inviting, however inappropriate to the
occasion. The guest would have none of the jam, but Dr. Leslie cut a
slice of the loaf of bread for himself and one for Nan, though it had
already waned beyond its last quarter, and nobody knew what would
happen if there were no toast at breakfast time. Marilla would never
know what a waste of jam was spread upon these slices either, but she
was a miser only with the best preserves, and so our friends reveled
in their stolen pleasure, and were as merry together as heart could
wish.

Nan thought it very strange when she found that the doctor and his
guest had been at school together, for the stranger seemed so old and
worn. They were talking about other classmates at first, and she sat
still to listen, until the hour of Marilla's return drew near and Dr.
Leslie prudently returned to his own uninvaded apartment. Nan was
told, to her sorrow, that it was past her bed-time and as she stopped
to say good-night, candle in hand, a few moments afterward, the doctor
stooped to kiss her with unusual tenderness, and a little later, when
she was safe in her small bedroom and under the coverlet which was
Marilla's glory, having been knit the winter before in an intricate
pattern, she almost shook with fear at the sound of its maker's
vengeful footsteps in the lower room. It is to be hoped that the
influence of the meeting had been very good, and that one of its
attendants had come home equal to great demands upon her fortitude and
patience. Nan could not help wishing she had thought to put away the
jam, and she wondered how Marilla would treat them all in the morning.
But, to do that worthy woman justice, she was mild and considerate,
and outdid herself in the breakfast that was set forth in the guest's
honor, and Dr. Ferris thought he could do no less than to add to his
morning greeting the question why she was not growing old like the
rest of them, which, though not answered, was pleasantly received.

The host and guest talked very late the night before, and told each
other many things. Dr. Leslie had somewhat unwillingly undertaken the
country practice which had grown dearer to him with every year, but
there were family reasons why he had decided to stay in Oldfields for
a few months at least, and though it was not long before he was left
alone, not only by the father and mother whose only child he was, but
by his wife and child, he felt less and less inclination to break the
old ties and transplant himself to some more prominent position of the
medical world. The leisure he often had at certain seasons of the year
was spent in the studies which always delighted him, and little by
little he gained great repute among his professional brethren. He was
a scholar and a thinker in other than medical philosophies, and most
persons who knew anything of him thought it a pity that he should be
burying himself alive, as they were pleased to term his devotion to
his provincial life. His rare excursions to the cities gave more
pleasure to other men than to himself, however, in these later years,
and he laughingly proclaimed himself to be growing rusty and behind
the times to Dr. Ferris, who smiled indulgently, and did not take the
trouble to contradict so untrue and preposterous an assertion.

If one man had been a stayer at home; a vegetable nature, as Dr.
Leslie had gone on to say, which has no power to change its locality
or to better itself by choosing another and more adequate or
stimulating soil; the other had developed the opposite extreme of
character, being by nature a rover. From the medical school he had
entered at once upon the duties of a naval appointment, and after he
had become impatient of its routine of practice and its check upon his
freedom, he had gone, always with some sufficient and useful object,
to one far country after another. Lately he had spent an unusual
number of consecutive months in Japan, which was still unfamiliar even
to most professional travelers, and he had come back to America
enthusiastic and full of plans for many enterprises which his shrewd,
but not very persistent brain had conceived. The two old friends were
delighted to see each other, but they took this long-deferred meeting
as calmly as if they were always next-door neighbors. It was a most
interesting thing that while they led such different lives and took
such apparently antagonistic routes of progression, they were pretty
sure to arrive at the same conclusion, though it might appear
otherwise to a listener who knew them both slightly.

"And who is the little girl?" asked Dr. Ferris, who had refused his
entertainer's cigars and produced a pipe from one pocket, after having
drawn a handful of curious small jade figures from another and pushed
them along the edge of the study table, without comment, for his
friend to look at. Some of them were so finely carved that they looked
like a heap of grotesque insects struggling together as they lay
there, but though Dr. Leslie's eyes brightened as he glanced at them,
he gave no other sign of interest at that time, and answered his
guest's question instead.

"She is a ward of mine," he said; "she was left quite alone by the
death of her grandmother some months ago, and so I brought her here."

"It isn't often that I forget a face," said Dr. Ferris, "but I have
been trying to think what association I can possibly have with that
child. I remember at last; she looks like a young assistant surgeon
who was on the old frigate Fortune with me just before I left the
service. I don't think he was from this part of the country though; I
never heard what became of him."

"I dare say it was her father; I believe he made a voyage or two,"
said Dr. Leslie, much interested. "Do you know anything more about
him? you always remember everything, Ferris."

"Yes," answered the guest, slowly puffing away at his pipe. "Yes, he
was a very bright fellow, with a great gift at doctoring, but he was
willful, full of queer twists and fancies, the marry in haste and
repent at his leisure sort of young man."

"Exactly what he did, I suppose," interrupted the host. "Only his
leisure was fortunately postponed to the next world, for the most
part; he died very young."

"I used to think it a great pity that he had not settled himself
ashore in a good city practice," continued Dr. Ferris. "He had a great
knack at pleasing people and making friends, and he was always
spoiling for want of work. I was ready enough to shirk my part of
that, you may be sure, but if you start with a reasonably healthy set
of men, crew and officers, and keep good discipline, and have no
accidents on the voyage, an old-fashioned ship-master's kit of
numbered doses is as good as anything on board a man-of-war in time of
peace. You have mild cases that result from over-heating or
over-eating, and sometimes a damaged finger to dress, or a tooth to
pull. I used to tell young Prince that it was a pity one of the men
wouldn't let himself be chopped to pieces and fitted together again to
give us a little amusement."

"That's the name," announced Nan's guardian with great satisfaction.
"This is a very small world; we are all within hail of each other. I
dare say when we get to Heaven there will not be a stranger to make
friends with."

"I could give you more wonderful proofs of that than you would be
likely to believe," responded the surgeon. "But tell me how you
happened to have anything to do with the child; did Prince wander into
this neighborhood?"

"Not exactly, but he fell in love with a young girl who was brought up
on one of the farms just out of the village. She was a strange
character, a handsome creature, with a touch of foolish ambition, and
soon grew impatient of the routine of home life. I believe that she
went away at first to work in one of the factories in Lowell, and
afterward she drifted to Dunport, where young Prince's people lived,
and I dare say it was when he came home from that very voyage you knew
of that he saw her and married her. She worked in a dressmaker's shop,
and worked very well too, but she had offended his sister to begin
with, one day when she was finding fault with some work that had been
done for her, and so there was no end of trouble, and the young man
had a great battle at home, and the more he was fought the less
inclined he was to yield, and at last off he went to be married, and
never came home again until he died. It was a wretched story; he only
lived two years, and they went from one place to another, and finally
the end came in some Western town. He had not been happy with his
wife, and they quarreled from time to time, and he asked to be brought
back to Dunport and buried. This child was only a baby, and the
Princes begged her mother to give her up, and used every means to try
to make friends, and to do what was right. But I have always thought
there was blame on both sides. At any rate the wife was insolent and
unruly, and went flinging out of the house as soon as the funeral was
over. I don't know what became of them for a while, but it always
seemed to me as if poor Adeline must have had a touch of insanity,
which faded away as consumption developed itself. Her mother's people
were a fine, honest race, self-reliant and energetic, but there is a
very bad streak on the other side. I have heard that she was seen
begging somewhere, but I am not sure that it is true; at any rate she
would neither come here to her own home nor listen to any plea from
her husband's family, and at last came back to the farm one night like
a ghost, carrying the child in her arms across the fields; all in rags
and tatters, both of them. She confessed to me that she had meant to
drown herself and little Nan together. I could never understand why
she went down so fast. I know that she had been drinking. Some people
might say that it was the scorn of her husband's relatives, but that
is all nonsense, and I have no doubt she and the young man might have
done very well if this hadn't spoiled all their chances at the outset.
She was quite unbalanced and a strange, wild creature, very handsome
in her girlhood, but morally undeveloped. It was impossible not to
have a liking for her. I remember her when she was a baby."

"And yet people talk about the prosaic New England life!" exclaimed
Dr. Ferris. "I wonder where I could match such a story as that, though
I dare say that you know a dozen others. I tell you, Leslie, that for
intense, self-centred, smouldering volcanoes of humanity, New England
cannot be matched the world over. It's like the regions in Iceland
that are full of geysers. I don't know whether it is the inheritance
from those people who broke away from the old countries, and who ought
to be matched to tremendous circumstances of life, but now and then
there comes an amazingly explosive and uncontrollable temperament that
goes all to pieces from its own conservation and accumulation of
force. By and by you will have all blown up,--you quiet descendants of
the Pilgrims and Puritans, and have let off your superfluous
wickedness like blizzards; and when the blizzards of each family have
spent themselves you will grow dull and sober, and all on a level, and
be free from the troubles of a transition state. Now, you're neither a
new country nor an old one. You ought to see something of the older
civilizations to understand what peace of mind is. Unless some
importation of explosive material from the westward stirs them up, one
century is made the pattern for the next. But it is perfectly
wonderful what this climate does for people who come to it,--a south
of Ireland fellow, for instance, who has let himself be rained on and
then waited for the sun to dry him again, and has grubbed a little in
a bit of ground, just enough to hint to it that it had better be
making a crop of potatoes for him. I always expect to see the gorse
and daisies growing on the old people's heads to match the cabins. But
they come over here and forget their idleness, and in a week or two
the east winds are making them work, and thrashing them if they are
slow, worse than any slave-driver who ever cracked his whip-lash. I
wonder how you stand it; I do, indeed! I can't take an afternoon nap
or have my coffee in bed of a morning without thinking I must put into
port at the next church to be preached at."

Dr. Leslie laughed a little and shook his head gently. "It's very well
for you to talk, Ferris," he said, "since you have done more work than
any man I know. And I find this neighborhood entirely placid; one bit
of news will last us a fortnight. I dare say Marilla will let
everybody know that you have come to town, and have explained why she
was ten minutes late, even to the minister."

"How about the little girl herself?" asked the guest presently; "she
seems well combined, and likely, as they used to say when I was a
boy."

Dr. Leslie resumed the subject willingly: "So far as I can see, she
has the good qualities of all her ancestors without the bad ones. Her
mother's mother was an old fashioned country woman of the best stock.
Of course she resented what she believed to be her daughter's wrongs,
and refused to have anything to do with her son-in-law's family, and
kept the child as carefully as possible from any knowledge of them.
Little Nan was not strong at first, but I insisted that she should be
allowed to run free out of doors. It seems to me that up to seven or
eight years of age children are simply bundles of inheritances, and I
can see the traits of one ancestor after another; but a little later
than the usual time she began to assert her own individuality, and has
grown capitally well in mind and body ever since. There is an amusing
trace of the provincial self-reliance and self-respect and farmer-like
dignity, added to a quick instinct, and tact and ready courtesy, which
must have come from the other side of her ancestry. She is more a
child of the soil than any country child I know, and yet she would not
put a city household to shame. She has seen nothing of the world of
course, but you can see she isn't like the usual village school-girl.
There is one thing quite remarkable. I believe she has grown up as
naturally as a plant grows, not having been clipped back or forced in
any unnatural direction. If ever a human being were untrammeled and
left alone to see what will come of it, it is this child. And I will
own I am very much interested to see what will appear later."

The navy surgeon's eyes twinkled at this enthusiasm, but he asked
soberly what seemed to be our heroine's bent, so far as could be
discovered, and laughed outright when he was gravely told that it was
a medical bent; a surprising understanding of things pertaining to
that most delightful profession.

"But you surely don't mean to let her risk her happiness in following
that career?" Dr. Ferris inquired with feigned anxiety for his answer.
"You surely aren't going to sacrifice that innocent creature to a
theory! I know it's a theory; last time I was here, you could think of
nothing but hypnotism or else the action of belladonna in congestion
and inflammation of the brain;" and he left his very comfortable chair
suddenly, with a burst of laughter, and began to walk up and down the
room. "She has no relatives to protect her, and I consider it a
shocking case of a guardian's inhumanity. Grown up naturally indeed! I
don't doubt that you supplied her with Bell's 'Anatomy' for a
picture-book and made her say over the names of the eight little bones
of her wrist, instead of 'This little pig went to market.'"

"I only hope that you'll live to grow up yourself, Ferris," said his
entertainer, "you'll certainly be an ornament to your generation. What
a boy you are! I should think you would feel as old as Methuselah by
this time, after having rattled from one place to the next all these
years. Don't you begin to get tired?"

"No, I don't believe I do," replied Dr. Ferris, lending himself to
this new turn of the conversation, but not half satisfied with the
number of his jokes. "I used to be afraid I should, and so I tried to
see everything I could of the world before my enthusiasm began to
cool. And as for rattling to the next place, as you say, you show
yourself to be no traveler by nature, or you wouldn't speak so
slightingly. It is extremely dangerous to make long halts. I could cry
with homesickness at the thought of the towns I have spent more than a
month in; they are like the people one knows; if you see them once,
you go away satisfied, and you can bring them to mind afterward, and
think how they looked or just where it was you met them,--out of doors
or at the club. But if you live with those people, and get fond of
them, and have a thousand things to remember, you get more pain than
pleasure out of it when you go away. And one can't be everywhere at
once, so if you're going to care for things tremendously, you had
better stay in one town altogether. No, give me a week or two, and
then I've something calling me to the next place; somebody to talk
with or a book to see, and off I go. Yet, I've done a good bit of work
in my day after all. Did you see that paper of mine in the 'Lancet'
about some experiments I made when I was last in India with those
tree-growing jugglers? and I worked out some curious things about the
mathematics of music on this last voyage home! Why, I thought it would
tear my heart in two when I came away. I should have grown to look
like the people, and you might have happened to find a likeness of me
on a tea plate after another year or two. I made all my plans one day
to stay another winter, and next day at eleven o'clock I was steaming
down the harbor. But there was a poor young lad I had taken a liking
for, an English boy, who was badly off after an accident and needed
somebody to look after him. I thought the best thing I could do was to
bring him home. Are you going to fit your ward for general practice
or for a specialty?"

"I don't know; that'll be for the young person herself to decide,"
said Dr. Leslie good-humoredly. "But she's showing a real talent for
medical matters. It is quite unconscious for the most part, but I find
that she understands a good deal already, and she sat here all the
afternoon last week with one of my old medical dictionaries. I
couldn't help looking over her shoulder as I went by, and she was
reading about fevers, if you please, as if it were a story-book. I
didn't think it was worth while to tell her we understood things
better nowadays, and didn't think it best to bleed as much as old Dr.
Rush recommended."

"You're like a hen with one chicken, Leslie," said the friend, still
pacing to and fro. "But seriously, I like your notion of her having
come to this of her own accord. Most of us are grown in the shapes
that society and family preference and prejudice fasten us into, and
don't find out until we are well toward middle life that we should
have done a great deal better at something else. Our vocations are
likely enough to be illy chosen, since few persons are fit to choose
them for us, and we are at the most unreasonable stage of life when we
choose them for ourselves. And what the Lord made some people for,
nobody ever can understand; some of us are for use and more are for
waste, like the flowers. I am in such a hurry to know what the next
world is like that I can hardly wait to get to it. Good heavens! we
live here in our familiar fashion, going at a jog-trot pace round our
little circles, with only a friend or two to speak with who understand
us, and a pipe and a jack-knife and a few books and some old clothes,
and please ourselves by thinking we know the universe! Not a soul of
us can tell what it is that sends word to our little fingers to move
themselves back and forward."

"We're sure of two things at any rate," said Dr. Leslie, "love to God
and love to man. And though I have lived here all my days, I have
learned some truths just as well as if I had gone about with you, or
even been to the next world and come back. I have seen too many lives
go to pieces, and too many dissatisfied faces, and I have heard too
many sorrowful confessions from these country death-beds I have
watched beside, one after another, for twenty or thirty years. And if
I can help one good child to work with nature and not against it, and
to follow the lines marked out for her, and she turns out useful and
intelligent, and keeps off the rocks of mistaking her duty, I shall be
more than glad. I don't care whether it's a man's work or a woman's
work; if it is hers I'm going to help her the very best way I can. I
don't talk to her of course; she's much too young; but I watch her and
mean to put the things in her way that she seems to reach out for and
try to find. She is going to be very practical, for her hands can
almost always work out her ideas already. I like to see her take hold
of things, and I like to see her walk and the way she lifts her feet
and puts them down again. I must say, Ferris, there is a great
satisfaction in finding a human being once in a while that has some
use of itself."

"You're right!" said Dr. Ferris; "but don't be disappointed when she's
ten years older if she picks out a handsome young man and thinks there
is nothing like housekeeping. Have you taken a look at my pocketful of
heathen idols there yet? I don't think you've ever seen their mates."

The stayer at home smiled as if he understood his friend's quiet bit
of pleasantry, and reached for one of the treasures, but folded it in
his hand without looking at it and seemed to be lost in meditation.
The surgeon concluded that he had had enough exercise and laid himself
down on the wide sofa at the end of the room, from whence he could
watch his companion's face. He clasped his hands under his head and
looked eager and interested. He had grown to have something of the
appearance of a foreigner, as people often do who have spent much time
in eastern countries. The two friends were silent for some minutes,
until an impatient voice roused Dr. Leslie from his reflections.

"It always makes me covet my neighbor's wits when I see you!"
announced the wanderer. "If I settled myself into a respectable
practice I should be obliged to march with the army of doctors who
carry a great array of small weapons, and who find out what is the
matter with their patients after all sorts of experiment and
painstaking analysis, and comparing the results of their thermometers
and microscopes with scientific books of reference. After I have done
all that, you know, if I have had good luck I shall come to exactly
what you can say before you have been with a sick man five minutes.
You have the true gift for doctoring, you need no medical dictator,
and whatever you study and whatever comes to you in the way of
instruction simply ministers to your intuition. It grows to be a
wonderful second-sight in such a man as you. I don't believe you
investigate a case and treat it as a botanist does a strange flower,
once a month. You know without telling yourself what the matter is,
and what the special difference is, and the relative dangers of this
case and one apparently just like it across the street, and you could
do this before you were out of the hospitals. I remember you!" and
after a few vigorous puffs of smoke he went on; "It is all very well
for the rest of the men to be proud of their book learning, but they
don't even try to follow nature, as Sydenham did, who followed no man.
I believe such study takes one to more theory and scientific digest
rather than to more skill. It is all very well to know how to draw
maps when one gets lost on a dark night, or even to begin with
astronomical calculations and come down to a chemical analysis of the
mud you stand in, but hang me if I wouldn't rather have the instinct
of a dog who can go straight home across a bit of strange country. A
man has no right to be a doctor if he doesn't simply make everything
bend to his work of getting sick people well, and of trying to remedy
the failures of strength that come from misuse or inheritance or
ignorance. The anatomists and the pathologists have their place, but
we must look to the living to learn the laws of life, not to the dead.
A wreck shows you where the reef is, perhaps, but not how to manage a
ship in the offing. The men who make it their business to write the
books and the men who make it their business to follow them aren't the
ones for successful practice."

Dr. Leslie smiled, and looked over his shoulder at his beloved library
shelves, as if he wished to assure the useful volumes of his continued
affection and respect, and said quietly, as if to beg the displeased
surgeon's patience with his brethren: "They go on, poor fellows,
studying the symptoms and never taking it in that the life power is at
fault. I see more and more plainly that we ought to strengthen and
balance the whole system, and aid nature to make the sick man well
again. It is nature that does it after all, and diseases are oftener
effects of illness than causes. But the young practitioners must
follow the text-books a while until they have had enough experience to
open their eyes to observe and have learned to think for themselves. I
don't know which is worse; too much routine or no study at all. I was
trying the other day to count up the different treatments of pneumonia
that have been in fashion in our day; there must be seven or eight,
and I am only afraid the next thing will be a sort of skepticism and
contempt of remedies. Dr. Johnson said long ago that physicians were a
class of men who put bodies of which they knew little into bodies of
which they knew less, but certainly this isn't the fault of the
medicines altogether; you and I know well enough they are often most
stupidly used. If we blindly follow the medical dictators, as you call
them, and spend our treatment on the effects instead of the causes,
what success can we expect? We do want more suggestions from the men
at work, but I suppose this is the same with every business. The
practical medical men are the juries who settle all the theories of
the hour, as they meet emergencies day after day."

"The men who have the true gift for their work," said Dr. Ferris
impatiently. "I hadn't the conscience to go on myself, that's why I
resigned, you know. I can talk about it, but I am not a good workman.
But if there are going to be doctors in the next world, I wish I might
be lucky enough to be equal to such a heavenly business. You thought I
didn't care enough about the profession to go on, but it wasn't so. Do
push your little girl ahead if she has the real fitness. I suppose it
is a part of your endowment that you can distinguish the capacities
and tendencies of health as well as illness; and there's one thing
certain, the world cannot afford to do without the workmen who are
masters of their business by divine right."

Dr. Leslie was looking at the jade-stone gods. "I suppose the poor
fellows who chipped out these treasures of yours may have thought they
were really putting a visible piece of Heaven within their neighbors'
reach," he said. "We can't get used to the fact that whatever truly
belongs to the next world is not visible in this, and that there is
idol-making and worshiping forever going on. When we let ourselves
forget to educate our faith and our spiritual intellects, and lose
sight of our relation and dependence upon the highest informing
strength, we are trying to move our machinery by some inferior motive
power. We worship our tools and beg success of them instead of
remembering that we are all apprentices to the great Master of our own
and every man's craft. It is the great ideas of our work that we need,
and the laws of its truths. We shall be more intelligent by and by
about making the best of ourselves; our possibilities are infinitely
beyond what most people even dream. Spiritual laziness and physical
laziness together keep us just this side of sound sleep most of the
time. Perhaps you think it is a proper season for one at least?"

"Dear me, no!" said Dr. Ferris, who was evidently quite wide awake.
"Do you remember how well Buckle says that the feminine intellect is
the higher, and that the great geniuses of the world have possessed
it? The gift of intuition reaches directly towards the truth, and it
is only reasoning by deduction that can take flight into the upper air
of life and certainty. You remember what he says about that?"

"Yes," said Dr. Leslie. "Yes, it isn't a thing one easily forgets. But
I have long believed that the powers of Christ were but the higher
powers of our common humanity. We recognize them dimly now and then,
but few of us dare to say so yet. The world moves very slowly, doesn't
it? If Christ were perfect man, He could hardly tell us to follow Him
and be like Him, and yet know all the while that it was quite
impossible, because a difference in his gifts made his character an
unapproachable one to ours. We don't amount to anything, simply
because we won't understand that we must receive the strength of
Heaven into our souls; that it depends upon our degree of receptivity,
and our using the added power that comes in that way; not in our
taking our few tools, and our self-esteem and satisfaction with
ourselves, and doing our little tricks like dancing dogs; proud
because the other dogs can do one less than we, or only bark and walk
about on their four legs. It is our souls that make our bodies worth
anything, and the life of the soul doesn't come from its activity, or
any performance of its own. Those things are only the results and the
signs of life, not the causes of it."

"Christ in us, the hope of glory," said the other doctor gravely, "and
Christ's glory was his usefulness and gift for helping others; I
believe there's less quackery in our profession than any other, but it
is amazing how we bungle at it. I wonder how you will get on with your
little girl? If people didn't have theories of life of their own, or
wouldn't go exactly the wrong way, it would be easier to offer
assistance; but where one person takes a right direction of his own
accord, there are twenty who wander to and fro."

"I may as well confess to you," he continued presently, "that I have
had a _protégé_ myself, but I don't look for much future joy in
watching the development of my plots. He has taken affairs into his
own hands, and I dare say it is much better for him, for if I had
caught him young enough, I should have wished him to run the gauntlet
of all the professions, not to speak of the arts and sciences. He was
a clever young fellow; I saw him married the day before I left
England. His wife was the daughter of a curate, and he the younger son
of a younger son, and it was a love affair worth two or three
story-books. It came to be a question of money alone. I had known the
boy the year before in Bombay and chanced to find him one day in the
Marine Hospital at Nagasaki. We had been up into the interior
together. He was recommended to me as a sort of secretary and
assistant and knew more than I did about most things. When he caught
sight of me he cried like a baby, and I sat down and heard what the
trouble was, for I had let him go off with somebody who could give him
a good salary,--a government man of position, and I thought poor Bob
would be put in the way of something better. Dear me, the climate was
killing him before my eyes, and I took passage for both of us on the
next day's steamer. When I got him home I turned my bank account into
a cheque and tucked it into his pocket, and told him to marry his wife
and settle down and be respectable and forget such a wandering old
fellow as I."

The listener made a little sound of mingled admiration and disgust.

"So you're the same piece of improvidence as ever! I wonder if you
worked your passage over to Boston, or came as a stowaway? Well, I'm
glad to give you house-room, and, to tell the truth, I was wondering
how I should get on to-morrow without somebody to help me in a piece
of surgery. My neighbors are not very skillful, but they're good men
every one of them, unless it's old Jackson, who knows no more about
the practice of medicine than a turtle knows about the nearest fixed
star. Ferris! I don't wonder at your giving away the last cent you had
in the world, I only wonder that you had a cent to give. I hope the
young man was grateful, that's all, only I'm not sure I like his
taking it."

"He thought I had enough more, I dare say. He said so much I couldn't
stand his nonsense. He'll use it better than I could," said the guest
briefly. "As I said, I couldn't bring him up; in the first place I
haven't the patience, and beside, it wouldn't be just to him. But you
must let me know how you get on with your project; I shall make you a
day's visit once in six months."

"That'll be good luck," responded the cheerful host. "Now that I am
growing old I find I wish for company oftener; just the right man, you
know, to come in for an hour or two late in the evening to have a
cigar, and not say a word if he doesn't feel like it."

The two friends were very comfortable together; the successive cigars
burnt themselves out slowly, and the light of the great lamp was
bright in the room. Here and there a tinge of red shone out on the
backs of the books that stood close together in the high cases. There
was an old engraving or two, and in one corner a solemn bronze figure
of Dante, thin and angular, as if he had risen from his coffin to take
a last look at this world. Marilla had often spoken of him
disrespectfully, and had suggested many other ornaments which might be
brought to take his place, but the doctor had never acted upon her
suggestions. From the corner of one book-case there hung a huge wasp's
nest, and over the mantel-shelf, which was only wide enough for some
cigar boxes and a little clock and a few vials of medicines, was a
rack where three or four riding whips and a curious silver bit and
some long-stemmed pipes found unmolested quarters; and in one corner
were some walking sticks and a fishing rod or two which had a very
ancient unused look. There was a portrait of Dr. Leslie's grandfather
opposite the fire-place; a good-humored looking old gentleman who had
been the most famous of the Oldfields ministers. The study-table was
wide and long, but it was well covered with a miscellaneous array of
its owner's smaller possessions, and the quick-eyed visitor smiled as
he caught sight of Nan's new copy of Miss Edgeworth's "Parent's
Assistant" lying open and face downward on the top of an instrument
case.

Marilla did not hear the doctor and his guest tramp up to bed until
very late at night, and though she had tried to keep awake she had
been obliged to take a nap first and then wake up again to get the
benefit of such an aggravating occasion. "I'm not going to fret myself
trying to make one of my baked omelets in the morning," she assured
herself, "they'll keep breakfast waiting three quarters of an hour,
and it would fall flat sure's the world, and the doctor's got to ride
to all p'ints of the compass to-morrow, too."



X

ACROSS THE STREET


It would be difficult to say why the village of Oldfields should have
been placed in the least attractive part of the township, if one were
not somewhat familiar with the law of growth of country communities.
The first settlers, being pious kindred of the Pilgrims, were mindful
of the necessity of a meeting-house, and the place for it was chosen
with reference to the convenience of most of the worshipers. Then the
parson was given a parsonage and a tract of glebe land somewhere in
the vicinity of his pulpit, and since this was the centre of social
attraction, the blacksmith built his shop at the nearest cross-road.
And when some enterprising citizen became possessed of an idea that
there were traders enough toiling to and fro on the rough highways to
the nearest larger village to make it worth his while to be an
interceptor, the first step was taken toward a local centre of
commerce, and the village was fairly begun. It had not yet reached a
remarkable size, though there was a time-honored joke because an
enthusiastic old woman had said once, when four or five houses and a
new meeting-house were being built all in one summer, that she
expected now that she might live to see Oldfields a seaport town.
There had been a great excitement over the second meeting-house, to
which the conservative faction had strongly objected, but, after the
radicals had once gained the day, other innovations passed without
public challenge. The old First Parish Church was very white and held
aloft an imposing steeple, and strangers were always commiserated if
they had to leave town without the opportunity of seeing its front by
moonlight. Behind this, and beyond a green which had been the
playground of many generations of boys and girls, was a long row of
horse-sheds, where the farmers' horses enjoyed such part of their
Sunday rest as was permitted them after bringing heavy loads of rural
parishioners to their public devotions. The Sunday church-going was by
no means so carefully observed in these days as in former ones, when
disinclination was anything but a received excuse. In Parson
Leslie's--the doctor's grandfather's--day, it would have condemned a
man or woman to the well-merited reproof of their acquaintances. And
indeed most parishioners felt deprived of a great pleasure when, after
a week of separation from society, of a routine of prosaic farm-work,
they were prevented from seeing their friends parade into church, from
hearing the psalm-singing and the sermon, and listening to the news
afterward. It was like going to mass and going to the theatre and the
opera, and making a round of short calls, and having an outing in
one's own best clothes to see other people's, all rolled into one;
beside which, there was (and is) a superstitious expectation of good
luck in the coming week if the religious obligations were carefully
fulfilled. So many of the old ideas of the efficacy of ecclesiasticism
still linger, most of them by no means unlawfully. The elder people of
New England are as glad to have their clergyman visit them in their
last days as if he granted them absolution and extreme unction. The
old traditions survive in our instincts, although our present opinions
have long since ticketed many thoughts and desires and customs as out
of date and quite exploded.

We go so far in our vigorous observance of the first commandment, and
our fear of worshiping strange gods, that sometimes we are in danger
of forgetting that we must worship God himself. And worship is
something different from a certain sort of constant church-going, or
from even trying to be conformers and to keep our own laws and our
neighbors'.


Because an old-fashioned town like Oldfields grows so slowly and with
such extreme deliberation, is the very reason it seems to have such a
delightful completeness when it has entered fairly upon its maturity.
It is possessed of kindred virtues to a winter pear, which may be
unattractive during its preparatory stages, but which takes time to
gather from the ground and from the air a pleasant and rewarding
individuality and sweetness. The towns which are built in a hurry can
be left in a hurry without a bit of regret, and if it is the fate or
fortune of the elder villages to find themselves the foundation upon
which modern manufacturing communities rear their thinly built houses
and workshops, and their quickly disintegrating communities of people,
the weaknesses of these are more glaring and hopeless in the contrast.
The hurry to make money and do much work, and the ambition to do good
work, war with each other, but, as Longfellow has said, the lie is the
hurrying second-hand of the clock, and the truth the slower hand that
waits and marks the hour. The New England that built itself houses a
hundred years ago was far less oppressed by competition and by other
questions with which the enormous increase of population is worrying
its younger citizens. And the overgrown Oldfields that increase now,
street by street, were built then a single steady sound-timbered house
at a time, and all the neighbors watched them rise, and knew where the
planks were sawn, and where the chimney bricks were burnt.

In these days when Anna Prince was young and had lately come to live
in the doctor's square house, with the three peaked windows in the
roof, and the tall box borders and lilac bushes in its neat front
yard, Oldfields was just beginning to wake from a fifty years'
architectural sleep, and rub its eyes, and see what was thought about
a smart little house with a sharp gabled roof, and much scalloping of
its edges, which a new store-keeper had seen fit to build. There was
one long street which had plenty of room on either side for most of
the houses, and where it divided, each side of the First Parish
Church, it became the East road and the West road, and the rest of the
dwellings strayed off somewhat undecidedly toward the world beyond.
There were a good many poplars in the front yards, though their former
proud ranks were broken in many places, so that surviving veterans
stood on guard irregularly before the houses, where usually one or two
members of the once busy households were also left alone. Many of the
people who lived in the village had outlying land and were farmers of
it, but beside the doctor's there were some other households which the
land supported indirectly, either through professions or because some
kind ancestor had laid by enough money for his children and
grandchildren. The ministers were both excellent men; but Dr. Leslie
was the only man who looked far ahead or saw much or cared much for
true success. In Titian's great Venetian picture of the Presentation
of the Virgin, while the little maiden goes soberly up the steps of
the temple, in the busy crowd beneath only one man is possessed by the
thought that something wonderful is happening, and lifts his head,
forgetting the buyers and sellers and gossipers, as his eyes follow
the sacred sight. Life goes on everywhere like that fragment of it in
the picture, but while the man who knows more than his fellows can be
found in every company, and sees the light which beckons him on to the
higher meanings and better gifts, his place in society is not always
such a comfortable and honored one as Dr. Leslie's. What his friends
were apt to call his notions were not of such aggressive nature that
he was accused of outlawry, and he was apt to speak his mind
uncontradicted and undisturbed. He cared little for the friction and
attrition, indeed for the inspiration, which one is sure to have who
lives among many people, and which are so dear and so helpful to most
of us who fall into ruts if we are too much alone. He loved his
friends and his books, though he understood both as few scholars can,
and he cared little for social pleasure, though Oldfields was, like
all places of its size and dignity, an epitome of the world. One or
two people of each class and rank are as good as fifty, and, to use
the saying of the doctor's friend, old Captain Finch: "Human nature is
the same the world over."

Through the long years of his solitary life, and his busy days as a
country practitioner, he had become less and less inclined to take
much part in what feeble efforts the rest of the townspeople made to
entertain themselves. He was more apt to loiter along the street,
stopping here and there to talk with his neighbors at their gates or
their front-yard gardening, and not infrequently asked some one who
stood in need of such friendliness to take a drive with him out into
the country. Nobody was grieved at remembering that he was a
repository of many secrets; he was a friend who could be trusted
always, though he was one who had been by no means slow to anger or
unwilling at times to administer rebuke.


One Sunday afternoon, late in November, while the first snow-storm of
the year was beginning, Dr. Leslie threw down a stout French medical
work of high renown as if it had failed to fulfil its mission of being
instructive first and interesting afterward. He rose from his chair
and stood looking at the insulted volume as if he had a mind to
apologize and try again, but kept his hands behind him after all. It
was thinly dressed in fluttering paper covers, and was so thick and so
lightly bound that it had a tendency to divide its material substance
into parts, like the seventhlies and eighthlies of an old-fashioned
sermon. "Those fellows must be in league with the book-binders over
here," grumbled the doctor. "I must send word to that man in New York
to have some sort of cover put on these things before they come down."
Then he lifted the book again and poised it on one hand, looking at
its irregular edges, and reflecting at length that it would be in much
better condition if he had not given it a careless crushing in the
corner of his carriage the day before. It had been sunshiny, pleasant
weather, and he had taken Nan for a long drive in the Saturday
half-holiday. He had decided, before starting, that she should manage
the reins and he would think over one or two matters and read a
while; it had been a great convenience lately that Nan understood the
responsibility of a horse and carriage. He was finding her a more and
more useful little companion. However, his studies and reflections had
been postponed until some other time, for Nan had been very eager to
talk about some of her lessons in which it seemed his duty to take an
interest. The child seemed stronger and better that autumn than he had
ever known her, and her mind had suddenly fastened itself upon certain
of her studies. She seemed very quick and very accurate, the doctor
thought, and the two traits do not always associate themselves.

He left the table and walked quickly to the west window, and, clasping
his hands behind him, stood looking out into the front yard and the
street beyond. The ground was already white and he gave a little sigh,
for winter weather is rarely a source of happiness to a doctor,
although this member of the profession was not made altogether
sorrowful by it. He sometimes keenly enjoyed a hard tramp of a mile or
two when the roads were so blocked and the snow so blinding that he
left his horse in some sheltering barn on his way to an impatient
sufferer.

A little way down the street on the other side was a house much like
his own, with a row of tall hemlocks beside it, and a front fence
higher and more imposing than his, with great posts at the gateway,
which held slender urns aloft with funereal solemnity. The doctor's
eyesight was not far from perfect, and he looked earnestly at the
windows of one of the lower rooms and saw a familiar sight enough; his
neighbor Mrs. Graham's face in its accustomed quarter of the sash. Dr.
Leslie half smiled as the thought struck him that she always sat so
exactly in the same place that her white cap was to be seen through
the same lower window-pane. "Most people would have moved their chairs
about until they wore holes in the floor," he told himself, and then
remembered how many times he had gone to look over at his placid
friend, in her favorite afternoon post of observation. He was strongly
attached to her, and he reminded himself that she was growing old and
that he must try to see her oftener. He valued her companionship, more
because he knew it was always ready for him, than because he always
availed himself of it, but the sense of mutual dependence made them
very familiar to each other when they did meet and had time for a bit
of quiet talk.

Dr. Leslie suddenly turned; he had watched long enough to make sure
that Mrs. Graham was alone; her head had not moved for many minutes;
and at first he was going out of the front door, from some instinct he
would hardly have been willing to acknowledge, but he resolutely
turned and went out to the dining-room, to tell Marilla, after his
usual professional custom of giving notice of his whereabouts, that he
was going to Mrs. Graham's. A prompt inquiry came from the kitchen to
know if anything ailed her, to which the doctor returned a scornful
negative and escaped through the side-door which gave entrance both to
the study and the dining-room. There was the usual service at
Marilla's meeting-house, but she had not ventured out to attend it,
giving the weather and a grumbling toothache for her reasons, though
she concealed the fact that the faithless town milliner had
disappointed her about finishing her winter bonnet. Marilla had begun
life with certain opinions which she had never changed, though time
and occasion had lessened the value of some of them. She liked to
count herself among those who are persecuted for conscience's sake,
and was immensely fond of an argument and of having it known that she
was a dissenter from the First Parish Church.

Mrs. Graham looked up with surprise from her book to see the doctor
coming in from the street, and, being helplessly lame, sat still, and
put out her hand to greet him, with a very pleased look on her face.
"Is there anything the matter with me?" she asked. "I have begun to
think you don't care to associate with well people; you don't usually
go to church in the afternoon either, so you haven't taken refuge here
because Mr. Talcot is ill. I must say that I missed hearing the bell;
I shall lose myself altogether by the middle of the week. One must
have some landmarks."

"Marilla complained yesterday that she was all at sea because her
apple pies gave out a day too soon. She put the bread to rise the
wrong night, and everything went wrong about the sweeping. It has been
a week of great domestic calamity with us, but Nan confided to me
this morning that there was some trouble with our bonnet into the
bargain. I had forgotten it was time for that," said the doctor,
laughing. "We always have a season of great anxiety and disaster until
the bonnet question is settled. I keep out of the way as much as I
can. Once I tried to be amusing, and said it was a pity the women did
not follow their grandmothers' fashion and make a good Leghorn
structure last ten years and have no more trouble about it; but I was
assured that there wasn't a milliner now living who could set such an
arrangement going."

"Marilla's taste is not what one might call commonplace," said Mrs.
Graham, with a smile. "I think her summer head-covering was a little
the most remarkable we have had yet. She dresses so decently
otherwise, good soul!"

"It was astonishing," said the doctor gravely, as he stood before the
fire thinking how pleasant the room looked; almost as familiar as his
own study, with its heavy mahogany furniture and two old portraits and
few quaint ornaments. Mrs. Graham's geraniums were all flourishing and
green and even in bloom, unlike most treasures of their kind. There
was a modern element in the room also,--some pretty cushions and other
bits of embroidery; for Mrs. Graham had some grandchildren who were
city born and bred, and who made little offerings to her from time to
time. On the table near her and between the front windows were many
new books and magazines, and though the two neighbors kept up a
regular system of exchange, the doctor went nearer to see what might
be found. There were a few minutes of silence, and he became conscious
that Mrs. Graham was making up her mind to say something, but when she
spoke it was only to ask if there were anything serious the matter
with the minister.

"Oh, no," said the doctor, "he's a dyspeptic, nervous soul, too
conscientious! and when the time arrives for the sacrifice of pigs,
and his whole admiring parish vie with each other to offer spare-ribs
on that shrine, it goes hard with the poor man."

This was worth hearing, but Mrs. Graham was a little sorry that she
had let such a good chance go by for saying something that was near
her heart, so presently she added, "I am sorry that poor Marilla
hasn't a better gift at personal decoration. It seems a pity to let
her disfigure that pretty child with such structures in the way of
head-gear. I was so glad when that abominable great summer hat was
laid by for the season."

"It was pretty bad," the doctor agreed, in a provokingly indifferent
tone, whereupon Mrs. Graham's interest was rekindled, and saying to
herself that the poor man did not know the danger and foolishness of
such carelessness, she ventured another comment.

"So much depends upon giving a child's taste the right direction."

Dr. Leslie had taken up a magazine, and seemed to have found something
that pleased him, but he at once laid it down and glanced once or
twice at his hostess, as if he hoped for future instructions. "You see
I don't know anything about it, and Nan doesn't think of her clothes
at all, so far as I can tell, and so poor Marilla has to do the best
she can," he said mildly.

"Oh dear, yes," answered Mrs. Graham, not without impatience. "But the
child's appearance is of some importance, and since a dollar or two
doesn't make any difference to you, she should be made to look like
the little lady that she is. Dear old Mrs. Thacher would turn in her
grave, for she certainly had a simple good taste that was better than
this. Marilla became the easy prey of that foolish little woman who
makes bonnets on the East road. She has done more to deprave the ideas
of our townspeople than one would believe, and they tell you with such
pleasure that she used to work in New York, as if that settled the
question. It is a comfort to see old Sally Turner and Miss Betsy
Milman go by in their decent dark silk bonnets that good Susan Martin
made for them. If I could go out to-morrow I believe I would rather
hunt for a very large velvet specimen of her work, which is somewhere
upstairs in a big bandbox, than trust myself to these ignorant hands.
It is a great misfortune to a town if it has been disappointed in its
milliner. You are quite at her mercy, and, worse than all, liable to
entire social misapprehension when you venture far from home."

"So bonnets are not a question of free will and individual
responsibility?" asked the doctor soberly. "I must say that I have
wondered sometimes if the women do not draw lots for them. But what
shall I do about the little girl? I am afraid I do her great injustice
in trying to bring her up at all--it needs a woman's eye."

"Your eye is just as good as anybody's," responded Mrs. Graham
quickly, lest the doctor should drift into sad thought about his young
wife who had been so long dead and yet seemed always a nearer and
dearer living presence to him. He was apt to say a word or two about
her and not answer the next question which was put to him, and
presently go silently away,--but to-day Mrs. Graham had important
business in hand.

"My daughter will be here next week," she observed, presently, "and
I'm sure that she will do any shopping for you in Boston with great
pleasure. We might forestall Marilla's plans. You could easily say
when you go home that you have spoken to me about it. I think it would
be an excellent opportunity now, while the East Road establishment is
in disfavor," and when the doctor smiled and nodded, his friend and
hostess settled herself comfortably in her chair, and felt that she
had gained a point.

The sunshine itself could hardly have made that south parlor look
pleasanter. There was a log in the fire that was wet, and singing
gently to itself, as if the sound of the summer rustlings and
chirpings had somehow been stored away in its sap, and above it were
some pieces of drier white birch, which were sending up a yellow
conflagration to keep the marauding snow-flakes from coming down the
chimney. The geraniums looked brighter than by daylight, and seemed to
hold their leaves toward the fireplace as if they were hands; and were
even leaning out a little way themselves and lifting their blossoms
like torches, as if they were a reserve force, a little garrison of
weaker soldiers who were also enemies of the cold. The gray twilight
was gathering out of doors; the trees looked naked and defenceless, as
one saw them through the windows. Mrs. Graham tapped the arms of her
chair gently with the tips of her fingers, and in a few minutes the
doctor closed the book he was looking over and announced that the days
were growing very short. There was something singularly pleasant to
both the friends in their quiet Sunday afternoon companionship.

"You used to pay me a Sunday visit every week," said the old lady,
pleased to find that her guest still lingered. "I don't know why, but
I always have a hope that you will find time to run over for half an
hour. I said to myself yesterday that a figure of me in wax would do
just as well as anything nowadays. I get up and dress myself, and make
the journey downstairs, and sit here at the window and have my dinner
and go through the same round day after day. If it weren't for a
certain amount of expense it incurs, and occupation to other people, I
think it would be of very little use. However, there are some people
still left who need me. Who is it says--Béranger perhaps--that to love
benefits one's self, and to inspire love benefits others. I like to
think that the children and grandchildren have the old place to think
of and come back to. I can see that it is a great bond between them
all, and that is very good. I begin to feel like a very old woman; it
would be quite different, you know, if I were active and busy out of
doors, and the bustling sort of person for which nature intended me.
As it is, my mind is bustling enough for itself and its body both."

"Well," said the doctor, laughing a little, "what is it now?"

"The little girl," answered Mrs. Graham, gravely. "I think it is quite
time she knew something of society. Don't tell yourself that I am
notional and frivolous; I know you have put a great deal of hope and
faith and affection into that child's career. It would disappoint you
dreadfully if she were not interesting and harmonious to people in
general. It seems a familiar fact now that she should have come to
live with you, that she should be growing up in your house; but the
first thing we know she will be a young lady instead of an amusing
child, and I think that you cannot help seeing that a great deal of
responsibility belongs to you. She must be equipped and provisioned
for the voyage of life; she must have some resources."

"But I think she has more than most children."

"Yes, yes, I dare say. She is a bright little creature, but her
brightness begins to need new things to work upon. She does very well
at school now, I hear, and she minds very well and is much less
lawless than she used to be; but she is like a candle that refuses to
burn, and is satisfied with admiring its candlestick. She is quite the
queen of the village children in one way, and in another she is quite
apart from them. I believe they envy her and look upon her as being of
another sort, and yet count her out of half their plans and pleasures,
and she runs home, not knowing whether to be pleased or hurt, and
pulls down half a dozen of your books and sits proudly at the window.
Her poor foolish mother had some gifts, but she went adrift very soon,
and I should teach Nan her duty to her neighbor, and make her take in
the idea that she owes something to the world beside following out her
own most satisfying plans. When I was a young woman it was a most
blessed discovery to me--though I was not any quicker at making it
than other people, perhaps,--that, beside being happy myself and
valuable to myself, I must fit myself into my place in society. We are
seldom left to work alone, you know. No, not even you. I know too much
about you to believe that. And it isn't enough that we are willing to
talk about ourselves. We must learn to understand the subjects of the
day that everybody talks about, and to make sure of a right to stand
upon the highest common ground wherever we are. Society is a sort of
close corporation, and we must know its watchwords, and keep an
interest in its interests and affairs. I call a gentleman the man who,
either by birth or by nature, belongs to the best society. There may
be bad gentlemen and good gentlemen, but one must feel instinctively
at home with a certain class, representatives of which are likely to
be found everywhere.

"And as for Nan, you will be disappointed if she does not understand a
little later your own way of looking at things. She mustn't grow up
full of whims and indifferences. I am too fond of you to look forward
calmly to your being disappointed, and I do believe she will be a most
lovely, daughterly, friendly girl, who will keep you from being lonely
as you grow older, and be a great blessing in every way. Yet she has a
strange history, and is in a strange position. I hope you will find a
good school for her before very long."

This was said after a moment's pause, and with considerable
hesitation, and Mrs. Graham was grateful for the gathering darkness
which sheltered her, and not a little surprised at the doctor's
answer.

"I have been thinking of that," he said quickly, "but it is a great
puzzle at present and I am thankful to say, I think it is quite safe
to wait a year or two yet. You and I live so much apart from society
that we idealize it a good deal, though you are a stray-away bit of
it. We too seldom see the ideal gentleman or lady; we have to be
contented with keeping the ideal in our minds, it seems to me, and
saying that this man is gentlemanly, and that woman ladylike. But I do
believe in aiming at the best things, and turning this young
creature's good instincts and uncommon powers into the proper channels
instead of letting her become singular and self-centred because she
does not know enough of people of her own sort."

Mrs. Graham gave a little sound of approval that did not stand for any
word in particular: "I wonder if her father's people will ever make
any claim to her? She said something about her aunt one day; I think
it was to hear whatever I might answer. It seemed to me that the poor
child had more pleasure in this unknown possession than was worth
while; she appeared to think of her as a sort of fairy godmother who
might descend in Oldfields at any moment."

"I did not know she thought of her at all," announced the doctor,
somewhat dismayed. "She never has talked about her aunt to me. I dare
say that she has been entertained with the whole miserable story."

"Oh, no," answered Mrs. Graham, placidly. "I don't think that is
likely, but it is quite reasonable that the child should be aware of
some part of it by this time. The Dyer neighbors are far from being
reticent, good creatures, and they have little to remember that
approaches the interest and excitement of that time. Do you know
anything about Miss Prince nowadays? I have not heard anything of her
in a long while."

"She still sends the yearly remittance, which I acknowledge and put
into the savings bank as I always have done. When Nan came to me I
advised Miss Prince that I wished to assume all care of her and should
be glad if she would give me entire right to the child, but she took
no notice of the request. It really makes no practical difference.
Only," and the doctor became much embarrassed, "I must confess that I
have a notion of letting her study medicine by and by if she shows a
fitness for it."

"Dear, dear!" said the hostess, leaning forward so suddenly that she
knocked two or three books from the corner of the table, and feeling
very much excited. "John Leslie, I can't believe it! but my dear man
used to say you thought twice for everybody else's once. What can have
decided you upon such a plan?"

"How happened the judge to say that?" asked the doctor, trying to
scoff, but not a little pleased. "I'm sure I can't tell you, Mrs.
Graham, only the idea has grown of itself in my mind, as all right
ideas do, and everything that I can see seems to favor it. You may
think that it is too early to decide, but I see plainly that Nan is
not the sort of girl who will be likely to marry. When a man or woman
has that sort of self-dependence and unnatural self-reliance, it shows
itself very early. I believe that it is a mistake for such a woman to
marry. Nan's feeling toward her boy-playmates is exactly the same as
toward the girls she knows. You have only to look at the rest of the
children together to see the difference; and if I make sure by and by,
the law of her nature is that she must live alone and work alone, I
shall help her to keep it instead of break it, by providing something
else than the business of housekeeping and what is called a woman's
natural work, for her activity and capacity to spend itself upon."

"But don't you think that a married life is happiest?" urged the
listener, a good deal shocked at such treason, yet somewhat persuaded
by its truth.

"Yes," said Dr. Leslie, sadly. "Yes indeed, for most of us. We could
say almost everything for that side, you and I; but a rule is
sometimes very cruel for its exceptions; and there is a life now and
then which is persuaded to put itself in irons by the force of custom
and circumstances, and from the lack of bringing reason to bear upon
the solving of the most important question of its existence. Of course
I don't feel sure yet that I am right about Nan, but looking at her
sad inheritance from her mother, and her good inheritances from other
quarters, I cannot help feeling that she might be far more unhappy
than to be made ready to take up my work here in Oldfields when I have
to lay it down. She will need a good anchor now and then. Only this
summer she had a bad day of it that made me feel at my wits' end. She
was angry with one of the children at school, and afterward with
Marilla because she scolded her for not keeping better account of the
family times and seasons, and ran away in the afternoon, if you
please, and was not heard from until next morning at breakfast time.
She went to the old place and wandered about the fields as she used,
and crept into some shelter or other. I dare say that she climbed in
at one of the windows of the house, though I could not make quite sure
without asking more questions than I thought worth while. She came
stealing in early in the morning, looking a little pale and wild, but
she hasn't played such a prank since. I had a call to the next town
and Marilla had evidently been awake all night. I got home early in
the morning myself, and was told that it was supposed I had picked up
Nan on the road and carried her with me, so the blame was all ready
for my shoulders unless we had both happened to see the young culprit
strolling in at the gate. I was glad she had punished herself, so that
there was no need of my doing it, though I had a talk with her a day
or two afterward, when we were both in our right minds. She is a good
child enough."

"I dare say," remarked Mrs. Graham drily, "but it seems to me that
neither of you took Marilla sufficiently into account. That must have
been the evening that the poor soul went to nearly every house in town
to ask if there were any stray company to tea. Some of us could not
help wondering where the young person was finally discovered. She has
a great fancy for the society of Miss Betsy Milman and Sally Turner at
present, and I quite sympathize with her. I often look over there and
see the end of their house with that one little square window in the
very peak of it spying up the street, and wish I could pay them a
visit myself and hear a bit of their wise gossip. I quite envy Nan her
chance of going in and being half forgotten as she sits in one of
their short chairs listening and watching. They used to be great
friends of her grandmother's. Oh no; if I could go to see them they
would insist upon my going into the best room, and we should all be
quite uncomfortable. It is much better to sit here and think about
them and hear their flat-irons creak away over the little boys'
jackets and trousers."

"I must confess that I have my own clothes mended there to this day,"
said the doctor. "Marilla says their mending is not what it used to
be, too, but it is quite good enough. As for that little window, I
hardly ever see it without remembering the day of your aunt Margaret's
funeral. I was only a boy and not deeply afflicted, but of course I
had my place in the procession and was counted among the mourners, and
as we passed the Milman place I saw the old lady's face up there just
filling the four small panes. You know she was almost helpless, and
how she had got up into the little garret I cannot imagine, but she
was evidently determined to inspect the procession as it went down the
burying-ground lane. It was a pity they did not cut the window beneath
it in the lower room in her day. You know what an odd face she had; I
suppose it was distorted by disease and out of all shape it ever knew;
but I can see it now, framed in with its cap border and the window as
if there were no more of her."

"She really was the most curious old creature; it more than accounts
for Mrs. Turner's and Miss Betsy's love for a piece of news," said
Mrs. Graham, who was much amused. "But I wish we understood the value
of these old news-loving people. So much local history and tradition
must die with every one of them if we take no pains to save it. I hope
you are wise about getting hold of as much as possible. You doctors
ought to be our historians, for you alone see the old country folks
familiarly and can talk with them without restraint."

"But we haven't time to do any writing," the guest replied. "That is
why our books amount to so little for the most part. The active men,
who are really to be depended upon as practitioners, are kept so busy
that they are too tired to use the separate gift for writing, even if
they possess it, which many do not. And the literary doctors, the
medical scholars, are a different class, who have not had the
experience which alone can make their advice reliable. I mean of
course in practical matters, not anatomy and physiology. But we have
to work our way and depend upon ourselves, we country doctors, to whom
a consultation is more or less a downfall of pride. Whenever I hear
that an old doctor is dead I sigh to think what treasures of wisdom
are lost instead of being added to the general fund. That was one
advantage of putting the young men with the elder practitioners; many
valuable suggestions were handed down in that way."

"I am very well contented with my doctor," said Mrs. Graham, with
enthusiasm, at this first convenient opportunity. "And it is very wise
of you all to keep up our confidence in the face of such facts as
these. You can hardly have the heart to scold any more about the
malpractice of patients when we believe in you so humbly and so
ignorantly. You are always safe though, for our consciences are
usually smarting under the remembrance of some transgression which
might have hindered you if it did not. Poor humanity," she added in a
tone of compassion. "It has to grope its way through a deal of
darkness."

The doctor sighed, but he was uncommonly restful and comfortable in
the large arm-chair before the fender. It was quite dark out of doors
now, and the fire gave all the light that was in the room. Presently
he roused himself a little to say "'Poor humanity,' indeed! And I
suppose nobody sees the failures and miseries as members of my
profession do. There will be more and more sorrow and defeat as the
population increases and competition with it. It seems to me that to
excel in one's work becomes more and more a secondary motive; to do a
great deal and be well paid for it ranks first. One feels the injury
of such purposes even in Oldfields."

"I cannot see that the world changes much. I often wish that I could,
though surely not in this way," said the lame woman from her seat by
the window, as the doctor rose to go away. "I find my days piteously
alike, and you do not know what a pleasure this talk has been. It
satisfies my hungry mind and gives me a great deal to think of; you
would not believe what an appetite I had. Oh, don't think I need any
excuses, it is a great pleasure to see you drive in and out of the
gate, and I like to see your lamp coming into the study, and to know
that you are there and fond of me. But winter looked very long and
life very short before you came in this afternoon. I suppose you have
had enough of society for one day, so I shall not tell you what I mean
to have for tea, but next Sunday night I shall expect you to come and
bring your ward. Will you please ring, so that Martha will bring the
lights? I should like to send Nan a nice letter to read which came
yesterday from my little grand-daughter in Rome. I shall be so glad
when they are all at home again. She is about Nan's age, you know; I
must see to it that they make friends with each other. Don't put me on
a dusty top shelf again and forget me for five or six weeks," laughed
the hostess, as her guest protested and lingered a minute still before
he opened the door.

"You won't say anything of my confidences?" at which Mrs. Graham
shakes her head with satisfactory gravity, though if Doctor Leslie had
known she was inwardly much amused, and assured herself directly that
she hoped to hear no more of such plans; how could he tell that the
girl herself would agree to them, and whether Oldfields itself would
favor Nan as his own successor and its medical adviser? But John
Leslie was a wise, far-seeing man, with a great power of holding to
his projects. He really must be kept to his promise of a weekly visit;
she was of some use in the world after all, so long as these
unprotected neighbors were in it, and at any rate she had gained her
point about the poor child's clothes.

As for the doctor, he found the outer world much obscured by the
storm, and hoped that nobody would need his services that night, as he
went stumbling home though the damp and clogging snow underfoot. He
felt a strange pleasure in the sight of a small, round head at the
front study window between the glass and the curtain, and Nan came to
open the door for him, while Marilla, whose unwonted Sunday afternoon
leisure seemed to have been devoted to fragrant experiments in
cookery, called in pleased tones from the dining-room that she had
begun to be afraid he was going to stay out to supper. It was somehow
much more homelike than it used to be, the doctor told himself, as he
pushed his feet into the slippers which had been waiting before the
fire until they were in danger of being scorched. And before Marilla
had announced with considerable ceremony that tea was upon the table,
he had assured himself that it had been a very pleasant hour or two at
Mrs. Graham's, and it was the best thing in the world for both of them
to see something of each other. For the little girl's sake he must try
to keep out of ruts, and must get hold of somebody outside his own
little world.

But while he called himself an old fogy and other impolite names he
was conscious of a grave and sweet desire to make the child's life a
successful one,--to bring out what was in her own mind and capacity,
and so to wisely educate her, to give her a place to work in, and
wisdom to work with, so far as he could; for he knew better than most
men that it is the people who can do nothing who find nothing to do,
and the secret of happiness in this world is not only to be useful,
but to be forever elevating one's uses. Some one must be intelligent
for a child until it is ready to be intelligent for itself, and he
told himself with new decision that he must be wise in his laws for
Nan and make her keep them, else she never would be under the grace of
any of her own.



XI

NEW OUTLOOKS


Dr. Leslie held too securely the affection of his townspeople to be
in danger of losing their regard or respect, yet he would have been
half pained and half amused if he had known how foolishly his plans,
which came in time to be his ward's also, were smiled and frowned upon
in the Oldfields houses. Conformity is the inspiration of much
second-rate virtue. If we keep near a certain humble level of morality
and achievement, our neighbors are willing to let us slip through life
unchallenged. Those who anticipate the opinions and decisions of
society must expect to be found guilty of many sins.

There was not one of the young village people so well known as the
doctor's little girl, who drove with him day by day, and with whom he
kept such delightful and trustful companionship. If she had been asked
in later years what had decided her to study not only her profession,
but any profession, it would have been hard for her to answer anything
beside the truth that the belief in it had grown with herself. There
had been many reasons why it seemed unnecessary. There was every
prospect that she would be rich enough to place her beyond the
necessity of self-support. She could have found occupation in simply
keeping the doctor's house and being a cordial hostess in that home
and a welcome guest in other people's. She was already welcome
everywhere in Oldfields, but in spite of this, which would have seemed
to fill the hearts and lives of other girls, it seemed to her like a
fragment of her life and duty; and when she had ordered her
housekeeping and her social duties, there was a restless readiness for
a more absorbing duty and industry; and, as the years went by, all her
desire tended in one direction. The one thing she cared most to learn
increased its attraction continually, and though one might think the
purpose of her guardian had had its influence and moulded her
character by its persistence, the truth was that the wise doctor
simply followed as best he could the leadings of the young nature
itself, and so the girl grew naturally year by year, reaching out half
unconsciously for what belonged to her life and growth; being taught
one thing more than all, that her duty must be followed eagerly and
reverently in spite of the adverse reasons which tempted and sometimes
baffled her. As she grew older she was to understand more clearly that
indecision is but another name for cowardice and weakness; a habit of
mind that quickly increases its power of hindrance. She had the faults
that belonged to her character, but these were the faults of haste and
rashness rather than the more hopeless ones of obstinacy or a lack of
will and purpose.

The Sunday evening tea-drinking with Mrs. Graham, though somewhat
formidable at first to our heroine, became quickly one of her dearest
pleasures, and led to a fast friendship between the kind hostess and
her young guest. Soon Nan gave herself eagerly to a plan of spending
two or three evenings a week across the way for the purpose of reading
aloud, sometimes from books she did not understand, but oftener from
books of her own choice. It was supposed to be wholly a kindness on
the young girl's part, and Mrs. Graham allowed the excuse of a
temporary ailment of her own strong and useful eyes to serve until
neither she nor Nan had the least thought of giving up their pleasant
habit of reading together. And to this willing listener Nan came in
time with her youthful dreams and visions of future prosperities in
life, so that presently Mrs. Graham knew many things which would have
surprised the doctor, who on the other hand was the keeper of equally
amazing and treasured confidences of another sort. It was a great
pleasure to both these friends, but most especially to the elderly
woman, that Nan seemed so entirely satisfied with their friendship.
The busy doctor, who often had more than enough to think and worry
about, sometimes could spare but little time to Nan for days together,
but her other companion was always waiting for her, and the smile was
always ready by way of greeting when the child looked eagerly up at
the parlor window. What stories of past days and memories of youth and
of long-dead friends belonging to the dear lady's own girlhood were
poured into Nan's delighted ears! She came in time to know Mrs.
Graham's own immediate ancestors, and the various members of her
family with their fates and fortunes, as if she were a contemporary,
and was like another grandchild who was a neighbor and beloved crony,
which real blessing none of the true grandchildren had ever been lucky
enough to possess. She formed a welcome link with the outer world, did
little Nan, and from being a cheerful errand-runner, came at last to
paying friendly visits in the neighborhood to carry Mrs. Graham's
messages and assurances. And from all these daily suggestions of
courtesy and of good taste and high breeding, and helpful fellowship
with good books, and the characters in their stories which were often
more real and dear and treasured in her thoughts than her actual
fellow townsfolk, Nan drew much pleasure and not a little wisdom; at
any rate a direction for which she would all her life be thankful. It
would have been surprising if her presence in the doctor's house had
not after some time made changes in it, but there was no great
difference outwardly except that she gathered some trifling
possessions which sometimes harmonized, and as often did not, with the
household gods of the doctor and Marilla. There was a shy sort of
intercourse between Nan and Mrs. Graham's grandchildren, but it was
not very valuable to any of the young people at first, the country
child being too old and full of experience to fellowship with the
youngest, and too unversed in the familiar machinery of their social
life to feel much kinship with the eldest.

It was during one of these early summer visits, and directly after a
tea-party which Marilla had proudly projected on Nan's account, that
Dr. Leslie suddenly announced that he meant to go to Boston for a few
days and should take Nan with him. This event had long been promised,
but had seemed at length like the promise of happiness in a future
world, reasonably certain, but a little vague and distant. It was a
more important thing than anybody understood, for a dear and familiar
chapter of life was ended when the expectant pair drove out of the
village on their way to the far-off railway station, as another had
been closed when the door of the Thacher farm-house had been shut and
padlocked, and Nan had gone home one snowy night to live with the
doctor. The weather at any rate was different now, for it was early
June, the time when doctors can best give themselves a holiday; and
though Dr. Leslie assured himself that he had little wish to take the
journey, he felt it quite due to his ward that she should see a little
more of the world, and happily due also to certain patients and his
brother physicians that he should visit the instrument-makers' shops,
and some bookstores; in fact there were a good many important errands
to which it was just as well to attend in person. But he watched Nan's
wide-open, delighted eyes, and observed her lack of surprise at
strange sights, and her perfect readiness for the marvelous, with
great amusement. He was touched and pleased because she cared most for
what had concerned him; to be told where he lived and studied, and to
see the places he had known best, roused most enthusiasm. An afternoon
in a corner of the reading-room at the Athenæum library, in which he
had spent delightful hours when he was a young man, seemed to please
the young girl more than anything else. As he sat beside the table
where he had gathered enough books and papers to last for many days,
in his delight at taking up again his once familiar habit, Nan looked
on with sympathetic eyes, or watched the squirrels in the trees of the
quiet Granary Burying Ground, which seemed to her like a bit of
country which the noisy city had caught and imprisoned. Now that she
was fairly out in the world she felt a new, strange interest in her
mysterious aunt, for it was this hitherto unknown space outside the
borders of Oldfields to which her father and his people belonged. And
as a charming old lady went by in a pretty carriage, the child's gaze
followed her wistfully as she and the doctor were walking along the
street. With a sudden blaze of imagination she had wished those
pleasant eyes might have seen the likeness to her father, of which she
had been sometimes told, and that the carriage had been hurried back,
so that the long estrangement might be ended. It was a strange thing
that, just afterward, Dr. Leslie had, with much dismay, caught sight
of the true aunt; for Miss Anna Prince of Dunport had also seen fit to
make one of her rare visits to Boston. She looked dignified and
stately, but a little severe, as she went down the side street away
from them. Nan's quick eyes had noticed already the difference between
the city people and the country folks, and would have even recognized
a certain provincialism in her father's sister. The doctor had only
seen Miss Prince once many years before, but he had known her again
with instinctive certainty, and Nan did not guess, though she was most
grateful for it, why he reached for her hand, and held it fast as they
walked together, just as he always used to do when she was a little
girl. She was not yet fully grown, and she never suspected the sudden
thrill of dread, and consciousness of the great battle of life which
she must soon begin to fight, which all at once chilled the doctor's
heart. "It's a cold world, a cold world," he had said to himself.
"Only one thing will help her through safely, and that is her
usefulness. She shall never be either a thief or a beggar of the
world's favor if I can have my wish." And Nan, holding his hand with
her warm, soft, childish one, looked up in his face, all unconscious
that he thought with pity how unaware she was of the years to come,
and of their difference to this sunshine holiday. "And yet I never was
so happy at her age as I am this summer," the doctor told himself by
way of cheer.

