Then came my Golden Age. That means, then came Charlie into my life, when I felt for the first time that there was music in the birds' voices and perfume in the flowers—that there was light in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, for God was in heaven and Charlie was on earth—when I, who had all along been hardly more than a human grasshopper, became the happiest of happy women—so much happier, I thought, than I deserved. For who was I, and what great thing had I ever done, that I should be crowned with such a crown of glory as—Charlie? why should I, insignificant I, be so blest among women as to be taken to wife by Charlie?
I was insanely sentimental enough to rather resent the fact that Charlie was prosaically well off: his circumstances were distressingly easy. It would have been so much nicer, so deliciously romantic, if there had been an opportunity afforded me to show how ready, nay, eager, I was to sacrifice friends, home and country for his dear sake. But Charlie didn't want me to sacrifice my friends; nor did it require any great amount of heroism to exchange my modestly comfortable home for his decidedly luxurious one; and as for country, nothing on earth could have induced Charlie to leave his own country, much less his own parish, much less his own plantation. So we were married without any talk of sacrifice on either side, and moved quietly enough from father's small plantation to Charlie's large one.
There was but one drawback to the perfectness of my happiness: there was so little hope of my ever having an opportunity to air those magnanimous traits of character upon the possession of which I so plumed myself. I felt sure that I could meet the most adverse circumstances with the most smiling patience, but circumstances obstinately refused to be adverse. I was inwardly conscious that the most trying emergency could not shake my heroic but purely feminine fortitude; but, alas! my fortitude was likely to rust while waiting for the emergency. Injury and wrong should be met with sublime dignity, but the most wildly speculative imagination could not look upon Charlie's placidly handsome face and convert him into a possible tyrant.
To tell how the longed-for opportunity to exercise my powers of endurance, and my dignity, and all the rest of it, did finally come about, and to tell how I bore the test, is the object of this paper.
For the first six months of our married life, Charlie and I were simply ridiculously happy—selfishly happy too. We resented a neighbor's visit as an act of barbarous invasion, and the necessity of returning such visits was acknowledged with a sublimity of resignation worthy of pictorial representation in that exquisite parlor manual, Fox's Book of Martyrs. If Charlie left the house for an hour or two, I looked upon his enforced absence as a cruel dispensation of Providence, which I did not bear with "fortitude and sublime dignity," but pouted over like the ridiculous baby I was. Bare conjugal civility required that on leaving the house Charlie should kiss me three times, and on returning six times: anything short of that I should have considered a pre-monitory symptom of approaching separation. If Charlie had ever been so savage as to call me plain "Lulie," I should have felt certain he was sick and tired of me, and was repenting of having married me instead of that spectacled bas-bleu, Miss Minerva Henshaw, who read Buckle and talked dictionary. I believe I was intoxicated with my own happiness, and was a little nonsensical because I was so happy.
Fortunately for the comfort of both Charlie and myself, his domestic cabinet consisted of a marvelously well-trained set of servants, who were simply perfect—as perfect in their way as Charlie was in his. They had been trained by Charlie's mother, who had been the head of affairs in his house up to the hour of her death—an event which had occurred some dozen years before my first meeting with Charlie. Everybody said she had been a celebrated housekeeper, and Charlie's devotion to her had been the talk of the country-side. There were people malicious enough to say that if Charlie's mother had never died, he would never have married, but I take the liberty of resenting such an assertion as a personal insult; for, although I don't doubt the dear old lady was a perfect jewel in her way, yet, looking at the portrait of her which hangs over our parlor mantelpiece, I see the face of a hard, determined-looking woman with cold gray eyes and rigidly set mouth, in a funny-looking black dress, neither high-necked nor low-necked, having a starchy white ruffle round the edge, in vivid white contrast to the yellow skin; with grizzly, iron-gray curls peeping out from under a cap that is fearfully and wonderfully made, with a huge ruffled border radiating in a circumference of several feet, while its two black-and-white gauze ribbon strings lie in rigid exactness over her two rigidly exact shoulders. Looking on this portrait, I do not thank anybody for saying that it was only because death chose that shining mark that I had found favor in Charlie's eyes.
We had been married, I suppose, about six months, when, sitting one evening over a cozy wood-fire in our cozy little parlor, just under the work of art I have described at such length, Charlie committed his first matrimonial solecism. He yawned, actually gaped—an open-mouthed, audible, undeniable yawn!
Glancing up at him from my work (which consisted of the inevitable worked slippers without which no woman considers her wifehood absolutely asserted), I caught him in the act. "Are you tired, Charlie?" I asked in accents of wifely anxiety.
Tired! Poor fellow! he ought to have been, for he had ridden all over the plantation that day, had written two business letters, and smoked there's no telling how many cigars, and had only taken one little cat-nap after dinner.
He was leaning back in his arm-chair, with his eyes fixed in mournful meditation upon his mother's portrait (at least I thought so), when I asked him if he was tired, and I fancied he was thinking sad thoughts of the mother who had not been dead so very long as never to trouble the thoughts of the living; so, laying down my slippers, I crossed the rug and perched myself on Charlie's knee.
"Talk to me about her, Charlie dear."
"About whom, little one?" asked Charlie, turning his eyes toward me with a little lazy look of inquiry.
"About your mother, Charlie: weren't you thinking about her just now?"
"I don't know—maybe I was. Dear mother! you don't find many women like her now-a-days."
Reader, that was my first glimpse of Charlie's hobby. And from the luck-less moment when I so innocently invited him to mount it, up to the time when I forcibly compelled him to dismount from it, I had ample opportunity to exercise my "smiling patience, sublime dignity and heroic fortitude." Whether or not I improved my opportunities properly, I will leave you to judge for yourself. But for two whole years "how mother did it" seemed to be the watchword of Charlie's existence, and was the bete noir of mine.
So long as Charlie and I were in Paradise the house kept itself, and very nicely it did it too, but by the time we were ready to come back to earth the perfect servants, who had been taking such good care of themselves, and our two daft selves into the bargain, were found to be sadly demoralized. The discovery came upon us gradually. I think my husband noticed the decadence as soon as I did, but I wasn't going to invite his attention to the fact; and he, I suppose, thought that I thought that everything was just as it should be.
One of Charlie's inherited manias was for early rising—a habit which would have been highly commendable and undeniably invaluable in a laboring man, but which struck me, who had an equally strong mania for not rising early, as extremely inconvenient and the least little bit absurd. Charlie got up early simply because "mother did it" before him; and after he had risen at earliest dawn and dressed himself, he had nothing better to do than walk out on the front gallery, locate himself in a big wicker chair, tilt his chair back and elevate his feet to the top of the banisters, and stare out over the cottonfields. This position he would maintain, probably, about twenty minutes. Then the pangs of hunger would render him restless, and he would draw out his watch to note the time of day. The next step in the formula would bring him back to my room door while I was still sleepily trying to reconnect the broken links of a dream, from which vain effort he would startle me into wide-awake reality by a stentorian "Lulie, Lulie! Come, wife—it's breakfast-time."
Upon which, instead of "heroic fortitude," I would treat him to a little cross "Please yell at the cook, Charlie, and not at me. I'm sure if people will get up at such unearthly hours, they should expect to be kept waiting for their breakfast."
Then the spirit of unrest would impel Charlie toward the back door, where I would hear him commanding, exhorting, entreating.
Mentally registering a vow to give my husband a dose of Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup on the coming night, I would relinquish all hope of another nap, get up and dress myself, and join my roaring lion on the front gallery, where we would both sit meekly waiting for the allied forces of kitchen and dining-room to decide upon the question of revictualing us.
"Lulie," said Charlie to me one morning at the breakfast-table, "things are getting all out of gear about this house, somehow or other."
I put down the coffee-pot with a resigned thump and asked my lord, with an injured air, to please explain himself.
"Well, when mother was alive I never knew what it was to sit down to my breakfast later than six o'clock in summer or seven in winter."
"How did she manage it, Charlie?" I asked, very meekly.
"Why, by getting up early herself. No servant on the face of the globe is going to get up at daybreak and go to work in earnest when she knows her mistress is sound asleep in bed. I will tell you how mother did: she had a pretty good-sized bell, that she kept on a table by her bedside, and every morning, as soon as her eyes were open, she would give such a peal with that old bell that all the servants on the premises knew that 'Mistress was awake and up,' and bestirred themselves accordingly. There was no discount on mother: that was the way she made father a rich man, too."
"But, Charlie, you're already a rich man, and why on earth should we get out of bed at daybreak just because your mother and father did so before us?"
"Of course, Lulie," said Charlie, the least little bit coldly, "I have no desire in the world to force you to conform to my views: I only told you how mother did it."
Reader, you know how I loved Charlie, and after that I out-larked the lark in early rising; and although Charlie and I did little more than gape in each other's faces for an hour or two, and wish breakfast would come, and wonder what made them take so long, he was perfectly satisfied that we were both on the road that was to make us healthier, wealthier and wiser.
Among other points on which my husband and I were mutually agreed was a liking for good strong coffee, and we also held in common one decided opinion, and that was, that our coffee was gradually becoming anything but good and strong.
Charlie broached the subject first. "Lulie, our coffee is getting to be perfectly undrinkable," said he one morning, putting his cup down with a face of disgust.
