"I have found you," said the lady. "So this is what you are about!"
"It is what I am always about at this time of year."
"What are you doing?"
"Just here I am going to put in radishes and lettuce."
"Radishes and lettuce! And that is instead of French and philosophy!"
"This is philosophy," said Lois, while with a neat movement of her rake she threw off some stones which she had collected from the surface of the bed. "Very good philosophy. Surely the philosophy of life is first—to live."
Mrs. Barclay was silent a moment upon this.
"Are radishes and lettuce the first thing you plant in the spring, then?"
"O dear, no!" said Lois. "Do you see all that corner? that's in potatoes. Do you see those slightly marked lines—here, running across from the walk to the wall?—peas are there. They'll be up soon. I think I shall put in some corn to-morrow. Yonder is a bed of radishes and lettuce just out of the ground. We'll have some radishes for tea, before you know it."
"And do you mean to say that you have been planting potatoes? you?"
"Yes," said Lois, looking at her and laughing. "I like to plant potatoes. In fact, I like to plant anything. What I do not always like so well, is the taking care of them after they are up and growing."
Mrs. Barclay sat down and watched her. Lois was now tracing delicate little drills across the breadth of her nicely-prepared bed; little drills all alike, just so deep and just so far apart. Then she went to a basket hard by for a little paper of seeds; two papers; and began deftly to scatter the seed along the drills, with delicate and careful but quick fingers. Mrs. Barclay watched her till she had filled all the rows, and began to cover the seeds in; that, too, she did quick and skilfully.
"That is not fit work for you to do, Lois."
"You have something better to do."
"I do not see how I can. This is the work that is given me."
"But any common person could do that?"
"We have not got the common person to do it," said Lois, laughing; "so it comes upon an uncommon one."
"But there is a fitness in things."
"So you will think, when you get some of my young lettuce." The drills were fast covered in, but there were a good many of them, and Lois went on talking and working with equal spirit.
"I do not think I shall—" Mrs. Barclay answered the last statement.
"I like to do this, Mrs. Barclay. I like to do it very much. I am pulled a little two ways this spring—but that only shows this is good for me."
"When anybody is living to his own pleasure, I guess he is not in the best way of improvement."
"Is there no one but you to do all the weeding, by and by, when the garden will be full of plants?"
"Nobody else," said Lois.
"That must take a great deal of your time!"
"Yes," said Lois, "it does; that and the fruit-picking."
"Fruit-picking! Mercy! Why, child, must you do all that?"
"It is my part," said Lois pleasantly. "Charity and Madge have each their part. This is mine, and I like it better than theirs. But it is only so, Mrs. Barclay, that we are able to get along. A gardener would eat up our garden. I take only my share. And there is a great deal of pleasure in it. It is pleasant to provide for the family's wants, and to see the others enjoy what I bring in;—yes, and to enjoy it myself. And then, do you see how pleasant the work is! Don't you like it out here this morning?"
Mrs. Barclay cast a glance around her again. There was a slight spring haze in the air, which seemed to catch and hold the sun's rays and diffuse them in gentle beneficence. Through it the opening cherry blossoms gave their tender promise; the brown, bare apple trees were softened; an indescribable breath of hope and life was in the air, to which the birds were doing all they could to give expression; there was a delicate joy in Nature's face, as if at being released from the bands of Winter and having her hands free again. The smell of the upturned earth came fresh to Mrs. Barclay's nostrils, along with a salt savour from the not distant sea. Yes, it was pleasant, with a rare and wonderful pleasantness; and yet Mrs. Barclay's eyes came discontentedly back to Lois.
"It would be possible to enjoy all this, Lois, if you were not doing such evil work."
"Evil work! O no, Mrs. Barclay. The work that the Lord gives anybody to do cannot be evil. It must be the very best thing he can do. And I do not believe I should enjoy the spring—and the summer—and the autumn—near so well, if I were not doing it."
"Must one be a gardener, to have such enjoyment?"
"I must," said Lois, laughing. "If I do not follow my work, my work follows me; and then it comes like a taskmaster, and carries a whip."
"But, Lois! that sort of work will make your hands rough."
Lois lifted one of her hands in its thick glove, and looked at it. "Well," she said, "what then? What are hands made for?"
"You know very well what I mean. You know a time may come when you would like to have your hands white and delicate."
"The time is come now," said Lois, laughing. "I have not to wait for it. I like white hands, and delicate hands, as well as anybody. Mine must do their work, all the same. Something might be said for my feet, too, I suppose," she added, with another laugh.
At the moment she had finished outlining an other bed, and was now trampling a little hard border pathway round it, making the length of her foot the breadth of the pathway, and setting foot to foot close together, so bit by bit stamping it round. Mrs. Barclay looked on, and wished some body else could have looked on, at the bright, fresh face under the little old hat, and the free action and spirit and accuracy with which everything that either feet or hands did was done. Somehow she forgot the coarse dress, and only saw the delicate creature in it.
"Lois, I do not like it!" she began again. "Do you know, some people are very particular about these little things—fastidious about them. You may one day yet want to please one of those very men."
"Not unless he wants to please me first!" said Lois, with a glance from her path-treading.
"Of course. I am supposing that."
"I don't know him!" said Lois. "And I don't see him in the distance!"
"That proves nothing."
"And it wouldn't make any difference if I did."
"You are mistaken in thinking that. You do not know yet what it is to be in love, Lois."
"I don't know," said Lois. "Can't one be in love with one's grandmother?"
"But, Lois, this is going to take a great deal of your time."
"And you want all your time, to give to more important things. I can't bear to have you drop them all to plant potatoes. Could not somebody else be found to do it?"
"We could not afford the somebody, Mrs. Barclay."
It was not doubtfully or regretfully that the girl spoke; the brisk content of her answers drove Mrs. Barclay almost to despair.
"Lois, you owe something to yourself."
"What, Mrs. Barclay?"
"You owe it to yourself to be prepared for what I am sure is coming to you. You are not made to live in Shampuashuh all your life. Somebody will want you to quit it and go out into the wide world with him."
Lois was silent a few minutes, with her colour a little heightened, fresh as it had been already; then, having tramped all round her new bed, she came up to where Mrs. Barclay and her basket of seeds were.
"I don't believe it at all," she said. "I think I shall live and die here."
"Do you feel satisfied with that prospect?"
Lois turned over the bags of seeds in her basket, a little hurriedly; then she stopped and looked up at her questioner.
"I have nothing to do with all that," she said. "I do not want to think of it. I have enough in hand to think of. And I am satisfied, Mrs. Barclay, with whatever God gives me." She turned to her basket of seeds again, searching for a particular paper.
"I never heard any one say that before," remarked the other lady.
"As long as I can say it, don't you see that is enough?" said Lois lightly. "I enjoy all this work, besides; and so will you by and by when you get the lettuce and radishes, and some of my Tom Thumb peas. And I am not going to stop my studies either."
She went back to the new bed now, where she presently was very busy putting more seeds in. Mrs. Barclay watched her a while. Then, seeing a small smile break on the lips of the gardener, she asked Lois what she was thinking of? Lois looked up.
"I was thinking of that geode you showed us last night."
"Yes, it is so lovely. I have thought of it a great many times. I am wanting very much to learn about stones now. I thought always till now that stones were only stones. The whole world is changed to me since you have come, Mrs. Barclay."
Yes, thought that lady to herself, and what will be the end of it?
"To tell the truth," Lois went on, "the garden work comes harder to me this spring than ever it did before; but that shows it is good for me. I have been having too much pleasure all winter."
"Can one have too much pleasure?" said Mrs. Barclay discontentedly.
"If it makes one unready for duty," said Lois.
THE LAGOON OF VENICE.
Towards evening, one day late in the summer, the sun was shining, as its manner is, on that marvellous combination of domes, arches, mosaics and carvings which goes by the name of St. Mark's at Venice. The soft Italian sky, glowing and rich, gave a very benediction of colour; all around was the still peace of the lagoon city; only in the great square there was a gentle stir and flutter and rustle and movement; for thousands of doves were flying about, and coming down to be fed, and a crowd of varied human nature, but chiefly not belonging to the place, were watching and distributing food to the feathered multitude. People were engaged with the doves, or with each other; few had a look to spare for the great church; nobody even glanced at the columns bearing St. Theodore and the Lion.
That is, speaking generally. For under one of the arcades, leaning against one of the great pillars of the same, a man stood whose look by turns went to everything. He had been standing there motionless for half an hour; and it passed to him like a minute. Sometimes he studied that combination aforesaid, where feeling and fancy and faith have made such glorious work together; and to which, as I hinted, the Venetian evening was lending such indescribable magnificence. His eye dwelt on details of loveliness, of which it was constantly discovering new revelations; or rested on the whole colour-glorified pile with meditative remembrance of what it had seen and done, and whence it had come. Then with sudden transition he would give his attention to the motley crowd before him, and the soft-winged doves fluttering up and down and filling the air. And, tiring of these, his look would go off again to the bronze lion on his place of honour in the Piazzetta, his thought probably wandering back to the time when he was set there. The man himself was noticed by nobody. He stood in the shade of the pillar and did not stir. He was a gentleman evidently; one sees that by slight characteristics, which are nevertheless quite unmistakeable and not to be counterfeited. His dress of course was the quiet, unobtrusive, and yet perfectly correct thing, which dress ought to be. His attitude was that of a man who knew both how to move and how to be still, and did both easily; and further, the look of him betrayed the habit of travel. This man had seen so much that he was not moved by any young curiosity; knew so much, that he could weigh and compare what he knew. His figure was very good; his face agreeable and intelligent, with good observant grey eyes; the whole appearance striking. But nobody noted him.
And he had noted nobody; the crowd before him was to him simply a crowd, which excited no interest except as a whole. Until, suddenly, he caught sight of a head and shoulders in the moving throng, which started him out of his carelessness. They were but a few yards from him, seen and lost again in the swaying mass of human beings; but though half seen he was sure he could not mistake. He spoke out a little loud the word "Tom!"
He was not heard, and the person spoken to moved out of sight again. The speaker, however, now left his place and plunged among the people. Presently he had another glimpse of the head and shoulders, and was yet more sure of his man; lost sight of him anew, but, following in the direction taken by the chase, gradually won his way nearer, and at length overtook the man, who was then standing between the pillars of the Lion and St. Theodore, and looking out towards the water.
