CAPE COD FOLKS
SARAH P. MCLEAN GREENE (SALLY PRATT McLEAN)
With Illustrations from the Play
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Copyrighted, 1881, By A. WILLIAMS & Co.
BY DEWOLFE, FISKE & Co.
I. ON A MISSION
II. I BLOW THE HORN
III. THE BEAUX OF WALLENCAMP PERFORM A GRAVE DUTY
IV. THE TURKEY MOGUL ARRIVES
V. GRANDMA KEELER GETS GRANDPA READY FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL
VI. BECKY AND THE CRADLEBOW
VII. LUTE CRADLEBOW KISSES THE TEACHER
VIII. FESTIVITIES AT THE ARK
IX. LOVELL BARLOW "POPS THE QUESTION."
X. A LETTER FROM THE FISHERMAN
XI. A WALLENCAMP FUNERAL
XII. BECKY'S CONFESSION
XIII. A MILD WINTER ON THE CAPE
XIV. RESCUED BY THE CRADLEBOW
XV. DAVID ROLLIN IN THE SCHOOL-ROOM
XVI. GEORGE OLVER'S LOVE FOR BECKY
XVII. TEACHER HAS THE FEVER.—DEATH OF LITTLE BESSIE
XVIII. LUTE CRADLEBOW GIVES THE TEACHER A NEW CHAIR
XIX. DEATH OF THE CRADLEBOW
XX. GEORGE OLVER'S ORATION
XXI. FAREWELL TO WALLENCAMP
ON A MISSION.
"Lo, on a narrer neck o' land, 'Twixt two unbounded seas, I stand!"
Aunt Sibylla was not sporting, now, in the airy realms of metaphor. Aunt Sibylla stood upon Cape Cod, and her voice rang out with that peculiar sweep and power which the presence of a dread reality alone can give. Something of the precariousness of her situation, too, was expressed in The wild, alarming, though graceful, gesture of her arms.
It was before the long-projected canal separating Cape Cod from the mainland had been put under active process of preparation.
It was at an evening meeting in the Wallencamp school-house. A row of dingy, smoking lanterns had been set against the wall and afforded the only light cast upon the scene. Aunt Sibylla Cradlebow, the speaker, was tall and dark-eyed, with an almost superhuman litheness of body, and a weird, beautiful face.
"And, oh, my dear brothers and sisters and onconvarted friends!" she continued; "how little do we realize the reskiness of our situwation here on the Cape! Here we stand with them ar identical unbounded seas a rollin' up on ary side of us! the world a pintin' at us as them that should be always ready, with our lamps trimmed and burnin'! and, yit, oh my dear brothers and sisters and onconvarted friends! as fur as I have been inland—and I have been a consid'able ways inland, as you all know, whar it would seem no more than nateral that folks should settle down kind o' safe and easy on a dry land univarse—I say, as fur as I have been inland, I never see sech keeryins on and carnal works, sech keerlessness for the present and onconsarn for the futur', as I have amongst the benighted critturs who stand before me this evenin', a straddlin' this poor, old, Godforsaken Pot Hook!"
Clearer and louder grew Aunt Sibylla's tones; her eyes lightened with terrible meaning; her words flowed with an unction that was unmistakable; and, at length, "Oh, run for the Ark, ye poor, lost sinners," she exclaimed. "Oh, run for the Ark, my onconvarted friends! Don't ye hear the waves a comin' in? They're a rollin' swift and sure! They're a rollin' in sure as death! Run for the Ark! Run for the Ark!"
Now, there was in Wallencamp a literal Ark, otherwise this exhortation would have lacked its most convincing force and significance. But Aunt Sibylla paused. Among the usually restless audience, there was a moment of almost breathless suspense. Not half a mile away, behind a strip of cedar woods, we could plainly hear the surf rolling in from the bay, breaking hard against the shore with its awful, monotonous moan, moan, moan.
My heart was already faint with home-sickness. The effect of that waiting moment was as sombre as anything I had ever experienced. Much to my distaste, I found myself sympathizing with the vague terror and unrest around me. I can hear it still, the voice that then rose, singing, through the sullen gloom of the school-room, a strangely sweet and rapturous voice—Madeline's. I learned to know it well afterwards. I listened with rapt surprise to the pathos with which it thrilled the simple words of the song:—
"Shall we meet beyond the River, Where the surges cease to roll, Where, in all the bright forever, Sorrow ne'er shall press the soul?"
A keenly responsive chord had been touched in the simple, agitated breasts of the Wallencampers, and they joined in the chorus—those rough people—not with their usual reckless exuberance of tone, but plaintively, tremblingly even, as though, whatever the words, they would make of them a prayer in which to hide some secret doubt or longing of their souls.
"Shall we meet, shall we meet, Shall we meet beyond the River?"
The strain was repeated with a most pathetic quaver in the rendering, and then big Captain Sartell broke down, with a helpless gulp in his voice, and I, who believed myself of too superior and refined a nature to be moved by such tawdry sentiment, was further dismayed to feel the tears gathering fast in my own eyes.
After the meeting, on the school-house steps, the big Captain, as if to atone for any unmanly exhibition of feeling into which he might have been betrayed inside, took little Bachelor Lot up by the shoulders, and gently and playfully held him suspended in mid-air, while he put to him the following riddle:—
"I'll wager a quarter, on a good, squar' guess, Bachelder. Why is—why air Aunt Sibby's remarks like this 'ere peninshaler, eh, Bachelder?"
"Because—ahem!—because they're always a runnin' to a p'int, eh?" inquired the keen little bachelor.
"No, by thunder!" exclaimed the discomfited Captain, setting the magician down promptly. "As near as I calk'late," he continued, endeavoring to resume his former air of cool and reckless raillery; "as near as I calk'late, Bachelder,—yes, sir, as near as I calk'late,—it's—it's—by thunder! it's because they're both liable to squalls in fa'r weather!"
Amazed, and almost frightened at the unexpected brilliancy of his evil success, the Captain yet kept a rueful and furtive eye on the little bachelor.
Bachelor Lot coughed slightly and smiled. "Very true," he drawled, cheerfully, in his small, thin voice; "I'm—ahem!—I'm not a married man myself, you know, Captain. However," he added; "you should have given me another try. I had the correct answer on my tongue's end."
During this brief exchange between the stars of the Wallencamp debate ground, murmurs of appreciative applause arose from the group of bystanders, and "Pretty tight pinch for you, Captain!" and "Three cheers for Bachelder! ye can't git ahead of Bachelder!" sprang delightedly from lip to lip.
Aunt Sibylla had scented from within this buoyant resumption of the Wallencamp mirth, and now appeared on the scene, bearing a burning lantern in her hand. She first turned the glare of its full orb on the late sin-convicted Captain, who stood revealed with a guilty grin frozen helplessly on his alarmed features, and next directed the beams of disclosing justice towards the form of the little bachelor, who, with too pronounced meekness, was engaged in readjusting the collar of his coat.
"At it ag'in!" Aunt Sibylla exclaimed, with slow and cutting emphasis. "At it ag'in! I do believe you're all possessed of the devil!"
Then, with one sweep of the lantern, she took a comprehensive survey of the shivering group, and passed on without another word, while in the breast of every guilty Wallencamper then present there rested a deep sense of merited condemnation.
Aunt Sibylla was soon followed by the other lantern-bearers, who dispersed homeward, along the four roads diverging from the school-house, and, the night being starless, the children of the darkness followed meekly in their wake.
The longest route lay before those who took the River Road leading to the Indian Encampment. Bachelor Lot was the hindmost in this receding column. Bachelor Lot, though too withered and brown of visage to afford immediate enlightenment as to his species, was held to be of unquestionable white descent. Yet he kept house, alone, at the Indian Encampment.
Then there was the Stony Hill Road, up which a few pilgrims toiled; and the Cross Lot Road to the beach—thither went the Barlows. Last of all, there was the Lane, and it was somewhat in the rear of the lane procession that I musingly wended my way, led by the beams of Grandma Keeler's slowly swaying lantern.
I was the Wallencamp school-teacher. I had come to "this rock-bound coast," imagining myself impelled by much the same necessity as that which fired the bosoms of the earlier pilgrims. Not that I had been restricted in respect to religious privileges, but I sought for a true independence of life and aim; and furthermore, it should be said, I had come to Wallencamp on a mission. "On a mission!" how the thought had tickled my fancy and roused my warmest enthusiasm but a few short days before! Indeed, I had not been yet a week in Wallencamp, and now, as I walked up the lane in a mood quite the reverse of enthusiastic, I was painfully trying to gather from my small and scattered sources of information what the exact meaning of the phrase might be.
I had entered on the performance of my errand to Wallencamp under circumstances not usual, perhaps, among propagandists; nevertheless, I had been singularly free from misgivings.
A girl of nineteen years, I had a home endowed with every luxury; a circle of family acquaintance, which, I admitted, did me great credit; congenial companions; while as for my education, I was pleased to call it completed. My career at boarding-schools had been of a delightfully varied and elective nature, for I had not deigned to toil with squalid studiousness, or even to sail with politic and inglorious ease through the prescribed course of study at any institution. Any misadventures necessarily following from this course my friends had gilded over with the flattering insinuation that I was "too vivacious" for this sort of discipline, or "too fragile" for that, though I am bound to say that, in such cases, my "vivacity" had generally sealed my fate before the delicacy of my constitution became too alarmingly apparent.
I had, to be sure, a few commendable aspirations, but I had started out fresh so many times with them only to see them meet the same end!
Though not by nature of a self-depreciatory turn of mind, I had occasional flashes of inspiration, to the effect that, in spite of the soft flattery of friends, I really was amounting to very little after all. It was in a mood induced by one of these supernatural gleams that I stood on one occasion, leaning a pair of very plump arms on the graveyard wall, looking wistfully over into the place of tombs, and thinking how nice it would be to have done forever with the fret and turmoil of life! And it was at such a time, too, that I received from a school friend, Mary Waite, the letter which was the moving cause of my mission to Wallencamp.
Mary Waite, by the way, was one of those "prosy, ridiculous girls"—so I had been compelled to classify her, although I was secretly troubled by a sincere admiration of her virtues,—who had made it an absorbing pursuit of her school-days to probe her text-books for useful information, and was also accustomed to defer to her teachers as high authority on matters of daily discipline. She was not in "our set." She was poor, and studious, and obedient, yet a friendship had sprung up between her and me, and I was moved to forgive her the, in many respects, grovelling tendencies of her nature. I even ascended occasionally to her room on the fourth floor to shock her with my sentiments, when there was nothing livelier going on.