"It is indeed, Charlie: it's perfectly villainous. Milly ought to be ashamed of herself: I shall speak to her again after breakfast."
"Maybe you don't give out enough coffee?" suggested Charlie.
"I don't know how much Milly takes," I replied, innocently.
"Takes! Do you mean to say that you don't know how much coffee goes out of your pantry, Lulie? I don't wonder we never have any fit to drink!"
If I had been of an argumentative turn, I would have asked Charlie to explain how giving the cook carte blanche in the matter of quantity should have had such a disastrous effect in the matter of quality. But I was not of an argumentative turn, so I took no notice of his queer logic.
"Why should I bother about every spoonful of coffee, Charlie? You assured me, when I first came here, that every servant you had was as honest as you or I, and I'm sure Milly knows better than I do how much coffee she ought to take."
"Well," said Charlie with a sigh of mock resignation, "that may be the way they do things now-a-days, but I remember exactly how mother managed to have good coffee." Here the hobby broke into a brisk canter: "I recollect she had a little oval wooden box, that held, I suppose, about a quart—or two, maybe—of roasted coffee, and that box stood on the mantelpiece in her room; and every morning, as soon as her bell rang, Milly would come with a cup and spoon, and mother would measure out two table-spoonfuls of coffee with her own hands and give it to the cook, and the cook knew better than not to have good coffee, I can tell you."
"Are you sure it was only two spoonfuls, Charlie?"
"I am sure," responded Charlie, solemnly.
As good-luck would have it, while rummaging in the store-room a day or two after that coffee talk, I came upon a little old oval wooden box, the lid of which I detached with some difficulty, and as the scent of the roses hung round it still, I had no difficulty in identifying my treasure-trove with the wooden box that had played such a distinguished part in the good old times when cooks "knew better than not to have good coffee, I can tell you."
Hoping that some relic of my dead predecessor might prove more awe-inspiring to contumacious Milly than my own despised monitions, I exhumed the wooden box, had it thoroughly cleansed, filled with roasted coffee and placed upon my mantelpiece, giving Milly orders to come to me hereafter, every morning, for the coffee.
Charlie gave me a grateful little kiss when he saw the old box in the old place, either as a reward for my amiable endeavor to do things as mother did, or because he took the old wooden box for an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that was to move Milly to make good coffee.
But somehow or other, in spite of the unsightly old wooden box on my mantelshelf, the coffee didn't improve in the least. Maybe the charm failed to work because Charlie had forgotten which end of the mantelpiece his mother used to keep it on, or I used the wrong spoon. I'm inclined to lay it on the spoon myself, but there's no telling.
The first cotton-picking season that came round after my marriage seemed to afford Charlie no end of opportunities for riding his hobby at a fast and furious pace. It seemed as if there was no end to the things that mother used to do at that important season. I suppose she really was a wonderful woman, and I humbly hope that by the time I have lived as long as she did, and get to looking as she does in her portrait, and can wear a wonderful-looking cap with the wonderful composure she wore it with, and have little iron-gray curls hanging round my iron-gray visage, I may be only half as wonderful.
"Would I see to the making of the cotton sacks? That was one thing mother always did." Thus Charlie.
Of course I would: why should I object to doing anything that would forward my husband's interests? Besides, I was actually pining for some healthful occupation: I was tired of playing at living. I resolved on a brilliant plan. I would out-mother mother, for she only saw to the making of the sacks: I would make them myself, every one of them, on my sewing-machine. If I couldn't make cotton-sacks on it, what was the use of having it?
Charlie had informed me that he would send me down seven or eight women from the quarters to make the sacks. I informed him with a flourish that I should need but one: I should want her to cut the sacks out. Charlie thanked me, and Martha and I and "Wheeler & Wilson" made the sacks.
Was I to blame that the wretched things burst in twenty places at once the first time they were used? Was I to blame that two women were kept busy mending my sacks until they ceased to be sacks? Charlie might think so, but I did not.
He reported the failure of my cotton-sack experiment with very unbecoming levity, as it struck me, accompanying his report with a somewhat unjust comment upon new-fangled notions, such as sewing-machines, etc., etc., winding up with—"Now, when mother was alive" (I fairly winced), "the house was not considered too good for the darkies to sit on the back gallery with their work and make the sacks right under mother's eye—sewing them with good strong thread, too, that was spun for the purpose. I can remember the old spinning-wheel: it used to sit right at that end of the gallery."
Like Captain Cuttle, I "made a note of it" for future use.
I often had occasion to wonder, during the early years of my married life, how it happened that the son of such an exceptionally perfect woman as I was compelled to presume my respected mother-in-law to have been, should have grown up with such shockingly disorderly habits as had my Charlie. The wretched creature would stalk into my bed-room—which I was particularly dainty about—fresh from shooting or fishing, with pounds of mud clinging to his boots, bristling all over with cockleburs, his hands grimed with gunpowder; and helping himself to water from my ewer, he would begin dabbling in my china basin until he had reduced its originally pure contents into a compound of mud and ink, and would wind up by making a finish of my fresh damask towel, and throwing it on the bed or a chair instead of returning it to the rack, as he should have done.
"Charlie," said I one day, saucily inviting a dose of "what mother did," "what did mother used to do when you came into her room and turned it into a pig-stye, and then left it for her to clean up again?"
"She never let me do it," said Charlie with a laugh. "I'll tell you how she did. She had a tin basin on a shelf on the back gallery, and one of those great big rolling towels that lasted about a week; and after her washstand was fixed up in the morning, we knew better than to upset it, I can tell you."
"Very well, sir: I intend you shall know better than to upset mine, I'll show you."
In fact, things had come to that pass that I had mentally resolved to "show" Charlie a great many things. I firmly believed that the secret of the power that Charlie's mother had exercised over her household, and still exercised over him in memory, lay in the fact that she made them all afraid of her: so I firmly resolved that they should all be afraid of me, poor little me! It is true, I was but twenty, and she was fifty; I was but a pocket edition of a woman, and she was a Webster Unabridged; I had little meek blue eyes, that dropped to the ground in the most shamefaced manner if a body did but look at me, and she had hard, cold gray eyes, that not only looked straight at you, but right through you. Still, I hoped, notwithstanding these trifling drawbacks, to make myself very awe-inspiring by dint of a grand assumption of spirit.
To put it into very plain language, I resolved to bully Charlie off his hobby. He had thrown his mother at my head (figuratively speaking, of course) until, if she had been present in propria persona, I should have been tempted to try Hiawatha's remarkable feat with his grandmother, and throw her up against the moon. But as I could not revenge myself upon her personally, I began to lay deep and subtle plans for inducing Charlie to leave her to her repose.
As the veritable bell which, in the days when "mother did it," had acted as a sort of Gabriel's trump, was still extant, minus clapper and handle, I was enabled to provide myself with its fac-simile. Armed with this instrument of retribution, I laid me down to sleep by Charlie's side, gloating in anticipation over my ripening scheme of vengeance.
It was a rare thing for me to wake up before Charlie, but I did manage to do so on the morning in question, by dint, I think, of a powerful mental resolution to that effect made the night before. I raised myself very softly, so as not to disturb my husband's gentle slumbers, and, possessing myself of my big bell, I laid on with a will, raising such a clatter in the quiet morning air that Charlie fairly bounded into the middle of the room before he in the least comprehended where it came from.
"In the name of God, Lulie, what is the meaning of that?" he exclaimed, looking at me as if he half doubted my sanity.
"That's the way mother did it, Charlie," I replied placidly enough, and, replacing my big bell on the table, I settled myself on my pillow once more, ostensibly to go to sleep again—in reality to have my laugh out in a quiet fashion, for it was enough to have made the very bed-posts laugh to see Charlie's funny look of astonishment and indignation. But of course he couldn't say a word, you know.
For two more mornings I clattered my bell about his precious old head, and then he paid me to quit, and after that began riding his hobby at a little slower gait.
The next direct intimation he gave that his faith in inherited ideas was growing shaky was a plaintive little request that I would not stick so close to the old wooden box, but give out enough coffee to ensure him something to drink for his breakfast.
Now, I had no wish that my husband should drink bad coffee just because Providence had seen fit to remove his mother from this sublunary sphere: I merely wanted to cure him of telling me how mother did it; so as soon as he thus tacitly acknowledged that his suggestion had not been a success, I took matters into my own hands, and proved to him that coffee could be made as well by young wives as by old mothers.
In the due revolution of the seasons King Cotton donned his royal robes of ermine once more, and sacks again became the one thing needful. It was the very rainiest, wettest, muddiest picking-season that had ever been seen. In pursuance of my plan, I had seven or eight women down from the quarters, and a spinning-wheel also, which was set to humming right under our bed-room window.
The rainy weather had kept Charlie in the house, and he was lounging on a couch in my room, enjoying a pleasant semi-doze, when the monotonous whirr-r-r of the spinning-wheel first attracted his attention. "Lulie," he asked, rising into a sitting posture, "what is that infernal noise on the back gallery?"
"The spinning-wheel, Charlie. They are spinning thread to make the sacks with," I answered, without looking up from my work.
"Oh!" and Charlie subsided for a while. "Ahem! Lulie, my dear, how long is that devilish spinning to be kept up?"
"Devilish! Why, Charlie, that's the way mother did it."
