A STORY OF NORTHERN OHIO.
I. A FAILURE
II. THE BLUE CHAMBER
IV. AT THE POST OFFICE
V. MRS. MARKHAM'S VIEWS
VI. WHAT HE THOUGHT OF THINGS
VII. LOGIC OF THE GODS
VIII. A RAMBLE IN THE WOODS, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
IX. A DARKENED SOUL
X. AFTER THE FLOOD
XI. UNCLE ALECK
XII. A CONSECRATION
XIV. THE YOUNG IDEA SHOOTS
XV. SNOW'S PARTY
XVIII. SUGAR MAKING
XX. WHAT THE GIRLS SAID
XXI. A DEPARTURE
XXII. A SHATTERED COLUMN
XXIII. THE STORM
XXIV. A LAW SUIT (TO BE SKIPPED)
XXV. THE WARNING
XXVII. THE BABES IN THE WOODS
XXVIII. AT JUDGE MARKHAM'S
XXXI. OLD BEN
XXXII. THE LETTERS
XXXIII. AT WILDER'S
XXXIV. ROUGH SKETCHES
XXXVI. OLD GID
XXXVII. THE OLD STORY
XXXVIII. THE OLD STORY OVER AGAIN
XXXIX. ABOUT LAWYERS, AND DULL
XL. THE DISGUISE
XLI. THE INVITATION
XLIV. FINDING THE WAY
XLV. SOME THINGS PUT AT REST
XLVI. PRINCE ARTHUR
XLVII. THE TRIAL
XLVIII. THE ADVOCATE
L. THE GOSPEL OF LOVE
LI. THE RETURN
LII. FINAL DREAM LAND
He could see from the top of the hill, down which the road wound to the river, that the bridge was gone, and he paused for a moment with an involuntary feeling that it was useless to go forward; but remembering that his way led across, at all events, he walked down to the bank. There it ran, broad, rapid, and in places apparently deep. He looked up and down in vain: no lodged drift-wood; no fallen trees; no raft or wreck; a recent freshet had swept all clear to high-water mark, and the stream rolled, and foamed, and boiled, and gurgled, and murmured in the afternoon August sun as gleefully and mockingly as if its very purpose was to baffle the wearied youth who looked into and over its changing tide.
In coming from Cleveland that morning he had taken a wrong road, and now, at mid-afternoon, he found his progress stayed with half his day's journey still before him. It would have been but a moment's task to remove his clothes and swim over, but the region was open and clear on that side for a considerable distance, and notwithstanding his solitude, he hesitated to make the transit in that manner. It was apparent, from the little-travelled road, that the stream had been forded by an indirect course, and one not easily determined from the shore. It occurred to him that possibly some team from Cleveland might pass along and take him over; and, wearied, he sat down by his light valise to wait, and at least rest; and as he gazed into the rapid current a half-remembered line of a forgotten poet ran and ran through his mind thus:
"Which running runs, and will run forever on."
His reflections were not cheerful. Three months before he had gone over to Hudson with a very young man's scheme of maintaining himself at school, and finally in college; and finding it impracticable, had strayed off to the lower part of the State with a vague idea of going down the Mississippi, and, perhaps, to Texas. He spent some time with relatives near Cincinnati, and under a sudden impulse—all his plans, as he was pleased to call them, were impulses—he had returned, adding, as he was conscious, another to a long-growing list of failures, which, in the estimation of many acquaintances, also included himself.
His meditations were interrupted by the sound of an approaching carriage coming over the hill. He knew the horses. They were Judge Markham's, and driven by the Judge himself, alone, in a light vehicle. The young man sprang up at the sight. Here was the man whom of all men he most respected, and feared as much as he could fear any man, whose good opinion he most cared to have, and yet who he was conscious had a dislike for him.
The Judge would certainly take him over the river, and so home, but in his frank and ingenuous nature how could he face him on his almost ignominious return? He stood still, a little away from the carriage-track, half wishing he might not be seen. He was seen, however, and a close observer might have discovered the half sneer on the otherwise handsome and manly face of the Judge, who had taken in the situation. The horses were held in a walk as they came down near where the young man stood, with a half ashamed, yet eager, expression of countenance, and turned partly away, as if he expected—in fact, wished for nothing.
"What are you doing here?" called out the Judge.
It was not a wholly courteous inquiry, and scarcely necessary, though not purposely offensive; but the tone and manner struck like an insult on the young man's sensitive spirit, and his answer went back a little sharply:
"I am waiting for the river to run by,"
"Ah! I see. Well, I am glad you have found something that suits you."
There was no mistaking the sarcasm of this remark, and perhaps its sting was deeper than was meant. The Judge was not an unkind man, though he did not relish the reply to his question; he held up his horses on the margin of the water, and perhaps he wanted to be asked by this pert youth for the favor of a passage over. Of course the petition was not, and never would have been made. He lingered a moment, and without another word entered the river, and, turning his horses' heads up stream for a short distance, drove out on the other side; as he turned into the regular track again, he caught a view of the young man standing impassive on the same spot where he first saw him.
It is possible that Judge Markham, the most wealthy and popular man of his region, did not feel wholly at ease as, with his fine team and empty carriage, he drove away, leaving the weary, travel-stained youth standing on the other side of the river; and it is possible that the form of the deserted one may be brought to his memory in the hereafter.
"'Something that suits me'—'something that suits me!' All right, Judge Markham!" and as the carriage was hidden in the woods, the waters that rolled on between them were as nothing to the bitter, swelling tide that, for a moment, swept through the young man's bosom. He was undecided no longer.
Removing his boots and stockings, he entered the river at the point, and, following the course taken by the Judge, he passed out, and resumed his journey homeward.
As he walked rapidly onward, the momentary bitterness subsided. He was not one to hate, or cherish animosities, but he was capable of deep impressions, and of forming strong resolutions. There was a chord of melancholy running through his nature, which, under excitement, often vibrated the longest; and almost any strong emotion left behind a tone of sadness that lingered for hours, and sometimes for days, although his mind was normally buoyant and hopeful.
As he went on over the hills, in the rude pioneer country of Northern Ohio, thirty-six or seven years ago, he thought sad-colored thoughts of the past, or, rather, he recalled sombre memories of the, to him, far-off time, when, with his mother and brothers, he formed one of a sobbing group around a bed whereon a gasping, dying man was vainly trying to say some last words; of afterwards awakening in the deep nights, and listening to the unutterably sweet and mournful singing of his mother, unable to sleep in her loneliness; of the putting away of his baby brother, and the jubilee when he was brought back; of the final breaking up of the family, and of his own first goings away; of the unceasing homesickness and pining with which he always languished for home in his young boy years; of the joy with which he always hurried home, the means by which he would prolong his stay, and the anguish with which he went away again. His mother was to him the chief good. For him, like Providence, she always was, and he could imagine no possible good, or even existence, without her—it would be the end of the world when she ceased to be. And he remembered all the places where he had lived, and the many times he had run away. And then came the memory of Julia Markham, as she was years ago, when he lived in her neighborhood, and her sweet and beautiful mother used to intrust her to his care, in the walks to and from school, down on the State road—Julia, with her great wonderful eyes, and world of wavy hair, and red lips; and then, as she grew into beautiful and ever more beautiful girlhood, he used to be more and more at Judge Markham's house, and used to read to Julia's mother and herself. It was there that he discovered Shakespeare, and learned to like him, and Milton, whom he didn't like and wouldn't read, and the Sketch Book, and Knickerbocker's History, and Cooper's novels, and Scott, and, more than all, Byron, whom Mrs. Markham did not want him to read, recommending, instead, Young's Night Thoughts, and Pollock's Course of Time, and Southey—the dear good woman!
And then came a time when he was in the store of Markham & Co., and finally was taken from the counter, because of his sharp words to customers, and set at the books, and sent away from that post because he illustrated them with caricatures on the margins, and smart personal rhymes. Julia was sixteen, and as sweet a romping, hoydenish, laughing, brave, strong girl as ever bewitched the heart of dreaming youth; and he had taught her to ride on horseback; and then she was sent off, away "down country," to the centre of the world, to Boston, where were uncles and aunts, and was gone, oh, ever and ever so long!—half a lifetime—nearly two years—and came back; and then his thoughts became confused. Then he thought of Judge Markham, and now he was sure that the Judge did not like him; and he remembered that Julia's mother, as he came towards manhood, was kind and patronizing, and that when he went to say good-by to Julia, three months ago, although she knew he was coming, she was not at home, and he only saw her mother and Nell Roberts. Then he thought of all the things he had tried to do within the last two years, and how he had done none of them. People had not liked him, and he had not suspected why, and had not cared. People liked his elder brothers, and he was glad and proud of it; and a jumble of odds and ends and fragments became tangled and snarled in his mind. What would people say of his return? Did he care? He asked nobody's leave to go, and came back on his own account. But his mother—she would look sad; but she would be glad. It certainly was a mistake, his going; could it be a blunder, his returning?
He was thinking shallowly; but deeper thoughts came to him. He began to believe that easy places did not exist; and he scorned to seek them for himself, if they did. The world was as much to be struggled with in one place as another; and, after all, was not the struggle mainly with one's own self, and could that be avoided? Then what in himself was wrong? what should be fought against? Who would tell him? Men spoke roughly to him, and he answered back sharply. He couldn't help doing that. How could he be blamed? He suspected he might be.
