THE HILLS OF THE SHATEMUC
IN TWO VOLUMES.
HILLS OF THE SHATEMUC
AUTHOR OF "THE WIDE WIDE WORLD."
A wise man is strong. Proverbs xxiv.5.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
THE HILLS OF THE SHATELUC.
Low stirrings in the leaves, before the wind Wakes all the green strings of the forest lyre. LOWELL.
The light of an early Spring morning, shining fair on upland and lowland, promised a good day for the farmer's work. And where a film of thin smoke stole up over the tree-tops, into the sunshine which had not yet got so low, there stood the farmer's house.
It was a little brown house, built surely when its owner's means were not greater than his wishes, and probably some time before his family had reached the goodly growth it boasted now. All of them were gathered at the breakfast-table.
"Boys, you may take the oxen, and finish ploughing that upland field — I shall be busy all day sowing wheat in the bend meadow."
"Then I'll bring the boat for you, papa, at noon," said a child on the other side of the table.
"And see if you can keep those headlands as clean as I have left them."
"Yes, sir. Shall you want the horses, father, or shall we take both the oxen?"
"Both? — both pairs, you mean — yes; I shall want the horses. I mean to make a finish of that wheat lot."
"Mamma, you must send us our dinner," said a fourth speaker, and the eldest of the boys; — "it'll be too confoundedly hot to come home."
"Yes, it's going to be a warm day," said the father.
"Who's to bring it to you, Will?" said the mother.
"Asahel — can't he — when he brings the boat for papa?"
"The boat won't go to the top of the hill," said Asahel; "and it's as hot for me as for other folks, I guess."
"You take the young oxen, Winthrop," said the farmer, pushing back his chair from the table.
"Why, sir?" said the eldest son promptly.
"I want to give you the best," answered his father, with a touch of comicality about the lines of his face.
"Are you afraid I shall work them too hard?"
"That's just what I'm afraid they'd do for you."
He went out; and his son attended to his breakfast in silence, with a raised eyebrow and a curved lip.
"What do you want, Winthrop?" the mother presently called to her second son, who had disappeared, and was rummaging somewhere behind the scenes.
"Only a basket, mamma," — came from the pantry.
His mother got up from table, and basket in hand followed him, to where he was busy with a big knife in the midst of her stores. Slices of bread were in course of buttering, and lay in ominous number piled up on the yellow shelf. Hard by stood a bowl of cold boiled potatoes. He was at work with dexterity as neat-handed and as quick as a woman's.
"There's no pork there, Governor," his mother whispered as he stooped to the cupboard, — "your father made an end of that last night; — but see — here —"
And from another quarter she brought out a pie. Being made of dried apples, it was not too juicy to cut; and being cut into huge pieces they were stowed into the basket, lapping over each other, till little room was left; and cheese and gingerbread went in to fill that. And then as her hands pressed the lid down and his hands took the basket, the eyes met, and a quick little smile of great brilliancy, that entirely broke up the former calm lines of his face, answered her; for he said nothing. And the mother's "Now go!" — was spoken as if she had enough of him left at home to keep her heart warm for the rest of the day.
The two ploughmen set forth with their teams. Or ploughboys rather; for the younger of them as yet had seen not sixteen years. His brother must have been several in advance of him.
The farmhouse was placed on a little woody and rocky promontory jutting out into a broad river from the east shore. Above it, on the higher grounds of the shore, the main body of the farm lay, where a rich tableland sloped back to a mountainous ridge that framed it in, about half a mile from the water. Cultivation had stretched its hands near to the top of this ridge and driven back the old forest, that yet stood and looked over from the other side. One or two fields were but newly cleared, as the black stumps witnessed. Many another told of good farming, and of a substantial reward for the farmer; at what cost obtained they did not tell.
Towards one of these upland fields, half made ready for a crop of spring grain, the boys took their way. On first leaving the house, the road led gently along round the edge of a little bay, of which the promontory formed the northern horn. Just before reaching the head of the bay, where the road made a sharp turn and began to ascend to the tableland, it passed what was called the bend meadow.
It was a very lovely morning of early Spring, one of those days when nature seems to have hushed herself to watch the buds she has set a swelling. Promising to be warm, though a little freshness from the night still lingered in the air. Everywhere on the hills the soft colours of the young Spring- time were starting out, that delicate livery which is so soon worn. They were more soft to-day under a slight sultry haziness of the atmosphere — a luxurious veil that Spring had coyly thrown over her face; she was always a shy damsel. It soothed the light, it bewitched the distance, it lay upon the water like a foil to its brightness, it lay upon the mind with a subtle charm winning it to rest and enjoy. It etherealized Earth till it was no place to work in. But there went the oxen, and the ploughmen.
The one as silently as the other; till the bay was left behind and they came to the point where the road began to go up to the tableland. Just under the hill here was a spring of delicious water, always flowing; and filling a little walled- up basin.
Will, or Will Rufus, as his father had long ago called him, had passed on and begun to mount the hill. Winthrop stopped his oxen till he should fill a large stone jug for the day. The jug had a narrow neck, and he was stooping at the edge of the basin, waiting for the water to flow in, when his head and shoulders made a sudden plunge and the jug and he soused in together. Not for any want of steadiness in either of them; the cause of the plunge was a worthless fellow who was coming by at the moment. He had a house a little way off on the bay. He lived by fishing and farming alternately; and was often, and was then, employed by Mr. Landholm as an assistant in his work. He was on his way to the bend meadow, and passing close by Winthrop at the spring, the opportunity was too good to be resisted; he tipped him over into the water.
The boy soon scrambled out, and shaking himself like a great water-dog, and with about as much seeming concern, fixed a calm eye on his delighted enemy.
"Well, Sam Doolittle, — what good has that done anybody?"
"Ha'n't it done you none, Governor?"
"What do you think?"
"Well! I think you be a cool one — and the easiest customer ever I see."
"I've a mind it shall do somebody good; so see you don't give my father any occasion to be out with you; for if you do, I'll give him more."
"Ay, ay," said the man comfortably, "you won't tell on me. Hi! here's somebody!"
It was Rufus who suddenly joined the group, whip in hand, and looking like a young Achilles in ploughman's coat and trousers. Not Achilles' port could be more lordly; the very fine bright hazel eye was on fire; the nostril spoke, and the lip quivered; though he looked only at his brother.
"What's the matter, Winthrop?"
"I've been in the water, as you see," said his brother composedly. "I want a change of clothes, rather."
"How did you get into the water?"
"Why, head foremost — which wasn't what I meant to do."
"Sam, you put him in!"
"He, he! — well, Mr. Rufus, maybe I helped him a leetle."
"You scoundrel!" said Rufus, drawing the whip through his fingers; "what did you do it for?"
"He, he! — I didn't know but what it was you, Will."
For all answer, the ox-whip was laid about Sam's legs, with the zest of furious indignation; a fury there was no standing against. It is true, Rufus's frame was no match for the hardened one of Mr. Doolittle, though he might be four or five years the elder of the two boys; but the spirit that was in him cowed Sam, in part, and in part amused him. He made no offer to return the blows; he stood, or rather jumped, as the whip slung itself round his legs, crying out,
"Lay it on, Will! — Lay it on! Hi — That's right — Tuck it on, Will! —"
Till Will's arm was tired; and flinging away from them, in a towering passion still, he went up the hill after his oxen. Sam rubbed his legs.
"I say, Governor, we're quits now, ben't we?" he said in a sort of mock humble good-humour, as Winthrop was about to follow his brother.
"Yes, yes. Be off with yourself!"
"I wish it had ha' been 'tother one, anyhow," muttered Sam.
Not a word passed between the brothers about either the ducking or the flagellation. They spoke not but to their oxen. Rufus's mouth was in the heroic style yet, all the way up the hill; and the lips of the other only moved once or twice to smile.
The day was sultry, as it had promised, and the uphill lay of the ground made the ploughing heavy, and frequent rests of the oxen were necessary. Little communication was held between the ploughmen nevertheless; the day wore on, and each kept steadily to his work and seemingly to his own thoughts. The beautiful scene below them, which they were alternately facing and turning their backs upon, was too well known even to delay their attention; and for the greater part of the day probably neither of them saw much beyond his plough and his furrow.
They were at work on a very elevated point of view, from which the channel of the river and the high grounds on the other side were excellently seen. Valley there was hardly any; the up-springing walls of green started from the very border of the broad white stream which made its way between them. They were nowhere less than two hundred feet high; above that, moulded in all manner of heights and hollows; sometimes reaching up abruptly to twelve or fourteen hundred feet, and sometimes stretching away in long gorges and gentle declivities, — hills grouping behind hills. In Summer all these were a mass of living green, that the eye could hardly arrange; under Spring's delicate marshalling every little hill took its own place, and the soft swells of ground stood back the one from the other, in more and more tender colouring. The eye leapt from ridge to ridge of beauty; not green now, but in the very point of the bursting leaf, taking what hue it pleased the sun. It was a dainty day; and it grew more dainty as the day drew towards its close and the lights and shadows stretched athwart the landscape again. The sun-touched lines and spots of the mountains now, in some places, were of a bright orange, and the shadows between them deep neutral tint or blue. And the river, apparently, had stopped running to reflect.
The oxen were taking one of their rests, in the latter part of the day, and Winthrop was sitting on the beam of his plough, when for the first time Rufus came and joined him. He sat down in silence and without so much as looking at his brother; and both in that warm and weary day sat a little while quietly looking over the water; or perhaps at the little point of rest, the little brown spot among the trees on the promontory, where home and mother and little baby sister, and the end of the day, and the heart's life, had their sole abiding-place. A poor little shrine, to hold so much!
