We see this illustrated in the case of some grave and ponderous weakling, who has nothing really in him, and yet who creaks, and groans, and labors, and toils, to get under way, until our sympathy with his painful effort leads us so to rejoice over his final delivery that we have lost all power or disposition to weigh or estimate his half-strangled, commonplace bantling, when it is finally born, and we are rather inclined to wonder over it as a prodigy. No doubt the generation of men who witnessed the mountain in labor, regarded the sickly, hairy little mouse, finally brought forth, as a genuine wonder.
Great is mediocrity! It is the average world, and the majority conspires to do it reverence. Genius, if such a thing there is, may be appreciated by school-boys; the average grown world count it as of no value. If a man has a brilliant intellect, let him bewail it on the mountains, as the daughter of Jephtha did her virginity. If he has wit, let him become Brutus.
Readiness and genius are apt to be arrogant; and, when joined with a lively temper, with an ardent, impetuous nature, they render a young man an object of dread, dislike, or worse. Bart had grave doubts of his being a genius, but it had been abundantly manifest to his sensitive perceptions that he was disliked; and he had in part arrived at the probable cause, and was now very persistently endeavoring to correct it by holding his tongue and temper.
Like all young men bent upon a pursuit where his success must depend upon intellect, he was most anxious to ascertain the quality and extent of his brain-power—a matter of which a young man can form no proper idea. Later in life a man is informed by the estimate of others, and can judge somewhat by what he has done. The youth has done nothing. He has made no manifestation by which an observer can determine; when he looks at himself, he can examine his head and face; but the mind, turned in upon itself, with no mirror, weight, count or measure, feels the hopelessness of the effort.
If some one would only tell him of his capacity and power, of his mental weakness and deficiency, it would not, perhaps, change his course, but might teach him how best to pursue it.
The long, cold winter was past; spring had come, and with it sugar making, the carnival season, in the open air, among the trees.
The boys had the preparations for sugar making in an advanced stage. A new camp had been selected on a dry slope, wood had been cut, the tubs distributed, and they were waiting for Bart and a good day. Both came together; and on the day following the close of his school, at an early hour they hurried off to tap the trees.
Spring and gladness were in the air. The trill of the blue-bird was a thrill; and the first song of the robin was full of lilac and apple blossoms. The softened winds fell to zephyrs, and whispered strange mysterious legends to the brown silent trees, and murmured lovingly over the warming beds of the slumbering flowers. Young juices were starting up under rough bark, and young blood and spirits throbbed in the veins of the boys, and loud and repeated bursts of joyous voices gushed with the fulness of the renewing power of the season.
The day, with its eager hope, strength and joyousness, filled Bart to the eyes, and his spirit in exultation breaking from the unnatural thrall that had for many months of darkness and anxious labor overshadowed it, went with a bound of old buoyancy, and he started with laughing, open brow, and springy step, over the spongy ground, to the poetry of life in the woods.
That one day they tapped all the trees. The next, the kettles were hung on the large crane, the immense logs were rolled up, the kettles filled with sap, and the blue smoke of the first fire went curling up gracefully through the tree-tops. What an event, the first fire! Not as in New England, sugar in the West is never made until the winter snow has disappeared, and the surface has become dry, and the woods pleasant, and the opening day at the boiling was as brilliant as its predecessor.
Bart and Edward, with a yoke of steers, gathered the sap towards evening, and George tended the kettles; many curious bright-eyed chickadees boldly ventured up about the works, peeping, flitting, and examining, with head first on one side and then on the other, the funny doings of these humans in their dominions, and searching for the store of raw pork, which, according to their recollection, ought to be hid away somewhere near by.
The boys had pulled down, removed and rebuilt their old snug cabin, with one end open to the broad and roaring fire; in the bottom of which, over its floor, were placed a large quantity of sweet bright straw, and two or three heavy blankets.
The "run" made it necessary to boil all night; and filling the kettles and adjusting the fires, Bart and the boys, hungry and tired, went up to supper and the chores; after which Bart and Edward, taking the former's rifle, and lighted by a hickory torch, returned to the camp for the night—Edward really to sleep, sweet and unbroken, in the cabin, and Bart to take care of the kettles and fires, to muse and dream, and think bright, strange thoughts, and watch the effects of the lights and shadows, listen to the dropping of the sap into the buckets, and the boding owls, whose melancholy notes harmonized with, rather than interrupted, the solemn effect of deepest night. Man easily reverts to savagery and nature; and this tendency was marked in Bart, whom this new recurrence to old habits of wood-life, so dear to him, filled with such pleasant sensations of joyous unrest, that until near the coming dawn he was disinclined to sleep, and when he did, the first note of an old robin from the topmost twig of a giant old maple awoke him fresh to the labor and enjoyment of another resplendent day. And so the days followed each other, and the spring deepened. Myriads of flower-beds shot up through the dead leaves, and opened out their frail and wondrously tinted petals for a single day, and faded. Not a new one opened—not a cloud or tint varied the sky—not a note of a bird or tap of a woodpecker, that was not marked by Bart, to whom Nature had at least given the power to appreciate and love her lighter works.
The principal event of the spring among the Ridgeleys, was the return home of Henry. He had closed his novitiate, and was awaiting his examination for admission to the bar. He had already, on the recommendation of his friend and instructor, Wade, formed a favorable business connection with the younger Hitchcock, at Painesville; and now, after a year's absence, he came back to his mother and brothers, for a few days of relaxation and visiting. Less strong than the Major, of grave, thoughtful, but cheerful face and mien, heavy-browed and deep-eyed, with plain, marked face, and finished manners, he was well calculated to impress favorably, and win confidence and respect. His mind was solid, but lacked the sparkle and vivacity of Bart's, and compensatingly was believed to be deep. He was the pride and hope of the family: around him gathered all its expectations of distinction, and no one shared all these more intensely than Bart, who had awaited his coming with hope and fear. He was accompanied by a fellow-student named Ranney, of about his own age, and like him, above the usual height, broad and heavy-shouldered, with a massive head and strong face, a high narrow forehead; rather shy in manner, and taciturn.
They came one night while Bart was in the sugar-camp, where he spent many nights, and he met them the next morning at the breakfast-table. No one could be gladder than he to meet his brother, but, like his mother, he was struck by his emaciated form and languor of manner.
Bart had heard of Ranney as a man of strong, profound, ingenious mind, with much power of sarcasm, and who had formed a partnership with Wade, on the retirement of Mr. Giddings from the bar. He stood a little in awe of him, whose good opinion he would have gladly secured, but who, he had a presentiment, would not understand him. Indeed, he was quite certain he did not understand himself.
The young men had been fellow-students for two years, had many things in common, and were strong friends.
Bart soon found that they had a slender view of his law reading, and spoke slightingly of Ford as a lawyer. They had both diligently studied to the lower depths of the law, had a fair appreciation of their acquisitions, and would not overestimate the few months of solitary reading of a boy in the country.
Bart did not mention his studies, and only answered modestly his brother's inquiries, who closed the subject for the time by saying that if he was serious in his desire to study law, "he would either arrange to take him to Painesville in the Fall, or have his friend Ranney take him in hand." Bart was pleased with the idea of being with either; and possibly he may have wondered whether whoever took him in hand would not have that hand full.
The young men strolled off to his sugar-camp during the forenoon, lounged learnedly about, evincing little interest in the camp and surroundings, although the deepening season had filled the woods with flowers and birds; and Bart wondered whether "Coke on Littleton," and executory devises, and contingent remainders, had produced in them their natural consequences. He watched to see whether new maple sugar was sweet to them, and on full reflection doubted if it was.
They did not interfere with his work, and sauntered back to an early dinner, and Bart saw no more of them until night.
He closed out his work early for the day, and spent the evening with them and his mother.
Henry naturally inquired about his old acquaintances, and Bart answered graphically. He was in a mood of reckless gayety. He took them up, one after another, and in a few happy strokes presented them in ludicrous caricature, irresistible for its hits of humor, and sometimes for wit, and sometimes sarcasm—a stream of sparkle and glitter, with queer quotations of history, poetry, and Scripture, always apt, and the latter not always irreverent. Ranney had a capacity to enjoy a medley, and both of the young men abandoned themselves to uncontrollable laughter; and even the good mother, who tried in vain to stop her reckless son, surprised herself with tears streaming down her cheeks. Bart, for the most part, remained grave, and occasionally Edward helped him out with a suggestion, or contributed a dry and pungent word of his own.
As the fit subsided, Henry, half serious and half laughing, turned to him: "Oh, Bart, I thought you had reformed, and become considerate and thoughtful, and I find that you are worse than ever."
"But, Henry, what's the use of having neighbors and acquaintances and friends, if one cannot serve them up to his guests; and only think, I've gone about for six months with the odds and ends of 'flat, stale and unprofitable' things accumulating in and about him—the said Bart—until, as a sanitary measure, I had to utter them."
"How do you feel after it?" inquired Henry.
"Rather depressed, though I hope to tone up again."
