Medoline Selwyn's Work.
BY MRS. J. J. COLTER.
BOSTON: IRA BRADLEY & CO. COPYRIGHT, 1889.
"The golden opportunity. Is never offered twice: seize, then, the hour When Fortune smiles and Duty points the way; Nor shrink aside to 'scape the fear.— Nor pause though Pleasure beckon from her bower, But bravely bear thee onward to the goal"
I. Mrs. Blake II. Oaklands III. Esmerelda IV. The Funeral V. A New Accomplishment Learned VI. Mr. Winthrop VII. Examination VIII. Mrs. Larkum IX. An Evening Walk X. A Helping Hand XI. City Life XII. New Acquaintances XIII. Alone With His Dead XIV. Humble Charities XV. A Pleasant Surprise XVI. Hope Realized XVII. Christmas-tide XVIII. The Christmas Tree XIX. Three Important Letters XX. Mrs. Le Grande XXI. Mrs. Le Grande's Story XXII. The Changed Heart XXIII. The Encounter at St. Mark's XXIV. Mrs. Le Grande's Stratagem XXV. Beech Street Worshippers XXVI. From The Depths XXVII. Convalescence XXVIII. The Sound of Marriage Bells XXIX. The End
MEDOLINE SELWYN'S WORK.
The cars were not over-crowded, and were moving leisurely along in the soft, midsummer twilight. At first, I had felt a trifle annoyed at my carelessness in missing the Express by which I had been expected; but now I quite enjoyed going in this mixed train, since I could the better observe the country than in the swifter Express. As I drew near the end of my journey, my pulses began to quicken with nervousness, not unmixed with dread.
Captain Green, under whose care I had been placed when I left my home for the last eight years, had concluded, no doubt very wisely, that I could travel the remaining few miles through quiet county places alone. This last one hundred and fifty miles, however, had been the most trying part of the whole journey. My English was a trifle halting; all our teachers spoke German as their mother tongue at the school, and the last two years I was the only English-born pupil. Captain Green was an old East Indian officer, like my own dead father, and very readily undertook the care of a troublesome chit of a girl across the ocean, in memory of the strong friendship subsisting between himself and my father, now long since passed to other service than that of Her Gracious Majesty. The Captain was a very silent man, and therefore not calculated to help me to a better acquaintance of any language, while he did not encourage me to make friends with my traveling companions. The journey had been therefore a very quiet one to me, but I had found it delightful. I had, like most of our species, an innate love of the sea; and the long, still hours as I sat alone gazing out over the restless waters, have left one of the pleasantest of all the pictures hanging in memory's halls.
As I did not wish to be taken, even by the chance traveling companions of a few hours, for other than an English or American girl, I resolved to speak fewest possible words to any one on the journey; and when the conductor came for my ticket, I repressed the desire to ask him to tell me when my own station would be reached, and merely shook my head at the news agents who were more troublesome, if possible, than the dust and smoke which poured in at doors and windows. Captain Green had telegraphed my guardian the hour at which I would arrive, but I got so interested watching the busy crowds on the streets from my hotel window that, for a while, I forgot that I too needed a measure of their eager haste, if I were soon to terminate this long journey over land and sea. I was beginning to fear, at last, after the cars had been in motion some hours, that I might have passed my station; so I concluded to have my question carefully written down, and the next time the conductor came near me hand it to him. I had not long to wait, and giving him the slip of paper, I murmured "Please."
He read, and then looking at me very intently said:
"Are you a foreigner?"
"Oh, no; English," I said, blushing furiously.
"Why don't you speak then, when you want anything? That's what we're here for."
I bowed my head quite proudly and said, "Will you please, then, answer my question?"
"We won't be there for an hour or more. Are you not the young lady Mrs. Flaxman is expecting?"
"I am Mr. Winthrop's ward. I do not know any Mrs. Flaxman."
"Oh, it's all the same. She lives with him; is a cousin, or something connected with him. He is away now; left a month ago for the Pacific coast."
He was sitting now quite comfortably in the next seat.
"You needn't have any more anxiety about the stopping places," he continued, very cordially; "I will look after you, and see that you get safely home, if there's no one there to meet you. Most likely they expected you by the morning's Express." Then he inquired about my luggage, examining my checks and keeping up a running stream of conversation which I seemed compelled to answer. After the rigid exclusion of my school life, where we were taught to regard all sorts of men with a measure of wholesome dread, I scarce knew whether to be proud of my courage in being able to sit there, with such outward calmness, or ashamed of my boldness. If I could only have consulted one of the teachers just for a moment it would have been such a relief; but presently the train stopped, when he left my side, his seat to be immediately occupied by an elderly woman with a huge covered basket. After considerable difficulty she got herself and basket bestowed to her satisfaction just before the cars got in motion. She moved uneasily on the seat, looking around on all sides a trifle nervously, and then in an awed whisper said to me, "Don't the cars go all to smash sometimes?"
"Not many times," I tried to say reassuringly.
"I wan't never in 'em afore, and wouldn't be now, only my son Dan'el's wife's took oncommon bad, and he thinks I can cure her."
She remained quiet a while, and then somewhat reassured began to grow curious about her traveling companions.
"Have you cum fur?" she asked.
I explained that I had come a good many miles.
"Only from New York."
"Did you say Cavendish?"
"Be you a furriner?"
"No, I am English;" I felt my color rising as I answered.
"Well, you speak sort o' queer, but my old man was English, too, a Norfolk man, and blest if I could understand quarter he said for ever so long after we got keeping company. I used to say yes to everything I didn't understand when we was alone, for fear he might be popping the question; but laws, I knew well enough when he did ask."
She fell into an apparently pleasant reverie, but soon returned to the actualities of life.
"You're not married, surely."
I answered in the negative with fewest possible words.
"Got a young man, though, I'll warrant; such a likely girl."
"I do not understand what you mean," I answered with considerable dignity, glad to let her know that her own English was not perfect.
"You must have been riz in a queer place not to know what likely is. Why, it's good-looking; and anybody knows you're that. But I suppose you didn't have much eddication, they mostly don't in England; my man didn't know even his letters; but I have pretty good book larnin' and so we got on all right," she continued, with a retrospective look on her not unkindly face.
"Who might your folks be in Cavendish?" she asked, after a few moments of welcome silence.
"I have no relatives there," I answered, I am afraid, rather ungraciously.
"Going as governess or nurse girl to some of the aristocracy there? You don't look as if you ever did much housework, though."
"I am going to Mr. Winthrop's."
"Deu tell! Why, I lived with his mother myself, when I was a widder first."
Then she relapsed into another eloquent pause of silence, while possibly in her dim way she was reflecting how history repeats itself. But coming back to reality again, and scanning me more closely than ever, she asked, "Are you going there to work?"
My patience was getting exhausted, and it is possible there was a trace of petulance in my voice as I said, "No, I am Mr. Winthrop's ward."
"Deu tell! What is that?"
"He is my guardian."
"Why, he is a young man for that. I thought they got elderly men."
"My father held the same relation to him."
She was some time taking in the idea, but she said at last, "Oh, I see."
I took a book from my satchel and began reading; but she did not long permit me to enjoy it; her next remark, however, riveted my attention.
"I wonder if your name isn't Selwyn."
"Deary me, then I have seen your pa and ma long ago at Oaklands; that's the Winthrop's place."
"Please tell me about them. I never saw them after I was ten years old. I was sent from India, and then they died."
I spoke with a slight hesitancy, having first to translate my sentences, as I still thought, in German.
"Well, I wan't much acquainted with 'em. Housemaids ain't in general on friendly terms with the quality, but your ma was so kind to us servants, I've always remembered her. Mrs. Winthrop sot a sight by her."
"What was that?" I asked, much mystified.
"Oh, she liked them better'n most."
"Do you recollect their appearance?"
"Yes; your father was a soldier-like, handsome looking man, very tall and pretty stern. Your ma minded me of a flower, she was so delicate. They wan't long married then, but my, they was fond of each other! Your father just worshipped her. I heard Mrs. Winthrop say he had a hard time to get her. Your ma's folks didn't want her to marry a soldier. She was an only child, and they lived in England. The Winthrops were English, too, as well as your father."
It was my turn now to fall into a reverie at the strangeness of circumstances, thus causing me to meet this plain, old body, and learning from her incidents about my own dead parents I might otherwise never have known; besides she told it in such a realistic way that, in some mysterious fashion, like mind reading, I seemed to see it all myself through her clear eyes.
"Have you many brothers and sisters?"
"My mother had four children; but the others died in infancy."
"You look rugged as most young ladies."
"Do you mean healthy?"
"Well, yes; you have a clear complexion and rosy cheeks."
"They were extremely careful of our health at the school where I have been for the last eight years. That was the reason my father sent me there. He had heard how remarkably healthy their pupils were."
"'Twan't in this country, or you'd speak more nateral like."
"No, it was in Brussels."
"Oh, yes; in England, I suppose."
"No, on the continent of Europe; a city in Belgium, the capital."
"And you've talked a furrin tongue, then."
"Yes, several; but the German is the only one I speak quite correctly."
"Bless your heart, you'll soon talk fast enough in English. Your voice is very sweet; it minds me of your ma's. And it 'pears to me you speak better already."
I was beaming on the good woman now.
"Will you remain long in Cavendish?" I ventured on a question or two myself.
"It'll depend on Dan'el's wife. He wants me to come and live with 'em, but I hain't much hankering for darters-in-law, and I reckon we'd be better friends furder apart. However I'll stay till she gets well; it costs so for hired girls."
"May I come and see you?" I asked.
"Bless your dear heart, I'll be proud to have you come."
"Will you please tell me your name and what street you live on?"
"Oh, the streets don't amount to much in Cavendish. My name is Betsy Blake; just inquire for Dan'el Blake on the Mill Road; he works in Belcher's steam mill. Laws, how quick the time has gone! I thought for sure I'd be amost scart to death; and I've hardly once thought of getting smashed since I sot down here first; and now we're just into Cavendish."
I glanced through the window, and my heart throbbed joyously; for there, stretching so far away I could see no further shore, lay the beautiful ocean. No matter now what might be my home in this strange, new country. With my passion for the sea, and it so near, I could not be utterly desolate. To sit on these cliffs, reddening now in the sunset and watch the outgoing tide, sending imaginary messages on the departing waves to far-off shores, would surely, to some extent, deaden the sense of utter isolation from the world of childhood and youth. Mrs. Blake shook my hand warmly, repeating again the invitation to visit her at Daniel's, while she gathered up her huge basket and started for the door with the cars still in motion. I sat watching from the window the groups of people waiting for the incoming train as we stopped at the station. A few carriages were there, but none of them had come for Mrs. Blake. A strong limbed man, with a dejected face, relieved her of the basket and then hurried away, she rapidly following. I felt sorry for them, and was speculating what news Daniel had brought of his sick wife, quite forgetting for the time that I too had need to be astir. The conductor, however, soon reminded me of the fact as he announced briskly that a carriage was in waiting for me.
"They will send down bye-and-bye for your luggage; it's only a one-seated affair outside."
I followed him to the carriage; a bright faced young fellow was holding a spirited horse; from his bearing I instantly set him down as something more than a servant.
"Here, Flaxman, is your charge," the conductor remarked, as he assisted me into the carriage.
"Miss Selwyn, I presume," the young man said, politely, as he disentangled one hand from the reins to grasp mine. The horse started off on a biasing canter, much to my amusement.
"You are not afraid, I hope," my companion said, a trifle anxiously.
"Not afraid, but amused; your horse goes so oddly; but I am not accustomed to their ways." I added, fearing my remark might give offence.
"Faery and I are very good friends, and understand each other thoroughly; but strangers usually get alarmed."
My knowledge of quadrupeds was so limited I thought it safest to remain silent.
Presently we passed the Blakes, I longed to relieve Daniel of his heavy basket; for even he seemed to stagger beneath its weight.
"I was speaking with that woman on the train. She comes to attend her son's wife, who is sick."
"Oh, the Blakes, then. She won't have much to do, Dan's wife died to-day; poor beggar, he looks heartbroken."
"Your wife may be dead some day; then you will know how dreadfully he feels," I said, hotly. The flippant tone in face of such sorrow distressed me. He gave me a merry look as he said: "There are always plenty left to replace the lost ones. A wife is far easier got than a horse; one like Faery, for instance."
I shut my mouth firmly and turned my head away to watch the white sails idly mirrored, in the still waters, I knew he was furtively watching me, and this alone held back my tears, as I thought of poor Blake's desolate hearthstone, as well as my own heart's loneliness in this wide continent of strangers.
"Mr. Winthrop regretted being away when you arrived, but he expected us to be kind to you; so we must not quarrel first thing." My companion said, with entire change of tone.
"I quarrel pretty easily," I stammered, "my temper is very abrupt."
"Most of us have quick tempers; but, I think, you, at least, have a generous one."
Then I recollected abrupt was not a very suitable word to couple with temper. Taken altogether, I found this drive home with Faery and her master anything but enjoyable.
Faery's head was turned at last from the wide, dusty street into an imposing gateway, which lead through an avenue bordered thickly with evergreens mostly pine and hemlock. "These trees look a trifle hot in summer; but they are a capital protection in a winter's storm, I assure you," my companion said with an apologetic air.
I could think of no suitable reply; so merely said, "yes."
"It's a tradition among their acquaintances that the Winthrops believe in getting the very best possible good out of everything."
"Have they succeeded?"
"Better than the generality of folks; but they have come pretty near extinction, at least on this side the water. Mr. Winthrop is the last of his race."
"Has he no children?"
"He is a bachelor."
"But he may have children and a wife some day."
"You will probably be his heir, if he does not marry, I believe he is your heir by your father's will, in case you die without heirs."
I laughed merrily. "He will outlive me probably. What good would his money do me if I were old, or maybe dead?"
"Your children might enjoy it."
I wondered was it customary in this country to speculate on such remote possibilities, but said nothing. We soon reached the house, which stood on ground elevated to command a magnificent view of the sea, the distant headlands, and a wide stretch of hill and dale. The house itself reminded me more of old world buildings than any I had yet seen in America; and, on the spot, I took a fancy to it, and felt that here I could easily cultivate the home feeling, without which I should still be a wanderer on the earth. Mrs. Flaxman was standing to receive me as I ascended the granite steps that led to the main entrance. The great stone house had wings at either end while deep breaks in the heavy masonry of the walls occurred at regular intervals, and heavy pillars of granite made a massive background for this fair, slight woman as I looked at her.
"I will commit Miss Selwyn to your care, mother, while I take a little longer drive with Faery," my companion said, graciously.
"I will accept your trust with a great deal of pleasure, Hubert," she said, receiving me with a cordiality that warmed my heart. "You are very welcome home. At least, I hope you will feel at home here."
"I have no other, now that I have left school," I said, gravely.
"Young ladies do not often waste much sentiment on their boarding-school home, so I think we shall succeed in making you content here with us at Oaklands."
"I have always been accustomed to find my own sources of content. We were left at school to amuse ourselves or not, as we willed."
"But I hope we shall not be so indifferent to your pleasure. Mr. Winthrop is not much of a society man, but we still see a good many visitors."
The main entrance of the house was finer than anything I had remembered to have seen, and at first I felt quite oppressed by the grandeur of my surroundings; but when Mrs. Flaxman had conducted me to my own room, its dainty furnishings and appointments made it appear to me, after the plain accommodations of the school, a perfect bower for any maiden. I went to one of the deep windows and looked out over the splendid stretch of land and sea scape spread before me. Drawing a long sigh of perfect content, I exclaimed: "I know I shall be happy here. How could I help it, with such pictures to look at?"
"If you admire the scenery so much at first, what will your sensations be when you have grown intimate with its beauty? Nature enters into our humanity like human acquaintances."
"What do you mean?" I asked, much mystified.
"There are some places like some people—the more we study them the more they are admired, we are continually discovering hidden beauties. But you must study nature closely, at all hours and seasons, to discover her subtle charms."
"Won't you teach me what you have learned?"
"If I can do so I shall be glad; but I think we must each study her for ourselves. She has no text books that I have ever seen."
"I wonder do we all see things alike? Does that sea, now a sheet of rose and amethyst, and the sky that seems another part of the same, and the green trees, and hills, and rocks, look to you as they do to me?"
"Not yet, my child. When you have studied them as long, and have the memories of years clustering around each well-remembered spot, they may look the same to you as they now do to me; but not till then," she added, I fancied a little sadly.
"Probably I shall enjoy this exquisite view better without the memories; they usually hold a sting."
"That depends on the way we use life. To live as God wills, leaves no sting for after thought."
"Not if death comes and takes our loved ones? How alone I am in the world because of him."
"There are far sadder experiences than yours. Death is not always our worst enemy; we may have a death in life, compared with which Death itself is an angel of light."
"Oh, what a strange, sad thing life is at the best! Is it worth being born and suffering so much for all the joy we find?"
"No, indeed, if this life were all; but it is only the faint dawn of a brighter, grander existence, more worthy the gift of a God."
"But we must die to get to that fuller, higher life;" I said, suddenly remembering poor Blake's dead wife.
She smiled compassionately.
"It is hard convincing you young people that even death may be a tender friend, a welcome messenger. But we won't talk in this strain any longer, I scarce know why we drifted into it. I want your first impressions of home to be joyous, for they are apt to haunt us long after we make the discovery that they were not correct."
"I wonder if you are not something of a philosopher? I never heard any one talk just like you."
"Certainly not anything so formidable, and learned as that. I am only a plain little woman, with no special mission except to make those around me happy."
"That is a very beautiful mission, and I am sure you meet with success, which is not the fate of every one with a career."
"Ah, if you begin praising me I must leave; but first let me tell you dinner will be served at six. Mr. Winthrop is a great student, and is already, for so young a man, a very successful author; and he likes dinner late so as to have all the longer time for hard work. The evenings he takes for light reading and rest."
I must confess I was beginning to get afraid of my guardian. I expected to find him in manners and appearance something like our school professors, with a tendency to criticise my slender literary acquirements.
However I proceeded with my toilet quite cheerfully, and was rather glad than sorry that I had found him absent from Oaklands; but after I left my room and wandered out into the dim, spacious hall and down the long stairway, the heavy, old-fashioned splendors of the house chilled me. How could I occupy myself happily through the coming years in this great, gloomy house? I vaguely wondered, while life stretched out before my imagination, in long and tiresome perspective.
With no school duties to occupy my time, my knowledge of amusements, needlework, or any other of the softer feminine accomplishments, exceedingly limited, I was suddenly confronted with the problem how I was to fill up the days and years with any degree of satisfaction. Hitherto every thought had been strained eagerly towards this home coming. After that fancy was a blank. Now I had got here, what then? I had been a fairly industrious pupil and graduated with commendable success; but it had been a tradition at our school that once away from its confinement, text-books and the weariness of study were at an end. I went out on the lawn, and was standing, a trifle homesick for the companionship of the merry crowd of schoolmates, when a side glance revealed to me an immense garden, such as I had often seen, but not near enough to sufficiently enjoy. I soon forgot my lonely fancies as I strayed admiringly through the well kept walks, amid beds of old-fashioned sweet smelling flowers, which now-a-days are for the most part relegated to the humble cottages; but farther on I discovered the rarer plants of many climes, some of them old acquaintances, but others utter strangers, only so far as I could remember some of them from my lessons in botany. Still stretching beyond on the hill side I saw the vegetable and fruit gardens. Huge strawberry beds attracted me, the ripe fruit I found tempting; but feeling still a stranger, the old weakness that comes down to us from Mother Eve to reach forth and pluck, was restrained. "What a perfect Eden it is!" I could not help exclaiming, though no ears save the birds, and multitudinous insects existences, were within reach of my voice, and probably for the latter, any sound I could make would be as unheard by them as the music of the spheres must be to me until another body, with finer intuitions to catch such harmonies, shall be provided. Ere the dinner bell rang I found a new wonderland of beauty reaching away beyond me. To watch from early spring till winter's icy breath destroyed them, these multiplied varieties of vegetable life gradually passing through all their beautiful changes of bud and blossom, and ripened seed or fruit would be a training in some respects, equalling that of the schools. What higher lessons in botany I might take, day by day exploring the secrets of plant life! I went back to the house in a happier mood than I had left it. At the dinner table I expressed, no doubt with amusing enthusiasm, my gladness at this garden of delight.
"You should become a practical botanist, Miss Selwyn. But then your heart might prove too tender to tear your pets to pieces in order to find out their secrets."
"I did not know my heart was specially tender."
"I only judged so from your sympathy for the Blakes. Only think, mother, Miss Selwyn was prophesying the time when I should be mourning over a departed wife."
"You must not mind Hubert, Miss Selwyn. He is a sad tease, as we all find to our sorrow. He has not had brothers or sisters since his childhood to teach him gentleness."
"Only children are apt to be not very agreeable companions. We had some unpleasant specimens at school."
"That is too hard on both of us, Miss Selwyn," he said; "but I must prove to you that I, at least, am a beautiful exception to the general rule."
For the first time I looked up at him closely, and was struck with the handsome merry face.
"With a very little effort you could make yourself very agreeable, I am sure," I said, with all seriousness.
Even Mrs. Flaxman could not conceal her amusement at my remark.
"It is so refreshing to meet with such a frank young lady," Hubert said, with downcast eyes. I had a suspicion he was laughing at me. Presently he glanced at me, when I found the fun in his eyes contagious, and, though at my own expense, indulged in a hearty laugh.
"I wish you would tell me when I make myself ridiculous. I do not understand boys' natures. I scarce remember to have spoken a dozen consecutive sentences to one in my life. All our Professors were more or less gray, and they every one wore spectacles."
"They must been an interesting lot," Hubert said, with a lack of his usual animation. When I was longer with him I discovered that the open space in his armor was to be regarded a boy.
"But, no doubt they were all young and mischievous once. The soberest horse in Belgium frisked around its mother in its colthood, no doubt."
"You will see plenty of poor horses in America," Mrs. Flaxman said. "Faery is by no means a typical horse."
"Faery's master loves her. That makes a world of difference with the ownership of other things than horses."
"Really, Miss Selwyn, you can moralize on every subject, I believe, with equal ease."
"He is making fun of me again, I presume," I said, turning to Mrs. Flaxman. "When I talk a longer time with you English-speaking people, I shall not be so open to ridicule. Some day, Mr. Hubert, I may meet you in Germany, and then I shall be able to retaliate."
"Before that time comes you will be generous enough to return good for evil."
"And when shall you get your punishment then?"
"Maybe never. I find a good many evil-doers get off scot free in this world."
"But there are other worlds than this, my son," his mother said, with such sweet seriousness that our badinage ceased for that evening.
The next morning I was early astir. I was eager to explore the grounds around Oaklands, as well as the beaches and caves where the waves penetrated far under the rocks at high tide. The grounds I found very extensive—in places almost like some of the old English parks which I had seen on my visits there to distant relatives during the holidays. It was pleasant to think while wandering under the trees, and over the splendid wastes of flowers, and ornamental shrubs, and trees, that in this wide, vast America no one need be defrauded of his portion of mother earth by this immense flower garden; since there was more than sufficient land for every anxious toiler. To me there was an exceeding luxury in this reflection; for often on those lovely Kentish estates where I had visited, my heart had been grieved by the extremes of wealth and squalor. Pinched-faced women and children gazing hungrily through park gates at the flowers, and fountains, and all the beauty within, while they had no homes worthy the name, and alas! no flowers or fountains to gladden their beauty hungered hearts. My friends used to smile at my saddened face as I looked in these other human faces with a pitying sense of sisterhood, that was strange to them; but they humored my desire to try and gladden these lives so limited in their happy allotments, by gifts of rare flowers and choice fruits. But I used to find the old-fashioned flowers, that the gardeners grumbled least over my plucking, were the most welcome.
At luncheon I came in, my hair sea-blown from my visit to the rocks, and my face finely burnt by the combined influence of wind and sun. I expressed to Mrs. Flaxman a desire to visit my new acquaintance on the Mill Road. I noticed a peculiar uplifting of the eyebrows as I glanced towards Hubert.
"It will be something entirely new in Mill Road experience to have a friendly call from one of our Cavendish elite."
"Why, Hubert," his mother remonstrated, "it is not an unusual thing for our friends to visit the poor and sick on the Mill Road, as well as in the other humbler districts."
"Doubtless, but in much the same fashion as Queen Elizabeth used to visit her subjects—mere royal progresses, more bother than blessing. Miss Selwyn, I fancy, will go there in a friendly sort of way, that even Dan will appreciate."
"Oh, thank you, Hubert; but possibly, if I quite comprehended your meaning, I should be more provoked than complimented."
"Well, if I was one of the poor ones I would like your visits best. I would be willing to dispense with the dignity for sake of the friendliness that would recognize that I too had a common brotherhood with the highest as well as the lowest."
"Ah, I comprehend your meaning now, and I won't get angry with you. I think I must be a changeling, in spirit probably; there could be no mistake, I presume, in my physical identity, but my heart always claims kindred most with the lean, hungry faces."
"You could soon make my eyes watery, I do believe," Hubert said, with a gentleness that surprised me.
I saw Mrs. Flaxman quietly drying her eyes and wondered why my few, simple words should touch their tear fountain.
Towards evening I started on my walk to the Mill Road. The gardener had very graciously allowed me to gather some flowers to take with me. These I had arranged with some wet mosses I found in the woods that morning; and begging a nice little basket from the housekeeper, had them very daintily arranged. When I came downstairs equipped for my walk, I found a very stylish young lady standing in the hall beside Mrs. Flaxman.
"Esmerelda will show you the way. I scarcely feel equal for such a walk this hot day, and I know you will kindly excuse me."
"Oh certainly; it would trouble me to have you walk any distance when you look so frail."
"I am not frail, dear; but I have got into an idle habit of taking my outings in the carriage; and so walking soon tires me."
I turned towards the young lady, who in a very graceful, dignified way seemed to be awaiting my pleasure. I could not believe she was a servant, and felt quite shabby when I compared my own costume with hers.
When we were walking down the avenue I ventured a remark or two on the beauty of the place; but she answered me with such proud reserve I suddenly relapsed into silence which remained unbroken until we reached Mrs. Blake's door. While I stood knocking at the front door Esmerelda slipped around to the back of the cottage where a rough, board porch served as entrance for every day occasions. Mrs. Blake met me with genuine cordiality, and then led me into a close smelling room. The floor was covered with a cheap carpet, a few common chairs, a very much worn horse-hair sofa, and a table covered with a very new, and very gay-looking cloth, comprised the furnishing, with the exception of walls decorated with cheap chromos in the most wonderful frames I ever saw,—some of them made of shells, some of leather, some of moss, and others simply covered, with bright pieces of chintz. I longed to arrange them in more orderly fashion. They were hanging crooked or too close together, not one of them in a proper way I decided, as I took a swift survey of the room. But presently my gaze was arrested, and all thought of pictures hung awry ceased; for there, in a darkened corner of the room, I traced the rigid outlines of a human figure concealed beneath a sheet.
"You brought these to put round the corpse?" Mrs. Blake questioned, suddenly bringing me back from my startled reverie.
"Yes, if you would care for them."
She lifted them out of the basket with a tenderness that surprised me, and placed them in water; she sat looking at them intently.
"Do you admire flowers?" I asked.
"Oh, yes; but they're useless things, I s'pose. No good once they're wilted."
"But they are perfect while they last."
"Yes, and I allus feels sorry for the poor things, when I see 'em put round a corpse and buried in the ground; may be they have more feeling than we allow for."
She spoke so sadly, I felt my eyes moisten; but whether it was out of pity for the flowers, the poor dead woman lying opposite, or my friend Mrs. Blake, who seemed strangely subdued, I could not tell.
"She was gone when I got here," she said, nodding her head at the corpse. "Dan'el's terrible cut up; it minds me so of the time we lost our first baby. I had to do everything then and I've got to do the same now."
"I presume she was a very good wife."
"I don't know. Men generally frets hardest after the uselessest ones. I s'pose it's because they're easy-going and good-natured; but laws, I mustn't be hard. Mother-in-laws don't see with their children's eyes. I often think, in some ways, 'twould be best for one generation to die off afore the next takes their place. It's a mercy we don't live like they did in the first of Bible times. For poor women folk's life ain't much after fifty any way, specially if they're depending on their children. Hard work, shoved in a corner, and the bite you eat begrudged you."
"Surely you don't speak from experience," I gasped, quite horrified.
"Me? Oh, no. I've managed better'n most in my way of life. I help, instead of getting help. But I'm not thinking of myself all the time. I see other women's hardships, and pity 'em too."
She turned the conversation abruptly by asking:
"Would you like to see the corpse?"
I certainly wished to see almost anything on earth rather than that; but, lest I should be offending the proprieties, I followed her and stood beside the still, outstretched form. She turned down the sheet when, for an instant, my head swam; and then I shut firmly my eyes and stood until I concluded the ghastly spectacle was hidden behind the sheet. Mrs. Blake's voice caused me to open my eyes with a start.
"Be you faint?"
I crossed the room directly, and sat down before I replied.
"Certainly not; but the sight was a painful one."
"I know there's a sight of difference in corpses. Perfessors of religion make the peacefullest."
"Was she not one?"
"Well, no; and she was took so bad she hadn't time to perfess. Beside Dan'el tells me she suffered uncommon till the very last breath, that makes her look more distressin' than she would."
"Is he a professor?"
"No, my family didn't seem to lean that way. But my! they was a sight better'n some that did let on they was very good."
"He will become a Christian now, surely."
"Tain't likely. One soon forgets the feelins death leaves, and then we all look for a quiet spell afore we die." I felt as if skeleton fingers were clutching at my vitals; and altogether terrified I rose to go.
"The funeral will be to-morrow at two o'clock; perhaps you wouldn't mind coming?"
"If you would like me to attend, I will do so."
"I don't know why it is, but seems to me it would be a comfort to have you. Quality always could touch my heart better'n my own kind."
"You may be reckoned among that class in the next world."
She stood in the doorway, her eyes turned wistfully towards the setting sun. "I hain't thought much about that world. I know it's a mistake to live as I've done."
I wished so much I could recommend her to a better way of life; but remembering that I too was living only for this world, I could say nothing.
Pressing her hand gently I turned to leave, when I saw Esmerelda coming out of the door after me.
The rigid form I had looked at and Mrs. Blake's words had softened my heart; so I tried once more to chat pleasantly with my escort; but probably she had not got the same lesson as I, for she put on as many airs as before. When I met Mrs. Flaxman I inquired what Esmerelda's position was in the household. To my astonishment she said:
"She is the chambermaid."
"But is she a lady?"
"Every one that can dress becomingly claims that title with us; I presume Esmerelda with the rest."
"But her mother?" I left the sentence unfinished.
"Lives on Mill Road and takes in washing."
"Don't you think it is wiser to keep servants in their proper place as they do in Europe? One is not in danger there of mistaking maid for mistress."
"Ah, that is a problem for wiser heads than ours to solve. Each system has its grievances; if human nature had not suffered so severely from the original transgression I should favor the American plan."
"But it has fallen, and requires generations of training to fit one for such assumption of dignity."
"Even so, we come on debatable ground. Where do you find longer lines of trained generations than in those Royal families that cost you so much to support, and what do many of them amount to? How many of them would it take to make one Lincoln? He was a peasant's son, as they reckon rank."
"But there are not many Lincolns; and I fear we can find a good many Esmereldas."
"She is a very good chambermaid. What fault do you find with her?"
I smiled, though utterly discomfited.
"A fault one cannot easily forgive. She impresses me with her own superiority, especially in the matter of dress."
"Yes, our shop and servant girls are usually good artists in the matter of personal attire; but I usually find the really clever ones are the poorest dressers."
"Is not that the case with others than they? Persons who have more enduring objects of contemplation than personal attire do not bestow enough time on how they shall robe themselves to excel in dressing artistically."
"I know that; but since Eve's fig-leaf invention the matter of dress has been an absorbing one for nearly every generation."
"In the main; but there have been beautiful exceptions all down the long stream of the ages. I met some literary women the last time I was visiting in England, and their minds seemed so far superior to their bodies, or the clothes they wore, that ever since I have been ashamed of myself when I get particularly interested in what I am to wear."
"You are young, my child, to begin to philosophize on the matter of clothes. You have read Sartor Resartus?"
"Oh, yes, and I want to be something better than a mere biped without feathers."
"To want is the first step toward the accomplishment. I think you will suit Mr. Winthrop after he gets to know you, if ever he does," she added, after a pause.
The next morning I went in search of Mrs. Flaxman. I found her busy superintending, along with the housekeeper, some extensive pickling and preserving operations. I hesitated at first in making my request; I wanted her to accompany me to the funeral.
"I promised Mrs. Blake to go to her daughter's funeral to-day, and I should so much like to have you go with me," I said.
"If you would like my company, your liking shall be gratified, my dear."
"But you looked tired, and it is such a hot day."
"I shall want folk to come and get me safely planted away some day, and we can take the carriage. Thomas will be glad to go; at least he always wants to attend funerals. Such persons usually are fond of the mild excitement attendant on such gatherings."
I went in search of Thomas, who was with coachman and gardener, having a lad to assist him in both occupations. He assured me that work was very pressing, and it would be at considerable personal sacrifice if he went. The stable boy, a red-haired, keen-faced youth standing by, gave a quizzical look, which I interpreted as meaning that Thomas wished to conceal the fact that he was very glad indeed to go to Mrs. Daniel Blake's funeral. At the appointed hour I found myself in a carriage drawn by a pair of horses fully as handsome, but much more sedate than Faery. "Why, this is positively luxurious," I exclaimed, leaning back in the very comfortable carriage. Mrs. Flaxman smiled serenely.
"My dear, it is a luxury you may every day enjoy. I am not inclined for carriage exercise—a walk has greater charm for me save when I am tired."
"If you had walked all your life—only enjoying a carriage at brief intervals during the holidays, you would enjoy this drive, I am sure."
"Your life is not a very long affair, my child. At your age, no doubt, I thought as you now do. I believe God intended that youth and age should see this world through different eyes."
Mrs. Flaxman, I was finding, had a way of setting me thinking about serious things, and yet the thoughts were mainly pleasant ones. She was different from any one I ever knew. I found her presence so restful. I had the impression that some time in her life she had encountered storms, but the mastery had been gained; and now she had drifted into a peaceful harbor. Looking back now over longer stretches of years and experiences than I then had, I can recall a few other persons who impressed me in a similar fashion. But they were rare and beautiful exceptions to the scores, and even hundreds of average human folk whom I have known.
After we had driven some distance, Thomas turned to inquire if we were going to the grave.
"It is a shady drive good part of the way; trees on one side and the water's edge bordering the other. Perhaps we might as well go."
"They'd take it very kind of you, ma'am, I am sure," Thomas responded, although her remarks were addressed to me. Evidently he was very willing to exercise the horses, notwithstanding his press of work.
We sat in the carriage at the door of Daniel's cottage. The house seemed full, and quite a crowd were standing outside.
"They have shown the poor thing a good deal of respect," Mrs. Flaxman whispered to me as she glanced at the numerous assemblage.
Suddenly, on the hush that seemed to enfold everything, there broke weird, discordant singing—women's voices sounding high and piercing, the men's deeper and more melodious. The hymn they sang was long, and the air very plaintive, bringing tears to my eyes, and causing the strange, oppressed feeling of the preceding day to return. When the singing ceased I noticed the men removing their hats, and a moment after a stentorian voice speaking loudly. I glanced around amazed, but Mrs. Flaxman noticing my surprise, whispered, "It is prayer."
If the singing made me nervous the prayer intensified the feeling. In the hot, midsummer air, so still the leaves scarce rippled on the trees, I could, after a few seconds, distinguish every word the man uttered. Accustomed to the decorous prayer of the German pastors our teachers had taken us to hear, this impetuous prayer to the Deity awed me. He talked with the invisible Jehovah as if they two were long tried friends, between whom there was such perfect trust; whatever the man asked the God would bestow. First there was intercession, pleading for forgiveness for past offences, and for restraining grace for future needs. Afterward he spoke of Death, the common inheritance of each of us, and the pain his entrance had caused in this home, and then followed thanksgiving that through Christ we could conquer even Death himself. I shall never forget the triumphant ring in that man's voice as he passed on to the joy of those who, trampling on Death, have passed safely within the light of God.
"If one of the old masters had heard that man's prayer to-day, he would have set it to some grand music. It reminds me of a Te Deum or oratoria," I said to Mrs. Flaxman, when the benediction was pronounced. The tears were in her eyes, but her face was shining as if some inner light were irradiating it.
"Did you ever hear so impetuous a prayer?" I asked.
She answered my question by asking another:
"Did you not like it?"
"I think it frightened me. The clergyman seemed to be talking to some one right beside him."
"Is not all prayer that—talking, pleading with a God nigh at hand?"
I did not reply. My eyes were fastened on the crowd now issuing from the cottage door; the coffin, carried by men, came first, the people pressing hurriedly after—among them one whom I instinctively felt to be the clergyman—a thick-set man with hair turning white, and a most noble, benignant face. As the procession formed he took his place at the head; Daniel and his mother climbing into a wagon directly behind the hearse; the former looked utterly broken down, as if the light of his eyes had verily been quenched.
The procession then moved slowly along, and in a short time we turned out of the Mill Road, and into a beautiful shady street along the water's edge. I watched the sunlight on the shimmering waters, and far across, where one of the wooded headlands looked down into the sea, the green trees made such a picture on the water that, in watching this perfect bit of landscape, I found myself forgetting the solemn occasion, and the sorrowing heart of the solitary mourner, while I planned to come there the very next day with my sketch book, and secure this gem to send to my favorite teacher as a specimen of my new surroundings. And then fancy got painting her own pictures as to what my work in this new life with its greatly altered meaning should be, and before we had reached the grave's edge I had mapped out my ongoings for a long stretch of the future, and that in such eager, worldly fashion that I almost forgot that at the end of all this bright-hued future there lay for me, as well as for Daniel Blake's wife, an open grave. My busy thoughts were recalled by hearing the penetrating voice of the preacher saying "dust to dust, ashes to ashes," with the remainder of the beautiful formula used by many of the churches in planting the human germ. A glance around revealed Daniel Blake leaning in the very abandonment of grief on a tombstone at the grave's side, and looking down into the coffin that was rapidly disappearing under the shovelfuls of clay. A keen sense of my own heartlessness in feeling so happy within touch of such woe came over me, while a vague wonder seized me, if some other careless-hearted creatures might not be planning their joys some day in presence of my breaking heart.
A NEW ACCOMPLISHMENT LEARNED.
I was rapidly attaining the comfortable home feeling at Oaklands, which makes life in castle or hut a rapture. There were so many sources of enjoyment open to me. I had a more than usual love for painting, and had for years prosecuted the art more from love than duty. My last teacher, an old German Professor, exacting and very thorough, had been as particular with my instruction as if my bread depended on my proficiency. I thanked him now in my heart when I found myself shut out from other opportunities for improvement than what, unaided, I could secure. There were special bits of landscape I loved to sketch over and over again; these I would take to Mrs. Flaxman, or Reynolds, the housekeeper, to see if they could recognize the original of my drawing; but even Samuel, the stable-boy, could name the spot at sight. His joy was unbounded, but scarcely excelled my own when I succeeded in making a water-color sketch of himself, the hair a shade or two less flame-colored than was natural, and which even Hubert pronounced a very fair likeness. Then in the large, stately drawing-room, some of whose furnishing dated back a century or more, stood a fine, grand piano. Here I studied over again my school lessons, or tried new ventures from some of the masters. What dreams I had in that dim room in the pauses of my music; peopling that place again with the vanished ones who had loved and suffered there my own dead parents among the rest, whose faces looked down at me, I thought tenderly, from the walls where their portraits hung in heavy carved frames, of a fashion a generation old. There was about my mother's face a haunting expression, as of a well known face which long afterward looked out at me one day from my own reflection in the mirror and then, to my joy, I discovered I was like her in feature and expression. In the library too, whose key Mr. Winthrop had left with Mrs. Flaxman for my use, I found an unexplored wonderland. My literature had chiefly consisted of the text book variety, and if I had possessed wider range, my time was so fully occupied with lessons I could not have availed myself of the privilege; but now, with what relish I went from shelf to shelf, dipping into a book here and another there, taking by turns poetry, history, fiction, and biography, Shakespeare and Milton had so often perplexed me in Grammar and analysis, that I left them for the most part severely alone; but there were others, fresh and new to me as a June morning, and quite as refreshing: Hubert used sometimes to join me, but we generally disagreed. I had little patience with his practical criticisms of my choicest readings, while he assured me my enthusiasm over my favorite authors was a clear waste of sentiment. Mrs. Flaxman was, in addition to all this, adding to my fund of knowledge the very useful one of needlework, and was getting me interested not only in the mysteries of plain sewing, but brought some of her carefully hoarded tapestries for me to imitate—beautiful Scriptural scenes that sent me to the Bible with a critical interest to see if the designs were in harmony with its spirit. Then too I used to spend happy hours exploring garden, field and forest, for Oaklands embraced a wide area, making acquaintance with the gentle Alderneys, and Jerseys, who brought us so generously their daily offering, as well as the many other meek, dumb creatures whom I was getting to care for with a quite human interest. The seashore too had its constantly renewed fascinations which drew me there, to watch its tireless ebb and flow, or the busy craft disappearing out of sight towards their many havens around the earth. Stories I had for the seashore, and others for the woodland and gardens which I carried on in long chapters, day after day, until sorrowfully I came to the end, as we must always do to everything in this world.
My heroes and heroines were all singularly busy people, carrying on their loves and intrigues amid restless activities, and living in the main to help others in the way of life rather than, like myself, living to themselves alone. Altogether I did not find a moment of my sixteen hours of working life each day any too long, and opened my eyes on each morning's light as if it were a fresh creation.
Then, in addition to all these, there were solemn, stately tea drinkings among the upper ten of Cavendish society, but usually I found them a task—the music was poor, the conversation almost wholly confined to local affairs, and the only refection of a first-class nature was the food provided. Cavendish ladies were notable housewives, and could converse eloquently on pickling, preserving, baking and the many details of domestic economy, while as regarded the fashions, I verily believe they could have enlightened Worth himself on some important particulars. I used to feel sadly out of place, and sat very often silent and constrained, thinking of my dearer, and more satisfying companionships of books, and sea, and flowers, and the fair face of nature generally, and wondering if I could ever get, like them, absorbed in such humble things, getting for instance my pickles nicely greened, and of a proper degree of crispness, and my preserves, and jellies prepared with equal perfection for diseased and fastidious palates. "Why can't they talk of their minds, and the food these must relish, and assimilate, instead of all the time being devoted to the body; how it must be fed and clothed?" I asked, with perhaps too evident contempt, of Mrs. Flaxman, one evening as we drove home under the midnight stars, after one of these entertainments.
"My child, it is natural that people should talk on subjects that most interest them. Not every one has vision clear enough to penetrate beyond the tangible and visible."
"Then, in what are the Cavendish aristocracy better than Mrs. Blake, and that class? Even she talks sometimes to me about God and the soul. She says she and Daniel think a great deal about these of late."
"God only knows; they may be far better in His sight than any of us," Mrs. Flaxman said, wearily.
"Not any better than you, dear friend," I said, clasping the little, thin hand in mine.
"Yes, better, if they are doing more for others than I, sacrificing their own ease and pleasure, which, alas, I am not doing."
"How can you say that, when you are making home, and me so happy? I want to grow to be just such a woman as you."
"Alas, child, you must take a higher ideal than I am to pattern after, if your life is to be a success."
"Mrs. Blake tells me of a good man living on the Mill Road, who is blind and thinks a great deal. He says none of us can tell what our lives seem like to the angels, and that many a one will get an overwhelming surprise after death; some who think they are no good in the world, mere cumberers of the ground, will find such blessed surprises as they wander through the Heavenly places."
"That is very comforting, dear, if we could only hope to be among those meek ones."
"He told Mrs. Blake she might be one of God's blessed ones if she wished—that any sincere soul was welcomed by Him."
"Surely you did not need to go to Mrs. Blake to learn that?"
I was silent, perhaps ashamed for Mrs. Flaxman to know how very dense my ignorance was respecting these mysteries of our holy religion. As the weeks went by my friendship for Mrs. Blake strengthened. I kept her little cottage brightened with the old-fashioned blossoms that she loved best. "They mind me so of when I was a child, and the whole world seemed in summer time like a great garden. We lived deep in the country, just a little strip of ground brought in from the woods, and all round our little log house was the green trees," she said one day, the pleasant reflective look that I liked to see coming into her kind, strong face. I used to sit and listen to her homely, uncultivated speech, and wonder why I liked her so much better than my natural associates. She was so real, I could not imagine her trying to appear other than she was. Some way she seemed to take me back to elementary things, like the memories of childhood or the reading of the Book of Genesis. Then she had so changed Daniel's cottage—newly papered, whitewashed and thoroughly cleansed with soap and water, it seemed one of the cosiest, homeliest places I ever saw. I only went in the afternoons, and her housework then was always done; but she was never idle. I used to watch her knitting stockings of all sizes with silent curiosity; but one day I asked who a tiny pair of scarlet ones was for. "Mrs. Larkum's baby. The poor things are in desperate trouble," she replied.
"But do you knit for other folks?"
"Yes, fur some. Them I jest finished is fur one of the Chisties' down the lane. Any size from one to ten fits there."
"Are they able to pay you?" I ventured to inquire.
"I don't ginerally knit for folks as can pay. It's a pity for little feet to go bare because the mother was thriftless or overworked."
I watched the busy fingers a little sadly, comparing them with my own daintily gloved hands, that had never done anything more useful than to hold a text book, or sketch, or practice on the ivory keys, while those other hands often tired, calloused with hard usage, had been working unselfishly through the years for others.
"I wish you would teach me to knit," I said one day, seized with a sudden inspiration.
"'Twould be a waste of your time. Folks like you don't wear home-knit stockings."
"Oh, yes they do. Pretty silken hose is quite the fashion; but I hire mine knitted."
"Then what makes you want to learn?"
"Do you not think it is my duty to work for the poor, and helpless as well as yours?"
"I won't allow but what it is; but laws! rich folk can't pity the poor, no more'n a person that's never been sick, or had the tooth-ache, can pity one who has."
"The stockings would be just as warm, though, as if I knew all about their sorrows."
"I reckon they'd feel better on some feet if they know'd your white hands knit 'em."
"If there would be any added pleasure to the warmth of the socks then you will surely teach me."
"I'll be proud to do it; but child, I'm afeard you are making me think too much of you. Byem-bye when you get interested in other things, you won't care to set in my kitchen, and listen to an old-fashioned body like me, droning away like a bee in a bottle."
"Do you think it is necessary to trouble about something that may never come to pass? I think I shall always enjoy hearing you talk. Listening to you seems like watching the old-fashioned flowers nodding their heads in the drowsy summer air. I like the rare flowers, too, with long names and aristocratic faces; but I don't think I shall ever like them so well as to forget the happy fancies their humble relations bring."
"Thank you, dearie. I guess you'll allays keep a warm place in your heart for the old-fashioned folks as well as the posies."
"Now that we have that matter settled, suppose I begin the knitting," I said, without any further attempt at convincing Mrs. Blake of my unalterable regard.
She got me the yarn and needles and I straightway proceeded to master another of the domestic sciences. I was soon able to turn the seam, and knit plain; but was forced to stop very often to admire my own handicraft. However, I got on so readily that she allowed I could undertake a child's sock. I wanted it to look pretty as well as to be comfortable, and not fancying Mrs. Blake's homespun yarn, I started out to the store to get some better suited to my liking.
When I returned, Mrs. Blake exclaimed at the size of my bundle, assuring me that it would supply me with work for months.
"I'm surprised you wan't ashamed to carry such a big parcel," she said admiringly.
"It did not occur to me to be ashamed."
"One never knows who they may meet though."
"It was nothing to be ashamed of."
"I s'pose not; but quality has such queer notions."
"I do not wish to be quality if that is the case; I want to be a sensible woman, and a useful one," I said, as I proceeded to wind my yarn from Mrs. Blake's outstretched arms. In a short time I had the pleasure of seeing a pretty little sock evolving itself out of the long strand of yarn. Mrs. Blake finding me anxious to be helpful to her poor neighbors, began unfolding histories from time to time, as I sat in her tidy kitchen, that to me seemed to rise to the dignity of tragedies. Sometimes I begged to accompany her to these sorrowful homes. The patience under overwhelming sorrow that I saw at times, gave me new glimpses into the possibilities of human endurance, and my sympathies were so wrought upon, I set about trying to earn money myself to help alleviate their wants, while a new field of work stretched out before me in bewildering perspective; and sometimes I wished I too had a hundred hands, like a second Briareus, that I might manufacture garments for half-clad women and children.
That evening, my first knitting lesson ended, on returning to Oaklands a surprise awaited me. As I was walking briskly up the avenue towards the house I met Hubert with Faery coming to bring me home.
"Mr. Winthrop has come, and is inquiring very particularly where you are in hiding, and I believe my poor mother is afraid of telling him an untruth, for she hurried me off very unceremoniously after you," Hubert said, as he reined up Faery for a moment's conversation.
"You need have no fears for her; she would go to the stake rather than tell a lie."
"Or betray a friend," Hubert said, with a meaning smile. "Remember Mr. Winthrop is very fastidious about his associates. Your friend Mrs. Blake, in his eyes, has only a bare right to exist; to presume on his friendship, or that of his ward, would be an unpardonable sin."
"I must hasten to your mother's relief," I said, with a little scoffing laugh. I paid very little heed just then to Hubert's remarks—later I found he had not greatly overstated my guardian's exclusiveness. Wishing to gain my room and make some additions to my toilet before meeting Mr. Winthrop, I chose a side entrance, taking a circuitous path through the shrubbery, if possible to reach the house unseen.
The door opened into a conservatory, and I had just slipped in stealthily when I found myself face to face with a gentleman whom I knew on the instant was my guardian. There was such an air of proprietorship about him, as he stood calmly surveying nature's beautiful products in leaf and bud and blossom. He glanced down at me—possibly taking me at first for one of the maids—then looking more keenly he bowed rather distantly. I returned the salutation quite as coldly, and was making good my flight when his voice arrested my steps. "Pardon me," he said, in a finely modulated and very musical voice, "is this not Miss Selwyn?" I turned and bowing said, "My guardian, I think."
"I am glad we were able to recognize each other." I looked into his face. The smile was very winning that greeted me, otherwise I thought the face, though handsome, and unusually noble looking, was cold, and a trifle hard in expression.
"I am glad to welcome you to Oaklands, though late in being able to do so. I hope you have not found it too dull?"
"Oh no, indeed—there is so much to interest one here after city life, I am glad at each new day that comes."
He looked surprised at my remark, and instantly I bethought myself of the character for fastidiousness which Hubert had given him, and resolved to be less impulsive in expressing my feelings.
"You must make society for yourself then in other than the human element. I cannot think any one could rejoice, on waking in the morning, merely to renew intercourse with our Cavendish neighbors."
I looked up eagerly—"Then you don't care for them, either?"
"Ah, I see it is not from your own species you draw satisfaction."
"But you have not answered my question."
There was a gleam of humor swept over the face I was already finding so hard to read.
"I am not well enough versed in Cavendish society to give a just opinion—probably you have already drank more cups of tea with your friends than I have done in ten years. Let me hear your verdict."
"Our Deportment Professor assured us it was exceedingly bad form to discuss one's acquaintance—you will please excuse me."
I was already getting afraid of my guardian. But, from childhood, there was a spice of fearlessness in my composition that manifested itself even when I was most frightened. Again I glanced into his face—he was regarding me with a peculiar intentness, as if I were some new plant brought into the conservatory from an unknown region, and he was trying to classify me. I could see no trace of warm, human interest in his gaze.
"That was a rather mutinous remark to bestow so soon upon your guardian," he said, in the same even voice.
"I am very sorry," I murmured, now thoroughly ashamed of myself.
"We will make a truce not again to discuss our acquaintances; but that interesting subject eliminated from conversation, there would be a dearth left with a goodly number of our species."
"I do not care for the tea parties here, Mr. Winthrop. I am not interested in the things they talk about." I said, with a sudden burst of confidence.
"You have broken our compact already. A woman cannot hold to a bargain, I am informed."
"I had not promised," I said, proudly.
"Then I am to infer you are an exception, and would hold to your promises, no matter how binding."
"I am the daughter of a man; possibly I may have inherited some noble, manly properties." My temper was getting ruffled.
"Yes, Nature plays some curious freaks occasionally," he said in a reflective way, as if we were discussing some scientific subject.
"You will please excuse me. Dinner will be announced shortly, and I must remove my wraps," I said, very politely.
He bowed, and I gladly escaped to my own room, feeling more startled than pleased at my first interview with Mr. Winthrop.
The dinner bell rang, and I hastened down to be in my place at the table before Mr. Winthrop entered. I opened the door of the pretty breakfast parlor where dinner had been served ever since I came to Oaklands, but the room was silent and empty.
I turned, not very gladly to the great dining-room, which I had somehow fancied was only used on rare occasions. Opening the door I saw the table shining with silver and glass, while Mrs. Flaxman stood surveying the arrangements with an anxious face. "Shall we always dine here?" I asked anxiously.
"Always when Mr. Winthrop is at home; our informal dinners in the cosy breakfast-room are a thing of the past."
"But this seems so formal and grand I shall never enjoy your delicious dishes any more, with Hubert adding to their piquancy with his sarcasms, and witticisms."
"Oh, yes, dear, you will; one gets used to everything in this world, even to planning every day for several courses at dinner," she said with a sigh.
"I wonder why it is necessary to go to so much trouble just for something to eat, when it's all over in a half hour or so, and not any more nutritious than food plainly prepared?"
"The Winthrops have always maintained a well-equipped table. Our Mr. Winthrop would look amazed if we set him down to one of our informal dinners."
"I think he would enjoy them if he once tried them," I said, as I slipped into the place Mrs. Flaxman appointed. A few seconds after Mr. Winthrop entered, followed immediately by Hubert who was quite metamorphosed from the gay, scoffing youth into a steady-paced young man. As the dinner progressed I no doubt looked my surprise at the change; but a meaning glance at Mr. Winthrop was Hubert's mute reply.
While Mr. Winthrop's attention was taken up with his dinner, I took the opportunity of studying more closely this man to whom my dead father had committed so completely the interests and belongings of his only child. The scrutiny was, in some respects, not greatly reassuring. I had noticed as we stood near each other in the conservatory that he was a large man, tall, broad-shouldered and muscular. The face, though handsome, had a cold, stern look that I felt could look at me pitilessly if I incurred his displeasure. But there was also an expression of high, intellectual power; an absorbed, self-contained look that seemed to set him apart from others as one who could live independently, if necessary, of the society of his fellow men. I should like to be his friend, was my thought, as finding that Hubert was watching me, I turned my attention to my neglected dinner. Mrs. Flaxman in her gentle fashion kept the conversation from utterly flagging, although we none of us gave her much help. Unasked she gave a pleasant account of the happenings at Oaklands, the ongoings of his human and dumb dependents; how the Alderneys at her suggestion had been transferred to richer pasturage, and the consequent increase in cream; the immense crop of fruit and vegetables, so much more than they could possibly require, and would it be best to sell the overplus?
"Why not give it to the poor?" I said, eagerly.
"Would that pay, do you think?" Mr. Winthrop inquired, giving me at the same time a curiously intent look.
"The poor would thank you."
"How do you know there are any?"
"I have met a good many myself. I dare say there are others I know nothing about."
He turned a keen look at Mrs. Flaxman; I saw her face flush; probably he noticed it as well as I. Then he said, quite gravely:—
"You shall have all the surplus for your needy acquaintances; only you must superintend the distribution. I firmly believe in giving philanthropists their share of the labor."
The color flamed into my face, I could hardly repress the retort:—"Why do you spoil the grace of your gift so ungraciously?" but I left the words unsaid until he left the room, when I relieved my feelings much to Hubert's amusement, who brightened greatly once the door was closed upon him and we were alone.
"I could like that man better than any one I know if he hadn't such a beastly way of conferring favors. Once I get earning money I shall pay him every cent that I have cost him," Hubert said vindictively.
"Including Faery and the choice cigars?" his mother asked, with a sad little smile.
Hubert flushed. "What are they to one of his means?"
"But if you pay him some day it will take you so much longer to pay for them," I said, surprised he had not remembered this.
"I can't part with Faery. Youth is such a beggarly short affair, if one can't have pleasure then, when will they get it?"
"I should think it was high-priced pleasure if I had to take it on those terms."
"You have no idea what prices men are willing to pay for what they desire. Faery even with my means would seem a mere bagatelle to most young fellows of my set."
"I would really like to know what your means are," his mother said, playfully.
"Principally my profession, when I get it; capital health, and a world full of work to be done by some one. I shall stand as good a chance as any one to get my share of the world's rewards for good work accomplished."
"Bravo, Mr. Hubert. I only wish I was a boy so I might go to work too," I cried.
"Hush, the master will hear you. I told you he was fastidious about ladies' deportment. Even the housemaids and cook catch the infection. I certainly pity his poor ward."
"Please do not waste pity on me; if Mr. Winthrop is not nice, I shall go to Boston or New York and teach German in some boarding-school."
A low, long whistle was his only reply.
"Hubert, have you forgotten yourself? Mr. Winthrop will think we have got demoralized."
"Forgive me, mother mine, but Miss Selwyn astounded me. Fancy her working for her bread."
"And liberty," I said, merrily.
"You have got an instalment of that already, permission to dispense the fruit and vegetables. The work has been given as a punishment for making acquaintance with common people."
"That will be a pleasure; see what I am already doing for some of them." I took my forgotten knitting work from my pocket.
"I deeply regret I must so soon leave Oaklands. I really think you will make things livelier here than they have been since Mr. Winthrop was a lad. Just for one moment, mother, try to imagine his disgust when he finds his high-bred ward knitting socks for Dan Blake's little monkeys."
"Dan Blake has no children, Hubert," his mother said, gravely; "and I am not going to trouble myself about what may never happen. It is not necessary for Mr. Winthrop to know how his ward spends her spare time and pocket money."
"But he would as soon think of exchanging civilities with his own dumb animals as with those folk on the Mill Road; and, yet, right under his nose these little arrangements getting manufactured! It is carrying the war into the enemy's camp with a vengeance."
"Is that a specimen of your college conversation, Hubert? If so, you might better remain at Oaklands."
"Surely, mother; you don't expect us to talk like a sewing society or select gathering of maiden ladies," Hubert said with some disgust. "Fancy a lot of young fellows picking and choosing their words as if they were a company of prigs."
"If every word we utter continues to vibrate in the air until the final wreck of matter, as some scientists suppose, surely we can't be too careful of our words, my son."
"If we believe all the nonsense those chaps who are continually meddling with nature's secrets tell us, we should sit with shut lips and folded hands lest we would destroy the equilibrium of the universe, or our own destiny. There is any quantity of bosh let loose on poor, long-suffering humanity, and labeled Science."
"That comes with bad grace from an embryo scholar. If I were you I would throw education 'to the dogs' and take things on trust like Thomas, or the Mill Road people," I said, jestingly.
"I want to know for myself; and so not get cheated by every crank who airs his theories."
"But, Hubert, to come back to the original dispute, if the atmosphere does not hold our every foolish or necessary word, they are permanently recorded in another place by a pen that never writes falsely, or misses a single sentence. How many pages have you got written there, I wonder, that if it were possible you would gladly obliterate with your heart's blood one day."
"Mother, you are worse than the scientists; at least more terrifying. Do you know, Miss Selwyn, when I was a little chap she had me persuaded to be a missionary to Greenland, or the South Pole. I had made up my mind to choose the very worst possible place, so as to have all the greater reward."
"What has changed your mind?"
"Natural development, I expect. Mother is a very sweet and gentle woman, but I am sorry to say she is a crank, if there was ever one."
"Why, Hubert, you amaze me," I said, smiling. "I thought she was as near perfection as any one I ever knew. Excuse me expressing myself so openly," I said, bowing to Mrs. Flaxman; "but won't you tell me what her tendency to insanity is; for I believe cranks are a species of madmen, if I rightly understand what the word implies."
"Over religiosity. Why, really, she used to make me long for martyrdom when I was a child."
"I did not think a person could so soon outgrow early piety," I said, dryly.
Hubert colored and said very little more about his mother's early lessons after that to me; but I could see that his strange indifference respecting those subjects she held as most important of anything within reach of humanity pained her deeply.
Directly Mr. Winthrop had attended to matters at once claiming his attention on his return, he began to investigate my daily avocations. I showed him the work already accomplished, so far as it could be seen—the knitting certainly excepted. My sketches in water colors and oils I brought out rather timidly for his inspection. Mrs. Flaxman had told me how severe he was in his criticisms on careless work, and possibly all through my painting the thought what he might say of what I was doing had a strong influence on the quality of my work. In some respects, no doubt, it helped me to paint more carefully and copy more closely from nature; but, on the other hand, imagination and freedom were restrained; and it is possible I might have better satisfied him with what I had accomplished if I had never once thought about his opinion as I worked. As I carried them into the library that bright early autumn morning, I felt a shrinking at submitting my pictures, in their imperfection, to unsympathetic eyes, much as a mother might feel at bringing a deformed child to a baby show; but I had also a measure of satisfaction, since I could prove to my guardian that I had not been idle, when I spread before him copies, more or less defective, of views from his own grounds. The servants had watched them grow under my pencil and brush with an interest almost equalling my own; and it was amusing the eagerness which even Thomas evinced to be painted into a picture, spoiling it very much, to my mind, by insisting on having on his Sunday clothes.
Mr. Winthrop glanced at them with some surprise as he saw the goodly heap; then he said: "I will only look to-day at what you have done since coming here. Mrs. Flaxman tells me you have accomplished a good expenditure of paint."
"I have only brought those, sir, I did not suppose you cared to examine my school work."
"Some other time I may do so; but do you say all these have been done since you came here?" He picked one up, not noticing apparently my reply, and recognizing the view, instantly his face brightened.
"Ah, you have shown taste in this selection; it is one of my favorite views. I am glad you prefer nature to mere copying from another's work which is like accepting other men's ideas, when one is capable of originating them of one's own." He looked at it closely and for some time in silence, then with no further word of praise he criticised it mercilessly, while he pointed out fault after fault. I could only acquiesce in the correctness of his criticisms, and only wondered I should have been so blind as to permit such glaring faults to creep into my work. Of the many scores of drawing and painting lessons I had previously taken, not any twelve of them, to say the least, had widened my knowledge of art as this hour spent with my guardian over that first picture had done. I looked at him with a provoked sort of admiration, surprised that one who knew so well how nature should be imitated, did not, himself, attempt the task, and angry both with him and myself that I was being subjected to such humiliation, while I listened to him as he convinced me the picture I thought so good was a mere daub. I was wise enough, and proud enough too, not to make any sign that I was undergoing torture, and with stoical calmness permitted him, without a single remonstrance, to examine every picture there, even the one containing Thomas in his Sunday suit, as he stood surveying with idealized face, a superb patch of cabbages.
"Fancy has run riot with you there entirely; if the gardener were surveying his sweetheart in the church choir he might have some such seraphic expression, but it is utterly thrown away on those vegetables; his face and his broadcloth coat are in perfect harmony," Mr. Winthrop said, with even voice, as he held aloft the picture that all the other members of his household had so greatly admired.
"You think, then, the time spent in these has been quite wasted?" I tried to say calmly.
"A genuine artist, no doubt, would say without a moment's hesitation that the paint was thrown away. As for the time, he would probably say a young girl's time was of little consequence in any case. I am not an artist, and do not value paint at a high figure; so I most decidedly affirm that you made an excellent use of the paint. Labor conscientiously spent in decorating a barn door is well employed. The door may not be much the better, but the person who tries to improve its appearance with painstaking care is benefited."
"Then I may conscientiously continue decorating canvas, or at least trying to do so."
"I should certainly desire and advise you to do so; but instead of covering so many, if you would take time and talent in elaborating one picture, I would be better pleased."
He laid the pictures to one side. "We will continue this study more exhaustingly in the future; to-day I want to speak of other things. You have made use of my library, Mrs. Flaxman also informs me. Will you please tell me what books you have been reading?"
I went to the shelves and took down the books I had spent most time over, a good many were novels; and on these I felt certain I could pass a fairly good examination, since I had read some of them with absorbed interest; novels of all kinds were, for the most part, forbidden mental food at school, and therefore, when opportunity offered, I dipped into them with the keener avidity. But my mind was healthy enough to crave more solid food than fiction alone, and I was glad to be able to hand my guardian a volume or two of Carlyle's Frederick, Froude's Caesar, Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic, and a couple of volumes of Bancroft's History of the United States.
"Have you read all these since you came to Oaklands?" he asked, with evident surprise.
"I skipped some of the dull passages; the 'dry-as-dust' parts of which I found a few even in Carlyle."
"Could you stand an examination, think you, in each or any of them?"
"I am willing to try," I said, seating myself on the opposite side of the table with folded hands, and possibly a martyrlike air of resignation.
"Since you are so willing we will take Froude's Caesar to-day; let me hear you give a digest of the entire book."
My eyes sparkled; for this was the last volume I had read, and the author had infused into my mind a strong leaven of his own hero-worship for the majestic Caesar. I was surprised at the ease with which I repeated chapter after chapter of those stirring incidents, while with his stern, inscrutable face, my guardian turned the leaves to follow me in my rapid flight from tragedy to tragedy in those stormy times.
He laid the book down without comment, and, glancing at the remainder of the pile paused a moment, and then said: "I will defer the criticisms on these to some other day. Your memory as well as vocal organs will be fatigued."
I meanwhile resolved to consult those books again before the further examination should take place.
"You have practised every day on the piano in addition to your other work; may I ask how long a time you allowed yourself?"
"At least an hour, sometimes when it was wet or unpleasant out of doors I took longer time. Never more than three hours, I believe."
"We will take an hour or two after dinner over your music, after this once a week, we will spend a short time in reviewing what you read."
A new anxiety seized me at this promised ordeal. I fancied examinations and I had said good-bye forever when I left the school-room.
"I trust you will not think me severe if I insist on thoroughness in everything. I am wearied seeing so much good money and time wasted on young girls! With the majority of them, once they have left their teacher's side, all their interest in further mental culture is at an end."
"Some great writers say that our schooling is simply to train the mind to work, fitting it, so to speak, with necessary tools like a well-equipped mechanic."
"But if the tools are never utilized, what good are they merely to lie and rust?"
"Who can affirm positively that they are never utilized? Even the shallowest boarding-school Miss may carry herself more gracefully in society than one of your usefulest women—Mrs. Blake, for instance."
"How do you know anything about Mrs. Blake?" he asked abruptly.
"I met her on the train when I came here and she talked some time with me."
"It is not usual for persons in your position to permit such liberties."
"I thought in America all were reckoned equal."
"You are not an American."
"Shall I return then to Europe? I could always travel first-class, and so be safe from vulgar intrusion."
"Until your majority your father decided that your home was to be here after you left school."
"At what age do I attain my majority?" I asked eagerly.
"Are you tired of Oaklands?" His eyes were watching me intently.
"Never, until to day." I faltered, exceedingly frightened, but forced to tell the truth.
He turned over the leaves of the Caesar for a few seconds, in silence, then he said in quite gentle tones:—
"You are tired; we will leave books for another day."
I bowed, but dared not trust myself to speak lest I might reveal that my tears were struggling to find vent, and began gathering up my sketches. He took up a view of Oaklands over which I had lingered lovingly for a good many hours, adding what I fondly thought were perfecting touches and said:—
"I should like to keep this, if you will give it to me."
My heart instantly grew lighter, so that I was able to say quite calmly that he was very welcome to it. This, however, was the only compliment he paid me for the work over which I had been expending so much time and effort during the past few months; but I had done the work much in the same fashion that the birds sing—from instinct.
Hubert left for college before the time came around for the distribution of our ripened fruit, and vegetables, for which fact I was very glad. I knew the task was going to be no easy one, with Mr. Winthrop silently, and no doubt sarcastically, watching me; and Hubert's good humored raillery would in no wise lighten my cares.
Mrs. Flaxman counseled me as wisely as she knew, but Mrs. Blake was my greatest help in the matter. Mr. Winthrop had not discovered, or if he had, did not interfere with my continued friendship for that worthy woman; so in my present perplexities I came to her for advice and consolation.
She promised to notify all her poor acquaintances when they were to come for their share of our gifts; she assured me there was already considerable interest, as well as surprise, awakened by the expectation of such a gathering at Oaklands.
For several days I watched Thomas and Samuel storing away such vast quantities of fruit and vegetables, that I concluded we could safely stand siege for a good many months, but I ruefully determined there would be little remaining for me to distribute. But one bright morning, just in range with my own windows, I saw the gardener nailing up some wooden booths, and when completed, they began to pour in great basketfuls of all sorts of vegetables, and afterward in separate booths, apples, pears, and plums. I slipped out before Mr. Winthrop was astir and inquired of Thomas if these were for my Mill Road pensioners.
"Yes, ma'am, that they are; and did I ever think I'd live to see this day?"
"Why, Thomas, are you not willing to share your bountiful harvest with those who have none?"
"Indeed I am. It's that makes me so glad this morning. I had that good-for-nothing Sam up at four o'clock, helping me saw the boards to build them bins to put the garden sass in. He reckoned you'd a much sight better have been staying in them foreign parts than be giving decent folks such bother. I give him a clip on the ear that made him howl in earnest, I can tell you. I says to him, says I, 'Why, one would think you was one of the aristocracy yourself to hear you talk so indifferent like about the poor folk. There's Miss Selwyn, with full and plenty, and see how she works for them; you'd ought to be ashamed of yourself,' I says to him."
"But I hope you won't punish the poor fellow on my account again—won't you please give him a holiday soon, for getting up to work so early this morning?"
"I'll see about it; but he gets holidays right along; he's nothing but a plague."
I saw poor Sam scuttling around a large apple tree quite within hearing of the gardener's voice, and concluded he was another instance of listeners never hearing any good of themselves. I did very little work or reading that day, but watched from the shelter of my window curtains the slowly accumulating pile. Samuel, I noticed, seemed to work with unusual cheerfulness, and even the gardener himself did not empty his basket any oftener than his well-abused help. Mr. Winthrop passed once or twice, and seemed to give directions. I fancied he glanced up to my window as he stood watching them empty their baskets. At luncheon he said:—
"Your pensioners may come this afternoon, and carry away their produce."
"I will let them know immediately."
"Will you go and tell them yourself?" he asked, rather sternly.
"I can do so with all safety; they are perfectly harmless." I gave him a mutinous look, but my heart fluttered; for, in spite of myself, I was very much afraid of my guardian.
"You must not go about from house to house peddling your generosity," he said, sarcastically.
"It is your generosity, Mr. Winthrop," I said gravely; "besides, I do not go to their houses at all. I have only to acquaint Mrs. Blake that your gift is ready for distribution."
"One of the servants will go to Mrs. Blake. You will need all your strength to maintain the proprieties when your ragged crowd comes."
"Have you ever seen the Mill Road people?" I asked abruptly.
"Probably on the streets sometimes; but are they a very distinguished looking crowd, that you ask?"
"No, but they are human beings just like ourselves, created in God's image as clearly as the President of these United States, and some of them fulfilling the end for which they were made quite as acceptably, perhaps."
"The President would, no doubt, feel flattered to have his name so coupled."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Winthrop, I had forgotten your Presidents conquered the high position they fill, and are not born to it like mere puppets."
"You will compare your humble friends with European Royalties then, I presume."
"Oh, any one dropping into a soft nest prepared for them by others will do just as well," I said, not very politely.
Mrs. Flaxman looked on helplessly as she sat nervously creasing her napkin; then with a sudden look of relief she said: "Shall I despatch Esmerelda to the Mill Road? They will have little enough time to get all that heap of good things carried away before night."
Mr. Winthrop signified his willingness, and as she was leaving the room Mrs. Flaxman, by a look, summoned me to follow her. Once outside she said in her gentle way:—"I would not get arguing with Mr. Winthrop if I were you. He is a good deal older, and, pardon me, a good deal wiser; and while he never seems to lose his own temper he very easily makes others lose theirs."
"I will try not to," I said, very humbly, for now that my temper had calmed I realized that I had been very foolish in saying what I did. I went sorrowfully to my room, and, taking my knitting work, I sat down in my easy chair where I could watch them working busily at the vegetables. But there came so many desolate, homesick fancies to keep me company, that pretty soon my eyes were so blinded with tears I could scarcely see the enlivening prospect under my windows. Ashamed of my weakness I set myself resolutely to thinking of Daniel Blake and his heavy, sad life; of the poor barefoot children, and tired mothers on the Mill Road; and of all the sadder hearts than mine should be, until the sultry, still air, and monotonous click of the knitting needles overcame my heartaches, and I went fast asleep. A knock at the door startled me. Hastily opening it, I met Esmerelda, who had come to announce the arrival of her neighbors.
"There's a good lot of them coming, and they look as frightened, and foolish as so many dogs that's been caught sheep killing. I declare I pity them."
"Where is Mr. Winthrop?" I gasped.
"Oh, you may be certain he's not far off; it's just death to him having so many of them poor wretches coming around his place. I can't think why he lets them."
"I will be there presently, Esmerelda," I said, turning away. It was certainly not my place to allow her to stand there gossiping about her employer.
I did not wait to brush my rumpled hair or bestow more than a passing glance in the mirror, where I caught sight of a pair of wide, frightened eyes and an unusually pale face. Mr. Winthrop was waiting for me in the hall. In my excitement I still held in my hand the little sock I had been knitting. He glanced at it curiously, but made no mention of it.
"Your pensioners have come—a beggarly looking crowd."
"Are there many?"
"Not more than a dozen. You will have to negotiate with Thomas to get your gifts carted home. Their baskets will hold only a tithe of what you have to donate."
"May I tell him to get the horses?"
I looked up at him, I dare say, appealingly; for I felt quite overwhelmed with care. He smiled grimly.
"You may order all the servants to go to work—anything to get that crowd away."
"Don't you feel sorry for them, Mr. Winthrop?" I pleaded. "Just think how hard it is to be poor, and to come to you with a basket for vegetables."
"Yes, that last must be the bitterest drop in their misery," he said, sarcastically. We were walking slowly around to the garden, but our progress was much too swift for my courage. I would gladly have walked the entire length of Cavendish to have escaped what had now become a very difficult task. I resolved on one thing, however; not to be drawn into any further conversation with Mr. Winthrop, nor allow him to entrap me in his merciless way again.
A bend in the garden walk brought me face to face with the Mill Road people; the crowd consisted principally of women and boys; only a man or two condescending to come with their baskets; or it may be they thought the loss of a half day in the Mill would be poorly compensated by the garden stuff they would get. Mrs. Blake was there,—a crape veil hanging sideways from her bonnet, which I took as a mark of respect for Daniel's wife. She carried no basket; and, from the compassionate look on her face, I concluded she came with the hope to lighten my task, if possible. I went directly to her, and shook her hand as cordially as if she had been one of our bluest blooded Cavendish aristocracy. I saw her cast a half frightened glance at Mr. Winthrop, but my fearless manner seemed to reassure her, as she soon regained her customary coolness of demeanor. I nodded cordially to the rest of the group who all seemed just then to be gazing at me in a very helpless manner. I endeavored to comport myself as the easy hostess dispensing the hospitalities of my home to a party of welcome visitors; but with Mr. Winthrop watching my every movement I found the task to do so herculean. The gardener stood watching the crowd in a helpless way, apparently as uncertain what to do first as any of them. I looked towards Mr. Winthrop; but he seemed deeply interested, judging from his attitude and expression, in tying up a branch of an overburdened pear tree; but he kept his face turned steadily towards me all the time, I could not help observing.
"What shall I do?" I whispered to Mrs. Blake.
"Tell them to come forred and fill their baskets."
I cleared my throat, and stepping up to the gardener said: "If you will please come now, we will fill your baskets."
At first no one moved; then a delicate, pretty looking woman, with red-rimmed eyes and a baby in her arms came timidly forward.
"What would you like best?" I asked.
"Oh, I can't tell; they all look so good."
"We are going to send all of this that is left around to your homes in a wagon."
"I might take some of these," she said, pointing longingly to the apples and pears. The baby was stretching its pinched little arms out to them, and cooing in a pitiful, suppressed way, as if it realized it and must be on its good behavior. I took the little creature in my arms; its clothes were clean, but so thin and poor, my heart ached, while I looked at them. I gave it my watch, which it carried with all speed to its mouth; but a soft, delicious pear which I picked from the very limb Mr. Winthrop had been supporting, caused it to drop the watch indifferently.
"Don't you feel sorry for this little crumb of humanity?" I impulsively asked, forgetting too speedily my determination not to converse with him more than was really necessary.