CHERRIES.—They rivalled the apple-blooms in snowy profusion, and the branches were covered with tiny balls. The sun mounted warm and high in the heavens and they blushed under his ardent gaze. I felt an increasing conviction that here there would be no disappointment; but it soon became palpable that another class of depredators had marked our trees for their own. Little brown toes could occasionally be seen peeping from the foliage, and little bare feet left their print on the garden-soil. Humanity had evidently deposited its larva in the vicinity. There was a schoolhouse not very far away, and the children used to draw water from an old well in a distant part of the garden. It was surprising to see how thirsty they all became as the cherries ripened. It was as if the village had simultaneously agreed to breakfast on salt fish. Their wooden bucket might have been the urn of the Danaides, judging from the time it took to fill it. The boys were as fleet of foot as young zebras, and presented upon discovery no apology or justification but their heels,—which was a wise stroke in them. A troop of rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed little snips in white pantalets, caught in the act, reasoned with in a semi-circle, and cajoled with candy, were as sweet as distilled honey, and promised with all their innocent hearts and hands not to do so any more. But the real piece de resistance was a mass of pretty well developed crinoline which an informal walk in the infested district brought to light, engaged in a systematic raid upon the tempting fruit. Now, in my country, the presence of unknown individuals in your own garden, plucking your fruit from your trees, without your knowledge and against your will, is universally considered as affording presumptive evidence of—something. In this part of the world, however, I find they do things differently. It doesn't furnish presumptive evidence of anything. If you think it does, you do so at your own risk. I thought it did, and escaped by the skin of my teeth. I hinted my views, and found myself in a den of lions, and was thankful to come out second-best. Second? nay, third-best, fourth-best, no best at all, not even good,—very bad. In short, I was glad to get out with my life. Nor was my repulse confined to the passing hour. The injured innocents come no more for water. I am consumed with inward remorse as I see them daily file majestically past my house to my neighbor's well. I have resolved to plant a strawberry-bed next year, and offer them the fruit of it by way of atonement, and never, under any provocation, hereafter, to assert or insinuate that I have any claim whatever to anything under the sun. If this course, perseveringly persisted in, does not restore the state of quo, I am hopeless. I have no further resources.
The one drop of sweetness in the bitter cup was, that the cherries, being thus let severely alone, were allowed to hang on the trees and ripen. It took them a great while. If they had been as big as hogsheads, I should think the sun might have got through them sooner than he did. They looked ripe long before they were so; and as they were very plenty, the trees presented a beautiful appearance. I bought a stack of fantastic little baskets from a travelling Indian tribe, at a fabulous price, for the sake of fulfilling my long-cherished design of sending fruit to my city friends. After long waiting, Halicarnassus came in one morning with a tin pail full, and said that they were ripe at last, for they were turning purple and falling off; and he was going to have them gathered at once. He had brought in the first-fruits for breakfast. I put them in the best preserve-dish, twined it with myrtle, and set it in the centre of the table. It looked charming,—so ruddy and rural and Arcadian. I wished we could breakfast out-doors; but the summer was one of unusual severity, and it was hardly prudent thus to brave its rigor. We had cup-custards at the close of our breakfast that morning,—very vulgar, but very delicious. We reached the cherries at the same moment, and swallowed the first one simultaneously. The effect was instantaneous and electric. Halicarnassus puckered his face into a perfect wheel, with his mouth for the hub. I don't know how I looked, but I felt badly enough.
"It was unfortunate that we had custards this morning," I remarked. "They are so sweet that the cherries seem sour by contrast. We shall soon get the sweet taste out of our mouths, however."
"That's so!" said Halicarnassus, who will be coarse.
We tried another. He exhibited a similar pantomime, with improvements. My feelings were also the same, intensified.
"I am not in luck to-day," I said, attempting to smile. "I got hold of a sour cherry this time."
"I got hold of a bitter one," said Halicarnassus.
"Mine was a little bitter, too," I added.
"Mine was a little sour, too," said Halicarnassus.
"We shall have to try again," said I.
We did try again.
"Mine was a good deal of both this time," said Halicarnassus. "But we will give them a fair trial."
"Yes," said I, sepulchrally.
We sat there sacrificing ourselves to abstract right for five minutes. Then I leaned back in my chair, and looked at Halicarnassus. He rested his right elbow on the table, and looked at me.
"Well," said he, at last, "how are cherries and things?"
"Halicarnassus," said I, solemnly, "it is my firm conviction that farming is not a lucrative occupation. You have no certain assurance of return, either for labor or capital invested. Look at it. The bugs eat up the squashes. The worms eat up the apples. The cucumbers won't grow at all. The peas have got lost. The cherries are bitter as wormwood and sour as you in your worst moods. Everything that is good for anything won't grow, and everything that grows isn't good for anything."
"My Indian corn, though," began Halicarnassus; but I snapped him up before he was fairly under way. I had no idea of travelling in that direction.
"What am I to do with all those baskets that I bought, I should like to know?" I asked, sharply.
"What did you buy them for?" he asked in return.
"To send cherries to the Hudsons and the Mavericks and Fred Ashley," I replied promptly.
"Why don't you send 'em, then? There's plenty of them,—more than we shall want."
"Because," I answered, "I have not exhausted the pleasures of friendship. Nor do I perceive the benefit that would accrue from turning life-long friends into life-long enemies."
"I'll tell you what we can do," said Halicarnassus. "We can give a party and treat them to cherries. They'll have to eat 'em out of politeness."
"Halicarnassus," said I, "we should be mobbed. We should fall victims to the fury of a disappointed and enraged populace."
"At any rate," said he, "we can offer them to chance visitors."
The suggestion seemed to me a good one,—at any rate, the only one that held out any prospect of relief. Thereafter, whenever friends called singly or in squads,—if the squads were not large enough to be formidable,—we invariably set cherries before them, and with generous hospitality pressed them to partake. The varying phases of emotion which they exhibited were painful to me at first, but I at length came to take a morbid pleasure in noting them. It was a study for a sculptor. By long practice I learned to detect the shadow of each coming change, where a casual observer would see only a serene expanse of placid politeness. I knew just where the radiance, awakened by the luscious, swelling, crimson globes, faded into doubt, settled into certainty, glared into perplexity, fired into rage. I saw the grimace, suppressed as soon as begun, but not less patent to my preternaturally keen eyes. No one deceived me by being suddenly seized with admiration of a view. I knew it was only to relieve his nerves by making faces behind the window-curtains.
I grew to take a fiendish delight in watching the conflict, and the fierce desperation which marked its violence. On the one side were the forces of fusion, a reluctant stomach, an unwilling oesophagus, a loathing palate; on the other, the stern, unconquerable will. A natural philosopher would have gathered new proofs of the unlimited capacity of the human race to adapt itself to circumstances, from the debris that strewed our premises after each fresh departure. Cherries were chucked under the sofa, into the table-drawers, behind the books, under the lamp-mats, into the vases, in any and every place where a dexterous hand could dispose of them without detection. Yet their number seemed to suffer no abatement. Like Tityus's liver, they were constantly renewed, though constantly consumed. The small boys seemed to be suffering from a fit of conscience. In vain we closed the blinds and shut ourselves up in the house to give them a fair field. Not a cherry was taken. In vain we went ostentatiously to church all day on Sunday. Not a twig was touched. Finally I dropped all the curtains on that side of the house, and avoided that part of the garden in my walks. The cherries may be hanging there to this day, for aught I know.
But why do I thus linger over the sad recital? "Ab uno disce omnes." (A quotation from Virgil: means, "All of a piece.") There may have been, there probably was, an abundance of sweet-corn, but the broomstick that had marked the spot was lost, and I could in no wise recall either spot or stick. Nor did I ever see or hear of the peas,—or the beans. If our chickens could be brought to the witness-box, they might throw light on the subject. As it is, I drop a natural tear, and pass on to
THE FLOWER-GARDEN.—It appeared very much behind time,—chiefly Roman wormwood. I was grateful even for that. Then two rows of four-o'clocks became visible to the naked eye. They are cryptogamous, it seems. Botanists have hitherto classed them among the Phaenogamia. A sweet-pea and a china-aster dawdled up just in time to get frost-bitten. "Et praeterea nihil." (Virgil: means, "That's all.") I am sure it was no fault of mine. I tended my seeds with assiduous care. My devotion was unwearied. I was a very slave to their caprices. I planted them just beneath the surface in the first place, so that they might have an easy passage. In two or three days they all seemed to be lying round loose on the top, and I planted them an inch deep. Then I didn't see them at all for so long that I took them up again, and planted them half-way between. It was of no use. You cannot suit people or plants that are determined not to be suited.
