"I say, where's the soft soap?"
"Soft soap!" said Mrs. Rossitur "I don't know whether there is any Fleda, do you know?"
"I was trying to think, aunt Lucy I don't believe there is any."
"Where is it?" said Barby.
"There is none, I believe," said Mrs. Rossitur
"Where was it, then?"
"Nowhere there has not been any in the house," said Fleda, raising herself up to see over the back of her sofa.
"There ha'n't been none!" said Miss Elster, in a tone more significant than her words, and shutting the door as abruptly as she had opened it.
"What upon earth does the woman mean?" exclaimed Mr. Rossitur, springing up and advancing towards the kitchen door. Fleda threw herself before him.
"Nothing at all, uncle Rolf she doesn't mean anything at all she doesn't know any better."
"I will improve her knowledge get out of the way, Fleda."
"But, uncle Rolf, just hear me one moment please don't! she didn't mean any harm these people don't know any manners just let me speak to her, please, uncle Rolf!" said Fleda, laying both hands upon her uncle's arms "I'll manage her."
Mr. Rossitur's wrath was high, and he would have run over or knocked down anything less gentle that had stood in his way; hut even the harshness of strength shuns to set itself in array against the meekness that does not oppose; if the touch of those hands had been a whit less light, or the glance of her eye less submissively appealing, it would have availed nothing. As it was, he stopped and looked at her, at first scowling, but then with a smile.
"You manage her!" said he.
"Yes," said Fleda, laughing, and now exerting her force, she gently pushed him back towards the seat he had quitted "yes, uncle Rolf, you've enough else to manage, don't undertake our 'help.' Deliver over all your displeasure upon me when anything goes wrong I will be the conductor to carry it off safely into the kitchen, and discharge it just at that point where I think it will do most execution. Now, will you, uncle Rolf? Because we have got a new-fashioned piece of fire-arms in the other room, that I am afraid will go off unexpectedly if it is meddled with by an unskilful hand; and that would leave us without arms, you see, or with only aunt Lucy's and mine, which are not reliable."
"You saucy girl!" said her uncle, who was laughing partly at and partly with her, "I don't know what you deserve exactly. Well, keep this precious new operative of yours out of my way, and I'll take care to keep out of hers. But mind, you must manage not to have your piece snapping in my face in this fashion, for I wont stand it."
And so, quieted, Mr. Rossitur sat down to his book again; and Fleda, leaving hers open, went to attend upon Barby.
"There ain't much yallow soap neither," said this personage, "if this is all. There's one thing if we ha'n't got it, we can make it. I must get Mis' Rossitur to have a leach-tub sot up right away. I'm a dreadful hand for havin' plenty o' soap."
"What is a leach-tub?" said Fleda.
"Why, a leach-tub, for to leach ashes in. That's easy enough. I'll fix it, afore we're any on us much older. If Mr. Rossitur 'll keep me in good hard wood, I sha'n't cost him hardly anything for potash."
"I'll see about it," said Fleda; "and I will see about having the leach-tub, or whatever it is, put up for you. And, Barby, whenever you want anything, will you just speak to me about it? and if I am in the other room, ask me to come out here; because my aunt is not strong, and does not know where things are as well as I do; and when my uncle is in there, he sometimes does not like to be disturbed with hearing any such talk. If you'll tell me, I'll see and have everything done for you."
"Well you get me a leach sot up that's all I'll ask of you just now," said Barby, good-humouredly, "and help me to find the soap-grease, if there is any. As to the rest, I don't want to see nothin' o' him in the kitchen, so I'll relieve him if he don't want to see much o' me in the parlour. I shouldn't wonder if there wa'n't a speck of it in the house."
Not a speck was there to be found.
"Your uncle's pockets must ha' had a good hole in 'em by this time," remarked Barby, as they came back from the cellar. "However, there never was a crock so empty it couldn't be filled. You get me a leach-tub sot up, and I'll find work for it."
From that time, Fleda had no more trouble with her uncle and Barby. Each seemed to have a wholesome appreciation of the other's combative qualities, and to shun them. With Mrs. Rossitur, Barby was soon all-powerful. It was enough that she wanted a thing, if Mrs. Rossitur's own resources could compass it. For Fleda, to say that Barby had presently a perfect understanding with her, and joined to that, a most affectionate, careful regard, is not, perhaps, saying much; for it was true of every one, without exception, with whom Fleda had much to do. Barby was to all of them a very great comfort and stand-by.
It was well for them that they had her within doors to keep things, as she called it, "right and tight;" for abroad the only system in vogue was one of fluctuation and uncertainty. Mr. Rossitur's Irishman, Donohan, staid his year out, doing as little good, and as much, at least, negative harm, as he well could; and then went, leaving them a good deal poorer than he found them. Dr. Gregory's generosity had added to Mr. Rossitur's own small stock of ready money, giving him the means to make some needed outlays on the farm. But the outlay, ill-applied, had been greater than the income; a scarcity of' money began to be more and more felt; and the comfort of the family accordingly drew within more and more narrow bounds. The temper of the head of the family suffered in at least equal degree.
From the first of Barby's coming, poor Fleda had done her utmost to prevent the want of Mons. Emile from being felt. Mr. Rossitur's table was always set by her careful hand, and all the delicacies that came upon it were, unknown to him, of her providing even the bread. One day, at breakfast, Mr. Rossitur had expressed his impatient displeasure at that of Miss Elster's manufacture. Fleda saw the distressed shade that came over her aunt's face, and took her resolution. It was the last time. She had followed her plan of sending for the receipts, and she studied them diligently, both at home and under aunt Miriam. Natural quickness of eye and hand came in aid of her affectionate zeal, and it was not long before she could trust herself to undertake any operation in the whole range of her cookery-book. But, meanwhile, materials were growing scarce, and hard to come by. The delicate French rolls which were now always ready for her uncle's plate in the morning, had sometimes nothing to back them, unless the unfailing water-cress from the good little spring in the meadow. Fleda could not spare her eggs, for, perhaps, they might have nothing else to depend upon for dinner. It was no burden to her to do these things; she had a sufficient reward in seeing that her aunt and Hugh ate the better, and that her uncle's brow was clear; but it was a burden when her hands were tied by the lack of means, for she knew the failure of the usual supply was bitterly felt, not for the actual want, but for that other want which it implied and prefigured.
On the first dismissal of Donohan, Fleda hoped for a good turn of affairs. But Mr. Rossitur, disgusted with his first experiment, resolved this season to be his own head man; and appointed Lucas Springer the second in command, with a poss of labourers to execute his decrees. It did not work well. Mr. Rossitur found he had a very tough prime minister, who would have every one of his plans to go through a kind of winnowing process by being tossed about in an argument. The arguments were interminable, until Mr. Rossitur not unfrequently quit the field with, "Well, do what you like about it!" not conquered, but wearied. The labourers, either from want of ready money, or of what they called "manners" in their employer, fell off at the wrong times, just when they were most wanted. Hugh threw himself then into the breach and wrought beyond his strength; and that tried Fleda worst of all. She was glad to see haying and harvest pass over; but the change of seasons seemed to bring only a change of disagreeableness, and she could not find that hope had any better breathing-time in the short days of winter than in the long days of summer. Her gentle face grew more gentle than ever, for under the shade of sorrowful patience, which was always there, now its meekness had no eclipse.
Mrs. Rossitur was struck with it one morning. She was coming down from her room and saw Fleda standing on the landing-place gazing out of the window. It was before breakfast one cold morning in winter. Mrs. Rossitur put her arms round her softly and kissed her.
"What are you thinking about, dear Fleda? you ought not to be standing here."
"I was looking at Hugh," said Fleda, and her eye went back to the window. Mrs. Rossitur's followed it. The window gave them a view of the ground behind the house; and there was Hugh, just coming in with a large armful of heavy wood which he had been sawing.
"He isn't strong enough to do that, aunt Lucy," said Fleda, softly.
"I know it," said his mother, in a subdued tone, and not moving her eye, though Hugh had disappeared.
"It is too cold for him; he is too thinly clad to bear this exposure," said Fleda, anxiously.
"I know it," said his mother, again.
"Can't you tell uncle Rolf? can't you get him to do it? I am afraid Hugh will hurt himself, aunt Lucy."
"I did tell him the other day I did speak to him about it," said Mrs. Rossitur; "but he said there was no reason why Hugh should do it there were plenty of other people "
"But how can he say so when he knows we never can ask Lucas to do anything of the kind, and that other man always contrives to be out of the way when he is wanted? Oh, what is he thinking of?" said Fleda, bitterly, as she saw Hugh again at his work.
It was so rarely that Fleda was seen to shed tears, that they always were a signal of dismay to any of the household. There was even agony in Mrs. Rossitur's voice as she implored her not to give way to them. But, notwithstanding that, Fleda's tears came this time from too deep a spring to be stopped at once.
"It makes me feel as if all was lost, Fleda, when I see you do so."
Fleda put her arms about her neck, and whispered that "she would not" that "she should not "
Yet it was a little while before she could say any more.
"But, aunt Lucy, he doesn't know what he is doing."
"No; and I can't make him know. I cannot say anything more, Fleda it would do no good. I don't know what is the matter he is entirely changed from what he used to be."
"I know what is the matter," said Fleda, now turning comforter in her turn, as her aunt's tears fell more quietly, because more despairingly, than her own "I know what it is he is not happy; that is all. He has not succeeded well in these farm doings, and he wants money, and he is worried it is no wonder if he don't seem exactly as he used to."
"And oh, that troubles me most of all!" said Mrs. Rossitur. "The farm is bringing in nothing, I know he don't know how to get along with it I was afraid it would be so; and we are paying nothing to uncle Orrin and it is just a dead weight on his hands; and I can't bear to think of it! And what will it come to?"
Mrs. Rossitur was now in her turn surprised into showing the strength of her sorrows and apprehensions. Fleda was fain to put her own out of sight, and bend her utmost powers to soothe and compose her aunt, till they could both go down to the breakfast-table. She had got ready a nice little dish that her uncle was very fond of; but her pleasure in it was all gone; and indeed it seemed to be thrown away upon the whole table. Half the meal was over before anybody said a word.
"I am going to wash my hands of these miserable farm affairs," said Mr. Rossitur.
"Are you?" said his wife.
"Yes of all personal concern in them; that is, I am wearied to death with the perpetual annoyances and vexations, and petty calls upon my time life is not worth having at such a rate! I'll have done with it."