Winthrop's eyes were there, his brother's were on the distance. When did such two ever sit together on the beam of one plough, before or since! Perhaps the eldest might have seen nineteen summers, but his face had nothing of the boy, beyond the fresh colour and fine hue of youth. The features were exceedingly noble, and even classically defined; the eye as beautiful now in its grave thoughtfulness as it had been a few hours before in its fire. The mouth was never at rest; it was twitching or curving at the corners now with the working of some hidden cogitations. The frame of the younger brother was less developed; it promised to be more athletic than that of the elder, with perhaps somewhat less grace of outline; and the face was not so regularly handsome. A very cool and clear grey eye aided the impression of strength; and the mouth, less beautifully moulded than that of Rufus, was also infinitely less demonstrative. Rufus's mouth, in silence, was for ever saying something. Winthrop's for the most part kept its fine outlines unbroken, though when they did give way it was to singular effect. The contrast between the faces was striking, even now when both were in repose.
The elder was the first to break silence, speaking slowly and without moving his eye from its bent.
"Governor, — what do you suppose lies behind those mountains?"
"What?" — said Winthrop quickly.
The other smiled.
"Your slow understanding can make a quick leap now and then."
"I can generally understand you," said his brother quietly.
Rufus added no more for a little, and Winthrop let him alone.
"We've got the farm in pretty good order now," he remarked presently in a considerate tone, folding his arms and looking about him.
"Papa has," observed Winthrop. "Yes — if those stumps were out once. We ought to have good crops this year, of most things."
"I am sure I have spent four or five years of my life in hard work upon it," said the other.
"Your life ain't much the worse of it," said Winthrop, laughingly.
Rufus did not answer the laugh. He looked off to the hills again, and his lips seemed to close in upon his thoughts.
"Papa has spent more than that," said the younger brother gravely. "How hard he has worked — to make this farm!"
"Well, he has made it."
"Yes, but he has paid a dozen years of his life for it. And mamma! —"
"It was a pretty tough subject to begin with," said the elder, looking about him again. "But it's a nice farm now; — it's the handsomest farm in the county; — it ought to pay considerable now, after this."
"It hasn't brought us in much so far," observed Winthrop, "except just to keep along; — and a pretty tight fit at that."
"The house ought to be up here," said Rufus, considering the little distant brown speck; — "it would be worth twice as much."
"Why! — the farm!"
"The house wouldn't," said Winthrop, — "not to my notions."
"It's confoundedly out of the way, down there, a mile off from the work."
"Only a quarter of that, and a little better," said Winthrop calmly.
"A little worse! — There's a great loss of time. There would be twice as much work done if the house was up here."
"I couldn't stand it," said Winthrop. "How came it the house was put down there?"
"Papa bought the point first and built the house, before ever he pushed his acquirements so far as this. He would be wise, now, to let that, and build another up here somewhere."
"It wouldn't pay," said the younger brother; "and for one, I'm not sorry."
"If the farm was clear," said the elder, "I'd stand the chance of it's paying; it's that keeps us down."
"Why, the interest on the mortgage."
"I don't know what you are talking of."
"Why," said Rufus a little impatiently, "don't you know that when papa bought the property he couldn't pay off the whole price right down, and so he was obliged to leave the rest owing, and give security."
"Why, a mortgage on the farm, as I told you."
"What do you mean by a mortgage?"
"Why, he gave a right over the farm — a right to sell the farm at a certain time, if the debt was not paid and the interest upon it."
"What is the debt?"
"Several thousands, I believe."
"And how much does he have to pay upon that every year?"
"I don't know exactly — one or two, two or three hundred dollars; and that keeps us down, you see, till the mortgage is paid off."
"I didn't know that."
They sat silent a little time. Then Winthrop said,
"You and I must pay that money off, Will."
"Ay — but still there's a question which is the best way to do it," said Rufus.
"The best way, I've a notion," said Winthrop looking round at his cattle, — "is not to take too long noon-spells in the afternoon."
"Stop a bit. Sit down! — I want to speak to you. Do you want to spend all your life following the oxen?"
Winthrop stopped certainly, but he waited in silence.
"What do you want to do?"
"I don't know — something —"
"What is the matter, Will?"
"Matter?" — said the other, while his fine features shewed the changing lights and shadows of a summer day, — "why Winthrop, that I am not willing to stay here and be a ploughman all my life, when I might be something better!"
The other's heart beat. But after an instant, he answered calmly,
"How can you be anything better, Will?"
"Do you think all the world lies under the shadow of Wut-a- qut-o?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think all the world is like this little world which those hills shut in?"
"No," — said Winthrop, his eye going over to the blue depths and golden ridge-tops, which it did not see; "— but —"
"Where does that river lead to?"
"It leads to Mannahatta. What of that?"
"There is a world there, Winthrop, — another sort of world, — where people know something; where other things are to be done than running plough furrows; where men may distinguish themselves! — where men may read and write; and do something great; and grow to be something besides what nature made them! — I want to be in that world."
They both paused.
"But what will you do, Rufus, to get into that world? — we are shut in here."
"I am not shut in!" said the elder brother; and brow and lip and nostril said it over again; — "I will live for something greater than this!"
There was a deep-drawn breath from the boy at his side.
"So would I, if I could. But what can we do?"
How difficult it was to do anything, both felt. But after a deliberate pause of some seconds, Rufus answered,
"There is only one thing to do. — I shall go to College."
"To College! — Will?"
The changes in the face of the younger boy were sudden and startling. One moment the coronation of hope; the next moment despair had thrown the coronet off; one more, and the hand of determination, — like Napoleon's, — had placed it firmly on his brow; and it was never shaken again. But he said nothing; and both waited a little, till thoughts could find words.
"Rufus, — do papa and mamma know about this?"
"What will they think of it?"
"I don't know — they must think of it as I do. My mind is made up. I can't stay here."
"But some preparation is necessary, Rufus, ain't it? — we must know more than we do before we can go to College, mustn't we? How will you get that?"
"I don't know, I will get it. Preparation! — yes!"
"Father will want us both at home this summer."
"Yes — this summer — I suppose we must. We must do something — we must talk to them at home about it, — gradually."
"If we had books, we could do a great deal at home."
"Yes, if, — But we haven't. And we must have more time. We couldn't do it at home."
"Papa wants us this summer. — And I don't see how he can spare us at all, Rufus."
"I am sure he will let us go," said the other steadily, though with a touch of trouble in his face.
"We are just beginning to help him."
"We can help him much better the other way," said Rufus quickly. "Farming is the most miserable slow way of making money that ever was contrived."
"How do you propose to make money?" inquired his brother coolly.
"I don't know! I am not thinking of making money at present!"
"It takes a good deal to go to College, don't it?"
And again there was a little silence. And the eyes of both were fixed on the river and the opposite hills, while they saw only that distant world and the vague barrier between.
"But I intend to go, Winthrop," said his brother, looking at him, with fire enough in his face to burn up obstacles.
"Yes, you will go," the younger said calmly. The cool grey eye did not speak the internal "So will I!" — which stamped itself upon his heart. They got up from the plough beam.
"I'll try for't," was Rufus's conclusion, as he shook himself.
"You'll get it," said Winthrop.
There was much love as well as ambition in the delighted look with which his brother rewarded him. They parted to their work. They ploughed the rest of their field: — what did they turn over besides the soil?
They wended their slow way back with the oxen when the evening fell; but the yoke was off their own necks. The lingering western light coloured another world than the morning had shined upon. No longer bondsmen of the soil, they trode it like masters. They untackled their oxen and let them out, with the spirit of men whose future work was to be in a larger field. Only Hope's little hand had lifted the weight from their heads. And Hope's only resting point was determination.
A quiet smile played round his lips, As the eddies and dimples of the tide Play round the bows of ships, That steadily at anchor ride. And with a voice that was full of glee, He answered, "ere long we will launch A vessel as goodly, and strong, and staunch, As ever weathered a wintry sea!" LONGFELLOW.
"The ploughing's all done; thank fortune!" exclaimed Rufus as he came into the kitchen.
"Well, don't leave your hat there in the middle of the floor," said his mother.
"Yes, it just missed knocking the tea-cups and saucers off the table," said little Asahel.
"It hasn't missed knocking you off your balance," said his brother tartly. "Do you know where your own hat is?"
"It hain't knocked me off anything!" said Asahel. "It didn't touch me!"
"Do you know where your own hat is?"
"What does it matter, Will?" said his mother.
"It's hanging out of doors, on the handle of the grindstone."
"Yes it is; — on the grindstone."
"No it isn't," said Winthrop coming in, "for I've got it here. There — see to it, Asahel. Mamma, papa's come. We've done ploughing."
And down went his hat, but not on the floor.
"Look at Winifred, Governor — she has been calling for you all day."
The boy turned to a flaxen-haired, rosy-cheeked, little toddling thing of three or four years old, at his feet, and took her up, to the perfect satisfaction of both parties. Her head nestled in his neck and her little hand patted his cheek with great approval and contentment.
"Mamma," said Asahel, "what makes you call Winthrop Governor? — he isn't a governor."
"Ask your father. And run and tell him tea's just ready."
The father came in; and the tea was made, and the whole party sat down to table. A homely, but a very cheerful and happy board. The supper was had in the kitchen; the little remains of the fire that had boiled the kettle were not amiss after the damps of evening fell; and the room itself, with its big fireplace, high dark-painted wainscoting, and even the clean board floor, was not the least agreeable in the house. And the faces and figures that surrounded the table were manly, comely, and intelligent, in a high degree.
"Well, — I've got through with that wheat field," said Mr. Landholm, as he disposed of a chicken bone.
"Have you got through sowing?" said his wife.
"Sowing! — no! — Winthrop, I guess you must go into the garden to-morrow — I can't attend to anything else till I get my grain in."
"Won't you plant some sweet corn this year, Mr. Landholm? — it's a great deal better for cooking."
"Well, I don't know — I guess the field corn's sweet enough. I haven't much time to attend to sugar things. What I look for is substantials."
