John Gayther's Garden and the Stories Told Therein
John Gayther's Garden and the Stories Told Therein By Frank R. Stockton
Charles Scribner's Sons
New York 1902
Copyright, 1902, by Charles Scribner's Sons
Published November, 1902
THE DEVINNE PRESS
John Gayther's Garden 3
I What I Found in the Sea 9 Told by John Gayther
II The Bushwhacker Nurse 39 Told by the Daughter of the House
III The Lady in the Box 71 Told by John Gayther
IV The Cot and the Rill 109 Told by the Mistress of the House
V The Gilded Idol and the King Conch-shell 155 Told by the Master of the House
VI My Balloon Hunt 201 Told by the Frenchman
VII The Foreign Prince and the Hermit's Daughter 223 Told by Pomona and Jonas
VIII The Conscious Amanda 249 Told by the Daughter of the House
IX My Translatophone 279 Told by the Old Professor
X The Vice-consort 307 Told by the Next Neighbor
XI Blackgum ag'in' Thunder 341 Told by John Gayther
"Are you going to ask me to marry your husband if you should happen to die?" Frontispiece
The gardener began promptly 74
"I made him dig up whole beds of things" 148
The great beast was drawing up his hind legs and was climbing into the car 214
Miss Amanda listened with the most eager and overpowering attention 258
And dreamed waking dreams of blessedness 294
"Do you mean," I cried, "that you would make him a better wife than I do?" 336
"Abner, did you ever hear about the eggs of the great auk?" 356
JOHN GAYTHER'S GARDEN
JOHN GAYTHER'S GARDEN
The garden did not belong to John Gayther; he merely had charge of it. At certain busy seasons he had some men to help him in his work, but for the greater part of the year he preferred doing everything himself.
It was a very fine garden over which John Gayther had charge. It extended this way and that for long distances. It was difficult to see how far it did extend, there were so many old-fashioned box hedges; so many paths overshadowed by venerable grape-arbors; and so many far-stretching rows of peach, plum, and pear trees. Fruit, bushes, and vines there were of which the roll need not be called; and flowers grew everywhere. It was one of the fancies of the Mistress of the House—and she inherited it from her mother—to have flowers in great abundance, so that wherever she might walk through the garden she would always find them.
Often when she found them massed too thickly she would go in among them and thin them out with apparent recklessness, pulling them up by the roots and throwing them on the path, where John Gayther would come and find them and take them away. This heroic action on the part of the Mistress of the House pleased John very much. He respected the fearless spirit which did not hesitate to make sacrifices for the greater good, no matter how many beautiful blossoms she scattered on the garden path. John Gayther might have thinned out all this superfluous growth himself, but he knew the Mistress liked to do it, and he left for her gloved hands many tangled jungles of luxuriant bloom.
The garden was old, and rich, and aristocratic. It acted generously in the way of fruit, flowers, and vegetables, as if that were something it was expected to do, an action to which it was obliged by its nobility. It would be impossible for it to forget that it belonged to a fine old house and a fine old family.
John Gayther could not boast of lines of long descent, as could the garden and the family. He was comparatively a new-comer, and had not lived in that garden more than seven or eight years; but in that time he had so identified himself with the place, and all who dwelt upon it, that there were times when a stranger might have supposed him to be the common ancestor to the whole estate.
John understood well the mysterious problems of the tillable earth, and he knew, as well as anybody could know, what answers to expect when he consulted the oracles of nature. He was an elderly man, and the gentle exercises of the garden were suited to the disposition of his mind and body. In days gone by he had been a sailor, a soldier, a miner, a ranchman, and a good many other things besides. In those earlier days, according to his own account, John had had many surprising adventures and experiences; but in these later times his memory was by far the most active and vigorous of all his moving forces. This memory was like a hazel wand in the hands of a man who is searching for hidden springs of water. Whenever he wished it to turn and point in any particular place or direction, it so turned and pointed.
THIS STORY IS TOLD BY
AND IS CALLED
WHAT I FOUND IN THE SEA
WHAT I FOUND IN THE SEA
It was on a morning in June that John Gayther was hoeing peas, drawing the fine earth up about their tender little stems as a mother would tuck the clothes about her little sleeping baby, when, happening to glance across several beds, and rows of box, he saw approaching the Daughter of the House. Probably she was looking for him, but he did not think she had yet seen him. He put down his hoe, feeling, as he did, that this June morning was getting very warm; and he gathered up an armful of pea-sticks which were lying near by. With these he made his way toward a little house almost in the middle of the garden, which was his fortress, his palace, his studio, or his workshop, as the case might be.
It was a low building with a far-outreaching roof, and under the shade of this roof, outside of the little building, John liked to do his rainy-day and very-hot-weather work. From the cool interior came a smell of dried plants and herbs and bulbs and potted earth.
When John reached this garden-house, the young lady was already there. She was not tall; her face was very white, but not pale; and her light hair fluffed itself all about her head, under her wide hat. She wore gold spectacles which greatly enhanced the effect of her large blue eyes. John thought she was the prettiest flower which had ever showed itself in that garden.
"Good morning, John," she said. "I came here to ask you about plants suitable for goldfishes in a vase. My fishes do not seem to be satisfied with the knowledge that the plants through which they swim were put there to purify the water; they are all the time trying to eat them. Now it strikes me that there ought to be some plants which would be purifiers and yet good for the poor things to eat."
John put down his bundle of pea-sticks by the side of a small stool. "Won't you sit down, miss?" pointing to a garden-bench near by, "and I will see what I can do for you." Then he seated himself upon the stool, took out his knife, and picked up a pea-stick.
"The best thing for me to do," he said, "is to look over a book I have which will tell me just the kind of water plants which your goldfish ought to have. I will do that this evening, and then I will see to it that you shall have those plants, whatever they may be. I do not pretend to be much of a water gardener myself, but it's easy for me to find out what other people know." John now began to trim some of the lower twigs from a pea-stick.
"Talking about water gardens, miss," he said, "I wish you could have seen some of the beautiful ones that I have come across!—more beautiful and lovely than anything on the top of the earth; you may be sure of that. I was reminded of them the moment you spoke to me about your goldfish and their plants."
"Where were those gardens?" asked the young lady; "and what were they like?"
"They were all on the bottom of the sea, in the tropics," said John Gayther, "where the water is so clear that with a little help you can see everything just as if it were out in the open air—bushes and vines and hedges; all sorts of tender waving plants, all made of seaweed and coral, growing in the white sand; and instead of birds flying about among their branches there were little fishes of every color: canary-colored fishes, fishes like robin-redbreasts, and others which you might have thought were blue jays if they had been up in the air instead of down in the water."
"Where did you say all this is to be seen?" asked the Daughter of the House, who loved all lovely things.
"Oh, in a good many places in warm climates," said John. "But, now I come to think of it, there was one place where I saw more beautiful sights, more grand and wonderful sights, under the water than I believe anybody ever saw before! Would you like me to tell you about it?"
"Indeed—I—would!" said she, taking off her hat.
John now began to sharpen the end of his pea-stick. "It was a good many years ago," said he, "more than twenty—and I was then a seafaring man. I was on board a brig, cruising in the West Indies, and we were off Porto Rico, about twenty miles northward, I should say, when we ran into something in the night,—we never could find out what it was,—and we stove a big hole in that brig which soon began to let in a good deal more water than we could pump out. The captain he was a man that knew all about that part of the world, and he told us all that we must work as hard as we could at the pumps, and if we could keep her afloat until he could run her ashore on a little sandy island he knew of not far from St. Thomas, we might be saved. There was a fresh breeze from the west, and he thought he could make the island before we sank.
"I was mighty glad to hear him say this, for I had always been nervous when I was cruising off Porto Rico. Do you know, miss, that those waters are the very deepest in the whole world?"
"No," said she; "I never heard that."
"Well, they are," said John. "If you should take the very tallest mountain there is in any part of the earth and put it down north of Porto Rico, so that the bottom of it shall rest on the bottom of the sea, the top of that mountain would be sunk clean out of sight, so that ships could sail over it just as safely as they sail in any part of the ocean.
"Of course a man would drown just as easily in a couple of fathoms of water as in this deep place; but it is perfectly horrible to think of sinking down, down, down into the very deepest water-hole on the face of the whole earth."
"Didn't you have any boats?" asked the young lady.
"We hadn't any," said John. "We had sold all of them about two months before to a British merchantman who had lost her boats in a cyclone. One of the things our captain wanted to get to St. Thomas for was to buy some more boats. He heard he could get some cheap ones there.
"Well, we pumped and sailed as well as we could, but we hadn't got anywhere near that sandy island the captain was making for, when, one morning after breakfast, our brig, which was pretty low in the water by this time, gave a little hitch and a grind, and stuck fast on something; and if we hadn't been lively in taking in all sail there would have been trouble. But the weather was fine, and the sea was smooth, and when we had time to think about what had happened we were resting on the surface of the sea, just as quiet and tranquil as if we had been a toy ship in a shop-window.
"What we had stuck on was a puzzle indeed! As I said before, our captain knew all about that part of the sea, and, although he knew we were in shallow soundings, he was certain that there wasn't any shoal or rock thereabout that we could get stuck on.
"We sounded all around the brig, and found lots of water at the stern, but not so much forward. We were stuck fast on something, but nobody could imagine what it was. However, we were not sinking any deeper, and that was a comfort; and the captain he believed that if we had had boats we could row to St. Thomas; but we didn't have any boats, so we had to make the best of it. He put up a flag of distress, and waited till some craft should come along and take us off.
