The Story Of Waitstill Baxter
by By Kate Douglas Wiggin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Yes, I shall think of you till I see you again I shall watch the long lane more than ever now. Ivory sometimes takes the path across the fields but my dear husband will come by the old road, and now there will be you to look for!"


AT the Baxters the late supper was over and the girls had not sat at the table with their father, having eaten earlier, by themselves. The hired men had gone home to sleep. Patty had retired to the solitude of her bedroom almost at dusk, quite worn out with the heat, and Waitstill sat under the peach tree in the corner of her own little garden, tatting, and thinking of her interview with Ivory's mother. She sat there until nearly eight o'clock, trying vainly to put together the puzzling details of Lois Boynton's conversation, wondering whether the perplexities that vexed her mind were real or fancied, but warmed to the heart by the affection that the older woman seemed instinctively to feel for her. "She did not know me, yet she cared for me at once," thought Waitstill tenderly and proudly; "and I for her, too, at the first glance."

She heard her father lock the barn and shed and knew that he would be going upstairs immediately, so she quickly went through the side yard and lifted the latch of the kitchen door. It was fastened. She went to the front door and that, too, was bolted, although it had been standing open all the evening, so that if a breeze should spring up, it might blow through the house. Her father supposed, of course, that she was in bed, and she dreaded to bring him downstairs for fear of his anger; still there was no help for it and she rapped smartly at the side door. There was no answer and she rapped again, vexed with her own carelessness. Patty's face appeared promptly behind her screen of mosquito netting in the second story, but before she could exchange a word with her sister, Deacon Baxter opened the blinds of his bedroom window and put his head out.

"You can try sleepin' outdoors, or in the barn to-night," he called. "I didn't say anything to you at supper-time because I wanted to see where you was intendin' to prowl this evenin'."

"I haven't been 'prowling' anywhere, father," answered Waitstill; "I've been out in the garden cooling off; it's only eight o'clock."

"Well, you can cool off some more," he shouted, his temper now fully aroused; "or go back where you was this afternoon and see if they'll take you in there! I know all about your deceitful tricks! I come home to grind the scythes and found the house and barn empty Cephas said you'd driven up Saco Hill and I took his horse and followed you and saw where you went Long's you couldn't have a feller callin' on you here to home, you thought you'd call on him, did yer, you bold-faced hussy?"

"I am nothing of the sort," the girl answered him quietly; "Ivory Boynton was not at his house, he was in the hay-field. You know it, and you know that I knew it. I went to see a sick, unhappy woman who has no neighbors. I ought to have gone long before. I am not ashamed of it, and I don't regret it. If you ask unreasonable things of me, you must expect to be disobeyed once in a while.

"Must expect to be disobeyed, must I?" the old man cried, his face positively terrifying in its ugliness. "We'll see about that! If you wa'n't callin' on a young man, you were callin' on a crazy woman, and I won't have it, I tell you, do you hear? I won't have a daughter o' mine consortin' with any o' that Boynton crew. Perhaps a night outdoors will teach you who's master in this house, you imperdent, shameless girl! We'll try it, anyway!" And with that he banged down the window and disappeared, gibbering and jabbering impotent words that she could hear but not understand.

Waitstill was almost stunned by the suddenness of this catastrophe. She stood with her feet rooted to the earth for several minutes and then walked slowly away out of sight of the house. There was a chair beside the grindstone under the Porter apple tree and she sank into it, crossed her arms on the back, and bowing her head on them, burst into a fit of weeping as tempestuous and passionate as it was silent, for although her body fairly shook with sobs no sound escaped.

The minutes passed, perhaps an hour; she did not take account of time. The moon went behind clouds, the night grew misty and the stars faded one by one. There would be rain to-morrow and there was a great deal of hay cut, so she thought in a vagrant sort of way.

Meanwhile Patty upstairs was in a state of suppressed excitement and terror. It was a quarter of an hour before her father settled him-self in bed; then an age, it seemed to her, before she heard his heavy breathing. When she thought it quite safe, she slipped on a print wrapper, took her shoes in her hand, and crept noiselessly downstairs, out through the kitchen and into the shed. Lifting the heavy bar that held the big doors in place she closed them softly behind her, stepped out, and looked about her in the darkness. Her quick eye espied in the distance, near the barn, the bowed figure in the chair, and she flew through the wet grass without a thought of her bare feet till she reached her sister's side and held her in a close embrace.

"My darling, my own, own, poor darling!" she cried softly, the tears running down her cheeks. "How wicked, how unjust to serve my dearest sister so! Don't cry, my blessing, don't cry; you frighten me! I'll take care of you, dear! Next time I'll interfere; I'll scratch and bite; yes, I'll strangle anybody that dares to shame you and lock you out of the house! You, the dearest, the patientest, the best!"

Waitstill wiped her eyes. "Let us go farther away where we can talk," she whispered.

"Where had we better sleep?" Patty asked. "On the hay, I think, though we shall stifle with the heat"; and Patty moved towards the barn.

"No, you must go back to the house at once, Patty dear; father might wake and call you, and that would make matters worse. It's beginning to drizzle, or I should stay out in the air. Oh! I wonder if father's mind is going, and if this is the beginning of the end! If he is in his sober senses, he could not be so strange, so suspicious, so unjust."

"He could be anything, say anything, do anything," exclaimed Patty. "Perhaps he is not responsible and perhaps he is; it doesn't make much difference to us. Come along, blessed darling! I'll tuck you in, and then I'll creep back to the house, if you say I must. I'll go down and make the kitchen fire in the morning; you stay out here and see what happens. A good deal will happen, I'm thinking, if father speaks to me of you! I shouldn't be surprised to see the fur flying in all directions; I'll seize the first moment to bring you out a cup of coffee and we'll consult about what to do. I may tell you now, I'm all for running away!"

Waitstill's first burst of wretchedness had subsided and she had recovered her balance. "I'm afraid we must wait a little longer, Patty," she advised. "Don't mention my name to father, but see how he acts in the morning. He was so wild, so unlike himself, that I almost hope he may forget what he said and sleep it off. Yes, we must just wait."

"No doubt he'll be far calmer in the morning if he remembers that, if he turns you out, he faces the prospect of three meals a day cooked by me," said Patty. "That's what he thinks he would face, but as a matter of fact I shall tell him that where you sleep I sleep, and where you eat I eat, and when you stop cooking I stop! He won't part with two unpaid servants in a hurry, not at the beginning of haying." And Patty, giving Waitstill a last hug and a dozen tearful kisses, stole reluctantly back to the house by the same route through which he had left it.

Patty was right. She found the fire lighted when she went down into the kitchen next morning, and without a word she hurried breakfast on to the table as fast as she could cook and serve it. Waitstill was safe in the barn chamber, she knew, and would be there quietly while her father was feeding the horse and milking the cows; or perhaps she might go up in the woods and wait until she saw him driving away.

The Deacon ate his breakfast in silence, looking and acting very much as usual, for he was generally dumb at meals. When he left the house, however, and climbed into the wagon, he turned around and said in his ordinary gruff manner: "Bring the lunch up to the field yourself to-day, Patience. Tell your sister I hope she's come to her senses in the course of the night. You've got to learn, both of you, that my 'say-so' must be law in this house. You can fuss and you can fume, if it amuses you any, but 't won't do no good. Don't encourage Waitstill in any whinin' nor blubberin'. Jest tell her to come in and go to work and I'll overlook what she done this time. And don't you give me any more of your eye-snappin' and lip-poutin' and head-in-the-air imperdence! You're under age, and if you don't look out, you'll get something that's good for what ails you! You two girls jest aid an' abet one another that's what you do, aid an' abet one another, an if you carry it any further I'll find some way o' separatin' you, do you hear?"

Patty spoke never a word, nor fluttered an eyelash. She had a proper spirit, but now her heart was cold with a new fear, and she felt, with Waitstill, that her father must be obeyed and his temper kept within bounds, until God provided them a way of escape.

She ran out to the barn chamber and, not finding Waitstill, looked across the field and saw her coming through the path from the woods. Patty waved her hand, and ran to meet her sister, joy at the mere fact of her existence, of being able to see her again, and of hearing her dear voice, almost choking her in its intensity. When they reached the house she helped her upstairs as if she were a child, brought her cool water to wash away the dust of the haymow, laid out some clean clothes for her, and finally put her on the lounge in the darkened sitting-room.

"I won't let anybody come near the house," she said, "and you must have a cup of tea and a good sleep before I tell you all that father said. Just comfort yourself with the thought that he is going to 'overlook it' this time! After I carry up his luncheon, I shall stop at the store and ask Cephas to come out on the river bank for a few minutes. Then I shall proceed to say what I think of him for telling father where you went yesterday afternoon."

"Don't blame Cephas!" Waitstill remonstrated. "Can't you see just how it happened? He and Uncle Bart were sitting in front of the shop when I drove by. When father came home and found the house empty and the horse not in the stall, of course he asked where I was, and Cephas probably said he had seen me drive up Saco Hill. He had no reason to think that there was any harm in that."

"If he had any sense he might know that he shouldn't tell anything to father except what happens in the store," Patty insisted. "Were you frightened out in the barn alone last night, poor dear?"

"I was too unhappy to think of fear and I was chiefly nervous about you, all alone in the house with father."