Yet, sad as my story is, I cannot regret that I came into the country and attempted a garden. It has been fruitful in lessons, if in nothing else. I have seen how every evil has its compensating good. When I am tempted to repine that my squashes did not grow, I reflect, that, if they had grown, they would probably have all turned into pumpkins, or if they had stayed squashes, they would have been stolen. When it seems a mysterious Providence that kept all my young hopes underground, I reflect how fine an illustration I should otherwise have lost of what Kossuth calls the solidarity of the human race,—what Paul alludes to, when he says, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. I recall with grateful tears the sympathy of my neighbors on the right hand and on the left,—expressed not only by words, but by deeds. In my mind's eye, Horatio, I see again the baskets of apples, and pears, and tomatoes, and strawberries,—squashes too heavy to lift,—and corn sweet as the dews of Hymettus, that bore daily witness of human brotherhood. I remember, too, the victory which I gained over my own depraved nature. I saw my neighbor prosper in everything he undertook. Nihil tetigit quod non crevit. Fertility found in his soil its congenial home, and spanned it with rainbow hues. Every day I walked by his garden and saw it putting on its strength, its beautiful garments. I had not even the small satisfaction of reflecting that amid all his splendid success his life was cold and cheerless, while mine, amid all its failures, was full of warmth,—a reflection which, I have often observed, seems to go a great way towards making a person contented with his lot,—for he had a lovely wife, promising children, and the whole village for his friends. Yet, notwithstanding all these obstacles, I learned to look over his garden-wall with sincere joy.
There is one provocation, however, which I cannot yet bear with equanimity, and which I do not believe I shall ever meet without at least a spasm of wrath, even if my Christian character shall ever become strong enough to preclude absolute tetanus; and I do hereby beseech all persons who would not be guilty of the sin of Jeroboam who made Israel to sin, who do not wish to have on their hands the burden of my ruined temper, to let me go quietly down into the valley of humiliation and oblivion, and not pester me, as they have hitherto done from all parts of the North-American continent, with the infuriating question, "How did you get on with your garden?"
* * * * *
LYRICS OF THE STREET.
Bring the hearse to the station, When one shall demand it, late; For that dark consummation The traveller must not wait. Men say not by what connivance He slid from his weight of woe, Whether sickness or weak contrivance, But we know him glad to go. On, and on, and ever on! What next?
Nor let the priest be wanting With his hollow eyes of prayer, While the sexton wrenches, panting, The stone from the dismal stair. But call not the friends who left him, When Fortune and Pleasure fled; Mortality hath not bereft him, That they should confront him, dead. On, and on, and ever on! What next?
Bid my mother be ready: We are coming home to-night: Let my chamber be still and shady, With the softened nuptial light. We have travelled so gayly, madly, No shadow hath crossed our way; Yet we come back like children, gladly, Joy-spent with our holiday. On, and on, and ever on! What next?
Stop the train at the landing, And search every carriage through; Let no one escape your handing, None shiver or shrink from view. Three blood-stained guests expect him, Three murders oppress his soul; Be strained every nerve to detect him Who feasted, and killed, and stole. On, and on, and ever on! What next?
Be rid of the notes they scattered; The great house is down at last; The image of gold is shattered, And never can be recast. The bankrupts show leaden features, And weary, distracted looks, While harpy-eyed, wolf-souled creatures Pry through their dishonored books. On, and on, and ever on! What next?
Let him hasten, lest worse befall him, To look on me, ere I die: I will whisper one curse to appall him, Ere the black flood carry me by. His bridal? the friends forbid it; I have shown them his proofs of guilt: Let him hear, with my laugh, who did it; Then hurry, Death, as thou wilt! On, and on, and ever on! What next?
Thus the living and dying daily Flash forward their wants and words, While still on Thought's slender railway Sit scathless the little birds: They heed not the sentence dire By magical hands exprest, And only the sun's warm fire Stirs softly their happy breast. On, and on, and ever on! God next!
THE SOUTH BREAKER.
IN TWO PARTS.
Just a cap-full of wind, and Dan shook loose the linen, and a straight shining streak with specks of foam shot after us. The mast bent like eel-grass, and our keel was half out of the water. Faith belied her name, and clung to the sides with her ten finger-nails; but as for me, I liked it.
"Take the stick, Georgie," said Dan, suddenly, his cheeks white. "Head her up the wind. Steady. Sight the figurehead on Pearson's loft. Here's too much sail for a frigate."
But before the words were well uttered, the mast doubled up and coiled like a whip-lash, there was a report like the crack of doom, and half of the thing crashed short over the bows, dragging the heavy sail in the waves.
Then there came a great laugh of thunder close above, and the black cloud dropped like a curtain round us: the squall had broken.
"Cut it off, Dan! quick!" I cried. "Let it alone," said he, snapping together his jack-knife; "it's as good as a best bower-anchor. Now I'll take the tiller, Georgie. Strong little hand," said he, bending so that I didn't see his face. "And lucky it's good as strong. It's saved us all.—My God, Georgie! where's Faith?"
I turned. There was no Faith in the boat. We both sprang to our feet, and so the tiller swung round and threw us broadside to the wind, and between the dragging mast and the centre-board drowning seemed too good for us.
"You'll have to cut it off," I cried again; but he had already ripped half through the canvas and was casting it loose.
At length he gave his arm a toss. With the next moment, I never shall forget the look of horror that froze Dan's face.
"I've thrown her off!" he exclaimed. "I've thrown her off!"
He reached his whole length over the boat, I ran to his side, and perhaps our motion impelled it, or perhaps some unseen hand; for he caught at an end of rope, drew it in a second, let go and clutched at a handful of the sail, and then I saw how it had twisted round and swept poor little Faith over, and she had swung there in it like a dead butterfly in a chrysalis. The lightnings were slipping down into the water like blades of fire everywhere around us, with short, sharp volleys of thunder, and the waves were more than I ever rode this side of the bar before or since, and we took in water every time our hearts beat; but we never once thought of our own danger while we bent to pull dear little Faith out of hers; and that done, Dan broke into a great hearty fit of crying that I'm sure he'd no need to be ashamed of. But it didn't last long; he just up and dashed off the tears and set himself at work again, while I was down on the floor rubbing Faith. There she lay like a broken lily, with no life in her little white face, and no breath, and maybe a pulse and maybe not. I couldn't hear a word Dan said, for the wind; and the rain was pouring through us. I saw him take out the oars, but I knew they'd do no good in such a chop, even if they didn't break; and pretty soon he found it so, for he drew them in and began to untie the anchor-rope and wind it round his waist. I sprang to him.
"What are you doing, Dan?" I exclaimed.
"I can swim, at least," he answered.
"And tow us?—a mile? You know you can't! It's madness!"
"I must try. Little Faith will die, if we don't get ashore."
"She's dead now, Dan."
"What! No, no, she isn't. Faith isn't dead. But we must get ashore."
"Dan," I cried, clinging to his arm, "Faith's only one. But if you die so,—and you will!—I shall die too."
"Yes; because, if it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have been here at all."
"And is that all the reason?" he asked, still at work.
"Reason enough," said I.
"Not quite," said he.
"Dan,—for my sake"——
"I can't, Georgie. Don't ask me. I mustn't"—and here he stopped short, with the coil of rope in his hand, and fixed me with his eye, and his look was terrible—"we mustn't let Faith die."
"Well," I said, "try it, if you dare,—and as true as there's a Lord in heaven, I'll cut the rope!"
He hesitated, for he saw I was resolute; and I would, I declare I would have done it; for, do you know, at the moment I hated the little dead thing in the bottom of the boat there.
Just then there came a streak of sunshine through the gloom where we'd been plunging between wind and water, and then a patch of blue sky, and the great cloud went blowing down river. Dan threw away the rope and took out the oars again.
"Give me one, Dan," said I; but he shook his head. "Oh, Dan, because I'm so sorry!"
"See to her, then,—fetch Faith to," he replied, not looking at me, and making up with great sturdy pulls.
So I busied myself, though I couldn't do a bit of good. The instant we touched bottom, Dan snatched her, sprang through the water and up the landing. I stayed behind; as the boat recoiled, pushed in a little, fastened the anchor and threw it over, and then followed.
Our house was next the landing, and there Dan had carried Faith; and when I reached it, a great fire was roaring up the chimney, and the tea-kettle hung over it, and he was rubbing Faith's feet hard enough to strike sparks. I couldn't understand exactly what made Dan so fiercely earnest, for I thought I knew just how he felt about Faith; but suddenly, when nothing seemed to answer, and he stood up and our eyes met, I saw such a haggard, conscience-stricken face that it all rushed over me. But now we had done what we could, and then I felt all at once as if every moment that I effected nothing was drawing out murder. Something flashed by the window, I tore out of the house and threw up my arms, I don't know whether I screamed or not, but I caught the doctor's eye, and he jumped from his gig and followed me in. We had a siege of it. But at length, with hot blankets, and hot water, and hot brandy dribbled down her throat, a little pulse began to play upon Faith's temple and a little pink to beat up and down her cheek, and she opened her pretty dark eyes and lifted herself and wrung the water out of her braids; then she sank back.
"Faith! Faith! speak to me!" said Dan, close in her ear. "Don't you know me?"
