Mark's sister Ellen and Phil Perry were in the midst of some form of lover's quarrel, and during its progress Phil was paying considerable attention to Patty at Sabbath School and prayer-meeting, occasions, it must be confessed, only provocative of very indirect and long-distance advances. Cephas Cole, to the amazement of every one but his (constitutionally) exasperated mother, was "toning down" the ell of the family mansion, mitigating the lively yellow, and putting another fresh coat of paint on it, for no conceivable reason save that of pleasing the eye of a certain capricious, ungrateful young hussy, who would probably say, when her verdict was asked, that she didn't see any particular difference in it, one way or another.
Trade was not especially brisk at the Deacon's emporium this sunny June Saturday morning. Cephas may have possibly lost a customer or two by leaving the store vacant while he toiled and sweated for Miss Patience Baxter in the stockroom at the back, overhanging the river, but no man alive could see his employer's lovely daughter tugging at a keg of shingle nails without trying to save her from a broken back, although Cephas could have watched his mother move the house and barn without feeling the slightest anxiety in her behalf. If he could ever get the "heft" of the "doggoned" cleaning out of the way so that Patty's mind could be free to entertain his proposition; could ever secure one precious moment of silence when she was not slatting and banging, pushing and pulling things about, her head and ears out of sight under a shelf, and an irritating air of absorption about her whole demeanor; if that moment of silence could ever, under Providence, be simultaneous with the absence of customers in the front shop, Cephas intended to offer himself to Patience Baxter that very morning.
Once, during a temporary lull in the rear, he started to meet his fate when Rodman Boynton followed him into the back room, and the boy was at once set to work by Patty, who was the most consummate slave-driver in the State of Maine. After half an hour there was another Heavensent chance, when Rodman went up to Uncle Bart's shop with a message for Waitstill, but, just then, in came Bill Morrill, a boy of twelve, with a request for a gallon of molasses; and would Cephas lend him a stone jug over Sunday, for his mother had hers soakin' out in soap-suds 'cause 't wa'n't smellin' jest right. Bill's message given, he hurried up the road on another errand, promising to call for the molasses later.
Cephas put the gallon measure under the spigot of the molasses hogshead and turned on the tap. The task was going to be a long one and he grew impatient, for the stream was only a slender trickle, scarcely more than the slow dripping of drops, so the molasses must be very never low, and with his mind full of weightier affairs he must make a note to tell the Deacon to broach a new hogshead. Cephas feared that he could never make out a full gallon, in which case Mrs. Morrill would be vexed, for she kept mill boarders and baked quantities of brown bread and gingerbread and molasses cookies for over Sunday. He did wish trade would languish altogether on this particular morning. The minutes dragged by and again there was perfect quiet in the stock-room. As the door opened, Cephas, taking his last chance, went forward to meet Patty, who was turning down the skirt of her dress, taking the cloth off her head, smoothing her hair, and tying on a clean white ruffed apron, in which she looked as pretty as a pink.
"Patty!" stammered Cephas, seizing his golden opportunity, "Patty, keep your mind on me for a minute. I've put a new coat o' paint on the ell just to please you; won't you get married and settle down with me? I love you so I can't eat nor drink nor 'tend store nor nothin'!"
"Oh, I—I—couldn't, Cephas, thank you; I just couldn't,—don't ask me," cried Patty, as nervous as Cephas himself now that her first offer had really come; "I'm only seventeen and I don't feel like settling down, Cephas, and father wouldn't think of letting me get married."
"Don't play tricks on me, Patty, and keep shovin' me off so, an' givin' wrong reasons," pleaded Cephas. "What's the trouble with me? I know mother's temper's onsartain, but we never need go into the main house daytimes and father'd allers stand up ag'in' her if she didn't treat you right. I've got a good trade and father has a hundred dollars o' my savin's that I can draw out to-morrer if you'll have me."
"I can't, Cephas; don't move; stay where you are; no, don't come any nearer; I'm not fond of you that way, and, besides,—and, besides—"
Her blush and her evident embarrassment gave Cephas a new fear.
"You ain't promised a'ready, be you?" he asked anxiously; "when there ain't a feller anywheres around that's ever stepped foot over your father's doorsill but jest me?"
"I haven't promised anything or anybody,"
Patty answered sedately, gaining her self-control by degrees, "but I won't deny that I'm considering; that's true!"
"Considerin' who?" asked Cephas, turning pale.
"Oh,—SEVERAL, if you must know the truth"; and Patty's tone was cruel in its jauntiness.
"SEVERAL!" The word did not sound like ordinary work-a-day Riverboro English in Cephas's ears. He knew that "several" meant more than one, but he was too stunned to define the term properly in its present strange connection.
"Whoever 't is wouldn't do any better by you'n I would. I'd take a lickin' for you any day," Cephas exclaimed abjectly, after a long pause.
"That wouldn't make any difference, Cephas," said Patty firmly, moving towards the front door as if to end the interview. "If I don't love you UNlicked, I couldn't love you any better licked, now, could I?—Goodness gracious, what am I stepping in? Cephas, quick! Something has been running all over the floor. My feet are sticking to it."
"Good Gosh! It's Mis' Morrill's molasses!" cried Cephas, brought to his senses suddenly.
It was too true! Whatever had been the small obstruction in the tap, it had disappeared. The gallon measure had been filled to the brim ten minutes before, and ever since, the treacly liquid had been overflowing the top and spreading in a brown flood, unnoticed, over the floor. Patty's feet were glued to it, her buff calico skirts lifted high to escape harm.
"I can't move," she cried. "Oh! You stupid, stupid Cephas, how could you leave the molasses spigot turned on? See what you've done! You've wasted quarts and quarts! What will father say, and how will you ever clean up such a mess? You never can get the floor to look so that he won't notice it, and he is sure to miss the molasses. You've ruined my shoes, and I simply can't bear the sight of you!"
At this Cephas all but blubbered in the agony of his soul. It was bad enough to be told by Patty that she was "considering several," but his first romance had ended in such complete disaster that he saw in a vision his life blasted; changed in one brief moment from that of a prosperous young painter to that of a blighted and despised bungler, whose week's wages were likely to be expended in molasses to make good the Deacon's loss.
"Find those cleaning-cloths I left in the hack room," ordered Patty with a flashing eye. "Get some blocks, or bits of board, or stones, for me to walk on, so that I can get out of your nasty mess. Fill Bill Morrill's jug, quick, and set it out on the steps for him to pick up. I don't know what you'd do without me to plan for you! Lock the front door and hang father's sign that he's gone to dinner on the doorknob. Scoop up all the molasses you can with one of those new trowels on the counter. Scoop, and scrape, and scoop, and scrape; then put a cloth on your oldest broom, pour lots of water on, pail after pail, and swab! When you've swabbed till it won't do any more good, then scrub! After that, I shouldn't wonder if you had to fan the floor with a newspaper or it'll never get dry before father comes home. I'll sit on the flour barrel a little while and advise, but I can't stay long because I'm going to a picnic. Hurry up and don't look as if you were going to die any minute! It's no use crying over spilt molasses. You don't suppose I'm going to tell any tales after you've made me an offer of marriage, do you? I'm not so mean as all that, though I may have my faults."
It was nearly two o'clock before the card announcing Deacon Baxter's absence at dinner was removed from the front doorknob, and when the store was finally reopened for business it was a most dejected clerk who dealt out groceries to the public. The worst feature of the affair was that every one in the two villages suddenly and contemporaneously wanted molasses, so that Cephas spent the afternoon reviewing his misery by continually turning the tap and drawing off the fatal liquid. Then, too, every inquisitive boy in the neighborhood came to the back of the store to view the operation, exclaiming: "What makes the floor so wet? Hain't been spillin' molasses, have yer? Bet yer have! Good joke on Old Foxy!"
X. ON TORY HILL
It had been a heavenly picnic the little trio all agreed as to that; and when Ivory saw the Baxter girls coming up the shady path that led along the river from the Indian Cellar to the bridge, it was a merry group and a transfigured Rodman that caught his eye. The boy, trailing on behind with the baskets and laden with tin dippers and wildflowers, seemed another creature from the big-eyed, quiet little lad he saw every day. He had chattered like a magpie, eaten like a bear, is torn his jacket getting wild columbines for Patty, been nicely darned by Waitstill, and was in a state of hilarity that rendered him quite unrecognizable.
"We've had a lovely picnic!" called Patty; "I wish you had been with us!"
"You didn't ask me!" smiled Ivory, picking up Waitstill's mending-basket from the nook in the trees where she had hidden it for safe-keeping.
"We've played games, Ivory," cried the boy. "Patty made them up herself. First we had the 'Landing of the Pilgrims,' and Waitstill made believe be the figurehead of the Mayflower. She stood on a great boulder and sang:—
'The breaking waves dashed high On a stern and rock-bound coast'—
and, oh! she was splendid! Then Patty was Pocahontas and I was Cap'n John Smith, and look, we are all dressed up for the Indian wedding!"