"Well," said Charlie, scratching his head and looking foolish, "I know she did, Lulie, but I'll be confounded if I can stand it much longer."
"Why, Charlie, you used to stand it when mother did it," I answered maliciously.
"I was hardly ever about the house in those days, Lulie: I suppose that was why I didn't mind it."
"Why weren't you about the house much in those days, Charlie?"
"Because you weren't in it, you witch, I suppose."
This was such a decided triumph over the old lady of the portrait that I could afford to be amiable; so, giving him a spasmodic little hug and an energetic little kiss, I went out and stopped the spinning nuisance immediately.
After that the hobby went slower and slower, feebler and feebler. One more energetic display of my bogus spirit and "the enemy was mine."
Winter came on in its duly-appointed time, bringing with it the usual quantity of wild ducks and more than the usual degree of severe cold. Charlie was an inveterate duck-shooter, and with the return of the season came the return of mud and dirt in my bowls.
I determined to do as mother did. A tin basin made its appearance on the back gallery, four yards of crash sewed together at the end were made to revolve over the roller, and by way of forcing the experiment to a successful issue orders were given that my own pitchers should be filled only after nightfall.
I was sitting in my bed-room sewing away, in placid unconsciousness of outside cold and discomfort, when Charlie got home from his first hunt of the season.
"No water, Lulie?" and the monster took hold of my nice pitcher with a pair of muddy, half-frozen hands.
"On the gallery, dear, just where mother used to keep it;" and I smiled up at him angelically.
With a muttered something or other, poor Charlie bounded out to the back gallery. He came back in a minute, his hands as muddy and cold as ever.
"Look here, Lulie: the water's all frozen in that confounded tin basin out there."
"I'll have it thawed out for you," I said sweetly, rising as I spoke.
"I say, wifey"—and the great, handsome fellow came close up to me with his mud and his burs—"do you think it's exactly fair, when a fellow's been out all the morning shooting ducks for your dinner, to make him stand out on the gallery such a day as this and scrub the mud off his frozen hands?"
"That's the way mother did," was all my answer.
"Look here, Lulie, I cry quits. If you'll only let a body off this once, you may keep house on your own plan, little lady, and I'll never tell you how mother did it again so long as I live."
"Well, then, don't, that's a dear," I replied, "for you'll only make me dislike her memory, without doing any good. Just be patient with me, Charlie, and maybe after a while I'll be as good a housekeeper as your mother was before me. The mistake you and all other men make is, in comparing your wives at the end of their first year of housekeeping with your mothers, whose housekeeping you knew nothing about until it was of ever so many years' duration. I'm young yet, but I'm improving in that matter every day, Charlie."
With which little moral lecture I gave Charlie a kiss, and some water to wash the mud from his poor red hands.
Moral.—My dear girls, don't you ever marry a man that cannot take his affidavit he never had a mother, unless it is expressly stipulated in the marriage contract that he is never to tell you how his mother did it.
The Red Fox: A Tale of New Year's Eve.
It was New Year's Eve, 184-. I and my two little boys, children of five and seven, were alone in the house. My husband had been unexpectedly called away on business, and the servant had gone to her friends to spend the coming holiday.
It was drawing toward night. The cold shadows of the winter twilight were already falling. A dull red glow in the west told where the sun was going down. Over the rest of the sky hung heavy gray clouds. A few drops of rain fell from time to time, and the wind was rising, coming round the corner of the house with a long, mournful howl like that of a lost hound.
I am not a very nervous person, but I did not like the idea of spending by myself the long evening that would come after the children's bed-time.
We were living then in a very new place in Michigan, which I shall call Maysville. My husband, an ex-army officer, had resigned the sword for the saw-mill. Our house was the oldest in the village, which does not speak much for its antiquity, as five years before Maysville had been unbroken forest. The house stood outside the cluster of houses that formed the little settlement: it was a quarter of a mile to our nearest neighbor.
Now, Maysville calls itself a city, has an academy and a college, and a great quantity of church in proportion to its population. Then, we "went to meeting" in a little white-painted, pine box of a thing, like a barn that had risen in life. The stumps stood about the street: the cows wandered at will and pastured in the "public square," an irregular clearing running out into indefinite space. Here also the Indians would encamp when they came to town from their reservation about five miles away, and here also, I regret to say, they would sometimes get drunk, and add what Martha Penney calls "a revolving animosity to the scenery." The squaws, however, would generally secure the knives and guns before the quarrelsome stage was reached. Not unfrequently the ladies would bring the weapons to Mrs. Moore or myself to hide away till their lords and masters should be sober. Then, feeling secure that no great harm could happen, they would look on with the utmost placidity at the antics of their better halves until they dropped down to sleep off their liquor.
There were no Indians in town that night, however, and if there had been, I was not at all afraid of them, for we were on excellent terms with the whole reservation. My feeling about staying alone was merely one of those unreasonable sensations that sometimes overtake people of ill-regulated minds.
I went to the door and looked out at the gray, angry sky. It was not cold, but chill. The wind howled and shivered among the leafless branches: everything promised a storm.
I was not at all sorry to see Mr. and Mrs. Moore drive up in their light buggy, with their two high-stepping, little brown horses. Mrs. Moore had in her arms a bundle in a long blue embroidered cloak—a baby, in short. She and her husband firmly believed this infant to be the most beautiful, most intelligent and altogether most charming creature which the world had ever seen. They had been married three years, and little Carry was their first child.
Mr. and Mrs. Moore were by no means ordinary people. Mrs. Moore—born Minny or Hermione Adams—was a very small woman, exceedingly pretty, with light brown curly hair, dark blue eyes and a complexion like an apple blossom.
Mr. Moore was the son of a Seneca mother and Cherokee father, with not a drop of white blood in his veins. So he thought, at least, but I never could quite believe it, because he could and did work, and never so much as touched even a glass of wine. His parents had died when he was very young, and he had been brought up and educated by a missionary, a gentle, scholarly old Presbyterian minister, whose memory his adopted son held in loving reverence.
The story of our acquaintance with Richard Moore is too long to be told here. Four years before he had come with us from the Pawnee country. He had married Minny Adams with the full consent of her parents and the opposition of all her other friends. Contrary to all prophecies, and with that inartistic disregard of the probable which events often show, they had been very happy together.
Mr. Moore—otherwise Wyanota—was a civil engineer, and stood high in his profession.
"Look here, mamma," he said as he drove up. "Will you take in the wife and the small child for to-night? I must go away."
"Certainly," said I, overjoyed. "But where are you going, to be caught in a storm?"
"Oh, they have got into a fuss with the hands over on the railroad, and have sent for me. I might have known Robinson wouldn't manage when I left him?"
"English!" said Wyn, most expressively. "No one can stand the airs he puts on."
Now, such airs as Mr. Moore possessed—and they were neither few nor far between—were not put on, but were perfectly natural to him.
"Can't you come in and get your tea?" I asked as he handed me the baby and helped his wife down.
"No: I must go over directly and compose matters. Good-bye, little woman: by-bye, baby! Do you know, we think she's beginning to say 'papa?'" said Wyn, proudly; and then he kissed his wife and child and drove away.
I carried the infant phenomenon into the house and took off its wrappings. She was my namesake, and I loved the little creature, but I can't say she was a pretty baby. She was a soft, brown thing, with her father's beautiful southern eyes and her mother's mouth, but otherwise she certainly was not handsome. She was ten months old, but she had a look of experience and wisdom in her wee face that would have made her seem old at twenty years. She sat on my lap and watched me in a meditative way, as though she were reviewing her former estimate of my character, and considering whether her opinions on that subject were well founded. There was something quite weird and awful in her dignity and gravity.
"Isn't she a wise-looking little thing?" said Minny. "She makes me think sometimes of the fairy changeling that was a hundred and fifty years old, and never saw soap made in an egg-shell."
"This baby never would have made such a confession of ignorance, you may depend. She would not have acknowledged that anything lay out of the range of her experience. Take your chicken till I get tea, for I am my own girl to-night."
We had a very merry time over the tea-table and in washing up the dishes. Until the boys went to bed we were in something of a frolic with them and the baby, and it was not till the little one was asleep in her crib and Ed and Charley were quiet in bed that we noticed how wild the weather was getting.
The rain, which had at first fallen in pattering drops, was now driving in sheets before a mighty wind, which roared through the woods back of the house with a noise like thunder. The branches of the huge oaks in the front yard creaked and groaned as only oak boughs can. The house shook, the rain lashed the roof, and the wind clawed and rattled the blinds like some wild creature trying to get in.
"I hope Wyn is safe under shelter,'' said Mrs. Moore.
"He will have reached the end of his journey long before this. I hope he will have no trouble with the men, but he is not apt to. I pity poor Mr. Robinson. When Wyn chooses, his extreme politeness is something quite awful."
"I will say for my husband," observed Mrs. Moore, "that when he sets himself to work to be disagreeable, he can, without doing one uncourteous thing, be more aggravating than any one I ever saw in my life."
"It is perfectly evident that he never tries his airs on you, or you would not speak so. Hear the wind blow!"
"It is no use listening to the weather. The house will stand, I suppose. Have you got your work? Then let me read to you. It will seem like old times, before I was married."
