A Franconia Story,
BY THE AUTHOR OF THE ROLLO BOOKS.
NEW YORK: HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS. FRANKLIN SQUARE.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1850, by HARPER & BROTHERS, In the Clerk's Office for the Southern District of New York.
The development of the moral sentiments in the human heart, in early life,—and every thing in fact which relates to the formation of character,—is determined in a far greater degree by sympathy, and by the influence of example, than by formal precepts and didactic instruction. If a boy hears his father speaking kindly to a robin in the spring,—welcoming its coming and offering it food,—there arises at once in his own mind, a feeling of kindness toward the bird, and toward all the animal creation, which is produced by a sort of sympathetic action, a power somewhat similar to what in physical philosophy is called induction. On the other hand, if the father, instead of feeding the bird, goes eagerly for a gun, in order that he may shoot it, the boy will sympathize in that desire, and growing up under such an influence, there will be gradually formed within him, through the mysterious tendency of the youthful heart to vibrate in unison with hearts that are near, a disposition to kill and destroy all helpless beings that come within his power. There is no need of any formal instruction in either case. Of a thousand children brought up under the former of the above-described influences, nearly every one, when he sees a bird, will wish to go and get crumbs to feed it, while in the latter case, nearly every one will just as certainly look for a stone. Thus the growing up in the right atmosphere, rather than the receiving of the right instruction, is the condition which it is most important to secure, in plans for forming the characters of children.
It is in accordance with this philosophy that these stories, though written mainly with a view to their moral influence on the hearts and dispositions of the readers, contain very little formal exhortation and instruction. They present quiet and peaceful pictures of happy domestic life, portraying generally such conduct, and expressing such sentiments and feelings, as it is desirable to exhibit and express in the presence of children.
The books, however, will be found, perhaps, after all, to be useful mainly in entertaining and amusing the youthful readers who may peruse them, as the writing of them has been the amusement and recreation of the author in the intervals of more serious pursuits.
III.—MARY ERSKINE'S VISITORS
VI.—MARY BELL IN THE WOODS
X.—THE VISIT TO MARY ERSKINE'S
MARY ERSKINE'S FARM—FRONTISPIECE.
CATCHING THE HORSE
THE LOG HOUSE
MARY BELL AT THE BROOK
THE WIDOW AND THE FATHERLESS
MARY BELL AND QUEEN BESS
MARY BELL GETTING BREAKFAST
GOING TO COURT
THE STRAWBERRY PARTY
THE FRANCONIA STORIES.
ORDER OF THE VOLUMES.
SCENE OF THE STORY
The country in the vicinity of Franconia, at the North.
PHONNY and MALLEVILLE, cousins, residing at the house of Phonny's mother.
MRS. HENRY, Phonny's mother.
ANTONIO BLANCHINETTE, a French boy, residing at Mrs. Henry's; commonly called Beechnut.
MRS. BELL, a widow lady, living in the vicinity of Mrs. Henry's.
MARY BELL, her daughter.
Malleville and her cousin Phonny generally played together at Franconia a great part of the day, and at night they slept in two separate recesses which opened out of the same room. These recesses were deep and large, and they were divided from the room by curtains, so that they formed as it were separate chambers: and yet the children could speak to each other from them in the morning before they got up, since the curtains did not intercept the sound of their voices. They might have talked in the same manner at night, after they had gone to bed, but this was against Mrs. Henry's rules.
One morning Malleville, after lying awake a few minutes, listening to the birds that were singing in the yard, and wishing that the window was open so that she could hear them more distinctly, heard Phonny's voice calling to her.
"Malleville," said he, "are you awake?"
"Yes," said Malleville, "are you?"
"Yes," said Phonny, "I'm awake—but what a cold morning it is!"
It was indeed a cold morning, or at least a very cool one. This was somewhat remarkable, as it was in the month of June. But the country about Franconia was cold in winter, and cool in summer. Phonny and Malleville rose and dressed themselves, and then went down stairs. They hoped to find a fire in the sitting-room, but there was none.
"How sorry I am," said Phonny. "But hark, I hear a roaring."
"Yes," said Malleville; "it is the oven; they are going to bake."
The back of the oven was so near to the partition wall which formed one side of the sitting-room, that the sound of the fire could be heard through it. The mouth of the oven however opened into another small room connected with the kitchen, which was called the baking-room. The children went out into the baking-room, to warm themselves by the oven fire.
"I am very glad that it is a cool day," said Phonny, "for perhaps mother will let us go to Mary Erskine's. Should not you like to go?"
"Yes," said Malleville, "very much. Where is it?"
The readers who have perused the preceding volumes of this series will have observed that Mary Bell, who lived with her mother in the pleasant little farm-house at a short distance from the village, was always called by her full name, Mary Bell, and not ever, or scarcely ever, merely Mary. People had acquired the habit of speaking of her in this way, in order to distinguish her from another Mary who lived with Mrs. Bell for several years. This other Mary was Mary Erskine. Mary Erskine did not live now at Mrs. Bell's, but at another house which was situated nearly two miles from Mrs. Henry's, and the way to it was by a very wild and unfrequented road. The children were frequently accustomed to go and make Mary Erskine a visit; but it was so long a walk that Mrs. Henry never allowed them to go unless on a very cool day.
At breakfast that morning Phonny asked his mother if that would not be a good day for them to go and see Mary Erskine. Mrs. Henry said that it would be an excellent day, and that she should be very glad to have them go, for there were some things there to be brought home. Besides Beechnut was going to mill, and he could carry them as far as Kater's corner.
Kater's corner was a place where a sort of cart path, branching off from the main road, led through the woods to the house where Mary Erskine lived. It took its name from a farmer, whose name was Kater, and whose house was at the corner where the roads diverged. The main road itself was very rough and wild, and the cart path which led from the corner was almost impassable in summer, even for a wagon, though it was a very romantic and beautiful road for travelers on horseback or on foot. In the winter the road was excellent: for the snow buried all the roughness of the way two or three feet deep, and the teams which went back and forth into the woods, made a smooth and beautiful track for every thing on runners, upon the top of it.
Malleville and Phonny were very much pleased with the prospect of riding a part of the way to Mary Erskine's, with Beechnut, in the wagon. They made themselves ready immediately after breakfast, and then went and sat down upon the step of the door, waiting for Beechnut to appear. Beechnut was in the barn, harnessing the horse into the wagon.
Malleville sat down quietly upon the step while waiting for Beechnut. Phonny began to amuse himself by climbing up the railing of the bannisters, at the side of the stairs. He was trying to poise himself upon the top of the railing and then to work himself up the ascent by pulling and pushing with his hands and feet against the bannisters themselves below.
"I wish you would not do that," said Malleville. "I think it is very foolish, for you may fall and hurt yourself."
"No," said Phonny. "It is not foolish. It is very useful for me to learn to climb." So saying he went on scrambling up the railing of the bannisters as before.
Just then Beechnut came along through the yard, towards the house. He was coming for the whip.
"Beechnut," said Malleville, "I wish that you would speak to Phonny."
"Is it foolish for me to learn to climb?" asked Phonny. In order to see Beechnut while he asked this question, Phonny had to twist his head round in a very unusual position, and look out under his arm. It was obvious that in doing this he was in imminent danger of falling, so unstable was the equilibrium in which he was poised upon the rail.
"Is not he foolish?" asked Malleville.
Beechnut looked at him a moment, and then said, as he resumed his walk through the entry,
"Not very;—that is for a boy. I have known boys sometimes to do foolisher things than that."
"What did they do?" asked Phonny.
"Why once," said Beechnut, "I knew a boy who put his nose into the crack of the door, and then took hold of the latch and pulled the door to, and pinched his nose to death. That was a little more foolish, though not much."
So saying Beechnut passed through the door and disappeared.
Phonny was seized with so violent a convulsion of laughter at the idea of such absurd folly as Beechnut had described, that he tumbled off the bannisters, but fortunately he fell in, towards the stairs, and was very little hurt. He came down the stairs to Malleville, and as Beechnut returned in a few minutes with the whip, they all went out towards the barn together.
Beechnut had already put the bags of grain into the wagon behind, and now he assisted Phonny and Malleville to get in. He gave them the whole of the seat, in order that they might have plenty of room, and also that they might be high up, where they could see. He had a small bench which was made to fit in, in front, and which he was accustomed to use for himself, as a sort of driver's seat, whenever the wagon was full. He placed this bench in its place in front, and taking his seat upon it, he drove away.
When the party had thus fairly set out, and Phonny and Malleville had in some measure finished uttering the multitude of exclamations of delight with which they usually commenced a ride, they began to wish that Beechnut would tell them a story. Now Beechnut was a boy of boundless fertility of imagination, and he was almost always ready to tell a story. His stories were usually invented on the spot, and were often extremely wild and extravagant, both in the incidents involved in them, and in the personages whom he introduced as actors. The extravagance of these tales was however usually no objection to them in Phonny's and Malleville's estimation. In fact Beechnut observed that the more extravagant his stories were, the better pleased his auditors generally appeared to be in listening to them. He therefore did not spare invention, or restrict himself by any rules either of truth or probability in his narratives. Nor did he usually require any time for preparation, but commenced at once with whatever came into his head, pronouncing the first sentence of his story, very often without any idea of what he was to say next.
On this occasion Beechnut began as follows:
"Once there was a girl about three years old, and she had a large black cat. The cat was of a jet black color, and her fur was very soft and glossy. It was as soft as silk.
"This cat was very mischievous and very sly. She was very sly: very indeed. In fact she used to go about the house so very slyly, getting into all sorts of mischief which the people could never find out till afterwards, that they gave her the name of Sligo. Some people said that the reason why she had that name was because she came from a place called Sligo, in Ireland. But that was not the reason. It was veritably and truly because she was so sly."
