Mrs. Armadale sat looking unenlightened. Madge, who had come in midway of this speech, stood indignant.
"Aunt Anne, that's not like you! You read as much yourself as ever you can; and never can get books enough."
"I stick to English."
"English or French, what's the odds?"
"What was good enough for your fathers and mothers ought to be good enough for you."
"That won't do, aunt Anne," retorted Madge. "You were wanting a Berkshire pig a while ago, and I heard you talking of 'shorthorns.'"
"That's it. I'd like to hear you talking of shorthorns."
"If it is necessary, I could," said Lois; "but there are pleasanter things to talk about."
"There you are! But pictures won't help Madge make butter; and French is no use in a garden. It's all very well for some people, I suppose; but, mother, if these girls go on, they'll be all spoiled for their place in life. This lodger of yours is trying to make 'em like herself."
"I wish she could!" said Madge.
"That's it, mother; that's what I say. But she's one thing, and they're another; she lives in her world, which ain't Shampuashuh by a long jump, and they live in Shampuashuh, and have got to live there. Ain't it a pity to get their heads so filled with the other things that they'll be for ever out o' conceit o' their own?"
"It don't work so, aunt Anne," said Lois.
"It will work so. What use can all these krinkum-krankums be to you? Shampuashuh ain't the place for 'em. You'll be like the girl that got a new bonnet, and had to sit with her head out o' window to wear it."
Madge's cheeks grew red. Lois laughed.
"Daughter," said Mrs. Armadale, "'seems to me you are making a storm in a teapot."
Mrs. Marx laughed at that; then became quite serious again.
"I ain't doin' that," she said. "I never do. And I've no enmity against all manner of fiddle-faddling, if folks have got nothin' better to do. But 'tain't so with our girls. They work for their livin', and they've got to work; and what I say is, they're in a way to get to hate work, if they don't despise it, and in my judgment that's a poor business. It's going the wrong way to be happy. Mother, they ought to marry farmers; and they won't look at a farmer in all Shampuashuh, if you let 'em go on."
Lois remarked merrily that she did not want to look at a man anywhere.
"Then you ought. It's time. I'd like to see you married to a good, solid man, who would learn you to talk of shorthorns and Berkshires. Life's life, chickens; and it ain't the tinkle of a piano. All well enough for your neighbour in the other room; but you're a different sort."
Privately, Lois did not want to be of a different sort. The refinement, the information, the accomplishments, the grace of manner, which in a high degree belonged to Mrs. Barclay, seemed to her very desirable possessions and endowments; and the mental life of a person so enriched and gifted, appeared to her far to be preferred over a horizon bounded by cheese and bed-quilts. Mrs. Marx was not herself a narrow-minded woman, or one wanting in appreciation of knowledge and culture; but she was also a shrewd business woman, and what she had seen at the Isles of Shoals had possibly given her a key wherewith to find her way through certain problems. She was not sure but Lois had been a little touched by the attentions of that very handsome, fair-haired and elegant gentleman who had done Mrs. Marx the honour to take her into his confidence; she was jealous lest all this study of things unneeded in Shampuashuh life might have a dim purpose of growing fitness for some other. There she did Lois wrong, for no distant image of Mr. Caruthers was connected in her niece's mind with the delight of the new acquirements she was making; although Tom Caruthers had done his part, I do not doubt, towards Lois's keen perception of the beauty and advantage of such acquirements. She was not thinking of Tom, when she made her copies and studied her verbs; though if she had never known the society in which she met Tom and of which he was a member, she might not have taken hold of them so eagerly.
"Mother," she said when Mrs. Marx was gone, "are you afraid these new things will make me forget my duties, or make me unfit for them?"
Mrs. Armadale's mind was a shade more liberal than her daughter's, and she had not been at the Isles of Shoals. She answered somewhat hesitatingly,
"No, child—I don't know as I am. I don't see as they do. I don't see what use they will be to you; but maybe they'll be some."
"They are pleasure," said Lois.
"We don't live for pleasing ourselves, child."
"No, mother; but don't you think, if duties are not neglected, that we ought to educate ourselves all we can, and get all of every sort of good that we can, when we have the opportunity?"
"To be sure," said Mrs. Armadale; "if it ain't a temptation, it's a providence. Maybe you'll find a use for it you don't think. Only take care it ain't a temptation, Lois."
From that time Lois's studies were carried on with more systematic order. She would not neglect her duties, and the short winter days left her little spare time of daylight; therefore she rose long before daylight came. If anybody had been there to look, Lois might have been seen at four o'clock in the family room, which this winter rather lost its character of kitchen, seated at the table with her lamp and her books; the room warm and quiet, no noise but the snapping of the fire and breathing of the flames, and now and then the fall of a brand. And Lois sitting absorbed and intent, motionless, except when the above-mentioned falling brands obliged her to get up and put them in their places. Her drawing she left for another time of day; she could do that in company; in these hours she read and wrote French, and read pages and pages of history. Sometimes Madge was there too; but Lois always, from a very early hour until the dawn was advanced far enough for her to see to put Mrs. Barclay's room in order. Then with a sigh of pleasure Lois would turn down her lamp, and with another breath of hope and expectation betake herself to the next room to put all things in readiness for its owner's occupancy and use, which occupancy and use involved most delightful hours of reading and talking and instruction by and by. Making the fire, sweeping, brushing, dusting, regulating chairs and tables and books and trifles, drawing back the curtains and opening the shutters; which last, to be sure, she began with. And then Lois went to do the same offices for the family room, and to set the table for breakfast; unless Madge had already done it.
And then Lois brought her Bible and read to Mrs. Armadale, who by this time was in her chair by the fireside, and busy with her knitting. The knitting was laid down then, however; and Mrs. Armadale loved to take the book in her hands, upon her lap, while her granddaughter, leaning over it, read to her. They two had it alone; no other meddled with them. Charity was always in the kitchen at this time, and Madge often in her dairy, and neither of them inclined to share in the service which Lois always loved dearly to render. They two, the old and the young, would sit wholly engrossed with their reading and their talk, unconscious of what was going on around them; even while Charity and Madge were bustling in and out with the preparations for breakfast. Nothing of the bustle reached Mrs. Armadale or Lois, whose faces at such times had a high and sweet and withdrawn look, very lovely to behold. The hard features and wrinkled lines of the one face made more noticeable the soft bloom and delicate moulding of the other, while the contrast enhanced the evident oneness of spirit and interest which filled them both. When they were called to breakfast and moved to the table, then there was a difference. Both, indeed, showed a subdued sweet gravity; but Mrs. Armadale was wont also to be very silent and withdrawn into herself, or busied with inner communings; while Lois was ready with speech or action for everybody's occasions, and full of gentle ministry. Mrs. Barclay used to study them both, and be wonderingly busy with the contemplation.
A BREAKFAST TABLE.
It was Christmas eve. Lois had done her morning work by the lamplight, and was putting the dining-room, or sitting-room rather, in order; when Madge joined her and began to help.
"Is the other room ready?"
"All ready," said Lois.
"Are you doing that elm tree?"
"How do you get along?"
"I cannot manage it yet, to my satisfaction; but I will. O Madge, isn't it too delicious?"
"What? the drawing? Isn't it!!"
"I don't mean the drawing only. Everything. I am getting hold of French, and it's delightful. But the books! O Madge, the books! I feel as if I had been a chicken in his shell until now, and as if I were just getting my eyes open to see what the world is like."
"What is it like?" asked Madge, laughing. "My eyes are shut yet, I suppose, for I haven't found out. You can tell me."
"Eyes that are open cannot help eyes that are shut. Besides, mine are only getting open."
"What do they see? Come, Lois, tell."
Lois stood still, resting on her broom handle.
"The world seems to me an immense battle-place, where wrong and right have been struggling; always struggling. And sometimes the wrong seems to cover the whole earth, like a flood, and there is nothing but confusion and horror; and then sometimes the floods part and one sees a little bit of firm ground, where grass and flowers might grow, if they had a chance. And in those spots there is generally some great, grand man, who has fought back the flood of wrong and made a clearing."
"Well, I do not understand all that one bit!" said Madge.
"I do not wonder," said Lois, laughing, "I do not understand it very clearly myself. I cannot blame you. But it is very curious, Madge, that the ancient Persians had just that idea of the world being a battle-place, and that wrong and right were fighting; or rather, that the Spirit of good and the Spirit of evil were struggling. Ormuzd was their name for the good Spirit, and Ahriman the other. It is very strange, for that is just the truth."
"Then why is it strange?" said downright Madge.
"Because they were heathen; they did not know the Bible."
"Is that what the Bible says? I didn't know it."
"Why, Madge, yes, you did. You know who is called the 'Prince of this world'; and you know Jesus 'was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil'; and you know 'he shall reign till he has put all enemies under his feet.' But how should those old Persians know so much, with out knowing more? I'll tell you, Madge! You know, Enoch knew?"—
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do! Enoch knew. And of course they all knew when they came out of the ark"—
Lois broke out into a laugh, and began to move her broom again.
