Now, in the mean time, Julia, on her side, had tried to open communication through the only channel that offered itself. She did not attempt it by means of Betsey, because, being a woman, she felt instinctively that Betsey was not to be trusted. But there was only one other to whom she was allowed to speak, except under a supervision as complete as it was unacknowledged. That other was Mr. Humphreys. He evinced a constant interest in her affairs, avowing that he always did have a romantic desire to effect the union of suitable people, even though it might pain his heart a little to see another more fortunate than himself. Julia had given up all hope of communicating by letter, and she could not bring herself to make any confessions to a man who had such a smile and such eyes, but to a generous proposition of Mr. Humphreys that he should see August and open the way for any communication between them, she consented, scarcely concealing her eagerness.
August was not in a mood to receive Humphreys kindly. He hated him by intuition, and a liking for him had not been begotten by Betsey's assurances that he was making headway with Julia. August was riding astride a bag of corn on his way to mill, when Humphreys, taking a walk, met him.
"A pleasant day, Mr. Wehle!"
"Yes," said August, with a courtesy as mechanical as Humphreys's smile.
The singing-master was rather pleased than otherwise to see that August disliked him. It suited his purpose, just now to gall Wehle into saying what he would not otherwise have said.
"I hear you are in trouble," he proceeded.
"Oh! I hear that Mrs. Anderson doesn't like Dutchmen." The smile now seemed to have something of a sneer in it.
"I don't know that that is your affair," said August, all his suspicions, by a sort of "resolution of force," changing into anger.
"Oh! I beg pardon," with a tone half-mocking. "I did not know but I might help settle matters. I think I have Mrs. Anderson's confidence; and I know that I have Miss Anderson's confidence in an unusual degree. I think a great deal of her. And she thinks me her friend at least. I thought that there might be some little matters yet unsettled between you two, and she suggested that maybe there might be something you would like to say, and that if you would say it to me, it would be all the same as if it were said to her. She considers that in the relation I bear to her and the family, a message delivered to me is the same in effect as if given to her. I told her I did not think you would, as a gentleman, wish to hold her to any promises that might be irksome to her now."
These words were spoken with a coolness and maliciousness of good-nature quite devilish, and August's fist involuntarily doubled itself to strike him, if only to make him cease smiling in that villainous rectangular way. But he checked himself.
"You are a puppy. Tell that to Jule, if you choose. I shall send her a release from all obligations, but not by the hand of a rascal!"
Like all desperadoes, Humphreys was a coward. He could shoot, but he could not fight, and just now he was affecting the pious or at least the high moral role, and had left his pistols, brandy-flasks, and the other necessary appurtenances of a gentleman, locked in his trunk. Besides it would not at all have suited his purpose to shoot. So in lieu of shooting he only smiled, as August rode off, that same old geometric smile, the elements of which were all calculated. He seemed incapable of any other facial contortion. It expressed one emotion, indeed, about as well as another, and was therefore as convenient as those pocket-knives which affect to contain a chest of tools in one.
Julia was already stung to jealousy by Betsey Malcolm's mischief-making, and it did not require much more to put her into a frenzy. As they walked home from meeting the next night—they had meeting all nights now, the world would soon end and there was so much to be done—as they walked home Humphreys contrived to separate Julia from the rest, and to tell her that he had had a conversation with young Wehle.
"It was painful, very painful," he said, "I think I had better not say any more about it."
"Why?" asked Julia in terror.
"Well, I feel that your grief is mine. I have never felt so much interest in any one before, and I must say that I was grievously disappointed. This young man is not at all worthy of you."
"What do you mean?" And there was a trace of indignation in her tone.
"It does seem to me that the man who has your love should be the happiest in the world; but he refused to send you any message, and says that he will soon send you an entire release from all engagement to him. He showed no tenderness and made no inquiry."
The weakest woman and the strongest can faint. It is a woman's last resort. When all else is gone, that remains. Julia drew a sharp quick breath, and was just about to become unconscious. Humphreys stretched his arms to catch her, but the sudden recollection that in case she fainted he would carry her into the house, produced a reaction. She released herself from his grasp, and hurried in alone, locking her door, and refusing admittance to her mother. From Humphreys, who had put himself into a delicate minor key, Mrs. Anderson got such an account of the conversation as he thought best to give. She then opened and read a note placed into her hand by a neighbor as she came out from meeting. It was addressed to Julia, and ran:
"If all they say is true, you have quickly changed. I do not hold you by any promises you wish to break.
Mrs. Anderson had no pity. She hesitated not an instant. Julia's door was fast. But she went out upon the front upper porch, and pushing up the window of her daughter's room as remorselessly as she had committed the burglary on her private letter, she looked at her a moment, sobbing on the bed, and then threw the letter into the room, saying: "It's good for you. Read that, and see what a fellow your Dutchman is."
Then Mrs. Anderson sought her couch, and slept with a serene sense, of having done her duty as a mother, whatever might be the result.
THE SPIDER SPINS.
Julia got up from her bed the moment that her mother had gone. Her first feeling was that her privacy had been shamefully outraged. A true mother should honorably respect the reserve of the little child. But Julia was now a woman, grown, with a woman's spirit. She rose from her bed, and shut her window with a bang that was meant to be a protest. She then put the tenpenny nail sometimes used to fasten the window down, in its place, as if to say, "Come in, if you can." Then she pulled out the folds of the chintz curtain, hanging on its draw-string half-way up the window. If there had been any other precaution possible, she would have taken it. But there was not.
She took up the note, and read it. Julia was not a girl of keen penetration. Her training was that of a country life. She did not read between the lines of August's note, and could only understand that she was dismissed. Outraged by her mother's tyranny, spurned by her lover, she stood like a hunted creature, brought to bay, looking for the last desperate chance for escape.
Crushed? No. If she had been weaker, if she had been of the quieter, frailer sort, instead of being, as she was, elastic, impulsive, recuperative, she might have been crushed. She was wounded in her heart of hearts, but all her pride and hardihood, of which she had not a little, had now taken up arms against outrageous fortune. She was stung at every thought of August and his letter, of Betsey Malcolm and her victory, of the fact that her mother had read the letter and knew of her humiliation. And she paced the floor of her room, and resolved to resist and to be revenged. She would marry anybody, that she might show Betsey and August they had not broken he heart and that her love did not go begging.
O Julia! take care. Many another woman has jumped off that precipice!
And she would escape from her mother. The indications of affection adroitly given by Humphreys were all remembered now. She could have him, and she would. He would take her to Cincinnati. She would have her revenge all around. I am sorry to show you my heroine in this mood. But the fairest climes are sometimes subject to the fiercest hurricanes, the frightfulest earthquakes!
After an hour the room seemed hot. She pulled back the chintz curtain and pushed up the window. The blue-grass in the pasture looked cool as it drank the heavy dews. She climbed through the window on to the long, old-fashioned upper porch. She sat down upon an old-fashioned settee with rockers, and began to rock. The motion relieved her nervousness and fanned her hot cheeks. Yes, she would accept the first respectable lover that offered. She would go to the city with Humphreys, if he asked her. It is only fair to say that Julia did not at all consider—she was not in a temper to consider—what a marriage with Humphreys implied. She only thought of it on two sides—the revenge upon August and Betsey, and the escape from a thralldom now grown more bitter than death. True, her conscience was beginning to awaken, and to take up arms against her resolve. But nothing could be plainer. In marrying Mr. Humphreys she should marry a friend, the only friend she had. In marrying him she would satisfy her mother, and was it not her duty to sacrifice something to her mother's happiness, perhaps her mother's life?
Yes, yes, Julia, a false spirit of self-sacrifice is another path over the cliff! In such a mood as this all paths lead into the abyss.
Her mind was made up. She braced her will against all the relentings of her heart. She wished that Humphreys, who had indirectly declared his love so often, were there to offer at once. She would accept him immediately, and then the whole neighborhood should not say that she had been deserted by a Dutchman. For in her anger she found her mother's epithets expressive.
He was there! Was it the devil that planned it? Does he plan all those opportunities for wrong that are so sure to offer themselves? Humphreys, having led a life that turned night into day, sat at the farther end of the long upper porch, smoking his cigar, waiting a bed-time nearer to the one to which he was accustomed.
Did he suspect the struggle in the heart of Julia Anderson? Did he guess that her pride and defiance had by this time reached high-water mark? Did he divine this from seeing her there? He rose and started in through the door of the upper hall, the only opening to the porch, except the window. But this was a feint. He turned back and sat himself down upon the farther end of the settee from Julia. He understood human nature perfectly, and had had long practice in making gradual approaches. He begged her pardon for the bungling manner in which he had communicated intelligence that must be so terrible to a heart so sensitive! Julia was just going to declare that she did not care anything for what August said or thought, but her natural truthfulness checked the transparent falsehood. She had not gone far enough astray to lie consciously; she was, as yet, only telling lies to herself. Very gradually and cautiously did he proceed so as not to "flush the bird." Even as I saw, an hour ago, a cat creep upon a sparrow with fascinating eyes, and a waving, snake-like motion of the tail, and a treacherous feline smile upon her face, even so, cautiously and by degrees, Humphreys felt his way with velvet paws toward his prey. He knew the opportunity, that once gone might not come again; he soon guessed that this was the hour and power of darkness in the soul of Julia, the hour in which she would seek to flee from her own pride and mortification. And if Humphreys knew how to approach with a soft tread, very slowly and cautiously, he also knew—men of his "profession" always know—when to spring. He saw the moment, he made the spring, he seized the prey.