"Tom!" said his pursuer, clapping him on the shoulder.
"Philip Dillwyn!" said the other, turning. "Philip! Where did you come from? What a lucky turn-up! That I should find you here!"
"I found you, man. Where have you come from?"
"O, from everywhere."
"Are you alone? Where are your people?"
"O, Julia and Lenox are gone home. Mamma and I are here yet. I left mamma in a pension in Switzerland, where I could not hold it out any longer; and I have been wandering about—Florence, and Pisa, and I don't know all—till now I have brought up in Venice. It is so jolly to get you!"
"What are you doing here?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Nothing. O, I have done everything, you know. There is nothing left to a fellow."
"That sounds hopeless," said Dillwyn, laughing.
"It is hopeless. Really I don't see, sometimes, what a fellow's life is good for. I believe the people who have to work for it, have after all the best time!"
"They work to live," said the other.
"I suppose they do."
"Therefore you are going round in a circle. If life is worth nothing, why should one work to keep it up?"
"Well, what is it worth, Dillwyn? Upon my word, I have never made it out satisfactorily."
"Look here—we cannot talk in this place. Have you ever been to Torcello?"
"Suppose we take a gondola and go?"
"Now? What is there?"
"An old church."
"There are old churches all over. The thing is to find a new one."
"You prefer the new ones?"
"Just for the rarity," said Tom, smiling.
"I do not believe you have studied the old ones yet. Do you know the mosaics in St. Mark's?"
"I never study mosaics."
"And I'll wager you have not seen the Tintorets in the Palace of the Doges?"
"There are Tintorets all over!" said Tom, shrugging his shoulders wearily.
"Then have you seen Murano?"
"The glass-works, yes."
"I do not mean the glass-works. Come along—anywhere in a gondola will do, such an evening as this; and we can talk comfortably. You need not look at anything."
They entered a gondola, and were presently gliding smoothly over the coloured waters of the lagoon; shining with richer sky reflections than any mortal painter could put on canvas. Not long in silence.
"Where have you been, Tom, all this while?"
"I told you, everywhere!" said Tom, with another shrug of his shoulders. "The one thing one comes abroad for, you know, is to run away from the winter; so we have been doing that, as long as there was any winter to run from, and since then we have been running away from the summer. Let me see—we came over in November, didn't we? or December; we went to Rome as fast as we could. There was very good society in Rome last winter. Then, as spring came on, we coasted down to Naples and Palermo. We staid at Palermo a while. From there we went back to England; and from England we came to Switzerland. And there we have been till I couldn't stand Switzerland any longer; and I bolted."
"Palermo isn't a bad place to spend a while in."
"No;—but Sicily is stupid generally. It's all ridiculous, Philip. Except for the name of the thing, one can get just as good nearer home. I could get better sport at Appledore last summer, than in any place I've been at in Europe."
"Ah! Appledore," said Philip slowly, and dipping his hand in the water. "I surmise the society also was good there?"
"Would have been," Tom returned discontentedly, "if there had not been a little too much of it."
"Too much of it!"
"Yes. I couldn't stir without two or three at my heels. It's very kind, you know; but it rather hampers a fellow."
"Miss Lothrop was there, wasn't she?"
"Of course she was! That made all the trouble."
"And all the sport too; hey, Tom? Things usually are two-sided in this world."
"She made no trouble. It was my mother and sister. They were so awfully afraid of her. And they drilled George in; so among them they were too many for me. But I think Appledore is the nicest place I know."
"You might buy one of the islands—a little money would do it—build a lodge, and have your Europe always at hand; when the winter is gone, as you say. Even the winter you might manage to live through, if you could secure the right sort of society. Hey, Tom? Isn't that an idea? I wonder it never occurred to you. I think one might bid defiance to the world, if one were settled at the Isles of Shoals."
"Yes," said Tom, with something very like a groan. "If one hadn't a mother and sister."
"You are heathenish!"
"I'm not, at all!" returned Tom passionately. "See here, Philip. There is one thing goes before mother and sister; and that you know. It's a man's wife. And I've seen my wife, and I can't get her."
"Why?" said Dillwyri dryly. He was hanging over the side of the gondola, and looking attentively at the play of colour in the water; which reflecting the sky in still splendour where it lay quiet, broke up in ripples under the gondolier's oar, and seemed to scatter diamonds and amethysts and topazes in fairy-like prodigality all around.
"I've told you!" said Tom fretfully.
"Yes, but I do not comprehend. Does not the lady in question like Appledore as well as you do?"
"She likes Appledore well enough. I do not know how well she likes me. I never had a chance to find out. I don't think she dislikes me, though," said Tom meditatively.
"It is not too late to find out yet," Philip said, with even more dryness in his tone.
"O, isn't it, though!" said Tom. "I'm tied up from ever asking her now. I'm engaged to another woman."
"Tom!" said the other, suddenly straightening himself up.
"Don't shout at a fellow! What could I do? They wouldn't let me have what I wanted; and now they're quite pleased, and Julia has gone home. She has done her work. O, I am making an excellent match. 'An old family, and three hundred thousand dollars,' as my mother says. That's all one wants, you know."
"Who is the lady?"
"It don't matter, you know, when you have heard her qualifications. It's Miss Dulcimer—one of the Philadelphia Dulcimers. Of course one couldn't make a better bargain for oneself. And I'm as fond of her as I can be; in fact, I was afraid I was getting too fond. So I ran away, as I told you, to think over my happiness at leisure, and moderate my feelings."
"Tom, Tom, I never heard you bitter before," said his friend, regarding him with real concern.
"Because I never was bitter before. O, I shall be all right now. I haven't had a soul on whom I could pour out my mind, till this hour. I know you're as safe as a mine. It does me good to talk to you. I tell you, I shall be all right. I'm a very happy bridegroom expectant. You know, if the Caruthers have plenty of money, the Dulcimers have twice as much. Money's really everything."
"Have you any idea how this news will touch Miss—the other lady you were talking about?"
"I suppose it won't touch her at all. She's different; that's one reason why I liked her. She would not care a farthing for me because I'm a Caruthers, or because I have money; not a brass farthing! She is the realest person I ever saw. She would go about Appledore from morning to night in the greatest state of delight you ever saw anybody; where my sister, for instance, would see nothing but rocks and weeds, Lois would have her hands full of what Julia would call trash, and what to her was better than if the fairies had done it. Things pulled out of the shingle and mud,—I can just see her,—and flowers, and stones, and shells. What she would make of this now!—But you couldn't set that girl down anywhere, I believe, that she wouldn't find something to make her feel rich. She's a richer woman this minute, than my Dulcimer with her thousands. And she's got good blood in her too, Philip. I learned that from Mrs. Wishart. She has the blood of ever so many of the old Pilgrims in her veins; and that is good descent, Philip?"
"They think so in New England."
"Well, they are right, I am ready to believe. Anyhow, I don't care—"
He broke off, and there was a silence of some minutes' length. The gondola swam along over the quiet water, under the magnificent sky; the reflected colours glanced upon two faces, grave and self-absorbed.
"Old boy," said Philip at length, "I hardly think you are right."
"Right in what? I am right in all I have told you."
"I meant, right in your proposed plan of action. You may say it is none of my business."
"I shall not say it, though. What's the wrong you mean?"
"It seems to me Miss Dulcimer would not feel obliged to you, if she knew all."
"She doesn't feel obliged to me at all," said Tom. "She gives a good as she gets."
"What do you mean?"
"Pardon me, Tom; but you have been frank with me. By your own account, she will get very little."
"All she wants. I'll give her a local habitation and a name."
"I am sure you are unjust."
"Not at all. That is all half the girls want; all they try for. She's very content. O, I'm very good to her when we are together; and I mean to be. You needn't look at me," said Tom, trying to laugh. "Three-quarters of all the marriages that are made are on the same pattern. Why, Phil, what do the men and women of this world live for? What's the purpose in all I've been doing since I left college? What's the good of floating round in the world as I have been doing all summer and winter here this year? and at home it is different only in the manner of it. People live for nothing, and don't enjoy life. I don't know at this minute a single man or woman, of our sort, you know, that enjoys life; except that one. And she isn't our sort. She has no money, and no society, and no Europe to wander round in! O, they would say they enjoy life; but their way shows they don't."
"Enjoyment is not the first thing," Philip said thoughtfully.
"O, isn't it! It's what we're all after, anyhow; you'll allow that."
"Perhaps that is the way we miss it."
"So Dulcimer and I are all right, you see," pursued Tom, without heeding this remark. "We shall be a very happy couple. All the world will have us at their houses, and we shall have all the world at ours. There won't be room left for any thing but happiness; and that'll squeeze in anywhere, you know. It's like chips floating round on the surface of a whirlpool—they fly round and round splendidly—till they get sucked in."
"Tom!" cried his companion. "What has come to you? Your life is not so different now from what it has always been;—and I have always known you for a light-hearted fellow. I can't have you take this tone."
Tom was silent, biting the ends of his moustache in a nervous way, which bespoke a good deal of mental excitement; Philip feared, of mental trouble.
"If a friend may ask, how came you to do what is so unsatisfactory to you?" he said at length.
"My mother and sister! They were so preciously afraid I should ruin myself. Philip, I could not make head against them. They were too much for me, and too many for me; they were all round me; they were ahead of me; I had no chance at all. So I gave up in despair. Women are the overpowering when they take a thing in their head! A man's nowhere. I gave in, and gave up, and came away, and now—they're satisfied."
"Then the affair is definitely concluded?"
"As definitely as if my head was off."
Philip did not laugh, and there was a pause again. The colours were fading from sky and water, and a yellow, soft moonlight began to assert her turn. It was a change of beauty for beauty; but neither of the two young men seemed to take notice of it.
"Tom," began the other after a time, "what you say about the way most of us live, is more or less true; and it ought not to be true."
"Of course it is true!" said Tom.
"But it ought not to be true."
"What are you going to do about it? One must do as everybody else does; I suppose."
"Must one? That is the very question."
"What can you do else, as long as you haven't your bread to get?"
"I believe the people who have their bread to get have the best of it. But there must be some use in the world, I suppose, for those who are under no such necessity. Did you ever hear that Miss—Lothrop's family were strictly religious?"
"No—yes, I have," said Tom. "I know she is."
