"THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD," "QUEECHY," ETC. ETC.
JAMES NISBET & CO., 21 BERNERS STREET.
"Know well, my soul, God's hand controls Whate'er thou fearest; Round Him in calmest music rolls Whate'er thou hearest.
"What to thee is shadow, to Him is day, And the end He knoweth; And not on a blinded, aimless way The spirit goeth."
CHAPTER I. THE SEWING SOCIETY
CHAPTER II. THE NEW MINISTER
CHAPTER III. HARNESSING PRINCE
CHAPTER IV. MOTHER BARTLETT
CHAPTER V. MAKING HAY
CHAPTER VI. MR. KNOWLTON'S FISH
CHAPTER VII. BELLES AND BLACKBERRIES
CHAPTER VIII. THE NEW RICHES OF THE OLD WORLD
CHAPTER IX. MRS STARLING'S OPINIONS
CHAPTER X. IN SUGAR
CHAPTER XI. A STORM IN SEPTEMBER
CHAPTER XII. THE ASHES OF THE FIRE
CHAPTER XIII. FROM THE POST OFFICE
CHAPTER XIV. MEETING AT ELMFIELD
CHAPTER XV. CATECHIZING
CHAPTER XVI. IS IT WELL WITH THEE?
CHAPTER XVII. THE USE OF LIVING
CHAPTER XVIII. A SNOWSTORM
CHAPTER XIX. OUT OF HUMDRUM
CHAPTER XX. SETTLED
CHAPTER XXI. UNSETTLED
CHAPTER XXII. NEW LIFE
CHAPTER XXIII. SUPPER AT HOME
CHAPTER XXIV. THE MINISTER'S WIFE
CHAPTER XXV. MISS COLLINS' WORK
CHAPTER XXVI. THINGS UNDONE
CHAPTER XXVII. BONDS
CHAPTER XXVIII. EVAN'S SISTER
CHAPTER XXIX. HUSBAND AND WIFE
CHAPTER XXX. SUNSHINE
CHAPTER XXXI. A JUNE DAY
CHAPTER XXXII. WIND AND TIDE
CHAPTER XXXIII. BUDS AND BLOSSOMS
CHAPTER XXXIV. DAIRY AND PARISH WORK
CHAPTER XXXV. BABYLON
CHAPTER XXXVI. THE PARTY
CHAPTER XXXVII. AT ONE
THE SEWING SOCIETY.
I am thinking of a little brown house, somewhere in the wilds of New England. I wish I could make my readers see it as it was, one June afternoon some years ago. Not for anything very remarkable about it; there are thousands of such houses scattered among our hills and valleys; nevertheless one understands any life story the better for knowing amid what sort of scenes it was unfolded. Moreover, such a place is one of the pleasant things in the world to look at, as I judge. This was a small house, with its gable end to the road, and a lean-to at the back, over which the long roof sloped down picturesquely. It was weather-painted; that was all; of a soft dark grey now, that harmonized well enough with the gayer colours of meadows and trees. And two superb elms, of New England's own, stood beside it and hung over it, enfolding and sheltering the little old house, as it were, with their arms of strength and beauty. Those trees would have dignified anything. One of them, of the more rare weeping variety, drooped over the door of the lean-to, shading it protectingly, and hiding with its long pendant branches the hard and stiff lines of the building. So the green draped the grey; until, in the soft mingling of hues, the light play of sunshine and shadow, it seemed as if the smartness of paint upon the old weather-boarding would have been an intrusion, and not an advantage. In front of the house was a little space given to flowers; at least there were some irregular patches and borders, where balsams and hollyhocks and pinks and marigolds made a spot of light colouring; with one or two luxuriantly-growing blush roses, untrained and wandering, bearing a wealth of sweetness on their long, swaying branches. There was that spot of colour; all around and beyond lay meadows, orchards and cultivated fields; till at no great distance the ground became broken, and rose into a wilderness of hills, mounting higher and higher. In spots these also showed cultivation; for the most part they were covered with green woods in the depth of June foliage. The soft, varied hilly outline filled the whole circuit of the horizon; within the nearer circuit of the hills the little grey house sat alone, with only one single exception. At the edge of the meadow land, half hid behind the spur of a hill, stood another grey farm-house; it might have been half a mile off. People accustomed to a more densely populated country would call the situation lonesome; solitary it was. But Nature had shaken down her hand full of treasures over the place. Art had never so much as looked that way. However, we can do without art on a June afternoon.
The door of the lean-to looked towards the road, and so made a kind of front door to the kitchen which was within. The door-sill was raised a single step above the rough old grey stone which did duty before it; and sitting on the doorstep, in the shadow and sunlight which came through the elm branches and fell over her, this June afternoon, was the person whose life story I am going to try to tell. She sat there as one at home, and in the leisure of one who had done her work; with arms crossed upon her bosom, and an air of almost languid quiet upon her face. The afternoon was quiet-inspiring. Genial warm sunshine filled the fields and grew hazy in the depth of the hills; the long hanging elm branches were still; sunlight and shadow beneath slept in each other's arms; soft breaths of air, too faint to move the elms, came nevertheless with reminders and suggestions of all sorts of sweetness; from the leaf-buds of the woods, from the fresh turf of the meadows, from a thousand hidden flowers and ferns at work in their secret laboratories, distilling a thousand perfumes, mingled and untraceable. Now and then the breath of the roses was quite distinguishable; and from fields further off the delicious scent of new hay. It was just the time of day when the birds do not sing; and the watcher at the door seemed to be in their condition.
She was a young woman, full grown, but young. Her dress was the common print working dress of a farmer's daughter, with a spot or two of wet upon her apron showing that she had been busy, as her dress suggested. Her sleeves were still rolled up above her elbows, leaving the crossed arms full in view. And if there is character in faces, so there is in arms; and everybody knows there is in hands. These arms were after the model of the typical woman's arm; not chubby and round and fat, but moulded with beautiful contour, showing muscular form and power, with the blue veins here and there marking the clear delicate skin. Only look at the arm, without even seeing the face, and you would feel there was nervous energy and power of will; no weak, flabby, undecided action would ever come of it. The wrist was tapering enough, and the hand perfectly shaped, like the arm; not quite so white. The face,—you could not read it at once; possibly not till it had seen a few more years. It was very reposeful this afternoon. Yet the brow and the head bore tokens of the power you would expect; they were very fine; and the eyes under the straight brow were full and beautiful, a deep blue-grey, changing and darkening at times. But the mouth and lower part of the face was as sweet and mobile as three years old; playing as innocently and readily upon every occasion; nothing had fixed those lovely lines. The combination made it a singular face, and of course very handsome. But it looked very unconscious of that fact.
Within the kitchen another woman was stepping about actively, and now and then cast an unsatisfied look at the doorway. Finally came to a stop in the middle of the floor to speak.
"What are you sittin' there for, Diana?"
"Nothing, that I know of."
"If I was sittin' there for nothin', seems to me I'd get up and go somewheres else."
"Where?" said the beauty languidly.
"Anywhere. Goodness! it makes me feel as if nothin' would ever get done, to see you sittin' there so."
"It's all done, mother."
"Have you got out the pink china?"
"Is your cake made?"
"Yes, mother; you saw me do it."
"I didn't see you bakin' it, though."
"Well, it is done."
"Did it raise light and puffy?"
"And didn't get burned?"
"Only the least bit, in the corner. No harm."
"Have you cut the cheese and shivered the beef?"
"Then I think you had better go and dress yourself."
"There's plenty of time. Nobody can be here for two hours yet."
"I wouldn't sit and do nothin', if I was you."
"Why not, mother? when there is really nothing to do."
"I don't believe in no such minutes, for my part. They never come to me. Look at what I've done to-day, now. There was first the lighting the fire and getting breakfast. Then I washed up, and righted the kitchen and set on the dinner. Then I churned and brought the butter and worked that. Then there was the dairy things. Then I've been in the garden and picked four quarts of ifs-and-ons for pickles; got 'em all down in brine, too. Then I made out my bread, and made biscuits for tea, and got dinner, and eat it, and cleared it away, and boiled a ham."
"Not since dinner, mother?"
"Took it out, and that; and got all my pots and kettles put away; and picked over all that lot o' berries, I think I'd make preserves of 'em, Diana; when folks come to sewing meeting for the missionaries they needn't have all creation to eat, seems to me. They don't sew no better for it. I believe in fasting, once in a while."
"What for? Why, to keep down people's stomach; take off a slice of their pride."
"Mother! do you think eating and people's pride have anything to do with each other?"
"I guess I do! I tell you, fasting is as good as whipping to take down a child's stomach; let 'em get real thin and empty, and they'll come down and be as meek as Moses. Folks ain't different from children."
"You never tried that with me, mother," said Diana, half laughing.
"Your father always let you have your own way. I could ha' managed you, I guess; but your father and you was too much at once. Come, Diana do—get up and go off and get dressed, or something."
But she sat still, letting the soft June air woo her, and the scents of flower and field hold some subtle communion with her. There was a certain hidden harmony between her and them; and yet they stirred her somehow uneasily.
"I wonder," she said after a few minutes' silence, "what a nobleman's park is like?"
The mother stood still again in the middle of the kitchen.
"Yes. It must be something beautiful; and yet I cannot think how it could be prettier than this."
"Than what?" said her mother impatiently.
"Just all this. All this country; and the hayfields, and the cornfields, and the hills."
"A park!" her mother repeated. "I saw a 'park' once, when I was down to New York; you wouldn't want to see it twice. A homely little mite of a green yard, with a big white house in the middle of it; and homely enough that was too. It might do very well for the city folks; but the land knows I'd be sorry enough to live there. What's putting parks in your head?"
But the daughter did not answer, and the mother stood still and looked at her, with perhaps an inscrutable bit of pride and delight behind her hard features. It never came out.
"Diana, do you calculate to be ready for the sewin' meetin'?"
"Since they must come, we may as well make 'em welcome; and they won't think it, if you meet 'em in your kitchen dress. Is the new minister comin', do you s'pose?"
"I don't know if anybody has told him."
"Somebody had ought to. It won't be much of a meetin' without the minister; and it 'ud give him a good chance to get acquainted. Mr. Hardenburgh used to like to come."
"The new man doesn't look much like Mr. Hardenburgh."
"It'll be a savin' in biscuits, if he ain't."
"I used to like to see Mr. Hardenburgh eat, mother."