"Bart," said Henry, gravely, "I haven't seen much of you for two or three years; I used to get queer glimpses of you in your letters, and I must look through your mental and moral make-up some time."
"You will find me like the sterile, stony glebe, which, when the priest reached in his career of invocation and blessing—'Here,' said the holy father, 'prayers and supplications are of no avail. This must have manure.' Grace would, I fear, be wasted on me, and our good mother would willingly see me under your subsoiling and fertilizing hand."
"Do you ever seriously think?"
"I? oh yes! such thoughts as I can think. I think of the wondrously beautiful in nature, and am glad. I think of the wretched race of men, and am sad. I think of my shallow self, and am mad."
Henry, with unchanged gravity: "Do you believe in anything?"
"Yes, I believe fully in our mother; a good deal in you, though my faith is shaken a little just now; and am inclined to great faith in your friend Mr. Ranney."
All smile but Henry. "Yes, all that of course, but abstract propositions. Have you faith, in anything?"
"Well, I believe in genius, I believe in poetry—though not much in poets—music—though that is not for men. I believe in love—for those who may have it. I believe in woman and in God. When I draw myself close to Him, I am overcome with a great awe, and dare not pray. It is only when I seem to push Him off, and coop Him up in a little crystal-domed palace beyond the stars, and out of hearing, that I dare tell Him how huge He is, and pipe little serenades of psalmody to Him."
"Oh, Barton, you are profane!"
"No, mother, men are profane in their gorgeous egotism. We are the braggarts, and ascribe egotism to God Himself; while we are the sole objects of interest in the universe. God was and is on our account only; and when men fancy that they have found a way of running things without Him, they shove Him out entirely. I put it plainly, and it sounds bad."
"This is a compendious confession of faith," said Henry; and, pausing, "why do you put genius first?"
"As the most doubtful, and, at the same time, an interesting article. I am at the age when a young man queries anxiously about it. Has he any of it—the least bit?"
"Well, what is your conclusion?"
"Sometimes I fancy I feel faintly its stir and spur and inspiration."
"When it may be only dyspepsia," said Henry.
"It may be. I haven't ranked myself among geniuses."
"Yet you believe in it. What is it?"
"I can't tell. Can you tell what is electricity or life?"
"That is not logical. You answer one question by asking another."
"I am not sure but that is allowable," interrupted Ranney. "You pose your opponent with an unanswerable question, and he in turn proposes several, thereby suggesting that there are things unknown, and that if you will push him to that realm you are equally involved. It may not be logical, but it usually silences."
"Not quite, in this instance," said Henry, "for we know by their manifestations that life and electricity are; they manifest themselves to us."
"And by the same rule genius manifests itself to your brother, although it may not to you."
"Thank you, Mr. Ranney," said Bart.
"Now I do not suppose," he went on, "that genius is a beneficent little imp, or genie, lodged in the brain of the fortunate or unfortunate, who is all-powerful, and always at hand to give strength, emit a flash of light, or pour inspiration into the faculties, nor does it consist in anything that answers to that idea. But there are men endowed with quick, strong intellects, with warm, ardent, intense temperaments, and with strong imaginations; where these, or their equivalents, are found happily blended, the result is genius. There is a working power that can do anything, and with apparent ease. If it plunges down, it need not remain long; if it mounts up, it alights again without effort or injury."
"And such a 'working power,' you suppose, would, of itself, be a constant self-supply, and always equal to emergencies, and of its own unaided spontaneous inspirations and energies, I suppose," said Henry, "and has nothing to do but float and plunge about, diving and soaring, in the amplitude of nature?"
"Well, Henry, you can't get out of a man what isn't in him. You need not draw on a water-bottle for nectar, or hope to carve marble columns from empty air; genius can't do that. An unformed, undeveloped mind never threw out great things spontaneously, as the cloud throws out lightning. Men are not great without achievement, nor wise without study and reflection. Nor was there ever a genius, however strong and brilliant in the rough, that would not have been stronger and more brilliant by cutting," said Bart, with vehemence. "All I contend for is, that genius, as I have supposed, can make the most and best of things, often doing with them what other and commoner minds cannot do at all."
"This is not the school-boy's idea of genius," said Ranney.
"And," said Bart, a little assertively, "I am not a school-boy."
"So I perceive," said Ranney, coolly.
"The fault I find with you geniuses—"
"Is," said Henry, "you perpetually fly and caracol about, and just because you can, apparently, and for the fun of the thing."
"Eagles fly," said Bart.
"And so do butterflies, and other gilded insects."
"Therefore, flying should be dispensed with, I suppose," said Bart. "Because things of mere painted wings, all wing and nothing else, can float in the lower atmosphere, are all winged things to be despised? Birds of strong flight can light and build on or near the ground, but your barn-yard fowl can hardly soar to the top of the fence for his crow."
"But your geniuses, Bart, will not work, will not strip to the long, patient, delving drudgery necessary to unravel, separate, analyze, weigh, measure, estimate and count, and come to like work for work's sake, and so grow to do the best and most work. They deal a few heavy blows, scatter things, pick up a few glittering pebbles, and—"
"Leave to dullards the riches of the mines they never would have found," broke in Bart.
"And fly away into upper air," pursued Henry.
"Oh, I know that some chaps rise for want of weight, as you would say; but mere weight will keep a man always at the surface. Your men who are always plunging into things, digging and turning up the earth—who believe with the ancients that truth is in a well—often lose themselves, and are smothered in their own dirt-holes, and call on men to see how deep they are. God coins with His image on the outside, as men mint money, and your deep lookers can't see it; they are for rushing into the bowels of things."
"There is force in that, Bart. Men may see God in His works, if they will; but men don't so stamp their works. At his best, man is weak; unknowing truth, he puts false brands on his goods, mixes and mingles, snarls and confuses, covers up, hides and effaces, so far as he can, God's works, and palms off as His the works of the other. And it is with these that the lawyer has to do: a work in which your mere genius would make little headway. He would go to it without preparation; he would grow weary of the hopelessness of the task, and fly away to some pleasant perch, and plume his wing for another flight, I fear."
"Might not his lamp of genius aid him somewhat?" put in Bart.
"It might," said Ranney, "and he might be misled by its flare. He would do better to use the old lights of the law. Some are a little lurid, and some a little blue, but always the same in tempest or calm. The law, as you have doubtless discovered, is founded in a few principles of obvious right. Their application to cases is artificial. The law, for its own wise purposes, takes care of itself; of its own force, it embraces everything, investigates everything, construes itself, and enforces itself, as the sole power in the premises. Its rules in the text-books read plain enough, and are not difficult of apprehension. The uncertainty of the law arises in the doubt and uncertainty of the facts; and hence the doubt about which, of many rules, ought to govern. A man of genius, as you describe him, ought to become a good lawyer; he would excel in the investigation and presentation of facts; but none but a lawyer saturated with the spirit of the law until he comes to have a legal instinct, can with accuracy apply it."
This was clear and strong to Barton, and profitable to him.
"Now Barton," said Henry, turning to Ranney, as if Bart were absent, "went through with Blackstone in a month, and probably would go through it every month in the year, and then he might be profitably put to read Blackstone. If I were to shut him up with the 'Institutes,' in four days there might be nothing of poor Coke left but covers and cords."
"And what would become of Bart?" asked Ranney.
"Go mad—but not from much learning," answered the youth for himself; "or you would find him like a dried geranium-leaf hid in the leaves of the year-books,—
'Where thy mates of the garden lie scentless and dead.'"
There was a touch of sarcasm in his mocking voice; and flashing out with his old sparkle, "Be patient with me, boys, the future works miracles. There
Are mountains ungrown, And fountains unflown, And flowers unblown, And seed never strown, And meadows unmown, And maids all alone, And lots of things to you unknown, And every mother's son of us must Always blow his own—nose, you know."
And while the young men were a little astonished at the run of his lines, the practical and unexpected climax threw them into another laugh.
Soon Henry took a candle, and the two young men retired. They paused a moment in the little parlor.
"Was there ever such a singular and brilliant compound?" said Ranney. "What a power of expression he has! and I see that he generally knows where he is going to hit. If you can hold him till he masters the law, he will be a power before juries."
"I think so too," said Henry; "but he must be a good lawyer before he can be a good advocate,—though that isn't the popular idea."
"Let him work," said Ranney. "He will shed his flightier notions as a young bird moults its down."
How kind to have said this to Bart! Oh, what a mistake, that just praise is injurious! How many weary, fainting, doubting young hearts have famished and died for a kind word of encouragement!
When Bart returned to the sitting-room, his mother and younger brothers had retired.
"I am scorned of women and misunderstood of men—even by my own brother," he said bitterly to himself. "Let me live to change this, and then let me die."
The old melancholy chords vibrated, and he went to his little attic, remembering with anguish the stream of nonsense and folly he had poured forth, and thought of the laughter he had provoked as so much deserved rebuke; and he determined never to utter another word that should provoke a smile. He would feed and sleep, and grow stupid and stolid, heavy and dull, and bring forth emptiness and nothings with solemn effort and dignified sweatings.
