A SERIES OF
TALES AND POEMS.
"I never gaze Upon the evening, but a tide of awe, And love, and wonder, from the Infinite, Swells up within me, as the running brine From the smooth-glistening, wide-heaving sea, Grows in the creeks and channels of a stream, Until it threats its, banks. It is not joy,— 'Tis sadness more divine."
FETRIDGE AND COMPANY.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1854, by
J. M. HARPER,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
Stereotyped by HOBART & ROBBINS, New England Type and Stereotype Foundery, BOSTON.
FIRESIDES OF THE WESTERN WORLD,
With the fond Hope
THAT ITS PAGES MAY SERVE TO ENLIVEN OR ENTERTAIN SOME FEW OF THOSE EVENING HOURS WHEN PLEASANT FACES GATHER ROUND WARM, GLOWING HEARTH-STONES,
This simple Volume
IS UNOBTRUSIVELY PRESENTED,
UNKNOWN AND NAMELESS AUTHOR,
RATHER FIND WARM HEARTS AMONG HER READERS THAN WIN THE LAURELS OF A TRANSITORY FAME.
There are two instances of illegible words in this text, both as a result of ink blots. They have been indicated as [illegible].
When the sun has disappeared behind the western mountains, and the stars sparkled o'er the blue concave, we have been accustomed to sit down to the compilation of this unpretending volume, and therefore it is called "Eventide." O, that its pages might be read at that calm, silent hour,—their follies mercifully overlooked, their faults as kindly forgiven.
Fain would we dedicate this "waif of weary moments" to some warm-hearted, watchful spirit, who might shelter it from the pitiless assaults of the wide, wide world. But will not our simple booklet prove too insignificant a mark for the critic's arrows?
In the language of another, we confidently say, melancholy is indifferent to criticism.
"In our own weakness shielded,"
O, Reading Public, we steal upon you 'mid the falling shadows, and lay "Eventide" at your feet.
WIMBLEDON; OR, THE HERMIT OF THE CEDARS, 7
SCRAGGIEWOOD, A TALE OF AMERICAN LIFE, 245
ALICE ORVILLE; OR, LIFE IN THE SOUTH AND WEST, 329
COME TO ME WHEN I'M DYING, 401
I'M TIRED OF LIFE, 405
LINES TO A FRIEND, ON REMOVING FROM HER NATIVE VILLAGE, 407
HO FOR CALIFORNIA! 409
N. P. ROGERS, 411
HENRY CLAY, 415
THE SOUL'S DESTINY, 417
LINES TO A MARRIED FRIEND, 419
NEW ENGLAND SABBATH BELLS, 421
MY HEART, 423
OUR HELEN, 425
MY BONNET OF BLUE, 427
DARK-BROWED MARTHA, 429
THE HERMIT OF THE CEDARS.
"The stars are out, and by their glistening light, I fain would whisper in thine ear a tale; Wilt hear it kindly? and if long and dull Believe me far more deeply grieved than thou."
Clear and loud on the hushed silence of the midnight hour rang the chimes of the village clock, from the tall steeple-tower of the quaint old church of Wimbledon, while several ambitious chickens rose from their neighboring perches, piped a shrill answering salute, and sank to their nocturnal slumbers again. But nor clock nor chanticleer disturbed Wimbledon. Still she slept on beneath the blossoming stars; and by their soft, inspiring light, with your permission, gentle reader, we'll enter the sleeping village.
Dim gleams of snowy cottages, peeping through a wealth of embowering vines, steal on our star-lighted vision as we roam along the grassy streets, and we scent the breath of gardens odorous with the sweets of dew-watered flowers. Above and around we hear the musical stir of the night wind among boughs and branches of luxuriant foliage, while ever and anon it comes from afar with a deep-toned, solemn murmur, as though it swept o'er forests of cedar and mournfully-echoing pine. Still roaming on, the low rippling of flowing waters comes soothingly to our ears, and we pause on the bank of a flower-bordered river that goes sweetly singing on its way to the distant ocean. A tiny sailboat lies in a sheltering cove, rocked gently to and fro by the swaying current. On a hill beyond the stream we mark a large white-belfried building, relieved against a dark background of wide-stretching timber-land. And turning our delighted footsteps down an avenue of lofty cedar and linden trees, there rises at length before our vision a splendid mansion, built after a most beautiful style of architecture, with deep, bay windows, long corridors and vine-covered terraces. Magnificent gardens, displaying the perfection of taste, lay sloping to the southward. On the east the silvery river was seen glancing through the shrubbery that adorned its banks. To the west lay a beautiful park and pleasure ground, while far away to the northward stretched the deep, dense forest, tall, dark and sombre.
And over all this lovely scene the stars shed their mild, ethereal light. O, Wimbledon! art thou not beautiful 'neath their soft, silver gleams? And doth not shadowy-vested romance roam thy grassy paths and flower-strewn ways to-night, and with her wild, mysterious eyes gloating on thy entrancing scenery, doth she not resolve to dwell awhile, 'mid thy embowering vines, thy dewy-petalled flowers, mournfully-musical cedar-groves, and web a fiction from the thousand tangled threads which complicate and ramify thy social life?
We shall see what we shall see in Wimbledon; for gray dawn is already breaking in the dappled east, and a man, closely buttoned to the chin in a gray overcoat, emerges from a large brick mansion on the outskirts of the village, and directs his steps toward an old, black, rickety-looking house, which stands just on the bank of the river, surrounded by a tangled growth of brush-wood.
Here the gairish day at length disclosed what the modest night had obscured with her diamond veil of stars. Squalid poverty glared through the broken window-panes, and want seemed clattering her doleful song on the flying clapboards and crazy casements. A feeble, struggling light from within showed the inmates were stirring as the man in the overcoat gave a loud, careless thump on the trembling door, which was opened by a pale, gaunt-looking urchin, clad in garments bearing patches of divers hues.
"Is your mother at home, Bill?" inquired the man, gruffly.
"Yes, sir," answered the boy in a meek tone; "will you please to walk in, Mr. Pimble?"
"No; tell her I want her to come and wash for me to-day," said the man, in a harsh, rough voice, as he turned away.
The boy bowed and reentered the miserable apartment, where a few soggy chips smoked on a bed of embers that were gathered in the corner of a huge fire-place. A woman, with a begrimed cotton handkerchief tied over her head, sat on the hearth endeavoring to blow them into a blaze, while the smoke, that poured down the foul and blackened chimney, caused the tears to roll from her eyes, and baffled her efforts.
"Never mind the fire, mother," said the lad, approaching; "I'll try and pick up some dry sticks in course of the day to have the room warm when you come home to-night. Mr. Pimble has just called, and wants you to go and wash for him to-day."
"He won't pay me a cent if I go," answered the woman moodily; "all my drudgery for that family goes to pay the rent of this miserable old shell."
"I think he will give you something to-day, mother, if you tell him how needy we are," suggested the boy.
"Never a cent," said the woman, with a gloomy shake of her head; "however, I may as well go. I shall get a cup of tea and bit of dinner, and I'll look out to bring you a cake, Willie."
"O, will you, mother?" exclaimed the boy, his wan features brightening momentarily at the prospect of a single cake to appease the gnawings of hunger.
The woman threw a coarse, threadbare blanket over her shoulders and went forth, while the boy bent his way along the riverbank in search of dry twigs and branches with which to replenish their wasted stock of fuel. And he thought, as he picked up here and there the scanty sticks and laid them in small bundles, of some lines of poetry he read on a bit of newspaper that blew across his path one day:
"If joy and pain in this nether world, Must fairly balanced be, O, why not some of the pain to them. And some of the joy to me?"
And he could not settle the point in his youthful mind. He could not tell why David Pimble should go to school the year round at the great, white seminary on the hill, while he could only go about two months in the cold, biting winter to a town-school a mile distant. He could not tell why said David should have warm woollen jackets, while his were threadbare and patched with rags; nor why David should fare sumptuously on buttered toast and smoking muffins, while he starved on the crusts that were cast from his well-spread table.
All these were knotty points which poor little Willie Danforth was too young and untaught to solve. When he should be older and wiser, would he be able to solve them? He didn't know;—he hoped so; though he feared he never would be much wiser than now, if he was always to remain so poor, and be debarred from the privilege of attending school.
There's one school whose doors are and have ever been open wide for Willie—the school of poverty and experience. Lessons swift and bitter are indelibly impressed on the minds of the pupils there.
Thoughtful and abstracted, Willie wandered along, gathering his little bundles of firewood, till he found himself at the foot of the hill on which stood the great, white seminary where David Pimble, his brother and sister, went to school month after month and year after year. He heard voices, and, looking up, beheld the little group that were occupying his thoughts, on the hill-top, laughing and mocking at him as he toiled along with his bundles of sticks. His cheeks glowed with anger for a moment, and then grew ashy pale, as he plodded on toward his miserable home.
Dilly Danforth, the poor washerwoman, had seen better days; but the drunken dissipation of a husband, who was now in his grave, had reduced her to abject, despairing poverty. Her unfortunate marriage and persistence in clinging to the man of her choice, and enduring all his abuses, excited the displeasure of her family, and they cast her from them to suffer and struggle on as best she might. She knew not as she had a relative in the world. She surely had no friend, save Willie, her little boy, with whom she dwelt in the comfortless abode we have briefly visited.
Alas for the suffering poor! How prone are the wealthy, by warm, glowing grates, to forget their cheerless habitations, and turn inhumanly from their pitiful tales of want and destitution!
"This work-day world, this work-day world, How it doth plod along!"
Tap, tap, tap, on the back kitchen door of Esq. Pimble's great brick mansion, and a clattering of plates and tea things within which quite drowned the timid knock. A second and louder one brought a fat, red-faced woman with rolled-up sleeves and a dish-towel in hand, to answer the summons.
"Sakes, Dilly Danforth!" exclaimed she, on beholding the well-known, faded blanket of the washerwoman; "what brings you here so airly in the mornin'? If you are after cold victuals, I can tell you you can't have any, for mistress—"
"I am not come seeking charity," said Dilly, cutting short the woman's brawling speech; "Mr. Pimble wished me to come and wash for him to day."
"He did?" said the bold-visaged housekeeper, opening her large, buttermilk-colored eyes with astonishment; "well, for sure!"—and here she seemed debating some matter in her mind for several moments, her hand still holding the door in forbidding proximity to poor Mrs. Danforth's pale, grief-worn face.