"The captain and the crew didn't seem to be much troubled about what had happened, for so long as the sea did not get up they could make themselves very comfortable as they were. But there were two men on board who didn't take things easy. They wanted to know what had happened, and they wanted to know what was likely to happen next. I was one of these men, and a stock-broker from New York was the other. He was an awful nervous, fidgety, meddling sort of a man, who was on this cruise for the benefit of his health, which must have been pretty well worn out with howling, and yelling, and trying to catch profits like a lively boy catches flies. He was always poking his nose into all sorts of things that didn't concern him, and spent about half of his time trying to talk the captain into selling his brig and putting the money into Pacific Lard—or it might have been Mexican Balloon stock, as well as I remember. This man was tingling all over with anxiety to find out what we had stuck on; but as he could not stick his nose into the water and find out, and as there was nobody to tell him, he had to keep on tingling.
"I was just as wild to know what it was the brig was resting on as the stock-broker was; but I had the advantage of him, for I believed that I could find out, and, at any rate, I determined to try. Did you ever hear of a water-glass, miss?"
"No, I never did," said the Daughter of the House, who was listening with great interest.
"Well, I will try to describe one to you," said John Gayther. "You make a light box about twenty inches high and a foot square, and with both ends open. Then you get a pane of glass and fasten it securely in one end of this box. Then you've got your water-glass—a tall box with a glass bottom.
"The way that you use it is this: You get in a boat, and put the box in the water, glass bottom down. Then you lean over and put your head into the open end, and if you will lay something over the back of your head as a man does when he is taking photographs, so as to keep out the light from above, it will be all the better. Then, miss, you'd be perfectly amazed at what you could see through that glass at the bottom of the box! Even in northern regions, where the water is heavy and murky, you can see a good way down; but all about the tropics, where the water is often so thin and clear that you can see the bottom in some places with nothing but your naked eyes, it is perfectly amazing what you can see with a water-glass! It doesn't seem a bit as if you were looking down into the sea; it is just like gazing about in the upper air. If it isn't too deep, things on the bottom—fishes swimming about, everything—is just as plain and distinct as if there wasn't any water under you and you were just looking down from the top of a house.
"Well, I made up my mind that the only way for me to find out what it was that was under the brig was to make a water-glass and look down into the sea; and so I made one, taking care not to let the stock-broker know anything about it, for I didn't want any of his meddling in my business. I had to tell the captain, but he said he would keep his mouth shut, for he didn't like the stock-broker any more than I did.
"Well, miss, I made that water-glass. And when the stock-broker was taking a nap, for he was clean tired out poking about and asking questions and trying to find out what he might get out of the business if he helped to save the brig, the captain and I, with a few men, quietly let down into the water the aft hatch, one of those big doors they cover the hatchways with, and when that was resting on the water it made a very good raft for one man. And I got down on it, with my water-glass and an oar.
"The first thing I did, of course, was to paddle around the brig to the place where she had been stove in. She wasn't leaking any more, because the water inside of her was just as high as the water outside; so, if we could do anything, this was the time to do it. I looked down into the water on our starboard bow, and I soon found the place where the brig had been stove in, probably by some water-logged piece of wreckage. I located the hole exactly, and I reported to the captain, who was leaning over the side. Then I paddled around the brig to see if I could find out what we were resting on.
"When I had sunk my water-glass well into the water, and had got my head into the top of it, I looked down on a scene which seemed like fairyland. The corals and water plants of different colors, and the white glistening sand, and the fishes, big and little, red, yellow, pink, and blue, swimming about among the branches just as if they had wings instead of fins, that I told you of just now, were all there; and the light down under the water seemed so clear and bright that I could see everything under me that was as big as a pea."
"That must have been an entrancing vision!" said the Daughter of the House.
"Indeed it was," replied John Gayther. "But, would you believe me, miss? I didn't look at it for more than half a minute; for when I turned my water-glass so that I could look under the brig, I could not give a thought to anything else in the world except the astonishing objects our brig was resting on.
"At first I could not believe my eyes. I paddled around and around, and I put down my water-glass, and I stared and I stared, until I felt as if my eyes were coming out of my head! At last I had to believe what I saw. There was no use trying to think that my eyes had made a mistake. It was all just as plain to me as you are now.
"Down in the water, resting on the bottom of this shallow part of the sea, were two great ships—ships of the olden time, with enormously high poops, which were the stern part of old-fashioned vessels, built 'way up high like a four-story house. These two antiquated vessels were lying side by side and close together, with their tall poops reaching far up toward the surface of the sea; and right on top of them, resting partly on one ship and partly on the other, was our brig, just as firmly fixed as if she had been on the stocks in a shipyard!
"The whole thing was so wonderful that it nearly took away my breath. I got around to the stern of the brig, and then I stared down at the two vessels under her until I forgot there was anything else in this whole world than those two great old-fashioned ships and myself. The more I looked the more certain I became that no such vessels had floated on the top of the sea for at least two hundred years. From what I had read about old-time ships, and from the pictures I had seen of them, I made up my mind that one of those vessels was an old Spanish galleon; and the other one looked to me very much as if it were an English-built ship."
"And how did they ever happen to be wrecked there, side by side?" almost gasped the young lady.
"Oh, they had been fighting," said John. "There could be no mistake about that. They had been fighting each other to the death, and they had gone down together, side by side. And there was our brig, two hundred years afterwards, resting quietly on top of both of them.
"I was still wrapped up, body and soul, in this wonderful discovery, when I heard a hail from the stern of the brig, and there was that stock-broker, shouting to me to know what I was looking at. Of course that put an end to my observations, and I paddled to the side and got on board.
"'Lend me that box,' said the stock-broker, 'and let me get down on your raft. What is it you've been looking at, and what did you see in that box?'
"But he had got hold of the wrong man. 'No, sir,' said I. 'Find a box for yourself, if you want one.' And I held mine so that he could not see that the bottom of it was glass. Then the captain came along and told him not to try to get down on that hatch, for if he did he would topple into the water and get himself drowned, which would have been certain to happen, for he could not swim. Then the hatch was hauled on deck, and I went below with the captain to his cabin to tell him what I had seen. The stock-broker tried awfully hard to come with us, but we wouldn't let him.
"When the captain had heard all I had to tell him, he wasn't struck sentimentally the least bit, as I had been. It did not make any more difference to him whether those two ships had been down there two hundred years or two years; but there was another part to the affair that was very interesting to him.
"'Gayther,' said he, 'it's ten to one that them ships has got treasure aboard, and what we've got to do is to form a company and go to work and get it.'
"'And how would you do that?' said I.
"The captain was from Provincetown, Cape Cod, and it didn't take him two seconds to work out his whole plan.
"'It's this way,' said he. 'The first thing to do is to form a company. I am president and you can be the other officers. When that is all fixed we can go to work, and we'll mend that hole in our bow. Now if you know just where it is, we'll work day and night in that hold, water or no water, and we'll stop it up. Then we'll pump the brig out, and I believe she'll float. Then we'll mark this place with a buoy, and we'll sail away as fast as we can, with our company all formed and everything fixed and settled. Then we'll come back with the vessels and machines, and we'll get out that treasure. We'll divide it into three parts. One part will be mine; one part will be yours; and the other part will go to the crew.'
"'And how about the stock-broker?' said I. 'Going to let him in the company?'
"'No, sir,' said the captain, bringing his fist down on the table. 'Whatever else happens, he is to be kept out.'
"This was a very fine plan, but it didn't altogether suit me. I didn't want to sail away from that spot and perhaps never see those two ships again. There was no knowing what more I might find out with my water-glass if that stock-broker could be kept from bothering me.
"I told the captain this, and he looked hard at me and he said: 'It will take a couple of days to mend that leak and to pump out the brig. If this fine weather keeps on I think we can do it in that time. And if while we are working at it you choose to try to find out more about them two ships, you can do it.'
"'And how can I do it?' said I.
"'If you can go down in a diver's suit you can do it,' said he. 'I don't know whether you know anything about that business, but if you want to try, I have got a whole kit on board, air-pump, armor, and everything. It belongs to a diver that was out with me about a year ago in the Gulf of Mexico. He had to go North to attend to some business, and he told me he would let me know when he would come back and get his diving-kit. But he hasn't come back yet, and the whole business is stowed away here on board. Do you know anything about going down in a diving-suit?'
"Now I had never done anything in the way of diving, but I had heard a good deal about it, and I had seen divers at work, and my whole soul was so jumping and shouting inside of me at the very idea of going down and searching into the secrets of those two old ships that I told the captain I was ready to undertake the diving business just the minute he could get things in shape.
"Well, miss, early the next morning—and I can tell you I didn't sleep much that night—everything was ready for me to go down, and two of the crew who had done that sort of thing before were detailed to attend to the air-pumps and all the other business. The stock-broker he was like a bee on a window-pane; he was buzzing, and kicking, and bumping his head trying to find out what we expected to do. But the captain wouldn't tell him anything; you may be sure I wouldn't; and nobody else knew.
"As soon as we could get things straightened out I was lowered over the side of the brig, and sunk out of sight into the water. The captain and all the crew, except the men who were attending to me, then went to work to mend the hole in the side of the brig. And the last thing I heard as I went under the water was the stock-broker howling and yelling and rampaging around the deck.
"As I told you before, miss, I had never been down in a diving-suit; but I paid the greatest attention to everything I knew, and I got down to the bottom all right, having a hard time to keep from being scratched to pieces by the barnacles on the sterns of the big ships.
"I clumped about for a while on the sandy bottom so as to get familiar with the air-tubes, signal-cords, and all that, and then I signalled to be hauled up a bit; and, after a good deal of trouble, I got on board the vessel which I was sure was a Spanish galleon. As I stood on her upper deck, looking around, I felt as if I was in a world of wonders. There was water everywhere, of course—in and around and about everything. But I could see so plainly that I forgot that I was not moving about in the open air.