Early on the morrow he was away to the camp, to renew the fires under his sugar-kettles. The cool, fresh air of the woods refreshed and restored his spirits somewhat. He placed on the breakfast-table two bouquets of wood-flowers, and met his guests with the easy grace and courtesy of an accomplished host; and both felt for the first time the charm of his manner, and recognized that it sprung from a superior nature.
As they were about to rise from the breakfast-table, "Gentlemen," said he, "Miss Kate Fisher gives, this afternoon, a little sugar party, out at her father's camp. Henry, she sent over an invitation specially for you two, with one to me, for courtesy. I cannot go; but you must. You will meet, Mr. Ranney, several young ladies, any one of whom will convert you to my creed of love and poetry, and two or three young, men stupid enough to master the law,"—with a bright smile. "I promised you would both go. The walk is not more than a mile, the day a marvel right out of Paradise, and you both need the exercise, and to feel that it is spring."
"And why don't you go, Barton?" asked Henry.
"Well, you are not a stranger to any whom you will meet, and don't need me. In the first place, I must remain and gather the sap, and can't go; in the second, I don't want to go, and won't; and in the third, I have several good reasons for not going,"—all very bright, and in good humor.
"What do you say, Ranney?"
"Well, I would like to go, and I would like to have Barton go with us."
"Would you, though?"—brightening. "No, I can't go; though I would be glad to go with you anywhere."
WHAT THE GIRLS SAID.
Kate's little party, out on the dry, bright yellow leaves, gay with early flowers, under the grand old maples, elms and beeches, in the warm sun, came and went, with laughter and light hearts. If it could be reproduced with its lights, and colors, and voices, what a bright little picture and resting-place it would be, in this sombre-colored annal! I am sad for poor Bart, and I cannot sketch it.
The young lawyers had been there, seen, talked to, got acquainted with, were looked up to, deferred to, admired and flirted with, and had gone, leaving themselves to be talked about.
Two young girls, amid the fading light, with the rich warm blood of young womanhood in their cheeks, and its latent emotions sending a softened light into their eyes, with their arms about each other's waists, were pensively walking out of the dusky woods to the open fields, with a little ripple and murmur of voices, like the liquid pearls of a brook.
They had been speaking of the young lawyers. "And these two," said Julia, "are some of those who are to go out and shape and mould and govern. I am glad to have seen them, and hear them talk."
"Do you think these are to be leading men?" asked Flora Walters.
"I presume so. It is generally conceded that Henry Ridgeley is a young man of ability; and I don't think any one could be long in the company of Mr. Ranney without feeling that he is no ordinary man. Indeed, Henry said that he was destined to a distinguished career."
"Well, now to me they were both a little heavy and commonplace. Mr. Ridgeley was easy and gentlemanly; Mr. Ranney a little shy and awkward. I've no doubt one would come to like either of them, when one came to know him."
"Oh, Flora! the beauty of a man is strength and courage, and power and will and ability. When one comes to see these, the outside passes out of sight."
"Do you think that absolute ugliness could be overcome in that way?"
"Yes, even deformity. I should be taken even by beauty, in a man, and should expect conforming beauty of heart and soul. Do you know, I sometimes half feel that I would like to be a man?"
"You, Julia! with your wealth, beauty and friends, who may, where you will, look and choose?"
"Yes, I, as much as you flatter me. I can feel the ambition of a young man; and were I one, how gladly would I put the world and its emptiness from me, and nurse and feed my soul and brain with the thoughts and souls of other men, till I was strong and great; and then, from my obscurity, I would come forth and take my place in the lead;" and her great eyes flashed.
"If you are ambitious, you have but to wait until the leading spirit comes. What a help you would be to him!"
"He might never come, or I might not know him when—"
"Or you would not love him, if you did know him."
"He might not love me; or, if he did, I might drive him away. But that is not what was in my mind, although a woman must be ambitious through another. To be one of these young men, to know their minds, to feel their hopes and ambitions, and struggle with and against them, for the places, the honors and leaderships!"
"And would you never love and wed, woo and marry?"
"Yes; and I would like to see the woman who would scorn me. I would take her as mine, and she should not choose but love me!"
"Why, Julia! who would think that you, sweet and deep as you are, could say such things! Would you like to be wooed in that way?"
"I never came to that. I am only a woman without aim in life. I am only to float along between flowery banks, until somebody fishes me out, I suppose!"
"I am sure, were I you, I could well float on until the right man came; and you, Julia, it is your own fault if you do not marry for love. You will not be obliged to consult anything else."
"And you?" said Julia, laughing.
"I? oh! I am dependent on my brother, you know."
"Yes, and there comes in the hardship; were you a man, you could go out and make and choose. Now, a daughter remains where her father and mother leave her. The sons may rise, the daughters stay below, and if sought for, it is usually in the same channels in which the parents move, and that is the hardship of those who, unlike you, are on a lower plane, or who, like you, have no father and mother to sustain them in their proper place. If you could win wealth, you would only marry for love; and I am sure you will do so now."
"A woman who wins fortune usually loses the capacity to win love, I fear," said Flora.
"And the woman who wins nothing deserves nothing," said Julia. "I am a little like my mother, I presume; but who would win you, and how, I wonder?"
"Oh," answered Flora, "I suppose the man who really and truly loved me. I would like to have him come, as the breeze comes, with the odor of flowers, as the spring comes, with music and song, with all sweet and gentle influences, with beauty and grace; but he must not be effeminate."
"He would have to be a good waltzer, I presume?"
"Would that be an objection?" asked Flora.
"No; but a man who excels in these light accomplishments may fail in the stronger qualities. I admit that beauty and grace would go a great way, if one could have them also."
"Julia, were I you, I would have them all."
"Girls, what are you loitering along there for? Talking over the young lawyers, I'll bet; who takes which?" called back Kate, impetuously; "I don't want either."
* * * * *
All the afternoon long, Bart was sad and silent, and spite of himself, his thoughts would hover about that bright place in the maple woods, sweet with one face of indescribable beauty; one form, one low, many-toned voice which haunted—would haunt him.
He came in to a latish supper, with a grave face. The spring was not in his step; the ring was not in his voice, or the sparkle in his words.
The two guests were in high spirits, and talked gushingly of the young ladies they had met, and they wondered that it did not provoke even a sarcasm from him.
"It would compensate you for not going," said Ranney, kindly, "if we were to tell you what was said of you in your absence."
"And who said it," added Henry. Not a word, nor a look even.
"One might be willing to be called a genius, for such words, and from such a young lady," ventured Ranney.
"I am not sure but that I would even venture upon poetry, under such inspiration," said Henry.
To the youth these remarks sounded like sarcasm, and he felt too poor even to retort.
"Oh, boys!" finally said Bart, "it is good exercise for us all; persiflage is not your 'best holt,' as the wrestlers would say, and you need practice, while I want to accustom myself to irony and sarcasm without replying. If by any possibility you can, between you, get off a good thing at my expense, it would confer a lasting obligation; but I don't expect it."
"Upon my word—" began Ranney.
"We all speak kindly of our own dead," said Bart, "and should hardly expect the dead to hear what we said. Mother said you had determined to leave us in the morning;" to Ranney—"Our brother the Major will be home in the morning, and would be glad to make your acquaintance, and show you some attention." And so he escaped.
When Ranney took leave the next morning, he kindly remarked to Bart that he would at any time find a place in his office, and should have his best endeavor to advance his studies. It was sincere, and that was one of the charms of his character. Bart was pleased with it, and it almost compensated for the unintentional wounds of the night before.
Morris came, and the brothers were together, and the two elder went around to many of their old acquaintance—many not named here, as not necessary to the incidents of this story. For some reason Barton did not accompany them. If anything was said between them about him, no mention of it was made to him. Henry came to regard him with more interest, and to treat him with marked tenderness and consideration, which Bart took as a kindly effort to efface from his mind the pain that he supposed Henry must be aware he had given him. Had he supposed that it arose from an impression that he was suffering from any other cause, he would have coldly shrunk from it.
* * * * *
At the end of ten days, Henry's baggage was sent out to Hiccox's for the stage, and he took leave of his mother, Morris, Edward, and George, and, accompanied by Bart, walked out to the State road, to take the stage for Painesville, where his work was to begin. He was in bright spirits; his hopes were high; he was much nearer home; his communication was easier, and his absences would be shorter.
Bart, for some reason, was more depressed than usual. On their way down, Henry asked him about a Mr. Greer whom he first saw at the sugar party, and afterwards at Parker's, and who had seemed to take much interest in Bart. Bart had met him only once or twice, and was not favorably impressed by him. Henry said that he had talked of seeing Bart, and that he (Henry) rather liked him.
It had been already talked over and understood that Bart should go to Painesville in the Fall, and enter fully upon the study of the law. As they reached the stage-road, Bart's depression had been remarked by Henry, who made an ineffectual effort to arouse him. Finally the stage came rattling down the hill, and drew up. The brothers shook hands. Henry got in, and the stage was about to move away, when Bart sprang upon the step, and called out "Henry!" who leaned his face forward, and received Barton's lips fully on his mouth. Men of the Yankee nation never kiss each other, and the impression produced upon Henry was great. Tears fell upon his face as their lips met, and from his eyes, as the heavy coach rolled into the darkness of the night.
