"Them children! Ain't it awful?" muttered Hiram as a file of blue-coat boys shambled past, with hair cut square across their foreheads and bleached white with the sun. "Ain't got a grain of sense! Look at 'em!—all crowded clean out by the Shaker schools."
And surely they were a most unpromising little crowd. Waifs, snatched probably from some New York whirlpool of iniquity, and wearing the brute mark on their faces, which nothing in this school of their transplanting tended to erase—a sodden little party, like stupid young beasts of burden, uncouth and awkward.
As the girls came round again, and I had settled it in my mind that there was certainly no Bessie in the room, I could watch them more calmly. Eagerly as I sought her face, it was a relief, surely, that it was not there. Pale to ghastliness, most of them, with high, sharpened shoulders, and features set like those of a corpse, it was indeed difficult to realize that these ascetic forms, these swaying devotees, were women—women who might else have been wives and mothers. Some of them wore in their hollow eyes an expression of ecstasy akin to madness, and there was not a face there that was not saintly pure.
It was a strange union that assembled under one roof these nun-like creatures, wasted and worn with their rigid lives, and the heavy, brutish men, who shambled round the room like plough-horses. Wicked eyes some of them had, mere slits through which a cunning and selfish spirit looked out. Some faces there were of power, but in them the disagreeable traits were even more strongly marked: the ignorant, narrow foreheads were better, less responsible, it seemed.
The singing ended, there was a sermon from a high priest who stood out imperious among his fellows. But this was not a sermon to the flock. It was aimed at the scanty audience of strangers with words of unblushing directness. How men and women may continue pure in the constant hearing and repetition of such revolting arguments and articles of faith is matter of serious question. The divine instincts of maternity, the sweet attractions of human love, were thrown down and stamped under foot in the mud of this man's mind; and at each peroration, exhorting his hearers to shake off Satan, a strong convulsive shiver ran through the assembly. "Bessie is certainly not here: possibly she's still at Watervliet," I whispered to; Hiram as the concluding hymn began. "But I'll have a chance at Elder Nebson and that woman before they leave; the house."
The rain had ceased for some time, and as again the wild chant went up from those harsh strained voices, a stray sunbeam, like a gleam of good promise, shot across the floor. But what was this little figure stealing in through a side-door and joining the circling throng?—a figure in lilac gown, with the stiff muslin cap and folded neckerchief. She entered at the farthest corner of the room, and I watched her approach with beating heart. Something in the easy step was familiar, and yet it could not be. She passed around with the rest in the inner circle, and, leaning forward, I held my breath lest indeed it might be she.
The circle opened, and again the long line of march around the room. The lilac figure came nearer and nearer, and now I see her face. It is Bessie!
With a cry I sprang up, but with a blow, a crash, a horrible darkness swept over me like a wave, and I knew nothing.
When I came to myself I was lying on a bed in a room that was new to me. A strong light, as of the setting sun, shone upon the whitewashed wall. There was a little table, over which hung a looking-glass, surmounted by two fans of turkey feathers. I stared feebly at the fans for a while, and then closed my eyes again.
Where was I? I had a faint remembrance of jolting in a wagon, and of pitying faces bent over me, but where was I now? Again I opened my eyes, and noted the gay patchwork covering of the bed, and the green paper curtain of the window in the golden wall—green, with a tall yellow flower-pot on it, with sprawling roses of blue and red. Turning with an effort toward the side whence all the brightness came, in a moment two warm arms were round my neck, and a face that I could not see was pressed close to mine.
"Oh, Charlie, Charlie! forgive, forgive me for being so bad!"
"Bessie," I answered dreamingly, and seemed to be drifting away again. But a strong odor of pungent salts made my head tingle again, and when I could open my eyes for the tears they rested on my darling's face—my own darling in a soft white dress, kneeling by my bedside, with both her arms round me. A vigorous patting of the pillow behind me revealed Mrs. Splinter, tearful too: "He's come to now. Don't bother him with talk, Miss Bessie. I'll fetch the tea."
And with motherly insistance she brought me a steaming bowl of beef-tea, while I still lay, holding Bessie's hand, with a feeble dawning that the vision was real.
"No," she said as Bessie put out her arm for the bowl, "you prop up his head. I've got a steddyer hand: you'd just spill it all over his go to-meetin' suit."
I looked down at myself. I was still dressed in the clothes that I had worn—when was it? last week?—when I had started for the Shaker meeting.
"How long?" I said feebly.
"Only this morning, you darling boy, it all happened; and here we are, snug at Mrs. Splinter's, and Mary Jane is getting the cottage ready for us as fast as ever she can."
How good that beef-tea was! Bessie knew well what would give it the sauce piquante. "Ready for us!"
"Here's the doctor at last," said Hiram, putting his head in at the door. "Why, hillo! are we awake?"
"The doctor! Dr. Wilder?" I said beamingly. How good of Bessie! how thoughtful!
"Not Dr. Wilder, you dear old boy!" said Bessie, laughing and blushing, "though I sha'n't scold you, Charlie, for that!" in a whisper in my ear. "It's Dr. Bolster of Lee. Hiram has been riding all over the country for him this afternoon."
"I'll go down to him," I said, preparing to rise.
"No you won't;" and Mrs. Splinter's strong arm, as well as Bessie's soft hand, patted me down again.
Dr. Bolster pronounced, as well he might, that all danger was over. The blow on my head—I must have struck it with force against the projecting window-shelf as I sprang up—was enough to have stunned me; but the doctor, I found, was inclined to theorize: "A sudden vertigo, a dizziness: the Shaker hymns and dances have that effect sometimes upon persons viewing them for the first time. Or perhaps the heat of the room." He calmly fingered my pulse for a few seconds, with his fat ticking watch in his other hand, and then retired to the bureau to write a prescription, which I was indignantly prepared to repudiate. But Bessie, in a delightful little pantomime, made signs to me to be patient: we could throw it all out of the window afterward if need be.
"A soothing draught, and let him keep quiet for a day or so, will be all that is required. I will call to-morrow if you would prefer it."
"We will send you a note, doctor, to-morrow morning: he seems so much stronger already that perhaps it will not be necessary to make you take such a long drive."
"Yes, yes, I'm very busy. You send me word whether to come or not."
And bustlingly the good doctor departed, with Mrs. Splinter majestically descending to hold whispered conference with him at the gate.
"Charlie, I will send for Dr. Wilder if you are ready, for I'm never going to leave you another minute as long as we live."
"I think," said I, laughing, "that I should like to stand up first on my feet; that is, if I have any feet."
What a wonderful prop and support was Bessie! How skillfully she helped me to step once, twice, across the floor! and when I sank down, very tired, in the comfortable easy-chair by the window, she knelt on the floor beside me and bathed my forehead with fragrant cologne, that certainly did not come from Mrs. Splinter's tall bottle of lavender compound on the bureau.
"Oh, my dear boy, I have so much to say! Where shall I begin?"
"At the end," I said quietly. "Send for Dr. Wilder."
"But don't you want to hear what a naughty girl—"
"No, I want to hear nothing but 'I, Elizabeth, take thee—'"
"But I've been so very jealous, so suspicious and angry. Don't you want to hear how bad I am?"
"No," I said, closing the discussion after an old fashion of the Sloman cottage, "not until we two walk together to the Ledge to-morrow, my little wife and I."
"Where's a card—your card, Charlie? It would be more proper-like, as Mrs. Splinter would say, for you to write it."
"I will try," I said, taking out a card-case from my breast-pocket. As I drew it forth my hand touched a package, Fanny Meyrick's packet. Shall I give it to her now? I hesitated. No, we'll be married first in the calm faith that each has in the other to-day, needing no outward assurance or written word.
I penciled feebly, with a very shaky hand, my request that the doctor would call at Hiram Splinter's, at his earliest convenience that evening, to perform the ceremony of marriage between his young friend, Bessie Stewart, and the subscriber. Hiram's eldest son, a youth of eight, was swinging on the gate under our window. To him Bessie entrusted the card, with many injunctions to give it into no other hands than the doctor's own.
In less time than we had anticipated, as we looked out of the window at the last pink glow of the sunset, the urchin reappeared, walking with great strides beside a spare little-figure, whom we recognized as the worthy doctor himself.
"Good gracious! he is in a hurry!" said Bessie, retiring hastily from the window; "and we have not said a word to Mrs. Splinter yet!"
We had expected the little doctor would wait below until the bridal-party should descend; but no, he came directly up stairs, and walked into the room without prelude. He took Bessie in his arms with fatherly tenderness: "Ah, you runaway! so you've come back at last?"
"Yes, doctor, and don't you let go of her until you have married her fast to me."
"Ahem!" said the doctor, clearing his throat, "that is just what I came to advise you about. Hiram told me this afternoon of the chase you two had had, and of your illness this morning. Now, as it is half over the village by this time that Bessie Stewart has been rescued from the Shaker village by a chivalrous young gentleman, and as everybody is wild with impatience to know the denoument, I want you to come down quietly to the church this evening and be married after evening service."
"To please everybody?" I said, in no very pleasant humor.
"I think it will be wisest, best; and I am sure this discreetest of women," still holding Bessie's hand, "will agree with me. You need not sit through the service. Hiram can bring you down after it has begun; and you may sit in the vestry till the clerk calls you. I'll preach a short sermon to-night," with a benignant chuckle.
He had his will. Some feeling that it would please Mrs. Sloman best, the only person besides ourselves whom it concerned us to please, settled it in Bessie's mind, although she anxiously inquired several times before the doctor left if I felt equal to going to church. Suppose I should faint on the way?
I was equal to it, for I took a long nap on the sofa in Mrs. Splinter's parlor through the soft spring twilight, while Bessie held what seemed to me interminable conferences with Mary Jane.
It was not a brilliant ceremony so far as the groom was concerned. As we stood at the chancel-rail I am afraid that the congregation, largely augmented, by this time, by late-comers—for the doctor had spread the news through the village far and wide—thought me but a very pale and quiet bridegroom.