"Go away," she said, hoarsely, pushing his face with her flat wet palm. "You let the sail take me over and drown me, while you kissed Georgie's hand."
I flung my hand before her eyes.
"Is there a kiss on those fingers?" I cried, in a blaze. "He never kissed my hands or my lips. Dan is your husband, Faith!"
For all answer Faith hid her head and gave a little moan. Somehow I couldn't stand that; so I ran and put my arms round her neck and lifted her face and kissed it, and then we cried together. And Dan, walking the floor, took up his hat and went out, while she never cast a look after him. To think of such a great strong nature and such a powerful depth of feeling being wasted on such a little limp rag! I cried as much for that as anything. Then I helped Faith into my bedroom, and running home, I got her some dry clothes,—after rummaging enough, dear knows! for you'd be more like to find her nightcap in the tea-caddy than elsewhere,—and I made her a corner on the settle, for she was afraid to stay in the bedroom, and when she was comfortably covered there she fell asleep. Dan came in soon and sat down beside her, his eyes on the floor, never glancing aside nor smiling, but gloomier than the grave. As for me, I felt at ease now, so I went and laid my hand on the back of his chair and made him look up. I wanted he should know the same rest that I had, and perhaps he did,—for, still looking up, the quiet smile came floating round his lips, and his eyes grew steady and sweet as they used to be before he married Faith. Then I went bustling lightly about the kitchen again.
"Dan," I said, "if you'd just bring me in a couple of those chickens stalking out there like two gentlemen from Spain."
While he was gone I flew round and got a cake into the bake-kettle, and a pan of biscuit down before the fire; and I set the tea to steep on the coals, because father always likes his tea strong enough to bear up an egg, after a hard day's work, and he'd had that to-day; and I put on the coffee to boil, for I knew Dan never had it at home, because Faith liked it and it didn't agree with her. And then he brought me in the chickens all ready for the pot, and so at last I sat down, but at the opposite side of the chimney. Then he rose, and, without exactly touching me, swept me back to the other side, where lay the great net I was making for father; and I took the little stool by the settle, and not far from him, and went to work.
"Georgie," said Dan, at length, after he'd watched me a considerable time, "if any word I may have said to-day disturbed you a moment, I want you to know that it hurt me first, and just as much."
"Yes, Dan," said I.
I've always thought there was something real noble between Dan and me then. There was I,—well, I don't mind telling you. And he,—yes, I'm sure he loved me perfectly,—you mustn't be startled, I'll tell you how it was,—and always had, only maybe he hadn't known it; but it was deep down in his heart just the same, and by-and-by it stirred. There we were, both of us thoroughly conscious, yet neither of us expressing it by a word, and trying not to by a look,—both of us content to wait for the next life, when we could belong to one another. In those days I contrived to have it always pleasure enough for me just to know that Dan was in the room; and though that wasn't often, I never grudged Faith her right in him, perhaps because I knew she didn't care anything about it. You see, this is how it was.
When Dan was a lad of sixteen, and took care of his mother, a ship went to pieces down there on the island. It was one of the worst storms that ever whistled, and though crowds were on the shore, it was impossible to reach her. They could see the poor wretches hanging in the rigging, and dropping one by one, and they could only stay and sicken, for the surf stove the boats, and they didn't know then how to send out ropes on rockets or on cannon-balls, and so the night fell, and the people wrung their hands and left the sea to its prey, and felt as if blue sky could never come again. And with the bright, keen morning not a vestige of the ship, but here a spar and there a door, and on the side of a sand-hill a great dog watching over a little child that he'd kept warm all night. Dan, he'd got up at turn of tide, and walked down,—the sea running over the road knee-deep,—for there was too much swell for boats; and when day broke, he found the little girl, and carried her up to town. He didn't take her home, for he saw that what clothes she had were the very finest,—made as delicately,—with seams like the hair-strokes on that heart's-ease there; and he concluded that he couldn't bring her up as she ought to be. So he took her round to the rich men, and represented that she was the child of a lady, and that a poor fellow like himself—for Dan was older than his years, you see—couldn't do her justice: she was a slight little thing, and needed dainty training and fancy food, maybe a matter of seven years old, and she spoke some foreign language, and perhaps she didn't speak it plain, for nobody knew what it was. However, everybody was very much interested, and everybody was willing to give and to help, but nobody wanted to take her, and the upshot of it was that Dan refused all their offers and took her himself.
His mother'd been in to our house all the afternoon before, and she'd kept taking her pipe out of her mouth,—she had the asthma, and smoked,—and kept sighing.
"This storm's going to bring me something," says she, in a mighty miserable tone. "I'm sure of it!"
"No harm, I hope, Miss Devereux," said mother.
"Well, Rhody,"—mother's father, he was a queer kind,—called his girls all after the thirteen States, and there being none left for Uncle Mat, he called him after the state of matrimony,—"Well, Rhody," she replied, rather dismally, and knocking the ashes out of the bowl, "I don't know; but I'll have faith to believe that the Lord won't send me no ill without distincter warning. And that it's good I have faith to believe."
And so when the child appeared, and had no name, and couldn't answer for herself, Mrs. Devereux called her Faith.
We're a people of presentiments down here on the Flats, and well we may be. You'd own up yourself, maybe, if in the dark of the night, you locked in sleep, there's a knock on the door enough to wake the dead, and you start up and listen and nothing follows; and falling back, you're just dozing off, and there it is once more, so that the lad in the next room cries out, "Who's that, mother?" No one answering, you're half lost again, when rap comes the hand again, the loudest of the three, and you spring to the door and open it, and there's nought there but a wind from the graves blowing in your face; and after a while you learn that in that hour of that same night your husband was lost at sea. Well, that happened to Mrs. Devereux. And I haven't time to tell you the warnings I've known of. As for Faith, I mind that she said herself, as we were in the boat for that clear midnight sail, that the sea had a spite against her, but third time was trying time.
So Faith grew up, and Dan sent her to school what he could, for he set store by her. She was always ailing,—a little, wilful, pettish thing, but pretty as a flower; and folks put things into her head, and she began to think she was some great shakes; and she may have been a matter of seventeen years old when Mrs. Devereux died. Dan, as simple at twenty-six as he had been ten years before, thought to go on just in the old way, but the neighbors were one too many for him; and they all represented that it would never do, and so on, till the poor fellow got perplexed and vexed and half beside himself. There wasn't the first thing she could do for herself, and he couldn't afford to board her out, for Dan was only a laboring-man, mackerelling all summer and shoemaking all winter, less the dreadful times when he stayed out on the Georges; and then he couldn't afford, either, to keep her there and ruin the poor girl's reputation;—and what did Dan do but come to me with it all?
Now for a number of years I'd been up in the other part of the town with Aunt Netty, who kept a shop that I tended between schools and before and after, and I'd almost forgotten there was such a soul on earth as Dan Devereux,—though he'd not forgotten me. I'd got through the Grammar and had a year in the High, and suppose I should have finished with an education and gone off teaching somewhere, instead of being here now, cheerful as heart could wish, with a little black-haired hussy tiltering on the back of my chair.—Rolly, get down! Her name's Laura,—for his mother.—I mean I might have done all this, if at that time mother hadn't been thrown on her back, and been bedridden ever since. I haven't said much about mother yet, but there all the time she was, just as she is to-day, in her little tidy bed in one corner of the great kitchen, sweet as a saint, and as patient; and I had to come and keep house for father. He never meant that I should lose by it, father didn't; begged, borrowed, or stolen, bought or hired, I should have my books, he said: he's mighty proud of my learning, though between you and me it's little enough to be proud of; but the neighbors think I know 'most as much as the minister,—and I let 'em think. Well, while Mrs. Devereux was sick I was over there a good deal,—for if Faith had one talent, it was total incapacity,—and there had a chance of knowing the stuff that Dan was made of; and I declare to man 'twould have touched a heart of stone to see the love between the two. She thought Dan held up the sky, and Dan thought she was the sky. It's no wonder,—the risks our men lead can't make common-sized women out of their wives and mothers. But I hadn't been coming in and out, busying about where Dan was, all that time, without making any mark; though he was so lost in grief about his mother that he didn't take notice of his other feelings, or think of himself at all. And who could care the less about him for that? It always brings down a woman to see a man wrapt in some sorrow that's lawful, and tender as it is large. And when he came and told me what the neighbors said he must do with Faith, the blood stood still in my heart.
"Ask mother, Dan," says I,—for I couldn't have advised him. "She knows best about everything."
So he asked her.
"I think—I'm sorry to think, for I fear she'll not make you a good wife," said mother, "but that perhaps her love for you will teach her to be—you'd best marry Faith."
"But I can't marry her!" said Dan, half choking; "I don't want to marry her,—it—it makes me uncomfortable-like to think of such a thing. I care for the child plenty——Besides," said Dan, catching at a bright hope, "I'm not sure that she'd have me."
"Have you, poor boy! What else can she do?"
