OTHER BOOKS BY CHARLES CLARK MUNN
UNCLE TERRY. A Story of the Maine Coast. Richly bound in crimson silk cloth with gold and vignette of heroine. Illustrated by HELENA HIGGINBOTHAM. Gilt top. 370 pp. Price, $1.50.
See description in back of book.
ROCKHAVEN. The Story of a Scheme. (In preparation. To be published in the Spring of 1902.)
See announcement in back of book.
A Story of Country Life in New England
CHARLES CLARK MUNN
Author of "Uncle Terry" and "Rockhaven"
New York International Association of Newspapers and Authors 1901
Copyright, 1901, by Charles Clark Munn
All Rights Reserved
NORTH RIVER BINDERY PRINTERS AND BINDERS NEW YORK CITY, N. Y.
CHAPTER I. PAGE Pocket Island 11
CHAPTER II. The Sea Fox 18
CHAPTER III. Nemesis 24
CHAPTER IV. The Boy 31
CHAPTER V. The Boy's First Party 41
CHAPTER VI. Serious Thoughts 49
CHAPTER VII. Liddy 58
CHAPTER VIII. The Husking-Bee 66
CHAPTER IX. Good Advice 74
CHAPTER X. History 82
CHAPTER XI War Clouds 91
CHAPTER XII. A Day in the Woods 100
CHAPTER XIII. The Girl I Left Behind Me 107
CHAPTER XIV. Beside the Camp Fire 117
CHAPTER XV. Mysteries 125
CHAPTER XVI. The Grasp of Death 132
CHAPTER XVII. Those Who Wait 137
CHAPTER XVIII. A Few Bright Days 146
CHAPTER XIX. Among the Wounded 156
CHAPTER XX. Plans for Happiness 164
CHAPTER XXI. Blue Hill 174
CHAPTER XXII. The Maine Coast 182
CHAPTER XXIII. Big Spoon Island 191
CHAPTER XXIV. Pocket Island 199
CHAPTER XXV. The Smuggler's Cave 208
CHAPTER XXVI. The Fate of a Miser 216
CHAPTER XXVII. Conclusion 224
In the year 185- a Polish Jew peddler named Wolf and a roving Micmac Indian met at a small village on Annapolis Bay, in Nova Scotia, and there and then formed a partnership.
It was one of those chance meetings between two atoms tossed hither and thither in the whirligig of life; for the peddler, shrewd, calculating and unscrupulous, was wandering along the Acadian shores driving hard bargains in small wares; and the Indian, like his race, fond of a roaming life, was drifting about the bay in a small sloop he owned, fishing where he would, hunting when he chose, stopping a week in some uninhabited cove to set traps, or lounging in a village drinking or gambling.
The Jew had a little money and, what was of more value, brains and audacity. He also knew the conditions then prevalent along the Maine coast, and all the risks, as well as the profit, to be obtained in smuggling liquor. Rum was cheap in Nova Scotia and dear in Maine. The Indian with his sloop formed one means to an end; his money and cunning the other. A verbal compact to join these two forces on the basis of share and share alike for mutual profit, was entered into, and Captain Wolf and the Sea Fox, as the sloop was named, with the Indian and his dog for crew, began their career.
As a preliminary some fifty kegs of assorted liquors, as many empty mackerel kits, a small stock of oil clothing, sea boots, fishing gear, tobaccos, etc., were purchased and stowed away on the sloop, and then she set sail.
There were along the coast of Maine in those days many uninhabited islands seldom visited. Fishermen avoided them, for the deep sea furnished safer and more profitable ground; coasters gave them a wide berth, and there were no others to disturb them. Among these, and lying midway between Monhegan and Big Spoon Islands, and distant from the Isle au Haut, the nearest inhabited one, about twenty miles, was a freak of nature known as "The Pocket," or Pocket Island, as shown on the maps. This merits a brief description. It was hollow. That is, from a general view it appeared like an attempt to inclose a small portion of the sea within high, fir-covered walls. It resembled a horseshoe with the points drawn close. Neptune beat Jove, however, leaving a narrow fissure connecting the inclosed water and the outer ocean, and through this the tides flowed fiercely; but so protected was the inner harbor that never a ripple disturbed its surface. It was this harbor that gave the island its name.
Occasionally a shipwreck occurred here. In 1842 the British barque Lancaster was driven on to this island in a winter night snowstorm, and all hands perished. Five of the crew were washed ashore alive, only to freeze among the snow-covered rocks. The vessel went entirely to pieces in one night and the wreck was not discovered until two years after by a stray fisherman, who suddenly came upon the bleaching bones and grinning skulls of those unfortunate sailors. The island was a menace to coasters and bore an uncanny reputation. It was said to be haunted. During a night storm a tall man had been seen, by a flash of lightning, standing on a cliff. Strange sounds like the cries of dying men had been heard. When the waves were high, a noise like that made by a bellowing bull was noticed. The ocean and its storms play queer pranks at times, especially at night. White bursts of foam leaping over black rocks assume ghostly shape. Dark and grotesque figures appear crawling into or out of fissures, or hiding behind rocks. Hideous and devilish, snarling and snapping, sounds issue from caverns. In darkness an uninhabited coast becomes peopled with demons who sport and scream and leap in hellish glee.
Such a spot was Pocket Island.
Nature also played another prank here, and as if to furnish a lair for some sea monster she hollowed a cavern in the island, with an entrance below tidewater and at the head of this harbor. Inside and above tide-level it broadened into a small room. As if to still further isolate the island all about it were countless rocks and ledges bare only at low tide and, like a serried cordon of black fangs, ready to bite and destroy any vessel that approached. It is probable that the Indians who formerly inhabited the Maine coast had explored this island and discovered the cave. An Indian is always looking for such things. It is his nature. It may be this wandering and half-civilized remnant of a nearly extinct tribe whom the Jew had compacted with, knew of this sea cavern and piloted his sloop into the safe shelter of "the pocket." And it was a secure shelter. No one came here; no one was likely to. Its uncanny reputation, added to the almost impassable barricade of rocks and ledges all about, made it what Captain Wolf needed—a veritable burrow for a sea fox. Here he brought his cargo of contraband spirits and stored them in the cave. Here he repacked kegs of rum inside of empty mackerel kits, storing them aboard the sloop with genuine ones. By this ruse he almost obliterated the chance of detection. Like a sly fox, he was always on guard. Even when the sloop was safe at anchor, he worked only in the cave. When all was ready, he and his swarthy partner would wait till low tide, then load the dozen or more rum-charged kits and set sail for the coast. In these ventures Wolf realized what his race have always wanted—the Jew's one per cent.
In this island cave nature had placed a curiosity, known as a rocking stone. In was a boulder of many tons' weight near the wall of the room, and so poised that a push of the hand at one particular point would move it easily. When so moved a little niche in the rock-wall back of it was exposed. Wolf had discovered this one day while alone in the cave and utilized it as a hiding place for his money.
Here he would come alone and, taking out the increasing bags of coin, empty them on a flat stone and, by the light of a lamp, count their contents again and again. Those shining coins were his god and all his religion; and in this damp and dark sea cavern and by the dim light of a lamp he came to worship.
The Indian could neither read nor write, add nor subtract, and while he knew the value of coins, he was unable to compute them. Wolf knew this and, unprincipled as he was, he not only defied all law in smuggling, but he had from the first defied all justice, and cheated his partner in the division of profit. As the Indian was never present when either buying or selling took place, and had no knowledge of arithmetic, this was an easy matter. Wolf gave him a little money, of course. He needed him and his vessel; also his help in sailing her. Not only was the Indian a faithful helper, but he held his tongue as well, which was very important. When in some Nova Scotia port the money Wolf gave him as his share was usually spent in drinking and gambling, which suited Wolf, who only desired to use him as a medium.
An Indian has no sense of economy, no thought of the morrow. To hunt, fish and eat to-day and let the future provide for itself is enough. If he works one day, it is that he may spend the next. Among the aborigines thrift was an unknown quantity, and the scattered remnants of those tribes existing to-day are the same. As they were hundreds of years ago, so are they now. They were satisfied with bark wigwams then; a board and a mud hovel is enough to-day. They cannot comprehend a white man's ambition to work that he may dress and live well, and all money and all thought spent in civilizing the Indian has only resulted in degrading him. He absorbs all the white man's vices and none of his virtues. Not only that, but the effort to redeem him has warped and twisted him into a cunning and revengeful creature; all malice and no honor. So true is this that the fact has crystalized itself into the universal belief that the only good Indian is a dead one.
Such a one, though not comprehended by Wolf, was his partner. While that fox-like Jew was reaping rich profit and deluding himself in believing he was successfully cheating an Indian, he was only sowing the seed that soon or late was destined to end in murder.