They paid some visits together to Dr. Leslie's much-neglected friends,
and it was interesting to see how, for the child's sake, he resumed
his place among these acquaintances to whom he had long been linked
either personally in times past, or by family ties. He was sometimes
reproached for his love of seclusion and cordially welcomed back to
his old relations, but as often found it impossible to restore
anything but a formal intercourse of a most temporary nature. The
people for whom he cared most, all seemed attracted to his young ward,
and he noted this with pleasure, though he had not recognized the fact
that he had been, for the moment, basely uncertain whether his
judgment of her worth would be confirmed. He laughed at the
insinuation that he had made a hermit or an outlaw of himself; he
would have been still more amused to hear one of his old friends say
that this was the reason they had seen so little of him in late years,
and that it was a shame that a man of his talent and many values to
the world should be hiding his light under the Oldfields bushel, and
all for the sake of bringing up this child. As for Nan, she had little
to say, but kept her eyes and ears wide open, and behaved herself
discreetly. She had ceased to belong only to the village she had left;
in these days she became a citizen of the world at large. Her horizon
had suddenly become larger, and she might have discovered more than
one range of mountains which must be crossed as the years led her
forward steadily, one by one.


There is nothing so interesting as to be able to watch the change and
progress of the mental and moral nature, provided it grows eagerly
and steadily. There must be periods of repose and hibernation like the
winter of a plant, and in its springtime the living soul will both
consciously and unconsciously reach out for new strength and new
light. The leaves and flowers of action and achievement are only the
signs of the vitality that works within.



XII

AGAINST THE WIND


During the next few years, while Nan was growing up, Oldfields itself
changed less than many country towns of its size. Though some faces
might be missed or altered, Dr. Leslie's household seemed much the
same, and Mrs. Graham, a little thinner and older, but more patient
and sweet and delightful than ever, sits at her parlor window and
reads new books and old ones, and makes herself the centre of much
love and happiness. She and the doctor have grown more and more
friendly, and they watch the young girl's development with great
pride: they look forward to her vacations more than they would care to
confess even to each other; and when she comes home eager and gay, she
makes both these dear friends feel young again. When Nan is not there
to keep him company, Dr. Leslie always drives, and has grown more
careful about the comfort of his carriages, though he tells himself
with great pleasure that he is really much more youthful in his
feelings than he was twenty years before, and does not hesitate to say
openly that he should have been an old fogy by this time if it had not
been for the blessing of young companionship. When Nan is pleased to
command, he is always ready to take long rides and the two saddles are
brushed up, and they wonder why the bits are so tarnished, and she
holds his horse's bridle while he goes in to see his patients, and is
ready with merry talk or serious questions when he reappears. And one
dark night she listens from her window to the demand of a messenger,
and softly creeps down stairs and is ready to take her place by his
side, and drive him across the hills as if it were the best fun in the
world, with the frightened country-boy clattering behind on his
bare-backed steed. The moon rises late and they come home just before
daybreak, and though the doctor tries to be stern as he says he cannot
have such a piece of mischief happen again, he wonders how the girl
knew that he had dreaded for once in his life the drive in the dark,
and had felt a little less strong than usual.

Marilla still reigns in noble state. She has some time ago accepted a
colleague after a preliminary show of resentment, and Nan has little
by little infused a different spirit into the housekeeping; and when
her friends come to pay visits in the vacations they find the old home
a very charming place, and fall quite in love with both the doctor and
Mrs. Graham before they go away. Marilla always kept the large east
parlor for a sacred shrine of society, to be visited chiefly by
herself as guardian priestess; but Nan has made it a pleasanter room
than anybody ever imagined possible, and uses it with a freedom which
appears to the old housekeeper to lack consideration and respect. Nan
makes the most of her vacations, while the neighbors are all glad to
see her come back, and some of them are much amused because in summer
she still clings to her childish impatience at wearing any head
covering, and no matter how much Marilla admires the hat which is
decorously worn to church every Sunday morning, it is hardly seen
again, except by chance, during the week, and the brown hair is sure
to be faded a little before the summer sunshine is past. Nan goes
about visiting when she feels inclined, and seems surprisingly
unchanged as she seats herself in one of the smoke-browned Dyer
kitchens, and listens eagerly to whatever information is offered, or
answers cordially all sorts of questions, whether they concern her own
experiences or the world's in general. She has never yet seen her
father's sister, though she still thinks of her, and sometimes with a
strange longing for an evidence of kind feeling and kinship which has
never been shown. This has been chief among the vague sorrows of her
girlhood. Yet once when her guardian had asked if she wished to make
some attempt at intercourse or conciliation, he had been answered,
with a scorn and decision worthy of grandmother Thacher herself, that
it was for Miss Prince to make advances if she ever wished for either
the respect or affection of her niece. But the young girl has clung
with touching affection to the memory and association of her
childhood, and again and again sought in every season of the year the
old playgrounds and familiar corners of the farm, which she has grown
fonder of as the months go by. The inherited attachment of generations
seems to have been centred in her faithful heart.

It must be confessed that the summer which followed the close of her
school-life was, for the most part, very unsatisfactory. Her
school-days had been more than usually pleasant and rewarding, in
spite of the sorrows and disappointments and unsolvable puzzles which
are sure to trouble thoughtful girls of her age. But she had grown so
used at last to living by rules and bells that she could not help
feeling somewhat adrift without them. It had been so hard to put
herself under restraint and discipline after her free life in
Oldfields that it was equally hard for a while to find herself at
liberty; though, this being her natural state, she welcomed it
heartily at first, and was very thankful to be at home. It did not
take long to discover that she had no longer the same desire for her
childish occupations and amusements; they were only incidental now and
pertained to certain moods, and could not again be made the chief
purposes of her life. She hardly knew what to do with herself, and
sometimes wondered what would become of her, and why she was alive at
all, as she longed for some sufficient motive of existence to catch
her up into its whirlwind. She was filled with energy and a great
desire for usefulness, but it was not with her, as with many of her
friends, that the natural instinct toward marriage, and the building
and keeping of a sweet home-life, ruled all other plans and
possibilities. Her best wishes and hopes led her away from all this,
and however tenderly she sympathized in other people's happiness, and
recognized its inevitableness, for herself she avoided unconsciously
all approach or danger of it. She was trying to climb by the help of
some other train of experiences to whatever satisfaction and success
were possible for her in this world. If she had been older and of a
different nature, she might have been told that to climb up any other
way toward a shelter from the fear of worthlessness, and mistake, and
reproach, would be to prove herself in most people's eyes a thief and
a robber. But in these days she was not fit to reason much about her
fate; she could only wait for the problems to make themselves
understood, and for the whole influence of her character and of the
preparatory years to shape and signify themselves into a simple chart
and unmistakable command. And until the power was given to "see life
steadily and see it whole," she busied herself aimlessly with such
details as were evidently her duty, and sometimes following the right
road and often wandering from it in willful impatience, she stumbled
along more or less unhappily. It seemed as if everybody had forgotten
Nan's gift and love for the great profession which was her childish
delight and ambition. To be sure she had studied anatomy and
physiology with eager devotion in the meagre text-books at school,
though the other girls had grumbled angrily at the task. Long ago,
when Nan had confided to her dearest cronies that she meant to be a
doctor, they were hardly surprised that she should determine upon a
career which they would have rejected for themselves. She was not of
their mind, and they believed her capable of doing anything she
undertook. Yet to most of them the possible and even probable marriage
which was waiting somewhere in the future seemed to hover like a
cloudy barrier over the realization of any such unnatural plans.

They assured themselves that their school-mate showed no sign of being
the sort of girl who tried to be mannish and to forsake her natural
vocation for a profession. She did not look strong-minded; besides she
had no need to work for her living, this ward of a rich man, who was
altogether the most brilliant and beautiful girl in school. Yet
everybody knew that she had a strange tenacity of purpose, and there
was a lack of pretension, and a simplicity that scorned the deceits of
school-girl existence. Everybody knew too that she was not a
commonplace girl, and her younger friends made her the heroine of
their fondest anticipations and dreams. But after all, it seemed as if
everybody, even the girl herself, had lost sight of the once familiar
idea. It was a natural thing enough that she should have become expert
in rendering various minor services to the patients in Dr. Leslie's
absence, and sometimes assist him when no other person was at hand.
Marilla became insensible at the sight of the least dangerous of
wounds, and could not be trusted to suggest the most familiar
household remedy, after all her years of association with the
practice of medicine, and it was considered lucky that Nan had some
aptness for such services. In her childhood she had been nicknamed
"the little doctor," by the household and even a few familiar friends,
but this was apparently outgrown, though her guardian had more than
once announced in sudden outbursts of enthusiasm that she already knew
more than most of the people who tried to practice medicine. They once
in a while talked about some suggestion or discovery which was
attracting Dr. Leslie's attention, but the girl seemed hardly to have
gained much interest even for this, and became a little shy of being
found with one of the medical books in her hand, as she tried to fancy
herself in sympathy with the conventional world of school and of the
every-day ideas of society. And yet her inward sympathy with a
doctor's and a surgeon's work grew stronger and stronger, though she
dismissed reluctantly the possibility of following her bent in any
formal way, since, after all, her world had seemed to forbid it. As
the time drew near for her school-days to be ended, she tried to
believe that she should be satisfied with her Oldfields life. She was
fond of reading, and she had never lacked employment, besides, she
wished to prove herself an intelligent companion to Dr. Leslie, whom
she loved more and more dearly as the years went by. There had been a
long time of reserve between her childish freedom of intercourse with
him and the last year or two when they had begun to speak freely to
each other as friend to friend. It was a constant surprise and
pleasure to the doctor when he discovered that his former plaything
was growing into a charming companion who often looked upon life from
the same standpoint as himself, and who had her own outlooks upon the
world, from whence she was able to give him by no means worthless
intelligence; and after the school-days were over he was not amazed to
find how restless and dissatisfied the girl was; how impossible it was
for her to content herself with following the round of household
duties which were supposed to content young women of her age and
station. Even if she tried to pay visits or receive them from her
friends, or to go on with her studies, or to review some text-book of
which she had been fond, there was no motive for it; it all led to
nothing; it began for no reason and ended in no use, as she exclaimed
one day most dramatically. Poor Nan hurried through her house
business, or neglected it, as the case might be, greatly to Manila's
surprise and scorn, for the girl had always proved herself diligent
and interested in the home affairs. More and more she puzzled herself
and everybody about her, and as the days went by she spent them out of
doors at the old farm, or on the river, or in taking long rides on a
young horse; a bargain the doctor had somewhat repented before he
found that Nan was helped through some of her troubled hours by the
creature's wildness and fleetness. It was very plain that his ward was
adrift, and at first the doctor suggested farther study of Latin or
chemistry, but afterward philosophically resigned himself to patience,
feeling certain that some indication of the right course would not be
long withheld, and that a wind from the right quarter would presently
fill the flapping sails of this idle young craft and send it on its
way.


One afternoon Nan went hurrying out of the house just after dinner,
and the doctor saw that her face was unusually troubled. He had asked
her if she would like to drive with him to a farm just beyond the
Dyers' later in the day, but for a wonder she had refused. Dr. Leslie
gave a little sigh as he left the table, and presently watched her go
down the street as he stood by the window. It would be very sad if the
restlessness and discord of her poor mother should begin to show
themselves again; he could not bear to think of such an inheritance.

But Nan thought little of anybody else's discomforts as she hurried
along the road; she only wished to get to the beloved farm, and to be
free there from questions, and from the evidences of her unfitness for
the simple duties which life seemed offering her with heartless irony.
She was not good for anything after all, it appeared, and she had been
cheating herself. This was no life at all, this fretful idleness; if
only she had been trained as boys are, to the work of their lives! She
had hoped that Dr. Leslie would help her; he used to talk long ago
about her studying medicine, but he must have forgotten that, and the
girl savagely rebuked society in general for her unhappiness. Of
course she could keep the house, but it was kept already; any one with
five senses and good health like hers could prove herself able to do
any of the ordinary work of existence. For her part it was not enough
to be waited upon and made comfortable, she wanted something more, to
be really of use in the world, and to do work which the world needed.

Where the main road turned eastward up the hills, a footpath, already
familiar to the reader, shortened the distance to the farm, and the
young girl quickly crossed the rude stile and disappeared among the
underbrush, walking bareheaded with the swift steps of a creature
whose home was in some such place as this. Often the dry twigs, fallen
from the gray lower branches of the pines, crackled and snapped under
her feet, or the bushes rustled backed again to their places after she
pushed against them in passing; she hurried faster and faster, going
first through the dense woods and then out into the sunlight. Once or
twice in the open ground she stopped and knelt quickly on the soft
turf or moss to look at a little plant, while the birds which she
startled came back to their places directly, as if they had been quick
to feel that this was a friend and not an enemy, though disguised in
human shape. At last Nan reached the moss-grown fence of the farm and
leaped over it, and fairly ran to the river-shore, where she went
straight to one of the low-growing cedars, and threw herself upon it
as if it were a couch. While she sat there, breathing fast and glowing
with bright color, the river sent a fresh breeze by way of messenger,
and the old cedar held its many branches above her and around her most
comfortably, and sheltered her as it had done many times before. It
need not have envied other trees the satisfaction of climbing straight
upward in a single aspiration of growth.

And presently Nan told herself that there was nothing like a good run.
She looked to and fro along the river, and listened to the sheep-bell
which tinkled lazily in the pasture behind her. She looked over her
shoulder to see if a favorite young birch tree had suffered no harm,
for it grew close by the straight-edged path in which the cattle came
down to drink. So she rested in the old playground, unconscious that
she had been following her mother's footsteps, or that fate had again
brought her here for a great decision. Years before, the miserable,
suffering woman, who had wearily come to this place to end their
lives, had turned away that the child might make her own choice
between the good and evil things of life. Though Nan told herself that
she must make it plain how she could spend her time in Oldfields to
good purpose and be of most use at home, and must get a new strength
for these duties, a decision suddenly presented itself to her with a
force of reason and necessity the old dream of it had never shown. Why
should it not be a reality that she studied medicine?

The thought entirely possessed her, and the glow of excitement and
enthusiasm made her spring from the cedar boughs and laugh aloud. Her
whole heart went out to this work, and she wondered why she had ever
lost sight of it. She was sure this was the way in which she could
find most happiness. God had directed her at last, and though the
opening of her sealed orders had been long delayed, the suspense had
only made her surer that she must hold fast this unspeakably great
motive: something to work for with all her might as long as she lived.
People might laugh or object. Nothing should turn her aside, and a new
affection for kind and patient Dr. Leslie filled her mind. How eager
he had been to help her in all her projects so far, and yet it was
asking a great deal that he should favor this; he had never seemed to
show any suspicion that she would not live on quietly at home like
other girls; but while Nan told herself that she would give up any
plan, even this, if he could convince her that it would be wrong,
still her former existence seemed like a fog and uncertainty of death,
from which she had turned away, this time of her own accord, toward a
great light of satisfaction and certain safety and helpfulness. The
doctor would know how to help her; if she only could study with him
that would be enough; and away she went, hurrying down the river-shore
as if she were filled with a new life and happiness.

She startled a brown rabbit from under a bush, and made him a grave
salutation when he stopped and lifted his head to look at her from a
convenient distance. Once she would have stopped and seated herself on
the grass to amaze him with courteous attempts at friendliness, but
now she only laughed again, and went quickly down the steep bank
through the junipers and then hurried along the pebbly margin of the
stream toward the village. She smiled to see lying side by side a
flint arrowhead and a water-logged bobbin that had floated down from
one of the mills, and gave one a toss over the water, while she put
the other in her pocket. Her thoughts were busy enough, and though
some reasons against the carrying out of her plan ventured to assert
themselves, they had no hope of carrying the day, being in piteous
minority, though she considered them one by one. By and by she came
into the path again, and as she reached the stile she was at first
glad and then sorry to see the doctor coming along the high road from
the Donnell farm. She was a little dismayed at herself because she had
a sudden disinclination to tell this good friend her secret.

But Dr. Leslie greeted her most cheerfully, giving her the reins when
she had climbed into the wagon, and they talked of the weather and of
the next day's plans as they drove home together. The girl felt a
sense of guilt and a shameful lack of courage, but she was needlessly
afraid that her happiness might be spoiled by a word from that
quarter.

That very evening it was raining outside, and the doctor and Nan were
sitting in the library opposite each other at the study-table, and as
they answered some letters in order to be ready for the early morning
post, they stole a look at each other now and then. The doctor laid
down his pen first, and presently, as Nan with a little sigh threw
hers into the tray beside it, he reached forward to where there was
one of the few uncovered spaces of the dark wood of the table and drew
his finger across it. They both saw the shining surface much more
clearly, and as the dusty finger was held up and examined carefully by
its owner, the girl tried to laugh, and then found her voice trembling
as she said: "I believe I haven't forgotten to put the table in order
before. I have tried to take care of the study at any rate."

"Nan dear, it isn't the least matter in the world!" said Dr. Leslie.
"I think we are a little chilly here this damp night; suppose you
light the fire? At any rate it will clear away all those envelopes and
newspaper wrappers," and he turned his arm-chair so that it faced the
fireplace, and watched the young girl as she moved about the room. She
lifted one of the large sticks and stood it on one end at the side of
the hearth, and the doctor noticed that she did it less easily than
usual and without the old strength and alertness. He had sprung up to
help her just too late, but she had indignantly refused any assistance
with a half pettishness that was not a common mood with her.

"I don't see why Jane or Marilla, or whoever it was, put that heavy
log on at this time of the year," said Dr. Leslie, as if it were a
matter of solemn consequence. By this time he had lighted a fresh
cigar, and Nan had brought her little wooden chair from some corner of
the room where it had always lived since it came with her from the
farm. It was a dear old-fashioned little thing, but quite too small
for its owner, who had grown up tall and straight, but who had felt a
sudden longing to be a child again, as she quietly took her place
before the fire.

"That log?" she said, "I wonder if you will never learn that we must
not burn it? I saw Marilla myself when she climbed the highest
wood-pile at the farther end of the wood-house for it. I suppose all
the time I have been away you have been remorselessly burning up the
show logs. I don't wonder at her telling me this very morning that she
was born to suffer, and suffer she supposed she must. We never used to
be allowed to put papers in the fireplace, but you have gained ever so
many liberties. I wonder if Marilla really thinks she has had a hard
life?" the girl said, in a different tone.

"I wonder if you think yours is hard too?" asked the doctor.

And Nan did not know at first what to say. The bright light of the
burning papers and the pine-cone kindlings suddenly faded out and the
study seemed dark and strange by contrast; but the doctor did not
speak either; he only bent towards her presently, and put his hand on
the top of the girl's head and stroked the soft hair once or twice,
and then gently turned it until he could see Nan's face.

Her eyes met his frankly as ever, but they were full of tears. "Yes,"
she said; "I wish you would talk to me. I wish you would give me a
great scolding. I never needed it so much in my life. I meant to come
home and be very good, and do everything I could to make you happy,
but it all grows worse every day. I thought at first I was tired with
the last days of school, but it is something more than that. I don't
wish in the least that I were back at school, but I can't understand
anything; there is something in me that wants to be busy, and can't
find anything to do. I don't mean to be discontented; I don't want to
be anywhere else in the world."

"There is enough to do," answered the doctor, as placidly as possible,
for this was almost the first time he had noticed distinctly the
mother's nature in her daughter; a restless, impatient, miserable sort
of longing for The Great Something Else, as Dr. Ferris had once called
it. "Don't fret yourself, Nan, yours is a short-lived sorrow; for if
you have any conscience at all about doing your work you will be sure
enough to find it."

"I think I have found it at last, but I don't know whether any one
else will agree with me," half whispered poor Nan; while the doctor,
in spite of himself, of his age, and experience, and sympathy, and
self-control, could not resist a smile. "I hate to talk about myself
or to be sentimental, but I want to throw my whole love and life into
whatever there is waiting for me to do, and--I began to be afraid I
had missed it somehow. Once I thought I should like to be a teacher,
and come back here when I was through school and look after the
village children. I had such splendid ideas about that, but they all
faded out. I went into the school-house one day, and I thought I would
rather die than be shut up there from one week's end to another."

"No," said Dr. Leslie, with grave composure. "No, I don't feel sure
that you would do well to make a teacher of yourself."

"I wish that I had known when school was over that I must take care of
myself, as one or two of the girls meant to do, and sometimes it seems
as if I ought," said Nan, after a silence of a few minutes, and this
time it was very hard to speak. "You have been so kind, and have done
so much for me; I supposed at first there was money enough of my own,
but I know now."

"Dear child!" the doctor exclaimed, "you will never know, unless you
are left alone as I was, what a blessing it is to have somebody to
take care of and to love; I have put you in the place of my own little
child, and have watched you grow up here, with more thankfulness every
year. Don't ever say another word to me about the money part of it.
What had I to spend money for? And now I hear you say all these
despairing things; but I am an old man, and I take them for what they
are worth. You have a few hard months before you, perhaps, but before
you know it they will be over with. Don't worry yourself; look after
Marilla a little, and that new hand-maid, and drive about with me.
To-morrow I must be on the road all day, and, to tell the truth, I
must think over one or two of my cases before I go to bed. Won't you
hand me my old prescription book? I was trying to remember something
as I came home."

Nan, half-comforted, went to find the book, while Dr. Leslie, puffing
his cigar-smoke very fast, looked up through the cloud abstractedly at
a new ornament which had been placed above the mantel shelf since we
first knew the room. Old Captain Finch had solaced his weary and
painful last years by making a beautiful little model of a ship, and
had left it in his will to the doctor. There never was a more touching
gift, this present owner often thought, and he had put it in its place
with reverent hands. A comparison of the two lives came stealing into
his mind, and he held the worn prescription-book a minute before he
opened it. The poor old captain waiting to be released, stranded on
the inhospitable shore of this world, and eager Nan, who was
sorrowfully longing for the world's war to begin. "Two idle heroes,"
thought Dr. Leslie, "and I neither wished to give one his discharge
nor the other her commission;" but he said aloud, "Nan, we will take a
six o'clock start in the morning, and go down through the sandy plains
before the heat begins. I am afraid it will be one of the worst of the
dog-days."

"Yes," answered Nan eagerly, and then she came close to the doctor,
and looked at him a moment before she spoke, while her face shone with
delight. "I am going to be a doctor, too! I have thought it would be
the best thing in the world ever since I can remember. The little
prescription-book was the match that lit the fire! but I have been
wishing to tell you all the evening."

"We must ask Marilla," the doctor began to say, and tried to add,
"What _will_ she think?" but Nan hardly heard him, and did not laugh
at his jokes. For she saw by his face that there was no need of
teasing. And she assured herself that if he thought it was only a
freak of which she would soon tire, she was quite willing to be put to
the proof.


Next morning, for a wonder, Nan waked early, even before the birds had
quite done singing, and it seemed a little strange that the weather
should be clear and bright, and almost like June, since she was a good
deal troubled.

She felt at first as if there were some unwelcome duty in her day's
work, and then remembered the early drive with great pleasure, but the
next minute the great meaning and responsibility of the decision she
had announced the evening before burst upon her mind, and a flood of
reasons assailed her why she should not keep to so uncommon a purpose.
It seemed to her as if the first volume of life was ended, and as if
it had been deceitfully easy, since she had been led straight-forward
to this point. It amazed her to find the certainty take possession of
her mind that her vocation had been made ready for her from the
beginning. She had the feeling of a reformer, a radical, and even of a
political agitator, as she tried to face her stormy future in that
summer morning loneliness. But by the time she had finished her early
breakfast, and was driving out of the gate with the doctor, the day
seemed so much like other days that her trouble of mind almost
disappeared. Though she had known instinctively that all the early
part of her life had favored this daring project, and the next few
years would hinder it if they could, still there was something within
her stronger than any doubts that could possibly assail her. And
instead of finding everything changed, as one always expects to do
when a great change has happened to one's self, the road was so
familiar, and the condition of the outer world so harmonious, that she
hardly understood that she had opened a gate and shut it behind her,
between that day and its yesterday. She held the reins, and the doctor
was apparently in a most commonplace frame of mind. She wished he
would say something about their talk of the night before, but he did
not. She seemed very old to herself, older than she ever would seem
again, perhaps, but the doctor had apparently relapsed into their old
relations as guardian and child. Perhaps he thought she would forget
her decision, and did not know how much it meant to her. He was quite
provoking. He hurried the horse himself as they went up a somewhat
steep ascent, and as Nan touched the not very fleet steed with the
whip on the next level bit of road, she was reminded that it was a
very hot morning and that they had a great way to drive. When she
asked what was the matter with the patient they were on their way to
see, she was answered abruptly that he suffered from a complication of
disorders, which was the more aggravating because Nan had heard this
answer laughed at as being much used by old Dr. Jackson, who was
usually unwilling or unable to commit himself to a definite opinion.
Nan fancied herself at that minute already a member of the profession,
and did not like to be joked with in such a fashion, but she tried to
be amused, which generosity was appreciated by her companion better
than she knew.

Dr. Leslie was not much of a singer, but he presently lifted what
little voice he had, and began to favor Nan with a not very successful
rendering of "Bonny Doon." Every minute seemed more critical to the
girl beside him, and she thought of several good ways to enter upon a
discussion of her great subject, but with unusual restraint and
reserve let the moments and the miles go by until the doctor had
quickly stepped down from the carriage and disappeared within his
patient's door. Nan's old custom of following him had been neglected
for some time, since she had found that the appearance of a tall young
woman had quite a different effect upon a household from that of a
little child. She had formed the habit of carrying a book with her on
the long drives, though she often left it untouched while she walked
up and down the country roads, or even ventured upon excursions as far
afield as she dared, while the doctor made his visit, which was apt to
be a long one in the lonely country houses. This morning she had
possessed herself of a square, thin volume which gave lists and plates
of the nerve system of the human body. The doctor had nearly laughed
aloud when he caught sight of it, and when Nan opened it with decision
and gravity and read the first page slowly, she was conscious of a
lack of interest in her subject. She had lost the great enthusiasm of
the night before, and felt like the little heap of ashes which such a
burning and heroic self might well have left.

Presently she went strolling down the road, gathering some large
leaves on her way, and stopped at the brook, where she pulled up some
bits of a strange water-weed, and made them into a damp, round bundle
with the leaves and a bit of string. This was a rare plant which they
had both noticed the day before, and they had taken some specimens
then, Nan being at this time an ardent botanist, but these had
withered and been lost, also, on the way home.

Dr. Leslie was in even less of a hurry than usual, and when he came
out he looked very much pleased. "I never was more thankful in my
life," he said eagerly, as soon as he was within convenient distance.
"That poor fellow was at death's door yesterday, and when I saw his
wife and little children, and thought his life was all that stood
between them and miserable destitution, it seemed to me that I _must_
save it! This morning he is as bright as a dollar, but I have been
dreading to go into that house ever since I left it yesterday noon.
They didn't in the least know how narrow a chance he had. And it isn't
the first time I have been chief mourner. Poor souls! they don't dread
their troubles half so much as I do. He will have a good little farm
here in another year or two, it only needs draining to be excellent
land, and he knows that." The doctor turned and looked back over the
few acres with great pleasure. "Now we'll go and see about old Mrs.
Willet, though I don't believe there's any great need of it. She
belongs to one of two very bad classes of patients. It makes me so
angry to hear her cough twice as much as need be. In your practice,"
he continued soberly, "you must remember that there is danger of
giving too strong doses to such a sufferer, and too light ones to the
friends who insist there is nothing the matter with them. I wouldn't
give much for a doctor who can't see for himself in most cases, but
not always,--not always."

The doctor was in such a hospitable frame of mind that nobody could
have helped telling him anything, and happily he made an excellent
introduction for Nan's secret by inquiring how she had got on with her
studies, but she directed his attention to the wet plants in the
bottom of the carriage, which were complimented before she said, a
minute afterward, "Oh, I wonder if I shall make a mistake? I was
afraid you would laugh at me, and think it was all nonsense."

"Dear me, no," replied the doctor. "You will be the successor of Mrs.
Martin Dyer, and the admiration of the neighborhood;" but changing his
tone quickly, he said: "I am going to teach you all I can, just as
long as you have any wish to learn. It has not done you a bit of harm
to know something about medicine, and I believe in your studying it
more than you do yourself. I have always thought about it. But you are
very young; there's plenty of time, and I don't mean to be hurried;
you must remember that,--though I see your fitness and peculiar
adaptability a great deal better than you can these twenty years yet.
You will be growing happier these next few years at any rate, however
impossible life has seemed to you lately."

"I suppose there will be a great many obstacles," reflected Nan, with
an absence of her usual spirit.

"Obstacles! Yes," answered Dr. Leslie, vigorously. "Of course there
will be; it is climbing a long hill to try to study medicine or to
study anything else. And if you are going to fear obstacles you will
have a poor chance at success. There are just as many reasons as you
will stop to count up why you should not do your plain duty, but if
you are going to make anything of yourself you must go straight ahead,
taking it for granted that there will be opposition enough, but doing
what is right all the same. I suppose I have repeated to you fifty
times what old Friend Meadows told me years ago; he was a great
success at money-making, and once I asked him to give me some advice
about a piece of property. 'Friend Leslie,' says he, 'thy own opinion
is the best for thee; if thee asks ten people what to do, they will
tell thee ten things, and then thee doesn't know as much as when thee
set out,'" and Dr. Leslie, growing very much in earnest, reached
forward for the whip. "I want you to be a good woman, and I want you
to be all the use you can," he said. "It seems to me like stealing,
for men and women to live in the world and do nothing to make it
better. You have thought a great deal about this, and so have I, and
now we will do the best we can at making a good doctor of you. I don't
care whether people think it is a proper vocation for women or not. It
seems to me that it is more than proper for you, and God has given you
a fitness for it which it is a shame to waste. And if you ever
hesitate and regret what you have said, you won't have done yourself
any harm by learning how to take care of your own health and other
people's."

"But I shall never regret it," said Nan stoutly. "I don't believe I
should ever be fit for anything else, and you know as well as I that I
must have something to do. I used to wish over and over again that I
was a boy, when I was a little thing down at the farm, and the only
reason I had in the world was that I could be a doctor, like you."

"Better than that, I hope," said Dr. Leslie. "But you mustn't think it
will be a short piece of work; it will take more patience than you are
ready to give just now, and we will go on quietly and let it grow by
the way, like your water-weed here. If you don't drive a little
faster, Sister Willet may be gathered before we get to her;" and this
being a somewhat unwise and hysterical patient, whose recovery was not
in the least despaired of, Dr. Leslie and his young companion were
heartlessly merry over her case.

The doctor had been unprepared for such an episode; outwardly, life
had seemed to flow so easily from one set of circumstances to the
next, and the changes had been so gradual and so natural. He had
looked forward with such certainty to Nan's future, that it seemed
strange that the formal acceptance of such an inevitable idea as her
studying medicine should have troubled her so much.

Separated as he was from the groups of men and women who are
responsible for what we call the opinion of society, and independent
himself of any fettering conventionalities, he had grown careless of
what anybody might say. He only hoped, since his ward had found her
proper work, that she would hold to it, and of this he had little
doubt. The girl herself quickly lost sight of the fancied difficulty
of making the great decision, and, as is usually the case, saw all the
first objections and hindrances fade away into a dim distance, and
grow less and less noticeable. And more than that, it seemed to her as
if she had taken every step of her life straight toward this choice of
a profession. So many things she had never understood before, now
became perfectly clear and evident proofs that, outside her own
preferences and choices, a wise purpose had been at work with her and
for her. So it all appeared more natural every day, and while she knew
that the excitement and formality of the first very uncomfortable day
or two had proved her freedom of choice, it seemed the more impossible
that she should have shirked this great commission and trust for which
nature had fitted her.



XIII

A STRAIGHT COURSE


The next year or two was spent in quiet life at home. It was made
evident that, beside her inclination and natural fitness for her
chosen work, our student was also developing the other most important
requisite, a capacity for hard study and patient continuance. There
had been as little said as possible about the plan, but it was not
long before the propriety of it became a favorite subject of
discussion. It is quite unnecessary, perhaps, to state that everybody
had his or her own opinion of the wisdom of such a course, and both
Dr. Leslie and his ward suffered much reproach and questioning, as the
comments ranged from indignation to amusement. But it was as true of
Nan's calling, as of all others, that it would be her own failure to
make it respected from which any just contempt might come, and she had
thrown herself into her chosen career with such zeal, and pride, and
affectionate desire to please her teacher, that the small public who
had at first jeered or condemned her came at last to accepting the
thing as inevitable and a matter of course, even if they did not
actually approve. There was such a vigorous determination in the minds
of the doctor and his pupil that Nan should not only be a doctor but a
good one, that anything less than a decided fitness for the profession
would have doomed them both to disappointment, even with such
unwearied effort and painstaking. In the earlier years of his practice
Dr. Leslie had been much sought as an instructor, but he had long
since begun to deny the young men who had wished to be his students,
though hardly one had ever gone from the neighborhood of Oldfields who
did not owe much to him for his wise suggestions and practical help.

He patiently taught this eager young scholar day by day, and gave her,
as fast as he could, the benefit of the wisdom which he had gained
through faithful devotion to his business and the persistent study of
many years. Nan followed step by step, and, while becoming more
conscious of her own ignorance and of the uncertainties and the laws
of the practice of medicine with every week's study, knew better and
better that it is resource, and bravery, and being able to think for
one's self, that make a physician worth anything. There must be an
instinct that recognizes a disease and suggests its remedy, as much as
an instinct that finds the right notes and harmonies for a composer of
music, or the colors for a true artist's picture, or the results of
figures for a mathematician. Men and women may learn these callings
from others; may practice all the combinations until they can carry
them through with a greater or less degree of unconsciousness of brain
and fingers; but there is something needed beside even drill and
experience; every student of medicine should be fitted by nature with
a power of insight, a gift for his business, for knowing what is the
right thing to do, and the right time and way to do it; must have this
God-given power in his own nature of using and discovering the
resources of medicine without constant reliance upon the books or the
fashion. Some men use their ability for their own good and renown, and
some think first of the good of others, and as the great poet tells
the truths of God, and makes other souls wiser and stronger and fitter
for action, so the great doctor works for the body's health, and tries
to keep human beings free from the failures that come from neglect and
ignorance, and ready to be the soul's instrument of action and service
in this world. It is not to keep us from death, it is no superstitious
avoidance of the next life, that should call loudest for the
physician's skill; but the necessity of teaching and remedying the
inferior bodies which have come to us through either our ancestors'
foolishness or our own. So few people know even what true and complete
physical life is, much less anything of the spiritual existence that
is already possible, and so few listen to what the best doctors are
trying their best to teach. While half-alive people think it no wrong
to bring into the world human beings with even less vitality than
themselves, and take no pains to keep the simplest laws of health, or
to teach their children to do so, just so long there will be plenty of
sorrow of an avoidable kind, and thousands of shipwrecked, and
failing, and inadequate, and useless lives in the fullest sense of the
word. How can those who preach to the soul hope to be heard by those
who do not even make the best of their bodies? but alas, the
convenience and easiness, or pleasure, of the present moment is
allowed to become the cause of an endless series of terrible effects,
which go down into the distance of the future, multiplying themselves
a thousandfold.

The doctor told Nan many curious things as they drove about together:
certain traits of certain families, and how the Dyers were of strong
constitution, and lived to a great age in spite of severe illnesses
and accidents and all manner of unfavorable conditions; while the
Dunnells, who looked a great deal stronger, were sensitive, and
deficient in vitality, so that an apparently slight attack of disease
quickly proved fatal. And so Nan knew that one thing to be considered
was the family, and another the individual variation, and she began
to recognize the people who might be treated fearlessly, because they
were safe to form a league with against any ailment, being responsive
to medicines, and straightforward in their departure from or return to
a state of health; others being treacherous and hard to control; full
of surprises, and baffling a doctor with their feints and follies of
symptoms; while all the time Death himself was making ready for a
last, fatal siege; these all being the representatives of types which
might be found everywhere. Often Dr. Leslie would be found eagerly
praising some useful old-fashioned drugs which had been foolishly
neglected by those who liked to experiment with newer remedies and be
"up with the times," as they called their not very intelligent
dependence upon the treatment in vogue at the moment among the younger
men of certain cliques, to some of whom the brilliant operation was
more important than its damaging result. There was, even in those
days, a haphazard way of doctoring, in which the health of the patient
was secondary to the promotion of new theories, and the young scholar
who could write a puzzlingly technical paper too often outranked the
old practitioner who conquered some malignant disorder single-handed,
where even the malpractice of the patient and his friends had stood
like a lion in the way.

But Dr. Leslie was always trying to get at the truth, and nobody
recognized more clearly the service which the reverent and truly
progressive younger men were rendering to the profession. He added
many new publications to his subscription list, and gleaned here and
there those notes which he knew would be helpful, and which were
suited to the degree of knowledge which his apprentice had already
gained. It is needless to say what pleasure it gave him, and what
evening talks they had together; what histories of former victories
and defeats and curious discoveries were combined, like a bit of
novel-reading, with Nan's diligent devotion to her course of study.
And presently the girl would take a step or two alone, and even make a
visit by herself to see if anything chanced to be needed when a case
was progressing favorably, and with the excuse of the doctor's
business or over-fatigue. And the physicians of the neighboring towns,
who came together occasionally for each other's assistance, most of
whom had known Nan from her childhood, though at first they had shrunk
from speaking of many details of their professional work in her
hearing, and covered their meaning, like the ostriches' heads, in the
sand of a Latin cognomen, were soon set at their ease by Nan's
unconsciousness of either shamefacedness or disgust, and one by one
grew interested in her career, and hopeful of her success.

It is impossible to describe the importance of such experiences as
these in forming the character of the young girl's power of resource,
and wealth of self-reliance and practical experience. Sometimes in
houses where she would have felt at least liberty to go only as
spectator and scholar of medicine, Dr. Leslie insisted upon
establishing her for a few days as chief nurse and overseer, and
before Nan had been at work many months her teacher found her of great
use, and grew more proud and glad day by day as he watched her
determination, her enthusiasm, and her excellent progress. Over and
over again he said to himself, or to her, that she was doing the work
for which nature had meant her, and when the time came for her to go
away from Oldfields, it seemed more impossible than it ever had before
that he should get on without her, at home, or as an independent human
being, who was following reverently in the path he had chosen so many
years before. For her sake he had reached out again toward many
acquaintances from whom he had drifted away, and he made many short
journeys to Boston or to New York, and was pleased at his hearty
welcome back to the medical meetings he had hardly entered during so
many years. He missed not a few old friends, but he quickly made new
ones. He was vastly pleased when the younger men seemed glad to hear
him speak, and it was often proved that either through study or
experience he had caught at some fresh knowledge of which his
associates were still ignorant. He had laughingly accused himself of
being a rusty country doctor and old fogy who had not kept up with the
times; but many a letter followed him home, with thanks for some
helpful suggestion or advice as to the management of a troublesome
case. He was too far away to give room for any danger of professional
jealousy, or for the infringement of that ever lengthening code of
etiquette so important to the sensitive medical mind. Therefore he
had only much pleasure and a fine tribute of recognition and honor,
and he smiled more than once as he sat in the quiet Oldfields study
before the fire, and looked up at Captain Finch's little ship, and
told Nan of his town experiences, not always omitting, though
attempting to deprecate, the compliments, in some half-hour when they
were on peculiarly good terms with each other. And Nan believed there
could be no better doctor in the world, and stoutly told him so, and
yet listened only half-convinced when he said that he had a great mind
to go to town and open an office, and make a specialty of treating
diseases of the heart, since everybody had a specialty nowadays. He
never felt so ready for practice as now, but Nan somehow could not
bear the thought of his being anywhere but in his home. For herself,
she would have been ready to venture anything if it would further her
ever-growing purpose; but that Dr. Leslie should begin a new career or
contest with the world seemed impossible. He was not so strong as he
used to be, and he was already famous among his fellows. She would
help him with his work by and by even more than now, and her own
chosen calling of a country doctor was the dearer to her, because he
had followed it so gallantly before her loving and admiring eyes. But
Dr. Leslie built many a castle in the air, with himself and a great
city practice for tenants, and said that it would be a capital thing
for Nan; she could go on with it alone by and by. It was astonishing
how little some of the city doctors knew: they relied upon each other
too much; they should all be forced to drive over hill and dale, and
be knocked about in a hard country practice for eight or ten years
before they went to town. "Plenty of time to read their books in June
and January," the doctor would grumble to himself, and turn to look
fondly at the long rows of his dear library acquaintances, his
Braithwaites and Lancets, and their younger brothers, beside the first
new Sydenham Society's books, with their clumsy blot of gilding. And
he would stand sometimes with his hands behind him and look at the
many familiar rows of brown leather-covered volumes, most of them
delightfully worn with his own use and that of the other physicians
whose generous friend and constant instructor he had been through
years of sometimes stormy but usually friendly intercourse and
association.


When people in general had grown tired of discussing this strange
freak and purpose of the doctor and his ward, and had become familiar
with Nan's persistent interest and occupation in her studies, there
came a time of great discontent to the two persons most concerned. For
it was impossible to disguise the fact that the time had again come
for the girl to go away from home. They had always looked forward to
this, and directed much thought and action toward it, and yet they
decided with great regret upon setting a new train of things in
motion.

While it was well enough and useful enough that Nan should go on with
her present mode of life, they both had a wider outlook, and though
with the excuse of her youthfulness they had put off her departure as
long as possible, still almost without any discussion it was decided
that she must enter the medical school to go through with its course
of instruction formally, and receive its authority to practice her
profession. They both felt that this held a great many unpleasantnesses
among its store of benefits. Nan was no longer to be shielded and
protected and guided by some one whose wisdom she rarely questioned,
but must make her own decisions instead, and give from her own bounty,
and stand in her lot and place. Her later school-days were sure to be
more trying than her earlier ones, as they carried her into deeper
waters of scholarship, and were more important to her future position
before the public.

If a young man plans the same course, everything conspires to help him
and forward him, and the very fact of his having chosen one of the
learned professions gives him a certain social preëminence and
dignity. But in the days of Nan's student life it was just the
reverse. Though she had been directed toward such a purpose entirely
by her singular talent, instead of by the motives of expediency which
rule the decisions of a large proportion of the young men who study
medicine, she found little encouragement either from the quality of
the school or the interest of society in general. There were times
when she actually resented the prospect of the many weeks which she
must spend in listening to inferior instruction before gaining a
diploma, which was only a formal seal of disapproval in most persons'
eyes. And yet, when she remembered her perfect certainty that she was
doing the right thing, and remembered what renown some women
physicians had won, and the avenues of usefulness which lay open to
her on every side, there was no real drawing back, but rather a proud
certainty of her most womanly and respectable calling, and a reverent
desire to make the best use possible of the gifts God had certainly
not made a mistake in giving her. "If He meant I should be a doctor,"
the girl told herself, "the best thing I can do is to try to be a good
one."

So Nan packed her boxes and said good-by to Mrs. Graham, who looked
wistful and doubtful, but blessed her most heartily, saying she should
miss her sadly in the winter. And Marilla, who had unexpectedly
reserved her opinion of late, made believe that she was very busy in
the pantry, just as she had done when Nan was being launched for
boarding-school. She shook her own floury hands vigorously, and
offered one at last, muffled in her apron, and wished our friend good
luck, with considerable friendliness, mentioning that she should be
glad if Nan would say when she wrote home what shapes they seemed to
be wearing for bonnets in the city, though she supposed they would be
flaunting for Oldfields anyway. The doctor was going too, and they
started for the station much too early for the train, since Dr. Leslie
always suffered from a nervous dread of having an unavoidable summons
to a distant patient at the last moment.

And when the examinations were over, and Nan had been matriculated,
and the doctor had somewhat contemptuously overlooked the building and
its capabilities, and had compared those students whom he saw with his
remembrance of his own class, and triumphantly picked out a face and
figure that looked hopeful here and there; he told himself that like
all new growths it was feeble yet, and needed girls like his Nan, with
high moral purpose and excellent capacity, who would make the college
strong and to be respected. Not such doctors as several of whom he
reminded himself, who were disgracing their sex, but those whose
lives were ruled by a pettiness of detail, a lack of power, and an
absence of high aim. Somehow both our friends lost much of the feeling
that Nan was doing a peculiar thing, when they saw so many others
following the same path. And having seen Nan more than half-settled in
her winter quarters, and knowing that one or two of her former school
friends had given her a delighted and most friendly welcome, and
having made a few visits to the people whom he fancied would help her
in one way or another, Dr. Leslie said good-by, and turned his face
homeward, feeling more lonely than he had felt in a great many years
before. He thought about Nan a great deal on the journey, though he
had provided himself with some most desirable new books. He was
thankful he had been able to do a kind turn for one of the most
influential doctors, who had cheerfully promised to put some special
advantages in Nan's way; but when he reached home the house seemed
very empty, and he missed his gay companion as he drove along the
country roads. After the days began to grow longer, and the sun
brighter, such pleasant letters came from the absent scholar, that the
doctor took heart more and more, and went over to Mrs. Graham with
almost every fresh bit of news. She smiled, and listened, and
applauded, and one day said with delightful cordiality that she wished
there were more girls who cared whether their lives really amounted to
anything. But not every one had a talent which was such a stimulus as
Nan's.

"Nothing succeeds like success," rejoined the doctor cheerfully, "I
always knew the child would do the best she could."



XIV

MISS PRINCE OF DUNPORT


While all these years were passing, Miss Anna Prince the elder was
living quietly in Dunport, and she had changed so little that her
friends frequently complimented her upon such continued youthfulness.
She had by no means forgotten the two greatest among the many losses
and sorrows of her life, but the first sharp pain of them was long
since over with. The lover from whom she had parted for the sake of a
petty misunderstanding had married afterward and died early; but he
had left a son of whom Miss Prince was very proud and fond; and she
had given him the place in her heart which should have belonged to her
own niece. When she thought of the other trial, she believed herself,
still, more sinned against than sinning, and gave herself frequent
assurances that it had been impossible to act otherwise at the time of
her brother's death and his wife's strange behavior afterward. And she
had persuaded her conscience to be quiet, until at last, with the
ideal of a suspicious, uncongenial, disagreeable group of rustics in
her mind, she thought it was well ordered by Heaven that she had been
spared any closer intercourse.

Miss Prince was a proud and stately woman of the old New England type:
more colonial than American perhaps, and quite provincial in her
traditions and prejudices. She was highly respected in her native
town, where she was a prominent figure in society. Nobody was more
generous and kind or public spirited, as her friends often said, and
young George Gerry was well-rewarded, though he gave her great
pleasure by his evident affection and interest. He liked to pay
frequent visits to his old friend, and to talk with her. She had been
a very attractive girl long ago, and the best of her charms had not
faded yet; the young man was always welcomed warmly, and had more than
once been helped in his projects. His mother was a feeble woman, who
took little interest in anything outside her own doors; and he liked
himself better as he sat in Miss Prince's parlor than anywhere else.
We are always fond of the society of our best selves, and though he
was popular with the rest of his townspeople, he somehow could not
help trying always to be especially agreeable to Miss Prince.

Although she was apparently free from regrets, and very well satisfied
with life, even her best friends did not know how lonely her life had
seemed to her, or how sadly hurt she had been by the shame and sorrow
of her only brother's marriage. The thought of his child and of the
impossibility of taking her to her heart and home had been like a
nightmare at first, and yet Miss Prince lacked courage to break down
the barriers, and to at least know the worst. She kept the two ideas
of the actual niece and the ideal one whom she might have loved so
much distinct and separate in her mind, and was divided between a
longing to see the girl and a fierce dread of her sudden appearance.
She had forbidden any allusion to the subject years and years before,
and so had prevented herself from hearing good news as well as bad;
though she had always been careful that the small yearly remittance
should be promptly sent, and was impatient to receive the formal
acknowledgment of it, which she instantly took pains to destroy. She
sometimes in these days thought about making her will; there was no
hurry about it, but it would be only fair to provide for her nearest
of kin, while she was always certain that she should not let all her
money and the old house with its handsome furnishings go into such
unworthy hands. It was a very hard question to settle, and she thought
of it as little as possible, and was sure there was nothing to prevent
her living a great many years yet. She loved her old home dearly, and
was even proud of it, and had always taken great care of the details
of its government. She never had been foolish enough to make away with
her handsome mahogany furniture, and to replace it with cheaper and
less comfortable chairs and tables, as many of her neighbors had done,
and had taken an obstinate satisfaction all through the years when it
seemed quite out of date, in insisting upon the polishing of the fine
wood and the many brass handles, and of late she had been reaping a
reward for her constancy. It had been a marvel to certain progressive
people that a person of her comfortable estate should be willing to
reflect that there was not a marble-topped table in her house, until
it slowly dawned upon them at last that she was mistress of the finest
house in town. Outwardly, it was painted white and stood close upon
the street, with a few steep front steps coming abruptly down into the
middle of the narrow sidewalk; its interior was spacious and very
imposing, not only for the time it was built in the last century, but
for any other time. Miss Prince's ancestors had belonged to some of
the most distinguished among the colonial families, which fact she
neither appeared to remember nor consented to forget; and, as often
happened in the seaport towns of New England, there had been one or
two men in every generation who had followed the sea. Her own father
had been among the number, and the closets of the old house were well
provided with rare china and fine old English crockery that would
drive an enthusiastic collector to distraction. The carved woodwork of
the railings and wainscotings and cornices had been devised by
ingenious and patient craftsmen, and the same portraits and old
engravings hung upon the walls that had been there when its mistress
could first remember. She had always been so well suited with her home
that she had never desired to change it in any particular. Her maids
were well drilled to their duties, and Priscilla, who was chief of the
staff, had been in that dignified position for many years. If Miss
Prince's grandmother could return to Dunport from another world, she
would hardly believe that she had left her earthly home for a day, it
presented so nearly the same appearance.

But however conscientiously the effort had been made to keep up the
old reputation for hospitality, it had somehow been a failure, and
Miss Prince had given fewer entertainments every year. Long ago, while
she was still a young woman, she had begun to wear a certain quaint
and elderly manner, which might have come from association with such
antiquated household gods and a desire to match well with her beloved
surroundings. A great many of her early friends had died, and she was
not the sort of person who can easily form new ties of intimate
friendship. She was very loyal to those who were still left, and, as
has been said, her interest in George Gerry, who was his father's
namesake and likeness, was a very great pleasure to her. Some persons
liked to whisper together now and then about the mysterious niece, who
was never mentioned otherwise. But though curiosity had led to a
partial knowledge of our heroine's not unfavorable aspect and
circumstances, nobody ever dared to give such information to the
person who should have been most interested.

This was one of the standard long stories of Dunport with which old
residents liked to regale newcomers, and handsome Jack Prince was the
hero of a most edifying romance, being represented as a victim of the
Prince pride, as his sister had been before him. His life had been
ruined, and he had begged his wretched wife at the last to bring him
home to Dunport, alive or dead. The woman had treated Miss Prince with
shameful impudence and had disappeared afterward. The child had been
brought up with her own people, and it was understood that Miss
Prince's efforts to have any connection with them were all thwarted.
Lately it had become known that the girl's guardian was a very fine
man and was taking a great interest in her. But the reader will
imagine how this story grew and changed in different people's minds.
Some persons insisted that Miss Prince had declined to see her
brother's child, and others that it was denied her. It was often said
in these days that Nan must be free to do as she chose, but it was
more than likely that she had assumed the prejudices against her aunt
with which she must have become most familiar.

As for Miss Prince herself, she had long ago become convinced that
there was nothing to be done in this matter. After one has followed a
certain course for some time, everything seems to persuade one that no
other is possible. Sometimes she feared that an excitement and danger
lurked in her future, but, after all, her days went by so calmly, and
nearer things seemed so much more important than this vague sorrow and
dread, that she went to and fro in the Dunport streets, and was
courteous and kind in her own house, and read a sensible book now and
then, and spent her time as benevolently and respectably as possible.
She was indeed an admirable member of society, who had suffered very
much in her youth, and those who knew her well could not be too glad
that her later years were passing far less unhappily than most
people's.

In the days when her niece had lately finished her first winter at the
medical school, Miss Prince had just freed herself from the
responsibility of some slight repairs which the house had needed. She
had been in many ways much more occupied than usual, and had given
hardly a thought to more remote affairs. At last there had come an
evening when she felt at leisure, and happily Miss Fraley, one of her
earliest friends, had come to pay her a visit. The two ladies sat at
the front windows of the west parlor looking out upon the street,
while the hostess expressed her gratitude that the overturning of her
household affairs was at an end, and that she was all in order for
summer. They talked about the damage and discomfort inflicted by
masons, and the general havoc which follows a small piece of fallen
ceiling. Miss Prince, having made a final round of inspection just
after tea, had ascertained that the last of the white dimity curtains
and coverings were in their places upstairs in the bedrooms, and her
love of order was satisfied. She had complimented Priscilla, and made
her and the maids the customary spring present, and had returned to
her evening post of observation at the parlor window just as Miss
Fraley came in. She was not in the mood for receiving guests, being a
trifle tired, but Eunice Fraley was a mild little creature, with a
gentle, deprecatory manner which had always appealed to Miss Prince's
more chivalrous nature. Besides, she knew this to be a most true and
affectionate friend, who had also the gift of appearing when
everything was ready for her, as the bluebirds come, and the robins,
in the early days of spring.

"I wish I could say that our house was all in order but one closet,"
said the guest, in a more melancholy tone than usual. "I believe we
are more behind-hand than ever this year. You know we have Susan's
children with us for a fortnight while she goes away for a rest, and
they have been a good deal of care. I think mother is getting tired of
them now, though she was very eager to have a visit from them at
first. She said this morning that the little girl was worse than a
kitten in a fit, and she did hope that Susan wouldn't think it best to
pass another week away."

Miss Prince laughed a little, and so did Miss Fraley after a moment's
hesitation. She seemed to be in a somewhat sentimental and
introspective mood as she looked out of the window in the May
twilight.

"I so often feel as if I were not accomplishing anything," she said
sadly. "It came over me to-day that here I am, really an old woman,
and I am just about where I first started,--doing the same things over
and over and no better than ever. I haven't the gift of style; anybody
else might have done my work just as well, I am afraid; I am sure the
world would have got along just as well without me. Mother has been
so active, and has reached such a great age, that perhaps it hasn't
been much advantage to me. I have only learned to depend upon her
instead of myself. I begin to see that I should have amounted to a
great deal more if I had had a home of my own. I sometimes wish that I
were as free to go and come as you are, Nancy."

But Miss Prince's thoughts were pleased to take a severely practical
turn: "I'm not in the least free," she answered cheerfully. "I believe
you need something to strengthen you, Eunice. I haven't seen you so
out of spirits for a great while. Free! why I'm tied to this house as
if I were the knocker on the front door; and I certainly have a great
deal of care. I put the utmost confidence in Priscilla, but those
nieces of hers would be going wherever they chose, from garret to
cellar, before I was ten miles away from Dunport. I have let the cook
go away for a week, and Phoebe and Priscilla are alone. Phoebe is a
good little creature; I only hope she won't be married within six
months, for I don't know when I have liked a young girl so well.
Priscilla was anxious I should take that black-eyed daughter of her
brother's, and was quite hurt because I refused."

"I dare say you were right," acknowledged Miss Fraley, though she
could not exactly see the obstacles to her friend's freedom in such
strong light as was expected.

"I know that it must be difficult for you sometimes," resumed the
hostess presently, in a more sympathetic tone. "Your mother naturally
finds it hard to give up the rule. We can't expect her to look at life
as younger persons do."

"I don't expect it," said poor Miss Fraley appealingly, "and I am sure
I try to be considerate; but how would you like it, to be treated as
if you were sixteen instead of nearly sixty? I know it says in the
Bible that children should obey their parents, but there is no such
commandment, that I can see, to women who are old enough to be
grandmothers themselves. It does make me perfectly miserable to have
everything questioned and talked over that I do; but I know I ought
not to say such things. I suppose I shall lie awake half the night
grieving over it. You know I have the greatest respect for mother's
judgment; I'm sure I don't know what in the world I should do without
her."

"You are too yielding, Eunice," said Miss Prince kindly. "You try to
please everybody, and that's your way of pleasing yourself; but, after
all, I believe we give everybody more satisfaction when we hold fast
to our own ideas of right and wrong. There have been a great many
friends who were more than willing to give me their advice in all
these years that I have been living alone; but I have always made up
my mind and gone straight ahead. I have no doubt I should be very
impatient now of much comment and talking over; and yet there are so
many times when I would give anything to see father or mother for a
little while. I haven't suffered from living alone as much as some
persons do, but I often feel very sad and lonely when I sit here and
think about the past. Dear me! here is Phoebe with the lights, and I
dare say it is just as well. I am going to ask you to go up stairs and
see the fresh paint, and how ship-shape we are at last, as father used
to say."

Miss Fraley rose at once, with an expression of pleasure, and the two
friends made a leisurely tour of the old house which seemed all ready
for a large family, and though its owner apparently enjoyed her
freedom and dominion, it all looked deserted and empty to her guest.
They lingered together in the wide lower hall, and parted with unusual
affection. This was by no means the first hint that had been given of
a somewhat fettered and disappointing home life, though Miss Fraley
would have shuddered at the thought of any such report's being sent
abroad.

"Send the children round to see me," said Miss Prince, by way of
parting benediction. "They can play in the garden an hour or two, and
it will be a change for them and for you;" which invitation was
gratefully accepted, though Miss Eunice smiled at the idea of their
needing a change, when they were sure to be on every wharf in town in
the course of the day, and already knew more people in Dunport than
she did.

The next morning Miss Prince's sense of general well-being seemed to
have deserted her altogether. She was overshadowed by a fear of
impending disaster and felt strangely tired and dissatisfied. But she
did not believe in moping, and only assured herself that she must make
the day an easy one. So, being strong against tides, as some old poet
says of the whale, Miss Prince descended the stairs calmly, and
advised Priscilla to put off the special work that had been planned
until still later in the week. "You had better ask your sister to come
and spend the day with you and have a good, quiet visit," which
permission Priscilla received without comment, being a person of few
words; but she looked pleased, and while her mistress went down the
garden walk to breathe the fresh morning air, she concocted a small
omelet as an unexpected addition to the breakfast. Miss Prince was
very fond of an omelet, but Priscilla, in spite of all her good
qualities, was liable to occasional fits of offishness and depression,
and in those seasons kept her employer, in one way or another, on
short commons.

The day began serenely. It was the morning for the Dunport weekly
paper, which Miss Prince sat down at once to read, making her
invariable reproachful remark that there was nothing in it, after
having devoted herself to this duty for an hour or more. Then she
mounted to the upper floor of her house to put away a blanket which
had been overlooked in the spring packing of the camphor-wood chests
which stood in a solemn row in the north corner of the garret. There
were three dormer windows in the front of the garret-roof, and one of
these had been a favorite abiding-place in her youth. She had played
with her prim Dutch dolls there in her childhood, and she could
remember spending hour after hour watching for her father's ship when
the family had begun to expect him home at the end of a long voyage.
She remembered with a smile how grieved she had been because once he
came into port late in the night and surprised them all early in the
morning, but he had made amends by taking her back with him when he
hurried on board again after a hasty greeting. Miss Prince lived that
morning over again as she stood there, old and gray and alone in the
world. She could see again the great weather-beaten and tar-darkened
ship, and even the wizened monkey which belonged to one of the
sailors. She lingered at her father's side admiringly, and felt the
tears come into her eyes once more when he gave her a taste of the
fiery contents of his tumbler. They were all in his cabin; old Captain
Dunn and Captain Denny and Captain Peterbeck were sitting round the
little table, also provided with tumblers, as they listened eagerly to
the story of the voyage. The sailors came now and then for orders;
Nancy thought her handsome father, with his bronzed cheeks and white
forehead and curly hair, was every inch a king. He was her hero, and
nothing could please her so much to the end of her days as to have
somebody announce, whether from actual knowledge or hearsay, that
Captain Jack Prince was the best shipmaster that ever sailed out of
Dunport.... She always was sure there were some presents stored away
for herself and young Jack, her brother, in one of the lockers of the
little cabin. Poor Jack! how he used to frighten her by climbing the
shrouds and waving his cap from almost inaccessible heights. Poor
Jack! and Miss Prince climbed the step to look down the harbor again,
as if the ship were more than thirty days out from Amsterdam, and
might be expected at any time if the voyage had been favorable.

The house was at no great distance from the water side, though the
crowded buildings obscured the view from the lower stories. There was
nothing coming in from sea but a steam-tug, which did not harmonize
with these pleasant reminiscences, though as Miss Prince raised the
window a fine salt breeze entered, well warmed with the May sunshine.
It had the flavor of tar and the spirit of the high seas, and for a
wonder there could be heard the knocking of shipwrights' hammers,
which in old times were never silent in the town. As she sat there for
a few minutes in the window seat, there came to her other
recollections of her later girlhood, when she had stolen to this
corner for the sake of being alone with her pleasant thoughts, though
she had cried there many an hour after Jack's behavior had given them
the sorrow they hardly would own to each other. She remembered hearing
her father's angry voice down stairs. No! she would not think of that
again, why should she? and she shut the window and went back to be
sure that she had locked the camphor chest, and hung its key on the
flat-headed rusty nail overhead. Miss Prince heard some one open and
shut the front door as she went down, and in the small front room she
found Captain Walter Parish, who held a high place among her most
intimate friends. He was her cousin, and had become her general
adviser and counselor. He sometimes called himself laughingly the
ship's husband, for it was he who transacted most of Miss Prince's
important business, and selected her paint and shingles and her garden
seeds beside, and made and mended her pens. He liked to be useful and
agreeable, but he had not that satisfaction in his own home, for his
wife had been a most efficient person to begin with, and during his
absences at sea in early life had grown entirely self-reliant. The
captain joked about it merrily, but he nevertheless liked to feel that
he was still important, and Miss Prince generously told him, from time
to time, that she did not know how she should get on without him, and
considerately kept up the fiction of not wishing to take up his time
when he must be busy with his own affairs.

"How are you this fine morning, Cousin Nancy?" said the captain
gallantly. "I called to say that Jerry Martin will be here to-morrow
without fail. It seems he thought you would send him word when you
wanted him next, and he has been working for himself. I don't think
the garden will suffer, we have had so much cold weather. And here is
a letter I took from the office." He handed it to Miss Prince with a
questioning look; he knew the handwriting of her few correspondents
almost as well as she, and this was a stranger's.

"Perhaps it is a receipt for my subscription to the"--But Miss Prince
never finished the sentence, for when she had fairly taken the letter
into her hand, the very touch of it seemed to send a tinge of ashen
gray like some quick poison over her face. She stood still, looking at
it, then flushed crimson, and sat down in the nearest chair, as if it
were impossible to hold herself upright. The captain was uncertain
what he ought to do.

"I hope you haven't heard bad news," he said presently, for Miss
Prince had leaned back in the arm-chair and covered her eyes with one
hand, while the letter was tightly held in the other.

"It is from my niece," she answered, slowly.

"You don't mean it's from Jack's daughter?" inquired the captain, not
without eagerness. He never had suspected such a thing; the only
explanation which had suggested itself to his mind was that Miss
Prince had been investing some of her money without his advice or
knowledge, and he had gone so far as to tell himself that it was just
like a woman, and quite good enough for her if she had lost it. "I
never thought of its being from her," he said, a little bewildered,
for the captain was not a man of quick wit; his powers of reflection
served him better. "Well, aren't you going to tell me what she has to
say for herself?"

"She proposes to make me a visit," answered Miss Prince, trying to
smile as she handed him the little sheet of paper which she had
unconsciously crumpled together; but she did not give even one glance
at his face as he read it, though she thought it a distressingly long
time before he spoke.

"I must say that this is a very good letter, very respectful and
lady-like," said the captain honestly, though he felt as if he had
been expected to condemn it, and proceeded to read it through again,
this time aloud:--

   MY DEAR AUNT,--I cannot think it is right that we do not know
   each other. I should like to go to Dunport for a day some time
   next month; but if you do not wish to see me you have only to
   tell me so, and I will not trouble you.

                                         Yours sincerely,
                                           ANNA PRINCE.

"A very good handwriting, too," the captain remarked, and then
gathered courage to say that he supposed Miss Prince would give her
niece the permission for which she asked. "I have been told that she
is a very fine girl," he ventured, as if he were poor Nan's
ambassador; and at this Miss Prince's patience gave way.

"Yes, I shall ask her to come, but I do not wish anything said about
it; it need not be made the talk of the town." She answered her cousin
angrily, and then felt as if she had been unjust. "Do not mind me,
Walter," she said; "it has been a terrible grief and trouble to me all
these years. Perhaps if I had gone to see those people, and told them
all I felt, they would have pitied me, and not blamed me, and so
everything would have been better, but it is too late now. I don't
know what sort of a person my own niece is, and I wish that I need
never find out, but I shall try to do my duty."

The captain was tender-hearted, and seemed quite unmanned, but he gave
his eyes a sudden stroke with his hand and turned to go away. "You
will command me, Nancy, if I can be of service to you?" he inquired,
and his cousin bowed her head in assent. It was, indeed, a dismal hour
of the family history.