"What have you been reading, to put all this into your head?"
The broom stopped.
"Ancient history, and modern; parts here and there, in different books. Mrs. Barclay showed me where; and then we have talked"—
Lois began now to sweep vigorously.
"Lois, is she like the people you used to see in New York? I mean, were they all like her?"
"Not all so nice."
"But like her?"
"Not in everything. No, they were not most of them so clever, and most of them did not know so much, and were not so accomplished."
"But they were like her in other things?"
"No," said Lois, standing still; "she is a head and shoulders above most of the women I saw; but they were of her sort, if that is what you mean."
"That is what I mean. She is not a bit like people here. We must seem very stupid to her, Lois."
"Shampuashuh people are not stupid."
"Well, aunt Anne isn't stupid; but she is not like Mrs. Barclay. And she don't want us to be like Mrs. Barclay."
"No danger!"—said Lois, very busy now at her work.
"But wouldn't you like to be like Mrs. Barclay?"
"So would I."
"Well, we can, in the things that are most valuable," said Lois, standing still again for a moment to look at her sister.
"O, yes, books— But I would like to be graceful like Mrs. Barclay. You would call that not valuable; but I care more for it than for all the rest. Her beautiful manners."
"She has beautiful manners," said Lois. "I do not think manners can be taught. They cannot be imitated."
"O, they wouldn't be natural. And what suits one might not suit another. A very handsome nose of somebody else might not be good on my face. No, they would not be natural."
"You need not wish for anybody's nose but your own," said Madge. "That will do, and so will mine, I'm thankful! But what makes her look so unhappy, Lois?"
"She does look unhappy."
"She looks as if she had lost all her friends."
"She has got one, here," said Lois, sweeping away.
"But what good can you do her?"
"Nothing. It isn't likely that she will ever even know the fact."
"She's doing a good deal for us."
A little later, Mrs. Barclay came down to her room. She found it, as always, in bright order; the fire casting red reflections into every corner, and making pleasant contrast with the grey without. For it was cloudy and windy weather, and wintry neutral tints were all that could be seen abroad; the clouds swept along grey overhead, and the earth lay brown and bare below. But in Mrs. Barclay's room was the cheeriest play of light and colour; here it touched the rich leather bindings of books, there the black and white of an engraving; here it was caught in tin folds of the chintz curtains which were ruddy and purple in hue, and again it warmed up the old-fashioned furniture and lost itself in a brown tablecover. Mrs. Barclay's eye loved harmonies, and it found them even in this country-furnished room at Shampuashuh. Though, indeed, the piles of books came from afar, and so did the large portfolio of engravings, and Mrs. Barclay's desk was a foreigner. She sat in her comfortable chair before the fire and read her letters, which Lois had laid ready for her; and then she was called to breakfast.
Mrs. Barclay admired her surroundings here too, as she had often done before. The old lady, ungainly as her figure and uncomely as her face were, had yet a dignity in both; the dignity of a strong and true character, which with abundant self-respect, had not, and never had, any anxious concern about the opinion of any human being. Whoever feels himself responsible to the one Great Ruler alone, and does feel that responsibility, will be both worthy of respect and sure to have it in his relations with his fellows. Such tribute Mrs. Barclay paid Mrs. Armadale. Her eye passed on and admired Madge, who was very handsome in her neat, smart home dress; and rested on Lois finally with absolute contentment. Lois was in a nut-brown stuff dress, with a white knitted shawl bound round her shoulders in the way children sometimes have, the ends crossed on the breast and tied at the back of the waist. Brown and white was her whole figure, except the rosy flush on cheeks and lips; the masses of fluffy hair were reddish-brown, a shade lighter than her dress. At Charity Mrs. Barclay did not look much, unless for curiosity; she was a study of a different sort.
"What delicious rolls!" said Mrs. Barclay. "Are these your work, Miss Charity?"
"I can make as good, I guess," said that lady; "but these ain't mine. Lois made 'em."
"Lois!" said Mrs. Barclay. "I did not know that this was one of your accomplishments."
"Is that what you call an accomplishment," said Charity.
"Certainly. What do you mean by it?"
"I thought an accomplishment was something that one could accomplish that was no use."
"I am sorry you have such an opinion of accomplishments."
"Well, ain't it true? Lois, maybe Mrs. Barclay don't care for sausages. There's cold meat."
"Your sausages are excellent. I like such sausage very much."
"I always think sausages ain't sausages if they ain't stuffed. Aunt Anne won't have the plague of it; but I say, if a thing's worth doing at all, it's worth doing the best way; and there's no comparison in my mind."
"So you judge everything by its utility."
"Don't everybody, that's got any sense?"
"And therefore you condemn accomplishments?"
"Well, I don't see the use. O, if folks have got nothing else to do, and just want to make a flare-up—but for us in Shampuashuh, what's the good of them? For Lois and Madge, now? I don't make it out."
"You forget, your sisters may marry, and go somewhere else to live; and then"—
"I don't know what Madge'll do; but Lois ain't goin' to marry anybody but a real godly man, and what use'll her accomplishments be to her then?"
"Why, just as much use, I hope," said Mrs. Barclay, smiling. "Why not? The more education a woman has, the more fit she is to content a man of education, anywhere."
"Where's she to get a man of education?" said Charity. "What you mean by that don't grow in these parts. We ain't savages exactly, but there ain't many accomplishments scattered through the village. Unless, as you say, bread-makin's one. We do know how to make bread, and cake, with anybody; Lois said she didn't see a bit o' real good cake all the while she was in Gotham; and we can cure hams, and we understand horses and cows, and butter and cheese, and farming, of course, and that; but you won't find your man of education here, or Lois won't."
"She may find him somewhere else," said Mrs. Barclay, looking at Charity over her coffee-cup.
"Then he won't be the right kind," persisted Charity; while Lois laughed, and begged they would not discuss the question of her possible "finds"; but Mrs. Barclay asked, "How not the right kind?"
"Well, every place has its sort," said Charity. "Our sort is religious. I don't know whether we're any better than other folks, but we're religious; and your men of accomplishments ain't, be they?"
"Depends on what you mean by religious."
"Well, I mean godly. Lois won't ever marry any but a godly man."
"I hope not!" said Mrs. Armadale.
"She won't," said Charity; "but you had better talk to Madge, mother. I am not so sure of her. Lois is safe."
"'The fashion of this world passeth away,'" said the old lady, with a gravity which was yet sweet; "'but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.'"
Mrs. Barclay was now silent. This morning, contrary to her usual wont, she kept her place at the table, though the meal was finished. She was curious to see the ways of the household, and felt herself familiar enough with the family to venture to stay. Charity began to gather her cups.
"Did you give aunt Anne's invitation? Hand along the plates, Madge, and carry your butter away. We've been for ever eating breakfast."
"Talking," said Mrs. Barclay, with a smile.
"Talking's all very well, but I think one thing at a time is enough. It is as much as most folks can attend to. Lois, do give me the plates; and give your invitation."
"Aunt Anne wants us all to come and take tea with her to-night," said Lois; "and she sent her compliments to Mrs. Barclay, and a message that she would be very glad to see her with the rest of us."
"I am much obliged, and shall be very happy to go."
"'Tain't a party," said Charity, who was receiving plates and knives and forks from Lois's hand, and making them elaborately ready for washing; while Madge went back and forth clearing the table of the remains of the meal. "It's nothin' but to go and take our tea there instead of here. We save the trouble of gettin' it ready, and have the trouble of going; that's our side; and what aunt Anne has for her side she knows best herself. I guess she's proud of her sweetmeats."
Mrs. Barclay smiled again. "It seems parties are much the same thing, wherever they are given," she said.
"This ain't a party," repeated Charity. Madge had now brought a tub of hot water, and the washing up of the breakfast dishes was undertaken by Lois and Charity with a despatch and neatness and celerity which the looker-on had never seen equalled.
"Parties do not seem to be Shampuashuh fashion," she remarked. "I have not heard of any since I have been here."
"No," said Charity. "We have more sense."
"I am not sure that it shows sense," remarked Lois, carrying off a pile of clean hot plates to the cupboard.
"What's the use of 'em?" said the elder sister.
"Cultivation of friendly feeling," suggested Mrs. Barclay.
"If folks ain't friendly already, the less they see of one another the better they'll agree," said Charity.
"Miss Charity, I am afraid you do not love your fellow-creatures," said Mrs. Barclay, much amused.
"As well as they love me, I guess," said Charity.
"Mrs. Armadale," said Mrs. Barclay, appealing to the old lady who sat in her corner knitting as usual,—"do not these opinions require some correction?"
"Charity speaks what she thinks," said Mrs. Armadale, scratching behind her ear with the point of her needle, as she was very apt to do when called upon.
"But that is not the right way to think, is it?"
"It's the natural way," said the old lady. "It is only the fruit of the Spirit that is 'love, joy, peace.' 'Tain't natural to love what you don't like."
"What you don't like! no," said Mrs. Barclay; "that is a pitch of love I never dreamed of."
"'If ye love them that love you, what thank have ye?'" said the old lady quietly.