"Aren't sweet things substantial, sir?" said Winthrop.
"Well — yes, — in a sort they are," said his father laughing, and looking at the little fat creature who was still in her brother's arms and giving him the charge of her supper as well as his own. "I know some sweet things I shouldn't like to do without."
"Talking of substantials," said Mrs. Landholm, "there's wood wanting to be got. I am almost out. I had hardly enough to cook supper."
"Don't want much fire in this weather," said the father, "However — we can't get along very well without supper. — Rufus, I guess you'll have to go up into the woods to-morrow with the ox-sled — you and Sam Doolittle — back of the pine wood — you'll find enough dead trees there, I guess."
"I think," said Rufus, "that if you think of it, what are called substantial things are the least substantial of any — they are only the scaffolding of the other."
"Of what other?" said his father.
"Of the things which really last, sir, — the things which belong to the mind — things which have to do with something besides the labour of to-day and the labour of to-morrow."
"The labour of to-day and the labour of to-morrow are pretty necessary though," said his father dryly; "we must eat, in the first place. You must keep the body alive before the mind can do much — at least I have found it so in my own experience."
"But you don't think the less of the other kind of work, sir, do you?" said Winthrop looking up; — "when one can get at it?"
"No, my boy," said the father, — "no, Governor; no man thinks more highly of it than I do. It has always been my desire that you and Will should be better off in this respect than I have ever been; — my great desire; and I haven't given it up, neither."
A little silence of all parties.
"What are the things which 'really last,' Rufus?" said his mother.
Rufus made some slight and not very direct answer, but the question set Winthrop to thinking.
He thought all the evening; or rather thought and fancy took a kind of whirligig dance, where it was hard to tell which was which. Visions of better opportunities than his father ever had; — of reaching a nobler scale of being than his own early life had promised him; — of higher walks than his young feet had trod: they made his heart big. There came the indistinct possibility of raising up with him the little sister he held in his arms, not to the life of toil which their mother had led, but to some airy unknown region of cultivation and refinement and elegant leisure; — hugely unknown, and yet surely laid hold of by the mind's want. But though fancy saw her for a moment in some strange travestie of years and education and circumstances, that was only a flash of fancy — not dwelt upon. Other thoughts were more near and pressing, though almost as vague. In vain he endeavoured to calculate expenses that he did not know, wants that he could not estimate, difficulties that loomed up with no certain outline, means that were far beyond ken. It was but confusion; except his purpose, clear and steady as the sun, though as yet it lighted not the way but only the distant goal; that was always in sight. And under all these thoughts, little looked at yet fully recognized, his mother's question; and a certain security that she had that which would 'really last.' He knew it. And oddly enough, when he took his candle from her hand that night, Winthrop, though himself no believer unless with head belief, thanked God in his heart that his mother was a Christian.
Gradually the boys disclosed their plan; or rather the elder of the boys; for Winthrop being so much the younger, for the present was content to be silent. But their caution was little needed. Rufus was hardly more ready to go than his parents were to send him, — if they could; and in their case, as in his, the lack of power was made up by will. Rufus should have an education. He should go to College. Not more cheerfully on his part than on theirs the necessary privations were met, the necessary penalty submitted to. The son should stand on better ground than the father, though the father were himself the stepping-stone that he might reach it.
It had nothing to do with Winthrop, all this. Nothing was said of him. To send one son to College was already a great stretch of effort, and of possibility; to send two was far beyond both. Nobody thought of it. Except the one left out of their thoughts.
The summer passed in the diligent companionship of the oxen and Sam Doolittle. But when the harvests were gathered, and the fall work was pretty well done; the winter grain in the ground, and the November winds rustling the dry leaves from the trees, — the strongest branch was parted from the family tree, in the hope that it might take root and thrive better on its own stock elsewhere. It was cheerfully done, all round. The father took bravely the added burden with the lessened means; the mother gave her strength and her eyesight to make the needed preparations; and to supply the means for them, all pinched themselves; and Winthrop had laid upon him the threefold charge of his own, his brother's, and his father's duty. For Mr. Landholm had been chosen a member of the State Legislature; and he too would be away from home all winter. What sort of a winter it would be, no one stopped to think, but all were willing to bear.
The morning came of the day before the dreaded Saturday, and no one cared to look at another. It was a relief, though a hated one, to see a neighbour come in. Even that, Winthrop shunned; he was cleaning the harness of the wagon, and he took it out into the broad stoop outside of the kitchen door. His mother and brother and the children soon scattered to other parts of the house.
"So neighbour," said Mr. Underhill, — "I hear tell one of your sons is goin' off, away from you?"
"Yes," — said Mr. Landholm, pride and sorrow struggling together in his manner, — "I believe he is."
"Where's he goin'?"
"To Asphodel — in the first place."
"Asphodel, eh? — What's at Asphodel?"
"What do you mean?"
"What's he goin' there for?"
"To pursue his studies — there's an Academy at Asphodel."
"An Academy. — Hum. — And so he's goin' after larnin' is he? And what'll the farmer do without him to hum?"
"Do the best I can — send for you, neighbour Underhill."
"Ha, ha! — well, I reckon I've got enough to do to attend to my own."
"I guess you don't do much but fish, do you? — there under the mountain?"
"Well, you see, I hain't a great deal of ground. You can't run corn straight up a hill, can you? — without somethin' to stand on?"
"Not very well."
"There be folks that like that kind o' way o' farming — but I never did myself."
"No, I'll warrant you," said Mr. Landholm, with a little attempt at a laugh.
"Well — you say there's an Academy at Asphodel; then he aint going to — a — what do you call it? — Collegiate Institution?"
"No, not just yet; by and by he'll go to College, I expect. — That's what he wants to do."
"And you want it too, I suppose?"
"Yes — I'll do the best I can by my children. I can't do as I would by them all," said the father, with a mixture of pride expressed and pride not expressed, — "but I'll try to make a man of Will!"
"And t'other'll make a man of himself," said Mr. Underhill, as he saw Winthrop quit the stoop. "He'll never run a plough up the side of a house. But what kind of a man are you going to make of Will? — a great man?"
"Ah, I don't know!" said Mr. Landholm with a sigh. "That must be as Providence directs."
"Hum — I should say that Providence directs you to keep 'em both to hum," said Mr. Underhill; — "but that's not my affair. Well, I'm going. — I hear you are goin' to be in Vantassel this winter?"
"Yes — I'm going to make laws for you," Mr. Landholm answered laughing.
"Well —" said Mr. Underhill taking his hat, — "I wish they'd put you up for President — I'd vote for you!"
"Thank you. Why?"
"'Cause I should expect you'd give me somethin' nother and make a great man of me!"
With a laugh at his own wit, Mr. Underhill departed.
But who shall so forecast the years, And find in loss a gain to match? Or reach a hand through time to catch The far-off interest of tears? TENNYSON.
The day came.
The farewell dinner was got ready — the best of the season it must be, for the honour of all parties and the love of one; but it mocked them. Mrs. Landholm's noble roast pig, and sweet chickens, and tea and fine bread; they were something to be remembered, not enjoyed, and to be remembered for ever, as part of one strong drop of life's bittersweet mixture. The travellers, for Mr. Landholm was to accompany his son, had already dressed themselves in their best; and the other eyes, when they could, gazed with almost wondering pride on the very fine and graceful figure of the young seeker of fortune. But eyes could do little, and lips worse than little. The pang of quitting the table, and the hurried and silent good-byes, were over at last; and the wagon was gone.
It seemed that the whole household was gone. The little ones had run to some corner to cry; Winthrop was nowhere; and the mother of the family stood alone and still by the table in the kitchen where they had left her.
An old black woman, the sole house servant of the family, presently came in, and while taking up two or three of the plates, cast looks of affectionate pity at her mistress and friend. She had been crying herself, but her sorrow had taken a quiet form.
"Don't ye!" she said in a troubled voice, and laying her shrivelled hand timidly on Mrs. Landholm's shoulder, — "don't ye, Mis' Landholm. He's in the Lord's hand, — and just you let him be there."
Mrs. Landholm threw her apron over her face and went out of the kitchen into her own room. The old woman continued to go round the table, gathering the plates, but very evidently busy with something else; and indeed humming or talking to herself, in a voice far from steady,
"'There is a happy land, Where parting is unknown —'"
She broke off and sat down and put her face in her hands and wept.
"Oh Lord! — oh good Lord! — I wish I was there! — Be still Karen — that's very wicked — wait, wait. 'They shall not be ashamed that wait for him,' he said, — They will not be ashamed," she repeated, looking up, while the tears streamed down her cheeks. "I will wait. But oh! — I wisht I had patience! I want to get straight out of trouble, — I do. Not yet, Karen, — not yet. 'When he giveth quietness, then who can make trouble?' That's it — that's my way."
She went about her business and quietly finished it.
It had long been done, and the afternoon was wearing well on, when Mrs. Landholm came into the kitchen again. Karen had taken care of the children meanwhile. But where was Winthrop? The mother, now quite herself, bethought her of him. Karen knew he was not about the house. But Mrs. Landholm saw that one of the big barn doors was open, and crossed over to it. A small field lay between that and the house. The great barn floor was quite empty, as she entered, except of hay and grain, with which the sides were tightly filled up to the top; the ends were neatly dressed off; the floor left clean and bare. It oddly and strongly struck her, as she saw it, the thought of the hands that had lately been so busy there; the work left, the hands gone; and for a few moments she stood absolutely still, feeling and putting away the idea that made her heart ache. She had a battle to fight before she was mistress of herself and could speak Winthrop's name. Nobody answered; and scolding herself for the tone of her voice, Mrs. Landholm spoke again. A little rustling let her know that she was heard; and presently Winthrop made his appearance from below or from some distant corner behind the hay, and came to meet her. He could not command his face to his mother's eyes, and sorrow for Will for a moment was half forgotten in sorrow for him. As they met she put both hands upon his shoulders, and said wistfully, "My son?" — But that little word silenced them both. It was only to throw their arms about each other and hide their faces in each other's neck, and cry strange tears; tears that are drawn from the heart's deepest well. Slight griefs flow over the surface, with fury perhaps; but the purest and the sweetest waters are drawn silently.