Minny Moore was in some respects a very remarkable woman. Though little Carry was her first baby, she could talk on other subjects. She did not expect you to listen with rapture to the tenth account of how baby had said "Da-da," or thrill with agony over the tale of an attack of wind. She had been her husband's friend and companion before the baby was born: she did not entirely throw him over now that it had come. She had always been fond of reading, and she continued to keep up her interest in the world outside of her nursery. She thought that as her daughter grew up her mother would be as valuable as a guide and friend if she did not wholly sink the educated woman in the nurse-maid and seamstress. These habits may have been "unfeminine," but they certainly made Mrs. Moore much more agreeable as a companion than if she had been able to talk of nothing but the baby's clothes, teeth and ailments.
I took out my work, and Minny began to read Locksley Hall, which was then a new poem on this side the water. I had never heard it before, and I must confess I was much affected—more than I should be now. Mrs. Moore, however, chose to say that she thought Amy had made a most fortunate escape, that she had no doubt but the hero would have been a most intolerable person to live with, and that their marriage, had it come to pass, would have ended in Amy's taking in sewing to support both herself and her husband. As for the Squire, why we had no word for his character but his disappointed rival's, and his drinking might be all a slander. As to his snoring, why poets might snore as well as other people. If he loved his wife "somewhat better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse," "Why what more," said Mrs. Moore, "could any woman ask of a man given to horses and hunting? If Calvin Bruce ever cares more for a woman than he does for his brown pointer and his fast trotter, she may think herself happy indeed."
At that instant a sudden and furious blast rushed out of the woods, and tore and shook at the four corners of the house as if to wrench it from its foundations.
"It's quite awful to hear the wind scream like that," said Minny. "It is like the banshee. Hark! is not that some one knocking at the back door?"
I listened, and amid the rattling and shaking of blinds and timbers I heard what sounded like a hurried, impatient knock at the side door. "Who can it be on such a wild night?" I said, and took the candle and went to open the door. I set the light in the hall, for I knew the wind would blow it out. In spite of this precaution, however, the flame was extinguished, for as I drew back the bolt and lifted the latch the blast threw the door violently back on its hinges, and rushed into the hall as though exulting in having finally made an entrance.
"Pretty bad weather, mamma," said some one in the softest, sweetest voice, like a courteous flute, and there entered my old friend the Black Panther.
This gentleman measured seven feet in his moccasins, and as he stood in our little entry he looked gigantic indeed. He closed the door with some difficulty, and I relit the candle.
"You are quite wet through," I said, for the water dripped from his blanket and woolen hunting-frock. He carried his rifle in his hand, and I thought the old man looked very tired and sad, and even anxious.
"You all well?" he asked, earnestly.
"Certainly. The captain has gone away, and Minny and the baby are here for the night. My dear friend, where have you been in this weather? There is a good fire in the kitchen. Come and get dry there, and let me make you a cup of hot coffee and get you something to eat."
Here Minny came out into the hall and held up her hands in sunrise.
"Oh, uncle," she said, calling him by the name she had used toward him since her childhood, "how could you come out in all this rain, and bring on your rheumatism? How do you think any one is ever going to find dry clothes for such a big creature as you?"
The Panther gave a little grunt and a smile. He was used to Minny's lectures, and he followed us both into the kitchen, where she made him sit down by the fire and took off his wet blanket, waiting on him like a daughter, and scolding him gently meanwhile. The old gentleman had of late years been subject to rheumatism, and it was too likely that this exposure would bring on another attack. The Panther patted her two little hands between his own. Like most of his race, he had beautiful hands, soft and rounded even in his old age, with long taper fingers that had, I dare say, taken more than one scalp in their time.
"Pooh!" said he, lightly. "You think old Ingin melt like maple sugar? You well?" he asked, anxiously.
"And little one?"
"As well as a little pig, fast asleep in the other room."
"Where your husband?"
"Gone over to the railroad on business."
"And yours?" he asked, turning to me.
"Gone to Carysville. Do you know anything about him? is anything the matter?" I asked, a little alarmed at his persistent questioning and an indefinite something in the old man's tone and manner.
"Oh no," said he, earnestly. "I come right over from our place."
"Walked from the reservation in this storm!" said I. "What could have made you do such a thing?"
"Nothing—just to see you. Not very strange come see two nice women," said the old gentleman, with a little complimentary bow.
The Panther was somewhat vain of his knowledge of what he called "white manners," but I never saw a white man who could be so gently dignified, so courteous, so altogether charming in manner, as the old chief when he chose. He hardly knew one letter from another, but he had had sixty-five years of experience in war and council. Many a man "got up regardless of expense" in college and society might have taken lessons in deportment from this old Pottawatomie. He had known Minny from her childhood. Her father's farm had been the first clearing in all that part of the country. Deacon Adams had always been on excellent terms with the Indians, and his little daughter had found her earliest playmates among their children. The Panther had carried Minny in his arms when she was a baby; and as his own family of boys and girls died one after another, he clung closer to the child who had been their pet as well as his own.
The Panther was one of those big, soft, easy men who seem made to be ruled by one woman or another. He was greatly respected in his tribe, and had much influence. When they had been a nation he had been one of their most distinguished warriors, and his word had been law. He had always maintained toward the "young men" a somewhat imperious manner. He had conducted himself with dignity and decision in all his visits to Washington, where he had been a great lion, and in all his dealings with the United States he had shown much wisdom and ability. But report said that when once within the domestic circle and before his squaw, the diplomatist and warrior was exceedingly meek. He bore his wife's death with resignation, but he had never married again. He loved Minny Adams better than anything on earth, and the girl had great influence over him. She, in her turn, was very fond of him. From her earliest years he had been her friend, confidant and admirer. He looked so fierce and dangerous, and was so kind and simple, that the alliance between the girl and himself was very much like that between a little child and a big mastiff—the child protected and leader, the dog protector and led.
Minny made flannel shirts for him, and he wore them: she trimmed his moccasins, and the dainty cambric ruffles which he wore when in grand costume were got up by her hands. The Panther, however, did not often appear in full dress. She tried to teach him to read, and she did get him through the alphabet, but he greatly preferred hearing stories read to learning to do it for himself, and was especially fond of the Arabian Nights, which he quite believed. She even coaxed him to go to church with her, and might have made a convert of him but for the interference of an exceedingly silly young clergyman. The Panther rather liked to hear the Bible, but I fear he was more attracted by the sound than the sense: his favorite chapter was the story of David and Goliah. He used to say that "Ingin religion was good for Ingin, and white religion was good for white man." However, he never offered the least opposition to the missionary who had settled among his people: indeed, he rather patronized that gentleman.
He and Wyanota were excellent friends. It was good to see the deference and respect with which the younger man treated the elder. I always said that it was the Panther who made the match between Minny and Mr. Moore. Their house was one of his homes, and he was a frequent guest at our own. He petted and spoiled my two children: he was very soft and kind to me, whom he called "Mamma," after Wyn's example, and he considered that my husband "understood good manners"—a compliment which he did not pay to every one.
A dear little daughter whom we had lost had been very fond of him: the child had died in his arms. I was alone at the time, and the old man's sympathy was such a comfort to me in my trouble that for his own sake, as well as for our little girl's, he had become very dear to us.
For an Indian, the Panther might be called almost a sober character. He was seldom drunk more than four or five times a year, and when he was, he always was very careful to keep out of the way of his white friends until he was sober, when he would lecture the young men on the evils of intemperance in most impressive fashion. He was a good deal of an orator, possessing a voice of great sweetness and power; and though he was such an immense creature, all his movements were light and graceful as those of a kitten. He could speak perfectly good, even elegant, English when he chose, but he did not always choose, and generally omitted the pronouns; but his voice, manner and gestures in speaking were perfectly charming when he was in a good temper. When he was not, he was somewhat awful, but it was only under great provocation that he became savage. In general, he was an amiable, kind, lazy creature, whom it was very easy to love.
I could not but wonder that night, as I set out the table and made the coffee, what had brought the Panther so far in such wild weather. He did not seem like himself. He was usually very conversable, and would chat away by the hour together, in a fashion half shrewd, half simple, often very interesting; but now he was silent and distrait.
"Carry," said Mrs. Moore, "are there not some of Wyn's things here yet in that old trunk in your lumber-room?"
"Yes. Perhaps you can find something the chief can put on, and bring down a pair of the captain's socks and slippers."
"Oh, never mind, never mind," said the damp giant.
"But I will mind," said the little woman; and she went out and soon returned with the things, which she insisted he should go and put on.
"Well, always one woman or another," said the Panther in a tone of resignation: "always squaw git her own way. You see that little girl, mamma? Could squeeze her up just like a rabbit. Always she order me round since she so high, and I just big fool enough let her;" and he went into the next room, and presently came out arrayed in dry garments, as to his upper man at least. I set the table with the best I had in the house, and Minny and I sat down to get a cup of coffee with our guest.
At any other time the old gentleman would have purred and talked over this little feast like an amiable old cat, but now he was rather silent; and I noticed that in the pauses of the wind he would stop as though listening for some expected sound. I began to think he was concealing from me some misfortune or danger, and the same thought was evidently in Minny's mind, for she watched him anxiously.
When we went back into the parlor the Panther walked to the baby's crib, and stood for a moment looking at the sleeping child with a tenderness which softened his whole aspect. Then he asked for the little boys.