"MY DEAR S——: Are you still perfectly happy, as you used to try to have me think you were always—the old restlessness, the better longings unsatisfied, do they never come up again? [That was Mary's insidious way of stating a difficulty.] Don't you believe you would be happier to do something in real earnest? Something for people outside, I mean. [I flushed a little at that. An insinuation of that sort can't be put too delicately.] I have tried to imagine how the proposal I am going to make will strike you—but never mind. I am teaching, you know, in Kedarville. I leave here, at the close of the term, for another field of labor, and now I want you to apply for the Kedarville school. Yes, it is a remote, poverty-stricken place. It contains no society, no church, no library, not even a little country store! It would seem to you, I dare say, like going back to the half-barbarous conditions of life. The people are simple and kind-hearted; but they need training—oh, how much!—physically, mentally, and morally. I can assure you, here is scope for the most daring missionary enterprise, and you,—I believe that you could do it if you would. Consider the matter seriously; consult with your friends about it, and if you do decide to try the experiment, write as legibly as you possibly can to the Superintendent of Schools, Farmouth, Mass., stating your qualifications, etc."
The idea struck me with such strange and immediate favor that I quite forbore to consult with my friends in regard to it. I resolved to go on the instant, and wrote my friend Mary to that effect, congratulating her, with an undercurrent of mischievous intention, on having been the happy means of setting my powers drifting in the right direction at last; and reproached her gently with having seemed to imply, once, in her letter, some occult reason why I had not been regarded, heretofore as specially designed to work in the cause of missions, whereas I had always felt myself drifting inevitably towards that end.
I wrote to the Superintendent of the Farmouth schools. But here I had an earnest purpose to serve, and a real desire to succeed, and here met with a difficulty. I had not the art of presenting my earnest purposes in the most assuring and credible manner. They would wear, in spite of me, an uneasy air of novelty; yet I aimed nobly. I dilated largely on some of the evils existing in the present system of education, and hinted at reforms not yet meditated by the world at large; but skilfully forgot to mention my own qualifications.
On reading the letter over, I was astonished at the flattering nature of the result, and, with the buoyant pride of one who believes he has suddenly discovered a new resource in himself, I sent a copy of my application to Mary Waite. She answered in the language of sorrowful reproach:—
"Oh, S., how could you?"
I was forced to conclude that, as usual, I had somehow made a misstep, and sought to conceal my mortification as best I might, by persuading myself and my friend that I had only regarded the matter as a joke all through. Nevertheless, I was bitterly disappointed.
What was my surprise, then, a few days afterwards, to receive this communication from the Superintendent of Schools:—
"You are accepted to fill the position of teacher in the Kedarville school." Then followed terse directions as to the best way of reaching Kedarville, and, finally: "Mrs. Philander Keeler will board you for two Dollars and fifty cents per week."
As I read this last clause everything that had made a sudden tumult in my mind before was lulled into a mysterious calm.
It was not the low value set upon the means of subsistence in Kedarville. Mercenary motives were, with me, as yet out of the question. It was not the oppressive charm of Mrs. Philander Keeler's name that affected me so strangely. It was the expressive combination of the whole, at once so clear cut and unique. I murmured it softly to myself on my way home from the Post-office.
"Han," said I, quite gravely, to my elder sister on entering the house; "Mrs. Philander Keeler will board me for two dollars and fifty cents per week:" and handed her the letter in pensive, though triumphant, confirmation of my words.
"When did you do this?" she gasped, and, before I could answer, "how are you going to get out of it?" she faintly demanded.
"Simply by getting into it, my dear," I answered, with that unyielding sweetness of demeanor for which I fancied I had ever been distinguished in the family circle.
I began to make my preparations for departure without delay.
Tender remonstrances, studied expostulations, were alike of no avail, and they helped me to pack, finally—those dear good people at home—putting as brave a face as they could upon it, and hoping for the best. My father assured my mother, though with trembling lip and tearful eye, that "God would temper the wind to the shorn lamb." I smiled at the part I was meant to play in this cheerful allegory, though it seemed to me rather inappropriate, as I had a new sealskin cloak that very winter.
At the last I gathered from the new and sprightlier form which the family submissiveness assumed, as well as from certain inadvertent disclosures of Bridget's, that I was confidently expected home again "in the course of a week or two." And I thereupon doubly confirmed myself in the resolve to see this thing through or die in the attempt.
I cannot define the motives which actuated me at this time. They do not appear to have flowed in a clear and pellucid stream. I discover a thirst for the surprising and experimental, for situations, dilemmas, and emergencies, sustained by the most sublime recklessness as to consequences. Then I see a dread of sinking into humdrum—the impulse never to be at rest; deeper than all this, I find a secret dissatisfaction with myself, a vague longing to use the best that is in me to some true purpose; a desire to leave the tangled skein, and "begin all over again."
It was early in January when I set out on my mission to the distant shores of Cape Cod. It was also, I remember, very early in the morning, and John Cable occupied a seat in the car. I had reason to know that John shared in the family disapproval of my sublime conduct. He sat, looking very glum behind his paper, and appeared not to notice me when I came in. Having finished reading his paper, he gnawed his moustache and gazed, still with glaring unconsciousness of my presence, out of the window. But as we neared Hartford, where I was to take the train for Boston, he came over to where I sat.
"I hope you'll enjoy yourself at Sandy Creek this winter," he said.
Now, I knew that John had designed this as sarcasm the most scathing, but he was himself conscious of failure, and the thought filled him with deeper gloom. He sought to reveal his baffled intentions in a scowl, which lent to his manly and intelligent features the darkness of spiritual night. And I replied, that "the recollection of his face, as it then appeared to me, would be in itself an inspiration through all the days to come."
There was silence for a space, and then John continued:—
"Have you found it on the map, yet?"
"Kedarville!" with bitter emphasis.
"Oh! certainly not."
"It may be a little island out there somewhere, you know," delivered with the effect of a masterpiece.
"Yes; or a lighthouse, possibly."
I saw that John wished he had thought of that himself. He became dejected again. Then, presently, he threw oil the cloak of bitterness which sat so ill on him, and, resuming his usual kindliness and benignity of manner, succeeded in making himself unconsciously tantalizing.
"If you do find it," he said; "and if you—if you conclude to stay for any length of time, I think I will go down some time this winter and hunt you up."
"If you do, John Cable," I answered, with unaccountable warmth; "I'll never forgive you as long as I live—never."
At Hartford, John took the train for Boston, too. We were very old friends. Latterly, we had read Shakespeare together at the Newtown Literary Club. We concluded not to quarrel for the rest of the way. I had an influx of gay spirits, and John was almost without exception "nice."
There were several hours to wait in Boston before the train on the Old Colony road would go out. We had dinner (I little realized how long it would be before I should eat again), and John tamely suggested driving about to look at some of the places of interest. I assured him that there was nothing so dispiriting as looking at places of interest, and he answered, cheerfully, after some moments of thought, that we could "shut our eyes when we went by them, then."
I had reason to dread a decline of spirits. Mine were rapidly on the wane. By the time we stopped at the Old Colony depot they were low, indeed. And the hardest of all was, that I would not, for my life, let my companion know. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and already quite dark. The atmosphere was heavy and chill; the sky ominous with clouds. I had an unknown journey yet to take in search of an unknown destination. The car into which I got on the Cape-bound train was dismal and weird-seeming enough.
"I wish, if you must go, you would let me see you to the end of this," said John.
I answered, laughing, with an unnecessary tinge of defiance in my tone. It would have been so much easier to cry. I thought, "If John would only try to look cross again!" as he did in the morning—anything but that expression of grieved and compassionate disapproval with which he sat, talking so earnestly to me, for the last few moments in that dark car. I thought he was cruel. He was trying to make me think and I was trying so hard not to think! I felt a childish desire to scream out. Then, when the signal for starting rang, and John took my hand an instant, in parting, looking down at me with his kind, familiar eyes, the impulse swept up strong within me to beg him to take me out of that dreadful car and take me back home, and I would be good, oh, so good, and "prosy," yes, and "humdrum," and never ask to go on any more missions to forlorn pieces of land sticking out into the water.
So there must have been a wild extravagance in the airy recklessness of tone with which I bade John "good-bye." A sense of utter helplessness came over me as he turned and went out.
I observed, particularly, but two passengers in the car. One was a man, very much bandaged as to his head, who sat gazing into the coal-stove, which occupied the centre of the car, with weakly meditative, burnt-out eyes. The other was a girl, occupying the seat directly in front of me. She might have been nine years old, but she had a singularly faded and mature countenance. As the train started, she turned to me with some excitement:—
"There!" said she, pointing towards the window; "your beau's walking off! He's walking fast! He ain't looking back!"
"Thank you," said I, in a low, expressionless tone, not intended as an inducement to further conversation.
This girl had a parcel of confectionery, the contents of which she occasionally took out, and ranged in a row on the window ledge, selecting therefrom the smallest and least inviting fragment, and having eaten it with the hasty air of one who treats herself under protest to the luscious prerogatives of childhood, put the rest back in the paper-bag, carefully replacing the string every time. She selected and handed to me the very largest specimen in her collection, which I had the gracelessness to refuse, though without show of disgust. Afterwards she asked if she might come and sit in the seat with me. I thought she was very disagreeable. Besides, I was so miserable I wanted to commune apart with my own loneliness. However, I made room for her.
She proceeded to confide to me all of her past history. She was returning home from a visit to her aunt. Her mother had died a good many years ago, "when Johnnie was a mere baby." She "kept house for father, and took care of Johnnie." She "tried hard not to have father feel his loss. It was very hard," she added, gravely, "for a man to be left alone so." She had bought a little book for Johnnie, but she never had much time to read; besides she wasn't quick to learn. She could pick the words out, to be sure, but, somehow, it didn't make good sense, and would I read the book to her?
Oh, to take counsel of my own despair! How dark and wild it was growing outside! Where was I going? whom should I meet there?