"That would not have suited you."
"Yes, it would. Anything she did would have suited me. I have a great respect for religion, Philip."
"What do you mean by religion?"
"I don't know—what everybody means by it. It is the care of the spiritual part of our nature, I suppose."
"And how does that care work?"
"I don't know," said Tom. "It works altar-cloths; and it seems to mean church-going, and choral music, and teaching ragged schools; and that sort of thing. I don't understand it; but I should never interfere with it. It seems to suit the women particularly."
Again there fell a pause.
"Where have you been, Dillwyn? and what brought you here again?" Tom began now.
"I came to pass the time," the other said musingly.
"Ah! And where have you passed it?"
"Along the shores of the Adriatic, part of the time. At Abazzia, and Sebenico, and the islands."
"What's in all that? I never heard of Abazzia."
"The world is a large place," said Philip absently.
"But what is Abazzia?"
"A little paradise of a place, so sheltered that it is like a nest of all lovely things. Really; it has its own climate, through certain favouring circumstances; and it is a hidden little nook of delight."
"Ah!—What took you to the shores of the Adriatic, anyhow?"
"Full of interest," said Philip.
"Pray, of what kind?"
"Every kind. Historical, industrial, mechanical, natural, and artistic. But I grant you, Tom, that was not why I went there. I went there to get out of the ruts of travel and break new ground. Like you, being a little tired of going round in a circle for ever. And it occurs to me that man must have been made for somewhat else than such a purposeless circle. No other creature is a burden to himself."
"Because no other creature thinks," said Tom.
"The power of thought can surely be no final disadvantage."
"I don't see what it amounts to," Tom returned. "A man is happy enough, I suppose, as long as he is busy thinking out some new thing—inventing, creating, discovering, or working out his discoveries; but as soon as he has brought his invention to perfection and set it going, he is tired of it, and drives after something else."
"You are coming to Solomon's judgment," said the other, leaning back upon the cushions and clasping his hands above his head,—"what the preacher says—'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'"
"Well, so are you," said Tom.
"It makes me ashamed."
"That I should have lived to be thirty-two years old, and never have done anything, or found any way to be of any good in the world! There isn't a butterfly of less use than I!"
"You weren't made to be of use," said Tom.
"Upon my word, my dear fellow, you have said the most disparaging thing, I hope, that ever was said of me! You cannot better that statement, if you think an hour! You mean it of me as a human being, I trust? not as an individual? In the one case it would be indeed melancholy, but in the other it would be humiliating. You take the race, not the personal view. The practical view is, that what is of no use had better not be in existence. Look here—here we are at Murano; I had not noticed it. Shall we land, and see things by moonlight? or go back to Venice?"
"Back, and have dinner," said Tom.
"By way of prolonging this existence, which to you is burdensome and to me is unsatisfactory. Where is the logic of that?"
But they went back, and had a very good dinner too.
AN OX CART.
It happened not far from this same time in the end of August, when Mr. Dillwyn and Tom Caruthers came together on the Piazzetta of St. Mark, that another meeting took place in the far-away regions of Shampuashuh. A train going to Boston was stopped by a broken bridge ahead, and its passengers discharged in one of the small towns along the coast, to wait until the means of getting over the little river could be arranged. People on a railway journey commonly do not like to wait; it was different no doubt in the days of stage-coaches, when patience had some exercise frequently; now, we are spoiled, and you may notice that ten minutes' delay is often more than can be endured with complacency. Our fathers and mothers had hours to wait, and took it as a matter of course.
Among the impatient passengers thrown out at Independence were two specially impatient.
"What on earth shall we do with ourselves?" said the lady.
"Pity the break-down had not occurred a little further on," said the gentleman. "You might have visited your friend—or Tom's friend—Miss Lothrop. We are just a few miles from Shampuashuh."
"Shampuashuh!—Miss Lothrop!—Was that where she lived? How far, George?"
"A few miles—half a dozen, perhaps."
"O George, let us get horses and drive there!"
"But then you may not catch the train this evening again."
"I don't care. I cannot wait here. It would be a great deal better to have the drive and see the other place. Yes, we will go and visit her. Get horses, George, please! Quick. This is terrible."
"Will you ask for their hospitality?"
"Yes, of course. They would be delighted. That is just what the better sort of country people like, to have somebody come and see them. Make haste, George."
With a queer little smile on his face, Mr. Lenox however did as he was desired. A waggon was procured without very much delay, in which they could be driven to Shampuashuh.
It was a very warm day, and the travellers had just the height of it. Hot sunbeams poured down upon them; the level, shadeless country through which lay their way, showed as little as it could of the attractive features which really belonged to it. The lady declared herself exceeded by the heat and dust; the gentleman opined they might as well have stayed in Independence, where they were. Between two and three o'clock they entered the long green street of Shampuashuh. The sunbeams seemed tempered there, but it was only a mental effect produced by the quiet beauty and airy space of the village avenue, and the shade of great elms which fell so frequently upon the wayside grass.
"What a sweet place!" cried the lady.
"Comfortable-looking houses," suggested the gentleman.
"It seems cooler here," the lady went on.
"It is getting to a cooler time of day."
"Why, no, George! Three o'clock is just the crown of the heat. Don't it look as if nobody ever did anything here? There's no stir at all."
"My eyes see different tokens; they are more versed in business than yours are—naturally."
"What do your eyes see?"—a little impatiently.
"You may notice that nothing is out of order. There is no bit of fence out of repair; and never a gate hanging upon its hinges. There is no carelessness. Do you observe the neatness of this broad street?"
"What should make it unneat? with so few travellers?"
"Ground is the last thing to keep itself in order. I notice, too, the neat stacks of wood in the wood-sheds. And in the fields we have passed, the work is all done, up to the minute; nothing hanging by the eyelids. The houses are full of windows, and all of them shining bright."
"You might be a newspaper reporter, George! Is this the house we are coming to? It is quite a large house; quite respectable."
"Did you think that little girl had come out of any but a respectable house?"
"Pshaw, George! you know what I mean. They are very poor and very plain people. I suppose we might go straight in?"
They dismissed their vehicle, so burning their ships, and knocked at the front door. A moment after it was opened by Charity. Her tall figure was arrayed in a homely print gown, of no particular fashion; a little shawl was over her shoulders, notwithstanding the heat, and on her head a sun-bonnet.
"Does Miss Lothrop live here?"
"Three of us," said Charity, confronting the pair with a doubtful face.
"Is Miss Lois at home?"
"She's as near as possible not," said the door-keeper; "but I guess she is. You may come in, and I'll see."
She opened a door in the hall which led to a room on the north side of it, corresponding to Mrs. Barclay's on the south; and there she left them. It was large and pleasant and cool, if it was also very plain; and Mrs. Lenox sank into a rocking-chair, repeating to herself that it was 'very respectable.' On a table at one side lay a few books, which drew Mr. Lenox's curiosity.
"Ruskin's 'Modern Painters'!" he exclaimed, looking at his wife.
"Selections, I suppose."
"No, this is Vol. 5. And the next is Thiers' 'Consulate and Empire'!"
"No. Original. And 'the Old Red Sandstone.'"
"Who's Hugh Miller?"
"He is, or was, a gentleman whom you would not admit to your society. He began life as a Scotch mason."
Meanwhile, Charity, going back to the living-room of the family, found there Lois busied in arraying old Mrs. Armadale for some sort of excursion; putting a light shawl about her, and drawing a white sun-bonnet over her cap. Lois herself was in an old nankeen dress with a cape, and had her hat on.
"There's some folks that want you, Lois," her sister announced.
"Want me!" said Lois. "Who is it? why didn't you tell them we were just going out?"
"I don't usually say things without I know that it's so," responded Charity. "Maybe we're going to be hindered."
"We must not be hindered," returned Lois. "Grandmother is ready, and Mrs. Barclay is ready, and the cart is here. We must go, whoever comes. You get mother into the cart, and the baskets and everything, and I'll be as quick as I can."
So Lois went into the parlour. A great surprise came over her when she saw who was there, and with the surprise a slight feeling of amusement; along with some other feeling, she could not have told what, which put her gently upon her mettle. She received her visitors frankly and pleasantly, and also with a calm ease which at the moment was superior to their own. So she heard their explanation of what had befallen them, and of their resolution to visit her; and a slight account of their drive from Independence; all which Mrs. Lenox gave with more prolixity than she had intended or previously thought necessary.
"And now," said Lois, "I will invite you to another drive. We are just going down to the Sound, to smell the salt air and get cooled off. We shall have supper down there before we come home. I do not think I could give you anything pleasanter, if I had the choice; but it happens that all is arranged for this. Do come with us; it will be a variety for you, at least."
The lady and gentleman looked at each other.
"It's so hot!" objected the former.
"It will be cooler every minute now," said Lois.
"We ought to take the train—when it comes along—"
"You cannot tell when that will be," said Mr. Lenox. "You would find it very tedious waiting at the station. We might take the night train. That will pass about ten o'clock, or should."
"But we should be in your way, I am afraid," Mrs. Lenox went on, turning to Lois. "You are not prepared for two more in your party."
"Always!" said Lois, smiling. "We should never think ourselves prepared at all, in Shampuashuh, if we were not ready for two more than the party. And the cart will hold us all."
"The cart!" cried the other.
"Yes. O yes! I did not tell you that," said Lois, smiling more broadly. "We are going in an ox cart. That will be a novel experience for you too."
If Mrs. Lenox had not half accepted the invitation already, I am not sure but this intimation would have been too much for her courage. However, she was an outwardly well-bred woman; that is, like so many others, well-bred when there was nothing to gain by being otherwise; and so she excused her hesitation and doubt by the plea of being "so dusty." There was help for that; Lois took her upstairs to a neat chamber, and furnished her with water and towels.
It was new experience to the city lady. She took note, half disdainfully, of the plainness of the room; the painted floor, yellow and shining, which boasted only one or two little strips of carpet; the common earthenware toilet-set; the rush-bottomed chairs. On the other hand, there was an old mahogany dressing bureau; a neat bed; and water and towels (the latter coarse) were exceedingly fresh and sweet. She made up her mind to go through with the adventure, and rejoined her husband with a composed mind.