Waitstill had on a crown of white birch bark and her braid of hair, twined with running ever-green, fell to her waist. Patty was wreathed with columbines and decked with some turkey feathers that she had put in her basket as too pretty to throw away. Waitstill looked rather conscious in her unusual finery, but Patty sported it with the reckless ease and innocent vanity that characterized her.
"I shall have to run into father's store to put myself tidy," Waitstill said, "so good-bye, Rodman, we'll have another picnic some day. Patty, you must do the chores this afternoon, you know, so that I can go to choir rehearsal."
Rodman and Patty started up the hill gayly with their burdens, and Ivory walked by Waitstill's side as she pulled off her birch-bark crown and twisted her braid around her head with a heightened color at being watched.
"I'll say good-bye now, Ivory, but I'll see you at the meeting-house," she said, as she neared the store. "I'll go in here and brush the pine needles off, wash my hands, and rest a little before rehearsal. That's a puzzling anthem we have for to-morrow."
"I have my horse here; let me drive you up to the church."
"I can't, Ivory, thank you. Father's orders are against my driving out with any one, you know."
"Very well, the road is free, at any rate. I'll hitch my horse down here in the woods somewhere and when you start to walk I shall follow and catch up with you. There's luckily only one way to reach the church from here, and your father can't blame us if we both take it!"
And so it fell out that Ivory and Waitstill walked together in the cool of the afternoon to the meeting-house on Tory Hill. Waitstill kept the beaten path on one side and Ivory that on the other, so that the width of the country road, deep in dust, was between them, yet their nearness seemed so tangible a thing that each could feel the heart beating in the other's side. Their talk was only that of tried friends, a talk interrupted by long beautiful silences; silences that come only to a man and woman whose understanding of each other is beyond question and answer. Not a sound broke the stillness, yet the very air, it seemed to them, was shedding meanings: the flowers were exhaling a love secret with their fragrances, the birds were singing it boldly from the tree-tops, yet no word passed the man's lips or the girl's. Patty would have hung out all sorts of signals and lures to draw the truth from Ivory and break through the walls of his self-control, but Waitstill, never; and Ivory Boynton was made of stuff so strong that he would not speak a syllable of love to a woman unless he could say all. He was only five-and-twenty, but he had been reared in a rigorous school, and had learned in its poverty, loneliness, and anxiety lessons of self-denial and self-control that bore daily fruit now. He knew that Deacon Baxter would never allow any engagement to exist between Waitstill and himself; he also knew that Waitstill would never defy and disobey her father if it meant leaving her younger sister to fight alone a dreary battle for which she was not fitted. If there was little hope on her side there seemed even less on his. His mother's mental illness made her peculiarly dependent upon him, and at the same time held him in such strict bondage that it was almost impossible for him to get on in the world or even to give her the comforts she needed. In villages like Riverboro in those early days there was no putting away, even of men or women so demented as to be something of a menace to the peace of the household; but Lois Boynton was so gentle, so fragile, so exquisite a spirit, that she seemed in her sad aloofness simply a thing to be sheltered and shielded somehow in her difficult life journey. Ivory often thought how sorely she needed a daughter in her affliction. If the baby sister had only lived, the home might have been different; but alas! there was only a son,—a son who tried to be tender and sympathetic, but after all was nothing but a big, clumsy, uncomprehending man-creature, who ought to be felling trees, ploughing, sowing, reaping, or at least studying law, making his own fortune and that of some future wife. Old Mrs. Mason, a garrulous, good-hearted grandame, was their only near neighbor, and her visits always left his mother worse rather than better. How such a girl as Waitstill would pour comfort and beauty and joy into a lonely house like his, if only he were weak enough to call upon her strength and put it to so cruel a test. God help him, he would never do that, especially as he could not earn enough to keep a larger family, bound down as he was by inexorable responsibilities. Waitstill, thus far in life, had suffered many sorrows and enjoyed few pleasures; marriage ought to bring her freedom and plenty, not carking care and poverty. He stole long looks at the girl across the separating space that was so helpless to separate,—feeding his starved heart upon her womanly graces. Her quick, springing step was in harmony with the fire and courage of her mien. There was a line or two in her face,—small wonder; but an "unconquerable soul" shone in her eyes; shone, too, in no uncertain way, but brightly and steadily, expressing an unshaken joy in living. Valiant, splendid, indomitable Waitstill! He could never tell her, alas! but how he gloried in her!
It is needless to say that no woman could be the possessor of such a love as Ivory Boynton's and not know of its existence. Waitstill never heard a breath of it from Ivory's lips; even his eyes were under control and confessed nothing; nor did his hand ever clasp hers, to show by a tell-tale touch the truth he dared not utter; nevertheless she felt that she was beloved. She hid the knowledge deep in her heart and covered it softly from every eye but her own; taking it out in the safe darkness sometimes to wonder over and adore in secret. Did her love for Ivory rest partly on a sense of vocation?—a profound, inarticulate divining of his vast need of her? He was so strong, yet so weak because of the yoke he bore, so bitterly alone in his desperate struggle with life, that her heart melted like wax whenever she thought of him. When she contemplated the hidden mutiny in her own heart, she was awestruck sometimes at the almost divine patience of Ivory's conduct as a son.
"How is your mother this summer, Ivory?" she asked as they sat down on the meeting-house steps waiting for Jed Morrill to open the door. "There is little change in her from year to year, Waitstill.—By the way, why don't we get out of this afternoon sun and sit in the old graveyard under the trees? We are early and the choir won't get here for half an hour.—Dr. Perry says that he does not understand mother's case in the least, and that no one but some great Boston physician could give a proper opinion on it; of course, that is impossible at present."
They sat down on the grass underneath one of the elms and Waitstill took off her hat and leaned back against the tree-trunk.
"Tell me more," she said; "it is so long since we talked together quietly and we have never really spoken of your mother."
"Of course," Ivory continued, "the people of the village all think and speak of mother's illness as religious insanity, but to me it seems nothing of the sort. I was only a child when father first fell ill with Jacob Cochrane, but I was twelve when father went away from home on his 'mission,' and if there was any one suffering from delusions in our family it was he, not mother. She had altogether given up going to the Cochrane meetings, and I well remember the scene when my father told her of the revelation he had received about going through the state and into New Hampshire in order to convert others and extend the movement. She had no sympathy with his self-imposed mission, you may be sure, though now she goes back in her memory to the earlier days of her married life, when she tried hard, poor soul, to tread the same path that father was treading, so as to be by his side at every turn of the road.
"I am sure" (here Ivory's tone was somewhat dry and satirical) "that father's road had many turns, Waitstill! He was a schoolmaster in Saco, you know, when I was born but he soon turned from teaching to preaching, and here my mother followed with entire sympathy, for she was intensely, devoutly religious. I said there was little change in her, but there is one new symptom. She has ceased to refer to her conversion to Cochranism as a blessed experience. Her memory of those first days seems to have faded, As to her sister's death and all the circumstances of her bringing Rodman home, her mind is a blank. Her expectation of father's return, on the other hand, is much more intense than ever."
"She must have loved your father dearly, Ivory, and to lose him in this terrible way is much worse than death. Uncle Bart says he had a great gift of language!"
"Yes, and it was that, in my mind, that led him astray. I fear that the Spirit of God was never so strong in father as the desire to influence people by his oratory. That was what drew him to preaching in the first place, and when he found in Jacob Cochrane a man who could move an audience to frenzy, lift them out of the body, and do with their spirits as he willed, he acknowledged him as master. Whether his gospel was a pure and undefiled religion I doubt, but he certainly was a master of mesmeric control. My mother was beguiled, entranced, even bewitched at first, I doubt not, for she translated all that Cochrane said into her own speech, and regarded him as the prophet of a new era. But Cochrane's last 'revelations' differed from the first, and were of the earth, earthy. My mother's pure soul must have revolted, but she was not strong enough to drag father from his allegiance. Mother was of better family than father, but they were both well educated and had the best schooling to be had in their day. So far as I can judge, mother always had more 'balance' than father, and much better judgment,—yet look at her now!"
"Then you think it was your father's disappearance that really caused her mind to waver?" asked Waitstill.
"I do, indeed. I don't know what happened between them in the way of religious differences, nor how much unhappiness these may have caused. I remember she had an illness when we first came here to live and I was a little chap of three or four, but that was caused by the loss of a child, a girl, who lived only a few weeks. She recovered perfectly, and her head was as clear as mine for a year or two after father went away. As his letters grew less frequent, as news of him gradually ceased to come, she became more and more silent, and retired more completely into herself. She never went anywhere, nor entertained visitors, because she did not wish to hear the gossip and speculation that were going on in the village. Some of it was very hard for a wife to bear, and she resented it indignantly; yet never received a word from father with which to refute it. At this time, as nearly as I can judge, she was a recluse, and subject to periods of profound melancholy, but nothing worse. Then she took that winter journey to her sister's deathbed, brought home the boy, and, hastened by exposure and chill and grief, I suppose, her mind gave way,—that's all!" And Ivory sighed drearily as he stretched himself on the greensward, and looked off towards the snow-clad New Hampshire hills. "I've meant to write the story of the 'Cochrane craze' sometime, or such part of it as has to do with my family history, and you shall read it if you like. I should set down my child-hood and my boyhood memories, together with such scraps of village hearsay as seem reliable. You were not so much younger than I, but I was in the thick of the excitement, and naturally I heard more than you, having so bitter a reason for being interested. Jacob Cochrane has altogether disappeared from public view, but there's many a family in Maine and New Hampshire, yes, and in the far West, that will feel his influence for years to come."
"I should like very much to read your account. Aunt Abby's version, for instance, is so different from Uncle Bart's that one can scarcely find the truth between the two; and father's bears no relation to that of any of the others."
"Some of us see facts and others see visions," replied Ivory, "and these differences of opinion crop up in the village every day when anything noteworthy is discussed. I came upon a quotation in my reading last evening that described it:
'One said it thundered... another that an angel spake'"
"Do you feel as if your father was dead, Ivory?"
"I can only hope so! That thought brings sadness with it, as one remembers his disappointment and failure, but if he is alive he is a traitor."
There was a long pause and they could see in the distance Humphrey Barker with his clarionet and Pliny Waterhouse with his bass viol driving up to the churchyard fence to hitch their horses. The sun was dipping low and red behind the Town-House Hill on the other side of the river.
"What makes my father dislike the very mention of yours?" asked Waitstill. "I know what they say: that it is because the two men had high words once in a Cochrane meeting, when father tried to interfere with some of the exercises and was put out of doors. It doesn't seem as if that grievance, seventeen or eighteen years ago, would influence his opinion of your mother, or of you."
"It isn't likely that a man of your father's sort would forget or forgive what he considered an injury; and in refusing to have anything to do with the son of a disgraced man and a deranged woman, he is well within his rights."
Ivory's cheeks burned red under the tan, and his hand trembled a little as he plucked bits of clover from the grass and pulled them to pieces absent-mindedly. "How are you getting on at home these days, Waitstill?" he asked, as if to turn his own mind and hers from a too painful subject.
"You have troubles enough of your own without hearing mine, Ivory, and anyway they are not big afflictions, heavy sorrows, like those you have to bear. Mine are just petty, nagging, sordid, cheap little miseries, like gnat-bites;—so petty and so sordid that I can hardly talk to God about them, much less to a human friend. Patty is my only outlet and I need others, yet I find it almost impossible to escape from the narrowness of my life and be of use to any one else." The girl's voice quivered and a single tear-drop on her cheek showed that she was speaking from a full heart. "This afternoon's talk has determined me in one thing," she went on. "I am going to see your mother now and then. I shall have to do it secretly, for your sake, for hers, and for my own, but if I am found out, then I will go openly. There must be times when one can break the lower law, and yet keep the higher. Father's law, in this case, is the lower, and I propose to break it."
"I can't have you getting into trouble, Waitstill," Ivory objected. "You're the one woman I can think of who might help my mother; all the same, I would not make your life harder; not for worlds!"
"It will not be harder, and even if it was I should 'count it all joy' to help a woman bear such sorrow as your mother endures patiently day after day"; and Waitstill rose to her feet and tied on her hat as one who had made up her mind.
It was almost impossible for Ivory to hold his peace then, so full of gratitude was his soul and so great his longing to pour out the feeling that flooded it. He pulled himself together and led the way out of the churchyard. To look at Waitstill again would be to lose his head, but to his troubled heart there came a flood of light, a glory from that lamp that a woman may hold up for a man; a glory that none can take from him, and none can darken; a light by which he may walk and live and die.
XI. A JUNE SUNDAY
IT was a Sunday in June, and almost the whole population of Riverboro and Edgewood was walking or driving in the direction of the meeting-house on Tory Hill.
Church toilettes, you may well believe, were difficult of attainment by Deacon Baxter's daughters, as they had been by his respective helpmates in years gone by. When Waitstill's mother first asked her husband to buy her a new dress, and that was two years after marriage, he simply said: "You look well enough; what do you want to waste money on finery for, these hard times? If other folks are extravagant, that ain't any reason you should be. You ain't obliged to take your neighbors for an example:—take 'em for a warnin'!"
"But, Foxwell, my Sunday dress is worn completely to threads," urged the second Mrs. Baxter.
"That's what women always say; they're all alike; no more idea o' savin' anything than a skunk-blackbird! I can't spare any money for gew-gaws, and you might as well understand it first as last. Go up attic and open the hair trunk by the winder; you'll find plenty there to last you for years to come."
The second Mrs. Baxter visited the attic as commanded, and in turning over the clothes in the old trunk, knew by instinct that they had belonged to her predecessor in office. Some of the dresses were neat, though terribly worn and faded, but all were fortunately far too short and small for a person of her fine proportions. Besides, her very soul shrank from wearing them, and her spirit revolted both from the insult to herself and to the poor dead woman she had succeeded, so she came downstairs to darn and mend and patch again her shabby wardrobe. Waitstill had gone through the same as her mother before her, but in despair, when she was seventeen, she began to cut over the old garments for herself and Patty. Mercifully there were very few of them, and they had long since been discarded. At eighteen she had learned to dye yarns with yellow oak or maple bark and to make purples from elder and sumac berries; she could spin and knit as well as any old "Aunt" of the village, and cut and shape a garment as deftly as the Edgewood tailoress, but the task of making bricks without straw was a hard one, indeed.
She wore a white cotton frock on this particular Sunday. It was starched and ironed with a beautiful gloss, while a touch of distinction was given to her costume by a little black sleeveless "roundabout" made out of the covering of an old silk umbrella. Her flat hat had a single wreath of coarse daisies around the crown, and her mitts were darned in many places, nevertheless you could not entirely spoil her; God had used a liberal hand in making her, and her father's parsimony was a sort of boomerang that flew back chiefly upon himself.
As for Patty, her style of beauty, like Cephas Cole's ell had to be toned down rather than up, to be effective, but circumstances had been cruelly unrelenting in this process of late. Deacon Baxter had given the girls three or four shopworn pieces of faded yellow calico that had been repudiated by the village housewives as not "fast" enough in color to bear the test of proper washing. This had made frocks, aprons, petticoats, and even underclothes, for two full years, and Patty's weekly objurgations when she removed her everlasting yellow dress from the nail where it hung were not such as should have fallen from the lips of a deacon's daughter. Waitstill had taken a piece of the same yellow material, starched and ironed it, cut a curving, circular brim from it, sewed in a pleated crown, and lo! a hat for Patty! What inspired Patty to put on a waist ribbon of deepest wine color, with a little band of the same on the pale yellow hat, no one could say.
"Do you think you shall like that dull red right close to the yellow, Patty?" Waitstill asked anxiously.
"It looks all right on the columbines in the Indian Cellar," replied Patty, turning and twisting the hat on her head. "If we can't get a peek at the Boston fashions, we must just find our styles where we can!"
The various roads to Tory Hill were alive with vehicles on this bright Sunday morning. Uncle Bart and Abel Day, with their respective wives on the back seat of the Cole's double wagon, were passed by Deacon Baxter and his daughters, Waitstill being due at meeting earlier than others by reason of her singing in the choir. The Deacon's one-horse, two-wheeled "shay" could hold three persons, with comfort on its broad seat, and the twenty-year-old mare, although she was always as hollow as a gourd, could generally do the mile, uphill all the way, in half an hour, if urged continually, and the Deacon, be it said, if not good at feeding, was unsurpassed at urging.
Aunt Abby Cole could get only a passing glimpse of Patty in the depths of the "shay," but a glimpse was always enough for her, as her opinion of the girl's charms was considerably affected by the forlorn condition of her son Cephas, whom she suspected of being hopelessly in love with the young person aforesaid, to whom she commonly alluded as "that red-headed bag-gage."
"Patience Baxter's got the kind of looks that might do well enough at a tavern dance, or a husking, but they're entirely unsuited to the Sabbath day or the meetin'-house," so Aunt Abby remarked to Mrs. Day in the way of backseat confidence. "It's unfortunate that a deacon's daughter should be afflicted with that bold style of beauty! Her hair's all but red; in fact, you might as well call it red, when the sun shines on it: but if she'd ever smack it down with bear's grease she might darken it some; or anyhow she'd make it lay slicker; but it's the kind of hair that just matches that kind of a girl,—sort of up an' comin'! Then her skin's so white and her cheeks so pink and her eyes so snappy that she'd attract attention without half trying though I guess she ain't above makin' an effort."
"She's innocent as a kitten," observed Mrs. Day impartially.
"Oh, yes, she's innocent enough an' I hope she'll keep so! Waitstill's a sight han'somer, if the truth was told; but she's the sort of girl that's made for one man and the rest of em never look at her. The other one's cut out for the crowd, the more the merrier. She's a kind of man-trap, that girl is!—Do urge the horse a little mite, Bartholomew! It makes me kind o' hot to be passed by Deacon Baxter. It's Missionary Sunday, too, when he gen'ally has rheumatism too bad to come out."
"I wonder if he ever puts anything into the plate," said Mrs. Day. "No one ever saw him, that I know of."
"The Deacon keeps the Thou Shalt Not commandments pretty well," was Aunt Abby's terse response. "I guess he don't put nothin' into the plate, but I s'pose we'd ought to be thankful he don't take nothin' out. The Baptists are gettin' ahead faster than they'd ought to, up to the Mills. Our minister ain't no kind of a proselyter, Seems as if he didn't care how folks got to heaven so long as they got there! The other church is havin' a service this afternoon side o' the river, an' I'd kind o' like to go, except it would please 'em too much to have a crowd there to see the immersion. They tell me, but I don't know how true, that that Tillman widder woman that come here from somewheres in Vermont wanted to be baptized to-day, but the other converts declared THEY wouldn't be, if she was!"
"Jed Morrill said they'd have to hold her under water quite a spell to do any good," chuckled Uncle Bart from the front seat.
"Well, I wouldn't repeat it, Bartholomew, on the Sabbath day; not if he did say it. Jed Morrill's responsible for more blasphemious jokes than any man in Edgewood. I don't approve of makin' light of anybody's religious observances if they're ever so foolish," said Aunt Abby somewhat enigmatically. "Our minister keeps remindin' us that the Baptists and Methodists are our brethren, but I wish he'd be a little more anxious to have our S'ceity keep ahead of the others."
"Jed's 'bout right in sizin' up the Widder Tillman," was Mr. Day's timid contribution to the argument. "I ain't a readin' man, but from what folks report I should think she was one o' them critters that set on rocks bewilderin' an' bedevilin' men-folks out o' their senses—SYREENS, I think they call 'em; a reg'lar SYREEN is what that woman is, I guess!"
"There, there, Abel, you wouldn't know a syreen if you found one in your baked beans, so don't take away a woman's character on hearsay." And Mrs. Day, having shut up her husband as was her bounden duty as a wife and a Christian, tied her bonnet strings a little tighter and looked distinctly pleased with herself.
"Abel ain't startin' any new gossip," was Aunt Abby's opinion, as she sprung to his rescue. "One or two more holes in a colander don't make much dif'rence.—Bartholomew, we're certainly goin' to be late this mornin'; we're about the last team on the road"; and Aunt Abby glanced nervously behind. "Elder Boone ain't begun the openin' prayer, though, or we should know it. You can hear him pray a mile away, when the wind's right. I do hate to be late to meetin'. The Elder allers takes notice; the folks in the wing pews allers gapes an' stares, and the choir peeks through the curtain, takin' notes of everything you've got on your back. I hope to the land they'll chord and keep together a little mite better 'n they've done lately, that's all I can say! If the Lord is right in our midst as the Bible says, He can't think much of our singers this summer!"
"They're improvin', now that Pliny Waterhouse plays his fiddle," Mrs. Day remarked pacifically. "There was times in the anthem when they kept together consid'able well last Sunday. They didn't always chord, but there, they chorded some!—we're most there now, Abby, don't fret! Cephas won't ring the last bell till he knows his own folks is crossin' the Common!"
Those were days of conscientious church-going and every pew in the house was crowded. The pulpit was built on pillars that raised it six feet higher than the floor; the top was cushioned and covered with red velvet surmounted by a huge gilt-edged Bible. There was a window in the tower through which Cephas Cole could look into the church, and while tolling the bell could keep watch for the minister. Always exactly on time, he would come in, walk slowly up the right-hand aisle, mount the pulpit stairs, enter and close the door after him. Then Cephas would give one tremendous pull to warn loiterers on the steps; a pull that meant, "Parson's in the pulpit!" and was acted upon accordingly. Opening the big Bible, the minister raised his right hand impressively, and saying, "Let us pray," the whole congregation rose in their pews with a great rustling and bowed their heads devoutly for the invocation.
Next came the hymn, generally at that day one of Isaac Watts's. The singers, fifteen or twenty in number, sat in a raised gallery opposite the pulpit, and there was a rod in front hung with red curtains to hide them when sitting down. Any one was free to join, which perhaps accounted for Aunt Abby's strictures as to time and tune. Jed Morrill, "blasphemious" as he was considered by that acrimonious lady, was the leader, and a good one, too. There would be a great whispering and buzzing when Deacon Sumner with his big fiddle and Pliny Waterhouse with his smaller one would try to get in accord with Humphrey Baker and his clarionet. All went well when Humphrey was there to give the sure key-note, but in his absence Jed Morrill would use his tuning-fork. When the key was finally secured by all concerned, Jed would raise his stick, beat one measure to set the time, and all joined in, or fell in, according to their several abilities. It was not always a perfect thing in the way of a start, but they were well together at the end of the first line, and when, as now, the choir numbered a goodly number of voices, and there were three or four hundred in the pews, nothing more inspiring in its peculiar way was ever heard, than the congregational singing of such splendid hymns as "Old Hundred," "Duke Street," or "Coronation."
Waitstill led the trebles, and Ivory was at the far end of the choir in the basses, but each was conscious of the other's presence. This morning he could hear her noble voice rising a little above, or, perhaps from its quality, separating itself somehow, ever so little, from the others. How full of strength and hope it was, her voice! How steadfast to the pitch; how golden its color; how moving in its crescendos! How the words flowed from her lips; not as if they had been written years ago, but as if they were the expression of her own faith. There were many in the congregation who were stirred, they knew not why, when there chanced to be only a few "carrying the air" and they could really hear Waitstill Baxter singing some dear old hymn, full of sacred memories, like:—
"While Thee I seek, protecting Power, Be my vain wishes stilled! And may this consecrated hour With better hopes be filled."
"There may be them in Boston that can sing louder, and they may be able to run up a little higher than Waitstill, but the question is, could any of 'em make Aunt Abby Cole shed tears?" This was Jed Morrill's tribute to his best soprano.
There were Sunday evening prayer-meetings, too, held at "early candlelight," when Waitstill and Lucy Morrill would make a duet of "By cool Siloam's Shady Rill," or the favorite "Naomi," and the two fresh young voices, rising and falling in the tender thirds of the old tunes, melted all hearts to new willingness of sacrifice.
"Father, whate'er of earthly bliss Thy sov'reign will denies, Accepted at Thy Throne of grace Let this petition rise!
"Give me a calm, a thankful heart, From every murmur free! The blessing of Thy grace impart And let me live to Thee!"
How Ivory loved to hear Waitstill sing these lines! How they eased his burden as they were easing hers, falling on his impatient, longing heart like evening dew on thirsty grass!
XII. THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER
"WHILE Thee I seek, protecting Power," was the first hymn on this particular Sunday morning, and it usually held Patty's rather vagrant attention to the end, though it failed to do so to-day. The Baxters occupied one of the wing pews, a position always to be envied, as one could see the singers without turning around, and also observe everybody in the congregation,—their entrance, garments, behavior, and especially their bonnets,—without being in the least indiscreet, or seeming to have a roving eye.
Lawyer Wilson's pew was the second in front of the Baxters in the same wing, and Patty, seated decorously but unwillingly beside her father, was impatiently awaiting the entrance of the family, knowing that Mark would be with them if he had returned from Boston. Timothy Grant, the parish clerk, had the pew in between, and afforded a most edifying spectacle to the community, as there were seven young Grants of a church-going age, and the ladies of the congregation were always counting them, reckoning how many more were in their cradles at home and trying to guess from Mrs. Grant's lively or chastened countenance whether any new ones had been born since the Sunday before.
Patty settled herself comfortably, and put her foot on the wooden "cricket," raising her buff calico a little on the congregation side, just enough to show an inch or two of petticoat. The petticoat was as modestly long as the frock itself, and disclosing a bit of it was nothing more heinous than a casual exhibition of good needlework. Deacon Baxter furnished only the unbleached muslin for his daughters' undergarments; but twelve little tucks laboriously done by hand, elaborate inch-wide edging, crocheted from white spool cotton, and days of bleaching on the grass in the sun, will make a petticoat that can be shown in church with some justifiable pride.
The Wilsons came up the aisle a moment later than was their usual habit, just after the parson had ascended the pulpit. Mrs. Wilson always entered the pew first and sat in the far end. Patty had looked at her admiringly, and with a certain feeling of proprietorship, for several Sundays. There was obviously no such desirable mother-in-law in the meeting-house. Her changeable silk dress was the latest mode; her shawl of black llama lace expressed wealth in every delicate mesh, and her bonnet had a distinction that could only have emanated from Portland or Boston. Ellen Wilson usually came in next, with as much of a smile to Patty in passing as she dared venture in the Deacon's presence, and after her sidled in her younger sister Selina, commonly called "Silly," and with considerable reason.
Mark had come home! Patty dared not look up, but she felt his approach behind the others, although her eyes sought the floor, and her cheeks hung out signals of abashed but certain welcome. She heard the family settle in their seats somewhat hastily, the click of the pew door and the sound of Lawyer Wilson's cane as he stood it in the corner; then the parson rose to pray and Patty closed her eyes with the rest of the congregation.
Opening them when Elder Boone rose to announce the hymn, they fell—amazed, resentful, uncomprehending—on the spectacle of Mark Wilson finding the place in the book for a strange young woman who sat beside him. Mark himself had on a new suit and wore a seal ring that Patty had never observed before; while the dress, pelisse, and hat of the unknown were of a nature that no girl in Patty's position, and particularly of Patty's disposition, could have regarded without a desire to tear them from her person and stamp them underfoot; or better still, flaunt them herself and show the world how they should be worn!
Mark found the place in the hymn-book for the—creature, shared it with her, and once, when the Grant twins wriggled and Patty secured a better view, once, Mark shifted his hand on the page so that his thumb touched that of his pretty neighbor, who did not remove hers as if she found the proximity either unpleasant or improper. Patty compared her own miserable attire with that of the hated rival in front, and also contrasted Lawyer Wilson's appearance with that of her father; the former, well dressed in the style of a gentleman of the time, in broadcloth, with fine linen, and a tall silk hat carefully placed on the floor of the pew; while Deacon Baxter wore homespun made of wool from his own sheep, spun and woven, dyed and finished, at the fulling-mill in the village, and carried a battered felt hat that had been a matter of ridicule these dozen years. (The Deacon would be buried in two coats, Jed Morrill always said, for he owned just that number, and would be too mean to leave either of 'em behind him!)
The sermon was fifty minutes long, time enough for a deal of thinking. Many a housewife, not wholly orthodox, cut and made over all her children's clothes, in imagination; planned the putting up of her fruit, the making of her preserves and pickles, and arranged her meals for the next week, during the progress of those sermons. Patty watched the parson turn leaf after leaf until the final one was reached. Then came the last hymn, when the people stretched their aching limbs, and rising, turned their backs on the minister and faced the choir. Patty looked at Waitstill and wished that she could put her throbbing head on her sisterly shoulder and cry,—mostly with rage. The benediction was said, and with the final "Amen" the pews were opened and the worshippers crowded into the narrow aisles and moved towards the doors.
Patty's plans were all made. She was out of her pew before the Wilsons could possibly leave theirs, and in her progress down the aisle securely annexed her great admirer, old Dr. Perry, as well as his son Philip. Passing the singing-seats she picked up the humble Cephas and carried him along in her wake, chatting and talking with her little party while her father was at the horse-sheds, making ready to go home between services as was his habit, a cold bite being always set out on the kitchen table according to his orders. By means of these clever manoeuvres Patty made herself the focus of attention when the Wilson party came out on the steps, and vouchsafed Mark only a nonchalant nod, airily flinging a little greeting with the nod,—just a "How d'ye do, Mark? Did you have a good time in Boston?"
Patty and Waitstill, with some of the girls who had come long distances, ate their luncheon in a shady place under the trees behind the meeting-house, for there was an afternoon service to come, a service with another long sermon. They separated after the modest meal to walk about the Common or stray along the road to the Academy, where there was a fine view.
Two or three times during the summer the sisters always went quietly and alone to the Baxter burying-lot, where three grassgrown graves lay beside one another, unmarked save by narrow wooden slabs so short that the initials painted on them were almost hidden by the tufts of clover. The girls had brought roots of pansies and sweet alyssum, and with a knife made holes in the earth and planted them here and there to make the spot a trifle less forbidding. They did not speak to each other during this sacred little ceremony; their hearts were too full when they remembered afresh the absence of headstones, the lack of care, in the place where the three women lay who had ministered to their father, borne him children, and patiently endured his arbitrary and loveless rule. Even Cleve Flanders' grave,—the Edgewood shoemaker, who lay next,—even his resting-place was marked and, with a touch of some one's imagination marked by the old man's own lapstone twenty-five pounds in weight, a monument of his work-a-day life.
Waitstill rose from her feet, brushing the earth from her hands, and Patty did the same. The churchyard was quiet, and they were alone with the dead, mourned and unmourned, loved and unloved.
"I planted one or two pansies on the first one's grave," said Waitstill soberly. "I don't know why we've never done it before. There are no children to take notice of and remember her; it's the least we can do, and, after all, she belongs to the family."
"There is no family, and there never was!" suddenly cried Patty. "Oh! Waity, Waity, we are so alone, you and I! We've only each other in all the world, and I'm not the least bit of help to you, as you are to me! I'm a silly, vain, conceited, ill-behaved thing, but I will be better, I will! You won't ever give me up, will you, Waity, even if I'm not like you? I haven't been good lately!"
"Hush, Patty, hush!" And Waitstill came nearer to her sister with a motherly touch of her hand. "I'll not have you say such things; you that are the helpfullest and the lovingest girl that ever was, and the cleverest, too, and the liveliest, and the best company-keeper!"
"No one thinks so but you!" Patty responded dolefully, although she wiped her eyes as if a bit consoled.
It is safe to say that Patty would never have given Mark Wilson a second thought had he not taken her to drive on that afternoon in early May. The drive, too, would have quickly fled from her somewhat fickle memory had it not been for the kiss. The kiss was, indeed, a decisive factor in the situation, and had shed a rosy, if somewhat fictitious light of romance over the past three weeks. Perhaps even the kiss, had it never been repeated, might have lapsed into its true perspective, in due course of time, had it not been for the sudden appearance of the stranger in the Wilson pew. The moment that Patty's gaze fell upon that fashionably dressed, instantaneously disliked girl, Marquis Wilson's stock rose twenty points in the market. She ceased, in a jiffy, to weigh and consider and criticize the young man, but regarded him with wholly new eyes. His figure was better than she had realized, his smile more interesting, his manners more attractive, his eyelashes longer; in a word, he had suddenly grown desirable. A month ago she could have observed, with idle and alien curiosity, the spectacle of his thumb drawing nearer to another (feminine) thumb, on the page of the Watts and Select Hymn book; now, at the morning service, she had wished nothing so much as to put Mark's thumb back into his pocket where it belonged, and slap the girl's thumb smartly and soundly as it deserved.
The ignorant cause of Patty's distress was a certain Annabel Franklin, the daughter of a cousin of Mrs. Wilson's. Mark had stayed at the Franklin house during his three weeks' visit in Boston, where he had gone on business for his father. The young people had naturally seen much of each other and Mark's inflammable fancy had been so kindled by Annabel's doll-like charms that he had persuaded her to accompany him to his home and get a taste of country life in Maine. Such is man, such is human nature, and such is life, that Mark had no sooner got the whilom object of his affections under his own roof than she began to pall.
Annabel was twenty-three, and to tell the truth she had palled before, more than once. She was so amiable, so well-finished,—with her smooth flaxen hair, her neat nose, her buttonhole of a mouth, and her trim shape,—that she appealed to the opposite sex quite generally and irresistibly as a worthy helpmate. The only trouble was that she began to bore her suitors somewhat too early in the game, and they never got far enough to propose marriage. Flaws in her apparent perfection appeared from day to day and chilled the growth of the various young loves that had budded so auspiciously. She always agreed with everybody and everything in sight, even to the point of changing her mind on the instant, if circumstances seemed to make it advisable. Her instinctive point of view, when she went so far as to hold one, was somewhat cut and dried; in a word, priggish. She kept a young man strictly on his good behavior, that much could be said in her favor; the only criticism that could be made on this estimable trait was that no bold youth was ever tempted to overstep the bounds of discretion when in her presence. No unruly words of love ever rose to his lips; his hand never stole out involuntarily and imprudently to meet her small chilly one; the sight of her waist never even suggested an encircling arm; and as a fellow never desired to kiss her, she was never obliged to warn or rebuke or strike him off her visiting list. Her father had an ample fortune and some one would inevitably turn up who would regard Annabel as an altogether worthy and desirable spouse. That was what she had seemed to Mark Wilson for a full week before he left the Franklin house in Boston, but there were moments now when he regretted, fugitively, that he had ever removed her from her proper sphere. She did not seem to fit in to the conditions of life in Edgewood, and it may even be that her most glaring fault had been to describe Patty Baxter's hair at this very Sunday dinner as "carroty," her dress altogether "dreadful," and her style of beauty "unladylike." Ellen Wilson's feelings were somewhat injured by these criticisms of her intimate friend, and in discussing the matter privately with her brother he was inclined to agree with her.
And thus, so little do we know of the prankishness of the blind god, thus was Annabel Franklin working for her rival's best interests; and instead of reviling her in secret, and treating her with disdain in public, Patty should have welcomed her cordially to all the delights of Riverboro society.