And so I read, at the foot of gorgeously-illuminated pages, how—
"Henny Penny and Ducky Lucky got started for the fair, When Goosie Poosie and Turkey Lurkey went out to view the air," etc.,
the range of characters swiftly widening as the narrative increased in power. To my surprise, the mature child listened to this nonsense with the utmost gravity and interest. No shadow of derision played on her attentive features. When I had finished—it was soon finished—she said:—
"Oh, that sounded so good; it made such good sense," and sighed, very wistfully.
"Do you want me to read it again?" I exclaimed, in despair.
Would I read it again? she asked.
I read it again.
After that she was silent and thoughtful for some time. Then she said, looking gravely into my face:—
"Do you love Jesus?"
"No, my dear," said I, surprised into much gentleness.
The faded blue eyes filled with tears. She had no notion of harassing me on the subject, but spoke quietly and at length of her own religious convictions.
The east wind crept in through the window, and once my little companion shivered. I noticed that she was rather thinly clad. I unstrapped my shawl and wrapped it around her. She let her head fall at my side, and went to sleep. Slowly, I was constrained to draw her up closer and put my arm around her as support. In so doing, I received from some source an unaccountable strength and calm of spirit.
At Braintree, which the child had told me was her home, I woke her up, and she got off.
I was to stop at West Wallen, the railway station least remote from Kedarville, and expected there to meet Mrs. Philander Keeler, or some member of that mysterious family, to convey me to Wallencamp.
It seemed as though the train had had time to travel the whole interminable length of the Cape, and plunge off into the ocean beyond, when, in fact, we were just entering upon that peculiar body of land at West Wallen.
There was no one there to meet me. The little depot was held by a strange night brigade of boys and girls, playing "blind-man's buff." They shouted like cannibals, and bore down on all opposing objects with resistless force. I did not attempt an entrance. A rough, good-natured looking man stood on the platform outside.
I put on my glasses (I was sadly and unaffectedly near-sighted), and having further assured myself of his seeming honesty, inquired if there was such a place as Kedarville in the vicinity.
"Waal, no, miss, thar' ain't," said he, with a noonday smile, which informed me that there was yet something to hope for. "Thar's no Kedarville that I know on. Thar's a Wallencamp some miles up yender. We don't often tackle no Sunday go-to-meeting names on to it, but I reckon, maybe, it's the same you're a-lookin' for."
He had spoken with such startling indefiniteness of the distance that I asked him how far it was to Wallencamp.
"Waal, thar' you've got me," said he, beaming on me in a broadly complimentary way, as though I had actually circumvented him in some skilful play at words. "Fact is, thar' ain't never been no survey run down in that direction that I know on. We call it four miles, more or less. That's Cape Cod measure—means most anythin' lineal measure. Talkin' 'bout Cape Cod miles," he continued, with an irresistible air of raillery; "little Bachelder Lot lives up thar' to Wallencamp, and they don't have no church nor nothin' thar', so Bachelder and some on 'em they come up here, once in a while, ter Sunday-school. Deacon Lancy, he'd rather see the Old Boy comin' into Sunday-school class any time than Bachelder; for he's quiet, the little bachelder is, but dry as a herrin'. So the Deacon thought he'd stick him on distances. The Deacon is a great stickler on distances.
"'How fur, Bachelder,' says he, 'did Adam and Eve go when they was turned out of the garden of Eden?' says he.
"'Waal,' says Bachelder, coughing a little, so—that's Bachelder's way o' talking—'we have sufficient reason to eenfer, Deacon, that, in all probabeelity, they went a Ceape Cod mile.'"
My informant's delight at this reminiscence was huge. It yielded to a more subdued sense of the ludicrous when I asked him if there was any public conveyance to Wallencamp. He made a polite effort to restrain his mirth, but the muscles of his face twitched violently.
"Waal, no, miss," said he; "we don't run no reg'lar express up to Wallencamp; might be a very healthy oc'pation, but not as lukertive as some, I reckon—not as lukertive as pickin' 'tater-bugs: that's what they do, mostly, down thar'. Fact is, miss," he concluded, with considerable gravity; "we don't vary often go down to Wallencamp unless we're obliged to."
On my proposing to make it lucrative, he immediately called, in a loud voice, to one of the playful occupants of the depot:
"Hi, thar!' 'Rasmus! 'Rasmus! Here's a lady wants to be conveyed down to Wallencamp; you run home and tackle, now! You be lively, now!"
'Rasmus was lively. In a very few moments something of an unusual and ghostly appearance—so much only I could discover of what afterwards became a very familiar sort of vehicle—was waiting for me alongside the platform. The only means of getting into it was through an opening directly in front. Towards this I was encouraged to climb over the thills, but met with an obstacle, in the form of my trunk, which seemed effectually to block up the entrance.
"Thar', now! I told ye so," exclaimed one of the bystanders, a large number of whom had mysteriously gathered about the scene. "You'd orter got her in first."
A disconsolate silence prevailed. The trunk had been elevated to its present position through the most painful exertions.
"Perhaps I can climb over it," I said, and bravely made the attempt.
No one knew, in the voiceless darkness, of the suddenly helpless and collapsed condition in which I landed on the other side. I groped about for a seat, and finally succeeded in finding one at the extreme rear of the vehicle.
'Rasmus drove. He was situated somewhere, somehow—I could not tell where nor how—in the realm of vacancy on the other side of the trunk; I only know that he seemed a long way off. Under these circumstances conversation was rendered extremely difficult. I learned that Mr. Philander Keeler was away at sea; that Mrs. Philander Keeler lived at the Ark, with Cap'n and Grandma Keeler, and the two little Keelers.
'Rasmus was the unmistakable son of his father.
"And it ain't no got-up ark, neither!" he yelled at me, in a tone which pierced through the distance and the darkness, and every intervening obstacle. "It's the reg'lar old Ark! It's what Noer, and the elephant, and them fellows come over in!"
I did not wonder, as we journeyed on, that my informant of the depot platform had used his "ups" and "downs" indiscriminately in indicating the direction of Wallencamp. In the inky blackness by which I was surrounded I was conscious, clearly, of but one sensation—that of going up and down. The rumbling of the wheels reached me as something far off and indefinably dreadful.
Then we stopped, and I crawled out like one in a dream. There was no light at the Ark to make it a distinguishable feature of the gloom. 'Rasmus found the door and knocked loudly. I became dimly conscious of the knocking, and followed 'Rasmus.
"I reckon they're to bed," said he, and knocked louder.
Pretty soon a clear, feminine voice, startled into musical sharpness, issued from a room quite near, with—"Who's there?" and was followed by two small, squealing voices, in unison,—"Who's there?"
Then other sounds arose—sounds from some quarter mysterious and remote—low, mumbling, comfortable refrain, and ominous snatches of an uneasy grumble; then a roar that shook the Ark to its foundations:—
"Who the devil's making such a rumpus out there at this time in the mornin'?" (It was nine o'clock P.M.) 'Rasmus sent back an intrepid yell:—
"It's the tea-cher! It's pretty late," he said, aside, to me. "I guess I won't go in. I reckon they won't have much style on. I seen ye pay father; that's all right. I'll tip yer trunk up under the shed, and the old Cap'n 'll see to gettin' it in in the mornin'. Here's a letter the postmaster sent down to the Cap'n's folks. Good night."
'Rasmus, my only hope! I made a convulsive grasp for him in the darkness, but he was gone.
It was she of the soothing, comfortable voice who took me in; and Grandma Keeler's taking in I understand always in the divinest and fullest sense of the term.
Further than that, I was conscious that there were white-robed and nightcapped figures moving about the room. So unearthly was their appearance that I had, at last, a confused notion of having become disengaged from the entanglements of the flesh, and fallen in with a small planetary system in the course of my wanderings through space. The centre of attraction seemed to be a table, to which the figures were constantly bringing more pies.
The letter which 'Rasmus had directed me to hand to the "folks" was read with interest, being the one I had dispatched from Newtown, a week or two before, informing them as to the time of my arrival.
Madeline rendered the brief and business-like epistle with the full effect of her peculiarly thrilling intonation, and Grandma listened with rapt attention; but, meanwhile, Grandpa Keeler and the two little Keelers found time surreptitiously to dispose of nearly a whole pie, with the serious aspect of those who will not allow a mere fleeting diversion to hinder them in the improvement of a rare opportunity.
Having declined to partake of pie, through Grandma Keeler's kind interposition, I was not further urged.
"Thar', poor darlin'," said she; "fix her up a good cup o' your golden seal, pa, and she shall go to bed right in the parlor to-night, seem' as we didn't get the letter, and hain't got her room fixed upstairs. It's all nice and warm, and thar', darlin', thar', we're r'al good for nussin' folks up."
In the parlor, I saw only one great, delicious object—a bed. My weary brain hardly exaggerated its dimensions, which could not have failed to strike with astonishment even the most indifferent observer. It was long; it was broad; it was deep; and, alas! it was high, I disrobed as best I might, and stood before it, gazing despairingly up at its snowy summit.
Then, remembering my experience with the trunk, I approached at one extreme, scaled the headboard, fell over into an absorbing sea of feathers, and, at that very instant it seemed, the perplexing nature of mortal affairs ceased to burden my mind.
I BLOW THE HORN.
Morning dawned on my mission to Wallencamp. My wakening was not an Enthusiastic one. Slowly my bewildered vision became fixed on an object on the wall opposite, as the least fantastic amid a group of objects. It was a sketch in water-colors of a woman in an expansive hoop and a skirt of brilliant hue, flounced to the waist. She stood with a singularly erect and dauntless front, over a grave on which was written "Consort." I observed, with a childlike wonder, which concealed no latent vein of criticism, the glowing carmine of her cheeks, the unmixed blue of her pupilless eyes, from a point exactly in the centre of which a geometric row of tears curved to the earth. A weeping willow—somewhat too green, alas!—drooped with evident reluctance over the scene, but cast no shade on its contrasting richness. The title of the piece was "Bereavement" By some strange means, it served as the pole-star to my wandering thoughts.
As I gazed and wondered my life took on again a definite form and purpose. The events of the preceding day rose in gradual succession before me, and I proceeded to descend from the heights I had scaled the night before.
I looked at my watch. It was eight o'clock, and school should begin at nine. Yet the occasion witnessed no feverish display of haste on my part, I saw that the difficulties which I was destined to endure in the Performance of my toilet that morning called either for philosophy or madness. I chose philosophy.