"Will you trust your destiny to me, Miss Anderson? You seem beset by troubles. I have means. I could not but he wholly devoted to your welfare. Let me help you to flee away from—from all this mortification, and this—this domestic tyranny. Will you intrust yourself to me?"
He did not say anything about love. He had an instinctive feeling that it would not be best. She felt herself environed with insurmountable difficulties, threatened with agonies worse than death—so they seemed to her. He simply, coolly opened the door, and bade her easily and triumphantly escape. Had he said one word of tenderness the reaction must have set in.
She was silent.
"I did hope, by sacrificing all my own hopes, to effect a reconciliation. But when that young man spoke insulting words about you, I determined at once to offer you my devoted protection. I ask no more than you are able to give, your respect Will you accept my life-long protection as your husband?"
"Yes!" said the passionate girl in an agony of despair
THE SPIDER'S WEB.
Now that Humphreys had his prey he did not know just what to do with it. Not knowing what to say, he said nothing, in which he showed his wisdom. But he felt that saying nothing was almost as bad as saying something. And he was right. For with people of impulsive temperament reactions are sudden, and in one minute after Julia had said yes, there came to her memory the vision of August standing in the barn and looking into her eyes so purely and truly and loyally, and vowing such sweet vows of love, and she looked back upon that perfect hour with some such fooling perhaps as Dives felt looking out of torment across the great gulf into paradise. Only that Dives had never known paradise, while she had. For the man or woman that knows a pure, self-sacrificing love, returned in kind, knows that which, of all things in this world, lies nearest to God and heaven. There be those who have ears to hear this, and for them is it written. Julia thought of August's love with a sinking into despair. But then returned the memory of his faithlessness, of all she had been compelled to believe and suffer. Then her agony came back, and she was glad that she had taken a decided step. Any escape was a relief. I suppose it is under some such impulse that people kill themselves. Julia felt as though she had committed suicide and escaped.
Humphreys on his part was not satisfied. I used the wrong figure of speech awhile ago. He was not a cat with paw upon the prey. He was only an angler, and had but hooked his fish. He had not landed it yet. He felt how slender was the thread of committal by which he held Julia. August had her heart. He had only a word. The slender vantage that he had, he meant to use adroitly, craftily. And he knew that the first thing was to close this interview without losing any ground. The longer she remained bound, the better for him. And with his craft against the country girl's simplicity it would have fared badly with Julia had it not been for one defect which always inheres, in a bad man's plots in such a case. A man like Humphreys never really understands a pure woman. Certain detached facts he may know, but he can not "put himself in her place."
Humphreys remarked with tenderness that Julia must not stay in the night air. She was too precious to be exposed. This flattery was comforting to her wounded pride, and she found his words pleasant to her. Had he stopped here he might have left the field victorious. But it was very hard for an affianced lover to stop here. He must part from her in some other way than this if he would leave on her mind the impression that she was irrevocably bound to him. He stooped quickly with a well-affected devotion and lifted her hand to kiss it. That act awakened Julia Anderson. She must have awaked anyhow, sooner or later. But when one is in the toils of such a man, sooner is better. The touch of Humphreys's hand and lips sent a shudder through her frame that Humphreys felt. Instantly there came to her a perception of all that marriage with a repulsive man signifies.
Not suicide, but perdition.
She jerked her hand from his as though he were a snake.
"Mr. Humphreys, what did I say? I can't have you. I don't love you. I'm crazy to-night. I must take back what I said."
"No, Julia. Let me call you my Julia. You must not break my heart." Humphreys had lost his cue, and every word of tenderness he spoke made his case more hopeless.
"I never can marry you—let me go in," she said, brushing past him. Then she remembered that her door was fast on the inside. She had climbed out the window. She turned back, and he saw his advantage.
"I can not release you. Take time to think before you ask it. Go to sleep now and do not act hastily." He stood between her and the window, wishing to get some word to which he could hold.
Julia's two black eyes grew brighter. "I see. You took advantage of my trouble, and you want to hold me to my words, and you are bad, and now—now I hate you!" Then Julia felt better. Hate is the only wholesome thing in such a case. She pushed him aside vigorously, stepped upon the settee, slipped in at the window, and closed it. She drew the curtain, but it seemed thin, and with characteristic impulsiveness she put out her light that she might have the friendly drapery of darkness about her. She heard the soft—for the first time it seemed to her stealthy—tread of Humphreys, as he returned to his room. Whether she swooned or whether she slept after that she never knew. It was morning without any time intervening, she had a headache and could scarcely walk, and there was August's note lying on the floor. She read it again—if not with more intelligence, at least with more suspicion. She wondered at her own hastiness. She tried to go about the house, but the excitement of the previous night, added to all she had suffered beside, had given her a headache, blinding and paralyzing, that sent her back to bed.
And there she lay in that half-asleep, half-awake mood, which a nervous headache produces. She seemed to be a fly in a web, and the spider was trying to fasten her. A very polite spider, with that smile which went half-way up his face but which never seemed able to reach his eyes. He had straps to his pantaloons, and a reddish mustache, and she shuddered as he wound his fine webs about her. She tried to shake off the illusion. But the more absurd an illusion, the more it will not be shaken off. For see! the spider was kissing her hand! Then she seemed to have made a great effort and to have broken the web. But her wings were torn, and her feet were shackled by the fine strands that still adhered. She could not get them off. Wouldn't somebody help her, even as she had many a time picked off the webs from a fly's feet out of sheer pity? And all day she would perpetually return into these half-conscious states and feel the spider's web about her feet, and ask over and over again if somebody wouldn't help her to get out of the meshes.
Toward evening her mother brought her a cup of tea and a piece of toast, and for the first time in the remembered life of the daughter made an endeavor to show a little tenderness for her. It was a clumsy endeavor, for when the great gulf is once fixed between mother and child it is with difficulty bridged. And finding herself awkward in the new role, Mrs. Anderson dropped it and resumed her old gait, remarking, as she closed the door, that she was glad to know that Julia was coming to her senses, and "had took the right road." For Mrs. Abigail was more vigorous than grammatical.
Julia did not see anything significant in this remark at first. But after a while it came to her that Humphreys must have told her mother of something that had passed during the preceding night, something on which this commendation was founded. Then she fell into the same torpor and was in the same old spider's web, and there was the same spider with the limited smile and the mustache and the watch-seals and the straps! And he was trying to fasten her, and she said "yes." And she could see the little word. The spider caught it and spun it into a web and fastened her with it. And she could break all the other webs but those woven out of that one little word from her own lips. That clung to her, and she could neither fly nor walk. August could not help her—he would not come. Her mother was helping the spider. Just then Cynthy Ann came along with her broom. Would she see her and sweep her free? She tried to call her, but alas! she was a fly. She tried to buzz, but her wings were fast bound with the webs. She was being smothered. The spider had seized her. She could not move. He was smiling at her!
Then she woke shuddering. It was after midnight.
THE WEB BROKEN.
"Poverty," says Beranger, "is always superstitious." So indeed is human extremity of any sort. Julia's healthy constitution had resisted the threatened illness, the feverishness had gone with the headache. She felt now only one thing: she must have a friend. But the hard piousness of Cynthy Ann's face had never attracted her sympathy. It had always seemed to her that Cynthy disapproved of her affection quite as much as her mother did. Cynthy's face had indeed a chronic air of disapproval. A nervous young minister said that he never had any "liberty" when sister Cynthy Ann was in his congregation. She seemed averse to all he said.
But now Julia felt that there was just one chance of getting advice and help. Had she not in her dream seen Cynthy Ann with a broom? She would ask help from Cynthy Ann. There must be a heart under her rind.
But to get to her. Her mother's affectionate vigilance never left her alone with Cynthy. Perhaps it was this very precaution that had suggested Cynthy Ann to her as a possible ally. She must contrive to have a talk with her somehow. But how? There was one way. Black-eyed people do not delay. Bight or wrong, Julia acted with sharp decision. Before she had any very definite view of her plan, she had arisen and slipped on a calico dress. But there was one obstacle. Mr. Humphreys kept late hours, and he might be on the front-porch. She might meet him in the hall, and this seemed worse to her than would the chance of meeting a tribe of Indians. She listened and looked out of her window; but she could not be sure; she would run the risk. With silent feet and loud-beating heart she went down the hall to the back upper porch, for in that day porches were built at the back and front of houses, above and below. Once on the back-porch she turned to the right and stood by Cynthy Ann's door. But a new fear took possession of her. If Cynthy Ann should be frightened and scream!
"Cynthy! Cynthy Ann!" she said, standing by the bed in the little bare room which Cynthy Ann had occupied, for five years, but into which she had made no endeavor to bring one ray of sentiment or one trace of beauty.
"Cynthy! Cynthy Ann!"
Had Cynthy Ann slept anywhere but in the L of the house, her shriek—what woman could have helped shrieking a little when startled?—her shriek must have alarmed the family. But it did not. "Why, child! what are you doing here? You are out of your head, and you must go back to your room at once." And Cynthy had arisen and was already tugging at Julia's arm.
"I a'n't out of my head, Cynthy Ann, and I won't go back to my room—not until I have had a talk with you."