For some time Miss Prince did not move, except as she watched Captain
Parish cross the street and take his leisurely way along the uneven
pavement. She was almost tempted to call him back, and felt as if he
were the last friend she had in the world, and was leaving her
forever. But after she had allowed the worst of the miserable shock to
spend itself, she summoned the stern energy for which she was famous,
and going with slower steps than usual to the next room, she unlocked
the desk of the ponderous secretary and seated herself to write.
Before many minutes had passed the letter was folded, and sealed, and
addressed, and the next evening Nan was reading it at Oldfields. She
was grateful for being asked to come on the 5th of June to Dunport,
and to stay a few days if it were convenient, and yet her heart fell
because there was not a sign of welcome or affection in the stately
fashioning of the note. It had been hardly wise to expect it under the
circumstances, the girl assured herself later, and at any rate it was
kind in her aunt to answer her own short letter so soon.



XV

HOSTESS AND GUEST


Nan had, indeed, resolved to take a most important step. She had
always dismissed the idea of having any communication with her aunt
most contemptuously when she had first understood their unhappy
position toward each other; but during the last year or two she had
been forced to look at the relationship from a wider point of view.
Dr. Leslie protested that he had always treated Miss Prince in a
perfectly fair and friendly manner, and that if she had chosen to show
no interest in her only niece, nobody was to blame but herself. But
Nan pleaded that her aunt was no longer young; that she might be
wishing that a reconciliation could be brought about; the very fact of
her having constantly sent the yearly allowance in spite of Mrs.
Thacher's and Dr. Leslie's unwillingness to receive it appealed to the
young girl, who was glad to believe that her aunt had, after all, more
interest in her than others cared to observe. She had no near
relatives except Miss Prince. There were some cousins of old Mrs.
Thacher's and their descendants settled in the vicinity of Oldfields;
but Nan clung more eagerly to this one closer tie of kindred than she
cared to confess even to her guardian. It was too late now for any
interference in Dr. Leslie's plans, or usurping of his affectionate
relationship; so, after he found that Nan's loyal heart was bent upon
making so kind a venture, he said one day, with a smile, that she had
better write a letter to her aunt, the immediate result of which we
already know. Nan had been studying too hard, and suffering not a
little from her long-continued city life, and though the doctor had
been making a most charming plan that later in the season they should
take a journey together to Canada, he said nothing about that, and
told himself with a sigh that this would be a more thorough change,
and even urged Nan to stay as long as she pleased in Dunport, if she
found her aunt's house pleasant and everything went well. For whether
Nan liked Miss Prince remained to be proved, though nobody in their
senses could doubt that Miss Prince would be proud of her niece.

It was not until after Nan had fairly started that she began to feel
at all dismayed. Perhaps she had done a foolish thing after all;
Marilla had not approved the adventure, while at the last minute Nan
had become suspicious that the doctor had made another plan, though
she contented herself with the remembrance of perfect freedom to go
home whenever she chose. She told herself grimly that if her aunt died
she should be thankful that she had done this duty; yet when, after a
journey of several hours, she knew that Dunport was the next station,
her heart began to beat in a ridiculous manner. It was unlike any
experience that had ever come to her, and she felt strangely unequal
to the occasion. Long ago she had laughed at her early romances of her
grand Dunport belongings, but the memory of them lingered still, in
spite of this commonplace approach to their realities, and she looked
eagerly at the groups of people at the railway station with a great
hope and almost certainty that she should find her aunt waiting to
meet her. There was no such good fortune, which was a chill at the
outset to the somewhat tired young traveler, but she beckoned a driver
whom she had just ignored, and presently was shut into a somewhat
antiquated public carriage and on her way to Miss Prince's house.

So this was Dunport, and in these very streets her father had played,
and here her mother had become deeper and deeper involved in the
suffering and tragedy which had clouded the end of her short life. It
seemed to the young stranger as if she must shrink away from the
curious glances that stray passers-by sent into the old carriage; and
that she was going to be made very conspicuous by the newly-awakened
interest in a sad story which surely could not have been forgotten.
Poor Nan! she sent a swift thought homeward to the doctor's house and
Mrs. Graham's; even to the deserted little place which had sheltered
her good old grandmother and herself in the first years she could
remember. And with strange irony came also a picture of the home of
one of her schoolmates,--where the father and mother and their
children lived together and loved each other. The tears started to her
eyes until some good angel whispered the kind "Come back soon, Nan
dear," with which Dr. Leslie had let her go away.

The streets were narrow and roughly paved in the old provincial
seaport town; the houses looked a good deal alike as they stood close
to the street, though here and there the tops of some fruit trees
showed themselves over a high garden fence. And presently before a
broad-faced and gambrel-roofed house, the driver stopped his horses,
and now only the front door with its bull's-eyed top-lights and
shining knocker stood between Nan and her aunt. The coachman had given
a resounding summons at this somewhat formidable entrance before he
turned to open the carriage door, but Nan had already alighted, and
stepped quickly into the hall. Priscilla directed her with some
ceremony to the south parlor, and a prim figure turned away from one
of the windows that overlooked the garden, and came forward a few
steps. "I suppose this is Anna," the not very cordial voice began, and
faltered; and then Miss Prince led her niece toward the window she had
left, and without a thought of the reserve she had decided upon,
pushed one of the blinds wide open, and looked again at Nan's
appealing face, half eager herself, and half afraid. Then she fumbled
for a handkerchief, and betook herself to the end of the sofa and
began to cry: "You are so like my mother and Jack," she said. "I did
not think I should be so glad to see you."

The driver had deposited Nan's box, and now appeared at the door of
the parlor with Priscilla (who had quite lost her wits with
excitement) looking over his shoulder. Nan sprang forward, glad of
something to do in the midst of her vague discomfort, and at this
sight the hostess recovered herself, and, commanding Priscilla to show
Miss Prince to her room, assumed the direction of business affairs.

The best bedroom was very pleasant, though somewhat stiff and unused,
and Nan was glad to close its door and find herself in such a
comfortable haven of rest and refuge from the teasing details of that
strange day. The wind had gone to the eastward, and the salt odor was
most delightful to her. A vast inheritance of memories and
associations was dimly brought to mind by that breath of the sea and
freshness of the June day by the harbor side. Her heart leaped at the
thought of the neighborhood of the wharves and shipping, and as she
looked out at the ancient street, she told herself with a sense of
great fun that if she had been a boy she would inevitably have been a
surgeon in the navy. So this was the aunt whom Nan had thought about
and dreamed about by day and by night, whose acquaintance had always
been a waiting pleasure, and the mere fact of whose existence had
always given her niece something to look forward to. She had not known
until this moment what a reserved pleasure this meeting had been, and
now it was over with. Miss Prince was so much like other people,
though why she should not have been it would be difficult to suggest,
and Nan's taste had been so educated and instructed by her Oldfields'
advantages, not to speak of her later social experiences, that she
felt at once that her aunt's world was smaller than her own. There was
something very lovable about Miss Prince, in spite of the constraint
of her greeting, and for the first time Nan understood that her aunt
also had dreaded the meeting. Presently she came to the door, and this
time kissed Nan affectionately. "I don't know what to say to you, I am
sure," she told the girl, "only I am thankful to have you here. You
must understand that it is a great event to me;" at which Nan laughed
and spoke some cheerful words. Miss Prince seated herself by the other
front window, and looked at her young guest with ever-growing
satisfaction. This was no copy of that insolent, ill-bred young woman
who had so beguiled and ruined poor Jack; she was a little lady, who
did honor to the good name of the Princes and Lesters,--a niece whom
anybody might be proud to claim, and whom Miss Prince could cordially
entreat to make herself quite at home, for she had only been too long
in coming to her own. And presently, when tea was served, the careful
ordering of it, which had been meant partly to mock and astonish the
girl who could not have been used to such ways of living, seemed only
a fitting entertainment for so distinguished a guest. "Blood will
tell," murmured Miss Prince to herself as she clinked the teacups and
looked at the welcome face the other side of the table. But when they
talked together in the evening, it was made certain that Nan was
neither ashamed of her mother's people nor afraid to say gravely to
Miss Prince that she did not know how much injustice was done to
grandmother Thacher, if she believed she were right in making a
certain statement. Aunt Nancy smiled, and accepted her rebuff without
any show of disapproval, and was glad that the next day was Sunday,
so that she could take Nan to church for the admiration of all
observers. She was even sorry that she had not told young Gerry to
come and pay an evening visit to her niece, and spoke of him once or
twice. Her niece observed a slight self-consciousness at such times,
and wondered a little who Mr. George Gerry might be.

Nan thought of many things before she fell asleep that night. Her
ideas of her father had always been vague, and she had somehow
associated him with Dr. Leslie, who had shown her all the fatherliness
she had ever known. As for the young man who had died so long ago, if
she had said that he seemed to her like a younger brother of Dr.
Leslie, it would have been nearest the truth, in spite of the details
of the short and disappointed life which had come to her ears. Dr.
Ferris had told her almost all she knew of him, but now that she was
in her own father's old home, among the very same sights he had known
best, he suddenly appeared to her in a vision, as one might say, and
invested himself in a cloud of attractive romance. His daughter felt a
sudden blaze of delight at this first real consciousness of her
kinship. Miss Prince had shown her brother's portrait early in the
evening, and had even taken the trouble to light a candle and hold it
high, so that Nan could see the handsome, boyish face, in which she
recognized quickly the likeness to her own. "He was only thirteen
then," said Miss Prince, "but he looks several years older. We all
thought that the artist had made a great mistake when it was painted,
but poor Jack grew to look like it. Yes, you are wonderfully like
him," and she held the light near Nan's face and studied it again as
she had just studied the picture. Nan's eyes filled with tears as she
looked up at her father's face. The other portraits in the room were
all of older people, her grandfather and grandmother and two or three
ancestors, and Miss Prince repeated proudly some anecdotes of the most
distinguished. "I suppose you never heard of them," she added sadly at
the close, but Nan made no answer; it was certainly no fault of her
own that she was ignorant of many things, and she would not confess
that during the last few years she had found out everything that was
possible about her father's people. She was so thankful to have grown
up in Oldfields that she could not find it in her heart to rail at the
fate that had kept her away from Dunport; but the years of silence
had been very unlovely in her aunt.

She wondered, before she went to sleep that night, where her father's
room had been, and thought she would ask Miss Prince in the morning.
The windows were open, and the June air blew softly in, and sometimes
swayed the curtains of the bed. There was a scent of the sea and of
roses, and presently up the quiet street came the sound of footsteps
and young voices. Nan said to herself that some party had been late in
breaking up, and felt her heart thrill with sympathy. She had been
dwelling altogether in the past that evening, and she liked to hear
the revelers go by. But as they came under the windows she heard one
say, "I should be afraid of ghosts in that best room of Miss
Prince's," and then they suddenly became quiet, as if they had seen
that the windows were open, and Nan first felt like a stranger, but
next as if this were all part of the evening's strange experiences,
and as if these might be her father's young companions, and she must
call to them as they went by.


The next morning both the hostess and her guest waked early, and were
eager for the time when they should see each other again. The beauty
and quiet of the Sunday morning were very pleasant, and Nan stood for
some minutes at the dining-room windows, looking out on the small
paved courtyard, and the flowers and green leaves beyond the garden
gate. Miss Prince's was one of the fine old houses which kept its
garden behind it, well-defended from the street, for the family's own
pleasure.

"Those are the same old bushes and trees which we used to play among;
I have hardly changed it at all," said Miss Prince, as she came in. It
must be confessed that she had lost the feeling of patroness with
which she had approached her acquaintance with Nan. She was proud and
grateful now, and as she saw the girl in her pretty white dress, and
found her as simple and affectionate and eager to please as she had
thought her the night before, she owned to herself that she had not
looked for such happiness to fall into her life. And there was
something about the younger Anna Prince which others had quickly
recognized; a power of direction and of command. There are some
natures like the Prussian blue on a painter's palette, which rules all
the other colors it is mixed with; natures which quickly make
themselves felt in small or great companies.

Nan discovered her father's silver mug beside her plate, and was fired
with a fiercer resentment than she had expected to feel again, at the
sight of it. The thought of her childhood in good grandmother
Thacher's farm-house came quickly to her mind, with the plain living,
to her share of which she had been made a thousand times welcome;
while by this richer house, of which she was also heir, such rightful
trinkets and treasures had been withheld. But at the next minute she
could meet Miss Prince's observant eyes without displeasure, and
wisely remembered that she herself had not been responsible for the
state of affairs, and that possibly her aunt had been as wronged and
insulted and beaten back as she complained. So she pushed the
newly-brightened cup aside with an almost careless hand, as a sort of
compromise with revenge, and Miss Prince at once caught sight of it.
"Dear me," she said, not without confusion, "Priscilla must have
thought you would be pleased," and then faltered, "I wish with all my
heart you had always had it for your own, my dear." And this was a
great deal for Miss Prince to say, as any of her acquaintances could
have told her nearest relative, who sat, almost a stranger, at the
breakfast-table.

The elder woman felt a little light-headed and unfamiliar to herself
as she went up the stairway to get ready for church. It seemed as if
she had entered upon a new stage of existence, since for so many years
she had resented the existence of her brother's child, and had kept up
an imaginary war, in which she ardently fought for her own rights. She
had brought forward reason after reason why she must maintain her
position as representative of a respected family who had been shamed
and disgraced and insulted by her brother's wife. Now all aggressors
of her peace, real and imaginary, were routed by the appearance of
this young girl upon the field of battle, which she traversed with
most innocent and fearless footsteps, looking smilingly into her
aunt's face, and behaving almost as if neither of them had been
concerned in the family unhappiness. Beside, Nan had already added a
new interest to Miss Prince's life, and as this defeated warrior took
a best dress from the closet without any of the usual reflection upon
so important a step, she felt a great consciousness of having been
added to and enriched, as the person might who had suddenly fallen
heir to an unexpected property. From this first day she separated
herself as much as possible from any thought of guilt or complicity in
the long estrangement. She seemed to become used to her niece's
presence, and with the new relationship's growth there faded away the
thought of the past times. If any one dared to hint that it was a pity
this visit had been so long delayed, Miss Prince grandly ignored all
personality.

Priscilla had come to the guest's room on some undeclared errand, for
it had already been put in order, and she viewed with pleasure the
simple arrangements for dressing which were in one place and another
about the room. Priscilla had scorned the idea of putting this visitor
into the best bedroom, and had had secret expectations that Miss
Prince's niece would feel more at home with her than with her
mistress. But Miss Anna was as much of a lady as Miss Prince, which
was both pleasing and disappointing, as Priscilla hoped to solace some
disrespectful feelings of her own heart by taking down Miss Nancy's
pride. However, her loyalty to the house was greater than her own very
small grudges, and as she pretended to have some difficulty with the
fastening of the blind, she said in a whisper, "Y'r aunt'll like to
have you make yourself look pretty," which was such a reminder of
Marilla's affectionate worldliness that Nan had to laugh aloud. "I'm
afraid I haven't anything grand enough," she told the departing
housekeeper, whose pleasure it was not hard to discern.

It was with a very gratified mind that Miss Prince walked down the
street with her niece and bowed to one and another of her
acquaintances. She was entirely careless of what any one should say,
but she was brimful of excitement, and answered several of Nan's
questions entirely wrong. The old town was very pleasant that Sunday
morning. The lilacs were in full bloom, and other early summer flowers
in the narrow strips of front-yards or the high-fenced gardens were
in blossom too, and the air was full of sweetness and delight. The
ancient seaport had gathered for itself quaint names and treasures; it
was pleased with its old fashions and noble memories; its ancient
bells had not lost their sweet voices, and a flavor of the past
pervaded everything. The comfortable houses, the elderly citizens, the
very names on the shop signs, and the worn cobblestones of the streets
and flagstones of the pavements, delighted the young stranger, who
felt so unreasonably at home in Dunport. The many faces that had been
colored and fashioned by the sea were strangely different from those
which had known an inland life only, and she seemed to have come a
great deal nearer to foreign life and to the last century. Her heart
softened as she wondered if her father knew that she was following his
boyish footsteps, for the first time in her life, on that Sunday
morning. She would have liked to wander away by herself and find her
way about the town, but such a proposal was not to be thought of, and
all at once Miss Nancy turned up a narrow side street toward a
high-walled brick church, and presently they walked side by side up
the broad aisle so far that it seemed to Nan as if her aunt were
aiming for the chancel itself, and had some public ceremony in view,
of a penitential nature. They were by no means early, and the girl was
disagreeably aware of a little rustle of eagerness and curiosity as
she took her seat, and was glad to have fairly gained the shelter of
the high-backed pew as she bent her head. But Miss Prince the senior
seemed calm; she said her prayer, settled herself as usual, putting
the footstool in its right place and finding the psalms and the
collect. She then laid the prayer-book on the cushion beside her and
folded her hands in her lap, before she turned discreetly to say
good-morning to Miss Fraley, and exchange greetings until the
clergyman made his appearance. Nan had taken the seat next the pew
door, and was looking about her with great interest, forgetting
herself and her aunt as she wondered that so dear and quaint a place
of worship should be still left in her iconoclastic native country.
She had seen nothing even in Boston like this, there were so many
antique splendors about the chancel, and many mural tablets on the
walls, where she read with sudden delight her own family name and the
list of virtues which had belonged to some of her ancestors. The dear
old place! there never had been and never could be any church like
it; it seemed to have been waiting all her life for her to come to say
her prayers where so many of her own people had brought their sins and
sorrows in the long years that were gone. She only wished that the
doctor were with her, and the same feeling that used to make her watch
for him in her childhood until he smiled back again filled all her
loving and grateful heart. She knew that he must be thinking of her
that morning; he was not in church himself, he had planned a long
drive to the next town but one, to see a dying man, who seemed to be
helped only by this beloved physician's presence. There had been some
talk between Dr. Leslie and Nan about a medicine which might possibly
be of use, and she found herself thinking about that again and again.
She had reminded the doctor of it and he had seemed very pleased. It
must be longer ago than yesterday since she left Oldfields, it already
counted for half a lifetime.

One listener at least was not resentful because the sermon was neither
wise nor great, for she had so many things to think of; but while she
was sometimes lost in her own thoughts, Nan stole a look at the thinly
filled galleries now and then, and at one time was pleased with the
sight of the red-cheeked cherubs which seemed to have been caught like
clumsy insects and pinned as a sort of tawdry decoration above the
tablets where the Apostle's Creed and the Ten Commandments were
printed in faded gilt letters. The letter s was made long in these
copies and the capitals were of an almost forgotten pattern, and after
Nan had discovered her grandfather's name in the prayer-book she held,
and had tried again to listen to the discourse, she smiled at the
discovery of a familiar face in one of the wall pews. It somehow gave
her a feeling of security as being a link with her past experiences,
and she looked eagerly again and again until this old acquaintance,
who also was a stranger and a guest in Dunport, happened to direct a
careless glance toward her, and a somewhat dull and gloomy expression
was changed for surprised and curious recognition. When church was
over at last Miss Prince seemed to have a great deal to say to her
neighbor in the next pew, and Nan stood in her place waiting until her
aunt was ready. More than one person had lingered to make sure of a
distinct impression of the interesting stranger who had made one of
the morning congregation, and Nan smiled suddenly as she thought that
it might seem proper that she and her aunt should walk down the aisle
together as if they had been married, or as if the ceremony were
finished which she had anticipated as they came in. And Miss Prince
did make an admirable exit from the church, mustering all her
self-possession and taking stately steps at her niece's side, while
she sometimes politely greeted her acquaintances. There were
flickering spots of color in her cheeks when they were again in the
sun-shiny street.

"It is really the first day this summer when I have needed my
parasol," said Aunt Nancy, as she unfurled the carefully preserved
article of her wardrobe and held it primly aloft. "I am so sorry that
our rector was absent this morning. I suppose that you have attended
an Episcopal church sometimes; I am glad that you seem to be familiar
with the service;" to which Nancy replied that she had been confirmed
while she was first at boarding-school, and this seemed to give her
aunt great satisfaction. "Very natural and proper, my dear," she said.
"It is one thing I have always wished when I thought of you at serious
moments. But I was persuaded that you were far from such influences,
and that there would be nothing in your surroundings to encourage your
inherited love of the church."

"I have always liked it best," said Nan, who seemed all at once to
grow taller. "But I think one should care more about being a good
woman than a good Episcopalian, Aunt Nancy."

"No doubt," said the elder woman, a little confused and dismayed,
though she presently rallied her forces and justly observed that the
rules of the church were a means to the end of good living, and
happily, before any existing differences of opinion could be
discovered, they were interrupted by a pleasant-faced young man, who
lifted his hat and gracefully accepted his introduction to the younger
Miss Prince.

"This is Mr. George Gerry, Anna, one of my young friends," smiled Aunt
Nancy, and saying, as she walked more slowly, "You must come to see
us soon, for I shall have to depend upon the younger people to make my
niece's stay agreeable."

"I was looking forward to my Sunday evening visit," the wayfarer said
hesitatingly; "you have not told me yet that I must not come;" which
appeal was only answered by a little laugh from all three, as they
separated. And Miss Prince had time to be quite eloquent in her
favorite's praise before they reached home. Nan thought her first
Dunport acquaintance very pleasant, and frankly said so. This seemed
to be very gratifying to her aunt, and they walked toward home
together by a roundabout way and in excellent spirits. It seemed more
and more absurd to Nan that the long feud and almost tragic state of
family affairs should have come to so prosaic a conclusion, and that
she who had been the skeleton of her aunt's ancestral closet should
have dared to emerge and to walk by her side through the town. After
all, here was another proof of the wisdom of the old Spanish proverb,
that it takes two to make a quarrel, but only one to end it.



XVI

A JUNE SUNDAY


It was Miss Prince's custom to indulge herself by taking a long Sunday
afternoon nap in summer, though on this occasion she spoke of it to
her niece as only a short rest. She was glad to gain the shelter of
her own room, and as she brushed a little dust from her handsome silk
gown before putting it away she held it at arm's length and shook it
almost indignantly. Then she hesitated a moment and looked around the
comfortable apartment with a fierce disdain. "I wonder what gives me
such a sense of importance," she whispered. "I have been making
mistakes my whole life long, and giving excuses to myself for not
doing my duty. I wish I had made her a proper allowance, to say the
least. Everybody must be laughing at me!" and Miss Prince actually
stamped her foot. It had been difficult to keep up an appearance of
self-respect, but her pride had helped her in that laudable effort,
and as she lay down on the couch she tried to satisfy herself with the
assurance that her niece should have her rights now, and be treated
justly at last.

Miss Fraley had come in to pay a brief visit on her way to
Sunday-school just as they finished dinner, and had asked Nan to tea
the following Wednesday, expressing also a hope that she would come
sooner to call, quite without ceremony. Finding the state of affairs
so pleasant, Miss Eunice ventured to say that Nan's father had been a
favorite of her mother, who was now of uncommon age. Miss Prince
became suddenly stern, but it was only a passing cloud, which
disturbed nobody.

Nan had accepted willingly the offered apologies and gayly wished her
aunt a pleasant dream, but being wide awake she gladly made use of the
quiet time to send a letter home, and to stroll down the garden
afterward. It all seemed so unlike what she had expected, yet her
former thoughts about her aunt were much more difficult to recall as
every hour went by and made the impression of actual things more
distinct. Her fancied duty to a lonely old lady who mourned over a sad
past seemed quite quixotic when she watched this brisk woman come and
go without any hindrance of age, or, now that the first meeting was
over, any appearance of former melancholy. As our friend went down the
garden she told herself that she was glad to have come; it was quite
right, and it was very pleasant, though there was no particular use in
staying there long, and after a few days she would go away. Somehow
her life seemed a great deal larger for this new experience, and she
would try to repeat the visit occasionally. She wished to get Dunport
itself by heart, but she had become so used to giving the best of
herself to her studies, that she was a little shy of the visiting and
the tea-parties and the apparently fruitless society life of which she
had already learned something. "I suppose the doctor would say it is
good for me," said Nan, somewhat grimly, "but I think it is most
satisfactory to be with the persons whose interests and purposes are
the same as one's own." The feeling of a lack of connection with the
people whom she had met made life appear somewhat blank. She had
already gained a certain degree of affection for her aunt; to say the
least she was puzzled to account for such an implacable hostility as
had lasted for years in the breast of a person so apparently friendly
and cordial in her relations with her neighbors. Our heroine was slow
to recognize in her relative the same strength of will and of
determination which made the framework of her own character,--an
iron-like firmness of structure which could not be easily shaken by
the changes or opinions of other people. Miss Prince's acquaintances
called her a very set person, and were shy of intruding into her
secret fastnesses. There were all the traits of character which are
necessary for the groundwork of an enterprising life, but Miss Prince
seemed to have neither inherited nor acquired any high aims or any
especial and fruitful single-heartedness, so her gifts of persistence
and self-confidence had ranked themselves for the defense of a
comparatively unimportant and commonplace existence. As has been said,
she forbade, years before, any mention of her family troubles, and had
lived on before the world as if they could be annihilated, and not
only were not observable, but never had been. In a more thoughtful and
active circle of social life the contrast between her rare capacity
and her unnoticeable career would have been more striking. She stood
as a fine representative of the old school, but it could not be justly
said that she was a forward scholar, since, however sure of some of
her early lessons, she was most dull and reluctant before new ones of
various enlightening and uplifting descriptions.

Nan had observed that her aunt had looked very tired and spent as she
went up-stairs after dinner, and understood better than she had before
that this visit was moving the waters of Miss Prince's soul more
deeply than had been suspected. She gained a new sympathy, and as the
hours of the summer afternoon went by she thought of a great many
things which had not been quite plain to her, and strolled about the
garden until she knew that by heart, and had made friends with the
disorderly company of ladies-delights and periwinkles which had
cropped up everywhere, as if the earth were capable of turning itself
into such small blossoms without anybody's help, after so many years
of unvarying tuition. The cherry-trees and pear-trees had a most
venerable look, and the plum-trees were in dismal mourning of black
knots. There was a damp and shady corner where Nan found a great many
lilies of the valley still lingering, though they had some time ago
gone out of bloom in the more sunshiny garden at Oldfields. She
remembered that there were no flowers in the house and gathered a
great handful at last of one sort and another to carry in.

The dining-room was very dark, and Nan wished at first to throw open
the blinds which had been carefully closed. It seemed too early in the
summer to shut out the sunshine, but it seemed also a little too soon
to interfere with the housekeeping, and so she brought two or three
tall champagne glasses from a high shelf of the closet and filled them
with her posies, and after putting them in their places, went back to
the garden. There was a perfect silence in the house, except for the
sound of the tall clock in the dining-room, and it seemed very lonely.
She had taken another long look at her father's portrait, but as she
shut the rusty-hinged garden gate after her, she smiled at the thought
of her unusual idleness, and wondered if it need last until Tuesday,
which was the day she had fixed upon for her departure. Nan wished
that she dared to go away for a long walk; it was a pity she had not
told her aunt of a wish to see something of the town and of the
harbor-side that afternoon, but it would certainly be a little strange
if she were to disappear, and very likely the long nap would soon come
to an end. Being well taught in the details of gardening, she took a
knife from her pocket and pruned and trained the shrubs and vines, and
sang softly to herself as she thought about her next winter's study
and her plans for the rest of the summer, and also decided that she
would insist upon the doctor's going away with her for a journey when
she reached home again.

After a little while she heard her aunt open the blinds of the garden
door and call her in most friendly tones, and when she reached the
house Miss Prince was in the south parlor entertaining a
visitor,--Captain Walter Parish, who had gladly availed himself of
some trifling excuse of a business nature, which involved the signing
and sending of a paper by the early post of next day. He was going to
his daughter's to tea, and it was quite a long drive to her house, so
he had not dared to put off his errand, he explained, lest he should
be detained in the evening. But he had been also longing to take a
look at Miss Prince's guest. His wife went to another church and he
dutifully accompanied her, though he had been brought up with Miss
Prince at old St. Ann's.

"So this is my young cousin?" said the captain gallantly, and with
great simplicity and tenderness held both Nan's hands and looked full
in her face a moment before he kissed her; then to Miss Prince's great
discomposure and embarrassment he turned to the window and looked out
without saying a word, though he drew the back of his hand across his
eyes in sailor-fashion, as if he wished to make them clear while he
sighted something on the horizon. Miss Prince thought it was all
nonsense and would have liked to say so, though she trusted that her
silence was eloquent enough.

"She brings back the past," said Captain Walter as he returned
presently and seated himself where he could look at Nan as much as he
liked. "She brings back the past."

"You were speaking of old Captain Slater," reminded Miss Prince with
some dignity.

"I just came from there," said Captain Parish, with his eyes still
fixed on his young relative, though it was with such a friendly gaze
that Nan was growing fonder of him every minute. "They told me he was
about the same as yesterday. I offered to watch with him to-morrow
night. And how do you like the looks of Dunport, my dear?"

Nan answered eagerly with brightening face, and added that she was
longing to see more of it; the old wharves especially.

"Now that's good," said the captain; "I wonder if you would care
anything about taking a stroll with me in the morning. Your aunt here
is a famous housekeeper, and will be glad to get you off her hands, I
dare say."

Nan eagerly accepted, and though it was suggested that Miss Prince had
a plan for showing the town in the afternoon, she was promptly told
that there was nothing easier than taking both these pleasant
opportunities. "You would lose yourself among the old storehouses, I'm
sure, Nancy," laughed the old sailor, "and you must let me have my
way. It's a chance one doesn't get every day, to tell the old Dunport
stories to a new listener."

Some one had opened the front door, and was heard coming along the
hall. "This is very kind, George," said Miss Prince, with much
pleasure, while the captain looked a little disconcerted at his young
rival; he assured himself that he would make a long morning's cruise
of it, next day, with this attractive sightseer, and for once the
young beaux would be at a disadvantage; the girls of his own day used
to think him one of the best of their gallants, and at this thought
the captain was invincible. Mr. Gerry must take the second chance.

The blinds were open now, and the old room seemed very pleasant. Nan's
brown hair had been blown about not a little in the garden, and as she
sat at the end of the long, brass-nailed sofa, a ray of sunshine
touched the glass of a picture behind her and flew forward again to
tangle itself in her stray locks, so that altogether there was a sort
of golden halo about her pretty head. And young Gerry thought he had
never seen anything so charming. The white frock was a welcome
addition to the usually sombre room, and his eyes quickly saw the
flowers on the table. He knew instantly that the bouquet was none of
Miss Prince's gathering.

"I hope you won't think I mean to stay as much too late as I have come
too early," he laughed. "I must go away soon after tea, for I have
promised to talk with the captain of a schooner which is to sail in
the morning. Mr. Wills luckily found out that he could give some
evidence in a case we are working up."

"The collision?" asked Captain Parish, eagerly. "I was wondering
to-day when I saw the Highflyer's foremast between the buildings on
Fleet Street as I went to meeting, if they were going to let her lie
there and dry-rot. I don't think she's being taken proper care of. I
must say I hate to see a good vessel go to ruin when there's no need
of it."

"The man in charge was recommended very highly, and everything seemed
to be all right when I was on board one day this week," said young
Gerry, good-naturedly, and turned to explain to Nan that this vessel
had been damaged by collision with another, and the process of
settling the matter by litigation had been provokingly slow.

The captain listened with impatience. "I dare say she looked very well
to your eyes, but I'd rather have an old ship-master's word for it
than a young lawyer's. I haven't boarded her for some weeks; I dare
say 'twas before the snow was gone; but she certainly needed attention
then. I saw some bad-looking places in the sheathing and planking.
There ought to be a coat of paint soon, and plenty of tar carried
aloft besides, or there'll be a long bill for somebody to pay before
she's seaworthy."

"I wish you would make a careful inspection of her," said the young
man, with gratifying deference. "I don't doubt that it is necessary; I
will see that you are well satisfied for your services. Of course the
captain himself should have stayed there and kept charge, but you
remember he was sick and had to resign. He looks feeble yet. I hope
nothing will happen to him before the matter is settled up, but we are
sure of the trial in September."

"She's going to be rigged with some of your red tape, I'm afraid,"
said Captain Parish, with great friendliness. "I don't see any reason
why I can't look her over to-morrow morning, I'm obliged to you, or at
least make a beginning," and he gave a most knowing nod at Nan, as if
they would divide the pleasure. "I'll make the excuse of showing this
young lady the construction of a good-sized merchant vessel, and then
the keeper can't feel affronted. She is going to take a stroll with me
along the wharves," he concluded triumphantly. While Mr. Gerry looked
wistful for a moment, and Miss Prince quickly took advantage of a
pause in the conversation to ask if he knew whether anything pleasant
was going forward among the young people this week. She did not wish
her niece to have too dull a visit.

"Some of us are going up the river very soon," said the young man,
with eager pleasure, looking at Nan. "It would be so pleasant if Miss
Prince would join us. We think our Dunport supper parties of that sort
would be hard to match."

"The young folks will all be flocking here by to-morrow," said the
captain; and Miss Prince answered "Surely," in a tone of command,
rather than entreaty. She knew very well how the news of Nan's coming
must be flying about the town, and she almost regretted the fact of
her own previous silence about this great event. In the mean time Nan
was talking to the two gentlemen as if she had already been to her
room to smooth her hair, which her aunt looked at reproachfully from
time to time, though the sunshine had not wholly left it. The girl was
quite unconscious of herself, and glad to have the company and
sympathy of these kind friends. She thought once that if she had a
brother she would like him to be of young Mr. Gerry's fashion. He had
none of the manner which constantly insisted upon her remembering that
he was a man and she a girl; she could be good friends with him in the
same way that she had been with some Oldfields schoolfellows, and
after the captain had reluctantly taken his leave, they had a pleasant
talk about out-of-door life and their rides and walks, and were soon
exchanging experiences in a way that Miss Nancy smiled upon gladly. It
was not to be wondered at that she could not get used to so great a
change in her life. She could not feel sure yet that she no longer had
a secret, and that this was the niece whom she had so many years
dreaded and disclaimed. George Gerry had taken the niece's place in
her affections, yet here was Anna, her own namesake, who showed
plainly in so many ways the same descent as herself, being as much a
Prince as herself in spite of her mother's low origin and worse
personal traits, and the loutish companions to whom she had always
persuaded herself poor Nan was akin. And it was by no means sure that
the last of the Princes was not the best of them; she was very proud
of her brother's daughter, and was more at a loss to know how to make
excuses for being shortsighted and neglectful. Miss Prince hated to
think that Nan had any but the pleasantest associations with her
nearest relative; she must surely keep the girl's affection now. She
meant to insist at any rate upon Dunport's being her niece's home for
the future, though undoubtedly it would be hard at first to break with
the many associations of Oldfields. She must write that very night to
Dr. Leslie to thank him for his care, and to again express her regret
that Anna's misguided young mother should have placed such
restrictions upon the child's relations with her nearest of kin, and
so have broken the natural ties of nature. And she would not stop
there; she would blame herself generously and say how sorry she was
that she had been governed by her painful recollections of a time she
should now strive to forget. Dr. Leslie must be asked to come and join
his ward for a few days, and then they would settle her plans for the
future. She should give her niece a handsome allowance at any rate,
and then, as Miss Prince looked across the room and forgot her own
thoughts in listening to the young people's friendly talk, a sudden
purpose flashed through her mind. The dream of her heart began to
unfold itself slowly: could anything be so suitable, so comforting to
her own mind, as that they should marry each other?

Two days before, her pleasure and pride in the manly fellow, who was
almost as dear to her as an own son could be, would have been greatly
shocked, but Miss Prince's heart began to beat quickly. It would be
such a blessed solution of all the puzzles and troubles of her life if
she could have both the young people near her through the years that
remained, and when she died, or even before, they could live here in
the old house, and begin a new and better order of things in the place
of her own failures and shortcomings. It was all so distinct and
possible in Miss Prince's mind that only time seemed necessary, and
even the time could be made short. She would not put any hindrances
between them and their blessed decision. As she went by them to seek
Priscilla, she smoothed the cushion which Nan had leaned upon before
she moved a little nearer George Gerry in some sudden excitement of
the conversation, which had begun while the captain was still there,
and there was a needless distance between them. Then Miss Prince let
her hand rest for a minute on the girl's soft hair. "You must ask Mr.
Gerry to excuse you for a few minutes, my dear, you have been quite
blown about in the garden. I meant to join you there."

"It is a dear old garden," said Nan. "I can't help being almost as
fond of it already as I am of ours at home;" but though Aunt Nancy's
unwonted caress had been so unlike her conduct in general, this
reference to Oldfields called her to her senses, and she went quickly
away. She did not like to hear Nan speak in such loving fashion of a
house where she had no real right.

But when Mr. George Gerry was left alone, he had pleasant thoughts
come flocking in to keep him company in the ladies' stead. He had not
dreamed of such a pleasure as this; who could have? and what could
Aunt Nancy think of herself!

"It is such a holiday," said Nan, when tea was fairly begun, and her
new friend was acknowledging an uncommon attack of hunger, and they
were all merry in a sedate way to suit Miss Prince's ideas and
preferences. "I have been quite the drudge this winter over my
studies, and I feel young and idle again, now that I am making all
these pleasant plans." For Mr. Gerry had been talking enthusiastically
about some excursions he should arrange to certain charming places in
the region of Dunport. Both he and Miss Prince smiled when Nan
announced that she was young and idle, and a moment afterward the aunt
asked doubtfully about her niece's studies; she supposed that Anna was
done with schools.

Nan stopped her hand as it reached for the cup which Miss Prince had
just filled. "School; yes," she answered, somewhat bewildered; "but
you know I am studying medicine." This most important of all facts had
been so present to her own mind, even in the excitement and novelty of
her new surroundings, that she could not understand that her aunt was
still entirely ignorant of the great purpose of her life.

"What do you mean?" demanded Miss Prince, coldly, and quickly
explained to their somewhat amused and astonished companion, "My niece
has been the ward of a distinguished physician, and it is quite
natural she should have become interested in his pursuits."

"But I am really studying medicine; it is to be my profession,"
persisted Nan fearlessly, though she was sorry that she had spoiled
the harmony of the little company. "And my whole heart is in it, Aunt
Nancy."

"Nonsense, my dear," returned Miss Prince, who had recovered her
self-possession partially. "Your father gave promise of attaining
great eminence in a profession that was very proper for him, but I
thought better of Dr. Leslie than this. I cannot understand his
indulgence of such a silly notion."

George Gerry felt very uncomfortable. He had been a good deal shocked,
but he had a strong impulse to rush into the field as Nan's champion,
though it were quite against his conscience. She had been too long in
a humdrum country-town with no companion but an elderly medical man.
And after a little pause he made a trifling joke about their making
the best of the holiday, and the talk was changed to other subjects.
The tide was strong against our heroine, but she had been assailed
before, and had no idea of sorrowing yet over a lost cause. And for
once Miss Prince was in a hurry for Mr. Gerry to go away.



XVII

BY THE RIVER


As Nan went down the street next morning with Captain Parish, who had
been most prompt in keeping his appointment, they were met by Mr.
Gerry and a young girl who proved to be Captain Parish's niece and the
bearer of a cordial invitation. It would be just the evening for a
boat-party, and it was hoped that Miss Prince the younger would be
ready to go up the river at half-past five.

"Dear me, yes," said the captain; "your aunt will be pleased to have
you go, I'm sure. These idle young folks mustn't expect us to turn
back now, though, to have a visit from you. We have no end of business
on hand."

"If Miss Prince will remember that I was really on my way to see her,"
said Mary Parish pleasantly, while she looked with eager interest at
the stranger. The two girls were quite ready to be friends. "We will
just stop to tell your aunt, lest she should make some other plan for
you," she added, giving Nan a nod that was almost affectionate. "We
have hardly used the boats this year, it has been such a cold, late
spring, and we hope for a very good evening. George and I will call
for you," and George, who had been listening to a suggestion about the
ship business, smiled with pleasure as they separated.

"Nice young people," announced the captain, who was in a sympathetic
mood. "There has been some reason for thinking that they meant to take
up with each other for good and all. I don't know that either of them
could do better, though I like the girl best; that's natural; she's my
brother's daughter, and I was her guardian; she only came of age last
year. Her father and yours were boys together, younger than I am by a
dozen years, both gone before me too," sighed the captain, and quickly
changed so sad a subject by directing his companion's attention to one
of the old houses, and telling the story of it as they walked along.
Luckily they had the Highflyer all to themselves when they reached the
wharf, for the keeper had gone up into the town, and his wife, who had
set up a frugal housekeeping in the captain's cabin, sat in the shade
of the house with her sewing, the Monday's washing having been early
spread to the breeze in a corner of the main deck. She accepted
Captain Parish's explanations of his presence with equanimity, and
seemed surprised and amused at the young landswoman's curiosity and
eagerness, for a ship was as commonplace to herself as any farm-house
ashore.

"Dear me! you wouldn't know it was the same place," said the captain,
in the course of his enumeration of the ropes and yards and other
mysterious furnishings of the old craft. "With a good crew aboard,
this deck is as busy as a town every day. I don't know how I'm going
below until the keeper gets back. I suppose you don't want me to show
you the road to the main-to'gallant cross-trees; once I knew it as
well as anybody, and I could make quicker time now than most of the
youngsters," and the captain gave a knowing glance aloft, while at
this moment somebody crossed the gangway plank. It was a broken-down
old sailor, who was a familiar sight in Dunport.

"Mornin' to you, sir," and the master of the Highflyer, for the time
being, returned the salute with a mixture of dignity and friendliness.

"Goin' to take command?" chuckled the bent old fellow. "I'd like to
ship under ye; 'twouldn't be the first time," and he gave his hat an
unsettling shake with one hand as he looked at Nan for some sign of
recognition, which was quickly given.

"You've shipped under better masters than I. Any man who followed the
sea with Cap'n Jack Prince had more to teach than to learn. And here's
his grand-daughter before you, and does him credit too," said Captain
Walter. "Anna, you won't find many of your grandfather's men about the
old wharves, but here's one of the smartest that ever had hold of a
hawser."

"Goodsoe by name: I thank ye kindly, cap'n, but I ain't much account
nowadays," said the pleased old man, trying to get the captain's
startling announcement well settled in his mind. "Old Cap'n Jack
Prince's grand-darter? Why Miss Nancy's never been brought to change
her mind about nothing, has she?"

"It seems so," answered Nan's escort, laughing as if this were a good
joke; and Nan herself could not help smiling.

"I don't believe if the old gentleman can look down at ye he begrudges
the worst of his voyages nor the blackest night he ever spent on deck,
if you're going to have the spending of the money. Not but what Miss
Prince has treated me handsome right straight along," the old sailor
explained, while the inspector, thinking this not a safe subject to
continue, spoke suddenly about some fault of the galley; and after
this was discussed, the eyes of the two practiced men sought the
damaged mizzen mast, the rigging of which was hanging in snarled and
broken lengths. When Nan asked for some account of the accident, she
was told with great confidence that the Highflyer had been fouled, and
that it was the other vessel's fault; at which she was no wiser than
before, having known already that there had been a collision. There
seemed to be room enough on the high seas, she ventured to say, or
might the mischief have been done in port?

"It does seem as if you ought to know the sense of sea talk without
any learning, being Cap'n Jack Prince's grand-darter," said old
Goodsoe; for Captain Parish had removed himself to a little distance,
and was again investigating the condition of the ship's galley, which
one might suppose to have been neglected in some unforgivable way,
judging from his indignant grumble.

"Fouled, we say aboard ship, when two vessels lay near enough so that
they drift alongside. You can see what havick 't would make, for ten
to one they don't part again till they have tore each other all to
shoestrings; the yards will get locked together, and the same wind
that starts one craft starts both, and first one and then t'other
lifts with a wave, don't ye see, and the rigging's spoilt in a little
time. I've sometimes called it to mind when I've known o' married
couples that wasn't getting on. 'T is easy to drift alongside, but no
matter if they was bound to the same port they'd 'a' done best alone;"
and the old fellow shook his head solemnly, and was evidently
selecting one of his numerous stories for Nan's edification, when his
superior officer came bustling toward them.

"You might as well step down here about four o'clock; I shall have the
keys then. I may want you to hold a lantern for me; I'm going into the
lower hold and mean to do my work thoroughly, if I do it at all," to
which Goodsoe responded "ay, ay, sir," in most seamanlike fashion and
hobbled off.

"He'd have kept you there all day," whispered Captain Walter. "He
always loved to talk, and now he has nothing else to do; but we are
all friendly to Goodsoe. Some of us pay a little every year toward his
support, but he has always made himself very useful about the wharves
until this last year or two; he thought everything of your
grandfather, and I knew it would please him to speak to you. It seems
unfortunate that you should have grown up anywhere else than here; but
I hope you'll stay now?"

"It is not very likely," said Nan coldly. She wished that the captain
would go on with his stories of the former grandeur of Dunport, rather
than show any desire to talk about personal matters. She had been
little troubled at first by her aunt's evident disapproval the evening
before of her plans for the future, for she was so intent upon
carrying them out and certain that no one had any right to interfere.
Still it would have been better to have been violently opposed than to
have been treated like a child whose foolish whim would soon be
forgotten when anything better offered itself. Nan felt much older
than most girls of her years, and as if her decisions were quite as
much to be respected as her aunt's. She had dealt already with graver
questions than most persons, and her responsibilities had by no means
been light ones. She felt sometimes as if she were separated by half a
lifetime from the narrow limits of school life. Yet there was an
uncommon childlikeness about her which not only misled these new
friends, but many others who had known her longer. And when these
listened to accounts of her devotion to her present studies and her
marked proficiency, they shook their wise heads smilingly, as if they
knew that the girl was innocent of certain proper and insurmountable
obstacles farther on.


The air was fresh, and it was so pleasant on the wharf that the
captain paced to and fro several times, while he pointed out different
objects of interest along the harbor-side, and tapped the rusty anchor
and the hawsers with his walking-stick as he went by. He had made some
very pointed statements to the keeper's wife about the propriety of
opening the hatches on such a morning as that, which she had received
without comment, and wished her guests good-day with provoking
equanimity. The captain did not like to have his authority ignored,
but mentioned placidly that he supposed every idler along shore had
been giving advice; though he wondered what Nan's grandfather and old
Captain Peterbeck would have said if any one had told them this would
be the only square-rigged vessel in Dunport harbor for weeks at a
time.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed again presently, "there's young Gerry hard at
work!" and he directed his companion's attention to one of the upper
windows of the buildings whose fronts had two stories on the main
street, while there were five or six on the rear, which faced the
river. Nan could see the diligent young man and thought it hard that
any one must be drudging within doors that beautiful morning.

"He has always been a great favorite of your aunt's," said Captain
Parish, confidentially, after the law student had pretended to
suddenly catch sight of the saunterers, and waved a greeting which the
captain exultantly returned. "We have always thought that she was
likely to make him her heir. She was very fond of his father, you see,
and some trouble came between them. Nobody ever knew, because if
anybody ever had wit enough to keep her own counsel 'twas Nancy
Prince. I know as much about her affairs as anybody, and what I say to
you is between ourselves. I know just how far to sail with her and
when to stop, if I don't want to get wrecked on a lee shore. Your aunt
has known how to take care of what she had come to her, and I've done
the best I could to help her; it's a very handsome property,--very
handsome indeed. She helped George Gerry to get his education, and
then he had some little money left him by his father's brother,--no
great amount, but enough to give him a start; he's a very smart,
upright fellow, and I am glad for whatever Nancy did for him; but it
didn't seem fair that he should be stepping into your rights. But I
never have dared to speak up for you since one day--she wouldn't hear
a word about it, that's all I have to remark," the captain concluded
in a hurry, for wisdom's sake, though he longed to say more. It seemed
outrageous to him at this moment that the girl at his side should have
been left among strangers, and he was thankful that she seemed at last
to have a good chance of making sure of her rightful possessions.

"But I haven't needed anything," she said, giving Captain Walter a
grateful glance for his championship. "And Mr. Gerry is very kind and
attentive to my aunt, so I am glad she has been generous to him. He
seems a fine fellow, as you say," and Nan thought suddenly that it was
very hard for him to have had her appear on the scene by way of rival,
if he had been led to suppose that he was her aunt's heir. There were
so many new things to think of, that Nan had a bewildering sense of
being a stranger and a foreigner in this curiously self-centred
Dunport, and a most disturbing element to its peace of mind. She
wondered if, since she had not grown up here, it would not have been
better to have stayed away altogether. Her own life had always been
quite unvexed by any sort of social complications, and she thought how
good it would be to leave this talkative and staring little world and
go back to Oldfields and its familiar interests and associations. But
Dunport was a dear old place, and the warm-hearted captain a most
entertaining guide, and by the time their walk was over, the day
seemed a most prosperous and entertaining one. Aunt Nancy appeared to
be much pleased with the plan for the afternoon, and announced that
she had asked some of the young people to come to drink tea the next
evening, while she greeted Nan so kindly that the home-coming was
particularly pleasant. As for the captain, he was unmistakably happy,
and went off down the street with a gentle, rolling gait, and a smile
upon his face that fairly matched the June weather, though he was more
than an hour late for the little refreshment with which he and certain
dignified associates commonly provided themselves at eleven o'clock in
the forenoon. Life was as regular ashore as on board ship with these
idle mariners of high degree. There was no definite business among
them except that of occasionally settling an estate, and the forming
of decided opinions upon important questions of the past and future.


The shadows had begun to grow long when the merry company of young
people went up river with the tide, and Nan thought she had seldom
known such a pleasure away from her own home. She begged for the
oars, and kept stroke with George Gerry, pulling so well that they
quickly passed the other boat. Mary Parish and the friend who made the
fourth of that division of the party sat in the stern and steered with
fine dexterity, and the two boats kept near each other, so that Nan
soon lost all feeling of strangeness, and shared in the good
comradeship to which she had been willingly admitted. It was some time
since she had been on the water before, and she thought more than once
of her paddling about the river in her childhood, and even regaled the
company once with a most amusing mishap, at the remembrance of which
she had been forced to laugh outright. The river was broad and brimful
of water; it seemed high tide already, and the boats pulled easily.
The fields sloped down to the river-banks, shaded with elms and parted
by hedgerows like a bit of English country. The freshest bloom of the
June greenness was in every blade of grass and every leaf. The birds
were beginning to sing the long day to a close, and the lowing of
cattle echoed from the pastures again and again across the water;
while the country boats were going home from the town, sometimes with
a crew of women, who seemed to have made this their regular conveyance
instead of following the more roundabout highways ashore. Some of
these navigators rowed with a cross-handed stroke that jerked their
boats along in a droll fashion, and some were propelled by one groping
oar, the sculler standing at the stern as if he were trying to push
his craft out of water altogether and take to the air, toward which
the lifted bow pointed. And in one of the river reaches half a mile
ahead, two heavy packet boats, with high-peaked lateen sails, like a
great bird's single wing, were making all the speed they could toward
port before the tide should begin to fall two hours later. The young
guest of the party was very happy; she had spent so many of her
childish days out of doors that a return to such pleasures always
filled her with strange delight. The color was bright in her cheeks,
and her half-forgotten girlishness came back in the place of the
gravity and dignity that had brought of late a sedate young
womanliness to her manner. The two new friends in the stern of the
boat were greatly attracted to her, and merry laughter rang out now
and then. Nan was so brave and handsome, so willing to be pleased, and
so grateful to them for this little festivity, that they quickly
became interested in each other, as girls will. The commander thought
himself a fortunate fellow, and took every chance of turning his head
to catch a glimpse of our heroine, though he always had a good excuse
of taking his bearings or inspecting for himself some object afloat or
ashore which one of the boat's company had pointed out. And Nan must
be told the names of the distant hills which stood out clear in the
afternoon light, and to what towns up river the packet boats were
bound, and so the time seemed short before the light dory was run in
among the coarse river grass and pulled up higher than seemed
necessary upon the shore.

Their companions had not chosen so fleet a craft, and were five
instead of four at any rate, but they were welcomed somewhat
derisively, and all chattered together in a little crowd for a few
minutes before they started for a bit of woodland which overhung the
river on a high point. The wind rustled the oak leaves and roughened
the surface of the water, which spread out into a wide inland bay. The
clouds began to gather in the west and to take on wonderful colors, as
if such a day must be ended with a grand ceremony, and the sun go down
through banners and gay parades of all the forces of the sky. Nan had
watched such sunsets from her favorite playground at the farm, and
somehow the memory of those days touched her heart more tenderly than
they had ever done before, and she wished for a moment that she could
get away from the noisy little flock who were busy getting the supper
ready, though they said eagerly what a beautiful evening it would be
to go back to town, and that they must go far up the river first to
meet the moonlight.

In a few minutes Nan heard some one say that water must be brought
from a farm-house not far away, and quickly insisted that she should
make one of the messengers, and after much discussion and
remonstrance, she and young Gerry found themselves crossing the open
field together. The girl had left her hat swinging from one of the low
oak branches; she wondered why Mary Parish had looked at her first as
if she were very fond of her, and then almost appealingly, until the
remembrance of Captain Walter's bit of gossip came to mind too late to
be acted upon. Nan felt a sudden sympathy, and was sorry she had not
thought to share with this favorite among her new friends, the
companion whom she had joined so carelessly. George Gerry had some
very attractive ways. He did not trouble Nan with unnecessary
attentions, as some young men had, and she told herself again, how
much she liked him. They walked fast, with free, light steps, and
talked as they went in a way that was very pleasant to both of them.
Nan was wise to a marvel, the good fellow told himself, and yet such
an amusing person. He did not know when he had liked anybody so much;
he was very glad to stand well in the sight of these sweet, clear
eyes, and could not help telling their owner some of the things that
lay very near his heart. He had wished to get away from Dunport; he
had not room there; everybody knew him as well as they knew the
courthouse; he somehow wanted to get to deeper water, and out of his
depth, and then swim for it with the rest. And Nan listened with deep
sympathy, for she also had felt that a great engine of strength and
ambition was at work with her in her plans and studies.

She waited until he should have finished his confidence, to say a word
from her own experience, but just then they reached the farm-house and
stood together at the low door. There was a meagre show of flowers in
the little garden, which the dripping eaves had beaten and troubled in
the late rains, and one rosebush was loosely caught to the clapboards
here and there.

There did not seem to be anybody in the kitchen, into which they could
look through the open doorway, though they could hear steps and voices
from some part of the house beyond it; and it was not until they had
knocked again loudly that a woman came to answer them, looking worried
and pale.

"I never was so glad to see folks, though I don't know who you be,"
she said hurriedly. "I believe I shall have to ask you to go for help.
My man's got hurt; he managed to get home, but he's broke his
shoulder, or any ways 'tis out o' place. He was to the pasture, and
we've got some young cattle, and somehow or 'nother one he'd caught
and was meaning to lead home give a jump, and John lost his balance;
he says he can't see how 't should 'a' happened, but over he went and
got jammed against a rock before he could let go o' the rope he'd put
round the critter's neck. He's in dreadful pain so 't I couldn't leave
him, and there's nobody but me an' the baby. You'll have to go to the
next house and ask them to send; Doctor Bent's always attended of us."

"Let me see him," said Nan with decision. "Wait a minute, Mr. Gerry,
or perhaps you had better come in too," and she led the way, while the
surprised young man and the mistress of the house followed her. The
patient was a strong young fellow, who sat on the edge of the bed in
the little kitchen-bedroom, pale as ashes, and holding one elbow with
a look of complete misery, though he stopped his groans as the
strangers came in.

"Lord bless you, young man! don't wait here," he said; "tell the
doctor it may only be out o' place, but I feel as if 'twas broke."

But Nan had taken a pair of scissors from the high mantelpiece and was
making a cut in the coarse, white shirt, which was already torn and
stained by its contact with the ground, and with quick fingers and a
look of deep interest made herself sure what had happened, when she
stood still for a minute and seemed a little anxious, and all at once
entirely determined. "Just lie down on the floor a minute," she said,
and the patient with some exclamations, but no objections, obeyed.

Nan pushed the spectators into the doorway of the kitchen, and quickly
stooped and unbuttoned her right boot, and then planted her foot on
the damaged shoulder and caught up the hand and gave a quick pull, the
secret of which nobody understood; but there was an unpleasant cluck
as the bone went back into its socket, and a yell from the sufferer,
who scrambled to his feet.

"I'll be hanged if she ain't set it," he said, looking quite weak and
very much astonished. "You're the smartest young woman I ever see. I
shall have to lay down just to pull my wits together. Marthy, a drink
of water," and by the time this was brought the excitement seemed to
be at an end, though the patient was a little faint, and his wife
looked at Nan admiringly. Nan herself was fastening her boot again
with unwonted composure. George Gerry had not a word to say, and
listened to a simple direction of Nan's as if it were meant for him,
and acceded to her remark that she was glad for the shoulder's sake
that it did not have to wait and grow worse and worse all the while
the doctor was being brought from town. And after a few minutes, when
the volley of thanks and compliments could be politely cut short, the
two members of the picnic party set forth with their pail of water to
join their companions.

"Will you be so good as to tell me how you knew enough to do that?"
asked Mr. Gerry humbly, and looking at his companion with admiration.
"I should not have had the least idea."

"I was very glad it turned out so well," said Nan simply. "It was a
great pleasure to be of use, they were so frightened, poor things. We
won't say anything about it, will we?"

But the young man did not like to think yet of the noise the returning
bone had made. He was stout-hearted enough usually; as brave a fellow
as one could wish to see; but he felt weak and womanish, and somehow
wished it had been he who could play the doctor. Nan hurried back
bareheaded to the oak grove as if nothing had happened, though, if
possible, she looked gayer and brighter than ever. And when the
waiting party scolded a little at their slow pace, Miss Prince was
much amused and made two or three laughing apologies for their
laziness, and even ventured to give the information that they had made
a pleasant call at the farm-house.

The clouds were fading fast and the twilight began to gather under the
trees before they were ready to go away, and then the high tide had
floated off one of the boats, which must be chased and brought back.
But presently the picnickers embarked, and, as the moon came up, and
the river ebbed, the boats went back to the town and overtook others
on the way, and then were pulled up stream again in the favoring eddy
to make the evening's pleasure longer; at last Nan was left at her
door. She had managed that George Gerry should give Mary Parish his
arm, and told them, as they came up the street with her from the
wharf, that she had heard their voices Saturday night as they passed
under her window: it was Mary Parish herself who had talked about the
best room and its ghosts.



XVIII

A SERIOUS TEA-DRINKING


It was very good for Nan to find herself cordially welcomed to a
company of young people who had little thought of anything but
amusement in the pleasant summer weather. Other young guests came to
Dunport just then, and the hospitable town seemed to give itself up to
their entertainment. Picnics and tea-drinkings followed each other,
and the pleasure boats went up river and down river, while there were
walks and rides and drives, and all manner of contrivances and excuses
for spending much time together on the part of the young men and
maidens. It was a good while since Nan had taken such a long holiday,
though she had by no means been without the pleasures of society. Not
only had she made friends easily during her school-life and her later
studies, but Oldfields itself, like all such good old nests, was apt
to call back its wandering fledglings when the June weather came. It
delighted her more and more to be in Dunport, and though she sometimes
grew impatient, wise Dr. Leslie insisted that she must not hurry home.
The change was the very best thing in the world for her. Dr. Ferris
had alighted for a day or two in the course of one of his wandering
flights; and it seemed to the girl that since everything was getting
on so well without her in Oldfields, she had better, as the doctor had
already expressed it, let her visit run its course like a fever. At
any rate she could not come again very soon, and since her aunt seemed
so happy, it was a pity to hurry away and end these days sooner than
need be. It had been a charming surprise to find herself such a
desired companion, and again and again quite the queen of that little
court of frolickers, because lately she had felt like one who looks on
at such things, and cannot make part of them. Yet all the time that
she was playing she thought of her work with growing satisfaction. By
other people the knowledge of her having studied medicine was not very
well received. It was considered to have been the fault of Miss
Prince, who should not have allowed a whimsical country doctor to have
beguiled the girl into such silly notions, and many were the shafts
sped toward so unwise an aunt for holding out against her niece so
many years. To be sure the child had been placed under a most
restricted guardianship; but years ago, it was thought, the matter
might have been rearranged, and Nan brought to Dunport. It certainly
had been much better for her that she had grown up elsewhere; though,
for whatever was amiss and willful in her ways, Oldfields was held
accountable. It must be confessed that every one who had known her
well had discovered sooner or later the untamed wildnesses which
seemed like the tangles which one often sees in field-corners, though
a most orderly crop is taking up the best part of the room between the
fences. Yet she was hard to find fault with, except by very
shortsighted persons who resented the least departure by others from
the code they themselves had been pleased to authorize, and who could
not understand that a nature like Nan's must and could make and keep
certain laws of its own.

There seemed to be a sort of inevitableness about the visit; Nan
herself hardly knew why she was drifting on day after day without
reasonable excuse. Her time had been most carefully ordered and spent
during the last few years, and now she sometimes had an uneasy feeling
and a lack of confidence in her own steadfastness. But everybody took
it for granted that the visit must not come to an end. The doctor
showed no sign of expecting her. Miss Prince would be sure to resent
her going away, and the pleasure-makers marked one day after another
for their own. It seemed impossible, and perhaps unwise, to go on with
the reading she had planned, and, in fact, she had been urged to
attend to her books rather by habit than natural inclination; and when
the temptation to drift with the stream first made itself felt, the
reasons for opposing it seemed to fade away. It was easier to remember
that Dr. Leslie, and even those teachers who knew her best at the
medical school, had advised a long vacation.

The first formal visits and entertainments were over with for the most
part, and many of the Dunport acquaintances began to seem like old
friends. There had been a little joking about Nan's profession, and
also some serious remonstrance and unwise championship which did not
reach this heroine's ears. It all seemed romantic and most unusual
when anybody talked about her story at all, and the conclusion was
soon reached that all such whims and extravagances were merely
incident to the pre-Dunportian existence, and that now the young guest
had come to her own, the responsibilities and larger field of activity
would have their influence over her plan of life. The girl herself was
disposed to talk very little about this singular fancy; it may have
been thought that she had grown ashamed of it as seen by a brighter
light, but the truth was it kept a place too near her heart to allow
her to gossip with people who had no real sympathy, and who would ask
questions from curiosity alone. Miss Eunice Fraley had taken more than
one opportunity, however, to confess her interest, though she did this
with the manner of one who dares to be a conspirator against public
opinion, and possibly the permanent welfare of society, and had
avowed, beside, her own horror of a doctor's simplest duties. But poor
Miss Fraley looked at her young friend as a caged bird at a window
might watch a lark's flight, and was strangely glad whenever there was
a chance to spend an hour in Nan's company.

The first evening at Mrs. Fraley's had been a great success, and Miss
Prince had been vastly pleased because both the hostess and the guest
had received each other's commendation. Mrs. Fraley was, perhaps, the
one person whom Miss Prince recognized as a superior officer, and she
observed Nan's unconscious and suitable good behavior with great
pride. The hostess had formerly been an undisputed ruler of the
highest social circles of Dunport society, and now in her old age,
when she could no longer be present at any public occasions, she was
still the queen of a little court that assembled in her own house. It
was true that the list of her subjects grew shorter year by year, but
the survivors remained loyal, and hardly expected, or even desired,
that any of the newcomers to the town should recognize their ruler.
Nan had been much interested in the old lady's stories, and had gladly
accepted an invitation to come often to renew the first conversation.
She was able to give Mrs. Fraley much welcome information of the ways
and fashions of other centres of civilization, and it was a good thing
to make the hours seem shorter. The poor old lady had few
alleviations; even religion had served her rather as a basis for
argument than an accepted reliance and guide; and though she still
prided herself on her selection of words, those which she used in
formal conversations with the clergyman seemed more empty and
meaningless than most others. Mrs. Fraley was leaving this world
reluctantly; she had been well fitted by nature for social
preeminence, and had never been half satisfied with the opportunities
provided for the exercise of her powers. It was only lately that she
had been forced to acknowledge that Time showed signs of defeating her
in the projects of her life, and she had begun to give up the fight
altogether, and to mourn bitterly and aggressively to her anxious and
resourceless daughter. It was plain enough that the dissatisfactions
and infirmities of age were more than usually great, and poor Eunice
was only too glad when the younger Miss Prince proved herself capable
of interesting the old friend of her family, and Mrs. Fraley took
heart and suggested both informal visits and future entertainments.
The prudent daughter was careful not to tell her mother of the guest's
revolutionary ideas, and for a time all went well, until some unwise
person, unaware of Miss Fraley's warning gestures from the other side
of the sitting-room, proceeded to give a totally unnecessary opinion
of the propriety of women's studying medicine. Poor Eunice expected
that a sharp rebuke, followed by a day or two's disdain and general
unpleasantness, would descend upon her quaking shoulders; but, to her
surprise, nothing was said until the next morning, when she was
bidden, at much inconvenience to the household, to invite Miss Prince
and her niece to come that afternoon to drink tea quite informally.

There was a pathetic look in the messenger's faded face,--she felt
unusually at odds with fortune as she glided along the street,
sheltered by the narrow shadows of the high fences. Nan herself came
to the door, and when she threw back the closed blinds and discovered
the visitor, she drew her in with most cordial welcome, and the two
friends entered the darkened south parlor, where it was cool, and
sweet with the fragrance of some honeysuckle which Nan had brought in
early that morning from the garden.

"Dear me," said the little woman deprecatingly. "I don't know why I
came in at all. I can't stop to make a call. Mother was very desirous
that you and your aunt should come over to tea this evening. It seems
a good deal to ask in such hot weather, but she has so little to amuse
her, and I really don't see that the weather makes much difference,
she used to feel the heat very much years ago." And Miss Eunice gave a
sigh, and fanned herself slowly, letting the fan which had been put
into her hand turn itself quite over on her lap before it came up
again. There was an air of antique elegance about this which amused
Nan, who stood by the table wiping with her handkerchief some water
that had dropped from the vase. A great many of the ladies in church
the Sunday before had fanned themselves in this same little
languishing way; she remembered one or two funny old persons in
Oldfields who gave themselves airs after the same fashion.