EVERYBODY in Riverboro, Edgewood, Milliken's Mills, Spruce Swamp, Duck Pond, and Moderation was "haying." There was a perfect frenzy of haying, for it was the Monday after the "Fourth," the precise date in July when the Maine farmer said good-bye to repose, and "hayed" desperately and unceasingly, until every spear of green in his section was mowed down and safely under cover. If a man had grass of his own, he cut it, and if he had none, he assisted in cutting that of some other man, for "to hay," although an unconventional verb, was, and still is, a very active one, and in common circulation, although not used by the grammarians.
Whatever your trade, and whatever your profession, it counted as naught in good weather. The fish-man stopped selling fish, the meat-man ceased to bring meat; the cobbler, as well as the judge, forsook the bench; and even the doctor made fewer visits than usual. The wage for work in the hay-fields was a high one, and every man, boy, and horse in a village was pressed into service.
When Ivory Boynton had finished with his own small crop, he commonly went at once to Lawyer Wilson, who had the largest acreage of hay-land in the township. Ivory was always in great demand, for he was a mighty worker in the field, and a very giant at "pitching," being able to pick up a fair-sized hay-cock at one stroke of the fork and fling it on to the cart as if it were a feather. Lawyer Wilson always took a hand himself if signs of rain appeared, and Mark occasionally visited the scene of action when a crowd in the field made a general jollification, or when there was an impending thunderstorm. In such cases even women and girls joined the workers and all hands bent together to the task of getting a load into the barn and covering the rest.
Deacon Baxter was wont to call Mark Wilson a "worthless, whey-faced, lily-handed whelp," but the description, though picturesque, was decidedly exaggerated. Mark disliked manual labor, but having imbibed enough knowledge of law in his father's office to be an excellent clerk, he much preferred travelling about, settling the details of small cases, collecting rents and bad bills, to any form of work on a farm. This sort of life, on stage-coaches and railway trains, or on long driving trips with his own fast trotter, suited his adventurous disposition and gave him a sense of importance that was very necessary to his peace of mind. He was not especially intimate with Ivory Boynton, who studied law with his father during all vacations and in every available hour of leisure during term time, as did many another young New England schoolmaster. Mark's father's praise of Ivory's legal ability was a little too warm to please his son, as was the commendation of one of the County Court judges on Ivory's preparation of a brief in a certain case in the Wilson office. Ivory had drawn it up at Mr. Wilson's request, merely to show how far he understood the books and cases he was studying, and he had no idea that it differed in any way from the work of any other student; all the same, Mark's own efforts in a like direction had never received any special mention. When he was in the hay-field he also kept as far as possible from Ivory, because there, too, he felt a superiority that made him, for the moment, a trifle discontented. It was no particular pleasure for him to see Ivory plunge his fork deep into the heart of a hay-cock, take a firm grasp of the handle, thrust forward his foot to steady himself, and then raise the great fragrant heap slowly, and swing it up to the waiting haycart amid the applause of the crowd. Rodman would be there, too, helping the man on top of the load and getting nearly buried each time, as the mass descended upon him, but doing his slender best to distribute and tread it down properly, while his young heart glowed with pride at Cousin Ivory's prowess.
Independence Day had passed, with its usual gayeties for the young people, in none of which the Baxter family had joined, and now, at eleven o'clock on this burning July morning, Waitstill was driving the old mare past the Wilson farm on her way to the river field. Her father was working there, together with the two hired men whom he took on for a fortnight during the height of the season. If mowing, raking, pitching, and carting of the precious crop could only have been done at odd times during the year, or at night, he would not have embittered the month of July by paying out money for labor: but Nature was inexorable in the ripening of hay and Old Foxy was obliged to succumb to the inevitable. Waitstill had a basket packed with luncheon for three and a great demijohn of cool ginger tea under the wagon seat. Other farmers sometimes served hard cider, or rum, but her father's principles were dead against this riotous extravagance. Temperance, in any and all directions, was cheap, and the Deacon was a very temperate man, save in language.
The fields on both sides of the road were full of haymakers and everywhere there was bustle and stir. There would be three or four men, one leading, the others following, slowly swinging their way through a noble piece of grass, and the smell of the mown fields in the sunshine was sweeter than honey in the comb. There were patches of black-eyed Susans in the meadows here and there, while pink and white hardhack grew by the road, with day lilies and blossoming milkweed. The bobolinks were fluting from every tree; there were thrushes in the alder bushes and orioles in the tops of the elms, and Waitstill's heart overflowed with joy at being in such a world of midsummer beauty, though life, during the great heat and incessant work of haying-time, was a little more rigorous than usual. The extra food needed for the hired men always kept her father in a state of mind closely resembling insanity. Coming downstairs to cook breakfast she would find the coffee or tea measured out for the pot. The increased consumption of milk angered him beyond words, because it lessened the supply of butter for sale. Everything that could be made with buttermilk was ordered so to be done, and nothing but water could be used in mixing the raised bread. The corncake must never have an egg; the piecrust must be shortened only with lard, or with a mixture of beef-fat and dripping; and so on, and so on, eternally.
When the girls were respectively seventeen and thirteen, Waitstill had begged a small plot of ground for them to use as they liked, and beginning at that time they had gradually made a little garden, with a couple of fruit trees and a thicket of red, white, and black currants raspberry and blackberry bushes. For several summers now they had sold enough of their own fruit to buy a pair of shoes or gloves, a scarf or a hat, but even this tiny income was beginning to be menaced. The Deacon positively suffered as he looked at that odd corner of earth, not any bigger than his barn floor, and saw what his girls had done with no tools but a spade and a hoe and no help but their own hands. He had no leisure (so he growled) to cultivate and fertilize ground for small fruits, and no money to pay a man to do it, yet here was food grown under his very eye, and it did not belong to him! The girls worked in their garden chiefly at sunrise in spring and early summer, or after supper in the evening; all the same Waitstill had been told by her father the day before that she was not only using ground, but time, that belonged to him, and that he should expect her to provide "pie-filling" out of her garden patch during haying, to help satisfy the ravenous appetites of that couple of "great, gorming, greedy lubbers" that he was hiring this year. He had stopped the peeling of potatoes before boiling because he disapproved of the thickness of the parings he found in the pig's pail, and he stood over Patty at her work in the kitchen until Waitstill was in daily fear of a tempest of some sort.
Coming in from the shed one morning she met her father just issuing from the kitchen where Patty was standing like a young Fury in front of the sink. "Father's been spying at the eggshells I settled the coffee with, and said I'd no business to leave so much good in the shell when I broke an egg. I will not bear it; he makes me feel fairly murderous! You'd better not leave me alone with him when I'm like this. Oh! I know that I'm wicked, but isn't he wicked too, and who was wicked first?"
Patty's heart had been set on earning and saving enough pennies for a white muslin dress and every day rendered the prospect more uncertain; this was a sufficient grievance in itself to keep her temper at the boiling point had there not been various other contributory causes. Waitstill's patience was flagging a trifle, too, under the stress of the hot days and the still hotter, breathless nights. The suspicion crossed her mind now and then that her father's miserliness and fits of temper might be caused by a mental malady over which he now had little or no control, having never mastered himself in all his life. Her power of endurance would be greater, she thought, if only she could be certain that this theory was true, though her slavery would be just as galling.
It would be so easy for her to go away and earn a living; she who had never had a day of illness in her life; she who could sew, knit, spin, weave, and cook. She could make enough money in Biddeford or Portsmouth to support herself, and Patty, too, until the proper work was found for both. But there would be a truly terrible conflict of wills, and such fierce arraignment of her unfilial conduct, such bitter and caustic argument from her father, such disapproval from the parson and the neighbors, that her very soul shrank from the prospect. If she could go alone, and have no responsibility over Patty's future, that would be a little more possible, but she must think wisely for two.
And how could she leave Ivory when there might perhaps come a crisis in his life where she could be useful to him? How could she cut herself off from those Sundays in the choir, those dear fugitive glimpses of him in the road or at prayer-meeting? They were only sips of happiness, where her thirsty heart yearned for long, deep draughts, but they were immeasurably better than nothing. Freedom from her father's heavy yoke, freedom to work, and read, and sing, and study, and grow,—oh! how she longed for this, but at what a cost would she gain it if she had to harbor the guilty conscience of an undutiful and rebellious daughter, and at the same time cut herself off from the sight of the one being she loved best in all the world.
She felt drawn towards Ivory's mother to-day. Three weeks had passed since her talk with Ivory in the churchyard, but there had been no possibility of an hour's escape from home. She was at liberty this afternoon—relatively at liberty; for although her work, as usual, was laid out for her, it could be made up somehow or other before nightfall. She could drive over to the Boynton's place, hitch her horse in the woods near the house, make her visit, yet be in plenty of time to go up to the river field and bring her father home to supper. Patty was over at Mrs. Abel Day's, learning a new crochet stitch and helping her to start a log-cabin quilt. Ivory and Rodman, she new, were both away in the Wilson hay-field; no time would ever be more favorable; so instead of driving up Town-House Hill when she returned to the village she kept on over the bridge.
