HotFreeBooks.com
Bart Ridgeley - A Story of Northern Ohio
by A. G. Riddle
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

He ran his eye along the surface of the water, and discerned in the shadow of the wood, near the island, a fourth of a mile distant, a light, and below it the dark form of a boat. Placing his closed hands to his lips, he blew a strong, clear, full whistle, with one or two notes, and was answered by Theodore. At the landing near him was a half-rotten canoe, partially filled with water, and near it was an old paddle. Without a moment's thought, Barton pushed it into deep water, springing into it as it glided away. He had not passed half the distance to the other boat, when he discovered that it was filling. With his usual rashness, he determined to reach his friends in it by his own exertions, and without calling to them for aid, and by an almost superhuman effort he drove on with his treacherous craft. The ultimate danger was not much to a light and powerful swimmer, and he plunged forward. The noise and commotion of forcing his waterlogged canoe through the water attracted the attention of the party he was approaching, but who had hardly appreciated his situation as he lightly sprang from his nearly filled boat into their midst.

"Hullo, Bart! Why under the heavens did you risk that old log? Why didn't you call to us to meet you?"

"Because," said Bart, excited by his effort and danger, "because to myself I staked all my future on reaching you in that old hulk, and I won. Had it sunk, I had made up my mind to go with her, and, like Mr. Mantalini, in Dickens's last novel, 'become a body, a demnition moist unpleasant body.'"

"What old wreck is it?" inquired Young, looking at the scarcely perceptible craft that was sinking near them.

"It is the remains of the old canoe made by Thomas Ridgeley, in his day, I think," said Jonah.

"Nothing of the sort," said Bart; "it is the remains of old Bullock's 'gundalow,' that has been sinking and swimming, like old John Adams in the Revolution, these five years past. Don't let me think to-night, Uncle Jonah, that anything from my father's hand came to take me into the depths of this pond."

The craft occupied by the party was a broad, scow-like float, with low sides, steady, and of considerable capacity. At the bow was a raised platform, covered with gravel, on which stood a fire-jack. The crew were lying on the silent water, engaged with their lines, when Bart so unceremoniously joined them. He went forward to a vacant place and lay down in the bottom, declining to take a line.

"What is the matter, Bart?" asked the Doctor.

"I don't know. I've been wandering about in the woods, and I must have met something, or I have lost something,—I don't know which."

"I guess you saw the wolverine," said Theodore.

"I guess I did;" and pretty soon, "Doctor, is this your robe? Let me cover myself with it; I am cold!" and there was something almost plaintive in his voice.

"Let me spread it over you," said the Doctor, with tenderness. "What ails you, Bart? are you ill?"

"If you left your saddle-bags at home, I think I am; if they are here, I am very well. Doctor," he went on, "can a man have half of his faculties shut off and retain the others clear and strong?"

"I don't know,—perhaps so; why?"

"Well, I feel as if one of your astringents had placed its claws on a full half of me and drawn it all into a pucker; and the other half is in some way set free, and I feel clairvoyant."

"What do you think you can see?" asked the Doctor.

"A young man—quite a young man—blindfolded, groping backward in the chambers of his darkened soul, and trying to escape out of it," said Bart.

"What a queer fancy!" said the Doctor.

"He must have an unusually large soul," said Uncle Jonah.

"Every soul is big enough for the man to move in, small as it is," said Bart.

"What is your youth doing in his, now?" asked the Doctor.

"He is sitting down, resigned," answered Bart.

"If his soul was dark, why was he blindfolded?" asked the Doctor.

"Well, I don't know. For the same reason that men with eyes think that a blind man cannot see so well in the dark, perhaps," was the answer. "And see here," looking into the water, "away down here is a beautiful star. There, I can blot it out with my hand! and see, now, how I can shatter it into wavelets of stars, and now break it into a hundred, by merely disturbing the water where I see it, 'like sunshine broken in a rill.' Who knows but it may be the just-arrived light of an old, old star which has just come to us? How easy to climb back on one of these filmy rays, myriads of millions of leagues, home to its source! I will take off the bandage and let the poor boy see it, and climb if he may."

"You are fanciful and metaphysical," said the Doctor. "Euclid has not operated, I fear. Why would you go up to the source of that ray? Would you expect to find God and heaven there?"

"I should but traverse the smallest portion of God," said Bart, "and yet how far away He seems just now. Somebody's unshapen hand cuts His light off; and I cannot see Him by looking down, and I haven't the strength to look up."

"How incoherently you talk; after all, suppose that there is no God, for do your best, it is but a sentiment, a belief without demonstrative proof."

"Oh, Doctor, don't! You are material, and go by lines and angles; cannot you understand that a God whose existence you would have to prove is no God at all? that if His works and givings out don't declare and proclaim him, He is a sham? You cannot see and hear, Doctor, when you are in one of your material moods. Look up, if you can see no reflection in the waters below."

"Well, when I look into the revealed heaven, for instance, Bart, I see it peopled with things of the earth, reflected into it from the earth; showing that the whole idea is of the earth—earthy."

"Oh, Doctor! like the poor old Galilean; when he thought it was all up, he went out and dug bait, and started off a-fishing. You attend to your fishing, and let me dream. If God should attempt to reveal Himself to you to-night, which I wouldn't do, He would have to elevate and enlarge and change you to a celestial, so that you could understand Him; or shrink and shrivel Himself to your capacity, and address you on your level, as I do, using the language and imagery of this earth, and you would answer Him as you do me—'It is all of the earth—earthy.' I want to sleep."

The Doctor pondered as if there was a matter for thought in what he had heard, and a little ripple of under-talk ran on about the subjects, the everlasting old, old and eternally new problems that men have dreamed and stumbled over, and always will—which Bart had dreamily spoken of as if they were very familiar to his thoughts, and they spoke of him, and wondered if anything had happened, and pulled their boat to a new position, while the overtaxed youth subsided into fitful slumber. Theodore finally awoke him, and said that they proposed to light up the jack, if he would take the spear, and they would push out to deeper water, and try for bass. Bart stared about him uncomprehendingly for a moment. "Oh, Theodore, my fishing days are over! I will never 'wound the gentle bosom of this lake' with fish spear, or gig, or other instrument; and I've backed this old rifle around for the last time to-day."

"Bart, think of all our splendid times in the woods!"

"What a funny dream I had: I dreamed I was a young Indian, not John Brown's 'little Indian,' but a real red, strapping, painted young Indian, and our tribe was encamped over on the west side of this Indian lake, by Otter Point; and I was dreadfully in love with the chief's daughter."

"Who didn't love you again," said Theodore.

"Of course not, being a well-brought up young Indianess: and I went to the Indian spring, that runs into the pond, just above 'Barker's Landing,' that you all know of."

"I never knew that it was an Indian spring," said Young.

"Well, it is," replied Bart. "It has a sort of an earthen rim around it, or had a few minutes ago; and the water bubbles up from the bottom. Well, you drop a scarlet berry into it, and if it rises and runs over the rim, the sighed-for loves you, or she don't, and I have forgotten which. I found a scarlet head of ginseng, and dropped the seeds in one after another, and they all plumped straight to the bottom."

"Well, what was the conclusion?"

"Logical. The berries were too heavy for the current, or the current was too weak for the berries."

"And the Indianess?"

"She and all else faded out."

"Oh, pshaw! how silly!" said Young. "Will you take the spear, or won't you?"

"Will you take the spear, or won't you?" replied Bart, mimicking him with great effect.

"Have you heard from Henry lately?" asked Uncle Jonah.

"A few days ago," answered Bart, who turned moodily away like a peevish child angered with half sleep, and a pang from the thrust he had received.

"Henry is the most ambitious young man I ever knew," said the Doctor; "I fear he may never realize his aspirations."

"Why not?" demanded Bart, with sudden energy. "What is there that my brother Henry may not hope to win, I would like to know? He will win it or die in the effort."

"He will not, if he lives a thousand years," said Young, annoyed at Bart's mimicking him. "It ain't in him."

"What ain't in him, Old Testament?" demanded Bart, with asperity.

"The stuff. I've sounded him; it ain't there!"

"You've sounded him! Just as you are now sounding this bottomless pond, with a tow string six feet long, having an angle worm at one end, and an old hairy curmudgeonly grub at the other."

"There, Brother Young," said Uncle Jonah, "stop before worse comes."

"Mr. Young," said Bart, a moment later, with softened voice, making way towards him, "forgive me if you can. I've done with coarse and vulgar speeches like that. You believe in Henry, and only spoke to annoy me. I take it all back. I will even spear you some bass, if Theodore will light up the jack. Give me the oars, and let me wake up a little, while we go to better ground below."

For a few moments he handled the polished, slender-tined, long-handled spear with great dexterity and success, and told the story of old Leather Stocking spearing bass from the Pioneers. He soon ceased, however, and declared he would do no more, and his companions, disgusted with his freaky humor, prepared to return. Bart, casting down his spear, remained in moody silence until they landed. Theodore picked up his rifle, the fish were placed in baskets, the tackle stowed away, the boat secured, and the party proceeded homeward.

Bart lived further from the pond than any of the party, and Theodore, who loved him, and was kind to his moods, taking a few of the finest fish, accompanied him home. As they were about to separate from Uncle Jonah—the father of Theodore—he turned to Bart, and said: "Something has happened, no matter what; don't be discouraged, you stick to them old books; there's souls in 'em, and they will carry you out to your place, some time."