Lois took them first to the sitting-room, where they were introduced to Mrs. Barclay, and then they all went out at the back door of the house, and across a little grassy space, to a gate leading into a lane. Here stood the cart, in which the rest of the family was already bestowed; Mrs. Armadale being in an arm-chair with short legs, while Madge and Charity sat in the straw with which the whole bottom of the cart was spread. A tall, oldish man, with an ox whip, stood leaning against the fence and surveying things.
"Are we to go in there?" said Mrs. Lenox, with perceptible doubt.
"It's the only carriage we have to offer you," said Lois merrily. "For your sake, I wish we had a better; for my own, I like nothing so well as an ox cart. Mrs. Barclay, will you get in? and stimulate this lady's courage?"
A kitchen chair had been brought out to facilitate the operation; and Mrs. Barclay stepped lightly in, curled herself down in the soft bed of straw, and declared that it was very comfortable. With an expression of face which made Lois and Madge laugh for weeks after when they recalled it, Mrs. Lenox stepped gingerly in, following, and took her place.
"Grandmother," said Lois, "this is Mrs. Lenox, whom you have heard me speak about. And these are my sisters, Madge and Charity, Mrs. Lenox. And grandmother, this is Mr. Lenox. Now, you see the cart has room enough," she added, as herself and the gentleman also took their seats.
"Is that the hull of ye?" inquired now the man with the ox whip, coming forward. "And be all your stores got in for the v'yage? I don't want to be comin' back from somewheres about half-way."
"All right, Mr. Sears," said Lois. "You may drive on. Mother, are you comfortable?"
And then there was a "whoa"-ing and a "gee"-ing and a mysterious flourishing of the long leathern whip, with which the driver seemed to be playing; for if its tip touched the shoulders of the oxen it did no more, though it waved over them vigorously. But the oxen understood, and pulled the cart forward; lifting and setting down their heavy feet with great deliberation seemingly, but with equal certain'ty, and swaying their great heads gently from side to side as they went. Lois was so much amused at her guests' situation, that she had some difficulty to keep her features in their due calmness and sobriety. Mrs. Lenox eyed the oxen, then the contents of the cart, then the fields.
"Slow travelling!" said Lois, with a smile.
"Can they go no faster?"
"They could go a little faster if they were urged; but that would spoil the comfort of the whole thing. The entire genius of a ride in an ox cart is, that everybody should take his ease."
"Oxen included?" said Mr. Lenox.
"Why not, indeed!" said the gentleman, smiling. "Only, ordinary people cannot get rid easily of the notion that the object of going is to get somewhere."
"That's not the object in this case," Lois answered merrily. "The one sole object is fun."
Mrs. Lenox said nothing more, but her face spoke as plainly as possible, And you call this fun!
"I am enjoying myself very much," said Mrs. Barclay. "I think it is delightful."
Something in her manner of speech made Mr. Lenox look at her. She was sitting next him on the cart bottom.
"Perhaps this is a new experience also to you?" he said.
"Delightfully new. Never rode in an ox cart before in my life; hardly ever saw one, in fact. We are quite out of the race and struggle and uneasiness of the world, don't you see? There comes down a feeling of repose upon one, softly, as Longfellow says—
'As a feather is wafted downward From an eagle in his flight.'
Only I should say in this case it was from the wing of an angel."
"Mrs. Barclay, you are too poetical for an ox cart," said Lois, laughing. "If we began to be poetical, I am afraid the repose would be troubled."
"'Twont du Poetry no harm to go in an ox cart," remarked here the ox driver.
"I agree with you, sir," said Mrs. Barclay. "Poetry would not be Poetry if she could not ride anywhere. But why should she trouble repose. Lois?"
"Yes," added Mr. Lenox; "I was about to ask that question. I thought poetry was always soothing. Or that the ladies at least think so."
"I like it well enough," said Lois, "but I think it is apt to be melancholy. Except in hymns."
"Except hymns!" said Mrs. Lenox. "I thought hymns were always sad. They deal so much with death and the grave."
"And the resurrection!" said Lois.
"They always make me gloomy," the lady went on. "The resurrection! do you call that a lively subject?"
"Depends on how you look at it, I suppose," said her husband. "But, Miss Lothrop, I cannot recover from my surprise at your assertion respecting non-religious poetry."
Lois left that statement alone. She did not care whether he recovered or not. Mr. Lenox, however, was curious.
"I wish you would show me on what your opinion is founded," he went on pleasantly.
"Yes, Lois, justify yourself," said Mrs. Barclay.
"I could not do that without making quotations, Mrs. Barclay, and I am afraid I cannot remember enough. Besides, it would hardly be interesting."
"To me it would," said Mrs. Barclay. "Where could one have a better time? The oxen go so comfortably, and leisure is so graciously abundant."
"Pray go on, Miss Lothrop!" Mr. Lenox urged.
"And then I hope you'll go on and prove hymns lively," added his wife.
The conversation which followed was long enough to have a chapter to itself; and so may be comfortably skipped by any who are so inclined.
"Perhaps you will none of you agree with me," Lois said; "and I do not know much poetry; but there seems to me to run an undertone of lament and weariness through most of what I know. Now take the 'Death of the Flowers,'—that you were reading yesterday, Mrs. Barclay—
'The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance late he bore, And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream no more.'
That is the tone I mean; a sigh and a regret."
"But the 'Death of the Flowers' is exquisite," pleaded Mrs. Lenox.
"Certainly it is," said Lois; "but is it gay?
'The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago, And the brier-rose and the orchis died amid the summer glow; But on the hill the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood, And the yellow sun-flower by the brook in autumn beauty stood, Till fell the frost from the clear cold heaven, as falls the plague on men, And the brightness of their smile was gone, from upland, glade, and glen.'"
"How you remember it, Lois!" said Mrs. Barclay.
"But is not that all true?" asked Mr. Lenox.
"True in fact," said Lois. "The flowers do die. But the frost does not fall like a plague; and nobody that was right happy would say so, or think so. Take Pringle's 'Afar in the Desert,' Mrs. Barclay—
'When the sorrows of life the soul o'ercast, And sick of the present I turn to the past; When the eye is suffused with regretful tears From the fond recollections of former years, And shadows of things that are long since fled, Flit over the brain like the ghosts of the dead; Bright visions—'
I forget how it goes on."
"But that is as old as the hills!" exclaimed Mrs. Lenox.
"It shows what I mean."
"I am afraid you will not better your case by coming down into modern time, Mrs. Lenox," remarked Mrs. Barclay. "Take Tennyson—
'With weary steps I loiter on, Though always under altered skies; The purple from the distance dies, My prospect and horizon gone.'"
"Take Byron," said Lois—
'My days are in the yellow leaf, The flower and fruit of life are gone; The worm, the canker, and the grief, Are mine alone.'"
"O, Byron was morbid," said Mrs. Lenox.
"Take Moore," Mrs. Barclay went on, humouring the discussion on purpose. "Do you remember?—
'My birthday! what a different sound That word had in my younger years! And now, each time the day comes round, Less and less white its mark appears.'"
"Well, I am sure that is true," said the other lady.
"Do you remember Robert Herrick's lines to daffodils?—
'Fair daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon.'
'We have short time to stay as you; We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay, As you or anything:
We die As your showers do; and dry Away Like to the summer's rain, Or as the pearls of morning dew, Ne'er to be found again.'
And Waller to the rose—
'Then die! that she The common fate of all things rare May read in thee. How small a part of time they share, That are so wondrous sweet and fair!'
"And Burns to the daisy," said Lois—
'There in thy scanty mantle clad, Thy snowy bosom sunward spread, Thou lifts thy unassuming head In humble guise; But now the share uptears thy bed, And low thou lies!
'Even thou who mournst the Daisy's fate, That fate is thine—no distant date; Stern Ruin's ploughshare drives, elate, Full on thy bloom, Till, crushed beneath the furrow's weight, Shall be thy doom!'"
"O, you are getting very gloomy!" exclaimed Mrs. Lenox.
"Not we," said Lois merrily laughing, "but your poets."
"Mend your cause, Julia," said her husband.
"I haven't got the poets in my head," said the lady. "They are not all like that. I am very fond of Elizabeth Barrett Browning."
"The 'Cry of the Children'?" said Mrs. Barclay.
"O no, indeed! She's not all like that."
"She is not all like that. There is 'Hector in the Garden.'"
"O, that is pretty!" said Lois. "But do you remember how it runs?—
'Nine years old! The first of any Seem the happiest years that come—'"
"Go on, Lois," said her friend. And the request being seconded, Lois gave the whole, ending with—
'Oh the birds, the tree, the ruddy And white blossoms, sleek with rain! Oh my garden, rich with pansies! Oh my childhood's bright romances! All revive, like Hector's body, And I see them stir again!
'And despite life's changes—chances, And despite the deathbell's toll, They press on me in full seeming! Help, some angel! stay this dreaming! As the birds sang in the branches, Sing God's patience through my soul!
'That no dreamer, no neglecter Of the present work unsped, I may wake up and be doing, Life's heroic ends pursuing, Though my past is dead as Hector, And though Hector is twice dead.'"
"Well," said Mrs. Lenox slowly, "of course that is all true."
"From her standpoint," said Lois. "That is according to my charge, which you disallowed."
"From her standpoint?" repeated Mr. Lenox. "May I ask for an explanation?"
"I mean, that as she saw things,—
'The first of any Seem the happiest years that come.'"
"Well, of course!" said Mrs. Lenox. "Does not everybody say so?"
"Does not everybody agree in that judgment, Miss Lothrop?" urged the gentleman.
"I dare say—everybody looking from that standpoint," said Lois. "And the poets write accordingly. They are all of them seeing shadows."
"How can they help seeing shadows?" returned Mrs. Lenox impatiently. "The shadows are there!"
"Yes," said Lois, "the shadows are there." But there was a reservation in her voice.
"Do not you, then, reckon the years of childhood the happiest?" Mr. Lenox inquired.
"But you cannot have had much experience of life," said Mrs. Lenox, "to say so. I don't see how they can help being the happiest, to any one."
"I believe," Lois answered, lowering her voice a little, "that if we could see all, we should see that the oldest person in our company is the happiest here."