Are there really such things as actual presentiments? God alone knows. Is the subtle soul-atmosphere capable of a vibration at the approach and in advance of an event? And are some spirits so acutely attuned as to be over-sensible of this vibration? God knows. Or was the act of Bart, like many of his, due to sudden impulse? Perhaps he could not tell. If the faculty was his, don't envy him.
Barton had already resumed his connection with Gen. Ford's office. The General had returned full of his winter's labors, and found an intelligent and sympathizing listener in Bart, who had a relish for politics and the excitements of political life, although he was resolved to owe no consideration that he might ever win to political position.
Under the stimulus from his intercourse with his brother and Ranney, and profiting by their hints and suggestions, he plunged more eagerly into law-books than ever. He constructed a light boat, with a pair of sculls, and rigged also with a spar and sail, with which to traverse the pond, with places to secure it on the opposite shores; and early passers along the State road, that overlooked the placid waters, often marked a solitary boatman pulling a little skiff towards the eastern shore.
And once, a belated picnic party, returning from Barker's landing, discovered a phantom sail flitting slowly in the night breeze over the dark waters to the west. They lingered on the brow of the hill, until it disappeared under the shadow of the western wooded shore, wondering and questioning much as to who and what it was. One, the loveliest, knew, but said nothing.
The Markhams, one day, in their carriage, passed Bart with his books toiling up Oak Hill. He removed his hat as they passed, without other recognition. All of them felt the invisible wall between them, and two, at least, silently regretted that they might not invite him to an unoccupied seat. They were at the Fords' to dinner that day, and Bart, being invited to join them by the General, politely declined.
The General was a little grave at the table, while Mrs. Ford was decided and marked in her commendation of the young student, and described, with great animation, a little excursion they had made over to the pond, and the skill with which Bart had managed his little sail-boat.
A SHATTERED COLUMN.
In mid June came the blow. George brought up from the post-office, one evening, the following letter:
"PAINESVILLE, June 18, 1837. BARTON RIDGELEY, ESQ.:
"Dear Sir,—I write at the request of my sister, Mrs. Hitchcock. Your brother is very ill. Wanders in his mind, and we are uneasy about him. He has been sick about a week. Mr. Hitchcock is absent at court. Sincerely yours,
"Henry is ill," said Barton, very quietly, after reading it. "This letter is from Mrs. Hitchcock. He has been poorly for a week. I think I had better go to him."
"He did not write himself, it seems," said his mother.
"He probably doesn't regard himself as very sick, and did not want us sent for," said Bart, "and they may have written without his knowledge. I will take Arab, and ride in the cool of the night."
"You are alarmed, Barton, and don't tell me all. Read me the letter." And he read it. "I will go with you, Barton," very quietly, but decidedly.
"How can you go, mother?"
"As you do," firmly.
"You cannot ride thirty miles on horseback, mother, even if we had a horse you could ride at all."
"I shall go with you," was her only answer.
An hour later, with a horse and light buggy, procured from a neighbor, they drove out into the warm, sweet June night. At Chardon, they paused for half an hour, to breathe the horse, and went on. Bart was a good horseman, from loving and knowing horses, and drove with skill and judgment. They talked little on the road, and at about two in the morning they drove up to the old American House in Painesville, and, with his mother on his arm, Barton started out on River Street, to the residence of Mr. Hitchcock.
How silent the streets! and how ghostly the white houses stood, in the stillness of the night! and how like a dream it all seemed! They had no difficulty in finding the house, with its ominous lights, that had all night long burned out dim into the darkness.
The door was open, and the bell brought a sweet, matronly woman to receive them.
"We are Henry Ridgeley's mother and brother," said Barton. "Is he still alive?"
The question indicated his utter hopelessness of his brother's condition.
"Come in this way, into the parlor," said the lady; and stepping out, "Mother," she called, "Mr. Ridgeley's mother has come. Please step this way."
A moment later, a tall, elderly lady, sad-faced as was her daughter, and much agitated, entered the room.
"My mother," said the younger lady. "I am Mrs. Hitchcock."
"Your son—" said the elder lady.
"Take me to him at once, I pray you! Let me see him! I am his mother! Who shall keep me from him?"
"Mother," said Barton, stepping up and placing his hands about her, "don't you feel it? Henry is dead. I knew it ere we stepped in."
"Dead! who says he is dead? He is not dead!"
"Tell her," said Barton; "she is heroic: let her know the worst."
"Take me to him!" she said, as they remained silent.
Up the stairs, in a dimly-lighted room, past two or three young men, and a kind neighbor or two, they conducted her; and there, composed as if in slumber, with his grand head thrown back, and his fine strong face fully upward, she found her third-born, growing chill in death. She sprang forward—arrested herself when within a step of him, and gazed. The light passed from her own eye, and the warmth from her face; a spasm shook her, and nothing more.
She did not shriek; she did not faint; she made no outcry,—scarcely a visible sign; but steadily and almost stonily she gazed on her dead, until the idea of the awful change came fully to her. The chill passed from her face and manner; and seating herself on the bed,—"You won't mind me, ladies. You can do no more for him. Leave him to me for a little;" and she bent over and kissed his pallid lips, and laid her face tenderly to his, and lifted with her thin fingers the damp masses of his hair, brown and splendid, like Bart's, but darker, and without the wave.
"What a grand and splendid man you had become, Henry! and I may toy with and caress you now, as when you were a soft and beautiful baby, and you will permit me!" and lifting herself up, she steadfastly gazed at his emaciated face and shrunken temples, and opening his bosom, and baring its broad and finely-formed contour, she scanned it closely.
"Oh, why could not I see and know, and be warned! I thought he could not die! Oh, I thought that all I had would remain! that in their father God had taken all he would reclaim from me! that I should go, and together we should adorn a place where they should come to us! Oh, Merciful Father!" and the storm of agony, such as uproots and sweeps away weak natures, came upon her.
As for Barton, his sensibilities were stunned and paralyzed, while his mind was left to work free and clear. All his anguish was for his mother; for himself, the moment had not come. He was appalled to feel the almost indifference with which he looked upon the remains of his manly and high-souled brother, and he repeated over and over to himself: "Henry is dead! he is dead! Don't you hear? don't you know? He is dead! Why don't you mourn?"
An hour later, came a gentle tap at the door. Barton went to find Mrs. Hitchcock standing there.
"Your mother must be aroused and taken away. My mother and I will take you to her house. She must be cared for now."
"Mother," said Bart, taking her lightly in his arms, "these dear good ladies must care for you. Let me take you out; and our dear Henry must be cared for, too."
How unnatural his voice sounded to him! Had he slain his brother, that he should care so little?—that his voice should sound so hoarse and hollow?
His mother was passive in his hands,—wearied, broken, and overwhelmed. He carried her across a small open space, and into a large house, where her kind hostess received and cherished her as only women experienced and chastened by sorrow can.
Barton was conducted to a spacious, cool room, luxurious to his eyes; yet he felt no weariness, but somehow supernaturally strained up to an awful tension.
"Why don't I shriek, and tear my hair, and make some fitting moan over this awful loss? Why can't I feel it? O God! am I a wretch without nature, or heart, or soul? He is dead! Why should he die, and now, plucked and torn up by the root, just at flowering? What a vile economy is this! what a waste and incompleteness! and the world full of drivellers and dotards, that it would gladly be quit of. Wasn't there space and breath for him? Why should such qualities be so bestowed, to be so wasted? Why kindle such a light, to quench it so soon in the dark river? What a blunder! Why was not I taken?"
Why? Oh, weak, vain questioner!
He threw off part of his clothing, and lay down on the bed and slept. He awoke, offended and grieved that the sun should shine. Why was it not hidden by thick clouds, and why should they not weep? But why should they, if he did not? And what business had the birds to be glad and joyous, and the perfume of flowers to steal out on the bright air?
He knew he was wrong. He was no longer angry and defiant, but his grief was dry and harsh, and his sensibilities creaked like a dry axle.
He found his mother tender, calm, and pitying him. Awful as was the bereavement to her, she felt that the loss was, after all, to him. Her strong nature, quivering and bleeding under the blow, had righted itself, and the sweet influence of faith and hope was coming up in her heart. She saw Barton with his pallid face, and steady but bright eyes. She knew that she never quite understood, had never quite fathomed, his nature.
Gentle voices, assuaging hands, and sweet charities were about the stricken ones; and pious hands, with all Christian observances, ministered to their beautiful dead. Nothing more could be done; and before mid-day Barton, with his mother, started on their return, to be followed at evening by the remains of the loved one, arrayed for sepulture.