"I can't tell you, miss, everything I saw on that great ship, for it would take too long; but as soon as I could, I set to work to see if I could find the treasure that I hoped was on board of her. Here and there about the decks I saw swords and pistols and old cannon, but not a sign of any of the brave fellows that had fought the ship, for the fish had eaten them up long ago, bones and all.
"While hunting about, and being careful to keep my air-tube from fouling, I looked into a cabin with the door open; and you will believe me, miss, when I tell you that a cold chill ran down my back when I saw something moving inside, just as if it was a man getting up to see what I wanted. It turned out to be a big fish, about half my size, and he did not ask any questions, but just swam through the open door, almost brushing me, and went his way."
"I wonder you weren't frightened to death!" said the Daughter of the House.
"It would be hard to kill me with fright," said John Gayther, "and I'll prove that to you, miss. As I moved on, still looking for the treasure, I came to the door of another cabin, and this was shut and bolted on the outside. I had a hatchet with me, and with this I knocked back the bolts and forced open the door; and there I saw something to make anybody jump. Sitting on a locker, right in front of the door, was the skeleton of a man. The room had been shut up so tight that no fish big enough to eat bones could get in; but the little things that live in the water and can get through any crack had eaten all of that man except his bones, his gold buttons, that were lying about on the floor, the golden embroidery of his uniform, that was still hanging about on his skeleton, and the iron fetters on his hands and feet. He was most likely a prisoner of rank who was being taken back to Spain, and he had been shut up there through all the fight.
"The first thought that came into my mind when I looked at him was that he might be Columbus, and that the Spaniards had made up the story about their really getting him back to Spain at the time when he was to be brought home in irons. But thinking more about it, I knew that this could not be true, and so I shut the door so as to keep the poor fellow from any intrusions so long as he might happen to stay there.
"Then I went to work in real earnest to find the treasure, and I tell you, miss, I did find it."
"What!" exclaimed the Daughter of the House. "You really found the treasure on that Spanish galleon?"
"Indeed I did," replied John Gayther. "It was in boxes stowed away in a big room in the stern. I smashed the door, and there were the boxes. I went to work at one of them with my hatchet; and I had just forced up one corner of the lid, and had seen that it was filled with big gold pieces, when I felt a pull on my signal-rope, and knew that they wanted me to come up. So I put my fingers into the crack and got out a few of the coins. I could not take a whole box; it would have been too heavy. And then I went out of that room, and signalled that I was ready to go up. It was time, I can tell you, miss, for I was getting mighty nervous and excited, and I needed rest and something to eat.
"When I was safe on the deck of the brig, I found everybody gathered there, waiting to hear what I had to tell. They had stopped work for dinner, and that is the reason I had been signalled.
"But I didn't say anything to anybody. As soon as my helmet was unscrewed and I was out of my diving-suit I went below with the captain; and although the stock-broker followed us close and nearly pushed himself into the cabin, we shut the door on him and kept him out. Then I told the captain everything, and I showed him the three gold coins, which I had kept all the time tightly clinched in my right hand. I can tell you the eyes of both of us were wide open when we looked at those coins. Two of them were dated sixteen hundred and something, and one of them fifteen hundred. They were big fellows, worth about ten dollars apiece. The captain took them and locked them up.
"'Now,' said he, 'do you think you will be able to go down again to-day? If you want to see what's in the other ship you've got to be lively about it, for I think we can get the brig pumped out in twenty-four hours; and if a stiff breeze should spring up to-morrow afternoon—and I am inclined to think it will—we don't want to be caught here. If the other ship's a treasure-ship,' he went on to say, 'you know it would be a good deal better for our company; and so it might be well to find out.'
"I didn't need any spurring to make me go down again, for I was all on fire to know what was on board the other ship, which I was sure was English, having had a good opportunity of looking at it while I was down there.
"So as soon as I had taken a rest and had had my dinner, I went on deck to get ready for another diving expedition. There was the stock-broker, watching me like a snake watching a bird. He didn't stamp around and ask any more questions: he just kept his venomous eye on me as if he would like to kill me because I knew more than he did. But I didn't concern myself about him, and down I went, and this time I got myself aboard the English vessel just as soon as I could.
"It wasn't as interesting as the old Spanish vessel, but still I saw enough to fill up a book if I had time to tell it. There were more signs of fighting than there had been on the other ship. Muskets and swords were scattered about everywhere, and, although she was plainly a merchant-vessel, she had a lot of the small cannon used in those days.
"I looked about a great deal, and it struck me that she had been a merchantman trading with the West Indies, but glad enough to fight a Spanish treasure-ship if she happened to come across one. It was more than likely that her crew had been a regular set of half-buccaneers, willing to trade if there was trade, and fight if there was any fighting on hand. Anyway, the two vessels had had a tough time of it, and each of them had met her match. I could see the grappling-irons which had fastened them together. They had blown so many holes in each other's sides that they had gone to the bottom as peaceably as a pair of twins holding each other by the hands.
"I worked hard on that English ship, and I went everywhere where I dared to go, but I couldn't find any signs that she had carried treasure. I hadn't the least doubt that she was on an outward voyage, and that the Spaniard was homeward bound.
"At last I got down into the hold, and there I found a great number of big hogsheads, that were packed in so well under the deck that they had never moved in all these years. Of course I wanted to know what was in them, for, although it would not be gold or silver, it might be something almost as precious if it happened to be spirits of the olden time.
"After banging and working for some time I got out the bung of one of these hogsheads, and immediately air began to bubble up, and I could hear the water running in. It was plain the hogshead was empty, and I clapped the bung in again as quick as I could. I wasn't accustomed to sounding barrels or hogsheads under water, but as I knew this was an empty one I sounded it with my hatchet; and then I went around and got the same kind of a sound from each of the others that I hammered on. They were all empty, every blessed one of them.
"Now I was certain that this vessel had been outward bound; she had been taking out empty hogsheads, and had expected to carry them back full of West Indian rum, which was a mighty profitable article of commerce in those days. But she had fallen into temptation, and had gone to the bottom; and here were her hogsheads just as tight and just as empty as on the day she set sail from England.
"As I stood looking at the great wall of empty hogsheads in front of me, wondering if it would not be better to give up searching any more on this vessel, which evidently had not been laden with anything valuable, and go again on board the Spanish ship and make some sort of a plan for fastening lines to those treasure-boxes so that they might be hauled up on board the brig, I began to feel a sort of trouble with my breath, as if I might suffocate if I did not get out soon. I knew, of course, that something was the matter with my air-supply, and I signalled for them to pump lively. But it was of no use; my supply of fresh air seemed to be cut off. I began to gasp. I was terribly frightened, you may be sure; for, with air gone and no answer to my signals, I must perish. I jerked savagely at my signal-cord to let them know that I wanted to be pulled up,—it was possible that I might reach the surface before being suffocated,—but the cord offered no resistance; I pulled it toward me as I jerked. It had been cut or broken.
"Then I took hold of my air-tube and pulled it. It, too, was unattached at the other end; it had no connection with the air-pump.
"Breathing with great difficulty, and with my legs trembling under me, a thought flashed through my mind. As rapidly as possible I drew in the india-rubber air-tube. Presently I had the loose end of it in my hand. Then I caught hold of the bung of the hogshead which I had opened and which was just in front of me, and the instant I pulled it out I thrust in the end of the air-tube. To my great delight, it fitted tightly in the bung-hole. And now in an instant I felt as if I was sitting upon the pinnacles of Paradise. Air, fresh air, came to me through the tube! Not in abundance, not freely, for there was some water in the tube and there was a good deal of gurgling. But it was air, fresh air; and every time an exhaled breath escaped through the valve in my helmet, a little air from the hogshead came in to take its place.
"I stood for a while, weak with happiness. I did not know what had happened; I did not care. I could breathe; that was everything in the world to me.
"By gradually raising the tube a few feet at a time I managed to empty the water it contained into the hogshead, and then I breathed more easily. As I did not wish to wait until the air in the hogshead had been exhausted, I went to work on the bung in the next one, and soon transferred the end of my tube to that, which would probably last me a good while, for it was almost entirely free from water.
"Now I began to cogitate and wonder. I pulled in the end of the signal-cord, and I found it had not been rubbed and torn by barnacles; the end of it had been clean cut with a knife. I remembered that this was the case with the air-tube; as I placed it into the bung-hole of the first hogshead I had noticed how smoothly it had been severed.
"Now I felt a tug at the rope by which I was raised and lowered. I didn't like this. If I should be pulled up I might be jerked away from my air-supply and suffocate before I got to the surface. So I took a turn of the rope around a stick of timber near by, and they might pull as much as they chose without disturbing me. There I stood, and thought, and wondered. But, above everything, I could not help feeling all the time how good that air was! It seemed to go through every part of me. It was better than wine; it was better than anything I had ever breathed or tasted. A little while ago I was on the point of perishing. Now before me there were tiers of hogsheads full of air! If it had not been that I would be obliged to eat, I might have stayed down there as long as I pleased.
"I had stayed a long time, and I was at work on the air in a third hogshead—not having half used up the contents of the other two—before I really made up my mind as to what had happened. I was sure that there had been foul play, and I felt quite as sure that the stock-broker was at the bottom of it. Except that man, there was no one on board the brig who would wish to do me a harm. The stock-broker he hated me; I had seen that in his face as plainly as if it had been painted on a sign-board. I knew something which he did not know; I was trying to get something which was to be kept a secret from him. If I could be put out of the way he probably thought he might have some sort of a chance. I could not fathom the man's mind, but that's the way it looked to me.
