"Here I am, Asenath," he said at length, hoarsely. "I said it was death, didn't I? Well, it's worse than death, I suppose; but what matter? You can't be more lost to me now than you were already. This is THY doing, Friend Eli," he continued, turning to the old man, with a sneering emphasis on the "THY." "I hope thee's satisfied with thy work!"
Here he burst into a bitter, mocking laugh, which it chilled Asenath's blood to hear.
The old man turned pale. "Come away, child!" said he, tugging at her arm. But she stood firm, strengthened for the moment by a solemn feeling of duty which trampled down her pain.
"Richard," she said, with the music of an immeasurable sorrow in her voice, "oh, Richard, what has thee done? Where the Lord commands resignation, thee has been rebellious; where he chasteneth to purify, thee turns blindly to sin. I had not expected this of thee, Richard; I thought thy regard for me was of the kind which would have helped and uplifted thee,—not through me, as an unworthy object, but through the hopes and the pure desires of thy own heart. I expected that thee would so act as to justify what I felt towards thee, not to make my affection a reproach,—oh, Richard, not to cast over my heart the shadow of thy sin!"
The wretched young man supported himself against the post of an awning, buried his face in his hands, and wept passionately. Once or twice he essayed to speak, but his voice was choked by sobs, and, after a look from the streaming eyes which Asenath could scarcely bear to meet, he again covered his face. A stranger, coming down the street, paused out of curiosity. "Come, come!" cried Eli, once more, eager to escape from the scene. His daughter stood still, and the man slowly passed on.
Asenath could not thus leave her lost lover, in his despairing grief. She again turned to him, her own tears flowing fast and free.
"I do not judge thee, Richard, but the words that passed between us give me a right to speak to thee. It was hard to lose sight of thee then, but it is still harder for me to see thee now. If the sorrow and pity I feel could save thee, I would be willing never to know any other feelings. I would still do anything for thee except that which thee cannot ask, as thee now is, and I could not give. Thee has made the gulf between us so wide that it cannot be crossed. But I can now weep for thee and pray for thee as a fellow-creature whose soul is still precious in the sight of the Lord. Fare thee well!"
He seized the hand she extended, bowed down, and showered mingled tears and kisses upon it. Then, with a wild sob in his throat, he started up and rushed down the street, through the fast-falling rain. The father and daughter walked home in silence. Eli had heard every word that was spoken, and felt that a spirit whose utterances he dared not question had visited Asenath's tongue.
She, as year after year went by, regained the peace and patience which give a sober cheerfulness to life. The pangs of her heart grew dull and transient; but there were two pictures in her memory which never blurred in outline or faded in color: one, the brake of autumn flowers under the bright autumnal sky, with bird and stream making accordant music to the new voice of love; the other a rainy street, with a lost, reckless man leaning against an awning-post, and staring in her face with eyes whose unutterable woe, when she dared to recall it, darkened the beauty of the earth, and almost shook her trust in the providence of God.
Year after year passed by, but not without bringing change to the Mitchenor family. Moses had moved to Chester County soon after his marriage, and had a good farm of his own. At the end of ten years Abigail died; and the old man, who had not only lost his savings by an unlucky investment, but was obliged to mortgage his farm, finally determined to sell it and join his son. He was getting too old to manage it properly, impatient under the unaccustomed pressure of debt, and depressed by the loss of the wife to whom, without any outward show of tenderness, he was, in truth, tenderly attached. He missed her more keenly in the places where she had lived and moved than in a neighborhood without the memory of her presence. The pang with which he parted from his home was weakened by the greater pang which had preceded it.
It was a harder trial to Asenath. She shrank from the encounter with new faces, and the necessity of creating new associations. There was a quiet satisfaction in the ordered, monotonous round of her life, which might be the same elsewhere, but here alone was the nook which held all the morning sunshine she had ever known. Here still lingered the halo of the sweet departed summer,—here still grew the familiar wild-flowers which THE FIRST Richard Hilton had gathered. This was the Paradise in which the Adam of her heart had dwelt, before his fall. Her resignation and submission entitled her to keep those pure and perfect memories, though she was scarcely conscious of their true charm. She did not dare to express to herself, in words, that one everlasting joy of woman's heart, through all trials and sorrows—"I have loved, I have been beloved."
On the last "First-day" before their departure, she walked down the meadows to the lonely brake between the hills. It was the early spring, and the black buds of the ash had just begun to swell. The maples were dusted with crimson bloom, and the downy catkins of the swamp-willow dropped upon the stream and floated past her, as once the autumn leaves. In the edges of the thickets peeped forth the blue, scentless violet, the fairy cups of the anemone, and the pink-veined bells of the miskodeed. The tall blooms through which the lovers walked still slept in the chilly earth; but the sky above her was mild and blue, and the remembrance of the day came back to her with a delicate, pungent sweetness, like the perfume of the trailing arbutus in the air around her. In a sheltered, sunny nook, she found a single erythronium, lured forth in advance of its proper season, and gathered it as a relic of the spot, which she might keep without blame. As she stooped to pluck it, her own face looked up at her out of a little pool filled by the spring rains. Seen against the reflected sky, it shone with a soft radiance, and the earnest eyes met hers, as if it were her young self, evoked from the past, to bid her farewell. "Farewell!" she whispered, taking leave at once, as she believed, of youth and the memory of love.
During those years she had more than once been sought in marriage, but had steadily, though kindly, refused. Once, when the suitor was a man whose character and position made the union very desirable in Eli Mitchenor's eyes, he ventured to use his paternal influence. Asenath's gentle resistance was overborne by his arbitrary force of will, and her protestations were of no avail.
"Father," she finally said, in the tone which he had once heard and still remembered, "thee can take away, but thee cannot give."
He never mentioned the subject again.
Richard Hilton passed out of her knowledge shortly after her meeting with him in Philadelphia. She heard, indeed, that his headlong career of dissipation was not arrested,—that his friends had given him up as hopelessly ruined,—and, finally, that he had left the city. After that, all reports ceased. He was either dead, or reclaimed and leading a better life, somewhere far away. Dead, she believed—almost hoped; for in that case might he not now be enjoying the ineffable rest and peace which she trusted might be her portion? It was better to think of him as a purified spirit, waiting to meet her in a holier communion, than to know that he was still bearing the burden of a soiled and blighted life. In any case, her own future was plain and clear. It was simply a prolongation of the present—an alternation of seed-time and harvest, filled with humble duties and cares, until the Master should bid her lay down her load and follow Him.
Friend Mitchenor bought a small cottage adjacent to his son's farm, in a community which consisted mostly of Friends, and not far from the large old meeting-house in which the Quarterly Meetings were held. He at once took his place on the upper seat, among the elders, most of whom he knew already, from having met them, year after year, in Philadelphia. The charge of a few acres of ground gave him sufficient occupation; the money left to him after the sale of his farm was enough to support him comfortably; and a late Indian summer of contentment seemed now to have come to the old man. He was done with the earnest business of life. Moses was gradually taking his place, as father and Friend; and Asenath would be reasonably provided for at his death. As his bodily energies decayed, his imperious temper softened, his mind became more accessible to liberal influences, and he even cultivated a cordial friendship with a neighboring farmer who was one of "the world's people." Thus, at seventy-five he was really younger, because tenderer of heart and more considerate, than he had been at sixty.
Asenath was now a woman of thirty-five, and suitors had ceased to approach her. Much of her beauty still remained, but her face had become thin and wasted, and the inevitable lines were beginning to form around her eyes. Her dress was plainer than ever, and she wore the scoop-bonnet of drab silk, in which no woman can seem beautiful, unless she be very old. She was calm and grave in her demeanor, save that her perfect goodness and benevolence shone through and warmed her presence; but, when earnestly interested, she had been known to speak her mind so clearly and forcibly that it was generally surmised among the Friends that she possessed "a gift," which might, in time, raise her to honor among them. To the children of Moses she was a good genius, and a word from "Aunt 'Senath" oftentimes prevailed when the authority of the parents was disregarded. In them she found a new source of happiness; and when her old home on the Neshaminy had been removed a little farther into the past, so that she no longer looked, with every morning's sun, for some familiar feature of its scenery, her submission brightened into a cheerful content with life.
It was summer, and Quarterly-Meeting Day had arrived. There had been rumors of the expected presence of "Friends from a distance," and not only those of the district, but most of the neighbors who were not connected with the sect, attended. By the by-road, through the woods, it was not more than half a mile from Friend Mitchenor's cottage to the meeting-house, and Asenath, leaving her father to be taken by Moses in his carriage, set out on foot. It was a sparkling, breezy day, and the forest was full of life. Squirrels chased each other along the branches of the oaks, and the air was filled with fragrant odors of hickory-leaves, sweet fern, and spice-wood. Picking up a flower here and there, Asenath walked onward, rejoicing alike in shade and sunshine, grateful for all the consoling beauty which the earth offers to a lonely heart. That serene content which she had learned to call happiness had filled her being until the dark canopy was lifted and the waters took back their transparency under a cloudless sky.
Passing around to the "women's side" of the meeting-house, she mingled with her friends, who were exchanging information concerning the expected visitors. Micajah Morrill had not arrived, they said, but Ruth Baxter had spent the last night at Friend Way's, and would certainly be there. Besides, there were Friend Chandler, from Nine Partners, and Friend Carter, from Maryland: they had been seen on the ground. Friend Carter was said to have a wonderful gift,—Mercy Jackson had heard him once, in Baltimore. The Friends there had been a little exercised about him, because they thought he was too much inclined to "the newness," but it was known that the Spirit had often manifestly led him. Friend Chandler had visited Yearly Meeting once, they believed. He was an old man, and had been a personal friend of Elias Hicks.
At the appointed hour they entered the house. After the subdued rustling which ensued upon taking their seats, there was an interval of silence, shorter than usual, because it was evident that many persons would feel the promptings of the Spirit. Friend Chandler spoke first, and was followed by Ruth Baxter, a frail little woman, with a voice of exceeding power. The not unmelodious chant in which she delivered her admonitions rang out, at times, like the peal of a trumpet. Fixing her eyes on vacancy, with her hands on the wooden rail before her, and her body slightly swaying to and fro, her voice soared far aloft at the commencement of every sentence, gradually dropping, through a melodious scale of tone, to the close. She resembled an inspired prophetess, an aged Deborah, crying aloud in the valleys of Israel.
The last speaker was Friend Carter, a small man, not more than forty years of age. His face was thin and intense in its expression, his hair gray at the temples, and his dark eye almost too restless for a child of "the stillness and the quietness." His voice, though not loud, was clear and penetrating, with an earnest, sympathetic quality, which arrested, not the ear alone, but the serious attention of the auditor. His delivery was but slightly marked by the peculiar rhythm of the Quaker preachers; and this fact, perhaps, increased the effect of his words, through the contrast with those who preceded him.
His discourse was an eloquent vindication of the law of kindness, as the highest and purest manifestation of true Christian doctrine.
The paternal relation of God to man was the basis of that religion which appealed directly to the heart: so the fraternity of each man with his fellow was its practical application. God pardons the repentant sinner: we can also pardon, where we are offended; we can pity, where we cannot pardon. Both the good and the bad principles generate their like in others. Force begets force; anger excites a corresponding anger; but kindness awakens the slumbering emotions even of an evil heart. Love may not always be answered by an equal love, but it has never yet created hatred. The testimony which Friends bear against war, he said, is but a general assertion, which has no value except in so far as they manifest the principle of peace in their daily lives—in the exercise of pity, of charity, of forbearance, and Christian love.
The words of the speaker sank deeply into the hearts of his hearers. There was an intense hush, as if in truth the Spirit had moved him to speak, and every sentence was armed with a sacred authority. Asenath Mitchenor looked at him, over the low partition which divided her and her sisters from the men's side, absorbed in his rapt earnestness and truth. She forgot that other hearers were present: he spake to her alone. A strange spell seemed to seize upon her faculties and chain them at his feet: had he beckoned to her, she would have arisen and walked to his side.
Friend Carter warmed and deepened as he went on. "I feel moved to-day," he said,—"moved, I know not why, but I hope for some wise purpose,—to relate to you an instance of Divine and human kindness which has come directly to my own knowledge. A young man of delicate constitution, whose lungs were thought to be seriously affected, was sent to the house of a Friend in the country, in order to try the effect of air and exercise."
Asenath almost ceased to breathe, in the intensity with which she gazed and listened. Clasping her hands tightly in her lap to prevent them from trembling, and steadying herself against the back of the seat, she heard the story of her love for Richard Hilton told by the lips of a stranger!—not merely of his dismissal from the house, but of that meeting in the street, at which only she and her father were present! Nay, more, she heard her own words repeated, she heard Richard's passionate outburst of remorse described in language that brought his living face before her! She gasped for breath—his face WAS before her! The features, sharpened by despairing grief, which her memory recalled, had almost anticipated the harder lines which fifteen years had made, and which now, with a terrible shock and choking leap of the heart, she recognized. Her senses faded, and she would have fallen from her seat but for the support of the partition against which she leaned. Fortunately, the women near her were too much occupied with the narrative to notice her condition. Many of them wept silently, with their handkerchiefs pressed over their mouths.
The first shock of death-like faintness passed away, and she clung to the speaker's voice, as if its sound alone could give her strength to sit still and listen further.
"Deserted by his friends, unable to stay his feet on the evil path," he continued, "the young man left his home and went to a city in another State. But here it was easier to find associates in evil than tender hearts that might help him back to good. He was tired of life, and the hope of a speedier death hardened him in his courses. But, my friends, Death never comes to those who wickedly seek him. The Lord withholds destruction from the hands that are madly outstretched to grasp it, and forces His pity and forgiveness on the unwilling soul. Finding that it was the principle of LIFE which grew stronger within him, the young man at last meditated an awful crime. The thought of self-destruction haunted him day and night. He lingered around the wharves, gazing into the deep waters, and was restrained from the deed only by the memory of the last loving voice he had heard. One gloomy evening, when even this memory had faded, and he awaited the approaching darkness to make his design secure, a hand was laid on his arm. A man in the simple garb of the Friends stood beside him, and a face which reflected the kindness of the Divine Father looked upon him. 'My child,' said he, 'I am drawn to thee by the great trouble of thy mind. Shall I tell thee what it is thee meditates?' The young man shook his head. 'I will be silent, then, but I will save thee. I know the human heart, and its trials and weaknesses, and it may be put into my mouth to give thee strength.' He took the young man's hand, as if he had been a little child, and led him to his home. He heard the sad story, from beginning to end; and the young man wept upon his breast, to hear no word of reproach, but only the largest and tenderest pity bestowed upon him. They knelt down, side by side, at midnight; and the Friend's right hand was upon his head while they prayed.
"The young man was rescued from his evil ways, to acknowledge still further the boundless mercy of Providence. The dissipation wherein he had recklessly sought death was, for him, a marvellous restoration to life. His lungs had become sound and free from the tendency to disease. The measure of his forgiveness was almost more than he could bear. He bore his cross thenceforward with a joyful resignation, and was mercifully drawn nearer and nearer to the Truth, until, in the fulness of his convictions, he entered into the brotherhood of the Friends.
"I have been powerfully moved to tell you this story." Friend Carter concluded, "from a feeling that it may be needed, here, at this time, to influence some heart trembling in the balance. Who is there among you, my friends, that may not snatch a brand from the burning! Oh, believe that pity and charity are the most effectual weapons given into the hands of us imperfect mortals, and leave the awful attribute of wrath in the hands of the Lord!"
He sat down, and dead silence ensued. Tears of emotion stood in the eyes of the hearers, men as well as women, and tears of gratitude and thanksgiving gushed warmly from those of Asenath. An ineffable peace and joy descended upon her heart.
When the meeting broke up, Friend Mitchenor, who had not recognized Richard Hilton, but had heard the story with feelings which he endeavored in vain to control, approached the preacher.
"The Lord spoke to me this day through thy lips," said he; "will thee come to one side, and hear me a minute?"
"Eli Mitchenor!" exclaimed Friend Carter; "Eli! I knew not thee was here! Doesn't thee know me?"
The old man stared in astonishment. "It seems like a face I ought to know," he said, "but I can't place thee." They withdrew to the shade of one of the poplars. Friend Carter turned again, much moved, and, grasping the old man's hands in his own, exclaimed—
"Friend Mitchenor, I was called upon to-day to speak of myself. I am—or, rather, I WAS—the Richard Hilton whom thee knew."
Friend Mitchenor's face flushed with mingled emotions of shame and joy, and his grasp on the preacher's hands tightened.
"But thee calls thyself Carter?" he finally said.
"Soon after I was saved," was the reply, "an aunt on the mother's side died, and left her property to me, on condition that I should take her name. I was tired of my own then, and to give it up seemed only like losing my former self; but I should like to have it back again now."
"Wonderful are the ways of the Lord, and past finding out!" said the old man. "Come home with me, Richard,—come for my sake, for there is a concern on my mind until all is clear between us. Or, stay,—will thee walk home with Asenath, while I go with Moses?"
"Yes. There she goes, through the gate. Thee can easily overtake her. I 'm coming, Moses!"—and he hurried away to his son's carriage, which was approaching.
Asenath felt that it would be impossible for her to meet Richard Hilton there. She knew not why his name had been changed; he had not betrayed his identity with the young man of his story; he evidently did not wish it to be known, and an unexpected meeting with her might surprise him into an involuntary revelation of the fact. It was enough for her that a saviour had arisen, and her lost Adam was redeemed,—that a holier light than the autumn sun's now rested, and would forever rest, on the one landscape of her youth. Her eyes shone with the pure brightness of girlhood, a soft warmth colored her cheek and smoothed away the coming lines of her brow, and her step was light and elastic as in the old time.
Eager to escape from the crowd, she crossed the highway, dusty with its string of returning carriages, and entered the secluded lane. The breeze had died away, the air was full of insect-sounds, and the warm light of the sinking sun fell upon the woods and meadows. Nature seemed penetrated with a sympathy with her own inner peace.
But the crown of the benignant day was yet to come. A quick footstep followed her, and ere long a voice, near at hand, called her by name.
She stopped, turned, and for a moment they stood silent, face to face.
"I knew thee, Richard!" at last she said, in a trembling voice; "may the Lord bless thee!"
Tears were in the eyes of both.
"He has blessed me," Richard answered, in a reverent tone; "and this is His last and sweetest mercy. Asenath, let me hear that thee forgives me."
"I have forgiven thee long ago, Richard—forgiven, but not forgotten."
The hush of sunset was on the forest, as they walked onward, side by side, exchanging their mutual histories. Not a leaf stirred in the crowns of the tall trees, and the dusk, creeping along between their stems, brought with it a richer woodland odor. Their voices were low and subdued, as if an angel of God were hovering in the shadows, and listening, or God Himself looked down upon them from the violet sky.
At last Richard stopped.
"Asenath," said he, "does thee remember that spot on the banks of the creek, where the rudbeckias grew?"
"I remember it," she answered, a girlish blush rising to her face.
"If I were to say to thee now what I said to thee there, what would be thy answer?"
Her words came brokenly.
"I would say to thee, Richard,—'I can trust thee,—I DO love thee!'"
"Look at me, Asenath."
Her eyes, beaming with a clearer light than even then when she first confessed, were lifted to his. She placed her hands gently upon his shoulders, and bent her head upon his breast. He tenderly lifted it again, and, for the first time, her virgin lips knew the kiss of man.
MISS BARTRAM'S TROUBLE.
It was a day of unusual excitement at the Rambo farm-house. On the farm, it is true, all things were in their accustomed order, and all growths did their accustomed credit to the season. The fences were in good repair; the cattle were healthy and gave promise of the normal increase, and the young corn was neither strangled with weeds nor assassinated by cut-worms. Old John Rambo was gradually allowing his son, Henry, to manage in his stead, and the latter shrewdly permitted his father to believe that he exercised the ancient authority. Leonard Clare, the strong young fellow who had been taken from that shiftless adventurer, his father, when a mere child, and brought up almost as one of the family, and who had worked as a joiner's apprentice during the previous six months, had come back for the harvest work; so the Rambos were forehanded, and probably as well satisfied as it is possible for Pennsylvania farmers to be.
In the house, also, Mrs. Priscilla Rambo was not severely haunted by the spectre of any neglected duty. The simple regular routine of the household could not be changed under her charge; each thing had its appropriate order of performance, must be done, and WAS done. If the season were backward, at the time appointed for whitewashing or soap-making, so much the worse for the season; if the unhatched goslings were slain by thunder, she laid the blame on the thunder. And if—but no, it is quite impossible to suppose that, outside of those two inevitable, fearful house-cleaning weeks in each year, there could have been any disorder in the cold prim, varnish-odored best rooms, sacred to company.
It was Miss Betty Rambo, whose pulse beat some ten strokes faster than its wont, as she sat down with the rest to their early country dinner. Whether her brother Henry's participated in the accelerated movement could not be guessed from his demeanor. She glanced at him now and then, with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, eager to speak yet shrinking from the half magisterial air which was beginning to supplant his old familiar banter. Henry was changing with his new responsibility, as she admitted to herself with a sort of dismay; he had the airs of an independent farmer, and she remained only a farmer's daughter,—without any acknowledged rights, until she should acquire them all, at a single blow, by marriage.
Nevertheless, he must have felt what was in her mind; for, as he cut out the quarter of a dried apple pie, he said carelessly:
"I must go down to the Lion, this afternoon. There's a fresh drove of Maryland cattle just come."
"Oh Harry!" cried Betty, in real distress.
"I know," he answered; "but as Miss Bartram is going to stay two weeks, she'll keep. She's not like a drove, that's here one day, and away the next. Besides, it is precious little good I shall have of her society, until you two have used up all your secrets and small talk. I know how it is with girls. Leonard will drive over to meet the train."
"Won't I do on a pinch?" Leonard asked.
"Oh, to be sure," said Betty, a little embarrassed, "only Alice—Miss Bartram—might expect Harry, because her brother came for me when I went up."
"If that's all, make yourself easy, Bet," Henry answered, as he rose from the table. "There's a mighty difference between here and there. Unless you mean to turn us into a town family while she stays—high quality, eh?"
"Go along to your cattle! there's not much quality, high or low, where you are."
Betty was indignant; but the annoyance exhausted itself healthfully while she was clearing away the dishes and restoring the room to its order, so that when Leonard drove up to the gate with the lumbering, old-fashioned carriage two hours afterwards, she came forth calm, cheerful, fresh as a pink in her pink muslin, and entirely the good, sensible country-girl she was.
Two or three years before, she and Miss Alice Bartram, daughter of the distinguished lawyer in the city, had been room-mates at the Nereid Seminary for Young Ladies. Each liked the other for the contrast to her own self; both were honest, good and lovable, but Betty had the stronger nerves and a practical sense which seemed to be admirable courage in the eyes of Miss Alice, whose instincts were more delicate, whose tastes were fine and high, and who could not conceive of life without certain luxurious accessories. A very cordial friendship sprang up between them,—not the effusive girl-love, with its iterative kisses, tears, and flow of loosened hair, but springing from the respect inspired by sound and positive qualities.
The winter before, Betty had been invited to visit her friend in the city, and had passed a very excited and delightful week in the stately Bartram mansion. If she were at first a little fluttered by the manners of the new world, she was intelligent enough to carry her own nature frankly through it, instead of endeavoring to assume its character. Thus her little awkwardnesses became originalities, and she was almost popular in the lofty circle when she withdrew from it. It was therefore, perhaps, slightly inconsistent in Betty, that she was not quite sure how Miss Bartram would accept the reverse side of this social experience. She imagined it easier to look down and make allowances, as a host, than as a guest; she could not understand that the charm of the change might be fully equal.
It was lovely weather, as they drove up the sweet, ever-changing curves of the Brandywine valley. The woods fairly laughed in the clear sunlight, and the soft, incessant, shifting breezes. Leonard, in his best clothes, and with a smoother gloss on his brown hair, sang to himself as he urged the strong-boned horses into a trot along the levels; and Betty finally felt so quietly happy that she forgot to be nervous. When they reached the station they walked up and down the long platform together, until the train from the city thundered up, and painfully restrained its speed. Then Betty, catching sight of a fawn-colored travelling dress issuing from the ladies' car, caught hold of Leonard's arm, and cried: "There she is!"
Miss Bartram heard the words, and looked down with a bright, glad expression on her face. It was not her beauty that made Leonard's heart suddenly stop beating; for she was not considered a beauty, in society. It was something rarer than perfect beauty, yet even more difficult to describe,—a serene, unconscious grace, a pure, lofty maturity of womanhood, such as our souls bow down to in the Santa Barbara of Palma Vecchio. Her features were not "faultlessly regular," but they were informed with the finer harmonies of her character. She was a woman, at whose feet a noble man might kneel, lay his forehead on her knee, confess his sins, and be pardoned.
She stepped down to the platform, and Betty's arms were about her. After a double embrace she gently disengaged herself, turned to Leonard, gave him her hand, and said, with a smile which was delightfully frank and cordial: "I will not wait for Betty's introduction, Mr. Rambo. She has talked to me so much of her brother Harry, that I quite know you already."
Leonard could neither withdraw his eyes nor his hand. It was like a double burst of warmth and sunshine, in which his breast seemed to expand, his stature to grow, and his whole nature to throb with some new and wonderful force. A faint color came into Miss Bartram's cheeks, as they stood thus, for a moment, face to face. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak, but of this he never thought; had any words come to his mind, his tongue could not have uttered them.
"It is not Harry," Betty explained, striving to hide her embarrassment. "This is Leonard Clare, who lives with us."
"Then I do not know you so well as I thought," Miss Bartram said to him; "it is the beginning of a new acquaintance, after all."
"There isn't no harm done," Leonard answered, and instantly feeling the awkwardness of the words, blushed so painfully that Miss Bartram felt the inadequacy of her social tact to relieve so manifest a case of distress. But she did, instinctively, what was really best: she gave Leonard the check for her trunk, divided her satchels with Betty, and walked to the carriage.
He did not sing, as he drove homewards down the valley. Seated on the trunk, in front, he quietly governed the horses, while the two girls, on the seat behind him, talked constantly and gaily. Only the rich, steady tones of Miss Bartram's voice WOULD make their way into his ears, and every light, careless sentence printed itself upon his memory. They came to him as if from some inaccessible planet. Poor fellow! he was not the first to feel "the desire of the moth for the star."
When they reached the Rambo farm-house, it was necessary that he should give his hand to help her down from the clumsy carriage. He held it but a moment; yet in that moment a gentle pulse throbbed upon his hard palm, and he mechanically set his teeth, to keep down the impulse which made him wild to hold it there forever. "Thank you, Mr. Clare!" said Miss Bartram, and passed into the house. When he followed presently, shouldering her trunk into the upper best-room, and kneeling upon the floor to unbuckle the straps, she found herself wondering: "Is this a knightly service, or the menial duty of a porter? Can a man be both sensitive and ignorant, chivalrous and vulgar?"
The question was not so easily decided, though no one guessed how much Miss Bartram pondered it, during the succeeding days. She insisted, from the first, that her coming should make no change in the habits of the household; she rose in the cool, dewy summer dawns, dined at noon in the old brown room beside the kitchen, and only differed from the Rambos in sitting at her moonlit window, and breathing the subtle odors of a myriad leaves, long after Betty was sleeping the sleep of health.
It was strange how frequently the strong, not very graceful figure of Leonard Clare marched through these reveries. She occasionally spoke to him at the common table, or as she passed the borders of the hay-field, where he and Henry were at work: but his words to her were always few and constrained. What was there in his eyes that haunted her? Not merely a most reverent admiration of her pure womanly refinement, although she read that also; not a fear of disparagement, such as his awkward speech implied, but something which seemed to seek agonizingly for another language than that of the lips,—something which appealed to her from equal ground, and asked for an answer.
One evening she met him in the lane, as she returned from the meadow. She carried a bunch of flowers, with delicate blue and lilac bells, and asked him the name.
"Them's Brandywine cowslips," he answered; "I never heard no other name.
"May I correct you?" she said, gently, and with a smile which she meant to be playful. "I suppose the main thing is to speak one's thought, but there are neat and orderly ways, and there are careless ways." Thereupon she pointed out the inaccuracies of his answer, he standing beside her, silent and attentive. When she ceased, he did not immediately reply.
"You will take it in good part, will you not?" she continued. "I hope I have not offended you."
"No!" he exclaimed, firmly, lifting his head, and looking at her. The inscrutable expression in his dark gray eyes was stronger than before, and all his features were more clearly drawn. He reminded her of a picture of Adam which she had once seen: there was the same rather low forehead, straight, even brows, full yet strong mouth, and that broader form of chin which repeats and balances the character of the forehead. He was not positively handsome, but from head to foot he expressed a fresh, sound quality of manhood.
Another question flashed across Miss Bartram's mind: Is life long enough to transform this clay into marble? Here is a man in form, and with all the dignity of the perfect masculine nature: shall the broad, free intelligence, the grace and sweetness, the taste and refinement, which the best culture gives, never be his also? If not, woman must be content with faulty representations of her ideal.
So musing, she walked on to the farm-house. Leonard had picked up one of the blossoms she had let fall, and appeared to be curiously examining it. If he had apologized for his want of grammar, or promised to reform it, her interest in him might have diminished; but his silence, his simple, natural obedience to some powerful inner force, whatever it was, helped to strengthen that phantom of him in her mind, which was now beginning to be a serious trouble.
Once again, the day before she left the Rambo farmhouse to return to the city, she came upon him, alone. She had wandered off to the Brandywine, to gather ferns at a rocky point where some choice varieties were to be found. There were a few charming clumps, half-way up a slaty cliff, which it did not seem possible to scale, and she was standing at the base, looking up in vain longing, when a voice, almost at her ear, said:
"Which ones do you want?"
Afterwards, she wondered that she did not start at the voice. Leonard had come up the road from one of the lower fields: he wore neither coat nor waistcoat, and his shirt, open at the throat, showed the firm, beautiful white of the flesh below the strong tan of his neck. Miss Bartram noticed the sinewy strength and elasticity of his form, yet when she looked again at the ferns, she shook her head, and answered:
"None, since I cannot have them."
Without saying a word, he took off his shoes, and commenced climbing the nearly perpendicular face of the cliff. He had done it before, many a time; but Miss Bartram, although she was familiar with such exploits from the pages of many novels, had never seen the reality, and it quite took away her breath.
When he descended with the ferns in his hand, she said: "It was a great risk; I wish I had not wanted them."
"It was no risk for me," he answered.
"What can I send you in return?" she asked, as they walked forwards. "I am going home to-morrow."
"Betty told me," Leonard said; "please, wait one minute."
He stepped down to the bank of the stream, washed his hands carefully in the clear water, and came back to her, holding them, dripping, at his sides.
"I am very ignorant," he then continued,—"ignorant and rough. You are good, to want to send me something, but I want nothing. Miss Bartram, you are very good."
He paused; but with all her tact and social experience, she did not know what to say.
"Would you do one little thing for me—not for the ferns, that was nothing—no more than you do, without thinking, for all your friends?"
"Oh, surely!" she said.
"Might I—might I—now,—there'll be no chance tomorrow,—shake hands with you?"
The words seemed to be forced from him by the strength of a fierce will. Both stopped, involuntarily.
"It's quite dry, you see," said he, offering his hand. Her own sank upon it, palm to palm, and the fingers softly closed over each, as if with the passion and sweetness of a kiss. Miss Bartram's heart came to her eyes, and read, at last, the question in Leonard's. It was: "I as man, and you, as woman, are equals; will you give me time to reach you?" What her eyes replied she knew not. A mighty influence drew her on, and a mighty doubt and dread restrained her. One said: "Here is your lover, your husband, your cherished partner, left by fate below your station, yet whom you may lift to your side! Shall man, alone, crown the humble maiden,—stoop to love, and, loving, ennoble? Be you the queen, and love him by the royal right of womanhood!" But the other sternly whispered: "How shall your fine and delicate fibres be knit into this coarse texture? Ignorance, which years cannot wash away,—low instincts, what do YOU know?—all the servile side of life, which is turned from you,—what madness to choose this, because some current of earthly magnetism sets along your nerves? He loves you: what of that? You are a higher being to him, and he stupidly adores you. Think,—yes, DARE to think of all the prosaic realities of life, shared with him!"
Miss Bartram felt herself growing dizzy. Behind the impulse which bade her cast herself upon his breast swept such a hot wave of shame and pain that her face burned, and she dropped her eyelids to shut out the sight of his face. But, for one endless second, the sweeter voice spoke through their clasped hands. Perhaps he kissed hers; she did not know; she only heard herself murmur:
"Good-bye! Pray go on; I will rest here."
She sat down upon a bank by the roadside, turned away her head, and closed her eyes. It was long before the tumult in her nature subsided. If she reflected, with a sense of relief, "nothing was said," the thought immediately followed, "but all is known." It was impossible,—yes, clearly impossible; and then came such a wild longing, such an assertion of the right and truth and justice of love, as made her seem a miserable coward, the veriest slave of conventionalities.
Out of this struggle dawned self-knowledge, and the strength which is born of it. When she returned to the house, she was pale and weary, but capable of responding to Betty Rambo's constant cheerfulness. The next day she left for the city, without having seen Leonard Clare again.
Henry Rambo married, and brought a new mistress to the farm-house. Betty married, and migrated to a new home in another part of the State. Leonard Clare went back to his trade, and returned no more in harvest-time. So the pleasant farm by the Brandywine, having served its purpose as a background, will be seen no more in this history.
Miss Bartram's inmost life, as a woman, was no longer the same. The point of view from which she had beheld the world was shifted, and she was obliged to remodel all her feelings and ideas to conform to it. But the process was gradual, and no one stood near enough to her to remark it. She was occasionally suspected of that "eccentricity" which, in a woman of five-and-twenty, is looked upon as the first symptom of a tendency to old-maidenhood, but which is really the sign of an earnest heart struggling with the questions of life. In the society of cities, most men give only the shallow, flashy surface of their natures to the young women they meet, and Miss Bartram, after that revelation of the dumb strength of an ignorant man, sometimes grew very impatient of the platitudes and affectations which came to her clad in elegant words, and accompanied by irreproachable manners.
She had various suitors; for that sense of grace and repose and sweet feminine power, which hung around her like an atmosphere, attracted good and true men towards her. To some, indeed, she gave that noble, untroubled friendship which is always possible between the best of the two sexes, and when she was compelled to deny the more intimate appeal, it was done with such frank sorrow, such delicate tenderness, that she never lost the friend in losing the lover. But, as one year after another went by, and the younger members of her family fell off into their separate domestic orbits, she began to shrink a little at the perspective of a lonely life, growing lonelier as it receded from the Present.
By this time, Leonard Clare had become almost a dream to her. She had neither seen him nor heard of him since he let go her hand on that memorable evening beside the stream. He was a strange, bewildering chance, a cypher concealing a secret which she could not intelligently read. Why should she keep the memory of that power which was, perhaps, some unconscious quality of his nature (no, it was not so! something deeper than reason cried:), or long since forgotten, if felt, by him?
The man whom she most esteemed came back to her. She knew the ripeness and harmony of his intellect, the nobility of his character, and the generosity of a feeling which would be satisfied with only a partial return. She felt sure, also, that she should never possess a sentiment nearer to love than that which pleaded his cause in her heart. But her hand lay quiet in his, her pulses were calm when he spoke, and his face, manly and true as it was, never invaded her dreams. All questioning was vain; her heart gave no solution of the riddle. Perhaps her own want was common to all lives: then she was cherishing a selfish ideal, and rejecting the positive good offered to her hands.
After long hesitation she yielded. The predictions of society came to naught; instead of becoming an "eccentric" spinster, Miss Bartram was announced to be the affianced bride of Mr. Lawrie. A few weeks and months rolled around, and when the wedding-day came, she almost hailed it as the port of refuge, where she should find a placid and peaceful life.
They were married by an aged clergyman, a relative of the bridegroom. The cross-street where his chapel stood, fronting a Methodist church—both of the simplest form of that architecture fondly supposed to be Gothic,—was quite blocked up by the carriages of the party. The pews were crowded with elegant guests, the altar was decorated with flowers, and the ceremony lacked nothing of its usual solemn beauty. The bride was pale, but strikingly calm and self-possessed, and when she moved towards the door as Mrs. Lawrie, on her husband's arm, many matrons, recalling their own experience, marvelled at her unflurried dignity.
Just as they passed out the door, and the bridal carriage was summoned, a singular thing happened. Another bridal carriage drew up from the opposite side, and a newly wedded pair came forth from the portal of the Methodist church. Both parties stopped, face to face, divided only by the narrow street. Mrs. Lawrie first noticed the flushed cheeks of the other bride, her white dress, rather showy than elegant, and the heavy gold ornaments she wore. Then she turned to the bridegroom. He was tall and well-formed, dressed like a gentleman, but like one who is not yet unconscious of his dress, and had the air of a man accustomed to exercise some authority.
She saw his face, and instantly all other faces disappeared. From the opposite brink of a tremendous gulf she looked into his eyes, and their blended ray of love and despair pierced her to the heart.
There was a roaring in her ears, followed a long sighing sound, like that of the wind on some homeless waste; she leaned more heavily on her husband's arm, leaned against his shoulder, slid slowly down into his supporting clasp, and knew no more.
"She's paying for her mock composure, after all," said the matrons.
"It must have been a great effort."
Ten years afterwards, Mrs. Lawrie went on board a steamer at Southampton, bound for New York. She was travelling alone, having been called suddenly from Europe by the approaching death of her aged father. For two or three days after sailing, the thick, rainy spring weather kept all below, except a few hardy gentlemen who crowded together on the lee of the smoke-stack, and kept up a stubborn cheerfulness on a very small capital of comfort. There were few cabin-passengers on board, but the usual crowd of emigrants in the steerage.
Mrs. Lawrie's face had grown calmer and colder during these years. There was yet no gray in her hair, no wrinkles about her clear eyes; each feature appeared to be the same, but the pale, monotonous color which had replaced the warm bloom of her youth, gave them a different character. The gracious dignity of her manner, the mellow tones of her voice, still expressed her unchanging goodness, yet those who met her were sure to feel, in some inexplicable way, that to be good is not always to be happy. Perhaps, indeed, her manner was older than her face and form: she still attracted the interest of men, but with a certain doubt and reserve.
Certain it is that when she made her appearance on deck, glad of the blue sky and sunshine, and threw back her hood to feel the freshness of the sea air, all eyes followed her movements, except those of a forlorn individual, who, muffled in his cloak and apparently sea-sick, lay upon one of the benches. The captain presently joined her, and the gentlemen saw that she was bright and perfectly self-possessed in conversation: some of them immediately resolved to achieve an acquaintance. The dull, passive existence of the beginning of every voyage, seemed to be now at an end. It was time for the little society of the vessel to awake, stir itself, and organize a life of its own, for the few remaining days.
That night, as Mrs. Lawrie was sleeping in her berth, she suddenly awoke with a singular feeling of dread and suspense. She listened silently, but for some time distinguished none other than the small sounds of night on shipboard—the indistinct orders, the dragging of ropes, the creaking of timbers, the dull, regular jar of the engine, and the shuffling noise of feet overhead. But, ere long, she seemed to catch faint, distant sounds, that seemed like cries; then came hurry and confusion on deck; then voices in the cabin, one of which said: "they never can get it under, at this rate!"
She rose, dressed herself hastily, and made her way through pale and excited stewards, and the bewildered passengers who were beginning to rush from their staterooms, to the deck. In the wild tumult which prevailed, she might have been thrown down and trampled under foot, had not a strong arm seized her around the waist, and borne her towards the stern, where there were but few persons.
"Wait here!" said a voice, and her protector plunged into the crowd.
She saw, instantly, the terrible fate which had fallen upon the vessel. The bow was shrouded in whirls of smoke, through which dull red flashes began to show themselves; and all the length and breadth of the deck was filled with a screaming, struggling, fighting mass of desperate human beings. She saw the captain, officers, and a few of the crew working in vain against the disorder: she saw the boats filled before they were lowered, and heard the shrieks as they were capsized; she saw spars and planks and benches cast overboard, and maddened men plunging after them; and then, like the sudden opening of the mouth of Hell, the relentless, triumphant fire burst through the forward deck and shot up to the foreyard.
She was leaning against the mizen shrouds, between the coils of rope. Nobody appeared to notice her, although the quarter-deck was fast filling with persons driven back by the fire, yet still shrinking from the terror and uncertainty of the sea. She thought: "It is but death—why should I fear? The waves are at hand, to save me from all suffering." And the collective horror of hundreds of beings did not so overwhelm her as she had both fancied and feared; the tragedy of each individual life was lost in the confusion, and was she not a sharer in their doom?
Suddenly, a man stood before her with a cork life-preserver in his hands, and buckled it around her securely, under the arms. He was panting and almost exhausted, yet he strove to make his voice firm, and even cheerful, as he said:
"We fought the cowardly devils as long as there was any hope. Two boats are off, and two capsized; in ten minutes more every soul must take to the water. Trust to me, and I will save you or die with you!"
"What else can I do?" she answered.
With a few powerful strokes of an axe, he broke off the top of the pilot-house, bound two or three planks to it with ropes, and dragged the mass to the bulwarks.
"The minute this goes," he then said to her, "you go after it, and I follow. Keep still when you rise to the surface."
She left the shrouds, took hold of the planks at his side, and they heaved the rude raft into the sea. In an instant she was seized and whirled over the side; she instinctively held her breath, felt a shock, felt herself swallowed up in an awful, fathomless coldness, and then found herself floating below the huge towering hull which slowly drifted away.
In another moment there was one at her side. "Lay your hand on my shoulder," he said; and when she did so, swam for the raft, which they soon reached. While she supported herself by one of the planks he so arranged and bound together the pieces of timber that in a short time they could climb upon them and rest, not much washed by the waves. The ship drifted further and further, casting a faint, though awful, glare over the sea, until the light was suddenly extinguished, as the hull sank.
The dawn was in the sky by this time, and as it broadened they could see faint specks here and there, where others, like themselves, clung to drifting spars. Mrs. Lawrie shuddered with cold and the reaction from an excitement which had been far more powerful than she knew at the time.
Her preserver then took off his coat, wrapped it around her, and produced a pocket-flask, saying; "this will support us the longest; it is all I could find, or bring with me."
She sat, leaning against his shoulder, though partly turned away from him: all she could say was: "you are very good."
After awhile he spoke, and his voice seemed changed to her ears. "You must be thinking of Mr. Lawrie. It will, indeed, be terrible for him to hear of the disaster, before knowing that you are saved."
"God has spared him that distress," she answered. "Mr. Lawrie died, a year ago."
She felt a start in the strong frame upon which she leaned. After a few minutes of silence, he slowly shifted his position towards her, yet still without facing her, and said, almost in a whisper:
"You have said that I am very good. Will you put your hand in mine?"
She stretched hers eagerly and gratefully towards him. What had happened? Through all the numbness of her blood, there sprang a strange new warmth from his strong palm, and a pulse, which she had almost forgotten as a dream of the past, began to beat through her frame. She turned around all a-tremble, and saw his face in the glow of the coming day.
"Leonard Clare!" she cried.
"Then you have not forgotten me?"
"Could one forget, when the other remembers?"
The words came involuntarily from her lips. She felt what they implied, the moment afterwards, and said no more. But he kept her hand in his.
"Mrs. Lawrie," he began, after another silence, "we are hanging by a hair on the edge of life, but I shall gladly let that hair break, since I may tell you now, purely and in the hearing of God, how I have tried to rise to you out of the low place in which you found me. At first you seemed too far; but you yourself led me the first step of the way, and I have steadily kept my eyes on you, and followed it. When I had learned my trade, I came to the city. No labor was too hard for me, no study too difficult. I was becoming a new man, I saw all that was still lacking, and how to reach it, and I watched you, unknown, at a distance. Then I heard of your engagement: you were lost, and something of which I had begun to dream, became insanity. I determined to trample it out of my life. The daughter of the master-builder, whose first assistant I was, had always favored me in her society; and I soon persuaded her to love me. I fancied, too, that I loved her as most married men seemed to love their wives; the union would advance me to a partnership in her father's business, and my fortune would then be secured. You know what happened; but you do not know how the sight of your face planted the old madness again in my life, and made me a miserable husband, a miserable man of wealth, almost a scoffer at the knowledge I had acquired for your sake.
"When my wife died, taking an only child with her, there was nothing left to me except the mechanical ambition to make myself, without you, what I imagined I might have become, through you. I have studied and travelled, lived alone and in society, until your world seemed to be almost mine: but you were not there!"
The sun had risen, while they sat, rocking on their frail support. Her hand still lay in his, and her head rested on his shoulder. Every word he spoke sank into her heart with a solemn sweetness, in which her whole nature was silent and satisfied. Why should she speak? He knew all.
Yes, it seemed that he knew. His arm stole around her, and her head was drawn from his shoulder to the warm breadth of his breast.
Something hard pressed her cheek, and she lifted her hand to move it aside. He drew forth a flat medallion case; and to the unconscious question in her face, such a sad, tender smile came to his lips, that she could not repress a sudden pain. Was it the miniature of his dead wife?
He opened the case, and showed her, under the glass, a faded, pressed flower.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The Brandywine cowslip you dropped, when you spoke to me in the lane. Then it was that you showed me the first step of the way."
She laid her head again upon his bosom. Hour after hour they sat, and the light swells of the sea heaved them aimlessly to and fro, and the sun burned them, and the spray drenched their limbs. At last Leonard Clare roused himself and looked around: he felt numb and faint, and he saw, also, that her strength was rapidly failing.
"We cannot live much longer, I fear," he said, clasping her closely in his arms. "Kiss me once, darling, and then we will die."
She clung to him and kissed him.
"There is life, not death, in your lips!" he cried. "Oh, God, if we should live!"
He rose painfully to his feet, stood, tottering? on the raft, and looked across the waves. Presently he began to tremble, then to sob like a child, and at last spoke, through his tears:
"A sail! a sail!—and heading towards us!"
MRS. STRONGITHARM'S REPORT.
Mr. Editor,—If you ever read the "Burroak Banner" (which you will find among your exchanges, as the editor publishes your prospectus for six weeks every year, and sends no bill to you) my name will not be that of a stranger. Let me throw aside all affectation of humility, and say that I hope it is already and not unfavorably familiar to you. I am informed by those who claim to know that the manuscripts of obscure writers are passed over by you editors without examination—in short, that I must first have a name, if I hope to make one. The fact that an article of three hundred and seventy-five pages, which I sent, successively, to the "North American Review," the "Catholic World," and the "Radical," was in each case returned to me with MY knot on the tape by which it was tied, convinces me that such is indeed the case. A few years ago I should not have meekly submitted to treatment like this; but late experiences have taught me the vanity of many womanly dreams.
You are acquainted with the part I took (I am SURE you must have seen it in the "Burroak Banner" eight years ago) in creating that public sentiment in our favor which invested us with all the civil and political rights of men. How the editors of the "Revolution," to which I subscribe, and the conventions in favor of the equal rights of women, recently held in Boston and other cities, have failed to notice our noble struggle, is a circumstance for which I will not try to account. I will only say—and it is a hint which SOME PERSONS will understand—that there are other forms of jealousy than those which spring from love.
It is, indeed, incredible that so little is known, outside the State of Atlantic, of the experiment—I mean the achievement—of the last eight years. While the war lasted, we did not complain that our work was ignored; but now that our sisters in other States are acting as if in complete unconsciousness of what WE have done—now that we need their aid and they need ours (but in different ways), it is time that somebody should speak. Were Selina Whiston living, I should leave the task to her pen; she never recovered from the shock and mortification of her experiences in the State Legislature, in '64—but I will not anticipate the history. Of all the band of female iconoclasts, as the Hon. Mr. Screed called us in jest—it was no jest afterwards, HIS image being the first to go down—of all, I say, "some are married, and some are dead," and there is really no one left so familiar with the circumstances as I am, and equally competent to give a report of them.
Mr. Spelter (the editor of the "Burroak Banner") suggests that I must be brief, if I wish my words to reach the ears of the millions for whom they are designed; and I shall do my best to be so. If I were not obliged to begin at the very beginning, and if the interests of Atlantic had not been swallowed up, like those of other little States, in the whirlpool of national politics, I should have much less to say. But if Mr. George Fenian Brain and Mrs. Candy Station do not choose to inform the public of either the course or the results of our struggle, am I to blame? If I could have attended the convention in Boston, and had been allowed to speak—and I am sure the distinguished Chairwoman would have given me a chance—it would have been the best way, no doubt, to set our case before the world.
I must first tell you how it was that we succeeded in forcing the men to accept our claims, so much in advance of other States. We were indebted for it chiefly to the skill and adroitness of Selina Whiston. The matter had been agitated, it is true, for some years before, and as early as 1856, a bill, drawn up by Mrs. Whiston herself, had been introduced into the Legislature, where it received three votes. Moreover, we had held meetings in almost every election precinct in the State, and our Annual Fair (to raise funds) at Gaston, while the Legislature was in session, was always very brilliant and successful. So the people were not entirely unprepared.
Although our State had gone for Fremont in 1856, by a small majority, the Democrats afterwards elected their Governor; and both parties, therefore, had hopes of success in 1860. The canvass began early, and was very animated. Mrs. Whiston had already inaugurated the custom of attending political meetings, and occasionally putting a question to the stump orator—no matter of which party; of sometimes, indeed, taking the stump herself, after the others had exhausted their wind. She was very witty, as you know, and her stories were so good and so capitally told, that neither Democrat nor Republican thought of leaving the ground while she was upon the stand.
Now, it happened that our Congressional District was one of the closest. It happened, also, that our candidate (I am a Republican, and so is Mr. Strongitharm) was rather favorably inclined to the woman's cause. It happened, thirdly—and this is the seemingly insignificant pivot upon which we whirled into triumph—that he, Mr. Wrangle, and the opposing candidate, Mr. Tumbrill, had arranged to hold a joint meeting at Burroak. This meeting took place on a magnificent day, just after the oats-harvest; and everybody, for twenty miles around, was there. Mrs. Whiston, together with Sarah Pincher, Olympia Knapp, and several other prominent advocates of our cause, met at my house in the morning; and we all agreed that it was time to strike a blow. The rest of us magnanimously decided to take no part in the concerted plan, though very eager to do so. Selina Whiston declared that she must have the field to herself; and when she said that, we knew she meant it.
It was generally known that she was on the ground. In fact, she spent most of the time while Messrs. Wrangle and Tumbrill were speaking, in walking about through the crowds—so after an hour apiece for the gentlemen, and then fifteen minutes apiece for a rejoinder, and the Star Spangled Banner from the band, for both sides, we were not a bit surprised to hear a few cries of "Whiston!" from the audience. Immediately we saw the compact gray bonnet and brown serge dress (she knew what would go through a crowd without tearing!) splitting the wedge of people on the steps leading to the platform. I noticed that the two Congressional candidates looked at each other and smiled, in spite of the venomous charges they had just been making.
Well—I won't attempt to report her speech, though it was her most splendid effort (as people WILL say, when it was no effort to her at all). But the substance of it was this: after setting forth woman's wrongs and man's tyranny, and taxation without representation, and an equal chance, and fair-play, and a struggle for life (which you know all about from the other conventions), she turned squarely around to the two candidates and said:
"Now to the practical application. You, Mr. Wrangle, and you, Mr. Tumbrill, want to be elected to Congress. The district is a close one: you have both counted the votes in advance (oh, I know your secrets!) and there isn't a difference of a hundred in your estimates. A very little will turn the scale either way. Perhaps a woman's influence—perhaps my voice—might do it. But I will give you an equal chance. So much power is left to woman, despite what you withhold, that we, the women of Putnam, Shinnebaug, and Rancocus counties, are able to decide which of you shall be elected. Either of you would give a great deal to have a majority of the intelligent women of the District on your side: it would already be equivalent to success. Now, to show that we understand the political business from which you have excluded us—to prove that we are capable of imitating the noble example of MEN—we offer to sell our influence, as they their votes, to the highest bidder!"
There was great shouting and cheering among the people at this, but the two candidates, somehow or other, didn't seem much amused.
"I stand here," she continued, "in the interest of my struggling sisters, and with authority to act for them. Which of you will bid the most—not in offices or material advantages, as is the way of your parties, but in the way of help to the Woman's Cause? Which of you will here publicly pledge himself to say a word for us, from now until election-day, whenever he appears upon the stump?"
There was repeated cheering, and cries of "Got 'em there!" (Men are so vulgar).
"I pause for a reply. Shall they not answer me?" she continued, turning to the audience.
Then there were tremendous cries of "Yes! yes! Wrangle! Tumbrill!"
Mr. Wrangle looked at Mr. Tumbrill, and made a motion with his head, signifying that he should speak. Then Mr. Tumbrill looked at Mr. Wrangle, and made a motion that HE should speak. The people saw all this, and laughed and shouted as if they would never finish.
Mr. Wrangle, on second thoughts (this is my private surmise), saw that boldness would just then be popular; so he stepped forward.
"Do I understand," he said, "that my fair and eloquent friend demands perfect political and civil equality for her sex?"
"I do!" exclaimed Selina Whiston, in her firmest manner.
"Let me be more explicit," he continued. "You mean precisely the same rights, the same duties, the same obligations, the same responsibilities?"
She repeated the phrases over after him, affirmatively, with an emphasis which I never heard surpassed.
"Pardon me once more," said Mr. Wrangle; "the right to vote, to hold office, to practise law, theology, medicine, to take part in all municipal affairs, to sit on juries, to be called upon to aid in the execution of the law, to aid in suppressing disturbances, enforcing public order, and performing military duty?"
Here there were loud cheers from the audience; and a good many voices cried out: "Got her there!" (Men are so very vulgar.)
Mrs. Whiston looked troubled for a moment, but she saw that a moment's hesitation would be fatal to our scheme, so she brought out her words as if each one were a maul-blow on the butt-end of a wedge:
"Then," said Mr. Wrangle, "I bid my support in exchange for the women's! Just what the speaker demands, without exception or modification—equal privileges, rights, duties and obligations, without regard to the question of sex! Is that broad enough?"
I was all in a tremble when it came to that. Somehow Mr. Wrangle's acceptance of the bid did not inspire me, although it promised so much. I had anticipated opposition, dissatisfaction, tumult. So had Mrs. Whiston, and I could see, and the crowd could see, that she was not greatly elated.
Mr. Wrangle made a very significant bow to Mr. Tumbrill, and then sat down. There were cries of "Tumbrill!" and that gentleman—none of us, of course, believing him sincere, for we knew his private views—came forward and made exactly the same pledge. I will do both parties the justice to say that they faithfully kept their word; nay, it was generally thought the repetition of their brief pleas for woman, at some fifty meetings before election came, had gradually conducted them to the belief that they were expressing their own personal sentiments. The mechanical echo in public thus developed into an opinion in private. My own political experience has since demonstrated to me that this is a phenomenon very common among men.
The impulse generated at that meeting gradually spread all over the State. We—the leaders of the Women's Movement—did not rest until we had exacted the same pledge from all the candidates of both parties; and the nearer it drew towards election-day, the more prominence was given, in the public meetings, to the illustration and discussion of the subject. Our State went for Lincoln by a majority of 2763 (as you will find by consulting the "Tribune Almanac"), and Mr. Wrangle was elected to Congress, having received a hundred and forty-two more votes than his opponent. Mr. Tumbrill has always attributed his defeat to his want of courage in not taking up at once the glove which Selina Whiston threw down.
I think I have said enough to make it clear how the State of Atlantic came to be the first to grant equal civil and political rights to women. When the Legislature of 1860-'61 met at Gaston, we estimated that we might count upon fifty-three out of the seventy-one Republican Senators and Assemblymen, and on thirty-four out of the sixty-five Democrats. This would give a majority of twenty-eight in the House, and ten in the Senate. Should the bill pass, there was still a possibility that it might be vetoed by the Governor, of whom we did not feel sure. We therefore arranged that our Annual Fair should be held a fortnight later than usual, and that the proceeds (a circumstance known only to the managers) should be devoted to a series of choice suppers, at which we entertained, not only the Governor and our friends in both Houses, but also, like true Christians, our legislatorial enemies. Olympia Knapp, who, you know, is so very beautiful, presided at these entertainments. She put forth all her splendid powers, and with more effect than any of us suspected. On the day before the bill reached its third reading, the Governor made her an offer of marriage. She came to the managers in great agitation, and laid the matter before them, stating that she was overwhelmed with surprise (though Sarah Pincher always maintained that she wasn't in the least), and asking their advice. We discussed the question for four hours, and finally decided that the interests of the cause would oblige her to accept the Governor's hand. "Oh, I am so glad!" cried Olympia, "for I accepted him at once." It was a brave, a noble deed!
Now, I would ask those who assert that women are incapable of conducting the business of politics, to say whether any set of men, of either party, could have played their cards more skilfully? Even after the campaign was over we might have failed, had it not been for the suppers. We owed this idea, like the first, to the immortal Selina Whiston. A lucky accident—as momentous in its way as the fall of an apple to Newton, or the flying of a kite to Dr. Franklin—gave her the secret principle by which the politics of men are directed. Her house in Whittletown was the half of a double frame building, and the rear-end of the other part was the private office of—but no, I will not mention the name—a lawyer and a politician. He was known as a "wirepuller," and the other wire-pullers of his party used to meet in his office and discuss matters. Mrs. Whiston always asserted that there was a mouse-hole through the partition; but she had energy enough to have made a hole herself, for the sake of the cause.
She never would tell us all she overheard. "It is enough," she would say, "that I know how the thing is done."
I remember that we were all considerably startled when she first gave us an outline of her plan. On my saying that I trusted the dissemination of our principles would soon bring us a great adhesion, she burst out with:
"Principles! Why if we trust to principles, we shall never succeed! We must rely upon INFLUENCES, as the men do; we must fight them with their own weapons, and even then we are at a disadvantage, because we cannot very well make use of whiskey and cigars."
We yielded, because we had grown accustomed to be guided by her; and, moreover, we had seen, time and again, how she could succeed—as, for instance, in the Nelson divorce case (but I don't suppose you ever heard of that), when the matter seemed nigh hopeless to all of us. The history of 1860 and the following winter proves that in her the world has lost a stateswoman. Mr. Wrangle and Governor Battle have both said to me that they never knew a measure to be so splendidly engineered both before the public and in the State Legislature.
After the bill had been passed, and signed by the Governor, and so had become a law, and the grand Women's Jubilee had been held at Gaston, the excitement subsided. It would be nearly a year to the next State election, and none of the women seemed to care for the local and municipal elections in the spring. Besides, there was a good deal of anxiety among them in regard to the bill, which was drawn up in almost the exact terms used by Mr. Wrangle at the political meeting. In fact, we always have suspected that he wrote it. The word "male" was simply omitted from all laws. "Nothing is changed," said Mrs. Whiston, quoting Charles X., "there are only 201,758 more citizens in Atlantic!"
This was in January, 1861, you must remember; and the shadow of the coming war began to fall over us. Had the passage of our bill been postponed a fortnight it would have been postponed indefinitely, for other and (for the men) more powerful excitements followed one upon the other. Even our jubilee was thinly attended, and all but two of the members on whom we relied for speeches failed us. Governor Battle, who was to have presided, was at Washington, and Olympia, already his wife, accompanied him. (I may add that she has never since taken any active part with us. They have been in Europe for the last three years.)
Most of the women—here in Burroak, at least—expressed a feeling of disappointment that there was no palpable change in their lot, no sense of extended liberty, such as they imagined would come to transform them into brighter and better creatures. They supposed that they would at once gain in importance in the eyes of the men; but the men were now so preoccupied by the events at the South that they seemed to have forgotten our political value. Speaking for myself, as a good Union woman, I felt that I must lay aside, for a time, the interests of my sex. Once, it is true, I proposed to accompany Mr. Strongitharm to a party caucus at the Wrangle House; but he so suddenly discovered that he had business in another part of the town, that I withdrew my proposition.
As the summer passed over, and the first and second call for volunteers had been met, and more than met, by the patriotic men of the State (how we blessed them!) we began to take courage, and to feel, that if our new civil position brought us no very tangible enjoyment, at least it imposed upon us no very irksome duties.
The first practical effect of the new law came to light at the August term of our County Court. The names of seven women appeared on the list of jurors, but only three of them answered to their names. One, the wife of a poor farmer, was excused by the Judge, as there was no one to look after six small children in her absence; another was a tailoress, with a quantity of work on hand, some of which she proposed bringing with her into Court, in order to save time; but as this could not be allowed, she made so much trouble that she was also finally let off. Only one, therefore, remained to serve; fortunately for the credit of our sex, she was both able and willing to do so; and we afterward made a subscription, and presented her with a silver fish-knife, on account of her having tired out eleven jurymen, and brought in a verdict of $5,000 damages against a young man whom she convicted of seduction. She told me that no one would ever know what she endured during those three days; but the morals of our county have been better ever since.
Mr. Spelter told me that his State exchanges showed that there had been difficulties of the same kind in all the other counties. In Mendip (the county-town of which is Whittletown, Mrs. Whiston's home) the immediate result had been the decision, on the part of the Commissioners, to build an addition at the rear of the Court-House, with large, commodious and well-furnished jury-rooms, so arranged that a comfortable privacy was secured to the jury-women. I did my best to have the same improvement adopted here, but, alas! I have not the ability of Selina Whiston in such matters, and there is nothing to this day but the one vile, miserable room, properly furnished in no particular except spittoons.
The nominating Conventions were held in August, also, and we were therefore called upon to move at once, in order to secure our fair share. Much valuable time had been lost in discussing a question of policy, namely, whether we should attach ourselves to the two parties already in existence, according to our individual inclinations, or whether we should form a third party for ourselves. We finally accepted the former proposition, and I think wisely; for the most of us were so ignorant of political tricks and devices, that we still needed to learn from the men, and we could not afford to draw upon us the hostility of both parties, in the very infancy of our movement.
Never in my life did I have such a task, as in drumming up a few women to attend the primary township meeting for the election of delegates. It was impossible to make them comprehend its importance. Even after I had done my best to explain the technicalities of male politics, and fancied that I had made some impression, the answer would be: "Well, I'd go, I'm sure, just to oblige you, but then there's the tomatoes to be canned"—or, "I'm so behindhand with my darning and patching"—or, "John'll be sure to go, and there's no need of two from the same house"—and so on, until I was mightily discouraged. There were just nine of us, all told, to about a hundred men. I won't deny that our situation that night, at the Wrangle House, was awkward and not entirely agreeable. To be sure the landlord gave us the parlor, and most of the men came in, now and then, to speak to us; but they managed the principal matters all by themselves, in the bar-room, which was such a mess of smoke and stale liquor smells, that it turned my stomach when I ventured in for two minutes.
I don't think we should have accomplished much, but for a 'cute idea of Mrs. Wilbur, the tinman's wife. She went to the leaders, and threatened them that the women's vote should be cast in a body for the Democratic candidates, unless we were considered in making up the ticket. THAT helped: the delegates were properly instructed, and the County Convention afterward nominated two men and one woman as candidates for the Assembly. That woman was—as I need hardly say, for the world knows it—myself. I had not solicited the honor, and therefore could not refuse, especially as my daughter Melissa was then old enough to keep house in my absence. No woman had applied for the nomination for Sheriff, but there were seventeen schoolmistresses anxious for the office of County Treasurer. The only other nomination given to the women, however, was that of Director (or rather, Directress) of the Poor, which was conferred on Mrs. Bassett, wife of a clergyman.
Mr. Strongitharm insisted that I should, in some wise, prepare myself for my new duties, by reading various political works, and I conscientiously tried to do so—but, dear me! it was much more of a task than I supposed. We had all read the debate on our bill, of course; but I always skipped the dry, stupid stuff about the tariff, and finance, and stay laws and exemption laws, and railroad company squabbles; and for the life of me I can't see, to this day, what connection there is between these things and Women's Rights. But, as I said, I did my best, with the help of Webster's Dictionary; although the further I went the less I liked it.
As election-day drew nearer, our prospects looked brighter. The Republican ticket, under the editorial head of the "Burroak Banner," with my name and Mrs. Bassett's among the men's, was such an evidence, that many women, notably opposed to the cause, said: "We didn't want the right, but since we have it, we shall make use of it." This was exactly what Mrs. Whiston had foretold. We estimated that—taking the County tickets all over the State—we had about one-twentieth of the Republican, and one-fiftieth of the Democratic, nominations. This was far from being our due, but still it was a good beginning.
My husband insisted that I should go very early to the polls. I could scarcely restrain a tear of emotion as I gave my first ballot into the hands of the judges. There were not a dozen persons present, and the act did not produce the sensation which I expected. One man cried out: "Three cheers for our Assemblywoman!" and they gave them; and I thereupon returned home in the best spirits. I devoted the rest of the day to relieving poorer women, who could not have spared the time to vote, if I had not, meanwhile, looked after their children. The last was Nancy Black, the shoemaker's wife in our street, who kept me waiting upon her till it was quite dark. When she finally came, the skirt of her dress was ripped nearly off, her hair was down and her comb broken; but she was triumphant, for Sam Black was with her, and SOBER. "The first time since we were married, Mrs. Strongitharm!" she cried. Then she whispered to me, as I was leaving: "And I've killed HIS vote, anyhow!"