"You will give up the entire charge to Lucas?" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Lucas! No! I wouldn't undergo that man's tongue for another year if he would take out his wages in talking. I could not have more of it in that case than I have had the last six months. After money, the thing that man loves best is certainly the sound of his own voice; and a most insufferable egotist! No I have been talking with a man who wants to take the whole farm for two years upon shares that will clear me of all trouble."
There was sober silence for a few minutes, and then Mrs. Rossitur asked who it was.
"His name is Didenhover."
"Oh, uncle Rolf, don't have anything to do with him!" exclaimed Fleda.
"Because he lived with grandpa a great while ago, and behaved very ill. Grandpa had a great deal of trouble with him."
"How old were you then?"
"I was young to be sure," said Fleda, hanging her head, "but I remember very well how it was."
"You may have occasion to remember it a second time," said Mr. Rossitur, drily, "for the thing is done. I have engaged him."
Not another word was spoken.
Mr. Rossitur went out after breakfast, and Mrs. Rossitur busied herself with the breakfast cups and a tub of hot water a work she never would let Fleda share with her, and which lasted in consequence long enough, Barby said, to cook and eat three breakfasts. Fleda and Hugh sat looking at the floor and the fire respectively.
"I am going up the hill to get a sight of aunt Miriam," said Fleda, bringing her eyes from the fire upon her aunt.
"Well, dear, do. You have been shut up long enough by the snow. Wrap yourself up well, and put on my snow-boots."
"No, indeed!" said Fleda. "I shall just draw on another pair of stockings over my shoes, within my India-rubbers I will take a pair of Hugh's woollen ones."
"What has become of your own?" said Hugh.
"My own what? Stockings?"
"Worn out, Mr. Rossitur! I have run them to death, poor things! Is that a slight intimation that you are afraid of the same fate for your socks?"
"No," said Hugh, smiling in spite of himself, at her manner "I will lend you anything I have got, Fleda."
His tone put Fleda in mind of the very doubtful pretensions of the socks in question to be comprehended under the term she was silent a minute.
"Will you go with me, Hugh?"
"No, dear, I can't; I must get a little ahead with the wood while I can; it looks as if it would snow again, and Barby isn't provided for more than a day or two."
"And how for this fire?"
Hugh shook his head, and rose up to go forth into the kitchen. Fleda went too, linking her arm in his, and bearing affectionately upon it; a sort of tacit saying, that they would sink or swim together. Hugh understood it perfectly.
"I am very sorry you have to do it, dear Hugh; oh, that woodshed! If it had only been made "
"Never mind can't help it now we shall get through the winter by and by."
"Can't you get uncle Rolf to help you a little?" whispered Fleda; "It would do him good."
But Hugh only shook his head.
"What are we going to do for dinner, Barby?" said Fleda, still holding Hugh there before the fire.
"Aint much choice," said Barby. "It would puzzle anybody to spell much more out of it than pork and ham. There's plenty of them. I sha'n't starve this some time."
"But we had ham yesterday, and pork the day before yesterday, and ham Monday," said Fleda. "There is plenty of vegetables, thanks to you and me, Hugh," she said, with a little reminding squeeze of his arm. "I could make soups nicely, if I had anything to make them of!"
"There's enough to be had for the catching," said Barby. "If I hadn't a man-mountain of work upon me, I'd start out and shoot or steal something."
"You shoot, Barby!" said Fleda, laughing.
"I guess I can do most anything I set my hand to. If I couldn't, I'd shoot myself. It wont do to kill no more o' them chickens."
"O no, now they are laying so finely. Well, I am going up the hill, and when I come home I'll try and make up something, Barby."
"Earl Douglass 'll go out in the woods now and then, of a day, when he ha'n't no work particular to do, and fetch hum as many pigeons and woodchucks as you could shake a stick at."
"Hugh, my dear," said Fleda, laughing, "it's a pity you aren't a hunter I would shake a stick at you with great pleasure. Well, Barby, we will see when I come home."
"I was just a-thinkin'," said Barby; "Mis' Douglass sent round to know if Mis' Rossitur would like a piece of fresh meat Earl's been killing a sheep there's a nice quarter, she says, if she'd like to have it."
"A quarter of mutton!" said Fleda, "I don't know no, I think not, Barby; I don't know when we should be able to pay it back again. And yet, Hugh do you think uncle Rolf will kill another sheep this winter?"
"I am sure he will not," said Hugh; "there have so many died."
"If he only knowed it, that is a reason for killing more," said Barby "and have the good of them while he can."
"Tell Mrs. Douglass we are obliged to her, but we do not want the mutton, Barby."
Hugh went to his chopping, and Fleda set out upon her walk the lines of her face settling into a most fixed gravity so soon as she turned away from the house. It was what might be called a fine winter's day cold and still, and the sky covered with one uniform grey cloud. The snow lay in uncompromising whiteness, thick over all the world a kindly shelter for the young grain and covering for the soil; but Fleda's spirits, just then in another mood, saw in it only the cold refusal to hope, and the barren check to exertion. The wind had cleared the snow from the trees and fences, and they stood in all their unsoftened blackness and nakedness, bleak and stern. The high grey sky threatened a fresh fall of snow in a few hours; it was just now a lull between two storms; and Fleda's spirits, that sometimes would have laughed in the face of nature's soberness, to-day sank to its own quiet. Her pace neither slackened nor quickened till she reached aunt Miriam's house, and entered the kitchen.
Aunt Miriam was in high tide of business over a pot of boiling lard, and the enormous bread-tray by the side of the fire was half-full of very tempting light-brown cruller, which, however, were little more than a kind of sweet bread for the workmen. In the bustle of putting in and taking out, aunt Miriam could give her visitor but a word and a look. Fleda pulled off her hood, and sitting down, watched in unusual silence the old lady's operations.
"And how are they all at your house to-day?" aunt Miriam asked, as she was carefully draining her cruller out of the kettle.
Fleda answered that they were as well as usual, but a slight hesitation and the tell-tale tone of her voice made the old lady look at her more narrowly. She came near and kissed that gentle brow, and looking in her eyes, asked her what the matter was?
"I don't know; " said Fleda, eyes and voice wavering alike "I am foolish, I believe "
Aunt Miriam tenderly put aside the hair from her forehead, and kissed it again, but the cruller was burning, and she went back to the kettle.
"I got down-hearted somehow this morning," Fleda went on, trying to steady her voice and school herself.
"You down-hearted, dear! About what?"
There was a world of sympathy in these words, in the warmth of which Fleda's shut-up heart unfolded itself at once.
"It's nothing new, aunt Miriam only somehow I felt it particularly this morning I have been kept in the house so long by this snow, I have got dumpish, I suppose "
Aunt Miriam looked anxiously at the tears which seemed to come involuntarily, but she said nothing.
"We are not getting along well at home."
"I supposed that," said Mrs. Plumfield, quietly. "But anything new?"
"Yes uncle Rolf has let the farm only think of it! he has let the farm to that Didenhover."
"For two years."
"Did you tell him what you knew about him?"
"Yes, but it was too late the mischief was done."
Aunt Miriam went on skimming out her cruller with a very grave face.
"How came your uncle to do so without learning about him first?"
"Oh, I don't know! he was in a hurry to do anything that would take the trouble of the farm off his hands; he don't like it."
"On what terms has he let him have it?"
"On shares and I know, I know under that Didenhover it will bring us in nothing, and it has brought us in nothing all the time we have been here; and I don't know what we are going to live upon "
"Has your uncle nor your aunt no property at all left?"
"Not a bit except some waste lands in Michigan? I believe, that were left to aunt Lucy a year or two ago; but they are as good as nothing."
"Has he let Didenhover have the saw-mill too?"
"I don't know he didn't say if he has, there will be nothing at all left for us to live upon. I expect nothing from Didenhover, his face is enough. I should have thought it might have been for uncle Rolf. Oh, if it wasn't for aunt Lucy and Hugh, I shouldn't care!"
"What has your uncle been doing all this year past?"
"I don't know, aunt Miriam he can't bear the business, and he has left the most of it to Lucas, and I think Lucas is more of a talker than a doer. Almost nothing has gone right. The crops have been ill-managed I do not know a great deal about it, but I know enough for that; and uncle Rolf did not know anything about it but what he got from books. And the sheep are dying off Barby says it is because they were in such poor condition at the beginning of winter, and I dare say she is right."
"He ought to have had a thorough good man at the beginning, to get along well."
"O yes! but he hadn't, you see, and so we have just been growing poorer every month. And now, aunt Miriam, I really don't know from day to day what to do to get dinner. You know, for a good while after we came we used to have our marketing brought every few days from Albany, but we have run up such a bill there already at the butcher's as I don't know when in the world will get paid, and aunt Lucy and I will do anything before we will send for any more; and if it wasn't for her and Hugh I wouldn't care, but they haven't much appetite, and I know that all this takes what little they have away this, and seeing the effect it has upon uncle Rolf "
"Does he think so much more of eating than of anything else?" said aunt Miriam.
"O no, it is not that," said Fleda, earnestly, "it is not that at all he is not a great eater but he can't bear to have things different from what they used to be, and from what they ought to be O no, don't think that! I don't know whether I ought to have said what I have said, but I couldn't help it "
Fleda's voice was lost for a little while.
"He is changed from what he used to be a little thing vexes him now, and I know it is because he is not happy; he used to be so kind and pleasant, and he is still sometimes; but aunt Lucy's face Oh, aunt Miriam!"
"Why, dear?" said aunt Miriam, tenderly.
"It is so changed from what it used to be!"
Poor Fleda covered her own, and aunt Miriam came to her side to give softer and gentler expression to sympathy than words could do, till the bowed face was raised again and hid in her neck.
"I can't see thee do so, my child my dear child! Hope for brighter days, dear Fleda."
"I could bear it," said Fleda, after a little interval, "if it wasn't for aunt Lucy and Hugh oh, that is the worst!"
"What about Hugh?" said aunt Miriam, soothingly.
"Oh, he does what he ought not to do, aunt Miriam, and there is no help for it and he did last summer, when we wanted men; and in the hot haying-time he used to work, I know, beyond his strength, and aunt Lucy and I did not know what to do with ourselves."
Fleda's head, which had been raised, sunk again and more heavily.
"Where was his father?" said Mrs. Plumfield.
"Oh, he was in the house he didn't know it he didn't think about it."
"Didn't think about it?"
"No oh, he didn't think Hugh was hurting himself, but he was; he showed it for weeks afterward. I have said what I ought not now," said Fleda, looking up, and seeming to check her tears, and the spring of them at once.