"Poor little Faith!" said mother. "She's so pretty, Dan, and she's so young, and she's pliant. And then how can we tell what may turn up about her some day? She may be a duke's daughter yet,—who knows? Think of the stroke of good-fortune she may give you!"
"But I don't love her," said Dan, as a finality.
"Perhaps——It isn't——You don't love any one else?"
"No," said Dan, as a matter of course, and not at all with reflection. And then, as his eyes went wandering, there came over them a misty look, just as the haze creeps between you and some object away out at sea, and he seemed to be searching his very soul. Suddenly the look swept off them, and his eyes struck mine, and he turned, not having meant to, and faced me entirely, and there came such a light into his countenance, such a smile round his lips, such a red stamped his cheek, and he bent a little,—and it was just as if the angel of the Lord had shaken his wings over us in passing, and we both of us knew that here was a man and here was a woman, each for the other, in life and death; and I just hid my head in my apron, and mother turned on her pillow with a little moan. How long that lasted I can't say, but by-and-by I heard mother's voice, clear and sweet as a tolling bell far away on some fair Sunday morning,—
"The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men."
And nobody spoke.
"Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light."
Then came the hush again, and Dan started to his feet, and began to walk up and down the room as if something drove him; but wearying, he stood and leaned his head on the chimney there. And mother's voice broke the stillness anew, and she said,—
"Hath God forgotten to be gracious? His mercy endureth forever. And none of them that trust in him shall be desolate."
There was something in mother's tone that made me forget myself and my sorrow, and look; and there she was, as she hadn't been before for six months, half risen from the bed, one hand up, and her whole face white and shining with confident faith. Well, when I see all that such trust has buoyed mother over, I wish to goodness I had it: I take more after Martha. But never mind, do well here and you'll do well there, say I. Perhaps you think it wasn't much, the quiet and the few texts breathed through it; but sometimes when one's soul's at a white heat, it may be moulded like wax with a finger. As for me, maybe God hardened Pharaoh's heart,—though how that was Pharaoh's fault I never could see. But Dan,—he felt what it was to have a refuge in trouble, to have a great love always extending over him like a wing; he longed for it; he couldn't believe it was his now, he was so suddenly convicted of all sin and wickedness; and something sprang up in his heart, a kind of holy passion that he felt to be possible for this great and tender Divine Being; and he came and fell on his knees by the side of the bed, crying out for mother to show him the way; and mother, she put her hand on his head and prayed,—prayed, oh, so beautifully, that it makes the water stand in my eyes now to remember what she said. But I didn't feel so then, my heart and my soul were rebellious, and love for Dan alone kept me under, not love for God. And in fact, if ever I'd got to heaven then, love for Dan'd have been my only saving grace; for I was mighty high-spirited, as a girl. Well, Dan he never made open profession; but when he left the house, he went and asked Faith to marry him.
Now Faith didn't care anything about Dan,—except the quiet attachment that she couldn't help, from living in the house with him, and he'd always petted and made much of her, and dressed her like a doll,—he wasn't the kind of man to take her fancy: she'd have maybe liked some slender, smooth-faced chap; but Dan was a black, shaggy fellow, with shoulders like the cross-tree, and a length of limb like Saul's, and eyes set deep, like lamps in caverns. And he had a great, powerful heart,—and, oh, how it was lost! for she might have won it, she might have made him love her, since I would have stood wide away and aside for the sake of seeing him happy. But Faith was one of those that, if they can't get what they want, haven't any idea of putting up with what they have,—God forgive me, if I'm hard on the child! And she couldn't give Dan an answer right off, but was loath to think of it, and went flirting about among the other boys; and Dan, when he saw she wasn't so easily gotten, perhaps set more value on her. For Faith, she grew prettier every day; her great brown eyes were so soft and clear, and had a wide, sorrowful way of looking at you; and her cheeks, that were usually pale, blossomed to roses when you spoke to her, her hair drooping over them dark and silky; and though she was slack and untidy and at loose ends about her dress, she somehow always seemed like a princess in disguise; and when she had on any thing new,—a sprigged calico, and her little straw bonnet with the pink ribbons, and Mrs. Devereux's black scarf, for instance,—you'd have allowed that she might have been daughter to the Queen of Sheba. I don't know, but I rather think Dan wouldn't have said any more to Faith, from various motives, you see, notwithstanding the neighbors were still remonstrating with him, if it hadn't been that Miss Brown—she that lived round the corner there; the town's well quit of her now, poor thing!—went to saying the same stuff to Faith, and telling her all that other folks said. And Faith went home in a passion,—some of your timid kind nothing ever abashes, and nobody gets to the windward of them,—and, being perfectly furious, fell to accusing Dan of having brought her to this, so that Dan actually believed he had, and was cut to the quick with contrition, and told her that all the reparation he could make he was waiting and wishing to make, and then there came floods of tears. Some women seem to have set out with the idea that life's a desert for them to cross, and they've laid in a supply of water-bags accordingly,—but it's the meanest weapon! And then again, there's men that are iron, and not to be bent under calamities, that these tears can twist round your little finger. Well, I suppose Faith concluded 'twas no use to go hungry because her bread wasn't buttered on both sides, but she always acted as if she'd condescended ninety degrees in marrying Dan, and Dan always seemed to feel that he'd done her a great injury; and there it was.
I kept in the house for a time; mother was worse.—and I thought the less Dan saw of me the better; I kind of hoped he'd forget, and find his happiness where it ought to be. But the first time I saw him, when Faith had been his wife all the spring, there was the look in his eyes that told of the ache in his heart. Faith wasn't very happy herself, of course, though she was careless; and she gave him trouble,—keeping company with the young men just as before; and she got into a way of flying straight to me, if Dan ventured to reprove her ever so lightly; and stormy nights, when he was gone, and in his long trips, she always locked up her doors and came over and got into my bed; and she was one of those that never listened to reason, and it was none so easy for me, you may suppose.
Things had gone on now for some three years, and I'd about lived in my books,—I'd tried to teach Faith some, but she wouldn't go any farther than newspaper stories,—when one day Dan took her and me to sail, and we were to have had a clam-chowder on the Point, if the squall hadn't come. As it was, we'd got to put up with chicken-broth, and it couldn't have been better, considering who made it. It was getting on toward the cool of the May evening, the sunset was round on the other side of the house, but all the east looked as if the sky had been stirred up with currant-juice, till it grew purple and dark, and then the two light-houses flared out and showed us the lip of froth lapping the shadowy shore beyond, and I—heard father's voice, and he came in.
There was nothing but the fire-light in the room, and it threw about great shadows, so that at first entering all was indistinct; but I heard a foot behind father's, and then a form appeared, and something, I never could tell what, made a great shiver rush down my back, just as when a creature is frightened in the dark at what you don't see, and so, though my soul was unconscious, my body felt that there was danger in the air. Dan had risen and lighted the lamp that swings in the chimney, and father first of all had gone up and kissed mother, and left the stranger standing; then he turned round, saying,—
"A tough day,—it's been a tough day; and here's some un to prove it. Georgie, hope that pot's steam don't belie it, for Mr. Gabriel Verelay and I want a good supper and a good bed."
At this, the stranger, still standing, bowed.
"Here's the one, father," said I. "But about the bed,—Faith'll have to stay here,—and I don't see—unless Dan takes him over"——
"That I'll do," said Dan.
"All right," said the stranger, in a voice that you didn't seem to notice while he was speaking, but that you remembered afterwards like the ring of any silver thing that has been thrown down; and he dropped his hat on the floor and drew near the fireplace, warming hands that were slender and brown, but shapely as a woman's. I was taking up the supper; so I only gave him a glance or two, and saw him standing there, his left hand extended to the blaze, and his eye resting lightly and then earnestly on Faith in her pretty sleep, and turning away much as one turns from a picture. At length I came to ask him to sit by, and at that moment Faith's eyes opened.
Faith always woke up just as a baby does, wide and bewildered, and the fire had flushed her cheeks, and her hair was disordered, and she fixed her gaze on him as if he had stepped out of her dream, her lips half parted and then curling in a smile,—but in a second he moved off with me, and Faith slipped down and into the little bedroom.
Well, we didn't waste many words until father'd lost the edge of his appetite, and then I told about Faith.
"'F that don't beat the Dutch!" said father. "Here's Mr.—Mr."———
"Gabriel," said the stranger.
"Yes,—Mr. Gabriel Verelay been served the same trick by the same squall, only worse and more of it,—knocked off the yacht—What's that you call her?"
"La belle Louise."
"And left for drowned,—if they see him go at all. But he couldn't 'a' sinked in that sea, if he'd tried. He kep' afloat; we blundered into him; and here he is."
Dan and I looked round In considerable surprise, for he was dry as an August leaf.
"Oh," said the stranger, coloring, and with the least little turn of his words, as if he didn't always speak English, "the good captain reached shore, and, finding sticks, he kindled a fire, and we did dry our clothes until it made fine weather once more."
"Yes," said father; "but 't wouldn't been quite such fine weather, I reckon, if this 'd gone to the fishes!" And he pushed something across the table.