"I think we shall both be very pleased," she answered directly, with a
bit of a smile; while Miss Fraley gazed at her admiringly, and thought
she had never seen the girl look so fresh and fair as she did in this
plain, cool little dress. There had been more water than was at first
suspected; the handkerchief was a limp, white handful, and they both
laughed as it was held up. Miss Fraley insisted that she could not
stay. She must go to the shops to do some errands, and hoped to meet
Miss Prince who had gone that way half an hour before.

"Don't mind anything mother may say to you," she entreated, after
lingering a minute, and looking imploringly in Nan's face. "You know
we can't expect a person of her age to look at everything just as we
do."

"Am I to be scolded?" asked Nan, serenely. "Do you know what it is
about?"

"Oh, perhaps nothing," answered Miss Fraley, quickly. "I ought not to
have spoken, only I fancied she was a little distressed at the idea of
your being interested in medicines. I don't know anything that is more
useful myself. I am sure every family needs to have some one who has
some knowledge of such things; it saves calling a doctor. My sister
Susan knows more than any of us, and it has been very useful to her
with her large family."

"But I shouldn't be afraid to come, I think," said Nan, laughing.
"Mrs. Fraley told me that she would finish that story of the diamond
ring, you know, and we shall get on capitally. Really I think her
stories of old times are wonderfully interesting. I wish I had a gift
for writing them down whenever I am listening to her."

Miss Eunice was much relieved, and felt sure that Nan was equal to any
emergency. The girl had put a strong young arm quickly round her
guest's thin shoulders, and had kissed her affectionately, and this
had touched the lonely little woman's very heart.


There were signs of storm in Madam Fraley's face that evening, but
everybody feigned not to observe them, and Nan behaved with perilous
disregard of a lack of encouragement, and made herself and the company
uncommonly merry. She described the bad effect her coming had had upon
her aunt's orderly house. She confessed to having left her own
possessions in such confusion the evening before when she dressed
again to go up the river, that Priscilla had called it a monkey's
wedding, and had gone away after one scornful look inside the door.
Miss Fraley dared to say that no one could mind seeing such pretty
things, and even Miss Prince mentioned that her niece was not so
careless as she would make them believe; while Nan begged to know if
anybody had ever heard of a monkey's wedding before, and seemed very
much amused.

"She called such a disarray in the kitchen one morning the monkey's
wedding breakfast," said Miss Prince, as if she never had thought it
particularly amusing until this minute. "Priscilla has always made use
of a great many old-fashioned expressions."

They had seated themselves at the tea-table; it was evident that Miss
Fraley had found it a hard day, for she looked tired and worn. The
mistress of the house was dressed in her best and most imposing
clothes, and sat solemnly in her place. A careful observer might have
seen that the best blue teacups with their scalloped edges were not
set forth. The occasion wore the air of a tribunal rather than that of
a festival, and it was impossible not to feel a difference between it
and the former tea-party.

Miss Prince was not particularly sensitive to moods and atmospheres;
she happened to be in very good spirits, and talked for some time
before she became entirely aware that something had gone wrong, but
presently faltered, and fell under the ban, looking questioningly
toward poor Eunice, who busied herself with the tea-tray.

"Nancy," said Mrs. Fraley impatiently, "I was amazed to find that
there is a story going about town that your niece here is studying to
be a doctor. I hope that you don't countenance any such nonsense?"

Miss Prince looked helpless and confounded, and turned her eyes toward
her niece. She could only hope at such a mortifying juncture that Nan
was ready to explain, or at least to shoulder the responsibility.

"Indeed she doesn't give me any encouragement, Mrs. Fraley," said Nan,
fearlessly. "Only this morning she saw a work on ventilation in my
room and told me it wasn't proper reading for a young woman."

"I really didn't look at the title," said Miss Prince, smiling in
spite of herself.

"It doesn't seem to improve the health of you young folks because you
think it necessary to become familiar with such subjects," announced
the irate old lady. It was her habit to take a very slight refreshment
at the usual tea hour, and supplement it by a substantial lunch at
bed-time, and so now she was not only at leisure herself, but demanded
the attention of her guests. She had evidently prepared an opinion,
and was determined to give it. Miss Eunice grew smaller and thinner
than ever, and fairly shivered with shame behind the tea-tray. She
looked steadily at the big sugar-bowl, as if she were thinking whether
she might creep into it and pull something over her head. She never
liked an argument, even if it were a good-natured one, and always had
a vague sense of personal guilt and danger.

"In my time," Mrs. Fraley continued, "it was thought proper for young
women to show an interest in household affairs. When I was married it
was not asked whether I was acquainted with dissecting-rooms."

"But I don't think there is any need of that," replied Nan. "I think
such things are the duty of professional men and women only. I am very
far from believing that every girl ought to be a surgeon any more than
that she ought to be an astronomer. And as for the younger people's
being less strong than the old, I am afraid it is their own fault,
since we understand the laws of health better than we used. 'Who
breaks, pays,' you know."

It was evidently not expected that the young guest should venture to
discuss the question, but rather have accepted her rebuke meekly, and
acknowledged herself in the wrong. But she had the courage of her
opinions, and the eagerness of youth, and could hardly bear to be so
easily defeated. So when Mrs. Fraley, mistaking the moment's silence
for a final triumph, said again, that a woman's place was at home, and
that a strong-minded woman was out of place, and unwelcome everywhere,
the girl's cheeks flushed suddenly.

"I think it is a pity that we have fallen into a habit of using
strong-mindedness as a term of rebuke," she said. "I am willing to
acknowledge that people who are eager for reforms are apt to develop
unpleasant traits, but it is only because they have to fight against
opposition and ignorance. When they are dead and the world is reaping
the reward of their bravery and constancy, it no longer laughs, but
makes statues of them, and praises diem, and thanks them in every way
it can. I think we ought to judge each other by the highest standards,
Mrs. Fraley, and by whether we are doing good work."

"My day is past," said the hostess. "I do not belong to the present,
and I suppose my judgment is worth nothing to you;" and Nan looked up
quickly and affectionately.

"I should like to have all my friends believe that I am doing right,"
she said. "I do feel very certain that we must educate people properly
if we want them to be worth anything. It is no use to treat all the
boys and girls as if nature had meant them for the same business and
scholarship, and try to put them through the same drill, for that is
sure to mislead and confuse all those who are not perfectly sure of
what they want. There are plenty of people dragging themselves
miserably through the world, because they are clogged and fettered
with work for which they have no fitness. I know I haven't had the
experience that you have, Mrs. Fraley, but I can't help believing that
nothing is better than to find one's work early and hold fast to it,
and put all one's heart into it."

"I have done my best to serve God in the station to which it has
pleased Him to call me," said Mrs. Fraley, stiffly. "I believe that a
young man's position is very different from a girl's. To be sure, I
can give my opinion that everything went better when the master
workmen took apprentices to their trades, and there wasn't so much
schooling. But I warn you, my dear, that your notion about studying to
be a doctor has shocked me very much indeed. I could not believe my
ears,--a refined girl who bears an honorable and respected name to
think of being a woman doctor! If you were five years older you would
never have dreamed of such a thing. It lowers the pride of all who
have any affection for you. If it were not that your early life had
been somewhat peculiar and most unfortunate, I should blame you more;
as it is, I can but wonder at the lack of judgment in others. I shall
look forward in spite of it all to seeing you happily married." To
which Miss Prince assented with several decided nods.

"This is why I made up my mind to be a physician," said the culprit;
and though she had been looking down and growing more uncomfortable
every moment, she suddenly gave her head a quick upward movement and
looked at Mrs. Fraley frankly, with a beautiful light in her clear
eyes. "I believe that God has given me a fitness for it, and that I
never could do anything else half so well. Nobody persuaded me into
following such a plan; I simply grew toward it. And I have everything
to learn, and a great many faults to overcome, but I am trying to get
on as fast as may be. I can't be too glad that I have spent my
childhood in a way that has helped me to use my gift instead of
hindering it. But everything helps a young man to follow his bent; he
has an honored place in society, and just because he is a student of
one of the learned professions, he ranks above the men who follow
other pursuits. I don't see why it should be a shame and dishonor to a
girl who is trying to do the same thing and to be of equal use in the
world. God would not give us the same talents if what were right for
men were wrong for women."

"My dear, it is quite unnatural you see," said the antagonist,
impatiently. "Here you are less than twenty-five years old, and I
shall hear of your being married next thing,--at least I hope I
shall,--and you will laugh at all this nonsense. A woman's place is at
home. Of course I know that there have been some women physicians who
have attained eminence, and some artists, and all that. But I would
rather see a daughter of mine take a more retired place. The best
service to the public can be done by keeping one's own house in order
and one's husband comfortable, and by attending to those social
responsibilities which come in our way. The mothers of the nation have
rights enough and duties enough already, and need not look farther
than their own firesides, or wish for the plaudits of an ignorant
public."

"But if I do not wish to be married, and do not think it right that I
should be," said poor Nan at last. "If I have good reasons against all
that, would you have me bury the talent God has given me, and choke
down the wish that makes itself a prayer every morning that I may do
this work lovingly and well? It is the best way I can see of making
myself useful in the world. People must have good health or they will
fail of reaching what success and happiness are possible for them; and
so many persons might be better and stronger than they are now, which
would make their lives very different. I do think if I can help my
neighbors in this way it will be a great kindness. I won't attempt to
say that the study of medicine is a proper vocation for women, only
that I believe more and more every year that it is the proper study
for me. It certainly cannot be the proper vocation of all women to
bring up children, so many of them are dead failures at it; and I
don't see why all girls should be thought failures who do not marry. I
don't believe that half those who do marry have any real right to it,
at least until people use common sense as much in that most important
decision as in lesser ones. Of course we can't expect to bring about
an ideal state of society all at once; but just because we don't
really believe in having the best possible conditions, we make no
effort at all toward even better ones. People ought to work with the
great laws of nature and not against them."

"You don't know anything about it," said Mrs. Fraley, who hardly knew
what to think of this ready opposition. "You don't know what you are
talking about, Anna. You have neither age nor experience, and it is
easy to see you have been associating with very foolish people. I am
the last person to say that every marriage is a lucky one; but if you
were my daughter I should never consent to your injuring your chances
for happiness in this way."

Nan could not help stealing a glance at poor Miss Eunice, behind her
fragile battlement of the tea-set, and was deeply touched at the
glance of sympathy which dimly flickered in the lonely eyes. "I do
think, mother, that Anna is right about single women's having some
occupation," was timidly suggested. "Of course, I mean those who have
no special home duties; I can see that life would not"--

"Now Eunice," interrupted the commander in chief, "I do wish you
could keep an opinion of your own. You are the last person to take up
with such ideas. I have no patience with people who don't know their
own minds half an hour together."

"There are plenty of foolish women who marry, I'll acknowledge," said
Miss Prince, for the sake of coming to the rescue. "I was really angry
yesterday, when Mrs. Gerry told me that everybody was so pleased to
hear that Hattie Barlow was engaged, because she was incapable of
doing anything to support herself. I couldn't help feeling that if
there was so little power that it had never visibly turned itself in
any practical direction, she wasn't likely to be a good housekeeper. I
think that is a most responsible situation, myself."

Nan looked up gratefully. "It isn't so much that people can't do
anything, as that they try to do the wrong things, Aunt Nancy. We all
are busy enough or ought to be; only the richest people have the most
cares and have to work hardest. I used to think that rich city people
did nothing but amuse themselves, when I was a little girl; but I
often wonder nowadays at the wisdom and talent that are needed to keep
a high social position respected in the world's eyes. It must be an
orderly and really strong-minded woman who can keep her business from
getting into a most melancholy tangle. Yet nobody is afraid when the
most foolish girls take such duties upon themselves, and all the world
cries out with fear of disaster, if once in a while one makes up her
mind to some other plan of life. Of course I know being married isn't
a trade: it is a natural condition of life, which permits a man to
follow certain public careers, and forbids them to a woman. And since
I have not wished to be married, and have wished to study medicine, I
don't see what act of Parliament can punish me."

"Wait until Mr. Right comes along," said Mrs. Fraley, who had pushed
back her chair from the table and was beating her foot on the floor in
a way that betokened great displeasure and impatience. "I am only
thankful I had my day when women were content to be stayers at home. I
am only speaking for your good, and you'll live to see the truth of
it, poor child!"

"I am sure she will get over this," apologized Miss Prince, after they
had reached the parlor, for she found that her niece had lingered with
Miss Fraley in the dining-room.

"Don't talk to me about the Princes changing their minds," answered
the scornful old hostess. "You ought to know them better than that by
this time." But just at that moment young Gerry came tapping at the
door, and the two ladies quickly softened their excited looks and
welcomed him as the most powerful argument for their side of the
debate. It seemed quite a thing of the past that he should have
fancied Mary Parish, and more than one whisper had been listened to
that the young man was likely to have the Prince inheritance, after
all. He looked uncommonly well that evening, and the elder women could
not imagine that any damsel of his own age would consider him
slightingly. Nan had given a little shrug of impatience when she heard
his voice join the weaker ones in the parlor, and a sense of
discomfort that she never had felt before came over her suddenly. She
reminded herself that she must tell her aunt that very night that the
visit must come to an end. She had neglected her books and her drives
with the doctor altogether too long already.



XIX

FRIEND AND LOVER


In these summer days the young lawyer's thoughts had often been busy
elsewhere while he sat at the shaded office window and looked out upon
the river. The very housekeeping on the damaged ship became more
interesting to him than his law books, and he watched the keeper's
wife at her various employments on deck, or grew excited as he
witnessed the good woman's encounters with marauding small boys, who
prowled about hoping for chances of climbing the rigging or solving
the mysteries of the hold. It had come to be an uncommon event that a
square-rigged vessel should make the harbor of Dunport, and the elder
citizens ignored the deserted wharves, and talked proudly of the days
of Dunport's prosperity, convicting the railroad of its decline as
much as was consistent with their possession of profitable stock. The
younger people took the empty warehouses for granted, and listened to
their grandparents' stories with interest, if they did not hear them
too often; and the more enterprising among them spread their wings of
ambition and flew away to the larger cities or to the westward. George
Gerry had stayed behind reluctantly. He had neither enough desire for
a more active life, nor so high a purpose that he could disregard
whatever opposition lay in his way. Yet he was honestly dissatisfied
with his surroundings, and thought himself hardly used by a hindering
fate. He believed himself to be most anxious to get away, yet he was
like a ship which will not be started out of port by anything less
than a hurricane. There really were excuses for his staying at home,
and since he had stopped to listen to them they beguiled him more and
more, and his friends one by one commended his devotion to his mother
and sisters, and sometimes forgot to sympathize with him for his
disappointments as they praised him for being such a dutiful son. To
be sure, he might be a great lawyer in Dunport as well as anywhere
else; he would not be the first; but a more inspiring life might have
made him more enthusiastic and energetic, and if he could have been
winning his way faster elsewhere, and sending home good accounts of
himself, not to speak of substantial aid, there is no question whether
it would not have given his family greater happiness and done himself
more good. He was not possessed of the stern determination which wins
its way at all hazards, and so was dependent upon his surroundings for
an occasional stimulus.

But Dunport was very grateful to him because he had stayed at home,
and he was altogether the most prominent young man in the town. It is
so easy to be thankful that one's friends are no worse that one
sometimes forgets to remember that they might be better; and it would
have been only natural if he thought of himself more highly than he
ought to think, since he had received a good deal of applause and
admiration. It is true that he had avoided vice more noticeably than
he had pursued virtue; but the senior member of the firm, Mr.
Sergeant, pronounced his young partner to have been a most excellent
student, and not only showed the greatest possible confidence in him,
but was transferring a good deal of the business to him already. Miss
Prince and her old lawyer had one secret which had never been
suspected, and the townspeople thought more than ever of young Mr.
Gerry's ability when it was known that the most distinguished legal
authority of that region had given him a share of a long established
business. George Gerry had been led to think better of himself, though
it had caused him no little wonder when the proposal had been made. It
was possible that Mr. Sergeant feared that there might be some
alliance offered by his rivals in Dunport. To be sure, the younger
firm had been making a good deal of money, but it was less respected
by the leading business men. Mr. Sergeant had even conferred with his
young friend one morning upon the propriety of some new investments;
but Mr. Gerry had never even suspected that they were the price of his
own new dignity and claim upon the public honor. Captain Walter Parish
and Mr. Sergeant had both been aids and advisers of Miss Prince; but
neither had ever known the condition of all her financial affairs, and
she had made the most of a comfortable sense of liberty. To do young
Gerry justice, he had not hesitated to express his amazement; and
among his elders and betters, at any rate, he had laid his good
fortune at the door of Mr. Sergeant's generosity and kindness instead
of his own value.

But at certain seasons of the year, like this, there was no excitement
in the office, and after an attendance at court and the proper
adjustment, whether temporary or permanent, of the subsequent
business, the partners had returned to a humdrum fulfilling of the
minor duties of their profession, and the younger man worked at his
law books when there were no deeds or affidavits to engage his
attention. He thought of many things as he sat by his window; it was a
great relief to the tiresomeness of the dull rooms to look at the
river and at the shores and hills beyond; to notice carelessly whether
the tide came in or went out. He was apt to feel a sense of
dissatisfaction in his leisure moments; and now a new current was
bringing all its force to bear upon him in his quiet anchorage.

He had looked upon Miss Prince as a kind adviser; he was on more
intimate terms with her than with any woman he knew; and the finer
traits in his character were always brought out by some compelling
force in her dignity and simple adherence to her somewhat narrow code
of morals and etiquette. He was grateful to her for many kindnesses;
and as he had grown older and come to perceive the sentiment which had
been the first motive of her affection toward him, he had
instinctively responded with a mingling of gallantry and sympathy
which made him, as has been already said, appear at his very best. The
gossips of Dunport had whispered that he knew that it was more than
worth his while to be polite to Miss Prince; but he was too manly a
fellow to allow any trace of subserviency to show itself in his
conduct. As often happens, he had come back to Dunport almost a
stranger after his years of college life were over, and he had a
mingled love and impatience for the old place. The last year had been
very pleasant, however: there were a few young men whose good comrade
and leader he was; his relations with his fellow-citizens were most
harmonious; and as for the girls of his own age and their younger
sisters, who were just growing up, he was immensely popular and
admired by them. It had become a subject of much discussion whether he
and Mary Parish would not presently decide upon becoming engaged to
each other, until Miss Prince's long-banished niece came to put a new
suspicion into everybody's mind.

Many times when George Gerry had a new proof that he had somehow
fallen into the habit of walking home with the pleasant girl who was
his friend and neighbor, he had told himself abruptly that there was
no danger in it, and that they never could have any other feeling for
each other. But he had begun to think also that she belonged to him in
some vague way, and sometimes acknowledged that it might be a thing to
consider more deeply by and by. He was only twenty-six, and the world
was still before him, but he was not very sympathetic with other
people's enthusiasm over their love affairs, and wondered if it were
not largely a matter of temperament, though by and by he should like
to have a home of his own.

He was somewhat attracted toward Miss Prince, the younger, for her
aunt's sake, and had made up his mind that he would be very attentive
to her, no matter how displeasing and uninteresting she might be: it
was sure to be a time of trial to his old friend, and he would help
all he could to make the visit as bearable as possible. Everybody knew
of the niece's existence who had known the Prince family at all, and
though Miss Prince had never mentioned the unhappy fact until the day
or two before her guest was expected, her young cavalier had behaved
with most excellent discretion, and feigning neither surprise nor
dismay, accepted the announcement in a way that had endeared him still
more to his patroness.

But on the first Sunday morning, when a most admirable young lady had
walked up the broad aisle of St. Ann's church, and Mr. Gerry had
caught a glimpse of her between the rows of heads which all looked
commonplace by contrast, it seemed to begin a new era of things. This
was a welcome link with the busier world outside Dunport; this was
what he had missed since he had ended his college days, a gleam of
cosmopolitan sunshine, which made the provincial fog less attractive
than ever. He was anxious to claim companionship with this fair
citizen of a larger world, and to disclaim any idea of belonging to
the humdrum little circle which exaggerated its own importance. He
persuaded himself that he must pay Miss Prince's guest an early visit.
It was very exciting and interesting altogether; and as he watched the
flicker of light in our heroine's hair as she sat on the straight sofa
in her aunt's parlor on the Sunday evening, a feeling of great delight
stole over him. He had known many nice girls in his lifetime, but
there was something uncommonly interesting about Miss Anna Prince;
besides, who could help being grateful to her for being so much nicer
than anybody had expected?

And so the days went by. Nobody thought there was any objection when
the junior partner of the law firm took holiday after holiday, for
there was little business and Mr. Sergeant liked to keep on with his
familiar routine. His old friends came to call frequently, and they
had their conferences in peace, and were not inclined to object if the
younger ears were being used elsewhere. Young people will be young
people, and June weather does not always last; and if George Gerry
were more devoted to social duties than to legal ones, it was quite
natural, and he had just acquitted himself most honorably at the May
term of court, and was his own master if he decided to take a
vacation.

He had been amused when the announcement had been made so early in
their acquaintance that Nan meant to study medicine. He believed if
there were any fault, it was Dr. Leslie's, and only thought it a pity
that her evident practical talents had not been under the guidance of
a more sensible director. The girl's impetuous defense of her choice
was very charming; he had often heard Mr. Sergeant speak of the rare
insight and understanding of legal matters which his favorite daughter
had possessed, and her early death had left a lonely place in the good
man's heart. Miss Prince's life at Oldfields must have been very dull,
especially since her boarding-school days were over. For himself he
had a great prejudice against the usurpation of men's duties and
prerogatives by women, and had spoken of all such assumptions with
contempt. It made a difference that this attractive young student had
spoken bravely on the wrong side; but if he had thought much about it
he would have made himself surer and surer that only time was needed
to show her the mistake. If he had gone deeper into the subject he
would have said that he thought it all nonsense about women's having
the worst of it in life; he had known more than one good fellow who
had begun to go down hill from the day he was married, and if girls
would only take the trouble to fit themselves for their indoor
business the world would be a vastly more comfortable place. And as
for their tinkering at the laws, such projects should be bitterly
resented.


It only needed a few days to make it plain to this good fellow that
the coming of one of the summer guests had made a great difference in
his life. It was easy to find a hundred excuses for going to Miss
Prince's, who smiled benignantly upon his evident interest in the fair
stranger within her gates. The truth must be confessed, however, that
the episode of the lamed shoulder at the picnic party had given Mr.
George Gerry great unhappiness. There was something so high and
serene in Anna Prince's simplicity and directness, and in the way in
which she had proved herself adequate to so unusual an occasion, that
he could not help mingling a good deal of admiration with his
dissatisfaction. It is in human nature to respect power; but all his
manliness was at stake, and his natural rights would be degraded and
lost, if he could not show his power to be greater than her own. And
as the days went by, every one made him more certain that he longed,
more than he had ever longed for anything before, to win her love. His
heart had never before been deeply touched, but life seemed now like a
heap of dry wood, which had only waited for a live coal to make it
flame and leap in mysterious light, and transfigure itself from
dullness into a bewildering and unaccountable glory. It was no wonder
any longer that poets had sung best of love and its joys and sorrows,
and that men and women, since the world began, had followed at its
call. All life and its history was explained anew, yet this eager
lover felt himself to be the first discoverer of the world's great
secret.

It was hard to wait and to lack assurance, but while the hours when he
had the ideal and the dream seemed to make him certain, he had only to
go back to Miss Prince's to become doubtful and miserable again. The
world did not consent to second his haste, and the persons most
concerned in his affairs were stupidly slow at understanding the true
state of them. While every day made the prize look more desirable,
every day seemed to put another barrier between himself and Nan; and
when she spoke of her visit's end it was amazing to him that she
should not understand his misery. He wondered at himself more and more
because he seemed to have the power of behaving much as usual when he
was with his friends; it seemed impossible that he could always go on
without betraying his thoughts. There was no question of any final
opposition to his suit, it seemed to him; he could not be more sure
than he was already of Miss Prince's willingness to let him plead his
cause with her niece, so many vexed questions would be pleasantly
answered; and he ventured to hope that the girl herself would be glad
to spend her life in dear old Dunport, where her father's people had
been honored for so many years. The good Dr. Leslie must be fast
growing old, and, though he would miss his adopted child, it was
reasonable that he should be glad to see her happily anchored in a
home of her own, before he died. If Nan were friendless and penniless
it would make no difference; but nevertheless, for her sake, it was
good to remember that some one had said that Dr. Leslie, unlike most
physicians, was a man of fortune. And nothing remained but to win an
affection which should match his own, and this impatient suitor walked
and drove and spent the fleeting hours in waiting for a chance to show
himself in the lists of love. It seemed years instead of weeks at
last, and yet as if he had only been truly alive and free since love
had made him captive. He could not fasten himself down to his work
without great difficulty, though he built many a castle in Spain with
his imagined wealth, and laid deep plans of study and acquirement
which should be made evident as time went on.

All things seemed within his reach in these first days of his
enlightenment: it had been like the rising of the sun which showed him
a new world of which he was lawful master, but the minor events of his
blissful existence began to conspire against him in a provoking way,
and presently it was sadly forced upon his understanding that Anna
Prince was either unconscious or disdainful of his affection. It could
hardly be the latter, for she was always friendly and hospitable, and
took his courtesies in such an unsuspecting and grateful way. There
was something so self-reliant about her and so independent of any
one's protection, that this was the most discouraging thing of all,
for his own instinct was that of standing between her and all
harm,--of making himself responsible for her shelter and happiness.
She seemed to get on capitally well without him, but after all he
could not help being conqueror in so just and inevitable a war. The
old proverb suddenly changed from a pebble to a diamond, and he
thanked the philosopher more than once who had first reminded the
world that faint heart ne'er won fair lady; presently he grew sad, as
lovers will, and became paler and less vigorous, and made his friends
wonder a good deal, until they at last suspected his sweet sorrow, and
ranged themselves in eager ranks upon his side, with all history and
tradition in their favor.

Nan herself was not among the first to suspect that one of her new
friends had proved to be a lover; she had been turned away from such
suspicions by her very nature; and when she had been forced to believe
in one or two other instances that she was unwillingly drawing to
herself the devotion which most women unconsciously seek, she had been
made most uncomfortable, and had repelled all possibility of its
further progress. She had believed herself proof against such
assailment, and so indeed she had been; but on the very evening of her
battle for her opinions at Mrs. Fraley's she had been suddenly
confronted by a new enemy, a strange power, which seemed so dangerous
that she was at first overwhelmed by a sense of her own
defenselessness.

She had waited with Miss Fraley, who was not quite ready to leave the
dining-room with the rest, and had been much touched by her
confidence. Poor Eunice had been very fond of one of her
school-fellows, who had afterward entered the navy, and who had been
fond of her in return. But as everybody had opposed the match, for her
sake, and had placed little reliance in the young man, she had meekly
given up all hope of being his wife, and he had died of yellow fever
at Key West soon after. "We were not even engaged you know, dear,"
whispered the little lady, "but somehow I have always felt in my heart
that I belonged to him. Though I believe every word you said about a
girl's having an independence of her own. It is a great blessing to
have always had such a person as my mother to lean upon, but I should
be quite helpless if she were taken away.... Of course I have had what
I needed and what we could afford," she went on, after another pause,
"but I never can get over hating to ask for money. I do sometimes envy
the women who earn what they spend."

Nan's eyes flashed. "I think it is only fair that even those who have
to spend their husband's or their father's money should be made to
feel it is their own. If one does absolutely nothing in one's home,
and is not even able to give pleasure, then I think it is stealing. I
have felt so strongly about that since I have grown up, for you know
Dr. Leslie, my guardian, has done everything for me. Aunt Nancy gave
me money every year, but I never spent any of it until I went away to
school, and then I insisted upon taking that and what my grandmother
left me. But my later studies have more than used it all. Dr. Leslie
is so kind to me, like an own father, and I am looking forward to my
life with him most eagerly. After the next year or two I shall be at
home all the time, and I am so glad to think I can really help him,
and that we are interested in the same things."

Miss Eunice was a little incredulous, though she did not dare to say
so. In the first place, she could not be persuaded that a woman could
possibly know as much about diseases and their remedies as a man, and
she wondered if even the rural inhabitants of Oldfields would
cheerfully accept the change from their trusted physician to his young
ward, no matter what sails of diplomas she might spread to the breeze.
But Nan's perfect faith and confidence were not to be lightly
disputed; and if the practice of medicine by women could be made
honorable, it certainly was in able hands here, as far as an admiring
friend could decide. Nan was anything but self-asserting, and she had
no noisy fashion of thrusting herself before the public gaze, but
everybody trusted her who knew her; she had the rare and noble faculty
of inspiring confidence.

There was no excuse for a longer absence from the parlor, where Mrs.
Fraley was throned in state in her high-backed chair, and was already
calling the loiterers. She and Miss Prince were smiling indulgently
upon the impatient young man, who was describing to them a meeting of
the stockholders of the Turnpike Company, of which he had last year
been made secretary. A dividend had been declared, and it was larger
than had been expected, and the ladies were as grateful as if he had
furnished the means from his own pocket. He looked very tall and
handsome and business-like as he rose to salute Miss Fraley and Nan,
and presently told his real errand. He apologized for interfering with
the little festival, but two or three of the young people had suddenly
made a plan for going to see a play which was to be given that night
in the town hall by a traveling company. Would Miss Anna Prince care
to go, and Miss Fraley?

Nan hardly knew why she at once refused, and was filled with regret
when she saw a look of childish expectancy on Miss Eunice's face
quickly change to disappointment.

"It is too hot to shut one's self into that close place, I am afraid,"
she said. "And I am enjoying myself very much here, Mr. Gerry." Which
was generous on Nan's part, if one considered the premeditated war
which had been waged against her. Then the thought flashed through her
mind that it might be a bit of good fun for her companion; and without
waiting for either approval or opposition from the elder women, she
said, in a different tone, "However, if Miss Fraley will go too, I
will accept with pleasure; I suppose it is quite time?" and before
there could be a formal dissent she had hurried the pleased daughter
of the house, who was not quick in her movements, to her room, and in
a few minutes, after a good deal of laughter which the presence of the
escort kept anybody from even wishing to silence, the three were
fairly started down the street. It was of no avail that Mrs. Fraley
condemned her own judgment in not having advised Eunice to stay at
home and leave the young people free, and that Miss Prince made a
feeble protest for politeness' sake,--the pleasure-makers could not be
called back.

Nan had really grown into a great liking for George Gerry. She often
thought it would have been very good to have such a brother. But more
than one person in the audience thought they had never seen a braver
young couple; and the few elderly persons of discretion who had gone
to the play felt their hearts thrill with sudden sympathy as our
friends went far down the room to their seats. Miss Fraley was almost
girlish herself, and looked so pleased and bright that everybody who
cared anything about her smiled when they caught sight of her, she was
so prim and neat; it was impossible for her, under any circumstances,
to look anything but discreet and quaint; but as for Nan, she was
beautiful with youth and health; as simply dressed as Miss Eunice, but
with the gayety of a flower,--some slender, wild thing, that has
sprung up fearlessly under the great sky, with only the sunshine and
the wind and summer rain to teach it, and help it fulfill its
destiny,--a flower that has grown with no painful effort of its own,
but because God made it and kept it; that has bloomed because it has
come in the course of its growth to the right time. And Miss Eunice,
like a hindered little house-plant, took a long breath of delight as
she sat close by her kind young friend, and felt as if somebody had
set her roots free from their familiar prison.

To let God make us, instead of painfully trying to make ourselves; to
follow the path that his love shows us, instead of through conceit or
cowardice or mockery choosing another; to trust Him for our strength
and fitness as the flowers do, simply giving ourselves back to Him in
grateful service,--this is to keep the laws that give us the freedom
of the city in which there is no longer any night of bewilderment or
ignorance or uncertainty. So the woman who had lived a life of
bondage, whose hardest task-master was herself, and the woman who had
been both taught and inspired to hold fast her freedom, sat side by
side: the one life having been blighted because it lacked its mate,
and was but half a life in itself; while the other, fearing to give
half its royalty or to share its bounty, was being tempted to cripple
itself, and to lose its strait and narrow way where God had left no
room for another.

For as the play went on and the easily pleased audience laughed and
clapped its hands, and the tired players bowed and smiled from behind
the flaring foot-lights, there was one spectator who was conscious of
a great crisis in her own life, which the mimicry of that evening
seemed to ridicule and counterfeit. And though Nan smiled with the
rest, and even talked with her neighbors while the tawdry curtain had
fallen, it seemed to her that the coming of Death at her life's end
could not be more strange and sudden than this great barrier which had
fallen between her and her girlhood, the dear old life which had kept
her so unpuzzled and safe. So this was love at last, this fear, this
change, this strange relation to another soul. Who could stand now at
her right hand and give her grace to hold fast the truth that her soul
must ever be her own?

The only desire that possessed her was to be alone again, to make Love
show his face as well as make his mysterious presence felt. She was
thankful for the shelter of the crowd, and went on, wishing that the
short distance to her aunt's home could be made even shorter. She had
felt this man's love for her only in a vague way before, and now, as
he turned to speak to her from time to time, she could not meet his
eyes. The groups of people bade each other good-night merrily, though
the entertainment had been a little tiresome to every one at the last,
and it seemed the briefest space of time before Miss Fraley and Nan
and their cavalier were left by themselves, and at last Nan and George
Gerry were alone together.

For his part he had never been so happy as that night. It seemed to
him that his wish was coming true, and he spoke gently enough and of
the same things they might have talked about the night before, but a
splendid chorus of victory was sounding in his ears; and once, as they
stopped for a moment to look between two of the old warehouses at the
shining river and the masts and rigging of the ship against the
moonlighted sky, he was just ready to speak to the girl at his side.
But he looked at her first and then was silent. There was something in
her face that forbade it,--a whiteness and a strange look in her eyes,
that made him lose all feeling of comradeship or even acquaintance. "I
wonder if the old Highflyer will ever go out again?" she said slowly.
"Captain Parish told me some time ago that he had found her more badly
damaged than he supposed. A vessel like that belongs to the high seas,
and is like a prisoner when it touches shore. I believe that the stray
souls that have no bodies must sometimes make a dwelling in inanimate
things and make us think they are alive. I am always sorry for that
ship"--

"Its guardian angel must have been asleep the night of the collision,"
laughed young Gerry, uneasily; he was displeased with himself the
moment afterward, but Nan laughed too, and felt a sense of reprieve;
and they went on again and said good night quietly on the steps of the
old Prince house. It was very late for Dunport, and the door was shut,
but through the bull's-eyed panes of glass overhead a faint light was
shining, though it could hardly assert itself against the moonlight.
Miss Prince was still down-stairs, and her niece upbraided her, and
then began to give an account of the play, which was cut short by the
mistress of the house; for after one eager, long look at Nan, she
became sleepy and disappointed, and they said good-night; but the girl
felt certain that her aunt was leagued against her, and grew sick at
heart and tired as she climbed the stairs. There was a letter on the
long mahogany table in the hall, and Nan stopped and looked over the
railing at it wearily. Miss Prince stopped too, and said she was sorry
she had forgotten,--it was from Oldfields, and in Dr. Leslie's
writing. But though Nan went back for it, and kissed it more than once
before she went to bed, and even put it under her pillow as a comfort
and defense against she knew not what, for the first time in her life
she was afraid to open it and read the kind words. That night she
watched the moonlight creep along the floor, and heard the cocks crow
at midnight and in the morning; the birds woke with the new day while
she tried to understand the day that had gone, wondering what she must
do and say when she faced the world again only a few hours later.

Sometimes she felt herself carried along upon a rushing tide, and was
amazed that a hundred gifts and conditions to which she had scarcely
given a thought seemed dear and necessary. Once she fancied herself in
a quiet home; living there, perhaps, in that very house, and being
pleased with her ordering and care-taking. And her great profession
was all like a fading dream; it seemed now no matter whether she had
ever loved the studies of it, or been glad to think that she had it in
her power to make suffering less, or prevent it altogether. Her old
ambitions were torn away from her one by one, and in their place came
the hardly-desired satisfactions of love and marriage, and home-making
and housekeeping, the dear, womanly, sheltered fashions of life,
toward which she had been thankful to see her friends go hand in hand,
making themselves a complete happiness which nothing else could match.
But as the night waned, the certainty of her duty grew clearer and
clearer. She had long ago made up her mind that she must not marry.
She might be happy, it was true, and make other people so, but her
duty was not this, and a certainty that satisfaction and the blessing
of God would not follow her into these reverenced and honored limits
came to her distinctly. One by one the reasons for keeping on her
chosen course grew more unanswerable than ever. She had not thought
she should be called to resist this temptation, but since it had come
she was glad she was strong enough to meet it. It would be no real
love for another person, and no justice to herself, to give up her
work, even though holding it fast would bring weariness and pain and
reproach, and the loss of many things that other women held dearest
and best.

In the morning Nan smiled when her aunt noticed her tired look, and
said that the play had been a pursuit of pleasure under difficulties.
And though Miss Prince looked up in dismay, and was full of objections
and almost querulous reproaches because Nan said she must end her
visit within a day or two, she hoped that George Gerry would be, after
all, a reason for the girl's staying. Until Nan, who had been standing
by the window, looking wistfully at the garden, suddenly turned and
said, gently and solemnly, "Listen, Aunt Nancy! I must be about my
business; you do not know what it means to me, or what I hope to make
it mean to other people." And then Miss Prince knew once for all, that
it was useless to hope or to plan any longer. But she would not let
herself be vanquished so easily, and summoned to her mind many
assurances that girls would not be too easily won, and after a short
season of disapproving silence, returned to her usual manner as if
there had been neither difference nor dispute.



XX

ASHORE AND AFLOAT


"Your cousin Walter Parish is coming to dine with us to-day," said
Miss Prince, later that morning. "He came to the Fraleys just after
you went out last evening, to speak with me about a business matter,
and waited to walk home with me afterward. I have been meaning to
invite him here with his wife, but there doesn't seem to be much
prospect of her leaving her room for some time yet, and this morning I
happened to find an uncommonly good pair of young ducks. Old Mr. Brown
has kept my liking for them in mind for a great many years. Your
grandfather used to say that there was nothing like a duckling to his
taste; he used to eat them in England, but people in this country let
them get too old. He was willing to pay a great price for ducklings
always; but even Mr. Brown seems to think it is a great wrong not to
let them grow until Thanksgiving time, and makes a great many
apologies every year. It is from his farm that we always get the best
lamb too; they are very nice people, the Browns, but the poor old man
seems very feeble this summer. Some day I should really like to take a
drive out into the country to see them, you know so well how to manage
a horse. You can spare a day or two to give time for that, can't you?"

Nan was sorry to hear the pleading tone, it was so unlike her aunt's
usually severe manner, and answered quickly that she should be very
glad to make the little excursion. Mr. Brown had asked her to come to
the farm one day near the beginning of her visit.

"You must say this is home, if you can," said Miss Prince, who was a
good deal excited and shaken that morning, "and not think of yourself
as a visitor any more. There are a great many things I hope you can
understand, even if I have left them unsaid. It has really seemed more
like home since you have been here, and less like a lodging. I wonder
how I--When did you see Mr. Brown? I did not know you had ever spoken
to him."

"It was some time ago," the girl answered. "I was in the kitchen, and
he came to the door. He seemed very glad to see me," and Nan hesitated
a moment. "He said I was like my father."

"Yes, indeed," responded Miss Prince, drearily; and the thought seized
her that it was very strange that the same mistaken persistency should
show itself in father and child in exactly opposite ways. If Nan would
only care as much for marrying George Gerry, as her father had for
marrying his wretched wife! It seemed more and more impossible that
this little lady should be the daughter of such a woman; how dismayed
the girl would be if she could be shown her mother's nature as Miss
Prince remembered it. Alas! this was already a sorrow which no vision
of the reality could deepen, and the frank words of the Oldfields
country people about the bad Thachers had not been spoken fruitlessly
in the ears of their last descendant.

"I am so glad the captain is coming," Nan said presently, to break the
painful silence. "I do hope that he and Dr. Leslie will know each
other some time, they would be such capital friends. The doctor sent
his kind regards to you in last night's letter, and asked me again to
say that he hoped that you would come to us before the summer is over.
I should like so much to have you know what Oldfields is like." It was
hard to save herself from saying "home" again, instead of Oldfields,
but the change of words was made quickly.

"He is very courteous and hospitable, but I never pay visits
nowadays," said Miss Prince, and thought almost angrily that there was
no necessity for her making a target of herself for all those curious
country-people's eyes. And then they rose and separated for a time,
each being burdened less by care than thought.


The captain came early to dine, and brought with him his own and Miss
Prince's letters from the post-office, together with the morning
paper, which he proceeded to read. He also seemed to have a weight
upon his mind, but by the time they were at table a mild cheerfulness
made itself felt, and Nan summoned all her resources and was gayer and
brighter than usual. Miss Prince had gone down town early in the day,
and her niece was perfectly sure that there had been a consultation
with Mr. Gerry. He had passed the house while Nan sat at her upper
window writing, and had looked somewhat wistfully at the door as if he
had half a mind to enter it. He was like a great magnet: it seemed
impossible to resist looking after him, and indeed his ghost-like
presence would not forsake her mind, but seemed urging her toward his
visible self. The thought of him was so powerful that the sight of the
young man was less strange and compelling, and it was almost a relief
to have seen his familiar appearance,--the strong figure in its
every-day clothes, his unstudent-like vigor, and easy step as he went
by. She liked him still, but she hated love, it was making her so
miserable,--even when later she told Captain Parish some delightful
Oldfields stories, of so humorous a kind that he laughed long and
struck the table more than once, which set the glasses jingling, and
gave a splendid approval to the time-honored fun. The ducklings were
amazingly good; and when Captain Walter had tasted his wine and read
the silver label on the decanter, which as usual gave no evidence of
the rank and dignity of the contents, his eyes sparkled with
satisfaction, and he turned to his cousin's daughter with impressive
gravity.

"You may never have tasted such wine as that," he said. "Your
grandfather, the luckiest captain who ever sailed out of Dunport,
brought it home fifty years ago, and it was well ripened then. I
didn't know there was a bottle of it left, Nancy," he laughed. "My
dear, your aunt has undertaken to pay one of us a handsome
compliment."

"Your health, cousin Walter!" said the girl quickly, lifting her own
glass, and making him a little bow over the old Madeira.

"Bless your dear heart!" responded the captain; "the same good wishes
to you in return, and now you must join me in my respects to your
aunt. Nancy! I beg you not to waste this in pudding-sauces; that's the
way with you ladies."

The toast-drinking had a good effect upon the little company, and it
seemed as if the cloud which had hung over it at first had been blown
away. When there was no longer any excuse for lingering at the table,
the guest seemed again a little ill at ease, and after a glance at his
hostess, proposed to Nan that they should take a look at the garden.
The old sailor had become in his later years a devoted tiller of the
soil, and pleaded a desire to see some late roses which were just now
in bloom. So he and Nan went down the walk together, and he fidgeted
and hurried about for a few minutes before he could make up his mind
to begin a speech which was weighing heavily on his conscience.

Nan was sure that something unusual was perplexing him, and answered
his unnecessary questions patiently, wondering what he was trying to
say.

"Dear me!" he grumbled at last, "I shall have to steer a straight
course. The truth is, Nancy has been telling me that I ought to advise
with you, and see that you understand what you are about with young
Gerry. She has set her heart on your fancying him. I dare say you know
she has treated him like a son all through his growing up; but now
that you have come to your rightful place, she can't bear to have
anybody hint at your going back to the other people. 'Tis plain enough
what he thinks about it, and I must say I believe it would be for your
good. Here you are with your father's family, what is left of it; and
I take no liberty when I tell you that your aunt desires this to be
your home, and means to give you your father's share of the property
now and the rest when she is done with it. It is no more than your
rights, and I know as much as anybody about it, and can tell you that
there's a handsomer fortune than you may have suspected. Money grows
fast if it is let alone; and though your aunt has done a good deal for
others, her expenses have been well held in hand. I must say I should
like to keep you here, child," the captain faltered, "but I shall want
to do what's for your happiness. I couldn't feel more earnest about
that if I were your own father. You must think it over. I'm not going
to beseech you: I learned long ago that 'tis no use to drive a
Prince."

Nan had tried at first to look unconcerned and treat the matter
lightly, but this straightforward talk appealed to her much more than
the suggestion and general advice which Miss Prince had implored the
captain to give the night before. And now her niece could only thank
him for his kindness, and tell him that by and by she would make him
understand why she put aside these reasons, and went back to the life
she had known before.

But a sudden inspiration made her resolution grow stronger, and she
looked at Captain Parish with a convincing bravery.

"When you followed the sea," she said quickly, "if you had a good ship
with a freight that you had gathered with great care and hopefulness,
and had brought it almost to the market that it was suited for, would
you have been persuaded to turn about and take it to some place where
it would be next to useless?"

"No," said Captain Parish, "no, I shouldn't," and he half smiled at
this illustration.

"I can't tell you all my reasons for not wishing to marry," Nan went
on, growing very white and determined, "or all my reasons for wishing
to go on with my plan of being a doctor; but I know I have no right to
the one way of life, and a perfect one, so far as I can see, to the
other. And it seems to me that it would be as sensible to ask Mr.
Gerry to be a minister since he has just finished his law studies, as
to ask me to be a wife instead of a physician. But what I used to
dread without reason a few years ago, I must forbid myself now,
because I know the wretched inheritance I might have had from my poor
mother's people. I can't speak of that to Aunt Nancy, but you must
tell her not to try to make me change my mind."

"Good God!" said the captain. "I dare say you have the right points of
it; but if I were a young man 't would go hard with me to let you take
your life into your own hands. It's against nature."

"No," said Nan. "The law of right and wrong must rule even love, and
whatever comes to me, I must not forget that. Three years ago I had
not thought about it so much, and I might not have been so sure; but
now I have been taught there is only one road to take. And you must
tell Aunt Nancy this."

But when they went back to the house, Miss Prince was not to be seen,
and the captain hurried away lest she should make her appearance, for
he did not wish just then to talk about the matter any more. He told
himself that young people were very different in these days; but when
he thought of the words he had heard in the garden, and remembered the
pale face and the steadfast, clear-toned voice, he brushed away
something like a tear. "If more people used judgment in this same
decision the world would be better off," he said, and could not help
reminding himself that his own niece, little Mary Parish, who was
wearing a wistful countenance in these days, might by and by be happy
after all. For Nan's part it was a great relief to have spoken to the
kind old man; she felt more secure than before; but sometimes the fear
assailed her that some unforeseen event or unreckoned influence might
give her back to her indecisions, and that the battle of the night
before might after all prove not to be final.


The afternoon wore away, and late in the day our heroine heard George
Gerry's step coming up the street. She listened as she sat by the
upper window, and found that he was giving a message for her. It was
perfect weather to go up the river, he was saying; the tide served
just right and would bring them home early; and Miss Prince, who was
alone in the parlor, answered with pleased assurance that she was sure
her niece would like to go. "Yes," said Nan, calling from the window,
urged by a sudden impulse. "Yes indeed, I should like it above all
things; I will get ready at once; will you carry two pairs of oars?"

There was a ready assent, but the uncertainty of the tone of it struck
Anna Prince's quick ear. She seemed to know that the young man and her
aunt were exchanging looks of surprise, and that they felt insecure
and uncertain. It was not the yielding maiden who had spoken to her
lover, but the girl who was his good comrade and cordial friend. The
elder woman shook her head doubtfully; she knew well what this
foreboded, and was impatient at the overthrow of her plans; yet she
had full confidence in the power of Love. She had seen apparent
self-reliance before, and she could not believe that her niece was
invincible. At any rate nothing could be more persuasive than a
twilight row upon the river, and for her part, she hoped more eagerly
than ever that Love would return chief in command of the boat's young
crew; and when the young man flushed a little, and looked at her
appealingly, as he turned to go down the street, his friend and
counselor could not resist giving him a hopeful nod. Nan was
singularly frank, and free from affectations, and she might have
already decided to lower her colors and yield the victory, and it
seemed for a moment that it would be much more like her to do so, than
to invite further contest when she was already won. Miss Prince was
very kind and sympathetic when this explanation had once forced itself
upon her mind; she gave the young girl a most affectionate kiss when
she appeared, but at this unmistakable suggestion of pleasure and
treasured hopes, Nan turned back suddenly into the shaded parlor,
though Mr. Gerry was waiting outside with his favorite oars, which he
kept carefully in a corner of the office.

"Dear Aunt Nancy," said the girl, with evident effort, "I am so sorry
to disappoint you. I wish for your sake that I had been another sort
of woman; but I shall never marry. I know you think I am wrong, but
there is something which always tells me I am right, and I must follow
another way. I should only wreck my life, and other people's. Most
girls have an instinct towards marrying, but mine is all against it,
and God knew best when He made me care more for another fashion of
life. Don't make me seem unkind! I dare say that I can put it all into
words better by and by, but I can never be more certain of it in my
own heart than now."

"Sit down a minute," said Miss Prince, slowly. "George can wait. But,
Anna, I believe that you are in love with him, and that you are doing
wrong to the poor lad, and to yourself, and to me. I lost the best
happiness of my life for a whim, and you wish to throw away yours for
a theory. I hope you will be guided by me. I have come to love you
very much, and it seems as if this would be so reasonable."

"It does make a difference to me that he loves me," confessed the
girl. "It is not easy to turn away from him," she said,--still
standing, and looking taller than ever, and even thin, with a curious
tenseness of her whole being. "It is something that I have found it
hard to fight against, but it is not my whole self longing for his
love and his companionship. If I heard he had gone to the other side
of the world for years and years, I should be glad now and not sorry.
I know that all the world's sympathy and all tradition fight on his
side; but I can look forward and see something a thousand times better
than being his wife, and living here in Dunport keeping his house, and
trying to forget all that nature fitted me to do. You don't
understand, Aunt Nancy. I wish you could! You see it all another way."
And the tears started to the eager young eyes. "Don't you know that
Cousin Walter said this very day that the wind which sets one vessel
on the right course may set another on the wrong?"

"Nonsense, my dear," said the mistress of the house. "I don't think
this is the proper time for you to explain yourself at any rate. I
dare say the fresh air will do you good and put everything right too.
You have worked yourself into a great excitement over nothing. Don't
go out looking so desperate to the poor fellow; he will think
strangely of it;" and the girl went out through the wide hall, and
wished she were far away from all this trouble.


Nan had felt a strange sense of weariness, which did not leave her
even when she was quieted by the fresh breeze of the river-shore, and
was contented to let her oars be stowed in the bottom of the boat, and
to take the comfortable seat in the stern. She pulled the tiller ropes
over her shoulders, and watched her lover's first strong strokes,
which had quickly sent them out into the stream, beyond the course of
a larger craft which was coming toward the wharf. She wished presently
that she had chosen to row, because they would not then be face to
face; but, strange to say, since this new experience had come to her,
she had not felt so sure of herself as now, and the fear of finding
herself too weak to oppose the new tendency of her life had lessened
since her first recognition of it the night before. But Nan had fought
a hard fight, and had grown a great deal older in those hours of the
day and night. She believed that time would make her even more certain
that she had done right than she could be now in the heat of the
battle, but she wished whatever George Gerry meant to say to her might
be soon over with.

They went slowly up the river, which was now quite familiar to the
girl who had come to it a stranger only a few weeks before. She liked
out-of-door life so well that this countryside of Dunport was already
more dear to her than to many who had seen it bloom and fade every
year since they could remember. At one moment it seemed but yesterday
that she had come to the old town, and at the next she felt as if she
had spent half a lifetime there, and as if Oldfields might have
changed unbearably since she came away.

Sometimes the young oarsman kept in the middle of the great stream,
and sometimes it seemed pleasanter to be near the shore. The midsummer
flowers were coming into blossom, and the grass and trees had long
since lost the brilliance of their greenness, and wore a look of
maturity and completion, as if they had already finished their growth.
There was a beautiful softness and harmony of color, a repose that one
never sees in a spring landscape. The tide was in, the sun was almost
down, and a great, cloudless, infinite sky arched itself from horizon
to horizon. It had sent all its brilliance to shine backward from the
sun,--the glowing sphere from which a single dazzling ray came across
the fields and the water to the boat. In a moment more it was gone,
and a shadow quickly fell like that of a tropical twilight; but the
west grew golden, and one light cloud, like a floating red feather,
faded away upward into the sky. A later bright glow touched some high
hills in the east, then they grew purple and gray, and so the evening
came that way slowly, and the ripple of the water plashed and sobbed
against the boat's side; and presently in the midst of the river's
inland bay, after a few last eager strokes, the young man drew in his
oars, letting them drop with a noise which startled Nan, who had
happened to be looking over her shoulder at the shore.

She knew well enough that he meant to put a grave question to her now,
and her heart beat faster and she twisted the tiller cords around her
hands unconsciously.

"I think I could break any bonds you might use to keep yourself away
from me," he said hurriedly, as he watched her. "I am not fit for you,
only that I love you. Somebody told me you meant to go away, and I
could not wait any longer before I asked you if you would give
yourself to me."

"No, no!" cried Nan, "dear friend, I must not do it; it would all be a
mistake. You must not think of it any more. I am so sorry, I ought to
have understood what was coming to us, and have gone away long ago."

"It would have made no difference," said the young man, almost
angrily. He could not bear delay enough even for speech at that
moment; he watched her face desperately for a look of assurance; he
leaned toward her and wondered why he had not risked everything, and
spoken the evening before when they stood watching the ship's mast,
and Nan's hands were close enough to be touched. But the miserable
knowledge crept over him that she was a great deal farther away from
him than half that small boat's length, and as she looked up at him
again, and shook her head gently, a great rage of love and shame at
his repulse urged him to plead again. "You are spoiling my life," he
cried. "You do not care for that, but without you I shall not care for
anything."

"I would rather spoil your life in this way than in a far worse
fashion," said Nan sadly. "I will always be your friend, but if I
married you I might seem by and by to be your enemy. Yes, you will
love somebody else some day, and be a great deal happier than I could
have made you, and I shall be so glad. It does not belong to me."

But this seemed too scornful and cold-hearted. "Oh, my love is only
worth that to you," the lover said. "You shall know better what it
means. I don't want you for my friend, but for my own to keep and to
have. It makes me laugh to think of your being a doctor and going back
to that country town to throw yourself away for the fancies and silly
theories of a man who has lived like a hermit. It means a true life
for both of us if you will only say you love me, or even let me ask
you again when you have thought of it more. Everybody will say I am in
the right."

"Yes, there are reasons enough for it, but there is a better reason
against it. If you love me you must help me do what is best," said
Nan. "I shall miss you and think of you more than you know when I am
away. I never shall forget all these pleasant days we have been
together. Oh George!" she cried, in a tone that thrilled him through
and through, "I hope you will be friends with me again by and by. You
will know then I have done right because it is right and will prove
itself. If it is wrong for me I couldn't really make you happy; and
over all this and beyond it something promises me and calls me for a
life that my marrying you would hinder and not help. It isn't that I
shouldn't be so happy that it is not easy to turn away even from the
thought of it; but I know that the days would come when I should see,
in a way that would make me long to die, that I had lost the true
direction of my life and had misled others beside myself. You don't
believe me, but I cannot break faith with my duty. There are many
reasons that have forbidden me to marry, and I have a certainty as
sure as the stars that the only right condition of life for me is to
follow the way that everything until now has pointed out. The great
gain and purpose of my being alive is there; and I must not mind the
blessings that I shall have to do without."

He made a gesture of impatience and tried to interrupt her, but she
said quickly, as if to prevent his speaking: "Listen to me. I can't
help speaking plainly. I would not have come with you this afternoon,
only I wished to make you understand me entirely. I have never since I
can remember thought of myself and my life in any way but
unmarried,--going on alone to the work I am fit to do. I do care for
you. I have been greatly surprised and shaken because I found how
strongly something in me has taken your part, and shown me the
possibility of happiness in a quiet life that should centre itself in
one man's love, and within the walls of his home. But something tells
me all the time that I could not marry the whole of myself as most
women can; there is a great share of my life which could not have its
way, and could only hide itself and be sorry. I know better and better
that most women are made for another sort of existence, but by and by
I must do my part in my own way to make many homes happy instead of
one; to free them from pain, and teach grown people and little
children to keep their bodies free from weakness and deformities. I
don't know why God should have made me a doctor, so many other things
have seemed fitter for women; but I see the blessedness of such a
useful life more and more every year, and I am very thankful for such
a trust. It is a splendid thing to have the use of any gift of God. It
isn't for us to choose again, or wonder and dispute, but just work in
our own places, and leave the rest to God."

The boat was being carried downward by the ebbing tide, and George
Gerry took the oars again, and rowed quietly and in silence. He took
his defeat unkindly and drearily; he was ashamed of himself once,
because some evil spirit told him that he was losing much that would
content him, in failing to gain this woman's love. It had all been so
fair a prospect of worldly success, and she had been the queen of it.
He thought of himself growing old in Mr. Sergeant's dusty office, and
that this was all that life could hold for him. Yet to be was better
than to have. Alas! if he had been more earnest in his growth, it
would have been a power which this girl of high ideals could have been
held and mastered by. No wonder that she would not give up her dreams
of duty and service, since she had found him less strong than such
ideals. The fancied dissatisfaction and piteousness of failure which
she would be sure to meet filled his heart with dismay; yet, at that
very next moment, resent it as he might, the certainty of his own
present defeat and powerlessness could not be misunderstood. Perhaps,
after all, she knew what was right; her face wore again the look he
had feared to disturb the night before, and his whole soul was filled
with homage in the midst of its sorrow, because this girl, who had
been his merry companion in the summer holidays, so sweet and familiar
and unforgetable in the midst of the simple festivals, stood nearer to
holier things than himself, and had listened to the call of God's
messengers to whom his own doors had been ignorantly shut. And Nan
that night was a soul's physician, though she had been made to sorely
hurt her patient before the new healthfulness could well begin.

They floated down the river and tried to talk once or twice, but there
were many spaces of silence, and as they walked along the paved
streets, they thought of many things. An east wind was blowing in from
the sea, and the elm branches were moving restlessly overhead. "It
will all be better to-morrow," said Nan, as they stood on the steps at
last. "You must come to see Aunt Nancy very often after I have gone,
for she will be lonely. And do come in the morning as if nothing had
been spoken. I am so sorry. Good-night, and God bless you," she
whispered; and when she stood inside the wide doorway, in the dark,
she listened to his footsteps as he went away down the street. They
were slower than usual, but she did not call him back.



XXI

AT HOME AGAIN


In Oldfields Dr. Leslie had outwardly lived the familiar life to which
his friends and patients had long since accustomed themselves; he had
seemed a little preoccupied, perhaps, but if that were observed, it
was easily explained by his having one or two difficult cases to think
about. A few persons suspected that he missed Nan, and was, perhaps, a
little anxious lest her father's people in Dunport should claim her
altogether. Among those who knew best the doctor and his ward there
had been an ardent championship of Nan's rights and dignity, and a
great curiosity to know the success of the visit. Dr. Leslie had
answered all questions with composure, and with a distressing
meagreness of details; but at length Mrs. Graham became sure that he
was not altogether free from anxiety, and set her own quick wits at
work to learn the cause. It seemed a time of great uncertainty, at any
rate. The doctor sometimes brought one of Nan's bright, affectionate
letters for his neighbor to read, and they agreed that this holiday
was an excellent thing for her, but there was a silent recognition of
the fact that this was a critical time in the young girl's history;
that it either meant a new direction of her life or an increased
activity in the old one. Mrs. Graham was less well than usual in these
days, and the doctor found time to make more frequent visits than
ever, telling himself that she missed Nan's pleasant companionship,
but really wishing as much to receive sympathy as to give it. The dear
old lady had laughingly disclaimed any desire to summon her children
or grandchildren, saying that she was neither ill enough to need them,
nor well enough to enjoy them; and so in the beautiful June weather
the two old friends became strangely dear to each other, and had many
a long talk which the cares of the world or their own reserve had made
them save until this favoring season.

The doctor was acknowledged to be an old man at last, though everybody
still insisted that he looked younger than his age, and could not
doubt that he had half a lifetime of usefulness before him yet. But it
makes a great difference when one's ambitions are transferred from
one's own life to that of a younger person's; and while Dr. Leslie
grew less careful for himself, trusting to the unconscious certainty
of his practiced skill, he pondered eagerly over Nan's future,
reminding himself of various hints and suggestions, which must be
added to her equipment. Sometimes he wished that she were beginning a
few years later, when her position could be better recognized and
respected, and she would not have to fight against so much of the
opposition and petty fault-finding that come from ignorance; and
sometimes he rejoiced that his little girl, as he fondly called her,
would be one of the earlier proofs and examples of a certain noble
advance and new vantage-ground of civilization. This has been
anticipated through all ages by the women who, sometimes honored and
sometimes persecuted, have been drawn away from home life by a
devotion to public and social usefulness. It must be recognized that
certain qualities are required for married, and even domestic life,
which all women do not possess; but instead of attributing this to the
disintegration of society, it must be acknowledged to belong to its
progress.

So long as the visit in Dunport seemed to fulfill its anticipated
purpose, and the happy guest was throwing aside her cares and enjoying
the merry holiday and the excitement of new friendships and of her
uncommon position, so long the doctor had been glad, and far from
impatient to have the visit end. But when he read the later and
shorter letters again and again in the vain hope of finding something
in their wording which should explain the vague unhappiness which had
come to him as he had read them first, he began to feel troubled and
dismayed. There was something which Nan had not explained; something
was going wrong. He was sure that if it were anything he could set
right, that she would have told him. She had always done so; but it
became evident through the strange sympathy which made him conscious
of the mood of others that she was bent upon fighting her way alone.

It was a matter of surprise, and almost of dismay to him early one
morning, when he received a brief note from her which told him only
that she should be at home late that afternoon. It seemed to the wise
old doctor a day of most distressing uncertainty. He tried to make up
his mind to accept with true philosophy whatever decision she was
bringing him. "Nan is a good girl," he told himself over and over
again; "she will try to do right." But she was so young and so
generous, and whether she had been implored to break the old ties of
home life and affection for her aunt's sake, or whether it was a newer
and stronger influence still which had prevailed, waited for
explanation. Alas, as was written once, it is often the higher nature
that yields, because it is the most generous. The doctor knew well
enough the young girl's character. He knew what promises of growth and
uncommon achievement were all ready to unfold themselves,--for what
great uses she was made. He could not bear the thought of her being
handicapped in the race she had been set to run. Yet no one recognized
more clearly than he the unseen, and too often unconsidered, factor
which is peculiar to each soul, which prevents any other intelligence
from putting itself exactly in that soul's place, so that our
decisions and aids and suggestions are never wholly sufficient or
available for those even whom we love most. He went over the question
again and again; he followed Nan in his thoughts as she had grown
up,--unprejudiced, unconstrained as is possible for any human being to
be. He remembered that her heroes were the great doctors, and that her
whole heart had been stirred and claimed by the noble duties and needs
of the great profession. She had been careless of the social
limitations, of the lack of sympathy, even of the ridicule of the
public. She had behaved as a bird would behave if it were assured by
beasts and fishes that to walk and to swim were the only proper and
respectable means of getting from place to place. She had shown such
rare insight into the principles of things; she had even seemed to
him, as he watched her, to have anticipated experience, and he could
not help believing that it was within her power to add much to the too
small fund of certainty, by the sure instinct and aim of her
experiment. It counted nothing whether God had put this soul into a
man's body or a woman's. He had known best, and He meant it to be the
teller of new truth, a revealer of laws, and an influence for good in
its capacity for teaching, as well as in its example of pure and
reasonable life.

But the old doctor sighed, and told himself that the girl was most
human, most affectionate; it was not impossible that, in spite of her
apparent absence of certain domestic instincts, they had only lain
dormant and were now awake. He could not bear that she should lose any
happiness which might be hers; and the tender memory of the blessed
companionship which had been withdrawn from his mortal sight only to
be given back to him more fully as he had lived closer and nearer to
spiritual things, made him shrink from forbidding the same sort of
fullness and completion of life to one so dear as Nan. He tried to
assure himself that while a man's life is strengthened by his domestic
happiness, a woman's must either surrender itself wholly, or
relinquish entirely the claims of such duties, if she would achieve
distinction or satisfaction elsewhere. The two cannot be taken
together in a woman's life as in a man's. One must be made of lesser
consequence, though the very natures of both domestic and professional
life need all the strength which can be brought to them. The decision
between them he knew to be a most grave responsibility, and one to be
governed by the gravest moral obligations, and the unmistakable
leadings of the personal instincts and ambitions. It was seldom, Dr.
Leslie was aware, that so typical and evident an example as this could
offer itself of the class of women who are a result of natural
progression and variation, not for better work, but for different
work, and who are designed for certain public and social duties. But
he believed this class to be one that must inevitably increase with
the higher developments of civilization, and in later years, which he
might never see, the love for humanity would be recognized and
employed more intelligently; while now almost every popular prejudice
was against his ward, then she would need no vindication. The wielder
of ideas has always a certain advantage over the depender upon facts;
and though the two classes of minds by no means inevitably belong, the
one to women, and the other to men, still women have not yet begun to
use the best resources of their natures, having been later developed,
and in many countries but recently freed from restraining and
hindering influences.

The preservation of the race is no longer the only important question;
the welfare of the individual will be considered more and more. The
simple fact that there is a majority of women in any centre of
civilization means that some are set apart by nature for other uses
and conditions than marriage. In ancient times men depended entirely
upon the women of their households to prepare their food and
clothing,--and almost every man in ordinary circumstances of life was
forced to marry for this reason; but already there is a great change.
The greater proportion of men and women everywhere will still
instinctively and gladly accept the high duties and helps of married
life; but as society becomes more intelligent it will recognize the
fitness of some persons, and the unfitness of others, making it
impossible for these to accept such responsibilities and obligations,
and so dignify and elevate home life instead of degrading it.