"Thank you, thank you, Uncle Jonah!" said Bart, warmly; "these are the only encouraging words I've heard for two years."

"Theodore," said Bart, as they walked on, "what an uncomfortable bore I must have been to-night."

"Oh, I don't know! we thought that something had happened, perhaps."

"No, I'm trying to change, and be more civil and quiet, and have been thinking it all over, and don't feel quite comfortable; and we have both something to do besides run in the woods. You were very good to come with me, Theodore," he said, as they parted at the gate.



CHAPTER X.

AFTER THE FLOOD.

The next morning Bart was not up as usual, and George rushed into the low-ceiled room, under the roof.

"Bart! breakfast is ready! Ma thinks it strange you ain't up. That was a splendid big bass. Where did you take him? Are you sick?" as he came in.

"No, Georgie; I am only languid and dull. I must have been wofully tired."

"I should think you would be, running all day and up all night. I should think you'd be hungry, too, by this time."

"Georgie, how handsome you look this morning! What a splendid young man you will be, and so bright, and joyous, and good! Everybody will love you; no woman will scorn you. There, tell mother not to wait! I will get up soon."

Some time after, the light, quick step of his mother was heard approaching his door, where she paused as if to listen.

"I am up, mother," called out Bart; and she found him partly dressed, and sitting listlessly on his bed, pale and dejected.

"It is nothing, mother; I'm only a little depressed and dull. I'll be all right in an hour. I ran in the woods a good deal, took cold, and am tired."

She looked steadily and wistfully at him. The great change in his face could not escape her. Weary he looked, and worn, as from a heart-ill.

"What has happened, Barton? Did you go to anybody's house? Whom did you see?"

"No; I went to the pond, and met the Doctor and Uncle Jonah, and Theodore came home with me."

"Did you meet Julia Markham anywhere?"

"I did; she was going home from Coe's by the old road, and I went out of the woods with her."

A long, hard-drawn breath from his mother, who saw that he took her question like a stab.

"It is no matter, mother. It had to be over some time."

"Barton! you don't mean, Barton—"

"I do, just that, mother," steadily. "She was kinder in her scorn than she meant. It was what I needed."

"Her scorn! her scorn, Barton!"

"Yes, her scorn, mother," decidedly and firmly.

"You must have talked and acted foolishly, Barton."

"I did talk and act foolishly, and I take the consequences."

"You are both young, Barton, and you have all the world in which to overcome your faults and repair your mistakes, and Julia—"

"Not another word of her, mother dear! She has gone more utterly out of my life than as if she were buried. Then I might think of her; now I will not," firmly.

"Oh, that this should come to you now, my poor, poor boy!"

"Don't pity me, mother! I am soft enough now, and don't you for a moment think that I have nothing else to do in this world but to be killed out of it by the scorn of a girl. Let us not think of these Markhams. The Judge is ambitious, and proud of his wealth and self, and his daughter is ambitious too. The world wants me; it has work for me. I can hear its voices calling me now, and I am not ready. Don't think I am to sit and languish and pine for any girl;" and his mouth was firm with will and purpose, and a great swell of pride and pain agitated the bosom of his mother, who recognized the high elements of a nature drawn from her own.

"You know, mother," he continued, thoughtfully, "that I am not one to be loved. I am not handsome and popular, like Morris, whom all men like and many women love; nor thoughtful and accomplished and considerate, like Henry, whom everybody esteems and respects, and of whom so much is expected."

"Do you envy them, Barton?"

"Envy them, mother? Don't I love the world for loving Morris? Don't I follow him about to feel the gladness that he brings? Don't I live on the praises of Henry? and don't I tear every man that utters a doubt of his infallibility? Poor old Dominie Young! I was savage on him last night, for an unnecessary remark about Henry; and I'll go and hear him preach, to show my contrition; and penitence can't go further. Now, mother dear, I probably wanted this, and I am now down on the flat, hard foundation of things. Don't blame this Julia, and don't think of her in connection with me. No girl will ever scorn one of your boys but once."

She lingered, and would have said more; but he put her away with affected gayety, and said he was coming down immediately,—and he did. But the melancholy chords vibrated long.

There was another overhauling of the little desk, and innumerable sketches of various excellence, having a family resemblance, with faults in common, were sent to join the departed verses.

That night, in a letter to Henry, he said: "I've burned the last of my ships, not saving even a small boat."

* * * * *

Mrs. Ridgeley pondered over the revelation which her woman's intuitions had drawn from Barton. No woman can understand why a son of hers should fail with any natural-born daughter of woman, and she suspected that poor Bart had, with his usual impetuosity, managed the affair badly. No matter if he had; she felt that he was not an object of any woman's scorn; and this particular Julia, she had every reason to know, would live to correct her impressions and mourn her folly. She, however, was incapable of injustice to even her own sex; and if Julia did not fancy Barton, she was not to blame, however faulty her taste. She remembered with satisfaction that she and hers were under no obligations to the Markhams, and she only hoped that her son would be equal to adhering to his purpose. She had little fear of this, although she knew nothing of the offensive manner of his rejection, and had no intimation of what followed it. To her, Julia was to be less than the average girl of her acquaintance.

In the afternoon the two mothers met by accident, at the store, whither Mrs. Ridgeley had gone to make a few small purchases, and Mrs. Markham to examine the newly-arrived goods. Mrs. Ridgeley had no special inducement to waste herself on Mrs. Markham, and none to exhibit any sensibility at the treatment of Barton; her manner was an admirable specimen of the cool, neighborly, indifferently polite. She was by nature a thorough-bred and high-spirited woman; and had Julia openly murdered poor Bart, the manner of his mother would not have betrayed her knowledge of the fact to Mrs. Markham. That lady busied herself with some goods until Mrs. Ridgeley had completed her purchases, when she approached her with her natural graciousness, which was so spontaneous that it was hardly a virtue, and was met with much of her own frank suavity. These ladies never discussed the weather, or their neighbors, or hired girls,—which latter one of them did not have; and with a moment's inquiry after each other's welfare, in which each omitted the family of the other, Mrs. Markham asked Mrs. Ridgeley's judgment as to the relative qualities of two or three pieces of ladies' fabrics, carelessly saying that she was choosing for Julia, who was quite undecided. Mrs. Ridgeley thought Miss Markham was quite right to defer the matter to her mother's judgment, and feared that her own ignorance of goods of that quality would not enable her to aid Mrs. Markham. Mrs. Markham casually remarked that there was much demand for the goods, and that Julia had had a long walk around to the Coes the day before, and home through the woods, and was a little wearied to-day, and had referred the matter to her. Mrs. Ridgeley understood that Miss Markham was accustomed to healthy out-door exercise, and yet young girls were sometimes, she presumed, nearly as imprudent as boys, etc.; she trusted Miss Markham would soon be restored.

If either of the ladies looked the other in the face while speaking and spoken to, as is allowable, neither discovered anything by the scrutiny. Mrs. Markham thought Mrs. Ridgeley must suffer much on account of the rashness of so many spirited boys, though she believed that Mrs. Ridgeley was fortunate in the devotion of all her sons. Mrs. Ridgeley thanked her; as to her boys, she had become accustomed to their caring for themselves, and when they were out she seldom was anxious about them. Mrs. Markham thought that they must have some interesting adventures in their hunting excursions. Mrs. Ridgeley said that Morris always enjoyed telling of what he had done and met in the woods, while Barton never mentioned anything, unless he had found a rare flower, a splendid tree, or a striking view, or something of that sort.

The ladies gave each other much well-bred attention, and Mrs. Markham went on to remark that she had not seen Barton since his return, but that Julia had mentioned meeting him once or twice. Mrs. Ridgeley replied that soon after Barton came home, she remembered that he spoke of meeting Miss Markham at the store. The faces of the ladies told nothing to each other. Mrs. Markham gave an animated account of her call at the house being built by Major Ridgeley for Mr. Snow, in Auburn, and said that Mr. Snow was promising that Major Ridgeley might give a ball in it; and the Major undertook to have it ready about New Year's, and that the ball would be very select, she understood; the house was to contain a very fine ball-room, etc.

Had Mrs. Ridgeley received a letter recently from Henry? She had. Would Barton probably go and study with his brother? She thought that would be pleasant for both. Mrs. Markham was very kind to inquire about the boys. Would Mrs. Ridgeley permit Mrs. Markham to send her home in her new buggy? It stood at the door. Mrs. Ridgeley thanked her; she was going up by Coe's, and so out across the bit of woods, home. Did not Mrs. Ridgeley fear the animal that had been heard to scream in these woods? Mrs. Ridgeley did not in the least, and she doubted if there was one.

The ladies separated. Mrs. Markham decided that Barton had not told his mother of meeting Julia the day before, nor of their adventure afterwards, and she was relieved from the duty of explaining anything; and she thought well of the young man's discretion, or pride.

Mrs. Ridgeley thought that Mrs. Markham was talking at her for a purpose, perhaps to find out what Barton told her; and it was some little satisfaction, perhaps, to know that Julia did not feel like being out,—but then Julia was a noble girl, and would feel regret at inflicting pain. Poor Bart! Generous Mrs. Ridgeley! It also occurred to Mrs. Ridgeley that Mrs. Markham did not return to the subject of the goods, and she was really afraid that Julia might lose her dress.



CHAPTER XI.

UNCLE ALECK.

The marvellous power of Christianity to repeat itself in new forms apparently variant, and reveal itself under new aspects, or rather its wonderful fulness and completeness, that enables the different ages of men, under ever-varying conditions of culture and development, to find in it their greatest needs supplied, and their highest civilization advanced, may be an old observation. A change in the theological thought and speculation of New England was beginning to make its way to the surface at about the time of the migration of its sons and daughters to the far-off Ohio wilderness, and many minds carried with them into the woods a tinge of the new light. Theodore Parker had not announced the heresy that there was an important difference between theology and religion, and that life was of more consequence than creed. But Calvinism had come to mean less to some minds, and there was another turning back to the great source by strong new seekers, to whom the accepted formulas had become empty, dry shells, to be pulverized, and the dead dust kneaded anew with the sweet waters of the ever fresh fountain. Those who bore the germs of the new thought to the wild freedom of nature, in the woods, found little to restrain or direct it; and, as is usual upon the remoulding of religious thought, while the strong religious nature questions only as to the true, many of different temperament boldly question the truth of all. The seeds and sources of a religious revolution are remote, and its apparent results a generation of heretics and infidels. Heresy sometimes becomes orthodoxy in its turn, and in its career towards that, and in its days of zeal and warfare, the infidel often becomes its convert.

Those in the new colony, who turned to the somewhat softer and sweeter givings out of the Great Teacher, and to whom these qualities made the predominant elements of his doctrines, were few in numbers, scattered and weak, while the mass of the immigrants were staunch in the theology of their old home. The holders of the new ideas not only suffered from the odium of all new heresies, but their doctrines were especially odious, as tending to destroy the wholesome sanctions of fitting punishments, while, like the teachers of all ideas at variance with the old, they were surrounded by and confounded with the herd of old scoffers and unbelievers, who always try to ally themselves with those who, for any reason, doubt or question the dogmas always rejected by them.

And so it is that the apostles of a new dogma come to be weighted with whatever of odium may attach to the old rejectors of the old; and there is always this bond of sympathy between the new heretic and the old infidel; they are both opposed to the holders of the old faith, and hence so far are allies.

In Newbury, in that far-off time, a dozen families, perhaps, respectable for intelligence and morality, were zealous acceptors of the new ideas; and about these, to their great scandal, gathered the straggling, rude spirits and doubtful characters that lightly float on the wave of emigration, to be dropped wherever that subsides.

The organizing power of the new ideas in itself, was not great. Their spirit was not, and cannot, be aggressive. They consisted in part of a rejection of much that made Puritanism intolerant in doctrine, and that furnished it with its organizing and militant power.

Men organize to do, and not merely to not do. Among the most earnest in the support of these ideas were Thomas Ridgeley and his wife, who were also among the most prominent in their neighborhood. Their public religious exercises were not frequent, and were holden in a school-house in their vicinity, the most attractive feature of which was the excellent singing of the small congregation. Mrs. Ridgeley came from a family of much local celebrity for their vocal powers, while her husband was not only an accomplished singer, but master of several instruments, and in the new settlements he was often employed as a teacher of music.

The preacher of this small congregation was Mr. Alexander, "Uncle Aleck," as everybody called him, who lived in the west part of the town, on the border of "the woods." A man well in years, inferior in person, with a mild, sweet, benevolent face, and blameless, dreamy life, he spent much time in "sarching the Scripters," as he expressed it, in constant conversations and mild disputations of Bible texts and doctrines, and sermonizing at the Sunday assemblies of his co-believers. He was a man without culture, without the advantage of much converse with cultivated people, of rather feeble and slender mental endowments, but of a wonderfully sweet, serene, cheerful temper, and a most abiding faith. His was a heart and soul whose love and compassion embraced the created universe. He believed that God created only to multiply the objects of His own love, and that the ultimate end of all Providence was to bless, and he did not doubt that He would manage to have His way. That He had ever generated forces and powers beyond His control, he did not believe. The gospels, to him, were luminous with love, mercy, and protecting providence; and while his sermons were faulty and confused, his language vicious, and his pronounciation depraved, so that he furnished occasional provocation to scoffers among the profane, and to critics among the orthodox, there was always such sweetness and tenderness, and love so broad, deep, rich and pure, that few earnest or thoughtful minds ever heard him without being moved and elevated by his benignant spirit.

He was always in converse with the Master in his early ministrations, in beautiful, far-off, peaceful Galilee. He was a contented and happy feeder upon the manna and wine of those early wanderings and preachings among a simple and primitive people; and was forever lingering away from Jerusalem, and avoiding the final catastrophe, which he could never contemplate without shuddering horror. No power on earth could ever convert his simple faith to the idea that this great sacrifice was an ill-devised scheme to end in final failure; and he preached accordingly. The elder Ridgeley had been dead many years; the simple faith had gained few proselytes; Uncle Aleck's sermons made little impression, and gained nothing in clearness of statement or doctrine, but ripened and deepened in tenderness and sweetness. His people remained unpopular, and nothing but the force of character of a few saved them from personal proscription.

The Ridgeley boys, the older ones, were steady in the faith of their parents. Morris openly acknowledged it and Henry had been destined by his father to its teachings; Barton stood by his mother, however he esteemed her faith, and occasionally said sharp and pungent things of its opponents, which confirmed the unpopular estimate in which he was undoubtedly held.

The Markhams were orthodox. Dr. Lyman was a nearly unbelieving materialist at this time, but had several times "wabbled," as Bart expressed it, from orthodoxy to infidelity, without touching the proscribed ground of Uncle Aleck.

Mr. Young was an obsolete revival exhorter, whose life did little to illustrate and enforce his givings out. He had a weakness for the elder Scriptures; and hence the irreverent name applied to him in the boat by Bart.



CHAPTER XII.

A CONSECRATION.

Among the adherents of uncle Aleck were the Coes, a mild, moony race, and recently it was understood that Emeline, the only daughter in a family of eight or nine, a languid, dreamy, verse-making mystic, had expressed a wish to receive the rite of Christian baptism, at that time practised by Uncle Aleck and his associates in Northern Ohio.

The ceremony had been postponed on account of the illness of her mother, and was finally performed on the Sunday following the incidents last narrated. A meeting was to be holden in the primitive forest, near Coe's cabin, on the margin of a deep, crystal pool, formed naturally by the springs that supplied Coe's Creek. Few events happened in that quiet region, and this was an event. News of it had circulated widely, and hundreds attended.

The occasion was not without a certain touching interest. The beauty of the day, the wildness of the scenery under the grand old trees, with rude rocks, beautiful slopes, and running, pure water, and the deepening tints of autumn in sky, cloud and foliage,—the warm shafts of sunshine that here and there lit it all up,—the sincere gravity that fell as a Sabbath hush on the expectant multitude, who seemed to realize the presence of a solemn mystery,—carried back an imaginative mind to an earlier day and a more primitive people, when the early Christians, in the absence of schism, administered the same rite.

Uncle Aleck, imbued with the sweetest spirit of his Master, seemed inspired with a sense of the sacredness of the act he was to perform. Of its divine origin, and sweet and consecrating efficacy, he had not the slightest doubt. The simple services of his faith he performed in a way that harmonized entirely with the occasion and its surroundings. A grand hymn under the old trees was sung by the choir with fine effect; a short, fervent prayer, the reading of two or three portions of one of the gospels, and a few words of sweet and simple fervor, expressive of a great love and sacrifice, and the unutterable hope and rest of its grateful acknowledgment in the public act about to be performed, followed; and then the believing, trembling girl was led into the translucent waters, which for a single instant closed over her, and was returned, with a little cry of ecstasy, to her friends. Another hymn, a simple benediction, and the solemnly impressed crowd broke up into little knots, and left the spot vacant to the silence of approaching night.

Conspicuous in this gathering, as conspicuous everywhere where he appeared, was Major Ridgeley, an elder brother of Bart. Slightly taller, and absolutely straight in the shoulders, with an uppish turn to his head, the Major was universally pronounced a handsome man. His large, bright, hazel eye, pure red and white complexion just touched by the sun, with a world of black curling hair swept carelessly back from, an open white brow, with well-formed mouth and chin, and his frank, dashing, manly way, cheery voice, and gay manner, made him a universal favorite; and, farmer and carpenter though he was, he was welcomed as an equal by the best people in the community. He had little literary cultivation, but mixing freely among men, and received with universal kindness by all women, he had the ready manners of a man of the world, which, with a shrewd vigor of mind, qualified him for worldly success.

Bart came upon the ground with his mother, near whom he remained, and to whom he was very attentive. To him the whole thing was very impressive. His poetic fancy idealized it, and carried him back till he seemed to see and hear the dedication of a young, pure spirit to the sweet sacredness of a holy life, as in the days of the preachings of the apostles. When the final hymn was given out he stood by his brother, facing most of the crowd, and for the first time they recognized in him a nameless something that declared and asserted itself—something that vaguely hinted of the sheaf of the boy Joseph, that arose and stood upright, and to which their sheaves involuntarily did obeisance.

