When the singing began, the tears came into her eyes and her lip quivered; but she tried not to cry, although there were smothered sobs all around her. There was that about the sweet, melancholy drone of the funeral hymn which stirred something more than sympathy in the hearts of the listeners. Imagination of like bereavements for themselves awoke within them, and they wept for their own sorrows in advance.
The minister offered a prayer, in which he made mention of all the members of poor Abel's family, and even distant relatives. In fact, Paulina Maria had furnished him with a list, which he had studied furtively during the singing. "Don't forget any of 'em, or they won't like it," she had charged. So the minister, Solomon Wells, bespoke the comfort and support of the Lord in this affliction for all the second and third cousins upon his list, who bowed their heads with a sort of mournful importance as they listened.
Solomon Wells was an elderly man, tall, and bending limberly under his age like an old willow, his spare long body in nicely kept broadcloth sitting and rising with wide flaps of black coat-tails, his eyes peering forth mildly through spectacles. He was a widower of long standing. His daughter Eliza, who kept his house, sat beside him. She resembled her father closely, and herself looked like an old person anywhere but beside him. There the juvenility of comparison was hers.
Solomon Wells, during the singing, before he offered prayer, had cast sundry perplexed glances at a group of strangers on his right, and then at his list. He was quite sure that they were not mentioned thereon. Once he looked perplexedly at Paulina Maria, but she was singing hard, in a true strong voice, and did not heed him. The strangers sat behind her. There was a large man, lumbering and uncomfortable in his best clothes, a small woman, and three little girls, all dressed in blue delaine gowns and black silk mantillas and blue bonnets.
The minister had a strong conviction that these people should be mentioned in his prayer. He gave his daughter Eliza a little nudge, and looked inquiringly at them and at her, but she shook her head slightly—she did not know who they were. Her father had to content himself with vaguely alluding in his petition to all other relatives of this afflicted family.
During the eulogy upon the departed, which followed, he made also casual mention of the respect in which he was held by strangers as well as by his own towns-people. The minister gave poor Abel a very good character. He spoke at length of his honesty, industry, and sobriety. He touched lightly upon the unusual sadness of the circumstances of his death. He expressed no doubt; he gave no hints of any dark tragedy. "Don't speak as if you thought he killed himself; if you do, it'll make her about crazy," Paulina Maria had charged him. Ann, listening jealously to every word, could take no exception to one. Solomon Wells was very mindful of the feelings of others. He seemed at times to move with a sidewise motion of his very spirit to avoid hurting theirs.
After dwelling upon Abel Edwards's simple virtues, fairly dinning them like sweet notes into the memories of his neighbors, Solomon Wells, with a sweep of his black coat-skirts around him, sat down. Then there was a solemn and somewhat awkward pause. The people looked at each other; they did not know what to do next. All the customary routine of a funeral was disturbed. The next step in the regular order of funeral exercises was to pass decorously around a coffin, pause a minute, bend over it with a long last look at the white face therein; the next, to move out of the room and take places in the funeral procession. Now that was out of the question; they were puzzled as to further proceedings.
Doctor Seth Prescott made the first move. He arose, and his wife after him, with a soft rustle of her silken skirts. They both went up to Ann Edwards, shook hands, and went out of the room. After them Mrs. Squire Merritt, with Lucina in hand, did likewise; then everybody else, except the relatives and the minister and his daughter.
After the decorous exit of the others, the relatives sat stiffly around the room and waited. They knew there was to be a funeral supper, for the fragrance of sweet cake and tea was strong over all the house. There had been some little doubt concerning it among the out-of-town relatives: some had opined that there would be none, on account of the other irregularities of the exercises; some had opined that the usual supper would be provided. The latter now sniffed and nodded triumphantly at the others—particularly Amelia Stokes's childish old mother. She, half hidden in the frills of a great mourning-bonnet and the folds of a great black shawl, kept repeating, in a sharp little gabble, like a child's: "I smell the tea, 'Melia—I do, I smell it. Yes, I do—I told ye so. I tell ye, I smell the tea."
Poor Amelia Stokes, who was a pretty, gentle-faced spinster, could not hush her mother, whisper as pleadingly as she might into the sharp old ear in the bonnet-frills. The old woman was full of the desire for tea, and could scarcely be restrained from following up its fragrant scent at once.
The two Lawson sisters sat side by side, their sharp faces under their black bonnets full of veiled alertness. Nothing escaped them; they even suspected the truth about Ann's bonnet and gloves. Ann still sat with her gloved hands crossed in her lap and her black veil over her strained little face. She did not move a muscle; but in the midst of all her restrained grief the sight of the large man, the woman, and the three girls in the blue thibets, the black silk mantillas, and the blue bonnets filled her with a practical dismay. They were the relatives from Westbrook, who had not been bidden to the funeral. They must have gotten word in some irregular manner, and the woman held her blue-bonneted head with a cant of war, which Ann knew well of old.
For a little while there was silence, except for Paulina Maria's heavy tramp and the soft shuffle of Belinda Lamb's cloth shoes out in the kitchen. They were hurrying to get the supper in readiness. Another appetizing odor was now stealing over the house, the odor of baking cream-of-tartar biscuits.
Suddenly, with one accord, as if actuated by one mental impulse, the little woman, the large man, and the three girls arose and advanced upon Ann Edwards. She grasped the arm of her chair hard, as if bracing herself to meet a shock.
The little woman spoke. Her eyes seemed full of black sparks, her voice shook, red spots flamed out in her cheeks. "We'll bid you good-bye now, Cousin Ann," said she.
"Ain't you going to stay and have some supper?" asked Ann. Her manner was at once defiant and conciliatory.
Then the little woman made her speech. All the way from her distant village, in the rear gloom of the covered wagon, she had been composing it. She delivered it with an assumption of calm dignity, in spite of her angry red cheeks and her shaking voice. "Cousin Ann," said the little woman, "me and mine go nowhere where we are not invited. We came to the funeral—though you didn't see fit to even tell us when it was, and we only heard of it by accident from the butcher—out of respect to poor Abel. He was my own second-cousin, and our folks used to visit back and forth a good deal before he was married. I felt as if I must come to his funeral, whether I was wanted or not, because I know if he'd been alive he'd said to come; but staying to supper is another thing. I am sorry for you, Cousin Ann; we are all sorry for you in your affliction. We all hope it may be sanctified to you; but I don't feel, and 'Lisha and the girls don't feel, as if we could stay and eat victuals in a house where we've been shown very plainly we ain't wanted."
Then Ann spoke, and her voice was unexpectedly loud. "You haven't any call to think you wasn't all welcome," said she. "You live ten miles off, and I hadn't a soul to send but Jerome, with a horse that can't get out of a walk. I didn't know myself there'd be a funeral for certain till yesterday. There wasn't time to send for you. I thought of it, but I knew there wouldn't be time to get word to you in season for you to start. You might, as long as you're a professing Christian, Eloise Green, have a little mercy in a time like this." Ann's voice quavered a little, but she set her mouth harder.
The large man nudged his wife and whispered something. He drew the back of his rough hand across his eyes. The three little blue-clad girls stood toeing in, dangling their cotton-gloved hands.
"I thought you might have sent word by the butcher," said the little woman. Her manner was softer, but she wanted to cover her defeat well.
"I couldn't think of butchers and all the wherewithals," said Ann, with stern dignity. "I didn't think Abel's relations would lay it up against me if I didn't."
The large man's face worked; tears rolled down his great cheeks. He pulled out a red handkerchief and wiped his eyes.
"You'd ought to had a white handkerchief, father," whispered the little woman; then she turned to Ann. "I'm sure I don't want to lay up anything," said she.
"I don't think you have any call to," responded Ann. "I haven't anything more to say. If you feel like staying to supper I shall be glad to have you, but I don't feel as if I had strength to urge anybody."
The large man sobbed audibly in his red handkerchief. His wife cast an impatient glance at him. "Well, if that is the way it was, of course we shall all be happy to stay and have a cup of tea," said she. "We've got a long ride before us, and I don't feel quite as well as common this spring. Of course I didn't understand how it happened, and I felt kind of hurt; it was only natural. I see how it was, now. 'Lisha, hadn't you better slip out and see how the horse is standing?" The little woman thrust her own white handkerchief into her husband's hand as he started. "You put that red one under the wagon seat," she whispered loud in his ear. Then she and the little girls in blue returned to their chairs. The rest of the company had been listening with furtive attention. Jerome had been trembling with indignation at his mother's side. He looked at the large man, and wondered impatiently why he did not shake that small woman, since he was able. There was as yet no leniency on the score of sex in the boy. He would have well liked to fly at that little wrathful body who was attacking his mother, and also blaming him for not riding those ten miles to notify her of the funeral. He scowled hard at her and the three little girls after they had returned to their seats. One of the girls, a pretty child with red curls, caught his frown, and stared at him with scared but fascinated blue eyes.
Supper was announced shortly. Belinda Lamb, instigated by Paulina Maria, stood in the door and said, with melancholy formality, "Will you come out now and have a little refreshment before you go home?"
Ann did not stir. The others went out lingeringly, holding back for politeness' sake; she sat still with her black veil over her face and her black gloved hands crossed in her lap. Paulina Maria came to her and tried to induce her to remove her bonnet and have some tea with the rest, but she shook her head. "I want to just sit here and keep still till they're gone," said she.
She sat there. Some of the others came and added their persuasions to Paulina Maria's, but she was firm. Jerome remained beside his mother; Elmira had been bidden to go into the other room and help wait upon the company.