"They are fast asleep in the next room," I said. "Go and look at them, and you will be sure."
The Panther smiled, but he went into my room, which opened from the parlor, and bending down softly kissed the two little faces resting on the same pillow.
I drew a large chair to the fire for him, and Minny filled his pipe, for I had "followed the drum" too long to object to smoking. The giant stretched his length of limb before the fire, but he did not seem quite at ease, even under the influence of the tobacco. He looked a little troubled and anxious, and lifted his head once or twice with a sudden motion, like a dog who has misgivings that something is wrong out-doors.
The baby stirred in her sleep, and the chief began gently to rock the cradle. "'Spose she order me about too, by and by," he said, "like her mother."
"Oh, you like to make that out," said Minny, "because you are such a great big, strong man. If you were a little bit of a creature, you would always be standing on your dignity to make yourself look tall. The last time Wyn and I were at Detroit we went to church, and I heard the very smallest man I ever saw preach a tremendous sermon about the man being the head of the woman, insisting mightily on the respect we all owe to the other sex. When we came out I asked Wyn what he thought, and he said he thought it was exactly such a sermon as such a very tiny man might be expected to preach."
"Ah! and he heard you both, my dear," said I; "and he says Mr. Moore has no element of reverence in his character!"
Here the Panther dropped his pipe, and starting from his chair looked like his namesake just ready for a spring, as the sharp, quick bark of a little dog was heard from the nearest house.
"Only dog," he said in a tone of relief, and resumed his smoking.
"Uncle," said Minny, "I do wish you would tell me what the matter is, or what you are listening for. You make me think there is something wrong."
I looked up and seconded Minny's request.
"'Spose I tell you, you think it all Ingin nonsense," he said, looking a little embarrassed.
"Even if I did, sir, I should feel more comfortable," I said.
"Yes, do tell us, please," said Minny, earnestly.
"Well, then," said the old man, speaking with an effort, "last night went out after a coon—up in the woods right back of here—"
"And went up on that little hill over your pasture, and then," said the old man lowering his voice and speaking with great earnestness, "hear red fox bark—one, two, three times out loud, and then again farther off. There, now!"
I was greatly relieved at finding that I was threatened by nothing worse than the oracle of the red fox. I knew the Indian superstition that if this animal is heard to bark anywhere near a dwelling, he foretells death within twenty-four hours to some one beneath its roof.
"But," said I, "the red fox is only a sign for Indians. He does not bark for white people, and you were not under a roof at the time, so it cannot apply to you."
"Don't know!" said the Panther, shaking his head. "Never know that sign fail. Then here this little woman and this baby—all the same as Ingin now."
Minny looked a little troubled. In spite of his reading, his college education and mathematics, Wyanota had sundry queer notions and superstitions, about which he very seldom spoke, but which nevertheless had some weight with him, and it is possible that he had in some degree communicated his ideas to his wife.
"I don't believe in signs," said Minny, but nevertheless she looked annoyed.
"So I thought," said the chief with a little smile. "Know mamma here think it all nonsense, or else come over this morning to tell her. Then think she not believe it and not mind, and so keep quiet. Then storm come up and wind blow, and couldn't stand it; so set out and walk over here to take care of her; and she—maybe she laugh at me?"
"No indeed, sir," said I, greatly touched by the anxious affection which had brought the old man so far in such weather. "How good you are to me! You mean to stay here to-night of course, and in the morning you will see that the red fox was simply barking for his own amusement; but I am sorry he drove you to take such a toilsome walk, though we are glad to have you here."
"My business take care of you when your men gone. Got no one my own blood," he said, rather sadly: "boys dead, girl dead, squaw dead—no one but you two care much for old man."
Minny went and kissed him softly. "You know I belong to you," she said, "and baby has no grandfather but you."
"Ah! your father!" said the Panther, rocking the cradle. "He and I always good friends. 'Member when you come, your mother she got no milk for you, poor little starved thing! My squaw she lose her baby—nice little boy too," said the old man, with a sigh—"she tell your mother she nurse you; so she did. You git fat and rosy right off. You all the same one of us after that. No spoil your pretty white skin, though," said the Panther, patting Minny's cheek with his brown fingers. "Seem just like that happen yesterday: now you got baby yourself. Ah! your father—mighty well pleased he be 'spose he see that little one."
"How often I wish he could!" said "Minny with a sigh, for both her father and mother were dead.
"You 'pend upon it, he comfortable somewhere," said the chief, consolingly. "Deacon Adams, he real good man. Look here, mamma! Like to ask you question. You say when we die white man go to one place, Indian go to another—"
"I don't say so, sir. I don't pretend to know all this world by heart, much less the other."
"Well, that what Indian say, any way. Now 'spose that so, what come of half-breed, eh?"
"What do you think?" I asked, for neither Minny nor I could venture an opinion on this abstruse point.
"Don't know," said the old man. "Saw young Cherokee in Washington: he marry pretty little schoolmistress go down there to teach, and their little boy die. Then that young man feel bad, and he fret good deal 'bout where that baby gone to, and he ask me, and I no able tell him. Guess me find out when get there: no use to trouble till then, You make these?" he asked, changing the subject, and looking with admiration at the captain's embroidered slippers which I had lent him.
"Yes. They were pretty when they were new. I'll make you a pair just like them, if you wish. Shall I?"
The old gentleman looked greatly delighted, for he was as fond of finery as any girl, and took no small pride in adorning his still handsome person.
I brought out all my embroidery-patterns, and the giant took as much pleasure as a child in the pretty painted pictures and gay-colored wools and silks. I made all the conversation I could over the slippers, willing to divert him from the melancholy which seemed to have taken possession of his mind. Over my work-basket he brightened a little, and chatted away quite like himself, and listened with pleasure to Minny's singing. We did not rise to go to bed till eleven o'clock, which was a very late hour for Maysville. When the Panther spent the night at our house, as was frequently the case, he never would go regularly to bed, but would take his blanket and lie down before the kitchen fire. With great politeness he insisted on getting the wood ready for morning, a thing he never would have dreamed of doing for a woman of his own race.
As he came back into the kitchen from the shed he took up his rifle, which he had set down by the door. As he did so an angry look came over his face. "Look here," he said: "somebody been spoil my rifle!"
I looked at the piece in surprise, for the lock was broken. "It cannot have been done since you came," I said. "There is no one in the house but ourselves."
"Of course not, of course not!" said the Panther, eager to show that he had no suspicion of his friends.
"Did you stop anywhere on your way?"
"Yes," said he with some slight embarrassment. "Stop at Ryan's," mentioning a low tavern on the borders of the reservation, which was a terrible thorn in the side of all the missionary's efforts. "Stop a minute light my pipe, but no drink one drop," he added with great earnestness; "but they ask me good deal."
"Did you put your gun down?"
"Guess so," he said after a moment's reflection. "Yes, know did put it down a minute or two."
"Then that was when the mischief was done, you may be sure. This lock was never broken by accident. It must have been a mere piece of spite because you would not stay. I wonder you did not notice it when you came out."
"In a hurry, and kept the buckskin over it, not to git it wet. Wish knew who did that," said he, with a look not good to see. "Guess not do it again."
"I am very sorry, but it can easily be mended."
I spread out on the floor for him the comfortable and blankets I had brought for his use, and hung up his woolen hunting-frock, now quite dry.
As I took it into my hand, I felt something very heavy in the pocket.
"I hope you have nothing here that will be spoiled with wet?" I said.
"Oh, nothing but money," said the chief, carelessly. "Mean to tell Minny to take some of it and buy clothes for me."
He took out as he spoke a handful of loose change—copper, silver and two or three gold-pieces—and a roll of bills a good deal damp, and put it all into my apron. I counted the money and found there were seventy-five dollars. Strong indeed must have been the attraction which had brought the old man away from the tavern-fire in his sober senses with such a sum of money in his pocket.
"Just got that," he said. "Part from Washington, part sell deer-skins."
There was no need to tell me that it had not been long in his possession. Money in the Panther's hands was like water in a sieve.
"You give me five dollars, give the rest to Minny," he said; and as this was by much the wisest arrangement for him, I did as he wished.
"You got captain's gun?" he asked me. "Never like to go to sleep without something to catch up: hit somebody 'spose somebody come."
"I am sorry to say the captain has his rifle with him, and I lent the shotgun to Jim Brewster this afternoon."
He looked annoyed, but he went out into the woodshed and returned with the axe, which was new and sharp. "Have something, anyway," he said, doggedly.
"Why, what do you think can possibly happen?"
"Don't know. Always like to have something to catch up. Good-night, mamma. You go to sleep."
I went to bed and fell asleep almost on the minute, but I could not have slept long when I was wakened by the noise of the wind against the shutters. The rain had ceased, but the blast was still roaring without. Minny and her child were in a room which opened out of the parlor opposite my own. The lamp which was burning there threw a dim light into my chamber, and showed me each familiar object and my little boys asleep beside me.
Some one says that between the hours of one and four in the morning the human mind is not itself. I fully believe it. In those hours you do not "fix your mind" on melancholy subjects—they fix themselves upon you. If you turn back into the past, there comes up before you every occasion on which you made a fool of yourself, every lost opportunity, every slight injury you ever experienced. If you look at the future, you see nothing but coming failure and disappointment. The present moment connects itself with every tale you ever heard or read of ghosts, murder, vampires or robbers.
That night, either because of the wind or because I had taken too strong coffee, I fell into "the fidgets," as this state of mind is sometimes called, and selected for immediate cause of discomfort the Panther's presentiment about the red fox. Who could explain the mysterious way in which animals are warned of approaching danger? Perhaps the old science of divination was not so entirely a delusion; and then I remembered all the old stories in Roman history of people who had come to grief by neglecting the oracles. The old idea that whatever incident is considered as an omen will be such in reality, seemed to me at that hour of the night not wholly an unreasonable theory.
I had known, to be sure, some fifty presentiments which came to nothing, but then I had known as many as three which had been verified: perhaps the present case might be one of the exceptions to the rule. Then I remembered all the stories in Scott's Demonology, which I had lately read, and quite forgot all the arguments intended to disprove them.
I thought of the broken gun-lock: I thought it not improbable that the Panther had, when at Ryan's, mentioned that he was coming to our house, and that it was very likely he had let it appear that he carried his money with him. Ryan's was one of the worst places in all the State. I remembered that the money was in the house, and I began to wish, like the Panther, that I had something to "catch up." Then there were so many noises about! I heard footsteps, which you will always hear if you listen for them on a windy night. When our petted old cat jumped from his place on the parlor sofa to lie down before the fire, I started up in bed in a sudden fright.
I must have been in this uncomfortable state of mind and body for the best part of an hour before I remembered that in a drawer in the front parlor lay two little old-fashioned pistols, unloaded but in good order.
I had grown so excited and uneasy that I felt as if I could not rest unless I got up, found those pistols and loaded them, though nobody had ever heard of a burglary in Maysville, and half the time the doors were left unlocked at night. Rather despising myself for my nervousness, but yielding to it nevertheless, I rose, put on my dressing-gown and slippers, lit my candle and went to find the two little pistols. I stepped very softly, not to disturb Minny, for I should have been quite ashamed then to have her know my cowardice. I looked in at the door as I passed. She was sound asleep, with her baby on her arm. The baby, however, was broad awake, but lying perfectly still, with her little finger in her mouth. Her eyes shone in the lamplight as she turned them on me—not startled like another child, but simply questioning. The little creature looked so unnaturally wise and self-possessed that I was reminded perforce of a wild tale Wyanota had once told me about a remote ancestress of his who had married some sort of a wood-demon. The legend ran that Wyanota's family was descended from the offspring of this marriage, and I think Wyn more than half believed the story.
I passed on, and going into the next room found the pistols, carried them back to my own chamber, and loaded them carefully. I was quite accustomed to the use of firearms. There had been times in my life when I never sat down to my work or went to rest without having rifle or pistol within easy reach of my hand. When I had loaded the weapons, I put them on the table by my bed and lay down again. My excitement seemed to have subsided, and I was just falling asleep when I heard a door in the kitchen violently burst open. I thought the wind had done it, and waited a moment to hear if the Panther would rise and shut it.
The next instant there was a shot, a wild cry as of mingled pain and fury, the sound of a heavy fall and a struggle. Before I had well realized that the noise was in the house, I found myself at the kitchen door with my pistols in my hand. I was greatly startled, but my one idea was to help my old friend. The miserable door resisted me for a moment. Seconds passed that seemed hours. When at last I tore it open, I saw a man in his shirt sleeves lying dead on the floor, his head shattered apparently by a blow from the axe: another, a large, powerful Irishman, was kneeling on the Panther's breast, with his hands at the old man's throat.
I sprang forward, but something swifter than I darted past me with a savage cry, and, tearing and biting with claws and teeth, flung itself full at the ruffian's face and naked throat. It was our big old brindle cat, Tom, roused from his place before the fire. The unexpected fierceness of Tom's assault took the man quite by surprise. Before he could tear the creature away I had the pistol at his head.
"If you move," I said, "I'll kill you;" for, as I saw that my old friend was hurt, wrath took the place of fear.
He gave in directly. Indeed the cat, a large, powerful animal, had almost scratched his eyes out. In the most abject tones the fellow implored me to let him go.
"Don't you do it, mamma," said the Panther, faintly.
"I don't mean to," I said.
Under the kitchen stairs was a dark closet with a strong outside bolt. I ordered the man into this place. He obeyed, and I drew the bolt upon him. His face and throat were streaming with blood from Tom's teeth and claws.
All this passed in much less time than it takes to tell it. Roused by the noise, the children, and Minny with the baby in her arms, were already in the kitchen.
"Oh, my dear, my poor darling!" said Minny, kneeling by the old man's side, "you are hurt!"
"Yes," he said, quietly, "pretty considerable bad. Charley, you fasten that door;" for the door into the shed, which had been secured only by a button, was wide open. "You get the hammer and two, three big nails, and drive 'em in," he continued. "Maybe more them darn scamps round."
Charley obeyed directions in a way which did him credit. Little Ned, with wide, surprised eyes, clung to me in silence; little Carry, seeing her mother in tears, put up a piteous lip and sobbed in her unbaby-like, sorrowful fashion; the old cat, in great excitement, went purring and talking from one to another.
"Tell me where you are hurt," I said, holding the chief's hand.
He had been shot through the stomach with a great, old-fashioned smooth-bore musket, which lay on the floor—a gun not carrying less than twenty-five to the pound. I had seen gunshot wounds before, and I knew that this was serious. It did not bleed much externally, but the edges of the wound were torn and discolored.
"That fellow dead?" asked the Panther.
"Yes indeed!" for the man's head was split like a walnut.
The old warrior looked gratified. "Mamma," he said, touching his hunting-knife, "you take that fellow's scalp."
"Don't think of such a thing," I said, not so much shocked as I might have been had I not lived on the Indian frontier. "Do you know who they are?"
"See them to Ryan's. Guess they some folks that mizzable railroad bring into this country. 'Spect they follow me. Mamma," said the Panther, looking up into my face, "tell you, red fox not bark for nothing. Better be old man than you."
"Oh, my dear old friend, if you had only not come to us to-night! It was all your love for us that has done this, but I pray God you may get well. Charley, do you think you can go for Doctor Beach?"
"Yes, mamma," said the boy, though he turned pale.
"No, no," said the Panther. "You no send that little fellow out in the dark. Besides, no good. You go wrap yourselves up. You two, you git bad cold."
At that moment we heard the sound of wheels and horses' feet.
"Go, Charley," said Minny. "Stop whoever it is, and tell them what has happened."
Charley ran out, and soon returned with Dr. Beach, who, happily for us, had been out on one of those errands which are always rousing doctors from their beds.
Dr. Beach was a burly, rough-mannered sort of man, but he could be very kind and tender in the exercise of his profession. He wasted no time in questions, but looked grave when he saw how the old man was hurt.
"Needn't tell me," said the Panther, quietly. "Know it's the end. Kill one of 'em, anyhow!" he concluded in a tone of calm satisfaction.
"And I wish with all my heart you had killed the other," said the doctor, bitterly. "He got off, I suppose."
The Panther showed his white teeth in a laugh. "No," he said, pointing to me: "she got him—she and the cat. Pretty well for one little squaw and pussy-cat. Mamma, you keep that kitty always."
"Where is the scoundrel?" asked the doctor.
"Shut up in that closet."
Here the man within cried out that he was "kilt" already, and should be hung if we did not let him go.
"I hope you will, with all my heart," said the doctor.
With some difficulty we helped the Panther into the parlor and laid him on the sofa.
He told us the story in a few words. He had been asleep when the door was burst open. The man whom he had killed had fired the shot. He had kept his feet to strike one blow with the axe, and the other man had sprung upon him as he fell.
The doctor did what little he could to ease his patient, and then went away, but soon returned with some men from the village, who were quite ready to lynch the criminal when they heard what he had done. They took the man away, however, and I am happy to say he afterward received the heaviest sentence the law would allow. He confessed that, knowing the chief had a large sum in his possession, himself and his companion had broken the lock of the rifle, intending to waylay the old man and shoot him in the woods. They had not, however, been able to overtake him till he reached the clearing, and then, fearing to encounter him, they had followed him at a distance and watched him enter our house. Knowing that the captain was gone, they had waited until all was quiet, and then made their entrance as described.
The Panther asked that some one might go to the reservation and send over three of his friends, whom he named. He was very anxious to see Wyanota, and Calvin Bruce, who had come with the doctor, instantly volunteered to take his trotting mare and do both errands. The chestnut did her work gallantly, though unhappily in vain, for the old man did not live to see his friends.
"Don't you fret, you two," he said, softly, as Minny and I watched over him. "Great deal the best way for old Ingin. Die like a man now: not cough myself to death, like an old dog. Minny, little girl, you tell your husband be good to our people, well as he can. Not much of our nation left now—not good for much, either," he added; "but you tell him and the captain stand their friends, won't you?"
"Indeed, indeed they will," said Minny in tears.
A Methodist clergyman of some kind, who preached in Maysville at that time, hearing what had happened, came in to offer his services and to pray with the dying man. The Panther thanked him courteously, but he clung to the simple creed of his fathers and his belief that "Ingin religion was good for Ingin;" and Mr. Lawrence had the sense and feeling not to disturb him by argument.
"Want your Charley to have my rifle," he said to me. "Nobody left of our people but my cousin's son, and he most a mizzable Ingin. You 'member that, please," he said to Mr. Lawrence, who sat quietly at the head of the sofa. "Do you think," he asked wistfully of the clergyman, "that I ever see these two again where I go?" The minister—Heaven bless him!—answered stoutly that he had not a doubt of it. "All right, then," said the Panther, quietly. "Now, mamma, you see red fox know, after all."
Minny brought her baby for him to kiss. Little Carry's dark eyes were full of tears, for, like most babies, she felt the influence of sorrow she could not understand. She did not scream, as another child would, but hid her face on her mother's bosom and sobbed quietly, like a grown-up woman. My two little boys, understanding all at once that their old friend was going away, burst out crying.
"Hush! hush!" he said, gently. "You be good boys to your mother. Say 'good-bye.'"
We kissed him, keeping back the lamentations which we knew would trouble him.
"Good-bye," he said, softly, and then he spoke some few words in his own tongue, as Minny told me afterward, about going to his lost children. Then a smile came over his face, a look of sweet relief and comfort softened the stern features, the hand that had held mine so close slowly relaxed; and with a sigh he was gone.
The old minister gently closed his eyes. "My dear," said Mr. Lawrence to Minny, who was in an agony of grief, "God knows, but it was His Son who said, 'Greater love hath no man than this—that a man lay down his life for his friends!'"
When we buried the old chief we wrote those words on the stone we placed over his grave.
Since then the New Year's Eve brings back to me very vividly the memory of the augury that so strangely accomplished its own fulfillment.
CLARA F. GUERNSEY.
The great river was flowing peacefully down to the sea, opening its blue tides at the silver fretting of the bar into a shallow expanse some miles in width, a part of which on either side overlay stretches where the submerged eel-grass lent a tint of chrysoprase to the sheathing flow, and into which one gazed, half expecting to see so ideal a depth peopled by something other than the long ribbons of the weed streaming out on the slow current—the only cool sight, albeit, beneath the withering heat of the day across all that shining extent. Far down the shores, on the right, a line of low sand-hills rose, protecting the placid harbor from sea and storm with the bulwark of their dunes, whose yellow drifts were ranged by the winds in all fantastic shapes, and bound together by ropes of the wild poison-ivy and long tangles of beach-grass and the blossoming purple pea, and which to-day cast back the rays of the sun as though they were of beaten brass. Above these hills the white lighthouse loomed, the heated air trembling around it, and giving it so vague and misty a guise that, being by itself a thing of night and storm and darkness, it looked now as unreal as a ghost by daylight. On the other side of the harbor lay the marshes, threaded by steaming creeks, up which here and there the pointed sails of the hidden hay-barges crept, the sunshine turning them to white flames: farther off stood a screen of woods, and from brim to brim between swelled the broad, smooth sheet of the river, coming from the great mountains that gave it birth, washing clean a score of towns on its way, and loitering just here by the pleasant old fishing-town, whose wharves, once doing a mighty business with the Antilles and the farther Indies, now, in the absence of their half dozen foreign-going craft, lay at the mercy of any sand-droger that chose to fling her cable round their capstans. A few idle masts swayed there, belonging to small fishers and fruiters, a solid dew of pitch oozing from their sides in the sun, but not a sail set: a lonely watchman went the rounds among them, a ragged urchin bobbed for flounders in the dock, but otherwise wharves and craft were alike forsaken, and the sun glared down on them as though his rays had made them a desert. The harbor-water lay like glass: now and then the tide stirred it, and all the brown and golden reflections of masts and spars with it, into the likeness of a rippled agate. Not one of the boats that were ordinarily to be seen darting hither and yon, like so many water-bugs, were in motion now; none of the white sails of the gay sea-parties were running up and swelling with the breeze; none of the usual naked and natatory cherubs were diving off the wharves into that deep, warm water; the windows on the seaward side of the town were closed; the countless children, that were wont to infest the lower streets as if they grew with no more cost or trouble than the grass between the bricks, had disappeared in the mysterious way in which swarms of flies will disappear, as if an east wind had blown them; but no east wind was blowing here. In all the scene there was hardly any other sign of life than the fervent sunbeams shedding their cruel lustre overhead: the river flowed silent and lonely from shore to shore; the whole hot summer sky stretched just as silent and lonely from horizon to horizon; only the old ferryman, edging along the bank till he was far up stream, crossed the narrower tide and drifted down effortless on the other side; only an old black brig lay at anchor, with furled sail and silent deck, in the middle channel down below the piers, and from her festering and blistering hull it was that all the heat and loneliness and silence of the scene seemed to exude—for it was the fever-ship.
It was a different picture on the bright river when that brig entered the harbor on the return of her last voyage, to receive how different a welcome! But pestilence raged abroad in the country now, and the people of the port, who had so far escaped the evil, were loth to let it enter among them at last, and had not yet recovered from the recoil of their first shock and shiver at thought of it in their waters—waters than which none could have fostered it more kindly, full as they were in their shallow breadth of rotting weeds and the slime of sewers. Perhaps the owner of some pale face looked through the pane and thought of brother or father, or, it may be, of lover, and grew paler with pity, and longed to do kind offices for those who suffered; but the greater part of all the people hived upon the shores would have scouted the thought of going out with aid to those hot pillows rocking there upon the tide, and of bringing back infection to the town, as much as though the act had been piracy on the high seas. And they stayed at home, and watched their vanes and longed for an east wind—an east wind whose wings would shake out healing, whose breath would lay the destroying fever low; but the east wind refused to seek their shores, and chose rather to keep up its wild salt play far out on the bosom of its mid-sea billows.
Yes, on that return of the last voyage of the brig the stream had swarmed with boats, flags had fluttered from housetops and staffs, piers and quays had been lined with cheering people, all flocking forth to see the broken, battered little craft; for the brig had been spoken by a tug, and word had been brought to the wharves, and had spread like wild-fire through the town, that, wrecked in a tempest and deserted by the panic-stricken crew, the steadfast master and a boy who stood by him had remained with her, had refitted her as best they might when the storm abated, and had brought her into port at last through fortunate days of fair weather and slow sailing. The town was ringing with the exploit, with praise of the noble faithfulness of master and boy; and now the river rang again, and no conquering galley of naval hero ever moved through a gladder, gayer welcome than that through which the little black brig lumbered on her clumsy way to her moorings.
But though all the rest of the populace of the seaport had turned out with their greetings that day, there was one little body there who, so far from hurrying down to shore or sea-wall with a waving handkerchief, ran crying into a corner; and it was there that Andrew Traverse, the person of only secondary importance in the river scene, rated as a boy on the brig's books, but grown into a man since the long voyage began,—it was there he found her when the crowd had let him alone and left him free to follow his own devices.
"It's the best part of all the welcome, I declare it is!" said he, standing in the doorway and enjoying the sight before him a moment.
"Oh, Andrew," cried the little body with a sob, but crouching farther away into the corner, "it was so splendid of you!"
"What was so splendid of me?" said he, still in the doorway, tall and erect in the sunshine that lay around him, and that glanced along his red shirt and his bronzed cheek to light a flame in the black eyes that surveyed her.
"Standing by him so," she sobbed—"standing by the captain when the others left—bringing home the ship!"
"It's not a ship—it's a brig," said Andrew, possibly too conscious of his merit to listen to the praise of it. "Well, is this all? Ain't you going to shake hands with me? Ain't you glad to see me?"
"Oh, Andrew! So glad!" and she turned and let him see the blushing, rosy face one moment, the large, dark, liquid eyes, the tangled, tawny curls; and then overcome once more, as a sudden shower overcomes the landscape, the lips quivered again, the long-lashed eyelids fell, and the face was hidden in another storm of tears. And then, perhaps because he was a sailor, and perhaps because he was a man, his arms were round her and he was kissing off those tears, and the little happy body was clinging to him and trembling with excitement and with joy like a leaf in the wind.
Certainly no two happier, prouder beings walked along the sea-wall that night, greeted with hearty hands at every step, followed by all eyes till the shelter of deepening dusk obscured them, and with impish urchins, awe-struck for once, crying mysteriously under their breath to each other, "That's him! That's the feller saved the Sabrina! That's him and her!" How proud the little body was! how her heart beat with pleasure at thought of the way in which all men were ready to do him honor! how timidly she turned her eyes upon him and saw the tint deepen on his cheek, the shadow flash into light in his eye, the smile kindle on his lips, as he looked down on her—glad with her pride and pleasure, strong, confident, content himself—till step by step they had left the town behind, wandering down the sandy island road, through the wayside hedge of blossoming wild roses and rustling young birches, till they leaned upon the parapet of the old island bridge and heard the water lap and saw the stars come out, and only felt each other and their love in all the wide, sweet summer universe.
Poor Louie! She had always been as shy and wary as any little brown bird of the woods. It was Andrew's sudden and glorious coming that had surprised her into such expression of a feeling that had grown up with her until it was a part of every thought and memory. And as for Andrew—certainly he had not known that he cared for her so much until she turned that tearful, rosy face upon him in welcome; but now it seemed to him that she had been his and he hers since time began: he could neither imagine nor remember any other state than this: he said to himself, and then repeated it to her, that he had loved her always, that it was thought of her that had kept him firm and faithful to his duty, that she had been the lodestar toward which he steered on that slow homeward way; and he thanked Heaven, no doubt devoutly enough, that had saved him from such distress and brought him back to such bliss. And Louie listened and clung closer, more joyful and more blest with every pulse of her bounding heart.
After all, sudden as the slipping into so divine a dream had been, it had need to be full as intense and deep, for it was only for a little while it lasted. A week's rapt walking in these mid-heavens, where earth and care and each to-morrow was forgotten, and there broke in upon them the voice of the Sabrina's owner seeking for Andrew Traverse.
Of course such conduct as that of one who preferred to do his utmost to save a sinking ship rather than seek safety with her flying crew, was something too unusual to go unrewarded: it must be signalized into such a shining light that all other mariners must needs follow it. And if the sky had fallen, Andrew declared, he could have been no more surprised than he was when he found himself invited with great ceremony to a stately tea-drinking at the house of the owner of the Sabrina. "Now we shall catch larks," said he; and dressed in a new suit, whose gray tint set off the smoothness of his tanned cheek with the color sometimes mantling through the brown, he entered the house with all the composure of a gentleman used to nothing but high days and holidays. Not that either the state or ceremony at Mr. Maurice's required great effort to encounter with composure—trivial enough at its best, wonderful though it was to the townsfolk, unused to anything beyond. But Andrew had seen the world in foreign parts, and neither Mr. Maurice's mansion-house and gardens, nor his gay upholstery, nor his silver tea-service, nor his condescending manners, struck the least spark of' surprise from Andrew's eyes, or gave them the least shadow of awe.
"This is some mistake," said the owner graciously, after preliminary compliment had been duly observed. "How is it that you are rated on the books as a boy—you as much a man as you will ever be?"
"A long voyage, sir, slow sailing and delays over so many disasters as befell us, three years out in the stead of a year and a half—all that brings one to man's estate before his reckoning."
"But the last part of the time you must have done able seaman's service?"
"The captain and I together," said Andrew with his bright laugh. "We were officers and crew and passengers, cox'n and cook, as they say."
"A hard experience," said Mr. Maurice.
"Oh, not at all, but worth its weight in gold—to me, at least. Why, sir, it taught me how to handle a ship as six years before the mast couldn't have done."
"Good! We shall see to what purpose one of these days. And you have had your share of schooling, they tell me?"
"All that the academy had to give, sir."
"And that's enough for any one who has the world to tussel with. How should you like to have gone through such hard lines, Frarnie?" turning to his daughter, a pale, moon-faced girl, her father's darling.
"Were you never afraid?" she asked in her pretty simpering way.
"Not to say afraid," answered Andrew, deferentially. "We knew our danger—two men alone in the leaky, broken brig—but then we could be no worse off than we were before; and as for the others—"
"They got their deserts," said Mr. Maurice.
"The poor fellows left us in such a hurry that they took hardly any water or biscuit; and at the worst our fate could not be so bad as theirs, under the hot sun in those salt seas."
"Well, well!" said Mr. Maurice, who loved his own ease too much to like to hear of others' dis-ease. And to turn the conversation from the possible horrors into which it might lapse, he invited his guest out into his gardens, among his grapehouses, his poultry and his dogs. It was a long hour's ramble that they took there, well improved on both sides, for Andrew of course knew it to be for his interest to please the brig's owner; and Mr. Maurice, who prided himself on having a singularly keen insight into character, studied the young man's every word and gesture, for it was not often that he came across such material as this out of which to make his captains; and to what farther effect in this instance be pursued his studies might have been told, by any one keener than himself, through the tone of satisfaction with which, on re-entering the parlor, he bade his daughter take Andrew down the rooms and tell him the histories of the surprising pictures there. For Mr. Maurice, one of the great fortunes of the seaport, being possessed by a mania of belief that every youth who cast tender eyes upon his daughter cast them not on her, but on her future havings and holdings, had long since determined to select a husband for her himself—one who evinced no servile reverence for wealth, one whom he could trust to make her happy. "And here," he said, "I am not sure but that I have him."
When Andrew went in to see Louie a moment on his way home that night, he was in great spirits over the success of his visit, and, dark as it was, made her blush the color of the rose over the low doorway where they stood when he asked how she would like to go captain's wife next voyage. And then he told her of Mr. Maurice's scrutiny and questioning, and the half hint of a ship of his own to sail some day, and of the pale-faced Miss Frarnie's interest, and of the long stroll down the parlors among the pictures, the original of one of which he had seen somewhere in the Mediterranean, when he and a parcel of sailors went ashore and rambled through the port, and looked in at a church, where, in the midst of music and incense and a kneeling crowd, they were shearing the golden locks off of young girls and making nuns of them. And Andrew forgot to tell of the way in which Miss Frarnie listened to him and hung upon his words: indeed, how could he? Perhaps he did not notice it himself; but if he had had a trifle more personal vanity, and had seen how this pale young girl—forbidden by a suspicious father much companionship with gallants—had forgotten all difference of station and purse, and had looked upon him, nobly made, handsome, gay, knowing far more than she did, much as upon a young god just alighted by her side a moment,—if Andrew had been aware of this, and had found any words in which to repeat it, then Louie might have had something to startle her out of her blessedness, and pain might have come to her all the sooner. But since the pain would have been as sharp then as at any future time, it was a pitying, pleasant Fate that let her have her happiness as long as might be. For Louie's love was a different thing from the selfish passion that any clown may feel: she had been happy enough in her little round of commonplace satisfactions and tasks before Andrew came and shed over her this great cloud of delight—happy then just in the enjoyment of that secret love of hers that went out and sought him every night sailing over foreign sunlit waters, and hovered like a blessing round his head; and now that he had come and folded her about and about with such warm devotion, it was not for the new happiness he gave her that she loved him, but in order to make his own happiness a perfect thing; and if her heart's blood had been needed for that, it would have been poured out like water. The pale-faced Frarnie—if question could be of her—might never know such love as that: love with her could be a sentiment, a lover one who added to her pleasure, but a sacrifice on her part for that lover would have been something to tell and sing for ever, if indeed it were possible that such a thing should be made at all.
So day by day the spell deepened with Louie, and for another week there was delightful loneliness with this lover of hers—strolls down through the swampy woods hunting for moss to frame the prints he had brought home uninjured, and which were to be part of the furnishing of their future home; others across the salt meadows for the little red samphire stems to pickle; sails in the float down river and in the creeks, where the tall thatch parted by the prow rustled almost overhead, and the gulls came flying and piping around them: here and there, they two alone, pouring out thought and soul to each other, and every now and then glancing shyly at those days, that did not seem so very far away, when they should be sailing together through foreign parts; for Louie's father, the old fisherman, was all her household, and a maiden aunt, who earned her livelihood in nursing the sick and attending the dead, would be glad to come any day and take Louie's place in the cottage.
At the end of the week, Mr. Maurice sent for Andrew to his counting-room; and after that, on one device or another, he had him there the greater part of every day, employing him in a score of pleasant ways—asking his advice as to the repairs of the Sabrina, taking him with him in his chaise jogging through the shipyard, where a new barque was getting ready for her launching, examining him the while carefully from time to time after his wont; at last taking him casually home to dinner with him one day, keeping him to tea the next, and finally, fully satisfied with the result of his studies in that edition of human nature, giving him the freedom of the family as much as if he had been the son of the house.
"I've some plans ahead for you, my boy," said he one day with a knowing shake of the head; and Andrew's innocent brain began to swim straightway between the new barque and the Sabrina.
"Look at him!" said Mr. Maurice to his wife one evening as Andrew walked in the garden with Miss Frarnie. "My mind's made up about him. He's the stuff for a sea-captain, afraid neither of wind nor weather nor the face of clay—can sail a ship and choose her cargo. He's none of your coxcombs that go courting across the way: he's a man into the core of his heart, and as well bred as any gentleman that walks; though Goodness knows how he came by it."
"These sea-coast people," said his wife, reflectively (she was inland-born herself), "see the world and learn."
"Well, what do you say to it? I don't find the flaw in him. If Heaven had given me a son, I'd have had him be like this one; and since it didn't, why here's my way to circumvent Heaven."
"Oh, my dear," said the wife, "I can't hear you talk so. And besides—"
"Well? Besides what?"
"I think it is always best to let such things take their own course. We did."
"Of course we did," laughed Mr. Maurice. "But how about our fathers and mothers?"
"I mean," said Mrs. Maurice, "not to force things."
"And who intends to force them? It's plain enough the young fellow took a fancy to our Frarnie the first time he laid eyes on her, isn't it?"
"I mean," said Mrs. Maurice again, "that if Frarnie should have the same fancy for him, I don't know that there'd be any objection. He is quite uncommon—quite uncommon when you consider all things—but I don't know why you want to lead her to like any one in particular, when she has such a nice home and is all we have."
"Girls will marry, Mrs. Maurice. If it isn't one, it will be another. So I had rather it should, be one, and that one of my own choosing—one who, will use her well, and not make ducks and drakes of her money as soon as we are gone where there's no returning, and without a 'thank you' for your pains. Look at them now! Should you imagine they thought there was any one else on earth but each other at this moment? They're fond of each other, that's plain. They'd be a remarkable-looking couple. What do you think of it?"