The portion of the Ark surrounding my bed was cut up into little recesses, crannies, nooks,—used, presumably, for storing the different pairs of animals in the trying events which preceded the Flood. In one of these, I had a dim recollection of having secreted my clothes, in the disordered condition of my brain the night before. So I cast desultory glances about me for these articles on the way, having first set out on a search for a looking-glass. In one dark recess I came into forcible contact with a hanging-shelf of pies. I thought what a moment that would have been for Grandpa Keeler and the little Keelers! but I had been brought up on hygienic, as well as moral, principles, and moved away without a sigh. In another sequestered nook, I paused with a sinful mixture of curiosity and delight, before a Chinese idol standing alone on a pedestal.
There was a strangeness and a newness about things at the Ark that began to be exhilarating, I was reminded, in a negative sort of way, that I had intended to begin my work on this new day with a prayer to the true God for strength and assistance. I had found it necessary to make this resolve because, although I had a "fixed habit of prayer," it was reserved rather for occasions of special humiliation than resorted to as an everyday indulgence; practically, I had well nigh dispensed with it altogether.
However, I started back in an intently serious frame of mind to find my couch. I lost my way, and stumbling against a swinging-door which opened into a comparatively spacious apartment, what was my joy to discover my trunk, with the portmanteau containing my keys on top of it.
I then proceeded to array myself with an absorbing ardor and devotion, doing my hair before a hand-glass with rare resignation of spirit. I began to feel more and more like an incorporated existence, and admitted a sudden eagerness to join the Keeler family at breakfast.
I had no hesitation which direction to take, being guided by the sound of voices and wafts of penetrating odors.
It was a fortunate direction, for I discovered on the way my lost apparel artfully concealed under a small melodeon, and, strangely enough, I was again brought face to face with my deserted couch and the weeping lady on the wall. She held me a moment with the old fascination. As I put up my glasses, I thought I detected in her face a hitherto unnoticed buoyancy of expression and not having wholly escaped in my life from ideas of a worldly nature, I reflected that, probably, her regretted consort had left her with a sufficient number of thousands.
In this same connection, I was reminded that I, myself, had started out on an independent career, and wondered if it would be unkind or undutiful in me to start a private bank account of my own. I concluded that it would not.
When I entered the little room where the Keeler family was assembled:—
"Why, here's our teacher!" exclaimed Grandma Keeler in accents of delight, and came to meet me with outstretched arms. "We couldn't abear to wake ye up, dearie," she went on, "knowin' ye was so tired this mornin'; and there's plenty o' time—plenty o' time. My Casindana come home!" she murmured, with a smile and a tremble of the lips, and a far-away look, for the instant, in her gentle eyes.
In fact, the whole Keeler family received me with outstretched arms. If I had been a long-lost child, or a friend known and loved in days gone by, I could not have been more cordially and enthusiastically welcomed.
The best chair was set for me; glances of eager and inquiring interest were bent upon me.
I accepted it all coolly, though not without a certain air of affability, too, for I had a natural desire to make myself agreeable to people, when it wasn't too much trouble; but I was quite firm, at this time, in the conviction that there was little or no faith to be put in human nature. On the whole I was much entertained and interested.
The two children came to climb into my lap, but this part of the acquaintance did not progress very fast. I thought they must have been struck by something in my eye (I was merely wondering abstractedly if their heads were not out of proportion to the rest of their bodies), for they paused, and Mrs. Philander called them away sharply.
Mrs. Philander was a frail little woman,—she could not have been over thirty or thirty-two years old,—not pretty, though she had a very airy and graceful way of comporting herself. Her eyes were large and dark, with a strange, melancholy gleam in them.
I never knew the secrets of Mrs. Philanders heart. She had often a tired, tense look about the mouth, and seemed often sorely discontent; but she had the sweetest voice I ever heard. She was familiarly called Madeline.
Grandpa or Cap'n Keeler was over eighty years old. He had a tall, powerful frame—at least, it spoke of great power in the past—and I thought his eye must have been uncommonly dark and keen once.
From his manly irascibility of temperament, and his frequent would-be authoritativeness of tone, one might have inferred, from a passing glimpse, that Grandpa Keeler was something of a tyrant in the family; but I soon learned that his sway was of an extremely vague and illusory nature.
Grandma Keeler was twenty years his junior. She had not married him until she was herself quite advanced in life, and had had one husband.
"To be sure," I heard her say once, "I ain't quite so far advanced as husband, but, then, it don't make no difference how young the girl is, you know."
She used to sit down and laugh—one of Grandma's "r'al good laughs" was incompatible with a standing posture—until the tears rolled down her cheeks, and she had to wipe them off with the corner of her apron.
She had been thrown from a wagon once—how often and thrillingly have I heard dear Grandma Keeler relate the particulars of that accident! She had broken at that time, I believe, nearly every bone in her body. Long was the story of her fall, but longer still the tale of her recuperation. In due course of time, she had grown together again; could now use all her limbs, and was in superabundant flesh. There was an unnatural sort of stiffness about her movements, however, her way of walking particularly. She advanced but slowly, and allowed her weight to fall from one foot to Another without any perceptible bend of any joint whatever.
I have stood at one end of a room and seen Grandma Keeler approaching from the other, when it seemed as though she was not making any progress at all, but merely going through with an odd sort of balancing process in order to maintain her equilibrium.
As for Grandma Keeler's face, there was enough in it to make several ordinary scrimped faces. Besides large physical proportions, there was enough in it of generosity, enough of whole-heartedness, a world of sympathy. The great catastrophe of her life had affected the muscles of her face so that although she enunciated her words very distinctly, she had a slow, automatic way of moving her lips.
The room where the breakfast-table was set was the same that I had entered first, on my arrival at Wallencamp. It was low and small, but capable, as I learned afterward, of holding any amount of things and people without ever seeming crowded. There was a cooking-stove in it, and many other articles of modest worth, so artlessly scattered about as to present a scene of the wildest and richest profusion.
Art was not entirely wanting, however. There was a ray of it on the wall behind the stove-pipe, the companion-piece to "Bereavement," entitled "Joy," and represented my heroine of the bed-chamber, reclining on a rustic bench in rather an unflounced and melancholy condition. In one place there hung a yellow family register, which was kept faithfully supplied from week to week with a wreath of fresh evergreens. It was headed by a woodcut representing a funeral, Grandma Keeler said; but Grandpa Keeler afterwards informed me, aside, with much solemnity, that it was a "marriage ceremony." Near the foot of the list of births, marriages and deaths, I saw "Casindana Keeler; died, aged twenty."
We sat down at the table. There was a brief altercation between Dinslow and Grace, the little Keelers, in which impromptu missiles, such as spoons and knives and small tin-cups, were hurled across the table with unguided wrath, and both infants yelled furiously.
Grandma had nearly succeeded in quieting them, when Madeline remarked to Grandpa Keeler, in her lively and flippant style:—
"Come, pa, say your piece."
"How am I going to say anything?" inquired Grandpa, wrathfully, "in such a bedlam?"
"Thar', now, thar'!" said Grandma Keeler, in her soothing tone; "It's all quiet now and time we was eatin' breakfast, so ask the blessin', pa, and don't let's have no more words about it."
Whereupon the old sea-captain bowed his head, and, with a decided touch of asperity still lingering in his voice, sped through the lines:—
"God bless the food which now we take; May it do us good, for Jesus' sake."
"Now, Dinnie," said Grandma Keeler, beguilingly; but it was not until after much coaxing and threatening, and the promise of a spoonful of sugar when it was over, that Dinslow was induced to solicit the same blessing, in the same poetical terms, and with an expedition still more alarming.
Then Gracie, with tears not yet dried from the late conflict, lifted up her voice in a rapture of miniature delight; "Dinnie says, 'gobble the food'! Dinnie says, 'gobble the food!'"
"Didn't say 'gobble the food!'" exclaimed Dinslow, blacker than a little thunder-cloud.
Madeline anticipated the rising storm, and stamped her foot and cried: "Will you be still?"
It was Grandma Keeler who quietly and adroitly restored peace to the troubled waters.
The Wallencampers, including the Keeler family, were not accustomed to speak of bread as a compact and staple article of food, but rather as one of the hard means of sustaining existence represented by the term "hunks." At the table, it was not "will you pass me the bread?" but—and I shall never forget the sweet tunefulness of Madeline's tone in this connection—"Will you hand me a hunk?"
The hunks were an unleavened mixture of flour and water, about the size and consistency of an ordinary laborer's fist.
I was impressed, in first sitting down at the Keelers' table, with a sense of my own ignorance as to the most familiar details of life, but soon learned to speak confidently of "hunks," and "fortune stew," and "slit herrin'," and "golden seal."
Fortune stew was a dish of small, round blue potatoes, served perfectly whole in a milk gravy.
I cherish the memory of this dish as sacred, as well as that of all the other dishes that ever appeared on the Wallencamp table. They were the products of faithful and loving hands to which nature had given a peculiar direction, perhaps, but which strove always to the best of their ability.
Slit herrin' was a long-dried, deep-salted edition of the native alewife, a fish in which Wallencamp abounded. They hung in massive tiers from the roofs of the Wallencamp barns. The herrin' was cut open, and without having been submitted to any mollifying process whatever, not one assuaging touch of its native element, was laid flat in the spider, and fried.
I saw the Keeler family, from the greatest to the least, partake of this arid and rasping substance unblinkingly, and I partook also. The brine rose to my eyes and coursed its way down my cheeks, and Grandma Keeler said I was "homesick, poor thing!"
The golden seal, a "remedy for toothache, headache, sore-throat, sprains, etc., etc.," was served in a diluted state with milk and sugar, and taken as a beverage. The herrin' had destroyed my sense of taste; anything in a liquid state was alike delectable to me, and while I drank, I had a sense of having become somehow mysteriously connected with the book of revelations. "We used to think," Grandma proceeded mildly to elucidate, "that it had ought to be took externally, but husband, he was painin' around one time, and nothin' didn't seem to do him no good, and so we ventured some of it inside of him, and he didn't complain no more for a great while afterwards." I appreciated the hidden meaning of these words when I saw how sparingly Grandpa Keeler partook of the golden seal. "So then we tried some of it ourselves, and ra'ly begun to like it, so we've got into the habit of drinkin' it along through the winter, it's so quietin', and may not be no special need of it, so far as we can see, but then, it's allus well enough to be on the safe side, for there's no knowin'," concluded Grandma, solemnly, "what disease may be a growin' up inside of you."