Beechnut pronounced this decision in respect to the etymological import of the pussy's name in the most grave and serious manner, and Malleville and Phonny listened with profound attention.
"What was the girl's name?" asked Malleville.
"The girl's?" repeated Beechnut. "Oh, her name was—Arabella."
"Well, go on," said Malleville.
"One day," continued Beechnut, "Sligo was walking about the house, trying to find something to do. She came into the parlor. There was nobody there. She looked about a little, and presently she saw a work-basket upon the corner of a table, where Arabella's mother had been at work. Sligo began to look at the basket, thinking that it would make a good nest for her to sleep in, if she could only get it under the clock. The clock stood in a corner of the room.
"Sligo accordingly jumped up into a chair, and from the chair to the table, and then pushing the basket along nearer and nearer to the edge of the table, she at last made it fall over, and all the sewing and knitting work, and the balls, and needles, and spools, fell out upon the floor. Sligo then jumped down and pushed the basket along toward the clock. She finally got it under the clock, crept into it, curled herself round into the form of a semicircle inside, so as just to fill the basket, and went to sleep.
"Presently Arabella came in, and seeing the spools and balls upon the floor, began to play with them. In a few minutes more, Arabella's mother came in, and when she saw Arabella playing with these things upon the floor, she supposed that Arabella herself was the rogue that had thrown the basket off the table. Arabella could not talk much. When her mother accused her of doing this mischief, she could only say "No;" "no;" but her mother did not believe her. So she made her go and stand up in the corner of the room, for punishment, while Sligo peeped out from under the clock to see."
"But you said that Sligo was asleep," said Phonny.
"Yes, she went to sleep," replied Beechnut, "but she waked up when Arabella's mother came into the room."
Beechnut here paused a moment to consider what he should say next, when suddenly he began to point forward to a little distance before them in the road, where a boy was to be seen at the side of the road, sitting upon a stone.
"I verily believe it is Jemmy," said he.
As the wagon approached the place where Jemmy was sitting, they found that he was bending down over his foot, and moaning with, pain. Beechnut asked him what was the matter. He said that he had sprained his foot dreadfully. Beechnut stopped the horse, and giving the reins to Phonny, he got out to see. Phonny immediately gave them to Malleville, and followed.
"Are you much hurt?" asked Beechnut.
"Oh, yes," said Jemmy, moaning and groaning; "oh dear me!"
Beechnut then went back to the horse, and taking him by the bridle, he led him a little way out of the road, toward a small tree, where he thought he would stand, and then taking Malleville out, so that she might not be in any danger if the horse should chance to start, he went back to Jemmy.
"You see," said Jemmy, "I was going to mill, and I was riding along here, and the horse pranced about and threw me off and sprained my foot. Oh dear me! what shall I do?"
"Where is the horse?" asked Beechnut.
"There he is," said Jemmy, "somewhere out there. He has gone along the road. And the bags have fallen off too. Oh dear me!"
Phonny ran out into the road, and looked forward. He could see the horse standing by the side of the road at some distance, quietly eating the grass. A little this side of the place where the horse stood, the bags were lying upon the ground, not very far from each other.
The story which Jemmy told was not strictly true. He was one of the boys of the village, and was of a wild and reckless character. This was, however, partly his father's fault, who never gave him any kind and friendly instruction, and always treated him with a great degree of sternness and severity.
A circus company had visited Franconia a few weeks before the time of this accident, and Jemmy had peeped through the cracks of the fence that formed their enclosure, and had seen the performers ride around the ring, standing upon the backs of the horses. He was immediately inspired with the ambition to imitate this feat, and the next time that he mounted his father's horse, he made the attempt to perform it. His father, when he found it out, was very angry with him, and sternly forbade him ever to do such a thing again. He declared positively that if he did, he would whip him to death, as he said. Jemmy was silent, but he secretly resolved that he would ride standing again, the very first opportunity.
Accordingly, when his father put the two bags of grain upon the horse, and ordered Jemmy to go to mill with them, Jemmy thought that the opportunity had come. He had observed that the circus riders, instead of a saddle, used upon the backs of their horses a sort of flat pad, which afforded a much more convenient footing than any saddle; and as to standing on the naked back of a horse, it was manifestly impossible for any body but a rope-dancer. When, however, Jemmy saw his father placing the bags of grain upon the horse, he perceived at once that a good broad and level surface was produced by them, which was much more extended and level, even than the pads of the circus-riders. He instantly resolved, that the moment that he got completely away from the village, he would mount upon the bags and ride standing—and ride so, too, just as long as he pleased.
Accordingly, as soon as he had passed the house where Phonny lived, which was the last house in that direction for some distance, he looked round in order to be sure that his father was not by any accident behind him, and then climbing up first upon his knees, and afterward upon his feet, he drew up the reins cautiously, and then chirruped to the horse to go on. The horse began to move slowly along. Jemmy was surprised and delighted to find how firm his footing was on the broad surface of the bags. Growing more and more bold and confident as he became accustomed to his situation, he began presently to dance about, or rather to perform certain awkward antics, which he considered dancing, looking round continually, with a mingled expression of guilt, pleasure, and fear, in his countenance, in order to be sure that his father was not coming. Finally, he undertook to make his horse trot a little. The horse, however, by this time, began to grow somewhat impatient at the unusual sensations which he experienced—the weight of the rider being concentrated upon one single point, directly on his back, and resting very unsteadily and interruptedly there,—and the bridle-reins passing up almost perpendicularly into the air, instead of declining backwards, as they ought to do in any proper position of the horseman. He began to trot forward faster and faster. Jemmy soon found that it would be prudent to restrain him, but in his upright position, he had no control over the horse by pulling the reins. He only pulled the horse's head upwards, and made him more uneasy and impatient than before. He then attempted to get down into a sitting posture again, but in doing so, he fell off upon the hard road and sprained his ankle. The horse trotted rapidly on, until the bags fell off, first one and then the other. Finding himself thus wholly at liberty, he stopped and began to eat the grass at the road-side, wholly unconcerned at the mischief that had been done.
Jemmy's distress was owing much more to his alarm and his sense of guilt, than to the actual pain of the injury which he had suffered. He was, however, entirely disabled by the sprain.
"It is rather a hard case," said Beechnut, "no doubt, but never mind it, Jemmy. A man may break his leg, and yet live to dance many a hornpipe afterwards. You'll get over all this and laugh about it one day. Come, I'll carry you home in my wagon."
"But I am afraid to go home," said Jemmy.
"What are you afraid of?" asked Beechnut.
"Of my father," said Jemmy.
"Oh no," said Beechnut. "The horse is not hurt, and as for the grist I'll carry it to mill with mine. So there is no harm done. Come, let me put you into the wagon."
"Yes," said Phonny, "and I will go and catch the horse."
While Beechnut was putting Jemmy into the wagon, Phonny ran along the road toward the horse. The horse, hearing footsteps, and supposing from the sound that somebody might be coming to catch him, was at first disposed to set off and gallop away; but looking round and seeing that it was nobody but Phonny he went on eating as before. When Phonny got pretty near to the horse, he began to walk up slowly towards him, putting out his hand as if to take hold of the bridle and saying, "Whoa—Dobbin,—whoa." The horse raised his head a little from the grass, shook it very expressively at Phonny, walked on a few steps, and then began to feed upon the grass as before. He seemed to know precisely how much resistance was necessary to avoid the recapture with which he was threatened.
"Whoa Jack! whoa!" said Phonny, advancing again. The horse, however, moved on, shaking his head as before. He seemed to be no more disposed to recognize the name of Jack than Dobbin.
"Jemmy," said Phonny, turning back and calling out aloud, "Jemmy! what's his name?"
Jemmy did not answer. He was fully occupied in getting into the wagon.
Beechnut called Phonny back and asked him to hold his horse, while he went to catch Jemmy's. He did it by opening one of the bags and taking out a little grain, and by means of it enticing the stray horse near enough to enable him to take hold of the bridle. He then fastened him behind the wagon, and putting Jemmy's two bags in, he turned round and went back to carry Jemmy home, leaving Malleville and Phonny to walk the rest of the way to Mary Erskine's. Besides their ride, they lost the remainder of the story of Sligo, if that can be said to be lost which never existed. For at the time when Beechnut paused in his narration, he had told the story as far as he had invented it. He had not thought of another word.
Mary Erskine was an orphan. Her mother died when she was about twelve years old. Her father had died long before, and after her father's death her mother was very poor, and lived in so secluded and solitary a place, that Mary had no opportunity then to go to school. She began to work too as soon as she was able to do any thing, and it was necessary from that day forward for her to work all the time; and this would have prevented her from going to school, if there had been one near. Thus when her mother died, although she was an intelligent and very sensible girl, she could neither read nor write a word. She told Mrs. Bell the day that she went to live with her, that she did not even know any of the letters, except the round one and the crooked one. The round one she said she always knew, and as for S she learned that, because it stood for Erskine. This shows how little she knew about spelling.
Mrs. Bell wanted Mary Erskine to help her in taking care of her own daughter Mary, who was then an infant. As both the girls were named Mary, the people of the family and the neighbors gradually fell into the habit of calling each of them by her full name, in order to distinguish them from each other. Thus the baby was never called Mary, but always Mary Bell, and the little nursery maid was always known as Mary Erskine.
Mary Erskine became a great favorite at Mrs. Bell's. She was of a very light-hearted and joyous disposition, always contented and happy, singing like a nightingale at her work all the day long, when she was alone, and cheering and enlivening all around her by her buoyant spirits when she was in company. When Mary Bell became old enough to run about and play, Mary Erskine became her playmate and companion, as well as her protector. There was no distinction of rank to separate them. If Mary Bell had been as old as Mary Erskine and had had a younger sister, her duties in the household would have been exactly the same as Mary Erskine's were. In fact, Mary Erskine's position was altogether that of an older sister, and strangers visiting, the family would have supposed that the two girls were really sisters, had they not both been named Mary.
Mary Erskine was about twelve years older than Mary Bell, so that when Mary Bell began to go to school, which was when she was about five years old, Mary Erskine was about seventeen. Mrs. Bell had proposed, when Mary Erskine first came to her house, that she would go to school and learn to read and write; but Mary had been very much disinclined to do so. In connection with the amiableness and gentleness of her character and her natural good sense, she had a great deal of pride and independence of spirit; and she was very unwilling to go to school—being, as she was, almost in her teens—and begin there to learn her letters with the little children. Mrs. Bell ought to have required her to go, notwithstanding her reluctance, or else to have made some other proper arrangement for teaching her to read and write. Mrs. Bell was aware of this in fact, and frequently resolved that she would do so. But she postponed the performance of her resolution from month to month and year to year, and finally it was not performed at all. Mary Erskine was so very useful at home, that a convenient time for sparing her never came. And then besides she was so kind, and so tractable, and so intent upon complying with all Mrs. Bell's wishes, in every respect, that Mrs. Bell was extremely averse to require any thing of her, which would mortify her, or give her pain.
When Mary Erskine was about eighteen years old, she was walking home one evening from the village, where she had been to do some shopping for Mrs. Bell, and as she came to a solitary part of the road after having left the last house which belonged to the village, she saw a young man coming out of the woods at a little distance before her. She recognized him, immediately, as a young man whom she called Albert, who had often been employed by Mrs. Bell, at work about the farm and garden. Albert was a very sedate and industrious young man, of frank and open and manly countenance, and of an erect and athletic form. Mary Erskine liked Albert very well, and yet the first impulse was, when she saw him coming, to cross over to the other side of the road, and thus pass him at a little distance. She did in fact take one or two steps in that direction, but thinking almost immediately that it would be foolish to do so, she returned to the same side of the road and walked on. Albert walked slowly along towards Mary Erskine, until at length they met.
"Good evening, Mary Erskine," said Albert.
"Good evening, Albert," said Mary Erskine.
Albert turned and began to walk along slowly, by Mary Erskine's side.
"I have been waiting here for you more than two hours," said Albert.
"Have you?" said Mary Erskine. Her heart began to beat, and she was afraid to say any thing more, for fear that her voice would tremble,
"Yes," said Albert. "I saw you go to the village, and I wanted to speak to you when you came back."
Mary Erskine walked along, but did not speak.
"And I have been waiting and watching two months for you to go to the village," continued Albert.
"I have not been much to the village, lately," said Mary.
Here there was a pause of a few minutes, when Albert said again,
"Have you any objection to my walking along with you here a little way, Mary?"
"No," said Mary, "not at all."
"Mary," said Albert, after another short pause, "I have got a hundred dollars and my axe,—and this right arm. I am thinking of buying a lot of land, about a mile beyond Kater's corner. If I will do it, and build a small house of one room there, will you come and be my wife? It will have to be a log house at first."
Mary Erskine related subsequently to Mary Bell what took place at this interview, thus far, but she would never tell the rest.
It was evident, however, that Mary Erskine was inclined to accept this proposal, from a conversation which took place between her and Mrs. Bell the next evening. It was after tea. The sun had gone down, and the evening was beautiful. Mrs. Bell was sitting in a low rocking-chair, on a little covered platform, near the door, which they called the stoop. There were two seats, one on each side of the stoop, and there was a vine climbing over it. Mrs. Bell was knitting. Mary Bell, who was then about six years old, was playing about the yard, watching the butterflies, and gathering flowers.
"You may stay here and play a little while," said Mary Erskine to Mary Bell. "I am going to talk with your mother a little; but I shall be back again pretty soon."
Mary Erskine accordingly went to the stoop where Mrs. Bell was sitting, and took a seat upon the bench at the side of Mrs. Bell, though rather behind than before her. There was a railing along behind the seat, at the edge of the stoop and a large white rose-bush, covered with roses, upon the other side.
Mrs. Bell perceived from Mary Erskine's air and manner that she had something to say to her, so after remarking that it was a very pleasant evening, she went on knitting, waiting for Mary Erskine to begin.
"Mrs. Bell," said Mary.
"Well," said Mrs. Bell.
The trouble was that Mary Erskine did not know exactly how to begin.
She paused a moment longer and then making a great effort she said,
"Albert wants me to go and live with him."
"Does he?" said Mrs. Bell. "And where does he want you to go and live?"
"He is thinking of buying a farm," said Mary Erskine.
"Where?" said Mrs. Bell.
"I believe the land is about a mile from Kater's corner."
Mrs. Bell was silent for a few minutes. She was pondering the thought now for the first time fairly before her mind, that the little helpless orphan child that she had taken under her care so many years ago, had really grown to be a woman, and must soon, if not then, begin to form her own independent plans of life. She looked at little Mary Bell too, playing upon the grass, and wondered what she would do when Mary Erskine was gone.
After a short pause spent in reflections like these, Mrs. Bell resumed the conversation by saying,
"Well, Mary,—and what do you think of the plan?"
"Why—I don't know," said Mary Erskine, timidly and doubtfully.
"You are very young," said Mrs. Bell.
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "I always was very young. I was very young when my father died; and afterwards, when my mother died, I was very young to be left all alone, and to go out to work and earn my living. And now I am very young, I know. But then I am eighteen."
"Are you eighteen?" asked Mrs. Bell.
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "I was eighteen the day before yesterday."
"It is a lonesome place,—out beyond Kater's Corner," said Mrs. Bell, after another pause.
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "but I am not afraid of lonesomeness. I never cared about seeing a great many people."
"And you will have to work very hard," continued Mrs. Bell.
"I know that," replied Mary; "but then I am not afraid of work any more than I am of lonesomeness. I began to work when I was five years old, and I have worked ever since,—and I like it."
"Then, besides," said Mrs. Bell, "I don't know what I shall do with my Mary when you have gone away. You have had the care of her ever since she was born."
Mary Erskine did not reply to this. She turned her head away farther and farther from Mrs. Bell, looking over the railing of the stoop toward the white roses. In a minute or two she got up suddenly from her seat, and still keeping her face averted from Mrs. Bell, she went in by the stoop door into the house, and disappeared. In about ten minutes she came round the corner of the house, at the place where Mary Bell was playing, and with a radiant and happy face, and tones as joyous as ever, she told her little charge that they would have one game of hide and go seek, in the asparagus, and that then it would be time for her to go to bed.
Two days after this, Albert closed the bargain for his land, and began his work upon it. The farm, or rather the lot, for the farm was yet to be made, consisted of a hundred and sixty acres of land, all in forest. A great deal of the land was mountainous and rocky, fit only for woodland and pasturage. There were, however, a great many fertile vales and dells, and at one place along the bank of a stream, there was a broad tract which Albert thought would make, when the trees were felled and it was brought into grass, a "beautiful piece of intervale."
Albert commenced his operations by felling several acres of trees, on a part of his lot which was nearest the corner. A road, which had been laid out through the woods, led across his land near this place. The trees and bushes had been cut away so as to open a space wide enough for a sled road in winter. In summer there was nothing but a wild path, winding among rocks, stumps, trunks of fallen trees, and other forest obstructions. A person on foot could get along very well, and even a horse with a rider upon his back, but there was no chance for any thing on wheels. Albert said that it would not be possible to get even a wheelbarrow in.
Albert, however, took great pleasure in going back and forth over this road, morning and evening, with his axe upon his shoulder, and a pack upon his back containing his dinner, while felling his trees. When they were all down, he left them for some weeks drying in the sun, and then set them on fire. He chose for the burning, the afternoon of a hot and sultry day, when a fresh breeze was blowing from the west, which he knew would fan the flames and increase the conflagration. It was important to do this, as the amount of subsequent labor which he would have to perform, would depend upon how completely the trees were consumed. His fire succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations, and the next day he brought Mary Erskine in to see what a "splendid burn" he had had, and to choose a spot for the log house which he was going to build for her.
Mary Erskine was extremely pleased with the appearance of Albert's clearing. The area which had been opened ascended a little from the road, and presented a gently undulating surface, which Mary Erskine thought would make very beautiful fields. It was now, however, one vast expanse of blackened and smoking ruins.
Albert conducted Mary Erskine and Mary Bell—for Mary Bell had come in with them to see the fire,—to a little eminence from which they could survey the whole scene.
"Look," said he, "is not that beautiful? Did you ever see a better burn?"
"I don't know much about burns," said Mary Erskine, "but I can see that it will be a beautiful place for a farm. Why we can see the pond," she added, pointing toward the south.
This was true. The falling of the trees had opened up a fine view of the pond, which was distant about a mile from the clearing. There was a broad stream which flowed swiftly over a gravelly bed along the lower part of the ground, and a wild brook which came tumbling down from the mountains, and then, after running across the road, fell into the larger stream, not far from the corner of the farm. The brook and the stream formed two sides of the clearing. Beyond them, and along the other two sides of the clearing, the tall trees of those parts of the forest which had not been disturbed, rose like a wall and hemmed the opening closely in.
Albert and Mary Erskine walked along the road through the whole length of the clearing, looking out for the best place to build their house.
"Perhaps it will be lonesome here this winter, Mary," said Albert. "I don't know but that you would rather wait till next spring."
Mary Erskine hesitated about her reply. She did, in fact, wish to come to her new home that fall, and she thought it was proper that she should express the cordial interest which she felt in Albert's plans;—but, then, on the other hand, she did not like to say any thing which might seem to indicate a wish on her part to hasten the time of their marriage. So she said doubtfully,—"I don't know;—I don't think that it would be lonesome."
"What do you mean, Albert," said Mary Bell, "about Mary Erskine's coming to live here? She can't come and live here, among all these black stumps and logs."
Albert and Mary Erskine were too intent upon their own thoughts and plans to pay any attention to Mary Bell's questions. So they walked along without answering her.
"What could we have to do this fall and winter?" asked Mary Erskine. She wished to ascertain whether she could do any good by coming at once, or whether it would be better, for Albert's plans, to wait until the spring.
"Oh there will be plenty to do," said Albert. "I shall have to work a great deal, while the ground continues open, in clearing up the land, and getting it ready for sowing in the spring; and it will be a great deal better for me to live here, in order to save my traveling back and forth, so far, every night and morning. Then this winter I shall have my tools to make,—and to finish the inside of the house, and make the furniture; and if you have any leisure time you can spin. But after all it will not be very comfortable for you, and perhaps you would rather wait until spring."
"No," said Mary Erskine. "I would rather come this fall."
"Well," rejoined Albert, speaking in a tone of great satisfaction. "Then I will get the house up next week, and we will be married very soon after."
There were very few young men whose prospects in commencing life were so fair and favorable as those of Albert. In the first place, he was not obliged to incur any debt on account of his land, as most young farmers necessarily do. His land was one dollar an acre. He had one hundred dollars of his own, and enough besides to buy a winter stock of provisions for his house. He had expected to have gone in debt for the sixty dollars, the whole price of the land being one hundred and sixty; but to his great surprise and pleasure Mary Erskine told him, as they were coming home from seeing the land after the burn, that she had seventy-five dollars of her own, besides interest; and that she should like to have sixty dollars of that sum go toward paying for the land. The fifteen dollars that would be left, she said, would be enough to buy the furniture.
"I don't think that will be quite enough," said Albert.
"Yes," said Mary Erskine. "We shall not want a great deal. We shall want a table and two chairs, and some things to cook with."
"And a bed," said Albert.
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "but I can make that myself. The cloth will not cost much, and you can get some straw for me. Next summer we can keep some geese, and so have a feather bed some day."
"We shall want some knives and forks, and plates," said Albert.
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "but they will not cost much. I think fifteen dollars will get us all we need. Besides there is more than fifteen dollars, for there is the interest."
The money had been put out at interest in the village.
"Well," said Albert, "and I can make the rest of the furniture that we shall need, this winter. I shall have a shop near the house. I have got the tools already."
Thus all was arranged. Albert built his house on the spot which Mary Erskine thought would be the most pleasant for it, the week after her visit to the land. Three young men from the neighborhood assisted him, as is usual in such cases, on the understanding that Albert was to help each of them as many days about their work as they worked for him. This plan is often adopted by farmers in doing work which absolutely requires several men at a time, as for example, the raising of heavy logs one upon another to form the walls of a house. In order to obtain logs for the building Albert and his helpers cut down fresh trees from the forest, as the blackened and half-burned trunks, which lay about his clearing, were of course unsuitable for such a work. They selected the tallest and straightest trees, and after felling them and cutting them to the proper length, they hauled them to the spot by means of oxen. The ground served for a floor, and the fire-place was made of stones. The roof was formed of sheets of hemlock bark, laid, like slates upon rafters made of the stems of slender trees. Albert promised Mary Erskine that, as soon as the snow came, in the winter, to make a road, so that he could get through the woods with a load of boards upon a sled, he would make her a floor.
From this time forward, although Mary Erskine was more diligent and faithful than ever in performing all her duties at Mrs. Bell's, her imagination was incessantly occupied with pictures and images of the new scenes into which she was about to be ushered as the mistress of her own independent household and home. She made out lists, mentally, for she could not write, of the articles which it would be best to purchase. She formed and matured in her own mind all her house-keeping plans. She pictured to herself the scene which the interior of her dwelling would present in cold and stormy winter evenings, while she was knitting at one side of the fire, and Albert was busy at some ingenious workmanship, on the other; or thought of the beautiful prospect which she should enjoy in the spring and summer following; when fields of waving grain, rich with promises of plenty and of wealth, would extend in every direction around her dwelling. She cherished, in a word, the brightest anticipations of happiness.
The house at length was finished. The necessary furniture which Albert contrived in some way to get moved to it, was put in; and early in August Mary Erskine was married. She was married in the morning, and a party of the villagers escorted her on horseback to her new home.
MARY ERSKINE'S VISITORS.
Mary Erskine's anticipations of happiness in being the mistress of her own independent home were very high, but they were more than realized.
The place which had been chosen for the house was not only a suitable one in respect to convenience, but it was a very pleasant one. It was near the brook which, as has already been said, came cascading down from among the forests and mountains, and passing along near one side of Albert's clearing, flowed across the road, and finally emptied into the great stream. The house was placed near the brook, in order that Albert might have a watering-place at hand for his horses and cattle when he should have stocked his farm. In felling the forest Albert left a fringe of trees along the banks of the brook, that it might be cool and shady there when the cattle went down to drink. There was a spring of pure cold water boiling up from beneath some rocks not far from the brook, on the side toward the clearing. The water from this spring flowed down along a little mossy dell, until it reached the brook. The bed over which this little rivulet flowed was stony, and yet no stones were to be seen. They all had the appearance of rounded tufts of soft green moss, so completely were they all covered and hidden by the beautiful verdure.
Albert was very much pleased when he discovered this spring, and traced its little mossy rivulet down to the brook. He thought that Mary Erskine would like it. So he avoided cutting down any of the trees from the dell, or from around the spring, and in cutting down those which grew near it, he took care to make them fall away from the dell, so that in burning they should not injure the trees which he wished to save. Thus that part of the wood which shaded and sheltered the spring and the dell, escaped the fire.
The house was placed in such a position that this spring was directly behind it, and Albert made a smooth and pretty path leading down to it; or rather he made the path smooth, and nature made it pretty. For no sooner had he completed his work upon it than nature began to adorn it by a profusion of the richest and greenest grass and flowers, which she caused to spring up on either side. It was so in fact in all Albert's operations upon his farm. Almost every thing that he did was for some purpose of convenience and utility, and he himself undertook nothing more than was necessary to secure the useful end. But his kind and playful co-operator, nature, would always take up the work where he left it, and begin at once to beautify it with her rich and luxuriant verdure. For example, as soon as the fires went out over the clearing, she began, with her sun and rain, to blanch the blackened stumps, and to gnaw at their foundations with her tooth of decay. If Albert made a road or a path she rounded its angles, softened away all the roughness that his plow or hoe had left in it, and fringed it with grass and flowers. The solitary and slender trees which had been left standing here and there around the clearing, having escaped the fire, she took under her special care—throwing out new and thrifty branches from them, in every direction, and thus giving them massive and luxuriant forms, to beautify the landscape, and to form shady retreats for the flocks and herds which might in subsequent years graze upon the ground. Thus while Albert devoted himself to the substantial and useful improvements which were required upon his farm, with a view simply to profit, nature took the work of ornamenting it under her own special and particular charge.
The sphere of Mary Erskine's duties and pleasures was within doors. Her conveniences for house-keeping were somewhat limited at first, but Albert, who kept himself busy at work on his land all day, spent the evenings in his shanty shop, making various household implements and articles of furniture for her. Mary sat with him, usually, at such times, knitting by the side of the great, blazing fire, made partly for the sake of the light that it afforded, and partly for the warmth, which was required to temper the coolness of the autumnal evenings. Mary took a very special interest in the progress of Albert's work, every thing which he made being for her. Each new acquisition, as one article after another was completed and delivered into her possession, gave her fresh pleasure: and she deposited it in its proper place in her house with a feeling of great satisfaction and pride.
"Mary Erskine," said Albert one evening—for though she was married, and her name thus really changed, Albert himself, as well as every body else, went on calling her Mary Erskine just as before—"it is rather hard to make you wait so long for these conveniences, especially as there is no necessity for it. We need not have paid for our land this three years. I might have taken the money and built a handsome house, and furnished it for you at once."
"And so have been in debt for the land," said Mary.
"Yes," said Albert. "I could have paid off that debt by the profits of the farming. I can lay up a hundred dollars a year, certainly."
"No," said Mary Erskine. "I like this plan the best. We will pay as we go along. It will be a great deal better to have the three hundred dollars for something else than to pay old debts with. We will build a better house than this if we want one, one of these years, when we get the money. But I like this house very much as it is. Perhaps, however, it is only because it is my own."
It was not altogether the idea that it was her own that made Mary Erskine like her house. The interior of it was very pleasant indeed, especially after Albert had completed the furnishing of it, and had laid the floor. It contained but one room, it is true, but that was a very spacious one. There were, in fact, two apartments enclosed by the walls and the roof, though only one of them could strictly be called a room. The other was rather a shed, or stoop, and it was entered from the front by a wide opening, like a great shed door. The entrance to the house proper was by a door opening from this stoop, so as to be sheltered from the storms in winter. There was a very large fire place made of stones in the middle of one side of the room, with a large flat stone for a hearth in front of it. This hearth stone was very smooth, and Mary Erskine kept it always very bright and clean. On one side of the fire was what they called a settle, which was a long wooden seat with a very high back. It was placed on the side of the fire toward the door, so that it answered the purpose of a screen to keep off any cold currents of air, which might come in on blustering winter nights, around the door. On the other side of the fire was a small and very elegant mahogany work table. This was a present to Mary Erskine from Mrs. Bell on the day of her marriage. There were drawers in this table containing sundry conveniences. The upper drawer was made to answer the purpose of a desk, and it had an inkstand in a small division in one corner. Mrs. Bell had thought of taking this inkstand out, and putting in some spools, or something else which Mary Erskine would be able to use. But Mary herself would not allow her to make such a change. She said it was true that she could not write, but that was no reason why she should not have an inkstand. So she filled the inkstand with ink, and furnished the desk completely in other respects, by putting in six sheets of paper, a pen, and several wafers. The truth was, she thought it possible that an occasion might arise some time or other, at which Albert might wish to write a letter; and if such a case should occur, it would give her great pleasure to have him write his letter at her desk.
Beyond the work table, on one of the sides of the room, was a cupboard, and next to the cupboard a large window. This was the only window in the house, and it had a sash which would rise and fall. Mary Erskine had made white curtains for this window, which could be parted in the middle, and hung up upon nails driven into the logs which formed the wall of the house, one on each side. Of what use these curtains could be except to make the room look more snug and pleasant within, it would be difficult to say; for there was only one vast expanse of forests and mountains on that side of the house, so that there was nobody to look in.
On the back side of the room, in one corner, was the bed. It was supported upon a bedstead which Albert had made. The bedstead had high posts, and was covered, like the window, with curtains. In the other corner was the place for the loom, with the spinning-wheel between the loom and the bed. When Mary Erskine was using the spinning-wheel, she brought it out into the center of the room. The loom was not yet finished. Albert was building it, working upon it from time to time as he had opportunity. The frame of it was up, and some of the machinery was made.
Mary Erskine kept most of her clothes in a trunk; but Albert was making her a bureau.
Instead of finding it lonesome at her new home, as Mrs. Bell had predicted, Mary Erskine had plenty of company. The girls from the village, whom she used to know, were very fond of coming out to see her. Many of them were much younger than she was, and they loved to ramble about in the woods around Mary Erskine's house, and to play along the bank of the brook. Mary used to show them too, every time they came, the new articles which Albert had made for her, and to explain to them the gradual progress of the improvements. Mary Bell herself was very fond of going to see Mary Erskine,—though she was of course at that time too young to go alone. Sometimes however Mrs. Bell would send her out in the morning and let her remain all day, playing, very happily, around the door and down by the spring. She used to play all day among the logs and stumps, and upon the sandy beach by the side of the brook, and yet when she went home at night she always looked as nice, and her clothes were as neat and as clean as when she went in the morning. Mrs. Bell wondered at this, and on observing that it continued to be so, repeatedly, after several visits, she asked Mary Bell how it happened that Mary Erskine kept her so nice.
"Oh," said Mary Bell, "I always put on my working frock when I go out to Mary Erskine's."
The working frock was a plain, loose woolen dress, which Mary Erskine made for Mary Bell, and which Mary Bell, always put on in the morning, whenever she came to the farm. Her own dress was taken off and laid carefully away upon the bed, under the curtains. Her shoes and stockings were taken off too, so that she might play in the brook if she pleased, though Mary Erskine told her it was not best to remain in the water long enough to have her feet get very cold.
When Mary Bell was dressed thus in her working frock, she was allowed to play wherever she pleased, so that she enjoyed almost an absolute and unbounded liberty. And yet there were some restrictions. She must not go across the brook, for fear that she might get lost in the woods, nor go out of sight of the house in any direction. She might build fires upon any of the stumps or logs, but not within certain limits of distance from the house, lest she should set the house on fire. And she must not touch the axe, for fear that she might cut herself, nor climb upon the wood-pile, for fear that it might fall down upon her. With some such restrictions as these, she could do whatever she pleased.
She was very much delighted, one morning in September, when she was playing around the house in her working frock, at finding a great hole or hollow under a stump, which she immediately resolved to have for her oven. She was sitting down upon the ground by the side of it, and she began to call out as loud as she could,
"Mary Erskine! Mary Erskine!"
But Mary Erskine did not answer. Mary Bell could hear the sound of the spinning-wheel in the house, and she wondered why the spinner could not hear her, when she called so loud.
She listened, watching for the pauses in the buzzing sound of the wheel, and endeavored to call out in the pauses,—but with no better success than before. At last she got up and walked along toward the house, swinging in her hand a small wooden shovel, which Albert had made for her to dig wells with in the sand on the margin of the brook.
"Mary Erskine!" said she, when she got to the door of the house, "didn't you hear me calling for you?"
"Yes," said Mary Erskine.
"Then why did not you come?" said Mary Bell.
"Because I was disobedient," said Mary Erskine, "and now I suppose I must be punished."
"Well," said Mary Bell. The expression of dissatisfaction and reproof upon Mary Bell's countenance was changed immediately into one of surprise and pleasure, at the idea of Mary Erskine's being punished for disobeying her. So she said,
"Well. And what shall your punishment be?"
"What did you want me for?" asked Mary Erskine.
"I wanted you to see my oven."
"Have you got an oven?" asked Mary Erskine.
"Yes," said Mary Bell, "It is under a stump. I have got some wood, and now I want some fire."
"Very well," said Mary Erskine, "get your fire-pan."
Mary Bell's fire-pan, was an old tin dipper with a long handle. It had been worn out as a dipper, and so they used to let Mary Bell have it to carry her fire in. There were several small holes in the bottom of the dipper, so completely was it worn out: but this made it all the better for a fire-pan, since the air which came up through the holes, fanned the coals and kept them alive. This dipper was very valuable, too, for another purpose. Mary Bell was accustomed, sometimes, to go down to the brook and dip up water with it, in order to see the water stream down into the brook again, through these holes, in a sort of a shower.
Mary Bell went, accordingly, for her fire-pan, which she found in its place in the open stoop or shed. She came into the house, and Mary Erskine, raking open the ashes in the fire-place, took out two large coals with the tongs, and dropped them into the dipper. Mary Bell held the dipper at arm's length before her, and began to walk along.
"Hold it out upon one side," said Mary Erskine, "and then if you fall down, you will not fall upon your fire."
Mary Bell, obeying this injunction, went out to her oven and put the coals in at the mouth of it. Then she began to gather sticks, and little branches, and strips of birch bark, and other silvan combustibles, which she found scattered about the ground, and put them upon the coals to make the fire. She stopped now and then a minute or two to rest and to listen to the sound of Mary Erskine's spinning. At last some sudden thought seemed to come into her head, and throwing down upon the ground a handful of sticks which she had in her hand, and was just ready to put upon the fire, she got up and walked toward the house.
"Mary Erskine," said she, "I almost forgot about your punishment."
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "I hoped that you had forgot about it, altogether."
"Why?" said Mary Bell.
"Because," said Mary Erskine, "I don't like to be punished."
"But you must be punished," said Mary Bell, very positively, "and-what shall your punishment be?"
"How would it do," said Mary Erskine, going on, however, all the time with her spinning, "for me to have to give you two potatoes to roast in your oven?—or one? One potato will be enough punishment for such a little disobedience."
"No; two," said Mary Bell.
"Well, two," said Mary Erskine. "You may go and get them in a pail out in the stoop. But you must wash them first, before you put them in the oven. You can wash them down at the brook."
"I am afraid that I shall get my fingers smutty," said Mary Bell, "at my oven, for the stump is pretty black."
"No matter if you do," said Mary Erskine. "You can go down and wash them at the brook."
"And my frock, too," said Mary Bell.
"No matter for that either," said Mary Erskine; "only keep it as clean as you can."
So Mary Bell took the two potatoes and went down to the brook to wash them. She found, however, when she reached the brook, that there was a square piece of bark lying upon the margin of the water, and she determined to push it in and sail it, for her ship, putting the two potatoes on for cargo. After sailing the potatoes about for some time, her eye chanced to fall upon a smooth spot in the sand, which she thought would make a good place for a garden. So she determined to plant her potatoes instead of roasting them.
She accordingly dug a hole in the sand with her fingers, and put the potatoes in, and then after covering them, over with the sand, she went to the oven to get her fire-pan for her watering-pot, in order to water her garden.
The holes in the bottom of the dipper made it an excellent watering-pot, provided the garden to be watered was not too far from the brook: for the shower would always begin to fall the instant the dipper was lifted out of the water.
After watering her garden again and again, Mary Bell concluded on the whole not to wait for her potatoes to grow, but dug them up and began to wash them in the brook, to make them ready for the roasting. Her little feet sank into the sand at the margin of the water while she held the potatoes in the stream, one in each hand, and watched the current as it swept swiftly by them. After a while she took them out and put them in the sun upon a flat stone to dry, and when they were dry she carried them to her oven and buried them in the hot embers there.
Thus Mary Bell would amuse herself, hour after hour of the long day, when she went to visit Mary Erskine, with an endless variety of childish imaginings. Her working-frock became in fact, in her mind, the emblem of complete and perfect liberty and happiness, unbounded and unalloyed.
The other children of the village, too, were accustomed to come out and see Mary Erskine, and sometimes older and more ceremonious company still. There was one young lady named Anne Sophia, who, having been a near neighbor of Mrs. Bell's, was considerably acquainted with Mary Erskine, though as the two young ladies had very different tastes and habits of mind, they never became very intimate friends. Anne Sophia was fond of dress and of company. Her thoughts were always running upon village subjects and village people, and her highest ambition was to live there. She had been, while Mary Erskine had lived at Mrs. Bell's, very much interested in a young man named Gordon. He was a clerk in a store in the village. He was a very agreeable young man, and much more genteel and polished in his personal appearance than Albert. He had great influence among the young men of the village, being the leader in all the excursions and parties of pleasure which were formed among them. Anne Sophia knew very well that Mr. Gordon liked to see young ladies handsomely dressed when they appeared in public, and partly to please him, and partly to gratify that very proper feeling of pleasure which all young ladies have in appearing well, she spent a large part of earnings in dress. She was not particularly extravagant, nor did she get into debt; but she did not, like Mary Erskine, attempt to lay up any of her wages. She often endeavored to persuade Mary Erskine to follow her example. "It is of no use," said she, "for girls like you and me to try to lay up money. If we are ever married we shall make our husbands take care of us; and if we are not married we shall not want our savings, for we can always earn what we need as we go along."
Mary Erskine had no reply at hand to make to this reasoning, but she was not convinced by it, so she went on pursuing her own course, while Anne Sophia pursued hers. Anne Sophia was a very capable and intelligent girl, and as Mr. Gordon thought, would do credit to any society in which she might be called to move. He became more and more interested in her, and it happened that they formed an engagement to be married, just about the time that Albert made his proposal to Mary Erskine.
Mr. Gordon was a very promising business man, and had an offer from the merchant with whom he was employed as a clerk, to enter into partnership with him, just before the time of his engagement. He declined this offer, determining rather to go into business independently. He had laid up about as much money as Albert had, and by means of this, and the excellent letters of recommendation which he obtained from the village people, he obtained a large stock of goods, on credit, in the city. When buying his goods he also bought a small quantity of handsome furniture, on the same terms. He hired a store. He also hired a small white house, with green trees around it, and a pretty garden behind. He was married nearly at the same time with Albert, and Anne Sophia in taking possession of her genteel and beautiful village home, was as happy as Mary Erskine was in her sylvan solitude. Mr. Gordon told her that he had made a calculation, and he thought there was no doubt that, if business was tolerably good that winter, he should be able to clear enough to pay all his expenses and to pay for his furniture.
His calculations proved to be correct. Business was very good. He paid for his furniture, and bought as much more on a new credit in the spring.
Anne Sophia came out to make a call upon Mary Erskine, about a month after she had got established in her new home. She came in the morning. Mr. Gordon brought her in a chaise as far as to the corner, and she walked the rest of the way. She was dressed very handsomely, and yet in pretty good taste. It was not wholly a call of ceremony, for Anne Sophia felt really a strong attachment to Mary Erskine, and had a great desire to see her in her new home.
When she rose to take her leave, after her call was ended, she asked Mary Erskine to come to the village and see her as soon as she could. "I meant to have called upon you long before this," said she, "but I have been so busy, and we have had so much company. But I want to see you very much indeed. We have a beautiful house, and I have a great desire to show it to you. I think you have got a beautiful place here for a farm, one of these days; but you ought to make your husband build you a better house. He is as able to do it as my husband is to get me one, I have no doubt."
Mary Erskine had no doubt either. She did not say so however, but only replied that she liked her house very well. The real reason why she liked it so much was one that Anne Sophia did not consider. The reason was that it was her own. Whereas Anne Sophia lived in a house, which, pretty as it was, belonged to other people.
All these things, it must be remembered, took place eight or ten years before the time when Malleville and Phonny went to visit Mary Erskine, and when Mary Bell was only four or five years old. Phonny and Malleville, as well as a great many other children, had grown up from infancy since that time. In fact, the Jemmy who fell from his horse and sprained his ankle the day they came, was Jemmy Gordon, Anne Sophia's oldest son.
Both Mary Erskine and Anne Sophia went on very pleasantly and prosperously, each in her own way, for several years. Every spring Albert cut down more trees, and made new openings and clearings. He built barns and sheds about his house, and gradually accumulated quite a stock of animals. With the money that he obtained by selling the grain and the grass seed which he raised upon his land, he bought oxen and sheep and cows. These animals fed in his pastures in the summer, and in the winter he gave them hay from his barn.
Mary Erskine used to take the greatest pleasure in getting up early in the cold winter mornings, and going out with her husband to see him feed the animals. She always brought in a large pile of wood every night, the last thing before going to bed, and laid it upon the hearth where it would be ready at hand for the morning fire. She also had a pail of water ready, from the spring, and the tea-kettle by the side of it, ready to be filled. The potatoes, too, which were to be roasted for breakfast, were always prepared the night before, and placed in an earthen pan, before the fire. Mary Erskine, in fact, was always very earnest to make every possible preparation over night, for the work of the morning. This arose partly from an instinctive impulse which made her always wish, as she expressed it, "to do every duty as soon as it came in sight," and partly from the pleasure which she derived from a morning visit to the animals in the barn. She knew them all by name. She imagined that they all knew her, and were glad to see her by the light of her lantern in the morning. It gave her the utmost satisfaction to see them rise, one after another, from their straw, and begin eagerly to eat the hay which Albert pitched down to them from the scaffold, while she, standing below upon the barn floor, held the lantern so that he could see. She was always very careful to hold it so that the cows and the oxen could see too.
One day, when Albert came home from the village, he told Mary Erskine that he had an offer of a loan of two hundred dollars, from Mr. Keep. Mr. Keep was an elderly gentleman of the village,—of a mild and gentle expression of countenance, and white hair. He was a man of large property, and often had money to lend at interest. He had an office, where he used to do his business. This office was in a wing of his house, which was a large and handsome house in the center of the village. Mr. Keep had a son who was a physician, and he used often to ask his son's opinion and advice about his affairs. One day when Mr. Keep was sitting in his office, Mr. Gordon came in and told him that he had some plans for enlarging his business a little, and wished to know if Mr. Keep had two or three hundred dollars that he would like to lend for six months. Mr. Keep, who, though he was a very benevolent and a very honorable man, was very careful in all his money dealings, said that he would look a little into his accounts, and see how much he had to spare, and let Mr. Gordon know the next day.
That night Mr. Keep asked his son what he thought of lending Mr. Gordon two or three hundred dollars. His son said doubtfully that he did not know. He was somewhat uncertain about it. Mr. Gordon was doing very well, he believed, but then his expenses were quite heavy, and it was not quite certain how it would turn with him. Mr. Keep then said that he had two or three hundred dollars on hand which he must dispose of in some way or other, and he asked his son what he should do with it. His son recommended that he should offer it to Albert. Albert formerly lived at Mr. Keep's, as a hired man, so that Mr. Keep knew him very well.
"He is going on quite prosperously in his farm, I understand," said the doctor. "His land is all paid for, and he is getting quite a stock of cattle, and very comfortable buildings. I think it very likely that he can buy more stock with the money, and do well with it. And, at all events, you could not put the money in safer hands."
"I will propose it to him," said Mr. Keep.
He did propose it to him that very afternoon, for it happened that Albert went to the village that day. Albert told Mr. Keep that he was very much obliged to him for the offer of the money, and that he would consider whether it would be best for him to take it or not, and let him know in the morning. So he told Mary Erskine of the offer that he had had, as soon as he got home.
"I am very glad to get such an offer," said Albert.
"Shall you take the money?" said his wife.
"I don't know," replied Albert. "I rather think not."
"Then why are you glad to get the offer?" asked Mary Erskine.
"Oh, it shows that my credit is good in the village. It must be very good, indeed, to lead such a man as Mr. Keep to offer to lend me money, of his own accord. It is a considerable comfort to know that I can get money, whenever I want it, even if I never take it."
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "so it is."
"And it is all owing to you," said Albert.
"To me?" said Mary Erskine.
"Yes," said he; "to your prudence and economy, and to your contented and happy disposition. That is one thing that I always liked you for. It is so easy to make you happy. There is many a wife, in your situation, who could not have been happy unless their husband would build them a handsome house and fill it with handsome furniture—even if he had to go in debt for his land to pay for it."
Mary Erskine did not reply, though it gratified her very much to hear her husband commend her.
"Well," said she at length, "I am very glad that you have got good credit. What should you do with the money, if you borrowed it?"
"Why, one thing that I could do," said Albert, "would be to build a new house."
"No," said Mary Erskine, "I like this house very much. I don't want any other—certainly not until we can build one with our own money."
"Then," said Albert, "I can buy more stock, and perhaps hire some help, and get more land cleared this fall, so as to have greater crops next spring, and then sell the stock when it has grown and increased, and also the crops, and so get money enough to pay back the debt and have something over."
"Should you have much over?" asked Mary.
"Why that would depend upon how my business turned out,—and that would depend upon the weather, and the markets, and other things which we can not now foresee. I think it probable that we should have a good deal over."
"Well," said Mary Erskine, "then I would take the money."
"But, then, on the other hand," said Albert, "I should run some risk of embarrassing myself, if things did not turn out well. If I were to be sick, so that I could not attend to so much business, or if I should Jose any of my stock, or if the crops should not do well, then I might not get enough to pay back the debt."
"And what should you do then?" asked Mary Erskine.
"Why then," replied Albert, "I should have to make up the deficiency in some other way. I might ask Mr. Keep to put off the payment of the note, or I might borrow the money of somebody else to pay him, or I might sell some of my other stock. I could do any of these things well enough, but it would perhaps cause me some trouble and anxiety."
"Then I would not take the money," said Mary Erskine. "I don't like anxiety. I can bear any thing else better than anxiety."
"However, I don't know any thing about it," continued Mary Erskine, after a short pause. "You can judge best."
They conversed on the subject some time longer, Albert being quite at a loss to know what it was best to do. Mary Erskine, for her part, seemed perfectly willing that he should borrow the money to buy more stock, as she liked the idea of having more oxen, sheep, and cows. But she seemed decidedly opposed to using borrowed money to build a new house, or to buy new furniture. Her head would ache, she said, to lie on a pillow of feathers that was not paid for.
Albert finally concluded not to borrow the money, and so Mr. Keep lent it to Mr. Gordon.
Things went on in this way for about three or four years, and then Albert began to think seriously of building another house. He had now money enough of his own to build it with. His stock had become so large that he had not sufficient barn room for his hay, and he did not wish to build larger barns where he then lived, for in the course of his clearings he had found a much better place for a house than the one which they had at first selected. Then his house was beginning to be too small for his family, for Mary Erskine had, now, two children. One was an infant, and the other was about two years old. These children slept in a trundle-bed, which was pushed under the great bed in the daytime, but still the room became rather crowded. So Albert determined to build another house.
Mary Erskine was very much interested in this plan. She would like to live in a handsome house as well as any other lady, only she preferred to wait until she could have one of her own. Now that that time had arrived, she was greatly pleased with the prospect of having her kitchen, her sitting-room, and her bed-room, in three separate rooms, instead of having them, as heretofore, all in one. Then the barns and barn-yards, and the pens and sheds for the sheep and cattle, were all going to be much more convenient than they had been; so that Albert could take care of a greater amount of stock than before, with the same labor. The new house, too, was going to be built in a much more pleasant situation than the old one, and the road from it to the corner was to be improved, so that they could go in and out with a wagon. In a word, Mary Erskine's heart was filled with new hopes and anticipations, as she saw before her means and sources of happiness, higher and more extended than she had ever before enjoyed.
When the time approached for moving into the new house Mary Erskine occupied herself, whenever she had any leisure time, in packing up such articles as were not in use. One afternoon while she was engaged in this occupation, Albert came home from the field much earlier than usual. Mary Erskine was very glad to see him, as she wished him to nail up the box in which she had been packing her cups and saucers. She was at work on the stoop, very near the door, so that she could watch the children. The baby was in the cradle. The other child, whose name was Bella, was playing about the floor.
Albert stopped a moment to look at Mary Erskine's packing, and then went in and took his seat upon the settle.
"Tell me when your box is ready," said he, "and I will come and nail it for you."
Bella walked along toward her father—for she had just learned to walk—and attempted to climb up into his lap.
"Run away, Bella," said Albert.
Mary Erskine was surprised to hear Albert tell Bella to run away, for he was usually very glad to have his daughter come to him when he got home from his work. She looked up to see what was the matter. He was sitting upon the settle, and leaning his head upon his hand.
Mary Erskine left her work and went to him.
"Are you not well, Albert?" said she.
"My head aches a little. It ached in the field, and that was the reason why I thought I would come home. But it is better now. Are you ready for me to come and nail the box?"
"No," said Mary, "not quite; and besides, it is no matter about it to-night. I will get you some tea."
"No," said Albert, "finish your packing first, and I will come and nail it. Then we can put it out of the way."
Mary Erskine accordingly finished her packing, and Albert went to it, to nail the cover on. He drove one or two nails, and then he put the hammer down, and sat down himself upon the box, saying that he could not finish the nailing after all. He was too unwell. He went into the room, Mary Erskine leading and supporting him. She conducted him to the bed and opened the curtains so as to let him lie down. She helped him to undress himself, and then left him, a few minutes while she began to get some tea. She moved the box, which she had been packing, away from the stoop door, and put it in a corner. She drew out the trundle-bed, and made, it ready for Bella. She sat down and gave Bella some supper, and then put her into the trundle-bed, directing her to shut up her eyes and go to sleep. Bella obeyed.
Mary Erskine then went to the fire and made some tea and toast for Albert, doing every thing in as quiet and noiseless a manner as possible. When the tea and toast were ready she put them upon a small waiter, and then moving her little work-table up to the side of the bed, she put the waiter upon it. When every thing was thus ready, she opened the curtains. Albert was asleep.
He seemed however to be uneasy and restless, and he moaned now and then as if in pain. Mary Erskine stood leaning over him for some time, with a countenance filled with anxiety and concern. She then turned away, saying to herself, "If Albert is going to be sick and to die, what will become of me?" She kneeled down upon the floor at the foot of the bed, crossed her arms before her, laid them down very quietly upon the counterpane, and reclined her forehead upon them. She remained in that position for some time without speaking a word.
Presently she rose and took the tea and toast upon the waiter, and set them down by the fire in order to keep them warm. She next went to look at the children, to see if they were properly covered. Then she opened the bed-curtains a little way in order that she might see Albert in case he should wake or move, and having adjusted them as she wished, she went to the stoop door and took her seat there, with her knitting-work in her hand, in a position from which, on one side she could look into the room and observe every thing which took place there, and on the other side, watch the road and see if any one went by. She thought it probable that some of the workmen, who had been employed at the new house, might be going home about that time, and she wished to send into the village by them to ask Dr. Keep to come.
Mary Erskine succeeded in her design of sending into the village by one of the workmen, and Dr. Keep came about nine o'clock He prescribed for Albert, and prepared, and left, some medicine for him. He said he hoped that he was not going to be very sick, but he could tell better in the morning when he would come again.
"But you ought not to be here alone," said he to Mary Erskine. "You ought to have some one with you."
"No," said Mary Erskine, "I can get along very well, alone, to-night,—and I think he will be better in the morning."
Stories of sickness and suffering are painful to read, as the reality is painful to witness. We will therefore shorten the tale of Mary Erskine's anxiety and distress, by saying, at once that Albert grew worse instead of better, every day for a fortnight, and then died.
During his sickness Mrs. Bell spent a great deal of time at Mary Erskine's house, and other persons, from the village, came every day to watch with Albert, and to help take care of the children. There was a young man also, named Thomas, whom Mary Erskine employed to come and stay there all day, to take the necessary care of the cattle and of the farm. They made a bed for Thomas in the scaffold in the barn. They also made up a bed in the stoop, in a corner which they divided off by means of a curtain. This bed was for the watchers, and for Mary Erskine herself, when she or they wished to lie down. Mary Erskine went to it, herself very seldom. She remained at her husband's bedside almost all the time, day and night. Albert suffered very little pain, and seemed to sleep most of the time. He revived a little the afternoon before he died, and appeared as if he were going to be better. He looked up into Mary Erskine's face and smiled. It was plain, however, that he was very feeble.
There was nobody but Mrs. Bell in the house, at that time, besides Mary Erskine and the baby. Bella had gone to Mrs. Bell's house, and Mary Bell was taking care of her. Albert beckoned his wife to come to him, and said to her, in a faint and feeble voice, that he wished Mrs. Bell to write something for him. Mary Erskine immediately brought her work-table up to the bedside, opened the drawer, took out one of the sheets of paper and a pen, opened the inkstand, and thus made every thing ready for writing. Mrs. Bell took her seat by the table in such a manner that her head was near to Albert's as it lay upon the pillow.
"I am ready now," said Mrs. Bell.
"I bequeath all my property,"—said Albert.
Mrs. Bell wrote these words upon the paper, and then said,
"Well: I have written that."
"To Mary Erskine my wife," said Albert.
"I have written that," said Mrs. Bell, a minute afterwards.
"Now hand it to me to sign," said Albert.
They put the paper upon a book, and raising Albert up in the bed, they put the pen into his hand. He wrote his name at the bottom of the writing at the right hand. Then moving his hand to the left, he wrote the word 'witness' under the writing on that side. His hand trembled, but he wrote the word pretty plain. As he finished writing it he told Mrs. Bell that she must sign her name as witness. When this had been done he gave back the paper and the pen into Mary Erskine's hand, and said that she must take good care of that paper, for it was very important. He then laid his head down again upon the pillow and shut his eyes. He died that night.
Mary Erskine was entirely overwhelmed with grief, when she found that all was over. In a few hours, however, she became comparatively calm, and the next day she began to help Mrs. Bell in making preparations for the funeral. She sent for Bella to come home immediately. Mrs. Bell urged her very earnestly to take both the children, and go with her to her house, after the funeral, and stay there for a few days at least, till she could determine what to do.
"No," said Mary Erskine. "It will be better for me to come back here."
"What do you think you shall do?" said Mrs. Bell.
"I don't know," said Mary Erskine. "I can't even begin to think now. I am going to wait a week before I try to think about it at all."
"And in the mean time you are going to stay in this house."
"Yes," said Mary Erskine, "I think that is best."
"But you must not stay here alone," said Mrs. Bell. "I will come back with you and stay with you, at least one night."
"No," said Mary Erskine. "I have got to learn to be alone now, and I may as well begin at once. I am very much obliged to you for all your—"
Here Mary Erskine's voice faltered, and she suddenly stopped. Mrs. Bell pitied her with all her heart, but she said no more. She remained at the house while the funeral procession was gone to the grave; and some friends came back with Mary Erskine, after the funeral. They all, however, went away about sunset, leaving Mary Erskine alone with her children.
As soon as her friends had gone, Mary Erskine took the children and sat down in a rocking-chair, before the fire, holding them both in her lap, the baby upon one side and Bella upon the other, and began to rock back and forth with great rapidity. She kissed the children again and again, with many tears, and sometimes she groaned aloud, in the excess of her anguish. She remained sitting thus for half an hour. The twilight gradually faded away. The flickering flame, which rose from the fire in the fire-place, seemed to grow brighter as the daylight disappeared, and to illuminate the whole interior of the room, so as to give it a genial and cheerful expression. Mary Erskine gradually became calm. The children, first the baby, and then Bella, fell asleep. Finally Mary Erskine herself, who was by this time entirely exhausted with watching, care, and sorrow, fell asleep too. Mary Erskine slept sweetly for two full hours, and then was awaked by the nestling of the baby.
When Mary Erskine awoke she was astonished to find her mind perfectly calm, tranquil, and happy. She looked down upon her children—Bella asleep and the baby just awaking—with a heart full of maternal joy and pleasure. Her room, it seemed to her, never appeared so bright and cheerful and happy as then. She carried Bella to the bed and laid her gently down in Albert's place, and then, going back to the fire, she gave the baby the food which it required, and rocked it to sleep. Her heart was resigned, and tranquil, and happy, She put the baby, at length, into the cradle, and then, kneeling down, she thanked God with her whole soul for having heard her prayer, and granted her the spirit of resignation and peace. She then pushed open the curtains, and reclined herself upon the bed, where she lay for some time, with a peaceful smile upon her countenance, watching the flashing of a little tongue, of flame, which broke out at intervals from the end of a brand in the fire. After lying quietly thus, for a little while, she closed her eyes, and gradually fell asleep again.
She slept very profoundly. It was a summer night, although, as usual, Mary Erskine had a fire. Clouds rose in the west, bringing with them gusts of wind and rain. The wind and the rain beat against the window, but they did not wake her. It thundered. The thunder did not wake her. The shower passed over, and the sky became, serene again, while Mary Erskine slept tranquilly on. At length the baby began to move in the cradle. Mary Erskine heard the first sound that its nestling made, and raised herself up suddenly. The fire had nearly gone out. There was no flame, and the room was lighted only by the glow of the burning embers. Mary Erskine was frightened to find herself alone. The tranquillity and happiness which she had experienced a few hours ago were all gone, and her mind was filled, instead, with an undefined and mysterious distress and terror. She went to the fire-place and built a new fire, for the sake of its company. She took the baby from the cradle and sat down in the rocking-chair, determining not to go to bed again till morning. She went to the window and looked out at the stars, to see if she could tell by them how long it would be before the morning would come. She felt afraid, though she knew not why, and holding the baby in her arms, with its head upon her shoulder, she walked back and forth across the room, in great distress and anguish, longing for the morning to come. Such is the capriciousness of grief.
Mrs. Bell went home on the evening of the funeral, very much exhausted and fatigued under the combined effects of watching, anxiety, and exertion. She went to bed, and slept very soundly until nearly midnight. The thunder awaked her.
She felt solitary and afraid. Mary Bell, who was then about nine years old, was asleep in a crib, in a corner of the room. There was a little night lamp, burning dimly on the table, and it shed a faint and dismal gleam upon the objects around it. Every few minutes, however, the lightning would flash into the windows and glare a moment upon the walls, and then leave the room in deeper darkness than ever. The little night lamp, whose feeble beam had been for the moment entirely overpowered, would then gradually come out to view again, to diffuse once more its faint illumination, until another flash of lightning came to extinguish it as before.
Mrs. Bell rose from her bed, and went to the crib to see if Mary Bell was safe. She found her sleeping quietly. Mrs. Bell drew the crib out a little way from the wall, supposing that she should thus put it into a somewhat safer position. Then she lighted a large lamp. Then she closed all the shutters of the room, in order to shut out the lightning. Then she went to bed again, and tried to go to sleep. But she could not. She was thinking of Mary Erskine, and endeavoring to form some plan for her future life. She could not, however, determine what it was best for her to do.
In the morning, after breakfast, she sat down at the window, with her knitting work in her hand, looking very thoughtful and sad. Presently she laid her work down in her lap, and seemed lost in some melancholy reverie.
Mary Bell, who had been playing about the floor for some time, came up to her mother, and seeing her look so thoughtful and sorrowful, she said,
"Mother, what is the matter with you?"
"Why, Mary," said Mrs. Bell, in a melancholy tone, "I was thinking of poor Mary Erskine."
"Well, mother," said Mary Bell, "could not you give her a little money, if she is poor? I will give her my ten cents."
Mary Bell had a silver piece of ten cents, which she kept in a little box, in her mother's room up stairs.
"Oh, she is not poor for want of money," said Mrs. Bell. "Her husband made his will, before he died, and left her all his property."
"Though I told Mr. Keep about it last night," continued Mrs. Bell, talking half to herself and half to Mary, "and he said the will was not good."
"Not good," said Mary. "I think it is a very good will indeed. I am sure Mary Erskine ought to have it all. Who should have it, if not she?"
"The children, I suppose," said her mother.
"The children!" exclaimed Mary Bell. "Hoh! They are not half big enough. They are only two babies; a great baby and a little one."
Mrs. Bell did not answer this, nor did she seem to take much notice of it, but took up her knitting again, and went on musing as before. Mary Bell did not understand very well about the will. The case was this:
The law, in the state where Mary Erskine lived, provided that when a man died, as Albert had done, leaving a wife and children, and a farm, and also stock, and furniture, and other such movable property, if he made no will, the wife was to have a part of the property, and the rest must be saved for the children, in order to be delivered to them, when they should grow up, and be ready to receive it and use it. The farm, when there was a farm, was to be kept until the children should grow up, only their mother was to have one third of the benefit of it,—that is, one third of the rent of it, if they could let it—until the children became of age. The amount of the other two thirds was to be kept for them. In respect to all movable property, such as stock and tools, and furniture, and other things of that kind, since they could not very conveniently be kept till the children were old enough to use them, they were to be sold, and the wife was to have half the value, and the children the other half.
In respect to the children's part of all the property, they were not, themselves, to have the care of it, but some person was to be appointed to be their guardian. This guardian was to have the care of all their share of the property, until they were of age, when it was to be paid over into their hands.
If, however, the husband, before his death, was disposed to do so, he might make a will, and give all the property to whomsoever he pleased. If he decided, as Albert had done, to give it all to his wife, then it would come wholly under her control, at once. She would be under no obligation to keep any separate account of the children's share, but might expend it all herself, or if she were so inclined, she might keep it safely, and perhaps add to it by the proceeds of her own industry, and then, when the children should grow up, she might give them as much as her maternal affection should dictate.
In order that the property of men who die, should be disposed of properly, according to law, or according to the will, if any will be made, it is required that soon after the death of any person takes place, the state of the case should be reported at a certain public office, instituted to attend to this business. There is such an office in every county in the New England states. It is called the Probate office. The officer, who has this business in charge, is called the Judge of Probate. There is a similar system in force, in all the other states of the Union, though the officers are sometimes called by different names from those which they receive in New England.
Now, while Albert was lying sick upon his bed, he was occupied a great deal of the time, while they thought that he was asleep, in thinking what was to become of his wife and children in case he should die. He knew very well that in case he died without making any will, his property must be divided, under the direction of the Judge of Probate, and one part of it be kept for the children, while Mary Erskine would have the control only of the other part. This is a very excellent arrangement in all ordinary cases, so that the law, in itself, is a very good law. There are, however, some cases, which are exceptions, and Albert thought that Mary Erskine's case was one. It was owing, in a great measure, to her prudence and economy, to her efficient industry, and to her contented and happy disposition, that he had been able to acquire any property, instead of spending all that he earned, like Mr. Gordon, as fast as he earned it. Then, besides, he knew that Mary Erskine would act as conscientiously and faithfully for the benefit of the children, if the property was all her own, as she would if a part of it was theirs, and only held by herself, for safe keeping, as their guardian. Whereas, if this last arrangement went into effect, he feared that it would make her great trouble to keep the accounts, as she could not write, not even to sign her name. He determined, therefore, to make a will, and give all his property, of every kind, absolutely to her. This he did, in the manner described in the last chapter.
The law invests every man with a very absolute power in respect to his property, authorizing him to make any disposition of it whatever, and carrying faithfully into effect, after his death, any wish that he may have expressed in regard to it, as his deliberate and final intention. It insists, however, that there should be evidence that the wish, so expressed, is really a deliberate and final act. It is not enough that the man should say in words what his wishes are. The will must be in writing, and it must be signed; or if the sick man can not write, he must make some mark with the pen, at the bottom of the paper, to stand instead of a signature, and to show that he considers the act, which he is performing, as a solemn and binding transaction. Nor will it do to have the will executed in the presence of only one witness; for if that were allowed, designing persons would sometimes persuade a sick man, who was rich, to sign a will which they themselves had written, telling him, perhaps, that it was only a receipt, or some other unimportant paper, and thus inducing him to convey his property in a way that he did not intend. The truth is, that there is necessity for a much greater degree of precautionary form, in the execution of a will, than in almost any other transaction; for as the man himself will be dead and gone when the time comes for carrying the will into effect,—and so can not give any explanation of his designs, it is necessary to make them absolutely clear and certain, independently of him. It was, accordingly, the law, in the state where Mary Erskine lived, that there should be three witnesses present, when any person signed a will; and also that when signing the paper, the man should say that he knew that it was his will. If three credible persons thus attested the reality and honesty of the transaction, it was thought sufficient, in all ordinary cases, to make it sure.
Albert, it seems, was not aware how many witnesses were required. When he requested Mrs. Bell to sign his will, as witness, he thought that he was doing all that was necessary to make it valid. When, however, Mrs. Bell, afterwards, in going home, met Mr. Keep and related to him the transaction, he said that he was afraid that the will was not good, meaning that it would not stand in law.
The thought that the will was probably not valid, caused Mrs. Bell a considerable degree of anxiety and concern, as she imagined that its failure would probably cause Mary Erskine a considerable degree of trouble and embarrassment, though she did not know precisely how. She supposed that the children's share of the property must necessarily be kept separate and untouched until they grew up, and that in the mean time their mother would have to work very hard in order to maintain herself and them too. But this is not the law. The guardian of children, in such cases, is authorized to expend, from the children's share of property, as much as is necessary for their maintenance while they are children; and it is only the surplus, if there is any, which it is required of her to pay over to them, when they come of age. It would be obviously unjust, in cases where children themselves have property left them by legacy, or falling to them by inheritance, to compel their father or mother to toil ten or twenty years to feed and clothe them, in order that they might have their property, whole and untouched, when they come of age. All that the law requires is that the property bequeathed to children, or falling to them by inheritance, shall always be exactly ascertained, and an account of it put upon record in the Probate office: and then, that a guardian shall be appointed, who shall expend only so much of it, while the children are young, as is necessary for their comfortable support and proper education; and then, when they come of age, if there is any surplus left, that it shall be paid over to them. In Mary Erskine's case, these accounts would, of course, cause her some trouble, but it would make but little difference in the end.