"I didn't like it very much, myself! I buttoned my bedroom door and sat by the window all night, shivering and bristling at the least sound. Everybody calls me a coward, but I'm not! Courage isn't not being frightened; it's not screeching when you are frightened. Now, what happened at the Boyntons'?"

"Patty, Ivory's mother is the most pathetic creature I ever saw!" And Waitstill sat up on the sofa, her long braids of hair hanging over her shoulders, her pale face showing the traces of her heavy weeping. "I never pitied any one so much in my whole life! To go up that long, long lane; to come upon that dreary house hidden away in the trees; to feel the loneliness and the silence; and then to know that she is living there like a hermit-thrush in a forest, without a woman to care for her, it is heart-breaking!"

"How does the house look,—dreadful?"

"No: everything is as neat as wax. She isn't 'crazy,' Patty, as we understand the word. Her mind is beclouded somehow and it almost seems as if the cloud might lift at any moment. She goes about like somebody in a dream, sewing or knitting or cooking. It is only when she talks, and you notice that her eyes really see nothing, but are looking beyond you, that you know there is anything wrong."

"If she appears so like other people, why don't the neighbors go to see her once in a while?"

"Callers make her unhappy, she says, and Ivory told me that he dared not encourage any company in the house for fear of exciting her, and making her an object of gossip, besides. He knows her ways perfectly and that she is safe and content with her fancies when she is alone, which is seldom, after all."

"What does she talk about?" asked Patty.

"Her husband mostly. She is expecting him to come back daily. We knew that before, of course, but no one can realize it till they see her setting the table for him and putting a saucer of wild strawberries by his plate; going about the kitchen softly, like a gentle ghost."

"It gives me the shudders!" said Patty. "I couldn't bear it! If she never sees strangers, what in the world did she make of you? How did you begin?"

"I told her I had known Ivory ever since we were school children. She was rather strange and indifferent at first, and then she seemed to take a fancy to me."

"That's queer!" said Patty, smiling fondly and giving Waitstill's hair the hasty brush of a kiss.

"She told me she had had a girl baby, born two or three years after Ivory, and that she had always thought it died when it was a few weeks old. Then suddenly she came closer to me—

"Oh! Waity, weren't you terrified?"

"No, not in the least. Neither would you have been if you had been there. She put her arms round me and all at once I understood that the poor thing mistook me just for a moment for her own daughter come back to life. It was a sudden fancy and I don't think it lasted, but I didn't know how to deal with it, or contradict it, so I simply tried to soothe her and let her ease her heart by talking to me. She said when I left her: 'Where is your house? I hope it is near! Do come again and sit with me. Strength flows into my weakness when you hold my hand!' I somehow feel, Patty, that she needs a woman friend even more than a doctor. And now, what am I to do? How can I forsake her; and yet here is this new difficulty with father?"

"I shouldn't forsake her; go there when you can, but be more careful about it. You told father that you didn't regret what you had done, and that when he ordered you to do unreasonable things, you should disobey him. After all, you are not a black slave. Father will never think of that particular thing again, perhaps, any more than he ever alluded to my driving to Saco with Mrs. Day after you had told him it was necessary for one of us to go there occasionally. He knows that if he is too hard on us, Dr. Perry or Uncle Bart would take him in hand. They would have done it long ago if we had ever given any one even a hint of what we have to endure. You will be all right, because you only want to do kind, neighborly things. I am the one that will always have to suffer, because I can't prove that it's a Christian duty to deceive father and steal off to a dance or a frolic. Yet I might as well be a nun in a convent for all the fun I get! I want a white book-muslin dress; I want a pair of thin shoes with buckles; I want a white hat with a wreath of yellow roses; I want a volume of Byron's poems; and oh! nobody knows—nobody but the Lord could understand—how I want a string of gold beads."

"Patty, Patty! To hear you chatter anybody would imagine you thought of nothing but frivolities. I wish you wouldn't do yourself such injustice; even when nobody hears you but me, it is wrong."

"Sometimes when you think I'm talking nonsense it's really the gospel truth," said Patty. "I'm not a grand, splendid character, Waitstill, and it's no use your deceiving yourself about me; if you do, you'll be disappointed."

"Go and parboil the beans and get them into the pot, Patty. Pick up some of the windfalls and make a green-apple pie, and I'll be with you in the kitchen myself before long. I never expect to be disappointed in you, Patty, only continually surprised and pleased."

"I thought I'd begin making some soft soap to-day," said Patty mischievously, as she left the room. "We have enough grease saved up. We don't really need it yet, but it makes such a disgusting smell that I'd rather like father to have it with his dinner. It's not much of a punishment for our sleepless night."



HAYING was over, and the close, sticky dog-days, too, and August was slipping into September. There had been plenty of rain all the season and the countryside was looking as fresh and green as an emerald. The hillsides were already clothed with a verdant growth of new grass and

"The red pennons of the cardinal flowers Hung motionless upon their upright staves."

How they gleamed in the meadow grasses and along the brooksides like brilliant flecks of flame, giving a new beauty to the nosegays that Waitstill carried or sent to Mrs. Boynton every week.

To the eye of the casual observer, life in the two little villages by the river's brink went on as peacefully as ever, but there were subtle changes taking place nevertheless. Cephas Cole had "asked" the second time and again had been refused by Patty, so that even a very idiot for hopefulness could not urge his father to put another story on the ell.

"If it turns out to be Phoebe Day," thought Cephas dolefully, "two rooms is plenty good enough, an' I shan't block up the door that leads from the main part, neither, as I thought likely I should. If so be it's got to be Phoebe, not Patty, I shan't care whether mother troops out 'n' in or not." And Cephas dealt out rice and tea and coffee with so languid an air, and made such frequent mistakes in weighing the sugar, that he drew upon himself many a sharp rebuke from the Deacon.

"Of course I'd club him over the head with a salt fish twice a day under ord'nary circumstances," Cephas confided to his father with a valiant air that he never wore in Deacon Baxter's presence; "but I've got a reason, known to nobody but myself, for wantin' to stan' well with the old man for a spell longer. If ever I quit wantin' to stan' well with him, he'll get his comeuppance, short an sudden!"

"Speakin' o' standin' well with folks, Phil Perry's kind o' makin' up to Patience Baxter, ain't he, Cephas?" asked Uncle Bart guardedly. "Mebbe you wouldn't notice it, hevin' no partic'lar int'rest, but your mother's kind o got the idee into her head lately, an' she's turrible far-sighted."

"I guess it's so!" Cephas responded gloomily. "It's nip an' tuck 'tween him an' Mark Wilson. That girl draws 'em as molasses does flies! She does it 'thout liftin' a finger, too, no more 'n the molasses does. She just sets still an' IS! An' all the time she's nothin' but a flighty little red-headed spitfire that don't know a good husband when she sees one. The feller that gits her will live to regret it, that's my opinion!" And Cephas thought to himself: "Good Lord, don't I wish I was regrettin' it this very minute!"

"I s'pose a girl like Phoebe Day'd be consid'able less trouble to live with?" ventured Uncle Bart.

"I never could take any fancy to that tow hair o' hern! I like the color well enough when I'm peeling it off a corn cob, but I don't like it on a girl's head," objected Cephas hypercritically. "An' her eyes hain't got enough blue in 'em to be blue: they're jest like skim-milk. An' she keeps her mouth open a little mite all the time, jest as if there wa'n't no good draught through, an' she was a-tryin' to git air. An' 't was me that begun callin' her 'Feeble Phoebe in school, an' the scholars'll never forgit it; they'd throw it up to me the whole 'durin' time if I should go to work an' keep company with her!"

"Mebbe they've forgot by this time," Uncle Bart responded hopefully; "though 't is an awful resk when you think o' Companion Pike! Samuel he was baptized and Samuel he continued to be, 'till he married the Widder Bixby from Waterboro. Bein' as how there wa'n't nothin' partic'ly attractive 'bout him,—though he was as nice a feller as ever lived,—somebody asked her why she married him, an' she said her cat hed jest died an' she wanted a companion. The boys never let go o' that story! Samuel Pike he ceased to be thirty year ago, an' Companion Pike he's remained up to this instant minute!"

"He ain't lived up to his name much," remarked Cephas. "He's to home for his meals, but I guess his wife never sees him between times."

"If the cat hed lived mebbe she'd 'a' been better comp'ny on the whole," chuckled Uncle Bart. "Companion was allers kind o' dreamy an' absent-minded from a boy. I remember askin' him what his wife's Christian name was (she bein' a stranger to Riverboro) an' he said he didn't know! Said he called her Mis' Bixby afore he married her an' Mis' Pike afterwards!"

"Well, there 's something turrible queer 'bout this marryin' business," and Cephas drew a sigh from the heels of his boots. "It seems's if a man hedn't no natcheral drawin' towards a girl with a good farm 'n' stock that was willin' to have him! Seems jest as if it set him ag'in' her somehow! And yet, if you've got to sing out o' the same book with a girl your whole lifetime, it does seem's if you'd ought to have a kind of a fancy for her at the start, anyhow!"

"You may feel dif'rent as time goes on, Cephas, an' come to see Feeble—I would say Phoebe—as your mother does. 'The best fire don't flare up the soonest,' you know." But old Uncle Bart saw that his son's heart was heavy and forbore to press the subject.

Annabel Franklin had returned to Boston after a month's visit and to her surprise had returned as disengaged as she came. Mark Wilson, thoroughly bored by her vacuities of mind, longed now for more intercourse with Patty Baxter, Patty, so gay and unexpected; so lively to talk with, so piquing to the fancy, so skittish and difficult to manage, so temptingly pretty, with a beauty all her own, and never two days alike.

There were many lions in the way and these only added to the zest of pursuit. With all the other girls of the village opportunities multiplied, but he could scarcely get ten minutes alone with Patty. The Deacon's orders were absolute in regard to young men. His daughters were never to drive or walk alone with them, never go to dances or "routs" of any sort, and never receive them at the house; this last mandate being quite unnecessary, as no youth in his right mind would have gone a-courtin' under the Deacon's forbidding gaze. And still there were sudden, delicious chances to be seized now and then if one had his eyes open and his wits about him. There was the walk to or from the singing-school, when a sentimental couple could drop a few feet, at least, behind the rest and exchange a word or two in comparative privacy; there were the church "circles" and prayer-meetings, and the intervals between Sunday services when Mark could detach Patty a moment from the group on the meeting-house steps. More valuable than all these, a complete schedule of Patty's various movements here and there, together with a profound study of Deacon Baxter's habits, which were ordinarily as punctual as they were disagreeable, permitted Mark many stolen interviews, as sweet as they were brief. There was never a second kiss, however, in these casual meetings and partings. The first, in springtime, had found Patty a child, surprised, unprepared. She was a woman now; for it does not take years to achieve that miracle; months will do it, or days, or even hours. Her summer's experience with Cephas Cole had wonderfully broadened her powers, giving her an assurance sadly lacking before, as well as a knowledge of detail, a certain finished skill in the management of a lover, which she could ably use on any one who happened to come along. And, at the moment, any one who happened to come along served the purpose admirably, Philip Perry as well as Marquis Wilson.

Young Perry's interest in Patty, as we have seen, began with his alienation from Ellen Wilson, the first object of his affections, and it was not at the outset at all of a sentimental nature. Philip was a pillar of the church, and Ellen had proved so entirely lacking in the religious sense, so self-satisfied as to her standing with the heavenly powers, that Philip dared not expose himself longer to her society, lest he find himself "unequally yoked together with an unbeliever," thus defying the scriptural admonition as to marriage.

Patty, though somewhat lacking in the qualities that go to the making of trustworthy saints, was not, like Ellen, wholly given over to the fleshpots and would prove a valuable convert, Philip thought; one who would reflect great credit upon him if he succeeded in inducing her to subscribe to the stern creed of the day.

Philip was a very strenuous and slightly gloomy believer, dwelling considerably on the wrath of God and the doctrine of eternal punishment. There was an old "pennyroyal" hymn much in use which describes the general tenor of his meditation:—

"My thoughts on awful subjects roll, Damnation and the dead. What horrors seize the guilty soul Upon a dying bed."

(No wonder that Jacob Cochrane's lively songs, cheerful, hopeful, militant, and bracing, fell with a pleasing sound upon the ear of the believer of that epoch.) The love of God had, indeed, entered Philip's soul, but in some mysterious way had been ossified after it got there. He had intensely black hair, dark skin, and a liver that disposed him constitutionally to an ardent belief in the necessity of hell for most of his neighbors, and the hope of spending his own glorious immortality in a small, properly restricted, and prudently managed heaven. He was eloquent at prayer-meeting and Patty's only objection to him there was in his disposition to allude to himself as a "rebel worm," with frequent references to his "vile body." Otherwise, and when not engaged in theological discussion, Patty liked Philip very much. His own father, although an orthodox member of the fold in good and regular standing, had "doctored" Phil conscientiously for his liver from his youth up, hoping in time to incite in him a sunnier view of life, for the doctor was somewhat skilled in adapting his remedies to spiritual maladies. Jed Morrill had always said that when old Mrs. Buxton, the champion convert of Jacob Cochrane, was at her worst,—keeping her whole family awake nights by her hysterical fears for their future,—Dr. Perry had given her a twelfth of a grain of tartar emetic, five times a day until she had entire mental relief and her anxiety concerning the salvation of her husband and children was set completely at rest.

The good doctor noted with secret pleasure his son's growing fondness for the society of his prime favorite, Miss Patience Baxter. "He'll begin by trying to save her soul," he thought; "Phil always begins that way, but when Patty gets him in hand he'll remember the existence of his heart, an organ he has never taken into consideration. A love affair with a pretty girl, good but not too pious, will help Phil considerable, however it turns out."

There is no doubt but that Phil was taking his chances and that under Patty's tutelage he was growing mellower. As for Patty, she was only amusing herself, and frisking, like a young lamb, in pastures where she had never strayed before. Her fancy flew from Mark to Phil and from Phil back to Mark again, for at the moment she was just a vessel of emotion, ready to empty herself on she knew not what. Temperamentally, she would take advantage of currents rather than steer at any time, and it would be the strongest current that would finally bear her away. Her idea had always been that she could play with fire without burning her own fingers, and that the flames she kindled were so innocent and mild that no one could be harmed by them. She had fancied, up to now, that she could control, urge on, or cool down a man's feeling forever and a day, if she chose, and remain mistress of the situation. Now, after some weeks of weighing and balancing her two swains, she found herself confronting a choice, once and for all. Each of them seemed to be approaching the state of mind where he was likely to say, somewhat violently: "Take me or leave me, one or the other!" But she did not wish to take them, and still less did she wish to leave them, with no other lover in sight but Cephas Cole, who was almost, though not quite, worse than none.

If matters, by lack of masculine patience and self-control, did come to a crisis, what should she say definitely to either of her suitors? Her father despised Mark Wilson a trifle more than any young man on the river, and while he could have no objection to Phil Perry's character or position in the world, his hatred of old Dr. Perry amounted to a disease. When the doctor had closed the eyes of the third Mrs. Baxter, he had made some plain and unwelcome statements that would rankle in the Deacon's breast as long as he lived. Patty knew, therefore, that the chance of her father's blessing falling upon her union with either of her present lovers was more than uncertain, and of what use was an engagement, if there could not be a marriage?

If Patty's mind inclined to a somewhat speedy departure from her father's household, she can hardly be blamed, but she felt that she could not carry any of her indecisions and fears to her sister for settlement. Who could look in Waitstill's clear, steadfast eyes and say: "I can't make up my mind which to marry"? Not Patty. She felt, instinctively, that Waitstill's heart, if it moved at all, would rush out like a great river to lose itself in the ocean, and losing itself forget the narrow banks through which it had flowed before. Patty knew that her own love was at the moment nothing more than the note of a child's penny flute, and that Waitstill was perhaps vibrating secretly with a deeper, richer music than could ever come to her. Still, music of some sort she meant to feel. "Even if they make me decide one way or another before I am ready," she said to herself, "I'll never say 'yes' till I'm more in love than I am now!"

There were other reasons why she did not want to ask Waitstill's advice. Not only did she shrink from the loving scrutiny of her sister's eyes, and the gentle probing of her questions, which would fix her own motives on a pin-point and hold them up unbecomingly to the light; but she had a foolish, generous loyalty that urged her to keep Waitstill quite aloof from her own little private perplexities.

"She will only worry herself sick," thought Patty. "She won't let me marry without asking father's permission, and she'd think she ought not to aid me in deceiving him, and the tempest would be twice as dreadful if it fell upon us both! Now, if anything happens, I can tell father that I did it all myself and that Waitstill knew nothing about it whatever. Then, oh, joy! if father is too terrible, I shall be a married woman and I can always say: 'I will not permit such cruelty! Waitstill is dependent upon you no longer, she shall come at once to my husband and me!'"

This latter phrase almost intoxicated Patty, so that there were moments when she could have run up to Milliken's Mills and purchased herself a husband at any cost, had her slender savings permitted the best in the market; and the more impersonal the husband the more delightedly Patty rolled the phrase under her tongue.

"I can never be 'published' in church," she thought, "and perhaps nobody will ever care enough about me to brave father's displeasure and insist on running away with me. I do wish somebody would care 'frightfully' about me, enough for that; enough to help me make up my mind; so that I could just drive up to father's store some day and say: 'Good afternoon, father! I knew you'd never let me marry—'" (there was always a dash here, in Patty's imaginary discourses, a dash that could be filled in with any Christian name according to her mood of the moment)"'so I just married him anyway; and you needn't be angry with my sister, for she knew nothing about it. My husband and I are sorry if you are displeased, but there's no help for it; and my husband's home will always be open to Waitstill, whatever happens.'"

Patty, with all her latent love of finery and ease, did not weigh the worldly circumstances of the two men, though the reflection that she would have more amusement with Mark than with Philip may have crossed her mind. She trusted Philip, and respected his steady-going, serious view of life; it pleased her vanity, too, to feel how her nonsense and fun lightened his temperamental gravity, playing in and out and over it like a butterfly in a smoke bush. She would be safe with Philip always, but safety had no special charm for one of her age, who had never been in peril. Mark's superior knowledge of the world, moreover, his careless, buoyant manner of carrying himself, his gay, boyish audacity, all had a very distinct charm for her;—and yet—

But there would be no "and yet" a little later. Patty's heart would blaze quickly enough when sufficient heat was applied to it, and Mark was falling more and more deeply in love every day. As Patty vacillated, his purpose strengthened; the more she weighed, the more he ceased to weigh, the difficulties of the situation; the more she unfolded herself to him, the more he loved and the more he respected her. She began by delighting his senses; she ended by winning all that there was in him, and creating continually the qualities he lacked, after the manner of true women even when they are very young and foolish.


SUMMER was dying hard, for although it had passed, by the calendar, Mother Nature was still keeping up her customary attitude.

There had been a soft rain in the night and every spear of grass was brilliantly green and tipped with crystal. The smoke bushes in the garden plot, and the asparagus bed beyond them, looked misty as the sun rose higher, drying the soaked earth and dripping branches. Spiders' webs, marvels of lace, dotted the short grass under the apple trees. Every flower that had a fragrance was pouring it gratefully into the air; every bird with a joyous note in its voice gave it more joyously from a bursting throat; and the river laughed and rippled in the distance at the foot of Town House Hill. Then dawn grew into full morning and streams of blue smoke rose here and there from the Edgewood chimneys. The world was alive, and so beautiful that Waitstill felt like going down on her knees in gratitude for having been born into it and given a chance of serving it in any humble way whatsoever.

Wherever there was a barn, in Riverboro or Edgewood, one could have heard the three-legged stools being lifted from the pegs, and then would begin the music of the milk-pails; first the resonant sound of the stream on the bottom of the tin pail, then the soft delicious purring of the cascade into the full bucket, while the cows serenely chewed their cuds and whisked away the flies with swinging tails. Deacon Baxter was taking his cows to a pasture far over the hill, the feed having grown too short in his own fields. Patty was washing dishes in the kitchen and Waitstill was in the dairy-house at the butter-making, one of her chief delights. She worked with speed and with beautiful sureness, patting, squeezing, rolling the golden mass, like the true artist she was, then turning the sweet-scented waxen balls out of the mould on to the big stone-china platter that stood waiting. She had been up early and for the last hour she had toiled with devouring eagerness that she might have a little time to herself. It was hers now, for Patty would be busy with the beds after she finished the dishes, so she drew a folded paper from her pocket, the first communication she had ever received in Ivory's handwriting, and sat down to read it.


Rodman will take this packet and leave it with you when he finds opportunity. It is not in any real sense a letter, so I am in no danger of incurring your father's displeasure. You will probably have heard new rumors concerning my father during the past few days, for Peter Morrill has been to Enfield, New Hampshire, where he says letters have been received stating that my father died in Cortland, Ohio, more than five years ago. I shall do what I can to substantiate this fresh report as I have always done with all the previous ones, but I have little hope of securing reliable information at this distance, and after this length of time. I do not know when I can ever start on a personal quest myself, for even had I the money I could not leave home until Rodman is much older, and fitted for greater responsibility. Oh! Waitstill, how you have helped my poor, dear mother! Would that I were free to tell you how I value your friendship! It is something more than mere friendship! What you are doing is like throwing a life-line to a sinking human being. Two or three times, of late, mother has forgotten to set out the supper things for my father. Her ten years' incessant waiting for him seems to have subsided a little, and in its place she watches for you. [Ivory had written "watches for her daughter" but carefully erased the last two words.] You come but seldom, but her heart feeds on the sight of you. What she needed, it seems, was the magical touch of youth and health and strength and sympathy, the qualities you possess in such great measure.

If I had proof of my father's death I think now, perhaps, that I might try to break it gently to my mother, as if it were fresh news, and see if possibly I might thus remove her principal hallucination. You see now, do you not, how sane she is in many, indeed in most ways,—how sweet and lovable, even how sensible?

To help you better to understand the influence that has robbed me of both father and mother and made me and mine the subject of town and tavern gossip for years past, I have written for you just a sketch of the "Cochrane craze"; the romantic story of a man who swayed the wills of his fellow-creatures in a truly marvellous manner. Some local historian of his time will doubtless give him more space; my wish is to have you know something more of the circumstances that have made me a prisoner in life instead of a free man; but prisoner as I am at the moment, I am sustained just now by a new courage. I read in my copy of Ovid last night: "The best of weapons is the undaunted heart." This will help you, too, in your hard life, for yours is the most undaunted heart in all the world.


The chronicle of Jacob Cochrane's career in the little villages near the Saco River has no such interest for the general reader as it had for Waitstill Baxter. She hung upon every word that Ivory had written and realized more clearly than ever before the shadow that had followed him since early boyhood; the same shadow that had fallen across his mother's mind and left, continual twilight there.

No one really knew, it seemed, why or from whence Jacob Cochrane had come to Edgewood. He simply appeared at the old tavern, a stranger, with satchel in hand, to seek entertainment. Uncle Bart had often described this scene to Waitstill, for he was one of those sitting about the great open fire at the time. The man easily slipped into the group and soon took the lead in conversation, delighting all with his agreeable personality, his nimble tongue and graceful speech. At supper-time the hostess and the rest of the family took their places at the long table, as was the custom, and he astonished them by his knowledge not only of town history, but of village matters they had supposed unknown to any one.

When the stranger had finished his supper and returned to the bar-room, he had to pass through a long entry, and the landlady, whispering to her daughter, said:—

"Betsy, you go up to the chamber closet and get the silver and bring it down. This man is going to sleep there and I am afraid of him. He must be a fortune-teller, and the Lord only knows what else!"

In going to the chamber the daughter had to pass through the bar-room. As she was moving quietly through, hoping to escape the notice of the newcomer, he turned in his chair, and looking her full in the face, suddenly said:—

"Madam, you needn't touch your silver. I don't want it. I am a gentleman."

Whereupon the bewildered Betsy scuttled back to her mother and told her the strange guest was indeed a fortune-teller.

Of Cochrane's initial appearance as a preacher Ivory had told Waitstill in their talk in the churchyard early in the summer. It was at a child's funeral that the new prophet created his first sensation and there, too, that Aaron and Lois Boynton first came under his spell. The whole countryside had been just then wrought up to a state of religious excitement by revival meetings and Cochrane gained the benefit of this definite preparation for his work. He claimed that all his sayings were from divine inspiration and that those who embraced his doctrine received direct communication from the Almighty. He disdained formal creeds and all manner of church organizations, declaring sectarian names to be marks of the beast and all church members to be in Babylon. He introduced re-baptism as a symbolic cleansing from sectarian stains, and after some months advanced a proposition that his flock hold all things in common. He put a sudden end to the solemn "deaconing-out" and droning of psalm tunes and grafted on to his form of worship lively singing and marching accompanied by clapping of hands and whirling in circles; during the progress of which the most hysterical converts, or the most fully "Cochranized," would swoon upon the floor; or, in obeying their leader's instructions to "become as little children," would sometimes go through the most extraordinary and unmeaning antics.

It was not until he had converted hundreds to the new faith that he added more startling revelations to his gospel. He was in turn bold, mystical, eloquent, audacious, persuasive, autocratic; and even when his self-styled communications from the "Almighty" controverted all that his hearers had formerly held to be right, he still magnetized or hypnotized them into an unwilling assent to his beliefs. There was finally a proclamation to the effect that marriage vows were to be annulled when advisable and that complete spiritual liberty was to follow; a liberty in which a new affinity might be sought, and a spiritual union begun upon earth, a union as nearly approximate to God's standards as faulty human beings could manage to attain.

Some of the faithful fell away at this time, being unable to accept the full doctrine, but retained their faith in Cochrane's original power to convert sinners and save them from the wrath of God. Storm-clouds began to gather in the sky however, as the delusion spread, month by month and local ministers everywhere sought to minimize the influence of the dangerous orator, who rose superior to every attack and carried himself like some magnificent martyr-at-will among the crowds that now criticized him here or there in private and in public.

"What a picture of splendid audacity he must have been," wrote Ivory, "when he entered the orthodox meeting-house at a huge gathering where he knew that the speakers were to denounce his teachings. Old Parson Buzzell gave out his text from the high pulpit: Mark XIII, 37, 'AND WHAT I SAY UNTO YOU I SAY UNTO ALL, WATCH!' Just here Cochrane stepped in at the open door of the church and heard the warning, meant, he knew, for himself, and seizing the moment of silence following the reading of the text, he cried in his splendid sonorous voice, without so much as stirring from his place within the door-frame: "'Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice I will come in to him and will sup with him,—I come to preach the everlasting gospel to every one that heareth, and all that I want here is my bigness on the floor.'"

"I cannot find," continued Ivory on another page, "that my father or mother ever engaged in any of the foolish and childish practices which disgraced the meetings of some of Cochrane's most fanatical followers and converts. By my mother's conversations (some of which I have repeated to you, but which may be full of errors, because of her confusion of mind), I believe she must have had a difference of opinion with my father on some of these views, but I have no means of knowing this to a certainty; nor do I know that the question of choosing spiritual consorts' ever came between or divided them. This part of the delusion always fills me with such unspeakable disgust that I have never liked to seek additional light from any of the older men and women who might revel in giving it. That my mother did not sympathize with my father's going out to preach Cochrane's gospel through the country, this I know, and she was so truly religious, so burning with zeal, that had she fully believed in my father's mission she would have spurred him on, instead of endeavoring to detain him."

"You know the retribution that overtook Cochrane at last," wrote Ivory again, when he had shown the man's early victories and his enormous influence. "There began to be indignant protests against his doctrines by lawyers and doctors, as well as by ministers; not from all sides however; for remember, in extenuation of my father's and my mother's espousal of this strange belief, that many of the strongest and wisest men, as well as the purest and finest women in York county came under this man's spell for a time and believed in him implicitly, some of them even unto the end.

"Finally there was Cochrane's arrest and examination, the order for him to appear at the Supreme Court, his failure to do so, his recapture and trial, and his sentence of four years imprisonment on several counts, in all of which he was proved guilty. Cochrane had all along said that the Anointed of the Lord would never be allowed to remain in jail, but he was mistaken, for he stayed in the State's Prison at Charlestown, Massachusetts, for the full duration of his sentence. Here (I am again trying to plead the cause of my father and mother), here he received much sympathy and some few visitors, one of whom walked all the way from Edgewood to Boston, a hundred and fifteen miles, with a petition for pardon, a petition which was delivered, and refused, at the Boston State House. Cochrane issued from prison a broken and humiliated man, but if report says true, is still living, far out of sight and knowledge, somewhere in New Hampshire. He once sent my father an epitaph of his own selection, asking him to have it carved upon his gravestone should he die suddenly when away from his friends. My mother often repeats it, not realizing how far from the point it sounds to us who never knew him in his glory, but only in his downfall.

"'He spread his arms full wide abroad His works are ever before his God, His name on earth shall long remain, Through envious sinners fret in vain.'"

"We are certain," concluded Ivory, "that my father preached with Cochrane in Limington, Limerick, and Parsonsfield; he also wrote from Enfield and Effingham in New Hampshire; after that, all is silence. Various reports place him in Boston, in New York, even as far west as Ohio, whether as Cochranite evangelist or what not, alas! we can never know. I despair of ever tracing his steps. I only hope that he died before he wandered too widely, either from his belief in God or his fidelity to my mother's long-suffering love."

Waitstill read the letter twice through and replaced it in her dress to read again at night. It seemed the only tangible evidence of Ivory's love that she had ever received and she warmed her heart with what she felt that he had put between the lines.

"Would that I were free to tell you how I value your friendship!" "My mother's heart feeds on the sight of you!" "I want you to know something of the circumstances that have made me a prisoner in life, instead of a free man." "Yours is the most undaunted heart in all the world!" These sentences Waitstill rehearsed again and again and they rang in her ears like music, converting all the tasks of her long day into a deep and silent joy.


THERE were two grand places for gossip in the community; the old tavern on the Edgewood side of the bridge and the brick store in Riverboro. The company at the Edgewood Tavern would be a trifle different in character, more picturesque, imposing, and eclectic because of the transient guests that gave it change and variety. Here might be found a judge or lawyer on his way to court; a sheriff with a handcuffed prisoner; a farmer or two, stopping on the road to market with a cartful of produce; and an occasional teamster, peddler, and stage-driver. On winter nights champion story-tellers like Jed Morrill and Rish Bixby would drop in there and hang their woollen neck-comforters on the pegs along the wall-side, where there were already hats, topcoats, and fur mufflers, as well as stacks of whips, canes, and ox-goads standing in the corners. They would then enter the room, rubbing their hands genially, and, nodding to Companion Pike, Cephas Cole, Phil Perry and others, ensconce themselves snugly in the group by the great open fireplace. The landlord was always glad to see them enter, for their stories, though old to him, were new to many of the assembled company and had a remarkable greet on the consumption of liquid refreshment.

On summer evenings gossip was languid in the village, and if any occurred at all it would be on the loafer's bench at one or the other side of the bridge. When cooler weather came the group of local wits gathered in Riverboro, either at Uncle Bart's joiner's shop or at the brick store, according to fancy. The latter place was perhaps the favorite for Riverboro talkers. It was a large, two-story, square, brick building with a big-mouthed chimney and an open fire. When every house in the two villages had six feet of snow around it, roads would always be broken to the brick store, and a crowd of ten or fifteen men would be gathered there talking, listening, betting, smoking, chewing, bragging, playing checkers, singing, and "swapping stories."

Some of the men had been through the War of 1812 and could display wounds received on the field of valor; others were still prouder of scars won in encounters with the Indians, and there was one old codger, a Revolutionary veteran, Bill Dunham by name, who would add bloody tales of his encounters with the "Husshons." His courage had been so extraordinary and his slaughter so colossal that his hearers marvelled that there was a Hessian left to tell his side of the story, and Bill himself doubted if such were the case.

"'T is an awful sin to have on your soul," Bill would say from his place in a dark corner, where he would sit with his hat pulled down over his eyes till the psychological moment came for the "Husshons" to be trotted out. "'T is an awful sin to have on your soul,—the extummination of a race o' men; even if they wa'n't nothin' more 'n so many ignorant cockroaches. Them was the great days for fightin'! The Husshons was the biggest men I ever seen on the field, most of 'em standin' six feet eight in their stockin's,—but Lord! how we walloped 'em! Once we had a cannon mounted an' loaded for 'em that was so large we had to draw the ball into it with a yoke of oxen!"

Bill paused from force of habit, just as he had paused for the last twenty years. There had been times when roars of incredulous laughter had greeted this boast, but most of this particular group had heard the yarn more than once and let it pass with a smile and a wink, remembering the night that Abel Day had asked old Bill how they got the oxen out of the cannon on that most memorable occasion.

"Oh!" said Bill, "that was easy enough; we jest unyoked 'em an' turned 'em out o' the primin'-hole!"

It was only early October, but there had been a killing frost, and Ezra Simms, who kept the brick store, flung some shavings and small wood on the hearth and lighted a blaze, just to induce a little trade and start conversation on what threatened to be a dull evening. Peter Morrill, Jed's eldest brother, had lately returned from a long trip through the state and into New Hampshire, and his adventures by field and flood were always worth listening to. He went about the country mending clocks, and many an old time-piece still bears his name, with the date of repairing, written in pencil on the inside of its door.

There was never any lack of subjects at the brick store, the idiosyncrasies of the neighbors being the most prolific source of anecdote and comment. Of scandal about women there was little, though there would be occasional harmless pleasantries concerning village love affairs; prophecies of what couple would be next "published" in the black-walnut frame up at the meeting-house; a genial comment on the number and chances of Patience Baxter's various beaux; and whenever all else failed, the latest story of Deacon Baxter's parsimony, in which the village traced the influence of heredity.

"He can't hardly help it, inheritin' it on both sides," was Abel Day's opinion. "The Baxters was allers snug, from time 'memorial, and Foxy's the snuggest of 'em. When I look at his ugly mug an' hear his snarlin' voice, I thinks to myself, he's goin' the same way his father did. When old Levi Baxter was left a widder-man in that house o' his'n up river, he grew wuss an' wuss, if you remember, till he wa'n't hardly human at the last; and I don't believe Foxy even went up to his own father's funeral."

"'T would 'a' served old Levi right if nobody else had gone," said Rish Bixby. "When his wife died he refused to come into the house till the last minute. He stayed to work in the barn until all the folks had assembled, and even the men were all settin' down on benches in the kitchen. The parson sent me out for him, and I'm blest if the old skunk didn't come in through the crowd with his sleeves rolled up,—went to the sink and washed, and then set down in the room where the coffin was, as cool as a cowcumber."

"I remember that funeral well," corroborated Abel Day. "An' Mis' Day heerd Levi say to his daughter, as soon as they'd put poor old Mrs. Baxter int' the grave: 'Come on, Marthy; there 's no use cryin' over spilt milk; we'd better go home an' husk out the rest o' that corn.' Old Foxy could have inherited plenty o' meanness from his father, that's certain, an' he's added to his inheritance right along, like the thrifty man he is. I hate to think o' them two fine girls wearin' their fingers to the bone for his benefit."

"Oh, well! 't won't last forever," said Rish Bixby. "They're the handsomest couple o' girls on the river an' they'll get husbands afore many years. Patience'll have one pretty soon, by the looks. She never budges an inch but Mark Wilson or Phil Perry are follerin' behind, with Cephas Cole watchin' his chance right along, too. Waitstill don't seem to have no beaux; what with flyin' around to keep up with the Deacon, an' bein' a mother to Patience, her hands is full, I guess."

"If things was a little mite dif'rent all round, I could prognosticate who Waitstill could keep house for," was Peter Morrill's opinion.

"You mean Ivory Boynton? Well, if the Deacon was asked he'd never give his consent, that's certain; an' Ivory ain't in no position to keep a wife anyways. What was it you heerd 'bout Aaron Boynton up to New Hampshire, Peter?" asked Abel Day.

"Consid'able, one way an' another; an' none of it would 'a' been any comfort to Ivory. I guess Aaron 'n' Jake Cochrane was both of 'em more interested in savin' the sisters' souls than the brothers'! Aaron was a fine-appearin' man, and so was Jake for that matter, 'n' they both had the gift o' gab. There's nothin' like a limber tongue if you want to please the women-folks! If report says true, Aaron died of a fever out in Ohio somewheres; Cortland's the place, I b'lieve. Seems's if he hid his trail all the way from New Hampshire somehow, for as a usual thing, a man o' book-larnin' like him would be remembered wherever he went. Wouldn't you call Aaron Boynton a turrible larned man, Timothy?"