XIV. UNCLE BART DISCOURSES
UNCLE BART and Cephas were taking their nooning hour under the Nodhead apple tree as Waitstill passed the joiner's shop and went over the bridge.
"Uncle Bart might somehow guess where I am going," she thought, "but even if he did he would never tell any one."
"Where's Waitstill bound this afternoon, I wonder?" drawled Cephas, rising to his feet and looking after the departing team. "That reminds me, I'd better run up to Baxter's and see if any-thing's wanted before I open the store."
"If it makes any dif'rence," said his father dryly, as he filled his pipe, "Patty's over to Mis' Day's spendin' the afternoon. Don't s'pose you want to call on the pig, do you? He's the only one to home."
Cephas made no remark, but gave his trousers a hitch, picked up a chip, opened his jack-knife, and sitting down on the greensward began idly whittling the bit of wood into shape.
"I kind o' wish you'd let me make the new ell two-story, father; 't wouldn't be much work, take it in slack time after hayin'."
"Land o' Liberty! What do you want to do that for, Cephas? You 'bout pestered the life out o' me gittin' me to build the ell in the first place, when we didn't need it no more'n a toad does a pocketbook. Then nothin' would do but you must paint it, though I shan't be able to have the main house painted for another year, so the old wine an' the new bottle side by side looks like the Old Driver, an' makes us a laughin'-stock to the village;—and now you want to change the thing into a two-story! Never heerd such a crazy idee in my life."
"I want to settle down," insisted Cephas doggedly.
"Well, settle; I'm willin'! I told you that, afore you painted the ell. Ain't two rooms, fourteen by fourteen, enough for you to settle down in? If they ain't, I guess your mother'd give you one o' the chambers in the main part."
"She would if I married Phoebe Day, but I don't want to marry Phoebe," argued Cephas. "And mother's gone and made a summer kitchen for herself out in the ell, a'ready. I bet yer she'll never move out if I should want to move in on a 'sudden."
"I told you you was takin' that risk when you cut a door through from the main part," said his father genially. "If you hadn't done that, your mother would 'a' had to gone round outside to git int' the ell and mebbe she'd 'a' stayed to home when it stormed, anyhow. Now your wife'll have her troopin' in an' out, in an' out, the whole 'durin' time."
"I only cut the door through to please so't she'd favor my gittin' married, but I guess 't won't do no good. You see, father, what I was thinkin' of is, a girl would mebbe jump at a two-story, four-roomed ell when she wouldn't look at a smaller place."
"Pends upon whether the girl's the jumpin' kind or not! Hadn't you better git everything fixed up with the one you've picked out, afore you take your good savin's and go to buildin' a bigger place for her?"
"I've asked her once a'ready," Cephas allowed, with a burning face. "I don't s'pose you know the one I mean?"
"No kind of an idee," responded his father, with a quizzical wink that was lost on the young man, as his eyes were fixed upon his whittling. "Does she belong to the village?"
"I ain't goin' to let folks know who I've picked out till I git a little mite forrarder," responded Cephas craftily. "Say, father, it's all right to ask a girl twice, ain't it?
"Certain it is, my son. I never heerd there was any special limit to the number o' times you could ask 'em, and their power o' sayin' 'No' is like the mercy of the Lord; it endureth forever.—You wouldn't consider a widder, Cephas? A widder'd be a good comp'ny-keeper for your mother."
"I hain't put my good savin's into an ell jest to marry a comp'ny-keeper for mother," responded Cephas huffily. "I want to be number one with my girl and start right in on trainin' her up to suit me."
"Well, if trainin' 's your object you'd better take my advice an' keep it dark before marriage, Cephas. It's astonishin' how the female sect despises bein' trained; it don't hardly seem to be in their nature to make any changes in 'emselves after they once gits started."
"How are you goin' to live with 'em, then?" Cephas inquired, looking up with interest coupled with some incredulity.
"Let them do the training," responded his father, peacefully puffing out the words with his pipe between his lips. "Some of 'em's mild and gentle in discipline, like Parson Boone's wife or Mis' Timothy Grant, and others is strict and firm like your mother and Mis' Abel Day. If you happen to git the first kind, why, do as they tell you, and thank the Lord 't ain't any worse. If you git the second kind, jest let 'em put the blinders on you and trot as straight as you know how, without shying nor kickin' over the traces, nor bolting 'cause they've got control o' the bit and 't ain't no use fightin' ag'in' their superior strength.—So fur as you can judge, in the early stages o' the game, my son,—which ain't very fur,—which kind have you picked out?"
Cephas whittled on for some moments without a word, but finally, with a sigh drawn from the very toes of his boots, he responded gloomily,—
"She's awful spunky, the girl is, anybody can see that; but she's a young thing, and I thought bein' married would kind o' tame her down!"
"You can see how much marriage has tamed your mother down," observed Uncle Bart dispassionately; "howsomever, though your mother can't be called tame, she's got her good p'ints, for she's always to be counted on. The great thing in life, as I take it, Cephas, is to know exactly what to expect. Your mother's gen'ally credited with an onsartin temper, but folks does her great injustice in so thinking for in a long experience I've seldom come across a temper less onsartin than your mother's. You know exactly where to find her every mornin' at sun-up and every night at sundown. There ain't nothin' you can do to put her out o' temper, cause she's all out aforehand. You can jest go about your reg'lar business 'thout any fear of disturbin' her any further than she's disturbed a'ready, which is consid'rable. I don't mind it a mite nowadays, though, after forty years of it. It would kind o' gall me to keep a stiddy watch of a female's disposition day by day, wonderin' when she was goin' to have a tantrum. A tantrum once a year's an awful upsettin' kind of a thing in a family, my son, but a tantrum every twenty-four hours is jest part o' the day's work." There was a moment's silence during which Uncle Bart puffed his pipe and Cephas whittled, after which the old man continued: "Then, if you happen to marry a temper like your mother's, Cephas, look what a pow'ful worker you gen'ally get! Look at the way they sweep an' dust an' scrub an' clean! Watch 'em when they go at the dish-washin', an' how they whack the rollin'-pin, an' maul the eggs, an' heave the wood int' the stove, an' slat the flies out o' the house! The mild and gentle ones enough, will be settin' in the kitchen rocker read-in' the almanac when there ain't no wood in the kitchen box, no doughnuts in the crock, no pies on the swing shelf in the cellar, an' the young ones goin' round without a second shift to their backs!"
Cephas's mind was far away during this philosophical dissertation on the ways of women. He could see only a sunny head fairly rioting with curls; a pair of eyes that held his like magnets, although they never gave him a glance of love; a smile that lighted the world far better than the sun; a dimple into which his heart fell headlong whenever he looked at it!
"You're right, father; 'tain't no use kickin' ag'in 'em," he said as he rose to his feet preparatory to opening the Baxter store. "When I said that 'bout trainin' up a girl to suit me, I kind o' forgot the one I've picked out. I'm considerin' several, but the one I favor most-well, I believe she'd fire up at the first sight o' training and that's the gospel truth."
"Considerin' several, be you, Cephas?" laughed Uncle Bart. "Well, all I hope is, that the one you favor most—the girl you've asked once a'ready—is considerin' you!"
Cephas went to the pump, and wetting a large handkerchief put it in the crown of his straw hat and sauntered out into the burning heat of the open road between his father's shop and Deacon Baxter's store.
"I shan't ask her the next time till this hot spell's over," he thought, "and I won't do it in that dodgasted old store ag'in, neither; I ain't so tongue-tied outdoors an' I kind o' think I'd be more in the sperit of it after sundown, some night after supper!"
XV. IVORY'S MOTHER
WAITSTILL found a cool and shady place in which to hitch the old mare, loosening her check-rein and putting a sprig of alder in her headstall to assist her in brushing off the flies.
One could reach the Boynton house only by going up a long grass-grown lane that led from the high-road. It was a lonely place, and Aaron Boynton had bought it when he moved from Saco, simply because he secured it at a remarkable bargain, the owner having lost his wife and gone to live in Massachusetts. Ivory would have sold it long ago had circumstances been different, for it was at too great a distance from the schoolhouse and from Lawyer Wilson's office to be at all convenient, but he dreaded to remove his mother from the environment to which she was accustomed, and doubted very much whether she would be able to care for a house to which she had not been wonted before her mind became affected. Here in this safe, secluded corner, amid familiar and thoroughly known conditions, she moved placidly about her daily tasks, performing them with the same care and precision that she had used from the beginning of her married life. All the heavy work was done for her by Ivory and Rodman; the boy in particular being the fleetest-footed, the most willing, and the neatest of helpers; washing dishes, sweeping and dusting, laying the table, as deftly and quietly as a girl. Mrs. Boynton made her own simple dresses of gray calico in summer, or dark linsey-woolsey in winter by the same pattern that she had used when she first came to Edgewood: in fact there were positively no external changes anywhere to be seen, tragic and terrible as had been those that had wrought havoc in her mind.