Winthrop was the first to recover himself, and was kissing his mother with manly quietness before she could raise her head at all. When she did, it was to return his kisses, first on one cheek and then on the other and then on his forehead, parting the hair from it with both hands for the purpose. It seemed as if she would have spoken, but she did not, then, not in words.
"My boy," she said at last, "you have too hard measure laid on you!"
"No, mother — I don't think it so; — there is nothing to make me sorry in that."
"Will has got his wish," she observed presently.
"Don't you approve of it mother?"
"Yes —" she said, but as if there were many a thought before and behind.
"Don't you approve of it, mother?" Winthrop asked quickly.
"Yes, yes — I do, — in itself; but you know there is one wish before all others in my mind, for him and for you, Winthrop."
He said nothing.
"Come," she said a moment after more cheerfully, "we must go in and see how cosy and sociable we can make ourselves alone. We must practise," — for next winter, she was going to say, but something warned her to stop. Winthrop turned away his face, though he answered manfully.
"Yes mother — I must just go over to the bank field and see what Sam Doolittle has been at; and I've got to cut some wood; then I'll be in."
"Will you be back by sundown?"
"I'll not be long after."
The mother gave a look towards the sun, already very near the high western horizon, and another after Winthrop who was moving off at a good pace; and then slowly walked back to the house, one hand clasping its fellow in significant expression.
Karen was sitting in her clean kitchen with little Winifred on her knees, and singing to her in a very sweet Methodist tune,
"There fairer flowers than Eden's bloom, Nor sin nor sorrow know. Blest seats! — through rude and stormy seas, I onward press to you."
The mother stooped to take up the child.
"What put that into your head, Karen?"
"Everything puts it in my head, missus," said the old woman with a smiling look at her; "sometimes when I see the sun go down, I think by'm-by I won't see him get up again; and times when I lose something, I think by'm-by I won't want it; and sometimes when somebody goes away, I think by'm-by we'll be all gone, and then we'll be all together again; only I'd like sometimes to be all together without going first."
"Will you get down, Winnie?" said her mother, "and let mamma make a cake for brother Winthrop?"
"A cake? — for Governor?"
"Yes; get down, and I'll make one of Governor's hoe-cakes."
The spirit of love and cheerfulness had got the upper hand when the little family party gathered again; at least that spirit had rule of all that either eyes or ears could take note of. They gathered in the 'keeping-room,' as it was called; the room used as a common sitting room by the family, though it served also the purpose of a sleeping chamber, and a bed accordingly in one corner formed part of the furniture. Their eyes were accustomed to that. It did not hurt the general effect of comfort. There the supper-table was set this evening; the paper window-curtains were let down, and a blazing fire sparkled and crackled; while before it, on the approved oaken barrel-head set up against the andirons, the delicate rye and indian hoe-cake was toasting into sweetness and brownness. Asahel keeping watch on one side of the fire, and Winifred at the other burning her little fair cheek in premature endeavours to see whether the cake was ready to be turned.
"What's going on here!" said Winthrop, catching her up in his arms as he came in.
Winifred laughed and kissed him, and then with an earnest slap of her little hand on his cheek requested to be set down, that she might see, "if that side wasn't done."
"Yes, to be sure it's done," said Asahel. "Where's mamma to turn it?"
"Here," said Winthrop, taking up the barrel cover, — "do you think nobody can turn a cake but mamma?"
"You can't," said Asahel, — "you'll let it fall in the ashes, — you will! —"
But the slice of half baked dough was cleverly and neatly slipped off the board and happily put in its place again with the right side out; and little Winifred, who had watched the operation anxiously, said with a breath of satisfaction and in her slow utterance,
"There — Governor can do anything!"
There were several cakes to take the benefit of the fire, one after the other, and then to be split and buttered, and then to be eaten; and cakes of Winthrop's baking and mamma's buttering, the children pronounced "as good as could be." Nothing could have better broken up the gloom of their little tea party than Winthrop's hoe-cakes; and then the tea was so good, for nobody had eaten much dinner.
The children were in excellent spirits, and Winthrop kept them in play; and the conversation went on between the three for a large part of the evening. When the little ones were gone to bed, then indeed it flagged; Winthrop and his mother sat awhile silently musing, and then the former bade her good night.
It was long before Mrs. Landholm thought of going to bed, or thought of anything around her; the fire was dead and her candle burnt out, when at length she roused herself. The cold wind made itself felt through many a crevice in the wooden frame house; and feeling too much of its work upon her, she went into the kitchen to see if there were not some warmth still lingering about the covered-up fire. To her surprise, the fire was not covered up; a glow came from it yet; and Winthrop sat there on the hearth, with his head leaning against the jamb and his eyes intently studying the coals. He started, and jumped up.
"Winthrop! —what are you here for, my dear?"
"I came out to warm myself."
"Haven't you been to bed?"
"Where have you been?"
"Only in my room, mother."
"Doing what, my son?"
"Thinking —" he said a little unwillingly.
"Sit down and warm yourself," said his mother placing his chair again; — "Why, your hands are warm now?"
"Yes ma'am — I have been here a good while."
He sat down, where she had put his chair in front of the fireplace; and she stood warming herself before it, and looking at him. His face was in its usual calmness, and she thought as she looked it was an excellent face. Great strength of character — great truth — beneath the broad brow high intellectual capacity, and about the mouth a certain sweet self-possession; to the ordinary observer more cool than sweet, but his mother knew the sweetness.
"What are you thinking about, Winthrop?" she said softly, bending down near enough to lay a loving hand on his brow.
He looked up quickly and smiled, one of those smiles which his mother saw oftener than anybody, but she not often, — a smile very revealing in its character, — and said,
"Don't ask me, mamma."
"Who should ask you, if not I?"
"There is no need to trouble you with it, mother."
"You can't help that — it will trouble me now, whether I know it or not; for I see it is something that troubles you."
"You have too good eyes, mother," he said smiling again, but a different smile.
"My ears are just as good."
"Mamma, I don't want to displease you," he said looking up.
"You can't do that — you never did yet, Winthrop, my boy," she answered, bending down again and this time her lips to his forehead. "Speak — I am not afraid."
He was silent a moment, and then mastering himself as it were with some difficulty, he said,
"Mamma, I want to be somebody!"
The colour flushed back and forth on his face, once and again, but beyond that, every feature kept its usual calm.
A shadow fell on his mother's face, and for several minutes she stood and he sat in perfect silence; he not stirring his eyes from the fire, she not moving hers from him. When she spoke, the tone was changed, and though quiet he felt the trouble in it.
"What sort of a somebody, Winthrop?"
"Mamma," he said, "I can't live here! I want to know more and to be more than I can here. I can, I am sure, if I only can find a way; and I am sure I can find a way. It is in me, and it will come out. I don't want anybody to give me any help, nor to think of me; I can work my own way, if you'll only let me and not be troubled about me."
He had risen from his chair to speak this. His mother kept her face in the shadow and said quietly,
"What way will you take, Winthrop?"
"I don't know, ma'am, yet; I haven't found out."
"Do you know the difficulties in the way?"
It was said in the tone not of proud but of humble determination.
"My boy, they are greater than you think for, or than I like to think of at all."
"I dare say, mother."
"I don't see how it is possible for your father to do more than put Will in the way he has chosen."
"I know that, mother," Winthrop replied, with again the calm face but the flushing colour; — "he said yesterday — I heard him —"
"He said he would try to make a man of Rufus! I must do it for myself, mother. And I will."
His mother hardly doubted it. But she sighed as she looked, and sighed heavily.
"I ought to have made you promise not to be troubled, mamma," he said with a relaxing face.
"I am more careful of my promises than that," she answered. "But, Winthrop, my boy, what do you want to do first?"
"To learn, mamma!" he said, with a singular flash of fire in his usual cool eye. "To get rid of ignorance, and then to get the power that knowledge gives. Rufus said the other day that knowledge is power, and I know he was right. I feel like a man with his hands tied, because I am so ignorant."
"You are hardly a man yet, Winthrop; you are only a boy in years."
"I am almost sixteen, mother, and I haven't taken the first step yet."
What should the first step be? A question in the minds of both; the answer — a blank.
"How long have you been thinking of this?"
"Since last spring, mother."
"Didn't Will's going put it in your head?"
"That gave me the first thought; but it would have made no difference, mother; it would have come, sooner or later. I know it would, by my feeling ever since."
Mrs. Landholm's eye wandered round the room, the very walls in their humbleness and roughness reminding her anew of the labour and self-denial it had cost to rear them, and then to furnish them, and that was now expended in keeping the inside warm. Every brown beam and little window-sash could witness the story of privation and struggle, if she would let her mind go back to it; the associations were on every hand; neither was the struggle over. She turned her back upon the room, and sitting down in Winthrop's chair bent her look as he had done into the decaying bed of coals.
He was standing in the shadow of the mantelpiece, and looking down in his turn scanned her face and countenance as a little while before she had scanned his. Hers was a fine face, in some of the finest indications. It had not, probably it never had, the extreme physical beauty of her first-born, nor the mark of intellect that was upon the features of the second. But there was the unmistakable writing of calm good sense, a patient and possessed mind, a strong power for the right, whether doing or suffering, a pure spirit; and that nameless beauty, earthly and unearthly, which looks out of the eyes of a mother; a beauty like which there is none. But more; toil's work, and care's, were there, very plain, on the figure and on the face, and on the countenance too; he could not overlook it; work that years had not had time to do, nor sorrow permission. His heart smote him.
"Mamma," he said, "you have left out the hardest difficulty of all. — How can I go and leave you and papa without me?"
"How can you? My child, I can bear to do without you in this world, if it is to be for your good or happiness. There is only one thing, Winthrop, I cannot bear."
He was silent.
"I could bear anything — it would make my life a garden of roses — if I were sure of having you with me in the next world."
"Mamma — you know I would —"
"I know you would, I believe, give your life to serve me, my boy. But till you love God as well as that, — you may be my child, but you are not his."
He was silent still; and heaving a sigh, a weary one, that came from very far down in her heart, she turned away again and sat looking towards the fireplace. But not at it, nor at anything else that mortal eyes could see. It was a look that left the things around her, and passing present wants and future contingencies, went beyond, to the issues, and to the secret springs that move them. An earnest and painful look; a look of patient care and meek reliance; so earnest, so intent, so distant in its gaze, that told well it was a path the mind often travelled and often in such wise, and with the self-same burden. Winthrop watched the gentle grave face, so very grave then in its gentleness, until he could not bear it; her cheek was growing pale, and whether with cold or with thinking he did not care to know.
He came forward and gently touched his cheek to the pale one.
"Mamma, do not look so for me!" he whispered.
She pulled him down beside her on the hearth, and nestled her face on his shoulder and wrapped her arms round him. And they strained him close, but he could not speak to her then.
"For whom should I look? or for what do I live? My boy! I would die to know that you loved Christ; — that my dear Master was yours too!"
The gently-spoken words tied his tongue. He was mute; till she had unloosed her arms from about him and sat with her face in her hands. Then his head sought her shoulder.
"Mamma, I know you are right. I will do anything to please you — anything that I can," he said with a great force upon himself.
"What can you do, Winthrop?"
He did not answer again, and she looked up and looked into his face.
"Can you take God for your God? and give your heart and your life, — all the knowledge you will ever get and all the power it will ever give you, — to be used for him?"
"For him, mamma? —"
"In doing his work — in doing his pleasure?"
"Mamma — I am not a Christian," he said hesitatingly and his eye falling.
"And now you know what a Christian is. Till you can do this, you do nothing. Till you are Christ's after this whole-hearted fashion you are not mine as I wish to see you, — you are not mine for ever, — my boy — my dear Winthrop —" she said, again putting her arm round him and bowing her face to his breast.
Did he ever forget the moment her head lay there? the moment when his arms held the dearest earthly thing life ever had for him? It was a quiet moment; she was not crying; no tears had been dropped at all throughout their conversation; and when she raised her face it was to kiss him quietly, — but twice, on his lips and on his cheek, — and bid him good night. But his soul was full of one meaning, as he shut his little bedroom door, — that that face should never be paler or more care-worn for anything of his doing; — that he would give up anything, he would never go from home, sooner than grieve her heart in a feather's weight; nay, that rather than grieve her, he would become a Christian.
A lonely dwelling, where the shore Is shadowed with rocks, and cypresses Cleave with their dark green cones the silent skies, And with their shadows the clear depths below. SHELLEY.
The winter was a long one to the separated family. Quietly won through, and busily. The father in the distant legislature; the brother away at his studies; and the two or three lonely people at home; — each in his place was earnestly and constantly at work. No doubt Mr. Landholm had more time to play than the rest of them, and his business cares did not press quite so heavily; for he wrote home of gay dinings-out, and familiar intercourse with this and that member of the Senate and Assembly, and hospitable houses that were open to him in Vantassel, where he had pleasant friends and pleasant times. But the home cares were upon him even then; he told how he longed for the Session to be over, that he might be with his family; he sent dear love to little Winifred and Asahel, and postscripts of fatherly charges to Winthrop, recommending to him particularly the care of the young cattle and to go on dressing the flax. And Winthrop, through the long winter, had taken care of the cattle and dressed the flax in the same spirit with which he shut his bedroom door that night; a little calmer, not a whit the less strong.
He filled father's and brother's place — his mother knew how well. Sam Doolittle knew, for he declared "there wa'n't a stake in the fences that wa'n't looked after, as smart as if the old chap was to hum." The grain was threshed as duly as ever, though a boy of sixteen had to stand in the shoes of a man of forty. Perhaps Sam and Anderese wrought better than their wont, in shame or in admiration. Karen never had so good a woodpile, Mrs. Landholm's meal bags were never better looked after; and little Winifred and Asahel never wanted their rides in the snow, nor had more nuts cracked o' nights; though they had only one tired brother at home instead of two fresh ones. Truth to tell, however, one ride from Winthrop would at any time content them better than two rides from Will. Winthrop never allowed that he was tired, and never seemed so; but his mother and Karen were resolved that tired he must be.
"He had pretty strength to begin with," Karen said; "that was a good thing; and he seemed to keep it up too; he was shootin' over everything."
If Winthrop kept his old plans of self-aggrandizement, it was at the bottom of his heart; he looked and acted nothing but the farmer, all those months. There was a little visit from Rufus too, at mid-winter, which must have wakened the spirit of other things, if it had been at all laid to sleep. But if it waked it kept still. It did not so much as shew itself. Unless indirectly.
"What have you been doing all to-day, Governor?" said his little sister, meeting him with joyful arms as he came in one dark February evening.
"What have you been about all day?" said her brother, taking her up to his shoulder. "Cold isn't it? Have you got some supper for me?"
"No, I hav'n't, —" said the little girl. "Mamma! — Governor wants his supper!"
"Hush, hush. Governor's not in a hurry."
"Where have you been all day?" she repeated, putting her little hand upon his cold face with a sort of tender consideration.
"In the snow, and out of it."
"What were you doing in the snow?"
"Was it cold?"
"What was stinging?"
"Why, the cold!"
She laughed a little, and went on stroking his face.
"What were you doing when you wa'n't in the snow?"
"What do you want to know for?"
"I was scutching flax."
"What is that?"
"Why, don't you know? — didn't you see me beating flax in the barn the other day? — beating it upon a board, with a bat? — that was scutching."
"That day when mamma said, — mamma said, you were working too hard?"
"I think it is very likely."
"I thought we were done dressing flax?" remarked Asahel.
"We! — well, I suppose you have, for this season."
"Well, ain't you done dressing flax?"
"I thought you said the flax was all done, Winthrop?" said his mother.
"My father's is all done, ma'am."
"And yet you have been dressing flax to-day?" said Asahel; while his mother looked.
"Mamma," said Winthrop, "I wish Asahel was a little older. — He would be a help."
"Who have you been working for?" said the child.
"Where have you been, Winthrop?" said his mother in a lower tone of inquiry.
"I have been over the mountain, mamma, — to Mr. Upshur's."
"And you have come over the mountain to-night?"
She stooped in silence to the fire to take up her tea-pot; but Asahel exclaimed,
"It ain't right, mamma, is it, for Winthrop to be dressing flax for anybody else?"
"What's the wrong?" said his brother.
"Is it, mamma?"
But mamma was silent.
"What's the wrong?" repeated Winthrop.
"Because you ought to be doing your own business."
"Never did, if I didn't to-day," Winthrop remarked as he came to the table.
"For shame Asahel!" put in little Winifred with her childish voice; — "you don't know. Governor always is right."
It was a very cold February, and it was a very bleak walk over the mountain; but Winthrop took it many a time. His mother now and then said when she saw him come in or go out, "Don't overtry yourself, my son! —" but he answered her always with his usual composure, or with one of those deep breaking-up looks which acknowledged only her care — not the need for it. As Karen said, "he had a pretty strength to begin with;" and it was so well begun that all the exposure and hardship served rather to its development and maturing.
The snow melted from off the hills, and the winter blasts came more fitfully, and were changed for soft south airs between times. There was an end to dressing flax. The spring work was opening; and Winthrop had enough to do without working on his own score. Then Mr. Landholm came home; and the energies of both the one and the other were fully taxed, at the plough and the harrow, in the barnyard and in the forest, where in all the want of Rufus made a great gap. Mrs. Landholm had more reason now to distress herself, and distressed herself accordingly, but it was of no use. Winthrop wrought early and late, and threw himself into the gap with a desperate ardour that meant — his mother knew what.
They all wrought cheerfully and with good heart, for they were together again; and the missing one was only thought of as a stimulus to exertion, or its reward. Letters came from Rufus, which were read and read, and though not much talked about, secretly served the whole family for dessert at their dinner and for sweetmeats to their tea. Letters which shewed that the father's end was gaining, that the son's purpose was accomplishing; Rufus would be a man! They were not very frequent, for they avoided the post-office to save expense, and came by a chance hand now and then; — "Favoured by Mr. Upshur," — or, "By Uncle Absalom." They were written on great uncouth sheets of letter-paper, yellow and coarse; but the handwriting grew bold and firm, and the words and the thoughts were changing faster yet, from the rude and narrow mind of the boy, to the polish and the spread of knowledge. Perhaps the letters might be boyish yet, in another contrast; but the home circle could not see it; and if they could, certainly the change already made was so swift as shewed a great readiness for more. Mr. Landholm said little about these letters; read them sometimes to Mr. Upshur, read them many times to himself; and for his family, his face at those times was comment enough.
"Well! —" he said one day, as he folded up one of the uncouth great sheets and laid it on the table, — "the man that could write that, was never made to hoe corn — that's certain."
Winthrop heard it.
At midsummer Rufus came home for a little. He brought news. He had got into the good graces of an uncle, a brother of his father's, who lived at Little River, a town in the interior, forty miles off. This gentleman, himself a farmer extremely well to do in the world, and with a small family, had invited Rufus to come to his house and carry on his studies there. The invitation was pressed, and accepted, as it would be the means of a great saving of outlay; and Rufus came home in the interval to see them all, and refit himself for the winter campaign.
No doubt he was changed and improved, like his letters; and fond eyes said that fond hopes had not been mistaken. If they looked on him once with pride, they did now with a sort of insensible wonder. His whole air was that of a different nature, not at all from affectation, but by the necessity of the case; and as noble and graceful as nature intended him to be, they delightedly confessed that he was. Perhaps by the same necessity, his view of things was altered a little, as their view of him; a little unconscious change, it might be; that nobody quarrelled with except the children; but certain it is that Winifred did not draw up to him, and Asahel stood in great doubt.
"Mamma," said he one day, "I wish Rufus would pull off his fine clothes and help Winthrop."
"Fine clothes, my dear!" said his mother; "I don't think your brother's clothes are very fine; I wish they were finer. Do you call patches fine?"
"But anyhow they are better than Winthrop's?"
"Certainly — when Winthrop is at his work."
"Well, the other day he said they were too good for him to help Winthrop load the cart; and I think he should pull them off!"
"Did Winthrop ask him?"
"No; but he knew he was going to do it."
"Rufus must take care of his clothes, or he wouldn't be fit to go to Little River, you know."
"Then he ought to take them off," said Asahel.
"He did cut wood with Winthrop all yesterday."
Asahel sat still in the corner, looking uncomfortable.
"Where are they now, mamma?"
"Here they are," said Mrs. Landholm, as Rufus and Winthrop opened the door.
The former met both pair of eyes directed to him, and instantly asked,
"What are you talking of?"
"Asahel don't understand why you are not more of a farmer, when you are in a farmhouse."
"Asahel had better mind his own business," was the somewhat sharp retort; and Rufus pulled a lock of the little boy's hair in a manner to convey a very decided notion of his judgment. Asahel, resenting this handling, or touched by it, slipped off his chair and took himself out of the room.
"He thinks you ought to take off your fine clothes and help Winthrop more than you do," said his mother, going on with a shirt she was ironing.
"Fine clothes!" said the other with a very expressive breath, — "I shall feel fine when I get that on, mother. Is that mine?"
"Couldn't Karen do that?"
"No," said Mrs. Landholm, as she put down her iron and took a hot one. The tone said, "Yes — but not well enough."
He stood watching her neat work.
"I am ashamed of myself, mother, when I look at you."
"Because I don't deserve to have you do this for me."
She looked up and gave him one of her grave clear glances, and said,
"Will you deserve it, Will?"
He stood with full eyes and hushed tongue by her table, for the space of five minutes. Then spoke with a change of tone.
"Well, I'm going down to help Winthrop catch some fish for supper; and you sha'n't cook 'em, mamma, nor Karen neither. Karen's cooking is not perfection. By the by, there's one thing more I do want, — and confoundedly too, — a pair of boots; — I really don't know how to do without them."
"Boots?" — said his mother, in an accent that sounded a little dismayful.
"Yes. — I can get capital ones at Asphodel — really stylish ones — for five dollars; — boots that would last me handsome a great while; and that's a third less than I should have to give anywhere else, — for such boots. You see I shall want them at Little River — I shall be thrown more in the way of seeing people — there's a great deal of society there. I don't see that I can get along without them."
His mother was going on with her ironing.
"I don't know," she said, as her iron made passes up and down, — "I don't know whether you can have them or not."
"I know," said Winthrop. "But I don't see the sense of getting them at Asphodel."
"Because I tell you they are two dollars and a half cheaper."
"And how much more will it cost you to go round by the way of Asphodel than to go straight to Little River?"
"I don't know," said the other, half careless, half displeased; — "I really haven't calculated."
"Well, if you can get them for five dollars," said Winthrop, "you shall have them. I can lend you so much as that."
"How did you come by it?" said his brother looking at him curiously.
"I didn't come by it at all."
"Where did it come from?"
"What do you want to know for? I beat it out of some raw flax."
"And carried it over the mountain, through the snow, winter nights," added his mother.
"You didn't know you were doing it for me," Rufus said laughing as he took the money his brother handed him. But it was a laugh assumed to hide some feeling. "Well, it shall get back to you again somehow, Winthrop. Come — are we ready for this piscatory excursion?"
"For what?" said his mother.
"A Latin word, my dear mother, which I lately picked up somewhere."
"Why not use English?" said his mother.
A general little laugh, to which many an unexpressed thought and feeling went, broke up the conference; and the two fishers set forth on their errand; Rufus carrying the basket and fishing-poles, and Winthrop's shoulder bearing the oars. As they went down in front of the house, little Winifred ran out.
"Governor, mayn't I go?"
"No!" said Rufus.
"We are going to Point Bluff, Winnie," said Winthrop stopping to kiss her, — "and I am afraid you would roll off on one side while I was pulling up a fish on the other."
She stood still, and looked after her two brothers as they went down to the water.
The house stood in a tiny little valley, a little basin in the rocks, girdled about on all sides with low craggy heights covered with evergreens. On all sides but one. To the south the view opened full upon the river, a sharp angle of which lay there in a nook like a mountain lake; its further course hid behind a headland of the western shore; and only the bend and a little bit before the bend could be seen from the valley. The level spot about the house gave perhaps half an acre of good garden ground; from the very edge of that, the grey rising ledges of granite and rank greensward between held their undisputed domain. There the wild roses planted themselves; there many a flourishing sweet-briar flaunted in native gracefulness, or climbed up and hung about an old cedar as if like a wilful child determined that only itself should be seen. Nature grew them and nature trained them; and sweet wreaths, fluttering in the wind, gently warned the passer-by that nature alone had to do there. Cedars, as soon as the bottom land was cleared, stood the denizens of the soil on every side, lifting their soft heads into the sky. Little else was to be seen. Here and there, a little further off, the lighter green of an oak shewed itself, or the tufts of a yellow pine; but near at hand the cedars held the ground, thick pyramids or cones of green, from the very soil, smooth and tapered as if a shears had been there; but only nature had managed it. They hid all else that they could; but the grey rocks peeped under, and peeped through, and here and there broke their ranks with a huge wall or ledge of granite, where no tree could stand. The cedars had climbed round to the top and went on again above the ledge, more mingled there with deciduous trees, and losing the exceeding beauty of their supremacy in the valley. In the valley it was not unshared; for the Virginia creeper and cat-briar mounted and flung their arms about them, and the wild grape-vines took wild possession; and in the day of their glory they challenged the bystander to admire anything without them. But the day of their glory was not now; it came when Autumn called them to shew themselves; and Autumn's messenger was far off. The cedars had it, and the roses, and the eglantine, under Summer's rule.
It was in the prime of summer when the two fishers went down to their boat. The valley level was but a few feet above the river; on that side, with a more scattering growth of cedars, the rocks and the greensward gently let themselves down to the edge of the water. The little dory was moored between two uprising heads of granite just off the shore. Stepping from rock to rock the brothers reached her. Rufus placed himself in the stern with the fishing tackle, and Winthrop pushed off.
There was not a stir in the air; there was not a ripple on the water, except those which the oars made, and the long widening mark of disturbance the little boat left behind it. Still — still, — surely it was Summer's siesta; the very birds were still; but it was not the oppressive rest before a thunderstorm, only the pleasant hush of a summer's day. The very air seemed blue — blue against the mountains, and kept back the sun's fierceness with its light shield; and even the eye was bid to rest, the distant landscape was so hidden under the same blue.
No distant landscape was to be seen, until they had rowed for several minutes. Winthrop had turned to the north and was coasting the promontory edge, which in that direction stretched along for more than a quarter of a mile. It stretched west as well as north, and the river's course beyond it was in a north-easterly line; so that keeping close under the shore as they were, the up view could not be had till the point was turned. First they passed the rock-bound shore which fenced in the home valley; then for a space the rocks and the heights fell back and several acres of arable ground edged the river, cut in two by a small belt of woods. These acres were not used except for grazing cattle; the first field was occupied with a grove of cylindrical cedars; in the second a soft growth of young pines sloped up towards the height; the ground there rising fast to a very bluff and precipitous range which ended the promontory, and pushed the river boldly into a curve, as abrupt almost as the one it took in an opposite direction a quarter of a mile below. Here the shore was bold and beautiful. The sheer rock sprang up two hundred feet from the very bosom of the river, a smooth perpendicular wall; sometimes broken with a fissure and an out-jutting ledge, in other parts only roughened with lichens; then breaking away into a more irregular and wood-lined shore; but with this variety keeping its bold front to the river for many an oar's length. Probably as bold and more deep below the surface, for in this place was the strength of the channel. The down tides rushed by here furiously; but it was still water now, and the little boat went smoothly and quietly on, the sound of the oars echoing back in sharp quick return from the rock. It was all that was heard; the silence had made those in the boat silent; nothing but the dip of the oars and that quick mockery of the rowlocks from the wall said that anything was moving.
But as they crept thus along the foot of the precipice, the other shore was unfolding itself. One huge mountain had been all along in sight, over against them, raising its towering head straight up some fourteen hundred feet from the water's edge; green, in the thick luxuriance of summer's clothing, except where here and there a blank precipice of many hundred feet shewed the solid stone. Now the fellow mountain, close beyond, came rapidly in view, and, as the point of the promontory was gained, the whole broad north scene opened upon the eye. Two hills of equal height on the east shore looked over the river at their neighbours. Above them, on both shores, the land fell, and at the distance of about eight miles curved round to the east in an amphitheatre of low hills. There the river formed a sort of inland sea, and from thence swept down queen-like between its royal handmaids on the right hand and on the left, till it reached the promontory point. This low distant shore and water was now masked with blue, and only the nearer highlands shewed under the mask their fine outlines, and the Shatemuc its smooth face.
At the point of the promontory the rocky wall broke down to a low easy shore, which stretched off easterly in a straight line for half a mile, to the bottom of what was called the north bay. Just beyond the point, a rounded mass of granite pushed itself into the water out of reach of the trees and shewed itself summer and winter barefacedly. This rock was known at certain states of the tide to be in the way of the white mackerel. Winthrop made fast his little skiff between it and the shore, and climbing upon the rock, he and Rufus sat down and fell to work; for to play they had not come hither, but to catch their supper.
The spirit of silence seemed to have possessed them both, for with very few words they left the boat and took their places, and with no words at all for some time the hooks were baited and the lines thrown. Profound stillness — and then the flutter of a poor little fish as he struggled out of his element, or the stir made by one of the fishers in reaching after the bait-basket — and then all was still again. The lines drooped motionless in the water; the eyes of the fishers wandered off to the distant blue, and then came back to their bobbing corks. Thinking, both the young men undoubtedly were, for it could not have been the mackerel that called such grave contemplation into their faces.
"It's confoundedly hot!" said Rufus at length very expressively.
His brother seemed amused.
"What are you laughing at?" said Rufus a little sharply.
"Nothing — I was thinking you had been in the shade lately. We've got 'most enough, I guess."
"Shade! — I wish there was such a thing. This is a pretty place though, if it wasn't August, — and if one was doing anything but sitting on a rock fishing."
"Isn't it better than Asphodel?" said Winthrop.
"Asphodel! — When are you going to get away from here, Winthrop?"
"I don't know."
"Has anything been done about it?"
"It is time, Winthrop."
Winthrop was silent.
"We must manage it somehow. You ought not to be fishing here any longer. I want you to get on the way."
"Ay — I must wait awhile," said the other with a sigh. "I shall go — that's all I know, but I can't see a bit ahead. I'm round there under the point now, and there's a big headland in the way that hides the up view."
Again the eyes of the fishers were fixed on their corks, gravely, and in the case of Rufus with a somewhat disturbed look.
"I wish I was clear of the headlands too," said he after a short silence; "and there's one standing right across my way now."
"Books?" said Winthrop.
"Yes — books which I haven't got."
"Books!" said his brother in astonishment.
"I thought you said boots," the other remarked simply, as he disengaged a fish from the hook.
"Well," said Rufus sharply, "what then? what if I did? Can't a man want to furnish both ends of his house at once?"
"I have heard of a man in his sleep getting himself turned about with his head in the place of his feet. I thought he was dreaming."
"You may have your five dollars again, if you think them ill- bestowed," said the other putting his hand in his pocket; — "There they are! — I don't want them — I will find a way to stand on my own legs — with boots or without, as the case may be."
"I don't know who has better legs," said Winthrop. "I can't pity you."
"But seriously, Winthrop," said Rufus, smiling in spite of himself, — "a man may go empty-headed, but he cannot go bare- footed into a library, nor into society."
"Did you go much into society at Asphodel?" asked Winthrop.
"Not near so much as I shall — and that's the very thing. I can't do without these things, you see. They are necessary to me. Even at Asphodel — but that was nothing. Asphodel will be a very good place for you to go to in the first instance. You won't find yourself a stranger."
"Will you be ready for college next year?"
"Hum — don't know — it depends. I am not anxious about it — I shall be all the better prepared if I wait longer, and I should like to have you with me. It will make no difference in the end, for I can enter higher, and that will save expense. Seriously Winthrop, you must get away."
"I must catch that fish," said Winthrop, — "if I can —"
"You won't —"
"I've got him."
"There's one place at Asphodel where I've been a good deal — Mr. Haye's — he's an old friend of my father's and thinks a world of him. You'll like him — he's been very kind to me."
"What shall I like him for — besides that?" said Winthrop.
"O he's a man of great wealth, and has a beautiful place there, and keeps a very fine house, and he's very hospitable. He's always very glad to see me; and it's rather a pleasant change from Glanbally's vis-a-vis and underdone apple-pies. He is one of the rich, rich Mannahatta merchants, but he has a taste for better things too. Father knows him — they met some years ago in the Legislature, and father has done him some service or other since. He has no family — except one or two children not grown up — his wife is dead — so I suppose he was glad of somebody to help him eat his fine dinners. He said some very handsome things to encourage me. He might have offered me the use of his library — but he did not."
"Perhaps he hasn't one."
"Yes he has — a good one."
"It's got into the wrong hands, I'm afraid," said Winthrop.
"He has a little the character of being hard-fisted. At least I think so. He has a rich ward that he is bringing up with his daughter, — a niece of his wife's — and people say he will take his commission out of her property; and there is nobody to look after it."
"Well I shan't take the office," said Winthrop, getting up. "If the thought of Mr. Haye's fine dinner hasn't taken away your appetite, suppose we get home and see how these mackerel will look fried."
"It's just getting pleasant now," said Rufus as he rose to his feet. "There might be a worse office to take, for she will have a pretty penny, they say."
"Do you think of it yourself?"
"There's two of them," said Rufus smiling.
"Well, you take one and I'll take the other," said Winthrop. gravely. "That's settled. And here is something you had better put in your pocket as we go — it may be useful in the meanwhile."
He quietly gathered up the five dollars from the rock and slipped them into the pocket of Rufus's jacket as he spoke; then slipped himself off the rock, took the fishing tackle and baskets into the boat, and then his brother, and pushed out into the tide. There was a strong ebb, and they ran swiftly down past rock and mountain and valley, all in a cooler and fairer beauty than a few hours before when they had gone up. Rufus took off his hat and declared there was no place like home; and Winthrop sometimes pulled a few strong strokes and then rested on his oars and let the boat drop down with the tide.
"Winthrop," — said Rufus, as he sat paddling his hands in the water over the side of the boat, — "you're a tremendous fine fellow!"
"Thank you. — I wish you'd sit a little more in the middle."
"This is better than Asphodel just now," Rufus remarked as he took his hands out and straightened himself.
"How do you like Mr. Glanbally?"
"Well enough — he's a very good man — not too bright; but he's a very good man. He does very well. I must get you there, Winthrop."
Winthrop shook his head and turned the conversation; and Rufus in fact went away from home without finding a due opportunity to speak on the matter. But perhaps other agency was at work.
The summer was passed, and the fall nearly; swallowed up in farm duty as the months before had been. The cornstalks were harvested and part of the grain threshed out. November was on its way.
"Governor," said his father one night, when Winthrop was playing "even or odd" with Winifred and Asahel, a great handful of chestnuts being the game, — "Governor, have you a mind to take Rufus's place at Asphodel for a while this fall?"
The blood rushed to Winthrop's face; but he only forgot his chestnuts and said, "Yes, sir."
"You may go, if you've a mind to, and as soon as you like. — It's better travelling now than it will be by and by. I can get along without you for a spell, I guess."
"Thank you, father."
But Winthrop's eyes sought his mother's face. In vain little Winifred hammered upon his hand with her little doubled up fist, and repeated, "even or odd?" He threw down the chestnuts and quitted the room hastily.
The wind blew hollow frae the hills, By fits the sun's departing beam Looked on the fading yellow woods That waved o'er Lugar's winding stream. BURNS.
He five dollars were gone. No matter — they could be wanted. They must be. Winthrop had no books either. What had he? A wardrobe large enough to be tied up in a pocket-handkerchief; his father's smile; his mother's tremulous blessing; and the tears of his little brother and sister.
He set out with his wardrobe in his hand, and a dollar in his pocket, to walk to Asphodel. It was a walk of thirteen miles. The afternoon was chill, misty and lowering; November's sad- colour in the sky, and Winter's desolating heralds all over the ground. If the sun shone anywhere, there was no sign of it; and there was no sign of it either in the traveller's heart. If fortune had asked him to play "even or odd," he could hardly have answered her.
He was leaving home. They did not know it, but he did. It was the first step over home's threshold. This little walk was the beginning of a long race, of which as yet he knew only the starting-point; and for love of that starting-point and for straitness of heart at turning his back upon it, he could have sat down under the fence and cried. How long this absence from home might be, he did not know. But it was the snapping of the tie, — that he knew. He was setting his face to the world; and the world's face did not answer him very cheerfully. And that poor little pocket-handkerchief of things, which his mother's hands had tied up, he hardly dared glance at it; it said so pitifully how much they would, how little they had the power to do for him; she and his father; how little way that heart of love could reach, when once he had set out on the cold journey of life. He had set out now, and he felt alone, — alone; — his best company was the remembrance of that whispered blessing; and that, he knew, would abide with him. If the heart could have coined the treasure it sent back, his mother would have been poor no more.
He did not sit down, nor stop, nor shed a tear. It would have gone hard with him if he had been obliged to speak to anybody; but there was nobody to speak to. Few were abroad, at that late season and unlovely time. Comfort had probably retreated to the barns and farmhouses — to the homesteads, — for it was a desolate road that he travelled; the very wagons and horses that he met were going home, or would be. It was a long road, and mile after mile was plodded over, and evening began to say there was nothing so dark it might not be darker. No Asphodel yet.
It was by the lights that he saw it at length and guessed he was near the end of his journey. It took some plodding then to reach it. Then a few inquiries brought him where he might see Mr. Glanbally.
It was a corner house, flush upon the road, bare as a poverty of boards could make it, and brown with the weather. In the twilight he could see that. Winthrop thought nothing of it; he was used to it; his own house at home was brown and bare; but alas! this looked very little like his own house at home. There wasn't penthouse enough to keep the rain from the knocker. He knocked.
"Is Mr. Glanbally at home?"
"Yes — I 'spect he is — he come in from school half an hour ago. You go in there, and I guess you'll find him."
'There,' indicated a door at right angles with the front and about a yard behind it. The woman opened the door, and left Winthrop to shut it for himself.
In a bare room, at a bare table, by an ill-to-do dip candle, sat Mr. Glanbally and his book. The book on the table, and Mr. Glanbally's face on the book, as near as possible; and both as near as possible under the candle. Reason enough for that, when the very blaze of a candle looked so little like giving light. Was that why Mr. Glanbally's eyes almost touched the letters? Winthrop wondered he could see them at all; but probably he did, for he did not look up to see anything else. He had taken the opening and shutting of the door to be by some wonted hand. Winthrop stood still a minute. There was nothing remarkable about his future preceptor, except his position. He was a little, oldish man — that was all.
Winthrop moved a step or two, and then looking hastily up, the little man pushed the candle one way and the book another, and peered at his visitor.
"Ah! — Do you wish to see me, sir?"
"I wish to see Mr. Glanbally."
"That's my name, sir, — that's right."
Winthrop came a step nearer and laid a letter on the table. The old gentleman took it up, examined the outside, and then went on to scan what was within, holding the lines in the same fearful proximity to his face; so near indeed, that to Winthrop's astonishment when he got to the bottom of the page he made no scruple of turning over the leaf with his nose. The letter was folded, and then Mr. Glanbally rose to his feet.
"Well, sir, and so you have come to take a place in our Academy for a spell — I am glad to see you — sit down."
Which Winthrop did; and Mr. Glanbally sat looking at him, a little business-like, a little curious, a little benevolent.
"What have you studied?"
"Very little, sir, — of anything."
"Your father says, his second son — What was the name of the other?"
"William Landholm — yes, I recollect — I couldn't make out exactly whether it was Sandball or Lardner — Mr. Landholm — Where is your brother now, sir?"
"He is at Little River, sir, going on with his studies."
"He made very good progress — very good indeed — he's a young man of talent, your brother. He's a smart fellow. He's going on to fit himself to enter college, ain't he?"
"He'll do well — he can do what he's a mind. Well, Mr. Landholm — what are you going to turn your hand to?"
"I have hardly determined, sir, yet."
"You'll see your brother — something, I don't know what, one of these days, and you'll always be his brother, you know. Now what are you going to make of yourself? — merchant or farmer?"
"No?" — said Mr. Glanbally. He looked a little surprised, for Mr. Landholm's letter had spoken of "a few weeks."
"Well, what then?"
"I don't know what I shall like best, sir," said Winthrop.
"No, not yet; perhaps not yet. You'll be a happy man if ever you do, sir. I never knew what I liked best, till I couldn't have it. Well sir — what do you calculate to begin upon? — a little arithmetic, I suppose, won't be out of the way."
"I should like — Latin, if you please, sir."
"Latin! Then you're following your brother's steps? I am glad of it! It does me good to see boys studying Latin. That's right. Latin. And Algebra, perhaps."
"I'll put you into Algebra, as soon as you like."
"I shall want books, I suppose, sir. Can I get them here?"
"No; you can't get 'em, I'm afraid, this side of Deerford."
"That's six miles off, or so."
"I can't walk there to-night," said Winthrop; "but I'll go to- morrow."
"Walk there to-night! no, — but we'll see. I think you've got the stuff in you. To-night! — Maybe we can find some old books that will do to begin with; and you can walk over there some waste afternoon. How far have you come to-day?"
"About thirteen miles, sir, from home."
"And you want half a dozen more to-night?"
"No sir," said Winthrop, smiling, — "not if I might choose."
"You'll find a day. Your father spoke to me about your lodgings. You can lodge here, where I do; only twelve shillings a week. I'll speak to Mrs. Nelson about it; and you can just make yourself at home. I'm very glad to see you."
'Make himself at home'! Winthrop's heart gave an emphatic answer, as he drew up a chair the opposite side of the fireplace. Make himself at home. That might only be done by a swift transport of thirteen miles. He could not do it, if he would. Would he, if he could? Nay, he had set his face up the mountain of learning, and not all the luring voices that might sound behind and beside him could tempt him to turn back. He must have the Golden Water that was at the top.
It was necessary to stuff cotton into his ears. Fancy had obstinately a mind to bring his mother's gentle tread about him, and to ring the sweet tones of home, and to shew him pictures of the summer light on the hills, and of the little snow-spread valley of winter. Nay, by the side of that cold fireplace, with Mr. Glanbally at one corner and himself at the other, she set the bright hearth of home, girdled with warm hearts and hands; a sad break in them now for his being away. Mr. Glanbally had returned to his book and was turning over the leaves of it with his nose; and Winthrop was left alone to his contemplations. How alone the turning over of those leaves did make him feel. If Mr. Glanbally would have held up his head and used his fingers, like a Christian man, it would not have been so dreary; but that nose said emphatically, "You never saw me before."
It was a help to him when somebody came in to spread that bare table with supper. Fried pork, and cheese; and bread that was not his mother's sweet baking, and tea that was very "herbaceous." It was the fare he must expect up the mountain. He did not mind that. He would have lived on bread and water. The company were not fellow-travellers either, to judge by their looks. No matter for that; he did not want company. He would sing, "My mind to me a kingdom is;" but the kingdom had to be conquered first; enough to do. He was thinking all supper-time what waste ground it was. And after supper he was taken to his very spare room. It was doubtful how the epithet could possibly have been better deserved. That mattered not; the temple of Learning should cover his head by and by; it signified little what shelter it took in the mean while. But though he cared nothing for each of these things separately, they all together told him he was a traveller; and Winthrop's heart owned itself overcome, whatever his head said to it.
His was not a head to be ashamed of his heart; and it was with no self-reproach that he let tears come, and then wiped them away. He slept at last; and the sleep of a tired man should be sweet. But "as he slept he dreamed." He fell to his journeyings again. He thought himself back on the wearisome road he had come that day, and it seemed that night and darkness overtook him; such night that his way was lost. And he was sitting by the roadside, with his little bundle, stayed that he could not go on, when his mother suddenly came, with a light, and offered to lead him forward. But the way by which she would lead him was not one he had ever travelled, for the dream ended there. He awoke and knew it was a dream; yet somewhat in the sweet image, or in the thoughts and associations it brought back, touched him strangely; and he wept upon his pillow with the convulsive weeping of a little child. And prayed, that night, for the first time in his life, that in the journey before him his mother's God might be his God. He slept at last.
He awoke to new thoughts and to fresh exertion. Action, action, was the business of the day; to get up the hill of learning, the present aim of life; and to that he bent himself. Whether or not Winthrop fancied this opportunity might be a short one, it is certain he made the most of it. Mr. Glanbally had for once his heart's desire of a pupil.
It was a week or two before the walk was taken to Deerford and the books bought. At the end of those weeks the waste afternoon fell out, and Mr. Glanbally got Winthrop a ride in a wagon for one half the way. Deerford was quite a place; but to Winthrop its great attraction was — a Latin dictionary! He found the right bookstore, and his dollar was duly exchanged for a second-hand Virgil, a good deal worn, and a dictionary, which had likewise seen its best days; and that was not saying much; for it was of very bad paper and in most miserable little type. But it was a precious treasure to Winthrop. His heart yearned after some Greek books, but his hand was stayed; there was nothing more in it. He had only got the Virgil and dictionary by favour eking out his eight shillings, for the books were declared to be worth ten. So he trudged off home again with his purchases under his arm, well content. That Virgil and dictionary were a guide of the way for a good piece of the mountain. Now to get up it.
He had got home and was turning the books over with Mr. Glanbally, just in the edge of the evening, when the door opened quick and a little female figure came in. She came close up to the table with the air of one quite at home.
"Good evening, Mr. Glanbally — father told me to give you this letter."
Winthrop looked at her, and Mr. Glanbally looked at the letter. She was a slight little figure, a child, not more than thirteen or fourteen at the outside, perhaps not so much, but tall of her age. A face not like those of the Asphodel children. She did not once look towards him.
"Why I thought you were in Mannahatta, Miss Elizabeth."
"Just going there — we have just come from Little River on our way."
"This letter is for you, Winthrop," said Mr. Glanbally, handing it over. "And Mr. Haye was kind enough to bring it from Little River?"
"Yes sir — he said it was for somebody here."
"And now you are going to Mannahatta?"
"Yes sir — to-morrow. Good bye, Mr. Glanbally."
"Are you alone, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Where is Miss Cadwallader?"
"She's at home. I've just been down to see nurse."
"But it's too late for you," said Mr. Glanbally, getting up, — "it's too dark — it's too late for you to go home alone."
"O no sir, I'm not afraid."
"Stop, I'll go with you," said Mr. Glanbally, — "but I've been riding till I'm as stiff as the tongs — Winthrop, are you too tired to walk home with this young lady? — as her father has brought you a letter you might do so much."
"Certainly, sir, — I am not tired."
"I don't want anybody. I'm not in the least afraid, Mr. Glanbally," said the little lady rather impatiently, and still not glancing at her promised escort.
"But it's better, Miss Elizabeth" —
"No sir, it isn't."
"Your father will like it better, I know. This is Mr. Landholm — the brother of the Mr. Landholm you used to see last summer, — you remember."
Elizabeth looked at her guard, as if she had no mind to remember anybody of the name, and without more ado left the room. Winthrop understanding that he was to follow, did so, and with some difficulty brought himself up alongside of the little lady, for she had not tarried for him and was moving on at a smart pace. Her way led them presently out of the village and along a lonely country road. Winthrop thought he was not a needless convenience at that hour; but it was doubtful what his little charge thought. She took no manner of notice of him. Winthrop thought he would try to bring her out, for he was playing the part of a shadow too literally.
"You are a good walker, Miss Elizabeth."
A slight glance at him, and no answer.
"Do you often go out alone so late?"
"Whenever I want to."
"How do you like living in the city?"
"I? — I don't know. I have never lived there."
"Have you lived here?"
The tone was perfectly self-possessed and equally dry. He tried her again.
"My brother says you have a very pleasant place."
There was no answer at all this time. Winthrop gave it up as a bad business.
It had grown nearly dark. She hurried on, as much as was consistent with a pace perfectly steady. About half a mile from the village she came to a full stop, and looked towards him, almost for the first time.