Timothy Grant, the parish clerk, had just entered the store on an errand, but being directly addressed, and judging that the subject under discussion was a discreet one, and that it was too early in the evening for drinking to begin, he joined the group by the fireside. He had preached in Vermont for several years as an itinerant Methodist minister before settling down to farming in Edgewood, only giving up his profession because his quiver was so full of little Grants that a wandering life was difficult and undesirable. When Uncle Bart Cole had remarked that Mis' Grant had a little of everything in the way of baby-stock now,—black, red, an' yaller-haired, dark and light complected, fat an' lean, tall an' short, twins an' singles,—Jed Morrill had observed dryly: "Yes, Mis' Grant kind o' reminds me of charity."

"How's that?" inquired Uncle Bart.

"She beareth all things," chuckled Jed.

"Aaron Boynton was, indeed, a man of most adhesive larnin'," agreed Timothy, who had the reputation of the largest and most unusual vocabulary in Edgewood. "Next to Jacob Cochrane I should say Aaron had more grandeloquence as an orator than any man we've ever had in these parts. It don't seem's if Ivory was goin' to take after his father that way. The little feller, now, is smart's a whip, an' could talk the tail off a brass monkey."

"Yes, but Rodman ain't no kin to the Boyntons," Abel reminded him. "He inhails from the other side o' the house."

"That's so; well, Ivory does, for certain, an' takes after his mother, right enough, for she hain't spoken a dozen words in as many years, I guess. Ivory's got a sight o' book-knowledge, though, an' they do say he could talk Greek an' Latin both, if we had any of 'em in the community to converse with. I've never paid no intention to the dead languages, bein' so ocker-pied with other studies."

"Why do they call 'em the dead languages, Tim?" asked Rish Bixby.

"Because all them that ever spoke 'em has perished off the face o' the land," Timothy answered oracularly. "Dead an' gone they be, lock, stock, an' barrel; yet there was a time when Latins an' Crustaceans an' Hebrews an' Prooshians an' Australians an' Simesians was chatterin' away in their own tongues, an' so pow'ful that they was wallopin' the whole earth, you might say."

"I bet yer they never tried to wallop these here United States," interpolated Bill Dunham from the dark corner by the molasses hogs-head.

"Is Ivory in here?" The door opened and Rodman Boynton appeared on the threshold.

"No, sonny, Ivory ain't been in this evening," replied Ezra Simms. "I hope there ain't nothin' the matter over to your house?"

"No, nothing particular," the boy answered hesitatingly; "only Aunt Boynton don't seem so well as common and I can't find Ivory anywhere."

"Come along with me; I'll help you look for him an' then I'll go as fur as the lane with yer if we don't find him." And kindly Rish Bixby took the boy's hand and left the store.

"Mis' Boynton had a spell, I guess!" suggested the storekeeper, peering through the door into the darkness. "'T ain't like Ivory to be out nights and leave her to Rod."

"She don't have no spells," said Abel Day. "Uncle Bart sees consid'able of Ivory an' he says his mother is as quiet as a lamb.—Couldn't you git no kind of a certif'cate of Aaron's death out o' that Enfield feller, Peter? Seems's if that poor woman'd oughter be stopped watchin' for a dead man; tuckerin' herself all out, an' keepin' Ivory an' the boy all nerved up."

"I've told Ivory everything I could gether up in the way of information, and give him the names of the folks in Ohio that had writ back to New Hampshire. I didn't dialate on Aaron's goin's-on in Effingham an' Portsmouth, cause I dassay 't was nothin' but scandal. Them as hates the Cochranites'll never allow there's any good in 'em, whereas I've met some as is servin' the Lord good an' constant, an' indulgin' in no kind of foolishness an' deviltry whatsoever."

"Speakin' o' Husshons," said Bill Dunham from his corner, "I remember—"

"We wa'n't alludin' to no Husshons," retorted Timothy Grant. "We was dealin' with the misfortunes of Aaron Boynton, who never fit valoriously on the field o' battle, but perished out in Ohio of scarlit fever, if what they say in Enfield is true."

"Tis an easy death," remarked Bill argumentatively. "Scarlit fever don't seem like nothin' to me! Many's the time I've been close enough to fire at the eyeball of a Husshon, an' run the resk o' bein' blown to smithereens!—calm and cool I alters was, too! Scarlit fever is an easy death from a warrior's p'int o' view!"

"Speakin' of easy death," continued Timothy, "you know I'm a great one for words, bein' something of a scholard in my small way. Mebbe you noticed that Elder Boone used a strange word in his sermon last Sunday? Now an' then, when there's too many yawnin' to once in the congregation, Parson'll out with a reg'lar jaw-breaker to wake 'em up. The word as near as I could ketch it was 'youthinasia.' I kep' holt of it till noontime an' then I run home an' looked through all the y's in the dictionary without findin' it. Mebbe it's Hebrew, I thinks, for Hebrew's like his mother's tongue to Parson, so I went right up to him at afternoon meetin' an' says to him: 'What's the exact meanin' of "youthinasia"? There ain't no sech word in the Y's in my Webster,' says I. 'Look in the E's, Timothy; "euthanasia"' says he, 'means easy death'; an' now, don't it beat all that Bill Dunham should have brought that expression of 'easy death' into this evenin's talk?"

"I know youth an' I know Ashy," said Abel Day, "but blessed if I know why they should mean easy death when they yoke 'em together." "That's because you ain't never paid no 'tention to entomology," said Timothy. "Aaron Boynton was master o' more 'ologies than you could shake a stick at, but he used to say I beat him on entomology. Words air cur'ous things sometimes, as I know, hevin' had consid'able leisure time to read when I was joggin' 'bout the country an' bein' brought into contack with men o' learnin'. The way I worked it out, not wishin' to ask Parson any more questions, bein' something of a scholard myself, is this: The youth in Ashy is a peculiar kind o' youth, 'n' their religion disposes 'em to lay no kind o' stress on huming life. When anything goes wrong with 'em an' they get a set-back in war, or business, or affairs with women-folks, they want to die right off; so they take a sword an' stan' it straight up wherever they happen to be, in the shed or the barn, or the henhouse, an' they p'int the sharp end right to their waist-line, where the bowels an' other vital organisms is lowcated; an' then they fall on to it. It runs 'em right through to the back an' kills 'em like a shot, and that's the way I cal'late the youth in Ashy dies, if my entomology is correct, as it gen'ally is."

"Don't seem an easy death to me," argued Okra, "but I ain't no scholard. What college did thou attend to, Tim?"

"I don't hold no diaploma," responded Timothy, "though I attended to Wareham Academy quite a spell, the same time as your sister was goin' to Wareham Seminary where eddication is still bein' disseminated though of an awful poor kind, compared to the old times."

"It's live an' larn," said the storekeeper respectfully. "I never thought of a Seminary bein' a place of dissemination before, but you can see the two words is near kin."

"You can't alters tell by the sound," said Timothy instructively. "Sometimes two words'll start from the same root, an' branch out diff'rent, like 'critter' an' 'hypocritter.' A 'hypocritter' must natcherally start by bein' a 'critter,' but a critter ain't obliged to be a 'hypocritter' 'thout he wants to."

"I should hope not," interpolated Abel Day, piously. "Entomology must be an awful interest-in' study, though I never thought of observin' words myself, kept to avoid vulgar language an' profanity."

"Husshon's a cur'ous word for a man," inter-jected Bill Dunham with a last despairing effort. "I remember seein' a Husshon once that—"

"Perhaps you ain't one to observe closely, Abel," said Timothy, not taking note of any interruption, simply using the time to direct a stream of tobacco juice to an incredible distance, but landing it neatly in the exact spot he had intended. "It's a trade by itself, you might say, observin' is, an' there's another sing'lar corraption! The Whigs in foreign parts, so they say, build stone towers to observe the evil machinations of the Tories, an' so the word 'observatory' come into general use! All entomology; nothin' but entomology."

"I don't see where in thunder you picked up so much larnin', Timothy!" It was Abel Day's exclamation, but every one agreed with him.


IVORY BOYNTON had taken the horse and gone to the village on an errand, a rare thing for him to do after dark, so Rod was thinking, as he sat in the living-room learning his Sunday-School lesson on the same evening that the men were gossiping at the brick store. His aunt had required him, from the time when he was proficient enough to do so, to read at least a part of a chapter in the Bible every night. Beginning with Genesis he had reached Leviticus and had made up his mind that the Bible was a much more difficult book than "Scottish Chiefs," not withstanding the fact that Ivory helped him over most of the hard places. At the present juncture he was vastly interested in the subject of "rods" as unfolded in the book of Exodus, which was being studied by his Sunday-School class. What added to the excitement was the fact that his uncle's Christian name, Aaron, kept appearing in the chronicle, as frequently as that of the great lawgiver Moses himself; and there were many verses about the wonder-working rods of Moses and Aaron that had a strange effect upon the boy's ear, when he read them aloud, as he loved to do whenever he was left alone for a time. When his aunt was in the room his instinct kept him from doing this, for the mere mention of the name of Aaron, he feared, might sadden his aunt and provoke in her that dangerous vein of reminiscence that made Ivory so anxious.