He knew there were better things than to chop and clear land, and make black salts, or tend a saw-mill, or drive oxen, or sell tape and calico; but, in these woods, poor and unfriended, how could he find them? Was not his brother Henry studying law at Jefferson, and were they not all proud of him, and did not everybody expect great things of him? But Henry was different from him. Dr. Lyman believed in him; Judge Markham spoke with respect of him. Julia Markham—how inexpressibly lovely and radiant and distant and inaccessible she appeared! And then he felt sore, as if her father had dealt him a blow, and he thought of his sending him away the year before, and wished he had explained. No matter. How he writhed again and again under the sting of his contemptuous sarcasm! "He wouldn't even pick me up; would leave me to lie by the wayside."
Towards sundown, weary and saddened, he reached the centre, "Jugville," as he had named it, years before, in derision. He was a mile and a half from home, and paused a moment to sit on the platform in front of "Marlow's Hotel," and rest. The loungers were present in more than usual force,—Jo and Biather Alexander, old Neaze Savage, old Cal Chase, Tinker,—any number of old and not highly-esteemed acquaintances.
"Hullo, Bart Ridgeley! is that you?"
Bart did not seem to think it necessary to affirm or deny.
"Ben away, hain't ye? Must a-gone purty much all over all creation, these last three months. How's all the folks where you ben?"
No reply. A nod to one or two of the dozen attracted towards him was the only notice he took of them, seeming not to hear the question and comments of Tinker. His silence tempted old Cal, the small joker of the place, to open:
"You's gone an everlastin' while. S'pose you hardly know the place, it's changed so."
"It has changed some," he answered to this; "its bar-room loafers are a good deal more unendurable, and its fools, always large, have increased in size."
A good-natured laugh welcomed this reply.
"There, uncle Cal, it 'pears to me you've got it," said one.
"'Pears to me we've all got it," was the response of that worthy.
"Come in, Bart," said the landlord, "and take something on the strength o' that."
"Thank you, I will be excused; I have a horror of a sudden death;" and, taking up his valise, he started across the fields to the near woods.
"Bully!" "Good!" "You've got that!" cried several to the discomfited seller of drinks. "It is your treat; we'll risk the stuff!" and the party turned in to the bar to realize their expectations.
"There is one thing 'bout it," said Bi, "Bart hain't changed much, anyway."
"And there's another thing 'bout it," said uncle Bill, "a chap that carries such a sassy tongue should be sassy able. He'll answer some chap, some day, that wun't stan' it."
"The man that picks him up'll find an ugly customer; he'd be licked afore he begun. I tell you what, them Ridgeley boys is no fighters, but the stuff's in 'em, and Bart's filled jest full. I'd as liv tackle a young painter." This was Neaze's view.
"That's so," said Jo. "Do you remember the time he had here last fall, with that braggin' hunter chap, Mc-Something, who came along with his rifle, darin' all hands about here to shute with him? He had one of them new peck-lock rifles, and nobody dared shute with him; and Bart came along, and asked to look at the feller's gun, and said something 'bout it, and Mc-Somebody dared him to shute, and Bart sent over to Haw's and got 'old Potleg,' that Steve Patterson shot himself with, and loaded 'er up, and then the hunter feller wouldn't shute except on a bet, and Bart hadn't but fifty cents, and they shot twenty rods off-hand, and Bart beat him; and they doubled the bet, and Bart beat agin, and they went on till Bart won more'n sixty dollars. Sometimes the feller shot wild, and Bart told him he'd have to get a dog to hunt where he hit, and he got mad, and Bart picked up his first half-dollar and pitched it to Jotham, who put up the mark, and left the rest on the ground."
"There come mighty near bein' trouble then, an' there would ha' ben ef the Major hadn't took Bart off," said Bi.
And while these rough, good-natured men talked him over, Barton walked off southerly, across the newly-shorn meadow, to the woods. Twilight was in their depths, and shadows were stealing mysteriously out, and already the faint and subtle aroma which the gathering dew releases from foliage, came out like an incense to bathe the quick and healthy senses of the wearied youth. He removed his hat, opened his bosom, expanded his nostrils and lungs, and drank it as the bee takes nectar from the flowers. What an exquisite sense of relief and quiet came to him, as he found himself lost in the shadows of the young night! Not a tree in these woods that he did not know, and they all seemed to reach out their mossy arms with their myriad of little, cool, green hands, to welcome him back. They knew nothing of his failures and disappointments, and were more sympathizing than the coarse and ribald men whose rude taunts he had just heard, and to whose admiration he was as indifferent as to their sarcasm. These were grand and beautiful maple woods, free from tangling underbrush, and standing thick and stately on wide, gentle slopes; and to-night the lisping breath of the summer evening came to this young but sad and burdened heart, with whispers soothing and restful.
He had never been so long from home before; the nearer he approached it, the more intense his longings grew, and he passed rapidly through the open glades, disappearing momentarily in the obscurity of the thickets, past the deserted sugar camp, until finally the woods grew lighter, the trees more scattered, and he reached the open pasture lands in sight of the low farm-house, which held his mother and home. How strange, and yet familiar, even an absence of only three months made everything! The distance of his journey seemed to have expanded the months into years.
He entered by a back way, and found his mother in the little front sitting-room. She arose with—"Oh, Barton, have you come?" and received from his lips and eyes the testimonials of his heart. She was slight, lithe, and well made, with good Puritan blood, brain, and resolution; and as she stood holding her child by both his hands, and looking eagerly into his face, a stranger would have noticed their striking resemblance. Her face, though womanly, was too marked and strong for beauty. Both had the square decisive brow, and wide, deep eyes—hers a lustrous black, and his dark gray or blue, as the light was. Her hair was abundant, and very dark; his a light brown, thick, wavy, and long. Both had the same aquiline nose, short upper-lip, bland, firm, but soft mouth, and well-formed chin. Her complexion was dark, and his fair—too fair for a man.
"Yes, mother, I have come; are you glad to see me?"
"Glad—very glad, but sorry." She had a good deal of the Spartan in her nature, and received her son with a sense of another failure, and failures were not popular with her. "I did not hear from you—was anxious about you; but now, when you come back to the nothing for you here, I know you found less elsewhere."
"Well, mother, I know I am a dreadful drag even on your patience, and I fear a burden besides, instead of a help. I need not say much to you; you, at least, understand me. It was a mistake to go away as I did, and I bring back all I carried away, with the result of some reflection. I can do as much here as anywhere. I hoped I could do something for you, and I, poor unweaned baby and booby, can do better for myself near you than elsewhere."
Not much was said. She was thoughtful, deep natured, tender, and highly strung, though not demonstrative, and these qualities in him were modified by the soft, sensuous, imaginative elements that came to him—all that he inherited, except his complexion, from his father.
His mother gave him supper, and he sat and inquired about home events, and gave her a pleasant account of their relatives in the lower part of the State. He said nothing of the discovery he had made among them—her own family relatives—that she had married beneath her, and had never been forgiven; and he fancied that he discovered some opening of old, old sorrows, dating back to her girlhood days, as he talked of her relatives. The two younger brothers came rattling in—George, a handsome, eager young threshing-machine, a bright, broad-browed boy, and Edward, older, with drooping head and thoughtful face, and with something of Bart's readiness at reply. George ran to him—
"Oh, Bart, I am so glad! and there is so much—a flock of turkeys—and a wolverine, and oh! so many pigeons and everything—more than you can shoot in all the fall!"
"Well, captain, we will let them all live, I guess, unless that wolverine comes around!"
"There is a real, true wolverine; several have seen him, and he screeches, and yells, and climbs trees, and everything!"
"There is something around," said Edward. "Theodore and Bill Johnson heard him, over in the woods, not a week ago."
"Likely enough," replied Bart; "but wolverines don't climb. There may be a panther. Now, Ed, what has been going on on the farm? Is the haying done?"
"Yes; and the wheat is all in, and most all the oats. The corn is splendid in the old elm lot, and then the Major has been chopping down your old sugar camp, where we worked when you came home from old Hewitt's."
"Oh, dear, that was the loveliest bit of woodland, in the bend of the creek, in all the magnificent woods; well?"
"He has nearly finished the Jenks house," resumed Edward, "and is now at Snow's, in Auburn. He said you would be home before now."
"What about his colts?"
"Oh, Arab runs about wild as ever, and he has Dolf with him."
"How many hands has he with him?"
"Four or five."
"Dr. Lyman asked about you," said George, "and wondered where you were. He said you would be back in three weeks, and that something must have happened."
"It would be lucky for the Doctor's patients," replied Bart, "if something should keep him away three days."
"I guess he wants you to go a-fishing with him. They had a great time down there the other day—he, and Mr. Young, and Sol Johnson. They undertook to put up a sail as Henry and you do, and it didn't work, and they came near upsetting; and' Sol and old man Young were scart, and old Young thought he would get drownded. Oh, it must have been fun!"
And so the boys chippered, chirped, and laughed on to a late bed-time, and then went to bed perfectly happy.
Then came inquiries about Henry, who had written not long before, and had wondered why he had not heard from Barton; and, at last, wearied and worn with his three hundred miles' walk, Bart bade his mother good-night, and went to his old room, to rest and sleep as the young, and healthful, and hopeful, without deep sorrows or the stings of conscience, may do. In the strange freaks of a half-sleeping fancy, in his dreams, he remembered to have heard the screech of a wild animal, and to have seen the face of Julia Markham, pale with the mingled expression of courage and fear.
THE BLUE CHAMBER.
In the morning he found the front yard had a wild and tangled, and the garden a neglected look, and busied himself, with the boys, in improving their appearance.
In the afternoon he overhauled a small desk, the contents of which soon lay about on the floor. There were papers of all colors and sizes—scraps, single sheets, and collections of several pages—all covered with verses in many hands, from that of the young boy to elegant clerkly manuscript. They seemed to represent every style of poetic composition. It would have been amusing to watch the manner and expression with which the youth dealt with these children of his fancy, and to listen to his exclamations of condensed criticism. He evidently found little to commend. As he opened or unrolled one after another, and caught the heading, or a line of the text, he dashed it to the floor, with a single word of contempt, disgust, or derision. "Faugh!" "Oh!" "Pshaw!" "Blank verse? Blank enough!" Some he lingered over for a moment, but his brow never cleared or relented, and each and all were condemned with equal justice and impartiality. When the last was thrown down, and he was certain that none remained, he rose and contemplated their crumpled and creased forms with calm disdain.
"Oh, dear! you thought, some of you, that you might possibly be poetry, you miserable weaklings and beguilers! You are not even verses—are hardly rhymes. You are, one and all, without sense or sound." His brow grew severe in its condemnation. "There! take that! and that! and that!"—stamping them with his foot; "poor broken-backed, halting, limping, club-footed, no-going, unbodied, unsouled, nameless things. How do you like it? What business had you to be? You had no right to be born—never were born; had no capacity for birth; you don't even amount to failures! Words are wasted on you: let me see if you'll burn." Lighting one, he threw it upon the hearth. "It does! I am surprised at that. I rather like it. How blue and faint the flame is—it hardly produces smoke, and"—watching until it was consumed—"no ashes. Too ethereal for smoke and ashes. Let me try the rest;" and he did.
He then opened a small drawer and took out a portfolio, in which were various bits of bristol-board and paper, covered with crayon and pen sketches, and some things in water-colors—all giving evidence of a ready hand which showed some untaught practice. Whether his sense of justice was somewhat appeased, or because he regarded them with more favor, or reserved them for another occasion, was, perhaps, uncertain. Singularly enough, on each of them, no matter what was the subject, appeared one or more young girl's heads—some full-faced, some three-fourths, and more in profile—all spirited, all looking alike, and each having a strong resemblance to Julia Markham. Two or three were studied and deliberate attempts. He contemplated these long and earnestly, and laid them away with a sigh. They undoubtedly saved the collection.
That night he wrote to Henry:
"DEAR BROTHER,—I am back, of course. It is an unpleasant way of mine—this coming back. It was visionary for me to try a fall with the sciences at Hudson. You would have been too many for them; I ran away. I found Colton sick at Cincinnati. The Texan Rangers had left. I looked into the waters of the Ohio, running and hurrying away returnlessly to the south-west. Lord, how they called to me in their liquid offers to carry me away! They seemed to draw me to linger, and gurgle, and murmur in little staying, coaxing eddies at my feet, to persuade me to go.
"How near one seems to that far-off region of fever and swamp, of sun and sea, of adventure and blood, and old buccaneering, standing by those swift waters, already on their way thither! Should I go? Was I not too good to go, and be lost? Think of the high moral considerations involved? No matter, I didn't go—I came! Well!
"On reflection—and I thus assume that I do reflect—I think men don't find opportunities, or, if they do, they don't know them. One must make an opportunity for himself, and then he will know what to do with it. The other day I stood on the other side of the Chagrin waiting for an opportunity, and it didn't come, and I made one. I waded through, and liked it, and that was not the only lesson I learned at the same time. But that other was for my personal improvement. A man can as well find the material for his opportunity in one place as another. See how I excuse myself!
"Just now, I am a reformed young Blue Beard. Fatima and her sister may go—have gone. I have just overhauled my 'Blue Chamber,' taken down all my suspended wives, and burned them. They ended in smoke. Lord! there wasn't flesh and blood enough in them all to decompose, and they gave out no odor even while burning. I burned them all, cleaned off all the blood-spots, ventilated the room, opened the windows, and will turn it to a workshop. No more sighing for the unattainable, no more grasping at the intangible, no more clutching at the impalpable. I am no poet, and we don't want poetry. Our civilization isn't old enough. Poets, like other maggots, will be produced when fermentation comes. I am going about the humdrum and the useful. I am about as low in the public estimation as I can well go; at any rate I am down on hard land, which will be a good starting-point. Now don't go off and become sanguine over me, nor trouble yourself much about me.
"'The world will find me after many a day,' as Southey says of one of his books. I doubt if it ever did. The Doctor contends that Southey was a poet; but then he thinks I am, also!
"What a deuce of a clamor is made about this new comet or planet! What a useful thing to us poor, mud-stranded mortals to find out that there is another little fragment of a world, away some hundreds of millions of miles, outside of no particular where—for I believe this astronomical detective is only on its track! The Doctor is in ecstacies over it, takes it as a special personal favor, and declaims luminously and constellationally about writing one's name among the stars, like that frisky cow who, in jumping over the moon, upon a time, made the milky way. I've always had some doubts about that exploit; but then there is the mark she left. Your friend Roberts is uneasy about this new star business; he is afraid that it will unsettle the cheese market, and he don't know about it, nor do I.
"There! I got home only last night, and haven't heard any news to write you. Some time I will tell of two or three things I saw and heard, and about some of our cousins, who regard us as belonging to the outer and lower skirts of the race. If I am to be one end of a family, let it be the beginning.
"Mother sends love. Edward and George speak of you constantly. I've not seen our Major since my return.
"Write me a good, sharp, cutting, criticising, deuced brotherly letter soon. As ever,
"P.S. Have you read Pickwick?
It was full of badinage, with only a dip or two into an absorbing purpose that he had fully formed, and which he evidenced to himself by the summary expulsion of the muses.
In the world of nature and humanity, is there such an embodiment of contradictions and absurdities as a youth in his transit from the dreamland of boyhood to the battle-field of manhood, through a region partaking of both, and abounding with strange products of its own? I am not speaking of the average boy, such boys as make up the male mass of the world—the undreaming, unthinking, plodding, drudging, sweating herd, whose few old commonplace, well-worn ideas don't possess the power of reproduction, and whose thoughts are thirteenth or thirteen hundredth-handed, and transmitted unimpregnated to other dullards, and whose life and spirit is that of the young animal merely—but a real young man, one of possibilities, intended for a man, and not merely for a male, one in whom the primitive forces of nature are planted, and who may develop into a new driving or forming power. What a mad, impulsive, freaky thing it is! You may see him bruising his still soft head a score of times against the impossible, and he will still contend that he can do it. He will spring frantically up the face of an unclimbable precipice, as the young salmon leaps up a cataract, and die in the faith that he can go up it.
Oh, sublime faith! Oh, sublime folly! What strides he is constantly taking to the ridiculous, and not always from the sublime! How strong! how weak! How wise! how foolish! Consistent only in folly, and steady in the purpose of being foolish. How beautiful, and how ugly! What a lovable, detestable, desirable, proud, wilful, arrogant, supercilious, laughing, passionate, tender, cruel, loving, hating, good sort of a good-for-nothing he is! He believes everything—he believes nothing; and, like Mary's Son, questions and mocks the doctors to their beards in the very temple. Patience! he must have his time, and room to grow in, develop, and shape out. Let him have coral for his teeth, and climbing, and running, and jumping for his muscle. No man may love him, and no woman but his mother, and she is to be tried to the extent of endurance. Wait for him; he will, with or without your help, turn out good or bad, and in either event people will say: "I always told you so," "I always knew it was in him"; and cite a score of unhappened things in proof of their sagacity.
Barton was one of these; neither better nor worse, full of possibilities and capabilities, impulsive, rash, and unreasoning. He has just made a resolve, and will act upon it; proud and sensitive to a degree, he had heard a word of fault once at the store, which another word would have explained. He would not say it, and went. It was discovered that the fault was not his, in time for him to remain; but he left without that word. He is willing to take his chances, and must speak and act for himself.
He sealed and directed his letter, walked about with the plaintive airs of old melodies running and running through his head, and sang snatches and verses of sad old ballads, going over and over with some touching line, or complaining strain, till he was saturated with its tender melancholy, and so he came back to ordinary life.
Newbury was one of the twenty-odd townships, five miles square, that then made up the county of Geauga, and a part of the Western Reserve, the Yankee-doodledom of Ohio, settled exclusively by emigrants from New England. It was so much of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, etc., translated into the broader and freer West. It has been said that the Yankee, like a certain vegetable, heads best when transplanted. It was the old thing over, under new and trying circumstances. The same old ideas and notions, habits of thought and life; poor, economical and thrifty folk, with the same reverence for religion and law, love of education, and restless desire for improvement, and to better the present condition. In the West the Yankee developed his best qualities in the second generation. He became a little straighter and less angular, and wider between the eyes. In the first generation he lived out his life scarcely refracted by the new atmosphere. This crop still stood firm and hardy on the Reserve, and they often turned homesick eyes, talked lovingly and lingeringly of "down country," as they all called loved and cherished New England. Most of the first settlers were poor, but hardy and enterprising. The two last qualities were absolutely necessary to take them through the long, wearisome journey to Ohio, the then far West. They took up lands, built cabins, and forced a subsistence from the newly-cleared, stumpy virgin soil. This homogeneous people constituted a practical and thorough democracy. Their social relations were based on personal equality, varied only by the accident of superior talents, address or enterprise, and as yet but little modified by wealth or its adventitious circumstances.
Among the emigrants scattered here and there was occasionally found a branch of a "down country" family of some pretensions, dating back to services in the Revolution, to old wealth, or official position. Among these were one or two families at Painesville, near the lake, at Parkman, several at Warren, and more at Cleveland, who had made each other's acquaintance, and who, as the country improved and the means of communication were perfected, formed and kept up a sort of association over the heads, and hardly within the observation, of the people generally. Of these, as we may say, by right of his wife, was Judge Markham. He was a hardy, intelligent, and, for his day, a cultivated man, who came early into the woods as an agent for many large stockholders of the old Connecticut Land Company, and a liberal percentage of the sales placed in his hands the nucleus of a large fortune. Sagacity in investments and improvements, with thorough business capacity, had already made him one of the wealthiest men on the Reserve; while a handsome person, and frank, pleasant address, rendered him very popular. He had been for several years an associate judge of the court of common pleas for Geauga county, and had an extensive acquaintance and influence. Mrs. Markham, a genuine daughter of the old Puritan ancestry, dating back to the first landing, a true specimen of the best Yankee woman under favorable circumstances, was a most thoroughly accomplished lady, who had gone into the woods with her young husband, and who shed and exercised a wide and beneficent influence through her sphere. So simple, sweet, natural and judicious was she ever, that her neighbors felt her to be quite one of themselves, as she was. Everybody was drawn to her; and so approachable was she, that the lower and more common declared that she was no lady at all.
Their only child, Julia, just maturing into womanhood, was one of the best and highest specimens of the American girl, to whom refinement, grace, and a strong, rich, sweet nature, came by right of birth, while she inherited beauty from both parents; she seemed, however, unconscious of this last possession, as she was of the admiration which filled the atmosphere that surrounded her. She, too, must speak and act for herself.
At the time of the incidents to be narrated, the northern and eastern part of Newbury had a considerable population. It was traversed by a highway leading west through its centre to Cleveland, and by a stage-road leading from Painesville to the Ohio river, through its eastern part. This was called the "State road," and on it stood Parker's Hotel, a stage-house much frequented, and constituting the centre of a little village, while further south was the extensive trading establishment of Markham & Co., using the name and some of the capital of the Judge, and managed mainly by Roberts and another junior. Judge Markham's spacious and elegant dwelling stood about half a mile south of the store.
The south-western part of the township, with much of two adjoining townships, remained an unbroken forest, belonging to an eccentric landholder who refused to sell it. This was spoken of as "the woods," and furnished cover and haunts for wild game and animals, hunting-ground for the pioneers, and also gave shelter to a few shiftless squatters, in various parts of its wide expanse. In the eastern border of the township was Punderson's pond, a beautiful, irregular-shaped body of limpid water, embosomed by deep wooded hills, and of considerable extent, well stocked with fish, and much frequented on that account.
In the afternoon of the second day after his return, Bart went down a highway leading east to the State road, to the post-office, kept at Markham's store, and this road took him down by the southern end of the pond, and thence southerly on the State road. He passed along by Dr. Lyman's, Jonah Johnson's, and so on, past houses, and clearings, and woodlands, looking almost wistfully, as if he expected pleasant greetings; but the few he saw merely nodded to him, or called out: "Are you back again?" He paused on the hill by the saw-mill, which overlooked the pond, and gazed long over its beautiful surface, sleeping in utter solitude amid the green hills, under the slanting summer sun, and seemed to recognize in it what he had observed, on the evening of his return, about the old homestead—the change that had taken place in himself—a change which often accounts for the strange appearance of the most familiar and cherished places. We find it reflected in the face of inanimate nature, and wonder at her altered guise, unconscious of the cause. He sauntered musingly on to the State road, and over by the old grist-mill, past several houses, up to Parker's. Here, by a beautiful spring under the shade of old apple and cherry-trees, near the carriage-way, was an indolent group of afternoon idlers. Conspicuous among them was the dark and striking face of Dr. Lyman, the rich mahogany of Uncle Josh, and the homely, shrewd, and fresh-colored countenance of Jonah Johnson. Bart could not avoid them if he would; and regretted that he had not gone across the woods to the post-office, and so escaped them.
"Well, young Scholasticus," said the Doctor, after the slight greetings had been given to the new-comer, "you seem to have graduated with great rapidity. You went through college like—"
"One of your emetics, Doctor. I came out at the same door I went in at. Now, doctus, doctior, doctissimus, I am fair game on this point, so blaze away with everything but your saddle-bags, and I will laugh with the rest of you."
A good-natured laugh welcomed this coming down.
"Well," replied the doctor, "there can't be much more said."
"I should like to know, young man," remarked Uncle Josh, "whether you raly got into the college, I should."
"Well, Mr. Burnett, I raly did not, I didn't," mimicking Uncle Josh.
"What did you do, badinage apart?"
"I took a good outside look at the buildings, which was improving; called on your friends Dr. Nutting and Rev. Beriah Green, who asked me what church I belonged to, and who was my instructor in Latin."
"What reply did you make?"
"What could I say? I didn't hear the first; and as to the second, I couldn't bring reproach upon you, and so I said I had never had one. You must own, Doctor, that I showed great tenderness for your reputation."
"You certainly did me a kindness."
"Thank you, Doctor."
"I should raly like to know," said Uncle Josh, "what you are thanking the Doctor for, I should."
"Well, go on."
"I went off," continued Bart. "The fact is, I thought that that retreat of the sciences might hold that little learning, which is a dangerous thing—as you used to not quote exactly—and I thought it prudent to avoid that 'Pierian spring.'"
"What is the young man talking about now?" inquired Uncle Josh. "I would raly like to know, I would."
"I must ask the Doctor to explain," answered Bart. "I was referring to one of his old drinking-places, where, according to him, the more one drank the soberer he grew. You would not fancy that tipple, would you?"
"You see, Uncle Josh," said the Doctor, laughing, "what comes of a young man's going a week to college."
"The young man didn't know anything at all, before," declared Uncle Josh, "and he seems to know less now, amazingly."
This was Uncle Josh's sincere opinion, and was received with a shout of laughter, in which Bart heartily joined. Indeed, it was his first sincere laugh for many a day.
Johnson asked him "whether he went to the Ohio river," and being answered in the affirmative, asked him "by what route he went, and what he saw."
Uncle Jonah, as Bart usually called him, was one of his very few recognized friends, and asked in a way that induced him to make a serious answer.
"I walked the most of the way there, and all the way back. I went by way of Canton, Columbus, Dayton, and so to Cincinnati, and returned the same way."
"What do you think of that part of the State which you saw?"
"Unquestionably we have the poorest part of it. As our ancestors landed on the most desolate part of the continent, so we took the worst part of Ohio. If you were to see the wheat-fields of Stark, or the corn on the Scioto, and the whole of the region about Xenia and Dayton, and on the Miami, you would want to emigrate."
"What about the people?"
"Oh, dear! I didn't see much of them, and that little did not make me wish to see more. The moment you step across the south line of the Reserve you step into a foreign country, and among a foreign people, who speak a foreign language, and who know one of us as quick as they see us; and they seem to have a very prudent distrust of us. After passing this black, Dutch region, you enter a population of emigrants from Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and some from North Carolina, and all unite in detesting and distrusting the Reserve Yankee.
"It is singular, the difference between the lake and river side of the State. At Cincinnati you seem to be within a step of New Orleans, and hear of no other place—not a word of New York, and less of Boston. There everything looks and goes south-west, while we all tend eastward." In reply to questions, Bart told them of Columbus and Cincinnati, giving fresh and graphic descriptions, for he observed closely, and described with a racy, piquant exaggeration what he saw. Breaking off rather abruptly, he seemed vexed at the length of his monologue, and went on towards the post-office.
"That young man will not come to a single darn," said Uncle Josh; "not one darn. He is not good for anything, and never will be. His father was a very likely man, and so is his mother, and his older brothers are very likely men, but he is not worth a cuss."
"Uncle Josh is thinking about Bart's sketch of him, clawing old Nore Morton's face," said Uncle Jonah.
"I did not like that; I did not like it at all. It made me look like hell amazingly," said the old man, much moved.
"You had good reason for not liking it," rejoined Uncle Jonah, "for it was exactly like you."
"Dr. Lyman, what do you think of this young man? He was with you, wa'n't he, studyin' something or other?" asked Uncle Josh; "don't you agree with me?"
"I don't know," answered the Doctor, "I am out of all patience with him. He is quick and ready, and wants to try his hand at every new thing; and the moment he finds he can do it, he quits it. There is no stability to him. He studied botany a week, and Latin a month, and Euclid ten days."
"He hunts well, and fishes well—don't he?" asked another.
"They say he shoots well," said Uncle Josh, "but he will wander in the woods all day, and let game run off from under his eyes, amazingly! They said at the big hunt, in the woods, he opened the lines and let all the deer out. He isn't good for a thing—not a cussed thing."
"Isn't he as smart as his brother Henry?" asked Uncle Jonah.
"It is not a question of smartness," replied the Doctor. "He is too smart; but Henry has steadiness, and bottom, and purpose, and power, and will, and industry. But Bart, if you start him on a thing, runs away out of sight of you in an hour. The next you see of him he is off loafing about, quizzing somebody; and if you call his attention back to what you set him at, he laughs at you. I have given him up, utterly; though I mean to ask him to go a-fishing one of these nights."
"Exactly," said Uncle Jonah, "make him useful. But, Dr. Lyman and Joshua Burnett, the boy has got the stuff in him—the stuff in him. Why, he told you here, in fifteen minutes, more about the State of Ohio than you both ever knew. You will see—"
"You will see, too, that he will not come to a darn," said Uncle Josh, regarding that as a sad doom indeed.
AT THE POST-OFFICE.
Barton found a more attractive group at the store. The post-office occupied a window and corner near the front of the large, old-fashioned, square store-room; and, as he entered the front door, he saw, in the back part of the room, a gay, laughing, warbling, giggling, chirping group of girls gathered about Julia Markham, as their natural centre. Barton was a little abashed; he might have moved up more cautiously, and reconnoitred, had he not been taken by surprise. There was no help for it. He deposited his letters and called for his mail, which gave him time to gather his forces in hand.
Now Barton was born to love and serve women in all places, and under all forms and circumstances. His was not a light, silly, vapid, complimentary devotion, but deep in his nature, through and through, he reverenced woman as something sacred and high, and above the vulgar nature of men; this reformed his mind, and inspired his manners; and, while he was generally disliked by men, he was favorably regarded by women. It was not in woman's nature to think ill of a youth who was always so modestly respectful, and anxious to please and oblige; and no man thus constituted was ever awkward or long embarrassed in woman's presence. She always gets from him, if not his best, what is proper. If he can lose self-consciousness, and receive the full inspiration of her presence, he will soon be at his ease, if not graceful.
The last thing absolutely that ever could occur to Barton, and it never had as yet, was the possibility of his being an object of interest personally to a woman, or to women. He was modest—almost to bashfulness; but as he never presumed, he was never snubbed; and now, on this summer afternoon, he had came upon a group of seven or eight of the most attractive girls of the neighborhood, accompanied by one or two strangers. There was Julia, never so lovely before, with a warm color on her cheek, and a liquid light in her dark eyes, in whose presence all other girls were commonplace; and her friends Nell Roberts and Kate Fisher, Lizzie Mun and Pearlie Burnett, and several others. The young man was seen and recognized, and had to advance. Think of walking thirty feet alone in the faces of seven or eight beautiful girls, and at the same time be easy and graceful! It is funny, what a hush the presence of one young man will bring over a laughing, romping cluster of young women. At his entrance, their girlish clamor sunk to a liquid murmur; and, when he approached, they were nearly silent, all but Julia and a stylish blonde, whom Barton had never seen before. They were gathered around a cloud and tangle of women's mysterious fabrics, whose names are as unknown to men as their uses. Most of the young girls suspended their examinations and rippling comments, and, with a little heightened color, awaited the approach of the enemy. He came on, and gracefully bowed to each, was permitted to take the hands of two or three, and greeted with a little chorus of—"You have come back!" "Where have you been?" "How do you do?" Julia greeted him with her eyes, as he entered, with a sweet woman's way, that thrilled him, and which enabled him to approach her so well. She had remained examining a bit of goods, as if unaware of his immediate presence for a moment, and he had been introduced to the strange lady by Kate Fisher as her cousin, Miss Walters, from Pittsburgh.
Then Julia turned to him, and, with a charming manner, asked: "Mr. Ridgeley"—she had not called him Bart, or Barton, since her return from Boston—"Mr. Ridgeley, what do the girls mean? Have you really been away?"
"Have I really been away? And if I really have, am I to be permitted to take your hand, and asked how I really do? as if you really cared?"
"Really," was her answer, "you see we have just received our fall fashions, and it is not the fall style this year to give and take hands after an absence."
"A-h! how popular that will be with poor masculines! Is that to be worn by all of you?"
"I don't know," said Kate; "it is not fall with some of us yet."
"Thank you! and may I ask Miss Markham if it was the spring and summer style not to say good-bye at a parting?"
The tone was gay, but there was something more in it, and the girl replied: "That depends upon the lady, I presume; both styles may be varied at her pleasure."
"Ah, I think I understand! You are kind to explain."
"Mr. Barton," said Lizzie, "Flora and I here cannot determine about our colors"—holding up some gay ribbons—"and the rest can't help us out. What do you think of them?"
"That they are brilliant," answered Barton, looking both steadily and innocently in the faces, in a way that deepened their hues.
"Oh, no! these ribbons?" exclaimed the blushing girl, thrusting them towards his eyes.
"Indeed I am color blind, though not wholly blind to color." And a little ripple of laughter ran over the bright group, and then they all laughed again.
Can any one tell why a young girl laughs, save that she is happy and joyous? If she does or says anything, she laughs, and if she don't, she laughs, and her companions laugh because she does, and then they all laugh, and then laugh again because they laughed before, and then they look at each other and laugh again; thus they did now, and Barton could no more tell what they were laughing at than could they; he was not so foolishly jealous as to imagine that they were laughing at him.
Then Kate turned to him: "You won't go away again, I hope. We are going to have a little party before long, and you must come, and I want to see you waltz with my cousin. She waltzes beautifully, and I want to see her with a good partner. Will you come?"
"Indeed I would be most happy; but your compliment is ironical. You know we don't waltz, and none of us can, if we try."
"Is that the awful dance where the gentleman takes the lady around the waist, and she leans on him, and they go swinging around? Oh, I think that is awful!"
"The Germans, and many of our best ladies, and gentlemen, waltz," replied Miss Walters, "as they do in Baltimore and New York, and I suppose my cousin thought no harm could be said of it at her little party."
"Oh, I am sure I did not mean that it was wrong, and I would like to see the dance!" was the eager disclaimer.
Barton had drawn away from this discussion, and lingered a moment near Julia, to ask after her mother. She replied that Mrs. Markham was very well, but did not ask him to call and see for himself, nor did she in any way encourage him to prolong the conversation. So, with a little badinage and persiflage, he took his leave.
I shall not attempt to set down what was said of him after he left, nor will I affirm that anything was said. Young ladies, for aught I know, occasionally talk up young men among themselves, and if they do it is nobody's business.
MRS. MARKHAM'S VIEWS.
In the gathering twilight, in a parlor at the Markham mansion, sat Julia by the piano, resting her head on one hand, while with the other she brought little ripples of music from the keys; sometimes a medley, then single and prolonged notes, like heavy drops of water into a deep pool, and then a twinkling shower of melody. She was not sad, or pensive, or thoughtful; but in one of these quiet, sweet, and grave moods that come to deep natures—as a cloud passing over deep, still water enables one under its shadow to see into its depths. Her mother stood at an open window, inhaling the evening fragrance of flowers, and occasionally listening to the wild note of the mysterious whippoorwill, that came from a thicket of forest-trees in the distance.
The step of her father caught the ear of the young girl, who sprang up and ran towards him with eager face and sparkle of eye and voice.
"Oh, papa, the trunks came this afternoon, with the fashion-plates, and patterns, and everything, and all we girls—Nell, Kate Fisher, Miss Flora Walter, Pearlie, Ann, and all hands of us—have had a regular 'opening.' We went through with them all. The cottage bonnet is a love of a thing, and I am going to have it trimmed for myself. Sleeves are bigger than ever, and there were lots of splendid things!"
"And so Roberts has suited you all, for once, has he?" said the Judge, passing an arm around her small waist.
"Roberts! Faugh, he had nothing to do with it. Aunt Mary selected them all herself. They are the latest and newest from Paris—almost direct."
"Does that make them better?"
"Well, I don't know that there is anything in their coming from Paris, except that one likes to know that they come from the beginning-place of such things. Now if they had been made in Boston, New York, or Baltimore, one would not be certain they were like the right thing; and now we know they are the real thing itself. Do you understand?"
"Oh, yes—as well as a man may; and it is quite well put, too, and I don't know that I ever had so clear an idea of the value of things from a distance before."
"Well, you see, when a thing comes clear from the farthest off, we know there ain't anything beyond; and when it comes from the beginning, we don't take it second hand."
"I see; but why do you care, you girls in this far-off, rude region?"
"Mamma, do you hear that? Here is my own especial father, and your husband, asking me, a woman, and a very young woman too, for a reason."
"It is because you are a very young one that he expects you to give a reason. Perhaps he thinks you will not claim the privilege of our sex."
"Well, I won't. Now, then, Papa Judge, this is not a far-off, rude region, and you see that the French ladies want these styles and fashions, and all that; well, if they want them, we want them too."
"Now I don't quite see. How do you know they want them? Perhaps they are sent here because they don't want them; and, besides, why should a backwoods girl in Ohio want what a high-born lady in the French capital wants?"
"Because the American girl is a woman; and, besides, the court must hear and decide, and not ask absurd questions."
"And who is to see you in French millinery, here in the woods?"
"Oh, bless its foolish man's heart, that thinks a woman dresses to please its taste, when it hasn't any! We dress to please ourselves and plague each other—don't you know that? and we ain't pleased with poky home-made things."
"Julia! Mother," appealed the Judge, with uplifted hands, to Mrs. Markham, "where did this young lady get her notions?"
"From the common source of woman's notions, as you call them, I presume—her feelings and fancies; and she is merely letting you see the workings of a woman's mind. We should all betray our sex a hundred times a day, if our blessed husbands and fathers had the power to understand us, I fear."
"And don't we understand you?"
"Of course you do, as well as you ever will. My dear husband, don't you also understand that if you fully comprehended us, or we you, we should lose interest in each other? that now we may be a perpetual revelation and study to each other, and so never become worn and common?"