The eyes of the strangers glanced towards the old lady in her low chair at the front of the ox cart. In her wrinkled face there was not a line of beauty, perhaps never had been; in spite of its sense and character unmistakeable; it was grave, she was thinking her own thoughts; it was weather-beaten, so to say, with the storms of life; and yet there was an expression of unruffled repose upon it, as calm as the glint of stars in a still lake. Mrs. Lenox's look was curiously incredulous, scornful, and wistful, together; it touched Lois.
"One's young years ought not to be one's best," she said.
"How are you going to help it?" came almost querulously. Lois thought, if she were Mr. Lenox, she would not feel flattered.
"When one is young, one does not know disappointment," the other went on.
"And when one is old, one may get the better of disappointment."
"When one is young, everything is fresh."
"I think things grow fresher to me with every year," said Lois, laughing. "Mrs. Lenox, it is possible to keep one's youth."
"Then you have found the philosopher's stone?" said Mr. Lenox.
Lois's smile was brilliant, but she said nothing to that. She was beginning to feel that she had talked more than her share, and was inclined to draw back. Then there came a voice from the arm-chair, it came upon a pause of stillness, with its quiet, firm tones:
'He satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.'"
The voice came like an oracle, and was listened to with somewhat of the same silent reverence. But after that pause Mr. Lenox remarked that he never understood that comparison. What was it about an eagle's youth?
"Why," said Lois, "an eagle never grows old!"
"Is that it! But I wish you would go on a little further, Miss Lothrop. You spoke of hymn-writers having a different standpoint, and of their words as more cheerful than the utterances of other poets. Do you know, I had never thought other poets were not cheerful, until now; and I certainly never got the notion that hymns were an enlivening sort of literature. I thought they dealt with the shadowy side of life almost exclusively."
"Well—yes, perhaps they do," said Lois; "but they go kindling beacons everywhere to light it up; and it is the beacons you see, and not the darkness. Now the secular poets turn that about. They deal with the brightest things they can find; but, to change the figure, they cannot keep the minor chord out of their music."
Mr. and Mrs. Lenox looked at each other.
"Do you mean to say," said the latter, "that the hymn-writers do not use the minor key? They write in it, or they sing in it, more properly, altogether!"
"Yes," said Lois, into whose cheeks a slight colour was mounting; "yes, perhaps; but it is with the blast of the trumpet and the clash of the cymbals of triumph. There may be the confession of pain, but the cry of victory is there too!"
"Victory—over what?" said Mrs. Lenox rather scornfully,
"Over pain, for one thing," said Lois; "and over loss, and weariness, and disappointment."
"You will have to confirm your words by examples again, Lois," said Mrs. Barclay. "We do not all know hymn literature as well as you do."
"I never saw anything of all that in hymns," said Mrs. Lenox. "They always sound a little, to me, like dirges."
Lois hesitated. The cart was plodding along through the smooth lanes at the rate of less than a mile an hour, the oxen swaying from side to side with their slow, patient steps. The level country around lay sleepily still under the hot afternoon sun; it was rarely that any human stir was to be seen, save only the ox driver walking beside the cart. He walked beside the cart, not the oxen; evidently lending a curious ear to what was spoken in the company; on which account also the progress of the vehicle was a little less lively than it might have been.
"My Cynthy's writ a lot o' hymns," he remarked just here. "I never heerd no trumpets in 'em, though. I don' know what them other things is."
"Cymbals?" said Lois. "They are round, thin plates of metal, Mr. Sears, with handles on one side to hold them by; and the player clashes them together, at certain parts of the music—as you would slap the palms of your hands."
"Doos, hey? I want to know! And what doos they sound like?"
"I can't tell," said Lois. "They sound shrill, and sweet, and gay."
"But that's cur'ous sort o' church music!" said the farmer.
"Now, Miss Lothrop,—you must let us hear the figurative cymbals," Mr. Lenox reminded her.
"Do!" said Mrs. Barclay.
"There cannot be much of it," opined Mrs. Lenox.
"On the contrary," said Lois; "there is so much of it that I am at a loss where to begin.
'I love yon pale blue sky; it is the floor Of that glad home where I shall shortly be; A home from which I shall go out no more, From toil and grief and vanity set free.
'I gaze upon yon everlasting arch, Up which the bright stars wander as they shine; And, as I mark them in their nightly march, I think how soon that journey shall be mine!
'Yon silver drift of silent cloud, far up In the still heaven—through you my pathway lies: Yon rugged mountain peak—how soon your top Shall I behold beneath me, as I rise!
'Not many more of life's slow-pacing hours, Shaded with sorrow's melancholy hue; Oh what a glad ascending shall be ours, Oh what a pathway up yon starry blue!
'A journey like Elijah's, swift and bright, Caught gently upward to an early crown, In heaven's own chariot of all-blazing light, With death untasted and the grave unknown.'"
"That's not like any hymn I ever heard," remarked Mrs. Lenox, after a pause had followed the last words.
"That is a hymn of Dr. Bonar's," said Lois. "I took it merely because it came first into my head. Long ago somebody else wrote something very like it—
'Ye stars are but the shining dust Of my divine abode; The pavement of those heavenly courts Where I shall see my God.
'The Father of unnumbered lights Shall there his beams display; And not one moment's darkness mix With that unvaried day.'
Do you hear the cymbals, Mrs. Lenox?"
There came here a long breath, it sounded like a breath of satisfaction or rest; it was breathed by Mrs. Armadale. In the stillness of their progress, the slowly revolving wheels making no noise on the smooth road, and the feet of the oxen falling almost soundlessly, they all heard it; and they all felt it. It was nothing less than an echo of what Lois had been repeating; a mute "Even so!"—probably unconscious, and certainly undesigned. Mrs. Lenox glanced that way. There was a far-off look on the old worn face, and lines of peace all about the lips and the brow and the quiet folded hands. Mrs. Lenox did not know that a sigh came from herself as her eyes turned away.
Her husband eyed the three women curiously. They were a study to him, albeit he hardly knew the grammar of the language in which so many things seemed to be written on their faces. Mrs. Armadale's features, if strong, were of the homeliest kind; work-worn and weather-worn, to boot; yet the young man was filled with reverence as he looked from the hands in their cotton gloves, folded on her lap, to the hard features shaded and framed by the white sun-bonnet. The absolute, profound calm was imposing to him; the still peace of the spirit was attractive. He looked at his wife; and the contrast struck even him. Her face was murky. It was impatience, in part, he guessed, which made it so; but why was she impatient? It was cloudy with unhappiness; and she ought to be very happy, Mr. Lenox thought; had she not everything in the world that she cared about? How could there be a cloud of unrest and discontent on her brow, and those displeased lines about her lips? His eye turned to Lois, and lingered as long as it dared. There was peace too, very sunny, and a look of lofty thought, and a brightness that seemed to know no shadow; though at the moment she was not smiling.
"Are you not going on, Miss Lothrop?" he said gently; for he felt Mrs. Barclay's eye upon him. And, besides, he wanted to provoke the girl to speak more.
"I could go on till I tired you," said Lois.
"I do not think you could," he returned pleasantly. "What can we do better? We are in a most pastoral frame of mind, with pastoral surroundings; poetry could not be better accompanied."
"When one gets excited in talking, perhaps one had better stop," Lois said modestly.
"On the contrary! Then the truth will come out best."
Lois smiled and shook her head. "We shall soon be at the shore. Look,—this way we turn down to go to it, and leave the high road."
"Then make haste!" said Mr. Lenox. "It will sound nowhere better than here."
"Yes, go on," said his wife now, raising her heavy eyelids.
"Well," said Lois. "Do you remember Bryant's 'Thanatopsis'?"
"Of course. That is bright enough at any rate," said the lady.
"Do you think so?"
"Yes! What is the matter with it?"
"I don't think so at all!" cried Mrs. Lenox, now becoming excited in her turn. "What would you have? I think it is beautiful! And elevated; and hopeful."
"Can you repeat the last lines?"
"No; but I dare say you can. You seem to me to have a library of poets in your head."
"I can," said Mrs. Barclay here, putting in her word at this not very civil speech. And she went on—
'The gay will laugh When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care Plod on, and each one as before will chase His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave Their mirth and their employments, and shall come And make their bed with thee.'"
"Well, of course," said Mrs. Lenox. "That is true."
"Is it cheerful?" said Mrs. Barclay. "But that is not the last.—
'So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.'"
"There!" Mrs. Lenox exclaimed. "What would you have, better than that?"
Lois looked at her, and said nothing. The look irritated husband and wife, in different ways; her to impatience, him to curiosity.
"Have you got anything better, Miss Lothrop?" he asked.
"You can judge. Compare that with a dying Christian's address to his soul—
'Deathless principle, arise; Soar, thou native of the skies. Pearl of price, by Jesus bought, To his glorious likeness wrought, Go, to shine before the throne; Deck the mediatorial crown; Go, his triumphs to adorn; Made for God, to God return.'
I won't give you the whole of it—
'Is thy earthly house distressed? Willing to retain her guest? 'Tis not thou, but she, must die; Fly, celestial tenant, fly.' Burst thy shackles, drop thy clay, Sweetly breathe thyself away: Singing, to thy crown remove, Swift of wing, and fired with love.'
'Shudder not to pass the stream; Venture all thy care on him; Him whose dying love and power Stilled its tossing, hushed its roar. Safe is the expanded wave, Gentle as a summer's eve; Not one object of his care Ever suffered shipwreck there.'"
"That ain't no hymn in the book, is it?" inquired the ox driver. "Haw!—go 'long. That ain't in the book, is it, Lois?"
"Not in the one we use in church, Mr. Sears."
"I wisht it was!—like it fust-rate. Never heerd it afore in my life."
"There's as good as that in the church book," remarked Mrs. Armadale.
"Yes," said Lois; "I like Wesley's hymn even better—
'Come, let us join our friends above That have obtained the prize; And on the eagle wings of love To joys celestial rise.
. . . .
'One army of the living God, To his command we bow; Part of his host have crossed the flood And part are crossing now.
. . . . . .
'His militant embodied host, With wishful looks we stand, And long to see that happy coast, And reach the heavenly land.
'E'en now, by faith, we join our hands With those that went before; And greet the blood-besprinkled bands On the eternal shore.'"