"It kind o' makes me nervous to be named 'Rod,' Aunt Boynton," said the boy, looking up from the Bible. "All the rods in these Exodus chapters do such dreadful things! They become serpents, and one of them swallows up all the others: and Moses smites the waters with a rod and they become blood, and the people can't drink the water and the fish die! Then they stretch a rod across the streams and ponds and bring a plague of frogs over the land, with swarms of flies and horrible insects."

"That was to show God's power to Pharaoh, and melt his hard heart to obedience and reverence," explained Mrs. Boynton, who had known the Bible from cover to cover in her youth and could still give chapter and verse for hundreds of her favorite passages.

"It took an awful lot of melting, Pharaoh's heart!" exclaimed the boy. "Pharaoh must have been worse than Deacon Baxter! I wonder if they ever tried to make him good by being kind to him! I've read and read, but I can't find they used anything on him but plagues and famines and boils and pestilences and thunder and hail and fire!—Have I got a middle name, Aunt Boynton, for I don't like Rod very much?"

"I never heard that you had a middle name; you must ask Ivory," said his aunt abstractedly.

"Did my father name me Rod, or my mother?'

"I don't really know; perhaps it was your mother, but don't ask questions, please."

"I forgot, Aunt Boynton! Yes, I think perhaps my mother named me. Mothers 'most always name their babies, don't they? My mother wasn't like you; she looked just like the picture of Pocahontas in my History. She never knew about these Bible rods, I guess."

"When you go a little further you will find pleasanter things about rods," said his aunt, knitting, knitting, intensely, as was her habit, and talking as if her mind were a thousand miles away. "You know they were just little branches of trees, and it was only God's power that made them wonderful in any way."

"Oh! I thought they were like the singing-teacher's stick he keeps time with."

"No; if you look at your Concordance you'll finds it gives you a chapter in Numbers where there's something beautiful about rods. I have forgotten the place; it has been many years since I looked at it. Find it and read it aloud to me." The boy searched his Concordance and readily found the reference in the seventeenth chapter of Numbers.

"Stand near me and read," said Mrs. Boynton. "I like to hear the Bible read aloud!"

Rodman took his Bible and read, slowly and haltingly, but with clearness and understanding:



Through the boy's mind there darted the flash of a thought, a sad thought. He himself was a Rod on whom no man's name seemed to be written, orphan that he was, with no knowledge of his parents!

Suddenly he hesitated, for he had caught sight of the name of Aaron in the verse that he was about to read, and did not wish to pronounce it in his aunt's hearing.

"This chapter is most too hard for me to read out loud, Aunt Boynton," he stammered. "Can I study it by myself and read it to Ivory first?" "Go on, go on, you read very sweetly; I can not remember what comes and I wish to hear it."

The boy continued, but without raising his eyes from the Bible.




Rodman had read on, absorbed in the story and the picture it presented to his imagination. He liked the idea of all the princes having a rod according to the house of their fathers; he liked to think of the little branches being laid on the altar in the tabernacle, and above all he thought of the longing of each of the princes to have his own rod chosen for the blossoming.


Oh! how the boy hoped that Aaron's branch would be the one chosen to blossom! He felt that his aunt would be pleased, too; but he read on steadily, with eyes that glowed and breath that came and went in a very palpitation of interest.



It was Aaron's rod, then, and was an almond branch! How beautiful, for the blossoms would have been pink; and how the people must have marvelled to see the lovely blooming thing on the dark altar; first budding, then blossoming, then bearing nuts! And what was the rod chosen for? He hurried on to the next verse.



"Oh! Aunt Boynton!" cried the boy, "I love my name after I've heard about the almond rod! Aren't you proud that it's Uncle's name that was written on the one that blossomed?"

He turned swiftly to find that his aunt's knitting had slipped on the floor; her nerveless hands drooped by her side as if there were no life in them, and her head had fallen against the back of her chair. The boy was paralyzed with fear at the sight of her closed eyes and the deathly pallor of her face. He had never seen her like this before, and Ivory was away. He flew for a bottle of spirit, always kept in the kitchen cupboard for emergencies, and throwing wood on the fire in passing, he swung the crane so that the tea-kettle was over the flame. He knew only the humble remedies that he had seen used here or there in illness, and tried them timidly, praying every moment that he might hear Ivory's step. He warmed a soapstone in the embers, and taking off Mrs. Boynton's shoes, put it under her cold feet. He chafed her hands and gently poured a spoonful of brandy between her pale lips. Then sprinkling camphor on a handkerchief he held it to her nostrils and to his joy she stirred in her chair; before many minutes her lids fluttered, her lips moved, and she put her hand to her heart.

"Are you better, Aunt dear?" Rod asked in a very wavering and tearful voice.

She did not answer; she only opened her eyes and looked at him. At length she whispered faintly, "I want Ivory; I want my son."

"He's out, Aunt dear. Shall I help you to bed the way Ivory does? If you'll let me, then I'll run to the bridge 'cross lots, like lightning, and bring him back."

She assented, and leaning heavily on his slender shoulder, walked feebly into her bedroom off the living-room. Rod was as gentle as a mother and he was familiar with all the little offices that could be of any comfort; the soapstone warmed again for her feet, the bringing of her nightgown from the closet, and when she was in bed, another spoonful of brandy in hot milk; then the camphor by her side, an extra homespun blanket over her, and the door left open so that she could see the open fire that he made into a cheerful huddles contrived so that it would not snap and throw out dangerous sparks in his absence.

All the while he was doing this Mrs. Boynton lay quietly in the bed talking to herself fitfully, in the faint murmuring tone that was habitual to her. He could distinguish scarcely anything, only enough to guess that her mind was still on the Bible story that he was reading to her when she fainted. "THE ROD OF AARON WAS AMONG THE OTHER RODS," he heard her say; and, a moment later, "BRING AARON'S ROD AGAIN BEFORE THE TESTIMONY."

Was it his uncle's name that had so affected her, wondered the boy, almost sick with remorse, although he had tried his best to evade her command to read the chapter aloud? What would Ivory, his hero, his pattern and example, say? It had always seen Rod's pride to carry his little share of every burden that fell to Ivory, to be faithful and helpful in every task given to him. He could walk through fire without flinching, he thought, if Ivory told him to, and he only prayed that he might not be held responsible for this new calamity.

"I want Ivory!" came in a feeble voice from the bedroom.

"Does your side ache worse?" Rod asked, tip-toeing to the door.

"No, I am quite free from pain."

"Would you be afraid to stay alone just for a while if I lock both doors and run to find Ivory and bring him back?"

"No, I will sleep," she whispered, closing her eyes. "Bring him quickly before I forget what I want to say to him."

Rod sped down the lane and over the fields to the brick store where Ivory usually bought his groceries. His cousin was not there, but one of the men came out and offered to take his horse and drive over the bridge to see if he were at one of the neighbors' on that side of the river. Not a word did Rod breathe of his aunt's illness; he simply said that she was lonesome for Ivory, and so he came to find him. In five minutes they saw the Boynton horse hitched to a tree by the road-side, and in a trice Rod called him and, thanking Mr. Bixby, got into Ivory's wagon to wait for him. He tried his best to explain the situation as they drove along, but finally concluded by saying: "Aunt really made me read the chapter to her, Ivory. I tried not to when I saw Uncle's name in most every verse, but I couldn't help it."

"Of course you couldn't! Now you jump out and hitch the horse while I run in and see that nothing has happened while she's been left alone. Perhaps you'll have to go for Dr. Perry."

Ivory went in with fear and trembling, for there was no sound save the ticking of the tall clock. The fire burned low upon the hearth, and the door was open into his mother's room. He lifted a candle that Rod had left ready on the table and stole softly to her bedside. She was sleeping like a child, but exhaustion showed itself in every line of her face. He felt her hands and feet and found the soapstone in the bed; saw the brandy bottle and the remains of a cup of milk on the light-stand; noted the handkerchief, still strong of camphor on the counterpane, and the blanket spread carefully over her knees, and then turned approvingly to meet Rod stealing into the room on tiptoe, his eyes big with fear.

"We won't wake her, Rod. I'll watch a while, then sleep on the sitting-room lounge."

"Let me watch, Ivory! I'd feel better if you'd let me, honest I would!"

The boy's face was drawn with anxiety. Ivory's attention was attracted by the wistful eyes and the beauty of the forehead under the dark hair. He seemed something more than the child of yesterday—a care and responsibility and expense, for all his loving obedience; he seemed all at once different to-night; older, more dependable, more trustworthy; in fact, a positive comfort and help in time of trouble.

"I did the best I knew how; was anything wrong?" asked the boy, as Ivory stood regarding him with a friendly smile.

"Nothing wrong, Rod! Dr. Perry couldn't have done any better with what you had on hand. I don't know how I should get along without you, boy!" Here Ivory patted Rod's shoulder. "You're not a child any longer, Rod; you're a man and a brother, that's what you are; and to prove it I'll take the first watch and call you up at one o'clock to take the second, so that I can be ready for my school work to-morrow! How does that suit you?"