"Mother's off now," said Charity; "out of anybody's understanding. One would think I was more unnatural than the rest of folks!"
"She said you were more natural, thats all," said Lois, with a sly smile.
The talk ceased. Mrs. Barclay looked on for a few minutes more, marvelling to see the quick dexterity with which everything was done by the two girls; until the dishes were put away, the tcib and towels were gone, the table was covered with its brown cloth, a few crumbs were brushed from the carpet; and Charity disappeared in one direction and Lois in another. Mrs. Barclay herself withdrew to her room and her thoughts.
The day was a more than commonly busy one, so that the usual hours of lessons in Mrs. Barclay's room did not come off. It was not till late in the afternoon that Lois went to her friend, to tell her that Mrs. Marx would send her little carriage in about an hour to fetch her mother, and that Mrs. Barclay also might ride if she would. Mrs. Barclay was sitting in her easy-chair before the fire, doing nothing, and on receipt of this in formation turned a very shadowed face towards the bringer of it.
"What will you say to me, if after all your aunt's kindness in asking me, I do not go?"
"Not go? You are not well?" inquired Lois anxiously.
"I am quite well—too well!"
"But something is the matter?"
"Dear Mrs. Barclay, can I help you?"
"I do not think you can. I am tired, Lois!"
"Tired! O, that is spending so much time giving lessons to Madge and me! I am so sorry."
"It is nothing of the kind," said Mrs. Barclay, stretching out her hand to take one of Lois's, which she retained in her own. "If anything would take away this tired feeling, it is just that, Lois. Nothing refreshes me so much, or does me so much good."
"Then what tires you, dear Mrs. Barclay?"
Lois's face showed unaffected anxiety. Mrs. Barclay gave the hand she held a little squeeze.
"It is nothing new, my child," she said, with a faint smile. "I am tired of life."
Looking at the girl, as she spoke, she saw how unable her listener's mind was to comprehend her. Lois looked puzzled.
"You do not know what I mean?" she said.
"I hope you never will. It is a miserable feeling. It is like what I can fancy a withered autumn leaf feeling, if it were a sentient and intelligent thing;—of no use to the branch which holds it—freshness and power gone—no reason for existence left—its work all done. Only I never did any work, and was never of any particular use."
"O, you cannot mean that!" cried Lois, much troubled and perplexed.
"I keep going over to-day that little hymn you showed me, that was found under the dead soldier's pillow. The words run in my head, and wake echoes.
'I lay me down to sleep, With little thought or care Whether the waking find Me here, or there.
'A bowing, burdened head—'"
But here the speaker broke off abruptly, and for a few minutes Lois saw, or guessed, that she could not go on.
"Never mind that verse," she said, beginning again; "it is the next. Do you remember?—
'My good right hand forgets Its cunning now. To march the weary march, I know not how.
'I am not eager, bold, Nor brave; all that is past. I am ready not to do, At last, at last!—'
I am too young to feel so," Mrs. Barclay went on, after a pause which Lois did not break; "but that is how I feel to-day."
"I do not think one need—or ought—at any age," Lois said gently; but her words were hardly regarded.
"Do you hear that wind?" said Mrs. Barclay. "It has been singing and sighing in the chimney in that way all the afternoon."
"It is Christmas," said Lois. "Yes, it often sings so, and I like it. I like it especially at Christmas time."
"It carries me back—years. It takes me to my old home, when I was a child. I think it must have sighed so round the house then. It takes me to a time when I was in my fresh young life and vigour—the unfolding leaf—when life was careless and cloudless; and I have a kind of home-sickness to-night for my father and mother.—Of the days since that time, I dare not think."
Lois saw that rare tears had gathered in her friend's eyes, slowly and few, as they come to people with whom hope is a lost friend; and her heart was filled with a great pang of sympathy. Yet she did not know how to speak. She recalled the verse of the soldier's hymn which Mrs. Barclay had passed over—
"A bowing, burdened head, That only asks to rest, Unquestioning, upon A loving breast."
She thought she knew what the grief was; but how to touch it? She sat still and silent, and perhaps even so spoke her sympathy better than any words could have done it. And perhaps Mrs. Barclay felt it so, for she presently went on after a manner which was not like her usual reserve.
"O that wind! O that wind! It sweeps away all that has been between, and puts home and my childhood before me. But it makes me home-sick, Lois!"
"Cannot you go on with the hymn, dear Mrs. Barclay? You know how it goes,—
'My half day's work is done; And this is all my part— I give a patient God My patient heart.'"
"What does he want with it?" said the weary woman beside her.
"What? O, it is the very thing he wants of us, and of you; the one thing he cares about! That we would love him."
"I have not done a half day's work," said the other; "and my heart is not patient. It is only tired, and dead."
"It is not that," said Lois. "How very, very good you have been to Madge and me!"
"You have been good to me. And, as your grandmother quoted this morning, no thanks are due when we only love those who love us. My heart does not seem to be alive, Lois. You had better go to your aunt's without me, dear. I should not be good company."
"But I cannot leave you so!" exclaimed Lois; and she left her seat and sank upon her knees at her friend's side, still clasping the hand that had taken hers. "Dear Mrs. Barclay, there is help."
"If you could give it, there would be, you pretty creature!" said Mrs. Barclay, with her other hand pushing the beautiful masses of red-brown hair right and left from Lois's brow.
"But there is One who can give it, who is stronger than I, and loves you better."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because he has promised. 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.'"
Mrs. Barclay said nothing, but she shook her head.
"It is a promise," Lois repeated. "It is a PROMISE. It is the King's promise; and he never breaks his word."
"How do you know, my child? You have never been where I am."
"No," said Lois, "not there. I have never felt just so."
"I have had all that life could give. I have had it, and knew I had it. And it is all gone. There is nothing left."
"There is this left," said Lois eagerly, "which you have not tried."
"The promise of Christ."
"My dear, you do not know what you are talking of. Life is in its spring with you."
"But I know the King's promise," said Lois.
"How do you know it?"
"I have tried it."
"But you have never had any occasion to try it, you heart-sound creature!" said Mrs. Barclay, with again a caressing, admiring touch of Lois's brow.
"O, but indeed I have. Not in need like yours—I have never touched that—I never felt like that; but in other need, as great and as terrible. And I know, and everybody else who has ever tried knows, that the Lord keeps his word."
"How have you tried?" Mrs. Barclay asked abstractedly.
"I needed the forgiveness of sin," said Lois, letting her voice fall a little, "and deliverance from it."
"You!" said Mrs. Barclay.
"I was as unhappy as anybody could be till I got it."
"When was that?"
"Four years ago."
"Are you much different now from what you were before?"
"I cannot imagine you in need of forgiveness. What had you done?"
"I had done nothing whatever that I ought to have done. I loved only myself,—I mean first,—and lived only to myself and my own pleasure, and did my own will."
"Whose will do you now? your grandmother's?"
"Not grandmother's first. I do God's will, as far as I know it."
"And therefore you think you are forgiven?"
"I don't think, I know," said Lois, with a quick breath. "And it is not 'therefore' at all; it is because I am covered, or my sin is, with the blood of Christ. And I love him; and he makes me happy."
"It is easy to make you happy, dear. To me there is nothing left in the world, nor the possibility of anything. That wind is singing a dirge in my ears; and it sweeps over a desert. A desert where nothing green will grow any more!"
The words were spoken very calmly; there was no emotion visible that either threatened or promised tears; a dull, matter-of-fact, perfectly clear and quiet utterance, that almost broke Lois's heart. The water that was denied to the other eyes sprang to her own.
"It was in the wilderness that the people were fed with manna," she said, with a great gush of feeling in both heart and voice. "It was when they were starving and had no food, just then, that they got the bread from heaven."
"Manna does not fall now-a-days," said Mrs. Barclay with a faint smile.
"O yes, it does! There is your mistake, because you do not know. It does come. Look here, Mrs. Barclay—"
She sprang up, went for a Bible which lay on one of the tables, and, dropping on her knees again by Mrs. Barclay's side, showed her an open page.
"Look here—'I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst... This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die.' Not die of weariness, nor of anything else."
Mrs. Barclay did look with a little curiosity at the words Lois held before her, but then she put down the book and took the girl in her arms, holding her close and laying her own head on Lois's shoulder. Whether the words had moved her, Lois could not tell, or whether it was the power of her own affection and sympathy; Mrs. Barclay did not speak, and Lois did not dare add another word. They were still, wrapped in each other's arms, and one or two of Lois's tears wet the other woman's cheek; and there was no movement made by either of them; until the door was suddenly opened and they sprang apart.
"Here's Mr. Midgin," announced the voice of Miss Charity. "Shall he come in? or ain't there time? Of all things, why can't folks choose convenient times for doin' what they have to do! It passes me. It's because it's a sinful world, I suppose. But what shall I tell him? to go about his business, and come New Year's, or next Fourth of July?"
"You do not want to see him now?" said Lois hastily. But Mrs. Barclay roused herself, and begged that he might come in. "It is the carpenter, I suppose," said she.
Mr. Midgin was a tall, loose-jointed, large-featured man, with an undecided cast of countenance, and slow movements; which fitted oddly to his big frame and powerful muscles. He wore his working suit, which hung about him in a flabby way, and entered Mrs. Barclay's room with his hat on. Hat and all, his head made a little jerk of salutation to the lady.
"Good arternoon!" said he. "Sun'thin' I kin do here?"
"Yes, Mr. Midgin—I left word for you three days ago," said Lois.
"Jest so. I heerd. And here I be. Wall, I never see a room with so many books in it! Lois, you must be like a cow in clover, if you're half as fond of 'em as I be."
"You are fond of reading, Mr. Midgin?" said Mrs. Barclay.
"Wall, I think so. But what's in 'em all?" He came a step further into the room and picked up a volume from the table. Mrs. Barclay watched him. He opened the book, and stood still, eagerly scanning the page, for a minute or two.
"'Lamps of Architectur'," said he, looking then at the title-page;—"that's beyond me. The only lamps of architectur that I ever see, in Shampuashuh anyway, is them that stands up at the depot, by the railroad; but here's 'truth,' and 'sacrifice,' and I don' know what all; 'hope' and 'love,' I expect. Wall, them's good lamps to light up anythin' by; only I don't make out whatever they kin have to do with buildin's." He picked up an other volume.
"What's this?" said he. "'Tain't my native tongue. What do ye call it, Lois?"
"That is French, Mr. Midgin."
"That's French, eh?" said he, turning over the leaves. "I want to know! Don't look as though there was any sense in it. What is it about, now?"
"It is a story of a man who was king of Rome a great while ago."
"King o' Rome! What was his name? Not Romulus and Remus, I s'pose?"
"No; but he came just after Romulus."
"Did, hey? Then you s'pose there ever was sich a man as Romulus?"
"Probably," Mrs. Barclay now said. "When a story gets form and lives, there is generally some thing of fact to serve as foundation for it."
"You think that?" said the carpenter. "Wall, I kin tell you stories that had form enough and life enough in 'em, to do a good deal o' work; and that yet grew up out o' nothin' but smoke. There was Governor Denver; he was governor o' this state for quite a spell; and he was a Shampuashuh man, so we all knew him and thought lots o' him. He was sot against drinking. Mebbe you don't think there's no harm in wine and the like?"
"I have not been accustomed to think there was any harm in it certainly, unless taken immoderately."
"Ay, but how're you goin' to fix what's moderately? there's the pinch. What's a gallon for me's only a pint for you. Wall, Governor Denver didn't believe in havin' nothin' to do with the blamed stuff; and he had taken the pledge agin it, and he was known for an out and out temperance man; teetotal was the word with him. Wall, his daughter was married, over here at New Haven; and they had a grand weddin', and a good many o' the folks was like you, they thought there was no harm in it, if one kept inside the pint, you know; and there was enough for everybody to hev had his gallon. And then they said the Governor had taken his glass to his daughter's health, or something like that. Wall, all Shampuashuh was talkin' about it, and Governor Denver's friends was hangin' their heads, and didn't know what to say; for whatever a man thinks,—and thoughts is free,—he's bound to stand to what he says, and particularly if he has taken his oath upon it. So Governor Denver's friends was as worried as a steam-vessel in a fog, when she can't hear the 'larm bells; and one said this and t'other said that. And at last I couldn't stand it no longer; and I writ him a letter—to the Governor; and says I, 'Governor,' says I, 'did you drink wine at your daughter Lottie's weddin' at New Haven last month?' And if you'll believe me, he writ me back, 'Jonathan Midgin, Esq. Dear sir, I was in New York the day you mention, shakin' with chills and fever, and never got to Lottie's weddin' at all.'—What do you think o' that? Overturns your theory a leetle, don't it? Warn't no sort o' foundation for that story; and yet it did go round, and folks said it was so."
"It is a strong story for your side, Mr. Midgin, undoubtedly."
"Ain't it! La! bless you, there's nothin' you kin be sartain of in this world. I don't believe in no Romulus and his wolf. Half o' all these books, now, I have no doubt, tells lies; and the other half, you don' know which 'tis."
"I cannot throw them away however, just yet; and so, Mr. Midgin, I want some shelves to keep them off the floor."
"I should say you jest did! Where'll you put 'em?"
"The shelves? All along that side of the room, I think. And about six feet high."
"That'll hold 'em," said Mr. Midgin, as he applied his measuring rule. "Jest shelves? or do you want a bookcase fixed up all reg'lar?"
"Just shelves. That is the prettiest bookcase, to my thinking."
"That's as folks looks at it," said Mr. Midgin, who apparently was of a different opinion. "What'll they be? Mahogany, or walnut, or cherry, or maple, or pine? You kin stain 'em any colour. One thing's handsome, and another thing's cheap; and I don' know yet whether you want 'em cheap or handsome."
"Want 'em both, Mr. Midgin," said Lois.
"H'm!— Well—maybe there's folks that knows how to combine both advantages—but I'm afeard I ain't one of 'em. Nothin' that's cheap's handsome, to my way o' thinkin'. You don't make much count o' cheap things here anyhow," said he, surveying the room. And then he began his measurements, going round the sides of the apartment to apply his rule to all the plain spaces; and Mrs. Barclay noticed how tenderly he handled the books which he had to move out of his way. Now and then he stopped to open one, and stood a minute or two peering into it. All this while his hat was on.
"Should like to read that," he remarked, with a volume of Macaulay's Essays in his hands. "That's well written. But a man can't read all the world," he went on, as he laid it out of his hands again. "'Much study is a weariness to the flesh.' Arter all, I don't suppose a man'd be no wiser if he'd read all you've got here. The biggest fool I ever knowed, was the man that had read the most."
"How did he show his folly?" Mrs. Barclay asked.
"Wall, it's a story. Lois knows. He was dreadfully sot on a little grandchild he had; his chil'n was all dead, and he had jest this one left; she was a little girl. And he never left her out o' his sight, nor she him; until one day he had to go to Boston for some business; and he couldn't take her; and he said he knowed some harm'd come. Do you believe in presentiments."
"Sometimes," said Mrs. Barclay.
"How should a man have presentiments o' what's comin'?"
"I cannot answer that."
"No, nor nobody else. It ain't reason. I believe the presentiments makes the things come."
"Was that the case in this instance?"
"Wall, I don't see how it could. When he come back from Boston, the little girl was dead; but she was as well as ever when he went away. Ain't that curious?"
"Certainly; if it is true."
"I'm tellin' you nothin' but the truth. The hull town knows it. 'Tain't no secret. 'Twas old Mr. Roderick, you know, Lois; lived up yonder on the road to the ferry. And after he come back from the funeral he shut himself up in the room where his grandchild had been—and nobody ever see him no more from that day, 'thout 'twas the folks in the house; and there warn't many o' them; but he never went out. An' he never went out for seven years; and at the end o' seven years he had to—there was money in it—and folks that won't mind nothin' else, they minds Mammon, you know; so he went out. An' as soon as he was out o' the house, his women-folks, they made a rush for his room, fur to clean it; for, if you'll believe me, it hadn't been cleaned all those years; and I expect 'twas in a condition; but the women likes nothin' better; and as they opened some door or other, of a closet or that, out runs a little white mouse, and it run clear off; they couldn't catch it any way, and they tried every way. It was gone, and they were scared, for they knowed the old gentleman's ways. It wasn't a closet either it was in, but some piece o' furniture; I'm blessed ef I can remember what they called it. The mouse was gone, and the women-folks was scared; and to be sure, when Mr. Roderick come home he went as straight as a line to that there door where the mouse was; and they say he made a terrible rumpus when he couldn't find it; but arter that the spell was broke, like; and he lived pretty much as other folks. Did you say six feet?"
"That will be high enough. And you may leave a space of eight or ten feet on that side, from window to window."
"That'll be kind o' lop-sided, won't it? I allays likes to see things samely. What'll you do with all that space of emptiness? It'll look awful bare."
"I will put something else there. What do you suppose the white mouse had to do with your old gentleman's seclusion?"
"Seclusion? Livin' shut up, you mean? Why, don't ye see, he believed the mouse was the sperrit o' the child—leastways the sperrit o' the child was in it. You see, when he got back from the funeral the first thing his eyes lit upon was that ere white mouse; and it was white, you see, and that ain't a common colour for a mouse; and it got into his head, and couldn't get out, that that was Ella's sperrit. It mought ha' ben, for all I can say; but arter that day, it was gone."
"You think the child's spirit might have been in the mouse?"
"Who knows? I never say nothin' I don't know, nor deny nothin' I du know; ain't that a good principle?"
"But you know better than that, Mr. Midgin," said Lois.
"Wall, I don't! Maybe you do, Lois; but accordin' to my lights I don't know. You'll hev 'em walnut, won't you? that'll look more like furniture."
"Are you coming? The waggon's here, Lois," said Madge, opening the door. "Is Mrs. Barclay ready?"