But the bride's beauty made amends for all. Just the same soft white dress of the afternoon—or was it one like it?—with no ornaments, no bridal veil. I have always pitied men who have to plight their troth to a moving mass of lace and tulle, weighed down with orange-blossoms massive as lead. This was my own little wife as she would walk by my side through life, dressed as she might be the next day and always.
But the next day it was the tartan cloak that she wore, by special request, as we climbed the hill to the Ledge. It was spring indeed—bluebirds in the air, and all the sky shone clear and warm.
"Let me begin," said my wife as she took her old seat under the sheltering pine. "You can't have anything to say, Charlie, in comparison with me."
There was a short preliminary pause, and then she began.
"Well, after you wouldn't take me to Europe, you know—"
"You naughty girl!"
"No interruptions, sir. After you couldn't take me to Europe I felt very much hurt and wounded, and ready to catch at any straw of suspicion. I ran away from you that night and left you in the parlor, hoping that you would call me back, and yet longing to hide myself from you too. You understand?"
"Yes, let us not dwell on that."
"Well, I believe I never thought once of Fanny Meyrick's going to Europe too until she joined us on the road that day—you remember?—at the washerwoman's gate."
"Yes; and do you remember how Fidget and I barked at her with all our hearts?"
"I was piqued then at the air of ownership Fanny seemed to assume in you. She had just come to Lenox, I knew; she could know nothing of our intimacy, our relations; and this seemed like the renewal of something old—something that had been going on before. Had she any claim on you? I wondered. And then, too, you were so provokingly reticent about her whenever her name had been mentioned before."
"Was I? What a fool I was! But, Bessie dear, I could not say to even you, then, that I believed Fanny Meyrick was in—cared a great deal for me."
"I understand," said Bessie nodding. "We'll skip that, and take it for granted. But you see I couldn't take anything for granted but just what I saw that day; and the little memorandum-book and Fanny's reminiscences nearly killed me. I don't know how I sat through it all. I tried to avoid you all the rest of the day. I wanted to think, and to find out the truth from Fanny."
"I should think you did avoid me pretty successfully, leaving me to dine coldly at the hotel, and then driving all the afternoon till train-time."
"It was in talking to Fanny that afternoon that I discovered how she felt toward you. She has no concealment about her, not any, and I could read her heart plainly enough. But then she hinted at her father's treatment of you; thought he had discouraged you, rebuffed you, and reasoned so that I fairly thought there might be truth in it, remembering it was before you knew me."
"Listen one minute, Bessie, till I explain that. It's my belief, and always was, that that shrewd old fellow, Henry Meyrick, saw very clearly how matters were all along—saw how the impetuous Miss Fanny was—"
"Falling in love: don't pause for a 'more tenderer word,' Charlie. Sam Weller couldn't find any."
"Well, falling in love, if you will say it—and that it was decidedly a difficult situation for me. I remember so well that night on the piazza, when Fanny clung about me like a mermaid, he bade her sharply go and change her dripping garments, and what Fanny calls 'a decidedly queer' expression came into his face. He could not say anything, poor old chap! and he always behaved with great courtesy to me. I am sure he divined that I was a most unimpassioned actor in that high-comedy plunge into the Hudson."
"Very well: I believe it, I'm sure, but, you see, how could I know then what was or was not true? Then it was that I resolved to give you leave—or rather give her leave to try. I had written my note in the morning, saying no finally to the Europe plan, and I scrawled across it, in lead-pencil, while Fanny stood at her horse's head, those ugly words, you remember?"
"Yes," I said: "'Go to Europe with Fanny Meyrick, and come up to Lenox, both of you, when you return.'"
"Then, after that, my one idea was to get away from Lenox. The place was hateful to me, and you were writing those pathetic letters about being married, and state-rooms, and all. It only made me more wretched, for I thought you were the more urgent now that you had been lacking before. I hurried aunt off to Philadelphia, and in New York she hurried me. She would not wait, though I did want to, and I was so disappointed at the hotel! But I thought there was a fate in it to give Fanny Meyrick her chance, poor thing! and so I wrote that good-bye note without an address."
"But I found you, for all, thanks to Dr. R——!"
"Yes, and when you came that night I was so happy. I put away all fear: I had to remind myself, actually, all the time, of what I owed to Fanny, until you told me you had changed your passage to the Algeria, and that gave me strength to be angry. Oh, my dear, I'm afraid you'll have a very bad wife. Of course the minute you had sailed I began to be horribly jealous, and then I got a letter by the pilot that made me worse."
"But," said I, "you got my letters from the other side. Didn't that assure you that you might have faith in me?"
"But I would not receive them. Aunt Sloman has them all, done up and labeled for you, doubtless. She, it seems—had you talked her over?—thought I ought to have gone with you, and fretted because she was keeping me. Then I couldn't bear it another day. It was just after you had sailed, and I had cut out the ship-list to send you; and I had worked myself up to believe you would go back to Fanny Meyrick if you had the chance. I told Aunt Sloman that it was all over between us—that you might continue to write to me, but I begged that she would keep all your letters in a box until I should ask her for them."
"But I wrote letters to her, too, asking what had become of you."
"She went to Minnesota, you know, early in February."
"And why didn't you go with her?"
"She scolded me dreadfully because I would not. But she was so well, and she had her maid and a pleasant party of Philadelphia friends; and I—well, I didn't want to put all those hundreds of miles between me and the sea."
"And was Shaker Village so near, then, to the sea?"
"Oh, Charlie," hiding her face on my shoulder, "that was cowardice in me. You know I meant to keep the cottage open and live there. It was the saddest place in all the world, but still I wanted to be there—alone. But I found I could not be alone; and the last people who came drove me nearly wild—those R——s, Fanny Meyrick's friends—and they talked about her and about you, so that I could bear it no longer. I wanted to hide myself from all the world. I knew I could be quiet at the Shaker village. I had often driven over there with Aunt Sloman: indeed, Sophia—that's the one you saw—is a great friend of Aunt Maria's."
"So the lady-abbess confessed, did she?" I asked with some curiosity.
"Yes: she said you were rudely inquisitive; but she excused you as unfamiliar with Shaker ways."
"And were you really at Watervliet?"
"Yes, but don't be in a hurry: we'll come to that presently. Sophia gave me a pretty little room opening out of hers, and they all treated me with great kindness, if they did call me Eliza."
"And did you," I asked with some impatience, remembering Hiram's description—"did you sew beads on velvet and plait straw for mats?"
"Nonsense! I did whatever I pleased. I was parlor-boarder, as they say in the schools. But I did learn something, sir, from that dear old sister Martha. You saw her?"
"The motherly body who invited me in?"
"Yes: isn't she a dear? I took lessons from her in all sorts of cookery: you shall see, Charlie, I've profited by being a Shakeress."
"Yes, my darling, but did you—you didn't go to church?"
"Only once," she said, with a shiver that made her all the dearer, "and they preached such dreary stuff that I told Sophia I would never go again."
"But did you really wear that dress I saw you in?"
"For that once only. You see, I was at Watervliet when you came. If you had only gone straight there, dear goose! instead of dodging in the road, you would have found me. I had grown a little tired of the monotony of the village, and was glad to join the party starting for Niskayuna, it was such a glorious drive across the mountain. I longed for you all the time."
"Pretty little Shakeress! But why did they put us on such a false track?"
"Oh, we had expected to reach home that night, but one of the horses was lame, and we did not start as soon as we had planned. We came back on Saturday afternoon—Saturday afternoon, and this is Monday morning!", leaning back dreamily, and looking across the blue distance to the far-off hills. "Then I got your card, and they told me about you, and I knew, for all the message, that you'd be back on Sunday morning. But how could I tell then that Fanny Meyrick would not be with you?"
"Bessie!" and my hand tightened on hers.
"Oh, Charlie, you don't know what it is to be jealous. Of course I did know that—no, I didn't, either, though I must have been sure underneath that day. For it was more in fun than anything else, after I knew you were in the meeting-house—"
"How did you know?"
"I saw you drive up—you and Hiram and Mrs. Hiram."
"You didn't think, then, that it was Mrs. Charles?"
"So I stole into Sophia's room, and put on one of her dresses. She is tall too, but it did not fit very well."
"I should think not," I answered, looking down admiringly at her.
"In fact," laughing, "I took quite a time pinning myself into it and getting the neckerchief folded prim. I waited till after the sermon, and then I knew by the singing that it was the last hymn, so I darted in. I don't know what they thought—that I was suddenly converted, I suppose, and they would probably have given thanks over me as a brand snatched from the burning. Did I do the dance well? I didn't want to put them out."
"My darling, it was a dreadful masquerade. Did you want to punish me to the end?"
"I was punished myself, Charlie, when you fell. Oh dear! don't let's talk about the dreadful thing any more. But I think you would have forgiven Elder Nebson if you had seen how tenderly he lifted you into the wagon. There, now: where are we going to live in New York, and what have we got to live on besides my little income?"
"Income! I had forgotten you had any."
"Ask Judge Hubbard if I haven't. You'll see."
"But, my dear," said I gravely, drawing forth the packet from my breast, "I, too, have my story to tell. I cannot call it a confession, either; rather it is the story of somebody else—Hallo! who's broken the seal?" For on shipboard I had beguiled the time by writing a sort of journal to accompany Fanny's letter, and had placed all together in a thick white envelope, addressing it, in legal parlance, "To whom it may concern."
"I did," said Bessie faintly, burying her face on my arm. "It fell out of your pocket when they carried you up stairs; and I read it, every word, twice over, before you came to yourself."
"You little witch! And I thought you were marrying me out of pure faith in me, and not of sight or knowledge."
"It was faith, the highest faith," said Bessie proudly, and looking into my eyes with her old saucy dash, "to know, to feel sure, that that sealed paper concerned nobody but me."
And so she has ever since maintained.
SARAH C. HALLOWELL.
