By Frederic Dielman.
"I hope I may speak of woman without offence to ladies."
I. Curtain Rises at Queechy II. Things Loom Out Dimly Through the Smoke III. You Amuse Me and I'll Amuse You IV. Aunt Miriam V. As to Whether a Flower Can Grow in the Woods VI. Queechy at Dinner VII. The Curtain Falls Upon the Scene VIII. The Fairy Leaves the House IX. How Mr. Carleton Happened To Be Not at Home X. The Fairy and the Englishman XI. A Little Candle XII. Spars Below XIII. The Fairy Peeps into an English House, but Does Not Stay There XIV. Two Bibles in Paris XV. Very Literary XVI. Dissolving View—Ending with a Saw-Mill in the Distance XVII. Rain and Water—Cresses for Breakfast XVIII. Mr. Rossitur's Wits Sharpened upon a Ploughshare XIX. Fleda Goes After Help and Finds Dr. Quackenboss XX. Society in Queechy XXI. "The Sweetness of a Man's Friend by a Hearty Counsel" XXII. Wherein a Great Many People Pay Their Respects in Form and Substance XXIII. The Captain Out-Generalled by the Fairy XXIV. A Breath of the World at Queechy XXV. "As Good a Boy as You Need to Have" XXVI. Pine Knots XXVII. Sweet—In Its Consequences XXVIII. The Brook's Old Song—And the New XXIX. Flighty and Unsatisfactory XXX. Disclosures—By Mr. Skillcorn XXXI. Mr. Olmney's Cause Argued XXXII. Sometimes Inconvenient "From the Loophole of Retreat to Peep at Such a World" XXXIII. Fleda's White Muslin XXXIV. How the Fairy Engaged the Two Englishmen XXXV. Fleda Forgets Herself XXXVI. The Roses and the Gentlemen XXXVII. "An Unseen Enemy Round the Corner" XXXVIII. The Fairy at Her Work Again XXXIX. A Night of Uncertain Length XL. A Thorn Enters XLI. Dealings with the Press XLII. Ends with Sweet Music XLIII. How Fleda Was Watched by Blue Eyes XLIV. What Pleasant People One Meets in Society XLV. How Much Trouble One May Have about a Note XLVI. Aromatic Vinegar XLVII. The Fur Cloak on a Journey XLVIII. Quarrenton to Queechy XLIX. Montepoole Becomes a Point of Interest L. The House on "The Hill" Once More LI. The First One That Left Queechy LII. The Last Sunset There LIII. Fleda Alone on an Isthmus LIV. The Moorish Temple before Breakfast
List of Illustrations.
She stopped a moment when she came upon the bridge. (Frontispiece) She made a long job of her bunch of holly. "I wasn't thinking of myself in particular." "Who's got it now, Cynthy?" Fleda coloured and looked at her grandfather. Fleda was sitting, her face bowed in her hands. She stood back and watched. Then he seated himself beside her. The children were always together. "He is not a pug." "They will expect me at home." "Well, sir, you know the road by Deacon Patterson's?" "O uncle Rolf, don't have anything to do with him." "Look at these roses, and don't ask me for papers!" She knelt down before him. "How lovely it is, Hugh!" Philetus was left to "shuck" and bring home a load of the fruit. "And there goes Mr. Carleton!" said Constance. Fleda saw with a start that it was Mr. Carleton. "I am sure Mr. Thorn will excuse me." "My dear child," he said, holding her face in both his hands. Mrs. Rossitur sat there alone. Barby's energies and fainting remedies were again put in use. Then he stood and watched her. "Well, take your place," said Thorn. "I told him, 'O you were not gone yet!'" "How are they all at home?" "Is this the gentleman that's to be your husband?" Slowly and lingeringly they moved away. The roses could not be sweeter to any one.
A single cloud on a sunny day When all the rest of heaven is clear, A frown upon the atmosphere, That hath no business to appear, When skies are blue and earth is gay.
Come, dear grandpa!—the old mare and the wagon are at the gate—all ready."
"Well, dear!"—responded a cheerful hearty voice, "they must wait a bit; I haven't got my hat yet."
"O I'll get that."
And the little speaker, a girl of some ten or eleven years old, dashed past the old gentleman and running along the narrow passage which led to his room soon returned with the hat in her hand.
"Yes, dear,—but that ain't all. I must put on my great-coat—and I must look and see if I can find any money—"
"O yes—for the post-office. It's a beautiful day, grandpa. Cynthy!—won't you come and help grandpa on with his great-coat?—And I'll go out and keep watch of the old mare till you're ready."
A needless caution. For the old mare, though spirited enough for her years, had seen some fourteen or fifteen of them and was in no sort of danger of running away. She stood in what was called the back meadow, just without the little paling fence that enclosed a small courtyard round the house. Around this courtyard rich pasture-fields lay on every side, the high road cutting through them not more than a hundred or two feet from the house.
The little girl planted herself on the outside of the paling and setting her back to it eyed the old mare with great contentment; for besides other grounds for security as to her quiet behaviour, one of the men employed about the farm, who had harnessed the equipage, was at the moment busied in putting some clean straw in the bottom of the vehicle.
"Watkins," said the child presently to this person, "here is a strap that is just ready to come unbuckled."
"What do you know about straps and buckles?" said the man rather grumly. But he came round however to see what she meant, and while he drew the one and fastened the other took special good care not to let Fleda know that her watchful eyes had probably saved the whole riding party from ruin; as the loosing of the strap would of necessity have brought on a trial of the old mare's nerves which not all her philosophy could have been expected to meet. Fleda was satisfied to see the buckle made fast, and that Watkins, roused by her hint or by the cause of it, afterwards took a somewhat careful look over the whole establishment. In high glee then she climbed to her seat in the little wagon, and her grandfather coming out coated and hatted with some difficulty mounted to his place beside her.
"I think Watkins might have taken the trouble to wash the wagon, without hurting himself," said Fleda; "it is all specked with mud since last time."
"Ha'n't he washed it!" said the old gentleman in a tone of displeasure. "Watkins!"—
"Why didn't you wash the wagon as I told you?"
"It's all over slosh."
"That's Mr. Didenhover's work—he had it out day 'fore yesterday; and if you want it cleaned, Mr. Ringgan, you must speak to him about it. Mr. Didenhover may file his own doings; it's more than I'm a going to."
The old gentleman made no answer, except to acquaint the mare with the fact of his being in readiness to set out. A shade of annoyance and displeasure for a moment was upon his face; but the gate opening from the meadow upon the high road had hardly swung back upon its hinges after letting them out when he recovered the calm sweetness of demeanour that was habitual with him, and seemed as well as his little granddaughter to have given care the go-by for the time. Fleda had before this found out another fault in the harness, or rather in Mr. Didenhover, which like a wise little child she kept to herself. A broken place which her grandfather had ordered to be properly mended was still tied up with the piece of rope which had offended her eyes the last time they had driven out. But she said not a word of it, because "it would only worry grandpa for nothing;" and forgetting it almost immediately she moved on with him in a state of joyous happiness that no mud-stained wagon nor untidy rope-bound harness could stir for an instant. Her spirit was like a clear still-running stream which quietly and surely deposits every defiling and obscuring admixture it may receive from its contact with the grosser elements around; the stream might for a moment be clouded; but a little while, and it would run as clear as ever. Neither Fleda nor her grandfather cared a jot for the want of elegancies which one despised, and the other if she had ever known had well nigh forgotten. What mattered it to her that the little old green wagon was rusty and worn, or that years and service had robbed the old mare of all the jauntiness she had ever possessed, so long as the sun shone and the birds sang? And Mr. Ringgan, in any imaginary comparison, might be pardoned for thinking that he was the proud man, and that his poor little equipage carried such a treasure as many a coach and four went without.
"Where are we going first, grandpa? to the post-office?"
"How pleasant it is to go there always, isn't it, grandpa? You have the paper to get, and I—I don't very often get a letter, but I have always the hope of getting one; and that's something. Maybe I'll have one to-day, grandpa?"
"We'll see. It's time those cousins of yours wrote to you."
"O they don't write to me—it's only Aunt Lucy; I never had a letter from a single one of them, except once from little Hugh,—don't you remember, grandpa? I should think he must be a very nice little boy, shouldn't you?"
"Little boy? why I guess he is about as big as you are, Fleda—he is eleven years old, ain't he?"
"Yes, but I am past eleven, you know, grandpa, and I am a little girl."
This reasoning being unanswerable Mr. Ringgan only bade the old mare trot on.
It was a pleasant day in autumn. Fleda thought it particularly pleasant for riding, for the sun was veiled with thin hazy clouds. The air was mild and still, and the woods, like brave men, putting the best face upon falling fortunes. Some trees were already dropping their leaves; the greater part standing in all the varied splendour which the late frosts had given them. The road, an excellent one, sloped gently up and down across a wide arable country, in a state of high cultivation and now shewing all the rich variety of autumn. The redish buckwheat patches, and fine wood tints of the fields where other grain had been; the bright green of young rye or winter wheat, then soberer coloured pasture or meadow lands, and ever and anon a tuft of gay woods crowning a rising ground, or a knot of the everlasting pines looking sedately and steadfastly upon the fleeting glories of the world around them, these were mingled and interchanged and succeeded each other in ever-varying fresh combinations. With its high picturesque beauty the whole scene had a look of thrift and plenty and promise which made it eminently cheerful. So Mr. Ringgan and his little granddaughter both felt it to be. For some distance the grounds on either hand the road were part of the old gentleman's farm; and many a remark was exchanged between him and Fleda as to the excellence or hopefulness of this or that crop or piece of soil; Fleda entering into all his enthusiasm, and reasoning of clover leys and cockle and the proper, harvesting of Indian corn and other like matters, with no lack of interest or intelligence.
"O grandpa," she exclaimed suddenly, "won't you stop a minute and let me get out. I want to get some of that beautiful bittersweet."
"What do you want that for?" said he. "You can't get out very well."
"O yes I can—please, grandpa! I want some of it very much—just one minute!"
He stopped, and Fleda got out and went to the roadside, where a bittersweet vine had climbed into a young pine tree and hung it as it were with red coral. But her one minute was at least four before she had succeeded in breaking off as much as she could carry of the splendid creeper; for not until then could Fleda persuade herself to leave it. She came back and worked her way up into the wagon with one hand full as it could hold of her brilliant trophies.
"Now what good'll that do you?" inquired Mr. Ringgan good-humouredly, as he lent Fleda what help he could to her seat.
"Why grandpa, I want it to put with cedar and pine in a jar at home—it will keep for ever so long, and look beautiful. Isn't that handsome?—only it was a pity to break it."
"Why yes, it's handsome enough," said Mr. Ringgan, "but you've got something just by the front door there at home that would do just as well—what do you call it?—that naming thing there?"
"What, my burning bush? O grandpa! I wouldn't cut that for any thing in the world! It's the only pretty thing about the house; and besides," said Fleda, looking up with a softened mien, "you said that it was planted by my mother. O grandpa! I wouldn't cut that for any thing."
Mr. Ringgan laughed a pleased laugh. "Well, dear!" said he, "it shall grow till it's as big as the house, if it will."
"It won't do that," said Fleda. "But I am very glad I have got this bittersweet—this is just what I wanted. Now if I can only find some holly—"
"We'll come across some, I guess, by and by," said Mr. Ringgan; and Fleda settled herself again to enjoy the trees, the fields, the roads, and all the small handiwork of nature, for which her eyes had a curious intelligence. But this was not fated to be a ride of unbroken pleasure.
"Why what are those bars down for?" she said as they came up with a field of winter grain. "Somebody's been in here with a wagon. O grandpa! Mr. Didenhover has let the Shakers have my butternuts!—the butternuts that you told him they mustn't have."
The old gentleman drew up his horse. "So he has!" said he.
Their eyes were upon the far end of the deep lot, where at the edge of one of the pieces of woodland spoken of, a picturesque group of men and boys in frocks and broad-brimmed white hats were busied in filling their wagon under a clump of the now thin and yellow leaved butternut trees.
"The scoundrel!" said Mr. Ringgan under his breath.
"Would it be any use, grandpa, for me to jump down and run and tell them you don't want them to take the butternuts?—I shall have so few."
"No, dear, no," said her grandfather, "they have got 'em about all by this time; the mischief's done. Didenhover meant to let 'em have 'em unknown to me, and pocket the pay himself. Get up!"
Fleda drew a long breath, and gave a hard look at the distant wagon where her butternuts were going in by handfuls. She said no more.
It was but a few fields further on that the old gentleman came to a sudden stop again.
"Ain't there some of my sheep over yonder there, Fleda,—along with Squire Thornton's?"
"I don't know, grandpa," said Fleda,—"I can't see—yes, I do see—yes, they are, grandpa; I see the mark."
"I thought so!" said Mr. Ringgan bitterly; "I told Didenhover, only three days ago, that if he didn't make up that fence the sheep would be out, or Squire Thornton's would be in;—only three days ago!—Ah well!" said he, shaking the reins to make the mare move on again,—"it's all of a piece.—Every thing goes—I can't help it."
"Why do you keep him, grandpa, if he don't behave right?" Fleda ventured to ask gently.
"'Cause I can't get rid of him, dear," Mr. Ringgan answered rather shortly.
And till they got to the post-office he seemed in a disagreeable kind of muse, which Fleda did not choose to break in upon. So the mile and a half was driven in sober silence.
"Shall I get out and go in, grandpa?" said Fleda when he drew up before the house.
"No, deary," said he in his usual kind tone; "you sit still. Holloa there!—Good-day, Mr. Sampion—have you got any thing for me?" The man disappeared and came out again.
"There's your paper, grandpa," said Fleda.
"Ay, and something else," said Mr. Ringgan: "I declare!—Miss Fleda Ringgan—care of E. Ringgan, Esq.'—There, dear, there it is."
"Paris!" exclaimed Fleda, as she clasped the letter and both her hands together. The butternuts and Mr Didenhover were forgotten at last. The letter could not be read in the jolting of the wagon, but, as Fleda said, it was all the pleasanter, for she had the expectation of it the whole way home.
"Where are we going now, grandpa?"
"To Queechy Run."
"That will give us a nice long ride. I am very glad. This has been a good day. With my letter and my bittersweet I have got enough, haven't I, grandpa?"
Queechy Run was a little village, a very little village, about half a mile from Mr. Ringgan's house. It boasted however a decent brick church of some size, a school-house, a lawyer's office, a grocery store, a dozen or two of dwelling-houses, and a post-office; though for some reason or other Mr. Ringgan always chose to have his letters come through the Sattlersville post-office, a mile and a half further off. At the door of the lawyer's office Mr. Ringgan again stopped, and again shouted "Holloa!"—
"Good-day, sir. Is Mr. Jolly within?"
"He is, sir."
"Will you ask him to be so good as to step here a moment? I cannot very well get out."
Mr. Jolly was a comfortable-looking little man, smooth and sleek, pleasant and plausible, reasonably honest too, as the world goes; a nice man to have to do with, the world went so easy with his affairs that you were sure he would make no unnecessary rubs in your own. He came now fresh and brisk to the side of the wagon, with that uncommon hilarity which people sometimes assume when they have a disagreeable matter on hand that must be spoken of.
"Good-morning, sir! Fine day, Mr. Jolly."
"Beautiful day, sir! Splendid season! How do you do, Mr. Ringgan?"
"Why, sir, I never was better in my life, barring this lameness, that disables me very much. I can't go about and see to things any more as I used to. However—we must expect evils at my time of life. I don't complain. I have a great deal to be thankful for."
"Yes, sir,—we have a great deal to be thankful for," said Mr. Jolly rather abstractedly, and patting the old mare with kind attention.
"Have you seen that fellow McGowan?" said Mr. Ringgan abruptly, and in a lower tone.
"I have seen him," said Mr. Jolly, coming back from the old mare to business.
"He's a hard customer I guess, ain't he?"
"He's as ugly a cur as ever was whelped!"
"What does he say?"
"Says he must have it."
"Did you tell him what I told you?"
"I told him, sir, that you had not got the returns from your farm that you expected this year, owing to one thing and 'nother; and that you couldn't make up the cash for him all at once; and that he would have to wait a spell, but that he'd be sure to get it in the long run. Nobody ever suffered by Mr. Ringgan yet, as I told him."
"Well, sir,—he was altogether refractible—he's as pig-headed a fellow as I ever see."
"What did he say?"
"He gave me names, and swore he wouldn't wait a day longer—said he'd waited already six months."
"He has so. I couldn't meet the last payment. There's a year's rent due now. I can't help it. There needn't have been an hour,—if I could go about and attend to things myself. I have been altogether disappointed in that Didenhover."
"I expect you have."
"What do you suppose he'll do, Mr. Jolly?—McGowan, I mean."
"I expect he'll do what the law'll let him, Mr. Ringgan; I don't know what'll hinder him."
"It's a worse turn than I thought my infirmities would ever play me," said the old gentleman after a short pause,—"first to lose the property altogether, and then not to be permitted to wear out what is left of life in the old place—there won't be much."
"So I told him, Mr. Ringgan. I put it to him. Says I, 'Mr. McGowan, it's a cruel hard business; there ain't a man in town that wouldn't leave Mr. Ringgan the shelter of his own roof as long as he wants any, and think it a pleasure,—if the rent was anyhow.'"
"Well—well!" said the old gentleman, with a mixture of dignity and bitterness,—"it doesn't much matter. My head will find a shelter somehow, above ground or under it. The Lord will provide.—Whey! stand still, can't ye! what ails the fool? The creature's seen years enough to be steady," he added with a miserable attempt at his usual cheerful laugh.
Fleda had turned away her head and tried not to hear when the lowered tones of the speakers seemed to say that she was one too many in the company. But she could not help catching a few bits of the conversation, and a few bits were generally enough for Fleda's wit to work upon; she had a singular knack at putting loose ends of talk together. If more had been wanting, the tones of her grandfather's voice would have filled up every gap in the meaning of the scattered words that came to her ear. Her heart sank fast as the dialogue went on, and she needed no commentary or explanation to interpret the bitter little laugh with which it closed. It was a chill upon all the rosy joys and hopes of a most joyful and hopeful little nature.
The old mare was in motion again, but Fleda no longer cared or had the curiosity to ask where they were going. The bittersweet lay listlessly in her lap; her letter, clasped to her breast, was not thought of; and tears were quietly running one after the other down her cheeks and falling on her sleeve; she dared not lift her handkerchief nor turn her face towards her grandfather lest they should catch his eye. Her grandfather?—could it be possible that he must be turned out of his old home in his old age? could it be possible? Mr. Jolly seemed to think it might be, and her grandfather seemed to think it must. Leave the old house! But where would he go?—Son or daughter he had none left; resources be could have none, or this need not happen. Work he could not; be dependent upon the charity of any kin or friend she knew he would never; she remembered hearing him once say he could better bear to go to the almshouse than do any such thing. And then, if they went, he would have his pleasant room no more where the sun shone in so cheerfully, and they must leave the dear old kitchen where they had been so happy, and the meadows and hills would belong to somebody else; and she would gather her stores of buttercups and chestnuts under the loved old trees never again. But these things were nothing, though the image of them made the tears come hot and fast, these were nothing in her mind to the knowledge or the dread of the effect the change would have upon Mr. Ringgan. Fleda knew him and knew it would not be slight. Whiter his head could not be, more bowed it well might, and her own bowed in anticipation as her childish fears and imaginings ran on into the possible future. Of McGowan's tender mercies she had no hope. She had seen him once, and being unconsciously even more of a physiognomist than most children are, that one sight of him was enough to verify all Mr. Jolly had said. The remembrance of his hard sinister face sealed her fears. Nothing but evil could come of having to do with such a man. It was however still not so much any foreboding of the future that moved Fleda's tears as the sense of her grandfather's present pain,—the quick answer of her gentle nature to every sorrow that touched him. His griefs were doubly hers. Both from his openness of character and her penetration, they could rarely be felt unshared; and she shared them always in more than due measure.
In beautiful harmony, while the child had forgotten herself in keen sympathy with her grandfather's sorrows, he on the other hand had half lost sight of them in caring for her. Again, and this time not before any house but in a wild piece of woodland, the little wagon came to a stop.
"Ain't there some holly berries that I see yonder?" said Mr. Ringgan,—"there, through those white birch stems? That's what you were wanting, Fleda, ain't it? Give your bittersweet to me while you go get some,—and here, take this knife dear, you can't break it. Don't cut yourself."
Fleda's eyes were too dim to see white birch or holly, and she had no longer the least desire to have the latter; but with that infallible tact which assuredly is the gift of nature and no other, she answered, in a voice that she forced to be clear, "O yes, thank you, grandpa;"—and stealthily dashing away the tears clambered down from the rickety little wagon and plunged with a cheerful step at least through trees and underbrush to the clump of holly. But if anybody had seen Fleda's face!—while she seemed to be busied in cutting as large a quantity as possible of the rich shining leaves and bright berries. Her grandfather's kindness and her effort to meet it had wrung her heart; she hardly knew what she was doing, as she cut off sprig after sprig and threw them down at her feet; she was crying sadly, with even audible sobs. She made a long job of her bunch of holly. But when at last it must come to an end she choked back her tears, smoothed her face, and came back to Mr. Ringgan smiling and springing over the stones and shrubs in her way, and exclaiming at the beauty of her vegetable stores. If her cheeks were red he thought it was the flush of pleasure and exercise, and she did not let him get a good look at her eyes.
"Why you've got enough to dress up the front room chimney," said he. "That'll be the best thing you can do with 'em, won't it?"
"The front room chimney! No, indeed I won't, grandpa. I don't want 'em where nobody can see them, and you know we are never in there now it is cold weather."
"Well, dear! anyhow you like to have it. But you ha'n't a jar in the house big enough for them, have you?"
"O I'll manage—I've got an old broken pitcher without a handle, grandpa, that'll do very well."
"A broken pitcher! that isn't a very elegant vase," said he.
"O you wouldn't know it is a pitcher when I have fixed it. I'll cover up all the broken part with green, you know. Are we going home now, grandpa?"
"No, I want to stop a minute at uncle Joshua's."
Uncle Joshua was a brother-in-law of Mr. Ringgan, a substantial farmer and very well to do in the world! He was found not in the house but abroad in the field with his men, loading an enormous basket-wagon with corn-stalks. At Mr. Ringgan's shout he got over the fence and came to the wagon-side. His face showed sense and shrewdness, but nothing of the open nobility of mien which nature had stamped upon that of his brother.
"Fine morning, eh?" said he. "I'm getting in my corn stalks."
"So I see," said Mr. Ringgan. "How do you find the new way of curing them answer?"
"Fine as ever you see. Sweet as a nut. The cattle are mad after them. How are you going to be off for fodder this winter?"
"It's more than I can tell you," said Mr. Ringgan. "There ought to be more than plenty; but Didenhover contrives to bring everything out at the wrong end. I wish I was rid of him."
"He'll never get a berth with me, I can tell you," said uncle Joshua laughing.
"Brother," said Mr. Ringgan, lowering his tone again, "have you any loose cash you could let me have for six months or so?"
Uncle Joshua took a meditative look down the road, turned a quid of tobacco in his cheek, and finally brought his eyes again to Mr. Ringgan and answered.
"Well, I don't see as I can," said he. "You see Josh is just a going to set up for himself at Kenton, and he'll want some help of me; and I expect that'll be about as much as I can manage to lay my hands on."
"Do you know who has any that he would be likely to lend?" said Mr. Ringgan.
"No, I don't. Money is rather scarce. For your rent, eh?"
"Yes, for my rent! The farm brings me in nothing but my living. That Didenhover is ruining me, brother Joshua."
"He's feathering his own nest, I reckon."
"You may swear to that. There wa'n't as many bushels of grain, by one-fourth, when they were threshed out last year, as I had calculated there would be in the field. I don't know what on earth he could have done with it. I suppose it'll be the same thing over this year."
"Maybe he has served you as Deacon Travis was served by one of his help last season—the rascal bored holes in the granary floor and let out the corn so, and Travis couldn't contrive how his grain went till the floor was empty next spring, and then he see how it was."
"Ha!—did he catch the fellow?"
"Not he—he had made tracks before that. A word in your ear—I wouldn't let Didenhover see much of his salary till you know how he will come out at the end."
"He has got it already!" said Mr. Ringgan, with a nervous twitch at the old mare's head; "he wheedled me out of several little sums on one pretence and another,—he had a brother in New York that he wanted to send some to, and goods that he wanted to get out of pawn, and so on,—and I let him have it! and then there was one of those fatting steers that he proposed to me to let him have on account, and I thought it was as good a way of paying him as any; and that made up pretty near the half of what was due to him."
"I warrant you his'n was the fattest of the whole lot. Well, keep a tight hold of the other half, brother Elzevir, that's my advice to you."
"The other half he was to make upon shares."
"Whew I—well—I wish you well rid of him; and don't make such another bargain again. Good-day to ye!"
It was with a keen pang that little Fleda saw the down-hearted look of her grandfather as again he pave the old mare notice to move on. A few minutes passed in deep thought on both sides.
"Grandpa," said Fleda, "wouldn't Mr. Jolly perhaps know of somebody that might have some money to lend?"
"I declare!" said the old gentleman after a moment, "that's not a bad thought. I wonder I didn't have it myself."
They turned about, and without any more words measured back their way to Queechy Run. Mr. Jolly came out again, brisk and alert as ever; but after seeming to rack his brains in search of any actual or possible money-lender was obliged to confess that it was in vain; he could not think of one.
"But I'll tell you what, Mr. Ringgan," he concluded, "I'll turn it over in my mind to-night and see if I can think of any thing that'll do, and if I can I'll let you know. If we hadn't such a nether millstone to deal with, it would be easy enough to work it somehow."
So they set forth homewards again.
"Cheer up, dear!" said the old gentleman heartily, laying one hand on his little granddaughter's lap,—"it will be arranged somehow. Don't you worry your little head with business. God will take care of us."
"Yes, grandpa!" said the little girl, looking up with an instant sense of relief at these words; and then looking down again immediately to burst into tears.
Have you seen but a bright lily grow, Before rude hands have touch'd it? Ha' you mark'd but the fall o' the snow, Before the soil hath smutch'd it?
Where a ray of light can enter the future, a child's hope can find a way—a way that nothing less airy and spiritual can travel. By the time they reached their own door Fleda's spirits were at par again.
"I am very glad we have got home, aren't you, grandpa?" she said as she jumped down; "I'm so hungry. I guess we are both of us ready for supper, don't you think so?"
She hurried up stairs to take off her wrappings and then came down to the kitchen, where standing on the broad hearth and warming herself at the blaze, with all the old associations of comfort settling upon her heart, it occurred to her that foundations so established could not be shaken. The blazing fire seemed to welcome her home and bid her dismiss fear; the kettle singing on its accustomed hook looked as if quietly ridiculing the idea that they could be parted company; her grandfather was in his cushioned chair at the corner of the hearth, reading the newspaper, as she had seen him a thousand times; just in the same position, with that collected air of grave enjoyment, one leg crossed over the other, settled back in his chair but upright, and scanning the columns with an intent but most un-careful face. A face it was that always had a rare union of fineness and placidness. The table stood spread in the usual place, warmth and comfort filled every corner of the room, and Pleda began to feel as if she had been in an uncomfortable dream, which was very absurd, but from which she was very glad she had awoke.
"What have you got in this pitcher, Cynthy?" said she. "Muffins!—O let me bake them, will you? I'll bake them."
"Now Fleda," said Cynthy, "just you be quiet. There ain't no place where you can bake 'em. I'm just going to clap 'em in the reflector—that's the shortest way I can take to do 'em. You keep yourself out o' muss."
"They won't be muffins if you bake 'em in the reflector, Cynthy; they aren't half so good. Ah, do let me I I won't make a bit of muss."
"Where'll you do 'em?"
"In grandpa's room—if you'll just clean off the top of the stove for me—now do, Cynthy! I'll do 'em beautifully and you won't have a bit of trouble.—Come!"
"It'll make an awful smoke, Flidda; you'll fill your grandpa's room with the smoke, and he won't like that, I guess."
"O he won't mind it," said Fleda. "Will you, grandpa?"
"What, dear?"—said Mr. Ringgan, looking up at her from his paper with a relaxing face which indeed promised to take nothing amiss that she might do.
"Will you mind if I fill your room with smoke?"
"No, dear!" said he, the strong heartiness of his acquiescence almost reaching a laugh,—"No, dear!—fill it with anything you like!"
There was nothing more to be said; and while Fleda in triumph put on an apron and made her preparations, Cynthy on her part, and with a very good grace, went to get ready the stove; which being a wood stove, made of sheet iron, with a smooth even top, afforded in Fleda's opinion the very best possible field for muffins to come to their perfection. Now Fleda cared little in comparison for the eating part of the business; her delight was by the help of her own skill and the stove-top to bring the muffins to this state of perfection; her greatest pleasure in them was over when they were baked.
A little while had passed, Mr. Ringgan was still busy with his newspaper, Miss Cynthia Gall going in and out on various errands, Fleda shut up in the distant room with the muffins and the smoke; when there came a knock at the door, and Mr. Ringgan's "Come in!"—was followed by the entrance of two strangers, young, well-dressed, and comely. They wore the usual badges of seekers after game, but their guns were left outside.
The old gentleman's look of grave expectancy told his want of enlightening.
"I fear you do not remember me, Mr. Ringgan," said the foremost of the two coming up to him,—"my name is Rossitur—Charlton Rossitur—a cousin of your little grand-daughter. I have only"—
"O I know you now!" said Mr. Ringgan, rising and grasping his hand heartily,—"you are very welcome, sir. How do you do? I recollect you perfectly, but you took me by surprise.—How do you do, sir? Sit down—sit down."
And the old gentleman had extended his frank welcome to the second of his visitors almost before the first had time to utter,
"My friend Mr. Carleton."
"I couldn't imagine what was coming upon me," said Mr. Ringgan, cheerfully, "for you weren't anywhere very near my thoughts; and I don't often see much of the gay world that is passing by me. You have grown since I saw you last, Mr. Rossitur. You are studying at West Point, I believe."
"No sir; I was studying there, but I had the pleasure of bringing that to an end last June."
"Ah!—Well, what are you now? Not a cadet any longer, I suppose."
"No sir—we hatch out of that shell lieutenants."
"Hum.—And do you intend to remain in the army?"
"Certainly sir, that is my purpose and hope."
"Your mother would not like that, I should judge. I do not understand how she ever made up her mind to let you become that thing which hatches out into a lieutenant. Gentle creatures she and her sister both were.—How was it, Mr. Rossitur? were you a wild young gentleman that wanted training?"
"I have had it sir, whether I wanted it or no."
"Hum!—How is he, Mr. Carleton?—sober enough to command men?"
"I have not seen him tried, sir," said this gentleman smiling; "but from tho inconsistency of the orders he issues to his dogs I doubt it exceedingly."
"Why Carleton would have no orders issued to them at all, I believe," said young Rossitur; "he has been saying 'hush' to me all day."
The old gentleman laughed in a way that indicated intelligence with one of the speakers,—which, appeared not.
"So you've been following the dogs to-day," said he. "Been successful?"
"Not a bit of it," said Rossitur. "Whether we got on the wrong grounds, or didn't get on the right ones, or the dogs didn't mind their business, or there was nothing to fire at, I don't know; but we lost our patience and got nothing in exchange."
"Speak for yourself," said the other. "I assure you I was sensible of no ground of impatience while going over such a superb country as this."
"It is a fine country," said Mr. Ringgan,—"all this tract; and I ought to know it, for I have hunted every mile of it for many a mile around. There used to be more game than partridges in these hills when I was a young man;—bears and wolves, and deer, and now and then a panther, to say nothing of rattlesnakes."
"That last mentioned is an irregular sort of game, is it not?" said Mr. Carleton smiling.
"Well, game is what you choose to make it," said the old gentleman. "I have seen worse days' sport than I saw once when we were out after rattlesnakes and nothing else. There was a cave, sir, down under a mountain a few miles to the south of this, right at the foot of a bluff some four or five hundred feet sheer down,—it was known to be a resort of those creatures; and a party of us went out,—it's many years ago now,—to see if we couldn't destroy the nest—exterminate the whole horde. We had one dog with us,—a little dog, a kind of spaniel; a little white and yellow fellow,—and he did the work! Well, sir,—how many of those vermin do you guess that little creature made a finish of that day?—of large and small, sir, there were two hundred and twelve."
"He must have been a gallant little fellow."
"You never saw a creature, sir, take to a sport better; he just dashed in among them, from one to another,—he would catch a snake by the neck and give it a shake, and throw it down and rush at another;—poor fellow, it was his last day's sport,—he died almost as soon as it was over; he must have received a great many bites. The place is known as the rattlesnakes' den to this day, though there are none there now, I believe."
"My little cousin is well, I hope," said Mr. Rossitur.
"She? yes, bless her I she is always well. Where is she? Fairy, where are you?—Cynthy, just call Elfieda here."
"She's just in the thick of the muffins, Mr. Ringgan."
"Let the muffins burn! Call her."
Miss Cynthia accordingly opened a little way the door of the passage, from which a blue stifling smoke immediately made its way into the room, and called out to Fleda. whose little voice was heard faintly responding from the distance.
"It's a wonder she can hear through all that smoke," remarked Cynthia.
"She," said Mr. Ringgan, laughing,—"she's playing cook or housekeeper in yonder, getting something ready for tea. She's a busy little spirit, if ever there was one. Ah! there she is. Come here, Fleda—here's your cousin Rossitur from West Point—and Mr. Carleton."
Fleda made her appearance flushed with the heat of the stove and the excitement of turning the muffins, and the little iron spatula she used for that purpose still in her hand; and a fresh and larger puff of the unsavoury blue smoke accompanied her entrance. She came forward however gravely and without the slightest embarrassment to receive her cousin's somewhat unceremonious "How do, Fleda?"—and keeping the spatula still in one hand shook hands with him with the other. But at the very different manner in which Mr. Carleton rose and greeted her, the flush on Fleda's cheek deepened, and she cast down her eyes and stepped back to her grandfather's side with the demureness of a young lady just undergoing the ceremony of presentation.
"You come upon us out of a cloud, Fleda," said her cousin. "Is that the way you have acquired a right to the name of Fairy?"
"I am sure, no," said Mr. Carleton.
Fleda did not lift up her eyes, but her mounting colour shewed that she understood both speeches.
"Because if you are in general such a misty personage," Mr. Rossitur went on half laughing, "I would humbly recommend a choice of incense."
"O I forgot to open the windows!" exclaimed Fleda ingenuously. "Cynthy, won't you please go and do it? And take this with you," said she, holding out the spatula.
"She is as good a fairy as I want to see," said her grandfather, passing his arm fondly round her. "She carries a ray of sunshine in her right hand; and that's as magic-working a wand as any fairy ever wielded,—hey, Mr. Carleton?"
Mr. Carleton bowed. But whether the sunshine of affection in Fleda's glance and smile at her grandfather made him feel that she was above a compliment, or whether it put the words out of his head, certain it is that he uttered none.
"So you've had bad success to-day," continued Mr. Ringgan. "Where have you been? and what after? partridges?"
"No sir," said Mr. Carleton, "my friend Rossitur promised me a rare bag of woodcock, which I understand to be the best of American feathered game; and in pursuance of his promise led me over a large extent of meadow and swamp land this morning, with which in the course of several hours I became extremely familiar, without flushing a single bird."
"Meadow and swamp land?" said the old gentleman. "Whereabouts?"
"A mile or more beyond the little village over here where we left our horses," said Rossitur. "We beat the ground well, but there were no signs of them even."
"We had not the right kind of dog," said Mr. Carleton.
"We had the kind that is always used here," said Rossitur; "nobody knows anything about a Cocker in America."
"Ah, it was too wet," said Mr. Ringgan. "I could have told you that. There has been too much rain. You wouldn't find a woodcock in that swamp after such a day as we had a few days ago. But speaking of game, Mr. Rossitur, I don't know anything in America equal to the grouse. It is far before woodcock. I remember, many years back, going a grouse shooting, I and a friend, down in Pennsylvania,—we went two or three days running, and the birds we got were worth a whole season of woodcock.—But gentlemen, if you are not discouraged with your day's experience and want to try again, I'll put you in a way to get as many woodcock as will satisfy you—if you'll come here to-morrow morning I'll go out with you far enough to shew you the way to the best ground I know for shooting that game in all this country; you'll have a good chance for partridges too in the course of the day; and that ain't bad eating, when you can't get better—is it, Fairy?" he said, with a sudden smiling appeal to the little girl at his side. Her answer again was only an intelligent glance.
The young sportsmen both thanked him and promised to take advantage of his kind offer. Fleda seized the opportunity to steal another look at the strangers; but meeting Mr. Carleton's eyes fixed on her with a remarkably soft and gentle expression she withdrew her own again as fast as possible, and came to the conclusion that the only safe place for them was the floor.
"I wish I was a little younger and I'd take my gun and go along with you myself," said the old gentleman pleasantly; "but," he added sighing, "there is a time for everything, and my time for sporting is past."
"You have no right to complain, sir," said Mr. Carleton, with a meaning glance and smile which the old gentleman took in excellent good part.
"Well," said he, looking half proudly, half tenderly, upon the little demure figure at his side, "I don't say that I have. I hope I thank God for his mercies, and am happy. But in this world, Mr. Carleton, there is hardly a blessing but what draws a care after it. Well—well—these things will all be arranged for us!"
It was plain, however, even to a stranger, that there was some subject of care not vague nor undefined pressing upon Mr. Ringgan's mind as he said this.
"Have you heard from my mother lately, Fleda?" said her cousin.
"Why yes," said Mr. Ringgan,—"she had a letter from her only to-day. You ha'n't read it yet, have you, Fleda?"
"No grandpa," said the little girl; "you know I've been busy."
"Ay," said the old gentleman; "why couldn't you let Cynthia bake the cakes, and not roast yourself over the stove till you're as red as a turkey-cock?"
"This morning I was like a chicken," said Fleda laughing, "and now like a turkey-cock."
"Shall I tell mamma, Fleda," said young Rossitur, "that you put off reading her letter to bake muffins?"
Fleda answered without looking up, "Yes, if he pleased."
"What do you suppose she will think?"
"I don't know."
"She will think that you love muffins better than her."
"No," said Fleda, quietly but firmly,—"she will not think that, because it isn't true."
The gentlemen laughed, but Mr. Carleton declared that Fleda's reasoning was unanswerable.
"Well, I will see you to-morrow," said Mr. Rossitur, "after you have read the letter, for I suppose you will read it sometime. You should have had it before,—it came enclosed to me,—but I forgot unaccountably to mail it to you till a few days ago."
"It will be just as good now, sir," said Mr. Ringgan.
"There is a matter in it though," said Rossitur, "about which my mother has given me a charge. We will see you to-morrow. It was for that partly we turned out of our way this evening."
"I am very glad you did," said Mr. Ringgan. "I hope your way will bring you here often. Won't you stay and try some of these same muffins before you go?"
But this was declined, and the gentlemen departed; Fleda, it must be confessed, seeing nothing in the whole leave-taking but Mr. Carleton's look and smile. The muffins were a very tame affair after it.
When supper was over she sat down fairly to her letter, and read it twice through before she folded it up. By this time the room was clear both of the tea equipage and of Cynthia's presence, and Fleda and her grandfather were alone in the darkening twilight with the blazing wood fire; he in his usual place at the side, and she on the hearth directly before it; both silent, both thinking, for some time. At length Mr. Ringgan spoke, breaking as it were the silence and his seriousness with the same effort.
"Well dear!" said he cheerfully,—"what does she say?"
"O she says a great many things, grandpa; shall I read yon the letter?"
"No dear, I don't care to hear it; only tell me what she says."
"She says they are going to stay in Paris yet a good while longer."
"Hum!"—said Mr. Ringgan. "Well—that ain't the wisest thing I should like to hear of her doing."
"Oh but it's because uncle Rossitur likes to stay there, I suppose, isn't it, grandpa?"
"I don't know, dear. Maybe your aunt's caught the French fever. She used to be a good sensible woman; but when people will go into a whirligig, I think some of their wits get blown away before they come out. Well—what else?"
"I am sure she is very kind," said Fleda. "She wants to have me go out there and live with her very much. She says I shall have everything I like and do just as I please, and she will make a pet of me and give me all sorts of pleasant things. She says she will take as good care of me as ever I took of the kittens. And there's a long piece to you about it, that I'll give you to read as soon as we have a light. It is very good of her, isn't it, grandpa? I love aunt Lucy very much."
"Well," said Mr. Ringgan after a pause, "how does she propose to get you there?"
"Why," said Fleda,—"isn't it curious?—she says there is a Mrs. Carleton here who is a friend of hers, and she is going to Paris in a little while, and aunt Lucy asked her if she wouldn't bring me, if you would let me go, and she said she would with great pleasure, and aunt Lucy wants me to come out with her."
"Carleton!—Hum—" said Mr. Ringgan; "that must be this young man's mother?"
"Yes, aunt Lucy says she is here with her son,—at least she says they were coming."
"A very gentlemanly young man, indeed," said Mr. Ringgan.
There was a grave silence. The old gentleman sat looking on the floor; Fleda sat looking into the fire, with all her might.
"Well," said Mr. Ringgan after a little, "how would you like it, Fleda?"
"To go out to Paris to your aunt, with this Mrs. Carleton?"
"I shouldn't like it at all," said Fleda smiling, and letting her eyes go back to the fire. But looking after the pause of a minute or two again to her grandfather's face, she was struck with its expression of stern anxiety. She rose instantly, and coming to him and laying one hand gently on his knee, said in tones that fell as light on the ear as the touch of a moonbeam on the water, "You do not want me to go, do you, grandpa?"
"No dear!" said the old gentleman, letting his hand fall upon hers,—"no dear!—that is the last thing I want!"
But Fleda's keen ear discerned not only the deep affection but something of regret in the voice, which troubled her. She stood, anxious and fearing, while her grandfather lifting his hand again and again let it fall gently upon hers; and amid all the fondness of the action Fleda somehow seemed to feel in it the same regret.
"You'll not let aunt Lucy, nor anybody else, take me away from you, will you, grandpa?" said she after a little, leaning both arms affectionately on his knee and looking up into his face.
"No indeed, dear!" said he, with an attempt at his usual heartiness,—"not as long as I have a place to keep you. While I have a roof to put my head under, it shall cover yours."
To Fleda's hope that would have said enough; but her grandfather's face was so moved from its wonted expression of calm dignity that it was plain his hope was tasting bitter things. Fleda watched in silent grief and amazement the watering eye and unnerved lip; till her grandfather indignantly dashing away a tear or two drew her close to his breast and kissed her. But she well guessed that the reason why he did not for a minute or two say anything, was because he could not. Neither could she. She was fighting with her woman's nature to keep it down,—learning the lesson early!
"Ah well,"—said Mr Ringgan at length, in a kind of tone that might indicate the giving up a struggle which he had no means of carrying on, or the endeavour to conceal it from the too keen-wrought feelings of his little granddaughter,—"there will be a way opened for us somehow. We must let our Heavenly Father take care of us."
"And he will, grandpa," whispered Fleda.
"Yes dear!—We are selfish creatures. Your father's and your mother's child will not be forgotten."
"Nor you either, dear grandpa," said the little girl, laying her soft cheek alongside of his, and speaking by dint of a great effort.
"No," said he, clasping her more tenderly,—"no—it would he wicked in me to doubt it. He has blessed me all my life long with a great many more blessings than I deserved; and if he chooses to take away the sunshine of my last days I will bow my head to his will, and believe that he does all things well, though I cannot see it."
"Don't, dear grandpa," said Fleda, stealing her other arm round his neck and hiding her face there,—"please don't!—"
He very much regretted that he had said too much. He did not however know exactly how to mend it. He kissed her and stroked her soft hair, but that and the manner of it only made it more difficult for Fleda to recover herself, which she was struggling to do; and when he tried to speak in accents of cheering his voice trembled. Fleda's heart was breaking, but she felt that she was making matters worse, and she had already concluded on a mature review of circumstances that it was her duty to be cheerful. So after a few very heartfelt tears which she could not help, she raised her head and smiled, even while she wiped the traces of them away.
"After all, grandpa," said she, "perhaps Mr. Jolly will come here in the morning with some good news, and then we should be troubling ourselves just for nothing."
"Perhaps he will," said Mr. Ringgan, in a way that sounded much more like "Perhaps he won't!" But Fleda was determined now not to seem discouraged again. She thought the best way was to change the conversation.
"It is very kind in aunt Lucy, isn't it, grandpa, what she has written to me?"
"Why no," said Mr. Ringgan, decidedly, "I can't say I think it is any very extraordinary manifestation of kindness in anybody to want you."
Fleda smiled her thanks for this compliment.
"It might be a kindness in me to give you to her."
"It wouldn't be a kindness to me, grandpa."
"I don't know about that," said he gravely. They were getting back to the old subject. Fleda made another great effort at a diversion.
"Grandpa, was my father like my uncle Rossitur in any thing?"
The diversion was effected.
"Not he, dear!" said Mr. Ringgan. "Your father had ten times the man in him that ever your uncle was."
"Why what kind of a man is uncle Rossitur, grandpa?"
"Ho dear! I can't tell. I ha'n't seen much of him. I wouldn't judge a man without knowing more of him than I do of Mr. Rossitur. He seemed an amiable kind of man. But no one would ever have thought of looking at him, no more than at a shadow, when your father was by."
The diversion took effect on Fleda herself now. She looked up pleased.
"You remember your father, Fleda?"
"Yes grandpa, but not very well always;—I remember a great many things about him, but I can't remember exactly how he looked,—except once or twice."
"Ay, and he wa'n't well the last time you remember him. But he was a noble-looking man—in form and face too—and his looks were the worst part of him. He seemed made of different stuff from all the people around," said Mr. Ringgan sighing, "and they felt it too I used to notice, without knowing it. When his cousins were 'Sam' and 'Johnny' and 'Bill,' he was always, that is, after he grew up, 'Mr. Walter.' I believe they were a little afeard of him. And with all his bravery and fire he could be as gentle as a woman."
"I know that," said Fleda, whose eyes were dropping soft tears and glittering at the same time with gratified feeling. "What made him be a soldier, grandpa?"
"Oh I don't know, dear!—he was too good to make a farmer of—or his high spirit wanted to rise in the world—he couldn't rest without trying to be something more than other folks. I don't know whether people are any happier for it."
"Did he go to West Point, grandpa?"
"No dear!—he started without having so much of a push as that; but he was one of those that don't need any pushing; he would have worked his way up, put him anywhere you would, and he did,—over the heads of West Pointers and all, and would have gone to the top, I verily believe, if he had lived long enough. He was as fine a fellow as there was in all the army. I don't believe there's the like of him left in it."
"He had been a major a good while, hadn't he, grandpa?"
"Yes. It was just after he was made captain that he went to Albany, and there he saw your mother. She and her sister, your aunt Lucy, were wards of the patroon. I was in Albany, in the legislature, that winter, and I knew them both very well; but your aunt Lucy had been married some years before. She was staying there that winter without her husband—he was abroad somewhere."
Fleda was no stranger to these details and had learned long ago what was meant by 'wards' and 'the patroon.'
"Your father was made a major some years afterwards," Mr. Ringgan went on, "for his fine behaviour out here at the West—what's the name of the place?—I forget it just now—fighting the Indians. There never was anything finer done."
"He was brave, wasn't he, grandpa?"
"Brave!—he had a heart of iron sometimes, for as soft as it was at others. And he had an eye, when he was roused, that I never saw anything that would stand against. But your father had a better sort of courage than the common sort—he had enough of that—but this is a rarer thing—he never was afraid to do what in his conscience he thought was right. Moral courage I call it, and it is one of the very noblest qualities a man can have."
"That's a kind of courage a woman may have," said Fleda.
"Yes—you may have that; and I guess it's the only kind of courage you'll ever be troubled with," said her grandfather looking laughingly at her. "However, any man may walk up to the cannon's mouth, but it is only one here and there that will walk out against men's opinions because he thinks it is right. That was one of the things I admired most in your father."
"Didn't my mother have it too?" said Fleda.
"I don't know—she had about everything that was good. A gweet, pretty creature she was, as I ever saw."
"Was she like aunt Lucy?"
"No, not much. She was a deal handsomer than your aunt is or ever could have been. She was the handsomest woman, I think, that ever I set eyes upon; and a sweet, gentle, lovely creature. You'll never match her," said Mr. Ringgan, with a curious twist of his head and sly laughing twist of his eyes at Fleda;—"you may be as good as she was, but you'll never be as good-looking."
Fleda laughed, nowise displeased.
"You've got her hazel eyes though," remarked Mr. Ringgan, after a minute or two, viewing his little granddaughter with a sufficiently satisfied expression of countenance.
"Grandpa," said she, "don't you think Mr. Carleton has handsome eyes?"
"Mr. Carleton?—hum—I don't know; I didn't look at his eyes. A very well-looking young man though—very gentlemanly too."
Fleda had heard all this and much more about her parents some dozens of times before; but she and her grandfather were never tired of going it over. If the conversation that recalled his lost treasures had of necessity a character of sadness and tenderness, it yet bespoke not more regret that he had lost them than exulting pride and delight in what they had been,—perhaps not so much. And Fleda delighted to go back and feed her imagination with stories of the mother whom she could not remember, and of the father whose fair bright image stood in her memory as the embodiment of all that is high and noble and pure. A kind of guardian angel that image was to little Fleda. These ideal likenesses of her father and mother, the one drawn from history and recollection, the other from history only, had been her preservative from all the untoward influences and unfortunate examples which had surrounded her since her father's death some three or four years before had left her almost alone in her grandfather's house. They had created in her mind a standard of the true and beautiful in character, which nothing she saw around her, after of course her grandfather, and one other exception, seemed at all to meet; and partly from her own innate fineness of nature, and partly from this pure ideal always present with her, she had shrunk almost instinctively from the few varieties of human nature the country-side presented to her, and was in fact a very isolated little being, living in a world of her own, and clinging with all her strong outgoings of affection to her grandfather only; granting to but one other person any considerable share in her regard or esteem. Little Fleda was not in the least misanthropical; she gave her kindly sympathies to all who came in her way on whom they could possibly be bestowed; but these people were nothing to her: her spirit fell off from them, even in their presence; there was no affinity. She was in truth what her grandfather had affirmed of her father, made of different stuff from the rest of the world. There was no tincture of pride in all this; there was no conscious feeling of superiority; she could merely have told you that she did not care to hear these people talk, that she did not love to be with them; though she would have said so to no earthly creature but her grandfather, if even to him.
"It must be pleasant," said Fleda, after looking for some minutes thoughtfully into the fire,—"it must be a pleasant thing to have a father and mother."
"Yes dear!" said her grandfather, sighing,—"you have lost a great deal! But there is your aunt Lucy—you are not dependent altogether on me."
"Oh grandpa!" said the little girl laying one hand again pleadingly on his knee;—"I didn't mean—I mean—I was speaking in general—I wasn't thinking of myself in particular."
"I know, dear!" said he, as before taking the little hand in his own and moving it softly up and down on his knee. But the action was sad, and there was the same look of sorrowful stern anxiety. Fleda got up and put her arm over his shoulder, speaking from a heart filled too full.
"I don't want aunt Lucy—I don't care about aunt Lucy; I don't want anything but you, grandpa. I wish you wouldn't talk so."
"Ah well, dear," said he, without looking at her,—he couldn't bear to look at her,—"it's well it is so. I sha'n't last a great while—it isn't likely—and I am glad to know there is some one you can fall back upon when I am gone."
Pleda's next words were scarcely audible, but they contained a reproach to him for speaking so.
"We may as well look at it, dear," said he gravely; "it must come to that—sooner or later—but you mustn't distress yourself about it beforehand. Don't cry—don't, dear!" said he, tenderly kissing her. "I didn't mean to trouble you so. There—there—look up, dear—let's take the good we have and be thankful for it. God will arrange the rest, in his own good way. Fleda!—I wouldn't have said a word if I had thought it would have worried you so."
He would not indeed. But he had spoken as men so often speak, out of the depths of their own passion or bitterness, forgetting that they are wringing the cords of a delicate harp, and not knowing what mischief they have done till they find the instrument all out of tune,—more often not knowing it ever. It is pity,—for how frequently a discord is left that jars all life long; and how much more frequently still the harp, though retaining its sweetness and truth of tone to the end, is gradually unstrung.
Poor Fleda could hardly hold up her head for a long time, and recalling bitterly her unlucky innocent remark which had led to all this trouble she almost made up her mind with a certain heroine of Miss Edgeworth's, that "it is best never to mention things." Mr. Ringgan, now thoroughly alive to the wounds he had been inflicting, held his little pet in his arms, pillowed her head on his breast, and by every tender and soothing action and word endeavoured to undo what he had done. And after a while the agony was over, the wet eyelashes were lifted up, and the meek sorrowful little face lay quietly upon Mr. Ringgan's breast, gazing out into the fire as gravely as if the Panorama of life were there. She little heeded at first her grandfather's cheering talk, she knew it was for a purpose.
"Ain't it most time for you to go to bed?" whispered Mr. Ringgan when he thought the purpose was effected.
"Shall I tell Cynthy to get you your milk, grandpa?" said the little girl rousing herself.
"Yes dear.—Stop,—what if you and me was to have some roast apples?—wouldn't you like it?"
"Well—yes, I should, grandpa," said Fleda, understanding perfectly why he wished it, and wishing it herself for that same reason and no other.
"Cynthy, let's have some of those roast apples," said Mr. Ringgan, "and a couple of bowls of milk here."
"No, I'll get the apples myself, Cynthy," said Fleda.
"And you needn't take any of the cream off, Cynthy," added Mr. Ringgan.
One corner of the kitchen table was hauled up to the fire, to be comfortable, Fleda said, and she and her grandfather sat down on the opposite sides of it to do honour to the apples and milk; each with the simple intent of keeping up appearances and cheating the other into cheerfulness. There is however, deny it who can, an exhilarating effect in good wholesome food taken when one is in some need of it; and Fleda at least found the supper relish exceeding well. Every one furthermore knows the relief of a hearty flow of tears when a secret weight has been pressing on the mind. She was just ready for anything reviving. After the third mouthful she began to talk, and before the bottom of the bowls was reached she had smiled more than once. So her grandfather thought no harm was done, and went to bed quite comforted; and Fleda climbed the steep stairs that led from his door to her little chamber just over his head. It was small and mean, immediately under the roof, with only one window. There were plenty of better rooms in the house, but Fleda liked this because it kept her near her grandfather; and indeed she had always had it ever since her father's death, and never thought of taking any other.
She had a fashion, this child, in whom the simplicity of practical life and the poetry of imaginative life were curiously blended,—she had a fashion of going to her window every night when the moon or stars were shining to look out for a minute or two before she went to bed; and sometimes the minutes were more than any good grandmother or aunt would have considered wholesome for little Fleda in the fresh night air. But there was no one to watch or reprimand; and whatever it was that Fleda read in earth or sky, the charm which held her one bright night was sure to bring her to her window the next. This evening a faint young moon lighted up but dimly the meadow and what was called the "east-hill," over-against which the window in question looked. The air was calm and mild; there was no frost to-night; the stillness was entire, and the stars shone in a cloudless sky. Fleda set open the window and looked out with a face that again bore tokens of the experiences of that day. She wanted the soothing speech of nature's voice; and child as she was she could hear it. She did not know, in her simplicity, what it was that comforted and soothed her, but she stood at her window enjoying.
It was so perfectly still, her fancy presently went to all those people who had hushed their various work and were now resting, or soon would be, in the unconsciousness and the helplessness of sleep. The helplessness,—and then that Eye that never sleeps; that Hand that keeps them all, that is never idle, that is the safety and the strength alike of all the earth and of them that wake or sleep upon it,—
"And if he takes care of them all, will he not take care of poor little me?" thought Fleda. "Oh how glad I am I know there is a God!—How glad I am I know he is such a God! and that I can trust in him; and he will make everything go right. How I forget this sometimes! But Jesus does not forget his children. Oh I am a happy little girl!—Grandpa's saying what he did don't make it so—perhaps I shall die the first—but I hope not, for what would become of him!—But this and everything will all be arranged right, and I have nothing to do with it but to obey God and please him, and he will take care of the rest. He has forbidden us to be careful about it too."
With grateful tears of relief Fleda shut the window and began to undress herself, her heart so lightened of its burden that her thoughts presently took leave to go out again upon pleasure excursions in various directions; and one of the last things in Fleda's mind before sleep surprised her was, what a nice thing it was for any one to bow and smile so as Mr. Carleton did!
I know each lane, and every alley green, Dingle or bushy dell of this wild wood, And every bosky bourn from side to side My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood.
Fleda and her grandfather had but just risen from a tolerably early breakfast the next morning, when the two young sportsmen entered the room.
"Ha!" said Mr. Ringgan,—"I declare! you're stirring betimes. Come five or six miles this morning a'ready. Well—that's the stuff to make sportsmen of. Off for the woodcock, hey?—And I was to go with you and shew you the ground.—I declare I don't know how in the world I can do it this morning, I'm so very stiff—ten times as bad as I was yesterday. I had a window open in my room last night, I expect that must have been the cause. I don't see how I could have overlooked it, but I never gave it a thought, till this morning I found myself so lame I could hardly get out of bed.—I am very sorry, upon my word?"
"I am very sorry we must lose your company, sir," said the young Englishman, "and for such a cause; but as to the rest!—I dare say your directions will guide us sufficiently."
"I don't know about that," said the old gentleman. "It is pretty hard to steer by a chart that is only laid down in the imagination. I set out once to go in New York from one side of the city over into the other, and the first thing I knew I found myself travelling along half a mile out of town. I had to get in a stage and ride back and take a fresh start. Out at the West they say when you are in the woods you can tell which is north by the moss growing on that side of the trees; but if you're lost you'll be pretty apt to find the moss grows on all sides of the trees. I couldn't make out any waymarks at all, in such a labyrinth of brick corners. Well, let us see—if I tell you now it is so easy to mistake one hill for another—Fleda, child, you put on your sun-bonnet and take these gentlemen back to the twenty-acre lot, and from there you can tell 'em how to go so I guess they won't mistake it."
"By no means!" said Mr. Carleton; "we cannot give her so much trouble; it would be buying our pleasure at much too dear a rate."
"Tut, tut," said the old gentleman; "she thinks nothing of trouble, and the walk'll do her good. She'd like to be out all day, I believe, if she had any one to go along with, but I'm rather a stupid companion for such a spry little pair of feet. Fleda, look here,—when they get to the lot they can find their own way after that. You know where the place is—where your cousin Seth shot so many woodcock last year, over in Mr. Hurlbut's land,—when you get to the big lot you must tell these gentlemen to go straight over the hill, not Squire Thornton's hill, but mine, at the back of the lot,—they must go straight over it till they come to cleared land on the other side; then they must keep along by the edge of the wood, to the right, till they come to the brook; they must cross the brook, and follow up the opposite bank, and they'll know the ground when they come to it, or they don't deserve to. Do you understand?—now run and get your hat for they ought to be off."
Fleda went, but neither her step nor her look shewed any great willingness to the business.
"I am sure, Mr. Ringgan," said Mr. Carleton, "your little granddaughter has some reason for not wishing to take such a long walk this morning. Pray allow us to go without her."
"Pho, pho," said the old gentleman, "she wants to go."
"I guess she's skeered o' the guns," said Cynthy, happy to get a chance to edge in a word before such company;—"it's that ails her."
"Well, well,—she must get used to it," said Mr. Ringgan. "Here she is!"
Fleda had it in her mind to whisper to him a word of hope about Mr. Jolly; but she recollected that it was at best an uncertain hope, and that if her grandfather's thoughts were off the subject it was better to leave them so. She only kissed him for good-by, and went out with the two gentlemen.
As they took up their guns Mr. Carleton caught the timid shunning glance her eye gave at them.
"Do you dislike the company of these noisy friends of ours, Miss Fleda?" said he.
Fleda hesitated, and finally said "she didn't much like to be very near them when they were fired."
"Put that fear away then," said he, "for they shall keep a respectful silence so long as they have the honour to be in your company. If the woodcock come about us as tame as quails our guns shall not be provoked to say anything till your departure gives them leave."
Fleda smiled her thanks and set forward, privately much confirmed in her opinion that Mr. Carleton had handsome eyes.
At a little distance from the house Fleda left the meadow for an old apple-orchard at the left, lying on a steep side hill. Up this hill-side they toiled; and then found themselves on a ridge of table-land, stretching back for some distance along the edge of a little valley or bottom of perfectly flat smooth pasture-ground. The valley was very narrow, only divided into fields by fences running from side to side. The table-land might be a hundred feet or more above the level of the bottom, with a steep face towards it. A little way back from the edge the woods began; between them and the brow of the hill the ground was smooth and green, planted as if by art with flourishing young silver pines and once in a while a hemlock, some standing in all their luxuriance alone, and some in groups. With now and then a smooth grey rock, or large boulder-stone which had somehow inexplicably stopped on the brow of the hill instead of rolling down into what at some former time no doubt was a bed of water,—all this open strip of the table-land might have stood with very little coaxing for a piece of a gentleman's pleasure-ground. On the opposite side of the little valley was a low rocky height, covered with wood, now in the splendour of varied red and green and purple and brown and gold; between, at their feet, lay the soft quiet green meadow; and off to the left, beyond the far end of the valley, was the glory of the autumn woods again, softened in the distance. A true October sky seemed to pervade all, mildly blue, transparently pure, with that clearness of atmosphere that no other month gives us; a sky that would have conferred a patent of nobility on any landscape. The scene was certainly contracted and nowise remarkable in any of its features, but Nature had shaken out all her colours over the land, and drawn a veil from the sky, and breathed through the woods and over the hill-side the very breath of health, enjoyment, and vigour.
When they were about over-against the middle of the valley, Mr. Carleton suddenly made a pause and stood for some minutes silently looking. His two companions came to a halt on either side of him, one not a little pleased, the other a little impatient.
"Beautiful!" Mr. Carleton said at length.
"Yes," said Fleda gravely, "I think it's a pretty place. I like it up here."
"We sha'n't catch many woodcock among these pines," said young Rossitur.
"I wonder," said Mr. Carleton presently, "how any one should have called these 'melancholy days.'"
"Who has?" said Rossitur.
"A countryman of yours," said his friend glancing at him. "If he had been a countryman of mine there would have been less marvel. But here is none of the sadness of decay—none of the withering—if the tokens of old age are seen at all it is in the majestic honours that crown a glorious life—the graces of a matured and ripened character. This has nothing in common, Rossitur, with those dull moralists who are always dinning decay and death into one's ears;—this speaks of Life. Instead of freezing all one's hopes and energies, it quickens the pulse with the desire to do.—'The saddest of the year'—Bryant was wrong."
"Bryant?—oh!"—said young Rossitur; "I didn't know who you were speaking of."
"I believe, now I think of it, he was writing of a somewhat later time of the year,—I don't know, how all this will look in November."
"I think it is very pleasant in November," said little Fleda sedately.
"Don't you know Bryant's 'Death of the Flowers,' Rossitur?" said his friend smiling. "What have you been doing all your life?"
"Not studying the fine arts at West Point, Mr. Carleton."
"Then sit down here and let me mend that place in your education. Sit down! and I'll give you something better than woodcock. You keep a game-bag for thoughts, don't you?"
Mr. Rossitur wished Mr. Carleton didn't. But he sat down, however, and listened with an unedified face; while his friend, more to please himself it must be confessed than for any other reason, and perhaps with half a notion to try Fleda, repeated the beautiful words. He presently saw they were not lost upon one of his hearers; she listened intently.
"It is very pretty," said Rossitur when he had done. "I believe I have seen it before somewhere."
"There is no 'smoky light' to day," said Fleda.
"No," said Mr. Carleton, smiling to himself. "Nothing but that could improve the beauty of all this, Miss Fleda."
"I like it better as it is," said Fleda.
"I am surprised at that," said young Rossitur. "I thought you lived on smoke."
There was nothing in the words, but the tone was not exactly polite. Fleda granted him neither smile nor look.
"I am glad you like it up here," she went on, gravely doing the honours of the place. "I came this way because we shouldn't have so many fences to climb."
"You are the best little guide possible, and I have no doubt would always lead one the right way," said Mr. Carleton.
Again the same gentle, kind, appreciating look. Fleda unconsciously drew a step nearer. There was a certain undefined confidence established between them.
"There's a little brook down there in spring," said she pointing to a small grass grown water-course in the meadow, hardly discernible from the height,—"but there's no water in it now. It runs quite full for a while after the snow breaks up; but it dries away by June or July."
"What are those trees so beautifully tinged with red and orange?—down there by the fence in the meadow."
"I am not woodsman enough to inform you," replied Rossitur.
"Those are maples," said Fleda, "sugar maples. The one all orange is a hickory."
"How do you know?" said Mr. Carleton, turning to her. "By your wit as a fairy?"
"I know by the colour," said Fleda modestly,—"and by the shape too."
"Fairy," said Mr. Rossitur, "if you have any of the stuff about you, I wish you would knock this gentleman over the head with your wand and put the spirit of moving into him. He is going to sit dreaming here all day."
"Not at all," said his friend springing up.—"I am ready for you—but I want other game than woodcock just now I confess."
They walked along in silence, and had near reached the extremity of the table-land, which towards the end of the valley descended into ground of a lower level covered with woods; when Mr. Carleton who was a little ahead was startled by Fleda's voice exclaiming in a tone of distress, "Oh not the robins!"—and turning about perceived Mr. Rossitur standing still with levelled gun and just in the act to shoot. Fleda had stopped her ears. In the same instant Mr. Carleton had thrown up the gun, demanding of Rossitur with a singular change of expression—"what he meant!"
"Mean?" said the young gentleman, meeting with an astonished face the indignant fire of his companion's eyes,—"why I mean not to meddle with other people's guns, Mr. Carleton. What do you mean?"
"Nothing but to protect myself."
"Protect yourself!" said Rossitur, heating as the other cooled,—from what, in the name of wonder?"
"Only from having my word blown away by your fire," said Carleton, smiling. "Come, Rossitur, recollect yourself—remember our compact."
"Compact! one isn't bound to keep compacts with unearthly personages," said Rossitur, half sulkily and half angrily; "and besides I made none."
Mr. Carleton turned from him very coolly and walked on.
They left the table-land and the wood, entered the valley again, and passed through a large orchard, the last of the succession of fields which stretched along it. Beyond this orchard the ground rose suddenly, and on the steep hill-side there had been a large plantation of Indian corn. The corn was harvested, but the ground was still covered with numberless little stacks of the corn-stalks. Half way up the hill stood three ancient chestnut trees; veritable patriarchs of the nut tribe they were, and respected and esteemed as patriarchs should be.
"There are no 'dropping nuts' to-day, either," said Fleda, to whom the sight of her forest friends in the distance probably suggested the thought, for she had not spoken for some time. "I suppose there hasn't been frost enough yet."
"Why you have a good memory, Fairy," said Mr. Carleton. "Do you give the nuts leave to fall of themselves?"
"Oh sometimes grandpa and I go a nutting," said the little girl getting lightly over the fence,—"but we haven't been this year."
"Then it is a pleasure to come yet?"
"No," said Fleda quietly, "the trees near the house have been stripped; and the only other nice place there is for us to go to, Mr. Didenhover let the Shakers have the nuts. I sha'n't get any this year."
"Live in the woods and not get any nuts! that won't do, Fairy. Here are some fine chestnuts we are coming to—what would hinder our reaping a good harvest from them?"
"I don't think there will be any on them," said Fleda; "Mr. Didenhover has been here lately with the men getting in the coin,—I guess they have cleared the trees."
"Who is Mr. Didenhover?"
"He is grandpa's man."
"Why didn't you bid Mr. Didenhover let the nuts alone?"
"O he wouldn't mind if he was told," said Fleda. "He does everything just as he has a mind to, and nobody can hinder him. Yes—they've cleared the trees—I thought so."
"Don't you know of any other trees that are out of this Mr. Didenhover's way?"
"Yes," said Fleda,—"I know a place where there used to be beautiful hickory trees, and some chestnuts too, I think; but it is too far off for grandpa, and I couldn't go there alone. This is the twenty-acre lot," said she, looking though she did not say it, "Here I leave you."
"I am glad to hear it," said her cousin. "Now give us our directions, Fleda, and thank you for your services."
"Stop a minute," said Mr. Carleton. "What if you and I should try to find those same hickory trees, Miss Fleda? Will you take me with you?—or is it too long a walk?"
"For me?—oh no!" said Fleda with a face of awakening hope; "but," she added timidly, "you were going a shooting, sir?"
"What on earth are you thinking of, Carleton?" said young Rossitur. "Let the nuts and Fleda alone, do!"
"By your leave, Mr. Rossitur," said Carleton. "My murderous intents have all left me, Miss Fleda,—I suppose your wand has been playing about me—and I should like nothing better than to go with you over the hills this morning. I have been a nutting many a time in my own woods at home, and I want to try it for once in the New World. Will you take me?"
"O thank you, sir!" said Fleda,—"but we have passed the turning a long way—we must go back ever so far the same way we came to get to the place where we turn off to go up the mountain."
"I don't wish for a prettier way,—if it isn't so far as to tire you, Fairy?"
"Oh it won't tire me!" said Fleda overjoyed.
"Carleton!" exclaimed young Kossitur. "Can you be so absurd! Lose this splendid day for the woodcock when we may not have another while we are here!"
"You are not a true sportsman, Mr. Rossitur," said the other coolly, "or you would know what it is to have some sympathy with the sports of others. But you will have the day for the woodcock, and bring us home a great many I hope. Miss Fleda, suppose we give this impatient young gentleman his orders and despatch him."
"I thought you were more of a sportsman," said the vexed West Pointer,—"or your sympathy would be with me."
"I tell you the sporting mania was never stronger on me," said the other carelessly. "Something less than a rifle however will do to bring down the game I am after. We will rendezvous at the little village over yonder, unless I go home before you, which I think is more probable. Au revoir!"
With careless gracefulness he saluted his disconcerted companion, who moved off with ungraceful displeasure. Fleda and Mr. Carleton then began to follow back the road they had come, in the highest good humour both. Her sparkling face told him with even greater emphasis than her words,
"I am so much obliged to you, sir."
"How you go over fences!" said he,—"like a sprite, as you are."
"O I have climbed a great many," said Fleda, accepting however, again with that infallible instinct, the help which she did not need—"I shall be so glad to get some nuts, for I thought I wasn't going to have any this year; and it is so pleasant to have them to crack in the long winter evenings."
"You must find them long evenings indeed, I should think."
"O no we don't," said Fleda. "I didn't mean they were long in that way. Grandpa cracks the nuts, and I pick them out, and he tells me stories; and then you know he likes to go to bed early. The evenings never seem long."
"But you are not always cracking nuts."
"O no, to be sure not; but there are plenty of other pleasant things to do. I dare say grandpa would have bought some nuts, but I had a great deal rather have those we get ourselves, and then the fun of getting them, besides, is the best part."
Fleda was tramping over the ground at a furious rate.
"How many do you count upon securing to-day?" said Mr. Carleton gravely.
"I don't know," said Fleda with a business face,—"there are a good many trees, and fine large ones, and I don't believe anybody has found them out—they are so far out of the way; there ought to be a good parcel of nuts."
"But," said Mr. Carleton with perfect gravity, "if we should be lucky enough to find a supply for your winter's store, it would be too much for you and me to bring home, Miss Fleda, unless you have a broomstick in the service of fairydom."
"A broomstick!" said Fleda.
"Yes,—did you never hear of the man who had a broomstick that would fetch pails of water at his bidding?"
"No," said Fleda laughing. "What a convenient broomstick! I wish we had one. But I know what I can do, Mr. Carleton,—if there should be too many nuts for us to bring home I can take Cynthy afterwards and get the rest of them. Cynthy and I could go—grandpa couldn't even if he was as well as usual, for the trees are in a hollow away over on the other side of the mountain. It's a beautiful place."
"Well," said Mr. Carleton smiling curiously to himself, "in that case I shall be even of more use than I had hoped. But sha'n't we want a basket, Miss Fleda?"
"Yes indeed," said Fleda,—"a good large one—I am going to run down to the house for it as soon as we get to the turning-off place, if you'll be so good as to sit down and wait for me, sir,—I won't be long after it."
"No," said he; "I will walk with you and leave my gun in safe quarters. You had better not travel so fast, or I am afraid you will never reach the hickory trees."
Fleda smiled and said there was no danger, but she slackened her pace, and they proceeded at a more reasonable rate till they reached the house.
Mr. Carleton would not go in, placing his gun in an outer shelter. Fleda dashed into the kitchen, and after a few minutes' delay came out again with a huge basket, which Mr. Carleton took from her without suffering his inward amusement to reach his face, and a little tin pail which she kept under her own guardianship. In vain Mr. Carleton offered to take it with the basket or even to put it in the basket, where he shewed her it would go very well; it must go nowhere but in Fleda's own hand.