"Will be in two minutes," replied that lady. "Yes, Mr. Midgin, let them be walnut; and good evening! Yes, Lois, I am quite roused up now, and I will go with you. I will walk, dear; I prefer it."
Mrs. Barclay seemed to have entirely regained her usual composure and even her usual spirits, which indeed were never high. She said she enjoyed the walk, which she and Lois took in company, Madge having gone with her grandmother and Charity in Mrs. Marx's waggon. The winter evening was falling grey, and the grey was growing dark; and there was something in the dusky stillness, and soft, half-defined lines of the landscape, with the sharp, crisp air, which suited the mood of both ladies. The stars were not visible yet; the western horizon had still a glow left from the sunset; and houses and trees stood like dark solemn ghosts along the way before the end of the walk was reached. They talked hardly at all, but Mrs. Barclay said when she got to Mrs. Marx's, that the walk had been delightful.
At Mrs. Marx's all was in holiday perfection of order; though that was the normal condition of things, indeed, where that lady ruled. The paint of the floors was yellow and shining; the carpets were thick and bright; the table was set with great care; the great chimney in the upper kitchen where the supper was prepared, was magnificent with its blazing logs. So was a lesser fireplace in the best parlour, where the guests were first received; but supper was ready, and they adjourned to the next room. There the table invited them most hospitably, loaded with dainties such as people in the country can get at Christmas time. One item of the entertainment not usual at Christmas time was a roast pig; its brown and glossy back making a very conspicuous object at one side of the board.
"I thought I'd surprise you all," remarked the satisfied hostess; for she knew the pig was done to a turn; "and anything you don't expect tastes twice as good. I knew ma' liked pig better'n anything; and I think myself it's about the top sheaf. I suppose nothin' can be a surprise to Mrs. Barclay."
"Why do you suppose so?" asked that lady.
"I thought you'd seen everything there was in the world, and a little more."
"Never saw a roast pig before in my life. But I have read of them."
"Read of them!" exclaimed their hostess. "In a cook-book, likely?"
"Alas! I never read a cook-book."
"No more didn't I; but you'll excuse me, I didn't believe you carried it all in your head, like we folks."
"I have not a bit of it in my head, if you mean the art of cookery. I have a profound respect for it; but I know nothing about it whatever."
"Well, you're right to have a respect for it. Uncle Tim, do you just give Mrs. Barclay some of the best of that pig, and let us see how she likes it. And the stuffing, uncle Tim, and the gravy; and plenty of the crackle. Mother, it's done just as you used to do it."
Mrs. Barclay meanwhile surveyed the company. Mrs. Armadale sat at the end of the table; placid and pleasant as always, though to Mrs. Barclay her aspect had somewhat of the severe. She did not smile much, yet she looked kindly over her assembled children. Uncle Tim was her brother; Uncle Tim Hotchkiss. He had the so frequent New England mingling of the shrewd and the benevolent in his face; and he was a much more jolly personage than his sister; younger than she, too, and still vigorous. Unlike her, also, he was a handsome man; had been very handsome in his young days; and, as Mrs. Barclay's eye roved over the table, she thought few could show a better assemblage of comeliness than was gathered round this one. Madge was strikingly handsome in her well-fitting black dress; Lois made a very plain brown stuff seem resplendent; she had a little fleecy white woollen shawl wound about her shoulders, and Mrs. Barclay could hardly keep her eyes away from the girl. And if the other members of the party were less beautiful in feature, they had every one of them in a high degree the stamp of intellect and of character. Mrs. Barclay speculated upon the strange society in which she found herself; upon the odd significance of her being there; and on the possible outcome, weighty and incalculable, of the connection of the two things. So intently that she almost forgot what she was eating, and she started at Mrs. Marx's sudden question—"Well, how do you like it? Charity, give Mrs. Barclay some pickles—what she likes; there's sweet pickle, that's peaches; and sharp pickle, that's red cabbage; and I don' know which of 'em she likes best; and give her some apple—have you got any apple sauce, Mrs. Barclay?"
"Thank you, everything; and everything is delicious."
"That's how things are gen'ally, in Mrs. Marx's hands," remarked uncle Tim. "There ain't her beat for sweets and sours in all the country."
"Mrs. Barclay's accustomed to another sort o' doings," said their hostess. "I didn't know but she mightn't like our ways."
"I like them very much, I assure you."
"There ain't no better ways than Shampuashuh ways," said uncle Tim. "If there be, I'd like to see 'em once. Lois, you never see a handsomer dinner'n this in New York, did you? Come now, and tell. Did you?"
"I never saw a dinner where things were better of their kind, uncle Tim."
Mrs. Barclay smiled to herself. That will do, she thought.
"Is that an answer?" said uncle Tim. "I'll be shot if I know."
"It is as good an answer as I can give," returned Lois, smiling.
"Of course she has seen handsomer!" said Mrs. Marx. "If you talk of elegance, we don't pretend to it in Shampuashuh. Be thankful if what you have got is good, uncle Tim; and leave the rest."
"Well, I don't understand," responded uncle Tim. "Why shouldn't Shampuashuh be elegant, I don't see? Ain't this elegant enough for anybody?"
"'Tain't elegant at all," said Mrs. Marx. "If this was in one o' the elegant places, there'd be a bunch o' flowers in the pig's mouth, and a ring on his tail."
At the face which uncle Tim made at this, Lois's gravity gave way; and a perfect echo of laughter went round the table.
"Well, I don' know what you're all laughin' at nor what you mean," said the object of their merriment; "but I should uncommonly like to know."
"Tell him, Lois," cried Madge, "what a dinner in New York is like. You never did tell him."
"Well, I'm ready to hear," said the old gentleman. "I thought a dinner was a dinner; but I'm willin' to learn."
"Tell him, Lois!" Madge repeated.
"It would be very stupid for Mrs. Barclay," Lois objected.
"On the contrary!" said that lady. "I should very much like to hear your description. It is interesting to hear what is familiar to us described by one to whom it is novel. Go on, Lois."
"I'll tell you of one dinner, uncle Tim," said Lois, after a moment of consideration. "All dinners in New York, you must understand, are not like this; this was a grand dinner."
"Christmas eve?" suggested uncle Tim.
"No. I was not there at Christmas; this was just a party. There were twelve at table.
"In the first place, there was an oval plate of looking-glass, as long as this table—not quite so broad—that took up the whole centre of the table." Here Lois was interrupted.
"Looking-glass!" cried uncle Tim.
"Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous?" said Charity.
"Looking-glass to set the hot dishes on?" said Mrs. Marx, to whom this story seemed new.
"No; not to set anything on. It took up the whole centre of the table. Round the edge of this looking-glass, all round, was a border or little fence of solid silver, about six or eight inches high; of beautiful wrought open-work; and just within this silver fence, at intervals, stood most exquisite little white marble statues, about a foot and a half high. There must have been a dozen of them; and anything more beautiful than the whole thing was, you cannot imagine."
"I should think they'd have been awfully in the way," remarked Charity.
"Not at all; there was room enough all round outside for the plates and glasses."
"The looking-glass, I suppose, was for the pretty ladies to see themselves in!"
"Quite mistaken, uncle Tim; one could not see the reflection of oneself; only bits of one's opposite neighbours; little flashes of colour here and there; and the reflection of the statuettes on the further side; it was prettier than ever you can think."
"I reckon it must ha' been; but I don't see the use of it," said uncle Tim.
"That wasn't all," Lois went on. "Everybody had his own salt-cellar."
"Table must ha' been full, I should say."
"No, it was not full at all; there was plenty of room for everything, and that allowed every pretty thing to be seen. And those salt-cellars were a study. They were delicious little silver figures—every one different from the others—and each little figure presented the salt in something. Mine was a little girl, with her apron all gathered up, as if to hold nuts or apples, and the salt was in her apron. The one next to her was a market-woman with a flat basket on her head, and the salt was in the basket. Another was a man bowing, with his hat in his hand; the salt was in the hat. I could not see them all, but each one seemed prettier than the other. One was a man standing by a well, with a bucket drawn up, but full of salt, not water. A very pretty one was a milkman with a pail."
Uncle Tim was now reduced to silence, but Charity remarked that she could not understand where the dishes were—the dinner.
"It was somewhere else. It was not on the table at all. The waiters brought the things round. There were six waiters, handsomely dressed in black, and with white silk gloves."
"White silk gloves!" echoed Charity. "Well, I do think the way some people live is just a sin and a shame!"
"How did you know what there was for dinner?" inquired Mrs. Marx now. "I shouldn't like to make my dinner of boiled beef, if there was partridges comin'. And when there's plum-puddin' I always like to know it beforehand."
"We knew everything beforehand, aunt Anne. There were beautifully painted little pieces of white silk on everybody's plate, with all the dishes named; only many, most of them, were French names, and I was none the wiser for them."
"Can't they call good victuals by English names?" asked uncle Tim. "What's the sense o' that? How was anybody to know what he was eatin'?"
"O they all knew," said Lois. "Except me."
"I'll bet you were the only sensible one o' the lot," said the old gentleman.