There was a soft ring in Lois's voice; it might be an echo of the trumpets and cymbals of which she had been speaking. Yet not done for effect; it was unconscious, and delicate as indescribable, for which reason it had the greater power. The party remained silent for a few minutes, all of them; during which a killdeer on the fence uttered his little shout of gratulation; and the wild, salt smell coming from the Sound and the not distant ocean, joined with the silence and Lois's hymn, gave a peculiar impression of solitude and desolation to at least one of the party. The cart entered an enclosure, and halted before a small building at the edge of the shore, just above high-water mark. There were several such buildings scattered along the shore at intervals, some enclosed, some not. The whole breadth of the Sound lay in view, blinking under the summer sun; yet the air was far fresher here than it had been in the village. The tide was half out; a wide stretch of wet sand, with little pools in the hollows, intervened between the rocks and the water; the rocks being no magnificent buttresses of the land, but large and small boulders strewn along the shore edge, hung with seaweed draperies; and where there were not rocks there was a growth of rushes on a mud bottom. The party were helped out of the cart one by one, and the strangers surveyed the prospect.
"'Afar in the desert,' this is, I declare," said the gentleman.
"Might as well be," echoed his wife. "Whatever do you come here for?" she said, turning to Lois; "and what do you do when you are here?"
"Get some clams and have supper."
"Clams!"—with an inimitable accent. "Where do you get clams?"
"Down yonder—at the edge of the rushes."
"Who gets them? and how do you get them?"
"I guess I shall get them to-day. O, we do it with a hoe."
Lois stayed for no more, but ran in. The interior room of the house, which was very large for a bathing-house, was divided in two by a partition. In the inner, smaller room, Lois began busily to change her dress. On the walls hung a number of bathing suits of heavy flannel, one of which she appropriated. Charity came in after her.
"You ain't a goin' for clams, Lois? Well, I wouldn't, if I was you."
"I wouldn't make myself such a sight, for folks to see."
"I don't at all do it for folks to see, but that folks may eat. We have brought 'em here, and now we must give them something for supper."
"Are you goin' with bare feet?"
"Why not?" said Lois, laughing. "Do you think I am going to spoil my best pair of shoes for vanity's sake?" And she threw off shoes and stockings as she spoke, and showed a pair of pretty little white feet, which glanced coquettishly under the blue flannel.
"Lois, what's brought these folks here?"
"I am sure I don't know."
"I wish they'd stayed where they belong. That woman's just turning up her nose at every blessed thing she sees."
"It won't hurt the Sound!" said Lois, laughing.
"What did they come for?"
"I can't tell; but, Charity, it will never do to let them go away feeling they got nothing by coming. So you have the kettle boiled, will you, and the table all ready—and I'll try for the clams."
"They won't like 'em."
"Can't help that."
"And what am I going to do with Mr. Sears?"
"Give him his supper of course."
"Along with all the others?"
"You must. You cannot set two tables."
"There's aunt Anne!" exclaimed Charity; and in the next minute aunt Anne came round to them by the front steps; for each half of the bathing-house had its own door of approach, as well as a door of communication. Mrs. Marx came in, surveyed Lois, and heard Charity's statement.
"These things will happen in the best regulated families," she remarked, beginning also to loosen her dress.
"What are you going to do, aunt Anne?"
"Going after clams, with Lois. We shall want a bushel or less; and we can't wait till the moon rises, to eat 'em."
"And how am I going to set the table with them all there?"
Mrs. Marx laughed. "I expect they're like cats in a strange garret. Set your table just as usual, Charry; push 'em out o' the way if they get in it. Now then, Lois!"
And, slipping down the steps and away off to the stretch of mud where the rushes grew, two extraordinary, flannel-clad, barefooted figures, topped with sun-bonnets and armed with hoes and baskets, were presently seen to be very busy there about something. Charity opened the door of communication between the two parts of the house, and surveyed the party. Mrs. Barclay sat on the step outside, looking over the plain of waters, with her head in her hand. Mrs. Armadale was in a rocking-chair, just within the door, placidly knitting. Mr. and Mrs. Lenox, somewhat further back, seemed not to know just what to do with themselves; and Madge, holding a little aloof, met her sister's eye with an expression of despair and doubt. Outside, at the foot of the steps, where Mrs. Barclay sat, lounged the ox driver.
"Ben here afore?" he asked confidentially of the lady.
"Yes, once or twice. I never came in an ox cart before."
"I guess you hain't," he replied, chewing a blade of rank grass which he had pulled for the purpose. "My judgment is we had a fust-rate entertainment, comin' down."
"I quite agree with you."
"Now in anythin' but an ox cart, you couldn't ha' had it."
"No, not so well, certainly."
"I couldn't ha' had it, anyway, withouten we'd come so softly. I declare, I believe them critters stepped soft o' purpose. It's better'n a book, to hear that girl talk, now, ain't it?"
"Much better than many books."
"She's got a lot o' 'em inside her head. That beats me! She allays was smart, Lois was; but I'd no idee she was so full o' book larnin'. Books is a great thing!" And he heaved a sigh.
"Do you have time to read much yourself, sir?"
"Depends on the book," he said, with a bit of a laugh. "Accordin' to that, I get much or little. No; in these here summer days a man can't do much at books; the evenin's short, you see, and the days is long; and the days is full o' work. The winter's the time for readin'. I got hold o' a book last winter that was wuth a great deal o' time, and got it. I never liked a book better. That was Rollin's 'Ancient History.'"
"Ah!" said Mrs. Barclay. "So you enjoyed that?"
"Ever read it?"
"Didn't you enjoy it?"
"I believe I like Modern history better."
"I've read some o' that too," said he meditatively. "It ain't so different. 'Seems to me, folks is allays pretty much alike; only we call things by different names. Alexander the Great, now,—he warn't much different from Napoleon Buonaparte."
"Wasn't he a better man?" inquired Mr. Lenox, putting his head out at the door.
"Wall, I don' know; it's difficult, you know, to judge of folk's insides; but I don't make much count of a man that drinks himself to death at thirty."
"Haven't you any drinking in Shampuashuh?"
"Wall, there ain't much; and what there is, is done in the dark, like. You won't find no rum-shops open."
"Indeed! How long has the town been so distinguished?"
"I guess it's five year. I know it is; for it was just afore we put in our last President. Then we voted liquor shouldn't be president in Shampuashuh."
"Do you get along any better for it?"
"Wall"—slowly—"I should say we did. There ain't no quarrellin', nor fightin', nor anybody took up for the jail, nor no one livin' in the poorhouse—'thout it's some tramp on his way to some place where there is liquor. An' he don't want to stay."
"What are those two figures yonder among the grass?" Mrs. Lenox now asked; she also having come out of the house in search of objects of interest, the interior offering none.
"Them?" said Mr. Sears. "Them's Lois and her aunt. Their baskets is gettin' heavy, too. I'll make the fire for ye, Miss Charity," he cried, lifting his voice; and therewith disappeared.
"What are they doing?" Mrs. Lenox asked, in a lower tone.
"Digging clams," Mrs. Barclay informed her.
"Digging clams! How do they dig them?"
"With a hoe, I believe."
"I ought to go and offer my services," said the gentleman, rising.
"Do not think of it," said Mrs. Barclay. "You could not go without plunging into wet, soft mud; the clams are found only there, I believe."
"How do they go?"
"Barefoot-dressed for it."
"Undressed for it," said Mrs. Lenox. "Barefoot in the mud! Could you have conceived it!"
"They say the mud is warm," Mrs. Barclay returned, keeping back a smile.
"But how horrid!"
"I am told it is very good sport. The clams are shy, and endeavour to take flight when they hear the strokes of the hoe; so that it comes to a trial of speed between the pursuer and the pursued; which is quite exciting."
"I should think, if I could see a clam, I could pick it up," Mrs. Lenox said scornfully.
"Yes; you cannot see them."
"Do you mean, they run away under ground?"
"So I am told."
"How can they? they have no feet."
Mrs. Barclay could not help laughing now, and confessed her ignorance of the natural powers of the clam family.
"Where is that old man gone to make his fire? didn't he say he was going to make a fire?"
"Yes; in the cooking-house."
"Where is that?" And Mrs. Lenox came down the steps and went to explore. A few yards from the bathing-house, just within the enclosure fence, she found a small building, hardly two yards square, but thoroughly built and possessing a chimney. The door stood open; within was a cooking-stove, in which fire was roaring; a neat pile of billets of wood for firing, a tea-kettle, a large iron pot, and several other kitchen utensils.
"What is this for?" inquired Mrs. Lenox, looking curiously in.
"Wall, I guess we're goin' to hev supper by and by; ef the world don't come to an end sooner than I expect, we will, sure. I'm a gettin' ready."
"And is this place built and arranged just for the sake of having supper, as you call it, down here once in a while?"
"Couldn't be no better arrangement," said Mr. Sears. "This stove draws first-rate."
"But this is a great deal of trouble. I should think they would take their clams home and have them there."
"Some folks doos," returned Mr. Sears. "These here folks knows what's good. Wait till you see. I tell you! long clams, fresh digged, and b'iled as soon as they're fetched in, is somethin' you never see beat."
"Long clams," repeated the lady. "Are they not the usual sort?"
"Depends on what you're used to. These is usual here, and I'm glad on't. Round clams ain't nowheres alongside o' 'em."
He went off to fill the kettle, and the lady returned slowly round the house to the steps and the door, which were on the sea side. Mr. Lenox had gone in and was talking to Mrs. Armadale; Mrs. Barclay was in her old position on the steps, looking out to sea. There was a wonderful light of westering rays on land and water; a rich gleam from brown rock and green seaweed; a glitter and fresh sparkle on the waves of the incoming tide; an indescribable freshness and life in the air and in the light; a delicious invigoration in the salt breath of the ocean. Mrs. Barclay sat drinking it all in, like one who had been long athirst. Mrs. Lenox stood looking, half cognizant of what was before her, more than half impatient and scornful of it; yet even on her the witchery of the place and the scene was not without its effect.
"Do you come here often?" she asked Mrs. Barclay. .
"Never so often as I would like."
"I should think you would be tired to death!"
Then, as Mrs. Barclay made no answer, she looked at her watch.
"Our train is not till ten o'clock," she remarked.
"Plenty of time," said the other. And then there was silence; and the sun's light grew more westering, and the sparkle on earth and water more fresh, and the air only more and more sweet; till two figures were discerned approaching the bathing-house, carrying hoes slung over their shoulders, and baskets, evidently filled, in their hands. They went round the house towards the cook-house; and Mrs. Barclay came down from her seat and went to meet them there, Mrs. Lenox following.
Two such figures! Sun-bonnets shading merry faces, flushed with business; blue flannel bathing-suits draping very unpicturesquely the persons, bare feet stained with mud,—baskets full of the delicate fish they had been catching.
"What a quantity!" exclaimed Mrs. Barclay.
"Yes, because I had aunt Anne to help. We cannot boil them all at once, but that is all the better. They will come hot and hot."
"You don't mean that you are going to cook all those?" said Mrs. Lenox incredulously.
"There will not be one too many," said Lois. "You do not know long clams yet."
"They are ugly things!" said the other, with a look of great disgust into the basket. "I don't think I could touch them."
"There's no obligation," responded here Mrs. Marx. She had thrown one basketful into a huge pan, and was washing them free from the mud and sand of their original sphere. "It's a free country. But looks don't prove much—neither at the shore nor anywhere else. An ugly shell often covers a good fish. So I find it; and t'other way."
"How do you get them?" inquired Mr. Lenox, who also came now to the door of the cook-house. Lois made her escape. "I see you make use of hoes."
"Yes," said Mrs. Marx, throwing her clams about in the water with great energy; "we dig for 'em. See where the clam lives, and then drive at him, and don't be slow about it; and then when the clam spits at you, you know you're on his heels—or on his track, I should say; and you take care of your eyes and go ahead, till you catch up with him; and then you've got him. And every one you throw into your basket you feel gladder and gladder; in fact, as the basket grows heavy, your heart grows light. And that's diggin' for long clams."
"The best part of it is the hunt, isn't it?"
"I'll take your opinion on that after supper."
Mr. Lenox laughed, and he and his wife sauntered round to the front again. The freshness, the sweetness, the bright rich colouring of sky and water and land, the stillness, the strangeness, the novelty, all moved Mr. Lenox to say,
"I would not have missed this for a hundred dollars!"
"Missed what?" asked his wife.
"This whole afternoon."
"It's one way that people live, I suppose."
"Yes, for they really do live; there is no stagnation; that is one thing that strikes me."
"Don't you want to buy a farm here, and settle down?" asked Mrs. Lenox scornfully. "Live on hymns and long clams?"
Meanwhile the interior of the bathing-house was changing its aspect. Part of the partition of boards had been removed and a long table improvised, running the length of the house, and made of planks laid on trestles. White cloths hid the rudeness of this board, and dishes and cups and viands were giving it a most hospitable look. A whiff of coffee aroma came now and then through the door at the back of the house, which opened near the place of cookery; piles of white bread and brown gingerbread, and golden butter and rosy ham and new cheese, made a most abundant and inviting display; and, after the guests were seated, Mr. Sears came in bearing a great dish of the clams, smoking hot.
Well, Mrs. Lenox was hungry, through the combined effects of salt air and an early dinner; she found bread and butter and coffee and ham most excellent, but looked askance at the dish of clams; which, however, she saw emptied with astonishing rapidity. Noticing at last a striking heap of shells beside her husband's plate, the lady's fastidiousness gave way to curiosity; and after that,—it was well that another big dishful was coming, or somebody would have been obliged to go short.
At ten o'clock that evening Mr. and Mrs. Lenox took the night train to Boston.
"I never passed a pleasanter afternoon in my life," was the gentleman's comment as the train started.
"Pretty faces go a great way always with you men!" answered his wife.
"There is something more than a pretty face there. And she is improved—changed, somehow—since a year ago. What do you think now of your brother's choice, Julia?"
"It would have been his ruin!" said the lady violently.
"I declare I doubt it. I am afraid he'll never find a better. I am afraid you have done him mistaken service."
"George, this girl is nobody."
"She is a lady. And she is intelligent, and she is cultivated, and she has excellent manners. I see no fault at all to be found. Tom does not need money."
"She is nobody, nevertheless, George! It would have been miserable for Tom to lose all the advantage he is going to have with his wife, and to marry this girl whom no one knows, and who knows nobody."
"I am sorry for poor Tom!"
"George, you are very provoking. Tom will live to thank mamma and me all his life."
"Do you know, I don't believe it. I am glad to see she's all right, anyhow. I was afraid at the Isles she might have been bitten."
"You don't know anything about it," returned his wife sharply. "Women don't show. I think she was taken with Tom."
"I hope not!" said the gentleman; "that's all I have to say."
After that summer day, the time sped on smoothly at Shampuashuh; until the autumn coolness had replaced the heat of the dog days, and hay harvest and grain harvest were long over, and there began to be a suspicion of frost in the air. Lois had gathered in her pears, and was garnering her apples. There were two or three famous apple trees in the Lothrop old garden, the fruit of which kept sound and sweet all through the winter, and was very good to eat.
One fair day in October, Mrs. Barclay, wanting to speak with Lois, was directed to the garden and sought her there. The day was as mild as summer, without summer's passion, and without spring's impulses of hope and action. A quiet day; the air was still; the light was mellow, not brilliant; the sky was clear, but no longer of an intense blue; the little racks of cloud were lying supine on its calm depths, apparently having nowhere to go and nothing to do. The driving, sweeping, changing forms of vapour, which in spring had come with rain and in summer had come with thunder, had all disappeared; and these little delicate lines of cloud lay purposeless and at rest on the blue. Nature had done her work for the year; she had grown the grass and ripened the grain, and manufactured the wonderful juices in the tissues of the fruit, and laid a new growth of woody fibre round the heart of the trees. She was resting now, as it were, content with her work. And so seemed Lois to be doing, at the moment Mrs. Barclay entered the garden. It was unusual to find her so. I suppose the witching beauty of the day beguiled her. But it was of another beauty Mrs. Barclay thought, as she drew near the girl.
A short ladder stood under one of the apple trees, upon which Lois had been mounting to pluck her fruit. On the ground below stood two large baskets, full now of the ruddy apples, shining and beautiful. Beside them, on the dry turf, sat Lois with her hands in her lap; and Mrs. Barclay wondered at her as she drew near.
Yet it is not too easy to tell why, at least so as to make the reader get at the sense of the words. I have the girl's image before my eyes, mentally, but words have neither form nor colour; how shall I paint with them? It was not the beauty of mere form and colour, either, that struck Mrs. Barclay in Lois's face. You may easily see more regular features and more dazzling complexion. It was not any particular brilliance of eye, or piquancy of expression. There was a soundness and fulness of young life; that is not so uncommon either. There was a steadfast strength and sweetness of nature. There was an unconscious, innocent grace, that is exceedingly rare. And a high, noble expression of countenance and air and movement, such as can belong only to one whose thoughts and aims never descend to pettinesses; who assimilates nobility by being always concerned with what is noble. And then, the face was very fair; the ruddy brown hair very rich and abundant; the figure graceful and good; all the spiritual beauty I have been endeavouring to describe had a favouring groundwork of nature to display itself upon. Mrs. Barclay's steps grew slower and slower as she came near, that she might prolong the view, which to her was so lovely. Then Lois looked at her and slightly smiled.
"Lois, my dear, what are you doing?"
"Not exactly nothing, Mrs. Barclay; though it looks like it. Such a day one cannot bear to go in-doors!"
"You are gathering your apples?"
"I have got done for to-day."
"What are you studying, here beside your baskets? What beautiful apples!"
"Aren't they? These are our Royal Reddings; they are good for eating and cooking, and they keep perfectly. If only they are picked off by hand."
"What were you studying, Lois? May I not know?" Mrs. Barclay took an apple and a seat on the turf beside the girl.
"Hardly studying. Only musing—as such a day makes one muse. I was thinking, Mrs. Barclay, what use I could make of my life."
"What use? Can you make better use of it than you are doing, in taking care of Mrs. Armadale?"
"Yes—as things are now. But in the common course of things I should outlive grandmamma."
"Then you will marry somebody, and take care of him."
"Very unlikely, I think."
"May I ask, why?"
"I do not know anybody that is the sort of man I could marry."
"What do you require?" asked Mrs. Barclay.
"A great deal, I suppose," said Lois slowly. "I have never studied that; I was not studying it just now. But I was thinking, what might be the best way of making myself of some use in the world. Foolish, too."
"It is no use for us to lay plans for our lives; not much use for us to lay plans for anything. They are pretty sure to be broken up."
"Yes," said Mrs. Barclay, sighing. "I wonder why!"
"I suppose, because they do not fall in with God's plans for us."
"His plans for us," repeated Mrs. Barclay slowly. "Do you believe in such things? That would mean, individual plans, Lois; for you individually, and for me?"
"Yes, Mrs. Barclay—that is what I believe."
"It is incomprehensible to me."
"Why should it be?"
"To think that the Highest should concern him self with such small details."
"It is just because he is the Highest, and so high, that he can. Besides—do we know what are small details?"
"But why should he care what becomes of us?" said Mrs. Barclay gloomily.
"O, do you ask that? When he is Love itself, and would have the very best things for each one of us?"
"We don't have them, I am sure."
"Because we will not, then. To have them, we must fall in with his plans."
"My dear Lois, do you know that you are talking the profoundest mysteries?"
"No. They are not mysteries to me. The Bible says all I have been saying."
"That is sufficient for you, and you do not stop to look into the mystery. Lois, it is all mystery. Look at all the wretched ruined lives one sees; what becomes of those plans for good for them?"
"Failed, Mrs. Barclay; because of the people's unwillingness to come into the plans."
"They do not know them!"
"No, but they do know the steps which lead into them, and those steps they refuse to take."
"I do not understand you. What steps?"
"The Lord does not show us his plans. He shows us, one by one, the steps he bids us take. If we take them, one by one, they will bring us into all that God has purposed and meant for us—the very best that could come to us."
"And you think his plans and purposes could be overthrown?"
"Why, certainly. Else what mean Christ's lamentations over Jerusalem? 'O Jerusalem,... how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not.' I would—ye would not; and the choice lies with us."
"And suppose a person falls in with these plans, as you say, step by step?"
"O, then it is all good," said Lois; "the way and the end; all good. There is no mistake nor misadventure."
"Not what turns out to be such."
"Lois," said Mrs. Barclay, after a thoughtful pause, "you are a very happy person!"
"Yes," said Lois, smiling; "and I have just told you the reason. Don't you see? I have no care about anything."