"I hain't no objection—when I don't have the biscuits to make. Diana, you baked a pan o' them biscuits too brown. Now you must look out, when you put 'em to warm up, or they'll be more'n crisp."
"Everybody else has them cold, mother."
"They won't at my house. It's just to save trouble; and there ain't a lazy hair in me, you ought to know by this time."
"But I thought you were for taking down people's pride, and keeping the sewing society low; and here are hot biscuits and all sorts of thing," said Diana, getting up from her seat at last.
"'The cream'll be in the little red pitcher—so mind you don't go and take the green one. And do be off, child, and fix yourself; for it'll be a while yet before I'm ready, and there'll be nobody to see folks when they come."
Diana went off slowly up-stairs to her own room. There were but two, one on each side of the little landing-place at the head of the stair; and she and her mother divided the floor between them. Diana's room was not what one would have expected from the promise of all the rest of the house. That was simple enough, as the dwelling of a small farmer would be, and much like the other farm-houses of the region. But Diana's room, a little one it was, had one side filled with bookshelves; and on the bookshelves was a dark array of solid and ponderous volumes. A table under the front window held one or two that were apparently in present use; the rest of the room displayed the more usual fittings and surroundings of a maiden's life. Only in their essentials, however; no luxury was there. The little chest of drawers, covered with a white cloth, held a brush and comb, and supported a tiny looking-glass; small paraphernalia of vanity. No essences or perfumes or powders; no curling sticks or crimping pins; no rats or cats, cushions or frames, or skeletons of any sort, were there for the help of the rustic beauty; and neither did she need them. So you would have said if you had seen her when her toilette was done. The soft outlines of her figure were neither helped nor hidden by any artificial contrivances. Her abundant dark hair was in smooth bands and a luxuriant coil at the back of her head—woman's natural crown; and she looked nature-crowned when she had finished her work. Just because nature had done so much for her and she had let nature alone; and because, furthermore, Diana did not know or at least did not think about her beauty. When she was in order, and it did not take long, she placed herself at the table under the window before noticed, and opening a book that lay ready, forgot I dare say all about the sewing meeting; till the slow grating of wheels at the gate brought her back to present realities, and she went down-stairs.
There was a little old green waggon before the house, with an old horse and two women, one of whom had got down and was tying the horse's head to the fence.
"Are you afraid he will run away?" said the voice of Diana gaily from the garden.
"Massy! no; but he might hitch round somewheres, you know, and get himself into trouble. Thank ye—I am allays thankful and glad when I get safe out o' this waggin."
So spoke the elder lady, descending with Diana's help and a great deal of circumlocution from her perch in the vehicle. And then they went into the bright parlour, where windows and doors stood open, and chairs had been brought in, ready to accommodate all who might come.
"It's kind o' sultry," said the same lady, wiping her face. "I declare these ellums o' yourn do cast an elegant shadder. It allays sort o' hampers me to drive, and I don't feel free till I can let the reins fall; that's how I come to be so heated. Dear me, you do excel in notions!" she exclaimed, as Diana presented some glasses of cool water with raspberry vinegar. "Ain't that wonderful coolin'!"
"Will the minister come to the meeting, Diana?" asked the other woman.
"He'd come, if he knowed he could get anything like this," said the other, smacking her lips and sipping her glass slowly. And then came in her hostess.
If Mrs. Starling was hard-favoured, it cannot be denied that she had a certain style about her. Some ugly people do. Country style, no doubt; but these things are relative; and in a smart black silk, with sheer muslin neckerchief and a close-fitting little cap, her natural self-possession and self-assertion were very well set off. Very different from Diana's calm grace and simplicity; the mother and daughter were alike in nothing beyond the fact that each had character. Perhaps that is a common fact in such a region and neighbourhood; for many of the ladies who now came thronging in to the meeting looked as if they might justly lay claim to so much praise. The room filled up; thimbles and housewives came out of pockets; work was produced from baskets and bags; and tongues went like mill-clappers. They put the June afternoon out of countenance. Mrs. Barry, the good lady who had arrived first, took out her knitting, and in a corner went over to her neighbour all the incidents of her drive, the weather, the getting out of the waggon, the elm-tree shadow, and the raspberry vinegar. Mrs. Carpenter, a well-to-do farmer's wife, gave the details of her dairy misfortunes and success to her companion on the next seat. Mrs. Flandin discussed missions. Mrs. Bell told how the family of Mr. Hardenburgh had got away on their journey to their new place of abode.
"I always liked Mr. Hardenburgh," said Mrs. Carpenter.
"He had a real good wife," remarked Miss Gunn, the storekeeper's sister, "and that goes a great way. Mrs. Hardenburgh was a right-down good woman."
"But you was speakin' o' Mr. Hardenburgh, the dominie," said Mrs. Salter. "He was a man as there warn't much harm in, I've allays said. 'Tain't a man's fault if he can't make his sermons interestin', I s'pose."
"Mr. Hardenburgh preached real good sermons, now, always seemed to me," rejoined Mrs. Carpenter. "He meant right; that's what he did."
"That's so!" chimed in Mrs. Mansfield, a rich farmer in her own person.
"There was an owl up in one of our elm-trees one night," began Mrs. Starling.
"Du tell! so nigh's that!" said Mrs. Barry from her corner.
"—And I took up Josiah's gun and meant to shoot him; but I didn't."
"He was awful tiresome—there!" exclaimed Mrs. Boddington. "What's the use of pretendin' he warn't? Nobody couldn't mind what his sermons was about; I don't believe as he knew himself. Now, a minister had ought to know what he means, whether any one else does or not, and I like a minister that makes me know what he means."
"Why, Mrs. Boddington," said Mrs. Flandin, "I didn't know as you cared anything about religion, one way or another."
"I've got to go to church, Mrs. Flandin; and I'd a little rayther be kep' awake while I'm there without pinching my fingers. I'd prefer it."
"Why, has anybody got to go to church that doesn't want to go?" inquired Diana. But that was like a shell let off in the midst of the sewing circle.
"Hear that, now!" said Mrs. Boddington. "Ain't that a rouser!" Mrs. Boddington was a sort of a cousin, and liked the fun; she lived in the one farm-house in sight of Mrs. Starling's.
"She don't mean it," said Mrs. Mansfield.
"Trust Di Starling for meaning whatever she says," returned the other. "You and I mayn't understand it, but that's all one, you know."
"But what do she mean?" said Mrs. Salter.
"Yes, what's the use o' havin' a church, ef folks ain't goin' to it?" said Mrs. Carpenter.
"No," said Diana, laughing; "I only asked why any one must go, if he don't want to? Where's the must?"
"When we had good Mr. Hardenburgh, for example," chimed in Mrs. Boddington, "who was as loggy as he could be; good old soul! and put us all to sleep, or to wishin' we could. My! hain't I eaten quarts o' dill in the course o' the summer, trying to keep myself respectably awake and considerin' o' what was goin' on! Di says, why must any one eat all that dill that don't want to?"
"Cloves is better," suggested Miss Gunn.
Some laughed at this; others looked portentously grave.
"It's just one o' Di's nonsense speeches," said her mother; "what they mean I'm sure I don't know. She reads too many books to be just like other folks."
"But the books were written by other folks, mother."
"La! some sort, child. Not our sort, I guess."
"Hain't Di never learned her catechism?" inquired Mrs. Flandin.
"Is there anything about going to church in it?" asked the girl.
"There's most all sorts o' good things in it," answered vaguely Mrs. Flandin, who was afraid of committing herself. "I thought Di might ha' learned there something about such a thing as we call duty."
"That's so," said Mrs. Mansfield.
"Just what I am asking about," said Di. "That's the thing. Why is it duty, to go to church when one don't want to go?"
"Well, I'm sure it was time we had a new minister," said Mrs Salter; "and I'm glad he's come. If he's no better than old Mr. Hardenburgh, it'll take us a spell to find it out; and that'll be so much gained. He don't look like him any way."
"He is different, ain't he?" assented Mrs. Boddington. "If we wanted a change, we've got it. How did you all like his sermon last Sabbath?"
"He was very quiet—" said Mrs. Flandin.
"I like that," said Diana. "When a man roars at me, I never can tell what he is saying."
"He seemed to kind o' know his own mind," said Mrs. Salter.
"I thought he'd got an astonishin' knowledge o' things in the town, for the time he's had," said Mrs. Mansfield.
"I wisht he had a family," remarked Miss Gunn; "that's all I've got agin him. I think a minister had allays ought to have a family."
"He will,—let him alone a while," said Mrs. Boddington. "Time enough. Who have we got in town that would do for him?"
The fruitful topic of debate and discussion here started, lasted the ladies for some time. Talk and business got full under weigh. Scissors and speeches, clipping and chattering, knitting and the interminable yarn of small talk. The affairs, sickness and health, of every family in the neighbourhood, with a large discussion of character and prospects by the way; going back to former history and antecedents, and forward to future probable consequences and results. Nuts of society; sweet confections of conversation; of various and changing flavour; suiting all palates, and warranted never to cloy. Then there were farm prospects and doings also, with household matters; very interesting to the good ladies, who all had life interest in them; and the hours moved on prosperously. Here a rocking-chair tipped gently back and forward, in harmony with the quiet business enjoyment of its occupant; and there a pair of heels, stretched out to the farthest limit of their corresponding members, with toes squarely elevated in the air, testified to the restful condition of another individual of the party. See a pair of toes in the air and the heels as nearly as possible straight under them, one tucked up on the other, and you may be sure the person they belong to feels comfortable—physically. And Mrs. Starling in a corner, in her quiet state and black-silk gown, was as contented as an old hen that sees all her chickens prosperously scratching for themselves. And the June afternoon breathed in at the window and upon all those busy talkers; and nobody knew that it was June. So things went, until Diana left them to put the finishing touches of readiness to the tea-table. Her going was noticed by some of the assembly, and taken as a preparatory note of the coming entertainment; always sure to be worth having and coming for in Mrs. Starling's house. Needles and tongues took a fresh stir.
"Mis' Starling, are we goin' to hev' the minister?" somebody asked.
"I don't know as anybody has told him, Mis' Mansfield."
"Won't seem like a meetin', ef we don't hev' him."
"He's gone down to Elmfield," said Miss Gunn. "He went down along in the forenoon some time. Gone to see his cousin, I s'pose."