"My brother invented on't," said Grandpa Keeler, looking up at me from under his shaggy eyebrows with questionable pride. He went on more glowingly, however; "There's a picter of my brother on every bottle, teacher." (Madeline immediately ran from her chair, went into an adjoining room, and brought out a bottle to show me.) "Ye see, he used to wear them air long ringlets, though he was a powerful man, John was; but his hair curled as pretty as a girl's. Oh, he was a great dandy, John was; a great dandy." Grandpa Keeler straightened himself up and his eyes brightened perceptibly.
"Never wore nothin' but the finest broadcloth; why, there's a pair of black broadcloth pants o' his'n that you'll see, come Sunday, teacher!"
"Wall, thar', now, pa," said Grandma Keeler, reprovingly; "I wouldn't tell everything."
"Le' me see," continued Grandpa; "I had eight brothers, teacher, yis, yis, there was nine boys in all," nodding his head emphatically, and proceeding to count on his fingers.
Grandma Keeler laid her knife and fork aside, as though she felt that the occasion was an important one, and that she had a grave duty to perform in regard to it.
"Thar' was Philemon, he comes first, that makes one, don't it? and there was Doddridge—
"Sure he comes next, pa?" interposed Grandma; "for now you're namin' of em, you might as well git 'em right."
"Yis, yis, ma," replied the old man, hastily. "Then there was Winfield and John, they're all dead now, and Bartholomew, he was first mate in a sailin' vessel; fine man, Bartholomew was, fine man; he——"
"Wall, thar' now," said Grandma; "you'll never git through namin' on 'em, pa, if you stop to talk about 'em."
"Yis, yis," continued Grandpa, hopelessly confused, and showing dark symptoms of smouldering wrath; "there was Bartholomew. That makes a,—le' me see, Bartholomew,——"
"How many Bartholomews was there?" inquired Grandma, with pitiless coolness of demeanor.
"Thar', now, ma, ye've put me all out!" cried Grandpa, taking refuge in loud and desperate reproach; "I was gettin' along first-rate; why couldn't ye a kept still and let me reckoned 'em through?"
"Yer musn't blame me, pa, 'cause yer can't carry yer own brothers in yer head." There was a touch of gentle reproach in Grandma's calm voice. "Why, there was my mother's cousin 'Statia, that was only second cousin to me, and no relation at all, on my father's side, and she had thirteen children, three of 'em was twins and one of 'em was thrins, and I could name 'em all through, and tell you what year they was born, and what day, and who vaccinated 'em. There was Amelia Day, she was born April ninth, eighteen hundred and seventeen, Doctor Sweet vaccinated her, and it took in five days." And so on Grandma went through the entire list, gradually going more and more into particulars, but always coming out strong on the main facts.
The effect could not have failed to deepen in Grandpa's bosom a mortifying sense of his own incompetency.
When I got up from the Keelers' breakfast table there was something choking me besides the herrin' and golden seal, and it was not homesickness, either; but as I stepped out of Mrs. Philander's low door into the light and air, all lesser impulses were forgotten in a glow and thrill of exultation. I wondered if that far, intense blue was the natural color of the Cape Cod sky in winter, and if its January sun always showered down such rich and golden beams. There was no snow on the ground; the fields presented an almost spring-like aspect, in contrast with the swarthy green of the cedars. The river ran sparkling in summer-fashion at the foot of "Eagle Hill." From the bay, the sea air came up fresh and strong. I drank it with deep inspirations. At that moment it seemed to me that I had indeed been born to perform a mission. It was so hopeful to turn over an entire fresh leaf in the book of life, and I was resolved to do it heroically, at any cost. I reflected, not without a shade of annoyance, that I had forgotten to say my prayers, after all. At the same time I had a sort of conviction that it wasn't so unfortunate a remissness on my part as it would have been for some less qualified by nature to take care of themselves.
I discovered the school-house at the end of the lane. The general air of the Wallencamp houses was stranded and unsettled, as though, detained in their present position for some brief and restless season, they dreamed ever of unknown voyages yet to be made on the sea of life. They were very poor, very old. Some of them were painted red in front, some of them had only a red door, being otherwise quite brown and unadorned. There was one exception,—Emily Gaskell's—that stood on the hill, and was painted all over and had green blinds.
I heard a mighty rushing sound mingled with whoops and yells and the terrible clamp of running feet, and was made aware that a detachment from my flock was coming up the lane to meet me.
A girl, taller than I, with stooping shoulders and a piquant and good-natured cast of features, seized my hand and swung it in childish and confiding fashion. She had warts. I wondered, uneasily, if they would be contagious through my gloves.
I was struck with the uncommon beauty of one sturdy little fellow. He was barefooted (on Cape Cod, in January), and ragged enough to have satisfied the most crazy devotee of the picturesque. His shapely head was set on his shoulders in an exceedingly high-bred way, while its bad archangel effect was intensified by rings of curling black hair and great, seductive black eyes.
The children walked back, in comparative quiet, toward the school-house, except this boy. To him care was evidently a thing unknown. He managed, while keeping the distance undiminished between himself and me, to perform a great variety of antics, in which, by way of an occasional relief, his head was seen to rise above his heels.
Emily's wash had been left out to dry during the night. The wind had torn various articles from the line and carried them down in the direction of the lane fence.
My gymnastic-performing imp vanished through the bars. In an incredibly short space of time he reappeared, clothed—but, alas! I cannot tell how the imp was clothed, except to say that Emily being a tall, woman and the imp but a well-grown boy of ten, the effect was strangely voluminous and oriental.
This part of the lane was marked by some insignificant though very abrupt depressions and elevations of the surface. Occasionally he of the floating apparel was lost to sight; then he would appear all glorious on some small height, while the mind was compelled to revert irreverently to the picture of Moses on Mount Pisgah. He was the personification of impudence, withal, looking back and showing his teeth in superlative appreciation of his own sinfulness. He descended, and I looked to see him arise again, but I saw him no more.
I had a faint and fleeting vision, afterwards, of an apostolic figure flying back across the fields. It was so indistinct as to remain only among the ephemera of my fancy.
In a fork of the roads, opposite the school-house, stood a house with a red door. It was loaded, in summer, with honeysuckle vines. Aunt Lobelia sat always at the window. Sometimes she had the asthma and sometimes she sang. This morning her favorite refrain from the Moody and Sankey Hymnal was wafted in loud accents up the lane:—
"Dar' to be a Danyell! Dar' to be a Danyell! Dar' to make it known!"
As I entered the school-house, the inspiring strains still followed me.
There was a large Franklin stove within, which exhibited the most enormous draught power, emitting sparks and roaring in a manner frightful to contemplate.
Aunt Patty, who acted the part of janitress of the school-house at night and morning, had written on the blackboard in a large admonitory hand, "No spitting on this floor, you ninnies!"
The bench, containing the water-pail, occupied the most central position in the room. At one side of the bench hung a long-handled tin dipper; on the other, another tin instrument, resembling an ear-trumpet, profoundly exaggerated in size.
"That's what you've got to blow to call us in," exclaimed a small child, with anticipative enlivenment.
I went to the door with the instrument.
"Dar' to be a Danyell! Dar' to make it known."
The stirring measures came across from Aunt Lobelia's window. Then the singer paused.
There were other faces at other windows. The countenances of the boys and girls gathered about the door were ominously expressive. I lifted the horn to my lips. I blew upon it what was intended for a cheerful and exuberant call to duty, but to my chagrin it emitted no sound whatever. I attempted a gentle, soul-stirring strain; it was as silent as the grave. I seized it with both hands, and, oblivious to the hopeful derision Gathering on the faces of those about me, I breathed into it all the despair and anguish of my expiring breath. It gave forth a hollow, soulless, and lugubrious squeak, utterly out of proportion to the vital force expended, yet I felt that I had triumphed, and detected a new expression of awe and admiration on the faces of my flock.
"I don't see how she done it," I heard one freckled-faced boy exclaim, confidingly to another; "with a hull button in thar'!"
"Who put the button in the horn?" I inquired of the youngster afterwards, quite in a pleasant tone, and with a smile on which I had learned to depend for a particularly delusive effect; at the same time I put up my glasses to impress him with a sense of awe.
"Simmy B.," he answered.
"And which is Simmy B.?" I questioned, glancing about the school-room.
"Oh, he ain't comin' in," gasped my informer; "he run over cross-lots with Emily's clo's on."
I had planned not to confine my pupils to the ordinary method of imbibing knowledge through the medium of text-books, but by means of lectures, which should be interspersed with lively anecdotes and rich with the fruitful products of my own experience, to teach them.
My first lecture was, quite appropriately, on the duty of close application and faithful persistence in the acquisition of knowledge, depicting the results that would inevitably accrue from the observance of such a course, and here, glowing and dazzled by my theme, I even secretly regretted that modesty forbade me to recommend to my pupils, as a forcible illustration, one who occupied so conspicuous a position before them.
My new method of instruction, though not appreciated, perhaps, in its intrinsic design, was received, I could not but observe, with the most unbounded favor.
After the first open-mouthed surprise had passed away from the countenances of my audience, I was loudly importuned on all sides for water. I was myself extravagantly thirsty. I requested all those who had "slit herrin'" for breakfast to raise their hands.
Every hand was raised.
I gravely inquired if slit herrin' formed an ordinary or accustomed repast in Wallencamp, and was unanimously assured in the affirmative.
After dwelling briefly on the gratitude that should fill our hearts in view of the unnumbered blessings of Providence, I inaugurated a system by which a pail of fresh water was to be drawn from one of the neighboring wells, and impartially distributed among the occupants of the school-room, once during each successive hour of the day. The water was to be passed about in the tin dipper, in an orderly manner, by some member of the flock, properly appointed to that office, either on account of general excellence or some particular mark of good behavior; though I afterwards found it advisable not to insist on any qualifications of this sort, but to elect the water-bearers merely according to their respective rank in age. This really proved to be one of the most lively and interesting exercises of the school, was always cheerfully undertaken, executed in the most complete and faithful manner, and never on any account forgotten or omitted.
I drank, and continued my lecture, but the first look of attractive surprise never came back to the faces of my audience. They sought diversion in a variety of ways, acquitting themselves throughout with a commendable degree of patience until they found it necessary gently to admonish me that it was time for recess.