"There's room for Jerome at the table, if you ain't coming," said Paulina Maria to Ann; but Jerome answered for himself.
"I'll wait till that crowd are gone," said he, with a fierce gesture.
"You wouldn't speak that way if you were my boy," said Paulina Maria.
Jerome muttered under his breath that he wasn't her boy. Paulina Maria cast a stern glance at him as she went out.
"Don't you be saucy, Jerome Edwards," Ann said, in a sharp whisper through her black veil. "She's done a good deal for us."
"I'd like to kill the whole lot!" said the boy, clinching his little fist.
"Hold your tongue! You're a wicked, ungrateful boy!" said his mother; but all the time she had a curious sympathy with him. Poor Ann was seized with a strange unreasoning rancor against all that decorously feeding company in the other room. There are despairing moments, when the happy seem natural enemies of the miserable, and Ann was passing through them. As she sat there in her gloomy isolation of widowhood, her black veil and her dark thoughts coloring her whole outlook on life, she felt a sudden fury of blindness against all who could see. Had she been younger, she would have given vent to her emotion like Jerome. Her son seemed the very expression of her own soul, although she rebuked him.
The people were a long time at supper. The funeral cake was sweet to their tongues, and the tea mildly exhilarating. When they came at last to bid farewell to Ann there was in their faces a pleasant unctuousness which they could not wholly veil with sympathetic sorrow. The childish old lady was openly hilarious. "That was the best cup o' tea I ever drinked," she whispered loud in Ann's ear. Jerome gave a scowl of utter contempt at her. When they were all gone, and the last covered wagon had rolled out of the yard, Ann allowed Paulina Maria to divest her of her bonnet and gloves and bring her a cup of tea. Jerome and Elmira ate their supper at one end of the disordered table; then they both worked hard, under the orders of Paulina Maria, to set the house in order. It was quite late that night before Jerome was at liberty to creep off to his own bed up in the slanting back chamber. Paulina Maria and Belinda Lamb had gone home, and the bereaved family were all alone in the house. Jerome's boyish heart ached hard, but he was worn out physically, and he soon fell asleep.
About midnight he awoke with a startling sound in his ears. He sat up in bed and listened, straining ears and eyes in the darkness. Out of the night gloom and stillness below came his mother's voice, raised loud and hoarse in half-accusatory prayer, not caring who heard, save the Lord.
"What hast thou done, O Lord?" demanded this daring and pitiful voice. "Why hast thou taken away from me the husband of my youth? What have I done to deserve it? Haven't I borne patiently the yoke Thou laidst upon me before? Why didst Thou try so hard one already broken on the wheel of Thy wrath? Why didst Thou drive a good man to destruction? O Lord, give me back my husband, if Thou art the Lord! If Thou art indeed the Almighty, prove it unto me by working this miracle which I ask of Thee! Give me back Abel! give him back!"
Ann's voice arose with a shriek; then there was silence for a little space. Presently she spoke again, but no longer in prayer—only in bitter, helpless lament. She used no longer the formal style of address to a Divine Sovereign; she dropped into her own common vernacular of pain.
"It ain't any use! it ain't any use!" she wailed out. "If there is a God He won't hear me, He won't help me, He won't bring him back. He only does His own will forever. Oh, Abel, Abel, Abel! Oh, my husband! Where are you? where are you? Where is the head that I've held on my breast? Where are the lips I have kissed? I couldn't even see him laid safe in his grave—not even that comfort! Oh, Abel, Abel, my husband, my husband! my own flesh and my own soul, torn away from me, and I left to draw the breath of life! Abel, Abel, come back, come back, come back!"
Ann Edwards's voice broke into inarticulate sobs and moans; then she did not speak audibly again. Jerome lay back in his bed, cold and trembling. Elmira, in the next chamber, was sound asleep, but he slept no more that night. A revelation of the love and sorrow of this world had come to him through his mother's voice. He was shamed and awed and overwhelmed by this glimpse of the nakedness of nature and that mighty current which swept him on with all mankind. The taste of knowledge was all at once upon the boy's soul.
The next morning Jerome arose at dawn, and crept down-stairs noiselessly on his bare feet, that he might not awake his mother. However, still as he was, he had hardly crossed the threshold of the kitchen before his mother called to him from her bedroom, the door of which stood open.
"Who's that?" called Ann Edwards, in a strained voice; and Jerome knew that she had a wild hope that it was his father's step she heard instead of his. The boy caught his breath, hesitating a second, and his mother called again: "Who's that? Who's that out in the kitchen?"
"It's only me," answered Jerome, with that most pitiful of apologies in his tone—the apology for presence and very existence in the stead of one more beloved.
His mother drew a great shuddering sigh. "Come in here," she called out, harshly, and Jerome went into the bedroom and stood beside her bed. The curtain was not drawn over the one window, and the little homely interior was full of the pale dusk of dawn. This had been Ann Edwards's bridal chamber, and her children had been born there. The face of that little poor room was as familiar to Jerome as the face of his mother. From his earliest memory the high bureau had stood against the west wall, near the window, and a little round table, with a white towel and a rosewood box on it, in the corner at the head of the great high-posted bedstead, which filled the rest of the room, with scant passageway at the foot and one side. Ann's little body scarcely raised the patchwork quilt on the bed; her face, sunken in the feather pillows, looked small and weazened as a sick child's in the dim light. She reached out one little bony hand, clutched Jerome's poor jacket, and pulled him close. "What's goin' to be done?" she demanded, querulously. "What's goin' to be done? Do you know what's goin' to be done, Jerome Edwards?"
The boy stared at her, and her sharply questioning eyes struck him dumb.
Ann Edwards had always been the dominant spirit in her own household. The fact that she was so, largely on masculine sufferance, had never been fully recognized by herself or others. Now, for the first time, the stratum of feminine dependence and helplessness, which had underlain all her energetic assertion, was made manifest, and poor little Jerome was spurred out of his boyhood into manhood to meet this new demand.
"What's goin' to be done?" his mother cried again. "Why don't you speak, Jerome Edwards?"
Then Jerome drew himself up, and a new look came into his face. "I've been thinkin' of it over," he said, soberly, "an'—I've got a plan."
"What's goin' to be done?" Ann raised herself in bed by her clutch at her son's arm. Then she let go, and rocked herself to and fro, hugging herself with her little lean arms, and wailing weakly. "What's goin' to be done? Oh, oh! what's goin' to be done? Abel's dead, he's dead, and Doctor Prescott, he holds the mortgage. We 'ain't got any money, or any home. What's goin' to be done? What's goin' to be done? Oh, oh, oh, oh!"
Jerome grasped his mother by the shoulder and tried to force her back upon her pillows. "Come, mother, lay down," said he.
"I won't! I won't! I never will. What's goin' to be done? What's goin' to be done?"
"Mother, you lay right down and stop your cryin'," said Jerome; and his mother started, and hushed, and stared at him, for his voice sounded like his father's. The boy's wiry little hands upon her shoulders, and his voice like his father's, constrained her strongly, and she sank back; and her face appeared again, like a thin wedge of piteous intelligence, in the great feather pillow.
"Now you lay still, mother," said Jerome, and to his mother's excited eyes he looked taller and taller, as if in very truth this sudden leap of his boyish spirit into the stature of a man had forced his body with it. He straightened the quilt over his mother's meagre shoulders. "I'm goin' to start the fire," said he, "and put on the hasty-pudding, and when it's all ready I'll call Elmira, and we'll help you up."
"What's goin' to be done?" his mother quavered again; but this time feebly, as if her fierce struggles were almost hushed by contact with authority.
"I've got a plan," said Jerome. "You just lay still, mother, and I'll see what's best."
Ann Edwards's eyes rolled after the boy as he went out of the room, but she lay still, obediently, and said not another word. An unreasoning confidence in this child seized upon her. She leaned strongly upon what, until now, she had held the veriest reed—to her own stupefaction and with doubtful content, but no resistance. Jerome seemed suddenly no longer her son; the memory of the time when she had cradled and swaddled him failed her. The spirit of his father awakened in him filled her at once with strangeness and awed recognition.
She heard the boy pattering about in the kitchen, and, in spite of herself, the conviction that his father was out there, doing the morning task which had been his for so many years, was strong upon her.
When at length Jerome and Elmira came and told her breakfast was ready, and assisted her to rise and dress, she was as unquestioningly docile as if the relationship between them were reversed. When she was seated in her chair she even forbore, as was her wont, to start immediately with sharp sidewise jerks of her rocker, but waited until her children pushed and drew her out into the next room, up to the breakfast-table. There were, moreover, no sharp commands and chidings as to the household tasks that morning. Jerome and Elmira did as they would, and their mother sat quietly and ate her breakfast.
Elmira kept staring at her mother, and then glancing uneasily at Jerome. Her pretty face was quite pale that morning, and her eyes looked big. She moved hesitatingly, or with sharp little runs of decision. She went often to the window and stared down the road—still looking for her father; for hope dies hard in youth, and she had words of triumph at the sight of him all ready upon her tongue. Her mother's strange demeanor frightened her, and made her almost angry. She was too young to grasp any but the more familiar phases of grief, and revelations of character were to her revolutions.
She beckoned her brother out of the room the first chance she got, and questioned him.
"What ails mother?" she whispered, out in the woodshed, holding to the edge of his jacket and looking at him with piteous, scared eyes.
Jerome stood with his shoulders back, and seemed to look down at her from his superior height of courageous spirit, though she was as tall as he.
"She's come to herself," said Jerome.
"She wasn't ever like this before."
"Yes, she was—inside. She ain't anything but a woman. She's come to herself."