"They've got their young soldier home to Elmfield," said Miss Barry. "I s'pect they're dreadful sot up about it."
"They don't want that," said Mrs. Boddington. "The Knowltons always did carry their heads pretty well up, in the best o' times; and now Evan's got home, I s'pose there'll be no holding 'em in. There ain't, I guess, by the looks."
"What'll he do now? stay to hum and help his gran'ther?"
"La! no. He's home just for a visit. He's got through his education at the Military Academy, and now he's an officer; out in the world; but he'll have to go somewhere and do his work."
"I wonder what work they do hev' to do?" said Mrs. Salter; "there ain't nobody to fight now, is there?"
"Fight the Injuns," said Mrs. Boddington; "or the Mexicans; or the English may be; anything that comes handy."
"But we hain't no quarrel with the English, nor nobody, hev' we? I thought we was done fightin' for the present," said Miss Barry in a disturbed tone of voice.
"Well, suppos'n we be," said Mrs. Boddington; "somebody might give us a slap, you know, when we don't expect it, and it's best to be ready; and so, Evan Knowlton'll be one o' them that has to stand somewhere with his musket to his shoulder, and look after a lot o' powder behind him all the while."
"Du tell! if it takes four years to learn 'em to du that," said Miss Babbage, the doctor's sister.
"The Knowltons is a very fine family," remarked Miss Gunn.
"If the outside made it," said Mrs. Boddington. "Don't they cut a shine when they come into meetin', though! They think they do."
"It takes all the boys' attention off everything," said Mrs. Flandin, who was an elderly lady herself.
"And the girls"—added Mrs. Starling. But what more might have been said was cut short by Miss Barry's crying out that here was the minister coming.
THE NEW MINISTER.
The little stir and buzz which went round the assembly at this news was delightful. Not one but moved excitedly on her seat, and then settled herself for an unwonted good time. For the new minister was undiscovered ground; an unexamined possession; unexplored treasure. One Sunday and two sermons had done no more than whet the appetite of the curious. Nobody had made up his mind, or her mind, on the subject, in regard to any of its points. So there were eyes enough that from Mrs. Starling's windows watched the minister as he dismounted and tied his horse to the fence, and then opened the little gate and came up to the house. Diana had returned to the room to bid the company out to supper; but finding all heads turned one way, and necks craned over, and eyes on the stretch, she paused and waited for a more auspicious moment. And then came a step in the passage and the door opened.
Mr. Hardenburgh, each lady remembered, used to make the circuit of the company, giving every one a several clasp of the hand and an individual word of civility. Here was a change! The new minister came into the midst of them and stood still, with a bright look and a cheery "Good afternoon!" It was full of good cheer and genial greeting; but what lady could respond to it? The greeting was not given to her. The silence was absolute; though eyes said they had heard, and were listening.
"I have been down at Elmfield," the new-comer went on, not at all disturbed by his reception; "and some one informed me I should find a large circle of friends if I came here; so I came. And I find I was told truly."
"I guess we'd most given you up," said the mistress of the house, coming out of her corner now.
"I don't know what reason you had to expect me! Nobody asked me to come."
"We're real glad to see you. Take a chair," said Mrs. Starling, setting one for his acceptance as she spoke.
"Mr. Hardenburgh allays used to come to our little meetin's," said Mrs. Mansfield.
"Thank you!—And you expect me to do all that Mr. Hardenburgh did?"
There was such a quaint air of good-fellowship and simplicity in the new minister's manner, that the little assembly began to stir anew with gratification and amusement. But nobody was forward to answer. In fact, they were a trifle shy of him. The late Mr. Hardenburgh had been heavy and slow; kind, of course, but stiff; you knew just what he would do and how he would speak beforehand. There was a delightful freshness and uncertainty about this man. Nothing imposing, either; a rather small, slight figure; with a face that might or might not be called handsome, according to the fancy of the speaker, but that all would agree was wonderfully attractive and winning. A fine broad brow; an eye very sweet; with a build of the jaw and lines of the mouth speaking both strength and the absolutest calm of the mental nature.
"I was afraid I should be late," he went on, looking at his watch,—"but the roads are good. How far do you call it from Elmfield?"
"All of five miles," said Mrs. Starling.
"Yes; and one hill to cross. Well! I came pretty well. The long June afternoon favoured me."
"Mr. Hardenburgh used to drive a buggy," remarked Miss Barry.
"Yes. Is that one of the things you would like me to do as he did?"
"Well, none of our ministers ever went such a venturesome way before," said the timid little old lady.
"As I do? But if I had been in a buggy, Miss Barry, this afternoon, I am afraid you would have got through supper and been near breaking up before I could have joined your society."
"How long was you comin', then?" she asked, looking startled.
"And there's another thing, Mr. Masters," said Mrs. Mansfield; "why do the days be so much longer in summer than in winter? I asked Mr. Hardenburgh once, but I couldn't make out nothin' from what he told me?"
Sly looks and suppressed laughter went round the room, for some of Mrs. Mansfield's neighbours were better informed than she in all that lay above the level of practical farming; but Mr. Masters quite gravely assured her he would make it all clear the first time he had a quiet chance at her house.
"And will you walk out to supper, friends?" said Mrs. Starling. "Here's Di been standin' waitin' to call us this half hour."
The supper was laid on a long table in the lean-to, which was used as a kitchen; but now the fire was out, and the tea-kettle had been boiled and was kept boiling in some unknown region. Doors and windows stood open, letting the sweet air pass through; and if the floor was bare and the chairs were wooden, both one and the other were bright with cleanliness; and the long board was bright in another way. Yet the word is not misapplied. Such piles of snowy bread and golden cake, such delicate cheeses and puffy biscuits, and such transparencies of rich-coloured preserves, were an undoubted adornment to Mrs. Starling's deal table, and might have been to any table in the world. The deal was covered, however, with white cloths. At the upper end the hostess took her place behind a regiment of cups and saucers, officered by great tin pots which held the tea and coffee. Diana waited.
Everybody had come expecting a good supper and primed for enjoyment; and now the enjoyment began. Mrs. Starling might smile grimly to herself as she saw her crab-apples and jellies disappear, and the piles of biscuits go down and get heaped up again by Diana's care. Nobody was at leisure enough to mark her.
"Eat when you can, Mr. Masters," said Mrs. Boddington; "you won't get hot biscuits anywhere in Pleasant Valley but here."
"Why not?" said Mr. Masters.
"It ain't the fashion—that's all."
"I s'pose you've seen the fashions to-day down at Elmfield, Mr. Masters," said Mrs. Salter. "They don't think as we hev' no fashions, up here in the mountains."
"Their fashions is ridiculous!" said Mrs. Flandin. "Do you think it's becomin', Mr. Masters, for Christian women to go and make sights of themselves?"
"In what way, Mrs. Flandin?"
"Why, goodness! you've seen 'em. Describin's impossible. Euphemie Knowlton, she came into church last Sabbath three yards in extent, ef she was a foot. It beat me, how she was goin' to get in. Why, there warn't room for but three of 'em in the slip, and it took 'em somethin' like half an hour to get fixed in their places. I declare I was ashamed, and I had to look, for all."
"So had I," assented Miss Carpenter. "I couldn't fairly keep my eyes off of 'em."
"And I'm certain she couldn't go agin the wind, with her bonnet; it stuck just right up from her face, and ended in a pint, and she had a hull garden in the brim of it, I think ministers had ought to preach about such doin's."
"And you don't know what ministers are good for if they don't?" said Mr. Masters.
"Did you ever see a minister that could get the better of 'em?" said Mrs. Boddington. "'Cos, if you did, I would like to go and sit under his preachin' a spell, and see what he could do for me."
"Does that express the mind of Pleasant Valley generally?" asked the minister, and gravely this time.
"La! we ain't worse than other folks," said Mrs. Salter. "There's no harm in dressin' one's self smart now and then, is there? And we want to know how, to be sure."
"I hope you don't think Euphemie Knowlton knows how? 'Tain't a quarter as becomin' as the way we dress in Pleasant Valley. There ain't the least bit of prettiness or gracefulness in a woman's bein' three yards round; anyhow we don't think so when it's nature." So Mrs. Salter.
"What do you think o' lettin' your hair down over the shoulders, as if you were goin' to comb it?" said Mrs. Boddington; "and goin' to church so?"
"But how ever did she make it stand out as it did," asked Miss Carpenter. "It was just like spun glass, nothin' smooth or quiet about it. Such a yellow mop I never did see. And it warn't a child neither. Who is she anyhow?"
"Not she. It is a grown woman," said Mrs. Flandin; "and she looked like a wild savage. Don't the minister agree with me, that it ain't becomin' for Christian women to do such things?"
It was with a smile and a sigh that the minister answered. "Where are you going to draw the line, Mrs. Flandin?"
"Well! with what's decent and comfortable."
"La! yes," said Mrs. Salter. "Do let us be as nice as we kin."
"I think people had ought to make themselves as nice-lookin' as they can," echoed one of the younger ladies of the party; and there was a general chorus of agreeing voices.
"Well!" said the minister; "then comes the question, what is nice-looking? I dare say the young lady with the flowing tresses thought she was about right."
"She thought she was the only one," said Mrs. Boddington.
A subject was started now which was fruitful enough to keep all tongues busy; and whether biscuits or opinions had the most lively circulation for some time thereafter it would be hard to say. Old and young, upon this matter of town and country fashions, and fashion in general, "gave tongue" in concert; proving that Pleasant Valley knew what was what as well as any place in the land; that it was doubtful what right Boston or New York had to dictate to it; at the same time the means of getting at the earliest the mind of Boston or New York was eagerly discussed, and the pretensions of Elmfield to any advantage in that matter as earnestly denied. The minister sat silent, with an imperturbable face that did him credit. At last there was a rush of demands upon him for his judgment. He declared that so much had been said upon the subject, he must have time to think it over; and he promised to give them some at least of his thoughts before long in a sermon.
With this promise, highly satisfied, the assembly broke up. Mrs. Starling declared afterwards to her daughter, that if there had been any more fashions to talk about they would never have got done supper. But now bonnets were put on, and work put up, and one after another family party went off in its particular farm waggon or buggy. It was but just sundown; the golden glory of the sky was giving a mellow illumination to all the land, as one after another the horses were unhitched, the travellers mounted into their vehicles, and the wheels went softly rolling off over the smooth road. The minister stood by the gate, helping the ladies to untie and mount, giving pleasant words along with pleasant help, and receiving many expressions of pleasure in return.