It was a pouch with steel snaps, and well stuffed. The stranger colored again, and held his hand for it, and the snap burst, and great gold pieces, English coin and very old French ones, rolled about the table, and father shut his eyes tight; and just then Faith came back and slipped into her chair. I saw her eyes sparkle as we all reached, laughing and joking, to gather them; and Mr. Gabriel—we got into the way of calling him so,—he liked it best—hurried to get them out of sight as if he'd committed some act of ostentation. And then, to make amends, he threw off what constraint he had worn in this new atmosphere of ours, and was so gay, so full of questions and quips and conceits, all spoken in his strange way, his voice was so sweet, and he laughed so much and so like a boy, and his words had so much point and brightness, that I could think of nothing but the showers of colored stars in fireworks. Dan felt it like a play, sat quiet, but enjoying, and I saw he liked it;—the fellow had a way of attaching every one. Father was uproarious, and kept calling out, "Mother, do you hear?—d' you hear that, mother?" And Faith, she was near, taking it all in as a flower does sunshine, only smiling a little, and looking utterly happy. Then I hurried to clear up, and Faith sat in the great arm-chair, and father got out the pipes, and you could hardly see across the room for the wide tobacco-wreaths; and then it was father's turn, and he told story after story of the hardships and the dangers and the charms of our way of living. And I could see Mr. Gabriel's cheek blanch, and he would bend forward, forgetting to smoke, and his breath coming short, and then right himself like a boat after lurching,—he had such natural ways, and except that he'd maybe been a spoiled child, he would have had a good heart, as hearts go. And nothing would do at last but he must stay and live the same scenes for a little; and father told him 't wouldn't pay;—they weren't so much to go through with as to tell of,—there was too much prose in the daily life, and too much dirt, and 't wa'n't fit for gentlemen. Oh, he said, he'd been used to roughing it,—woodsing, camping and gunning and yachting, ever since he'd been a free man. He was Canadian, and had been cruising from the St. Lawrence to Florida, —and now, as his companions would go on without him, he had a mind to try a bit of coast-life. And could he board here? or was there any handy place? And father said, there was Dan,—Dan Devereux, a man that hadn't his match at oar or helm. And Mr. Gabriel turned his keen eye and bowed again,—and couldn't Dan take Mr. Gabriel? And before Dan could answer, for he'd referred it to Faith, Mr. Gabriel had forgotten all about it, and was humming a little French song and stirring the coals with the tongs. And that put father off in a fresh remembrance; and as the hours lengthened, the stories grew fearful, and he told them deep into the midnight, till at last Mr. Gabriel stood up.
"No more, good friend," said he. "But I will have a taste of this life perilous. And now where is it that I go?"
Dan also stood up.
"My little woman," said he, glancing at Faith, "thinks there's a corner for you, Sir."
"I beg your pardon"—And Mr. Gabriel paused, with a shadow skimming over his clear dark face.
Dan wondered what he was begging pardon for, but thought perhaps he hadn't heard him, so he repeated,—
"My wife"—nodding over his shoulder at Faith, "she's my wife—thinks there's a"——
"She's your wife?" said Mr. Gabriel, his eyes opening and brightening the way an aurora runs up the sky, and looking first at one and then at the other, as if he couldn't understand how so delicate a flower grew on so thorny a stem.
The red flushed up Dan's face,—and up mine too, for the matter of that,—but in a minute the stranger had dropped his glance.
"And why did you not tell me," he said, "that I might have found her less beautiful?"
Then he raised his shoulders, gave her a saucy bow, with his hand on Dan's arm,—Dan, who was now too well pleased at having Faith made happy by a compliment to sift it,—and they went out.
But I was angry enough; and you may imagine I wasn't much soothed by seeing Faith, who'd been so die-away all the evening, sitting up before my scrap of looking-glass, trying in my old coral earrings, bowing up my ribbons, and plaiting and prinking till the clock frightened her into bed.
The next morning, mother, who wasn't used to such disturbance, was ill, and I was kept pretty busy tending on her for two or three days. Faith had insisted on going home the first thing after breakfast, and in that time I heard no more of anybody,—for father was out with the night-tides, and, except to ask how mother did, and if I'd seen the stray from the Lobblelyese again, was too tired for talking when he came back. That had been—let me see—on a Monday, I think,—yes, on a Monday; and Thursday evening, as in-doors had begun to tell on me, and mother was so much improved, I thought I'd run out for a walk along the seawall. The sunset was creeping round everything, and lying in great sheets on the broad, still river, the children were frolicking in the water, and all was so gay, and the air was so sweet, that I went lingering along farther than I'd meant, and by-and-by who should I see but a couple sauntering toward me at my own gait, and one of them was Faith. She had on a muslin with little roses blushing all over it, and she floated along in it as if she were in a pink cloud, and she'd snatched a vine of the tender young woodbine as she went, and, throwing it round her shoulders, held the two ends in one hand like a ribbon, while with the other she swung her white sun-bonnet. She laughed, and shook her head at me, and there, large as life, under the dark braids dangled my coral ear-rings, that she'd adopted without leave or license. She'd been down to the lower landing to meet Dan,—a thing she'd done before I don't know when,—and was walking up with Mr. Gabriel while Dan stayed behind to see to things. I kept them talking, and Mr. Gabriel was sparkling with fun, for he'd got to feeling acquainted, and it had put him in high spirits to get ashore at this hour, though he liked the sea, and we were all laughing, when Dan came up. Now I must confess I hadn't fancied Mr. Gabriel over and above; I suppose my first impression had hardened into a prejudice; and after I'd fathomed the meaning of Faith's fine feathers I liked him less than ever. But when Dan came up, he joined right in, gay and hearty, and liking his new acquaintance so much, that, thinks I, he must know best, and I'll let him look out for his interests himself. It would 'a' been no use, though, for Dan to pretend to beat the Frenchman at his own weapons,—and I don't know that I should have cared to have him. The older I grow, the less I think of your mere intellect; throw learning out of the scales, and give me a great, warm heart,—like Dan's.
Well, it was getting on in the evening, when the latch lifted, and in ran Faith. She twisted my ear-rings out of her hair, exclaiming,—
"Oh, Georgie, are you busy? Can't you perse my ears now?"
"Pierce them yourself, Faith."
"Well, pierce, then. But I can't,—you know I can't. Won't you now, Georgie?" and she tossed the ear-rings into my lap.
"Why, Faith," said I, "how'd you contrive to wear these, if your ears aren't"—
"Oh, I tied them on. Come now, Georgie!"
So I got the ball of yarn and the darning-needle.
"Oh, not such a big one!" cried she.
"Perhaps you'd like a cambric needle," said I.
"I don't want a winch," she pouted.
"Well, here's a smaller one. Now kneel down."
"Yes, but you wait a moment, till I screw up my courage."
"No need. You can talk, and I'll take you at unawares."
So Faith knelt down, and I got all ready.
"And what shall I talk about?" said she. "About Aunt Rhody, or Mr. Gabriel, or—I'll tell you the queerest thing, Georgie! Going to now?"
"Do be quiet, Faith, and not keep your head flirting about so!"—for she'd started up to speak. Then she composed herself once more.
"What was I saying? Oh, about that. Yes, Georgie, the queerest thing! You see, this evening, when Dan was out, I was sitting talkin' with Mr. Gabriel, and he was wondering how I came to be dropped down here, so I told him all about it. And he was so interested that I went and showed him the things I had on when Dan found me,—you know they've been kept real nice. And he took them, and looked them over, close, admiring them, and—and—admiring me,—and finally he started, and then held the frock to the light, and then lifted a little plait, and in the under side of the belt-lining there was a name very finely wrought,—Virginie des Violets; and he looked at all the others, and in some hidden corner of every one was the initials of the same name,—V. des V.
"'That should be your name, Mrs. Devereux,' says he.
"'Oh, no!' says I. 'My name's Faith.'
"Well, and on that he asked, was there no more; and so I took off the little chain that I've always worn and showed him that, and he asked if there was a face in it, in what we thought was a coin, you know; and I said, oh, it didn't open; and he turned it over and over, and finally something snapped, and there was a face,—here, you shall see it, Georgie."
And Faith drew it from her bosom, and opened and held it before me; for I'd sat with my needle poised, and forgetting to strike. And there was the face indeed, a sad, serious face, dark and sweet, yet the image of Faith, and with the same mouth,—that so lovely in a woman becomes weak in a man,—and on the other side there were a few threads of hair, with the same darkness and fineness as Faith's hair, and under them a little picture chased in the gold and enamelled, which, from what I've read since, I suppose must have been the crest of the Des Violets.
"And what did Mr. Gabriel say then?" I asked, giving it back to Faith, who put her head into the old position again.
