"Delicious cresses!' said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Yes; I wonder where they came from," said her husband. "Who got them?"
"I guess Fleda knows," said Hugh.
"They grow in a little stream of spring water over here in the meadow," said Fleda, demurely.
"Yes, but you don't answer my question," said her uncle, putting his hand under her chin, and smiling at the blushing face he brought round to view. "Who got them?"
"You have been out in the rain?"
"Oh, Queechy rain don't hurt me, uncle Rolf."
"And don't it wet you either?"
"Yes, Sir a little."
"My sleeves oh, I dried them long ago."
"Don't you repeat that experiment, Fleda," said he, seriously, but with a look that was a good reward to her, nevertheless.
"It is a raw day!" said Mrs. Rossitur, drawing her shoulders together, as an ill-disposed window-sash gave one of its admonitory shakes.
"What little panes of glass for such big windows!" said Hugh.
"But what a pleasant prospect through them," said Fleda "look, Hugh! worth all the Batteries and Parks in the world."
"In the world! in New York, you mean," said her uncle. "Not better than the Champs Elyses?"
"Better to me," said Fleda.
"For to-day I must attend to the prospect in-doors," said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Now, aunt Lucy," said Fleda, "you are just going to put yourself down in the corner, in the rocking-chair there, with your book, and make yourself comfortable; and Hugh and I will see to all these things. Hugh and I and Mary and Jane that makes quite an army of us, and we can do everything without you, and you must just keep quiet. I'll build you up a fine fire, and then, when I don't know what to do, I will come to you for orders. Uncle Rolf, would you be so good as just to open that box of books in the hall, because I am afraid Hugh isn't strong enough. I'll take care of you, aunt Lucy."
Fleda's plans were not entirely carried out, but she contrived pretty well to take the brunt of the business on her own shoulders. She was as busy as a bee the whole day. To her all the ins and outs of the house, its advantages and disadvantages, were much better known than to anybody else; nothing could be done but by her advice; and, more than that, she contrived by some sweet management to baffle Mrs. Rossitur's desire to spare her, and to bear the larger half of every burden that should have come upon her aunt. What she had done in the breakfast-room, she did or helped to do in the other parts of the house; she unpacked boxes and put away clothes and linen, in which Hugh was her excellent helper; she arranged her uncle's dressing-table with a scrupulosity that left nothing uncared-for; and the last thing before tea she and Hugh dived into the book-box to get out some favourite volumes to lay upon the table in the evening, that the room might not look to her uncle quite so dismally bare. He had been abroad, notwithstanding the rain, near the whole day.
It was a weary party that gathered round the supper-table that night weary, it seemed, as much in mind as in body; and the meal exerted its cheering influence over only two of them; Mr. and Mrs. Rossitur sipped their cups of tea abstractedly.
"I don't believe that fellow, Donohan, knows much about his business," remarked the former at length.
"Why don't you get somebody else, then?" said his wife.
"I happen to have engaged him, unfortunately."
"What doesn't he know?"
Mr. Rossitur laughed, not a pleasant laugh.
"It would take too long to enumerate. If you had asked me what part of his business he does understand, I could have told you shortly that I don't know."
"But you do not understand it very well yourself. Are you sure?"
"Am I sure of what?"
"That this man does not know his business?"
"No further sure than I can have confidence in my own common sense."
"What will you do?" said Mrs. Rossitur, after a moment.
A question men are not fond of answering, especially when they have not made up their minds. Mr. Rossitur was silent, and his wife too, after that.
"If I could get some long-headed Yankee to go along with him," he remarked again, balancing his spoon on the edge of his cup, in curious illustration of his own mental position at the moment Donohan being the only fixed point, and all the rest wavering in uncertainty. There were a few silent minutes before anybody answered.
"If you want one, and don't know of one, uncle Rolf," said Fleda, "I dare say cousin Seth might."
That gentle modest speech brought his attention round upon her. His face softened.
"Cousin Seth? who is cousin Seth?"
"He is aunt Miriam's son," said Fleda. "Seth Plumfield. He's a very good farmer, I know; grandpa used to say he was; and he knows everybody."
"Mrs. Plumfield," said Mrs. Rossitur, as her husband's eyes went inquiringly to her "Mrs. Plumfield was Mr. Ringgan's sister, you remember. This is her son."
"Cousin Seth, eh?" said Mr. Rossitur, dubiously. " Well Why, Fleda, your sweet air don't seem to agree with you, as far as I see; I have not known you look so so triste since we left Paris. What have you been doing, my child?"
"She has been doing everything, father," said Hugh.
"Oh! it's nothing," said Fleda, answering Mr. Rossitur's look and tone of affection with a bright smile. " I'm a little tired, that's all!"
"A little tired!' She went to sleep on the sofa directly after supper, and slept like a baby all the evening; but her power did not sleep with her; for that quiet, sweet, tired face, tired in their service, seemed to bear witness against the indulgence of anything harsh or unlovely in the same atmosphere. A gentle witness-bearing, but strong in its gentleness. They sat close together round the fire, talked softly, and from time to time cast loving glances at the quiet little sleeper by their side. They did not know that she was a fairy, and that though her wand had fallen out of her hand it was still resting upon them.
"Gon. Here is everything advantageous to life. Ant. True; save means to live." TEMPEST.
Fleda's fatigue did not prevent her being up before sunrise the next day. Fatigue was forgotten, for the light of a fair spring morning was shining in at her windows, and she meant to see aunt Miriam before breakfast. She ran out to find Hugh, and her merry shout reached him before she did, and brought him to meet her.
"Come, Hugh! I'm going off up to aunt Miriam's, and I want you. Come! Isn't this delicious?"
"Hush!" said Hugh. " Father's just here in the barn. I can't go, Fleda."
Fleda's countenance clouded.
"Can't go! what's the matter? can't you go, Hugh?"
He shook his head, and went off into the barn.
A chill came upon Fleda. She turned away with a very sober step. What if her uncle was in the barn, why should she hush? He never had been a check upon her merriment never; what was coming now? Hugh, too, looked disturbed. It was a spring morning no longer. Fleda forgot the glittering wet grass that had set her own eyes a-sparkling but a minute ago; she walked along, cogitating, swinging her bonnet by the strings in thoughtful vibration, till, by the help of sunlight and sweet air, and the loved scenes, her spirits again made head and swept over the sudden hindrance they had met. There were the blessed old sugar maples, seven in number, that fringed the side of the road how well Fleda knew them! Only skeletons now, but she remembered how beautiful they looked after the October frosts; and presently they would be putting out their new green leaves, and be beautiful in another way. How different in their free-born luxuriance from the dusty and city-prisoned elms and willows she had left! She came to the bridge then, and stopped with a thrill of pleasure and pain to look and listen. Unchanged! all but herself. The mill was not going; the little brook went by quietly chattering to itself, just as it had done the last time she saw it, when she rode past on Mr. Carleton's horse. Four and a half years ago! And now how strange that she had come to live there again.
Drawing a long breath, and swinging her bonnet again, Fleda softly went on up the hill, past the saw-mill, the ponds, the factories, the houses of the settlement. The same, and not the same! Bright with the morning sun, and yet, somehow, a little browner and homelier than of old they used to be. Fleda did not care for that she would hardly acknowledge it to herself her affection never made any discount for infirmity. Leaving the little settlement behind her thoughts as behind her back, she ran on now towards aunt Miriam's, breathlessly, till field after field was passed, and her eye caught a bit of the smooth lake, and the old farm-house in its old place. Very brown it looked, but Fleda dashed on, through the garden, and in at the front door.
Nobody at all was in the entrance-room, the common sitting- room of the family. With trembling delight, Fleda opened the well-known door, and stole noiselessly through the little passage-way to the kitchen. The door of that was only on the latch, and a gentle movement of it gave to Fleda's eye the tall figure of aunt Miriam, just before her, stooping down to look in at the open mouth of the oven, which she was at that moment engaged in supplying with more work to do. It was a huge one, and, beyond her aunt's head, Fleda could see in the far end the great loaves of bread, half baked, and more near a perfect squad of pies and pans of gingerbread just going in to take the benefit of the oven's milder mood. Fleda saw all this, as it were, without seeing it; she stood still as a mouse and breathless, till her aunt turned, and then a spring and a half shout of joy, and she had clasped her in her arms, and was crying with her whole heart. Aunt Miriam was taken all aback she could do nothing but sit down and cry too, and forgot her oven-door."
"Aint breakfast ready yet, mother?" said a manly voice coming in. "I must be off to see after them ploughs. Hollo why, mother!"
The first exclamation was uttered as the speaker put the door to the oven's mouth; the second as he turned in quest of the hand that should have done it. He stood wondering, while his mother and Fleda, between laughing and crying, tried to rouse themselves and look up.
"What is all this?"
"Don't you see, Seth?"
"I see somebody that had like to have spoiled your whole baking I don't know who it is yet."
"Don't you now, cousin Seth?" said Fleda, shaking away her tears and getting up.
"I ha'n't quite lost my recollection. Cousin, you must give me a kiss. How do you do! You ha'n't forgot how to colour, I see, for all you've been so long among the pale city folks."
"I hav'n't forgotten anything, cousin Seth," said Fleda, blushing indeed, but laughing and shaking his hand with as hearty good-will.
"I don't believe you have anything that is good," said he. "Where have you been all this while?"
"Oh, part of the time in New York, and part of the time in Paris, and some other places."
"Well, you ha'n't seen anything better than Queechy, or Queechy bread and butter, have you?"
"Come, you shall give me another kiss for that," said he, suiting the action to the word; "and now sit down and eat as much bread and butter as you can. It's just as good as it used to be. Come, mother, I guess breakfast is ready by the looks of that coffee-pot."
"Breakfast ready!" said Fleda.
"Ay indeed; it's a good half-hour since it ought to ha' been ready. If it aint, I can't stop for it. Them boys will be running their furrows like sarpents if I aint there to start them."
"Which like sarpents," said Fleda, "the furrows or the men?"
"Well, I was thinking of the furrows," said he, glancing at her. "I guess there aint cunning enough in the others to trouble them. Come, sit down, and let me see whether you have forgot a Queechy appetite."
"I don't know," said Fleda, doubtfully; "they will expect me at home."
"I don't care who expects you sit down! you aint going to eat any bread and butter this morning but my mother's you haven't got any like it at your house. Mother, give her a cup of coffee, will you, and set her to work."
Fleda was too willing to comply with the invitation, were it only for the charm of old times. She had not seen such a table for years, and little as the conventionalities of delicate taste were known there, it was not without a comeliness of its own in its air of wholesome abundance and the extreme purity of all its arrangements. If but a piece of cold pork were on aunt Miriam's table, it was served with a nicety that would not have offended the most fastidious; and amid irregularities that the fastidious would scorn, there was a sound excellence of material and preparation that they very often fail to know. Fleda made up her mind she would be wanted at home; all the rather, perhaps, for Hugh's mysterious "hush;" and there was something in the hearty kindness and truth of these friends that she felt particularly genial. And if there was a lack of silver at the board, its place was more than filled with the pure gold of association. They sat down to table, but aunt Miriam's eyes devoured Fleda. Mr. Plumfield set about his more material breakfast with all despatch.
"So Mr. Rossitur has left the city for good?" said aunt Miriam. "How does he like it?"
"He hasn't been here but a day, you know, aunt Miriam," said Fleda evasively.
"Is he anything of a farmer?" asked her cousin.
"Not much," said Fleda.
"Is he going to work the farm himself?"
"How do you mean?"
"I mean, is he going to work the farm himself, or hire it out, or let somebody else work it on shares?"
"I don't know," said Fleda "I think he is going to have a farmer, and oversee things himself."
"He'll get sick o' that," said Seth; "unless he's the luck to get hold of just the right hand."
"Has he hired anybody yet?" said aunt Miriam, after a little interval of supplying Fleda with "bread and butter."
"Yes, Ma'am, I believe so."
"What's his name?"
"Donohan an Irishman, I believe; uncle Rolf hired him in New York."
"For his head man?" said Seth, with a sufficiently intelligible look.
"Yes," said Fleda. "Why?"
But he did not immediately answer her.
"The land's in poor heart now," said he, "a good deal of it; it has been wasted; it wants first-rate management to bring it in order, and make much of it for two or three years to come. I never see an Irishman's head yet that was worth more than a joke. Their hands are all of 'em that's good for anything."
"I believe uncle Rolf wants to have an American to go with this man," said Fleda.
Seth said nothing; but Fleda understood the shake of his head as he reached over after a pickle.
"Are you going to keep a dairy, Fleda?" said her aunt.
"I don't know, Ma'am I haven't heard anything about it."
"Does Mrs. Rossitur know anything about country affairs?"
"No nothing," Fleda said, her heart sinking perceptibly with every new question.
"She hasn't any cows yet?"
She? any cows! But Fleda only said they had not come; she believed they were coming.
"What help has she got?"
"Two women Irishwomen," said Fleda.
"Mother, you'll have to take hold and learn her," said Mr. Plumfield.
"Teach her?" cried Fleda, repelling the idea "aunt Lucy? she cannot do anything she isn't strong enough; not anything of that kind."
"What did she come here for?" said Seth.
"You know," said his mother, "that Mr. Rossitur's circumstances obliged him to quit New York."
"Ay, but that aint my question. A man had better keep his fingers off anything he can't live by. A farm's one thing or t'other, just as it's worked. The land wont grow specie it must be fetched out of it. Is Mr. Rossitur a smart man?"
"Very," Fleda said, "about everything but farming."
"Well, if he'll put himself to school, maybe he'll learn," Seth concluded, as he finished his breakfast and went off. Fleda rose too, and was standing thoughtfully by the fire, when aunt Miriam came up and put her arms round her. Fleda's eyes sparkled again.
"You're not changed you're the same little Fleda," she said.
"Not quite so little," said Fleda, smiling.
"Not quite so little, but my own darling. The world hasn't spoiled thee yet."
"I hope not, aunt Miriam."
"You have remembered your mother's prayer, Fleda?"
How tenderly aunt Miriam's hand was passed over the bowed head how fondly she pressed her! And Fleda's answer was as fond.
"I wanted to bring Hugh up to see you, aunt Miriam, with me, but he couldn't come. You will like Hugh. He is so good!"
"I will come down and see him," said aunt Miriam; and then she went to look after her oven's doings. Fleda stood by, amused to see the quantities of nice things that were rummaged out of it. They did not look like Mrs. Renney's work, but she knew from old experience that they were good.
"How early you must have been up to put these things in," said Fleda.
"Put them in! yes, and make them. These were all made this morning, Fleda."
"This morning! before breakfast! Why, the sun was only just rising when I set out to come up the hill, and I wasn't long coming, aunt Miriam."
"To be sure; that's the way to get things done. Before breakfast! What time do you breakfast, Fleda?"
"Not till eight or nine o'clock."
"Eight or nine! Here?"
"There hasn't been any change made yet, and I don't suppose there will be. Uncle Rolf is always up early, but he can't bear to have breakfast early."
Aunt Miriam's face showed what she thought; and Fleda went away with all its gravity and doubt settled like lead upon her heart. Though she had one of the identical apple pies in her hands, which aunt Miriam had quietly said was for "her and Hugh," and though a pleasant savour of old times was about it, Fleda could not get up again the bright feeling with which she had come up the hill. There was a miserable misgiving at heart. It would work off in time.
It had begun to work off, when, at the foot of the hill, she met her uncle. He was coming after her to ask Mr. Plumfield about the desideratum of a Yankee. Fleda put her pie in safety behind a rock, and turned back with him, and aunt Miriam told them the way to Seth's ploughing ground.
A pleasant word or two had set Fleda's spirits a-bounding again, and the walk was delightful. Truly the leaves were not on the trees, but it was April, and they soon would be; there was promise in the light, and hope in the air, and everything smelt of the country and spring-time. The soft tread of the sod, that her foot had not felt for so long, the fresh look of the newly-turned earth; here and there the brilliance of a field of winter grain, and that nameless beauty of the budding trees, that the full luxuriance of summer can never equal Fleda's heart was springing for sympathy. And to her, with whom association was everywhere so strong, there was in it all a shadowy presence of her grandfather, with whom she had so often seen the spring-time bless those same hills and fields long ago. She walked on in silence, as her manner commonly was when deeply pleased; there were hardly two persons to whom she would speak her mind freely then. Mr. Rossitur had his own thoughts.
"Can anything equal the spring-time?" she burst forth at length.
Her uncle looked at her and smiled. "Perhaps not; but it is one thing," said he, sighing, "for taste to enjoy, and another thing for calculation to improve."
"But one can do both, can't one?" said Fleda, brightly.
"I don't know," said he, sighing again. "Hardly."
Fleda knew he was mistaken, and thought the sighs out of place. But they reached her; and she had hardly condemned them before they set her off upon a long train of excuses for him, and she had wrought herself into quite a fit of tenderness by the time they reached her cousin.
They found him on a gentle side-hill, with two other men and teams, both of whom were stepping away in different parts of the field. Mr. Plumfield was just about setting off to work his way to the other side of the lot, when they came up with him.
Fleda was not ashamed of her aunt Miriam's son, even before such critical eyes as those of her uncle. Farmer-like as were his dress and air, they showed him, nevertheless, a well- built, fine-looking man, with the independent bearing of one who has never recognised any but mental or moral superiority. His face might have been called handsome; there was at least manliness in every line of it; and his excellent dark eye showed an equal mingling of kindness and acute common sense. Let Mr. Plumfield wear what clothes he would, one felt obliged to follow Burns' notable example, and pay respect to the man that was in them.
"A fine day, Sir," he remarked to Mr. Rossitur, after they had shaken hands.
"Yes, and I will not interrupt you but a minute. Mr. Plumfield, I am in want of hands hands for this very business you are about, ploughing and Fleda says you know everybody; so I have come to ask if you can direct me."
" Heads or hands, do you want?" said Seth, clearing his boot- sole from some superfluous soil upon the share of his plough.
"Why both, to tell you the truth. I want bands and teams, for that matter, for I have only two, and I suppose there is no time to be lost. And I want very much to get a person thoroughly acquainted with the business to go along with my man. He is an Irishman, and I am afraid not very well accustomed to the ways of doing things here."
"Like enough," said Seth; " and the worst of 'em is, you can't learn 'em."
"Well! can you help me?"
"Mr. Douglass!" said Seth, raising his voice to speak to one of his assistants who was approaching them "Mr. Douglass! you're holding that 'ere plough a little too obleekly for my grounds."
"Very good, Mr. Plumfield!" said the person called upon, with a quick accent that intimated, "If you don't know what is best, it is not my affair!" the voice very peculiar, seeming to come from no lower than the top of his throat, with a guttural roll of the words.
"Is that Earl Douglass?" said Fleda.
"You remember him?" said her cousin, smiling. "He's just where he was, and his wife too. Well, Mr. Rossitur, 'tain't very easy to find what you want just at this season, when most folks have their hands full, and help is all taken up. I'll see if I can't come down and give you a lift myself with the ploughing, for a day or two, as I'm pretty beforehand with the spring, but you'll want more than that. I ain't sure I haven't more hands than I'll want myself, but I think it is possible Squire Springer may spare you one of his'n. He aint taking in any new land this year, and he's got things pretty snug; I guess he don't care to do any more than common, anyhow, you might try. You know where uncle Joshua lives, Fleda? Well, Philetus what now?"
They had been slowly walking along the fence towards the furthest of Mr. Plumfield's coadjutors, upon whom his eye had been curiously fixed as he was speaking a young man who was an excellent sample of what is called "the raw material." He had just come to a sudden stop in the midst of the furrow when his employer called to him; and he answered, somewhat lack-a- daisically
"Why, I've broke this here clavis: I ha'n't touched anything nor nothing, and it broke right in teu!"
"What do you 'spose 'll be done now?" said Mr. Plumfield, gravely, going up to examine the fracture.
"Well, 't wa'n't none of my doings," said the young man. "I ha'n't touched anything nor nothing, and the mean thing broke right in teu. 'Tain't so handy as the old kind o' plough, by a long jump."
"You go 'long down to the house and ask my mother for a new clavis; and talk about ploughs when you know how to hold 'em," said Mr. Plumfield.
"It don't look so difficult a matter," said Mr. Rossitur, "but I am a novice myself. What is the principal thing to be attended to in ploughing, Mr. Plumfield?"
There was a twinkle in Seth's eye, as he looked down upon a piece of straw he was breaking to bits, which Fleda, who could see, interpreted thoroughly.
"Well," said he, looking up "the breadth of the stitches and the width and depth of the furrow must be regulated according to the nature of the soil and the lay of the ground, and what you're ploughing for. There's stubble-ploughing, and breaking up old leys, and ploughing for fallow crops, and ribbing, where the land has been some years in grass, and so on; and the plough must be geared accordingly, and so as not to take too much land nor go out of the land; and after that the best part of the work is to guide the plough right, and run the furrows straight and even."
He spoke with the most impenetrable gravity, while Mr. Rossitur looked blank and puzzled. Fleda could hardly keep her countenance.
"That row of poles," said Mr. Rossitur, presently, "are they to guide you in running the furrow straight?"
"Yes, Sir, they are to mark out the crown of the stitch. I keep 'em right between the horses, and plough 'em down one after another. It's a kind of way country-folks play at nine- pins," said Seth, with a glance half inquisitive, half sly, at his questioner.
Mr. Rossitur asked no more. Fleda felt a little uneasy again. It was rather a longish walk to uncle Joshua's, and hardly a word spoken on either side.
The old gentleman was "to hum;" and while Fleda went back into some remote part of the house to see "aunt Syra," Mr. Rossitur set forth his errand.
"Well, and so you're looking for help eh?" said uncle Joshua, when he had heard him through.
"Yes, Sir I want help."
"And a team too?"
"So I have said, Sir," Mr. Rossitur answered rather shortly. "Can you supply me?"
"Well, I don't know as I can," said the old man, rubbing his hands slowly over his knees. "You ha'n't got much done yet, I s'pose?"
"Nothing. I came the day before yesterday."
"Land's in rather poor condition in some parts, aint it?"
"I really am not able to say, Sir, till I have seen it."
"It ought to be," said the old gentleman, shaking his head, "the fellow that was there last didn't do right by it. He worked the land too hard, and didn't put on it anywhere near what he had ought to; I guess you'll find it pretty poor in some places. He was trying to get all he could out of it, I s'pose. There's a good deal of fencing to be done too, aint there?"
"All that there was, Sir, I have done none since I came."
"Seth Plumfield got through ploughing yet?"
"We found him at it."
"Ay, he's a smart man. What are you going to do, Mr. Rossitur, with that piece of marsh land that lies off to the south east of the barn, beyond the meadow, between the hills? I had just sich another, and I "
"Before I do anything with the wet land, Mr. I am so unhappy as to have forgotten your name "
"Springer, Sir," said the old gentleman, "Springer Joshua Springer. That is my name, Sir."
"Mr. Springer, before I do anything with the wet land, I should like to have something growing on the dry; and as that is the present matter in hand, will you be so good as to let me know whether I can have your assistance."
"Well, I don't know," said the old gentleman; "there aint anybody to send but my boy Lucas, and I don't know whether he would make up his mind to go or not."
"Well, Sir!" said Mr. Rossitur, rising, "in that case, I will bid you good morning. I am sorry to have given you the trouble."
"Stop," said the old man, "stop a bit. Just sit down. I'll go in and see about it."
Mr. Rossitur sat down, and uncle Joshua left him to go into the kitchen and consult his wife, without whose counsel, of late years especially, he rarely did anything. They never varied in opinion, but aunt Syra's wits supplied the steel edge to his heavy metal.
"I don't know but Lucas would as lieve go as not," the old gentleman remarked on coming back from this sharpening process, "and I can make out to spare him, I guess. You calculate to keep him, I s'pose?"
"Until this press is over; and perhaps longer, if I find he can do what I want."
"You'll find him pretty handy at a'most anything, but I mean I s'pose he'll get his victuals with you?"
"I have made no arrangement of the kind," said Mr. Rossitur, controlling with some effort his rebelling muscles. "Donohan is boarded somewhere else, and for the present it will be best for all in my employ to follow the same plan."
"Very good," said uncle Joshua; "it makes no difference only, of course, in that case it is worth more, when a man has to find himself and his team."
"Whatever it is worth, I am quite ready to pay, Sir."
"Very good. You and Lucas can agree about that. He'll be along in the morning."
So they parted; and Fleda understood the impatient quick step with which her uncle got over the ground.
"Is that man a brother of your grandfather?"
"No, Sir Oh no! only his brother-in-law. My grandmother was his sister, but they weren't in the least like each other."
"I should think they could not," said Mr. Rossitur.
"Oh, they were not!" Fleda repeated. "I have always heard that."
After paying her respects to aunt Syra in the kitchen, she had come back time enough to hear the end of the discourse in the parlour, and had felt its full teaching. Doubts returned, and her spirits were sobered again. Not another word was spoken till they reached home; when Fleda seized upon Hugh, and went off to the rock after her forsaken pie.
"Have you succeeded?" asked Mrs. Rossitur, while they were gone.
"Yes that is, a cousin has kindly consented to come and help me."
"A cousin!" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Ay we're in a nest of cousins."
"In a what, Mr. Rossitur?"
"In a nest of cousins; and I had rather be in a nest of rooks. I wonder if I shall be expected to ask my ploughmen to dinner! Every second man is a cousin, and the rest are uncles."
"Whilst skies are blue and bright, Whilst flowers are gay, Whilst eyes that change ere night Make glad the day; Whilst yet the calm hours creep, Dream thou and from thy sleep Then wake to weep." SHELLEY.
The days of summer flew by, for the most part lightly, over the heads of Hugh and Fleda. The farm was little to them but a place of pretty and picturesque doings, and the scene of nameless delights by wood and stream, in all which, all that summer, Fleda rejoiced; pulling Hugh along with her, even when sometimes he would rather have been poring over his books at home. She laughingly said it was good for him, and one half, at least, of every fine day their feet were abroad. They knew nothing, practically, of the dairy, but that it was an inexhaustible source of the sweetest milk and butter, and, indirectly, of the richest custards and syllabubs. The flock of sheep that now and then came in sight, running over the hill-side, were to them only an image of pastoral beauty, and a soft link with the beauty of the past. The two children took the very cream of country life. The books they had left were read with greater eagerness than ever. When the weather was "too lovely to stay in the house," Shakespeare, or Massillon, or Sully, or the "Curiosities of Literature," or "Corinne," or Milner's Church History for Fleda's reading was as miscellaneous as ever was enjoyed under the flutter of leaves and along with the rippling of the mountain spring; whilst King curled himself up on the skirt of his mistress's gown, and slept for company; hardly more thoughtless and fearless of harm than his two companions. Now and then Fleda opened her eyes to see that her uncle was moody and not like himself, and that her aunt's gentle face was clouded in consequence; and she could not sometimes help the suspicion that he was not making a farmer of himself; but the next summer-wind would blow these thoughts away, or the next look of her flowers would put them out of her head. The whole courtyard in front of the house had been given up to her peculiar use as a flower garden, and there she and Hugh made themselves very busy.
But the summer-time came to an end.
It was a November morning, and Fleda had been doing some of the last jobs in her flower-beds. She was coming in with spirits as bright as her cheeks, when her aunt's attitude and look, more than usually spiritless, suddenly checked them. Fleda gave her a hopeful kiss, and asked for the explanation.
"How bright you look, darling!" said her aunt, stroking her cheek.
"Yes, but you don't, aunt Lucy. What has happened?"
"Mary and Jane are going away."
"Going away! What for?"
"They are tired of the place don't like it, I suppose."
"Very foolish of them! Well, aunt Lucy, what matter? we can get plenty more in their room."
"Not from the city not possible; they would not come at this time of year."
"Sure? Well, then, here we can, at any rate."
"Here! But what sort of persons shall we get here? And your uncle just think!"
"Oh, but I think we can manage," said Fleda. "When do Mary and Jane want to go?"
"Immediately! to-morrow; they are not willing to wait till we can get somebody. Think of it!"
"Well, let them go," said Fleda; "the sooner the better."
"Yes: and I am sure I don't want to keep them; but" and Mrs. Rossitur wrung her hands "I haven't money enough to pay them quite and they wont go without it."
Fleda felt shocked; so much that she could not help looking it.
"But can't uncle Rolf give it you?"
Mrs. Rossitur shook her head. "I have asked him."
"How much is wanting?"
"Twenty-five. Think of his not being able to give me that!" Mrs. Rossitur burst into tears.
"Now don't, aunt Lucy!" said Fleda, guarding well her own composure; "you know he has had a great deal to spend upon the farm, and paying men, and all, and it is no wonder that he should be a little short just now now, cheer up! we can get along with this, anyhow."
"I asked him," said Mrs. Rossitur, through her tears, "when he would be able to give it to me; and he told me he didn't know!"
Fleda ventured no reply, but some of the tenderest caresses that lips and arms could give; and then sprang away, and in three minutes was at her aunt's side again.
"Look here, aunt Lucy," said she, gently, "here is twenty dollars, if you can manage the five."
"Where did you get this?" Mrs. Rossitur exclaimed.
"I got it honestly. It is mine, aunt Lucy," said Fleda, smiling. "Uncle Orrin gave me some money, just before we came away, to do what I liked with; and I haven't wanted to do anything with it till now."
But this seemed to hurt Mrs. Rossitur more than all the rest. Leaning her head forward upon Fleda's breast, and clasping her arms about her, she cried worse tears than Fleda had seen her shed. If it had not been for the emergency, Fleda would have broken down utterly too.
"That it should have come to this! I can't take it, dear Fleda! "
"Yes, you must, aunt Lucy," said Fleda, soothingly. "I couldn't do anything else with it that would give me so much pleasure. I don't want it; it would lie in my drawer till I don't know when. We'll let these people be off as soon as they please. Don't take it so; uncle Rolf will have money again only just now he is out, I suppose and we'll get somebody else in the kitchen that will do nicely; you see if we don't."
Mrs. Rossitur's embrace said what words were powerless to say.
"But I don't know how we're to find any one here in the country I don't know who'll go to look I am sure your uncle wont want to; and Hugh wouldn't know "
"I'll go," said Fleda, cheerfully "Hugh and I. We can do famously, if you'll trust me. I wont promise to bring home a French cook."
"No, indeed; we must take what we can get. But you can get no one to-day, and they will be off by the morning's coach; what shall we do to-morrow for dinner? your uncle "
"I'll get dinner," said Fleda, caressing her; "I'll take all that on myself. It sha'n't be a bad dinner either. Uncle Rolf will like what I do for him, I dare say. Now, cheer up, aunt Lucy; do; that's all I ask of you. Wont you for me?"
She longed to speak a word of that quiet hope with which in every trouble she secretly comforted herself she wanted to whisper the words that were that moment in her own mind, "Truly, I know that it shall be well with them that fear God;" but her natural reserve and timidity kept her lips shut to her grief.
The women were paid off and dismissed, and departed in the next day's coach from Montepoole. Fleda stood at the front door to see them go, with a curious sense that there was an empty house at her back, and indeed upon her back. And in spite of all the cheeriness of her tone to her aunt, she was not without some shadowy feeling that soberer times might be coming upon them.
"What is to be done now?" said Hugh, close beside her.
"Oh, we are going to get somebody else," said Fleda.
"I don't know! You and I are going to find out."
"You and I!"
"Yes. We are going out after dinner, Hugh, dear," said she, turning her bright merry face towards him "to pick up somebody."
Linking her arm within his, she went back to the deserted kitchen premises, to see how her promise about talking Mary's place was to be fulfilled.
"Do you know where to look?" said Hugh.
"I've a notion; but the first thing is dinner, that uncle Rolf mayn't think the world is turning topsy-turvy. There is nothing at all here, Hugh nothing in the world but bread it's a blessing there is that. Uncle Rolf will have to be satisfied with a coffee dinner to-day, and I'll make him the most superb omelette that my skill is equal to! Hugh, dear, you shall set the table. You don't know how? then you shall make the toast, and I will set it the first thing of all. You perceive it is well to know how to do everything, Mr. Hugh Rossitur."
"Where did you learn to make omelettes?" said Hugh, with laughing admiration, as Fleda bared two pretty arms, and ran about, the very impersonation of good-humoured activity. The table was set the coffee was making and she had him established at the fire with two great plates, a pile of slices of bread, and the toasting-iron.
"Where? oh, don't you remember the days of Mrs. Renney? I have seen Emile make them. And by dint of trying to teach Mary this summer, I have taught myself. There is no knowing, you see, what a person may come to."
"I wonder what father would say, if he knew you had made all the coffee this summer?"
"That is an unnecessary speculation, my dear Hugh, as I have no intention of telling him. But see! that is the way with speculators! 'while they go on refining,' the toast burns!"
The coffee, and the omelette, and the toast, and Mr. Rossitur's favourite French salad, were served with beautiful accuracy; and he was quite satisfied. But aunt Lucy looked sadly at Fleda's flushed face, and saw that her appetite seemed to have gone off in the steam of her preparations. Fleda had a kind of heart-feast, however, which answered as well.
Hugh harnessed the little wagon, for no one was at hand to do it, and he and Fleda set off as early as possible after dinner. Fleda's thoughts had turned to her old acquaintance, Cynthia Gall, who she knew was out of employment, and staying at home somewhere near Montepoole. They got the exact direction from aunt Miriam, who approved of her plan.
It was a pleasant, peaceful drive they had. They never were alone together, they two, but vexations seemed to lose their power, or be forgotten; and an atmosphere of quietness gather about them, the natural element of both hearts. It might refuse its presence to one, but the attraction of both together was too strong to be resisted.
Miss Cynthia's present abode was in an out-of-the-way place, and a good distance off; they were some time in reaching it. The barest-looking and dingiest of houses, set plump in a green field, without one softening or home-like touch from any home-feeling within; not a flower, not a shrub, not an out- house, not a tree near. One would have thought it a deserted house, but that a thin wreath of smoke lazily stole up from one of the brown chimneys; and graceful as that was, it took nothing from the hard, stern barrenness below, which told of a worse poverty than that of paint and glazing.
"Can this be the place?" said Hugh.
"It must be. You stay here with the horse, and I'll go in and seek my fortune. Don't promise much," said Fleda, shaking her head.
The house stood back from the road. Fleda picked her way to it along a little footpath which seemed to be the equal property of the geese. Her knock brought an invitation to "come in."
An elderly woman was sitting there, whose appearance did not mend the general impression. She had the same dull and unhopeful look that her house had.
"Does Mrs. Gall live here?"
"I do," said this person.
"Is Cynthia at home?"
The woman, upon this, raised her voice, and directed it at an inner door.
"Lucindy!" said she, in a diversity of tones; "Lucindy! tell Cynthy here's somebody wants to see her." But no one answered; and throwing the work from her lap, the woman muttered she would go and see, and left Fleda, with a cold invitation to sit down.
Dismal work! Fleda wished herself out of it. The house did not look poverty-stricken within, but poverty must have struck to the very heart, Fleda thought, where there was no apparent cherishing of anything. There was no absolute distress visible, neither was there a sign of real comfort, or of a happy home. She could not fancy it was one.
She waited so long, that she was sure Cynthia did not hold herself in readiness to see company. And when the lady at last came in, it was with very evident marks of "smarting up" about her.
"Why, it's Flidda Ringgan!" said Miss Gall, after a dubious look or two at her visitor. "How do you do? I didn't 'spect to see you. How much you have growed!"
She looked really pleased, and gave Fleda's hand a very strong grasp as she shook it.
"There aint no fire here to-day," pursued Cynthy, paying her attentions to the fire-place; "we let it go down on account of our being all busy out at the back of the house. I guess you're cold, aint you."
Fleda said, "No;" and remembered that the woman she had first seen was certainly not busy at the back of the house, nor anywhere else but in that very room, where she had found her deep in a pile of patchwork.
"I heerd you had come to the old place. Were you glad to be back again?" Cynthy asked, with a smile that might be taken to express some doubt upon the subject.
"I was very glad to see it again."
"I ha'n't seen it in a great while. I've been staying to hum this year or two. I got tired o' going out," Cynthy remarked, with again a smile very peculiar, and, Fleda thought, a little sardonical. She did not know how to answer.
"Well, how do you come along down yonder?" Cynthy went on, making a great fuss with the shovel and tongs to very little purpose. "Ha' you come all the way from Queechy?"
"Yes. I came on purpose to see you, Cynthy."
Without staying to ask what for, Miss Gall now went out to "the back of the house," and came running in again with a live brand pinched in the tongs, and a long tail of smoke running after it. Fleda would have compounded for no fire and no choking. The choking was only useful to give her time to think. She was uncertain how to bring in her errand.
"And how is Mis' Plumfield?" said Cynthy, in an interval of blowing the brand.
"She is quite well; but, Cynthy, you need not have taken all that trouble for me. I cannot stay but a few minutes."
"There is wood enough!" Cynthia remarked, with one of her grim smiles an assertion Fleda could not help doubting. Indeed, she thought Miss Gall had grown altogether more disagreeable than she used to be in old times. Why, she could not divine, unless the souring effect had gone on with the years.
"And what's become of Earl Douglass and Mis' Douglass? I hain't heerd nothin' of 'em this great while. I always told your grandpa he'd ha' saved himself a great deal o' trouble if he'd ha' let Earl Douglass take hold of things. You han't got Mr. Didenhover into the works again, I guess, have you? He was there a good spell after your grandpa died.''
"I haven't seen Mrs. Douglass," said Fleda. "But, Cynthy, what do you think I have come here for?"
"I don't know," said Cynthy, with another of her peculiar looks directed at the fire. "I s'pose you want someh'n nother of me."
"I have come to see if you wouldn't come and live with my aunt, Mrs. Rossitur. We are left alone, and want somebody very much; and I thought I would find you out and see if we couldn't have you, first of all, before I looked for anybody else."
Cynthy was absolutely silent. She sat before the fire, her feet stretched out towards it as far as they would go, and her arms crossed, and not moving her steady gaze at the smoking wood, or the chimney-back, whichever it might be; but there was in the corners of her mouth the threatening of a smile that Fleda did not at all like.
"What do you say to it, Cynthy?"
"I reckon you'd best get somebody else," said Miss Gall, with a kind of condescending dryness, and the smile showing a little more.
"Why?" said Fleda. "I would a great deal rather have an old friend than a stranger."
"Be you the housekeeper?" said Cynthy, a little abruptly.
"Oh, I am a little of everything," said Fleda "cook and housekeeper, and whatever comes first. I want you to come and be housekeeper, Cynthy."
"I reckon Mis' Rossitur don't have much to do with her help, does she?" said Cynthy, after a pause, during which the corners of her mouth never changed. The tone of piqued independence let some light into Fleda's mind.
"She is not strong enough to do much herself, and she wants some one that will take all the trouble from her. You'd have the field all to yourself, Cynthy."
"Your aunt sets two tables, I calculate, don't she?"
"Yes; my uncle doesn't like to have any but his own family around him."
"I guess I shouldn't suit!" said Miss Gall, after another little pause, and stooping very diligently to pick up some scattered shreds from the floor. But Fleda could see the flushed face, and the smile which pride and a touch of spiteful pleasure in the revenge she was taking made particularly hateful. She needed no more convincing that Miss Gall "wouldn't suit;" but she was sorry, at the same time, for the perverseness that had so needlessly disappointed her; and went rather pensively back again down the little footpath to the waiting wagon.
"This is hardly the romance of life, dear Hugh," she said, as she seated herself.
"Haven't you succeeded?"
Fleda shook her head.
"What's the matter?"
"Oh pride injured pride of station! The wrong of not coming to our table and putting her knife into our butter."
"And living in such a place!" said Hugh.
"You don't know what a place. They are rniserably poor, I am sure; and yet I suppose that the less people have to be proud of, the more they make of what is left. Poor people!"
"Poor Fleda!" said Hugh, looking at her. "What will you do now?"
"Oh, we'll do somehow," said she, cheerfully. "Perhaps it is just as well, after all; for Cynthy isn't the smartest woman in the world. I remember grandpa used to say he didn't believe she could get a bean into the middle of her bread."
"A bean into the middle of her bread!" said Hugh.
But Fleda's sobriety was quite banished by his mystified look, and her laugh rang along over the fields before she answered him.
That laugh had blown away all the vapours, for the present at least, and they jogged on again very sociably.
"Do you know," said Fleda, after a while of silent enjoyment in the changes of scene and the mild autumn weather "I am not sure that it wasn't very well for me that we came away from New York."
"I dare say it was," said Hugh "since we came; but what makes you say so?"
"I don't mean that it was for anybody else, but for me. I think I was a little proud of our nice things there."
"You, Fleda!" said Hugh, with a look of appreciating affection.
"Yes, I was, a little. It didn't make the greatest part of my love for them, I am sure; but I think I had a little undefined sort of pleasure in the feeling that they were better and prettier than other people had."
"You are sure you are not proud of your little King Charles now?" said Hugh.
"I don't know but I am," said Fleda, laughing. "But how much pleasanter it is here on almost every account! Look at the beautiful sweep of the ground off among those hills isn't it? What an exquisite horizon line, Hugh!"
"And what a sky over it!"
"Yes I love these fall skies. Oh, I would a great deal rather be here than in any city that ever was built!"
"So would I," said Hugh. "But the thing is "
Fleda knew quite well what the thing was, and did not answer.
"But, my dear Hugh," she said, presently "I don't remember that sweep of hills when we were coming?"
"You were going the other way," said Hugh.
"Yes, but Hugh I am sure we did not pass these grain fields. We must have got into the wrong road."
Hugh drew the reins, and looked and doubted.
"There is a house yonder," said Fleda we had better drive on, and ask."
"There is no house "
"Yes, there is behind that piece of wood. Look over it; don't you see a light curl of blue smoke against the sky? We never passed that house and wood, I am certain. We ought to make haste, for the afternoons are short now, and you will please to recollect there is nobody at home to get tea."
"I hope Lucas will get upon one of his everlasting talks with father," said Hugh.
"And that it will hold till we get home," said Fleda. "It will be the happiest use Lucas has made of his tongue in a good while."
Just as they stopped before a substantial-looking farm-house, a man came from the other way and stopped there too, with his hand upon the gate.
"How far are we from Queechy, Sir?" said Hugh.
"You're not from it at all, Sir," said the man, politely. "You're in Queechy, Sir, at present."
"Is this the right road from Montepoole to Queechy village?"
"It is not, Sir. It is a very tortuous direction, indeed. Have I not the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Rossitur's young gentleman?"
Mr. Rossitur's young gentleman acknowledged his relationship, and begged the favour of being set in the right way home.
"With much pleasure! You have been showing Miss Rossitur the picturesque country about Montepoole?"
"My cousin and I have been there on business, and lost our way coming back."
"Ah, I dare say! Very easy. First time you have been there?"
"Yes, Sir; and we are in a hurry to get home."
"Well, Sir you know the road by Deacon Patterson's? comes out just above the lake."
Hugh did not remember.
"Well you keep this road straight on, I'm sorry you are in a hurry, you keep on till do you know when you strike Mr. Harris's ground?"
No, Hugh knew nothing about it, nor Fleda.
"Well, I'll tell you now how it is," said the stranger, "if you'll permit me. You and your a cousin come in and do us the pleasure of taking some refreshment. I know my sister 'll have her table set out by this time and I'll do myself the honour of introducing you to a these strange roads, afterwards."
"Thank you, Sir, but that trouble is unnecessary cannot you direct us?"
"No trouble indeed, Sir, I assure you, I should esteem it a favour very highly. I I am Dr. Quackenboss, Sir; you may have heard "
"Thank you, Dr. Quackenboss, but we have no time this afternoon we are very anxious to reach home as soon as possible, if you would be so good as to put us in the way."
"I really, Sir, I am afraid to a person ignorant of the various localities you will lose no time I will just hitch your horse here, and I'll have mine ready by the time this young lady has rested. Miss a wont you join with me? I assure you I will not put you to the expense of a minute. Thank you, Mr. Harden! just clap the saddle on to Lollypop, and have him up here in three seconds. Thank you! My dear Miss a wont you take my arm? I am gratified, I assure you."
Yielding to the apparent impossibility of getting anything out of Dr. Quackenboss, except civility, and to the real difficulty of disappointing such very earnest good will, Fleda and Hugh did what older persons would not have done alighted and walked up to the house.
"This is quite a fortuitous occurrence," the doctor went on. "I have often had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Rossitur's family in church in the little church at Queechy Run and that enabled me to recognise your cousin, as soon as I saw him in the wagon. Perhaps, Miss a you may have possibly heard of my name? Quackenboss I don't know that you understood "
"I have heard it, Sir."
"My Irishmen, Miss a my Irish labourers, can't get hold of but one end of it they call me Boss ha, ha, ha!"
Fleda hoped his patients did not get hold of the other end of it, and trembled, visibly.
"Hard to pull a man's name to pieces before his face ha, ha! but I am a not one thing myself a kind of heterogynous I am a piece of a physician, and a little in the agricultural line also; so it's all fair."
"The Irish treat my name as hardly, Dr. Quackenboss they call me nothing but Miss Ring-again."
And then Fleda could laugh and laugh she did so heartily, that the doctor was delighted.
"Ring-again! ha, ha! very good! Well, Miss a I shouldn't think that anybody in your service would ever a ever let you put your name in practice."
But Fleda's delight at the excessive gallantry and awkwardness of this speech was almost too much; or, as the doctor pleasantly remarked, her nerves were too many for her; and every one of them was dancing by the time they reached the hall door. The doctor's flourishes lost not a bit of their angularity from his tall, ungainly figure, and a lantern-jawed face, the lower member of which had now and then a somewhat lateral play when he was speaking, which curiously aided the quaint effect of his words. He ushered his guests into the house, seeming in a flow of self-gratulation.
The supper-table was spread, sure enough, and hovering about it was the doctor's sister; a lady in whom Fleda only saw a Dutch face, with eyes that made no impression, disagreeable fair hair, and a string of gilt beads round her neck. A painted yellow floor under foot, a room that looked excessively wooden and smelt of cheese, bare walls, and a well-filled table, was all that she took in besides.
"I have the honour of presenting you to my sister," said the doctor, with suavity. "Flora, the Irish domestics of this young lady call her name Miss Ring-again if she will let us know how it ought to be called, we shall be happy to be informed."
Dr. Quackenboss was made happy.
"Miss Ringgan and this young gentleman is young Mr. Rossitur the gentleman that has taken Squire Ringgan's old place. We were so fortunate as to have them lose their way this afternoon, coming from the Pool, and they have just stepped in to see if you can't find 'em a mouthful of something they can eat, while Lollypop is a-getting ready to see them home."
Poor Miss Flora immediately disappeared into the kitchen, to order a bit of superior cheese, and to have some slices of ham put on the gridiron, and then, coming back to the common room, went rummaging about, from cupboard to cupboard, in search of cake and sweetmeats. Fleda protested and begged in vain.
"She was so sorry she hadn't knowed," Miss Flora said "she'd ha' had some cakes made that maybe they could have eaten, but the bread was dry; and the cheese wa'n't as good somehow as the last one they cut; maybe Miss Ringgan would prefer a piece of newer made, if she liked it; and she hadn't had good luck with her preserves last summer the most of 'em had fomented she thought it was the damp weather; but there was some stewed pears that maybe she would be so good as to approve and there was some ham! whatever else it was, it was hot!"
It was impossible it was impossible, to do dishonour to all this hospitality and kindness and pride that was brought out for them. Early or late, they must eat, in mere gratitude. The difficulty was to avoid eating everything. Hugh and Fleda managed to compound the matter with each other, one taking the cake and pears, and the other the ham and cheese. In the midst of all this overflow of goodwill, Fleda bethought her to ask if Miss Flora knew of any girl or woman that would go out to service. Miss Flora took the matter into grave consideration as soon as her anxiety on the subject of their cups of tea had subsided. She did not commit herself, but thought it possible that one of the Finns might be willing to go out.
"Where do they live?"
"It's a not far from Queechy Run," said the doctor, whose now and then hesitation in the midst of his speech was never for want of a thought, but simply and merely for the best words to clothe it in.
"Is it in our way to-night?"
He could make it so, the doctor said, with pleasure, for it would give him permission to gallant them a little further.
They had several miles yet to go, and the sun went down as they were passing through Queechy Run. Under that still, cool, clear, autumn sky, Fleda would have enjoyed the ride very much, but that her unfulfilled errand was weighing upon her, and she feared her aunt and uncle might want her services before she could be at home. Still, late as it was, she determined to stop for a minute at Mrs. Finn's, and go home with a clear conscience. At her door, and not till there, the doctor was prevailed upon to part company, the rest of the way being perfectly plain.
Mrs. Finn's house was a great unprepossessing building, washed and dried by the rain and sun into a dark, dingy colour, the only one that had ever supplanted the original hue of the freshsawn boards. This, indeed, was not an uncommon thing in the country; near all the houses of the Deepwater settlement were in the same case. Fleda went up a flight of steps to what seemed the front door, but the girl that answered her knock led her down them again, and round to a lower entrance on the other side. This introduced Fleda to a large ground-floor apartment, probably the common room of the family, with the large kitchen fireplace, and flagged hearth, and wall cupboards, and the only furniture, the usual red backed splinter chairs and wooden table. A woman standing before the fire with a broom in her hand, answered Fleda's inclination with a saturnine nod of the head, and, fetching one of the red-backs from the wall, bade her "sit down."
Poor Fleda's nerves bade her "go away." The people looked like their house. The principal woman, who remained standing, broom in hand, to hear Fleda's business, was, in good truth, a dark personage her head covered with black hair, her person with a dingy black calico, and a sullen cloud lowering over her eye. At the corner of the fireplace was an old woman, laid by in an easy-chair; disabled, it was plain, not from mental but bodily infirmity; for her face had a cast of mischief which could not stand with the innocence of second childhood. At the other corner sat an elderly woman sewing, with tokens of her trade for yards on the floor around her. Back at the far side of the room, a young man was eating his supper at the table, alone; and under the table, on the floor, the enormous family bread-trough was unwontedly filled with the sewing-woman's child, which had with superhuman efforts crawled into it, and lay kicking and crowing in delight at its new cradle. Fleda did not know how to enter upon her business.
"I have been looking," she began, "for a person who is willing to go out to work. Miss Flora Quackenboss told me perhaps I might find somebody here."
"Somebody to help?" said the woman, beginning to use her broom upon the hearth. "Who wants 'em?"
"Mrs. Rossitur my aunt."
"Mrs. Rossitur? what, down to old Squire Ringgan's place?"
"Yes. We are left alone, and want somebody very much."
"Do you want her only a few days, or do you calculate to have her stop longer? because you know it wouldn't be worth the while to put oneself out for a week."
"Oh, we want her to stay; if we suit each other."
"Well, I don't know," said the woman, going on with her sweeping. "I could let you have Hannah, but I 'spect I'll want her to hum. What does Mis' Rossitur calculate to give?"
"I don't know anything that's reasonable."
"Hannah kin go just as good as not," said the old woman in the corner, rubbing her hands up and down her lap "Hannah kin go, just as good as not!"
"Hannah ain't a-going," said the first speaker, answering without looking at her. "Hannah 'll be wanted to hum; and she aint a well girl neither; she's kind o' weak in her muscles; and I calculate you'll want somebody that call take hold lively. There's Lucy, if she took a notion, she could go but she'd please herself about it. She wont do nothing without she has a notion."
This was inconclusive, and desiring to bring matters to a point, Fleda, after a pause, asked if this lady thought Lucy would have a notion to go.
"Well, I can't say she ain't to hum, or you could ask her. She's down to Mis' Douglass's, working for her to-day. Do you know Mis' Douglass? Earl Douglass's wife?"
"O yes, I knew her long ago," said Fleda, thinking it might be as well to throw in a spice of ingratiation. "I am Fleda Ringgan. I used to live here with my grandfather."
"Don't say! Well, I thought you had a kind o' look the old Squire's granddarter, ain't you?"
"She looks like her father," said the sewing-woman, laying down her needle, which indeed had been little hindrance to her admiration since Fleda came in.
"She's a real pretty gal," said the old woman in the corner.
"He was as smart a looking man as there was in Queechy township, or Montepoole either," the sewing-woman went on, "Do you mind him, Flidda?"
"Anastasy," said the old woman aside, "let Hannah go!"
"Hannah's a-going to keep to hum Well, about Lucy," she said, as Fleda rose to go "I can't just say suppos'n you come here to-morrow afternoon there's a few coming to quilt and Lucy 'll be to hum then. I should admire to have you, and then you and Lucy can agree what you'll fix upon. You can get somebody to bring you, can't you?"
Fleda inwardly shrank, but managed to get off with thanks, and without making a positive promise, which Miss Anastasia would fain have had. She was glad to be out of the house, and driving off with Hugh.
"How delicious the open air feels!"
"What has this visit produced?" said Hugh.
"An invitation to a party, and a slight possibility that at the party I may find what I want."
"A party," said Hugh. Fleda laughed and explained.
"And do you intend to go?"
"Not I at least I think not. But, Hugh, don't say anything about all this to aunt Lucy. She would be troubled."
Fleda had certainly, when she came away, no notion of improving her acquaintance with Miss Anastasia; but the supper, and the breakfast and the dinner of the next day, with all the nameless and almost numberless duties of house work that filled up the time between, wrought her to a very strong sense of the necessity of having some kind of "help" soon. Mrs. Rossitur wearied herself excessively with doing very little, and then looked so sad to see Fleda working on, that it was more disheartening and harder to bear than the fatigue. Hugh was a most faithful and invaluable coadjutor, and his lack of strength was, like her own, made up by energy of will; but neither of them could bear the strain long; and when the final clearing away of the dinner-dishes gave her a breathing- time, she resolved to dress herself, and put her thimble in her pocket, and go over to Miss Finn's quilting. Miss Lucy might not be like Miss Anastasia; and if she were, anything that had hands and feet to move instead of her own, would be welcome.
Hugh went with her to the door, and was to come for her at sunset.
"With superfluity of breeding First makes you sick, and then with feeding." JENYNS.
Miss Anastasia was a little surprised and a good deal gratified, Fleda saw, by her coming, and played the hostess with great benignity. The quilting-frame was stretched in an upper room, not in the long kitchen, to Fleda's joy; most of the company were already seated at it, and she had to go through a long string of introductions before she was permitted to take her place. First of all, Earl Douglass's wife, who rose up, and taking both Fleda's hands, squeezed and shook them heartily, giving her, with eye and lip, a most genial welcome. This lady had every look of being a very clever woman "a manager," she was said to be; and, indeed, her very nose had a little pinch, which prepared one for nothing superfluous about her. Even her dress could not have wanted another breadth from the skirt, and had no fullness to spare about the body neat as a pin, though; and a well-to-do look through it all. Miss Quackenboss Fleda recognised as an old friend, gilt beads and all. Catherine Douglass had grown up to a pretty girl during the five years since Fleda had left Queechy, and gave her a greeting, half-smiling, half-shy. There was a little more affluence about the flow of her drapery, and the pink ribbon round her neck was confined by a little dainty Jew's-harp of a brooch; she had her mother's pinch of the nose too. Then there were two other young ladies Miss Letitia Ann Thornton, a tall-grown girl in pantalettes, evidently a would-be aristocrat, from the air of her head and lip, with a well-looking face, and looking well knowing of the same, and sporting neat little white cuffs at her wrists the only one who bore such a distinction. The third of these damsels, Jessie Healy, impressed Fleda with having been brought up upon coarse meat, and having grown heavy in consequence; the other two were extremely fair and delicate, both in complexion and feature. Her aunt Syra, Fleda recognised without particular pleasure, and managed to seat herself at the quilt with the sewing-woman and Miss Hannah between them. Miss Lucy Finn she found seated at her right hand, but after all the civilities she had just gone through, Fleda had not courage just then to dash into business with her, and Miss Lucy herself stitched away, and was dumb.
So were the rest of the party rather. The presence of the new comer seemed to have the effect of a spell. Fleda could not think they had been as silent before her joining them, as they were for some time afterwards. The young ladies were absolutely mute, and conversation seemed to flag even among the elder ones; and if Fleda ever raised her eyes from the quilt to look at somebody, she was sure to see somebody's eyes looking at her, with a curiosity well enough defined, and mixed with a more or less amount of benevolence and pleasure. Fleda was growing very industrious and feeling her cheeks grow warm, when the checked stream of conversation began to take revenge by turning its tide upon her.
"Are you glad to be back to Queechy, Fleda?" said Mrs. Douglass, from the opposite far end of the quilt.
"Yes Ma'am," said Fleda, smiling back her answer "on some accounts."
"Ain't she growed like her father, Mis' Douglass?" said the sewing-woman. "Do you recollect Walter Ringgan? What a handsome feller he was!"
The two opposite girls immediately found something to say to each other.
"She aint a bit more like him than she is like her mother," said Mrs. Douglass, biting off the end of her thread energetically. "Amy Ringgan was a sweet good woman as ever was in this town."
Again her daughter's glance and smile went over to the speaker.
"You stay in Queechy, and live like Queechy folks do," Mrs. Douglass added, nodding encouragingly, "and you'll beat both on 'em."
But this speech jarred, and Fleda wished it had not been spoken.
"How does your uncle like farming?" said aunt Syra.
A home thrust, which Fleda parried by saying he had hardly got accustomed to it yet.
"What's been his business? what has he been doing all his life till now?" said the sewing-woman.
Fleda replied that he had had no business; and after the minds of the company had had time to entertain this statement, she was startled by Miss Lucy's voice at her elbow.
"It seems kind o' curious, don't it, that a man should live to be forty or fifty years old, and not know anything of the earth he gets his bread from?"
"What makes you think he don't?" said Miss Thornton, rather tartly.
"She wa'n't speaking o' nobody," said aunt Syra.
"I was I was speaking of man I was speaking abstractly," said Fleda's right-hand neighbour.
"What's abstractly?" said Miss Anastasia, scornfully.
"Where do you get hold of such hard words, Lucy?" said Mrs. Douglass.
"I don't know, Mis' Douglass, they come to me; it's practice, I suppose. I had no intention of being obscure."
"One kind o' word 's as easy as another, I suppose, when you're used to it, aint it?" said the sewing-woman.
"What's abstractly?" said the mistress of the house, again.
"Look in the dictionary, if you want to know," said her sister.
"I don't want to know I only want you to tell."
"When do you get time for it, Lucy? ha'n't you nothing else to practise?" pursued Mrs. Douglass.
"Yes, Mis' Douglass; but then there are times for exertion, and other times less disposable; and when I feel thoughtful or low, I commonly retire to my room, and contemplate the stars, or write a composition."
The sewing-woman greeted this speech with an unqualified ha! ha! and Fleda involuntarily raised her head to look at the last speaker; but there was nothing to be noticed about her, except that she was in rather nicer order than the rest of the Finn family.
"Did you get home safe last night?" inquired Miss Quackenboss, bending forward over the quilt to look down to Fleda.
Fleda thanked her, and replied that they had been overturned, and had several ribs broken.
"And where have you been, Fleda, all this while?" said Mrs. Douglass.
Fleda told, upon which all the quilting party raised their heads simultaneously, to take another review of her.
"Your uncle's wife aint a Frenchwoman, be she?" asked the sewing-woman.
Fleda said, "Oh, no!" and Miss Quackenboss remarked, that "she thought she wa'n't;" whereby Fleda perceived it had been a subject of discussion.
"She lives like one, don't she?" said aunt Syra.
Which imputation Fleda also refuted to the best of her power.
"Well, don't she have dinner in the middle of the afternoon?" pursued aunt Syra.
Fleda was obliged to admit that.
"And she can't eat without she has a fresh piece of roast meat on table every day, can she?"
"It is not always roast," said Fleda, half vexed and half laughing.
"I'd rather have a good dish o' bread and 'lasses, than the hull on't," observed old Mrs. Finn, from the corner where she sat, manifestly turning up her nose at the far-off joints on Mrs. Rossitur's dinner-table.
The girls on the other side of the quilt again held counsel together, deep and low.
"Well, didn't she pick up all them notions in that place yonder? where you say she has been?" aunt Syra went on.
"No," said Fleda; "everybody does so in New York."
"I want to know what kind of a place New York is, now," said old Mrs. Finn, drawlingly. "I s'pose it's pretty big, aint it?"
Fleda replied that it was.
"I shouldn't wonder if it was a'most as far as from here to Queechy Run, now; aint it?"
The distance mentioned being somewhere about one-eighth of New York's longest diameter, Fleda answered that it was quite as far.
"I s'pose there's plenty o' mighty rich folks there, aint there?"
"Plenty, I believe," said Fleda.
"I should hate to live in it awfully," was the old woman's conclusion.
"I should admire to travel in many countries," said Miss Lucy, for the first time seeming to intend her words particularly for Fleda's ear. "I think nothing makes people more genteel. I have observed it frequently."
Fleda said it was very pleasant; but though encouraged by this opening, could not muster enough courage to ask if Miss Lucy had a "notion" to come and prove their gentility. Her next question was startling if Fleda had ever studied mathematics.
"No," said Fleda. "Have you?"
"O my, yes! There was a lot of us concluded we would learn it; and we commenced to study it a long time ago. I think it's a most elevating "
The discussion was suddenly broken off, for the sewing-woman exclaimed, as the other sister came in and took her seat
"Why, Hannah! you ha'n't been makin' bread with that clock on your hands!"
"Well, Mis' Barnes!" said the girl; "I've washed 'em, and I've made bread with 'em, and even that did not take it off!"
"Do you look at the stars, too, Hannah?" said Mrs. Douglass.
Amidst a small hubbub of laugh and talk which now became general, poor Fleda fell back upon one single thought, one wish that Hugh would come to fetch her home before tea-time. But it was a vain hope. Hugh was not to be there till sundown, and supper was announced long before that. They all filed down, and Fleda with them, to the great kitchen below stairs; and she found herself placed in the seat of honour indeed, but an honour she would gladly have escaped, at Miss Anastasia's right hand.
A temporary locked-jaw would have been felt a blessing. Fleda dared hardly even look about her; but under the eye of her hostess the instinct of good breeding was found sufficient to swallow everything, literally and figuratively. There was a good deal to swallow. The usual variety of cakes, sweetmeats, beef, cheese, biscuits, and pies, was set out with some peculiarity of arrangement which Fleda had never seen before, and which left that of Miss Quackenboss elegant by comparison. Down each side of the table ran an advanced guard of little sauces in Indian file, but in companies of three, the file leader of each being a saucer of custard, its follower a ditto of preserves, and the third keeping a sharp look-out in the shape of pickles; and to Fleda's unspeakable horror, she discovered that the guests were expected to help themselves at will from these several stores with their own spoons, transferring what they took either to their own plates, or at once to its final destination, which last mode several of the company preferred. The advantage of this plan was the necessary great display of the new silver tea-spoons, which Mrs. Douglass slily hinted to aunt Syra were the moving cause of the tea-party. But aunt Syra swallowed sweetmeats, and would not give heed.
There was no relief for poor Fleda. Aunt Syra was her next neighbour, and opposite to her, at Miss Anastasia's left hand, was the disagreeable countenance and peering eyes of the old crone, her mother. Fleda kept her own eyes fixed upon her plate, and endeavoured to see nothing but that.
"Why, here's Fleda aint eating anything," said Mrs. Douglass. "Wont you have some preserves? take some custard, do! Anastasy, she ha'n't a spoon no wonder!"
Fleda had secretly conveyed hers under cover.
"There was one," said Miss Anastasia, looking about where one should have been. I'll get another as soon as I give Mis' Springer her tea."
"Ha'n't you got enough to go round?" said the old woman, plucking at her daughter's sleeve. "Anastasy! ha'n't you got enough to go round?"
This speech, which was spoken with a most spiteful simplicity, Miss Anastasia answered with superb silence, and presently produced spoons enough to satisfy herself and the company. But Fleda! No earthly persuasion could prevail upon her to touch pickles, sweetmeats, or custard that evening; and even in the bread and cakes she had a vision of hands before her that took away her appetite. She endeavoured to make a show with hung beef and cups of tea, which indeed was not Pouchong; but her supper came suddenly to an end upon a remark of her hostess, addressed to the whole table, that they needn't be surprised if they found any bits of pudding in the gingerbread, for it was made from the molasses the children left the other day. Who "the children" were Fleda did not know, neither was it material.
It was sundown, but Hugh had not come when they went to the upper rooms again. Two were open now, for they were small, and the company promised not to be such. Fathers and brothers, and husbands began to come, and loud talking, and laughing and joking took place of the quilting chit-chat. Fleda would fain have absorbed herself in the work again, but though the frame still stood there, the minds of the company were plainly turned aside from their duty, or perhaps they thought that Miss Anastasia had had admiration enough to dispense with service. Nobody showed a thimble but one or two old ladies; and as numbers and spirits gathered strength, a kind of romping game was set on foot, in which a vast deal of kissing seemed to be the grand wit of the matter. Fleda shrank away out of sight behind the open door of communication between the two rooms, pleading, with great truth, that she was tired, and would like to keep perfectly quiet; and she had soon the satisfaction of being apparently forgotten.
In the other room, some of the older people were enjoying themselves more soberly. Fleda's ear was too near the crack of the door, not to have the benefit of more of their conversation than she cared for. It soon put quiet of mind out of the question.
"He'll twist himself up pretty short that's my sense of it; and he wont take long to do it, nother," said Earl Douglass's voice.
Fleda would have known it anywhere, from its extreme peculiarity. It never either rose or fell much from a certain pitch; and at that level the words gurgled forth, seemingly from an everbrimming fountain; he never wanted one; and the stream had neither let nor stay till his modicum of sense had fairly run out. People thought he had not a greater stock of that than some of his neighbours; but he issued an amount of word-currency sufficient for the use of the county.
"He'll run himself agin a post pretty quick," said uncle Joshua, in a confirmatory tone of voice.
Fleda had a confused idea that somebody was going to hang himself.
"He aint a-workin' things right," said Douglass; "he aint a- workin' things right; he's takin' hold o' everything by the tail end. He aint studied the business; he doesn't know when things is right, and he doesn't know when things is wrong; and if they're wrong, he don't know how to set 'em right. He's got a feller there that aint no more fit to be there, than I am to be Vice-President of the United States; and I aint a-going to say what I think I am fit for, but I ha'n't studied for that place, and I shouldn't like to stand an examination for't; and a man hadn't ought to be a farmer no more if he ha'n't qualified himself. That's my idee. I like to see a thing done well, if it's to be done at all; and there aint a stitch o' land been laid right on the hull farm, nor a furrow driv' as it had ought to be, since he came on to it; and I say, Squire Springer, a man aint going to get along in that way, and he hadn't ought to. I work hard myself, and I calculate to work hard, and I make a livin' by't; and I'm content to work hard. When I see a man with his hands in his pockets, I think he'll have nothin' else in 'em soon. I don't believe he's done a hand's turn himself on the land the hull season!"
And upon this Mr. Douglass brought up.
"My son, Lucas, has been workin' with him, off and on, pretty much the hull time since he come; and he says he ha'n't begun to know how to spell farmer yet."
"Ay, ay! My wife she's a little harder on folks than I be I think it aint worth while to say nothin' of a man without I can say some good of him that's my idee; and it don't do no harm, nother; but my wife, she says he's got to let down his notions a peg or two afore they'll hitch just in the right place; and I wont say but what I think she aint, maybe, fur from right. If a man's above his business, he stands a pretty fair chance to be below it some day. I wont say myself, for I haven't any acquaintance with him, and a man oughtn't to speak but of what he's knowing to; but I have heerd say, that he wa'n't as conversationable as it would ha' been handsome in him to be, all things considerin.' There seems to be a good many things said of him, somehow, and l always think men don't talk of a man if he don't give 'em occasion; but, anyhow, I've been past the farm pretty often myself this summer, working with Seth Plumfield; and I've took notice of things myself; and I know he's been makin' beds o' sparrowgrass when he had ought to ha' been makin' fences, and he's been helpin' that little girl o' his'n set her flowers, when he would ha' been better sot to work lookin' after his Irishman. But I don't know as it made much matter, nother; for if he went wrong, Mr. Rossitur wouldn't know how to set him right, and if he was a- going right, Mr. Rossitur would ha' been just as likely to ha' set him wrong. Well, I'm sorry for him!"
"Mr. Rossitur is a most gentlemanlike man," said the voice of Dr. Quackenboss.
"Ay I dare say he is," Earl responded, in precisely the same tone. "I was down to his house one day last summer to see him. He wa'n't to hum, though."
"It would be strange if harm come to a man with such a guardian angel in the house as that man has in his'n." said Dr. Quackenboss.
"Well she's a pretty creetur!" said Douglass, looking up with some animation. "I wouldn't blame any man that sot a good deal by her. I will say I think she's as handsome as my own darter; and a man can't go no furder than that, I suppose."
"She wont help his farming much, I guess," said uncle Joshua, "nor his wife nother."
Fleda heard Dr. Quackenboss coming through the doorway, and started from her corner, for fear he might find her out there, and know what she had heard.
He very soon found her out in the new place she had chosen, and came up to pay his compliments. Fleda was in a mood for anything but laughing, yet the mixture of the ludicrous which the doctor administered set her nerves a-twitching. Bringing his chair down sideways at one angle and his person at another, so as to meet at the moment of the chair's touching the floor, and with a look and smile, slanting to match, the doctor said
"Well, Miss Ringgan, has a Mrs. Rossitur does she feel herself reconciled yet?"
"Reconciled, Sir?' said Fleda.
"Yes a to Queechy?"
"She never quarrelled with it, Sir," said Fleda, quite unable to keep from laughing.
"Yes I mean a she feels that she can sustain her spirits in different situations?"
"She is very well, Sir, thank you."
"It must have been a great change to her and to you all coming to this place."
"Yes, Sir; the country is very different from the city."
"In what part of New York was Mr. Rossitur's former residence?"
" In State-street, Sir."
"State-street that is somewhere in the direction of the Park?"
"No, Sir, not exactly."
"Was Mrs. Rossitur a native of the city?"
"Not of New York. Oh, Hugh! my dear Hugh!" exclaimed Fleda, in another tone "what have you been thinking of?"
"Father wanted me," said Hugh. "I could not help it, Fleda."
"You are not going to have the cruelty to take your a cousin away, Mr. Rossitur?" said the doctor.
But Fleda was for once happy to be cruel; she would hear no remonstrances. Though her desire for Miss Lucy's "help" had considerably lessened, she thought she could not in politeness avoid speaking on the subject, after being invited there on purpose. But Miss Lucy said she "calculated to stay at home this winter," unless she went to live with somebody at Kenton, for the purpose of attending a course of philosophy lectures that she heard were to be given there. So that matter was settled; and, clasping Hugh's arm, Fleda turned away from the house with a step and heart both lightened by the joy of being out of it.
"I coudn't come sooner, Fleda," said Hugh.
"No matter Oh, I'm so glad to be away! Walk a little faster, dear Hugh. Have you missed me at home?"
"Do you want me to say no or yes?" said Hugh, smiling. "We did very well mother and I and I have left everything ready to have tea the minute you get home. What sort of a time have you had?"
In answer to which Fleda gave him a long history, and then they walked on a while in silence. The evening was still, and would have been dark but for the extreme brilliancy of the stars through the keen, clear atmosphere. Fleda looked up at them, and drew large draughts of bodily and mental refreshment with the bracing air.
"Do you know to-morrow will be Thanksgiving-day?"
"Yes; what made you think of it?"
"They were talking about it; they make a great fuss here Thanksgiving-day."
"I don't think we shall make much of a fuss," said Hugh.
"I don't think we shall. I wonder what I shall do I am afraid uncle Rolf will get tired of coffee and omelettes in the course of time; and my list of receipts is very limited."
"It is a pity you didn't beg one of Mrs. Renney's books," said Hugh, laughing. "If you had only known "
" 'Tisn't too late!" said Fleda, quickly. "I'll send to New York for one. I will! I'll ask uncle Orrin to get it for me. That's the best thought!"
"But, Fleda, you're not going to turn cook in that fashion?"
"It would be no harm to have the book," said Fleda. "I can tell you, we mustn't expect to get anybody here that can make an omelette, or even coffee, that uncle Rolf will drink. Oh, Hugh! "
"I don't know where we are going to get anybody! But don't say anything to aunt Lucy about it."
"Well, we can keep Thanksgiving-day, Fleda, without a dinner," said Hugh, cheerfully.
"Yes, indeed I am sure I can after being among these people to-night. How much I have that they want! Look at the Great Bear over there! Isn't that better than New York?"
"The Great Bear hangs over New York, too," Hugh said, with a smile.
"Ah! but it isn't the same thing. Heaven hasn't the same eyes for the city and the country."
As Hugh and Fleda went quick up to the kitchen-door, they overtook a dark figure, at whom looking narrowly as she passed, Fleda recognised Seth Plumfield. He was joyfully let into the kitchen, and there proved to be the bearer of a huge dish, carefully covered with a napkin.
"Mother guessed you hadn't any Thanksgiving ready," he said, "and she wanted to send this down to you; so I thought I would come and fetch it myself."
"Oh, thank her! and thank you, cousin Seth; how good you are!"
"Mother ha'n't lost her old trick at 'em," said he; "so I hope that's good."
"Oh, I know it is," said Fleda. "I remember aunt Miriam's Thanksgiving chicken-pies. Now, cousin Seth, you must come in, and see aunt Lucy."
"No," said he, quietly: "I've got my farm boots on. I guess I wont see anybody but you."
But Fleda would not suffer that; and finding she could not move him, she brought her aunt out into the kitchen. Mrs. Rossitur's manner of speaking, and thanking him, quite charmed Seth, and he went away with a kindly feeling towards those gentle, bright eves, which he never forgot.
"Now, we've something for to-morrow, Hugh !" said Fleda; "and such a chicken-pie, I can tell you, as you never saw. Hugh, isn't it odd, how different a thing is in different circumstances? You don't know how glad I was when I put my hands upon that warm pie-dish, and knew what it was; and when did I ever care in New York about Emile's doings?"
"Except the almond gauffres," said Hugh, smiling.
"I never thought to be so glad of a chicken-pie," said Fleda, shaking her head.
Aunt Miriam's dish bore out Fleda's praise, in the opinion of all that tasted it; for such fowls, such butter, and such cream, as went to its composition, could hardly be known but in an unsophisticated state of society. But one pie could not last for ever; and as soon as the signs of dinner were got rid of, Thanksgiving-day though it was, poor Fleda was fain to go up the hill, to consult aunt Miriam about the possibility of getting "help."
"I don't know, dear Fleda," said she; "if you cannot get Lucy Flinn, I don't know who else there is you can get. Mrs. Toles wants both her daughters at home, I know, this winter, because she is sick; and Marietta Winchel is working at aunt Syra's. I don't know do you remember Barby Elster, that used to live with me?"
"She might go she has been staying at home these two years, to take care of her old mother, that's the reason she left me; but she has another sister come home now Hetty, that married, and went to Montepoole; she's lost her husband and come home to live; so perhaps Barby would go out again. But I don't know how do you think your aunt Lucy would get along with her?"
"Dear aunt Miriam, you know we must do as we can. We must have somebody."
"Barby is a little quick," said Mrs. Plumfield, "but I think she is good-hearted, and she is thorough and faithful as the day is long. If your aunt and uncle can put up with her ways."
"I am sure we can, aunt Miriam. Aunt Lucy's the easiest person in the world to please; and I'll try and keep her away from uncle Rolf. I think we can get along. I know Barby used to like me."
"But then Barby knows nothing about French cooking, my child; she can do nothing but the common, country things. What will your uncle and aunt say to that?"
"I don't know," said Fleda, "but anything is better than nothing. I must try and do what she can't do. I'll come up and get you to teach me, aunt Miriam."
Aunt Miriam hugged and kissed her before speaking.
"I'll teach you what I know, my darling: and now we'll go right off and see Barby we shall catch her just in a good time."
It was a poor little unpainted house, standing back from the road, and with a double row of' boards laid down to serve as a path to it. But this board walk was scrubbed perfectly clean. They went in without knocking. There was nobody there but an old woman seated before the fire, shaking all over with the St. Vitus's Dance. She gave them no salutation, calling instead on "Barby!" who presently made her appearance from the inner door.
"Barby! who's this?"
"That's Mis' Plumfield, mother," said the daughter, speaking loud as to a deaf person.
The old lady immediately got up and dropped a very quick and what was meant to be a very respect-showing courtesy, saying at the same time, with much deference, and with one of her involuntary twitches, "I ' 'maun ' to know!" The sense of the ludicrous and the feeling of pity together, were painfully oppressive. Fleda turned away to the daughter, who came forward and shook hands with a frank look of pleasure at the sight of her elder visitor.
"Barby," said Mrs. Plumfield, "this is little Fleda Ringgan do you remember her?"
"I 'mind to know!" said Barby, transferring her hand to Fleda's, and giving it a good squeeze. "She's growed a fine gal, Mis' Plumfield. You ha'n't lost none of your good looks - ha' you kept all your old goodness along with 'em?"
Fleda laughed at this abrupt question, and said she didn't know.
"If you ha'n't, I wouldn't give much for your eyes," said Barby, letting go her hand.
Mrs. Plumfield laughed too at Barby's equivocal mode of complimenting.
"Who's that young gal, Barby?" inquired Mrs. Elster.
"That's Mis' Plumfield's niece, mother."
"She's a handsome little creetur, aint she?"
They all laughed at that, and Fleda's cheeks growing crimson, Mrs. Plumfield stepped forward to ask after the old lady's health; and while she talked and listened, Fleda's eyes noted the spotless condition of the room the white table, the nice rag-carpet, the bright many-coloured patchwork counterpane on the bed, the brilliant cleanliness of the floor, where the small carpet left the boards bare, the tidy look of the two women; and she made up her mind that she could get along with Miss Barbara very well. Barby was rather tall, and in face decidedly a fine-looking woman, though her figure had the usual scantling proportions which nature or fashion assigns to the hard-working dwellers in the country. A handsome, quick, gray eye, and the mouth, were sufficiently expressive of character, and perhaps of temper, but there were no lines of anything sinister or surly; you could imagine a flash, but not a cloud.
"Barby, you are not tied at home any longer, are you?" said. Mrs. Plumfield, coming back from the old lady and speaking rather low; "now that Hetty is here, can't your mother spare you?"
"Well, I reckon she could, Mis' Plumfield, if I could work it so that she'd be more comfortable by my being away."
"Then you'd have no objection to go out again?"
"Fleda's uncle, you know, has taken my brother's old place, and they have no help. They want somebody to take the whole management just you, Barby. Mrs. Rossitur isn't strong."
"Nor don't want to be, does she? I've heerd tell of her, Mis' Plumfield I should despise to have as many legs and arms as other folks, and not be able to help myself!"
"But you wouldn't despise to help other folks, I hope," said Mrs. Plumfield, smiling.
"People that want you very much, too," said Fleda; for she quite longed to have that strong hand and healthy eye to rely upon at home. Barby looked at her with a relaxed face, and, after a little consideration, said she guessed "she'd try."
"Mis' Plumfield," cried the old lady, as they were moving "Mis' Plumfield, you said you'd send me a piece of pork."
"I haven't forgotten it, Mrs. Elster you shall have it."
"Well, you get it out for me yourself," said the old woman, speaking very energetically "don't you send no one else to the barrel for't, because I know you'll give me the biggest piece."
Mrs. Plumfield laughed and promised.
"I'll come up and work it out some odd day," said the daughter, nodding intelligently, as she followed them to the door.
"We'll talk about that," said Mrs. Plumfield.
"She was wonderful pleased with the pie," said Barby, "and so was Hetty; she ha'n't seen anything so good, she says, since she quit Queechy."
"Well, Barby," said Mrs. Plumfield, as she turned and grasped her hand, "did you remember your thanksgiving over it?"
"Yes, Mis' Plumfield," and the fine grey eyes fell to the floor; "but I minded it only because it had come from you. I seemed to hear you saying just that out of every bone I picked."
"You minded my message," said the other, gently.
"Well, I don't mind the things I had ought to most," said Barby, in a subdued voice "never! 'cept mother I aint very apt to forget her."
Mrs. Plumfield saw a tell-tale glittering beneath the drooping eyelid. She added no more but a sympathetic strong squeeze of the hand she held, and turned to follow Fleda who had gone on ahead.
"Mis' Plumfield," said Barby, before they had reached the stile that led into the road, where Fleda was standing, "will I be sure of having the money regular down yonder? You know, I hadn't ought to go otherways, on account of mother."
"Yes, it will be sure," said Mrs. Plumfield, "and regular;" adding quietly, "I'll make it so."
There was a bond for the whole amount in aunt Miriam's eyes; and, quite satisfied, Barby went back to the house.
"Will she expect to come to our table, aunt Miriam'? said Fleda, when they had walked a little way.
"No, she will not expect that; but Barby will want a different kind of managing from those Irish women of yours. She wont bear to be spoken to in a way that don't suit her notions of what she thinks she deserves; and perhaps your aunt and uncle will think her notions rather high I don't know."
"There is no difficulty with aunt Lucy," said Fleda; "and I guess I can manage uncle Rolf I'll try. I like her very much."
"Barby is very poor," said Mrs. Plumfield; "she has nothing but her own earnings to support herself and her old mother, and now, I suppose, her sister and her child; for Hetty is a poor thing never did much, and now I suppose does nothing."
"Are those Finns poor, aunt Miriam?"
"O no not at all they are very well off."
"So I thought they seemed to have plenty of everything, and silver spoons and all. But why then do they go out to work?"
"They are a little too fond of getting money, I expect," said aunt Miriam. "And they are a queer sort of people rather the mother is queer, and the children are queer they aint like other folks exactly never were."
"I am very glad we are to have Barby, instead of that Lucy Finn," said Fleda. "Oh, aunt Miriam! you can't think how much easier my heart feels."
"Poor child!" said aunt Miriam, looking at her. "But it isn't best, Fleda, to have things work too smooth in this world."
"No, I suppose not," said Fleda, sighing. "Isn't it very strange, aunt Miriam, that it should make people worse instead of better to have everything go pleasantly with them?"
"It is because they are apt then to be so full of the present, that they forget the care of the future."
"Yes, and forget there is anything better than the present, I suppose," said Fleda.
"So we mustn't fret at the ways our Father takes to keep us from hurting ourselves," said aunt Miriam, cheerfully.
"O no!" said Fleda, looking up brightly, in answer to the tender manner in which these words were spoken; "and I didn't mean that this is much of a trouble only I am very glad to think that somebody is coming to-morrow."
Aunt Miriam thought that gentle unfretful face could not stand in need of much discipline.
"Wise men alway Affyrme and say, That best is for a man Diligently, For to apply, The business that he can." MORE
Fleda waited for Barby's coming the next day with a little anxiety. The introduction and installation, however, were happily got over. Mrs. Rossitur, as Fleda knew, was most easily pleased, and Barby Elster's quick eye was satisfied with the unaffected and universal gentleness and politeness of her new employer. She made herself at home in half an hour; and Mrs. Rossitur and Fleda were comforted to perceive, by unmistakable signs, that their presence was not needed in the kitchen, and they might retire to their own premises and forget there was another part of the house. Fleda had forgotten it utterly, and deliciously enjoying the rest of mind and body, she was stretched upon the sofa, luxuriating over some volume from her remnant of a library, when the inner door was suddenly pushed open far enough to admit of the entrance of Miss Elster's head.
"Where's the soft soap?"
Fleda's book went down, and her heart jumped to her mouth, for her uncle was sitting over by the window. Mrs. Rossitur looked up in amaze, and waited for the question to be repeated.