"Well, you can come in then, I s'pose," she said, at length, flinging it open spitefully, and returning to the wiping of her breakfast dishes, which she sent together with such a crash, that poor Dilly, as she stood over the stove trying to warm her chilly fingers by a decaying fire, momentarily expected to see them scattered over the floor in a thousand fragments.
"Sakes! are you cold this warm spring morning?" snarled the plump, well-fed housekeeper, as she thumped back and forth, carrying her piles of plates to the cupboard. "Why don't you shut the outside door after you, then? For my part, I'm most roasted to death."
"You have been in a warm room, while I have not seen a fire this morning," said Dilly, meekly, as she closed the door and returned to her place by the stove.
"Well, I wish I hadn't," answered the ireful Mrs. Peggy Nonce;—"a hard fate is mine; sweltering over a great fire all my life, to cook for a family that don't know nothing only to make the work as hard as they can. Now, here's Mr. Pimble goes and gets you here to wash; never tells me a word about it till you come right in upon me just as I have got my breakfast things cleared away, settin'-room swept out, and fire all down in the kitchen. I s'pose you have had nothing to eat to-day, for you always come half starved, though why you do so I don't know, save to make me work and get all you can out of us. When Mr. Pimble rents you that great house so cheap, too! I declare, I should think, with all that man's trials, he would get to be a hypocrite and believe in total annihilation."
Dilly made no reply to this speech. Probably the latter part was beyond her simple comprehension.
Mr. Pimble himself, the man of trials, as his housekeeper affirmed, now opened the sitting-room door and looked forth. He was habited in a long, faded, palm-figured bed-gown, all muffled up round his chin, and sheep-skin slippers without heels. He had a lank, pale, discouraged visage, and thin, light hair, streaked with gray, in a very untidy state straggling about his face. He pulled his wrapper up yet closer about his head, when he discovered the washerwoman, and shambled across the clean-swept floor, his heelless slippers going clip-clap after him, as he stalked along. What a gaunt, unhealthy-looking personage was the rich Peter Paul Pimble, Esq., of Mudget Square!
"Well, you are come, then, are you?" said he, glancing toward the kitchen clock, which was on the stroke of eight; "pretty time to commence a day's work."
"And she has had no breakfast; and the water is not in the kettles," put in dame Peggy. "I could have had that all hot for her, if you had just told me she was comin' to wash. But some folks always like to be so sly and underhanded."
"Stop your clack!" said the master, turning toward her with an angry glance, "and get a bite of something to eat while she is putting her water on and building a fire. I shall be at home through the day to superintend matters and see that all is done to my wishes."
Thus saying, he scuffled back to his warm fire in the parlor; for, though it was a bright morning in the early part of May, and odorous flowers opening their petals to the genial sunbeams, and groups of singing birds merry on all the foliage-covered trees, still Esq. Pimble was cold—always cold, summer and winter. No genial influence could warm his sluggish blood, or impart a glow to his dry, parchment-colored face.
There he sat; his feet poised on the fender, and a newspaper in his skinny clutch, from which he seemed to read. Now and then he yawned, stretched himself, approached the window, gazed forth for a moment with some anxiety depicted on his expressionless face, and then sunk down in his cushioned chair again. All the while the washing was going on briskly in the kitchen. Peggy Nonce had outlived her morning's asperity, and concluded to bake a batch of dried apple pies, as there must be a fire kept in the stove for Billy, and it would save burning the wood another day for the express purpose of cooking operations. So it appeared dame Peggy, with all her tempers, had one good point at least, and one but seldom found in servants,—a lookout for her employer's interests. The bluffy housekeeper was given to gossip, too, as all of her class are; and who could give her a better synopsis of the private affairs of half the families in Wimbledon, than Dilly Danforth, the washerwoman, who performed the drudgery and slop-work in many of the fine homes of the upper class? But, after all, Peggy had more to give than receive; for by some means the poor washerwoman did not seem possessed of the "gift of gab." She was lamentably ignorant on many points where Peggy thought, with her advantages, she would have been well-informed and able to answer any question proposed. And so the news-loving housekeeper, though she remembered her master's interests in the article of firewood, was fain to forget them in a matter of far more importance, and broached forth into a long tale of his trials and domestic discomforts. Warming with her discourse as she proceeded, her voice grew so shrill and vehement, that Mr. Pimble, had he not been deeply engaged in poring over the trials his loquacious housekeeper was so eloquently setting forth to her silent and rather inattentive listener, he would have discovered himself the hero of a tale which might have lost Mrs. Peggy Nonee a place she had occupied half a lifetime. But Mr. Pimble sat in bed-gown and slippers till dinner was announced at one P.M., and the three young Pimbles tumbled into the hall in boisterous glee, just escaped from the restraint of school discipline. They all rushed to the table at once, and called for half a dozen kinds of food in a voice, which the glum, abstracted father heaped indiscriminately on their plates. There was no sound save the clatter of knives and forks for several minutes, while the interesting family discussed their amply-provided and well-prepared meal. At length Master Garrison Pimble, a lad of a dozen years, declared sister Sukey had got the biggest piece of venison pie. Susan, a little girl of seven summers, said she "didn't care if she had; she ought to have."
"No, you oughtn't either," returned Master Garrison, "for you are not half as big as I."
"I don't care for that," lisped Susan; "mammy says women ought to have the best and most of everything, and do just what they like to, and go just where they want to."
"Well, they shouldn't do any such thing, should they, father?" demanded the argument-loving Garrison.
"Eat your dinners quietly, my children," returned the silent father, "and not meddle with matters you do not understand."
"But I do understand them," continued the youth. "I know sister Sukey ought not to have the largest piece of pie, and she shan't."
Thus saying, he made a dive at Miss Susan's plate, and bore off her generous slice of venison pastry on his fork. Susey screamed at the top of her voice, and, clutching her hands in her brother's hair, she pulled it so vigorously he was fain to drop his prize, which fell to the carpet and was devoured by a half-starved grimalkin, while he boxed his sister's ears soundly for her vixen attack upon his bushy black hair.
"I'll learn you to pull my hair!" said he, with a very red face.
"I'll learn you to steal my pie!" shrieked she, as, maddened by her smarting ears, she flew at him and dug long, bloody scratches in his cheeks with her sharp little nails. The father now parted the combatants, and shut the warlike Susey in the closet, where she was loud in pronouncing maledictions against her brother, and heaping vituperations upon her father; declaring, when mammy came home, she would tell her how she was abused in her absence, and mammy would take sides with her, because she knew men were all cross and ugly, and tried to hurt and wrong poor feeble woman. Garrison and David finished their meal in silence; and when the seminary bell rang to announce the hour for reoepening of school, Mr. Pimble liberated Susey, and all went shouting off together.
Then he called in Dilly and the housekeeper, and, while they dined on the fragments, went out in the kitchen to inspect the progress there. All seemed to be moving on well, and, as he was returning to his seat by the sitting-room fire, a covered buggy drove to the front piazza, and a gentleman descended and assisted two ladies to alight. Directly the parlor was dashed open, and the trio made their entry. Foremost was the mistress of the mansion, Mrs. Judith Justitia Pimble. What a puny, trembling thing appeared the husband, as he stood there like a galvanized mummy in presence of that tall, portly woman, with her broad shoulders and commanding aspect! Her first act was to smother the fire; her second, to throw open the windows; her third, to ensconce herself in her liege lord's easy-chair, and bid her guests lay aside their travelling garbs, and make themselves at home. Finding his comfortable seat appropriated, and no notice vouchsafed him, Mr. Pimble shuffled off into the kitchen.
"Was that your husband, sister Justitia?" inquired the lady visitor, as she threw off her shawl and bonnet, with an energetic toss.
"Yes," answered the majestic lady in her most majestic tone, "that was Pimble. You will not mind him at all; he is as near nothing as can be,—a mere crank to keep the machine in motion,—you understand. He has his sphere, however. The lowest brute animals have theirs. Pimble's is to stay at home and superintend the minor matters of life, such as milking the kine, feeding the chickens, and slaughtering a lamb occasionally to subserve the grosser wants of poor human nature. In brief, all those trivial and perplexing things in which a superior mind cannot be supposed to feel an interest, and by which it is not right it should be fettered, and prevented from soaring to its own lofty sphere of thought and action."
Mrs. Pimble paused for breath as she delivered herself of the above voluble speech, and the lady visitor replied:
"You speak heroicly, sister Justitia. I see you have obtained your rightful position in your own household. O, would that all our crushed and down-trodden sisters were possessed of but a tithe of your energy and independence of character! Then would our young Reform, which encounters on every side the swords and pickaxes of infuriate battalions of the tyrant man, ride in triumphal chariot over our whole broad country's proud domain!"
"Ah, sister Simcoe, how doth your inspired language fill my soul with fire! I rejoice that you are come among us. How will your presence encourage our ranks, and, in the triumph of your medical skill, vile male usurpers of the healing art shall sink to rise no more! I long to read again the proceedings of our late convention, the thrilling speeches, the sweeping resolutions!"
"Let us thus occupy ourselves," said young Dr. Simcoe, turning toward a remote corner of the apartment where sat the small man who had accompanied the ladies, perched on a hard, uncushioned chair, his hands folded in his lap, and his eyes bent studiously on the carpet. This was the personage on whom the accomplished young medical practitioner had, a few months previous, condescended to bestow the princely honor of her hand.
"Sim," said the eloquent wife, as she glanced carelessly upon him, "where are the portmanteaus?"
"In the entry," answered the small man, raising his eyes for a moment to his fair consort's face.
"Bring them in and open them," said the lady, again sinking down in her soft seat.
The small man disappeared in a twinkling, and the portmanteaus were soon placed on the table, and their contents spread forth.
"I will now order some refreshment," said Mrs. Pimble;—"and while it is preparing, we can amuse ourselves with the documents. What would you prefer for your dinner, sister Simcoe?"
"Pea soup," returned the lady doctor; "that is my uniform dish,—simple and plain."
"And Mr. Simcoe, what would he choose?"
"O, he has no choice!—anything that comes handiest will do for him."
Mrs. Pimble glanced toward Mr. Simcoe. Mr. Simcoe simpered and bowed. So Mrs. Pimble swept into the kitchen to issue her commands. She started on beholding Dilly Danforth bending over a wash-tub filled to the brim with smoking linen, just out of a boiling suds. Darting one fiery glance toward her forceless husband, sitting humped up over the stove, his head supported on his hands, she exclaimed, "What does this mean?" Mr. Pimble looked up vacantly; Peggy turned round from her occupation of washing the dinner dishes, and Dilly kept to her wash-tub. No one seemed to understand to whom the stately mistress addressed her brief interrogatory. "Have you all lost your tongues?" at length exclaimed Mrs. Pimble, in a louder tone; and, seizing her husband's chair, she gave it a rough jerk, and demanded, "Are you dumb, Peter Pimble? What is that beggar-woman,"—pointing toward Dilly,—"doing here?"