"Oh, he acted real queer. 'The very man!' he cried out. 'The man himself! His portrait,—I have seen it a hundred times!' And then he told me that about a dozen years ago or more, a ship sailed from—from—I forget the place exactly, somewhere up there where he came from,—Mr. Gabriel, I mean,—and among the passengers was this man and his wife, and his little daughter, whose name was Virginie des Violets, and the ship was never heard from again. But he says that without a doubt I'm the little daughter and my name is Virginie, though I suppose every one'll call me Faith. Oh, and that isn't the queerest. The queerest is, this gentleman," and Faith lifted her head, "was very rich. I can't tell you how much he owned. Lands that you can walk on a whole day and not come to the end, and ships, and gold. And the whole of it's lying idle and waiting for an heir,—and I, Georgie, am the heir."
And Faith told it with cheeks burning and eyes shining, but yet quite as if she'd been born and brought up in the knowledge.
"It don't seem to move you much, Faith," said I, perfectly amazed, although I'd frequently expected something of the kind.
"Well, I may never get it, and so on. If I do, I'll give you a silk dress and set you up in a book-store. But here's a queerer thing yet. Des Violets is the way Mr. Gabriel's own name is spelt, and his father and mine—his mother and—Well, some way or other we're sort of cousins. Only think, Georgie! isn't that—I thought, to be sure, when he quartered at our house, Dan'd begin to take me to do, if I looked at him sideways,—make the same fuss that he does, if I nod to any of the other young men."
"I don't think Dan speaks before he should, Faith."
"Why don't you say Virginie?" says she, laughing.
"Because Faith you've always been, and Faith you'll have to remain, with us, to the end of the chapter."
"Well, that's as it may be. But Dan can't object now to my going where I'm a mind to with my own cousin!" And here Faith laid her ear on the ball of yarn again.
"Hasten, headsman!" said she, out of a novel, "or they'll wonder where I am."
"Well," I answered, "just let me run the needle through the emery."
"Yes, Georgie," said Faith, going back with her memories while I sharpened my steel, "Mr. Gabriel and I are kin. And he said that the moment he laid eyes on me he knew I was of different blood from the rest of the people"—.
"What people?" asked I.
"Why, you, and Dan, and all these. And he said he was struck to stone when he heard I was married to Dan,—I must have been entrapped,—the courts would annul it,—any one could see the difference between us"—
Here was my moment, and I didn't spare it, but jabbed the needle into the ball of yarn, if her ear did lie between them.
"Yes!" says I, "anybody with half an eye can see the difference between you, and that's a fact! Nobody'd ever imagine for a breath that you were deserving of Dan,—Dan, who's so noble he'd die for what he thought was right,—you, who are so selfish and idle and fickle and"—
And at that Faith burst out crying.
"Oh, I never expected you'd talk about me so, Georgie!" said she between her sobs. "How could I tell you were such a mighty friend of Dan's? And besides, if ever I was Virginie des Violets, I'm Faith Devereux now, and Dan'll resent any one's speaking so about his wife!"
And she stood up, the tears sparkling like diamonds in her flashing dark eyes, her cheeks red, and her little fist clenched.
"That's the right spirit, Faith," says I, "and I'm glad to see you show it. And as for this young Canadian, the best thing to do with him is to send him packing. I don't believe a word he says; it's more than likely nothing but to get into your good graces."
"But there's the names," said she, so astonished that she didn't remember she was angry.
"Oh, yes! 'Happened so' A likely story! It's nothing but your envy, and that's all!"
"Faith!" says I, for I forgot she didn't know how close she struck.
"Well,—I mean——There, don't let's talk about it any more! How under the sun am I going to get these ends tied?"
"Come here. There! Now for the other one."
"No, I sha'n't let you do that; you hurt me dreadfully, and you got angry and took the big needle."
"I thought you expected to be hurt."
"I didn't expect to be stabbed."
"Well, just as you please. I suppose you'll go round with one ear-ring."
"Like a little pig with his ear cropped? No, I shall do it myself. See there, Georgie!" and she threw a bit of a box into my hands.
I opened it, and there lay inside, on their velvet cushion, a pair of the prettiest things you ever saw,—a tiny bunch of white grapes, and every grape a round pearl, and all hung so that they would tinkle together on their golden stems every time Faith shook her head,—and she had a cunning little way of shaking it often enough.
"These must have cost a penny, Faith," said I. "Where'd you get them?"
"Mr. Gabriel gave them to me, just now. He went up-town and bought them. And I don't want him to know that my ears weren't bored."
"Mr. Gabriel? And you took them?"
"Of course I took them, and mighty glad to get them."
"Faith, dear," said I, "don't you know that you shouldn't accept presents from gentlemen, and especially now you're a married woman, and especially from those of higher station?"
"But he isn't higher."
"You know what I mean. And then, too, he is; for one always takes rank from one's husband."
Faith looked rather downcast at this.
"Yes," said I,—"and pearls and calico"——
"Just because you haven't got a pair yourself! There, be still! I don't want any of your instructions in duty!"
"You ought to put up with a word from a friend, Faith," said I. "You always come to me with your grievances. And I'll tell you what I'll do. You used to like these coral branches of mine; and if you'll give those back to Mr. Gabriel, you shall have the coral."
Well, Faith she hesitated, standing there trying to muster her mind to the needle, and it ended by her taking the coral, though I don't believe she returned the pearls,—but we none of us ever saw them afterwards.
We'd been talking in a pretty low tone, because mother was asleep; and just as she'd finished the other ear, and a little drop of blood stood up on it like a live ruby, the door opened and Dan and Mr. Gabriel came in. There never was a prettier picture than Faith at that moment, and so the young stranger thought, for he stared at her, smiling and at ease, just as if she'd been hung in a gallery and he'd bought a ticket. So then he sat down and repeated to Dan and mother what she'd told me, and he promised to send for the papers to prove it all. But he never did send for them,—delaying and delaying, till the summer wore away; and perhaps there were such papers and perhaps there weren't. I've always thought he didn't want his own friends to know where he was. Dan might be a rich man to-day, if he chose to look them up; but he'd scorch at a slow fire before he'd touch a copper of it. Father never believed a word about it, when we recited it again to him.
"So Faith 'a come into her fortune, has she?" said he. "Pretty child! She 'a'n't had so much before sence she fell heir to old Miss Devereux's best chany, her six silver spoons, and her surname."
So the days passed, and the greater part of every one Mr. Gabriel was dabbling in the water somewhere. There wasn't a brook within ten miles that he didn't empty of trout, for Dan knew the woods as well as the shores, and he knew the clear nights when the insects can keep free from the water so that next day the fish rise hungry to the surface; and so sometimes in the brightest of May noons they'd bring home a string of those beauties, speckled with little tongues of flame; and Mr. Gabriel would have them cooked, and make us all taste them,—for we don't care much for that sort, down here on the Flats; we should think we were famished, if we had to eat fish. And then they'd lie in wait all day for the darting pickerel in the little Stream of Shadows above; and when it came June, up the river he went trolling for bass, and he used a different sort of bait from the rest,—bass won't bite much at clams,—and he hauled in great forty-pounders. And sometimes in the afternoons he took out Faith and me,—for, as Faith would go, whether or no, I always made it a point to put by everything and go too; and I used to try and get some of the other girls in, but Mr. Gabriel never would take them, though he was hail-fellow-well-met with everybody, and was everybody's favorite, and it was known all round how he found out Faith, and that alone made him so popular, that I do believe, if he'd only taken out naturalization-papers, we'd have sent him to General Court. And then it grew time for the river-mackerel, and they used to bring in at sunset two or three hundred in a shining heap, together with great lobsters that looked as if they'd been carved out of heliotrope-stone, and so old that they were barnacled. And it was so novel to Mr. Gabriel, that he used to act as if he'd fallen in fairy-land.
After all, I don't know what we should have done without him that summer: he always paid Dan or father a dollar a day and the hire of the boat; and the times were so hard, and there was so little doing, that, but for this, and packing the barrels of clam-bait, they'd have been idle and fared sorely. But we'd rather have starved: though, as for that, I've heard father say there never was a time when he couldn't go out and catch some sort of fish and sell it for enough to get us something to eat. And then this Mr. Gabriel, he had such a winning way with him, he was as quick at wit as a bird on the wing, he had a story or a song for every point, he seemed to take to our simple life as if he'd been born to it, and he was as much interested in all our trifles as we were ourselves. Then he was so sympathetic, he felt everybody's troubles, he went to the city and brought down a wonderful doctor to see mother, and he got her queer things that helped her more than you'd have thought anything could, and he went himself and set honeysuckles out all round Dan's house, so that before summer was over it was a bower of great sweet blows, and he had an alms for every beggar, and a kind word for every urchin, and he followed Dan about as a child would follow some big shaggy dog. He introduced, too, a lot of new-fangled games; he was what they called a gymnast, and in feats of rassling there wasn't a man among them all but he could stretch as flat as a flounder. And then he always treated. Everybody had a place for him soon,—even I did; and as for Dan, he'd have cut his own heart out of his body, if Mr. Gabriel 'd had occasion to use it. He was a different man from any Dan 'd ever met before, something finer, and he might have been better, and Dan's loyal soul was glad to acknowledge him master, and I declare I believe he felt just as the Jacobites in the old songs used to feel for royal Charlie. There are some men born to rule with a haughty, careless sweetness, and others born to die for them with stern and dogged devotion.
Well, and all this while Faith wasn't standing still; she was changing steadily, as much as ever the moon changed in the sky. I noticed it first one day when Mr. Gabriel'd caught every child in the region and given them a picnic in the woods of the Stack-Yard-Gate, and Faith was nowhere to be seen tiptoeing round every one as she used to do, but I found her at last standing at the head of the table,—Mr. Gabriel dancing here and there, seeing to it that all should be as gay as he seemed to be,—quiet and dignified as you please, and feeling every one of her inches. But it wasn't dignity really that was the matter with Faith,—it was just gloom. She'd brighten up for a moment or two and then down would fall the cloud again, she took to long fits of dreaming, and sometimes she'd burst out crying at any careless word, so that my heart fairly bled for the poor child,—for one couldn't help seeing that she'd some secret unhappiness or other; and I was as gentle and soothing to her as it's in my nature to be. She was in to our house a good deal; she kept it pretty well out of Dan's way, and I hoped she'd get over it sooner or later, and make up her mind to circumstances. And I talked to her a sight about Dan, praising him constantly before her, though I couldn't hear to do it; and finally, one very confidential evening, I told her that I'd been in love with Dan myself once a little, but I'd seen that he would marry her, and so had left off thinking about it; for, do you know, I thought it might make her set more price on him now, if she knew somebody else had ever cared for him. Well, that did answer awhile: whether she thought she ought to make it up to Dan, or whether he really did grow more in her eyes, Faith got to being very neat and domestic and praiseworthy. But still there was the change, and it didn't make her any the less lovely. Indeed, if I'd been a man, I should have cared for her more than ever: it was like turning a child into a woman: and I really think, as Dan saw her going about with such a pleasant gravity, her pretty figure moving so quietly, her pretty face so still and fair, as if she had thoughts and feelings now, he began to wonder what had come over Faith, and, if she were really as charming as this, why he hadn't felt it before; and then, you know, whether you love a woman or not, the mere fact that she's your wife, that her life is sunk in yours, that she's something for you to protect and that your honor lies in doing so, gives you a certain kindly feeling that might ripen into love any day under sunshine and a south wall.
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METHODS OF STUDY IN NATURAL HISTORY
Among the astounding discoveries of modern science is that of the immense periods which have passed in the gradual formation of our earth. So vast were the cycles of time preceding even the appearance of man on the surface of our globe, that our own period seems as yesterday when compared with the epochs that have gone before it. Had we only the evidence of the deposits of rock heaped above each other in regular strata by the slow accumulation of materials, they alone would convince us of the long and slow maturing of God's work on the earth but when we add to these the successive populations of whose life this world has been the theatre, and whose remains are hidden in the rocks into which the mud or sand or soil of whatever kind on which they lived has hardened in the course of time,—or the enormous chains of mountains whose upheaval divided these periods of quiet accumulation by great convulsions,—or the changes of a different nature in the configuration of our globe, as the sinking of lands beneath the ocean, or the gradual rising of continents and islands above it,—or the wearing of great river-beds, or the filling of extensive water-basins, till marshes first and then dry land succeeded to inland seas,—or the slow growth of coral reefs, those wonderful sea-walls raised by the little ocean-architects whose own bodies furnish both the building-stones and the cement that binds them together, and who have worked so busily during the long centuries, that there are extensive countries, mountain-chains, islands, and long lines of coast consisting solely of their remains,—or the countless forests that must have grown up, flourished, died, and decayed, to fill the storehouses of coal that feed the fires of the human race to-day,—if we consider all these records of the past, the intellect fails to grasp a chronology for which our experience furnishes no data, and the time that lies behind us seems as much an eternity to our conception as the future that stretches indefinitely before us.
The physical as well as the human history of the world has its mythical age, lying dim and vague in the morning mists of creation, like that of the heroes and demigods in the early traditions of man, defying all our ordinary dates and measures. But if the succession of periods that prepared the earth for the coming of man, and the animals and plants that accompany him on earth, baffles our finite attempts to estimate its duration, have we any means of determining even approximately the length of the period to which we ourselves belong? If so, it may furnish us with some data for the further solution of these wonderful mysteries of time, and it is besides of especial importance with reference to the question of permanence of Species. Those who maintain the mutability of Species, and account for all the variety of life on earth by the gradual changes wrought by time and circumstances, do not accept historical evidence as affecting the question at all. The monuments of those oldest nations, all whose history is preserved in monumental records, do not indicate the slightest variation of organic types from that day to this. The animals that were preserved within their tombs or carved upon their walls by the ancient Egyptians were the same as those that have their home in the valley of the Nile today; the negro, whose peculiar features are unmistakable even in their rude artistic attempts to represent them, was the same woolly-haired, thick-lipped, flat-nosed, dark-skinned being in the days of the Rameses that he is now. The Apis, the Ibis, the Crocodiles, the sacred Beetles, have brought down to us unchanged all the characters that superstition hallowed in those early days. The stony face of the Sphinx is not more true to its past, nor the massive architecture of the Pyramids more unchanged, than they are. But the advocates of the mutability of Species say truly enough that the most ancient traditions are but as yesterday in the world's history, and that what six thousand years could not do sixty thousand years might effect. Leaving aside, then, all historical chronology, how far back can we trace our own geological period, and the Species belonging to it? By what means can we determine its duration? Within what limits, by what standard, may it be measured? Shall hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years be the unit from which we start?
I will begin this inquiry with a series of facts which I myself have had an opportunity of investigating with especial care respecting the formation and growth of the Coral Reefs of Florida. But first a few words on Coral Reefs in general. They are living limestone walls that are built up from certain depths in the ocean by the natural growth of a variety of animals, but limited by the level of high-water, beyond which they cannot rise, since the little beings that compose them die as soon as they are removed from the vitalizing influence of the pure sea-water. These walls have a variety of outlines: they may be straight, circular, semicircular, oblong, according to the form of the coast along which the little Reef-Builders establish themselves; and their height is, of course, determined by the depth of the bottom on which they rest. If they settle about an island on all sides of which the conditions for their growth are equally favorable, they will raise a wall all around it, thus encircling it with a ring of Coral growth. The Athols in the Pacific Ocean, those circular islands inclosing sometimes a fresh-water lake in mid-ocean, are Coral walls of this kind, that have formed a ring around a central island. This is easily understood, if we remember that the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is by no means a stable foundation for such a structure. On the contrary, over a certain area, which has already been surveyed with some accuracy by Professor Dana, during the United States Exploring Expedition, it is subsiding; and if an island upon which the Reef-Builders have established themselves be situated in that area of subsidence, it will, of course, sink with the floor on which it rests, carrying down also the Coral wall to a greater depth in the sea. In such instances, if the rate of subsidence be more rapid than the rate of growth in the Corals, the island and the wall itself will disappear beneath the ocean. But whenever, on the contrary, the rate of increase in the wall is greater than that of subsidence in the island, while the latter gradually sinks below the surface, the former rises in proportion, and by the time it has completed its growth the central island has vanished, and there remains only a ring of Coral Reef, with here and there a break, perhaps, at some spot where the more prosperous growth of the Corals has been checked. If, however, as sometimes happens, there is no such break, and the wall is perfectly uninterrupted, the sheet of sea-water so inclosed may be changed to fresh water by the rains that are poured into it. Such a water-basin will remain salt, it is true, in its lower part, and the fact that it is affected by the rise and fall of the tides shows that it is not entirely secluded from communication with the ocean outside; but the salt water, being heavier, sinks, while the lighter rain-water remains above, and it is to all appearance actually changed into a fresh-water lake.
I need not dwell here on the further history of such a Coral island, or follow it through the changes by which the summit of its circular wall becomes covered with a fertile soil, a tropical vegetation springs up on it, and it is at last perhaps inhabited by man. There is something very attractive in the idea of these green rings inclosing sheltered harbors and quiet lakes in mid-ocean, and the subject has lost none of its fascination since the mystery of their existence has been solved by the investigations of several contemporary naturalists who have enabled us to trace the whole story of their structure. I would refer all who wish for a more detailed account of them to Charles Darwin's charming little volume on "Coral Reefs," where their mode of formation is fully described, and also to James D. Dana's "Geological Report of the United States Exploring Expedition."