Elmira began to sob nervously, still holding to her brother's jacket, not trying to hide her convulsed little face. "I don't care, she scares me," she gasped, under her breath, lest her mother hear. "She ain't any way I've ever seen her. I'm 'fraid she's goin' to be crazy. I'm dreadful 'fraid mother's goin' to be crazy, Jerome."
"No, she ain't," said Jerome. "She's just come to herself, I tell you."
"Father's dead and mother's crazy, and Doctor Prescott has got the mortgage," wailed Elmira, in an utter rebellion of grief.
Jerome caught her by the arm and pulled her after him at a run, out of the shed, into the cool spring morning air. So early in the day, with no stir of life except the birds in sight or sound, the new grass and flowering branches and blooming distances seemed like the unreal heaven of a dream; and, indeed, nothing save their own dire strait of life was wholly tangible and met them but with shocks of unfamiliar things.
Jerome, out in the yard, took his sister by both arms, piteously slender and cold through their thin gingham sleeves, and shook her hard, and shook her again.
"Jerome Edwards, what—you doin'—so—for?" she gasped.
"'Ain't you got anything to you? 'Ain't you got anything to you at all?" said Jerome, fiercely.
"I—don't know what you mean! Don't, Jerome—don't! Oh, Jerome, I'm 'fraid you're crazy, like mother?"
"'Ain't you got enough to you," said Jerome, still shaking her as if she had not spoken, "to control your feelin's and do up the housework nice, and not kill mother?"
"Yes, I will—I'll be just as good as I can. You know I will. Don't, Jerome! I 'ain't cried before mother this mornin'. You know I 'ain't."
"You cried loud enough, just now in the shed, so she could hear you."
"I won't again. Don't, Jerome!"
"You're 'most a grown-up woman," said Jerome, ceasing to shake his sister, but holding her firm, and looking at her with sternly admonishing eyes. "You're 'most as old as I be, and I've got to take care of you all. It's time you showed it if there's anything to you."
"Oh, Jerome, you look just like father," whispered Elmira, suddenly, with awed, fascinated eyes on his face.
"Now you go in and wash up the dishes, and sweep the kitchen, and make up the beds, and don't you cry before mother or say anything to pester her," said Jerome.
"What you goin' to do, Jerome?" Elmira asked, timidly.
"I'm goin' to take care of the horse and finish plantin' them beans first."
"What you goin' to do then?"
"Somethin'—you wait and see." Jerome spoke with his first betrayal of boyish weakness, for a certain importance crept into his tone.
Elmira instinctively recognized it, and took advantage of it. "Ain't you goin' to ask mother, Jerome Edwards?" she said.
"I'm goin' to do what's best," answered Jerome; and again that uncanny gravity of authority which so awed her was in his face.
When he again bade her go into the house and do as he said, she obeyed with a longing, incredulous look at him.
Jerome had not eaten much breakfast; indeed, he had not finished when Elmira had beckoned him out. But he said to himself that he did not want any more—he would go straight about his tasks.
Jerome, striking out through the dewy wind of foot-path towards the old barn, heard suddenly a voice calling him by name. It was a voice as low and heavy as a man's, but had a nervous feminine impulse in it. "Jerome!" it called. "Jerome Edwards!"
Jerome turned, and saw Paulina Maria coming up the road, walking with a firm, swaying motion of her whole body from her feet, her cotton draperies blowing around her like sheathing-leaves.
Jerome stood still a minute, watching her; then he went back to the house, to the door, and stationed himself before it. He stood there like a sentinel when Paulina Maria drew near. The meaning of war was in his shoulder, his expanded boyish chest, his knitted brows, set chin and mouth, and unflinching eyes; he needed only a sword or gun to complete the picture.
Paulina Maria stopped, and looked at him with haughty wonder. She was not yet intimidated, but she was surprised, and stirred with rising indignation.
"How's your mother this morning, Jerome?" said she.
"Well 's she can be," replied Jerome, gruffly, with a wary eye upon her skirts when they swung out over her advancing knee; for Paulina Maria was minded to enter the house with no further words of parley. He gathered himself up, in all his new armor of courage and defiance, and stood firm in her path.
"I'm going in to see your mother," said Paulina Maria, looking at him as if she suspected she did not understand aright.
"No, you ain't," returned Jerome.
"What do you mean?"
"You ain't goin' in to see my mother this mornin'."
"Why not, I'd like to know?"
"She's got to be kept still and not see anybody but us, or she'll be sick."
"I guess it won't hurt her any to see me." Paulina Maria turned herself sidewise, thrust out a sharp elbow, and prepared to force herself betwixt Jerome and the door-post like a wedge.
"You stand back!" said Jerome, and fixed his eyes upon her face.
Paulina Maria turned pale. "What do you mean, actin' so?" she said, again. "Did your mother tell you not to let me in?"
"Mother's got to be kept still and not see anybody but us, or she'll be sick. I ain't goin' to have anybody come talkin' to her to-day," said Jerome, with his eyes still fixed upon Paulina Maria's face.
Paulina Maria was like a soldier whose courage is invincible in all tried directions. Up to all the familiar and registered batteries of life she could walk without flinching, and yield to none; but here was something new, which savored perchance of the uncanny, and a power not of the legitimate order of things. There was something frightful and abnormal to her in Jerome's pale face, which did not seem his own, his young eyes full of authority of age, and the intimation of repelling force in his slight, childish form.
Paulina Maria might have driven a fierce watch-dog from her path with her intrepid will; she might have pushed aside a stouter arm in her way; but this defence, whose persistence in the face of apparent feebleness seemed to indicate some supernatural power, made her quail. From her spare diet and hard labor, from her cleanliness and rigid holding to one line of thought and life, the veil of flesh and grown thin and transparent, like any ascetic's of old, and she was liable to a ready conception of the abnormal and supernatural.
With one half-stern, half-fearful glance at the forbidding child in her path, she turned about and went away, pausing, however, in the vantage-point of the road and calling back in an indignant voice, which trembled slightly, "You needn't think you're goin' to send folks home this way many times, Jerome Edwards!" Then, with one last baffled glance at the pale, strange little figure in the Edwards door, she went home, debating grimly with herself over her weakness and her groundless fear.
Jerome waited until she was out of sight, gave one last look down the road to be sure no other invaders were approaching his fortress, and then went on to the barn. When he rolled back the door and entered, the old white horse stirred in his stall and turned to look at him. There was something in the glance over the shoulder of that long white face which caused the heart of the boy to melt within him. He pressed into the stall, flung up his little arms around the great neck, and sobbed and sobbed, his face hid against the heaving side.
The old horse had looked about, expecting to see Jerome's father coming to feed and harness him into the wood-wagon, and Jerome knew it, and there was something about the consciousness of loss and sorrow of this faithful dumb thing which smote him in a weaker place than all human intelligence of it.
Abel Edwards had loved this poor animal well, and had set great store by his faithful service; and the horse had loved him, after the dumb fashion of his kind, and, indeed, not sensing that he was dead, loved him still, with a love as for the living, which no human being could compass. Jerome, clinging to this dumb beast, to which alone the love of his father had not commenced, by those cruel and insensible gradations, to become the memory which is the fate, as inevitable as death itself, of all love when life is past, felt for the minute all his new strength desert him, and relapsed into childhood and clinging grief. "You loved him, didn't you?" he whispered between his sobs. "You loved poor father, didn't you, Peter?" And when the horse turned his white face and looked at him, with that grave contemplation seemingly indicative of a higher rather than a lower intelligence, with which an animal will often watch human emotion, he sobbed and sobbed again, and felt his heart fail him at the realization of his father's death, and of himself, a poor child, with the burden of a man upon his shoulders. But it was only for a few minutes that he yielded thus, for the stature of the mind of the boy had in reality advanced, and soon he drew himself up to it, stopped weeping, led the horse out to the well, drew bucket after bucket of water, and held them patiently to his plashing lips. Then a neighbor in the next house, a half-acre away, looking across the field, called her mother to see how much Jerome Edwards looked like his father. "It gave me quite a turn when I see him come out, he looked so much like his father, for all he's so small," said she. "He walked out just like him; I declare, I didn't know but he'd come back."
Jerome, leading the horse, walked back to the barn in his father's old tracks, with his father's old gait, reproducing the dead with the unconscious mimicry of the living, while the two women across the field watched him from their window. "It ain't a good sign—he's got a hard life before him," said the older of the two, who had wild blue eyes under a tousle of gray hair, and was held in somewhat dubious repute because of spiritualistic tendencies.
"Guess he'll have a hard life enough, without any signs—most of us do. He won't have to make shirts, anyhow," rejoined her daughter, who had worn out her youth with fine stitching of linen shirts for a Jew peddler. Then she settled back over her needle-work with a heavy sigh, indicative of a return from the troubles of others to her own.
Jerome fed the old horse, and rubbed him down carefully. "Sha'n't be sold whilst I'm alive," he assured him, with a stern nod, as he combed out his forelock, and the animal looked at him again, with that strange attention which is so much like the attention of understanding.
After his tasks in the barn were done Jerome went out to the sloping garden and finished planting the beans. He could see Elmira's smooth dark head passing to and fro before the house windows, and knew that she was fulfilling his instructions.
He kept a sharp watch upon the road for other female friends of his mother's, who, he was resolved, should not enter.
"Them women will only get her all stirred up again. She's got to get used to it, and they'll just hinder her," he said, quite aloud to himself, having in some strange fashion discovered the truth that the human mind must adjust itself to its true balance after the upheaval of sorrow.
After the beans were planted it was only nine o'clock. Jerome went soberly down the garden-slope, stepping carefully between the planted ridges, then into the house, with a noiseless lift of the latch and glide over the threshold; for Elmira signalled him from the window to be still.
His mother sat in her high-backed rocker, fast asleep, her sharp eyes closed, her thin mouth gaping, an expression of vacuous peace over her whole face, and all her wiry little body relaxed. Jerome motioned to Elmira, and the two tiptoed out across the little front entry to the parlor.
"How long has she been asleep?" whispered Jerome.
"'Most an hour. You don't s'pose mother's goin' to die too, do you, Jerome?"
"Course she ain't."
"I never saw her go to sleep in the daytime before. Mother don't act a mite like herself. She 'ain't spoke out to me once this mornin'," poor little Elmira whimpered; but her brother hushed her, angrily.
"Don't you know enough to keep still—a great big girl like you?" he said.
"Jerome, I have. I 'ain't cried a mite before her, and she couldn't hear that," whispered Elmira, chokingly.
"Mother's got awful sharp ears, you know she has," insisted Jerome. "Now I'm goin' away, and don't you let anybody come in here while I'm gone and bother mother."
"I'll have to let Cousin Paulina Maria and Aunt Belinda in, if they come," said Elmira, staring at him wonderingly. Neither she nor her mother knew that Paulina Maria had already been there and been turned away.
"You just lock the house up, and not go to the door," said Jerome, decisively.
Elmira kept staring at him, as if she doubted her eyes and ears. She felt a certain awe of her brother. "Where you goin'?" she inquired, half timidly.
"I'll tell you when I get back," replied Jerome. He went out with dignity, and Elmira heard him on the stairs. "He's goin' to dress up," she thought.
She sat down by the window, well behind the curtain, that any one approaching might not see her, and waited. She had wakened that morning as into a new birth of sense, and greeted the world with helpless childish weeping, but now she was beginning to settle comfortably into this strange order of things. Her face, as she sat thus, wore the ready curves of smiles instead of tears. Elmira was one whose strength would always be in dependence. Now her young brother showed himself, as if by a miracle, a leader and a strong prop, and she could assume again her natural attitude of life and growth. She was no longer strange to herself in these strange ways, and that was wherein all the bitterness of strangeness lay.
When Jerome came down-stairs, in his little poor best jacket and trousers and his clean Sunday shirt, she stood in the door and looked at him curiously, but with a perfect rest of confidence.
Jerome looked at her with dignity, and yet with a certain childish importance, without which he would have ceased to be himself at all. "Look out for mother," he whispered, admonishingly, and went out, holding his head up and his shoulders back, and feeling his sister's wondering and admiring eyes upon him, with a weakness of pride, and yet with no abatement of his strength of purpose, which was great enough to withstand self-recognition.
The boy that morning had a new gait when he had once started down the road. The habit of his whole life—and, more than that, an inherited habit—ceased to influence him. This new exaltation of spirit controlled even bones and muscles.
Jerome, now he had fairly struck out in life with a purpose of his own, walked no longer like his poor father, with that bent shuffling lope of worn-out middle age. His soul informed his whole body, and raised it above that of any simple animal that seeks a journey's end. His head was up and steady, as if he bore a treasure-jar on it, his back flat as a soldier's; he swung his little arms at his sides and advanced with proud and even pace.
Jerome's old gaping shoes were nicely greased, and he himself had made a last endeavor to close the worst apertures with a bit of shoemaker's thread. He had had quite a struggle with himself, before starting, regarding these forlorn old shoes and another pair, spick and span and black, and heavily clamping with thick new soles, which Uncle Ozias Lamb had sent over for him to wear to the funeral.
"He sent 'em over, an' says you may wear 'em to the funeral, if you're real careful," his aunt Belinda had said, and then added, with her gentle sniff of deprecation and apology: "He says you'll have to give 'em back again—they ain't to keep. He says he's got so behindhand lately he 'ain't got any tithes to give to the Lord. He says he 'ain't got nothing that will divide up into ten parts, 'cause he 'ain't got more'n half one whole part himself." Belinda Lamb repeated her husband's bitter saying out of his heart of poverty with a scared look, and yet with a certain relish and soft aping of his defiant manner.
"I don't want anybody to give when I can't give back again," Ann had returned. "Ozias has always done full as much for us as we've done for him." Then she had charged Jerome to be careful of the shoes, and not stub the toes, so his uncle would have difficulty in selling them.
"I'll wear my old shoes," Jerome had replied, sullenly, but then had been borne down by the chorus of feminine rebuke and misunderstanding of his position. They thought, one and all, that he was wroth because the shoes were not given to him, and the very pride which forbade him to wear them constrained him to do so.
However, this morning he had looked at them long, lifted them and weighed them, turning them this way and that, put them on his feet and stood contemplating them. He was ashamed to wear his old broken shoes to call on grand folks, but he was too proud and too honest, after all, to wear these borrowed ones.
So he stepped along now with an occasional uneasy glance at his feet, but with independence in his heart. Jerome walked straight down the road to Squire Eben Merritt's. The cut across the fields would have been much shorter, for the road made a great curve for nearly half a mile, but the boy felt that the dignified highway was the only route for him, bent on such errands, in his best clothes.
Squire Eben Merritt's house stood behind a file of dark pointed evergreen trees, which had grown and thickened until the sunlight never reached the house-front, which showed, in consequence, green patches of moss and mildew. One entering had, moreover, to turn out, as it were, for the trees, and take a circuitous route around them to the right to the front-door path, which was quite slippery with a film of green moss.
There had been, years ago, a gap betwixt the trees—a gate's width—but now none could enter unless the branches were lopped, and Eben Merritt would not allow that. His respect for that silent file of sylvan giants, keeping guard before his house against winds and rains and fierce snows, was greater than his hospitality and concern for the ease of guests. "Let 'em go round—it won't hurt 'em," he would say, with his great merry laugh, when his wife sometimes suggested that the old gateway should be repaired. However, it was only a few times during the year that the matter disturbed her, for she was not one to falter long at the small stumbling-blocks of life; a cheerful skip had she over them, or a placid glide aside. When she had the minister's daughter and other notable ladies to tea, who held it due to themselves to enter the front door, she was somewhat uneasy lest they draggle their fine petticoats skirting the trees, especially if the grass was dewy or there was snow; otherwise, she cared not. The Squire's friends, who often came in muddy boots, preferred the east-side door, which was in reality good enough for all but ladies coming to tea, having three stone steps, a goodly protecting hood painted green, with sides of lattice-work, and opening into a fine square hall, with landscape-paper on the walls, whence led the sitting-room and the great middle room, where the meals were served.
Jerome went straight round to this side door and raised the knocker. He had to wait a little while before any one came, and looked about him. He had been in Squire Eben Merritt's east yard before, but now he had a sense of invasion which gave it new meanings for him. A great straggling rose-vine grew over the hood of the door, and its young leaves were pricking through the lattice-work; it was old and needed trimming; there were many long barren shoots of last year. However, Squire Merritt guarded jealously the freedom of the rose, and would not have it meddled with, arguing that it had thriven thus since the time of his grandfather, who had planted it; that this was its natural condition of growth, and it would die if pruned.
Jerome looked out of this door-arbor, garlanded with the old rose-vine, into a great yard, skirted beyond the driveway with four great flowering cherry-trees, so old that many of the boughs would never bud again, and thrust themselves like skeleton arms of death through the soft masses of bloom out into the blue. One tree there was which had scarcely any boughs left, for the winds had taken them, and was the very torso of a tree; but Squire Eben Merritt would not have even that cut, for he loved a tree past its usefulness as faithfully as he loved an animal. "Well do I remember the cherries I used to eat off that tree, when I was so high," Eben Merritt would say. "Many a man has done less to earn a good turn from me than this old tree, which has fed me with its best fruit. Do you think I'll turn and kill it now?"
He had the roots of the old trees carefully dug about and tended, though not a dead limb lopped. Nurture, and not surgery, was the doctrine of Squire Merritt. "Let the earth take what it gave," he said; "I'll not interfere."
Jerome had heard these sayings of Squire Merritt's about the trees. They had been repeated, because people thought such ideas queer and showing lack of common-sense. He had heard them unthinkingly, but now, standing on Squire Merritt's door-step, looking at his old tree pensioners, whom he would not desert in their infirmity, he remembered, and the great man's love for his trees gave him reason, with a sudden leap of faith, to believe in his kindness towards him. "I'm better than an old tree," reasoned Jerome, and raised the knocker again boldly and let it fall with a great brazen clang. Then he jumped and almost fell backward when the door was flung open suddenly, and there stood Squire Merritt himself.
"What the devil—" began Squire Merritt; then he stopped and chuckled behind his great beard when he saw Jerome's alarmed eyes. "Hullo," said he, "who have we got here?" Eben Merritt had a soft place in his heart for all small young creatures of his kind, and always returned their timid obeisances, when he met them, with a friendly smile twinkling like light through his bushy beard. Still, like many a man of such general kindly bearings, he could not easily compass details, and oftener than not could not have told which child he greeted.
Eben Merritt, outside his own family, was utterly impartial in magnanimity, and dealt with broad principles rather than individuals. Now he looked hard at Jerome, and could not for the life of him tell what particular boy he was, yet recognized him fully in the broader sense of young helplessness and timid need. "Speak up," said he; "don't be scared. I know all the children, and I don't know one of 'em. Speak up like a man."
Then Jerome, stung to the resolution to show this great Squire, Eben Merritt, that he was not to be classed among the children, but was a man indeed, and equivalent to those duties of one which had suddenly been thrust upon him, looked his questioner boldly in the face and answered. "I'm Jerome Edwards," said he; "and Abel Edwards was my father."
Eben Merritt's face changed in a minute. He looked gravely at the boy, and nodded with understanding. "Yes, I know now," said he; "I remember. You look like your father." Then he added, kindly, but with a scowl of perplexity as to what the boy was standing there for, and what he wanted: "Well, my boy, what is it? Did your mother send you on some errand to Mrs. Merritt?"
Jerome scraped his foot, his manners at his command by this time, and his old hat was in his hand. "No, sir," said he; "I came to see you, sir, if you please, sir, and mother didn't send me. I came myself."
"You came to see me?"
"Yes, sir," Jerome scraped again, but his black eyes on the Squire's face were quite fearless and steady.
Squire Eben Merritt stared at him wonderingly; then he cast an uneasy glance at his fishing-pole, for he had come to the door with his tackle in his hands, and he gave a wistful thought to the brooks running through the young shadows of the spring woods, and the greening fields, and the still trout-pools he had meant to invade with no delay, and from which this childish visitor, bound probably upon some foolish errand, would keep him. Then he found his own manners, which were those of his good old family, courteous alike to young and old, and rich and poor.
"Well, if you've come to see me, walk in, sir," cried Squire Merritt, with a great access of heartiness, and he laid his fishing-tackle carefully on the long mahogany table in the entry, and motioned Jerome to follow him into the room on the left.
Jerome had never been inside the house before, but this room had a strangeness of its own which made him feel, when he entered, as if he had crossed the border of a foreign land. It was typically unlike any other room in the village. Jerome, whose tastes were as yet only imitative and departed not from the lines to which they had been born and trained, surveyed it with astonishment and some contempt. "No carpet," he thought, "and no haircloth sofa, and no rocking-chair!"
He stared at the skins of bear and deer which covered the floor, at the black settle with a high carven back, at a carved chest of black oak, at the smaller pelts of wolf and fox which decorated walls and chairs, at a great pair of antlers, and even a noble eagle sitting in state upon the top of a secretary. Squire Merritt had filled this room and others with his trophies of the chase, for he had been a mighty hunter from his youth.
"Sit down, sir," he told Jerome, a little impatiently, for he longed to be away for his fishing, and the stupid abstraction from purpose which unwonted spectacles always cause in childhood are perplexing and annoying to their elders, who cannot leave their concentration for any sight of the eyes, if they wish.
He indicated a chair, at which Jerome, suddenly brought to himself, looked dubiously, for it had a fine fox-skin over the back, and he wondered if he might sit on it or should remove it.
The Squire laughed. "Sit down," he ordered; "you won't hurt the pelt." And then he asked, to put him at his ease, "Did you ever shoot a fox, sir?"
"Ever fire a gun?"
Jerome did not respond with the ready eagerness which the Squire had expected. He had suddenly resolved, in his kindness and pity towards his fatherless state, knowing well the longings of a boy, to take him out in the field and let him fire his gun, and change, if he could, that sad old look he wore, even if he fished none that day; but Jerome disappointed him in his purpose. "He hasn't much spirit," he thought, and stood upon the hearth, before the open fireplace, and said no more, but waited to hear what Jerome had come for.
The Squire was far from an old man, though he seemed so to the boy. He was scarcely middle-aged, and indeed many still called him the "young Squire," as they had done when his father died, some fifteen years before. He was a massively built man, standing a good six feet tall in his boots; and in his boots, thick-soled, and rusty with old mud splashes, reaching high above his knees over his buckskin breeches, Squire Eben Merritt almost always stood. He was scarcely ever seen without them, except in the meeting-house on a Sunday—when he went, which was not often. There was a tradition that he in his boots, just home from a quail sortie in the swamp, had once invaded the best parlor, where his wife had her lady friends to tea, and which boasted a real Turkey carpet—the only one in town.
Eben Merritt in these great hunting-boots, clad as to the rest of him in stout old buckskin and rough coat and leather waistcoat, with his fair and ruddy face well covered by his golden furze of beard, which hung over his breast, lounged heavily on the hearth, and waited with a noble patience, eschewing all desire of fishing, until this pale, grave little lad should declare his errand.
But Jerome, with the great Squire standing waiting before him, felt suddenly tongue-tied. He was not scared, though his heart beat fast; it was only that the words would not come.
The Squire watched him kindly with his bright, twinkling blue eyes under his brush of yellow hair. "Take your time," said he, and threw one arm up over the mantel-shelf, and stood as if it were easier for him than to sit, and indeed it might have been so, for from his stalking of woods and long motionless watches at the lair of game, he had had good opportunities to accustom himself to rest at ease upon his feet.
Jerome might have spoken sooner had the Squire moved away from before him and taken his eyes from his face, for sometimes too ardent attention becomes a citadel for storming to a young and modest soul. However, at last he turned his own head aside, and his black eyes from the Squire's keen blue eyes, and would then have spoken had not the door opened suddenly and little Lucina come in on a run and stopped short a minute with timid finger to her mouth, and eyes as innocently surprised as a little rabbit's.
Lucina, being unhooded to-day, showed all her shower of shining yellow curls, which covered her little shoulders and fell to her childish waist. Her fat white neck and dimpled arms were bare and gleaming through the curls, and she wore a lace-trimmed pinafore, and a frock of soft blue wool scalloped with silk around the hem, revealing below the finest starched pantalets, and little morocco shoes.
Squire Eben laughed fondly, to see her start and hesitate, as a man will laugh at the pretty tricks of one he loves. "Come here, Pretty," he cried. "There's nothing for you to be afraid of. This is only poor little Jerome Edwards. Come and shake hands with him," and bade her thus, thinking another child might encourage the boy.
With that Lucina hesitated no longer, but advanced, smiling softly, with the little lady-ways her mother had taught her, and held out her white morsel of a hand to the boy. "How do you do?" she said, prettily, though still a little shyly, for she was mindful how her gingerbread had been refused, and might not this strange poor boy also thrust the hand away with scorn? She said that, and looking down, lest that black angry flash of his eyes startle her again, she saw his poor broken shoes, and gave a soft little cry, then made a pitiful lip, and stared hard at them with wide eyes full of astonished compassion, for the shoes seemed to her much more forlorn than bare feet.
Jerome's eyes followed hers, and he sprang up suddenly, his face blazing, and made out that he did not see the proffered little hand. "Pretty well," he returned, gruffly. Then he said to the Squire, with no lack of daring now, "Can I see you alone, sir?"
The Squire stared at him a second, then his great chest heaved with silent laughter and his yellow beard stirred as with a breeze of mirth.
"You don't object to my daughter's presence?" he queried, his eyes twinkling still, but with the formality with which he might have addressed the minister.
Jerome scowled with important indignation. Nothing escaped him; he saw that Squire Merritt was laughing at him. Again the pitiful rebellion at his state of boyhood seized him. He would have torn out of the room had it not been for his dire need. He looked straight at the Squire, and nodded stubbornly.
Squire Merritt turned to his little daughter and laid a tenderly heavy hand on her smooth curled head. "You'd better run away now and see mother, Pretty," he said. "Father has some business to talk over with this gentleman."
Little Lucina gave a bewildered look up in her father's face, then another at Jerome, as if she fancied she had not heard aright, then she went out obediently, like the good and gentle little girl that she was.
When the door closed behind her, Jerome began at once. Somehow, that other child's compassion in the midst of her comfort and security had brought his courage up to the point of attack on fate.
"I want to ask you about the mortgage," said Jerome.
The Squire looked at him with quick interest. "The mortgage on your father's place?"
"Doctor Prescott holds it?"
"How much is it?"
"A thousand dollars." Jerome said that with a gasp of horror and admiration at the vastness of it. Sometimes to him that thousand dollars almost represented infinity, and seemed more than the stars of heaven. His childish brain, which had scarcely contemplated in verity more than a shilling at a time of the coin of the realm, reeled at a thousand dollars.
"Well?" observed Squire Merritt, kindly but perplexedly. He wondered vaguely if the boy had come to ask him to pay the mortgage, and reflected how little ready money he had in pocket, for Eben Merritt was not thrifty with his income, which was indeed none too large, and was always in debt himself, though always sure to pay in time. Chances were, if Squire Merritt had had the thousand dollars to hand that morning, he might have thrust it upon the boy, with no further parley, taken his rod and line, and gone forth to his fishing. As it was, he waited for Jerome to proceed, merely adding that he was sorry that his mother did not own the place clear.
The plan that the boy unfolded, clumsily but sturdily to the end, he had thought out for himself in the darkness of the night before. The Squire listened. "Who planned this out?" he asked, when Jerome had finished.
"Who helped you?"
Suddenly Squire Eben Merritt seated himself in the chair which Jerome had vacated, seized the boy, and set him upon his knee. Jerome struggled half in wrath, half in fear, but he could not free himself from that strong grasp. "Sit still," ordered Squire Eben. "How old are you, my boy?"
"Goin' on twelve, sir," gasped Jerome.
"Only four years older than Lucina. Good Lord!"
The Squire's grasp tightened tenderly. The boy did not struggle longer, but looked up with a wonder of comprehensiveness in the bearded face bent kindly over his. "He looks at me the way father use to," thought Jerome.
"What made you come to me, my boy?" asked the Squire, presently. "Did you think I could pay the mortgage for you?"
Then Jerome colored furiously and threw up his head. "No, sir," said he, proudly.
"I came because you are a justice of the peace, and know what law is, and—"
"I've always heard you were pleasanter-spoken than he was."
The Squire laughed. "Pleasant words are cheap coin," said he. "I wish I had something better for your sake, child. Now let me see what it is you propose. That wood-lot of your father's, you say, Doctor Prescott has offered three hundred dollars for."
The Squire whistled. "Didn't your father think it was worth more than that?"
"Yes, sir, but he didn't think he could get any more. He said—"
"What did he say?"
"He said that a poor seller was the slave of a rich buyer; but I think—" Jerome hesitated. He was not used yet to expressing his independent thought.
"Go on," said the Squire.
"I think it works both ways, and the poor man is the slave either way, whether he buys or sells," said the boy, half defiantly, half timidly.
"I guess you're about right," said the Squire, looking at him curiously. "Ever hear your uncle Ozias Lamb say anything like that?"
"Thought it yourself, eh?"
"Well, let's get to business now," said the Squire. "What you want is this, if I understand it. You want Doctor Prescott to buy that wood-lot of your father's for three hundred dollars, or whatever over that sum he will agree to, and you don't want him to pay you money down, but give you his note for it, with interest at six per cent., for as long a term as he will. You did not say give you a note, because you did not know about it, but that is what you want."
Jerome nodded soberly. "I know father paid interest at six per cent., and it was sixty dollars a year, and I know it would be eighteen dollars if it was three hundred dollars instead of a thousand. I figured it out on my slate," he said.
"You are right," said the Squire, gravely. "Now you think that will bring your interest down to forty-two dollars a year, and maybe you can manage that; and if you cannot, you think that Doctor Prescott will pay you cash down for the wood-lot?"
The boy seemed to be engaged in an arithmetical calculation. He bent his brows, and his lips moved. "That would be over seven years' interest money, at forty-two dollars a year, anyway," he said at length, looking at the Squire with shrewdly innocent eyes.
Suddenly Eben Merritt burst into a great roar of laughter, and struck the boy a kindly slap upon his small back.
"By the Lord Harry!" cried he, "you've struck a scheme worthy of the Jews. But you need good Christians to deal with!"
Jerome started and stared at him, half anxiously, half resentfully. "Ain't it right, sir?" he stammered.
"Oh, your scheme is right enough; no trouble about that. The question is whether Doctor Prescott is right."
Eben Merritt burst into another roar of laughter as he arose and set the boy on his feet. "I am not laughing at you, my boy," he said, though Jerome's wondering, indignant eyes upon his face were, to his thinking, past humorous.
Then he laid a hand upon each of the boy's little homespun shoulders. "Go and see Doctor Prescott, and tell him your plan, and—if he does not approve of it, come here and let me know," he said, and seriously enough to suit even Jerome's jealous self-respect.
"Yes, sir," said Jerome.
"And," added the Squire, "you had better go a little after noon—you will be more likely to find him at home."
"Are you afraid to go out alone after dark?" asked the Squire.
"No, sir," replied Jerome, proudly.
"Well, then," said the Squire, "come and see me this evening, and tell me what Doctor Prescott says."
"Yes, sir," replied Jerome, and bobbed his head, and turned to go. The Squire moved before him with his lounging gait, and opened the door for him with ceremony, as for an honored guest.
Out in the south entry, with her back against the opposite wall, well removed from the south-room door, that she might not hear one word not intended for her ears, stood Lucina waiting, with one little white hand clinched tight, as over a treasure. When her father came out, following Jerome, she ran forward to him, pulled his head down by a gentle tug at his long beard, and whispered. Squire Eben laughed and smoothed her hair, but looked at her doubtfully. "I don't know about it, Pretty," he whispered back.
"Please, father," she whispered again, and rubbed her soft cheek against his great arm, and he laughed again, and looked at her as a man looks at the apple of his eye.
"Well," said he, "do as you like, Pretty." With that the little Lucina sprang eagerly forward before Jerome, who, hardly certain whether he were dismissed or not, yet eager to be gone, was edging towards the outer door, and held out to him her little hand curved into a sweet hollow like a cup of pearl, all full of silver coins.
Jerome looked at her, gave a quick, shamed glance at the little outstretched hand, colored red, and began backing away.
But Lucina pressed forward, thrusting in his very face her little precious cup of treasure. "Please take this, boy," said she, and her voice rang soft and sweet as a silver flute. "It is money I've been saving up to buy a parrot. But a parrot is a noisy bird, mother says, and maybe I could not love it as well as I love my lamb, and so its feelings would be hurt. I don't want a parrot, after all, and I want you to take this and buy some shoes." So said little Lucina Merritt, making her sweet assumption of selfishness to cover her unselfishness, for the noisy parrot was the desire of her heart, and to her father's eyes she bore the aspect of an angel, and he swallowed a great sob of mingled admiration and awe and intensest love. And indeed the child's face as she stood there had about it something celestial, for every line and every curve therein were as the written words of purest compassion; and in her innocent blue eyes stood self-forgetful tears.
Even the boy Jerome, with the pride of poverty to which he had been born and bred, like a bitter savor in his heart, stared at her a moment, his eyes dilated, his mouth quivering, and half advanced his hand to take the gift so sweetly offered. Then all at once the full tide of self rushed over him with all its hard memories and resolutions. His eyes gave out that black flash of wrath, which the poor little Lucina had feared, yet braved and forgot through her fond pity, he dashed out the back of his hand so roughly against that small tender one that all the silver pieces were jostled out to the floor, and rushed out of the door.
Squire Eben Merritt made an indignant exclamation and one threatening stride after him, then stopped, and caught up the weeping little Lucina, and sought to soothe her as best he might.
"Never mind, Pretty; never mind, Pretty," he said, rubbing his rough face against her soft one, in a way which was used to make her laugh. "Father 'll buy you a parrot that will talk the roof off."
"I don't—want a parrot, father," sobbed the little girl. "I want the boy to have shoes."
"Summer is coming, Pretty," said Squire Eben, laughingly and caressingly, "and a boy is better off without shoes than with them."
"He won't—have any—for next winter."
"Oh yes, he shall. I'll fix it so he shall earn some for himself before then—that's the way, Pretty. Father was to blame. He ought to have known better than to let you offer money to him. He's a proud child." The Squire laughed. "Now, don't cry any more, Pretty. Run away and play. Father's going fishing, and he'll bring you home some pretty pink fishes for your supper. Don't cry any more, because poor father can't go while you cry, and he has been delayed a long time, and the fishes will have eaten their dinner and won't bite if he doesn't hurry."
Lucina, who was docile even in grief, tried to laugh, and when her father set her down with a great kiss, which seemed to include her whole rosy face pressed betwixt his two hands, picked up her rejected silver from the floor, put it away in the little box in which she kept it, and sat down in a window of the south room to nurse her doll. She nodded and laughed dutifully when her father, going forth at last to the still pools and the brook courses, with his tackle in hand, looked back and nodded whimsically at her.
However, her childish heart was sore beyond immediate healing, for the wounds received from kindness spurned and turned back as a weapon against one's self are deep.
In every household which includes a beloved child there is apt to be one above another, who acts as an intercessor towards furthering its little plans and ends. Little Lucina's was her father. Her mother was no less indulgent in effect, but she was anxiously solicitous lest too much concession spoil the child, and had often to reconcile a permission to her own conscience before giving it, even in trivial matters.
Therefore little Lucina, having in mind some walk abroad or childish treasure, would often seek her father, and, lifting up her face like a flower against his rough-coated breast, beg him, in that small, wheedling voice which he so loved, to ask her mother that she might go or have; for well she knew, being astute, though so small and innocent and gentle, that such a measure was calculated to serve her ends, and allay her mother's scruples through a shift of responsibility.
However, to-day, since her father was away fishing, Lucina was driven to seek other aid in the carrying out of a small plan which she had formed for her delectation.
Right anxiously the child watched for her father to come home to the noonday dinner; but he did not come, and she and her mother ate alone. Then she stole away up-stairs to her little dimity-hung chamber, opening out of her parents' and facing towards the sun, and all twinkling and swaying with little white tassels on curtains and covers and counterpane, in the draught, as she opened the door. Then she went down on her knees beside her bed and prayed, in the simplicity of her heart, which would seek a Heavenly Father in lieu of an earthly one, for all her small desires, and think no irreverence: "Our Father, who art in heaven, please make mother let me go to Aunt Camilla's this afternoon. Amen."
Then she rose, with no delay for lack of faith, and went straight down to her mother, and proffered her request timidly, and yet with a confidence as of one who has a larger voice of authority at her back.
"Please, mother, may I go over to Aunt Camilla's this afternoon?" asked little Lucina.
And her mother, not knowing what principle of childish faith was involved, hesitated, knitting her small, dark face, which had no look like Lucina's, perplexedly.
"I don't know, child," said she.
"I am afraid you'll trouble your aunt, Lucina."
"No, I won't, mother! I'll take my doll, and I'll play with her real quiet."
"I am afraid your aunt Camilla will have something else to do."
"She can do it, mother. I won't trouble her—I won't speak to her—honest! Please, mother."
"You ought to sit down at home this afternoon and do some work, Lucina."
"I'll take over my garter-knitting, mother, and I'll knit ten times across."
It happened at length, whether through effectual prayer, or such skilful fencing against weak maternal odds, that the little Lucina, all fresh frilled and curled, with her silk knitting-bag dangling at her side, and her doll nestled to her small mother-shoulder, stepping with dainty primness in her jostling starched pantalets, lifting each foot carefully lest she hit her nice morocco toes against the stones, went up the road to her aunt Camilla's.
Miss Camilla Merritt lived in the house which had belonged to her grandfather, called the "old Merritt house" to distinguish it from the one which her father had built, in which her brother Eben lived. Both, indeed, were old, but hers was venerable, and claimed that respect which extreme age, even in inanimate things, deserves. And in a way, indeed, this old house might have been considered raised above the mere properties of wood and brick and plaster by such an accumulation of old memories and associations, which were inseparable from its walls, to something nearly sentient and human, and to have established in itself a link 'twixt matter and mind.
Never had any paint touched its outer walls, overlapped with silver-gray shingles like scales of a fossil fish. The door and the great pillared portico over it were painted white, as they had been from the first, and that was all. A brick walk, sunken in mossy hollows, led up to the front door, which was only a few feet from the road, the front yard being merely a narrow strip with great poplars set therein. Lucina had always had a suspicion, which she confided to no one, being sensitive as to ridicule for her childish theories, that these poplars were not real trees. Even the changing of the leaves did not disarm her suspicion. Sometimes she dug surreptitiously around the roots with a pointed stick to see what she could discover for or against it, and always with a fearful excitement of daring, lest she topple the tree over, perchance, and destroy herself and Aunt Camilla and the house.
To-day Lucina went up the walk between the poplars, recognizing them as one recognizes friends oftentimes, not as their true selves, but as our conception of them, and knocked one little ladylike knock with the brass knocker. She never entered her aunt Camilla's house without due ceremony.
Aunt Camilla's old woman, who lived with her, and performed her household work as well as any young one, answered the knock and bade her enter. Lucina followed this portly old-woman figure, moving with a stiff wabble of black bombazined hips, like some old domestic fowl, into the east room, which was the sitting-room.
The old woman's name was lost to memory, inasmuch as she had been known simply as 'Liza ever since her early childhood, and had then hailed from the town farm, with her parentage a doubtful matter.
There was about this woman, who had no kith nor kin, nor equal friends, nor money, nor treasures, nor name, and scarce her own individuality in the minds of others, a strange atmosphere of silence, broken seldom by uncouth, stammering speech, which always intimidated the little Lucina. She had, however, a way of expanding, after long stares at her, into sudden broad smiles which relieved the little girl's apprehension; and, too, her rusty black bombazine smelled always of rich cake—a reassuring perfume to one who knew the taste of it.
Lucina's aunt Camilla was a nervous soul, and liked not the rattle of starched cotton about the house. Her old serving-woman must go always clad in woollen, which held the odors of cooking long.
Lucina sat down in a little rocking-chair, hollowed out like a nest in back and seat, which was her especial resting-place, and 'Liza went out, leaving the rich, fruity odor of cake behind her, saying no word, but evidently to tell her mistress of her guest. There were no blinds on this ancient house, but there were inside shutters in fine panel-work at all the windows. These were all closed except at the east windows. There between the upper panels were left small square apertures which framed little pictures of the blue spring sky, slanted across with blooming peach boughs; for there was a large peach orchard on the east side of the house. Lucina watched these little pictures, athwart which occasionally a bird flew and raised them to life. She held her doll primly, and her little work-bag still dangled from her arm. She would not begin her task of knitting until her aunt appeared and her visit was fairly in progress.
Over against the south wall stood a clock as tall as a giant man, and giving in the half-light a strong impression of the presence of one, to an eye which did not front it. Lucina often turned her head with a start and looked, to be sure it was only the clock which sent that long, dark streak athwart her vision. The clock ticked with slow and solemn majesty. She was sure that sixty of those ticks would make a minute, and sixty times the sixty an hour, if she could count up to that and not get lost in such a sea of numbers; but she could not tell the time of day by the clock hands.
Lucina was a quick-witted child, but seemed in some particulars to have a strange lack of curiosity, or else an instinct to preserve for herself an imagination instead of acquiring knowledge. She was either obstinately or involuntarily ignorant as yet of the method of telling time, and the hands of the clock were held before its face of mystery for concealment rather than revelation to her. But she loved to sit and watch the clock, and she never told her mother what she thought about it. Directly in front of Lucina, as she sat waiting, hanging over the mantel-shelf between the east windows, was a great steel engraving of the Declaration of Independence. Lucina looked at the cluster of grave men, and was innocently proud and sure that her father was much finer-looking than any one of them, and, moreover, doubted irreverently if any one of them could shoot rabbits or catch fish, or do anything but sign his name with that stiff pen. Lucina was capable of an agony of faithfulness to her own, but of loyalty in a broad sense she knew nothing, and never would, having in that respect the typical capacity only of women.
The east-room door had been left ajar. Presently a soft whisper of silk could be heard afar off; but before that even a delicate breath of lavender came floating into the room. Many sweet and subtly individual odors seemed to dwell in this old house, preceding the mortal inhabitants through the doors, and lingering behind them in rooms where they had stayed.
Lucina started when the lavender breath entered the room, and looked up as if at a ghostly herald. She toed out her two small morocco-shod feet more particularly upon the floor, she smoothed down her own and her doll's little petticoats, and she also made herself all ready to rise and courtesy.
After the lavender sweetness came the whisper of silk flounces, growing louder and louder; but there was no sound of footsteps, for Aunt Camilla moved only with the odor and rustle of a flower. No one had ever heard her little slippered feet; even her high heels never tapped the thresholds. She had a way of advancing her toes first and making the next step with a tilt, so soft that it was scarcely a break from a glide, and yet clearing the floor as to her slipper heels.
Lucina knew her aunt Camilla was coming down the stairs by the rustling of her silk flounces along the rails of the banisters, like harp-strings; then there was a cumulative whisper and an entrance.
Lucina rose, holding her doll like a dignified little mother, and dropped a courtesy.
"Good-afternoon," said Aunt Camilla.
"Good-afternoon," returned Lucina.
"How do you do?" asked Aunt Camilla.
"Pretty well, I thank you," replied Lucina.
"How is your mother?"
"Pretty well, I thank you."
"Is your father well?"
"Yes, ma'am; I thank you."
During this dialogue Aunt Camilla was moving gently forward upon her niece. When she reached her she stooped, or rather drooped—for stooping implies a bend of bone and muscle, and her graceful body seemed to be held together by integuments like long willow leaves—and kissed her with a light touch of cool, delicate lips. Aunt Camilla's slender arms in their pointed lilac sleeves and lace undersleeves waved forward as with a vague caressing intent. Soft locks of hair and frilling laces in her cap and bosom hung forward like leaves on a swaying bough, and tickled Lucina's face, half smothered in the old lavender fragrance.
Lucina colored innocently and sweetly when her aunt kissed her, and afterwards looked up at her with sincerest love and admiration and delight.
Camilla Merritt was far from young, being much older than her brother, Lucina's father; but she was old as a poem or an angel might be, with the lovely meaning of her still uppermost and most evident. Camilla in her youth had been of a rare and delicate beauty, which had given her fame throughout the country-side, and she held the best of it still, as one holds jewels in a worn casket, and as a poem written in obsolete language contains still its first grace of thought. Camilla's soft and slender body had none of those stiff, distorted lines which come from resistance to the forced attitudes of life. Her body and her soul had been amenable to all discipline. She had leaned sweetly against her crosses, instead of straining away from them with fierce cramps and agonies of resistance. In every motion she had the freedom of utter yielding, which surpasses the freedom of action. Camilla's graduated flounces of lilac silk, slightly faded, having over it a little spraying mist of gray, trimmed her full skirt to her slender waist, girdled with a narrow ribbon fastened with a little clasp set with amethysts. A great amethyst brooch pinned the lace at her throat. She wore a lace cap, and over that, flung loosely, draping her shoulders and shading her face with its soft mesh, a great shawl or veil of fine white lace wrought with sprigs. Camilla's delicately spare cheeks were softly pink, with that elderly bloom which lacks the warm dazzle of youth, yet has its own late beauty. Her eyes were blue and clear as a child's, and as full of innocent dreams—only of the past instead of the future. Her blond hair, which in turning gray had got a creamy instead of a silvery lustre, like her old lace, was looped softly and disposed in half-curls over her ears. When she smiled it was with the grace and fine dignity of ineffable ladyhood, and yet with the soft ignorance, though none of the abandon, of childhood. Camilla was like a child whose formal code and manners of life had been fully prescribed and learned, but whose vital copy had not been quite set.
Lucina loved her aunt Camilla with a strange sense of comradeship, and yet with awe. "If you can ever be as much of a lady as your aunt Camilla, I shall be glad," her mother often told her. Camilla was to Lucina the personification of the gentle and the genteel. She was her ideal, the model upon which she was to form herself.
Camilla was so unceasingly punctilious in all the finer details of living that all who infringed upon them felt her mere presence a reproach. Children were never rough or loud-voiced or naughty when Miss Camilla was near, though she never admonished otherwise than by example. As for little Lucina, she would have felt shamed for life had her aunt Camilla caught her toeing in, or stooping, or leaving the "ma'am" off from her yes and no.
Camilla, this afternoon, did what Lucina had fondly hoped she might do—proposed that they should sit out in the arbor in the garden. "I think it is warm enough," she said; and Lucina assented with tempered delight.
It was a very warm afternoon. Spring had taken, as she will sometimes do in May, being apparently weary of slow advances, a sudden flight into summer, with a wild bursting of buds and a great clamor of wings and songs.
Miss Camilla got a yellow Canton crepe shawl, that was redolent of sandalwood, out of a closet, but she did not put it over her shoulders, the outdoor air was so soft. She needed nothing but her lace mantle over her head, which made her look like a bride of some old spring. Lucina followed her through the hall, out of the back door, which had a trellis and a grape-vine over it, into the garden. The garden was large, and laid out primly in box-bordered beds. There were even trees of box on certain corners, and it looked as if the box would in time quite choke out the flowers. Lucina, who was given to sweet and secret fancies, would often sit with wide blue eyes of contemplation upon the garden, and discover in the box a sprawling, many-armed green monster, bent upon strangling out the lives of the flowers in their beds.
"Why don't you have the box trimmed, Aunt Camilla?" she would venture to inquire at such times; and her aunt Camilla, looking gently askance at the flush of excitement, which she did not understand, upon her niece's cheek, would reply:
"The box has always been there, my dear."
Long existence proved always the sacredness of a law to Miss Camilla. She was a conservative to the bone.
The arbor where the two sat that afternoon was of the kind one sees in old prints where lovers sit in chaste embrace under a green arch of eglantine. However, in Miss Camilla's arbor were no lovers, and instead of eglantine were a honeysuckle and a climbing rose. The rose was not yet in bloom, and the honeysuckle's red trumpets were not blown—their parts in the symphony of the spring were farther on; over the arbor there was only a delicate prickling of new leaves, which cast a lace-like shadow underneath. A bench ran around the three closed sides of the arbor, and upon the bench sat Lucina and her aunt Camilla, in her spread of lilac flounces. Camilla held in her lap a little portfolio of papier-mache, and wrote with a little gold pencil on sheets of gilt-edged paper. Camilla always wrote when she sat in the arbor, but nobody ever knew what. She always carried the finely written sheets into the house, and nobody knew where she put them afterwards. Camilla's long, thin fingers, smooth and white as ivory, sparkled dully with old rings. Some large amethysts in fine gold settings she wore, one great yellow pearl, a mourning-ring of hair in a circlet of pearls for tears, and some diamond bands in silver, which gave out cold white lights only as her hands moved across the gilt-edged paper.
As for Lucina, she had set up her doll primly in a corner of the arbor, and was knitting her stent. It might have seemed difficult to understand what the child found to enjoy in this quiet entertainment, but in childhood all situations which appeal to the imagination give enjoyment, and most situations which break the routine of daily life do so appeal. Then, too, Camilla's quiet persistence in her own employment gave a delightful sense of equality and dignity to the child. She would not have liked it half as well had her aunt stooped to entertain her and brought out toys and games for her amusement. However, there was entertainment to come, to which she looked forward with gratification, as that placed her firmly on the footing of an honored guest. The minister's daughter or the doctor's wife could not be treated better or with more courtesy.
Aunt Camilla wrote with pensive pauses of reflection, and Lucina knitted until her stent was finished. Then she folded up the garter neatly, quilted in the needles as she had been taught, and placed it in her little bag. Then she took up her doll protectingly and soothingly, and held her in her lap, with the great china head against her small bosom. Lucina's doll was very large, and finely attired in stiff book-muslin and pink ribbons. She wore also pink morocco shoes on her feet, which stood out strangely at sharp right angles. Lucina sometimes eyed her doll-baby's feet uncomfortably. "I guess she will outgrow it," she told herself, with innocent maternal hypocrisy early developed.
When Lucina laid aside her work and began nursing her doll her aunt looked up from her writing. "Are you enjoying yourself, dear?" she inquired.
"Would you like to run about the garden?"
"No, thank you, ma'am; I will sit here and hold my doll. It is time for her nap. I will hold her till she goes to sleep."
"Then you can run about a little," suggested Miss Camilla, gravely, without a smile. She respected Lucina's doll, as she might have her baby, and the child's heart leaped up with gratitude. An older soul which needs not to make believe to re-enter childhood is a true comrade for a child.
"Yes, ma'am," replied Lucina. "I will lay her down on the bench here when she falls asleep."
"You can cover her up with my shawl," said Miss Camilla, gravely still, and naturally. Indeed, to her a child with a doll was as much a part and parcel of the natural order of things as a mother with an infant. Outside all of it herself, she comprehended and admitted it with the impartiality of an observer. "Then you can run in the garden," she added, "and pick a bouquet if you wish. There is not much in bloom now but the heart's-ease and the flowering almond and the daffodils, but you can make a bouquet of them to take home to your mother."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Lucina.
However, she was in no hurry to take advantage of her aunt's permission. She sat quietly in the warm and pleasant arbor, holding her doll-baby, with the afternoon sun sifting through the young leaves, and making over them a shifting dapple like golden water, and felt no inclination to stir. The spring languor was over even her young limbs; the sweet twitter of birds, the gathering bird-like flutter of leaves before a soft swell of air, the rustle of her aunt's gilt-edged paper, an occasional hiss of her silken flounces, grew dim and confused. Lucina, as well as her doll, fell asleep, leaning her pretty head against the arbor trellis-work. Camilla did not disturb her; she had never in her life disturbed the peace or the slumber of any soul. She only gazed at her now and then, with gentle, half-abstracted affection, then wrote again.
Presently, stepping with that subtlest silence of motion through the quiet garden, came a great yellow cat. She rubbed against Miss Camilla's knees with that luxurious purr of love and comfort which is itself a completest slumber song, then made a noiseless leap to a sunny corner of the bench, and settled herself there in a yellow coil of sleep. Presently there came another, and another, and another still—all great cats, and all yellow, marked in splendid tiger stripes, with eyes like topaz—until there were four of them, all asleep on the sunny side of the arbor. Miss Camilla's yellow cats were of a famous breed, well represented in the village; but she had these four, which were marvels of beauty.
Another hour wore on. Miss Camilla still wrote, and Lucina and the yellow cats slept. Then it was four o'clock, and time for the entertainment to which Lucina had looked forward.
There was a heavy footstep on the garden walk and a rustling among the box borders. Then old 'Liza loomed up in the arbor door, darkening out the light. Little Lucina stirred and woke, yet did not know she woke, not knowing she had slept. To her thinking she had sat all this time with her eyes wide open, and the sight of her aunt Camilla writing and the leaf shadows on the arbor floor had never left them. She saw the yellow cats with some surprise, but cats can steal in quietly when one's eyes are turned. Had Lucina dreamed she had fallen asleep when an honored guest of her lady aunt, she would have been ready to sink with shame. Blindness to one's innocent shortcomings seems sometimes a special mercy of Providence.
Lucina straightened herself with a flushed smile, gave just one glance at the great tray which old 'Liza bore before her; then looked away again, being fully alive to the sense that it is not polite nor ladylike to act as if you thought much of your eating and drinking.
Old 'Liza set the tray on a little table in the midst of the arbor, and immediately odors, at once dainty and delicate, spicy, fruity, and aromatically soothing, diffused themselves about. The four yellow cats stirred; they yawned, and stretched luxuriously; then, suddenly fully awake to the meaning of those savory scents which had disturbed their slumbers, sat upright with eager jewel eyes upon the tray.
"Take the cats away, 'Liza," said Miss Camilla.
Old 'Liza advanced grinning upon the cats, gathered them up, two under each arm, and bore them away, moving out of sight between the box borders like some queer monster, with her wide humping flanks of black bombazine enhanced by four angrily waving yellow cat tails, which gave an effect of grotesque wrath to the retreat.
Lucina looked, in spite of her manners, at the tray when it was on the table before her very face and eyes. It was covered with a napkin of finest damask, whose flower pattern glistened like frostwork, and upon it were ranged little cups and saucers of pink china as thin and transparent as shells, a pink sugar-bowl to match, a small silver teapot under a satin cozy, a silver cream-jug, a plate of delicate bread-and-butter, and one of fruit-cake.
"You will have a cup of tea, will you not, dear?" said Aunt Camilla.
"If you please; thank you, ma'am," replied Lucina, striving to look decorously pleased and not too delighted at the prospect of the fruit-cake. Tea and bread-and-butter presented small attractions to her, but she did love old 'Liza's fruit-cake, made after a famous receipt which had been in the Merritt family for generations.
Miss Camilla removed the cozy and began pouring the tea. Lucina took a napkin, being so bidden, spread it daintily over her lap, and tucked a corner in her neck. The feast was about to commence, when a loud, jovial voice was heard in the direction of the house:
"Camilla! Camilla! Lucina, where are you all?"
"That's father!" cried Lucina, brightening, and immediately Squire Eben Merritt came striding down between the box-ridges, and Jerome Edwards was at his heels.
"Well, how are you, sister?" Squire Eben cried, merrily; and in the same breath, "I have brought another guest to your tea-drinking, sister."
Jerome bobbed his head, half with defiant dignity, half in utter shyness and confusion at the sight of this fine, genteel lady and her wonderful tea equipage. But Miss Camilla, having welcomed her brother with gentle warmth, greeted this little poor Jerome with as sweet a courtesy as if he had been the Governor, and bade Lucina run to the house and ask 'Liza to fetch two more cups and saucers and two plates, and motioned both her guests to be seated on the arbor bench.
Squire Eben laughed, and glanced at his great mud-splashed boots, his buckskin, his fishing-tackle, and a fine string of spotted trout which he bore. "A pretty knight for a lady's bower I am!" said he.
"A lady never judges a knight by his outward guise," returned Camilla, with soft pleasantry. She adored her brother.
Eben laughed, deposited his fish and tackle on the bench near the door, and flung himself down opposite them, at a respectful distance from his sister's silken flounces, with a sigh of comfort. "I have had a hard tramp, and would like a cup of your tea," he admitted. "I've been lucky, though. 'Twas a fine day for trout, though I would not have thought it. I will leave you some for your breakfast, sister; have 'Liza fry them brown in Indian meal."