"Don't you see she is washing?" returned the husband, rather ironically.
"Well, by whose leave?"
"Yours?—and why have you brought a washerwoman into the house in my absence, and without my permission?"
"Because all my linen was dirty."
"What if it was?"
"I wanted it washed."
"Because the spring courts are held in Olneyville next week."
"What if they are?"
"I would like to attend."
"You would, would you? No doubt, and confine me at home to superintend the domestic affairs. No, Mr. Pimble, you don't enslave me in that manner. I'm a free woman, and acknowledge no man master. I'll see if I'm not mistress in my own house. Here, Dilly Danforth, take your hands out of that wash-tub, and pack off home, instanter. There will be no more washing done in my house to-day, or ever again, unless I order it done. And you, Peggy Nonce, make a pea soup and broil a nice steak, with all the appropriate dishes, and have a dinner prepared in half an hour, to serve myself and guests."
There was an instant commotion in the kitchen, and the mistress swept back to her guests in the parlor.
"She is a saucy wench, Somewhat o'er full Of pranks, I think—but then with growing years She will outgrow her mischief and become As staid and sober as our hearts could choose."
Mr. Salsify Mumbles was a grocer in a small way, and his good wife took boarders,—young ladies and gentlemen from different parts of the country, who came to attend Cedar Hill Seminary, a school of high repute and extended celebrity. Her number was limited to three this summer, because she conceived her health to be delicate, and because Mr. Salsify had communicated to her in private that he was certainly "rising in his profession;" and the quick-sighted lady foresaw the day speedily approaching when she would no longer be obliged to perplex herself with so ungrateful a class of beings as boarders, but should roll through the streets of Wimbledon in her coach and four, the "observed of all observers."
Mrs. Mumbles had one fair daughter, Mary Madeline, upon whom she doted with true maternal fondness. This young lady was most perversely inclined to smile upon one Mr. Dick Giblet, a clerk in her father's grocery. Mrs. Mumbles was inconsolable, and Mr. Giblet was banished from the premises, and taken into employ by the firm of Edson & Co., the largest merchants in Wimbledon.
Rumor said these gentlemen were so well pleased with the young man, that they had offered him a yearly salary of several hundred dollars, and proposed, should he continue to perform his duties as well as hitherto, to take him into the firm, on his coming of age. Mrs. Salsify now began to regard Dick with different eyes, as what prudent mother would not? She sent Mary Madeline to the store of Edson & Co., whenever she was in want of a spool of cotton or yard of tape; but the young clerk had grown so vain with his elevation, that he looked very loftily down upon her, bowed in the most distant manner, and never exchanged more words with her than were necessary in the buying and selling of an article. So Mary Madeline told her mother, and upbraided her as the cause of the young man's cold treatment. Mrs. Salsify bade her daughter be of good cheer. "'Twas all a feint on Dick's part, to conceal his love till he was sure of hers,—all would come round right in time." But Mary Madeline would not believe it, and said she should die if she had to stay in the back store alone so much, sorting spices and writing labels, for she was constantly thinking of Dick, who used to be with her. She must have something to divert her attention; and, at length, Mrs. Salsify hit upon the project of sending her to school at the seminary one term. It was fitting that the daughter of the rich Mr. Mumbles that was to be, should be possessed of suitable polish and refinement to adorn the high circles in which her position would call her to move. So Miss Mumbles answered to her name among the two hundred scholars, male and female, that had assembled in the halls of Cedar Hill Seminary, for the summer term. Quite a sensation she produced in her gay muslin dress and fiery-colored silk apron; for Mrs. Salsify declared her resolve to dress her tip-top. She was not the woman to half do a thing, when she undertook; she always came up to the mark, or went a little beyond. Better overshoot than fall short, was her motto. And when Mary Madeline came home, on the evening of her debut at the seminary, walking between the two young lady boarders, Amy Seaton and Jenny Andrews, Mrs. Mumbles could not avoid drawing a comparison between the three; and her daughter appeared to her like a blazing star between two sombre clouds, for Miss Seaton and Miss Andrews, who were both orphans, wore plain, dark gingham frocks and linen aprons. The third boarder was a little brother of Miss Seaton's, about a dozen years of age. Charlie was his name; a bright, intelligent boy, brimful of mischief and fun.
Mrs. Salsify kept no girl;—she could not find a good one, she said,—a bad one she would not have, as long as she could manage to perform her work herself, which she thought she could do with Mary Madeline's assistance nights and mornings. It would not be for long, she trusted, this slavery to boarders, for Mr. Salsify continued to inform her, at stated intervals, that he was certainly "rising in his profession."
The husband and wife sat alone one evening, indulging in confidential discourse, as 'tis said conjugal mates are wont to do on certain occasions.
"Really," exclaimed Mrs. Mumbles, "it is astonishing, the quantity of victuals these boarders consume. It is so unfeminine and indelicate for young ladies to have appetites. I declare it quite shocks me to see the large slices of bread and butter disappearing down Jenny Andrews' little throat, and, as for that Charles Seaton, I believe he would eat a whole plum pudding if he could get it. I left off making them long ago."
"I have not noticed one on the table for several days," returned Mr. Salsify, "and, as I saw the last one was sent away untouched, I feared they had detected the musty raisins."
"O, la, no! the greedy mugs don't know the difference, I assure you," answered the wife, "'twas only because they had stuffed themselves so full of veal pie, that the pudding was not devoured." Just then Amy Seaton came in and asked if she might get a lunch for Charlie, as he was not in season for supper.
"O, yes!" answered Mrs. Salsify, in her blandest tone; "here are the keys. I lock the pantry because Mr. Mumbles is so absent-minded he often leaves the door open, and the cat gets in and devours the victuals. Get just what you want for Charlie and a lunch for yourself and Jenny if you choose."
"Thank you," said Amy taking the bunch of keys from Mrs. Salsify's hand. Wide swung the pantry door on its creaking hinges, and Amy's eyes brightened as she stepped in, thinking of the little feast they were to have up stairs on the good lady's sudden fit of generosity. She glanced her light eagerly along the shelves in search of pies and sweet cakes, for she had seen Mrs. Salsify baking a large amount of good things that morning; but nothing met her wistful gaze save a plateful of burnt gingerbread crusts which had been picked over and left after the evening's meal, a plate of refuse meat, and a few bits of salt cod-fish in a broken saucer. She was about to go and tell Mrs. Mumbles her pantry was destitute of victuals, when she recollected that lady superintended her own work, and she should only inform her of what she already knew. Several similar instances of the lady's singular generosity now occurred to her mind. She recollected one day, on coming in unexpectedly from school, of finding Mrs. Salsify buying a large quantity of cherries, and of her saying she was going to pick them over, and would set them on the dairy shelf where she might go and eat of them whenever she chose. But Amy could not find them anywhere, and when she innocently asked Mrs. Salsify where she had put them, that good lady, after blushing and stammering a good deal, said they proved so dirty she was obliged to throw them away. This and other similar occurrences decided Amy to say nothing of the destitution of the pantry. So she returned the keys to her boarding mistress, and, without a word, ascended to her room, where she gave Charlie the bit of fish and crust of gingerbread she had obtained.
"Is this all I'm to have for my supper?" said he, looking ruefully on the scanty, unpalatable food.
"'Tis all I can find in the pantry, bub," answered Amy; "can't you make it answer for to-night? and to-morrow I will buy you something nice at the bakery."
"Why," said Jenny, raising her dark, fun-loving eyes from a problem in Euclid, "I saw Mrs. Mumbles baking mince pies, and custards and plum cake, this morning."
"Bah," said Charlie, "I don't want any of her plum cake if she puts the same kind of raisins in it she does in her puddings. But, Jenny, I think I know where she keeps her nice victuals."
"Where?" asked Jenny, with an earnest look on Charlie's cunning face.
"Have you never noticed that great tin boiler under her bed?" Jenny burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, which Amy vainly endeavored to silence, and directly Mary Madeline appeared and said, "Mother would like to have a little less noise if they could favor her, as she had company below." Then the three sat down on the floor, and Jenny and Charlie planned a midnight attack upon the tin boiler. Amy, who was more sedate and cautious, advised them to desist; but 'twas just the exploit for Jenny's frolicsome, mischievous temperament. Charlie was to take a pillow-case, and creep softly under the bed, and fill it from the supposed contents of the mysterious boiler, while Jenny stood at the kitchen door to assist him in bearing the precious burden to their room. How slow the hours passed after the plot was formed ere it could be carried into execution! Mrs. Salsify in the parlor below kept wishing her visitors would go, for she had never seen the wicks in the camphene lamps of so surprising a length. They flooded the whole room with light, and she recollected Jenny Andrews had asked the privilege of trimming them after they were last used. She dared not rise and pick them down, for such narrow-souled persons as she are always fearful that the truth will be known and their littleness exposed; so she sat in a perfect fever, watching the fluid getting every moment lower, and scarcely heeding the remarks of her guests. At length they took their departure, and Mrs. Salsify rushed in a sort of frenzy to the lamps, and dropped the caps over the blazing wicks.
"Mary Madeline," said Mr. Mumbles, reprovingly, "don't you know how to trim a lamp properly? Enough fluid has been wasted to-night by means of those long wicks to last two evenings with wicks of a proper length."
"'Tis none of Maddie's doings," returned Mrs. S., "she is more prudent than that. 'Twas that hussy of a Jenny Andrews who trimmed them after Miss Pinkerton was here the other night."
"Well, the girl ought to pay for the waste she has occasioned," said Mr. Salsify, gruffly. "Let us retire now; I declare 'tis near eleven o'clock." The conspirators in the room above heard with eager ears the departure of the guests, and sat in perfect silence till midnight chimed from the old clock tower. Then Charlie Seaton, pillow-case in hand, crept silently down the stairs with Jenny close behind him. Mrs. Mumbles' bed-room opened out of the kitchen, and the door was always standing ajar. Thus Charlie's quick eye had detected the boiler while sitting at the dining table directly opposite her room. As he now paused a moment in the kitchen before crossing the forbidden precincts, the deep-drawn sonorous breathings convinced him that Mr. and Mrs. Salsify Mumbles were lulled in their deepest nocturnal slumbers. Gently dropping on his knees, he crawled softly to the object of plunder. Lucky chance! the cover was off, and the first thing his hand touched was a knife plunged to the hilt in a large loaf. This he captured and deposited in his bag. Then followed pies, tarts, etc., and last a small jar, which he took under his arm, and, thus encumbered, crept on all-fours to the kitchen door, where Jenny relieved him of the jar. They softly ascended the stairs, where Amy was ready to receive them.