Still very young, and less handsome than his brother, he was yet more striking, pale and fair, with little color, and a face of boyish roundness, which began to develop lines of thought and strength. His brow, not so beautiful, was more ample; his features were regular, but lacked the light, bright, vivacious expression of Morris; while from his deep, unwinking eyes men saw calmly looking out a strong, deep nature, not observed before. He joined his mother and brother in the last hymn. Everybody knew the Ridgeleys could sing. They carried the burden of the grand and simple old tune nearly alone. The fine mezzo-soprano of the mother, the splendid tenor of Morris, and the rich baritone of Bart, in their united effect, had never been equalled in the hearing of that assembly. The melody was a sweet and fitting finale of the day, swelling out and dying away in the high arches of the forest.

* * * * *

The Coes were objects of the kindness of Mrs. Markham and Julia, obnoxious as was their religious faith; but Mrs. Markham was tolerant, and she and her husband and daughter, with most of the State road people, were present.

While they were waiting for the crowd to disperse, so that they could reach their carriage, the Ridgeleys, who began to move out, on their way home, approached, and were pleasantly recognized by the Markhams, with whom the Major was a great favorite. The two parties joined, shook hands, and interchanged a pleasant greeting—all but Bart. He moved a little away, and acknowledged their presence by holding his hat in his hand, as if unconscious that he was a spectacle for the eyes of some of them, and without betraying that he could by any possibility care. It was a sore trial for him.

Mrs. Markham looked at him several times as if she would go to him, and an expression once or twice came into the sweet and pensive face of Julia, that seemed to mean that she wished she could say to him, "I want so much to thank you for your courage and generosity!" Morris noticed the strange conduct of Barton, and felt an impulse to call to him, and on their way home he spoke to him about it.

"Why, Bart, what is the matter? I thought you and the Markhams were on the best of terms; especially you and Julia and Mrs. Markham."

"Well, Major, you see a shrewd man can be mistaken, don't you?"

"What has happened?"

"That which renders it absolutely impossible that I should ever voluntarily go into the presence of these Markhams, and especially of Julia."

The voice was low, and full of force, with a little bitterness. Morris looked at his brother with incredulous amazement.

"Morris," said Bart, "don't ask more about it. Mother guessed something of it. Pray don't refer to it ever again."

Morris walked forward, with their mother; and when he turned back to the stricken face of his young brother, there was a great tenderness in his eye; but his brow gathered and his face darkened into a momentary frown. He was by nature frank and brave, and could not long do any one injustice. His nature was hopeful, and bright, and manly. No girl could always scorn his brother Bart; nor did he believe that Bart would willingly remain scorned.



CHAPTER XIII.

BLACKSTONE.

The town of Burton was one of the oldest in the county. It was the residence of many wealthy men, the seat of Judge Hitchcock, Chief Justice of the State, as well as the home of Seabury Ford, a rising young politician, just commencing a most useful and honorable career, which was to conduct him to the Chief Magistracy of the State.

The young Whig party had failed to elect Gen. Harrison, but the result of the contest assured it of success in the campaign of 1840, for which a vast magazine was rapidly and silently accumulating. The monetary and credit disasters of '36-'37, occurring in the third term of uninterrupted party rule, would of themselves have overthrown a wiser and better administration than that of Mr. Van Buren, patriotic and enlightened as that was, contrasted with some which followed.

Men, too, were beginning to examine and analyze the nature and designs of slavery; and already Theodore Weld had traversed the northern and middle States, and with his marvellous eloquence and logic, second to none of those who followed him, had stirred to their profoundest depths the cool, strong, intellectual souls of the New Englanders of those regions.

One early October morning, as Gen. Ford, then commander of a brigade of militia, in which Major Ridgeley held a commission, was arranging some papers in his law office, a young man paused a moment in front of the open door, and upon being observed, lifted his hat and stepped frankly forward. Young men in Ohio then seldom removed their hats to men, and rarely to women; and the act, gracefully done as it was, was remarked by the lawyer.

"General Ford, I believe?" said the youth.

"Yes; will you walk in?"

"I am Barton Ridgeley," said the young man, stepping in; "usually called Bart."

"A brother of Major Ridgeley?"

"Yes; though I am thought not to be much like him."

"The Major is a warm friend of mine," said the General, "and I should be glad to serve you."

"Thank you, General; I feel awkward over my errand here," hesitating; "I wanted to see a lawyer in his office, with his books and papers, and be permitted to look, especially at his books."

"You are entirely welcome. I am not much of a lawyer, and have but a few books, but nothing would give me more pleasure than to have you examine them."

"I may annoy you."

"Not at all. I've not much to do. Take a seat."

Bart did so. He found the General, whom he had only seen at a distance on muster days, a man of the ordinary height, with heavy shoulders, with a little stoop in them, a very fine head and face, and a clear, strong, grayish, hazel eye; and, on the whole, striking in his appearance. There were files of leading newspapers, the National Intelligencer, Ohio State Journal, Courier and Inquirer, etc. These did not so much attract the young man's attention; but, approaching a large book-case, filled compactly with dull yellow books, uniform in their dingy, leathery appearance, he asked: "Are these law-books?"

"Yes, those are law-books."

"And these, then, are the occult cabalistical books, full of darkness and quirks and queer terms, in which is hidden away, somewhere, a rule or twist or turn that will help the wrong side of every case?"

"So people seem to think," said the General, smiling.

"Does a student have to read all of these?"

"Oh, no, not to exceed a dozen or fourteen."

"A-h-h-h! not more than that? Will you show me some of them?"

"Certainly. There, this is Blackstone, four volumes, which covers the whole field of the law; all the other elementary writers are only amplifications of the various titles or heads of Blackstone."

"Indeed! only four volumes! Can one be a lawyer by reading Blackstone?"

"A thorough mastery of it is an admirable foundation of a good lawyer."

"How long is it expected that an ordinary dullard would require to master Blackstone?"

"Some students do it in four months. I have known one or two to do it in three. They oftener require six, and some a year."

Bart could hardly repress his astonishment. "Four months! a month to one of these books!" running them over. "They have some notes, I see; but, General, a man should commit it to memory in that time!"

The General smiled.

"This is an English work; is there an American which answers to Blackstone?"

"Yes, Kent's Commentaries, four volumes, which many prefer. I have not got it. Also Swift's work, in two volumes, which does not stand so high. Judge Cowan, of New York, has also written a book of some merit."

"Shall I annoy you if I sit down and read Blackstone a little?"

"Not at all."

He read the title-page, glanced at the American preface, etc., and then plunged in promiscuously. "It has less Latin than I expected. Is it good classical Latin?"

A smile.

"It is law Latin, and most of it would have puzzled Cicero and Virgil, I fear. Are you a Latin scholar?"

"I'm not a scholar at all. I've been an idler, generally, and have picked up only a few phrases of Latin. I've a brother, a student with Giddings & Wade, at Jefferson, who would have told me all I want to know, but I had a fancy to find it out first hand."

"Exactly;" and the General thought he looked like a youth who would not take things second-hand. "They are able lawyers, and it is said Giddings will retire from the bar and run for Congress. It is thought that Mr. Whittlesey will resign, and make an opening."

Bart thought that the General spoke of this with interest, and he made another dab at Blackstone. He then wandered off to a small but select case of miscellaneous books. "Adam Smith!" he said, with animation; "I never saw that before. How interesting it must be to get back to the beginning of things. And here is Junius, whom I have only read about! and Hume! and Irving! and Scott's Novels! Oh dear, oh dear! General, what a happy man you must be, with all these about you, and these newspapers, to come and go between you and the outside world."

"Oh! I don't know. I have but few books, compared with real libraries, and yet I must say I have more than I make useful."

Bart plunged into Ivanhoe for a moment, and then laid it down with a sigh.

The General, who found much in the frank enthusiasm of Bart to attract him, asked him many questions about himself, surroundings, etc., all of which were answered with a modest frankness, that won much on the open, manly nature of Ford.

Bart said he most of all wanted to study law, but he did not know how to accomplish it. He was without means, and wanted to remain with his mother, and he wanted only to look at the books, and learn a little about what he would have to do, the time, etc. The General said "the laws of Ohio required two years' study, before admission, which would be upon examination before the Supreme Court, or by a committee of lawyers appointed for that purpose; lawyers who received students usually charged fifty or sixty dollars per year for use of books and instruction, the last of which often did not amount to much."

Bart looked wistfully at the books, and arose to go. The General asked him to remain to dinner with such hearty cordiality, that Bart assented, and the General took him into the house and introduced him to Mrs. Ford, a tall, slender woman, of fine figure, with striking features, and really handsome; of very kindly manners, and full of genuine good womanly qualities, who believed in her husband, and was full of ambition for him.

The quiet, easy manners, and frank, sparkling conversation of Bart, won her good-will at once.

"Was he acquainted with Judge Markham's people?"

"A little."

"Mrs. Markham is one of the most superior and accomplished women I ever met," said Mrs. Ford. Of course he was acquainted with Julia, who was thought to be the belle of all that region?

Barton was slightly acquainted with her, and thought her very beautiful. His acquaintance with young ladies of her position was very limited, but he could believe that few superiors of hers could be found anywhere, etc.

Poor Bart!