"Dear me, Mr. Masters!" said Miss Barry, the last one, "ain't you afraid you'll catch cold, standing there with no hat on?"
"Cold always attacks the weakest part, Miss Barry. My head is safe."
"Well, I declare!" said Miss Barry. "I never heerd that afore."
And as she drove off in her little green waggon, the minister and Diana, who had come down to the gate to see the last one off, indulged in a harmless laugh. Then they both stood still by the fence a moment, resting; the hush was so sweet. The golden glory was fading; the last creak of Miss Barry's wheels was getting out of hearing; the air was perfumed with the scents which the dew called forth.
"Isn't it delicious?" said the minister, leaning on the little gate, and pushing his hair back from his forehead.
"The stillness is pleasant," said Diana.
"Yet you must have enough of that?"
"Yes—sometimes," said the girl. She was a little shy of speaking her thoughts to the minister; indeed, she was not accustomed to speak them to anybody, not knowing where they could meet entertainment. She wondered Mr. Masters did not go like the rest; however, it was pleasant enough to stand there talking to him.
"What do you do for books here?" he went on.
"O, I have all my father's books," said Diana. "My father was a minister, Mr. Masters; and when he died his books came to me."
"A theological library!" said Mr. Masters.
"Yes. I suppose you would call it so."
"Have you it here?"
"Yes. I have it in my room up-stairs. All one end of the room full."
"Do you read these books?"
"Yes. They are all I have to read. I have not read the whole of them."
"No, I suppose not. Do you not find this reading rather heavy?"
"I don't know. Some of the books are rather heavy; I do not read those much."
"You must let me look at your library some day, Miss Diana. It would be certain to have charms for me; and I'll exchange with you. Perhaps I have books that you would not find heavy."
Diana's full grey eyes turned on the minister with a gleam of gratitude and pleasure. Her words were not needed to say that she would like that kind of barter.
"So your father was a clergyman?" Mr. Masters went on.
"Yes. Not here, though. That was when I was quite little. We lived a good way from here; and I remember very well a great many things about all that time, till father died, and then mother came back here."
"Came back,—then your mother is at home in Pleasant Valley?"
"O, we're both at home here—I was so little when we came; but mother's father lived where Nick Boddington does, and owned all this valley—I don't mean Pleasant Valley, but all this hollow; a good large farm it was; and when he died he left mother a nice piece of it, with this old house."
"Mr. Boddington,—is he then a relation of yours?"
"No, not exactly; he's the son of grandpa's second wife; we're really no relations, but we call each other cousin. Grandpa left the most of his land to his wife; but mother's got enough to manage, and nice land."
"It's a beautiful place!" said the minister. "There is a waggon coming; I wonder if any of our friends have forgotten something? That is—yes, that is farmer Babbage's team; isn't it? What is the matter?"
For something unusual in the arrangements of the vehicle, or the occupants of it, was dimly yet surely to be discerned through the distance and the light, which was now turning brown rather than grey. Nothing could be seen clearly, and yet it came as no waggon load had gone from that door that evening. The minister took his hand from the gate, and Diana stepped forward, as the horses stopped in front of the lean-to; and a voice called out:
"Who's there to help? Hollo! Lend a hand."
The minister sprang down the road, followed by Diana. "What do you want help for?" he asked.
"There's been an accident—Jim Delamater's waggon—we found it overturned in the road; and here's Eliza, she hasn't spoke since. Have you got no more help?"
"Where's Jim?" asked Mrs. Starling, coming herself from the lean-to.
"Staid with his team; about all he was up to. Now then,—can we get her in? Where's Josiah?"
But no more masculine help could be mustered than what was already on hand. Brains, however, can do much to supplement muscular force. The minister had a settee out from the house in two minutes and by the side of the waggon; with management and care, though with much difficulty, the unconscious girl was lifted down and laid on the settee; and by the aid of the women carried straight into the lean-to, the door of which was the nearest. There, by the same energetic ordering, well seconded by Diana, a mattress was brought and laid on the long table, which Mrs. Starling's diligence had already cleared since supper; and there they placed the girl, who was perfectly helpless and motionless in their hands.
"There is life yet," said the minister, after an examination during which every one stood breathless around. "Loose everything she has on, Miss Diana; and let us have some hartshorn, Mrs. Starling, if you have got any. Well, brandy, then, and cold water; and I'll go for the doctor."
But Mr. Babbage represented that he must himself 'go on hum,' and would pass by the doctor's door; so if the minister would stay and help the women folks, it would be more advisable. Accordingly the farmer's waggon wheels were soon heard departing, and the little group in the lean-to kitchen were left alone. Too busy at first to think of it, they were trying eagerly every restorative and stimulant they could think of and command; but with little effect. A little, they thought; but consciousness had not returned to the injured girl, when they had done all they knew how to do, and tried everything within their reach. Hope began to fade towards despair; still they kept on with the use of their remedies. Mrs. Starling went and came between the room where they were and the stove, which stood in some outside shed, fetching bottles of hot water; I think, between whiles, she was washing up her cups and saucers; the other two, in the silence of her absences, could feel the strange, solemn contrasts which one must feel, and does, even in the midst of keener anxieties than those which beset the watchers there. The girl, a fair, rather pretty person, pleasant-tempered and generally liked, lay still and senseless on the table round which she and others a little while ago had been seated at supper. Very still the room was now, that had been full of voices; the smell of camphor and brandy was about; the table was wet in one great spot with the cold water which had been applied to the girl's face. And through the open door and windows came the stir of the sweet night air, and the sound of insects, and the gurgle of a brook that ran a few yards off; peaceful, free, glad, as if all were as it had been last night, or nature took no cognizance of human affairs. The minister had been very active and helpful; bringing wood and drawing water and making up the fire, as well as anybody, Mrs. Starling said afterwards; he had taken his part in the actual nursing, and better than anybody, Diana thought. Now the two stood silent and grave by the long table, while they still kept up the application of brandy to the face and heat to the extremities, and rubbing the hands and wrists of the patient.
"Did you know Miss Delamater well?" asked the minister.
"Yes—as I know nearly all the girls," Diana answered.
"Do you think she is ready for the change—if she must make it?"
Diana hesitated. "I never heard her speak on the subject," she said. "She wasn't a member of the church."
Silence followed, and they were two grave faces still that bent over the table; but there was the difference between the shadow on a mountain lake where there is not a ripple, and the dark stir of troubled waters. Diana's eye every now and then glanced for an instant at the face of her companion; it was very grave, but the broad brow was as quiet as if all its questions were answered, and the mouth was sweet and at rest in its stillness. She wished he would speak again; there was something in him that provoked her curiosity. He did speak presently.
"This shows us what the meaning of life is," he said.
"No," said Diana, "it doesn't—to me. It is just a puzzle, and as much a puzzle here as ever. I don't see what the use of life is, or what we all live for; I don't see what it amounts to."
"What do you mean?" asked her companion, but not as if he were startled, and Diana went on.
"I shouldn't say so if people were always having a good time, and if they were just right and did just right. But they are not, Mr. Masters; you know they are not; even the best of them, that I see; and things like this are always happening, one way or another. If it isn't here, it is somewhere else; and if it isn't one time, it is another; and it is all confusion. I don't see what it all comes to."
"That is the thought of a moment of pain," said the minister.
"No, it is not," said Diana. "I think it often. I think it all the while. Now this very afternoon I was sitting at the door here,—you know what sort of a day it has been, Mr. Masters?"
"I know. Perfect. Just June."
"Well, I was looking at it, and feeling how lovely it was; everything perfect; and somehow all that perfection took a kind of sharp edge and hurt me. I was thinking why nothing in the world was like it, or agreed with it; nothing in human life, I mean. This afternoon, when the company was here and all the talk going on—that was like nothing out of doors all the while; and this is not like it."
There was a sigh, deep drawn, that came through the minister's lips; then he spoke cheerfully—"Ay, God's works have parted company somehow."
"Parted—?" said Diana curiously.
"Yes. You remember surely that when he had made all things at first, he beheld them very good."
"Well, they are not very good now; not all of them."
"Whose fault is that?"
"I know," said Diana, "but that does not help me with my puzzle. Why does the world go on so? what is the use of my living, or anybody's? What does it amount to?"
"That's your lesson," the minister answered, with a quick glance from his calm eyes. Not a bit of sentiment or of speculative rhapsody there; but downright, cool common sense, with just a little bit of authority. Diana did not know exactly how to meet it; and before she had arranged her words, they heard wheels again, and then the doctor came in.
The doctor approved of what had been done, and aided in renewed application of the same remedies. After a time, these seemed at last successful; the girl revived; and the doctor, after administering a little tea and weak brandy and water, ordered that she should be kept quiet where she was, the room be darkened when daylight came on, the windows kept open, and handkerchiefs wet with cold water be laid on her head. And then he took his departure; and Diana went to communicate to her mother the orders he had left.
"Keep her there!" echoed Mrs. Starling. "In the lean-to! She'd be a deal better in her bed."
"We must make her bed there, mother."
"There! On the table do you mean? Diana Starling, you are a baby!"
"She mustn't be stirred, mother, he says."
"That's the very thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Starling. "She had ought to ha' been carried into one of the bed-chambers at the first; and I said so; and the new minister, he would have it all his own way."
"But she must have all the air she could, mother, you know."
"Air!" said Mrs. Starling. "Do you s'pose she would smother in one of the chambers, where many a one before her has laid, sick and well, and got along too? Air, indeed! The house ain't like a corked bottle, I guess."
"Not much," said Diana; "but Mr. Masters said, and the doctor says, that she cannot have too much air."
"O well! Eggs can't be beat too much, neither; but it don't follow you're to stand beating 'em for ever. I've no patience. Where am I going to do my ironing? I should like the minister for to tell me;—or get meals, or anything else? I don't see what possessed Josiah to go and see his folks to-night of all nights."
"We have not wanted him, mother, after all, that I see."
"I have wanted him," said Mrs. Starling. "If he had been home I needn't to have had queer help, and missed knowing who was head of the house. Well, go along and fix it,—you and the minister."
"But, mother, I want to get Eliza's things off, and to make her bed comfortably; and I can't do it without you."
"Well, get rid of the minister then, and I'll come. Him and me is too many in one house."