"Tip-top!" said the boy, flushing with pride. "I'll lie down with my clothes on; it's only nine o'clock and I'll get four hours' sleep; that's a lot more than Napoleon used to have!"

He carried the Bible upstairs and just before he blew out his candle he looked again at the chapter in Numbers, thinking he would show it to Ivory privately next day. Again the story enchanted him, and again, like a child, he put his own name and his living self among the rods in the tabernacle.

"Ivory would be the prince of our house," he thought. "Oh! how I'd like to be Ivory's rod and have it be the one that was chosen to blossom and keep the rebels from murmuring!"


THE replies that Ivory had received from his letters of inquiry concerning his father's movements since leaving Maine, and his possible death in the West, left no reasonable room for doubt. Traces of Aaron Boynton in New Hampshire, in Massachusetts, in New York, and finally in Ohio, all pointed in one direction, and although there were gaps and discrepancies in the account of his doings, the fact of his death seemed to be established by two apparently reliable witnesses.

That he was not unaccompanied in his earliest migrations seemed clear, but the woman mentioned as his wife disappeared suddenly from the reports, and the story of his last days was the story of a broken-down, melancholy, unfriended man, dependent for the last offices on strangers. He left no messages and no papers, said Ivory's correspondent, and never made mention of any family connections whatsoever. He had no property and no means of defraying the expenses of his illness after he was stricken with the fever. No letters were found among his poor effects and no article that could prove his identity, unless it were a small gold locket, which bore no initials or marks of any kind, but which contained two locks of fair and brown hair, intertwined. The tiny trinket was enclosed in the letter, as of no value, unless some one recognized it as a keepsake. Ivory read the correspondence with a heavy heart, inasmuch as it corroborated all his worst fears. He had sometimes secretly hoped that his father might return and explain the reason of his silence; or in lieu of that, that there might come to light the story of a pilgrimage, fanatical, perhaps, but innocent of evil intention, one that could be related to his wife and his former friends, and then buried forever with the death that had ended it.

Neither of these hopes could now ever be realized, nor his father's memory made other than a cause for endless regret, sorrow, and shame. His father, who had begun life so handsomely, with rare gifts of mind and personality, a wife of unusual beauty and intelligence, and while still young in years, a considerable success in his chosen profession. His poor father! What could have been the reasons for so complete a downfall?

Ivory asked Dr. Perry's advice about showing one or two of the briefer letters and the locket to his mother. After her fainting fit and the exhaustion that followed it, Ivory begged her to see the old doctor, but without avail. Finally, after days of pleading he took her hands in his and said: "I do everything a mortal man can do to be a good son to you, mother; won't you do this to please me, and trust that I know what is best?" Whereupon she gave a trembling assent, as if she were agreeing to something indescribably painful, and indeed this sight of a former friend seemed to frighten her strangely.

After Dr. Perry had talked with her for a half-hour and examined her sufficiently to make at least a reasonable guess as to her mental and physical condition, he advised Ivory to break the news of her husband's death to her.

"If you can get her to comprehend it," he said, "it is bound to be a relief from this terrible suspense."

"Will there be any danger of making her worse? Mightn't the shock Cause too violent emotion?" asked Ivory anxiously.

"I don't think she is any longer capable of violent emotion," the doctor answered. "Her mind is certainly clearer than it was three years ago, but her body is nearly burned away by the mental conflict. There is scarcely any part of her but is weary; weary unto death, poor soul. One cannot look at her patient, lovely face without longing to lift some part of her burden. Make a trial, Ivory; it's a justifiable experiment and I think it will succeed. I must not come any oftener myself than is absolutely necessary; she seemed afraid of me."

The experiment did succeed. Lois Boynton listened breathlessly, with parted lips, and with apparent comprehension, to the story Ivory told her. Over and over again he told her gently the story of her husband's death, trying to make it sink into her mind clearly, so that there should be no consequent bewilderment She was calm and silent, though her face showed that she was deeply moved. She broke down only when Ivory showed her the locket.

"I gave it to my husband when you were born, my son!" she sobbed. "After all, it seems no surprise to me that your father is dead. He said he would come back when the Mayflowers bloomed, and when I saw the autumn leaves I knew that six months must have gone and he would never stay away from us for six months without writing. That is the reason I have seldom watched for him these last weeks. I must have known that it was no use!"

She rose from her rocking-chair and moved feebly towards her bedroom. "Can you spare me the rest of the day, Ivory?" she faltered, as she leaned on her son and made her slow progress from the kitchen. "I must bury the body of my grief and I want to be alone at first... If only I could see Waitstill! We have both thought this was coming: she has a woman's instinct... she is younger and stronger than I am, and she said it was braver not to watch and pine and fret as I have done... but to have faith in God that He would send me a sign when He was ready.... She said if I could manage to be braver you would be happier too... ." Here she sank on to her bed exhausted, but still kept up her murmuring faintly and feebly, between long intervals of silence.

"Do you think Waitstill could come to-morrow?" she asked. "I am so much braver when she is here with me.... After supper I will put away your father's cup and plate once and for all, Ivory, and your eyes need never fill with tears again, as they have, sometimes, when you have seen me watching.... You needn't worry about me; I am remembering better these days, and the bells that ring in my ears are not so loud. If only the pain in my side were less and I were not so pressed for breath, I should be quite strong and could see everything clearly at last. ... There is something else that remains to be remembered. I have almost caught it once and it must come to me again before long.... Put the locket under my pillow, Ivory; close the door, please, and leave me to myself.... I can't make it quite clear, my feeling about it, but it seems just as if I were going to bury your father and I want to be alone."


NEW ENGLAND'S annual pageant of autumn was being unfolded day by day in all its accustomed splendor, and the feast and riot of color, the almost unimaginable glory, was the common property of the whole countryside, rich and poor, to be shared alike if perchance all eyes were equally alive to the wonder and the beauty.

Scarlet days and days of gold followed fast one upon the other; Saco Water flowing between quiet woodlands that were turning red and russet and brown, and now plunging through rocky banks all blazing with crimson.

Waitstill Baxter went as often as she could to the Boynton farm, though never when Ivory was at home, and the affection between the younger and the older woman grew closer and closer, so that it almost broke Waitstill's heart to leave the fragile creature, when her presence seemed to bring such complete peace and joy.

"No one ever clung to me so before," she often thought as she was hurrying across the fields after one of her half-hour visits. "But the end must come before long. Ivory does not realize it yet, nor Rodman, but it seems as if she could never survive the long winter. Thanksgiving Day is drawing nearer and nearer, and how little I am able to do for a single creature, to prove to God that I am grateful for my existence! I could, if only I were free, make such a merry day for Patty and Mark and their young friends. Oh! what joy if father were a man who would let me set a bountiful table in our great kitchen; would sit at the head and say grace, and we could bow our heads over the cloth, a united family! Or, if I had done my duty in my home and could go to that other where I am so needed—go with my father's blessing! If only I could live in that sad little house and brighten it! I would trim the rooms with evergreen and creeping-Jenny; I would put scarlet alder berries and white ever-lastings and blue fringed gentians in the vases! I would put the last bright autumn leaves near Mrs. Boynton's bed and set out a tray with a damask napkin and the best of my cooking; then I would go out to the back door where the woodbine hangs like a red waterfall and blow the dinner-horn for my men down in the harvest-field! All the woman in me is wasting, wasting! Oh! my dear, dear man, how I long for him! Oh! my own dear man, my helpmate, shall I ever live by his side? I love him, I want him, I need him! And my dear little unmothered, unfathered boy, how happy I could make him! How I should love to cook and sew for them all and wrap them in comfort! How I should love to smooth my dear mother's last days,—for she is my mother, in spirit, in affection, in desire, and in being Ivory's!"

Waitstill's longing, her discouragement, her helplessness, overcame her wholly, and she flung herself down under a tree in the pasture in a very passion of sobbing, a luxury in which she could seldom afford to indulge herself. The luxury was short-lived, for in five minutes she heard Rodman's voice, and heard him running to meet her as he often did when she came to their house or went away from it, dogging her footsteps or Patty's whenever or wherever he could waylay them.

"Why, my dear, dear Waity, did you tumble and hurt yourself?" the boy cried.

"Yes, dreadfully, but I'm better now, so walk along with me and tell me the news, Rod."

"There isn't much news. Ivory told you I'd left school and am studying at home? He helps me evenings and I'm 'way ahead of the class."

"No, Ivory didn't tell me. I haven't seen him lately."

"I said if the big brother kept school, the little brother ought to keep house," laughed the boy.

"He says I can hire out as a cook pretty soon! Aunt Boynton's 'most always up to get dinner and supper, but I can make lots of things now,— things that Aunt Boynton can eat, too."

"Oh, I cannot bear to have you and Ivory cooking for yourselves!" exclaimed Waitstill, the tears starting again from her eyes. "I must come over the next time when you are at home, Rod, and I can help you make something nice for supper.

"We get along pretty well," said Rodman contentedly. "I love book-learning like Ivory and I'm going to be a schoolmaster or a preacher when Ivory's a lawyer. Do you think Patty'd like a schoolmaster or a preacher best, and do you think I'd be too young to marry her by and by, if she would wait for me?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse