When all was peace again within the homestead, there was one who still watched the night, and ignorant of the nature of this strange tumult, trembled as at the approach of a long-wished for happiness. It was Miriam, the orphan dependent, who now sat by the midnight casement. Oh, who of living men can tell how that young heart yearned at the thought—the hope—the thrilling momentary belief—that this was her absent lover happily returning?
In the wide darkness of the lonesome night, which was it shone brightest and with purest lustre, in view of the all-seeing Mover of the Heavens—the stars glittering far away in space, in all their lofty glory, or the timid eyes of that simple maiden, wet with the dew of youth, and bright with the pure hope of honest love! When all was still again, and no Elbridge's voice was heard, no form of absent Elbridge there to cheer her, oh, who can tell how near to breaking, in its silent agony, was that young heart, and with what tremblings of solicitude and fear, the patient Miriam waited for the friendly light to open the golden-gate of dawn upon another morrow!
THE THANKSGIVING SERMON.
The morning of the day of Thanksgiving came calm, clear and beautiful. A stillness, as of heaven and not of earth, ruled the wide landscape. The Indian summer, which had been as a gentle mist or veil upon the beauty of the time, had gone away a little—retired, as it were, into the hills and back country, to allow the undimmed heaven to shine down upon the happy festival of families and nations. The cattle stood still in the fields without a low; the trees were quiet as in friendly recognition of the spirit of the hour; no reaper's hook or mower's scythe glanced in the meadow, no rumbling wain was on the road. The birds alone, as being more nearly akin to the feeling of the scene, warbled in the boughs.
But out of the silent gloom of the mist there sprang as by magic, a lovely illumination which lit the country far and wide, as with a thousand varicolored lamps. As a maiden who has tarried in her chamber, some hour the least expected appears before us, apparelled in all the pomp and hue of brilliant beauty, the fair country, flushed with innumerable tints of the changed autumn-trees, glided forth upon the Indian summer scene, and taught that when kindly nature seems all foregone and spent, she can rise from her couch fresher and more radiant than in her very prime.
What wonder if with the peep of dawn the children leaped from bed, eager to have on their new clothes reserved for the day, and by times appeared before old Sylvester in proud array of little hats, new-brightened shoes and shining locks, span new as though they had just come from the mint; anxious to have his grandfatherly approval of their comeliness? Shortly after, the horses caught in the distant pastures, the Captain and Farmer Oliver having charge of them, were brought in and tied under the trees in the door-yard.
Then, breakfast being early dispatched, there was a mighty running to and fro of the grown people through the house, dresses hurried from old clothes-presses and closets, a loud demand on every hand for pins, of which there seemed to be (as there always is on such occasions) a great lack. The horses were put to Mrs. Carrack's coach, the Captain's gig, the old house-wagon, with breathless expectation on the part of the children; and in brief, after bustling preparation and incessant summoning of one member of the family and another from the different parts of the house, all being at last ready and in their seats, the Peabodys set forth for the Thanksgiving Sermon at the country Meeting-house, a couple of miles away.
The Captain took the lead with his wife and Peabody Junior somewhere and somehow between them, followed by the wagon with old Sylvester, still proud of his dexterity as a driver, Oliver, much pleased with the popular character of the conveyance and wife, with young Robert; William Peabody and wife; little Sam riding between his grandfather's legs in front, and allowed to hold the end of the reins. Slowly and in great state, after all rolled Mrs. Carrack's coach with herself and son within, and footman and coachman without.
Chanticleer, too, clear of eye and bright of wing, walked the garden wall, carried his head up, and acted as if he had also put on his thanksgiving suit and expected to take the road presently, accompany the family, and join his voice with theirs at the little meeting-house.
Although the Captain, with his high-actioned white horse kept out of eye-shot ahead, it was Mrs. Carrack's fine carriage that had the triumph of the road to itself, for as it rolled glittering on, the simple country people, belated in their own preparations, or tarrying at home to provide the dinner, ran to the windows in wonder and admiration. The plain wagons, bent in the same direction, turned out of the path and gave the great coach the better half of the way, staring a broadside as it passed.
And when the party reached the little meeting-house, what a peace hung about it! The air seemed softer, the sunshine brighter, there, as it stood in humble silence among the tall trees which waved with a gentle murmur before its windows. The people, as they arrived, glided noiselessly in, in their neat dresses and looks of decent devotion; others as they came made fast their horses under the sheds and trees about—most of them in wagons and plain chaises, brightened into all of beauty they were capable of, by a severe attention to the harness and mountings; others—these were a few bachelors and striplings—trotted in quietly on horseback. Before service a few of the old farmers lingered outside discussing the late crops or inquiring after each other's families, who presently went within, summoning from the grassy churchyard—which lay next to the meeting house—the children who were loitering there reading the grave-stones.
When the Captain arrived with his gig, under such extraordinary headway that he was near driving across the grave-yard into the next county—the country people scampered aside, like scared fowl; Mrs. Carrack's great coach, with its liveried outriders, set them staring as if they did not or could not believe their own eyes. With the arrival of old Sylvester they re-gathered, and, almost in a body, proffered their aid to hold the horses—to help the old Patriarch to the ground—in a word, to show their regard and affection in every way in their power. He tarried but a moment at the door, to speak a word with one or two of the oldest of his neighbors, and passed in, followed by all of his family save Mrs. Carrack and her son, who under color of hunting up the grave of some old relation, delay in order to make their appearance in the meeting-house by themselves, and independently of the Peabody connection.
Will you pardon me, reader, if I fail to tell you whether this house of worship was of the Methodist, Episcopal, or Baptist creed, whether it had a chancel or altar, or painted windows? Whether the pews had doors to them and were cushioned or not? Whether the minister wore a gown and bands, or plain suit of black, or was undistinguished in his dress? Will it not suffice if I tell you, as the very belief of my soul, that it was a christian house, that there were seats for all, that things were well intended and decently ordered, and that with a hymn sung with such purity of heart that its praises naturally joined in with the chiming of the trees and the carols of the birds without and floated on without a stop to Heaven, when a meek man rose up:
"Some two hundred years ago, our ancestors (he said,) finding themselves more comfortable in the wilderness of the new world, than they could have reasonably looked for, set apart a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for his manifold mercies. That day, God be praised, has been steadily observed throughout this happy land, by cheerful gatherings of families, and other festive and devotional observances, down to the present time. Our fathers covenanted, in the love of Christ, to cleave together, as brethren, however hard the brunt of fortune might be. That bond still continues. We may not live (he went on, in the very spirit and letter of the first Thanksgiving discourse ever delivered amongst us,) as retired hermits, each in our cell apart, nor inquire, like David, how liveth such a man? How is he clad? How is he fed? He is my brother, we are in league together, we must stand and fall by one another. Is his labor harder than mine? Surely I will ease him. Hath he no bed to lie on? I have two—I will lend him one. Hath he no apparel? I have two suits—I will give him one of them. Eats he coarse food, bread and water, and have I better? Surely we will part stakes. He is as good a man as I, and we are bound each to other; so that his wants must be my wants; his sorrows, my sorrows; his sickness my sickness; and his welfare my welfare; for I am as he is; such a sweet sympathy were excellent, comfortable, nay, heavenly, and is the only maker and conserver of churches and commonwealths."
To such as looked upon old Sylvester there seemed a glow and halo about his aged brow and whitened locks, for this was the very spirit of his life.
As though he knew the very secrets of their souls, and touched their very heart-strings with a gentle hand, the preacher glanced from one member of the Peabody household to another, as he proceeded, something in this manner. (For William Peabody:) do I find on this holy day that I love God in all his glorious universe, more than the image even of Liberty, which hath ensnared and enslaved the soul of many a man on the coin of this world? (For buxom Mrs. Jane, in her vandyke:) Do I stifle the vanity of good looks and comfortable circumstances under a plain garb? (For the jovial Captain:) Am I not over hasty in pursuit of carnal enjoyment? (For Mr. Oliver: who was wiping his brow with the Declaration of Independence,) and eager over much for the good opinion of men, when I should be quietly serving them without report? (For Mrs. Carrack and her son:) And what are pomp and fashion, but the painted signs of good living where there is no life? These (he continued,) are all outward, mere pretences to put off our duty, and the care of our souls. Yea, we may have churches, schools, hospitals abounding—but these are mere lath and mortar, if we have not also within our own hearts, a church where the pure worship ever goeth on, a school where the true knowledge is taught, a hospital, the door whereof standeth constantly open, into which our fellow-creatures are welcomed and where their infirmities are first cared for with all kindness and tenderness. If these be our inclinings this day, let us be reasonably thankful on this Thanksgiving morning. Let such as are in health be thankful for their good case; and such as are out of health be thankful that they are no worse. Let such as are rich be thankful for their wealth, (if it hath been honestly come by;) and let such as are poor be thankful that they have no such charge upon their souls. Let old folks be thankful for their wisdom in knowing that young folks are fools; and let young ones be thankful that they may live to see the time when they may use the same privilege. Let lean folks be thankful for their spare ribs, which are not a burthen in the harvest-field; fat folks may laugh at lean ones, and grow fatter every day. Let married folks be thankful for blessings both little and great; let bachelors and old maids be thankful for the privilege of kissing other folks' babies, and great good may it do them.
With what a glow of mutual friendship the quaint preacher was warming the plain old meeting-house on that thanksgiving day!
Finally, and to conclude, (he went on in the language of a chronicle of the time:)—Let no man look upon a turkey to-day, and say, 'This also is vanity.' What is the life of man without creature-comforts, and the stomach of the son of man with no aid from the tin kitchen? Despise not the day of small things, while there are pullets on the spit, and let every fowl have fair play, between the jaws of thy philosophy. Are not puddings made to be sliced, and pie-crust to be broken? Go thy ways, then, according to good sense, good cheer, good appetite, the Governor's proclamation, and every other good thing under the sun;—render thanks for all the good things of this life, and good cookery among the rest; eat, drink, and be merry; make not a lean laudation of the bounties of Providence, but let a lively gusto follow a long grace. Feast thankfully, and feast hopingly; feast in good will to all mankind, Grahamites included; feast in the full and joyous persuasion, that while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, dinner-time, pudding-time, and supper-time, are not likely to go out of fashion;—feast with exulting confidence in the continuance of cooks, kitchens, and orthodox expounders of Scripture and the constitution in our ancient, blessed, and fat-sided commonwealth—feast, in short, like a good Christian, proving all things, relishing all things, hoping all things, expecting all things, and enjoying all things. Let a good stomach for dinner go hand in hand with a good mind for sound doctrine. Let us all be thankful that a gracious Providence hath furnished each and all with a wholesome and bountiful dinner this day; and, if there be none so furnished, let him now make it known, and we will instantly contribute thereto of our separate abundance. There are none who murmur—we all, therefore, have a thanksgiving dinner waiting for us; let us hie home cheerily, and in a becoming spirit of mirth and devotion partake thereof.
The windows of the little meeting-house were up to let in the pleasant sunshine; and the very horses who were within hearing of his voice, seemed by the pricking up of their brown ears to relish and approve of his discourse. The Captain's city nag, as wide awake as any, seemed to address himself to an acquaintance of a heavy bay plougher, who stood at the same post, and laying their heads together for the better part of the sermon, they appeared to regard it, as far as they caught its meaning, as sound doctrine, particularly acknowledging that this was as fine a thanksgiving morning as they (who had been old friends and had spent their youth together, being in some way related, in a farm-house in that neighborhood) had ever known; and when they had said as much as this, they laughed out in very merriness of spirit, with a great winnow, as the happy audience came streaming forth at the meeting-house door. There were no cold, haughty, or distrustful faces now, as when they had entered in an hour ago; the genial air of the little meeting-house had melted away all frosts of that kind; and as they mingled under the sober autumn-trees, loitering for conversation, inquiring after neighbors, old folks whose infirmities kept them at home, the young children; they seemed indeed, much more a company of brethren, embarked (as sailors say) on a common bottom for happiness and enjoyment. The children were the first to set out for home through the fields on foot; Peabody the younger, little Sam and Robert being attended by the footman in livery, whom Mrs. Carrack relieved from attendance at the rear of the coach.
If the quaint preacher had urged the rational enjoyment of the Thanksgiving cheer from the pulpit, Mopsey labored with equal zeal at home to have it worthy of enjoyment. At an early hour she had cleared decks, and taken possession of the kitchen: kindling, with dawn, a great fire in the oven for the pies, and another on the hearth for the turkey. But it was from the oven, heaping it to the top with fresh relays of dry wood, that she expected the Thanksgiving angel to walk in all his beauty and majesty. In performance of her duty, and from a sense only that there could be no thanksgiving without a turkey, she planted the tin oven on the hearth, spitted the gobbler, and from time to time, merely as a matter of absolute necessity, gave it a turn; but about the mouth of the great oven she hovered constantly, like a spirit—had her head in and out at the opening every other minute; and, when at last the pies were slided in upon the warm bottom, she lingered there regarding the change they were undergoing with the fond admiration with which a connoisseur in sunsets hangs upon the changing colors of the evening sky. The leisure this double duty allowed her was employed by Mopsey in scaring away the poultry and idle young chickens which rushed in at the back entrance of the kitchen in swarms, and hopped with yellow legs about the floor with the racket of constant falling showers of corn. Upon the half door opening on the front the red rooster had mounted, and with his head on one side observed with a knowing eye all that went forward; showing perhaps most interest in the turning of the spit, the impalement of the turkey thereon having been with him an object of special consideration.
The highly colored picture of Warren at Bunker-Hill, writhing in his death-agony on one wall of the kitchen, and General Marion feasting from a potato, in his tent, on the other, did not in the least attract the attention of Mopsey. She saw nothing on the whole horizon of the glowing apartment but the pies and the turkey, and even for the moment neglected to puzzle herself, as she was accustomed to in the pauses of her daily labors, with the wonders and mysteries of an ancient dog-eared spelling-book which lay upon the smoky mantel.
Meanwhile, in obedience to the spirit of the day, the widow Margaret and Miriam, having each diligently disposed of their separate charge in the preparations, making a church of the homestead, conducted a worship in their own simple way. Opposite to each other in the little sitting-room, Miriam opened the old Family Bible, and at the widow Margaret's request read from that chapter which gives the story of the prodigal son. It was with a clear and pensive voice that she read, but not without a struggle with herself. Where the story told that the young man had gone into a far country; that he had wasted his substance in riotous living; that he was abased to the feeding of swine; that he craved in his hunger the very husks; that he lamented the plenty of his father's house—a cloud came upon her countenance, and the simplest eye could have interpreted the thoughts that troubled her. And how the fair young face brightened, when she read that the young man resolved to arise and return to the house of his father; the dear encounter; the rejoicing over his return, and the glad proclamation, "This, my son, was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
"If he would come back even so," said the widow when the book was closed, "in sorrow, in poverty, in crime even, I would thank God and be grateful."
"He is not guilty, mother," Miriam pleaded, casting her head upon the widow's bosom and clinging close about her neck.
"I will not think that he is," Margaret answered, lifting up her head. "Guilty or innocent, he is my son—my son." Clasping the young orphan's hand, after a pause of tender silence, she gave utterance to her feelings in a Thanksgiving hymn. These were the words:—
Father! protect the wanderer on his way; Bright be for him thy stars and calm thy seas— Thanksgiving live upon his lips to-day, And in his heart the good man's summer ease.
Almighty! Thou canst bring the pilgrim back, With a clear brow to this his childish home; Guide him, dear Father, o'er a blameless track, No more to stray from us, no more to roam.
At this moment a tumult of children's voices was heard in the door-yard, and as the widow turned, young William Peabody was seen struggling with Robert and little Sam, who were holding him back with all their force. As he dragged them forward, being their elder and superior in strength, Peabody Junior stretched his throat and called towards the house—"I've seen him—I've seen him!"
"Who have you seen?" asked the widow, rising and approaching the door.
"Mr. Barbary." When Peabody Junior made this answer the widow advanced with a gleam on her countenance, and gently releasing him, said, "Come, William, and tell us all about it."
"Aunt Margaret," said Robert, thrusting himself between, "don't listen to a word he has to say. I'll tell you all about it. You see we were coming home from meeting, and little Sam got tired, and William and I made a cradle of our hands and were carrying him along very nice."
"Not so very nice, either," Peabody Junior interrupted, "for I was plaguy tired."
"That's what I was going to tell you, Aunt Margaret. Bill did get tired, and as we came through the Locust Wood, he made believe to see something, and run away to get clear of carrying little Sam any further."
"I did see him!" said Peabody Junior, firmly.
"Where was he?" the widow asked.
"Behind the hazel-bush, with his head just looking out at the top, all turned white as dead folks do."
Mopsey was in immediately with her dark head, crying out, "Don't belief a word of it."
"I guess you saw nothing but the hazel-bush, William," said the widow.
"That was it, Aunt; it was the hazel-bush with a great mop of moss on it," Robert added.
Miriam sat looking on and listening, pale and trembling.
"If your cousin Elbridge and Mr. Barbary should ever come back," said the widow, addressing Peabody Junior, "you would be sorry for what you have said, William."
"So he would, Aunt," echoed Robert.
Mopsey was in again from the kitchen; this time she advanced several steps from the door-sill into the room, lifted up both her arms and addressed the assembled company.
"One ting I know," said Mopsey, "dere's a big pie baking in dat ere oven, and if Mas'r Elbridge don't eat that pie it'll haf to sour, dat I know."
"What is it, Mopsey," asked Margaret, "that gives you such a faith in my son?"
"I tell you what it is, Missus," Mopsey answered promptly, "dast tanksgivin when I tumbled down on dis ere sef-same floor bringin' in de turkey, every body laugh but Mas'r Elbridge, and he come from his place and pick me up. He murder any body! I'll eat de whole tanksgivin dinner myself if he touch a hair of de old preacher's head to hurt it." Suddenly changing her tone, she added, "Dey're comin' from meetin', I hear de old wagon."
As the Peabodys approached the homestead, the smoke of the kitchen chimney was visible, circling upward and winding about in the sunshine as though it had been a delicate corkscrew uncorking a great bottle or square old flask of a delicious vintage. The Captain averred a quarter of a mile away, the moment they had come upon the brow of the hill, that he had a distinct savor of the fragrance of the turkey, and that it was quite as refreshing as the first odor of the land breeze coming in from sea, and he snuffed it up with a zeal and relish which gave the gig an eager appetite for dinner. The Captain's conjecture was strongly confirmed in the appearance of Mopsey, darting, with a dark face of dewy radiance at the wood-pile and shuffling back with bustling speed to the kitchen with a handful of delicate splinters. "She's giving him the last turn," said the Captain.
The shadow of the little meeting-house was still over the Captain, even so far away, for he conducted the procession homeward at a pace much less furious than that with which he had advanced in the morning; and Mrs. Carrack too, observed now, with a strange pleasure, what she had given no heed to before when the fine coach was rolling in triumph along the road,—birds twittering in the sunny air by the wayside, and cattle roving like figures in a beautiful picture, upon the slopes of the distant hills. Oliver, the politician, more than once had out the great cotton pocket-handkerchief, and holding it spread before him contemplating the fatherly signers, was evidently acquiring some new lights on the subject of independence.
A change, in fine, of some sort or other, had passed over every member of the Peabody family save old Sylvester, returning as going, calm, plain-spoken, straightforward and patriarchal. When they reached the gate of the homestead, William Peabody gave his hand to his wife and helped her, with some show of attention, to alight; and then there could be no doubt that it was in very truth Thanksgiving day, for the glory of the door-yard itself had paled and disappeared in the gorgeous festal light. There was no majestic gobbler in the door-yard now, with his great outspread tail, which in the proud moments of his life he would have expanded as if to shut the very light of the sun from all meaner creatures of the mansion.
Within doors there was that bustling preparation, with brief lulls of ominous silence which precede and usher a great event. The widow Margaret, with noiseless step, glided to and fro, Miriam daintily hovering in the suburbs of the sitting-room, which is evidently the grand centre of interest, and Mopsey toils like a swart goblin in her laboratory of the kitchen in a high glow, scowling fearfully if addressed with a word which calls her attention for a moment away from her critical labors.
As the family entered the homestead on their return, the combined forces were just at the point of pitching their tent on the ground of the forthcoming engagement, in the shape of the ancient four-legged and wide-leaved table, with a cover of snowy whiteness, ornamented as with shields and weapons of quaint device, in the old plates of pewter and the horn-handled knives and forks burnished to such a polish as to make the little room fairly glitter. Dishes streamed in one after the other in a long and rapid procession, piles of home-made bread, basins of apple-sauce, pickles, potatoes of vast proportion and mealy beauty. When the ancient and lordly pitcher of blue and white (whether freighted with new cider or old cold water need not be told) crowned the board, the first stage of preparation was complete, and another portentous pause ensued. The whole Peabody connection arranged in stately silence in the front parlor, looked on through the open door in wonder and expectation of what was to follow. The children loitered about the door-ways with watering eyes and open mouths, like so many innocent little dragons lying in wait to rush in at an opportune moment and bear off their prey.
And now, all at once there comes a deeper hush—a still more portentous pause—all eyes are in the direction of the kitchen; the children are hanging forward with their bodies and outstretched necks half way in at the door; Miriam and the widow stand breathless and statue-like at either side of the room; when, as if rising out of some mysterious cave in the very ground, a dark figure is discerned in the distance, about the centre of the kitchen, (into which Mopsey has made, to secure an impressive effect, a grand circuit,) head erect, and bearing before it a huge platter; all their eyes tell them, every sense vividly reports what it is the platter supports; she advances with slow and solemn step; she has crossed the sill; she has entered the sitting-room; and, with a full sense of her awful responsibility, Mopsey delivers on the table, in a cleared place left for its careful deposit, the Thanksgiving turkey.
There is no need now to sound a gong, or to ring an alarm-bell to make known to that household that dinner is ready; the brown turkey speaks a summons as with the voice of a thousand living gobblers, and Sylvester rising, the whole Peabody family flock in. To every one his place is considerately assigned, the Captain in the centre directly opposite the turkey, Mrs. Carrack on the other side, the widow at one end, old Sylvester at the head. The children too, a special exception being made in their favor to-day, are allowed seats with the grown folks, little Sam disposing himself in great comfort in his old grandsire's arms.
Another hush—for everything to-day moves on through these constantly shut and opened gates of silence, in which they all sit tranquil and speechless, when the old patriarch lifts up his aged hands over the board and repeats his customary grace:
"May we all be Christian people the day we die—God bless us."
The Captain, the great knife and fork in hand, was ready to advance.
"Stop a moment, Charley," old Sylvester spoke up, "give us a moment to contemplate the turkey."
"I would there were just such a dish, grandfather," the Captain rejoined, "on every table in the land this day, and if I had my way there would be."
"No, no, Charley," the grandfather answered, "if there should be, there would be. There is One who is wiser than you or I."
"It would make the man who would do it," Oliver suggested, "immensely popular: he might get to be elected President of the United States."
"It would cost a large sum," remarked William Peabody, the merchant.
"Let us leave off considering imaginary turkeys, and discuss the one before us," said old Sylvester, "but I must first put a question, and if it's answered with satisfaction, we'll proceed. Now tell me," he said, addressing himself to Mr. Carrack, who sat in a sort of dream, as if he had lost his identity, as he had ever since the night-adventure in the fez-cap and red silk cloak: "Now tell me, Tiffany, although you have doubtless seen a great many grand things, such as the Alps, and St. Peter's church at Rome, has your eye fallen in with anything wherever you travelled over the world, grander than that Thanksgiving turkey?"
Mr. Carrack, either from excessive modesty or total abstraction, hesitated, looked about him hastily, and not till the Captain called across the table, "Why don't you speak, my boy?" and then, as if suddenly coming to, and realizing where he was, answered at last, with great deliberation, "It is a fine bird."
"Enough said," spoke up old Sylvester cheerfully; "you were the last Peabody I expected to acknowledge the merits of the turkey;" and, looking towards the Captain with encouragement, added, "now, knife and fork, do your duty."
It was short work the jovial Captain made with the prize turkey; in rapid succession plates were forwarded, heaped, sent around; and with a keen relish of the Thanksgiving dinner, every head was busy. Straight on, as people who have an allotted task before them, the Peabodys moved through the dinner,—a powerful, steady-going caravan of cheerful travellers, over hill, over dale, up the valleys, along the stream-side, cropping their way like a nimble-toothed flock of grazing sheep, keenly enjoying herbage and beverage by the way.
What though, while they were at the height of its enjoyment a sudden storm, at that changeful season, arose without, and dashed its heavy drops against the doors and window-panes; that only, by the contrast of security and fire-side comfort, heightened the zest within, while they were engaged with the many good dishes at least, but when another pause came, did not the pelting shower and the chiding wind talk with them, each one in turn, of the absent, and oh! some there will not believe it—the lost? It was no doubt some thought of this kind that prompted old Sylvester to speak:
"My children," said the patriarch, glancing with a calm eye around the circle of glowing faces at the table "you are bound together with good cheer and in comfortable circumstances; and even as you, who are here from east and west, from the north and the south, by each one yielding a little of his individual whim or inclination, can thus sit together prosperously and in peace at one board, so can our glorious family of friendly States, on this and every other day, join hands, and like happy children in the fields, lead a far-lengthening dance of festive peace among the mountains and among the vales, from the soft-glimmering east far on to the bright and ruddy west. If others still seek to join in——"
"Ay, father," said Oliver, "there is a great danger."
"Even as by making a little way," answered the patriarch, "we could find room at this table for one or two or three more, so may another State and still another join us, if it will, and even as our natural progeny increaseth to the third, fourth, tenth generation, let us trust for centuries to come this happy Union still shall live to lead her sons to peace, prosperity, and rightful glory."
"But," interposed Oliver, the politician, again, with a double reference in his thoughts, it would almost seem, to an erring State or an absent child, "one may break away in wilfulness or crime—what then?"
"Let us lure it back," was old Sylvester's reply, "with gentle appeals. Remember we are all brethren, and that our alliance is one not merely of worldly interest, but also of family affection. Let us, on this hallowed day," he added, "cherish none but kindly thoughts toward all our kindred, and if him we have least esteemed offer the hand, let us take it in brotherly regard."
There was a pause of silence once again, which was broken by a knock at the door. Old Sylvester, having spoken his mind, had fallen into a reverie, and the Peabodys glancing one to the other, the question arose, shall the strangers (Mopsey reported them to be two) whoever they may be, be admitted?
"This is strictly a family festival," it was suggested, "where no strangers can be rightly allowed."
"May be thieves!" the merchant added.
"Vagabonds, perhaps!" Mrs. Carrack suggested.
"Strangers, anyhow!" said Mrs. Jane Peabody.
The widow Margaret and Miriam were silent and gave utterance to no opinion.
In the midst of the discussion old Sylvester suddenly awakening, and rearing his white locks aloft, in the voice of a trumpet of silver sound, cried out:—"If they be human, let 'em in!"
As he delivered this emphatic order there was a deep moan at the door, as of one in great pain, or suffering keenly from anguish of spirit, and when it was opened to admit the new-comers, the voice of Chanticleer, raised for the second time, broke in, clear and shrilly, from the outer darkness.
It was old Sylvester himself who opened the door and admitted the strangers; one of them, the younger, wore a slouched hat which did not allow his features to be distinctly observed, further than that his eyes were bright with a strange lustre, and that his face was deadly pale. He was partly supported by the elder man, whose person was clad in a long coat, reaching nearly to the ground. They were invited to the table, but refusing, asked permission to sit at the fire, which being granted, they took their station on either side of the hearth; the younger staggered feebly to his seat, and kept his gaze closely fixed on the other.
"He had better take something," said old Sylvester, looking toward the young man and addressing the other. "Is your young friend ill?"
"With an ailment food cannot relieve, I fear," the elder man answered.
"Will you not remove your hats?" old Sylvester asked again.
Turning slowly at this question, the young man answered, "We may not prove fit company for such as you, and if so the event shall prove, we will pass on and trouble you no further. If every thread were dry as summer flax," he added, in a tone of deep feeling, "I for one, am not fit to sit among honest people."
"You should not say so, my son," said old Sylvester; "let us hope that all men may on a day like this sit together; that, remembering God's many mercies to us all, in the preservation of our lives, in his blessed change of seasons, in hours of holy meditation allowed to us, every man in very gratitude to the Giver of all Good, for this one day in the year at least, may suspend all evil thoughts and be at peace with all his fellow-creatures."
The young man turned toward the company at the table, but not so far that his whole face could be seen.
"Have all who sit about you at that table," he asked, glancing slowly around, "performed the duty to which you refer, and purged their bosoms of unkindness toward their fellow-men? Is there none who grasps the widow's substance? who cherishes scorn and hatred of kindred? Who judges harshly of the absent?"
There was a movement in different members of the company, but old Sylvester hushed them with a look, and took upon himself the business of reply.
"It may be," said old Sylvester, "that some of us are disquieted, for be it known to you that one of the children of this household is absent from among us for causes which may well disturb our thoughts."
"I have heard the story," the young man continued, "and if I know it aright, these are the truths of that history: There were two men, friends, once in this neighborhood, Mr. Barbary the preacher, and your grandson Elbridge Peabody. Something like a year ago the preacher suddenly disappeared from this region, and the report arose and constantly spread that he had fallen by the hand of his friend, that grandchild of yours. It began in a cloudy whisper, afar off, but swelled from day to day, from hour to hour, till it overshadowed this whole region, and not the least of the darkness it caused was on this spot, where this ancient homestead stands, and where the young man had grown and lived from the hour of his birth. He saw coldness and avoidance on the highway; he was shrunk from on sabbath-mornings, and by children; but this was little and could be borne—the world was against him: but when he saw an aged face averted," he looked at old Sylvester steadily, "and a mother's countenance sad and hostile—"
"Sad—but not hostile," the widow murmured.
"Sorrowful and troubled, at least," the young man rejoined, "his life, for all of happiness, was at an end. He must cease to live or he must restore the ancient sunshine which had lighted the windows of the home of his boyhood. He knew that his friend had not fallen by his hand; that he still lived, but in a far distant place which none but a long and weary journey could reach."
"He should have declared as much," interposed the old patriarch.
"No, sir; his word would have been but as the frail leaf blown idly from the autumn-bough; nothing but the living presence of his friend could silence the voice of the accuser. He rose up and departed, without counsel of any, trusting only in God and his own strength; he bore with him neither bag nor baggage, scrip nor scrippage—not even a change of raiment; but with a handful of fruit and the humble provision which his good mother had furnished for the harvest-field, he set forth; day and night he journeyed on the truck he knew his friend had taken to that far country, toiling in the fields to secure food and lodging for the night, and some scant aids to carry him from place to place. Pushing on fast and far through the western country, in hunger and distress, passing by the very door of prosperous kinsfolk, but not tarrying a moment to seek relief."
At this point Mrs. Jane Peabody glanced at her husband.
"And so by one stage and another, hastening on, he reached that great city in the south, the metropolis of New Orleans; often, as he hoped, on the very steps of his friend, but never overtaking him, with fortune at so low an ebb that there he was well-nigh wasted in strength, hunger-stricken, and tattered in dress; driven to live in hovels till some chance restored him the little means to advance; so mean of person that his dearest friend, his nearest kinsman, even his old playfellow there," pointing to Mr. Tiffany Carrack, "who had wrestled with him in the hayfield, who had sat with him in childish talk often and many a time by summer stream-sides, would have passed him by as one unknown."
The glance which, in speaking this, he directed at Mr. Carrack, kindled on that young gentleman's countenance a ruby glow, so intense and fiery that it would seem as if it must have burned up the tawny tufts before their very eyes, like so much dry stubble. There was a glow of another kind in the Captain's broad face, which shone like another sun as he contemplated the two young men, glancing from one to the other.
"The young man, bent on that one purpose as on life itself," he continued, silencing his companion, who seemed eager to speak, with a motion of his finger, "through towns, over waters, upon deserts, still pursued his way; and, to be brief in a weary history, there, in the very heart of that great region of gold, among diggers and searchers, and men distracted in a thousand ways in that perilous hunt, to find his simple-hearted friend, the preacher, in an out-of-the-way wilderness among the mountains, exhorting the living, comforting the sick, consoling the dying—and then, for the first time he learned, what his friend had carefully concealed before, the motive of his self-banishment to this distant country."
His companion would have spoken, but the young man hurrying on, allowed him not a word.
"You who know his history," he continued, addressing the company at the table—"know what calamity had once come upon the household of Mr. Barbary, by the unlawful thirst for gold; that he held its love as the curse of curses; he thought if he could but once throw himself in its midst, where that passion raged the most, he would be doing his Master's service most faithfully, more than in this quiet country-place of peaceful households, but when he learned the peril and the sore distress of his young friend, he tarried not a moment. 'To restore peace to one injured mind,' he said; 'to bring back harmony to one household is a clear and certain duty which will outweigh the vague chances of the good I may do here.' The young man cherished but one wish; through storm and trial and distress of every name and hue, if he could but reach home on the day of Thanksgiving, and stand up there before his assembled kindred a vindicated man, he would be requited fully for all his toil. He took ship; in tempest, and with many risks of perishing far away unvindicated, in the middle of the wild sea—"
The widowed mother could restrain herself no longer, but rushing forward, she removed the young man's hat from his brow, parted his locks, and casting herself upon his neck, gave utterance to her feelings in the affecting language of Scripture, which she had listened to in the morning: "My son was dead and is alive again—he was lost and is found!"
Miriam timidly grasped his offered hand and was silent. The company had risen from the table and gathered around.
"Now," said William Peabody, "I could believe,—be glad to believe all this, if he had but brought Mr. Barbary with him."
The elder stranger cast back his coat, removed his hat, and standing forth, said, "I am here, and testify to the truth, in every word, of all my young friend has declared to you."
On this declaration the Peabodys, without an exception, hastened to welcome and address the returned Elbridge, and closed upon him in a solid group of affectionate acknowledgment. Old Sylvester stood looking loftily down over all from the outer edge of the circle, and while they were busiest in congratulations and well-wishes, he went forward.
"Stand back!" cried the old man, waving the company aside with outspread arms, and advancing with extended hand toward his grandson. "I have an atonement to render here, which I call you all to witness."
"I take your hand, grandfather," Elbridge interposed, "but not in acknowledgment of any wrong on your part. You have lived an hundred blameless years, and I am not the one this day to breathe a reproach for the first time on your spotless age."
Tears filled the old patriarch's eyes, and with a gentle hand he led his grandson silently to the table, to which the whole company returned, there being room for Mr. Barbary as well.
At this crisis of triumphant explanation, Mopsey, who had under one pretext and another, evaded the bringing in of the pie to the last moment, appeared at the kitchen-door bearing before her, with that air of extraordinary importance peculiar to the negro countenance on eventful occasions, a huge brown dish with which she advanced to the head of the table, and with an emphatic bump, answering to the pithy speeches of warriors and statesmen at critical moments, deposited the great Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Looking proudly around, she simply said, "Dere!"
It was the blossom and crown of Mopsey's life, the setting down and full delivery to the family of that, the greatest pumpkin-pie ever baked in that house from the greatest pumpkin ever reared among the Peabodys in all her long backward recollection of past Thanksgivings, and her manner of setting it down, was, in its most defiant form, a clincher and a challenge to all makers and bakers of pumpkin-pies, to all cutters and carvers, to all diners and eaters, to all friends and enemies of pumpkin-pie, in the thirty or forty United States. The Brundages too, might come and look at it if they had a mind to!
The Peabody family, familiar with the pie from earliest infancy, were struck dumb, and sat silent for the space of a minute, contemplating its vastness and beauty. Old Sylvester even, with his hundred years of pumpkin-pie experience, was staggered, and little Sam jumped up and clapped his hands in his old grandfather's arms, and struggled to stretch himself across as if he would appropriate it, by actual possession, to himself. The joy of the Peabodys was complete, for the lost grandson had returned, and the Thanksgiving-pie was a glorious one, and if it was the largest share that was allotted to the returned Elbridge, will any one complain? And yet at times a cloud came upon the young man's brow,—when dinner was passed with pleasant family talk, questionings and experiences, as they sat about the old homestead hearth,—which even the playful gambols of the children who sported about him like so many friendly spirits, could not drive away. The heart of cousin Elbridge was not in their childish freaks and fancies as it had been in other days. The shining solitude looking in at the windows seemed to call him without.
As though it had caught something of the genial spirit that glowed within the house, the wind was laid without, and the night softened with the beauty of the rising moon. With a sadness on his brow which neither the old homestead nor the pure heavens cast there, Elbridge went forth into the calm night, and sitting for a while by the road beneath an ancient locust-tree, where he had often read his book in the summer-times of boyhood, he communed with himself. He was happy—what mortal man could be happier?—in all his wishes come to pass; his very dreams had taken life and proved to be realities and friends, and yet a sadness he could not drive away followed his steps. Why was this? That moment, if his voice or any honorable and sinless motion of his hand could have ordained it, he would have dismissed himself from life and ceased to be a living partaker in the scenes about him. Even then—for happy as he was, he dreaded in prophetic fear, the chances which beset our mortal path. The weight of mortality was heavy upon the young man's spirit.
Thinking over all the way he had passed, oh, who could answer that he, with the thronging company of busy passions and desires, could ever hope to reach an old age and never go astray? Oh, blessed is he (he thought) who can lie down in death, can close his account with this world, having safely escaped the temptations, the crimes, the trials, which make of good men even, in moments of weakness and misjudgment, the false speaker, the evil-doer, the slanderer, the coward, the hasty assailant, and, (oh, dreadful perchance,) the seeming-guilty-murderer himself. Strange thoughts for a prosperous lover's night, but earth is not heaven. With the sweat of anguish on his brow he bowed his head as one whose trouble is heavy to be borne. Yet even then the thought of the sweet heaven over him, with all its glorious promises, came upon him, and as he lifted up his eyes from the earth, the moon sailing forth from the clouds, and flooding the region with silver light, disclosed a figure so gentle and delicate, and in its features so pure of all our common passions, it seemed as if his troubled thoughts had summoned a spirit before him from the better world. As he stood regarding it in melancholy calmness, it extended towards him a hand.
"No, no," he said, declining the gentle salutation and retiring a pace, "touch me not, Miriam, I am not worthy of your pure companionship. If you knew what passed and is passing in my breast, you would loathe me as a leper."
She was silent and dropped her eyes before him.
"Think not, my gentle mistress," he added presently, "my heart is changed towards you. The glow is only too bright and warm."
"If you love me not, Elbridge," she interposed quickly, "fear not to say so, even now. I will bear the pang as best I can."
"You have suffered too much already," he rejoined, touched to the heart. "My long silence must have been as death to one so kind and gentle."
"I have suffered," was all she said. "One word from you in your long absence would have made me happy."
"It would, I know it would, and yet I could not speak it," Elbridge replied. "When, with a blight upon my name I left those halls," pointing to the old homestead standing in shadow of the autumn trees, "I vowed to know them no more, that my step should never cross their threshold, that my voice should never be heard again in those ancient chambers, that no being of all that household should have a word from these lips or hands till I could come back a vindicated man; that I would perish in distant lands, find a silent grave among strangers, far from mother and her I loved, or that I would come back with my lost friend, in his living form, to avouch and testify my truth and innocence."
"And had you no thought of me in that cruel absence, dear Elbridge?" asked Miriam.
"Of you!" he echoed, now taking her hand, "of you! When in all these my wanderings, in weary nights, in lonely days, on seas and deserts far away, sore of foot and sick at heart, making my couch beneath the stars, in the tents of savage men, in the shadow of steeples that know not our holy faith, was it not my religion and my only solace, that one like you thought of me as I of her, and though all the world abandoned and distrusted the wanderer, there was one star in the distant horizon which yet shone true, and trembled with a hopeful light upon my path."
"Are we not each other's now?" she whispered softly as she lay her gentle head upon his bosom; "and if we have erred, and repent but truly, will not He forgive us?"
As she lifted up her innocent face to heaven, did not those gentle tears which fell unheard by mortal ear, from those fair eyes, drop in hearing of Him who hears and acknowledges the faintest sound of true affection, through all the boundless universe, musically as the chime of holy Sabbath-bells?
"You are my dear wife," he answered, folding her close to his heart, "and if you forgive and still cherish me, happiness may still be ours; and although no formal voice has yet called us one, by all that's sacred in the stillness of the night, and by every honest beating of this heart, dear Miriam, you are mine, to watch, to tend, to love, to reverence, in sickness, in sorrow, in care, in joy; by all that belongs of gaiety to youth, in manhood and in age, we will have one home, one couch, one fireside, one grave, one God, and one hereafter."
An old familiar instrument, swept as he well knew by his mother's fingers, sounded at that moment from the homestead, and hand in hand, blending their steps, they returned to the Thanksgiving household within.
When Elbridge and Miriam re-entered the homestead they found the best parlor, which they had left in humble dependence on the light of a single home-made wick, now in full glow, and wide awake in every corner, with a perfect illumination of lamps and candles; and every thing in the room had waked up with them. The old brass andirons stood shining like a couple of bald-headed little grandfathers by the hearth; the letters in the sampler over the mantel, narrating the ages of the family, had renewed their color; the tall old clock, allowed to speak again, stood like an overgrown schoolboy with his face newly washed, stretching himself up in a corner; the painted robins and partridges on the wall, now in full feather, strutting and flying about in all the glory of an unfading plumage; and at the rear of all the huge back-log on the hearth glowed and rolled in his place as happy as an alderman at a city feast. The Peabodys too, partook of the new illumination, and were there in their best looks, scattered about the room in cheerful groups, while in the midst of all the widow Margaret, her face lighted with a smile which came there from far-off years, holding in her hand as we see an angel in the sunny clouds in old pictures, the ancient harpsichord, which till now had been laid away and out of use for many a long day of sadness.
While Elbridge and Miriam stood still in wonder at the sudden change of this living pageant, old Sylvester, his white head carried proudly aloft, appeared from the sitting-room with Mr. Barbary, a quaint figure, freed now of his long coat, and bearing no trace of travel on his neat apparel and face of cheerful gravity. Leaving the preacher in the centre of the apartment, the patriarch advanced quietly toward the young couple, and, addressing himself to Elbridge, said, "My children, I have a favor to ask of you."
"Anything, grandfather!" Elbridge answered promptly.
"You are sure?" Old Sylvester's eyes twinkled as he spoke.
"It would be the pleasure and glory of my young days," Elbridge answered again, "to crown your noble old age, grandfather, with any worthy wreath these hands could fashion, and not call it a favor either."
Old Sylvester, smiling from one to the other, said, "You are to be married immediately."
The young couple fell back and dropped each the other's hand, which they had been holding. Miriam trembled and shrunk the farthest away.
"You will not deny me?" the grandfather said again. "You are the youngest and the last whom I can hope to see joined in that bond which is to continue our name and race; it is my last request on earth."
At these simple words, turning, and with a fond regard which spoke all their thoughts, Miriam and Elbridge took again each the other's hand, and drew close side to side. The company rose, and Mr. Barbary was on the point of speaking when there emerged upon the family scene, from an inner chamber, as though he had been a foreigner entering a fashionable drawing-room, Mr. Tiffany Carrack, in the very blossom of full dress; his hair in glossy curl, with white neckcloth and waistcoat of the latest cut and tie, coat and pants of the purest model, pumps and silk stockings; bearing in his hand a gossamer pocket-handkerchief, which he shook daintily as he advanced, and filled the room with a strange fragrance. With mincing step, just dotting the ground, his whole body shaking like a delicate structure in danger every moment of tumbling to the ground, he advanced to where Miriam and Elbridge stood before Mr. Barbary.
"Why really, 'pon my life and honor, Miriam, you are looking quite charming this evening!"
"She should look so now if ever, Tiffany," said old Sylvester, "for she is just about to be married to your cousin Elbridge."
"Now you don't mean that?" said Mr. Tiffany, touching the tawny tufts tenderly with his perfumed pocket-handkerchief, "Oh, woman! woman! what is your name?" He hesitated for a reply.
"Perfidy?" suggested Mr. Oliver Peabody.
"Yes, that's it. Have I lived to look on this," Mr. Tiffany continued; "to have my young hopes blighted, the rose of my existence cropped, and all that. Is it for this," addressing Miriam directly: he had been talking before to the air: "Is it for this I went blackberrying with you in my tender infancy! Is it for this that in the heyday of youth I walked with you to the school-house down the road! Was it for this that in the prime of manhood I breathed soft music in your ear at the witching time of night!"
As he arrived at this last question, Mopsey, in her new gown of gorgeous pattern, and, having laid aside her customary broad-bordered cap, with a high crowned turban of red, and yellow cotton handkerchief on her head, appeared at the parlor door. Mr. Tiffany paused: he saw the Moorish princess before him; rallying, however, he was proceeding to describe himself as a friendly troubadour, whose affection had been responded to, when the Captain placing his mouth to his ear, as in confidence, uttered in a portentous whisper, "THE VAT!"
Mr. Tiffany immediately lost all joint and strength, subsided into a chair at a distance, and from that moment looked upon the scene like one in a trance.
"After all," said Mr. Oliver, glancing at him, "I don't see just now that, in any point of view, this young gentleman is destined to carry the principles of free government—anywhere."
The family being now all gathered, Mr. Barbary proceeded, employing a simple and impressive form in use in that family from its earliest history:
"You, the Bridegroom and the Bride, who now present yourselves candidates of the covenant of God and of your marriage before him, in token of your consenting affections and united hearts, please to give your hands to one another.
"Mr. Bridegroom, the person whom you now take by the hand, you receive to be your married wife: you promise to love her, to honor her, to support her, and in all things to treat her as you are now, or shall hereafter be convinced is by the laws of Christ made your duty,—a tender husband, with unspotted fidelity till death shall separate you.
"Mrs. Bride, the person whom you now hold by the hand you accept to be your married husband; you promise to love him, to honor him, to submit to him, and in all things to treat him as you are now or shall hereafter be convinced, is by the laws of Christ made your duty,—an affectionate wife, with inviolable loyalty till death shall separate you.
"This solemn covenant you make, and in this sacred oath bind your souls in the presence of the Great God, and before these witnesses.
"I then declare you to be husband and wife regularly married according to the laws of God and the Commonwealth: therefore what God hath thus joined together let no man put asunder."
When these words had been solemnly spoken the widow Margaret struck her ancient harpsichord in an old familiar tune of plaintive tenderness, and the young bridegroom holding Miriam's hand in an affectionate clasp, answered the music with a little hymn or carol, often used before among the Peabodys on a like occasion:
Entreat me not—I ne'er will leave thee, Ne'er loose this hand in bower or hall; This heart, this heart shall ne'er deceive thee, This voice shall answer ever to thy call.
To which Miriam, after a brief pause of hesitation, in that tone of chanting lament familiar to her, answered—
Thy God is mine, where'er thou rovest, Where'er thou dwellest there too will I dwell; In the same grave shall she thou lovest Lie down with him she loves so well.
Like a cheerful voice answering to these, and wishing, out of the mysterious darkness of night, all happiness and prosperity to the young couple, the silver call of Chanticleer arose without, renewed and renewed again, as if he could never tire of announcing the happy union to all the country round.
And now enjoyment was at its height among the Peabodys, helped by Plenty, who, with Mopsey for chief assistant, hurried in, with plates of shining pippins, baskets of nuts, brown jugs of new cider of home-made vintage; Mrs. Carrack, who had selected the simplest garment in her wardrobe, moving about in aid of black Mopsey, tendering refreshment to her old father first, and Mrs. Jane Peabody insisting on being allowed to distribute the walnuts with her own hand.
The children, never at rest for a moment, frisked to and fro, like so many merry dolphins, disporting in the unaccustomed candle-light, to which they were commonly strangers. They were listened to in all their childish prattle kindly, by every one, indulged in all their little foolish ways, as if the grown-up Peabodys for this night at least, believed that they were indeed little citizens of the kingdom of heaven, straying about this wicked world on parole. Uncle Oliver, once, spreading his great Declaration-of-Independence pocket-handkerchief on his knees, attempted to put them to the question as to their learning. They all recognised Dr. Franklin, with his spectacles thrown up on his brow, among the signers, but denying all knowledge of anything more, ran away to the Captain, who was busy building, a dozen at a time, paper packet ships, and launching them upon the table for a sea.
In the very midst of the mirthful hubbub old Sylvester called Robert and William to his side, and was heard to whisper, "Bring 'em in." William and Robert were gone a moment and returned, bearing under heavy head-way, tumbling and pitching on one side constantly, two ancient spinning wheels, Mopsey following with snowy flocks of wool and spinning sticks. Old Sylvester arose, and delivering a stick and flock to Mrs. Carrack and Mrs. Jane Peabody, requested them, in a mild voice and as a matter of course already settled, "to begin." A spinning-match!
"Yes, anything you choose to-night, father."
Rolling back their sleeves, adjusting their gowns, the wheels being planted on either side of the fireplace, Mrs. Jane and Mrs. Carrack, stick in hand, seized each on her allotment of wool, and sent the wheels whirling. It was a cheerful sight to see the two matrons closing in upon the wheel, retiring, closing in again—whose wheel is swiftest, whose thread truest? Now Mrs. Jane—now Mrs. Carrack. If either, Mrs. Carrack puts the most heart in her work.
"Now she looks like my Nancy," said old Sylvester in a glow, "as when she used to spin and sing, in the old upper chamber."
Away they go—whose wheel is swiftest, whose thread the truest now?
While swift and free the contest wages, the parlor-door standing open, and beyond that the door of the sitting-room, look down the long perspective! Do you not see in the twilight of the kitchen fire a dark head, lighting up, as in flashes, with a glittering row of teeth, with a violent agitation of the body, with gusty ha-ha's, and fragments of an uproarious chant flying through the door something to this effect—
Oh, de fine ladies, how dey do spin—spin—spin, Like de gals long ago—long ago! I bet to'der one don't win—win—win, Kase de diamond-flowers on her fingers grow. Lay down your white gloves, take up de wool, Round about de whirly wheel go; Back'ard and for'ard nimble feet pull, Like de nice gals long—long ago!
Silence follows, in which nothing is observable from that quarter more than a great pair of white eyes rolling about in the partial darkness. Who was other than pleased that in spite of Mopsey's decision, old Sylvester determined that if either, Mrs. Carrack's work was done a little the soonest, and that her thread was a little the truest?
During the contest the old merchant and his wife had conversed closely, apart; the green shade had lost its terrors, and he could look on it steadily, now; and at the close William Peabody approaching the fireplace, drew from his bosom the old parchment deed, which in his hunger for money had so often disquieted his visits to the homestead, and thrust it into the very heart of the flame, which soon shrivelled it up, and, conveying it out at the chimney, before the night was past spread it in peaceful ashes over the very grounds which it had so long disturbed.
"So much for that!" said the old merchant, as the last flake vanished; "and now, nephew," he addressed himself to Elbridge, "fulfilling an engagement connected with your return, I resign to you all charge of your father's property."
"Did you bring anything with you from the Gold Region?" Mrs. Carrack interposed.
"Not one cent, Aunt," Elbridge answered promptly.
"You may add, William," pursued Mrs. Carrack, "the sums of mine you have in hand."
William Peabody was pausing on this proposition, the sums in question being at that very moment embarked in a most profitable speculation.
Upon the very height of the festivity, when it glowed the brightest and was most musical with mirthful voices, there had come to the casement a moaning sound as if borne upon the wind from a distance, a wailing of anguish, at the same time like and unlike that of human suffering. By slow advances it approached nearer and nearer to the homestead, and whenever it arose it brought the family enjoyment to a momentary pause. It had drawn so near that it sounded now again, as if in mournful lamentation, at the very door, when Mopsey, her dark face almost white, and her brow wrinkled with anxiety, rushed in. "Grandfather," she said, addressing old Sylvester, "blind Sorrel's dying in the door-yard."
There was not one in all that company whom the announcement did not cause to start; led by old Sylvester, they hastily rose, and conducted by Mopsey, followed to the scene. Blind Sorrel was lying by the moss-grown horse-trough, at the gate.
"I noticed her through the day," said Oliver, "wandering up the lane as if she was seeking the house."
"The death-agony must have been upon her then," said William Peabody, shading his eyes with his hand.
"She remembered, perhaps, her young days," old Sylvester added, "when she used to crop the door-yard grass."
Mopsey, in her solicitude to have the death-bed of poor blind Sorrel properly attended, had brought with her, in the event of the paling or obscuration of the moon, a dark lantern, which she held tenderly aside as though the poor old creature still possessed her sight; immoveable herself as though she had been a swarthy image in stone, while, on the other side, William Peabody, near her head, stood gazing upon the animal with a fixed intensity, breathing hard and watching her dying struggle with a rigid steadiness of feature almost painful to behold.
"Has carried me to mill many a day," he said; "some pleasantest hours of my life spent upon her back, sauntering along at early day."
"Your mother rode her to meeting," Sylvester addressed his second son, "on your wedding-day, Oliver. Sorrel was of a long-lived race."
"She was the gentlest horse-creature you ever owned, father," added Mrs. Carrack, turning affectionately toward old Sylvester, "and humored us girls when we rode her as though she had been a blood-relation."
"I'm not so sure of that," Mr. Tiffany Carrack rejoined, "for she has dumped me in a ditch more than once."
"That was your own careless riding, Tiffany," said the Captain, "I don't believe she had the least ill-will towards any living creature, man or beast."
It was observed that whenever William Peabody spoke, blind Sorrel turned her feeble head in that direction, as if she recognised and singled out his voice from all the others.
"She knows your voice, father, even in her darkness," said the Captain, "as the sailor tells his old captain's step on deck at night."
"Well she may, Charles," the merchant replied, "for she was foaled the same day I was born."
The old creature moaned and heaved her side fainter and fainter.
"Speak to her, William," said the old grandfather.
William Peabody bent down, and in a tremulous voice said, "Sorrel, do you know me?"
The poor blind creature lifted up her aged head feebly towards him, heaved her weary side, gasped once and was gone. The moon, which had been shining with a clear and level light upon the group of faces, dipped at that moment behind the orchard-trees, and at the same instant the light in the lantern flickering feebly, was extinguished.
"What do you mean by putting the light out, Mopsey," old Sylvester asked.
"I knew de old lamp would be goin' out, Massa, soon as ever blind Sorrel die; I tremble so I do' no what I'm saying." It was poor Mopsey's agitation which had shaken out the light.
"Never shall we know a more faithful servant, a truer friend, than poor blind Sorrel," they all agreed; and bound still closer together by so simple a bond as common sympathy in the death of the poor old blind family horse, they returned within the homestead.
They were scarcely seated again when William Peabody, turning to Mrs. Carrack, said, "Certainly!" referring to the transfer of the money of hers in his hands on loan, to Elbridge, "he will need some ready money to begin the world with."
All was cheerful friendship now; the family, reconciled in all its members, sitting about their aged father's hearth on this glorious Thanksgiving night; the gayer mood subsiding, a sudden stillness fell upon the whole house, such as precedes some new turn in the discourse.
Old Sylvester Peabody sat in the centre of the family, moving his body to and fro gently, and lifting his white head up and down upon his breast; his whole look and manner strongly arresting the attention of all; of the children not the least. After a while the old man paused, and looking mildly about, addressed the household.
"This is a happy day, my children," he said, "but the seeds of it were sown, you must allow an old man to say, long, long ago. If one good Being had not died in a far country and a very distant time, we could not have this comfort now."
The children watched the old grandfather more closely.
"I am an old man, and shall be with you, I feel, but for a little while yet; as one who stands at the gate of the world to come, looking through, and through which he is soon to pass, will you not allow me to believe that I thought of the hopes of your immortal spirits in your youth?"
As being the eldest, and answering for the rest, William Peabody replied, "We will."
"Did I not teach you then, or strive my best to teach, that there was but one Holy God?"
"You did, father—you did!" the widow Margaret answered.
"That his only Son died for us?"
"Often—often!" said Mrs. Carrack.
"That we must love one another as brethren?"
"At morning and night, in winter and summer; by the hearth and in the field, you did," Oliver rejoined.
"That there is but one path to happiness and peace here and hereafter," he continued, "through the performance of our duty towards our Maker, and our fellow men of every name, and tongue, and clime, and color? to love your dear Native Land, as she sits happy among the nations, but to remember this, our natural home, is but the ground-nest and cradle from which we spread our wings to fly through all the earth with hope and kindly wishes for all men. If the air is cheerful here, and the sun-light pleasant, let no barrier or wall shut it in, but pray God, with reverent hope, it spread hence to the farthest lands and seas, till all the people of the earth are lighted up and made glad in the common fellowship of our blessed Saviour, who is, was, and will be evermore—to all men guide, protector, and ensample. May He be so to us and ours, to our beloved home and happy Fatherland, in all the time to come!"
The old man bowed his head in presence of his reconciled household, and fell into a sweet slumber; not one of all that company but echoed the old man's prayer—"May he be so to us and ours, to our beloved Home and happy Fatherland in all the time to come!"
On this, on every day of Thanksgiving and Praise, be that old man's blessed prayer in all quarters, among all classes and kindred, everywhere repeated: "May He be so to us and ours, to our beloved Home and happy Fatherland in all the time to come!"
And when, like that good old man, we come to bow our heads at the close of a long, long life, may we, like him, fall into a gentle sleep, conscious that we have done the work of charity, and spread about our path, wherever it lead, peace and good-will among men!
Author's name is not given in the text but other editions give it as Cornelius Mathews.
Contents Page. In the original text, some chapter titles were wrong; these have been corrected as follows:
Chapter IV. Title was "The Children." Corrected to "The Fortunes of the Family Considered."
Chapter V. Title was "The Fashionable Lady and Her Son." Corrected to "The Children."
Chapter VI. Title was "The Fortunes of the Family Considered." Corrected to "The Fashionable Lady and Her Son."
Inconsistent hyphenation of words in original text has been retained (daylight, day-light; fireside, fire-side; headway head-way; and neck-cloth, neckcloth).
Inconsistent spelling of contractions in the original text has been retained.
Page 27, added missing quote mark. ("Three, all of brick)
Page 33, changed comma to fullstop. (speech. "Expect to see)
Page 35, changed comma to fullstop. (said old Sylvester. "Out of)
Page 36, unusual spelling of "ricketty" retained. (landed from its ricketty and bespattered bosom)
Page 39, "thoughtf" has been changed to "though" (watched over as though it had been my own)
Page 96, added missing quote mark. ("Some two hundred)