"Then at every plate there was a beautiful cut glass bottle, something like a decanter, with ice water, and over the mouth of it a tumbler to match. Besides that, there were at each plate five or six other goblets or glasses, of different colours."
"What colours?" demanded Charity.
"Yellow, and dark red, and green, and white."
"What were they all for?" asked uncle Tim.
"Wine; different sorts of wine."
"Different sorts o' wine! How many sorts did they have, at one dinner?"
"I cannot tell you. I do not know. A great many."
"Did you drink any, Lois?"
"No, aunt Anne."
"I suppose they thought you were a real country girl, because you didn't?"
"Nobody thought anything about it. The servants brought the wine; everybody did just as he pleased about taking it."
"What did you have to eat, Lois, with so much to drink?" asked her elder sister.
"More than I can tell, Charity. There must have been a dozen large dishes, at each end of the table, besides the soup and the fish; and no end of smaller dishes."
"For a dozen people!" cried Charity.
"I suppose it's because I don't know anythin'," said Mr. Hotchkiss,—"but I always du hate to see a whole lot o' things before me more'n I can eat!"
"It's downright wicked waste, that's what I call it," said Mrs. Marx; "but I s'pose that's because I don't know anythin'."
"And you like that sort o' way better 'n this 'n?" inquired uncle Tim of Lois.
"I said no more than that it was prettier, uncle Tim."
"But du ye?"
Lois's eye met involuntarily Mrs. Barclay's for an instant, and she smiled.
"Uncle Tim, I think there is something to be said on both sides."
"There ain't no sense on that side."
"There is some prettiness; and I like prettiness."
"Prettiness won't butter nobody's bread. Mother, you've let Lois go once too often among those city folks. She's nigh about sp'iled for a Shampuashuh man now."
"Perhaps a Shampuashuh man will not get her," said Mrs. Barclay mischievously.
"Who else is to get her?" cried Mrs. Marx. "We're all o' one sort here; and there's hardly a man but what's respectable, and very few that ain't more or less well-to-do; but we all work and mean to work, and we mostly all know our own mind. I do despise a man who don't do nothin', and who asks other folks what he's to think!"
"That sort of person is not held in very high esteem in any society, I believe," said Mrs. Barclay courteously; though she was much amused, and was willing for her own reasons that the talk should go a little further. Therefore she spoke.
"Well, idleness breeds 'em," said the other lady.
"But who respects them?"
"The world'll respect anybody, even a man that goes with his hands in his pockets, if he only can fetch 'em out full o' money. There was such a feller hangin' round Appledore last summer. My! didn't he try my patience!"
"Appledore?" said Lois, pricking up her ears.
"Yes; there was a lot of 'em."
"People who did not know their own minds?" Mrs. Barclay asked, purposely and curiously.
"Well, no, I won't say that of all of 'em. There was some of 'em knew their own minds a'most too well; but he warn't one. He come to me once to help him out; and I filled his pipe for him, and sent him to smoke it."
"Aunt Anne!" said Lois, drawing up her pretty figure with a most unwonted assumption of astonished dignity. Both the dignity and the astonishment drew all eyes upon her. She was looking at Mrs. Marx with eyes full of startled displeasure. Mrs. Marx was entrenched behind a whole army of coffee and tea pots and pitchers, and answered coolly.
"Yes, I did. What is it to you? Did he come to you for help too?"
"I do not know whom you are talking of."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Marx. "I thought you did. Before I'd have you marry such a soft feller as that, I'd—I'd shoot him!"
There was some laughter, but Lois did not join in it, and with heightened colour was attending very busily to her supper.
"Was the poor man looking that way?" asked Mrs. Barclay.
"He was lookin' two ways," said Mrs. Marx; "and when a man's doin' that, he don't fetch up nowhere, you bet. I'd like to know what becomes of him! They were all of the sort Lois has been tellin' of; thought a deal o' 'prettiness.' I do think, the way some people live, is a way to shame the flies; and I don't know nothin' in creation more useless than they be!"
Mrs. Marx could speak better English, but the truth was, when she got much excited she forgot her grammar.
"But at a watering-place," remarked Mrs. Barclay, "you do not expect people to show their useful side. They are out for play and amusement."
"I can play too," said the hostess; "but my play always has some meaning to it. Did I tell you, mother, what that lady was doing?"
"I thought you were speaking of a gentleman," said quiet Mrs. Armadale.
"Well, there was a lady too; and she was doin' a piece o' work. It was a beautiful piece of grey satin; thick and handsome as you ever see; and she was sewin' gold thread upon it with fine gold-coloured silk; fine gold thread; and it went one way straight and another way round, curling and crinkling, like nothin' on earth but a spider's web; all over the grey satin. I watched her a while, and then, says I, 'What are you doin', if you please? I've been lookin' at you, and I can't make out.' 'No,' says she, 'I s'pose not. It's a cover for a bellows.' 'For a what?' says I. 'For a bellows,' says she; 'a bellows, to blow the fire with. Don't you know what they are?' 'Yes,' says I; 'I've seen a fire bellows before now; but in our part o' the country we don't cover 'em with satin.' 'No,' says she, 'I suppose not.' 'I would just like to ask one more question,' says I. 'Well, you may,' says she; 'what is it?' 'I would just like to know,' says I, 'what the fire is made of that you blow with a satin and gold bellows?' And she laughed a little. ' 'Cause,' says I, 'it ought to be somethin' that won't soil a kid glove and that won't give out no sparks nor smoke.' 'O,' says she, 'nobody really blows the fire; only the bellows have come into fashion, along with the fire-dogs, wherever people have an open fireplace and a wood fire.' Well, what she meant by fire dogs I couldn't guess; but I thought I wouldn't expose any more o' my ignorance. Now, mother, how would you like to have Lois in a house like that?—where people don't know any better what to do with their immortal lives than to make satin covers for bellows they don't want to blow the fire with! and dish up dinner enough for twelve people, to feed a hundred?"
"Lois will never be in a house like that," responded the old lady contentedly.
"Then it's just as well if you keep her away from the places where they make so much of prettiness, I can tell you. Lois is human."
"Lois is Christian," said Mrs. Armadale; "and she knows her duty."
"Well, it's heart-breakin' work, to know one's duty, sometimes," said Mrs. Marx.
"But you do not think, I hope, that one is a pattern for all?" said Mrs. Barclay. "There are exceptions; it is not everybody in the great world that lives to no purpose."
"If that's what you call the great world, I call it mighty small, then. If I didn't know anything better to do with myself than to work sprangles o' gold on a satin cover that warn't to cover nothin', I'd go down to Fairhaven and hire myself out to open oysters! and think I made by the bargain. Anyhow, I'd respect myself better."
"I don't know what you mean by the great world," said uncle Tim. "Be there two on 'em—a big and a little?"
"Don't you see, all Shampuashuh would go in one o' those houses Lois was tellin' about! and if it got there, I expect they wouldn't give it house-room."
"The worlds are not so different as you think," Mrs. Barclay went on courteously. "Human nature is the same everywhere."
"Well, I guess likely," responded Mrs. Marx. "Mother, if you've done, we'll go into the other."
The next day was Christmas; but in the country of Shampuashuh, Christmas, though a holiday, was not held in so high regard as it receives in many other quarters of the earth. There was no service in the church; and after dinner Lois came as usual to draw in Mrs. Barclay's room.
"I did not understand some of your aunt's talk last evening," Mrs. Barclay remarked after a while.
"I am not surprised at that," said Lois.
"O yes. I understand aunt Anne."
"Does she really think that all the people who like pretty things, lead useless lives?"
"She does not care so much about pretty things as I do," said Lois slightly.
"But does she think all who belong to the 'great world' are evil? given up to wickedness?"
"Not so bad as that," Lois answered, smiling; "but naturally aunt Anne does not understand any world but this of Shampuashuh."
"I understood her to assume that under no circumstances could you marry one of the great world she was talking of?"
"Well," said Lois, "I suppose she thinks that one of them would not be a Christian."
"You mean, an enthusiast."
"No," said Lois; "but I mean, and she means, one who is in heart a true servant of Christ. He might, or he might not, be enthusiastic."
"And would you marry no one who was not a Christian, as you understand the word?"
"The Bible forbids it," said Lois, her colour rising a little.
"The Bible forbids it? I have not studied the Bible like you; but I have heard it read from the pulpit all my life; and I never heard, either from the pulpit or out of it, such an idea, as that one who is a Christian may not marry one who is not."
"I can show you the command—in more places than one," said Lois.
"I wish you would."
Lois left her drawing and fetched a Bible.
"It is forbidden in the Old Testament and in the New," she said; "but I will show you a place in the New. Here it is—in the second Epistle to the Corinthians—'Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers;' and it goes on to give the reason."
"Unbelievers! But those, in that day, were heathen."
"Yes," said Lois simply, going on with her drawing.
"There are no heathen now,—not here."
"I suppose that makes no difference. It is the party which will not obey and serve Christ; and which is working against him. In that day they worshipped idols of wood and stone; now they worship a different sort. They do not worship him; and there are but two parties."
"No. The Bible says not."
"But what is being 'yoked together'? what do you understand is forbidden by that? Marriage?"
"Any connection, I suppose," said Lois, looking up, "in which two people are forced to pull together. You know what a 'yoke' is?"
"And you can smile at that, you wicked girl?"
Lois laughed now. "Why not?" she said. "I have not much fancy for putting my head in a yoke at all; but a yoke where the two pull different ways must be very miserable!"
"You forget; you might draw somebody else to go the right way."
"That would depend upon who was the strongest."
"True," said Mrs. Barclay. "But, my dear Lois! you do not suppose that a man cannot belong to the world and yet be what you call a Christian? That would be very uncharitable."
"I do not want to be uncharitable," said Lois. "Mrs. Barclay, it is extremely difficult to mark the foliage of different sorts of trees!"
"Yes, but you are making a very good beginning. Lois, do you know, you are fitting to be the wife of just one of that world you are condemning-cultivated, polished, full of accomplishments and graces, and fine and refined tastes."
"Then he would be very dangerous," said Lois, "if he were not a Christian. He might have all that, and yet be a Christian too."
"Suppose he were not; would you refuse him?"
"I hope I should," said Lois. But her questioner noticed that this answer was soberly given.
That evening she wrote a letter to Mr. Dillwyn.
"I am enjoying the most delightful rest," the letter said, "that I have known for a very long time; yet I have a doubt whether I ought to confess it; whether I ought not to declare myself tired of Shampuashuh, and throw up my cards. I feel a little like an honest swindler, using your money, not on false pretences, but on a foregone case. I should never get tired of the place or the people. Everyone of them, indeed almost every one that I see, is a character; and here, where there is less varnish, the grain of the wood shows more plainly. I have had a most original carpenter here to measure for my book-shelves, only yesterday; for my room is running over with books. Not only everybody is a character, but nearly everybody has a good mixture of what is admirable in his composition; and as for these two girls—well, I am even more in love than you are, Philip. The elder is the handsomer, perhaps; she is very handsome; but your favourite is my favourite. Lois is lovely. There is a strange, fresh, simple, undefinable charm about the girl that makes one her captive. Even me, a woman. She wins upon me daily with her sweet unconscious ways. But nevertheless I am uneasy when I remember what I am here for, and what you are expecting. I fear I am acting the part of an innocent swindler, as I said; little better.
"In one way there is no disappointment to be looked for. These girls are both gifted with a great capacity and aptitude for mental growth. Lois especially, for she cares more to go into the depths of things; but both of them grow fast, and I can see the change almost from day to day. Tastes are waking up, and eager for gratification; there is no limit to the intellectual hunger or the power of assimilation; the winter is one of very great enjoyment to them (as to me!), and there is, and that has been from the first, a refinement of manner which surprised me, but that too is growing. And yet, with all this, which promises so much, there is another element which threatens discomfiture to our hopes. I must not conceal it from you. These people are regular Puritans. They think now, in this age of the world, to regulate their behaviour entirely by the Bible. You are of a different type; and I am persuaded that the whole family would regard an alliance with a man like you as an unlawful thing; ay, though he were a prince or a Rothschild, it would make no difference in their view of the thing. For here is independence, pure and absolute. The family is very poor; they are glad of the money I pay them; but they would not bend their heads before the prestige of wealth, or do what they think wrong to gain any human favour or any earthly advantage. And Lois is like the rest; quite as firm; in fact, some of these gentlewomen have a power of saying 'no' which is only a little less than fearful. I cannot tell what love would do; but I do not believe it would break down her principle. We had a talk lately on this very subject; she was very firm.
"I think I ought not to conceal from you that I have doubts on another question. We were at a family supper party last night at an aunt's house. She is a character too; a kind of a grenadier of a woman, in nature, not looks. The house and the entertainment were very interesting to me; the mingling of things was very striking, that one does not expect to find in connection. For instance, the appointments of the table were, as of course they would be, of no pretension to style or elegance; clumsily comfortable, was all you could say. And the cooking was delicately fine. Then, manners and language were somewhat lacking in polish, to put it mildly; and the tone of thought and the qualities of mind and character exhibited were very far above what I have heard often in circles of great pretension. Once the conversation got upon the contrasting ways of life in this society and in what is called the world; the latter, I confess to you, met with some hard treatment; and the idea was rejected with scorn that one of the girls should ever be tempted out of her own sphere into the other. All this is of no consequence; but what struck me was a hint or two that Lois had been tempted; and a pretty plain assertion that this aunt, who it seems was at Appledore last summer nursing Mrs. Wishart, had received some sort of overture or advance on Lois's behalf, and had rejected it. This was evidently news to Lois; and she showed so much startled displeasure—in her face, for she said almost nothing—that the suspicion was forced upon me, there might have been more in the matter than the aunt knew. Who was at Appledore? a friend of yours, was it not? and are you sure he did not gain some sort of lien upon this heart which you are so keen to win? I owe it to you to set you upon this inquiry; for if I know anything of the girl, she is as true and as unbending as steel. What she holds she will hold; what she loves she will love, I believe, to the end. So, before we go any further, let us find whether we have ground to go on. No, I would not have you come here at present. Not in any case; and certainly not in this uncertain'ty. You are too wise to wish it."
Whether Philip were too wise to wish it, he was too wise to give the rein to his wishes. He stayed in New York all winter, contenting himself with sending to Shampuashuh every imaginable thing that could make Mrs. Barclay's life there pleasant, or help her to make it useful to her two young friends. A fine Chickering piano arrived between Christmas and New Year's day, and was set up in the space left for it between the bookshelves. Books continued to flow in; books of all sorts—science and art, history and biography, poetry and general literature. And Lois would have developed into a bookworm, had not the piano exercised an almost equal charm upon her. Listening to Mrs. Barclay's music at first was an absorbing pleasure; then Mrs. Barclay asked casually one day "Shall I teach you?"
"O, you could not!" was Lois's answer, given with a breath and a flush of excitement.
"Let us try," said Mrs. Barclay, smiling. "You might learn at least enough to accompany yourself. I have never heard your voice. Have you a voice?"
"I do not know what you would call a voice," said Lois, smiling.
"But you sing?"
"Hymns. Nothing else."
"Have you a hymn-book? with music, I mean?"
Lois brought one. Mrs. Barclay played the accompaniment of a familiar hymn, and Lois sang.
"My dear," exclaimed the former when she had done, "that is delicious!"
"Your voice is very fine; it has a peculiar and uncommon richness. You must let me train that voice."
"I should like to sing hymns as well as I can," Lois answered, flushing somewhat.
"You would like to sing other things, too."
"Yes. Some songs are beautiful."
"I never liked much those I have heard."
"They seemed rather foolish."
"Did they! The choice must have been unfortunate. Where did you hear them?"
"In New York. In company there. The voices were sometimes delightful; but the words—"
"Well, the words?"
"I wondered how they could like to sing them. There was nothing in them but nonsense."
"You are a very severe critic!"
"No," said Lois deprecatingly; "but I think hymns are so much better."
"Well, we will see. Songs are not the first thing; your voice must be trained."
So a new element came into the busy life of that winter; and music now made demands on time and attention which Lois found it a little difficult to meet, without abridging the long reading hours and diligent studies to which she had hitherto been giving all her spare time. But the piano was so alluring! And every morsel of real music that Mrs. Barclay touched was so entrancing to Lois. To Lois; Madge did not care about it, except for the wonder of seeing Mrs. Barclay's fingers fly over the keys; and Charity took quite a different view again.
"Mother," she said one evening to the old lady, whom they often called so, "don't it seem to you that Lois is gettin' turned round?"
"How, my dear?"
"Well, it ain't like the Lois we used to have. She's rushin' at books from morning to night, or scritch-scratching on a slate; and the rest o' the time she's like nothin' but the girl in the song, that had 'bells on her fingers and rings on her toes.' I hear that piano-forty going at all hours; it's tinkle, tinkle, every other thing. What's the good of all that?"
"What's the harm?" said Lois.
"What's she doin' it for, that woman? One 'ud think she had come here just on purpose to teach Madge and you; for she don't do anything else. What's it all for? that's what I'd like to be told."
"I'm sure she's very kind," said Madge.
"Mother, do you like it?"
"What is the harm in what we are doing, Charity?" asked her younger sister.
"If a thing ain't good it's always harm!"
"But these things are good."
"Maybe good for some folks; they ain't good for you."
"I wish you would say 'are not,'" said Lois.
"There!" said Charity. "There it is! You're pilin' one thing on top of another, till your head won't stand it; and the house won't be high enough for you by and by. All these ridiculous ways, of people that think themselves too nice for common things! and you've lived all your life among common things, and are going to live all your life among them. And, mother, all this French and music will just make Lois discontented. You see if it don't."
"Do I act discontented?" Lois asked, with a pleasant smile.
"Does she leave any of her work for you to do, Charity?" said Madge.
"Wait till the spring opens and garden must be made," said Charity.