A STRANGE LAND AND A PECULIAR PEOPLE.
A nodule of amygdaloid, a coarse pebble enveloped in a whitish semi-crystalline paste, lies on the table before me. I know that a blow of the hammer will reveal the beauties of its crystal interior, but I do not crush it. It is more to me as it is—more than a letter plucked from the stone pages of time. Coarse and plain, it is an index to a chapter of life. In the occupations of a busy existence we forget how much we owe to the sweet emotional nature which, by mere chance association, retains the dearer part of the past fixed in memory, just as the graceful volutes of a fossil shell are preserved in the coarse matrix of a stony paste. In this way the nodule connects itself with my emotional life, and recalls the incidents of this sketch.
We were journeying over the mountains in the autumn of 1869. Our camp was pitched in a valley of the ascending ridges of the Cumberland range, on the south-east border of Kentucky. At this point the interior valley forms the letter J, the road following the bend, and ascending at the foot of the perpendicular.
It is nearly an hour since sunset, but the twilight still lingers in softened radiance, mellowing the mountain-scenery. The camp-wagons are drawn up on a low pebbly shelf at the foot of the hills, and the kindled fire has set a great carbuncle in the standing pool. A spring branch oozes out of the rocky turf, and flows down to meet a shallow river fretting over shoals. The road we have followed hangs like a rope-ladder from the top of the hills, sagging down in the irregularities till it reaches the river-bed, where it flies apart in strands of sand. The twilight leans upon the opposite ridge, painting its undulations in inconceivably delicate shades of subdued color. Although the night is coming on, the clear-obscure of that dusk, like a limpid pool, reveals all beneath. A road ascending the southern hill cuts through a loamy crust a yellow line, which creeps upward, winding in and out, till nothing is seen of it but a break in the trees set clear against the sky. No art of engineer wrought these graceful bends: it is a wild mountain-pass, followed by the unwieldy buffalo in search of pasturage. Beyond, the mountain rises again precipitously, a ragged tree clinging here and there to the craggy shelves. Around and through the foliage, like a ribbon, the road winds to the top. A blue vapor covers it and the hills melting softly in the distance. At the base of the hills a little river winds and bends to the west through a low fertile bottom, the stem of the J, which is perhaps a mile in width. It turns again, its course marked by a growth of low water-oaks and beeches, following the irregular fold in the hills which has been described.
Leaning against the bluffs hard by the camp is a low white cottage, with its paddock and pinfold, and the cattle are coming up, with bells toning irregularly as they feed and loiter on the way. The supper-horn sends forth a hoarse but mellow fugue in swells and cadences from the farm-house. Over all this sweet rural scene of mountain, valley, river and farm, and over the picturesque camp, with stock, tent and wagons, now brightened by the grace of a young girl, the twilight lingers like love over a home. As I listen and look a soft voice from the carriage at my side says, "Is the ground damp? May I get out?"
I turn to my little prisoner, and as the mingled lights cross her features I see that her wide, dark-gray eyes are swimming in tears. "Why, what is it?" I ask.
"Nothing: everything is so sweet and tranquil. I was wondering if our new home would be like this—not the hills and valleys, you know, but so quiet and homelike."
So homelike! With that vague yearning, we, like so many Southerners of the period, were wagoning from old homesteads, a thousand miles of travel, to a resting-place.
"It will be like home if you are there," I think as I assist her to alight—the burden daily growing lighter in my arms and heavier on my heart—but I say nothing.
Pretty soon she is at her usual relaxation, looking for shells, ivy berries and roots of wild vines to adorn that never-attainable home. The kindly, generous twilight, so unlike the swift shrift of the Florida levels, still lingers; and presently, amid bits of syenite, volcanic tuff and scoria, she has found this nodule of amygdaloid. It differs from the fossil shells and alluvial pebbles she is used to find, and she is curious about it.
I tell the story of the watershed of the Ohio as well as I can—how it was the delta of a great river, fed by the surfage of a continent lying south—eastwardly in the Atlantic; of the luxuriant vegetation that sprang up as in the cypress-swamps of her old home in Louisiana, passing, layer by layer, into peat, to be baked and pressed into bituminous coal, that slops over the flared edges of the basin in Pennsylvania, like sugar in the kettles, and is then burnt to anthracite. I promise her that in some dawn on the culminating peak, when the hills below loom up, their tops just visible like islands in a sea of dusk, I will show her a natural photograph of that old-world delta, with the fog breaking on the lower cliffs like the surf of a ghostly sea. She listens as to a fairy tale, and then I tell her of the stellar crystals concealed in the rough crust of the amygdaloid. She puts it away, and says I shall break it for her when we get home. We have traveled a long way, by different paths, since then, but it has never been broken—never will be broken now.
In addition to the geological and botanical curiosities the mountains afford, my companion had been moved alternately to tears and smiles by the scenes and people we met—their quaint speech and patient poverty. We passed eleven deserted homesteads in one day. Sometimes a lean cur yelped forlorn welcome: at one a poor cow lowed at the broken paddock and dairy. We passed a poor man with five little children—the eldest ten or twelve, the youngest four or five—their little stock on a small donkey, footing their way over the hills across Tennessee into Georgia. It was so pitiful to see the poor little babes-in-the-wood on that forlorn journey; and yet they were so brave, and the poor fellow cheered them and praised them, as well he might. Another miserable picture was at the white cottage near our camp. The lawn showed evidences of an old taste in rare flowers and vines, now choked with weeds. I knocked, and a slovenly negress opened the door and revealed the sordid interior—an unspread bed; a foul table, sickly with the smell of half-eaten food and unwashed dishes; the central figure a poor, helpless old man sitting on a stool, I asked the negress for her master: she answered rudely that she had no master, and would have slammed the door in my face. Why tell the story of a life surrounded by taste and womanly adornments, followed by a childless, wifeless old age? The poor, wizened old creature was rotting in life on that low stool among his former dependants, their support and scorn. The Emancipation Proclamation did not reach him. But one power could break his bonds and restore the fallen son and the buried wife—the great liberator, Death.
The natives of this region are characterized by marked peculiarities of the anatomical frame. The elongation of the bones, the contour of the facial angle, the relative proportion or disproportion of the extremities, the loose muscular attachment of the ligatures, and the harsh features were exemplified in the notable instance of the late President Lincoln. A like individuality appears in their idiom. It lacks the Doric breadth of the Virginian of the other slope, and is equally removed from the soft vowels and liquid intonation of the southern plain. It has verbal and phraseological peculiarities of its own. Bantering a Tennessee wife on her choice, she replied with a toss and a sparkle, "I-uns couldn't get shet of un less'n I-uns married un." "Have you'uns seed any stray shoats?" asked a passer: "I-uns's uses about here." "Critter" means an animal—"cretur," a fellow-creature. "Longsweet-'nin'" and "short sweet'nin'" are respectively syrup and sugar. The use of the indefinite substantive pronoun un (the French on), modified by the personals, used demonstratively, and of "done" and "gwine" as auxiliaries, is peculiar to the mountains, as well on the Wabash and Alleghany, I am told, as in Tennessee. The practice of dipping—by which is meant not baptism, but chewing snuff—prevails to a like extent.
In farming they believe in the influence of the moon on all vegetation, and in pork-butchering and curing the same luminary is consulted. Leguminous plants must be set out in the light of the moon—tuberous, including potatoes, in the dark of that satellite. It is supposed to govern the weather by its dip, not indicate it by its appearance. The cup or crescent atilt is a wet moon—i.e., the month will be rainy. A change of the moon forebodes a change of the weather, and no meteorological statistics can shake their confidence in the superstition. They, of course, believe in the water-wizard and his forked wand; and their faith is extended to the discovery of mineral veins. While writing this I see the statement in a public journal that Richard Flannery of Cumberland county (Kentucky) uses an oval ball, of some material known only to himself, which he suspends between the forks of a short switch. As he walks, holding this extended, the indicator announces the metal by arbitrary vibrations. As his investigations are said to be attended with success, possibly the oval ball is highly magnetized, or contains a lode-stone whose delicate suspension is affected by the current magnetism, metallic veins being usually a magnetic centre. Any mass of soft iron in the position of the dipping-needle is sensibly magnetic, and a solution of continuity is thus indicated by the vibrations of the delicately poised instrument. Flaws in iron are detected with absolute certainty by this method. More probably, however, the whole procedure is pure, unadulterated humbug. In all such cases the failures are unrecorded, while the successes are noted, wondered at and published. By shooting arrows all day, even a blind man may hit the mark sometimes.
During this journey it was a habit with me to relate to my invalid companion any fact or incident of the day's travel. She came to expect this, and would add incidents and observations of her own. In this way I was led to compile the following little narrative of feminine constancy and courage during the late war.
It begins with two boys and a girl, generically divided into brother and sister and their companion, living on the divide-range of mountains between Kentucky and Tennessee. The people raised hogs, which were fattened on the mast of the range, while a few weeks' feeding on corn and slops in the fall gave the meat the desired firmness and flavor. They cultivated a few acres of corn, tobacco and potatoes, and had a kitchen-garden for "short sass" and "long sass"—leguminous and tuberous plants. Apples are called "sour sass." The chief local currency was red-fox scalps, for which the State of Kentucky paid a reward: the people did not think of raising such vermin for the peltry, as the shrewder speculator of a New England State did. They sold venison and bear-meat at five cents a pound to the lame trader at Jimtown, who wagoned it as far as Columbia, Kentucky, and sold it for seventy-five cents. They went to the log church in the woods on Sundays, and believed that Christ was God in the flesh, with other old doctrines now rapidly becoming heretical in the enlightened churches of the East. Living contentedly in this simple way, neither rich nor poor, the lads grew up, nutting, fishing, hunting together, and the companion naturally looked forward to the day when he would sell enough peltry and meat to buy a huge watch like a silver biscuit, such as the schoolmaster wore, make a clearing and cabin in the wild hills, and buy his one suit of store clothes, in which to wed the pretty sister of his friend.
Then came the war. Although it divided the two friends, the old kindness kept their difference from flaming forth in the vendetta fashion peculiar to the region. It was a great deal that these two young fellows did not believe that military morality required them to shoot each other on sight. Yet, on reconsideration, I will not be so sure of their opinion on this point. Perhaps they thought that, morally and patriotically, they ought to do this, and were conscious of weakness and failure of duty in omitting to do it. Perhaps the old good-will survived for the girl's sake; and if so, I do not think the Union was the worse preserved on that account.
The young lover went into the ranks of Wolford's regiment of loyal mountaineers, and rose—slowly at first, more rapidly as his square sense and upright character became known.
The girl, in her retirement, heard of her lover's advancement with pride and fear. She distrusted her worth, and found the hard menial duties of life more irksome than before. Not that she shrank from labor, but she feared its unfitting her for the refinement required by her lover's new social position. She had few examples to teach her the small proprieties of small minds, but a native delicacy helped her more than she was conscious of. She read her Bible a great deal, and used to wonder if Mary and "the other Mary" were ladies. She thought Peter was probably an East Tennesseean, or like one, for when he denied his Lord they said he did not talk like the others. It seemed hard that to say "we-uns" and "you-uns," as she habitually did, though she tried not, and to use the simple phrases of her childhood, should be thought coarse or wrong. Such matters were puzzles to her which she could not solve. She got an old thumbed Butler's Grammar and tried hard to correct the vocables of her truant tongue. I am afraid she made poor progress. She had a way of defying that intolerable tyrant, the nominative singular, and put all her verbs in the plural, under an impression, not without example, that it was elegant language. She had enough hard work to do, poor girl! to have been quit of these mental troubles. Her brother was away, her parents were old, and all the irksome duties of farm-house and garden fell upon her. She had to hunt the wild shoats on the range, and to herd them; to drive up the cows, and milk them; to churn and make the butter and cheese. She tapped the sugar trees and watched the kettles, and made the maple syrup and sugar; she tended the poultry, ploughed and hoed the corn field and garden, besides doing the house-work. Her old parents could help but little, for the "rheumatiz," which attacks age in the mountains, had cramped and knotted their limbs, and they were fit for nothing except in fine dry weather. Surely, life was hard with her, without her anxieties about her lover's constancy and her own defects. Letter-writing was a labor not to be thought of. She tried it, and got as far as "I am quite well, and I hope these few lines will find you the same," and there stopped. She ascribed the difficulty to her own mental and clerical defects, but I think it lay quite as much in the nature of the relation. How was she to express confidence when she distrusted? how express distrust when her maidenly promptings told her it was an indelicate solicitation? She could say Brindle had gone dry and the blind mare had foaled, or that crops were good; but what was that to say when her heart was thirsting and drying up? She blotted the paper and her eyes and her hands, but she could not write a line. She was a sensible girl, and gave it up, leaving her love to grow its own growth. The tree had been planted in good ground, and watered: it must grow of itself.
By and by military operations brought her lover into the old neighborhood. I cannot say he put on no affectations with his new rank, that he did not air his shoulder-straps a taste too much; but the manly nature was too loyal to sin from mere vanity. He seemed natural, easy, pleased with her, and urged a speedy wedding.
We may guess how the Lassie—we must give her a name, and that will do—worshiped her King Cophetua in shoulder-straps. Had he not stooped from his well-won, honorable height, the serene azure of his blue uniform, to sue for her? In all the humility of her pure loving heart she poured out her thankfulness to the Giver of all good for this supreme blessing of his love.
In the midst of this peace and content her brother appeared with a flag of truce. He was hailed as a prosperous prodigal, for he too was a lad of metal, but he brought one with him that made poor Lassie start and tremble. It was a lady, young and beautiful, clad in deep mourning. Although sad and retiring, there was that dangerous charm about her which men are lured by, and which women dread—a subtle influence of look and gesture and tone that sets the pulses mad. She was going for the remains of her husband, and told a pathetic story, but only too well. She used always the same language, cried at the same places, and seemed altogether too perfect in her part for it to be entirely natural. So, at least, Lassie thought, even while reproaching herself for being hard on a sister in affliction. Yet she could not escape the bitterness of the thought that the widow, Mrs. G——, was "a real lady"—that ideal rival she had been so long dreading in her lover's absence; and now that he had come, the rival had also come.
Her brother dropped a hint or two about the lady: Mrs. G—— had the "shads," "vodles" of bank-stock and niggers, and she paid well for small service. If King Cophetua could get leave to escort her to head-quarters, Mrs. G—— would foot the bills and do the handsome thing. It was hard such a woman should have to go on such a sad business alone.
What could his sister say? She had herself put off the wedding a month: she wanted to get her ample store of butter, eggs and poultry to the trader at Jimtown, or, better still, to the brigade head-quarters at Bean's Station. With her own earnings she could then buy such simple muslins for her wedding-dress as became her and would not shame her lover. She wished she had married him, as he had urged, in her old calico gown. If he had asked her now, if he had pressed a little, she would have yielded; but he did not. He seemed to accept the proprieties and woman's will as unalterable. In fact, he did follow Mrs. G——'s motions with only too lively an admiration. Perhaps he did not know himself what his feelings were—what this new fever in his pulses meant. Besides the calm, holy connubial love there is a wild animal passion that tears through moral creeds and laws. Once, Lassie saw her brother give him a half-angry stare, that passed into a laugh of cool scorn. "Take care of Mrs. G——," he said to King Cophetua. "You will get bit there if you don't look out."
How the sister would have pressed that warning had she dared! Innocent as her lover might be, she believed that Mrs. G—— saw the growing passion and encouraged it. But there was nothing to take hold of. There was nothing bold, forward or inviting in her manner. If a lady has long lashes, must she never droop them lest she be charged with coquetry? May not a flush spring as naturally from shy reserve as from immodesty?
Lassie's lover did take charge of this dangerous siren to escort her to the head-quarters at Louisville. But just before starting he came to Lassie with a certain eagerness, as one who is going into battle might, and assured her, again and again, of his faith. Did he do this to assure her or himself? I think the last.
How weary the month was! She occupied herself as well as she could with her sales and purchases, making a very good trade. The brigade had been at Bean's Station long enough to eat up all the delicacies to be found there, so that the little maid, who was a sharp marketer, got fabulous prices. She made up her simple wedding furniture, gave her mother a new gown and underwear, and pleased her old father with a handsome jean suit, the labor of her own nimble fingers. All that belonged to her would appear well on that day, as became them and her.
At any other time she would have followed up that thrifty market at Bean's Station. She would have huckstered around the neighborhood, and made a little income while it lasted; but now she had no heart for it. Her lover's leave was out, yet his regimental associates knew nothing about him.
A week after the day set for her marriage her brother came again with the flag of truce. He too was vexed—not so much at Cophetua's absence as at not meeting the widow, whom he had been sent to escort to the Confederate lines. But he treated his sister's jealous suspicions with a dash of scorn: "There was nothing of that kind, but if Cophetua would fool with a loaded gun, he must expect to be hurt. If ever there was a hair-trigger, it was Mrs. G——."
"Who is she?" asked his sister eagerly. "Tell me: you say there is something strange, dangerous about her, and I can see it. Who is she?"
"Humph!" said her brother. "She is a lady, and that is enough. If she is dangerous, keep out of her way."
This only deepened the mystery. But she had no time to think. Her brother left in the morning. In the afternoon the colonel of her lover's regiment came to see her with a very grave face. The young man had been arrested for dealing with the enemy, harboring spies and furnishing information of the disposition and number of the Federal forces. "If we could get at the true story of his connection with that woman," said the colonel, "I am satisfied he has only been indiscreet, not treacherous. He is one of my best, most trusted officers, and his arrest is a blot on the regiment. If he will tell anybody, he will tell you. Can you go to Louisville at once?"
Yes, at once. The traveling-dress, made up for so different an occasion, was donned, and under escort she went, by a hundred miles of horseback ride, to the nearest railway station. There was no tarrying by the way: the colonel's influence provided relays. On the evening of the third day she was with her lover.
It was as the colonel had supposed: the woman had got her lover in her toils, and he had been imprudent. He had every reason for believing that her story of her husband's remains was false. She was a dealer in contraband goods: this much he knew. Other officers, of higher rank, knew as much, and corresponded with her. If they chose to wink at it, was he, a subordinate, to interfere? She had trusted him, depended on him, and he had a feeling that it would be disloyal to her confidence to betray her, to pry into what she concealed, and expose what his superiors seemed to know. But after she was gone the story leaked out: she was not only a smuggler, but a very dangerous spy. Some one must be the scapegoat, and who so fit as the poor, friendless Tennesseean who had escorted her to head-quarters and acted for her in personal matters?
That was his story, but what a poor story to tell to a court-martial! What was she to do? Poor, simple child of the woods! what did she know of the wheels within wheels, and the rings of political influence by which a superior authority was to be invoked? She knew nothing of these things, and there was no one to tell her. She thought of but one plan: her brother could find that woman. She would seek her out—she would appeal to her.
We need not follow her on that return journey and her visit to the Confederate camp. Fortunately, the Confederates were nearer than she supposed. She came upon their pickets, and was taken into the commanding officer's presence. Her brother was sent for, and when he came she told him she was looking for his friend, Mrs. G——.
"Looking for her!" said her brother. "Why, that is what we moved out this way for! She is in camp now. We brought her and her luggage in last night."
She eagerly entreated to be taken to her, and was carried to a pavilion, or marquee, a little apart from the officers' quarters. Mrs. G—— came in richly but simply dressed, attended by a portly, handsome, but rather dull-looking officer.
"Why, Lassie!" said Mrs. G—— in surprise. "So you have come to see me? Here are the remains of my poor dear," she added with a little laugh, presenting the gentleman. "Do you think he is worth all the trouble I took to get him?"
"Ha! much pleased! Devilish proper girl!" said the man with a stupid blush, justifying the stolidity of his good looks.
"But where is your preux chevalier, Captain Cophetua? I declare, I almost fell in love with him myself. Frank here is quite jealous."
"Oh, Mrs. G——," broke out the poor girl, "you have killed him! They are going to try him and hang him for helping you to spy."
"Nonsense!" said the lady with a little start. "The poor fellow did nothing but what, as a gentleman, he was compelled to do. But how can I help you?"
"Save him," said Lassie. "You have your wealth, your wit, your husband: I have but him!" and she sank down in tears.
"Stupid," said the lady, turning sharply on her husband, "tell me what to do? Don't you see we must not let them hang the poor fellow?"
"Of course not," said the big man dryly. "Just countermand the order of execution. No doubt the Yankees will obey: I would."
"Of course you would: a precious life you would lead if you did not," said his wife, who evidently commanded that squad. "Never mind: there is more sense in what you said than I expected of you—Jane," to the smart maid who attended on her, "pen, ink, paper and my portfolio."
Opening the last, she took out a bundle of letters, and, running them rapidly over as a gambler does his cards, she selected one. "This," she said to Lassie, "is a note from General ——. It is written without the slightest suspicion of my character as a spy; but you will see it involves him far more dangerously than your friend. He cannot well explain it away. Keep the letter. I will write to him that you have it to deliver over in return for his kind assistance in effecting the release of your friend. Don't fear: I ask him to do nothing he ought not to do without asking, and you give him a letter that would be misconstrued if it fell into other hands."
Armed with these instructions and the letters, Lassie returned home, passed on to Louisville, and delivered her message. The general promptly interfered, thanking her for calling his attention to the matter. His influence, and a more exact understanding of the means and appliances of the artful widow in obtaining information, effected her lover's acquittal and restoration to his former position.
"I owe her my life and good name," said the tall Tennesseean, taking Baby No. 2 from her arms. "I-uns ain't wuth such a gal."
"No," say I drily. "What did you take him for?" to her. Then I get the answer before quoted. But my companion, with a truer perception, went quietly up and kissed her Tennessee sister, a little to the surprise of both, I think, but they seemed touched by the silent little tribute more than by any words.
I have spoken of the character of the hostilities in that "debatable land." War is a bad thing always, but when it gets into a simple neighborhood, and teaches the right and duty of killing one's friends and relatives, it becomes demoniac. Down about Knoxville they practiced a better method. There it was the old game of "Beggar your Neighbor," and they denounced and "confiscated" each other industriously. Up in the poor hills they could only kill and burn, and rob the stable and smoke-house. We were shown the scene of one of these neighborhood vengeances. It is a low house at the side of a ravine, down whose steep slope the beech forest steps persistently erect, as if distrusting gravitation. Thirty Confederates had gathered in that house at a country-side frolic, and the fiddle sang deep in the night. The mountain girls are very pretty, having dark, opalescent eyes, with a touch of gold in them at a side glance, slight, rather too fragile figures, and the singular purity of complexion peculiar to high lands.
The moon went down, and the music of the dance, the shuffle of feet on the puncheon floor, died away into that deep murmurous chant, the hymn of Nature in the forest. The falling water, sleeping in the dam or toiling all day at the mill, gurgles like the tinkling of castanets. Every vine and little leaf is a harp-string; every tiny blade of grass flutes its singly inaudible treble; the rustling leaves, chirping cricket, piping batrachian, the tuneful hum of insects that sleep by day and wake by night, mingle and flow in the general harmony of sound. The reeds and weeds and trunks of trees, like the great and lesser pipes of an organ, thunder a low bass. The melancholy hoot of the owl and the mellow complaint of the whippoorwill join in the solemn diapason of the forest, filling the solitudes with grand, stately marches. There are no sounds of Nature or art so true in harmony as this ceaseless murmur of the American woods. So accordant is it with the solemn majesty of form and color that the observer fails to separate and distinguish it as an isolated part in the grand order of Nature. He has felt an indescribable awe in the presence of serene night and unbounded shadow, but to divide and distinguish its constituent causes were as vain as in the contour and color of a single tree to note the varied influence of rock, soil and river.
Over the little farm-house in the ravine in the fall of 1863 there fell with the sinking moon these solemn dirges of the great dark woods. The stars brightened their crowns till Via Lactea shone a highway of silver dust or as the shadow of that primeval river rolling across the blue champaign of heaven. The depths of repose that follow the enjoyment of the young irrigated their limbs, filling the sensuous nerves and arteries with a delicious narcotism—a deep, quiet, healthful sleep, lulled by the chant of the serene mother-forest.
Hush! A light step, like a blown leaf: the loose wooden latch rises at the touch of a familiar hand; familiar feet, that have trodden every inch of that poor log floor, lead the way; and then all at once, like a bundle of Chinese crackers, intermingled with shrieks and groans and deep, vehement curses, the rapid reports of pistols fill the chambers. The beds, the floors, the walls, the doors are splashed with blood, and the chambers are cumbered with dead and dying men in dreadful agony. Happy those who passed quietly from the sweet sleep of Nature to the deeper sleep of death! Of thirty young men in the flush of youth, not one escaped. Six Federal scouts had threaded their way since sunset from the Federal lines to do this horrible work. Oh, Captain Jack, swart warrior of the Modocs! must we hang you for defending your lava-bed home in your own treacherous native way, when we, to preserve an arbitrary political relation, murder sleeping men in their beds?
Let me close with an incident of that great game of war in which the watershed of the Ohio was the gambler's last stake.
The Confederacy was a failure in '62, held together by external pressure of hostile armies. It converted civil office into bomb-proofs for the unworthy by exempting State and Federal officials; it discouraged agriculture by levying on the corn and bacon of the small farmers, while the cotton and sugar of the rich planter were jealously protected; it discouraged enlistment by exempting from military service every man who owned twenty negroes, one hundred head of cattle, five hundred sheep—in brief, all who could afford to serve; it discouraged trade by monopolies and tariffs. But for the ubiquitous Jew it would have died in 1862-'63, as a man dies from stagnation of the blood. It was the rich man's war and the poor man's fight.
This suicidal policy had its effect. Cut off from all markets, the farmer planted only for family use. At the close of the war the people of Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas had to be fed by the government. The farmers in 1864 refused to feed the Southern army. Seventy thousand men deserted east of the Mississippi between October 1, 1864, and February 3, 1865. They were not recalled: the government could not feed them. The Confederacy was starved out by its own people—rather by its own hideous misgovernment, for the people were loyal to the cause.
One fact was apparent as early as 1863: the South would not feed the armies—the North must. That plan, so far as the Atlantic coast States were involved, was foiled at Gettysburg. The only resource left was in the West, the watershed of the Ohio, which Sherman was wrenching out of General Johnston's fingers. In a military point of view, the great Confederate strategist was right: he was conducting the campaign on the principle Lee so admirably adopted in Virginia. But President Davis had more than a military question to solve. If he could not seize the granaries of the watershed, the Confederacy would die of inanition.
That was what caused the change of commanders in Georgia, and the desperate invasion that blew to pieces at Nashville; and it introduces a little scouting incident upon which the event of that campaign may have partially turned. General Hood was in camp at Jonesborough: Forrest and Wheeler were detached to destroy Sherman's single thread of supplies. Prisoners pretended to have been on half rations, and the sanguine opinion at head-quarters was that Sherman was on the grand retreat. That able strategist had disappeared, enveloping himself in impenetrable vidette swarms of cavalry. He had pocketed one hundred thousand men in the Georgia hills, and no one could find them; at least, General Hood could not.
But others were not sanguine about Sherman's falling back. General Jackson selected a major, a trusted scout, with twenty-five men, with instructions to find Sherman. Again and again the scout and his little band tried to pierce that impenetrable cloud, and could not. Then he tried another plan. He snapped up a Federal squad, clothed a select part of his little band in their uniform, and sent the others back with the prisoners. Then he plunged boldly into the cloud, a squad of Federals, bummers, pioneers. Does the reader reflect upon the fine fibre of the material requisite for such an exploit? It is not strength, courage or tactical cunning that is most wanted, but that most difficult art, to be able to put off your own nature and put on another's—to play a part, not as the actor, who struts his hour in tinsel and mouths his speeches as no mortal man ever walked or talked in real life, but as one who stakes his life upon a word, an accent; requiring subtlety of analytic sense and quickness of thought. Polyglot as was the speech of the Federal forces, suspicion, started by that test, would run rapidly to results. Then there was the danger of collision with the regiment whose uniform they had assumed. Swift, constant motion was required. They swept to the head of the column, and, to be brief, the first Federal pontoon thrown across the Chattahoochee was laid with the assistance of these spies. The leader threw himself on the bank and counted the regiments by their insignia as they passed, until he saw the linen duster and the glittering staff of the great commander himself as they clattered over the bridge. Then to Campbellton, hard by, where their horses were rendezvoused, and whip and spur to Jonesborough.
A council of war was sitting when the scout arrived. He was hurried into its presence, and told his story with laconic, military precision. Sherman's whole force was across the Chattahoochee and marching on Jonesborough, twenty miles away.
"I have sure information to the contrary," said the commanding general, singularly deceived by a strong conviction, enforced by scouts who depended on rumor for authority. "It is some feint to cover the general movement."
"I counted the flags, guidons, regimental insignia—such force of cavalry, artillery, infantry," giving the numbers. "I saw and recognized General Sherman," said the scout briefly.
His report was not, even then, credited, but, as a precaution, a brigade of cavalry, with his battalion in the van, was sent out to beat up the enemy. A short distance beyond Flint River they struck the Federal line, which attacked at once, without feeling—a sure indication of strength. The battalion was hurled back on the brigade, the brigade rushed across Flint River, and back into the infantry line, now throwing up tardy entrenchments at Jonesborough. The rest is historical. It was but one of the rash throws of the dice for that great stake, the watershed of the Ohio, and helps to show the principles of military action by which it was lost.
WILL WALLACE HARNEY.
On every mountain-crest Is rest: In every vale beneath, No breath Stirs in the quietude: The little birds are silent in the wood. Soon, patient, weary breast, Thou too wilt rest.
OUR HOME IN THE TYROL.
One great feature of the Hof has hitherto been passed over in silence—the other lodgers; for, truth to say, there happened to be a large family of tourists, who, following in the wake of their parents and grandparents before them, strenuously adhered year after year to the peaceful old Hof as their summer residence. Schwalben by name, they had English and American cousins, the swallows and martins: they pursued a yearly routine of spending the winter months with other connexions in Algeria or the Levant, then, dividing into groups, returned to their various mountain or pastoral homes in cooler, more verdant lands. Thus, on the second Wednesday in the month of May one family always arrived at the old castle of Neuhaus, giving a sentiment to the forsaken ruin which it could not otherwise possess, and about the same week a number of their cousins and distant connexions took up their quarters at the Hof.
The swallows in the Tyrol pass for holy birds. There is a tradition that their forefathers helped the Lord Almighty to build the firmament, but how and in what manner popular tradition does not tell us. Being blessed by God and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the simple peasant often leaves his doors and windows open to attract such valued inmates, seeing that peace and happiness enter with them, and lightning never strikes the roof where swallows build. Should they forsake a house in the course of the summer, it is a sign of coining misfortune. He who kills a swallow will lose father or mother.
A firm belief in the goodness of the swallows made Kathi honor and welcome the familiar visitants. "They were no greedy guests," she said, "for they always arrived when the bins of meal and winter provisions were empty, and in the autumn, as soon as they were filled again, they were off without bite or bit."
Many an old deserted room in the high-pitched roof was given over to these inoffensive, man-loving birds. Hundreds of nests, some in good condition, others deserted and out of repair, clung to old beams, rafters and wainscots. A steady sound of fluttering and juvenile chirping issued through the closed doors, contrasting with the silence of the long stone corridor, whilst parent birds whirled gracefully in and out through the dusty open windows, or poised themselves on the warm shingles of the roof. The grandest, most comfortable quarters were afforded in a large unused chamber occupying the front gable; and, curiously enough, either in reality or fancy, we could not help observing that whilst the various members of the community lived fraternally together, there still seemed to be a distinction between the swallows who dwelt in these spacious quarters and those who lived in humbler lodgings behind. You might imagine that the dwellers in front had become rich through trade, for they suffered no more from the perpetual booming of the great house-clock above their heads, or from the ever-moving pendulum which pulsated like a living thing in their midst, than a manufacturer from the constant sound of his busy steam-engines and rattling machinery. This swallow domain soon became known as Castle Clock-Tower, and the chief inmates as the Herr and Frau von Schwalbe and family, whilst, oddly enough, if it was our daily pleasure to watch them, they showed an equal curiosity and interest in us.
I do not know whether they considered that the fly-papers in our sitting-room might be thwarting the designs of Providence on their behalf, but we had hardly begun using them for the destruction of the flies, when Herr von Schwalbe flew down from his castle through the open window, apparently sent as a deputy to remonstrate with us on this reckless waste of their legitimate game. He fluttered about, glancing at the dead bodies strewn on the floor; then, taking his post on the top of a picture hanging on the wall, remained several hours, drawing his own deductions, but always too timid to raise a complaint. In vain we tried to encourage him, to induce him to leave his lofty position: the lonely visitant remained timidly stationary, so that night came on before he ventured his flight.
Although Herr von Schwalbe might not approve of our unscrupulous destruction of flies, he must have reported us a well-meaning family, seeing that his wife ever afterward treated us with the greatest confidence. She was an elegant lady, with the most approved Grecian bend. She gave a kettle-drum once to her friends and relations at the unseasonable hour of four o'clock in the morning, but in all other cases observed her character of a wise, prudent little matron. Day by day she conducted her happy family to a horizontal pole suitably fastened to the upper gallery, where she cultivated their intellects, and, assisted by her devoted husband, gave them flying and singing lessons, each vocal attempt being rewarded by a liberal supply of flies.
We likewise became interested in a couple of redstarts, who, waxing bold, would tap at the casement, bidding us come and admire their young in the nest under the portico. This was during our first visit: on our second we found some dire misfortune had befallen the mother, the children and the nest. The Hofbauer feared some servant must have destroyed them. The poor little father remained attached to the melancholy spot, and, refusing to be comforted because his dear ones were not, flew round perpetually with a worm in his bill. In his despair he would drop it untouched with piteous laments, until, as if his small instinct had become crazed, he would go in search of a fresh dainty morsel, and the sad scene was enacted over again. Poor forlorn bird! Like the swallows, the redstarts are dedicated to the Virgin: such high patronage, however, in this case availed nothing.
Neither did Anton's crossbill, which dwelt in the stube, have a much happier fate. Although its master was very fond of it and tended it well, it had, like others of its race, to live in a very small prison suspended but a short way from the centre of the dark paneled ceiling. Thus, in the winter between our two visits it died, suffocated by the hot air of the overheated, ill-ventilated stube. Many poor pet birds of this species are thus killed, the victims of ignorance; for when a crossbill becomes sickly from its dark, hot, confined quarters, the peasant does not wish to cure it, believing that this holy bird, which tried to free the Lord from the cross, so sympathizes with redeemed humanity that whenever illness or epidemic threatens the household the devoted creature itself immediately takes the disease and dies, the family escaping unharmed.
It would be wearisome to enumerate all the different features and dispositions of the farm-yard inhabitants. Let us rather pass on to Moro. Perhaps it was no pleasant surprise to some of us when the Hof bauer having made the purchase of a house-dog, it proved to be none other than a large, handsome rusty-black hound which had once sprung out of a house near a crossing of the new railway, trying to attack my father, who had to defend himself with his stick against the disagreeable customer, until a voice from the house made the dog instantly and quietly shrink away. The Hofbauer expressed his regret. He, knowing nothing of the circumstances, had bought the animal out of good-nature, as his master, an Italian and the overseer of the railway, removing to a great distance, was forced to part with it. He was anything but a savage dog, proving, on the contrary, easily cowed; so that the fact of his ever having made such a sally soon surprised us. Whether he missed the occupation of looking after the work-people and guarding the line, or whether he only understood dialectical Italian, certain it is that he proved a most inert, taciturn dog. He would wander about for weeks in listless despondency, doing nothing for his living, and showing no intelligence except in the way of hiding bones. Although really young, his extreme slowness and apathy conveyed the idea of an old dog. He crept sluggishly along in search of some sunny nook where he might snooze in his melancholy. Now, it fell to Moidel's duty to feed this silent, heavy dog, whereupon he, rising gradually out of his secret woes, became her constant docile companion, following her seriously and silently like a shadow, and looking gravely mortified when she refused his attendance at church. He disliked the least approach to a liberty, and, showing no interest in what passed around him, was regarded by the family rather as a pensioner than an active, useful member of the community.
With E——'s arrival, however, a strange though gradual change came over Moro. He seemed from the first to perceive the strong sympathy which she possessed for all dumb creatures; and had he been the spellbound mortal of the fairy tale the transformation could hardly have been more remarkable. As he felt he was no longer unappreciated or misunderstood, he began to divide his attentions between Moidel and his new friend. He became lively and active, condescending to take walks in any direction but Bruneck—a place which, for some inscrutable reason, he persistently avoided. He took to opening his huge mouth and uttering a sonorous bark; unfurled his tail, which, losing its stiffness, wagged incessantly; whilst, developing his liveliness still more, he actually took to committing flying leaps over a five-barred gate, and running wildly backward and forward in the most ludicrous manner in front of the house whenever he perceived his favorite E—— or some of her friends watching him.
Autumn had stepped in with the month of September. The harvest was carried, and, according to an old custom, the village held a thanksgiving service before the sowing of the seed-corn began; and, whilst all were generous to their relations, none showed greater hospitality than the worthy Hofbauer, who expected not only all his own connexions, but also those of his dead wife, to share in the annual jubilee.
Arduous were now the labors of the womankind preparatory to the feast. Nanni No. I and Nanni No. 2 of the establishment might be met carrying pounds and pounds of fresh meat into the cellar. In the stube sat Kathi, seated on one of the wooden settees which surrounded the room, her good old face bent silently over a paste board placed on one of the square tables at which the large family took their meals. This was more convenient than in the gewoelbe, or huge pantry, which was half buried in provender: besides, Kathi thought, it struck damp. But Moidel might be found there, with a quiet smile on her dear ruddy face, whilst her healthy bare brown arm moved backward and forward with marvelous agility in the beating of eggs. Let us step into the gewoelbe, Kathi's domain proper. It is a marvelous place. Look at the gayly-painted chests of the lowest decorative style of art, choking with flour and buckwheat-meal; look at the racks full of heavy, flinty household bread; at the pyramid of oblong bladder-like pastry, called krapfen, which covers the table; at the smoked tongues, pig-cheeks, feet and bologna sausage hanging from the ceiling. Light and air are admitted by a large open window, but the atmosphere is so impregnated with the odor of cummin (the favorite spice of the Tyrol, found in bread, in dishes of vegetables, in puddings and pastry) that any sense of great freshness is excluded. Rudely-made presses contain lint and linen for accidents or sprains, whilst endless lotions and remedies are carefully preserved in a long range of little drawers—cloves, ginger, dried hyssop, fennel, anis and sage, all excellent remedies for keeping the cold out of the stomach, to say nothing of a discreet bottle of schnapps for the same purpose. There is many another herb, dried by the careful Kathi between the two Lady Days, Mary's ascension and Mary's birthday, which may usefully be employed for man or beast—mullein, a very amulet against every kind of cough and sore-throat; plantain, wormwood, red and white mugwort; nor are the scrapings of hartshorn bought from a mountain huntsman forgotten. At this moment, however, no one is dreaming for an instant of being ill: that might happen after, but must not precede the feast.
Kathi and Moidel, experienced cooks and housewives, work steadily on, without feeling the least anxiety for the success of their stupendous efforts. They are only amazed that we should be surprised at the quantity of their work—that they can remain, in fact, so cool in the midst of their hundred and one boilings, singeings, choppings and fryings. Kathi certainly wipes the perspiration off her brow, but Moidel cannot even allow herself leisure for the act. The dinner would not be in time if they stopped to enter the chapel, even for Rosenkranz. So all the womankind repeat their Hail Marys hurrying backward and forward. Then Moidel retires to snatch a few hours of rest, wakes with a start, and is again alert at midnight, when, attended, rather than aided, by two maids in waking stupefaction, the baking, boiling and steaming receive a continuous impetus, Kathi reappearing at four for the last triumphant efforts.
In good time the Hofbauer and Anton are equipped in their gala attire for church, Moidel and the maids, in spite of their nocturnal labors, following them briskly; so that they have not only said their prayers and endeavored to understand the sermon, but actually joined in a procession before the guests arrive. The sweet notes of a processional hymn still float on the silent, balmy air as the sound of advancing wheels is heard. Then several one-horse gigs are seen approaching, and the geese hiss drowsily at the happy-faced bauers and bauerins, and their flocks of healthy, chubby children stuffed in before and behind; and so they drive carefully into the large yard, where Onkel Johann, acting as hostler, proudly though bashfully receives them.
There is a sober gayety and rejoicing about the elders, a suppressed merriment about the youngsters. They do not expect much waiting upon before the feast. They know that a strong but silent friendship exists between them all and their host—that they are ready to help each other in any possible emergency without making a fuss about it. So the Hofbauer can walk back leisurely from church, and Kathi can attend to her onerous duties in the kitchen, without a single visitor feeling slighted.
Soon the crowd of simple guests is seated at table in the large sitting-room, which we have vacated for the occasion. The Hofbauer stands at a side-table and carves, and Anton in his long white apron and bib waits as serving-man. Onkel Johann, however, sits at table. The aunt and Moidel are busy dishing below: they will have their share of good things when they go to the return feasts. Of pickings and leavings there are none: it would be an insult to send away a half-emptied plate; and for the same reason no dish is left untouched, though it is a banquet that might even satiate a work-house. Soup, sausage, roast veal, baked apples and stewed prunes; stewed liver, fried liver, millet pudding; boiled beef with horseradish and beet-root; hung beef; cabbage dished with tongue and pork; noodles; and then a second soup to wash down what has gone before, but followed by more substantial in the form of liver-cake, in which that ingredient has been baked with bread-crumbs, eggs, onions and raisins. Then come batter dumplings, one sort of knoedel sprinkled with poppy-seeds, roast beef with salad, and finally coffee.
There is little talking; only a clatter of plates, dishes, knives and forks as the honest guests deliberately but persistently vanquish each stage of the feast.
After coffee, "the mother's own sister" is called aside by Kathi, in order that she, for her own and the dear dead Hofbauerin's sake (of whom, bless her! in Kathi's eyes she is the very image), may be privately presented to us, the foreign Herrschaft. A comely, compact little figure, with delicate features, small hands and feet, and a pair of dove-like eyes.
Wishing to be polite, she says it is gar curios that any of the Herrschaft should understand German. Immediately she fears this implies ignorance on our part, and adds an apology: "But certainly such Herrschaft who are so up in things of heaven and earth would know German."
Then she waits with a sense of relief for one of us to speak. At this moment, however, a bevy of bright, cheerful little peasant-girls, who have been hovering in the distance, taking courage, approach and cluster in a ring around her. She shows by her face that she fears this is a liberty, but is nevertheless relieved by their supporting her. We ask their names, and she goes off into a string of Madels, Lisies, Nannies, who all smile spontaneously, and have not only to set her right as to their ages, but, to their infinite astonishment, as to their relationship to herself.
"Why, mother, I am your daughter!" says one little girl reproachfully. "Why, aunt, my mother is dead, you know!" adds another, pulling at her sleeve and whispering this correction. Then the whole group burst into a shy titter.
The good soul stands calmly this battery of juvenile reproaches: "Ho, are not you all my children? Have I not brought you all through the measles, knitted the stockings for all your feet, until I taught you to knit for yourselves? Souls and bodies, you are all dear to me: I treat you all alike."
She looks so lovingly on them that they are not quite sure whether they have done right or wrong in correcting her. So they stand a dumb, admiring circle, whilst she adds:
"If the Herrschaft ever could get as far as Pfalzen, where I and the children live, they would find no great big house like the Hof, but plenty of small, snug farms amidst corn-fields, in any one of which the Hof-Herrschaft would be made welcome, but more especially in mine. It is not so very far. See from the window! There, over Sankt Joergen and over the woods rises our tall spire with two other spires; only these are quite a long way from each other, though they are all mixed-like at a distance, just as I mix up the young people. The Herrschaft will not forget the name—Pfalzen?"
Having brought out this invitation with a great effort, she now plunges into a sea of fears as to the liberty she has taken. So one of the Herrschaft, rashly coming to her assistance, assured her it would be impossible for her at least to forget the name of Pfalzen. Somebody had told her of a certain tailor of Pfalzen who, within memory of man, returning from a wedding at Percha, and having passed St. George on his homeward way at eight o'clock of the evening, suddenly saw the road divide before him. This made him stop in astonishment, and before he could decide which way to take it had grown dark. Then he became sore afraid, especially when he espied a group of ladies dressed in white, who came up to him, and, addressing him in playful tones, encompassed and stopped him. He, however, could not stand this, and speaking in a loud tone he reproached them, for, though they were ladies, he soon saw by their rude looks that they meant him mischief. Then they began abusing and tormenting him, until he laid himself down on the ground with his face to the earth. Now the spell seemed broken, for, though the spiteful women remained, they were restrained from hurting him; and with the first sound of the morning Angelus these white ladies, who were nothing but tormenting spirits, fled, and he, rising up, went on his way home.
"Herr Je!" said the gentle little woman, "could it have been the Hof Moidel who told you that? Or could you have heard it at Percha? or by the fire some winter evening? But you have never been in these parts in winter. The tailor, you see, must have found the wedding-wine too strong."
"Barbara the sewing-woman—" began a young voice, which immediately collapsed, the speaker retreating with great impetuosity behind her mother or aunt, whichever it might be.
Then each little member of the maidenly circle looked very odd, and their good relative uttered hurriedly but mildly, "Oh, it's nothing. How could you, Lisi? Behave yourselves, children!"
However, an explanation of the sewing-woman Barbara being pleaded for on our part, the good woman nervously continued: "It is only a foolish story. Only that the sewing-woman Barbara was sweet on Weaver Thomas, and he could not abide her. 'I would rather,' he told her, 'be a beast in the stall than be your wedded husband.' The sewing-woman said he should rue the day he thus insulted her. And sure enough, from that time he could neither eat nor drink, growing poor and thin in the body. Everybody said, 'Sewing-woman Barbara has struck him with the evil eye.' I am not sure but that his teeth chattered, which they say is a sign. A miller urged him to have the letters I.N.R.I. stitched into his clothes (it is a wonderful preservative on corn-bins and stable doors against the evil eye), but Weaver Thomas replied he was sick of stitching. Yet what is to become of the man? Not a drop of wine does he touch now but it flies to his head—not a kreuzer of his hard-earned money does he put into his pocket but it oozes away like water. Ah, it is an ugly story! I wish there were no such fearsome, boggy things. The world would be better without them."
By this time a fat lad had ventured up, and stood gaping behind the maidens. He was not of Pfalzen, but the girls spoke to him as a cousin of the house. In spite of their encouragement, he merely gaped and stared, without answering a word. The pleasures of the table had, in fact, brought him into a state of speechless discomfort. It was not of wine that he had partaken, though it had freely circulated, to judge by the great empty gallon bottles, but he had stuck loyally to the principles laid down and acted on by his elders, of doing full justice to the dishes. Feeling now, therefore, exceedingly the worse for his praiseworthy exertions, he remained leaning disconsolately with his back against the wall long after the church-bells had struck up a merry clang, vigorously calling the Hofbauer, his men-servants and maid-servants and the strangers who were within his gates, to church. Good Kathi, however, whilst clearing away the empty glasses, looked compassionately upon him as on one of her fattening chickens in danger of pip, and patiently inveigled him to a cozy nook down stairs, where his heavy breathing and steady snorts kept time to her monotonous dish-washing. On he slept during prayers, during the hour spent at the Blauen Bock, when the Hofbauer treated the priest and his guests on this auspicious thanksgiving-day. He woke up, however, to do his duty like a man "with a mouthful of supper" whilst the horses were being put into the gigs. Then, in a state of heavy, speechless resignation, he was conveyed to his seat between a bauer and his wife, which, though a tight fit in the morning, had strangely become tighter, and where, circumstances thus pinning his arms to his side, and with his aching head upon his breast in the most uncomfortable of attitudes, the poor fat boy was jolted away in the twilight.
The other relations, all weightier mortals, more or less, than when they arrived, were packed and squeezed into their creaking vehicles; the very small vacuums remaining on or under the seats, to say nothing of broad laps, being filled with krapfen. You would indeed have supposed that the Hof were one great patent krapfen manufactory, with the sole right of making, baking by steam and selling these indigestible, leathery, yet brittle puffs so dear to the Tyrolese palate, had not the figures of men, women and children, humble guests at more modest dwellings, been seen filing along the highway or crossing the moorland slopes, each bearing a light but bulging bundle of krapfen tied up in a gay blue, crimson or yellow handkerchief.
It was indeed a krapfen dispensation. A piled-up offering stood in the little oratory employed as a store-room by us; the cock crowed and the hens clucked for their share of the Herrschaft's krapfen under the parlor windows in the early morning; the men- and maid-servants hurried buoyantly into town to sell their krapfen perquisites to less favored mortals; the pedestrian bricklayer and carpenter, respectable men with money stored away in their broad belts—portions of that great army of Tyrolese who, possessing neither trade nor manufactures in their native land, are forced in an ant-like manner to stray into Bavaria and Austria until they can return laden with their winter store, since the mere fattening of cattle cannot support a nation,—these respectable but footsore men, wending their way from Steiermark, were received with a hearty welcome and krapfen; and the wandering family, who were not at all respectable, but were treated with some distrust and more commiseration—the traveling tinker, his dark-eyed, dark-skinned wife and saucy, grimy children, who were barred and bolted with their barrow, their rags and their kettles in the barn that night as in a traveler's rest—ate with marvelous relish their bountiful-gleanings of this great krapfen harvest.
* * * * *
Cold rain and mist have now set in. The landscape, which has from the first possessed a peculiar charm for us, is often blotted from view. The varied, undivided yet most individual range of dolomites which rises on the edge of the eastern horizon, instead of melting under the soft influences of warm sunshine and quivering air into glowing crimson, purple, palpitating mountains—which only with advancing night turn into gray, motionless pinnacles and battlements of the great dolomitic land that stretches beyond—now remain, whenever visible, cold, hard masses of snow, like rigid nuns of some ascetic order.
It is time to be gone. And Fanni, the sturdy, devoted attendant specially engaged to wait upon us during the last season, is wild to accompany us to Italy—comfortable Italy, where the washing water does not freeze in winter, and where maize polenta is as cheap and plentiful as the brown buckwheat plenten of Tyrol. She has a good stock of clothes: she wants no wages, only her journey paid. Surely we will take her? We give her no hopes, merely promising that if we come another year and she be then out of place, we will gladly employ her. This is a drop of comfort, and she rushes down stairs to convey at least this bit of good news to Kathi.
A few minutes later we find the two women, joined by Moidel, standing; against the cellar door, which is kept closely shut, that the smell emitted by a vat of sauerkraut may not offend the fastidious nostrils of the gentry. Kathi has a sprig of rosemary behind her ear, and her bare arms wrapped up in her blue apron, always in her case a sign of ease and relaxation. She is saying, "Ja, ja, very worrying. Such side ways to get hold of the place!"
"And Munichers too!" adds Moidel—"so pushing, so clamorous!"
The sight of some brown veils and gentlemen's hats above the garden wall leads to the following explanation from Fanni: "Herr Je, just when the Fraeulein was speaking of coming back next year, and I was thinking to myself how I would help the Kathi to scrub and clean beforehand, there were four strange Herrschaft below, who would insist on seeing the Hofbauer. And he all in a Schwitz! However, he came out of the stube very slowly, wiping his forehead, and waited to hear their errand. But when they said they had come to secure part of the house from Martini day, and all the rooms not wanted by the Hofbauer from Ascension, he had to wipe his forehead again before he answered. And then he spoke just like a Herr Curat: 'This is no lodging-house, where any one can be quartered, my Herrschaft. Nor believe that those who occupy my spare rooms are casual visitors. Oh no! They are particular friends of mine. This old place stands at their disposal: I wish them to be free to come or to stay away, but I desire no other faces here.' And then," continues Fanni, "out they slunk, quite sheepish, for the Hofbauer looked so tall."
"Freilich" added Kathi, "it is not once nor twice, but ever since our Herrschaft have had an awning of their own on the balcony, and the miller's mule has stood with a lady's saddle at the entrance—ever since the Hofbauer had the plasterer, and let the joiner make some wardrobes and bedsteads this spring, that barefaced strangers have hankered to get the place."
We have to calm Kathi, bidding her remember that we once came as strangers and asked to be taken in.
Well, so the Herrschaft might. There must be a beginning to all good friendships. But it is not for people to thrust themselves in when they see the house inhabited, entering even the bed-rooms, and stripping the currant bushes without once saying, "With your leave." Why, the Grossmutterli had told her as a child that even the empress Maria Theresa—who took a vast fancy to Edelsheim, and passed some nights there—when she walked up the village by herself, and stopped before the Grossmutterli, who was ranging her milk-pans on the bench to dry,—even the stately empress said, "My good woman, you live in an uncommonly handsome house—a schloss, in fact. But I won't give you the trouble to show me the inside. Let me rather go into the orchard, for I see a young apple tree there marvelously full of fruit." Grossmutterli never showed herself disturbed. She pressed down the latch, led the empress to the tree—it's standing yet, but is almost worn out—and Maria Theresa said it was a perfect show: there was not a tree at her castle of Schoenbrunn that bore so well; and she gave the Grossmutterli a shining half thaler, which she never parted with.
The next day, Sunday, Kathi stood before us at noon with tears in her eyes. The Jakobi, she said, had not only sent down for the cow's crown and ornaments to go on Tuesday, but word as well that beautiful Nageli, the queen cow, knocking her head against a rock, had broken one horn off. "There's a pretty go!" she continued. "I wish it would bud again. How she will take on! I know her ways: she is greedy of praise. I should not wonder if the vexation dries her milk, for she knows she can never wear a crown again. And Zottel, she's to be queen—a sleek, comely cow, but never used to a crown. However, Jakobi sends word we need not fear her disgracing herself, for he is training her up and down with a milking-stool on her head. Cows are more like mortals than brute beasts. See the way the two that have stayed at the Hof behave when the rest come back. They make the stall purgatory to them through their spite or jealousy. But they grow more good-tempered after a time."
The glittering crown of which poor Nageli's unfortunate accident had deprived her was now produced from its box for us to see—a barbaric structure, in spite of the Christian symbols attached. It was two feet high, a foot and a half wide—all gold wire, tinsel, artificial flowers, tassels, fringes of colored worsted, and surrounded by a halo of spun glass gay as a slice of the rainbow. There was a medallion of the Virgin and Child, and another of Saint Anthony, tutelar saint of the Hofbauer's father, himself and his son—patron, too, of the chapel, and a great helper in the recovery of lost calves and sheep, as well as of household goods. A red velvet gold-fringed pendant in the form of a heart, handsomely embroidered with the cross and sacred initials I.H.S., was suspended to all this grandeur. The great massive cow- and ox-bells, some tulip-shaped, while others were of the ordinary form, appeared better adapted for a belfry than the neck of cattle, and the gay leather collars, embroidered with bright worsteds, had likewise sacred symbols; thus displaying, when worn at the annual procession, both the pride and piety of the bauer.
The wreaths made at the Olm for the chief oxen, of clustering berries, leaves and ribbons, hung, as visible though withered trophies of each triumphant descent, amongst the rakes, flails and other farm implements in the lower hall; whilst great closets safely hid not only the bells and the rest of the substantial properties now to be despatched to the Olm, but other brazen pomps and vanities of an age gradually becoming obsolete—the heavy harness, for instance, used for the bridal horse when the Hofbauer was married—antiquities suitable for a national museum. The good aunt and Moidel, amused by our interest and astonishment, attired the latter the same evening, for our gratification, in her mother's wedding-dress. Strong indeed must be the bride who can bear so heavy a burden, nor would any but a Tyrolese girl desire thus to be attired for the altar: a cloth petticoat ten yards wide, laid in narrow, regular folds like an enormous unopened fan; a heavy square-cut boddice of dark-green velvet, handsomely worked, and not meeting in front, in order to reveal a smart silk stomacher beneath; full white linen sleeves, trimmed at the elbow with broad somewhat coarse Bohemian lace; and a square collar, with a ruffle of the same to match. The cloth dress is, however, completely concealed, except a few inches at the bottom, by the huge apron, which is on all occasions considered an indispensable addition, no Tyrolese woman feeling modest without it. The dainty white knitted cotton stockings, with the large fancy clocks and the low-cut, boat-shaped leather slippers, with rosettes, are clearly visible. The hair is drawn tightly back a la Chinoise, and made into a knot, which is surmounted by a little green-and-red cushion, like a bunch of strawberries encircled in their leaves.
Thus Moidel first appeared, followed by Kathi, bidding her walk slow and not laugh, for a bride who did so could never be a seemly matron. Her niece, consequently suppressing her merriment, again disappeared. She returned, however, having replaced the queer little cushion by a large black beaver hat, and with a leather belt adorned with tin, copper and glass ornaments fastened round her waist, to which was attached a richly-ornamented knife-and-fork case, hanging down at her side. Thus she was supposed to have returned from church, these being the insignia of the wife. And Kathi, seeing our interest increase rather than diminish, at her intimation Anton speedily appeared attired in his father's long wedding-coat, an enormous broad-brimmed, flapping felt hat of a green canary shade on his head, and displaying prominently a large bouquet of artificial flowers on his left arm, upon the summit of which the initials of the bride and bridegroom quivered in long tinsel sprays.
Looking at this handsome young brother and sister standing side by side in bridal array, we could not help wondering privately whether a certain good and pretty young Madel, whose brother possessed neighboring acres and fat mountain-pastures, came into Anton's head at that moment as a Madel whom it would be a right and a pleasant thing to go to church with, he and she in similar or perhaps more modern costumes; and whether our comely Moidel thought it no sin to let her heart flutter off into a little romance of its own under that bridal stomacher. Still, even should our pseudo bride and bridegroom each indulge in a rapid day-dream, it must quickly come to an end, seeing that they have speedily to put off their fancy attire and attend that night to the flax-dressing.
Oh, the constant care and trouble which the little flax-plant occasions! In August it had been cut and hung to dry in small bundles on stakes. It had thus been left out several weeks. Then in September it had been carried to the barn and the seed beaten out like corn and stowed away, the empty little husks being given to the hens and the voracious pig. The stalks—hairs, as Anton called them—were again carried to the field, and spread this time on the ground, neither too thick nor too thin, so that sun and moon could shine through them, and alternate rain and sun could rot them. The sooner the stalks decay and the fibres are loosened, the sooner the "hairs" can be carried to the kiln. This busy time had now come.