"So much security any woman has in a man without religion," said aunt Miriam, going back to her work. Fleda would have said something if she could; she was silent; she stood looking into the fire, while the tears seemed to come as it were by stealth, and ran down her face unregarded.
"Is Hugh not well?"
"I don't know," said Fleda, faintly; "he is not ill, but he never was very strong, and he exposes himself now, I know, in a way he ought not. I am sorry I have just come and troubled you with all this now, aunt Miriam," she said, after a little pause; "I shall feel better by and by I don't very often get such a fit."
"My dear little Fleda!" and there was unspeakable tenderness in the old lady's voice, as she came up, and drew Fleda's head again to rest upon her "I would not let a rough wind touch thee if I had the holding of it. But we may be glad the arranging of things is not in my hand I should be a poor friend after all, for I do not know what is best. Canst thou trust Him who does know, my child?"
"I do, aunt Miriam oh, I do," said Fleda, burying her face in her bosom "I don't often feel so as I did to-day."
"There comes not a cloud that its shadow is not wanted," said aunt Miriam. "I cannot see why, but it is that thou mayest bloom the brighter, my dear one."
"I know it" Fleda's words were hardly audible "I will try."
"Remember his own message to every one under a cloud 'Cast all thy care upon him, for he careth for thee;' thou mayest keep none of it; and then the peace that passeth understanding shall keep thee. 'So he giveth his beloved sleep.' "
Fleda wept for a minute on the old lady's neck, and then she looked up, dried her tears, and sat down with a face greatly quieted and lightened of its burden, while aunt Miriam once more went back to her work. The one wrought and the other looked on in silence.
The cruller were all done at last the great bread-trough was filled and set away the remnant of the fat was carefully disposed of, and aunt Miriam's handmaid was called in to "take the watch." She herself and her visitor adjourned to the sitting-room.
"Well," said Fleda., in a tone again steady and clear, "I must go home to see about getting up a dinner. I am the greatest hand at making something out of nothing, aunt Miriam, that ever you saw. There is nothing like practice. I only wish the man uncle Orrin talks about would come along once in a while."
"Who was that?" said aunt Miriam.
"A man that used to go about from house to house," said Fleda, laughing, "when the cottagers were making soup, with a ham- bone to give it a relish, and he used to charge them so much for a dip, and so much for a wallop."
"Come, come, I can do as much for you as that," said aunt Miriam, proceeding to her store pantry "see here wouldn't this be as good as a ham-bone?" said she, bringing out of it a fat fowl; "how would a wallop of this do?"
"Admirably! only the ham-bone used to come out again, and I am confident this never would."
"Well, I guess I'll stand that," said aunt Miriam, smiling "you wouldn't mind carrying this under your cloak, would you?"
"I have no doubt I shall go home lighter with it than without it, Ma'am, thank you, dear aunty! dear aunt Miriam!"
There was a change of tone, and of eye, as Fleda sealed each thank with a kiss.
"But how is it? does all the charge of the house come upon you, dear?"
"Oh, this kind of thing, because aunt Lucy doesn't understand it, and can't get along with it so well. She likes better to sew, and I had quite as lief do this."
"And don't you sew, too?"
"Oh, a little. She does as much as she can," said Fleda, gravely.
"Where is your other cousin?" said Mrs. Plumfield, abruptly.
"Marion? she is in England, I believe we don't hear from her very often."
"No, no I mean the one who is in the army?"
"Charlton! Oh, he is just ordered off to Mexico," said Fleda, sadly, "and that is another great trouble to aunt Lucy. This miserable war!"
"Does he never come home?"
"Only once since we came from Paris while we were in New York. He has been stationed away off at the West."
"He has a captain's pay now, hasn't he?"
"Yes, but he doesn't know at all how things are at home; he hasn't an idea of it and he will not have. Well, good-bye, dear aunt Miriam I must run home to take care of my chicken."
She ran away; and if her eyes many a time on the way down the hill filled and overflowed, they were not bitter nor dark tears; they were the gushings of high and pure and generous affections, weeping for fullness, not for want.
That chicken was not wasted in soup; it was converted into the nicest possible little fricassee, because the toast would make so much more of it; and to Fleda's own dinner, little went beside the toast, that a greater portion of the rest might be for her aunt and Hugh.
That same evening, Seth Plumfield came into the kitchen, while Fleda was there.
"Here is something belongs to you, I believe," said he, with a covert smile, bringing out from under his cloak the mate to Fleda's fowl "mother said somethin' had run away with t'other one, and she didn't know what to do with this one alone. Your uncle at home?"
The next news that Fleda heard was, that Seth had taken a lease of the saw-mill for two years.
Mr. Didenhover did not disappoint Fleda's expectations. Very little could be got from him, or the farm under him, beyond the immediate supply wanted for the use of the family; and that in kind, not in cash. Mrs. Rossitur was comforted by knowing, that some portion of rent had also gone to Dr. Gregory how large or how small a portion, she could not find out. But this left the family in increasing straits, which narrowed and narrowed during the whole first summer and winter of Didenhover's administration. Very straitened they would have been, but for the means of relief adopted by the two children, as they were always called. Hugh, as soon as the spring opened, had a quiet hint through Fleda, that if he had a mind to take the working of the saw-mill he might, for a consideration merely nominal. This offer was immediately and gratefully closed with; and Hugh's earnings were thenceforward very important at home. Fleda had her own ways and means. Mr. Rossitur, more low-spirited and gloomy than ever, seemed to have no heart to anything. He would have worked, perhaps, if he could have done it alone; but to join Didenhover and his men, or any other gang of workmen, was too much for his magnanimity. He helped nobody but Fleda. For her he would do anything, at any time; and in the garden, and among her flowers in the flowery courtyard, he might often be seen at work with her. But nowhere else.
"Some bring a capon, some a rurall cake, Some nuts, some apples; some that thinke they make The better cheeses, bring 'hem; or else send By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend This way to husbands; and whose baskets beare An embleme of themselves in plum or pears." BEN JOHNSON.
So the time walked away for this family was not now of those "whom time runneth withal" to the second summer of Mr. Didenhover's term.
One morning Mrs. Rossitur was seated in the breakfast-room at her usual employment, mending and patching no sinecure now. Fleda opened the kitchen door and came in, folding up a calico apron she had just taken off.
"You are tired, dear," said Mrs. Rossitur, sorrowfully; you look pale."
"Do I?" said Fleda, sitting down. "I am a little tired!"
"Why do you do so?"
"Oh, it's nothing," said Fleda, cheerfully; "I haven't hurt myself. I shall be rested again in a few minutes."
"What have you been doing?"
"Oh, I tired myself a little before breakfast in the garden, I suppose. Aunt Lucy, don't you think I had almost a bushel of pease? and there was a little over a half bushel last-time, so I shall call it a bushel. Isn't that fine?"
"You didn't pick them all yourself?"
"Hugh helped me a little while; but he had the horse to get ready, and I was out before him this morning poor fellow, he was tired from yesterday, I dare say."
Mrs. Rossitur looked at her, a look between remonstrance and reproach, and cast her eves down without saying a word, swallowing a whole heartful of thoughts and feelings. Fleda stooped forward till her own forehead softly touched Mrs. Rossitur's, as gentle a chiding of despondency as a very sunbeam could have given.
"Now, aunt Lucy! what do you mean? Don't you know it's good for me? And do you know, Mr. Sweet will give me four shillings a bushel? and, aunt Lucy, I sent three dozen heads of lettuce this morning besides. Isn't that doing well? and I sent two dozen day before yesterday. It is time they were gone, for they are running up to seed, this set; I have got another fine set almost ready."
Mrs. Rossitur looked at her again, as if she had been a sort of terrestrial angel.
"And how much will you get for them?"
"I don't know exactly threepence, or sixpence, perhaps I guess not so much they are so easily raised; though I don't believe there are so fine as mine to be seen in this region. If I only had somebody to water the strawberries! we should have a great many. Aunt Lucy, I am going to send as many as I can without robbing uncle Rolf he sha'n't miss them; but the rest of us don't mind eating rather fewer than usual? I shall make a good deal by them. And I think these morning rides do Hugh good; don't you think so?"
"And what have you been busy about ever since breakfast, Fleda?"
"Oh two or three things," said Fleda, lightly.
"I had bread to make and then I thought, while my hands were in, I would make a custard for uncle Rolf."
"You needn't have done that, dear, it was not necessary."
"Yes it was, because, you know, we have only fried pork for dinner to-day; and while we have the milk and eggs, it doesn't cost much the sugar is almost nothing. He will like it better, and so will Hugh. As for you," said Fleda, gently touching her forehead again, "you know it is of no consequence!"
"I wish you would think yourself of some consequence," said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Don't I think myself of consequence?" said Fleda, affectionately. "I don't know how you'd all get on without me. What do you think I have a mind to do now, by way of resting myself?"
"Well?" said Mrs. Rossitur, thinking of something else.
"It is the day for making presents to the minister, you know?"
"The minister? "
"Yes, the new minister they expect him to-day; you have heard of it; the things are all to be carried to his house to- day. I have a great notion to go and see the fun If I only had anything in the world I could possibly take with me "
"Aren't you too tired, dear?"
"No it would rest me; it is early yet; if I only had something to take! I couldn't go without taking something "
"A basket of eggs?" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Can't, aunt Lucy I can't spare them; so many of the hens are setting now. A basket of strawberries! that's the thing! I've got enough picked for that and to-night too. That will do!"
Fleda's preparations were soon made, and with her basket on her arm she was ready to set forth.
"If pride had not been a little put down in me," she said, smiling, "I suppose I should rather stay at home than go with such a petty offering. And no doubt every one that sees it or hears of it will lay it to anything but the right reason. So much the world knows about the people it judges! It is too bad to leave you all alone, aunt Lucy."
Mrs. Rossitur pulled her down for a kiss a kiss in which how much was said on both sides! and Fleda set forth, choosing, as she very commonly did, the old-time way through the kitchen.
"Off again?" said Barby, who was on her knees scrubbing the great flag-stones of the hearth.
"Yes, I am going up to see the donation party."
"Has the minister come?"
"No, but he is coming to-day, I understand."
"He ha'n't preached for 'em yet, has he?"
"Not yet; I suppose he will next Sunday."
"They are in a mighty hurry to give him a donation party!" said Barby. "I'd a' waited till he was here first. I don't believe they'd be quite so spry with their donations if they had paid the last man up as they ought. I'd rather give a man what belongs to him, and make him presents afterwards."
"Why, so I hope they will, Barby," said Fleda, laughing. But Barby said no more.