Coral Reefs are found only in tropical regions: although Polyps, animals of the same class as those chiefly instrumental in their formation, are found in all parts of the globe, yet the Reef-Building Polyps are limited to the Tropics. We are too apt to forget that the homes of animals are as definitely limited in the water as on the land. Indeed, the subject of the geographical distribution of animals according to laws that are established by altitude, by latitude and longitude, by pressure of atmosphere or pressure of water, already alluded to in a previous article, is exceedingly interesting, and presents a most important field of investigation. The climatic effect of different degrees of altitude upon the growth of animals and plants is the same as that of different degrees of latitude; and the slope of a high mountain in the Tropics, from base to summit, presents, in a condensed form, an epitome, as it were, of the same kind of gradation in vegetable growth that may be observed from the Tropics to the Arctics. At the base of such a mountain we have all the luxuriance of growth characteristic of the tropical forest,—the Palms, the Bananas, the Bread-trees, the Mimosas; higher up, these give way to a different kind of growth, corresponding to our Oaks, Chestnuts, Maples, etc.; as these wane, on the loftier slopes comes in the Pine forest, fading gradually, as it ascends, into a dwarfish growth of the same kind; and this at last gives way to the low creeping Mosses and Lichens of the greater heights, till even these find a foothold no longer, and the summit of the mountain is clothed in perpetual snow and ice. What have we here but the same series of changes through which we pass, if, travelling northward from the Tropics, we leave Palms and Pomegranates and Bananas behind, where the Live-Oaks and Cypresses, the Orange-trees and Myrtles of the warmer Temperate Zone come in, and these die out as we reach the Oaks, Chestnuts, Maples, Elms, Nut-trees, Beeches, and Birches of the colder Temperate Zone, these again waning as we enter the Pine forests of the Arctic borders, till, passing out of these, nothing but a dwarf vegetation, a carpet of Moss and Lichen, fit food for the Reindeer and the Esquimaux, greets us, and beyond that lies the region of the snow and ice fields, impenetrable to all but the daring Arctic voyager?
I have thus far spoken of the changes in the vegetable growth alone as influenced by altitude and latitude, but the same is equally true of animals. Every zone of the earth's surface has its own animals, suited to the conditions under which they are meant to live; and with the exception of those that accompany man in all his pilgrimages, and are subject to the same modifying influences by which he adapts his home and himself to all climates, animals are absolutely bound by the laws of their nature within the range assigned to them. Nor is this the case only on land, where river-banks, lake-shores, and mountain-ranges might be supposed to form the impassable boundaries that keep animals within certain limits; but the ocean as well as the land has its faunae and florae bound within their respective zooelogical and botanical provinces; and a wall of granite is not more impassable to a marine animal than that ocean-line, fluid and flowing and ever-changing though it be, on which is written for him, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther." One word as to the effect of pressure on animals will explain this.
We all live under the pressure of the atmosphere. Now thirty-two feet under the sea doubles that pressure, since a column of water of that height is equal in weight to the pressure of one atmosphere. At the depth of thirty-two feet, then, any marine animal is under the pressure of two atmospheres,—that of the air which surrounds our globe, and of a weight of water equal to it; at sixty-four feet he is under the pressure of three atmospheres, and so on,—the weight of one atmosphere being always added for every thirty-two feet of depth. There is a great difference in the sensitiveness of animals to this pressure. Some fishes live at a great depth and find the weight of water genial to them, while others would be killed at once by the same pressure, and the latter naturally seek the shallow waters. Every fisherman knows that he must throw a long line for a Halibut, while with a common fishing-rod he will catch plenty of Perch from the rocks near the shore; and the differently colored bands of sea-weed revealed by low tide, from the green line of the Ulvas through the brown zone of the common Fucas to the rosy and purple hued sea-weeds of the deeper water show that the florae as well as the faunae of the ocean have their precise boundaries. This wider or narrower range of marine animals is in direct relation to their structure, which enables them to bear a greater or less pressure of water. All fishes, and, indeed, all animals having a wide range of distribution in ocean-depths, have a special apparatus of water-pores, so that the surrounding element penetrates their structure, thus equalizing the pressure of the weight, which is diminished from without in proportion to the quantity of water they can admit into their bodies. Marine animals differ in their ability to sustain this pressure, just as land animals differ in their power of enduring great variations of climate and of atmospheric pressure.
Of all air-breathing animals, none exhibits a more surprising power of adapting itself to great and rapid changes of external influences than the Condor. It may be seen feeding on the sea-shore under a burning tropical sun, and then, rising from its repast, it floats up among the highest summits of the Andes and is lost to sight beyond them, miles above the line of perpetual snow, where the temperature must be lower than that of the Arctics. But even the Condor, sweeping at one flight from tropic heat to arctic cold, although it passes through greater changes of temperature, does not undergo such changes of pressure as a fish that rises from a depth of sixty-four feet to the surface of the sea; for the former remains within the air that surrounds our globe, and therefore the increase or diminution of pressure to which it is subjected must be confined within the limits of one atmosphere, while the latter, at a depth of sixty-four feet, is under a weight equal to that of three such atmospheres, which is reduced to one when it reaches the sea-level. The change is even much greater for those fishes that come from a depth of several hundred feet. These laws of limitation in space explain many facts in the growth of Coral Reefs that would be otherwise inexplicable, and which I will endeavor to make clear to my readers.
For a long time it was supposed that the Coral animals inhabited very deep waters, for they were sometimes brought up on sounding-lines from a depth of many hundreds or even thousands of feet, and it was taken for granted that they must have had their home where they were found; but the facts recently ascertained respecting the subsidence of ocean-bottoms have shown that the foundation of a Coral wall may have sunk far below the place where it was laid, and it is now proved beyond a doubt that no Reef-Building Coral can thrive at a depth of more than fifteen fathoms, though Corals of other kinds occur far lower, and that the dead Reef-Corals sometimes brought to the surface from much greater depths are only broken fragments of some Reef that has subsided with the bottom on which it was growing. But though fifteen fathoms is the maximum depth at which any Reef-Builder can prosper, there are many which will not sustain even that degree of pressure, and this fact has, as we shall see, an important influence on the structure of the Reef.
Imagine now a sloping shore on some tropical coast descending gradually below the surface of the sea. Upon that slope, at a depth of from ten to twelve or fifteen fathoms, and two or three or more miles from the main-land, according to the shelving of the shore, we will suppose that one of those little Coral animals to whom a home in such deep waters is genial has established itself. How it happens that such a being, which we know is immovably attached to the ground and forms the foundation of a solid wall, was ever able to swim freely about in the water till it found a suitable resting-place, I shall explain hereafter, when I say something of the mode of reproduction of these animals. Accept, for the moment, my unsustained assertion, and plant our little Coral on this sloping shore some twelve or fifteen fathoms below the surface of the sea. The internal structure of such a Coral corresponds to that of the Sea-Anemone: the body is divided by vertical partitions from top to bottom, leaving open chambers between, while in the centre hangs the digestive cavity connecting by an opening in the bottom with all these chambers; at the top is an aperture which serves as a mouth, surrounded by a wreath of hollow tentacles, each one connecting at its base with one of the chambers, so that all parts of the animal communicate freely with each other. But though the structure of the Coral is identical in all its parts with that of the Sea-Anemone, it nevertheless presents one important difference. The body of the Sea-Anemone is soft, while that of the Coral is hard. It is well known that all animals and plants have the power of appropriating to themselves and assimilating the materials they need, each selecting from the surrounding elements whatever contributes to its well-being. The plant takes carbon, the animal takes oxygen, each rejecting what the other requires. We ourselves build our bones with the lime that we find unconsciously in the world around us; much of our nourishment supplies us with it, and the very vegetables we eat have, perhaps, themselves been fed from some old lime strata deposited centuries ago. We all represent materials that have contributed to construct our bodies. Now Corals possess, in an extraordinary degree, the power of assimilating to themselves the lime contained in the salt water around them; and as soon as our little Coral is established on a firm foundation, a lime deposit begins to form in all the walls of its body, so that its base, its partitions, and its outer wall, which in the Sea-Anemone remain always soft, become perfectly solid in the Polyp Coral and form a frame as hard as bone. It may naturally be asked where the lime comes from in the sea which the Corals absorb in such quantities. As far as the living Corals are concerned the answer is easy, for an immense deal of lime is brought down to the ocean by rivers that wear away the lime deposits through which they pass. The Mississippi, whose course lies through extensive lime regions, brings down yearly lime enough to supply all the animals living in the Gulf of Mexico. But behind this lies a question not so easily settled, as to the origin of the extensive deposits of limestone found at the very beginning of life upon earth. This problem brings us to the threshold of astronomy, for limestone is metallic in character, susceptible therefore of fusion, and may have formed a part of the materials of our earth, even in an incandescent state, when the worlds were forming. But though this investigation as to the origin of lime does not belong either to the naturalist or the geologist, its suggestion reminds us that the time has come when all the sciences and their results are so intimately connected that no one can be carried on independently of the others. Since the study of the rocks has revealed a crowded life whose records are hoarded within them, the work of the geologist and the naturalist has become one and the same, and at that border-land where the first crust of the earth condensed out of the igneous mass of materials which formed its earliest condition their investigation mingles with that of the astronomer, and we cannot trace the limestone in a little Coral without going back to the creation of our solar system, when the worlds that compose it were thrown off from a central mass in a gaseous condition.