THE SEA FOX.
While Neal Dow and his associates were conducting an organized crusade against the sale of liquor in Maine, and that fruitless legislation known as the Maine Law was being enforced, there entered a small coast port in that State one day a sloop called the Sea Fox, manned by a white man, an Indian and a dog.
The white man had sinister black eyes; the Indian was tall and swarthy. He and the dog remained on board the sloop; the Jew, or, as he called himself, Captain Wolf, came ashore. He declared himself to be a small coast trader in search of choice lots of fish, and incidentally having for sale clothing, tobacco and various small wares. He lounged about the wharves and buildings devoted to curing fish, talking fish and fishing to all. He seemed to be in search of information, and appeared ready and willing to buy small and choice lots of cured fish at a low price; also to sell the assortment of wares he carried. He invited prospective buyers to visit his sloop, and exerted himself to interest them. While he seemed anxious to sell, he made no sales; and though willing to buy he bought nothing. He was in no hurry. He just ran in to look the market over and see if there was a chance to buy at a price that would enable him to make a fair profit. If not, he might come again, or may be he could do better elsewhere. His mission appeared innocent and natural enough and he and his small craft were duly accepted for what they appeared to be.
Had any one, however, examined the dozen or so kits of mackerel which appeared as part of his cargo, they would have found, not fish, but a species of bait ofttimes used by fishermen; and could they have read between the lines of Captain Wolf's innocent inquiries they would have learned that fishing information was the thing he cared least about. Though Wolf talked trade, but did no trading; was anxious to buy, and bought not; willing to sell and sold not; it need not be inferred he transacted no business. Had any of these coast residents been blessed with the occult ability to see beyond the apparent facts, and to overhear, they might have learned of certain hard, if illegal, bargains made between Wolf and one or more of their number, and they might have witnessed late at night various mysterious movements of a small boat passing from shore to the sloop empty, and returning laden with apparently harmless kits of fish. Had these good people been still more watchful they would have seen the Sea Fox spread her sails and depart before dawn. Whence Wolf came no one knew; whither he went, no one guessed. Like a strange bird of prey, like a fox at night, he stole into port on occasions wide apart and unexpected, and as mysteriously went his way.
The coast of Maine was particularly well adapted to aid Captain Wolf in his peculiar enterprise. The great tide of summer travel had not then started and its countless bays, coves and inlets were unmolested. Wherever a safe harbor occurred a small village had clustered about it and the larger islands only were inhabited. The residents of these hamlets were mainly engaged in fishing or coasting, and of a guileless nature. They were honest themselves, and not easy to suspect dishonesty in others. Into these ports Wolf could sail unsuspected, and, like the cunning fox he was, easily dupe them by his role of innocent trader till he found some one as unscrupulous as he, who was willing to take the chance and share his illegal profit.
While he played his role of fox by day and smuggled by night, it was not without risk. The crusaders against the liquor traffic had an organized force of spies and reformers. In every town there was one or more, and as the reformers received half of all fines or value of liquor seized it may be seen that the Sea Fox had enemies. No one knew it any better than Wolf, and, like the human fox he was, no one was any more capable of guarding against them. Well skilled in the most adroit kind of deception, in comparison to his enemies he was as the fox is to the rabbit, the hawk to the chicken. Frequently he would set traps for his pursuers, and, giving them apparent reason for suspicion, would thus invite a search. On these occasions, it is needless to say, no liquor was found on board the Sea Fox. To discover his enemies by the method of inviting pursuit and then doubling on his track as Reynard does was child's play to him. In each town he had an accomplice who dare not, if he would, betray him.
Captain Wolf was also a miser. He loved gold as none but misers do. To him it was wife, child and heaven all in one, and its chink as he counted it was the sweetest of music. For four years he played his role and continually reaped rich reward, and then he resolved to quit. But, true to his nature, before doing so he decided to play the hyena. He had for all these years cheated the law; now he planned to cheat those who aided him. To this end he set a trap. When a fox sets a trap he sets it well. Wolf began by circulating an alluring story of a chance to share in the distribution of a large cargo of contraband spirits, provided those who could so share would buy a pro rata large amount at reduced price. Having thus set and baited his trap, he proceeded to spring it. He had, in his wanderings, obtained a formula for the manufacture of spurious brandy. All that was required was a few cheap chemicals and water. He purchased the former; on Pocket Island there was a spring that furnished the latter. Feeling sure that those whom he had duped would not dare to expose him, he yet acted cautiously and began his cheating at widely separated points. He had usually disposed of small lots at a time. He doubled and sometimes trebled these, and the hoard of silver and gold behind the rocking stone grew rapidly. Trip after trip he made to the various ports he had been accustomed to visit, never calling at the same one twice, and at each springing his well-set trap, pocketing his almost stolen money and disappearing, leaving behind him curses and threats of revenge. When all whom he could thus dupe were robbed by this wily Jew and he had secured all the profit they, as his accomplices, had made, Captain Wolf and the Sea Fox sailed away to his unknown lair at Pocket Island, and were never heard of afterward.
While Captain Wolf was carrying out his scheme to rob his accomplices in smuggling, he was planning a still more despicable act, and that was to take his hoard of money, stow all valuables on the sloop, sail to a Nova Scotia port, and when near it, to kill the Indian, sell the Sea Fox and cross the ocean.
There were several weighty reasons for this. In the first place, those bags of coin behind the rocking stone weighed on his mind. He was a miser, and never before had he so much wealth he could call his own. A few hundred dollars at the most were all he had ever possessed. Now he had thousands. Money was his god, and to escape from danger and carry it with him seemed prudent. He was aware he was suspected of being, and in fact was known to be, a smuggler. While as yet undiscovered in his island lair, he might at any time be pounced upon. His act of swindling his accomplices, he knew well, would create revengeful enemies, who would spare neither time nor money to hunt him down.
Then there was the Indian whom he had also robbed from the start. He might become suspicious and betray him, or worse yet, discover the secret of the rocking stone. Wolf had discovered it by accident; why might not the Indian? With murder in his heart, Wolf for the first time began to be afraid. He put the pistols he had always carried in perfect order and ready for instant use. So far as he had discovered, the Indian possessed neither knife nor pistol; but nevertheless Wolf feared him, and the more he realized the danger he had incurred in duping his assistants in smuggling, and how much he was really in the power of his giant-framed partner, the more his fears grew. It may be thought it was conscience working in him; but it was not, for such as he have none. It was guilty fear, and that only. This so preyed upon his mind during his last trip to the coast that he could hardly sleep. Then he began to imagine that the Indian was suspicious of him. To allay that danger he doubled the small share of profit he had given his partner, knowing full well if he had no chance to spend it, it would all come back to him in the end. Then he set about deceiving him by an offer to buy the Sea Fox and pay what he believed the Indian would consider a fabulous price. It was a fatal mistake. The Indian had no real idea of the value of his sloop. It had come to him as payment for his share of a successful fishing-trip to The Banks years before, and he had become attached to that craft. It had been his home, his floating wigwam, for a long time, and for Wolf to want to buy it hurt him.
"Me no sell boat," he said, when the offer was made. "Me want sloop long time."
Wolf, who valued all things from a miser's standpoint, could not understand that there might lurk in the Indian a tinge of sentiment. He was mistaken, and the mistake was a little pitfall placed in his way.
There was another which he was also to blame for, and yet, like the first, he was not aware of it. In the cave where he had stored his cargo and prepared it for smuggling, he kept a large can of cheap and highly inflammable oil on a rock shelf, just above the flat stone where he, by the light of two lamps, had counted his wealth time and again. True to his nature, when he bought the oil he bought the cheapest, and unknown to him the can had sprung a leak and while he had been absent for weeks at a time, the oil had run out, saturating the rock below and forming little pools on the cave floor among the loose stones. Wolf had not noticed this, or, if he had, had thought nothing of it. Neither did he realize how fate could utilize his miser's instinct in purchasing the cheap can as a means to bring together and bless two lives unknown to him. We seldom do notice the snags in life that usually trip us.
By the time the last voyage of the Sea Fox had been made and she returned to The Pocket, the relations between Wolf and the Indian were in danger of rupture. Wolf distrusted his partner, and yet believed he had lulled all suspicion. He had never failed before in duping any one he had set out to; why should he in this case? Still, he was uneasy and resolved to end it all as soon as possible. But Indians have one peculiarity that will baffle even the shrewdest Jew. They never talk. Their faces are always as expressionless as a graven image. While contemplating the most cruel murder they never show the least change in expression, nor do their eyes show the faintest shadow of an emotion. They are stolid, surly and Sphinx-like always. Wolf's partner was like his race, and not even by the droop of an eyelid did he betray the slowly gathering storm of hate and rage within. He brooded over the hurt he felt when Wolf had wanted to buy his sloop, and believing the Jew meant to rob him of her, he grew suspicious and watched Wolf. Not by word or sign did he show it, and the Jew saw it not. Wolf watched the Indian as closely, only the Indian knew it, and Wolf did not. It was now Wolf against fox and fox against Wolf, and the swarthy fox was getting the best of it. Meanwhile the loading of the sloop for her final departure proceeded.
Wolf had planned to use the Indian's help to the last, and when all was ready, enter the cave, secure the money about his person and sail away. The cave entrance was under water for about two hours of high tide, and Wolf waited until a day came when the tide served early. He had planned to go in just before the rising water closed the entrance, thus securing himself from intrusion; and then, when the tide fell away, to come out ready to start. The day and hour came and he entered the cave.
Unknown to him the Indian followed!
Wolf lighted a lamp and sat down. When the sea had closed the entrance, no sound entered. Wolf waited. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed, and all sound of the ocean ceased. He believed himself alone. He lighted the other lamp, placing both on the flat rock. Then he went to the rocking stone, and pushing it back, took from the niche, one by one, the bags of coin. These he carried to the table stone and poured their contents into a glittering pile.
From behind a rock a pair of sinister eyes watched him!
He felt that he had two hours of absolute seclusion and need not hurry. He began to slowly pile the coins in little stacks and count them. There was no reason for haste and he counted carefully. He enjoyed this beyond all else in his vile life, and desired to prolong the pleasure. The money was all his, and he gloated over it. No sense of awe at his separation from all things human in that damp, silent cavern, still as a tomb, came over him. No thought of the murder he was soon to commit; no feeling of remorse, no impulse of good; no thought of the future or of God—entered his soul. Only the miser's joy of possession. Not a sound entered the cavern and only the chink of the coin, as he counted it, disturbed the deathly silence.
Still the sinister eyes watched him from out the darkness!
Stack after stack he piled till all was counted—eight of one thousand dollars each, and twelve of five hundred dollars, all in gold; and twenty of one hundred dollars each in silver.
A tall, swarthy form crept noiselessly toward him!
It was the supreme moment of his life, and as he gloatingly gazed on the stacks glittering in the dim light before him, a delirium of joy hushed all thought and deadened all sense, even that of hearing.
Nearer and nearer drew the swarthy form!
And as Wolf tasted the sublime ecstasy of a miser's joy, his heaven, his God, suddenly two cold, massive hands closed tight about his throat. But men die hard! Even while unable to breathe, and as he writhed and twisted beneath the awful menace of death bearing him down, his hand suddenly touched the pistol in his belt! The next instant it was drawn and fired full against the Indian's breast! Then a shriek of death agony, as his swarthy foe leaped upward against the rocky shelf; a crash of breaking glass; a flash of fierce flame bursting into red billows, curling and seething all about him and turning the cave into a mimic hell!
Outside could be heard the sound of a bellowing bull!
A boy is an inverted man. Small things seem to him great and great ones small. Trifling troubles move him to tears and serious ones pass unnoticed. To snare a few worthless suckers in the meadow brook is to the country boy of more importance than the gathering of a field of grain. To play hooky and go nutting is far better than to study and fit himself for earning a livelihood. He works at his play and makes play of his work. He disdains boyhood and longs for manhood. In spite of his inverted position I would rather be a boy than a man, and a country boy than a city-bred one.
The country boy has so much the greater chance for enjoyment and is not so soon warped by restrictions and tarnished by the sewers of vice. He has deep forests, wide meadows and pure brooks to play in; and if his feet grow broad from lack of shoes, he hears the song of birds, the whispers of winds in the trees, and knows the scent of new-mown hay and fresh water lilies, the beauty of flowers, green fields and shady woods. He learns how apples taste eaten under the tree, nuts cracked in the woods, sweet cider as it runs from the press, and strawberries picked in the orchard while moist with dew. All these delights are a closed book to the city boy. The country boy is surrounded by pure and wholesome influences and grows to be a better man for it. The wide range of forest and field, pure air, sweet water, plenty of sun and rain are all his, and worth ten times the chance for life, health, enjoyment and a good character than ever comes to the city boy. He may sooner learn to smoke or gather a choice selection of profane and vulgar words; he may have smaller feet and better clothes, but he often fails in attaining a healthy body and pure mind and never knows what a royal, wide-open chance for enjoying boyhood days he has missed. He never knows the delight of wading barefoot down a mountain brook where the clear water leaps over mossy ledges and where he can pull trout from every foam-flecked pool! He never realizes the charming suspense of lying upon the grassy bank of a meadow stream and snaring a sucker, or what fun it is to enter a chestnut grove just after frost and rain have covered the ground with brown nuts, or setting traps, shaking apple trees, or gathering wild grapes! He never rode to the cider-mill on a load of apples and had the chance to shy one at every bird and squirrel on the way; or when winter came, to slide down hill when the slide was a half-mile field of crusted snow! All these and many other delights he never knows; but one thing he does know, and knows it early, and that is how much smarter, better dressed and better off in every way he is than the poor, despised greeny of a country boy! He may, it is true, go early to the theatre and look at half-nude actresses loaded with diamonds, but he never sees a twenty-acre cedar pasture just after an ice storm when the morning sun shines fair upon it!
True to his inverted comprehension, the country boy, and our boy especially, sees and feels all his surroundings and all the voices of nature from a boy's standpoint. He feels that his hours of work are long and hard, and that the countless chores are interspersed through his daily life on the farm for the sole purpose of preventing him from having a moment he can call his own. He has a great many pleasant hours, however, and does not realize why they pass so quickly. His little world seems large to him and all his experiences great in their importance. A ten-acre meadow appears like a boundless prairie, and a half-mile wide piece of woods an unbounded forest.
On one side of the farm is a clear stream known as Ragged Brook, that, starting among the foothills of a low mountain range, laughs and chatters, leaps and tumbles, down the hills, through the gorges and over the ledges as if endowed with life. Since he is not blessed with brothers or sisters, this, together with the woods, the birds and squirrels, becomes his companion. The first trout he ever catches in this brook seems a monster and never afterward does one pull quite so hard. Isolated as he is, and having none but his elders for company, he talks to the creatures of the field and forest as if they could understand him, and he watches their ways and habits and tries to make them his friends. He is a lonely boy, and seldom sees others of his age, so that perhaps when he does they make a more distinct impression on his mind.
One day he is allowed to go to the mill with his father, and it is an event in his life he never forgets. The old brown mill with its big wheel splashing in the clear water; the millstones that rumble so swiftly; the dusty miller who takes the bags of grain—all interest him, and especially so does the pond above the mill that is dotted with white lilies and where there is a boat fastened to a willow by a chain. On the way back, and a mile from home, his father stops to chat with a man in front of a large house with tall pillars, and two immense maples on either side of the gate. Standing beside the man and holding onto one of his hands with her two small ones is a little girl who looks at the boy with big, wondrous eyes. He wants to tell her about the mill and ask her if she ever saw the great wheel go around, but he is afraid to. He hears the man call her "Liddy," and wonders if she ever caught a fish.
Then his world grows larger as the months pass one by one, until he is sent to a little brown schoolhouse a mile away and finds a small crowd of boys and girls, only two or three of whom he ever saw before. One of them is the girl who looked wonderingly at him a year previous. He tells her he knows what her name is, and feels a little hurt because that fact does not seem to interest her. He studies his lessons because he is told he must, and plays hard because he enjoys it. He feels no special attraction toward any of his schoolmates until one winter day this same little blue-eyed girl asks him for a place on his sled. He shares it with her as a well-behaved boy should, and so begins the first faint bond of feeling that like a tiny rill on the hillside slowly gathers power, until at last, a mighty river, it sweeps all other feelings before it.
How slowly that rippling rill of feeling grew during the next few years need not be specified. Like other boys of his age, he feels at times ashamed of caring whether she notices him or not, and again the incipient pangs of jealousy, because she notices other boys. In a year he begins to bring her flag-root in summer, or big apples in winter, and although her way home is different from his, he occasionally feels called upon to accompany her, heedless of the fact that it costs him an extra half-mile and fault-finding at being late home. He passes unharmed through the terrors of speaking pieces on examination day, and when St. Valentine's day comes he conquers the momentous task of inditing a verse where "bliss" rhymes with "kiss" upon one of those missives which he has purchased for five cents at the village store, and timidly leaves it where this same girl will find it, in her desk at school.
On two occasions during the last summer at the district school, he—quite a big boy now—joins the older boys and girls under a large apple tree that grows near the schoolhouse, and plays a silly game, the principal feature of which consists in his having to choose some girl to kiss. As he knows very well whom he prefers, and has the courage to kiss her when his turn comes, that seems a most delightful game; and although he and other boys who were guilty of this proceeding are jeered at by the younger ones, the experience makes such an impression on him that he lies awake half the first night thinking about it.
But all too soon to him comes the end of schooldays and especially the charming companionship of this particular fair-haired girl. On the last day she asks him to write in her album, and he again indulges in rhyme and inscribes therein a melancholy verse, the tenor of which is a hope that she will see that his grave is kept green, as such an unhappy duty must, in the near future, devolve upon some one. She in turn writes him a farewell note of similar tone, and encloses a lock of her hair tied with a blue ribbon. He has planned to walk home with her when the last day ends, and perhaps participate in a more tender leave-taking, but she rides home with her parents, and so that sweet scheme is foiled. With a heavy heart he watches her out of sight and then, feeling that possibly he may never see her again, takes his books and turns away from the dear old brown schoolhouse for the last time. He locks the curl of hair and her note up in a tin box where he keeps his fish-hooks, and resumes his unending round of hard work and chores. His horizon has enlarged a good deal, for he is now twelve years old—but it does not yet include Liddy.
It is over a year before he sees her again, though once, when given a rainy half-day to fish in Ragged Brook, he, like a silly boy, deserts that enticing stream for an hour and cuts across lots near her home in hopes that he may see her again, but fails.
Then one summer day a surprise comes to him. Half a mile from his home, and in the direction his thoughts often turn, is a cedar pasture where blackberries grow in plenty, and here he is sent to pick them. It is here, and while unconscious what Fate has in store for him, that he suddenly hears a scream, and running toward him, down the path comes a girl in a short dress with a calico sun-bonnet flying behind her, until almost at his feet she stumbles and falls and there, sprawling on the grass, is—Liddy.
In an instant he is at her side, and how glad he is of the chance to help her up and soothe her fears no one but himself ever knows. She, too, has been picking berries, and has come suddenly upon a monster snake just gliding from a cedar bough almost over her head. When her fright subsides he at once hunts for and kills that reptile with far more satisfaction than he ever felt in killing one before. It is an ungrateful return, for although the boy knew it not, the snake has done him a greater kindness than he ever realized. Then when all danger is removed, how sweet it is to sit beside her in the shade and talk over schooldays while he looks into her tender blue eyes. And how glad he is to fill her pail with berries which he has picked, and when the sun is almost down how charming it is to walk home with her along the maple-shaded lane! He even hopes that he will see another snake so that he can kill that also, and show her how brave a boy is. But no more snakes come to his aid that day and only the gentlest of breezes rustles the spreading boughs that shade their pathway. When she thanks him at parting, a little look of gratitude makes her blue eyes seem more tender than ever to him and her voice sound like sweetest music.
His world has enlarged wonderfully now, for Liddy has entered into it.
THE BOY'S FIRST PARTY.
The Stillman girls were going to give a party, and the boy was invited. It was the first social recognition he had ever received, and it disturbed his equilibrium. It also made him feel that he was almost a man.
He had for some time longed to be a man, and for a year past had felt hurt when called a boy. When the little note of invitation, requesting "the pleasure of your company," etc., reached him, he felt he had suddenly grown taller. He realized it more fully that night when he tried on his best clothes to see how they would look. The sleeves of his jacket were too short and his pants missed connections with his boots by full two inches. The gap seemed to swell the size of his feet, also. When he looked in his little mirror he noticed a plainly defined growth of down on his lip, and his hair needed cutting.
Then the invitation filled him with mingled fear, surprise and pleasure. He hardly knew, after thinking it all over, whether he wanted to go or not. The one fact that turned the scale was Liddy. He was sure she would be there. But then, that painful gap between his pants and boots! He had thought a good deal about her ever since school was over. Now that he was invited to a party where she would be, he began to feel just a little afraid of her.
When the important evening came and he presented himself at the Stillmans' house, and lifted the big iron knocker on the front door, its clang sounded loud enough to wake the dead, and his heart was going like a trip-hammer. Mary Stillman met him at the door, and her welcome was so cordial he couldn't understand it. He wasn't much used to society. All his schoolmates were there—boys that he had played ball, snared suckers, and gone in swimming with scores of times, and girls that seemed a good deal taller than when they went to school. Most of them were dressed in white, and with their rosy cheeks and bright eyes made a pretty picture.
They were nearly all in one of the big front rooms, and among them was Liddy, in pink muslin with a broad sash, and bows of blue ribbon at the ends of her two braids of hair. She looked so sweet he was more afraid of her than ever. His first thought was to go into the room where some of the boys were, but Mary Stillman almost pushed him into the other room and he felt that he was in for it. When he sat down next to another boy and looked at the girls whispering and giggling together, he almost wished he had not come. Then when he thought of that unfriendly separation of his pants and boots he was sure of it. But he caught a pleasant smile and nod from Liddy, and that gave him a world of courage.
Then he began to talk to the boy next to him, and was just beginning to forget that he was at a party, in an exchange of experiences about bee hunting and finding wild honey, when the oldest Stillman girl proposed they play button. He had never played button and wasn't anxious to, for it might necessitate his walking about the room and expose that gap still more. He preferred to talk bee-hunting with Jim Pratt. He was soon made to realize, however, that there was a different sort of wild honey to be gathered at a party, and "Button, button, who's got the button?" was the method. When it came his turn to pay a forfeit, he was directed to measure three yards of tape with Liddy. As this consisted in kneeling face to face with her on a cushion in the center of the room, joining hands, expanding arms to the limit, and back again, punctuating each outward stretch with a kiss, it wasn't so bad. He was sorry it wasn't six yards instead of three. He could stand it if Liddy could—only he hoped that no one had noticed that gap. On the next round, Jim Pratt was ordered to stand in a well four feet deep and choose a girl to pull him out. As four feet meant four kisses, and Jim knew a good thing when he saw it, he chose Liddy. And then the boy felt like licking him.
After button came post office, and the boy had a letter from Nellie Barnes, with five cents postage due, which called for his catching Nellie and kissing her five times. By this time he had forgotten he was at a party with abbreviated pants, and was having no end of a good time. Then some one started the good old frolic of run 'round chimney, and as the Stillman house was admirably adapted for that, the fun waxed fast and furious. It was catch any girl you wanted to, and kiss her if you did. In the romp the boy's collar came off, and he asked Liddy to pin it on, and when she purposely pricked him a little, he grabbed her and kissed her a few times extra, just for luck. He was rapidly realizing why he was there, and what for. And that gap had passed entirely out of his mind.
Then the boys, all rather warm and excited, were requested to go into the kitchen and carry refreshments to the girls, and our boy and Liddy were soon ensconced in a cosy corner with two plates filled with a medley of frosted cake, mince pie, tarts and the like, and as happy as two birds in a nest. It was the first time he had ever eaten with her, and an event in his life of no small importance. They also talked as fast as they ate. She told him all her little plans about going to the village academy the next term, and what she liked to study, and all about a little white rabbit that her father had given her on her last birthday and how cunning it was. The boy decided at once that he would have a white rabbit if he had to steal one. He also told her that he had found a nest of young foxes that summer and had kept them ever since in a pen, and he offered to give her one. He also assured her he, too, meant to go to the academy if his parents would let him. It was a charming visit, and the boy's heart warmed in a wonderful way, and Liddy's blue eyes looked into his brown ones so sweetly that he felt as if heaven was just ahead. Like a wise boy he asked her then and there if he could go home with her, which, of course, he could, and so all was well. Almost before any one realized it, the time for the party to break up came, and with a chorus of "good-nights" the happy gathering ended.
When the boy, with Liddy's soft hand curled confidingly around his arm, started for her home, a mile away, he was proud as a king, and far happier. And that long walk in the moonlight, while
"On his arm a soft hand rested; rested light as ocean's foam,"—
could he, or would he, ever forget it? I think not. It was a poem of blue eyes like spring violets, of tender, loving words, of mellow moonlight on the fields where the corn-shocks stood in spectral rows, and the brook they crossed looked like a rippling stream of silver; where the maples along the lane, still clad in yellow foliage, cast mottled shadows in their pathway, and the fallen leaves rustled beneath their feet. They did not talk much—their hearts were too full of love's young dream—although he told her of his visit to a deserted house a year before, and how he heard ghostly footsteps in the house, and saw a closet door swing half open in a shadowy room, and he was sure there was a ghost in that closet; at which Liddy's arm clasped his a little closer. Maybe he enlarged a trifle upon that spook. Almost any boy with a fertile imagination and his sweetheart clinging to his arm, on a moonlit maple lane, with no one near, would. I am sure I would if I were a boy.
When her home was reached he was revolving a serious problem in his mind. To kiss Liddy in the games at the party was easy enough. It was a part of the play, and expected. He had even ventured a few independent ones when she pricked him, and though he got his ears boxed, she didn't seem angry. But to deliberately kiss her now at parting was an entirely different matter. No doubt Liddy knew what he was thinking about, for when the gate was reached she paused and did not enter. She thanked him sweetly for his company home, and declared she had had a delightful time. He assured her he had, and then there was a pause. It was a critical moment. He looked at the moon, high overhead. The man in it—as all men would—seemed to say: "Now's your chance, my boy; kiss her quick!" And yet he hesitated. Then he looked at the near-by brook where the ripples were like dancing silver coin, and then at Liddy. Maybe the laughter of those ripples gave him courage, for he hesitated no longer, but full upon her rosy lips he kissed her. Then he walked home, and all the long mile, though his feet trod the earth, he knew it not. Rather was he floating on ripples of moonlight, with a fairy-like face and tender blue eyes ever hovering over him, and a soft white hand clinging to his arm.
And so ended the boy's first party.
When the boy reached home a new and surprising change had come to him. For the first time in his life he began to think—and what was more to the point, to faintly see himself as he was, and the picture was not pleasant. He had longed to be a man. He began to feel that he was almost one, and a poorly clad and ignorant one at that. He lay awake nearly all that night, and not only lived the party over, but more especially the walk home with Liddy.
All he had cared for before was boyish sports, to do his work, and escape wearing his best clothes. Now he began to think about those same clothes and how ill they fitted him and how awkward they made him look, and the more he thought about it the more he wondered how Liddy could have been so nice to him. He vowed he would never be seen in public again with them on. He had seen boys in the village who wore neat and well-fitting garments, a starched shirt and collar that buttoned to it, instead of being pinned to the top of a roundabout, as his was, and thinking of them made him ashamed of himself. And then that awful gap between his pants and boots! Then he thought of how the girls were laughing when he came into the room at the party, and now he felt sure they must have been making fun of him, and that made him feel worse than ever. His coarse boots, in comparison with the nice, thin ones worn by some of the other boys there, also haunted him. In short, he took a mental inventory of himself, and the sum total was not pleasing.
All the next day he was glum and thoughtful and for a week he acted the same. It was the birth of the man in him; the step from the happy, care-free boy to young manhood. It was also, be it said, the beginning of a woman's refining influence that has slowly and for countless ages gradually lifted man from savagery to enlightenment. An evolution of good conduct, garb and cleanliness made necessary by woman's favor, and to win her admiration. The cynics call it vanity. So then, must they call the evolution of the species vanity. It may be so, but call it what you will, it's the influence that has wrought the naked savage, decorated with paint and feathers, and courting his wife by knocking her senseless with a club and carrying her to a cave, into the well-dressed, gallant, kindly, thoughtful and refined gentleman of to-day.
Just a little of this realizing sense of what he should be, and why, came to the boy, and as ever will be it was a woman's face and a woman's smiles, albeit a very young and blue-eyed one, that inspired the thought. His parents rallied him a little about the party, but to him it was—especially its ending, a sacred secret. Then one day he astonished them by asking if he might have a new suit and go to the academy that coming winter. He had never before shown any unusual eagerness for study, and this request was surprising. For several weeks the question was held in abeyance, though duly considered in the family councils; and then one day at the supper-table the answer came.
"If the boy wants more learnin'," his father said, "by gosh, he can have it. I never had much chance at books myself, but that ain't no reason why he shouldn't. We'll fix ye up," he said cheerfully, with a twinkle in his eye, "so ye won't be ashamed to go to a party again;" from which it may be inferred that the old gentleman had divined some things which the boy little suspected he had.
When the winter term at the village academy opened, the boy was there, his courage a good deal strengthened by a new suit that fitted and a pair of boots that did not give the impression that he was falling downstairs at every step. But his entry into the new school was not a thornless path. Most of the faces were new to him, and many a good deal older. He still felt himself what he was—a big, awkward boy, though a boy with a determined will to study hard and make the most of his opportunity.
He soon learned a good many things; one of which was that earnestness in study did not always win the favor of either teacher or schoolmates; that in school, as in the world, pleasant manners and flattering words counted for more than devotion to duty. He also learned that such a thing as favoritism between master and pupil existed, and that the poorest scholar often stood nearest the teacher's heart. The master, Mr. Webber, he discovered, had a monstrous bump of self-esteem. He was a small man, not larger than the boy, who was sixteen, and large for his age, and who, as big boys will, cherished a sort of contempt for small men. It is possible that the boy was entirely wrong in his estimate of the principal. No doubt that worthy, judged from an adult standpoint, was the most courtly and diplomatic pedagogue that ever let his favorite pupils whisper all they pleased, and banged the floor with the other sinners; but, to the boy, he seemed a little, arrogant bit of bumptiousness, who strutted about the schoolroom and was especially fond of hearing himself read aloud. "The Raven" was his favorite selection, and he read it no less than thirteen times during one term.
The boy did not feel at home at the academy. It was so unlike the dear old district school. But he felt it was a good training for him, and he watched the older scholars and studied hard. The girls all wore long dresses, and, as a rule, were just budding into young womanhood. Of these he was a trifle afraid, especially of Liddy, who was one of the prettiest. She was also one of the best scholars, and in her studies easily a leader. It acted as a spur to the boy, whose secret though ardent admiration had originally been the motive force that brought him to the academy. His pride was such that he was ashamed to have her surpass him, and for her to solve a problem in algebra that he had failed on, humiliated him.
Another thing he learned that winter besides his lessons, was that stylish clothes and genteel manners in a young man counted far more in a girl's estimation than proficiency in study. There was one pupil in particular, named James White, who, though dull in lessons, was popular with the girls. He was the fop of the school, wore the nattiest of garments, patent-leather shoes, gold watch, bosom pin, seal ring, and was blessed with a nice little moustache. He also smoked cigars with all the sang froid of experienced men. It might be said that he prided himself on his style, but that was all he had for consolation, for he was always at the foot of his class. He also showered a deal of attention and candy on Liddy. It is needless to say the boy hated him, and once gave him a good thrashing for calling him a "greeny." It was true enough, but then a boy who is a greenhorn doesn't enjoy being informed of it by a better-dressed stupid who tries to cut him out!
There was one other comfort the boy had: he was often enabled to give a far better recitation than White could. On these occasions a faint look of admiration in Liddy's blue eyes was like a rift of sunshine on a cloudy day to him. When the standing of all pupils was read at the middle of the term, the boy was away ahead of White, and felt almost as proud as the night he walked home with Liddy from his first party. It cheered him a deal in his hard fight against ignorance and the awkwardness that, like hayseed from the farm, still clung to him. How much the few quiet attentions and pleasant words Liddy favored him with encouraged him, no one but himself ever knew. He never told Liddy even, till a good many years after. Toward the end of the term this studious little lady gave a party, and with the rest the boy was invited. It gladdened his heart, of course, but when the day before the affair, and as they were all leaving the hill upon which the academy stood, she quietly said to him: "Come early, I want you to help me get ready to play a new game called questions," he felt like a king. It is needless to say he went early.
The new game proved a success. It consisted of as many numbered cards as there were players, distributed among them by chance. The holders of these were each in turn to give an answer to any question asked beginning with "Who," the selection being made by the chance drawing of one of the same series of numbers from a hat. To illustrate: If there were thirty boys and girls playing the same game, cards bearing the numbers from one to thirty were distributed among them.
As many more bearing the same numbers were retained by the leader, who would start the game by asking, for instance: "Who has the largest mouth?" A number would be drawn from the hat and the boy or girl who held the duplicate number was by this means identified as having a suitable mouth for pie. He or she in turn was then at liberty to get square by asking another question also beginning with "who," and so on.
"Questions" scored a hit and made no end of fun. Some one asked: "Who is the biggest fool in the room?" and when the number was called and Master White proved to hold the duplicate, the boy smiled, for retribution occasionally overtakes those who wear too fine clothes. A young folks' party in those days would be no party at all unless there were some kissing games, and when toward the close of this one, somebody proposed they wind up with "Copenhagen," all seemed willing.
When the little gathering had departed, the boy made bold to stay a few minutes longer and hold a most delightful though brief chat with Liddy. They talked over a lot of mutually interesting subjects, including their opinions of Mr. Webber, and if that worthy could have heard what they said it might have reduced his bumptiousness just a trifle. Liddy also assured the boy that she did not care a row of pins for Jim White, and considered him too awfully stuck up for endurance, all of which, mingled with a few sweet smiles, caused our young friend to feel that his future life at the academy might be pleasanter for him.
In one of the New England States, and occupying a beautiful valley between two low ranges of mountains, was the town of Southton. One of these ranges, that on the east, was known as the Blue Hills; the other was nameless. This valley was about four miles in width, and winding through it ran a small river. On the banks of this, and nearly in the center of the town, was a village, or "town center," as it was called, containing two churches, an academy and several stores. In one of these churches, Rev. Jonas Jotham expounded the orthodox Congregational faith, including predestination, foreordination, and all creation, and in the other Rev. Samuel Wetmore argued on the same lines, clinching them all with the necessity of total immersion as a means of salvation.
There was no affiliation between the two sects, each declaring the other totally blind to Scriptural truths; wrong in all points of creed, and sure to be damned for it. Sectarian feeling was strong, social lines between the two churches were sharply drawn, and the enmities of feeling engendered in the pulpits were reflected among the members. Each worthy dominie emitted long sermons every Sunday, often extending to "seventeenthly," while occasionally a few of the good deacons slept; and so, year after year, the windy war continued.
In the meantime the children attended school, played hard, were happy, grew up, courted, married, and kept on farming, and life in Southton flowed onward as peacefully as the current of the river that meandered through it.
Near the eastern border, and beside a merry brook that tumbled down from the Blue Hill range, was the home of Loring Camp, his wife, and his only daughter, Liddy. He was not a member of either of the two orthodox churches, but a fearless, independent thinker, believing in a merciful God of love and forgiveness, rather than a Calvinistic one, and who might be classed as a Unitarian in opinion. Broad-chested, broad-minded, outspoken in his ways, he was at once a loving husband, a kind father, a good neighbor, an honest man and respected. Tilling a small farm and mingling with that more or less attention to his trade of a builder, he earned a good livelihood. A reader of the best books and a thinker as well, he was firm in his convictions, terse in his criticism, and yet charitable toward all. His daughter inherited her father's keen intellect and her mother's fair face and complexion, it is needless to say, was the pride of his heart and loved by all.
Of Liddy herself, since she is the central figure in this narrative, a more explicit description must be given. To begin with, she was at the age of seventeen, a typical New England girl of ordinary accomplishments, home loving and filial in disposition, with a nature as sweet as the daisies that grew in the green meadows about her home, and a mind as clear as the brook that rippled through them. Fond of pretty things in the house, a daintily set table, tidy rooms, and loving neatness and order, she was a good cook, a capable housekeeper and a charming hostess as well. She loved the flowers that bloomed each summer in the wide dooryard, and had enough romance to enjoy nature's moods at all times. She cared but little for dress and abhorred loud or conspicuous garments of any kind. While fond of music, she never had had an opportunity to cultivate that taste, and her sole accomplishment in that respect was to play upon the cottage organ that stood in her parlor, and sing a few simple ballads or Sabbath-school hymns. She was of medium height, with a charmingly rounded figure, and blessed with a pair of blue eyes that could change from grave to gay, from mirth to tenderness, as easily as clouds cross the sun. With the crowning glory of her sunny hair, a sweet and sympathetic mouth, modest and unassuming ways, tender heart and affectionate manner, she was an unusually attractive girl.
Of her feelings toward the boy little need be said; and since he has now reached eighteen and a moustache, he deserves and shall have an introduction by his name of Mr. Charles Manson. He was tall, had honest brown eyes, an earnest manner; was unsophisticated and believed all the world like himself, good and true. He was of cheerful temper and generous disposition; hated shams and small conceits, and—next to Liddy—loved the fields, the woods, and the brooks that had been his companions since boyhood. She had known him when, at the district school, he ignored girls; and later, as he began to bring her flag-root in summer, or draw her on his sled in winter, she had taken more notice of him. When he left the little brown schoolhouse for good she had given him a lock of hair, though for what reason she could hardly tell; and when he walked home with her from his first party she felt startled a little at his boldness in kissing her. That act had caused a flutter in her feelings, and though she thought none the less of him for it, nothing would have tempted her to tell her parents about it. That experience may be considered as the birthday of her girlish love, and after that they were always the best of friends. He had never been presuming, but had always treated her with a kind of manly respect that slowly but surely had won her heart.
When they met at the academy she feared he might be too attentive, but when she found him even less so than she expected, unknown to herself, her admiration increased. While she gave him but little encouragement there, still if he had paid any attention to another girl it would have hurt her. By nature she despised any deception, and to be called a flirt was to her mind an insult. She would as soon have been called a liar. On the other hand, any display of affection in public was equally obnoxious. She was loving by nature, but any feeling of that kind toward a young man was a sacred matter, that no one should be allowed to suspect, or at least inspect. This may be an old-fashioned peculiarity, yet it was a part of her nature. It may seem strange, but "Charlie," as she always called her admirer, had early discovered this and had always been governed by it.
It is not easy to give an accurate pen-picture of a young and pretty girl who is bright, vivacious, piquant, tender, sweet and lovable. One might as well try to describe the twinkle of a star or the rainbow flash of a diamond. To picture the growth of love in such a girl's heart is like describing the shades of color in a rose, or the expression of affection in the eyes of a dog, and equally impossible.
Liddy's home was one of the substantial, old-time kind, with tall pillars in front, a double piazza and wide hall, where stood an ancient clock of solemn tick. There were open fireplaces in parlor and sitting-room, and the wide dooryard was divided by a graveled and flower-bordered walk, where in summer bloomed syringas, sweet williams, peonies and phlox. On either side of the gate were two immense and broad-spreading maples. Houses have moods as well as people, and the mood of this one was calm, cool, dignified and typical of its fairest inmate.
When the first term of their academy life together closed, and the long summer vacation began, Manson called on Liddy the next Sunday evening and asked her to take a ride. He had called at various times before, but not as though she were the sole object of his visit. This time he came dressed in his best and as if he boldly came to woo the fair girl. All that summer he was a regular caller, and always received the same quiet and cordial welcome. Together they enjoyed many delightful drives along shaded roads on pleasant afternoons or moonlit evenings, and each charming hour only served to bind the chains of love more tightly. Occasionally they gathered waterlilies from a mill pond hidden away among the hills, and one Saturday afternoon he brought her to Ragged Brook—a spot that had been the delight of his boyhood—and showed her how to catch a trout.
The first one she hooked she threw up into the top of a tree, and as the line was wound many times around the tip of the limb the fish had to be left hanging there. Though almost mature in years, they were in many ways like children, telling each other their little plans and hopes, and giving and receiving mutual sympathy. It was all the sweetest and best kind of a courtship, for neither was conscious that it was such, and when schooltime came after the summer was over, the tender bond between them had reached a strength that was likely to shape and determine the history of their lives. How many coming heartaches were also to be woven into the tender bond they little realized.
When David Newell, a prosperous Southton farmer living "over east," as that portion of the town was designated, invited all the young people in the vicinity to his annual husking-bee, every one knew that a good time was in store. Card-playing was considered a vice in those days, and limited to a few games of "seven-up," played by sinful boys on a hay-mow, and dancing was frowned upon by the churches. On the outskirts of the town a few of the younger people occasionally indulged in the crime of taking steps to music as a change from the pious freedom of kissing parties. There was one sacrilegious person named Joe Dencie living in the east-side neighborhood, who could not only "make a fiddle talk," as the saying was, but "call off" and keep time and head, foot, both arms and entire body as well, and at once. To describe his ability more completely it might be said that he fiddled and danced at the same time.
When the anticipated evening came, Manson and Liddy, as well as other invited ones, arrived at the Newell barn, where everything was in readiness. In the center of the large floor was a pile of unhusked corn surrounded by stools and boxes for seats, and lighted by lanterns swinging from cords above. No time was wasted, for Joe Dencie was there, and every one knew that the best of a husking came after the corn was disposed of. And how the husks flew! When a red ear was found by a girl the usual scramble occurred, for unless she could run once around the pile before the young man who discovered it could catch her, he claimed a kiss. Manson, who sat next to Liddy, kept a sharp watch, for he didn't intend to have some other fellow steal a march on him. He noticed that she husked cautiously, and when presently he saw her drop an unhusked ear by her side he quietly picked it up and found it was a red one. He said nothing, but her action set him to thinking. It was not long ere the pile of corn melted away, and then the floor was swept; Joe Dencie took his place in one corner on a tall stool, and the party formed in two lines for the Virginia reel.
There is no modern "function" that has one-half the fun in it that an old-time husking-bee had, and no dance that can compare with an old-fashioned contra-dance enjoyed in a big barn, with one energetic fiddler perched in a corner for an orchestra, and six lanterns to light the festivities! It was music, mirth, care-free happiness and frolic personified. The floor may have been rough, but what mattered? The young men's boots might have been a trifle heavy, but their hearts were not, and when it came to "balance and swing," with the strains of "Money Musk" echoing from the bare rafters, the girl knew she had a live fellow's arm around her waist, and not one afraid to more than touch her fingers lest her costume be soiled. Girls didn't wear "costumes" in those days; they wore just plain dresses, and their plump figures, bright eyes and rosy cheeks were as charming as though they had been clad in Parisian gowns.
When the dance was over all were invited into the house to dispose of mince pie, cheese, doughnuts and sweet cider, and then, with the moon silvering the autumn landscape, the party separated. As Manson drove along the wooded road conveying Liddy to her home, he felt a little curious. He could not quite understand why she had taken pains not to find a red ear. All the other girls had found one or more, and seemed to enjoy the scramble that followed.
"Why did you not husk that red ear?" he asked her, after they were well on their way.
"Simply because I do not like public kissing," she replied quietly. "Some girls do not mind, and perhaps they like it. I do not. It cheapens a girl in my opinion, or at least it certainly cheapens a kiss. You are not offended, are you?" turning her face toward him.
"By no means," he answered; and then, after a pause, he added: "I think you are right, but it seemed a little odd."
"I presume I am a little peculiar," she continued, "but to me this public kissing at parties and huskings seems not only silly, but just a trifle vulgar. When we were children at the district school, I thought it was fun, but it appears different now." Then, after a pause: "If I were a young man I would not want the girl I thought most of kissed a dozen times by every other fellow at a party. It is customary here in Southton, and considered all right and proper, while card-playing and dancing are not. I would much rather play cards or dance than act like school children."
"I most certainly agree with you, so far as the cards and dancing go," said Manson, "and now that you put it in the way you have, I will agree with you regarding kissing games."
As these two young people had just entered their third year at the academy, and Liddy was only eighteen, it may seem that she was rather young to discuss the ethics of kissing; but it must be remembered that she was older in thought than in years, and besides, she was blessed with a father who had rather liberal and advanced ideas. He did not consider card-playing at one's home a vice, or dancing a crime.
"A penny for your thoughts," said she, after they had ridden in silence for a time, and were crossing a brook that looked like a rippling stream of silver in the moonlight.
"I was thinking," he replied, "of a night just like this four years ago, when I went home with you from that party at the Stillman's. It was an event in my life that set me thinking."
"And have you been thinking about it ever since?" she said, laughing. "If you have it must have been an important event."
"No," he answered quietly; "but if it had not been for that party, it is likely I should not have gone to the academy, and most likely I should not be escorting you home to-night."
"I do not quite understand you," said Liddy; and then, with an accent of tenderness in her voice: "Tell me why, Charlie?"
"I am afraid you will laugh at me if I do," he said.
"No," she replied, "I will not; why should I?"
"Well," he continued, "to be candid, I was rather ashamed of myself that evening, or at least ashamed of my clothes. Then you told me you were going to the academy, and for that reason mainly I wanted to go, so you see what resulted from my going to the party. I do not think father intended to send me, and he would not if I had not coaxed him. My first term there was not very pleasant for many reasons, and had I known all I was to encounter I think my courage would have failed me. I am glad now that it did not." He paused a moment and then continued in a lower tone: "Whatever good it has done me is all due to you."
No more was said on the subject, and as they rode along in silence, each was thinking of the curious web of emotions that was moulding their lives and making definite objects grow from intangible impulses. He was hardly conscious yet what a motive force in his plans Liddy was destined to be; and she was filled with a new and sweet consciousness of a woman's power to shape a man's plans in life. When her home was reached, and after he had assisted her to alight, they stood for a moment by the gate beneath the maples. No light was visible in the house; no sound of any nature was heard. The sharp outlines of the buildings were softened by the moonlight, and the bold formation of the Blue Hills, vague and indistinct. The near-by brook, as of yore, sparkled like silver coin, and the landscape was bathed in mellow light. As Liddy's face was turned toward him, a ray of moonshine fell upon it, and her eyes seemed to fill with a new tenderness. It was a time and place for loving thoughts and words, and what these two young hearts felt called upon to utter may be safely left to the reader's imagination.
When Manson drove away, he felt that the future was bright before him, and that life held new and wonderfully sweet possibilities. If he built a few air castles as he rode along in silence and alone, and if into them crept a fair girl's face and tender blue eyes, it was but natural. The magic sweetness of our first dreams of love come but once in their pure simplicity; and none ever afterward seem quite like them. We may strive to feel the same tender thrill; we may think the same thoughts and build the same fairy palaces, woven out of moonbeams and filled with the same divine illusions, but all in vain, for none can live life over.
When Liddy entered her home her footsteps seemed touched with a new life. Perhaps the effect of "Money Musk" had not entirely died away.
The next day after the husking, when Manson resumed his studies at the academy, a new and serious ambition kept crowding itself into his thoughts. Some definite shape of what the object of a man's existence should be would in spite of all efforts mix itself with his algebra, and form an extra unknown quantity, still more elusive. He tried to put it out of his mind, but the captivating air castle would not down. Of course Liddy formed a central figure in this phantom dwelling, and to such an extent that he hardly dared to look at her when they met in the recitation room for fear she would read his thoughts. Occasionally, while studying he would steal a look across the schoolroom at her well-shaped head with its crown of sunny hair, but her face was usually bent over her book. She had always treated him with quiet but pleasant friendliness at school, and he, understanding her nature by degrees, had come to feel it would annoy her if he were too attentive. His newborn ambition he felt must be absolutely locked in his own heart for many years to come, or until some vocation in life and the ability to earn a livelihood for two could be won.
For the entire week his castle building troubled him in a way, as a sweet delusion, but a detriment to study, and then he resolved to put it away. "It may never come, and it may," he said to himself, "but if it does it will only be by hard work." He had never felt satisfied to become a farmer like his father, but what else to apply himself to he had no idea. He knew this was to be his last term at the academy, and that he must then turn his attention to some real occupation in life. He had been in the habit of calling upon Liddy nearly every Sunday evening for the past year, and to look forward to it as the one pleasant anticipation of the week. He felt she was glad to see him, and what was of nearly as much comfort, that her father was, as well. He resolved when a good chance came to ask Mr. Camp's advice as to some choice of a profession.
When he called the next Sunday evening, which happened to be chilly, Liddy met him with her usual pleasant smile and invited him into the parlor, where a bright fire was burning. She wore a new and becoming blue sacque, and he thought she never looked more charming. He had usually spent part of the evenings in the sitting-room with the family, but this time he felt he was considered as Liddy's especial company and treated as such.
"I have noticed a cloud on your face several times the past week," she said, as soon as they were seated. "Has your algebra bothered you, or is the barn dance troubling your conscience?"
"I have been building foolish air castles," he replied, "for one thing, and trying to solve a harder problem than algebra contains, for another. The husking dance does not trouble me. I would like to go to one every week. Do you feel any remorse from being there?"
"No," she answered, "I do not; and yet I heard this week that some one over in town who is active in the church said it was a disgrace to all who were there. I wish people thought differently about such things. I enjoyed the dance ever so much, but I do not like to be considered as acting disgracefully. Do you?"
"I presume you will be so considered," he responded, with a shade of annoyance on his face, "if you go to dances in this town. I wish the busybodies of that church would mind their business."
He made no further comment regarding the dance, but sat looking gloomily at the fire.
"What ails you to-night?" asked Liddy, finally breaking the silence; "you seem out of sorts."
"I am all right," he replied, with forced cheerfulness. "I have been trying to solve the problem of a future vocation when I leave school next spring, and I do not know what to do."
Liddy was silent. Perhaps some intuitive idea of what was in his mind came to her, for, although he had never uttered a word of love to her except by inference, she knew in her own heart he cared for her and cared a good deal.
"Come, Charlie," she said at last, "don't worry about a vocation now. It's time enough to cross bridges when you come to them. Do you know," she continued, thinking to take his mind from his troubles, "that I have discovered why Mr. Webber does not like me? It's simply because I do not flatter him enough. I have known for a long time I was not a favorite of his, and now I know why. You know what a little bunch of mischief Alice Barnes is. She whispers more than any other girl in school, and makes more fun of him, and yet she is one of his prime favorites. Well, one day last week, at noontime, while she was talking with three or four of us girls, he came along, and she up and asked him if he wouldn't read 'The Raven' the next Wednesday afternoon when, you know, we all have compositions, and then she winked at us. He took it all right, and you ought to have heard the self-satisfied way in which he said: 'Certainly, Miss Barnes. I shall be very happy to read it for you.' The way he strutted across the schoolroom after that! Lida Stanton said he reminded her of a turkey gobbler."
"Webber doesn't like me, either," he said, "and never has from the first. I don't care. I came to the academy to learn, and not to curry favor with him. Willie Converse is another of his pets and is cutting up all the time, but he never sees it, or makes believe he does not."
The discussion of school affairs ended here, for even Manson's evident dislike of the principal was not strong enough to overcome the mood he was in. He sat in glum silence for a time, apparently buried in deep thought, while Liddy rocked idly in her low chair opposite. The crackling fire and the loud tick of the tall clock out in the hall were the only sounds.
At last he arose, and going to the center table, where the lamp stood, he took up a small daguerrotype of Liddy in a short dress, and looked at it. The face was that of a young and pretty girl of ten, with big, wondering eyes, a sweet mouth, and hair in curls.
"That was the way you looked," he said finally, "at the district school the day I wrote a painful verse in your album and you gave me a lock of hair. How time flies!"
"You are in a more painful mood to-night," responded Liddy, glad to talk about anything. "You have the worst case of blues I ever saw;" and then she added, after a pause, and in a low voice: "It makes me blue, too."
Manson made no reply, but sat down again and studied the fire. The little note of sympathy in her voice was a strong temptation to him to make a clean breast of it all; to tell her there and then how much he loved her; what his hopes were, and how utterly in the dark he was as to any definite plans in life. The thought made his heart beat loudly. He looked at Liddy, quietly rocking on the opposite side of the fireplace. A little touch of sadness had crept into her face, and the warmth of the fire had lent an unusual color to her cheeks and a more golden gleam to her hair. As he looked at the sweet picture his courage began to leave him. "No, not yet," he said to himself, "she will think me a fool."
"Let's pop some corn," said Liddy suddenly, still anxious to say anything or do anything to break what seemed to her his unhappy train of thought; "the fire is just right."
She waited for no answer, but stepped quickly into the kitchen and returned with a long-handled popper, three small ears of popcorn, and a dish.
"There," she said, cheerfully, "you hold the popper while I shell the corn. I am going to make you work now, to drive away the blues. I believe it's the best medicine for you."
There is no doubt she understood his needs better than he supposed, for with the popping of the corn the cloud upon his face wore away. When it came time to go Liddy rested her hand a moment on his arm and said, in a low voice: "Charlie, we have known each other for a good many years, and have been very good friends. I am going to give you a little advice: Don't borrow trouble, and don't brood over your future so much. It will shape itself all in due time, and you will win your way as other men have done. I have faith in you."
Her brave and sisterly words cheered him wonderfully, and when he had gone Liddy sat down a moment to watch the dying embers. She, too, had felt the contagion of his mood, and strange to say, his hopes and fears were insensibly merging themselves into her own. She watched the fading fire for a full half hour, absorbed in retrospection, and then lighting a small lamp and turning out the large one, she walked down the hall and upstairs to her room.
"I wish that clock wouldn't tick so loud," she thought as she reached her door, "it makes the house sound like a tomb."
From the time Manson, as a barefooted boy, caught trout in Ragged Brook, until the winter of '62, when, a sturdy young man of eighteen, he had fallen deeply in love with Liddy Camp, a few changes had taken place in Southton. Three different principals had been in charge of the academy, one of these, a Mr. Snow, being very capable and universally popular. Later, when Mr. Webber succeeded to that position, the question of popularity may have been considered an open one. We must do him the justice to say he was efficient, however, and if he had an exaggerated idea of his own importance, it was inherited, and a failing that neither time nor experience could eradicate.
The two worthy dominies continued to try to convert sinners by exhaustive arguments on predestination and infant damnation, but strange to say, made little progress. A few of the good townspeople who were not members of either church, as well as some that were, had been for many years reading and thinking for themselves, and had come to realize that the dry bones of Calvinistic argument had lost their force, and that the Supreme Being was not the merciless God the churches had for years depicted him, but rather a Father whose love and mercy was infinite. The then ultra-liberal Unitarian idea had begun to spread and a few who had outgrown the orthodox religion organized a Unitarian Society, and built a modest church to worship in. Among these pioneers in thought were Loring Camp and Jesse Olney, the latter the author of some of the best school-books then used; a deep thinker and a leader in town affairs. There were other thinking men, of course, who were prominent in this new movement, but, as this simple story is not an historical narrative, their names need not be mentioned. This new church and its followers of course incurred the condemnation of the other two, especially the one led by Parson Jotham, who exhausted all argument and invective to convince his hearers that Unitarianism and sin were synonymous terms, and that all the new church followers were surely slated for the fiery furnace. So vigorous were his utterances in this connection, and so explicit his description of the fire that is never quenched and the torture that never ends, that it was said some of his hearers could smell brimstone and discern a blue halo about his venerable white head. One of his favorite arguments was to describe the intense joy those who were saved through his scheme of salvation would feel when they came to look over the heavenly walls and see the writhing agony of all sinners in the burning lake below. When his eloquence reached this climax he would cease pounding his open Bible and glare over the top of his tall pulpit at the assembled congregation, in the hope, perhaps, of discovering among them some Unitarian sinner who could thus be made to realize his doom.
In justice to Parson Jotham it must be said that his intentions were of the best, no doubt, but his estimate of the motive forces of human action was too narrow. He believed the only way to win people from vice to virtue and good conduct was to scare them into it.
In spite of all the denunciations of the other two churches, the new one, though feeble at first, slowly increased its following. To this one with their respective parents, came Liddy and Manson. While perhaps not mature enough to understand the wide distinction between Unitarianism and Calvinism, they realized a little of the inexpressible horror of Rev. Mr. Jotham's theories of infant damnation and the like, and were glad to hear no more of them. Like many other young people to-day, they accepted their parents' opinions on all such matters as best and wisest.
They were not regular in their church attendance, either, for Liddy could not always leave her invalid mother, and occasionally she and Manson found a drive in the summer's woods or a visit to the top of Blue Hill more alluring than even the Unitarian church. Of similar tastes in that respect, and both ardent admirers of nature, and loving fields and flowers, birds and brooks, as the lovers of nature do, they often worshipped in that broad church. Manson especially, who had from childhood spent countless hours alone in the forests or roaming over the hills or along the streams, had learned all the lessons there taught, and now found Liddy a wonderfully sympathetic and sweet companion. To spend a few quiet hours on pleasant Sundays in showing her some pretty cascade where the foam-flecks floated around and around in the pool below; or a dark gorge, where the roots of the trees along its bank grew out and over the rocks like the arms of fabled gnomes, was a supreme delight to him. He knew where every bed of trailing arbutus for miles around could be found; where sweet flag and checkerberries grew; where all the shady glens and pretty grottoes were, and to show her all these charming places and unfold to her his quaint and peculiar ideas about nature and all things that pertain to the woods and mountains delighted his heart.
Since the evening when she had given him the wise advice not to cross bridges till he came to them, they had grown nearer together in thought and feeling, and whether in summer, when they drove in shady woods or visited a beautiful waterfall, where the rising mist seemed full of rainbows when the sun shone through it; or in winter, when they went sleighing over the hills, after an ice storm, and were breathless with admiration at the wondrous vision, no words or declaration of love had as yet passed his lips. He had vowed to himself that none should until the time came when he had more than mere love to offer. Since all his acts and words showed her so plainly what his feelings were, she began to realize what it must all mean in the end, and that in due time he would ask her the one important question that contains the joy or sorrow of a woman's life. As this belief began to grow upon her it caused her many hours of serious thought, and had she not discovered in her own heart an answering throb of love it is certain she was far too honorable to have allowed his attentions to continue.
How the townspeople viewed the affair may be gathered from a remark made by Aunt Sally Hart, the village gossip, one Sunday at church.
"They tell me," she said, "that young Manson's keeping stiddy company with Liddy Camp, and they're likely to make a match. Wonder if they'll go to live on his father's farm, or what he will do?"
As Aunt Sally was an estimable lady of uncertain age, who, never having had a love affair of her own, felt a keen interest in those of others, and as she occupied a place in Southton akin to the "personal mention" column of a modern society newspaper, it may be said her remark was a sufficient reflex of public opinion.
When there were any social gatherings where they were invited, he was by tacit consent considered as her proper and accepted escort. At the academy she had never been in the habit of discussing her private affairs with her mates, and so perhaps was spared what might have become an annoyance. While she listened to much gossip, she seldom repeated it, and, by reason of a certain dignified reticence among even her most intimate schoolgirl friends, no one felt free to tell her of the opinions current among them regarding herself and Manson. For this reason a little deviation from the usual rule, made one day by her nearest friend, Emily Hobart, came with all the greater force.