Barton, with every faculty of mind intensely strong and clear, and weighted with the great calamity to absolute gravity, had struck those he met as a marvel of clear apprehension and perception of all the surroundings and proprieties of his painful position. The younger members of the Painesville Bar, who had begun to know and love their young brother, had gathered about him in his illness, and now came forward to take charge of and prepare his remains for final rest, and to render to his friends the kindness of refined charity. Barton knew that somehow they looked curiously at him, as he introduced himself to them, and fancied that his dazed and dreamy manner was singular; but knew that such considerate and kind, such brotherly young men, would make allowances for him.
When they gathered silently to take leave, he turned: "Gentlemen, you know our obligations to you. Think of the most grateful expression of them, and think I would so express them if I could. Some day I may more fittingly thank you."
They thought he never could. He remembered the fitting words to Mrs. Hitchcock and her mother, Mrs. Marshall, and drove away, with his pale, silent mother.
All the way home in a dream. Something awful had happened, and it was not always clear what it was, or how it had been brought about.
About midnight the Painesville hearse drove up, accompanied by the four young pall-bearers, of the Painesville Bar, who attended the remains of their young brother. The coffin was deposited in the little parlor, and the carriages drove to Parker's for the night.
The stricken and lonely mother was in the sanctity of her own room. The children had cried themselves to sleep and forgetfulness. The brother, who had been sent for, could not reach home until the next morning.
Barton had declined the offers of kind friends to remain, and was alone with his dead. The coffin-lid had been removed, and he lifted the dead-cloth from the face. He could not endure the sharp angle of the nose, that so stabbed up into the dim night, unrelieved by the other features.
The wrath of a strong, deep nature, thoroughly aroused, is sublime; its grief, when stirred to its depths, is awful. Barton knew now what had happened and what he had lost. The acuteness of his fine organization had recovered its sharpest edge. The heavens had been darkened for him nearly a year before, but now the solid earth had been rent and one-half cloven away, and that was the half that held the only hopes he had. He didn't calculate this now. Genius, intellect, imagination, courage, pride, scorn, all the intensities of his nature, all that he supposed he possessed, all that lay hidden and unsuspected, arose in their might to overcome him now. He did not think, he did not aspire, or hope, or fear, or dream, or remember: he only felt, and bled, and moaned low, hopeless, helpless moans. If it is given to some natures to enjoy intensely, so such correspondingly suffer; and Bart, alone with his pale, cold, dead brother, through this deep, silent night, abandoned himself utterly to the first anguish at his loss, and it was wise. As it is healthful and needful for young children to cry away their pains and aches, so the stricken and pained soul finds relief in pouring itself out in oversweeping grief.
The storm swept by and subsided, and Bart, kneeling by the coffin of his brother, in the simple humility of a child, opened his heart to the pitying eye of the Great Father. His lips did not move, but steadily and reverently he turned to that sweet nearness of love and compassion. Finally he asked that every unworthy thought, passion, folly, or pride, might be exorcised from his heart and nature; and then, holding himself in this steady and now sweet contemplation and silent communion, a great calm came into his uplifted soul, and he slept. And, as he passed from first slumber to oblivious and profound sleep, there floated, through a celestial atmosphere, a radiant cloud, on which was reclining a form of light and beauty. He thought it must be his departed brother, but it turned fully towards him, and the face was the face of Julia, with sweetest and tenderest compassion and love in her eyes; and he slept profoundly.
In the full light of the early morning, the elder brother stole into the room, to be startled and awed by the pale faces of his dead and his sleeping brothers, now so near each other, and never before so much alike. How kingly the one in death! How beautiful the other in sleep! And while he held his tears in the marvellous presence, his pale, sweet mother came in, and placed her hand silently in his, and gazed; and then the young boys, with their bare feet; and so the silent, the sleeping, and the dead, were once more together.
* * * * *
At mid-day, those who had heard of the event gathered at the Ridgeley house, sad-faced and sorrow-stricken. The family had always been much esteemed, and Henry had been nearly as great a favorite as was Morris, and all shared in the hope and expectation of his future success and eminence. Uncle Aleck came, feeble and heart-stricken. A sweet prayer, a few loving words, a simple hymn, and the young pall-bearers carried out their pale brother, and, preceding the hearse in their carriage, followed by the stricken ones and the rest in carriages and on foot, the little procession went sadly to the burying-ground. There a numerous company, attracted from various parts where the news had reached, were assembled and awaiting the interment. The idle and curious were rewarded by the sight of a hearse, and the presence of the deputation of the Painesville Bar, and impressed with a sense of the importance and consideration of the young man in whose honor such attentions were bestowed.
The ceremony of interment was short, and of the simplest. The committing of the dead to final rest in the earth, is always impressive. Man's innate egotism always invests the final hiding away of the remains of one of his race in perpetual oblivion, with solemnity and awe. One of the lords has departed; let man and nature observe and be impressed.
Uncle Aleck was too feeble to go to the grave.
The mourners—the mother sustained by Barton, and Morris, attended by his promised bride, a sweet and beautiful girl, and the two young boys so interesting in their childish sorrow, so few in number, and unsupported by uncles, aunts or cousins—were objects of unusual interest and commiseration. But now, when the last act was performed for them, and the burial hymn had been sung, there was no one to speak for them the usual thanks for these kindnesses, and just as this came painfully to the sensibilities of the thoughtful, Barton uncovered his head and said the few needed words in a clear, steady voice, with such grace, that matronly women would gladly have kissed him; and young maidens noticed, what they had observed before, that there was something of nameless attraction in his face and manner.
Kind hands and sympathizing hearts were about the Ridgeleys, to solace, cheer and help; but the great void in their circle and hearts, only God and time could fill. The heart, when it loses out of it one object of tenderness and love, only contracts the closer and more tenderly about what it has left.
* * * * *
Time elapses. It kindly goes forward and takes us with it. No matter how resolutely we cling to darkness and sorrow, time loosens our hearts, dries our tears, and while we declare we will not be comforted, and reproach ourselves, as the first poignancy of grief consciously fades, yet we are comforted. The world will not wait for us to mourn. The objects of love and of hate we may bear along with us, but distance will intervene between us and the sources of deep sorrow.
So far as Bart was concerned, his nature was in the main healthy, with only morbid tendencies, and the great blow of his brother's death seemed in some way to restore the equilibrium of his mind, and leave it to act more freely, under guidance of the strong common sense inherited from his mother. He knew he must not linger about his brother's grave and weep.
He knew now that he was entirely upon his own resources. His brother Morris's speculations, and dashing system of doing things, had already hopelessly involved him, and Bart knew that no aid could be expected from him. He had returned to Painesville, and closed up the few matters of his brother Henry; had written to Ranney, at Jefferson, and already had resumed his books with a saddened and sobered determination. He supposed that Henry had died in consequence of a too close and long-continued application to his studies; and while this admonished him, he still believed that his own elasticity and power of endurance would carry him forward and through, unscathed.
He began also to mingle a little with others, and to take an interest in their daily affairs. People affected to find him changed, and vastly for the better. "He's had enough to sober him." "It is well he has been warned, and heeds it." "God will visit with judgments, until the thoughtless forbear," and other profound and Christian remarks were made concerning him. As if Providence would cut off the best and most promising, for such indirect and uncertain good as might, or might not be produced in another less worthy!
A LAW-SUIT (TO BE SKIPPED).
A young lover's first kiss, a young hunter's first deer, and a young lawyer's first case, doubtless linger in their several memories, as events of moment.
Bart had tried his first case before a justice of the peace, been beaten, and was duly mortified. It is very likely he was on the wrong side, but he did not think so; and if he had thought so, he would not have been fully consoled. A poorer advocate than he could have convinced himself that he was right, and fail, as he did, to convince the court. It was a case of little importance to any but the parties. To them, every case is of the gravest moment. He acquitted himself creditably: showed that he understood the case, examined his witnesses, and presented it clearly.
Others came to him, and he advised with caution and prudence; and as Fall approached, he was in request in various small matters; men were surprised at the modesty of his deportment, and the gentleness of his speech. Instead of provoking his opponents, and answering back, as was to be expected of him, he was conciliating and forbearing.
A case finally arose, of unusual importance in the domestic tribunals; it attracted much attention, helped to bring him forward in a small way, and gained him much reputation among some persons whose esteem was enviable.
Old man Cole, "Old King Cole," as the boys derisively called him, an inoffensive little man, with a weak, limp woman for a wife, and three or four weaker and limper children, had for many years vegetated on one corner of an hundred-and-sixty acres of woods, having made but a small clearing, and managed in some unknown way to live on it. His feeble condition exposed him to imposition, and he was the butt for the unthinking, and victim of the unscrupulous and unruly. For some years his land, a valuable tract, had been coveted by several greedy men, and especially by one Sam Ward. Failing to induce Cole to sell what right it was admitted he had, Ward, as was supposed, attempted to intimidate, and finally to annoy Cole to such an extent, that for peace and safety he would willingly part with his possession. He was one of the earliest settlers, had become attached to his land, and declined to be driven off.