After recess, as the result of deep meditation, in which I had concluded that the mind of the Wallencamp youth was not yet prepared for the introduction of new and advanced methods, I examined my pupils preparatory to giving them lessons and arranging them in classes, in the ordinary way. I found that they could not read, but they could write in a truly fluent and unconventional style; they could not commit prosaical facts to memory, but they could sing songs containing any number of irrelevant stanzas. They could not "cipher," but they had witty and salient answers ready for any emergency. There seemed to be no particular distinction among them in regard to the degree of literary attainment, so I arranged them in classes, with an eye mainly to the novel and picturesque in appearance.
They were a little disappointed at the turn in affairs, having evidently anticipated much from the continuation of the lecture system, yet they were disposed to look forward to school-life, in any case, as not without its ameliorating conditions.
THE BEAUX OF WALLENCAMP PERFORM A GRAVE DUTY.
"We have our r'al, good, comfortin' meal at night," Grandma Keeler had said, and the thought was uppermost in my mind at the close of my first day's labor in Wallencamp. I had taken a walk to the beach; a strong east wind had come up, and the surf was rolling in magnificently; a wild scene, from a wild shore, more awful then, in the gathering gloom. The long rays of light streaming out of the windows of the Ark guided me back across the fields. Within, all was warmth and cheer and festive expectation. Grandma Keeler was in such spirits; a wave of mirthful inspiration would strike her, she would sink into a chair, the tears would roll down her cheeks, and she would shake with irrepressible laughter. It was in one of her serious moments that she said to me:—
"Thar', teacher, I actually believe that I ain't made you acquainted with my two tea-kettles." They stood side by side on the stove, one very tall and lean, the other very short and plump. "This 'ere," said Grandma, pointing to the short one; "is Rachel, and this 'ere," pointing to the tall one, "is Abigail, and Abigail's a graceful creetur' to be sure," Grandma reflected admiringly; "but then Rachel has the most powerful delivery!"
I was thus enabled to understand the allusions I had already heard to Rachel's being "dry," or Abigail's being as "full as a tick," or vice versa.
The table was neatly spread with a white cloth; there was an empty bowl and a spoon at each individual's place. In the centre of the table stood a pitcher of milk and a bowl of sugar. Grandpa Keeler having asked the blessing after the approved manner of the morning, there was a general uprising and moving, bowl in hand, towards the cauldron of hulled corn on the stove. This was lively, and there was a pleasurable excitement about skimming the swollen kernels of corn out of the boiling, seething liquid in which they were immersed. Eaten afterwards with milk and sugar and a little salt, the compound became possessed of a truly "comforting" nature.
I stood, for the second time, over the kettle with my eye-glasses securely adjusted, very earnestly and thoughtfully occupied in wielding the skimmer, when the door of the Ark suddenly opened and a mischievously smiling young man appeared on the threshold. He was not a Wallencamper, I saw at a glance. There was about him an unmistakable air of the great world. He was fashionably dressed and rather good-looking, with a short upper lip and a decided tinge of red in his hair. He stood staring at me with such manifest appreciation of the situation in his laughing eyes, that I felt a barbarous impulse to throw the skimmer of hot corn at him. It was as though some flimsy product of an advanced civilization had come in to sneer at the sacred customs of antiquity.
"I beg your pardon," the intruder began, addressing the Keeler family with exceeding urbanity of voice and manner; "I fear that I have happened in rather inopportunely, but I dared not of course transgress our happy Arcadian laws by knocking at the door."
"Oh, Lordy, yis, yis, and the fewer words the better. You know our ways by this time, fisherman," exclaimed Grandpa Keeler. "Come in! come in! Nobody that calls me friend need knock at my door."
"Come in! come in, fisherman! Won't you set, fisherman?" hospitably chimed in Grandma Keeler.
"Ah, thank you! may I consider your kind invitation deferred, merely," said the fisherman, suavely, "and excuse me if I introduce a little matter of business with the Captain. We carelessly left our oars on the banks yesterday, Captain Keeler, they were washed off, I have ordered some more, but can't get them by to-morrow. I hear you have a pair laid by, I should like to purchase."
"What, is it the old oars ye want?" interrupted Grandpa, "why, Lord a massy! you know whar' they be, fisherman, alongside that old pile o' rubbish on hither side o' the barn, and don't talk about purchasin'—take 'em and keep 'em as long as ye want, they ain't no account to me now."
"I am very much obliged to you, Captain," the fisherman said, "I am very sorry to have interrupted this—a—"
"Why, no interruption, I'm sure," said Grandma Keeler, good-naturedly, "we've kep' right along eatin'."
"Want a lantern to look for 'em eh?" inquired Grandpa Keeler, for the fisherman lingered, hesitating, on the threshold.
"This is our teacher, fisherman," said Grandma, in her gentle, tranquillizing tones, "and this 'ere is one of Emily's fishermen, teacher, and may the Lord bless ye in yer acquaintance," she added with simple fervor.
The fisherman saluted me with a bow which reflected great credit on his former dancing-master. He murmured the polite formula in a low tone, at the same time shooting another covertly laughing glance at me out of his eyes. As the door closed behind him, "Ah, that's a sleek devil!" said Grandpa Keeler, giving me a meaning glance from under his shaggy eyebrows.
"Wall, thar' now, pa, I wouldn't blaspheme, not if I'd made the professions you have," said Grandma, with grave reproval.
"A sleek dog," continued Grandpa Keeler; "tongue as smooth as butter, all 'how d' yer do!' and 'how d' yer do!' but I don't trust them fishermen much, myself, teacher."
"Who are the fishermen?" I inquired.
"They board up to Emily's," said Grandma. "They come from Providence and around, and they stay here, off and on, a week or two to a time, along through the winter, some of 'em. They fish pickerel on the river, and sometimes they're blue-fishin' out in the bay, and quite generally they're just kitin' round as young men will, I suppose. Sometimes they have vittles sent to 'em and Emily she cooks for 'em.'"
"Why, they're off on a spree, that's all," said Grandpa Keeler, comprehensively, giving me another significant glance; "they're off on a spree, and ye see they think this 'ere is jest a right fur enough out the way place for 'em. This 'ere red-haired one that was in here this evenin', Rollin his name is, he's a dreadful rich one, I suppose, dreadful rich! I've heered all about him. He's an old bachelder, I reckon, that is, he keeps mighty spruce, but I reckon he's hard on to thirty. Emily's got a cousin that works for some o' them big folks down to Providence, and she's heered all about him, this red-haired one, and how he keeps a big house down thar', and sarvants enough, massy! and half the time he's hither and yon, and a throwin' out money like water. His father and mother they're dead, so I've heered, and he used to have gardeens over him, but he haint kep' no gardeens lately, I reckon," said Grandpa, with grim facetiousness.
"Why, he's been a waitin' on Weir's daughter, down here—Becky. She goes to school to you, teacher," the old man added, presently, brightening with a senile predilection for gossip.
"Becky's a very sensible girl," said Grandma Keeler; "and don't cast no sheep's eyes, but goes right along and minds her own business. Becky plays very purty on the music, too."
"Yes. But you know Dave Rollin wouldn't any more think of marrying Becky Weir than he would of marrying me," cried Mrs. Philander. "Of all the fishermen that have come down here not one of them ever married in Wallencamp. He's just trifling, and she thinks he's in real earnest; anybody can see that. You've only to mention his name to see her flush up as red as a rose. I tell you this is a strange world," Madeline snapped out sharply; "and Dave Rollin, I suppose, is one of the gentlemen."
"We ain't no right to say but what he's honest," said Grandma Keeler; "Becky she's honest herself, and she takes it in other folks. She's more quiet than some of our girls be, and higher notions, and she's young and haint never been away nowhere, and no wonder if he waits on her she should take a kind o' fancy to him."
"You know, ma," continued Madeline, "that Dave Rollin would never take her home among his folks, never; and if I was Becky's mother I'd shut the door in his face before I'd ever have him fooling around my house, and she should never stir out of the house with him, never!"
"I don't suppose there's much use in talking to the girl," said Grandma: "Emily was in here the other day, and Becky, she happened to come in the same time, and I didn't see no use in Emily's speaking up in the way she did; for, says she, 'What do you have that Dave Rollin flirtin' around you for, Beck? What do you suppose he wants o' you 'cept to amuse himself a little when he ain't nothin' better to do, and then go off and forgit he's seen ye!' And Becky didn't say nothin', but she give Emily a dreadful long, quiet kind of a look out of her eyes."
"She hasn't lost quite all of Weir's temper since she's been seeking religion," said Madeline, in a strangely light and vivacious tone. Grandma and Grandpa Keeler, by the way, were good Methodists, but Madeline was not a "professor."
"Seeking religion, eh?" inquired Grandpa Keeler. "She'd better let Dave Rollin alone, then," he added.
"Let us hope that we shall all on us be brought to a better state of mind," concluded Grandma Keeler, with solemn pertinency.
Before the meal was finished and the table cleared away, the latch of the Ark had been often lifted.
On all occasions, afterwards, there was a marked and cheerful variety in the nature of the droppers-in at the Ark—the children and all the young men and maidens making their appearance with a promiscuousness which precluded the possibility of design—but to-night the Wallencamp mind had evidently aimed at some great system of conventionality, and had been eminently successful in evolving a plan.
The callers were young men exclusively—the native youth of Wallencamp. Their blowzy, well-favored faces, which ever afterward appeared to beam with good nature, to-night expressed a sense of some grave affliction heroically to be endured.
Their best clothes, it was obvious, had been purchased by them "ready-made," and had been designed, originally, for the sons of a less stalwart community. The young men were especially pinched as to their expansive chests, the broadcloth coming much too short at this point, and shrugging up oddly enough at the shoulders, while the phenomenally slick arrangement of their hair was calculated to produce a depressing effect on the mind of the observer.
As they came in one by one, in a matter of fact way, and Grandma Keeler announced hopefully to each in turn—"and this is our teacher!" they accepted the fact with no more flattering sign than that of a dumb and helpless resignation to the inevitable. They seated themselves about the room in punctilious order, assuming positions painfully suggestive of a conscientious disregard for ease, and seemed to draw some silent support and sympathy out of their hats, which they caressed with lingering affection touching to behold.