The minister would not leave the two women alone and go home, as Diana proposed to him; but he went to make his horse comfortable while they did the same for the sick girl. And then he took up his post just outside the door, in the moonlight which came fitfully through the elm branches; and he and Diana talked no more that night. He was watchful and helpful; for he kept up the fire in the stove, and once more brought wood when it was needed. Moonlight melted away at last into the dawn; cool clear outlines began to take place of the soft mystery of night shadows; then the warm glow from the east, behind the house, and the glint of the sunbeams on the tops of the hills and on the racks of cloud lying along the horizon. Diana still kept her place by the improvised bed, and the minister kept his just outside the door. Mrs. Starling began to prepare for breakfast; and finally Josiah, the man-of-all-work on the little farm, came from his excursion and from the barn, bringing the pails of milk. Then the minister fetched his horse, and came in to shake hands with Diana. He would not stay for breakfast. She watched him down to the gate, where he threw himself on his grey steed and went off at a smooth gallop, swift and steady, sitting as if he were more at home on a horse's back than anywhere else. Diana looked after him.
"Certainly," she thought, "that is unlike all the other ministers that ever came to Pleasant Valley."
"He's off, is he?" said Mrs. Starling as her daughter came in. "Now Diana, take notice; don't you go and take a fancy to this new man; because I won't favour it, nor have anything of the kind going on. I tell you beforehand."
"There is very little danger of his taking a fancy to me, mother."
"I don't know about that. He might do worse. But you couldn't; for I'll never have anything to say to you if you do."
"Why, mother?" inquired Diana in much surprise. "I should think you'd like him. I should think everybody would. Why don't you like him?"
"He's too masterful for me. Mind what I tell you, Diana."
"It's absurd, mother! Such a one as Mr. Masters never would think of such a one as I am. He's a very cultivated man, mother; and has been accustomed to very different society from what he'll find here. I don't seem to him what I seem to you."
"I hope not!" said Mrs. Starling, "for you seem to me a goose. Cultivated! Who is cultivated, if you are not? Weren't you a whole year at school in Boston? I guess my gentleman hasn't been to a better place. And warn't you for ever reading those musty old books, that make you out of kilter for all my world. If you don't fit his neither, I'm sorry. Society indeed! There's no better society than the folks of Pleasant Valley. Don't you go and set yourself up; nor him neither."
Diana knew better than to carry on the discussion.
Meanwhile the grey horse that bore the minister home kept up that long smooth gallop for a half mile or so, then slackened it to walk up a hill.
"That's a very remarkable girl," the minister was saying to himself; "with much more in her than she knows."
The gallop began again in a few minutes, and was unbroken till he got home. It was but a piece of a home. Mr. Masters had rooms in the house of Mrs. Persimmon, a poor widow living among the hills. The rooms were neat; that was all that could be said for them; little and dark and low, with bits of windows, and with the simplest of furnishing. The sitting-room was cheerful with books, however—as cheerful as books can make a room; and the minister did not look uncheerful, but very grave. If his brow was neither wrinkled nor lined, the quiet eyes beneath it were deep with thought. Mr. Masters' morning was spent on this wise.
First of all, for a good half hour, his knees were bent, and his thoughts, whatever they were, gave him work to do. That work done, the minister threw himself on his bed and slept, as quietly as he did everything else, for an hour or two more. Then he rose, shaved and dressed, took such breakfast as Mrs. Persimmon could give him; mounted his grey again, and was off to a house at some distance where there was a sick child, and another house where there dwelt an infirm old man. Between these two the hours were spent till he rode home to dinner.
The improvement of the sick girl was better than had been hoped; it was but a day or two before Mrs. Starling's heart's desire could be effected and her kitchen cleared. Eliza was moved to another room, and at the week's end was taken home.
It was the next day after this had been done; and Diana was sitting again in the elm shadow at the door of the lean-to. Not idly this time; for a pan of peas was in her lap, and her fingers were busy with shelling them. Still her eyes were very much more busy with the lovely light and shade on meadow and hill; her glances went up and down, from her pan to the sunny landscape. Mrs. Starling, bustling about as usual within the house and never looking out, presently hearing the gate latch, called out—"Who's that?"
"Joe Bartlett, mother," Diana answered without moving.
It was not the gate that led to the flower patch and the front door. That was some distance off. Another little brown gate under the elm-tree opened directly in front of the lean-to door; and the patch between was all in fleckered sunlight and shadow, like the doorway where Diana sat.
The little gate opening now admitted a visitor who was in appearance the very typical Yankee of the story books. Long in the limbs, loose in the joints, angular, ungainly, he came up the walk with a movement that would tempt one to think he had not got accustomed to his inches and did not yet know quite what to do with them all. He had a long face, red in colour; in expression a mixture of honest frankness, carelessness, and good humour.
"Mornin'!" said he as he came near. "How's your folks, this forenoon?"
"Quite well—all there are of us, Joe," said Diana, shelling her peas as she looked up at him. "How's your mother?"
"Well, she's pretty smart. Mother seems to be allays just about so. I never see the beat of her for keepin' along. You've had quite a spell o' nursin' folks, hain't you, down this way? Must ha' upset you quite considerable."
"We didn't have the worst of the upsetting."
"That's a fact. Well, she's gone, ain't she?"
"Who, Eliza Delamater? Yes; gone yesterday."
"And you hain't nobody else on hand, have ye?"
"Mother's took a lonesome fit. She says it's quite a spell that you hain't ben down our way; and I guess that's so, ain't it?"
"I couldn't help it, Joe. I have had other things to do."
"Well, don't you think to-day's a good sort for a visit?"
"To-day?" said Diana, shelling her peas very fast.
"You see, it's pretty silent down to our place. That is, when I ain't to hum; and I can't be there much o' the time, 'cept when I'm asleep in my bed. I'm off as soon as I've done the chores in the mornin'; and I can't get hum nohow sooner than to do up the chores in the evenin'; and the old lady has it pretty much her own way as to conversation the rest o' the time. She can talk to what she likes; but there ain't nothin' as can make a remark back to her."
"It's too bad, Joe!"
"Fact!" said Joe seriously; all the rest had been said with a smile; "but you know mother. Come! put on your bonnit and run down and set with her a spell. She's took a notion to have ye; and I know she'll be watchin' till you come."
"Then I must go. I guess I can arrange it, Joe."
"Well, I'll get along, then, where I had ought to be. Mis' Starling cuttin' her hay?"
"Yes, this week and more."
"It's turnin' out a handsome swath; but it had ought to be all down now. Well, good day! Hurry up, now, for down yonder."
Diana brought in her pan of peas.
"Mother, where's Josiah Davis?"
"Where should he be? He's up in the hill lot, cuttin' hay. That grass is all in flower; it had ought to been cut a week ago; but Josiah always has one of his hands behind him."
"And he won't be in till noon. I must harness the waggon myself."
"If you can catch the horse," said her mother. "He's turned out in the lot. It's a poor job, at this time o' day."
"I'll try and make a good job of it," said Diana. So she took her sun-bonnet and went out to the barn. The old horse was not far off, for the "lot" in this case meant simply the small field in which the barn and the barnyard were enclosed; but being a wary old animal, with a good deal of experience of life, he had come to know that a halter and a pan of corn generally meant hard work near at hand, and was won't to be shy of such allurements. Diana could sometimes do better than anybody else with old Prince; they were on good terms; and Prince had sense enough to take notice that she never followed the plough, and was therefore a safer venture than his other flatterers. With the corn and the halter Diana now sought the corner where Prince was standing whisking his tail in the shade of a tree. But it was a warm morning; and seeing her approach, Prince quietly walked off into the sun on the other side of the tree, and went on to another shady resting-place some distance away. Diana followed, speaking to him; but Prince repeated his ungallant manoeuvre; and from tree to tree across the sunny field Diana trudged after him, until she was hot and tired. Perhaps Prince's philosophy came in play at last, warning him that this game could not go on for ever, and would certainly end in his discomfiture some time; for, with no apparent reason for his change of tactics, he stood still at length under the tree farthest from the barn, and suffered himself to be made captive. Diana got the halter on, and, flushed and excited with the chase, led him back over the lot and out to the road, where Josiah had very culpably left the little waggon standing in the shade of the elm, close by the lean-to gate. Just as she got there, Diana saw a stranger who had his hand on the gate, but who left it now and came forward to speak to her.
Diana stood by the thills of the waggon, horse in hand, but, to tell the truth, forgetting both. The stranger was unlike anything often seen in Pleasant Valley. He wore the dark-blue uniform of an army officer; there was a stripe of gold down the seam of his pantaloons and a gold bar across his shoulders, and his cap was a soldier's cap. But it was not on his head just now; it had come off since he quitted the gate; and the step with which he drew near was the very contrast to Joe Bartlett's lounging pace; this was measured, clean, compact, and firm, withal as light and even as that of an antelope. His hair showed the regulation cut; and Diana saw with the same glance a pair of light, brilliant, hazel eyes and a finely trimmed mustache. She stood flushed and still, halter in hand, with her sun-bonnet pushed a little back for air. The stranger smiled just a little.
"May I ask how far I am from a place called Elmfield?"
"It is"—Diana's thoughts wandered,—"It is five miles."
"I ought not to need to ask—but I have been so long away.—Do you know how or where I can get a horse, or any conveyance, to bring me there? I have ridden beyond this, and met with an accident."
Diana hesitated. "Is it Lieut. Knowlton?" she said.
"Ah, you know me?" said he. "I forgot that Pleasant Valley knows me better than I know Pleasant Valley. I did not count on finding a friend here." His eye glanced at the little brown house.
"Everybody knows Elmfield," said Diana; "and I guessed—"
"From my dress?" said Mr. Knowlton, following the direction of her look. "This was accident too. But which of my friends ought I to know here, that I don't know? Pardon me,—but is this horse to be put to the waggon or taken away from it?"
"O, I was going to put him in."
"Allow me"—said the young man, taking the halter from Diana's willing hands; "but where is the harnessing gear?"
"O, that is in the barn!" exclaimed Diana. "I will go and fetch it."
"Pray no! Let me get it," said her companion; and giving the end of the halter a turn round one of the thills, he had overtaken her before she had well taken half a dozen steps. They went together through the barnyard. Diana found the harness, and the young officer threw it over his shoulder with a smile at her which answered her deprecating words; a smile extremely pleasant and gentlemanly, if withal a little arch. Diana shrank back somewhat before the glance, which to her fancy showed the power of keen observation along with the habit of giving orders. They went back to the elm, and Mr. Knowlton harnessed the horse, Diana explaining in a word or two the necessity under which she had been acting.