Waitstill's heart beat faster as she neared the Boynton house. She had never so much as seen Ivory's mother for years. How would she be met? Who would begin the conversation, and what direction would it take? What if Mrs. Boynton should refuse to talk to her at all? She walked slowly along the lane until she saw a slender, gray-clad figure stooping over a flower-bed in front of the cottage. The woman raised her head with a fawn-like gesture that had something in it of timidity rather than fear, picked some loose bits of green from the ground, and, quietly turning her back upon the on coming stranger, disappeared through the open front door.
There could be no retreat on her own part now, thought Waitstill. She wished for a moment that she had made this first visit under Ivory's protection, but her idea had been to gain Mrs. Boynton's confidence and have a quiet friendly talk, such a one as would be impossible in the presence of a third person. Approaching the steps, she called through the doorway in her clear voice: "Ivory asked me to come and see you one day, Mrs. Boynton. I am Waitstill Baxter, the little girl on Town House Hill that you used to know."
Mrs. Boynton came from an inner room and stood on the threshold. The name "Waitstill" had always had a charm for her ears, from the time she first heard it years ago, until it fell from Ivory's lips this summer; and again it caught her fancy.
"'WAITSTILL!"' she repeated softly; "'WAITSTILL!' Does Ivory know you?"
"We've known each other for ever so long; ever since we went to the brick school together when we were girl and boy. And when I was a child my stepmother brought me over here once on an errand and Ivory showed me a humming-bird's nest in that lilac bush by the door."
Mrs. Boynton smiled "Come and look!" she whispered. "There is always a humming-bird's nest in our lilac. How did you remember?"
The two women approached the bush and Mrs. Boynton carefully parted the leaves to show the dainty morsel of a home thatched with soft gray-green and lined with down. "The birds have flown now," she said. "They were like little jewels when they darted off in the sunshine."
Her voice was faint and sweet, as if it came from far away, and her eyes looked, not as if they were seeing you, but seeing something through you. Her pale hair was turned back from her paler face, where the veins showed like blue rivers, and her smile was like the flitting of a moonbeam. She was standing very close to Waitstill, closer than she had been to any woman for many years, and she studied her a little, wistfully, yet courteously, as if her attention was attracted by something fresh and winning. She looked at the color, ebbing and flowing in the girl's cheeks; at her brows and lashes; at her neck, as white as swan's-down; and finally put out her hand with a sudden impulse and touched the knot of wavy bronze hair under the brimmed hat.
"I had a daughter once," she said. "My second baby was a girl, but she lived only a few weeks. I need her very much, for I am a great care to Ivory. He is son and daughter both, now that Mr. Boynton is away from home.—You did not see any one in the road as you turned in from the bars, I suppose?"
"No," answered Waitstill, surprised and confused, "but I didn't really notice; I was thinking of a cool place for my horse to stand."
"I sit out here in these warm afternoons," Mrs. Boynton continued, shading her eyes and looking across the fields, "because I can see so far down the lane. I have the supper-table set for my husband already, and there is a surprise for him, a saucer of wild strawberries I picked for him this morning. If he does not come, I always take away the plate and cup before Ivory gets here; it seems to make him unhappy."
"He doesn't like it when you are disappointed, I suppose," Waitstill ventured. "I have brought my knitting, Mrs. Boynton, so that I needn't keep you idle if you wish to work. May I sit down a few minutes? And here is a cottage cheese for Ivory and Rodman, and a jar of plums for you, preserved from my own garden."
Mrs. Boynton's eyes searched the face of this visitor from a world she had almost forgotten and finding nothing but tenderness there, said with just a trace of bewilderment: "Thank you yes, do sit down; my workbasket is just inside the door. Take that rocking-chair; I don't have another one out here because I have never been in the habit of seeing visitors."
"I hope I am not intruding," stammered Waitstill, seating herself and beginning her knitting, to see if it would lessen the sense of strain between them.
"Not at all. I always loved young and beautiful people, and so did my husband. If he comes while you are here, do not go away, but sit with him while I get his supper. If Elder Cochrane should be with him, you would see two wonderful men. They went away together to do some missionary work in Maine and New Hampshire and perhaps they will come back together. I do not welcome callers because they always ask so many difficult questions, but you are different and have asked me none at all."
"I should not think of asking questions, Mrs. Boynton."
"Not that I should mind answering them," continued Ivory's mother, "except that it tires my head very much to think. You must not imagine I am ill; it is only that I have a very bad memory, and when people ask me to remember something, or to give an answer quickly, it confuses me the more. Even now I have forgotten why you came, and where you live; but I have not forgotten your beautiful name."
"Ivory thought you might be lonely, and I wanted so much to know you that I could not keep away any longer, for I am lonely and unhappy too. I am always watching and hoping for what has never come yet. I have no mother, you have lost your daughter; I thought—I thought—perhaps we could be a comfort to each other!" And Waitstill rose from her chair and put out her hand to help Mrs. Boynton down the steps, she looked so frail, so transparent, so prematurely aged. "I could not come very often—but if I could only smooth your hair sometimes when your head aches, or do some cooking for you, or read to you, or any little thing like that, as I would fer my own mother—if I could, I should be so glad!"
Waitstill stood a head higher than Ivory's mother and the glowing health of her, the steadiness of her voice, the warmth of her hand-clasp must have made her seem like a strong refuge to this storm-tossed derelict. The deep furrow between Lois Boynton's eyes relaxed a trifle, the blood in her veins ran a little more swiftly under the touch of the young hand that held hers so closely. Suddenly a light came into her face and her lip quivered.
"Perhaps I have been remembering wrong all these years," she said. "It is my great trouble, remembering wrong. Perhaps my baby did not die as I thought; perhaps she lived and grew up; perhaps" (her pale cheek burned and her eyes shone like stars) "perhaps she has come back!"
Waitstill could not speak; she put her arm round the trembling figure, holding her as she was wont to hold Patty, and with the same protective instinct. The embrace was electric in its effect and set altogether new currents of emotion in circulation. Something in Lois Boynton's perturbed mind seemed to beat its wings against the barriers that had heretofore opposed it, and, freeing itself, mounted into clearer air and went singing to the sky. She rested her cheek on the girl's breast with a little sob. "Oh! let me go on remembering wrong," she sighed, from that safe shelter. "Let me go on remembering wrong! It makes me so happy!"
Waitstill gently led her to the rocking-chair and sat down beside her on the lowest step, stroking her thin hand. Mrs. Boynton's eyes were closed, her breath came and went quickly, but presently she began to speak hurriedly, as if she were relieving a surcharged heart.
"There is something troubling me," she began, "and it would ease my mind if I could tell it to some one who could help. Your hand is so warm and so firm! Oh, hold mine closely and let me draw in strength as long as you can spare it; it is flowing, flowing from your hand into mine, flowing like wine.... My thoughts at night are not like my thoughts by day, these last weeks.... I wake suddenly and feel that my husband has been away a long time and will never come back.... Often, at night, too, I am in sore trouble about something else, something I have never told Ivory, the first thing I have ever hidden from my dear son, but I think I could tell you, if only I could be sure about it."
"Tell me if it will help you; I will try to understand," said Waitstill brokenly.
"Ivory says Rodman is the child of my dead sister. Some one must have told him so; could it have been I? It haunts me day and night, for unless I am remembering wrong again, I never had a sister. I can call to mind neither sister nor brother."
"You went to New Hampshire one winter," Waitstill reminded her gently, as if she were talking to a child. "It was bitter cold for you to take such a hard journey. Your sister died, and you brought her little boy, Rodman, back, but you were so ill that a stranger had to take care of you on the stage-coach and drive you to Edgewood next day in his own sleigh. It is no wonder you have forgotten something of what happened, for Dr. Perry hardly brought you through the brain fever that followed that journey."
"I seem to think, now, that it is not so!" said Mrs. Boynton, opening her eyes and looking at Waitstill despairingly. "I must grope and grope in the dark until I find out what is true, and then tell Ivory. God will punish false speaking! His heart is closed against lies and evil-doing!"
"He will never punish you if your tired mind remembers wrong," said Waitstill. "He knows, none better, how you have tried to find Him and hold Him, through many a tangled path. I will come as often as I can and we will try to frighten away these worrying thoughts."
"If you will only come now and then and hold my hand," said Ivory's mother,—"hold my hand so that your strength will flow into my weakness, perhaps I shall puzzle it all out, and God will help me to remember right before I die."
"Everything that I have power to give away shall be given to you," promised Waitstill. "Now that I know you, and you trust me, you shall never be left so alone again,—not for long, at any rate. When I stay away you will remember that I cannot help it, won't you?"