"There, Papa Judge, are you satisfied—not with our arguments, but with us?"
"The man who was not would be unreasonable and—"
"Man-like," put in Julia. "Let me sing you my new song."
A piano was a novelty in Northern Ohio. Julia played with a real skill and expression, and her father, though no musician, loved to listen, and more to hear her sing, with her clear, strong, sweet voice, and so she played and sang her song.
When she had finished, "By the way," remarked her father, "I understand that our travelled young townsman, who has just returned from foreign parts, was at the post-office this afternoon, and perhaps you met him."
"Whom do you mean?" asked Julia.
"Your mother's pet, Bart Ridgeley."
"Now, papa, that is hardly kind, after what you said of him the other day. He is not mother's pet at all. She is only kind to him, as to everybody. Indeed, he don't seem to me like anybody's pet, to be patted and kept in-doors when it rains, and eat jellies, and be nice. I saw him at the store a moment; he was very civil, and merely asked after mamma, and went out."
"Did you ask him to call and see mamma?" asked her father a little gravely.
"Not at all. The truth is, papa, after what you said I could not ask him, and was hardly civil to him."
"Was it unpleasant to be hardly civil to him?"
"No; though I like to be civil to everybody. You know I have seen little of him since I came home, and when I have, he was sometimes silent and distant, and not like what he was before I went away."
"You find him improved in appearance and manners?" persisted the Judge.
"Well, he was always good-looking, and had the way of a gentleman. Miss Walters seemed quite taken with him, and was surprised that he had grown up here in the woods."
Her father was silent a moment, and the subject was changed. Mrs. Markham was attentive to what was said of poor Bart, but made no comment at the time.
* * * * *
In their room, that night, in her sweet, serious way, she said to her husband, "Edward, I do not want to say a word in favor of Barton Ridgeley. I do not ask you to change your opinion of him or your course towards him; but I wish to ask if it is necessary to discuss him, especially with Julia?"
"Well, can it be productive of good? If you are mistaken in your estimate of him, you do him injustice, and in any event you will call her attention to him, and she may observe and study him; and almost any young woman who should do that might become interested in him."
"Do you think so? Men don't like him."
"Is that a reason why a woman would not?"
"Have you discovered any reason to think that Julia cares in the least for him?"
"Julia is young, and, like the women of our family, develops in these respects slowly; but, like the rest of us, she will have her own fancies some time, and you know"—with a still softer voice—"that one of them left a beautiful home, and a circle of love and luxury, to follow her heart into the woods."
"Yes, and thank God that she did! Roses and blessings and grace came with you," said the Judge, with emotion. "But this boy—what is he to us, or what can he ever be? He is so freaky, and unsteady, and passionate, and flies off at a word, and goes before he is touched. He will do nothing, and come to nothing."
"What can he do? Would you really have him buy an axe and chop cord-wood, or work as a carpenter, or sell tape behind the counter? Are there not enough to do all that work as fast as it needs to be done? Is there not a clamorous need of brain-work, and who is there to do it? Who is to govern, and manage, and control twenty years hence? Look over all the young men whom you know, and who promises to be fit to lead? Think over those you know in Cleveland, or Painesville, or Warren. Is somebody to come from somewhere else? Think of your own plans and expectations. Who can help you? I see possibilities in this wayward, passionate, hasty, generous youth. He is a tender and devoted son, and I am glad he came back; and nobody knows how he may be pushed against us and others."
"Well," said the Judge, after a thoughtful pause, "what can I do? What would you have me do—change myself, or try to change him?"
"I don't know," thoughtfully: "I think there is nothing you can do now. I would wish you to cultivate a manner towards him that would leave it in your power to serve him or make him useful, if occasion presents. He needs a better education, and perhaps a profession. He should study law. He has a capacity to become a very superior public speaker—one of the first. I don't think there is much danger of his forming bad habits or associations. He avoids and shuns everything of that kind. You know he deeded his share of his father's land to his brother, to provide a home for his mother, and I presume will remain, both from choice and necessity, with her for the present."
The Judge mused over her words. He did not tell her of having met and left Barton the other side of the Chagrin; nor did he disclose fully the dislike he felt for him, or the fears he may have entertained at the idea of any intimacy between him and Julia. His wife mused also in her woman's way. She, too, would have hesitated to have Barton restored to the old relations of his boyhood. While she knew of much to admire and hope for in him, she knew also that there was much to cause anxiety, if not apprehension. In thinking further, she was inclined to call upon his mother, whom she much esteemed for her strong and decisive traits of character, soft and womanly though she was. Cares and anxieties had kept her from association with her neighbors, among whom, as she knew, she seldom appeared, except on occasions of sickness or suffering, or when some event seemed to demand the presence of a deciding woman's mind and will. She remembered one or two such times in their earlier forest life, when Mrs. Ridgeley had quietly assumed her natural place for a day, to go back to her round of widowed love, care and toil. She would make occasion to see her, and perhaps find some indirect way to be useful to both mother and son.
WHAT HE THOUGHT OF THINGS.
How grateful to the sensitive heart of the young man would have been the knowledge that he was an object of thoughtful interest to Julia's mother, who, next to his own, had his reverence and regard! He knew he was generally disliked; his intuitions assured him of this, and in his young arrogance he had not cared. Indeed, he had come to feel a morbid pleasure in avoiding and being avoided; but now, as he sat in the little silent room in the late night, he felt his isolation. He had been appalled at a discovery—or rather a revelation—made that afternoon. He knew that he loved Julia, and that this love would be the one passion of manhood, as it had been of his boyhood. He had given himself up to it as to a delicious onflowing stream, drifting him through enchanted lands, and had not thought or cared whither it might bear, or on what desolate shore it might finally strand him.
Now he felt its full strength and power, and he knew, too, that it was a force to be controlled, when perhaps that had become impossible. He had never asked himself if a return of his passion were even possible, until now, when his whole fervid nature had gone out in a great hungry longing for her love and sympathy. She had never stood so lovely and so inaccessible as he had seen her that day. How deeply through and through came the first greeting of her eyes! It was an electric flash never received before, and which as suddenly disappeared. How cool and indifferent was her manner and look as he approached, and stood near her! No inquiry, save that mocking one! Not a word; not a thought of where he had been, or why he had returned, or what he would do; the shortest answer as to his inquiry about her mother; no intimation that he might even call at the house. Thus he went over with it all—over and over again. What did he care? But he did, and could not deceive himself. He did care, and must not; and then he went back over all their intercourse since her return home, two or three months before he left, and it was all alike on her part—a cool, indifferent avoidance of him.
Oh, she was so glorious—so beautiful! The whole world lay in the span of her slender waist—a world not for him. Was it something to be adventured for, fought for, found anywhere? something that he could climb up to and take? something to plunge down to in fathomless ocean and carry back? No, it was her woman's heart. Like her father, she disliked him; and if, like her father, she would openly let him see and hear it—but doesn't she? What had he to offer her? How could he overcome her father's dislike? He felt in his soul what would come to him finally, but then, in the lapsing time? And she avoided him now!
He returned to his algebraic problem, with a desperate plunge at its solution. The unknown quantity remained unknown; and, a moment later, he was gratified to see how he had finally caught and expressed, with his pencil, a look of Julia, that had always eluded him before. But was he to be overcome by a girl? Was life and its ambitions to be crushed out and brought to nought by one small hand? He would see. It would be inexpressible luxury to tell her once—but just once—all his passion and worship, and then, of course, remain silent forever, and go out of her presence. He wished her to know it all, so that, as she would hear and know of him in the coming years, she would know that he was worthy, not of her love, but worthy to love her, whatever that may mean, or whatever of comfort it might bring to either. What precious logic the heart of a young man in his twenty-second year is capable of!
LOGIC OF THE GODS.
"Doctor," said Barton, in the little office of the latter, "I've called to borrow your Euclid; may I have it? I have never tried Euclid, really."
"Oh, yes, you can have it, and welcome. Do you want to try yourself on the pons asinorum?"
"What is that; another bridge of sighs? for I suppose they can be found out of Venice."
"It is a place over which asses have to be carried. It is, indeed, a bridge of sighs, and a bridge of size."
"Oh, Doctor, don't you do that! Well, let me try it! I want more work; and especially I want a wrestle with Euclid."
"Work! what are you doing, that you call work?"
"Well, hoeing beans, pulling up weeds, harvesting oats, with recreations in Latin Grammar, Dabol, Algebra, Watts on the Mind, Butler's Analogy, and other trifles."
"All at one time?"
"No, not more than three at the same time. Don't lecture me, Doctor, I am incorrigible. When I work, I don't play."
"And when you don't play you work, occasionally; well, I think Euclid will do you good."
"I won't take it as a prescription, Doctor!"
"A thorough course of mathematics would do more for one of your flighty mind, than anything else; you want chaining down to the severe logic of lines and angles."
"To the solution of such profound problems as, that the whole of a thing is more than a fraction of it; and things that are exactly alike resemble each other, for instance, eh?"
"Pshaw! you will make fun of everything. Will you ever reach discretion, and deal with things seriously?"
"I was never more serious in my life, and could cry with mortification over my lost, idled-away hours, you never believed in me, and are not to blame for that, nor have I any promises to make. I am not thought to be at all promising, I believe."
"Bart," said the Doctor, seriously, "you don't lack capacity; but you are too quick and impulsive, and all imagination and fancy."