"How dared you take that jar?" said she; "what does it contain?"
"I don't know," said Charlie; "but I know what my pillow-case contains. It was never so well lined before, Amy."
Thus saying, he commenced removing its contents, while Jenny pulled the knife out of the loaf, which proved to be pound cake, uncovered the jar, and pronounced it filled with cherry jam. "Ay," said Amy, "there's where those cherries I saw her buying of Dilly Danforth went, then. She told me they were so dirty she had to throw them away. But I think you had better go and carry these things back."
"Never," said Charlie; "I am going to eat my fill once in Mrs. Mumbles' house."
"But what will she say when she discovers her loss?"
"That is just what I'm anxious to know," said Jenny.
"So am I," returned Charlie, chopping off a large slice of pound cake and dividing two pies in halves. "The old lady goes in for treating her visitors well, don't she? I dare say these condiments were intended to supply her guests for years. I wish we had some spoons to eat this cherry jam."
"You had better carry that back," said Amy.
"No, I will not go down on my knees and crawl under Mrs. Salsify's bed again to-night on any consideration."
"Neither would I," said Jenny, "the old adage is 'as well be killed for a sheep as a lamb;' so let us enjoy ourselves to the utmost in our power. Here is food enough, of the best kind too, to serve us well for the remainder of our stay here, only a week longer you know. I'll keep it locked in my trunk."
So saying, they cleared away, and Charlie bade good-night, and all retired to bright visions of pound cake and cherry jelly.
"She was a lovely little ladye, With blue eyes beaming sunnily; And loved to carry charity To the abodes of misery."
There was a tiny bark floating down the flower-bordered river that wound so gracefully through the beautiful village of Wimbledon, and a smiling little lady, in a neat gingham sun-bonnet, sat coseyly in the stern, beneath the shady wing of the snow-white sail. A noble-looking lad plied the oar with graceful ease, chatting merrily the while with the little girl, and laughing at her constant and matronly care of a large basket which was placed beside her, neatly covered with a snowy napkin. "One would think that there were diamonds in that basket, Nell, you guard it so carefully," said he.
"No, only nice pies mother gave me leave to take to Aunt Dilly Danforth, the poor washerwoman," returned the little miss, again smoothing the napkin and adjusting the basket in a new position. "I wish you would row as carefully as you can, Neddie, so as not to jostle them much."
"So I will, sis," returned he; "let's sing the Boatman's Song as we glide along." And their voices rose on the calm summer air clear and sweet as the morning song of birds. Now and then their light barge touched the shore, and Ned plucked flowers to twine in Ellen's hair. O, that ever, down life's uncertain tide, these innocent young spirits might float as calmly, happily on to the broad ocean of eternity!
"Is that the old shanty where Dilly lives?" said the lad at length, pointing to a low black house, just beyond a clump of brushwood, which they were swiftly approaching.
"Yes," said Ellen, gathering up her basket.
"Here I must lose you, then," said Ned; "how I wish you would go fishing with me down to the cove!"
Ellen smiled. "Are you going to be all alone, Neddie?" asked she.
"Nobody but Charlie Seaton will be with me. You like him."
"Yes, I like him well enough," said Ellen, innocently; "but I would not care to go a-fishing with him."
"Why not, sis?" inquired Ned.
"Because it would not be pretty for a little girl to go fishing with boys."
"Ha, ha!" laughed the lad; "what a prudent little sis I have got! for all the world like Amy Seaton. But I like Jenny Andrews better, she is so full of fun and frolic. Did you know how she and Charlie Seaton robbed old Mrs. Salsify Mumbles, one night not long since?"
"O, no! robbed her? That was wrong, surely."
"O, no! You see she nearly starved them, so they helped themselves to her sweetmeats without invitation. That's all; not very wicked, I'm thinking, Nell."
"I think it was wicked for her not to give them enough food, and wicked for them to take it without her knowledge," said Ellen, after a pause. "But what did she say when she discovered her loss?"
"Not a word. What could she say?" asked Ned.
"I could not guess, and therefore inquired," said Ellen. "Will Jenny come to school next term?"
"Yes, Jenny, Amy and Charlie, and board at Dea. Allen's. That will be a good place; only I fancy the deacon's long prayers and sober phiz will prove a sad trial to Jenny. Well, you must go, sis," said he, pushing his boat high up on the green, grassy bank, by a few skilful strokes of his oar. Then assisting her out and placing the precious basket safely in her arms, he was soon gliding down the smooth current again. Ellen directed her steps toward the dilapidated dwelling a few yards before her, turning frequently to catch a glimpse of her brother's little bark as it came in view through some opening in the shrubbery that grew on the river's side.
One timid rap brought Willie Danforth to the door. The poor boy looked quite embarrassed to behold pretty, neat Ellen Williams standing there on the miserable, dirty threshold. "Good day, Willie," said she, pleasantly; "is your mother at home?"
"No, miss, she is scrubbing floors at Mr. Pimble's," said Willie, awkwardly enough.
"O, I am sorry she is gone, for I wanted to see her very much. Will you let me come in and leave this basket for her?"
"O, yes!" answered the poor lad, "or I will carry it in for you."
"I can carry it very well," said Ellen, "if you will only let me go in."
"I would let you come in, Miss Ellen," returned Willie, "only I am afraid it would frighten you to see such a sad, dirty place;" and the ragged little fellow blushed crimson, as he thus revealed his poverty and destitution.
Ellen pitied his embarrassment, and said, "I should like to go in, Willie, because, if I saw what you needed, I could tell mother, and she would make you more comfortable, I know."
The boy lifted the wooden latch of the inner room. The door opened with a dismal creak, and Ellen entered. There was one old, broken-backed chair, which he offered her, and sat down himself on a rough bench, with a sorrowful, embarrassed expression on his pale, interesting features. Ellen, still noticing Willie's painful confusion, knew not what to do after placing her basket on the rude, wooden table, and began to regret that she so strongly pressed an entrance.
"I told you you would be frightened," said the boy at length, in a choking tone.
"O, I am not frightened!" returned Ellen, glad to speak now that he had opened the way for her; "I am only sorry to find people living so forlornly in our pretty, happy village. I thought you had a good nice house to live in, for Mrs. Pimble said so, and that her husband rented it to you for almost nothing, and that your mother—but I won't say any more," said Ellen, stopping short in her discourse.
"Yes," said Willie, "tell me all she said, and then I will tell you something."
"Well, then, she said your mother only went out washing to make folks think she was needy, so they would give her food and clothing. 'Twas wicked for her to say it, surely."
Willie's face grew pale as death, and then flushed crimson to the temples.
"Don't look so," said Ellen, approaching the bench and putting her little hand on his hot cheeks. "O, Willie! you are sick and tired," she continued, soothingly; "will you not lay your head down on my lap, and tell me all about your troubles?"
Willie's full heart overflowed. Those accents of kindness, so strange to his ears, what a magic power they had! He leaned his dear bright head on her soft little palm, and his low voice told in broken accents a tale of want and suffering. Ellen wept, for her young heart was full of tenderness and sympathy. The hours sped on, while they thus held converse, till a hand on the latch aroused them. 'Twas Dilly returned from her day's work at Mr. Pimble's. Willie sprang up to meet her. "O, mother!" said he, "a sweet angel has come since you left me, this morning, crying because I was so hungry."
"Alas, my boy!" said the woman, "I fear you must still go hungry, for I have brought you nothing. Mr. Pimble says my week's work must go for rent."
Now was Ellen's moment of joy, as she bounded across the broken floor and lifted the napkin from her basket. "No, no, Willie,—no, no, Aunt Dilly, you shall not go hungry to bed to-night. Look what mother has sent you! How thoughtless of me not to have remembered my basket before, when Willie has been suffering from hunger all these long, long hours!"
"O, no! I have not thought of being hungry since you came," said the boy.
Mrs. Danforth approached the basket and gazed on its contents with tearful eyes. She had not seen the like on her table for many a day, and, dropping on her knees, she breathed a silent prayer to God for his goodness in putting it into the hearts of his children to remember her in her need! Willie brought forth a small bundle of sticks and lighted a fire, while Ellen ran and filled a black, broken-nosed tea-kettle, and hung it on a hook over the blaze. It soon began to sing merrily, and the children laughed and said it had caught some of their happiness. Then Ellen took some tea from the paper her mother had wrapped so nicely, put it in a cracked blue bowl, and Willie fixed a bed of coals for her to set it on. Dilly sat all the while gazing with tearful eyes on the two beaming faces which were constantly turned up to hers, to see if she gave her approval to their movements. At length the repast was prepared, and, after partaking with them, as Mrs. Danforth insisted upon her doing, Ellen set out for home, with Willie by her side. He hesitated some at first, when his mother told him he must accompany her, for his jacket was ragged and his shoes out at the toes. But when Ellen said so reproachfully he was "too bad, too bad, to make her go all the way home alone," he brightened, and said "he would be very glad to go with her if she would not be ashamed of him." So they set out together, each holding a handle of the basket; Ellen bidding Aunt Dilly a cordial good-by, and promising to come soon again and bring her mother. They met Mr. Pimble on their way, who scowled and passed by in silence.
Ellen found her mother anxiously waiting her return. She heard with pleasure and interest her little daughter's animated description of her visit; but when she said she had promised to visit Aunt Dilly soon again, and take her mother with her, Mrs. Williams looked sad.
"What makes you look so, dear mamma?" said Ellen; "will you not go and see poor Dilly?"
"I shall be very glad to do so, my dear child," answered the fond mother, "if it is possible. You know your father has often wished to remove to a place where his skill in architecture might be employed to better advantage, and an excellent opportunity now offers for him to dispose of his situation here, and remove to a large city, where his services will be in constant demand."
"And I shall never see Willie Danforth again," said Ellen, bursting into tears.