Grandma beckoned me aside into the pantry which immediately adjoined the kitchen, and informed me in one of her reverberating whispers, that I "mustn't mind the boys being slicked up, for they'd sorter dropped in to make my acquaintance, and, if we wanted the pop-corn, it was in a bag down under where the almanac hung, to the furtherest corner of the wood-box."
I pondered these mysterious injunctions in silence, and realizing the fact that the Wallencamp beaux had appeared in a body for the express purpose of making my acquaintance, I essayed to show my appreciation of this amiable design by an attempt to engage them in conversation. My various efforts in this line proved alike futile, and they seemed but to grow impressed with a deeper sense of misery.
I had a vague intention of going in search of the pop-corn, when, to my sudden dismay, Grandma Keeler and Madeline, who had been noiselessly clearing off the table, emerged from a brief consultation in the pantry, bearing with them a lighted candle, and having given Grandpa Keeler a nod of unmistakable force and significance, disappeared through the door which led into that indefinite extension of the Ark beyond.
But Grandpa Keeler remained wilfully indifferent to these broadly insinuating tactics. He fancied, poor, deluded old man, that here was a choice opportunity to tell a tale of the seas after a fashion dear to his own heart, unshackled by the restraints of family surveillance.
A singularly childlike and unapprehensive smile played across his features. He drew his chair up closer to the stove and began: "Jest after I was a roundin' Cape Horn the fourth time, I believe,—yis, yis, le'me see—twenty times I've rounded the Horn,—wall, this ere, I reckon, was somewhere nigh about the fourth time."
Scarcely had Grandpa arranged the merest preliminaries of his tale when ominous footsteps were heard returning along the way whither Grandma and Madeline had so recently departed, and he was interrupted by a strangely calm though authoritative voice from behind the door; "Pa!"
"Wall, wall, ma! what ye want, ma?" exclaimed Grandpa, turning his head aside, with a slight shade of annoyance on his face.
No answer immediately forthcoming, that wofully illusory smile returned again to his features. He moved still nearer to the stove, and was just at the point of resuming the thread of his narrative when—
"Bijonah Keeler!" came from behind the door in accents still calm, indeed, but freighted with a significance which words have faint power to express.
"Yis, yis, ma! I'm a coming, ma!" replied Grandpa, rising hastily and shuffling toward the door; "I'm a coming, ma! I'm a coming!"
The door opened wide enough to receive him, and then closed upon him in all his ignominy.
The sound of his voice in irate expostulation, mingled with the steady flow of those serener tones, grew gradually faint in the distance, and I was left alone with the sepulchral group of young men.
They arose, still maintaining the weighty aspect of those elected to the hour, and abruptly opened their lips in song.
There was no repression now; the Ark fairly rang with the sonorous strains of that wild Jubilate.
"Light in the darkness, sailor, Day is at hand; See, o'er the foaming billows, Fair haven stands."
Their voices rolling in at the chorus with the resistless sweep of the ocean-waves:—
"Pull for the shore, sailor, Pull for the shore; Heed not the rolling waves, But bend to the oar:"
and with a final "Pull for the shore," that sent that imaginary life-boat bounding high and dry on the strand at the hands of its impulsive crew.
Then they sat down and wiped the perspiration from their faces, which had become transfigured with a sudden zest and radiance.
I recovered myself sufficiently to express a bewildered sense of pleasure and gratitude.
"Do you sing, teacher?" asked Harvey Dole, a round-faced youth with an irrepressible fund of mirth in his eyes, who had broken in on the former silence with an unguarded little snicker.
Lovell Barlow, he of the dignified countenance and spade-shaped beard, had faintly and helplessly echoed that snicker, and now repeated Harvey's words:—
"Ahem, certainly—Do you sing, teacher? Do you, now? Do you sing, you know?"
I had some new and seriously awakened doubts on the subject. However, the degree of attainment not being brought into question, I felt that I could answer in the affirmative.
The countenances of the group brightened still more perceptibly.
"And do you sing No. 2?" inquired Harvey, eagerly.
I tried to assume, in reply, a tone of equal animation.
"Is it something new? I don't think I've heard of it before."
"Why, it's the Moody and Sankey hymn-book!" exclaimed Harvey, looking suddenly blank.
I strove to soften the effect of this blow by a lively show of recognition.
"Oh, yes, I know perfectly now. It's 'Hold the Fort,' 'Ring the Bells of Heaven,' and all those songs, isn't it?"
"'Hold the Fort' 's in No. 1," said George Olver, a new speaker, with beautiful, brave, brown eyes, and a soldierly bearing.
He spoke, correcting me, but with the tender consideration which a father might display toward an unenlightened child.
"There's three numbers," said Harvey Dole, "and you ought to learn to sing 'em, teacher. We sing 'em all the time, down here."
"You are fond of singing?" I questioned.
Ned Vickery, of lithe figure and straight black hair, a denizen of the Indian encampment, started up, flushing through his dark skin.
"I lul-love it!" he said.
Ned Vickery sang with the most exquisite smoothness, but stumbled a little in prosaical conversation.
A silent Norwegian, Lars Thorjon, who had sat gazing at me and smiling, flushed also at the words, and murmured something rapturous with a foreign accent.
"Yes, we're rather fond of singing." I heard George Giver's resolute tones.
Harvey Dole gave a low, expressive whistle.
"I like it, certainly, ahem! I do. I like it, you know," said Lovell Barlow.
"We have a singin' time generally every night," said Harvey. "Sometimes Madeline plays for us on her music, and sometimes we go down to Becky's. Madeline's melodeon is very soft and purty, but George here, he likes the tone of Beck's organ best, I reckon. Eh, George?"
Harvey winked facetiously at George Olver, who reddened deeply but did not cast down his eyes.
"If I was you, George," continued the merciless Harvey; "I'd lay for that Rollin. Gad, I'd set a match to his hair. I'd nettle him!"
"I'd show him his p-p-place!" stammered Ned Vickery, with considerable warmth.
"I would, certainly," reiterated the automatic Lovell "I'd show him his place, you know; I would certainly."
The big veins swollen out in George Giver's forehead knitted themselves there for an instant sternly.
"I don't interfere with no man's business," said he. "So long as he means honorable, and car'ies out his actions fa'r and squar', I don't begrudge him his chance nor meddle in his affa'rs."
Our attention was suddenly diverted from this subject, which was evidently growing to be a painful one to one of the company, by the sound of a violin played with, singular skill and correctness just outside the window.
"Glory, there's Lute!" exclaimed Harvey, bounding ecstatically from his chair.
"Come in, Lute, come in?" he shouted; "and show us what can be got out of a fiddle!"
"Let him alone," said George Olver, but the group had already vanished through the door, Lovell following mechanically.
"That's Lute Cradlebow fiddlin' out thar'," George Olver explained to me. "I don't want 'em to skeer him off, for it ain't every night Lute takes kindly to his fiddle. There's times he won't touch it for days and days. Talkin' about Lute's fiddlin'—I suppose it's true—there was some fellows out from Boston happened to hear him playin' one night, up to Sandwich te-own, and they offered him a hundred and fifty a month—I Reckon that's true—to go along with some fiddlin' company thar' to Boston, and he'd got more if he'd stuck to it, but Lute, he come driftin' back in the course of a week or two. I don't blame him. He said he was sick on't.
"I tell you how 'tis, teacher. Folks that lives along this shore are allus talkin' more'n any other sort of folks about going off, and complainin' about the hard livin', and cussin' the stingy sile, but thar's suthin' about it sorter holts to 'em. They allus come a driftin' back in some shape or other, in the course of a year or two at the farderest."
The door was thrown wide open and my recreant guests reappeared half-dragging, half-pushing before them a matchless Adonis in glazed tarpaulin trousers and a coarse sailor's blouse.
I recognized at once in the perfect physical beauty of the eccentric fiddler only a reproduction, in a larger form, of that sadly depraved young cherub who had danced before me in ghostly habiliments on the way to school. It was the imp's older brother.
"Here's Lute, teacher!" cried Harvey; "he wouldn't come in 'cause he wasn't slicked up. But I tell him clo's don't make much difference with a humly dog, anyway. Come along, Lute, and put them blushes in your pocket to keep yer hands warm in cold weather. Teacher, this is our champion fiddler, inventor, whale-fisher, cranberry-picker, and potato-bugger,—Luther Larkin Cradlebow!"
The youth of the tuneful and birdlike name dealt his tormentor a hearty though affectionate cuff on the ears, and being thus suddenly thrust forward, he doffed his broad souwester, took the hand I held out to him, and, stooping down, kissed me, quite in a simple and audible manner, on the cheek.
It was done with such gentle, serious embarrassment, and Luther Larkin Cradlebow was so boyish and quaint looking, withal, that I felt not the slightest inclination to blush, but I heard Harvey's saucy giggle.
"Gad!" said he; "hear the old women talk about Lute's being bashful and not knowin' how to act with the girls! Now I call them party easy manners, eh, Lovell? What do you think, Lovell?"
"Ahem, certainly,—" responded Lovell, smiling in vague sympathy with the laughing group. "I call them so,—certainly,—I do."
Only George Olver turned a sober, reassuring face to the blushing Cradlebow.
"Give us a tune, Lutie," said he. "Lord, I'd laugh if I could get the music out o' them strings that you can."
The Cradlebow sat down, drew his bow across the strings with a full, quivering, premonitory touch, and, straightway, the fiddle began to talk to him as though they two were friends alone together in the room. How it played for him,—the fiddle—as though it were morning. How it shouted, laughed, ran with him in a world of sunshine and tossing blossoms!
How it hoped for him, swelling out in grander strains, wild with exultation, tremulous with passion!
How it mourned for him, with dying, sweet despair, until one almost saw the night fall on the water, and the lone sea-birds flying, and heard the desolate shrieking of the wind along the shore.
I heard a real sob near me, and looking up saw the tears rolling down Harvey's rosy cheeks.
It was in the midst of a simple melody,—I think it was the "Sweet By-and-By"—the player stopped and turned suddenly pale.
"That was a new string, too!" he said; "and only half tight." Then he blushed violently, seeking to hide the irritation of his tone under a careless laugh.
"Oh, I don't mind the string," he went on; "that's easy mended, but I happened to think it's a bad sign, that's all—to break down so in the middle of a tune."
"Darn the sign!" exclaimed Harvey, "I wanted to hear that played through."
"You remember Willie Reene?" Luther turned his eyes, still unnaturally bright with excitement, towards George Olver.
"Ay, I remember," said George Olver. "I was goin' mackerellin' with ye myself that time, only I wrinched my wrist so."
"We was out on deck together," Luther continued. "I was lying down,—it was a strange, warmish sort of a night—and Willie played. He played a long time. It was just in the middle of a tune he was playin', that—snap! the string went in just that way. I never thought anything about it. I tried to laugh him out of it, and he laughed, but says he, 'It's a bad sign, Lute.' Likely it had nothin' to do with it, but I think of it sometimes, and then it seems as though I must go to that same place and look for him again. I never done anything harder than when I left him there."
"You done the best you could," George Olver answered stoutly, "They said you dove for him long and long after it wasn't no use."
"No use," Luther repeated, shaking his head sadly and abstractedly; "no use."
"There's naught in a sign, anyway," George Olver affirmed.
"They don't worry me much, you can depend"—the player looked up at length with a singularly bright and gentle smile. "But Grannie, she believes in 'em, truly. She's got a sign in a dream for everything, Grannie has so I hear lots of it."
Harvey Dole had quite recovered by this time from his tearfully sentimental mood.
"Now it's strange," he began, with an air of mysterious solemnity; "there was three nights runnin' that I dreamed I found a thousand-dollar bill to the right hand corner of my bury drawer, and every mornin' when I woke up and went to git it—it wa'n't there, so I know the rats must 'a' carried it off in the night, and a pretty shabby trick to play on a feller, too—but then you can't blame the poor devils for wantin' a little pin money.
"Did I ever tell ye how Uncle Randal tried to clear 'em out 'o his barn? Wall, he traded with Sim Peck up to West Wallen, a peck o' clams for an old cat o' hisn, that was about the size, Uncle Randal said, of a yearlin' calf, and he turned her into the barn along o' the rats, and shut the door, and the next mornin', he went out and there was a few little pieces of fur flyin' around and devil a—devil a cat! Uncle Randal said."
"You're the D—d—d—you're it, yourself, Harvey!" stammered Ned Vickery.
"You'd better look out, Ned," Harvey giggled, "we're all a little nearer'n second cousins down here to Wallencamp. Ned's mother didn't use to let him go to school much, teacher," Harvey added, turning to me; "it used to wear him out luggin' home his 'Reward o' merit' cards."
"I n-n-never got any," Ned retorted, blushing desperately through his dark skin; "n-n-nor you either!"
"I guess that's so, Harvey," said Lovell Barlow, quite gravely; "I rather think that's so, Harvey—ahem, I guess it is."
When my visitors rose to depart they formed in line, with George Olver and Luther at the head. George Olver was the spokesman of the group. He offered me his strong brown hand in hearty corroboration of his words: "We're a roughish sort of a set down here, teacher, but whenever you want friends you'll know right whar' to find us; we mean that straight through and fair an' kindly."
I thanked him, and then Luther gave me his hand, but did not kiss me, in departing.
Each member of the phalanx gave me his hand in turn, with a hearty "Good night," and so they passed out. The door closed behind them. I meditated a space, and when I looked up, there was Lovell Barlow's pale face peering into the room.
"Ahem—Miss Hungerford!" he murmured, in awful accents: "Miss Hungerford!"
Could it be some telegram from my home thus mysteriously arrived? The thought flashed through my mind before reason could act.
"What is it?" I gasped, hastening to meet the informer.
Lovell Barlow handed me a picture; it was a small daguerreotype, in which the mild and beneficent features of that worthy being himself shone above his own unmistakable spade-shaped whiskers.
"Would you like it, Miss Hungerford?" said he, still with the same deeply impressive air; "would you, now, really, Miss Hungerford? would you like it, now?"
"Why, certainly," I exclaimed, with intense relief; and before I could fully appreciate the situation, Lovell Barlow cast a cautious glance about him, leaned his head forward, and whispered hoarsely, "I've got some more, at home—ahem! I've got six, Miss Hungerford. Mother wants to keep two and she's promised Aunt Marcia one; but you can have one any time, Miss Hungerford. Ahem! ahem! You can, you know."
"Thank you," I murmured, while it seemed as though my faculties were desperately searching for light on a hitherto unsounded sea. "I think this will do for the present."
Lovell nodded his head with a grave good-night and disappeared.
Meanwhile, Grandma and Grandpa Keeler and Madeline were absorbing this last impressive scene as they slowly emerged from that unknown quarter of the Ark whither they had retreated.
Grandpa looked at me with a peculiar twinkle in his eye.
"So Lovell came back to give ye his picter, eh, teacher?" said he.
I returned Grandpa's look with cheerful and unoffended alacrity; but Grandma interrupted, "Thar', now, pa! Thar', now! We mustn't inquire into everything we happen to get a little wind on. Ye see, teacher," she continued, in tones of the broadest gentleness, "we knew they'd be sorter bashful gettin' acquainted the first night, and so we thought it 'ud be easier for 'em if we should leave 'em to themselves, and we knew you was so—we knew you wouldn't care."
As Grandpa resumed his accustomed seat by the fire, an expansive grin still lingered on his features.
"Ah, he's a queer fellow, that Lovell," said he; "but he's quick to larn, they say, larns like a book. I'll tell ye what's the trouble with him, teacher. He's been tied too long to his mother's apron-strings. He don't know no more about the world than a chicken. He's thirty odd now, I guess, and I reckon he ain't never been further away from the beach than Sandwich te-own."
"I don't know as we'd ought to blame him," said Grandma Keeler; "though to be sure, Lovell's more quiet-natured than some that likes to be wanderin' off as young folks will, generally; but he was the only one they had, and Lovell's allus been a good boy. Pa and me, when we go to meetin', we most allus come across him a carryin' his Sunday School book under his arm, and may be," concluded Grandma Keeler, "there'll be a time when we shall more on us wish that thar' wan't nothin' wuss could be brought against us than being innocent."
We pondered these suggestive words a few moments in silence; then Grandpa Keeler boldly interposed:—
"That Lute Cradlebow—he's a handsome boy, teacher. Ah, he's a handsome one. They're a handsome family, them Cradlebows.
"There's the old grannie, Aunt Sibby they call her. Lord, she's got a head on her like a picter! They're high-bred, too, I reckon. To begin with, why, Godfrey—Godfrey Cradlebow—that's Lute's father, teacher; he's college bred, I suppose! He had a rich uncle thar', that took a shine to him, and kind o' 'dopted him and eddicated him, but Godfrey, he took a shine to a poor girl thar', dreadfully handsome, she was, but yet they was both of 'em young, and it didn't suit the old uncle, so he left him to shift for himself. And Godfrey, he tried one thing and another, and never held long to nothin', I guess, and finally he drifted down this way, and here he stuck.
"He's got a good head, Godfrey has, but he wasn't never extry fond o' work, I reckon, and he's growed dreadful rheumatiky lame, and he has his sprees, occasionally.
"Liddy, that's his wife, teacher, she was full good enough for him when ye come to the p'int. Oh, she's a smart wife, and she's had a hard row, so many children and nothin' to do with, as ye might say. Why, they've had thirteen children, ain't they, ma?
"Le' me see—four on 'em dead, and three on 'em—no! four on 'em married, and three on 'em—How is't, ma?"
Grandma then took up the tangled thread of the old Captain's discourse, with calm disdain, and proceeded to disclose an appalling array of statistics, not only in regard to the Cradlebow family, but including generations of men hitherto unknown and remote.
When I signified a desire to retire for the night, Madeline informed me, with a brisk and hopeful air, that my room was "all ready now."
She led the way up a short and narrow little staircase into a low garret, where, amid a dark confusion of objects, I was forcibly reminded of the rows of hard substances suspended from the rafters. Turning to the left, the rays of the candle revealed a small red door framed in among the unpainted boards of the wall.
There, Madeline bade me a flippant and musical good night, and I entered my room, alone.
Within, the contrast between the door and the brown walls was still more effectively drawn.
The bed, neatly made, stood in a niche where the roof slanted perceptibly downward, so that the sweetly unconscious sleeper (as I found afterwards) perchance tossing his head upward, in a dream, was doomed to bring that member into resounding contact with the ceiling, I judged something of the restless proclivities of the last occupants of the room by the amount of plastering of which this particular section had been deprived. In this, and in other places where it had fallen, it had been collected and tacked up again to the ceiling in cloth bags which presented a graceful and drooping, though at first sight, rather enigmatical appearance.
The chimney ran through the room forming a sort of unique centre-piece.
This and more I accepted, wearily, and then sank down by the bed and cried. Outside, before the one small window, stood a peach tree. Afterward, when this had grown to be a very dear little room to me, I looked out cheerfully through its branches, warm with sunshine, and fragrant with bloom; but now it was bare and ghostly, and, as the wind blew, one forlorn twig trailed back and forth across the window.
For an hour or more after my head touched the pillow, I lay awake listening to the unaccustomed sound of the surf and those skeleton fingers tapping at the pane.
THE TURKEY MOGUL ARRIVES.
I studied Becky Weir in school, the next day, with special interest. She was a girl of seventeen or eighteen, with the stately, substantial presence of one of nature's own goddesses. She had a fresh, constant color in her cheeks, a pure, low forehead, and eyes that were clear, gray, and large, but with a strangely appealing, helplessly animal expression in them, I fancied, as she lifted them, oft-times, to mine. She was distinguished among my young disciples by the faithful, though evidently labored and wearisome attention, she gave to her books.
Her glance, bent on some small wretch who was misbehaving, had a peculiarly significant force. The little ones all seemed to love her and to stand rather in awe of her, too.
Entering the school-room in the morning, she discovered a network of strings, which one Lemuel Biddy had artfully laid between the desks, intending thereby to waylay and prostrate his human victim, and stooping down, she boxed the miscreant, not cruelly but effectively, on the ears. I was surprised to see that the boy seemed to regard this infliction as the simple and natural award of justice, bowed his head and wept penitently, and was subdued for some time afterward.
To me, whose earliest years had been guided and illuminated on the principle that reason and persuasion alone are to be used in the training of the tender twig, this little occurrence afforded food for serious wonder and reflection. I doubted if the logic of the sages or the wooing of the celestial seraphim would have wrought with such convincing power on the mind and ears of Lemuel Biddy.