The parsonage-house was about a quarter of a mile, a little more, from the saw-mill, in a line at right angles with the main road. Fleda took Hugh from his work, to see her safe there. The road ran north, keeping near the level of the mid- hill, where it branched off a little below the saw-mill; and as the ground continued rising towards the east, and was well clothed with woods, the way, at this hour, was still pleasantly shady. To the left, the same slope of ground carried down to the foot of the hill gave them an uninterrupted view over a wide plain or bottom, edged in the distance with a circle of gently swelling hills. Close against the hills, in the far corner of the plain, lay the little village of Queechy Run, hid from sight by a slight intervening rise of ground. Not a chimney showed itself in the whole spread of country. A sunny landscape just now; but rich in picturesque associations of hay-cocks and win-rows, spotting it near and far; and close by below them was a field of mowers at work; they could distinctly hear the measured rush of the scythes through the grass, and then the soft clink of the rifles would seem to play some old delicious tune of childish days. Fleda made Hugh stand still to listen. It was a warm day, but "the sweet south that breathes upon a bank of violets" could hardly be more sweet than the air which, coming to them over the whole breadth of the valley, had been charged by the new-made hay.
"How good it is, Hugh," said Fleda, "that one can get out of doors, and forget everything that ever happened or ever will happen within four walls!"
"Do you?" said Hugh, rather soberly.
"Yes, I do even in my flower-patch, right before the house- door; but here" said Fleda, turning away, and swinging her basket of strawberries as she went, "I have no idea I ever did such a thing as make bread, and how clothes get mended I do not comprehend in the least!"
"And have you forgotten the pease and the asparagus too?"
"I am afraid you haven't, dear Hugh," said Fleda, linking her arm within his. "Hugh I must find some way to make money."
"More money!" said Hugh, smiling.
"Yes this garden business is all very well, but it doesn't come to any very great things after all, if you are aware of it; and Hugh, I want to get aunt Lucy a new dress. I can't bear to see her in that old merino, and it isn't good for her. Why, Hugh, she couldn't possibly see anybody, if anybody should come to the house."
"Who is there to come?" said Hugh.
"Why, nobody; but still, she ought not to be so."
"What more can you do, dear Fleda? You work a great deal too hard already," said Hugh, sighing. "You should have seen the way father and mother looked at you last night when you were asleep on the sofa."
Fleda stifled her sigh, and went on.
"I am sure there are things that might be done things for the booksellers translating, or copying, or something I don't know exactly I have heard of people's doing such things. I mean to write to uncle Orrin, and ask him. I am sure he can manage it for me."
"What were you writing the other night?" said Hugh, suddenly.
"The other night when you were writing by the fire-light? I saw your pencil scribbling away at a furious rate over the paper, and you kept your hand up carefully between me and your face, but I could see it was something very interesting. Ha!" said Hugh, laughingly trying to get another view of Fleda's face which was again kept from him. "Send that to uncle Orrin, Fleda; or show it to me first, and then I will tell you."
Fleda made no answer; and at the parsonage-door Hugh left her.
Two or three wagons were standing there, but nobody to be seen. Fleda went up the steps and crossed the broad piazza, brown and unpainted, but picturesque still, and guided by the sound of tongues turned to the right, where she found a large low room, the very centre of the stir. But the stir had not by any means reached the height yet. Not more than a dozen people were gathered. Here were aunt Syra and Mrs. Douglass, appointed a committee to receive and dispose the offerings as they were brought in.
"Why, there is not much to be seen yet," said Fleda. "I did not know I was so early."
"Time enough," said Mrs. Douglass. "They'll come the thicker when they do come. Good morning, Dr. Quackenboss! I hope you're a-going to give us something else besides a bow? and I wont take none of your physic neither."
"I humbly submit," said the doctor, graciously, "that nothing ought to be expected of gentlemen that a are so unhappy as to be alone; for they really a have nothing to give but themselves."
There was a shout of merriment.
"And suppos'n that's a gift that nobody wants?" said Mrs. Douglass's sharp eye and voice at once.
"In that case," said the doctor, "I really Miss Ringgan, may I a may I relieve your hand of this fair burden?"
"It is not a very fair burden, Sir," said Fleda, laughing, and relinquishing her strawberries.
"Ah, but, fair, you know, I mean we speak in that sense Mrs. Douglass, here is by far the most elegant offering that your hands will have the honour of receiving this day."
"I hope so," said Mrs. Douglass, "or there wont be much to eat for the minister. Did you never take notice how elegant things somehow made folks grow poor?"
"I guess he'd as lieve see something a little substantial," said aunt Syra.
"Well, now," said the doctor, "here is Miss Ringgan, who is unquestionably a elegant! and I am sure nobody will say that she looks poor."
In one sense, surely not! There could not be two opinions. But with all the fairness of health, and the flush which two or three feelings had brought to her cheeks, there was a look as if the workings of the mind had refined away a little of the strength of the physical frame, and as if growing poor in Mrs. Douglass's sense that is, thin, might easily be the next step.
"What's your uncle going to give us, Fleda?" said aunt Syra.
But Fleda was saved replying; for Mrs. Douglass, who, if she was sharp, could be good-natured too, and had watched to see how Fleda took the double fire upon elegance and poverty, could bear no more trial of that sweet gentle face. Without giving her time to answer, she carried her off to see the things already stored in the closet, bidding the doctor, over her shoulder, "be off after his goods, whether he had got 'em or no."
There was certainly a promising beginning made for the future minister's comfort. One shelf was already completely stocked with pies, and another showed a quantity of cake, and biscuits enough to last a good-sized family for several meals.
"That is always the way," said Mrs. Douglass; "it's the strangest thing that folks has no sense! Now, one half o' them pies 'll be dried up afore they can eat the rest; 't aint much loss, for Mis' Prin sent 'em down, and if they are worth anything, it's the first time anything ever come out of her house that was. Now look at them biscuit!"
"How many are coming to eat them?" said Fleda.
"How large a family has the minister?"
"He ha'n't a bit of a family! He ain't married."
At the grave way in which Mrs. Douglass faced round upon her and answered, and at the idea of a single mouth devoted to all that closetful Fleda's gravity gave place to most uncontrollable merriment.
"No," said Mrs. Douglass, with a curious twist of her mouth, but commanding herself, "he aint, to be sure, not yet. He ha'n't any family but himself and some sort of a housekeeper, I suppose; they'll divide the house between 'em."
"And the biscuits, I hope," said Fleda. "But what will he do with all the other things, Mrs. Douglass?"
"Sell 'em if he don't want 'em," said Mrs. Douglass, quizzically. "Shut up, Fleda, I forget who sent them biscuit somebody that calculated to make a show for a little, I reckon. My sakes! I believe it was Mis' Springer herself! she didn't hear me though," said Mrs. Douglass, peeping out of the half-open door. "It's a good thing the world aint all alike; there's Mis' Plumfield stop now, and I'll tell you all she sent; that big jar of lard, there's as good as eighteen or twenty pound and that basket of eggs, I don't know how many there is and that cheese, a real fine one, I'll be bound, she wouldn't pick out the worst in her dairy; and Seth fetched down a hundred weight of corn meal, and another of rye flour; now, that's what I call doing things something like; if everybody else would keep up their end as well as they keep up their'n, the world wouldn't be quite so one-sided as it is. I never see the time yet when I couldn't tell where to find Mis' Plumfield."
"No, nor anybody else," said Fleda, looking happy.
"There's Mis' Silbert couldn't find nothing better to send than a kag of soap," Mrs. Douglass went on, seeming very much amused; "I was beat when I saw that walk in! I should think she'd feel streaked to come here by and by, and see it a- standing between Mis' Plumfield's lard and Mis' Clavering's pork that's a handsome kag of pork, aint it? What's that man done with your strawberries? I'll put 'em up here, afore somebody takes a notion to 'em. I'll let the minister know who he's got to thank for 'em," said she, winking at Fleda. "Where's Dr. Quackenboss?"
"Coming, Ma'am!" sounded from the hall, and forthwith, at the open door, entered the doctor's head, simultaneously with a large cheese, which he was rolling before him, the rest of the doctor's person being thrown into the background in consequence a curious natural representation of a wheelbarrow, the wheel being the only artificial part.
"Oh! that's you, doctor, is it?" said Mrs. Douglass.
"This is me, Ma'am," said the doctor, rolling up to the closet door; "this has the honour to be a myself, bringing my service to the feet of Miss Ringgan."
" 'Tain't very elegant," said the sharp lady.
Fleda thought if his service was at her feet, her feet should be somewhere else, and accordingly stepped quietly out of the way, and went to one of the windows, from whence she could have a view both of the comers and the come; and by this time, thoroughly in the spirit of the thing, she used her eyes upon both with great amusement. People were constantly arriving now, in wagons and on foot; and stores of all kinds were most literally pouring in. Bags, and even barrels of meal, flour, pork, and potatoes; strings of dried apples, salt, hams, and beef; hops, pickles, vinegar, maple-sugar and molasses; rolls of fresh butter, cheese, and eggs; cake, bread, and pies, without end. Mr. Penny, the storekeeper, sent a box of tea. Mr. Winegar, the carpenter, a new ox-sled. Earl Douglass brought a handsome axe-helve of his own fashioning; his wife, a quantity of rolls of wool. Zan Finn carted a load of wood into the wood-shed, and Squire Thornton another. Home-made candles, custards, preserves, and smoked liver, came in a batch from two or three miles off, up on the mountain. Half-a- dozen chairs from the factory-man; half-a-dozen brooms from the other storekeeper at the Deepwater settlement; a carpet for the best room from the ladies of the township, who had clubbed forces to furnish it and a home-made concern it was, from the shears to the loom.
The room was full now, for every one, after depositing his gift, turned aside to see what others had brought and were bringing; and men and women, the young and old, had their several circles of gossip in various parts of the crowd. Apart from them all Fleda sat in her window, probably voted "elegant" by others than the doctor, for they vouchsafed her no more than a transitory attention, and sheered off to find something more congenial. She sat watching the people, smiling very often as some odd figure, or look, or some peculiar turn of expression or tone of voice, caught her ear or her eye.
Both ear and eye were fastened by a young countryman, with a particularly fresh face, whom she saw approaching the house. He came up on foot, carrying a single fowl slung at his back by a stick thrown across his shoulder, and, without stirring hat or stick, he came into the room, and made his way through the crowd of people, looking to the one hand and the other, evidently in a maze of doubt to whom he should deliver himself and his chicken, till brought up by Mrs. Douglass's sharp voice.
"Well, Philetus, what are you looking for?"
"Do, Mis' Douglass!" it is impossible to express the abortive attempt at a bow which accompanied this salutation "I want to know if the minister 'll be in town to-day."
"What do you want of him?"
"I don't want nothin' of him. I want to know if he'll be in town to-day?"
"Yes; I expect he'll be along directly. Why, what then?"
" 'Cause I've got teu chickens for him here, and mother said they hadn't ought to be kept no longer, and if he wan't to hum, I were to fetch 'em back, straight."
"Well, he'll be here, so let's have 'em," said Mrs. Douglass, biting her lips.
"What's become o' t'other one?" said Earl, as the young man's stick was brought round to the table: "I guess you've lost it, ha'n't you?"
"My gracious!" was all Philetus's powers were equal to. Mrs. Douglass went off into fits, which rendered her incapable of speaking, and left the unlucky chicken-bearer to tell his story his own way, but all he brought forth was, "Du tell! I am beat!"
"Where's t'other one?" said Mrs. Douglass, between paroxysms.
"Why, I ha'n't done nothin' to it," said Philetus, dismally; "there was teu on 'em afore I started, and I took and tied 'em together, and hitched 'em onto the stick, and that one must ha' loosened itself off some way I believe the darned thing did it o' purpose."
"I guess your mother knowed that one wouldn't keep till it got here," said Mrs. Douglass.
The room was now all one shout, in the midst of which poor Philetus took himself off as speedily as possible. Before Fleda had dried her eyes, her attention was taken by a lady and gentleman who had just got out of a vehicle of more than the ordinary pretension, and were coming up to the door. The gentleman was young the lady was not; both had a particularly amiable and pleasant appearance; but about the lady there was something that moved Fleda singularly, and, somehow, touched the spring of old memories, which she felt stirring at the sight of her. As they neared the house she lost them; then they entered the room and came through it slowly, looking about them with an air of good-humoured amusement. Fleda's eye was fixed, but her mind puzzled itself in vain to recover what, in her experience, had been connected with that fair and lady-like physiognomy, and the bland smile that was overlooked by those acute eyes. The eyes met hers, and then seemed to reflect her doubt, for they remained as fixed as her own, while the lady, quickening her steps, came up to her.
"I am sure," she said, holding out her hand, and with a gentle graciousness that was very agreeable, "I am sure you are somebody I know. What is your name?"
"I thought so!" said the lady, now shaking her hand warmly, and kissing her; "I knew nobody could have been your mother but Amy Charlton! How like her you look! Don't you know me? don't you remember Mrs. Evelyn?"
"Mrs. Evelyn!" said Fleda, the whole coming back to her at once.
"You remember me now? How well I recollect you! and all that old time at Montepoole. Poor little creature that you were! and dear little creature, as I am sure you have been ever since! And how is your dear aunt Lucy?"
Fleda answered that she was well.
"I used to love her very much that was before I knew you before she went abroad. We have just got home this spring; and now we are staying at Montepoole for a few days. I shall come and see her to-morrow I knew you were somewhere in this region, but I did not know exactly where to find you; that was one reason why I came here to-day, I thought I might hear something of you. And where are your aunt Lucy's children? and how are they?"
"Hugh is at home," said Fleda, "and rather delicate Charlton is in the army."
"In the army! In Mexico! "
"In Mexico he has been "
"Your poor aunt Lucy!"
" In Mexico he has been, but he is just coming home now he has been wounded, and he is coming home to spend a long furlough."
"Coming home. That will make you all very happy. And Hugh is delicate; and how are you, love? you hardly look like a country-girl. Mr. Olmney!" said Mrs. Evelyn, looking round for her companion, who was standing quietly a few steps off, surveying the scene. "Mr. Olmney! I am going to do you a favour, Sir, in introducing you to Miss Ringgan, a very old friend of mine. Mr. Olmney, these are not exactly the apple- cheeks and robustious demonstrations we are taught to look for in country-land."
This was said with a kind of sly funny enjoyment, which took away everything disagreeable from the appeal; but Fleda conceived a favourable opinion of the person to whom it was made from the fact that he paid her no compliment, and made no answer beyond a very pleasant smile.
"What is Mrs. Evelyn's definition of a very old friend?" said he, with another smile, as that lady moved off to take a more particular view of what she had come to see. "To judge by the specimen before me, I should consider it very equivocal."
"Perhaps Mrs. Evelyn counts friendships by inheritance," said Fleda. "I think they ought to be counted so."
" 'Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not,' " said the young man.
Fleda looked up and smiled a pleased answer.
"There is something very lovely in the faithfulness of tried friendship, and very uncommon."
"I know that it is uncommon only by hearsay," said Fleda. "I have so many good friends."
He was silent for an instant, possibly thinking there might be a reason for that, unknown only to Fleda herself.
"Perhaps one must be in peculiar circumstances to realize it," he said, sighing; "circumstances that leave one of no importance to any one in the world. But it is a kind lesson, one learns to depend more on the one friendship that can never disappoint."
Fleda's eyes again gave an answer of sympathy; for she thought from the shade that had come upon his face, that these circumstances had probably been known to himself.
"This is rather an amusing scene," he remarked presently, in a low tone.
"Very," said Fleda. "I have never seen such a one before."
"Nor I," said he. "It is a pleasant scene, too; it is pleasant to see so many evidences of kindness and good feeling on the part of all these people."
"There is all the more show of it, I suppose, to-day," said Fleda, "because we have a new minister coming; they want to make a favourable impression."
"Does the old proverb of the 'new broom' hold good here too?" said he, smiling. "What's the name of your new minister?"
"I am not certain," said Fleda; "there were two talked of; the last I heard was, that it was an old Mr. Carey; but from what I hear this morning, I suppose it must be the other a Mr. Ollum, or some such queer name, I believe."
Fleda thought her hearer looked very much amused, and followed his eye into the room, where Mrs. Evelyn was going about in all quarters looking at everything, and finding occasion to enter into conversation with at least a quarter of the people who were present. Whatever she was saying, it seemed at that moment to have something to do with them, for sundry eyes turned in their direction; and presently Dr. Quackenboss came up, with even more than common suavity of manner.
"I trust Miss Ringgan will do me the favour of making me acquainted with a with our future pastor!" said the doctor, looking, however, not at all at Miss Ringgan, but straight at the pastor in question. "I have great pleasure in giving you the first welcome, Sir or, I should say, rather the second; since, no doubt, Miss Ringgan has been in advance of me. It is not un a appropriate, Sir, for I may say we a divide the town between us. You are, I am sure, a worthy representative of Peter and Paul; and I am a a pupil of Esculapius, Sir! You are the intellectual physician, and I am the external."
"I hope we shall both prove ourselves good workmen, Sir," said the young minister, shaking the doctor's hand heartily.
"This is Dr. Quackenboss; Mr. Olmney," said Fleda, making a tremendous effort. But though she could see corresponding indications about her companion's eyes and mouth, she admired the kindness and self-command with which he listened to the doctor's civilities and answered them; expressing his grateful sense of the favours received, not only from him, but from others.
"Oh a little to begin with," said the doctor, looking round upon the room, which would certainly have furnished that for fifty people; "I hope we aint done yet by considerable But here is Miss Ringgan, Mr. a Ummin, that has brought you some of the fruits of her own garden, with her own fair hands a basket of fine strawberries, which, I am sure a will make you forget everything else!"
Mr. Olmney had the good-breeding not to look at Fleda, as he answered, "I am sure the spirit of kindness was the same in all, Dr. Quackenboss, and I trust not to forget that readily."
Others now came up; and Mr. Olmney was walked off to be "made acquainted" with all, or with all the chief of his parishioners then and there assembled. Fleda watched him going about, shaking hands, talking and smiling, in all directions, with about as much freedom of locomotion as a fly in a spider's web; till, at Mrs. Evelyn's approach, the others fell off a little, and taking him by the arm, she rescued him.
"My dear Mr. Olmney," she whispered, with an intensely amused face, "I shall have a vision of you every day for a month to come, sitting down to dinner, with a rueful face, to a whortleberry pie; for there are so many of them, your conscience will not let you have anything else cooked, you cannot manage more than one a day."
"Pies!" said the young gentleman, as Mrs. Evelyn left talking, to indulge her feelings in ecstatic quiet laughing "I have a horror of pies!"
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Evelyn, nodding her head delightedly, as she drew him towards the pantry "I know! Come and see what is in store for you. You are to do penance for a month to come with tin pans of blackberry jam, fringed with pie crust no, they can't be blackberries, they must be raspberries, the blackberries are not ripe yet. And you may sup upon cake and custards, unless you give the custards for the little pig out there, he will want something."
"A pig!" said Mr. Olmney, in amaze Mrs. Evelyn again giving out in distress. "A pig!" said Mr. Olmney.
"Yes, a pig a very little one," said Mrs. Evelyn, convulsively. "I am sure he is hungry now."
They had reached the pantry, and Mr. Olmney's face was all that was wanting to Mrs. Evelyn's delight. How she smothered it, so that it should go no further than to distress his self- command, is a mystery known only to the initiated. Mrs. Douglass was forthwith called into council.
"Mrs. Douglass," said Mr. Olmney, "I feel very much inclined to play the host, and beg my friends to share with me some of these good things they have been so bountifully providing."
"He would enjoy them much more than he would alone, Mrs. Douglass," said Mrs. Evelyn, who still had hold of Mr. Olmney's arm, looking round to the lady with a most benign face.
"I reckon some of 'em would be past enjoying by the time he got to 'em, wouldn't they?" said the lady. "Well, they'll have to take 'em in their fingers, for our crockery ha'n't come yet I shall have to jog Mr. Flatt's elbow; but hungry folks aint curious."
"In their fingers, or any way, provided you have only a knife to cut them with," said Mr. Olmney, while Mrs. Evelyn squeezed his arm in secret mischief; "and pray, if we can muster two knives, let us cut one of these cheeses, Mrs. Douglass."
And presently Fleda saw pieces of pie walking about in all directions, supported by pieces of cheese. And then Mrs. Evelyn and Mr. Olmney came out from the pantry and came towards her, the latter bringing her, with his own hands, a portion in a tin pan. The two ladies sat down in the window together to eat and be amused.
"My dear Fleda, I hope you are hungry," said Mrs. Evelyn, biting her pie, Fleda could not help thinking, with an air of good-humoured condescension.
"I am, Ma'am," she said, laughing.
"You look just as you used to do," Mrs. Evelyn went on, earnestly.