Childhood is so simple and unaffected, ever expressing with innocent confidence its dearest thought, and claiming sympathy! Mrs. Williams tried long to comfort her little daughter, and at length succeeded by holding out a prospect that she might some time return and visit her early associates. Ned was consoled by the same prospect. But then, we never know, when we leave a place, what changes may occur ere we revisit its now familiar scenes. Mrs. Williams felt this truth more vividly than her children. But few changes had marked their sunny years, and it never occurred to their youthful minds but what Wimbledon as she was to-night would be exactly the same should they return five or ten years hence. The mother did not disturb this pleasant illusion, "for experience comes quite soon enough to young hearts," she said, "and I'll not force her unwelcome lessons upon my happy children." So Ned and Ellen, when it was decided they should leave on the morrow, almost forgot the pangs of departure from their rich, beautiful home, so intently were they dwelling on the joy of returning and meeting their schoolmates and companions after a period of separation. O, gay, light-hearted youth! What is there in all life's after years, its gaudy pomp, its feverish flame, or short-lived honors, that can atone for the loss of thy buoyant hopes, and simple, trusting faith?
Sad was poor Dilly Danforth when she heard of the sudden departure of the benevolent Williams family, and bitterly she exclaimed, "No good thing is long vouchsafed the poor. Our poverty will only seem the darker now for having been brightened for a transient hour."
Willie, who had returned from his walk with Ellen with severe pains in his limbs and head, fell sick of a rheumatic fever, and suffered much for the want of warm clothing, care and medical treatment. O, how often he thought of Ellen! "If she were there he would not suffer thus. She would be warmth, care, clothing and physician for him."
His mother was obliged to labor every day to procure fuel for the fire; and to warm the great, cold room, where the piercing autumn blasts blew through wide gaping cracks and chasms, and get a bottle of wormwood occasionally, with which to bathe his aching limbs, was the utmost her efforts could accomplish. With this insufficient care, 'twas no wonder Willie grew rapidly worse. One bitter cold night Dilly sat down utterly discouraged as she placed the last stick of wood on the fire. Her boy had been so ill for several days she could not leave him to go to her accustomed labor, and consequently the small pile of fuel was consumed. What was she to do? Willie was already crying of cold, and she sat over the expiring blaze crying because she had naught to render him comfortable. After a while he grew silent, and, softly approaching, she found he had sunk into a quiet slumber. Carefully covering him with the thin, tattered blankets, she pinned a shawl over her head, and, softly closing the door behind her, stole forth into the biting night air, and directed a hasty tread toward Mr. Pimble's great brick mansion. A bright light gleamed through the kitchen windows as she ascended the steps and gave a hurried knock. Directly she heard a shuffling sound, and knew Mr. Pimble, in his heelless slippers, was approaching. Fast beat her heart as the door opened, and she beheld his gaunt form and unyielding features.
"What brings you here this bitter cold night, Dilly Danforth?" exclaimed he, in a surly tone, as the furious blast rushed in his face, and nearly extinguished the lamp he held in his skinny grasp.
She stepped inside, and he closed the door.
"'Tis the bitter cold night which brings me, Mr. Pimble," she said, feeling she must speak quickly, for Willie was at home alone; "my boy is sick and suffering from cold. For myself, I would not ask a favor, but for him I entreat you to give me an armful of wood to keep him from perishing."
"Why don't you work and buy your wood?" asked he, angered by this sudden demand upon his charity.
"I worked as long as I could leave my child," answered Mrs. Danforth, "and I thought maybe you would be willing to allow me something for my work here."
"Allow you something, woman? Don't I give you the rent of that great house for the few light chores you do for us, which really amount to nothing? Your impudence is astonishing;" and Esq. Pimble's voice quivered with rage, as he thus addressed the trembling woman.
Dilly stood irresolute, and Mr. Pimble was silent a few moments, when a voice from the parlor called out, imperiously, "Pimble, I want you!"
The man roused himself and rushed to the door in such haste as to lose both his slippers.
"What are you blabbing about out there?" Dilly heard Mrs. Pimble ask, in an angry tone.
"Dilly Danforth has come for some wood," was the moody reply.
"And so you are giving wood to that lazy, foolish, stupid creature, are you?"
"No, I am not. She says her boy is sick and she has no fire."
"A pretty tale, and I hope 'tis true. She'll learn by and by her sin and folly. If she had asserted her own rights, as she should have done, and left her drunken husband and moping boy years ago, she might have been well off in the world by this time. But she chose like an idiot to live with him and endure his abuses till he died, and since she has tied herself to that foolish boy. O, I have no patience with such stupid women! They are a disgrace to the true female race. Go and tell her to go home and never enter my doors a-begging again."
Dilly did not wait to receive this unfeeling message, but pulled her thin blanket around her, and stole out in the chill night air, and ran toward home as swiftly as possible. She stumbled over something on the threshold. It was a bundle of firewood. How came it there? She could not tell, but seized it in her arms, ran hastily in, and approached Willie's bed-side. He was still sleeping tranquilly, and that night a comfortable fire, lighted by unknown generosity, blazed on the lowly hearth.
"There is a jarring discord in my ear, It setteth all my soul ashake with fear, Good sir, canst drive it off?"——
All Wimbledon was aroused one cold November morning by a direful conglomeration of sounds;—strange, discordant shrieks, ominous groans, a clanking, as of iron chains and fetters, a slow, heavy, elephantine tread gradually growing on the ear, and a deep, continuous rumbling as of earthquakes in the bowels of the earth. Mrs. Salsify Mumbles, nervous and delicate as she was, clung fast to the neck of her liege lord when he attempted to throw open the sash of his window, to discover the import of this unusual disturbance of the nocturnal stillness of Wimbledon. Good Deacon Allen, who was lying on his deaf ear, became restless, and visions of the final retribution and doom of the wicked harassed his slumbers. Suddenly he awoke, and dismal groans and unearthly rumblings struck his terrified ear. "Sally! Sally!" said he, leaping from bed and giving his sleeping spouse a vigorous shake, "why sleepest thou? arise and don thy drab camlet and high-crowned cap, and prepare to meet thy Lord; for behold he cometh!"
"Samuel," said the good wife but half awake, "you are prating in your sleep. Return to your pillow and be quiet till day-break."
"You speak like a foolish virgin, Sally," returned the excited deacon. "Do you not hear the roaring of the resurrection thunder and the wailings of the wicked?"
"I do hear something," said Mrs. Allen, now poking her night-capped head from beneath the blankets, and listening a moment attentively. "'Tis a sound of heavy carts drawn by oxen over frozen ground. Ay, I guess it is the new family, that bought out neighbor Williams, moving their goods. Just look out the window,—our yards join,—and see if there is not a stir there." The deacon obeyed.
"O, yes," said he, "I can distinguish several loaded teams and dusky figures moving to and fro."
"I thought 'twas the new-comers," returned the wife, who possessed more ready wit and shrewdness than her amiable consort, and, withal, could hear vastly better. "You had better come to bed again, Samuel;—'tis an hour to daylight."
"I cannot get to sleep again, I have been so disturbed," said the husband, fidgetting round in the dark room to find his clothes.
"O, pshaw!—put your deaf ear up and you'll soon fall off," answered the wife, drawing the covering over her head. Deacon Allen, who had a very high opinion of his wife's good sense, concluded to follow her advice, and the happy couple were soon enjoying as pleasant a morning snooze, as though neither the resurrection nor the "new family" had disturbed their slumbers.
Jenny Andrews and Amy Seaton, who slept in the room above, never heard a sound, nor did Charlie in his cosey chamber beyond, and great was the astonishment of the young people, on opening their casements, to behold the long line of heavy-loaded teams drawn up in the yard of the splendid mansion which stood next above Dea. Allen's, the former residence of Esq. Williams. Teamsters in blue frocks were unfastening the smoking oxen from the ponderous carts, and as the girls hurried below to impart the intelligence of the arrival of the new family to Mrs. Allen, they heard the voice of Mrs. Salsify Mumbles, and entering the sitting-room found that lady laying aside her bonnet and shawl. Mary Madeline was standing by the window gazing into the adjoining yard. Jenny and Amy had not seen their former boarding mistress since they left her house at the close of the summer term, several months before. But she was so elate about the arrival of the new family that all memory of their former ill-usage seemed to have escaped her, and she grasped the hands of both and shook them cordially. "I am glad to see you," she exclaimed; "why have you not called on us this fall? Mary Madeline has often said I wish Jenny and Amy would come in, it would seem so much like old times. Here, my dear," said she, seizing hold of the young lady's shawl and pulling her from the window, "don't be so taken up with the new family that you can't speak to your old friends." Mary Madeline now turned and spoke to her former schoolmates. Then, drawing a chair close to the window, she resumed her gaze, with her gloves and handkerchief lying unheeded on the floor and her gay shawl dragging behind her. "O, mother! mother!" she exclaimed at length, "there comes the family."
Mrs. Salsify, who was engaged in telling Mrs. Allen of Mr. Salsify's prosperity, and how he was "rising in his profession," and how he meditated adding another story to his house and putting a piazza round it next spring, dropped all, even her snuff-box, and rushed to the window as a large covered wagon, drawn by a span of elegant black horses, drove rapidly into the adjoining yard. First alighted a tall man in a black overcoat,—the master no doubt, the gazers decided,—then a tall man in a gray overcoat, then a tall man in a brown overcoat. And the man in the black overcoat and the man in the gray overcoat moved away, the former up the steps of the mansion and around the terraces, trying the fastenings of the Venetian blinds, and examining the cornices and pillars of the porticos; the latter turned in the direction of the stables and outhouses, while the man in the brown overcoat assisted three ladies to alight, all grown-up women, one short and fat, the other two tall and thin. The gazers were a little puzzled by the appearance of the new family. As far as they could discover there was no great difference in the respective ages of the six individuals who had alighted from the wagon, and Mrs. Salsify Mumbles declared it as her opinion that the family consisted of three brothers who had married three sisters for their wives. The short, fat woman, who had a rubicund visage and turned-up nose, and wore a broad-plaided cashmere dress, drew forth a bunch of keys from a wicker basket that hung on her arm, and with a pompous tread ascended the marble steps, unlocked the broad, mahogany-panelled door, turned the massive silver knob, and, swinging it wide, strode in, the tall ladies in blue cloaks following close behind. Soon sashes began to be raised, blinds flew open, and the tall ladies were seen standing on high chairs hanging curtains of rich damask and exquisitely wrought muslin, before the deep bay windows. The three tall men threw off their overcoats, and, with the assistance of the blue-frocked teamsters, commenced the business of unlading the carts.
"All the furniture is bagged," said Mrs. Salsify, impatiently; "one cannot get a glimpse to know whether 'tis walnut, or rosewood, or mahogany. They mean to make us think 'tis pretty nice, whether 'tis or not; but we shall find out some time, for they can't always be so shy. Well, Mary Madeline," she added, turning to her daughter, "we may as well go home, I guess;—there's nothing to be seen here but chairs and sofas sewed up in canvas. I thought I would run over a few minutes, Mrs. Allen, as I knew your windows looked right into the yard of the new comers, and we could get a good view. Of course, we wanted to know what sort of folks we were going to have for neighbors. I hope they'll be different from the Williams'."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Allen, looking up from the brown patch she was engaged in sewing on the elbow of the deacon's black satinet coat. "I only hope they will prove as good neighbors and I will be perfectly satisfied."
"O, I don't know but what the Williams' were good enough, but they were too exclusive, too aristocratic for me. Mrs. W. never thought Mary Madeline fit for her Ellen to associate with."
"How do you know she thought so?" asked Mrs. Allen; "for my part, I lived Mrs. Williams' nearest neighbor for ten years or more, and always considered her a very kind-hearted, unassuming woman, wholly untainted with the pride and haughtiness which too often disfigure the characters of those who possess large store of this world's goods and move in the upper circles."
"Well, you were more acquainted with Mrs. Williams than I was, of course; but she was not the kind of woman to suit my taste. There's Mrs. Pimble and Mrs. Lawson now, both rich and splendid, keep their carriages and servants, but they are not above speaking to common people."
"I am not personally acquainted with those ladies," answered Mrs. Allen.
"They are reformers," said Mrs. Mumbles, in a reverential tone; "you should hear their awful speeches. Daniel Webster could never equal them, folks tell me."
"I have understood that they belonged to the fanatical class of female lecturers that have arisen in our country within the last few years."
"O, they hold conventions everywhere, and such terrible gesticulations as they pronounce against the tyranny and oppression of the female sex by the monster man!" said Mrs. Salsify. "I declare I wish they would have one of their indignation meetings here, for I think the men are getting the upper hand among us."
"Doubtless you would join their ranks should they do so," observed Mrs. Allen, with a quiet smile, as she arose, gave the deacon's coat a shake, and hung it on a peg behind the door.
"Well, I don't know but I should," returned Mrs. S.; "but come, Maddie, how we are wasting time! I declare, two carts are already unloaded, and there goes the seminary bell. 'Tis nine o'clock." Jenny, Amy and Charlie, ran down stairs all equipped for school, as Mrs. Mumbles and her daughter stepped into the hall, and all went forth together. Mrs. M. repeated her invitation for the young ladies and Charlie to visit her, and the girls laughingly promised to do so at their first leisure. Mary Madeline went to Edson's store on an errand, and her mother proceeded directly home. Great was her anger to behold the back kitchen door swinging wide. She shut it behind her with a slam, muttering some impatient exclamation about Mr. Salsify's stupid carelessness. As she stood by the stove warming her chilled fingers, a noise from the pantry startled her ears, and, opening the door, she beheld the great, shaggy watch-dog, that belonged to the store of Edson & Co., lying on his haunches with a nice fat pullet between his paws, which he was devouring with evident relish and gusto. He turned his head towards her, uttered a low growl, and went on with his breakfast again. Mrs. Salsify looked up to a peg on which she had hung six nicely-dressed chickens the night before. Alas! the last one was between the bloody devourer's paws. She glanced toward a pot she had left full of cream, under the shelves. It was empty; and toward her rolling-board, where she had left a pan of rich pie-crust, with which she was intending to cover her thanksgiving pies. All had disappeared. She trembled with rage.
"Get out, you thievish rascal!" she exclaimed, bringing her foot violently to the floor.
The dog sprang toward her, and, seizing the skirt of her gay-striped, bombazine dress with his glistening ivories, rent it from the waist, flew through the parlor window, and rushed through streets, by-lanes and alleys, rending the flaring fabric, and dragging it through mud-holes till it looked like some fiery-colored flag borne away by the enemy in disgrace.
Mrs. Salsify rushed down into her husband's shop in awful plight, her hair standing on end, and her great, green eyes almost starting from their sockets. Mr. Salsify looked with amazement on his lady, as did also the half-score of customers that stood around his counters. Her saffron-colored skirt was rent in divers places, revealing the black one she wore beneath, and the gay-striped waist she still wore was hung round with ragged fragments of the vanished skirt.
"Lord, love us, what is the matter?" exclaimed Mr. Salsify, rushing toward his wife.
"Edson's dog has eat up six chickens, a cream-pot, a rolling-board, pie-crust, and all!" exclaimed Mrs. Mumbles, with a frantic air, as she fell into her husband's outstretched arms, wholly unmindful of the laughter her appearance and words had excited among her good man's customers.
"Edson's dog,—how could he get into the house?" demanded Mr. Mumbles.
"I saw him out with Dick Giblet, this morning, when he was leaving packages," said little Joe Bowles, with a mischievous leer in his black eyes.
The husband and wife exchanged a glance. The whole truth flashed upon them,—'twas a trick of Dick's. Mr. Salsify ordered his customers to leave the shop, and locking the door, he led his terrified, trembling wife up stairs, where they found Mary Madeline lying on the floor in a fainting fit, with the fragments of her mother's skirt clenched tightly in her cold hands.
"Her face was fairer than face of earth; What was the thing to liken it to? A lily just dipped in the summer dew? Parian marble—snow's first fall? Her brow was fairer than each,—than all. And so delicate was each vein's soft blue, 'Twas not like blood that wandered through. Rarely upon that cheek was shed, By health or by youth, one tinge of red, And never closest look could descry, In shine or shade, the hue of her eye, But, as it were made of light, it changed With every sunbeam that over it ranged."
The midnight stars were over all the heaven, O, wildly, wildly bright! Orion, like a flaming monarch, led up "the host of palpitating stars" to their proud zenith, while, far in the boreal regions, danced strange, atmospheric lights, with flitting, fantastic motions and ever-changing forms and colors. A young girl stood in the deep recess of a large window, with the rich, blue-wrought damask curtains wrapped closely about her slight, fragile form, gazing intently on the splendors of the midnight heaven. Long she stood there, and no sound broke the stillness, save now and then a half-audible sigh. At length she said, "I cannot endure this solitude and the depression which is stealing over me. Would that I had a mother to love and bless me! Father is often so strange and silent, and Rufus cannot sympathize with my feelings. I must call Sylva to bear me company, for one of my nervous attacks is upon me, and I cannot sleep." Softly opening a side-door, she said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper, "Sylva, are you awake?"
"Yes," was the answer; "what is your wish, Miss Edith?"
"That you would come and sit with me a while."
"What time is it!"
"I know not; but, by the stars, it should be little after midnight."
"Return to your room, and I will soon be there with a light," answered the one called Sylva.
The young girl did as requested, and sank down in a large arm-chair which nearly concealed her in its soft cushions. Presently the small side-door opened, and Sylva entered, bearing an astral lamp and a few light pieces of kindling wood.
"O, I don't mind a fire!" said Miss Edith.
"Well, I do," answered the woman; "you would catch your death, up here half the night with no fire."
"'Tis a cold place we are come to, isn't it Sylva?" said the young lady, springing from her chair and wrapping an elegant cashmere dressing-gown, lined with azure satin, round her tall, delicate figure, and then again sinking down among the soft velvet cushions of her spacious fauteuil.
"Yes, Miss Edith, it is, indeed," answered Sylva, as she lighted a bright fire in the polished grate. "How your father expects to rear so fragile a bud in this bleak region I do not know."
"I have never seen him in such spirits as since we came here," returned Edith, toying with the silken tassels of her rich robe. "You know he was always so silent and reserved in our former home, Sylva. But sometimes I fancy there is something unnatural in his manner. One moment he will laugh wildly, and the next a dark frown will have gathered on his brow. Twice he has caught me in his arms and said, 'Edith! Edith, you have a part to play, and I rely on you to do it!' Then he would look on me so sternly, I would burst into tears, and strive to free myself from his embrace. What did he mean by such words, Sylva?"
"Why, that you are coming on to the stage of action, and he desires you to be educated and accomplished in a manner to adorn the high circles in which you will move."
"O, more than that, Sylva!" said Edith doubtfully; "he need not have looked so stern, were that all; but still he is a kind, indulgent father for the most part. I should not complain;" and the young girl relapsed into thoughtful silence. The pale fire-light glowed on her delicate features. One tiny white hand rested on the cushioned arm of the chair, and the large, melancholy blue eyes were fixed on the glowing blaze within the shining ebon grate. The profile was strictly Grecian in outline, and the soft, silken hair fell in a shower of golden ripples over her small, sloping shoulders. Her lips were vermilion red, and disclosed two rows of tiny pearls whenever they parted with dimpling smiles.
"Have you become acquainted with any of the village people, Sylva?" asked the fair girl, rousing at length from her reverie.
"No, save this young Mrs. Edson, who called yesterday, I have seen no one," returned the woman, "unless I mention that sunken-eyed washerwoman, Dilly Danforth, as she is called."
"O, I saw her on the steps one day! What a forlorn-looking creature she is! I think she must be very poor. Still, it seems to me there should be no poverty in this rich, happy-appearing village. I fancy it will be a love of a place in summer, Sylva, when all the maples and lindens are in leaf, and the numerous gardens in flower. O, when father took me out in the new sleighing phaeton last week, I saw a most magnificent mansion, grander than ours, even. The grounds seemed beautifully laid out, and over the arching gateway I read the words 'Summer Home' sculptured in the marble. It is closed at present, but when the occupants return in the spring, I hope I shall get to know them, for I would dearly love to visit at so delightful a place. Father said I should become acquainted with the family. He knows their names, and I think said he had met the gentleman once." Edith grew quite smiling and happy as she prattled on, forming plans and diversions for the coming summer. Sylva listened to her innocent conversation in respectful silence, and, after a while, as the fire burned low, and the cocks began to crow from their neighboring perches, the sweet girl ceased to speak. She had wearied herself and fallen asleep.
The sun was shining brightly through the blue damask curtains when she awoke, and Sylva was bending over her, parting away the rich masses of auburn curls which had fallen over her face as she leaned her head over the arm of the chair. "Your father and Rufus are calling for you," said the attendant pleasantly.
"Why, how long I have slept!" said Edith, opening her blue eyes with a wondering expression. "What o'clock is it, Sylva?"
"It is half-past nine," answered the woman.
"I have been dreaming the strangest dream about that beautiful mansion I was telling you I saw in my ride the other day—that 'Summer Home,' as it is so sweetly styled. I thought I saw a lovely young girl there, younger than myself, but far more womanly in aspect, and she said she was my cousin, and kissed me, and gave me rare flowers and delicious fruit. Did you say father had called for me? Well, I'll dress and go down in the parlor. What are you doing there, Sylva?"