A lawless set of young men and boys were Ward's agents, although his connection with them was never made very apparent, and had committed various depredations upon the old man; until one night they made a raid upon his premises, cut down several fruit-trees, filled up his spring, tore down his old barn, and committed various acts of trespass of a grave character. It would seem as if some intelligence controlled their movements; no act criminal by the statutes of Ohio had been committed, and, so far as was suspected, none but those under age had been concerned in the affair.
Poor old Cole, an object of derision, was barely within common sympathy; and living remote, few knew of, and fewer cared for his misfortunes. He applied for advice to Bart, who was indignant at the recital, and entered upon an investigation of the outrage with great energy. He was satisfied that the fathers of the trespassers could not be held for their acts, that no breach of the criminal laws had been committed; but that the boys themselves could be made liable in an action, and that on failure to pay the judgment, they could themselves be taken in execution and committed to jail. He at once commenced a suit for the trespass before a magistrate, against all whom he suspected.
The commencement of the suit caused greater excitement then the perpetration of the outrage. Many of the young men belonged to respectable families, while many were old offenders, who had been permitted to escape for fear of provoking graver misdemeanors. It was known that Bart had taken up the case, and there was a feeling that he had at least the courage to encounter the dangerous wrath of the young scamps; the only ground of apprehension was that he had mistaken the law. The popular impression was that an action could not be maintained against minors.
On the return-day of the summons Barton appeared, and demanded a jury, then allowable, and the time for trial was fixed for the fifth day afterwards.
In that day, with the exception of one or two small lawyers at Chardon, and Ford at Burton, there were none within twenty-five miles of Newbury, and the legal field was gleaned in the magistrates' courts, as in all new countries, by pettifoggers, of whom nearly every township was made luminous with one. Of these, the acknowledged head was Brace. In ordinary life he was a very good sort of a man, not without capacity, but conceited, obstinate, and opinionated; he never had any law learning. In his career before justices of the peace, he was bold, adroit, unscrupulous, coarse, browbeating, and sometimes brutal; anything that occurred to his not uninventive mind, as likely in any way to help him on or out, he resorted to without hesitation. At this time he was in full career, and was constantly employed, going into two or three counties, occasionally meeting members of the profession, who held him in detestation, and whom he was as likely to drive out of court as he was to be worsted by them.
He had been employed by the young scamps to defend them. He and Bart had already met, and the latter was worsted in the case, and had received from Brace the usual Billingsgate. He was on hand well charged on the day for the appearance of the defendants, and was at no pains to conceal the contempt he felt for his young opponent.
Bart said no more than the occasion demanded, and seemingly paid no attention to Brace.
The magistrate, a man of plain, hard sense, adjourned the case to a large school-house, and invited Judge Markham to sit in, and preside at the trial, to which the Judge consented, which secured a decorous and fair hearing.
On the day, parties, witnesses, court, jury, and counsel, were on hand—a larger crowd than Newbury had seen for years. The case was called and the jury sworn, when Brace arose, and with a loud nourish demanded that the plaintiff be nonsuited, on the ground of the nonage of the defendants, and concluded by expressing his surprise at the ignorance of the plaintiff's counsel: everybody knew that a minor could not be sued; he even went so far as to express his pity for the plaintiff. Bart answered that it did not appear that any of the defendants were under age. If they were infants, and wanted to escape on the cry of baby, they must plead it, if their counsel knew what that meant; so that the plaintiff might take issue upon it, and the court be informed of the facts. The court held this to be the law, and Brace filed his plea of infancy. Bart then read from the Ohio statutes that when a minor was sued in an action of tort, as in this case, the court should appoint a guardian ad litem, and the parol should not demur; and he moved the court to appoint guardians ad litem, for the defendants.
Brace's eyes sparkled; and springing to his feet, he thundered out: "The parol shall not demur—the parol shall not demur. I have got this simpleton where I wanted him! I didn't 'spose he was fool enough to run into this trap; I set it on purpose for him: anybody else would have seen it; anything will catch him. The case can go no farther; the phrase, may it please the court, is Latin, and means that the case shall be dismissed. The parol, the plaintiff shall not demur, shall not have his suit. Why didn't Ford explain this matter to this green bumpkin, and save his client the costs?"
Barton reminded the court that the statute made it the duty of the court to appoint guardians ad litem, which was a declaration that the case was to go on; if it was to stop, no guardians were needed. Brace had said the terms were Latin; he presumed that his Latin was like his law; he thought it was old law French. He produced a law—dictionary, from which it appeared that the meaning was, the case should not be delayed, till the defendants were of age. Guardians should be appointed for them, and the case proceed, and so the court ruled.
Bart went up immensely in popular estimation. Any man who knew a word of Latin was a prodigy. Bart not only knew Latin, but the difference between that and old law French. Who ever heard of that before? and he had lived among them from babyhood, and they now looked upon him in astonishment. "It does beat hell, amazingly!" said Uncle Josh, aside.
After brief consultation the court appointed the fathers of the defendants their guardians, when Bart remarked that his learned and very polite opponent having found nurses for his babies, he would proceed with the case, and called his witnesses.
Against two or three of the ringleaders, the evidence was doubtful. When Bart moved to discharge three of the younger of the defendants, Brace opposed this. Bart asked him if he was there to oppose a judgment in favor of his own clients? The court granted his motion; when Bart put the young men on the stand as witnesses, and proved his case conclusively against all the rest.
What wonderful strategy this all seemed to be to the gaping crowd; and all in spite of Brace, whom they had supposed to be the most adroit and skilful man in the world; and who, although he objected, and blustered, and blowed, really appeared to be a man without resources of any sort.
Barton rested his case.
Brace called his witnesses, made ready to meet a case not made by the plaintiff, and Bart quietly dissmissed them one after the other without a word. Then Ward, who had kept in the background, was called, in the hope to save one of the defendants. Him Bart cross-examined, and it was observed that after a question or two he arose and turned upon him, and plied him with questions rapid and unexpected, until he was embarrassed and confused. Brace, by objections and argument, intended as instructions to the witness, only increased his perplexity, and he finally sat down with the impression that he had made a bad exhibition of himself, and had damaged the case.
It was now midnight, when the evidence was closed, and Barton proposed to submit the case without argument. Brace objected. He wanted to explain the case, and clear up the mistakes, and expose the rascalities of the plaintiff's witnesses; and the trial was adjourned until the next morning.
When the case was resumed the following day, Bart, in a clear, simple way, stated his case, and the evidence in support of it, making two or three playful allusions to his profound and accomplished opponent.
Brace followed on full preparation for the defence. Of course it was obvious, even to him, that he was hopelessly beaten; and mortified and enraged, he emptied all the vials of his wrath and vituperation upon the head of Bart, his client and witnesses, and sat down, at the end of an hour, exhausted.
When Bart arose to reply, he seemed to stand a foot taller than he ever appeared before. Calmly and in a suppressed voice he restated his case, and, with a few well—directed blows, demolished the legal aspects of the defence. He then turned upon his opponent; no restraint was on him now. He did not descend to his level, but cut and thrust and flayed him from above. Even the Newbury mob could now see the difference between wit and vulgarity, and were made to understand that coarseness and abuse were not strength. His address to the court was superb; and when he finally turned to the jury, with a touching sketch of the helplessness of the plaintiff, and of the lawless violence of the defendants, who had long been a nuisance, and had now become dangerous to peace and good order, and submitted the case, the crowd looked and heard with open-mouthed wonder. Had a little summer cloud come down, with thunder, lightning and tempest, they would not have been more amazed. When he ceased, a murmur, which ran into applause, broke from the cool, acute, observing and thinking New Englanders and their children, who were present.
Judge Markham promptly repressed the disorder, and in a few words gave the case to the jury, who at once returned a verdict for the largest amount within the court's jurisdiction; judgment was promptly rendered, execution for the bodies of the defendants issued, and they were arrested.
The excitement had now become intense. Here were half a score of young men in the hands of the law, under orders to be committed to jail. No one remembered such a case in Newbury. Breaches of the law, in that usually orderly community, were unknown, until the acts which gave rise to this suit, and some fainter demonstrations of the same character. The poor youths and their friends gathered helpless and anxious about Brace, who could suggest nothing. Finally, Barton came forward, and offered to take the promissory notes of the parties and their fathers, for the amount of the judgment and costs, and release them from arrest, which offer they gladly accepted, with many thanks to their prosecutor; and the blow which he thus dealt was the end of disorder in Newbury.
For the time being Cole was left at peace, and enjoyed more consideration than had ever been conceded to him before. He was destined, however, not long after, to appear in the higher court, to defend the doubtful title of his property, as will appear in the progress of this narrative.
As a general rule, the people of new communities are more curious and interested in law—suits, and trials, and lawyers, than in almost anything else to which their attention can be called. Lawyers, especially, are the objects of their admiration and astonishment. Unaccustomed to mental labor, conscious of an inability to perform it, and justly regarding it as holding the first place in human effort, the power and skill to conduct and maintain a long-continued mental conflict, to pursue and examine witnesses, answer questions as well as ask them, make and meet objections, make impromptu speeches and argue difficult propositions, and, finally, to deliver off-hand, an address of hours in length, full of argument, illustration, sometimes interspersed with humor, wit, and pathos, and sometimes really eloquent, is by them always regarded, and not without reason, as a marvel that cannot be witnessed without astonishment.