Mrs. Ford presumed that a great many young men had their eyes on her, and it would be a matter of interest to see where her choice would fall.

It was some satisfaction to Bart to feel that he could hear this point referred to without any but the same pain and bruise of heart that any thought of her occasioned.

After dinner, General Ford said to Bart that if he really wished to enter upon the study of the law, he would do what he could for him; that he would permit him to take home such books as he could spare, and when he had read one he would examine him upon it, and give him another.

This was more than had entered Bart's mind; and so unaccustomed was he to receiving favors, that the sensations of gratitude were new to him, and he hardly expressed them satisfactorily to himself.

His new tutor had taken a real liking to him; he may have remembered that the Major was one of the rising young men in the south-west part of the county, whom he liked also. He called Barton's attention to the chapters of Blackstone that would demand his more careful reading, and they parted well pleased with each other.

Bart pushed off across the fields in a right line for home, with the priceless book in his hand; light came to him, and opportunity. Lord! how his heart and soul and brain arose and went out to meet them! As the branches of the young forest-tree that springs up by a river-side shoot out, rank, and strong, and full, to the beautiful light and air, and so, too, as the tree grows one-sided and disfigured, the danger is that this embodiment of young force and energy may develop one-sided. The poetic, upward tendency of his nature will help him, and his devotion to his mother will hold him unwarped, while the struggle with a great, pure, and utterly hopeless passion shall at least make a sacred desert of his heart, where no unhallowed thought shall take root. His was eminently a nature to be strengthened and purified by suffering.

But he had the law in his hands. No matter how gnarled, warped or obscure were the paths to its lurking-places, he would find them all out, and pluck out all its meanings, and make its soul his own. He had already learned from his brother the fallacy of the vulgar judgment of the law, and he knew enough of history to know that some of the wisest and greatest of men were eminent lawyers, and he thought nothing of the moral dangers of the law as a profession. He had never been even in a magistrate's court, but he had heard the legends and traditions of the advocates; had read that eminent fiction, Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, and a volume of Charles Phillips's speeches, and had felt that strong inner going forth of the soul that yearned to find utterance in oversweeping speech.

Several times on his way home he stopped to read, and only suspended his studies at the approach of evening, which found him east of the pond, lying across his direct route, and which he found the means of passing.

Blackstone he took in earnest, and smiled to find nothing that he did not seem to comprehend, and often went back, fearing that the seeming might not be the real meaning.

At the end of a week he returned to his kind friend, the General, not without misgivings as to the result of his work. He found him at leisure in the afternoon, and was received with much kindness.

"Well, how goes Blackstone?"

"Indeed I don't know; and I am anxious, if you have leisure, to find out."

The General took the book, and turning to the definition of law, and the statement of a few elementary principles, found that they were thoroughly understood. Turning on, he paused with his finger in the book.

"What do you think of the English Constitution?"

Bart looked a little puzzled.

"The English government seems to be an admirable structure—on paper; but as to the principles that lie below it, or around it, that govern and control its workings, and from which it can't depart, I am cloudy."

"Yes, a good many are; but then there is, as you know, a great unwritten English Constitution—certain great fixed principles which from time to time have been observed, through many ages, until their observance has become a law, from which the government cannot depart, and they take the form of maxims and rules."

"I think I understand what you mean; but to me everything is in cloud-land, vague and shifting, and the fact that nobody has ever attempted to put in writing these principles, or even to enumerate them, leads one to doubt whether really there are such things. When king, lords and commons are, in theory and practice, absolutely omnipotent, I can't comprehend how there can be any other constitution. When they enact a law, nobody can question it, nobody can be heard against it; no court can pronounce it unconstitutional. What may have been thought to be unconstitutional they can declare to be law, and that ends it. So they can annihilate any one of the so-called constitutional maxims. When a party in power wants to do a thing, it is constitutional; when a minister or great noble is to be got rid of, he is impeached for a violation of the constitution, and constitutionally beheaded."

"Well," said the General, smiling, "but this, for instance: the great palladium of British liberty, taxation, must be accompanied with representation."

"Yes; that, if adhered to, would protect property and its owners; but then it never has been carried out, even in England, while the non-taxpayer is wholly out of its reach; and my recollection is, that the constitutional violation of this palladium of the Constitution by king, lords and commons, produced a lively commotion, some sixty-odd years ago."

"Yes, I've heard of that; but the attempt to tax the colonies was clearly unconstitutional; they were without representation in the Parliament that enacted the law."

"But then, General, you are to remember that, according to Blackstone, Parliament was and is, by the English Constitution, omnipotent. The fact is, we took one part of the constitution, and George the other; we kept our part, and all our land, and George maintained his, on his island, strong as ever; and yet there, property-owners always have been and always will be taxed, who do not vote. I fear that it will be found that all the other maxims have from time to time suffered in the same way."

"You must admit, however," said the General, "that the maxims in favor of personal freedom have usually been adhered to in England proper."

"Yes, the sturdy elements of the natural constitution of the English people have vindicated their liberty against all constitutional violations of it; and while I cordially detest them, one and all, there isn't another nation in Europe that I am willing to be descended from."

"I fear that is the common sentiment among our people," said the General. "And so you think the world-famous British Constitution may be written in one condensed sentence—the old English formula—Parliament is omnipotent."

"Yes, just that. Parliament is the constitution; everything else is ornamental."

Without expressing any opinion, the General resumed, and turning at hop, skip and jump, he found that Bart happened to be at home wherever he alighted. He finally turned to the last page, and asked questions with the same result, closing the book with:

"Well, what else have you been doing this week?"

"Not much; I've worked a little, dabbled with geometry some, read Gibbon a little, newspapers less, run some in the woods, and fooled away some of my time," answered Bart, with a self-condemning air.

"Have you slept any?"

"Oh, yes."

"Oh, dear!" said the General, laughing good-humoredly, and then looking grave, "this will never do—never!"

"Well, General," said Bart, crestfallen, "I've only had the book a week, and although I don't memorize easily, I believe I can commit the whole before a month is out, except the notes."

"Oh, my dear boy, it isn't that! I don't know but there is a man in the world who, without having seen a law book before, has taken up and mastered the first volume of Blackstone in a week, but I never heard of him. What will never do is—it will not do for you to go on in this way; you would read up a library in a year, if you lived, but will die in six months, at this rate."

With tears in his eyes, Bart said: "Do not fear me, General; I am strong and healthy; besides, there are a good many things worse than death."

"I am serious," said the General. "No mortal can stand such work long."

"Well, General, I must work while the fit is on; I am thought to be incapable of keeping to any one thing long."

"How old are you?"

"In my twenty-second year."

"Have you ever practised speaking in public?"

"I am thought to make sharp and rough answers to folks, quite too much, I believe," answered Bart, laughing; "but, save in a debating school, where I was ruled out for creating disorder, I've never tried speech-making."

"You will grow more thoughtful as you grow older," said the General.

"If I do," said Bart, "I know those who think I can't grow old fast enough."

The General gave him the second volume of Blackstone, with the injunction to be two weeks with it.

"Suppose I finish it in a week?"

"You must not; but if you do, bring it back, and take a scolding."

"Certainly," said Bart.

The General asked him to go in to tea. Bart thought that would not do, and excused himself.

* * * * *

The end of another week found Bart at the end of the second volume, and also at General Ford's office. The General was away; but he found an opportunity further to cultivate the acquaintance of Mrs. Ford, who introduced him to several of her circle of acquaintance, and permitted him to take the third volume of Blackstone.

The work was finished with the fourth week, to General Ford's satisfaction, and Bart was then set to try his teeth on Buller's "Nisi Prius," made up of the most condensed of all possible abstracts of intricate cases, stated in the fewest possible words, and those of old legal significance, the whole case often not occupying more than four or five lines.

The cases, as there stated, convey no shadow of an idea to the unlearned mind. What a tussle poor Bart had with them! How often he turned them over, and bit at and hammered them, before they could be made to reveal themselves.

The General looked grim when he handed him the book, and said that he did so by the advice of Judge Hitchcock. He also loaned him Adam Smith and Junius, with permission to take any books from his library during the winter, and they parted—the General to go to his duties in the Legislature, and Barton to work his way on through the winter and into the law.

The devotion of Bart to his books took him wholly from association with others. He wrote occasionally to Henry, saying little of what he was doing, and going rarely to the post-office, and never elsewhere. He developed more his care of his mother, and a protecting tenderness to his younger brothers.

Kate Fisher's little party came and went, without Bart's attendance.

The Major was spreading himself out in building houses, clearing land, and unconsciously preparing the way to a smash-up; and the immediate care of the family devolved more and more upon the younger brother.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE YOUNG IDEA SHOOTS.

There was a region south, on the State road, partly in the townships of Auburn and Mantua, that, like "the woods," long remained a wilderness, and was known as the "Mantua Woods." Within the last year or two, the whole of it had been sold and settled, with the average of new settlers, strong, plain, simple people, with a sprinkling of the rough, and a little element of the dangerous.

They had built there a neat frame school-house, just on the banks of Bridge Creek, and were fully bent on availing themselves of the benefits of the Ohio Common School Fund and laws.