"Do I?" said Fleda, privately thinking that the lady must have good eyes for features of resemblance.
"Except that you have more colour in your cheeks and more sparkles in your eyes. Dear little creature that you were; I want to make you know my children. Do you remember that Mr. and Mrs. Carleton that took such care of you at Montepoole?"
"Certainly I do! very well."
"We saw them last winter; we were down at their country place in shire. They have a magnificent place there everything you can think of to make life pleasant. We spent a week with them. My dear Fleda, I wish I could show you that place! you never saw anything like it."
Fleda ate her pie.
"We have nothing like it in this country; of course, cannot have. One of those superb English country seats is beyond even the imagination of an American."
"Nature has been as kind to us, hasn't she?" said Fleda.
"O yes; but such fortunes, you know. Mr. Olmney, what do you think of those overgrown fortunes? I was speaking to Miss Ringgan just now of a gentleman who has forty thousand pounds a year income sterling, Sir; forty thousand pounds a year sterling. Somebody says, you know, that 'he who has more than enough is a thief of the rights of his brother' what do you think?"
But Mr. Olmney's attention was at the moment forcibly called off by the "income" of a parishioner.
"I suppose," said Fleda, "his thievish character must depend entirely on the use he makes of what he has."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Evelyn, shaking her head; "I think the possession of great wealth is very hardening."
"To a fine nature?" said Fleda.
Mrs. Evelyn shook her head again, but did not seem to think it worth while to reply; and Fleda was trying the question in her own mind whether wealth or poverty might be the most hardening in its effects; when Mr. Olmney, having succeeded in getting free again, came and took his station beside them, and they had a particularly pleasant talk, which Fleda, who had seen nobody in a great while, enjoyed very much. They had several such talks in the course of the day; for though the distractions caused by Mr. Olmney's other friends were many and engrossing, he generally contrived in time to find his way back to their window. Meanwhile, Mrs. Evelyn had a great deal to say to Fleda, and to hear from her; and left her at last under an engagement to spend the next day at the Pool.
Upon Mr. Olmney's departure with Mrs. Evelyn, the attraction which had held the company together was broken, and they scattered fast. Fleda presently finding herself in the minority, was glad to set out with Miss Anastasia Finn, and her sister Lucy, who would leave her but very little way from her own door. But she had more company than she bargained for. Dr. Quackenboss was pleased to attach himself to their party, though his own shortest road certainly lay in another direction; and Fleda wondered what he had done with his wagon, which, beyond a question, must have brought the cheese in the morning. She edged herself out of the conversation as much as possible, and hoped it would prove so agreeable that he would not think of attending her home. In vain. When they made a stand at the cross roads the doctor stood on her side.
"I hope now you've made a commencement, you will come to see us again, Fleda," said Miss Lucy.
"What's the use of asking?" said her sister, abruptly. "If she has a mind to, she will, and if she ha'n't, I am sure we don't want her."
They turned off.
"Those are excellent people," said the doctor, when they were beyond hearing; "really respectable!"
"Are they?" said Fleda.
"But your goodness does not look, I am sure, to find a Parisian graces in so remote a circle?"
"Certainly not," said Fleda.
"We have had a genial day!" said the doctor, quitting the Finns.
"I don't know," said Fleda, permitting a little of her inward merriment to work off; "I think it has been rather too hot."
"Yes," said the doctor, "the sun has been ardent; but I referred rather to the a to the warming of affections, and the pleasant exchange of intercourse on all sides which has taken place. How do you like our a the stranger?"
"The new-comer this young Mr. Ummin?"
Fleda answered, but she hardly knew what, for she was musing whether the doctor would go away or come in. They reached the door, and Fleda invited him, with terrible effort after her voice; the doctor having just blandly offered an opinion upon the decided polish of Mr. Olmney's manners.
"Labour is light, where love (quoth I) doth pay; (Saith he) light burthens heavy, if far borne." DRAYTON.
Fleda pushed open the parlour door, and preceded her convoy, in a kind of tip-toe state of spirits. The first thing that met her eyes was her aunt, in one of the few handsome silks which were almost her sole relic of past wardrobe prosperity, and with a face uncommonly happy and pretty; and the next instant she saw the explanation of this appearance in her cousin Charlton, a little palish, but looking better than she had ever seen him, and another gentleman, of whom her eye took in only the general outlines of fashion and comfortable circumstances, now too strange to it to go unnoted. In Fleda's usual mood her next movement would have been made with a demureness that would have looked like bashfulness. But the amusement and pleasure of the day just passed had for the moment set her spirits free from the burden that generally bound them down; and they were as elastic as her step, as she came forward and presented to her aunt "Dr. Quackenboss," and then turned to shake her cousin's hand.
"Charlton! Where did you come from? We didn't expect you so soon."
"You are not sorry to see me, I hope?"
"Not at all very glad;" and then as her eye glanced towards the other new-comer, Charlton presented to her "Mr. Thorn," and Fleda's fancy made a sudden quick leap on the instant to the old hall at Montepoole, and the shot dog. And then Dr. Quackenboss was presented, an introduction which Captain Rossitur received coldly, and Mr. Thorn with something more than frigidity.
The doctor's elasticity, however, defied depression, especially in the presence of a silk dress and a military coat. Fleda presently saw that he was agonizing her uncle. Mrs. Rossitur had drawn close to her son. Fleda was left to take care of the other visitor. The young men had both seemed more struck at the vision presented to them than she had been on her part. She thought neither of them was very ready to speak to her.
"I did not know," said Mr. Thorn, softly, "what reason I had to thank Rossitur for bringing me home with him to-night he promised me a supper and a welcome but I find he did not tell me the half of my entertainment."
"That was wise in him," said Fleda; "the half that is not expected is always worth a great deal more than the other."
"In this case, most assuredly," said Thorn, bowing, and, Fleda was sure, not knowing what to make of her.
"Have you been in Mexico, too, Mr. Thorn?"
"Not I! that's an entertainment I beg to decline. I never felt inclined to barter an arm for a shoulder-knot, or to abridge my usual means of locomotion for the privilege of riding on parade or selling one's-self for a name. Peter Schlemil's selling his shadow I can understand; but this is really lessening one's-self that one's shadow may grow the larger."
"But you were in the army?" said Fleda.
"Yes, it wasn't my doing. There is a time, you know, when one must please the old folks I grew old enough and wise enough to cut loose from the army before I had gained or lost much by it."
He did not understand the displeased gravity of Fleda's face, and went on insinuatingly
"Unless I have lost what Charlton has gained something I did not know hung upon the decision Perhaps you think a man is taller for having iron heels to his boots?"
"I do not measure a man by his inches," said Fleda.
"Then you have no particular predilection for shooting-men?"
"I have no predilection for shooting anything, Sir?"
"Then I am safe!" said he, with an arrogant little air of satisfaction. "I was born under an indolent star, but I confess to you, privately, of the two I would rather gather my harvests with the sickle than the sword. How does your uncle find it?"
"Find what, Sir?"
"The worship of Ceres? I remember he used to be devoted to Apollo and the Muses."
"Are they rival deities?"
"Why I have been rather of the opinion that they were too many for one house to hold," said Thorn, glancing at Mr. Rossitur. "But perhaps the Graces manage to reconcile them."
"Did you ever hear of the Graces getting supper?" said Fleda. "Because Ceres sometimes sets them at that work. Uncle Rolf," she added as she passed him "Mr. Thorn is inquiring after Apollo will you set him right, while I do the same for the tablecloth?"
Her uncle looked from her sparkling eyes to the rather puzzled expression of his guest's face.
"I was only asking your lovely niece," said Mr. Thorn, coming down from his stilts, "how you liked this country life."
Dr. Quackenboss bowed, probably in approbation of the epithet.
"Well, Sir, what information did she give you on the subject?"
"Left me in the dark, Sir, with a vague hope that you would enlighten me."
"I trust Mr. Rossitur can give a favourable report?" said the doctor, benignly.
But Mr. Rossitur's frowning brow looked very little like it.
"What do you say to our country life, Sir?"
"It's a confounded life, Sir," said Mr. Rossitur, taking a pamphlet from the table to fold and twist as he spoke; "it is a confounded life; for the head and the hands must either live separate, or the head must do no other work but wait upon the hands. It is an alternative of loss and waste, Sir."
"The alternative seems to be of a limited application," said the doctor, as Fleda, having found that Hugh and Barby had been beforehand with her, now came back to the company. "I am sure this lady would not give such a testimony."
"About what?" said Fleda, colouring under the fire of so many eyes.
"The blighting influence of Ceres' sceptre," said Mr. Thorn.
"This country life," said her uncle "do you like it, Fleda?"
"You know, uncle," said she, cheerfully, "I was always of the old Douglass's mind I like better to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak."
"Is that one of Earl Douglass's sayings," said the doctor.
"Yes, Sir," said Fleda with quivering lips, "but not the one you know an older man."
"Ah!" said the doctor, intelligently, "Mr. Rossitur speaking of hands I have employed the Irish very much of late years they are as good as one can have, if you do not want a head."
"That is to say if you have a head," said Thorn.
"Exactly!" said the doctor, all abroad "and when there are not too many of them together. I had enough of that, Sir, some years ago, when a multitude of them were employed on the public works. The Irish were in a state of mutilation, Sir, all through the country."
"Ah!" said Thorn, "had the military been at work upon them?"
"No, Sir, but I wish they had, I am sure; it would have been for the peace of the town. There were hundreds of them. We were in want of an army."
"Of surgeons, I should think," said Thorn.
Fleda saw the doctor's dubious air and her uncle's compressed lips; and, commanding herself, with even a look of something like displeasure, she quitted her seat by Mr. Thorn, and called the doctor to the window to look at a cluster of rose acacias just then in their glory. He admired, and she expatiated, till she hoped everybody but herself had forgotten what they had been talking about. But they had no sooner returned to their seats than Thorn began again.
"The Irish in your town are not in the same mutilated state now, I suppose, Sir?"
"No, Sir, no," said the doctor: "there are much fewer of them to break each other's bones. It was all among themselves, Sir."
"The country is full of foreigners," said Mr. Rossitur, with praiseworthy gravity.
"Yes, Sir," said Dr. Quackenboss, thoughtfully, "we shall have none of our ancestors left in a short time, if they go on as they are doing."
Fleda was beaten from the field, and, rushing into the breakfast-room, astonished Hugh by seizing hold of him and indulging in a most prolonged and unbounded laugh. She did not show herself again till the company came in to supper; but then she was found as grave as Minerva. She devoted herself particularly to the care and entertainment of Dr. Quackenboss till he took leave; nor could Thorn get another chance to talk to her through all the evening.
When he and Rossitur were at last in their rooms, Fleda told her story.
"You don't know how pleasant it was, aunt Lucy how much I enjoyed it seeing and talking to somebody again. Mrs. Evelyn was so very kind."
"I a very glad, my darling," said Mrs. Rossitur, stroking away the hair from the forehead that was bent down towards her "I am glad you had it to-day, and I am glad you will have it again to-morrow."
"You will have it too, aunt Lucy. Mrs. Evelyn will be here in the morning she said so."
"I shall not see her."
"Why? Now, aunt Lucy! you will."
"I have nothing in the world to see her in I cannot."
"You have this?"
"For the morning? A rich French silk? It would be absurd. No, no it would be better to wear my old merino than that."
"But you will have to dress in the morning for Mr. Thorn? he will be here to breakfast."
"I shall not come down to breakfast. Don't look so, love! I can't help it."
"Why was that calico got for me and not for you!" said Fleda, bitterly.
"A sixpenny calico!" said Mrs. Rossitur, smiling "it would be hard if you could not have so much as that, love."
"And you will not see Mrs. Evelyn and her daughters at all! and I was thinking that it would do you so much good!"
Mrs. Rossitur drew her face a little nearer and kissed it, over and over.
"It will do you good, my darling that is what I care for much more."
"It will not do me half as much," said Fleda, sighing.
Her spirits were in their old place again; no more a tiptoe to-night. The short light of pleasure was overcast. She went to bed feeling very quiet indeed; and received Mrs. Evelyn and excused her aunt the next day, almost wishing the lady had not been as good as her word. But though in the same mood she set off with her to drive to Montepoole, it could not stand the bright influences with which she found herself surrounded. She came home again at night with dancing spirits.
It was some days before Captain Rossitur began at all to comprehend the change which had come upon his family. One morning Fleda and Hugh, having finished their morning's work, were in the breakfast-room waiting for the rest of the family, when Charlton made his appearance, with the cloud on his brow which had been lately gathering.
"Where is the paper?" said he. "I haven't seen a paper since I have been here."
"You mustn't expect to find Mexican luxuries in Queechy, Captain Rossitur," said Fleda pleasantly. "Look at these roses, and don't ask me for papers!"
He did look a minute at the dish of flowers she was arranging for the breakfast table, and at the rival freshness and sweetness of the face that hung over them.
"You don't mean to say you live without a paper?"
"Well, it's astonishing how many things people can live without," said Fleda, rather dreamily, intent upon settling an uneasy rose that would topple over.
"I wish you'd answer me really," said Charlton. "Don't you take a paper here?"
"We would take one, thankfully, if it would be so good as to come; but, seriously, Charlton, we haven't any," she said, changing her tone.
"And have you done without one all through the war?"
"No we used to borrow one from a kind neighbour once in a while, to make sure, as Mr. Thorn says, that you had not bartered an arm for a shoulder-knot."
"You never looked to see whether I was killed in the meanwhile, I suppose?"
"No never," said Fleda, gravely, as she took her place on a low seat in the corner "I always knew you were safe before I touched the paper."
"What do you mean?"
"I am not an enemy, Charlton," said Fleda, laughing. "I mean that I used to make aunt Miriam look over the accounts before I did."
Charlton walked up and down the room for a little while in sullen silence; and then brought up before Fleda.
"What are you doing?"
Fleda looked up a glance that, as sweetly and brightly as possible, half asked, half bade him be silent and ask no questions.
"What are you doing?" he repeated.
"I am putting a patch on my shoe."
His look expressed more indignation than anything else.
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say," said Fleda, going on with her work.
"What in the name of all the cobblers in the land do you do it for?"
"Because I prefer it to having a hole in my shoe; which would give me the additional trouble of mending my stockings."
Charlton muttered an impatient sentence, of which Fleda only understood that "the devil" was in it, and then desired to know if whole shoes would not answer the purpose as well as either holes or patches.
"Quite if I had them," said Fleda, giving him another glance, which, with all its gravity and sweetness, carried also a little gentle reproach.
"But do you know," said he, after standing still a minute looking at her, "that any cobbler in the country would do what you are doing much better for sixpence?"
"I am quite aware of that," said Fleda, stitching away.
"Your hands are not strong enough for that work."
Fleda again smiled at him, in the very dint of giving a hard push to her needle a smile that would have witched him into good humour if he had not been determinately in a cloud, and proof against everything. It only admonished him that he could not safely remain in the region of sunbeams; and he walked up and down the room furiously again. The sudden ceasing of his footsteps presently made her look up.
"What have you got there? Oh, Charlton, don't! please put that down! I didn't know I had left them there. They were a little wet, and I laid them on the chair to dry."
"What do you call this?" said he, not minding her request.
"They are only my gardening gloves I thought I had put them away."
"Gloves!" said he, pulling at them disdainfully "why, here are two one within the other what's that for?"
"It's an old-fashioned way of mending matters two friends covering each other's deficiencies. The inner pair are too thin alone, and the outer ones have holes that are past cobbling."
"Are we going to have any breakfast to-day?" said he, flinging the gloves down. "You are very late!"
"No," said Fleda, quietly "it is not time for aunt Lucy to be down yet."
"Don't you have breakfast before nine o'clock?"
"Yes by half-past eight generally."
"Strange way of getting along on a farm! Well, I can't wait, I promised Thorn I would meet him this morning Barby! I wish you would bring me my boots!"
Fleda made two springs, one to touch Charlton's mouth, the other to close the door of communication with the kitchen.
"Well! what is the matter? can't I have them?"
"Yes, yes, but ask me for what you want. You mustn't call upon Barby in that fashion."
"Why not? Is she too good to be spoken to? What is she in the kitchen for?"
"She wouldn't be in the kitchen long if we were to speak to her in that way," said Fleda. "I suppose she would as soon put your boots on for you as fetch and carry them. I'll see about it."
"It seems to me Fleda rules the house," remarked Captain Rossitur, when she had left the room.
"Well, who should rule it?" said Hugh.
"I don't think she does," said Hugh; "but if she did, I am sure it could not be in better hands."
"It shouldn't be in her hands at all. But I have noticed since I have been here that she takes the arrangement of almost everything. My mother seems to have nothing to do in her own family."
"I wonder what the family or anybody in it would do without Fleda!" said Hugh, his gentle eyes quite firing with indignation. "You had better know more before you speak, Charlton."
"What is there for me to know?"
"Fleda does everything."
"So I say and that is what I don't like."
"How little you know what you are talking about!" said Hugh. "I can tell you she is the life of the house, almost literally, we should have had little enough to live upon this summer if it had not been for her."
"What do you mean?" impatiently enough.
"Fleda if it had not been for her gardening and management she has taken care of the garden these two years, and sold I can't tell you how much from it. Mr. Sweet, the hotelman at the Pool, takes all we can give him."
"How much does her 'taking care of the garden' amount to?"
"It amounts to all the planting, and nearly all the other work, after the first digging by far the greater part of it."
Charlton walked up and down a few turns in most unsatisfied silence.
"How does she get the things to Montepoole?"
"I take them."
"I ride with them there before breakfast. Fleda is up very early to gather them."
"You have not been there this morning?"
"Pease and strawberries."
"And Fleda picked them?"
"Yes with some help from Barby and me."
"That glove of hers was wringing wet."
"Yes, with the pea-vines, and strawberries too; you know they get so loaded with dew. Oh, Fleda gets more than her gloves wet. But she does not mind anything she does for father and mother."
"Humph! and does she get enough when all is done to pay for the trouble?"
"I don't know," said Hugh, rather sadly. "She thinks so. It is no trifle."
"Which, the pay or the trouble?"
"Both. But I meant the pay. Why, she made ten dollars last year from the asparagus beds alone, and I don't know how much more this year."
"Ten dollars! The devil!"
"Have you come to counting your dollars by the tens?"
"We have counted our sixpences so a good while," said Hugh, quietly.
Charlton strode about the room again in much perturbation. Then came in Fleda, looking as bright as if dollars had been counted by the thousand, and bearing his boots.
"What on earth did you do that for?" said he, angrily. "I could have gone for them myself."
"No harm done," said Fleda, lightly; "only I have got something else instead of the thanks I expected."
"I can't conceive," said he, sitting down and sulkily drawing on his foot-gear, "why this piece of punctiliousness should have made any more difficulty about bringing me my boots than about blacking them."
A sly glance of intelligence, which Charlton was quick enough to detect, passed between Fleda and Hugh. His eye carried its question from one to the other. Fleda's gravity gave way.
"Don't look at me so, Charlton," said she, laughing; "I can't help it, you are so excessively comical! I recommend that you go out upon the grass-plat before the door and turn round two or three times.
"Will you have the goodness to explain yourself? Who did black these boots?"
"Never pry into the secrets of families," said Fleda. "Hugh and I have a couple of convenient little fairies in our service that do things unknownst."
"I blacked them, Charlton," said Hugh.
Captain Rossitur gave his slippers a fling that carried them clean into the corner of the room.
"I will see," he said, rising, "whether some other service cannot be had more satisfactory than that of fairies!"
"Now, Charlton," said Fleda, with a sudden change of manner, corning to him and laying her hand most gently on his arm, "please don't speak about these things before uncle Rolf or your mother please do not, Charlton. It would only do a great deal of harm, and do no good."
She looked up in his face, but he would not meet her pleading eye, and shook off her hand.
"I don't need to be instructed how to speak to my father and mother; and I am not one of the household that has submitted itself to your direction."
Fleda sat down on her bench and was quiet, but with a lip that trembled a little and eyes that let fall one or two witnesses against him. Charlton did not see them, and he knew better than to meet Hugh's look of reproach. But for all that, there was a certain consciousness that hung about the neck of his purpose and kept it down in spite of him; and it was not till breakfast was half over that his ill-humour could make head against this gentle thwarting and cast it off. For so long the meal was excessively dull; Hugh and Fleda had their own thoughts; Charlton was biting his resolution into every slice of bread-and-butter that occupied him; and Mr. Rossitur's face looked like anything but encouraging an inquiry into his affairs. Since his son's arrival he had been most uncommonly gloomy; and Mrs. Rossitur's face was never in sunshine when his was in shade.
"You'll have a warm day of it at the mill, Hugh," said Fleda, by way of saying something to break the dismal monotony of knives and forks.
"Does that mill make much?" suddenly inquired Charlton.
"It has made a new bridge to the brook, literally," said Fleda gaily; "for it has sawn out the boards; and you know you mustn't speak evil of what carries you over the water."
"Does that mill pay for the working?' said Charlton, turning with the dryest disregard from her interference, and addressing himself determinately to his father.
"What do you mean? It does not work gratuitously," answered Mr. Rossitur, with at least equal dryness.
"But, I mean, are the profits of it enough to pay for the loss of Hugh's time?"
"If Hugh judges they are not, he is at liberty to let it alone."
"My time is not lost," said Hugh; "I' don't know what I should do with it."
"I don't know what we should do without the mill," said Mrs. Rossitur.
That gave Charlton an unlucky opening.
"Has the prospect of farming disappointed you, father?"
"What is the prospect of your company?" said Mr. Rossitur, swallowing half an egg before he replied.
"A very limited prospect!" said Charlton, "if you mean the one that went with me. Not a fifth part of them left."
"What have you done with them?"
"Showed them where the balls were flying, Sir, and did my best to show them the thickest of it."
"Is it necessary to show it to us too?" said Fleda.
"I believe there are not twenty living that followed me into Mexico," he went on, as if he had not heard her.
"Was all that havoc made in one engagement?" said Mrs. Rossitur, whose cheek had turned pale.
"Yes, mother; in the course of a few minutes."
"I wonder what would pay for that loss," said Fleda, indignantly.
"Why, the point was gained! and it did not signify what the cost was, so we did that. My poor boys were a small part of it."
"What point do you mean?"
"I mean the point we had in view, which was taking the place."
"And what was the advantage of gaining the place?"
"Pshaw! the advantage of doing one's duty."
"But what made it duty?" said Hugh.
"I grant you," said Fleda; "I understand that but bear with me, Charlton what was the advantage to the army or the country?"
"The advantage of great honour if we succeeded, and avoiding the shame of failure."
"Is that all?" said Hugh.
"All!" said Charlton.
"Glory must be a precious thing, when other men's lives are so cheap to buy it," said Fleda.
"We did not risk theirs without our own," said Charlton, colouring.
"No; but still theirs were risked for you."
"Not at all; why, this is absurd! you are saying that the whole war was for nothing."
"What better than nothing was the end of it? We paid Mexico for the territory she yielded to us, didn't we, uncle Rolf?"
"Twenty millions, I believe."
"And what do you suppose the war has cost?"
"Hum I don't know a hundred."
"A hundred million! Besides how much besides! And don't you suppose, uncle Rolf, that for half of that sum Mexico would have sold us peaceably what she did in the end?"
"It is possible I think it is very likely."
"What was the fruit of the war, Captain Rossitur?"
"Why, a great deal of honour to the army and the nation at large."
"Honour again! But granting that the army gained it, which they certainly did, for one I do not feel very proud of the nation's share."
"Why, they are one," said Charlton, impatiently.
"In an unjust war?"
"It was not an unjust war."
"That's what you call a knock-downer," said Fleda, laughing. "But I confess myself so simple as to have agreed with Seth Plumfield, when I heard him and Lucas disputing about it last winter, that it was a shame to a great and strong nation like ours to display its might in crushing a weak one."
"But they drew it upon themselves. They began hostilities."
"There is a diversity of opinion about that."
"Not in heads that have two grains of information."
"I beg your pardon. Mrs. Evelyn and Judge Sensible were talking over that very question the other day at Montepoole; and he made it quite clear to my mind that we were the aggressors."
"Judge Sensible is a fool!" said Mr. Rossitur.
"Very well!" said Fleda, laughing; "but as I do not wish to be comprehended in the same class, will you show me how he was wrong, uncle?"
This drew on a discussion of some length, to which Fleda listened with profound attention, long after her aunt had ceased to listen at all, and Hugh was thoughtful, and Charlton disgusted. At the end of it, Mr. Rossitur left the table and the room, and Fleda subsiding, turned to her cold coffee-cup.
"I didn't know you ever cared anything about politics before," said Hugh.
"Didn't you?" said Fleda, smiling. "You do me injustice."
Their eyes met for a second, with a most appreciating smile on his part; and then he too went off to his work. There was a few minutes' silent pause after that.
"Mother," said Charlton, looking up and bursting forth, "what is all this about the mill and the farm? is not the farm doing well?"
"I am afraid not very well," said Mrs. Rossitur, gently.
"What is the difficulty?"
"Why, your father has let it to a man by the name of Didenhover, and I am afraid he is not faithful; it does not seem to bring us in what it ought."
"What did he do that for?"
"He was wearied with the annoyances he had to endure before, and thought it would be better and more profitable to have somebody else take the whole charge and management. He did not know Didenhover's character at the time."
"Engaged him without knowing him!"
Fleda was the only third party present, and Charlton unwittingly allowing himself to meet her eye, received a look of keen displeasure that he was not prepared for.
"That is not like him," he said, in a much moderated tone. "But you must be changed too, mother, or you would not endure such anomalous service in your kitchen."
"There are a great many changes, dear Charlton," said his mother, looking at him with such a face of sorrowful sweetness and patience that his mouth was stopped. Fleda left the room.
"And have you really nothing to depend upon but that child's strawberries and Hugh's wood-saw?" he said, in the tone he ought to have used from the beginning.
Charlton stifled two or three sentences that rose to his lips, and began to walk up and down the room again. His mother sat musing by the tea-board still, softly clinking her spoon against the edge of her tea-cup.
"She has grown up very pretty," he remarked, after a pause.
"Pretty!" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"No one that has seen much of Fleda would ever describe her by that name."
Charlton had the candour to think he had seen something of her that morning.
"Poor child!" said Mrs. Rossitur, sadly, " I can't bear to think of her spending her life as she is doing wearing herself out, I know, sometimes and buried alive."
"Buried!" said Charlton, in his turn.
"Yes; without any of the advantages and opportunities she ought to have. I can't bear to think of it. And yet how should I ever live without her" said Mrs. Rossitur, leaning her lace upon her hands. "And if she were known she would not be mine long. But It grieves me to have her go without her music, that she is so fond of, and the book she wants; she and Hugh have gone from end to end of every volume there is in the house, I believe, in every language, except Greek."
"Well, she looks pretty happy and contented, mother."
"I don't know!'" said Mrs.. Rossitur, shaking her head.
"Isn't she happy?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Rossitur, again; "she has a spirit that is happy in doing her duty, or anything for those she loves; but I see her sometimes wearing a look that pains me exceedingly. I am afraid the way she lives, and the changes in our affairs, have worn upon her more than we know of she feels doubly everything that touches me, or Hugh, or your father. She is a gentle spirit!"
"She seems to me not to want character," said Charlton.
"Character! I don't know who has so much. She has at least fifty times as much character as I have. And energy. She is admirable at managing people she knows how to influence them somehow, so that everybody does what she wants."
"And who influences her?" said Charlton.
"Who influences her? Everybody that she loves. Who has the most influence over her, do you mean? I am sure I don't know Hugh, if anybody but she is rather the moving spirit of the household."
Captain Rossitur resolved that he would be an exception to her rule.
He forgot, however, for some reason or other, to sound his father any more on the subject of mismanagement. His thoughts, indeed, were more pleasantly taken up.
"My lord Sebastian, The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness, And time to speak it in: you rub the sore, When you should bring the plaster." Tempest.
The Evelyns spent several weeks at the Pool; and both mother and daughters conceiving a great affection for Fleda, kept her in their company as much as possible. For those weeks Fleda had enough of gaiety. She was constantly spending the day with them at the Pool, or going on some party of pleasure, or taking quiet sensible walks and rides with them alone, or with only one or two more of the most rational and agreeable people that the place could command. And even Mrs. Rossitur was persuaded, more times than one, to put herself in her plainest remaining French silk, and entertain the whole party, with the addition of one or two of Charlton's friends, at her Queechy farm-house.
Fleda enjoyed it all with the quick spring of a mind habitually bent to the patient fulfilment of duty, and habitually under the pressure of rather sobering thoughts. It was a needed and very useful refreshment. Charlton's being at home gave her the full good of the opportunity more than would else have been possible. He was her constant attendant, driving her to and from the Pool, and finding as much to call him there as she had; for, besides the Evelyns, his friend Thorn abode there all this time. The only drawback to Fleda's pleasure as she drove off from Queechy would be the leaving Hugh plodding away at his saw-mill. She used to nod and wave to him as they went by, and almost feel that she ought not to go on and enjoy herself while he was tending that wearisome machinery all day long. Still she went on and enjoyed herself; but the mere thought of his patient smile as she passed would have kept her from too much elation of spirits, if there had been any danger. There never was any.
"That's a lovely little cousin of yours," said Thorn, one evening, when he and Rossitur, on horseback, were leisurely making their way along the up-and-down road between Montepoole and Queechy.
"She is not particularly little," said Rossitur, with a dryness that somehow lacked any savour of gratification.
"She is of a most fair stature," said Thorn; "I did not mean anything against that; but there are characters to which one gives instinctively a softening appellative."
"Are there?" said Charlton.
"Yes. She is a lovely little creature."
"She is not to compare to one of those girls we have left behind us at Montepoole," said Charlton.
"Hum well, perhaps you are right; but which girl do you mean? for I profess I don't know."
"The second of Mrs. Evelyn's daughters the auburn-haired one."
"Miss Constance, eh?" said Thorn. "In what isn't the other one to be compared to her?"
"In anything! Nobody would ever think of looking at her in the same room."
"Why not?" said Thorn, coolly.
"I don't know why not," said Charlton, "except that she has not a tithe of her beauty. That's a superb girl!"
For a matter of twenty yards, Mr. Thorn went softly humming a tune to himself, and leisurely switching the flies off his horse.
"Well," said he, "there's no accounting for tastes
'I ask no red and white To make up my delight, No odd becoming graces, Black eyes, or little know-not-what in faces.' "
"What do you want, then?" said Charlton, half laughing at him though his friend was perfectly grave.
"A cool eye, and a mind in it."
"A cool eye!" said Rossitur.
"Yes. Those we have left behind us are arrant will-o'-the- wisps dancing fires no more."
"I can tell you, there is fire sometimes in the other eyes," said Charlton.
"Very likely," said his friend, composedly; "I could have guessed as much; but that is a fire you may warm yourself at; no eternal phosphorescence it is the leaping up of all internal fire, that only shows itself upon occasion."
"I suppose you know what you are talking about," said Charlton; "but I can't follow you into the region of volcanoes. Constance Evelyn has superb eyes. It is uncommon to see a light blue so brilliant."