And here was this young Bart Ridgeley, who had been nowhere, had read next to nothing, whom they had esteemed a lazy, shiftless fellow, without capability for useful and thrifty pursuits, and who had in their presence, for the last two days, taken up a hopeless case, and conducted it against a man who, in their hearts, they had supposed was more than a match for Joshua R. Giddings or Chief Justice Hitchcock, beaten and baffled him, and finally thrashed him out of all semblance of an advocate.
When the case was over, and he came out, how quickly they made way for him, and eagerly closed in behind and followed him out, and looked, and watched, and waited for a word or a look from him. "What did I tell you?" "What do you say now?" "I allus knew it was in 'im." "He'll do," etc., rained about him as he went into the open air.
Greer had attended the trial, and was one of the warmest admirers of Bart's performance. Nobody knew much about this man, except that he was often on hand, well dressed, drove good horses, was open, free and pleasant, with plenty of leisure and money, always well received, and often sought after. He had, at the first, taken a real liking to Bart; and now, when the latter came out, he pleasantly approached him, and offered to carry him home in his carriage, an offer the tired youth was glad to accept.
On their way, he mentioned to Bart something about a very profitable and pleasant business, conducted by a few high-minded and honorable gentlemen, without noise or excitement, which consisted in the sale of very valuable commodities. They employed agents—young, active, and accomplished men, and on terms very remunerative, and he thought it very likely that if Bart would enter their service, it could be made much for his advantage to do so; he would call again after Bart had thought it over.
His remarks made an impression on Bart's mind, and excited his curiosity, and he remembered what Henry had said about Greer when at home.
Judge Markham had been very much impressed by Bart's management of his case; perhaps to say that he was very much astonished, would better express its effect upon him. He had always given him credit for a great deal of light, ready, dashing talent, but was wholly unprepared for the exhibition of thought, reflection, and logical power which he had witnessed; the young man's grave, cautious and dignified manner won much upon him, and he was surprised when he reflected how slender was the ground of his dislike, and how that dislike had somehow disappeared. Then he recalled the favorable estimate which his wife had always put upon the qualities of Bart, and that he had usually found her opinions of persons accurate. The frank appeal of Bart to him was manly, and almost called for some acknowledgment; and he felt that the invisible barrier between them was unpleasant. After all, was not this young man one of the few destined to distinction, and on all accounts would it not be well to give him countenance? And in this the Judge was not wholly politic. He felt that it would be a good thing to do, to serve this struggling young man, and he came out of the crowded room with the settled purpose of taking Bart home to his mother's, if he would ride with him, let what would come of it. He would frankly tell him what he thought of his conduct of his case, and at least open the way to renewed intercourse.
He was detained for a moment, to answer questions, and got out just in time to see Bart, apparently pleased, get into Greer's carriage and ride away. The Judge looked thoughtful at this; and a close observer would have noticed a serious change in the expression of his face.
Of course he was well and intimately known to all parties present, and his frank and cordial manners left him always open to the first approach. He listened to the comments upon the trial, which all turned upon Bart's efforts, and the Judge could easily see that the young advocate had at once become the popular idol. He was asked what he thought of Bart's speech, and replied that one could hardly judge of a single effort, but that the same speech in the higher courts would undoubtedly have gained for its author much reputation, and that if Bart kept on, and did himself justice, he was certainly destined to high distinction. It was kind, judicious, and all that was deserved, but it was not up to the popular estimate, and one remarked that "the Judge never did like him"; another, "that the Judge was afraid that Julia would take a liking to Bart, and he hoped she would"; and a third, "that Bart was good enough for her, but he never did care for girls, who were all after him."
How freely the speech of the common people runs!
Two or three things occurred during the Autumn which had some influence upon the fortunes of Barton.
Five or six days after the trial, he received a letter, postmarked Auburn, which read as follows:
"Beware of Greer. Don't listen to him. Be careful of your associations."
Only three lines, with the fewest words: not another word, line, mark, or figure on any side of it. The hand was bold and free, and entirely unknown to him. The paper was fine-tinted note, and Bart seemed to catch a faint odor of violets as he opened it; a circumstance which reminded him that a few days before he had found on the grave of his brother, a faded bouquet of flowers. There was perhaps, no connection between them, but they associated themselves in his mind. Some maiden, unknown to him, had cherished the memory of his brother, may have loved him; and had secretly laid this offering on his resting-place. How sweet was the thought to him! Who was she? Would he ever know? She had heard something of this Greer—there was something bad or wrong about him; Henry may have spoken to her about the man; and she may have seen or known of Greer's taking him home, and had written him this note of warning. The hand was like that of a man, but no man in Ohio would use such paper, scented with violets. How queer and strange it was! and how the mind of the imaginative youth worked and worried, but not unpleasantly, over it! Of course, if the note was from a woman, she must have written because he was Henry's brother; and it was, in a way, from him, and to be heeded, although Henry had himself been favorably impressed by Greer. The warning was not lost upon him, although it may not have been necessary.
A few days later, the elegant and leisurely Greer made his appearance; and after complimenting Bart upon his success in an easy, roundabout way, approached the subject of his call; and Bart was duly impressed that it arose from considerations of favor and regard to him, that Greer now sought him. The visitor referred to the rule among gentlemen, which Bart must understand, of course, that what he might communicate, as well as their whole interview, must be purely confidential. The agents, he said, were selected with the utmost care, and were usually asked to subscribe articles, and sworn to secrecy; but that he had so much confidence in Bart, that this would not be necessary. Bart, who listened impassively, said that he understood the rule of implied confidence extended only to communications in themselves right and honorable; and that of course Mr. Greer could have no other to make to him. Greer inquired what he meant. Bart said that if a man approached, with or without exacting a pledge of confidence, and made him a proposition strictly honorable, he should of course regard it as sacred; but if he proposed to him to unite in a robbery, house-burning, or to pass counterfeit money, or commit any breach of morality, he should certainly hold himself at liberty to disclose it, if he deemed it necessary. "If I am, in advance, asked to regard a proposed communication as confidential, I should understand, of course, that the proposer impliedly pledged that it should be of a character that a man of honor could listen to and entertain; of course, Mr. Greer, you can have no other to make to me, and you know I would not listen to any other."
During this statement, made with the utmost courtesy, Bart looked Greer steadily in the face, and received a calm, full, unwinking look in return. Greer assured him that his notions of the ethics of honor, while they were nice, were his own, and he was glad to act upon them; that he was not on that day fully authorized to open up the matter, but should doubtless receive full instructions in a day or two; and he had called to-day more to keep his word with Bart than to enter upon an actual business transaction. Nothing could be franker and more open than his way and manner in saying this; and as he was trained to keenness of observation, he may have detected the flitting smile that just hovered on Bart's lips. After a little pleasant commonplace talk of common things, the leisurely Greer took a cordial leave, and never approached Bart but once again.
At the Whig nominating convention, for the county of Geanga, that Fall, Major Ridgeley, who had, by a vote of the officers of his regiment, become its Colonel, was a candidate for the office of sheriff. He was popular, well-known, and his prospects fair. The office was attractive, its emoluments good, and it was generally sought after by the best class of ambitious men in the counties.
He was defeated in the convention through a defection of his supposed friends, which he charged, justly or otherwise, upon Judge Markham. The disappointment was bitter, and he was indignant, of course. Like Bart, when he thought a mishap was without remedy, he neither complained nor asked explanations. When he and the Judge next met, it was with cool contempt on his side, and with surprise, and then coldness, on the part of Markham. Their words were few and courteous, but for the next eighteen months they avoided each other. Of course, Bart sympathized with his brother Morris; although he did not suppose the Judge was ever committed, still he felt that he and all his friends should have stood by his brother, and apprehended that the Judge's dislike to him may have influenced his course. However that may have been, Judge Markham never approached Bart, who continued to act upon his old determination to avoid the whole Markham family.
His engagements took the Judge to the State capital for the winter, where, with his wife and Julia, he remained until the early spring, following; as did also General and Mrs. Ford.
Barton undertook the school in his mother's neighborhood for the winter, with the understanding that he might attend to calls in the line of his proposed profession, which grew upon his hands. He pushed his studies with unremitting ardor; he had already made arrangements with Mr. Ranney to enter his office on the first of the April following, and hoped to secure an admission in the next September, when he should seek a point for business, to which he proposed to remove his mother and younger brothers, as soon afterwards as his means would warrant.
His friend Theodore had gone away permanently, from Newbury, and the winter passed slowly and monotonously to Bart. He knew, although he would not admit to himself, that the principal reason of his discontent was the absence of Julia. What was she to him? What could she ever be? and yet, how dreary was Newbury—the only place he had ever loved—-when she was away. Of course she would wed, some time, and was undoubtedly much admired, and sought, and courted, by elegant and accomplished men, this winter, upon whom she smiled, and to whom she gave her hand when she met them, and who were permitted to dance with her, and be near her at any time. And what was it all to him? How sore, after all, his heart was; and how he hated and cursed himself, that he must still think of her! He would go forever and ever away, and ever so far away, and would hear and think of her no more. But when she came back, with March, he somehow felt her return, and Spring seemed naturally to come with her; and bright thoughts, and beautiful and poetic figures and images, would arrange themselves in couplets and stanzas, with her in the centre, in spite of him.