It had been one thing to act from conviction and from the promptings
of instinct while no obstacles opposed themselves to his decisions,
and quite another thing to be brought face to face with such an
emergency. Dr. Leslie wished first to be able to distinctly explain to
himself his reasons for the opinions he held; he knew that he must
judge for Nan herself in some measure; she would surely appeal to him;
she would bring this great question to him, and look for sympathy and
relief in the same way she had tearfully shown him a wounded finger in
her childhood. He seemed to see again the entreating eyes, made large
with the pain which would not show itself in any other way, and he
felt the rare tears fill his own eyes at the thought. "Poor little
Nan," he said to himself, "she has been hurt in the great battle, but
she is no skulking soldier." He would let her tell her story, and then
give her the best help he could; and so when the afternoon shadows
were very long across the country, and the hot summer day was almost
done, the doctor drove down the wide street and along East Road to the
railroad station. As he passed a group of small houses he looked at
his watch and found that there was more than time for a second visit
to a sick child whose illness had been most serious and perplexing at
first, though now she was fast recovering. The little thing smiled as
her friend came in, and asked if the young lady were coming to-morrow,
for Dr. Leslie had promised a visit and a picture-book from Nan, whom
he wished to see and understand the case. They had had a long talk
upon such ailments as this just before she went away, and nothing had
seemed to rouse her ambition so greatly as her experiences at the
children's hospitals the winter before. Now, this weak little creature
seemed to be pleading in the name of a great army of sick children,
that Nan would not desert their cause; that she would go on, as she
had promised them, with her search for ways that should restore their
vigor and increase their fitness to take up the work of the world. And
yet, a home and children of one's very own,--the doctor, who had held
and lost this long ago, felt powerless to decide the future of the
young heart which was so dear to him.

Nan saw the familiar old horse and carriage waiting behind the
station, and did not fail to notice that the doctor had driven to meet
her himself. He almost always did, but her very anxiety to see him
again had made her doubtful. The train had hardly stopped before she
was standing on the platform and had hastily dropped her checks into
the hand of the nearest idle boy, who looked at them doubtfully, as if
he hardly dared to hope that he had been mistaken for the hackman. She
came quickly to the side of the carriage; the doctor could not look at
her, for the horse had made believe that some excitement was
necessary, and was making it difficult for the welcome passenger to
put her foot on the step. It was all over in a minute. Nan sprang to
the doctor's side and away they went down the road. He had caught a
glimpse of her shining eyes and eager face as she had hurried toward
him, and had said, "Well done!" in a most cheerful and every-day
fashion, and then for a minute there was silence.

"Oh, it is so good to get home," said the girl, and her companion
turned toward her; he could not wait to hear her story.

"Yes," said Nan, "it is just as well to tell you now. Do you remember
you used to say to me when I was a little girl, 'If you know your
duty, don't mind the best of reasons for not doing it'?" And the
doctor nodded. "I never thought that this reason would come to me for
not being a doctor," she went on, "and at first I was afraid I should
be conquered, though it was myself who fought myself. But it came to
me clearer than ever after a while. I think I could have been fonder
of some one than most people are of those whom they marry, but the
more I cared for him the less I could give him only part of myself; I
knew that was not right. Now that I can look back at it all I am so
glad to have had those days; I shall work better all my life for
having been able to make myself so perfectly sure that I know my way."

The unconsidered factor had asserted itself in the doctor's favor. He
gave the reins to Nan and leaned back in the carriage, but as she bent
forward to speak to a friend whom they passed she did not see the look
that he gave her.

"I am sure you knew what was right," he said, hastily. "God bless you,
dear child!"

Was this little Nan, who had been his play-thing? this brave young
creature, to whose glorious future all his heart and hopes went out.
In his evening it was her morning, and he prayed that God's angels
should comfort and strengthen her and help her to carry the burden of
the day. It is only those who can do nothing who find nothing to do,
and Nan was no idler; she had come to her work as Christ came to his,
not to be ministered unto but to minister.


The months went by swiftly, and through hard work and much study, and
many sights of pain and sorrow, this young student of the business of
healing made her way to the day when some of her companions announced
with melancholy truth that they had finished their studies. They were
pretty sure to be accused of having had no right to begin them, or to
take such trusts and responsibilities into their hands. But Nan and
many of her friends had gladly climbed the hill so far, and with every
year's ascent had been thankful for the wider horizon which was spread
for their eyes to see.

Dr. Leslie in his quiet study almost wished that he were beginning
life again, and sometimes in the twilight, or in long and lonely
country drives, believed himself ready to go back twenty years so that
he could follow Nan into the future and watch her successes. But he
always smiled afterward at such a thought. Twenty years would carry
him back to the time when his ward was a little child, not long before
she came to live with him. It was best as God had planned it. Nobody
had watched the child's development as he had done, or her growth of
character, of which all the performances of her later years would be
to him only the unnecessary proofs and evidences. He knew that she
would be faithful in great things, because she had been faithful in
little things, and he should be with her a long time yet, perhaps. God
only knew.

There was a great change in the village; there were more small
factories now which employed large numbers of young women, and though
a new doctor had long ago come to Oldfields who had begun by trying to
supersede Dr. Leslie, he had ended by longing to show his gratitude
some day for so much help and kindness. More than one appointment had
been offered the heroine of this story in the city hospitals. She
would have little trouble in making her way since she had the
requisite qualities, natural and acquired, which secure success. But
she decided for herself that she would neither do this, nor carry out
yet the other plan of going on with her studies at some school across
the sea. Zurich held out a great temptation, but there was time enough
yet, and she would spend a year in Oldfields with the doctor, studying
again with him, since she knew better than ever before that she could
find no wiser teacher. And it was a great pleasure to belong to the
dear old town, to come home to it with her new treasures, so much
richer than she had gone away that beside medicines and bandages and
lessons in general hygiene for the physical ails of her patients, she
could often be a tonic to the mind and soul; and since she was trying
to be good, go about doing good in Christ's name to the halt and
maimed and blind in spiritual things.

Nobody sees people as they are and finds the chance to help poor
humanity as a doctor does. The decorations and deceptions of character
must fall away before the great realities of pain and death. The
secrets of many hearts and homes must be told to this confessor, and
sadder ailments than the text-books name are brought to be healed by
the beloved physicians. Teachers of truth and givers of the laws of
life, priests and ministers,--all these professions are joined in one
with the gift of healing, and are each part of the charge that a good
doctor holds in his keeping.


One day in the beginning of her year at Oldfields, Nan, who had been
very busy, suddenly thought it would be well to give herself a
holiday; and with a sudden return of her old sense of freedom was
going out at the door and down toward the gateway, which opened to a
pleasantly wide world beyond. Marilla had taken Nan's successes rather
reluctantly, and never hesitated to say that she only hoped to see her
well married and settled before she died; though she was always ready
to defend her course with even virulence to those who would deprecate
it. She now heard Nan shut the door, and called at once from an upper
window to know if word had been left where she was going, and the
young practitioner laughed aloud as she answered, and properly
acknowledged the fetter of her calling.

The leaves were just beginning to fall, and she pushed them about with
her feet, and sometimes walked and sometimes ran lightly along the
road toward the farm. But when she reached it, she passed the lane and
went on to the Dyer houses. Mrs. Jake was ailing as usual, and Nan had
told the doctor before she came out that she would venture another
professional visit in his stead. She was a great help to him in this
way, for his calls to distant towns had increased year by year, and he
often found it hard to keep his many patients well in hand.

The old houses had not changed much since she first knew them, and
neither they nor their inmates were in any danger of being forgotten
by her; the old ties of affection and association grew stronger
instead of weaker every year. It pleased and amused the old people to
be reminded of the days when Nan was a child and lived among them, and
it was a great joy to her to be able to make their pain and discomfort
less, and be their interpreter of the outside world.

It was a most lovely day of our heroine's favorite weather. It has
been said that November is an epitome of all the months of the year,
but for all that, no other season can show anything so beautiful as
the best and brightest November days. Nan had spent her summer in a
great hospital, where she saw few flowers save human ones, and the
warmth and inspiration of this clear air seemed most delightful. She
had been somewhat tempted by an offer of a fine position in Canada,
and even Dr. Leslie had urged her acceptance, and thought it an
uncommonly good chance to have the best hospital experience and
responsibility, but she had sent the letter of refusal only that
morning. She could not tell yet what her later plans might be; but
there was no place like Oldfields, and she thought she had never loved
it so dearly as that afternoon.

She looked in at Mrs. Martin's wide-open door first, but finding the
kitchen empty, went quickly across to the other house, where Mrs. Jake
was propped up in her rocking-chair and began to groan loudly when she
saw Nan; but the tonic of so gratifying a presence soon had a most
favorable effect. Benignant Mrs. Martin was knitting as usual, and the
three women sat together in a friendly group and Nan asked and
answered questions most cordially.

"I declare I was sort of put out with the doctor for sending you down
here day before yesterday instead of coming himself," stated Mrs. Jake
immediately, "but I do' know's I ever had anything do me so much good
as that bottle you gave me."

"Of course!" laughed Nan. "Dr. Leslie sent it to you himself. I told
you when I gave it to you."

"Well now, how you talk!" said Mrs. Jake, a little crestfallen. "I
begin to find my hearing fails me by spells. But I was bound to give
you the credit, for all I've stood out against your meddling with a
doctor's business."

Nan laughed merrily. "I am going to steal you for my patient," she
answered, "and try all the prescriptions on your case first."

"Land, if you cured her up 'twould be like stopping the leaks in a
basket," announced Mrs. Martin with a beaming smile, and clicking her
knitting-needles excitedly. "She can't hear of a complaint anywheres
about but she thinks she's got the mate to it."

"I don't seem to have anything fevery about me," said Mrs. Jake, with
an air of patient self-denial; and though both her companions were
most compassionate at the thought of her real sufferings, they could
not resist the least bit of a smile. "I declare you've done one
first-rate thing, if you're never going to do any more," said Mrs.
Jake, presently. "'Liza here's been talking for some time past, about
your straightening up the little boy's back,--the one that lives down
where Mis' Meeker used to live you know,--but I didn't seem to take it
in till he come over here yisterday forenoon. Looks as likely as any
child, except it may be he's a little stunted. When I think how he
used to creep about there, side of the road, like a hopper-toad, it
does seem amazin'!"

Nan's eyes brightened. "I have been delighted about that. I saw him
running with the other children as I came down the road. It was a long
bit of work, though. The doctor did most of it; I didn't see the child
for months, you know. But he needs care yet; I'm going to stop and
have another talk with his mother as I go home."

"She's a pore shiftless creature," Mrs. Martin hastened to say.
"There, I thought o' the doctor, how he'd laugh, the last time I was
in to see her; her baby was sick, and she sent up to know if I'd lend
her a variety of herbs, and I didn't know but she might p'isen it, so
I stepped down with something myself. She begun to flutter about like
she always does, and I picked my way acrost the kitchen to the cradle.
'There,' says she, 'I have been laying out all this week to go up to
the Corners and git me two new chairs.' 'I should think you had plenty
of chairs now,' said I, and she looked at me sort of surprised, and
says she, 'There ain't a chair in this house but what's full.'"

And Nan laughed as heartily as could have been desired before she
asked Mrs. Jake a few more appreciative questions about her ailments,
and then rose to go away. Mrs. Martin followed her out to the gate;
she and Nan had always been very fond of each other, and the elder
woman pointed to a field not far away where the brothers were watching
a stubble-fire, which was sending up a thin blue thread of smoke into
the still air. "They were over in your north lot yisterday," said Mrs.
Martin. "They're fullest o' business nowadays when there's least to
do. They took it pretty hard when they first had to come down to
hiring help, but they kind of enjoy it now. We're all old folks
together on the farm, and not good for much. It don't seem but a year
or two since your poor mother was playing about here, and then you
come along, and now you're the last o' your folks out of all the
houseful of 'em I knew. I'll own up sometimes I've thought strange of
your fancy for doctoring, but I never said a word to nobody against
it, so I haven't got anything to take back as most folks have. I
couldn't help thinking when you come in this afternoon and sat there
along of us, that I'd give a good deal to have Mis' Thacher step in
and see you and know what you've made o' yourself. She had it hard for
a good many years, but I believe 't is all made up to her; I do
certain."

Nan meant to go back to the village by the shorter way of the little
foot-path, but first she went up the grass-grown lane toward the old
farm-house. She stood for a minute looking about her and across the
well-known fields, and then seated herself on the door-step, and
stayed there for some time. There were two or three sheep near by,
well covered and rounded by their soft new winter wool, and they all
came as close as they dared and looked at her wonderingly. The narrow
path that used to be worn to the door-step had been overgrown years
ago with the short grass, and in it there was a late little dandelion
with hardly any stem at all. The sunshine was warm, and all the
country was wrapped in a thin, soft haze.

She thought of her grandmother Thacher, and of the words that had just
been said; it was beginning to seem a very great while since the days
of the old farm-life, and Nan smiled as she remembered with what tones
of despair the good old woman used to repeat the well-worn phrase,
that her grandchild would make either something or nothing. It seemed
to her that she had brought all the success of the past and her hopes
for the future to the dear old place that afternoon. Her early life
was spreading itself out like a picture, and as she thought it over
and looked back from year to year, she was more than ever before
surprised to see the connection of one thing with another, and how
some slight acts had been the planting of seeds which had grown and
flourished long afterward. And as she tried to follow herself back
into the cloudy days of her earliest spring, she rose without knowing
why, and went down the pastures toward the river. She passed the old
English apple-tree, which still held aloft a flourishing bough. Its
fruit had been gathered, but there were one or two stray apples left,
and Nan skillfully threw a stick at these by way of summons.

Along this path she had hurried or faltered many a time. She
remembered her grandmother's funeral, and how she had walked, with an
elderly cousin whom she did not know, at the head of the procession,
and had seen Martin Dyer's small grandson peeping like a rabbit from
among the underbrush near the shore. Poor little Nan! she was very
lonely that day. She had been so glad when the doctor had wrapped her
up and taken her home.

She saw the neighborly old hawthorn-tree that grew by a cellar, and
stopped to listen to its rustling and to lay her hand upon the rough
bark. It had been a cause of wonder once, for she knew no other tree
of the kind. It was like a snow-drift when it was in bloom, and in the
grass-grown cellar she had spent many an hour, for there was a good
shelter from the wind and an excellent hiding-place, though it seemed
very shallow now when she looked at it as she went by.

The burying-place was shut in by a plain stone wall, which she had
long ago asked the Dyers to build for her, and she leaned over it now
and looked at the smooth turf of the low graves. She had always
thought she would like to lie there too when her work was done. There
were some of the graves which she did not know, but one was her poor
young mother's, who had left her no inheritance except some traits
that had won Nan many friends; all her evil gifts had been buried with
her, the neighbors had said, when the girl was out of hearing, that
very afternoon.

There was a strange fascination about these river uplands; no place
was so dear to Nan, and yet she often thought with a shudder of the
story of those footprints which had sought the river's brink, and then
turned back. Perhaps, made pure and strong in a better world, in which
some lingering love and faith had given her the true direction at
last, where even her love for her child had saved her, the mother had
been still taking care of little Nan and guiding her. Perhaps she had
helped to make sure of the blessings her own life had lost, of truth
and whiteness of soul and usefulness; and so had been still bringing
her child in her arms toward the great shelter and home, as she had
toiled in her fright and weakness that dark and miserable night toward
the house on the hill.

And Nan stood on the shore while the warm wind that gently blew her
hair felt almost like a hand, and presently she went closer to the
river, and looked far across it and beyond it to the hills. The eagles
swung to and fro above the water, but she looked beyond them into the
sky. The soft air and the sunshine came close to her; the trees stood
about and seemed to watch her; and suddenly she reached her hands
upward in an ecstasy of life and strength and gladness. "O God," she
said, "I thank thee for my future."

       *       *       *       *       *



SELECTED STORIES AND SKETCHES

by Sarah Orne Jewett



       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS


STORIES FROM _Strangers and Wayfarers_, Published 1890

  A WINTER COURTSHIP              (_Atlantic Monthly_, Feb., 1889)

  GOING TO SHREWSBURY             (_Atlantic Monthly_, July, 1889)

  THE WHITE ROSE ROAD             (_Atlantic Monthly_, Sept., 1889)

  THE TOWN POOR                   (_Atlantic Monthly_, July, 1890)


STORIES FROM _A Native of Winby and Other Tales_, Published 1893

  A NATIVE OF WINBY               (_Atlantic Monthly_, May, 1891)


LOOKING BACK ON GIRLHOOD, _Youth's Companion_, January 7, 1892


MORE STORIES FROM _A Native of Winby and Other Tales_, Published 1893

  THE PASSING OF SISTER BARSETT   (_Cosmopolitan Magazine_, May, 1892)

  DECORATION DAY                  (_Harper's Magazine_, June, 1892)

  THE FLIGHT OF BETSEY LANE       (_Scribner's Magazine_, Aug. 1893)


THE GRAY MILLS OF FARLEY, _Cosmopolitan Magazine_, June, 1898

       *       *       *       *       *



_A Winter Courtship_


The passenger and mail transportation between the towns of North Kilby
and Sanscrit Pond was carried on by Mr. Jefferson Briley, whose
two-seated covered wagon was usually much too large for the demands of
business. Both the Sanscrit Pond and North Kilby people were
stayers-at-home, and Mr. Briley often made his seven-mile journey in
entire solitude, except for the limp leather mail-bag, which he held
firmly to the floor of the carriage with his heavily shod left foot.
The mail-bag had almost a personality to him, born of long
association. Mr. Briley was a meek and timid-looking body, but he held
a warlike soul, and encouraged his fancies by reading awful tales of
bloodshed and lawlessness in the far West. Mindful of stage robberies
and train thieves, and of express messengers who died at their posts,
he was prepared for anything; and although he had trusted to his own
strength and bravery these many years, he carried a heavy pistol under
his front-seat cushion for better defense. This awful weapon was
familiar to all his regular passengers, and was usually shown to
strangers by the time two of the seven miles of Mr. Briley's route had
been passed. The pistol was not loaded. Nobody (at least not Mr.
Briley himself) doubted that the mere sight of such a weapon would
turn the boldest adventurer aside.

Protected by such a man and such a piece of armament, one gray Friday
morning in the edge of winter, Mrs. Fanny Tobin was traveling from
Sanscrit Pond to North Kilby. She was an elderly and feeble-looking
woman, but with a shrewd twinkle in her eyes, and she felt very
anxious about her numerous pieces of baggage and her own personal
safety. She was enveloped in many shawls and smaller wrappings, but
they were not securely fastened, and kept getting undone and flying
loose, so that the bitter December cold seemed to be picking a lock
now and then, and creeping in to steal away the little warmth she had.
Mr. Briley was cold, too, and could only cheer himself by remembering
the valor of those pony-express drivers of the pre-railroad days, who
had to cross the Rocky Mountains on the great California route. He
spoke at length of their perils to the suffering passenger, who felt
none the warmer, and at last gave a groan of weariness.

"How fur did you say 't was now?"

"I do' know's I said, Mis' Tobin," answered the driver, with a frosty
laugh. "You see them big pines, and the side of a barn just this way,
with them yellow circus bills? That's my three-mile mark."

"Be we got four more to make? Oh, my laws!" mourned Mrs. Tobin. "Urge
the beast, can't ye, Jeff'son? I ain't used to bein' out in such bleak
weather. Seems if I couldn't git my breath. I'm all pinched up and
wigglin' with shivers now. 'T ain't no use lettin' the hoss go
step-a-ty-step, this fashion."

"Landy me!" exclaimed the affronted driver. "I don't see why folks
expects me to race with the cars. Everybody that gits in wants me to
run the hoss to death on the road. I make a good everage o' time, and
that's all I _can_ do. Ef you was to go back an' forth every day but
Sabbath fur eighteen years, _you_'d want to ease it all you could, and
let those thrash the spokes out o' their wheels that wanted to. North
Kilby, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; Sanscrit Pond, Tuesdays,
Thu'sdays, an' Saturdays. Me an' the beast's done it eighteen years
together, and the creatur' warn't, so to say, young when we begun it,
nor I neither. I re'lly didn't know's she'd hold out till this time.
There, git up, will ye, old mar'!" as the beast of burden stopped
short in the road.

There was a story that Jefferson gave this faithful creature a rest
three times a mile, and took four hours for the journey by himself,
and longer whenever he had a passenger. But in pleasant weather the
road was delightful, and full of people who drove their own
conveyances, and liked to stop and talk. There were not many farms,
and the third growth of white pines made a pleasant shade, though
Jefferson liked to say that when he began to carry the mail his way
lay through an open country of stumps and sparse underbrush, where the
white pines nowadays completely arched the road.

They had passed the barn with circus posters, and felt colder than
ever when they caught sight of the weather-beaten acrobats in their
tights.

"My gorry!" exclaimed Widow Tobin, "them pore creatur's looks as
cheerless as little birch-trees in snow-time. I hope they dresses 'em
warmer this time o' year. Now, there! look at that one jumpin' through
the little hoop, will ye?"

"He couldn't git himself through there with two pair o' pants on,"
answered Mr. Briley. "I expect they must have to keep limber as eels.
I used to think, when I was a boy, that 'twas the only thing I could
ever be reconciled to do for a livin'. I set out to run away an'
follow a rovin' showman once, but mother needed me to home. There
warn't nobody but me an' the little gals."

"You ain't the only one that's be'n disapp'inted o' their heart's
desire," said Mrs. Tobin sadly. "'T warn't so that I could be spared
from home to learn the dressmaker's trade."

"'T would a come handy later on, I declare," answered the sympathetic
driver, "bein' 's you went an' had such a passel o' gals to clothe an'
feed. There, them that's livin' is all well off now, but it must ha'
been some inconvenient for ye when they was small."

"Yes, Mr. Briley, but then I've had my mercies, too," said the widow
somewhat grudgingly. "I take it master hard now, though, havin' to
give up my own home and live round from place to place, if they be my
own child'en. There was Ad'line and Susan Ellen fussin' an' bickerin'
yesterday about who'd got to have me next; and, Lord be thanked, they
both wanted me right off but I hated to hear 'em talkin' of it over.
I'd rather live to home, and do for myself."

"I've got consider'ble used to boardin'," said Jefferson, "sence ma'am
died, but it made me ache 'long at the fust on 't, I tell ye. Bein' on
the road's I be, I couldn't do no ways at keepin' house. I should want
to keep right there and see to things."

"Course you would," replied Mrs. Tobin, with a sudden inspiration of
opportunity which sent a welcome glow all over her. "Course you would,
Jeff'son,"--she leaned toward the front seat; "that is to say, onless
you had jest the right one to do it for ye."

And Jefferson felt a strange glow also, and a sense of unexpected
interest and enjoyment.

"See here, Sister Tobin," he exclaimed with enthusiasm. "Why can't ye
take the trouble to shift seats, and come front here long o' me? We
could put one buff'lo top o' the other,--they're both wearin'
thin,--and set close, and I do' know but we sh'd be more protected
ag'inst the weather."

"Well, I couldn't be no colder if I was froze to death," answered the
widow, with an amiable simper. "Don't ye let me delay you, nor put you
out, Mr. Briley. I don't know's I'd set forth to-day if I'd known 't
was so cold; but I had all my bundles done up, and I ain't one that
puts my hand to the plough an' looks back, 'cordin' to Scriptur'."

"You wouldn't wanted me to ride all them seven miles alone?" asked the
gallant Briley sentimentally, as he lifted her down, and helped her up
again to the front seat. She was a few years older than he, but they
had been schoolmates, and Mrs. Tobin's youthful freshness was suddenly
revived to his mind's eye. She had a little farm; there was nobody
left at home now but herself, and so she had broken up housekeeping
for the winter. Jefferson himself had savings of no mean amount.

They tucked themselves in, and felt better for the change, but there
was a sudden awkwardness between them; they had not had time to
prepare for an unexpected crisis.

"They say Elder Bickers, over to East Sanscrit, 's been and got
married again to a gal that's four year younger than his oldest
daughter," proclaimed Mrs. Tobin presently. "Seems to me 't was fool's
business."

"I view it so," said the stage-driver. "There's goin' to be a mild
open winter for that fam'ly."

"What a joker you be for a man that's had so much responsibility!"
smiled Mrs. Tobin, after they had done laughing. "Ain't you never
'fraid, carryin' mail matter and such valuable stuff, that you'll be
set on an' robbed, 'specially by night?"

Jefferson braced his feet against the dasher under the worn buffalo
skin. "It is kind o' scary, or would be for some folks, but I'd like
to see anybody get the better o' me. I go armed, and I don't care who
knows it. Some o' them drover men that comes from Canady looks as if
they didn't care what they did, but I look 'em right in the eye every
time."

"Men folks is brave by natur'," said the widow admiringly. "You know
how Tobin would let his fist right out at anybody that undertook to
sass him. Town-meetin' days, if he got disappointed about the way
things went, he'd lay 'em out in win'rows; and ef he hadn't been a
church-member he'd been a real fightin' character. I was always 'fraid
to have him roused, for all he was so willin' and meechin' to home,
and set round clever as anybody. My Susan Ellen used to boss him
same's the kitten, when she was four year old."

"I've got a kind of a sideways cant to my nose, that Tobin give me
when we was to school. I don't know's you ever noticed it," said Mr.
Briley. "We was scufflin', as lads will. I never bore him no kind of a
grudge. I pitied ye, when he was taken away. I re'lly did, now, Fanny.
I liked Tobin first-rate, and I liked you. I used to say you was the
han'somest girl to school."

"Lemme see your nose. 'Tis all straight, for what I know," said the
widow gently, as with a trace of coyness she gave a hasty glance. "I
don't know but what 'tis warped a little, but nothin' to speak of.
You've got real nice features, like your marm's folks."

It was becoming a sentimental occasion, and Jefferson Briley felt that
he was in for something more than he had bargained. He hurried the
faltering sorrel horse, and began to talk of the weather. It certainly
did look like snow, and he was tired of bumping over the frozen road.

"I shouldn't wonder if I hired a hand here another year, and went off
out West myself to see the country."

"Why, how you talk!" answered the widow.

"Yes'm," pursued Jefferson. "'Tis tamer here than I like, and I was
tellin' 'em yesterday I've got to know this road most too well. I'd
like to go out an' ride in the mountains with some o' them great
clipper coaches, where the driver don't know one minute but he'll be
shot dead the next. They carry an awful sight o' gold down from the
mines, I expect."

"I should be scairt to death," said Mrs. Tobin. "What creatur's men
folks be to like such things! Well, I do declare."

"Yes," explained the mild little man. "There's sights of desp'radoes
makes a han'some livin' out o' followin' them coaches, an' stoppin'
an' robbin' 'em clean to the bone. Your money _or_ your life!" and he
flourished his stub of a whip over the sorrel mare.

"Landy me! you make me run all of a cold creep. Do tell somethin'
heartenin', this cold day. I shall dream bad dreams all night."

"They put on black crape over their heads," said the driver
mysteriously. "Nobody knows who most on 'em be, and like as not some
o' them fellows come o' good families. They've got so they stop the
cars, and go right through 'em bold as brass. I could make your hair
stand on end, Mis' Tobin,--I could _so!_"

"I hope none on 'em'll git round our way, I'm sure," said Fanny Tobin.
"I don't want to see none on 'em in their crape bunnits comin' after
me."

"I ain't goin' to let nobody touch a hair o' your head," and Mr.
Briley moved a little nearer, and tucked in the buffaloes again.

"I feel considerable warm to what I did," observed the widow by way of
reward.

"There, I used to have my fears," Mr. Briley resumed, with an inward
feeling that he never would get to North Kilby depot a single man.
"But you see I hadn't nobody but myself to think of. I've got cousins,
as you know, but nothin' nearer, and what I've laid up would soon be
parted out; and--well, I suppose some folks would think o' me if
anything was to happen."

Mrs. Tobin was holding her cloud over her face,--the wind was sharp on
that bit of open road,--but she gave an encouraging sound, between a
groan and a chirp.

"'T wouldn't be like nothin' to me not to see you drivin' by," she
said, after a minute. "I shouldn't know the days o' the week. I says
to Susan Ellen last week I was sure 'twas Friday, and she said no,
'twas Thursday; but next minute you druv by and headin' toward North
Kilby, so we found I was right."

"I've got to be a featur' of the landscape," said Mr. Briley
plaintively. "This kind o' weather the old mare and me, we wish we was
done with it, and could settle down kind o' comfortable. I've been
lookin' this good while, as I drove the road, and I've picked me out a
piece o' land two or three times. But I can't abide the thought o'
buildin',--'twould plague me to death; and both Sister Peak to North
Kilby and Mis' Deacon Ash to the Pond, they vie with one another to do
well by me, fear I'll like the other stoppin'-place best."

"I shouldn't covet livin' long o' neither one o' them women,"
responded the passenger with some spirit. "I see some o' Mis' Peak's
cookin' to a farmers' supper once, when I was visitin' Susan Ellen's
folks, an' I says 'Deliver me from sech pale-complected baked beans as
them!' and she give a kind of a quack. She was settin' jest at my left
hand, and couldn't help hearin' of me. I wouldn't have spoken if I had
known, but she needn't have let on they was hers an' make everything
unpleasant. 'I guess them beans taste just as well as other folks','
says she, and she wouldn't never speak to me afterward."

"Do' know's I blame her," ventured Mr. Briley. "Women folks is
dreadful pudjicky about their cookin'. I've always heard you was one
o' the best o' cooks, Mis' Tobin. I know them doughnuts an' things
you've give me in times past, when I was drivin' by. Wish I had some
on 'em now. I never let on, but Mis' Ash's cookin's the best by a long
chalk. Mis' Peak's handy about some things, and looks after mendin' of
me up."

"It doos seem as if a man o' your years and your quiet make ought to
have a home you could call your own," suggested the passenger. "I kind
of hate to think o' your bangein' here and boardin' there, and one old
woman mendin', and the other settin' ye down to meals that like's not
don't agree with ye."

"Lor', now, Mis' Tobin, le's not fuss round no longer," said Mr.
Briley impatiently. "You know you covet me same's I do you."

"I don't nuther. Don't you go an' say fo'lish things you can't stand
to."

"I've been tryin' to git a chance to put in a word with you ever
sence--Well, I expected you'd want to get your feelin's kind o'
calloused after losin' Tobin."

"There's nobody can fill his place," said the widow.

"I do' know but I can fight for ye town-meetin' days, on a pinch,"
urged Jefferson boldly.

"I never see the beat o' you men fur conceit," and Mrs. Tobin laughed.
"I ain't goin' to bother with ye, gone half the time as you be, an'
carryin' on with your Mis' Peaks and Mis' Ashes. I dare say you've
promised yourself to both on 'em twenty times."

"I hope to gracious if I ever breathed a word to none on 'em!"
protested the lover. "'T ain't for lack o' opportunities set afore me,
nuther;" and then Mr. Briley craftily kept silence, as if he had made
a fair proposal, and expected a definite reply.

The lady of his choice was, as she might have expressed it, much beat
about. As she soberly thought, she was getting along in years, and
must put up with Jefferson all the rest of the time. It was not likely
she would ever have the chance of choosing again, though she was one
who liked variety.

Jefferson wasn't much to look at, but he was pleasant and appeared
boyish and young-feeling. "I do' know's I should do better," she said
unconsciously and half aloud. "Well, yes, Jefferson, seein' it's you.
But we're both on us kind of old to change our situation." Fanny Tobin
gave a gentle sigh.

"Hooray!" said Jefferson. "I was scairt you meant to keep me sufferin'
here a half an hour. I declare, I'm more pleased than I calc'lated on.
An' I expected till lately to die a single man!"

"'Twould re'lly have been a shame; 'tain't natur'," said Mrs. Tobin,
with confidence. "I don't see how you held out so long with bein'
solitary."

"I'll hire a hand to drive for me, and we'll have a good comfortable
winter, me an' you an' the old sorrel. I've been promisin' of her a
rest this good while."

"Better keep her a steppin'," urged thrifty Mrs. Fanny. "She'll
stiffen up master, an' disapp'int ye, come spring."

"You'll have me, now, won't ye, sartin?" pleaded Jefferson, to make
sure. "You ain't one o' them that plays with a man's feelin's. Say
right out you'll have me."

"I s'pose I shall have to," said Mrs. Tobin somewhat mournfully. "I
feel for Mis' Peak an' Mis' Ash, pore creatur's. I expect they'll be
hardshipped. They've always been hard-worked, an' may have kind o'
looked forward to a little ease. But one on 'em would be left
lamentin', anyhow," and she gave a girlish laugh. An air of victory
animated the frame of Mrs. Tobin. She felt but twenty-five years of
age. In that moment she made plans for cutting her Briley's hair, and
making him look smartened-up and ambitious. Then she wished that she
knew for certain how much money he had in the bank; not that it would
make any difference now. "He needn't bluster none before me," she
thought gayly. "He's harmless as a fly."

"Who'd have thought we'd done such a piece of engineerin', when we
started out?" inquired the dear one of Mr. Briley's heart, as he
tenderly helped her to alight at Susan Ellen's door.

"Both on us, jest the least grain," answered the lover. "Gimme a good
smack, now, you clever creatur';" and so they parted. Mr. Bailey had
been taken on the road in spite of his pistol.

       *       *       *       *       *



_Going to Shrewsbury_


The train stopped at a way station with apparent unwillingness, and
there was barely time for one elderly passenger to be hurried on board
before a sudden jerk threw her almost off her unsteady old feet and we
moved on. At my first glance I saw only a perturbed old countrywoman,
laden with a large basket and a heavy bundle tied up in an
old-fashioned bundle-handkerchief; then I discovered that she was a
friend of mine, Mrs. Peet, who lived on a small farm, several miles
from the village. She used to be renowned for good butter and fresh
eggs and the earliest cowslip greens; in fact, she always made the
most of her farm's slender resources; but it was some time since I had
seen her drive by from market in her ancient thorough-braced wagon.

The brakeman followed her into the crowded car, also carrying a number
of packages. I leaned forward and asked Mrs. Peet to sit by me; it was
a great pleasure to see her again. The brakeman seemed relieved, and
smiled as he tried to put part of his burden into the rack overhead;
but even the flowered carpet-bag was much too large, and he explained
that he would take care of everything at the end of the car. Mrs. Peet
was not large herself, but with the big basket, and the
bundle-handkerchief, and some possessions of my own we had very little
spare room.

"So this 'ere is what you call ridin' in the cars! Well, I do
declare!" said my friend, as soon as she had recovered herself a
little. She looked pale and as if she had been in tears, but there was
the familiar gleam of good humor in her tired old eyes.

"Where in the world are you going, Mrs. Peet?" I asked.

"Can't be you ain't heared about me, dear?" said she. "Well, the
world's bigger than I used to think 't was. I've broke up,--'twas the
only thing _to_ do,--and I'm a-movin' to Shrewsbury."

"To Shrewsbury? Have you sold the farm?" I exclaimed, with sorrow and
surprise. Mrs. Peet was too old and too characteristic to be suddenly
transplanted from her native soil. "'T wa'n't mine, the place wa'n't."
Her pleasant face hardened slightly. "He was coaxed an' over-persuaded
into signin' off before he was taken away. Is'iah, son of his sister
that married old Josh Peet, come it over him about his bein' past work
and how he'd do for him like an own son, an' we owed him a little
somethin'. I'd paid off everythin' but that, an' was fool enough to
leave it till the last, on account o' Is'iah's bein' a relation and
not needin' his pay much as some others did. It's hurt me to have the
place fall into other hands. Some wanted me to go right to law; but 't
wouldn't be no use. Is'iah's smarter 'n I be about them matters. You
see he's got my name on the paper, too; he said 't was somethin' 'bout
bein' responsible for the taxes. We was scant o' money, an' I was wore
out with watchin' an' being broke o' my rest. After my tryin' hard for
risin' forty-five year to provide for bein' past work, here I be,
dear, here I be! I used to drive things smart, you remember. But we
was fools enough in '72 to put about everythin' we had safe in the
bank into that spool factory that come to nothin'. But I tell ye I
could ha' kept myself long's I lived, if I could ha' held the place.
I'd parted with most o' the woodland, if Is'iah'd coveted it. He was
welcome to that, 'cept what might keep me in oven-wood. I've always
desired to travel an' see somethin' o' the world, but I've got the
chance now when I don't value it no great."

"Shrewsbury is a busy, pleasant place," I ventured to say by way of
comfort, though my heart was filled with rage at the trickery of
Isaiah Peet, who had always looked like a fox and behaved like one.

"Shrewsbury's be'n held up consid'able for me to smile at," said the
poor old soul, "but I tell ye, dear, it's hard to go an' live
twenty-two miles from where you've always had your home and friends.
It may divert me, but it won't be home. You might as well set out one
o' my old apple-trees on the beach, so 't could see the waves come
in,--there wouldn't be no please to it."

"Where are you going to live in Shrewsbury?" I asked presently.

"I don't expect to stop long, dear creatur'. I'm 'most seventy-six
year old," and Mrs. Peet turned to look at me with pathetic amusement
in her honest wrinkled face. "I said right out to Is'iah, before a
roomful o' the neighbors, that I expected it of him to git me home an'
bury me when my time come, and do it respectable; but I wanted to airn
my livin', if 'twas so I could, till then. He'd made sly talk, you
see, about my electin' to leave the farm and go 'long some o' my own
folks; but"--and she whispered this carefully--"he didn't give me no
chance to stay there without hurtin' my pride and dependin' on him. I
ain't said that to many folks, but all must have suspected. A good
sight on 'em's had money of Is'iah, though, and they don't like to do
nothin' but take his part an' be pretty soft spoken, fear it'll git to
his ears. Well, well, dear, we'll let it be bygones, and not think of
it no more;" but I saw the great tears roll slowly down her cheeks,
and she pulled her bonnet forward impatiently, and looked the other
way.

"There looks to be plenty o' good farmin' land in this part o' the
country," she said, a minute later. "Where be we now? See them
handsome farm buildin's; he must be a well-off man." But I had to
tell my companion that we were still within the borders of the old
town where we had both been born. Mrs. Peet gave a pleased little
laugh, like a girl. "I'm expectin' Shrewsbury to pop up any minute.
I'm feared to be kerried right by. I wa'n't never aboard of the cars
before, but I've so often thought about 'em I don't know but it seems
natural. Ain't it jest like flyin' through the air? I can't catch holt
to see nothin'. Land! and here's my old cat goin' too, and never
mistrustin'. I ain't told you that I'd fetched her."

"Is she in that basket?" I inquired with interest.

"Yis, dear. Truth was, I calc'lated to have her put out o' the misery
o' movin', an spoke to one o' the Barnes boys, an' he promised me all
fair; but he wa'n't there in season, an' I kind o' made excuse to
myself to fetch her along. She's an' old creatur', like me, an' I can
make shift to keep her some way or 'nuther; there's probably mice
where we're goin', an' she's a proper mouser that can about keep
herself if there's any sort o' chance. 'T will be somethin' o' home to
see her goin' an' comin', but I expect we're both on us goin' to miss
our old haunts. I'd love to know what kind o' mousin' there's goin' to
be for me."

"You mustn't worry," I answered, with all the bravery and assurance
that I could muster. "Your niece will be thankful to have you with
her. Is she one of Mrs. Winn's daughters?"

"Oh, no, they ain't able; it's Sister Wayland's darter Isabella, that
married the overseer of the gre't carriage-shop. I ain't seen her
since just after she was married; but I turned to her first because I
knew she was best able to have me, and then I can see just how the
other girls is situated and make me some kind of a plot. I wrote to
Isabella, though she _is_ ambitious, and said 'twas so I'd got to ask
to come an' make her a visit, an' she wrote back she would be glad to
have me; but she didn't write right off, and her letter was scented up
dreadful strong with some sort o' essence, and I don't feel heartened
about no great of a welcome. But there, I've got eyes, an' I can see
_ho_'t is when I git _where_'t is. Sister Winn's gals ain't married,
an' they've always boarded, an' worked in the shop on trimmin's.
Isabella's well off; she had some means from her father's sister. I
thought it all over by night an' day, an' I recalled that our folks
kept Sister Wayland's folks all one winter, when he'd failed up and
got into trouble. I'm reckonin' on sendin' over to-night an' gittin'
the Winn gals to come and see me and advise. Perhaps some on 'em may
know of somebody that'll take me for what help I can give about house,
or some clever folks that have been lookin' for a smart cat, any ways;
no, I don't know's I could let her go to strangers.

"There was two or three o' the folks round home that acted real
warm-hearted towards me, an' urged me to come an' winter with 'em,"
continued the exile; "an' this mornin' I wished I'd agreed to, 'twas
so hard to break away. But now it's done I feel more'n ever it's best.
I couldn't bear to live right in sight o' the old place, and come
spring I shouldn't 'prove of nothing Is'iah ondertakes to do with the
land. Oh, dear sakes! now it comes hard with me not to have had no
child'n. When I was young an' workin' hard and into everything, I felt
kind of free an' superior to them that was so blessed, an' their
houses cluttered up from mornin' till night, but I tell ye it comes
home to me now. I'd be most willin' to own to even Is'iah, mean's he
is; but I tell ye I'd took it out of him 'fore he was a grown man, if
there'd be'n any virtue in cow-hidin' of him. Folks don't look like
wild creatur's for nothin'. Is'iah's got fox blood in him, an'
p'r'haps 't is his misfortune. His own mother always favored the looks
of an old fox, true's the world; she was a poor tool,--a poor tool! I
d'know's we ought to blame him same's we do.

"I've always been a master proud woman, if I was riz among the
pastures," Mrs. Peet added, half to herself. There was no use in
saying much to her; she was conscious of little beside her own
thoughts and the smouldering excitement caused by this great crisis in
her simple existence. Yet the atmosphere of her loneliness,
uncertainty, and sorrow was so touching that after scolding again at
her nephew's treachery, and finding the tears come fast to my eyes as
she talked, I looked intently out of the car window, and tried to
think what could be done for the poor soul. She was one of the
old-time people, and I hated to have her go away; but even if she
could keep her home she would soon be too feeble to live there alone,
and some definite plan must be made for her comfort. Farms in that
neighborhood were not valuable. Perhaps through the agency of the law
and quite in secret, Isaiah Peet could be forced to give up his
unrighteous claim. Perhaps, too, the Winn girls, who were really no
longer young, might have saved something, and would come home again.
But it was easy to make such pictures in one's mind, and I must do
what I could through other people, for I was just leaving home for a
long time. I wondered sadly about Mrs. Peet's future, and the
ambitious Isabella, and the favorite Sister Winn's daughters, to whom,
with all their kindliness of heart, the care of so old and perhaps so
dependent an aunt might seem impossible. The truth about life in
Shrewsbury would soon be known; more than half the short journey was
already past.

To my great pleasure, my fellow-traveler now began to forget her own
troubles in looking about her. She was an alert, quickly interested
old soul, and this was a bit of neutral ground between the farm and
Shrewsbury, where she was unattached and irresponsible. She had lived
through the last tragic moments of her old life, and felt a certain
relief, and Shrewsbury might be as far away as the other side of the
Rocky Mountains for all the consciousness she had of its real
existence. She was simply a traveler for the time being, and began to
comment, with delicious phrases and shrewd understanding of human
nature, on two or three persons near us who attracted her attention.

"Where do you s'pose they be all goin'?" she asked contemptuously.
"There ain't none on 'em but what looks kind o' respectable. I'll
warrant they've left work to home they'd ought to be doin'. I knowed,
if ever I stopped to think, that cars was hived full o' folks, an'
wa'n't run to an' fro for nothin'; but these can't be quite up to the
average, be they? Some on 'em's real thrif'less; guess they've be'n
shoved out o' the last place, an' goin' to try the next one,--like me,
I suppose you'll want to say! Jest see that flauntin' old creatur'
that looks like a stopped clock. There! everybody can't be o' one
goodness, even preachers."

I was glad to have Mrs. Peet amused, and we were as cheerful as we
could be for a few minutes. She said earnestly that she hoped to be
forgiven for such talk, but there were some kinds of folks in the cars
that she never had seen before. But when the conductor came to take
her ticket she relapsed into her first state of mind, and was at a
loss.

"You'll have to look after me, dear, when we get to Shrewsbury," she
said, after we had spent some distracted moments in hunting for the
ticket, and the cat had almost escaped from the basket, and the
bundle-handkerchief had become untied and all its miscellaneous
contents scattered about our laps and the floor. It was a touching
collection of the last odds and ends of Mrs. Peet's housekeeping: some
battered books, and singed holders for flatirons, and the faded little
shoulder shawl that I had seen her wear many a day about her bent
shoulders. There were her old tin match-box spilling all its matches,
and a goose-wing for brushing up ashes, and her much-thumbed Leavitt's
Almanac. It was most pathetic to see these poor trifles out of their
places. At last the ticket was found in her left-hand woolen glove,
where her stiff, work-worn hand had grown used to the feeling of it.

"I shouldn't wonder, now, if I come to like living over to Shrewsbury
first-rate," she insisted, turning to me with a hopeful, eager look to
see if I differed. "You see't won't be so tough for me as if I hadn't
always felt it lurking within me to go off some day or 'nother an' see
how other folks did things. I do' know but what the Winn gals have
laid up somethin' sufficient for us to take a house, with the little
mite I've got by me. I might keep house for us all, 'stead o' boardin'
round in other folks' houses. That I ain't never been demeaned to, but
I dare say I should find it pleasant in some ways. Town folks has got
the upper hand o' country folks, but with all their work an' pride
they can't make a dandelion. I do' know the times when I've set out to
wash Monday mornin's, an' tied out the line betwixt the old
pucker-pear tree and the corner o' the barn, an' thought, 'Here I be
with the same kind o' week's work right over again.' I'd wonder kind
o' f'erce if I couldn't git out of it noways; an' now here I be out
of it, and an uprooteder creatur' never stood on the airth. Just as I
got to feel I had somethin' ahead come that spool-factory business.
There! you know he never was a forehanded man; his health was slim,
and he got discouraged pretty nigh before ever he begun. I hope he
don't know I'm turned out o' the old place. 'Is'iah's well off; he'll
do the right thing by ye,' says he. But my! I turned hot all over when
I found out what I'd put my name to,--me that had always be'n counted
a smart woman! I did undertake to read it over, but I couldn't sense
it. I've told all the folks so when they laid it off on to me some:
but hand-writin' is awful tedious readin' and my head felt that day as
if the works was gone.

"I ain't goin' to sag on to nobody," she assured me eagerly, as the
train rushed along. "I've got more work in me now than folks expects
at my age. I may be consid'able use to Isabella. She's got a family,
an' I'll take right holt in the kitchen or with the little gals. She
had four on 'em, last I heared. Isabella was never one that liked
house-work. Little gals! I do' know now but what they must be about
grown, time doos slip away so. I expect I shall look outlandish to
'em. But there! everybody knows me to home, an' nobody knows me to
Shrewsbury; 'twon't make a mite o' difference, if I take holt
willin'."

I hoped, as I looked at Mrs. Peet, that she would never be persuaded
to cast off the gathered brown silk bonnet and the plain shawl that
she had worn so many years; but Isabella might think it best to insist
upon more modern fashions. Mrs. Peet suggested, as if it were a matter
of little consequence, that she had kept it in mind to buy some
mourning; but there were other things to be thought of first, and so
she had let it go until winter, any way, or until she should be fairly
settled in Shrewsbury.

"Are your nieces expecting you by this train?" I was moved to ask,
though with all the good soul's ready talk and appealing manner I
could hardly believe that she was going to Shrewsbury for more than a
visit; it seemed as if she must return to the worn old farmhouse over
by the sheep-lands. She answered that one of the Barnes boys had
written a letter for her the day before, and there was evidently
little uneasiness about her first reception.

We drew near the junction where I must leave her within a mile of the
town. The cat was clawing indignantly at the basket, and her mistress
grew as impatient of the car. She began to look very old and pale, my
poor fellow-traveler, and said that she felt dizzy, going so fast.
Presently the friendly red-cheeked young brakeman came along, bringing
the carpet-bag and other possessions, and insisted upon taking the
alarmed cat beside, in spite of an aggressive paw that had worked its
way through the wicker prison. Mrs. Peet watched her goods disappear
with suspicious eyes, and clutched her bundle-handkerchief as if it
might be all that she could save. Then she anxiously got to her feet,
much too soon, and when I said good-by to her at the car door she was
ready to cry. I pointed to the car which she was to take next on the
branch line of railway, and I assured her that it was only a few
minutes' ride to Shrewsbury, and that I felt certain she would find
somebody waiting. The sight of that worn, thin figure adventuring
alone across the platform gave my heart a sharp pang as the train
carried me away.

Some of the passengers who sat near asked me about my old friend with
great sympathy, after she had gone. There was a look of tragedy about
her, and indeed it had been impossible not to get a good deal of her
history, as she talked straight on in the same tone, when we stopped
at a station, as if the train were going at full speed, and some of
her remarks caused pity and amusements by turns. At the last minute
she said, with deep self-reproach, "Why, I haven't asked a word about
your folks; but you'd ought to excuse such an old stray hen as I be."

In the spring I was driving by on what the old people of my native
town call the sheep-lands road, and the sight of Mrs. Peet's former
home brought our former journey freshly to my mind. I had last heard
from her just after she got to Shrewsbury, when she had sent me a
message.

"Have you ever heard how she got on?" I eagerly asked my companion.

"Didn't I tell you that I met her in Shrewsbury High Street one day?"
I was answered. "She seemed perfectly delighted with everything. Her
nieces have laid up a good bit of money, and are soon to leave the
mill, and most thankful to have old Mrs. Peet with them. Somebody told
me that they wished to buy the farm here, and come back to live, but
she wouldn't hear of it, and thought they would miss too many
privileges. She has been going to concerts and lectures this winter,
and insists that Isaiah did her a good turn."

We both laughed. My own heart was filled with joy, for the uncertain,
lonely face of this homeless old woman had often haunted me. The
rain-blackened little house did certainly look dreary, and a whole
lifetime of patient toil had left few traces. The pucker-pear tree was
in full bloom, however, and gave a welcome gaiety to the deserted
door-yard.

A little way beyond we met Isaiah Peet, the prosperous money-lender,
who had cheated the old woman of her own. I fancied that he looked
somewhat ashamed, as he recognized us. To my surprise, he stopped his
horse in most social fashion.

"Old Aunt Peet's passed away," he informed me briskly. "She had a
shock, and went right off sudden yisterday fore-noon. I'm about now
tendin' to the funeral 'rangements. She's be'n extry smart, they say,
all winter,--out to meetin' last Sabbath; never enjoyed herself so
complete as she has this past month. She'd be'n a very hard-workin'
woman. Her folks was glad to have her there, and give her every
attention. The place here never was good for nothin'. The old
gen'leman,--uncle, you know,--he wore hisself out tryin' to make a
livin' off from it."

There was an ostentatious sympathy and half-suppressed excitement from
bad news which were quite lost upon us, and we did not linger to hear
much more. It seemed to me as if I had known Mrs. Peet better than any
one else had known her. I had counted upon seeing her again, and
hearing her own account of Shrewsbury life, its pleasures and its
limitations. I wondered what had become of the cat and the contents of
the faded bundle-handkerchief.

       *       *       *       *       *



_The White Rose Road_


Being a New Englander, it is natural that I should first speak about
the weather. Only the middle of June, the green fields, and blue sky,
and bright sun, with a touch of northern mountain wind blowing
straight toward the sea, could make such a day, and that is all one
can say about it. We were driving seaward through a part of the
country which has been least changed in the last thirty years,--among
farms which have been won from swampy lowland, and rocky,
stump-buttressed hillsides: where the forests wall in the fields, and
send their outposts year by year farther into the pastures. There is a
year or two in the history of these pastures before they have arrived
at the dignity of being called woodland, and yet are too much shaded
and overgrown by young trees to give proper pasturage, when they made
delightful harbors for the small wild creatures which yet remain, and
for wild flowers and berries. Here you send an astonished rabbit
scurrying to his burrow, and there you startle yourself with a
partridge, who seems to get the best of the encounter. Sometimes you
see a hen partridge and her brood of chickens crossing your path with
an air of comfortable door-yard security. As you drive along the
narrow, grassy road, you see many charming sights and delightful nooks
on either hand, where the young trees spring out of a close-cropped
turf that carpets the ground like velvet. Toward the east and the
quaint fishing village of Ogunquit, I find the most delightful
woodland roads. There is little left of the large timber which once
filled the region, but much young growth, and there are hundreds of
acres of cleared land and pasture-ground where the forests are
springing fast and covering the country once more, as if they had no
idea of losing in their war with civilization and the intruding white
settler. The pine woods and the Indians seem to be next of kin, and
the former owners of this corner of New England are the only proper
figures to paint into such landscapes. The twilight under tall pines
seems to be untenanted and to lack something, at first sight, as if
one opened the door of an empty house. A farmer passing through with
his axe is but an intruder, and children straying home from school
give one a feeling of solicitude at their unprotectedness. The pine
woods are the red man's house, and it may be hazardous even yet for
the gray farmhouses to stand so near the eaves of the forest. I have
noticed a distrust of the deep woods, among elderly people, which was
something more than a fear of losing their way. It was a feeling of
defenselessness against some unrecognized but malicious influence.

Driving through the long woodland way, shaded and chilly when you are
out of the sun; across the Great Works River and its pretty elm-grown
intervale; across the short bridges of brown brooks; delayed now and
then by the sight of ripe strawberries in sunny spots by the roadside,
one comes to a higher open country, where farm joins farm, and the
cleared fields lie all along the highway, while the woods are pushed
back a good distance on either hand. The wooded hills, bleak here and
there with granite ledges, rise beyond. The houses are beside the
road, with green door-yards and large barns, almost empty now, and
with wide doors standing open, as if they were already expecting the
hay crop to be brought in. The tall green grass is waving in the
fields as the wind goes over, and there is a fragrance of whiteweed
and ripe strawberries and clover blowing through the sunshiny barns,
with their lean sides and their festoons of brown, dusty cobwebs;
dull, comfortable creatures they appear to imaginative eyes, waiting
hungrily for their yearly meal. The eave-swallows are teasing their
sleepy shapes, like the birds which flit about great beasts; gay,
movable, irreverent, almost derisive, those barn swallows fly to and
fro in the still, clear air.

The noise of our wheels brings fewer faces to the windows than usual,
and we lose the pleasure of seeing some of our friends who are apt to
be looking out, and to whom we like to say good-day. Some funeral must
be taking place, or perhaps the women may have gone out into the
fields. It is hoeing-time and strawberry-time, and already we have
seen some of the younger women at work among the corn and potatoes.
One sight will be charming to remember. On a green hillside sloping
to the west, near one of the houses, a thin little girl was working
away lustily with a big hoe on a patch of land perhaps fifty feet by
twenty. There were all sorts of things growing there, as if a child's
fancy had made the choice,--straight rows of turnips and carrots and
beets, a little of everything, one might say; but the only touch of
color was from a long border of useful sage in full bloom of dull
blue, on the upper side. I am sure this was called Katy's or Becky's
_piece_ by the elder members of the family. One can imagine how the
young creature had planned it in the spring, and persuaded the men to
plough and harrow it, and since then had stoutly done all the work
herself, and meant to send the harvest of the piece to market, and
pocket her honest gains, as they came in, for some great end. She was
as thin as a grasshopper, this busy little gardener, and hardly turned
to give us a glance, as we drove slowly up the hill close by. The sun
will brown and dry her like a spear of grass on that hot slope, but a
spark of fine spirit is in the small body, and I wish her a famous
crop. I hate to say that the piece looked backward, all except the
sage, and that it was a heavy bit of land for the clumsy hoe to pick
at. The only puzzle is, what she proposes to do with so long a row of
sage. Yet there may be a large family with a downfall of measles yet
ahead, and she does not mean to be caught without sage-tea.

Along this road every one of the old farmhouses has at least one tall
bush of white roses by the door,--a most lovely sight, with buds and
blossoms, and unvexed green leaves. I wish that I knew the history of
them, and whence the first bush was brought. Perhaps from England
itself, like a red rose that I know in Kittery, and the new shoots
from the root were given to one neighbor after another all through the
district. The bushes are slender, but they grow tall without climbing
against the wall, and sway to and fro in the wind with a grace of
youth and an inexpressible charm of beauty. How many lovers must have
picked them on Sunday evenings, in all the bygone years, and carried
them along the roads or by the pasture footpaths, hiding them clumsily
under their Sunday coats if they caught sight of any one coming. Here,
too, where the sea wind nips many a young life before its prime, how
often the white roses have been put into paler hands, and withered
there!

In spite of the serene and placid look of the old houses, one who has
always known them cannot help thinking of the sorrows of these farms
and their almost undiverted toil. Near the little gardener's plot, we
turned from the main road and drove through lately cleared woodland up
to an old farmhouse, high on a ledgy hill, whence there is a fine view
of the country seaward and mountainward. There were few of the once
large household left there: only the old farmer, who was crippled by
war wounds, active, cheerful man that he was once, and two young
orphan children. There has been much hard work spent on the place.
Every generation has toiled from youth to age without being able to
make much beyond a living. The dollars that can be saved are but few,
and sickness and death have often brought their bitter cost. The
mistress of the farm was helpless for many years; through all the
summers and winters she sat in her pillowed rocking-chair in the plain
room. She could watch the seldom-visited lane, and beyond it, a little
way across the fields, were the woods; besides these, only the clouds
in the sky. She could not lift her food to her mouth; she could not be
her husband's working partner. She never went into another woman's
house to see her works and ways, but sat there, aching and tired,
vexed by flies and by heat, and isolated in long storms. Yet the whole
countryside neighbored her with true affection. Her spirit grew
stronger as her body grew weaker, and the doctors, who grieved because
they could do so little with their skill, were never confronted by
that malady of the spirit, a desire for ease and laziness, which makes
the soundest of bodies useless and complaining. The thought of her
blooms in one's mind like the whitest of flowers; it makes one braver
and more thankful to remember the simple faith and patience with which
she bore her pain and trouble. How often she must have said, "I wish I
could do something for you in return," when she was doing a thousand
times more than if, like her neighbors, she followed the simple round
of daily life! She was doing constant kindness by her example; but
nobody can tell the woe of her long days and nights, the solitude of
her spirit, as she was being lifted by such hard ways to the knowledge
of higher truth and experience. Think of her pain when, one after
another, her children fell ill and died, and she could not tend them!
And now, in the same worn chair where she lived and slept sat her
husband, helpless too, thinking of her, and missing her more than if
she had been sometimes away from home, like other women. Even a
stranger would miss her in the house.

There sat the old farmer looking down the lane in his turn, bearing
his afflictions with a patient sternness that may have been born of
watching his wife's serenity. There was a half-withered rose lying
within his reach. Some days nobody came up the lane, and the wild
birds that ventured near the house and the clouds that blew over were
his only entertainment. He had a fine face, of the older New England
type, clean-shaven and strong-featured,--a type that is fast passing
away. He might have been a Cumberland dalesman, such were his dignity,
and self-possession, and English soberness of manner. His large frame
was built for hard work, for lifting great weights and pushing his
plough through new-cleared land. We felt at home together, and each
knew many things that the other did of earlier days, and of losses
that had come with time. I remembered coming to the old house often in
my childhood; it was in this very farm lane that I first saw anemones,
and learned what to call them. After we drove away, this crippled man
must have thought a long time about my elders and betters, as if he
were reading their story out of a book. I suppose he has hauled many a
stick of timber pine down for ship-yards, and gone through the village
so early in the winter morning that I, waking in my warm bed, only
heard the sleds creak through the frozen snow as the slow oxen plodded
by.

Near the house a trout brook comes plashing over the ledges. At one
place there is a most exquisite waterfall, to which neither painter's
brush nor writer's pen can do justice. The sunlight falls through
flickering leaves into the deep glen, and makes the foam whiter and
the brook more golden-brown. You can hear the merry noise of it all
night, all day, in the house. A little way above the farmstead it
comes through marshy ground, which I fear has been the cause of much
illness and sorrow to the poor, troubled family. I had a thrill of
pain, as it seemed to me that the brook was mocking at all that
trouble with all its wild carelessness and loud laughter, as it
hurried away down the glen.

When we had said good-by and were turning the horses away, there
suddenly appeared in a footpath that led down from one of the green
hills the young grandchild, just coming home from school. She was as
quick as a bird, and as shy in her little pink gown, and balanced
herself on one foot, like a flower. The brother was the elder of the
two orphans; he was the old man's delight and dependence by day, while
his hired man was afield. The sober country boy had learned to wait
and tend, and the young people were indeed a joy in that lonely
household. There was no sign that they ever played like other
children,--no truckle-cart in the yard, no doll, no bits of broken
crockery in order on a rock. They had learned a fashion of life from
their elders, and already could lift and carry their share of the
burdens of life.

It was a country of wild flowers; the last of the columbines were
clinging to the hillsides; down in the small, fenced meadows belonging
to the farm were meadow rue just coming in flower, and red and white
clover; the golden buttercups were thicker than the grass, while many
mulleins were standing straight and slender among the pine stumps,
with their first blossoms atop. Rudbeckias had found their way in, and
appeared more than ever like bold foreigners. Their names should be
translated into country speech, and the children ought to call them
"rude-beckies," by way of relating them to bouncing-bets and
sweet-williams. The pasture grass was green and thick after the
plentiful rains, and the busy cattle took little notice of us as they
browsed steadily and tinkled their pleasant bells. Looking off, the
smooth, round back of Great Hill caught the sunlight with its fields
of young grain, and all the long, wooded slopes and valleys were fresh
and fair in the June weather, away toward the blue New Hampshire hills
on the northern horizon. Seaward stood Agamenticus, dark with its
pitch pines, and the far sea itself, blue and calm, ruled the uneven
country with its unchangeable line.

Out on the white rose road again, we saw more of the rose-trees than
ever, and now and then a carefully tended flower garden, always
delightful to see and think about. These are not made by merely
looking through a florist's catalogue, and ordering this or that new
seedling and a proper selection of bulbs or shrubs; everything in a
country garden has its history and personal association. The old
bushes, the perennials, are apt to have most tender relationship with
the hands that planted them long ago. There is a constant exchange of
such treasures between the neighbors, and in the spring, slips and
cuttings may be seen rooting on the window ledges, while the house
plants give endless work all winter long, since they need careful
protection against frost in long nights of the severe weather. A
flower-loving woman brings back from every one of her infrequent
journeys some treasure of flower-seeds or a huge miscellaneous
nosegay. Time to work in the little plot of pleasure-ground is hardly
won by the busy mistress of the farmhouse. The most appealing
collection of flowering plants and vines that I ever saw was in
Virginia, once, above the exquisite valley spanned by the Natural
Bridge, a valley far too little known or praised. I had noticed an old
log house, as I learned to know the outlook from the picturesque
hotel, and was sure that it must give a charming view from its perch
on the summit of a hill.

One day I went there,--one April day, when the whole landscape was
full of color from the budding trees,--and before I could look at the
view, I caught sight of some rare vines, already in leaf, about the
dilapidated walls of the cabin. Then across the low paling I saw the
brilliant colors of tulips and daffodils. There were many rose-bushes;
in fact, the whole top of the hill was a flower garden, once well
cared for and carefully ordered. It was all the work of an old woman
of Scotch-Irish descent, who had been busy with the cares of life, and
a very hard worker; yet I was told that to gratify her love for
flowers she would often go afoot many miles over those rough Virginia
roads, with a root or cutting from her own garden, to barter for a new
rose or a brighter blossom of some sort, with which she would return
in triumph. I fancied that sometimes she had to go by night on these
charming quests. I could see her business-like, small figure setting
forth down the steep path, when she had a good conscience toward her
housekeeping and the children were in order to be left. I am sure
that her friends thought of her when they were away from home and
could bring her an offering of something rare. Alas, she had grown too
old and feeble to care for her dear blossoms any longer, and had been
forced to go to live with a married son. I dare say that she was
thinking of her garden that very day, and wondering if this plant or
that were not in bloom, and perhaps had a heartache at the thought
that her tenants, the careless colored children, might tread the young
shoots of peony and rose, and make havoc in the herb-bed. It was an
uncommon collection, made by years of patient toil and self-sacrifice.

I thought of that deserted Southern garden as I followed my own New
England road. The flower-plots were in gay bloom all along the way;
almost every house had some flowers before it, sometimes carefully
fenced about by stakes and barrel staves from the miscreant hens and
chickens which lurked everywhere, and liked a good scratch and
fluffing in soft earth this year as well as any other. The world
seemed full of young life. There were calves tethered in pleasant
shady spots, and puppies and kittens adventuring from the doorways.
The trees were full of birds: bobolinks, and cat-birds, and
yellow-hammers, and golden robins, and sometimes a thrush, for the
afternoon was wearing late. We passed the spring which once marked the
boundary where three towns met,--Berwick, York, and Wells,--a famous
spot in the early settlement of the country, but many of its old
traditions are now forgotten. One of the omnipresent regicides of
Charles the First is believed to have hidden himself for a long time
under a great rock close by. The story runs that he made his miserable
home in this den for several years, but I believe that there is no
record that more than three of the regicides escaped to this country,
and their wanderings are otherwise accounted for. There is a firm
belief that one of them came to York, and was the ancestor of many
persons now living there, but I do not know whether he can have been
the hero of the Baker's Spring hermitage beside. We stopped to drink
some of the delicious water, which never fails to flow cold and clear
under the shade of a great oak, and were amused with the sight of a
flock of gay little country children who passed by in deep
conversation. What could such atoms of humanity be talking about?
"Old times," said John, the master of horse, with instant decision.

We met now and then a man or woman, who stopped to give us hospitable
greeting; but there was no staying for visits, lest the daylight might
fail us. It was delightful to find this old-established neighborhood
so thriving and populous, for a few days before I had driven over
three miles of road, and passed only one house that was tenanted, and
six cellars or crumbling chimneys where good farmhouses had been, the
lilacs blooming in solitude, and the fields, cleared with so much
difficulty a century or two ago, all going back to the original
woodland from which they were won. What would the old farmers say to
see the fate of their worthy bequest to the younger generation? They
would wag their heads sorrowfully, with sad foreboding.

After we had passed more woodland and a well-known quarry, where, for
a wonder, the derrick was not creaking and not a single hammer was
clinking at the stone wedges, we did not see any one hoeing in the
fields, as we had seen so many on the white rose road, the other side
of the hills. Presently we met two or three people walking sedately,
clad in their best clothes. There was a subdued air of public
excitement and concern, and one of us remembered that there had been a
death in the neighborhood; this was the day of the funeral. The man
had been known to us in former years. We had an instinct to hide our
unsympathetic pleasuring, but there was nothing to be done except to
follow our homeward road straight by the house.

The occasion was nearly ended by this time: the borrowed chairs were
being set out in the yard in little groups; even the funeral supper
had been eaten, and the brothers and sisters and near relatives of the
departed man were just going home. The new grave showed plainly out in
the green field near by. He had belonged to one of the ancient
families of the region, long settled on this old farm by the narrow
river; they had given their name to a bridge, and the bridge had
christened the meeting-house which stood close by. We were much struck
by the solemn figure of the mother, a very old woman, as she walked
toward her old home with some of her remaining children. I had not
thought to see her again, knowing her great age and infirmity. She was
like a presence out of the last century, tall and still erect,
dark-eyed and of striking features, and a firm look not modern, but as
if her mind were still set upon an earlier and simpler scheme of life.
An air of dominion cloaked her finely. She had long been queen of her
surroundings and law-giver to her great family. Royalty is a quality,
one of Nature's gifts, and there one might behold it as truly as if
Victoria Regina Imperatrix had passed by. The natural instincts common
to humanity were there undisguised, unconcealed, simply accepted. We
had seen a royal progress; she was the central figure of that rural
society; as you looked at the little group, you could see her only.
Now that she came abroad so rarely, her presence was not without deep
significance, and so she took her homeward way with a primitive kind
of majesty.

It was evident that the neighborhood was in great excitement and quite
thrown out of its usual placidity. An acquaintance came from a small
house farther down the road, and we stopped for a word with him. We
spoke of the funeral, and were told something of the man who had died.
"Yes, and there's a man layin' very sick here," said our friend in an
excited whisper. "_He_ won't last but a day or two. There's another
man buried yesterday that was struck by lightnin', comin' acrost a
field when that great shower begun. The lightnin' stove through his
hat and run down all over him, and ploughed a spot in the ground."
There was a knot of people about the door; the minister of that
scattered parish stood among them, and they all looked at us eagerly,
as if we too might be carrying news of a fresh disaster through the
countryside.

Somehow the melancholy tales did not touch our sympathies as they
ought, and we could not see the pathetic side of them as at another
time, the day was so full of cheer and the sky and earth so glorious.
The very fields looked busy with their early summer growth, the horses
began to think of the clack of the oat-bin cover, and we were hurried
along between the silvery willows and the rustling alders, taking time
to gather a handful of stray-away conserve roses by the roadside; and
where the highway made a long bend eastward among the farms, two of us
left the carriage, and followed a footpath along the green river bank
and through the pastures, coming out to the road again only a minute
later than the horses. I believe that it is an old Indian trail
followed from the salmon falls farther down the river, where the
up-country Indians came to dry the plentiful fish for their winter
supplies. I have traced the greater part of this deep-worn footpath,
which goes straight as an arrow across the country, the first day's
trail being from the falls (where Mason's settlers came in 1627, and
built their Great Works of a saw-mill with a gang of saws, and
presently a grist mill beside) to Emery's Bridge. I should like to
follow the old footpath still farther. I found part of it by accident
a long time ago. Once, as you came close to the river, you were sure
to find fishermen scattered along,--sometimes I myself have been
discovered; but it is not much use to go fishing any more. If some
public-spirited person would kindly be the Frank Buckland of New
England, and try to have the laws enforced that protect the inland
fisheries, he would do his country great service. Years ago, there
were so many salmon that, as an enthusiastic old friend once assured
me, "you could walk across on them below the falls;" but now they are
unknown, simply because certain substances which would enrich the
farms are thrown from factories and tanneries into our clear New
England streams. Good river fish are growing very scarce. The smelts,
and bass, and shad have all left this upper branch of the Piscataqua,
as the salmon left it long ago, and the supply of one necessary sort
of good cheap food is lost to a growing community, for the lack of a
little thought and care in the factory companies and saw-mills, and
the building in some cases of fish-ways over the dams. I think that
the need of preaching against this bad economy is very great. The
sight of a proud lad with a string of undersized trout will scatter
half the idlers in town into the pastures next day, but everybody
patiently accepts the depopulation of a fine clear river, where the
tide comes fresh from the sea to be tainted by the spoiled stream,
which started from its mountain sources as pure as heart could wish.
Man has done his best to ruin the world he lives in, one is tempted to
say at impulsive first thought; but after all, as I mounted the last
hill before reaching the village, the houses took on a new look of
comfort and pleasantness; the fields that I knew so well were a
fresher green than before, the sun was down, and the provocations of
the day seemed very slight compared to the satisfaction. I believed
that with a little more time we should grow wiser about our fish and
other things beside.

It will be good to remember the white rose road and its quietness in
many a busy town day to come. As I think of these slight sketches, I
wonder if they will have to others a tinge of sadness; but I have
seldom spent an afternoon so full of pleasure and fresh and delighted
consciousness of the possibilities of rural life.

       *       *       *       *       *



_The Town Poor_


Mrs. William Trimble and Miss Rebecca Wright were driving along
Hampden east road, one afternoon in early spring. Their progress was
slow. Mrs. Trimble's sorrel horse was old and stiff, and the wheels
were clogged by clay mud. The frost was not yet out of the ground,
although the snow was nearly gone, except in a few places on the north
side of the woods, or where it had drifted all winter against a length
of fence.

"There must be a good deal o' snow to the nor'ard of us yet," said
weather-wise Mrs. Trimble. "I feel it in the air; 'tis more than the
ground-damp. We ain't goin' to have real nice weather till the
up-country snow's all gone."

"I heard say yesterday that there was good sleddin' yet, all up
through Parsley," responded Miss Wright. "I shouldn't like to live in
them northern places. My cousin Ellen's husband was a Parsley man, an'
he was obliged, as you may have heard, to go up north to his father's
second wife's funeral; got back day before yesterday. 'T was about
twenty-one miles, an' they started on wheels; but when they'd gone
nine or ten miles, they found 't was no sort o' use, an' left their
wagon an' took a sleigh. The man that owned it charged 'em four an'
six, too. I shouldn't have thought he would; they told him they was
goin' to a funeral; an' they had their own buffaloes an' everything."

"Well, I expect it's a good deal harder scratchin', up that way; they
have to git money where they can; the farms is very poor as you go
north," suggested Mrs. Trimble kindly. "'T ain't none too rich a
country where we be, but I've always been grateful I wa'n't born up to
Parsley."

The old horse plodded along, and the sun, coming out from the heavy
spring clouds, sent a sudden shine of light along the muddy road.
Sister Wright drew her large veil forward over the high brim of her
bonnet. She was not used to driving, or to being much in the open air;
but Mrs. Trimble was an active business woman, and looked after her
own affairs herself, in all weathers. The late Mr. Trimble had left
her a good farm, but not much ready money, and it was often said that
she was better off in the end than if he had lived. She regretted his
loss deeply, however; it was impossible for her to speak of him, even
to intimate friends, without emotion, and nobody had ever hinted that
this emotion was insincere. She was most warm-hearted and generous,
and in her limited way played the part of Lady Bountiful in the town
of Hampden.

"Why, there's where the Bray girls lives, ain't it?" she exclaimed,
as, beyond a thicket of witch-hazel and scrub-oak, they came in sight
of a weather-beaten, solitary farmhouse. The barn was too far away for
thrift or comfort, and they could see long lines of light between the
shrunken boards as they came nearer. The fields looked both stony and
sodden. Somehow, even Parsley itself could be hardly more forlorn.

"Yes'm," said Miss Wright, "that's where they live now, poor things. I
know the place, though I ain't been up here for years. You don't
suppose, Mis' Trimble--I ain't seen the girls out to meetin' all
winter. I've re'lly been covetin'"--

"Why, yes, Rebecca, of course we could stop," answered Mrs. Trimble
heartily. "The exercises was over earlier 'n I expected, an' you're
goin' to remain over night long o' me, you know. There won't be no tea
till we git there, so we can't be late. I'm in the habit o' sendin' a
basket to the Bray girls when any o' our folks is comin' this way, but
I ain't been to see 'em since they moved up here. Why, it must be a
good deal over a year ago. I know 't was in the late winter they had
to make the move. 'T was cruel hard, I must say, an' if I hadn't been
down with my pleurisy fever I'd have stirred round an' done somethin'
about it. There was a good deal o' sickness at the time, an'--well, 't
was kind o' rushed through, breakin' of 'em up, an' lots o' folks
blamed the selec'_men_; but when 't was done, 't was done, an' nobody
took holt to undo it. Ann an' Mandy looked same's ever when they come
to meetin', 'long in the summer,--kind o' wishful, perhaps. They've
always sent me word they was gittin' on pretty comfortable."

"That would be their way," said Rebecca Wright. "They never was any
hand to complain, though Mandy's less cheerful than Ann. If Mandy 'd
been spared such poor eyesight, an' Ann hadn't got her lame wrist that
wa'n't set right, they'd kep' off the town fast enough. They both shed
tears when they talked to me about havin' to break up, when I went to
see 'em before I went over to brother Asa's. You see we was brought up
neighbors, an' we went to school together, the Brays an' me. 'T was a
special Providence brought us home this road, I've been so covetin' a
chance to git to see 'em. My lameness hampers me."

"I'm glad we come this way, myself," said Mrs. Trimble.

"I'd like to see just how they fare," Miss Rebecca Wright continued.
"They give their consent to goin' on the town because they knew they'd
got to be dependent, an' so they felt 't would come easier for all
than for a few to help 'em. They acted real dignified an'
right-minded, contrary to what most do in such cases, but they was
dreadful anxious to see who would bid 'em off, town-meeting day; they
did so hope 't would be somebody right in the village. I just sat down
an' cried good when I found Abel Janes's folks had got hold of 'em.
They always had the name of bein' slack an' poor-spirited, an' they
did it just for what they got out o' the town. The selectmen this
last year ain't what we have had. I hope they've been considerate
about the Bray girls."

"I should have be'n more considerate about fetchin' of you over,"
apologized Mrs. Trimble. "I've got my horse, an' you're lame-footed;
'tis too far for you to come. But time does slip away with busy folks,
an' I forgit a good deal I ought to remember."

"There's nobody more considerate than you be," protested Miss Rebecca
Wright.

Mrs. Trimble made no answer, but took out her whip and gently touched
the sorrel horse, who walked considerably faster, but did not think it
worth while to trot. It was a long, round-about way to the house,
farther down the road and up a lane.

"I never had any opinion of the Bray girls' father, leavin' 'em as he
did," said Mrs. Trimble.

"He was much praised in his time, though there was always some said
his early life hadn't been up to the mark," explained her companion.
"He was a great favorite of our then preacher, the Reverend Daniel
Longbrother. They did a good deal for the parish, but they did it
their own way. Deacon Bray was one that did his part in the repairs
without urging. You know 't was in his time the first repairs was
made, when they got out the old soundin'-board an' them handsome
square pews. It cost an awful sight o' money, too. They hadn't done
payin' up that debt when they set to alter it again an' git the walls
frescoed. My grandmother was one that always spoke her mind right out,
an' she was dreadful opposed to breakin' up the square pews where she'd
always set. They was countin' up what 't would cost in parish meetin',
an' she riz right up an' said 't wouldn't cost nothin' to let 'em
stay, an' there wa'n't a house carpenter left in the parish that could
do such nice work, an' time would come when the great-grandchildren
would give their eye-teeth to have the old meetin'-house look just as
it did then. But haul the inside to pieces they would and did."

"There come to be a real fight over it, didn't there?" agreed Mrs.
Trimble soothingly. "Well, 't wa'n't good taste. I remember the old
house well. I come here as a child to visit a cousin o' mother's, an'
Mr. Trimble's folks was neighbors, an' we was drawed to each other
then, young's we was. Mr. Trimble spoke of it many's the time,--that
first time he ever see me, in a leghorn hat with a feather; 't was one
that mother had, an' pressed over."

"When I think of them old sermons that used to be preached in that old
meetin'-house of all, I'm glad it's altered over, so's not to remind
folks," said Miss Rebecca Wright, after a suitable pause. "Them old
brimstone discourses, you know, Mis' Trimble. Preachers is far more
reasonable, nowadays. Why, I set an' thought, last Sabbath, as I
listened, that if old Mr. Longbrother an' Deacon Bray could hear the
difference they'd crack the ground over 'em like pole beans, an' come
right up 'long side their headstones."

Mrs. Trimble laughed heartily, and shook the reins three or four times
by way of emphasis. "There's no gitting round you," she said, much
pleased. "I should think Deacon Bray would want to rise, any way, if
't was so he could, an' knew how his poor girls was farin'. A man
ought to provide for his folks he's got to leave behind him, specially
if they're women. To be sure, they had their little home; but we've
seen how, with all their industrious ways, they hadn't means to keep
it. I s'pose he thought he'd got time enough to lay by, when he give
so generous in collections; but he didn't lay by, an' there they be.
He might have took lessons from the squirrels: even them little wild
creatur's makes them their winter hoards, an' men-folks ought to know
enough if squirrels does. 'Be just before you are generous:' that's
what was always set for the B's in the copy-books, when I was to
school, and it often runs through my mind."

"'As for man, his days are as grass,'--that was for A; the two go well
together," added Miss Rebecca Wright soberly. "My good gracious, ain't
this a starved-lookin' place? It makes me ache to think them nice Bray
girls has to brook it here."

The sorrel horse, though somewhat puzzled by an unexpected deviation
from his homeward way, willingly came to a stand by the gnawed corner
of the door-yard fence, which evidently served as hitching-place. Two
or three ragged old hens were picking about the yard, and at last a
face appeared at the kitchen window, tied up in a handkerchief, as if
it were a case of toothache. By the time our friends reached the side
door next this window, Mrs. Janes came disconsolately to open it for
them, shutting it again as soon as possible, though the air felt more
chilly inside the house.

"Take seats," said Mrs. Janes briefly. "You'll have to see me just as
I be. I have been suffering these four days with the ague, and
everything to do. Mr. Janes is to court, on the jury. 'T was
inconvenient to spare him. I should be pleased to have you lay off
your things."

Comfortable Mrs. Trimble looked about the cheerless kitchen, and could
not think of anything to say; so she smiled blandly and shook her head
in answer to the invitation. "We'll just set a few minutes with you,
to pass the time o' day, an' then we must go in an' have a word with
the Miss Brays, bein' old acquaintance. It ain't been so we could git
to call on 'em before. I don't know's you're acquainted with Miss
R'becca Wright. She's been out of town a good deal."

"I heard she was stopping over to Plainfields with her brother's
folks," replied Mrs. Janes, rocking herself with irregular motion, as
she sat close to the stove. "Got back some time in the fall, I
believe?"

"Yes'm," said Miss Rebecca, with an undue sense of guilt and
conviction. "We've been to the installation over to the East Parish,
an' thought we'd stop in; we took this road home to see if 't was any
better. How is the Miss Brays gettin' on?"

"They're well's common," answered Mrs. Janes grudgingly. "I was put
out with Mr. Janes for fetchin' of 'em here, with all I've got to do,
an' I own I was kind o' surly to 'em 'long to the first of it. He gits
the money from the town, an' it helps him out; but he bid 'em off for
five dollars a month, an' we can't do much for 'em at no such price as
that. I went an' dealt with the selec'men, an' made 'em promise to
find their firewood an' some other things extra. They was glad to get
rid o' the matter the fourth time I went, an' would ha' promised 'most
anything. But Mr. Janes don't keep me half the time in oven-wood, he's
off so much, an' we was cramped o' room, any way. I have to store
things up garrit a good deal, an' that keeps me trampin' right through
their room. I do the best for 'em I can, Mis' Trimble, but 't ain't so
easy for me as 't is for you, with all your means to do with."

The poor woman looked pinched and miserable herself, though it was
evident that she had no gift at house or home keeping. Mrs. Trimble's
heart was wrung with pain, as she thought of the unwelcome inmates of
such a place; but she held her peace bravely, while Miss Rebecca again
gave some brief information in regard to the installation.

"You go right up them back stairs," the hostess directed at last. "I'm
glad some o' you church folks has seen fit to come an' visit 'em.
There ain't been nobody here this long spell, an' they've aged a sight
since they come. They always send down a taste out of your baskets,
Mis' Trimble, an' I relish it, I tell you. I'll shut the door after
you, if you don't object. I feel every draught o' cold air."

"I've always heard she was a great hand to make a poor mouth. Wa'n't
she from somewheres up Parsley way?" whispered Miss Rebecca, as they
stumbled in the half-light.

"Poor meechin' body, wherever she come from," replied Mrs. Trimble, as
she knocked at the door.

There was silence for a moment after this unusual sound; then one of
the Bray sisters opened the door. The eager guests stared into a
small, low room, brown with age, and gray, too, as if former dust and
cobwebs could not be made wholly to disappear. The two elderly women
who stood there looked like captives. Their withered faces wore a look
of apprehension, and the room itself was more bare and plain than was
fitting to their evident refinement of character and self-respect.
There was an uncovered small table in the middle of the floor, with
some crackers on a plate; and, for some reason or other, this added a
great deal to the general desolation.

But Miss Ann Bray, the elder sister, who carried her right arm in a
sling, with piteously drooping fingers, gazed at the visitors with
radiant joy. She had not seen them arrive.

The one window gave only the view at the back of the house, across the
fields, and their coming was indeed a surprise. The next minute she
was laughing and crying together. "Oh, sister!" she said, "if here
ain't our dear Mis' Trimble!--an' my heart o' goodness, 'tis 'Becca
Wright, too! What dear good creatur's you be! I've felt all day as if
something good was goin' to happen, an' was just sayin' to myself
'twas most sundown now, but I wouldn't let on to Mandany I'd give up
hope quite yet. You see, the scissors stuck in the floor this very
mornin' an' it's always a reliable sign. There, I've got to kiss ye
both again!"

"I don't know where we can all set," lamented sister Mandana. "There
ain't but the one chair an' the bed; t'other chair's too rickety; an'
we've been promised another these ten days; but first they've forgot
it, an' next Mis' Janes can't spare it,--one excuse an' another. I am
goin' to git a stump o' wood an' nail a board on to it, when I can git
outdoor again," said Mandana, in a plaintive voice. "There, I ain't
goin' to complain o' nothin', now you've come," she added; and the
guests sat down, Mrs. Trimble, as was proper, in the one chair.

"We've sat on the bed many's the time with you, 'Becca, an' talked
over our girl nonsense, ain't we? You know where 'twas--in the little
back bedroom we had when we was girls, an' used to peek out at our
beaux through the strings o' mornin'-glories," laughed Ann Bray
delightedly, her thin face shining more and more with joy. "I brought
some o' them mornin'-glory seeds along when we come away, we'd raised
'em so many years; an' we got 'em started all right, but the hens
found 'em out. I declare I chased them poor hens, foolish as 'twas;
but the mornin'-glories I'd counted on a sight to remind me o' home.
You see, our debts was so large, after my long sickness an' all, that
we didn't feel 'twas right to keep back anything we could help from
the auction."

It was impossible for any one to speak for a moment or two; the
sisters felt their own uprooted condition afresh, and their guests for
the first time really comprehended the piteous contrast between that
neat little village house, which now seemed a palace of comfort, and
this cold, unpainted upper room in the remote Janes farmhouse. It was
an unwelcome thought to Mrs. Trimble that the well-to-do town of
Hampden could provide no better for its poor than this, and her round
face flushed with resentment and the shame of personal responsibility.
"The girls shall be well settled in the village before another winter,
if I pay their board myself," she made an inward resolution, and took
another almost tearful look at the broken stove, the miserable bed,
and the sisters' one hair-covered trunk, on which Mandana was sitting
But the poor place was filled with a golden spirit of hospitality.

Rebecca was again discoursing eloquently of the installation; it was
so much easier to speak of general subjects, and the sisters had
evidently been longing to hear some news. Since the late summer they
had not been to church, and presently Mrs. Trimble asked the reason.

"Now, don't you go to pouring out our woes, Mandy!" begged little old
Ann, looking shy and almost girlish, and as if she insisted upon
playing that life was still all before them and all pleasure. "Don't
you go to spoilin' their visit with our complaints! They know well's
we do that changes must come, an' we'd been so wonted to our home
things that this come hard at first; but then they felt for us, I know
just as well's can be. 'Twill soon be summer again, an' 'tis real
pleasant right out in the fields here, when there ain't too hot a
spell. I've got to know a sight o' singin' birds since we come."

"Give me the folks I've always known," sighed the younger sister, who
looked older than Miss Ann, and less even-tempered. "You may have your
birds, if you want 'em. I do re'lly long to go to meetin' an' see
folks go by up the aisle. Now, I will speak of it, Ann, whatever you
say. We need, each of us, a pair o' good stout shoes an'
rubbers,--ours are all wore out; an' we've asked an' asked, an' they
never think to bring 'em, an'"--

Poor old Mandana, on the trunk, covered her face with her arms and
sobbed aloud. The elder sister stood over her, and patted her on the
thin shoulder like a child, and tried to comfort her. It crossed Mrs.
Trimble's mind that it was not the first time one had wept and the
other had comforted. The sad scene must have been repeated many times
in that long, drear winter. She would see them forever after in her
mind as fixed as a picture, and her own tears fell fast.

"You didn't see Mis' Janes's cunning little boy, the next one to the
baby, did you?" asked Ann Bray, turning round quickly at last, and
going cheerfully on with the conversation. "Now, hush, Mandy, dear;
they'll think you're childish! He's a dear, friendly little creatur',
an' likes to stay with us a good deal, though we feel's if it 't was
too cold for him, now we are waitin' to get us more wood."

"When I think of the acres o' woodland in this town!" groaned Rebecca
Wright. "I believe I'm goin' to preach next Sunday, 'stead o' the
minister, an' I'll make the sparks fly. I've always heard the saying,
'What's everybody's business is nobody's business,' an' I've come to
believe it."

"Now, don't you, 'Becca. You've happened on a kind of a poor time with
us, but we've got more belongings than you see here, an' a good large
cluset, where we can store those things there ain't room to have
about. You an' Miss Trimble have happened on a kind of poor day, you
know. Soon's I git me some stout shoes an' rubbers, as Mandy says, I
can fetch home plenty o' little dry boughs o' pine; you remember I was
always a great hand to roam in the woods? If we could only have a
front room, so 't we could look out on the road an' see passin', an'
was shod for meetin', I don' know's we should complain. Now we're just
goin' to give you what we've got, an' make out with a good welcome. We
make more tea 'n we want in the mornin', an' then let the fire go
down, since 't has been so mild. We've got a _good_ cluset"
(disappearing as she spoke), "an' I know this to be good tea, 'cause
it's some o' yourn, Mis' Trimble. An' here's our sprigged chiny cups
that R'becca knows by sight, if Mis' Trimble don't. We kep' out four
of 'em, an' put the even half dozen with the rest of the auction
stuff. I've often wondered who'd got 'em, but I never asked, for fear
't would be somebody that would distress us. They was mother's, you
know."

The four cups were poured, and the little table pushed to the bed,
where Rebecca Wright still sat, and Mandana, wiping her eyes, came and
joined her. Mrs. Trimble sat in her chair at the end, and Ann trotted
about the room in pleased content for a while, and in and out of the
closet, as if she still had much to do; then she came and stood
opposite Mrs. Trimble. She was very short and small, and there was no
painful sense of her being obliged to stand. The four cups were not
quite full of cold tea, but there was a clean old tablecloth folded
double, and a plate with three pairs of crackers neatly piled, and a
small--it must be owned, a very small--piece of hard white cheese.
Then, for a treat, in a glass dish, there was a little preserved
peach, the last--Miss Rebecca knew it instinctively--of the household
stores brought from their old home. It was very sugary, this bit of
peach; and as she helped her guests and sister Mandy, Miss Ann Bray
said, half unconsciously, as she often had said with less reason in
the old days, "Our preserves ain't so good as usual this year; this is
beginning to candy." Both the guests protested, while Rebecca added
that the taste of it carried her back, and made her feel young again.
The Brays had always managed to keep one or two peach-trees alive in
their corner of a garden. "I've been keeping this preserve for a
treat," said her friend. "I'm glad to have you eat some, 'Becca. Last
summer I often wished you was home an' could come an' see us, 'stead
o' being away off to Plainfields."

The crackers did not taste too dry. Miss Ann took the last of the
peach on her own cracker; there could not have been quite a small
spoonful, after the others were helped, but she asked them first if
they would not have some more. Then there was a silence, and in the
silence a wave of tender feeling rose high in the hearts of the four
elderly women. At this moment the setting sun flooded the poor plain
room with light; the unpainted wood was all of a golden-brown, and Ann
Bray, with her gray hair and aged face, stood at the head of the table
in a kind of aureole. Mrs. Trimble's face was all aquiver as she
looked at her; she thought of the text about two or three being
gathered together, and was half afraid.

"I believe we ought to've asked Mis' Janes if she wouldn't come up,"
said Ann. "She's real good feelin', but she's had it very hard, an'
gits discouraged. I can't find that she's ever had anything real
pleasant to look back to, as we have. There, next time we'll make a
good heartenin' time for her too."


The sorrel horse had taken a long nap by the gnawed fence-rail, and
the cool air after sundown made him impatient to be gone. The two
friends jolted homeward in the gathering darkness, through the
stiffening mud, and neither Mrs. Trimble nor Rebecca Wright said a
word until they were out of sight as well as out of sound of the Janes
house. Time must elapse before they could reach a more familiar part
of the road and resume conversation on its natural level.

"I consider myself to blame," insisted Mrs. Trimble at last. "I
haven't no words of accusation for nobody else, an' I ain't one to
take comfort in calling names to the board o' selec'_men_. I make no
reproaches, an' I take it all on my own shoulders; but I'm goin' to
stir about me, I tell you! I shall begin early to-morrow. They're
goin' back to their own house,--it's been standin' empty all
winter,--an' the town's goin' to give 'em the rent an' what firewood
they need; it won't come to more than the board's payin' out now. An'
you an' me'll take this same horse an' wagon, an' ride an' go afoot by
turns, an' git means enough together to buy back their furniture an'
whatever was sold at that plaguey auction; an' then we'll put it all
back, an' tell 'em they've got to move to a new place, an' just carry
'em right back again where they come from. An' don't you never tell,
R'becca, but here I be a widow woman, layin' up what I make from my
farm for nobody knows who, an' I'm goin' to do for them Bray girls
all I'm a mind to. I should be sca't to wake up in heaven, an' hear
anybody there ask how the Bray girls was. Don't talk to me about the
town o' Hampden, an' don't ever let me hear the name o' town poor! I'm
ashamed to go home an' see what's set out for supper. I wish I'd
brought 'em right along."

"I was goin' to ask if we couldn't git the new doctor to go up an' do
somethin' for poor Ann's arm," said Miss Rebecca. "They say he's very
smart. If she could get so's to braid straw or hook rugs again, she'd
soon be earnin' a little somethin'. An' may be he could do somethin'
for Mandy's eyes. They did use to live so neat an' ladylike. Somehow I
couldn't speak to tell 'em there that 'twas I bought them six best
cups an' saucers, time of the auction; they went very low, as
everything else did, an' I thought I could save it some other way.
They shall have 'em back an' welcome. You're real whole-hearted, Mis'
Trimble. I expect Ann'll be sayin' that her father's child'n wa'n't
goin' to be left desolate, an' that all the bread he cast on the
water's comin' back through you."

"I don't care what she says, dear creatur'!" exclaimed Mrs. Trimble.
"I'm full o' regrets I took time for that installation, an' set there
seepin' in a lot o' talk this whole day long, except for its kind of
bringin' us to the Bray girls. I wish to my heart 't was to-morrow
mornin' a'ready, an' I a-startin' for the selec'_men_."

       *       *       *       *       *



A Native of Winby


I.

On the teacher's desk, in the little roadside school-house, there was
a bunch of Mayflowers, beside a dented and bent brass bell, a small
Worcester's Dictionary without any cover, and a worn morocco-covered
Bible. These were placed in an orderly row, and behind them was a
small wooden box which held some broken pieces of blackboard crayon.
The teacher, whom no timid new scholar could look at boldly, wore her
accustomed air of authority and importance. She might have been
nineteen years old,--not more,--but for the time being she scorned the
frivolities of youth.

The hot May sun was shining in at the smoky small-paned windows;
sometimes an outside shutter swung to with a creak, and eclipsed the
glare. The narrow door stood wide open, to the left as you faced the
desk, and an old spotted dog lay asleep on the step, and looked wise
and old enough to have gone to school with several generations of
children. It was half past three o'clock in the afternoon, and the
primer class, settled into the apathy of after-recess fatigue,
presented a straggling front, as they stood listlessly on the floor.
As for the big boys and girls, they also were longing to be at
liberty, but the pretty teacher, Miss Marilla Hender, seemed quite as
energetic as when school was begun in the morning.

The spring breeze blew in at the open door, and even fluttered the
primer leaves, but the back of the room felt hot and close, as if it
were midsummer. The children in the class read their lessons in those
high-keyed, droning voices which older teachers learn to associate
with faint powers of perception. Only one or two of them had an
awakened human look in their eyes, such as Matthew Arnold delighted
himself in finding so often in the school-children of France. Most of
these poor little students were as inadequate, at that weary moment,
to the pursuit of letters as if they had been woolly spring lambs on a
sunny hillside. The teacher corrected and admonished with great
patience, glancing now and then toward points of danger and
insurrection, whence came a suspicious buzz of whispering from behind
a desk-lid or a pair of widespread large geographies. Now and then a
toiling child would rise and come down the aisle, with his forefinger
firm upon a puzzling word as if it were an unclassified insect. It was
a lovely beckoning day out-of-doors. The children felt like captives;
there was something that provoked rebellion in the droning voices, the
buzzing of an early wild bee against the sunlit pane, and even in the
stuffy familiar odor of the place,--the odor of apples and crumbs of
doughnuts and gingerbread in the dinner pails on the high entry nails,
and of all the little gowns and trousers that had brushed through
junipers and young pines on their way to school.

The bee left his prisoning pane at last, and came over to the
Mayflowers, which were in full bloom, although the season was very
late, and deep in the woods there were still some graybacked
snowdrifts, speckled with bits of bark and moss from the trees above.

"Come, come, Ezra!" urged the young teacher, rapping her desk sharply.
"Stop watchin' that common bee! You know well enough what those
letters spell. You won't learn to read at this rate until you are a
grown man. Mind your book, now; you ought to remember who went to this
school when he was a little boy. You've heard folks tell about the
Honorable Joseph K. Laneway? He used to be in primer just as you are
now, and 't wasn't long before he was out of it, either, and was
called the smartest boy in school. He's got to be a general and a
Senator, and one of the richest men out West. You don't seem to have
the least mite of ambition to-day, any of you!"

The exhortation, entirely personal in the beginning, had swiftly
passed to a general rebuke. Ezra looked relieved, and the other
children brightened up as they recognized a tale familiar to their
ears. Anything was better than trying to study in that dull last hour
of afternoon school.

"Yes," continued Miss Hender, pleased that she had at last roused
something like proper attention, "you all ought to be proud that you
are schoolmates of District Number Four, and can remember that the
celebrated General Laneway had the same early advantages as you, and
think what he has made of himself by perseverance and ambition."

The pupils were familiar enough with the illustrious history of their
noble predecessor. They were sure to be told, in lawless moments, that
if Mr. Laneway were to come in and see them he would be mortified to
death; and the members of the school committee always referred to him,
and said that he had been a poor boy, and was now a self-made
man,--as if every man were not self-made as to his character and
reputation!

At this point, young Johnny Spencer showed his next neighbor, in the
back of his Colburn's Arithmetic, an imaginary portrait of their
district hero, which caused them both to chuckle derisively. The
Honorable Mr. Laneway figured on the flyleaf as an extremely
cross-eyed person, with strangely crooked legs and arms and a terrific
expression. He was outlined with red and blue pencils as to coat and
trousers, and held a reddened scalp in one hand and a blue tomahawk in
the other; being closely associated in the artist's mind with the
early settlements of the far West.

There was a noise of wheels in the road near by, and, though Miss
Hender had much more to say, everybody ceased to listen to her, and
turned toward the windows, leaning far forward over their desks to see
who might be passing. They caught a glimpse of a shiny carriage; the
old dog bounded out, barking, but nothing passed the open door. The
carriage had stopped; some one was coming to the school; somebody was
going to be called out! It could not be the committee, whose pompous
and uninspiring spring visit had taken place only the week before.

Presently a well-dressed elderly man, with an expectant, masterful
look, stood on the doorstep, glanced in with a smile, and knocked.
Miss Marilla Hender blushed, smoothed her pretty hair anxiously with
both hands, and stepped down from her little platform to answer the
summons. There was hardly a shut mouth in the primer class.

"Would it be convenient for you to receive a visitor to the school?"
the stranger asked politely, with a fine bow of deference to Miss
Hender. He looked much pleased and a little excited, and the teacher
said,--

"Certainly; step right in, won't you, sir?" in quite another tone from
that in which she had just addressed the school.

The boys and girls were sitting straight and silent in their places,
in something like a fit of apprehension and unpreparedness at such a
great emergency. The guest represented a type of person previously
unknown in District Number Four. Everything about him spoke of wealth
and authority. The old dog returned to the doorstep, and after a
careful look at the invader approached him, with a funny doggish grin
and a desperate wag of the tail, to beg for recognition.

The teacher gave her chair on the platform to the guest, and stood
beside him with very red cheeks, smoothing her hair again once or
twice, and keeping the hard-wood ruler fast in hand, like a badge of
office. "Primer class may now retire!" she said firmly, although the
lesson was not more than half through; and the class promptly escaped
to their seats, waddling and stumbling, until they all came up behind
their desks, face foremost, and added themselves to the number of
staring young countenances. After this there was a silence, which grew
more and more embarrassing.

"Perhaps you would be pleased to hear our first class in geography,
sir?" asked the fair Marilla, recovering her presence of mind; and the
guest kindly assented.

The young teacher was by no means willing to give up a certainty for
an uncertainty. Yesterday's lesson had been well learned; she turned
back to the questions about the State of Kansota, and at the first
sentence the mysterious visitor's dignity melted into an unconscious
smile. He listened intently for a minute, and then seemed to reoccupy
himself with his own thoughts and purposes, looking eagerly about the
old school-house, and sometimes gazing steadily at the children. The
lesson went on finely, and when it was finished Miss Hender asked the
girl at the head of the class to name the States and Territories,
which she instantly did, mispronouncing nearly all the names of the
latter; then others stated boundaries and capitals, and the resources
of the New England States, passing on finally to the names of the
Presidents. Miss Hender glowed with pride; she had worked hard over
the geography class in the winter term, and it did not fail her on
this great occasion. When she turned bravely to see if the gentleman
would like to ask any questions, she found that he was apparently
lost in a deep reverie, so she repeated her own question more
distinctly.

"They have done very well,--very well indeed," he answered kindly; and
then, to every one's surprise, he rose, went up the aisle, pushed
Johnny Spencer gently along his bench, and sat down beside him. The
space was cramped, and the stranger looked huge and uncomfortable, so
that everybody laughed, except one of the big girls, who turned pale
with fright, and thought he must be crazy. When this girl gave a faint
squeak Miss Hender recovered herself, and rapped twice with the ruler
to restore order; then became entirely tranquil. There had been talk
of replacing the hacked and worn old school-desks with patent desks
and chairs; this was probably an agent connected with that business.
At once she was resolute and self-reliant, and said, "No whispering!"
in a firm tone that showed she did not mean to be trifled with. The
geography class was dismissed, but the elderly gentleman, in his
handsome overcoat, still sat there wedged in at Johnny Spencer's side.

"I presume, sir, that you are canvassing for new desks," said Miss
Hender, with dignity. "You will have to see the supervisor and the
selectmen." There did not seem to be any need of his lingering, but
she had an ardent desire to be pleasing to a person of such evident
distinction. "We always tell strangers--I thought, sir, you might be
gratified to know--that this is the school-house where the Honorable
Joseph K. Laneway first attended school. All do not know that he was
born in this town, and went West very young; it is only about a mile
from here where his folks used to live."

At this moment the visitor's eyes fell. He did not look at pretty
Marilla any more, but opened Johnny Spencer's arithmetic, and, seeing
the imaginary portrait of the great General Laneway, laughed a
little,--a very deep-down comfortable laugh it was,--while Johnny
himself turned cold with alarm, he could not have told why.

It was very still in the school-room; the bee was buzzing and bumping
at the pane again; the moment was one of intense expectation.

The stranger looked at the children right and left. "The fact is
this, young people," said he, in a tone that was half pride and half
apology, "I am Joseph K. Laneway myself."

He tried to extricate himself from the narrow quarters of the desk,
but for an embarrassing moment found that he was stuck fast. Johnny
Spencer instinctively gave him an assisting push, and once free the
great soldier, statesman, and millionaire took a few steps forward to
the open floor; then, after hesitating a moment, he mounted the little
platform and stood in the teacher's place. Marilla Hender was as pale
as ashes.

"I have thought many times," the great guest began, "that some day I
should come back to visit this place, which is so closely interwoven
with the memories of my childhood. In my counting-room, on the fields
of war, in the halls of Congress, and most of all in my Western home,
my thoughts have flown back to the hills and brooks of Winby and to
this little old school-house. I could shut my eyes and call back the
buzz of voices, and fear my teacher's frown, and feel my boyish
ambitions waking and stirring in my breast. On that bench where I just
sat I saw some notches that I cut with my first jackknife fifty-eight
years ago this very spring. I remember the faces of the boys and girls
who went to school with me, and I see their grandchildren before me. I
know that one is a Goodsoe and another a Winn by the old family look.
One generation goes, and another comes.

"There are many things that I might say to you. I meant, even in those
early restricted days, to make my name known, and I dare say that you
too have ambition. Be careful what you wish for in this world, for if
you wish hard enough you are sure to get it. I once heard a very wise
man say this, and the longer I live the more firmly I believe it to be
true. But wishing hard means working hard for what you want, and the
world's prizes wait for the men and women who are ready to take pains
to win them. Be careful and set your minds on the best things. I meant
to be a rich man when I was a boy here, and I stand before you a rich
man, knowing the care and anxiety and responsibility of wealth. I
meant to go to Congress, and I am one of the Senators from Kansota. I
say this as humbly as I say it proudly. I used to read of the valor
and patriotism of the old Greeks and Romans with my youthful blood
leaping along my veins, and it came to pass that my own country was in
danger, and that I could help to fight her battles. Perhaps some one
of these little lads has before him a more eventful life than I have
lived, and is looking forward to activity and honor and the pride of
fame. I wish him all the joy that I have had, all the toil that I have
had, and all the bitter disappointments even; for adversity leads a
man to depend upon that which is above him, and the path of glory is a
lonely path, beset by temptations and a bitter sense of the weakness
and imperfection of man. I see my life spread out like a great
picture, as I stand here in my boyhood's place. I regret my failures.
I thank God for what in his kind providence has been honest and right.
I am glad to come back, but I feel, as I look in your young faces,
that I am an old man, while your lives are just beginning. When you
remember, in years to come, that I came here to see the old
school-house, remember that I said: Wish for the best things, and work
hard to win them; try to be good men and women, for the honor of the
school and the town, and the noble young country that gave you birth;
be kind at home and generous abroad. Remember that I, an old man who
had seen much of life, begged you to be brave and good."

The Honorable Mr. Laneway had rarely felt himself so moved in any of
his public speeches, but he was obliged to notice that for once he
could not hold his audience. The primer class especially had begun to
flag in attention, but one or two faces among the elder scholars
fairly shone with vital sympathy and a lovely prescience of their
future. Their eyes met his as if they struck a flash of light. There
was a sturdy boy who half rose in his place unconsciously, the color
coming and going in his cheeks; something in Mr. Laneway's words lit
the altar flame in his reverent heart.

Marilla Hender was pleased and a little dazed; she could not have
repeated what her illustrious visitor had said, but she longed to tell
everybody the news that he was in town, and had come to school to make
an address. She had never seen a great man before, and really needed
time to reflect upon him and to consider what she ought to say. She
was just quivering with the attempt to make a proper reply and thank
Mr. Laneway for the honor of his visit to the school, when he asked
her which of the boys could be trusted to drive back his hired horse
to the Four Corners. Eight boys, large and small, nearly every boy in
the school, rose at once and snapped insistent fingers; but Johnny
Spencer alone was desirous not to attract attention to himself. The
Colburn's Intellectual Arithmetic with the portrait had been well
secreted between his tight jacket and his shirt. Miss Hender selected
a trustworthy freckled person in long trousers, who was half way to
the door in an instant, and was heard almost immediately to shout
loudly at the quiet horse.

Then the Hero of District Number Four made his acknowledgments to the
teacher. "I fear that I have interrupted you too long," he said, with
pleasing deference.

Marilla replied that it was of no consequence; she hoped he would call
again. She may have spoken primly, but her pretty eyes said everything
that her lips forgot. "My grandmother will want to see you, sir," she
ventured to say. "I guess you will remember her,--Mis' Hender, she
that was Abby Harran. She has often told me how you used to get your
lessons out o' the same book."

"Abby Harran's granddaughter?" Mr. Laneway looked at her again with
fresh interest. "Yes, I wish to see her more than any one else. Tell
her that I am coming to see her before I go away, and give her my
love. Thank you, my dear," as Marilla offered his missing hat.
"Good-by, boys and girls." He stopped and looked at them once more
from the boys' entry, and turned again to look back from the very
doorstep.

"Good-by, sir,--good-by," piped two or three of the young voices; but
most of the children only stared, and neither spoke nor moved.

"We will omit the class in Fourth Reader this afternoon. The class in
grammar may recite," said Miss Hender in her most contained and
official manner.

The grammar class sighed like a single pupil, and obeyed. She was very
stern with the grammar class, but every one in school had an inner
sense that it was a great day in the history of District Number Four.


II.

The Honorable Mr. Laneway found the outdoor air very fresh and sweet
after the closeness of the school-house. It had just that same odor in
his boyhood, and as he escaped he had a delightful sense of playing
truant or of having an unexpected holiday. It was easier to think of
himself as a boy, and to slip back into boyish thoughts, than to bear
the familiar burden of his manhood. He climbed the tumble-down stone
wall across the road, and went along a narrow path to the spring that
bubbled up clear and cold under a great red oak. How many times he had
longed for a drink of that water, and now here it was, and the thirst
of that warm spring day was hard to quench! Again and again he stopped
to fill the birchbark dipper which the school-children had made, just
as his own comrades made theirs years before. The oak-tree was dying
at the top. The pine woods beyond had been cut and had grown again
since his boyhood, and looked much as he remembered them. Beyond the
spring and away from the woods the path led across overgrown pastures
to another road, perhaps three quarters of a mile away, and near this
road was the small farm which had been his former home. As he walked
slowly along, he was met again and again by some reminder of his
youthful days. He had always liked to refer to his early life in New
England in his political addresses, and had spoken more than once of
going to find the cows at nightfall in the autumn evenings, and being
glad to warm his bare feet in the places where the sleepy beasts had
lain, before he followed their slow steps homeward through bush and
brier. The Honorable Mr. Laneway had a touch of true sentiment which
added much to his really stirring and effective campaign speeches. He
had often been called the "king of the platform" in his adopted State.
He had long ago grown used to saying "Go" to one man, and "Come" to
another, like the ruler of old; but all his natural power of
leadership and habit of authority disappeared at once as he trod the
pasture slopes, calling back the remembrance of his childhood. Here
was the place where two lads, older than himself, had killed a
terrible woodchuck at bay in the angle of a great rock; and just
beyond was the sunny spot where he had picked a bunch of pink and
white anemones under a prickly barberry thicket, to give to Abby
Harran in morning school. She had put them into her desk, and let them
wilt there, but she was pleased when she took them. Abby Harran, the
little teacher's grandmother, was a year older than he, and had
wakened the earliest thought of love in his youthful breast.

It was almost time to catch the first sight of his birthplace. From
the knoll just ahead he had often seen the light of his mother's lamp,
as he came home from school on winter afternoons; but when he reached
the knoll the old house was gone, and so was the great walnut-tree
that grew beside it, and a pang of disappointment shot through this
devout pilgrim's heart. He never had doubted that the old farm was
somebody's home still, and had counted upon the pleasure of spending a
night there, and sleeping again in that room under the roof, where the
rain sounded loud, and the walnut branches brushed to and fro when the
wind blew, as if they were the claws of tigers. He hurried across the
worn-out fields, long ago turned into sheep pastures, where the last
year's tall grass and golden-rod stood gray and winter-killed; tracing
the old walls and fences, and astonished to see how small the fields
had been. The prosperous owner of Western farming lands could not help
remembering those widespread luxuriant acres, and the broad outlooks
of his Western home.

It was difficult at first to find exactly where the house had stood;
even the foundations had disappeared. At last in the long, faded grass
he discovered the doorstep, and near by was a little mound where the
great walnut-tree stump had been. The cellar was a mere dent in the
sloping ground; it had been filled in by the growing grass and slow
processes of summer and winter weather. But just at the pilgrim's
right were some thorny twigs of an old rosebush. A sudden brightening
of memory brought to mind the love that his mother--dead since his
fifteenth year--had kept for this sweetbrier. How often she had wished
that she had brought it to her new home! So much had changed in the
world, so many had gone into the world of light, and here the faithful
blooming thing was yet alive! There was one slender branch where green
buds were starting, and getting ready to flower in the new year.

The afternoon wore late, and still the gray-haired man lingered. He
might have laughed at some one else who gave himself up to sad
thoughts, and found fault with himself, with no defendant to plead his
cause at the bar of conscience. It was an altogether lonely hour. He
had dreamed all his life, in a sentimental, self-satisfied fashion, of
this return to Winby. It had always appeared to be a grand affair, but
so far he was himself the only interested spectator at his poor
occasion. There was even a dismal consciousness that he had been
undignified, perhaps even a little consequential and silly, in the old
school-house. The picture of himself on the war-path, in Johnny
Spencer's arithmetic, was the only tribute that this longed-for day
had held, but he laughed aloud delightedly at the remembrance and
really liked that solemn little boy who sat at his own old desk. There
was another older lad, who sat at the back of the room, who reminded
Mr. Laneway of himself in his eager youth. There was a spark of light
in that fellow's eyes. Once or twice in the earlier afternoon, as he
drove along, he had asked people in the road if there were a Laneway
family in that neighborhood, but everybody had said no in indifferent
fashion. Somehow he had been expecting that every one would know him
and greet him, and give him credit for what he had tried to do, but
old Winby had her own affairs to look after, and did very well without
any of his help.

Mr. Laneway acknowledged to himself at this point that he was weak and
unmanly. There must be some old friends who would remember him, and
give him as hearty a welcome as the greeting he had brought for them.
So he rose and went his way westward toward the sunset. The air was
growing damp and cold, and it was time to make sure of shelter. This
was hardly like the visit he had meant to pay to his birthplace. He
wished with all his heart that he had never come back. But he walked
briskly away, intent upon wider thoughts as the fresh evening breeze
quickened his steps. He did not consider where he was going, but was
for a time the busy man of affairs, stimulated by the unconscious
influence of his surroundings. The slender gray birches and pitch
pines of that neglected pasture had never before seen a hat and coat
exactly in the fashion. They may have been abashed by the presence of
a United States Senator and Western millionaire, though a piece of New
England ground that had often felt the tread of his bare feet was not
likely to quake because a pair of smart shoes stepped hastily along
the school-house path.


III.

There was an imperative knock at the side door of the Hender
farmhouse, just after dark. The young school-mistress had come home
late, because she had stopped all the way along to give people the
news of her afternoon's experience. Marilla was not coy and speechless
any longer, but sat by the kitchen stove telling her eager grandmother
everything she could remember or could imagine.

"Who's that knocking at the door?" interrupted Mrs. Hender. "No, I'll
go myself; I'm nearest."

The man outside was cold and foot-weary. He was not used to spending a
whole day unrecognized, and, after being first amused, and even
enjoying a sense of freedom at escaping his just dues of consideration
and respect, he had begun to feel as if he were old and forgotten, and
was hardly sure of a friend in the world.

Old Mrs. Hender came to the door, with her eyes shining with delight,
in great haste to dismiss whoever had knocked, so that she might hear
the rest of Marilla's story. She opened the door wide to whoever might
have come on some country errand, and looked the tired and
faint-hearted Mr. Laneway full in the face.

"Dear heart, come in!" she exclaimed, reaching out and taking him by
the shoulder, as he stood humbly on a lower step. "Come right in, Joe.
Why, I should know you anywhere! Why, Joe Laneway, _you same boy_!"

In they went to the warm, bright, country kitchen. The delight and
kindness of an old friend's welcome and her instant sympathy seemed
the loveliest thing in the world. They sat down in two old
straight-backed kitchen chairs. They still held each other by the
hand, and looked in each other's face. The plain old room was aglow
with heat and cheerfulness; the tea-kettle was singing; a drowsy cat
sat on the wood-box with her paws tucked in; and the house dog came
forward in a friendly way, wagging his tail, and laid his head on
their clasped hands.

"And to think I haven't seen you since your folks moved out West, the
next spring after you were thirteen in the winter," said the good
woman. "But I s'pose there ain't been anybody that has followed your
career closer than I have, accordin' to their opportunities. You've
done a great work for your country, Joe. I'm proud of you clean
through. Sometimes folks has said, 'There, there, Mis' Hender, what be
you goin' to say now?' but I've always told 'em to wait. I knew you
saw your reasons. You was always an honest boy." The tears started and
shone in her kind eyes. Her face showed that she had waged a bitter
war with poverty and sorrow, but the look of affection that it wore,
and the warm touch of her hard hand, misshapen and worn with toil,
touched her old friend in his inmost heart, and for a minute neither
could speak.

"They do say that women folks have got no natural head for politics,
but I always could seem to sense what was goin' on in Washington, if
there was any sense to it," said grandmother Hender at last.

"Nobody could puzzle you at school, I remember," answered Mr. Laneway,
and they both laughed heartily. "But surely this granddaughter does
not make your household? You have sons?"

"Two beside her father. He died; but they're both away, up toward
Canada, buying cattle. We are getting along considerable well these
last few years, since they got a mite o' capital together; but the old
farm wasn't really able to maintain us, with the heavy expenses that
fell on us unexpected year by year. I've seen a great sight of
trouble, Joe. My boy John, Marilla's father, and his nice wife,--I
lost 'em both early, when Marilla was but a child. John was the flower
o' my family. He would have made a name for himself. You would have
taken to John."

"I was sorry to hear of your loss," said Mr. Laneway. "He was a brave
man. I know what he did at Fredericksburg. You remember that I lost my
wife and my only son?"

There was a silence between the friends, who had no need for words
now; they understood each other's heart only too well. Marilla, who
sat near them, rose and went out of the room.

"Yes, yes, daughter," said Mrs. Hender, calling her back, "we ought to
be thinkin' about supper."

"I was going to light a little fire in the parlor," explained Marilla,
with a slight tone of rebuke in her clear girlish voice.

"Oh, no, you ain't,--not now, at least," protested the elder woman
decidedly. "Now, Joseph, what should you like to have for supper? I
wish to my heart I had some fried turnovers, like those you used to
come after when you was a boy. I can make 'em just about the same as
mother did. I'll be bound you've thought of some old-fashioned dish
that you'd relish for your supper."

"Rye drop-cakes, then, if they wouldn't give you too much trouble,"
answered the Honorable Joseph, with prompt seriousness, "and don't
forget some cheese." He looked up at his old playfellow as she stood
beside him, eager with affectionate hospitality.

"You've no idea what a comfort Marilla's been," she stopped to
whisper. "Always took right hold and helped me when she was a baby.
She's as good as made up already to me for my having no daughter. I
want you to get acquainted with Marilla."

The granddaughter was still awed and anxious about the entertainment
of so distinguished a guest when her grandmother appeared at last in
the pantry.

"I ain't goin' to let you do no such a thing, darlin'," said Abby
Hender, when Marilla spoke of making something that she called "fairy
gems" for tea, after a new and essentially feminine recipe. "You just
let me get supper to-night. The Gen'ral has enough kickshaws to eat;
he wants a good, hearty, old-fashioned supper,--the same country
cooking he remembers when he was a boy. He went so far himself as to
speak of rye drop-cakes, an' there ain't one in a hundred, nowadays,
knows how to make the kind he means. You go an' lay the table just as
we always have it, except you can get out them old big sprigged cups
o' my mother's. Don't put on none o' the parlor cluset things."

Marilla went off crestfallen and demurring. She had a noble desire to
show Mr. Laneway that they knew how to have things as well as
anybody, and was sure that he would consider it more polite to be
asked into the best room, and to sit there alone until tea was ready;
but the illustrious Mr. Laneway was allowed to stay in the kitchen, in
apparent happiness, and to watch the proceedings from beginning to
end. The two old friends talked industriously, but he saw his rye
drop-cakes go into the oven and come out, and his tea made, and his
piece of salt fish broiled and buttered, a broad piece of honeycomb
set on to match some delightful thick slices of brown-crusted loaf
bread, and all the simple feast prepared. There was a sufficient piece
of Abby Hender's best cheese; it must be confessed that there were
also some baked beans, and, as one thing after another appeared, the
Honorable Joseph K. Laneway grew hungrier and hungrier, until he
fairly looked pale with anticipation and delay, and was bidden at that
very moment to draw up his chair and make himself a supper if he
could. What cups of tea, what uncounted rye drop-cakes, went to the
making of that successful supper! How gay the two old friends became,
and of what old stories they reminded each other, and how late the
dark spring evening grew, before the feast was over and the
straight-backed chairs were set against the kitchen wall!

Marilla listened for a time with more or less interest, but at last
she took one of her school-books, with slight ostentation, and went
over to study by the lamp. Mrs. Hender had brought her knitting-work,
a blue woolen stocking, out of a drawer, and sat down serene and
unruffled, prepared to keep awake as late as possible. She was a woman
who had kept her youthful looks through the difficulties of farm life
as few women can, and this added to her guest's sense of homelikeness
and pleasure. There was something that he felt to be sisterly and
comfortable in her strong figure; he even noticed the little plaid
woolen shawl that she wore about her shoulders. Dear, uncomplaining
heart of Abby Hender! The appealing friendliness of the good woman
made no demands except to be allowed to help and to serve everybody
who came in her way.

Now began in good earnest the talk of old times, and what had become
of this and that old schoolmate; how one family had come to want and
another to wealth. The changes and losses and windfalls of good
fortune in that rural neighborhood were made tragedy and comedy by
turns in Abby Hender's dramatic speech. She grew younger and more
entertaining hour by hour, and beguiled the grave Senator into
confidential talk of national affairs. He had much to say, to which
she listened with rare sympathy and intelligence. She astonished him
by her comprehension of difficult questions of the day, and by her
simple good sense. Marilla grew hopelessly sleepy, and departed, but
neither of them turned to notice her as she lingered a moment at the
door to say good-night. When the immediate subjects of conversation
were fully discussed, however, there was an unexpected interval of
silence, and, after making sure that her knitting stitches counted
exactly right, Abby Hender cast a questioning glance at the Senator to
see if he had it in mind to go to bed. She was reluctant to end her
evening so soon, but determined to act the part of considerate
hostess. The guest was as wide awake as ever: eleven o'clock was the
best part of his evening.

"Cider?" he suggested, with an expectant smile, and Abby Hender was on
her feet in a moment. When she had brought a pitcher from the pantry,
he took a candle from the high shelf and led the way.

"To think of your remembering our old cellar candlestick all these
years!" laughed the pleased woman, as she followed him down the steep
stairway, and then laughed still more at his delight in the familiar
look of the place.

"Unchanged as the pyramids!" he said. "I suppose those pound sweetings
that used to be in that farthest bin were eaten up months ago?"

It was plain to see that the household stores were waning low, as
befitted the time of year, but there was still enough in the old
cellar. Care and thrift and gratitude made the poor farmhouse a rich
place. This woman of real ability had spent her strength from youth to
age, and had lavished as much industry and power of organization in
her narrow sphere as would have made her famous in a wider one. Joseph
Laneway could not help sighing as he thought of it. How many things
this good friend had missed, and yet how much she had been able to win
that makes everywhere the very best of life! Poor and early widowed,
there must have been a constant battle with poverty on that stony
Harran farm, whose owners had been pitied even in his early boyhood,
when the best of farming life was none too easy. But Abby Hender had
always been one of the leaders of the town.

"Now, before we sit down again, I want you to step into my best room.
Perhaps you won't have time in the morning, and I've got something to
show you," she said persuasively.

It was a plain, old-fashioned best room, with a look of pleasantness
in spite of the spring chill and the stiffness of the best chairs.
They lingered before the picture of Mrs. Hender's soldier son, a poor
work of a poorer artist in crayons, but the spirit of the young face
shone out appealingly. Then they crossed the room and stood before
some bookshelves, and Abby Hender's face brightened into a beaming
smile of triumph.

"You didn't expect we should have all those books, now, did you, Joe
Laneway?" she asked.

He shook his head soberly, and leaned forward to read the titles.
There were no very new ones, as if times had been hard of late; almost
every volume was either history, or biography, or travel. Their owner
had reached out of her own narrow boundaries into other lives and into
far countries. He recognized with gratitude two or three congressional
books that he had sent her when he first went to Washington, and there
was a life of himself, written from a partisan point of view, and
issued in one of his most exciting campaigns; the sight of it touched
him to the heart, and then she opened it, and showed him the three or
four letters that he had written her,--one, in boyish handwriting,
describing his adventures on his first Western journey.

"There are a hundred and six volumes now," announced the proud owner
of such a library. "I lend 'em all I can, or most of them would look
better. I have had to wait a good while for some, and some weren't
what I expected 'em to be, but most of 'em's as good books as there is
in the world. I've never been so situated that it seemed best for me
to indulge in a daily paper, and I don't know but it's just as well;
but stories were never any great of a temptation. I know pretty well
what's goin' on about me, and I can make that do. Real life's
interestin' enough for me."

Mr. Laneway was still looking over the books. His heart smote him for
not being thoughtful; he knew well enough that the overflow of his own
library would have been delightful to this self-denying, eager-minded
soul. "I've been a very busy man all my life, Abby," he said
impulsively, as if she waited for some apology for his forgetfulness,
"but I'll see to it now that you have what you want to read. I don't
mean to lose hold of your advice on state matters." They both laughed,
and he added, "I've always thought of you, if I haven't shown it."

"There's more time to read than there used to be; I've had what was
best for me," answered the woman gently, with a grateful look on her
face, as she turned to glance at her old friend. "Marilla takes hold
wonderfully and helps me with the work. In the long winter evenings
you can't think what a treat a new book is. I wouldn't change places
with the queen."

They had come back to the kitchen, and she stood before the cupboard,
reaching high for two old gayly striped crockery mugs. There were some
doughnuts and cheese at hand; their early supper seemed quite
forgotten. The kitchen was warm, and they had talked themselves
thirsty and hungry; but with what an unexpected tang the cider
freshened their throats! Mrs. Hender had picked the apples herself
that went to the press; they were all chosen from the old russet tree
and the gnarly, red-cheeked, ungrafted fruit that grew along the lane.
The flavor made one think of frosty autumn mornings on high hillsides,
of north winds and sunny skies. "It 'livens one to the heart," as Mrs.
Hender remarked proudly, when the Senator tried to praise it as much
as it deserved, and finally gave a cheerful laugh, such as he had not
laughed for many a day.

"Why, it seems like drinking the month of October," he told her; and
at this the hostess reached over, protesting that the striped mug was
too narrow to hold what it ought, and filled it up again.

"Oh, Joe Laneway, to think that I see you at last, after all these
years!" she said. "How rich I shall feel with this evening to live
over! I've always wanted to see somebody that I'd read about, and now
I've got that to remember; but I've always known I should see you
again, and I believe 't was the Lord's will."


Early the next morning they said good-by. The early breakfast had to
be hurried, and Marilla was to drive Mr. Laneway to the station,
three miles away. It was Saturday morning, and she was free from
school.

Mr. Laneway strolled down the lane before breakfast was ready, and
came back with a little bunch of pink anemones in his hand. Marilla
thought that he meant to give them to her, but he laid them beside her
grandmother's plate. "You mustn't put those in your desk," he said
with a smile, and Abby Hender blushed like a girl.

"I've got those others now, dried and put away somewhere in one of my
books," she said quietly, and Marilla wondered what they meant.

The two old friends shook hands warmly at parting. "I wish you could
have stayed another day, so I could have had the minister come and see
you," urged Mrs. Hender regretfully.

"You couldn't have done any more for me. I have had the best visit in
the world," he answered, a little shaken, and holding her hand a
moment longer, while Marilla sat, young and impatient, in the high
wagon. "You're a dear good woman, Abby. Sometimes when things have
gone wrong I've been sorry that I ever had to leave Winby."

The woman's clear eyes looked straight into his; then fell. "You
wouldn't have done everything you have for the country," she said.

"Give me a kiss; we're getting to be old folks now," said the General;
and they kissed each other gravely.

A moment later Abby Hender stood alone in her dooryard, watching and
waving her hand again and again, while the wagon rattled away down the
lane and turned into the high-road.

Two hours after Marilla returned from the station, and rushed into the
kitchen.

"Grandma!" she exclaimed, "you never did see such a crowd in Winby as
there was at the depot! Everybody in town had got word about General
Laneway, and they were pushing up to shake hands, and cheering same
as at election, and the cars waited much as ten minutes, and all the
folks was lookin' out of the windows, and came out on the platforms
when they heard who it was. Folks say that he'd been to see the
selectmen yesterday before he came to school, and he's goin' to build
an elegant town hall, and have the names put up in it of all the Winby
men that went to the war." Marilla sank into a chair, flushed with
excitement. "Everybody was asking me about his being here last night
and what he said to the school. I wished that you'd gone down to the
depot instead of me."

"I had the best part of anybody," said Mrs. Hender, smiling and going
on with her Saturday morning work. "I'm real glad they showed him
proper respect," she added a moment afterward, but her voice faltered.

"Why, you ain't been cryin', grandma?" asked the girl. "I guess you're
tired. You had a real good time, now, didn't you?"

"Yes, dear heart!" said Abby Hender. "'T ain't pleasant to be growin'
old, that's all. I couldn't help noticin' his age as he rode away.
I've always been lookin' forward to seein' him again, an' now it's all
over."

       *       *       *       *       *



_Looking Back on Girlhood_


In giving this brief account of my childhood, or, to speak exactly, of
the surroundings which have affected the course of my work as a
writer, my first thought flies back to those who taught me to observe,
and to know the deep pleasures of simple things, and to be interested
in the lives of people about me.

With its high hills and pine forests, and all its ponds and brooks and
distant mountain views, there are few such delightful country towns in
New England as the one where I was born. Being one of the oldest
colonial settlements, it is full of interesting traditions and relics
of the early inhabitants, both Indians and Englishmen. Two large
rivers join just below the village at the head of tide-water, and
these, with the great inflow from the sea, make a magnificent stream,
bordered on its seaward course now by high-wooded banks of dark pines
and hemlocks, and again by lovely green fields that slope gently to
long lines of willows at the water's edge.

There is never-ending pleasure in making one's self familiar with such
a region. One may travel at home in a most literal sense, and be
always learning history, geography, botany, or biography--whatever one
chooses.

I have had a good deal of journeying in my life, and taken great
delight in it, but I have never taken greater delight than in my rides
and drives and tramps and voyages within the borders of my native
town. There is always something fresh, something to be traced or
discovered, something particularly to be remembered. One grows rich in
memories and associations.

I believe that we should know our native towns much better than most
of us do, and never let ourselves be strangers at home. Particularly
when one's native place is so really interesting as my own!

Above tide-water the two rivers are barred by successive falls. You
hear the noise of them by night in the village like the sound of the
sea, and this fine water power so near the coast, beside a great
salmon fishery famous among the Indians, brought the first English
settlers to the town in 1627. I know some families who still live upon
the lands which their ancestors bought from the Indians, and their
single deed bears the queer barbaric signatures.

There are many things to remind one of these early settlers beside the
old farms upon which they and their descendants have lived for six or
seven generations. One is a quaint fashion of speech which survives
among the long-established neighborhoods, in words and phrases common
in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

One curious thing is the pronunciation of the name of the town:
Berwick by the elder people has always been called _Barvik_, after the
fashion of Danes and Northmen; never _Berrik_, as the word has so long
been pronounced in modern England.

The descendants of the first comers to the town have often been
distinguished in the affairs of their time. No village of its size in
New England could boast, particularly in the early part of the present
century, of a larger number of men and women who kept themselves more
closely in touch with "the best that has been thought and said in the
world."

As I write this, I keep in mind the truth that I have no inheritance
from the ancient worth and dignity of Berwick--or what is now North
Berwick--in Maine. My own people are comparatively late comers. I was
born in a pleasant old colonial house built near 1750, and bought by
my grandfather sixty or seventy years ago, when he brought his
household up the river to Berwick from Portsmouth.

He was a sea-captain, and had run away to sea in his boyhood and led a
most adventurous life, but was quite ready to forsake seafaring in his
early manhood, and at last joined a group of acquaintances who were
engaged in the flourishing West India trade of that time.

For many years he kept and extended his interests in shipping,
building ships and buying large quantities of timber from the
northward and eastward, and sending it down the river and so to sea.

This business was still in existence in my early childhood, and the
manner of its conduct was primitive enough, the barter system still
prevailing by force of necessity. Those who brought the huge sticks of
oak and pine timber for masts and planks were rarely paid in money,
which was of comparatively little use in remote and sparsely settled
districts. When the sleds and long trains of yoked oxen returned from
the river wharves to the stores, they took a lighter load in exchange
of flour and rice and barrels of molasses, of sugar and salt and
cotton cloth and raisins and spices and tea and coffee; in fact, all
the household necessities and luxuries that the northern farms could
not supply.

They liked to have a little money with which to pay their taxes and
their parish dues, if they were so fortunate as to be parishioners,
but they needed very little money besides.

So I came in contact with the up-country people as well as with the
sailors and shipmasters of the other side of the business. I used to
linger about the busy country stores, and listen to the graphic
country talk. I heard the greetings of old friends, and their minute
details of neighborhood affairs, their delightful jokes and
Munchausen-like reports of tracts of timber-pines ever so many feet
through at the butt.

When the great teams came in sight at the head of the village street,
I ran to meet them over the creaking snow, if possible to mount and
ride into town in triumph; but it was not many years before I began to
feel sorry at the sight of every huge lopped stem of oak or pine that
came trailing along after the slow-stepping, frosted oxen. Such trees
are unreplaceable. I only know of one small group now in all this part
of the country of those great timber pines.

My young ears were quick to hear the news of a ship's having come into
port, and I delighted in the elderly captains, with their sea-tanned
faces, who came to report upon their voyages, dining cheerfully and
heartily with my grandfather, who listened eagerly to their exciting
tales of great storms on the Atlantic, and winds that blew them
north-about, and good bargains in Havana, or Barbadoes, or Havre.

I listened as eagerly as any one; this is the charming way in which I
was taught something of a fashion of life already on the wane, and of
that subsistence upon sea and forest bounties which is now almost a
forgotten thing in my part of New England.

Much freight still came and went by the river gundelows and packets
long after the railroad had made such changes, and every village along
its line lost its old feeling of self-sufficiency.

In my home the greater part of the minor furnishings had come over in
the ships from Bristol and Havre. My grandfather seemed to be a
citizen of the whole geography. I was always listening to stories of
three wars from older people--the siege of Louisburg, the Revolution,
in which my father's ancestors had been honest but mistaken Tories,
and in which my mother's, the Gilmans of Exeter, had taken a nobler
part.

As for the War of 1812, "the last war," as everybody called it, it was
a thing of yesterday in the town. One of the famous privateer crews
was gathered along our own river shore, and one member of the crew, in
his old age, had been my father's patient.

The Berwick people were great patriots, and were naturally proud of
the famous Sullivans, who were born in the upper part of the town, and
came to be governors and judge and general.

I often heard about Lafayette, who had made an ever-to-be-remembered
visit in order to see again some old friends who lived in the town.
The name of a famous Colonel Hamilton, the leader in the last century
of the West India trade, and the histories of the old Berwick houses
of Chadbourn and Lord were delightfully familiar, and one of the
traditions of the latter family is more than good enough to be told
again.

There was a Berwick lad who went out on one of the privateers that
sailed from Portsmouth in the Revolution. The vessel was taken by a
British frigate, and the crew put in irons. One day one of the English
midshipmen stood near these prisoners as they took their airing on
deck, and spoke contemptuously about "the rebels."

Young Lord heard what he said, and turned himself about to say boldly,
"If it were not for your rank, sir, I would make you take that back!"

"No matter about my rank," said the gallant middy. "If you can whip
me, you are welcome to."

So they had a "capital good fight," standing over a tea-chest, as
proud tradition tells, and the Berwick sailor was the better fighter
of the two, and won.

The Englishman shook hands, and asked his name and promised not to
forget him--which was certainly most handsome behavior.

When they reached an English port all the prisoners but one were sent
away under guard to join the other American prisoners of war; but the
admiral sent for a young man named Nathan Lord, and told him that his
Grace the Duke of Clarence, son of his Majesty the King, begged for
his pardon, and had left a five-pound note at his disposal.

This was not the first or last Berwick lad who proved himself of good
courage in a fight, but there never was another to whip a future King
of England, and moreover to be liked the better for it by that fine
gentleman.

My grandfather died in my eleventh year, and presently the Civil War
began.

From that time the simple village life was at an end. Its provincial
character was fading out; shipping was at a disadvantage, and there
were no more bronzed sea-captains coming to dine and talk about their
voyages, no more bags of filberts or oranges for the children, or
great red jars of olives; but in these childish years I had come in
contact with many delightful men and women of real individuality and
breadth of character, who had fought the battle of life to good
advantage, and sometimes against great odds.

In these days I was given to long, childish illnesses, and it must be
honestly confessed, to instant drooping if ever I were shut up in
school. I had apparently not the slightest desire for learning, but my
father was always ready to let me be his companion in long drives
about the country.

In my grandfather's business household, my father, unconscious of
tonnage and timber measurement, of the markets of the Windward
Islands or the Mediterranean ports, had taken to his book, as old
people said, and gone to college and begun that devotion to the study
of medicine which only ended with his life.

I have tried already to give some idea of my father's character in my
story of "The Country Doctor," but all that is inadequate to the gifts
and character of the man himself. He gave me my first and best
knowledge of books by his own delight and dependence upon them, and
ruled my early attempts at writing by the severity and simplicity of
his own good taste.

"Don't try to write _about_ people and things, tell them just as they
are!"

How often my young ears heard these words without comprehending them!
But while I was too young and thoughtless to share in an enthusiasm
for Sterne or Fielding, and Smollett or Don Quixote, my mother and
grandmother were leading me into the pleasant ways of "Pride and
Prejudice," and "The Scenes of Clerical Life," and the delightful
stories of Mrs. Oliphant.

The old house was well provided with leather-bound books of a deeply
serious nature, but in my youthful appetite for knowledge, I could
even in the driest find something vital, and in the more entertaining
I was completely lost.

My father had inherited from his father an amazing knowledge of human
nature, and from his mother's French ancestry, that peculiarly French
trait, called _gaieté de coeur_. Through all the heavy responsibilities
and anxieties of his busy professional life, this kept him young at
heart and cheerful. His visits to his patients were often made
perfectly delightful and refreshing to them by his kind heart, and the
charm of his personality.

I knew many of the patients whom he used to visit in lonely inland
farms, or on the seacoast in York and Wells. I used to follow him
about silently, like an undemanding little dog, content to follow at
his heels.

I had no consciousness of watching or listening, or indeed of any
special interest in the country interiors. In fact, when the time came
that my own world of imaginations was more real to me than any other,
I was sometimes perplexed at my father's directing my attention to
certain points of interest in the character or surroundings of our
acquaintances.

I cannot help believing that he recognized, long before I did myself,
in what direction the current of purpose in my life was setting. Now,
as I write my sketches of country life, I remember again and again the
wise things he said, and the sights he made me see. He was only
impatient with affectation and insincerity.

I may have inherited something of my father's and grandfather's
knowledge of human nature, but my father never lost a chance of trying
to teach me to observe. I owe a great deal to his patience with a
heedless little girl given far more to dreams than to accuracy, and
with perhaps too little natural sympathy for the dreams of others.

The quiet village life, the dull routine of farming or mill life,
early became interesting to me. I was taught to find everything that
an imaginative child could ask, in the simple scenes close at hand.

I say these things eagerly, because I long to impress upon every boy
and girl this truth: that it is not one's surroundings that can help
or hinder--it is having a growing purpose in one's life to make the
most of whatever is in one's reach.

If you have but a few good books, learn those to the very heart of
them. Don't for one moment believe that if you had different
surroundings and opportunities you would find the upward path any
easier to climb. One condition is like another, if you have not the
determination and the power to grow in yourself.

I was still a child when I began to write down the things I was
thinking about, but at first I always made rhymes and found prose so
difficult that a school composition was a terror to me, and I do not
remember ever writing one that was worth anything. But in course of
time rhymes themselves became difficult and prose more and more
enticing, and I began my work in life, most happy in finding that I
was to write of those country characters and rural landscapes to which
I myself belonged, and which I had been taught to love with all my
heart.

I was between nineteen and twenty when my first sketch was accepted by
Mr. Howells for the _Atlantic_. I already counted myself as by no
means a new contributor to one or two other magazines--_Young Folks_
and _The Riverside_--but I had no literary friends "at court."

I was very shy about speaking of my work at home, and even sent it to
the magazine under an assumed name, and then was timid about asking
the post-mistress for those mysterious and exciting editorial letters
which she announced upon the post-office list as if I were a stranger
in the town.

       *       *       *       *       *



_The Passing of Sister Barsett_


Mrs. Mercy Crane was of such firm persuasion that a house is meant to
be lived in, that during many years she was never known to leave her
own neat two-storied dwelling-place on the Ridge road. Yet being very
fond of company, in pleasant weather she often sat in the side doorway
looking out on her green yard, where the grass grew short and thick
and was undisfigured even by a path toward the steps. All her faded
green blinds were securely tied together and knotted on the inside by
pieces of white tape; but now and then, when the sun was not too hot
for her carpets, she opened one window at a time for a few hours,
having pronounced views upon the necessity of light and air. Although
Mrs. Crane was acknowledged by her best friends to be a peculiar
person and very set in her ways, she was much respected, and one
acquaintance vied with another in making up for her melancholy
seclusion by bringing her all the news they could gather. She had been
left alone many years before by the sudden death of her husband from
sunstroke, and though she was by no means poor, she had, as some one
said, "such a pretty way of taking a little present that you couldn't
help being pleased when you gave her anything."

For a lover of society, such a life must have had its difficulties at
times, except that the Ridge road was more traveled than any other in
the township, and Mrs. Crane had invented a system of signals, to
which she always resorted in case of wishing to speak to some one of
her neighbors.

The afternoon was wearing late, one day toward the end of summer, and
Mercy Crane sat in her doorway dressed in a favorite old-fashioned
light calico and a small shoulder shawl figured with large palm
leaves. She was making some tatting of a somewhat intricate pattern;
she believed it to be the prettiest and most durable of trimmings, and
having decorated her own wardrobe in the course of unlimited leisure,
she was now making a few yards apiece for each of her more intimate
friends, so that they might have something to remember her by. She
kept glancing up the road as if she expected some one, but the time
went slowly by, until at last a woman appeared to view, walking fast,
and carrying a large bundle in a checked handkerchief.

Then Mercy Crane worked steadily for a short time without looking up,
until the desired friend was crossing the grass between the dusty road
and the steps. The visitor was out of breath, and did not respond to
the polite greeting of her hostess until she had recovered herself to
her satisfaction. Mrs. Crane made her the kind offer of a glass of
water or a few peppermints, but was answered only by a shake of the
head, so she resumed her work for a time until the silence should be
broken.

"I have come from the house of mourning," said Sarah Ellen Dow at
last, unexpectedly.

"You don't tell me that Sister Barsett"--

"She's left us this time, she's really gone," and the excited
news-bringer burst into tears. The poor soul was completely
overwrought; she looked tired and wan, as if she had spent her forces
in sympathy as well as hard work. She felt in her great bundle for a
pocket handkerchief, but was not successful in the search, and finally
produced a faded gingham apron with long, narrow strings, with which
she hastily dried her tears. The sad news appealed also to Mercy
Crane, who looked across to the apple-trees, and could not see them
for a dazzle of tears in her own eyes. The spectacle of Sarah Ellen
Dow going home with her humble workaday possessions, from the house
where she had gone in haste only a few days before to care for a sick
person well known to them both, was a very sad sight.

"You sent word yesterday that you should be returnin' early this
afternoon, and would stop. I presume I received the message as you
gave it?" asked Mrs. Crane, who was tenacious in such matters; "but I
do declare I never looked to hear she was gone."

"She's been failin' right along sence yisterday about this time," said
the nurse. "She's taken no notice to speak of, an' been eatin' the
vally o' nothin', I may say, sence I went there a-Tuesday. Her sisters
both come back yisterday, an' of course I was expected to give up
charge to them. They're used to sickness, an' both havin' such a name
for bein' great housekeepers!"

Sarah Ellen spoke with bitterness, but Mrs. Crane was reminded
instantly of her own affairs. "I feel condemned that I ain't begun my
own fall cleanin' yet," she said, with an ostentatious sigh.

"Plenty o' time to worry about that," her friend hastened to console
her.

"I do desire to have everything decent about my house," resumed Mrs.
Crane. "There's nobody to do anything but me. If I was to be taken
away sudden myself, I shouldn't want to have it said afterwards that
there was wisps under my sofy or--There! I can't dwell on my own
troubles with Sister Barsett's loss right before me. I can't seem to
believe she's really passed away; she always was saying she should go
in some o' these spells, but I deemed her to be troubled with narves."

Sarah Ellen Dow shook her head. "I'm all nerved up myself," she said
brokenly. "I made light of her sickness when I went there first, I'd
seen her what she called dreadful low so many times; but I saw her
looks this morning, an' I begun to believe her at last. Them sisters
o' hers is the master for unfeelin' hearts. Sister Barsett was
a-layin' there yisterday, an' one of 'em was a-settin' right by her
tellin' how difficult 't was for her to leave home, her niece was
goin' to graduate to the high school, an' they was goin' to have a
time in the evening, an' all the exercises promised to be extry
interesting. Poor Sister Barsett knew what she said an' looked at her
with contempt, an' then she give a glance at me an' closed up her eyes
as if 't was for the last time. I know she felt it."

Sarah Ellen Dow was more and more excited by a sense of bitter
grievance. Her rule of the afflicted household had evidently been
interfered with; she was not accustomed to be ignored and set aside at
such times. Her simple nature and uncommon ability found satisfaction
in the exercise of authority, but she had now left her post feeling
hurt and wronged, besides knowing something of the pain of honest
affliction.

"If it hadn't been for esteemin' Sister Barsett as I always have done,
I should have told 'em no, an' held to it, when they asked me to come
back an' watch to-night. 'T ain't for none o' their sakes, but Sister
Barsett was a good friend to me in her way." Sarah Ellen broke down
once more, and felt in her bundle again hastily, but the handkerchief
was again elusive, while a small object fell out upon the doorstep
with a bounce.

"'T ain't nothin' but a little taste-cake I spared out o' the loaf I
baked this mornin'," she explained, with a blush. "I was so shoved out
that I seemed to want to turn my hand to somethin' useful an' feel I
was still doin' for Sister Barsett. Try a little piece, won't you,
Mis' Crane? I thought it seemed light an' good."

They shared the taste-cake with serious enjoyment, and pronounced it
very good indeed when they had finished and shaken the crumbs out of
their laps. "There's nobody but you shall come an' do for me at the
last, if I can have my way about things," said Mercy Crane
impulsively. She meant it for a tribute to Miss Dow's character and
general ability, and as such it was meekly accepted.

"You're a younger person than I be, an' less wore," said Sarah Ellen,
but she felt better now that she had rested, and her conversational
powers seemed to be refreshed by her share of the little cake. "Doctor
Bangs has behaved real pretty, I can say that," she continued
presently in a mournful tone.

"Heretofore, in the sickness of Sister Barsett, I have always felt to
hope certain that she would survive; she's recovered from a sight o'
things in her day. She has been the first to have all the new diseases
that's visited this region. I know she had the spinal mergeetis months
before there was any other case about," observed Mrs. Crane with
satisfaction.

"An' the new throat troubles, all of 'em," agreed Sarah Ellen; "an'
has made trial of all the best patent medicines, an' could tell you
their merits as no one else could in this vicinity. She never was one
that depended on herbs alone, though she considered 'em extremely
useful in some cases. Everybody has their herb, as we know, but I'm
free to say that Sister Barsett sometimes done everything she could to
kill herself with such rovin' ways o' dosin'. She must see it now
she's gone an' can't stuff down no more invigorators." Sarah Ellen Dow
burst out suddenly with this, as if she could no longer contain her
honest opinion.

"There, there! you're all worked up," answered placid Mercy Crane,
looking more interested than ever.

"An' she was dreadful handy to talk religion to other folks, but I've
come to a realizin' sense that religion is somethin' besides opinions.
She an' Elder French has been mostly of one mind, but I don't know's
they've got hold of all the religion there is."

"Why, why, Sarah Ellen!" exclaimed Mrs. Crane, but there was still
something in her tone that urged the speaker to further expression of
her feelings. The good creature was much excited, her face was clouded
with disapproval.

"I ain't forgettin' nothin' about their good points either," she went
on in a more subdued tone, and suddenly stopped.

"Preachin' 'll be done away with soon or late,--preachin' o' Elder
French's kind," announced Mercy Crane, after waiting to see if her
guest did not mean to say anything more. "I should like to read 'em
out that verse another fashion: 'Be ye doers o' the word, not
preachers only,' would hit it about right; but there, it's easy for
all of us to talk. In my early days I used to like to get out to
meetin' regular, because sure as I didn't I had bad luck all the week.
I didn't feel pacified 'less I'd been half a day, but I was out all
day the Sabbath before Mr. Barlow died as he did. So you mean to say
that Sister Barsett's really gone?"

Mrs. Crane's tone changed to one of real concern, and her manner
indicated that she had put the preceding conversation behind her with
decision.

"She was herself to the last," instantly responded Miss Dow. "I see
her put out a thumb an' finger from under the spread an' pinch up a
fold of her sister Deckett's dress, to try an' see if 'twas all wool.
I thought 'twa'n't all wool, myself, an' I know it now by the way she
looked. She was a very knowin' person about materials; we shall miss
poor Mis' Barsett in many ways, she was always the one to consult with
about matters o' dress."

"She passed away easy at the last, I hope?" asked Mrs. Crane with
interest.

"Why, I wa'n't there, if you'll believe it!" exclaimed Sarah Ellen,
flushing, and looking at her friend for sympathy. "Sister Barsett
revived up the first o' the afternoon, an' they sent for Elder French.
She took notice of him, and he exhorted quite a spell, an' then he
spoke o' there being need of air in the room, Mis' Deckett havin'
closed every window, an' she asked me of all folks if I hadn't better
step out; but Elder French come too, an' he was very reasonable, an'
had a word with me about Mis' Deckett an' Mis' Peak an' the way they
was workin' things. I told him right out how they never come near when
the rest of us was havin' it so hard with her along in the spring, but
now they thought she was re'lly goin' to die, they come settlin' down
like a pair o' old crows in a field to pick for what they could get. I
just made up my mind they should have all the care if they wanted it.
It didn't seem as if there was anything more I could do for Sister
Barsett, an' I set there in the kitchen within call an' waited, an'
when I heard 'em sayin', 'There, she's gone, she's gone!' and Mis'
Deckett a-weepin', I put on my bunnit and stepped myself out into the
road. I felt to repent after I had gone but a rod, but I was so worked
up, an' I thought they'd call me back, an' then I was put out because
they didn't, an' so here I be. I can't help it now." Sarah Ellen was
crying again; she and Mrs. Crane could not look at each other.

"Well, you set an' rest," said Mrs. Crane kindly, and with the merest
shadow of disapproval. "You set an' rest, an' by an' by, if you'd feel
better, you could go back an' just make a little stop an' inquire
about the arrangements. I wouldn't harbor no feelin's, if they be
inconsiderate folks. Sister Barsett has often deplored their actions
in my hearing an' wished she had sisters like other folks. With all
her faults she was a useful person an' a good neighbor," mourned Mercy
Crane sincerely. "She was one that always had somethin' interestin' to
tell, an' if it wa'n't for her dyin' spells an' all that sort o'
nonsense, she'd make a figger in the world, she would so. She walked
with an air always, Mis' Barsett did; you'd ask who she was if you
hadn't known, as she passed you by. How quick we forget the outs about
anybody that's gone! But I always feel grateful to anybody that's
friendly, situated as I be. I shall miss her runnin' over. I can seem
to see her now, coming over the rise in the road. But don't you get in
a way of takin' things too hard, Sarah Ellen! You've worked yourself
all to pieces since I saw you last; you're gettin' to be as lean as a
meetin'-house fly. Now, you're comin' in to have a cup o' tea with me,
an' then you'll feel better. I've got some new molasses gingerbread
that I baked this mornin'."

"I do feel beat out, Mis' Crane," acknowledged the poor little soul,
glad of a chance to speak, but touched by this unexpected mark of
consideration. "If I could ha' done as I wanted to I should be feelin'
well enough, but to be set aside an' ordered about, where I'd taken
the lead in sickness so much, an' knew how to deal with Sister Barsett
so well! She might be livin' now, perhaps"--

"Come; we'd better go in, 'tis gettin' damp," and the mistress of the
house rose so hurriedly as to seem bustling. "Don't dwell on Sister
Barsett an' her foolish folks no more; I wouldn't, if I was you."

They went into the front room, which was dim with the twilight of the
half-closed blinds and two great syringa bushes that grew against
them. Sarah Ellen put down her bundle and bestowed herself in the
large, cane-seated rocking-chair. Mrs. Crane directed her to stay
there awhile and rest, and then come out into the kitchen when she got
ready.

A cheerful clatter of dishes was heard at once upon Mrs. Crane's
disappearance. "I hope she's goin' to make one o' her nice
short-cakes, but I don't know's she'll think it quite worth while,"
thought the guest humbly. She desired to go out into the kitchen, but
it was proper behavior to wait until she should be called. Mercy Crane
was not a person with whom one could venture to take liberties.
Presently Sarah Ellen began to feel better. She did not often find
such a quiet place, or the quarter of an hour of idleness in which to
enjoy it, and was glad to make the most of this opportunity. Just now
she felt tired and lonely. She was a busy, unselfish, eager-minded
creature by nature, but now, while grief was sometimes uppermost in
her mind and sometimes a sense of wrong, every moment found her more
peaceful, and the great excitement little by little faded away.

"What a person poor Sister Barsett was to dread growing old so she
couldn't get about. I'm sure I shall miss her as much as anybody,"
said Mrs. Crane, suddenly opening the kitchen door, and letting in an
unmistakable and delicious odor of short-cake that revived still more
the drooping spirits of her guest. "An' a good deal of knowledge has
died with her," she added, coming into the room and seeming to make it
lighter.

"There, she knew a good deal, but she didn't know all, especially o'
doctorin'," insisted Sarah Ellen from the rocking-chair, with an
unexpected little laugh. "She used to lay down the law to me as if I
had neither sense nor experience, but when it came to her bad spells
she'd always send for me. It takes everybody to know everything, but
Sister Barsett was of an opinion that her information was sufficient
for the town. She was tellin' me the day I went there how she disliked
to have old Mis' Doubleday come an' visit with her, an' remarked that
she called Mis' Doubleday very officious. 'Went right down on her
knees an' prayed,' says she. 'Anybody would have thought I was a
heathen!' But I kind of pacified her feelin's, an' told her I supposed
the old lady meant well."

"Did she give away any of her things?--Mis' Barsett, I mean," inquired
Mrs. Crane.

"Not in my hearin'," replied Sarah Ellen Dow. "Except one day, the
first of the week, she told her oldest sister, Mis' Deckett,--'twas
that first day she rode over--that she might have her green quilted
petticoat; you see it was a rainy day, an' Mis' Deckett had complained
o' feelin' thin. She went right up an' got it, and put it on an' wore
it off, an' I'm sure I thought no more about it, until I heard Sister
Barsett groanin' dreadful in the night. I got right up to see what the
matter was, an' what do you think but she was wantin' that petticoat
back, and not thinking any too well o' Nancy Deckett for takin' it
when 'twas offered. 'Nancy never showed no sense o' propriety,' says
Sister Barsett; I just wish you'd heard her go on!

"If she had felt to remember me," continued Sarah Ellen, after they
had laughed a little, "I'd full as soon have some of her nice
crockery-ware. She told me once, years ago, when I was stoppin' to tea
with her an' we were havin' it real friendly, that she should leave me
her Britannia tea-set, but I ain't got it in writin', and I can't say
she's ever referred to the matter since. It ain't as if I had a home
o' my own to keep it in, but I should have thought a great deal of it
for her sake," and the speaker's voice faltered. "I must say that with
all her virtues she never was a first-class housekeeper, but I
wouldn't say it to any but a friend. You never eat no preserves o'
hers that wa'n't commencin' to work, an' you know as well as I how
little forethought she had about putting away her woolens. I sat
behind her once in meetin' when I was stoppin' with the Tremletts and
so occupied a seat in their pew, an' I see between ten an' a dozen
moth millers come workin' out o' her fitch-fur tippet. They was
flutterin' round her bonnet same's 'twas a lamp. I should be mortified
to death to have such a thing happen to me."

"Every housekeeper has her weak point; I've got mine as much as
anybody else," acknowledged Mercy Crane with spirit, "but you never
see no moth millers come workin' out o' me in a public place."

"Ain't your oven beginning to get overhet?" anxiously inquired Sarah
Ellen Dow, who was sitting more in the draught, and could not bear to
have any accident happen to the supper. Mrs. Crane flew to a
short-cake's rescue, and presently called her guest to the table.

The two women sat down to deep and brimming cups of tea. Sarah Ellen
noticed with great gratification that her hostess had put on two of
the best tea-cups and some citron-melon preserves. It was not an
every-day supper. She was used to hard fare, poor, hard-working Sarah
Ellen, and this handsome social attention did her good. Sister Crane
rarely entertained a friend, and it would be a pleasure to speak of
the tea-drinking for weeks to come.

"You've put yourself out quite a consid'able for me," she
acknowledged. "How pretty these cups is! You oughtn't to use 'em so
common as for me. I wish I had a home I could really call my own to
ask you to, but 't ain't never been so I could. Sometimes I wonder
what's goin' to become o' me when I get so I'm past work. Takin' care
o' sick folks an' bein' in houses where there's a sight goin' on an'
everybody in a hurry kind of wears on me now I'm most a-gittin' in
years. I was wishin' the other day that I could get with some
comfortable kind of a sick person, where I could live right along
quiet as other folks do, but folks never sends for me 'less they're
drove to it. I ain't laid up anything to really depend upon."

The situation appealed to Mercy Crane, well to do as she was and not
burdened with responsibilities. She stirred uneasily in her chair, but
could not bring herself to the point of offering Sarah Ellen the home
she coveted.

"Have some hot tea," she insisted, in a matter of fact tone, and Sarah
Ellen's face, which had been lighted by a sudden eager hopefulness,
grew dull and narrow again.

"Plenty, plenty, Mis' Crane," she said sadly, "'tis beautiful
tea,--you always have good tea;" but she could not turn her thoughts
from her own uncertain future. "None of our folks has ever lived to be
a burden," she said presently, in a pathetic tone, putting down her
cup. "My mother was thought to be doing well until four o'clock an'
was dead at ten. My Aunt Nancy came to our house well at twelve
o'clock an' died that afternoon; my father was sick but ten days.
There was dear sister Betsy, she did go in consumption, but 'twa'n't
an expensive sickness."

"I've thought sometimes about you, how you'd get past rovin' from
house to house one o' these days. I guess your friends will stand by
you." Mrs. Crane spoke with unwonted sympathy, and Sarah Ellen's heart
leaped with joy.

"You're real kind," she said simply. "There's nobody I set so much by.
But I shall miss Sister Barsett, when all's said an' done. She's asked
me many a time to stop with her when I wasn't doin' nothin'. We all
have our failin's, but she was a friendly creatur'. I sha'n't want to
see her laid away."

"Yes, I was thinkin' a few minutes ago that I shouldn't want to look
out an' see the funeral go by. She's one o' the old neighbors. I
s'pose I shall have to look, or I shouldn't feel right afterward,"
said Mrs. Crane mournfully. "If I hadn't got so kind of housebound,"
she added with touching frankness, "I'd just as soon go over with you
an' offer to watch this night."

"'T would astonish Sister Barsett so I don't know but she'd return."
Sarah Ellen's eyes danced with amusement; she could not resist her own
joke, and Mercy Crane herself had to smile.

"Now I must be goin', or 'twill be dark," said the guest, rising and
sighing after she had eaten her last crumb of gingerbread. "Yes, thank
ye, you're real good, I will come back if I find I ain't wanted. Look
what a pretty sky there is!" and the two friends went to the side door
and stood together in a moment of affectionate silence, looking out
toward the sunset across the wide fields. The country was still with
that deep rural stillness which seems to mean the absence of humanity.
Only the thrushes were singing far away in the walnut woods beyond the
orchard, and some crows were flying over and cawed once loudly, as if
they were speaking to the women at the door.

Just as the friends were parting, after most grateful acknowledgments
from Sarah Ellen Dow, some one came driving along the road in a hurry
and stopped.

"Who's that with you, Mis' Crane?" called one of their near neighbors.

"It's Sarah Ellen Dow," answered Mrs. Crane. "What's the matter?"

"I thought so, but I couldn't rightly see. Come, they are in a peck o'
trouble up to Sister Barsett's, wonderin' where you be," grumbled the
man. "They can't do nothin' with her; she's drove off everybody an'
keeps a-screechin' for you. Come, step along, Sarah Ellen, do!"

"Sister Barsett!" exclaimed both the women. Mercy Crane sank down upon
the doorstep, but Sarah Ellen stepped out upon the grass all of a
tremble, and went toward the wagon. "They said this afternoon that
Sister Barsett was gone," she managed to say. "What did they mean?"

"Gone where?" asked the impatient neighbor. "I expect 'twas one of her
spells. She's come to; they say she wants somethin' hearty for her
tea. Nobody can't take one step till you get there, neither."

Sarah Ellen was still dazed; she returned to the doorway, where Mercy
Crane sat shaking with laughter. "I don't know but we might as well
laugh as cry," she said in an aimless sort of way. "I know you too
well to think you're going to repeat a single word. Well, I'll get my
bonnet an' start; I expect I've got considerable to cope with, but I'm
well rested. Good-night, Mis' Crane, I certain did have a beautiful
tea, whatever the future may have in store."

She wore a solemn expression as she mounted into the wagon in haste
and departed, but she was far out of sight when Mercy Crane stopped
laughing and went into the house.

       *       *       *       *       *



Decoration Day


I.

A week before the thirtieth of May, three friends--John Stover and
Henry Merrill and Asa Brown--happened to meet on Saturday evening at
Barton's store at the Plains. They were ready to enjoy this idle hour
after a busy week. After long easterly rains, the sun had at last come
out bright and clear, and all the Barlow farmers had been planting.
There was even a good deal of ploughing left to be done, the season
was so backward.

The three middle-aged men were old friends. They had been
school-fellows, and when they were hardly out of their boyhood the war
came on, and they enlisted in the same company, on the same day, and
happened to march away elbow to elbow. Then came the great experience
of a great war, and the years that followed their return from the
South had come to each almost alike. These men might have been members
of the same rustic household, they knew each other's history so well.

They were sitting on a low wooden bench at the left of the store door
as you went in. People were coming and going on their Saturday night
errands,--the post-office was in Barton's store,--but the friends
talked on eagerly, without being interrupted, except by an occasional
nod of recognition. They appeared to take no notice at all of the
neighbors whom they saw oftenest. It was a most beautiful evening; the
two great elms were almost half in leaf over the blacksmith's shop
which stood across the wide road. Farther along were two small
old-fashioned houses and the old white church, with its pretty belfry
of four arched sides and a tiny dome at the top. The large cockerel on
the vane was pointing a little south of west, and there was still
light enough to make it shine bravely against the deep blue eastern
sky. On the western side of the road, near the store, were the
parsonage and the storekeeper's modern house, which had a French roof
and some attempt at decoration, which the long-established Barlow
people called gingerbread-work, and regarded with mingled pride and
disdain. These buildings made the tiny village called Barlow Plains.
They stood in the middle of a long narrow strip of level ground. They
were islanded by green fields and pastures. There were hills beyond;
the mountains themselves seemed very near. Scattered about on the hill
slopes were farmhouses, which stood so far apart, with their clusters
of out-buildings, that each looked lonely, and the pine woods above
seemed to besiege them all. It was lighter on the uplands than it was
in the valley, where the three men sat on their bench, with their
backs to the store and the western sky.

"Well, here we be 'most into June, an' I 'ain't got a bush-bean above
ground," lamented Henry Merrill.

"Your land's always late, ain't it? But you always catch up with the
rest on us," Asa Brown consoled him. "I've often observed that your
land, though early planted, was late to sprout. I view it there's a
good week's difference betwixt me an' Stover an' your folks, but come
first o' July we all even up."

"'Tis just so," said John Stover, taking his pipe out of his mouth, as
if he had a good deal more to say, and then replacing it, as if he had
changed his mind.

"Made it extry hard having that long wet spell. Can't none on us take
no day off this season," said Asa Brown; but nobody thought it worth
his while to respond to such evident truth.

"Next Saturday'll be the thirtieth o' May--that's Decoration Day,
ain't it?--come round again. Lord! how the years slip by after you git
to be forty-five an' along there!" said Asa again. "I s'pose some o'
our folks'll go over to Alton to see the procession, same's usual.
I've got to git one o' them small flags to stick on our Joel's grave,
an' Mis' Dexter always counts on havin' some for Harrison's lot. I
calculate to get 'em somehow. I must make time to ride over, but I
don't know where the time's comin' from out o' next week. I wish the
women folks would tend to them things. There's the spot where Eb
Munson an' John Tighe lays in the poor-farm lot, an' I did mean
certain to buy flags for 'em last year an' year before, but I went an'
forgot it. I'd like to have folks that rode by notice 'em for once, if
they was town paupers. Eb Munson was as darin' a man as ever stepped
out to tuck o' drum."

"So he was," said John Stover, taking his pipe with decision and
knocking out the ashes. "Drink was his ruin; but I wan't one that
could be harsh with Eb, no matter what he done. He worked hard long's
he could, too; but he wan't like a sound man, an' I think he took
somethin' first not so much 'cause he loved it, but to kind of keep
his strength up so's he could work, an' then, all of a sudden, rum
clinched with him an' threw him. Eb was talkin' 'long o' me one day
when he was about half full, an' says he, right out, 'I wouldn't have
fell to this state,' says he, 'if I'd had me a home an' a little
fam'ly; but it don't make no difference to nobody, and it's the best
comfort I seem to have, an' I ain't goin' to do without it. I'm ailin'
all the time,' says he, 'an' if I keep middlin' full, I make out to
hold my own an' to keep along o' my work.' I pitied Eb. I says to him,
'You ain't goin' to bring no disgrace on us old army boys, be you,
Eb?' an' he says no, he wan't. I think if he'd lived to get one o'
them big fat pensions, he'd had it easier. Eight dollars a month paid
his board, while he'd pick up what cheap work he could, an' then he
got so that decent folks didn't seem to want the bother of him, an' so
he come on the town."

"There was somethin' else to it," said Henry Merrill soberly. "Drink
come natural to him, 'twas born in him, I expect, an' there wan't
nobody that could turn the divil out same's they did in Scriptur'. His
father an' his gran'father was drinkin' men; but they was kind-hearted
an' good neighbors, an' never set out to wrong nobody. 'Twas the
custom to drink in their day; folks was colder an' lived poorer in
early times, an' that's how most of 'em kept a-goin'. But what stove
Eb all up was his disapp'intment with Marthy Peck--her forsakin' of
him an' marryin' old John Down whilst Eb was off to war. I've always
laid it up ag'inst her."

"So've I," said Asa Brown. "She didn't use the poor fellow right. I
guess she was full as well off, but it's one thing to show judgment,
an' another thing to have heart."

There was a long pause; the subject was too familiar to need further
comment.

"There ain't no public sperit here in Barlow," announced Asa Brown,
with decision. "I don't s'pose we could ever get up anything for
Decoration Day. I've felt kind of 'shamed, but it always comes in a
busy time; 'twan't no time to have it, anyway, right in late
plantin'."

"'Tain't no use to look for public sperit 'less you've got some
yourself," observed John Stover soberly; but something had pleased him
in the discouraged suggestion. "Perhaps we could mark the day this
year. It comes on a Saturday; that ain't nigh so bad as bein' in the
middle of the week."

Nobody made any answer, and presently he went on,--

"There was a time along back when folks was too nigh the war-time to
give much thought to the bigness of it. The best fellows was them that
had stayed to home an' worked their trades an' laid up money; but I
don't know's it's so now."

"Yes, the fellows that stayed at home got all the fat places, an' when
we come back we felt dreadful behind the times," grumbled Asa Brown.
"I remember how 'twas."

"They begun to call us heroes an' old stick-in-the-mud just about the
same time," resumed Stover, with a chuckle. "We wa'n't no hand for
strippin' woodland nor even tradin' hosses them first few years. I
don' know why 'twas we were so beat out. The best most on us could do
was to sag right on to the old folks. Father he never wanted me to go
to the war,--'twas partly his Quaker breed,--an' he used to be
dreadful mortified with the way I hung round down here to the store
an' loafed round a-talkin' about when I was out South, an' arguin'
with folks that didn't know nothin', about what the generals done.
There! I see me now just as he see me then; but after I had my
boy-strut out, I took holt o' the old farm 'long o' father, an' I've
made it bounce. Look at them old meadows an' see the herd's grass that
come off of 'em last year! I ain't ashamed o' my place now, if I did
go to the war."

"It all looks a sight bigger to me now than it did then," said Henry
Merrill. "Our goin' to the war, I refer to. We didn't sense it no more
than other folks did. I used to be sick o' hearin' their stuff about
patriotism and lovin' your country, an' them pieces o' poetry women
folks wrote for the papers on the old flag, an' our fallen heroes, an'
them things; they didn't seem to strike me in the right place; but I
tell ye it kind o' starts me now every time I come on the flag
sudden,--it does so. A spell ago--'long in the fall, I guess it was--I
was over to Alton, an' there was a fire company paradin'. They'd got
the prize at a fair, an' had just come home on the cars, an' I heard
the band; so I stepped to the front o' the store where me an' my woman
was tradin', an' the company felt well, an' was comin' along the
street 'most as good as troops. I see the old flag a-comin', kind of
blowin' back, an' it went all over me. Somethin' worked round in my
throat; I vow I come near cryin'. I was glad nobody see me."

"I'd go to war again in a minute," declared Stover, after an
expressive pause; "but I expect we should know better what we was
about. I don' know but we've got too many rooted opinions now to make
us the best o' soldiers."

"Martin Tighe an' John Tighe was considerable older than the rest, and
they done well," answered Henry Merrill quickly. "We three was the
youngest of any, but we did think at the time we knew the most."

"Well, whatever you may say, that war give the country a great start,"
said Asa Brown. "I tell ye we just begin to see the scope on't. There
was my cousin, you know, Dan'l Evins, that stopped with us last
winter; he was tellin' me that one o' his coastin' trips he was into
the port o' Beaufort lo'din' with yaller-pine lumber, an' he roved
into an old buryin'-ground there is there, an' he see a stone that had
on it some young Southern fellow's name that was killed in the war,
an' under it was, 'He died for his country.' Dan'l knowed how I used
to feel about them South Car'lina goings on, an' I did feel kind o'
red an' ugly for a minute, an' then somethin' come over me, an' I
says, 'Well, I don' know but what the poor chap did, Dan Evins, when
you come to view it all round.'"

The other men made no answer.

"Le's see what we can do this year. I don't care if we be a poor
han'ful," urged Henry Merrill. "The young folks ought to have the
good of it; I'd like to have my boys see somethin' different. Le's get
together what men there is. How many's left, anyhow? I know there was
thirty-seven went from old Barlow, three-months' men an' all."

"There can't be over eight now, countin' out Martin Tighe; he can't
march," said Stover. "No, 'tain't worth while." But the others did not
notice his disapproval.

"There's nine in all," announced Asa Brown, after pondering and
counting two or three times on his fingers. "I can't make us no more.
I never could carry figur's in my head."

"I make nine," said Merrill. "We'll have Martin ride, an' Jesse Dean
too, if he will. He's awful lively on them canes o' his. An' there's
Jo Wade with his crutch; he's amazin' spry for a short distance. But
we can't let 'em go far afoot; they're decripped men. We'll make 'em
all put on what they've got left o' their uniforms, an' we'll scratch
round an' have us a fife an' drum, an' make the best show we can."

"Why, Martin Tighe's boy, the next to the oldest, is an excellent hand
to play the fife!" said John Stover, suddenly growing enthusiastic.
"If you two are set on it, let's have a word with the minister
to-morrow, an' see what he says. Perhaps he'll give out some kind of a
notice. You have to have a good many bunches o' flowers. I guess we'd
better call a meetin', some few on us, an' talk it over first o' the
week. 'Twouldn't be no great of a range for us to take to march from
the old buryin'-ground at the meetin'-house here up to the poor-farm
an' round by Deacon Elwell's lane, so's to notice them two stones he
set up for his boys that was sunk on the man-o'-war. I expect they
notice stones same's if the folks laid there, don't they?"

He spoke wistfully. The others knew that Stover was thinking of the
stone he had set up to the memory of his only brother, whose nameless
grave had been made somewhere in the Wilderness.

"I don't know but what they'll be mad if we don't go by every house in
town," he added anxiously, as they rose to go home. "'Tis a terrible
scattered population in Barlow to favor with a procession."

It was a mild starlit night. The three friends took their separate
ways presently, leaving the Plains road and crossing the fields by
foot-paths toward their farms.


II.

The week went by, and the next Saturday morning brought fair weather.
It was a busy morning on the farms--like any other; but long before
noon the teams of horses and oxen were seen going home from work in
the fields, and everybody got ready in haste for the great event of
the afternoon. It was so seldom that any occasion roused public
interest in Barlow that there was an unexpected response, and the
green before the old white meeting-house was covered with country
wagons and groups of people, whole families together, who had come on
foot. The old soldiers were to meet in the church; at half past one
the procession was to start, and on its return the minister was to
make an address in the old burying-ground. John Stover had been first
lieutenant in the war, so he was made captain of the day. A man from
the next town had offered to drum for them, and Martin Tighe's proud
boy was present with his fife. He had a great longing--strange enough
in that peaceful, sheep-raising neighborhood--to go into the army; but
he and his elder brother were the mainstay of their crippled father,
and he could not be spared from the large household until a younger
brother could take his place; so that all his fire and military zeal
went for the present into martial tunes, and the fife was a
safety-valve for his enthusiasm.

The army men were used to seeing each other; everybody knew everybody
in the little country town of Barlow; but when one comrade after
another appeared in what remained of his accoutrements, they felt the
day to be greater than they had planned, and the simple ceremony
proved more solemn than any one expected. They could make no use of
their every-day jokes and friendly greetings. Their old blue coats
and tarnished army caps looked faded and antiquated enough. One of
the men had nothing left but his rusty canteen and rifle; but these he
carried like sacred emblems. He had worn out all his army clothes long
ago, because he was too poor when he was discharged to buy any others.

When the door of the church opened, the veterans were not abashed by
the size and silence of the crowd. They came walking two by two down
the steps, and took their places in line as if there were nobody
looking on. Their brief evolutions were like a mystic rite. The two
lame men refused to do anything but march as best they could; but poor
Martin Tighe, more disabled than they, was brought out and lifted into
Henry Merrill's best wagon, where he sat up, straight and soldierly,
with his boy for driver. There was a little flag in the whip-socket
before him, which flapped gayly in the breeze. It was such a long time
since he had been seen out-of-doors that everybody found him a great
object of interest, and paid him much attention. Even those who were
tired of being asked to contribute to his support, who resented the
fact of his having a helpless wife and great family; who always
insisted that with his little pension and hopeless lameness, his
fingerless left hand and failing sight, he could support himself and
his household if he chose,--even those persons came forward now to
greet him handsomely and with large approval. To be sure, he enjoyed
the conversation of idlers, and his wife had a complaining way that
was the same as begging, especially since her boys began to grow up
and be of some use; and there were one or two near neighbors who never
let them really want; so other people, who had cares enough of their
own, could excuse themselves for forgetting him the year round, and
even call him shiftless. But there were none to look askance at Martin
Tighe on Decoration Day, as he sat in the wagon, with his bleached
face like a captive's, and his thin, afflicted body. He stretched out
his whole hand impartially to those who had remembered and those who
had forgotten both his courage at Fredericksburg and his sorry need in
Barlow.

Henry Merrill had secured the engine company's large flag in Alton,
and now carried it proudly. There were eight men in line, two by two,
and marching a good bit apart, to make their line the longer. The fife
and drum struck up gallantly together, and the little procession moved
away slowly along the country road. It gave an unwonted touch of color
to the landscape,--the scarlet, the blue, between the new-ploughed
fields and budding roadside thickets, between the wide dim ranges of
the mountains, under the great white clouds of the spring sky. Such
processions grow more pathetic year by year; it will not be so long
now before wondering children will have seen the last. The aging faces
of the men, the renewed comradeship, the quick beat of the hearts that
remember, the tenderness of those who think upon old sorrows,--all
these make the day a lovelier and a sadder festival. So men's hearts
were stirred, they knew not why, when they heard the shrill fife and
the incessant drum along the quiet Barlow road, and saw the handful of
old soldiers marching by. Nobody thought of them as familiar men and
neighbors alone,--they were a part of that army which had saved its
country. They had taken their lives in their hands and gone out to
fight for their country, plain John Stover and Jesse Dean and the
rest. No matter if every other day in the year they counted for little
or much, whether they were lame-footed and lagging, whether their
farms were of poor soil or rich.

The little troop went in slender line along the road; the crowded
country wagons and all the people who went afoot followed Martin
Tighe's wagon as if it were a great gathering at a country funeral.
The route was short, and the long, straggling line marched slowly; it
could go no faster than the lame men could walk.

In one of the houses by the roadside an old woman sat by a window, in
an old-fashioned black gown, and clean white cap with a prim border
which bound her thin, sharp features closely. She had been for a long
time looking out eagerly over the snowberry and cinnamon-rose bushes;
her face was pressed close to the pane, and presently she caught sight
of the great flag as it came down the road.

"Let me see 'em! I've got to see 'em go by!" she pleaded, trying to
rise from her chair alone when she heard the fife, and the women
helped her to the door, and held her so that she could stand and wait.
She had been an old woman when the war began; she had sent sons and
grandsons to the field; they were all gone now. As the men came by,
she straightened her bent figure with all the vigor of youth. The fife
and drum stopped suddenly; the colors lowered. She did not heed that,
but her old eyes flashed and then filled with tears to see the flag
going to salute the soldiers' graves. "Thank ye, boys; thank ye!" she
cried, in her quavering voice, and they all cheered her. The cheer
went back along the straggling line for old Grandmother Dexter,
standing there in her front door between the lilacs. It was one of the
great moments of the day.

The few old people at the poor-house, too, were waiting to see the
show. The keeper's young son, knowing that it was a day of festivity,
and not understanding exactly why, had put his toy flag out of the
gable window, and there it showed against the gray clapboards like a
gay flower. It was the only bit of decoration along the veterans' way,
and they stopped and saluted it before they broke ranks and went out
to the field corner beyond the poor-farm barn to the bit of ground
that held the paupers' unmarked graves. There was a solemn silence
while Asa Brown went to the back of Tighe's wagon, where such light
freight was carried, and brought two flags, and he and John Stover
planted them straight in the green sod. They knew well enough where
the right graves were, for these had been made in a corner by
themselves, with unwonted sentiment. And so Eben Munson and John Tighe
were honored like the rest, both by their flags and by great and
unexpected nosegays of spring flowers, daffies and flowering currant
and red tulips, which lay on the graves already. John Stover and his
comrade glanced at each other curiously while they stood singing, and
then laid their own bunches of lilacs down and came away.

Then something happened that almost none of the people in the wagons
understood. Martin Tighe's boy, who played the fife, had studied well
his part, and on his poor short-winded instrument now sounded taps as
well as he could. He had heard it done once in Alton at a soldier's
funeral. The plaintive notes called sadly over the fields, and echoed
back from the hills. The few veterans could not look at each other;
their eyes brimmed up with tears; they could not have spoken. Nothing
called back old army days like that. They had a sudden vision of the
Virginian camp, the hillside dotted white with tents, the twinkling
lights in other camps, and far away the glow of smouldering fires.
They heard the bugle call from post to post; they remembered the
chilly winter night, the wind in the pines, the laughter of the men.
Lights out! Martin Tighe's boy sounded it again sharply. It seemed as
if poor Eb Munson and John Tighe must hear it too in their narrow
graves.

The procession went on, and stopped here and there at the little
graveyards on the farms, leaving their bright flags to flutter through
summer and winter rains and snows, and to bleach in the wind and
sunshine. When they returned to the church, the minister made an
address about the war, and every one listened with new ears. Most of
what he said was familiar enough to his listeners; they were used to
reading those phrases about the results of the war, the glorious
future of the South, in their weekly newspapers; but there never had
been such a spirit of patriotism and loyalty waked in Barlow as was
waked that day by the poor parade of the remnant of the Barlow
soldiers. They sent flags to all the distant graves, and proud were
those households who claimed kinship with valor, and could drive or
walk away with their flags held up so that others could see that they,
too, were of the elect.


III.

It is well that the days are long in the last of May, but John Stover
had to hurry more than usual with his evening work, and then, having
the longest distance to walk, he was much the latest comer to the
Plains store, where his two triumphant friends were waiting for him
impatiently on the bench. They also had made excuse of going to the
post-office and doing an unnecessary errand for their wives, and were
talking together so busily that they had gathered a group about them
before the store. When they saw Stover coming, they rose hastily and
crossed the road to meet him, as if they were a committee in special
session. They leaned against the post-and-board fence, after they had
shaken hands with each other solemnly.

"Well, we've had a great day, ain't we, John?" asked Henry Merrill.
"You did lead off splendid. We've done a grand thing, now, I tell you.
All the folks say we've got to keep it up every year. Everybody had to
have a talk about it as I went home. They say they had no idea we
should make such a show. Lord! I wish we'd begun while there was more
of us!"

"That han'some flag was the great feature," said Asa Brown generously.
"I want to pay my part for hirin' it. An' then folks was glad to see
poor old Martin made o' some consequence."

"There was half a dozen said to me that another year they was goin' to
have flags out, and trim up their places somehow or 'nother. Folks has
feelin' enough, but you've got to rouse it," said Merrill.

"I have thought o' joinin' the Grand Army over to Alton time an'
again, but it's a good ways to go, an' then the expense has been o'
some consideration," Asa continued. "I don't know but two or three
over there. You know, most o' the Alton men nat'rally went out in the
rigiments t' other side o' the State line, an' they was in other
battles, an' never camped nowheres nigh us. Seems to me we ought to
have home feelin' enough to do what we can right here."

"The minister says to me this afternoon that he was goin' to arrange
an' have some talks in the meetin'-house next winter, an' have some of
us tell where we was in the South; an' one night 'twill be about camp
life, an' one about the long marches, an' then about the
battles,--that would take some time,--an' tell all we could about the
boys that was killed, an' their record, so they wouldn't be forgot. He
said some of the folks must have the letters we wrote home from the
front, an' we could make out quite a history of us. I call Elder
Dallas a very smart man; he'd planned it all out a'ready, for the
benefit o' the young folks, he said," announced Henry Merrill, in a
tone of approval.

"I s'pose there ain't none of us but could add a little somethin',"
answered John Stover modestly. "'Twould re'lly learn the young folks
a good deal. I should be scared numb to try an' speak from the pulpit.
That ain't what the Elder means, is it? Now I was one that had a good
chance to see somethin' o' Washin'ton. I shook hands with President
Lincoln, an' I always think I'm worth lookin' at for that, if I ain't
for nothin' else. 'Twas that time I was just out o' hospit'l, an' able
to crawl about some. I've often told you how 'twas I met him, an' he
stopped an' shook hands an' asked where I'd been at the front an' how
I was gettin' along with my hurts. Well, we'll see how 'tis when
winter comes. I never thought I had no gift for public speakin', 'less
'twas for drivin' cattle or pollin' the house town-meetin' days. Here!
I've got somethin' in mind. You needn't speak about it if I tell it to
ye," he added suddenly. "You know all them han'some flowers that was
laid on to Eb Munson's grave an' Tighe's? I mistrusted you thought the
same thing I did by the way you looked. They come from Marthy Down's
front yard. My woman told me when we got home that she knew 'em in a
minute; there wa'n't nobody in town had that kind o' red flowers but
her. She must ha' kind o' harked back to the days when she was Marthy
Peck. She must have come over with 'em after dark, or else dreadful
early in the mornin'."

Henry Merrill cleared his throat. "There ain't nothin' half-way 'bout
Mis' Down," he said. "I wouldn't ha' spoken 'bout this 'less you had
led right on to it; but I overtook her when I was gittin' towards home
this afternoon, an' I see by her looks she was worked up a good deal;
but we talked about how well things had gone off, an' she wanted to
know what expenses we'd been put to, an' I told her; and she said
she'd give five dollars any day I'd stop in for it. An' then she spoke
right out. 'I'm alone in the world,' says she, 'and I've got somethin'
to do with, an' I'd like to have a plain stone put up to Eb Munson's
grave, with the number of his rigiment on it, an' I'll pay the bill.
'Tain't out o' Mr. Down's money,' she says; ''tis mine, an' I want you
to see to it.' I said I would, but we'd made a plot to git some o'
them soldiers' headstones that's provided by the government. 'Twas a
shame it had been overlooked so long. 'No,' says she; 'I'm goin' to
pay for Eb's myself.' An' I told her there wouldn't be no objection.
Don't ary one o' you speak about it. 'Twouldn't be fair. She was real
well-appearin'. I never felt to respect Marthy so before."

"We was kind o' hard on her sometimes, but folks couldn't help it.
I've seen her pass Eb right by in the road an' never look at him when
he first come home," said John Stover.

"If she hadn't felt bad, she wouldn't have cared one way or t'other,"
insisted Henry Merrill. "'Tain't for us to judge. Sometimes folks has
to get along in years before they see things fair. Come; I must be
goin' home. I'm tired as an old dog."

"It seemed kind o' natural to be steppin' out together again. Strange
we three got through with so little damage, an' so many dropped round
us," said Asa Brown. "I've never been one mite sorry I went out in old
A Company. I was thinkin' when I was marchin' to-day, though, that we
should all have to take to the wagons before long an' do our marchin'
on wheels, so many of us felt kind o' stiff. There's one thing,--folks
won't never say again that we can't show no public sperit here in old
Barlow."

       *       *       *       *       *



The Flight of Betsey Lane


I.

One windy morning in May, three old women sat together near an open
window in the shed chamber of Byfleet Poor-house. The wind was from
the northwest, but their window faced the southeast, and they were
only visited by an occasional pleasant waft of fresh air. They were
close together, knee to knee, picking over a bushel of beans, and
commanding a view of the dandelion-starred, green yard below, and of
the winding, sandy road that led to the village, two miles away. Some
captive bees were scolding among the cobwebs of the rafters overhead,
or thumping against the upper panes of glass; two calves were bawling
from the barnyard, where some of the men were at work loading a
dump-cart and shouting as if every one were deaf. There was a
cheerful feeling of activity, and even an air of comfort, about the
Byfleet Poor-house. Almost every one was possessed of a most
interesting past, though there was less to be said about the future.
The inmates were by no means distressed or unhappy; many of them
retired to this shelter only for the winter season, and would go out
presently, some to begin such work as they could still do, others to
live in their own small houses; old age had impoverished most of them
by limiting their power of endurance; but far from lamenting the fact
that they were town charges, they rather liked the change and
excitement of a winter residence on the poor-farm. There was a
sharp-faced, hard-worked young widow with seven children, who was an
exception to the general level of society, because she deplored the
change in her fortunes. The older women regarded her with suspicion,
and were apt to talk about her in moments like this, when they
happened to sit together at their work.

The three bean-pickers were dressed alike in stout brown ginghams,
checked by a white line, and all wore great faded aprons of blue
drilling, with sufficient pockets convenient to the right hand. Miss
Peggy Bond was a very small, belligerent-looking person, who wore a
huge pair of steel-bowed spectacles, holding her sharp chin well up in
air, as if to supplement an inadequate nose. She was more than half
blind, but the spectacles seemed to face upward instead of square
ahead, as if their wearer were always on the sharp lookout for birds.
Miss Bond had suffered much personal damage from time to time, because
she never took heed where she planted her feet, and so was always
tripping and stubbing her bruised way through the world. She had
fallen down hatchways and cellarways, and stepped composedly into deep
ditches and pasture brooks; but she was proud of stating that she was
upsighted, and so was her father before her. At the poor-house, where
an unusual malady was considered a distinction, upsightedness was
looked upon as a most honorable infirmity. Plain rheumatism, such as
afflicted Aunt Lavina Dow, whose twisted hands found even this light
work difficult and tiresome,--plain rheumatism was something of
every-day occurrence, and nobody cared to hear about it. Poor Peggy
was a meek and friendly soul, who never put herself forward; she was
just like other folks, as she always loved to say, but Mrs. Lavina Dow
was a different sort of person altogether, of great dignity and,
occasionally, almost aggressive behavior. The time had been when she
could do a good day's work with anybody: but for many years now she
had not left the town-farm, being too badly crippled to work; she had
no relations or friends to visit, but from an innate love of authority
she could not submit to being one of those who are forgotten by the
world. Mrs. Dow was the hostess and social lawgiver here, where she
remembered every inmate and every item of interest for nearly forty
years, besides an immense amount of town history and biography for
three or four generations back.

She was the dear friend of the third woman, Betsey Lane; together they
led thought and opinion--chiefly opinion--and held sway, not only over
Byfleet Poor-farm, but also the selectmen and all others in authority.
Betsey Lane had spent most of her life as aid-in-general to the
respected household of old General Thornton. She had been much trusted
and valued, and, at the breaking up of that once large and flourishing
family, she had been left in good circumstances, what with legacies
and her own comfortable savings; but by sad misfortune and lavish
generosity everything had been scattered, and after much illness,
which ended in a stiffened arm and more uncertainty, the good soul had
sensibly decided that it was easier for the whole town to support her
than for a part of it. She had always hoped to see something of the
world before she died; she came of an adventurous, seafaring stock,
but had never made a longer journey than to the towns of Danby and
Northville, thirty miles away.

They were all old women; but Betsey Lane, who was sixty-nine, and
looked much older, was the youngest. Peggy Bond was far on in the
seventies, and Mrs. Dow was at least ten years older. She made a great
secret of her years; and as she sometimes spoke of events prior to the
Revolution with the assertion of having been an eye-witness, she
naturally wore an air of vast antiquity. Her tales were an
inexpressible delight to Betsey Lane, who felt younger by twenty years
because her friend and comrade was so unconscious of chronological
limitations.

The bushel basket of cranberry beans was within easy reach, and each
of the pickers had filled her lap from it again and again. The shed
chamber was not an unpleasant place in which to sit at work, with its
traces of seed corn hanging from the brown cross-beams, its spare
churns, and dusty loom, and rickety wool-wheels, and a few bits of old
furniture. In one far corner was a wide board of dismal use and
suggestion, and close beside it an old cradle. There was a battered
chest of drawers where the keeper of the poor-house kept his
garden-seeds, with the withered remains of three seed cucumbers
ornamenting the top. Nothing beautiful could be discovered, nothing
interesting, but there was something usable and homely about the
place. It was the favorite and untroubled bower of the bean-pickers,
to which they might retreat unmolested from the public apartments of
this rustic institution.

Betsey Lane blew away the chaff from her handful of beans. The spring
breeze blew the chaff back again, and sifted it over her face and
shoulders. She rubbed it out of her eyes impatiently, and happened to
notice old Peggy holding her own handful high, as if it were an
oblation, and turning her queer, up-tilted head this way and that, to
look at the beans sharply, as if she were first cousin to a hen.

"There, Miss Bond, 'tis kind of botherin' work for you, ain't it?"
Betsey inquired compassionately.

"I feel to enjoy it, anything that I can do my own way so," responded
Peggy. "I like to do my part. Ain't that old Mis' Fales comin' up the
road? It sounds like her step."

The others looked, but they were not far-sighted, and for a moment
Peggy had the advantage. Mrs. Fales was not a favorite.

"I hope she ain't comin' here to put up this spring. I guess she won't
now, it's gettin' so late," said Betsey Lane. "She likes to go rovin'
soon as the roads is settled."

"'Tis Mis' Fales!" said Peggy Bond, listening with solemn anxiety.
"There, do let's pray her by!"

"I guess she's headin' for her cousin's folks up Beech Hill way," said
Betsey presently. "If she'd left her daughter's this mornin', she'd
have got just about as far as this. I kind o' wish she had stepped in
just to pass the time o' day, long's she wa'n't going to make no
stop."

There was a silence as to further speech in the shed chamber; and even
the calves were quiet in the barnyard. The men had all gone away to
the field where corn-planting was going on. The beans clicked steadily
into the wooden measure at the pickers' feet. Betsey Lane began to
sing a hymn, and the others joined in as best they might, like
autumnal crickets; their voices were sharp and cracked, with now and
then a few low notes of plaintive tone. Betsey herself could sing
pretty well, but the others could only make a kind of accompaniment.
Their voices ceased altogether at the higher notes.

"Oh my! I wish I had the means to go to the Centennial," mourned
Betsey Lane, stopping so suddenly that the others had to go on
croaking and shrilling without her for a moment before they could
stop. "It seems to me as if I can't die happy 'less I do," she added;
"I ain't never seen nothin' of the world, an' here I be."

"What if you was as old as I be?" suggested Mrs. Dow pompously.
"You've got time enough yet, Betsey; don't you go an' despair. I
knowed of a woman that went clean round the world four times when she
was past eighty, an' enjoyed herself real well. Her folks followed the
sea; she had three sons an' a daughter married,--all shipmasters, and
she'd been with her own husband when they was young. She was left a
widder early, and fetched up her family herself,--a real stirrin',
smart woman. After they'd got married off, an' settled, an' was doing
well, she come to be lonesome; and first she tried to stick it out
alone, but she wa'n't one that could; an' she got a notion she hadn't
nothin' before her but her last sickness, and she wa'n't a person
that enjoyed havin' other folks do for her. So one on her boys--I
guess 'twas the oldest--said he was going to take her to sea; there
was ample room, an' he was sailin' a good time o' year for the Cape o'
Good Hope an' way up to some o' them tea-ports in the Chiny Seas. She
was all high to go, but it made a sight o' talk at her age; an' the
minister made it a subject o' prayer the last Sunday, and all the
folks took a last leave; but she said to some she'd fetch 'em home
something real pritty, and so did. An' then they come home t'other
way, round the Horn, an' she done so well, an' was such a sight o'
company, the other child'n was jealous, an' she promised she'd go a
v'y'ge long o' each on 'em. She was as sprightly a person as ever I
see; an' could speak well o' what she'd seen."

"Did she die to sea?" asked Peggy, with interest.

"No, she died to home between v'y'ges, or she'd gone to sea again. I
was to her funeral. She liked her son George's ship the best; 'twas
the one she was going on to Callao. They said the men aboard all
called her 'gran'ma'am,' an' she kep' 'em mended up, an' would go
below and tend to 'em if they was sick. She might 'a' been alive an'
enjoyin' of herself a good many years but for the kick of a cow; 'twas
a new cow out of a drove, a dreadful unruly beast."

Mrs. Dow stopped for breath, and reached down for a new supply of
beans; her empty apron was gray with soft chaff. Betsey Lane, still
pondering on the Centennial, began to sing another verse of her hymn,
and again the old women joined her. At this moment some strangers came
driving round into the yard from the front of the house. The turf was
soft, and our friends did not hear the horses' steps. Their voices
cracked and quavered; it was a funny little concert, and a lady in an
open carriage just below listened with sympathy and amusement.


II.

"Betsey! Betsey! Miss Lane!" a voice called eagerly at the foot of the
stairs that led up from the shed. "Betsey! There's a lady here wants
to see you right away."

Betsey was dazed with excitement, like a country child who knows the
rare pleasure of being called out of school. "Lor', I ain't fit to go
down, be I?" she faltered, looking anxiously at her friends; but Peggy
was gazing even nearer to the zenith than usual, in her excited effort
to see down into the yard, and Mrs. Dow only nodded somewhat
jealously, and said that she guessed 'twas nobody would do her any
harm. She rose ponderously, while Betsey hesitated, being, as they
would have said, all of a twitter. "It is a lady, certain," Mrs. Dow
assured her; "'tain't often there's a lady comes here."

"While there was any of Mis' Gen'ral Thornton's folks left, I wa'n't
without visits from the gentry," said Betsey Lane, turning back
proudly at the head of the stairs, with a touch of old-world pride and
sense of high station. Then she disappeared, and closed the door
behind her at the stair-foot with a decision quite unwelcome to the
friends above.

"She needn't 'a' been so dreadful 'fraid anybody was goin' to listen.
I guess we've got folks to ride an' see us, or had once, if we hain't
now," said Miss Peggy Bond, plaintively.

"I expect 't was only the wind shoved it to," said Aunt Lavina.
"Betsey is one that gits flustered easier than some. I wish 'twas
somebody to take her off an' give her a kind of a good time; she's
young to settle down 'long of old folks like us. Betsey's got a notion
o' rovin' such as ain't my natur', but I should like to see her
satisfied. She'd been a very understandin' person, if she had the
advantages that some does."

"'Tis so," said Peggy Bond, tilting her chin high. "I suppose you
can't hear nothin' they're saying? I feel my hearin' ain't up to whar
it was. I can hear things close to me well as ever; but there, hearin'
ain't everything; 'tain't as if we lived where there was more goin' on
to hear. Seems to me them folks is stoppin' a good while."

"They surely be," agreed Lavina Dow.

"I expect it's somethin' particular. There ain't none of the Thornton
folks left, except one o' the gran'darters, an' I've often heard
Betsey remark that she should never see her more, for she lives to
London. Strange how folks feels contented in them strayaway places off
to the ends of the airth."

The flies and bees were buzzing against the hot windowpanes; the
handfuls of beans were clicking into the brown wooden measure. A bird
came and perched on the windowsill, and then flitted away toward the
blue sky. Below, in the yard, Betsey Lane stood talking with the lady.
She had put her blue drilling apron over her head, and her face was
shining with delight.

"Lor', dear," she said, for at least the third time, "I remember ye
when I first see ye; an awful pritty baby you was, an' they all said
you looked just like the old gen'ral. Be you goin' back to foreign
parts right away?"

"Yes, I'm going back; you know that all my children are there. I wish
I could take you with me for a visit," said the charming young guest.
"I'm going to carry over some of the pictures and furniture from the
old house; I didn't care half so much for them when I was younger as I
do now. Perhaps next summer we shall all come over for a while. I
should like to see my girls and boys playing under the pines."

"I wish you re'lly was livin' to the old place," said Betsey Lane. Her
imagination was not swift; she needed time to think over all that was
being told her, and she could not fancy the two strange houses across
the sea. The old Thornton house was to her mind the most delightful
and elegant in the world.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" asked Mrs. Strafford
kindly,--"anything that I can do for you myself, before I go away? I
shall be writing to you, and sending some pictures of the children,
and you must let me know how you are getting on."

"Yes, there is one thing, darlin'. If you could stop in the village
an' pick me out a pritty, little, small lookin'-glass, that I can keep
for my own an' have to remember you by. 'Tain't that I want to set me
above the rest o' the folks, but I was always used to havin' my own
when I was to your grandma's. There's very nice folks here, some on
'em, and I'm better off than if I was able to keep house; but sence
you ask me, that's the only thing I feel cropin' about. What be you
goin' right back for? ain't you goin' to see the great fair to
Pheladelphy, that everybody talks about?"

"No," said Mrs. Strafford, laughing at this eager and almost
convicting question. "No; I'm going back next week. If I were, I
believe that I should take you with me. Good-by, dear old Betsey; you
make me feel as if I were a little girl again; you look just the
same."

For full five minutes the old woman stood out in the sunshine, dazed
with delight, and majestic with a sense of her own consequence. She
held something tight in her hand, without thinking what it might be;
but just as the friendly mistress of the poor-farm came out to hear
the news, she tucked the roll of money into the bosom of her brown
gingham dress. "'Twas my dear Mis' Katy Strafford," she turned to say
proudly. "She come way over from London; she's been sick; they thought
the voyage would do her good. She said most the first thing she had on
her mind was to come an' find me, and see how I was, an' if I was
comfortable; an' now she's goin' right back. She's got two splendid
houses; an' said how she wished I was there to look after things,--she
remembered I was always her gran'ma's right hand. Oh, it does so carry
me back, to see her! Seems if all the rest on 'em must be there
together to the old house. There, I must go right up an' tell Mis' Dow
an' Peggy."

"Dinner's all ready; I was just goin' to blow the horn for the
men-folks," said the keeper's wife. "They'll be right down. I expect
you've got along smart with them beans,--all three of you together;"
but Betsey's mind roved so high and so far at that moment that no
achievements of bean-picking could lure it back.


III.

The long table in the great kitchen soon gathered its company of waifs
and strays,--creatures of improvidence and misfortune, and the
irreparable victims of old age. The dinner was satisfactory, and there
was not much delay for conversation. Peggy Bond and Mrs. Dow and
Betsey Lane always sat together at one end, with an air of putting the
rest of the company below the salt. Betsey was still flushed with
excitement; in fact, she could not eat as much as usual, and she
looked up from time to time expectantly, as if she were likely to be
asked to speak of her guest; but everybody was hungry, and even Mrs.
Dow broke in upon some attempted confidences by asking inopportunely
for a second potato. There were nearly twenty at the table, counting
the keeper and his wife and two children, noisy little persons who had
come from school with the small flock belonging to the poor widow, who
sat just opposite our friends. She finished her dinner before any one
else, and pushed her chair back; she always helped with the
housework,--a thin, sorry, bad-tempered-looking poor soul, whom grief
had sharpened instead of softening. "I expect you feel too fine to set
with common folks," she said enviously to Betsey.

"Here I be a-settin'," responded Betsey calmly. "I don' know's I
behave more unbecomin' than usual." Betsey prided herself upon her
good and proper manners; but the rest of the company, who would have
liked to hear the bit of morning news, were now defrauded of that
pleasure. The wrong note had been struck; there was a silence after
the clatter of knives and plates, and one by one the cheerful town
charges disappeared. The bean-picking had been finished, and there was
a call for any of the women who felt like planting corn; so Peggy
Bond, who could follow the line of hills pretty fairly, and Betsey
herself, who was still equal to anybody at that work, and Mrs. Dow,
all went out to the field together. Aunt Lavina labored slowly up the
yard, carrying a light splint-bottomed kitchen chair and her
knitting-work, and sat near the stone wall on a gentle rise, where she
could see the pond and the green country, and exchange a word with her
friends as they came and went up and down the rows. Betsey vouchsafed
a word now and then about Mrs. Strafford, but you would have thought
that she had been suddenly elevated to Mrs. Strafford's own cares and
the responsibilities attending them, and had little in common with her
old associates. Mrs. Dow and Peggy knew well that these high-feeling
times never lasted long, and so they waited with as much patience as
they could muster. They were by no means without that true tact which
is only another word for unselfish sympathy.

The strip of corn land ran along the side of a great field; at the
upper end of it was a field-corner thicket of young maples and walnut
saplings, the children of a great nut-tree that marked the boundary.
Once, when Betsey Lane found herself alone near this shelter at the
end of her row, the other planters having lagged behind beyond the
rising ground, she looked stealthily about, and then put her hand
inside her gown, and for the first time took out the money that Mrs.
Strafford had given her. She turned it over and over with an
astonished look: there were new bank-bills for a hundred dollars.
Betsey gave a funny little shrug of her shoulders, came out of the
bushes, and took a step or two on the narrow edge of turf, as if she
were going to dance; then she hastily tucked away her treasure, and
stepped discreetly down into the soft harrowed and hoed land, and
began to drop corn again, five kernels to a hill. She had seen the top
of Peggy Bond's head over the knoll, and now Peggy herself came
entirely into view, gazing upward to the skies, and stumbling more or
less, but counting the corn by touch and twisting her head about
anxiously to gain advantage over her uncertain vision. Betsey made a
friendly, inarticulate little sound as they passed; she was thinking
that somebody said once that Peggy's eyesight might be remedied if she
could go to Boston to the hospital; but that was so remote and
impossible an undertaking that no one had ever taken the first step.
Betsey Lane's brown old face suddenly worked with excitement, but in a
moment more she regained her usual firm expression, and spoke
carelessly to Peggy as she turned and came alongside.

The high spring wind of the morning had quite fallen; it was a lovely
May afternoon. The woods about the field to the northward were full of
birds, and the young leaves scarcely hid the solemn shapes of a
company of crows that patiently attended the corn-planting. Two of the
men had finished their hoeing, and were busy with the construction of
a scarecrow; they knelt in the furrows, chuckling, and looking over
some forlorn, discarded garments. It was a time-honored custom to make
the scarecrow resemble one of the poor-house family; and this year
they intended to have Mrs. Lavina Dow protect the field in effigy;
last year it was the counterfeit of Betsey Lane who stood on guard,
with an easily recognized quilted hood and the remains of a valued
shawl that one of the calves had found airing on a fence and chewed to
pieces. Behind the men was the foundation for this rustic attempt at
statuary,--an upright stake and bar in the form of a cross. This stood
on the highest part of the field; and as the men knelt near it, and
the quaint figures of the corn-planters went and came, the scene gave
a curious suggestion of foreign life. It was not like New England; the
presence of the rude cross appealed strangely to the imagination.


IV.

Life flowed so smoothly, for the most part, at the Byfleet Boor-farm,
that nobody knew what to make, later in the summer, of a strange
disappearance. All the elder inmates were familiar with illness and
death, and the poor pomp of a town-pauper's funeral. The comings and
goings and the various misfortunes of those who composed this strange
family, related only through its disasters, hardly served for the
excitement and talk of a single day. Now that the June days were at
their longest, the old people were sure to wake earlier than ever; but
one morning, to the astonishment of every one, Betsey Lane's bed was
empty; the sheets and blankets, which were her own, and guarded with
jealous care, were carefully folded and placed on a chair not too near
the window, and Betsey had flown. Nobody had heard her go down the
creaking stairs. The kitchen door was unlocked, and the old watchdog
lay on the step outside in the early sunshine, wagging his tail and
looking wise, as if he were left on guard and meant to keep the
fugitive's secret.

"Never knowed her to do nothin' afore 'thout talking it over a
fortnight, and paradin' off when we could all see her," ventured a
spiteful voice. "Guess we can wait till night to hear 'bout it."

Mrs. Dow looked sorrowful and shook her head. "Betsey had an aunt on
her mother's side that went and drownded of herself; she was a
pritty-appearing woman as ever you see."

"Perhaps she's gone to spend the day with Decker's folks," suggested
Peggy Bond. "She always takes an extra early start; she was speakin'
lately o' going up their way;" but Mrs. Dow shook her head with a most
melancholy look. "I'm impressed that something's befell her," she
insisted. "I heard her a-groanin' in her sleep. I was wakeful the
forepart o' the night,--'tis very unusual with me, too."

"'Twa'n't like Betsey not to leave us any word," said the other old
friend, with more resentment than melancholy. They sat together almost
in silence that morning in the shed chamber. Mrs. Dow was sorting and
cutting rags, and Peggy braided them into long ropes, to be made into
mats at a later date. If they had only known where Betsey Lane had
gone, they might have talked about it until dinner-time at noon; but
failing this new subject, they could take no interest in any of their
old ones. Out in the field the corn was well up, and the men were
hoeing. It was a hot morning in the shed chamber, and the woolen rags
were dusty and hot to handle.


V.

Byfleet people knew each other well, and when this mysteriously absent
person did not return to the town-farm at the end of a week, public
interest became much excited; and presently it was ascertained that
Betsey Lane was neither making a visit to her friends the Deckers on
Birch Hill, nor to any nearer acquaintances; in fact, she had
disappeared altogether from her wonted haunts. Nobody remembered to
have seen her pass, hers had been such an early flitting; and when
somebody thought of her having gone away by train, he was laughed at
for forgetting that the earliest morning train from South Byfleet, the
nearest station, did not start until long after eight o'clock; and if
Betsey had designed to be one of the passengers, she would have
started along the road at seven, and been seen and known of all women.
There was not a kitchen in that part of Byfleet that did not have
windows toward the road. Conversation rarely left the level of the
neighborhood gossip: to see Betsey Lane, in her best clothes, at that
hour in the morning, would have been the signal for much exercise of
imagination; but as day after day went by without news, the curiosity
of those who knew her best turned slowly into fear, and at last Peggy
Bond again gave utterance to the belief that Betsey had either gone
out in the early morning and put an end to her life, or that she had
gone to the Centennial. Some of the people at table were moved to loud
laughter,--it was at supper-time on a Sunday night,--but others
listened with great interest.

"She never'd put on her good clothes to drownd herself," said the
widow. "She might have thought 'twas good as takin' 'em with her,
though. Old folks has wandered off an' got lost in the woods afore
now."

Mrs. Dow and Peggy resented this impertinent remark, but deigned to
take no notice of the speaker. "She wouldn't have wore her best
clothes to the Centennial, would she?" mildly inquired Peggy, bobbing
her head toward the ceiling. "'Twould be a shame to spoil your best
things in such a place. An' I don't know of her havin' any money;
there's the end o' that."

"You're bad as old Mis' Bland, that used to live neighbor to our
folks," said one of the old men. "She was dreadful precise; an' she so
begretched to wear a good alapaca dress that was left to her, that it
hung in a press forty year, an' baited the moths at last."

"I often seen Mis' Bland a-goin' in to meetin' when I was a young
girl," said Peggy Bond approvingly. "She was a good-appearin' woman,
an' she left property."

"Wish she'd left it to me, then," said the poor soul opposite,
glancing at her pathetic row of children: but it was not good manners
at the farm to deplore one's situation, and Mrs. Dow and Peggy only
frowned. "Where do you suppose Betsey can be?" said Mrs. Dow, for the
twentieth time. "She didn't have no money. I know she ain't gone far,
if it's so that she's yet alive. She's b'en real pinched all the
spring."

"Perhaps that lady that come one day give her some," the keeper's wife
suggested mildly.

"Then Betsey would have told me," said Mrs. Dow, with injured dignity.


VI.

On the morning of her disappearance, Betsey rose even before the pewee
and the English sparrow, and dressed herself quietly, though with
trembling hands, and stole out of the kitchen door like a plunderless
thief. The old dog licked her hand and looked at her anxiously; the
tortoise-shell cat rubbed against her best gown, and trotted away up
the yard, then she turned anxiously and came after the old woman,
following faithfully until she had to be driven back. Betsey was used
to long country excursions afoot. She dearly loved the early morning;
and finding that there was no dew to trouble her, she began to follow
pasture paths and short cuts across the fields, surprising here and
there a flock of sleepy sheep, or a startled calf that rustled out
from the bushes. The birds were pecking their breakfast from bush and
turf; and hardly any of the wild inhabitants of that rural world were
enough alarmed by her presence to do more than flutter away if they
chanced to be in her path. She stepped along, light-footed and eager
as a girl, dressed in her neat old straw bonnet and black gown, and
carrying a few belongings in her best bundle-handkerchief, one that
her only brother had brought home from the East Indies fifty years
before. There was an old crow perched as sentinel on a small, dead
pine-tree, where he could warn friends who were pulling up the
sprouted corn in a field close by; but he only gave a contemptuous caw
as the adventurer appeared, and she shook her bundle at him in
revenge, and laughed to see him so clumsy as he tried to keep his
footing on the twigs.

"Yes, I be," she assured him. "I'm a-goin' to Pheladelphy, to the
Centennial, same's other folks. I'd jest as soon tell ye's not, old
crow;" and Betsey laughed aloud in pleased content with herself and
her daring, as she walked along. She had only two miles to go to the
station at South Byfleet, and she felt for the money now and then, and
found it safe enough. She took great pride in the success of her
escape, and especially in the long concealment of her wealth. Not a
night had passed since Mrs. Strafford's visit that she had not slept
with the roll of money under her pillow by night, and buttoned safe
inside her dress by day. She knew that everybody would offer advice
and even commands about the spending or saving of it; and she brooked
no interference.

The last mile of the foot-path to South Byfleet was along the railway
track; and Betsey began to feel in haste, though it was still nearly
two hours to train time. She looked anxiously forward and back along
the rails every few minutes, for fear of being run over; and at last
she caught sight of an engine that was apparently coming toward her,
and took flight into the woods before she could gather courage to
follow the path again. The freight train proved to be at a standstill,
waiting at a turnout; and some of the men were straying about, eating
their early breakfast comfortably in this time of leisure. As the old
woman came up to them, she stopped too, for a moment of rest and
conversation.

"Where be ye goin'?" she asked pleasantly; and they told her. It was
to the town where she had to change cars and take the great through
train; a point of geography which she had learned from evening talks
between the men at the farm.

"What'll ye carry me there for?"

"We don't run no passenger cars," said one of the young fellows,
laughing. "What makes you in such a hurry?"

"I'm startin' for Pheladelphy, an' it's a gre't ways to go."

"So't is; but you're consid'able early, if you're makin' for the
eight-forty train. See here! you haven't got a needle an' thread 'long
of you in that bundle, have you? If you'll sew me on a couple o'
buttons, I'll give ye a free ride. I'm in a sight o' distress, an'
none o' the fellows is provided with as much as a bent pin."

"You poor boy! I'll have you seen to, in half a minute. I'm troubled
with a stiff arm, but I'll do the best I can."

The obliging Betsey seated herself stiffly on the slope of the
embankment, and found her thread and needle with utmost haste. Two of
the train-men stood by and watched the careful stitches, and even
offered her a place as spare brakeman, so that they might keep her
near; and Betsey took the offer with considerable seriousness, only
thinking it necessary to assure them that she was getting most too old
to be out in all weathers. An express went by like an earthquake, and
she was presently hoisted on board an empty box-car by two of her new
and flattering acquaintances, and found herself before noon at the end
of the first stage of her journey, without having spent a cent, and
furnished with any amount of thrifty advice. One of the young men,
being compassionate of her unprotected state as a traveler, advised
her to find out the widow of an uncle of his in Philadelphia, saying
despairingly that he couldn't tell her just how to find the house; but
Miss Betsey Lane said that she had an English tongue in her head, and
should be sure to find whatever she was looking for. This unexpected
incident of the freight train was the reason why everybody about the
South Byfleet station insisted that no such person had taken passage
by the regular train that same morning, and why there were those who
persuaded themselves that Miss Betsey Lane was probably lying at the
bottom of the poor-farm pond.


VII.

"Land sakes!" said Miss Betsey Lane, as she watched a Turkish person
parading by in his red fez, "I call the Centennial somethin' like the
day o' judgment! I wish I was goin' to stop a month, but I dare say
'twould be the death o' my poor old bones."

She was leaning against the barrier of a patent pop-corn
establishment, which had given her a sudden reminder of home, and of
the winter nights when the sharp-kerneled little red and yellow ears
were brought out, and Old Uncle Eph Flanders sat by the kitchen stove,
and solemnly filled a great wooden chopping-tray for the refreshment
of the company. She had wandered and loitered and looked until her
eyes and head had grown numb and unreceptive; but it is only
unimaginative persons who can be really astonished. The imagination
can always outrun the possible and actual sights and sounds of the
world; and this plain old body from Byfleet rarely found anything rich
and splendid enough to surprise her. She saw the wonders of the West
and the splendors of the East with equal calmness and satisfaction;
she had always known that there was an amazing world outside the
boundaries of Byfleet. There was a piece of paper in her pocket on
which was marked, in her clumsy handwriting, "If Betsey Lane should
meet with accident, notify the selectmen of Byfleet;" but having made
this slight provision for the future, she had thrown herself boldly
into the sea of strangers, and then had made the joyful discovery that
friends were to be found at every turn.

There was something delightfully companionable about Betsey; she had a
way of suddenly looking up over her big spectacles with a reassuring
and expectant smile, as if you were going to speak to her, and you
generally did. She must have found out where hundreds of people came
from, and whom they had left at home, and what they thought of the
great show, as she sat on a bench to rest, or leaned over the railings
where free luncheons were afforded by the makers of hot waffles and
molasses candy and fried potatoes; and there was not a night when she
did not return to her lodgings with a pocket crammed with samples of
spool cotton and nobody knows what. She had already collected small
presents for almost everybody she knew at home, and she was such a
pleasant, beaming old country body, so unmistakably appreciative and
interested, that nobody ever thought of wishing that she would move
on. Nearly all the busy people of the Exhibition called her either
Aunty or Grandma at once, and made little pleasures for her as best
they could. She was a delightful contrast to the indifferent, stupid
crowd that drifted along, with eyes fixed at the same level, and
seeing, even on that level, nothing for fifty feet at a time. "What be
you making here, dear?" Betsey Lane would ask joyfully, and the most
perfunctory guardian hastened to explain. She squandered money as she
had never had the pleasure of doing before, and this hastened the day
when she must return to Byfleet. She was always inquiring if there
were any spectacle-sellers at hand, and received occasional
directions; but it was a difficult place for her to find her way about
in, and the very last day of her stay arrived before she found an
exhibitor of the desired sort, an oculist and instrument-maker.

"I called to get some specs for a friend that's upsighted," she
gravely informed the salesman, to his extreme amusement. "She's
dreadful troubled, and jerks her head up like a hen a-drinkin'. She's
got a blur a-growin' an' spreadin', an' sometimes she can see out to
one side on't, and more times she can't."

"Cataracts," said a middle-aged gentleman at her side; and Betsey Lane
turned to regard him with approval and curiosity.

"'Tis Miss Peggy Bond I was mentioning, of Byfleet Poor-farm," she
explained. "I count on gettin' some glasses to relieve her trouble, if
there's any to be found."

"Glasses won't do her any good," said the stranger. "Suppose you come
and sit down on this bench, and tell me all about it. First, where is
Byfleet?" and Betsey gave the directions at length.

"I thought so," said the surgeon. "How old is this friend of yours?"

Betsey cleared her throat decisively, and smoothed her gown over her
knees as if it were an apron; then she turned to take a good look at
her new acquaintance as they sat on the rustic bench together. "Who be
you, sir, I should like to know?" she asked, in a friendly tone.

"My name's Dunster."

"I take it you're a doctor," continued Betsey, as if they had
overtaken each other walking from Byfleet to South Byfleet on a summer
morning.

"I'm a doctor; part of one at least," said he. "I know more or less
about eyes; and I spend my summers down on the shore at the mouth of
your river; some day I'll come up and look at this person. How old is
she?"

"Peggy Bond is one that never tells her age; 'tain't come quite up to
where she'll begin to brag of it, you see," explained Betsey
reluctantly; "but I know her to be nigh to seventy-six, one way or
t'other. Her an' Mrs. Mary Ann Chick was same year's child'n, and
Peggy knows I know it, an' two or three times when we've be'n in the
buryin'-ground where Mary Ann lays an' has her dates right on her
headstone, I couldn't bring Peggy to take no sort o' notice. I will
say she makes, at times, a convenience of being upsighted. But there,
I feel for her,--everybody does; it keeps her stubbin' an' trippin'
against everything, beakin' and gazin' up the way she has to."

"Yes, yes," said the doctor, whose eyes were twinkling. "I'll come and
look after her, with your town doctor, this summer,--some time in the
last of July or first of August."

"You'll find occupation," said Betsey, not without an air of
patronage. "Most of us to the Byfleet Farm has got our ails, now I
tell ye. You ain't got no bitters that'll take a dozen years right off
an ol' lady's shoulders?"

The busy man smiled pleasantly, and shook his head as he went away.
"Dunster," said Betsey to herself, soberly committing the new name to
her sound memory. "Yes, I mustn't forget to speak of him to the
doctor, as he directed. I do' know now as Peggy would vally herself
quite so much accordin' to, if she had her eyes fixed same as other
folks. I expect there wouldn't been a smarter woman in town, though,
if she'd had a proper chance. Now I've done what I set to do for her,
I do believe, an' 'twa'n't glasses, neither. I'll git her a pritty
little shawl with that money I laid aside. Peggy Bond ain't got a
pritty shawl. I always wanted to have a real good time, an' now I'm
havin' it."


VIII.

Two or three days later, two pathetic figures might have been seen
crossing the slopes of the poor-farm field, toward the low shores of
Byfield pond. It was early in the morning, and the stubble of the
lately mown grass was wet with rain and hindering to old feet. Peggy
Bond was more blundering and liable to stray in the wrong direction
than usual; it was one of the days when she could hardly see at all.
Aunt Lavina Dow was unusually clumsy of movement, and stiff in the
joints; she had not been so far from the house for three years. The
morning breeze filled the gathers of her wide gingham skirt, and
aggravated the size of her unwieldy figure. She supported herself with
a stick, and trusted beside to the fragile support of Peggy's arm.
They were talking together in whispers.

"Oh, my sakes!" exclaimed Peggy, moving her small head from side to
side. "Hear you wheeze, Mis' Dow! This may be the death o' you; there,
do go slow! You set here on the sidehill, an' le' me go try if I can
see."

"It needs more eyesight than you've got," said Mrs. Dow, panting
between the words. "Oh! to think how spry I was in my young days, an'
here I be now, the full of a door, an' all my complaints so aggravated
by my size. 'T is hard! 'tis hard! but I'm a-doin' of all this for
pore Betsey's sake. I know they've all laughed, but I look to see her
ris' to the top o' the pond this day,--'tis just nine days since she
departed; an' say what they may, I know she hove herself in. It run in
her family; Betsey had an aunt that done just so, an' she ain't be'n
like herself, a-broodin' an' hivin' away alone, an' nothin' to say to
you an' me that was always sich good company all together. Somethin'
sprung her mind, now I tell ye, Mis' Bond."

"I feel to hope we sha'n't find her, I must say," faltered Peggy. It
was plain that Mrs. Dow was the captain of this doleful expedition. "I
guess she ain't never thought o' drowndin' of herself, Mis' Dow; she's
gone off a-visitin' way over to the other side o' South Byfleet; some
thinks she's gone to the Centennial even now!"

"She hadn't no proper means, I tell ye," wheezed Mrs. Dow indignantly;
"an' if you prefer that others should find her floatin' to the top
this day, instid of us that's her best friends, you can step back to
the house."

They walked on in aggrieved silence. Peggy Bond trembled with
excitement, but her companion's firm grasp never wavered, and so they
came to the narrow, gravelly margin and stood still. Peggy tried in
vain to see the glittering water and the pond-lilies that starred it;
she knew that they must be there; once, years ago, she had caught
fleeting glimpses of them, and she never forgot what she had once
seen. The clear blue sky overhead, the dark pine-woods beyond the
pond, were all clearly pictured in her mind. "Can't you see nothin'?"
she faltered; "I believe I'm wuss'n upsighted this day. I'm going to
be blind."

"No," said Lavina Dow solemnly; "no, there ain't nothin' whatever,
Peggy. I hope to mercy she ain't"--

"Why, whoever'd expected to find you 'way out here!" exclaimed a brisk
and cheerful voice. There stood Betsey Lane herself, close behind
them, having just emerged from a thicket of alders that grew close by.
She was following the short way homeward from the railroad.

"Why, what's the matter, Mis' Dow? You ain't overdoin', be ye? an'
Peggy's all of a flutter. What in the name o' natur' ails ye?"

"There ain't nothin' the matter, as I knows on," responded the leader
of this fruitless expedition. "We only thought we'd take a stroll this
pleasant mornin'," she added, with sublime self-possession. "Where've
you be'n, Betsey Lane?"

"To Pheladelphy, ma'am," said Betsey, looking quite young and gay, and
wearing a townish and unfamiliar air that upheld her words. "All ought
to go that can; why, you feel's if you'd be'n all round the world. I
guess I've got enough to think of and tell ye for the rest o' my days.
I've always wanted to go somewheres. I wish you'd be'n there, I do so.
I've talked with folks from Chiny an' the back o' Pennsylvany; and I
see folks way from Australy that 'peared as well as anybody; an' I see
how they made spool cotton, an' sights o' other things; an' I spoke
with a doctor that lives down to the beach in the summer, an' he
offered to come up 'long in the first of August, an' see what he can
do for Peggy's eyesight. There was di'monds there as big as pigeon's
eggs; an' I met with Mis' Abby Fletcher from South Byfleet depot; an'
there was hogs there that weighed risin' thirteen hunderd"--

"I want to know," said Mrs. Lavina Dow and Peggy Bond, together.

"Well, 'twas a great exper'ence for a person," added Lavina, turning
ponderously, in spite of herself, to give a last wistful look at the
smiling waters of the pond.

"I don't know how soon I be goin' to settle down," proclaimed the
rustic sister of Sindbad. "What's for the good o' one's for the good
of all. You just wait till we're setting together up in the old shed
chamber! You know, my dear Mis' Katy Strafford give me a han'some
present o' money that day she come to see me; and I'd be'n a-dreamin'
by night an' day o' seein' that Centennial; and when I come to think
on't I felt sure somebody ought to go from this neighborhood, if 'twas
only for the good o' the rest; and I thought I'd better be the one. I
wa'n't goin' to ask the selec'men neither. I've come back with
one-thirty-five in money, and I see everything there, an' I fetched ye
all a little somethin'; but I'm full o' dust now, an' pretty nigh beat
out. I never see a place more friendly than Pheladelphy; but 't ain't
natural to a Byfleet person to be always walkin' on a level. There,
now, Peggy, you take my bundle-handkercher and the basket, and let
Mis' Dow sag on to me. I 'll git her along twice as easy."

With this the small elderly company set forth triumphant toward the
poor-house, across the wide green field.

       *       *       *       *       *



_The Gray Mills of Farley_


The mills of Farley were close together by the river, and the gray
houses that belonged to them stood, tall and bare, alongside. They had
no room for gardens or even for little green side-yards where one
might spend a summer evening. The Corporation, as this compact village
was called by those who lived in it, was small but solid; you fancied
yourself in the heart of a large town when you stood mid-way of one of
its short streets, but from the street's end you faced a wide green
farming country. On spring and summer Sundays, groups of the young
folks of the Corporation would stray out along the country roads, but
it was very seldom that any of the older people went. On the whole, it
seemed as if the closer you lived to the mill-yard gate, the better.
You had more time to loiter on a summer morning, and there was less
distance to plod through the winter snows and rains. The last stroke
of the bell saw almost everybody within the mill doors.

There were always fluffs of cotton in the air like great white bees
drifting down out of the picker chimney. They lodged in the cramped
and dingy elms and horse-chestnuts which a former agent had planted
along the streets, and the English sparrows squabbled over them in
eaves-corners and made warm, untidy great nests that would have
contented an Arctic explorer. Somehow the Corporation homes looked
like make-believe houses or huge stage-properties, they had so little
individuality or likeness to the old-fashioned buildings that made
homes for people out on the farms. There was more homelikeness in the
sparrows' nests, or even the toylike railroad station at the end of
the main street, for that was warmed by steam, and the station-master's
wife, thriftily taking advantage of the steady heat, brought her
house-plants there and kept them all winter on the broad window-sills.

The Corporation had followed the usual fortunes of New England
manufacturing villages. Its operatives were at first eager young men
and women from the farms near by, these being joined quickly by pale
English weavers and spinners, with their hearty-looking wives and rosy
children; then came the flock of Irish families, poorer and simpler
than the others but learning the work sooner, and gayer-hearted; now
the Canadian-French contingent furnished all the new help, and stood
in long rows before the noisy looms and chattered in their odd,
excited fashion. They were quicker-fingered, and were willing to work
cheaper than any other workpeople yet.

There were remnants of each of these human tides to be found as one
looked about the mills. Old Henry Dow, the overseer of the cloth-hall,
was a Lancashire man and some of his grandchildren had risen to wealth
and prominence in another part of the country, while he kept steadily
on with his familiar work and authority. A good many elderly Irishmen
and women still kept their places; everybody knew the two old
sweepers, Mary Cassidy and Mrs. Kilpatrick, who were looked upon as
pillars of the Corporation. They and their compatriots always held
loyally together and openly resented the incoming of so many French.

You would never have thought that the French were for a moment
conscious of being in the least unwelcome. They came gayly into church
and crowded the old parishioners of St. Michael's out of their pews,
as on week-days they took their places at the looms. Hardly one of the
old parishioners had not taken occasion to speak of such aggressions
to Father Daley, the priest, but Father Daley continued to look upon
them all as souls to be saved and took continual pains to rub up the
rusty French which he had nearly forgotten, in order to preach a
special sermon every other Sunday. This caused old Mary Cassidy to
shake her head gravely.

"Mis' Kilpatrick, ma'am," she said one morning. "Faix, they ain't
folks at all, 'tis but a pack of images they do be, with all their
chatter like birds in a hedge."

"Sure then, the holy Saint Francis himself was after saying that the
little birds was his sisters," answered Mrs. Kilpatrick, a godly old
woman who made the stations every morning, and was often seen reading
a much-handled book of devotion. She was moreover always ready with a
friendly joke.

"They ain't the same at all was in them innocent times, when there was
plenty saints living in the world," insisted Mary Cassidy. "Look at
them thrash, now!"

The old sweeping-women were going downstairs with their brooms. It was
almost twelve o'clock, and like the old dray-horses in the mill yard
they slackened work in good season for the noonday bell. Three gay
young French girls ran downstairs past them; they were let out for the
afternoon and were hurrying home to dress and catch the 12:40 train to
the next large town.

"That little one is Meshell's daughter; she's a nice child too, very
quiet, and has got more Christian tark than most," said Mrs.
Kilpatrick. "They live overhead o' me. There's nine o' themselves in
the two rooms; two does be boarders."

"Those upper rooms bees very large entirely at Fitzgibbon's," said
Mary Cassidy with unusual indulgence.

"'Tis all the company cares about is to get a good rent out of the
pay. They're asked every little while by honest folks 'on't they build
a trifle o' small houses beyond the church up there, but no, they'd
rather the money and kape us like bees in them old hives. Sure in
winter we're better for having the more fires, but summer is the
pinance!"

"They all says 'why don't folks build their own houses'; they does
always be talking about Mike Callahan and how well he saved up and
owns a pritty place for himself convanient to his work. You might tell
them he'd money left him by a brother in California till you'd be
black in the face, they'd stick to it 'twas in the picker he earnt it
from themselves," grumbled Mary Cassidy.

"Them French spinds all their money on their backs, don't they?"
suggested Mrs. Kilpatrick, as if to divert the conversation from
dangerous channels. "Look at them three girls now, off to Spincer with
their fortnight's pay in their pocket!"

"A couple o' onions and a bag o' crackers is all they want and a pinch
o' lard to their butter," pronounced Mary Cassidy with scorn. "The
whole town of 'em 'on't be the worse of a dollar for steak the week
round. They all go back and buy land in Canada, they spend no money
here. See how well they forget their pocketbooks every Sunday for the
collection. They do be very light too, they've more laugh than
ourselves. 'Tis myself's getting old anyway, I don't laugh much now."

"I like to see a pritty girl look fine," said Mrs. Kilpatrick. "No,
they don't be young but once--"

The mill bell rang, and there was a moment's hush of the jarring,
racketing machinery and a sudden noise of many feet trampling across
the dry, hard pine floors. First came an early flight of boys bursting
out of the different doors, and chasing one another down the winding
stairs two steps at a time. The old sweepers, who had not quite
reached the bottom, stood back against the wall for safety's sake
until all these had passed, then they kept on their careful way, the
crowd passing them by as if they were caught in an eddy of the stream.
Last of all they kept sober company with two or three lame persons and
a cheerful delayed little group of new doffers, the children who
minded bobbins in the weave-room and who were young enough to be tired
and even timid. One of these doffers, a pale, pleasant-looking child,
was all fluffy with cotton that had clung to her little dark plaid
dress. When Mrs. Kilpatrick spoke to her she answered in a hoarse
voice that appealed to one's sympathy. You felt that the hot room and
dry cotton were to blame for such hoarseness; it had nothing to do
with the weather.

"Where are you living now, Maggie, dear?" the old woman asked.

"I'm in Callahan's yet, but they won't keep me after to-day," said the
child. "There's a man wants to get board there, they're changing round
in the rooms and they've no place for me. Mis' Callahan couldn't keep
me 'less I'd get my pay raised."

Mrs. Kilpatrick gave a quick glance at Mary Cassidy. "Come home with
me then, till yez get a bite o' dinner, and we'll talk about it," she
said kindly to the child. "I'd a wish for company the day."

The two old companions had locked their brooms into a three-cornered
closet at the stair-foot and were crossing the mill yard together.
They were so much slower than the rest that they could only see the
very last of the crowd of mill people disappearing along the streets
and into the boarding-house doors. It was late autumn, the elms were
bare, one could see the whole village of Farley, all its poverty and
lack of beauty, at one glance. The large houses looked as if they
belonged to a toy village, and had been carefully put in rows by a
childish hand; it was easy to lose all sense of size in looking at
them. A cold wind was blowing bits of waste and paper high into the
air; now and then a snowflake went swiftly by like a courier of
winter. Mary Cassidy and Mrs. Kilpatrick hugged their old woolen
shawls closer about their round shoulders, and the little girl
followed with short steps alongside.


II.

The agent of the mills was a single man, keen and business-like, but
quietly kind to the people under his charge. Sometimes, in times of
peace, when one looks among one's neighbors wondering who would make
the great soldiers and leaders if there came a sudden call to war, one
knows with a flash of recognition the presence of military genius in
such a man as he. The agent spent his days in following what seemed
to many observers to be only a dull routine, but all his steadiness of
purpose, all his simple intentness, all his gifts of strategy and
powers of foresight, and of turning an interruption into an
opportunity, were brought to bear upon this dull routine with a keen
pleasure. A man in his place must know not only how to lead men, but
how to make the combination of their force with the machinery take its
place as a factor in the business of manufacturing. To master workmen
and keep the mills in running order and to sell the goods successfully
in open market is as easy to do badly as it is difficult to do well.

The agent's father and mother, young people who lived for a short time
in the village, had both died when he was only three years old, and
between that time and his ninth year he had learned almost everything
that poverty could teach, being left like little Maggie to the mercy
of his neighbors. He remembered with a grateful heart those who were
good to him, and told him of his mother, who had married for love but
unwisely. Mrs. Kilpatrick was one of these old friends, who said that
his mother was a lady, but even Mrs. Kilpatrick, who was a walking
history of the Corporation, had never known his mother's maiden name,
much less the place of her birth. The first great revelation of life
had come when the nine-years-old boy had money in his hand to pay his
board. He was conscious of being looked at with a difference; the very
woman who had been hardest to him and let him mind her babies all the
morning when he, careful little soul, was hardly more than a baby
himself, and then pushed him out into the hungry street at dinner
time, was the first one who beckoned him now, willing to make the most
of his dollar and a quarter a week. It seemed easy enough to rise from
uttermost poverty and dependence to where one could set his mind upon
the highest honor in sight, that of being agent of the mills, or to
work one's way steadily to where such an honor was grasped at
thirty-two. Every year the horizon had set its bounds wider and wider,
until the mills of Farley held but a small place in the manufacturing
world. There were offers enough of more salary and higher position
from those who came to know the agent, but he was part of Farley
itself, and had come to care deeply about his neighbors, while a
larger mill and salary were not exactly the things that could tempt
his ambition. It was but a lonely life for a man in the old agent's
quarters where one of the widows of the Corporation, a woman who had
been brought up in a gentleman's house in the old country, kept house
for him with a certain show of propriety. Ever since he was a boy his
room was never without its late evening light, and books and hard
study made his chief companionship.


As Mrs. Kilpatrick went home holding little Maggie by the hand that
windy noon, the agent was sitting in the company's counting-room with
one of the directors and largest stockholders, and they were just
ending a long talk about the mill affairs. The agent was about forty
years old now and looked fifty. He had a pleasant smile, but one saw
it rarely enough, and just now he looked more serious than usual.

"I am very glad to have had this long talk with you," said the old
director. "You do not think of any other recommendations to be made at
the meeting next week?"

The agent grew a trifle paler and glanced behind him to be sure that
the clerks had gone to dinner.

"Not in regard to details," he answered gravely. "There is one thing
which I see to be very important. You have seen the books, and are
clear that nine per cent. dividend can easily be declared?"

"Very creditable, very creditable," agreed the director; he had
recognized the agent's ability from the first and always upheld him
generously. "I mean to propose a special vote of thanks for your
management. There isn't a minor corporation in New England that stands
so well to-day."

The agent listened. "We had some advantages, partly by accident and
partly by lucky foresight," he acknowledged. "I am going to ask your
backing in something that seems to me not only just but important. I
hope that you will not declare above a six per cent. dividend at that
directors' meeting; at the most, seven per cent.," he said.

"What, what!" exclaimed the listener. "No, sir!"

The agent left his desk-chair and stood before the old director as if
he were pleading for himself. A look of protest and disappointment
changed the elder man's face and hardened it a little, and the agent
saw it.

"You know the general condition of the people here," he explained
humbly. "I have taken great pains to keep hold of the best that have
come here; we can depend upon them now and upon the quality of their
work. They made no resistance when we had to cut down wages two years
ago; on the contrary, they were surprisingly reasonable, and you know
that we shut down for several weeks at the time of the alterations. We
have never put their wages back as we might easily have done, and I
happen to know that a good many families have been able to save little
or nothing. Some of them have been working here for three generations.
They know as well as you and I and the books do when the mills are
making money. Now I wish that we could give them the ten per cent.
back again, but in view of the general depression perhaps we can't do
that except in the way I mean. I think that next year we're going to
have a very hard pull to get along, but if we can keep back three per
cent., or even two, of this dividend we can not only manage to get on
without a shut-down or touching our surplus, which is quite small
enough, but I can have some painting and repairing done in the
tenements. They've needed it for a long time--"

The old director sprang to his feet. "Aren't the stockholders going to
have any rights then?" he demanded. "Within fifteen years we have had
three years when we have passed our dividends, but the operatives
never can lose a single day's pay!"

"That was before my time," said the agent, quietly. "We have averaged
nearly six and a half per cent. a year taking the last twenty years
together, and if you go back farther the average is even larger. This
has always been a paying property; we've got our new machinery now,
and everything in the mills themselves is just where we want it. I
look for far better times after this next year, but the market is
glutted with goods of our kind, and nothing is going to be gained by
cut-downs and forcing lower-cost goods into it. Still, I can keep
things going one way and another, making yarn and so on," he said
pleadingly. "I should like to feel that we had this extra surplus. I
believe that we owe it to our operatives."

The director had walked heavily to the window and put his hands deep
into his side-pockets. He had an angry sense that the agent's hands
were in his pockets too.

"I've got some pride about that nine per cent., sir," he said loftily
to the agent.

"So have I," said the agent, and the two men looked each other in the
face.

"I acknowledge my duty to the stockholders," said the younger man
presently. "I have tried to remember that duty ever since I took the
mills eight years ago, but we've got an excellent body of operatives,
and we ought to keep them. I want to show them this next year that we
value their help. If times aren't as bad as we fear we shall still
have the money--"

"Nonsense. They think they own the mills now," said the director, but
he was uncomfortable, in spite of believing he was right. "Where's my
hat? I must have my luncheon now, and afterward there'll hardly be
time to go down and look at the new power-house with you--I must be
off on the quarter-to-two train."

The agent sighed and led the way. There was no use in saying anything
more and he knew it. As they walked along they met old Mrs. Kilpatrick
returning from her brief noonday meal with little Maggie, whose
childish face was radiant. The old woman recognized one of the
directors and dropped him a decent curtsey as she had been taught to
salute the gentry sixty years before.

The director returned the salutation with much politeness. This was
really a pleasant incident, and he took a silver half dollar from his
pocket and gave it to the little girl before he went on.

"Kape it safe, darlin'," said the old woman; "you'll need it yet.
Don't be spending all your money in sweeties; 'tis a very cold world
to them that haves no pince in their pocket."

The child looked up at Mrs. Kilpatrick apprehensively; then the
sunshine of hope broke out again through the cloud.

"I am going to save fine till I buy a house, and you and me'll live
there together, Mrs. Kilpatrick, and have a lovely coal fire all the
time."

"Faix, Maggie, I have always thought some day I'd kape a pig and live
pritty in me own house," said Mrs. Kilpatrick. "But I'm the old
sweeper yet in Number Two. 'Tis a worrld where some has and more
wants," she added with a sigh. "I got the manes for a good buryin',
the Lord be praised, and a bitteen more beside. I wouldn't have that
if Father Daley was as croping as some."

"Mis' Mullin does always be scolding 'bout Father Daley having all the
collections," ventured Maggie, somewhat adrift in so great a subject.

"She's no right then!" exclaimed the old woman angrily; "she'll get no
luck to be grudging her pince that way. 'Tis hard work anny priest
would have to kape the likes of hersilf from being haythens
altogether."


There was a nine per cent. annual dividend declared at the directors'
meeting the next week, with considerable applause from the board and
sincere congratulations to the agent. He looked thinner and more sober
than usual, and several persons present, whose aid he had asked in
private, knew very well the reason. After the meeting was over the
senior director, and largest stockholder, shook hands with him warmly.

"About that matter you suggested to me the other day," he said, and
the agent looked up eagerly. "I consulted several of our board in
regard to the propriety of it before we came down, but they all agreed
with me that it was no use to cross a bridge until you come to it.
Times look a little better, and the operatives will share in the
accession of credit to a mill that declares nine per cent. this year.
I hope that we shall be able to run the mills with at worst only a
moderate cut-down, and they may think themselves very fortunate when
so many hands are being turned off everywhere."

The agent's face grew dark. "I hope that times will take a better
turn," he managed to say.

"Yes, yes," answered the director. "Good-bye to you, Mr. Agent! I am
not sure of seeing you again for some time," he added with unusual
kindliness. "I am an old man now to be hurrying round to board
meetings and having anything to do with responsibilities like these.
My sons must take their turn."

There was an eager protest from the listeners, and presently the busy
group of men disappeared on their way to the train. A nine per cent.
dividend naturally made the Farley Manufacturing Company's stock go up
a good many points, and word came presently that the largest
stockholder and one or two other men had sold out. Then the stock
ceased to rise, and winter came on apace, and the hard times which the
agent had foreseen came also.


III.

One noon in early March there were groups of men and women gathering
in the Farley streets. For a wonder, nobody was hurrying toward home
and dinner was growing cold on some of the long boarding-house tables.

"They might have carried us through the cold weather; there's but a
month more of it," said one middle-aged man sorrowfully.

"They'll be talking to us about economy now, some o' them big
thinkers; they'll say we ought to learn how to save; they always begin
about that quick as the work stops," said a youngish woman angrily.
She was better dressed than most of the group about her and had the
keen, impatient look of a leader. "They'll say that manufacturing is
going to the dogs, and capital's in worse distress than labor--"

"How is it those big railroads get along? They can't shut down,
there's none o' them stops; they cut down sometimes when they have to,
but they don't turn off their help this way," complained somebody
else.

"Faith then! they don't know what justice is. They talk about their
justice all so fine," said a pale-faced young Irishman--"justice is
nine per cent. last year for the men that had the money and no rise at
all for the men that did the work."

"They say the shut-down's going to last all summer anyway. I'm going
to pack my kit to-night," said a young fellow who had just married and
undertaken with unusual pride and ambition to keep house. "The likes
of me can't be idle. But where to look for any work for a mule
spinner, the Lord only knows!"

Even the French were sobered for once and talked eagerly among
themselves. Halfway down the street, in front of the French grocery, a
man was haranguing his compatriots from the top of a packing-box.
Everybody was anxious and excited by the sudden news. No work after a
week from to-morrow until times were better. There had already been a
cut-down, the mills had not been earning anything all winter. The
agent had hoped to keep on for at least two months longer, and then to
make some scheme about running at half time in the summer, setting
aside the present work for simple yarn-making. He knew well enough
that the large families were scattered through the mill rooms and that
any pay would be a help. Some of the young men could be put to other
work for the company; there was a huge tract of woodland farther back
among the hills where some timber could be got ready for shipping. His
mind was full of plans and anxieties and the telegram that morning
struck him like a blow. He had asked that he might keep the card-room
prices up to where the best men could make at least six dollars and a
half a week and was hoping for a straight answer, but the words on the
yellow paper seemed to dance about and make him dizzy. "Shut down
Saturday 9th until times are better!" he repeated to himself. "Shut
down until times are worse here in Farley!"


The agent stood at the counting-room window looking out at the
piteous, defenseless groups that passed by. He wished bitterly that
his own pay stopped with the rest; it did not seem fair that he was
not thrown out upon the world too.

"I don't know what they're going to do. They shall have the last cent
I've saved before anybody suffers," he said in his heart. But there
were tears in his eyes when he saw Mrs. Kilpatrick go limping out of
the gate. She waited a moment for her constant companion, poor little
Maggie the doffer, and they went away up the street toward their poor
lodging holding each other fast by the hand. Maggie's father and
grandfather and great-grandfather had all worked in the Farley mills;
they had left no heritage but work behind them for this orphan child;
they had never been able to save so much that a long illness, a
prolonged old age, could not waste their slender hoards away.


IV.

It would have been difficult for an outsider to understand the sudden
plunge from decent comfort to actual poverty in this small mill town.
Strange to say, it was upon the smaller families that the strain fell
the worst in Farley, and upon men and women who had nobody to look to
but themselves. Where a man had a large household of children and
several of these were old enough to be at work, and to put aside their
wages or pay for their board; where such a man was of a thrifty and
saving turn and a ruler of his household like old James Dow in the
cloth-hall, he might feel sure of a comfortable hoard and be fearless
of a rainy day. But with a young man who worked single-handed for his
wife and a little flock, or one who had an invalid to work for, that
heaviest of burdens to the poor, the door seemed to be shut and barred
against prosperity, and life became a test of one's power of
endurance.


The agent went home late that noon from the counting-room. The street
was nearly empty, but he had no friendly look or word for anyone whom
he passed. Those who knew him well only pitied him, but it seemed to
the tired man as if every eye must look at him with reproach. The long
mill buildings of gray stone with their rows of deep-set windows wore
a repellent look of strength and solidity. More than one man felt
bitterly his own personal weakness as he turned to look at them. The
ocean of fate seemed to be dashing him against their gray walls--what
use was it to fight against the Corporation? Two great forces were in
opposition now, and happiness could come only from their serving each
other in harmony.

The stronger force of capital had withdrawn from the league; the
weaker one, labor, was turned into an utter helplessness of idleness.
There was nothing to be done; you cannot rebel against a shut-down,
you can only submit.

A week later the great wheel stopped early on the last day of work.
Almost everyone left his special charge of machinery in good order,
oiled and cleaned and slackened with a kind of affectionate lingering
care, for one person loves his machine as another loves his horse.
Even little Maggie pushed her bobbin-box into a safe place near the
overseer's desk and tipped it up and dusted it out with a handful of
waste. At the foot of the long winding stairs Mrs. Kilpatrick was
putting away her broom, and she sighed as she locked the closet door;
she had known hard times before. "They'll be wanting me with odd jobs;
we'll be after getting along some way," she said with satisfaction.

"March is a long month, so it is--there'll be plinty time for change
before the ind of it," said Mary Cassidy hopefully. "The agent will be
thinking whatever can he do; sure he's very ingenious. Look at him how
well he persuaded the directors to l'ave off wit' making cotton cloth
like everybody else, and catch a chance wit' all these new linings and
things! He's done very well, too. There bees no sinse in a shut-down
anny way, the looms and cards all suffers and the bands all slacks if
they don't get stiff. I'd sooner pay folks to tind their work whatever
it cost."

"'Tis true for you," agreed Mrs. Kilpatrick.

"What'll ye do wit' the shild, now she's no chance of pay, any more?"
asked Mary relentlessly, and poor Maggie's eyes grew dark with fright
as the conversation abruptly pointed her way. She sometimes waked up
in misery in Mrs. Kilpatrick's warm bed, crying for fear that she was
going to be sent back to the poorhouse.

"Maggie an' me's going to kape together awhile yet," said the good old
woman fondly. "She's very handy for me, so she is. We 'on't part with
'ach other whativer befalls, so we 'on't," and Maggie looked up with a
wistful smile, only half reassured. To her the shut-down seemed like
the end of the world.


Some of the French people took time by the forelock and boarded the
midnight train that very Saturday with all their possessions. A little
later two or three families departed by the same train, under cover of
the darkness between two days, without stopping to pay even their
house rent. These mysterious flittings, like that of the famous Tartar
tribe, roused a suspicion against their fellow countrymen, but after a
succession of such departures almost everybody else thought it far
cheaper to stay among friends. It seemed as if at any moment the great
mill wheels might begin to turn, and the bell begin to ring, but day
after day the little town was still and the bell tolled the hours one
after another as if it were Sunday. The mild spring weather came on
and the women sat mending or knitting on the doorsteps. More people
moved away; there were but few men and girls left now in the quiet
boarding-houses, and the spare tables were stacked one upon another at
the end of the rooms. When planting-time came, word was passed about
the Corporation that the agent was going to portion out a field that
belonged to him a little way out of town on the South road, and let
every man who had a family take a good-sized piece to plant. He also
offered seed potatoes and garden seeds free to anyone who would come
and ask for them at his house. The poor are very generous to each
other, as a rule, and there was much borrowing and lending from house
to house, and it was wonderful how long the people seemed to continue
their usual fashions of life without distress. Almost everybody had
saved a little bit of money and some had saved more; if one could no
longer buy beefsteak he could still buy flour and potatoes, and a bit
of pork lent a pleasing flavor, to content an idle man who had nothing
to do but to stroll about town.


V.

One night the agent was sitting alone in his large, half-furnished
house. Mary Moynahan, his housekeeper, had gone up to the church.
There was a timid knock at the door.

There were two persons waiting, a short, thick-set man and a pale
woman with dark, bright eyes who was nearly a head taller than her
companion.

"Come in, Ellen; I'm glad to see you," said the agent. "Have you got
your wheel-barrow, Mike?" Almost all the would-be planters of the
field had come under cover of darkness and contrived if possible to
avoid each other.

"'Tisn't the potatoes we're after asking, sir," said Ellen. She was
always spokeswoman, for Mike had an impediment in his speech. "The
childher come up yisterday and got them while you'd be down at the
counting-room. 'Twas Mary Moynahan saw to them. We do be very thankful
to you, sir, for your kindness."

"Come in," said the agent, seeing there was something of consequence
to be said. Ellen Carroll and he had worked side by side many a long
day when they were young. She had been a noble wife to Mike, whose
poor fortunes she had gladly shared for sake of his good heart, though
Mike now and then paid too much respect to his often infirmities.
There was a slight flavor of whisky now on the evening air, but it was
a serious thing to put on your Sunday coat and go up with your wife to
see the agent.

"We've come wanting to talk about any chances there might be with the
mill," ventured Ellen timidly, as she stood in the lighted room; then
she looked at Mike for reassurance. "We're very bad off, you see," she
went on. "Yes, sir, I got them potaties, but I had to bake a little of
them for supper and more again the day, for our breakfast. I don't
know whatever we'll do whin they're gone. The poor children does be
entreating me for them, Dan!"

The mother's eyes were full of tears. It was very seldom now that
anybody called the agent by his Christian name; there was a natural
reserve and dignity about him, and there had come a definite
separation between him and most of his old friends in the two years
while he had managed to go to the School of Technology in Boston.

"Why didn't you let me know it was bad as that?" he asked. "I don't
mean that anybody here should suffer while I've got a cent."

"The folks don't like to be begging, sir," said Ellen sorrowfully,
"but there's lots of them does be in trouble. They'd ought to go away
when the mills shut down, but for nobody knows where to go. Farley
ain't like them big towns where a man'd pick up something else to do.
I says to Mike: 'Come, Mike, let's go up after dark and tark to Dan;
he'll help us out if he can,' says I--"

"Sit down, Ellen," said the agent kindly, as the poor woman began to
cry. He made her take the armchair which the weave-room girls had
given him at Christmas two years before. She sat there covering her
face with her hands, and trying to keep back her sobs and go quietly
on with what she had to say. Mike was sitting across the room with his
back to the wall anxiously twirling his hat round and round. "Yis,
we're very bad off," he contrived to say after much futile stammering.
"All the folks in the Corporation, but Mr. Dow, has got great bills
run up now at the stores, and thim that had money saved has lint to
thim that hadn't--'twill be long enough before anybody's free. Whin
the mills starts up we'll have to spind for everything at once. The
children is very hard on their clothes and they're all dropping to
pieces. I thought I'd have everything new for them this spring, they
do be growing so. I minds them and patches them the best I can." And
again Ellen was overcome by tears. "Mike an' me's always been
conthrivin' how would we get something laid up, so if anny one would
die or be long sick we'd be equal to it, but we've had great pride to
see the little gerrls go looking as well as anny, and we've worked
very steady, but there's so manny of us we've had to pay rint for a
large tenement and we'd only seventeen dollars and a little more when
the shut-down was. Sure the likes of us has a right to earn more than
our living, ourselves being so willing-hearted. 'Tis a long time now
that Mike's been steady. We always had the pride to hope we'd own a
house ourselves, and a pieceen o' land, but I'm thankful now--'tis as
well for us; we've no chances to pay taxes now."

Mike made a desperate effort to speak as his wife faltered and began
to cry again, and seeing his distress forgot her own, and supplied the
halting words. "He wants to know if there's army work he could get,
some place else than Farley. Himself's been sixteen years now in the
picker, first he was one of six and now he is one of the four since
you got the new machines, yourself knows it well."

The agent knew about Mike; he looked compassionate as he shook his
head. "Stay where you are, for a while at any rate. Things may look a
little better, it seems to me. We will start up as soon as anyone
does. I'll allow you twenty dollars a month after this; here are ten
to start with. No, no, I've got no one depending on me and my pay is
going on. I'm glad to share it with my friends. Tell the folks to come
up and see me, Ahern and Sullivan and Michel and your brother Con;
tell anybody you know who is really in distress. You've all stood by
me!"

"'Tis all the lazy ones 'ould be coming if we told on the poor boy,"
said Ellen gratefully, as they hurried home. "Ain't he got the good
heart? We'd ought to be very discrate, Mike!" and Mike agreed by a
most impatient gesture, but by the time summer had begun to wane the
agent was a far poorer man than when it had begun. Mike and Ellen
Carroll were only the leaders of a sorrowful procession that sought
his door evening after evening. Some asked for help who might have
done without it, but others were saved from actual want. There were a
few men who got work among the farms, but there was little steady
work. The agent made the most of odd jobs about the mill yards and
contrived somehow or other to give almost every household a lift. The
village looked more and more dull and forlorn, but in August, when a
traveling show ventured to give a performance in Farley, the
Corporation hall was filled as it seldom was filled in prosperous
times. This made the agent wonder, until he followed the crowd of
workless, sadly idle men and women into the place of entertainment and
looked at them with a sudden comprehension that they were spending
their last cent for a little cheerfulness.


VI.

The agent was going into the counting-room one day when he met old
Father Daley and they stopped for a bit of friendly talk.

"Could you come in for a few minutes, sir?" asked the younger man.
"There's nobody in the counting-room."

The busy priest looked up at the weather-beaten clock in the mill
tower.

"I can," he said. "'Tis not so late as I thought. We'll soon be having
the mail."

The agent led the way and brought one of the directors' comfortable
chairs from their committee-room. Then he spun his own chair
face-about from before his desk and they sat down. It was a warm day
in the middle of September. The windows were wide open on the side
toward the river and there was a flicker of light on the ceiling from
the sunny water. The noise of the fall was loud and incessant in the
room. Somehow one never noticed it very much when the mills were
running.

"How are the Duffys?" asked the agent.

"Very bad," answered the old priest gravely. "The doctor sent for
me--he couldn't get them to take any medicine. He says that it isn't
typhoid; only a low fever among them from bad food and want of care.
That tenement is very old and bad, the drains from the upper tenement
have leaked and spoiled the whole west side of the building. I suppose
they never told you of it?"

"I did the best I could about it last spring," said the agent. "They
were afraid of being turned out and they hid it for that reason. The
company allowed me something for repairs as usual and I tried to get
more; you see I spent it all before I knew what a summer was before
us. Whatever I have done since I have paid for, except what they call
legitimate work and care of property. Last year I put all Maple Street
into first-rate order--and meant to go right through the Corporation.
I've done the best I could," he protested with a bright spot of color
in his cheeks. "Some of the men have tinkered up their tenements and I
have counted it toward the rent, but they don't all know how to drive
a nail."

"'Tis true for you; you have done the best you could," said the priest
heartily, and both the men were silent, while the river, which was
older than they and had seen a whole race of men disappear before they
came--the river took this opportunity to speak louder than ever.

"I think that manufacturing prospects look a little brighter," said
the agent, wishing to be cheerful. "There are some good orders out,
but of course the buyers can take advantage of our condition. The
treasurer writes me that we must be firm about not starting up until
we are sure of business on a good paying margin."

"Like last year's?" asked the priest, who was resting himself in the
armchair. There was a friendly twinkle in his eyes.

"Like last year's," answered the agent. "I worked like two men, and I
pushed the mills hard to make that large profit. I saw there was
trouble coming, and I told the directors and asked for a special
surplus, but I had no idea of anything like this."

"Nine per cent. in these times was too good a prize," said Father
Daley, but the twinkle in his eyes had suddenly disappeared.

"You won't get your new church for a long time yet," said the agent.

"No, no," said the old man impatiently. "I have kept the foundations
going as well as I could, and the talk, for their own sakes. It gives
them something to think about. I took the money they gave me in
collections and let them have it back again for work. 'Tis well to
lead their minds," and he gave a quick glance at the agent. "'Tis no
pride of mine for church-building and no good credit with the bishop
I'm after. Young men can be satisfied with those things, not an old
priest like me that prays to be a father to his people."

Father Daley spoke as man speaks to man, straight out of an honest
heart.

"I see many things now that I used to be blind about long ago," he
said. "You may take a man who comes over, him and his wife. They fall
upon good wages and their heads are turned with joy. They've been
hungry for generations back and they've always seen those above them
who dressed fine and lived soft, and they want a taste of luxury too;
they're bound to satisfy themselves. So they'll spend and spend and
have beefsteak for dinner every day just because they never had enough
before, but they'd turn into wild beasts of selfishness, most of 'em,
if they had no check. 'Tis there the church steps in. 'Remember your
Maker and do Him honor in His house of prayer,' says she. 'Be
self-denying, be thinking of eternity and of what's sure to come!' And
you will join with me in believing that it's never those who have
given most to the church who come first to the ground in a hard time
like this. Show me a good church and I'll show you a thrifty people."
Father Daley looked eagerly at the agent for sympathy.

"You speak the truth, sir," said the agent. "Those that give most are
always the last to hold out with honest independence and the first to
do for others."

"Some priests may have plundered their parishes for pride's sake;
there's no saying what is in poor human nature," repeated Father Daley
earnestly. "God forgive us all for unprofitable servants of Him and
His church. I believe in saying more about prayer and right living,
and less about collections, in God's house, but it's the giving hand
that's the rich hand all the world over."

"I don't think Ireland has ever sent us over many misers; Saint
Patrick must have banished them all with the snakes," suggested the
agent with a grim smile. The priest shook his head and laughed a
little and then both men were silent again in the counting-room.

The mail train whistled noisily up the road and came into the station
at the end of the empty street, then it rang its loud bell and puffed
and whistled away again.

"I'll bring your mail over, sir," said the agent, presently. "Sit here
and rest yourself until I come back and we'll walk home together."

The leather mail-bag looked thin and flat and the leisurely postmaster
had nearly distributed its contents by the time the agent had crossed
the street and reached the office. His clerks were both off on a long
holiday; they were brothers and were glad of the chance to take their
vacations together. They had been on lower pay; there was little to
do in the counting-room--hardly anybody's time to keep or even a
letter to write.

Two or three loiterers stopped the agent to ask him the usual question
if there were any signs of starting up; an old farmer who sat in his
long wagon before the post-office asked for news too, and touched his
hat with an awkward sort of military salute.

"Come out to our place and stop a few days," he said kindly. "You look
kind of pinched up and bleached out, Mr. Agent; you can't be needed
much here."

"I wish I could come," said the agent, stopping again and looking up
at the old man with a boyish, expectant face. Nobody had happened to
think about him in just that way, and he was far from thinking about
himself. "I've got to keep an eye on the people that are left here;
you see they've had a pretty hard summer."

"Not so hard as you have!" said the old man, as the agent went along
the street. "You've never had a day of rest more than once or twice
since you were born!"

There were two letters and a pamphlet for Father Daley and a thin
handful of circulars for the company. In busy times there was often
all the mail matter that a clerk could bring. The agent sat down at
his desk in the counting-room and the priest opened a thick foreign
letter with evident pleasure. "'Tis from an old friend of mine; he's
in a monastery in France," he said. "I only hear from him once a
year," and Father Daley settled himself in his armchair to read the
close-written pages. As for the agent of the mills, he had quickly
opened a letter from the treasurer and was not listening to anything
that was said.

Suddenly he whirled round in his desk chair and held out the letter to
the priest. His hand shook and his face was as pale as ashes.

"What is it? What's the matter?" cried the startled old man, who had
hardly followed the first pious salutations of his own letter to their
end. "Read it to me yourself, Dan; is there any trouble?"

"Orders--I've got orders to start up; we're going to start--I wrote
them last week--"

But the agent had to spring up from his chair and go to the window
next the river before he could steady his voice to speak. He thought
it was the look of the moving water that made him dizzy. "We're going
to start up the mills as soon as I can get things ready." He turned to
look up at the thermometer as if it were the most important thing in
the world; then the color rushed to his face and he leaned a moment
against the wall.

"Thank God!" said the old priest devoutly. "Here, come and sit down,
my boy. Faith, but it's good news, and I'm the first to get it from
you."

They shook hands and were cheerful together; the foreign letter was
crammed into Father Daley's pocket, and he reached for his big cane.

"Tell everybody as you go up the street, sir," said Dan. "I've got a
hurricane of things to see to; I must go the other way down to the
storehouses. Tell them to pass the good news about town as fast as
they can; 'twill hearten up the women." All the anxious look had gone
as if by magic from the agent's face.


Two weeks from that time the old mill bell stopped tolling for the
slow hours of idleness and rang out loud and clear for the
housekeepers to get up, and rang for breakfast, and later still for
all the people to go in to work. Some of the old hands were gone for
good and new ones must be broken in in their places, but there were
many familiar faces to pass the counting-room windows into the mill
yard. There were French families which had reappeared with surprising
promptness, Michel and his pretty daughter were there, and a household
of cousins who had come to the next tenement. The agent stood with his
hands in his pockets and nodded soberly to one group after another. It
seemed to him that he had never felt so happy in his life.

"Jolly-looking set this morning," said one of the clerks whose desk
was close beside the window; he was a son of one of the directors, who
had sent him to the agent to learn something about manufacturing.

"They've had a bitter hard summer that you know nothing about," said
the agent slowly.

Just then Mrs. Kilpatrick and old Mary Cassidy came along, and little
Maggie was with them. She had got back her old chance at doffing and
the hard times were over. They all smiled with such blissful
satisfaction that the agent smiled too, and even waved his hand.


   Transcriber's Note: This e-book was excerpted from a modern
   reprint of works. The table of contents for "Selected Stories and
   Sketches" has been editted to identify the source of each story
   in the source work.





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