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Title: Strangers and Wayfarers
Author: Jewett, Sarah Orne, 1849-1909
Language: English
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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.

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Archive: American Libraries.



STRANGERS AND WAYFARERS

by

SARAH ORNE JEWETT



Boston and New York

Houghton, Mifflin and Company

_The Riverside Press, Cambridge_



Copyright, 1890,

By SARAH ORNE JEWETT.



All rights reserved.



The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.

Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.



_TO_

S. W.

_PAINTER OF NEW ENGLAND MEN AND WOMEN_

_NEW ENGLAND FIELDS AND SHORES_



CONTENTS.


A Winter Courtship

The Mistress of Sydenham Plantation

The Town Poor

The Quest of Mr. Teaby

The Luck of the Bogans

Fair Day

Going to Shrewsbury

The Taking of Captain Ball

By the Morning Boat

In Dark New England Days

The White Rose Road



STRANGERS AND WAYFARERS.



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 't was 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 ondertook 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. 'T is 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 't is 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. "'T is 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 't was Friday, and she said no, 't
was 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',--'t would 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!"

"'T would re'lly have been a shame; 't ain'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. Briley had
been taken on the road in spite of his pistol.



THE MISTRESS OF SYDENHAM PLANTATION.


A high wind was blowing from the water into the Beaufort streets,--a
wind with as much reckless hilarity as March could give to her
breezes, but soft and spring-like, almost early-summer-like, in its
warmth.

In the gardens of the old Southern houses that stood along the bay,
roses and petisporum-trees were blooming, with their delicious
fragrance. It was the time of wistarias and wild white lilies, of the
last yellow jas-mines and the first Cherokee roses. It was the
Saturday before Easter Sunday.

In the quaint churchyard of old St. Helena's Church, a little way from
the bay, young figures were busy among the graves with industrious
gardening. At first sight, one might have thought that this pretty
service was rendered only from loving sentiments of loyalty to one's
ancestors, for under the great live-oaks, the sturdy brick walls about
the family burying-places and the gravestones themselves were
moss-grown and ancient-looking; yet here and there the wounded look of
the earth appealed to the eye, and betrayed a new-made grave. The old
sarcophagi and heavy tablets of the historic Beaufort families stood
side by side with plain wooden crosses. The armorial bearings and long
epitaphs of the one and the brief lettering of the other suggested the
changes that had come with the war to these families, yet somehow the
wooden cross touched one's heart with closer sympathy. The padlocked
gates to the small inclosures stood open, while gentle girls passed in
and out with their Easter flowers of remembrance. On the high
churchyard wall and great gate-posts perched many a mocking-bird, and
the golden light changed the twilight under the live-oaks to a misty
warmth of color. The birds began to sing louder; the gray moss that
hung from the heavy boughs swayed less and less, and gave the place a
look of pensive silence.

In the church itself, most of the palms and rose branches were already
in place for the next day's feast, and the old organ followed a fresh
young voice that was being trained for the Easter anthem. The five
doors of the church were standing open. On the steps of that eastern
door which opened midway up the side aisle, where the morning sun had
shone in upon the white faces of a hospital in war-time,--in this
eastern doorway sat two young women.

"I was just thinking," one was saying to the other, "that for the
first time Mistress Sydenham has forgotten to keep this day. You know
that when she has forgotten everything and everybody else, she has
known when Easter came, and has brought flowers to her graves."

"Has she been more feeble lately, do you think?" asked the younger of
the two. "Mamma saw her the other day, and thought that she seemed
more like herself; but she looked very old, too. She told mamma to
bring her dolls, and she would give her some bits of silk to make them
gowns. Poor mamma! and she had just been wondering how she could
manage to get us ready for summer, this year,--Célestine and me," and
the speaker smiled wistfully.

"It is a mercy that the dear old lady did forget all that happened;"
and the friends brushed some last bits of leaves from their skirts,
and rose and walked away together through the churchyard.

The ancient church waited through another Easter Even, with its
flowers and long memory of prayer and praise. The great earthquake had
touched it lightly, time had colored it softly, and the earthly bodies
of its children were gathered near its walls in peaceful sleep.

From one of the high houses which stood fronting the sea, with their
airy balconies and colonnades, had come a small, slender figure, like
some shy, dark thing of twilight out into the bright sunshine. The
street was empty, for the most part; before one or two of the cheap
German shops a group of men watched the little old lady step proudly
by. She was a very stately gentlewoman, for one so small and thin; she
was feeble, too, and bending somewhat with the weight of years, but
there was true elegance and dignity in the way she moved, and those
who saw her--persons who shuffled when they walked, and boasted loudly
of the fallen pride of the South--were struck with sudden deference
and admiration. Behind the lady walked a gray-headed negro, a man who
was troubled in spirit, who sometimes gained a step or two, and
offered an anxious but quite unheeded remonstrance. He was a poor,
tottering old fellow; he wore a threadbare evening coat that might
have belonged to his late master thirty years before.

The pair went slowly along the bay street to the end of a row of new
shops, and the lady turned decidedly toward the water, and approached
the ferry-steps. Her servitor groaned aloud, but waited in respectful
helplessness. There was a group of negro children on the steps,
employed in the dangerous business of crab-fishing; at the foot, in
his flat-bottomed boat, sat a wondering negro lad, who looked up in
apprehension at his passengers. The lady seemed like a ghost. Old
Peter,--with whose scorn of modern beings and their ways he was
partially familiar,--old Peter was making frantic signs to him to put
out from shore. But the lady's calm desire for obedience prevailed,
and presently, out of the knot of idlers that gathered quickly, one,
more chivalrous than the rest, helped the strange adventurers down
into the boat. It was the fashion to laugh and joke, in Beaufort, when
anything unusual was happening before the eyes of the younger part of
the colored population; but as the ferryman pushed off from shore,
even the crab-fishers kept awe-struck silence, and there were
speechless, open mouths and much questioning of eyes that showed their
whites in vain. Somehow or other, before the boat was out of hail,
long before it had passed the first bank of raccoon oysters, the tide
being at the ebb, it was known by fifty people that for the first time
in more than twenty years the mistress of the old Sydenham plantation
on St. Helena's Island had taken it into her poor daft head to go to
look after her estates, her crops, and her people. Everybody knew that
her estates had been confiscated during the war; that her people owned
it themselves now, in three and five and even twenty acre lots; that
her crops of rice and Sea Island cotton were theirs, planted and hoed
and harvested on their own account. All these years she had forgotten
Sydenham, and the live-oak avenue, and the outlook across the water to
the Hunting Islands, where the deer ran wild; she had forgotten the
war; she had forgotten her children and her husband, except that they
had gone away,--the graves to which she carried Easter flowers were
her mother's and her father's graves,--and her life was spent in a
strange dream.

Old Peter sat facing her in the boat; the ferryman pulled lustily at
his oars, and they moved quickly along in the ebbing tide. The
ferryman longed to get his freight safely across; he was in a fret of
discomfort whenever he looked at the clear-cut, eager face before him
in the stern. How still and straight the old mistress sat! Where was
she going? He was awed by her presence, and took refuge, as he rowed,
in needless talk about the coming of the sandflies and the great
drum-fish to Beaufort waters. But Peter had clasped his hands together
and bowed his old back, as if he did not dare to look anywhere but at
the bottom of the boat. Peter was still groaning softly; the old lady
was looking back over the water to the row of fine houses, the once
luxurious summer homes of Rhetts and Barnwells, of many a famous
household now scattered and impoverished. The ferryman had heard of
more one than bereft lady or gentleman who lived in seclusion in the
old houses. He knew that Peter still served a mysterious mistress with
exact devotion, while most of the elderly colored men and women who
had formed the retinues of the old families were following their own
affairs, far and wide.

"Oh, Lord, ole mis'! what kin I go to do?" mumbled Peter, with his
head in his hands. "Thar'll be nothin' to see. Po' ole mis', I do'
kno' what you say. Trouble, trouble!"

But the mistress of Sydenham plantation had a way of speaking but
seldom, and of rarely listening to what any one was pleased to say in
return. Out of the mistiness of her clouded brain a thought had come
with unwonted clearness. She must go to the island: her husband and
sons were detained at a distance; it was the time of year to look
after corn and cotton; she must attend to her house and her slaves.
The remembrance of that news of battle and of the three deaths that
had left her widowed and childless had faded away in the illness it
had brought. She never comprehended her loss; she was like one
bewitched into indifference; she remembered something of her youth,
and kept a simple routine of daily life, and that was all.

"I t'ought she done fo'git ebryt'ing," groaned Peter again. "O Lord,
hab mercy on ole mis'!"

The landing-place on Ladies' Island was steep and sandy, and the
oarsman watched Peter help the strange passenger up the ascent with a
sense of blessed relief. He pushed off a little way into the stream,
for better self-defense. At the top of the bluff was a rough shed,
built for shelter, and Peter looked about him eagerly, while his
mistress stood, expectant and imperious, in the shade of a pride of
India tree, that grew among the live-oaks and pines of a wild thicket.
He was wretched with a sense of her discomfort, though she gave no
sign of it. He had learned to know by instinct all that was unspoken.
In the old times she would have found four oarsmen waiting with a
cushioned boat at the ferry; she would have found a saddle-horse or a
carriage ready for her on Ladies' Island for the five miles' journey,
but the carriage had not come. The poor gray-headed old man recognized
her displeasure. He was her only slave left, if she did but know it.

"Fo' Gord's sake, git me some kin' of a cart. Ole mis', she done wake
up and mean to go out to Syd'n'am dis day," urged Peter. "Who dis hoss
an' kyart in de shed? Who make dese track wid huffs jus' now, like dey
done ride by? Yo' go git somebody fo' me, or she be right mad, shore."

The elderly guardian of the shed, who was also of the old _régime_,
hobbled away quickly, and backed out a steer that was broken to
harness, and a rickety two-wheeled cart. Their owner had left them
there for some hours, and had crossed the ferry to Beaufort. Old
mistress must be obeyed, and they looked toward her beseechingly where
she was waiting, deprecating her disapproval of this poor apology for
a conveyance. The lady long since had ceased to concern herself with
the outward shapes of things; she accepted this possibility of
carrying out her plans, and they lifted her light figure to the chair,
in the cart's end, while Peter mounted before her with all a
coachman's dignity,--he once had his ambitions of being her
coachman,--and they moved slowly away through the deep sand.

"My Gord A'mighty, look out fo' us now," said Peter over and over.
"Ole mis', she done fo'git, good Lord, she done fo'git how de Good
Marsa up dere done took f'om her ebryt'ing; she 'spect now she find
Syd'n'am all de same like's it was 'fo' de war. She ain't know 'bout
what's been sence day of de gun-shoot on Port Royal and dar-away. O
Lord A'mighty, yo' know how yo' stove her po' head wid dem gun-shoot;
be easy to ole mis'."

But as Peter pleaded in the love and sorrow of his heart, the lady who
sat behind him was unconscious of any cause for grief. Some sweet
vagaries in her own mind were matched to the loveliness of the day.
All her childhood, spent among the rustic scenes of these fertile Sea
Islands, was yielding for her now an undefined pleasantness of
association. The straight-stemmed palmettos stood out with picturesque
clearness against the great level fields, with their straight furrows
running out of sight. Figures of men and women followed the furrow
paths slowly; here were men and horses bending to the ploughshare, and
there women and children sowed with steady hand the rich seed of their
crops. There were touches of color in the head kerchiefs; there were
sounds of songs as the people worked,--not gay songs of the evening,
but some repeated line of a hymn, to steady the patient feet and make
the work go faster,--the unconscious music of the blacks, who sing as
the beetle drones or the cricket chirps slowly under the dry grass. It
had a look of permanence, this cotton-planting. It was a thing to
paint, to relate itself to the permanence of art, an everlasting duty
of mankind; terrible if a thing of force, and compulsion and for
another's gain, but the birthright of the children of Adam, and not
unrewarded nor unnatural when one drew by it one's own life from the
earth.

Peter glanced through the hedge-rows furtively, this way and that.
What would his mistress say to the cabins that were scattered all
about the fields now, and that were no longer put together in the long
lines of the quarters? He looked down a deserted lane, where he well
remembered fifty cabins on each side of the way. It was gay there of a
summer evening; the old times had not been without their pleasures,
and the poor old man's heart leaped with the vague delight of his
memories. He had never been on the block; he was born and bred at old
Sydenham; he had been trusted in house and field.

"I done like dem ole times de best," ventures Peter, presently, to his
unresponding companion. "Dere was good 'bout dem times. I say I like
de ole times good as any. Young folks may be a change f'om me."

He was growing gray in the face with apprehension; he did not dare to
disobey.

The slow-footed beast of burden was carrying them toward Sydenham step
by step, and he dreaded the moment of arrival. He was like a
mesmerized creature, who can only obey the force of a directing will;
but under pretense of handling the steer's harness, he got stiffly to
the ground to look at his mistress. He could not turn to face her, as
he sat in the cart; he could not drive any longer and feel her there
behind him. The silence was too great. It was a relief to see her
placid face, and to see even a more youthful look in its worn lines.
She had been a very beautiful woman in her young days. And a solemn
awe fell upon Peter's tender heart, lest the veil might be lifting
from her hidden past, and there, alone with him on the old plantation,
she would die of grief and pain. God only knew what might happen! The
old man mounted to his seat, and again they plodded on.

"Peter," said the mistress,--he was always frightened when she
spoke,--"Peter, we must hurry. I was late in starting. I have a great
deal to do. Urge the horses."

"Yas, mis',--yas, mis'," and Peter laughed aloud nervously, and
brandished his sassafras switch, while the steer hastened a little.
They had come almost to the gates.

"Who are these?" the stately wayfarer asked once, as they met some
persons who gazed at them in astonishment.

"I 'spect dem de good ladies f'om de Norf, what come down to show de
cullud folks how to do readin'," answered Peter bravely. "It do look
kind o' comfo'ble over here," he added wistfully, half to himself. He
could not understand even now how oblivious she was of the great
changes on St. Helena's.

There were curious eyes watching from the fields, and here by the
roadside an aged black woman came to her cabin door.

"Lord!" exclaimed Peter, "what kin I do now? An' ole Sibyl, she's done
crazy too, and dey'll be mischievous together."

The steer could not be hurried past, and Sibyl came and leaned against
the wheel. "Mornin', mistis," said Sibyl, "an' yo' too, Peter. How's
all? Day ob judgment's comin' in mornin'! Some nice buttermilk? I done
git rich; t'at's my cow," and she pointed to the field and chuckled.
Peter felt as if his brain were turning. "Bless de Lord, I no more
slave," said old Sibyl, looking up with impudent scrutiny at her old
mistress's impassive face. "Yo' know Mars' Middleton, what yo' buy me
f'om? He my foster-brother; we push away from same breast. He got
trouble, po' gen'elman; he sorry to sell Sibyl; he give me silver
dollar dat day, an' feel bad. 'Neber min', I say. I get good mistis,
young mistis at Sydenham. I like her well, I did so. I pick my two
hunderd poun' all days, an' I ain't whipped. Too bad sold me, po'
Mars' Middleton, but he in trouble. He done come see me last
plantin'," Sibyl went on proudly. "Oh, Gord, he grown ole and
poor-lookin'. He come in, just in dat do', an' he say, 'Sibyl, I long
an' long to see you, an' now I see you;' an' he kiss an' kiss me. An'
dere's one wide ribber o' Jordan, an' we'll soon be dere, black an'
white. I was right glad I see ole Mars' Middleton 'fore I die."

The old creature poured forth the one story of her great joy and
pride; she had told it a thousand times. It had happened, not the last
planting, but many plantings ago. It remained clear when everything
else was confused. There was no knowing what she might say next. She
began to take the strange steps of a slow dance, and Peter urged his
steer forward, while his mistress said suddenly, "Good-by, Sibyl. I am
glad you are doing so well," with a strange irrelevancy of
graciousness. It was in the old days before the war that Sibyl had
fallen insensible, one day, in the cotton-field. Did her mistress
think that it was still that year, and--Peter's mind could not puzzle
out this awful day of anxiety.

They turned at last into the live-oak avenue,--they had only another
half mile to go; and here, in the place where the lady had closest
association, her memory was suddenly revived almost to clearness. She
began to hurry Peter impatiently; it was a mischance that she had not
been met at the ferry. She was going to see to putting the house in
order, and the women were all waiting. It was autumn, and they were
going to move over from Beaufort; it was spring next moment, and she
had to talk with her overseers. The old imperiousness flashed out. Did
not Peter know that his master was kept at the front, and the young
gentlemen were with him, and their regiment was going into action? It
was a blessing to come over and forget it all, but Peter must drive,
drive. They had taken no care of the avenue; how the trees were broken
in the storm! The house needed--They were going to move the next day
but one, and nothing was ready. A party of gentlemen were coming from
Charleston in the morning!--

They passed the turn of the avenue; they came out to the open lawn,
and the steer stopped and began to browse. Peter shook from head to
foot. He climbed down by the wheel, and turned his face slowly. "Ole
mis'!" he said feebly. "_Ole mis'!_"

She was looking off into space. The cart jerked as it moved after the
feeding steer. The mistress of Sydenham plantation had sought her home
in vain. The crumbled, fallen chimneys of the house were there among
the weeds, and that was all.



On Christmas Day and Easter Day, many an old man and woman come into
St. Helena's Church who are not seen there the rest of the year. There
are not a few recluses in the parish, who come to listen to their
teacher and to the familiar prayers, read with touching earnestness
and simplicity, as one seldom hears the prayers read anywhere. This
Easter morning dawned clear and bright, as Easter morning should. The
fresh-bloomed roses and lilies were put in their places. There was no
touch of paid hands anywhere, and the fragrance blew softly about the
church. As you sat in your pew, you could look out through the
wide-opened doors, and see the drooping branches, and the birds as
they sat singing on the gravestones. The sad faces of the old people,
the cheerful faces of the young, passed by up the aisle. One figure
came to sit alone in one of the pews, to bend its head in prayer after
the ancient habit. Peter led her, as usual, to the broad-aisle
doorway, and helped her, stumbling himself, up the steps, and many
eyes filled with tears as his mistress went to her place. Even the
tragic moment of yesterday was lost already in the acquiescence of her
mind, as the calm sea shines back to the morning sun when another
wreck has gone down.



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 day 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; 't is 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 scratching 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;
't is 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
creator'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, 't is '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 't
was 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, 'Beeca, an' talked
over our girl nonsense, ain't we? You know where 't was--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 't was;
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 't was 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. 'T will soon be summer again, an' 't is 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 stand-in' 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 't was 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_."



THE QUEST OF MR. TEABY.


The trees were bare on meadow and hill, and all about the country one
saw the warm brown of lately fallen leaves. There was still a cheerful
bravery of green in sheltered places,--a fine, live green that
flattered the eye with its look of permanence; the first three
quarters of the year seemed to have worked out their slow processes to
make this perfect late-autumn day. In such weather I found even the
East Wilby railroad station attractive, and waiting three hours for a
slow train became a pleasure; the delight of idleness and even
booklessness cannot be properly described.

The interior of the station was bleak and gravelly, but it would have
been possible to find fault with any interior on such an out-of-doors
day; and after the station-master had locked his ticket-office door
and tried the handle twice, with a comprehensive look at me, he went
slowly away up the road to spend some leisure time with his family. He
had ceased to take any interest in the traveling public, and answered
my questions as briefly as possible. After he had gone some distance
he turned to look back, but finding that I still sat on the baggage
truck in the sunshine, just where he left me, he smothered his natural
apprehensions, and went on.

One might spend a good half hour in watching crows as they go
southward resolutely through the clear sky, and then waver and come
straggling back as if they had forgotten something; one might think
over all one's immediate affairs, and learn to know the outward aspect
of such a place as East Wilby as if born and brought up there. But
after a while I lost interest in both past and future; there was too
much landscape before me at the moment, and a lack of figures. The
weather was not to be enjoyed merely as an end, yet there was no
temptation to explore the up-hill road on the left, or the level
fields on the right; I sat still on my baggage truck and waited for
something to happen. Sometimes one is so happy that there is nothing
left to wish for but to be happier, and just as the remembrance of
this truth illuminated my mind, I saw two persons approaching from
opposite directions. The first to arrive was a pleasant-looking
elderly countrywoman, well wrapped in a worn winter cloak with a thick
plaid shawl over it, and a white worsted cloud tied over her bonnet.
She carried a well-preserved bandbox,--the outlines were perfect under
its checked gingham cover,--and had a large bundle beside, securely
rolled in a newspaper. From her dress I felt sure that she had made a
mistake in dates, and expected winter to set in at once. Her face was
crimson with undue warmth, and what appeared in the end to have been
unnecessary haste. She did not take any notice of the elderly man who
reached the platform a minute later, until they were near enough to
take each other by the hand and exchange most cordial greetings.

"Well, this is a treat!" said the man, who was a small and
shivery-looking person. He carried a great umbrella and a thin,
enameled-cloth valise, and wore an ancient little silk hat and a
nearly new greenish linen duster, as if it were yet summer. "I was
full o' thinkin' o' you day before yisterday; strange, wa'n't it?" he
announced impressively, in a plaintive voice. "I was sayin' to myself,
if there was one livin' bein' I coveted to encounter over East Wilby
way, 't was you, Sister Pinkham."

"Warm to-day, ain't it?" responded Sister Pinkham. "How's your health,
Mr. Teaby? I guess I'd better set right down here on the aidge of the
platform; sha'n't we git more air than if we went inside the depot?
It's necessary to git my breath before I rise the hill."

"You can't seem to account for them foresights," continued Mr. Teaby,
putting down his tall, thin valise and letting the empty top of it
fold over. Then he stood his umbrella against the end of my baggage
truck, without a glance at me. I was glad that they were not finding
me in their way. "Well, if this ain't very sing'lar, I never saw
nothin' that was," repeated the little man. "Nobody can set forth to
explain why the thought of you should have been so borne in upon me
day before yisterday, your livin' countenance an' all, an' here we be
today settin' side o' one another. I've come to rely on them
foresights; they've been of consider'ble use in my business, too."

"Trade good as common this fall?" inquired Sister Pinkham languidly.
"You don't carry such a thing as a good palm-leaf fan amon'st your
stuff, I expect? It does appear to me as if I hadn't been more het up
any day this year."

"I should ha' had the observation to offer it before," said Mr. Teaby,
with pride. "Yes, Sister Pinkham, I've got an excellent fan right
here, an' you shall have it."

He reached for his bag; I heard a clink, as if there were bottles
within. Presently his companion began to fan herself with that steady
sway and lop of the palm-leaf which one sees only in country churches
in midsummer weather. Mr. Teaby edged away a little, as if he feared
such a steady trade-wind.


"We might ha' picked out a shadier spot, on your account," he
suggested. "Can't you unpin your shawl?"

"Not while I'm so het," answered Sister Pinkham coldly. "Is there
anything new recommended for rheumatic complaints?"

"They're gittin' up new compounds right straight along, and sends
sights o' printed bills urgin' of me to buy 'em. I don't beseech none
o' my customers to take them strange nostrums that I ain't able to
recommend."

"Some is new cotches made o' the good old stand-bys, I expect," said
Sister Pink-ham, and there was a comfortable silence of some minutes.

"I'm kind of surprised to meet with you to-day, when all's said an'
done; it kind of started me when I see 't was you, after dwellin' on
you so day before yisterday," insisted Mr. Teaby; and this time Sister
Pinkham took heed of the interesting coincidence.