"And what about my dilemma?" said he presently, as his task was finished.
"There is no horse or waggon you could get anywhere, that I know of," said Diana. "The teams are apt to be in use just now. But I am going down to within a mile of Elmfield; and I was going to say, if you like, I can take you so far."
"And who will do me such kindness?"
"Who? O—Diana Starling."
"Is that a name I ought to know?" inquired Mr. Knowlton. "I shall know it from this day; but how about before to-day? I have been gone from Pleasant Valley, at school and at the Military Academy, four, five,—ten years."
"Mother came back here to live just ten years ago."
"My conscience is clear!" he said, smiling. "I was beginning to whip myself. Now are we ready?"
Not quite, for Diana went into the house for her gloves and a straw hat; she made no other change in her dress, having taken off her apron before she set out after Prince. She found her new friend standing with the reins in his hand, as if he were to drive and not she; and Diana was helped into her own waggon with a deferential courtesy which up to that time she had only read of in books; nor known much even so. It silenced her at first. She sat down as mute as a child; and Mr. Knowlton handled Prince and the waggon and all in the style of one that knew how and had the right.
That drive, however, was not to be silent or stiff in any degree. Mr. Knowlton, for his part, had no shyness or hesitation belonging to him. He had seen the world and learnt its freedom. Diana was only a simple country girl, and had never seen the world; yet she was as little troubled with embarrassment of any sort. Partly this was, no doubt, because of her sound, healthy New England nature; the solid self-respect which does not need—nor use—to put itself in the balance with anything else to be assured of its own quality. But part belonged to Diana's own personalty; in a simple, large nature, too simple and too large to feel small motives or to know petty issues. If her cheeks and brow were flushed at first, it was because the sun had been hot in the lot and Prince tiresome. She was as composedly herself as ever the young officer could be. But I think each of them was a little excited by the companionship of the other.
"Do you drive this old fellow yourself?" asked Mr. Knowlton, after a little. "But I need not ask! Of course you do. There's no difficulty. And not much danger," he added, with a tone so dry and comical that they both burst into a laugh.
"I assure you I am very glad to have Prince," said Diana. "He is so old now that they generally let him off from the farm work. He takes mother and me to church, and stands ready for anything I want most of the time."
"Lucky for me, too," said Mr. Knowlton. "I am afraid you will find the sun very hot!"
"I? O no, I don't mind it at all," said Diana. "There's a nice air now. Where is your horse, Mr. Knowlton? you said you had an accident."
"Yes. That was a quarter of a mile or so beyond your house."
"And is your horse there?"
"Must be, I think. I shall send some people to remove him."
"Why, is he dead?"
"I should not have left him else, Miss Starling."
Diana did not choose to go on with a string of questions; and her companion hesitated.
"It's my own fault," he said with a sort of displeased half laugh; "a piece of boyish thoughtlessness that I've paid for. There was a nice red cow lying in the middle of the road"—
"Where?" said Diana, wondering.
"Just ahead of me; a few rods. She was lying quite quietly, taking her morning siesta in the sun; plunged in ruminative thoughts, I supposed, and the temptation was irresistible to go over without disturbing her."
"Over her?" said Diana in a maze.
"Yes. I counted on what one should never count on—what I didn't know."
"What was that?"
"Whether it would occur to her to get upon her legs, just at that moment."
"And she did?" inquired Diana.
"What did that do, Mr. Knowlton?"
"Threw my poor steed off his legs forever!" And here, in despite of his vexation, which was real and apparent, the young man burst into a laugh. Diana had not got at his meaning.
"And where were you, Mr. Knowlton?"
"On his back. I shall never forgive myself for being such a boy. Don't you understand? The creature rose up just in time to be in the way of my leap, and we were thrown over—my horse and I."
"Thrown! You were not hurt, Mr. Knowlton?"
"I deserved it, didn't? But I was nothing the worse—except for losing my horse, and my self-complacency."
"Was the horse killed?"
"No; not by the fall. But he was injured; so that I saw the best thing to do would be to put him out of life at once; so I did it. I had my pistols; I often ride with them, to be ready for any sport that may offer. I am very much ashamed, to have to tell you this story of myself!"
There was so much of earnestness in the expression of the last sentence, it was said with such a deferential contrition, if I may so speak, that Diana's thoughts experienced a diversion from the subject that had occasioned them. The contrition came more home than the fault. By common consent they went off to other matters of talk. Diana explained and commented on the history and features of Pleasant Valley, so far at least as her companion's questions called for such explanation, and that was a good deal. Mr. Knowlton gave her details of his own life and experience, which were much more interesting, she thought. The conversation ran freely; and again and again eyes met eyes full in sympathy over some grave or laughing point of intelligence.
And what is there in the meeting of eyes? What if the one pair were sparkling and quick, and the brow over them bore the fair lines of command? What though the other pair were deep and thoughtful and sweet, and the brow one that promised passion and power? A thousand other eyes might have looked on either one of them, and forgotten; these two looked—and remembered. You cannot tell why; it is the old story; the hidden, unreadable affinity making itself known to its counterpart; the sign and countersign of nature. But it was only nature that gave and took; not Diana and Mr. Knowlton.
Meanwhile Prince had an easy time; and the little waggon went very gently over the smooth roads past one farm after another.
"Prince can go faster than this," Diana confided at last to her companion.
"He doesn't want to, does he?"
Diana laughed, and knew in her heart she was of Prince's mind.
However, even five miles will come to an end in time if you keep going even slowly; and in time the little brown house of Mrs. Bartlett appeared in the distance, and Prince drew the waggon up before the door. Diana alighted, and Mr. Knowlton drove on, promising to send the waggon back from Elmfield.
It was coming down, in more ways than one, to get out of the waggon and go in to make her visit. Diana did not feel just ready for it. She loosened the strings of her hat, walked slowly up the path between the hollyhocks that led to the door, and there stopped and turned to take a last look at Mr. Knowlton in the distance. Such a ride as she had had! Such an entertainment! People in Pleasant Valley did not talk like that; nor look like that. How much difference it makes, to have education and to see the world! And a military education especially has a more liberalizing and adorning effect than the course of life in the colleges; the manner of a soldier has in it a charm which is wanting in the manner of a minister. As for farmers, they have no manners at all. And the very faces, thought Diana.
Well, she could not stand there on the door-step. She must go in. She turned and lifted the latch of the door.
The little room within was empty. It was a tiny house; the ground floor boasted only two rooms, and each of those was small. The broad hearth of flagstones took up a third of the floor of this one. A fire burned in the chimney, though the day was so warm; and a straight-backed arm-chair, with a faded cushion in it, stood by the chimney corner with a bunch of knitting lying on the cushion. Diana tapped at an inner door at her right, and then getting no answer, went across the kitchen and opened another opposite the one that had admitted her.
The little house, unpainted like many others, had no fenced enclosure on this side. A wide field stretched away from the back door, lying partly upon a hill-side; and several cattle were pasturing in it. Farm fields and meadows were all around, except where this one hill rose up behind the house. It was wooded at the top; below, the ranks of a cornfield sloped aspiringly up its base. A narrow footpath, which only the tread of feet kept free from weeds and grass, went off obliquely to a little enclosed garden, which lay beyond the corner of the house in some arbitrary and independent way, not adjoining it at all. It was a sweet bit of country, soft and mellow under the summer sun; still as grasshoppers and the tinkle of a cowbell could make it; and very far from most of the improvements of the nineteenth century. But the smell of the pasture and the fragrance that came from the fresh shades of the wood, and the freedom of the broad fields of pure ether, made it rich with some of nature's homely wealth; which is not by any means the worst there is. Diana knew the place very well; her eyes were looking now for the mistress of it. And not long. In the out-of-the-way lying garden she discerned her white cap; and at the gate met her bringing a head of lettuce in her hands.
"I knew you liked it, dear," she said, "and I had forgot all about it; and then it flashed on me, and I thought, Diana will like to have it for her dinner; and I guess it'll have time to cool. Just put it in a tin pail, dear, and hang it down in the well; and it'll be fresh."
This was done, and Diana came in and took a seat by her old friend.
"You needn't do that for me, Mother Bartlett. I don't care what I have to eat."
"Most folks like what is good," said the old lady; "suppos'n they know it."
"Yes, and so do I, but"—
"I made a pot-pie for ye," the old lady went on contentedly.
"And I suppose you have left nothing at all for me to do, as usual. It is too bad, Mother Bartlett."
"You shall do all the rest," said her friend; "and now you may talk to me."
She was a trim little old woman, not near so tall as her visitor; very wrinkled, but fresh-skinned, and with a quick grey eye. Her dress was a common working dress of some dark stuff; coarse, but tidy and nice-looking; her cap white and plain; she sat in her arm-chair, setting her little feet to the fire, and her fingers merrily clicking her needles together; a very comfortable vision. The kitchen and its furniture were as neat as a pin.
"I don't see how you manage, Mother Bartlett," Diana went on, glancing around. "You ought to have some one to live with you and help you. It looks as if you had half a dozen."
"Not much," said the old lady, laughing. "A half dozen would soon make a muss, of one sort or another. There's nothin' like having nobody."
"But you might be sick."
"I might be;—but I ain't," said Mrs. Bartlett, running one end of a knitting-needle under her cap and looking placidly at Diana.
"But you might want somebody."
"When I do I send for 'em. I sent for you to-day, child; and here you are."
"But you are quite well to-day?" said Diana a little anxiously.
"I am always well. Never better."
"How old are you, Mother Bartlett?"
"Seventy-three years, child."
"Well, I do think you oughtn't to be here alone. It don't seem right, and I don't think it is right."
"What's to do, child? There ain't nary one to come and live with me. They're all gone but Joe. My Lord knows I'm an old woman seventy-three years of age."
"What then, Mother Bartlett?" Diana asked curiously.
"He'll take care of me, my dear."
"But then, we ought to take care of ourselves," said Diana. "Now if Joe would marry somebody"—
"Joe ain't lucky in that line," said the old lady laughing again. "And may be what he might like, I mightn't. Before you go to wishin' for changes, you'd better know what they'll be. I'm content child. There ain't a thing on earth I want that I haven't got. Now what's the news?"