"I should never think of leaving that to you to do, Charity," said Lois, laughing. "We should have a poor chance of a garden."
"Mother, I wish you'd stop it."
Mrs. Armadale said, however, nothing at the time. But the next chance she had when she and her youngest granddaughter were alone, she said,
"Lois, are you in danger of lettin' your pleasure make you forget your duty?"
"I hope not, grandmother. I do not think it. I take these things to be duty. I think one ought always to learn anything one has an opportunity of learning."
"One thing is needful," said the old lady doubtfully.
"Yes, grandmother. I do not forget that."
"You don't want to learn the ways of the world, Lois?"
PEAS AND RADISHES.
Mr. Dillwyn, as I said, did not come near Shampuashuh. He took his indemnification in sending all sorts of pleasant things. Papers and magazines overflowed, flowed over into Mrs. Marx's hands, and made her life rich; flowed over again into Mr. Hotchkiss's hands, and embroidered his life for him. Mr. Dillwyn sent fruit; foreign fruit, strange and delicious, which it was a sort of education even to eat, bringing one nearer to the countries so far and unknown, where it grew. He sent music; and if some of it passed under Lois's ban as "nonsense," that was not the case with the greater part. "She has a marvellous true appreciation of what is fine," Mrs. Barclay wrote; "and she rejects with an accuracy which surprises me, all that is merely pretty and flashy. There are some bits of Handel that have great power over the girl; she listens to them, I might almost say, devoutly, and is never weary. Madge is delighted with Rossini; but Lois gives her adherence to the German classics, and when I play Haydn or Mozart or Mendelssohn, stands rapt in her delighted listening, and looking like—well, I will not tantalize you by trying to describe to you what I see every day. I marvel only where the girl got these tastes and susceptibilities; it must be blood; I believe in inheritance. She has had until now no training or experience; but your bird is growing her wings fast now, Philip. If you can manage to cage her! Natures hereabout are not tame, by any means."
Mr. Dillwyn, I believe I mentioned, sent engravings and exquisite photographs; and these almost rivalled Haydn and Mozart in Lois's mind. For various reasons, Mrs. Barclay sought to make at least this source of pleasure common to the whole family; and would often invite them all into her room, or carry her portfolio out into their general sitting-room, and display to the eyes of them all the views of foreign lands; cities, castles and ruins, palaces and temples, Swiss mountains and Scotch lochs, Paris Boulevards and Venetian canals, together with remains of ancient art and works of modern artists; of all which Philip sent an unbounded number and variety. These evenings were unendingly curious to Mrs. Barclay. Comment was free, and undoubtedly original, whatever else might be said of it; and character, and the habit of life of her audience, were unconsciously revealed to her. Intense curiosity and eagerness for information were observable in them all; but tastes, and the power of apprehension and receptiveness towards new and strange ideas, and the judgment passed upon things, were very different in the different members of the group. These exhibitions had further one good effect, not unintended by the exhibitor; they brought the whole family somewhat in tone with the new life to which two of its members were rising. It was not desirable that Lois should be too far in advance of her people, or rather that they should be too far behind her. The questions propounded to Mrs. Barclay on these occasions, and the elucidations she found it desirable to give without questions, transformed her part into that of a lecturer; and the end of such an evening would find her tired with her exertions, yet well repaid for them. The old grandmother manifested great curiosity, great admiration, with frequently an expression of doubt or disapproval; and very often a strange, slight, inexpressible air of one who felt herself to belong to a different world, to which all these things were more or less foreign. Charity showed also intense eagerness and curiosity, and inquisitiveness; and mingled with those, a very perceptible flavour of incredulity or of disdain, the latter possibly born of envy. But Lois and Madge were growing with every journey to distant lands, and every new introduction to the great works of men's hands, of every kind and of every age.
After receiving that letter of Mrs. Barclay's mentioned in the last chapter, Philip Dillwyn would immediately have attacked Tom Caruthers again on the question of his liking for Miss Lothrop, to find out whether possibly there were any the least foundation for Mrs. Barclay's scruples and fears. But it was no longer in his power. The Caruthers family had altered their plans; and instead of going abroad in the spring, had taken their departure with the first of December, after an impromptu wedding of Julia to her betrothed. Mr. Dillwyn did not seriously believe that there was anything his plan had to fear from this side; nevertheless he preferred not to move in the dark; and he waited. Besides, he must allow time for the work he had sent Mrs. Barclay to do; to hurry matters would be to spoil everything; and it was much better on every ground that he should keep away from Shampuashuh. As I said, he busied himself with Shampuashuh affairs all he could, and wore out the winter as he best might; which was not very satisfactorily. And when spring came he resolutely carried out his purpose, and sailed for Europe. Till at least a year had gone by he would not try to see Lois; Mrs. Barclay should have a year at least to push her beneficent influence and bring her educational efforts to some visible result; he would keep away; but it would be much easier to keep away if the ocean lay between them, and he went to Florence and northern Italy and the Adriatic.
Meanwhile the winter had "flown on soft wings" at Shampuashuh. Every day seemed to be growing fuller and richer than its predecessors; every day Lois and Madge were more eager in the search after knowledge, and more ready for the reception of it. A change was going on in them, so swift that Mrs. Barclay could almost see it from day to day. Whether others saw it I cannot tell; but Mrs. Marx shook her head in the fear of it, and Charity opined that the family "might whistle for a garden, and for butter and cheese next summer." Precious opportunity of winter days, when no gardening nor dairy work was possible! and blessed long nights and mornings, after sunset and before sunrise, when no housework of any sort put in claims upon the leisure of the two girls. There were no interruptions from without. In Shampuashuh, society could not be said to flourish. Beyond an occasional "sewing society" meeting, and a much more rare gathering for purely social purposes, nothing more than a stray caller now and then broke the rich quiet of those winter days; the time for a tillage, and a sowing, and a growth far beyond in preciousness all "the precious things put forth by the sun" in the more genial time of the year. But days began to become longer, nevertheless, as the weeks went on; and daylight was pushing those happy mornings and evenings into lesser and lesser compass; and snow quite disappeared from the fields, and buds began to swell on the trees and take colour, and airs grew more gentle in temperature; though I am bound to say there is a sharpness sometimes in the nature of a Shampuashuh spring, that quite outdoes all the greater rigours of the winter that has gone.
"The frost is out of the ground!" said Lois one day to her friend.
"Well," said Mrs. Barclay innocently; "I suppose that is a good thing."
Lois went on with her drawing, and made no answer.
But soon Mrs. Barclay began to perceive that less reading and studying were done; or else some drawing lingered on its way towards completion; and the deficits became more and more striking. At last she demanded the reason.
"O," said Madge, "the cows have come in, and I have a good deal to do in the dairy now; it takes up all my mornings. I'm so sorry, I don't know what to do! but the milk must be seen to, and the butter churned, and then worked over; and it takes time, Mrs. Barclay."
"O, Lois is making garden."
"Yes; O, she always does it. It's her particular part of the business. We all do a little of everything; but the garden is Lois's special province, and the dairy mine, and Charity takes the cooking and the sewing. O, we all do our own sewing, and we all do grandmother's sewing; only Charity takes head in that department."
"What does Lois do in the garden?"
"O, everything. We get somebody to plough it up in the fall; and in the spring we have it dug over; but all the rest she does. We have a good garden too," said Madge, smiling.
"And these things take your morning and her morning?"
"Yes, indeed; I should think they did. Rather!"
Mrs. Barclay held her peace then, and for some time afterwards. The spring came on, the days became soft and lovely, after March had blown itself out; the trees began to put forth leaves, the blue-birds were darting about, like skyey messengers; robins were whistling, and daffodils were bursting, and grass was green. One lovely warm morning, when everything without seemed beckoning to her, Mrs. Barclay threw on a shawl and hat, and made her way out to the old garden, which up to this day she had never entered.
She found the great wide enclosure looking empty and bare enough. The two or three old apple trees hung protectingly over the wooden bench in the middle, their branches making pretty tracery against the tender, clear blue of the sky; but no shade was there. The branches only showed a little token of swelling and bursting buds, which indeed softened in a lovely manner the lines of their interlacing network, and promised a plenty of green shadow by and by. No shadow was needed at present, for the sun was too gentle; its warmth was welcome, and beneficent, and kindly. The old cherry tree in the corner was beginning to open its wealth of white blossoms; everywhere else the bareness and brownness of winter was still reigning, only excepting the patches of green turf around the boles and under the spreading boughs of the trees here and there. The garden was no garden, only a spread of soft, up-turned brown loam. It looked a desolate place to Mrs. Barclay.
In the midst of it, the one point of life and movement was Lois. She was in a coarse, stout stuff dress, short, and tucked up besides, to keep it out of the dirt. Her hands were covered with coarse, thick gloves, her head with a little old straw hat. At the moment Mrs. Barclay came up, she was raking a patch of ground which she had carefully marked out, and bounded with a trampled footway; she was bringing it with her rake into a condition of beautiful level smoothness, handling her tool with light dexterity. As Mrs. Barclay came near, she looked up with a flash of surprise and a smile.