"Getting your muff and tippet," answered she.
"Is father going to take me out?" asked Edith with animation.
"Rufus is going to take you to church," said Sylva. "He said you expressed a wish to go last Sabbath, but it was too cold. To-day is more pleasant, and he is ready to attend you."
"He is kind," said Edith. "Am I not a naughty girl to murmur when I have a brother so good, and a father who loves me so dearly?"
"You do not murmur, do you, Miss Edith?"
"Sometimes I wish I had a mother, or that she had lived long enough to leave her form and features impressed on my memory."
A tear fell as the fair girl spoke thus, but she brushed it quickly away, and commenced arraying herself for church.
"I shall be delighted to behold the interior of that antiquated looking building," remarked she, as Sylva placed the dainty hat over the clustering curls; "and, besides, I can see all the village people, and form some opinion of those who are henceforth to constitute our associates and friends."
"And all the people will see you, too," said Sylva, smiling.
"O, I don't mind that!" answered Edith; "they would all see me, sooner or later, as I'm to go to school, in the spring, at the white seminary on the hill."
Thus speaking, the beautiful girl descended to the drawing-room. A tall, elegantly-proportioned man, with a magnificent head of raven black hair, which hung in one dense mass of luxuriant curls all round his broad, marble-like brow, and quite over his manly shoulders, was leaning in a careless, graceful attitude against a splendid mahogany-cased piano, that stood in the centre of the apartment, and moving his white, taper fingers over the pearl-tipped keys, waking now rich bursts of song, and, anon, dwelling long on deep, solemn notes, that pierced the soul with melancholy. He did not move when the door opened, and Edith crossed the room and stood beside him ere he noticed her presence.
"Where is brother Rufus?" she asked, drawing on her tiny, lemon-colored gloves.
The gentleman turned and gazed down upon the fair speaker. The clear complexion and soft blue eyes of the daughter were exact counterparts of the father's; so were the rich red lips and pearly teeth. Their only point of difference was in the color of the hair. "What do you want of Rufus?" asked he, in a tone almost stern, after he had gazed on her several moments in silence. She turned her speaking eyes upon his face, and answered, "Sylva said he would take me to church."
"To church!" said her father, now relaxing his features into a smile, "what an odd fancy! And are you arrayed in this fine garb to attend service in an old, dilapidated country church?"
"Do you think me very finely-dressed?" said Edith, archly, as she for a moment surveyed herself in the large mirror which hung from ceiling to floor between the eastern windows. She wore a crimson velvet dress and mantle, a muff and tippet of white ermine, and a chapeau of light blue satin, with a long, drooping white plume. Her hair was gathered into luxuriant masses of curls each side of her sweet face, and confined by sprays of pearls and turquoises.
Rufus now entered. He was very unlike his sister in personal appearance. His hair was the color of his father's, but far less abundant, and straight as an Indian's. Eyes and complexion were both dark, and his countenance indicative of rather low intelligence, and weak intellectual powers. The father looked on him as though he was not quite satisfied with the son who was, probably, to perpetuate his name.
"Are you ready, Edith?" asked the youth.
"Yes," she returned. He approached to give her his arm, and, as they were passing out, Edith caught her father looking grimly on them, and said quickly, "Do you mind our going to church, papa? We will stay at home if you wish."
"No, go along!" said he. "I'll not thwart you in so small a matter, and hope I may never have occasion to in a greater!" Edith looked up in his face as he uttered these last words. There was a dark shade flitting over it. It haunted her all the while she was walking to church; but so many things occupied her attention, after entering, it passed from her mind.
"I fain would know why woman is outraged, And trampled in the very dust by man, Who vaunts himself the lord of all the earth, And e'en the mighty realms of sea and air."
Winter was passing away, and Wimbledon was making but slow progress toward the better knowledge of the new family that had come among them. The silver plate on the hall door announced the master's name as Col. J. Corydon Malcome, a sounding appellation enough; and he was often seen walking up and down the streets in his rich, fur-lined overcoat and laced velvet cap, placed with a courtly air over his cloud of ebon curls. He was known to be a widower, and the woful extravagancies into which Mary Madeline Mumbles cajoled her doting mother, were enough to make one shudder in relating. Wimbledon was ransacked for the gayest taffetas, the jauntiest bonnets, and broadest Dutch lace, till, at length, poor Mr. Salsify went to his wife with a doleful countenance, and told her he could never "rise in his profession" as long as she upheld Madeline in such whimsical extravagance. Mrs. Salsify looked lofty, and tossed her carroty head; but her husband had waxed bold in his distress, and could not be intimidated by ireful brows, or pursed-up lips. So he proceeded to free his mind on this wise: "As for Mary Madeline's ever catching that haughty, black-headed Col. Malcome, I know better; she can't do it, and I would much rather have her marry Theophilus Shaw, who is a steady, modest shoemaker. He makes good wages, and can maintain a wife comfortably, and would treat her well; which is more than I would trust that murderous-looking colonel to do."
"Well, you will have your own way, I suppose," said Mrs. S., putting on an injured expression. "I see it is about as Mrs. Pimble and the sisterhood tell me. Men are all a set of tyrants, and the women are their slaves."
"Come, come, wife!" said Mr. Salsify, impatiently; "pray, don't get any of those foolish notions in your head. Depend upon it, nothing could so effectually put a stop to my 'rising in my profession.' The piazza and second story could never be built, if you neglected your home affairs, and went cantering about the country, like those evil-spirited women, turning everything topsy-turvy, and mocking at all law and order; but I know my wife has a mind too delicate and feminine to commit such bold, masculine actions."
Mr. Mumbles had chosen the right weapon with which to combat his wife's inclinations toward the Woman's Rights mania. A love of flattery was her weak point. It is with half her sex. We too often say, by way of expressing our disapproval of a certain man, "O, he is a gross flatterer!" thus very frequently condemning the quality we most admire in him;—or, if not the one we most admire, at least the one which affords us most pleasure and gratification when in his society. But to our tale:
On a certain blustering January day, a sleigh, containing two ladies and a gentleman, drove to the door of Col. Malcome's elegant mansion, and were ushered into the spacious drawing-room by the blooming-visaged housekeeper. Col. Malcome arose from the luxurious sofa on which he had been reclining among a profusion of costly furs, and received his visitors with an air of courtly magnificence, which might have had the effect to intimidate a modest, retiring female; but not king Solomon in all his glory could intimidate or abash Mrs. Judith Justitia Pimble, or Mrs. Rebecca Potentia Lawson. As for poor, insignificant Peter Pimble, he looked quite aghast with terror and astonishment at his own temerity in penetrating to a presence so imposing and sublime, and cuddled away in the most obscure corner he could find, while his majestic wife assumed a velvet-cushioned arm-chair, which stood beside a marble table.
"Perhaps you do not know our names?" said Mrs. Pimble, bending a sharp glance on Col. Malcome from beneath her shaggy brows.
"I certainly have not that pleasure, madam," answered the colonel, with a graceful bow.
"I do not like that style of address," said Mrs. Lawson, arising from the ottoman on which she had been sitting, with her broad, white palms extended to the warmth of the glowing grate, and throwing her stately form upon a crimson sofa; "it is a fawning, affected, puppyish manner, which men assume when speaking to women, as if they were not capable of understanding and appreciating a plain, common-sense mode of address."
"Ah, yes!" said Mrs. Pimble, "man has so long reigned a tyrant of absolute sway, that centuries will pass, I fear, before he is dethroned, and woman elevated to her proper stand among the nations of the earth."
Here she tossed her bonnet on the table, smoothed her bushy hair, and, drawing a red bandanna from her pocket, gave her long nose a vigorous rub, and settled herself in her soft chair again. Col. Malcome sat bolt upright among the furs which were piled up around him, and stared at his visitors. Yes, refined and polite though he was, he forgot his good-breeding in surprise at the coarse, singular manners of his involuntary guests. The figure in the extreme corner of the apartment at length attracted his notice, and placing a chair in proximity to the fire, he said, "Will you not be seated, sir?"
The muffled shape moved, but the brawny lady in the rocking-chair spoke, and it was still again.
"O, Pimble can stand, Mr. Malcome," she said, "that's his name, and mine is Mrs. Judith Justitia Pimble, author of tracts for the amelioration of enslaved and down-trodden woman; and this is Mrs. Rebecca Potentia Lawson, my sister and co-operater in the work of reform."
Col. Malcome bowed; but, recollecting the rebuff one brief remark of his had received, remained silent.
"The object of our visit," said Mrs. Lawson, "is to see and confer with the ladies of your household."
"Begging your pardon," said the colonel, "my family contains but one lady."
"Ah, the one we met at the door, then?" remarked Mrs. Pimble.
"No, madam; that was my housekeeper," returned the colonel.
"Well, what do you call her?" asked Mrs. Lawson.
"My housekeeper, madam, as I have just informed you."
"She has no other name, I suppose?" said Mrs. Pimble, in a loud, ironical tone; "she is to you a housekeeper, as a horse is a horse, or a cow a cow;—not a woman"——
"O, yes! a woman, certainly," interrupted the colonel.
"A woman, but not a lady?" continued Mrs. Pimble.
The gentleman bowed as if he felt himself understood. "Well, sir," said Mrs. Lawson, peering on him through her green glasses, "will you please to inform us of the difference between a woman and a lady?"
Col. Malcome, who loved the satirical, had a mind to apply it here, but his politeness restrained him, and he merely remarked, "In a general sense, none: in a particular, very great."
"That is, in your opinion," said Mrs. Pimble. "Now let me tell you there is no difference, whatever. The wide world over, every woman is a lady—(the colonel hemmed,)—every woman is a lady," repeated Mrs. P., "and every lady is a woman."
"That is, in your opinion?" remarked Col. Malcome.
"In every sensible person's opinion."
"Well, sister Justitia," said Mrs. Lawson, drawing forth a massive silver watch, by a steel fob-chain; "we are wasting time. There's but an hour to the lecture, and we have several miles to ride. Let us state the object of our visit in a form suited to this man's comprehension."
The colonel felt rather small, on hearing this depreciation of his intellectual powers, but said nothing.
"Well, make the statement, sister Potentia," said Mrs. Pimble, folding her brawny arms over her capacious chest, and giving a loud, masculine ahem.
"Mr. Malcome, we would like to see the female portion of your household," said Mrs. Lawson, in a slow, measured tone, with an emphasis on every word.
As the colonel, indignant at the coarse vulgarity of the intruders, was about to reply in the negative—the door opened, and Edith entered, accompanied by Sylva, who led a small, white Spanish poodle by a silver cord. The little animal capered gracefully about, cutting all sorts of cunning antics, much to the amusement of the young girl, till at length discovering the muffled shape of Pimble behind the door, he ran up to him, smelt at his clothes, and commenced a furious barking.
"You had better go out doors, Pimble," said his wife; "you are so contemptible a thing even insignificant curs yelp at your heels."
Mrs. Lawson laughed loudly at this witty speech, and the poor man was about disappearing outside the door, when Col. Malcome prevented his exit by bidding him be seated, and ordering Sylva to drive Fido from the room. Quiet being restored, and Mr. Pimble having ventured to drop tremblingly on the extreme edge of the chair offered for his comfort and convenience, Col. Malcome said, "You wished to see the female portion of my household:—here are two of them; my daughter and her attendant."
"Her attendant!" remarked Mrs. Lawson, "I do not know as I exactly understand the signification of that term, as applied by you in the present instance."
"Her waiting-woman, then," answered the colonel, "if that is a plainer term."
"Ay, yes; her waiting-woman," resumed Mrs. L. "Well, your daughter looks rather puny and sickly. She needs exercise in the open air, I should say,—narrow-chested,—comes from a consumptive family on the mother's side?"
"Madam," said Col. Malcome, with a sudden anger in his tone and manner, "I don't know as it is any business of yours, from what family my daughter comes."
"O, no particular business," continued Mrs. Lawson, with undisturbed equanimity; "I only judged her to come of a consumptive race by her face and form. Public speaking would be an excellent remedy for her weakly appearance. That enlarges the lungs, and creates confidence and reliance on one's own powers. Miss Malcome, would you not like to attend some of our lectures and reform clubs?"
"I don't know," answered Edith, tremblingly. "I think I would if father is willing;" and she turned her sweet blue eyes up to his face, as if to read there her permission or refusal.
"A slave to parental authority, I see," remarked Mrs. Pimble; "but this lady, grown to years of maturity; she, surely, should have a mind of her own. Don't you think woman is made a galley-slave by the tyrant man?" she demanded, turning her discourse on Sylva, who looked confused, as if she did not quite understand the speech addressed to her. At length, she asked timidly, "What woman do you refer to, madam?" "To all women upon the face of the earth!" returned Mrs. Pimble, vehemently. "Are they not loaded with chains and fetters, and crushed down in filthy mire and dirt by self-inflated, tyrannizing man?"
"O, no!" answered Sylva, innocently; "no man ever put a chain on me, or on any woman of my acquaintance, or ever pushed one down in the dirt."
"Poor fool!" exclaimed Mrs. Pimble, with great indignation; "you are grovelling in the mire of ignorance, and man's foot is on your neck to hold you there."
The figure that trembled on the edge of the chair was now heard calling faintly, "Mrs. Pimble—Mrs. Pimble."
"Pimble speaks, sister Justitia," said Mrs. Lawson.
"What do you want?" asked the lady, turning sharply round.
"'Tis four o'clock, ma'am," gasped he.
"Four o'clock! didn't I tell you I wished to be at the lecture-room at that hour?"
"I didn't like to interrupt you," he answered feebly.
"What a fool of a man!" exclaimed the enraged wife. "Bring the sleigh to the door, instanter;" and Pimble rushed out, the ladies following close on his heels, vociferating at the top of their voices, without even a parting salutation to the family they had been visiting.
"It is a hermit. Well, methinks I've read In romance tales of such strange beings oft; But surely ne'er did think these eyes should see The living, breathing, walking counterpart. Canst tell me where he dwells? Far in the woods, In a lone hut, apart from all his kind."
The pale moonbeams peeped through the rents and crevices of Dilly Danforth's wretched abode, as the poor woman sat on the hearth with Willie's head lying in her lap, while he read by the flickering fire-light from the pages of a well-worn Bible. The little fellow had never fully recovered from that long, painful illness that had nearly cost him his life, and from which it is very possible he would never have arisen but for those little bundles of firewood that were so providentially laid on poor Dilly's threshold, by some charitable, though unknown, hand. They still continued to be placed there, and it was well they were so, for Mrs. Danforth's health had failed so much she was not able to perform half her former amount of labor; and had it not been for these small armfuls of fuel, which very much resembled those Willie used to collect, the washerwoman and her boy must have perished during the long, cold winter season. Yes, perished in the very midst of Wimbledon; within a stone's throw of many a well-filled woodyard, and under the nose of a Mrs. Pimble's philanthropic efforts for the amelioration of her species. Dilly's neglect on the part of the many arose, not so much from inhumanity and covetousness, as from a wrong bias, which a few words had created in the people's minds. A report had passed through the village, several months before, purporting to come from a reliable source, which represented Mrs. Danforth as not so poor as she appeared; that she assumed her poverty-stricken garb and appearance to excite sympathy, and thus swindle, in a small way, from the purses of her wealthy neighbors. There is nothing of which people have a greater horror than of being humbugged, if they know it; so, for the most part, the Wimbledonians turned a deaf ear and cold shoulder on the washerwoman's sorrowful supplications for charity. Little Edith Malcome pitied the pale, sad face that appeared at the kitchen door every Monday morning, and always asked her father's permission to give her a basket of victuals to carry home, which were always received with many grateful expressions by the poor woman.
Edith sat by the drawing-room window, one bleak, stormy winter morning, watching the snow as it fell silently to the earth, when a man of singular appearance, walking slowly along the opposite side of the street, attracted her notice.
"O, father!" exclaimed she quickly, "come here; the oddest-looking man is going past."
Col. Malcome rose from his seat by the fire and approached the window. "What a disgusting appearance he presents!" said he, gazing on the slowly-receding figure. "It angers me to see a man degrade himself by such uncouth apparel."
"O, not disgusting! is he, father?" said Edith, "only odd and droll; and his face looked so pale and mild, I thought it really pretty. If he only wouldn't wear that short-waisted, long-tailed coat, with those funny little capes on the shoulders, and leave off that great tall-crowned hat with its broad, slouching brim, and have a little cane instead of that long pole he carries in his hand, he would be quite a pretty man,—don't you think so, father?"
"Well, really I don't know how he might look were he thus transformed," answered Col. Malcome. "I only expressed my opinion of his present appearance."
"Don't you know who he is?" asked Edith.
"No," said her father, returning to his seat.
"Well, I wish you would try and learn his name," pursued the fair girl.
"What for?" asked Col. M., resuming the perusal of the volume he had left to obey her summons to the window.
"Because I would like to know it," returned she. "I fancy he is some relation of that pale Dilly Danforth's, for he has just such mournful eyes."
"I do not wish to see them then," said her father, with some impatience of manner, "for I don't like the expression of that woman's eyes."
"They are very sad," said Edith, "but sorrow has made them so. I think they were once very beautiful. But won't you learn this strange man's name? Perhaps he is very poor, and we could alleviate his wants by kind charities."
"No," answered Col. M. in a tone which dismissed the subject; "I cannot run about the country to hunt up old stragglers for you to bestow alms upon."
Edith looked on her father's stern brow, and, feeling it was useless to urge her plea any longer, stole away to her own apartment, where she found Sylva engaged in feeding her canaries and furnishing them with fresh water. The little bright creatures were singing sweetly, but Edith did not heed their songs. She stood apart by a window, and gazed out on the falling snowflakes. At length she saw Rufus enter the yard, and soon heard him ascending the stairs. "Where have you been, brother?" she asked, as he came in, his face reddened by exposure to the cold, biting atmosphere.
"Down on the river, skating with some of the village boys," answered he, drawing a chair close to the glowing fire; "and O, such a fine time as we had! I shall be glad when we go to school, Edith; it will be so much more lively and pleasant."
"I shall be glad when the snow is gone, so I can run out doors, and sow my flower-beds," returned Edith, thoughtfully. Then she sat gazing in the fire a long time, as was always her wont when thinking deeply on any subject. Sylva had finished her care of the birds, and brought forth Fido from his little cot-bed in her room. He sprang into Edith's lap, then into Rufus', kissing their cheeks and evincing his joy at beholding them in various pleasing, expressive ways. But Edith pushed him away and told Sylva to put him to bed again. So the brisk little fellow was carried off, looking very sorry, and wailing piteously, as if he pleaded permission to remain by the warm fire.
Rufus was younger than his sister, and of an intelligence and refinement so far below hers, that she seldom evinced much pleasure or enjoyment in his society, but she looked towards him now with an eager expression of interest, as he said,
"O, Edith, I saw the funniest man this morning!"
"Where?" she asked quickly.
"Down by the side of the river among a clump of brushwood, gathering little bundles of sticks. Charlie Seaton and I spoke to him, but he did not answer us."
"Did he wear a long overcoat with small capes on the shoulders, and a slouching-brimmed hat?" inquired Edith earnestly.
"Yes," said Rufus. "Have you seen him, then?"
"Passing along in the street," returned she. "Did Charlie know his name?"
"No; but he said it was a man who lived alone in a small hut, far off in the forest, made of the boughs and branches of cedar trees, curiously twisted together; and he is thence styled the Hermit of the Cedars."
"A hermit!" exclaimed Edith. "I have read of such beings in old books, but I never supposed they really existed, or at least never expected I should see one with my own eyes. I shall like this place better than ever, now; it will be so romantic to have a hermit in our vicinity. What do you suppose he was going to do with his bundles of sticks, Rufus?"
"Use them for firewood, probably," said he.
"But I should have thought he might have obtained that in the forest where he lives, and not been obliged to travel all the way down here, this stormy day, to pick up wood from among the snow, and then carry it two or three miles in his arms," said Edith, in a ruminating tone.
"O, hermits are strange beings, sis!" answered Rufus, whistling a vacant tune as he stood before the window gazing forth on the dismal storm which debarred him from his accustomed diversion of skating on the frozen surface of the river.
While his children were occupied with the preceding conversation, Col. Malcome had donned his fur-lined overcoat and stepped across the yard to Deacon Allen's cottage. The good people were quite embarrassed to behold so smart a visitor in their unostentatious little parlor, but the colonel, by his gentlemanly grace, soon placed them at their ease. After a few moments' conversation on general topics, he asked, casually enough, who was the owner of the fine mansion he had noticed in his rambles about town, with the appellation "Summer Home" sculptured on its marble gateway?
"O, that is Major Tom Howard's!" answered Deacon Allen. "His family have made it their abode for six or eight months every season since they owned it; and I understand, after their next return, it is to become their permanent residence."