"I had been down there a long time, and it must have been getting toward the end of the afternoon; so I prepared to leave my watery retirement. I had made a plan, and it worked very well. I placed the end of my air-tube far into the bung-hole of the hogshead, so that I might not accidentally pull it out; I loosened myself from the bit of timber; and then I made my way to the bow of the vessel on which I was. Looking upward, I found that our brig, which was resting on the tall poops of the two sunken vessels, was so suspended above me that her fore chains, which ran under her bowsprit, were almost over my head.
"Now I stood and took some long, deep breaths; then, having made everything ready, I jerked myself out of that diving-suit in a very few seconds, and, standing free, I gave a great leap upward, and went straight to the surface. I am a good swimmer, and with a few strokes I caught the chains. Stealthily I clambered up, making not the least noise, and peeped over the rail. There was nobody forward. The whole ship's company seemed to be crowded aft, where there was a great stir and confusion. I slipped quietly over the rail and, without being seen by anybody, made my way into the forecastle. I hurried to my sea-chest. I took off my wet things and dressed myself in an almost new suit of shore clothes which I had never worn on the brig. I did not lose any more time than I could help, but I took unusual care in dressing myself. I put on a new pair of yellow shoes, and turned up the bottom of my trousers so as to show my red socks. I had a big felt hat which I had bought in Mexico, with a little feather in it; and this I put on, pulling it rakishly over on one side. I put around my neck a long blue silk cravat with white spots, which I tied in the biggest bow I could make. Then, feeling that I ought to have something in my hands, I picked up a capstan-bar, and laying it across my arm after the manner of a cutlass, I went boldly on deck.
"Making as much noise as possible, and advancing with what you might call a majestic tread, I strode to the stern of that brig. At first my approach was not noticed, for there was still a great hubbub, and everybody seemed to be shouting or swearing or shaking his fist. The stock-broker stood on one side, and his tongue was going as fast as anybody's; but I noticed that his hands were tied behind him, and there was a rope around his neck.
"The captain was the first to see me. He gave me just one look; he turned pale; and then, with a sort of a scared grunt, down he went on his knees.
"When the rest of the men laid eyes on me, you never saw such a scared lot in your life. Their mouths and their eyes went open, and their swarthy faces were as white as you could wash a dirty sail. Some of them shook so that their caps fell off, and one or two began to pray.
"As to the stock-broker, he at first seemed greatly startled; but he recovered himself in a moment. There was nothing superstitious about him, and he knew well enough that I was no spirit risen from the deep, but a living man.
"'Ha, ha!' he shouted. 'Here you are, after trying to rob and cheat us, and making believe to be dead, you water thief!—hiding safe and sound on deck while such a row is being raised here about your death, and all sorts of threats being made against me on account of it. Look at him, my brave men!' said he, turning to the crew; 'look at the fellow who has been trying to rob us! And he is the man you ought to hang to the yard-arm!'
"Then he turned again to me. 'You are a fool of a thief, anyway. After you had gone down under this vessel I found your box with the glass in the bottom of it. I got down close to the water and I watched you. I saw you going about in that big sunken ship looking after treasure, and, no doubt, finding it; filling your pockets with gold and telling nobody. I didn't want to kill you when I cut your air-tube, as I have told these good sailors; but I wanted to make you stop stealing and come up, and I did it. The treasure under this vessel belongs to us all, and you have no right to make a secret business out of it, and keep it for yourself and the captain. Now, my good men,' he shouted to the crew, 'there is the fellow you ought to hang! Look at him, dressed up in fine clothes, while you thought he was soaked and dead at the bottom of the sea! Hang him up, I say! Then we'll get the treasure, and we'll divide it among us fair and even.'
"This was a dangerous moment for me. The men had recovered from their fright. They saw I was no spirit, and they believed that I had been trying to deceive and defraud them. A good many of them drew their knives and came toward me, the stock-broker urging them on. The captain tried to restrain the men who were near him, but they pushed him aside.
"I now stepped forward; I pulled my great hat still further over my face; I glared at the men before me; and I brought my capstan-bar with a tremendous thump upon the deck.
"'Sirrah, varlets!' I roared. 'What mean ye? Stop where ye are, and if one man of ye comes nearer I'll cleave him to the chine! Caitiffs! varlets! hounds! dare ye threaten me? Ods-bodikins, I like it well! By our lady, ye are a merry set of mariners who draw your blades upon a man who is come upon this deck to tell ye how to fill your pockets with old gold! Back there, every man of ye, and put up your knives, ere I split your heads and toss ye into the sea!'
"As I spoke these words my voice and tones were so loud and terrible that I almost frightened myself. The crew fell back as I advanced a step or two, and every man of them sheathed his knife. Even the stock-broker seemed to be overawed by my tremendous voice and my fierce appearance."
"John Gayther," said the Daughter of the House, who had been listening very eagerly, "what made you talk like that, and strut about, and pound the deck? That's not like you. I would not have supposed that you ever could have acted so."
"You will understand it all, miss," said the gardener, "when you remember that for nearly two hours I had been breathing the atmosphere of the sixteenth century. That atmosphere was the air which for two hundred years had been fastened up in those empty hogsheads. I had drawn it into my lungs; it had gone into my blood, my nerves, my brain. I was as a man who swash-buckles—a reckless mariner of the olden time. I longed to take my cutlass in my teeth and board a Spaniard. As I looked upon the villainous stock-broker before me, I felt as if I could take him by the throat, plunge down with him to the deck of the Spanish galleon, and shut him up fast and tight in the room with that manacled Spaniard who could not have been Columbus. I thrilled with a fierce longing for combat. It was the air of the sixteenth century which had permeated my every pore.
"Now I fixed upon the stock-broker a terrible glare and stepped toward him. 'Money miscreant!' I yelled, 'you it was who tried first to murder me, and then to turn the hearts of all these good men against me!' I raised my capstan-bar in the air. 'Aroint thee, fiend!' I yelled. 'Get thee below; and if anon I see thee I will break thy dastardly skull!'
"At this the stock-broker, frightened nearly out of his wits, and with his hands still tied and the rope around his neck, made a dive for the companionway, and disappeared below. I stood up very bold; I threw out my chest, and gazed around in triumph. The air of the sixteenth century had saved me! Those men would have no more dared to attack me, as I stood roaring out my defiance and my threat, than they would have ventured to give battle to the boldest and the blackest of all bloody buccaneers.
"I now called the men around me, and I told them all my story. You may imagine that they opened their eyes and mouths so wide that I thought some of them would never get them shut again. But the captain—he was from Provincetown, Cape Cod, and he went straight to business.
"'We've mended the leak,' said he, 'and we'll pump all night, and it may be to-morrow we shall float free. Then we'll form a company for the recovery of the treasure on that Spanish galleon. I will take one third of it; Mr. Gayther shall have one third; and one third shall be divided among the crew. Then we'll anchor a buoy near this spot and sail away, to come back again as soon as may be.'
"Everybody agreed to this, and we all went to supper. Early the next morning a breeze blew very fresh from the southwest; then it increased to a gale; and before ten o'clock the waves began to run so high that one of them lifted the brig clean off the sunken ships on which she had been resting, and we were afloat. In ten seconds more we were lying broadside to the wind. Then indeed we had to skip around lively, get up some sails, and put her properly on the wind. Before we had time to draw an easy breath we were scudding along, far from the spot which we had intended to mark with an anchored buoy. There was a good deal of water in the hold, but the brig went merrily on as if glad to get away from those two old sea spectres of the past with which she had been keeping such close company.
"Of course it was impossible to beat up against such a wind, and so we kept on toward St. Thomas. The captain had carefully taken the longitude and latitude of the spot where we had been stranded on the ancient ships, and he was sure he could find the place again by sounding in fair weather.
"Before we reached port, he came on deck with the three gold pieces which I had brought up from the Spanish galleon. One of these he put into his own pocket; one he gave to me; and the other he gave to the crew to be changed into small coin and divided. The stock-broker got nothing, and I saw him no more on that voyage. I had sworn to break his head if my eyes ever fell upon him, and he was wise enough to keep out of my sight."
"And that is all the money you ever got from the galleon?" asked the Daughter of the House.
"Yes," said John Gayther, "that was all. I have the ancient gold piece in my room now, and some day I will show it to you.
"As soon as we could do it, we all went with the captain to New York, and there we organized our company, and sold a lot of stock, and chartered a good steamer with derricks and everything necessary for raising sunken treasure. But, although the weather was fair, and we sounded and sounded day after day at the very point of longitude and latitude where we had left the two great ships of the olden time, we never could find them.
"One day, just before we had concluded to give up the search, we saw another vessel not far away, also sounding. This we afterwards heard belonged to the stock-broker. He had chartered a steamer, and he had on board of her a president, a secretary, a treasurer, a board of trustees, and four derricks. We steamed away and soon left him, and I am very sure that if his company had ever declared any dividends I should have heard of it."
"And that is the end of your story, John Gayther?" said the Daughter of the House, as she rose from her seat.
"Yes, miss; that is the end of it," replied the gardener.
The young lady said no more, but walked away in quiet reflection, while John Gayther picked up the only pea-stick on which he had been at work that morning.
THIS STORY IS TOLD BY
THE DAUGHTER OF THE HOUSE
AND IS CALLED
THE BUSHWHACKER NURSE
THE BUSHWHACKER NURSE
The Daughter of the House, her fair cheeks a little flushed, walked rapidly down the broad centre path of the garden, looking for John Gayther, the gardener. She soon saw him at work in a bed of tomato-plants.
"John," said she, "I have just finished composing a story, and I came out to tell it to you before I write it. I want to do this because you compose stories yourself which in some ways are a good deal like this of mine. But I can't tell it to you out here in the sun. Isn't there something you can do in your little house? Haven't you some pea-sticks to sharpen?"
"Oh, yes, miss," said John Gayther, with great alacrity; "and if you will go and make yourself comfortable under the shed I will be there in a few minutes."
It was rather difficult for John Gayther to find any pea-sticks which had not already been stuck into the ground or which wanted sharpening, but he succeeded in getting a small armful of them, and with these he came to where the young lady was seated. He drew up a stool and took out a big knife.
"Now," said she, gazing through her gold-rimmed spectacles far out into the sunlit garden, "this is the story of a girl."
John Gayther nodded approvingly. The story of a girl was exactly what he would like to hear, provided it was told by the young lady who sat in front of him.
"She was of an independent turn of mind," said the Daughter of the House, "and there were a great many things in this world which bored her, not because they were uninteresting in themselves, but because she could not enjoy them in the way which suited her. She had thought of hundreds of things she would like to do if she only could do them in her own way and without control by other people. She was very anxious to perform deeds, noble deeds if possible, but she could not endure the everlasting control which seems to be thought necessary in this world—at least, for girls. The consequence of this was that she spent a great deal of her time in doing things which made no imprint whatever upon the progress of the world or upon the elevation of her own character.
"Now it happened that at the time of my story there was a war in the land, and a great many people with whom my heroine was acquainted went forth to do battle for their country and their principles, or to act patriotically in some other way than fighting. I forgot to say that my heroine is named Almia—"
"De Ponsett, I suppose," interrupted John Gayther. "Almia de Ponsett is the name of a beautiful new white tea-rose."
"Not at all," said the young lady, drawing her eyebrows slightly together; "there is no 'de Ponsett' about it, and her name has nothing to do with tea-roses. It is simply Almia. She grew more and more dissatisfied every day the war went on. Everybody who was worth anything was doing something, and here she was doing nothing. What was there she could do? This became the great question of her life. If I were about to write out this story I would say something here about the workings of her mind; but that is not necessary now. But her mind worked a great deal, and the end of it was that she determined to be a nurse. Nursing, indeed, is the only thing a young woman can do in a war.
"But when she began to make inquiries about army nurses—what they ought to do, how they ought to do it, and all that—she ran up against that terrible bugbear of control. Everywhere was control, control, control; and she really began to despair. There were examinations, and training, and applications to the surgeon-general, and to the assistant surgeon, and to special heads of departments and districts and States and counties, for all I know. There was positively no end to the things she would have to do to get a regular appointment to go forth and do her duty to her country. So she threw up the whole business of regular army nursing, and made up her mind to go out into the field of duty to which she had appointed herself, and do the things she ought to do in the way she thought they ought to be done. She likened herself to the knights of old who used to go forth to fight for their ladies and for the upholding of chivalry. She wanted to be a sort of a free-lance, but she did not want to hire herself to anybody. She did not fancy being anything like a guerilla, and then it suddenly struck her that if she did just as she wanted to do she would resemble a bushwhacker more than anything else. A bushwhacker is an honest man. When there is no war he whacks bushes, that is, he cuts them down; and when there is a war—"
"He whacks the enemy," suggested John Gayther.
The Daughter of the House smiled a little. "Yes," she said; "he tries to do that. But he is entirely independent; he is under nobody; and that suited Almia. A bushwhacker nurse was exactly what she wanted to be, and as soon as this was settled she made all her preparations to go to the war."
"Of course," said John Gayther, "the young lady's parents—or perhaps she did not have any parents?"
The Daughter of the House frowned. "Now, John," said she, "I don't want anything said about parents. There were no parents in this case, at least none to be considered. I don't say whether they were dead or not, but the story has nothing to do with them. Parents would be very embarrassing, and I don't want to stop to bother with them."
John Gayther nodded his head as if he thought she was quite right, and she went on:
"The first thing Almia did was to fit herself out after the fashion she thought best adapted to a bushwhacker nurse. She wore heavy boots, and a bicycle-skirt which just came to the top of the boots; and in this skirt she put ever so many pockets. She wore a little cap with a strap to go under the chin; and from her belt on the left side she hung a very little cask, which she happened to have, something like those carried by the St. Bernard dogs in Switzerland when they go to look for lost travellers; and this she filled with brandy. In her pockets she put every kind of thing that wounded men might want: adhesive plaster, raw cotton, bandages, some pieces of heavy pasteboard to make splints, needles and fine silk for sewing up cuts, and a good many other things suitable for wounded people. And in the right-hand pocket of her skirt she carried a pistol with five barrels."
"My conscience!" exclaimed John Gayther, "that was dangerous. And then, you know, nurses hardly ever carry pistols."
"But this was necessary," said she, "as you will see as the story goes on. Then, when she put on a long waterproof cloak which covered everything, she was ready to go to the war."
John Gayther looked at the Daughter of the House steadfastly and wondered if the Almia of the story had cut off her beautiful hair. He was sure she had had an abundance of light silvery-golden hair which fluffed itself all about her head under her wide hat, and it would be a sort of shock to think of its being cut off. But he asked no questions; he did not want to interrupt too much.
"Almia knew by the papers," continued the Daughter of the House, "that a great battle was expected to take place not far from a town at some distance from her home; and she went to this town by rail, carrying only a small hand-bag in addition to the things she wore under her waterproof. She took lodgings at a hotel, and, after an early breakfast the next morning, she hired a cab to take her out to the battle-field. The cabman drove her several miles into the country, but when he heard the booming of the preliminary cannon with which the battle was then opening, he refused to go any farther, and she was obliged to get out at the corner of a lane and the highroad. She paid the man his fare and gave him five dollars extra, and then she engaged him to call at that place for her at eight o'clock that evening. She was sure the battle would be over by that time, as it would be beginning to get dark. The cabman was sorry to leave her there to walk the rest of the way, but his horse was afraid of cannon, and he did not dare to go any farther.
"Almia took off her waterproof and left it in the cab, and the cabman was a good deal astonished when he saw her without it. He said he supposed she was a reporter and that the little cask was full of ink; he had driven lady reporters about before this. But Almia told him she was a nurse, and that he must not fail to call for her at the time appointed. Then he drove away; and she walked rapidly along the lane, which seemed to lead toward the battle-field. The lane soon began to curve, and she left it and walked across several fields. Soon she came to some outposts, where the sentries wanted to know where she was going. Of course the sentries behind an army are not as strict as those in front of it, and so when she informed them she was a nurse they told her how to get to the field-hospital, which was a mile or more away.
"But Almia did not intend to go to any hospital. She knew if she did she would immediately be put under orders; and now her blood was up, and she could stand no orders. She thought she perceived a faint smell of powder in the air. This made her feel wonderfully independent, and she strode onward with a light and fearless step. But when she came to a bosky copse which concealed her from the sentries, she turned away from the direction of the hospital, and pressed onward toward the point from which came the heaviest sound of cannon.
"Now you must understand, John Gayther," remarked the Daughter of the House, taking off her broad hat, that the breeze might more freely blow through the masses of her silvery-golden hair, "that when people who are really in earnest, especially people in fiction, go forth to find things they want, they generally find them. And if it is highly desirable that these things should be out of the common they are out of the common. A great deal of what happens in real life, and almost everything in literature, depends on this principle. You, of course, comprehend this, because you compose stories yourself."
"Oh, yes," said the gardener; "I comprehend it perfectly."
"I say all this on account of what is about to happen in this story, and also because I don't want you to make any objection in your mind on account of its not being exactly according to present usages. Almia was pushing steadily through the clump of bushes when she heard, not far away, the clash of arms. Greatly excited, she silently moved on, and peeping out from behind some foliage, she saw in a small open space in the woods two men engaged in single combat. How her heart did beat! She was frightened nearly to death. But she did not think of flight; her eyes were glued upon the fascinating spectacle before her. Often had she heard of two brave swordsmen fighting each other to the bitter end, and often had she dreamed of these noble contests; but her eyes were all unfamiliar with such inspiring sights. This truly was war.
"The combatants were both moderately young men, athletic and active, one with brown hair and the other with black. They had thrown aside their coats and vests, and each wore a broad leathern belt. Fiercely and swiftly their long swords clashed. Sparks flew, and the ring of the steel sounded far into the woods; but there was none to hear save Almia only, and her soul tingled with admiration and terror as the bright blades flashed against the background of semi-gloom which pervaded the woods. She scarcely breathed. Her whole soul was in her eyes."
"I have seen it there before," thought John Gayther, but he said nothing.
"Now there was a tremendous onset from each swordsman, and the ground echoed beneath their rapid footfalls as they stamped around. Then there was a lunge and a sharp nerve-tingling scrape as one blade ran along the other; and then, without a groan, down fell one of these brave warriors flat upon his back upon the grass, the wild flowers, and bits of bark. Instantly the impulses of a woman flashed through every vein and nerve of that onlooking girl. Scarcely had the tall form of the soldier touched the sod when she became a nurse. Springing out from her leafy concealment, she knelt beside the vanquished form of the fallen man. The other soldier, who was about to rest himself by leaning on his sword, sprang back; it seemed as though there had suddenly appeared before him a being from another world."
"Where they wear bicycle-skirts," thought John Gayther.
"Every trace of enthusiastic excitement had passed away from Almia, who now had something in this world to do, and who set about doing it without loss of a second. The man was only wounded, for he opened his eyes and said so, and drawing up his shirt-sleeve he showed Almia that the cut was in the lower part of his left arm. Instantly despatching the other soldier to a neighboring spring for water, she cleansed the wound, and, finding it was not very deep, she drew the edges of the cut together and held them in place with strips of adhesive plaster. When this had been done she wrapped the arm in several folds of bandage, and the man having risen to a sitting posture, she gave him a small draught of brandy from her cask.
"Almia now explained how she happened to appear upon the scene, and, addressing the wounded man, she said she hoped she could soon find some way of conveying him to a hospital. 'Hospital!' he cried, springing to his feet under the revivifying influence of the brandy. 'No hospital for me! I can walk as well as anybody. And now, sir,' he said, speaking to his former opponent, 'am I to consider myself vanquished, and am I to go with you as your prisoner?' The other regarded him without answering, and for the moment Almia, too, was lost in reflection."
At this point John Gayther, who had been in wars, began to wonder, even if soldiers in these days should engage in single combat with long swords, how one of them could be wounded in the left arm; but he did not interrupt the story.
"The first thing that shaped itself clearly in Almia's mind was the fear of being left alone in these woods. Now that she was so near the edge of the battle, there was no knowing what she might meet with next. The soldier who had conquered now spoke. 'Yes, sir,' said he; 'you are my prisoner, and it is my duty to take you to my regiment and deliver you to my officers. I am sorry to do so, but such are the laws of war.' The other soldier bowed his head, simply remarking, 'Proceed; I will follow you.'"
"If I should take a prisoner," thought John Gayther, "I should make him walk in front of me."
"Then Almia stepped forward; she had made up her mind, and she was very resolute. 'Gentlemen,' said she, 'this cannot be. We are nearing the contending forces; there may be stragglers; and I do not wish to be left alone. You are both my prisoners.' The two soldiers looked at her in utter amazement. 'Yes,' said Almia, firmly; 'I mean what I say. I am, it is true, a nurse; but I am a bushwhacker nurse, perfectly independent, and free to act according to the dictates of my judgment. You are my prisoners; and if one of you attempts to escape it will be the duty of the other to assist in arresting his enemy. Do not smile; I am armed.' And with this she took from her pocket the pistol with the five barrels. The two soldiers stopped smiling. 'Yes,' continued Almia; 'I would not wish to do anything of the kind, but if either of you attempts to escape I will call upon him to halt, and if he does not do it I will fire upon his legs while the other soldier attacks him with his sword. You are enemies, and each one of you is bound by his soldiery oaths to prevent the escape of the other. I am absolutely impartial. If either of you should be wounded I would dress his wounds and nurse him carefully without asking to which side he belongs. But if either of you attempts to escape I will, as I said, fire at his legs without asking to which side he belongs.'
"The soldier with the brown hair looked at the one with the black hair. 'If I should attempt to escape,' said he, 'would you assist this lady in restraining me?' 'I would,' answered the other. 'Then I would do the same by you,' said the first speaker. 'Miss, I am your prisoner.' 'And I also,' said the black-haired soldier."
"Well, well," said John Gayther, who had not cut a pea-stick for the last fifteen minutes; "I suppose you could not tell by their uniforms which one of them belonged to your side—I mean the young lady could not tell?"
"Almia had no side," replied the Daughter of the House, "and the soldiers wore no coats, for they had thrown them aside in the heat of the combat; and she purposely took no note whatever of their trousers. She was determined to be absolutely impartial. 'Now, then,' said Almia to her prisoners, 'I am going to get just as close to the battle as I can. I am delighted to have you with me, not only because you can remove wounded prisoners to shady places where I can nurse them, but because you will be a protection to me. Should an unruly soldier appear from either army he will always be met by an enemy and by me.'
"The three now pressed on, for there was no time to lose. The roar of the battle was increasing; reports of musketry as well as cannon rent the air, and the sharp whistling of rifle-balls could frequently be heard. Reaching a wood road, they followed this for some distance, Almia in advance, when suddenly they came upon a man sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree. He had a little blank-book in his hand, and apparently he was making calculations in it with a lead-pencil. At the sound of approaching footsteps he rose to his feet, still holding the open book in his hand. He was a moderately tall man, a little round-shouldered, and about fifty years old. He wore a soldier's hat and coat, but his clothes were so covered with dust it was impossible to perceive to which army he belonged. He had a bushy beard, and that was also very dusty. He wore spectacles, and had a very pleasant smile, and looked from one to the other of the new-comers with much interest. 'I hope,' said he, speaking to the soldiers, 'that this young woman is not your prisoner.' 'No, sir,' said Almia, before the others had time to reply; 'they are my prisoners.' The dusty man looked at her in amazement. 'Yes,' said the man with the black hair; 'she speaks the truth. We are her prisoners.'
"Rapidly Almia explained the situation, and when she had finished, the stranger nodded his head three or four times, and put his blank-book in his pocket. 'Well, well, well,' said he, 'this is what might be expected from the tendency of the times! There are sixteen thousand two hundred and forty more women than men in this State, and many of them are single and have to do something. But a bushwhacker nurse! Truly I never thought of anything like that!'
"'And you?' asked Almia. 'I think it is right that you should give some account of yourself. I do not ask your name, nor do I wish to know which cause you have espoused. But as you appear to be a soldier I am curious to know how you happen to be sitting by the roadside making calculations.' 'I am a soldier,' answered the dusty man, 'but, under the circumstances,'—regarding very closely the trousers of Almia's two companions,—'I am very glad you do not want to know to which side I belong. The facts of the case are these: I am an Exceptional Pedestrian. I am also a very earnest student of social aspects considered in their relation to topography. Yesterday, when my army halted at noon, I set out to make some investigations in connection with my favorite research, and when I returned, much later than I expected, my army had gone on, and I have not yet been able to come up to it, although I have walked a great many miles.'
"'I should say,' remarked the soldier with the black hair, 'that you are a deserter.' 'No,' replied the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'I did not desert my army; it deserted me. And now I wish to say that I have become very much interested in you all, and, if there is no objection, I should like to join your company for the present.' 'I have no objection myself,' said Almia, 'but what do you say?' she asked, addressing the two soldiers. 'I am afraid, miss,' replied the man with the brown hair, who had recognized some peculiarities in the fashion of the stranger's dusty clothes, 'that if he attempted to leave us I would be obliged to shoot him as a deserter.' 'And I,' said the other, 'would be obliged to do the same thing, because he is my enemy.' 'Under these circumstances,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'I beg to insist that I be allowed to attach myself to your party.'
"Almia felt she had reason to be proud. Here were three military men who were in her power, and who could not get away from her. They were like three mice tied together by the tails, each pulling in a different direction and all remaining in the place where they had been dropped.
"The party now pushed forward toward the battle's edge. 'If glory is your object,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian to Almia, 'it would have been better if you had joined a regular corps of nurses. Then any meritorious action on your part would have been noted and reported to the authorities, and your good conduct would have been recognized. But now you can expect nothing of the kind.' 'I did not come for the sake of glory,' said Almia, flushing slightly; 'I came to succor the suffering, and to do it without trammels.'
"'Trammels are often very desirable,' said he; 'they enable us to proceed to a greater distance along the path of duty than we would be apt to go if we could wander as we please from side to side.'
"Almia was about to reply somewhat sharply to this remark when, suddenly, they heard a sound which made their nerves tingle. It was the clang of sabres and the thunder of countless hoofs. They were in a mass of tangled underbrush, and they peeped out into a wide roadway and beheld the approach of a regiment of cavalry. On came this tidal wave of noble horsemen; it reached the spot where Almia's burning eyes glowed through the crevices of the foliage. Wildly galloping, cavalryman after cavalryman passed her by. The eyes of the horses flashed fire, and their nostrils were widely distended as if they smelt the battle from afar. Their powerful necks were curved; their hoofs spurned the echoing earth; and their riders, with flashing blades waved high above their heads, shouted aloud their battle-cry, while their tall plumes floated madly in the surging air. And, above the thunder of the hoofs, and the clinking and the clanking of the bits and chains, and the creaking of their leathern saddles, rose high the clarion voice of their leader, urging them on to victory or to death.
"Almia had never been so excited in her life; she could scarcely breathe. This was the grandeur of glorious war! Oh, how willingly would she have mounted a fleet steed and have followed those valiant horsemen as they thundered away into the distance!"
John Gayther had seen many a body of cavalry on the march, but he had never beheld anything like this.
"After her excitement Almia felt somewhat weak; she needed food; and when they had crossed the roadway they stopped to rest under the shade of a spreading oak. Unfortunately the soldiers had brought no rations with them, and Almia had only some Albert biscuit, which she did not wish to eat because she had brought them to relieve the faintness of some wounded soldier. 'If you will permit us,' said the soldier with the black hair, 'we two will go out and forage. Each of us will see to it that the other returns.'
"While they were gone the Exceptional Pedestrian conversed with Almia. 'During my investigations of the social aspects of this region,' he said, 'I put many miles between myself and the army to which I belong, but by closely adhering to certain geological and topographical principles I knew I should eventually find it. In fact, when you met with me I was making some final calculations which would not fail to show me where I should find my comrades. There is no better way to discover the position of an army than by observing the inclination of the geological strata. In this section, for instance, the general trend of the beds of limestone and quartz indicates the direction of the running streams, and these naturally flow into the valleys and plains, and the land, being well watered, is more fertile; consequently it was soonest cleared by the settlers, while the higher ground surrounding it is still encumbered by timber growth. An army naturally desires open ground for its operations, for large bodies of cavalry and artillery cannot deploy to advantage through wooded districts. Therefore, if we follow this roadway, which, as you see, slightly descends to the northeast, we shall soon come within sight of the opposing forces.'
"'But,' said Almia, 'the roar of the battle comes over from that way, which must be the northwest.'
"'That may be,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'but the principle remains.'
"The two soldiers now returned, bearing two large apple-pies resting upon two palm-leaf fans. 'These were all we could procure,' said the brown-haired soldier, 'and the woman would not sell her plates.' The pies were rapidly divided into quarters, and the hungry party began to eat. 'It is true,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, 'that the character of the apple indicates the elevation above sea-level of the soil in which it grew. The people who grew these apples would have done much better if they had devoted themselves to the cultivation of the huckleberry. These they could have sold, and then have bought much better apples grown in the plains. I also notice that the flour of which this pastry is made was ground from the wheat of this region, which is always largely mixed with cockle. If the people would give up growing wheat for three or four years, cockle would probably disappear, and they would then have flour of a much higher grade.' Almia and the two soldiers could not help smiling when they perceived that while the Exceptional Pedestrian was making these criticisms he ate three quarters of a pie, which was more than his share.
"When the pies had been consumed the little party pressed forward, but not to the northeast, for the two soldiers insisted that the battle raged in the northwest, and they would not go in any other direction, although the Exceptional Pedestrian endeavored to overwhelm them with arguments to prove that he was right. The din of the battle, however, soon proved that he was wrong. Penetrating an extensive thicket, they reached its outer edge, and there gazed upon a far-stretching battle-field.
"Now this would be the place," said the Daughter of the House, "for a fine description, not only of the battle-field, but of the battle which was raging upon it; and, if I ever write this story, I shall tell how one army was posted on one side of a wide valley, while the other army was posted on the other, and how regiments and battalions and detachments from each side came down into the beautiful plain and fought and fired and struggled until the grass was stained with blood; and how the cannon roared from the hills and mowed down whole battalions of infantry below; how brave soldiers fell on every side, wounded and dead, while men with stretchers hurried to carry them away from beneath the hoofs of the charging cavalry. I would tell how the carnage increased every moment; how the yells of fury grew louder; and how the roar of the cannon became more and more terrible.
"But all I can say now is that it was a spectacle to freeze the blood. Poor Almia could scarcely retain consciousness as she gazed upon the awful scenes of woe and suffering which spread out beneath her. And she could do nothing! Her labors would be useful only in cases of isolated woundings. If she were to mingle in the fray she would perish in the general slaughter; and if she were to go and offer assistance in the hospitals she would find herself but as a drop in the bucket, her efforts unrecognized, even if she were not driven away as an interloper. Besides, she did not know where the hospitals were.
"As she gazed upon this scene of horror she perceived an officer, mounted upon a noble charger and followed by several horsemen, take a position upon a hillock not far from the spot where she and her companions were concealed. From this point of vantage the officer, who was evidently a general, could perceive the whole battle-field."
"And get himself picked off by a sharp-shooter," thought John Gayther, but he did not interrupt.
"The brown-haired soldier trembled with emotion, and whispered to Almia, 'That is my Commander-in-Chief.' Even without this information Almia would have known that the stalwart figure upon the pawing steed was an officer in high command; for, after speaking a few words to one of his companions, the latter galloped away into the valley toward the right, and very soon the battle raged more fiercely in that direction, and the booming of the cannon and the cracking of the rifles was more continuous. Then another officer was sent galloping to the left, and in this direction, too, the battle grew fiercer and the carnage increased. Courier after courier was sent away, here and there, until, at last, the commander remained with but one faithful adherent. Since his arrival upon the hillock the horrors of the bloody contest had doubled, and Almia could scarcely endure to look into the valley.
"'Is there no way,' she said in a gasping whisper, 'of stopping this? These two armies are like hordes of demons! Humanity should not permit it!'
"'Humanity has nothing to do with it,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian. 'A declaration of war eliminates humanity as a social factor. Such is the usage of nations.'
"'I don't care for the usage of nations,' said Almia. 'It is vile!'
"Now something very important happened in the battle-field. The Commander-in-Chief rose in his stirrups and peered afar. Then, suddenly turning, he sent his only remaining follower with clattering hoofs to carry a message. 'He is making it worse!' declared Almia. 'Now more brave men will fall; more blood will flow.'
"'Of course,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian. 'He gives no thought to the falling of brave men or the flowing of blood. Upon his commands depends the fate of the battle!'
"'And without his commands?' asked Almia, trembling in every fibre.
"The Exceptional Pedestrian shrugged his shoulders and slightly smiled. 'Without them,' he said, 'there would soon be an end to the battle. He is the soul, the directing spirit, of his army. Unless he directs, the contest cannot be carried on.'
"Almia sprang to her feet, not caring whether she was seen or not. She looked over the battle-field, and her heart was sick within her. Not only did she see the carnage which desecrated the beautiful plain, but she saw, far, far away, the mothers and sisters of those who were dead, dying, and wounded; she saw the whiteness of their faces when their feverish eyes should scan the list of dead and wounded; she saw them groan and fall senseless when they read the names of loved ones. She could bear no more.
"Suddenly she turned. 'Gentlemen,' she said, 'follow me.' And without another word she stepped out into the open field and walked rapidly toward the Commander-in-Chief, whose eyes were fixed so steadfastly on the battle that he did not notice her approach. The three soldiers gazed at her in amazement, and then they followed her. They could not understand her mad action, but they could not desert her.
"Almia stopped at the horse's head. With her left hand she seized his bridle, and in a clear, loud voice she exclaimed, 'Commander-in-Chief, you are my prisoner!' There was no trembling, no nervousness now; body and soul, she was as hard as steel. The general looked down upon her in petrified bewilderment. He gazed at the three soldiers, and again looked down at her. 'Girl!' he thundered, 'what do you mean? Let go my horse!' As he said these words he gave his bridle a jerk; but the noble steed paid no attention to his master. He was not afraid of girls. In former days he had learned to like them; to him a girl meant sugar and savory clover-tops. He bent his head toward Almia, and instantly her hand was in her pocket and she drew forth an Albert biscuit. The horse, which had not tasted food since morning, eagerly took it from her hand, and crunched it in delight.
"The Commander-in-Chief now became furious, and his hand sought the hilt of his sword. If Almia had been a man he would have cut her down. 'Girl!' he cried, 'what do you mean? Are you insane? You men, remove her instantly.'
"Then Almia spoke up bravely, never loosening her hold upon the bridle of the horse. 'I am not insane,' she said. 'I am a nurse, but not a common one; I am a bushwhacker nurse, and that means I am entirely independent. These men are under my control. They are from the opposing armies, and compel each other to obey my commands. I have determined to stop this blood and slaughter. If you do not quietly surrender to me I will fire at one of your legs, and call upon the soldier who is your enemy to attack you with his sword. His duty to his country will compel him to do so.'
"The general, who was now so infuriated he could not speak, jerked savagely at the reins; but Almia had just given the noble animal another biscuit, and his nose was seeking the pocket from which it came. The horse was conquered!
"At this moment a rifle-ball shrieked wildly overhead. The enemy had perceived the little party upon the hillock. The three soldiers, who stood a little below, shouted to Almia to come down or she would be killed. She instantly obeyed this warning, but she did not release her hold upon the general's bridle. She started down the hillock away from the battle, and the horse, who willingly subjected himself to her guidance, trotted beside her. The general did not attempt to restrain him, for he had been startled by the rifle-shots.
"A little below the edge of the hill Almia stopped, and, turning toward the Commander-in-Chief, she said, 'You might as well surrender. I do not wish to injure you, but if you compel me to do so, I must.' And with this she drew the pistol from her pocket.
"'Is that thing loaded?' exclaimed the general.
"'It is,' answered Almia, 'and with five balls.'
"'Please put it back in your pocket,' said the officer, who, for the first time during the terrible battle, showed signs of fear. 'A girl with a pistol,' said he, 'makes me shudder. Why do you stand there?' he shouted to the three men. 'Come here and take her away.'
"But they did not obey, and the black-haired soldier stepped forward. 'You are my enemy, sir,' he said, 'and I am bound to assist in your capture if I can. There are two of your own men here, but only one of them is armed.'
"As he spoke these words a great shell struck the top of the hillock and blew the earth and little stones in every direction. Without a word the whole party retired rapidly to an open space behind a large overhanging rock. The general was very much disturbed. The enemy must be getting nearer. He almost forgot Almia.
"'Look here,' he cried to the brown-haired soldier; 'creep back to the top of the hillock and tell me how the battle goes.' With furrowed brows he waited, while Almia fed his horse. The brown-haired soldier came quickly back. 'Tell me,' cried the general, without waiting for the other to speak, 'has my cavalry made its grand charge, and cut off the approach of the left wing of the enemy?'
"'No, sir,' replied the soldier, touching his cap; 'it did not charge in time, and it is now all mixed up with the artillery, which is rapidly retiring.'
"'What!' cried the general, 'retiring?'
"'Yes, sir,' said the soldier; 'I am sorry to say that our whole army is retreating, pell-mell, as fast as it can go. The enemy is in active pursuit, and its left wing is now advancing up this side of the valley. In less than twenty minutes the retreat of our cavalry and artillery will be cut off by the hills, and the infantry is already scattering itself far and wide.'
"'I must go!' shouted the general, drawing his sword from its scabbard. 'I must rally my forces! I must—'
"'No, general,' said the brown-haired soldier; 'that is impossible. If you were now to attempt to approach our army you would throw yourself into the ranks of the enemy.'
"The Commander-in-Chief dropped the bridle from his listless hands, and bowed his head. 'Lost!' he murmured. 'Lost! And this was the decisive battle of the war! If I had been able to order my cavalry to charge, the enemy's left wing would have been cut from their main body. But for you,' he continued, fixing his eyes upon Almia with a look of unutterable sadness, 'I should have done it. You have caused me to lose this battle.'
"Almia drew herself up, her heart swelling with emotion. This was the proudest moment of her life—prouder by far than she had ever expected any moment of her existence to be. 'Yes,' she said; 'that is what I did. And if this was the decisive battle of the war, then will follow peace; blood will cease to flow, widows and orphans will cease to suffer, and men who have been fighting one another like tigers without really understanding why they sought one another's lives will again meet as friends.'
"'There is a great deal of sense in what you say,' exclaimed the Exceptional Pedestrian. 'I admit I am a soldier, but I do not approve of war. The statistics of social aspects prove—'
"He was interrupted by the brown-haired soldier, who remarked: 'It would be well for us to retire, for doubtless the enemy will soon occupy the ridge.'
"The general took no notice; apparently he was lost in thought.
"'Excuse me, sir,' said the brown-haired man, 'but you must seek a place of safety.'
"The general raised his head. 'Is there a road to the west?' he asked. 'I must take a roundabout way, and join my army, and share its fortunes, whatever they may be.'
"'Yes, sir,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian; 'if you skirt these woods, and follow the upward trend of the limestone- and quartz-beds, and then keep along the crest of the mountain for about eight miles, you will come to the village of Kirksville, where our retreating army will no doubt halt for the night.'
"The general said no more. He turned his horse, whose bridle Almia had now released, and, casting another look of sadness upon the erect form of the bushwhacker nurse, he sped away.
"I will not say anything more of the general, except that after following for half an hour the directions given to him by the Exceptional Pedestrian, he rode at full speed into the ranks of the enemy, and was obliged to surrender. No evil happened to him, however, for the war was soon ended, and he was released.
"'Now,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, who was in no way a traitor, but only a person accustomed to making mistakes, 'the day is drawing to a close, and we must hurry away.'
"No one objected, and the three soldiers accompanied Almia back over the way she had taken when she walked to the battle-field. A little after eight o'clock they arrived at the main road, and there Almia found her cab waiting for her.
"'I will probably not see you again,' said the Exceptional Pedestrian, shaking her very cordially by the hand; 'for as the war is now practically over, and my regiment probably scattered, I shall go West. There are many features of our social aspects out there which I wish to study. But before I leave you, miss, I wish to thank you for having made yourself so highly instrumental in bringing this terrible and inhuman war to a close.'
"'Good-by,' said Almia. 'But I think it may be said that it was an Albert biscuit which gave us peace. If that horse had not been used to being fed by girls, my efforts might have come to nothing.'
"When the two younger soldiers bade good-by to Almia they did not say much, but it seemed to her they felt a good deal. At any rate, she knew she felt a good deal. She had known them but a little while, but they had come into her life in such a strange way; for a time she had ruled their destinies, and they had been so good to her! They had stood by her, regardless of everything but her wishes; and then, they were both so handsome, such gallant soldiers. She took their hands, she gazed into their honest faces, a few words of farewell were spoken, and then they helped her into the cab, the door was shut, and she drove away.
"As she turned and looked out of the little window in the back of the cab she saw one of them gazing after her; but the dusk of the evening had come on so rapidly she could not be certain which one of them it was. At a turn in the road she sank into her seat. She was tired; she was faint; and, instinctively thrusting her hand into her pocket, she found there one Albert biscuit which had been left. She drew it out, but when she looked at it, it seemed to her as though it would be a sacrilege to eat it; its companions had done so much for humanity. But she did eat it, and felt stronger.
"For the rest of the drive she sat and wondered and wondered which it was who had looked back, the brown-haired soldier or the black-haired one. Then she tried to think which she would like it to be, but she could not make up her mind.
"Before parting with the soldiers Almia had exchanged cards with them, and they had assured her they would let her know how fortune should treat them. Day after day she watched and waited for the letter-carrier; but a fortnight passed, and he brought her nothing—at least, nothing she cared for.
"At last a letter came. It was from one of the soldiers; she knew that by the address and its general appearance, but of course she did not know the handwriting. She held it in her hand and gazed upon it, and her heart beat fast as she asked herself the question, 'Which one has written first?'
"Presently she opened it. It was from the brown-haired soldier. Her face flushed and her heart said to her, 'This is right; this is what you hoped for.' Then she read the letter, which was long. It told of many things; and, among others, it informed Almia how grateful were the writer's wife and two little girls for the kindness she had shown the husband and father. She had dressed his wounds; she had saved him from being made a prisoner. For the rest of their lives they would never forget her.
"The letter dropped from Almia's hand; she had received a shock, and for a time she could not recover from it. She sat still, looking out into the nothingness of the distant sky. Then her face flushed again, and her heart told her it had made a mistake. She was well pleased that this was the one who had written that he was married.
"Hour after hour and day after day Almia became more and more convinced that she was right. It was the black-haired soldier on whom her thoughts were constantly fixed. And no wonder. In the first place, he was the better soldier of the two. She hated war; but, if men must fight, it is glorious to conquer, and she had seen his quick and practised blade lay low his enemy. The thought of his power made her heart swell. Moreover, he had stood by her in the moment of greatest peril; he it was who had said to the Commander-in-Chief, armed and mounted though he was, that he would attack him if her commands were not obeyed. Then, too, he was a little taller than the other, and handsomer; his chest was broad, he stood erect.
"Day after day she watched and waited, but no letter came. At last, however, there was a ring at the bell, and the black-haired soldier was announced. By a supreme effort Almia controlled herself; she bade her heart be still, and she went down to meet him. She was dressed in white; there were flowers in her hair and in her belt. She could not help wondering what he would think of the difference between her and the girl he had known as a bushwhacker nurse.
"When her eyes fell upon him and their hands met she was the one who had the right to be the more amazed. She had thought him handsome before; he was glorious now. Arrayed in fashionable, well-fitting clothes, wearing only a mustache, and with his hair properly cut, he was a vision of manly beauty. Instantly, without any volition on her part, her heart went out to him; she knew that it belonged to him.
"For twenty minutes, perhaps a little longer, Almia sat with the man she loved; and as she listened to him, saying but little herself, colder and colder grew the heart she had given him. Soon she discovered that he looked upon her as a young lady in whom he took an interest on account of the adventures they had had together, but still as a chance acquaintance. He had come to see her because he had happened to be in the town in which she lived. When he went away she did not ask him to come again, and it was plain that he did not expect such an invitation. The few remarks he made about his future plans precluded the supposition that they might meet again. He was pleasant, he was polite, he was even kind; but when he departed he left her with a heart of stone. There was now nothing in the world for which she cared to live. She despised herself for such a feeling, but existence was a blank. She had loved; perhaps, unwittingly, she had shown her love; and now by day and by night she moaned and mourned that the bushwhacker nurse had ever met the two brave soldiers with their glittering swords—that she had not passed them by and gone out into the battle-field to be laid low by some chance bullet."
For some little time the Daughter of the House had been speaking in a voice which grew lower and lower, and now she stopped. There were tears in her eyes, brought there by the story she herself was telling. John Gayther dropped his pea-stick and leaned forward.
"Now miss," said he, "I really think your story is not quite right. You must have forgotten something—a good many things. Think it over, and I am sure you will agree with me that that is not the true ending."
She looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean this," replied the gardener. "If you will put your mind to it, and seriously consider the whole situation, I believe you will see, just as well as I do, that it really turned out very differently from the way you have just told it. That black-haired soldier did not go away in twenty minutes. It must have been somebody else at some other time who went away so soon. It would have been simply impossible for him to have done it. The longer he sat and looked at Miss Almia, the more he gazed into her beautiful eyes, the more fervently he must have thought that if it depended upon him he would never leave her, never, never again. And she, as she gazed into his handsome features, thrilling with the emotion he could not hide, must have known what was passing in his heart. It did not even need the words he soon spoke to make her understand she was the one thing in the world he loved, and that, in spite of sickness and obstacles of all sorts, he had come that day to tell her so. And when they had sat together for hours, and at last he was obliged to go, and they stood together, his impassioned eyes looking down into her orbs of heavenly blue, you know what must have happened, miss, now, don't you, really? And isn't this the true, true end of the story?"
The eyes of the Daughter of the House were sparkling; a little flush had come upon her cheeks, and a smile upon her lips.
"I do really believe that is the true ending, John," said she; "but how did you ever come to know so much about such things?"
"I can't tell you that, miss," said the gardener; "but sometimes I notice things I cannot see, as when I look upon a flower bud not yet open and know exactly what is inside of it."
With the smile still on her lips and the flush still on her cheeks, the Daughter of the House walked away through the garden. She had determined to make her story end sadly, but John Gayther had known her heart better than she knew it herself.
THIS STORY IS TOLD BY
AND IS CALLED
THE LADY IN THE BOX
THE LADY IN THE BOX
John Gayther was busy putting the finishing touches to a bed in which he intended to sow his latest planting of bush-beans, or string-beans, or snaps, as they are called in different parts of the country. These were very choice seeds which had been sent to him by a friend abroad, and, consequently, John wanted to get them into the ground as soon as possible. But when he saw entering the garden not only the Daughter of the House but also her mother, the Mistress of the House, a sudden conviction shot through him that there would be no beans planted that morning.
The elder of these two ladies was not very elderly, and she was handsomer than her daughter. She was pleasant to look upon and pleasant to talk to, but she had a mind of her own; John Gayther had found that out long before. She was very fond of flowers, and there were many beds of them which were planted and treated according to her directions and fancies. These beds did not, in fact, form part of the gardener's garden; they belonged to her, and nobody else had anything to say about them. Many things grew there which were not often found in gardens: weeds, for instance, from foreign countries, and some from near-by regions, which the Mistress of the House thought might be made to grow into comely blossoms if they were given the chance. Here she picked and planted, and put in and pulled out, according to her own will; and her pulling out was often done after a fashion which would have discouraged any other gardener but John Gayther, who had long since learned that the Mistress of the House knew what she wanted, and that it would be entirely useless for him to trouble himself about her methods.