"Well, Doctor, you flatter me; but really is not the imagination one of the highest elements of the human mind? In the wide world's history was it not a crowning, and one of the most useful qualities of many of the greatest men?"
"Great men have had imagination. I presume, and achieved great things in spite of it; but through it, never."
"Why, Doctor! the mere mathematician is the most servile of mortals. He is useful, but cannot create, or even discover. He weighs and measures. Project one of his angles into space, and, though it may reach within ten feet of a blazing star that dazzles men with eyes, yet he will neither see nor know of its existence. His foot-rule won't reach it, and he has no eyes. Imagination! it was the logic of the gods—the power to create; and among men it abolishes the impossible. By its force and strength one may strike fire from hidden flints in darkened worlds, and beat new windows in the blind sides of the ages. Columbus imagined another continent, and sailed to it; and so of all great discoverers."
The Doctor listened with some surprise. "Did it ever occur to you, Bart, that you might be an orator of some sort?"
"Such an orator as Brutus is—cold, formal, and dead? I'd rather not be an orator at all, 'but talk right on,' like plain, blunt Mark Antony."
"And yet Brutus has been quoted and held up by poets and orators as a sublime example of virtue and patriotism, young man!"
"And yet he never made murder the fashion;" and—striking an attitude—"Caesar had his Brutus! Charles had his Cromwell! and George III. had—what the devil did George have? He was stupid enough to have been a mathematician, though I never heard that he was."
"Oh dear, Bart!" said the Doctor, with a sigh, "for God's sake, and your own, do study Euclid if you can! Don't you see that your mind is always sky-rocketing and chasing thistle-down through the air?"
"'The downy thistle-seed my fare, My strain forever new,'" said Bart, laughing, and preparing to go.
"By the way," asked the Doctor, "wouldn't you like to go fishing one of these nights? We haven't been but once or twice this summer. Jonah, and Theodore, and 'Brother Young' and I have been talking about it for some days. We will rig up a fire-jack, if you will go, and use the spear."
"I am afraid I would be sky-rocketing, Doctor; but send me word when you are ready."
* * * * *
Barton had now entered upon something like a regular course. He had one of those intense nervous temperaments that did not require or permit excessive sleep. He arose with the first light, and took up at once the severest study he had until breakfast, and then worked with the boys, or alone, the most of the forenoon, at whatever on the farm, or about the house, seemed most to want his hand; the afternoons and evenings were given to unremitting study or reading. His tone of mind and new habit of introspection induced him to take long walks in the woods and secluded places, and after his work for the day was done; he imposed upon himself a regular and systematic course, and compelled himself to adhere to it. He saw few, went nowhere; and among that busy people, after the little buzz occasioned by his return had subsided, he ceased to be an object of interest or comment.
It was remarked among them that they did not hear his rifle in the forests, and nobody had presents of wild turkeys and venison, as they sometimes had, and he was in his own silent way shaping out his own destiny.
He received a letter from Henry in reply to his own, full of kindness, with such hints as the elder could give as to his course of study. His observing mother saw at once a marked change in his manner and words. Thoughtful and forbearing, his arrogance disappeared, and his impetuous, dashing way evidently toned down, while he was more tender towards her, and seemed to fall naturally into the place of an elder brother—careful and gentle to the young boys.
A RAMBLE IN THE WOODS, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
Already the summer had deepened and ripened into autumn. The sky had a darker tint, and the breeze had a plaintive note in its voice; and here and there the footprints of change were in the tree-tops.
On one of those serene, deep afternoons, Barton, who had been importuned by the boys to go into the woods in pursuit of a flock of turkeys, that George had over and over declared "could be found just out south, and which were just as thick and fat as anything," yielded, and, taking his rifle, started out, accompanied by them, in high glee. George's declaration about the turkeys was, without much difficulty, verified, and Bart, who was a practised hunter, and knew all the habits of the shy and difficult bird, managed in a short time to secure two. He felt an old longing for a good, long, lonely ramble, and directed the boys, who were in ecstacies at his skill and the result, to carry the game back to their mother, while he went out to the Slashing, adding that if he did not come back until into the night, they might know he had gone to the pond, to meet the Doctor and a fishing-party; and with a good-natured admonition from George, to look out for that wolverine that haunted the Slashing, they separated.
The "Slashing" was a large tract of fallen timber, all of which had been cut down years before, and left to decay as it fell. Near this, and to the east, an old roadway had been cut, leading south, which was often used by the neighbors to go from the Ridgeley neighborhood to settlements skirting the eastern border of "the woods" before mentioned. Still further east, and surrounded by forest, on a small stream, was Coe's carding machine and fulling mill, to which a by-way led from the State road, at a point near Parker's. The Coes, a shiftless, harmless set, lived much secluded, and were often the objects of charity, and as such somewhat under the patronage of Mrs. Markham and Julia; and some of her young friends were occasionally attracted there for a ramble among the rocks and springs, from which Coe's creek, a little stream, arose. From the old road a path led to the fields of Judge Markham, about a fourth of a mile distant, which was the shortest route from his house to Coe's.
* * * * *
On his return ramble, just as Bart was about to emerge from the woods into the opening made by the old road from the west, he was surprised to see Julia approaching him, going along that track towards home. She was alone, and walking with a quick step. Lifting his hat, he stepped forward towards the path in which she was walking. The meeting in the wild, still woods, under the deepening shades of approaching night, was a surprise to both; and, by the light in the eyes of the youth, and warmer color in the face of the maiden, seemed not unpleasant to either.
"This is a surprise, meeting you here alone," said Barton, stepping to the side of the footway, a little in advance of her.
"It must be," answered Julia. "Poor old lady Coe is quite ill, and I've been around there, and, as it was latish, I have taken this short way home, rather than go all the way around the road."
"Indeed, if you are really going this way you must permit me to attend you," said Bart, placing his gun against a stump. "It is a good half-mile to the path that leads out to your father's, and it is already darkening;" and he turned and walked by her side.
"It is really not necessary," said the girl, quite decidedly. "I know the way, and am not in the least afraid."
"Forgive me, Miss Markham, but I really fear that you must choose between my attendance out of these woods and turning back around the road," replied Bart.
His manner, so frank and courteous, and his voice, so gentle, had nevertheless, to her woman's ear, a vibration of the man's nerve of force and will, to which the girl seemed unconsciously to yield. They walked along. The mystery of night was weaving its weird charm in the forest, and strange notes and sounds came from its depths, and these young, pure natures found an undefined sweetness in companionship. On they walked in silence, as if neither cared to break it. The young girl at length said:
"Mr. Ridgeley"—not Barton, or his first name, as in her childhood—what a heart-swoon smote the youth at the formal address!—"Mr. Ridgeley, there is something I must say to you. My father does not care to have me in your company, and I must not receive the most ordinary attention from you. He would not, I fear, like to know that you were at our house."
Did it cost her anything to say this? Apparently not, though her voice and manner diminished its sting. A moment's pause, and Barton's voice, cold and steady, answered back:
"I know what your father's feelings towards me are," and then, with warmth, "but I am sure that he would think less of me, if possible, were I to permit any woman to find her way, at this hour, out of this wilderness."
It was not much to say, but it was well said, and he turned his face towards her as he said it, lit up with a clear expression of man's loyalty to woman—not unpleasant to the young girl. Why could not he leave it there and to the future? They walked on, and the shadows deepened.
"Miss Markham, I, too, must say a thing to you: from my boyhood to this hour, deeply, passionately, with my whole heart and soul, have I loved you."
There was no mistaking; the intensity of his voice made his words thrill. She recoiled from them as if stunned, and turned her face, pale now, and marked, fully towards him.
"What! What did you say?"
"I love you!" with a deep, full voice.
"How dare you utter such words to me?"
Her eyes flashed and nostrils dilated.
"Because they are true; because I am a man and you are a woman," steadily and proudly.
"A man! you a man! Is it manly to waylay me in this lonely place, and force yourself upon me, and insult me with this? You compel me to—to—"
"Scorn and despise you!" supplied the youth, in a bitter tone.
"Take the words, then, if you choose them."
She was simply grand in her style, till this last expression, which had the angry snap of an enraged woman. Some high natures might have answered back her scorn; a lower one might have complained; and still another would have left her in the woods. Barton said nothing, but, with a cold, stony face, walked on by her side. If, in his desperation, he wanted this killing thrust, which must ever rankle and never heal, to enable him to overcome and subdue his great passion, he had got it. That little hand, that emphasized her words with a gesture of superb disdain, would never have to repeat the blow. It raised about her a barrier that he was never after to approach.
He was not a man to complain. He would have told her why he said these words; he could not now. Some men are like wolves in traps, and die without a moan. Barton could die, and smile back into the face of his slayer, and say no word.
Night was now deepening in the woods, with the haughty maiden, and high, proud and humiliated youth, walking still side by side through its shadows. They at length reached the path that led from the open way to the left, approaching Julia's home. There was a continuous thicket of thrifty second-growth young trees bordering the track along which the two were journeying, and the opening through it made by this narrow path was black with shadow, like the entrance to a cave.
"This is the way," said Bart, turning into it.
These were the first words he had uttered, and came as if from a distance. Without a word of hesitation Julia turned into the path with him, yet with almost a shudder at the darkness. They had not taken a dozen steps when an appalling, shrieking yell, a brute yell, of ferocious animal rage—the rage for blood and lust to mangle and tear—burst from the thicket on their right. A wild plunge through tangled brush and limbs, another more appalling shriek, and a dark, shadowy form, with a fierce, hungry growl, crouched in the pathway just before them, with its yellow, tawny, cruel eyes flashing in their faces. The first sound seemed to heat every fiery particle of the blood of the youth into madness, and open an outlet to the burning elements of his nature. Here was something to encounter, and for her, and in her presence; and the brute had hardly crouched as if for its spring, when, with an answering cry, a man's shout, a challenge and a charge, he sprang forward, with his unarmed strength, to the encounter. As if cowed and overcome by the higher nature, the brute turned, and with a complaining whine like a kicked dog, ran into the depths of the woods. Barton had momentarily, in a half frenzy, wished for a grapple, and felt a pang of real disappointment.
"The brute is a coward," he said, as he turned back, where the white robes of Julia were dimly visible in the darkness. She was a daughter of the Puritans, and had the blood and high courage of her race. The first cry of the animal had almost frozen her blood, but the eager, proud, manly shout of Barton affected her like a trumpet-call. She exulted in his dashing courage, and felt an irresistible impulse to rush forward to his aid. It all occurred in the fraction of a moment; and when she realized that the peril was over, she was well-nigh overcome.
"You were always brave," said Barton, cheerily, with just a little strain in his voice; "you were in no danger, and it is all over."
"You are not overcome?" with an anxious voice. "Oh," coming close to her, "if I might offer you support!"
He held out his hand, and she put hers in it. How cool and firm his touch was, and how her tremor subsided under it! He pulled her hand within his arm, and hers rested fully upon his, with but their light summer draperies between them.
"But a little way further," he said, in his cheery voice, and they hurried forward.
Neither spoke. What did either think? The youth was sorry for the awful fright of the poor girl, and so glad of the little thing that eased his own humiliation. The girl—who can tell what a girl thinks?
As they reached the cleared land, a sense of relief came to Julia, who had started a dozen times, in her escape out of the woods, at imaginary sounds. Day was still in the heavens, and the sight of her father's house gladdened her.
"Will you mind the dew?" asked her companion.
"Not in the least," she answered; and he led her across the pastures to the rear of an enclosure that surrounded the homestead. He seemed to know the way, and conducted her through a large open gate, and so to a lane that led directly to the rear of the house, but a few yards distant. He laid his hand upon the small gate that opened into it, and turning to her, said:
"I may not intrude further upon you. For your relief, I ought perhaps to say that the words of madness and folly which I uttered to you will neither be recalled nor repeated. Let them lie where they fell—under your feet. Your father's house, and your father's daughter, will be sacred from me."
The voice was firm, low, and steady; and opening the gate, the young girl entered, paused a moment, and then, without a word, ran rapidly towards the house. As she turned an angle, she saw the youth still standing by the gate, as if to protect her. She flew past the corner, and called, in a distressed voice:
"Mamma! mamma! oh, mother!"
She was a Puritan girl, with the self-repression and control of her race, and the momentary apprehension that seized her as she left the side of Barton was overcome as she entered her father's house.
"Julia!" exclaimed her mother, coming forward, "is that you? Where have you come from? What is the matter?"
"I came through the woods," said the girl, hurriedly. "I've been so awfully frightened! Such dreadful things have happened!" with a half hysterical laugh, which ended in a sob.
"Julia! Julia! my child! what under the heavens has happened? Are you hurt?"
"No, only dreadfully frightened. I was belated, and it came on dark, and just as we turned into the path from the old road, that awful beast, with a terrible shriek, sprang into the road before us, and was about to leap upon me, when Barton sprang at him and drove him off. If it had not been for him, I would have been torn in pieces."
"Barton?—was he with you? Thank God! oh, bless and thank God for your escape! My child! my child! How awful it sounds! Come! come to my room, and let me hold you, and hear it all!"
"Oh, mamma! what a weak and cowardly thing a woman is! I thought I was so strong, and really courageous, and the thought of this thing makes me tremble now."
They gained her mother's room, and Julia, seating herself at her mother's feet, and resting her arms on her mother's lap, undertook to tell her story.
"I cannot tell you how it all happened. Barton met me, and would come along with me, and then he said strange things to me; and I answered him back, and quarrelled with him, and—"
"What could he have said to you? Tell me all."
Julia began and told with great minuteness, and with much feeling, her whole adventure. She explained that she really did not want Bart to come with her, for that it would displease her father; and that when he did, she thought he ought to know that he was not at liberty to be her escort or come to the house, and so she told him. She could not tell why she answered him just as she did, but she was surprised, and not quite herself, and she might have said it differently, and need not have said so much, and he certainly must know that she did not mean it all. Surely it was most his fault; if he really had such feelings, why should he tell her, and tell her as he did? It was dreadful, and she would never be happy again; and she laid her head in her mother's lap, in her great anguish.
When her burst of grief had subsided, and she was calm, her mother asked several questions, and learned all that was said, and was much excited at Julia's account of the encounter with the beast and Barton's intrepidity. She seemed to feel that they had both escaped a great danger, through his courage.
"My dear child," she said, "I don't know what to think of these strange and trying events, mixed up as they are. There is one very, very unfortunate thing about it."
"That I met Barton? Oh, mother!"
"No, no; not that. It was unfortunate that you came the way you did, or unfortunate that you went, perhaps; but it is not that. It was most providential that Barton was with you, but so unfortunate that he said to you what he did."
"Is it a misfortune to be loved, mother?"
"Let us not talk of this to-night, my darling," stooping and kissing her still pale cheek. "God only knows of these things. It may not be a misfortune, but it may bring unhappiness, dear, to somebody."
"Perhaps, mother, if he had not had such feelings he would not have come with me."
"My child! my child! don't say what might have happened. I am glad and grateful—so grateful that he was with you—that he was generous enough to come, after what you said to him; but now, how can we express our gratitude to him?"
"Oh, mamma! I am sure it is no matter. He won't care now what we think."
"You are too much agitated, my daughter, to-night; let us not talk it over now. But what became of Barton? did he come in?"
"No, I left him at the back gate, without a word, only waiting for me to run in. Of course he went back to the woods and wild beasts. What other place was there for him?"
"Don't, don't, Julia! don't say such words. Harm will not come to him."
"I know it won't," said the young girl; "for when the whole world turns against a brave, true heart, God watches over it with the more care."
"True, my child; and we can at least pray God to be near him, only don't think of this matter now. In a day or two you will be yourself, and look at it in a different light. Your father will return to-morrow, and it may not be best to tell him of all this at present. It would only disturb him."
"Yes, mamma; I could not tell him everything as I have told you, and so I must not tell him anything, nor anybody else. How wretched it all is!"
A DARKENED SOUL.
As Julia left Bart, the full force of her scornful words seemed for the first time to reach him. The great restraint her presence imposed in some way suspended, or broke their effect, and he turned from the gate with a half-uttered moan of anguish. He did not then recall her words or manner; he only realized that, in a cruel and merciless way, she had crushed his heart and soul. It was not long; both recoiled with a sense of wrong and injustice, and utter helplessness, for the hurt came from a woman. Instinctively he returned to the point whence they had emerged when they left the woods, and the thought of the screaming brute came to him with a sense of relief. Here was an object upon which he could wreak himself, and in a half frenzy of madness he hurried towards a spot in the edge of the Slashing, towards which the cowardly thing had run when it fled from his onset. He paused to listen upon the margin of that tangled wilderness of young trees, briers, and decaying trunks. How solemn and quiet, wild and lonely it was, in the deep night and deeper woods! The solemn hush fell upon the bruised spirit of the youth with the quieting touch and awe of a palpable presence, rebukingly, yet tenderly and pityingly.
Quick to compassionate others, he had ever been relentless to himself, and refused to regard himself as an object of injustice, or as needing compassion. As he stood for a moment confronting himself, scorned, despised and humiliated, he felt for himself the measureless contempt to which he seemed to have fallen; yet, under it all, and against it all, he arose. "Oh, Bart! Bart! what a poor, abject, grovelling thing you really are," he said bitterly, "when the word of a girl so overcomes you! when the slap of her little hand so benumbs and paralyzes you! If you can't put her haunting face from you now, God can hardly help you. How grand she was, in her rage and scorn! Let me always see her thus!" and he turned back into the old road. Along this he sauntered until his eye met the dull gleam of his rifle-barrel against the old stump where he left it. With a great start, he exclaimed, "Oh, if I could only go back to the moment when I stood here with power to choose, and dream!" It was a momentary weakness, a mere recoil from the wound still so fresh and ragged.
It was still in early evening, with time and life heavy on his hands, when he remembered that the Doctor had sent him word to come to the pond that night. Taking his rifle by the muzzle, and throwing it across his shoulder, he plunged into the woods in a right line for the west shore of the pond, at about its midway.
Through thick woods tangled with underbrush and laced with wild vines, down steep banks, over high hills and rocky precipices, across clearings and hairy brier patches, he took his way, and found relief in the physical exertions of which he was still capable. At last he stood on the margin of the forest and hill-embosomed waters of that lovely little lake. It was solitary and silent, but for the weird sounds of night birds and aquatic animals that frequented its reedy margin, and a soft, silvery mist was just rising from its unruffled surface, that gathered in a translucent veil against the dark forest of the opposite shore. Its simple, serene and quiet beauty, under the stars and rising moon, was not lost upon the poetic nature of Barton, still heaving with the recent storm.