"They calculate to have it," said Mrs. Starling. "And all through Pleasant Valley they do have it. There are no poor folks in the place; and there ain't many that calls themselves rich; they all expect to be comfortable; and I guess most of 'em be."
"Just the state of society in which— There's a sweet little stream running through your meadow, Miss Diana," said the young officer with a sudden change of subject. "Where does it go to?"
"It makes a great many turns, through different farms, and then joins your river—the Yellow River—that runs round Elmfield."
"That's a river; this brook is just what I like. I got tired with my labours this afternoon, and then I threw myself down by the side of the water to look at it. I lay there till I had almost forgotten what I was about."
"Not in your shirt sleeves, just as you was?" inquired Mrs. Starling. The inquiry drew another laugh from her guest; and he then asked Diana where the brook came from. If it was pretty, followed up?
"Very pretty!" Diana said. "As soon as you get among the hills and in the woods with it, it is as pretty as it can be; not a bit like what it is here; full of rocks and pools and waterfalls; lovely!"
"Miss Diana, can you fish?"
"No. I never tried."
"Well, trout fishing is not exactly a thing that comes by nature. I must go up that brook. I wish you would go and show me the way. When I see anything pretty, I always want some one to point it out to, or I can't half enjoy it."
"I think it would be the other way," said Diana. "I should be the one to show the brook to you."
"You see if I don't make you find more pretty things than you ever knew were there. Come! is it a bargain? I'll take my line and bring Mrs. Starling some trout."
"When?" said Diana.
"Seems to me," said Mrs. Starling, "I could keep along a brook if I could once get hold of it."
"Ah," said Mr. Knowlton, laughing, "you are a great deal cleverer than I am. You have no idea how fast I can lose myself. Miss Diana, the sooner the better, while this lovely weather lasts. Shall we say to-morrow?"
"I'll be ready," said Diana.
"This weather ain't goin' to change in a hurry," remarked Mrs. Starling.
But the remark did not seem to be to the purpose. The appointment was made for the following day at three o'clock; and Mr. Knowlton's visit having come to an end, he mounted and galloped away.
"Three o'clock!" said Mrs. Starling. "Just the heat o' the day. And trout, indeed! Don't you be a silly fish yourself, Diana."
"Mother!" said Diana. "I couldn't help going, when he asked me."
"You could ha' helped it if you'd wanted to, I s'pose."
Which was no doubt true, and Diana made no response; for she wanted to go. She watched the golden promise of dawn the next morning; she watched the cloudless vault of the sky, and secretly rejoiced within herself that she would be ready.
MR. KNOWLTON'S FISH.
Doubtless they were ready, those two, for the brook and the afternoon. The young officer came at half-past three; not in regimentals this time, but in an easy grey undress and straw hat. He came in a waggon, and he brought his fishing-rod and carried a basket. Diana had been ready ever since three. They lost no time; they went out into the meadow and struck the brook.
Now the brook, during its passage through the valley field, was remarkable for nothing but a rare infirmity of purpose, which would never let it keep one course for many rods together. It twisted and curled about, making many little meadow promontories on one side and the other; hurrying along with a soft, sweet gurgle that sounded fresh, even under the heat of the summer sun. It was a hot afternoon, as Mrs. Starling had said; and the two excursionists were fain to take it gently and to make as straight a course across the fields as keeping on one side of the brook left possible. They could not cross it. The stream was not large, yet quite too broad for a jump; and not deep, yet deep enough to cover its stony bed and leave no crossing stones. So sometimes along the border of the brook, where a fringe of long grass had been left by the mowers' scythes, rank and tangled; sometimes striking across from bend to bend over the meadow, where no kindly trees stood to shade them, the two went—on a hunt, as Mr. Knowlton said, after pretty things.
After a mile or more of this walking, the scenery changed. Mown fields, hot and fragrant, were left behind; almost suddenly they entered the hills, where the brook issued from them; and then they began a slower tracking of its course back among the rocks and woods of a dell which soon grew close and wild. The sides of the dell became higher; the bed of the stream more steep and rough; the canopy of trees closed in overhead, and showed the blue through only in broken patches. The clothing of the hill-sides was elegant and exquisite; oaks, and firs, and hemlocks, with slender birches and maples, lining the ravine; and under them a free growth of ferns, and fresh beds of moss, and lovely lichens covered the rocks and dressed the ground. The stream rattled along at the bottom; foaming over the stones and leaping down the rocks; making the still, deep pools where the fish love to lie; and in its way executing a succession of cascades and tiny waterfalls that wanted no picturesque element except magnitude. And a good imagination can supply that.
And how went the afternoon? How goes it with those who have just received a new sense, or found a sudden doubling of that which they had before? Nay, it was a new sense, a new power of perception, able to discern what had eluded all their previous lives. The brook in the meadow had been to Diana's vision until now merely running water; whence had come those delicious amber hues where it rolled over the stones, and the deep olive shadows where the water was deeper? She had never seen them before. Now they were pointed out and seen to be rich and clear, a sort of dilution of sunlight, with a suggestion of sunlight's other riches of possibility. The rank unmown grass that fringed the stream, Diana had never seen it but as what the scythe had missed; now she was made to notice what an elegant fringe it was, and how the same sunlight glanced upon its curving stems and blades, and set off the deep brown stream. Diana's own eyes began to be quickened, and her tongue loosed. The lovely outline of the hills that encircled the valley had never looked just so rare and lovely as this afternoon when she pointed them out to her companion, and he scanned them and nodded in full assent. But when they got into the ravine, it was Diana's turn. Mosses, and old trees, and sharp turns of the gorge, and fords, where it was necessary to cross the brook and recross on stepping stones just lifting them above the water, here black enough,—Diana knew all these things, and with secret delight unfolded the knowledge of them to her companion as they went along. And still the bits of blue sky overhead had never seemed so unearthly blue; the drapery of oak and hemlock boughs had never been so graceful and bright; there was a presence in the old gorge that afternoon, which went with them and cleared their eyes from vapour and their minds from everything, it seemed, but a susceptibility to beauty and delight in its influence. Perhaps the young officer would have said that this presence was embodied in the unconscious eyes and fair calm brow which went beside him; I think he saw them more distinctly than anything else. Diana did not know it. Somehow she very rarely looked her companion in the face; and yet she knew very well how his face looked, too; so well, perhaps, that she did not need to refresh her memory. So they wandered on; and the fords were pleasant places, where she had to be helped over the stones. Not that Diana needed such help; her foot was fearless and true; she never had had help there before: was that what made it so pleasant? Certainly it did seem to her that it was a prettier way of going up the brook than alone and unaided.
"I am not getting much fish at this rate," said young Knowlton at length with a light laugh.
"No," said Diana. "Why don't you stop and try here? Here looks like a good place. Right in that still, deep spot, I dare say there are trout.
"What will you do in the meantime, if I stop and fish? It will be very stupid for you."
"For me? O no. I shall sit here and look on. It will not be stupid. I will keep still, never fear."
"I don't want you to keep still; that would be very stupid for me."
"You can't talk while you are fishing; it would scare the trout, you know."
"I don't believe it."
"I have always heard so."
"I don't believe it will pay," said Knowlton as he fitted his rod—"if I am to purchase trout at the expense of all that."
All what? Diana wondered.
"Suppose we talk very softly—in whispers," he went on, laughing. "Do you suppose the trout are so observant as to mind it? If you sit here,—on this mossy stone, close by me, can't I enjoy two things at once?"
Diana made no objection to this arrangement. She took the place indicated, full of a breathless kind of pleasure which she did not stop to analyze; and watched in silence the progress of the fishing. In silence, for after Mr. Knowlton's arrangement had been carried into effect, he too subsided into stillness; whether engrossed with the business of his line, or satisfied, or with thoughts otherwise engaged, did not appear. But as presently and again a large trout, speckled and beautiful, was swung up out of the pool below, the two faces were turned towards each other, and the two pairs of eyes met with a smile of so much sympathy, that I rather think the temporary absence of words lost nothing to the growth of the understanding between them.
The place where they sat was lovely. Just there the bank was high, overhanging the brook. A projecting rock, brown and green and grey, with lichen and mosses of various kinds, held besides a delicate young silver birch, the roots of which found their way to nourishment somehow through fissures in the rock. Here sat Knowlton, with Diana beside him on a stone, just a little behind; while he sat on the brink to cast, or rather drop, his line into the little pool below where the trout were lurking. The opposite side of the stream was but a few yards off, thick with a lovely growth of young wood, with one great hemlock not far above towering up towards the sky. The view in that direction went up a vista of the ravine, so wood-fringed on both sides, with the stream leaping and tumbling down a steep rocky bed. Overhead the narrow line of blue sky.
"Four!" whispered Diana, as another spotted trout came up from the pool.
"I wonder how many there are down there?" said Knowlton as he unhooked the fish. "It makes me hungry."
"Catching the trout?" said Diana softly.
He nodded. "Here comes another. I wish we could make a fire somewhere hereabouts and cook them."