"On your principles, I do not see what need you had to consider your future way of life; to speculate about it, I mean."
"No," said Lois, rising, "I have not. Only sometimes one must look a little carefully at the parting of the ways, to see which road one is meant to take."
"Sit down again. I did not come out here to talk of all this. I wanted to ask you something."
Lois sat down.
"I came to ask a favour."
"How could you, Mrs. Barclay? I mean, nothing we could do could be a favour to you!"
"Yes, it could. I have a friend that wants to come to see me."
"May he come?"
"Why, of course."
"But it is a gentleman."
"Well," said Lois again, smiling, "we have no objections to gentlemen."
"It is a friend whom I have not seen in a very long while; a dear friend; a dear friend of my husband's in years gone by. He has just returned from Europe; and he writes to ask if he may call on his way to Boston and spend Sunday with me."
"He shall be very welcome, Mrs. Barclay; and we will try to make him comfortable."
"O, comfortable! there is no question of that. But will it not be at all inconvenient?"
"Not in the least."
"Then he may come?"
"Certainly. When does he wish to come?"
"This week—Saturday. His name is Dillwyn."
"Dillwyn!" Lois repeated. "Dillwyn? I saw a Mr. Dillwyn at Mrs. Wishart's once or twice."
"It must be the same. I do not know of two. And he knows Mrs. Wishart. So you remember him? What do you remember about him?"
"Not much. I have an impression that he knows a great deal, and has very pleasant manners."
"Quite right. That is the man. So he may come? Thank you."
Lois took up one of her baskets of apples and carried it into the house, where she deposited it at Mrs. Armadale's feet.
"They are beautiful this year, aren't they, mother? Girls, we are going to have a visitor."
Charity was brushing up the floor; the broom paused. Madge was sewing; the needle remained drawn out. Both looked at Lois.
"A visitor!" came from both pairs of lips.
"Yes, indeed. A visitor. A gentleman. And he is coming to stay over Sunday. So, Charry, you must see and have things very special. And so must I."
"A gentleman! Who is he? Uncle Tim?"
"Not a bit of it. A young, at least a much younger, gentleman; a travelled gentleman; an elegant gentleman. A friend of Mrs. Barclay."
"What are we to do with him?"
"Nothing. Nothing whatever. We have nothing to do with him, and couldn't do it if we had."
"You needn't laugh. We have got to lodge him and feed him."
"That's easy. I'll put the white spread on the bed in the spare room; and you may get out your pickles."
"Pickles! Is he fond of pickles?"
"I don't know!" said Lois, laughing still. "I have an impression he is a man who likes all sorts of nice things."
"I hate men who like nice things! But, Lois!—there will be Saturday tea, and Sunday breakfast and dinner and supper, and Monday morning breakfast."
"Perhaps Monday dinner."
"O, he can't stay to dinner."
"It is washing day."
"My dear Charry! to such men Monday is just like all other days; and washing is—well, of course, a necessity, but it is done by fairies, or it might be, for all they know about it."
"There's five meals anyhow," Charity went on.—"Wouldn't it be a good plan to get uncle Tim to be here?"
"Why, we haven't a man in the house."
"Who'll talk to him?"
"Mrs. Barclay will take care of that. You, Charity dear, see to your pickles."
"I don't know what you mean," said Charity fretfully. "What are we going to have for dinner, Sunday? I could fricassee a pair of chickens."
"No, Charity, you couldn't. Sunday is Sunday, just as much with Mr. Dillwyn here."
"Dillwyn!" said Madge. "I've heard you speak of him."
"Very likely. I saw him once or twice in my New York days."
"And he gave you lunch."
"Mrs. Wishart and me. Yes. And a good lunch it was. That's why I spoke of pickles, Charity. Do the very best you can."
"I cannot do my best, unless I can cook the chickens," said Charity, who all this while stood leaning upon her broom. "I might do it for once."
"Where is your leave to do wrong once?"
"But this is a particular occasion—you may call it a necessity; and necessity makes an exception."
"What is the necessity, Charity?" said Mrs. Armadale, who until now had not spoken.
"Why, grandma, you want to treat a stranger well?"
"With whatever I have got to give him. But Sunday time isn't mine to give."
"But necessary things, grandma?—we may do necessary things?"
"What have you got in the house?"
"Nothing on earth, except a ham to boil. Cold ham,—that's all. Do you think that's enough?"
"It won't hurt him to dine on cold ham," the old lady said complacently.
"Why don't you cook your chickens and have them cold too?" Lois asked.
"Cold fricassee ain't worth a cent."
"Cook them some other way. Roast them,—or— Give them to me, and I'll do them for you! I'll do them, Charity. Then with your nice bread, and apple sauce, and potatoes, and some of my pears and apples, and a pumpkin pie, Charity, and coffee,—we shall do very well. Mr. Dillwyn has made a worse dinner in the course of his wanderings, I'll undertake to maintain."
"What shall I have for supper?" Charity asked doubtfully. "Supper comes first."
"Shortcake. And some of your cold ham. And stew up some quinces and apples together, Cherry. You don't want anything more,—or better."
"Do you think he will understand having a cold dinner, Sunday?" Charity asked. "Men make so much of hot dinners."
"What does it signify, my dear, whether he understands it or not?" said Mrs. Armadale. "What we have to do, is what the Lord tells us to do. That is all you need mind."
"I mind what folks think, though," said Charity. "Mrs. Barclay's friend especially."
"I do not think he will notice it," said simple Mrs. Armadale.
THE VALUE OF MONEY.
There was a little more bustle in the house than usual during the next two days; and the spare room was no doubt put in very particular order, with the best of all the house could furnish on the bed and toilet-table. Pantry and larder also were well stocked; and Lois was just watching the preparation of her chickens, Saturday evening, and therefore in the kitchen, when Mr. Dillwyn came to the door. Mrs. Barclay herself let him in, and brought him into her own warm, comfortable, luxurious-looking sitting-room. The evening was falling dusk, so that the little wood lire in Mrs. Barclay's chimney had opportunity to display itself, and I might say, the room too; which never could have showed to better advantage. The flickering light danced back again from gilded books, from the polished case of the piano, from picture frames, and pictures, and piles of music, and comfortable easy-chairs standing invitingly, and trinkets of art or curiosity; an unrolled engraving in one place, a stereoscope in another, a work-basket, and the bright brass stand of a microscope.
The greeting was warm between the two friends; and then Mrs. Barclay sat down and surveyed her visitor, whom she had not seen for so long. He was not a beauty of Tom Caruthers' sort, but he was what I think better; manly and intelligent, and with an air and bearing of frank nobleness which became him exceedingly. That he was a man with a serious purpose in life, or any object of earnest pursuit, you would not have supposed; and that character had never belonged to him. Mrs. Barclay, looking at him, could not see any sign that it was his now. Look and manner were easy and careless as of old.
"You are not changed," she remarked.
"What should change me?" said he, while his eye ran rapidly over the apartment. "And you?—you do not look as if life was stagnating here."
"It does not stagnate. I never was further from stagnation in all my life."
"And yet Shampuashuh is in a corner!"
"Is not most of the work of the world done in corners? It is not the butterfly, but the coral insect, that lays foundations and lifts up islands out of the sea."
"You are not a coral insect any more than I am a butterfly," said Dillwyn, laughing.
"I acknowledge it, thankfully. And I am rejoiced to know from your letters that the seclusion has been without any evil consequences to yourself. It has been pleasant?"
"Royally pleasant. I have delighted in my building; even although I could not tell whether my island would not prove a dangerous one to mariners."
"I have just been having a discourse on that subject with my sister. I think one's sisters are—I beg your pardon!—the mischief. Tom's sister has done for him; and mine is very eager to take care of me."
"Did you consult her?" asked Mrs. Barclay, with surprise.
"Nothing of the kind! I merely told her I was coming up here to see you. A few questions followed, as to what you were doing here,—which I did not tell her, by the way,—and she hit the bull's eye with the instinctive accuracy of a woman; poured out upon me in consequence a lecture upon imprudence. Of course I confessed to nothing, but that mattered not. All that Tom's sister urged upon him, my good sister pressed upon me."
"So did I once, did I not?"
"You are not going to repeat it?"
"No; that is over, for me. I know better. But, Philip, I do not see the way very clear before you."
He left the matter there, and went off into a talk with her upon widely-different subjects, touching or growing out of his travels and experiences during the last year and a half. The twilight darkened, and the fire brightened, and in the light of the fire the two sat and talked; till a door opened, and in the same flickering shine a figure presented itself which Mr. Dillwyn remembered. Though now it was clothed in nothing finer than a dark calico, and round her shoulders a little white worsted shawl was twisted. Mrs. Barclay began a sentence of introduction, but Mr. Dillwyn cut her short.
"Do not do me such dishonour," he said. "Must I suppose that Miss Lothrop has forgotten me?"
"Not at all, Mr. Dillwyn," said Lois frankly; "I remember you very well. Tea will be ready in a minute—would you like to see your room first?"
"You are too kind, to receive me!"
"It is a pleasure. You are Mrs. Barclay's friend, and she is at home here; I will get a light."
Which she did, and Mr. Dillwyn, seeing he could not find his own way, was obliged to accept her services and see her trip up the stairs before him. At the door she handed him the light and ran down again. There was a fire here too—a wood fire; blazing hospitably, and throwing its cheery light upon a wide, pleasant, country room, not like what Mr. Dillwyn was accustomed to, but it seemed the more hospitable. Nothing handsome there; no articles of luxury (beside the fire); the reflection of the blaze came back from dark old-fashioned chairs and chests of drawers, dark chintz hangings to windows and bed, white counterpane and napery, with a sonsy, sober, quiet air of comfort; and the air was fresh and sweet as air should be, and as air can only be at a distance from the smoke of many chimneys and the congregated habitations of many human beings. I do not think Mr. Dillwyn spent much attention upon these details; yet he felt himself in a sound, clear, healthy atmosphere, socially as well as physically; also had a perception that it was very far removed from that in which he had lived and breathed hitherto. How simply that girl had lighted him up the stairs, and given him his brass candlestick at the door of his room! What a plomb could have been more perfect! I do not mean to imply that Mr. Dillwyn knew the candlestick was brass; I am afraid there was a glamour over his eyes which made it seem golden.