Then came sugar making, with life and health of spirit, in the woods. His brother was arranging to dispose of his interests, and had gone further West, to look for a new point, for new enterprises.
March and sugar making had gone, and Bart had completed his scanty arrangements to depart also; and no matter what the future might have for him, he knew that he was now leaving Newbury; that whatever might happen, his home would certainly be elsewhere; although it would forever remain the best, and perhaps sole home of his heart and memory.
What he could do for his mother he had done. His limited wardrobe was packed. He went to the pond, to all the dear and cherished places in the woods; and one night he was guilty of the folly, as he knew it was, of wandering up the State road, past Judge Markham's house. He did not pretend to himself that it was not with the hope of seeing Julia, but he only passed the darkened house where she lived, and went disappointed away. He would go on the morrow, and when it came, he sent his trunk up to Hiccox's, intending to walk down in the evening, and intercept the stage, as Henry had done.
He went again to his brother's grave, and there, on its head, was an almost fresh wreath of wild flowers! He was unmanned; and, kneeling, touched the dead children of the Spring with his lips, and dropped tears upon them. How grateful he was that a watchful love was there to care for this consecrated place, and he felt that he could not go that night. What mattered one day? He would wait till to-morrow, he thought, but was restless and undecided. George left him at the cemetery, and went to the post-office, and was to have gone with Edward to see him off, on the stage. As the time to leave approached, Bart found his disinclination to go even stronger; and he finally told his mother he would remain until the next day.
She, unwomanlike, did not like the idea of his yielding to this reluctance to go. "He was ready, nothing detained him, why not have the final pain of going over at once?"
He made no reply, but lounged restlessly about.
At about nine o'clock George came bursting in, with his eyes flashing, and his golden hair wet with perspiration; and catching his breath, and reducing and restraining his voice, cried out: "Julia Markham is lost in the woods, and they can't find her!" The words struck Bart like electricity, and at once made him his best self.
"Lost, George?" taking him by both hands, and speaking coolly, "tell me all about it."
A few great gasps had relieved George, and the cool, firm hands of Bart had fully restored his quick wits.
"She and Nell Roberts had been to Coe's, and Orville started to go home with Julia, and he did go down to Judge Markham's fields, where he left her."
"She did not go home, nor anywhere, and they have been looking for her, all through the woods, everywhere."
"All through what woods, Georgie?"
"Down between Coe's and the State road."
"They will never find her there; there is a new chopping, back of Judge Markham's fields, which she mistook for the fields, and when she found out the mistake she turned back to the old road, and I will wager the world that she went into 'the woods,' confused and lost." After a moment—"Mother, put some of your wine in my hunting-flask, and give me something that can be eaten. Edward, bring me two of those bundles of hickory; and George, let me have your hatchet and belt."
He spoke in his ordinary voice, but he looked like one inspired. Throwing off his coat, and arraying himself in a red "wamus," and replacing his boots with heavy, close-fitting brogans, he was ready.
"Boys," said he, "go about and notify all in the neighborhood to meet at Markham's, at daylight; and tell them for God's sake, if she is not found, to form a line, and sweep through the west woods. If I am not back by daylight, push out and do all you can. Mother, don't be anxious for me. If it storms and grows cold, you know I am a born woodsman. I know now what kept me."
"I am anxious, Barton, only that you may find her. God go with you!"
With the other things, Edward placed in his hands a long wax taper, made for the sugar camp, lighted, and with a kiss to his mother, and a cheery good-night to the boys, he sprang out.
As Julia did not return at dark, her father and mother supposed she had stopped with Nell Roberts. Mrs. Markham remembered the adventure which signalized her last walk from Coe's, and was anxious; and the Judge went down to Roberts's for her. Nell had been home one hour, and said Orville had gone home with Julia. A messenger was hurried off to Coe's, and word was sent through the neighborhood, to call out the men and boys. It had been years since an alarm and a hunt for the lost had occurred. The messenger returned with young Coe, who said that he went with Miss Markham to within sight of her father's fields, when she insisted that he should return, and he did.
Cool and collected, the Judge and his party, with lanterns and torches, accompanied by Coe, proceeded to the point where he parted with Julia, when it was discovered that what she had mistaken for her father's fields, was a new opening in the woods, a considerable distance back from them. It was supposed that in endeavoring to find a passage through, or around the fallen timber, she had lost her way. Obviously, if she went back towards the old road, which was a broad opening through the woods, she would in no event cross it, and must be somewhere within the forest, east of it, and between the State road and the one which led from it to Coe's. Through these woods, with flashing torch and gleaming lantern, with shout and loud halloa, the Judge and his now numerous party swept. As often as a dry tree or combustible matter was found, it was set on fire, there being no danger of burning over the forest, wet with the rains of Spring.
This forest covered hundreds of acres, traversed by streams and gullies, and rocky precipices, rendered difficult of passage by fallen trees, thickets, twining vines and briers.
The weather had been intensely hot for the season, ominously so, for the last two days, and on this day, the sun, after hanging like a fiery ball in the thickening heavens, disappeared at mid-afternoon, in the dark mass of vapor that gathered in the lower atmosphere. The night came on early, with a black darkness, and while there was no wind, there was a low, humming moan in the air, as if to warn of coming tempest, and the atmosphere was already chill with the approaching change.
THE BABES IN THE WOODS.
"There, Orville, here are our fields. I am almost home; now hurry back. It is late. I am obliged to you." They had reached the opening, and the young man turned back, and the young girl tripped lightly and carelessly on; not to find the fence, as she expected, but an expanse of fallen timber, huge trunks, immense jams of tree-tops, and numerous piles of brush, under which the path was hidden. As she looked over and across, in the gloomy twilight, trees seemed to stand thick and high on the other side. Julia at once concluded that they had taken a wrong path; and she thought that she remembered to have seen one, which she and Barton passed, on the memorable night of their adventure; and without attempting to traverse the chopping, or go around it, she turned and hurried back to the old road. As she went, she thought of what had then happened, and how pleasant it would be if he were with her, and how bad it had all been since that time.
When she got back to the old road, it seemed very strange, and as if it had undergone some change; looking each way, for a moment, undecided, she finally walked rapidly to the north, until she came to a path leading to the left, which she entered, with a sense of relief, and hurried forward.
It was quite dark, silent, and gloomy in the woods, and she sped on—on past huge trees, through open glades, down through little sinks and swales, and up on high ground, until she came to an opening. "Thank God! thank God!" cried the relieved and grateful child; "I am out at last. How glad I am!" And she reached the margin of the woods, to be confronted with an interminable black jungle of fallen and decaying tree-trunks, limbs and thick standing brush, over which, and out of which, stood the dense tops of young trees. She paused for a moment, and turning to the left, thought to skirt about this obstruction, until she should reach the fence and field, which she was sure were now near her. On and on, and still on she went; over the trunks of fallen trees, through tangles of brush and pools of water, until, when she turned to look for the opening, she was alarmed and dismayed to find that it had disappeared. Her heart now for the first time sank within her. She listened, but no sound, save the ominous moan in the air, came to her ear. The solemn, still, black night was all about her. She looked up, and a cold, starless, dim blank was all over her; and all around, standing thick, were cold, dark, silent trees. She stood and tried to think back: where was she, and how came she there? She knew she had once turned back, from something to somewhere—to the old road, as she remembered; and it flashed across her, that in the strange appearance of things, and in her confusion, she had crossed it, and was in the awful, endless woods! How far had she gone? If lost, had she wandered round and round, as lost folks do? Then she thought of her dear, distracted mother, and of her brave and kind father. She had been missed, and they were looking for her. Everybody would hear of it, and would join in the hunt; and Barton might hear of it, and if he did, she knew he would come to find her. He was generous and heroic; and what a wonder and a talk it would all make, and she didn't care if it did. Then she wondered if she had not better stop and stand still, for fear she would go wrong. How awfully dark it was, and the air was chilly. Did she really know which way home was? And she strained her unseeing eyes intently for a moment, and then closed them, to let the way come into her mind. That must be the way, and she would go in that direction until she thought she could make them hear; and then she would call. And ere she started, amid the cold, unpitying trees, in her purity and innocence, that savage nature reveres and respects, she knelt and prayed; she asked for guidance and strength, and arose hopeful. But she found that she was very weary: her feet were wet and cold, and when she was to start, that she was confused and uncertain as to the direction. One more invocation, and she went forward. How far or how long she travelled, she had no idea. She paused to listen: no sound. Perhaps they would now hear her, and she raised her voice, and called her father's name, and again and again, with all her force, through the black, blank, earless night, she sent her cry.