Here, on one bleak, late November Monday morning, in front of the new school-house, stood Bart Ridgeley, who appeared then and there pursuant to a stipulation made with him, to keep their first school. He undertook it with great doubt of his ability to instruct the pupils, but with none of his capacity to manage them. He stood surrounded by some forty young specimens of both sexes and all ages—from rough, stalwart young men, bold and fearless in eye and bearing, down to urchins of five. One-half were girls, and among them several well-grown lasses, rustic and sweet.

There had also come up seven or eight of the principal patrons, to see the young school-master and learn of the prospects. They were evidently disappointed, and wondered what "Morey" could be thinking of to hire that pale, green boy, with his neat dress and gloves, to come down there. Grid Bingham or John Craft would throw him out of the window in a week. Finally, Jo Keys did not hesitate to recommend him to go home; while Canfield, who knew his brother Morris, thought he had better try the school.

Bart was surprised and indignant. He cut the matter very short.

"Gentlemen," he said quietly, but most decidedly, "I came down here to keep your school, and I shall certainly do it," with a little nod of his head to Keys. "I shall be glad to see you at almost any other time, but just now I am engaged." The decided way in which he put an end to the interview was not without its effect.

He called the scholars in, and began. They brought every sort of reading-book, from the Bible, English Reader, American Preceptor, Columbian Orator, Third Part, etc., to a New England Primer. But beyond reading, and spelling, and writing, he had only arithmetic, grammar and geography. On the whole, he got off well, and before the end of the first week was on good terms, apparently, with his whole school, with one or two exceptions; and so on through the second, which closed on Friday, and Bart turned gladly and eagerly toward home, to his mother and brothers.

The close of that week had been a little under a cloud, which left just a nameless shadow over the commencement of the third, and Bart began it with an uneasy feeling.

Bingham, a short, stout, compact young ruffian, of twenty-two or twenty-three, not quite as tall as Bart, but a third more in weight, and who had an ugly reputation as a quarrelsome fellow of many fights, had at first treated Bart with good-natured toleration, and said he would let him go on awhile. With him consorted John Craft, a chap of about his age, but of better reputation. Bingham had broken up a school the winter before, just below in Mantua, and was from the first an object of dread to parents in the new district. He was a dull scholar, and his blunders had exposed him to ridicule, which the teacher could not always repress. He left the school, on that Friday, moody and sullen, and came back on Monday full of mischief.

Not a word was said, that reached Bart's ears, but the young women had a scared look, and an ominous dread seemed to brood over the school-room. Monday and Tuesday came and went, as did the scholars, and also Wednesday forenoon.

The room was arranged with three rows of desks on two sides, and one on the third. Behind these sat the large scholars, with Grid, near the door. When he called the scholars in, after the recess, Bart quietly locked the outside door, and put the key in his pocket. He was cool, collected, and on the alert.

The first class began to read, each rising while reading, and then sitting down. Bart had observed that Bingham sat with his book closed, and wholly inattentive to the exercise, and quietly placed himself within a few feet of his desk.

As it came Bingham's turn, he sat with an assumed look of swaggering indifference. "Mr. Bingham," said Bart very quietly, "will you read?"

"I'm not goin' to read for any God damned——" the sentence was never finished, though Grid was; yet just how, nobody who saw it could quite tell. Something cracked, and Grid and his desk went sprawling into the middle of the floor. A hand came upon his collar as the last word was uttered. It was so sudden that he only seized his desk, which was taken from its fastening at the bottom as if it were pasteboard, and went in ruins with its occupant. As he struck, half stunned and surprised, he arose partly to his feet, and received on the side of his head a full blow from the fist of Bart.

Craft, who had been amazed at the suddenness of the catastrophe, and who was to have shared in the fight, if necessary, arose hesitatingly just as Grid received his quietus. Bart turned upon him with his white, galvanized face, and watery, flashing eyes, "Sit down, John Craft," in a voice that tore him like a rasp on his spine, and John sat down. During this time, and until now, no other sound was heard in the room; now a half sob, with suppressed cries, broke from the terrified girls and children. "Hush! hush! not a word!" said the still excited master; "it is over, and nobody much hurt." Bingham now began to rise, and Bart approached him: "Wait a moment, Mr. Bingham," he said, and, unlocking the outside door: "There! now take your books and leave, and don't let me find you about this school-house so long as I remain—go!" and the humbled bully sullenly picked up his small property and went.

"Mr. Craft," said Bart, approaching that cowed and trembling youth, "you and I can get along. I don't want to part with you if you will remain with me. I will excuse you from school this afternoon, and you can come back in the morning, and that may be the last of it. I will not humiliate you and myself with any punishment." There was a tremor in Bart's voice, and a softness in his face. John arose: "Mr. Ridgeley, I don't know how I came to—I am very sorry—I want to stay with you."

"All right, John, we will shake hands on it." And they did.

"My poor, poor children!" said Bart, going up to the younger ones, who had huddled into the farthest corner and clambered on to the desks. "My poor scared little things, it is all over now, and we are all so glad and happy, aren't we?" and he took up some of the smallest in his arms and kissed them, and the still frightened, but glad and rejoicing young women, looked as if they would be willing to have that passed round. When they were pacified, and resumed their places, Charley Smith gathered up the boards and parts of the disabled desk, and Bart, with a few kind words to the older scholars, resumed the exercises of the school.

Scenes of violence were rare, even in that rude day, among that people; the sensibilities of the children were deeply wounded, and none of them were in a fitting condition to profit by their exercises, which were barely gone through with, and they were early dismissed to their homes, with the marvellous tale of the afternoon's events.

Bart was in the habit of remaining to write up the copies, and place everything in order before he left. The young men and older maidens lingered at the door, and then returned in a body, to say how glad they were that it had ended as it did. They knew something would happen, and they were so glad, and then they shook hands with him, and went hurrying home.

When they left, Bart locked the door, and, throwing himself into the chair by his table, laid his head down and burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears;—but he was a man now, and tears only choked and suffocated him. He was ashamed of himself for his weakness, and bathing his eyes, walked about the school-room to regain his composure. Every particle of anger left his bosom before Bingham left the house, and now he was fully under the influence of the melancholy part of his nature. Never before, even in childish anger, had he touched a human being with violence, and now he had exerted his strength, and had grappled with and struck a fellow-man in a brute struggle for animal mastery; he felt humiliated and abased. That the fellow's nature was low, and that he was compelled to act as he had done, was little comfort to him. He was glad that he decided not to punish or expel John. Darkness came, and he was aroused by a noise at the door. He unlocked it, and found Canfield and Morey and Smith.

"Hullo, Ridgeley!" exclaimed the former. "Good God! and so you had a pitched battle, and licked that bully before he had time to begin; give me your hand! Who would have thought it?"

"I did," said Morey. "I knowed he'd do it. What will Jo Keys say now, I wonder?" And the party went inside, and wondered over the wrecked desk, and asked all about it. And then came in the stalwart Jo himself, celebrated for his strength.

"Wal, wal, wal! if this don't beat all natur, I give it up! What are you made of, young man, all spring and whalebone? I'd a bet he would 'a cleaned out a school-house full o' such dainty book chaps. I give it up. Let me feel o' you," taking Bart good-naturedly by the shoulder. "You'll do, by——. My Valdy said that when Grid gathered himself up the first time, he went heels over head, clear to the fire-place."

And so the good-natured athlete went over with it all, with a huge relish for the smallest detail, and others came in, until nearly all the male patrons of the school had assembled; and Bart informally, but with hearty unanimity, was declared the greatest school-master of his day; they quoted all the similar instances within the range of memory or legend, and this achievement was pronounced the greatest. They were proud of him, and of the exploit, and of themselves that they had him. Morey, who had taken him because he could find no other, blazed up into a man of fine discernment; and Jo nearly killed him with approving slaps on his feeble back. Indeed, his apologies for what he had said were too striking.

Life in all new communities is run mainly on muscle, and whoever exhibits skill and bravery in its rough encounters, peaceful or warlike, always commands a premium. The people among whom Bart lived had not passed beyond the discipline of brute force, and he shared the usual fortune of heroes of this sort, of having his powers and achievements exaggerated, even by those under whose eyes he had acted.

A rumor reached Markham's and Parker's, from which it spread, that Bart's school had arisen against him, and the first version was that he was killed, or very dangerously wounded; that he defended himself with desperation, and killed one or two, but was finally overcome; that the neighborhood was divided and in arms, and the school-house had been burned. But the stage came in soon after, and the driver declared that he had seen Grid Bingham, whom he knew, brought out dead, that John Craft was badly hurt, and one or two more, and that Bart, who escaped without injury, would be arrested for murder. It was finally said that he would not be arrested, but that Grid was either dead or dying; that he headed four or five of the older boys, and they were whipped out by Bart single-handed, who locked the door, and pitched in, etc.

The rumor produced a deep sensation in Newbury; and, whilst it was thought that Bart had been rash, and undoubtedly in fault, yet he had behaved handsomely. When it was ascertained that he was victor, it was generally thought that he was a credit to the place, which was very natural and proper, considering that he had never before been thought to be a credit to anything anywhere.



CHAPTER XV.

SNOW'S PARTY.