Diana began and told her the whole story of the sewing meeting and the accident and the nursing of the injured girl. Mrs. Bartlett had an intense interest in every particular; and what Diana failed to remember, her questions brought out.
"And how do you like the new minister?"
"Haven't you seen him yet?"
"Nay. He hain't been down my way yet. In good time he will. He's had sick folks to see arter, Joe told me; old Jemmy Claflin, and Joe Simmons' boy; and Mis' Atwood, and Eliza."
"I think you'll like him," said Diana slowly. "He's not like any minister ever I saw."
"What's the odds?"
"It isn't so easy to tell. He don't look like a minister, for one thing; nor he don't talk like one; not a bit."
"Have we got a gay parson, then?" said the old lady, slightly raising her eyebrows.
"Gay? O no! not in the way you mean. In one way he is gay; he is very pleasant; not stiff or grum, like Mr. Hardenburgh; and he is amusing too, in a quiet way, but he is amusing; he is so cool and so quick. O no, he's not gay in the way you mean. I guess he's good."
"Do you like him?" Mrs. Bartlett asked.
"Yes," said Diana, thinking of the night of Eliza Delamater's accident. "He is very queer."
"I don't seem to make him out by your telling, child. I'll have to wait, I guess. I've got no sort of an idea of him, so far. Now, dear, if you'll set the table—dinner's ready; and then we'll have some reading."
Diana drew out a small deal table to the middle of the floor, and set on it the delf plates and cups and saucers, the little saltcellar of the same ware, and the knives and forks that were never near Sheffield; in fact, were never steel. But the lettuce came out of the well crisp and fresh and cool; and Mrs. Bartlett's pot-pie crust came out of the pot as spongy and light as possible; and the loaf of "seconds" bread was sweet as it is hard for bread to be that is not made near the mill; and if you and I had been there, I promise you we would not have minded the knives and forks, or the cups either. Mrs. Bartlett's tea was not of corresponding quality, for it came from a country store. However, the cream went far to mend even that. The back door was open for the heat; and the hill-side could be seen through the doorway and part of the soft green meadow slope; and the grasshopper's song and the bell tinkle were not bad music.
"And who was that came with you, dear?" Mrs. Bartlett asked as they sat at table.
"With me? Did you see me come?"
"Surely. I was in the garden. What should hinder me? Who was it druv you, dear?"
"It was an accident. Young Mr. Knowlton had got into some trouble with his horse, riding out our way, and came to ask how he could get home. So I brought him."
"That's Evan Knowlton! him they are making a soldier of?"
"He's made. He's done with his education. He is at home now."
"Ain't goin' to be a soldier after all?"
"O yes; he is a soldier; but he has got a leave, to be home for awhile."
"Well, what sort is he? I don't see what they wanted to make a soldier of him for; his grand'ther would ha' been the better o' his help on the farm, seems to me; and now he'll be off to the ends o' the earth, and doin' nobody knows what. It's the wisdom o' this world. But how has he turned out, Die?"
"I don't know; well, I should think."
"And his sisters at home would ha' been the better of him. By-and-by Mr. Bowdoin will die; and then who'll look after the farm, or the girls?"
"Still, mother, it's something more and something better to be educated, as he is, and to know the world and all sorts of things, as he does, than just to live on the farm here in the mountains, and raise corn and eat it, and nothing else. Isn't it?"
"Why should it be better, child?"
"It is nice to be educated," said Diana softly. And she thought much more than she said.
"A man can get as much edication as he can hold, and live on a farm too. I've seen sich. Some folks can't do no better than hoe—corn like my Joe. But there ain't no necessity for that. But arter all, what does folks live for, Diana?"
"I never could make out, Mother Bartlett."
The old lady looked at her thoughtfully and wistfully, but said no more. Diana cleared the table and washed the few dishes; and when all was straight again, took out a newspaper she had brought from home, and she and the old lady settled themselves for an afternoon of enjoyment. For it was that to both parties. At home Diana cared little about the paper; here it was quite another thing. Mrs. Bartlett wanted to hear all there was in it; public doings, foreign doings, city news, editor's gossip; and even the advertisements came in for their share of pleasure-giving. New inventions had an interest; tokens of the world's movements, or the world's wants, in other notices, were found suggestive of thought or provocative of wonder. Sitting with her feet put towards the fire, her knitting in her hands, the quick grey eyes studied Diana's face as she read, never needing to give their supervision to the fingers; and the coarse blue yarn stocking, which was doubtless destined for Joe, grew visibly in length while the eyes and thoughts of the knitter were busy elsewhere. The newspaper filled a good part of the afternoon; for the reading was often interrupted for talk which grew out of it. When at last it was done, and Mrs. Bartlett's eyes returned to the fire, there were a few minutes of stillness; then she said gently,
"Now, our other reading, dear?"
"You like this the best, Mother Bartlett, don't you?" said Diana, as she rose and brought from the inner room a large volume; the Book, as any one might know at a glance; carefully covered with a sewn cover of coarse cloth. "Where shall I read now?"
The place indicated was the beginning of the Revelation, a favourite book with the old lady. And as she listened, the knitting grew slower; though, true to the instinctive habit of doing something, the fingers never ceased absolutely their work. But they moved slowly; and the old lady's eyes, no longer on the fire, went out of the open window, and gazed with a far-away gaze that went surely beyond the visible heaven; so wrapt and steady it was. Diana, sitting on a low seat at her feet, glanced up sometimes; but seeing that gaze, looked down and went on again with her reading and would not break the spell. At last, having read several chapters without a word of interruption, she stopped. The old lady's eyes came back to her knitting, which began to go a little faster.
"Do you like all this so much?" Diana asked. "I know you do; but I can't see why you do. You can't understand it."
"I guess I do," said the old lady. "I seem to, anyhow. It's queer if I don't."
"But you can't make anything of all those horses?"
"Why, it's just what you've been readin' about all the afternoon."
"In the newspaper!" cried Diana.
"It's many a year that I've been lookin' at it," said the old lady; "ever sen I heard it all explained by a good minister. I've been lookin' at it ever sen." She spoke dreamily.
"It's all words and words to me," said Diana.
"There's a blessin' belongs to studyin' them words, though. Those horses are the works and judgments of the Lord that are goin' on in all the earth, to prepare the way of his comin'."
"The Lord's comin'," said the old lady solemnly. "The white horse, that's victory; that's goin' on conquering and to conquer; that's the truth and power of the Lord bringin' his kingdom. The red horse, that's war; ah, how that red horse has tramped round the world! he's left the marks of his hoofs on our own ground not long sen; and now you've been readin' to me about his goin's on elsewhere. The black horse, that's famine; and not downright starvation, the minister said, but just want; grindin' and pressin' people down. Ain't there enough o' that in the world? not just so bad in Pleasant Valley, but all over. And the pale horse—what is it the book calls him?—that's death; and he comes to Pleasant Valley as he comes everywhere. They've been goin', those four, ever sen the world was a world o' fallen men."
"But what do they do to prepare the way for the Lord's coming?" said Diana.
"What do I know? That'll be known when the book shall come to be read, I s'pose. I'm waitin'. I'll know by and by"—
"Only I can seem to see so much as this," the old lady went on after a pause. "The Lord won't have folk to settle down accordin' to their will into a contented forgetfulness o' him; so he won't let there be peace till the King o' Peace comes. O, I'd be glad if he'd come!"
"But that will be the end of the world," said Diana.
"Well," said Mrs. Bartlett, "it might be the end of the world for all I care; if it would bring Him. What do I live for?"
"You know I don't understand you, Mother Bartlett," said Diana gently.
"Well, what do you live for, child?"
"I don't know," said Diana slowly. "Nothing. I help mother make butter and cheese; and I make my clothes, and do the housework. And next year it'll be the same thing; and the next year after that. It don't amount to anything."
"And do you think the Lord made you—you pretty creatur!"—said the old lady, softly passing her hand down the side of Diana's face,—"for nothin' better than to make cheese and butter?"
Diana smiled and blushed brightly at her old friend, a lovely child's smile.
"I may come to be married, you know, one of these days! But after all, that don't make any difference. It's the same thing, married or not married. People all do the same things, day after day, till they die."
"If that was all"—said the old lady meditatively, looking into the fire and knitting slowly.
"It is all; except that here and there there is somebody who knows more and can do something better; I suppose life is something more to them. But they are mostly men."
"Edication's a fine thing," Mrs. Bartlett went on in the same manner; "but there's two sorts. There's two sorts, Diana. I hain't got much,—o' one kind; I never had no chance to get it, so I've done without it. And now my life's so near done, it don't seem much matter. But there's the other sort, that ain't learned at no 'cademy. The Lord put me into his school forty-four years ago—where he puts all his children; and if they learn their lessons, he takes 'em up and up,—some o' the lessons is hard to learn,—but he takes 'em up and up; till life ain't a puzzle no longer, and they begin to know the language o' heaven, where his courts be. And that's edication that's worth havin',—when one's just goin' there, as I be."
"How do you get into that school, Mother Bartlett?" Diana asked thoughtfully, and yet with her mind not all upon what she was saying,
"You are in it, my dear. The good Lord sends his lessons and his teachers to every one; but it's no use to most folks; they won't take no notice."
"What 'teachers'?" said Diana, smiling.
"There's a host of them," said Mrs. Bartlett; "and of all sorts. Why, I seem to be in the midst of 'em, Diana. The sun is a teacher to me every day; and the clouds, and the air, and the colours. The hill and the pasture ahint the house,—I've learned a heap of lessons from 'em. And I'm learnin' 'em all the time, till I seem to be rich with what they're tellin' me. So rich, some days I 'most wonder at myself. No doubt, to hear all them voices, one must hear the voice o' the Word. And then there's many other voices; but they don't come just so to all. I could tell you some o' mine; but the ones that'll come to you'll be sure to be different; so you couldn't learn from them, child. And folks thinks I'm a lonesome old woman!"
"Well, how can they help it?" said Diana.
"It's nat'ral," said Mrs. Bartlett.
"I can't help your seeming so to me."
"That ain't nat'ral, for you had ought to know better. They think, folks does,—I know,—I'm a poor lone old woman, just going to die."
"But isn't that nearly true?" said Diana gently.
There was a slight glad smile on the withered lips as Mrs. Bartlett turned towards her.
"You have the book there on your lap, dear. Just find the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, and read the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth verses. And when you feel inclined to think that o' me agin, just wait till you know what they mean."