"What is the matter, Jule?" said Cynthy, sitting on the bed and preparing to begin again her old fight between duty and inclination. Cynthy always expected temptation. She had often said in class-meeting that temptations abounded on every hand, and as soon as Julia told her she had a communication to make, Cynthy Ann was sure that she would find in it some temptation of the devil to do something she "hadn't orter do," according to the Bible or the Discipline, strictly construed. And Cynthy was a "strict constructionist."
Julia did not find it so easy to say anything now that she had announced herself as determined to have a conversation and now that her auditor was waiting. It is the worst beginning in the world for a conversation, saying that you intend to converse. When an Indian has announced his intention of having a "big talk," he immediately lights his pipe and relapses into silence until the big talk shall break out accidentally and naturally. But Julia, having neither the pipe nor the Indian's stolidity, found herself under the necessity of beginning abruptly. Every minute of delay made her position worse. For every minute increased her doubt of Cynthy Ann's sympathy.
"O Cynthy Ann! I'm so miserable!"
"Yes, I told your ma this morning that you was looking mis'able, and that you had orter have sassafras to purify the blood, but your ma is so took up with steam-docterin' that she don't believe in nothin' but corn-sweats and such like."
"Oh! but, Cynthy, it a'n't that. I'm miserable in my mind. I wish I knew what to do."
"I thought you'd made up your mind. Your ma told me you was engaged to Mr. Humphreys."
Julia was appalled. How fast the spider spins his web!
"I a'n't engaged to him, and I hate him. He got me to say yes when I was crazy, and I believe he brought about the things that make me feel so nigh crazy. Do you think he's a good man, Cynthy Ann?"
"Well, no, though I don't want to set in no jedgment on nobody; but I don't see as how as he kin be good and wear all of them costly apparels that's so forbid in the Bible, to say nothing of the Discipline. The Bible says you must know a tree by its fruits, and I 'low his'n is mostly watch-seals. I think a good sound conversion at the mourners' bench would make him strip off some of them things, and put them into the missionary collection. Though maybe he a'n't so bad arter all, fer Jonas says that liker'n not the things a'n't gold, but pewter washed over. But I'm afeard he's wor'ly-minded. But I don't want to be too hard on a feller-creatur'."
"Cynthy, I drempt just now I was a fly and he was a spider, and that he had me all wrapped up in his web, and that just then you came along with a broom."
"That must be a sign," said Cynthy Ann. "It's good you didn't dream after daylight. Then 'twould a come true. But what about him? I thought you loved Gus Wehle, and though I'm afeard you're makin' a idol out o' him, and though I'm afeard he's a onbeliever, and I don't noways like marryin' with onbelievers, yet I did want to help you, and I brought a note from him wunst and put it under the head of your bed. I was afeard then I was doin' what Timothy forbids, when he says not to be pertakers in other folks's sins, but, you see, how could I help doin' it, when you was lookin' so woebegone like, and Jonas, he axed me to do it. It's awful hard to say you won't to Jonas, you know. So I put the letter there, and I don't doubt your ma mistrusted it, and got a holt on it."
"Did he write to me? A'n't he going with that Betsey Malcolm?"
"Can't be, I 'low. On'y this evenin' Jonas said to me, says he, when I tole him you was engaged to Mr. Humphreys, says he, in his way, 'The hawk's lit, has he? That'll be the death of two,' says he, 'fer she'll die on it, an' so'll poor Gus,' says he. And then he went on to tell as how as Gus is all ready to leave, and had axed him to tell him of any news; but he said he wouldn't tell him that. He'd leave him some hope. Fer he says Gus was mighty nigh distracted to-day, that is yisterday, fer its most mornin' I 'low."
Now this speech did Julia a world of good. It showed her that Gus was not faithless, that she might count on Cynthy, and that Jonas was her friend, and that he did not like Humphreys. Jonas called him a hawk. That agreed with her dream. He was a hawk and a spider.
"But, Cynthy Ann, I got a letter night before last; ma threw it in the window. In it Gus said he released me. I hadn't asked any release. What did he mean?"
"Honey, I wish I could help you. It's that hawk, as Jonas calls him, that's at the bottom of all this trouble. I don't believe but what he's told some lies or 'nother. I don't believe but what he's a bad man. I allers said I didn't 'low no good could come of a man that puts on costly apparel and wears straps. I'm afeard you're making a idol of Gus Wehle. Don't do it. Ef you do, God'll take him. Misses Pearsons made a idol of her baby, a kissin' it and huggin' it every minute, and I said, says I, Misses Pearsons, you hadn't better make a idol of a perishin' creature. And sure enough, God tuck it. He's jealous of our idols. But I can't help helpin' you. You're a onbeliever yet yourself, and I 'low taint no sin fer you to marry Gus. It's yokin' like with like. I wish you was both Christians. I'll speak to Jonas. I don't know what I ought to do, but I'll speak to Jonas. He's mighty peart about sech things, is Jonas, and got as good a heart as you ever see. And—"
"Cynth-ee A-ann!" It was the energetic voice of Mrs. Anderson rousing the house betimes. For the first time Julia and Cynthy Ann noticed the early light creeping in at the window. They sat still, paralyzed.
"Cynth-ee!" The voice was now at the top of the stairs, for Mrs. Anderson always carried the war into Africa if Cynthy did not wake at once.
"Answer quick, Cynthy Ann, or she'll be in here!" said Julia, sliding behind the bed.
"Ma'am!" said Cynthy Ann, starting toward the door, where she met Mrs. Abigail. "I'm up," said Cynthy.
"Well, what makes you so long a-answerin' then? You make me climb the steps, and you know I may drop down dead of heart-disease any day. I'll go and wake Jule."
"Better let her lay awhile," said Cynthy, reproaching herself instantly for the deception.
Mrs. Anderson hesitated at the top of the stairs.
"Jul-yee!" she called. Poor Jule shook from head to foot. "I guess I'll let her lay awhile; but I'm afraid I've already spoiled the child by indulgence," said the mother, descending the stairs. She relented only because she believed Julia was conquered.
"I declare, child, it's a shame I should be helping you to disobey your mother. I'm afeard the Lord'll bring some jedgment on us yet." For Cynthy Ann had tied her conscience to her rather infirm logic. Better to have married it to her generous heart. But before she had finished the half-penitent lamentation, Jule was flying with swift and silent feet down the hall. Arrived in her own room, she was so much relieved as to be almost happy; and she was none too soon, for her industrious mother had quickly repented her criminal leniency, and was again climbing the stairs at the imminent risk of her precarious life, and calling "Jul-yee!"
JONAS EXPOUNDS THE SUBJECT.
"I 'lowed I'd ketch you here, my venerable and reliable feller-citizen!" said Jonas as he entered the lower story of Andrew Anderson's castle and greeted August, sitting by Andrew's loom. It was the next evening after Julia's interview with Cynthy Ann. "When do you 'low to leave this terry-firmy and climb a ash-saplin'? To-night, hey? Goin' to the Queen City to take to steamboat life in hopes of havin' your sperrits raised by bein' blowed up? Take my advice and don't make haste in the downward road to destruction, nor the up-hill one nuther. A game a'n't never through tell it's played out, an' the American eagle's a chicken with steel spurs. That air sweet singer of Israel that is so hifalugeon he has to anchor hisself to his boots, knows all the tricks, and is intimately acquainted with the kyards, whether it's faro, poker, euchre, or French monte. But blamed ef Providence a'n't dealed you a better hand'n you think. Never desperandum, as the Congressmen say, fer while the lamp holds out to burn you may beat the blackleg all to flinders and sing and shout forever. Last night I went to bed thinkin' 'Umphreys had the stakes all in his pocket. This mornin' I found he was in a far way to be beat outen his boots ef you stood yer ground like a man and a gineological descendant of Plymouth Rock!"
Andrew stopped his loom, and, looking at August, said: "Our friend Jonas speaks somewhat periphrastically and euphuistically, and—he'll pardon me—but he speaks a little ambiguously."
"My love, I gin it up, as the fish-hawk said to the bald eagle one day. I kin rattle off odd sayings and big words picked up at Fourth-of-Julys and barbecues and big meetins, but when you begin to fire off your forty-pound bomb-shell book-words, I climb down as suddent as Davy Crockett's coon. Maybe I do speak unbiguously, as you say, but I was givin' you the biggest talkin' I had in the basket. And as fer my good news, a feller don't like to eat up all his country sugar to wunst, I 'low. But I says to our young and promisin' friend of German extraction, beloved, says I, hold onto that air limb a little longer and you're saved."
"But, Jonas," said August, spinning Andrew's winding-blade round and speaking slowly and bitterly, "a man don't like to be trifled with, if he is a Dutchman!"
"But sposin' a man hain't been trifled with, Dutchman or no Dutchman? Sposin' it's all a optical delusion of the yeers? There's a word fer you, Andrew, that a'n't nuther unbiguous nor peri-what-you-may-call-it."
"But," said August, "Betsey Malcolm—"
"Betsey Malcolm!" said Jonas. "Betsey Malcolm to thunder!" and then he whistled. "Set a dog to mind a basket of meat when his chops is a-waterin' fer it! Set a kingfisher to take keer of a fish-pond! Set a cat to raisin' your orphan chickens on the bottle! Set a spider to nuss a fly sick with dyspepsy from eatin' too much molasses! I'd ruther trust a hen-hawk with a flock of patridges than to trust Betsey Malcolm with your affairs. I ha'n't walked behind you from meetin' and seed her head a bobbin' like a bluebird's and her eyes a blazin an' all that, fer nothin'. Like as not, Betsey Malcolm's more nor half your trouble in that quarter."
"But she said—"
"It don't matter three quarters of a rotten rye-straw what she said, my inexper'enced friend. She don't keer what she says, so long as it's fur enough away from the truth to sarve her turn. An' she's told pay-tent double-back-action lies that worked both ways. What do you 'low Jule Anderson tho't when she hearn tell of your courtin' Betsey, as Betsey told it, with all her nods an' little crowin'? Now looky here, Gus, I'm your friend, as the Irishman said to the bar that hugged him, an' I want to say about all that air that Betsey told you, spit on the slate an' wipe that all off. They's lie in her soap an.' right smart chance of saft-soap in her lie, I 'low."
These rough words of Jonas brought a strange intelligence into the mind of August. He saw so many things in a moment that had lain under his eyes unnoticed.
"There is much rough wisdom in your speech, Jonas," said Andrew.
"That's a fact. You and me used to go to school to old Benefield together when I was little and you was growed up. You allers beat everybody all holler in books and spellin'-matches, Andy. But I 'low I cut my eye-teeth 'bout as airly as some of you that's got more larnin' under your skelp. Now, I say to our young friend and feller-citizen, don't go 'way tell you've spoke a consolin' word to a girl as'll stick to you tell the hour and article of death, and then remains yours truly forever, amen."
"How do you know that, Jonas?" said August, smiling in spite of himself.
"How do I know it? Why, by the testimony of a uncorrupted and disinterested witness, gentlemen of the jury, if the honorable court pleases. What did that Jule Anderson do, poor thing, but spend some time making a most onseasonable visit to Cynthy Ann last night? And I 'low ef there's a ole gal in this sublunary spear as tells the truth in a bee-line and no nonsense, it's that there same, individooal, identical Cynthy Ann. She's most afeard to drink cold water or breathe fresh air fer fear she'll commit a unpard'nable sin. And that persecuted young pigeon that thought herself forsooken, jest skeeted into Cynthy Ann's budwoir afore daybreak this mornin' and told her all her sorrows, and how your letter and your goin' with that Betsey Malcolm"—here August winced—"had well nigh druv her to run off with the straps and watch-seals to get rid of you and Betsey and her precious and mighty affectionate ma."
"But she won't look at me in meeting, and she sent Humphreys to me with an insulting message."
"Which text divides itself into two parts, my brethren and feller-travelers to etarnity. To treat the last head first, beloved, I admonish you not to believe a blackleg, unless it's under sarcumstances when he's got onusual and airresistible temptations to tell the truth. I don't advise yer to spit on the slate and rub it out in this case. Break the slate and throw it away. To come to the second pertikeler, which is the first in the order of my text, my attentive congregation. She didn't look at you in meetin'. Now, I 'spose you don't know nothin' of her mother's heart-disease. Heart-disease is trumps with Abigail Anderson. She plays that every turn. Just think of a young gal who thinks that ef she looks at her beau when her mother's by, she might kill her invalooable parient of heart-disease. Fer my part, I don't take no stock in Mrs. Abby Anderson's dyin' of heart-disease, no ways. Might as well talk about a whale dyin' of footrot."
"Well, Jonas, what counsel do you give our young friend? Your sagacity is to be depended on."
"Why, I advise him to speak face to face with the angel of his life. Let him climb into my room to-night. Leave meetin' jest afore the benediction—he kin do without that wunst—and go double-quick acrost the fields, and git safe into my stoodio. Ferther pertikelers when the time arrives."
THE WRONG PEW.
August's own good sense told him that the advice of Jonas was not good. But he had made many mistakes of late, and was just now inclined to take anybody's judgment in place of his own. All that was proud and gentlemanly in him rebelled at the thought of creeping into another man's house in the night. Modesty is doubtless a virtue, but it is a virtue responsible for many offenses. Had August not felt so distrustful of his own wisdom, nothing could have persuaded him to make his love for Julia Anderson seem criminal by an action so wanting in dignity. But back of Jonas's judgment was that of Andrew, whose weakness was Quixotism. He wanted to live and to have others live on the concert-pitch of romantic action. There was something of chivalry in the proposal of Jonas, a spice of adventure that made him approve it on purely sentimental grounds.
The more August thought of it, and the nearer he was to its execution, the more did he dislike it. But I have often noticed that people of a rather quiet temperament, such as young Wehle's, show vis inertiae in both, ways—not very easily moved, they are not easily checked when once in motion. August's velocity was not usually great, his momentum was tremendous, and now that he had committed himself to the hands of Jonas Harrison and set out upon this enterprise, he was determined, in his quiet way, to go through to the end.
Of course he understood the house, and having left the family in meeting, he had nothing to do but to scale one of the pillars of the front-porch. In those Arcadian days upper windows were hardly ever fastened, except when the house was deserted by all its inmates for days. Half-way up the post he was seized with a violent trembling. His position brought to him a confused memory of a text of Scripture: "He that entereth not by the door ... but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." Bred under Moravian influence, he half-believed the text to be supernaturally suggested to him. For a moment his purpose wavered, but the habit of going through with an undertaking took the place of his will, and he went on blindly, as Baker the Nile explorer did, "more like a donkey than like a man." Once on the upper porch he hesitated again. To break into a man's house in this way was unlawful. His conscience troubled him. In vain he reasoned that Mrs. Anderson's despotism was morally wrong, and that this action was right as an offset to it. He knew that it was not right.
I want to remark here that there are many situations in life in which a conscience is dreadfully in the way. There are people who go straight ahead to success—such as it is—with no embarrassments, no fire in the rear from any scruples. Some of these days I mean to write an essay on "The Inconvenience of having a Conscience," in which I shall proceed to show that it costs more in the course of a year or two, than it would to keep a stableful of fast horses. Many a man could afford to drive Dexters and Flora Temples who would be ruined by a conscience. But I must not write the essay here, for I am keeping August out in the night air and his perplexity all this time.
August Wehle had the habit, I think I have said, of going through with an enterprise. He had another habit, a very inconvenient habit doubtless, but a very manly one, of listening for the voice of his conscience. And I think that this habit would have even yet turned him back, as he had his hand on the window-sash, had it not been that while he stood there trying to find out just what was the decision of his conscience, he heard the voices of the returning family. There was no time to lose, there was no shelter on the porch, in a minute more they would be in sight. He must go ahead now, for retreat was cut off. He lifted the window and climbed into the room, lowering the sash gently behind him. As no one ever came into this room but Jonas, he felt safe enough. Jonas would plan a meeting after midnight in Cynthy Ann's room, and in Cynthy Ann's presence.
In groping for a chair, August drew aside the curtain of the gable-window, hoping to get some light. Had Jonas taken to cultivating flowers in pots? Here was a "monthly" rose on the window-seat! Surely this was the room. He had occupied it during his stay in the house. But he did not know that Mrs. Anderson had changed the arrangement between his leaving and the coming of Jonas. He noticed that the curtains were not the same. He trembled from head to foot. He felt for the bureau, and recognized by various little articles, a pincushion, a tuck-comb, and the sun-bonnet hanging against the window-frame, that he was in Julia's room. His first emotion was not alarm. It was awe, as pure and solemn as the high-priest may have felt in the holy place. Everything pertaining to Julia had a curious sacredness, and this room was a temple into which it was sacrilege to intrude. But a more practical question took his attention soon. The family had come in below, except Jonas and Cynthy Ann—who had walked slowly, planning a meeting for August—and Mr. Samuel Anderson, who stood at the front-gate with a neighbor. August could hear his shrill voice discussing the seventh trumpet and the thousand three hundred and thirty and five days. It would not do to be discovered where he was. Beside the fright he would give to Julia, he shuddered at the thought of compromising her in such a way. To go back was to insure his exposure, for Samuel Anderson had not yet half-settled the question of the trumpets. Indeed it seemed to August that the world might come to an end before that conversation would. He heard Humphreys enter his room. He was now persuaded that the room formerly occupied by Julia must be Jonas's, and he determined to get to it if he could. He felt like a villain already. He would have cheerfully gone to State's-prison in preference to compromising Julia. At any rate, he started out of Julia's room toward the one that was occupied by Jonas. It was the only road open, and but for an unexpected encounter he would have reached his hiding-place in safety, for the door was but fifteen feet away.
In order to explain the events that follow, I must ask the reader to go back to Julia, and to events that had occurred two hours before. Hitherto she had walked to and from meeting and "singing" with Humphreys, as a matter of courtesy. On the evening in question she had absolutely refused to walk with him. Her mother found that threats were as vain as coaxing. Even her threat of dying with heart-disease, then and there, killed by her daughter's disobedience, could not move Julia, who would not even speak with the "spider." Her mother took her into the sitting-room alone, and talked with her.
"So this is the way you trifle with gentlemen, is it? Night before last you engaged yourself to Mr. Humphreys, now you won't speak to him. To think that my daughter should prove a heartless flirt!"
I am afraid that the unfilial thought came into Julia's mind that nothing could have been more in the usual order of things than that the daughter of a coquette should be a flirt.
"You'll kill me on the spot; you certainly will." Julia felt anxious, for her mother showed signs of going into hysterics. But she put her foot out and shook her head in a way that said that all her friends might die and all the world might go to pieces before she would yield. Mrs. Anderson had one forlorn hope. She determined to order that forward. Leaving Julia alone, she went to her husband.
"Samuel, if you value my life go and speak to your daughter. She's got your own stubbornness of will in her. She is just like you; she will have her own way. I shall die." And Mrs. Abigail Anderson sank into a chair with unmistakable symptoms of a hysterical attack.
I am aware that I have so far let the reader hear not one word of Samuel Anderson's conversation. He has played a rather insignificant part in the story. Nothing could be more comme il faut. Insignificance was his characteristic. It was not so much that he was small. It is not so bad a thing to be a little man. But to be little and insignificant also is bad. There is only one thing worse, which is to be big and insignificant. If one is little and insignificant, one may be overlooked, insignificance and all. But if one is big and insignificant, it is to be an obtrusive cipher, a great lubber, not easily kept out of sight.
Appealed to by his wife, Samuel Anderson prepared to assert his authority as the head of the family. He almost strutted into Julia's presence. Julia had a real affection for her father, and nothing mortified her more than to see him acting as a puppet, moved by her mother, and yet vain enough to believe himself independent and supreme. She would have yielded almost any other point to have saved herself the mortification of seeing her father act the fool; but now she had determined that she would die and let everybody else die rather than walk with a man whose nature seemed to her corrupt, and whose touch was pollution. I do not mean that she was able to make a distinct inventory of her reasons for disliking him, or to analyze her feelings. She could not have told just why she had so deep and utter a repugnance to walking a quarter of a mile to the school-house in company with this man. She followed that strong instinct of truth and purity which is the surest guide.
"Julia, my daughter," said Samuel Anderson, "really you must yield to me as head of the house, and treat this gentleman politely. I thought you respected him, or loved him, and he told me that you had given consent to marry him, and had told him to ask my consent."
In saying this, the "head of the house" was seesawing himself backward and forward in his squeaky boots, speaking in a pompous manner, and with an effort to swell an effeminate voice to a bass key, resulting in something between a croak and a squeal. Julia sat down and cried in mortification and disgust. Mr. Anderson understood this to be acquiescence, and turned and went into the next room.
"Mr. Humphreys, my daughter will be glad to ask your pardon. She is over her little pet; lovers always have pets. Even my wife and I have had our disagreements in our time. Julia will be glad to see you in the sitting-room."
Humphreys drew the draw-strings and set his face into its broadest and most parallelogrammatic smile, bowed to Mr. Anderson, and stepped into the hall. But when he reached the sitting-room door he wished he had staid away. Julia had heard his tread, and was standing again with her foot advanced. Her eyes were very black, and were drawn to a sharp focus. She had some of her mother's fire, though happily none of her mother's meanness. It is hard to say whether she spoke or hissed.
"Go away, you spider! I hate you! I told you I hated you, and you told people I loved you and was engaged to you. Go away! You detestable spider, you! I'll die right here, but I will not go with you."
But the smirking Humphreys moved toward her, speaking soothingly, and assuring her that there was some mistake. Julia dashed past him into the parlor and laid hold of her father's arm.
"Father, protect me from that—that—spider! I hate him!"
Mr. Anderson stood irresolute a moment and looked appealingly to his wife for a signal. She solved the difficulty herself. On the whole she had concluded not to die of heart-disease until she saw Julia married to suit her taste, and having found a hill she could not go through, she went round. Seizing Julia's arm with more of energy than affection, she walked off with her, or rather walked her off, in a sulky silence, while Mr. Anderson kept Humphreys company.
I thought best to keep August standing in the door of Julia's room all this time while I explained these things to you, so that you might understand what follows. In reality August did not stop at all, but walked out into the hall and into difficulty.
Just before August came out of the door of Julia's room he had heard Humphreys enter his room on the opposite side of the hall. Humphreys had lighted his cigar and was on his way to the porch to smoke off his discomfiture when he met August coming out of Julia's door on the opposite side of the hall. The candle in Humphreys's room threw its light full on August's face, there was no escape from recognition, and Wehle was too proud to retreat. He shut the door of Julia's room and stood with back against the wall staring at Humphreys, who did not forget to smile in his most aggravating way.
"Thief! thief!" called Humphreys.
In a moment Mrs. Anderson and Julia ran up the stairs, followed by Mr. Anderson, who hearing the outcry had left the matter of the Apocalypse unsettled, and by Jonas and Cynthy Ann, who had just arrived.
"I knew it," cried Mrs. Anderson, turning on the mortified Julia, "I never knew a Dutchman nor a foreigner of any sort that wouldn't steal. Now you see what you get by taking a fancy to a Dutchman. And now you see"—to her husband—"what you get by taking a Dutchman into your house. I always wanted you to hire white men and not Dutchmen nor thieves!"
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Anderson," said August, with very white lips, "I am not a thief."
"Not a thief, eh? What was he doing, Mr. Humphreys, when you first detected him?"
"Coming out of Miss Anderson's room," said Humphreys, smiling politely.
"Do you invite gentlemen to your room?" said the frantic woman to Julia, meaning by one blow to revenge herself and crush the stubbornness of her daughter forever. But Julia was too anxious about August to notice the shameless insult.
"Mrs. Anderson, this visit is without any invitation from Julia. I did wrong to enter your house in this way, but I only am responsible, and I meant to enter Jonas's room. I did not know that Julia occupied this room. I am to blame, she is not."
"And what did you break in for if you didn't mean to steal? It is all off between you and Jule, for I saw your letter. I shall have you arrested to-morrow for burglary. And I think you ought to be searched. Mr. Humphreys, won't you put him out?"
Humphreys stopped forward toward August, but he noticed that the latter had a hard look in his eyes, and had two stout German fists shut very tight. He turned back.
"These thieves are nearly always armed. I think I had best get a pistol out of my trunk."
"I have no arms, and you know it, coward," said August. "I will not be put out by anybody, but I will go out whenever the master of this house asks me to go out, and the rest of you open a free path."
"Jonas, put him out!" screamed Mrs. Anderson.
"Couldn't do it," said Jonas, "couldn't do it ef I tried. They's too much bone and sinnoo in them arms of his'n, and moreover he's a gentleman. I axed him to come and see me sometime, and he come. He come ruther late it's true, but I s'pose he thought that sence we got sech a dee-splay of watch-seals and straps we had all got so stuck up, we wouldn't receive calls afore fashionable hours. Any way, I 'low he didn't mean no harm, and he's my visitor, seein' he meant to come into my winder, knowin' the door was closed agin him. And he won't let no man put him out, 'thout he's a man with more'n half a dozen watch-seals onto him, to give him weight and influence."
"Samuel, will you see me insulted in this way? Will you put this burglar out of the house?"
The "head of the house," thus appealed to, tried to look important; he tried to swell up his size and his courage. But he did not dare touch August.
"Mr. Anderson, I beg your pardon. I had no right to come In as I did. I had no right so to enter a gentleman's house. If I had not known that this cowardly fop—I don't know what else he may be—was injuring me by his lies I should not have come in. If it is a crime to love a young lady, then I have committed a crime. You have only to exercise your authority as master of this house and ask me to go."
"I do ask you to go, Mr. Wehle."
It was the first time that Samuel Anderson had ever called him Mr. Wehle. It was an involuntary tribute to the dignity of the young man, as he stood at bay. "Mr. Wehle, indeed!" said Mrs. Anderson.
August had hoped Julia would say a word in his behalf. But she was too much, cowed by her mother's fierce passion. So like a criminal going to prison, like a man going to his own funeral, August Wehle went down the hall toward the stairs, which were at the back of it. Humphreys instinctively retreated into his room. Mrs. Anderson glared on the young man as he went by, but he did not turn his head even when he passed Julia. His heart and hope were all gone; in his mortification and defeat there seemed to him nothing left but his unbroken pride to sustain him. He had descended two or three steps, when Julia suddenly glided forward and said with a tremulous voice: "You aren't going without telling me good-by, August?"
"Jule Anderson! what do you mean?" cried her mother. But the hall was narrow by the stairway, and Jonas, by standing close to Cynthy Ann, in an unconscious sort of a way managed to keep Mrs. Anderson back; else she would have laid violent hands on her daughter.
When August lifted his eyes and saw her face full of tenderness and her hand reached over the balusters to him, he seemed to have been suddenly lifted from perdition to bliss. The tears ran unrestrained upon his cheeks, he reached up and took her hand.
"Good-by, Jule! God bless you!" he said huskily, and went out into the night, happy in spite of all.
Out of the door he went, happy in spite of all the mistakes he had made and of all the contretemps of his provoking misadventure; happy in spite of the threat of arrest for burglary. For nearly a minute August Wehle was happy in that perfect way in which people of quiet tempers are happy—happy without fluster. But before he had passed the gate, he heard a scream and a wild hysterical laugh; he heard a hurrying of feet and saw a moving of lights. He would fain have turned back to find out what the matter was, he had so much of interest in that house, but he remembered that he had been turned out and that he could not go back. The feeling of outlawry mingled its bitterness with the feeling of anxiety. He feared that something had happened to Julia; he lingered and listened. Humphreys came out upon the upper porch and looked sharply up and down the road. August felt instinctively that he was the object of search and slunk into a fence-corner, remembering that he was now a burglar and at the mercy of the man whose face was enough to show him unrelenting.
Presently Humphreys turned and went in, and then August came out of the shadow and hurried away. When he had gone a mile, he heard the hoofs of horses, and again he concealed himself with a cowardly feeling he had never known before. But when he found that it was Jonas, riding one horse and leading another, on his way to bring Dr. Ketchup, the steam-doctor, he ran out.
"Jonas! Jonas! what's the matter? Who's sick? Is it Julia?"
"I'll be bound you ax fer Jule first, my much-respected comrade. But it's only one of the ole woman's conniption fits, and you know she's got nineteen lives. People of the catamount sort always has. You'd better gin a thought to yourself now. I got you into this scrape, and I mean to see you out, as the dog said to the 'possum in its hole. Git up onto this four-legged quadruped and go as fur as I go on the road to peace and safety. Now, I tell you what, the hawk's got a mighty good purchase onto you, my chicken, and he's jest about to light, and when he lights, look out fer feathers! Don't sleep under the paternal shingles, as they say. Go to Andrew's castle, and he'll help you git acrost the river into the glorious State of ole Kaintuck afore any warrant can be got out fer takin' you up. Never once thought of your bein' took up. But don't delay, as the preachers say. The time is short, and the human heart is desperately wicked and mighty deceitful and onsartain."
As far as Jonas traveled his way, he carried August upon the gray horse. Then the latter hurried across the fields to his father's cabin. Little Wilhelmina sat with face against the window waiting his return.
"Where did you go, August? Did you see the pretty girl at Anderson's?"
He stooped and kissed her, but, without speaking a word to her, he went over to where his mother sat darning the last of her basket of stockings. All the rest were asleep, and having assured himself of this, he drew up a low chair and leaned his elbow on his knee and hi head on his hand, and told the whole adventure of the evening to his mother, and then dropped his head on her lap and wept in a still way. And the sweet-eyed, weary Moravian mother laid her two hands upon his head and prayed. And Wilhelmina knelt instinctively by the side of her brother.
Perhaps there is no God. Or perhaps He is so great that our praying has no effect. Perhaps this strong crying of our hearts to Him in our extremity is no witness of his readiness to hear. Let him live in doubt who can. Let me believe that the tender mother-heart and the loving sister-heart in that little cabin did reach up to the great Heart that is over us all in Fatherly love, did find a real comfort for themselves, and did bring a strength-giving and sanctifying something upon the head of the young man, who straightway rose up refreshed, and departed out into the night, leaving behind him mother and sister straining their eyes after him in the blackness, and carrying with him thoughts and memories, and—who shall doubt?—a genuine heavenly inspiration that saved him in the trials in which we shall next meet him.
At two o'clock that night August Wehle stood upon the shore of the Ohio in company with Andrew Anderson, the Backwoods Philosopher. Andrew waved a fire-brand at the steamboat "Isaac Shelby," which was coming round the bend. And the captain tapped his bell three times and stopped his engines. Then the yawl took the two men aboard, and two days afterward Andrew came back alone.
To return to the house of Samuel Anderson.
Scarcely had August passed out the door when Mrs. Anderson fell into a fit of hysterics, and declared that she was dying of heart-disease. Her time had come at last! She was murdered! Murdered by her own daughter's ingratitude and disobedience! Struck down in her own house! And what grieved her most was that she should never live to see the end of the world!
And indeed she seemed to be dying. Nothing is more frightful than a good solid fit of hysterics. Cynthy Ann, inwardly condemning herself as she always did, lifted the convulsed patient, who seemed to be anywhere in her last ten breaths, and carried her, with Mr. Anderson's aid, down to her room, and while Jonas saddled the horse, Mr. Anderson put on his hat and prepared to go for the doctor.
"Samuel! O Sam-u-el! Oh-h-h-h-h!" cried Mrs. Anderson, with rising and falling inflections that even patient Dr. Rush could never have analyzed, laughing insanely and weeping piteously in the same breath, in the same word; running it up and down the gamut in an uncontrolled and uncontrollable way; now whooping like a savage, and now sobbing like the last breath of a broken-hearted. "Samuel! Sam-u-el! O Samuel! Ha! ha! ha! h-a-a! Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h! You won't leave me to die alone! After the wife I've been to you, you won't leave me to die alone! No-o-o-o-o! HOO-HOO-oo-OO! You musn't. You shan't. Send Jonas, and you stay by me! Think—" here her breath died away, and for a moment she seemed really to be dying. "Think," she gasped, and then sank away again. After a minute she opened her eyes, and, with characteristic pertinacity, took up the sentence just where she had left off. She had carefully kept her place throughout the period of unconsciousness. But now she spoke, not with a gasp, but in that shrill, unnatural falsetto so characteristic of hysteria; that voice—half yell—that makes every nerve of the listener jangle with the discord. "Think, oh-h-h Samuel! why won't you think what a wife I've been to you? Here I've drudged and scrubbed and scrubbed and drudged all these years like a faithful and industrious wife, never neglecting my duty. And now—oh-h-h-h—now to be left alone in my—" Here she ceased to breathe again for a while. "In my last hours to die, to die! to die with, out—without—Oh-h-h!" What Mrs. Anderson was left to die without she never stated. Mr. Anderson had beckoned to Jonas when he came in, and that worthy had gone off in a leisurely trot to get the "steam-doctor."
Dr. Ketchup had been a blacksmith, but bard work disagreed with his constitution. He felt that he, was made for something better than shoeing horses. This ambitious thought was first suggested to him by the increasing portliness of his person, which, while it made stooping over a horse's hoof inconvenient, also impressed him with the fact that his aldermanic figure would really adorn a learned profession. So he bought one of those little hand-books which the founder of the Thomsonian system sold dirt-cheap at twenty dollars apiece, and which told how to cure or kill in every case. The owners of these important treasures of invaluable information were under bonds not to disclose the profound secrets therein contained, the fathomless wisdom which taught them how to decide in any given case whether ginseng or a corn-sweat was the required remedy. And the invested twenty dollars had brought the shrewd blacksmith a handsome return.
"Hello!" said Jonas in true Western style, as he reined up in front of Dr. Ketchup's house in the outskirts of Brayville. "Hello the house!" But Dr. Ketchup was already asleep. "Takes a mighty long time to wake up a fat man," soliloquized Jonas. "He gits so used to hearin' hisself snore that he can't tell the difference 'twixt snorin' and thunder. Hello! Hello the house! I say, hello the blacksmith-shop! Dr. Ketchup, why don't you git up? Hello! Corn-sweats and calamus! Hello! Whoop! Hurrah for Jackson and Dr. Ketchup! Hello! Thunderation! Stop thief! Fire! Fire! Fire! Murder! Murder! Help! Help! Hurrah! Treed the coon at last!"
This last exclamation greeted the appearance of Dr. Ketchup's head at the window.
"Are you drunk, Jonas Harrison? Go 'way with your hollering, or I'll have you took up," said Ketchup.
"You'll find that tougher work than making horseshoes any day, my respectable friend and feller-citizen. I'll have you took up fer sleeping so sound and snorin' so loud as to disturb all creation and the rest of your neighbors. I've heard you ever sence I left Anderson's, and thought 'twas a steamboat. Come, my friend, git on your clothes and accouterments, fer Mrs. Anderson is a-dyin' or a-lettin' on to be a-dyin' fer a drink of ginseng-tea or a corn-sweat or some other decoction of the healin' art. Come, I fotch two hosses, so you shouldn't lose no time a saddlin' your'n, though I don't doubt the ole woman'd git well ef you never gin her the light of your cheerful count'nance. She'd git well fer spite, and hire a calomel-doctor jist to make you mad. I'd jest as soon and a little sooner expect a female wasp to die of heart-disease as her."
The head of Dr. Ketchup had disappeared from the window about the middle of this speech, and the remainder of it came by sheer force of internal pressure, like the flowing of an artesian well.
Dr. Ketchup walked out, with ruffled dignity, carefully dressed. His immaculate clothes and his solemn face were the two halves of his stock in trade. Under the clothes lay buried Ketchup the blacksmith; under the wiseacre face was Ketchup the ignoramus. Ignoramus he was, but not a fool. As he rode along back with Jonas, he plied the latter with questions. If he could get the facts of the case out of Jonas, he would pretend to have inferred them from the symptoms and thus add to his credit.
"What caused this attack, Jonas?"
"I 'low she caused it herself. Generally does, my friend," said Jonas.
"Had anything occurred to excite her?"
"Well, yes, I 'low they had; consid'able, if not more."
"What was it?"
"Well, you see she'd been to Hankins's preachin'. Now, I 'low, my medical friend, the day of jedgment a'n't a pleasin' prospeck to anybody that's jilted one brother to marry another, and then cheated the jilted one outen his sheer of his lamented father's estate. Do you think it is, my learned friend?"
But Dr. Ketchup could not be sure whether Jonas was making game of him or not. So he changed the subject.
"Nice hoss, this bay," said the "doctor."
"Well, yes," said Jonas, "I don't 'low you ever put shoes on no better hoss than this 'ere in all your days—as a blacksmith. Did you now, my medical friend?"
"No, I think not," said Ketchup testily, and was silent.
Mrs. Anderson had grown impatient at the doctor's delay. "Samuel! Oo! oo! oo! Samuel! My dear, I'm dying. Jonas don't care. He wouldn't hurry. I wonder you trusted him! If you had been dying, I should have gone myself for the doctor. Oo! oo! oo! oh! If I should die, nobody would be sorry."
Abigail Anderson was not to blame for telling the truth so exactly in this last sentence. It was an accident. She might have recalled it but that Dr. Ketchup walked in at that moment.
He felt her pulse; looked at her tongue; said that it was heart-disease, caused by excitement. He thought it must be religious excitement. She should have a corn-sweat and some wafer-ash tea. The corn-sweat would act as a tonic and strengthen the pericardium. The wafer-ash would cause a tendency of blood to the head, and thus relieve the pressure on the juggler-vein. Cynthy Ann listened admiringly to Dr. Ketchup's incomprehensible, oracular utterances, and then speedily put a bushel of ear-corn in the great wash-boiler, which was already full of hot water in expectation of such a prescription, and set the wafer-ash to draw.
Julia had, up to this time, stood outside her mother's door trembling with fear, and not daring to enter. She longed to do something, but did not know how it would be received. Now, while the deep, sonorous voice of Ketchup occupied the attention of all, she crept in and stood at the foot of Mrs. Anderson's bed. The mother, recovering from her twentieth dying spell, saw her.
"Take her away! She has killed me! She wants me to die! I know! Take her away!"
And Julia went to her own room and shut herself up in darkness and in wretchedness, but in all that miserable night there came to her not one regret that she had reached her hand to the departing August.
The neighbor-women came in and pretended to do something for the invalid, but really they sat by the kitchen-stove and pumped Cynthy Ann and the doctor, and managed in some way to connect Julia with her mother's illness, and shook their heads. So that when Julia crept down-stairs at midnight, in hope of being useful, she found herself looked at inquisitively, and felt herself to be such an object of attention that she was glad to take the advice of Cynthy Ann and find refuge in her own room. On the stairs she met Jonas, who said as she passed:
"Don't fret yourself, little turtle-dove. Don't pay no 'tention to ole Ketchup. Your ma won't die, not even with his corn-sweats to waft her on to glory. You done your duty to-night like one of Fox's martyrs, and like George Washi'ton with his little cherry-tree and hatchet. And you'll git your reward, if not in the next world, you'll have it in this."
Julia lay down awhile, and then sat up, looking out into the darkness. Perhaps God was angry with her for loving August; perhaps she was making an idol of him. When Julia came to think that her love for August was in antagonism to the love of God, she did not hesitate which she would choose. All the best of her nature was loyal to August, whom she "had seen," as the Apostle John has it. She could not reason it out, but a God who seemed to be in opposition to the purest and best emotion of her heart was a God she could not love. August and the love of August were known quantities. God and the love of God were unknown, and the God of whom Cynthy spoke (and of whom many a mistaken preacher has spoken), that was jealous of Mrs. Pearson's love for her baby, and that killed it because it was his rival, was not a God that she could love without being a traitor to all the good that God had put in her heart. The God that was keeping August away from her because he was jealous of the one beautiful thing in her life was a Moloch, and she deliberately determined that she would not worship or love him. The True God, who is a Father, and who is not Supreme Selfishness, doing all for His own glory, as men falsely declare; the True God—who does all things for the good of others—loved her, I doubt not, for refusing to worship the Conventional Deity thus presented to her mind. Even as He has pitied many a mother that rebelled against the Governor of the Universe, because she was told the Governor of the Universe, in a petty seeking for his own glory, had taken away her "idols."
But Julia looked up at the depths between the stars, and felt how great God must be, and her rebellion against Him seemed a war at fearful odds. And then the sense of God's omnipresence, of His being there alone with her, so startled her and awakened such a feeling of her fearful loneliness, orphanage, antagonism to God, that she could bear it no longer, and at two o'clock she went down again; but Mrs. Brown looked over at Mrs. Orcutt in a way that said: "Told you so! Guilty conscience! Can't sleep!" And so Julia thought God, even as she conceived Him, better company than men, or rather than women, for—well, I won't make the ungallant remark; each sex has its besetting faults.
Julia took back with her a candle, thinking that this awful God would not seem so close if she had a light. There lay on her bureau a Testament, one of those old editions of the American Bible Society, printed on indifferent paper, and bound in a red muslin that was given to fading, the like whereof in book-making has never been seen since. She felt angry with God, who, she was sure, was persecuting her, as Cynthy Ann had said, out of jealousy of her love for August, and she was determined that she would not look into that red-cloth Testament, which seemed to her full of condemnation. But there was a fascination about it she could not resist. The discordant hysterical laughter of her mother, which reached her ears from below, harrowed her sorely, and her grief and despair at her own situation were so great that she was at last fain to read the only book in the room in order that she might occupy her mind. There is a strange superstition among certain pietists which loads them to pray for a text to guide them, and then take any chance passage as a divine direction. I do not mean to say that Julia had any supernatural leading in her reading. The New Testament is so full of comfort that one could hardly manage to miss it. She read the seventh chapter of Luke: how the Lord healed the centurion's servant that was "dear unto him," and noted that He did not rebuke the man for loving his slave; how the Lord took pity on that poor widow who wept at the bier of her only son, and brought him back to life again, and "restored him to his mother." This did not seem to be just the Christ that Cynthy Ann thought of as the foe of every human affection. She read more that she did not understand so well, and then at the end of the chapter she read about the woman that was a sinner, that washed His feet with grateful tears and wiped them with her hair. And she would have taken the woman's guilt to have had the woman's opportunity and her benediction.
At last, turning over the leaves without any definite purpose, she lighted on a place in Matthew, where three verses at the end of a chapter happened to stand at the head of a column. I suppose she read them because the beginning of the page and the end of the chapter made them seem a short detached piece. And they melted into her mood so that she seemed to know Christ and God for the first time. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden," she read, and stopped. That means me, she thought with a heart ready to burst. And that saying is the gateway of life. When the promises and injunctions mean me, I am saved. Julia read on, "And I will give you rest." And so she drank in the passage, clause by clause, until she came to the end about an easy yoke and a light burden, and then God seemed to her so different. She prayed for August, for now the two loves, the love for August and the love for Christ, seemed not in any way inconsistent. She lay down saying over and over, with tears in her eyes, "rest for your souls," and "weary and heavy laden," and "come unto me," and "meek and lowly of heart," and then she settled on one word and repeated it over and over, "rest, rest, rest." The old feeling was gone. She was no more a rebel nor an orphan. The presence of God was not a terror but a benediction. She had found rest for her soul, and He gave His beloved sleep. For when she awoke from what seemed a short slumber, the red light of a glorious dawn came in at the window, and her candle was flickering its last in the bottom of the socket. The Testament lay open as she had left it, and for days she kept it open there, and did not dare read anything but these three verses, lest she should lose the rest for her soul that she found here.
THE HAWK IN A NEW PART.
Humphreys was now in the last weeks of his singing-school. He had become a devout Millerite, and was paying attentions to the not unwilling Betsey Malcolm, though pretending at Anderson's to be absolutely heart-broken at the conduct of Julia in jilting him after she had given him every assurance of affection. And then to be jilted for a Dutchman, you know! In this last regard his feeling was not all affectation. In his soul, cupidity, vanity, and vindictiveness divided the narrow territory between them. He inwardly swore that he'd get satisfaction somehow. Debts which were due to his pride should be collected by his revenge.
Did you ever reflect on the uselessness of a landscape when one has no eyes to see it with, or, what is worse, no soul to look through one's eyes? Humphreys was going down to the castle to call on the Philosopher, and "Shady Hollow," as Andrew called it, had surely never been more glorious than on the morning which he chose for his walk. The black-haw bushes hung over the roadside, the maples lifted up their great trunk-pillars toward the sky, and the grape-vines, some of them four and even six inches in diameter, reached up to the high boughs, fifty or a hundred feet, without touching the trunk. They had been carried up by the growth of the tree, tree and vine having always lived in each other's embrace. Out through the opening in the hollow, Humphreys saw the green sea of six-feet-high Indian corn in the fertile bottoms, the two rows of sycamores on the sandy edges of the river, and the hazy hills on the Kentucky side. But not one touch of sentiment, not a perception of beauty, entered the soul of the singing-master as he daintily-chose his steps so as to avoid soiling his glossy boots, and as he knocked the leaves off the low-hanging beech boughs with his delicate cane. He had his purpose in visiting Andrew, and his mind was bent on his game.
Charon, the guardian of the castle, bayed his great hoarse bark at the Hawk, and with that keen insight into human nature for which dogs are so remarkable, he absolutely forbade the dandy's entrance, until Andrew appeared at the door and called the dog away.
"I am delighted at having the opportunity of meeting a great light in literature like yourself, Mr. Anderson. Here you sit weaving, earning your bread with a manly simplicity that is truly admirable. You are like Cincinnatus at his plow. I also am a literary man."
He really was a college graduate, though doubtless he was as much of a humbug in recitations and examinations as he had always been since. Andrew's only reply to his assertion that he was a literary man was a rather severe and prolonged scrutiny of his oily locks, his dainty mustache, his breast-pin, his watch-seals, and finally his straps and his boots. For Andrew firmly believed that neglected hair, Byron collars, and unblackened boots were the first signs of literary taste.
"You think I dress too well," said Humphreys with his ghastly smirk. "You think that I care too much for appearances. I do. It is a weakness of mine which comes from a residence abroad."
These words touched the Philosopher a little. To have been abroad was the next best thing to having been a foreigner ab origine. But still he felt a little suspicious. He was superior to the popular prejudice against the mustache, but he could not endure hair-oil. "Nature," he maintained, "made the whole beard to be worn, and Nature provides an oil for the hair. Let Nature have her way." He was suspicious of Humphreys, not because he wore a mustache, but because he shaved the rest of his face and greased his hair. He had, besides, a little intuitive perception of the fact that a smile which breaks against the rock-bound coast of cold cheek-bones and immovable eyes is a mask. And so he determined to test the literary man. I have heard that Masonic lodges have been deceived by impostors. I have never heard that a literary man was made to believe in the genuineness of the attainments of a charlatan.
And yet Humphreys held his own well. He could talk glibly and superficially about books; he simulated considerable enthusiasm for the books which Andrew admired. His mistake and his consequent overthrow came, as always in such cases, from a desire to overdo. It was after half an hour of talking without tripping that Andrew suddenly asked: "Do you like the ever-to-be-admired Xenophanes?"
It certainly is no disgrace to any literary man not to know anything of so remote a philosopher as Xenophanes. The first characteristic of a genuine literary man is the frankness with which he confesses his ignorance. But Humphreys did not really know but that Xenophanes was part of the daily reading of a man of letters.
"Oh! yes," said he. "I have his works in turkey morocco."
"What do you think of his opinion that God is a sphere?" asked the Philosopher, smiling.
"Oh! yes—ahem; let me see—which God is it that he speaks of, Jupiter or—well, you know he was a Greek."
"But he only believed in one God," said Andrew sternly.
"Oh! ah! I forgot that he was a Christian."
So from blunder to blunder Andrew pushed him, Humphreys stumbling more and more in his blind attempts to right himself, and leaving, at last, with much internal confusion but with an unruffled smile. He dared not broach his errand by asking the address of August. For Andrew did not conceal his disgust, having resumed work at his loom, suffering the bowing impostor to find his own way out without so much as a courteous adieu.
JONAS EXPRESSES HIS OPINION ON DUTCHMEN.
Sometimes the virus of a family is all drawn off in one vial. I think it is Emerson who makes this remark. We have all seen the vials.
Such an one was Norman Anderson. The curious law of hereditary descent had somehow worked him only evil. "Nater," observed Jonas to Cynthy, when the latter had announced to him that Norman, on account of some disgrace at school, had returned home, "nater ha'n't done him half jestice, I 'low. It went through Sam'el Anderson and Abig'il, and picked out the leetle weak pompous things in the illustrious father; and then hunted out all the spiteful and hateful things in the lovin' and much-esteemed mother, and somehow stuck 'em together, to make as ornery a chap as ever bit a hoe-cake in two."
"I'm afeard her brother's scrape and comin' home won't make Jule none the peacefuller at the present time," said Cynthy Ann.
"Wal," returned Jonas, "I don't think she keers much fer him. She couldn't, you know. Love him? Now, Cynthy Ann, my dear"—here Cynthy Ann began to reproach herself for listening to anything so pleasant as these two last words—"Now, Cynthy Ann, my dear, you see you might maybe love a cuckle-burr and nuss it; but I don't think you would be likely to. I never heern tell of nobody carryin' jimson-weed pods in their bosoms. You see they a'n't no place about Norman Anderson that love could take a holt of 'thout gittin' scratched."
"But his mother loves him, I reckon," said Cynthy Ann.
"Wal, yes; so she do. Loves her shadder in the lookin'-glass, maybe, and kinder loves Norman bekase he's got so much of her devil into him. It's like lovin' like, I reckon. But I 'low they's a right smart difference with Jule. Sence she was born, that Norman has took more delight in tormentin' Jule than a yaller dog with a white tail does in worryin' a brindle tom-cat up a peach-tree. And comin' home at this junction he'll gin her a all-fired lot of trials and tribulation."
At the time this conversation took place, two weeks had elapsed since Mrs. Anderson's "attack." Julia had heard nothing from August yet. The "Hawk" still made his head-quarters in the house, but was now watching another quarry. Mrs. Anderson was able to scold as vigorously as ever, if, indeed, that function had ever been suspended. And just now she was engaged in scolding the teacher who had expelled Norman. The habit of fighting teachers was as chronic as her heart-disease. Norman had always been abused by the whole race of pedagogues. There was from the first a conspiracy against him, and now he was cheated out of his last chance of getting an education. All this Norman steadfastly believed.
Of course Norman sided with his mother as against the Dutchman. The more contemptible a man is, the more he contemns a man for not belonging to his race or nation. And Norman felt that he would be eternally disgraced by any alliance with a German. He threw himself into the fight with a great deal of vigor. It helped him to forget other things.
"Jule," said he, walking up to her as she sat alone on the porch, "I'm ashamed of you. To go and fall in love with a Dutchman like Gus Wehle, and disgrace us all!"
"I wonder you didn't think about disgrace before," retorted Julia, "I am ashamed to have August Wehle hear what you've been doing."
Dogs that have the most practice in cat-worrying are liable to get their noses scratched sometimes. Norman took care never to attack Julia again except under the guns of his mother's powerful battery. And he revenged himself on her by appealing to his mother with a complaint that "Jule had throwed up to him that he had been dismissed from school." And of course Julia received a solemn lecture on her way of driving poor Norman to destruction. She was determined to disgrace the family. If she could not do it by marrying a Dutchman, she would do it by slandering her brother.
Norman thought to find an ally in Jonas.
"Jonas, don't you think it's awful that Jule is in love with Dutchman like Gus Wehle?"
"I do, my love," responded Jonas. "I think a Dutchman is a Dutchman. I don't keer how much he larns by burnin' the midnight ile by day and night. My time-honored friend, he's a Dutchman arter all. The Dutch is bred in the bone. It won't fade. A Dutchman may be a gentleman in his way of doin' things, may be honest and industrious, and keep all the commandments in the catalogue, but I say he is Dutch, and that's enough to keep him out of the kingdom of heaven and out of this free and enlightened republic. And an American may be a good-fer-nothin', ornery little pertater-ball, wuthless alike to man and beast; he mayn't be good fer nothin', nuther fer work nur study; he may git drunk and git turned outen school and do any pertikeler number of disgraceful and oncreditable things, he may be a reg'ler milksop and nincompoop, a fool and a blackguard and a coward all rolled up into one piece of brown paper, ef he wants to. And what's to hender? A'n't he a free-born an' enlightened citizen of this glorious and civilized and Christian land of Hail Columby? What business has a Dutchman, ef he's ever so smart and honest and larned, got in our broad domains, resarved for civil and religious liberty? What business has he got breathin' our atmosphere or takin' refuge under the feathers of our American turkey-buzzard? No, my beloved and respected feller-citizen of native birth, it's as plain to me as the wheels of 'Zek'el and the year 1843. I say, Hip, hip, hoo-ray fer liberty or death, and down with the Dutch!"
Norman Anderson scratched his head.
What did Jonas mean?
He couldn't exactly divine; but it is safe to say that on the whole he was not entirely satisfied with this boomerang speech. He rather thought that he had better not depend on Jonas.
But he was not long in finding allies enough in his war against Germany.
There was an egg-supper in the country store at Brayville. Mr. Mandluff, the tall and raw-boned Hoosier who kept the store, was not unwilling to have the boys get up an egg supper now and then in his store after he had closed the front-door at night. For you must know that an egg-supper is a peculiar Western institution. Sometimes it is a most enjoyable institution—when it has its place in a store where there is no Kentucky whisky to be had. But in Brayville, in the rather miscellaneous establishment of the not very handsome and not very graceful Mr. Mandluff, an egg-supper was not a great moral institution. It was otherwise, and profanely called by its votaries a camp-meeting; it would be hard to tell why, unless it was that some of the insiders grew very happy before it was over. For an egg-supper at Mandluff's store was to Brayville what an oyster-supper at Delmonico's is to New York. It was one tenth hard eggs and nine tenths that beverage which bears the name of an old royal house of France.
How were the eggs cooked? I knew somebody would ask that impertinent question. Well, they were not fried, they were not boiled, they were not poached, they were not scrambled, they were not omeletted, they were not roasted on the half-shell, they were not stuffed with garlic and served with cranberries, they were not boiled and served with anchovy sauce, they were not "en salmi." I think I had better stop there, lest I betray my knowledge of cookery. It is sufficient to say that they were not cooked in any of the above-named fashions, nor in any other way mentioned in Catharine Beecher's or Marion Harland's cookbooks. They were baked a la mode backwoods. It is hardly proper for me to give a recipe in this place, that belongs more properly to the "Household Departments" of the newspapers. But to satisfy curiosity, and to tell something about cooking, which Prof. Blot does not know, I may say that they were broken and dropped on a piece of brown paper laid on the top of the old box-stove. By the time the egg was cooked hard the paper was burned to ashes, but the egg came off clean and nice from the stove, and made as palatable and indigestible an article for a late supper as one could wish. It only wanted the addition of Mandluff's peculiar whisky to make it dissipation of the choicest kind. For the more a dissipation costs in life and health, the more fascinating it is.