"Thinkin' o' me, was you?" and she stopped the fan a moment, and
turned to look at him with interest.

"I was so. Well, I never see nobody that kep' her looks as you do, and
be'n a sufferer too, as one may express it."

Sister Pinkham sighed heavily, and began to ply the fan again. "You
was sayin' just now that you found them foresight notions work into
your business."

"Yes'm; I saved a valu'ble life this last spring. I was puttin' up my
vials to start out over Briggsville way, an' 't was impressed upon me
that I'd better carry a portion o' opodildack. I was loaded up heavy,
had all I could lug of spring goods; salts an' seny, and them
big-bottle spring bitters o' mine that folks counts on regular. I
couldn't git the opodildack out o' my mind noway, and I didn't want it
for nothin' nor nobody, but I had to remove a needed vial o' some kind
of essence to give it place. When I was goin' down the lane t'wards
Abel Dean's house, his women folks come flyin' out. 'Child's a-dyin'
in here,' says they; 'tumbled down the sullar stairs.' They was like
crazy creatur's; I give 'em the vial right there in the lane, an' they
run in an' I followed 'em. Last time I was there the child was
a-playin' out; looked rugged and hearty. They've never forgot it an'
never will," said Mr. Teaby impressively, with a pensive look toward
the horizon. "Want me to stop over night with 'em any time, or come
an' take the hoss, or anything. Mis' Dean, she buys four times the
essences an' stuff she wants; kind o' gratified, you see, an' didn't
want to lose the child, I expect, though she's got a number o' others.
If it hadn't be'n for its bein' so impressed on my mind, I should have
omitted that opodildack. I deem it a winter remedy, chiefly."

"Perhaps the young one would ha' come to without none; they do survive
right through everything, an' then again they seem to be taken away
right in their tracks." Sister Pinkham grew more talkative as she
cooled. "Heard any news as you come along?"

"Some," vaguely responded Mr. Teaby. "Folks ginerally relates anythin'
that's occurred since they see me before. I ain't no great hand for
news, an' never was."

"Pity 'bout _you_, Uncle Teaby! There, anybody don't like to have
deaths occur an' them things, and be unawares of 'em, an' the last to
know when folks calls in." Sister Pinkham laughed at first, but said
her say with spirit.

"Certain, certain, we ought all of us to show an interest. I did hear
it reported that Elder Fry calculates to give up preachin' an' go into
the creamery business another spring. You know he's had means left
him, and his throat's kind o' give out; trouble with the pipes. I
called it brown caters, an' explained nigh as I could without hurtin'
of his pride that he'd bawled more 'n any pipes could stand. I git so
wore out settin' under him that I feel to go an' lay right out in the
woods arterwards, where it's still. 'T won't never do for him to deal
so with callin' of his cows; they'd be so aggravated 't would be more
'n any butter business could bear."

"You hadn't ought to speak so light now; he's a very feelin' man
towards any one in trouble," Sister Pinkham rebuked the speaker. "I
set consider'ble by Elder Fry. You sort o' divert yourself dallying
round the country with your essences and remedies, an' you ain't never
sagged down with no settled grievance, as most do. Think o' what the
Elder's be'n through, a-losin' o' three good wives. I'm one o' them
that ain't found life come none too easy, an' Elder Fry's preachin'
stayed my mind consider'ble."

"I s'pose you're right, if you think you be," acknowledged the little
man humbly. "I can't say as I esteem myself so fortunate as most. I
'in a lonesome creatur', an' always was; you know I be. I did expect
somebody 'd engage my affections before this."

"There, plenty 'd be glad to have ye."

"I expect they would, but I don't seem to be drawed to none on 'em,"
replied Mr. Teaby, with a mournful shake of his head. "I've spoke
pretty decided to quite a number in my time, take 'em all together,
but it always appeared best not to follow it up; an' so when I'd come
their way again I'd laugh it off or somethin', in case 't was referred
to. I see one now an' then that I kind o' fancy, but 't ain't the real
thing."

"You mustn't expect to pick out a handsome gal, at your age," insisted
Sister Pinkham, in a business-like way. "Time's past for all that, an'
you've got the name of a rover. I've heard some say that you was rich,
but that ain't every thin'. You must take who you can git, and look
you up a good home; I would. If you was to be taken down with any
settled complaint, you'd be distressed to be without a place o' your
own, an' I'm glad to have this chance to tell ye so. Plenty o' folks
is glad to take you in for a short spell, an' you've had an excellent
chance to look the ground over well. I tell you you're beginnin' to
git along in years."

"I know I be," said Mr. Teaby. "I can't travel now as I used to. I
have to favor my left leg. I do' know but I be spoilt for settlin'
down. This business I never meant to follow stiddy, in the fust place;
't was a means to an end, as one may say."

"Folks would miss ye, but you could take a good long trip, say spring
an' fall, an' live quiet the rest of the year. What if they do git out
o' essence o' lemon an' pep'mint! There's sufficient to the stores; 't
ain't as 't used to be when you begun."

"There's Ann Maria Hart, my oldest sister's daughter. I kind of call
it home with her by spells and when the travelin' 's bad."

"Good King Agrippy! if that's the best you can do, I feel for you,"
exclaimed the energetic adviser. "She's a harmless creatur' and seems
to keep ploddin, but slack ain't no description, an' runs on talkin'
about nothin' till it strikes right in an' numbs ye. She's pressed for
house room, too. Hart ought to put on an addition long ago, but he's
too stingy to live. Folks was tellin' me that somebody observed to him
how he'd got a real good, stiddy man to work with him this summer.
'He's called a very pious man, too, great hand in meetin's, Mr. Hart,'
says they; an' says he, 'I'd have you rec'lect he's a-prayin' out o'
my time!' Said it hasty, too, as if he meant it."

"Well, I can put up with Hart; he's near, but he uses me well, an' I
try to do the same by him. I don't bange on 'em; I pay my way, an' I
feel as if everything was temp'rary. I did plan to go way over North
Dexter way, where I've never be'n, an' see if there wa'n't somebody,
but the weather ain't be'n settled as I could wish. I'm always
expectin' to find her, I be so,"--at which I observed Sister Pinkham's
frame shake.

I felt a slight reproach of conscience at listening so intently to
these entirely private affairs, and at this point reluctantly left my
place and walked along the platform, to remind Sister Pinkham and
confiding Mr. Teaby of my neighborhood. They gave no sign that there
was any objection to the presence of a stranger, and so I came back
gladly to the baggage truck, and we all kept silence for a little
while. A fine flavor of extracts was wafted from the valise to where I
sat. I pictured to myself the solitary and hopeful wanderings of
Mr. Teaby. There was an air about him of some distinction; he might
have been a decayed member of the medical profession. I observed that
his hands were unhardened by any sort of rural work, and he sat there
a meek and appealing figure, with his antique hat and linen duster,
beside the well-wadded round shoulders of friendly Sister Pinkham. The
expression of their backs was most interesting.

"You might express it that I've got quite a number o' good homes; I've
got me sorted out a few regular places where I mostly stop," Mr. Teaby
explained presently. "I like to visit with the old folks an' speak o'
the past together; an' the boys an' gals, they always have some kind
o' fun goin' on when I git along. They always have to git me out to
the barn an' tell me, if they're a-courtin', and I fetch an' carry for
'em in that case, an' help out all I can. I've made peace when they
got into some o' their misunderstanding, an' them times they set a
good deal by Uncle Teaby; but they ain't all got along as well as they
expected, and that's be'n one thing that's made me desirous not to git
fooled myself. But I do' know as folks would be reconciled to my
settlin' down in one place. I've gathered a good many extry receipts
for things, an' folks all calls me somethin' of a doctor; you know my
grand'ther was one, on my mother's side."

"Well, you've had my counsel for what 't is wuth," said the woman, not
unkindly. "Trouble is, you want better bread than's made o' wheat."

"I'm 'most ashamed to ask ye again if 't would be any use to lay the
matter before Hannah Jane Pinkham?" This was spoken lower, but I could
hear the gentle suggestion.

"I'm obleeged to _you_" said the lady of Mr. Teaby's choice, "but I
ain't the right one. Don't you go to settin' your mind on me: 't ain't
wuth while. I'm older than you be, an' apt to break down with my
rheumatic complaints. You don't want nobody on your hands. I'd git a
younger woman, I would so."

"I've be'n a-lookin' for the right one a sight o' years, Hannah Jane.
I've had a kind o' notion I should know her right off when I fust see
her, but I'm afeared it ain't goin' to be that way. I've seen a sight
o' nice, smart women, but when the thought o' you was so impressed on
my mind day before yisterday"--

"I'm sorry to disobleege you, but if I have anybody, I'm kind o' half
promised to Elder Fry," announced Sister Pinkham bravely. "I consider
it more on the off side than I did at first. If he'd continued
preachin' I'd favor it more, but I dread havin' to 'tend to a growin'
butter business an' to sense them new machines. 'T ain't as if he'd
'stablished it. I've just begun to have things easy; but there, I feel
as if I had a lot o' work left in me, an' I don't know's 't is right
to let it go to waste. I expect the Elder would preach some, by
spells, an' we could ride about an' see folks; an' he'd always be
called to funerals, an' have some variety one way an' another. I urge
him not to quit preachin'."

"I'd rather he ondertook 'most anythin' else," said Mr. Teaby, rising
and trying to find the buttons of his linen duster.

I could see a bitter shade of jealousy cloud his amiable face; but
Sister Pinkham looked up at him and laughed. "Set down, set down," she
said. "We ain't in no great hurry;" and Uncle Teaby relented, and
lingered. "I'm all out o' rose-water for the eyes," she told him, "an'
if you've got a vial o' lemon left that you'll part with reasonable, I
do' know but I'll take that. I'd rather have caught you when you was
outward bound; your bag looks kind o' slim."

"Everythin' 's fresh-made just before I started, 'cept the ginger, an'
that I buy, but it's called the best there is."

The two sat down and drove a succession of sharp bargains, but finally
parted the best of friends. Mr. Teaby kindly recognized my presence
from a business point of view, and offered me a choice of his wares at
reasonable prices. I asked about a delightful jumping-jack which made
its appearance, and wished very much to become the owner, for it was
curiously whittled out and fitted together by Mr. Teaby's own hands.
He exhibited the toy to Sister Pinkham and me, to our great pleasure,
but scorned to sell such a trifle, it being worth nothing; and beside,
he had made it for a little girl who lived two miles farther along the
road he was following. I could see that she was a favorite of the old
man's, and said no more about the matter, but provided myself, as
recommended, with an ample package of court-plaster, "in case of
accident before I got to where I was going," and a small bottle of
smelling-salts, described as reviving to the faculties.

Then we watched Mr. Teaby plod away, a quaint figure, with his large
valise nearly touching the ground as it hung slack from his right
hand. The greenish-brown duster looked bleak and unseasonable as a
cloud went over the sun; it appeared to symbolize the youthful and
spring-like hopes of the wearer, decking the autumn days of life.

"Poor creatur'!" said Sister Pinkham. "There, he doos need somebody to
look after him."

She turned to me frankly, and I asked how far he was going.

"Oh, he'll put up at that little gal's house an' git his dinner, and
give her the jumpin'-jack an' trade a little; an' then he'll work
along the road, callin' from place to place. He's got a good deal o'
system, an' was a smart boy, so that folks expected he was goin' to
make a doctor, but he kind o' petered out. He's long-winded an'
harpin', an' some folks prays him by if they can; but there, most
likes him, an' there's nobody would be more missed. He don't make no
trouble for 'em; he'll take right holt an' help, and there ain't
nobody more gentle with the sick. Always has some o' his nonsense over
to me."

This was added with sudden consciousness that I must have heard the
recent conversation, but we only smiled at each other, and good Sister
Pinkham did not seem displeased. We both turned to look again at the
small figure of Mr. Teaby, as he went away, with his queer, tripping
gait, along the level road.

"Pretty day, if 't wa'n't quite so warm," said Sister Pinkham, as she
rose and reached for her bandbox and bundle, to resume her own
journey. "There, if here ain't Uncle Teaby's umbrilla! He forgits
everything that belongs to him but that old valise. Folks wouldn't
know him if he left that. You may as well just hand it to Asa Briggs,
the depot-master, when he gits back. Like's not the old gentleman 'll
think to call for it as he comes back along. Here's his fan, too, but
he won't be likely to want that this winter."

She looked at the large umbrella; there was a great deal of good
material in it, but it was considerably out of repair.

"I don't know but I'll stop an' mend it up for him, poor old
creatur'," she said slowly, with an apologetic look at me. Then she
sat down again, pulled a large rolled-up needlebook from her deep and
accessible pocket, and sewed busily for some time with strong
stitches.

I sat by and watched her, and was glad to be of use in chasing her
large spool of linen thread, which repeatedly rolled away along the
platform. Sister Pinkham's affectionate thoughts were evidently
following her old friend.

"I've a great mind to walk back with the umbrilla; he may need it, an'
't ain't a great ways," she said to me, and then looked up quickly,
blushing like a girl. I wished she would, for my part, but it did not
seem best for a stranger to give advice in such serious business.
"I'll tell you what I will do," she told me innocently, a moment
afterwards. "I'll take the umbrilla along with me, and leave word with
Asa Briggs I've got it. I go right by his house, so you needn't charge
your mind nothin' about it."

By the time she had taken off her gold-bowed spectacles and put them
carefully away and was ready to make another start, she had learned
where I came from and where I was going and what my name was, all this
being but poor return for what I had gleaned of the history of herself
and Mr. Teaby. I watched Sister Pinkham until she disappeared,
umbrella in hand, over the crest of a hill far along the road to the
eastward.



THE LUCK OF THE BOGANS.


I.


The old beggar women of Bantry streets had seldom showered their
blessings upon a departing group of emigrants with such hearty good
will as they did upon Mike Bogan and his little household one May
morning.

Peggy Muldoon, she of the game leg and green-patched eye and limber
tongue, steadied herself well back against the battered wall at the
street corner and gave her whole energy to a torrent of speech unusual
to even her noble powers. She would not let Mike Bogan go to America
unsaluted and unblessed; she meant to do full honor to this second
cousin, once removed, on the mother's side.

"Yirra, Mike Bogan, is it yerself thin, goyn away beyant the says?"
she began with true dramatic fervor. "Let poor owld Peg take her last
look on your laughing face me darlin'. She'll be under the ground this
time next year, God give her grace, and you far away lavin' to strange
spades the worruk of hapin' the sods of her grave. Give me one last
look at me darlin' lad wid his swate Biddy an' the shild. Oh that I
live to see this day!"

Peg's companions, old Marget Dunn and Biddy O'Hern and no-legged Tom
Whinn, the fragment of a once active sailor who propelled himself by a
low truckle cart and two short sticks; these interesting members of
society heard the shrill note of their leader's eloquence and suddenly
appeared like beetles out of unsuspected crevices near by. The side
car, upon which Mike Bogan and his wife and child were riding from
their little farm outside the town to the place of departure, was
stopped at the side of the narrow street. A lank yellow-haired lad,
with eyes red from weeping sat swinging his long legs from the car
side, another car followed, heavily laden with Mike's sister's family,
and a mourning yet envious group of acquaintances footed it in the
rear. It was an excited, picturesque little procession; the town was
quickly aware of its presence, and windows went up from house to
house, and heads came out of the second and third stories and even in
the top attics all along the street. The air was thick with blessings,
the quiet of Bantry was permanently broken.

"Lard bliss us and save us!" cried Peggy, her shrill voice piercing
the chatter and triumphantly lifting itself in audible relief above
the din,--"Lard bliss us an' save us for the flower o' Bantry is
lavin' us this day. Break my heart wid yer goyn will ye Micky Bogan
and make it black night to the one eye that's left in me gray head
this fine mornin' o' spring. I that hushed the mother of you and the
father of you babies in me arms, and that was a wake old woman
followin' and crapin' to see yerself christened. Oh may the saints be
good to you Micky Bogan and Biddy Flaherty the wife, and forgive you
the sin an' shame of turning yer proud backs on ould Ireland. Ain't
there pigs and praties enough for ye in poor Bantry town that her
crabbedest childer must lave her. Oh wisha wisha, I'll see your face
no more, may the luck o' the Bogans follow you, that failed none o'
the Bogans yet. May the sun shine upon you and grow two heads of
cabbage in the same sprout, may the little b'y live long and get him a
good wife, and if she ain't good to him may she die from him. May
every hair on both your heads turn into a blessed candle to light your
ways to heaven, but not yit me darlin's--not yit!"

The jaunting car had been surrounded by this time and Mike and his
wife were shaking hands and trying to respond impartially to the
friendly farewells and blessings of their friends. There never had
been such a leave-taking in Bantry. Peggy Muldoon felt that her
eloquence was in danger of being ignored and made a final shrill
appeal. "Who'll bury me now?" she screamed with a long wail which
silenced the whole group; "who'll lay me in the grave, Micky bein'
gone from me that always gave me the kind word and the pinny or
trippence ivery market day, and the wife of him Biddy Flaherty the
rose of Glengariff; many's the fine meal she's put before old Peggy
Muldoon that is old and blind."

"Awh, give the ould sowl a pinny now," said a sympathetic voice, "'t
will bring you luck, more power to you." And Mike Bogan, the tears
streaming down his honest cheeks, plunged deep into his pocket and
threw the old beggar a broad five-shilling piece. It was a monstrous
fortune to Peggy. Her one eye glared with joy, the jaunting car moved
away while she fell flat on the ground in apparent excess of emotion.
The farewells were louder for a minute--then they were stopped; the
excitable neighborhood returned to its business or idleness and the
street was still. Peggy rose rubbing an elbow, and said with the air
of a queen to her retinue, "Coom away now poor crathurs, so we'll
drink long life to him." And Marget Dunn and Biddy O'Hern and
no-legged Tom Whinn with his truckle cart disappeared into an alley.

"What's all this whillalu?" asked a sober-looking, clerical gentleman
who came riding by.

"'T is the Bogans going to Ameriky, yer reverence," responded Jim
Kalehan, the shoemaker, from his low window. "The folks gived them
their wake whilst they were here to enjoy it and them was the keeners
that was goin' hippety with lame legs and fine joy down the convanient
alley for beer, God bless the poor souls!"

Mike Bogan and Biddy his wife looked behind them again and again. Mike
blessed himself fervently as he caught a last glimpse of the old
church on the hill where he was christened and married, where his
father and his grandfather had been christened and married and buried.
He remembered the day when he had first seen his wife, who was there
from Glengariff to stay with her old aunt, and coming to early mass,
had looked to him like a strange sweet flower abloom on the gray stone
pavement where she knelt. The old church had long stood on the steep
height at the head of Bantry street and watched and waited for her
children. He would never again come in from his little farm in the
early morning--he never again would be one of the Bantry men. The
golden stories of life in America turned to paltry tinsel, and a love
and pride of the old country, never forgotten by her sons and
daughters, burned with fierce flame on the inmost altar of his heart.
It had all been very easy to dream fine dreams of wealth and
landownership, but in that moment the least of the pink daisies that
were just opening on the roadside was dearer to the simple-hearted
emigrant than all the world beside.

"Lave me down for a bit of sod," he commanded the wondering young
driver, who would have liked above all things to sail for the new
world. The square of turf from the hedge foot, sparkling with dew and
green with shamrock and gay with tiny flowers, was carefully wrapped
in Mike's best Sunday handkerchief as they went their way. Biddy had
covered her head with her shawl--it was she who had made the plan of
going to America, it was she who was eager to join some successful
members of her family who had always complained at home of their
unjust rent and the difficulties of the crops. Everybody said that the
times were going to be harder than ever that summer, and she was quick
to catch at the inflammable speeches of some lawless townsfolk who
were never satisfied with anything. As for Mike, the times always
seemed alike, he did not grudge hard work and he never found fault
with the good Irish weather. His nature was not resentful, he only
laughed when Biddy assured him that the gorse would soon grow in the
thatch of his head as it did on their cabin chimney. It was only when
she said that, in America they could make a gentleman of baby Dan,
that the father's blue eyes glistened and a look of determination came
into his face.

"God grant we'll come back to it some day," said Mike softly. "I
didn't know, faix indeed, how sorry I'd be for lavin' the owld place.
Awh Biddy girl 't is many the weary day we'll think of the home we've
left," and Biddy removed the shawl one instant from her face only to
cover it again and burst into a new shower of tears. The next day but
one they were sailing away out of Queenstown harbor to the high seas.
Old Ireland was blurring its green and purple coasts moment by moment;
Kinsale lay low, and they had lost sight of the white cabins on the
hillsides and the pastures golden with furze. Hours before the old
women on the wharves had turned away from them shaking their great cap
borders. Hours before their own feet had trodden the soil of Ireland
for the last time. Mike Bogan and Biddy had left home, they were well
on their way to America. Luckily nobody had been with them at last to
say good-by--they had taken a more or less active part in the piteous
general leave-taking at Queenstown, but those were not the faces of
their own mothers or brothers to which they looked back as the ship
slid away through the green water.

"Well, sure, we're gone now," said Mike setting his face westward and
tramping the steerage deck. "I like the say too, I belave, me own
grandfather was a sailor, an' 't is a fine life for a man. Here's
little Dan goin' to Ameriky and niver mistrustin'. We'll be sindin'
the gossoon back again, rich and fine, to the owld place by and by,
'tis thrue for us, Biddy."

But Biddy, like many another woman, had set great changes in motion
and then longed to escape from their consequences. She was much
discomposed by the ship's unsteadiness. She accused patient Mike of
having dragged her away from home and friends. She grew very white in
the face, and was helped to her hard steerage berth where she had
plenty of time for reflection upon the vicissitudes of seafaring. As
for Mike, he grew more and more enthusiastic day by day over their
prospects as he sat in the shelter of the bulkhead and tended little
Dan and talked with his companions as they sailed westward.

Who of us have made enough kindly allowance for the homesick
quick-witted ambitious Irish men and women, who have landed every year
with such high hopes on our shores. There are some of a worse sort, of
whom their native country might think itself well rid--but what
thrifty New England housekeeper who takes into her home one of the
pleasant-faced little captive maids, from Southern Ireland, has half
understood the change of surroundings. That was a life in the open air
under falling showers and warm sunshine, a life of wit and humor, of
lavishness and lack of provision for more than the passing day--of
constant companionship with one's neighbors, and a cheerful serenity
and lack of nervous anticipation born of the vicinity of the Gulf
Stream. The climate makes the characteristics of Cork and Kerry; the
fierce energy of the Celtic race in America is forced and stimulated
by our own keen air. The beauty of Ireland is little hinted at by an
average orderly New England town--many a young girl and many a
blundering sturdy fellow is heartsick with the homesickness and
restraint of his first year in this golden country of hard work. To so
many of them a house has been but a shelter for the night--a
sleeping-place: if you remember that, you do not wonder at fumbling
fingers or impatience with our houses full of trinkets. Our needless
tangle of furnishing bewilders those who still think the flowers that
grow of themselves in the Irish thatch more beautiful than anything
under the cover of our prosaic shingled roofs.

"Faix, a fellow on deck was telling me a nate story the day," said
Mike to Biddy Bogan, by way of kindly amusement. "Says he to me,
'Mike,' says he, 'did ye ever hear of wan Pathrick O'Brien that heard
some bla'guard tell how in Ameriky you picked up money in the
streets?' 'No,' says I. 'He wint ashore in a place,' says he, 'and he
walked along and he come to a sign on a wall. Silver Street was on it.
"I 'ont stap here," says he, "it ain't wort my while at all, at all.
I'll go on to Gold Street," says he, but he walked ever since and he
ain't got there yet.'"

Biddy opened her eyes and laughed feebly. Mike looked so bronzed and
ruddy and above all so happy, that she took heart. "We're sound and
young, thanks be to God, and we'll earn an honest living," said Mike,
proudly. "'T is the childher I'm thinkin' of all the time, an' how
they'll get a chance the best of us niver had at home. God bless old
Bantry forever in spite of it. An' there's a smart rid-headed man that
has every bother to me why 'ont I go with him and keep a tidy bar.
He's been in the same business this four year gone since he come out,
and twenty pince in his pocket when he landed, and this year he took a
month off and went over to see the ould folks and build 'em a dacint
house intirely, and hire a man to farm wid 'em now the old ones is
old. He says will I put in my money wid him, an he'll give me a great
start I wouldn't have in three years else."

"Did you have the fool's head on you then and let out to him what
manes you had?" whispered Biddy, fiercely and lifting herself to look
at him.

"I did then; 't was no harm," answered the unsuspecting Mike.

"'T was a black-hearted rascal won the truth from you!" and Biddy
roused her waning forces and that very afternoon appeared on deck. The
red-headed man knew that he had lost the day when he caught her first
scornful glance.

"God pity the old folks of him an' their house," muttered the
sharp-witted wife to Mike, as she looked at the low-lived scheming
fellow whom she suspected of treachery.

"He said thim was old clothes he was wearin' on the sea," apologized
Mike for his friend, looking down somewhat consciously at his own
comfortable corduroys. He and Biddy had been well to do on their
little farm, and on good terms with their landlord the old squire.
Poor old gentleman, it had been a sorrow to him to let the young
people go. He was a generous, kindly old man, but he suffered from the
evil repute of some shortsighted neighbors. "If I gave up all I had in
the world and went to the almshouse myself, they would still damn me
for a landlord," he said, desperately one day. "But I never thought
Mike Bogan would throw up his good chances. I suppose some worthless
fellow called him stick-in-the-mud and off he must go."

There was some unhappiness at first for the young people in America.
They went about the streets of their chosen town for a day or two,
heavy-hearted with disappointment. Their old neighbors were not housed
in palaces after all, as the letters home had suggested, and after a
few evenings of visiting and giving of messages, and a few days of
aimless straying about, Mike and Biddy hired two rooms at a large rent
up three flights of stairs, and went to housekeeping. Litte Dan rolled
down one flight the first day; no more tumbling on the green turf
among the daisies for him, poor baby boy. His father got work at the
forge of a carriage shop, having served a few months with a smith at
home, and so taking rank almost as a skilled laborer. He was a great
favorite speedily, his pay was good, at least it would have been good
if he had lived on the old place among the fields, but he and Biddy
did not know how to make the most of it here, and Dan had a baby
sister presently to keep him company, and then another and another,
and there they lived up-stairs in the heat, in the cold, in daisy time
and snow time, and Dan was put to school and came home with a
knowledge of sums in arithmetic which set his father's eyes dancing
with delight, but with a knowledge besides of foul language and a
brutal way of treating his little sisters when nobody was looking on.

Mike Bogan was young and strong when he came to America, and his good
red blood lasted well, but it was against his nature to work in a hot
half-lighted shop, and in a very few years he began to look pale about
the mouth and shaky in the shoulders, and then the enthusiastic
promises of the red-headed man on the ship, borne out, we must allow,
by Mike's own observation, inclined him and his hard earned capital to
the purchase of a tidy looking drinking shop on a side street of the
town. The owner had died and his widow wished to go West to live with
her son. She knew the Bogans and was a respectable soul in her way.
She and her husband had kept a quiet place, everybody acknowledged,
and everybody was thankful that since drinking shops must be kept, so
decent a man as Mike Bogan was taking up the business.


II.


The luck of the Bogans proved to be holding true in this generation.
Their proverbial good fortune seemed to come rather from an absence of
bad fortune than any special distinction granted the generation or two
before Mike's time. The good fellow sometimes reminded himself
gratefully of Peggy Muldoon's blessing, and once sent her a pound to
keep Christmas upon. If he had only known it, that unworthy woman
bestowed curses enough upon him because he did not repeat it the next
year, to cancel any favors that might have been anticipated. Good news
flew back to Bantry of his prosperity, and his comfortable home above
the store was a place of reception and generous assistance to all the
westward straying children of Bantry. There was a bit of garden that
belonged to the estate, the fences were trig and neat, and neither
Mike nor Biddy were persons to let things look shabby while they had
plenty of money to keep them clean and whole. It was Mike who walked
behind the priest on Sundays when the collection was taken. It was
Mike whom good Father Miles trusted more than any other member of his
flock, whom he confided in and consulted, whom perhaps his reverence
loved best of all the parish because they were both Bantry men, born
and bred. And nobody but Father Miles and Biddy and Mike Bogan knew
the full extent of the father's and mother's pride and hope in the
cleverness and beauty of their only son. Nothing was too great, and no
success seemed impossible when they tried to picture the glorious
career of little Dan.

Mike was a kind father to his little daughters, but all his hope was
for Dan. It was for Dan that he was pleased when people called him
Mr. Bogan in respectful tones, and when he was given a minor place of
trust at town elections, he thought with humble gladness that Dan
would have less cause to be ashamed of him by and by when he took his
own place as gentleman and scholar. For there was something different
about Dan from the rest of them, plain Irish folk that they were. Dan
was his father's idea of a young lord; he would have liked to show the
boy to the old squire, and see his look of surprise. Money came in at
the shop door in a steady stream, there was plenty of it put away in
the bank and Dan must wear well-made clothes and look like the best
fellows at the school. He was handsomer than any of them, he was the
best and quickest scholar of his class. The president of the great
carriage company had said that he was a very promising boy more than
once, and had put his hand on Mike's shoulder as he spoke. Mike and
Biddy, dressed in their best, went to the school examinations year
after year and heard their son do better than the rest, and saw him
noticed and admired. For Dan's sake no noisy men were allowed to stay
about the shop. Dan himself was forbidden to linger there, and so far
the boy had clear honest eyes, and an affectionate way with his father
that almost broke that honest heart with joy. They talked together
when they went to walk on Sundays, and there was a plan, increasingly
interesting to both, of going to old Bantry some summer--just for a
treat. Oh happy days! They must end as summer days do, in winter
weather.

There was an outside stair to the two upper stories where the Bogans
lived above their place of business, and late one evening, when the
shop shutters were being clasped together below, Biddy Bogan heard a
familiar heavy step and hastened to hold her brightest lamp in the
doorway.

"God save you," said his reverence Father Miles, who was coming up
slowly, and Biddy dropped a decent courtesy and devout blessing in
return. His reverence looked pale and tired, and seated himself
wearily in a chair by the window--while Biddy coasted round by a
bedroom door to "whist" at two wakeful daughters who were teasing each
other and chattering in bed.

"'T is long since we saw you here, sir," she said, respectfully. "'T
is warm weather indade for you to be about the town, and folks sick
an' dyin' and needing your help, sir. Mike'll be up now, your
reverence. I hear him below."

Biddy had grown into a stout mother of a family, red-faced and
bustling; there was little likeness left to the rose of Glengariff
with whom Mike had fallen in love at early mass in Bantry church. But
the change had been so gradual that Mike himself had never become
conscious of any damaging difference. She took a fresh loaf of bread
and cut some generous slices and put a piece of cheese and a knife on
the table within reach of Father Miles's hand. "I suppose 'tis waste
of time to give you more, so it is," she said to him. "Bread an'
cheese and no better will you ate I suppose, sir," and she folded her
arms across her breast and stood looking at him.

"How is the luck of the Bogans to-day?" asked the kind old man. "The
head of the school I make no doubt?" and at this moment Mike came up
the stairs and greeted his priest with reverent affection.

"You're looking faint, sir," he urged. "Biddy get a glass now, we're
quite by ourselves sir--and I've something for sickness that's very
soft and fine entirely."

"Well, well, this once then," answered Father Miles, doubtfully. "I've
had a hard day."

He held the glass in his hand for a moment and then pushed it away
from him on the table. "Indeed it's not wrong in itself," said the
good priest looking up presently, as if he had made something clear to
his mind. "The wrong is in ourselves to make beasts of ourselves with
taking too much of it. I don't shame me with this glass of the best
that you've poured for me. My own sin is in the coffee-pot. It wilds
my head when I've got most use for it, and I'm sure of an aching
pate--God forgive me for indulgence; but I must have it for my
breakfast now, and then. Give me a bit of bread and cheese; yes,
that's what I want Bridget," and he pushed the glass still farther
away.

"I've been at a sorry place this night," he went on a moment later,
"the smell of the stuff can't but remind me. 'T is a comfort to come
here and find your house so clean and decent, and both of you looking
me in the face. God save all poor sinners!" and Mike and his wife
murmured assent.

"I wish to God you were out of this business and every honest man with
you," said the priest, suddenly dropping his fatherly, Bantry good
fellowship and making his host conscious of the solemnity of the
church altar. "'T is a decent shop you keep, Mike, my lad, I know. I
know no harm of it, but there are weak souls that can't master
themselves, and the drink drags them down. There's little use in doing
away with the shops though. We've got to make young men strong enough
to let drink alone. The drink will always be in the world. Here's your
bright young son; what are they teaching him at his school, do ye
know? Has his characther grown, do ye think Mike Bogan, and is he
going to be a man for good, and to help decent things get a start and
bad things to keep their place? I don't care how he does his sums, so
I don't, if he has no characther, and they may fight about beer and
fight about temperance and carry their Father Matthew flags flying
high, so they may, and it's all no good, lessen we can raise the young
folks up above the place where drink and shame can touch them. God
grant us help," he whispered, dropping his head on his breast. "I'm
getting to be an old man myself, and I've never known the temptation
that's like a hounding devil to many men. I can let drink alone, God
pity those who can't. Keep the young lads out from it Mike. You're a
good fellow, you're careful, but poor human souls are weak, God
knows!"

"'T is thrue for you indade sir!" responded Biddy. Her eyes were full
of tears at Father Miles's tone and earnestness, but she could not
have made clear to herself what he had said.

"Will I put a dhrap more of wather in it, your riverence?" she
suggested, but the priest shook his head gently, and, taking a handful
of parish papers out of his pocket, proceeded to hold conference with
the master of the house. Biddy waited a while and at last ventured to
clear away the good priest's frugal supper. She left the glass, but he
went away without touching it, and in the very afterglow of his
parting blessing she announced that she had the makings of a pain
within, and took the cordial with apparent approval.

Mike did not make any comment; he was tired and it was late, and long
past their bedtime.

Biddy was wide awake and talkative from her tonic, and soon pursued
the subject of conversation.

"What set the father out wid talking I do' know?" she inquired a
little ill-humoredly. "'T was thrue for him that we kape a dacint shop
anyhow, an' how will it be in the way of poor Danny when it's finding
the manes to put him where he is?"

"'T wa'n't that he mint at all," answered Mike from his pillow.
"Didn't ye hear what he said?" after endeavoring fruitlessly to repeat
it in his own words--"He's right, sure, about a b'y's getting thim
books and having no characther. He thinks well of Danny, and he knows
no harm of him. Wisha! what 'll we do wid that b'y, Biddy, I do' know!
'Fadther,' says he to me today, 'why couldn't ye wait an' bring me
into the wurruld on American soil,' says he 'and maybe I'd been
prisident,' says he, and 't was the thruth for him."

"I'd rather for him to be a priest meself," replied the mother.

"That's what Father Miles said himself the other day," announced Mike
wide awake now. "'I wish he'd the makings of a good priest,' said he.
'There'll soon be need of good men and hard picking for 'em too,'
said he, and he let a great sigh. ''T is money they want and place
they want, most o' them bla'guard b'ys in the siminary. 'T is the old
fashioned min like mesilf that think however will they get souls
through this life and through heaven's gate at last, wid clane names
and God-fearin', dacint names left after them.' Thim was his own words
indade."

"Idication was his cry always," said Bridget, blessing herself in the
dark. "'T was only last confission he took no note of me own sins
while he redded himself in the face with why don't I kape Mary Ellen
to the school, and myself not an hour in the day to rest my poor
bones. 'I have to kape her in, to mind the shmall childer,' says I,
an' 't was thrue for me, so it was." She gave a jerk under the
blankets, which represented the courtesy of the occasion. She had a
great respect and some awe for Father Miles, but she considered
herself to have held her ground in that discussion.

"We'll do our best by them all, sure," answered Mike. "'T is tribbling
me money I am ivery day," he added, gayly. "The lord-liftinant himsilf
is no surer of a good bury-in' than you an' me. What if we made a
priest of Dan intirely?" with a great outburst of proper pride. "A son
of your own at the alther saying mass for you, Biddy Flaherty from
Glengariff!"

"He's no mind for it, more's the grief," answered the mother,
unexpectedly, shaking her head gloomily on the pillow, "but marruk me
wuds now, he'll ride in his carriage when I'm under the sods, give me
grace and you too Mike Bogan! Look at the airs of him and the toss of
his head. 'Mother,' says he to me, 'I'm goin' to be a big man!' says
he, 'whin I grow up. D' ye think anybody 'll take me fer an
Irishman?'"

"Bad cess to the bla'guard fer that then!" said Mike. "It's spoilin'
him you are. 'T is me own pride of heart to come from old Bantry, an'
he lied to me yesterday gone, saying would I take him to see the old
place. Wisha! he's got too much tongue, and he's spindin' me money for
me."

But Biddy pretended to be falling asleep. This was not the first time
that the honest pair had felt anxiety creeping into their pride about
Dan. He frightened them sometimes; he was cleverer than they, and the
mother had already stormed at the boy for his misdemeanors, in her
garrulous fashion, but covered them from his father notwithstanding.
She felt an assurance of the merely temporary damage of wild oats; she
believed it was just as well for a boy to have his freedom and his
fling. She even treated his known lies as if they were truth. An
easy-going comfortable soul was Biddy, who with much shrewdness and
only a trace of shrewishness got through this evil world as best she
might.

The months flew by. Mike Bogan was a middle-aged man, and he and his
wife looked somewhat elderly as they went to their pew in the broad
aisle on Sunday morning. Danny usually came too, and the girls, but
Dan looked contemptuous as he sat next his father and said his prayers
perfunctorily. Sometimes he was not there at all, and Mike had a heavy
heart under his stiff best coat. He was richer than any other member
of Father Miles's parish, and he was known and respected everywhere as
a good citizen. Even the most ardent believers in the temperance cause
were known to say that little mischief would be done if all the
rumsellers were such men as Mr. Bogan. He was generous and in his
limited way public spirited. He did his duty to his neighbor as he saw
it. Every one used liquor more or less, somebody must sell it, but a
low groggery was as much a thing of shame to him as to any man. He
never sold to boys, or to men who had had too much already. His shop
was clean and wholesome, and in the evening when a dozen or more of
his respectable acquaintances gathered after work for a social hour or
two and a glass of whiskey to rest and cheer them after exposure,
there was not a little good talk about affairs from their point of
view, and plenty of honest fun. In their own houses very likely the
rooms were close and hot, and the chairs hard and unrestful. The wife
had taken her bit of recreation by daylight and visited her friends.
This was their comfortable club-room, Mike Bogan's shop, and Mike
himself the leader of the assembly. There was a sober-mindedness in
the man; his companions were contented though he only looked on
tolerantly at their fun, for the most part, without taking any active
share himself.

One cool October evening the company was well gathered in, there was
even a glow of wood fire in the stove, and two of the old men were
sitting close beside it. Corny Sullivan had been a soldier in the
British army for many years, he had been wounded at last at
Sebastopol, and yet here he was, full of military lore and glory, and
propped by a wooden leg. Corny was usually addressed an Timber-toes by
his familiars; he was an irascible old follow to deal with, but as
clean as a whistle from long habit and even stately to look at in his
arm-chair. He had a nephew with whom he made his home, who would give
him an arm presently and get him home to bed. His mate was an old
sailor much bent in the back by rheumatism, Jerry Bogan; who, though
no relation, was tenderly treated by Mike, being old and poor. His
score was never kept, but he seldom wanted for his evening grog. Jerry
Bogan was a cheerful soul; the wit of the Celts and their pathetic
wilfulness were delightful in him. The priest liked him, the doctor
half loved him, this old-fashioned Irishman who had a graceful
compliment or a thrust of wit for whoever came in his way. What a
treasury of old Irish lore and legend was this old sailor! What
broadness and good cheer and charity had been fostered in his sailor
heart! The delight of little children with his clever tales and
mysterious performances with bits of soft pine and a sharp jackknife,
a very Baron Munchausen of adventure, and here he sat, round backed
and head pushed forward like an old turtle, by the fire. The other men
sat or stood about the low-walled room. Mike was serving his friends;
there was a clink of glass and a stirring and shaking, a pungent odor
of tobacco, and much laughter.

"Soombody, whoiver it was, thrun a cat down in Tom Auley's well las'
night," announced Corny Sullivan with more than usual gravity.

"They'll have no luck thin," says Jerry. "Anybody that meddles wid
wather 'ill have no luck while they live, faix they 'ont thin."

"Tom Auley's been up watchin' this three nights now," confides the
other old gossip. "Thim dirty b'y's troublin' his pigs in the sthy,
and having every stramash about the place, all for revinge upon him
for gettin' the police afther thim when they sthole his hins. 'T was
as well for him too, they're dirty bligards, the whole box and dice of
them."

"Whishper now!" and Jerry pokes his great head closer to his friend.
"The divil of 'em all is young Dan Bogan, Mike's son. Sorra a bit o'
good is all his schoolin', and Mike's heart 'll be soon broke from
him. I see him goin' about wid his nose in the air. He's a pritty boy,
but the divil is in him an' 't is he ought to have been a praste wid
his chances and Father Miles himself tarkin and tarkin wid him tryin'
to make him a crown of pride to his people after all they did for him.
There was niver a spade in his hand to touch the ground yet. Look at
his poor father now! Look at Mike, that's grown old and gray since
winther time." And they turned their eyes to the bar to refresh their
memories with the sight of the disappointed face behind it.

There was a rattling at the door-latch just then and loud voices
outside, and as the old men looked, young Dan Bogan came stumbling
into the shop. Behind him were two low fellows, the worst in the town,
they had all been drinking more than was good for them, and for the
first time Mike Bogan saw his only son's boyish face reddened and
stupid with whiskey. It had been an unbroken law that Dan should keep
out of the shop with his comrades; now he strode forward with an
absurd travesty of manliness, and demanded liquor for himself and his
friends at his father's hands.

Mike staggered, his eyes glared with anger. His fatherly pride made
him long to uphold the poor boy before so many witnesses. He reached
for a glass, then he pushed it away--and with quick step reached Dan's
side, caught him by the collar, and held him. One or two of the
spectators chuckled with weak excitement, but the rest pitied Mike
Bogan as he would have pitied them.

The angry father pointed his son's companions to the door, and after a
moment's hesitation they went skulking out, and father and son
disappeared up the stairway. Dan was a coward, he was glad to be
thrust into his own bedroom upstairs, his head was dizzy, and he
muttered only a feeble oath. Several of Mike Bogan's customers had
kindly disappeared when he returned trying to look the same as ever,
but one after another the great tears rolled down his cheeks. He never
had faced despair till now; he turned his back to the men, and fumbled
aimlessly among the bottles on the shelf. Some one came, in
unconscious of the pitiful scene, and impatiently repeated his order
to the shopkeeper.

"God help me, boys, I can't sell more this night!" he said brokenly.
"Go home now and lave me to myself."

They were glad to go, though it cut the evening short. Jerry Bogan
bundled his way last with his two canes. "Sind the b'y to say," he
advised in a gruff whisper. "Sind him out wid a good captain now,
Mike,'t will make a man of him yet."

A man of him yet! alas, alas--for the hopes that had been growing so
many years. Alas for the pride of a simple heart, alas for the day
Mike Bogan came away from sunshiny old Bantry with his baby son in his
arms for the sake of making that son a gentleman.


III.


Winter had fairly set in, but the snow had not come, and the street
was bleak and cold. The wind was stinging men's faces and piercing the
wooden houses. A hard night for sailors coming on the coast--a bitter
night for poor people everywhere.

From one house and another the lights went out in the street where the
Bogans lived; at last there was no other lamp than theirs, in a window
that lighted the outer stairs. Sometimes a woman's shadow passed
across the curtain and waited there, drawing it away from the panes a
moment as if to listen the better for a footstep that did not come.
Poor Biddy had waited many a night before this. Her husband was far
from well, the doctor said that his heart was not working right, and
that he must be very careful, but the truth was that Mike's heart was
almost broken by grief. Dan was going the downhill road, he had been
drinking harder and harder, and spending a great deal of money. He had
smashed more than one carriage and lamed more than one horse from the
livery stables, and he had kept the lowest company in vilest dens. Now
he threatened to go to New York, and it had come at last to being the
only possible joy that he should come home at any time of night rather
than disappear no one knew where. He had laughed in Father Miles's
face when the good old man, after pleading with him, had tried to
threaten him.

Biddy was in an agony of suspense as the night wore on. She dozed a
little only to wake with a start, and listen for some welcome sound
out in the cold night. Was her boy freezing to death somewhere? Other
mothers only scolded if their sons were wild, but this was killing her
and Mike, they had set their hopes so high. Mike was groaning
dreadfully in his sleep to-night--the fire was burning low, and she
did not dare to stir it. She took her worn rosary again and tried to
tell its beads. "Mother of Pity, pray for us!" she said, wearily
dropping the beads in her lap.

There was a sound in the street at last, but it was not of one man's
stumbling feet, but of many. She was stiff with cold, she had slept
long, and it was almost day. She rushed with strange apprehension to
the doorway and stood with the flaring lamp in her hand at the top of
the stairs. The voices were suddenly hushed. "Go for Father Miles!"
said somebody in a hoarse voice, and she heard the words. They were
carrying a burden, they brought it tip to the mother who waited. In
their arms lay her son stone dead; he had been stabbed in a fight, he
had struck a man down who had sprung back at him like a tiger. Dan,
little Dan, was dead, the luck of the Bogans, the end was here, and a
wail that pierced the night, and chilled the hearts that heard it, was
the first message of sorrow to the poor father in his uneasy sleep.

The group of men stood by--some of them had been drinking, but they
were all awed and shocked. You would have believed every one of them
to be on the side of law and order. Mike Bogan knew that the worst had
happened. Biddy had rushed to him and fallen across the bed; for one
minute her aggravating shrieks had stopped; he began to dress himself,
but he was shaking too much; he stepped out to the kitchen and faced
the frightened crowd.

"Is my son dead, then?" asked Mike Bogan of Bantry, with a piteous
quiver of the lip, and nobody spoke. There was something glistening
and awful about his pleasant Irish face. He tottered where he stood,
he caught at a chair to steady himself. "The luck o' the Bogans is
it?" and he smiled strangely, then a fierce hardness came across his
face and changed it utterly. "Come down, come down!" he shouted, and
snatching the key of the shop went down the stairs himself with great
sure-footed leaps. What was in Mike? was he crazy with grief? They
stood out of his way and saw him fling out bottle after bottle and
shatter them against the wall. They saw him roll one cask after
another to the doorway, and out into the street in the gray light of
morning, and break through the staves with a heavy axe. Nobody dared
to restrain his fury--there was a devil in him, they were afraid of
the man in his blinded rage The odor of whiskey and gin filled the
cold air--some of them would have stolen the wasted liquor if they
could, but no man there dared to move or speak, and it was not until
the tall figure of Father Miles came along the street, and the patient
eyes that seemed always to keep vigil, and the calm voice with its
flavor of Bantry brogue, came to Mike Bogan's help, that he let
himself be taken out of the wrecked shop and away from the spilt
liquors to the shelter of his home.

A week later he was only a shadow of his sturdy self, he was lying on
his bed dreaming of Bantry Bay and the road to Glengariff--the hedge
roses were in bloom, and he was trudging along the road to see Biddy.
He was working on the old farm at home and could not put the seed
potatoes in their trench, for little Dan kept falling in and getting
in his way. "Dan's not going to be plagued with the bad craps," he
muttered to Father Miles who sat beside the bed. "Dan will be a fine
squire in Ameriky," but the priest only stroked his hand as it
twitched and lifted on the coverlet. What was Biddy doing, crying and
putting the candles about him? Then Mike's poor brain grew steady.

"Oh, my God, if we were back in Bantry! I saw the gorse bloomin' in
the t'atch d' ye know. Oh wisha wisha the poor ould home an' the green
praties that day we come from it--with our luck smilin' us in the
face."

"Whist darlin': kape aisy darlin'!" mourned Biddy, with a great sob.
Father Miles sat straight and stem in his chair by the pillow--he had
said the prayers for the dying, and the holy oil was already shining
on Mike Bogan's forehead. The keeners were swaying themselves to and
fro, there where they waited in the next room.



FAIR DAY.


Widow Mercy Bascom came back alone into the empty kitchen and seated
herself in her favorite splint-bottomed chair by the window, with a
dreary look on her face.

"I s'pose I be an old woman, an' past goin' to cattle shows an'
junketings, but folks needn't take it so for granted. I'm sure I don't
want to be on my feet all day, trapesin' fair grounds an' swallowin'
everybody's dust; not but what I'm as able as most, though I be
seventy-three year old."

She folded her hands in her lap and looked out across the deserted
yard. There was not even a hen in sight; she was left alone for the
day. "Tobias's folks," as she called the son's family with whom she
made her home--Tobias's folks had just started for a day's pleasuring
at the county fair, ten miles distant. She had not thought of going
with them, nor expected any invitation; she had even helped them off
with her famous energy; but there was an unexpected reluctance at
being left behind, a sad little feeling that would rise suddenly in
her throat as she stood in the door and saw them drive away in the
shiny, two-seated wagon. Johnny, the youngest and favorite of her
grandchildren, had shouted back in his piping voice, "I wish you was
goin', Grandma."

"The only one on 'em that thought of me," said Mercy Bascom to
herself, and then not being a meditative person by nature, she went to
work industriously and proceeded to the repairing of Tobias's work-day
coat. It was sharp weather now in the early morning, and he would soon
need the warmth of it. Tobias's placid wife never anticipated and
always lived in a state of trying to catch up with her work. It never
had been the elder woman's way, and Mercy reviewed her own active
career with no mean pride. She had been left a widow at twenty-eight,
with four children and a stony New Hampshire farm, but had bravely won
her way, paid her debts, and provided the three girls and their
brother Tobias with the best available schooling.

For a woman of such good judgment and high purpose in life,
Mrs. Bascom had made a very unwise choice in marrying Tobias Bascom
the elder. He was not even the owner of a good name, and led her a
terrible life with his drunken shiftlessness, and hindrance of all her
own better aims. Even while the children were babies, however, and
life was at its busiest and most demanding stages, the determined soul
would not be baffled by such damaging partnership. She showed the
plainer of what stuff she was made, and simply worked the harder and
went her ways more fiercely. If it were sometimes whispered that she
was unamiable, her wiser neighbors understood the power of will that
was needed to cope with circumstances that would have crushed a weaker
woman. As for her children, they were very fond of her in the
undemonstrative New England fashion. Only the two eldest could
remember their father at all, and after he was removed from this world
Tobias Bascom left but slight proofs of having ever existed at all,
except in the stern lines and premature aging of his wife's face.

The years that followed were years of hard work on the little farm,
but diligence and perseverance had their reward. When the three
daughters came to womanhood they were already skilled farmhouse
keepers, and were dispatched for their own homes well equipped with
feather-beds and homespun linen and woolen. Mercy Bascom was glad to
have them well settled, if the truth were known. She did not like to
have her own will and law questioned or opposed, and when she sat down
to supper alone with her son Tobias, after the last daughter's
wedding, she had a glorious feeling of peace and satisfaction.

"There's a sight o' work left yet in the old ma'am," she said to
Tobias, in an unwontedly affectionate tone. "I guess we shall keep
house together as comfortable as most folks." But Tobias grew very red
in the face and bent over his plate.

"I don' know's I want the girls to get ahead of me," he said
sheepishly. "I ain't meanin' to put you out with another wedding right
away, but I've been a-lookin' round, an' I guess I've found somebody
to suit _me_."

Mercy Bascom turned cold with misery and disappointment. "Why T'bias,"
she said, anxiously, "folks always said that you was cut out for an
old bachelor till I come to believe it, an' I've been lottin' on"--

"Course nobody's goin' to wrench me an' you apart," said Tobias
gallantly. "I made up my mind long ago you an' me was yoke-mates,
mother. An' I had it in my mind to fetch you somebody that would ease
you o' quite so much work now 'Liza's gone off."

"I don't want nobody," said the grieved woman, and she could eat no
more supper; that festive supper for which she had cooked her very
best. Tobias was sorry for her, but he had his rights, and now simply
felt light-hearted because he had freed his mind of this unwelcome
declaration. Tobias was slow and stolid to behold, but he was a man of
sound ideas and great talent for farming. He had found it difficult to
choose between his favorites among the marriageable girls, a bright
young creature who was really too good for him, but penniless, and a
weaker damsel who was heiress to the best farm in town. The farm won
the day at last; and Mrs. Bascom felt a thrill of pride at her son's
worldly success; then she asked to know her son's plans, and was
wholly disappointed. Tobias meant to sell the old place; he had no
idea of leaving her alone as she wistfully complained; he meant to
have her make a new home at the Bassett place with him and his bride.

That she would never do: the old place which had given them a living
never should be left or sold to strangers. Tobias was not prepared for
her fierce outburst of reproach at the mere suggestion. She would live
alone and pay her way as she always had done, and so it was, for a few
years of difficulties. Tobias was never ready to plough or plant when
she needed him; his own great farm was more than he could serve
properly. It grew more and more difficult to hire workmen, and they
were seldom worth their wages. At last Tobias's wife, who was a kindly
soul, persuaded her reluctant mother-in-law to come and spend a
winter; the old woman was tired and for once disheartened; she found
herself deeply in love with her grandchildren, and so next spring she
let the little hill farm on the halves to an impecunious but
hard-working young couple.

To everybody's surprise the two women lived together harmoniously.
Tobias's wife did everything to please her mother-in-law except to be
other than a Bassett. And Mercy, for the most part, ignored this
misfortune, and rarely was provoked into calling it a fault. Now that
the necessity for hard work and anxiety was past, she appeared to have
come to an Indian summer shining-out of her natural amiability and
tolerance. She was sometimes indirectly reproachful of her daughter's
easy-going ways, and set an indignant example now and then by a famous
onslaught of unnecessary work, and always dressed and behaved herself
in plainest farm fashion, while Mrs. Tobias was given to undue
worldliness and style. But they worked well together in the main, for,
to use Mercy's own words, she "had seen enough of life not to want to
go into other folks' houses and make trouble."

As people grow older their interests are apt to become fewer, and one
of the thoughts that came oftenest to Mercy Bascom in her old age was
a time-honored quarrel with one of her husband's sisters, who had been
her neighbor many years before, and then moved to greater prosperity
at the other side of the county. It is not worth while to tell the
long story of accusations and misunderstandings, but while the two
women did not meet for almost half a lifetime the grievance was as
fresh as if it were yesterday's. Wrongs of defrauded sums of money and
contested rights in unproductive acres of land, wrongs of slighting
remarks and contempt of equal claims; the remembrance of all these was
treasured as a miser fingers his gold. Mercy Bascom freed herself from
the wearisome detail of every-day life whenever she could find a
patient listener to whom to tell the long story. She found it as
interesting as a story of the Arabian Nights, or an exciting play at
the theatre. She would have you believe that she was faultless in the
matter, and would not acknowledge that her sister-in-law Ruth Bascom,
now Mrs. Parlet, was also a hard-working woman with dependent little
children at the time of the great fray. Of late years her son had
suspected that his mother regretted the alienation, but he knew better
than to suggest a peace-making. "Let them work--let them work!" he
told his wife, when she proposed one night to bring the warring
sisters-in-law unexpectedly together. It may have been that old Mercy
began to feel a little lonely and would be glad to have somebody of
her own age with whom to talk over old times. She never had known the
people much in this Bassett region, and there were few but young folks
left at any rate.

As the pleasure-makers hastened toward the fair that bright October
morning Mercy sat by the table sewing at a sufficient patch in the old
coat. There was little else to do all day but to get herself a
luncheon at noon and have supper ready when the family came home cold
and tired at night. The two cats came purring about her chair; one
persuaded her to open the cellar door, and the other leaped to the top
of the kitchen table unrebuked, and blinked herself to sleep there in
the sun. This was a favored kitten brought from the old home, and
seemed like a link between the old days and these. Her mistress
noticed with surprise that pussy was beginning to look old, and she
could not resist a little sigh. "Land! the next world may seem
dreadful new too, and I've got to get used to that," she thought with
a grim smile of foreboding. "How do folks live that wants always to be
on the go? There was Ruth Parlet, that must be always a visitin' and
goin'--well, I won't say that there wasn't a time when I wished for
the chance." Justice always won the day in such minor questions as
this.

Ruth Parlet's name started the usual thoughts, but somehow or other
Mercy could not find it in her heart to be as harsh as usual. She
remembered one thing after another about their girlhood together. They
had been great friends then, and the animosity may have had its root
in the fact that Ruth helped forward her brother's marriage. But there
were years before that of friendly foregathering and girlish alliances
and rivalries; spinning and herb gathering and quilting. It seemed, as
Mercy thought about it, that Ruth was good company after all. But what
did make her act so, and turn right round later on?

The morning grew warm, and at last Mrs. Bascom had to open the window
to let out the buzzing flies and an imprisoned wild bee. The patch was
finished and the elbow would serve Tobias as good as new. She laid the
coat over a chair and put her bent brass thimble into the paper-collar
box that served as work-basket. She used to have a queer splint basket
at the old place, but it had been broken under something heavier when
her household goods were moved. Some of the family had long been tired
of hearing that basket regretted, and another had never been found
worthy to take its place. The thimble, the smooth mill bobbin on which
was wound black linen thread, the dingy lump of beeswax, and a smart
leather needle-book, which Johnny had given her the Christmas before,
all looked ready for use, but Mrs. Bascom pushed them farther back on
the table and quickly rose to her feet. "'T ain't nine o'clock yet,"
she said, exultantly. "I'll just take a couple o' crackers in my
pocket and step over to the old place. I'll take my time and be back
soon enough to make 'em that pan o' my hot gingerbread they'll be
counting on for supper."

Half an hour later one might have seen a bent figure lock the side
door of the large farmhouse carefully, trying the latch again and
again to see if it were fast, putting the key into a safe hiding-place
by the door, and then stepping away up the road with eager
determination. "I ain't felt so like a jaunt this five year," said
Mercy to herself, "an' if Tobias was here an' Ann, they'd take all the
fun out fussin' and talkin', an' bein' afeard I'd tire myself, or
wantin' me to ride over. I do like to be my own master once in a
while."

The autumn day was glorious, with a fine flavor of fruit and ripeness
in the air. The sun was warm, there was a cool breeze from the great
hills, and far off across the wide valley the old woman could see her
little gray house on its pleasant eastern slope; she could even trace
the outline of the two small fields and large pasture. "I done well
with it, if I wasn't nothin' but a woman with four dependin' on me an'
no means," said Mercy proudly as she came in full sight of the old
place. It was a long drive from one farm to the other by roundabout
highways, but there was a footpath known to the wayfarer which took a
good piece off the distance. "Now, ain't this a sight better than them
hustlin' fairs?" Mercy asked gleefully as she felt herself free and
alone in the wide meadow-land. She had long been promising little
Johnny to take him over to Gran'ma's house, as she loved to call it
still. She could not help thinking longingly how much he would enjoy
this escapade. "Why, I'm running away just like a young-one, that's
what I be," she exclaimed, and then laughed aloud for very pleasure.

The weather-beaten farmhouse was deserted that day, as its former
owner suspected. She boldly gathered some of her valued spice-apples,
with an assuring sense of proprietorship as she crossed the last
narrow field. The Browns, man and wife and little boy and baby, had
hied them early to the fair with nearly the whole population of the
countryside. The house and yard and out-buildings never had worn such
an aspect of appealing pleasantness as when Mercy Bascom came near.
She felt as if she were going to cry for a minute, and then hurried to
get inside the gate. She saw the outgoing track of horses' feet with
delight, but went discreetly to the door and knocked, to make herself
perfectly sure that there was no one left at home. Out of breath and
tired as she was, she turned to look off at the view. Yes, there was
Tobias's place, prosperous and white-painted; she could just get a
glimpse of the upper roofs and gables. It was always a sorrow and
complaint that a low hill kept her from looking up at this farm from
any of the windows, but now that she was at the farm itself she found
herself regarding Tobias's home with a good deal of affection. She
looked sharply with an apprehension of fire, but there was no whiff of
alarming smoke against the dear sky.

"Now I must git me a drink o' that water first of anything," and she
hastened to the creaking well-sweep and lowered the bucket. There was
the same rusty, handleless tin dipper that she had left years before,
standing on the shelf inside the well-curb. She was proud to find that
the bucket was no heavier than ever, and was heartily thankful for the
clear water. There never was such a well as that, and it seemed as if
she had not been away a day. "What an old gal I be," said Mercy, with
plaintive merriment. "Well, they ain't made no great changes since I
was here last spring," and then she went over and held her face close
against one of the kitchen windows, and took a hungry look at the
familiar room. The bedroom door was open and a new sense of attachment
to the place filled her heart. "It seems as if I was locked out o' my
own home," she whispered as she looked in.

There were the same old spruce and pine boards that she had scrubbed
so many times and trodden thin as she hurried to and fro about her
work. It was very strange to see an unfamiliar chair or two, but the
furnishings of a farm kitchen were much the same, and there was no
great change. Even the cradle was like that cradle in which her own
children had been rocked. She gazed and gazed, poor old Mother Bascom,
and forgot the present as her early life came back in vivid memories.
At last she turned away from the window with a sigh.

The flowers that she had planted herself long ago had bloomed all
summer in the garden; there were still some ragged sailors and the
snowberries and phlox and her favorite white mallows, of which she
picked herself a posy. "I'm glad the old place is so well took care
of," she thought, gratefully. "An' they've new-silled the old barn I
do declare, and battened the cracks to keep the dumb creatures warm.
'T was a sham-built barn anyways, but 't was the best I could do when
the child'n needed something every handturn o' the day. It put me to
some expense every year, tinkering of it up where the poor lumber
warped and split. There, I enjoyed try'n to cope with things and
gettin' the better of my disadvantages! The ground's too rich for me
over there to Tobias's; I don't want things too easy, for my part. I
feel most as young as ever I did, and I ain't agoin' to play helpless,
not for nobody.

"I declare for 't, I mean to come up here by an' by a spell an' stop
with the young folks, an' give 'em a good lift with their work. I
ain't needed all the time to Tobias' s now, and they can hire help,
while these can't. I've been favoring myself till I'm as soft as an
old hoss that's right out of pasture an' can't pull two wheels without
wheezin'."

There was a sense of companionship in the very weather. The bees were
abroad as if it were summer, and a flock of little birds came
fluttering down close to Mrs. Bascom as she sat on the doorstep. She
remembered the biscuits in her pocket and ate them with a hunger she
had seldom known of late, but she threw the crumbs generously to her
feathered neighbors. The soft air, the brilliant or fading colors of
the wide landscape, the comfortable feeling of relationship to her
surroundings all served to put good old Mercy into a most peaceful
state. There was only one thought that would not let her be quite
happy. She could not get her sister-in-law Ruth Parlet out of her
mind. And strangely enough the old grudge did not present itself with
the usual power of aggravation; it was of their early friendship and
Ruth's good fellowship that memories would come.

"I declare for 't, I wouldn't own up to the folks, but I should like
to have a good visit with Ruth if so be that we could set aside the
past," she said, resolutely at last. "I never thought I should come to
it, but if she offered to make peace I wouldn't do nothin' to hinder
it. Not to say but what I should have to free my mind on one or two
points before we could start fair. I've waited forty year to make one
remark to Ruthy Parlet. But there! we're gettin' to be old folks."
Mercy rebuked herself gravely. "I don't want to go off with hard
feelins' to nobody." Whether this was the culmination of a long, slow
process of reconciliation, or whether Mrs. Bascom's placid
satisfaction helped to hasten it by many stages, nobody could say. As
she sat there she thought of many things; her life spread itself out
like a picture; perhaps never before had she been able to detach
herself from her immediate occupation in this way. She never had been
aware of her own character and exploits to such a degree, and the
minutes sped by as she thought with deep interest along the course of
her own history. There was nothing she was ashamed of to an
uncomfortable degree but the long animosity between herself and the
children's aunt. How harsh she had been sometimes; she had even tried
to prejudice everybody who listened to these tales of an offender. "I
wa'n't more 'n half right, now I come to look myself full in the
face," said Mercy Bascom, "and I never owned it till this day."

The sun was already past noon, and the good woman dutifully rose and
with instant consciousness of resource glanced in at the kitchen
window to tell the time by a familiar mark on the floor. "I needn't
start just yet," she muttered. "Oh my! how I do wish I could git in
and poke round into every corner! 'T would make this day just
perfect."

"There now!" she continued, "p'raps they leave the key just where our
folks used to." And in another minute the key lay in Mercy's worn old
hand. She gave a shrewd look along the road, opened the door, which
creaked what may have been a hearty welcome, and stood inside the dear
old kitchen. She had not been in the house alone since she left it,
but now she was nobody's guest. It was like some shell-fish finding
its own old shell again and settling comfortably into the
convolutions. Even we must not follow Mother Bascom about from the
dark cellar to the hot little attic. She was not curious about the
Browns' worldly goods; indeed, she was nearly unconscious of anything
but the comfort of going up and down the short flight of stairs and
looking out of her own windows with nobody to watch.

"There's the place where Tobias scratched the cupboard door with a
nail. Didn't I thrash him for it good?" she said once with a proud
remembrance of the time when she was a lawgiver and proprietor and he
dependent.

At length a creeping fear stole over her lest the family might return.
She stopped one moment to look back into the little bedroom. "How good
I did use to sleep here," she said. "I worked as stout as I could the
day through, and there wa'n't no wakin' up by two o'clock in the
morning, and smellin' for fire and harkin' for thieves like I have to
nowadays."

Mercy stepped away down the long sloping field like a young woman. It
was a long walk back to Tobias's, even if one followed the pleasant
footpaths across country. She was heavy-footed, but entirely
light-hearted when she came safely in at the gate of the Bassett
place. "I've done extra for me," she said as she put away her old
shawl and bonnet; "but I'm goin' to git the best supper Tobias's folks
have eat for a year," and so she did.

"I've be'n over to the old place to-day," she announced bravely to her
son, who had finished his work and his supper and was now tipped back
in his wooden arm-chair against the wall.

"You ain't, mother!" responded Tobias, with instant excitement. "Next
fall, then, I won't take no for an answer but what you'll go to the
fair and see what's goin'. You ain't footed it way over there?"

Mother Bascom nodded. "I have," she answered solemnly, a minute later,
as if the nod were not enough.

"T'bias, son," she added, lowering her voice, "I ain't one to give in
my rights, but I was thinkin' it all over about y'r Aunt Ruth
Parlet"--

"Now if that ain't curi's!" exclaimed Tobias, bringing his chair down
hastily upon all four legs. "I didn't know just how you'd take it,
mother, but I see Aunt Ruth to-day to the fair, and she made
everything o' me and wanted to know how you was, and she got me off
from the rest, an' says she: 'I declare I should like to see your marm
again. I wonder if she won't agree to let bygones be bygones.'"

"My sakes!" said Mercy, who was startled by this news. "'T is the hand
o' Providence! How did she look, son?"

"A sight older 'n you look, but kind of natural too. One o' her sons'
wives that she's made her home with, has led her a dance, folks say."

"Poor old creatur'! we'll have her over here, if your folks don't find
fault. I've had her in my mind"--

Tobias's folks, in the shape of his wife and little Johnny, appeared
from the outer kitchen. "I haven't had such a supper I don't know
when," repeated the younger woman for at least the fifth time. "You
must have been keepin' busy all day, Mother Bascom."

But Mother Bascom and Tobias looked at each other and laughed.

"I ain't had such a good time I don't know when, but my feet are all
of a fidget now, and I've got to git to bed. I've be'n runnin' away
since you've be'n gone, Ann!" said the pleased old soul, and then went
away, still laughing, to her own room. She was strangely excited and
satisfied, as if she had at last paid a long-standing debt. She could
trudge across pastures as well as anybody, and the old grudge was done
with. Mercy hardly noticed how her fingers trembled as she unhooked
the old gray gown. The odor of sweet fern shook out fresh and strong
as she smoothed and laid it carefully over a chair. There was a little
rent in the skirt, but she could mend it by daylight.

The great harvest moon was shining high in the sky, and she needed no
other light in the bedroom. "I've be'n a smart woman to work in my
day, and I've airnt a little pleasurin'," said Mother Bascom sleepily
to herself. "Poor Ruthy! so she looks old, does she? I'm goin' to tell
her right out, 't was I that spoke first to Tobias."



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,--'t was
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 't was 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 buildings; 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 calculated 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 't was 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
_how_ '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, 't was
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 creator'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; 't won'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 gayety 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 forenoon. 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 TAKING OF CAPTAIN BALL.


I.


There was a natural disinclination to the cares of housekeeping in the
mind of Captain Ball, and he would have left the sea much earlier in
life if he had not liked much better to live on board ship. A man was
his own master there, and meddlesome neighbors and parsons and tearful
women-folks could be made to keep their distance. But as years went
on, and the extremes of weather produced much affliction in the shape
of rheumatism, this, and the decline of the merchant service, and the
degeneracy of common seamen, forced Captain Ball to come ashore for
good. He regretted that he could no longer follow the sea, and, in
spite of many alleviations, grumbled at his hard fate. He might have
been condemned to an inland town, but in reality his house was within
sight of tide-water, and he found plenty of companionship in the
decayed seaport where he had been born and bred. There were several
retired shipmasters who closely approached his own rank and dignity.
They all gave other excuses than that of old age and infirmity for
being out of business, took a sober satisfaction in their eleven
o'clock bitters, and discussed the shipping list of the morning paper
with far more interest than the political or general news of the other
columns.

While Captain Asaph Ball was away on his long voyages he had left his
house in charge of an elder sister, who was joint owner. She was a
grim old person, very stern in matters of sectarian opinion, and the
captain recognized in his heart of hearts that she alone was his
superior officer. He endeavored to placate her with generous offerings
of tea and camel's-hair scarfs and East Indian sweetmeats, not to
speak of unnecessary and sometimes very beautiful china for the
parties that she never gave, and handsome dress patterns with which
she scorned to decorate her sinful shape of clay. She pinched herself
to the verge of want in order to send large sums of money to the
missionaries, but she saved the captain's money for him against the
time when his willful lavishness and improvidence might find him a
poor man. She was always looking forward to the days when he would be
aged and forlorn, that burly seafaring brother of hers. She loved to
remind him of his latter end, and in writing her long letters that
were to reach him in foreign ports, she told little of the
neighborhood news and results of voyages, but bewailed, in page after
page, his sad condition of impenitence and the shortness of time. The
captain would rather have faced a mutinous crew any day than his
sister's solemn statements of this sort, but he loyally read them
through with heavy sighs, and worked himself into his best broadcloth
suit, at least once while he lay in port, to go to church on Sunday,
out of good New England habit and respect to her opinions. It was not
his sister's principles but her phrases that the captain failed to
comprehend. Sometimes when he returned to his ship he took pains to
write a letter to dear sister Ann, and to casually mention the fact of
his attendance upon public worship, and even to recall the text and
purport of the sermon. He was apt to fall asleep in his humble place
at the very back of the church, and his report of the services would
have puzzled a far less keen theologian than Miss Ann Ball. In fact
these poor makeshifts of religious interest did not deceive her, and
the captain had an uneasy consciousness that, to use his own
expression, the thicker he laid on the words, the quicker she saw
through them. And somehow or other that manly straightforwardness and
honesty of his, that free-handed generosity, that true unselfishness
which made him stick by his ship when the crew had run away from a
poor black cook who was taken down with the yellow-fever, which made
him nurse the frightened beggar as tenderly as a woman, and bring him
back to life, and send him packing afterward with plenty of money in
his pocket--all these fine traits that made Captain Ball respected in
every port where his loud voice and clumsy figure and bronzed face
were known, seemed to count for nothing with the stern sister. At
least her younger brother thought so. But when, a few years after he
came ashore for good, she died and left him alone in the neat old
white house, which his instinctive good taste and his father's before
him had made a museum of East Indian treasures, he found all his
letters stored away with loving care after they had been read and
reread into tatters, and among her papers such touching expressions of
love and pride and longing for his soul's good, that poor Captain
Asaph broke down altogether and cried like a school-boy. She had saved
every line of newspaper which even mentioned his ships' names. She had
loved him deeply in the repressed New England fashion, that under a
gray and forbidding crust of manner, like a chilled lava bed, hides
glowing fires of loyalty and devotion.

Sister Ann was a princess among housekeepers, and for some time after
her death the captain was a piteous mourner indeed. No growing
school-boy could be more shy and miserable in the presence of women
than he, though nobody had a readier friendliness or more off-hand
sailor ways among men. The few intimate family friends who came to his
assistance at the time of his sister's illness and death added untold
misery to the gloomy situation. Yet he received the minister with
outspoken gratitude in spite of that worthy man's trepidation.
Everybody said that poor Captain Ball looked as if his heart was
broken. "I tell ye I feel as if I was tied in a bag of fleas," said
the distressed mariner, and his pastor turned away to cough, hoping to
hide the smile that would come. "Widders an' old maids, they're busier
than the divil in a gale o' wind," grumbled the captain. "Poor Ann,
she was worth every one of 'em lashed together, and here you find me
with a head-wind every way I try to steer." The minister was a man at
any rate; his very presence was a protection.

Some wretched days went by while Captain Ball tried to keep his lonely
house with the assistance of one Silas Jenkins, who had made several
voyages with him as cook, but they soon proved that the best of
sailors may make the worst of housekeepers. Life looked darker and
darker, and when, one morning, Silas inadvertently overheated and
warped the new cooking stove, which had been the pride of Miss Ball's
heart, the breakfastless captain dismissed him in a fit of blind rage.
The captain was first cross and then abject when he went hungry, and
in this latter stage was ready to abase himself enough to recall Widow
Sparks, his sister's lieutenant, who lived close by in Ropewalk Lane,
forgetting that he had driven her into calling him an old hog two days
after the funeral. He groaned aloud as he thought of her, but reached
for his hat and cane, when there came a gentle feminine rap at the
door.

"Let 'em knock!" grumbled the captain, angrily, but after a moment's
reflection, he scowled and went and lifted the latch.

There stood upon the doorstep a middle-aged woman, with a pleasant
though determined face. The captain scowled again, but involuntarily
opened his fore-door a little wider.

"Capt'in Asaph Ball, I presume?"

"The same," answered the captain.

"I've been told, sir, that you need a housekeeper, owing to recent
affliction."

There was a squally moment of resistance in the old sailor's breast,
but circumstances seemed to be wrecking him on a lee shore. Down came
his flag on the run.

"I can't say but what I do, ma'am," and with lofty courtesy, such as
an admiral should use to his foe of equal rank, the master of the
house signified that his guest might enter. When they were seated
opposite each other in the desolate sitting-room he felt himself the
weaker human being of the two. Five years earlier, and he would have
put to sea before the week's end, if only to gain the poor freedom of
a coastwise lime schooner.

"Well, speak up, can't ye?" he said, trying to laugh. "Tell me what's
the tax, and how much you can take hold and do, without coming to me
for orders every hand's turn o' the day. I've had Silas Jinkins here,
one o' my old ship's cooks; he served well at sea, and I thought he
had some head; but we've been beat, I tell ye, and you'll find some
work to put things ship-shape. He's gitting in years, that's the
trouble; I oughtn't to have called on him," said Captain Ball, anxious
to maintain even so poorly the dignity of his sex.

"I like your looks; you seem a good steady hand, with no nonsense
about ye." He cast a shy glance at his companion, and would not have
believed that any woman could have come to the house a stranger, and
have given him such an immediate feeling of confidence and relief.

"I'll tell ye what's about the worst of the matter," and the captain
pulled a letter out of his deep coat pocket. His feelings had been
pent up too long. At the sight of the pretty handwriting and
aggravatingly soft-spoken sentences, Asaph Ball was forced to
inconsiderate speech. The would-be housekeeper pushed back her
rocking-chair as he began, and tucked her feet under, beside settling
her bonnet a little, as if she were close-reefed and anchored to ride
out the gale.

"I'm in most need of an able person," he roared, "on account of this
letter's settin' me adrift about knowing what to do. 'T is from a gal
that wants to come and make her home here. Land sakes alive, puts
herself right forrard! I don't want her, _an' I won't have her_. She
may be a great-niece; I don't say she ain't; but what should I do with
one o' them jiggetin' gals about? In the name o' reason, why should I
be set out o' my course? I'm left at the mercy o' you women-folks,"
and the captain got stiffly to his feet. "If you've had experience,
an' think you can do for me, why, stop an' try, an' I'll be much
obleeged to ye. You'll find me a good provider, and we'll let one
another alone, and get along some way or 'nother."

The captain's voice fairly broke; he had been speaking as if to a
brother man; he was tired out and perplexed. His sister Ann had saved
him so many petty trials, and now she was gone. The poor man had
watched her suffer and seen her die, and he was as tender-hearted and
as lonely as a child, however he might bluster. Even such infrequent
matters as family letters had been left to his busy sister. It
happened that they had inherited a feud with an elder half-brother's
family in the West, though the captain was well aware of the existence
of this forth-putting great-niece, who had been craftily named for
Miss Ann Ball, and so gained a precarious hold on her affections; but
to harbor one of the race was to consent to the whole. Captain Ball
was not a man to bring down upon himself an army of interferers and
plunderers, and he now threw down the poor girl's well-meant letter
with an outrageous expression of his feelings. Then he felt a silly
weakness, and hastened to wipe his eyes with his pocket-handkerchief.

"I've been beat, I tell ye," he said brokenly.

There was a look of apparent sympathy, mingled with victory, on the
housekeeper's face. Perhaps she had known some other old sailor of the
same make, for she rose and turned her face aside to look out of the
window until the captain's long upper lip had time to draw itself
straight and stern again. Plainly she was a woman of experience and
discretion.

"I'll take my shawl and bunnit right off, sir," she said, in a
considerate little voice. "I see a-plenty to do; there'll be time
enough after I get you your dinner to see to havin' my trunk here; but
it needn't stay a day longer than you give the word."

"That's clever," said the captain. "I'll step right down street and
get us a good fish, an' you can fry it or make us a chowder, just
which you see fit. It now wants a little of eleven"--and an air of
pleased anticipation lighted his face--"I must be on my way."

"If it's all the same to you, I guess we don't want no company till we
get to rights a little. You're kind of tired out, sir," said the
housekeeper, feelingly. "By-and-by you can have the young girl come
an' make you a visit, and either let her go or keep her, 'cordin' as
seems fit. I may not turn out to suit."

"What may I call you, ma'am?" inquired Captain Ball. "Mis' French? Not
one o' them Fleet Street Frenches?" (suspiciously). "Oh, come from
Massachusetts way!" (with relief).

"I was stopping with some friends that had a letter from some o' the
minister's folks here, and they told how bad off you was," said
Mrs. French, modestly. "I was out of employment, an' I said to myself
that I should feel real happy to go and do for that Captain Ball. He
knows what he wants, and I know what I want, and no flummery."

"You know somethin' o' life, I do declare," and the captain fairly
beamed. "I never was called a hard man at sea, but I like to give my
orders, and have folks foller 'em. If it was women-folks that wrote,
they may have set me forth more 'n ordinary. I had every widder and
single woman in town here while Ann lay dead, and my natural feelin's
were all worked up. I see 'em dressed up and smirkin' and settin'
their nets to ketch me when I was in an extremity. I wouldn't give a
kentle o' sp'iled fish for the whole on 'em. I ain't a marryin' man,
there's once for all for ye," and the old sailor stepped toward the
door with some temper.

"Ef you'll write to the young woman, sir, just to put off comin' for a
couple or three weeks," suggested Mrs. French.

"_This afternoon, ma'am_," said the captain, as if it were the ay, ay,
sir, of an able seaman who sprang to his duty of reefing the
main-topsail.

Captain Ball walked down to the fish shop with stately steps and
measured taps of his heavy cane. He stopped on the way, a little
belated, and assured two or three retired ship-masters that he had
manned the old brig complete at last; he even gave a handsome wink of
his left eye over the edge of a glass, and pronounced his morning grog
to be A No. 1, prime.

Mrs. French picked up her gown at each side with thumb and finger, and
swept the captain a low courtesy behind his back as he went away; then
she turned up the aforesaid gown and sought for one of the lamented
Miss Ann Ball's calico aprons, and if ever a New England woman did a
morning's work in an hour, it was this same Mrs. French.

"'T ain't every one knows how to make what I call a chowder," said the
captain, pleased and replete, as he leaned back in his chair after
dinner. "Mis' French, you shall have everything to do with, an' I
ain't no kitchen colonel myself to bother ye."

There was a new subject for gossip in that seaport town. More than one
woman had felt herself to be a fitting helpmate for the captain, and
was confident that if time had been allowed, she could have made sure
of even such wary game as he. When a stranger stepped in and occupied
the ground at once, it gave nobody a fair chance, and Mrs. French was
recognized as a presuming adventuress by all disappointed aspirants
for the captain's hand. The captain was afraid at times that
Mrs. French carried almost too many guns, but she made him so
comfortable that she kept the upper hand, and at last he was conscious
of little objection to whatever this able housekeeper proposed. Her
only intimate friends were the minister and his wife, and the captain
himself was so won over to familiarity by the kindness of his pastor
in the time of affliction, that when after some weeks Mrs. French
invited the good people to tea, Captain Ball sat manfully at the foot
of his table, and listened with no small pleasure to the delighted
exclamations of the parson's wife over his store of china and glass.
There was a little feeling of guilt when he remembered how many times
in his sister's day he had evaded such pleasant social occasions by
complaint of inward malady, or by staying boldly among the wharves
until long past supper-time, and forcing good Miss Ann to as many
anxious excuses as if her brother's cranky ways were not as well known
to the guests as to herself.


II.


Mrs. Captain Topliff and Miss Miranda Hull were sitting together one
late summer afternoon in Mrs. Topliff's south chamber. They were at
work upon a black dress which was to be made over, and each sat by a
front window with the blinds carefully set ajar.

"This is a real handy room to sew in," said Miranda, who had come
early after dinner for a good long afternoon. "You git the light as
long as there is any; and I do like a straw carpet; I don't feel's if
I made so much work scatterin' pieces."

"Don't you have no concern about pieces," answered Mrs. Topliff,
amiably. "I was precious glad to get you right on the sudden so. You
see, I counted on my other dress lasting me till winter, and sort of
put this by to do at a leisure time. I knew 't wa'n't fit to wear as
't was. Anyway, I've done dealin' with Stover; he told me, lookin' me
right in the eye, that it was as good a wearin' piece o' goods as he
had in the store. 'T was a real cheat; you can put your finger right
through it."

"You've got some wear but of it," ventured Miranda, meekly, bending
over her work. "I made it up quite a spell ago, I know. Six or seven
years, ain't it, Mis' Topliff?"

"Yes, to be sure," replied Mrs. Topliff, with suppressed indignation;
"but this we're to work on I had before the Centennial. I know I
wouldn't take it to Philadelphy because 't was too good. An' the first
two or three years of a dress don't count. You know how 't is; you
just wear 'em to meetin' a pleasant Sunday, or to a funeral, p'r'aps,
an' keep 'em in a safe cluset meanwhiles."

"Goods don't wear as 't used to," agreed Miranda; "but 't is all the
better for my trade. Land! there's some dresses in this town I'm sick
o' bein' called on to make good's new. Now I call you reasonable about
such things, but there's some I could name"--Miss Hull at this point
put several pins into her mouth, as if to guard a secret.

Mrs. Topliff looked up with interest. "I always thought Ann Ball was
the meanest woman about such expense. She always looked respectable
too, and I s'pose she 'd said the heathen was gittin' the good o' what
she saved. She must have given away hundreds o' dollars in that
direction."

"She left plenty too, and I s'pose Cap'n Asaph's Mis' French will get
the good of it now," said Miranda through the pins. "Seems to me he's
gittin' caught in spite of himself. Old vain creatur', he seemed to
think all the women-folks in town was in love with him."

"Some was," answered Mrs. Topliff. "I think any woman that needed a
home would naturally think 't was a good chance." She thought that
Miranda had indulged high hopes, but wished to ignore them now.

"Some that had a home seemed inclined to bestow their affections, I
observed," retorted the dressmaker, who had lost her little property
by unfortunate investment, but would not be called homeless by
Mrs. Topliff. Everybody knew that the widow had set herself down
valiantly to besiege the enemy; but after this passage at arms between
the friends they went on amiably with their conversation.

"Seems to me the minister and Mis' Calvinn are dreadful intimate at
the Cap'n's. I wonder if the Cap'n's goin' to give as much to the
heathen as his sister did?" said Mrs. Topliff, presently.

"I understood he told the minister that none o' the heathen was wuth
it that ever he see," replied Miranda in a pinless voice at last. "Mr.
Calvinn only laughed; he knows the Cap'n's ways. But I shouldn't
thought Asaph Ball would have let his hired help set out and ask
company to tea just four weeks from the day his only sister was laid
away. 'T wa'n't feelin'."

"That Mis' French wanted to get the minister's folks to back her up,
don't you understand?" was Mrs. Topliff's comment. "I should think the
Calvinns wouldn't want to be so free and easy with a woman from nobody
knows where. She runs in and out o' the parsonage any time o' day, as
Ann Ball never took it upon her to do. Ann liked Mis' Calvinn, but she
always had to go through with just so much, and be formal with
everybody."

"I'll tell you something that exasperated _me_," confided the
disappointed Miranda. "That night they was there to tea, Mis' Calvinn
was praising up a handsome flowered china bowl that was on the table,
with some new kind of a fancy jelly in it, and the Cap'n told her to
take it along when she went home, if she wanted to, speakin' right out
thoughtless, as men do; and that Mis' French chirped up, 'Yes, I'm
glad; you ought to have somethin' to remember the cap'n's sister by,'
says she. Can't you hear just how up an' comin' it was?"

"I can so," said Mrs. Topliff. "I see that bowl myself on Miss
Calvinn's card-table, when I was makin' a call there day before
yesterday. I wondered how she come by it. 'Tis an elegant bowl. Ann
must have set the world by it, poor thing. Wonder if he ain't goin' to
give remembrances to those that knew his sister ever since they can
remember? Mirandy Hull, that Mis' French is a fox!"

"'T was Widow Sparks gave me the particulars," continued Mrs. Topliff.
"She declared at first that never would she step foot inside his doors
again, but I always thought the cap'n put up with a good deal. Her
husband's havin' been killed in one o' his ships by a fall when he was
full o' liquor, and her bein' there so much to help Ann, and their
havin' provided for her all these years one way an' another, didn't
give her the right to undertake the housekeepin' and direction o'
everything soon as Ann died. She dressed up as if 't was for meetin',
and 'tended the front door, and saw the folks that came. You'd thought
she was ma'am of everything; and to hear her talk up to the cap'n! I
thought I should die o' laughing when he blowed out at her. You know
how he gives them great whoos when he's put about. 'Go below, can't
ye, till your watch's called,' says he, same's 't was aboard ship; but
there! everybody knew he was all broke down, and everything tried him.
But to see her flounce out o' that back door!"

"'T was the evenin' after the funeral," Miranda said, presently. "I
was there, too, you may rec'lect, seeing what I could do. The cap'n
thought I was the proper one to look after her things, and guard
against moths. He said there wa'n't no haste, but I knew better, an'
told him I'd brought some camphire right with me. Well, did you git
anything further out o' Mis' Sparks?"

"That French woman made all up with her, and Mis' Sparks swallowed her
resentment. She's a good-feelin', ignorant kind o' woman, an' she
needed the money bad," answered Mrs. Topliff. "If you'll never repeat,
I'll tell you somethin' that'll make your eyes stick out, Miranda."

Miranda promised, and filled her mouth with pins preparatory to proper
silence.

"You know the Balls had a half-brother that went off out West
somewhere in New York State years ago. I don't remember him, but he
brought up a family, and some of 'em came here an' made visits. Ann
used to get letters from 'em sometimes, she's told me, and I dare say
used to do for 'em. Well, Mis' Sparks says that there was a smart
young Miss Ball, niece, or great-niece o' the cap'n, wrote on and
wanted to come an' live with him for the sake o' the home--his own
blood and kin, you see, and very needy--and Mis' Sparks heard 'em talk
about her, and that wicked, low, offscourin' has got round Asaph Ball
till he's consented to put the pore girl off. You see, she wants to
contrive time to make him marry her, and then she'll do as she pleases
about his folks. Now ain't it a shame? When I see her parade up the
broad aisle, I want to stick out my tongue at her--I do so, right in
meetin'. If the cap'n's goin' to have a shock within a year, I could
wish it might be soon, to disappoint such a woman. Who is she, anyway?
She makes me think o' some carr'on bird pouncin' down on us right out
o' the air." Mrs. Topliff sniffed and jerked about in her chair,
having worked herself into a fine fit of temper.

"There ain't no up nor down to this material, is there?" inquired
Miranda, meekly. She was thinking that if she were as well off as
Mrs. Topliff, and toward seventy years of age, she would never show a
matrimonial disappointment in this open way. It was ridiculous for a
woman who had any respect for herself and for the opinion of society.
Miranda had much more dignity, and tried to cool off Mrs. Topliff's
warmth by discussion of the black gown.

"'T ain't pleasant to have such a character among us. Do you think it
is, Mirandy?" asked Mrs. Topliff, after a few minutes of silence.
"She's a good-looking person, but with something sly about her. I
don't mean to call on her again until she accounts for herself. Livin'
nearer than any of Ann's friends, I thought there would be a good many
ways I could oblige the cap'n if he'd grant the opportunity, but 't
ain't so to be. Now Mr. Topliff was such an easy-goin',
pleasant-tempered man, that I take time to remember others is made
different."

Miranda smiled. Her companion had suffered many things from a most
trying husband; it was difficult to see why she was willing to risk
her peace of mind again.

"Cap'n Asaph looks now as meek as Moses," she suggested, as she pared
a newly basted seam with her creaking scissors. "Mis' French, whoever
she may be, has got him right under her thumb. I, for one, believe
she'll never get him, for all her pains. He's as sharp as she is any
day, when it comes to that; but he's made comfortable, and she
starches his shirt bosoms so's you can hear 'em creak 'way across the
meeting-house. I was in there the other night--she wanted to see me
about some work--and 't was neat as wax, and an awful good scent o'
somethin' they'd had for supper."

"That kind's always smart enough," granted the widow Topliff. "I want
to know if she cooks him a hot supper every night? Well, she'll catch
him if anybody can. Why don't you get a look into some o' the clusets,
if you go there to work? Ann was so formal I never spoke up as I
wanted to about seeing her things. They must have an awful sight of
china, and as for the linen and so on that the cap'n and his father
before him fetched home from sea, you couldn't find no end to it. Ann
never made 'way with much. I hope the mice ain't hivin' into it and
makin' their nests. Ann was very particular, but I dare say it wore
her out tryin' to take care o' such a houseful."

"I'm going there Wednesday," said Miranda. "I'll spy round all I can,
but I don't like to carry news from one house to another. I never was
one to make trouble; 't would make my business more difficult than't
is a'ready."

"I'd trust you," responded Mrs. Topliff, emphatically. "But there,
Mirandy, you know you can trust me too, and anything you say goes no
further."

"Yes'm," returned Miranda, somewhat absently. "To cut this the way you
want it is going to give the folds a ter'ble skimpy look."

"I thought it would from the first," was Mrs. Topliff's obliging
answer.


III.


The captain could not believe that two months had passed since his
sister's death, but Mrs. French assured him one evening that it was
so. He had troubled himself very little about public opinion, though
hints of his housekeeper's suspicious character and abominable
intentions had reached his ears through more than one disinterested
tale-bearer. Indeed, the minister and his wife were the only persons
among the old family friends who kept up any sort of intercourse with
Mrs. French. The ladies of the parish themselves had not dared to
asperse her character to the gruff captain, but were contented with
ignoring her existence and setting their husbands to the fray. "Why
don't you tell him what folks think?" was a frequent question; but
after a first venture even the most intimate and valiant friends were
sure to mind their own business, as the indignant captain bade them.
Two of them had been partially won over to Mrs. French's side by a
taste of her good cooking. In fact, these were Captain Dunn and
Captain Allister, who, at the eleven o'clock rendezvous, reported
their wives as absent at the County Conference, and were promptly
bidden to a chowder dinner by the independent Captain Ball, who
gloried in the fact that neither of his companions would dare to ask a
friend home unexpectedly. Our hero promised his guests that what they
did not find in eatables they should make up in drinkables, and
actually produced a glistening decanter of Madeira that had made
several voyages in his father's ships while he himself was a boy.
There were several casks and long rows of cobwebby bottles in the
cellar, which had been provided against possible use in case of
illness, but the captain rarely touched them, though he went regularly
every morning for a social glass of what he frankly persisted in
calling his grog. The dinner party proved to be a noble occasion, and
Mrs. French won the esteem of the three elderly seamen by her discreet
behavior, as well as by the flavor of the chowder.

They walked out into the old garden when the feast was over, and
continued their somewhat excited discussion of the decline of
shipping, on the seats of the ancient latticed summer-house. There
Mrs. French surprised them by bringing out a tray of coffee, served in
the handsome old cups which the captain's father had brought home from
France. She was certainly a good-looking woman, and stepped modestly
and soberly along the walk between the mallows and marigolds. Her
feminine rivals insisted that she looked both bold and sly, but she
minded her work like a steam-tug, as the captain whispered admiringly
to his friends.

"Ain't never ascertained where she came from last, have ye?" inquired
Captain Alister, emboldened by the best  Madeira and the
good-fellowship of the occasion.

"I'm acquainted with all I need to know," answered Captain Ball,
shortly; but his face darkened, and when his guests finished their
coffee they thought it was high time to go away.

Everybody was sorry that a jarring note had been struck on so
delightful an occasion, but it could not be undone. On the whole, the
dinner was an uncommon pleasure, and the host walked back into the
house to compliment his housekeeper, though the sting of his friend's
untimely question expressed itself by a remark that they had made most
too much of an every-day matter by having the coffee in those best
cups.

Mrs. French laughed. "'T will give 'em something to talk about; 't was
excellent good coffee, this last you got, anyway," and Captain Asaph
walked away, restored to a pleased and cheerful frame of mind. When he
waked up after a solid after-dinner nap, Mrs. French, in her decent
afternoon gown, as calm as if there had been no company to dinner, was
just coming down the front stairs.

She seated herself by the window, and pretended to look into the
street. The captain shook his newspaper at an invading fly. It was
early September and flies were cruelly persistent. Somehow his nap had
not entirely refreshed him, and he watched his housekeeper with
something like disapproval.

"I want to talk with you about something, sir," said Mrs. French.

"She's going to raise her pay," the captain grumbled to himself.
"Well, speak out, can't ye ma'am?" he said.

"You know I've been sayin' all along that you ought to get your
niece"--

"She's my _great_-niece," blew the captain, "an' I don't know as I
want her." The awful certainty came upon him that those hints were
well-founded about Mrs. French's determination to marry him, and his
stormy nature rose in wild revolt. "Can't you keep your place, ma'am?"
and he gave a great _whoo!_ as if he were letting off superabundant
steam. She might prove to carry too many guns for him, and he grew
very red in the face. It was a much worse moment than when a vessel
comes driving at you amidships out of the fog.

"Why, yes, sir, I should be glad to keep my place," said Mrs. French,
taking the less grave meaning of his remark by instinct, if not by
preference; "only it seems your duty to let your great-niece come some
time or other, and I can go off. Perhaps it is an untimely season to
speak, about it, but, you see, I have had it in mind, and now I've got
through with the preserves, and there's a space between now and
house-cleaning, I guess you'd better let the young woman come. Folks
have got wind about your refusing her earlier, and think hard of me:
my position isn't altogether pleasant," and she changed color a
little, and looked him full in the face.

The captain's eyes fell. He did owe her something. He never had been
so comfortable in his life, on shore, as she had made him. She had
heard some cursed ill-natured speeches, and he very well knew that a
more self-respecting woman never lived. But now her moment of
self-assertion seemed to have come, and, to use his own words, she had
him fast. Stop! there was a way of escape.

"Then I _will_ send for the gal. Perhaps you're right, ma'am. I've
slept myself into the doldrums. _Whoo! whoo!_" he said,
loudly--anything to gain a little time. "Anything you say, ma'am," he
protested. "I've got to step down-town on some business," and the
captain fled with ponderous footsteps out through the dining-room to
the little side entry where he hung his hat; then a moment later he
went away, clicking his cane along the narrow sidewalk.

He had escaped that time, and wrote the brief note to his great-niece,
Ann Ball--how familiar the name looked!--with a sense of victory. He
dreaded the next interview with his housekeeper, but she was
business-like and self-possessed, and seemed to be giving him plenty
of time. Then the captain regretted his letter, and felt as if he were
going to be broken up once more in his home comfort. He spoke only
when it was absolutely necessary, and simply nodded his head when
Mrs. French said that she was ready to start as soon as she showed the
young woman about the house. But what favorite dishes were served the
captain in those intervening days! and there was one cool evening
beside, when the housekeeper had the social assistance of a fire in
the Franklin stove. The captain thought that his only safety lay in
sleep, and promptly took that means of saving himself from a dangerous
conversation. He even went to a panorama on Friday night, a diversion
that would usually be quite beneath his dignity. It was difficult to
avoid asking Mrs. French to accompany him, she helped him on with his
coat so pleasantly, but "she'd git her claws on me comin' home
perhaps," mused the self-distrustful mariner, and stoutly went his way
to the panorama alone. It was a very dull show indeed, and he bravely
confessed it, and then was angry at a twinkle in Mrs. French's eyes.
Yet he should miss the good creature, and for the life of him he could
not think lightly of her. "She well knows how able she is to do for
me. Women-folks is cap'ns ashore," sighed the captain as he went
upstairs to bed.

"Women-folks is cap'ns ashore," he repeated, in solemn confidence to
one of his intimate friends, as they stood next day on one of the
deserted wharves, looking out across the empty harbor roads. There was
nothing coming in. How they had watched the deep-laden ships enter
between the outer capes and drop their great sails in home waters! How
they had ruled those ships, and been the ablest ship-masters of their
day, with nobody to question their decisions! There is no such
absolute monarchy as a sea-captain's. He is a petty king, indeed, as
he sails the high seas from port to port.

There was a fine easterly breeze and a bright sun that day, but
Captain Ball came toiling up the cobble-stoned street toward his house
as if he were vexed by a headwind. He carried a post-card between his
thumb and finger, and grumbled aloud as he stumped along. "Mis'
French!" he called, loudly, as he opened the door, and that worthy
woman appeared with a floured apron, and a mind divided between her
employer's special business and her own affairs of pie-making.

"She's coming this same day," roared the captain. "Might have given
some notice, I'm sure. 'Be with you Saturday afternoon,' and signed
her name. That's all she's written. Whoo! whoo! 'tis a dreadful close
day," and the poor old fellow fumbled for his big silk handkerchief.
"I don't know what train she'll take. I ain't going to hang round up
at the depot; my rheumatism troubles me."

"I wouldn't, if I was you," answered Mrs. French, shortly, and turned
from him with a pettish movement to open the oven door.

The captain passed into the sitting-room, and sat down heavily in his
large chair. On the wall facing him was a picture of his old ship the
Ocean Rover leaving the harbor of Bristol. It was not valuable as a
marine painting, but the sea was blue in that picture, and the white
canvas all spread to the very sky-scrapers; it was an emblem of that
freedom which Captain Asaph Ball had once enjoyed. Dinner that day was
a melancholy meal, and after it was cleared away the master of the
house forlornly watched Mrs. French gather an armful of her own
belongings, and mount the stairs as if she were going to pack her box
that very afternoon. It did not seem possible that she meant to leave
before Monday, but the captain could not bring himself to ask any
questions. He was at the mercy of womankind. "A jiggeting girl. I
don't know how to act with her. She sha'n't rule me," he muttered to
himself. "She and Mis' French may think they've got things right to
their hands, but I'll stand my ground--I'll stand my ground," and the
captain gently slid into the calmer waters of his afternoon nap.

When he waked the house was still, and with sudden consciousness of
approaching danger, and a fear lest Mrs. French might have some last
words to say if she found him awake, he stole out of his house as
softly as possible and went down-town, hiding his secret woes and
joining in the long seafaring reminiscences with which he and his
friends usually diverted themselves. As he came up the street again
toward supper-time, he saw that the blinds were thrown open in the
parlor windows, and his heart began to beat loudly. He could hear
women's voices, and he went in by a side gate and sought the quiet
garden. It had suffered from a touch of frost; so had the captain.

Mrs. French heard the gate creak, and presently she came to the garden
door at the end of the front entry. "Come in, won't ye, cap'n?" she
called, persuasively, and with a mighty sea oath the captain rose and
obeyed.

The house was still. He strode along the entry lite a brave man: there
was nothing of the coward about Asaph Ball when he made up his mind to
a thing. There was nobody in the best parlor, and he turned toward the
sitting-room, but there sat smiling Mrs. French.

"Where is the gal?" blew the captain.

"Here I be, sir," said Mrs. French, with a flushed and beaming face.
"I thought 't was full time to put you out of your misery."

"What's all this mean? _Whoo! whoo!_"

"Here I be; take me or leave me, uncle," answered the housekeeper: she
began to be anxious, the captain looked so bewildered and irate.
"Folks seemed to think that you was peculiar, and I was impressed that
it would be better to just come first without a word's bein' said, and
find out how you an' me got on; then, if we didn't make out, nobody 'd
be bound. I'm sure I didn't want to be."

"Who was that I heard talking with ye as I come by?" blew the captain
very loud.

"That was Mis' Cap'n Topliff; an' an old cat she is," calmly replied
Mrs. French. "She hasn't been near me before this three months, but
plenty of stories she's set goin' about us, and plenty of spyin' she's
done. I thought I'd tell you who I was within a week after I come, but
I found out how things was goin', and I had to spite 'em well before I
got through. I expected that something would turn up, an' the whole
story get out. But we've been middlin' comfortable, haven't we, sir?
an' I thought 't was 'bout time to give you a little surprise. Mis'
Calvinn and the minister knows the whole story," she concluded: "I
wouldn't have kep' it from them. Mis' Calvinn said all along 't would
be a good lesson"--

"Who wrote that card from the post-office?" demanded the captain,
apparently but half persuaded.

"I did," said Mrs. French.

"Good Hector, you women-folks!" but Captain Ball ventured to cross the
room and establish himself in his chair. Then, being a man of humor,
he saw that he had a round turn on those who had spitefufly sought to
question him.

"You needn't let on, that you haven't known me all along," suggested
Mrs. French. "I should be pleased if you would call me by my Christian
name, sir. I was married to Mr. French only a short time; he was taken
away very sudden. The letter that came after aunt's death was directed
to my maiden name, but aunt knew all about me. I've got some means,
an' I ain't distressed but what I can earn my living."

"They don't call me such an old Turk, I hope!" exclaimed the excited
captain, deprecating the underrated estimate of himself which was
suddenly presented. "I ain't a hard man at sea, now I tell ye," and he
turned away, much moved at the injustice of society. "I've got no head
for geneology. Ann usually set in to give me the family particulars
when I was logy with sleep a Sunday night. I thought you was a French
from Massachusetts way."

"I had to say somethin'," responded the housekeeper, promptly.

"Well, well!" and a suppressed laugh shook the captain like an
earthquake. He was suddenly set free from his enemies, while an hour
before he had been hemmed in on every side.

They had a cheerful supper, and Ann French cut a pie, and said, as she
passed him more than a quarter part of it, that she thought she should
give up when she was baking that morning, and saw the look on his face
as he handed her the post-card.

"You're fit to be captain of a privateer," acknowledged Captain Asaph
Ball, handsomely. The complications of shore life were very
astonishing to this seafaring man of the old school.

Early on Monday morning he had a delightful sense of triumph. Captain
Allister, who was the chief gossip of the waterside club, took it upon
himself--a cheap thing to do, as everybody said afterwards--to ask
many questions about those unvalued relatives of the Balls, who had
settled long ago in New York State. Were there any children left of
the captain's half-brother's family?

"I've got a niece living--a great-niece she is," answered Captain
Ball, with a broad smile--"makes me feel old. You see, my
half-brother was a grown man when I was born. I never saw him
scarcely; there was some misunderstanding an' he always lived with his
own mother's folks; and father, he married again, and had me and Ann
thirty year after. Why, my half-brother 'd been 'most a hundred; I
don't know but more."

Captain Ball spoke in a cheerful tone; the audience meditated, and
Captain Allister mentioned meekly that time did slip away.

"Ever see any of 'em?" he inquired. In some way public interest was
aroused in the niece.

"Ever see any of 'em?" repeated the captain, in a loud tone. "You
fool, Allister, who's keepin' my house this minute? Why, Ann French;
Ann Ball that was, and a smart, likely woman she is. I ain't a
marryin' man: there's been plenty o' fools to try me. I've been picked
over well by you and others, and I thought if 't pleased you, you
could take your own time."

The honest captain for once lent himself to deception. One would have
thought that he had planned the siege himself. He took his stick from
where it leaned against a decaying piece of ship-timber and went
clicking away. The explanation of his housekeeping arrangements was
not long in flying about the town, and Mrs. Captain Topliff made an
early call to say that she had always suspected it from the first,
from the family likeness.

From this time Captain Ball submitted to the rule of Mrs. French, and
under her sensible and fearless sway became, as everybody said, more
like other people than ever before. As he grew older it was more and
more convenient to have a superior officer to save him from petty
responsibilities. But now and then, after the first relief at finding
that Mrs. French was not seeking his hand in marriage, and that the
jiggeting girl was a mere fabrication, Captain Ball was both surprised
and a little ashamed to discover that something in his heart had
suffered disappointment in the matter of the great-niece. Those who
knew him well would have as soon expected to see a flower grow out of
a cobble-stone as that Captain Asaph Ball should hide such a sentiment
in his honest breast. He had fancied her a pretty girl in a pink
dress, who would make some life in the quiet house, and sit and sing
at her sewing by the front window, in all her foolish furbelows, as he
came up the street.



BY THE MORNING BOAT.


On the coast of Maine, where many green islands and salt inlets fringe
the deep-cut shore line; where balsam firs and bayberry bushes send
their fragrance far seaward, and song-sparrows sing all day, and the
tide runs plashing in and out among the weedy ledges; where cowbells
tinkle on the hills and herons stand in the shady coves,--on the
lonely coast of Maine stood a small gray house facing the morning
light. All the weather-beaten houses of that region face the sea
apprehensively, like the women who live in them.

This home of four people was as bleached and gray with wind and rain
as one of the pasture rocks close by. There were some cinnamon rose
bushes under the window at one side of the door, and a stunted lilac
at the other side. It was so early in the cool morning that nobody was
astir but some shy birds, that had come in the stillness of dawn to
pick and flutter in the short grass.

They flew away together as some one softly opened the unlocked door
and stepped out. This was a bent old man, who shaded his eyes with his
hand, and looked at the west and the east and overhead, and then took
a few lame and feeble steps farther out to see a wooden vane on the
barn. Then he sat down on the doorstep, clasped his hands together
between his knees, and looked steadily out to sea, scanning the
horizon where some schooners had held on their course all night, with
a light westerly breeze. He seemed to be satisfied at sight of the
weather, as if he had been anxious, as he lay unassured in his north
bedroom, vexed with the sleeplessness of age and excited by thoughts
of the coming day. The old seaman dozed as he sat on the doorstep,
while dawn came up and the world grew bright; and the little birds
returned, fearfully at first, to finish their breakfast, and at last
made bold to hop close to his feet.

After a time some one else came and stood in the open door behind him.

"Why, father! seems to me you've got an early start; 't ain't but four
o'clock. I thought I was foolish to get up so soon, but 't wa'n't so I
could sleep."

"No, darter." The old man smiled as he turned to look at her, wide
awake on the instant. "'T ain't so soon as I git out some o' these
'arly mornin's. The birds wake me up singin', and it's plenty light,
you know. I wanted to make sure 'Lisha would have a fair day to go."

"I expect he'd have to go if the weather wa'n't good," said the woman.

"Yes, yes, but 'tis useful to have fair weather, an' a good sign some
says it is. This is a great event for the boy, ain't it?"

"I can't face the thought o' losin' on him, father." The woman came
forward a step or two and sat down on the doorstep. She was a
hard-worked, anxious creature, whose face had lost all look of youth.
She was apt, in the general course of things, to hurry the old man and
to spare little time for talking, and he was pleased by this
acknowledged unity of their interests. He moved aside a little to give
her more room, and glanced at her with a smile, as if to beg her to
speak freely. They were both undemonstrative, taciturn New Englanders;
their hearts were warm with pent-up feeling, that summer morning, yet
it was easier to understand one another through silence than through
speech.

"No, I couldn't git much sleep," repeated the daughter at last. "Some
things I thought of that ain't come to mind before for years,--things
I don't relish the feelin' of, all over again."

"'T was just such a mornin' as this, pore little 'Lisha's father went
off on that last v'y'ge o' his," answered the old sailor, with instant
comprehension. "Yes, you've had it master hard, pore gal, ain't you? I
advised him against goin' off on that old vessel with a crew that
wa'n't capable."

"Such a mornin' as this, when I come out at sun-up, I always seem to
see her top-s'ils over there beyond the p'int, where she was to
anchor. Well, I thank Heaven 'Lisha was averse to goin' to sea,"
declared the mother.

"There's dangers ashore, Lucy Ann," said the grandfather, solemnly;
but there was no answer, and they sat there in silence until the old
man grew drowsy again.

"Yisterday was the first time it fell onto my heart that 'Lisha was
goin' off," the mother began again, after a time had passed. "P'r'aps
folks was right about our needing of him. I've been workin' every way
I could to further him and git him a real good chance up to Boston,
and now that we've got to part with him I don't see how to put up with
it."

"All nateral," insisted the old man. "My mother wept the night through
before I was goin' to sail on my first v'y'ge; she was kind of
satisfied, though, when I come home next summer, grown a full man,
with my savin's in my pocket, an' I had a master pretty little figured
shawl I'd bought for her to Bristol."

"I don't want no shawls. Partin' is partin' to me," said the woman.

"'T ain't everybody can stand in her fore-door an' see the chimbleys
o' three child'n's houses without a glass," he tried eagerly to
console her. "All ready an' willin' to do their part for you, so as
you could let 'Lisha go off and have his chance."

"I don't know how it is," she answered, "but none on 'em never give me
the rooted home feelin' that 'Lisha has. They was more varyin' and
kind o' fast growin' and scatterin'; but 'Lisha was always 'Lisha when
he was a babe, and I settled on him for the one to keep with me."

"Then he's just the kind to send off, one you ain't got to worry
about. They're all good child'n," said the man. "We've reason to be
thankful none on 'em's been like some young sprigs, more grief 'n
glory to their folks. An' I ain't regrettin' 'Lisha's goin' one mite;
I believe you'd rather go on doin' for him an' cossetin'. I think 't
was high time to shove him out o' the nest."

"You ain't his mother," said Lucy Ann.

"What be you goin' to give him for his breakfast?" asked the stern
grandfather, in a softened, less business-like voice.

"I don't know's I'd thought about it, special, sir. I did lay aside
that piece o' apple pie we had left yisterday from dinner," she
confessed.

"Fry him out a nice little crisp piece o' pork, Lucy Ann, an' 't will
relish with his baked potatoes. He'll think o' his breakfast more
times 'n you expect. I know a lad's feelin's when home's put behind
him."

The sun was up clear and bright over the broad sea inlet to the
eastward, but the shining water struck the eye by its look of vacancy.
It was broad daylight, and still so early that no sails came stealing
out from the farmhouse landings, or even from the gray groups of
battered fish-houses that overhung, here and there, a sheltered cove.
Some crows and gulls were busy in the air; it was the time of day when
the world belongs more to birds than to men.

"Poor 'Lisha!" the mother went on compassionately. "I expect it has
been a long night to him. He seemed to take it in, as he was goin' to
bed, how 't was his last night to home. I heard him thrashin' about
kind o' restless, sometimes."

"Come, Lucy Ann, the boy ought to be stirrin'!" exclaimed the old
sailor, without the least show of sympathy. "He's got to be ready when
John Sykes comes, an' he ain't so quick as some lads."

The mother rose with a sigh, and went into the house. After her own
sleepless night, she dreaded to face the regretful, sleepless eyes of
her son; but as she opened the door of his little bedroom, there lay
Elisha sound asleep and comfortable to behold. She stood watching him
with gloomy tenderness until he stirred uneasily, his consciousness
roused by the intentness of her thought, and the mysterious current
that flowed from her wistful, eager eyes.

But when the lad waked, it was to a joyful sense of manliness and
responsibility; for him the change of surroundings was coming through
natural processes of growth, not through the uprooting which gave his
mother such an aching heart.

A little later Elisha came out to the breakfast-table, arrayed in his
best sandy-brown clothes set off with a bright blue satin cravat,
which had been the pride and delight of pleasant Sundays and rare
holidays. He already felt unrelated to the familiar scene of things,
and was impatient to be gone. For one thing, it was strange to sit
down to breakfast in Sunday splendor, while his mother and grandfather
and little sister Lydia were in their humble every-day attire. They
ate in silence and haste, as they always did, but with a new
constraint and awkwardness that forbade their looking at one another.
At last the head of the household broke the silence with simple
straightforwardness.

"You've got an excellent good day, 'Lisha. I like to have a fair start
myself. 'T ain't goin' to be too hot; the wind's working into the
north a little."

"Yes, sir," responded Elisha.

"The great p'int about gittin' on in life is bein' able to cope with
your headwinds," continued the old man earnestly, pushing away his
plate. "Any fool can run before a fair breeze, but I tell ye a good
seaman is one that gits the best out o' his disadvantages. You won't
be treated so pretty as you expect in the store, and you'll git plenty
o' blows to your pride; but you keep right ahead, and if you can't run
before the wind you can always beat. I ain't no hand to preach, but
preachin' ain't goin' to sarve ye now. We've gone an' fetched ye up
the best we could, your mother an' me, an' you can't never say but
you've started amongst honest folks. If a vessel's built out o' sound
timber an' has got good lines for sailin', why then she's seaworthy;
but if she ain't, she ain't; an' a mess o' preachin' ain't goin' to
alter her over. Now you're standin' out to sea, my boy, an' you can
bear your home in mind and work your way, same's plenty of others has
done."

It was a solemn moment; the speaker's voice faltered, and little Lydia
dried her tearful blue eyes with her gingham apron. Elisha hung his
head, and patted the old spotted cat which came to rub herself against
his trowsers-leg. The mother rose hastily, and hurried into the pantry
close by. She was always an appealing figure, with her thin shoulders
and faded calico gowns; it was difficult to believe that she had once
been the prettiest girl in that neighborhood. But her son loved her in
his sober, undemonstrative way, and was full of plans for coming home,
rich and generous enough to make her proud and happy. He was half
pleased and half annoyed because his leave-taking was of such deep
concern to the household.

"Come, Lyddy, don't you take on," he said, with rough kindliness.
"Let's go out, and I'll show you how to feed the pig and 'tend to the
chickens. You'll have to be chief clerk when I'm gone."

They went out to the yard, hand in hand. Elisha stopped to stroke the
old cat again, as she ran by his side and mewed. "I wish I was off and
done with it; this morning does seem awful long," said the boy.

"Ain't you afraid you'll be homesick an' want to come back?" asked the
little sister timidly; but Elisha scorned so poor a thought.

"You'll have to see if grandpa has 'tended to these things, the pig
an' the chickens," he advised her gravely. "He forgets 'em sometimes
when I'm away, but he would be cast down if you told him so, and you
just keep an eye open, Lyddy. Mother's got enough to do inside the
house. But grandsir'll keep her in kindlin's; he likes to set and chop
in the shed rainy days, an' he'll do a sight more if you'll set with
him, an' let him get goin' on his old seafarin' times."

Lydia nodded discreetly.

"An', Lyddy, don't you loiter comin' home from school, an' don't play
out late, an' get 'em fussy, when it comes cold weather. And you tell
Susy Draper,"--the boy's voice sounded unconcerned, but Lydia glanced
at him quickly,--"you tell Susy Draper that I was awful sorry she was
over to her aunt's, so I couldn't say good-by."

Lydia's heart was the heart of a woman, and she comprehended. Lydia
nodded again, more sagely than before.

"See here," said the boy suddenly. "I'm goin' to let my old woodchuck
out."

Lydia's face was blank with surprise. "I thought you promised to sell
him to big Jim Hooper."

"I did, but I don't care for big Jim Hooper; you just tell him I let
my wood-chuck go."

The brother and sister went to their favorite playground between the
ledges, not far from the small old barn. Here was a clumsy box with
wire gratings, behind which an untamed little wild beast sat up and
chittered at his harmless foes. "He's a whopping old fellow," said
Elisha admiringly. "Big Jim Hooper sha'n't have him!" and as he opened
the trap, Lydia had hardly time to perch herself high on the ledge,
before the woodchuck tumbled and scuttled along the short green turf,
and was lost among the clumps of juniper and bayberry just beyond.

"I feel just like him," said the boy. "I want to get up to Boston just
as bad as that. See here, now!" and he flung a gallant cart-wheel of
himself in the same direction, and then stood on his head and waved
his legs furiously in the air. "I feel just like that."

Lydia, who had been tearful all the morning, looked at him in vague
dismay. Only a short time ago she had never been made to feel that her
brother was so much older than herself. They had been constant
playmates; but now he was like a grown man, and cared no longer for
their old pleasures. There was all possible difference between them
that there can be between fifteen years and twelve, and Lydia was
nothing but a child.

"Come, come, where be ye?" shouted the old grandfather, and they both
started guiltily. Elisha rubbed some dry grass out of his
short-cropped hair, and the little sister came down from her ledge. At
that moment the real pang of parting shot through her heart; her
brother belonged irrevocably to a wider world.

"Ma'am Stover has sent for ye to come over; she wants to say good-by
to ye!" shouted the grandfather, leaning on his two canes at the end
of the bam. "Come, step lively, an' remember you ain't got none too
much time, an' the boat ain't goin' to wait a minute for nobody."

"Ma'am Stover?" repeated the boy, with a frown. He and his sister knew
only too well the pasture path between the two houses. Ma'am Stover
was a bedridden woman, who had seen much trouble,--a town charge in
her old age. Her neighbors gave to her generously out of their own
slender stores. Yet with all this poverty and dependence, she held
firm sway over the customs and opinions of her acquaintance, from the
uneasy bed where she lay year in and year out, watching the far sea
line beyond a pasture slope.

The young people walked fast, sometimes running a little way,
light-footed, the boy going ahead, and burst into their neighbor's
room out of breath.

She was calm and critical, and their excitement had a sudden chill.

"So the great day's come at last, 'Lisha?" she asked; at which 'Lisha
was conscious of unnecessary aggravation.

"I don't know's it's much of a day--to anybody but me," he added,
discovering a twinkle in her black eyes that was more sympathetic than
usual. "I expected to stop an' see you last night; but I had to go
round and see all our folks, and when I got back 't was late and the
tide was down, an' I knew that grandsir couldn't git the boat up all
alone to our lower landin'."

"Well, I didn't forgit you, but I thought p'r'aps you might forgit me,
an' I'm goin' to give ye somethin'. 'T is for your folks' sake; I want
ye to tell 'em so. I don't want ye never to part with it, even if it
fails to work and you git proud an' want a new one. It's been a sight
o' company to me." She reached up, with a flush on her wrinkled cheeks
and tears in her eyes, and took a worn old silver watch from its nail,
and handed it, with a last look at its white face and large gold
hands, to the startled boy.

"Oh, I can't take it from ye, Ma'am Stover. I'm just as much obliged
to you," he faltered.

"There, go now, dear, go right along." said the old woman, turning
quickly away. "Be a good boy for your folks' sake. If so be that I'm
here when you come home, you can let me see how well you've kep' it."

The boy and girl went softly out, leaving the door wide open, as Ma'am
Stover liked to have it in summer weather, her windows being small and
few. There were neighbors near enough to come and shut it, if a heavy
shower blew up. Sometimes the song sparrows and whippoorwills came
hopping in about the little bare room.

"I felt kind of'shamed to carry off her watch," protested Elisha, with
a radiant face that belied his honest words.

"Put it on," said proud little Lydia, trotting alongside; and he
hooked the bright steel chain into his buttonhole, and looked down to
see how it shone across his waistcoat. None of his friends had so fine
a watch; even his grandfather's was so poor a timekeeper that it was
rarely worn except as a decoration on Sundays or at a funeral. They
hurried home. Ma'am Stover, lying in her bed, could see the two slight
figures nearly all the way on the pasture path; flitting along in
their joyful haste.

It was disappointing that the mother and grandfather had so little to
say about the watch. In fact, Elisha's grandfather only said "Pore
creatur'" once or twice, and turned away, rubbing his eyes with the
back of his hand. If Ma'am Stover had chosen to give so rich a gift,
to know the joy of such generosity, nobody had a right to protest. Yet
nobody knew how much the poor wakeful soul would miss the only one of
her meagre possessions that seemed alive and companionable in lonely
hours. Somebody had said once that there were chairs that went about
on wheels, made on purpose for crippled persons like Ma'am Stover; and
Elisha's heart was instantly filled with delight at the remembrance.
Perhaps before long, if he could save some money and get ahead, he
would buy one of those chairs and send it down from Boston; and a new
sense of power filled his honest heart. He had dreamed a great many
dreams already of what he meant to do with all his money, when he came
home rich and a person of consequence, in summer vacations.

The large leather valise was soon packed, and its owner carried it out
to the roadside, and put his last winter's overcoat and a great new
umbrella beside it, so as to be ready when John Sykes came with the
wagon. He was more and more anxious to be gone, and felt no sense of
his old identification with the home interests. His mother said sadly
that he would be gone full soon enough, when he joined his grandfather
in accusing Mr. Sykes of keeping them waiting forever and making him
miss the boat. There were three rough roundabout miles to be traveled
to the steamer landing, and the Sykes horses were known to be slow.
But at last the team came nodding in sight over a steep hill in the
road.

Then the moment of parting had come, the moment toward which all the
long late winter and early summer had looked. The boy was leaving his
plain little home for the great adventure of his life's fortunes.
Until then he had been the charge and anxiety of his elders, and under
their rule and advice. Now he was free to choose; his was the power of
direction, his the responsibility; for in the world one must be ranked
by his own character and ability, and doomed by his own failures. The
boy lifted his burden lightly, and turned with an eager smile to say
farewell. But the old people and little Lydia were speechless with
grief; they could not bear to part with the pride and hope and boyish
strength, that were all their slender joy. The worn-out old man, the
anxious woman who had been beaten and buffeted by the waves of poverty
and sorrow, the little sister with her dreaming heart, stood at the
bars and hungrily watched him go away. They feared success for him
almost as much as failure. The world was before him now, with its
treasures and pleasures, but with those inevitable disappointments and
losses which old people know and fear; those sorrows of incapacity and
lack of judgment which young hearts go out to meet without foreboding.
It was a world of love and favor to which little Lydia's brother had
gone; but who would know her fairy prince, in that disguise of a
country boy's bashfulness and humble raiment from the cheap counter of
a country store? The household stood rapt and silent until the farm
wagon had made its last rise on the hilly road and disappeared.

"Well, he's left us now," said the sorrowful, hopeful old grandfather.
"I expect I've got to turn to an' be a boy again myself. I feel to
hope 'Lisha'll do as well as we covet for him. I seem to take it in,
all my father felt when he let me go off to sea. He stood where I'm
standin' now, an' I was just as triflin' as pore 'Lisha, and felt full
as big as a man. But Lord! how I give up when it come night, an' I
took it in I was gone from home!"

"There, don't ye, father," said the pale mother gently. She was, after
all, the stronger of the two. "'Lisha's good an' honest-hearted.
You'll feel real proud a year from now, when he gits back. I'm so glad
he's got his watch to carry,--he did feel so grand. I expect them poor
hens is sufferin'; nobody's thought on 'em this livin' mornin'. You'd
better step an' feed 'em right away, sir." She could hardly speak for
sorrow and excitement, but the old man was diverted at once, and
hobbled away with cheerful importance on his two canes. Then she
looked round at the poor, stony little farm almost angrily. "He'd no
natural turn for the sea, 'Lisha hadn't; but I might have kept him
with me if the land was good for anything."

Elisha felt as if lie were in a dream, now that his great adventure
was begun. He answered John Sykes's questions mechanically, and his
head was a little dull and dazed. Then he began to fear that the slow
plodding of the farm horses would make him too late for the steamboat,
and with sudden satisfaction pulled out the great watch to see if
there were still time enough to get to the landing. He was filled with
remorse because it was impossible to remember whether he had thanked
Ma'am Stover for her gift. It seemed like a thing of life and
consciousness as he pushed it back into his tight pocket. John Sykes
looked at him curiously. "Why, that's old Ma'am Stover's timepiece,
ain't it? Lend it to ye, did she?"

"Gave it to me," answered Elisha proudly.

"You be careful of that watch," said the driver soberly; and Elisha
nodded.

"Well, good-day to ye; be a stiddy lad," advised John Sykes, a few
minutes afterward. "Don't start in too smart an' scare 'm up to
Boston. Pride an' ambition was the downfall o' old Cole's dog. There,
sonny, the bo't ain't nowheres in sight, for all your fidgetin'!"

They both smiled broadly at the humorous warning, and as the old wagon
rattled away, Elisha stood a moment looking after it; then he went
down to the wharf by winding ways among piles of decayed timber and
disused lobster-pots. A small group of travelers and spectators had
already assembled, and they stared at him in a way that made him feel
separated from his kind, though some of them had come to see him
depart. One unenlightened acquaintance inquired if Elisha were
expecting friends by that morning's boat; and when he explained that
he was going away himself, asked kindly whether it was to be as far as
Bath. Elisha mentioned the word "Boston" with scorn and compassion,
but he did not feel like discussing his brilliant prospects now, as he
had been more than ready to do the week before. Just then a deaf old
woman asked for the time of day. She sat next him on the battered
bench.

"Be you going up to Bath, dear?" she demanded suddenly; and he said
yes. "Guess I'll stick to you, then, fur's you go; 't is kind o' blind
in them big places." Elisha faintly nodded a meek but grudging assent;
then, after a few moments, he boldly rose, tall umbrella in hand, and
joined the talkative company of old and young men at the other side of
the wharf. They proceeded to make very light of a person's going to
Boston to enter upon his business career; but, after all, their
thoughts were those of mingled respect and envy. Most of them had seen
Boston, but no one save Elisha was going there that day to stay for a
whole year. It made him feel like a city man.

The steamer whistled loud and hoarse before she came in sight, but
presently the gay flags showed close by above the pointed spruces.
Then she came jarring against the wharf, and the instant bustle and
hurry, the strange faces of the passengers, and the loud rattle of
freight going on board, were as confusing and exciting as if a small
piece of Boston itself had been dropped into that quiet cove.

The people on the wharf shouted cheerful good-byes, to which the young
traveler responded; then he seated himself well astern to enjoy the
views, and felt as if he had made a thousand journeys. He bought a
newspaper, and began to read it with much pride and a beating heart.
The little old woman came and sat beside him, and talked straight on
whether he listened or not, until he was afraid of what the other
passengers might think, but nobody looked that way, and he could not
find anything in the paper that he cared to read. Alone, but
unfettered and aflame with courage; to himself he was not the boy who
went away, but the proud man who one day would be coming home.

"Goin' to Boston, be ye?" asked the old lady for the third time; and
it was still a pleasure to say yes, when the boat swung round, and
there, far away on its gray and green pasture slope, with the dark
evergreens standing back, were the low gray house, and the little
square barn, and the lines of fence that shut in his home. He strained
his eyes to see if any one were watching from the door. He had almost
forgotten that they could see him still. He sprang to the boat's side:
yes, his mother remembered; there was something white waving from the
doorway. The whole landscape faded from his eyes except that faraway
gray house; his heart leaped back with love and longing; he gazed and
gazed, until a height of green forest came between and shut the
picture out. Then the country boy went on alone to make his way in the
wide world.



IN DARK NEW ENGLAND DAYS.


I.


The last of the neighbors was going home; officious Mrs. Peter Downs
had lingered late and sought for additional housework with which to
prolong her stay. She had talked incessantly, and buzzed like a busy
bee as she helped to put away the best crockery after the funeral
supper, while the sisters Betsey and Hannah Knowles grew every moment
more forbidding and unwilling to speak. They lighted a solitary small
oil lamp at last, as if for Sunday evening idleness, and put it on the
side table in the kitchen.

"We ain't intending to make a late evening of it," announced Betsey,
the elder, standing before Mrs. Downs in an expectant, final way,
making an irresistible opportunity for saying good-night. "I'm sure
we're more than obleeged to ye,--ain't we, Hannah?--but I don't feel's
if we ought to keep ye longer. We ain't going to do no more to-night,
but set down a spell and kind of collect ourselves, and then make for
bed."

Susan Downs offered one more plea. "I'd stop all night with ye an'
welcome; 't is gettin' late--an' dark," she added plaintively; but the
sisters shook their heads quickly, while Hannah said that they might
as well get used to staying alone, since they would have to do it
first or last. In spite of herself Mrs. Downs was obliged to put on
her funeral best bonnet and shawl and start on her homeward way.

"Closed-mouthed old maids!" she grumbled as the door shut behind her
all too soon and denied her the light of the lamp along the footpath.
Suddenly there was a bright ray from the window, as if some one had
pushed back the curtain and stood with the lamp close to the sash.
"That's Hannah," said the retreating guest. "She'd told me somethin'
about things, I know, if it hadn't 'a' been for Betsey. Catch me
workin' myself to pieces again for 'em." But, however grudgingly this
was said, Mrs. Downs's conscience told her that the industry of the
past two days had been somewhat selfish on her part; she had hoped
that in the excitement of this unexpected funeral season she might for
once be taken into the sisters' confidence. More than this, she knew
that they were certain of her motive, and had deliberately refused the
expected satisfaction. "'T ain't as if I was one o' them curious
busy-bodies anyway," she said to herself pityingly; "they might 'a'
neighbored with somebody for once, I do believe." Everybody would have
a question ready for her the next day, for it was known that she had
been slaving herself devotedly since the news had come of old Captain
Knowles's sudden death in his bed from a stroke, the last of three
which had in the course of a year or two changed him from a strong old
man to a feeble, chair-bound cripple.

Mrs. Downs stepped bravely along the dark country road; she could see
a light in her own kitchen window half a mile away, and did not stop
to notice either the penetrating dampness, or the shadowy woods at her
right. It was a cloudy night, but there was a dim light over the open
fields. She had a disposition of mind towards the exciting
circumstances of death and burial, and was in request at such times
among her neighbors; in this she was like a city person who prefers
tragedy to comedy, but not having the semblance within her reach, she
made the most of looking on at real griefs and departures.

Some one was walking towards her in the road; suddenly she heard
footsteps. The figure stopped, then it came forward again.

"Oh, 't is you, ain't it?" with a tone of disappointment. "I cal'lated
you'd stop all night, 't had got to be so late, an' I was just going
over to the Knowles gals'; well, to kind o' ask how they be, an'"--Mr.
Peter Downs was evidently counting on his visit.

"They never passed me the compliment," replied the wife. "I declare I
didn't covet the walk home; I'm most beat out, bein' on foot so much.
I was 'most put out with 'em for letten' of me see quite so plain that
my room was better than my company. But I don't know's I blame 'em;
they want to look an' see what they've got, an' kind of git by
theirselves, I expect. 'T was natural."

Mrs. Downs knew that her husband would resent her first statements,
being a sensitive and grumbling man. She had formed a pacific habit of
suiting her remarks to his point of view, to save an outburst. He
contented Himself with calling the Knowles girls hoggish, and put a
direct question as to whether they had let fall any words about their
situation, but Martha Downs was obliged to answer in the negative.

"Was Enoch Holt there after the folks come back from the grave?"

"He wa'n't; they never give _him_ no encouragement neither."

"He appeared well, I must say," continued Peter Downs. "He took his
place next but one behind us in the procession, 'long of Melinda
Dutch, an' walked to an' from with her, give her his arm, and then I
never see him after we got back; but I thought he might be somewhere
in the house, an' I was out about the barn an' so on."

"They was civil to him. I was by when he come, just steppin' out of
the bedroom after we'd finished layin' the old Cap'n into his coffin.
Hannah looked real pleased when she see Enoch, as if she hadn't really
expected him, but Betsey stuck out her hand's if 't was an eend o'
board, an' drawed her face solemner 'n ever. There, they had natural
feelin's. He was their own father when all was said, the Cap'n was,
an' I don't know but he was clever to 'em in his way, 'ceptin' when he
disappointed Hannah about her marryin' Jake Good'in. She l'arned to
respect the old Cap'n's foresight, too."

"Sakes alive, Marthy, how you do knock folks down with one hand an'
set 'em up with t' other," chuckled Mr. Downs. They next discussed the
Captain's appearance as he lay in state in the front room, a subject
which, with its endless ramifications, would keep the whole
neighborhood interested for weeks to come.

An hour later the twinkling light in the Downs house suddenly
disappeared. As Martha Downs took a last look out of doors through her
bedroom window she could see no other light; the neighbors had all
gone to bed. It was a little past nine, and the night was damp and
still.


II.


The Captain Knowles place was eastward from the Downs's, and a short
turn in the road and the piece of hard-wood growth hid one house from
the other. At this unwontedly late hour the elderly sisters were still
sitting in their warm kitchen; there were bright coals under the
singing tea-kettle which hung from the crane by three or four long
pothooks. Betsey Knowles objected when her sister offered to put on
more wood.

"Father never liked to leave no great of a fire, even though he slept
right here in the bedroom. He said this floor was one that would light
an' catch easy, you r'member."

"Another winter we can move down and take the bedroom ourselves--'t
will be warmer for us," suggested Hannah; but Betsey shook her head
doubtfully. The thought of their old father's grave, unwatched and
undefended in the outermost dark field, filled their hearts with a
strange tenderness. They had been his dutiful, patient slaves, and it
seemed like disloyalty to have abandoned the poor shape; to be sitting
there disregarding the thousand requirements and services of the past.
More than all, they were facing a free future; they were their own
mistresses at last, though past sixty years of age. Hannah was still a
child at heart. She chased away a dread suspicion, when Betsey forbade
the wood, lest this elder sister, who favored their father' s looks,
might take his place as stern ruler of the household.

"Betsey," said the younger sister suddenly, "we'll have us a cook
stove, won't we, next winter? I expect we're going to have something
to do with?"

Betsey did not answer; it was impossible to say whether she truly felt
grief or only assumed it. She had been sober and silent for the most
part since she routed neighbor Downs, though she answered her sister's
prattling questions with patience and sympathy. Now, she rose from her
chair and went to one of the windows, and, pushing back the sash
curtain, pulled the wooden shutter across and hasped it.

"I ain't going to bed just yet," she explained. "I've been a-waiting
to make sure nobody was coming in. I don't know's there'll be any
better time to look in the chest and see what we've got to depend on.
We never'll get no chance to do it by day."

Hannah looked frightened for a moment, then nodded, and turned to the
opposite window and pulled that shutter with much difficulty; it had
always caught and hitched and been provoking--a warped piece of red
oak, when even-grained white pine would have saved strength and
patience to three generations of the Knowles race. Then the sisters
crossed the kitchen and opened the bedroom door. Hannah shivered a
little as the colder air struck her, and her heart beat loudly.
Perhaps it was the same with Betsey.

The bedroom was clean and orderly for the funeral guests. Instead of
the blue homespun there was a beautifully quilted white coverlet which
had been part of their mother's wedding furnishing, and this made the
bedstead with its four low posts-look unfamiliar and awesome. The
lamplight shone through the kitchen door behind them, not very bright
at best, but Betsey reached under the bed, and with all the strength
she could muster pulled out the end of a great sea chest. The sisters
tugged together and pushed, and made the most of their strength before
they finally brought it through the narrow door into the kitchen. The
solemnity of the deed made them both whisper as they talked, and
Hannah did not dare to say what was in her timid heart--that she would
rather brave discovery by daylight than such a feeling of being
disapprovingly watched now, in the dead of night. There came a slight
sound outside the house which made her look anxiously at Betsey, but
Betsey remained tranquil.

"It's nothing but a stick falling down the woodpile," she answered in
a contemptuous whisper, and the younger woman was reassured.

Betsey reached deep into her pocket and found a great key which was
worn smooth and bright like silver, and never had been trusted
willingly into even her own careful hands. Hannah held the lamp, and
the two thin figures bent eagerly over the lid as it opened. Their
shadows were waving about the low walls, and looked like strange
shapes bowing and dancing behind them.

The chest was stoutly timbered, as if it were built in some ship-yard,
and there were heavy wrought-iron hinges and a large escutcheon for
the keyhole that the ship's blacksmith might have hammered out. On the
top somebody had scratched deeply the crossed lines for a game of fox
and geese, which had a trivial, irreverent look, and might have been
the unforgiven fault of some idle ship's boy. The sisters had hardly
dared look at the chest or to signify their knowledge of its
existence, at unwary times. They had swept carefully about it year
after year, and wondered if it were indeed full of gold as the
neighbors used to hint; but no matter how much found a way in, little
had found the way out. They had been hampered all their lives for
money, and in consequence had developed a wonderful facility for
spinning and weaving, mending and making. Their small farm was an
early example of intensive farming; they were allowed to use its
products in a niggardly way, but the money that was paid for wool, for
hay, for wood, and for summer crops had all gone into the chest. The
old captain was a hard master; he rarely commended and often blamed.
Hannah trembled before him, but Betsey faced him sturdily, being
amazingly like him, with a feminine difference; as like as a ruled
person can be to a ruler, for the discipline of life had taught the
man to aggress, the woman only to defend. In the chest was a fabled
sum of prize-money, besides these slender earnings of many years; all
the sisters' hard work and self-sacrifice were there in money and a
mysterious largess besides. All their lives they had been looking
forward to this hour of ownership.

There was a solemn hush in the house; the two sisters were safe from
their neighbors, and there was no fear of interruption at such an hour
in that hard-working community, tired with a day's work that had been
early begun. If any one came knocking at the door, both door and
windows were securely fastened.

The eager sisters bent above the chest, they held their breath and
talked in softest whispers. With stealthy tread a man came out of the
woods near by.

He stopped to listen, came nearer, stopped again, and then crept close
to the old house. He stepped upon the banking, next the window with
the warped shutter; there was a knothole in it high above the women's
heads, towards the top. As they leaned over the chest, an eager eye
watched them. If they had turned that way suspiciously, the eye might
have caught the flicker of the lamp and betrayed itself. No, they were
too busy: the eye at the shutter watched and watched.

There was a certain feeling of relief in the sisters' minds because
the contents of the chest were so commonplace at first sight. There
were some old belongings dating back to their father's early days of
seafaring. They unfolded a waistcoat pattern or two of figured stuff
which they had seen him fold and put away again and again. Once he had
given Betsey a gay China silk handkerchief, and here were two more
like it. They had not known what a store of treasures might be waiting
for them, but the reality so far was disappointing; there was much
spare room to begin with, and the wares within looked pinched and few.
There were bundles of papers, old receipts, some letters in two not
very thick bundles, some old account books with worn edges, and a
blackened silver can which looked very small in comparison with their
anticipation, being an heirloom and jealously hoarded and secreted by
the old man. The women began to feel as if his lean angry figure were
bending with them over the sea chest.

They opened a package wrapped in many layers of old soft paper--a
worked piece of Indian muslin, and an embroidered red scarf which they
had never seen before. "He must have brought them home to mother,"
said Betsey with a great outburst of feeling. "He never was the same
man again; he never would let nobody else have them when he found she
was dead, poor old father!"

Hannah looked wistfully at the treasures. She rebuked herself for
selfishness, but she thought of her pinched girlhood and the delight
these things would have been. Ah yes! it was too late now for many
things besides the sprigged muslin. "If I was young as I was once
there's lots o' things I'd like to do now I'm free," said Hannah with
a gentle sigh; but her sister checked her anxiously--it was fitting
that they should preserve a semblance of mourning even to themselves.

The lamp stood in a kitchen chair at the chest's end and shone full
across their faces. Betsey looked intent and sober as she turned over
the old man's treasures. Under the India mull was an antique pair of
buff trousers, a waistcoat of strange old-fashioned foreign stuff, and
a blue coat with brass buttons, brought home from over seas, as the
women knew, for their father's wedding clothes. They had seen him
carry them out at long intervals to hang them in the spring sunshine;
he had been very feeble the last time, and Hannah remembered that she
had longed to take them from his shaking hands.

"I declare for 't I wish 't we had laid him out in 'em, 'stead o' the
robe," she whispered; but Betsey made no answer. She was kneeling
still, but held herself upright and looked away. It was evident that
she was lost in her own thoughts.

"I can't find nothing else by eyesight," she muttered. "This chest
never 'd be so heavy with them old clothes. Stop! Hold that light
down, Hannah; there's a place underneath here. Them papers in the till
takes a shallow part. Oh, my gracious! See here, will ye? Hold the
light, hold the light!"

There was a hidden drawer in the chest's side--a long, deep place, and
it was full of gold pieces. Hannah had seated herself in the chair to
be out of her sister's way. She held the lamp with one hand and
gathered her apron on her lap with the other, while Betsey, exultant
and hawk-eyed, took out handful after handful of heavy coins, letting
them jingle and chink, letting them shine in the lamp's rays, letting
them roll across the floor--guineas, dollars, doubloons, old French
and Spanish and English gold!

_Now, now! Look! The eye at the window!_

At last they have found it all; the bag of silver, the great roll of
bank bills, and the heavy weight of gold--the prize-money that had
been like Robinson Crusoe's in the cave. They were rich women that
night; their faces grew young again as they sat side by side and
exulted while the old kitchen grew cold. There was nothing they might
not do within the range of their timid ambitions; they were women of
fortune now and their own mistresses. They were beginning at last to
live.

The watcher outside was cramped and chilled. He let himself down
softly from the high step of the winter banking, and crept toward the
barn, where he might bury himself in the hay and think. His fingers
were quick to find the peg that opened the little barn door; the
beasts within were startled and stumbled to their feet, then went back
to their slumbers. The night wore on; the light spring rain began to
fall, and the sound of it on the house roof close down upon the
sisters' bed lulled them quickly to sleep. Twelve, one, two o'clock
passed by.

They had put back the money and the clothes and the minor goods and
treasures and pulled the chest back into the bedroom so that it was
out of sight from the kitchen; the bedroom door was always shut by
day. The younger sister wished to carry the money to their own room,
but Betsey disdained such precaution. The money had always been safe
in the old chest, and there it should stay. The next week they would
go to Riverport and put it into the bank; it was no use to lose the
interest any longer. Because their father had lost some invested money
in his early youth, it did not follow that every bank was faithless.
Betsey's self-assertion was amazing, but they still whispered to each
other as they got ready for bed. With strange forgetfulness Betsey had
laid the chest key on the white coverlet in the bedroom and left it
there.


III.


In August of that year the whole countryside turned out to go to
court.

The sisters had been rich for one night; in the morning they waked to
find themselves poor with a bitter pang of poverty of which they had
never dreamed. They had said little, but they grew suddenly pinched
and old. They could not tell how much money they had lost, except that
Hannah's lap was full of gold, a weight she could not lift nor carry.
After a few days of stolid misery they had gone to the chief lawyer of
their neighborhood to accuse Enoch Holt of the robbery. They dressed
in their best and walked solemnly side by side across the fields and
along the road, the shortest way to the man of law. Enoch Holt's
daughter saw them go as she stood in her doorway, and felt a cold
shiver run through her frame as if in foreboding. Her father was not
at home; he had left for Boston late on the afternoon of Captain
Knowles's funeral. He had had notice the day before of the coming in
of a ship in which he owned  a thirty-second; there was talk of
selling the ship, and the owners' agent had summoned him. He had taken
pains to go to the funeral, because he and the old captain had been on
bad terms ever since they had bought a piece of woodland together, and
the captain declared himself wronged at the settling of accounts. He
was growing feeble even then, and had left the business to the younger
man. Enoch Holt was not a trusted man, yet he had never before been
openly accused of dishonesty. He was not a professor of religion, but
foremost on the secular side of church matters. Most of the men in
that region were hard men; it was difficult to get money, and there
was little real comfort in a community where the sterner, stingier,
forbidding side of New England life was well exemplified.

The proper steps had been taken by the officers of the law, and in
answer to the writ Enoch Holt appeared, much shocked and very
indignant, and was released on bail which covered the sum his shipping
interest had brought him. The weeks had dragged by; June and July were
long in passing, and here was court day at last, and all the townsfolk
hastening by high-roads and by-roads to the court-house. The Knowles
girls themselves had risen at break of day and walked the distance
steadfastly, like two of the three Fates: who would make the third, to
cut the thread for their enemy's disaster? Public opinion was divided.
There were many voices ready to speak on the accused man's side; a
sharp-looking acquaintance left his business in Boston to swear that
Holt was in his office before noon on the day following the robbery,
and that he had spent most of the night in Boston, as proved by
several minor details of their interview. As for Holt's young married
daughter, she was a favorite with the townsfolk, and her husband was
away at sea overdue these last few weeks. She sat on one of the hard
court benches with a young child in her arms, born since its father
sailed; they had been more or less unlucky, the Holt family, though
Enoch himself was a man of brag and bluster.

All the hot August morning, until the noon recess, and all the hot
August afternoon, fly-teased and wretched with the heavy air, the
crowd of neighbors listened to the trial. There was not much evidence
brought; everybody knew that Enoch Holt left the funeral procession
hurriedly, and went away on horseback towards Boston. His daughter
knew no more than this. The Boston man gave his testimony impatiently,
and one or two persons insisted that they saw the accused on his way
at nightfall, several miles from home.

As the testimony came out, it all tended to prove his innocence,
though public opinion was to the contrary. The Knowles sisters looked
more stern and gray hour by hour; their vengeance was not to be
satisfied; their accusation had been listened to and found wanting,
but their instinctive knowledge of the matter counted for nothing.
They must have been watched through the knot-hole of the shutter;
nobody had noticed it until, some years before, Enoch Holt himself had
spoken of the light's shining through on a winter's night as he came
towards the house. The chief proof was that nobody else could have
done the deed. But why linger over _pros_ and _cons?_ The jury
returned directly with a verdict of "not proven," and the tired
audience left the court-house.

But not until Hannah Knowles with angry eyes had risen to her feet.

The sterner elder sister tried to pull her back; every one said that
they should have looked to Betsey to say the awful words that
followed, not to her gentler companion. It was Hannah, broken and
disappointed, who cried in a strange high voice as Enoch Holt was
passing by without a look:

"You stole it, you thief! You know it in your heart!"

The startled man faltered, then he faced the women. The people who
stood near seemed made of eyes as they stared to see what he would
say.

"I swear by my right hand I never touched it."

"Curse your right hand, then!" cried Hannah Knowles, growing tall and
thin like a white flame drawing upward. "Curse your right hand, yours
and all your folks' that follow you! May I live to see the day!"

The people drew back, while for a moment accused and accuser stood
face to face. Then Holt's flushed face turned white, and he shrank
from the fire in those wild eyes, and walked away clumsily down the
courtroom. Nobody followed him, nobody shook hands with him, or told
the acquitted man that they were glad of his release. Half an hour
later, Betsey and Hannah Knowles took their homeward way, to begin
their hard round of work again. The horizon that had widened with such
glory for one night, had closed round them again like an iron wall.

Betsey was alarmed and excited by her sister's uncharacteristic
behavior, and she looked at her anxiously from time to time. Hannah
had become the harder-faced of the two. Her disappointment was the
keener, for she had kept more of the unsatisfied desires of her
girlhood until that dreary morning when they found the sea-chest
rifled and the treasure gone.

Betsey said inconsequently that it was a pity she did not have that
black silk gown that would stand alone. They had planned for it over
the open chest, and Hannah's was to be a handsome green. They might
have worn them to court. But even the pathetic facetiousness of her
elder sister did not bring a smile to Hannah Knowles's face, and the
next day one was at the loom and the other at the wheel again. The
neighbors talked about the curse with horror; in their minds a fabric
of sad fate was spun from the bitter words.

The Knowles sisters never had worn silk gowns and they never would.
Sometimes Hannah or Betsey would stealthily look over the chest in one
or the other's absence. One day when Betsey was very old and her mind
had grown feeble, she tied her own India silk handkerchief about her
neck, but they never used the other two. They aired the wedding suit
once every spring as long as they lived. They were both too old and
forlorn to make up the India mull. Nobody knows how many times they
took everything out of the heavy old clamped box, and peered into
every nook and corner to see if there was not a single gold piece
left. They never answered any one who made bold to speak of their
misfortune.


IV.


Enoch Holt had been a seafaring man in his early days, and there was
news that the owners of a Salem ship in which he held a small interest
wished him to go out as supercargo. He was brisk and well in health,
and his son-in-law, an honest but an unlucky fellow, had done less
well than usual, so that nobody was surprised when Enoch made ready
for his voyage. It was nearly a year after the theft, and nothing had
come so near to restoring him to public favor as his apparent lack of
ready money. He openly said that he put great hope in his adventure to
the Spice Islands, and when he said farewell one Sunday to some
members of the dispersing congregation, more than one person wished
him heartily a pleasant voyage and safe return. He had an insinuating
tone of voice and an imploring look that day, and this fact, with his
probable long absence and the dangers of the deep, won him much
sympathy. It is a shameful thing to accuse a man wrongfully, and Enoch
Holt had behaved well since the trial; and, what is more, had shown no
accession to his means of living.  So away he went, with a fair amount
of good wishes, though one or two persons assured remonstrating
listeners that they thought it likely Enoch would make a good voyage,
better than common, and show himself forwarded when he came to port.
Soon after his departure, Mrs. Peter Downs and an intimate
acquaintance discussed the ever-exciting subject of the Knowles
robbery over a friendly cup of tea.

They were in the Downs kitchen, and quite by themselves. Peter Downs
himself had been drawn as a juror, and had been for two days at the
county town. Mrs. Downs was giving herself to social interests in his
absence, and Mrs. Forder, an asthmatic but very companionable person,
had arrived by two o'clock that afternoon with her knitting work, sure
of being welcome. The two old friends had first talked over varied
subjects of immediate concern, but when supper was nearly finished,
they fell back upon the lost Knowles gold, as has been already said.

"They got a dreadful blow, poor gals," wheezed Mrs. Forder, with
compassion. "'T was harder for them than for most folks; they'd had a
long stent with the ol' gentleman; very arbitrary, very arbitrary."

"Yes," answered Mrs. Downs, pushing back her tea-cup, then lifting it
again to see if it was quite empty. "Yes, it took holt o' Hannah, the
most. I should 'a' said Betsey was a good deal the most set in her
ways an' would 'a' been most tore up, but 't wa'n't so."

"Lucky that Holt's folks sets on the other aisle in the meetin'-house,
I do consider, so 't they needn't face each other sure as Sabbath
comes round."

"I see Hannah an' him come face to face two Sabbaths afore Enoch left.
So happened he dallied to have a word 'long o' Deacon Good'in, an' him
an' Hannah stepped front of each other 'fore they knowed what they's
about. I sh'd thought her eyes 'd looked right through him. No one of
'em took the word; Enoch he slinked off pretty quick."

"I see 'em too," said Mrs. Forder; "made my blood run cold."

"Nothin' ain't come of the curse yit,"--Mrs. Downs lowered the tone of
her voice,--"least, folks says so. It kind o' worries pore Phoebe
Holt--Mis' Dow, I would say. She was narved all up at the time o' the
trial, an' when her next baby come into the world, first thin' she
made out t' ask me was whether it seemed likely, an' she gived me a
pleadin' look as if I'd got to tell her what she hadn't heart to ask.
'Yes, dear,' says I, 'put up his little hands to me kind of wonted';
an' she turned a look on me like another creatur', so pleased an'
contented."

"I s'pose you don't see no great of the Knowles gals?" inquired
Mrs. Forder, who lived two miles away in the other direction.

"They stepped to the door yisterday when I was passin' by, an' I went
in an' set a spell long of 'em," replied the hostess. "They'd got
pestered with that ol' loom o' theirn. 'Fore I thought, says I, ''T is
all worn out, Betsey,' says I. 'Why on airth don't ye git somebody to
git some o' your own wood an' season it well so 't won't warp, same's
mine done, an' build ye a new one?' But Betsey muttered an' twitched
away; 't wa'n't like her, but they're dis'p'inted at every turn, I
s'pose, an' feel poor where they've got the same's ever to do with.
Hannah's a-coughin' this spring's if somethin' ailed her. I asked her
if she had bad feelin's in her pipes, an' she said yis, she had, but
not to speak of 't before Betsey. I'm goin' to fix her up some
hoarhound an' elecampane quick's the ground's nice an' warm an' roots
livens up a grain more. They're limp an' wizened 'long to the fust of
the spring. Them would be service'ble, simmered away to a syrup 'long
o' molasses; now don't you think so, Mis' Forder?"

"Excellent," replied the wheezing dame. "I covet a portion myself, now
you speak. Nothin' cures my complaint, but a new remedy takes holt
clever sometimes, an' eases me for a spell." And she gave a plaintive
sigh, and began to knit again.

Mrs. Downs rose and pushed the supper-table to the wall and drew her
chair nearer to the stove. The April nights were chilly.

"The folks is late comin' after me," said Mrs. Forder, ostentatiously.
"I may's well confess that I told 'em if they was late with the work
they might let go o' fetchin' o' me an' I'd walk home in the mornin';
take it easy when I was fresh. Course I mean ef 't wouldn't put you
out: I knowed you was all alone, an' I kind o' wanted a change."

"Them words was in my mind to utter while we was to table," avowed
Mrs. Downs, hospitably. "I ain't reelly afeared, but 't is sort o'
creepy fastenin' up an' goin' to bed alone. Nobody can't help
hearkin', an' every common noise starts you. I never used to give
nothin' a thought till the Knowleses was robbed, though."

"'T was mysterious, I do maintain," acknowledged Mrs. Forder. "Comes
over me sometimes p'raps 't wasn't Enoch; he'd 'a' branched out more
in course o' time. I'm waitin' to see if he does extry well to sea
'fore I let my mind come to bear on his bein' clean handed."

"Plenty thought 't was the ole Cap'n come back for it an' sperited it
away. Enough said that 't wasn't no honest gains; most on't was
prize-money o' slave ships, an' all kinds o' devil's gold was mixed
in. I s'pose you've heard that said?"

"Time an' again," responded Mrs. Forder; "an' the worst on't was
simple old Pappy Flanders went an' told the Knowles gals themselves
that folks thought the ole Cap'n come back an' got it, and Hannah done
wrong to cuss Enoch Holt an' his ginerations after him the way she
done."

"I think it took holt on her ter'ble after all she'd gone through,"
said Mrs. Downs, compassionately. "He ain't near so simple as he is
ugly, Pappy Flanders ain't. I've seen him set here an' read the paper
sober's anybody when I've been goin' about my mornin's work in the
shed-room, an' when I'd come in to look about he'd twist it with his
hands an' roll his eyes an' begin to git off some o' his gable. I
think them wander-in' cheap-wits likes the fun on't an' 'scapes stiddy
work, an' gits the rovin' habit so fixed, it sp'iles 'em."

"My gran'ther was to the South Seas in his young days," related
Mrs. Forder, impressively, "an' he said cussin' was common there. I
mean sober spitin' with a cuss. He seen one o' them black folks git a
gredge against another an' go an' set down an' look stiddy at him in
his hut an' cuss him in his mind an' set there an' watch, watch, until
the other kind o' took sick an' died, all in a fortnight, I believe he
said; 't would make your blood run cold to hear gran'ther describe it,
't would so. He never done nothin' but set an' look, an' folks would
give him somethin' to eat now an' then, as if they thought 't was all
right, an' the other one 'd try to go an' come, an' at last he hived
away altogether an' died. I don't know what you'd call it that ailed
him. There's suthin' in cussin' that's bad for folks, now I tell ye,
Mis' Downs."

"Hannah's eyes always makes me creepy now," Mrs. Downs confessed
uneasily. "They don't look pleadin' an' childish same 's they used to.
Seems to me as if she'd had the worst on't."

"We ain't seen the end on't yit," said Mrs. Forder, impressively. "I
feel it within me, Marthy Downs, an' it's a terrible thing to have
happened right amon'st us in Christian times. If we live long enough
we're goin' to have plenty to talk over in our old age that's come o'
that cuss. Some seed's shy o' sproutin' till a spring when the s'ile's
jest right to breed it."

"There's lobeely now," agreed Mrs. Downs, pleased to descend to
prosaic and familiar levels. "They ain't a good crop one year in six,
and then you find it in a place where you never observed none to grow
afore, like's not; ain't it so, reelly?" And she rose to clear the
table, pleased with the certainty of a guest that night. Their
conversation was not reassuring to the heart of a timid woman, alone
in an isolated farmhouse on a dark spring evening, especially so near
the anniversary of old Captain Knowles's death.



V.



Later in these rural lives by many years two aged women were crossing
a wide field together, following a footpath such as one often finds
between widely separated homes of the New England country. Along these
lightly traced thoroughfares, the children go to play, and lovers to
plead, and older people to companion one another in work and pleasure,
in sickness and sorrow; generation after generation comes and goes
again by these country by-ways.

The footpath led from Mrs. Forder's to another farmhouse half a mile
beyond, where there had been a wedding. Mrs. Downs was there, and in
the June weather she had been easily persuaded to go home to tea with
Mrs. Forder with the promise of being driven home later in the
evening. Mrs. Downs's husband had been dead three years, and her
friend's large family was scattered from the old nest; they were
lonely at times in their later years, these old friends, and found it
very pleasant now to have a walk together. Thin little Mrs. Forder,
with all her wheezing, was the stronger and more active of the two:
Downs had grown heavier and weaker with advancing years.

They paced along the footpath slowly, Mrs. Downs rolling in her gait
like a sailor, and availing herself of every pretext to stop and look
at herbs in the pasture ground they crossed, and at the growing grass
in the mowing fields. They discussed the wedding minutely, and then
where the way grew wider they walked side by side instead of following
each other, and their voices sank to the low tone that betokens
confidence.

"You don't say that you really put faith in all them old stories?"

"It ain't accident altogether, noways you can fix it in your mind,"
maintained Mrs. Downs. "Needn't tell me that cussin' don't do neither
good nor harm. I shouldn't want to marry amon'st the Holts if I was
young ag'in! I r'member when this young man was born that's married
to-day, an' the fust thing his poor mother wanted to know was about
his hands bein' right. I said yes they was, but las' year he was
twenty year old and come home from the frontier with one o' them
hands--his right one--shot off in a fight. They say 't happened to
sights o' other fel-lows, an' their laigs gone too, but I count 'em
over on my fingers, them Holts, an' he's the third. May say that 't
was all an accident his mother's gittin' throwed out o' her waggin
comin' home from meetin', an' her wrist not bein' set good, an' she,
bein' run down at the time, 'most lost it altogether, but thar' it is,
stiffened up an' no good to her. There was the second. An' Enoch Holt
hisself come home from the Chiny seas, made a good passage an' a sight
o' money in the pepper trade, jest's we expected, an' goin' to build
him a new house, an' the frame gives a kind o' lurch when they was
raisin' of it an' surges over on to him an' nips him under. 'Which
arm?' says everybody along the road when they was comin' an' goin'
with the doctor. 'Right one--got to lose it,' says the doctor to 'em,
an' next time Enoch Holt got out to meetin' he stood up in the house
o' God with the hymn-book in his left hand, an' no right hand to turn
his leaf with. He knowed what we was all a-thinkin'."

"Well," said Mrs. Forder, very short-breathed with climbing the long
slope of the pasture hill, "I don't know but I'd as soon be them as
the Knowles gals. Hannah never knowed no peace again after she spoke
them words in the co't-house. They come back an' harnted her, an' you
know, Miss Downs, better 'n I do, being door-neighbors as one may say,
how they lived their lives out like wild beasts into a lair."

"They used to go out some by night to git the air," pursued Mrs. Downs
with interest. "I used to open the door an' step right in, an' I used
to take their yarn an' stuff 'long o' mine an' sell 'em, an' do for
the poor stray creatur's long's they'd let me. They'd be grateful for
a mess o' early pease or potatoes as ever you see, an' Peter he allays
favored 'em with pork, fresh an' salt, when we slaughtered. The old
Cap'n kept 'em child'n long as he lived, an' then they was too old to
l'arn different. I allays liked Hannah the best till that change
struck her. Betsey she held out to the last jest about the same. I
don't know, now I come to think of it, but what she felt it the most
o' the two."

"They'd never let me's much as git a look at 'em," complained
Mrs. Forder. "Folks got awful stories a-goin' one time. I've heard it
said, an' it allays creeped me cold all over, that there was somethin'
come an' lived with 'em--a kind o' black shadder, a cobweb kind o' a
man-shape that followed 'em about the house an' made a third to them;
but they got hardened to it theirselves, only they was afraid 't would
follow if they went anywheres from home. You don't believe no such
piece o' nonsense?--But there, I've asked ye times enough before."

"They'd got shadders enough, poor creatur's," said Mrs. Downs with
reserve. "Wasn't no kind o' need to make 'em up no spooks, as I know
on. Well, here's these young folks a-startin'; I wish 'em well, I'm
sure. She likes him with his one hand better than most gals likes them
as has a good sound pair. They looked prime happy; I hope no curse
won't foller 'em."

The friends stopped again--poor, short-winded bodies--on the crest of
the low hill and turned to look at the wide landscape, bewildered by
the marvelous beauty and the sudden flood of golden sunset light that
poured out of the western sky. They could not remember that they had
ever observed the wide view before; it was like a revelation or an
outlook towards the celestial country, the sight of their own green
farms and the countryside that bounded them. It was a pleasant country
indeed, their own New England: their petty thoughts and vain
imaginings seemed futile and unrelated to so fair a scene of things.
But the figure of a man who was crossing the meadow below looked like
a malicious black insect. It was an old man, it was Enoch Holt; time
had worn and bent him enough to have satisfied his bitterest foe. The
women could see his empty coat-sleeve flutter as he walked slowly and
unexpectantly in that glorious evening light.



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,
stamp-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 mountain-ward. 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 sterness 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 door-ways.
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 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.





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