Diana found and read:—
"'Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoesoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.'"
June had changed for July; but no heats ever withered the green of the Pleasant Valley hills, nor browned its pastures; and no droughts ever stopped the tinkling of its rills and brooks, which rolled down, every one of them, over gravelly pebbly beds to lose themselves in lake or river. Sun enough to cure the hay and ripen the grain, they had; and July was sweet with the perfume of hayfield, and lovely with brown hayricks, and musical with the whetting of scythes. Mrs. Starling's little farm had a good deal of grass land; and the haying was proportionally a busy season. For haymakers, according to the general tradition of the country, in common with reapers, are expected to eat more than ordinary men, or men in ordinary employments; and to furnish the meals for the day kept both Mrs. Starling and her daughter busy.
It was mid-afternoon, sunny, perfumed, still; the afternoon luncheon had gone out to the men, who were cutting then in the meadow which surrounded the house. Diana found her hands free; and had gone up to her room, not to rest, for she was not tired, but to get out of the atmosphere of the kitchen and breathe a few minutes without thinking of cheese and gingerbread. She had begun to change her dress; but leisure wooed her, and she took up a book and presently forgot even that care in the delight of getting into a region of thought. For Diana's book was not a novel; few such found their way to Pleasant Valley, and seldom one to Mrs. Starling's house. Her father's library was quite unexhausted still, its volumes took so long to read and needed so much thinking over; and now she was deep in a treatise more solid and less attractive than most young women are willing to read. It carried her out of the round of daily duties and took her away from Pleasant Valley altogether, and so was a great refreshment. Besides, Diana liked thinking.
Once or twice a creak of a farm waggon was heard along the road; it was too well known a sound to awake her attention; then came a sound far less common—the sharp trot of a horse moving without wheels behind him. Diana started instantly and went to a window that commanded the road. The sound ceased, but she saw why; the rider had reined in his steed and was walking slowly past; the same rider she had expected to see, with the dark uniform and the soldier's cap. He looked hard at the place; could he be stopping? The next moment Diana had flown back to her own room, had dropped the dress which was half off, and was arraying herself in a fresh print; and she was down-stairs almost as soon as the visitor knocked. Diana opened the door. She knew Mrs. Starling was deep in supper preparations, mingled with provisions for the next day's lunches.
Uniforms have a great effect, to eyes unaccustomed to them. How Lieut. Knowlton came to be wearing his uniform in the country, so far away from any post, I don't know; perhaps he did. He said, that he had nothing else he liked for riding in. But a blue frock, with gold bars across the shoulders and military buttons, is more graceful than a frieze coat. And it was a gracious, graceful head that was bared at the sight of the door-opener.
"You see," he said with a smile, "I couldn't go by! The other day I was your pensioner, in kindness. Now I want to come in my own character, if you'll let me."
"Is it different from the character I saw the other day?" said Diana, as she led the way into the parlour.
"You did not see my character the other day, did you?"
"I saw what you showed me!"
He laughed, and then laughed again; looking a little surprised, a good deal amused.
"I would give a great deal to know what you thought of me."
"Why would you?" Diana said, quite quietly.
"That I might correct your mistakes, of course."
"Suppose I made any mistakes," said Diana, "you could only tell me that you thought differently. I don't see that I should be much wiser."
"I find I made a mistake about you!" he said, laughing again, but shaking his head. "But every person is like a new language to those that see him for the first time; don't you think so? One has to learn the signs of the language by degrees, before one can read it off like a book."
"I never thought about that," said Diana. "No; I think that is true of some people; not everybody. All the Pleasant Valley people seem to me to belong to one language. All except one, perhaps."
"Who is the exception?" Mr. Knowlton asked quickly.
"I don't know whether you know him."
"O, I know everybody here—or I used to."
"I was thinking of somebody who didn't use to be here. He has only just come. I mean Mr. Masters."
"I don't know him much. I suppose he belongs to the parson language, to carry on our figure. They all do."
"He don't," said Diana. "That is what struck me in him. What are the signs of the 'parson' language?"
"A black coat and a white neckcloth, to begin with."
"He dresses in grey," said Diana laughing, "or in white; and wears any sort of a cravat."
"To go on,—Generally a grave face and a manner of great propriety; with a square way of arranging words."
"Mr. Masters has no manner at all; and he is one of the most entertaining people I ever knew."
"Jolly sort, eh?"
"No, I think not," said Diana; "I don't know exactly what you mean by jolly; he is never silly, and he does not laugh much particularly; but he can make other people laugh."
"Well, another sign is, they put a religious varnish over common things. Do you recognise that?"
"I recognise that, for I have seen it; but it isn't true of Mr. Masters."
"I give him up," said young Knowlton. "I am sure I shouldn't like him."
"Why, do you like these common signs of the 'parson language,' as you call it, that you have been reckoning?"
The answer was a decided negative accompanied with a laugh again; and then Diana's visitor turned the conversation to the country, and the place, and the elm trees; looked out of the window and observed that the haymakers were at work near the house, and finally said he must go out to look at them nearer—he had not made hay since he was a boy.
He went out, and Diana went back to her mother in the lean-to.
"Mother, young Mr. Knowlton is here."
"Well, keep him out o' my way; that's all I ask."
"Haven't you got through yet?"
"Through! There was but one single pan of ginger-bread left this noon; and there ain't more'n three loaves o' bread in the pantry. What's that among a tribe o' such grampuses? I've got to make biscuits for tea, Di; and I may as well get the pie-crust off my hands at the same time; it'll be so much done for to-morrow. I wish you'd pick over the berries. And then I'll find you something else to do. If I had six hands and two heads, I guess I could about get along."
"But, mother, it won't do for nobody to be in the parlour."
"I thought he was gone?"
"Only gone out into the field to see the haymakers."
"Queer company!" said Mrs. Starling, leaving her bowl of dough, with flowery hands, to peer out of a window. "You may make your mind easy, Di; he won't come in again. I declare! he's got his coat off and he's gone at it himself; ain't that him?"
Diana looked and allowed that it was. Mr. Knowlton had got a rake in hand, his coat hung on the fence, and he was raking hay as busily as the best of them. Diana gave a little sigh, and turned to her pan of berries. This young officer was a new language to her, and she would have liked, she thought, to spell out a little more of its graceful peculiarities. The berries took a good while. Meantime Mrs. Starling's biscuit went into the oven, and a sweet smell began to come thereout. Mrs. Starling bustled about setting the table; with cold pork and pickles, and cheese and berry pie, and piles of bread brown and white. Clearly the haymakers were expected to supper.
"Mother," said Diana doubtfully, when she had washed her hands from the berry stains, "will you bring Mr. Knowlton out here to tea, if he should possibly stay?"
"He's gone, child, this age."
"No, he isn't."
"He ain't out yonder any more."
"But his horse stands by the fence under the elm."
"I wish he was farther, then! Yes, of course he'll come here, if he takes supper with me to-night. I don't think he will. I don't know him, and I don't know as I want to."
But this vaguely expressed hope was disappointed. The young officer came in, a little while before supper; laughingly asked Diana for some water to wash his hands; and followed her out to the lean-to. There he was introduced to Mrs. Starling, and informed her he had been doing her work, begging to know if that did not entitle him to some supper. I think Mrs. Starling was a little sorry then that she had not made preparations to receive him more elegantly; but it was too late now; she only rushed a little nervously to fetch him a finer white towel than those which usually did kitchen duty for herself and Diana; and then the biscuits were baked, and the farm hands came streaming in.
There were several of them, now in haying time, headed by Josiah Davis, Mrs. Starling's ordinary stand-by. Heavy and clumsy, warm from the hay-field, a little awkward at sight of the company, they filed in and dropped into their several seats round one end of the table; and Mrs. Starling could only play all her hospitable arts around her guest, to make him forget if possible his unwonted companions. She served him assiduously with the best she had on the table; she would not bring on any dainties extra; and the young officer took kindly even to the pork and pickles, and declared the brown bread was worth working for; and when Mrs. Starling let fall a word of regretful apology, assured her that in the times when he was a cadet he would have risked getting a good many marks for the sake of such a meal.
"What are the marks for?" inquired Mrs. Starling curiously.
"Bad boys," he told her; and then went off to a discussion of her hay crop, and a dissertation on the delights of making hay and the pleasure he had had from it that afternoon; "something he did not very often enjoy."
"Can't you make hay anywheres?" Mrs. Starling asked a little dryly.
He gravely assured her it would not be considered military.
"I don't know what military means," said Mrs. Starling. "You are military, ain't you?"
"Mean to be," he answered seriously.
"Well, you are. Then, I should think, whatever you do would be military."
But at this giving of judgment, after a minute of, perhaps, endeavour for self-control, Mr. Knowlton broke down and laughed furiously. Mrs. Starling looked stern. Diana was in a state of indecision, whether to laugh with her friend or frown with her mother; but the infection of fun was too much for her—the pretty lips gave way. Maybe that was encouragement for the offender; for he did not show any embarrassment or express any contrition.
"You do me too much honour," he said as soon as he could make his voice steady; "you do me too much honour, Mrs. Starling. I assure you, I have been most unmilitary this afternoon; but really I am no better than a boy when the temptation takes me; and the temptation of your meadow and those long windrows was too much for me. I enjoyed it hugely. I am coming again, may I?"
"You'll have to be quick about it, then," said Mrs Starling, not much mollified; "there ain't much more haying to do on the home lot, I guess. Ain't you 'most done, Josiah?"
"How?" said that worthy from the other end of the table. Mrs. Starling had raised her voice, but Josiah's wits always wanted a knock at the door before they would come forth to action.
"Hain't you 'most got through haying?"
"Why, what's to do?" inquired the mistress, with a new interest.
"There's all this here lot to finish, and all of Savin hill."
"Savin hill ain't but half in grass."
"Jes' so. There ain't a lock of it cut, though."
"If I was a man," said Mrs. Starling, "I believe I could get the better o' twenty acres o' hay in less time than you take for it. However, I ain't. Mr. Knowlton, do take one o' those cucumbers. I think there ain't a green pickle equal to a cucumber—when it's tender and sharp, as it had ought to be."
"I am sure everything under your hands is as it ought to be," said the young officer, taking the cucumber. "I know these are. Your haymakers have a good time," he added as the men rose, and there was a heavy clangour of boots and grating chairs at the lower end of the table.