It was called a house-warming, although the proprietor had not taken possession of the house with his family. The ball-room and most of the rooms were complete, and the building was, on the whole, in a good condition to receive a large company. The Major was the presiding genius of the festivities; and while the affair was in a way informal, and an assemblage of friends and neighbors of the owner, still he had made a judicious use of his authority, and had invited a good many rather prominent people from a distance. The evening of the occasion saw not only a numerous assemblage, but one in which the highest grades of society were fully represented.

As it was not strictly a ball, there was not the least impropriety in the straightest church-members—and they were strict, then—attending it; and they did. The sleighing was fine, and, as the usage was, the guests came early, and went early—the next morning. The barns, stables and neighboring houses were freely offered, and an efficient corps of attendants were on hand, while the absence of public-houses in the immediate neighborhood relieved the occasion of the presence of the unbidden rough element that would otherwise have volunteered an attendance.

The Markhams were there, with Julia, and the bevy of beautiful girls we saw with her at the store; Mrs. Ford from Burton, with some of her set; two or three from Chardon; the Harmons from Mantua; some of the Kings from Ravenna; two or three Perkinses from Warren, and many others. A rather showy young Mr. Greer, a gentleman of leisure, and who floated about quite extensively, knew everybody, and seemed on pleasant terms with them all, was among the guests.

The essential elements of pleasure and enjoyment—high and gay spirits, good-nature, with a desire to please and be pleased, where everybody was at their best, and where was a large infusion of good breeding—were present, and a general good time was the logical result.

There was a plenty of good music, and the younger part of the company put it to immediate and constant use. The style of dancing was that of the mediaeval time, between the stately and solemn of the older, and the easy, gliding, insipid of the present; and one which required, on the part of the gentlemen, lightness and activity, rather than grace, and allowed them great license in the matter of fancy steps. Two long ranks contra-faced, and hence contra dance—degenerated to country dance—was the prevailing figure; the leading couple commencing and dancing down with every other couple, until in turn each on the floor had thus gone through.

The cotillon, with its uniform step and more graceful style, had been already introduced by instructors, who had found short engagements under the severe reprobation of the Orthodox churches; but the waltz was unknown, except in name, and the polka, schottische, etc., had then never been mentioned on the Reserve.

The young people early took possession of the dancing-hall, where, surrounded by the elders, a quick succession of Money Musk, Opera Reel, Chorus Jig, etc., interspersed sparingly with cotillons, evidenced the relish with which young spirits and light hearts enjoy the exercises of the ball-room.

Julia Markham was the conceded belle, beautiful and elegant in form and style, faultless in dress and manner, brilliant with the vivacity of healthy girlhood. Next to her, undoubtedly, was Miss Walters, with whom ranked several elegant girls from abroad.

And of the young people here may be remarked what is usually true in all country places, that there were about three cultivated and refined girls to one young man of corresponding accomplishments.

As the ball went forward, the elders—and the elders did not dance in the young Ohio in those days, rarely or never—gathered into various groups, discussing the dancers and various kindred topics, and the little odds and ends of graceful "they says" that append themselves to the persons of those at all noticeable.

Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Markham were the centre of the principal of these. They were really good friends, and liked each other. Their husbands were friends, and possible rivals, and watched each other. Both were ambitious, and lived too near each other.

"Who is Miss Walters?" Mrs. Ford asked.

"She is from Pittsburgh. Her brother is in New Orleans, and she remains with the Fishers, relatives of hers, till he returns."

"She is very elegant."

"She is indeed, and she and Julia are great friends."

"Who is that dancing with Julia?"

"A Mr. Thorndyke. He is of a Boston family, on a visit to his uncle in Thorndyke. Mr. Markham knew them, and he came up to call on us."

"He dances a little languidly, I think."

"He feels a little out of place in this mixed company, I presume. His notions are high Boston."

"How does that suit Julia?"

"It amuses her. He was telling her how this and that is done in Boston, and she in return told him how we do not do the same things here, and claimed that our way is the best."

"Here comes Major Ridgeley. He seems much at home in a ball-room."

"Yes, he is one of those ready men, who always appear best in a crowd."

He saw and made his way to them; inquired about the General, spoke of his reply to Byington, complimented the dancing of Julia, inquired about her partner, and rattled on about several things.

"Will your brother Barton be here this evening?" asked Mrs. Ford.

"I don't know; he thought he would not," was the reply. "He don't go out at all, lately."

"What an awful time he had with that Bingham!" said Mrs. Ford. "They say he has broken up two or three schools, and was a powerful and dangerous man, twenty-five or six years old. I would really like to see Barton. He is quite a lion."

"Bart is sensitive about it," answered the Major, "and don't speak of it. Why, I was on my way up from Ravenna, the next day after it happened, and called at his school-house for half an hour; the desk had not been put up then, and I asked him what had happened to it, and he said the boys had torn it down in a scuffle. He never said a word of the fracas to me, and I only heard of it when I got up to Parker's. There I found young Johnson, who had just come from there."

"Why, how you talk! What is the reason for that, do you suppose?"

"I don't know. He was at home a few days after, and seemed hurt and sad over it; and when I asked him how many innocents he had slaughtered since, he said one in two days, and at that rate they would just last him through."

"It is funny," said Mrs. Ford.

"As I have observed, Barton is not much inclined to talk about what he does," said Mrs. Markham; "and, do you know, Major, he has not given me a chance to speak to him since his return."

"He thinks, possibly, that he is under a cloud," answered the Major.

"He chooses to think so, then," said Mrs. Markham; and the music closed, and the dancers looked for seats, and the Major went away to meet an engagement for the next dance.



CHAPTER XVI.

WALTZ.

A little commotion about the door—a little mob of young men and boys—and a little spreading buzz and whisper—some hand-shakings—two or three introductions—then another buzz—and Bart made his way forward, with an air of being annoyed and bored and pushed forward as if to escape. He was under the inspiration of one of those sudden impulses upon which he acted, so sudden, often, as to seem not the result of mental process.

He discovered Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Markham, with Julia, Miss Walters, and several others, about them, whom he at once approached with the modest assurance of a thorough-bred gentleman, safe in the certainty of a gracious reception, and conscious of power to please. A happy word to the two or three who made way for him, and he stood bowing and smiling, and turning and bowing to each with the nice discriminating tact that rendered to all their due.

Mrs. Ford graciously extended her hand, which he took, and bowed very low over; she was nearest him. Mrs. Markham, in a pleased surprise, gave him hers, and its reception was, to her nice perception, even more profoundly acknowledged. To Miss Markham and Miss Walters precisely the same, with a little of the chivalrous devotion of a knight to acknowledged beauty.

"The fall and winter style prevails, I presume," he said, in gay banter, as if anticipating that their gloved hands were not to be touched.

"Your memory is good, Mr. Ridgeley," said Julia, with a little laugh and a little flush.

"Forgetfulness is not my weakness," he replied.

"I was not aware you knew Mrs. Ford," said Mrs. Markham, observing the little flutter in Julia's cheeks, and thinking there was a meaning in Bart's persiflage.

"Mrs. Ford and General Ford," he answered with much warmth, "have been so very, very kind to me, that I have presumed to claim her acquaintance, even here; but then, they have only known me three months," with affected despair.

"Well," said Mrs. Ford, "what of that?"

"I find you with those who have known me all my life," with a deprecating look towards Mrs. Markham.

"Well, Mr. Ridgeley, you are not deserving of forbearance at my hands, if I only knew of anything bad to say of you."

"What exquisite irony! May I be permitted to know which of my thousand faults is now specially remembered against me?"

"You have not permitted me, until this moment, even to speak to you since your return last summer."

"May I ask that you will permit that to stand with my other misdemeanors until some rare fortune enables me to atone for all at once?"

"And when will that be?"

"Oh!

In that blissful never, When the Sundays come together, When the sun and glorious weather Wrap the earth in spring forever; As in that past time olden, Which poets call the golden."

Laughing.

"And so I have poetry, and inspire it myself—that is some compensation, certainly," said Mrs. Markham, smiling.

"I fear my verses have deepened my offence," said Bart, with affected gravity.

Kate Fisher intervened here: "Mr. Ridgeley, I have more cause for offence than even Mrs. Markham. Why didn't you come to my little party? I made it on your account."

"The offence was great," he answered, "but then staying away was ample punishment, as you must know."

"No, I don't know it. I know you weren't there, and your excuse was merely a regret, which always means one don't want to go."

"Oh, Mrs. Ford!" said Bart, "see what your coming here, or my coming here, exposes me to!"

"Have I heard the worst?"

"Well, you see, Mrs. Ford," said Kate, "that Mr. Ridgeley can waltz, and so can Miss Walters, and I made a little party to see them waltz, and he didn't come."

"That is grave. Will you leave it to me to pass judgment upon him?"

"I will."

"And do you submit, Mr. Ridgeley?"

"She's so very kind to you," remarked Mrs. Markham.

"I do," said the young man, "and will religiously perform the sentence."

"Well, it won't be a religious exercise—you are to waltz with Miss Walters, now and here."

A little clapping of little hands marked the righteousness of the award.

"Mrs. Ford," observed the culprit, "your judgment, as usual, falls heaviest on the innocent. Miss Walters, it remains for you to say whether this sentence shall be executed. If you will permit me the honor, I shall undergo execution with an edifying resignation."

The smiling girl frankly placed her hand in his: "I should be sorry to prevent justice," she said, which was also applauded.

Major Ridgeley was spoken to, and it was understood that the next dance would be a waltz, which had never before been more than named in a Yankee ball-room, on the Reserve; and it was anticipated with curiosity, not unmixed with horror, by many.

The floor was cleared, a simple waltz air came from the band, and the pleased Miss Walters, in the arms of Barton, was whirled out from her mob of curious friends, on to and over the nearly vacant floor, the centre of all eyes, few of which had witnessed such a spectacle before. The music went on with its measured rise and fall, sweet and simple, and youth and maiden possessed with it, seemed to abandon themselves utterly to it, and were controlled and informed by it; with one impulse, one motion, and one grace, each contributing an exact proportion, they glided, circling; and while the maiden thus yielded and was sustained, her attitude, so natural, graceful and womanly, had nothing languishing, voluptuous or sensuous; a sweet, unconscious girl, inspired by music and the poetry and grace of its controlling power, in the dance. Miss Walters dearly loved to dance, and above all to waltz. She had rarely met a partner who so exactly suited her step and style, and who so helped the inspiration she was apt to feel.

Bart had had little practice as a waltzer, but natural grace, and the presence of ladies, usually brought him to his best; and it was not in nature, perhaps, that he should not receive some inspiration from the beautiful girl, half given to his embrace, and wholly to his guidance.

So around and around through the hushed and admiring throng they went, whirling, turning, advancing, retreating, rising and falling, swaying and sinking, yet always in unison, and in rhythmic obedience to the music.

Sometimes the music rose loud and rapid, and then languished to almost dying away; but whatever its movement or time, it was embodied and realized by the beautiful pair, in their sweeping, graceful motions. The maiden's face was wrapt with a sweet, joyous light in her half-shut eyes; his, pale, but lit up and softened in the lamp-light, seemed fairly beautiful, like a poet's.

"How beautiful!" "How exquisite!" from the ladies.

"What a dance for lovers!" said Mrs. Ford.

"They are lovers, are they not?" asked a lady from Warren.

"I think not," said Mrs. Markham, with a glance at Julia, who, never withdrawing her eyes, stood with lips slightly apart, and her face bright with unenvying admiration.

A little ripple—a murmur—and a decided clapping of hands around the room, with other sounds from the crowd at the entrance, marked the appreciation of the beautiful performance. The moment that this reached Barton, he led his delighted partner towards her group of friends, remarking: "Your admirers are sincere, Miss Walters, but too demonstrative, I fear."

"Oh, I don't mind it," said the straightforward girl.

"And I have to thank you for your courtesy to me," he went on, "and only hope that all my punishments may come in the same form."

"Mrs. Ford, is the judgment satisfied?"

"Satisfactory as far as you went, but then you did not serve out your time."

"Have consideration, I pray, for the minister of justice," bowing to Miss Walters.

"She seemed rather to like it," said Mrs. Ford.

"Indeed I did!" and the young ladies gathered about to congratulate her, and cast admiring glances at her partner.

"Mr. Ridgeley," said Mrs. Markham, "I was not aware that you were an accomplished waltzer."

"You forget," Bart answered mockingly, "that I am travelled; and you know my only aptitude is for the useless."

"I did not say that."

"You are too kind. I sometimes supply words to obvious thoughts."

"And sometimes to those that have no existence."

The floor filled again, and the music struck up. Standing, a moment later, at a window, Julia saw a figure pass out, pause at the roadway, turn and look up. The full glare of the lamps revealed the face of Bart, from which the light had faded, and its beauty and spirit of expression had departed. He gazed for an instant up at the brilliant and joyous scene, where a moment before he had been a central and applauded figure, and then, muffling his face in his cloak, he turned away.

He had not intended to go, and sat melancholy through the darkness of the early night; but somehow, a hungry, intense longing came to him to go and look for a moment upon the loveliness of Julia, as she would stand open to the eyes of all, just for one moment, and then to go away. He felt that he ought not to do it, but he went. He could not help it.

When he reached the place, three miles away, he was annoyed by being recognized and pointed at, and talked at, on account of his late encounter with Grid.

"He ain't a powerful-lookin' chap." "I wouldn't be afeared o' him." "He's a darned sight harder'n he looks," etc.

When he escaped into the ball-room, the impulse to go into the immediate presence of Julia was followed, and ended by as sudden a retreat. He had not known how utterly weak and helpless he was, and felt angry with himself that he could ever wish for the presence of one who had so scorned him. He was ashamed, also, that the music, the dance, and gay joyance of the scene he had just left, had still such a seductive charm for him, and he recorded a mental resolution to avoid all similar allurements for the future. Having made this resolution, and strong in his faith of keeping it, he merely turned to take final leave, as he fell under the eyes of Julia, and without seeing her.

The night outside was cold, dark, and thick, with a pitiless snow, that was rapidly filling the track along the highway. Bart turned, without the remotest touch of self-pity, to face it, with a heart as cold and dark as the night that swallowed him up. He felt that there was not a heart left behind that would throb with a moment's pain for him—that would miss him, or wonder at his departure; and he was sure that he did not care.

Yet, with what a sweet, remonstrating, expostulating call the music came after him, with its plaining at his desertion! Fainter and sweeter it came, and died out with a wailing sob, as the night, with its storm and darkness, blotted him out!

Mrs. Ford, who may have anticipated his attendance at the supper-table, missed him. His late partner in the dance cast her eyes inquiringly through the thronged rooms. She remarked to Julia that she believed Mr. Ridgeley had left, and thought it very strange. Julia said she presumed he had, and did not say what she thought.

Most of the elders left early; the young people danced the music and themselves away, and the gray, belated dawn of the next day looked coldly into the windows of a sacked, soiled, and silent house.



CHAPTER XVII.

BART.

Bart devoted himself unselfishly and unsparingly to his school, to all its duties and to all his scholars, and especially to the children of the poor, and the backward pupils. He went early to the house, and remained late. He was the tender, considerate, elder brother of the scholars, and was astonished at his power to win regard, and maintain order. Order maintained itself after one memorable occasion—one to which he never referred, and of which he did not like to hear. It made his school famous, and drew to it many visitors, and to himself no little curiosity and attention.

He endeavored to carry on his law-reading; but beyond reviewing—and not very thoroughly—Blackstone, he could do little. As usual, he was homesick; and whenever a week was ended he left the school-house for his mother's, and never returned until the following Monday morning.

His kind patrons noticed with surprise that he seemed sad and depressed after the expulsion of Grid, and that this gloominess was deepened about the time of Snow's ball.

Barton came to take a real pleasure in his school. Formed to love everything, and without the power of hating, or of long retaining a resentment, he became attached to his little flock, especially the younger ones, and was loved in return by them, without reserve or doubt. He did much to improve, not alone the minds of the older pupils, but to soften and refine the manners of the young men under his charge; while the young women, always inclined to idealize, found how pleasant it was to receive little acts of gentlemanly attention from him.

In the afternoon of a long, bright, March day—one of those wondrous days, glorious above with sky and sun, and joyous with the first note of the blue-bird—the little red school-house by the margin of the maple-woods was filled with the pupils and their parents, assembled for the last time. Bart, in a low voice, tremulous with emotion, bade them all good-by, and most of them forever, and taking his little valise, walked with a saddened heart back to his mother. This time he had not failed, and he never was to fail again.

How many events and occurrences linked in an endless series unite to form the sum-total of ordinary human life! Incident to it, they are in fact all ordinary. If any appear extraordinary, it is because they occur in the life of an extraordinary individual, or remarkable consequences flow from them. Like all parts of human life, in and of themselves they are always fragmentary: springing from what precedes them, they have no beginning proper; causing and flowing into others, they have no ending, in effect; and as the dramatic in actual life is never framed with reference to the unities, so results are constantly being produced and worked out by accidents, and the prominent events often contribute nothing to any supposed final catastrophe. Strangers interlope for a moment, and change destinies, coming out for a day, from nothing, and going to nowhere, but marring and misshaping everything.

No plot is to develop as this sketch of old-time life continues, and incidents will be of value only as they tend to mould and develop the character and powers of one, and little will be noticed save that which concerns him. It is, perhaps, already apparent that he is very impressible, that slight forces which would produce little effect on different natures, are capable of changing his shape, will beat him flat, roll him round, or convert him into a cube or triangle, and yet, that certain strong, always acting forces will restore him, with more or less of the mark or impress of the disturbing cause upon him. He has a strong, tenacious nature, unstained with the semblance of a vice. He forms quick resolutions, but can adhere to them. He is tender to weakness, and fanciful to phantasy. His aptitude for sarcasm and ridicule, unsparingly as it had been turned upon everybody, brought upon him general dislike. His indecision and vacillation in adopting and pursuing a scheme in life, lost him the confidence of his acquaintances—ready to believe anything of one who had dealt them so many sharp thrusts. He was sensitive to a fault, and a slight word would have driven him forever from Julia Markham, and turned him back upon himself, as a dissolving and transforming fire. Mentally, he was quick as a flash, with a strong grasp, and a power of ready analysis; and so little did his mental achievements cost him, that his acquirements were doubted. He already paid the penalty of a nervous and brilliant intellect—that of being adjudged not profound. Men are always being deceived as to the real value of things, by their apparent cost.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse