ON PICKET DUTY, AND OTHER TALES.
BY L. M. ALCOTT.
Boston: NEW YORK:
ON PICKET DUTY.
WHAT air you thinkin' of, Phil?
"My wife, Dick."
"So was I! Aint it odd how fellers fall to thinkin' of thar little women, when they get a quiet spell like this?"
"Fortunate for us that we do get it, and have such gentle bosom guests to keep us brave and honest through the trials and temptations of a life like ours."
October moonlight shone clearly on the solitary tree, draped with gray moss, scarred by lightning and warped by wind, looking like a venerable warrior, whose long campaign was nearly done; and underneath was posted the guard of four. Behind them twinkled many camp-fires on a distant plain, before them wound a road ploughed by the passage of an army, strewn with the relics of a rout. On the right, a sluggish river glided, like a serpent, stealthy, sinuous, and dark, into a seemingly impervious jungle; on the left, a Southern swamp filled the air with malarial damps, swarms of noisome life, and discordant sounds that robbed the hour of its repose. The men were friends as well as comrades, for though gathered from the four quarters of the Union, and dissimilar in education, character, and tastes, the same spirit animated all; the routine of camp life threw them much together, and mutual esteem soon grew into a bond of mutual good fellowship.
Thorn was a Massachusetts volunteer; a man who seemed too early old, too early embittered by some cross, for though grim of countenance, rough of speech, cold of manner, a keen observer would have soon discovered traces of a deeper, warmer nature hidden, behind the repellent front he turned upon the world. A true New Englander, thoughtful, acute, reticent, and opinionated; yet earnest withal, intensely patriotic, and often humorous, despite a touch of Puritan austerity.
Phil, the "romantic chap," as he was called, looked his character to the life. Slender, swarthy, melancholy eyed, and darkly bearded; with feminine features, mellow voice and, alternately languid or vivacious manners. A child of the South in nature as in aspect, ardent, impressible, and proud; fitfully aspiring and despairing; without the native energy which moulds character and ennobles life. Months of discipline and devotion had done much for him, and some deep experience was fast ripening the youth into a man.
Flint, the long-limbed lumberman, from the wilds of Maine, was a conscript who, when government demanded his money or his life, calculated the cost, and decided that the cash would be a dead loss and the claim might be repeated, whereas the conscript would get both pay and plunder out of government, while taking excellent care that government got precious little out of him. A shrewd, slow-spoken, self-reliant specimen, was Flint; yet something of the fresh flavor of the backwoods lingered in him still, as if Nature were loath to give him up, and left the mark of her motherly hand upon him, as she leaves it in a dry, pale lichen, on the bosom of the roughest stone.
Dick "hailed" from Illinois, and was a comely young fellow, full of dash and daring; rough and rowdy, generous and jolly, overflowing with spirits and ready for a free fight with all the world.
Silence followed the last words, while the friendly moon climbed up the sky. Each man's eye followed it, and each man's heart was busy with remembrances of other eyes and hearts that might be watching and wishing as theirs watched and wished. In the silence, each shaped for himself that vision of home that brightens so many camp-fires, haunts so many dreamers under canvas roofs, and keeps so many turbulent natures tender by memories which often are both solace and salvation.
Thorn paced to and fro, his rifle on his shoulder, vigilant and soldierly, however soft his heart might be. Phil leaned against the tree, one hand in the breast of his blue jacket, on the painted presentment of the face his fancy was picturing in the golden circle of the moon. Flint lounged on the sward, whistling softly as he whittled at a fallen bough. Dick was flat on his back, heels in air, cigar in mouth, and some hilarious notion in his mind, for suddenly he broke into a laugh.
"What is it, lad?" asked Thorn, pausing in his tramp, as if willing to be drawn from the disturbing thought that made his black brows lower and his mouth look grim.
"Thinkin' of my wife, and wishin' she was here, bless her heart! set me rememberin' how I see her fust, and so I roared, as I always do when it comes into my head."
"How was it? Come, reel off a yarn and let's hear houw yeou hitched teams," said Flint, always glad to get information concerning his neighbors, if it could be cheaply done.
"Tellin' how we found our wives wouldn't be a bad game, would it, Phil?"
"I'm agreeable; but let us have your romance first."
"Devilish little of that about me or any of my doin's. I hate sentimental bosh as much as you hate slang, and should have been a bachelor to this day if I hadn't seen Kitty jest as I did. You see, I'd been too busy larkin' round to get time for marryin', till a couple of years ago, when I did up the job double-quick, as I'd like to do this thunderin' slow one, hang it all!"
"Halt a minute till I give a look, for this picket isn't going to be driven in or taken while I'm on guard."
Down his beat went Thorn, reconnoitring river, road, and swamp, as thoroughly as one pair of keen eyes could do it, and came back satisfied, but still growling like a faithful mastiff on the watch; performances which he repeated at intervals till his own turn came.
"I didn't have to go out of my own State for a wife, you'd better believe," began Dick, with a boast, as usual; "for we raise as fine a crop of girls thar as any State in or out of the Union, and don't mind raisin' Cain with any man who denies it. I was out on a gunnin' tramp with Joe Partridge, a cousin of mine,—poor old chap! he fired his last shot at Gettysburg, and died game in a way he didn't dream of the day we popped off the birds together. It ain't right to joke that way; I won't if I can help it; but a feller gets awfully kind of heathenish these times, don't he?"
"Settle up them scores byme-by; fightin' Christians scurse raound here. Fire away, Dick."
"Well, we got as hungry as hounds half a dozen mile from home, and when a farm-house hove in sight, Joe said he'd ask for a bite and leave some of the plunder for pay. I was visitin' Joe, didn't know folks round, and backed out of the beggin' part of the job; so he went ahead alone. We'd come up the woods behind the house, and while Joe was foragin', I took are connoissance. The view was fust-rate, for the main part of it was a girl airin' beds on the roof of a stoop. Now, jest about that time, havin' a leisure spell, I'd begun to think of marryin', and took a look at all the girls I met, with an eye to business. I s'pose every man has some sort of an idee or pattern of the wife he wants; pretty and plucky, good and gay was mine, but I'd never found it till I see Kitty; and as she didn't see me, I had the advantage and took an extra long stare."
"What was her good pints, hey?"
"Oh, well, she had a wide-awake pair of eyes, a bright, jolly sort of a face, lots of curly hair tumblin' out of her net, a trig little figger, and a pair of the neatest feet and ankles that ever stepped. 'Pretty,' thinks I; 'so far so good.' The way she whacked the pillers, shooked the blankets, and pitched into the beds was a caution; specially one blunderin' old featherbed that wouldn't do nothin' but sag round in a pig-headed sort of way, that would have made most girls get mad and give up. Kitty didn't, but just wrastled with it like a good one, till she got it turned, banged, and spread to suit her; then she plumped down in the middle of it, with a sarcy little nod and chuckle to herself, that tickled me mightily. 'Plucky,' thinks I, 'better 'n' better.' Jest then an old woman came flyin' out the back-door, callin', 'Kitty! Kitty! Squire Partridge's son's here, 'long with a friend; been gunnin', want luncheon, and I'm all in the suds; do come down and see to 'em.'
"'Where are they ?' says Kitty, scrambling up her hair and settlin' her gown in a jiffy, as women have a knack of doin', you know.
"'Mr. Joe's in the front entry; the other man's somewheres round, Billy says, waitin' till I send word whether they can stop. I darsn't till I'd seen you, for I can't do nothin', I'm in such a mess,' says the old lady.
"'So am I, for I can't get in except by the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. entry window, and he'll see me,' says Kitty, gigglin' at the thoughts of Joe.
"'Come down the ladder, there's a dear. I'll pull it round and keep it stiddy,' says her mother.
"'Oh, ma, don't ask me!' says Kitty, with a shiver. 'I'm dreadfully scared of ladders since I broke my arm off this very one. It's so high, it makes me dizzy jest to think of.'
"'Well, then, I'll do the best I can; but I wish them boys was to Jericho!' says the old lady, with a groan, for she was fat and hot, had her gown pinned up, and was in a fluster generally. She was goin' off rather huffy, when Kitty called out,—
"'Stop, ma! I'll come down and help you, only ketch me if I tumble.'
"She looked scared but stiddy, and I'll bet it took as much grit for her to do it as for one of us to face a battery. It don't seem much to tell of, but I wish I may be hit if it wasn't a right down dutiful and clever thing to see done. When the old lady took her off at the bottom, with a good motherly hug, I found myself huggin' my rifle like a fool, but whether I thought it was the ladder, or Kitty, I ain't clear about. 'Good,' thinks I; 'what more do you want?'
"A snug little property wouldn't a ben bad, I reckon. Well she had it, old skin-flint, though I didn't know or care about it then. What a jolly row she'd make if she knew I was tellin' the ladder part of the story! She always does when I get to it, and makes believe cry, with her head in my breast-pocket, or any such handy place, till I take it out and swear I'll never do so ag'in. Poor little Kit, I wonder what she's doin' now. Thinkin' of me, I'll bet."
Dick paused, pitched his cap lower over his eyes, and smoked a minute with more energy than enjoyment, for his cigar was out and he did not perceive it.
"That's not all, is it?" asked Thorn, taking a fatherly interest in the younger man's love passages.
"Not quite. 'Fore long, Joe whistled, and as I always take short cuts everywhar, I put in at the back-door, jest as Kitty come trottin' out of the pantry with a big berry-pie in her hand. I startled her, she tripped over the sill and down she come; the dish flew one way, the pie flopped into her lap, the juice spatterin' my boots and her clean gown. I thought she'd cry, scold, have hysterics, or some confounded thing or other; but she jest sat still a minute, then looked up at me with a great blue splosh on her face, and went off into the good-naturedest gale of laughin' you ever heard in your life. That finished me. 'Gay,' thinks I; 'go in and win.' So I, did; made love hand over hand, while I stayed with Joe; pupposed a fortnight after, married her in three months, and there she is, a tip-top little woman, with a pair of stunnin' boys in her arms!"
Out came a well-worn case, and Dick proudly displayed the likeness of a stout, much bejewelled young woman, with two staring infants on her knee. In his sight, the poor picture was a more perfect work of art than any of Sir Joshua's baby-beauties, or Raphael's Madonnas, and the little story needed no better sequel than the young father's praises of his twins, the covert kiss he gave their mother when he turned as if to get a clearer light upon the face. Ashamed to show the tenderness that filled his honest heart, he hummed "Kingdom Coming," while relighting his cigar, and presently began to talk again.
"Now, then, Flint, it's your turn to keep guard, and Thorn's to tell his romance. Come, don't try to shirk; it does a man good to talk of such things, and we're all mates here."
"In some cases it don't do any good to talk of such things; better let 'em alone," muttered Thorn, as he reluctantly sat down, while Flint as reluctantly departed.
With a glance and gesture of real affection, Phil laid his hand upon his comrade's knee, saying, in his persuasive voice, "Old fellow, it will do you good, because I know you often long to speak of something that weighs upon you. You've kept us steady many a time, and done us no end of kindnesses; why be too proud to let us give our sympathy in return, if nothing more?"
Thorn's big hand closed over the slender one upon his knee, and the mild expression, so rarely seen upon his face, passed over it as he replied,—
"I think I could tell you almost anything if you asked me that way, my boy. It isn't that I'm too proud,—and you're right about my sometimes wanting to free my mind,—but it's because a man of forty don't just like to open out to young fellows, if there is any danger of their laughing at him, though he may deserve it. I guess there isn't now, and I'll tell you how I found my wife."
Dick sat up, and Phil drew nearer, for the earnestness that was in the man dignified his plain speech, and inspired an interest in his history, even before it was begun. Looking gravely at the river and never at his hearers, as if still a little shy of confidants, yet grateful for the relief of words, Thorn began abruptly,—
"I never hear the number eighty-four without clapping my hand to my left breast and missing my badge. You know I was on the police in New York, before the war, and that's about all you do know yet. One bitter cold night, I was going my rounds for the last time, when, as I turned a corner, I saw there was a trifle of work to be done. It was a bad part of the city, full of dirt and deviltry; one of the streets led to a ferry, and at the corner an old woman had an apple- stall. The poor soul had dropped asleep, worn out with the cold, and there were her goods left, with no one to watch 'em. Somebody was watching 'em, however; a girl, with a ragged shawl over her head, stood at the mouth of an alley close by, waiting for a chance to grab something. I'd seen her there when I went by before, and mistrusted she was up to some mischief; as I turned the corner, she put out her hand and cribbed an apple. She saw me the minute she did it, but neither dropped it nor ran, only stood stocks still with the apple in her hand till came up.
"'This won't do, my girl,' said I. I never could be harsh with 'em, poor things! She laid it back and looked up at me with a miserable sort of a smile, that made me put my hand in my pocket to fish for a ninepence before she spoke.
"'I know it won't,' she says. 'I didn't want to do it, it's so mean, but I'm awful hungry, sir.'
"'Better run home and get your supper then.'
"'I've got no home.'
"'Where do you live?'
"'In the street.'
"'Where do you sleep?'
"'Anywhere; last night in the lock-up, and I thought I'd get in there again, if I did that when you saw me. I like to go there, it's warm and safe.'
"'If I don't take you there, what will you do?'
"'Don't know. I want to go over there and dance again, as I used to; but being sick has made me ugly, so they won't have me, and no one else will take me because I have been there once.'
"I looked where she pointed, and thanked the Lord that they wouldn't take her. It was one of those low theatres that do so much damage to the like of her; there was a gambling den one side of it, an eating saloon the other, and at the door of it lounged a scamp I knew very well, looking like a big spider watching for a fly. I longed to fling my billy at him; but as I couldn't, I held on to the girl. I was new to the thing then, but though I'd heard about hunger and homelessness often enough, I'd never had this sort of thing, nor seen that look on a girl's face. A white, pinched face hers was, with frighted, tired-looking eyes, but so innocent; she wasn't more than sixteen, had been pretty once I saw, looked sick and starved now, and seemed just the most helpless, hopeless little thing that ever was.
"'You'd better come to the Station for to-night, and we'll see to you to-morrow,' says I.
"'Thank you, sir,' says she, looking as grateful as if I'd asked her home. I suppose I did speaks kind of fatherly. I ain't ashamed to say I felt so, seeing what a child she was; nor to own that when she put her little hand in mine, it hurt me to feel how thin and cold it was. We passed the eating-house where the red lights made her face as rosy as it ought to have been; there was meat and pies in the window, and the poor thing stopped to look. It was too much for her; off came her shawl, and she said in that coaxing way of hers,—
"'I wish you'd let me stop at the place close by and sell this; they'll give a little for it, and I'll get some supper. I've had nothing since yesterday morning, and maybe cold is easier to bear than hunger.'
"'Have you nothing better than that to sell?" I says, not quite sure that she wasn't all a humbug, like so many of 'em. She seemed to see that, and looked up at me again with such innocent eyes, I couldn't doubt her when she said, shivering with something beside the cold,—
"'Nothing but myself.' Then the tears came, and she laid her head down on my arm, sobbing,—'Keep me! oh, do keep me safe somewhere!'"
Thorn choked here, steadied his voice with a resolute hem! but could only add one sentence more:
"That's how I found my wife."
"Come, don't stop thar? I told the whole o' mine, you do the same. Whar did you take her? how'd it all come round?"
"Please tell us, Thorn."
The gentler request was answered presently, very steadily, very quietly.
"I was always a soft-hearted fellow, though you wouldn't think it now, and when that little girl asked me to keep her safe, I just did it. I took her to a good woman whom I knew, for I hadn't any women belonging to me, nor any place but that to put her in. She stayed there till spring working for her keep, growing brighter, prettier, every day, and fonder of me I thought. If I believed in witchcraft, I shouldn't think myself such a cursed fool as I do now, but I don't believe in it, and to this day I can't understand how I came to do it. To be sure I was a lonely man, without kith or kin, had never had a sweetheart in my life, or been much with women since my mother died. Maybe that's why I was so bewitched with Mary, for she had little ways with her that took your fancy and made you love her whether you would or no. I found her father was an honest fellow enough, a fiddler in the some theatre, that he'd taken good care of Mary till he died, leaving precious little but advice for her to live on. She'd tried to get work, failed, spent all she had, got sick, and was going to the devil, as the poor souls can hardly help doing with so many ready to give them a shove. It's no use trying to make a bad job better; so the long and short of it was, I thought she loved me; God knows I loved her, and I married her before the year was out."
"Show us her picture; I know you've got one; all the fellows have, though half of 'em won't own up."
"I've only got part of one. I once saved my little girl, and her picture once saved me."
From an inner pocket Thorn produced a woman's housewife, carefully untied it, though all its implements were missing but a little thimble and from one of its compartments took a flattened bullet and the remnants of a picture.
"I gave her that the first Christmas after I found her. She wasn't as tidy about her clothes as I liked to see, and I thought if I gave her a handy thing like this, she'd be willing to sew. But she only made one shirt for me, and then got tired, so I keep it like an old fool, as I am. Yes, that's the bit of lead that would have done for me, if Mary's likeness hadn't been just where it was."
"You'll like to show her this when you go home, won't you?" said Dick, as he took up the bullet, while Phil examined the marred picture, and Thorn poised the little thimble on his big finger, with a sigh.
"How can I, when I don't know where she is, and camp is all the home I've got?"
The words broke from him like a sudden cry, when some old wound is rudely touched. Both of the young men started, both laid back the relics they had taken up, and turned their eyes from Thorn's face, across which swept a look of shame and sorrow, too significant to be misunderstood. Their silence assured him of their sympathy, and, as if that touch of friendlessness unlocked his heavy heart, he eased it by a full confession. When he spoke again, it was with the calmness of repressed emotion; and calmness more touching to his mates than the most passionate outbreak, the most pathetic lamentation; for the coarse camp-phrases seemed to drop from his vocabulary; more than once his softened voice grew tremulous, and to the words "my little girl," there went a tenderness that proved how dear a place she still retained in that deep heart of his.
"Boys, I've gone so far; I may as well finish; and you'll see I'm not without some cause for my stern looks and ways; you'll pity me, and from you I'll take the comfort of it. It's only the old story,—I married her, worked for her, lived for her, and kept my little girl like a lady. I should have known that I was too old, too sober, for a young thing like that; the life she led before the pinch came just suited her. She liked to be admired, to dress and dance and make herself pretty for all the world to see; not to keep house for a quiet man like me. Idleness wasn't good for her, it bred discontent; then some of her old friends, who'd left her in her trouble, found her out when better times came round, and tried to get her back again. I was away all day, I didn't know how things were going, and she wasn't open with me, afraid, she said; I was so grave, and hated theatres so. She got courage, finally, to tell me that she wasn't happy; that she wanted to dance again, and asked me if she mightn't. I'd rather have had her ask me to put her in a fire, for I did hate theatres, and was bred to; others think they're no harm. I do; and knew it was a bad life for a girl like mine. It pampers vanity, and vanity is the Devil's help with such; so I said No, kindly at first, sharp and stern when she kept on teasing. That roused her spirit. 'I will go!' she said, one day. 'Not while you're my wife,' I answered back; and neither said any more, but she gave me a look I didn't think she could, and I resolved to take her away from temptation before worse came of it.
"I didn't tell her my plan; but I resigned my place, spent a week or more finding and fixing a little home for her out in the wholesome country, where she'd be safe from theatres and disreputable friends, and maybe learn to love me better when she saw how much she was to me. It was coming summer, and I made things look as home-like and as pretty as I could. She liked flowers, and I fixed a garden for her; she was fond of pets, and I got her a bird, a kitten, and a dog to play with her; she fancied gay colors and tasty little matters, so I filled her rooms with all the handsome things I could afford, and when it was done, I was as pleased as any boy, thinking what happy times we'd have together and how pleased she'd be. Boys, when I went to tell her and to take her to her little home, she was gone."
"With those cursed friends of hers; a party of them left the city just then; she was wild to go; she had money now, and all her good looks back again. They teased and tempted her; I wasn't there to keep her, and she went, leaving a line behind to tell me that she loved the old life more than the new; that my house was a prison, and she hoped I'd let her go in peace. That almost killed me; but I managed to bear it, for I knew most of the fault was mine; but it was awful bitter to think I hadn't saved her, after all."
"Oh, Thorn! what did you do?"
"Went straight after her; found her dancing in Philadelphia, with paint on her cheeks, trinkets on her neck and arms, looking prettier than ever; but the innocent eyes were gone, and I couldn't see my little girl in the bold, handsome woman twirling there before the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.. She saw me, looked scared at first, then smiled, and danced on with her eyes upon me, as if she said,—
"'See! I'm happy now; go away and let me be.'
"I couldn't stand that, and got out somehow. People thought me mad, or drunk; I didn't care, I only wanted to see her once in quiet and try to get her home. I couldn't do it then nor afterwards by fair means, and I wouldn't try force. I wrote to her, promised to forgive her, begged her to come back, or let me keep her honestly somewhere away from me. But she never answered, never came, and I have never tried again."
"She wasn't worthy of you, Thorn; you jest forgit her."
"I wish I could! I wish I could!" in his voice quivered an almost passionate regret, and a great sob heaved his chest, as he turned his face away to hide the love and longing, still so tender and so strong.
"Don't say that, Dick; such fidelity should make us charitable for its own sake. There is always time for penitence, always a certainty of pardon. Take heart, Thorn, you may not wait in vain, and she may yet return to you."
"I know she will! I've dreamed of it, I've prayed for it; every battle I come out of safe makes me surer that I was kept for that, and when I've borne enough to atone for my part of the fault, I'll be repaid for all my patience, all my pain, by finding her again. She knows how well I love her still, and if there comes a time when she is sick and poor and all alone again, then she'll remember her old John, then she'll come home and let me take her in."
Hope shone in Thorn's melancholy eyes, and long-suffering all-forgiving love beautified the rough, brown face, as he folded his arms and bent his gray head on his breast, as if the wanderer were already come.
The emotion which Dick scorned to show on his own account was freely manifested for another, as he sniffed audibly, and, boy-like, drew his sleeve across his eyes. But Phil, with the delicate perception of a finer nature, felt that the truest kindness he could show his friend was to distract his thoughts from himself, to spare him any comments, and lessen the embarrassment which would surely follow such unwonted confidence.
"Now I'll relieve Flint, and he will give you a laugh. Come on Hiram and tell us about your Beulah."
The gentleman addressed had performed his duty, by sitting on a fence and "righting up" his pockets, to beguile the tedium of his exile. Before his multitudinous possessions could be restored to their native sphere, Thorn was himself again, and on his feet.
"Stay where you are Phil; I like to tramp, it seems like old times, and I know you're tired. Just forget all this I've been saying, and go on as before. Thank you, boys! thank you!" and with a grasp of the two hands extended to him, he strode away along the path already worn by his own restless feet.
"It's done him good, and I'm glad of that; but I'd like to see the little baggage that bewitched the poor old boy, wouldn't you, Phil?"
"Hush! here's Flint."
"What's up naow? want me tew address the meetin', hey? I'm willin', only the laugh's ruther ag'inst me, ef I tell that story; expect yeu'll like it all the better fer that." Flint coiled up his long limbs, put his hands in his pockets, chewed meditatively for a moment, and then began with his slowest drawl—
"Waal, sir, it's pretty nigh ten year ago, I was damster daown tew Oldtaown, clos't tew Banggore. My folks lived tew Bethel; there was only the old man, and Aunt Siloam, keepin' house fer him, seein' as I was the only chick he hed. I hedn't heared from 'em fer a long spell, when there come a letter sayin' the old man was breakin' up. He'd said it every spring fer a number er years, and I didn't mind it no more'n the breakin' up er the river; not so much jest then; fer the gret spring drive was comin' on, and my hands was tew full to quit work all tew oncet. I sent word I'd be 'long fore a gret while, and bymeby I went. I ought tew hev gone at fust; but they'd sung aout 'Wolf!' so often I wasn't scared; an' sure 'nuff the wolf did come at last. Father hed been dead an' berried a week when I got there, and aunt was so mad she wouldn't write, nor scurcely speak tew me fer a consider'ble spell. I didn't blame her a mite, and felt jest the wust kind; so I give in every way, and fetched her raound. Yeou see I hed a cousin who'd kind er took my place tew hum while I was off, an' the old man hed left him a good slice er his money, an' me the farm, hopin' to keep me there. He'd never liked the lumberin' bizness, an' hankered arfter me a sight, I faound. Waal, seein' haow 'twas, I tried tew please him, late as it was; but ef there was ennything I did spleen ag'inst, it was farmin, 'specially arfter the smart times I'd ben hevin, up Oldtaown way. Yeou don't know nothin' abaout it; but ef yeou want tew see high dewin's, jest hitch onto a timber-drive an' go it daown along them lakes and rivers, say from Kaumchenungamooth tew Punnobscot Bay. Guess yeou'd see a thing or tew, an' find livin' on a log come as handy as ef yeou was born a turtle.
"Waal, I stood it one summer; but it was the longest kind of a job. Come fall I turned contrary, darned the farm, and vaowed I'd go back tew loggin'. Aunt hed got fond er me by that time, and felt dreadful bad abaout my leavin' on her. Cousin Siah, as we called Josiah, didn't cotton tew the old woman, though he did tew her cash; but we hitched along fust-rate. She was 'tached tew the place, hated tew hev it let or sold, thought I'd go to everlastin' rewin ef I took tew lumberin' ag'in, an' hevin' a tidy little sum er money all her own, she took a notion tew buy me off. 'Hiram,' sez she, 'ef yeou'll stay tew hum, merry some smart gal, an' kerry on the farm, I'll leave yeou the hull er my fortin. Ef yeou don't, I'll leave every cent on't tew Siah, though he ain't done as waal by me as yeou hev. Come,' sez she, 'I'm breakin' up like brother; I shan't wurry any one a gret while, and 'fore spring I dessay you'll hev cause tew rejice that yeou done as Aunt Si counselled yeou.'
"Now, that idee kinder took me, seein' I hedn't no overpaourin' love fer cousin; but I brewdid over it a spell 'fore I 'greed. Fin'lly, I said I'd dew it, as it warn't a hard nor a bad trade; and begun to look raound fer Mis Flint, Jr. Aunt was dreadf'l pleased; but 'mazin pertickler as tew who was goan tew stan' in her shoes, when she was fetched up ag'inst the etarnal boom. There was a sight er lovely women-folks raound taown; but aunt she set her foot daown that Mis Flint must be smart, pious, an' good-natered; harnsome she didn't say nothin' abaout, bein' the humliest woman in the State er Maine. I hed my own calk'lations on that pint, an' went sparkin' two or three er the pootiest gals, all that winter. I warn't in no hurry, fer merryin' is an awful resky bizness; an' I warn't goan to be took in by nobuddy. Some haouw I couldn't make up my mind which I'd hev, and kept dodgin', all ready to slew raound, an' hitch on tew ary one that seemed likeliest. 'Long in March, aunt, she ketched cold, took tew her bed, got wuss, an' told me tew hurry up, fer nary red should I hev, ef I warn't safely merried 'fore she stepped out. I thought that was ruther craoudin' a feller; but I see she was goan sure, an' I'd got intew a way er considerin' the cash mine, so that it come hard to hear abaout givin' on't up. Off I went that evenin' an' asked Almiry Nash ef she'd hev me. No, she wouldn't; I'd shilly-shallyed so long, she'd got tired er waitin' and took tew keepin' company with a doctor daown tew Bang-gore, where she'd ben visitin' a spell. I didn't find that as hard a rub to swaller, as I'd a thought I would, though Almiry was the richest, pootiest, and good-naterest of the lot. Aunt larfed waal, an' told me tew try agin; so a couple er nights arfter, I spruced up, an' went over to Car'line Miles's; she was as smart as old cheese, an' waal off intew the barg'in. I was just as sure she'd hev me, as I be that I'm gittin' the rewmatiz a settin' in this ma'sh. But that minx, Almiry, hed ben and let on abaout her own sarsy way er servin' on me, an' Car'line jest up an' said she warn't goan to hev annybuddy's leavin's; so daown I come ag'in.
"Things was gettin' desper't by that time; for aunt was failin' rapid, an' the story hed leaked aout some way, so the hull taown was gigglin' over it. I thought I'd better quit them parts; but aunt she showed me her will all done complete, 'sceptin' the fust name er the legatee. 'There,' sez she, 'it all depends on yeou, whether that place is took by Hiram or Josiah. It's easy done, an' so it's goan tew stan' till the last minnit.' That riled me consid'able, an' I streaked off tew May Jane Simlin's. She want very waal off, nor extra harnsome, but she was pious the wust kind, an' dreadf'l clever to them she fancied. But I was daown on my luck agin; fer at the fust word I spoke of merryin', she showed me the door, an' give me to understan' that she couldn't think er hevin' a man that warn't a church-member, that hadn't experienced religion, or even ben struck with conviction, an' all the rest on't. Ef anny one hed a wanted tew hev seen a walkin' hornet's nest, they could hev done it cheap that night, as I went hum. I jest stramed intew the kitchen, chucked my hat intew one corner, my coat intew 'nother, kicked the cat, cussed the fire, drawed up a chair, and set scaoulin' like sixty, bein' tew mad for talkin'. The young woman that was nussin' aunt,—Bewlah Blish, by name,—was a cookin' grewel on the coals, and 'peared tew understan' the mess I was in; but she didn't say nothin', only blowed up the fire, fetched me a mug er cider, an' went raound so kinder quiet, and sympathizin', that I faound the wrinkles in my temper gettin' smoothed aout 'mazin' quick; an' 'fore long I made a clean breast er the hull thing. Bewlah larfed, but I didn't mind her doin' on't, for she sez, sez she, real sort o' cunnin',—
"'Poor Hiram! they didn't use yeou waal. Yeou ought to hev tried some er the poor an' humly girls; they'd a' been glad an' grateful fer such a sweetheart as yeou be.'
"I was good-natered agin by that time, an' I sez, larfin' along with her, 'Waal I've got three mittens, but I guess I might's waal hev 'nother, and that will make two pair complete. Say, Bewlah, will yeou hev me?'
"'Yes, I will,' sez she.
"'Reelly?' sez I.
"'Solemn trew,' sez she.
"Ef she'd up an' slapped me in the face, I shouldn't hev ben more throwed aback, fer I never mistrusted she cared two chips for me. I jest set an' gawped; fer she was solemn trew, I see that with half an eye, an' it kinder took my breath away. Bewlah drawed the grewel off the fire, wiped her hands, an' stood lookin' at me a minnet, then she sez, slow an' quiet, but tremblin' a little, as women hev a way er doin', when they've consid'able steam aboard,—
"'Hiram, other folks think lumberin' has spilt yeou; I don't; they call yeou rough an' rewd; I know you've got a real kind heart fer them as knows haow tew find it. Them girls give yeou up so easy, 'cause they never loved yeou, an' yeou give them up 'cause yeou only thought abaout their looks an' money. I'm humly, an' I'm poor; but I've loved yeou ever sence we went a-nuttin' years ago, an' yeou shook daown fer me, kerried my bag, and kissed me tew the gate, when all the others shunned me, 'cause my father drank an' I was shably dressed, ugly, an' shy. Yeou asked me in sport, I answered in airnest; but I don't expect nothin' unless yeou mean as I mean. Like me, Hiram, or leave me, it won't make no odds in my lovin' er yeou, nor helpin' er yeou, ef I kin.'
"'Tain't easy tew say haouw I felt, while she was goin' on that way; but my idees was tumblin' raound inside er me, as ef half a dozen dams was broke loose all tew oncet. One thing was ruther stiddier 'n the rest, an' that was that I liked Bewlah morn'n I knew. I begun tew see what kep me loopin' tew hum so much, sence aunt was took daown; why I want in no hurry tew git them other gals, an' haow I come tew pocket my mittens so easy arfter the fust rile was over. Bewlah was humly, poor in flesh, dreadful freckled, hed red hair, black eyes, an' a gret mold side er her nose. But I'd got wonted tew her; she knowed my ways, was a fust rate housekeeper, real good-tempered, and pious without flingin' on't in yer face. She was a lonely creeter,—her folks bein' all dead but one sister, who didn't use her waal, an' somehow I kinder yearned over her, as they say in Scripter. For all I set an' gawped, I was coming raound fast, though I felt as I used tew, when I was goin' to shoot the rapids, kinder breathless an' oncertin, whether Id come aout right side up or not. Queer, warn't it?"
"Love, Flint; that was a sure symptom of it."
"Waal, guess 'twas; anyway I jumped up all er a sudden, ketched Bewlah raound the neck, give her a hearty kiss, and sung aout, 'I'll dew it sure's my name's Hi Flint!' The words was scurcely aout er my maouth, 'fore daown come Dr. Parr. He'd ben up tew see aunt, an' said she wouldn't last the night threw, prob'ly. That give me a scarer the wust kind; an' when I told doctor haow things was, he sez, kinder jokin',—
"'Better git merried right away, then. Parson Dill is tew come an' see the old lady, an' he'll dew both jobs tew oncet.'
"'Will yeou, Bewlah?' sez I.
"'Yes, Hiram, to 'blige yeou,' sez she.
"With that, I put it fer the parson and the license; got 'em both, an' was back in less'n half an haour, most tuckered aout with the flurry er the hull concern. Quick as I'd been, Bewlah hed faound time tew whip on her best gaoun, fix up her hair, and put a couple er white chrissanthymums intew her hank'chif pin. Fer the fust time in her life, she looked harnsome,—leastways I thought so,—with a pretty color in her cheeks, somethin' brighter'n a larf shinin' in her eyes, an' her lips smilin' an' tremblin', as she come to me an' whispered so's't none er the rest could hear,—
"'Hiram, don't yeou dew it, ef yeou'd ruther not. I've stood it a gret while alone, an' I guess I can ag'in.'
"Never yeou mind what I said or done abaout that; but we was married ten minutes arfter, 'fore the kitchen fire, with Dr. Parr an' oaur hired man, fer witnesses; an' then we all went up tew aunt. She was goan fast, but she understood what I told her, hed strength tew fill up the hole in the will, an' to say, a-kissin' Bewlah, 'Yeou'll be a good wife, an' naouw yeou ain't a poor one.'
"I couldn't help givin' a peek tew the will, and there I see not Hiram Flint, nor Josiah Flint, but Bewlah Flint, wrote every which way, but as plain as the nose on yer face. 'It won't make no odds dear,' whispered my wife, peekin' over my shoulder. 'Guess it won't!' sez I, aout laoud; 'I'm glad on't, and it ain't a cent more'n yeou derserve.'
"That pleased aunt. 'Riz me, Hiram,' sez she; an' when I'd got her easy, she put her old arms raound my neck, an' tried to say, 'God bless you, dear—,' but died a doin' of it; an' I ain't ashamed tew say I boo-hooed real hearty, when I laid her daown, fer she was dreadf'l good tew me, an' I don't forgit her in a hurry."
"How's Bewlah?" asked Dick, after the little tribute of respect all paid to Aunt Siloam's memory, by a momentary silence.
"Fust-rate! that harum scarum venter er mine was the best I ever made. She's done waal by me, hes Bewlah; ben a grand good haousekeeper, kin kerry on the farm better'n me, any time, an' is as dutif'l an' lovin' a wife as,—waal as annything that is extra dutif'l and lovin'."
"Got any boys to brag of?"
"We don't think much o' boys daown aour way; they're 'mazin resky stock to fetch up,—alluz breakin' baounds, gittin' intew the paound, and wurry your life aout somehaow 'nother. Gals naow doos waal; I got six o' the likeliest the is goin', every one on 'em is the very moral of Bewlah,—red hair, black eyes, quiet ways, an' a mold side the nose. Baby's ain't growed yet; but I expect tew see it in a consid'able state o' forrardness, when I git hum, an' wouldn't miss it fer the world."
The droll expressions of Flint's face, and the satisfied twang of his last words, were irresistable. Dick and Phil went off into a shout of laughter; and even Thorn's grave lips relapsed into a smile at the vision of six little Flints with their six little moles. As if the act were an established ceremony, the "paternal head" produced his pocket-book, selected a worn, black and white paper, which he spread in his broad palm, and displayed with the air of a connoisseur.
"There, thets Bewlah! we call it a cuttin'; but the proper name's a silly-hoot I b'leeve. I've got a harnsome big degarrytype tew hum but the heft on't makes it bad tew kerry raound, so I took this. I don't tote it abaout inside my shirt as some dew,—it aint my way; but I keep it in my puss long with my other valleu'bles, and guess I set as much stoxe by it as ef it was all painted up, and done off to keell."
The "silly-hoot" was examined with interest, and carefully stowed away again in the old brown wallet which was settled in its place with a satisfied slap, then Flint said briskly,—
"Naouw, Phil, yeou close this interestin' and instructive meeting; and be spry, fer time's most up."
"I haven't much to tell, but must begin with a confession which I have often longed but never dared to make before, because I am a coward."
"Sho! who's goan to b'leeve that o' a man who fit like a wild cat, wuz offered fer permotion on the field, and wuz reported tew headquarters arfter his fust scrimmage. Try ag'in, Phil."
"Physical courage is as plentiful as brass buttons, nowadays, but moral courage is a rarer virtue; and I'm lacking in it, as I'll prove. You think me a Virginian; I'm an Alabamian by birth, and was a reb three months ago."
This confession startled his hearers, as he knew it would, for he had kept his secret well. Thorn laid his hand involuntarily upon his rifle, Dick drew off a little, and Flint illustrated one of his own expressions, for he "gawped." Phil laughed that musical laugh of his, and looked up at them with his dark face waking into sudden life as he went on:—
"There's no treason in the camp, for I'm as fierce a Federalist as any of you now, and you may thank a woman for it. When Lee made his raid into Pennsylvania, I was a lieutenant in the—well, never mind what regiment, it hasn't signalized itself since, and I'd rather not hit my old neighbors when they are down. In one of the skirmishes during our retreat, I got a wound and was left for dead. A kind old Quaker found and took me home; but though I was too weak to talk, I had my senses by that time, and knew what went on about me. Everything was in confusion, even in that well-ordered place; no surgeon could be got at first, and a flock of frightened women thee'd and thou'd one another over me, but hadn't wit enough to see that I was bleeding to death. Among the faces that danced before my dizzy eyes was one that seemed familiar, probably because no cap surrounded it. I was glad to have it bending over me, to hear a steady voice say, 'Give me a bandage, quick!' and when none was instantly forthcoming to me, the young lady stripped up a little white apron she wore, and stanched the wound in my shoulder. I was not as badly hurt as I supposed, but so worn-out, and faint from loss of blood, they believed me to be dying, and so did I, when the old man took off his hat and said,—
"'Friend, if thee has anything to say, thee had better say it, for thee probably has not long to live.'
"I thought of my little sister, far away in Alabama, fancied she came to me, and muttered, 'Amy, kiss me, good-by.' The women sobbed at that; but the girl bent her sweet compassionate face to mine, and kissed me on the forehead. That was my wife."
"So you seceded from Secession right away, to pay for that lip-service, hey?"
"No, Thorn, not right away,—to my shame be it spoken. I'll tell you how it came about. Margaret was not old Bent's daughter, but a Virginia girl on a visit, and a long one it proved, for she couldn't go till things were quieter. While she waited, she helped take care of me; for the good souls petted me like a baby when they found that a Rebel could be a gentleman. I held my tongue, and behaved my best to prove my gratitude, you know. Of course, I loved Margaret very soon. How could I help it? She was the sweetest woman I had ever seen, tender, frank, and spirited; all I had ever dreamed of and longed for. I did not speak of this, nor hope for a return, because I knew she was a hearty Unionist, and thought she only tended me from pity. But suddenly she decided to go home, and when I ventured to wish she would stay longer, she would not listen, and said, "I must not stay; I should have gone before."
"The words were nothing, but as she uttered them the color came up beautifully over all her face, and her eyes filled as they looked away from mine. Then I knew that she loved me, and my secret broke out half against my will. Margaret was forced to listen, for I would not let her go, but she seemed to harden herself against me, growing colder, stiller, statelier, as I went on, and when I said in my desperate way,—
"'You should love me, for we are bid to love our enemies,' she flashed an indignant look at me and said,—
"'I will not love what I cannot respect! Come to me a loyal man, and see what answer I shall give you.'
"Then she went away. It was the wisest thing she could have done, for absence did more to change me than an ocean of tears, a year of exhortations. Lying there, I missed her every hour of the day, recalled every gentle act, kind word, and fair example she had given me. I contrasted my own belief with hers, and found a new significance in the words honesty and honor, and, remembering her fidelity to principle, was ashamed of my own treason to God and to herself. Education, prejudice, and interest, are difficult things to overcome, and that was the hottest fight I ever passed through, for, as I tell you, I was a coward. But love and loyalty won the day, and, asking no quarter, the Rebel surrendered."
"Phil Beaufort, you're a brick!" cried Dick, with a sounding slap on his comrade's shoulder.
"A brand snatched from the burnin'. Hallelujah!" chanted Flint, seesawing with excitement.
"Then you went to find your wife? How? Where?" asked Thorn, forgetting vigilance in interest.
"Friend Bent hated war so heartily that he would have nothing to do with paroles, exchanges, or any martial process whatever, but bade me go when and where I liked, remembering to do by others as I had been done by. Before I was well enough to go, however, I managed, by means of Copperhead influence and returned prisoners, to send a letter to my father and receive an answer. You can imagine what both contained; and so I found myself penniless, but not poor, an outcast, but not alone. Old Bent treated me like a prodigal son, and put money in my purse; his pretty daughters loved me for Margaret's sake, and gave me a patriotic salute all round when I left them, the humblest, happiest man in Pennsylvania. Margaret once said to me that this was the time for deeds, not words; that no man should stand idle, but serve the good cause with head, heart, and hand, no matter in what rank; for in her eyes a private fighting for liberty was nobler than a dozen generals defending slavery. I remembered that, and, not having influential friends to get me a commission, enlisted in one of her own Virginia regiments, knowing that no act of mine would prove my sincerity like that. You should have seen her face when I walked in upon her, as she sat alone, busied with the army work, as I'd so often seen her sitting by my bed; it showed me all she had been suffering in silence, all I should have lost had I chosen darkness instead of light. She hoped and feared so much she could not speak, neither could I, but dropped my cloak, and showed her that, through love of her, I had become a soldier of the Flag. How I love the coarse blue uniform! for when she saw it, she came to me without a word and kept her promise in a month."
"Thunder! what a harnsome woman!" exclaimed Flint, as Phil, opening the golden case that held his talisman, showed them the beautiful, beloved face of which be spoke.
"Yes! and a right noble woman too. I don't deserve her, but I will. We parted on our wedding-day, for orders to be off came suddenly, and she would not let me go until I had given her my name to keep. We were married in the morning, and at noon I had to go. Other women wept as we marched through the town, but my brave Margaret kept her tears till we were gone, smiling, and waving her hand to me,—the hand that wore the wedding-ring,—till I was out of sight. That image of her is before me day and night, and day and night her last words are ringing in my ears,—
"'I give you freely, do your best. Better a true man's widow than a traitor's wife.'
"Boys, I've only stood on the right side for a month; I've only fought one battle, earned one honor; but I believe these poor achievements are an earnest of the long atonement I desire to make for five and twenty years of blind transgression. You say I fight well. Have I not cause to dare much?—for in owning many slaves, I too became a slave; in helping to make many freemen, I liberate myself. You wonder why I refused promotion. Have I any right to it yet? Are there not men who never sinned as I have done, and beside whose sacrifices mine look pitifully small? You tell me I have no ambition. I have the highest, for I desire to become God's noblest work,—an honest man,—living, to make Margaret happy, in a love that every hour grows worthier of her own,—dying, to make death proud to take me."
Phil had risen while he spoke, as if the enthusiasm of his mood lifted him into the truer manhood he aspired to attain. Straight and strong he stood up in the moonlight, his voice deepened by unwonted energy, his eye clear and steadfast, his whole face ennobled by the regenerating power of this late loyalty to country, wife, and self, and bright against the dark blue of his jacket shone the pictured face, the only medal he was proud to wear.
Ah, brave, brief moment, cancelling years of wrong! Ah, fair and fatal decoration, serving as a mark for a hidden foe! The sharp crack of a rifle broke the stillness of the night, and with those hopeful words upon his lips, the young man sealed his purpose with his life.
THE KING OF CLUBS AND THE QUEEN OF HEARTS.
A STORY FOR YOUNG AMERICA.
FIVE and twenty ladies, all in a row, sat on one side of the hall, looking very much as if they felt like the little old woman who fell asleep on the king's highway and awoke with abbreviated drapery, for they were all arrayed in gray tunics and Turkish continuations, profusely adorned with many-colored trimmings. Five and twenty gentleman, all in a row, sat on the opposite side of the hall, looking somewhat subdued, as men are apt to do when they fancy they are in danger of making fools of themselves. They, also, were en costume, for all the dark ones had grown piratical in red shirts, the light ones nautical in blue; and a few boldly appeared in white, making up in starch and studs what they lost in color, while all were more or less Byronic as to collar.
On the platform appeared a pile of dumb-bells, a regiment of clubs, and a pyramid of bean-bags, and stirring nervously among them a foreign-looking gentleman, the new leader of a class lately formed by Dr. Thor Turner, whose mission it was to strengthen the world's spine, and convert it to a belief in air and exercise, by setting it to balancing its poles and spinning merrily, while enjoying the "Sun-cure" on a large scale. His advent formed an epoch in the history of the town; for it was a quiet old village, guiltless of bustle, fashion, or parade, where each man stood for what he was; and, being a sagacious set, every one's true value was pretty accurately known. It was a neighborly town, with gossip enough to stir the social atmosphere with small gusts of interest or wonder, yet do no harm. A sensible, free-and-easy town, for the wisest man in it wore the worst boots, and no one thought the less of his understanding; the belle of the village went shopping with a big sun-bonnet and tin pail, and no one found her beauty lessened; oddities of all sorts ambled peacefully about on their various hobbies, and no one suggested the expediency of a trip on the wooden horse upon which the chivalrous South is always eager to mount an irrepressible abolitionist. Restless people were soothed by the lullaby the river sang in its slow journey to the sea, old people found here a pleasant place to make ready to die in, young people to survey the world from, before taking their first flight, and strangers looked back upon it, as a quiet nook full of ancient legends and modern lights, which would keep its memory green when many a gayer spot was quite forgotten. Anything based upon common sense found favor with the inhabitants, and Dr. Turner's theories, being eminently so, were accepted at once and energetically carried out. A sort of heathen revival took place, for even the ministers and deacons turned Musclemen; old ladies tossed bean-bags till their caps were awry, and winter roses blossomed on their cheeks; school-children proved the worth of the old proverb, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," by getting their backs ready before the burdens came; pale girls grew blithe and strong swinging their dumb namesakes; and jolly lads marched to and fro embracing clubs as if longevity were corked up in those wooden bottles, and they all took "modest quenchers" by the way.
August Bopp, the new leader of the class, was a German possessing but a small stock of English, though a fine gynmast; and, being also a bashful man, the appointed moment had no sooner arrived than he found his carefully prepared sentences slipping away from his memory as the ice appears to do from under unhappy souls first mounted upon skates. An awful silence reigned; Mr. Bopp glanced nervously over his shoulder at the staring rows, more appalling in their stillness than if they had risen up and hooted at him, then piling up the bags for the seventh time, he gave himself a mental shake, and, with a crimson visage, was about to launch his first "Ladees und gentlemen," when the door opened, and a small, merry-faced figure appeared, looking quite at ease in the novel dress, as, with a comprehensive nod, it marched straight across the hall to its place among the weaker vessels.
A general glance of approbation followed from the gentlemen's side, a welcoming murmur ran along the ladies', and the fifty pairs of eyes changed their focus for a moment. Taking advantage of which, Mr. Bopp righted himself, and burst out with a decided,—
"Ladees und gentlemen: the time have arrived that we shall begin. Will the gentlemen serve the ladees to a wand, each one, then spread theirselves about the hall, and follow the motions I will make as I shall count."
Five minutes of chaos, then all fell into order, and nothing was heard but the leader's voice and the stir of many bodies moving simultaneously. An uninitiated observer would have thought himself in Bedlam; for as the evening wore on, the laws of society seemed given to the winds, and humanity gone mad. Bags flew in all directions, clubs hurtled through the air, and dumb-bells played a castinet accompaniment to peals of laughter that made better music than any band. Old and young gave themselves up to the universal merriment, and, setting dignity aside, played like happy-hearted children for an hour. Stout Dr. Quackenboss gasped twice round the hall on one toe; stately Mrs. Primmins ran like a girl of fifteen to get her pins home before her competitor; Tommy Inches, four feet three, trotted away with Deacon Stone on his shoulder, while Mr. Steepleton and Miss Maypole hopped together like a pair of lively young ostriches, and Ned Amandine, the village beau, blew arrows through a pop-gun, like a modern Cupid in pegtops instead of pinions.
The sprightly young lady whose entrance had been so opportune seemed a universal favorite, and was overwhelmed with invitations to "bag," "hop," and "blow" from the gentlemen who hovered about her, cheerfully distorting themselves to the verge of dislocation in order to win a glance of approbation from the merry black eyes which were the tapers where all these muscular moths singed their wings. Mr. Bopp had never seen such a little piece of earnestness before, and began to think the young lady must be training for a boat-race or the ring. Her dumb-bells flew about till a pair of white arms looked like the sails of a windmill; she hit out from the shoulder with a vigor that would have done execution had there been anything but empty air to "punish;" and the "one, two, three!" of the Zouave movement went off with a snap; while the color deepened from pink to scarlet in her cheeks, the black braids tumbled down upon her shoulders, and the clasp of her belt flew asunder; but her eye seldom left the leader's face, and she followed every motion with an agility and precision quite inspiring. Mr. Bopp's courage rose as he watched her, and a burning desire to excel took possession of him, till he felt as if his muscles were made of India-rubber, and his nerves of iron. He went into his work heart and soul, shaking a brown mane out of his eyes, issuing commands like general at the head of his troops, and keeping both interest and fun in full blast till people laughed who had not laughed heartily for years; lungs got their fill for once, unsuspected muscles were suddenly developed, and, when the clock struck ten, all were bubbling over with that innocent jollity which makes youth worth possessing, and its memory the sunshine of old age.
The last exercise was drawing to a close, and a large ring of respectable members of society were violently sitting down and rising up in a manner which would have scandalized Miss Wilhelmina Carolina Amelia S. Keggs to the last degree, when Mr. Bopp was seen to grow very pale, and drop in a manner which it was evident his pupils were not expected to follow.
At this unexpected performance, the gentlemen took advantage of their newly-acquired agility to fly over all obstacles and swarm on to the platform, while the ladies successfully lessened their unusual bloom by staring wildly at one another and suggesting awful impossibilities. The bustle subsided, as suddenly as it arose; and Mr. Bopp, rather damp about the head and dizzy about the eye, but quite composed, appeared, saying, with the broken English and appealing manner which caused all the ladies to pronounce him "a dear" on the spot,—
"I hope you will excoose me for making this lesson to be more short than it should; but I have exercise nine hours this day, and being just got well from a illness, I have not recover the strength I have lost. Next week I shall be able to take time by the hair, so that I will not have so much engagements in one day. I thank you for your kindness, and say good-efening."
After a round of applause, as a last vent for their spirits, the class dispersed, and Mr. Bopp was wrestling with a vicious pin as he put on his collar ("a sure sign he has no ma to see to his buttons, poor lamb!" thought Mrs. Fairbairn, watching him from afar); when the sprightly young lady, accompanied by a lad the masculine image of herself, appeared upon the platform, saying, with an aspect as cordial as her words,—
"Good-evening, Professor. Allow me to introduce my brother and myself, Dick and Dolly Ward, and ask you in my mother's name, to come home with us; for the tavern is not a cosy place, and after all this exertion you should be made comfortable. Please come, for Dr. Turner always stayed with us, and we promised to do the honors of the town to any gentleman he might send to supply his place."
"Of course we did; and mother is probably freezing her blessed nose off watching for us; so don't disappoint her, Bopp. It's all settled, the sleigh's at the door, and here's your coat; so, come on!"
Dick was a fine sample of young America in its best aspect, and would have said "How are you?" to Louis Napoleon if he had been at hand, and have done it so heartily that the great Frenchman would have found it hard to resist giving as frank an answer. Therefore no wonder that Mr. Bopp surrendered at once; for the young gentleman took possession of him bodily, and shook him into his coat with an amiable impetuosity which developed a sudden rent in the well-worn sleeve thereof, and caused an expression of dismay, to dawn upon the owner's countenance.
"Beg pardon; never mind; mother'll sew you up in two seconds, and your overcoat will hide the damage. Where is it? I'll get it, and then we'll be off."
Mr. Bopp colored distressfully, looked up, looked down, and then straight into the lad's face, saying simply,—
"Thank you; I haf no coat but one."
Dick opened his eyes, and was about opening his mouth also, for the exit of some blunderingly good-natured reply, when a warning poke from his sister restrained him, while Dolly, with the innocent hypocrisy which is as natural to some women as the art of tying bows, said, as she led the way out,—
"You see the worth of gymnastics, Dick, in this delightful indifference to cold. I sincerely hope we may reach a like enviable state of health, and look upon great-coats as effeminate, and mufflers a weakness of the flesh. Do you think we shall, Mr. Bopp?"
He shook his head with a perceptible shiver as the keen north wind smote him in the face, but answered, with a look half merry, half sad,—
"It is not choice, but what you call necessitee, with me; and I truly hope you may never haf to exercise to keep life in you when you haf sold your coat to pay a doctor's bill, or teach the art of laughing while your heart is heavy as one stone. You would not like that, I think, yet it is good, too; for small things make much happiness for me, and a kind word is often better than a rix dollar."
There was something in the young man's tone and manner which touched and won his hearers at once. Dolly secretly resolved to put an extra blanket on his bed, and shower kind words upon him, while Dick tucked him up in buffalo robes where he sat helplessly beaming down upon the red hood at his side.
A roaring fire shone out hospitably as they came, and glorified the pleasant room, dancing on ancient furniture and pictured walls till the jolly old portraits seemed to wink a visible welcome. A cheery-faced little woman, like an elder Dolly, in a widow's cap, stood on the threshold, with a friendly greeting for the stranger, which warmed him as no fine could have done.
If August Bopp had been an Englishman, he would have felt much, but said less on that account; if he had been an American, he would have tried to conceal his poverty, and impress the family with his past grandeur, present importance, or future prospects; being a German, he showed exactly what he was, with the childlike frankness of his race. Having had no dinner, he ate heartily of what was offered him; being cold, he basked in the generous warmth; being homesick and solitary, he enjoyed the genial influences that surrounded him, and told his story, sure of sympathy; for even in prosaic Yankeedom he had found it, as travellers find Alpine flowers among the snow.
It was a simple story of a laborious boyhood, being early left an orphan, with a little sister dependent on him, till an opening in America tempted him to leave her and come to try and earn a home for her and for himself. Sickness, misfortune, and disappointment had been his companions for a year; but he still worked, still hoped, and waited for the happy hour when little Ulla should come to him across the sea. This was all; yet as he told it, with the magical accompaniments of gesture, look, and tone, it seemed full of pathos and romance to his listeners, whose faces proved their interest more flatteringly than their words.
Mrs. Ward mended the torn coat with motherly zeal, and gave it many of those timely stitches which thrifty women love to sew. The twins devoted themselves to their guest, each in a characteristic manner. Dick, as host, offered every article of refreshment the house afforded, goaded the fire to a perpetual roar, and discussed gymnastics, with bursts of boyish admiration for the grace and skill of his new leader, whom he christened King of Clubs on the spot. Dolly made the stranger one of them at once by talking bad German, as an offset to his bad English, called him Professor in spite of all denials, and unconsciously symbolized his future bondage by giving him a tangled skein to hold for the furtherance of her mother's somewhat lengthened job.
The Cupid of the present day was undoubtedly "raised" in Connecticut; for the ingenuity and shrewdness of that small personage could have sprung from no other soil. In former times his stratagems were of the romantic order. Colin bleated forth his passion in rhyme, and cast sheep's eyes from among his flock, while Phyllis coquetted with her crook and stuck posies in his hat; royal Ferdinand and Miranda played at chess; Ivanhoe upset his fellow-men like ninepins for love of lackadaisical Rowena; and "sweet Moll" turned the pages while her lover, Milton, sang. But in our day the jolly little god, though still a heathen in the severe simplicity of his attire, has become modernized in his arts, and invented huskings, apple-bees, sleigh-rides, "drop-ins," gymnastics, and, among his finer snares, the putting on of skates, drawing of patterns, and holding skeins,—the last-named having superior advantages over the others, as all will testify who have enjoyed one of those hand-to-hand skirmishes.
August Bopp was three and twenty, imaginative, grateful, and heart-whole; therefore, when he found himself sitting opposite a blooming little damsel, with a head, bound by a pretty red snood, bent down before him, and very close to his own a pair of distracting hands, every finger of which had a hit to make, and made it, it is not to be denied that he felt himself entering upon a new and very agreeable experience. Where could he look but in the face opposite, sometimes so girlishly merry and sometimes so beautifully shy? It was a winning face, full of smooth curves, fresh colors, and sunshiny twinkles,—a face every one liked, for it was as changeful as an April day, and always pleasant, whether mischievous, mournful, or demure.
Like one watching a new picture, Mr. Bopp inspected every feature of the countenance so near his own; and, as his admiration "grew by what it fed on," he fell into a chronic state of stammer and blush; for the frank eyes were very kind, the smooth cheeks reflected a pretty shade of his own crimson, and the smiling lips seemed constantly suggesting, with mute eloquence, that they were made for kissing, while the expressive hands picked at the knots till the Professor felt like a very resigned fly in the web of a most enticing young spider.
If the King of Clubs saw a comely face, the Queen of Hearts saw what observing girls call a "good face;" and with a womanly respect for strength, the manliest attribute of man, she admired the broad shoulders and six feet one of her new master. This face was not handsome, for, true to his fatherland, the Professor had an eminent nose, a blonde beard, and a crop of "bonny brown hair" long enough to have been gathered into a ribbon, as in the days of Schiller and Jean Paul; but Dolly liked it, for its strength was tempered with gentleness; patience and courage gave it dignity, and the glance that met her own was both keen and kind.
The silk was wound at last, the coat repaired. Dick with difficulty concealed the growing stiffness of his shoulders, while Dolly turned up the lamp, which bluntly hinted bedtime, and Mrs. Ward successfully devoured six gapes behind her hand, but was detected in the seventh by Mr. Bopp, who glanced at the clock, stopped in the middle of a sentence, and, with a hurried "goot-night," made for the door without the least idea whither he was going. Piloted by Dick, he was installed in the "best chamber," where his waking dreams were enlivened by a great fire, and his sleeping ones by an endless succession of skeins, each rapturously concluded in the style of Sam Weller when folding carpets with the pretty maid.
"I tell you, Dolly, it won't do, and I'm not going to have it."
"Oh, indeed; and how will you help it, you absurd boy?"
"Why, if you don't stop it, I'll just say to Bopp,—'Look here, my dear fellow; this sister of mine is a capital girl, but she will flirt and'"—
"And it's a family failing, Dick," cut in Dolly.
"Not a bit of it. I shall say, 'Take care of your heart, Bopp, for she has a bad habit of playing battle-door and shuttle-cock with these articles; and, though it may be very good fun for a time, it makes them ache when they get a last knock and are left to lie in a corner.'"
"What eloquence! But you'd never dare to try it on Mr. Bopp; and I shouldn't like to predict what would happen to you if you did."
"If you say 'dare,' I'll do it the first minute I see him. As for consequences, I don't care that for 'em;" and Dick snapped his fingers with an aspect of much disdain. But something in his sister's face suggested the wisdom of moderation, and moved him to say, less like a lord of creation, and more like a brother who privately adored his sister, but of course was not going to acknowledge such a weakness,—
"Well, but soberly, now, I wish you wouldn't plague Bopp; for it's evident to me that he is hit; and from the way you've gone on these two months, what else was to be expected? Now, as the head of the family,—you needn't laugh, for I am,—I think I ought to interfere; and so I put it to you,—do you like him, and will you have him? or are you merely amusing yourself, as you have done ever since you were out of pinafores? If you like him, all serene. I'd rather have him for a brother than any one I know, for he's a regular trump though he is poor; but if you don't, I won't have the dear old fellow floored just because you like to see it done."
It may here be remarked that Dolly quite glowed to hear her brother praise Mr. Bopp, and that she indorsed every word with mental additions of double warmth; but Dick had begun all wrong, and, manlike, demanded her confidence before she had made up her mind to own she had any to bestow; therefore nothing came of it but vexation of spirit; for it is a well-known fact that, on some subjects, if boys will tease, girls will fib, and both maintain that it is right. So Dolly whetted her feminine weapon, and assumed a lofty superiority.
"Dear me! what a sudden spasm of virtue; and why, if it is such a sin, has not the 'head of the house' taken his sister to task before, instead of indulging in a like degeneracy, and causing several interesting persons to tear their hair, and bewail his forgetfulness, when they ought to have blessed their stars he was out of the way?"
Dick snowballed a dozing crow and looked nettled; for he had attained that age when "Tom Brown at Oxford" was the book of books, the twelfth chapter being the favorite, and five young ladies having already been endowed with the significant heliotrope flower; all of which facts Dolly had skilfully brought to mind, as a return-shot for his somewhat personal remarks.
"Bah! they were only girls, and it don't amount to anything among us young folks; but Bopp is a grown man, and you ought to respect him too much to play such pranks with him. Besides, he's a German, and more tender-hearted than we rough Yankees, as any one can see by the way he acts when you snub him. He is proud, too, for all his meekness, and waits till he's sure you like him before he says anything; and he'll need the patience of a family of Jobs at the rate you're going on,—a honey-pot one day and a pickle-jar the next. Do make up your mind, and say yes or no, right off, Dolly."
"Would you have me meet him at the door with a meek courtesy, and say, 'Oh, if you please, I'm ready to say Yes, thank you, if you'll be good enough to say, Will you'?"
"Don't be a goose, child; you know I mean nothing of the kind; only you girls never will do anything straight ahead if you can dodge and fuss and make a mess of it. Just tell me one thing: Do you, or don't you, like old Bopp?"
"What an elegant way to put it! Of course I like him well enough as a leader; he is clever, and sort of cunning, and I enjoy his funny ways; but what in the world should I do with a great yellow-haired laddie who could put me in his pocket, and yet is so meek that I should never find the heart to henpeck him? You are welcome to him; and since you love him so much, there's no need of my troubling myself on his account; for with you for a friend, be can have no earthly wish ungratified."
"Don't try to be cutting, Dolly, because you look homely when you do, and it's a woman's business to be pretty, always. All I've got to say is, you will be in a nice state of mind if you damage Bopp; for every one likes him, and will be down upon you for a heartless little wretch; and I shan't blame them, I promise you."
"I wish the town wouldn't put its fingers in other people's pies, and you may tell it so, with my compliments; and all I have to say is, that you men have more liberty than you know what to do with, and we women haven't enough; so it's perfectly fair that we should show you the worth of the thing by taking it away now and then. I shall do exactly as I please; dance, walk, ride, and flirt, whenever and with whomever I see fit; and the whole town, with Mr. Dick Ward at their head, can't stop me if I choose to go on. Now, then, what next?" After which declaration of independence, Dolly folded her arms, wheeled about and faced her brother, a spirited statuette of Self Will, in a red hood and mittens.
Dick sternly asked,—
"Is that your firm decision, ma'am?"
"And you will not give up your nonsense?"
"You are quite sure you don't care for Bopp?"
"I could slap him with all my heart."
"Very good. I shall see that you don't get a chance."
"I wouldn't try a skirmish, for you'll get beaten, Dick."
"We'll prove that, ma'am."
"We will, sir."
And the belligerents loftily paced up the lawn, with their purpose so well expressed by outward signs, that Mrs. Ward knew, by the cock of Dick's hat and the decided tap of Dolly's heels, that a storm was brewing, before they entered the door.
This fraternal conversation took place some two months from the evening of Mr. Bopp's advent, as the twins were strolling home from school, which school must be briefly alluded to in order to explain the foregoing remarks. It was an excellent institution in all respects; for its presiding genius stood high in the townfolks' esteem, and might have served as an example to Dr. Watts' "busy bee," in the zeal with which he improved his "shining hours," and laid up honey against the winter, which many hoped would be long in coming. All manner of aids were provided for sprouting souls and bodies, diversions innumerable, and society, some members of which might have polished off Alcibiades a la Socrates, or entertained Plato with "sthetic tea." But, sad to relate, in spite of all these blessings, the students who resorted to this academy possessed an Adam-and-Eve-like proclivity for exactly what they hadn't got and didn't need; and, not contented with the pleasures provided, must needs play truant with that young scamp Eros, and turn the ancient town topsy-turvy with modern innovations, till scandalized spinsters predicted that the very babies would catch the fever, refuse their panada in jealous gloom, send billet-doux in their rattles, elope in wicker-carriages, and set up housekeeping in dolls' houses, after the latest fashion.
Certain inflammable Southerners introduced the new game, and left such romantic legends of their loves behind them that their successors were fired with an ambition to do the like, and excel in all things, from cricket to captivation.
This state of things is not to be wondered at; for America, being renowned as a "fast" nation, has become a sort of hotbed, and seems to force humanity into early bloom. Therefore, past generations must not groan over the sprightly present, but sit in the chimney-corner and see boys and girls play the game which is too apt to end in a checkmate for one of the players. To many of the lookers-on, the new order of things was as good as a puppet-show; for, with the enthusiasm of youth, the actors performed their parts heartily, forgetting the audience in their own earnestness. Bless us! what revolutions went on under the round jackets, and what love-tokens lay in the pockets thereof. What plots and counterplots occupied the heads that wore the innocent-looking snoods, and what captives were taken in the many-colored nets that would come off and have to be taken care of. What romances blossomed like dandelions along the road to school, and what tales the river might have told if any one could have learned its musical speech. How certain gates were glorified by daily lingerings thereat, and what tender memories hung about dingy desks, old pens, and books illustrated with all manner of symbolical designs.
Let those laugh who will; older and wiser men and women might have taken lessons of these budding heroes and heroines; for here all was honest, sincere, and fresh; the old world had not taught them falsehood, self-interest, or mean ambitions. When they lost or won, they frankly grieved or rejoiced, and wore no masks except in play, and then got them off as soon as possible. If blue-eyed Lizzie frowned, or went home with Joe, Ned, with a wisdom older lovers would do well to imitate, went in for another game of foot-ball, gave the rejected apple to little Sally, and whistled "Glory Hallelujah," instead of "Annie Laurie," which was better than blowing a rival's brains out, or glowering at woman-kind forever after. Or, when Tom put on Clara's skates three successive days, and danced with her three successive evenings, leaving Kitty to freeze her feet in the one instance and fold her hands in the other, she just had a "good cry," gave her mother an extra kiss, and waited till the recreant Tom returned to his allegiance, finding his little friend a sweetheart in nature as in name.
Dick and Dolly were foremost in the ranks, and expert in all the new amusements. Dick worshipped at many shrines, but most faithfully at that of a meek divinity, who returned charming answers to the ardent epistles which he left in her father's garden wall, where, Pyramus and Thisbe-like, they often chatted through a chink; and Dolly was seldom seen without a staff of aids who would have "fought, bled, and died" for her as cheerfully as the Little Corporal's Old Guard, though she paid them only in words; for her Waterloo had not yet come.
With the charming, perversity of her sex in such matters, no sooner had Dolly declared that she didn't like Mr. Bopp, than she began to discover that she did; and so far from desiring "to slap him," a tendency to regard him with peculiar good-will and tenderness developed itself, much to her own surprise; for with all her coquetry and seeming coldness, Dolly had a right womanly heart of her own, though she had never acknowledged the fact till August Bopp looked at her with so much love and longing in his honest eyes. Then she found a little fear mingling with her regard, felt a strong desire to be respected by him, discovered a certain something which she called conscience, restraining a reckless use of her power, and, soon after her lofty denial to Dick, was forced to own that Mr. Bopp had become her master in the finer species of gymnastics that came in with Adam and Eve, and have kept all creation turning somersets ever since. Of course these discoveries were unconfessed, even to that best bosom friend which any of us can have; yet her mother suspected them, and, with much anxiety, saw all, yet held her peace, knowing that her little daughter would, sooner or later, give her a fuller confidence than could be demanded; and remembering the happiest moments of her own happy past, when an older Dick wooed another Dolly, she left that flower, which never can be forced, to open at its own sweet will.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bopp, though carrying his heart upon his sleeve, believed his secret buried in the deepest gloom, and enjoyed all the delightful miseries lovers insist upon making for themselves. When Dolly was quiet and absent, he became pensive, the lesson dragged, and people fancied they were getting tired of the humbug; when Dolly was blithe and bland, he grew radiant, exercised within an inch of his life as a vent for his emotions, and people went home declaring gymnastics to be the crowning triumph of the age; and when Dolly was capricious, Mr. Bopp, became a bewildered weathercock, changing as the wind changed, and dire was the confusion occasioned thereby.
Like the sage fowl in the story, Dick said nothing, but "kept up a terrible thinking," and, not having had experience enough to know that when a woman says No she is very apt to mean Yes, he took Dolly at her word. Believing it to be his duty to warn "Old Bopp," he resolved to do it like a Roman brother, regardless of his own feelings or his sister's wrath, quite unconscious that the motive power in the affair was a boyish love of ruling the young person who ruled every one else.
Matters stood thus, when the town was electrified by a general invitation to the annual jubilee at Jollyboys Hall, which this spring flowered into a masquerade, and filled the souls of old and young with visions of splendor, frolic, and fun. Being an amiable old town, it gave itself up, like a kind grandma, to the wishes of its children, let them put its knitting away, disturb its naps, keep its hands busy with vanities of the flesh, and its mind in a state of chaos for three mortal weeks. Young ladies were obscured by tarletan fogs, behind which they concocted angels' wings, newspaper gowns, Minnehaha's wampum, and Cinderella's slippers. Inspired but incapable boys undertook designs that would have daunted a costumer of the first water, fell into sloughs of despond, and, emerging, settled down from peers and paladins into jovial tars, friar waterproofs, and officers in miscellaneous uniforms. Fathers laughed or grumbled at the whole thing and advanced pecuniary loans with good or ill grace, as the case might be; but the mothers, whose interest in their children's pleasure is a sort of evergreen that no snows of time can kill, sewed spangles by the bushel, made wildernesses of tissue-paper blossom as the rose, kept tempers sweet, stomachs full, and domestic machinery working smoothly through it all, by that maternal magic which makes them the human providences of this naughty world.
"What shall I go as?" was the universal cry. Garrets were taken by storm, cherished relics were teased out of old ladies' lavendered chests (happy she who saw them again!), hats were made into boots, gowns into doublets, cloaks into hose, Sunday bonnets despoiled of their plumage, silken cauliflowers sown broadcast over the land, and cocked-up caps erected in every style of architecture, while "Tag, Rag, and Bobtail" drove a smashing business, and everybody knew what everybody else was going to be, and solemnly vowed they didn't—which transparent falsehood was the best joke of the whole.
Dolly allowed her mates to believe she was to be the Queen of Hearts, but privately laid hold of certain brocades worn by a trim grandmother half a century ago, and one evening burst upon her brother in a charming "Little Bo-Peep" costume, which, for the benefit of future distressed damsels, may be described as a "white silk skirt, scarlet overdress neatly bundled up behind," as ancient ladies expressed it, blue hose with red clocks, high-heeled shoes with silver buckles, a nosegay in the tucker, and a fly-way hat perched in this case on the top of black curls, which gave additional archness to Dolly's face as she entered, singing that famous ditty.
Dick surveyed her with approval, turning her about like a lay figure, and expressing his fraternal opinion that she was "the sauciest little turn-out he ever saw," and then wet-blanketed the remarks by adding, "Of course you don't call it a disguise, do you? and don't flatter yourself that you won't be known; for Dolly Ward is as plainly written in every curl, bow, and gimcrack, as if you wore a label on your back."
"Then I shan't wear it;" and off went the hat at one fell blow, as Dolly threw her crook in one corner, her posy in another, and sat down an image of despair.
"Now don't be a goose, and rip everything to bits; just wear a domino over all, as Fan is going to, and then, when you've had fun enough, take it off and do the pretty. It will make two rigs, you see, and bother the boys to your heart's content."
"Dick, I insist upon kissing you for that brilliant suggestion; and then you may run and get me eight yards of cambric, just the color of Fan's; but if you tell any one, I'll keep her from dancing with you the whole evening;" with which bribe and threat Dolly embraced her brother, and shut the door in his face, while he, putting himself in good humor by imagining she was somebody else, departed on his muddy mission.
If the ghosts of the first settlers had taken their walks abroad on the eventful Friday night, they would have held up their shadowy hands at the scenes going on under their venerable noses; for strange figures flitted through the quiet streets, and instead of decorous slumber, there was decidedly,—"A sound of revelry by night"
Spurs clanked and swords rattled over the frosty ground, as if the British were about to make another flying call; hooded monks and nuns paced along, on carnal thoughts intent; ancient ladies and bewigged gentlemen seemed hurrying to enjoy a social cup of tea, and groan over the tax; barrels staggered and stuck through narrow ways, as if temperance were still among the lost arts, while bears, apes, imps, and elves pattered or sparkled by, as if a second Walpurgis Night had come, and all were bound for Blocksberg.
"Hooray for the Rooster!" shouted young Ireland, encamped on the sidewalk to see the show, as Mephistopheles' red cock's feather skimmed up the stairs, and he left a pink domino at the ladies' dressing-room door, with the brief warning, "Now cut your own capers and leave me to mine," adding, as he paused a moment at the great door,—
"By Jove! isn't it a jolly sight, though?"
And so it was; for a mammoth boot stood sentinel at the entrance; a Bedouin Arab leaned on his spear in one corner, looking as if ready to say,—
"Fly to the desert, fly with me,"
to the pretty Jewess on his arm; a stately Hamlet, with irreproachable legs, settled his plumage in another, still undecided to which Ophelia he would first address "The honey of his music vows."
Bluff King Hal's representative was waltzing in a way that would have filled that stout potentate with respectful admiration, while Queen Katherine flirted with a Fire Zouave. Alcipades whisked Mother Goose about the room till the old lady's conical hat tottered on her head, and the Union held fast to a very little Mac. Flocks of friars, black, white, and gray, pervaded the hall, with flocks of ballet girls, intended to represent peasants, but failing for lack of drapery; morning and evening stars rose or set, as partners willed; lively red demons harassed meek nuns, and knights of the Leopard, the Lion or Griffin, flashed by, looking heroically uncomfortable, in their gilded cages; court ladies promenaded with Jack tars, and dukes danced with dairy-maids, while Brother Jonathan whittled, Aunt Dinah jabbered, Ingomar flourished his club, and every one felt warmly enthusiastic and vigorously jolly.
"Ach himmel! Das ist wunder schon!" murmured a tall, gray monk, looking in, and quite unconscious that he spoke aloud.
"Hullo, Bopp! I thought you weren't coming," cried Mephistopheles in an emphatic whisper.
"Ah, I guess you! yes, you are well done. I should like to be a Faust for you, but I haf no time, no purse for a dress, so I throw this on, and run up for a hour or two. Where is—who is all these people? Do you know them?"
The one with the Pope, Fra Diavolo; the telegraph, and two knights asking her to dance, is Dolly, if that's what you want to know. Go in and keep it up, Bopp, while you can; I am off for Fan;" and Mephistopheles departed over the banisters with a weird agility that delighted the beholders; while the gray friar stole into a corner and watched the pink domino for half an hour, at the end of which time his regards were somewhat confused by discovering that there were two pink damsels so like that he could not tell which was the one pointed out by Dick and which the new-comer.
"She thinks I will not know her, but I shall go now and find out for myself;" and, starting into sudden activity, the gray brother strode up to the nearest pink lady, bowed, and offered his arm. With a haughty little gesture of denial to several others, she accepted it, and they joined the circle of many-colored promenaders that eddied round the hall. As they went, Mr. Bopp scrutinized his companion, but saw only a slender figure shrouded from head to foot, and the tip of a white glove resting on his arm.
"I will speak; then her voice will betray her," he thought, forgetting that his own was undisguisable.
"Madame, permit me that I fan you, it is so greatly warm."
A fan was surrendered with a bow, and the masked face turned fully toward his own, while the hood trembled as if its wearer laughed silently.
"Ah, it is you,—I know the eyes, the step, the laugh. Miss Dolly, did you think you could hide from me?"
"I did not wish to," was the whispered answer.
"Did you think I would come?"
"I hoped so."
"Then you are not displease with me?"
"No; I am very glad; I wanted you."
The pink head drooped a little nearer, and another white glove went to meet its mate upon his arm with a pretty, confiding gesture. Mr. Bopp instantly fell into a state of bliss,—the lights, music, gay surroundings, and, more than all, this unwonted demonstration, put the crowning glory to the moment; and, fired with the hopeful omen, he allowed his love to silence his prudence, and lead him to do, then and there, the very thing he had often resolved never to do at all.
"Ah, Miss Dolly, if you knew how much, how very much you haf enlarged my happiness, and made this efening shine for me, you would more often be a little friendly, for this winter has been all summer to me, since I knew you and your kind home, and now I haf no sorrow but that after the next lesson I come no more unless you gif me leaf. See now I must say this even here, when so much people are about us, because I cannot stop it; and you will forgif me that I cannot wait any longer."
"Mr. Bopp, please don't, please stop!" began the pink domino in a hurried whisper. But Mr. Bopp was not to be stopped. He had dammed up the stream so long, that now it rushed on fast, full, and uncontrollable; for, leading her into one of the curtained recesses near by, he sat down beside her, and, still plying the fan, went on impetuously,—
"I feel to say that I lofe you, and tho' I try to kill it, my love will not die, because it is more strong than my will, more dear than my pride, for I haf much, and I do not ask you to be meine Frau till I can gif you more than my heart and my poor name. But hear now; I will work, and save, and wait a many years if at the end you will take all I haf and say, 'August, I lofe you.' Do not laugh at me because I say this in such poor words; you are my heart's dearest, and I must tell it or never come again. Speak to me one kind yes, and I will thank Gott in himmel for so much joy."
The pink domino had listened to this rapid speech with averted head, and, when it ended, started up, saying eagerly, "You are mistaken, sir, I am not Dolly;" but as she spoke her words were belied, for the hasty movement displaced her mask, and Mr. Bopp saw Dolly's eyes, a lock of dark hair, and a pair of burning cheeks, before the screen was readjusted. With redoubled earnestness he held her back, whispering,—
"Do not go mitout the little word, Yes, or No; it is not much to say."
"Well then, No!"
"You mean it? Dolly! truly mean it?"
"Yes, let me go at once, sir."
Mr. Bopp stood up, saying slowly,—"Yes, go now; they told me you had no heart; I beliefe it, and thank you for that No;" then bowed, and walked straight out of the hall, while the pink domino broke into a fit of laughter, saying to herself,—
"I've done it! I've done it! but what a piece of work there'll be to-morrow."
"Dick, who was that tall creature Fan was parading with last night? No one knew, and he vanished before the masks were taken off," asked Dolly, as she and her brother lounged in opposite corners of the sofa the morning after the masquerade, "talking it over."
"That was old Bopp, Mrs. Peep."
"Gracious me! why, he said he wasn't coming."
"People sometimes say what they don't mean, as you may have discovered."
"But why didn't he come and speak to a body, Dick?"
"Better employed, I suppose."
"Now don't be cross, dear, but tell me all about it, for I don't understand how you allowed him to monopolize Fan so."
"Oh, don't bother, I'm sleepy."
"No you're not; you look wicked; I know you've been in mischief, and I insist upon hearing all about it, so come and 'fess' this instant."
Dolly proceeded to enforce her command by pulling away his pillow and dragging her brother into a sitting posture in spite of his laughing resistance and evident desire to exhaust her patience; for Dick excelled in teasing, and kept his sister in a fidget from morning till night, with occasional fits of penitence and petting which lasted till next time. Therefore, though dying to 'fess,' he was undecided as to the best method of executing that task in the manner most aggravating to his listener and most agreeable to himself, and sat regarding her with twinkling eyes, and his curly pate in a high state of rumple, trying to appear innocently meek, but failing signally.
"Now, then, up and tell," commanded Dolly.
"Well, if you won't take my head off till I'm done, I'll tell you the best joke of the season. Are you sure the pink domino with Bopp wasn't yourself,—for she looked and acted very like you?"
"Of course I am. I didn't even know he was there, and think it very rude and ungentlemanly in him not to come and speak to me. You know it was Fan, so do go on."
"But it wasn't, for she changed her mind and wore a black domino; I saw her put it on myself. Her Cousin Jack came unexpectedly, and she thought if she altered her dress and went with him, you wouldn't know her."
"Who could it have been, Dick?"
"That's the mystery, for, do you know, Bopp proposed to her."
"He didn't!" and Dolly flew up with a startled look that, to adopt a phrase from his own vocabulary, was "nuts" to her brother.
"Yes he did; I heard him."
"When, where, and how?"
"In one of these flirtation boxes; they dropped the curtain, but I heard him do it, on my honor I did."
"Persons of honor don't listen at curtains and key-holes. What did they say?"
"Oh, if it wasn't honorable to listen, it isn't to hear; so I won't tell, though I could not help knowing it."
"Mercy! don't stop now, or I shall die with curiosity. I dare say I should have done the same; no one minds at such a place, you know. But I don't see the joke yet," said Dolly dismally.