"Is that a good way?"
"The best in the world," he said, adjusting his fly, and then looking with a smile at her. "There is no way that fish taste so good. I used to do that, you see, in the hills round about the Academy; and I know all about it."
"We could make a fire," said Diana; "but we have no gridiron here."
"I had no gridiron there. Couldn't have carried a gridiron in my pocket if I had had one. Here's another"—
"You had not a gridiron, of course."
"Nor a pocket either."
"But did you eat the trout all alone? without bread, I mean, or anything?"
"No; we took bread and salt, and pepper and butter, and a few such things. There were generally a lot of us; or if only two or three we could manage that. The butter was the worst thing to accomplish—Here's another!"
"Such beauties!" said Diana. "Well, Mr. Knowlton, if you get too hungry, we'll cook you one at home, you know."
"Will you?" said he. "I wish we had salt and bread here! I should like to show you how wood cookery goes, though. But I'll tell you! we'll get Mrs. Starling to let us have it out in the meadow—that won't be bad."
Diana thought of her mother's utter astonishment and disapprobation at such a proposal; and there was silence again for a few minutes, while the line hung motionless over the pool, and Diana's eyes watched it movelessly, and the liquid sweetness of the water's talk with the stones was heard,—as one hears things when the senses are strung to double keenness. Diana heard it, at least, and listened to something in it she had never perceived before; something not only sweet and liquid and musical, but in some odd sense admonitory. What did it say? Diana hardly questioned, but yet she heard,—"My peace never changes. My song never dies. Listen, or not listen, it is all the same. You may be in twenty moods in a year. In my depth of content I flow on for ever."
A slight rustling of leaves, a slight crackling of stems or branches, brought the eyes of both watchers in another direction; and before they could hear a footfall, they saw, above them on the course of the brook, a figure of a man coming towards them, and Diana knew it was the minister. Swiftly and lightly he came swinging himself along, bounding over obstacles, with a sure foot and a strong hand; till presently he stood beside them. Just then Mr. Knowlton's line was swung up with another trout. Diana introduced the gentlemen to each other.
"Fishing?" said the minister.
"We have got all there are in this place, I'm thinking," said Knowlton, shutting up his rod.
"You had not, two minutes ago," said the other. "What do you judge from? It doesn't do to be so easily discouraged as that."
"Discouraged?" said Knowlton. "Not exactly. Let us see. Four, five, six—seven—eight. Eight, out of this little one pool, Mr. Masters. Do you think there are any more?"
"I always get all I can out of a thing," said the minister. And his very cheery tone, as well as his very quiet manner, seemed to say he was in the habit of getting a good deal out of everything.
"I don't know about that," answered the young officer in another tone. "Doesn't always pay. To stay too long at one pool of a brook, for instance. The brook has other pools, I suppose."
"I suppose it has," said the minister, with a manner which would have puzzled any but one that knew him, to tell whether he were in jest or earnest. "I suppose it has. But you may not find them. Or by the time you do, you may have lost your bait. Or you may be tired of fishing. Or it may be time to go home."
"I am never tired," said Knowlton, springing up; "and I have got a guide that will not let me miss my way."
"You are fortunate," said the other. "And I will not occupy your time. Good afternoon! I shall hope to see more of you."
With a warm grasp of the young officer's hand, and lifting his hat to Diana, the minister went on his way. Diana looked after him, wondering why he had not shaken hands with her too. It was something she was a little sorry to miss.
"Who is that?" Knowlton asked.
"Mr. Masters? He's our minister."
"What sort of a chap is he? Not like all the rest of them?"
"How are all the rest of them?" Diana asked.
"I declare, I don't know!" said Knowlton. "If I was to tell the truth, I should say they puzzle all my wits. See 'em in one place—and hear 'em—and you would say they thought all the business of this world was of no account, nor the pleasure of it either. See 'em anywhere else, and they are just as much of this world as you are—or as I am, I mean. They change as fast as a chameleon. In the light that comes through a church window, now, they'll be blue enough, and make you think blue's the only wear—or black; but once outside, and they like the colour that comes through a glass of wine or anything also that's jolly. One thing or the other they don't mean—that's plain."
"Which do you think they don't mean?" said Diana.
"Well, they're two or three hours in church, and the rest of the week outside. I believe what they say the rest of the time."
"I don't think Mr. Masters is like that."
"What is he like, then?"
"I think he means exactly what he says."
"Exactly," said the young officer, laughing; "but which part of the time, you know?"
"All times. I think he means just the same thing always."
"Must see more of him," said Knowlton. "You like him, then, Miss Starling?"
Diana did like him, and it was quite her way to say what she thought; yet she did not say it. She had an undefined, shadowy impression that the hearing would not be grateful to her companion. Her reply was a very inconclusive remark, that she had not seen much of Mr. Masters; and an inquiry where Mr. Knowlton meant to fish next.
So the brook had them without interruption the rest of the time. They crept up the ravine, under the hemlock branches and oak boughs; picking their way along the rocky banks; catching one or two more trout, and finding an unending supply of things to talk about; while the air grew more delicious as the day dipped towards evening, and the light flashed from the upper tree-tops more clear and sparkling as the rays came more slant; and the brook's running commentary on what was going on, like so many other commentaries, was heard and not heeded; until the shadows deepening in the dell warned them it was time to seek the lower grounds and open fields again. Which they did, much more swiftly than the ascent of the brook had been made; in great spirits on both sides, though with a thought on Diana's part how her mother would receive the fish and the young officer's proposition. Mrs. Starling was standing at the back door of the kitchen as they came up to it.
"I should think, Diana, you knew enough to remember that we don't take visitors in at this end of the house," was her opening remark.
"How about fish?" inquired Mr. Knowlton, bringing forward his basket.
"What are you going to do with 'em?" asked Mrs. Starling, standing in the door as if she meant he should not come in.
"We are going to eat them—with your leave ma'am, and by your help;—and first we are going to cook them."
"Miss Starling and myself. I have promised to show her a thing. May I ask for the loan of a match?"
"A match!" echoed Mrs. Starling.
"Or two," added Mr. Knowlton, with an indescribable twinkle in his eye; indescribable because there was nothing contrary to good breeding in it. All the more, Diana felt the sense of fun it expressed, and hastened to change the scene and put an end to the colloquy. She threw down her bonnet and went for a handful of sticks. Mr. Knowlton had got his match by this time. Mrs. Starling stood astonished and scornful.
"Will this be wood enough?" Diana asked.
Mr. Knowlton replied by taking the sticks out of her hand, and led the way into the meadow. Diana followed, very quiet and flushed. He had not said a word; yet the manner of that little action had a whole small volume in it. "Nobody else ever cared whether I had sticks in my hands or not," thought Diana; and she flushed more and more. She turned her face away from the bright west, which threw too much illumination on it; and looked down into the brook. The brook's song sounded now unheard.
It was on the border of the brook that Lieut. Knowlton made his fire. He was in a very jubilant sort of mood. The fire was made, and the fish were washed; and Diana stood by the column of smoke in the meadow and looked on, as still as a mouse. And Mrs. Starling stood in the door of the lean-to and looked on too, from a distance; and if she was still, it was because she had no one near just then to whom it was safe to open her mind. The beauty of the picture was all lost upon her: the shorn meadow, the soft column of ascending smoke coloured in dainty hues from the glowing western sky, the two figures moving about it.
"Now, Miss Diana," said the young officer. "If we had a little salt, and a dish—I am afraid to go and ask Mrs. Starling for them!"
Perhaps so was she; but Diana went, and got them without asking. She smiled at the dishing of the trout, it was so cleverly done; then she was requested to sprinkle salt on them herself; and then with a satisfied air, which somehow called up a flush in Diana's cheeks again, Mr. Knowlton marched off to the house with the dish in his hands. Mrs. Starling had given her farm labourers their supper, and was clearing away relics from the board. She made no move of welcome or hospitable invitation; but Diana hastened to remove the traces of disorder, and set clean plates and cups, and bring fresh butter, and bread, and make fresh tea. How very pleasant, and how extremely unpleasant, it was altogether!
"Mother," she said, when all was ready, "won't you come and taste Mr. Knowlton's fish?"
"I guess I know how fish taste. I haven't eaten the trout of that brook all my life, without."
"But you don't know my cookery," said Mr. Knowlton; "that's something new."
"I don't see the sense of doing things in an outlandish way, when you have no need to. Nor I don't see why men should cook, as long as there's women about."
"What is outlandish?" inquired Mr. Knowlton.
"What you've been doing, I should say."
"Come and try my cookery, Mrs. Starling; you will never say anything against men in that capacity again."
"I never say anything against men anyhow; only against men cooking; and that ain't natural."
"It comes quite natural to me," said the young officer. "Only taste my trout, Mrs. Starling, and you will be quite reconciled to me again."
"I ain't quarrelling with nobody—fur's I know," said Mrs. Starling; "but I've had my supper."
"Well, we haven't had ours," said the young man; and he set himself not only to supply that deficiency in his own case, but to secure that Diana should enjoy and eat hers in spite of all hindrances. He saw that she was wofully annoyed by her mother's manner; it brought out his own more in contrast than perhaps otherwise would have been. He helped her, he coaxed her, he praised the trout, and the tea, and the bread, and the butter; he peppered and salted anew, when he thought it necessary, on her own plate; and he talked and told stories, and laughed and made her laugh, till even Mrs. Starling, moving about in the pantry, moved softly and set down the dishes carefully, that she too might hear. Diana sometimes knew that she did so; at other times was fain to forget everything but the glamour of the moment. Trout were disposed of at last, however, and the remainder was cold; bread and butter had done its duty; and Mr. Knowlton rose from table. His adieux were gay—quite unaffected by Mrs. Starling's determined holding aloof; and involuntarily Diana stood by the table where she could look out of the window, till she had seen him mount into his waggon and go off.
"Have you got through?" said Mrs. Starling.
"Supper?" said Diana, starting. "Yes, mother."
"Then perhaps I can have a chance now. Do you think there is anything in the world to do? or is it all done up, in the world you have got into?"
Diana began clearing away the relics of the trout supper, in silence and with all haste.
"That ain't all," said Mrs. Starling. "The house don't stand still for nobody, nor the world, nor things generally. The sponge has got to be set for the bread; and there's the beans, Diana; to-morrow's the day for the beans; and they ain't looked over yet, nor put in soak. And you'd better get out some codfish and put that on the stove. I don't know what to have for breakfast if I don't have that. You'd best go and get off your dress, first thing; that's my counsel to ye; and save washing that to-morrow."
Diana went into no reasoning, on that subject or any other; but she managed to do all that was demanded of her without changing her dress, and yet without damaging its fresh neatness. In silence, and in an uncomfortable mute antagonism which each one felt in every movement of the other. Odd it is, that when words for any reason are restrained, the feeling supposed to be kept back manifests itself in the turn of the shoulders and the set of the head, in the putting down of the foot or the raising of the hand, nay, in the harmless movements of pans and kettles. The work was done, however, punctually, as always in that house; though Diana's feeling of mingled resentment and shame grew as the evening wore on. She was glad when the last pan was lifted for the last time, the key turned in the lock of the door of the lean-to, and she and her mother moved into the other part of the house, preparatory to seeking their several rooms. But Mrs. Starling had not done her work yet.
"When's that young man comin' again?" she asked abruptly at the foot of the stairs, stopping to trim the wick of her candle, and looking into the light without winking.
"I don't know—" Diana faltered. "I don't know that he is ever coming again."
"Don't expect him either, don't you?"
"I think it would be odd if he didn't," said Diana bravely, after a moment's hesitation.
Diana hesitated longer this time, and the words did not come for her waiting.
"Why odd?" repeated Mrs. Starling sharply.
"When people seem to like a place—they are apt to come again," said Diana, flushing a little.
"Seem to," said Mrs. Starling. "Now, Diana, I have just this one thing to say. Don't you go and give that young fellow no encouragement."
"Encouragement, mother!" repeated Diana.
"Yes, encouragement. Don't you give him any. Mind my words. 'Cause, if you do, I won't!"
"But, mother!" said Diana, "what is there to encourage? I could not help going to show the brook to him to-day."
"You couldn't?" said Mrs. Starling, beginning to mount the stairs. "Well, it is good to practise. Suppose'n he asked you to let him show you the Mississippi—or the Pacific Ocean; couldn't you help that?"
"Mother, I am ashamed!" said poor Diana. "Just think. He is educated, and has every advantage, and is an officer in the United States army now; and what am I?"
"Worth three dozen of him," said Mrs. Starling decidedly.
"He wouldn't think so, mother, nor anybody else but you."
"Well, I think so, mind, and that's enough. I ain't a goin' to give you to him, not if he was fifty officers in the United States army. So keep my words, Diana, and mind what I say. I never will give you to him, nor to any other man that calls himself a soldier and looks down upon folks that are better than he is. I won't let you marry him; so don't you go and tell him you will."
"He won't ask me, mother. You make me ashamed!" said Diana, with her cheeks burning; "but I am sure he does not look down upon me."
"Nobody shall marry you that sets himself up above me," said Mrs. Starling as she closed her door. "Mind!"
And Diana went into her own room, and shut her door, and sat down to breathe. "Suppose he should ask you to let him show you the Mississippi, or the Pacific?" And the hot flush rushed over her and she hid her face, as if even from herself. "He will not. But what if he should?" Mrs. Starling had raised the question. Diana, in very maidenly shame, tried to beat it down and stamp the life out of it. But that was more than she could do.
BELLES AND BLACKBERRIES.
In the first flush of Diana's distress that night, it had seemed to her that the sight of Lieut. Knowlton in all time to come could but give her additional distress. How could she look at him? But the clear morning light found her nerves quiet again, and her cheeks cool; and a certain sweet self-respect, in which she held herself always, forbade any such flutter of vanity or stir even of fancy as could in any wise ruffle the simple dignity of this country girl's manner. She had no careful mother's training, or father's watch and safeguard; the artificial rules of propriety were still less known to her; but innate purity and modesty, and, as I said, the poise of a true New England self-respect, stood her in better stead. When Diana saw Mr. Knowlton the next time, she was conscious of no discomposure; and he was struck with the placid elegance of manner, formed in no school, which was the very outgrowth of the truth within her. His own manner grew unconsciously deferential. It is the most flattering homage a man can render a woman.
Mrs. Starling had delivered her mind, and thereafter she was content to be very civil to him. Further than that a true record cannot go. The young officer tried to negotiate himself into her good graces; he was attentive and respectful, and made himself entertaining. And Mrs. Starling was entertained, and entertained him also on her part; and Diana watched for a word of favourable comment or better judgment of him when he was gone. None ever came; and Diana sometimes sighed when she and her mother had shut the doors, as that night, upon each other. For to her mind the favourable comments rose unasked for.
He came very often, on one pretext or another. He began to be very much at home. His eye used to meet her's, as something he had been looking for and had just found; and the lingering clasp of his hand said the touch was pleasant. Generally their interviews were in the parlour of Diana's home; sometimes he contrived an occasion to get her to drive with him, or to walk; and Diana never found that she could refuse herself the pleasure, or need refuse it to him. The country was so thinly settled, and their excursions had as yet been in such lonely places, that no village eyes or tongues had been aroused.
So the depth of August came. The two were standing one moonlight night at the little front gate, lingering in the moonlight. Mr. Knowlton was going, and could not go.
"Have you heard anything about the Bear Hill party?" he asked suddenly.
"O yes; Miss Delamater came here a week ago to speak about it."
"Are you going?"
"Mother said she would. So I suppose I shall."
"Where is it? and what is it?"
"The place? Bear Hill is a very wild, stony, bare hill—at least one side of it is bare; the other side is covered with trees. And the bare side is covered with blackberry bushes, the largest you ever saw; and the berries are the largest. We always go there every summer, a number of us out of Pleasant Valley, to get blackberries."
"How far is it?"
"That's a good way to go a-blackberrying," said the young man, smiling. "People hereabouts must be very fond of that fruit."
"We want them for a great many uses, you know; it isn't just to eat them. Mother makes jam and wine for the whole year, besides what we eat at once. And we go for the fun too, as well as for the berries."
"So it is fun, is it?"
"I think so. We make a day of it; and everybody carries provisions; and we build a fire, and it is very pleasant."
"I'll go," said Mr. Knowlton. "I have heard something about it at home. They wanted me to drive them, but I wanted to know what I was engaging myself to. Well, I'll be there, and I'll take care our waggon carries its stock of supplies too. Thursday, is it?"
"I believe so."
"What time shall you go?"
"About eight o'clock—or half-past."
"Eight!" said the young officer. "I shall have to revive Academy habits. I am grown lazy."
"The days are so warm, you know," Diana explained; "and we have to come home early. We always have dinner between twelve and one."
"I see!" said the young man. "I see the necessity, and feel the difficulty. Well, I'll be there."
He grasped her hand again; they had shaken hands before he left the house, Diana remembered; and this time he held her fingers in a light clasp for some seconds after it was time to let them go. Then he turned and sprang upon his horse and went off at a gallop. Diana stood still at the gate where he had left her, looking down the road and listening to the diminishing sound of his horse's hoofs. The moonlight streamed tenderly down upon her and the elm trees; it filled the empty space where Knowlton's figure had been; it flickered where the elm branches stirred lightly and cast broken shadows upon the ground; it poured its floods of effulgence over the meadows and distant hills, in still, moveless peace and power of everlasting calm. It was one of the minutes of Diana's life that she never forgot afterwards; a point where her life had stood still—still as the moonlight, and almost as sweet in its broad restfulness. She lingered at the gate, and came slowly back again into the house.
"What are you going to take to Bear Hill, mother?" inquired Diana the next day.
"I don't know! I declare, I'm 'most tired of picnics; they cost more than they come to. If we could tackle up, now, and go off by ourselves, early some morning, and get what we want—there'd be some fun in that."
"It's a very lonely place, mother."
"That's what I say. I'm tired o' livin' for ever in a crowd."
"But you said you'd go?"
"Well, I'm goin'!"
"Then we must take something."
"Well; I'm goin' to. I calculated to take something."
"Somethin' 'nother nobody else'll take—if I could contrive what that'd be."
"Well, mother, I can tell you. Somebody'll be sure to carry cake, and pies, and cold ham and cheese, and bread and butter, and cold chicken. All that's sure."
"Exactly. I could have told you as much myself, Diana. What I want to know is, somethin' nobody'll take."
"Green corn to boil, mother?"
"Well!" said Mrs. Starling, musing, "that is an idea. How'd you boil it?"
"Must take a pot—or borrow one."
"Borrow! Not I, from any o' the Bear Hill folks. I couldn't eat corn out o' their kettles. It's a sight o' trouble anyhow, Diana."
"Then, mother, suppose I make a chicken pie?"
"Do what you've a mind to, child. And there must be a lot o' coffee roasted. I declare, if I wasn't clean out o' blackberry wine, I'd cut the whole concern. There'll be churning just ready Thursday; and Josiah had ought to be sent off to mill, we're 'most out o' flour, and he can't go to-morrow, for he's got to see to the fence round the fresh pasture lot. And I want to clean the kitchen this week. There's no sittin' still in this world, I do declare! I haven't set a stitch in those gowns o' mine since last Friday, neither; and Society comes here next week. And if I don't catch Josiah before he goes out to work in the morning and get the stove cleaned out—the flues are all choked up—it'll drive me out o' the house or out o' my mind, with the smoke; and Bear Hill won't come off then."
Bear Hill did "come off," however. Early on the morning of Thursday, Josiah might be seen loading up the little green waggon with tin kettles and baskets, both empty and full. Ears of corn went in too, for the "idee" had struck Mrs. Starling favourably, and an iron pot found its way into one corner. Breakfast was despatched in haste; the house locked up and the key put under the door-stone for Josiah to find at noon; and the two ladies mounted and drove away while the morning light was yet fresh and cool, and the shadows of the trees lay long in the meadow. August mornings and evenings were seldom hotter than was agreeable in Pleasant Valley.
For some miles the road lay through the region so denominated. Then it entered the hills, and soon the way led over them, up and down steep ascents and pitches, with a green woodland on each side, and often a look-out over some little meadow valley of level fields and cultivation bordered and encircled by more hills. The drive was a silent one; Mrs. Starling held the reins, and perhaps they gave her thoughts employment enough; Diana was musing about another waggonful, and wondering whereabouts it was. Till at a turn of the road she discerned behind them, at some distance, a vehicle coming along, and knew, with a jump of her heart, the colour of the horse and the figure of the driver. Even so far off she was sure of them, and turned her sun-bonnet to look straight forward again, hoping that her mother might not by any chance give a look back. She did not herself again; but Diana's ears were watching all the while after that for the sound of hoofs or wheels coming near; and her eyes served her to see nothing but what was out of her field of vision. The scenery grew by degrees rough and wild; cultivation and civilisation seemed as they went on to fall into the rear. A village, or hamlet, of miserable, dirty, uncomely houses and people, was passed by; and at last, just as the morning was wakening up into fervour, Mrs. Starling drew rein in a desolate rough spot at the edge of a woodland. The regular road had been left some time before, since when only an uncertain wheel track had marked the way. Two or three farm waggons already stood at the place of meeting; nobody was in them; the last comer was just hitching his horse to a tree.
"Here's Mis' Starling," he called out. "Good day! good-day to 'ye. Hold on, Mis' Starling—I'll fetch him up. Goin' to conquer all Bear Hill, ain't ye, with all them pails and kettles? Wall—blackberries ain't ripe but once in the year. I've left all my business to attend upon the women folks. What's blackberries good for, now, when you've got 'em?"
"Don't you like a blackberry pie, Mr. Selden?"
"Bless you!" said the farmer, "I kin live without it; but my folks can't live 'thout comin' once a year to Bear Hill. It is a wonder to me why things warn't so ordered as that folks could get along 'thout eatin'. It'd save a sight o' trouble. Why, Mis' Starlin', we're workin' all the time to fill our stomachs; come to think of it, that's pretty much what life is fur. Now I'll warrant you, they'll have a spread by and by, that'll be worth all they'll get here to-day."
"Who's come, Mr. Selden?"
"Wall, they ain't all here yet, I guess; my folks is up in the lot, hard to work, I s'pose. Mis' Seelye's gals is here; and Bill Howe and his wife; and the Delamaters; that's all, I guess. He's safe now, Mis' Starlin'."
This last remark had reference to the horse, which farmer Selden had been taking out of the shafts and tethering, after helping the ladies down. Mrs. Starling got out her pails and baskets destined for the berry-picking, and gave some of them to her daughter.
"They'll be all flocking together, up in the thickest part of the lot," she whispered. "Now, Diana, if you'll sheer off a little, kind o', and keep out o' sight, you'll have a ventur'; and we can stand a chance to get home early after dinner. I'll go along ahead and keep 'em from comin' where you are—if I can."
Diana heard with tingling ears, for she heard at the same time the sound of the approaching waggon behind her. She did not look; she caught up her pail and basket and plunged into the wood path after her mother and Mr. Selden; but she had not gone three yards when she heard her name called.
"You are not going to desert us?" cried young Knowlton, coming up with her. "We don't know a step of the way, nor where to find blackberries or anything. I have been piloting myself all the way by your waggon. Come back and let me make you friends with my sister."
Blushing and hesitating, Diana had yet no choice. She followed Mr. Knowlton back to the clearing, and looked on, feeling partly pleased and partly uncomfortable, while he helped from their waggon the ladies he had driven to the picnic. The first one dismounted was a beautiful vision to Diana's eyes. A trim little figure, robed in a dress almost white, with small crimson clusters sprinkled over it, coral buckle and earrings, a wide Leghorn hat with red ribbons, and curly, luxuriant, long, floating waves of hair. She was so pretty, and her attire was so graceful, and had so jaunty a style about it, that Diana was struck somehow with a fresh though very undefined feeling of uneasiness. She turned to the other lady. Very pretty she was too; smaller even than the first one, with delicate, piquant features and a ready smile. Daintily she also was dressed in some stuff of deep green colour, which set her off as its encompassing foliage does a bunch of cherries. Her face looked out almost like one, it was so blooming, from the shadow of a green silk sun-bonnet; and her hands were cased in green kid gloves. Her eyes sought Diana.
"My sister, Mrs. Reverdy," said young Knowlton eagerly, leading her forward. "Miss Starling, Genevieve; you know who Miss Starling is."
The little lady's answer was most gracious; she smiled winningly and grasped Diana's hand, and was delighted to know her. "And we are so glad to meet you; for we are strangers here, you know. I never was at Bear Hill in my life, but they told us of wonderful blackberries here, and such multitudes of them; and we persuaded Evan to drive us—you know we don't often have him to do anything for us; so we came, but I don't know what we should have done if we had not met you. Gertrude and I thought we would come and see what a picnic on Bear Hill meant." And she laughed again; smiles came very easily to her pretty little face. And then she introduced Miss Masters. Knowlton stood by, looking on at them all.
"These elegant women!" thought Diana; "what must I seem to him?" And truly her print gown was of homely quality and country wear; she did not take into the account a fine figure, which health and exercise had made free and supple in all its movements, and which the quiet poise of her character made graceful, whether in motion or rest. For grace is no gift of a dancing-master or result of the schools. It is the growth of the mind, more than of the body; the natural and almost necessary symbolization in outward lines of what is noble, simple, and free from self; and not almost but quite necessary, if the further conditions of a well-made and well-jointed figure and a free and unconstrained habit of life are not wanting. The conditions all met in Diana; the harmony of development was, as it always is, lovely to see.
But a shadow fell on her heart as she turned to lead the way through the wood to the blackberry field. For in the artistic elegance of the ladies beside her, she thought she recognised somewhat that belonged to Mr. Knowlton's sphere and not to her own—something that removed her from him and drew them near; she thought he could not fail to find it so. What then? She did not ask herself what then. Indeed, she had no leisure for difficult analysis of her thoughts.
"Dear me, how rough!" Mrs. Reverdy exclaimed. "Really, Evan, I did not know what you were bringing us to. Is it much farther we have to go?"
"It is all rough," said Diana. "You ought to have thick shoes."
"O, I have! I put on horridly thick ones,—look! Isn't that thick enough? But I never felt anything like these stones. Is the blackberry field full of them too? Really, Evan, I think I cannot get along if you don't give me your arm."
"You have two arms, Mr. Knowlton—can't I have the other one?" cried Miss Masters dolefully.
"I have got trees on my other arm, Gatty—I don't see where I should put you. Can't you help Miss Starling along, till we get out of the woods?"
"Isn't it very impertinent of him to call me Gatty?" said the little beauty, tossing her long locks and speaking in a half aside to Diana. "Now he would like that I should return the compliment and call him Evan; but I won't. What do you do, when men call you by your Christian name?"
She was trying to read Diana as she spoke, eyeing her with sidelong glances, and as they went, laying her daintily gloved hand on Diana's arm to help herself along. Diana was astounded both at her confidence and at her request for counsel; but as to meet the request would be to return the confidence, she was silent. She was thinking, too, of the elegant little boot Mrs. Reverdy had displayed, and contrasting it with her own coarse shoes. And how very familiar these two were, that he should speak to her by her first name so!
"Miss Starling!" cried the other lady behind her,—"do you know we have been following your lead all the way we were coming this morning?"
"Mr. Knowlton said so," Diana replied, half turning.
"Aren't you very much flattered?"
This time Diana turned quite, and faced the two.
"My mother was driving, Mrs. Reverdy."
"Ah?" said the other with a very amused laugh. "But you could have done it just as well, I suppose."
What does she mean? thought Diana.
"Can you do anything?" inquired the gay lady on her arm. "I am a useless creature; I can only fire a pistol, and leap a fence on horseback, and dance a polka. What can you do? I dare say you are worth a great deal more than me. Can you make butter and bread and pudding and pies and sweetmeats and pickles, and all that sort of thing? I dare say you can."
"I can do that."
"And all I am good for is to eat them! I can do that. Do you make cheeses too?"
"I can. My mother generally makes the cheese."
"O, but I mean you. What do people do on a farm? women, I mean. I know what the men do. You know all about it. Do you have to milk the cows and feed everything?—chickens and pigs, you know, and all that?"
"The men milk," said Diana.
"And you have to do those other things? Isn't it horrid?"
"It is not horrid to feed the chickens. I never had anything to do with the pigs."
"O, but Evan says you know how to harness horses."
Does he? thought Diana.
"And you can cut wood?"
"Cut wood!" Diana repeated. "Did anybody say I could do that?"
"I don't know—Yes, I think so. I forget. But you can, can't you?"
"I never tried, Miss Masters."
"Do you know my cousin, Mr. Masters?—the minister, you know?"
"Yes, I know him a little."
"Do you like him?"
"I like him,—yes, I don't know anything against him," said Diana in great bewilderment.
"O, but I do. Don't you know he says it is wicked to do a great many things that we do? he thinks everybody is wicked who don't do just as he does. Now I don't think everybody is bound to be a minister. He thinks it is wicked to dance; and I don't care to live if I can't dance."
"That is being very fond of it," said Diana.
"Do you dance her, in the country?"
"Sometimes; not very often."
"Isn't it very dull here in the winter, when you can't go after blackberries?"
Diana smiled. "I never found it dull," she said. Nevertheless, the contrast smote her more and more, between what Mr. Knowlton was accustomed to in his world, and the very plain, humdrum, uneventful, unadorned life she led in hers. And this elegant creature, whose very dress was a sort of revelation to Diana in its perfection of beauty, she seemed to the poor country girl to put at an immense distance from Mr. Knowlton those who could not be charming and refined and exquisite in the like manner. Her gloves,—one hand rested on Diana's arm, and pulled a little too;—what gloves they were, for colour and fit and make! Her foot was a study. Her hat might have been a fairy queen's hat. And the face under it, pretty and gay and wilful and sweet, how could any man help being fascinated by it? Diana made up her mind that it was impossible.
The rambling path through the woods brought the party out at last upon a wild barren hill-side, where stones and a rank growth of blackberry bushes were all that was to be seen. Only far off might be had the glimpse of other hills and of patches of cultivation on them; the near landscape was all barrenness and blackberries.
"But where are the rest of the people?" said Mrs. Reverdy with her faint laugh. "Are we alone? I don't see anybody."
"They are gone on—they are picking," Diana explained.
"Hid in this scrubby forest of bushes," said her brother.
"Have we got to go into that forest too?"
"If you want to pick berries."
"I think we'll sit here and let the rest do the picking," said Mrs. Reverdy, looking with charming merriment at Gertrude. But Gertrude was not so minded.
"No, I'm going after berries," she said. "Only, I don't see where they are. I see bushes, and that is all."
"Just here they have been picked," said Diana. "Farther on there are plenty."
"Well, you lead and we'll follow," said Mr. Knowlton. "You lead, Miss Starling, and we will keep close to you."
Diana plunged into the blackberry bushes, and striking off from the route she guessed the other pickers had taken, sought a part of the wilderness lower down on the hill. There was no lack of blackberries very soon. Every bush hung black with them; great, fat, juicy beauties, just ready to fall with ripeness. Blackberry stains spotted the whole party after they had gone a few yards, merely by the unavoidable crushing up against the bushes. Diana went to work upon this rich harvest, and occupied herself entirely with it; but berry-picking never was so dreary to her. The very sound of the berries falling into her tin pail smote her with a sense of pain; she thought of the day's work before her with revulsion. However, it was before her, and her fingers flew among the bushes, from berry to berry, gathering them with a deft skilfulness her companions could not emulate. Diana knew how they were getting on, without using her eyes to find out; for all their experience was proclaimed aloud. How the ground was rough and the bushes thorny, how the berries blacked their lips and the prickles lacerated their fingers, and the stains of blackberry juice were spoiling gloves and dresses and all they had on.
"I never imagined," said Mrs. Reverdy with a gay laugh, "that picking blackberries was such a serious business. O dear! and it's only just eleven o'clock now. And I am so hungry!"
"Eat blackberries," said Gertrude, who was doing it diligently.
"But I want to carry some home."
"You can buy 'em. We came for fun," was the cool answer.
"Fun?" said Mrs. Reverdy with another echoing, softly echoing, laugh; "it's the fun of being torn and stained and scratched, and having one's hat pulled off one's hair, and the hair off one's head."
Diana heard it all, they were not far from her; and she heard, too, Mr. Knowlton's little remarks, half gallant, half mocking, but very familiar, she thought. No doubt, to his sister; but how to Miss Masters too? Yet they were; and also, she noticed, he kept in close attendance upon the latter young lady; picking into her basket, getting her out of her numerous entanglements with the blackberry branches, flattering and laughing at her; Gertrude was having what she would call a good time; why not? "And why should I?" thought Diana to herself as she filled her pail. "It is not in my line. What a goose I was, to fancy that this young man could take pleasure in being with me. He did; but then he was just amusing himself; it was not I; it was the country and the fishing, and so on. What a goose I have been!"
As fast as the blackberries dropped into the pail, so fell these reflections into Diana's heart; and when the one was full, so was the other. And as she set down her pail and began upon a fresh empty one, so she did with her thoughts; they began all over again too.
"Miss Starling, it is twelve o'clock," cried Mrs. Reverdy; "where are all the rest of the people? Do you work all day without dinner? I expected to see a great picnic out under the trees here."
"This is not the picnic place," said Diana. "We will go to it."
She went back first to the waggons; put her berries in safe keeping, and got out some of the lunch supplies. Mr. Knowlton loaded himself with a basket out of his waggon; and the procession formed again in Indian file, everybody carrying something, and the two ladies grumbling and laughing in concert. Diana headed the line, feeling very much alone, and wishing sadly it were all over and she at home. How was she to play her part in the preparations at hand, where she had always been so welcome and so efficient? All spring and life seemed to be taken out of her, for everything but the dull mechanical picking of berries. However, strength comes with necessity, she found.
THE NEW RICHES OF THE OLD WORLD.
There was quite a collection of people on Bear Hill to-day, as could be seen when they were all gathered together. The lunching place was high on the mountain, where there was a good outlook over the surrounding country; and here in the edge of the woods the blackberry pickers were scattered about, lying and sitting on the ground in groups and pairs, chatting and watching the preparations going on before their eyes. Pretty and wild the preparations were. Under a big tree just at the border of the clearing a fire was kindled; a stout spike driven into the trunk of the tree held a tea-kettle just over the blaze. Wreaths of blue and grey smoke curling up above the tea-kettle made their way through the tree branches into the upper air, taking hues and colours and irradiations from the sunlight in their way. The forest behind, the wilderness of blackberry bushes in front; the wide view over the hills and vales, without one spot of cultivation anywhere, or a trace of man's habitation; the scene was wild enough. The soft curling smoke, grey and embrowned, gave a curious touch of homeliness to it. From two fires it went, curling up as comfortably as if it had been there always. The second fire was lit for the purpose of boiling green corn, which two or three people were busy getting ready, stripping the green husks off. Other hands were unloading baskets and distributing bread and butter and cups, and unpacking ham and chickens. Meanwhile, till the fires should have done their work, most of the party were comfortably awaiting the moment of enjoyment, and taking some other moments, as it seemed, by the way. Mrs. Carpenter in one place was surrounded by her large family of children; all come to pick blackberries, all heated with work and fun, and eager for the dinner. Miss Barry, quite tired out, was fanning herself with her sun-bonnet, and having a nice bit of chat with Miss Babbage, the schoolmaster's sister. Mrs. Mansfield and farmer Carpenter were happily discussing systems of agriculture. Mrs. Boddington was making a circle merry with her sharp speeches. Younger folks here and there were carrying on their own particular lines of skirmishing operations; but there were not many of these; the company had come for business quite as much as for play. Indeed, Miss Gunn's array of baskets and tin pails suggested that she was doing business on her brother's account as much as on her own; and that preserves and blackberry wine would be for sale by and by on the shelves of the store at the "Corner."
The little party that came up with Diana melted away as it met the rest. Mrs. Reverdy glided into the group gathered about Mrs. Boddington, and slid as easily into the desultory gossip that was going on. Diana had instantly joined herself to the little band of workers at the camp fire. Only one or two had cared to take the trouble and responsibility of the feast; it was just what Diana craved. As if cooking had been the great business of life, she went into it; making coffee, watching the corn, boiling the potatoes; looking at nothing else and trying to see nobody, and as far as possible contriving that nobody should see her. She hid behind the column of smoke, or sheltered herself at the further side of the great trunk of a tree; from the fire, she said to herself. But her face took on a preternatural gravity at those times, whenever she knew it was safe. She thought she did not look at anybody; yet she knew that Miss Masters had joined none of the groups under the trees, and seemed instead to prefer a solitary post in front of them all, where her pretty figure and dainty appointments were displayed in full view. Was she looking at the landscape? Diana did not in the least believe it. But she tried to work without thinking; that vainest of all cheateries, where the conclusions of thought, independent of the processes, force themselves upon the mind and lay their full weight upon it. Only one does not stop anywhere to think about them, and the weight is distributed. It is like driving fast over thin ice; stay a minute in any one place, and you would break through. But that consciousness makes unpleasant driving.
The corn gave forth its sweet smell, and Diana dished it up. What was the use of taking so much trouble, she thought, as ear after ear, white and fair, came out of the pot? Yet Diana had enjoyed the notion of making this variety in the lunch. The coffee steamed forth its fragrance upon the air; and Diana poured it into prepared cups of cream and sugar which others brought and carried away; she was glad to stand by the fire if only she might. How the people drank coffee! Before the cups were once filled the first time, they began to come back for the second; and the second, Diana knew, would not satisfy some of the farmers and farmers' wives there. So pot after pot of the rich beverage had to be made. It wearied her; but she would rather do that than anything else. And she had expected this picnic to be such a pleasant time! And it had turned out such a failure. Standing by her camp fire, where the ascending column of grey smoke veiled her from observation, Diana could look off and see the wide landscape of hill and valley spread out below and around. Not a house; not another wreath of smoke; not a cornfield; hollows of beauty with nothing but their own green growth and the sunshine in them; hill-tops fair and lovely, but without a fence that told of human ownership or a road that spoke of human sympathy. Was life like that, Diana wondered? Yet surely that landscape had never looked dreary to her before.
"Mrs. Starling will have another cup of coffee, Miss Diana."
Diana started. What should bring Mr. Knowlton to wait upon her mother's cups of coffee? She sugared and creamed, and poured out in silence.
"May I come presently and have some?"
"Haven't you had any?"
"Just enough to make me want more. I never saw such good coffee in my life."
"You are accustomed to West Point fare."
"It's not that, though. I know a good thing when I see it."
"When you taste it, I suppose," said Diana; preparing his cup, however, she knew, with extra care.
"I assure you," said Mr. Knowlton expressively, as he stirred it, "I have appreciation for better things than coffee. I always want the best, in every kind; and I know the thing when I see it."
"I make no doubt you can have it," said Diana coolly, turning away.
"Hullo, Diany!" said Mr. Carpenter on the other side,—"you're coming it strong to-day. Got no one to help ye? Sha'n't I fetch 'Lizy? she's big enough to do som'thin'. I vow I want another cup. You see, it's hard work, is picking blackberries. I ain't master here; and my wife, she keeps me hard at it. Can't dewolve the duty on no one, neither; she sees if I ain't got my pail filled by the time she's got her'n, and I tell you! I catch it. It makes me sweat, this kind of work; and that makes me kind o' dry. I'll be obleeged to you for another cup. You needn't to put no milk into it!"
"It's strong, Mr. Carpenter."
"Want it, I tell you! working under orders this way makes a man feel kind o' feeble."
"How do you think we women get along, Mr. Carpenter?" said Mrs Boddington, coming up with her cup.
"How, Mis' Boddington?"
"Yes, I'm asking that. A little more, Diana; it's first-rate, and so's the corn. It takes you and your mother!—How do you think we women feel, under orders all the time?"
"Under orders!" said Mr. Carpenter.
"Yes, all the time. How d'you think we feel about it?"
"Must be uncommon powers of reaction," said the farmer. "My wife a'n't anywheres near killed yet."
"Think any one'll ever get that piece of mantua-making under orders?" said Mrs. Boddington, looking towards the place where the frills and rufflings of Miss Masters' drapery stirred in the breeze, with the long light tresses of her unbound hair. The breeze was partly of her own making, as she stirred and turned and tossed her head in talking with Mr. Knowlton; the only one of the company whom she would talk with, indeed. The farmer took a good look at her.
"Wall," said he,—"I should say it was best to do with that kind of article what you would do with the steam from your tea kettle; let it go. 'Tain't no use to try to utilize everything, Mis' Boddington."
"Evan Knowlton acts as if he thought differently."
"Looks is enough, with some folks," said the farmer; "and she's a pretty enough creatur', take the outside of her. Had ought to be; for I guess that sort o' riggin' costs somethin'—don't it, Mis' Boddington?"
"Cost?" said the lady. "Evan Knowlton is a fool if he lets himself be caught by such butterfly's wings. But men are fools when women are pretty; there's no use reasoning against nature."
"Wall, Diany," exclaimed Joe Bartlett, now drawing near with his coffee cup,—"how comes you have all the work and other folks all the fun?"
"Want some coffee, Joe?"
"Fact, I do; that is, supposin' you have got any."
"Plenty, Joe. That's what I am here for. Hold your cup. Who are you picking for to-day?"
"Wall, I ain't here for fun," said Joe; "there's no mistake about that. I b'lieve in fun too; I do sartain; but I don't b'lieve in scratchin' it into you with blackberry brambles, nor no other. Thank'e, Diany; maybe this'll help me get along with the afternoon."
"I never thought you would mind blackberry thorns, Joe."
"No more I don't, come in the way o' business," said Joe, sipping his coffee. "Guess I kin stand a few knocks, let alone scratches, when I calculate to have 'em. But I don' know! my notion of pleasure's sun'thin' soft and easy like; ain't your'n? I expect to take scratches—bless you! but I don't call 'em fun. That's all I object to."
"Then how come you here, Joe?"
"Wall,—" said Joe slowly,—"I've got an old mother hum."
"And she wanted some berries?"
"She wanted a lot. What the women does with 'em all, beats me. Anyhow, the old lady'll have enough this time for all her wants."
"How is she, Joe, to-day?"
"Days don't make no difference to my mother, Diany. You know that, don't ye? There don't nothin' come wrong to her. I vow, I b'lieve she kind o' likes it when things is contrairy. I never see her riled by no sort o' thing; and it's not uncommon for me to be as full's I kin hold; but she's just like a May mornin', whatever the weather is. There ain't no scarin' her, either; she'd jest as lieves die as live, I b'lieve, any day."
"I daresay she would," said Diana, feeling at the moment that it was not so very wonderful. Life in this world might be so dull as to be not worth living for.
"It's a puzzle to me," Joe went on, "which is right, her or the rest on us. Ef she is, we ain't. And her and the rest o' the world ain't agreed on nothin'. But it is hard to say she ain't right, for she's the happiest woman that ever I see."
Diana assented absently.
"Wall," said Joe, "I'm a little happier for that 'ere cup o' coffee. I'll go at it agin now. Who's that 'ere little bundle o' muslin ruffles, Diany? she's a kind o' pretty creatur', too. She hain't sot down this hull noonspell. Who is it?"
"She ain't none o' the family o' our parson?"
"A cousin, I believe."
"Cousin, eh," said Joe. "She hain't set down once. I guess she's afeard o' gettin' the starch out somewhere. The captain's sweet on her, ain't he? I see he tuk a deal o' care o' her eatin'."
"Mr. Knowlton is not a captain yet, Joe; he is only a lieutenant."
"Want to know," said Joe. "Wall, I kin tell ye, she likes him."
And Joe strolled off, evidently bent on doing his best with the blackberry bushes. So must Diana; at least she must seem to do it. There was a lull with the coffee cups; lunch was getting done; here and there parties were handling their baskets and throwing their sun-bonnets on. The column of smoke had thinned now to a filmy veil of grey vapour, slowly ascending, through which Diana could look over to the round hill-tops, with their green leaves glittering in the sun; and farther still, to the blue, clear vault of ether, where there was neither shine nor shadow, but the changeless rest of heaven. Earth with its wildness of untrodden ways, its glitter and flutter; heaven,—how did that seem? Far off and inscrutable, though with an infinite depth of repose, an infinite power of purity. The human heart shrank before both.
"And I had thought to-day would be a day of pleasure," Diana said to herself. "If I could get into the waggon and go home—alone—and get the fire started and the afternoon work done ready for supper before mother comes!—They will not need me to pilot them home at any rate."
But things have to be faced, not run away from, in life; and trials take their time and cannot be lopped into easier length. Diana did what she could. She caught up her basket very quietly, carrying it and her sun-bonnet in one hand, and slipped away down the hill under cover of the trees till she was out of sight of everybody; then plunged into the forest of high bushes and lost herself. She began to pick vigorously; if she was found, anybody should see what she was there for. It was a thicket of thorns and fruit; the berries, large, purple, dewy with bloom, hung in quantities, almost in masses, around her. It was only needful sometimes to hold her basket underneath and give a touch to the fruit; and it dropped, fast and thick, into her hands. But she felt as if the cool soft berries hurt her fingers. She wondered whereabouts was pretty Miss Masters now, making believe pick, and with fingers at hand to supplement her, and looks and words to make labour sweet, even if it were labour. "But she will never do any work," said Diana to herself; "and he will be quite willing that she should not." And then she noticed her own fingers; a little coarsened with honest usefulness they were—a little; and a little embrowned with careless exposure. Not white and pearly and delicate like those of that other hand. And Diana remembered that Mr. Knowlton's own were delicate and white; and she could understand, she thought, that a man would like in a woman he loved, all daintinesses and delicacies, even although they pertained to the ornamental rather than to the useful. It was the first time Diana had ever wished for white hands; she did wish for them now, or rather regret the want of them, with a sharp, sore point of regret. Even though it would have made no difference.
Picking and thinking and fancying herself safe, Diana made a plunge to get through an uncommonly tangled thicket of interlacing branches, and found herself no longer alone. Miss Gunn was three feet off, squatting on the ground to pick the more restfully; and on the other side of her was Diana's cousin, Nick Boddington.
"Hullo, Di!" was his salutation, "where have you left my wife and the rest of the folks?"
"I don't know, Nick; I haven't left them at all."
"What did you come here for, then?"
"What did you?"
"I declare! I came to have the better chance, me and Miss Gunn; I thought where nobody was, I'd have it all to myself. I'll engage you are disappointed to find us—now, ain't you?"
"The field is big enough, cousin Nick."
"Don't know about that. What is become of your fine people?"
"I haven't any fine people."
"What's become o' them you had, then? You brought 'em here; have you deserted 'em?"
"I came to do work, Nick; and I'm doing it."
"What did they come for? have you any guess? 'Tain't likely they come to pick blackberries."
"I told Mis' Reverdy," said Miss Gunn smotheredly from the depths of a blackberry bush and her sun-bonnet, "that we'd have plenty for ourselves and Elmfield too to-morrow. I will, I guess."
"They'll want 'em, Miss Gunn," said Mr. Boddington. "They'll not carry home a pint, you may depend. Di, did they come after you, or you come after them, this morning?"
Diana answered something, she hardly knew what, and made a plunge through the bushes in another direction. Anything to get out of this neighbourhood. She went on eagerly, through thicket after thicket, till she supposed she was safe. And as she stopped, Mr. Knowlton came round from the other side of the bush. The thrill of pain and pleasure that went through the girl gave no outward sign.
"Met again," said the gentleman. "What has become of you? I have lost sight of you since dinner."
"One can't see far through these bushes," said Diana.
"No. What a thicket it is! But at the same time, people can hear; and you never know who may be a few feet off. Does anybody ever come here, I wonder, when we are gone? or is this wild fruitful hill bearing its harvest for us alone?"
"Other parties come, I daresay," said Diana.
She was picking diligently, and Mr. Knowlton set himself to help her. The berries were very big and ripe here; for a few minutes the two hands were silently busy gathering and dropping them into Diana's pail; then Mr. Knowlton took the burden of that into his own hand. Diana was not very willing, but he would have it.
"One would think blackberries were an important concern of life," he said presently, "by the way you work."
"I am sure, you are working too," said Diana.
"Ah, but I supposed you knew what it is all for. Now I have not the faintest idea. I know what I am after, of course; but what you are after is a puzzle to me."
"Things are very often a puzzle to me," said Diana vaguely; and having for some reason or other a good deal of difficulty in commanding herself.
"Aren't you tired?"
"No—I don't know," said Diana. "It does not signify."
"I don't believe you care, any more than a soldier, what you find in your way. Do you know, you said something, up yonder at the camp fire, which has been running in my head ever since? I wish you would explain it."
"I?" said Diana. "I said something? What?"
"I told you what I wanted,—and you said you had no doubt I could get it."
"I have no recollection of one thing or the other, Mr. Knowlton. I think you must have been speaking to somebody else at the time—not me. If you please, I will try the bushes that way; I think somebody has been in this place."
"Don't you remember my telling you I always want the best of everything?" he said as he followed her; and Diana went too fast for him to hold the briary branches out of her way.
"There are so many other people who are of that mind, Mr. Knowlton!"—
"I want the best berries," said Diana, stopping before a cluster of bushes heavily laden.
"How about other things?"
Diana felt a pang at her heart, an odd desire to make some wild answer. But nothing could be cooler than what she said.
"I take them as I find them, Mr. Knowlton."
He was helping her now again.
"What did you suppose I was thinking of, when I told you I wanted the best I could have?"
"I had no right to suppose anything. No doubt it is true of all sorts of things."
"But I was thinking of one—did you guess what?"
Diana hesitated. "I don't know, Mr. Knowlton,—I might guess wrong."
"Then what made you say, 'no doubt' I could have it?"
"I don't know, Mr. Knowlton," said Diana, feeling irritated and worried almost past her power to bear. "Don't you always have what you want?"
"Do you think I can?" he said eagerly.
"I fancy you do."
"What did you think I meant by the 'best' thing, then? Tell me—do tell me?"
"I thought you meant Miss Gertrude Masters," Diana said, fairly brought to bay.
"You did! And what did you think I thought of Miss Diana Starling?"
He had stopped picking blackberries now, and was putting his questions short and keenly. Diana's power of answering had come to an end.
"Hey!" said he, drawing her hand from the bush and stopping her work; "what did you think I thought of her?—I have walked with her, and driven with her, and talked with her, in the house and out of the house, now all summer long; I have seen what she is like at home and abroad; what do you think I think of her?"
Baskets and berries had, figuratively, fallen to the ground; literally too, in Mr. Knowlton's case, for certainly both his hands were free, and had been employed while these words were spoken in gently and slowly gathering Diana into close bondage. There she stood now, hardly daring to look up; yet the tone of his questions had found its way to her inmost heart. She could not refuse one look, which they asked for. It gave her what she never forgot to her latest day.
"Does she know now?" he went on in a tone of mixed tenderness and triumph, like the expression of his face. "My lily!—my Camellia flower!—my sweet Magnolia!—whatever there is most rare, and good, and perfect. My best of all things. Can I have the best, Di?"
Miss Gertrude Masters would have been equal to the situation, and doubtless would have met it with great equanimity; Diana was unused to most of the world's ways, and very new to this. She stood in quiet dignity, indeed; but the stains of crimson on cheek and brow flushed and paled like the lights of a sunset. All at the bottom of her deep sun-bonnet; was Mr. Knowlton to blame if he gently pushed it back and insinuated it off, till he had a full view?
"You know what is my 'best' now," he said. "Can I have it, Diana?"
She tried to break away from him, and on her lip there broke that beautiful smile of hers; withal a little tremulous just then. It is rare on a grown woman's lip, a smile so very guileless and free; mostly it belongs to children. Yet not this smile, either.
"I should think you must know by this time," she whispered.
I suppose he did; for he put no more questions for a minute or two.
"There's one more thing," he said. "Now you know what I think of you; what do you think of me, Diana?"
"I think you are very imprudent," she said, freeing herself resolutely, and picking up her sun-bonnet. "Anybody might come, Mr. Knowlton."
"Anybody might! But if ever you call me 'Mr. Knowlton' again—I'll do something extraordinary."
Diana thought he would have a great many things to teach her, beside that. She went at her fruit-picking with bewildered haste. She did not know what she was doing, but mechanically her fingers flew and the berries fell. Mr. Knowlton picked rather more intelligently; but between them, I must say, they worked very well. Ah, the blackberry field had become a wonderful place; and while the mellow purple fruit fell fast from the branches, it seemed also as if years had reached their fruition and the perfected harvest of life had come. Could riper or richer be, than had fallen into Diana's hands now? than filled them now? So it was, she thought. And yet this was not life's harvest, only the bloom of the flower; the fruit comes not to its maturity with one sunny day, and it needs more than sunshine. But let the fruit grow; it will come in time, even if it ripens in secret; and meanwhile smell the flower. It was the fragrance of the grape blossom that filled the blackberry field; most sweet, most evanishing, most significant. Oddly, many people do not know it. But it must be that their life has never brought them within reach of its charm.
Two people in the field never knew how the shadows grew long that day. No, not even though their colloquy was soon interrupted, and by Gertrude Masters herself. She thenceforth claimed, and received, Mr. Knowlton's whole services; while Diana in her turn was assisted by Will Flandin, a young farmer of Pleasant Valley, who gave his hands and his arms to her help. It did not make much difference to Diana; it might have been an ogre, and she would not have cared; so she hardly noticed that Will, who had a glib enough tongue in ordinary, was now very silent. Diana herself said nothing. She was listening to hidden music.
"There's a wonderful lot o' blackberries on Bear Hill," Will remarked at last.
"Yes," said Diana.
"Well, I guess we've cleaned 'em out pretty well for this time," pursued he.
"Have we?" said Diana.
"Why, all these folks ha' been pickin' all day; I should think they'd ha' made a hole in 'em."
Silence fell again.
"How's the roads down your way?" began Mr. Flandin again.
"The roads? pretty well, I believe."
"They're awful, up this way, to Bear Hill. I say, Miss Starling, how do you s'pose those people lives, in that village?"
"How do they? I don't know."
"Beats me! they don't raise nothin', and they don't kill nothin',—'thout it's other folks's; and what they live on I would jest like to know. Mother, she thinks a minister had ought to go and settle down among 'em; but I tell her I'd like to see what a sheriff 'd do fust. They don't live in no reg'lar good way, that's a fact."
"Poor people!" said Diana. "They don't even know enough to pick blackberries."
"They hadn't no need to be so poor ef they would work," said the young man. "But I s'pose you've got a kind word for every one, ha'n't you, Miss Starling?"
"Diany," said the voice of Joe Bartlett, who was pushing his way towards her through the bushes,—"Diany! Here you be! Here's your mother lookin' for ye. Got all you want? It's gettin' time to make tracks for hum. The sun's consid'able low."
"I'm ready, Joe."
"Give me one o' them pails, then, and we'll try ef we kin git through these pesky bushes. I vow! I wouldn't like to take Bear Hill for a farm, not on a long lease."
They pushed and fought their way in the thicket for a long distance, till, as Joe remarked, they had surveyed the hill pretty well; Diana conscious all the time that Mr. Knowlton and Gertrude were following in their wake. That was near enough. She liked it so. She liked it even that in the crowd and the bustle of packing and hitching horses, and getting seated, there was no chance for more than a far-off nod and wave of the hand from the Elmfield parly. They drove off first this time. And Diana followed at a little distance, driving Prince; Mrs. Starling declaring herself "tuckered out."
There was no sense of weariness on Diana. Never less in her life. She was glad the drive was so long; not because she was weary and wanted to rest, but because every nerve and sense seemed strung to a fine tension, so that everything that touched them sent waves of melody over her being. Truly the light was sweet that evening, for any eyes; to Diana's vision the sunbeams were solid gold, though refined out of all sordidness, and earth was heaped up and brimming over with riches. The leaves of the trees on the hill-sides sparkled in the new wealth of nature; the air scintillated with it; the water was full of it. Prince's hoofs trod in measure, and the wheels of the waggon moved rhythmically, and the evening breeze might have been the very spirit of harmony. The way was long, and before home was reached the light had faded and the sparkling was gone; but even that was welcome to Diana. She was glad to have a veil fall, for a while, over the brightness, and hide even from herself the new world into which she had entered. She knew it was there, under the veil; the knowledge was enough for the present.
MRS. STARLING'S OPINIONS.
It was well dusk when Prince stopped under the elm tree. The sun had gone down behind the low distant hills, leaving a white glory in all that region of the heavens; and shadows were settling upon the valleys. All household wants and proprieties were disarranged; the thing to do was to bring up arrears as speedily as possible. To this Mrs. Starling and her daughter addressed themselves. The blackberries were put carefully away; the table set, supper cooked, for the men must have a warm supper; and after supper and clearing up there came a lull.
"If it warn't so late," said Mrs. Starling,—"but it is too late,—I'd go at those berries."
"Mother! Not to-night."
"Well, no; it's 'most too late, as I said; and I am tired. I want to know if this is what folks call work or play? 'cause if it's play, I'd rather work, for my part. I believe I'd sooner stand at the wash-tub."
"Than pick blackberries, mother?"
"Well, yes," said Mrs. Starling; "'cause then I'd know when my work was done. If the sun hadn't gone down, we'd all be pickin' yet."
"I am sure, you could stop when you were tired, mother; couldn't you?"
"I never am tired, child, while I see my work before me; don't you know that? And it's a sin to let the ripe fruit go unpicked. I wonder what it grows in such a place for! Who were you with all day?"
"Did Will Flandin find you?"
"He was in a takin' to know where you were. So I just gave him a bit of a notion."
"I don't see how you could know, mother; I had been going so roundabout among the bushes. I don't know where I was, myself."
"When ever you don't know that, Diana, stop and find out."
Mrs. Starling was sitting before the stove in a resting attitude, with her feet stretched out towards it. Diana was busy with some odds and ends, but her mother's tone—or was it her own consciousness?—made her suddenly stop and look towards her. Mrs. Starling did not see this, Diana being behind her.
"Did it ever strike you that Will was sweet on you?" she went on.
"Will Flandin, mother?"
An inarticulate note of assent.
Diana did not answer, and instead went on with what she had been doing.
"Hey?" said Mrs. Starling.
"I hope he'll get cured of it, mother, if he is."
"I don't know why," said Diana, half laughing, "except that he had better be sweet on some one else."
"He's a nice fellow."
"Yes, I think he is; as they go."
"And he'll be very well off, Diana."
"He's no match for me, then, mother; for I am well off now."
"No, you ain't, child," said Mrs. Starling. "We have enough to live on, but that's all."
"What more does anybody want?"
"You don't mean what you say, Diana!" cried her mother, turning upon her. "Don't you want to have pretty things, and a nice house, and furniture to suit you, and maybe servants to do your work? I wonder who's particular, if you ain't! Wouldn't you like a nice carriage?"
"I like all these things well enough, mother; but they are not the first thing."
"What is the first thing?" said Mrs. Starling shortly.
"I should say,—how I get them."
"Oh!—I thought you were going to say the man was the first thing. That's the usual lingo."
Diana was silent again.
"Now you can have Will," her mother went on; "and he would be my very choice for you, Diana."
Diana made no response.
"He is smart; and he is good-lookin'; and he'll have a beautiful farm and a good deal of money ready laid up to begin with; and he's the sort to make it more and not make it less. And his mother is a first-rate woman. It's one of the best families in all Pleasant Valley."
"I would rather not marry either of 'em," said Diana, with a little half laugh again. "You know, mother, there are a great many nice people in the world. I can't have all of 'em."
"Who were you with all the forenoon?" Mrs. Starling asked suddenly.
"You went off and left me with the people from Elmfield. I was taking care of them."
"I saw you come out of the field with them. What a popinjay that Masters girl is, to be sure! and Mrs.—what's her name?—the other, is not much better. Soft as oil, and as slippery. How on earth did they come to Bear Hill?"
"I suppose they thought it would be fun," Diana said with constrained voice.
"Don't let anybody get sweet on you there, Diana Starling; not if you know what is good for you."
"There. At Elmfield. Among the Knowlton folks."
"What's the matter with them?" Diana asked; but not without a touch of amusement in her voice, which perhaps turned the edge of her mother's suspicion. She went on, however, energetically.
"Poor and proud!" she said. "Poor and proud. And that's about the meanest kind of a mixture there is. I don't mind if folks has something to go on—why, airs come nat'ral to human nature; I can forgive 'em anyhow, for I'm as proud as they be. But when they hain't anything—and when they pile up their pretensions so high they can't carry 'em steady—for my part I'd rather keep out o' their way. They're no pleasure to me; and if they think they're an honour, it's an opinion I don't share. Gertrude Masters ain't no better than a balloon; full of gas; she hain't weight enough to keep her on her feet; and Mrs.—what's her name?—Genevy—she's as smooth as an eel. And Evan is a monkey."
"Mother! what makes you say so?"
"Why don't he shave himself then, like other folks?"
"Why, mother, it is just the fashion in the army to wear a moustache."
"What business has he to be in the army? He ought to be here helping his grandfather. I have no sort o' patience with him."
"Mother, you know they sent him to the Military Academy; of course he could not help being in the army. It is no fault of his."
"He could quit it, I suppose, if he wanted to. But he ain't that sort. He just likes to wear gold on his shoulders, and a stripe down his leg, and fancy buttons, and go with his coat flying all open to show his white shirt. I think, when folks have a pair of such broad shoulders, they're meant to do some work; but he'll never do none. He'll please himself, and hold himself up high over them that does work. And he'll live to die poor. I. won't have you take after such a fellow, Diana; mind, I won't. I won't have you settin' yourself up above your mother and despisin' the ways you was brought up to. And I want you to be mistress o' Will Flandin's house and lands and money; and you can, if you're a mind to."